Feb 08 2012

1990s Superheroes

Published by at 4:44 am under Discussion Board

If you picked up a comic book, what would be some of the cues that would tip you off that it was written in the 1990s?  If you were doing a parody of 1990s superheroes, what would your approach be?

18 responses so far

18 Responses to “1990s Superheroes”

  1. B. McKenzieon 08 Feb 2012 at 5:16 am

    Some characteristics that come to mind:
    –Outlandishly long, unkempt hair for guys. Even Superman–apparently the Kansanness didn’t take.
    –Antiheroes were more common.
    –Extreme voices? (I’m too young to actually remember this period properly, but my vague recollection is that a lot of characters had “attitude” or, ahem, sounded like Sonic the Hedgehog).
    –In 1990s superhero movies, the noncombat scenes were particularly inept, the tone was usually more campy than not, and the production quality was usually embarrassingly bad. (Fun fact: 1997’s Batman & Robin had a substantially larger budget than 1999’s The Matrix, 1996’s Independence Day, or 1991’s Terminator 2. But yet the best fight scene B&R could come up with was hockey goons).

    PS: This question was indirectly prompted by an emailer that asked “20 or 30 years from now, what do you think will make people think that ‘oh, that was definitely written during the 2000-10 decade?'” As always, thanks for your questions.

  2. steton 08 Feb 2012 at 5:31 am

    Sophomoric brooding and a sort of Gaiman-inspired ‘Death is a sweet Goth-chick’ faux-depth.

    I’m not sure that, other than the haircuts, we’ve come so far. (But I’m not really aware of the current state of things.)

  3. Matton 08 Feb 2012 at 9:49 am

    A few things I remember:

    Long hair (usually unkempt). Stubble.

    Weird outfits with lots of strange bandoliers, pouches, and shoulder pad things (just look at the Jean Paul Valley Batman for reference).

    Heroes with insane muscular buffness.

    “Complex,” brooding characters who did nothing but brood so much that their “complexity” became one dimensional. Also known as “heroes with ‘tude.”

    I can’t really pinpoint whether this was a trend, but it seems we saw more “neon” colors in costumes. Jubilee immediately comes to mind.

    “Event” comics got out of hand (Death of Superman, Knightfall, and the Clone Sage being prime examples).

  4. B. Macon 08 Feb 2012 at 12:27 pm

    My impression is that modern superhero stories generally show a bit more restraint when it comes to sex appeal than superhero stories did 15-20 years ago. Human characters are also a bit more anatomically accurate (e.g. some women were so weirdly shaped that it looked freakish rather than sexy, and some male characters got so top-heavy that it looked like they had breasts).

    (Congratulations, artist! You have aroused my digestive tract, in the wrong direction).

    PS: “The kids like chains.”

  5. CRon 08 Feb 2012 at 1:22 pm

    That Cap America–can’t be real, surely somebody photoshopped it? If he did indeed draw it, maybe he got tired of the criticism, and drew that just to piss off.

  6. Danion 08 Feb 2012 at 2:35 pm

    Geeze, that is an ass. Must be hell to find a good pair of jeans. Probably why she has to wear that skin tight outfit. Poor girl. As for the Capt., if you wanted to sneak up on him all you have to do is squat down. He could never see you under those man boobs.

  7. B. McKenzieon 08 Feb 2012 at 3:25 pm

    “That Cap America–can’t be real, surely somebody Photoshopped it? If he did indeed draw it, maybe he got tired of the criticism, and drew that just to piss off.”

    No, it’s real. (It was used as a promotional piece in magazines).

    Rob Liefeld starts discussing (and apologizing for) his Captain America drawing at around 1:32. Jim Lee wanted him to fix the chest, but Liefeld didn’t have the energy to keep going.

    PS: If you’re an illustrator struggling with something (whether it’s feet or cars or human proportions in general), I’d recommend practicing it rather than mainly trying to avoid it and hoping that nobody notices. The closest analogue I can think of for writers is that it might* come across as a bit unusual if all of the 5-10 characters with the most lines of dialogue are all males or all females. Don’t just randomly insert tokens for diversity’s sake, but do practice a variety of characters so that you’re better able to handle characters when the need does arise.

    *Some exceptions: a premise and/or setting may justify an all-women or all-men cast (for example, maybe the story’s set mainly on a submarine or in a prison ward or a 1950s jury room or after 99% of men have been killed off). Alternately, maybe there are so few significant characters in the story that readers wouldn’t be able to pick up a trend. For example, if the story had only two characters, nobody would notice if they were both men or both women.

  8. Linebylineon 08 Feb 2012 at 3:35 pm

    Actually, Sonic WAS a 1990s superhero. Depending on how loose your definition of superhero is, anyway.

    Of course I was a preschooler during the early 90s, but I can remember a proliferation of catchphrases and ‘tude that were supposed to mark one as “cool.” Case-in-point: Sonic again. Gotta juice! Way past cool! Jelly and jam time!

    You especially saw this where technology was involved, as this was the time when everyone started to realize that the Internet was important but no one yet knew how it actually worked. Hence you had hackers with ‘tude using made-up tech jargon and talking about the Information Superhighway. (Kind of like iCarly, except they thought they sounded cool when they were saying it. Oh, and later on remind me to deny having any knowledge of how the characters on iCarly talk.) Case-in-point: Anyone remember the MaxMouse event from Ghostwriter?

    I don’t remember much about superheroes in particular, though. Or comics at all, really. I didn’t read comics then. (Actually, despite myself, I don’t read that many now. Really should try some.)

    I’ve seen that Captain America before, and I always assumed it was a parody.

  9. Linebylineon 08 Feb 2012 at 3:42 pm

    Whoops. Your video went up while I was writing my comment.

    At least he has a good attitude about it. I know can name at least one artist who would get all in-your-face and defensive, so seeing Liefield being humble and all but laughing about it is refreshing.

  10. B. McKenzieon 08 Feb 2012 at 3:56 pm

    “I know I can name at least one artist who would get all in-your-face and defensive, so seeing Liefield being humble and all but laughing about it is refreshing.” I’ve heard he is personable and reliable/punctual, which probably explains a lot about how he has been successful despite, ahem, his difficulties with human anatomy. I’d prefer humble-and-improving to humble-and-not, though.

  11. CRon 08 Feb 2012 at 5:57 pm

    …Jim Lee wanted him to fix the chest, but Liefeld didn’t have the energy to keep going.

    If a boss calls at 2 in the morning, he wants it done. Liefeld didn’t feel like it. Apparently so, huh? Maybe its me, but somebody wanted to PO somebody.;)

  12. Chris Newtonon 08 Feb 2012 at 6:24 pm

    Everyone screams everything. Rob Liefeld poisoning the medium with bad art and worse writing. Pouches. Pouches EVERYWHERE. Women with horrible spinal deformities and undersized feet.

  13. Milanon 08 Feb 2012 at 10:47 pm

    That ‘chiseled’ look where the nose is mostly chiseled away. It’s not impossible, but it is implausably common. On the other hand, that’s Liefeld’s nose right there… for me it seemed like all the comics were set in Stavanger.

  14. Cuddleson 10 Feb 2012 at 12:47 am

    Backward baseball caps, JNCO jeans, first-person narration, amnesia, murderous vigilantes/government-sponsored mercenaries, teams with “blood” in the title, gritty, one-word super-names, amnesia, and a disproportionate amount of effort put into ripping off the X-Men franchise.

  15. B. McKenzieon 10 Feb 2012 at 4:01 am

    CHAINS. Also, biker chic in general.

  16. Brian McKenzieon 11 Feb 2012 at 11:23 pm

    This probably goes back to the 1980s (when many Americans thought that Japan was going to dominate economically), but I also think that the 1990s had a lot of ninjas in particular and Japanese references in general.

  17. Kevinon 12 Feb 2012 at 3:34 pm

    No ankles, this was mostly due to Liefeld. Who despite his humbleness about his art hasn’t changed a damn thing.

    Also, Comic book swimsuit issues. Yes, unfortunately it did happen.

  18. B. McKenzieon 12 Feb 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Cuddles mentioned one-word supernames. I think one-word supernames are still pretty popular. However, (laughably) badass and/or brooding one-word names have definitely died down since the 1990s and late 1980s.

    Some late 1980s/1990s names:
    –Deadpool (very likely a comedic shot at 1980’s Deathstroke)
    –Venom (first used in 1988)
    –Lady Deathstrike (first used in 1986. Also, not exactly a one-word name, but a title like “Lady” or “Doctor” is sort of filler)
    –Deathstorm (who first appeared in 2010, but was explicitly a take on 1990s villains)

    Some other observations:
    –Since the late 1980s and 1990s, I think compound names (especially made up compound names, such as Ripclaw but not Riptide) have become less popular.
    –I think one-word names are still pretty common, but they’re usually not meant to sound badass or gritty any more. For example, Invincible.

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