Ah, 1996. The decline of the comics-as-collectibles market, the tail end of the speculation boom where fanboys and laymen alike finished hoarding anything and everything with any notable the expectation of retiring off it in 20 years’ time and realized they just wasted a lot of money and had nothing to show for it but boxes of bagged and boarded crap. Amidst all this was the birth of a dozen or two new superhero universes, and the rise of Image, where art over story was cherished above all, and DC and Marvel lost many of their “hot artists” to creator-owned work (or artist-driven projects). With the comics market in a tailspin, the big were throwing all they can at the wall to try and create buzz (having already killed Superman and Wonder Woman, break Batman’s back, clone Spider-Man, etc. there wasn’t much left to do). The annual cross-over events were faltering, fans losing interest, so all that was left to do was bring the two universes together, figuratively and literally, and turn it into an interactive event. It was called “DC vs. Marvel” (or “Marvel vs. DC” depending on who was publishing it). It saw a rift bridging the two worlds together and pitted hero against hero (Batman vs. Captain America, Superman vs. Thor, Wolverine vs. Lobo…) with the fans deciding in advanced polls who would win each contest (it all wound up being a popularity contest, with the infinitely more popular X-Men pitting their heroine Storm up against Wonder Woman and winning? As the then-relevant pop-culture quote goes: “Sheah, right”).
Anyway, mid-way through the contest, the two universes collapsed upon each other and for one month formed the “Amalgam” universe, a silly place where illogical combinations of intermingled identities, personalities and powers resulted in some truly gaudy looking characters and some terrible, terrible comics.
But it was all really cool at the time.
Actually even then, I suspected none of this was very good. In fact I only bought one or two of the “Amalgam” titles. In unpacking the collection, I noticed Aden had bought ALL OF THEM, and decided to have a little peek at what I missed (and what I don’t really remember).
My eyes, they bleed!
Super-Soldier - bridges together Superman and Captain America, Lex Luthor and the Red Skull(sorta). Written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, it’s a book that tries desperately hard to make the two characters and their origins/nemeses logically fit together, but from the first moment where they say that the baby from krypton died in its rocket and they used its DNA to make a super-soldier serum, it all fell apart for me. For some reason, that baby from Krypton dying is just offensive, as is a blonde “Clark Kent” and a flying Captain America. The whole book is just wrong, wrong, wrong from start to finish.
JLX - this book combined the godawful 1996 Justice League with a godawful assortment of mutants, creating the following hybrids: Mr. X (a cross between Professor X and Martian Manhunter); Apollo (Cyclops and the Ray); Firebird (Fire and Jean Grey); Nightcreeper (Nightcrawler and the Creeper); Mercury (Quicksilver and Impulse); Runaway (Rogue and Gypsy); Wraith (Obsidian and Gambit); and the Mariner (Aquaman and Namor… why not “Aquanamor”? “Aquamariner”?). The book opens with the JLX combating the JLA (”Judgement League Avengers”) in a battle that boggles the eyeballs, and then moves on into a quest for Atlantis (which goes like this… “Oh, I wish we could find Atlantis…oh, there it is.”). There’s copious amounts of melodrama which, given the one-off nature of this book, is completely irrelevant and damn annoying. Written by Waid and Gerard Jones it’s another maddeningly awful “cool-in-concept” book with the usually unpalatable art from Howard Porter (who would later make Grant Morrison’s JLA run a difficult slog).
Doctor Strangefate - this was, I believe, the only Amalgam title I bought way back when, the reasons two-fold: 1) Doctor Strangefate is probably the best “Amalgam” name and the most logical of amalgams they created and 2) it’s drawn by Jose Luis Garcia Lopez. The other thing about it is this is one of few Amalgam books that actually deals with the fact that it’s a composite universe, and Doctor Strangefate sends a group of lackeys out to capture Access. Access is the kid whose powers first merged the universes and now he’s trying to restore them, and Strangefate, protector of this new universe is trying to stop him. You’d kind of root for the mystic if he wasn’t such an a-hole. A decent and, at the very least, on-topic read from Ron Marz.
Spider-Boy - The writer behind a very fun run of Superboy comics, and the late, great Mike Wieringo collaborated on this merging of the punk-Superboy and Spider-Man, creating an obscenely ugly superhero, but a fun comic in spite of itself. This is mainly due to Karl Kesel’s loose adherence to the “Amalgam” philosophy, not really caring so much about creating the sense of familiarity of both the Superboy and Spider-Man worlds, but instead just setting out to tell a story that was less nodding and winking and more establishing a new character and supporting cast.
More Amalgam tomorrow, if I can stomach it.