Because I have a birthday coming up, which is an occasion to look back on all the years leading up to this one, and also because it looked like fun– here is another one of those meme-questionnaire things, this time asking questions about favorite stories. As usual, I have re-purposed it a bit to make it all about comics.
What was your favorite story and writer… forty years ago?
Forty years ago would make it 1974, and in ’74 I was all about the DC 100-pagers. My favorite, without question, was Detective under the editorship of Archie Goodwin. I have written about those comics fairly often– here is a column about why I loved them so.
But in November 1974, Goodwin had departed, and he and Walt Simonson had even killed off Manhunter. Detective was under new management. Julius Schwartz had taken it over and it was just not the same. But it was still a pretty good comic book, and it was definitely my favorite for that month.
What I got in that issue was part two of Wein and Aparo’s “Bat-Murderer!” Which would have been enough to bring it to the top just for the Aparo artwork… back in the great old days when he was still inking his own stuff.
And there was a fun backup story starring Robin the groovy TEEN Wonder, doing the solo thing at college. The story was by Bob Rozakis with art from a young Mike Grell– in fact, this was actually my introduction to the work of Mr. Grell.
And the reprints were good too. Schwartz was taking things a bit literally with the “Detective” theme but he (or, more likely, his assistant E. Nelson Bridwell) had a good eye.
The previous month I had fallen completely in love with future P.I. Star Hawkins, in particular, and was very glad to see that feature again; but I enjoyed all of these.
So. Favorite writer then working was Archie Goodwin still; but Detective #445 was my favorite comic, forty years ago this month. Unfortunately, this was the finale for the 100-page format….and Aparo’s last issue was the following month, #446. “Bat-Murderer” finished with Ernie Chan taking over the art chores. But it was fun while it lasted.
What was your favorite story and writer… thirty years ago?
November of 1984…. was a pretty miserable time in my life. I’d broken up with my live-in girlfriend and was drinking a lot and had dropped out of school. That fall I was working a really crappy job as a telemarketer in a sleazy boiler-room operation. Its one virtue was that we were paid in cash every Friday. Most of it went for booze. But I had kinda gotten interested in comics again because there was a newsstand around the corner from the boiler room and I’d heard something about Dick Grayson giving up being Robin or something. That got me back in. So I was buying the two Titans books by Wolfman and Perez– this was the year of the great “hardcover/softcover” format experiment. In November ’84 the pricier direct-market book was wrapping up “The Terror of Trigon” while the newsstand series was the wedding of Donna Troy. Batman and Detective I was also getting, and they were closing in on the end of Doug Moench’s huge Nocturna/Thief of Night storyline.
But my favorite writer working in comics at the time was Max Allan Collins, who was tearing it up on Ms. Tree with Terry Beatty. This was a comic that I tried to keep up with even when I was ‘out of comics’ during the hideous lost weekend that was my life in the early 1980s. And that month, November, was not only the regular title but also #2 of the wonderful “The P.I.’s” mini-series teaming Ms. Tree with E-Man’s Michael Mauser.
Those were my favorite comics that month, without question.
Eventually I sobered up in 1986 and sorted my life out, but man, ’83 and ’84 were some rough times. Honestly, Ms. Tree and the Doug Moench/Gene Colan/Don Newton run on the Bat books are two of the very few things I can remember from those years that can bring a smile to my face. The rest of my life back then was mostly embarrassing and pathetic and we shall speak of it no more.
What was your favorite story and writer… twenty years ago?
In November of ’94, the comic book landscape was looking a bit embarrassing and pathetic itself, all things considered. I was buying a lot of monthly books but they were mostly just okay. I was liking the triangle-numbered Superman weekly-serial approach well enough– that month they were in the middle of “Dead Again,” which was all right, I guess, but not their finest hour. The Bat-books were in the midst of “Prodigal,” Dick Grayson’s first outing as Batman, and again, I liked it well enough but it wasn’t setting my world on fire. The Marvel stuff was mostly unreadable, though I was digging Spider-Man 2099 a lot. Ms. Tree was long gone… although there was a Collins/Beatty detective book from Dark Horse that I kinda liked, Johnny Dynamite, but it was only a mini-series. And anyway that was when Collins was all excited about doing “psychotronic” stories, which I didn’t enjoy as much as just the straight hard-boiled crime stuff.
There were lots of dumb events and cover gimmicks going on then, and the signal-to-noise ratio was just not good when you looked at the racks. DC had just done Zero Hour and followed it with “Zero Month,” where they tried to launch all kinds of edgy new takes on classic characters.
Yeah, those really happened.
But in the middle of this, like a little stealth grenade of coolness in the midst of all the other Zero Hour crap, DC gave us Starman. And I was completely in love with it by November ’94’s issue #3 (actually the fourth, because it started with “Zero.” Gimmicks again.) That was the climax of the first arc, “Sins of the Father.”
Absolutely my favorite regular monthly book at the time and it held that spot for the most part as long as it ran, though sometimes one of the Vertigo books like Sandman or Sandman Mystery Theatre would nudge it out, it’d depend on what mood I was in. (The Sandman/Starman crossover that eventually happened felt like they were actually peering into my brain at the time and said, “Oh, let’s do one for Hatcher.”)
What was your favorite story and writer… ten years ago?
This is tougher because the landscape had changed to the point where I was trying to go completely to a trade-only lifestyle (still am, really– curse my poor impulse control on Wednesdays!) and I wasn’t doing that many monthlies. But the Waid/Wieringo Fantastic Four was just way too good to wait for. (Although I did eventually swap out the monthly comics issues for the nice hardcover collected editions.) I was married to Julie by this time and she liked it too.
November 2004 they were getting to the end of the run– it was just beginning “Rising Storm,” their Galactus story. I think if you’d asked me at the time I’d have named Waid as my favorite writer working in comics and he’s still my favorite for straight superhero stuff. And Wieringo, Jesus, we just lost him way too soon. He was just good on everything.
What is your favorite story and writer… RIGHT NOW?
Well, Dynamite recently canceled most of my favorites like The Lone Ranger and The Shadow Now and The Spider. So that closes a lot of my first picks off. Hey, publishers, give David Liss another pulp-vigilante comic series to write, will you?
Of the guys currently working on the not-yet-canceled monthly books I’m buying, I’m going to say my favorite’s Jeff Parker. His stuff on Aquaman and Batman ’66 just makes me happy. Runner-up’s going to be Peter David on the new Spider-Man 2099, which I’m hoping won’t get hopelessly screwed up by the upcoming “Spider-Verse.”
And there you have it.
Funny that we circled all the way around to the classic old-school version of Batman and Robin. I guess my favorite comic book stories and characters haven’t really changed very much, despite my decades of reading the things.
My ACTUAL birthday treat, though, is going to be Julie and I driving to Tacoma to hang out at the Jet City Comics Show here in a couple of hours. Radio Vs. the Martians will have a booth, and there will be lots of other friends on the scene socializing as well, and food after. If you happen to run across us gossiping with Mike and Casey at the Radio Vs. The Martians table, do feel free to say hello. And I’ll have pictures from the show here for you…
…Next week. See you then.
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