As I recall, 1986 was a great year. I was in Boston at that time and had just started a career in advertising. Boston was a glorious place; I enjoyed every minute of my time there. I especially enjoyed the town’s many comic shops – including Million Year Picnic, New England Comics and Newbury Comics- they were all in Harvard Square (if you can believe that) near where I lived.
It was good to have so many shops nearby because it was also a great year for comics. But in some ways, 1986 seems to echo through today with the resounding and triumphant evolution of Geek Culture.
I thought a lot about that as I was reading the big Sunday NYTimes article(s) on the new HBO Watchmen series. The show looks interesting, but I couldn’t help but think how wonderfully odd it is, even today, to see Dave Gibbons’ panels in a major newspaper.
Watchmen debuted in 1986. We tend to forget, but right when we were all hooked, the twelve issue comic series started shipping late. It was a drag, but so worth the wait. And of course, those intricate Alan Moore stories could be read and re-read, and new meaning could be found each time while we were awaiting the conclusion.
One of the most satisfying parts of Watchmen used to be that it was finite. The comic series was a cohesive and comprehensive story. Like Casablanca, you kinda wanted to know what happened to those characters afterwards, but it was all so perfect that there was a “let’s just let it be” attitude.
Buuuut… we’ve had a lot of new Watchmen adventures over the years. The series has been reprinted in many formats many times. (And that’s a whole ‘nuther story right there.) And the Zach Snyder movie brought Watchmen to the big screen in 2009.
There have been new adventures in the comics too. I just rescued a few random Before Watchmen issues from the bargain box in Oswego’s A Comic Shop on Saturday. I was that guy who went into the store five minutes before their official closing (hey, I happened to be in the area). I wanted to be respectful to the owner (more likely than not it had been a long day for her) so I quickly grabbed those comics. Plus, my wife was waiting in the car.
DC Comics is currently publishing The Doomsday Clock series by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. It’s a gorgeous-looking book that weaves the Watchmen characters into the modern DC mythology. Frank’s artwork is stellar, and kudo’s to Johns for his characterizations of Don McGregor’s Nathaniel Dusk and the new heroes/villains, Marionette and Mime.
More 1986 in 2019
- Just last month, Art Spiegelman charmed a full house at the Rockwell Museum event hosted in Corning, NY. Spiegelman, still best known for his ground-breaking work on 1986’s MAUS, was fascinating and intriguing. It was hard to even think that all years had passed since 1986, except for the fact that Spiegelman has produced such an impressive body of work since then.
- And as an aside, boy does that guy know his old comics. We had a ball at the after party talking about artists like Bob Powell and Dick Briefer!
- The Mike Gold-edited Green Arrow series, debuting in 1987, actually started with a graphic novel called Green Arrow: The Long Bow Hunters. Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance’s adventures then continued in the first of many long-running Green Arrow monthly series. One can argue that without that series, there would be no CW superhero shows like Arrow or The Flash.
- I tend not to keep up with all the CW shows, but the many ads/coming attractions I’ve seen teasing the crossover Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline again reinforces the 1986-ish-iness of modern pop culture.
- And one could argue that new Batwoman TV show owes quite a bit to the 1986 thriller by Frank Miller, The Dark Knight Returns. This gritty reimaging of the Batman legend is a nice adaptation of those luscious Greg Rucka/J.H. Williams comics, but it does owe quite a bit to Miller’s Dark Knight series. I guess so many comics today do.
- Of course, some ‘ground-breaking’ series from that time aren’t remembered as vividly. When Howard Chaykin reimagined The Shadow in his 1986 mini-series, it was deliciously subversive. Even to a longtime fan of the traditional Shadow adventures, like me, it was an urgent must-read. For the world-at-large of today, it somehow just doesn’t quite enjoy the long-running traction of Watchmen or MAUS. But at that time running with the big dogs.
Comic fans, by their nature, are always glancing over their shoulders to the past, while paradoxically always looking to the future – anxious to find out “what’s next”. We didn’t know 1986 would be a big deal then. We certainly didn’t think it would still be a big deal in so many ways.