Forward Into The Past
November 22, 1992 was the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Probably the year’s biggest story was Bill Clinton’s November 3 election as President of the United States. Otherwise, earlier in the year
- President George H.W. Bush and Russian president Boris Yeltsin had pronounced the Cold War officially over;
- North Korea agreed to allow inspections of its nuclear power facilities;
- the former Yugoslavia descended into civil war;
- riots raged across Los Angeles following the acquittal of police officers who beat motorist Rodney King;
- Hurricane Andrew devastated Florida;
- Johnny Carson retired from “The Tonight Show”;
- Turner Broadcasting introduced Cartoon Network;
- Microsoft released Windows 3.1;
- actors John Boyega and Daisy Ridley were born within a few weeks of another (March 17 and April 10, respectively); and
- Superman co-creator Joe Shuster died on July 30.
Clearly that’s not a comprehensive rundown, but it gives you an idea of what the year was like. Needless to say, 1992 lacked the Internet as we know it. Regular folks who wanted to get connected electronically joined bulletin boards and communities like CompuServe, Prodigy, and the just-rebranded America Online.
Of course, 1992 was a big year for comics as well. The marketplace was rocked both by the upstart Image Comics and the rise of gimmick-driven marketing. Although this tended to involve relatively superficial strategies like cover enhancements (including multiple variant covers for 1989’s Legends of the Dark Knight #1 and 1991’s X-Men #1), the death of Superman helped fuel a spate of “retire and replace” plots at both DC and Marvel. A skeptical readership predicted correctly that most retirements were temporary (the Kyle Rayner Green Lantern being one notable exception); but the point was to goose sales, and that they did.
Somewhat counterintuitively, DC had been expanding its most marketable characters into multi-series franchises. Besides the four “weekly” Superman titles, in 1992 the Justice League and Green Lantern each had three books and a quarterly anthology. There were three regular Titans series (counting Deathstroke the Terminator as a Titans book); and the Bat-books got their third in-continuity regular series (Shadow of the Bat) in the summer of 1992. That made it the fourth ongoing Bat-series (Legends of the Dark Knight was out of continuity).
Because the Superman books’ weekly schedule demanded an appropriate increase in adventures, the sarcastic suggestion to kill off the headliner ended up being taken seriously. In hindsight it looks like the inevitable product of market forces and narrative risk – the original idea was to have Clark Kent and Lois Lane get married, but the upcoming Lois & Clark series nixed that – and that in turn seems reflective of 1992’s comics zeitgeist. Green Lantern and Flash were full of neo-Silver Age storylines, while Grant Morrison and Richard Case were wrapping up their Doom Patrol run and Neil Gaiman and his artistic collaborators were just hitting their stride on Sandman. Mostly, though, it was a period when creators and publishers tried to monetize comics’ limitless possibilities by channeling that can-do spirit into ever-increasing attempts to outdo one’s competitors.
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