Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #209 by Drew Barth
A Minor Shock
We’re rather spoiled for comics in the US. If we have a decent shop close by, we can pick up any variety of comics that Diamond distributes as well as a few odds and ends that fall onto a typical comic shelf. Outside of these borders, however, when looking across the Atlantic, comics have been a little more difficult. Well, DC Comics have been more difficult. The UK has had its own comic scene and sensibilities for decades—magazines like 2000 AD and publishers like Titan—but DC Comics were notoriously difficult to come by in the regular monthly formats we’re used to. This is where London Editions Magazines came in and one of their forays into getting more DC stories, namely Vertigo comics, into reader’s hands in the form of Shockwave.
Shockwave on its own has an interesting history. London Editions Magazines, and its parent company Egmont, had been publishing DC Comic anthologies and magazines for year prior—typically compilations of Batman and Superman stories sold as monthly or annual stories. But they had wanted to branch out into some of DC’s lesser known characters and stories and began that with DC Action in 1990. This magazine focused on stories like Grant Morrison’s Animal Man and Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s Teen Titans comics from the late and early 80s, respectively. But, after six issues, this anthology was canceled. Their next attempt at bringing in more mature stories was with Zones, an anthology that reprinted Swamp Thing, The Shadow, and Wasteland. This was also cut even shorter with only four issues before LEM shifted focus to the similarly short-lived Shockwave.
Shockwave was one of the last attempts at these anthology reprint magazines as DC’s catalog, including the reprinted Vertigo stories, were becoming more common in UK comic shops. At four issues before cancellation it still managed to pack in a good amount of comics. Just in the first issue we have the opening of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s Black Orchid, the first portion of issue seven of Animal Man by Grant Morrison and Chris Truog, another Grant Morrison story in the form of Hellblazer with David Lloyd, and an article on UFOs by Jay Taylor. It’s the kind of lineup that feels legendary now, but was the kind of thing you could pack into a reprint anthology in the hopes of keeping publication going back then. But even with this overwhelming quality, no one seemed to buy Shockwave and its final issue came just a few months later.
I couldn’t help but pick these first two issues of Shockwave up when I saw them in a used comic bin. They provide this fascinating snapshot of comics publishing in the UK at the time and show the ways in which more adult oriented comics were presented in that different context. While they may have been attempting something closer to the format that had been so successful for 2000 AD for so long, a magazine like Shockwave still gives us something unique to look at when contrasted with how we typically consume comics in America.
Get excited. Get shocked.
Drew Barth (Episode 331, 485, & 510) resides in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida.