Roger Slifer, discussing his work
on the Jem and the Holograms DVD.
Born in 1954 in Indiana, Slifer came up through the Midwest's thriving comics fandom, contributing to fanzines such as Contemporary Pictorial Literature. Like regional contemporary Tony Isabella, he made the leap from engaged fan to pro during the 1970s, working in the Marvel Comics offices. There, he racked up writing credits on Marvel Team-Up and The Defenders before defining a niche for himself as an editor on Marvel's newsstand magazines.
Modern audiences may not appreciate how diversified Marvel's publishing strategy was in the late '70s. Beyond their super-heroic icons lay a variety of titles and formats geared toward cultivating new audiences. Black-and-white newsstand magazines, in particular, catered to post-adolescent readers by providing self-contained stories that didn't shy away from material too bleak, coarse, or sexual for the mainstay world of the four-color super-hero comics. Content aimed at these older readers and an emerging network of comics specialty shops to sell it to them meant — heavy sigh here, but we're talking about the period during which the cliché came into being — "Pow! Zap! Comics Weren't Just for Kids Anymore!"
|Marvel's starting line-up for direct sales.|
When DC followed suit, they learned from Marvel's lead (and perhaps from Slifer's experience there), launching new #1s for two best-sellers with known older audiences (The New Teen Titans and Legion of Super-Heroes) and a third, brand-new title crafted with the direct market in mind. Enter The Omega Men, featuring characters created by Titans writer Marv Wolfman, drawn by Legion artist Keith Giffen, and written by comics-shop liaison Roger Slifer.
|DC also chose to publish their direct sales titles on heavier paper using new printing methods.|
In Slifer's hands, the Omegans became more than Star Wars stand-ins.
|Not approved by the Comics Code Authority.|
Despite a dozen appearances around the DC Universe over the previous two years that had teased an epic confrontation with the Citadel, Slifer uses the first seven issues of the Omega Men's own title to bring the Citadel War to a hasty conclusion. Primus, the Omegans' leader, finds himself ousted by the impetuous Tigorr, who rallies the piecemeal army of Omega Men for a brute-force attack on the Citadel that leaves the enemy defeated and Wolfman's status quo for the team a casualty of war.
At first blush, Citadel War is simplistic. Slifer as writer espouses distrust of governments and belief in the power of the individual. Primus is a bureaucratic nightmare of a leader; Tigorr, by contrast, is all charisma and effectiveness. Despite what was happening in Central America or Afghanistan during these years, Omega Men's political landscape is at least as broad and cartoonish as that of Star Wars, its heroes clear-cut and easy to root for, despite their bloody hands.
On closer inspection, though, you find Slifer subverting his simple set-ups at almost every turn. The longer you read, the more you remember Americans didn't used to be so binary and simplistic. Libertarians could appreciate a good government program when one was necessary. Diplomats could conceive of a time when the usefulness of diplomacy had passed and the only remaining option was force. Primus turns out to be made of sterner stuff than empty promises and pretty rhetoric. Tigorr, for all his bravado, threatens the very peace his heroics won in Citadel War with rash judgment.
Pick your jaw up off the floor.
That's what he looked like
What begins as space opera quickly evolves into political melodrama. As soon as the Citadel War is won, its victors find themselves torn between the isolationism of Omegan leaders Primus and Kalista's homeworld and fears of a new Citadel coalition arising to fill the power vacuum. Alliance-building and distrust replace revolution and tyranny at the heart of the series in the post-war issues. Slifer methodically dismantles a comic book space war and replaces it with a cold war, making Omega Men a compelling series for '80s readers.
As Star Wars-influenced comics go, Omega Men is shockingly prophetic. Beyond reflecting its inspirational roots, Slifer's run actually prefigures the second Star Wars trilogy, with its focus on political and economic alliances, ideological concessions, and the foundations of war.
|Nute Gunray with his college haircut.|
Not that unreasonable, in the end — even for a socially
conscious '80s funnybook.
His next gig would be writing and producing animation for Sunbow Entertainment, the studio that partnered with Marvel Comics to produce cartoons based on Hasbro licenses throughout the 1980s. For the next two decades, Slifer worked mainly in animation and video games as his former comics employers expanded their readership into adult markets and their content and themes into more adult arenas.
While they were doing so, the Big Two were following other trails blazed by Slifer, as well.
According to Mark Evanier, Roger Slifer was a tireless champion of creator's rights. Those "irreconcilable differences" with DC? Apparently over that very issue. Peek at the credits on Omega Men when Keith Giffen was the artist, and you'll notice he and Slifer are co-credited as "storytellers," a convention I dearly wish had caught on.
Looked at from a certain angle, that Manhunter one-shot is the ancestor of Marvel Masterworks and DC Archives and certainly an early entry into the modern reading approach we call "reading in trade."
So, yeah — a lot more to Roger Slifer than co-creating Lobo and having his creative years tragically cut short. In my heart of hearts, I've waited almost 30 years to see him credited as storyteller in a comic again. It's disappointing knowing that hope, however remote, is now gone.
Maybe someone should collect Slifer's Omega Men run as a trade. There's a new series coming up, which is always a good excuse, and it might be a fitting a way to remember a man who made trade paperbacks and comics shops everyday concepts.
In the meantime, you can remember Slifer with a contribution to the Hero Initiative in his name. HI raised money and helped out during his hospitalization, and there may be bills they can help the family take care of. If not, your donation will still go toward helping creators in need, and that's something a man who walked away from DC Comics on principle would surely appreciate.