There is no “I” in team, and when it comes to creating the best comic books in history, it almost always emerges as a creative collaboration between two or more people. If you have ever wondered where to start or what runs you should read for certain characters, then look no further! We’ve put together a mix-tape of the pioneers who helped create your favorite characters, as well as folks who have had career-defining runs on various characters.
For clarification purposes, the metrics that were used to create this list involved some combination of: Contribution to the industry; Multiple collaborations; and/or Length of collaboration. So, it’s of course not extensive. Give our list a read and help us complete it by throwing down your favorite collaborative teams in the comics industry!
Starting off our list is the regular creative team of Brubaker and Phillips, two of the most acclaimed and popular talents in the industry today, and together, an unstoppable duo. This team is unique to this list in that their collaborations, while still generally somewhat cape-related, specialize in the topic of crime fiction. While a duo, their collaborations are truly singular, and they have carved a distinct niche in today’s market of comic books. It is through their commitment and successful partnership that they manage to sell books and draw praise from fans and critics alike.
Experts in telling stories about crime, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have been collaborators for almost two decades. Working on titles such as “Incognito,” “Sleeper,” “Scene of the Crime,” and “Fatale,” Brubaker and Phillips have proven to be a dynamic and tested team. Brubaker expertly combs his stories with a noir-element in the seedy, crime-riddled stories of crime friction. Phillips compliments the atmosphere by properly staging the ambiance for their stories.
Huge trailblazers in the genre of books they worked on, Garth Ennis and the late, great Steve Dillon were major collaborators through the 1990s and 2000s. Whether it was in the pages of “Judge Dredd,” “Hellblazer,” “Preacher” or “Punisher,” Ennis and Dillon created some of the best (and truly graphic) books of the era. Their run on “Punisher” was one of the best selling and most critically acclaimed runs the character ever had. While “Hellblazer” and “Judge Dredd” isn’t for the weak of heart, their magnum opus definitely comes in the form of “Preacher.”
“Preacher” is one of the most influential titles published of its era, published between 1995-2000 by Vertigo, “Preacher” cast its net to a wide audience and received a lot of commercial and critical acclaim. The book even helped inspire Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower.” “Preacher” was so popular that it is also in the middle of being adapted into a second season as a successful televion show. Ennis and Dillon paved the way for the hyper-violent modern comic and their contributions have made a huge impact on the types of stories that are consumed today, in many different mediums.
You may be asking why these two are not higher on the list than this; after all, Bob Kane and Bill Finger created arguably the most popular superhero in the world in Batman. However, while Kane and Finger helped create the character, his universe, and a lot of his supporting characters, they simply did not work together long enough to warrant a higher place on this list.
While their contributions to this list are indisputable, creating one of the most influential and popular fictional characters in the entire world, they did not work with one another as often as, say, Siegel and Shuster. Bill Finger did not even get proper recognition for his contributions to the character until decades after his death, and even that is still a controversial topic today. Finger and Kane make it onto this list, because their creation of Batman was a credit to the collaborative process, even if it wasn’t a credit to the industry’s handling of it.
The only repeat appearance on this list, Stan Lee makes his arrival on this list with pioneer Steve Ditko. While arguably not as notable of a collaborator as Lee’s other partner that appears later on this list, Lee and Ditko helped bring the world the flagship character of Marvel Comics in Spider-Man back in 1962. Spidey, of course, completely revolutionized the comic book superhero formula and helped lead Marvel to great financial and critical success, both of which continue to this day.
Lee and Ditko’s work on the “Amazing Spider-Man” in the 1960s transformed the entire industry, because suddenly there was finally a teenaged every-man who struggled to support himself and his aunt, make his way through school, and wasn’t universally beloved by those he tried to protect. Of course, there was famously little love between Lee and Ditko, the latter of whom has said that Lee’s involvement in the creation were minimal at best. Still, in whatever capacity, the two worked to create something truly groundbreaking in heroes like Spider-Man, and later, Dr. Strange, leaving a lasting legacy (however contentious) that remains historic in comics today.
Marv Wolfman and George Perez were instrumental to DC Comics continuity in the glory days of the 1980s. Together, the two titans of the industry brought forth “Teen Titans” to prominence, creating lasting characters like Raven, Starfire and Cyborg. The title under Wolfman and Perez was one of the most influential of the decade, and their work on the book — in terms of character and overall narrative — continues to inform creators of today. Additionally, the two worked on 1985’s landmark “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” perhaps the most famous comic book event in history, and truly the first of its kind.
Of course, “Crisis on Infinite Earths” had not only multiverse-changing results for the DC universe, but industry-changing ramifications for the comics business, as well. It was the first time that DC had really reset its continuity since the transition into the Silver Age of Comic Books. The book is a historical centerpiece for the industry, and is still reflected upon fondly today.
While the two do not have many titles between them, not to mention a history of bad blood,Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s work on the “Uncanny X-Men” cannot go unrecognized as a formative period for Marvel’s Merry Mutants. Together, the two were instrumental in making the X-Men franchise what it is today. They collaborated and helped bring about, among other stories, the “Dark Phoenix Saga” and “Days of Future Past,” both of which have been adapted into the plots of major motion pictures.
While it is clear that Claremont’s contribution to the X-Men is massive thanks to his vast tenure with the team, Byrne helped propel the team to new heights. It was Byrne’s idea to keep Wolverine as a member of the X-Men, of course, but Byrne helped inspire and create fan-favorite Kitty Pryde, as well as other stories, which are among the most influential in the team’s history. Byrne described their collaboration as being akin to the legendary musical team of Gilbert and Sullivan — truly fitting of their place on this list.
With tons of different titles collaborated on between the two of them, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale have helped produce critically acclaimed hit after hit. Whether it’s “Spiderman Blue,” “Daredevil Yellow,” Hulk Grey,” “Captain America White,” “Superman For All Seasons” or “Batman: The Long Halloween,” each Loeb / Sale joint has a distinct look and atmosphere, such that their partnership has become an enduring, iconic one.
Starting out on “Challengers of the Unknown,” the two have been frequent collaborators for over 25 years. When these two are brought together, it is absolute magic, capturing comic book nostalgia at its finest. Their books feel like Norman Rockwell paintings if they were described by Frank Capra; there is a charm and an innocence to their work that keeps it unique and distinct. The two deliver books that summarize the very experience of a character succinctly. “Spiderman Blue,” for as short as it is, is one the best Spider-Man books ever told. The two simply bring out the best in one another, which is of course all you can want in a creative team.
“The Dark Knight Returns,” “Ronin,” 300,” Dark Knight Strikes Again” and “Elektra Lives Again” — these are just a few titles that were produced by the team of Frank Miller and Lynn Varley. The formerly husband and wife team help tee off some absolute home runs on their frequent collaborations. “The Dark Knight Returns” is one of the seminal books in the industry’s history, for example, forever transforming the entire industry with its gritty visuals and sweeping narrative.
With Miller typically as writer and artist and Varley on colors, the two produced some of the most critically-acclaimed books of the last 30 years. The impact this duo had on the industry is immeasurable, helping to reinvent classic characters like Batman, but also redefine the entire business with their uniquely gritty and stark takes on the superhero comic book. That, along with colossal titles like “Ronin” and “300,” both of which received financial success and fame, ensures their place on this list. The couple would subsequently separate in 2005, unfortunately ending their comic book collaborations.
Robert Kirkman and Charlie Arlard have collaboratively helped launched one of the largest pop culture phenomenons of the 21st century in “The Walking Dead.” While the two don’t have a variety of titles they have both worked on with one another, the two have been working on “The Walking Dead” for well over a decade. The series is one of the most popular comic books in the world and has been a flagship title for Image Comics for a very long time.
The book has received universal acclaim and popularity, going so far as to win an Eisner in 2010. The book’s popularity was so wild that it spun off into an even more popular television series that is ingrained in the cultural zeitgeist. Also unique to this list for not being superhero related and not even Marvel or DC, Kirkman and Adlard have had a significant effect on the industry and their collaboration and ingenuity has been irreplaceable for “The Walking Dead.”
These two creatives were responsible for producing one of the most popular ongoing titles of the 2000s in “Ultimate Spider-Man.” While Bendis and Bagley worked on other titles as well, such as “The Pulse,” “Mighty Avengers” and “Brilliant,” their contribution to the widely popular “Ultimate Spider-Man” warrants their high placement on this list.
In creating the Ultimate universe for new, lapsed and casual readers, Marvel struck gold in teaming Brian Michael-Bendis with Mark Bagley. The two successfully found a creative blend to capture Silver Age nostalgia in a 21st century setting for a modern audience. The book found Spider-Man back in high school struggling with all the problems that a high school student might be facing in 2001, as opposed to 1962. The book was a massive commercial and critical success with a widespread readership and is regarded as one of the best Spider-Man runs ever published. Because of the two’s frequent collaboration along with their seminal title, Bendis/Bagley find themselves at number six.
Without overselling their contributions and at the risk of hyperbole, Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil were fundamental in transitioning comics from the 1960s into the modern age. Notable for their many collaborations that are very historically significant such as “Superman vs Muhammad Ali,” “Green Lantern/Green Arrow,” “The Flash,” and most notably, “Batman,” the two had a profound on the industry.
Adams and O’Neil produced very socially-minded stories that sought to challenge conventions and the Comic Code. They were rebellious and revolutionary, and everything the industry needed to pull them into the modern age. Their impact on the Batman character cannot go overlooked either. They were responsible for the big transition between the culture of the campy Adam West “Batman” TV series to turning the character into something resembling James Bond as he would fight characters like international Eco-terrorist, Ra’s Al Ghul. So, as frequent collaborators and for the sheer significance of their work, they land securely at number 5.
Whereas some people on this list have lengthy portfolios of work with one another, Joe Siegel and Jerry Shuster have the distinction of being the most important collaborative team on this list. The two created Superman, who was a 20th century pop culture icon. Perhaps second only to Mickey Mouse, Superman is the most iconic fictional character to emerge from 20th century American culture. As such, Siegel and Shuster are responsible for the superhero boon in comic books, the ramifications of which permeate many facets of pop culture today.
While they did have work outside of Superman-related titles such as “Funnyman,” nothing would ever yield the same cultural returns as Superman. It is crazy to think that two small, Jewish boys from Cleveland, Ohio, who lived in relative poverty for most of their lives revolutionized an entire entertainment industry and art form. The weight of their contributions to cartoons and comic books cannot go understated, and for that reason, two place soundly on this list at number four. Heck, without these two, we couldn’t even do this list!
In terms of contributions to comic books over the last 25 years, few collaborative duos have achieved as much as Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. The two have collaborated on many titles over the years, such as “We3,” “Batman and Robin,” “Flex Mentallo and many others which have, in their own way, garnered acclaim. Considering what Morrison and Quitely have done with one another, it’s hard to dispute their creative process or the result of it.
Consistently delivering meaningful books that are both critically acclaimed and financially successful, Morrison and Quitely consistently deliver the goods. Worth noting, “All-Star Superman,” perhaps their most well-known masterpiece, was written and illustrated by these two, along with “New X-Men,” one of the best runs on the X-Men since Chris Claremont left the series. In ways similar to Bendis and Bagley, Morrison and Quitely have helped redefine the properties they have worked on together, making them more palatable for a modern age while stretching their narratives to heady new heights. Apart, they are incredible artists in their own rights, but together, these two are game-changers.
Having published several books together, but most well known for what is widely regarded as the most well-known graphic novel of all time in “Watchmen,” Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons have done nothing short of helping the sequential art medium find success and acclaim in mainstream media. While “Watchmen” was medium-defining, their story “For the Man Who has Everything” is one of the most famous and highly-regarded Superman stories published as well.
It was difficult to put Moore and Gibbons over Morrison and Quitely, but the sheer cultural significance that Moore and Gibbons achieved in publishing “Watchmen” puts them at the #2 spot. “Watchmen” is indisputably the most influential comic book of all time and has succeeded in capturing the widest audience possible of any single graphic novel. So while other collaborators on this list have a wider bibliography under their collaborative belts, Moore and Gibbons deconstructed the entire superhero genre with mass audience appeal.
Is there a better collaborative duo in the history of the industry? These two are, if not the fathers of the industry as we know it, then certainly its godfathers — the fun-loving, boisterous pseudo-parents that come by and shake things up! Between their collaborations on the “Fantastic Four,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “The Avengers,” and “The X-Men,” Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revolutionized the entire comic book industry with an entire pantheon of new characters.
Perhaps for some readers, Stan Lee’s writing may seem corny and Kirby’s art is antiquated, but this is indisputably the most influential and arguably most important creative duo in the entire history of comic books. They single-handedly created Marvel Comics as we know it today, diversified the market and created competition for the only real game in town in DC Comics. All of Marvel’s financial success and relevance today can be traced back to Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.
Who would you have thrown on this list? Let us know in the comments!
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