1000 COMICS I’M GLAD TO HAVE READ, Part 2
Last week, I started my list of the thousand comics I’m glad to have read in my two decades of comics reading. We came close to 600 comics listed then, and I plan on finishing off the last 400+ right here and now.
Reminder: These are pamphlet format comics only. No original graphic novels, no manga, no Euro-albums, no books about comics.
This is not a complete list of great comics, by any means. They’re comics I’m glad to have read, and I’ll tell you why. I have no doubt that there are several comics on this list that people won’t agree were worth reading, but like I said last week — these lists are inevitably intensely personal things. It’s not in any order.
Now, onto the comics:
“Cerebus” #1 – #50, #114 – #136 : I’ve only read the first two phone books, plus “Jaka’s Story.” I have a series of issues from elsewhere in the run that I read first and didn’t “get” because I had no background on the series, so I’m not including them here. But those three phonebooks are enough on their own to merit Cerebus’ inclusion on this list. Sim’s mastery of dialects, lettering, fine black and white art, storytelling, and even publishing are nothing to be sneezed at. Everyone today likes to point to the part of the 300 issue storyline where they think everything went off the rails. I’m obviously not there yet, and likely never will be. My memories of “Cerebus” are pure. Watching a “Conan” parody strip evolve into a high-falutin’ political drama with lots of silliness and belly laughs along the way, along with intensely detailed backgrounds from Gerhard, is a lot of fun.
Anyone serious about the art of lettering or in becoming a letterer themselves absolutely has to read a couple of “Cerebus” phone books to see how lettering can be inseparable from art. Sim should have won more awards for it. The closest comics comes to it today is the work of Paul Grist, whose storytelling style, I think, owes bunches to Sim.
“High Roads” #1 – #6: It’s a mostly forgotten WildStorm mini-series from Scott Lobdell and Leinil Francis Yu that today likely reads as a failed movie script. But you know what? It’s a lot of World War II fun and hijinks. I liked it a lot.
“Alias” #1 – #28: Brian Bendis started the series off with a bang. Er, wait, perhaps that’s not the best way to phrase it. The series started on a bit of sexually scandalous pique, but was about so much more than that. The amazing thing is that Bendis got away with telling adult stories inside the Marvel Universe, while using some Marvel characters along the way. Michael Gaydos’ art fit the stories beautifully, while Bendis mentally tortured the heck out of his character, Jessica Jones, a very conflicted private detective who is still very popular to this day, years later. The entire series has been collected into an Omnibus hardcover.
“The Kents” #1 – #12 : John Ostrander wrote of the ancestors to Ma and Pa Kent as a Civil War-era western for 12 issues, including the artwork of Tim Truman. It’s a well-researched tale that neatly fits into real historical events, and looks beautiful, too.
“Avengers/JLA” #1 – #4 : For all of Marc Alessi’s faults, he loaned out an under-contract George Perez to draw this one. Thanks, Marc. The crossover turned out to be everything I was looking for: an excuse to switch up characters and locations across universes, include some silly fight scenes, and tie it all together with a plot device that facilitates the whole shebang.
“Boneyard” #1 – #12: Before “Twilight” ruined comics and made vampires all the rage, Richard Moore stepped away from his more, er, adult cartooning to craft this wonderful story of a man who winds up in a graveyard filled with monsters, and then falls in love with the vampire amongst them. Well-written and beautifully drawn, the series recently came to an end due to low sales, but there are trade paperbacks of the entire run out there. I didn’t think the color versions added anything, so opt for the black and whites.
“Captain America” #366, #368 – #378, #380 – #386 : In retrospect, I’m not sure how much of this run of comics would hold up today. Some of the stories occasionally show up in snarky blog entries of weird, funny, and silly stories, but at the time it was just cool. Mark Gruenwald and Ron Lim combined for some fun adventurous storylines, with the occasional socially relevant message. (“Is the super serum a drug that Steve Rogers benefits from in a steroidal way?”) And Lim’s art on the more down-to-earth stories was fitting and fun. (Then there was “Cap the Werewolf,” but that came after this run, didn’t it?)
Speaking of Lim:
“The Infinity Gauntlet” #1 – #6, “The Infinity War” #1 – #6. I didn’t include the third mini-series, because I thought the idea had played itself out by then and I wasn’t all that interested in it. But those first two mini-series are still the standard by which many cosmic storylines are judged today, placing the heroes of the Marvel Universe against the likes of Thanos and Death, or their own evil duplicates. George Perez started the initial mini-series, before being dragged away for DC’s “War of the Gods” event, a move that would be judged in the future as “silly.” But Lim shone, drawing dozens of characters per page, with epic storytelling.
An Omnibus of the three mini-series would be a beautiful thing. I’m still waiting. Marvel, are you listening?
“Silver Surfer” #40 – #57: Jim Starlin and Ron Lim. I know they did more than this together, but this is the run that I read as it came out, and enjoyed. I wrote a column once before describing Todd McFarlane’s “Spider-Man” as the one I always picture in my mind when I think of the character. Ron Lim is the artist whose work comes to mind for me with Silver Surfer, even with work that’s now older than your average manga reader. If I ever find the longbox those issues are in, I want to do a Pipeline Retro on them.
And, yes, Lim did many more issues that just these, but this is about where I started, and is his longest continuous streak of issues on the series. 18 issues in a row isn’t bad at all.
In the early 1990s, Lim was a machine like no other. It’s scary the amount of work he produced, working on no less than two regular titles a month, often with a mini-series on the side or random covers. He even drew 31 issues straight of “X-Men 2099.”
“Daredevil” #20 – #25: There’s two things overlooked here: The first is Bob Gale’s story. Before Bendis ripped Matt Murdoch’s mask off for the media and the world to see, Bob Gale did a whole courtroom drama surrounding Murdoch’s dual identity. It was a great story, lasting a few short issues between the Smith/Quesada era of the title and the beloved Bendis/Maleev era. Second, the art is from Phil Winslade, who deserves the biggest platform his art can find. I love this guy’s art, and why it isn’t front and center on some Big Name Title every month, I’ll never get. It’s possible, I suppose, that he’s more comfortable doing short runs with long lead times. In that case, he deserves better mini-series to work on. Steve Grant mentioned in his column recently that he was working with Winslade on a graphic novel that’s trapped in limbo at DC. That’s sad. In the meantime, go look for Winslade’s work on Steve Gerber’s “Nevada” (Vertigo) or Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray’s “Monolith” (DC).
Sadder still is that the book was rushed along to get Brian Bendis’ epic run started, resulting in sub-par fill-in art interrupting Winslade’s remarkable work.
“Excalibur” #42 – #52, #54 – #58, #61 – #67: This is where I fell in love with the artwork of Alan Davis who, in many ways, I still hold up as being the premiere superhero artist in comics. To me, his characters are super smooth, strong, and varied. There’s nothing better than watching him draw as many characters as possible, and in his writing he’s able to imbue characters with specific traits and use them in the story in direct ways. “Excalibur” was the series he appeared to have the most fun doing it in. At this point, I had no idea that so many of the characters were holdovers from his “Captain Britain” work with Alan Moore, nor that he had even drawn the first year of the series with Chris Claremont. I’d go back to those later on. But off the newsstands, “Excalibur” left a lasting impression on me.
“Impulse” #1 – #27: Mark Waid did just about all the writing, and Humberto Ramos was the regular artist, drawing Mike Wieringo’s Big Foot style for the character quite ably. (Later, artist Craig Rousseau was also a natural fit.)
“Impulse” spun out of “The Flash” (a series that no doubt would make my next list of 1000 comics) and featured a “Kid Flash” learning to use his powers, get along with others, and think clearly, all while being mentored by Max Mercury. Stories were told completely in one issue, with clear morals learned. There’s some very touching storytelling in these issues, as well as some wild and crazy stuff.
Superhero sit-coms have never been better. The closest they ever came to this run was:
“Impulse #50 – #89: Todd Dezago picked up the reins on the series and crafted a wonderful soap opera with superheroics, featuring a cast of mostly kids. Joined by artists like Ethan Van Sciver, Carlo Barberi, Aluir Amancio (who owned “Superman Adventures”), and Craig Rousseau, there are some top notch stories here that you can’t help but fall in love with the characters during.
“Empire” #1 – #6: As it turns out, Mark Waid has been Evil since before BOOM! told us so. Originally part of Gorilla Comics, “Empire” is Waid’s story of what happens when the bad guy wins. What are the downfalls to running the world? Sadly, it got caught up in the Gorilla Implosion, but resurfaced and finished up at DC a few years later. Maybe some day Waid and Barry Kitson will reunite to give us the next chapter.
“Inhumans” #1 – #12: I knew next to nothing about these characters until Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee came together under the nascent “Marvel Knights” line for this 12 part mini-series. Beautifully crafted at all levels, it’s a great comic series. The initial trade printed out kind of darkly, as I recall, but it’s still worth a read.
“Irredeemable Ant Man” #1 – #12: I put this on my short list for favorite comics of the decade, and I think it would have made the next two cuts, easily. This fairly short-lived Robert Kirkman-penned series took a lot of chances. From the story level, its lead character was a jerk who had the Ant Man suit through ill-gotten means, and then used it for all the wrong reasons. From a craft level, every page was a 16 panel grid. Kirkman wore out artists Phil Hester and letterer Rus Wooton on every page, with great pacing and a lot of dialogue. It was a talky book, but never felt leaden with it.
“Invincible” #1 – #50: I can’t skip this one. Just when you thought the world of superhero comics didn’t need another Peter Parker, Kirkman gives us Mark Grayson. It’s not a direct comparison, by any means. There are major differences, but still: Young guy suddenly discovers superpowers, fights an array of colorful and crazy characters, has problems with the ladies… Kirkman layered on plenty of stuff on top of that, giving “Invincible” it’s own little universe and style. And the shocking twist in the first year was so perfectly played that it cemented “Invincible” in the modern canon of superhero comic reading. I’ve fallen behind on the series since the fiftieth issue, so I’ll cap my list off there.
OK, let’s round off the obvious triumvirate here:
“Walking Dead” #1 – #50: I’m amazed at every analysis of the sales charts that include this book. It keeps on selling, consistently. Most comic titles start high and then decline quickly from month to month, shedding readers either to the “Wait for the Trade” crowd, or just due to standard attrition. Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s zombie survival tale (originally drawn by Tony Moore, of course) keeps its sales numbers rock solid from month to month. The fans are devoted and sticking by the book. Plus, the trades and hardcovers are readily available for newcomers. It’s a great system to feed new readers in while rewarding those who’d rather wait.
“WildC.A.T.S.” #21 – #34 : Alan Moore proves that you can “slum it” and still look good. Travis Charest and Dave Johnson’s art helped, no doubt.
And that is 1,000 Comics I Am Glad To Have Read. It may actually be 1,001. I’m a computer programmer by profession. We’re well known for off-by-one errors.
Bonus Pick: Joe Casey’s “WildCats” #8 – #28, “WildCats Version 3.0” #1 – #24 : This one is a lost classic, I think, but ranks right up there in my mind with the kind of work Ed Brubaker was doing at the same time on “Sleeper.” It’s Superheroes: Rethought. This time, the Wildcats were corporate raiders as much as superpowered brawlers. Yes, I’m dramatically oversimplifying this, but it’s something that should be read, if only as proof that those early Image creations had much more life in them than many gave them credit for. Sometimes, it just takes a unique direction and a talented writer. If you thought Alan Moore did a lot to revitalize WildC.A.T.S., wait ’til you see what Joe Casey did.
Titles that just missed this list: The rest of the series I did Pipeline Retros on this year. “Sin City,” since it was originally a serial in “Dark Horse Comics Presents,” which I wasn’t reading at the time past the four issues that introduced “John Byrne’s Next Men.” The Adam Warren era of Gen13. John Ostrander’s “Heroes for Hire” series, during the run when the hyper Stan Lee narrator ruled. Paul Jenkins’ “Peter Parker Spider-Man” run. The Waid/Wieringo “Fantastic Four” run. Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith’s “Fell.” Jimmy Gownley’s “Amelia Rules.” Peter David’s “Incredible Hulk” run. And thousands more.
Maybe I’ll do a sequel next Christmas time. With any luck, there will be new books to add to the list in 2010.
In the meantime, keep an eye out on the CBR Reviews section this week. We’re celebrating the lack of new comics by doing a week of positive reviews. It’s going to be mostly collected editions from 2009 that we liked. I’ll be contributing a piece about “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” If you’re looking for some recommendations on where to spend that holiday cash you have burning a hole in your pocket, keep an eye out!
Some have sold, plenty remain: My Comics For Sale list can be found here.
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My photoblog, AugieShoots.com finishes up its 2009 mission this week, with a new pic every day for 365 days. Thank goodness it wasn’t a leap year. I hope to have some thoughts about this, as well as plans for 2010, sometime next week.
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More than 800 columns — more than twelve years’ worth — are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They’re sorted chronologically.