Saturday, August 23, 2014

Eighties August 8 part I: Best Debuts Of The 1980s

By Jef Willemsen (

With only eight days left til the end of August, yours truly figured a fitting way to count down to the fall season would be through various 1980s related top 8 lists. So for the next 8 days, we'll be covering a variety of Marvel Comics related topics. From best 80s writer and artist to best moments and more. In this initial entry, we'll start things off with the best debuts of the decade*.

8) - HYDRO-MAN (Debut: Amazing Spider-Man I#212, January 1981)

Now hear me out... Spider-Man has very few enduring, thriving villains that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko did not create. Most of the wallcrawler's band of baddies hail from the 1960s. The haul from the 1970s is pretty forgettable and nowadays most of them are treated like throwaway joke characters (I'm looking at you Stegron, Mindworm and Big Wheel). Not so much with Morris "Morrie" Bench, created by Dennis O'Neill and John Romita Jr. In many ways, his is a classic Marvel origin: a not too smart guy accidentally gets his powers and goes on a rampage.

Bench initially blamed Spider-Man for being turned into a living being of water (guess no one told him he was made of about 70 percent fluid to begin with) and hunted him through sewer drains and water spouts until he was finally defeated. After he got merged with the Sandman for a while (in one of those classic "it hadda happen!" encounters), he expanded his horizons and became a mercenary for hire. After joining the Sinister Syndicate, the Masters of Evil and even the Frightful Four, Hydro Man has become a Marvel mainstay with a great, versatile set of powers but not enough brain juice to fully exploit them... No worries Morrie, the Absorbing Man, the Wrecker and your old frenemy Sandman have the same problem.

7) - GARGOYLE (Debut: Defenders I#94, April 1981)

Leave it to J.M. DeMatteis to think out of the box. Still a relatively new writer when he took over the long running Defenders title in the early 80s, DeMatteis envisioned a storyline that pitted the oddball band of heroes against the cabal of demons known as the Six Fingered Hand. One of their servants was a ghastly looking demon calling himself Gargoyle. However, beneath the monstrous appearance was Isaac Christiansen, the kindly, geriatic mayor of Christiansboro who made a deal with the devils in hopes of restoring 'his' city to its former glory.

In a surprise twist, Gargoyle joined the Defenders and stayed on even after he helped them defeat the demonic threat. Over the years, he became a mainstay of the team and one of its most recognizable members. DeMatteis and his (New) Defenders successor Peter B. Gillis fleshed out Isaac, making him both a tragic and a likeable character. He even became romantically involved with the Defenders' housekeeper Dolly Donahue.

Gargoyle proved popular enough that Marvel okayed a limited series, written by J.M. DeMatteis in 1985. The four issue series proved to be a deeply psychological tale, examining the depths of Isaac's psyche and the terrible guilt issues he struggled with.

Back in early 2013, while covering the Six Fingered Hand storyline for this blog, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. DeMatteis. He had the following to say about Gargoyle: "As the storyline progressed, Gargoyle became more and more important to the team. I loved that character; in fact the Gargoyle mini-series I did with Mark Badger remains one of my favorite projects out of all the stories I've done for mainstream Marvel. "

6) - SHE-HULK (Debut: Savage She-Hulk I#1, February 1980)

Speaking of characters already covered extensively on this blog... It's Bruce Banner's cousin Jennifer Walters who occupies the 6th place on this particular ranking. Considering the She-Hulk was such a vital part of Marvel throughout the 1980s, she really should be in the top three... But this list is all about the way characters made their debut... And Savage She-Hulk was a pretty rough one.

Initially created solely to prevent other companies from copyrighting a female Hulk-type character, She-Hulk spent most of her first solo book semi-mindlessly stomping about, chewing scenery and fighting villains so forgettable I can't even remember them after researching most of 'em. In the end, it took creators like Roger Stern and John Byrne to give Jennifer her proper due, giving her a sense of humor, membership in both the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, not to mention the ability to string together more than two coherent sentences.

5) - APOCALYPSE (Debut: X-Factor I#5, June 1986)

Nowadays En Sabah Nur is one of the most recognized X-Men villains, next to Magneto and Mr. Sinister. But did you know that in his debut, he was "merely" the shadowy mastermind responsible for organizing the Alliance Of Evil? The who? Oh, erm... a semi-thinly veiled Brotherhood of Evil Mutants rip off that X-Factor fought during their first few issues.

X-Factor's original scribe Bob Layton intended to reveal that the Alliance's secret leader was actually the old Daredevil villain the Owl, but incoming writer Louise Simonson dreamed up another, arguably better, idea for the character. Who Apocalypse eventually became is a far cry from what he started out to be, though every legend has to start somewhere which is more than enough to warrant him a spot on this list.

4) - WHITE QUEEN (Debut: Uncanny X-Men I#131, March 1980)

Unlike their Distinguished Competitors down the street, Marvel never had that many enduring female supervillains. For every Enchantress, Viper, Umar and Moonstone over the years there were dozens of masculine menaces. Heck, Karla Sofen didn't even gain her powers until she stole the alien gem from the original, male Moonstone. Chris Claremont, always a proponent of strong female characters, did his best to change that status quo. He created Mystique and Deathbird in the late 70s Ms. Marvel title and continued that trend in Uncanny X-men. Well before he introduced such (fe)menaces as Rogue, Dark Phoenix and the Goblin Queen... there was Emma Frost, the White Queen.

An imposing, seductive telepath not afraid to use both her sexuality and powers to get her way, Emma was a character that pushed the bounds of the Comics Code Authority. And let's not forget the outrageous way she dresses. Chances are, that isn't fake fur.

Frost is in many ways a quintessential Chris Claremont creation. Dressed in leather, favoring an S&M type style of both clothing and villainy, not to mention her telepathic prowess which allows for mind control. Even though Emma Frost has more or less been on the side of the angels for over two (!) decades now, for most of the 80s she was an unavoidable thorn in the X-Men's side.

3) - VENOM (Debut: Amazing Spider-Man I#299, April 1988)

So much has been said about Venom, that most of what I could add would be superfluous at best. A legacy character of 1984's first Secret Wars when Spider-Man returned with a new costume that turned out to be a living symbiont out to bond (mate) with him, the Venom entity eventually merged with defamed reporter Eddie Brock who openly accepted the alien creature's overtures. Together, as Venom, they became the anti-Spider-Man decades before a seemingly unending torrent of tales turned Eddie into Anti-Venom.

Still, the original Todd McFarlane design remains an instant classic. Spider-Man's black costume was far more imposing than his original red & blue PJ's but between Venom's weird, warped eyes and the alligator like maw, he became a true nightmare. 1990's Amazing Spider-Man I#316 & 317 scared the heck out of the then 8 year old me.

2) - BETA RAY BILL (Debut: Thor I#337, November 1983)

What's the best way to make your mark on a decades old book? Walter Simonson answered that question on the very cover of his first Thor issue. #337 introduced Beta Ray Bill, the horse faced alien who proved noble enough to lift Thor's hammer and transforming into an Asgardian storm god as well. Bill eventually curried Odin's favor and received Stormbreaker, an elemental hammer forged by the dwarves that once crafted Thor's mallet.

Seeing an imposing, unlikeable and possibly evil looking alien pick up Mjolnir must have been a big shock at the time. Beta Ray has since proved himself a valued ally to both Asgard and Midgard... Even serving with Canada's ill fated government team Omega Flight. Now thát's commitment.

1) - CAPTAIN MARVEL (Debut: Amazing Spider-Man Annual I#16, 1982)

Oh Captain, my Captain!

If ever there's a character more symbolic of the 1980s, it has to be Monica Rambeau, the second person to carry the name "Captain Marvel". Only a few months prior to her debut, the first C.M., rogue Kree officer Mar-Vell, had succumbed to cancer... And here was New Orleans born Monica ready to take the superhero world by storm.

Her creator Roger Stern very unapologetically took Ms. Rambeau under his wing. Not only did he write her first appearance, he also didn't miss a beat bringing her to the Avengers, a book he happened to be writing at the time. Rambeau was admitted to Earth's mightiest as a trainee, she learned to use her magnificently broad energy spectrum based abilities over the course of several years, fighting menaces like the Enclave, the Beyonder, Kang and two incarnations of the Masters of Evil. She even proved capable of calling the continuously quarreling Hercules and Sub-Mariner to order.

Rambeau grew, evolving from an unsure recruit to a more than competent full fledged member... Eventually, she was even elected Avengers chairman with the support and blessing of charter members like Captain America and the Wasp.

Of course, comics being the way they are, higher ups at Marvel eventually decided it would be best if Captain America resumed command of the team, in order to increase his standing as a solo property. Stern was asked to start writing Monica as an imcompetent leader, thereby facilitating the desired change. Roger refused however and quit, forcing both Ralph Macchio and new, incoming writer Walter Simonson to get rid of Captain Marvel. Monica has languished in Limbo for close to two decades, mostly relegated to crowd scenes and fill in appearances. But for a fair chunk of the 1980s she shined.


*Naturally, these picks are solely based on my own, anything but unbiased preferences. Think I'm wrong or an absolute idjit for leaving out your particular fave? By all means, join the conversation!


  1. Good list! Two things, though.

    1. Isn't Beta Ray Bill's hammer named 'Stormbreaker,' not 'Stormbringer?'

    2. Wasn't Hobgoblin introduced in the 1980s? I think I would've ranked him over Hydro-Man.

  2. Nice choices BUT...where's Hobgoblin? When I saw Venom at #3 I thought, who'd be higher than Venom...and Hobby sprang to mind. I mean, he's got to be higher than Hydro-Man at least...

    Also, Elektra was introduced in 1980, wasn't she?

    Oh well, still nice choices, and always happy to see Monica get some respect (and Gargoyle, for that matter!).

    Looking forward to more lists!

    david p.

  3. Hydro-Man actually debuted in ASM #212, and was created by Denny O'Neil and JRJR,

  4. Valid points, all :) But like I said in the disclaimer, these are my unabashed personal favorite characters debuting in the 1980s. Hobgoblin was certainly an important part of the Spider-Man mythos but I never really cared for him. He seemed too much of a Green Goblin rip off (literally, in the beginning it was all Osborn's stuff!).

    As for Dan and David's comments: how right you are sirs, consider it changed!

  5. Lovely list, but since I am a big original Hobgoblin-fan, I would place him in my personal list as well.

  6. Aside from the correction, I loved the list, Jef. The '80's were a GREAT time to be a comics fan.

  7. GREAT list, Jef. The '80's were a great time to be a comic-book fan.....

  8. Aaaaand I think I double-posted! Hey, I just rolled outta bed......

  9. Shameful the way Marvel Ed. wanted to get rid of Monica. She was definitely in my fave era of the team. The group that came after that which included The Captain, Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Sersi, Thor and the Forgotten One were not my cup 'o tea and I dropped it after the first story.
    Monica did have a small come back though in Warren Ellis's Nextwave!



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