The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
Chaos! Comics to
close doors after
nearly 10 years


August 22, 2002
By Franklin Harris

One of the few remaining independent comic-book companies to emerge during the booming '90s is closing shop. Publisher Brian Pulido said last week that Chaos! Comics is entering Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The company will sell its assets, including its characters, to pay off creditors.

"We're done. That's it," Pulido told Newsarama.com when he announced that Chaos! would be joining a lengthy list of departed publishers, including London Knights, Awesome Comics, Valiant Comics, Malibu Comics, Broadway Comics and Topps Comics.

Lady Death
Lady Death
Eight years ago, however, Chaos! was a player, riding the popularity of its flagship character, Lady Death, to the top of the sales charts.

With speculators rather than readers driving the comic-book market, style was more important than content.

During a period when "bad girls" ruled, Lady Death was the baddest of the bunch. Other bad-girl characters were just curvaceous, butt-kicking anti-heroes. Lady Death, however, could be downright evil.

Lady Death was also an adolescent boy's dream, with her centerfold body, her bad attitude and her good taste in swords.

Her fans, some of them female, loved her. But her detractors said she represented the worst excesses of the period: over-the-top violence, sexualized character design and barely there costumes. That said, however, the content of most Chaos! books stayed well within PG-13 bounds.

Pulido tried, with limited success, to give his "Lady Death" comics an epic quality, based on a mix of Norse mythology and "Paradise Lost." But the results were usually more convoluted than satisfying.

Not that the story mattered much. The main selling point of "Lady Death" and the other Chaos! books, including "Evil Ernie" and "Purgatory," was the art, much of which was the work of the late Steven Hughes.

Eventually, interest in bad-girl comics began to wane, and speculators who lost money on their investments fled the market. Independent publishers folded, leased or sold their characters to other companies and scaled back their operations.

Chaos! held on longer than most, but late last year sales began a downward trend that showed no sign of reversing, Pulido said. The lack of revenue, combined with back taxes Chaos! owed to the Internal Revenue Service, doomed the company.

Pulido's recent attempts to branch out into horror comics and media tie-ins failed to grab new readers.

The last survivors of the bad-girl boom are "Witchblade," which is helped by a TV series on TNN, and "Vampirella," which is struggling. Meanwhile, one new bad-girl comic, "Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose," written and illustrated by former "Purgatory" and "Catwoman" artist Jim Balent, appears to have found a niche. Otherwise, the party is over.

It is possible that another company will purchase the Chaos! characters and publish new "Lady Death" or "Evil Ernie" comics. And an animated "Lady Death" film is in production at ADV Films, which has yet to respond to Chaos! Comics' bankruptcy filing. So, we may not have seen the last of Pulido's creations. But Chaos! the company is gone, leaving Image Comics as all but the sole survivor of the speculation boom. And Image is an entirely different animal today than it was then. Like Marvel and DC Comics, it focuses on attracting readers, not investors.

A decade after the speculative boom, the comic-book industry has achieved a reader-friendly equilibrium.

Whether readership alone will be enough to sustain it is another question.

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