RETRO HOT PICKS! On Sale This Week — in 1986!

Scott and Dan — along with guest Chris Franklin — hit up the comics racks from 35 years ago!

This week for RETRO HOT PICKS, Scott Tipton and I are joined by 13th Dimension contributor Chris Franklin, the co-host of Batman Knightcast on the Fire and Water Podcast Network. We’re selecting comics that came out the week of March 17, 1986.

Why have we asked Chris to come along? You’ll see…

Last time for RETRO HOT PICKS, it was the week of March 10, 1982. Click here to check it out.

(Keep in mind that comics came out on multiple days back then — as has become the case now. So these are technically the comics that went on sale between March 14 and March 20.)

So let’s set the scene: Ronald Reagan was in his second presidential term. The Michael Keaton vehicle Gung Ho was tops at the box office but was quickly supplanted the following week by Police Academy 3: Back In Training. Not exactly Oscar material. (The John Hughes classic Pretty In Pink, on the other hand, was also a hit at the time. Not Oscar material either but at least memorably emblematic of its era.) In a sad reminder of how times have changed, The Cosby Show was in the middle of a 22-week run atop the Nielsens. (It was pretty much No. 1 for all of 1985 and ’86, with only occasional weekly gaps here and there.)

These Dreams by Heart was atop the Billboard 100. Better yet, the absurdist Rock Me Amadeus by Falco was fourth on the list. Whitney Houston, the songstress’ monster debut album, had already been out for a little more than a year — and was the best-selling album of the week.

In a way, you could actually argue that a comic book that came out that week ultimately had the greatest pop-culture impact on the decades that followed.

Read on.

Chris Franklin, podcaster and 13th Dimension contributor

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #1, DC. The 800-pound gorilla on this list that makes every other comic released this week completely irrelevant. Frank Miller and colorist Lynn Varley wisely placed a lighting bolt on this cover, because that’s what this book was: a near Biblical crack from the heavens that ripped the comic world asunder. Nothing would ever be the same. No, really! What hasn’t already been said about Miller’s dark, deconstructionist tale of an old and disillusioned Bruce Wayne emerging from retirement to tame a Gotham gone wild in his absence? Many (including myself) now see the book as a bit of a mixed blessing. On its own, it is still a masterpiece of the medium, which helped elevate the status of comics to “art” in the Western world. But its influence proved too appealing to many creators who couldn’t resist breaking down every character and universe in a similar fashion, whether the concepts could take it or not. And poor Superman has never recovered from Miller’s depiction of him as a government stooge.

As for young me, I missed this first issue, and the three that followed. Having read about the project in newsstand-friendly comic news magazines Comic Collector and Comics Feature, I was excited to see the DC house ad announcing a limited subscription of all four issues, so folks like myself, without access to a comic shop, could read along with the rest of the waiting world. There was only one problem: My usually enabling mother was NOT willing to spend $13 on a set of four comics. That’s about 9 bucks more than we would normally pay! Luckily for me, she was much more understanding when the trade paperback came out a few months later, and we had found a comic shop in a nearby town. I’m not sure my 12-year old mind was ready for what I was about to read, but The Dark Knight Returns poster I bought that same day stayed on my wall until I went to college, so I guess you could say it made an impact on me, too.

I have this framed on my wall. — Dan

Scott adds: Arguably the most important comic of the decade. An influence that altered the entire industry. Changed the character forever. And I missed it. Didn’t read it until a year later when it came out in trade paperback. Ah, well. Better late than never, right?

Dan adds: I’ve written about this series a gazillion times and this weekend we have two special columns coming to mark the actual March 20 sale date, including one by Paul Levitz. So rather than repeat what everyone else has ever said, including myself, I’ll just note that I actually did read this as it came out and it completely, utterly blew my mind. Subsequent issues were sometimes delayed and the wait was interminable. For a long time, I was convinced this was the way Batman should always be done, but like Chris above, I’ve come to regard DKR as a titantic achievement with a mixed legacy. I love it for what it is — but not necessarily for what it has wrought in the decades since. Nevertheless, the book launched a concept of Batman that has come to dominate entire swaths of pop culture, from film to TV to video games to clothes to collectibles and more. The Batman most people see now was sparked by this brilliant work by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley. No wonder our Batman 80th Anniversary blue-ribbon panel in 2019 — which included folks like Levitz and other comics pros — named it the Greatest Batman Story of All Time. (Click here for more on that.)

And now back to Chris:

The New Teen Titans (Vol. 2) #21, DC. A year earlier, in Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe # 4, Marv Wolfman dropped the bombshell that the villainous assassin Cheshire had a child, fathered by an unrevealed member of the Teen Titans. In NTT #21 we learn that Titan is Roy Harper, aka Speedy, and we are introduced to his and Cheshire’s daughter, Lian. This development would forever change Roy’s character, the first Titan to sire a child. It just so happened in this storyline Roy found himself reliving his youth, rejoining a cobbled-together approximation of his original Titans team when most of the series regulars were off in their own pathos-deep storylines. This era of Titans is often overlooked because co-creator George Perez only showed up for the covers, but Eduardo Barreto’s lush interiors are nothing to sneeze at! (Full disclosure, I didn’t buy the original issue off the stands. I had to wait for the “soft cover” newsstand reprint in Tales of the Teen Titans #80 over a year later).

The Green Lantern Corps #201, DC. Team books were hot in the ’80s, thanks to the successes of the “All-New, All Different” Uncanny X-Men at Marvel, and the aforementioned New Teen Titans. Dozens of similar combinations of existing and new characters were rolled out during the decade, in attempts to catch lightning in a bottle once more, particularly at DC. These included Batman and the Outsiders, Infinity Inc., Justice League Detroit and even the Green Lantern Corps. Writer Steve Englehart and artist Joe Staton kicked off the post-Crisis era of Hal Jordan’s venerable series by adding “Corps” to the title, and relocating many of the Lanterns to Earth. The focus was not only on super heroics, but the friction caused by several disparate personalities living under one roof, several years before the advent of MTV’s The Real World. Some, like Hal, John Stewart and Katma Tui were familiar, but others like Ch’p, Salakk, Arisia, and Kilowog had only made a handful of appearances before Englehart and Staton began their run. Fan-favorite characters like Kilowog were fully forged, but young Arisia aging herself up to romance Hal Jordan is probably something best left back in the ’80s.

Fantastic Four #291, Marvel. John Byrne sure loves his cover homages, doesn’t he? It’s hard to resist a chance to riff on the most famous comic of all time (Action Comics #1, of course) when the opportunity arises. Ironically, Byrne would soon be vacating Marvel and its First Family for a shot at the Big Blue Boy Scout himself, ending years of Fantastic Four stories that recalled the glory days of Lee and Kirby. This story, involving time travel, Nick Fury and yes, Hitler, was Byrne’s last fully realized arc before inter-office arguing over his upcoming high-profile Superman project brought his time at the House of Ideas to a close. Of course, he would come back by decade’s end, to chronicle the solo adventures of this cover’s star, the Superman-imitating She-Hulk. So, circle of life, and all that.

Scott adds: Here we’re toward the end of Byrne’s FF run, which he had revitalized by adding She-Hulk to the team, one of his best innovations. I particularly liked this issue, with P. Craig Russell inks over Byrne’s pencils.

Scott Tipton, contributor-at-large, 13th Dimension

Adventures of the Outsiders #34, DC. Although nothing could top Jim Aparo on Batman and the Outsiders, I very much enjoyed Alan Davis’ run on the series after both Batman and Aparo left the book.

Dan Greenfield, editor, 13th Dimension

Amazing Heroes #91, Fantagraphics. The great new mag devoted this issue to the ramifications of Crisis on Infinite Earths, with a stellar George Perez cover. I have a copy myself and what’s most notable is how convinced we all were that this was a new normal that would never be changed again. Oh, how naive.

Swamp Thing #49, DC. Since nobody else has mentioned this, I will. While all this other cool stuff was going on, Alan Moore was writing Swamp Thing.

Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe #16, DC. Can you wait for the Who’s Who Omnibus out April 13? I can’t!


— RETRO HOT PICKS! On Sale The Week of March 10 — in 1982! Click here.

— RETRO HOT PICKS! On Sale The Week of March 3 — in 1977! Click here.

Chris Franklin co-hosts several shows on the Fire and Water Podcast Network, including Batman Knightcast (with Ryan Daly), and Super Mates and JLUCast (with his wife Cindy), the latter two he also produces. Like 13th Dimension’s own Dan Greenfield, he contributed to Crazy 8 Press’ Zlonk! Zok! Zowie! The Subterranean Blue Grotto Guide to Batman ’66 – Season One and Biff! Bam! Eee-yow! The Subterranean Blue Grotto Guide to Batman ’66 – Season Two, both now available. (Click here.)

Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. Frank Miller’s opus was indeed the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of The Modern Age ushering in nihilism and for me beginning to take the fun out of comics. That said Miller’s deconstructionist approach very much informed Zack Snyder’s take on DC heroes. Somehow I was much more willing to accept that take in the cinema rather than the comics. And the massive mistake of Crisis merging all the Earths would create constant re-boots over the next decades. I knew it was a problem then in my 28th year and haven’t change my mind.

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  2. I often wonder (one might even say fantasize) about what mainstream comics might be like if TDKR had never happened. I know I’m in the minority, but I think that series did far more harm than good, and ultimately does not hold up even as a standalone story. WATCHMEN at least holds up, even if it likewise contributed to turning our good guys dark. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those intractable Bronze Babies who still wants all comics to feel like Mort Weisinger edited them. I’m not against complex storytelling or mature themes or even a bit of darkness here and there. But TDKR created an entire generation of creators whose main purpose seemed to be knocking down heroes instead of building them up.

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  3. The one-two punch of DARK KNIGHT and WATCHMEN ushered out the Bronze Age and brought in the far more cynical, dark and violent “Modern” Age. I don’t fault either book, because they were original projects and brilliant in their execution. The creators gave it their all. It’s unfortunate that the creators and editors and companies who followed learned the wrong lessons from the success of DK and WM. Few had the talent or inspiration to equal, let alone surpass, these works.

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    • Your take is exactly what I was going to comment.

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  4. I bought EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THESE COMICS AT THE TIME. Probably the high water mark of my comic buying life.

    I used to get some of my comics through Westfield, a subscription service, and I knew that Dark Knight #1 was waiting for me when I got home from school. I can still remember RUNNING from the bus to my house, I literally couldn’t wait another minute to read it. And I was not disappointed.

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  5. Regarding the DKR opus, I can add little, so I’ll nod in agreement to what’s been written in the above comments as well as the preceding text. I joyously had a front-row seat for the great unveiling (including Watchmen), yet today my takeaways mirror the previous observations.

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