Friends and other strangers addendum

Deadman got a Andy Helfer mini-series and a couple with Kelley Jones on art. The Phantom Stranger got a mini-series in his old style, a Mark Millar-Grant Morrison proposal that was rejected, and a Vertigo one-shot. The Spectre got a couple of series, the second one pretty successful. The Demon did best of all: a superb Matt Wagner mini-series and his own title that ran, under Alan Grant and Garth Ennis, for years.

Was all that from this one annual, and from Moore’s continued use of the characters in the American Gothic arc? Without industry insider knowledge I don’t have, it’s impossible to say. Comics are nothing if not thorough in resurrecting their dead. The Spectre had been revived before, most notably in the 70s Fleisher stories that were horrific enough to be curtailed early. The Demon and Deadman were regulars in Bob Haney’s Brave and the Bold. The mystic corner of the DC universe was, while not assiduously cultivated, not forgotten.

The difference that Swamp Thing made was to establish certain characters, or a certain class of character, as available. For experimentation, reinterpretation, revision. It established a process; weird British writers with 2000AD experience pick obscure properties and have their way with them. If it works out great, we’ve got another Swamp Thing. If not, we’ve published a failed mini-series that will be forgotten by everyone involved.

Thus Grant Morrison’s Animal Man and Doom Patrol and Kid Eternity, Peter Milligan’s Shade, Neil Gaiman’s Black Orchid and Sandman. Left-field Americans, because they’d worked in an economic model similar to DC’s, got more respect: sexy violent Howard Chaykin got to revive pulp giant The Shadow, Mike Grell got former JLA stalwart Green Arrow, Frank Miller got a new format for Ronin. But the commercial potential of the British guys was hard to quantify because they’d only written for compilation comics. They were risks, and they wanted to write hardcore stuff about animal rights, murdered children, the Kennedy assassination. But the risks paid off. Repeating the process created a line of comics united by that Suggested For Mature Readers label and a shared sensibility, a conviction that the characters and the medium could be more than they had been.


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