Killing Timeless Superheroes On Repeat for Profit, a Road Which Should be Lesser Traveled

I scoffed at it. I resisted it. I’ve worked comic book retail before. I know what this is. It’s festering shtick played for cheap. If you can finger snap beloved characters gone, you can expect most, if not all of them to return once the profit margin begs for it.

Granted, for sheer curiosity, I opened the blazoned summoning to “Death of the Justice League” a couple times two different Wednesdays on new book day. I even made the rare faux pas of lingering on the end pages because I just know better.

The generous bundle of copies remaining on the shelves two months after the book’s release was a strong indicator. Albeit, they were the standard cover copies, and not the variants and certainly not the glossy acetate packaging. The latter hung about the comic book shop I frequent for a few weeks before selling out. Out of nowhere, though, perhaps from a closed down pull box or another customer unable to clear out weekly held books in suitable fashion, an acetate cover copy manifested.

Add to my conundrum of being baited a Father’s Day gift certificate from my loving fiancée, and with it the freedom to try books I’ve passed on in the interest of saving money. Well… To the good, I was able to score the first three issues of Keiron Gillen’s brilliant Immortal X-Men plus the riotous and gory hijacking of Wolverine # 20-22 by Logan’s smart-assed, likewise indestructible foil, Deadpool. Best ‘pool writing I’ve seen in the past few years.

Damnation, I wasn’t going to play ball, but that acetate cover of Justice League # 75 was coming down the line at me like a routine groundout at first, the ninth inning with the winning run on third. By the time I read the thing, it’s exactly the way I felt about it. Good contact, sharply driven, but in the end, a blasé out to flub a game-ending rally. No walk-off. Extra innings toward an indecisive outcome.

Yes, I know all the marketing gimmicks and presentation tricks from comic book publishers. When I worked in a comic shop in the early 1990s called Alternate Worlds, we sold tons of books cased in sealed polymer bags, along with special covers done in gatefolds, tri-folds, prism 3-D designs, holograms, a plastic diamond angle (looking at and from you, Eclipso), die-cut embossing, chrome plating, you name it. Ask collectors who were there; the smoke and mirrors work favored by the publishers were masking mediocre to miserable material inside.

From this time period, I’m currently writing a fiction story based on my experiences in comics retail. Specifically, the notorious Death of Superman (or “Doomsday”) and Funeral for a Friend saga spanning from 1992 to 1993. If anything reeked of cash grab in the comics industry, it was this bald-faced ploy to knock off The Man of Steel, who had me and maybe 30 other readers nationwide at the time. To be a part of that shocking and momentous occasion was to understand public duping at its best. Most of the people who bought Superman # 75 and the entire Doomsday story arc, as it was largely sold to consumers plunking down a deposit toward the entire run over Supes’ four titles (and Justice League of America # 69) at the time, weren’t even comic book readers. They were investors looking to nab a slice of history it seemed would never repeat itself, save for the four print runs of the pivotal “death” issue.

As their rival imprint’s “distinguished competition,” DC Comics have been no strangers to running the death gambit with their flagship characters. What was originally mortifying and tragic in 1985 when the original Flash, Barry Allen, and Supergirl, were purportedly snuffed in the Crisis on Infinite Earths miniseries, has now become more of an asterisk instead of an exclamation point. DC and Marvel have killed and resurrected their stable so many times now it’s not even liberally covered under a pervading “multiverse” clause. It’s become Mandolorian-esque: This is the way.

Marvel has ingeniously staked a godhead factor within its still-building Krakoa era of their X-Men titles. The mutant sovereignty has discovered the method toward regenerating their entire population as needs and Quiet Council decrees must. As if Wolverine hasn’t died enough times, or lest we’ve suffered the perversion of resurrecting decades-dead Gwen Stacy, rebranded as hybrid avatars of Marvel’s long-standing cast (i.e. Gwenpool and Spider-Gwen). Marvel can now slaughter mutants at wholesale and bring them back within a single issue. Skip the emotive funeral aftermath tie-in.

For all my blustering, you can bet that acetate covered Justice League # 75 came along with me. All of my knowledge and background in marketing, yep, I still caved when I saw an acetate version of the book re-emerge on the shelf and I had a gift cert to burn. Yes, the confounded acetate cover is cool-looking. You got me this time, DC, drat it.

The book’s been out a while, and everyone who cares about this stuff knows what you see with the comic carny huckstering is what you get with Justice League # 75. Is it any surprise this comes at an issue numbered 75, for all intents and purposes, Superman’s new kryptonite?

Save for Green Arrow’s part in it, however, this is the most pedestrian fall of comic titans I’ve ever read. I’ve been at comics reading for more than four decades, and I have a strong suspicion what Joshua Williamson and DC is up to by creating a minimalist finale to the title’s current run. We all do, considering it’s all precursor to the publisher’s upcoming Dark Crisis crossover. I can make a prediction what this has all been for, which, on the face isn’t much other than to see The Spectre swing sides and Jon Stewart’s valiant stint as lead Green Lantern nearly save the day.

In the end, oblivion rules over Justice League # 75 in the same shredding fashion as the heroes died in Crisis on Infinite Earths, which is my main gripe to the whole thing. Wonder Woman only just recently cheated death a few months ago for what, the fourth time? Now this? Not even Krakoa’s cloning prowess, assuming it could be loaned ad hoc across competitor lines, can handle this in-and-out genetic reassembly like Sylvester McMonkey McBean’s star brands on (and off) thars. Alfred Pennyworth’s death being the only in comics to have any reticence and gravity, much less sticking power these days.

Which is what this constant die-in, die-out motif in comics feels like: a sham unfurled with just one suckering lever pull. Pointless variant covers and wearying reboots of comic series back to Issue 1 ad infinitum being enough excuse to just let the super bodies hit the floor.

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

The Candy Bar that Time, Not Baseball Fans, Forgot

You read a lot of retrospectives over woebegone discontinued sweets and treats from generations past. One candy bar not just reliably makes the list, it stands out like a mythical beacon of nostalgia not even the gobstopping Willie Wonka or Hubba Bubba chewing gum can outshine.

I’m talking about the ephemeral Reggie! bar, which crazed and glazed sweet teeth from the mid-1970s through the early Eighties. Named after the iconic New York Yankees slugger, Reggie Jackson (the Aaron Judge of his time), Curtiss Candy introduced the baseball-themed cluster bar in 1977. Comparable to the manufacturers’ Baby Ruth (featuring the namesake of Grover Cleveland’s daughter), the Reggie! bar struck many candy connoisseurs’ fancies, at least until its original demise in 1982.

Let me give you an abbreviated tale of two baseball cities, Baltimore and New York. One blue collar, the other a mash of working class and Wall Street. Baltimore has always been considered minor league compared to the pinstriped Metropolis (or slate gray and orange if you’re a Mets backer). This inferiority complex which has long plagued the city used to give Baltimore citizens, much less their sports teams, a collective chip on their shoulders. The swagger has returned, planted square upon the backs of the Ravens in the NFL. In the past couple decades especially, it’s no secret the Orioles have been the Yankees’ whipping boys. A current historical record of the two teams’ series over the years has the Yankees overpowering the O’s in a lopsided 1301-888 drubbing.

Granted, Baltimore’s rebuilding roster has finally shown sparks of competitiveness and they’ve managed to gnash at the Bronx Bombers’ heels here and there the past few years. During the 1970s and 80s, however, both cities boasted two of the top contending teams in Major League Baseball. Their slugfests back then were the stuff of the game’s canon, though incomparable to eons-worth of Yankees-Red Sox diamond duels. I was there to see some of those O’s-Yanks epics as a kid in the Orioles’ original home, Memorial Stadium. Seems way too long and just like yesterday I was cheering on my baseball idol, Eddie Murray, along with O’s legends, Al Bumbry, Lee May, Doug DeCinces, Don Stanhouse, Mark Belanger, Ken Singleton, Gary Roenicke, Rick Dempsey, Sammy Stewart and all the harbingers of Orioles Magic back then.

Reggie Jackson once played for the Oakland Athletics and, for a single season in 1976, with the Baltimore Orioles before migrating to the Big Apple and finding superstardom. Legend had it during his time as an Oriole that Reggie claimed if he could land a spot with the Yankees, he would have a candy named after him.

So it came to pass. Jackson turned Yankee and in New York’s home opener for the 1978 season, the Reggie! bar was offered as a promotional giveaway to the fans. After pounding out a home run in his first at-bat of the season against the Chicago White Sox (this feat following his four dinger romp in the 1977 World Series), fans threw the candy bars onto the field in celebration, delaying the game by five minutes for clean-up. Consider it a precursor to uber-hockey fans throwing their caps onto the ice when a home team player nabs a three netter hat trick.

Though it made a short-lived rebrand with a swap of peanut butter from caramel in the Nineties, the Reggie! bar was more phenomenon than novelty. If you lived the times, you no doubt had a go with a Reggie! bar at least once. Most compared the cluster candy of milk chocolate, peanuts and caramel to a Baby Ruth bar (easy cheat, considering the Yankees tie), but I liken it more to a Nashville-proud Goo Goo bar.

Despite the Yankees being considered nefarious enemies of the Baltimore Orioles back in the day, we had a soft spot for Reggie Jackson. Most baseball fans at-large did. Like Aaron Judge or even Shohei Ohtani in today’s league, Reggie was a spectacle, much like his predecessors, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio. A Reggie Jackson at-bat was something to veer your eyes to, either at the stadium or on t.v. It made selling his candy bar all too easy back then. Like the man himself, people couldn’t get enough of the Reggie! bar when it first came out for a quarter. It was advertised as heavily as Budweiser and Old Spice pitches of the day.

Where I lived as a child for a few years in the mid 1970s, we couldn’t get a proper snow plow in the winter, but we could get a Reggie! bar at the tiny Winfield Market in Woodbine, a rural beyond rural hamlet in Carroll County, Maryland. A solid hour away from Memorial Stadium.

I used to get a dollar a week allowance for doing chores and with that buck, I could pester my folks on a Saturday to take me to the Winfield Market, where I could get a comic book, a pack of baseball (or Star Wars) trading cards, a Frosty root beer and a Reggie! bar. Can you stand it? All that swag for a single dollar! Ponder that a moment in this hellish bull market we’ve been thrust into.

Today, the Reggie! bar is a time capsule slab of chocolaty remembrance you have a feeling may surface as a rebooted good times throwback in the gift shop at your local Cracker Barrel. Fifties kids can still score Necco wafers, Sky Bars and Moon Pies to get their evocative sugar kicks in their golden years. Now would be a great time for sentimentality and a Reggie! resurface while there are still generations alive to plunk down for it. So long as it’s not an inflated $3.89 thrill seek.

Then again, we’re not far off some seeing a Judge Jaw Buster or his countenance replacing the hand-drawn homer king on a pack of Big League Chew. The Reggie! bar hung around during a period of economic flounder, gas shortages, American hostages overseas and political imbalance in the United States. New York City was then called “The Rotten Apple” from all-around negligence. Escapism works where it will.

-Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Announcing My Short Story Collection, “Coming of Rage,” to be Published in Summer of 2022 by Raw Earth Ink

I’m thrilled to announce the upcoming publication of my short story collection, Coming of Rage, through Raw Earth Ink, to be released later this summer.

It’s been an absolute pleasure working with press editor, Tara Caribou, as hands-on and attentive a professional an aspiring author could hope to work with. I look forward to sharing these stories of differing themes linked by a concept of pushing my protagonists toward the edge to see their reactions to adversity. As the book’s cover implies, music has underlying shades throughout each story, including a fictionalized slice of my former life in music journalism. I will share the official release date for Coming of Rage when it’s set.

Visit Raw Earth Ink to discover the many authors and poets who have published with the imprint: