February Previews: To Buy or Not To Buy

Feb-09-09

So I did actually see Jason at the end of last week. He is alive, and getting out to see me was much easier than expected. He said the “bake a file in the cake” trick may be an old one, but there’s a reason it has stood the test of time.

When I encountered Jason at the end of the week (I hesitate to say where, as they may still be looking for him), he mentioned that he had seen the new Previews catalog and that there was very little of interest in it. I hadn’t glanced at it yet, but as there’s often little of interest to me these days, I expected he was correct. Imagine my surprise when I read mine, and came away with more items of interest than my tiny budget would ever allow me to buy! In an effort to educate Jason about the wonders of the February Previews catalog, I bring you this list with items of interest (at least to me):

Sinfest Volume 1: Many of you may not be familiar with this comic strip, which has been lighting the dark corners of the internet since the year 2000! There have been collections of Sinfest in the past, but they’ve always been published by the cartoonist’s own company. This one is being released by Dark Horse, and I’m quite excited to see if there’s any difference and what sort of production values they bring to it.

Booster Gold: 52 Pick-up: This is a comic that I’ve never actually read, but I’d like to. I don’t read any DC comics at the moment, but the reviews I’ve seen of this book make it sound like something I’d like. You take an established DC character, you tweak their concept ever so slightly, and you move them forward, respecting their continuity but not wallowing in it. Plus, you don’t have dogs eat people, introduce people vomiting blood, or stuff anyone’s dead girlfriend in a refrigerator. This should be simple, but most of DC can’t quite catch on to these simple guidelines, hence my not reading their titles. This was published as a hardcover, but now you can buy it in trade paperback form, so it’s affordable if you want to check it out.

Starman Omnibus Volume 3: I’ve raved about Starman so much that even I’m tired of hearing about it. Suffice to say it’s my favorite series of the 1990’s, and if you press me, perhaps my favorite superhero comic ever. It so deserves this hardcover treatment, and this includes the Shade miniseries that James Robinson wrote, and is quite worth picking up.

Tiny Titans: Adventures in Awesomeness: Much has been written about who DC expects to buy this title. It’s drawn in a fun and cartoony style, and seems to be aimed at kids (and DC has it as part of their kid’s line), but to understand many of the jokes you have to have a working knowledge of DC continuity. Well, perhaps DC is just expecting me to buy this title, and if so, I shall not disappoint them, as I find it a joy. Art Balthazar’s art and stories are so amazingly funny and bright and cheerful that I fell in love with them from issue #1, and I’ll support this title until it is no more. Now if I could just get Marvel to start publishing series just for me.

Preacher Book One: I’m just going to say this now and get it out of the way. Deep breath. I’ve never read Preacher. Whew. I…I feel much better now. Like a weight has been lifted off me. I know that any serious comic fan has read, learned, loved and lived this monumental comics masterpiece by now, but honestly, I’m not a big fan of Garth Ennis and when this first came out, it seemed to me that he was trying to go over the top simply so that he could go over the top. However, I’ve been assured by many that this is not the case and that Ennis has a real story to tell here. I trust these people, so I plan to pick this book up and give it a real chance very soon.

Rex Libris: Book of Monsters: Rex Libris is a gloriously fun comic, one that follows the adventures of a librarian who fights those who would keep books, refuse to pay their late fees, and otherwise arouse a librarian’s ire. It’s got some great action in it, and while it can be a little wordy at time, it’s very clever. It understands the humor in it’s very concept and it has fun with it, but its not total slapstick. I highly recommend it.

See: Look at that, we’re not even finished with the comic’s section and already we’ve found lots of great possibilities in this month’s Previews. Tomorrow I’ll look at a few more items I found to be of interest, including some stuff from Marvel!

BOO! Hey, remember me? I used to post on this blog too! Look, I don’t have much time…I can hear the dogs’ nervous barking rising over the tree-speckled ridge in the distance…but I needed to catch my breath and thought this might be a good time to chime in. When I mentioned that there wasn’t much in the latest Previews to pique my interest, I was basically referring to single issues. John has already made that great, blind leap from floppies to trades without ever looking back. I, on the other hand, still have a burning need for instant gratification and have been unable to completely ween myself from the teat of monthly comics. However, I’m inching closer with every passing Previews.

I feel I need to make a few comments on John’s first round of offerings. While he and I now shop at the same location (after the premature passing of my own establishment), I’m still not completely loyal in my purchasing habits. To be quite honest, Amazon still receives a good chunk of my comic-buying cash. Especially when it comes to new hardcover books. Sure, I’m willing to buy my Scott Pilgrim at our local store, but the latest Starman Omnibus makes more fiscal sense when it is shipped to me at a generous discount. So, while John is surfing the pages to fill out his monthly order of trades and other books, I’m merely looking for my pamphlet fix (dwindling as it may be). I don’t regard the higher-priced trades as “must haves” that particular month.

So…never heard of Sinfest. Not really interested in Booster Gold since they killed off his buddy Ted Kord. Starman will eventually make it to my shelf. I consider Art Baltazar and Franco to be convention pals, but I can’t justify buying Tiny Titans until it’s released in its Absolute format (I make myself laugh). I already own all of the Preacher trades. And Rex Libris never really lit my fuse. However, I am ordering the first part of the new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

What else is on your radar, John?

Uh-oh…gotta run. The search party is getting closer. I’ll see you guys on the other side…

Did anybody else hear anything?  I could have sworn there was someone here, just a minute ago, talking to us.  Well, whoever it was, they’re gone now.  Time to post something new.

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Highlights of 2008

Dec-17-08

The last few days have been fun, as Jason and I peered into our crystal balls to look at what 2009 might hold. However, it’s possible that those thoughts may have seemed a tad cynical to some; I’ll go so far as to say that some may have called them snarky. It may seem to some readers that Jason and I look on the comics industry with disdain, and nothing could be farther from the truth. Well, ok, many things could be farther from the truth, but we’re not totally jaded. Along those lines, I wanted to look at some of the highlights of the previous year.

This is not a best of list. I simply don’t read the breadth of comics that I would need to read to compile a list like that. No, this is a list of what happened in 2008 that gives me hope for the future. I’ll also touch on those things that make me think that 2009 may not be such a bad year for comics after all.

A new Scott Pilgrim book announced for 2009. Jason and I have touted Scott Pilgrim quite a few times, but there’s a reason that this gives me hope. It has long been established that the only financially successful model for comics to follow is to publish monthly pamphlets (or floppies or whatever you want to call the comics that we all know so well) and then to collect those previously published floppies into trade paperbacks some months after their initial printing. There have been some original graphic novels, but generally those are only created by big name creators, those who already have a built in following.

Scott Pilgrim refuses to follow this model. Like the titular hero of the book, this creation comes to us in small graphic novels, each completely original. The writer/artist, Bryan Lee O’Malley, is not a well known creator with a built in following. Yet he’s publishing Scott Pilgrim in a way which I feel shows that there are other options beyond what Marvel and DC believe comics can be published. He’s not the only one who’s exploring alternate ways of publishing comics, but he’s one of the most successful and he gives me hope for the medium.

Jeff Smith’s career. Jeff Smith is the writer and artist who created the absolutely charming and exciting Bone comic, which he self-published. That comic ended in 2004, at which time Smith began working on the equally amazing and endearing Shazam: Monster Society of Evil, a four issue limited series which made the best use of DC’s Captain Marvel that I’d read in decades. Once that miniseries was over, Smith went back to creator owned work, publishing RASL, a series about a dimension-jumping art thief. So why does his career fill me with such hope?

I believe that corporate comics have a place, and can be quite enjoyable, but I also believe that they can drain the creative fire from a creator. I’ve seen creators who I greatly admire go to work for DC and Marvel, only to find the originality, humanity and that special unique voice they had disappear within that culture (<cough> Winick <cough>). Jeff Smith proved that you can do those corporate comics and not lose your voice. He’s also shown that he can succeed in multiple genres, as RASL has proven to be just as intriguing as Bone, albeit not as dependent on adorable animals and stars. I’d love to see more creators take those lessons to heart.

Captain America. She-Hulk. X-Factor. Manhunter. I’m not a big fan of where the Marvel or DC Universes are going these days. I find that both companies seem to favor brainless, unending crossovers, where perhaps a few good ideas lay buried, instead of simply publishing good books. That being said, the titles I mention above are all excellent comics, and they prove that even when you’re writing a comic set in a universe that has taken a turn for the worse, you can still write an entertaining story. Sadly, two of these four comics have been cancelled, but I have no doubt that they will be replaced by other entertaining books that shall dance on the periphery of the major superhero universes, reminding us that some people truly can make lemonade from even the tartest of lemons. They give me hope that, even if I don’t like the direction of Marvel and DC, they will always publish some comics I enjoy without reservation.

Ed Brubaker and Grant Morrison: These men have written some of the most mainstream comics on the stands today, and can be considered some of the movers and shakers of their respective universes. Not all of their comics are ones that I love, but more often than not, they have written books that continue to push at the edges of the comic’s medium, taking old, overused cliches of the business and making them work. Along the way, they’ve managed to create some comics which truly show that superheroes can be fun to read, they can be interesting, and they can be used to explore some important themes. I look forward to seeing what these gentlemen create in 2009.

DC Starts its Final Crisis: I’m not a big fan of this Final Crisis. That said, I love the word Final, and while I’m probably being naive, I’m hoping that it truly is final. I’m hoping that, in 2009, we’ll see DC move away from these huge events, and just start telling stories again. Stories that begin in a hero’s book and end (yes, they must end to be a story; Marvel and DC both need to recognize that) in that same book. Stories that don’t require a massive knowledge of the DCU, and stories that, simply put, are good. That’s my hope for 2009, and I have it because DC tells me that this is the last of their crises. Fingers crossed.

James Robinson returns to comics. Of course, he may have left again, if rumors are true, but his return gave me hope. I believe that Robinson is at his best when he’s writing books where he doesn’t have to worry about massive editorial interference, or worrying about umpty-bazillion crossovers, but just the fact that he’s writing comics again means we could possibly see the brilliance he displayed in Starman and The Golden Age. One of my favorite comics writers ever has returned, and that makes me happy.

There’s some of the things that give me hope for 2009. Jason, anything to add?

Yes, in fact, I do have a few things to add. Some build off of what you’ve already stated and others reflect my own twisted favorites in the comic industry.

First off, I heartily agree with your Scott Pilgrim recognition. I also like how you couched your point in the position that a new book was “announced” in 2008. While O’Malley has been rather methodical in putting out a volume a year, 2008 went by without any Scott Pilgrim. #4 came out towards the end of 2007 and #5 comes out early next year. I’m just glad to know we don’t have to wait much longer!

Your praise of a few good series interests me. I’ve been saying for a year or more that I wanted to start reading the She-Hulk trades. I guess it’ll be easier to catch up now that the series has been cancelled! I gave up on X-Factor a few issues ago. With the tie-ins to both Messiah Complex and Secret Invasion, it felt like the book lost its entertaining focus. The stories turned more towards plot devices than character interaction. And the artwork became quite horrible, in my opinion. Sad, really. I liked the early run that built off the Madrox miniseries from a couple years back. I’m on the second of Brubaker’s Captain America trades and it’s…interesting so far. Not sure I like it yet as much as his Daredevil run. All in all, Brubaker has probably impressed me the most this past year…from the mentioned titles to Criminal to Immortal Iron Fist…and, in the theme of this post, I’m looking forward to his Incognito book with Sean Phillips in 2009.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Brubaker’s partner in crime on Iron Fist (and Uncanny X-Men), Matt Fraction. You know how much I’ve enjoyed his writing the past few years. While his Marvel work has lost some of the attitude and sparkle of his more independent stuff, I still think Matt is one of the top up-and-comers in comics today. The first arc of his Invincible Iron Man felt like something I wanted to write, which is probably the best praise I can offer in my own conceited world. Curious to see what he has up his sleeve for 2009.

Andy Diggle on Thunderbolts has me curious. Loved his run on Losers, and the Green Arrow: Year One book was a solid take on the character. I’m also looking forward to Dan Slott’s run on Mighty Avengers. Partially because he’s not Bendis and partially because Slott is a huge Avengers fan, but mostly because he writes fun books with the right mix of action, comedy and crucial moments. I first became a fan of his work with the Arkham Asylum: Living Hell miniseries he did at DC in 2003. The early issues of his Avengers: Initiative drew my interest for a while, but I ended up cutting it from my pull list when it got too mired in “big event” plotting. Another book I liked was Paul Cornell’s Captain Britain and MI:13 series. Unfortunately, I only got the first four issues and then couldn’t track down the rest. I guess I’m looking forward to the trades in 2009!

I’ll echo your approval of James Robinson’s return. I picked up the first hardcover collection of Starman this summer and loved it. His Golden Age is one of my all-time favorite stories too. It’s true that he seems to work best when not being saddled by continuity and editorial interference. That said, volume two of Starman comes out in a few short months! DC has also started releasing larger hardcover collections of Y: The Last Man and just announced the same treatment for Fables. I give two thumbs up to those decisions. I want to get my wife interested in both titles (I already got her hooked on Preacher and Blue Monday) and these hardcovers seem like the best way to do it. On that note, Chynna Clugston started a new Blue Monday miniseries in 2008 and I look forward to grabbing that trade next year.

A lot of the other stuff I’m interested in may show up in my stocking from Santa next week. My wish list includes things like: Chip Kidd’s Bat-Manga book, the Skyscrapers of the Midwest collection from Josh Cotter, the first trade of Warren Ellis’ Freakangels, Mesmo Delivery by Rafael Grampa, a few of the Golden Age ACG archives (Green Lama, Magicman, Nemesis) put out by Dark Horse, the Scud collection from Image, Omega the Unknown by Jonathan Lethem & Farel Dalrymple and Blake Bell’s book about Steve Ditko. Most, if not all, of these books were released in 2008. Kudos to the comic industry for that output!

See? Not everything I read has superheroes in it!

On a final note, I’d also like to expand on your note that Final Crisis was introduced in 2008. Unfortunately, it wasn’t finished in 2008. I’m going to go on the record right now and announce that I just don’t care for event comics. Sure, I buy them every freakin’ time they put them out, but I think that’s more a collector’s reflex than any sort of focused interest. I’m almost always disappointed by the results. And DC’s overall universe has taken a gigantic hit in stability, from my point of view, as a result of all this constant “OH NO!” foreshadowing and angsty, heavy-handed plotting. There is not a single title on DC’s current slate, aside form some Vertigo titles, that interests me in the least. Two years ago, I was reading almost everything they put out. If that’s not a glaring problem, I don’t know what is. Sadly, Marvel is starting to deliver the same results for me. The only titles I consistently read anymore are the peripheral books that don’t seem to be as rooted in the general nonsense going on. I’d like to see a moratorium on Events (with a capital “E”). At the least, corral them into a family of titles instead of the entire breadth of your output. The dreaded Spider-Man: Clone Saga was an odious piece of garbage, but it was segregated enough to keep its stench off the rest of the world. Same goes for most X-Men soap opera plots that I have less and less interest in as I get older. Is it too much to ask that we just get an excellent run of Justice League stories or Avengers stories or Batman stories or (god forbid) Wolverine stories without all the restless claptrap constantly revolving around them? And don’t tell me that the “market has changed” and the “customers’ expectations have evolved.” That’s complete and utter bull. These changes and evolutions are self-made. Writers write “for the trades” because they’re lazy or because the publishers are greedy. It has nothing to do with the readers. I’m pretty sure I never signed a petition asking for gloomy, redundant, violent comics without a glimmer of hope or excitement. I don’t remember picketing outside DC’s offices with a sign that said “More Rape Please!” I’m not saying Spider-Man shouldn’t be punching bad guys in the face. On the contrary, I think he should do more of it…with less of the “sky is falling” consequences, sideways glances, overwhelming politics and downward-spiral finality of it all. Lighten the f*** up.

I know that rant isn’t really a “highlight” of 2008. But perhaps 2009 could be the year we get back to good, fun comics? I’d like to be able to praise that accomplishment at this time next year.

John?

Jason, Jason, take your tablets.  Go to your happy place for a few minutes.  We’ll wait.

Of course, I can’t disagree with your rant at all.  Your points are all valid, I agree with them, and I would also love to see 2009 be a return to more fun comics.  Not every comic has to be Giffen/DeMatteis’ Justice League, but not every comic has to be a blood drenched gritty buzzkiller either.  Good grief.  Alan Moore (not one of Jason’s favorites, but I like his work) seems to be able to do serious stories that don’t seem to drown in pathos and unnecessary violence.  Perhaps it’s because, for every From Hell he’s written, he’s also produced a more lighthearted book, like Tomorrow Stories or Tom Strong

Still, I believe we may have gotten off point a tad.  I will echo your words about Dan Slott, a writer who does an excellent job of writing good stories, yet recognizing that they can be fun.  His Great Lakes Avengers limited series is still one of my favorites.  And for those, like you, who were turned off by Larry Stroman’s art on X-Factor, he has left the book, so you may want to give it another try.

We’ve both shared some of what we thought was important in 2008, as well as what gives us hope in 2009.  There’s good stuff out now to read, and more on the way, but the percentage of good reads compared to what’s being published isn’t nearly as high as it should be.


Does DC Stand for “DiDio is a Crackhead”?

Nov-18-08

Jason and I, when we discussed reviewing comics, mentioned that it was important to us that we critique the work, not the people who created the work. I may not enjoy a comic that Rob Liefeld pencilled, but I don’t know him as a man, so who am I to attack him personally? However, if one looks at the title for this entry, it may seem that I’m here to lob personal attacks on Dan DiDio, who is the Senior Vice President and Executive Editor of the DC Universe. I don’t want to make personal attacks against DiDio, who may be a nice guy, but the decisions he often makes certainly lead me to wonder if he does not, in fact, use drugs. I certainly can’t come up with another reason for many of the things he has done.

DiDio has earned the wrath of DC Universe fans for some time now, and many people point to him as the reason that DC comics are no longer considered (by some) to be of the high quality we enjoyed in the past. I normally resist looking at easy solutions or placing the blame for anything all on the shoulder’s of one person, but it must be said that, as the Executive Editor and overseer of DC’s entire output, he must acknowledge some of the blame for the perceived dip in the DC line.

Jason and I spend more time talking about Marvel than DC, and part of that is because Jason is more of a Marvel fan. I started out as a Marvel fan, but fell into DC Comics in the late 80s-early 90s and discovered that they published some amazing stories. By the late 90s, I was reading many more DC books than I was Marvel books. Sadly, my love affair with DC began to end shortly after DiDio joined the company in 2002 (as DC Universe Vice President-Editorial). It was less than two years after DiDio became a staff member at DC that Identity Crisis was published, which I have long viewed as the point where the DC Universe became darker than I enjoyed. Rape, murder and unheroic activities seemed to invade the stories of these beloved icons with increasing regularity, and while an occasional story that hits a dark point is fine, when they seem to be the norm across the entire line of comics, I begin to back off. I have been backing off more and more over the ensuing years, even dropping titles I once loved like JSA and JLA. The frustration that I feel towards the current direction of the DCU is another reason that we don’t discuss DC that much.

DiDio has continued to steer the DC line into darker and choppier waters, all the while often uttering comments which draw down much fan ire. I personally had a friend who was ready to drive to New York and stuff DiDio in a refrigerator when he said that he didn’t see the point to Nightwing and wanted to kill him off. He has supposedly been responsible for the deaths of numerous DC Universe characters, and whether their deaths were his decision or not, he certainly had to sign off on them.

However, news today tops all of these stories, as it seems that DiDio has been fighting with two of his hottest writers. Apparently, DiDio and James Robinson, acclaimed writer of Starman and The Golden Age who just recently returned to comics to write some Superman stories, had an argument with DiDio, and quit the books, and apparently the entire DCU. Even more spectacular, DiDio apparently argued with Grant Morrison about the ending to Final Crisis, demanding rewrites, leading Morrison to say he’ll not work with DC again in the future either.

Obviously, there is likely more to both of these stories than we know, and will probably ever know, but the question before us now is how DiDio could let this happen? Is it good business to allow these writers to slip away from DC? I have some points to make, and can even offer some arguments in DiDio’s favor, but I’m curious to hear what Jason has to say first.

One could make the argument that the current path that DC Comics is traveling down was not mapped out by Dan DiDio, but it’s one that he feels helpless to diverge from. Of course, one would be totally stupid to think that. The stuff with character deaths is questionable, since we all know that superheroes come and go with no sense of boundaries when it comes to life and death. Horrible things happen to these characters in an attempt to show that they are strong and can overcome all obstacles. A quick perusal of the Women in Refrigerators page shows you all you need to know about how people are treated in superhero comics.

Not being as avid a DC fan as some, I could also begin a convincing debate about the need to inject a spark into the universe. The stories of the past few decades, for the most part, have been boring and forgettable. The characters are flat and have no true sense of themselves, no depth, no meaning. I guess that’s why I feel that Identity Crisis wasn’t a completely off-base idea. That’s not to say the actual plot and follow-through were done with any sort of class or purpose. Providing a rallying point for the hero community was important. Making that rallying point the rape and subsequent murder of a hero’s wife was disturbing, to say the least.

You know how certain parts of the world are always a bit behind the times? It takes longer for popular culture to hit the shores or technology doesn’t advance as quickly in some corners? Well, in my eyes, DC is like the Eastern Europe to Marvel’s USA and Japan. Everything is either a cheap knock-off, produced to score some immediate rewards, or it’s the real thing…only about a dozen years after the “real thing” has lost its impact.

What I mean to say is, DC seems to be stuck in the gritty back alleys of the late 80s and early 90s. Everything is done for shock value. Everything is dark and unrepentant. Everything is selfish. It’s all built on vigilante justice and an eye-for-an-eye mentality.

DiDio isn’t responsible for that first woman stuffed in a refrigerator, but he is guilty of perpetuating that ideal. “Hey, that was a stunner, huh? Let’s do it again and again and again until our readers become first completely desensitized by the violence and then just flat out tired of it!” Anger for the sake of anger is boring. Seething just to hear yourself seethe is sad. And unproductive.

Dan DiDio didn’t break the pattern, therefore, it continues unabated. Fresh ideas are offered, only to dwindle off before realizing their full potential (see, for example, 52, Countdown, World War III, One Year Later, Infinite Crisis, Trinity and Final Crisis…to name a few). The biggest misstep had to be the whole One Year Later debacle. I owned my comic book store during that slash-and-burn period. We were told that all these crazy things were going to develop. We’ll all be shocked by stuff! A new Aquaman! A new Blue Beetle! A new Freedom Fighters! A new Atom! Oooh! You know what I remember from that period? Ollie Queen became Mayor of Star City. That’s it. And even that was uneventful.

Sure, there were Previews listings with parts of covers obscured and mixing and matching of some teams, but in the end nothing changed. In fact, they never even really explained the OYL thing…it just ceased to be (like Bart Allen). And that wasn’t all. The timing of the event was so ridiculous. I don’t recall if it was supposed to coincide with 52 or happen afterwards or whatever, but reading 52 just confused things further. And don’t get me started on all the dangling plotlines that 52 offered up and then never resolved (just how the hell did Hawkgirl get back down to normal size? When did Firestorm and Cyborg get disconnected from each other? And where is Alan Scott’s other eye?). I was actually enjoying a lot of DC titles right before all of this happened. In fact, I had soured on Marvel’s youth movement and was gravitating almost solely towards DC. Nowadays, aside from Vertigo, I read one DC title (Secret Six) and it’s currently on Death Row with little chance of reprieve. The DC universe means nothing to me anymore.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about all the near-public fallouts between DC management and their creators. We all know that Alan Moore has already stated that he won’t work with DC again. Not too long ago, Chuck Dixon was unceremoniously dropped from his writing duties. And now both Robinson and Morrison have had disruptive conversations with Mr. DiDio. You’re right in concluding that we can’t make complete judgments on these events without more information, but we can certainly speculate!

Is there a “Big Picture” that DiDio has in mind? I know he can’t reveal it without spoiling the plots of many titles and the development of many characters, but the general flailing about that seems to be dominating DC’s stable does not instill confidence. Morrison seems to have had a large hand in recreating and directing things for the past two or three years now. His influence is felt in nearly every title. But were all of his ideas home runs? Not by a longshot. And we can discuss that further later on in the week.

Same goes for Robinson. Here’s a favorite creator who put together a great run of comics, playing in a nearly forgotten corner of DC’s world with near autonomy. That autonomy helped him guide his characters and create a coherent vision. But that same autonomy may have colored his view of how things are done in the larger sandbox of licensed characters whose histories are written out on the sides of lunchboxes and within the confines of Saturday morning cartoons.

Who’s at fault? I certainly don’t know for sure. I’m not friends with Mr. Morrison. I’ve never shared a conversation with Mr. Robinson. I can attest to neither their characters nor their temperaments. To the same extent, I do not know Mr. DiDio. However, past practice would demonstrate that the decisions made by the editorial department have not always inspired, let alone made sense.

Wow. That suddenly sounded very academic of me. I apologize. Now I feel like I need to let loose with a stream of obscenities and snarky, back-handed insults. Blah.

Did anything I just say make any sense to anyone?

I think what you said made a lot of sense, and you’re absolutely right when you say that the dust-ups with Morrison and Robinson may have been a case of finicky creative types and not DiDio’s fault. Of course, if he’s had problems with three creators (counting Dixon) in the recent past (all three of whom have successfully worked with other editors on long term projects) it does begin to look a little worse for DiDio.

Perhaps DiDio felt that losing these creators was worth it. Chuck Dixon has always been a solid writer, but never a fan favorite, so perhaps DiDio thought Dixon wouldn’t be missed. I believe that Morrison had said he was going to leave comics, either for good or for a nice long rest, after Final Crisis, so perhaps DiDio figured he had nothing to lose by going toe to toe with him. And Robinson did leave comics for years after he wrapped Starman; perhaps DiDio thought that Robinson would leave again. But even if DiDio believed all of the arguments I’ve laid out here, it still seems poor business sense to drive off top talent in this way. Dixon may not have made Wizard’s Top Ten Writer Lists (and he very well may have at some point), but he always was on time, and his books sold in the middle tier of titles at the very least. Morrison may have decided not to leave comics, or to only take a short break, and Robinson may have been back for the long haul. And even if none of those statements are true, breaks with creative talent like these seem to be a bad idea, since you also are sending a message to all of your other talent; a message that you’re not open to new or different ideas, and that you don’t play well with others.

In the end, my concern is that DC seems to be spiraling into a black hole of continuity. Most of their titles have become so bogged down in continuity that a reader has to be a long time fan to be able to understand them. It seems like they’re now writing only to the same, hardcore audience that has been buying their titles for the past twenty years. Perhaps this isn’t a bad strategy. After all, that hardcore audience is the vast majority of the people buying their product. But I can’t help but think that no one new will be drawn into the DC Universe by the stories currently gracing the pages of their comics line. I can’t help thinking that DiDio seems to be forcing his creative vision onto the pages of the DCU, and that his vision is somewhat lacking, and very short term.

Short term? We wish! This “overhaul” has dragged on for nearly four years now, slogging through special series after special series, with entire worlds reborn and left undeveloped. When will it all end (or at least start making sense)?

Cutting ties (or having them cut) with Morrison and Robinson definitely sends a message to the other creators and it’s not a very pretty one. DiDio is basically saying “my way or the highway.” and if he won’t kowtow to even the fans’ favorite writers, then what does that mean for the day-to-day, in the trenches people?

It’s not like Morrison needs DC. I’m sure he’ll be more than happy to sit at home in his immaculate suits with his feet up on his pagan ritual dais and collect his royalty checks. There are very few writers these days who are able to not only write a good superhero yarn, but are also able to look ahead, deconstruct the genre and offer insights into how new technology, new social mores and new political developments will affect stories. Morrison has that kind of acid-tripped outlook. Even if you don’t understand all of his work, you can’t deny that it’s filled with obscure notions, intelligent details and far-reaching revelations. To disconnect that free-flowing font of creativity from DC is foolish at best, and flat out depressing at worst.

Robinson is someone who has proven he can make miracles out of tidbits. His characters are strong. His stories are rooted in pragmatic solutions. And his dialogue has a natural tone that’s pretty rare in today’s stammering, overwrought world of superheroes (I’m looking at you, Bendis). Again, removing someone from the process who is able to put the pieces together calmly and effectively is the same as trying to perform brain surgery blindfolded with live chickens tied to your hands. Why would you even try? And who are you trying to fool?

You’re right to think that DC is cutting off its nose to spite its aging fanboy base’s face. The biggest reason for my ambivalence towards DC is the density of its continuity. They offer nothing for someone who just wants to be entertained. Reading a DC title is the same experience as subscribing to the Wall Street Journal if you don’t care about government policy or investment profiles. It’s a taxing and humiliating process that either makes you feel incompetent or annoyed. Not much incentive to keep doing it, huh?

Booting the very people who offer new ideas to experiment with or a new direction to explore is isolationist, and we all know how well isolated countries thrive. That is to say, not at all. DC, in its current state, is a dying breed…an exhausted, lumbering elephant just looking for a place to collapse and be picked apart by vultures and poachers.

Jeez, that was a bit over the top, huh?

Look, I sincerely hope that DiDio does have a vision. The only problem is that he doesn’t seem to be willing to share it with anyone. And there’s no way in the world, with numerous titles and ever-changing characters under his supervision, that he can effectively control it all by himself. If no one else buys into what he’s doing, then he’s a lame duck. I hope I’m wrong, but it doesn’t look good. The rumors have swirled before and, in this industry, rumors have a strange way of coming true.


Dream Team: The Justice Society of America

Nov-10-08

Ah, the Justice Society of America, or the JSA, as it’s known to its friends. The JSA is DC’s oldest super-hero team, debuting during the early days of World War II. The concept, revolutionary at the time, is now old-hat; a publisher brought their most popular characters into one team, in one book. The JSA survived and prospered throughout the war years, but like almost every superhero title, their popularity waned after the war, and they were soon gone from the shelves. When DC relaunched the superhero genre in the late 50s and early 60s, they created the Justice League of America, an updating of the JSA in much the same way they’d updated the individual members of the JSA, like their new Flash and Green Lantern characters.

Soon, the publishers of DC Comics brought the JSA into their new and updated universe, but for years the JSA didn’t have much to differentiate it from it’s newer and younger counterpart, the JLA, except for that one key element; the JSA members were older. Otherwise, the JSA was just another super-team, and although they tried to maintain their own series a few times, they never seemed able to hold onto the popularity and respect due the original superheroes. However, when the JSA title launched, under the pen of Geoff Johns (and writing partners David Goyer and James Robinson in those early days), the old stars of DC Comics were finally given an identity separate from other teams; they were the legacy team.

DC has done something that Marvel has been unable to do, and that’s create a legacy for many of their heroic identities. Perhaps it’s because their heroes have always been more important than the secret identities, and therefore easier to replace, DC has managed to put succeeding generations of heroes behind the same mask. Flash is the best example, as we moved from Jay Garrick in the Golden Age, to Barry Allen in the Silver Age, to Wally West today. That’s the model for the JSA; it’s about the older generation teaching the younger generation what it means to be heroes. World War II veterans fight alongside teenagers, and everyone learns.

The problem with the JSA is that their roster is huge; they often have 20-30 members, even if they may not all be active at once. I find it difficult to narrow down the ones I think are vital to the team, but I’m going to do it. I’m going to give the group eight members; we normally do seven, but since the JSA is a team that has always been larger than other teams, I’m relaxing that restriction here. I’m also going to say that I love almost every member of this team, and I think all of them deserve a place here, so if your favorite is left out, it probably didn’t mean I don’t like that character; it just means that someone had to give. So, who makes the cut?

The Flash (Jay Garrick) and Green Lantern (Alan Scott): The JSA, to be the true legacy team that they are, must have some of the original members active. Honestly, there aren’t a lot of original members left alive, but these two are necessary to the team. Besides being quite powerful, they have the wisdom and the patience to deal with the younger generation and the experience to teach them. I’m going to leave out Wildcat, the other active member from the old days, for space reasons, which tears me up, as he’s a fascinating character in his own right.

Hourman and Black Canary: The son and daughter of the original members to beat those names, these two have gained their superhero identities by inheriting them from their parents. Both of them are smart and experienced, and their powers are a little bit more street level. Some will say Black Canary belongs with the Justice League, but I say phooey on that notion; her home is the JSA, just like it was her mother’s home. Besides, if we can get her out of the JLA, we can get her away from the horrid Green Arrow and put her with the man she’s much better suited for:

Dr. Mid-Nite: Although the current isn’t related to the original, he’s assumed the mantle of the new Dr. Mid-Nite with grace and style. Yes, he has the original Mid-Nite’s ability to see in the dark and some nice fighting skills, but he’s most useful to the team as a medical doctor. I don’t see why more superhero teams don’t look into having a medical doctor on staff; that comes in handy constantly. The man behind the mask is also interesting, and he and Black Canary became an item until DC decided to bring Green Arrow back from the dead. That was such a horribly bad idea, and I’d like to see Canary and Mid-Nite give it another shot.

Mr. Terrific: The Golden Age Mr. Terrific was, to be honest, something of a goofy character, and wearing ths slogan “Fair Play” on his costume didn’t make him look like any less of a tool. While the current Mr. Terrific doesn’t seem to have much better fashion sense than his predecessor, he’s a brilliant character, and the perfect leader and organizer of the team.

Stargirl and Jakeem Thunder: The new Stargirl has matured more than perhaps any other character in comics in the past few decades; this is someone who’s had an actual character arc, and readers have seen her grow from a spoiled little girl into a worthy hero. I have loved watching her learn from the members of the JSA, and she may be the strongest argument for the value of this team, and for training the younger generation in the field. Jakeem is also maturing, and while he’s not at Stargirl’s level yet, he needs to be on the team so they have someone to mentor. Plus, his friendship with Stargirl is strong and they have a great dynamic.

There’s my eight characters. Mr. Terrific leads Flash, Green Lantern, Black Canary, Dr. MidNite, Stargirl, Hourman, and Jakeem Thunder. What do you think?

I will admit up front that I am not as familiar with some of the newer characters in this book as I am with the traditional old-timers. My collection includes a few of the later issues of All-Star Comics and a pretty generous run of All Star Squadron, but with the various crises confusing or flat out eliminating most of the continuity of those books, I don’t know what’s relevant or not. I’ve read the initial four or five trades of the first JSA series and I read the first half dozen or so issues of this latest series, but my history with the title would be best described as “spotty.” That being said, I’m still going to give this a good go. I fear, however, that you may end up winning this round because I won’t be able to argue very effectively for my picks!

Off the top of my head, I know that the Justice Society has almost always had the presence of at least one Hawk family member…usually Hawkman. I know they’ve played host to Dr. Fate and The Spectre. And some quick research tells me that Atom, Starman and Sandman have all played parts on the team from time to time. Current continuity seems to preclude a few of them from being on any team since they’re either deceased or missing or their current incarnations have no real ties to the JSA, but I’ll give this thing a shot anyway. Here’s my JSA Dream Team:

John said Flash and Green Lantern: I find it difficult to argue with either of these and, as our presidential picks went a week or two ago, I think it’s pretty obvious that we both have great affection for these characters. The legacy of the characters, in both name and experience, is essential to any incarnation of the JSA. So Flash and Green Lantern are in.

John said Mister Terrific: Again, I’ve always liked this character and I think it’s important to have someone on the team who is a legacy by something other than relation. Mister Terrific is a smart man and a good leader.

John said Stargirl and Jakeem Thunder: Okay, here’s where we first part ways. I’m good with half of the duo here. Stargirl is a great character. I love the way she has proceeded to become a strong hero and overcome the fears and doubts she had when she first began. And her background is, perhaps, one of the strangest yet strongest ties to a DC legacy: her stepfather was the sidekick of a Golden Age character that eventually inherited the equipment of Starman. That makes her a unique necessity to the JSA. However, I’ve never had a good feeling about Jakeem. I just don’t get the allure of a street smart kid and his magic pen genie. Take that writing instrument away and he’s fairly useless. No, my pick for this slot would be Obsidian for a number of reasons. First, he’s Alan Scott’s son which adds a bit of depth and a new dimension to the legacy aspect. Alan should show fatherly concern whenever they’re in battle. Secondly, Obsidian is gay and I just think that’s something to showcase in the book. And third, his power set is much more interesting and tangible.

John said Hourman and Black Canary: Again, I think we’re going to split the difference here. Hourman is a unique concept for a hero…making him extremely useful for short periods of time, but vulnerable the rest of the day. I’ve always liked the look of the character too. But, in an effort to further solidify the legacy of the team, I’ve decided to throw Hourman’s wife onto the roster instead of Black Canary. Liberty Belle (formerly Jesse Quick) has inherited the powers of both of her parents, giving her flight, super speed and increased strength. That gives us not only a parent/child relationship on the team, but also a husband/wife dynamic.

John said Dr. Mid-Nite: Yeah…I’m not feeling him either. A surgeon who can see in the dark is helpful how exactly? Besides, if I don’t have Black Canary on the team to explore any sort of relationship, then Mid-Nite can be discarded as well. I would prefer to fill this slot with another legacy character who played a prominent role in the second volume of the series: Sandman. Again, I feel that his power set is useful to the team. He has the experience of being both a former sidekick to an original team member and a former chairman of the JSA itself. Plus, he seems to be the resident detective whose skills would play well with Mister Terrific’s science background. And, with Terrific’s current position in Checkmate taking up a good portion of his time, I’d even return the chairmanship to Sandman.

So, my lineup is as follows: Sandman leading a team of Flash, Green Lantern, Mister Terrific, Stargirl, Obsidian, Hourman and Liberty Belle. I suspect a counter-punch is imminent…

Well, I can’t punch too hard, as you agreed with half of my line-up! That may be a first for us here in Dream Team Central. As for the ones you disagreed with, I’m stuck with the problem that I really like my choices, but I like your characters as well. Let me see if I can agree with half of your new picks as well.

I love Sandman, and thought his time as chairman was one of the best eras of the book. He was so close to making my roster, and since you chose him as well, who am I to say no? He’s in, and he can be leader (especially since his new costume is so cool, modeled after the original Sandman).

I didn’t like Obsidian for many years, as I think his early appearances were characterized by him being something of a waffling loser with no self-esteem. That being said, ever since he turned evil, and then came back to the ranks of herodom, he’s had a strength that he was lacking before. I think the writer of Manhunter has used him to great effect, and I do like having him on the team with his father, since these two have a lot of issues to work through. He’s also in.

That means we agree on the team except for that one last slot. I have to be honest; I would have used Black Canary in my JLA dream team, but I was saving her for my JSA dream team. I know she’s a founding member of the JLA in the post-Crisis DC Universe, but I truly felt she fit into the JSA better than she ever did the JLA. That being said, I think she fits into the Birds of Prey better than either team, so I might be willing to let her go from my JSA team if I wasn’t replacing her with Liberty Belle. I agree that having a husband and wife on the team, as well as two legacy heroes is a great idea, and I loved Liberty Belle when she went by the name Jesse Quick and appeared in the Flash comic, but lately she’s been putting me to sleep. I want to like this character again, and there is a lot of plot potential here…..oh, I give up. You win. She’s in.

I’m fine with your roster: Sandman as leader, with Green Lantern, Flash, Mr. Terrific, Hourman, Liberty Belle, Stargirl and Obsidian.

And can we put Dr. Mid-Nite on the team as someone who stays back at base and waits for people to be injured? He can hang out with Ma Kunkle.

What the…?!? Who are you and what have you done with my friend John? Seriously? That’s it? I was sure you’d have some sort of trump card in your back pocket that you would confound me with and I’d be forced to bow down to your more convincing reasoning. Now I’m just confused, but happy nonetheless.

I agree that Mid-Nite should hang around as a supporting character. I was originally going to suggest the same thing for Mister Terrific because of his involvement with Checkmate, but I feared that his lack of appearances wouldn’t be fair to such a great character. The same thing for Flash. I was going to suggest that he take a backseat to Liberty Belle and act solely as a mentor for her, but then I thought about the great dynamic he and Green Lantern share and I could imagine a storyline where the two of them just reminisced over a drink or two.

I originally wanted to put Cyclone on the team, but thought better of it because…well…she’s just kind of annoying.

So that does it, huh? The Justice Society of America Dream Team is Sandman, Flash, Green Lantern, Mister Terrific, Stargirl, Obsidian, Hourman & Liberty Belle.


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.