52. “American Gothic” by Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, John Totleben, Rick Veitch, Stan Woch, Ron Randall, Alfredo Alcala and Tom Mandrake (The Saga of the Swamp Thing #37-38, 42-45, Swamp Thing #39-41, 46-50) – 200 points (6 first place votes)
American Gothic involves the introduction of John Constantine, and what that meant for Swamp Thing.
Essentially, Cosntantine works as a sort of plot driver for the series of stories that make up “American Gothic.”
An evil South-American magic cult named the Brujeria are using the Crisis on Infinite Earths to help them take over the supernatural arena, and as part of their plot, they began having all sorts of evil events take place across America. Constantine manipulates Swamp Thing into taking down these threats.
Eventually, it all leads to basically one big ol’ fight between good and evil, and literally the Ultimate Darkness against the Ultimate Light.
There are a series of artists at work during this storyline – the standard brilliance of Stephen Bissette and John Totleben, but also impressive work from Rick Veitch and Stan Woch on pencils.
Moore handled the slow build towards issue #50 about as well as any writer has ever handled a build to a “big” issue number – this is a storyline without being a strict storyline (for most of the story, at least).
The final battle in #50, though, is given all the trappings you would expect from a “big” issue, with Moore playing with the vast history of DC Comics and their supernatural characters.
Moore stayed on the title for a little while longer (and did some excellent work), but in many ways, this was the capper to his Swamp Thing run.
51. "Demon Bear Saga" by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz (New Mutants #18-21) – 202 points (1 first place votes)
Now, I consider myself to be a Sal Buscema fan. I think that he is a fine artist. He has always had a strong grasp of sequential storytelling and it really comes out in his work. He always makes sure to serve the story. However, despite Buscema's talents, there is very rarely such a dramatic change in a comic book series than going from Sal Buscema as the artist on New Mutants to Bill Sienkiewicz as the artist on New Mutants in 1983. Sienkiewicz, who had broken into comics drawing in the traditional Neal Adams style that was so popular in superhero comics of the late 1970s/early 1980s, had begun to experiment with his work on the series Moon Knight that he worked out with writer Doug Moench (in an interesting twist, Sienkiewicz was set to be the artist on John Byrne's Fantastic Four run, but because Marvel had then just recently expanded their comic book page counts per issue by roughly 30%, Sienkiewicz suddenly could not draw two regular comic book series at the same time, so he dropped Fantastic Four and concentrated on Moon Knight - the extra time presumably led to him spending more time on his art and trying new things with his work). Sienkiewicz's new style transcended our traditional views of what a superhero comic book would look like. It made Moon Knight a critical darling. However, Moon Knight was still, you know, Moon Knight. When given a chance to show off his style on what was, at the time, the second highest-selling comic book series that Marvel had, the X-Men spin-off, the New Mutants, Sienkiewicz went for it.
He joined writer Chris Claremont, who was a great admirer of Sienkiewicz's work. Claremont is famous for being a guy who wants to collaborate with his artist, not simply dictate to him what he should do, and that came out in the pages of New Mutants. Their first issue together, New Mutants #18, kick-started what is now known as the "Demon Bear Saga."
Dani Moonstar has been hunted by a ghostly demon bear ever since her grandfather died (back in the introduction of the New Mutants). She tried to hunt it down and kill it and she thought that she had succeeded (in a stunning series of panels by Sienkiewicz) but she failed and it badly wounded her. Her teammates rushed the teenager to the hospital, where they are met by a local cop, Tom Corsi, and a friendly nurse named Sharon Friedlander. However, the Demon Bear has followed Dani and it soon spreads out its influence - it wants to take over the world and Dani was what was holding it back. The New Mutants, using the magical abilities of their teammate, Magik, travel to the Demon Bear's dimension to fight it, while in the real world, surgeons try to save Dani's life while the New Mutants save her soul. The Demon Bear transforms Corsi and Friendlander into its servants.
Check out this sequence to see just how stunningly creative Sienkiewicz was (and heck, still is)...
Ultimately, the New Mutants save the day and Dani is then given further healing by the Morlock Healer so that she could walk again. This leads into a classic epilogue issue where the girls of the New Mutants have a slumber party and the New Mutants meet an alien mutant known as Warlock.
It's difficult to understand just how revolutionary Sienkiewicz's work was at the time. It was like a true shock to the senses. Amusingly enough, by the way, years later, Sienkiewicz and Buscema actually became a team of sorts, with Sienkiewicz inking Buscema (it was really odd, but it also really worked well).