The ‘90s were an interesting time for the comic book industry. The speculator market was booming, and comics were selling in record numbers, but few series of substance were being produced. While Marvel found seemingly unlimited success with its X-Men comics, outside of cover gimmicks, DC often struggled to do anything of note beyond killing Superman, or turning Hal Jordan evil.
Most fans want to forget what happened in the 1990s, but for Steve Orlando, writer of Justice League of America and Supergirl, the decade is proving to be a treasure trove filled with goodies no one else appear willing to touch. Orlando’s recent work has resurrected a number of villains from the era, and a few heroes as well. Orlando and his artistic collaborators have updated them all for the current era while maintaining what made them special in the first place.
Justice League of America‘s core mission statement seems to be reviving and popularizing old Justice League stories. Thus far, we’ve seen references to multiple iterations of the team, from Justice League Detroit, through the inclusion of Vixen, to Justice League International, with Black Canary and Batman working together. It’s also worth mentioning that this particular iteration of the team was formed after a confrontation with Maxwell Lord in Justice League vs. Suicide Squad.
More than any decade, Orlando seems to be embracing what most people have tried hard to forget about the ’90s. He’s not just doing it for nostalgia purposes, however; he’s actually using these long abandoned toys to tell new stories today. That point seems to be obvious with the inclusion of standout ’90s dudes Lobo and The Ray on the team.
Lobo may have debuted in the 1980s, but it was in the ’90s where Keith Giffen, Alan Grant and Simon Bisley transformed him into a fan-favorite “hero” via a number of popular miniseries and specials. It all finally led to a 64-issue ongoing series between 1993 to 1999, plus a few appearances in Superman: The Animated Series.
Meanwhile, Raymond Terrill made his debut as The Ray in 1992. The son of the Golden Age hero of the same name, he was the creation of Jack C. Harris and Joe Quesada, prior to the latter’s arrival at Marvel Comics. Following his initial miniseries, Ray starred in an ongoing title which ran for 29 issues from 1994 to 1996, and even became a member of multiple versions of the Justice League.
Many of the toys Orlando has been playing with don’t even have their own actions figures. However, these characters were brought back for a reason. It’s not just about returning the obscure to relevancy; it’s about bringing old stories back into DC’s Rebirth era.
Justice League of America recently brought the superhero Aztek back into continuity. Co-created by Grant Morrison, Mark Millar and N. Steven Harris in 1996, Aztek: The Ultimate Man only lasted 10 issues before cancellation. Morrison then brought the character into JLA in order to complete his story… and kill him off in the “World War III” arc. Now, there’s a new person wearing the helmet, as the Ultimate Man has become the Ultimate Woman. We’re not just seeing the reintroduction of the character — we’re also getting the continuation of the story Morrison and Millar originally set out to tell.
Orlando also brought back the obscure Superman character Strange Visitor, who was introduced in 1999 as the merger of a space god and one of Clark Kent’s childhood friends, though she would later die during the fight with Imperiex. It would be easy for Orlando to simply reintroduce the character here, but actually bringing her back from the dead — Supergirl #16 even has an editor’s note referencing her death in some long forgotten comic — brings the “Our Worlds At War” crossover back into continuity.
The “Bloodlines” crossover of the early ’90s was generally hated by DC fans, with the notable exception of its role in introducing the Hitman character. Still, Orlando doesn’t shy away from even the worst that the ’90s has to offer in Justice League of America. He’s brought back Terrorsmith, a villain you have never heard of, but his introduction in the 1993 Justice League America Annual #3 leaves him forever linked to the crossover. Issue #7 even directly references Glonth, one of the Bloodlines Parasites, bringing that whole story back… for better or worse.
It’s been two years since the start of Rebirth, and from what we’ve seen in Justice League of America and Supergirl, it’s clear Orlando relies on his love of ’90s villains just as much as the era’s heroes. These two titles have given us the return of many baddies from the ’90s, some of whom no one ever expected to see again.
The opening arc in Justice League of America saw the Extremists invade Earth once again. Led by Lord Havok, the team of villains was introduced in 1990’s Justice League Europe as doppelgangers of popular Marvel villains. Orlando has also pulled heavily from JLA, specifically in regards to the Grant Morrison and Howard Porter villain Prometheus. There is also the Queen of Fables, created by Gail Simone, Mark Waid and Brian Hitch in 2000, who seems to be the big bad of the series.
As part of the Emerald Empress’ attack against Supergirl, the villain recruited Magog to her cause. Remembered as a key figure from Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ seminal work Kingdom Come, DC has attempted to bring the character into continuity multiple times. He once fought Superman as a villain and was then reborn as something of a hero during Geoff Johns’ run on Justice Society of America. Now he’s back to his old ways as a bad guy, and it’s great.
Of course, Orlando’s Justice League of America and Supergirl aren’t the only titles where the ’90s are alive and well. The writer originally gained prominence at DC for his run on Midnighter and Midnighter & Apollo, which featured several big names from old Wildstorm continuity. The series’ even featured a few obscure DC characters for good measure, including the demon Mawzir from Hitman and Neron from the 1995 Underworld Unleashed crossover.
It’s not even just ’90s characters, because Orlando hasn’t shied away from reintroducing the likes of Nikos Aegeus, Heatstroke, Silverblade and more. Now he’s expected to launch a new title called The Unexpected in 2018, featuring new version of old DC characters. As we enter the new year, Orlando seems determined to redeem DC Comics’ ‘90s line-up one obscure character at a time, and we couldn’t be having more fun watching him do so.