'Extreme' Makeover: Comic Book Edition1 of 12
Ah, the 1990’s. Has there ever been a time like it in comic books? Between the speculation boom that saw people snatching up “collectors item” comic books by the armload, and the wave of clichés such as cybernetic limbs, pouches, and gritted teeth that overtook nearly every character, the ‘90’s were a definitive – if not always fondly remembered – era for comic books.
This week Rob Liefeld, one of the quintessential comic book artists of the 90s, said he's working on "huge X-Men project" for next year.
With one of the 90s biggest creators back on one of its biggest franchises, we dug back into the archives to recall the 90s most extreme trends - which, let's admit, are still pretty dang fun.
Wonder Woman2 of 12
There have been a few times in Wonder Woman's career that Diana of Themyscira has given up the mantle of Wonder Woman, and none of them have ever been what you would call "good."
In the '90's, Diana lost the title, and subsequently the costume that went with it, to her Amazon sister Artemis. Diana decided to continue fighting crime under her real name, and for some reason, felt that the best get-up for the job would be an extreme leather jacket and a pair of bike shorts.
The motif has been repeated a few times since, and it's never stuck, probably because she looks more like a B-movie biker mama than a warrior princess.
Vengeance3 of 12
What's more extreme than Ghost Rider, a flaming skeleton on a motorcycle?
How about a flaming skeleton made of spikes and chains on a flaming motorcycle also made of spikes and chains?
Enter Vengeance, a character not explicitly, but almost certainly inspired by the success of Todd McFarlane's Spawn.
Vengeance's origin is so convoluted that it's more than a little fruitless to get into it here, but one look at the guy should really tell you everything you need to know about his extreme roots.
Extreme Justice4 of 12
Could you tell from the title that Extreme Justice was way extreme? I mean, it's right there in living color.
Honestly, there's not much that's really "extreme" about Extreme Justice, except for the wild make-overs the title provided to its roster, including an armored Booster Gold, and souped-up, extreme versions of the Wonder Twins.
Managing to turn the worst characters from a cartoon full of notoriously bad characters into even worse, more extreme parodies of themselves is kind of an accomplishment, if you think about it.
Marvel's Armored Heroes5 of 12
In the '90's, a lot of otherwise ordinary characters found themselves in situations where their regular costumes weren't good enough, and they had to put on some kind of armor to compensate.
While DC did it a few times (see our next entry for an example), Marvel is the undisputed king of sticking a character who had no business wearing armor into a special exoskeleton, usually accompanied by a special edition cover, and, hopefully, a spike in sales.
Captain America, Daredevil, and Spider-Man all got the armor treatment, but Cap's was probably the worst. Let's be honest, Daredevil's armor looked kind of cool, and hints of it can be seen in his look for his Netflix TV show, while Spider-Man's was the shortest-lived of the bunch.
But Cap's armor is not only ugly, its origins are also dorky, owing to a Super-Soldier Serum-induced illness that paralyzed Cap.
Guy Gardner: Warrior6 of 12
One thing that happened in the '90's is that a lot of characters just stopped being cool enough in their original form, necessitating an extreme makeover of the highest degree.
Take Guy Gardner, for example. Back in the '80's, a brash, hot-headed guy with a power ring got by on the strength of his personality. But when things started to get extreme, his attitude just wasn't enough anymore, especially with his more level-headed counterpart Hal Jordan going all evil and becoming Parallax.
So DC decided to gussy Gardner up with new powers and a new origin, renaming his title "Guy Gardner: Warrior," and dropping his power ring in favor of an armored exoskeleton built by Blue Beetle. Later, after drinking "Warrior Water," Guy's heretofore-unknown latent alien DNA sprang into action, granting him shape-shifting powers that allowed him to manifest guns from his arms.
We're going to repeat that - He. Had. GUNS. FOR. ARMS!
Thankfully, the whole thing was dropped with Green Lantern: Rebirth.
Adam X7 of 12
There's not a lot to say about Adam X that can't be understood just by looking at him.
Actually, that's totally not true. Adam X goes above and beyond the call of the '90's by actually calling himself X-Treme. In an era when slapping an "X" on just about anything turned it into a solid gold money machine, Adam X took things one step too far.
With powers that read like an eight year old's fever dream - his blood is acid and can catch on fire - and a look that makes Cable seem subtle, when it comes to '90's cliches, Adam X doesn't just find the horizon, he is the horizon.
Bloodwynd8 of 12
Martian Manhunter has always been the most dignified of DC's Justice League.
Despite his oddball codename and his '50's sci-fi origins, there has always been something understated and refined about the sadness and alienation in his character.
Well... Not always.
In the early '90's, right when things were starting to get really 'extreme' over at Marvel, DC decided that stuffy old Martian Manhunter just wasn't good enough anymore, and decided to revamp him as "Bloodwynd," a sorcerer of sorts who draws power from a gem crafted by his ancestors.
What's even worse than poor, distinguished J'Onn J'Onzz impersonating Bloodwynd is that, somewhere out there, there was a real Bloodwynd who actually continued to appear in other comics. Yikes.
Now Bloodwynd didn't really epitomize the 'extreme' aesthetic, but he did get a 'y' in his name where otherwise there should have been an 'i', which was a lesser-known nod to the era.
Azrael9 of 12
Azrael is like '90's cliche BINGO all rolled up into one dark cloak.
Let's go down the list, shall we?
Flaming swords for arms - check.
Dark cloak - check.
Named after an angel of vengeance - check.
Replaced a beloved character as a more extreme and violent version of that character - double check.
Thanks for playing, Azrael!
Heroes Reborn10 of 12
Of all the attempts to take what were starting to feel like tired old characters to, well, the extreme, "Heroes Reborn" stands out as not only the most ambitious, but also in hindsight one of the most head-scratching moves of the '90's.
Hot off the breakout success of its "Age of Apocalypse" storyline that saw Marvel's X-Men line transported to an alternate world for several months, Marvel did the seemingly impossible and struck a deal to do something similar for a year with its Fantastic Four and Avengers series (including Iron Man and Captain America). Production of all four properties (with Thor thrown in like a player to be named later) were literally farmed to two of Image's founders – Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld (of course), creators who had left Marvel in the early '90's.
What resulted was to a degree legendary. The merits of the storytelling and art (particularly The Avengers and Captain America) is well-worn territory, but what’s even more amazing looking back is how low the titles had sunk to necessitate such a Hail Mary pass, and how Marvel at the time seemingly ran out of internal ideas for the entire Avengers portfolio, an unthinkable circumstance in modern days.
X-Force11 of 12
Here it is, the extreme grand-daddy of all subsequent extreme '90's cliches, X-Force.
X-Force, and its leader Cable, grew out of New Mutants, right at the very end of the '80's. And while the grim'n'gritty era was already underway, it's X-Force that ushered in the age of cyborgs, pouches, and gimmicky foil covers.
You know, the '90's.
X-Force didn't just capture the zeitgeist of the '90's, it invented it. Love him or hate him - there's no middle ground - Rob Liefeld's art was unlike anything going on in comics at the time. An energetic spectacle of mutants and mayhem, X-Force brought with it uncountable copycats, each doing a more extreme parody of X-Force than the last.
Now, Marvel is reuniting the original X-Force later this year for a new mission and a new series.
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