Brace yourself! Panelology returns after a hiatus with an all 80s edition of Your Collection is Incomplete. The 1980s were a time of cheesy hair and tacky music, but for some, comic books were never better than in those high-water days of mysterious brooding. Most of the 30-something audience of comic book readers today fondly look back at this period as being largely responsible for grabbing our attention and bringing us into the medium. As with any decade, some of the books were better than others, but chances are that most of us probably have comics from this era that we dearly hold onto as cherished jewels of our collection. And hey, it was the 80s. Some may have literally put glitter on their boxes as kid to give them that extra jewel-like sparkle. Regardless, here are three books from that decade of darkness that still pack a punch today and should occupy a corner of your long boxes.
Elemental #’s 1-5, Comico
By Bill Willingham
Available in Elementals issues 1-5 (volume 1) or in TPB
Before Mr. Willingham wowed us with his Fables, Elementals stood out as his premiere accomplishment. Elementals follows the tale of four resurrected humans that somehow cheated death and now have superpowers. As the title suggests, these four team members were possessed with the power of the basic elements of earth. Vortex represents air, while Fathom embodies water, Monolith earth, and Morningstar fire. Pretty simple, right? Well, seeing as how all of these people had to first die to get there powers, you had to know it wouldn’t be that simple. Dying in order to get superpowers makes getting bitten by a radioactive spider seem so blasé. Yet, there it is. Willingham handled both art and writing duties on many of the issues in the initial run, although his involvement was mainly in the writing department by the end of the first series. Later incarnations would stray further and further away from the mature look at superheroes. Willingham set forth, as would his involvement. Disputes over the rights to the characters would leave the finalized story of the Elementals in limbo forever, yet these first few issues were excellent, as much of the first series is. Willingham did not shy away from handling touchy subjects such as sex and the transforming dynamic a team can have over time. This was a established look at how superheroes operate without all of the pretension that would come from later stories from other companies. The initial salvo of the Shadowspear War represented in these first few issues plays into the larger arc of just what the Elementals are. It’s too bad that Willingham never truly got to finish the story as the Elementals, but that should not deter you from giving these issues a happy home.
Strikeforce: Morituri #’s 1-12, Marvel
By Peter Gillis and Brent Anderson
Available in issues Strikeforce: Morituri 1-12
Sticking with the death theme, we have Striikeforce: Morituri as our next essential. I am surprised at how many comic book fans don’t know about this wonderful little treasure from Marvel. It is probably one of the best kept secrets of 1980s Marvel. Every cover to the book stated the ominous moniker; We Who Are About to Die! Lots of comics boasted such doomsday claims, but few have actually lived up to the chaotic promise of death that this title held. The story revolves around a group of aliens attempting to take over earth, the Hoard (I know, I know; very original). The last line of defense for earth was to use the Morituri process to give humans superpowers. The catch? The Morituri process killed you. Eventually, all that went through the process would die randomly in a violent explosion of light, their powers consuming them. That’s right, kids. Characters really did die in comics for good and in violent ways before Peter Milligan and Mike Allred’s X-Force/X-Statix. It seemed like just as you started to enjoy a character, poof, they were gone. The first twelve issues were just flipping great and consistent in their quality that it’s hard to say not just stop there. Finish the whole series out. Just buy them all. Right? I wish I could tell you that. However, the truth is that the quality of the series does peter off towards the end. Yes, I said “peter off.” The series was cancelled with issue #31, only to be replaced by a prestige format book that lasted five issues. Since then, the Strikeforce has been pretty much MIA. That’s too bad. There is a lot of potential in these characters and in this story. Maybe a reinvigorated version is just around the corner from the House of Ideas. Just think of it this way, Marvel; Wolverine could show up.
Batman: The Killing Joke, DC Comics
By Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
Available in TPB and HC
I know I promised that I would try to steer clear of the big guns like Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns, but it’s very hard not to talk about the Joker now. With the recent release of Dark Knight on DVD and the buzz surrounding a potential Oscar for the late Heath ledger, it’s impossible to not turn our attention to the character, especially his finest moment. To many fans, the Killing Joke is the best Joker story ever published It’s hard to argue against that, especially since the book has been in-print ever since it was first published in 1988. The Joker has always been a nifty character and an iconic rogue for Batman, but Alan Moore brought a psychotic quality to clown prince of crime. The Joker seemed like a slapstick comedian in many of the old Bat-efforts in previous decades. In the 80s, writers started to take him a bit more seriously. Part of this had to do with the natural progression of following the story, but part of it was the changing tone of comics. The Joker became darker because comic books became darker. The caper portrayed isn’t Joker slapping a pie in anyone’s face. No, Joker decides to shoot Jim Gordon’s daughter, forcing Gordon to watch, torturing him with images of the deed. This is something a psycho would do! While this might seem a bit tame compared to Heath Ledger’s brilliant interpretation of Joker, I would argue that the move towards the lunacy of that portrayal started right here in this very comic. The Joker was suddenly a serious threat. Once this book came out, writers couldn’t bring back the more jester-like version of Joker. The character was in a darker place now and there was no going back.