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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Super Blog Team Up -- January 2020 edition: Gimmick comics

Happy 2020! We hope you had a restful/joyous holiday season. To kick off this new year, the Super-Blog Team Up (SBTU) decided to run a series of articles on gimmicky comics. Remember to check the links below to view articles by other fellow SBTU bloggers. For this installment, Mark Belkin and I (Justin) decided to write about our favorite DC gimmick comic memories.

I think there's a bit of confusion as to what a 'gimmick' is.

Back in the early 90s comic industry, the term 'gimmick' was usually reserved for something with an over-the-top attention-grabbing cover -- maybe it was a chromium cover, a hologram cover, a die-cut cover, or an embossed cover -- that made the book stand out on the shelves among a sea of other comics at the comic book shop. These were colloquially known as 'gimmick covers' and usually cost a bit more than the same issue with a regular cover. By association, comics that included special inserts such as trading cards, posters, bookmarks, postcards, ashcans or other exclusive collectables would also fall under the 'gimmick' designation. 

*Super Blog Team Up contributor, Comic Reviews by Walt, gave an extremely detailed look at the gimmick era of the 90s: 

For the sake of this special SBTU feature, a gimmick is anything that hooked you into buying a comic book. Maybe the issue was polybagged. Maybe it was a cross-over issue that tied in with a bigger event, an issue with a variant cover, a 3-D issue that came with 3-D glasses, or only available in an alternate-sized format. Either way, it was something that edged out your decision over choosing this comic instead of that comic. We hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane.



JUSTIN's picks:

Note: I didn't start buying my own comics until 1990, so anything in my collection prior to that was either a hand-me-down from one of my older cousins or something my dad picked up at flea market for me (not complaining). So, for the sake of accuracy, this list will not include anything prior to 1990. Thankfully, the nineties were the 'gimmick era' and man, did I buy a lot of comic books. I'm only going to list my top 5 most memorable gimmick covers, since there are way too many to list and I'd probably hog the whole article. Also, by no means is this in chronological order.

Robin II: The Joker's Wild! #1 (1991). cover by Dick Giordano.

1. Robin II: The Joker's Wild #1 (hologram variant cover). I remember digging through a comic book shop's back issue bin, finding this, and -- believing that I had found a hidden treasure -- guarding it with my life until I got to the cashier to purchase it.You know when you're shopping at the grocery store and you find a lone family pack of chicken in the frozen meat section that the stock boy must've accidentally under-priced? Yeah, that's how I felt -- like I'd won the fanboy lottery. Do you see that bluish tinted image of Robin swinging on a rope on the right-hand side of the cover? That was a 'hologram'. That was the gimmick that got me. I use the term 'hologram' loosely here, because any way you tilted that cover Robin still looked two-dimensional. These were the same 'holograms' that the Impel/Skybox Cosmic Cards and Cosmic Teams trading card sets used. The issues with the holograms on the cover cost $0.50 USD more that the non-hologram cover (illustrated by Kevin Maguire). There were five variant covers to this issue (four with the hologram and one without), and if I had do it all over again I would've preferred the Kelley Jones cover variant. Ah well, beggars can't be choosers. I was lucky (at the time) to get any issue at all. At some point, ALL of these 'holograms' (from issues 1 to 4) were re-issued as trading cards, but I'm not sure how they were distributed.

As an added bonus, Robin II: The Joker's Wild #1 featured the death of Mr Freeze (killed by the Joker, no less)...

panels from Robin II #1. Illustrated by Tom Lyle and inked by Bob Smith.

...and Mr Freeze was dressed in his classic Super Power Collection costume. I seriously thought I had picked up a real collector's item here. Alas, it was not to be. This was not the death of Mr Freeze, and he would re-appear in many many Batman comics after this. I've always wanted to ask writer Chuck Dixon what was up with that... was it an oversight on his part? Was Mr Freeze just knocked out and not killed? Or maybe Mr Freeze was killed off in this story and DC senior management said "No way! You can't do that!", so everything had to go back to status quo? Either way, for a few years, I thought I was sitting on a fortune (ex: the death of prominent Batman villain Mr Freeze).

Because I'd missed the first Robin mini-series, this was my first exposure to the Tim Drake Robin. It wasn't a bad issue per se, but I didn't track down the other three issues in this mini (if that tells you anything). I'm sure I purchased this after 1993's Knightfall and before 1994's KnightsEnd, when everything Batman-associated was still considered blazing hot.

The Spectre v3 #1 (1992). cover by Tom Mandrake

2. The Spectre v3 #1: This issue had a glow-in-the-dark cover. Let that sink in for a second... a glow-in-the-dark cover! As a youth, my bedroom was filled with glow-in-the-dark models of the solar system because they looked so damned cool when the lights went out. I still like glow-in-the-dark anything. So obviously, a glow-in-the-dark Spectre cover was high on my want list. If any character was befitting of a glow-in-the-dark cover, it was the Spectre. This spooky poltergeist appeared out of nowhere wearing only green underwear, matching green gloves and a hooded cape, and turned people into candles or whatever. This was not really a gimmick cover, because there was no alternate cover. This was it! Either it was a glow-in-the dark cover illustrated by the very talented Tom Mandrake, or NOTHING. Back in the day, I was unable to find this issue for purchase, and did I ever want it BAD.

Years later, I managed to purchase The Spectre: Crimes and Punishments TPB which sported a more superior (if that's even possible) glow-in-the-dark cover by Tom Mandrake. It's more superior because when exposed to the dark it shows the Spectre's skeleton (and this whole time I thought he was incorporeal):

The Spectre: Crimes and Punishments TPB. Cover by Tom Mandrake.

*Fellow Super Blog Team Up contributors Pop Culture Retrorama covered a few more glow-in-the-dark books from the 90s. Check em out here:

Batman: Shadow of the Bat v1 #1 (1992). Cover by Brian Stelfreeze.

3. Batman: Shadow of the Bat v1 #1 (collector's set). As a DC comics fan, this was a very difficult issue to pass up because: it was the first issue of a Batman series (and these were always hard to find if you missed out the first time), it was polybagged, and it included the motherload of inserts: two Brian Stelfreeze posters, a special edition bookmark, a blueprint of Arkham Asylum, and a 3-D Arkham Asylum pop-up! I'm sorry to admit that this issue spent the better part of the nineties in its polybag before I decided to crack it open. If I had opened it, I would've discovered that this was the first appearance of Mr Zsasz AND Jeremiah Arkham, and just how detailed this 3-D Arkham Asylum cardboard pop-up was:

The previous photos were courtesy of Etsy user smt7734575 who sells a lot of scarce DC comics promo items from the 80s and 90s. Take a look at their shop and all the cool swag they've got for sale, when you get a chance. 

I remember buying this polybagged collector's set during a comic book shop's 'closeout sale' in the early nineties (this was actually a pretty common thing during the early nineties, believe me) and the real mystery is how I managed to keep it unopened for so long. The regular version of this issue cost $1.50 USD, while the collectors set cost $2.50 USD. Not a bad bargain for one extra US dollar. I'm pretty sure I bought this around the same time I bought the Robin II comic, just not at the same location.

Eclipso: The Darkness Within #1 (1992). Cover by Bart Sears and Mark Pennington.

4. Eclipso: The Darkness Within #1. This was the kick-off issue to DC's 1992 annual event (as in: the storyline ran throughout DC's summer annuals). What you probably don't realize by looking at the cover above is that the purple diamond Eclipso is looking at you with is actually a hard piece of purple plastic glued to the cover. Who the heck gives the okay on affixing a pointy piece of purple plastic to a comic book cover? (I had to make sure that this comic was always at the top of my stack to ensure that the comic lying on top of it didn't have a diamond-shaped indent in the back cover.) Editor Michael Eury, that's who! I interviewed him about it, and he took the credit/blame. 

All kidding aside, I purchased this issue at a dollar store that was trying to unload a stack of overstock comics from (I'm assuming) bankrupt comic book shops. While the cross-over event itself wasn't that bad, somehow it didn't make the big splash DC was hoping and it kinda got demoted to the dollar bins.

Justice League Task Force #1 (1993). Wrap-around cover by Sal Velluto.
5. Justice League Task Force #1. Hey, do you remember the nineties? When the Justice League was a hot property? When it was such a hot property, that they decided to expand on it and create spin-off books? There was Justice League America, Justice League Europe/International, Justice League Task Force and (not long after) Extreme Justice? Was Justice League DC's answer to Marvel's ultra-successful X-titles? No, but it was fun to pretend.

Justice League Task Force was sort of that series nobody was really paying attention to until it somehow got tied into the KnightQuest storyline with issue #5. Prior to that, nobody really cared for it, except me of course. And why should they? The only significant thing that happens in issue #1 is that Nightwing kinda/sorta joins an extension of the Justice League. 

I'll tell you why Justice League Task Force #1 was significant: 

#1) This issue opens with the Martian Manhunter beating down on a militant French Separatist terrorist cell. For some reason this made our local news. Quebecers are pretty much tickled pink whenever anyone outside of Quebec pays notice to us. The fact that Quebec Separatists were noteworthy to be depicted as villains in a 'fancy' American comic book amused us to no end. That made this issue significant, but not as significant as Marvel's Civil War II Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau variant cover.

#2) It included a Justice League Task Force membership card. Didn't you notice the "Join the JLTF inside!" blurb on the front cover? Hence, the gimmick. This was actually a pretty shoddy idea that was probably thrown together at the last minute. You call this a membership card?

The above images courtesy of The Idol-Head of Diabolu blog. We actually interviewed Diabolu Frank back in 2016.

To be honest, I can't remember if I bought this for the membership card or because it was the first issue of a new Justice League spin-off series. Either way, it ended up in my collection. I'm pretty sure I picked this up in a back-issue bin, so I'm sure I paid more than cover price for this issue.

..and this concludes my top 5 gimmick-era memories. An honorable mention to those Reign of the Supermen issues with the die-cut covers introducing the new 'pretenders to the throne'. Before you ask: no, nothing about that storyline was cheesy and it kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. Another shout-out to all those Zero Hour 'zero issues' I wish I hadn't bought since Zero Hour was a gimmick in the truest sense of the word. And finally, one final kudos to the embossed cover of 1993's Catwoman #1 (illustrated by Jim Balent) that I had to hide from my parents for fear that they would throw it out thinking that it was porn. Let's just say that a blind person could run their fingers over the cover of this issue and know exactly who was on the cover. (see: Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose)

Catwoman v2 #1 (1993). Cover by Jim Balent.
Over to you, Mark...

MARK's picks:

Hot list, Justin! I stopped collecting in the 90's, other then a few months here and there, so I missed many of these. I'm going to set my focus on the gimmick covers of that fantastic decade of the 1980's. (and sticking to DC). Because there was very few "physical" gimmick covers, I'm going to focus on the gimmick covers that emerged from a graphic design, printing process, or concept. DC did try out a few physical differences to make the covers more special, and I'll mention them, but they weren't a "thing" until the 1990's. Let's jump right in.

All Star Squadron #50. Cover by Jerry Ordway.

6. Crisis on Infinite Earth is what got me into buying comic books. It will always have a part of my heart that very few other stories can have. It's that special story that made me fall in love with something, a love that remains to this day. So when I saw a cover that had a huge banner saying Special Crisis Crossover, I HAD TO HAVE IT. This wasn't the first All Star Squadron issue that I bought, but this was the very first Crisis crossover that made me say "I NEED IT." Jerry Ordway did a lot for the Crisis comic as well, inking over George Perez's pencils, so this felt like it was part of the universe.

Being 10 years old, my funds were limited. I had to pick and choose what to buy, and eventually, I wasn't buying every Crisis crossover I could. I still haven't read all of them, but I certainly bought some issues I had no interest in just to have it as part of the "collection." The story itself was a crazy golden age inspired story by Roy Thomas. I'm pretty sure Roy hated the idea of Crisis, so he may have not been crazy writing this one, but it still was a good one.

Dark Knight Returns #1
. Cover by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley.

7. Dark Knight Returns was the world's introduction into the Prestige Format. Which became a super gimmick for DC in the 80's. I remember if it was Prestige Format, I was buying it. The paper felt important, and it felt like Batman was coming off the page. This pretty much changed comic books forever, and really, everything about it felt like some evolution. Into some other world of art. History of DC Comics, Hawkworld, Longbow Hunters, Blackhawk. The formula was to take an amazing artist/creator, give them a character to update, and put it in Prestige Format. And I was there for that formula until the end of the decade.

I'm pretty sure that Jim Starlin and Bernie Wrightson's The Cult had some raising of the cover, giving it a different feel. I don't know if anything had done that before? That might be the first "Let's try to change the physical structure" of a cover. I'm not sure though. 

Sandman #1. Cover by Dave McKean

8. I know there had been multi-media covers before, but this Sandman cover just blew me away when I first saw it on the stands. It didn't look like anything else coming out, and I remember how powerful it felt compared to the other comics at the time. I was buying it anyways, because it had the formula of Karen Berger + British Writer, but this cover made me excited. Beyond just my interest, I know the covers drew in many people who had never read comics, and they were introduced to Neil Gaiman and many became life long fans. The multi media concept became a big thing for the trades of the series, and for many Vertigo comics into the 90's. Sometimes, I feel I took the covers for granted. If I walked into a museum and saw one of these, I would certainly bug out.

Did you like the early 90s Vertigo comics? Check out our Vertigo zine!

Covers by George Perez, Jim Aparo, Keith Giffen, Jerry Ordway.

9. Baxter Stock. It's the name of our Zine (Thanks to Michel Fiffe for the suggestion). It was also a gimmick that allowed DC to re-launch it's more popular titles, with their hottest creative teams, and run two comics of the same title simultaneously. You had to go to a specialty shop to get them, so you didn't see these on newsstands and the supermarket. These four in particular hold a special place in my heart, and each one felt like an event. Prestige felt like art, but Baxter Paper #1 issue felt like an event comic in itself. I can still feel and smell these today just looking at the covers. And my favorite of all was the Question. Just going to put this cover here because it's so dang good.

The Question #1 by Bill Sienkiewicz

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Legion of Substitute Heroes Special #1. Cover by Keith Giffen.
10. This one stuck out for me. It's a cover by Keith Giffen, who had the best sense of humor in comics during the 80's, in my opinion. It has the note from editor Dick Giordano on the cover, a picture of the group with a thumb in it, and in general made me wonder what the hell it was. I've since read it 20 times, and it still makes me laugh to this day. This, Ambush Bug, and Justice League from 1987, are all Keith Giffen CLASSICS.

...and one more for good measure:

Man of Steel #1. Covers by John Byrne.

11. When John Byrne relaunched Superman, DC figured it would be popular. To me, it's still the best Superman stories ever, but some people are whatever about it. Either way, they had TWO covers for #1. I remember being confused and wondering if I should spent my money on the two covers. I didn't, and just bought the one with the big S. I then smudged it with something, and it still has a weird discoloration on it. Oh well, it was never worth a lot, and I never did get the second version. But it did start the Variant cover thing which is still huge today, even if it doesn't make sense to me.

Thanks for reading!


Felling nostalgic for the 80s/90s? Want to read more about gimmick covers? Aren't you in luck! Check out the rest of the Super Blog team articles covering this comic industry phenomena:

Super-Hero Satellite: 70s-80s Photo Covers. A snapshot of pre-90s era of gimmicks, the evolution of a trend through the years.

Chris is on Infinite Earths (Blog): Adventures of Superman #500 (White Bag/Lenticular Cover/etc.)

Chris is on Infinite Earths (Podcast): Episode 33: Team Titans #1 (1992) Five Variant Covers… and five variant stories!

Comic Reviews by Walt: The '90s Revisited: Shiny Covers

Source material: Spider-Man Torment (issues 1-5) by Todd McFarlane Daredevil 319-325 - Fall from Grace - Gimmick covers and a new costume 

The Telltale Mind (Geoff) - Worlds Collide - The Intercompany Crossover

Between The Pages: Guerilla Marketing

Comics In The Golden Age (Mike): Fawcett’s Mighty Midget comics.

Unspoken Issues: Darkhawk #25

Dave's Comic Heroes Blog: Connected Covers gimmicks:New Teen Titans #37/ Batman and the Outsiders #5 

When It Was Cool (Karl): Polybag It! The Blight of the Polybagged Comic Book 

Pop Culture Retrorama: Chromium… Glow In The Dark Covers

In My Not So Humble Opinion: It Came From the 1990s: Force Works #1 Pop-Up Cover

Black & White and Bronze Comics Blog: Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine 1968. Stan Lee’s foray into the magazine format.

1 comment:

  1. Check out my in depth article on the different versions of the Robin II books on FB:

    Also my brief "History of 'Intentional' Variant Covers":
    'Variant Covers': The Early Years (1986-1991):
    Today variant covers are everywhere but before July 10th 1986 there had only been 'publisher' variants (particularly the ‘Whitman Variants’ of the late 1970s/early 1980s, and the price 'burst' graphics or test market prices.
    But then on that Thursday when you walked into your LCS you saw two distinctly different covers for John Byrne’s The Man of Steel mini-series one with a cover that matched the rest of the 5 covers in the series and one that was completely different.
    The ‘regular’ cover had a full body shot of Clark Kent pulling open his dress shirt revealing the iconic ‘S’ on his chest next to an image of his ship rocketing away from an exploding Krypton and the ‘Direct Sales’ version had a close-up of a similar image but with a compleatly different trade dress.
    [Then in 1987 Marvel gave us their first ‘Direct Sales’ variant with Amazing Spider-Man Annual 21]
    Now this was not the first pioneering move in comic book publishing DC had made:
    1975 they gave Joker his very own (albeit short-lived) eponymous comic book series that ran 9 issues – the first series dedicated to a villain as opposed to a hero or ‘anti-hero’
    1979 they gave us the first mini-series with The World of Krypton a three-parter detailing the final days of the doomed planet in detail.
    Then after 1987 they gave us:
    1988 1-900-‘Dial-a-Death’ – you decide if Jason Todd 2.0 lives or dies
    1989 DC Comics again gave us a ‘breakthrough’ in comic book publishing the 1st multi-covered variant for a comic book with Legends of the Dark Knight (the ‘Batman’ was added in the indicia later) with FOUR different coloured secondary covers (lemon yellow, magenta, tangerine, and aquamarine/teal)

    But then in 1991 they hit us with Robin II: The Joker’s Wild! by Chuck Dixon & Bob Smith with 5 different covers for #1 [on the same day that Marvel started the same X-Men (v.2) #1 by Chris Claremont and Jim Lee but Marvel’s were on a weekly basis]