How the ’90s comic book boom led to weird Marvel guest stars to boost sales

Today, we take a look at some unusual guest stars who served as “sales-boosting” guest stars for Marvel comics during the sales boom of the 1990s.

In Drawing Crazy Patterns, I highlight at least five comic story scenes/moments that fit a specific theme (essentially, things that happen frequently in comics). Note that these lists are by their nature not exhaustive. This is a list of five examples (from time to time I’ll be nice and add a sixth). Thus, no instance is “missing” if it is not listed. It’s just not one of the five examples I chose.

Now, let me note up front that “sales-boosting guest stars” is a long-standing and trusted legacy in the comics industry, so there’s nothing unusual about that, but the 1990s were a really particularly unusual time and here’s why. There was this MAJOR sales boom starting around 1989 and continued through 1994 (with some vestiges still in 1995 before a huge crash). The sales boom was so huge that companies started releasing more and more titles because EVERYTHING was selling. However, think of it like this – everything sells, but sales go up guest stars, you know, sales go up, so titles would still use guest stars frequently. This leads to the OTHER take, however.


In the early 1990s, Wolverine was so popular that Marvel often guest-starred him in other comics while, of course, starring in his own monthly series, being part of the X-Men (and making frequent appearances in the other comics). x-men titles, especially since they had crossovers every two months) and being the main feature of Marvel Comics Presents. I did an article counting how long I could go from month to month seeing Wolverine featured in a non-X-Men comic and it was from August 1990 to at least May 1993! It’s CRAZY, right? You can see it here.

But here’s why that’s the rub. You could look at Wolverine and say, “Well, clearly, you can just have Wolverine guest star in your comic whenever you want”, but that was NOT the case. You had to actively get permission from the X-Men office to use Wolverine in your comic. Obviously pretty much every time they were asked about it it would get approved but it wouldn’t be automatic so with SO many titles coming out there would be times when you couldn’t gain access to the Big Four of the era – Wolverine, Spider-Man, Ghost Rider and Punisher. Also prominent were Spider-Man’s enemies Venom and Carnage. Hulk was also quite popular, but really any other big name still mattered – Avengers, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America. All fairly reasonable guest stars.


But with all comic book titles, titles should go far beyond these characters, and, well, here are five kinds of quirky guest stars who always counted as guest stars “to boost sales.”

WE CAN’T GET THE REAL AVENGERS? Guess we’ll take the AVENGERS west coast

The funny thing about the Avengers, circa 1991-92 is that the Avengers were, like – Captain America, Black Knight, Crystal, Sersi, Vision, Hercules and Black Widow while the West Coast Avengers were Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, Iron Man, Wonder Man, Spider-Woman and Living Lightning. So in terms of star power, they were pretty damn even, weren’t they? However, even with those lineups, the titles wanted THE AVENGERS, not Avengers West Coast, but if The Avengers were denied (and The Avengers were generally pretty hard to get), then you “should” take Avengers West Coast.


Here they are in Excalibur #38…


and here they are Cage #7, but note that they don’t even have an “Avengers West Coast” tag on the cover!


Rough.

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THUNDERSTRIKE HAS A LEATHER JACKET! WHO DOESN’T WANT TO BE A GUEST STAR?

For a little while, there were these “edgier” versions of the Avengers Big Three, with USAgent, War Machine, and, well, Thunderstrike.

Thunderstrike hasn’t often been a “Sales boost” guest star, but when your headline is QuasarWell, you’ll take what you can…


USAGENT IS A SUPER SOLDIER, AFTER ALL

In 1993 Marvel UK had a big explosion of new titles and part of the hook was that every title would have an American guest star (I’ll write about the unusual aspect of that soon) and most of the titles had, well, you know, Wolverine guest star, but since there were so many titles coming out, some of them had to opt for lesser guest stars. And when a book is a Supersoldiers book, then USAgent makes sense, right?



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IT’S OUTSIDE OF SPACE, so I guess GALACTUS MAKES SENSE

Similarly, if a book takes place in space, as Cyberspace 3000so Galactus makes about as much sense as anyone else, doesn’t it?


There was this Marvel UK title, black axwhich had Sunfire fight the hero, so that should get on this list, but I thought those #1 guest stars were more interesting.

I DON’T THINK THIS COMIC EVEN KNOWS WHO THE WAR MACHINE IS

Ok like I said 1995 really pushed things in terms of the sales boom so I really should have stopped before now (Black Ax could have been the fifth book) but I just thought the one -this was just TOO funny. Okay, so Marvel bought Malibu Comics, largely because of the Ultraverse, Malibu’s superhero universe. One of the characters, Siren, got her own miniseries after Marvel bought the company and the show chased down Siren…War Machine!


Alright, like I said with the Thunderstrike and USAgent track, those three guys aren’t that unusual, but the thing is, it was War Machine AFTER it bonded with alien symbiote armor!


Too funny. In the first issue, Siren was training against the classic War Machine armor. Hilarious timing.

If anyone has any suggestions for a future crazy pattern design, message me at [email protected]!

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