Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
Back in 1993, I found a new franchise in my local comic book store. Already a fan of Dark Horse’s Aliens noir lines, I looked forward to their rather un-modestly titled Comics’ Greatest World. According to the Comic Vine website the name was a play on DC’s slogan “greatest comics in the world.” I was excited about getting in on the ground floor of a new comic franchise, and about the introduction price of a dollar a title. This was the late nineties, the heyday of comics iron age. So this imprint promised to be darker and grittier.
So I was mildly surprised when I opened it up and the first thing I noticed was the color. Computer inking was now all the rage, so a typical comic book coloring had bright colors contrasted with black. The washed out colors of CGW, were nearly a return to old school four-color. With hindsight I can see this as an artistic homage to comics golden age, but at the time I was a bid disappointed the series visually.
So to compete in comics Iron Age the series would need to up the ante on the dark and grim. A decade after Miller’s classic The Dark Knight Returns, comics like The Punisher, Ninjack, Sin City were still the choice du jur. CGW tried to play off on this with dystopic urban hell holes, and chachters like vigilante assassins, a Superman copy that lacked his moral compass, government agencies that may not have our best interest at heart and blonde ice queen bounty hunters. The results were mixed.
The actual world that CGW was set in was based on four cities. As Gotham is based on New York, each of these cities was represented of a real world location. Arcadia like Batman’s stomping ground is a corrupt version of New York. Steele Harbor is a gang infested Detroit. Golden City used to be called San Francisco but they changed the name and built an underground super prison underneath it. And Cinnabar Flats is CGW version of Vegas/a 51.
The series flagship was X. X is a violent psychopath who cut a swath of destruction through Arcadia’s crime syndicates and corrupt government. His ‘thang’ was he would give a target a warning rather cutting a slash across their face or a red diagonal line across a picture of them. If they didn’t change their evil ways then he would place another slash going the other way making an ‘X’ He would then brutally kill his victim. Dark Horse promised us that there was a method to his madness, and he was committing crime violently. And he did seem to have a mysterious beautiful backer who was calling shots. But if Dark Horse ever got around to revealing what this grand plan was, I either lost interest or the series got canceled before I ever found out what it was.
By all means my favorite charchter in CGW was Barb Wire. Like Bat Man she was a normal human competing with supers. She was a blonde bounty hunter who went toe to toe with pyrokenitics and super powered gangs with the help of inventions and weapons provided by her blind brother. Her mantra “Don’t call me Babe’. Supposedly came from trying to differ her form Dark Horse super strengthed bombshell Babe (Who was not part of CGW) On the outside she was sexy wearing painted on jeans and half shirts, but inside she was an ice queen. That was what pretty much passed for feminism in comics in the last decade of the 20th century. Still she was never in the need of rescuing, which was nice.
Most people remember Brab form the1996 movie starring Pamela Anderson. I have to admit with it dystopic background and Casablanca shout outs this move is a guilty pleasure. The worst part of the movie is defiantly Pammy. The Bay watch star won the Golden Raspberry for worst debut performance that year. Still one wonders what it had been like if they made a movie like the ones with other Dark Horse titles like The Mask and Hell Boy.
The one charterer that seemed to have survived the demise of CGW is Ghost. Reporter Elissa Cameron was shot, but instead of dying she became an amnesiac super with the power to walk through walls. After the collapse of Dark Horse Super franchise she continued on in team ups with The Mask, The Shadow, Hell Boy and Bat Girl. When Dark Horse began to bring back some of their tights and capes, she was the first to join its Dark Skies imprint.
When X got rebooted I barely gave it a notice. But last month a local used book store had two issues (3 and 6) for twenty-five cents apiece and who am I to pass up something by Dark Horse for a quarter. This time he is teamed up with a pink haired reporter named Leigh. It was done is standard modern coloring as opposed to the washed out neo-4-color style, which to me is a plus. The stories were as good if not better than the first run. This does appear to be a re-boot as opposed to a continuance so I am not sure how much of the old stories are cannon.
When the Barb Wire reboot came out I did pick that up on the first week. Scripted by creator Chris warner, Barb is still a bounty hunter but she also has a “Dog the Bounty Hunter” type reality show. This isn’t making her enough money to pay for damage that super powered being do when fighting in her club, The Hamer Head. So she may reluctantly have to go after meta-humans.
This Barb is much more nuanced and complicated than her 90’s version. Where the 90’s version can off as man in a woman’s body, the new version seems more feminine, yet never week. I am really looking forward to her future adventures and was excited at the end when there was a clue that one of my favorite CGW chachters who I though was killed off back in its first run may return.
When I was picking up Barb Wire #1, I asked Sean the salesman at the Milwaukee Oregon, Things From Another World, if he had any info on the original CGW. He called over two Dark Horse Employees (TFAW is owned by Dark Horse and across form headquarters) I asked them about the Original CGW and its reboot. They said that they weren’t part of that part of the company, and neither of them worked for DH back then. (They both looked like they may have been in junior high school back in 1993) Trey did tell me that in addition to Barb Wire were going to release a line with one of my favorite CGW characters King Tiger.
What I got out of the impromptu interview was that Dark Horse was a different company than it was when they first launched the line. And that makes sense because I think that the comic book buying public has changed in the last two decades. Even though super heroes are more popular than ever I think that buyers want something different from what the main two companies are shelling out.
CGW wasn’t the only super hero imprint that rose during comics Iron Age only to disappear afew years later. Look at Malibu, Stormwatch , Milestone and others. And let’s face it comics is a money making business. When the imprint could not support itself DH went back to what they did so well. Star wars, A.v.P. and quirky titles. It is nice however to see them back in the hero game even if in a limited role.