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CSBG Archive

Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 280: Secret Origins #48

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month (for a while) I will be showing pages chosen by you, the readers. Today’s page is from Secret Origins #48, which was published by DC and is cover dated April 1990. This page was suggested by commenter The Crazed Spruce, but I couldn’t run it on the day he wanted me to. Sorry, sir! Enjoy!

Julius Schwartz = awesome

The main story in Secret Origins #48 is about Ambush Bug, and while there’s very little happening on this page, we can see the sense of humor that we get from Ambush Bug stories. Giffen and Fleming often broke the fourth wall in Ambush Bug stories, and they do so even in the title of the story – it’s the most basic origin you can think of. The Bug (his name is Irwin, or maybe it’s not …?) is also speaking to the reader, and there’s a few jokes here. One, of course, is that Bug doesn’t quite get the idea of “painted” comic books. Giffen and Fleming are also poking fun at the trend of fully painted comics, which DID sell like hotcakes for a time. Giffen and Fleming did this quite often – they obviously enjoy making comics, but they also enjoy making fun of the conventions of comics and the habits of comic book consumers. This is a good example of that – they’re making a comic that mocks the very title this story appears in, after all. The reason it’s tolerable to the people with less of a sense of humor is because Giffen and Fleming mock themselves as much as they mock the conventions of comic bookery – as the “dedication” points out. They also tend to do this in the credits, too, and we see that they have a lot of fun with Julius Schwartz, DC’s “goodwill ambassador” at this time, as they always did.

Obviously, not a lot occurs on this page, but what’s here helps show very much what kind of comic book this is (even though I haven’t read the issue; I’ve read other Ambush Bug stories, and Giffen and Fleming kind of have a formula). With only a little bit to go on, readers can get a good feel for what kind of comic this is. That’s not a bad thing!

Next: You’ve heard of homages on covers, but how about a homage to a first page? Be here for it! In the meantime, spend some hours checking out the archives!


You’ve posted a few Ambush Bug things, Greg, and I like what I see. I dug the Giffen/DeMatteis JLA at the time so I don’t know why I never picked up any AB.

Painted comix? Stuff from the time they must have been referring to, off the top of my head: Blood from Kent Williams and DeMatteis; that Havok/Wolverine thing from Muth/Williams; Arkham Asylum from Morrison/McKean…

Ooo, I didn’t know about this issue. I will have to mark it down for my Ambush Bug collection.

I’m curious about a chronology point: This comic came out in 1990, and it mocks the popularity of painted comics, but I had always been led to believe that the boom market for painted comics happened in the mid-90’s as a direct result of Marvels, which came out in 1994. That was when Alex Ross’s career launched, and Marvel started doing all those prestige painted books based on their old Silver Age titles.

Was there a painted comics craze that occurred a few years earlier? Thinking about it, I guess the first Books of Magic, Black Orchid, and Kid Eternity mini-series’ came out around this time, but I don’t think of any of those as having lit the sales charts on fire.

Arkham Asylum was painted and it was one of the biggest hits of 1989. I think Grant Morrison bought a space shuttle with all of the money he made off of Arkham Asylum. So yeah, painted books were definitely in vogue by the late 1980s. The popularity of Alex Ross, though, turned the movement a lot more mainstream.

Ha, of course I forgot about Arkham Asylum, only one of my favorite comics. Is it safe to say that sort of launched the movement of mature reader painted books like Books of Magic and Kid Eternity?

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