The Most Wonderful Stories of the Year

Dec-18-08

Ah, do you smell the chestnuts roasting on the open fire? Is Jack Frost nipping at your nose? Do you hear yuletide carols being sung by a choir? Are folks near you dressed up like eskimos?

If you answered yes to those questions, then it must be Christmastime in your land! Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, there’s no denying that the holiday has a tremendous importance in much of the world, especially in America. It’s become the one day of the year where most of the country shuts down, so if you’re not out there celebrating Christmas, you’re probably pretty bored on December 25th. It’s also hard to avoid the decorations, the songs, and the Christmas episodes which air in so many television series. Comics, never an industry to pass up a trend, has also published Christmas stories, dating all the way back to Christmases in the Golden Age of Comics.

Yes, there’s Superman, trying to help Santa by shoving him down the chimney. It seems that, if Superman is successful, he’s likely to destroy this poor family’s chimney. Perhaps Santa’s bringing them a new Hydro-Thermal heating unit, so they don’t need that chimney anymore. I’m also thinking that Santa may end up with some broken bones. But, the point is, that Christmas has been showing up in comics since the medium was invented. Look, even that current comics curmudgeon Batman had the Christmas spirit back then!

Some readers may be confused by this cover, and the odd drawing of Batman’s face. What he’s doing is smiling. I know. I’ve never seen it before either. Apparently he’s amused by making the old man and the little kid lug around all those toys, while he gets to mosey along, completely unencumbered. And people said Superman was a dick.

Throughout the Golden Age and some of the Silver Age of comics, it wasn’t unusual to find at least one Christmas story in the titles of your favorite heroes during the holiday season. After all, many of these books had more than one story an issue, and continuity wasn’t very well maintained. However, when Marvel started tracking continuity in their comics during the 1960s, it became more difficult to do Christmas stories on a regular basis. After all, a year’s worth of comic stories might only take 2-3 weeks for the hero featured within them, if that long. If Marvel started printing Christmas stories every December, it would seem like their heroes were celebrating Christmas every month! DC soon encountered the same problem when they began to track continuity more closely. However, both companies realized that there was an audience for holiday stories, and if they couldn’t tell them in the regular books (which they would still do, just not that often), they’d publish special books just for that purpose. That is indeed what they did, and both have published Holiday Specials with some regularity ever since.

So, over the years, both companies have published a wide array of Christmas stories. Many of them have been quite good, and some have come from some unusual sources. In 1980, before he became the well known writer and artist that he is today, Frank Miller wrote and drew a Batman Christmas story for that year’s DC Christmas special. It’s a very short tale (as most of the Christmas tales were) and was entitled “Wanted: Santa Claus-Dead or Alive!” Sadly, while not a bad story, this one’s not nearly as exciting as the name suggested it might be. It mostly focuses on a department store Santa who has a checkered past and wants to go straight, but gets pulled into a heist on Christmas Eve. The story has a happy ending (as most Christmas tales do) and even includes the tease of a Christmas miracle. It’s nice to read it, just to see a time when Batman was portrayed as somewhat grim, but not a total psycho. It’s almost impossible to reconcile this portrayal of Batman with Miller’s later work on the character though.

Miller was obviously a fan of drawing people in Santa outfits, since he went back to that well in Daredevil, during his “Born Again” storyline. In that story, Turk, a minor punk that Miller had created for his run on the book, steals a Santa suit, hoping to get some money from strangers who would think he was collecting for charity. When an insane Matt Murdock sees this, he confronts Turk, only to be knifed by the punk and almost killed. Ah, now that’s the Frank Miller we all know and love!

The list of holiday stories is long and varied. Have any of them stayed in your memory?

Short answer? No. Not a single one. I mean, I have vague memories of Christmas-themed things, but I can’t place any of them or give specific details. I do know that this book is mixed in among my myriad longboxes:

It was an oversized issue that had a bunch of very short stories in it, some reprints of older material, lists of holiday stories from Marvel’s early days and even a page of Christmas carols rewritten with X-men-based lyrics. Exciting, no? There was a tale about Punisher redistributing drug money to the needy. Thor fighting some trolls while his dad lied about being Santa. And Captain Ultra (WTF?) fighting off Plantman in order to save everyone’s Christmas trees. LAME.


And I can’t believe that John didn’t mention the GLX-Mas Special that came out a few years ago and featured the Great Lakes Avengers a presented by Dan Slott. I know John is a big fan of the GLA. Sadly, there wasn’t anything aobut this comic that really stood out as “memorable” or even “good.” Wait, I take that back. MODOK makes an appearance. That’s always memorable (but not always good).

I know there are some others that I’m forgetting. Comics have a way of trying to drill home those “true meaning of the holiday” messages as often as they can. I’m sure there’s a Spider-Man story about helping out a little kid in a hospital or something about the Justice League helping an orphanage fight the evil utility man who keeps turning off their heat. And I know for a fact that there have been about four dozen modern comic interpretations of Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Bah Humbug, J. Jonah Jameson!

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the Tick’s Big Yule Log Special. It’s a glorious flip book. One side features a story where Tick and Arthur are hired to play mall Santas and get caught up in an evil elf’s revenge plot. The other side of the book shows us how Arthur tries to teach the Tick the true meaning of Hanukkah. Brings a tear to my eye every time.

Of course, my favorite bit of holiday comics lore has no tie to the season or really any particular day for that matter. It’s something that has been around for decades and still shines as one of the greatest catchphrases in modern pop culture: Luke Cage’s “Sweet Christmas!” exclamation.

Sweet Christmas, indeed.


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Comic Book Predictions for 2009

Dec-15-08

Here at “Meanwhile…Comics!”, we’ve spent the past year talking about what we would do differently with the characters and titles found in the Marvel and DC universes. It’s been fun to play editor-after-the-fact. However, if we want to be true editors of a comic book world, we need to learn to plan ahead as well. So, John and I thought this would be a good opportunity to take a peek into the future and see what 2009 may hold for our favorite Marvel and DC characters. I’ll kick off the festivities and then John can comment on my thoughts and add some of his own (you guys know the drill). In 2009, I predict…

1. MODOK will make a comeback. Granted, this freak has been the butt of many jokes in the past year or two, but he used to be leader (many times over) of AIM and one of Captain America’s most visually interesting foes. The way Ed Brubaker is scrolling through the early Cap bad guys…Red Skull, Doctor Faustus, Arnim Zola…he’s bound to get to MODOK sooner than later. And then, we can expect dramatic comebacks from the likes of The Stranger, Solarr, Monster Ape, Yellow Claw, The Tumbler and The Alchemoid. Classics all.

2. DC will go through yet another crisis. And the Internet will weep. And no one will understand what’s going on. And the whole thing will center around an epic battle between Bat-Mite and Streaky the Super Cat. The plot will get leaked to someone’s blog and then Dan DiDio will spend four months rejiggering the whole thing so that Bat-Mite ends up either torn in half or stuffed in a refrigerator (or, in his case, a little Coleman cooler). Tears will fall. Heroes will rise up. No one will notice.

3. Wasp will come back from the dead. And so will Steve Rogers and Bruce Wayne and Martian Manhunter and Orion and everyone else who went down this year. Are you shocked yet? I’m even going to go out on a limb and say that Mockingbird will die again, just so Bendis can mess with Hawkeye a little bit more. Jerk.

4. Some second tier characters will get their own titles. And then get them cancelled. I’m looking at you, Dakota North! Oh, what’s that? You already had a title that no one bothered to read? Never mind then. Now I’m looking at you, Nth Man! What? Really?? Oh. Well, maybe She-Hulk will get her own title again. Fingers crossed.

5. Frank Miller and Rob Liefeld will collaborate. In the crossover, Batman and Shatterstar will carry really big guns, swear a lot, and constantly look like they’re in pain (either through their expressions or the fact that they have teeny, tiny ankles and ginormously huge upper body structure). Oh, and the whole thing will be presented in vivid black & white…because, you know, that never gets old.

That’s five things off the top of my head. I predict that John will inspire more sarcasm in me. What do you predict?

Well, it’s certainly hard to argue with the prediction that the dead in comics will rise again. I’d also go ahead and add Shadowcat to your list, as I’m sure she’ll return from her Joss Whedon-penned demise in short order (at least I’d hope so, as she’s one of the few truly interesting members of the X-Men). It’s also certainly hard to argue with DC having another Crisis. I know this one is called Final Crisis, but who really believes that?

Here are some other predictions:

1. Brian Michael Bendis will suffer fatigue from writing 75% of the titles Marvel produces and his scripts will show it: Oh, I’m sorry, that happened in 2006. I’m supposed to be looking to the future. I do, however, feel that he will continue to be one of the guiding lights behind the Marvel Universe, that his writing will continue to avoid hitting the heights it did back when he wrote only a few fringe books, and that I will continue to avoid purchasing most Marvel titles for this very reason.

2. Mark Millar will unveil his latest brainstorm: Ultimate Midnighter and Ultimate Apollo!: In an attempt to breathe life back into the Ultimate Universe, Mark Millar will introduce Ultimate Midnighter and Apollo into that world. Once there, they will become members of the Ultimates, leading that team to new heights of debauchery and pathetic attempts to incite readers with cheap sensationalistic antics. Ultimate Captain America will prove to be a giant homophobe and will fight with them both, eventually ending when Apollo sodomizes him at which point Cap will see the error of his ways and shack up with Ultimate Colossus.

3. Spider-Girl will be relaunched and then re-cancelled. Twice. Which is a pretty safe bet any year.

4. Dan Didio will make internet fandom arise against him in anger when he decides that the DC Universe needs to kill off Captain Marvel. “He’s really just another Superman, right? I’ve never seen the point of him. He’s redundant.”

5. Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction will launch a new title, “Raging Razorback”, will will become a huge critical darling. “We can make any previously unimportant D list hero relevant and exciting,” Brubaker will say in an interview on Newsarama. The book will indeed, launch to much critical and commercial success, which will last for eight months, when both creators will then leave the book to work on a relaunch of El Aguila. Some poor relative unknown will be tapped to replace them, and Razorback’s title will quickly fade from view. However, I declare 2010 to be the year of El Aguila!

Oh, snap! Those are some good ones. The Bendis point is so true it’s ridiculous. Everyone seems to hint that Bendis will be Quesada’s replacement as Editor-in-Chief eventually. What a horrible day that will be in the Marvel U. Everyone…will…yeah, but…well, you know…we can…we can all start, y’know, start…talking like…um…like, y’know, this? Or…yeah. Yes.

I’m not sure DiDio will get to Captain Marvel in 2009 though. He still has to do long division on the rest of the former Robins, a couple Green Arrows, three Flashes, at least two Atoms and a generous handful of Green Lanterns. Captain Marvel might get pushed to 2010.

I absolutely LOVE the Brubaker/Fraction reference. So true. And, so help me, I’d happily buy every issue of Raging Razorback. Y’know…until the scrub creative team takes over.

That reminds me of a few more things I can predict for 2009…

1. Someone will finally sell an Aquaman pitch. And that lucky devil will be Grant Morrison. The book will be described as “Lovecraft with sex pirates,” the art will be provided by Frank Quitely, and the first issue will come out 22 months after the book is announced. Critics will rejoice. Fans will scurry for their dictionaries. And, somehow, Morrison will win a Nobel Prize for literature. He’ll accept the award in a shiny suit and then disappear from the stage in a puff of smoke.

2. The TV-to-comics writer trend will continue. 2009 will see the debut of three titles that take place in a hospital, four that deal with scientist cops, one that features a law firm and one that has some sort of weird sci-fi vibe but just gets more convoluted and confusing as it progresses. Pretty soon, readers will give up on it all and start turning to the serialized versions of Survivor and The Amazing Race. The Comic Writers Strike of 2009 will come to a head with Deal or No Deal: The Comic Book (which will immediately be optioned by Sony for a three-picture deal).

3. All the superhero tropes will make an appearance. Someone will be resurrected. Someone will lose their memory. A plot will turn out to be a vividly bad dream. Another plot will turn out to have taken place in a different dimension. Time travel will solve someone’s problems. A bad guy will have his “lifeforce’ transferred to another body a split second before his current body is destroyed. Certain characters will die in one title, only to pop up in another as if nothing ever happened and nothing is explained. One hero will secretly wear the costume of another hero. There will be an evil twin…with a goatee and, preferably, an eyepatch. An older sister will turn out to be someone’s mother instead. Someone will cheat on someone else with their brother…and get pregnant! Wow…those last few went into soap opera territory, didn’t they?

4. Wolverine will get three more titles. And, right before his movie debuts, he’ll show up in crossovers with Hulk, Punisher, Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, Iron Man, Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, Thunderbolts, Captain Britain, Anita Blake, Dark Tower and even the Marvel Illustrated version of The Man in the Iron Mask.

5. DC will slip to #3 in sales. This will happen when Dark Horse signs a licensing deal for a Harry Potter vs. Twilight series. Geeks worldwide will suddenly realize that Dark Horse publishes books featuring Hellboy, Star Wars, Buffy, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Serenity and pretty much every other popular genre-based character and Eliza Dushku role outside the superhero realm. The mainstream media will try to make a story out of the fact that comics exist that aren’t based around male power fantasies. A few people will take note, but aging fanboys will rally against the minimally perked popular interest, decrying these new books as “dumb” and the people who read them as “idiots.” The world will realize what socially repressed assholes the core comic readership is comprised of, the potential excitement will die away and superhero comics will continue to shrink in both quality and reach. Everyone will be happy. Hooray!

Have I mentioned lately how much I enjoy reading comics? Just wanted to reinforce that.

I would so read that Aquaman book.

I can’t wait to read more Wolverine titles. With his three monthlies, plus his appearances in multiple X-Men titles and Avengers affairs, I simply don’t feel that we’re seeing enough of him. With a major motion picture coming out next year, I don’t understand why Marvel doesn’t capitalize on this underused character. Perhaps the launch of Spectacular Wolverine, Wolverine: The Best There Is At What He Does and Superfluous Wolverine, will help to fill the gap and will help draw non-comics readers into comics shops after the movie is a hit. Oh wait. No, that won’t work, since all of those books will be cynical, angry books, mired in years of confusing continuity that would take ten years to understand. My bad.

My crystal ball is clouding over, but I do have a few more predictions for next year:

1. Usagi Yojimbo will continue to be an amazing comic, with spectacular writing, good art, and it will appear on a regular monthly schedule. It’s creator, writer and artist, Stan Sakai, with perform this feat, amazing in and of itself, while still finding time to do another few odd projects, such as lettering a Groo miniseries for Dark Horse. Comic book scientists will still be unable to distill and bottle this amazing man, and other comics creators will still be unable to duplicate his feats.

2. The third issue of Kevin Smith’s Batman book will not ship. Look for it in 2011. It will still suck.

3. Peter David will launch a new series starring Hawkeye, a popular character who has had his own series in the past, but never seems to be able to keep one long term. The series will be smartly written. It will have humor, but will also handle serious subjects. It will be popular with critics and get good reviews. It will have strong art, with clean storytelling and a sense of fun. It will be cancelled within the first two years.

4. Judd Winick will start writing another three titles in the DCU. Characters in those titles will note that instances of rape, general violence and needless slaughter increase by 150%.

5. The comics industry will continue to hemorrage readers, while the leaders in the industry refuse to consider alternate business strategies that would keep the artform alive in the longterm. Oh, how I wish I had a punchline for this one.

And, I’m spent.

Hey! Don’t throw Hawkeye under the bus like that! X-Factor hasn’t been cancelled (again) yet, has it? It’s funny that we assign certain traits to certain writers. If the characters were actually living and breathing members of a contained universe, do you think they’d be having water cooler conversations about who’s handling their writing duties?

Fade in on Hulk, Moon Knight and Ms. Marvel talking in the break room of a nondescript office building. Iron Man approaches with a casual saunter.

IRON MAN: What’s up, homeslices?

HULK: Have you seen Spidey?

IRON MAN: Nah. Kid’s a square. Too angsty for me.

MOON KNIGHT: Pfft. Not anymore. Bendis got a hold of him for some event comic. Poor Petey is talking like a fry cook with a head injury. Takes ten minutes to say hello.

MS. MARVEL: That’s so sad. Did you hear that Peter David is taking over my book?

IRON MAN: Well, it was nice knowing you!

Everyone laughs.

HULK: You’re lucky. I’ve got two titles right now. One with Slott and one with Claremont. I wake up in the morning and I don’t know if I’m supposed to be bashing stuff and throwing out clever quips or if I’m just supposed to be standing around delivering panel-cramping monologues about my feelings and every relationship I’ve ever had.

The group nods their heads in agreement. Just then, Green Arrow walks into the room. He’s looking around confusedly.

GREEN ARROW: Anyone seen Batman?

HULK: Last I saw him, Kevin Smith had called him into his office. But that was six months ago.

MOON KNIGHT: Anyone know what Smith’s doing with that whole Daredevil/Bullseye thing? I swear he’s got bodies buried under the floorboards.

Hercules storms into the room. He whips his coffee mug across the room and imbeds it in the wall.

HERCULES: Goddamn, Millar! Even I don’t have enough muscles to keep up with these redundant fight scenes!

GREEN ARROW: Hey, just be glad you’re not part of the Legion! I hear Winick took over that book and now they only have four members left. Freakin’ bloodbath. Families. Friends. Pets. Raped and dismembered. I hear they only found chunks of some of the Substitute Heroes. I don’t know what refrigerators look like in the 31st century, but they must hold a lot.

Ms. Marvel starts crying. Moon Knight moves over to comfort her.

IRON MAN: I miss the good ol’ days. Stan Lee couldn’t write for crap, but at least we all got home in one piece.

HULK: And almost everyone’s name rhymed too. Big help.

HERCULES: Yeah. So…what do you guys think about Grant Morrison?

IRON MAN: I hear he turned Wonder Woman into a dude. And an astronaut. S/he can see into the future now.

MOON KNIGHT: Hmph. Lucky break. Sales ought to go through the roof on that one.

Fade out.

Sigh…I’d take one meticulous, thoughtful Stan Sakai over a hundred Judd Winicks any day.


Wolverine: Convolution is His Middle Name.

Nov-12-08

They say he’s the best there is at what he does and what he does is…well, it’s kind of confusing, really.

Created by Len Wein, Wolverine, for all his bluster and bombast, is perhaps one of the most enigmatic characters Marvel has ever foisted upon the public. Initially, his vague background, vicious attitude and general bad-assery quickly took him to the top of the “Awesome Scale” and into the hallowed territory of Predator, Mad Max, Boba Fett, William Shatner and Patrick Swayze in Road House (but NOT Dirty Dancing).

However, since the early days, Marvel has managed to overexpose, overexplain, overuse, overdo, overwhelm and overcompensate for the character in his continued exploits. Even though his official “origin” has been published and well-received, I still can’t honestly tell you anything about him. It’s baffling. Here’s what we may or may not know: His name is James Howlett, but everyone calls him Logan. He’s a mutant from Canada but he fought alongside Captain America in World War 2. He’s been tortured, brainwashed and abused. He used to have bone claws, but those were replaced with an indestructible metal skeleton, which was then removed by Magneto. The bone claws returned, but now he’s back to metal again. He has a ridiculous healing factor, and yet he used to have an eyepatch and a stump hand and lived as a pseudo-pirate on an island in the Pacific called Madripoor. I’m pretty sure he was married, or getting married, to a Japanese girl at one point. He has connections to nearly everyone in the Marvel Universe except Howard the Duck (give it time). And it certainly didn’t help things when the Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends cartoon portrayed Wolverine with an Australian accent. Sheesh.

Seriously. What the hell?

Look, I’ll admit that I was particularly enamored with Wolverine when he first appeared in the reborn Uncanny X-Men title. And the miniseries that Chris Claremont and Frank Miller threw together was pretty darn awesome. Something happened in the meantime to change my mind though. He started guest-starring in every title from Amazing Spider-Man to Get Along Gang. His character got boring. The whole feudal Japan thing. The secret Weapon X experiments that keep being changed and retold to explain continuity problems. Don’t even get me started on Patch. And the completely outrageous concept that his healing factor can rebuild his entire body from skeletal remains after being at ground zero of a nuclear explosion. It almost makes me laugh. Wolverine is the only character who could relax by smoking a cigar on the surface of the sun.

Aside from completely removing him from the 72 Marvel titles he appears in each month, what else could we do to tone down Wolverine’s image and make him interesting again?

This could be a long one…

How very interesting. We may be two of the only fanboys out there who don’t really like Wolverine, although I can say that I never really liked the character, even when he was first introduced. You say that we can’t limit his appearances as a way to make him interesting again, and you may be right, but I think limiting those appearances in some way is absolutely essential. We discussed overexposing a character somewhat when we discussed the Joker, but we didn’t really delve into it. I actually have quite a rant on that very topic, but I’ll save it for another time and place, especially since this is likely to run long anyway. I will only say that Wolverine is much too overexposed and he needs to be seen less. However, whether that happens or not, there are other areas we need to explore with Wolverine if we’re going to make him a good, viable character again.

I see two immediate problems with Wolverine, which spring to mind. The first is that Wolverine, when first introduced, was the cool guy, the Fonzie of the X-Men. He was a rebel, he was slick, and he had some style. This was all well and good, but as Wolverine became more popular, he stopped being just a slick guy and became incapable of showing weakness or making a mistake. He’s the most macho, most perfect man in comics. He can’t do wrong. He can’t BE wrong. If there’s an argument, you better believe that Wolverine’s opinion is the writer’s opinion, and whatever he’s saying, with his decades (centuries? millennium?) of life and experience, is what the writer wants the reader to believe and support. There’s simply no dramatic tension involving this character anymore; if he’s in a fight, he’ll win, no matter how many villains or how powerful they are; if he’s in an argument, he’ll win, even if he’s debating nuclear physics with Reed Richards; if he’s playing tiddlywinks, he’s sure to come out on top!

The second problem I have with him somewhat relates to the first, and that’s the fact that he’s simply too powerful. When first introduced, Wolverine had enhanced senses, metal claws, and a decent healing factor. All of these powers have been ramped up since his early appearances, which is something of the norm for comics (and it’s something I’ve mentioned before when discussing Marvel Comics). Sadly though, his powers have gone off the charts. I could complain about his fighting skills becoming legendary, or his enhanced senses allowing him to track dust mites across a desert, but it’s his healing factor which is completely out of control. In the 1970s and 1980s, Wolverine could be taken down if he took sufficient damage, and he wasn’t getting up anytime soon. It was also obvious that too much damage could kill him. As the years wore on, he began to regenerate quicker, and from more serious injuries. This may have reached it’s most preposterous heights in his comic during Civil War, when he had all of his flesh and organs seared off and was reduced to a skeleton by Nitro. A skeleton! Yes, he had no brain, no heart, no lungs….he was just a skeleton. And he regenerated to normal! This is ridiculously powerful and it has to stop.

Of course, there are other problems with Wolverine. I think that any strong book needs a supporting cast, and Wolverine doesn’t have one. This could be because he was never intended as a solo character; he was a supporting character himself, and he was a loner. When he got his own title, it became difficult to fit a cast around him, since it didn’t fit his persona. He also has little in the way of a rogues gallery; since his first instinct is to kill his enemies, it’s hard to keep them around for long. His biggest foe is Sabretooth, who’s almost as overexposed as Wolverine himself. It’s also obvious that no one knows quite what to do with Wolverine; he’s Canadian, but that’s rarely shown. He might mention it, but we don’t get the feeling that he belongs to another culture. As you mentioned, he’s shown an obsession with Japanese culture, which doesn’t seem to fit with his personality, and seems to have been added only because it’s considered cool. He has too much in his past; he’s been a soldier, a secret agent, an experiment, as assassin….he wants to be all things to all people, but that’s simply not possible.

So, that’s the problems I see. Now the question is, can we solve these problems?

Can we rebuild him? Do we have the technology? (Why do I feel like I’ve used the Six Million Dollar Man joke before…Iron Man revamp maybe?) Perhaps I should switch to a Vanilla Ice reference instead? “If you’ve got a problem, yo, I’ll solve it…”

Right.

You’ve honed in on the exact points I was glossing over in my opening rant. Too perfect. Too powerful. No sense of conflict. No real sense of danger for him. No friends. No threats. And just a jumble of history that feels like the comic book version of that Katamari Damancy video game where you roll around the world and stuff sticks to you. All in all, stripping Wolverine back down to something interesting and useful is a truly daunting and bloated assignment. And I’m not sure it can be done without taking a few giant leaps of faith. Things are going to have to be retconned, ignored and just outright forgotten.

One of the main things we must do is provide some sort of weakness, both in his powers and in his personality. I hate to think we need to introduce a villain that he can’t handle, because that would just be piling more nonsense on top of the already existing nonsense, but there needs to be a person or an event that diminishes Wolverine vastly. Something fairly monumental, I’m guessing. Or maybe not. Maybe the best course of action would be to have this take place over a length of time?

Clearly, heroes are much more fun to follow when you’re not sure if they’re able to get out of the precarious situations they find themselves plopped into. Wolverine’s bulldozer-like presence takes any of that sense of tension away. That Nitro incident is something I always point to when people talk about the silliness in superhero books (well, that and the whole Spider Clone thing…and Superboy punching the walls of reality…and…). His freaking brain was gone. Poof! There’s no function left there, nothing that could possibly trigger any defense mechanism or healing ability. And yet he reassembled like that dude from Terminator 2. Wait, I take that back. That guy was actually able to be stopped.

I look at it this way: If Bullseye happens to fling a toothpick straight through Wolverine’s eyeball, and he gets it at just the right angle that it sinks into his brain, then Wolverine should be dead. Forget the adamantium-laced skeleton. There’s nothing in the physiology of a humanoid being that would protect the soft tissues like that. If that lame villain Machete just happened to take a swing at the back of Wolvie’s neck and he managed to find the exact spot where two of his vertabrae came together and his blade was thin enough to slide through and sever the brain stem, then Mr. James Howlett would cease to be. Simple as that. I don’t care about past procedure at Marvel, dead is dead.

And knowing that, Wolverine would be more cautious, more tactful and possibly just a bit more reserved. We wouldn’t have the constant know-it-all, done-it-all attitude.

I’m not going to delve into enemies and supporting cast right now, because I think that it’s important that we discuss his ties to the X-Men first. This is his inner circle of family and friends, for what it’s worth. Let’s not concentrate on his solo title just yet. Although, I will pose this one question: When Magneto chooses to attack the X-Men, why doesn’t he just use Wolverine as his living puppet every time? Seriously, he could just take control of Wolvie and obliterate every other member of the team…and he could do it from miles away! Some snikt-snikt…a bit of blood and gore…and -BOOM- no more X-Men!

Anyway, there’s a lot more to talk about and I feel like we’ve only scratched the surface. This could go on for days! We need to strip him down quickly and effectively…like field dressing a moose. What’s the first step?

The first task should be to reduce his powers and his infallibility. I’d start with reducing his powers first, since if you just start having him make mistakes, it’s going to seem odd and far fetched, but if you reduce his powers first, then he may start making mistakes based on the fact that he’s a little more insecure and feeling his way with his new power levels. As for how one reduces his powers back to mere mortal level, I could suggest a half dozen options. He could be infected with a disease; his healing factor is fighting off the disease, but it can’t defeat it. The perpetual war within his body means that his healing factor isn’t as strong and can’t work as hard on other problems (and perhaps the disease dulls his senses at the same time). Perhaps he’s hit with a weapon that is supposed to take away a mutant’s powers, like Forge’s ray gun that depowered Storm in the 1980s, but only gets a glancing blow. Or, if you want to make it a longer story, perhaps he takes a full blow, and is completely depowered for awhile. When Beast finally figures out a way to return his powers, he warns Wolverine that the procedure is untested, and it may not restore his powers to their peak levels. Turns out that the Beast was correct and his powers are restored only to our new, more reasonable levels.

You could also use any number of freak accidents (the Marvel Universe is awash in them) where he drinks a serum designed to do one thing, and then gets exposed to radiation, and the two interact, reducing his power levels. Perhaps, since he insists on hanging out with Dr. Strange in the New Avengers, he gets hit with a magic spell that reduces his powers. The possibilities are legion (and Marvel has already missed some good opportunities to reduce his powers; I would have done it when Magneto ripped all the metal from his body). It really boils down on whether or not you want to make it a story; do you spend a few months detailing the reduction of his powers, and figuring out how that affects him, or do you remove them quickly, and then move on to other stories? I think you do the former, giving readers a chance to see how, once his powers have been reduced to 1970’s levels, it affects every part of the character, making him more cautious, making him realize that he can die, and bringing him down to the same level of everyone else.

Don’t get me wrong; he can still be cool and a bad-ass. I’m not suggesting that we turn him into Timid Timmy, or making him a coward. However, he needs to get his butt handed to him every now and then; he needs to at least acknowledge that he’s vulnerable in some way and that he can make mistakes.

Were I to actually pitch this idea, I’d do a story where someone duplicated Forge’s old power nullifier. They plan to use it on one particular mutant; I’m not sure if it matters which one, but we’ll make it one of the X-Men. Wolverine and the X-Men go to stop this evil villain, and during the struggle, Wolverine gets hit by the nullifier, and his powers are gone. Boom. He’s near death, and spends some time in a medical bay at the X-Mansion. They originally think that he’ll die because of the metal in his body, but apparently his body has adjusted to having the adamantium laced to his bones (in the same way a cyborg’s body adapts to the metal parts). So, he has his claws, but he can’t use them; without his healing factor, he’d slice open his hands and bleed profusely if he did. We then spend a few months with Wolverine having no powers at all; where he’s forced to work at being a hero, and we can see him as a true mortal. I’d say he spends those months going after the bad guy who built the power nullifier. Wolverine wants him dead, so he can’t steal the powers of any other mutants.

Finally, the Beast returns Wolverine’s powers, as mentioned above. We know his powers are reduced, but by this time, the reader has had the opportunity to see what Wolverine can do without them, and they understand the character better. This guy has tons of experience, he’s strong, he’s a great fighter, and he’s brave as they come. However, if he makes mistakes, he could die. And he does, occasionally, make mistakes.

Thoughts?

Well now, that’s intriguing. There are some pros and cons about that idea, but overall I think it’s a good template to follow. I think my qualms are in the details rather than the overall effectiveness of the plot. For instance, I’d hate for this to be a rehash of the “Storm lost her powers” story and I’d be concerned that this would become the path of least resistance for any future depowerings. The convenient rebuilding of a powerful device is a bit troublesome to me. Of course, I could poke holes in the alternate solution you offered as well. These freak viruses and plagues and diseases seem to go hand-in-hand with the mutant population. And they’re rarely naturally occurring things either. Usually, there’s some sort of covert experimentation going on…someone stumbles upon a hidden bunker…or an abused mutant is found wandering the streets of some backwoods European village…call in the rescue team!

Sadly, his healing factor has been so augmented in recent years, that I’m pretty sure it kills off all foreign antibodies before they even get within ten feet of him. It’s all quite ridiculous. There has to be a new way to diminish his abilities and powers. The magic angle is interesting because it’s something that Wolverine and the X-Men don’t deal with very often. The only trouble is that most of the magic that happens in Marvel’s world is unnaturally easy to reverse. Here’s a thought you didn’t mention: What if he gets in a fight with a villain he’s never encountered before, someone with alchemical powers? I’m just throwing this out there…Grey Gargoyle. He’s been around for a long time and yet he’s a pretty enigmatic villain. He’s now part of The Hood’s crime syndicate which recently had a run-in with the New Avengers. And, in a battle with the Fantastic Four not too long ago, he temporarily turned Thing to stone. When the effects wore off, Ben Grimm was able to change between his rock and human form at will. That establishes a precedent for physiological changes. Who knows what effects his powers would have on a mutant? It could be that simple. There’s also Absorbing Man or Diablo that we could throw at him.

The reason I like something like this is that it’s easy to set up but it’s also a completely unexpected consequence of a typical superpowered battle. Instead of hailing this as one of those “don’t miss this” issues that will shatter the internet and blow your mind or pegging it into a special foil-stamped anniversary issue with back-up origins and filler stories, the plot point could just happen. Poof! No more powers. Either deal with it or wallow in self-pity.

I could also see Wolverine pursuing Grey Gargoyle and struggling with the decision of whether to kill him or not. On the one hand, he has caused this self-doubt in Logan, which is a new feeling for him. However, on the other hand, Wolverine now has no powers to follow through on a possible assassination. Maybe he uses his skills and resources to track Grey Gargoyle (who is now on the run because he fears retaliation), but he discovers that Gargoyle is already in a sad state…perhaps some sort of exotic cancer is killing him because, honestly, he hasn’t been used much recently and I don’t think anyone would miss him. This part of the storyline would establish some emotion in Wolverine and prove that he’s capable of pity and mercy.

Regardless of the solution, I do believe that the idea of showing Wolverine without any powers at all for a while is key to making this a solid story. He needs to have a reason to doubt himself. And, like you said, I can see him making mistakes like forgetting about his healing factor and popping his claws or jumping from a height that will cause damage. Those types of things definitely need to happen in order to reinforce the consequences.

I also agree that Beast would eventually be able to find a solution to the depowering. However, nothing should be that simple. Perhaps the “cure” is only a temporary fix…or his powers may come and go, like a faulty electrical connection. I’m guessing this would be some sort of DNA bypass that Beast would concoct and maybe it should permanently alter the scope of Wolverine’s powers. No more mystical interventions like Apocalypse jamming the metal back into his skeleton. No more regenerating from point-blank nuclear blasts.

How does that play for you? And, after your response, do you think we should start a Part Two of this thread for the next chapter in Wolverine’s rebuilding?

I like that a lot; it’s always more elegant if you can incorporate a change like this into a comics universe more seamlessly, and that’s what you’ve done.  As you mentioned, the Grey Gargoyle is someone who’s powers aren’t really understood well, and if he could change the Thing, he could certainly change Wolverine.  If anyone is skeptical on that score, it would be easy enough to have Wolverine be suffering some other ailment at the same time the Grey Gargoyle turns him to stone.  That does work nicely though.

Otherwise, this sounds like a plan to me.  On to Part 2!


John and Jason’s Agreed Upon 20 Things Every Superhero Comic Collection Needs

Oct-15-08

We promise to stop milking this idea and move on after this post, but now that we’ve both given our picks for the 20 things every superhero comic collection needs (which are both quite good, and any items on there are worth your time) we thought we’d bring it all together for one final post, with things we both agree on. Here you go:

1. Starman: I won’t continue to belabor this. It’s great. DC is releasing it in new omnibus editions, collecting the entire run and a few of the miniseries that James Robinson wrote which tied into the main story. The first volume is available now and the second is coming in early 2009. Or, if you prefer, track down the original issues; for the first few years James Robinson answered the letters pages personally, and encouraged people to discuss issues beyond the comics, particularly collecting. Some letters pages didn’t deal with comics at all, yet they were all interesting, and it gave a reader the sense of community that is lacking in many comics today. One more reason these comics were so unique.

2. Giffen and DeMatteis’ Justice League: Again, all I’ll do is encourage you to check out the new hardcover collections DC is printing of this series, starting at the first issue. The first two volumes are available now, and more are sure to come.

3. The Authority: These are also available in trade paperbacks. I highly recommend just the first 12 issues by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch, which were at one time collected into one giant hardcover, although I don’t know if it’s still in print.

4. Invincible by Robert Kirkman: Possibly the best young hero comic being published today, and one of the best superhero comics being published overall. If you’ve never read it, dive in without reading about them on the internet, as there are surprises in store. Image collects these in trades regularly, and you can also snag an annual hardcover Ultimate collection, which contains a full 12 issues. Great stuff.

5. Squadron Supreme by Mark Gruenwald: Perhaps his greatest written work, and certainly a series that paved the way for a lot of future investigations into what people with the powers of demigods might do with those powers, like the Authority. This has been collected into a trade paperback (the first printing even had some of Gruenwald’s ashes mixed into the ink) and seems to still be in print. DC is a lot better about keeping their collected editions in print than Marvel is, so if you’re interested in anything Marvel published on our list, grab it in trade now rather than later.

6. “Under Siege” in The Avengers by Roger Stern and John Buscema: This is an example of something that was collected in a trade, but I believe that trade is now out of print. However, the back issues aren’t expensive (look for #270, 271, 273-277) and you should be able to track them down without much trouble.

7. Frank Miller’s Daredevil: Marvel has quite a few of these issues collected in trade, and you should have no trouble finding them either.

8. Mark Waid’s Flash: This one hasn’t been collected, except for a few trades which appear to be out of print (so much for DC being better at keeping things in print than Marvel, although honestly, in general, they are). Waid had a very long run on this book (including some beautiful issues pencilled by Mike Wieringo), which lasted on and off from #80 of the 2nd series through #129.

9. Ben Edlund’s The Tick: I believe that the trades for his issues are out of print, but a little quick internet searching showed some available second hand, and pretty cheap. Actual back issues can be hard to find and tend to be more expensive, so securing old trades may be your best bet. They’re worth the trouble.

10. Damage Control: Sadly, this has never been collected in trade paperback, one of life’s great injustices. I’d recommend searching for back issues though, which shouldn’t be expensive. The first 4-issue miniseries from 1989 is better than the later “Acts of Vengeance” tie-in mini or the final 1991 mini.

11. Thunderbolts: The first few issues have been collected in a trade, but most trades focus on the later issues. Those aren’t bad, but they don’t break ground the way the early issues did, where you never knew where the series was going from issue to issue.

12. Grant Morrison’s Animal Man: There are three trades available which collect his entire run on the series, well worth their price.

13. The Claremont/Byrne issues of Uncanny X-Men: Marvel has published these in their beautiful Masterworks line, although those may be out of print. Original issues may be pricey, but I’m sure there are trades collecting, at the very least, their Dark Phoenix Saga.

14. Madrox Limited Series by Peter David: We decided to include this, rather than X-Factor because it clearly shows the potential that Peter David found in the Madrox character, potential which seems to have eluded every other writer to handle the character for decades before this series was printed.

15. Steve Ditko’s Dr. Strange: This could be the hardest thing on the list to snag. His issues were printed in Strange Tales and have only been collected, to the best of my knowledge, in the Marvel Masterworks line. Still, they are gorgeous and worth having.

16. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Batman work: DC has all of these issues collected in some beautiful trades.

17. Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’ Marvels: Wait a minute! This wasn’t on the list before! Yes, it wasn’t, but Jason preferred this to Astro City and I was more than willing to concede. In many ways, the series are similar, with this also approaching the superhero through the eyes of ordinary humans. This was Alex Ross’ first mainstream work, and for those who think him overexposed now, I ask you to try and imagine what it was like when this series was first released. I remember seeing his art for the first time, and being completely blown away; if the Marvel superheroes existed in the real world, this must be what they would look like, I thought! It’s a great story too; it was collected in a trade, which looks like it may still be available certain places.

18. Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe/DC’s Who’s Who: I don’t believe DC has kept their handbook in print, but you can almost always find some version of Marvel’s available for purchase. The new hardcover editions have changed the format quite a bit, but they’re still the best way to educate yourself on newer and less-known characters. Marvel has also released the original series in their Essential format…but the black & white presentation steals a little of the glory from the pages.

19. Peter David and Todd Nauck’s Young Justice: Jason still doesn’t agree, but I’m adding it. Sadly, DC refuses to reprint most of this series, but the back issues are cheap. Find them. You won’t regret it.

20. Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier: John can’t see the simple sophistication of this tale, but I still hold it high as an example of celebrating comics’ past while adding a modern touch. If you can afford the Absolute Edition, definitely pick it up. The added sketches and commentary are enlightening.

There you have it! Those 20 things should keep you busy reading for some time, and when you’re through, you should either appreciate superhero comics in a new light. Stop back here and tell us how right we were or start flaming us for stupid picks. We welcome either response (but prefer the former).


John’s 20 Things Every Super-Hero Comic Collection Needs

Oct-14-08

You’ll find that my list, as opposed to Jason’s, tends to hit more specific issues than Jason’s did. It’s also, of course, informed by my personal preferences. There are plenty of important comics that I simply didn’t include because I’m trying to find the comics that people will enjoy reading, and will still show the comics medium at its best and show everything of which the medium is capable. Before I get started, I want to mention that there are four things on my list (and one thing on my list of “Honorable Mentions”) that are also on Jason’s list. To avoid repetition, I’m going to mention them now, but instead of including them below, I’m going to bump some of my “Honorable Mentions” up to my main list. It may be cheating, but there are so many cool things out there that I want the opportunity to list them all (and I still won’t have room)!

So, Jason and I agree on Starman, James Robinson’s series, a true wonder of comics. The best superhero series of the modern age, this series may be unique in that it ran for 80 issues, and was only ever written by Robinson. The plotting is dense and well planned; things in the first issues pay off in the final issues. The characters sound like real people, and they grow and change as the series progresses. This is what superhero comics should be, and honestly, you could read these issues, never read another comic again, and be happy.

We also agree on Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’ Justice League run, which showed that you could be funny and still make good comics. This was particularly groundbreaking, coming out in the late 80s, when Grim ‘N Gritty was the order of the day. We also both feel that Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s Authority is worth checking out, for it’s ability to show superheroes as they might act in the real world, and for it’s groundbreaking “widescreen” storytelling. We believe that one of the first series to do that was Mark Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme, which wasn’t as adult as Authority, but first threw out some of the ethical questions that superheroes must grapple with. Finally, we both direct your attention to Robert Kirkman’s Invincible, a fine example of the quality superheroes you can find if you wander outside of the Big Two.

What about my own picks? Read on….

1. Any comics from Alan Moore’s ABC line (except Promethea): I’m sure a lot of people think us crazy for listing so few Alan Moore comics on our lists. I’m a big fan of his work, and much of it can be recommended, but it’s been recommended elsewhere, and if you’re a fan of comics, you’re going to have read Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell, Swamp Thing or any of his other titles. The ABC line is important because it gave Alan Moore the chance to do lighter, brighter (but no less interesting) fare. I would highly recommend Top 10, as it’s my favorite from this line, but Tomorrow Stories is also an excellent choice, as it highlights how differently Moore can write for different artists. Give one of comic’s greatest writers a chance to show you how well he can write any genre.

2. Any Sergio Aragones/Mark Evanier Collaboration: Jason mentioned their comic Groo in his last pick, and it is a great one. However, it’s not superheroes. On the plus side, these two have done superheroes, in specials where they Destroyed DC and Massacred Marvel. They also did an interesting series for DC called Fanboy, where the titular character became intimately involved with the comics he loved so much. They’re work together is funny, and more importantly smart, and even better, it often has a great message, which they communicate without beating you over the head.

3. Roger Stern’s “Under Siege” story in The Avengers: Being the huge Avengers (and Roger Stern) fan that he is, I was amazed that this didn’t make Jason’s list. These issues, which chronicle the Masters of Evil invading and occupying Avengers Mansion, are some great superhero comics. They may not be the modern inspiration that Starman is, but they clearly show that, in the world of superhero corporate comics, you can still do great stories. The follow up to these issues, in which the Avengers must go to fight the Gods of Olympus, are just as strong. I should mention that John Buscema’s art in all of these issues is superb and helps to make them the classics that they are.

4. Kurt Busiek’s and George Perez’s “Ultron Unleashed” story in The Avengers: Normally, I wouldn’t include two Avengers stories in a list like this. I also tried to find stories that showcased different aspects of the superhero genre. This story is, like “Under Siege”, just a really great superhero comic. However, it is so great, that I couldn’t choose between it and the one above. These issues pit an Avengers team consisting of the classics (Captain America, Iron Man and Thor) with Black Panther and the newcomer Firestar, as they battle an army of Ultrons to protect our world. The panel where the tired and battered heroes finally reach the main Ultron robot, hurt but not broken, is one of the most powerful superhero panels I’ve even seen.

5. Frank MIller’s Batman: Year One: I agree with Jason that Dark Knight Returns simply no longer holds up. However, I believe that Year One does, and it’s my pick for the best Frank Miller work ever. Somehow, in the space of four issues, Miller was able to distill Batman down into his very basics, giving us a fresh and believable tale of how one man could begin the campaign that would make him an icon. You could read this story and never read another Batman tale, and know everything important about the character.

6. Thunderbolts #1: Another Kurt Busiek story (this one pencilled by the always reliable Mark Bagley). If you read this comic in a vacuum, it’s inclusion on my list may make no sense. However, if you had read it when it was first published, the mystery may vanish. Today, it’s impossible, it seems, for comics to be published without fans knowing every detail of the issue; who will die, who will return from the dead, who will be unmasked. The Thunderbolts had been teased for a few months as a new team of heroes, and while some subtle hints had been dropped that there was more going on with them then was apparent, the reveal at the end of the first issue was amazing. It also led into an incredible run which took the superhero concept and turned it on its ear, examining villains trying to become heroes.

7. John Byrne’s She-Hulk: There are a lot of great comics that John Byrne has created, but like Alan Moore, if you’re a fan than you’ve already heard of his incredible work on Alpha Flight or Next Men or Fantastic Four. I  recommend his work on She-Hulk because it again showcases a well known creator doing something different. Byrne’s She-Hulk was again, a very amusing book, although Byrne went much farther over the line than any of the other amusing books on my list. She-Hulk regularly broke the Fourth Wall, chatting with her readers; villains took breaks between their scenes. It was glorious fun, and it is a shame Byrne’s time on the book was so truncated, as no subsequent writer could pull it off as effortlessly.

8. God Loves, Man Kills: If you want a superhero comic collection, there has to be an X-Men comic in it, right? Jason recommended the Claremont/Byrne issues, and they’re wonderful. However, this graphic novel is my favorite. Written by Chris Claremont, and drawn by Brent Anderson, it details the crusade of a religious zealot to stamp out mutants. Claremont is someone who I often criticize for his stylistic writing style, but they’re not in evidence here. Like Year One, you can read this comic, and know everything important about the X-Men.

9. Mark Waid’s Flash: Mark Waid wrote The Flash for years, sometimes alone and sometimes in partnership with Brian Augustyn. Their issues introduced Impulse, explained the Speed Force, and pitted Wally West against innumerable villains. However, that’s not why I chose these issues. I chose these issues because they are the best example of a superhero story that is, in reality, a love story. Sure, there were fights and plots and worlds to save during these issues, but the heart of these stories was the love between Wally West and Linda Park. Everything else was just background noise, easily overwhelmed by the love these two shared. While most heroes have love interests, I’ve rarely seen a romance as real as this one.

10. Ben Edlund’s The Tick: Jason mentioned this when he mentioned comics from other companies, but I singled this out and included it because it is demonstrably a superhero comic. It just happens to contain a man-eating cow and ninjas. It may seem like I keep coming back to funnier examples of superheroes, but this one is the most amusing I’ve ever read. Unlike the others, which mostly tried to ground their adventures in the reality of their comic book universes, the Tick isn’t grounded at all (he lives in a world where villains have chairs for heads). I recommend the original issues that Edlund wrote and drew himself; I laugh until I cry even after multiple re-readings.

11. The Batman Adventures: Comics heroes have visited different media since the radio shows based on Superman. Some of those visits have been good, others have been bad. When the animated Batman show appeared, it was so good, that it gave something back to the medium that birthed it’s hero: this series of comics, presenting some of the best Batman stories ever published. These stories, beautifully illustrated by Mike Parobeck, show how you can tell an excellent story by stripping out the extraneous (and unnecessary) and focus on the important. Some people found the series too plain, but those people missed the boat. They were elegant in their simplicity, and the well written and drawn stories were anything but child-like.

12. Walt Simonson’s Thor: It’s hard, I believe, to do mythology in comics and keep it interesting. It’s difficult to write powerful characters and make them relatable. It’s sometimes career suicide to try and infuse mythology into superhero comics. Yet Walt Simonson made it look so easy. I am still in awe, and these are some of the only Thor comics I have ever enjoyed.

13. Peter David and Todd Nauck’s Young Justice: I suppose anyone who’s read our blog for any length of time figured I’d be including this. Comics about teen heroes have been around for years and there have been some good ones, but for my money, none have been better than this one. First of all, Peter David stayed for the entire run, and Nauck only missed a few issues (often because he was pencilling Young Justice specials or larger issues of the title), so the entire series has a coherence that so many series lack. Furthermore, Peter David was able to keep the cast relatable, keep relationships changing in believable ways, and he was able to do both amusing and deathly serious issues deftly. For a series to change tone as often as this did and not seem schizophrenic is a commendable feat, and David handled it with finesse. And may I say, while some may see Nauck’s art as cartoony, that like Mike Parobeck, Nauck was able to tell a damn good story, stripping away the unnecessary clutter that infects other artist’s work. Nauck handled the serious issues as well as he did the funny ones.

14. Kurt Busiek’s Astro City: This will be my last Kurt Busiek comic, but I had to include it. Astro City uses superheroes as a backdrop to tell stories about people; some issues the heroes have the stage, but often, they’re simply extras, as the stories talk about the regular people surrounded by these gods among men. It’s one of the most human series I have ever read, and well worth your time. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Brent Anderson, who always does such a nice job making sure the stories look good.

15. Jack Cole’s Plastic Man: Jason mentioned comics from the Golden Age, and I said only one spoke to me. That one is Jack Cole’s creation, which has never been used as well since his death. Yes, I enjoy Plastic Man in the modern DC Universe (and recommend Kyle Baker’s series), but Cole’s Plastic Man was so ahead of its time that it deserves special recognition. Even though Cole produced these stories in the 40s and 50s, they resonate with the themes of the modern age. Yes, they’re funny, but the characters have actual personalities (rare in the Golden Age) the humor feels fresh (which is odd, considering how old they are) and the drawings seem to burst off the page.

16. Damage Control: Marvel’s series of limited series about a company that cleans up after superhero fights is such a common sense idea that I can’t believe it wasn’t done sooner. Much like some issues of Astro City, the heroes are often just the backdrop, as we explore the lives of normal humans, inhabiting a world filled with those with power. Yes, it’s funny, but there’s real characters and plots here to balance that. It’s a wonderful look at the absurdities of the superhero genre, while managing to remain a part of it.

17. Peter David’s X-Factor: I think it’s important to mention this series, particularly the first time Peter David tackled these characters alongside artist Larry Stroman, because it made one thing very clear: there are no stupid characters, or if they are stupid, you can still make them work. David took a group consisting of Havok and Polaris and a bunch of (what were then considered) stupid or unworkable characters and made them work. Madrox is, without a doubt, his strongest achievement, and the self-titled limited series that David wrote for him is also worth recommending. If someone had told me in the mid-90s that I would now consider Madrox one of the most interesting characters in superherodom, I would have considered them crazy. David also made Quicksilver interesting, a character that had always been searching for a writer who could keep his obnoxious personality intact, while making him likable. Hey, he almost even made me like Wolfsbane, but I’m not sure anyone could do that.

18. Early issues of JSA Volume 1: Geoff Johns sometimes get knocked around by critics for his love of obscure DC characters and his tendency to cannibalize DC characters and continuity for his own use. However, his early JSA issues, beautifully illustrated by Steven Sadowski, achieve something that other books should try to emulate; he successfully sells the idea of superhero legacies (where names and/or powers are passed down through generations) and reimagines some Golden Age concepts (like Mr. Terrific) for the modern age. Most of the first series was great, and the current series would be better if it wasn’t stuck with some of the plotlines running through the DC Universe, but the earliest issues are certainly worth a look.

19. Amazing Spider-Man #400: It’s struck me that Jason and I have listed precious few comics of the big names in the industry, like Spider-Man or Superman. This comic is one that is often overlooked, as it came out during the Clone Saga, and it featured the death of a character that has since come back to life. However, if you read it as it was originally written, it’s an incredibly moving story of the death of Aunt May. You finally see the chemistry and bond between her and her nephew, and her death will make you cry. It’s a shame they brought her back, as she will never get as good a send-off as the one J.M. DeMatteis and Mark Bagley gave her here.

20. Archie Meets the Punisher: If I have to explain it to you, you’ll never understand.

Cheater. Next time I’m going first so that I can look more original with my picks. Jerk.

Yes, yes, we had a few similarities and, once you read my following comments, you’ll see we had even more in common before I pruned my list. I’m stunned that the Vision and Scarlet Witch maxiseries was not on your list. That being said, I find it interesting that you also excluded all of the so-called “must haves” from your list. I think it’s an example of the media bandwagoning on comics and not really knowing what’s of interest to the true fan.

And now, since you tore my list apart and then managed to somehow call out my fandom like a common street houligan, I’m going to return the favor…

1. Any comics from Alan Moore’s ABC line (except Promethea): I have no opinion on these, because I’ve never read them. To be quite honest, aside from Watchmen and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (and an excellent Superman story), I just don’t get Alan Moore. His superhero writing doesn’t stand out to me. Sure, it may be more nuanced and intellectual, but there’s also less punching of faces which leads to a certain amount of boredom.

2. Any Sergio Aragones/Mark Evanier Collaboration: I forgot all about Fanboy, not that I think it’s essential by any stretch of the imagination. If we did a list of the Top Humor Comics, I could see Aragones and Evanier taking a spot or two. This one seems out of place on an essential superhero list.

3. Roger Stern’s “Under Siege” story in The Avengers: Yes, this one was obviously on my short list. I think that’s why I made the comment about needing to do a Top Storylines post. In retrospect, I probably should have added this. It’s my favorite Avengers arc and probably one of my favorite comic stories of all time. The Masters of Evil finally lived up to their dubious moniker.

4. Kurt Busiek’s and George Perez’s “Ultron Unleashed” story in The Avengers: Two Avengers stories? Hmm…you didn’t even mention that I didn’t have a single Hawkeye story on my list. Actually, I was going to include the first West Coast Avengers miniseries on my list.

5. Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One: I don’t really have a good reason for not including this one, except for the fact that most of the story has been portrayed on film and portions of the origin have been revamped and redacted so many times as to make my head spin. Miller weaves a solid yarn, but I prefer the grittiness of his Daredevil work.

6. Thunderbolts #1: Yes. Almost made my list too. The utter jaw-droppingness of the ending make this one of the best single issues ever printed. And I agree that it may have been the last gasp of “wait for it” timing in modern comics. I often complain about how the internet has taken the fun out of comics.

7. John Byrne’s She-Hulk: Never read it, as I can’t see myself spending money on a solo She-Hulk book. Although, i have heard great things about the humor and how Byrne broke the Fourth Wall (similar to Morrison’s Animal Man). I’m surprised Dan Slott’s She-Hulk didn’t make your list.

8. God Loves, Man Kills: Meh. This strikes me as another of those “classic” stories that just doesn’t hold up well with the passage of time.

9. Mark Waid’s Flash: This is another one that I was seriously considering. Mark Waid made Wally West a person first and a superhero second…which is something DC has had trouble doing for most of its history.

10. Ben Edlund’s The Tick: Agreed on all counts. I’m also glad you singled out the fact that the issues NOT written by Edlund just don’t match up. Was that a double negative?

11. The Batman Adventures: I briefly thought about this title, but then I realized that I have the DVD box sets on my shelf and I’d much rather watch the cartoon.

12. Walt Simonson’s Thor: When I sold off the majority of my Thor collection, these are the only issues that I kept. However, I think that just may be the nostalgic side of me. I honestly haven’t retained any info from this run. Is this the one with the frog?

13. Peter David and Todd Nauck’s Young Justice: As little as I care for the majority of DC’s pantheon, I care even less about its junior members. Whatever.

14. Kurt Busiek’s Astro City: Busiek is a great writer, I just prefer superhero books that are actually about superheroes, especially when the superheroes who do show up are just derivatives from the Big Two. I’d be more interested in throwing Marvels onto one of our lists. Even though I think it missed some marks, the fact that it tried to show the human side of an already highly established universe made more sense to me.

15. Jack Cole’s Plastic Man: Plastic Man has always been a peripheral character to me. Right after I posted my list, I thought about going back and throwing in Beck’s Captain Marvel work, but I don’t know enough about that or Plastic Man to make a sensible argument.

16. Damage Control: Definitely a consideration for me. LOVED the first series. The subsequent ones didn’t have the same “Ooh” factor for me. Taking a peek behind the scenes in a superhero-filled world, and its repercussions, was definitely a unique vision at the time.

17. Peter David’s X-Factor: I wanted to include an X-Factor run, but I just didn’t think they were iconic enough for a “best of” superhero collection list. There are so many X-titles and offshoots out there that I just basically ignored the mutant sub-genre completely. However, these were good stuff. And that Madrox miniseries is one of the highlights of the last few years.

18. Early issues of JSA Volume 1: Again, not sure. I appreciate Johns’s enthusiasm for obscure characters and legacy heroes, but a lot of the stuff he worked with was still mired down with DC’s baffling continuity. You really had to know your stuff to follow along with some of it.

19. Amazing Spider-Man #400: Seriously? Hell, I’d rather reread the What If? issue with Aunt May as a herald of Galactus. If you wanted to pick a good Spider-Man story, why not the final Kraven one?

20. Archie Meets the Punisher: Really? You couldn’t find a 20th entry with more relevance than this? I think you can definitely see some of our personalities in these picks. You seem to have gone for the intentionally humorous while I’ve tended towards the accidentally funny books. I love irony.


Jason’s 20 Things Every Superhero Comic Collection Needs

Oct-14-08

We wanted to slap together some sort of mainstream answer to Tom Spurgeon’s “50 Things Every Great Comics Collection Needs to Have” post. Of course, considering we only really cover the superhero side of things, we’ll have to tweak our responses appropriately. I’m going to throw out 20 items and John is going to throw out 20 items. There will be similarities and, I’m sure, there will be big differences between our two lists.

I’ve been reading comics since around 1976. I’ve been seriously collecting them since 1984. And I have every major book and biography written about the superhero comics and their creators. I figure that gives me a fair understanding of the genre and its history. Granted, my particular likes and dislikes are going to color any list I could come up with, but I’ve tried to limit the fanboy in me to only a few of the choices.

What you’ll probably notice immediately is that I didn’t include Watchmen or Dark Knight Returns. If I were to put a list of 50 together, I’m sure those two would’ve squeaked onto the list. Honestly, I just don’t think they hold up as well these days. Both books are products of their time, wrapped in a certain political scene and tied to the emotions and ennui of the era. And I didn’t read either of them when they first came out. In fact, I just read them both in 2001…along with Crisis on Infinite Earths and Kingdom Come (which are also not on my list). I’ve never read Miracleman either, but I’ve heard good things. It might’ve made the list, if I had access to it. Perhaps we should do an entry on the “Top Storylines in Comics” too.

Anyway, with that pseudo-disclaimer out of the way, I now present my “20 Things Every Superhero Comic Collection Needs” in no particular order:

1. Something with art from Jack Kirby
I’ve never been a big fan of the Fantastic Four. I guess I always perceived them as being too mature for me and my teenage wanderlust showed no interest for the down-home feeling of Marvel’s first family. I also thought that the early FF looked weird…too boxey and too linear. It wasn’t until I was exposed to Kirby’s Black Panther, Eternals and Mister Miracle that I started to appreciate his utter craziness. Looking back now, it’s easy to see why he’s called the King.

2. Steve Ditko’s Doctor Strange
His Spider-Man has gained praise for showing the true Peter Parker, the buttoned up nerd who happens upon a life-changing miracle/curse. His artwork is fluid and nimble, making Spider-Man appear much more…uh…spider-like. However, his magical adversaries, absurd backgrounds and the creepy way he draws the Sorcerer Supreme’s fingers like they have a life of their own, make Ditko’s Dr. Strange truly sublime.

3. Frank Miller’s Daredevil
Daredevil lives in Hell’s Kitchen and fights at street level. Until Frank Miller added his gritty touch to this hero, it was hard to remember those two simple facts. Add in the Bullseye/Elektra saga and you’ve got the makings of a classic.

4. Keith Giffen’s Justice League
The relaunched Justice League of America added a new facet to the storied history of the franchise: humor. By mixing the proper drama and pathos with a certain level of tomfoolery, Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis were able to craft a superior superhero adventure. The interplay between team members was elevated to an artform and showed dimensions previously lacking in most DC titles. Plus, Giffen’s Heckler miniseries was stupidly awesome.

5. James Robinson’s Golden Age and/or Starman
Golden Age is one of the stories that brought me back into comics. Robinson writes real people. And, even though they’re typically in extraordinary circumstances, they come off as having real lives. There’s something to be said for that in the superhero genre. I haven’t read all of his Starman work, but the first volume really drew me in too.

6. Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier
If I were to, hypothetically, put these twenty items in a real order, it would be difficult not to put this in the first slot. Hands down, I think Cooke captured in this story not only the feeling of an entire era, but the hopes and fears that went along with it. Add in a facet of much needed heroism in this time of doubt, and the story just begs to be read.

7. Something written by Mark Gruenwald
This entry is closest to me because I once had a regular correspondence going on with Mr. Gruenwald and I was shocked when I learned of his passing. His Squadron Supreme is the ultimate “what if?” story, set in a world where superheroes are in charge. And his run on Captain America was both innovative and fun, encompassing the Scourge storyline and Cap’s cross-country road trip.

8. Mike Grell’s Green Arrow
Critics like to point to the Denny O’Neill/Neil Adams run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow as the pinnacle for these characters. Issues delving into racism and drug use were poignant when they were released, but the language, at least, seems a bit dated today. I prefer the darker struggles faced by Ollie when he relocated to Seattle and endured some real life ups and downs while assuming a stronger vigilante bent.

9. Something by Grant Morrison
Take your pick: Doom Patrol, Animal Man, All-Star Superman or New X-Men. You really can’t go wrong with any of them. While his other work has been decadent and diverse, Morrison’s work with the superhero genre proves that these characters should be anything but one-dimensional.

10. A Chris Claremont/John Byrne collaboration
In their prime, Chris and John were two of the best storytellers in modern comics. Take a peek through their runs on Uncanny X-Men or Power Man and Iron Fist for some great reads. It doesn’t hurt that Claremont’s Marvel Team-Up stories and Byrne’s Alpha Flight were some of my favorites too.

11. Loeb/Sale Batman stories
If Claremont/Byrne set the bar for superhero collaborations, then Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale sailed high above it with their dissections of the Batman mythos in The Long Halloween, Haunted Knight and Dark Victory. Add in the superb Spider-Man: Blue and Daredevil: Yellow for Marvel and you’ve got enough reading to last for a long time. Their Wolverine/Gambit story was pretty good, as was the Challengers of the Unknown miniseries that launched their teamwork. Hulk: Gray? Not so memorable.

12. Some Golden Age DC stories…Starman, Spectre, Sandman, Doctor Fate
If not for the offbeat plotlines, at least read some of this stuff just to see how far the medium has come since those early days. I pick DC properties specifically, because they reach further back in time. What seemed like quick, throwaway books back then, can offer a telling window into thoughts and ideals of a former era.

13. Something written by Bill Mantlo
Wow. If you ever want to just sit back and say “what the f…” while reading a comic book, Mantlo can give you that reaction. Characters, conversations and plotlines seem like forgotten devices when the focus of the story is based on how weird he can make it. Check out the Jack of Hearts mini, his run on Rom or Champions or his various Defenders issues for some great stuff. But the key to any collection would be Bill’s magnum opus: Micronauts.

14. Something from Paul Pope
Here’s where my opinions entrench themselves. I don’t think there’s a better fine artist operating in the comics field today. And, while Paul’s meandering lines and loose forms have an electricity in his own work, I find them to be utterly irresistible when he works with Batman, Spider-Man or any other superhero icon. Paul Pope is part of a new breed of comic book artist, whose roots lie strongly in Kirby’s realm.

15. Something drawn by Seth Fisher
Another unique perspective on comic book art that adds elements of fun and wonder back into the funnybooks. Sadly, Mr. Fisher passed away in a freak accident a few years back. Pick up his Green Lantern: Willworld, Batman: Snow or Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big in Japan work to see some truly amazing visuals.

16. OHOTMU/Who’s Who
Seriously. You can’t enjoy the superhero books unless you understand the people and principles behind them. DC’s Who’s Who provided one universe’s worth of information, but for my money, Marvel blew them out of the water with the original runs of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. My copies have been read and referenced so often that they’re barely being held together.

17. A complete run of SOMETHING lasting more than 50 issues
Put some effort into it. You can’t be a true fan of the genre unless you’ve put up with some mediocre stories in an effort to grasp the big picture. Personally, I have complete runs of Marvel Team-Up, the original Punisher ongoing and the original X-Factor series. I used to own a full run of both Peter David’s Aquaman and the first Excalibur series. And I’m only two or three issues away from owning the entire first run of Firestorm too. That’s dedication.

18. Something from new Image…early Powers or Invincible
No superhero fan should live on Marvel and DC alone. Image was founded by creators whose reputations were built on superhero work. However, a lot of the first and second generations of Image work was derivative of the times. New Image has carved its own niche with rich titles such as Robert Kirkman’s Invincible (and Walking Dead…not superheroes, but worth a mention) and the early run of Brian Michael Bendis’s Powers (which is a perfect vehicle for his stop and start dialogue style).

19. Authority
In order to make an omelette, you have to crack a few eggs…or, evidently, kick a few people in their wiggly bits. Authority is the next generation’s Watchmen or Squadron Supreme, a group of superpowered individuals who take it upon themselves to protect the human race whether they like it or not. It’s the perfect culmination of a post-heroic genre.

20. Something that is tangentially related to superhero comics
In order to truly appreciate the fights-n-tights genre, you need to look at some of the work that was at least partially inspired by it. Whether rooted in parody, sci-fi or politics, the following titles clearly owe their existence to superheroes in one form or another: Badger, Judge Dredd, Tick, Scud, Groo, Marshal Law, Preacher. In my book, you can’t go wrong with any of them. Take superhero books in moderation and break up the monotony with one of these great titles.

Very interesting list.  I’ll be posting mine soon, but here are my comments on yours:

1.  Jack Kirby art:  I know this is horrible, but I feel I need to come clean; I am not a huge fan of Kirby’s art.  This is going to sound like blasphemy to many, so let me say that I fully appreciate and acknowledge his place in the comics pantheon.  His layouts are amazing and I feel the energy pouring from the page, but the actual drawings do little for me.  Unfortunately, there’s so much energy that some of his panels almost read like parody; it’s the graphic equivalent of “chewin the scenery”.  There’s no doubt that he is one of the most important and influential comics creators ever, and so I know why he made your list, but he could never make mine.

2.  Ditko’s Dr. Strange:  While this wouldn’t make my list, I agree that Ditko’s Dr. Strange is my favorite work of his.  I’m not a fan of his more recent artwork, but his stuff for Marvel in the 60s is amazing, and his Dr. Strange work shows an ability to draw the undrawable that no one since has quite been able to match.

3.  Miller’s Daredevil:  This doesn’t show up on my list, although Miller does.  It’s odd that this is here, as I just read a bunch of Miller’s Daredevil over the weekend.  I’ve cooled on Miller’s work quite a bit in recent years, but I have to say, this stands up beautifully; the artwork is gorgeous, the story is great and you can feel the dirt and grime oozing off the pages and onto your fingers.  Great work. 

4.  Giffen’s Justice League:  This is on my list, and high on my list (although I consider it Giffen and DeMatteis’ Justice League).  I was never a real DC fan until these comics, which dragged me into the DC Universe, and convinced me to check out some other titles on that side of the aisle.  Brilliant stuff; the early issues with Kevin Maguire’s pencils are perhaps the best, and the later issues did slide into sitcom territory, but truly, there really isn’t a bad issue in their run.  I’d also like to point out that, especially in the beginning, there were real stories and plots here.  There are also serious issues in the run, including one where Despero returns to Earth, goes on a rampage, and even kills Gypsy’s family.  The ability of Giffen and DeMatteis to go from silly to serious so seamlessly has been almost unmatched in comics.

5.  James Robinson:  The #1 item on my list is Starman; the best superhero comic of the 90s, and perhaps the best superhero comic ever.  The Golden Age is also an incredibly good book.  I’m thrilled that Robinson is back writing comics after too long away, and hope that the Powers That Be give him his own series again, which is really where he shines; writing stints on books like Superman is a waste of his talents.

6.  New Frontier:  Not on my list.  I think it’s a great story, but I don’t accord it the status that so many people do.  It’s crisp and slick and very well done, but I’m not sure it’s so unique that it is an essential part of anyone’s collection.

7.  Mark Gruenwald:  His Squadron Supreme made my list, and I agree that most of his Captain America run was brilliant.  However, besides his work as a writer, I think he was one of the best editors that Marvel Comics ever had.  He clearly cared about the characters and loved the universe over which he presided.  He was a fan, but he didn’t approach the titles he edited from the viewpoint of “What do I want to see as a fan?” (as so many writers do today), but from the viewpoint of “What would make the best story?”  He influenced so much more than the books he wrote, and the Marvel Universe has been so much poorer since his death at much too young an age.

8.  Grell’s Green Arrow:  Meh.  Ok, if you enjoy that sort of thing.  While I enjoy some of Grell’s work, I feel he may be a tad overrated.  His Green Arrow seems to have been riding the coattails of the “Grim ‘N Gritty” era ushered in by Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen and was notable more for that than for any truly original work from Grell.

9.  Morrison:  Not on my list, but certainly I see why he is on yours.  I run hot and cold on Grant Morrison, but that’s because he’s willing to take chances; it’s hard to hit the highs he’s hit (and there are plenty of them) without risking some of the lows (I find some of his books to be nigh incomprehensible).  As for me, I recommend his Animal Man, still one of my favorite titles he’s done in the superhero genre.

10.  Claremont/Byrne:  Agreed.  Not on my list, but good grief, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be.  These two were an amazing team, each one (I believe) reigning in the stylistic excesses of the other, excesses which would sometimes overwhelm their later, solo, works.  I know it’s the most overexposed of their collaborations, but truly, if you read their Uncanny X-Men issues, you may finally understand why this group of mutant misfits became such a sensation.

11.  Loeb/Sale:  Again, not on my list, but their Batman work is amazing.  Besides the three miniseries you mentioned, they also did Catwoman: When in Rome which is just as much fun as the others.  Sometimes Loeb can strike out as a writer, but when he’s teamed with Sale, particularly on Batman, he seems to be able to write Batman and his cast with the best of them.  Sale’s unique visual interpretations of the Bat-Cast is just icing on the cake.

12.  Golden Age stories:  If you insist.  They are interesting for historical purposes, but for reading enjoyment?  I haven’t found one yet that really spoke to me.  No wait, I do have one, and it’s on my list.  I shall speak of it then

13:  Bill Mantlo:  I don’t even know what to say about him (except that your love for his work is stronger than mine).  Mantlo’s work was everywhere for Marvel in the 80s, until a tragic accident left him trapped in an unresponsive state.  I want to like his work more than I do.  None of it is bad, but so much of it speaks to potential ideas that he simply seemed unable to fully realize or express well on the page.  That being said, he made the Hulk a readable comic during his tenure, and was willing to change the Hulk’s status quo (which had remained relatively unchanged for almost 20 years) and I give him a lot of credit for that.

14.  Paul Pope:  I don’t get it, and I don’t see it.  I’m chalking this up to a man crush and leaving it at that.

15.  Seth Fisher:  Nope, don’t get this one either.  Perhaps we’ll chalk it up to you being cooler than I?

16:  Handbooks:  Not on my list, but I certainly loved both DC’s and Marvel’s Handbooks for their universes (and yes, I also believe that Marvel did a better job with their Handbooks).  I read through these constantly.  They were also a great way to keep current on any characters you didn’t read, and to find out about characters like Woodgod, who made precious few appearances and could be easy to miss (not that you miss anything if you miss Woodgod, but you get my point).

17.  Complete runs:  I couldn’t agree less.  I used to have complete runs of many titles, but got rid of the fill-in issues and bad runs when I realized I was wasting my time.  Why am I going to read the Chuck Austen written issues of The Avengers, just to have a complete run?  I can waste my time and money on them, or I can instead choose to spend those resources on something that actually warrants them.  I choose the latter option, and I encourage others to do the same. 

18.  Image:  Agreed.  Invincible isn’t on my list, but it’s one of my alternates.  I also agree that early Powers tend to be very strong issues.  I’d encourage people to always look outside Marvel and DC for good, strong super-hero stories (and other stories).  There is some great work being done outside of the Big Two, and you’re missing out if you don’t look for it.

19.  Authority:  Agreed, to a point.  I listed the first twelve issues, by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch, as they really show what you can do if you take the brakes off and allow your comic to barrel ahead, with nothing holding it back.  These issues are also the first true “Widescreen” comics I ever read, and they draw you into them almost as if you’re watching a movie.  However, I can’t recommend any Authority comics after these two creators left; subsequent teams seemed to feel that the secret to the Authority was simply to try and raise the bar on violence, sex and witty banter, and the heart left the series.  It became simply a very empty, very cynical attempt to outdo anything else on the stands, and it’s not worth your time.

20.  Potpourri:  I agree with you on this, and always encourage people, again, to look outside of the Marvel and DC Universes for some great comics.  Although we mostly talk superheroes here, I find that some of my favorite comics are either barely superhero or aren’t superhero at all.  One of the series Jason mentioned is on my list, and I agree that the others are great.  There’s good stuff out there, stuff that appeals to a wide variety of tastes.  Go out, find it, and enjoy it.