Today, we look at some unusual guest stars that served as “sales boost” guest stars for Marvel comic books during the 1990s sales boom.
In Drawing Crazy Patterns, I spotlight at least five scenes/moments from within comic book stories that fit under a specific theme (basically, stuff that happens frequently in comics). Note that these lists are inherently not exhaustive. They are a list of five examples (occasionally I’ll be nice and toss in a sixth). So no instance is “missing” if it is not listed. It’s just not one of the five examples that I chose.
Now, let me note right off the bat that “sales boost guest stars” are a long and trusted legacy in the comic book business, so there is nothing unusual about it, but the 1990s were a really particularly unusual era and here’s why. There was this MAJOR sales boom starting around 1989 and carried through to 1994 (with some vestiges still in 1995 before a huge crash). The sales boom was so huge that the companies started to pump out more and more titles because EVERYTHING was selling. However, think about it like this – everything is selling but sales boost guest stars still, you know, boosted sales, so titles would still frequently use guest stars. This leads to the OTHER catch, though.
In the early 1990s, Wolverine was so popular that Marvel often had him guest star in other comic books while also, of course, starring in his own monthly series, being part of the X-Men (and making frequent guest appearances in the other X-Men titles, especially since they had crossovers every other month) and being the lead feature in Marvel Comics Presents. I did a post counting how long I could go going month to month seeing Wolverine guest-starring in a non X-Men comic book and it lasted from August 1990 to at least May 1993! That’s INSANE, right? You can check it out here.
But here’s why that’s the catch. You might look at Wolverine and say, “Well, clearly, you just can have Wolverine guest star in your comic whenever you want,” but that was NOT the case. You had to actively get permission from the X-Men office to use Wolverine in your comic. Obviously, pretty much any time they were asked about it, he would be approved, but it wouldn’t be automatic, so with SO MANY titles coming out, there would be times when you couldn’t have access to the big four of the era – Wolverine, Spider-Man, Ghost Rider and Punisher. Spider-Man’s foes Venom and Carnage were also big, as well. The Hulk was also pretty popular, but really, any other big name still sort of counted – Avengers, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America. All reasonable enough guest stars.
But with all of the comic book titles out there, titles would have to go well past those characters, and, well, here are five kind of oddball guest stars who still counted as “sales boost” guest stars.
What’s funny about the Avengers, circa 1991-92, is that the Avengers were, like – Captain America, Black Knight, Crystal, Sersi, Vision, Hercules and Black Widow while the Avengers West Coast were Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, Iron Man, Wonder Man, Spider-Woman and Living Lightning. So, in terms of star power, they were really pretty darn even, right? However, even with those lineups, titles wanted THE AVENGERS, not the Avengers West Coast, but if the Avengers were turned down (and the Avengers were generally pretty hard to get), then you would “have” to take the Avengers West Coast.
Here they are in Excalibur #38…
and here they are in Cage #7, although note that they don’t even get an “Avengers West Coast” label on the cover!
For a little while there, there were these “edgier” versions of the Avengers Big Three, with USAgent, War Machine and, well, Thunderstrike.
Thunderstrike didn’t get to be a “Sales boost” guest star that often, but when your title is Quasar, well, you’ll take what you can get…
In 1993, Marvel UK had a big burst of new titles and part of the hook was that each title would have an American guest star (I’ll write about the unusual aspect of that soon) and most of the titles had, well, you know, Wolverine, guest star, but since there were so many titles coming out, some of them had to go for lesser guest stars. And when a book is a Supersoldiers book, then USAgent makes sense, right?
Similarly, if a book is set in outer space, like Cyberspace 3000, then Galactus makes about as much sense as anyone else, right?
There was this one Marvel UK title, Black Axe, that had Sunfire fight the hero, so that should have on this list, but I thought that these #1 guest stars were more interesting.
Okay, like I said, 1995 was really pushing things in terms of the sales boom, so I really should have stopped before now (Black Axe could have been the fifth book), but I just thought that this one was just TOO funny. Okay, so Marvel purchased Malibu Comics, in large part because of the Ultraverse, Malibu’s superhero universe. One of the characters, Siren, got her own miniseries after Marvel bought the company and the series had Siren hunting down….War Machine!
Okay, like I said with the Thunderstrike and USAgent bit, those three guys aren’t that unusual, but the issue is that this was War Machine AFTER he became bonded with an alien symbiote armor!
Too funny. The first issue actually had Siren practice against the classic War Machine armor. Hilarious timing.
If anyone has suggestions for a future Drawing Crazy Patterns, drop me a line at [email protected]!
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