There’s a saying that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Unfortunately, we are smack dab in the middle of a time when pop culture is literally repeating itself. We have reboots of everything popular on TV, in films and even in comics. But not all history is worth repeating. In comics, specifically, there was a dark time that we dare not go back to; a time when the industry was booming, but for all the wrong reasons. Indeed, it was a time when pouches were aplenty and your gun was the size of your body (unless Rob Liefeld was drawing your body, then nothing was as big as your body). We’re talking about the ’90s.
Not everything about ‘90s comics was bad. However, you can’t deny there were some pretty stupid trends. The era's characters were all about claws, guns, straps, weird masks and of course, pouches. There were massive delays in issues that crippled the industry. There were swimsuit issues, copycats and gimmick covers. Everything was so EXTREME! Now, when we look back, we think about how ridiculous these trends were. We would never allow these things to happen today, right? Let’s take a look at 16 ridiculous comic book trends from the ‘90s that would never be acceptable today.
“Clone” is word that comic book creators are scared to utter today. Worse than any four-letter word, if a reader sees “clone” used in a comic, they immediately recoil. "Oh lord, not again!" Even though clones have been used in superhero comics for decades, the ‘90s are responsible for ruining them. The biggest guilty party is none other than Spider-Man.
“The Clone Saga” is one of the most controversial stories of all time. The idea that the Peter Parker fans had been reading for years was, in fact, a clone, threw fans into a rage. But Spider-Man wasn’t the only clone. The Superboy that appeared after the death of Superman was a clone in a silly jacket. There was the whole Cable/Stryfe thing. And who can forget the legendary storylines featuring Magneto’s clone Joseph from the ‘90s? Needless to say, it was a bad time for clones.
Fans hate missed shipping dates. There’s nothing worse than waiting for a storyline to conclude, especially in an event series, only to have the finale delayed by a month or two… or five. But you know who hates lateness more than fans? Retailers. Missed shipping dates means missed money for retailers across the country.
Sadly, the ‘90s was full of lateness. Perhaps, no lateness was more damaging to the industry than the Deathmate storyline fiasco. Combining the incredibly punctual Valiant with the incredibly late Image was not a good formula, and that crossover ruined many small retailers. Having half the issues of this massive crossover delayed, with the Epilogue actually shipping before middle issues, helped to cripple the industry. Thankfully today, there’s a much more concerted effort to honor shipping dates... though it's still far from perfect!
Who is to blame for the Great Pouch Plague of the ‘90s? Maybe it dates back all the way to Batman’s utility belt? We may never truly know. While finding Patient Zero of the Pouch Plague might be difficult, we do have an idea of who spread the sickness the most – Rob Liefeld.
Artist Rob Liefeld is responsible for many of the most popular creations of the ‘90s. This guy gave us Deadpool, Cable, Youngblood and a variety of smaller characters that dominated the charts. He also gave us pouches... tons and tons of pouches. With the amount of pouches his characters had, they could have been carrying bullets, medicine, identification, money (including loose change), maps, trading cards, keys and just about anything else they wanted. Can you even count the number of pouches in the above image collage?
13 BIG GUNS
Poor Cable. He seems to be at the epicenter of many horrible ‘90s clichés. If it isn’t the pouches or the weird anatomy, then it’s always something else. One of the biggest criticisms for Cable, and many of the other bad boy ‘90s comic characters, was the use of cartoonishly large guns. We’re not talking the odd rocket launcher or minigun. No, we’re talking a pistol that is the size of a small adult.
Plus, it’s not bad enough that he had some stupidly massive gun, he had to carry about a dozen of them. Look at the above image! What are those guns? Is that really a rocket launcher that shoots six rockets? Come on! Logistically, it’s a nightmare as well. As you can see, if you carry all those weapons that take weird ammunition, then you have to carry spare ammo packs. So, you end up with a character with random balls and tubes all over his body. It’s just silly.
The ‘90s was not a good time for costume design. Most of the male ‘90s characters fall into a few different categories. First, you have the Cable knock-offs, with their pouches and guns. Then you have the Wolverine knock-offs with their fangs and claws. Then you have the armored heroes, which we guess was meant to show how “modern” and “kewl” heroes could be.
The problem isn’t so much the idea of armor as a costume -- Iron Man proves that armor can be cool -- it’s when you take classic characters, with iconic costumes, and try to update them for the modern day with armor. Captain America, Batman and Daredevil don’t need armor. Now, realistically, armor might be a good idea for protection, but Cap doesn’t need to sparkle. Batman doesn’t need gold and white. And for the love of everything holy, why is Daredevil wearing metal armored shoulder... thingies?
“Capes are soooooo Golden Age, amirite? You know what’s so hip and cool? Jackets! Lots and lots of leather jackets. Leather jackets that are trench coats. Leather Jackets that are tiny but loose fitting. Hell, let’s even give Superman a leather jacket with a gold S on the back!” We’re guessing this was a typical editorial discussion that comic publishers had in the ‘90s. Why else would they give jackets to almost every character?
Let’s think about this for a second. Why would a superhero spend all that time working on a flashy, colorful costume only to cover it up with an ill-fitting jacket. It just doesn’t make sense. There’s one exception to this rule, however – Gambit. That guy definitely needed a jacket because his costume is ridiculous by itself. But Rogue? Sue Storm? Superboy? These jackets are not necessary.
10 ART > WRITING
When several big-name artists left Marvel to form Image Comics in the early ‘90s, fans were excited to see their favorite creators on their own books. Because of that, the books that came out sold like crazy. Spawn, Youngblood, and WildC.A.T.S. all topped the charts. One small problem – they weren’t very good. The art was beautiful, mostly, but the writing was severely below par.
That’s just typical of the ‘90s. Art sold books more than story. So, Marvel, DC, Image and the rest would all focus on serving the artist more than the writing. It wasn’t until many years later that publishers have finally focused on art AND writing. Now, fans follow their favorite writers as well as artists, and the overall quality has improved. Don’t believe us? Go read the first issues of those Image series. Try to make it through.
9 BARE-FACE MASKS
Batman, Spider-Man and Deadpool all have iconic masks that serve a purpose. Whether it’s to strike fear in their enemies, protect their identities from villains or hide their ugly, disfigured faces, these masks look great, but also were necessary. The ‘90s, however, brought on a new fad to superhero masks, the bare face.
Take a look at Gambit, Jean Grey and Havok. Their costumes all featured this weird bare-face mask. What purpose did those serve? Story-wise, they don’t make sense. They don’t protect your identity. They don’t look cool, at all. Plus, how did they stay on? Especially with the hair coming out of the top. We have so many questions. Only a few characters still rock this sort of mask, but it instantly makes said character feel dated. Thankfully, this trend seems to have stayed in the past.
8 SO EXTREME!
The whole “grim and gritty” thing started in the ‘80s when classic superheroes were given a more adult angle. The ‘90s looked at the whole grim and gritty fad, and thought “how cute.” The ‘90s, a comic book era built on excess, took the grittiness of the ‘80s but made it more… EXTREME! Everything had to be more violent, more sexy, more gritty. You like Ghost Rider? He’s a nerd. Check out this character with more fire, spikes and chains all over the place and a motorcycle that looks demonic! We call him Vengeance!
No one was safe from the EXTREME, either. Classic characters like Guy Gardner were given extreme makeovers. Instead of a green ring, he has arms that turn into guns! EXTREME! Characters like Lobo, who were created as parodies of the grim and gritty were now the poster children of the movement. Thankfully, the comic industry, as well as fans, have matured.
7 BAD ANATOMY
Captain America has always been one of the most well-known and respected superheroes. He has inspired millions. However, he’s also the butt of a bad joke. We’ve all seen the Rob Liefeld Captain America image, where Cap’s chest is nonsensically massive. Thanks to this image, Cap is the go-to character that epitomizes one of the worst ‘90s trends – bad anatomy.
The biggest offender during that decade was clearly Liefeld. His women were drawn in ways that defied gravity. His men had muscles that were larger than their heads, and filled with more veins than seem physically possible. Nowadays, fans have smartened up to this trend. While comic books have always skewed reality, fans don’t go for art that is so ridiculous. Sure, our heroes can have large muscles, but at least attempt to make them proportionate.
6 HORRIBLE MAKEOVERS
With the popularity of Image Comics, Marvel and DC opted to update many of their classic characters to fit this new idea of superheroes. Colorful heroes with capes and morals just weren’t cool. They needed some sort of “edge” to them. Something that made them more “relevant.”
When Diana Prince lost the title of Wonder Woman, she donned a more “modern” look that included a small jacket, black bra and black short shorts. Superman was given a whole new set of electricity-based powers to go along with his modern electric look. Tony Stark was made into a hip teen. Worst of all is the Punisher, who by the end of the decade was made into some sort of angel (maybe?). Ultimately, these new versions of classic characters died quick deaths. Gratefully, Marvel and DC have learned their lesson.
5 BAD SUPERHERO MOVIES
We’re spoiled with the amount of superhero movies we get today. Not just the sheer number of superhero movies and TV shows, but with the quality of these properties as well. Who would have thought that Marvel and DC films would be the biggest movies each year? If you lived through the ‘90s, you definitely wouldn’t have guessed that.
The ‘90s saw a litany of horrible superhero movies. We saw our favorite characters given subpar adaptations. Steel, Captain America and the Fantastic Four were all showcased in horribly campy and badly produced films. Spawn was the shining example of bad CGI. Judge Dredd just turned into a typical silly action movie. The Shadow was just… well, it was Alec Baldwin trying to be a superhero. It was bad. Thank goodness studios have gotten their acts together; now, we fully expect our superhero movies to be great.
What happens when you take artists that were working on pitches for Marvel and DC, but then break off to form their own company? You get a lot of recycled and reused ideas. Image Comics, at its launch, became the go-to place for copycat characters. Flipping through the pages of an early Image comic, you might notice that the art style looked like the Big 2, but also the characters all looked like others you grew up with.
They weren’t even sneaky copycats either. These “new” characters wore their inspiration on their sleeve. Some wore Wolverine’s signature mask. Some were just huge, muscled monsters like the Hulk. You even had characters like Bloodwulf that borrowed Lobo’s whole schtick wholesale, for “comedic” purposes. With the rise in cover prices, it’s highly unlikely fans would ever buy an issue featuring a character that was a clear copycat. We’d rather just read the real thing.
3 SWIMSUIT/LINGERIE SPECIALS
Nothing is more cringe-worthy than the ‘90s swimsuit special comic book issues. These issues were filled with nothing but pin-ups of your favorite superheroes in the skimpiest of costumes. With the massive success of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issues, Marvel, Image and other comic publishers sought to capitalize on the trend with these comics.
Honestly, if you crave seeing Lady Death in lingerie or you get all hot and bothered by peeking at Rogue in a bikini, then you might need to re-evaluate some of your life choices. Sadly, these issues always misused some really great artists, especially the Marvel Swimsuit Specials which had Jim Lee, Joe Quesada, the Brothers Hildebrandt and, of course, Adam Hughes. Could you imagine the uproar if Marvel revived this ‘90s series?
2 OVERLY SEXUALIZED FEMALE CHARACTERS
One of the worst trends of the ‘90s was the overuse of highly sexualized female characters. No matter their purpose in the story, almost every female character was always drawn with a massive chest, impossibly small waists and legs that seemed to be about six feet long. It’s a miracle that there were any female readers during the decade.
Of course, female characters have always been objectified in comics, but it seems like it was never as in-your-face as it was in the ‘90s. Instead of comic book covers focusing on the story within, they focused on their female characters in some ridiculous pose, used to highlight their “assets.” This clearly wouldn’t fly today, as seen with the massive backlash after the Milo Manara Spider-Woman cover. Hopefully, this trend stays dead.
1 GIMMICK COVERS…OH WAIT…
When people think of horrible comic book trends in the ‘90s, they think of the gimmick covers. We had holograms, foil and lenticular covers for just about everything. The ‘90s even gave us a bloody cover. But guess what? This trend is alive and well today, and the fans are at fault. We haven’t learned at all. We still clamor for the lenticular Marvel Legacy or the foil Dark Nights: Metal. Hell, even DC put a lenticular cover on its recent Batman/Flash trade!
Sadly, this isn’t the only trend we are doomed to repeat. Late issues are still a thing we allow. We still buy that issue of Secret Wars even though it’s late. What about those classic character redesigns? Oh, they’re still alive and well because anything with a new #1 or a new cover dress is bound to sell like crazy. So, while we tend to laugh at a lot of the ‘90s trends, we need to be aware, they’re still happening today. Just be thankful there’s no new Youngblood reboot… oh wait…
Which '90s trends do you think were the worst? Let us know in the comments!