I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.
One of my favorite comic book artists when I was in high school lived where I lived. Well, not exactly. He lived in Madison, Wisconsin and I lived a few miles down Highway 51 in a nearby dirtbag town. Still, when I checked the phone book, there he was, listed among all sorts of other people whose paychecks were connected to far less cool activities that drawing superheroes all day. He even had his nickname included in the listing. “RUDE Steve The Dude,” it read.
Rude was the artist on Nexus, which was initially published by the short-lived imprint Capital Comics before moving over to First Comics, which was perhaps the most significant independent comics company at the time with series such as American Flagg and Jon Sable, Freelance. The writer was another Madisonian, Mike Baron, who conceived of this intricate space saga centered on a interstellar assassin driven to exact justice across the cosmos by crippling, pain-inducing dreams that only stopped when he eliminated his target. The series had clear aspirations to traffic in serious sci-fi, but his uniform was pure superhero. I knew of the admiration that Nexus inspired, almost from the moment the first story appeared in a black-and-white magazine, the initial iteration of the title. But the indie comics were hard to come by and a little more expensive too, the latter a major consideration as I scraped my silver together to sate my hunger for more, more, more comic book adventures. So it took me a while to finally buy the comic. As I recall, it took that tried-and-true comic book publisher tactic: the crossover event.
While I was a bit slow to sample Nexus, I was a devoted reader of its unique sister periodical, also written by Baron from its very first issue. Civic pride drew me to collect The Badger, the story of a mentally unbalanced martial artist who choose a superhero identity based on the official state animal of Wisconsin. When The Badger guested in Nexus for a special three-part story irresistibly entitled “The Trialogue Trilogy,” I dutifully followed. The tale began with Nexus, who also answers to his given name of Horatio Hellpop, along with his mohawked companion Judah Maccabee, hurtling in his spaceship across the surface of a bowl-shaped world they’ve been transported to by an anomaly in space.
Nexus and Judah tried to make sense of this odd place where they found themselves, encountering a few strange creatures and generally trying to discover the route home. Since bends in the fabric of the universe can create rifts anywhere, they also encountered a unwitting and unhinged traveler from south-central Wisconsin.
As such a story is supposed to do, it introduced me to these new, unfamiliar characters by couching them in the comfort of another character that I already felt I knew very well. As opposed to modern comics, which always operate under the assumption that only the faithful and fully converted are consuming the stories–even those purportedly pitched at new readers–The Badger’s visit to Nexus’s future corner of the universe was structured to allow the uninitiated to find their way into the considerable intricacies of the ongoing storyline. Besides following the ragged, rough-and-tumble trip on the bowl-shaped world, the comics devoted plenty of panels to the continuing intrigue back on Ylum, the moon that Nexus called home and had designated as asylum for the oppressed of the universe. In particular, there were major happenings afoot in the soap opera of Nexus’s personal life, led by the burgeoning conflict between his girlfriend Sundra Peale and the devious Ursula Imada. Baron didn’t oversimplify the story, but he emphasized clarity in the telling, making it easy to get up to speed.
It helped, of course, that he created the issues with a marvelously talented and creative artist. Steve Rude simply did a beautiful job drawing these comics, with a particularly inspired touch when it came to page layouts, although I believe Baron contributed somewhat to the stylistic flourishes in the structure of the visual storytelling. Still, it was Rude’s responsibility to put pencil to Bristol board and come up with the single-page equivalent of a full-scale movie montage.
“The Trialogue Trilogy” ended in a manner that wasn’t particularly flashy. To me, it didn’t matter. I was completely hooked on Nexus, excited to find out where it was going but also where it had been. I secured the back issues so I could have the comics I’d missed and continued buying the new issues as the overarching master storyline marched on in ever more notable and surprising directions. There was even the occasional return of The Badger. I wish I could say I stuck with it through every iteration, but I eventually gave up on its varied returns, even the creators’ recent foray into self-publishing that I feel, at least on principle, should have inspired me to slap down my dollars.
I feel especially glum about my lack of support given the way that Baron and Rude, fine creators both, have been practically discarded by the industry that they’ve had great triumphs within, even apart from their shared creation. Just this past summer, it came to light that Rude apparently couldn’t even secure work from DC Comics at precisely the time they were actively seeking creators to help them launch fifty-two new and reconceived series. I guess his versions of widely beloved characters didn’t unnecesarily sexualize them enough. Hopefully, the powers that be at one of the big companies will change their minds and make an offer to bring these guys back into the business of crafting great adventures. The deserve to be there, and the fans deserve comics as good as the ones they can make.
Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Contest of Champions by Bill Mantlo and John Romita, Jr.
Daredevil by Frank Miller
Marvel Fanfare by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith
Marvel Two-in-One by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Fantaco’s “Chronicles” series
Fantastic Four #200 by Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard
The Incredible Hulk #142 by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe
Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum
Godzilla by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe
Giant-Size Avengers #3 by Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas and Dave Cockrum
Alpha Flight by John Byrne
Hawkeye by Mark Gruenwald
Avengers by David Michelinie and George Perez
Justice League by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire
The Thing by Dan Slott and Andrea DiVito