My formative years as a comic book reader came during the early 1990s, when I was at the verge of awkward junior high schooler and still a few years off from big pimply high schooler.
Unfortunately this was an era when mainstream comics (i.e. superhero books) had dropped off from the creative heights of the 80s and fallen into a state of hyper-muscular style and weak storylines, probably best exemplified in the art of Rob Liefeld.
I was a dedicated reader of Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, New Mutants and bits of other Marvel titles. DC – with the exception of Batman – was considered untouchable by my friend-circle, and so I can’t speak much about the state of their books other than to say that their covers were often laughably cheesy. In fact they seemed to cultivate a brand of cheesy-ness that ran against the grain of what I thought Marvel had achieved during the 70s and early 80s. Namely, a coherent and internally consistent universe where super-powers were usually (but not always) technological or naturalistic.
Composition of backgrounds and the dynamism and drama of Kirbian Marvel’s graphic standards had given way to flat-looking panels, an (IMHO) over-emphasis on musculature that was often anatomically questionable, and characters with perpetually scowly expressions.
Storylines had always waxed and waned in terms of inventiveness and originality. Jim Shooter’s Secret Wars – sadly the format for many future mega-crossover events – had somehow sucked the wind out of Marvel’s sails, creatively speaking. The sea was changing, getting ready for the arrival of guys like Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee and Liefeld and other new blood to Marvel’s artistic crew.
Soon the art and “look” of superheroes became the focus and story became secondary or non-existent. Frank Miller’s take on the Dark Knight, 80s Wolverine and the Punisher – all dark and mentally unstable anti-heroes – became the flavor-to-emulate because their books sold like hotcakes.
Add to this the new obsession with “collector’s item” die-cut covers and holograms and trading cards – often containing bland and formulaic material – and it becomes pretty clear that the 90s were a crap age for super books.
I stopped collecting a few years after Image and its creator-owned titles began to cut into Marvel’s lion’s share of the comic book market. I was bored with the way the genre was developing. Comics had really started to look like the “kid’s stuff” they had consistently been accused of being.
These days a lot of interesting material is being published. We seem to have crossed a chasm-like rut. The Big 2 continue to put out a lot of dreck, but they seem less important to the genre and the trends that push it along.