Wednesday, December 19, 2012


The comic book scene was quite different back in 1997 when DC's Young Heroes In Love first debuted. Yet in some ways it was similar to what is happening in the world of comics today. Image was very popular although not necessarily for the same reasons it is popular now. Instead of titles like Saga, Fatale and Chew, Image was riding a wave of popularity with titles like Spawn, Witchblade and Gen 13. The Marvel and DC universes were being tinkered with to various effect good and bad and there was no shortage of events and crossovers going on. Back in 97, Marvel was dominating the charts with various crossover events such as Onslaught and Operation: Zero Tolerance.

It's Lobo!  No, it's Howard the Duck!  No, it's...just the 90s.
Then you had the creation of Amalgam Comics. If you thought the teaming of Image and Marvel in the 90's was an unholy alliance, this joint venture between DC and Marvel was positively apocalyptic! Amalgam Comics gave us such legendary titles as Bullets and Bracelets which had Diana Prince team up with Steve Trevor aka The Punisher to fight “Thanoseid”. And who could forget Lobo The Duck? Over at DC the “Genesis“ event was just a few months away, Superman was blue…literally, thanks to some new powers that made him crackle with energy and turned his skin Azure and Wonder Woman had finally gotten rid of that black Members Only jacket and bike shorts. Strange times indeed. Comics in the mid to late 90’s could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered romantic, comedic(not intentionally at least) or lighthearted. At least not as a rule.

In the 90s, Superman was blue
The injection of realism in comics with things like Alex Ross’ Marvels and Kingdom Come had just come out and was still a fresh idea and the idea of Superheroes as TV sitcom (Love and Capes) or Superheroes as TV Cop show soap opera (Powers) were still years away from being implemented. Things like Shojo Manga was gaining popularity but still not a widely recognized part of the Western comic book lexicon. 1997 just didn’t seem like a time where a comic book that focused on soap opera instead of earth shaking battles, on Superheroes in love and having sex (implicit rather than implied) and just talking about their lives, didn’t seem like an idea that would fly. So it was rather astounding and pretty wonderful that, into this world, a comic called Young Heroes In Love would be born and actually survive more than half a dozen issues.

Young Heroes In Love was the brain child of writer Dan Raspler and artist Dev Madan with Inks by Keith Champagne. Young Heroes In Love was about exactly that. It was a group of young, amateur heroes who were learning about themselves, their powers and each other. There was lots of romantic tension as well as a lot of releasing of that tension. The young heroes dealt with more than their share of emotional turmoil, self doubt, personal problems, egos, jealousies. Young Heroes had it all.  Madan's cartoony art style is fairly prevalent today as seen in adaptations of the various animated superhero cartoons.  Back then the only comparable comics was some of the Bruce Timm stuff(The Batman Adventures) but that style wasn’t really in the mainstream in the mid 1990s.  The art of Dev Madan was a bit DeCarlo'esque" and his designs for the characters in Young Heroes were fresh, funny and exciting yet still able to pack an emotional punch.  His art style ran the emotional gamut from the silly, the slapstick, the exaggerated to emotional warmth, poignant and yes, romantic

Young Heroes debate the many looks of Superman

Dan Raspler's writing was nothing short of groundbreaking given the times. It was brave, witty, sharp, smart, subversive and definitely ahead of its time. Almost every issue ended in a cliffhanger. At times, the next issue would pick up the story in the aftermath of the previous issues cliffhanger and then return to it later in the issue, or in a following issue. That wasn’t something that was common in either comics or in series television of the time. Raspler’s writing could be wonderfully subtle one moment and then turn into screwball comedy the next. Raspler seemed to ignore the tropes that writers of the time were gorging on, grim and gritty violence, and instead chose to pick from the toys that no one seemed interested in. His stories had sex, both romantic and casual and various other vices such as smoking (both cigarettes and pot). The series even passed the “Bechdel Test" in nearly every issue.  The women were strong, independent and flawed. Most interesting was the preference of conversation over battles. The books often focused on the characters talking about personal problems and how much they loved superheroes. These characters were fans turned heroes. The character Bonfire was such a fan that she was considered the teams resident superhero historian. She even had a room mate who spent her time talking with other comic book fans on UseNet. Bonfire was definitely not a “fake nerd girl”.

Bonfire admires the view.

  This kind of character interaction, talking about the minutia of ones day, talking “fan talk” is something pretty common today (see anything by Bendis). We see it in comics all the time. But in mid 90s this wasn’t the case. Raspler's writing was new and interesting. In a 90s world full of loud and downright obnoxious comics, Raspler and Madan gave us a book that had the ability to be quiet, fun, sexy and yes, even nice. Raspler and Madan gave us characters that seemed like people we knew. Some were the kind of characters that you liked immediately. Others were characters that rubbed the wrong way at first, but once you knew them, they would grow on you.
The Young Heroes were gathered together in true “garage band” style by a charismatic superhero named Hard Drive. Hard Drive was the “front man”. The quintessential superhero in appearance. He was blond, handsome, had super strength and could fly. But in true soap opera fashion, Hard Drive had secrets and wasn’t what he appeared to be. Bonfire was a perky redhead with the ability to control fire and temperature. Bonfire was the resident expert on the history of superheroes and she was perfectly willing to get in heated debate with anyone who doubted her knowledge. She was a bit nervous about joining up with the Young Heroes even though it was her life long dream to be a superhero and doubted and even feared her own abilities. Monster Girl was a shape shifter who could change into a monstrous form where she has super strength. Monster Girl was an attractive Hispanic woman(pictured below with her family). She was a bit devious and manipulative but could also be kind and supportive. Off-Ramp had the ability to teleport. He was the grouchy loner of the group. Off-Ramp’s ability seeed to come with a case of wanderlust. He felt claustrophobic if he stayed in one place for too long and like Hard Drive, Off-Ramp had his secrets.
Junior was a former scientist who had shrunk down to several inches tall as the result of a lab accident. Junior had no superpower nor was he able to control his size. H was stuck in his form and even though he was more level headed than most in the group, his size gave him all sorts of confidence issues and resentments to deal with. Thunderhead was the gentle giant of the group. A former musician who played guitar. He gained super strength but also became larger in size.
This caused him to have to give up playing music because his hands became too large and bulky to play his instrument. Thunderhead and Off-Ramp are old friends and they are a bit like Lenny and George from Of Mice and Men. Frostbite was the bad boy of the group.  With blue skin, he had the ability to control and create ice and cold temperatures. He wore very little clothes and had a ponytail. Frostbite and Bonfire were instantly attracted to each other for a variety of reasons. Bonfire and Frostbite’s powers feed off each other and would give them a sort of telekinetic connection. Their powers also caused a sort of sexual stimulation between them that, over the course of the series, was both frustrating and very satisfying. In issue 3, seventh member Zip-Kid joins the Young Heroes. Zip-Kid had the power of flight and was able to shrink down to the same size as Junior. However, the smaller Zip-Kid gets, the faster she can fly. But there seems to be a side effect that comes with her powers. As she shrinks and her speed grows, she becomes more and more frenetic in her mannerisms, speech and emotions. Junior was instantly attracted to Zip-Kid, naturally. Unfortunately, she dates a controlling, manipulative jerk. But Junior’s kindness is not lost on her.


In the following weeks I’m going to go through the 18 issues of Young Heroes In Love, issue by issue, giving a synopsis of each issue and my thoughts and hopefully I’ll be able to dig up more information about the series. But first, I want to start off with a look at the debut issue. Issue one starts off somewhat like the first episode of MTV’s “Real World” series. The group is slowly gathered bit by bit. Off-Ramp is nervous about joining the group and shows up early at the rendezvous point with pal Thunderhead. Also showing up early is Monster Girl. Meanwhile, Junior is getting a ride to the group meeting from his mother. It’s a fun intro to the character as he talks about how little things used to bother him and how he used to make mountains out of molehills and then we pan back and see his true height. Elsewhere, team leader Hard Drive is dealing with a hesitant Bonfire. He pretends to be dismissive of her in order to anger her and get her to use her power full force in the hopes that using her power in such a way will boost her confidence, which it does. Soon they all meet up and have a brief moment to chat. Bonfire is immediately attracted to Thunderhead and shares her feelings with Monster Girl. With the help of Off-Ramps teleporting abilities, they all go to the north pole to pick up Frostbite. Almost immediately, Frostbite and Bonfire are each taken aback by the other.
Hard Drive then takes them to the teams new HQ. A large building in a warehouse district. We also hear Off-Ramp talk about how he first met Hard Drive and how after their meeting he was inspired to use his abilities to help others. We also see a bit of conflict between Hard Drive and Bonfire. Hard Drive seems concerned about Bonfire and Frostbite’s strange attraction and suggests to Bonfire that Thunderhead would make for a more appropriate mate. Bonfire is angered by Hard Drive sticking his nose in her business and tells him off. Hard Drive eyes suddenly start to glow and he suggests that Bonfire not pursue Frostbite “for the good of the team”. Bonfire agrees. Hard Drive then gives a little speech about how they are all going to accomplish great things together. Hard Drive has the charisma of a motivational speaker and the other members seem to always feel more confidant after talking with him.  On the final page, we see a post coital Hard Drive and Monster Girl in bed. Hard Drive smiles saying “Well, we did it. We really did it!” as Monster Girl smiles and tells him “You can say that again”.
This issue reads like a cross between Powers and Avengers Academy. I liked the garage band element that is reflected when they first see their sizable but fairly bare bones warehouse headquarters (along with the 90s era computer). I also liked the “MTV Real World” element as the strangers meet, some for the first time with the two women immediately pairing off to size up the men in the group and all of them talking about their powers and sharing their love of Superheroes. The issue has that sort of “first day of school” feeling to it. All the characters are excited to be part of the group but at the same time frightened at not being able to live up to the responsibility of being a superhero and lacking confidence in their abilities but happy at meeting others who feel the same way and feeling less alone and less like an outcast because of these new friends and team mates.
Madan’s art and Champagne’s inks are top notch with clean, interesting layouts and close ups. And for a comic that is basically nothing but characters talking, there is a terrific progression of action. It’s never boring or static. There’s a lot of great emotion in the characters faces, all of which are unique in every way. No one looks like anyone else either in looks or personality and the well crafted character design and writing makes these characters wonderfully distinctive. The cover art pretty much lets you know what you’re in for even though we don’t really see the implications of the cover till the final page. It also doesn’t suffer from that usual first issue clumsiness that some first issues suffer from. It’s well paced. The introduction of the characters and their interactions is handled deftly both in the writing and the art. The story is propelled very organically and never feels forced or heavy with exposition. Just a very fun, very intriguing, first issue.

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