This week, while I’m away for the week, I have prepared an extra special week long-edition of the 7. It’s more than 7.14 times better than a regular edition of The 7 cause it’s the 50 most influential moments in comic book history. These are the moments that we remember for their shock, awe, and influence. They shaped the industry to being the crossover filled, variant covered, month-long-delayed industry we all know and love. Here’s the moments…
10. Lone Wolf and Cub Comes to America – 1987
Seven years after Gen of Hiroshima became the first English translation of a Japanese comic, Lone Wolf and Cub hit the American newsstands. Lone Wolf and Cub, though, became the success that opened the manga market on U.S. soil. Today, manga provides an enormous influence for American comics. Marvel employed Joe Madureia, with his complete manga style, to draw the X-Men. Dark Horse Comics created a solely manga line as Marvel has recently. In addition, Lone Wolf can be credited with opening up the market for the successful and incredibly influential Akira film, trend setting Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh!, and the art styling of the video games Final Fantasy and Capcom characters. The Matrix film also credits manga and, the animated form, anime, as a major influence.
Though a small niche in the comic book market, Viz Communications (who dedicates itself to produce nothing but manga translations) and other publishers are increasingly adding manga to their art styling as well as manga imports. Growing more and more as the years pass, Japanese comics provide a creative heaven in a land where comics account for 40 percent of the print material in the country as a $5.5 billion industry, compared to the $200 million in America. Manga provides credibility and thus, influence.
9. X-Men #1 Sells 8 Million Copies – 1991
First, this is the single highest selling comic issue of all time. Second, it boosted Marvel’s dependency on its flagship team by creating a second title. Third, X-Men #1 arrived in comic stores wearing five different covers. The unexpected fallout from this brilliant sales strategy was that most other publishers imitated the same trick. Preying on the gullibility of collectors, Marvel, Image, and Valiant flooded the market with holographic, foil, chromium, special artist, bagged, die-cut, and glow-in-the-dark covers desperate to spark sales as collectors search for their next million dollar investment. Gold editions of Youngblood #1 sold for over $100 at conventions a few months after its release. When the dust settled, fans fled and collectors owned nothing but paper weights that fly away in the wind. Still, publishers rely on the “variant” cover as it came to be known, to boost sales. Unfortunately, much of the reason comics entered the slum they did during the early nineties can be blamed on the forced collectable trend.
8. Image Comics is Formed – 1992
They didn’t have a chance. Almost no one in the comic book industry gave the seven renegade artists any hope that their new company would stay open for long. The least of the expectations were what actually happened.
Artists Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld, Erik Larsen, Marc Silvestri, Jim Valentino, and Whilce Portacio quit some of the most coveted titles in comics to start their own company, Image Comics, where they could get a full cut of the profits, rather than see Marvel and DC Comics keep the mother load. Liefeld published his first comic, Youngblood, which broke the record for any independently published comic, reaching just under a million. McFarlane’s Spawn beat even that. Eventually, Image Comics grew to top DC Comics for it market share, becoming the second biggest comic company. The dust has settled, and now Image publishes a diverse line with little assistance from its founders, most of who left. The result, though, is the first independent publisher to challenge the big two and make them wet their pants with fear.
7. Julius Schwartz Creates A New Flash – 1956
The superhero genre was almost dead, except for Superman and Batman and a floundering Wonder Woman. Schwartz, an editor at DC, decided to reinvigorate a past hero, the Flash, by giving him no relation to his Golden Age predecessor and gave him a new identity and origin. The new character was a staggering success. The new character spawned a revival of the superhero genre, ushering in the age where superheroes dominated the medium. DC defined many of its major characters during this time. The Flash and Green Lantern replaced the original versions and became even more popular. Atom and Aquaman and many others became DC staples.
Marvel comics made its name during this time. Except for Captain America and Sub-Mariner, Marvel created all of its most popular characters during this time thanks to the Flash’s influence, of all the lives the Flash has saved, his greatest achievement has been saving the superheroes genre.
6. Fantastic Four Created – 1961
DC Comics was finding new success in creating superhero comics after over five years of dismal sales. Eager to compete, publisher Martin Goodman asked writer Stan Lee to create a team of superheroes as a response to DC’s Justice League of America. The result became anything but a similarity. Along with Jack Kirby, the two created a family with superpowers who struggled with money, love lives, and getting along with each other. After the Fantastic Four’s incredible success, Lee and Kirby continued to create characters with human problems including Spider-Man, the Hulk, Thor, and the team the Avengers.
5. Zap Comix #1 Released – 1968
For those of you who like Image Comics, Dark Horse, or even smaller publishers; for those of you who like Maus, Love and Rockets, Cerebus, and any other independently printed comic, you should also like a little comic that paved the way for the underground comix scene – an early version of independent publishing. There were some hit and misses before Zap Comix was published; Zap began the trend. Created by über-humor cartoonist Robert Crumb and a friend, Zap started self-publishing through hippy shops until Print Mint took over production. The success astonished the industry proving there was an audience for alternative comics far before the direct market came around. Though the underground certainly existed without Zap, Zap allowed dozens of artists find their voice without censorship and with an audience. Crumb became the biggest success, spawning an X-rated animated film based on his Fritz the Cat.
Initially, underground comix had little influence on the mainstream. Present day comics reflect the styles much more. Marvel Comics and Vertigo push their censoring limits as well as employ veteran underground artists including Brian Bolland and Richard Corben. Furthermore, mainstream comic shops include a wider variety of clean, but more avant-guard alternatives to superhero fanfare. Every small press publisher owes its opportunity to the road Zap paved over thirty years ago.
4. Seduction of the Innocent – 1955
Comics were the rock and roll before there was rock and roll. The youth culture of America escaped in the vibrant colors of the funny books who, in turn, filled their pages with what readers wanted to see: sex, blood, gore, and violence. The biggest publisher at the time, EC Comics, filled every cover and page of their comics with sadistic humor and violence, attempting to top itself every issue. Renowned psychiatrist, Fredrick Wertham wrote Seduction of the Innocent, a book where he accused comics of increasing juvenile delinquency in America. Though lacking footnotes and references, Seduction of the Innocent became an enormous success and triggered the hearings for the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency as well as numerous laws banning violent and gratuitous comics. The Comic Code Authority, an organization in charge of comic book censorship, was formed as a result. After this, the comic book industry went into a slump that it never escaped.
3. First Batman – 1939
Eager to earn a share of the money Superman’s creators were getting, Bob Kane, employing the help of Bill Finger, created the entire opposite of Big Blue. Batman hit the stands as a superhero that any person could imagine being. Batman had no superpowers. He utilized his intelligence and strove to reach top, physical condition through constant training. Since his inception, Kane added to the basis for superhero clichés with secret lairs, wealthy playboy secret identities, gadgets and vehicles, etc. Batman’s rogue gallery has also set the standard with the Joker, Catwoman, Mister Freeze, and Two Face showing how important the villains are to a hero. For one, Batman showed Superman was no fluke. Secondly, Batman broadened the identity for superheroes that allowed for more than planet moving knock offs. Creativity was key.
2. Spider-Man Learns the Identity of the Burglar – 1963
Intended to be a throwaway creation to end a dying title, writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko had no idea what he had created the day Spider-Man was born. Enraged at his uncle’s murder, Spider-Man finds the burglar, defeats him, and then learns the murder was the same man he saw earlier that day. He had ignored the opportunity he had to stop him. Thus, the burger remained free to kill Spider-Man’s uncle. The high morals that propelled Spider-Man into a life of heroics made him identifiable to his readers and an instant success. Since, Spider-Man has grown to be one of the most popular comic characters ever with blockbuster movies and top selling comics. The imitations followed with teen heroes finding a place on the news racks after Spider-Man stuck himself on them.
1. Action Comics #1 Released – 1938
In the midst of a directionless, undefined industry, fans needed a hero. That hero came as just that – a Superman. With enough strength to lift a car over his head, one of the most recognizable icons of the 20th century introduced the concept of the superhero. Creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster formed the archetype for a hero in the industrialized world. Everything including the spandex uniform, cape, secret identity, and the word “Super” came from the Superman himself. The genre of superheroes has allowed comics to endure decades of fickle American fan bases has been superheroes. Superheroes would never have come about if not for their patron saint – Superman.
Well, what a week it’s been. These are the Most influential moments in comic book history. Come back next week when I return with a whole assortment of new and exciting comments, lists, and obscenities.