If you were compelled to list the pivotal moments in comics’ history, you’d have to admit that the revitalized X-Men, beginning with Giant-Size X-Men #1, was as important to the direction of Bronze Age comics as General Patton was to the outcome of World War II. The series stoked a fire that had been slowly dying at Marvel’s House of Ideas and set up a franchise that would propel Marvel’s books through another decade of bleeding-edge “Make Mine Marvel.” But as Thomas Carlyle pointed out, it’s great men who make great history, and the force behind the industry-changing juggernaut that the new X-Men proved to be was none other than the creative brilliance of Dave Cockrum.
“He was a fan,” said Neal Adams recently in describing Cockrum. “He was a disgusting fan.” Disgusting indeed, in every way that you and I wish we could provoke loathing from the mediocre mass because we are mere fans while Cockrum was comics incarnate. It wasn’t just the X-Men that he breathed life into: Young Dave was a man possessed, channeling his inner Kirby at full-tilt boogie every time he put pencil to paper. I knew him in those dazzling days of evergreen design and it was a sight to behold this creative phenom in constant motion—designing new characters, redesigning established ones, placing his singular stamp and unique vision (and often a sash) on everyone worthy of spandex as he conjured forth what he playfully called the Cockrumverse. And from that tableau sprang not only Nightcrawler and Storm and Colossus and Thunderbird and Mystique and Ms. Marvel and the Black Cat, but also the Starjammers and all of its fanciful characters, and the Imperial Guard and all of its superbly attired attachés…
And the Futurians!
“Dave Cockrum was an all-time mainstream comics character designer [but] The Futurians was his creator-driven project of greatest import,” opined Tom Spurgeon at The Comics Reporter, summing up not quite everything that needs to be said about the one and only project Cockrum was able to maintain from his Marvel days. First published as Marvel Graphic Novel #9, The Futurians introduced a new team of reluctant super heroes, not only dynamically designed by the master but also imbued with much of Cockrum’s personality. Indeed, one of his super characters alter egos was a comic artist who provides a story within the story.
In many ways, The Futurians represented the very best of what comics had evolved into by the 1980s with its personality-meets-plot driven storytelling, interpersonal soap-esque dynamics, and characters you couldn’t help but instantly adore. Given the right marketing shove, one of them might easily have grown in popularity to Wolverine-like proportions. But Marvel wasn’t terribly interested in maintaining its creator-owned line. They even (foolishly, I might add) let Walt Simonson’s Star Slammers slip into relative obscurity. So, despite their popularity, Cockrum’s Futurians were abandoned to suffer the fate of a one-hit wonder while fans were left hungry for more. Alas, if Rimbaud had only supplemented that one thin book of poems.
It’s been said that life begins after Marvel. Perhaps I said that. But such was not necessarily the case for Dave Cockrum. My pal’s work was hardly seen after his meteoric rise and fall at the fabled not-really-a-Bullpen. Some covers here, a scant issue there… As for The Futurians, the soon-forgotten team appeared only once more in a new story arc acclaimed by fans but not terrifically marketed nor distributed by Eternity. Then Aardwolf Publishing trotted out Futurians #0 in 1995. And that was it. End of the line.
Paty Cockrum, Dave’s widow, has consented to release Dave’s final, never-before published Futurians Return, which was scripted and penciled by Cockrum several years before he died due to complications from Diabetes. To bring the book to life, Aardwolf Publishing was quick to assemble Dave’s finest creative colleagues: X-Men inker Bob Wiacek is inking while long-time X-Men letterer Tom Orzechowski is lettering. And there’s a killer painted cover by Ray Lago. But there’s more.
The Dave Cockrum Experience
I have found that few names in comics are as compelling—at least to other professionals—as the name Dave Cockrum. Say it and something magical happens. Smiles. Hosannas. And miles and miles of volunteers. When the Futurians Return Kickstarter was announced, there was nary a professional unwilling to help re-establish the long-lost gem. Neal Adams, Neil Gaiman, Walt Simonson, Andy Kubert, Adam Kubert… And the parade continues at the Kickstarter, which began ten days ago and saw full-funding in just 36 hours. But don’t let that stop you from participating. There’s a 4-min. video co-hosted by Neal Adams that’s well worth watching, and lots of original art and signed books to pick from as you help bring Cockrum’s prodigal sons and daughters back into four-color existence.
If you’re an old fan, like I am, I don’t have to sell you. And if you’re new to the hobby, it’s time to learn why Keith Richards never ceases talking about Chuck Berry, and John Lennon raved endlessly about Buddy Holly, and Gene Colan melted at the sight of a Milt Caniff cartoon. The masters form a great nexus and nowhere is this more evident than in comics. Dave Cockrum was that rare breed, a “disgusting fan” who did everything the rest of us only wish we could do, and with the Futurians Return he is at his disgusting best.
Clifford Meth is a writer and editor whose work includes the recent Comic Book Babylon