It's been a long, twisted road from the first JLA/JSA team-up in the early 60s to the Infinite Crises and Secret Invasions of today. It's hard to believe that once upon a time, writers and artists were able to put together a compelling and entertaining story using a mere handful of pages. As a father of two kids under the age of 3, I can truly appreciate comic goodness that comes in a small package. I've assembled a few examples of some of the finest self-contained short stories of all-time (ok, those that came to mind on my streetcar ride this morning) to share with you today. If you take the time to seek these out, you will see just how much work and care goes into telling an effective tale in 8-pages.
I'll start with Charlie Droople, because I always start with Charlie Droople. On-line friends must be seriously sick and tired of me pimping Charlie Droople at this stage, but for those of you who haven't heard of him - you're in for a treat. Charlie Droople is the hero of "The Best of All Possible Worlds" from The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves #5. It's a masterful collaboration by the team of Steve Skeates and Jim Aparo and I've always found it sad that it has been hidden in the back of an obscure Charlton book for 40 years. It smashes all conventions as the leads are sucked into a comic book story with very funny results. Anyone who has debated the merits of comic books with a significant other should read this story - available in its entirety chez Fred Hembeck - 'Best of All Possible Worlds'.
Stan Lee and Steve Ditko collaborate on so many short morality plays that it's difficult to pick just one. For my money, "The Missing Link" (which happens to be a 5 pager) is one of the best. Originally appearing in Tales of Suspense #31, it can be found for much less money in Where Monsters Dwell #36. It's a story of a man allegedly from Earth's past who may just be able to warn mankind about its future. Stan Lee's twist ending pays homage to both EC and Rod Serling. For more great Lee/Ditko stories - I highly recommend the Amazing Adult Fantasy Omnibus. It's not cheap - but it's worth every penny.
Atlas-Seaboard published a lot of crap during the mid 70s (but that's another column altogether), but one of their great hidden gems is "Who Toys With Terror?" from Weird Tales of the Macabre #2. This mag is a bit tough to track down but it is worth it! This story by George Kashdan is about a boy who loves his Aurora Model Monsters. In the end, they reciprocate his love very nicely. Kashdan never wrote a story this fun his whole time at DC. The real highlight, however, is John Severin's amazing artwork. This is as good as it gets, and it's too bad that this story wasn't published by one of the Big Two as it would have been reprinted a million times by now.
My final selection is what I consider to be one of the finest comic book tales of all time. "Is a Snerl Human?" by Sheldon Mayer and Alex Toth (a wonderful collaboration of legends) is the back-up story to Adventure Comics #431, a book best known as the initial installment of the wrathful Spectre stories. It's unbelievable how Mayer and Toth can comment on the impact of mankind's cruelty and bloodlust in so few pages. This story is both touching and terrifying. To the best of my knowledge, this has never been reprinted, which is a real shame. Where is the Best Stories of the 70s TPB?
These are just a few examples of great stories that entertain a reader without dragging a thin plot over multiple issues. It's too bad that comics have trended away from the 8-pagers, but there's still a lot of hidden gold in the back issue bins waiting to be discovered. Happy Hunting!
For more random talk about old comics and other such nonsense, check out my blog: Seduction of the Indifferent