Welcome back to the Flashback. You may recall that a few years ago there was a package on cable network Trio dedicated to the proposition of showcasing “Brilliant . . . but Cancelled” TV programming. Clearly, you can apply that same kind of thinking to comics. Everyone has some kind of series that they loved . . . but lost due to cancellation. As always, the culprit is tagged as “low sales”, but hey, YOU bought it and YOU loved it, am I right? Today, I want to look back on one series in particular, but mention some others and invite more discussion. I speak, of course, of Aztek: The Ultimate Man!
It all began in 1996 . . .
1996!: Big events of the year included a tiny little presidential election. After a mid-term “Republican Revolution” in 1994, Bill Clinton’s prospects seem uncertain in ’96. Raise your hand if that sounds vaguely familiar. Clinton ended up facing Senator Bob Dole and winning by a fair margin. Other events of note included the discovery of the element Copernicium (entering at #112 on the charts), Michael Johnson wins Gold in the 200m finals with a time of 19.32 seconds and becomes the fastest man alive, the Taliban capture the city of Kabul in Afghanistan (uh-oh), and police officer John Spartan is cryogenically frozen as punishment over charges stemming from a hostage crisis caused by criminal Simon Phoenix. That was one was totally for Matt Brady.
Movies in 1996: Your biggest grossing films were “Independence Day”, “Twister”, “Mission: Impossible”, “The Rock”, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, the live-action “101 Dalmatians”, “Ransom”, “The Nutty Professor”, “Jerry Maguire”, and “Eraser”. “Eraser”?! Are you f’n kidding me? Other significant films included “Beautiful Girls”, “Bottle Rocket”, “The Frighteners”, “From Dusk Till Dawn”, “Happy Gilmore”, “Mars Attacks!”, “The People Vs. Larry Flynt”, “Romeo+Juliet”, and “Swingers”, among others. Genre-related films of note included “Barb Wire”, “The Phantom” (SLAM EVIL!), and “Star Trek: First Contact”.
Music in 1996: “One Sweet Day” by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men stays at #1 on the charts for SIXTEEN straight weeks. Tupac drops “All Eyez on Me” in February; he is killed later in the year. Jay-Z releases his debut, “Reasonable Doubt”. The Ramones play their last show. KISS dons the make-up again. Satan arrives on Earth in the form of “Wannabe” by The Spice Girls.
And, for our purposes . . .
Aztek, the Ultimate Man #1: “Aztek” arrived with an August cover date, just a few months before co-writer Grant Morrison took over writing the Justice League with JLA #1. Morrison’s co-writer, and Aztek’s co-creator, was a then little-known writer named Mark Millar. Millar’s primary work in the U.S. to that point had been on “Swamp Thing”. In the U.K., he and Morrison had worked together on “2000 AD”, notably the strip “Big Dave’, a controversy machine that featured everything from the titular hero sleeping with Princess Diana and the Duchess of York to leading a soccer team of disabled children against Adolf Hitler’s team. Don’t worry; you read that correctly.
With “Aztek”, Morrison, Millar, and artist N. Steven Harris hit the ground running with supreme creative energy. They added a new city to the landscape of the DCU (Vanity) and crafted a backstory involving Meso-American mythology. The protagonist was a character originally named Uno; he was raised by the Q (as in Quetzalcoatl) Society to be the hero that would save the world from Tezcatlipoca. A special suit gave him a number of powers. Uno would take the civilian identity of Doctor Curtis Falconer, and arrived in Vanity read to keep an eye out for the threat of Tezcatlipoca while battling other menaces.Aztek appeared on Justice League Unlimited What I recall most from the series was just how . . . fun . . . it was. Morrison and Millar wrote great stories that emphasized crazy inventiveness, simultaneously elevating and subverting super-hero clichés. By the final issue, #10, they had Aztek join the JLA (to be mined for Morrison’s later use); in the issue, we glimpse the JLA initiation ceremony, a secret rite that involves the cloak of the original Crimson Avenger. This was a good, solid comic, and gone before its time.
Aztek would continue to appear in JLA, but died heroically during Morrison’s final “World War III” arc. Realizing that the encroaching Maggedon was actually also Tezcatlipoca, Aztek unlocks the fourth-dimensional power of his suit to sacrifice himself and buy Superman the time to defeat the menace. Aztek also appeared in several episodes of “Justice League Unlimited”; he even received a figure in the JLU line (though neither he nor the rest of Morrison’s extended JLA, including Connor Hawke, Zauriel, or villain Prometheus, ever got their DC Direct due).
In addition to “Aztek”, there are a number of lost books that haunt their fans. What’s yours? Mine’s Aztek, and he’s your Friday Flashback.