8.29.2008

Panelology - Casualty of the 90s: Warriors Of Plasm

by Brandon
We all probably fondly remember a comic book or company that went away in during the 90s due to one creative failure or business miscalculation. Though the company or title remains forever in our hearts, they have sadly passed on to the nether region known as the dollar bin, or even worse, the trash can. Some of these titles were exciting, refreshing, and new. Many of these titles were terrible beyond the imagination of anything these hokey events from the Big Two could slop at us. But yes, Virginia, there were some quality titles that went the way of the dodo, dinosaur, and southern liberal. Defiant’s Warriors of Plasm stands as one of those imaginative titles that were woefully destroyed by the ridiculous and spiteful underpinnings of the 1990s. Feel like getting mad at Marvel today? Of course you do! Read on.

Shooting the Shooter
Even before Rob Liefeld was a twinkle in a fanboy’s evil eye, Jim Shooter could get the fans all abuzz with hate, blood pressure rising in raging, foaming about the mouth with cheap plastic Halloween swords in hand ready to storm the Marvel Offices in New York. Shooter has never shied from controversy. Shooter has also never shied away from trying new things and shaking up the nuts and bolts of comic books, especially certain well established properties. I think Captain America fans still have bounties out for his scalp.

Whether you love or hate Jim Shooter, he entered the 90s with a great drive to bring new comics to the forefront, first with Valiant Comics and later with Defiant. The story of Valiant Comics is one for another Causalities of the 90s column, but it is impossible to talk about Defiant without looking at Valiant briefly. Valiant successfully published original and licensed properties and helped lead the charge for those cheesy chromium covers. I know, ugh. Valiant was wildly successful for an independent publisher, but despite the success, there was a question of selling the company, which Shooter disagreed with. Also, there was the question of Shooter being quite the dictator when it came to his editing practices. Shooter would eventually be forced to leave Valiant for a time, though he would later return, causing even more trouble once he returned. But that’s another story for another time.

Defiant to the Last
Not to be outdone by his Valiant partners, Shooter would Defiant, headhunting several of the creative talents populating some of Valiant’s best books. One of those creators was David Lapham. Shooter and Lapham created Warriors of Plasm together. Warriors of Plasm was a pretty funky title. How freaky was it? Freaky. Imagine David Bowie creating a strange space opera in the 1970s that involved aliens, the end of days, and decadence. Well, on second thought, scratch that.

Warriors of Plasm followed the story of a sentient planet, the Org of Plasm. Being a living world, it was constantly hungry. The Org had to be fed constantly, so those people who followed the Org had to conquer plants and offer up tasty, meaty morsels to the great Org. Mmm mmm, good. Lorca, the lead guy on the acquisition of munchies for the Org, had a change of heart when it came time to devour our humble planet, Earth. He genetically modified five humans to stand up and defend Earth against the impressive hunger of the Org.

Hilarity and problems ensue. Unfortunately for Defiant, they ensued both on and off panel.


Marvel at Marvel’s Legal Might

Do you remember the Marvel character Plasmer? Of course you don’t. And if you do? You’re a loser. Your guild in World of Warcraft needs you now to raid some mine or castle or whatever it is you do. On a scale of comic book coolness from 1 (Quasar) to 10 (Wolverine), Plasmer scores a whopping -15.2. Well, if anybody remembered Plasmer it was Marvel. And Marvel’s Legal Department.

Apparently, on the surface, Marvel believed that we fans were too incompetent to recognize the difference between Plasmer and Warriors of Plasm. Let me write those two names again for those of us Marvel considers to be too stupid; Plasmer and Warriors of Plasm. Right. And this was in the era before flawed Joe Quesada-like thinking at Marvel. Originally, the title of the comics was supposed to be just Plasm, but Marvel still sued after the name change. Excelsior!

It doesn’t take an insider to see that this was probably more a vendetta against Defiant and Shooter than it was about protecting their intellectual property. Full disclosure; I feel dirty using the term “intellectual property” for Plasmer. Marvel’s pursuit of the lawsuit would prove fail in court, but it was enough to topple Defiant as a company. The large legal fees used defending itself from such a frivolous lawsuit alone helped topple Shooter’s Defiant Comics. The lesson learned here for independent publishers; don’t mess with Marvel. Even in legal defeat, Marvel has a deeper wallet than you do.

A total of fifteen issues (#’s 0-13 and a holiday special) and one trade of Warriors of Plasm were published before the plasmatic axe came down on the title.

The Dust Settles
Defiant was brutally victimized by the Marvel juggernaut for daring to infringe on the much beloved Plasmer. But this story does have a bit of a silver lining. At my core, I’m an optimist, so I can’t leave these creators or my fine readers in the negative-Nancy lurch, right?

In 1995, David Lapham would move on to start his publishing company El Capitan. His title crime title Stray Bullets would wow critics right from the beginning. Lapham would gain so much attention that he would do books for both Marvel and DC, working on characters such as Batman, Punisher, and Daredevil. He’s currently rocking the socks off of his Vertigo title Young Liars. Lapham made it! That’s too bad in a way because as his mainstream workload has increased, his output on Stray Bullets has decreased. That’s too bad. Stray Bullets has consistently been one of the best independently published titles ever produced. It would entertain, get your juices going, and constantly provoke you to think about human nature.


And then there’s Jim Shooter. He would make a comeback to Valiant in 1999 with Unity 2000, but that wouldn’t last too long. He was brought back on to rejuvenate the now flaccid Valiant line. But Shooter had chips on his shoulder and axes to grind. Mental note for all readers; don’t try to piss off the people you pissed off before by bringing unfavorable facsimiles of them into your title. It is not likely to garner you any favors and someone may be tempted to use the word “asshole” when describing you. Shooter did this. It was funny for all of us readers, like Democrats watching Hillary Clinton forcing that malevolent smile this week at the DNC. It was an odd choice of venue for revenge, but nevertheless, it wouldn’t last. Like many companies at the time, there were payment disputes out of the yin-yang. Acclaim/Valiant filed for bankruptcy after three issues. Even though he was lost in the comic book void for a while, Shooter has recently found his way back to the title that put him on the map, DC’s Legion of Superheroes.

Warriors of Plasm may be gone now, but the creators are still out there enjoying their own brand of success. You can’t ask for much better than that, can you?

Next Week…
We must say goodbye to the Causalities of the 90s for the time being. But don’t fret! Casualties of the 90s will be a regular feature of Panelology during the last week of every month henceforth. Next week, I’ll be looking at the arduous subject of the even more arduous task of cataloging your comic collection. Ouch.

See you then!

5 comments:

Mister said...

This was brilliant Brandon, a really well written funny piece, I had never heard of Defiant, and definitely never heard of Warriors of Plasm, so cheers for brining me up to date with this!

The Casualties of the 90's is an interesting concept and I can't wait to read more.

Brandon said...

Thank you! You should really check this book out. It's a lot of fun and you can generally find it dirt cheap.

I've enjoyed writing these Casualty articles. It's given me an excuse to go back through my collection and relive the past (which has influenced next week's column). There will be more Casualty articles. I promise.

Chris Ware said...

Defiant has some pretty cool books to go along with Warriors of Plasm: Dark Dominion, Good Guys, Charlemagne, War Dancer, Dogs of War, and Prudence & Caution were all pretty cool. I need to track down the issues I'm missing...

Brandon said...

Dark dominion was definitely my second favorite book.

warhorse said...

I thought I was the last guy on earth that owned/enjoyed Warriors of Plasm! Great flashback, Brandon!