Armagideon Time

Foul sorcery for a foul era

April 8th, 2016

I’ve done deep periodical dives into the realms of 1950s Cold War paranoia, the 1970s music industry and 1980s videogame culture, but never has the past felt like another country as much as it did when I delved into a run of Wizard Magazine from the height of the 1990s comics bubble.

The “Terrible ’90s” have been getting a small but notable amount of revisionist…well, not “love” but “mild affection” in recent times. It’s understandable, as the generation of fans who cut their teeth on the stuff have gotten to an age where nostalgia overpowers decades of publicly voiced embarrassment. Time’s passage dims the rougher edges and backward-looking wistfulness bathes the rest in a warm ‘n’ rosy glow. (This is also why I have listened to ELO’s Out of the Blue more times this past week than I’ve listened to London Calling this entire year so far.)

The process can only function if one examines the past with a selective lens, and falls apart completely when confronted with the actual historical record in all its grotesque majesty.

Wizard was just one vector for the propagation of ’90s comics culture, but one that set the tone for the entire public-facing scene — unbridled hype and sequential art hoop dreams wrapped up in a speculative death-spiral. As bad as you remember that era being, the part of it which manifested through Wizard was a billion times worse.

The magazine’s complicity in feeding that unsustainable economy was never subtle to start, and only becomes more egregiously obvious in hindsight. The object was to prop up their corner of the pyramid for as long and as hard was possible by feeding any spike of ephemeral interest into the money mill in hopes of staving off the inevitable diminishing returns. This was a time when entire derivative economies could revolve around Witchblade or Battle Chasers or “premium” trading cards or whatever half-assed “collectable” could be profitably foisted on the fans.

In all honestly, it’s a miracle the industry survived it at all — and I’d chalk that up more to the success of the first X-Men movie than any publishing initiatives.

Whether it should have survived is still up for debate.

4 Responses to “Foul sorcery for a foul era”

  1. Mike Podgor

    I got into comics in the nineties, so I had no idea any of this nonsense was anything other than normal. I still shudder when I think of the horrors I would have been privy to if I had been foolhardy enough to read anything other than Marvel and DC. Then again, this was when both companies were rapidly trying to reinvent their core characters, so maybe I wasn’t as unscathed as I hoped.

  2. Eric L

    Phone cards as collectibles? That’s a new one.

  3. Chris Wuchte

    As awful as much of the ’90s output was, when I encounter comic fans a few years younger than me, who either got into the hobby during that time, or hadn’t quite reached the age to drift away from it like I did, I feel a tinge of jealousy that they got to be fans at a time when comics were so popular – lots of comic shops, merchandise, cartoons. I imagine if you were at the right age for all that, it must have been awesome. Being a fan in the ’80s meant driving an hour away to the nearest comic shop, and only having 2-3 friends who were also into the hobby, at least in my case.

    That said, I’m not sure how I could have afforded the hobby at that time. And at least when I go through my old comics now, I have fond memories of how great they were, and feel it was money well spent. Not sure I’d have the same reaction if I was digging through stacks of Force Works or Extreme Justice.

  4. Adam Stephanides

    I lived in Champaign at the time (I still do), and Comic Cavalcade was one of Champaign’s two comic shops. I didn’t know that they had a mail order business, let alone that they advertised in Wizard. Looking back, though, I’m not that surprised: each week, the store would display one of the new comics as an “investment pick.”

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