To many of us, the 1990s was seen as the best decade of a generation. The last decade of the 20th century changed everything in the world. This great era brought us the birth of the internet, huge scientific leaps forward, and everyone suddenly becoming aware of life around them, such as the environment and animal extinction. Not only these important things made the 90s an industrious and important decade to humanity, but the world of entertainment got a big boost too.
Movies and TV shows, with the help of state of the art CGI and special effects, were bigger and better than ever and the music world saw changes everywhere with the explosion of grunge, rap, hip-hop, and even electronic dance music taking over the world. The fashion was eclectic and featured trends that are still coming back into style today.
However, through all these great things that were happening in the world during the 1990s, there was one medium that suffered like never before and that’s the comic book industry. Having been such a popular and dominant source of entertainment for decades, comic books suddenly took a huge step down in the 90s, so much so that it came very close to being the end of comic books. With the sudden influx in popularity of comic book movies, the industry is booming, maybe more than ever before. With this list we look at 15 reasons why comic books almost ended in the 1990s.
Next we come to a comic book trope of the 90s that seemed to be in every comic book story. The trope became so big and so ridiculous that it actually got its own term, known as “fridging.” It’s fair to say that over the years, women in comic books have often been there to either get rescued or as a love interest. However, during the 1990s, comic book writers took this one step further and just had female characters in comic books so they could be killed for the sake of a plot device. And they weren’t just killed, they were killed in the most terrible, and sometimes stupid, ways, just for shock value.
The most famous of these tropes, and the reason “fridging” got its name is in a Green Lantern story in the early 1990s. Kyle Rayner was the new Lantern on the block and in order to make his story more interesting, the writers decided that his girlfriend should be killed, but not only killed, but have her body stuffed in a fridge for him to find. This one act sent comic books down a bad and stupid path that took them almost a decade to get out of.
14. Comic Book Covers
There is an old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover,” and most of us stick to that rule. We’ve all gone into a bookshop or comic book shop and rather than picking something based on the cover, we flick few a page or two to see if we might like it.
However, during the 1990s, comic book companies, especially Marvel, decided that this rule wasn’t the way to go, so they went out of their way to give us comic book covers that were meant to grab our attention, but this backfired big time as it turned us all away. Not only did the same comic books have different covers (probably some way to make them more valuable or unique when fans resold them!) but comic books also started to give out free gifts, toys, and gadgets as incentive and they also plastered their covers with gimmicks like hologram stickers and art work. They spent so much time and effort on the cover that they seem to have forgotten that a book actually needs a story inside.
13. Superman Red And Blue
Next we come to a specific comic book run that was doomed from the start. The very idea of this DC storyline is so ridiculous that we still don’t know how it ever made it to print. Obviously DC felt the same in the end as they have done everything they can to make sure Superman Red/ Superman Blue has been erased from the DC existence.
Considering that Superman is one of the oldest comic book superheroes (after all, he has been saving the day since the 1930s), you would think that DC had pretty much exhausted all their ideas for The Man of Steel, but how wrong we were. After making Superman so overpowered that his story became almost pointless, the writers decided to split him in two, a red Superman and a blue Superman, and each one would have a different side to Superman. This idea was not received well by fans and critics and DC had another big misfire on their hands.
12. Jacked Up Heroes
Superheroes, especially in the comic book world, have always been depicted and drawn as muscle bound guys with tight costumes that make normal people look small and insignificant. And to be honest, that’s not really a bad thing. After all, they are beings that have great power and save the world on a weekly basis, so having some big muscles isn’t really a bad thing.
However, during the 1990s comic book artists took this to another level and most of the characters in the comic books looked as if they’d been taking a little something extra in their diets. Superheroes suddenly became so jacked up and big that the likes of Superman just looked stupid and laughable. Not only was their physical appearance ridiculous but everything about them was just plain daft; from their costumes to their hair styles, we all remember Superman’s mullet right? Superheroes in the 90s were quickly becoming a laughing stock.
11. Zombie Punisher
We’ve already mentioned on this list how comic book writers are always trying to come up with new things and stories for their existing characters. DC tried, and failed, several times with Superman and Batman so Marvel tried to do the same with their characters. One of those great big misfires is when they rewrote everything about The Punisher.
In hindsight it’s very odd to us that Marvel messed with a character like The Punisher. He was already an outsider to the main Marvel universe and had gained a huge cult status, so we are still unsure as to their thinking in this storyline. As the 90s started, The Punisher had become even more darker and more violent than ever before, but Marvel decided that wasn’t enough so they had Frank Castle kill himself and then return to Earth as some kind of Angel/Zombie demon hunter. We have a feeling that the recent success of other comic books, The Crow for example, made Marvel mess with The Punisher and try to tap into that market.
10. Heroes Reborn
It can be a difficult thing in comic books when you have a huge and popular storyline, especially a storyline that seemingly kills off your main characters. What do you do next? After The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, and Doctor Doom had been killed by Onslaught, Marvel decided to take this opportunity to reinvent their favorite heroes. So they brought in seasoned comic book writers Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld to work some magic.
The result was Heroes Reborn in which Marvel’s greatest heroes were all given a re-write and a redesign, and yes, every hero was insanely jacked up. But that wasn’t the worse part, everything that made these heroes popular was gone and we were left with terrible characters and even worse storylines. Once Marvel realized this wasn’t a good idea, they fired all those involved and went back to what they do best. Thankfully.
9. Too Many Retcons and Universes
As we’ve just mentioned with our previous entry, Heroes Reborn, the comic book industry in the 1990s had such a fascination with rebooting and retconning all their characters that us fans were overloaded with some many different versions, that it became impossible to keep up with them all and it also became so complicated and confusing, that we just didn’t know what the hell was going on half the time.
Over the course of the 90s, particularly with Marvel and DC, universes had been rebooted or redesigned so many times that everyone had died, and then was brought back, and then died again, so often that the stories lost all their meaning. Everyone seemed so obsessed with pocket universes and parallel timezones/worlds, that there were several versions of characters running alongside each other at the same time. The result was one giant mess that took both DC and Marvel many years to get out of.
8. Venom And Carnage Overload
The 1990s saw a lot of bad things happen to our favorite comic book characters and one such character was Spider-Man. Always popular and always featuring great storylines, Marvel decided to change a few things about Spider-Man in the 90s. One such thing will forever be a stain on his great reputation, more on that with our next entry! But for this entry Marvel seemed to forget all about Spider-Man in the 90s.
With Venom and Carnage becoming popular characters — after all, the anti hero and guys with bad attitudes were starting to become more popular than the main heroes, like The Punisher, Deadpool, and Lobo — so we understand that the likes of Venom and Carnage would appeal to people, and for the most part the symbiont duo did pretty well in the 90s. However, there was one thing in all these comic books that Marvel seemed to forget and that’s Spider-Man. Venom and Carnage may have been cool characters but they had no depth to them and were just typical 2 dimensional characters and poor old Spider-Man started to become a supporting character in his own comic books.
7. Spider-Man: The Clone Saga
We’ve just mentioned that Spider-Man had gone through a bit of a tough time in the 90s but one of the worst things for him, and in fact any comic book story ever, is Spider-Man: The Clone saga. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, DC had two massive hits with The Death of Superman and Batman: Knightfall. Whether people liked them or not is another subject, but those comic books sold like crazy. So in an attempt to have a huge event around their ever popular Spider-Man, Marvel decided to do something special with him and came up with The Clone Saga.
What started out as a simple idea, and actually started out very successful with fans, The Clone Saga went on and on and on. The story got re-written so many times that no one knew what was going on and fans very quickly stopped buying this comic book. The actual storyline of Clone Saga is far too long and complicated to go into, but essentially there were a load of clones of Spider-Man and the idea was for us to never really know who was the real Peter Parker. The whole thing was one giant mess and The Clone Saga has gone down in history as one of the worst comic book events ever.
6. Image Comics
How grateful do we think Image Comics are for the recent, and huge, success of The Walking Dead? It’s fair to say that without such a big hit, Image Comics may well be a distant memory by now. Back in the early 90s, some comic book greats got together to release some new and exciting comic books and Image Comics was born.
Starting off on a high, Image Comics produced a string of hits: Spawn, Wild C.A.T.S, and Witchblade were the big hitters, and everything seemed to be going well for the new kids on the comic book block. However, within only a few years, the shine of these new comic books began to fade and even the likes of Spawn became predictable and boring, after all it seemed impossible for Spawn to die or to be in any real peril, so everything lost its shine. During the mid 90s it still amazes us just how Image Comics managed to stay in business, but luckily for Walking Dead, fans they did.
If there is one comic book character and hero that can seemingly do no wrong with fans, its Batman. The Dark Knight has been fighting crime in Gotham City since the 1930s and with each decade, and each generation, Batman becomes more and more popular. So much so that The Dark Knight is no longer just a simple comic book character, he has actually passed over into legend.
However, how quick fans forget that everyone’s favorite vigilante was almost destroyed during the 90s. Not only were there a string of terrible movies, Batman Forever and Batman and Robin almost took Batman away from our screens forever, but in the comic books, Batman spent most of the 90s, not being Batman. After he had his back broken by Bane, Batman took some time off to recover and a few people donned the Batman outfit. The worst of the worst was Jean-Paul Valley, who started to take a liking to killing the bad guys, a very un-Batman thing to do. Luckily, much of the 90s has been largely forgotten about, but we came so close to losing Batman forever.
4. Killing Superman
Next we come to one of the single biggest events that has ever happened in comic books. As the 1990s started to approach, the writers at DC thought that fans had started to take Superman for granted. This was a fair assessment as The Man of Steel had been seriously overpowered for years and nothing could truly stop him. So DC decided to do the unthinkable and kill Superman.
The plus side of this story is that it showed us fans that anyone and anything could end and no one, not even Superman, was safe. It was exciting and refreshing. However, the good side doesn’t outweigh the bad that this story gave us. What the Death of Superman gave us, apart from a string of terrible Superman wannabes, was that it gave the comic book writers free rein to do massive comic book events. Spider-Man: The Clone Saga, Heroes Reborn and so many other terrible 90s events that can all be pinned back to The Death Of Superman. Shame on them.
3. Marvel And DC Crossover
The two biggest names in comic books are bringing their favorite heroes together in an almighty match off. Isn’t that the subject of every fan boy’s dream? However, the reality of these two giants together almost ruined everything that is good about them. Firstly, the two came together in a VS battle in which Spectre and The Living Tribunal wanted to see which universe was better, so they pitted their best heroes against each other.
With Batman against Captain America, Superman against Hulk, and Spider-Man against Superboy being the most famous one. However, after those battles happened, they came out with the Amalgam universe in which heroes were mashed together; like Dark Claw, which was Batman and Wolverine and Super-Soldier which was Superman and Captain America. The resulting comic book became a huge anticlimax and disappointment.
Anyone that was born after the 1990s will be shocked to learn just how close Marvel came to ending it all. Nowadays Marvel is worth billions of dollars, thanks in part to Disney’s ownership of the MCU. But back in 1996, one of the biggest names in comic books were about to go bust.
Having been popular and successful since the 1960s, Marvel had a string of bad comic books, storylines, character retcons, as well as bad investment ideas, crazy imprints, and everything that would make a businessman have serious nightmares. With most of the decade bringing misfire after misfire throughout the entire comic book world, it looked all over for Marvel. The very medium of comic books was under threat and many people, including Sandman legend Neil Gaiman, thought that the bubble had burst on comic books and their time was over. Thankfully none of that happened and comic books today have never been stronger, but the 1990s came so close to ending it all.
1. Too Much Bad, Not Enough Good
The number one entry on our list of terrible things that almost destroyed comic books in the 1990s, has to be the stories and comic books themselves. We’ve mentioned many terrible stories, character retcons and re-writes, bankruptcy, and the very heart of the comic books in the 90s, which was way off the mark.
It’s fair to say that comic books in general had really lost their way during this era and with each misfire, they tried to rectify it by taking chances and messing with favorite characters to the point in which we couldn’t recognize them anymore. Instead of chasing sales and spending their time on pointless gimmicks to sell their comic books, what they should have done is focused on some truly great stories and characters and the comic books would have sold themselves, just like they had done for the previous 40 years or so. Luckily the comic book world recovered from the disaster that was the 90s, but it all could have been over and comic books could have really been a thing of the past.
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