<i>By <a href=http://twitter.com/troybrownfield>Troy Brownfield, Newsarama Columnist</a></i> <p>Here's the thing about clichés: Some have a basis in truth, while others can be diabolically inaccurate; frequently, this occurs at the same time. Take the view of "Comics in the '90s", for example. These days, "'90s" as a comics adjective seems to be used mostly as a short-hand diss, an easy way of taking a swipe at exaggerated art, underwritten characters, or gimmick covers. <p>That's not to say that those things didn't happen. However, it does sell short a, well, <i>decade</i> worth of outstanding material. In fact, it only took a few moments for us to recall Ten Great Comics Moments from the '90s. <p>This doesn't pretend to be an exhaustive list. In fact, we're going to leave it open for a sequel. Maybe a crossover. With variant art depending on which day you click the article. At any rate, throw on Nevermind and settle in . . . <p><i>Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's <a href=http://www.facebook.com/Newsarama><b>FACEBOOK</b></a> and <a href=http://twitter.com/newsarama><b>TWITTER</b></a>!</i>
Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's pastiche/homage epic kicked off in 1999. It's a fiendishly simple concept: what if some of the great heroes of fiction teamed up? Granted, we'd seen similar crossovers before (Fred Saberhagen's Dracula novels had him meet Sherlock Holmes and Merlin; Roger Zelazney's A Night in the Lonesome October from 1993 was a veritable house party of monsters, real and imagined), but not with the combination of wit, action, and taboo-smashing that the creators brought to it. <p>Occasionally more impressive than the comic itself are the text pieces from the various issues and mini-series, which outline a kind of fictional history of the world. In the mold of the Wold Newton Family by Philip Jose Farmer, Moore makes an earnest effort to tie together pretty much everything you've ever read or enjoyed, running all the way from Santa Claus to Twin Peaks.
Also released in 1999, <b>Chunky Rice</b> broke Craig Thompson is a big way. Released through Top Shelf, the allegorical tale deals mainly with an anthropomorphic turtle that's taking his leave of a very special mouse. It sounds extraordinarily precious, and of course, there are some moments where it can be. However, it mostly a heart-tugging look at hard choices and the losses that we sometimes have to accept. Casting animals actually takes a little bit of the sting out. <p><b>Rice</b> was extremely well-received, earning Thompson a Harvey in 2000 for Best New Talent and an Ignatz for Outstanding Artist. The book paved the way for Thompson's enormous <b>Blankets</b>; the 2003 book earned 2 Eisners, 3 Harveys and 2 Ignatz Awards. His latest, <b>Habibi</b>, is on shelves now.
Comic book historians often point to 1986 as one of the magic years, and they're right. They're also correct to count <b>Maus</b> as one of its high points. Also true. However Art Spiegelman's, <b>Maus I: My Father Bleeds History</b>, was only part one. The second half, <b>Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began</b> came out in 1991. The current The Complete Maus followed. <p><b>Maus</b> also left an indelible stamp on the '90s by taking home the Pulitzer Prize Special Award in 1992. To put that in its proper historical perspective, other winners of that award over time include Alex Haley for Roots, Duke Ellington, Bob Dylan, Ray Bradbury, and Carl Sandburg. That's pretty staggering company to be in. Of course, the fact of the matter is that <b>Maus</b> also deserves to be in it.
This one-two punch from Alex Ross established him as an artistic force and spurred the proliferation of a number of similarly-styled projects. However, Ross also distinguished himself and his art by working with two of the best super-hero writers in the business: Kurt Busiek and Mark Waid. Busiek's savvy and personal take on the history of the Marvel Universe as seen through the eyes (and later, eye) of photographer Phil Seleski brought back some of the magic of those early comics. <p>In <b>Kingdom Come</b>, Waid and Ross took a view of the apocalypse, DC-style. With Superman as the central figure in a super-powered passion play, we saw Biblical allegory blend almost effortlessly with a critique of the very direction of that decade's mainstream comics. <p>Whether you were big fans of these books or not, it was impossible to dismiss their popularity or impact. Ross's art at the time simply looked like nothing else on the stands. And honestly, still doesn't.
Seven superstar artists banding together to form their own company? Insanity! Certainly, this was one the biggest comics news stories of all time. And despite a lot of naysaying and predictions of Image's demise, it has endured. <p>You can figure out any number of reasons as to why Image has stuck around, such as each founder following his own muse or guys like Jim Valentino recognizing that the company needed to diversify or Todd McFarlane marrying the line to successful toys or Erik Larsen knocking out <b>Savage Dragon</b> with stunning consistency year after year. Of course, all of those things are true. The fact is, Image is still around and still strong because people can still come in and do their own thing. From Robert Kirkman to Dirk Manning, from Nick Spencer to Paul Grist, creators with a unique tale can still go to Image.
When Warren Ellis took over the writing chores on <b>Stormwatch</b>, it was a somewhat creatively floundering title, more or less lost among other team books. Ellis fixed that rather quickly, shaking up the team and bringing in some new original blood. <p>When he ended the book in grand style with #50, pitting his team against heroes that (shock!) were actually trying to make the world better, Ellis relaunched the team into a new volume. Joined on the fourth issue by artist Bryan Hitch, Ellis really tore the doors off, bringing in Apollo and Midnighter and positing other worlds in The Bleed. The second volume ended with #11, and Ellis audaciously wiped out most of the team in <b>WildC.A.T.s/Aliens</b>, a book that didn't even have Stormwatch in the name. From the ashes of Stormwatch came <b>The Authority</b>, Ellis and Hitch on a full-tilt rocket-ride through widescreen super-hero comics. <p>For some people, that would be enough. However, Ellis and John Cassaday also found time to get <b>Planetary</b> started before the '90s were out. It's sort of ridiculous, isn't it?
After years of successful adult-aimed supernatural, horror and suspense work, DC finally gave the titles an imprint of their own in 1993. Do we even need to tell you why Karen Berger and Vertigo are so important? We don't? You've got it? Good.
Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's gonzo religion-alcohol-vampire-fueled modern western dropped in 1995. Profane, hilarious, and brilliant, the book satirized everything from rock-star suicide to the big ideas of Christianity and everything in between. A series where you literally didn't know what would happen next, it nevertheless had amazing heart, hung as it was upon the star-crossed love between Jesse Custer, a man of the cloth with an incredible power, and hit-woman Tulip. However, just as powerful a creation was Cassidy, the hard-drinking Irish vampire that could simultaneously be the best and worst friend you'd ever met. <p>And the list of indelible characters goes on, from Arseface to Herr Starr to Jesse's terrifying grandmother . . . they were realized with mad inventiveness and deft artistic skill. By the time it was over, you knew that you'd never again see anything like it.
Comics have ALWAYS been about more than super-heroes. Frank Miller remembered that. Steeping <b>Sin City</b> in a combination of film noir and the crime comics of days gone by, Miller created an alternative universe where the church was corrupt, the cops were paid for, and death was swift and brutal. <p>Okay, maybe that's not that alternative to our universe. Nevertheless, the denizens of Miller's heightened reality spoke volumes about the medium, society, and how we perceive violence and gender roles. <b>Sin City</b> has never been for all sensibilities, but I don't think that Marv much cares.
Who would have thought that a supernatural investigator that looks like a devil but can't shoot straight would spawn spin-offs, animated films, and big-budget Hollywood feature? Maybe Mike Mignola, but we're pretty sure that the main thing he cared about was making one of the best damn comic books in anyone's memory. Combing his wonderful dark artistry with a knack for character and smart integration of the world's folklore, Mignola built a character universe that still thrives. And he did it in the '90s. <p>Anyone else want to say that everything about the decade sucked? Let's not. <p>Let the conversation continue on <a href=http://www.facebook.com/Newsarama><b>FACEBOOK</b></a> and <a href=http://twitter.com/newsarama><b>TWITTER</b></a>. What comics ruled for real in the '90s?