Comic Book History: David Bowie and the British invasion of comics

Yesterday the world lost one of it’s most original and eccentric artists, David Bowie.


I will admit that I am not personally a big fan of his music, although I do really like his song “Heroes”


And although I may not like his music all that much it is impossible to ignore the influence his voice, style, and sound had on modern music.   You do not sell over 100 million records and achieve tremendous commercial and critical success sustained over a career spanning three decades and change without doing something right.

So why am I talking about David Bowie on a blog series dedicated to comic book history?  Well, believe it or not you could actually make a strong case that David Bowie actually played a huge part in shaping how we view and think about comic books today.  But in order to do that we need a brief history lesson.

In the early 1980’s, right around the time David Bowie was undergoing a second career peak with songs like “Ashes to Ashes”

The comic book world decided to copy the music scene from the 1960’s with their own British Invasion.  Most people point to this guy paving the way.


That is comic book legend and Lord of Snakes Alan Moore, who is responsible for creating some of the greatest comic book stories of all time.




After Moore’s string of massive successes DC comics introduced even more British comic book writers and artists to American audiences such as Neil Gaiman

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Jamie Delano


and Grant Morrison


In order to accommodate these new writers and their penchant for deep, complex, and often mature themed works DC created an imprint called Vertigo that would go on to become one of the greatest names in modern comics.


What’s interesting is that music, especially British pop music of the 70’s and 80’s, would play a huge part in influencing a lot of these writers.  Jamie Delano would become famous for his work on the long running Vertigo series Hellblazer which explored the life and exploits of the Alan Moore created occult magician John Constantine.


What’s funny is that the character of Constantine was modeled after British singer/songwriter and front man for The Police: Sting.


Grant Morrison had a more direct link to 1980’s British rock n’ roll, he was in a band called the Mixers who weren’t half bad.


As for Neil Gaiman, well he came out with a little known comic book series called Sandman which I have mentioned before is one of my favorite comic book series of all time.


One of the most famous recurring characters in Gaiman’s epic was none other than Satan himself, Lucifer Morningstar the Fallen One.


Gaiman made sure that this version of the prince of darkness was modeled after the appearance of David Bowie,


which probably makes this David’s greatest contribution to comic books.

The fact that British comic book culture in the 1980’s took so many influences from British music at the time really isn’t that surprising.  They were both engaged in a period of tremendous change an upheaval.  The 1970’s and 80’s were a time when a lot of previously long standing conventions were being overthrown and new ideas were being brought to the forefront.  For music this meant the rise of countless genres like electronic music, glam rock (a genre that Bowie helped pioneer), soul, funk, disco, new wave, psychedelic, stadium rock, and so much more.  For comics it meant the final death of the long established Comics Code and the ability to tell meaningful and complex stories again.

The 1970’s and 1980’s were tremendous times for music and comic books and we were fortunate to have David Bowie in the middle of it.  Out of all the crazy and wonderful acts that came out of that time period Bowie was able to stand out as one of the most unique and longest lasting of them all.  His accomplishments and influence will be felt for generations and he will be sorely missed.

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If you would like to explore some comic books that are more directly about or influenced by Bowie there is a comic book series called Fame! which publishes comic books about the lives and works of famous musicians and Bowie’s book can be found here. Also, Bowie’s first hit and one of his most famous songs, Space Oddity, was made into a children’s book which you can read about here.

Golden Age Showcase: The Sandman

Today we’re continuing to talk about the founding members of comic’s first superhero team: The Justice Society of America


Today we’re going to talk about the one superhero with the oldest and most definite roots of the entire genre: The Sandman.


Out of all the superheroes we’ve talked about The Sandman shares the most similarities with what came before comics: the pulp heroes.  The pulps were cheap, disposable adventure novels that usually dealt with lurid subject matter and had colorful characters like Doc Savage

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The Shadow


and my personal favorite: Zorro.


These stories were action packed, violent, and awesome.  The funny thing is that if you look at a typical set up for a pulp novel: a seemingly normal yet insanely talented and tortured protagonist, lots of action, and a very set good vs. evil viewpoint they share quite a bit with the Sandman, arguably making his character older than Superman’s.

Origin and career

The Sandman was originally born as Wesley Dodds: a wealthy Jewish-Catholic boy who spent a lot of time traveling throughout China learning martial arts, herbology, and origami.  Despite his upbringing he had a relatively normal appearance even looking a little bit pudgy in comparison to his god like co workers.


Unfortunately, tragedy struck the Dodds household.  Wesley’s father died during the First World War and his mother died soon after (because of course) leaving him in charge of a large estate and business.

Around 1938 Wesley started having vivid nightmares about criminals and the horrible crimes they would commit.  Realizing that inaction on his part would eventually drive him insane, Wesley decided to try to overcome the nightmares by becoming a costumed vigilante (it should be noted that his lack of moral compass, he wants to stop crime in order to solve his own problems rather than fulfill some greater good, makes him rather interesting in my book) and he used his fortune to develop and build a series of knockout gases that would force criminals to confess to what they’d done.

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After developing the gas and chemicals Dodds was given plans for a special gun by his good friend the Crimson Avenger and after that the legend was born.

During his career as a solo hero the Sandman stuck a lot closer to his pulp roots than his contemporaries.  A lot of his villains were pretty sadistic and brutal, even by today’s standards. His first villain was a serial killer called the Tarantula


and later on he would deal with other dark villains such as Dr. Death, the Butcher, and the Scorpion.  It is interesting to note that The Sandman would often suffer serious injury from gunshot wounds and, unlike many of his god like compatriots, had to regularly deal with the pain and trouble of being shot.

Early on in his crime fighting career Wesley met a girl named Diane Belmont, the daughter of the district attorney.


The two would eventually become lovers although they never married, and later on Wesley would reveal his identity to her as well.  Amazingly, the Sandman would buck a lot of established comic book tradition and have Dian be more of an asset to his fight against evil rather than a damsel in distress.


In 1941 the Sandman was selected by Dr. Fate to join the Justice Society where he helped prevent a villain named Ian Karkull


from assassinating President Roosevelt and taking over the United States.  Sadly, during his tenure with the JSA, Dian was almost killed while attempting to subdue several Nazi spies before Wesley could reach her.  With his lover taken away from him Wesley resolved to look after Dian’s nephew Sandy Hawkins and decided to change his suit at the end of 1941.


The Sandman had a sidekick and a new costume (I don’t like it in case you were wondering) but by 1945 the lifestyle was taking its toll.  Wesley’s all to human body began suffering from heart problems and he decided to lay off full time Justice Society work.  The final nail in the coffin wold come in 1951 when Wesley accidentally transformed Sandy into a monster and resolved to never be a costumed hero again.

So what happened?

Wesley retired in 1951 and the strain of being a hero, coupled with his guilt over Sandy, led him to try to suppress the idea that he ever was Sandman.

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Wesley would later come out of retirement with his old suit, fedora, and gas mask costume (hooray) and a desire to help his former sidekick overcome his transformation.  He wold eventually accomplish that by defeating an evil scientist known as the Shatterer who was using Sandy to create earthquakes and hurt his former rivals.

Over the next couple of decades Wesley would continue to play a small but important role in several stories.  As one of the oldest members of the JSA he would still help them but after several key battles he suffered a crippling stroke and began to wind down his superhero work again.  He and Dian had been reunited for a while and they decided to travel the world, but she succumbed to cancer and died in his arms.

Wesley would later die after jumping off a cliff in Tibet in order to stop a villain called the Dark Lord.

It should be noted that Wesley Dodd’s Sandman identity shared a name with the more recently popular Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series.


There are several differences, Dodds was simply a man while Gaiman’s Sandman was Morpheus the Lord of Dreams but Gaiman must have been aware of this as well and mentioned in the comics that Dodds’ original ability to dream of crimes before they happened was a direct result of Morpheus being absent from his kingdom for a period of time.

While the Sandman continues to live on under various retcons and in different identities it is important to pay homage to original: a tortured man who bravely fought against monsters and criminals and who was able to straddle the two worlds of pulp hero and comic book.


Cambrian Comics Friday Showcase: My favorite comics #4

Out of all of my favorite comic books that I enjoy and endlessly recommend to everyone I meet this is the one that has probably enjoyed the most mainstream success.  But before that we need a brief history lesson.

Vertigo is an imprint of DC Comics (for those of you who aren’t sure what an imprint is think of it like a company within a larger company that focuses on one specific thing) and is one of the most popular brands in comics.  It was founded in 1993 with a lady named Karen Berger at the helm.


Mrs. Berger had originally been responsible for bringing some of the most popular British comic book writers of the modern era into American comic books.  Names that included Grant Morrison


Alan Moore

Alan Moore

and Neil Gaiman


among many others.  This “British Invasion” of comics created some of the darkest, edgiest, and most exciting work the industry had ever seen with new takes on heroes like Animal Man, Hellblazer (this is the title of the comic that has Constantine in it), and The Swamp Thing.  This new sophisticated take on comics, coupled with an opportunity for DC to take over some projects that Disney comics had abandoned after an implosion in the 90’s (no really), led to the creation of the Vertigo imprint and the publishing of one of its most iconic series and my 4th most favorite comic.

4. Sandman (Vertigo Comics)


Author: Neil Gaiman

Artists: Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Jill Thompson, Shawn McManus, Marc Hempel, and Michael Zull

Number of Issues: 75

Sandman is very intelligent storytelling told by a man who is very passionate and interested in things that often seem a bit childish.  It’s a fantasy series but this is most definitely not for children.  Gaiman loves to talk and write about magic and mythology and one of the best ways to tackle such massive subjects is to give them humanoid shape and personalities.

The comic follows the imprisonment and subsequent escape of Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams.


After being imprisoned for decades by a black sorcerer Morpheus finally manages to escape and make his way back to his kingdom, a land where he rules over the dreams and imaginations of every human being in existence.


It’s a strange world that seems both familiar and unfamiliar to the naked eye and is home to a large cast of strange and mysterious characters such as Cain and Abel


Lucien the Librarian who looks after all the books and works ever created but were never made.


and a whole host of dreams such as the terrifying Corinthian.


It also turns out that Morpheus is not the only one of his kind.  The Lord of Dreams is one of seven “Endless”, a group of immortals that represent various aspects of the universe: Destiny, Death, Desire, Despair, Delirium, Destruction, and Dream.


And that brings us to the second aspect of the comic and my personal favorite.  While the crux of the series is about Dream and how he tries to piece his life and his kingdom back together after being held in captivity, the Endless are immortal and powerful beings that hold sway over so much of humanity and access to every corner of the universe.  This gives the comic ample opportunity to jump across time, space, and dimension to bring stories about whatever the author wants to talk about.  In one issue Dream could be conversing with his brothers and sisters and trying to figure out what to do with some strange universe shattering phenomena in the next issue Dream could be sitting in a bar with an immortal human being discussing the nature of life.  The Sandman deals with the forces of Hell, Heaven, Norse Mythology, the French Revolution, Greek myths, inter dimensional travelers, super heroes, serial killers, Shakespeare, actors, and even normal everyday human beings trying to live their lives.  The story is massive, sprawling, and offers a glimpse into an imagination that is ripe with wonderful stories and tales to tell.

If you would like to read the series you can buy it digitally on Comixology or the Vertigo store.  Also, DC launched another Sandman title called “Sandman: Overtures” which is in stores and online right now.