Welcome back for our second installment of This Month in Comics History! This is where we’ll be checking in with some of the most important milestones in the long and storied progression of our favorite medium.
It’s July, which means we’re into convention season – and that’s a phenomenon we’ll see starting to coalesce on this month’s rundown. This month, we have some major milestones to recognize in queer media representation, seminal manga which have reshaped the industry, voices in independent comics which defined two different generations, the graphic novel behind Matt Reeves’ The Batman, and the 75th anniversaries of the first widely published comic from an all-African American creative team, and the birth of an entire genre of comic books… brought to you by Captain America co-creators Jack Kirby and Joe Simon. (And no, it’s not superheroes!)
So hop onto our Cosmic Treadmill for another backwards trip through the history of comics!
Five years ago: July 2017
Korrasami's first kiss
Dark Horse’s critically acclaimed Avatar comics give The Legend of Korra the same treatment as The Last Airbender, picking up where the beloved animated show left off in a series of three-part graphic novels. This first Legend of Korra trilogy, Turf Wars, confirms what was left as not-too-subtle subtext in the show’s finale by displaying series leads Korra and Asami as a queer couple.
- John Ridley returns to his superheroic examination of race relations in America with artist Georges Jeanty in The American Way: Those Above and Those Below.
- Mera, Queen of Atlantis takes on all of Earth’s greatest heroes in Justice League #24, and wins.
- Deadpool kills the Marvel Universe again in Deadpool Kills The Marvel Universe Again.
- Dynamite Entertainment launches a new series about pin-up model Bettie Page, battling aliens and soviet spies in the '50s. We’re including this here to remind ourselves that this actually happened.
10 years ago: July 2012
Yusei Matsui’s massively popular Assassination Classroom debuts, the story of a junior high school class who must defeat their alien spy homeroom teacher to save the Earth. In 10 years, the manga has spawned a 47-episode anime series, an animated film, two live action films, a spin-off manga, and three video games.
- Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s Batman: Earth One graphic novel debuts, an updated take on Batman’s origin which would greatly inspire Matt Reeves’ The Batman film a decade later.
- Writer/artist Sean Murphy rises to comic book stardom with Punk Rock Jesus, a Vertigo series about a genetic clone of the Christian Messiah who uses his second lease on life to join a punk band.
- Gamon Sakurai’s Ajin: Demi-Human begins publication in Good! Afternoon magazine, the story of a boy who discovers he has supernatural regenerative abilities and must escape government experimentation. Ajin: Demi-Human has since been adapted into a Netflix anime series, and several films.
- In the landmark issue #100 of The Walking Dead, Negan plays a deadly game of “eeny, meeny, miny, moe.”
15 years ago: July 2007
Batman in Bethlehem
In one of the most memorable issues of their Batman tenure, Grant Morrison presents a dystopian Gotham City where Damian Wayne operates as an immortal Batman in Batman #666. The story represents a cautionary tale in how the most dangerous Robin might develop if not carefully guided and supported by his family, a narrative which continues to shape Damian’s future.
- Andy Diggle and Jock take Oliver Queen back to the island for a definitive origin story in Green Arrow: Year One.
- Marvel’s Annihilation: Conquest crossover event begins, where the Marvel Universe’s cosmic heroes unite once more against the cybernetic hivemind known as The Phalanx… this time, led into battle by Ultron.
- Gail Simone’s essential Birds of Prey run ends with issue #108, in a showdown between Oracle and Spy Smasher.
- Fantastic Four relaunches as Fantastic Five, this time counting the Skrull Lyja Storm among their number as Ms. Fantastic.
20 years ago: July 2002
If you were the last man on Earth...
Vertigo Comics presents Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s Y: The Last Man #1, the story of Yorick Brown – the last human left alive with a Y chromosome. The series would run for 60 issues, win many awards, and help define the Vertigo Comics sensibility for the next decade.
- Riichiro Inagaki’s sports manga Eyeshield 21 takes Japanese readers by storm, creating an unprecedented interest throughout Japan for American football.
- Bruce Wayne’s name is finally cleared of the murder of Vesper Fairchild in Batman #605, the conclusion to 'Bruce Wayne: Fugitive.'
- Devin Grayson takes over Dick Grayson writing duties from Chuck Dixon on Nightwing #71.
- Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Vol. II begins, setting the myriad public domain fiction heroes of the first volume against the aliens of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.
25 years ago: July 1997
We are, we are on the cruise
In the manga anthology Shonen Jump, Eiichiro Oda debuts the globe-spanning pirate adventure epic One Piece - one of the best selling comics of all time. As of this month, Oda is preparing to take One Piece into its final story arc.
- Baby Blues writer Jerry Scott and artist Jim Borgman launch the newspaper comic Zits, a nationally syndicated strip about the surreal comedy of being (and raising) a teenager.
- Grant Morrison’s 'Rock of Ages' storyline begins in JLA #10, depicting a dark future where Darkseid has conquered the universe.
- Garth Ennis and John McCrea’s deranged super-team Section Eight, featuring such colorful 'heroes' as Dogwelder, the Defenestrator, and Friendly Fire, appears for the first time in Hitman #18.
- Marvel relaunches their Marvel Team-Up series, with a team-up between Spider-Man and Generation X.
50 years ago: July 1972
Comics grow up
Deep in the underground comix movement, cartoonist Art Spiegelman publishes a three-page comic strip based on interviews with his father about Jewish life in Europe during World War II with Apex Novelties’ Funny Animals. He calls it “Maus.” This early strip would be the foundation for Spiegelman’s historical graphic novel by the same name, a seminal work in comics which helped elevate the entire medium.
- Nancy Warner organizes the first Chicago Comic Con, with industry luminaries such as Stan Lee and Jim Steranko in attendance. The convention is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month, now known as Fan Expo Chicago.
- Batman and Ra’s al Ghul have their iconic first duel in the desert, in Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ Batman #244.
- Roy Thomas ends his 70-issue Avengers run on issue #104, with Quicksilver missing and presumed dead.
- Marvel’s Daredevil series becomes Daredevil and The Black Widow for 16 issues.
75 years ago: July 1947
Breaking the four-color barrier
Black journalist Orrin Cromwell Evans publishes All-Negro Comics, the first known comic book produced solely by African American writers and artists. All-Negro Comics featured an all Black cast of leading characters such as detective Ace Harlem, by artist John Terrell, and United Nations-sponsored African American superheroes Lion Man and Bubba, by artist George J. Evans Jr. The magazine ran for only one issue, with Cromwell citing an inability to find a newsprint distributor after their radical first issue. Short as its time on newsstands may have been, All-Negro Comics inspired other publishers to begin producing early Black audience-oriented titles of their own, cultivating an essential part of the comic book and superhero audience today.
- Jack Kirby and Joe Simon found an entire genre with Young Romance #1, the first romance comic ever published.
- In World’s Finest Comics #30, Batman and Robin encounter a villain known as the Penny Plunderer, whom they defeat with the aid of a giant penny. To this day, that very penny remains a central fixture in the Batcave, as a souvenir of this adventure.
- Golden Age Green Lantern villain and love interest Molly Mayne, The Harlequin, appears for the first time in All-American Comics #89.
- Years before the debut of Peter Parker, Captain Marvel fights a villain known as Spider Man in Whiz Comics #89.
We’ll be back next month with more important anniversaries where these came from. If you have some upcoming dates in mind that are worthy of recognition, tell us in the comments or on social media.
Comic history goes wide and far enough that there’s always something to celebrate.
Check out Popverse's piece on last month's comics history.