Every so often, I get asked to contribute to some sort of online ‘best of’ list. This time it was the folks over at Hooded Utilitarian, who asked me to give them my “Ten Best Comics of All Time.”
Now, I misread it at first, and thought they just wanted my number-one pick. So I wrote a little essay and sent it in. Then I reread the original email and realized I’d screwed up, so I shamefacedly sat down and hammered out a list of nine more. That got tossed into the pool of the other 200-plus comics creators, editors, reviewers, et al who contributed, and the whole thing starts unfolding in August.
But I hate to throw away anything I write, and I have a hunch my choice for number one won’t place all that high; it’s not Maus or Watchmen, or any of the other usual suspects. Everybody knows about those. I went in a different direction…. a personal pick as opposed to an objective, critical one.
So anyway, I’m going to go ahead and run a slightly-expanded version of my original answer, talking about my single favorite comics run of all time, as this week’s column. Enjoy.
Best comics run of ALL TIME? If you mean just character and story, I’d go with the Archie Goodwin-Walt Simonson Manhunter.
That was just brilliant. Modern creators are still going back to the stuff there –ninjas, clones, superheroic anti-heroes that are willing to use lethal force.
Not to mention an approach to the art itself that was twenty years ahead of its time. Look at any original Manhunter page today and Simonson’s layout and lettering doesn’t look dated at all.
But really I’d take it a step further. I’d add that the comics in which those seven installments appeared, Detective #437-#443, were themselves great comics as well. Manhunter was just a small part of the overall picture.
Goodwin was writing the Batman lead feature along with Manhunter, and he kept luring guys like Alex Toth and a young Howard Chaykin to illustrate them, alternating with Batman regulars like Jim Aparo and Dick Giordano.
It’s also where you found the original “Night of the Stalker” by Steve Englehart, one of the greatest Batman short stories ever.
Even the format was awesome. Most of the books were in DC’s then-current 100-page format — 20 pages new, 80 pages reprint — and Goodwin, who was also editing, had a really good eye for interesting reprints.
It was the first place I saw Kubert’s Golden Age Hawkman…
Alex Toth’s Eclipso…
The origin of the Creeper…
Not to mention other obscure reprints that were quite a ways off the beaten path for DC, like the Golden Age Doll Man…
…or “Alias The Spider” by Paul Gustafson.
It was all great stuff. Often, when I see bloggers or other comics pundits speculating on what a good newsstand superhero format would look like, I always think of the old DC 100-pagers; 20 pages of new content and 80 pages of reprints. That seems to me like a format that would really work well in a digest size for bookstores, and Lord knows both DC and Marvel have the libraries for an effort like that. I do like seeing the 100-page reprint packages we’re getting from DC lately, it’s a fine idea, but they could do even better.
The 1970s 100-page era from DC, in general, was an amazing run of good comics from different eras, all conveniently collected together in one place. A great many modern DC strips have paid homage to things that appeared there in one form or another.
And of those generally memorable and exciting books, I think the best expression of the format was Detective, from Archie Goodwin.
So if I have to pick a feature, it’d be Manhunter; but… in my heart of hearts, whenever someone says “Best comics of all time,” I have to own up and tell you that my involuntary first response is “Archie Goodwin’s year on Detective, #437 to #443.”
And there you have it. Maybe not the greatest comics run of all time, but certainly it’s my favorite comics run of all time.
See you next week.