The ‘80s was a turning point for back issue comics, with several iconic offerings that are still widely popular today. In many ways, it was a landmark decade for the industry.
When asked about the iconic comics of the ‘80s, many people will probably mention ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ and ‘Watchmen’. While these two examples are arguably among the best ones, there are several more that we should know about.
Let’s have a look at the top choices for ‘80s influential comics now:
Many critics and analysts assert that this is the comic book that changed the comics industry in the 80s and beyond. Its creators–Alan Moore as the writer, Dave Gibbons as the artist, and John Higgins as the colorist—saw it as a way to reflect the anxieties in their contemporary society.
Watchman starts out with the death of a superhero, with the setting being an alternate universe with an alternate history. Here, the superheroes were very much present in reality and changed history so that the United State was almost at World War III.
Along with the interesting premise, the story itself had some very strong undertones. It focused on the moral struggles of protagonists, personal development, and nostalgia for our childhood superheroes among many other themes.
2. The Dark Knight Returns
This four-issue comic book was released in 1986, with Batman being its main star. DC comics published the books, with Frank Miller as the writer, Lynn Varley as the colorist, and Miller and Klaus Johnson on the illustration team.
This comic also tells us an alternative story, all about Bruce Wayne. At the age of 55, he comes out of retirement to battle crime again. He then faces a lot of opposition from both the US government and the police in Gotham city. There are also classic nemeses such as the Joker and Two-Face. Superman is also a government pawn in this world, and the series ends with the two pitted against each other.
Along with the intriguing story itself, this comic is also known for introducing the new Robin and the Mutants. Overall, this series is usually considered as being among the most influential and perhaps the greatest Batman story to date. It’s also an awe-inspiring work of art, along with introducing the more mature version of Batman to pop culture.
If you’re interested in the characters of DC comics, here are some interesting facts about Raven from that universe.
3. Incredible Hulk Comics
The Hulk comics by Peter David and Bill Mantlo managed to get deeper into the character, especially with regard to his psychological trauma.
A lot of the stories about the Hulk focus on how he came to be. The writers Mantlo and David, however, wanted to delve into the ‘why’ of this character. In Incredible Hulk #312, Bill Mantlo explored the abusive childhood of Bruce Banner, which led to his psyche.
After that, Peter David made use of Mantlo’s work to delve into a detailed psychological exploration of both Banner and the Hulk. He even put in an explanation of Hull’s initial green skin and made the character speak more as well.
Both these works made the character of the Hulk take on a whole new template. This gave more bulk to future stories as well.
4. Art Spiegelman’s Maus
During the 1980s, the artist Art Spiegelman saw a great amount of success. First, his anthology series called ‘Raw’ was released in 1980. ‘Maus’ was already serialized in this series but was officially collected during the year 1986 to 1991.
This comic marked a milestone in how artists use comics to narrate their own personal stories. In this case, ‘Maus’ is the story of Vladak and Anja, who were Art Spiegelman’s own parents. The couple were in Auschwitz during the second World War, and ‘Maus’ tells us about their experience in the form of a conversation.
The conversation is between the parents themselves, but set in the present. The characters are mostly animals, with some inspiration taken from Nazi propaganda. The work was so successful that it became the only graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize to date. Today, Maus remains among the three top works that have brought comics to the mainstream. The other two are ‘Watchmen’ and ‘The Dark Knight Returns’.
5. Animal Man Revamp
Grant Morrison and DC Comics started their connection in 1988, with a major revamp of Buddy Baker or Animal Man. In the earlier issues, the main focus was on Buddy being a hero and activities for animal rights.
Eventually, however, the series became more of an analysis on the integration of fictional characters and their authors. Morrison’s writing style was soon to become one of the most influential of that decade and the comics industry in general.
Animal Man was the first series by Morrison released by a publisher in the United States. North Americans weren’t too familiar with his style before this, but his signature traits would become inspirations by many other writers after this exposure. These traits included breaking the fourth wall, developing obscure Silver Age characters, overarching narratives, and utilizing real scientific knowledge.
6. The Mighty Thor Comics
The Mighty Thor Comics by Walt Simonson started in 1983, and are known for renewing the public’s attention to Norse mythology. These works would also introduce Beta Ray Bill, who became a fan favorite. We’ve all seen the success of the Thor movies, and these comics had a hand in making them viable ideas.
Prior to these comics, anything regarding Thor wouldn‘t usually focus too much on Norse mythology. Most of the stories are about Thor being pitted against the strongmen and cosmic beings of the Marvel universe. With Walt Simonson on the job, he renewed the focus on the mystical side of Thor.
Additionally, he would also introduce a lot of innovations within the series. One example is that he proved that it’s not necessary to be Norse or Thor in order to be worthy of gaining Mjolnir. The character Beta Ray Bill provided this, which was a fan-favorite element. Other elements introduced by Simonson included Twilight, the sword of Surtur, and Dark Elf Malekith, a main villain. Here are some of the best 80s villains who might still terrorize us today.
7. X-Men: The Start of the Dark Phoenix Saga
The Legendary X-Men Run Peaks by Chris Claremont started a kind of trailblazing concept about the X-Men back in the 1970. However, it really got to its peak during the 1980s. At the start of this decade, the ‘Dark Phoenix Saga’ concluded along with ‘Days of Future Past’, both being two of the best X-men stories in comic history.
The series was the result of a collaboration between Claremont and John Byrne. The latter left this series some time after this zenith of its success. However, Claremont went ahead with producing work that defined various genres. Thor’s efforts resulted in an expansion of the X-Line along with the creation of classic stories. These stories are still very popular more than 30 years later.
Another contribution of Claremont was the creation of several marvel comics X-men characters. Most of these still have major roles within the universe of Marvel. The character building had a unique approach and style, whose traits are still imitated today.
8. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Now a popular part of pop culture in America, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles actually started out as a spoof of the comics in the 1980s decades. The creators behind this comic were Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, who meant the turtles to be a parody of Teen Titans, Daredevil, Ronin, Cerberus, New Mutants, and other famous comics of that time.
However, as fate would have it, these hard-backed heroes would blow up and be a phenomenon in themselves. They would first be a majorly popular comic series, with fans growing more passionate about the stories and fighting strategies. As time went on, the series spawned several TV shows, cartoons, movies, follow-up comics, and even video games. With all this content, there was also a lot of merchandise based on the turtle quartet and their trainer.
In just three years (1987), the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon began. This started out as a little miniseries just for promoting their toy line. However, it soon became a hit television show that lasted an impressive 9 years.
During the ‘80s, the public was warming up to the idea of having personal home computers, portable entertainment, and a lot more that’s carried forward to the 21st century. Comic books in that decade have also shaped our entertainment industry, becoming inspirations for movies, blogs, and TV series. The comics we’ve discussed above are entertaining on their own , but they’re also an important part of our pop culture history.