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14 comic releases from 1983

Just months after concluding a Daredevil run that turned the character into one of Marvel’s most popular heroes, Frank Miller continued to impress the comics world with Ronin #1 (DC), a futuristic sci-fi book with roots in Japanese manga. It’s a remarkable amalgam of styles, telling the story of a ronin and the demon who killed his master as they engage in a fight that spans millennia. After being freed from their captivity within a mystical sword, the ronin possess the body and mind of limbless psychic Billy, building a cybernetic body that is capable of all kinds of cool tricks for Miller to draw. Inspired by Lone Wolf And Cub, Ronin’s incorporation of Japanese story elements and manga techniques make the title a striking contrast to DC’s superhero work of the time. It showed the publisher’s willingness to experiment with more mature content, which would eventually lead to the formation of the Vertigo imprint following Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing and Watchmen and Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. [OS]

No one could have predicted that a comic book about Canada’s premier superhero team would last for more than 100 issues, and the foundation laid by John Byrne in Alpha Flight #1 (Marvel) made that possible. Following the closing of Department H, Alpha Flight is no more, but a new threat in the form of a giant tundra monster reassembles the team with a few new faces. Byrne is clearly passionate about the characters he created in the pages of Uncanny X-Men, writing and drawing their first ongoing adventure with confidence and enthusiasm. He has a delightfully cheeky sense of humor, spotlighted by developments like the debut of an acrobatic dwarf by the name of Puck (as in hockey), but he also mines surprisingly psychological depths in his script. Aurora suffers from acute dissociative identity disorder, viewing her civilian identity as a completely different person, and her mental issues allow Byrne to look at the negative effect of a superhero’s secret identity before it was the hip thing to do. A team of Canadian stereotypes may sound like a joke, but John Byrne’s work helped make Alpha Flight the fan-favorite it is today. [OS]

Following the runaway success of Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men, Marvel capitalized on the property’s popularity by launching a spin-off with a new cast of teenaged characters. New Mutants #1 (Marvel) spotlights the diverse group of gifted youngsters introduced in Marvel Graphic Novel #4 as they acclimate to their new lives as students of Professor Charles Xavier, but not as X-Men. From the outset, the focus is on adolescent drama rather than superhero action, showing how the kids deal with their physical changes in a strange new environment. Claremont is joined by artist Bob McLeod, whose style is similar to Uncanny X-Men artists Paul Smith and Dave Cockrum but less flashy, providing more modest visuals for a more down-to-Earth title. These characters would grow from these humble beginnings to become X-Men, Defenders, and Avengers, but there’s an undeniable charm to the simplicity of the days when they all wore matching yellow and black tights. [OS]

Walt Simonson delivered a master class in taking over an established title when he wrote and drew The Mighty Thor #337 (Marvel), an issue that kicked off a legendary five-year run. The cover establishes major changes as the horse-like alien Beta Ray Bill crushes the book’s logo with Thor’s hammer, and Bill’s introduction is just one of the many plot threads Simonson juggles in this issue. While Thor teams up with Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D., Balder The Brave undergoes a personal crisis, the warrior Sif struggles with boredom, and Loki begins his newest scheme to mess with his brother, planting seeds that would be cultivated over the course of Simonson’s tenure. His art has all the bombast of Jack Kirby with stronger attention to detail, meticulously rendering locations on Earth and Asgard without losing any energy in his character work. The grandiosity of the story and art fits the godly hero, and few writers have been able to balance superhero and fantasy elements of a Thor title as well as Simonson. [OS]

Before becoming a badass biker antihero in the ’90s,bounty hunter Lobo looked like a mix of Gene Simmons in KISS makeup and X-Men villain Scalphunter. He looks ridiculous, but he makes one hell of an introduction in The Omega Men #3 (DC) by writer Roger Slifer and artists Keith Giffen and Mike DeCarlo. In his very first scene, Lobo flicks the nose of an alien who just helped him and his partner, sending the creature’s brain through the back of its head. A caricature of aggressive heroes like Punisher and Wolverine, Lobo was eventually embraced by the public for the very qualities his creators were criticizing, becoming one of the poster boys for hyper-violent, overly sexualized superhero comics. His character in Omega Men is more restrained, but still a scumbag, wondering mid-battle if his glowing opponent Kalista had the same radiance when she lost her virginity. He would become far more crass in the future, but Lobo is a total bastich from the very beginning. [OS]

After making his first appearance 10 issues past, Jason “Jay” Todd steps into the role he was created to play in Batman #366 (DC), putting on the Robin costume and leaping into action as the Dark Knight’s new sidekick. Before Crisis On Infinite Earths explained Todd’s history to make him a street urchin, he was basically a carbon copy of former Robin Dick Grayson, the son of two circus performers who were tragically killed in an event that leads him to Bruce Wayne. Batman initially rejects Todd for trying to steal Grayson’s identity by dying his strawberry blond hair black and wearing the old Robin uniform, but if Batman didn’t want a reflection of his past partner, he shouldn’t have adopted a boy who is exactly the same. Writer Doug Moench introduces an interesting twist to the dynamic duo relationship in this issue, and it would only continue to change after Crisis rewrote Todd’s history and made him a more distinct, obnoxious character. [OS]

Howard Chaykin’s cinematic style made him the perfect artist to illustrate Marvel’s Star Wars comics in the late ’70s, and that flashy, intricately detailed work helped make his creator-owned American Flagg! a classic. American Flagg! #1 (First) transports reader to Chicago in 2031, where political factions are allowed to wage war in the streets as long as it’s televised, and the new home of former TV star Reuben Flagg during his five-year tour of duty. It’s a wickedly funny satire of Cold War politics and pop culture, imagining a world where conflict only escalated through the ’90s and new millennium. The quick pace of the story is well served by Chaykin’s dense page designs, which use unconventional panel layouts to convey massive amounts of information in visually striking ways. Chaykin also has a talent for drawing sultry women, so he makes sure there’s plenty of sex in the midst of all the sci-fi silliness. [OS]

As market forces and creator unrest spurred DC to let rising star Frank Miller try his hand at his own creator-owned series Ronin, Marvel was ahead of the curve. After having launched two ambitious outlets for creator-owned material, the Marvel Graphic Novel series and the Métal Hurlant-like Epic Illustrated, in 1981, the company spun the latter series into an imprint, Epic Comics. Dreadstar was its flagship series. Written and drawn by cosmically minded phenomenon Jim Starlin, Dreadstar launched at the end of 1982 on the heels of the character Vanth Dreadstar’s appearance in Epic Illustrated and a Marvel Graphic Novel #3—which established the far-future swashbuckler as the only survivor of the annihilated Milky Way Galaxy. In 1983, #3 of the series introduces a genocide that will set in motion an epic war that will consume much of the remainder of the book’s run—which winds up jumping to the independent publisher First Comics in 1986. At this early stage, though, Starlin’s archetypal antihero is a vivid example of what mainstream writers and artists of the Bronze Age could accomplish when given enough rope to launch themselves… [JH]

The British comics anthology Warrior (Quality) only ran from 1982 to 1985, but it was a fertile three years. In particular, it kick-started the career of Alan Moore, giving the fledgling scribe room to develop ongoing strips like Laser Eraser And Pressbutton and The Bojeffries Saga. More notably, though, Moore worked a pair serialized stories in Warrior that wound up putting him on the map, long before Swamp Thing, Watchmen, Killing Joke, and beyond—those two being Marvelman and V For Vendetta. Miraculously, Moore was juggling both of these storylines (among other projects) in 1983 issues of Warrior such as #11, in which the author’s deconstruction of superhero mythos, Marvelman, probes the latent god complex of the genre’s iconographic figureheads through a reconstituted Silver Age hero (sound familiar?). At the same time, V For Vendetta, an original creation of Moore’s, brutally lays bare the perverse nature of both fascism and freedom for a readership about to enter the fabled year 1984. All that and more for a measly 60p… [JH]

Grendel #1 (Comico) came out long before the dark, gritty trend in morally dicey vigilantes got a grip on the mainstream—but there’s no doubt creators of all levels were taking careful not of Matt Wagner’s brooding, bloodthirsty Hunter Rose. An author-turned-crime boss who lives by his own complicated code of honor as the costumed figure Grendel, Rose was the cracked-mirror image of Bruce Wayne, a masked nightmare who struck fear into the hearts of thugs, but only so that he could control them himself. Grendel had made his first appearance in 1982 in the anthology Comico Primer, but it was the debut of Wagner’s ongoing series that cemented the slippery ethos of an elemental character who would eventually be revealed as an eternal being that has taken many forms throughout history. It’s a shaky start; in particular, Wagner’s sleek, manga-influenced art had yet reached its ultimate refinement, and his narrative chops were still haltingly raw. But that all adds to the vitality of a comic that seemed so much more revolutionary before its tropes had been co-opted by convention… [JH]

Like Grendel, Nexus is a creator-owned character published by an independent house that bears just enough overlap with Big Two superhero comics to have brought it well-earned attention circa 1983. But the respective tone of Grendel #1 and Nexus #1 (Capital) could not have been more different. Nexus’ co-creators, writer Mike Baron and artist Steve Rude, had already established their upbeat but deceptively multidimensional protagonist in a three-issue, black-and-white magazine that ended in 1982—but the addition of color with the launch of the long-running regular series brought Rude’s classic, Jack Kirby-meets-Alex Toth artwork to life, leaving Baron to more deeply develop Horatio Hellpop’s futuristic world of Ylum and its offbeat, tragicomic inhabitants. And unlike the more widely appropriated aesthetic of Grendel, Nexus’ kinetic mythology still feels fresh and inventive 30 years later… [JH]

Love And Rockets #3 doesn’t stand out that much from the early run of Los Bros. Hernandez’s legendary series, except for one major milestone: the introduction of a little place called Palomar. Although Gilbert Hernandez’s character of Luba had already appeared in his and Jaime Hernandez’s frenetic hodgepodge of science fiction and magic realism, she was extracted from the aliens-and-ray guns milieu and relocated to the fictional Central American town whose thematic borders Gilbert would eventually expand to include a staggering, cyclical narrative of generational love, strife, and sacrifice. Not only does the third issue of the Love And Rockets’ first Fantagraphics run initiate Gilbert’s rich, poignant “Heartbreak Soup” storyline set in Palomar, it features prime Jaime material starring his star-crossed duo, Maggie Chascarillo and Hopey Glass. That Jaime’s crisp, virtuosic draftsmanship and Gilbert’s evocative storytelling were already so fully developed at this point makes this issue not only strong, but bursting with promises of riches to come… [JH]

Weirdo #8 is a comic book teetering on the cusp. Within a year, founder and editor Robert Crumb would depart the publication, leaving it in the hands of spunky up-and-comer and regular contributor Peter Bagge, who had yet to make his mark with Neat Stuff, let alone Hate. If there’s any fatigue in Crumb’s bones, though, they don’t show. The preeminent alternative anthology of the early ’80s, Weirdo updated Zap and such likeminded underground comix of Crumb’s formative years for a leaner, punk-inspired absurdism. The eighth issue has it all: shaggy, prankish surrealism from Crumb and his sidekick Terry Zwigoff (long before the latter would direct the definitive documentary Crumb); dark, jagged romanticism by the late Dori Seda; and Bagge’s collaboration with writer David Carrino, the scathingly satirical “Martini Baton!” Top it all off with Crumb’s manic solo outing “The Adventures Of George ‘Murky’ Murkoid”—not to mention his lurid, eye-gouging cover that seems to sum up the underground fallout of the era—and Weirdo #8 is a about as close as the medium gets to an ’80s alt-comics time capsule… [JH]

Robert Crumb had his fingers in more pies than Weirdo in 1983. He found time to illustrate a handful of pages of a sporadic comics magazine he’d been involved with since its 1976 inception: American Splendor. In #8 of writer Harvey Pekar’s quietly trailblazing autobiographical comic, Crumb lends scratchy, teeming-with-neurosis visuals to some of the issue’s—and the series’—best stories, including the tour de force “American Splendor Assaults The Media.” Although most of Pekar’s first-person vignettes focus on his downbeat, occasionally meditative life as a working-class Clevelander, “Assaults The Media” is one of his sudden eruptions of misanthropic yet self-effacing ire—a passionate, quixotic tilt at The Village Voice and all other hoity-toity outlets who would deny him. Other superb American Splendor artists such as Greg Budgett, Gary Dumm, and Gerry Shamray also pitch in throughout the eight issue, but the synergy between Pekar’s bile and Crumb’s itchiness captures American Splendor, ironically enough, just three years away from its first major trade paperback collection. Not that success ever relaxed the late Pekar’s squinty eye for injustice… [JH]