Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The No. 4 Greatest comic run PART 22 - As per the readers of

First I'd like to thank everyone at the CBR especially Brian Cronin for getting all the votes and putting the list together. and to everyone that voted, thanks.

Props Given, Let's take a look:

4. Frank Miller and Klaus Janson on Daredevil – 988 points (12 first place votes)

John B : A masterful sense of action in every panel Miller's stories and art along with Jansen's inks for me created a strange, gritty world like no other "super hero" book at the time and still often imitated by many to this day.

definitely top five material.

Daredevil #158-161, 163-167 (Frank Miller as artist, with Klaus Janson inks), #168-176 (Miller as writer/artist, with Janson as inker), 177-184 (Miller as writer/co-artist with Klaus Janson), #185-190 (Miller as writer, with Janson as artist), #191 (Miller as writer/artist, no Janson as inker)

Frank Miller was already an up and coming artist when he took over the penciling duties on Daredevil, under writer Roger McKenzie, with the book’s inker, Klaus Janson, staying on to give the book some continuity between departing artist, Gene Colan, and Miller.

Soon, the book began to get a buzz around it due to Miller and Janson’s impressive artwork, which managed to give a totally different look to the book despite McKenzie’s fairly standard plots (not that McKenzie was bad, just that his style did not necessarily match the style Miller and Janson were going for). The book soon became popular enough that Miller was promoted to the writer of the book, as well.

His first issue dramatically changed Daredevil, especially the introduction of Matt Murdock’s college love, Elektra, who was now an assassin.

Another change in Miller’s run was that Daredevil was now a lot more like a ninja than ever before, including introducing Stick, the man who mentored Murdock in the ways of being a ninja.

Isn’t that cover cool?

Notable during this time was the fact that Miller and Janson were absolutely amazing on the artwork on the book. They were bringing in a Will Eisner/manga look (specifically Lone Wolf and Cub) that was quite striking.

The Kingpin became a major Daredevil villain during Miller’s run (soon into Miller’s run, by the way, the book went from bi-monthly to monthly, a sign that the book was becoming popular again).

Towards the end of his run, Miller had Bullseye (a character Miller used to great effect) kill off Elektra.

After a few more issues (Janson was totally drawing the book by this time), Miller left with one fairly depressing issue (with inks by Terry Austin).

Marvel has nicely collected Miller’s entire run into three trades, and they smartly split the trades into Vol.1 (only Miller art) and Vols. 2 and 3 (Miller as writer).

Good stuff.

The No. 5 Greatest comic run PART 21 - As per the readers of

First I'd like to thank everyone at the CBR especially Brian Cronin for getting all the votes and putting the list together. and to everyone that voted, thanks.

Props Given, Let's take a look:

5. Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing – 942 points (30 first place votes)

John B " I admit never getting around to reading this book, I may have to seek out the trades of they're still in print"

Saga of the Swamp Thing/Swamp Thing #20-58, 60-61, 63-64, Annual 2

Something that I think often gets lost when discussing Alan Moore’s tremendous run on Swamp Thing is how the run started. Everyone remembers Moore’s SECOND issue, “Anatomy Lesson,” but Moore actually started on the book one issue earlier, tying up the loose plotlines of previous writer Marty Pasko. It’s quite interesting to read the care and attention Moore puts into Pasko’s storylines, while still managing to wrap it all up in one issue in a much different style than Pasko.

And then, of course, with the Pasko storylines finished, Moore dropped the big one - “Anatomy Lesson.”

There have been a number of other significant retcons with titles before (Anyone remember Steve Gerber’s strange retcons during his Captain America run?), but they all paled in comparison to what Alan Moore did with “Anatomy Lesson,” which revealed that the entire origin of Swamp Thing was false - Alec Holland was not transformed into Swamp Thing during a chemical explosion - instead, the chemicals animated a group of vegetation into THINKING it was Alec Holland.

Later, Moore would also explain the various inconsistencies of Swamp Thing’s origin by saying that there were many different Swamp Things who all had the same basic origin. Clever meta-fiction work by Moore.

Moore was ably assisted by the art team that was there when he joined the book, penciler Stephen R. Bissette and inker John Totleben - together, Bissette and Totleben delivered a stunningly rich art style, that was perfect for the moody stories Moore told.

Throughout his run, Moore would tell deep character-based stories, most notably the relationship between Swamp Thing and Abigal Arcane (being one of the first comic to show two characters having sex, although in a rather odd manner, seeing as how he is a plant). Also notable in Moore’s work was when he would touch on the DC Universe, and give us drastically different takes on various famous superheroes. Moore’s early work with the Justice League in an issue of Swamp Thing informs pretty much every modern writer of the Justice League.

During his run, Moore also introduced John Constantine, who would be Swamp Thing’s guide on a number of stories (more accurately, he would con Swamp Thing into getting involved in stuff).

Towards the end of his run, Rick Veitch became the artist on the book, and while he had a much different style than Bissette and Totleben, it was still excellent artwork, and it was Veitch who would end up following Moore on the title as writer (and doing a fine job, himself).

Without Moore’s Swamp Thing, we likely wouldn’t have seen Vertigo and all the comics that spun out of Vertigo, or if we did see them, it would have taken a long time to get there, so its influence is massive.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The No. 6 Greatest comic run PART 20 - As per the readers of

First I'd like to thank everyone at the CBR especially Brian Cronin for getting all the votes and putting the list together. and to everyone that voted, thanks.

Props Given, Let's take a look:

6. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man – 926 points (19 first place votes)

John B " I read these as marvel masterworks reprints and they still hold up after all these years."

Amazing Fantasy #15, Amazing Spider-Man #1-38, plus two Annuals

Introduced in the last issue of the anthology, Amazing Fantasy (which had its name changed from Amazing Adult Fantasy to Amazing Fantasy in the last issue), Spider-Man quickly got his own title, also written and drawn by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

Really, it is extremely hard to quantify the impact of this run by Lee and Ditko, particularly on Ditko’s end, who soon became the driving force behind the comic strip during probably the greatest period of comics in Marvel’s most famous superhero.

During this period, characters who were introduced include Spider-Man, Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson, Flash Thompson, Harry Osborn, Gwen Stacy, Betty Brant, Liz Allen plus pretty much every notable Spider-Man villain - Dr. Octopus, Electro, Sandman, Mysterio, The Vulture, and one of the most notable villains - the Green Goblin.

Ditko’s style was one of great economy, so readers got a great deal of story in every issue of Spider-Man, and Ditko manages to make the book so realistic and so down-to-Earth, which was aided greatly by Stan Lee’s clever dialogue, which made the stories a great deal more appealing to the populace than they would have been if Lee was not present.

Perhaps their greatest moment on the title happened towards the end of the run, with the classic storyline that was so influential that it must have been homaged about three gazillion times since then - where Spider-Man is trapped under heavy rubble and is forced to fight against all odds to escape with the cure for Aunt May (suffering one of her many illnesses).

Such a brilliantly told story.

Ditko’s last issue was Amazing Spdier-Man #38…

Here is my pal Michael Pullmann on why this run was #1 on his list:

Stan Lee likes to tell the story that he took his pen name because he wanted to write the Great American Novel one day under his own name, and didn’t want it associated with his work in comics. What Stan, or anyone else, could never foretell was that he would go on to write, with Steve Ditko, the Great American Graphic Novel, the tale of Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man, serialized in Amazing Fantasy 15 and Amazing Spider-Man 1-33 and Annual 1-2.

You didn’t read that wrong, True Believers; the Spidey story as told in those issues comprise a classic mid-20th Century American Bildungsroman. Peter Parker as portrayed in these issues joins the ranks of Huckleberry Finn, Holden Caulfield, Valentine Michael Smith, and more, as he journeys from being the “Timid Teenager” to Marvel’s greatest hero, and, more importantly, a man.

As Amazing Fantasy 15 begins, Peter is, well, a twerp. Obsessed with science, socially awkward, and more than a little solipsistic, he is not the stuff of heroes. Even after the spider bite, his abortive career as a novelty act, and even Uncle Ben’s tragic fate, he’s still a callow, untested youth. The very first panel of Amazing Spider-Man 1 shows Peter throwing a tantrum in his room, tossing his mask to the ground and wishing he’d never become Spider-Man. But he doesn’t stay that way for very long; duty and the growing pile of unpaid bills on Aunt May’s desk call, and so he ventures out unsteadily into the world to make his way the only way he can think of: as Spider-Man.

Danger and defeat taunt him at every corner: J. Jonah Jameson begins his eternal smear campaign that bans him from the variety shows and brands him a criminal; Vulture, Dr. Octopus, Sandman, and even Dr. Doom all hand him devastating defeats; he’s consistently shown up by the brash and more popular Human Torch, whose cavalier attitude is mirrored in Peter’s perpetual high school nemesis, Flash Thompson. And yet, he perseveres; in just the first ten issues, he courageously risks his own life to save others, builds the confidence to begin dating the lovely Betty Brant, and says “farewell” to those pesky coke-bottles when he challenges Flash to a boxing match in the school gym.

And so it continues, success and setback. The defeat of Doc Ock creates the death of Bennett Brant. The first meeting of the Spider-Man Fan Club ends in disaster as Peter runs out on a fight with the Green Goblin to rush to the ailing Aunt May’s side. The friendship and rivalry with the Torch solidifies, even as Peter ducks and avoids the attentions of Liz Allen and constant blind dates with the mysterious Mary Jane Watson. Victory over the Sinister Six drives yet another wedge between Peter and Betty. A full scholarship to college lands Peter once again in unsure territory, as he meets and snubs Harry Osborn and Gwen Stacy.

And all of it builds to an unforgettable climax, where, as Aunt May lies dying of radiation poisoning from a transfusion of Peter’s own blood, Spider-Man battles the crime lord Master Planner, alias his old enemy Doc Ock, in an undersea laboratory, for the rare isotope that can save May’s life. Trapped under a massive piece of machinery, with seawater rushing into the base in torrents, Peter faces the Hero’s Choice as never before: Die, and end the struggle, or live, and stand tall as a man of honor and dignity. The moment when he lifts that machinery off of his back, straining muscle and sinew like never before, is the climax, not just of this issue, or this story, but of Peter’s entire life to this point. Afterwards, we see that he is not the same person, as he tosses off Dr. Bromwell’s concerns for his health with grim determination, gives Jonah an ultimatum that leaves the old publisher speechless, and silently accepts that he’s lost Betty for good. Greater adventures and loves are yet to come, but the Story of Peter Parker, the Boy Who Called Himself A Man, has reached its conclusion. The tired but triumphant hero limps off into the night, now and forever worthy of the name that will pass into legend: Spider-Man.

It’s an age-old story told from the point of view of the unlimited possibilities of the 1960s, given life by two great artists at the top of their game. It’s the Marvel Way of Storytelling in microcosm, a comics epic as never seen before or since. It’s an inspiration to generations of young readers as callow and afraid as Peter, about to step forth into the uncertain world of adulthood. It’s a friggin’ humongous $99 hardcover.

It’s the Story of Spider-Man, and it’s my favorite comic book run of all time.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The 9 -7 Greatest comic runs PART 19 - As per the readers of

First I'd like to thank everyone at the CBR especially Brian Cronin for getting all the votes and putting the list together. and to everyone that voted, thanks.

Props Given, Let's take a look:

9. Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’s Justice League – 742 points (13 first place votes)

John B " A very enjoyable run, but again I have to ask, the greatest?"

Justice League #1-6, Justice League International #7-25, Justice League America #26-60, Justice League Europe #1-8, Justice League International Quarterly #1 plus some Annuals.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

When DC gives you a Justice League book, but won’t let you use almost any of the most popular heroes, you make due with the heroes you WERE allowed to use, and write them to the best of your ability.

That is what Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis did with their run on Justice League, and the end result was one of DC’s biggest hits of the late 1980s. Originally intended to be an “All-Star cast,” due to various reboots and such, the only MAJOR hero available was Batman, although Captain Marvel was there in the beginning (and lasted one story before HE was taken away - Black Canary lasted about a year before SHE was taken away). The other heroes who were made available were low-level characters with their own titles that didn’t sell a bunch (Blue Beetle, Booster Gold and Captain Atom), Mister Miracle (who hadn’t appeared regularly in about a decade at the time), one fairly notable League member (Martian Manhunter) and a pretty popular Green Lantern, Guy Gardner, from Steve Englehart’s popular Green Lantern Corps title.

Without the major heroes, Giffen and DeMatteis instead attempted to really develop the personalities of the heroes they WERE given, particularly once Beetle and Booster’s series were each canceled, giving them free reign with how to write them. They also spotlighted the League liaison, Maxwell Lord, who formed the team for fairly nefarious reasons but soon turned out to be a good guy. Later on, due to a lack of female characters on the team (and notable female heroes available period) when Canary was taken from them, Giffen and DeMatteis added two obscure members of the Global Guardians who soon became stalwart members of the team, Fire and Ice.

The book is most known for the humor of the title, which was a major aspect of the book - it really was a situation comedy. Helping the writers in this journey was Al (okay, I won’t use that one again, but damned, I really want to) was Kevin Maguire, whose ability to depict facial expressions was extremely key to the early issues of the series, and Ty Templeton, while using a more cartoonish style, was an able successor. Adam Hughes was the next regular artist, in his first, and most likely LAST regular series.

Here are TWO explanations for why they had this run #1 on their list!

First, Anthony…

Justice League International is not only my all-time favorite comic book run; it’s also one of my all-time favorite sitcoms. This doesn’t just mean that it’s funny, although it certainly is. The series is full of laugh-out-loud moments. Booster Gold strides away to work his charm on French women, confidently telling Blue Beetle to “give Superman my spot in the league if I’m not back in an hour,” only to return, embarrassed, after forty-six seconds. A tired J’onn J’onnz telepathically picking up and repeating Blue Beetle’s bad jokes. Big Barda’s pitch-perfect reaction to the destruction of her house. These are just a few examples among many, as the run overflowing with good comedy.

If it was just funny, though, there’s no way JLI would be the greatest comic book run of all time. So what is it that raises it above other funny series like Dan Slott’s She-Hulk and Kyle Baker’s Plastic Man? As I mentioned, JLI works in exactly the same way as the best TV comedies. Just like M*A*S*H, NewsRadio, or Arrested Development, it’s never content to just put its characters in funny situation. It thrives on the *relationships* between those characters.

Every team member reacts differently to every other member. Blue Beetle doesn’t talk to Oberon the same way he talks to Booster Gold. Captain Atom is more confident when J’onn J’onnz isn’t around, because J’onn makes him feel inadequate. Guy Gardner is ever-so-slightly less cocky when Ice is in the room. Frequently, Giffen and DeMatteis have characters off-panel while they’re talking, and there’s never any doubt as to who’s talking. The striking voices of each character – and the way they bounce off one another – have never been equaled in comic books, and certainly not in “funny” ones.

That’s not to say that JLI didn’t have its share of exciting and dramatic moments, because it certainly did. It’s full of them – Blue Beetle’s possession, Despero’s attacks on former Justice Leaguers, and the rescue of Mister Miracle from Apokolips, to name just a few. But these moments work so well because we’ve come to care about the people involved. In just about any other Big Two comic book, the characters would be generic chess pieces playing their role in the plot. Here, the big moments grow out of who the team members are – J’onn sees himself as the “protector” of the League, Blue Beetle feels like he can’t live up to the standards of his predecessor Dan Garrett, Mister Miracle wants to be a regular Earthman, but he can’t escape his Apokoliptian past.

I would be remiss to not mention the series’ greatest “director” – Kevin Maguire. His pencils helped sell the personalities of each character just as well as any words written by Giffen and DeMatteis. In any Maguire-drawn panel, you can tell exactly what a character is thinking just by looking at his or her face. His two immediate successors – Ty Templeton and Adam Hughes – did a great job of following his lead, but Maguire will always own the JLI characters.

Like many of the classic sitcoms, JLI spun-off a lesser-but-still-entertaining sister series, Justice League Europe. The Giffen era of the two ended together in grand style with the sixteen-part “Breakdowns” series. Is it a little bit too long? Yeah, probably. But after all they’ve been through, these superheroes have earned it and, appropriately, it’s a storyline all about the characters and how they’re reacting to the team being torn apart. In another sitcom-style move, the team would be reunited fifteen years later for a couple of reunion specials. Unlike most reunions, though, “Formerly Known as the Justice League” and “I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League” are every bit as good as the original series.

Here’s Bill…

I recently treated myself to as complete a rereading as my collection allows of the Giffen era JL/A/I/E (including annuals, JLIQ, etc) up to the end of Breakdowns (JLE #35, JLA #60), and was frankly surprised at how much better it was than I thought it was going to be - I only thought it was going to be fantastic.

The fact that so many of the jokes were only half-submerged in my memory (as opposed to fully submerged and so, forgotten) didn’t lessen my enjoyment of them at all - while the surprise that can result in extra hilarity on a first reading was lacking, the solid construction and the flair of execution allowed a deeper, richer appreciation for the second, or tenth exposure to the jokes. (Much the same way that, say, the rat episode of Fawlty Towers can be watched once a year and STILL be brilliantly funny even though you know what’s coming next.)

Plus there were many wonderful comic moments and funny sequences that I HAD forgotten, and so got to re-experience as new: the isolated, instantaneous moments (single panels or even single speech balloons, say) remaining unremembered until read, while the beginnings of longer sequences (a page or so, say) raised flickers of partial recognition that led to keen anticipation and fuzzy half-remembrances of the approaching pay-offs.

An example of the former: the Beefeater, wearing one of the most ridiculous, silliest, maximally ludicrous costumes of all times - to look at him is to laugh! - in response to the observation “a glass of champagne would really hit the spot right now”, declares “Indeed it would. But I must warn you, I get a trifle silly when I drink”.

An example of the latter: J’onn, in gumby-form, trying to meditate and gradually failing while 21 frantic offstage “quack”s are heard in 4 panels, before his voice floats out the window to L-Ron, in a pond…





I know these examples (”bleeding chunks”) aren’t amusing to people who haven’t read the books, or can’t remember the scenes, or just don’t like Giffen JL*. But for people who have read them, and liked them, I hope (sparking a memory if need be of the scenes) they can flash back on them for a moment and smile and be reminded of how entertaining these books were. For those who (at least half-) remember and enjoy, here’s a few reminders of some of my other favourite BWAH-HAH-HAHs:

G’nort. Mr Nebula. Guy Gardner on ice. Batman vs Guy Gardner (”one punch!”). The Mr Miracle robot (”No problem. No problem. No problem.” “I think there’s a problem.”). Maximum Force (with tubing to catch the blood from his nose). Club JLI. J’onn’s ancient Martian meditation technique (”It’s called screaming”). I could add dozens more and i’m sure you could too.

But the humour aside (funnier though it was than I remembered, I was at least expecting it), there was a lot more to JLI than that - as I guess people who have read it all won’t be surprised to hear me say. I found a large number of very poignant and emotional moments and scenes I had completely forgotten about - and some that I don’t think I ever fully appreciated until now.

Take for instance the funeral issue for the Mr Miracle robot - there’s a page afterwards where Guy goes into Ice’s room and “comforts” her, as a letter writer later said. It was only reading this scene the other day (panel by panel it reads like this):

G: Um .. ahh .. Ice?

I: Guy?

G: Ah.. yeah. It’s me. You got a minute?

I: Of course I do. Come in, sit down. Are you alright? You look awful.

G: Me? Nah, nah… I’m fine. I was just…uh… worried about you…I mean, I know you’re the sensitive type an’ all. Y’know… I figured you might wanna… I dunno…talk.

I: About Scott?

G: Yeah. I really wasn’t that close to him. I mean, we worked together for a long time, but, y’know… we never really connected.

I: No, of course you didn’t.

G: But I know how much you liked ‘im. I mean, you really thought he was a good guy, huh?

I: Yes, I did.

G: An’ I bet you really feel lousy about all this. Kinda sick to your stomach. Kinda like you wanna punch a hole in the wall or scream or somethin’.

I: Something like that.

I realized that Guy was, as best he was able, and with as good a smokescreen as he was able to construct, expressing his *own* sense of grief and loss, and that he was as much trying to console himself as Ice. And Ice, sitting there, holding his arm, head resting on his shoulder, understands and even in her own grief can offer as much comfort to Guy as he can bring himself to accept. Read the issue (JLA #40), I think you’ll find it rather more moving than my pale description of it could be, lacking the body language and facial expressions and so much more…

And yet, another hallmark of JLI, there is humour blended with sorrow in this scene in a way (as action and boredom and whimsy and tragedy and farce are blended throughout the collection) - they are unknowingly mourning only a robot. There are scenes of intense joy and happiness in the collection as well (a different thing from being amusing or hilarious), such as Mr Miracle’s return from the Miracle Mister tour, or Fire hugging J’onn suddenly with a fervent “It’s so good to SEE YOU!” in the middle of Breakdowns. (And L-Ron brings tears of laughter to my eyes in that same panel as he reminds J’onn “Remember, sir: Gruff! Gruff!”, no less than Fire’s joy and J’onn’s surprise brings a warm and happy smile to my lips.)

When Mitch Whacky, two inches tall, slips and falls on THE Button, setting off the nuclear devastation of Angor he was trying so desperately to avoid, it is both hilarious and heart-breaking. Like life. Shaw’s comment about life not stopping being funny when someone dies any more than it stops being serious when someone laughs is quoted by Helfer in a letter column, and applies to the JLI collection more than its USEnet “legend” (”silly sitcom”) might suggest.

There is something about work, serially created over a length of time, that is amplified when read in a collection - the broad sweeps, the interconnections, the thematic evolution that is difficult to focus on reading 22 pages once a month when it is being published, all become much easier to appreciate when you can sit down years later and read 2000 pages in a week.

It is in this sort of context that one can most easily see the irony of Max Lord being the mind-controlled murderer of the Silver Sorceress and half the population of Kooeykooeykooey - the man who, after explaining his mental “push” power and vowing to take it more seriously and use it wisely, ethically and morally, and only when he really has to, to boot, then convinces his driver that his, the driver’s, name, is really Rudolpho… on the very same page!

It is in this sort of context that one can see how many threads in the collection are twined together for Breakdowns - Manga Khan, Despero, Lobo, the Extremists, Kooeykooeykooey, United Nations control, Bialya, Queen Bee, the Global Guardians, Mitch Whacky, mind control (one of the most oft recurring notions), family, rebuilding, tradition, humour as relief or as coping mechanism, contrast of ethics and actions, the nature of determination and fear and heroism…

Silly sitcom?

No, a magnificent and sustained achievement that stands the test of time, a fresh spring of delight and wonder even today, and a heady concoction of humour, horror, life, love and death perhaps even more potent now than when first released. If you own it, dig it out and re-read it; if not, it’s out there waiting for you in quarter-bins, go get it; either way, you’ll be glad you did.

Or not.

And that’s why it’s the one of the all-time greats.

Thanks to Anthony and Bill!!

8. Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Preacher – 857 points (21 first place votes)

John B " Some people believe that Neil Gaiman's sandman is the single most important series to come out of DC's Vertigo line. to them I say FUCK YOU. Now go and read Preacher before some Hollywood asshole turns it into a movie with Keanu Reaves and the kid from entourage "

Preacher #1-66, plus some mini-series and one-shots (almost all of the one-shots and minis were not by Dillon)

Small-town Preacher is given the Word of God, so goes off to search America for God, along with his ex-girlfriend (who has since become an erstwhile assassin) and a hard-drinking 100-year-old Irish vampire.

Come on, how awesome is that?

Luckily, Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon deliver on the promise of that description, and THEN some, with their epic run together on Preacher.

Before reading this series, do note that not only is this book filled with horrifically violent images, but it also has some extremely disturbing NON-violent aspects, of which I won’t get into right here, but do note that if you are easily offended by stuff, then Preacher is not the book for you. That being said, as outlandish and disgusting as some of the parts of Preacher are, at the heart of the story is three well-crafted, complex characters, particularly the Irish vampire, Cassidy.

The book is designed like a Western, and a lot of famous Western locales are used in the comic, from Monument Valley to the Alamo. Heck, John Wayne is even a spiritual adviser to Jesse Custer (the nominal Preacher of this book). A great deal of this comic is based on Jesse and his ideas of honor.

While the three main characters are, well, the main characters, Preacher is known for its colorful cast of supporting characters, all so good that almost all of them had spin-offs during the series run, from the Saint of Killers, who is sent after Jesse by some scared Angels, to the evil Herr Star, the head of the Grail - a group that wants to control Jesse to bring about Armageddon, to Arseface, a young teen who tried to kill himself after Kurt Cobain shot himself, only he lived - just with a face that, even after plastic surgery, looks like, well, you know, to Jody and TC, two extremely disturbing “Good ol’ Boys” from Jesse’s past - all of these memorable characters ended up with their own spin-offs, all written by Ennis, and all collected in the trades that make up this series.

Steve Dillon’s gritty and humanistic artwork could not be any more appropriate for this series if you had asked a Magic Mirror who would be the fairest artist for this book in all the land.

By the time this series ends, you’ll be so attached to the characters that you will be quite disappointed to know this will be the last you’ll see of them, but Ennis comes up with a tremendous farewell to them all.

7. James Robinson’s Starman – 921 points (35 first place votes)

John B " I really enjoyed Robinson's Starman when it first came out, I'll have to re-read them again to see if they stand the test of time"

Starman #1-80, plus a #1,000,000 and two Annuals

One of the few good things to spin out of Zero Hour, Starman begins with Ted Knight (the Golden Age Starman) passing the torch (or, in this case, his cosmic energy staff) to his son David. Sadly, in the very first issue, David is murdered, leaving the family title to Ted’s OTHER son, Jack Knight, who was wholly uninterested in becoming a hero.

Jack owns an antiques and collectibles store, and is quite happy to just do that - but with his brother dead, Jack feels the need to take up the Starman name, but only if his father would agree to use his research that led to the cosmic staff’s creation for the good of mankind.

Jack then began one of the stranger superhero tenures, as the whole time he’s doing it, even as he grows more and more as a hero, he still does not exactly fit in with other typical heroes.

While Jack is nominally the star of Starman, the REAL star is the city Jack and his father, Ted, live in - Opal City. Throughout the series, a message writer James Robinson gets across is an appreciation for the classics, and Opal City is a whole city that is BUILT around that notion - that the classic stories need a city, too, and that’s what Opal City. This leads to the Shade, a classic villain who Robinson re frames as an almost immortal man who just wants to enjoy his time in Opal City, the city he loves. The Shade even ended up getting his own series!

Artist Tony Harris co-created the book, and did the art for the first 45 issues or so. He was responsible for all of the design of both Jack, Jack’s tattoos (a notable style element of the book in the early days) and Opal City. Harris left the book after 45 issues or so, and was followed by Peter Snejbjerg, who stayed until the end of the book.

Starman was one of the most cultured superhero comics - you’d have stuff like thugs debating the works of Stephen Sondheim!!

In addition, Robinson revisited the past to find every past bearer of the name “Starman,” no matter how obscure. Other old heroes and villains kept popping up in the series, as well.

The book was such a massive critical success for DC that they allowed Robinson to end the story as he wished, which is a tremendous compliment in this day and age of “the show must go on, no matter how bad!” publishing.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The 12-10 Greatest comic runs PART 18 - As per the readers of

First I'd like to thank everyone at the CBR especially Brian Cronin for getting all the votes and putting the list together. and to everyone that voted, thanks.

Props Given, Let's take a look:

12. Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s JLA – 574 points (7 first place votes)

John B : "Really? I have all the issues and I think they're good, but one of the greatest?"

Morrison - JLA #1-17, 22-26, 28-31, 34, 36-41, plus a #1,000,000 and a Secret Files
Porter - 1-7, 10-16, 18-19, 22-25, 28-31, 34, 36-41, plus a #1,000,000 and a Secret Files

Way back when Keith Giffen began work on the relaunched Justice League title in 1987, he wanted to do a “big gun” Justice League - Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Green Lantern - the whole nine yards.

They told him no.

He could have Batman, and that’s it (and even Batman was taken from him soon after).

That was much the case for the rest of the tenure of the Justice League International - Superman was accessible when Dan Jurgenes was writing the book, but afterwards, nope. Wonder Woman was accessible for a good long while, but that was it. In 1996, Peter David even did an issue of Aquaman where Aquaman specifically said he would not join the League.

However, outside of Giffen, Giffen’s take on the League was not particularly popular, so when DC was debating on how to revamp the title, they finally caved in - Grant Morrison could have the “Big Guns” League, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions DC made in the 1990s.

With the JLA, Morrison basically invented the widescreen action comic (which Authority probably perfected, but with much less famous characters), as each Morrison arc was a BIG…DRAMATIC…ACTION EPIC!!! It was his ode to the Silver Age, where the Justice League would go on bizarre adventures all the time, only with modern comics, Morrison (and artist Howard Porter) were able to do everything BIGGER than they did back in the 60s, and it resonated with fans, making JLA the most popular superhero comic at DC, taking a franchise that was in the pits and making it relevant again.

Perhaps most importantly, Morrison had a story where he used the Blue Superman and did something COOL with him, which is probably the most impressive part of Morrison’s whole run.

This really was not some deep comic book, it was pure entertainment, but it was well-written, well-executed entertainment that created a practical cottage industry of tie-ins for DC.

11. Marv Wolfman and George Pérez’s Teen Titans – 643 points (15 first place votes)

John B; " One of my all time favorites, a fun action packed good old fashion superhero funny book done with wit, style."

Wolfman - New Teen Titans #1-40, Tales of the New Teen Titans #41-50, New Teen Titans #1-5 (co-wrote #6) plus three Annuals

Pérez - New Teen Titans #1-5, 6-34, 37-40, Tales of the New Teen Titans #41-50, New Teen Titans #1-5 (co-wrote #6) plus three Annuals

Marv Wolfman left Marvel in the late 70s over a contract dispute, and he came to DC with the mindset of bringing some of the Marvel style of comics to DC, and that’s just what he did when he teamed up with George Pérez to do the New Teen Titans (a book Wolfman had worked on in the past).

First, they introduced three significant new characters, the alien Starfire, the robotic Cyborg and the half-demon Raven. They also changed Changeling enough that he was essentially a new character. Pairing these heroes up with Robin, Wonder Girl and Kid Flash as the holdovers, and they had one of the most consistent superhero lineups in comic history (more or less the entire lineup stood in place for their whole run on New Teen Titans, with Kid Flash leaving four years in).

Pérez’s detailed art was a delight to readers, especially as he was able to draw so many of the issues, giving him an amazing run on the title 6-34? In the 1980s? With THAT detail? That’s nuts!

But probably the biggest part of the book was the soap opera feel that Wolfman gave the title, in the same way that Chris Claremont was doing a soap opera-esque feel on the X-Men, the clear counterpart to the New Teen Titans.

Soon, the title was the highest-selling DC title, and I believe in the early goings was even out-selling the X-Men (I’m almost positive, actually, that it outsold Uncanny X-Men at least until 1981, at which point X-Men took off and left them in the dust, but that’s neither here nor there).

In the second issue, Wolfman and Pérez created one of DC’s best villains, Deathstroke the Terminator.

Later on, they allowed Robin to graduate to a new identity, they introduced the anti-Kitty Pryde, Terra, they added Deathstroke’s son, Jericho, to the team and a lot of other stuff. It was all really quite good, and very soap opera-y! Especially the “special moment” issues, like the story about runaways, which was so powerful that they were hired to do a special Anti-Drugs giveaway comic that must have been read by, like, a gazillion schoolchildren in the 80s.

Not a bad legacy, huh?

The pair launched a new title, but Pérez left to work on the mini-series (that Wolfman wrote) Crisis on Infinite Earths, and that was it for the run, although Pérez would return four years later for a quick reunion run.

10. Grant Morrison’s New X-Men – 701 points (14 first place votes)

John B " I thought it was highly overrated, more hype than substance"

New X-Men #114-154, plus an Annual

Marvel was in bankruptcy when they hired Grant Morrison to become the main X-Men writer, and they basically gave him total freedom to do what he wanted, and what he wanted to do was to make some major changes in the title, from eliminating the traditional costumes (going with a “leather jackets” look), which is similar to what the movies did, to making Beast look like the Beast from the famous Jean Cocteau film from the 1940s, having all the mutants on Genosha murdered, adding Emma Frost to the X-Men, and having it be revealed that home sapiens were on the verge of extinction.

And that was just the first story arc!!!

After there, Morrison kept the pace quick and the new characters a-plenty, from Xorn, Angel, Beak and the Stepford Cuckoos to John Sublime, Fantomex and Kid Omega.

The book was set-up as a sort of homage to Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s run, in that Morrison would attempt to address the same stories they did, just in a different manner. They had a Sentinel story? Morrison would do a Sentinel story. They had a Shi’ar story? Morrison would do a Shi’ar story. And so on and so forth.

Sadly, the amazing artwork of Frank Quitely, which was meant to be a regular feature on the comic, only showed up about 15 of the 40 issues (if that), and the “regular” backup artist, Ethan Van Sciver, also only did a couple of issues. This led to fill-in artist Igor Kordey being forced to draw some quiiiiiiick comic books, and the result is some ugly looking artwork at times (not Kordey’s fault, of course, as he had VERY little time to get the books out), which is a shame, as the stories were top-drawer.

Morrison’s final story arc (set in the present) was a big Magneto story where Morrison mocked the very nature of comic cycles of death and resurrection. He also killed off a few characters, and had Emma Frost and Scott Summers end up together.

The final arc, period, was set in the future, drawn by Marc Silvestri.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The 15-13 Greatest comic runs PART 17 - As per the readers of

First I'd like to thank everyone at the CBR especially Brian Cronin for getting all the votes and putting the list together. and to everyone that voted, thanks.

Props Given, Let's take a look:

15. Walt Simonson’s Thor – 514 points (5 first place votes)

John B " I am very happy too see that Simonsons' Thor on the list, personally I believe it should have placed much closer to #1 "

The Mighty Thor #337-355, 357-382 (writer/artist for #337-354, 357-367, 380)

There’s not much cooler of a way to introduce yourself to a title then to break the old logo of the book in your first issue and debut a new logo the next one. And that’s just one of the dramatic things Walt Simonson did with his first issue of Thor, a book that was not selling particularly well, so Simonson had a great deal of freedom to TRY these dramatic things. The other dramatic event in the first issue of Simonson’s Thor was just WHO it was that was wielding Thor’s hammer on the cover - some weird looking creature!

Beta Ray Bill, the noble alien who was found to be worthy enough to wield Mjolnir, was an attempt to shock readers, and to give his book a try, as Simonson spent the next thirty issues or so both writing and drawing an eventful time in the world of Thor, as Simonson used his extensive knowledge of Norse mythology as the foundation for his stories, which were a bit more serious and true to Norse culture than previous writers.

Simonson’s stories were mostly plot-driven, but he gave a number of interesting character moments along the way, as well, and of course he delivered that fantastic, stylized dynamic artwork that he is so well known for using.

There was a major story with a fight between Odin and Surtur that took advantage of Simonson’s ability to draw really outstanding fight scenes, but perhaps the most notable storyline during his run was when a number of souls of living Earth people are trapped in the land of Hel. Thor, Balder and a few other people lead a rescue mission to save them, and the evil toady of the Enchantress, Skurge the Executioner, asks to be allowed to help, too. At the end, when they are about to be overrun at a bridge by the hordes of Hel right before becoming free, Thor vows that he will stay behind and hold off the hordes himself while the humans escape. Skurge knocks Thor out, and while everyone thinks he is being a traitor, he is instead opting to take Thor’s place.

And none of the bad guys cross the bridge.

It’s an amazing sequence of events, beautifully written and drawn by Simonson.

Soon after, Simonson concluded his run as an artist with an amusing story involving Thor being turned into a frog.

Then Sal Buscema joined the book as the artist, and Simonson continued a long story he had in which Thor is slowly beaten and scarred by battles, to the point where he is forced to grow a beard to cover his scars and wear a special suit of armor to maintain his strength. During this time, Thor takes on a new secret identity (Don Blake had been eliminated as Thor’s alter ego) of basically Thor wearing a pair of glasses, as a nod to Superman/Clark Kent.

The next few issues have a LOT of crossovers with various other books Simonson was involved with at the time, mostly X-Factor, and finally, his run concludes with a tremendously ambitious storyline including the Destroyer and the Midgard serpent. A classic finale to a classic run.

Oh, I would be remiss if I did not mention the amazing lettering John Workman did on this series. Amazing stuff.

14. Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol – 524 points (12 first place votes)

Doom Patrol #19-63 (plus Doom Force #1, I suppose)

Arnold Drake created the Doom Patrol to be the world’s strangest superheroes, but by the time Grant Morrison took over the book, the second generation of the Doom Patrol were more of a half-hearted attempt at duplicating the success of the All-New, All-Different X-Men. Morrison decided to embrace the concept of the world’s strangest superheroes, and he gave the world a title that was strange, all right, but strange coming from the mind of Grant Morrison.

Outgoing writer Paul Kupperberg was kind enough to remove most of the members of the team for Morrison, as Morrison was really only interested, amongst the main cast members of the book, in Niles Caulder and Cliff Steele (although Josh Clay, a member of Kupperberg’s team, also stuck around, as the team doctor - Morrison would use him as the lone voice of sanity among all these bizarre goings-on, but sadly, as you might imagine, the one sane guy doesn’t stand much of a chance in a book like this). That said, Morrison DID bring back a minor character from early in Kupperberg’s run, the powerful girl with “imaginary” friends and a face like an ape, Doroty Spinner. New team members were Crazy Jane, who had different powers for each one of her split personalities and Danny the Street, who was, well, a street.

Morrison used the group to explore various secret groups, all with an idea for making the book as bizarre as possible. The great thing about it was that Morrison slowly made the book weirder and weirder as he went along, so the first issues are fairly normal, but if you compare his early issues to the end of his run - it’s like night and day.

Morrison used all sorts of different ways of telling stories, as well as doing a number of parodies, most notable of all, the Charles Atlas take-off, Flex Mentallo (who would later gain his own spin-off mini-series by Morrison and Frank Quitely). Some of the bizarre characters included the evil Scissormen, the Brotherhood of Dada, and one of Dorothy’s scariest creations, the Candlemaker.

Towards the end of his run, Morrison spun the book around on its head, with a member of the group revealing a dark secret. By the time he left, he did not leave really much for incoming writer Rachel Pollack to do - the book really ought to have just ended with Morrison’s last issue, the book by the point of his departure was so indubitably his, and he took most of the coolest characters with him as he departed.

13. Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s Y the Last Man – 547 points (6 first place votes)

Y the Last Man #1-60, Pia Guerra drew #1-15, 18-20, 24-30, 36-39, 43-46, 49-52, 55-60

By the time Brian K. Vaughan began Y the Last Man, he had already had a previous series for Vertigo, Swamp Thing, which told the story of the daughter of Swamp Thing. So while folks respected his talents, I don’t think anyone was expecting Vaughan to launch the next big Vertigo title, but that’s exactly what he did, along with book co-creator and artist, Pia Guerra.

The concept of the book was simple - one day, all the men on Earth die. All the men, that is, except young amateur escape artist Yorick Brown and his monkey, Ampersand. They’re the only two men alive on the entire planet, and, as you might imagine, hilarity ensues.

Seriously, though, Yorick (who is freaking out because he JUST proposed to his girlfriend, Beth, over the phone when the plague hit, and she’s all the way in Australia!!) is tasked to first travel to find Dr. Allison Mann, a geneticist who needs to study Yorick to discover what happened and if they could reverse it. Along with Yorick on his journey is Al, the project observer, who appears in the form of a hologram, that only Dr. Mann can see and hear.

Or not.

It may have been this government agent, Agent 355, who serves as Yorick’s bodyguard. Once they find Dr. Mann, the four (counting Ambersand) travel the country and the world in their mission to save the planet from dying out.

Along the way, they (and we, the reader) find out how the world has been coping with the loss of all the world’s men. It’s fascinating and touching stuff.

The big villains of the piece are the Daughters of the Amazon, psychos who think that this is a big sign from the Goddess that the Y chromosome has been expunged from Earth and Alter Tse’elon, the head of an Israeli commando team who is crazed with the desire to hunt Yorick down.

One of the ongoing plots of the series was, of course, Yorick’s quest for his girlfriend, Beth (and the confusion that arises when he meets another intriguing woman named Beth).

Pia Guerra’s artwork was clean and perfect for the character-based stories Vaughan developed for the series. As you can see, she needed some assistance often, and Goran Sudzuka was her co-penciler (trading off on arcs) for the last forty or so issues of the title.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The 20-16 Greatest comic runs PART 16 - As per the readers of

Hello Kids, John B here and the countdown continues with some choices that I can finally understand.

First I'd like to thank everyone at the CBR especially Brian Cronin for getting all the votes and putting the list together. and to everyone that voted, thanks.

Props Given, Let's take a look:

20. Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s Daredevil – 480 points (9 first place votes)

John B: Placed a little too close to #1 on the list, I believe it's one of Better daredevil runs but it would have to place after: FRANK MILLER, MILLER & MAZZUCCHELLI, NOCENTI & MAZZUCCHELLI, NOCENTI & ROMITA jr. I Believe that the BENDIS & MALEEV arc should fall in to 5th place among Daredevil runs, Still an excellent Arc by BENDIS & MALEEV ( just placed too high)

Daredevil #26-50, 56-81 (Maleev did not draw #38-40)

What is most remarkable to me about the run that Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev did on Daredevil is how tightly plotted the fifty or so issue story is by Bendis. A lot of his works seem to be a little open-ended, but his run on Daredevil was quite focused. Of course, as good as the story was, the artwork by Alex Maleev was probably even better, as Maleev made the perfect marriage between the artwork of Frank Milller that made Daredevil such a major work and the more noir elements that Bendis wanted to use with the book, as Daredevil under Bendis was very much a crime comic.

In his first storyline, Bendis dealt with an upstart gangster trying to take over the Kingpin’s racket. This led to a violent encounter with the Kingpin’s estranged wife, Vanessa, as well as Daredevil’s secret identity being revealed. This was a major plot point throughout Bendis’ run, as he showed how Matt Murdock dealt with everyone knowing that he was Daredevil.

During this time, Bendis introduced Milla Donovan, a blind woman who eventually became Matt’s wife.

Another major storyline was when the Owl attempted to take over the Kingpin’s (now vacant) racket, but the Kingpin returns to try to take it himself - this leads to Matt making a dramatic decision about who exactly will run his neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen.

Hell’s Kitchen was a character itself during Bendis’ run, and Maleev depicted it beautifully.

After a time, Bendis made a revelation about Daredevil’s mental state that was mind-blowing, and really tied together the entire run, just in time for one final storyline that would set things up for the current run of Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark.

It’s one of Bendis’ finest comic works.

19. Peter David’s Hulk – 484 points (7 first place votes)

John B : I think Peter David had fun playing with the characters in the HULK universe and it showed in the books he wrote. enjoyable.

The Incredible Hulk #331-388, 390-467

What was probably most consistent about Peter David’s run on the Incredible Hulk was that there was no consistency to the book, David was constantly taking the book in different directions, and it made for an eventful ride for readers.

When he took over the book in 1986, the book was in the middle of a storyline, but David picked it up without a hitch, and soon turned the book into a sort of odd road trip book, with Bruce Banner, Rick Jones and Clay Quartermain traveling together. At this time, the Hulk had become Grey again, and turned into the Hulk at night. During this time, Todd McFarlane was the artist on the book, and there was a notable encounter between the Hulk and Wolverine while on the road.

After an encounter with the Leader, the Hulk was feared dead, but he soon popped up in Las Vegas, working as a bouncer called Joe Fixit. Jeff Purves was the artit on these stories.

Eventually, Hulk hit the road again, and Dale Keown joined the book. He and David combined for an impressive run together, and during this run, David made probably his biggest change to the comic, having Doc Samson merge the various Hulk personalities (Banner, Grey Hulk and Green Hulk) together to form one powerful green Hulk whose personality was controlled by Banner. This version of the Hulk was soon hired by the peacekeeping group, the Pantheon, to work for them as a peacekeeper. This was the status quo of the book for about forty/fifty issues.

However, this ultimately fell apart, too, and the Hulk went on the run once more, and then Onslaught happened, with Banner and the Hulk becoming separated - the Banner-less Hulk went on a bit of a rampage, but eventually Banner returned. Adam Kubert took over as artist for an acclaimed short run on the Hulk, and in his second-to-last issue, David had Betty Banner, wife of Bruce, die. David’s last issue had Rick Jones in the future looking back at all the various stories that David had had planned for his run before his departure.

David’s run was marked by a lot of character work, and also a lot of humor. The biggest vote-getters of all David’s artist partners was Dale Keown (he got about 70 of the 484 points), so here is Mike Loughlin specifically talking about their run together, in explaining why he picked Hulk #1 on his list….

When I was 12 years-old, in 1990, I did not care who wrote my comic books. One super-hero comic was interchangeable with another. (I was reading all Marvels at the time) All I cared about was the art. Did the characters look cool? Was the action exciting? Was there lots of detail? (a.k.a. lots of lines) The words were there to move things along, sure, but a Jim Lee comic could have empty word balloons and still be “awesome.”

Certainly, Dale Keown’s art in Incredible Hulk 372 met my criteria. The cover, depicting a snarling green Hulk bursting from a split Banner-grey Hulk face, jumped out at me from the spinner rack. Keown emphasized the Hulk’s bulk and savagery, and made him an unstoppable force within the pages. The souped-up rocket car that tried to capture him stood no chance. Incredible Hulk 372 had the cool look, action, and detailed art I was looking for. It had something else, however, that made it stand out from the other comics I was reading: a story.

The writer of the issue was the first comic book writer’s name I learned: Peter David. In the course of the story, he reintroduced me to Bruce Banner; caught me up on the history of Bruce and his wife, Betty; gave me the lowdown on the grey Hulk; and gave me the return of the favorite comic book character of my childhood, the green Hulk. In between the exposition, mysterious events (who was that Prometheus guy driving the car, and why did he want Banner?), and action, David made me care about the characters. The last scene, in which a helpless Banner watches his wife leave on a train, only to be reunited with her at the last minute, was both an emotionally satisfying conclusion and a teaser that made the next four weeks feel like four months.

From that jumping-on point, I witnessed Betty’s accord with the grey Hulk; an epic (and funny) battle with the Super-Skrull; the return of/ my introduction to Doc Samson, Rick Jones, & Marlo; and the Hulks at war within Banner’s mind. Peter David’s humor and character development made Incredible Hulk the most interesting and mature comic I’d yet read. Dale Keown’s John Byrne meets Jim Lee pencils were perfect for the fights and the carnage, but his knack for facial expressions and body language made his art equally suited to the quieter scenes.

Issue 377 was a milestone- the reader learned why there was a Hulk. Although Bill Mantlo introduced the idea that Banner had been abused as a child, Peter David showed the reader just how his father’s evil and insanity had fractured Bruce’s mind. Keown drew the father as a gruesome monster, blotting out everything else in Banner’s mind scape, and interposed the Hulks into Banner’s memories. Finally, Doc Samson merged all three personalities into a new Hulk. Keown’s almost-human looking Hulk, looming over Betty and grinning maniacally, was startling. The first line David wrote for him (”Honey, I’m home”) was chilling. What would happen next?

I had no idea how Betty could live with this Hulk-Banner hybrid, or if the new Hulk was even sane. Would he revert to the green Hulk’s mindless tantrums? Would he have the grey Hulk’s maliciousness? Would he become a true super-hero, or a bigger menace than ever? David had me hooked.

The events of the next twenty one issues- the Hulk joined an underground organization called the Pantheon, fought wars and villains, and almost ended up losing everything- were less important than the character moments. David wrote villains sympathetically, and made heroes question their actions. The Abomination (wonderfully rendered by Keown as a reptilian body-builder by way of Jonah Hex) wanted nothing more than the love of his wife, and became protector of a homeless community. Rick Jones ends a war, not through heroism but by making an unthinkable decision. The Pantheon members had a wide range of personalities and motivations. Igor, the spy whose duplicity led to the Hulk’s creation, was torn by guilt.Doc Samson struggled to help Banner, and wondered if he made the right decision when he merged Banner’s personalities. The reader knew the Leader was up to no good, but he was so charismatic. The Hulk and Betty (whose transition from perpetual victim to a tough survivor was a high point of David’s run) struggled to understand and accept each other, and a gift of bunny slippers said more than any other super-hero comic’s sloppy speechifying.

David wrote better dialog than his contemporaries. His humor arose out of situational absurdity as much as word-play. Sabra constantly railing against a temporarily mute Hulk about the oppression of her people became laughably over-the-top until the Hulk finally shut her up. The Punisher launched weapon after weapon at “Mr. Fixit,” unable to believe their ineffectiveness. Rick Jones’ explanation for why he carried a parachute with him, the grey Hulk’s fight with The Blob, Dr. Strange’s banter with Namor… Despite the occasional groaner, David was mixed action and humor with aplomb.

Keown’s art knocked me out. He had a good sense of storytelling, and his splash pages were astounding. His art had some of Kirby’s blocky bigness, Byrne’s cartooniness, and Neal Adams’ sense of mood. The Hulk and his foes looked suitably scary; the excellent inking of Bob McCloud and Mark Farmer smoothed out the rough edges while maintaining the scope and detail, but I wonder how the comic would have looked under Keown’s scratchier rendering (as seen on some of the covers). Most of the fill-in artists did very good work. Sam Kieth drew the amazing, surreal issue 368. Bill Jaaska produced a couple Kevin Maguire-esque jobs, perfect for 378’s funny Christmas issue and 380’s moody Doc Samson solo story. Chris Bachalo showed up for half of issue 400, drawing more traditionally than in his current style. Still, the Hulk was Keown’s book, and even the best fill-in felt a little lacking. Subsequent artists, notably Gary Frank and Adam Kubert, did great work on the book, but Keown remains my favorite Hulk artist.

From Hulk 372 to Hulk 373 and beyond, from the spinner rack to the comic book shop, from casual reading to a love of the medium… Peter David’ and Dale Keown’s Hulk was my gateway book, the comic that I read and re-read every month, the comic that seemed to dig a little deeper and hit a little harder than the average four-color fantasy, the comic that taught me to expect more from comic book writers. If I picked another comic book run as a favorite, even Lee’ & Ditko’s classic Spider-Man or Los Bros Hernandez’ groundbreaking Love & Rockets, I’d be lying.

Thanks, Michael!

18. Warren Ellis and John Cassaday’s Planetary - 493 points (7 first place votes)

John B " One of my all time favorite comics. Beautiful art & great storytelling. My only Issue with this Series is that they leave me craving for more. (only 26 issues in 8 years!) any other book with gaps between issues that long would have been dropped by the Third issue, but the Planetary is so much damn fun! where else will you find Stories that explore: Monster Island, Doc Savage, The Shadow, 60's Nick Fury, A senile, malignant Sherlock Holmes working with Dracula, The Ghost of Hong Kong "Hard Boiled" cop & giant radioactive Ants just to name a few, while they solve world conspiracies and Fight an evil Fantastic four bent on selling out the human race to aliens. Loads of fun & highly recommended by yours truly"

Planetary #1-current (#26)

“Archaeologists of the Impossible” is the tagline for the Planetary, and that’s as good of an explanation as anything else, as Warren Ellis and book co-creator, artist John Cassaday, have developed a fascinating look at popular culture with this title that really is a bit of cultural archeology.

The concept of the book is that there is an organization called Planetary, which employs agents to track the secret history of the world, partly for curiosity’s sake, but partly to see if there’s anything that could be learned to help mankind. The book begins with the mysterious Elijah Snow joining two other field agents, Jakita Wagner and The Drummer.

From then on, while there is an overarching storyline that deals with the villainous Four, the book mostly takes each issue to examine a notable popular culture character, like Zorro or Doc Savage or the Lone Ranger of the Fantastic Four or Nick Fury, and so forth. Through these characters (almost all analogues of the originals), Ellis examines the underpinnings of the very genre of superhero comics - notably, what is BEHIND superhero comics? What makes them tick? Stuff like that.

It’s quite engrossing, and Ellis is extremely lucky to have John Cassaday with him doing it all. John Cassaday was a good artist before Planetary began, but it was during his work on Planetary that he became a GREAT artist. The amount of different characters he has to create/emulate is amazing, and yet each issue is like a mini-epic, with beautiful design work and excellent character work, as well.

The series has suffered a few delays, and is currently in a long delay before the latest, and final, issue is released some time this year.

17. Ed Brubaker’s Captain America – 504 points (4 first place votes)

John B " although this also placed a bit too close to #1, it's a great read, check out the trades if you get the chance"

Captain America #1-current (#37)

Ed Brubaker began the current volume of Captain America with quite an opening issue - killing off the Red Skull! Of course, the move was a bit of a feint on Brubaker’s part, but it was still a notable beginning to his title.

The most notable aspect of Brubaker’s run was not a death, but instead, a rebirth - as Brubaker brought back Captain America’s World War II partner, James “Bucky” Barnes, who apparently had been rescued by the Russians, then brainwashed into becoming an assassin for them, who would be kept in cryogenic status between missions, so in the sixty years since they found him, he’s only aged less than ten years (earning him the name the Winter Soldier). Finally, Bucky comes into contact with Steve Rogers, Captain America, and this begins a mission of Rogers to bring Bucky back to the side of the good guys.

After a few other action stories, mostly dealing with the secret plan of the Red Skull (remember what I mentioned about the feint?), Steve is seemingly murdered by his own estranged girlfriend, Sharon Carter, Agent of SHIELD.

Since then, Brubaker has been crafting a story where Bucky slowly comes to terms with Steve’s death and agrees to become the new Captain America. However, the Red Skull’s plans are still going on. Can the new Captain America stop him? We shall see!

There are probably three particularly notable aspects of Brubaker’s run:

1. The artwork by Steve Epting and Mike Perkins - both men bring to the book an interesting, realistic style that they both seemed to have learned while working with the great Butch Guice over at Crossgen. Recently, Guice himself has signed on to be one of the book’s artists, as well, which is a treat.

2. Brubaker’s return to a more realistic, more violent comic - one of the retcons he has established is that the reason Bucky was around was because he was secretly trained as a Black Ops soldier, and he would often go on secret commando missions for the US Government that Captain America had no ideas about. Brubaker compares the violence in his run to Steranko’s Captain America, and the book does seem to evoke those great early Steranko stories.

3. Brubaker has picked out the most notable characters (in his view) from the past of Captain America, and used them ALL in one big swooping story, so you don’t just get Captain America (or the new Captain America), but you get Sharon Carter, Red Skull, Crossbones, Sin, Doctor Faustus, Falcon and Nick Fury. It’s filled to the brim with great, engaging characters.

Let’s hope Brubaker is on the book for a long while.

16. John Byrne’s Fantastic Four – 508 points (7 first place votes)

John B : "One of my childhood faves, loads, of fun, even the so-called "bad" issues had something to offer the reader e.g. Sue Storm & Nick Fury travel back to 1938 Sue has too stop Fury from killing Adolf Hitler and doing damage to the time stream. A much Maligned issue but still a fun read"

Fantastic Four #232-293

A lot of creators have a certain idea in mind when they take over the Fantastic Four, but John Byrne, hot off of his stint co-plotting Uncanny X-Men with Chris Claremont, was one of the few who actually carried out his plan in the comic itself.

Byrne intended to treat his run in a similar manner to what Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did on their original run - take the Fantastic Four to far off new worlds, introduce bizarre new characters, while still re-using the really notable ones like Doctor Doom and Galactus (and yes, Diablo, too), and that’s exactly what Byrne did.

Soon after Byrne took over the book, he was tasked with coming up with a 20th anniversary story, and he came up with a beautiful one with the Fantastic Four trapped in a world by Doctor Doom where they did not have powers. It was quite a touching story.

Then Byrne launched into his first major storyline with the title, a major tale involving Galactus and the Avengers. Byrne introduced many different new alien races during his tenure with the book, but probably his most notable achievements were with the characters he already had, as Byrne did a great deal of character development during his run, specifically the evolution of Sue from the Invisible Girl to the Invisible Woman, having Sue become pregnant but miscarry, having Thing leave the team (to be replaced by the She-Hulk) and having Johnny Storm become involved with the Thing’s erstwhile girlfriend, Alicia Masters. Doctor Doom, who is practically the fifth member of the book, also saw a number of interesting character work via Byrne.

Art-wise, Byrne did a lot of experimenting, with one notable example being the issue where the comic is read horizontally instead of vertically. This “widescreen” approach was used by Marvel a few more times after Byrne.

Sadly, Byrne’s tenure on the book was cut short, but he still ended with a strong five-year run on the title.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The 25-21 Greatest comic runs PART 15 - As per the readers of

John B - I'm Getting a Little Peeved with the Choices being made, even after reviewing the criteria for the list " must be a run from a writer or artist or both on an ongoing title, not a mini or maxi series " there are a lot of Great Runs that I think will be missed or placed to high on the list , I'll give the list the benefit of the doubt...for now.

First I'd like to thank everyone at the CBR especially Brian Cronin for getting all the votes and putting the list together. and to everyone that voted, thanks.

Props Given, Let's take a look:

25. Dave Sim and Gerhard’s Cerebus – 370 points (8 first place votes)

Cerebus #1-300 (Gerhard from #65-300)

Dave Sim’s Cerebus, which stars the short grey-skinned anthropomorphic aardvark, Cerebus, originally debuted as, if not a take-off, at least similar in tone to Steve Gerber’s Marvel comic, Howard the Duck, in that it was an anthropomorphic animal used for satirical purposes. In the original storyline in the late 1970s, Conan the Barbarian was the main target, although other pop culture figures were featured. Cerebus was a hard-living mercenary with little morality who got involved in various adventures.

This changed with the second storyline, the 25-part epic, High Society, where Cerebus gets involved with politics, applying his rough and tumble style to the world of, well, high society. Through this, he ends up becoming Prime Minister, although that does not exactly work out, leading to the massive two-part epic, Church & State, which took about 60 issues, and involved Cerebus becoming Pope.

These stories saw a change in the series to becoming one of the most intelligent ongoing comic book series out there, with a great deal of wit and wisdom.

The rest of the series 300 issues (Sim noted that he would do exactly 300 issues, with Cerebus dying in the last issue) have a series of slightly-less focused stories, although, as the title continued, the work took on an approach more similar to Sim’s own life, which included heavier religious overtones, plus specific attacks upon feminism/homosexualism.

From #65 on, Sim drew the book with artist Gerhard, whose detailed backgrounds were absolutely stunning, and became a major attraction of the series.

Cerebus never stopped doing parodies, though, and throughout the run, comics and pop culture and life, in general, were given parody treatment (The Punisher and Sandman being two notable examples).

In 2004, the series ended, as promised, with issue #300.

Sim is currently set for a new comic book series!!

24. Garth Ennis’ Punisher – 389 points (5 first place votes)

The Punisher #1-12, The Punisher #1-37, Punisher MAX #1-current (#56) plus Punisher: Born #1-4 and a bunch of one-shots

As famous as the Punisher is, do note that when Garth Ennis took over the character, Marvel was not even PUBLISHING a Punisher comic, and the last revival attempt involved the Punisher working as an Avenging Angel for Heaven fighting against demons with supernatural weapons.

So Garth Ennis was taking on a bit of a challenge when he and fellow Preacher creator, Steve Dillon, took on the character in 2000 with an initial 12-issue mini-series, “Welcome Back, Frank,” which quickly dispensed of the Angel approach, instead bringing a dark sense of humor to the comic. The result was a sales success, and Ennis and Dillon (and later a series of other artists, including Ennis’ fellow Hitman creator, John McCrea) continued the humorous approach on a Punisher ongoing series, with diminishing results, until the series ended after 37 issues. Then Ennis’ greatest work with the character began, with the creation of Punisher MAX, a serious look at the character, which (since it is a MAX title, or otherwise, an R-Rated comic) included a great deal of graphic violence and graphic language, but also a great deal of stunning character work (with new supporting characters added to the cast), engaging storylines, and a rich connected story that, with Ennis’ run now coming to a close, the whole 60 issue or so run reads like one big story.

It is a fascinating, and powerful work.

The artwork for the series has been by a few different artists, but mostly Leandro Fernandez and Goran Parlov.

Reader David Germano (who, sadly, refused to let me post his phone number and SSN here) gave me his reasons for why Punisher was his #1 choice…

I’m going to start this out by admitting that Garth Ennis ranks among my favorite authors, comics or otherwise, and is the main reason I’m still reading comics today. I will always love and respect the work of Gaiman and Moore, but it was Preacher that got me back into reading comics and invested in the idea of serialized storytelling, and almost all of my comics collection of the past 10 years can be traced back to the day I picked up the first two trades of Preacher on a whim.

That said, for me, Punisher MAX is Ennis’s masterpiece. It’s some of the tightest, best-paced writing he’s ever done, and despite not having a single artist to define the run, he’s had an amazing group of artists to work with, ranging from lesser-known artists like Leandro Fernandez and Goran Parlov - who turn in some of the best work of their careers here - to legends like Howard Chaykin, Richard Corben, and even John Severin.

It was a hard decision for me to come to, because I’ve loved the experiences of reading and rereading Preacher, Hitman, and much of Ennis’s canon again and again, and much of what I loved about those series was their overall sense of hope. Preacher ends with all of its protagonists escaping their past and finding redemption. Tommy may die at the end of Hitman, but he dies without compromising his principles, he dies with his closest friend, and he finally finds a kind of peace. By contrast, Punisher is a series devoid of hope. Frank Castle is a man who willingly places himself beyond redemption, who endeavors to bury anything human inside himself. What sets it apart is that moreso than any other of Ennis’s work, I’ve found myself unable to stop thinking about the series whenever I put an issue down.

Ennis takes what should be a one-note character and mines a surprising amount of depth and poignancy from what could in lesser hands be little more than a murderous caricature. We see sides of Castle rarely seen before in such installments as Born and The Tyger, which show Castle’s upbringing and his first steps down the path leading him to become the Punisher (and just who was it Frank said “yes” to?) Meanwhile, we see poignant flashes of humanity and the life Frank left behind in such arcs as Mother Russia, and The Long Cold Dark, not to mention last two pages of The Slavers (which show the life left to a woman freed from the titular villains, and to this day they rank among the most heartbreaking sequences I’ve ever seen in comics.)

This is a relentlessly dark series, largely devoid of the humor that made the carnage of Ennis’s previous Marvel Knights runs of Punisher more palatable, but not entirely without comedy. Kitchen Irish and Barracuda both touch on the black humor Ennis is famous for, although admittedly interspersed with far more disturbing violence. Meanwhile, on the more somber side of the series, Man of Stone ranks up there with Ennis’s Avatar series 303 as the closest he has come to capturing the tone of Cormac McCarthy, of whom Ennis is an admitted fan. After the massive shootout that we have been expecting comes early, the sudden, anticlimactic brutality that exemplifies the deaths of all the major and players both satisfies and cheats our expectations for them. We know they are going to die, but we never expect how random, how inevitable, and how ultimately unsatisfying those deaths are. Varick, an outsider to this world, is killed before he can even start to pursue his expose on Zakharov, Dolnovich dies before he even knows the fight between him and Rawlins has begun, Zakharov is crippled by Rawlins and killed with a rock by Frank, and O’Brien is randomly killed by a landmine. Even Rawlins, one of the most heinous recurring villains of the series to that point, dies on a bathroom floor, unable to comprehend how he could find himself in a situation he couldn’t talk his way out of. As in McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, we are shown a world of violence, where anyone who participates must pay the price, with Frank as a barely sympathetic version of Chigurh, the force of nature that persists on, walking away from everything at the end of the day regardless of wounds.

And among the darkness and sheer brutality of this series, we are shown again and again that only Frank Castle can live this life, only he can deal with this darkness. Widowmaker and The Long Cold Dark serves as a series of unrelentingly brutal tales that remind of us just how dark, just how horrible this world is, and just what kind of a person Castle has to be to deal with it. Widowmaker shows Budiansky and Jenny Cesare’s reactions in the face of Castle’s world and their own struggles to deal with their desires for vengeance in the face of their lives being destroyed. Jenny embraces it to the point of self-destruction and Budiansky turns away from it to find some small measure of hope with what is left of his life, but tellingly, both of their final lines of dialogue are rejections of Frank’s quest. Meanwhile, The Long Cold Dark features what is in my mind the greatest cliffhanger I’ve ever read (nothing I’ve experienced in reading comics can compare to waiting a month between issue #52 and #53,) and both series take their conclusions to unimaginable acts of violence, whether it be Jenny Cesare’s killing of Annabella Gorrini or Frank’s execution of Barracuda. The darkness, the violence of this world demands extreme measures, and Frank’s ability to thrive in this world is made all the more poignant by O’Brien’s presence tying Punisher MAX to Hitman. This is the same world of that killed Tommy Monaghan because he clung to his humanity, and the precise reason why Frank Castle survives in it is because of his drive, his constant endeavors to be something less than human.

Finally, with The End, Ennis takes the series and the character to its inevitable conclusion, as Frank Castle kills the members of an Illuminati-like society, single-handedly bringing the extinction of the human race following a nuclear war.

It’s a dark, ugly series for a dark, ugly world. It’s violent, thought-provoking, and ultimately heart-breaking. With his run on The Punisher MAX, Ennis and his collaborators has given us a front row seat to the heart of darkness and the definitive comic book portrait of the urban vigilante.

Thanks, David!

23. Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson’s Transmetropolitan – 418 points (11 first place votes)

Transmetropolitan #1-60

Originally a part of a failed new line of comics (Helix), Transmetropolitan was soon the only comic left standing, and moved to Vertigo, where creators Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson told the adventures of journalist Spider Jerusalem (a tribute to the founder of “gonzo journalist,” the late Hunter S. Thompson) for five eventful years.

The basic concept of the series was simple - famed writer Spider Jerusalem has disappeared for five years, living a hermit existence, until the money he was paid in advance for writing two books dries up, and since he doesn’t have the books written, to avoid lawsuits, he returns to his job as a journalist to support himself while he finishes the books - and in the process, becomes involved in the life of The City once again.

The book is set in the future, although most of the events of the comic shadow events of the past, usually events from when Thompson first began reporting (so the late 60s/early 70s). Jerusalem has two female assistants who he refers to as his “filthy assistants.” The series is mostly built around the audience enjoying Jerusalem, so here is the explanation reader Camilio Maheca gave for why Spider was his #1 pick in the Top Characters vote I had last year:

Well…Spider is the only cynic who can afford to give a damn, a sick miserable bastard that nobody should like (but hell…you can’t help but like him, he’s fun to watch). Screw the role models; in a future that smells as bad as our present, he represents the piss-off voice of the people who cant speak for themselves, (usually in a blasphemous fashion)

The series ended with a very cool twist ending.

22. Bill Willingham’s Fables – 428 points (6 first place votes)

Fables #1-current (#71)

Fables is Bill Willingham’s epic story concerning the adventures of the inhabitants of Fabletown, all characters who come from fairy tales and folklore, like Snow White, the Big Bad Wolf, Little Red Riding Hood, etc.

They live in Fabletown because they were driven out of the magical world that they used to live in (called the Homelands), by an evil villain known as the Adversary, who has conquered most of the Homelands.

The early stories followed mostly Snow White, who was the aide to the Mayor of Fabletown (Old King Cole) and Bigby Wolf (the Big Bad Wolf), who was the Sheriff of Fabletown, and their Sam and Diane relationship.

Later storylines revolve around the inevitable war between Fabletown and the Adversary’s forces.

While the storylines of the book result in the basic framework of the comic, the key to the book is the character work that writer Bill Willingham does with the characters. To this end, he was greatly helped by the addition to the book of artist Mark Buckingham with the second storyline (with some breaks here and there, Buckingham has remained the artist of the book ever since), whose attention to characterization is perhaps his greatest artistic talent.

Willingham slowly develops characters, and moves them from small roles to big roles without any real warning, so pretty much every character in Fables could be considered the star of the book. In fact, Snow White and Bigby Wolf are currently relatively minor characters in the comic after being the clear leads for the first part of the title.

The book is currently gearing up for a major storyline, so now wouldn’t be a bad time to start picking it up!

21. Grant Morrison’s Animal Man – 430 points (13 first place votes)

Animal Man #1-26

When Grant Morrison started on Animal Man, the character was such a minor hero that even Morrison’s intriguing take on the character was only approved for a four-issue mini-series. However, once the series came out, the response was so positive that it was quickly turned into an ongoing series, which Morrison would work on for 26 issues, with artwork by Chas Truog and Tom Grummett (in some of his earliest comic book work!).

The two most remembered aspects of Morrison’s run were his work with environmentalism (which Animal Man, who gains his powers by a connection to animals, was obviously a big proponent of) and metafiction.

The former led to the classic issue where Animal Man is about to kill a guy who was mass-murdering animals, until a dolphin saves him, explaining that dolphins don’t believe in revenge. During these early issues, Morrison also had Animal Man encounter a number of other animal-themed heroes, such as Vixen, B’wana Beast and Dolphin.

The latter led to the concluding arc, which involved characters in limbo, the acknowledgement that DC’s Crisis had actually happened and that there used to be a different continuity, and even an introduction between Animal Man and Morrison himself, who discussed the problems Morrison had given Animal Man during the series.

Probably the backbone of the series, though, was Animal Man’s status as an “Everyman” figure. Buddy Baker had a wife and two children, and he was a lot more normal than other superheroes (which is presumably why Morrison tried to downplay Animal Man becoming a member of Justice League Europe).

By the time Morrison was finished, he took a hero who was so forgettable that he was even in a group CALLED the Forgotten Heroes, and made him a stalwart member of the DC Universe.