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.

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Top 5 Presidential Candidates in the DC Universe

Oct-23-08

Some of you may have heard, but here in America, there’s an election for president coming up in a few weeks. It’s ok if you weren’t aware of it; the news media hasn’t really been covering it much. Anyone could have easily missed it.

Jason and I thought we’d take a look at those characters in the DC and Marvel universes who might make good candidates for president. These are the characters that are, first of all, eligible: they have to be American citizens, and also have to be near the age requirement (since most companies are very ambiguous about the ages of their characters, I’m going to choose those who at least seem like they might be old enough. No Teen Titans need apply). DC Comics is first, and we’ll hit the Marvel characters closer to the election.

Who would I nominate?

1. Jay Garrick: Without a doubt the Golden Age Flash would be my top choice for President. He has a college education, he was a popular sports star before he got his powers, and as a member of the Justice Society of America, he’d be immensely popular. Plus, unlike a lot of heroes, I don’t believe he’s got any negative public events in his past. He’s never been arrested, possessed by evil, or had his name smeared. He’s a good guy, with a sensible head on his shoulders. He’s an older man, but he’s sure not any older than John McCain.

2. Perry White: It looks like he was badly wounded in Final Crisis, but for the moment we’re going to ignore that. Again, we have a figure that many in the public know. He’s a well respected journalist and has led the Daily Planet for years. He also is without scandal, and is again, a man with a cool head and the ability to survive a crisis. Plus, he’s someone who knows how to sniff out the truth, and won’t be snowed by advisors.

3. Barbara Gordon and Dinah Lance: These are two who I think would make the perfect ticket, although I’ll be the first to admit that it would be a hard sell. Gordon is highly educated, but not in anything relating to the political sciences. Plus, it would be two women on the ticket, and one of them physically handicapped. However, if they’d be willing to come clean about who they are, I think they might have a chance. Gordon is possibly one of the smartest characters in comics, and she tempers are intelligence with compassion and common sense, which can be all too rare. I think Lance (otherwise known as Black Canary) would make a perfect VP; someone who can bring a little more fire to the ticket, and who’s willing to get things done. Together these two would make a very strong team, as they have for years.

4. Michael Holt (Mr. Terrific): Although he’s never held an office, he has the education, with PHD’s in both political science and law. He’s a brilliant man, and not to run this into the ground again, but he’s also a compassionate and loving man. Plus, he began life with little, and grew up with a brother who was mentally challenged, so he understands the needs and frustrations of the poor and those with disabilities. And again, I don’t know of any real scandals in his past.

5. John Stewart: My last choice has military experience, as a member of the US Marines, as well as having experience in the largest military in the Universe, the Green Lantern Corps. Stewart has the qualities that exemplify all of my choices, and he’s seen more of the universe than any of them. He’s not someone who would be cowed by a terrorist or a raving leader of a rival nation. His nerves of steel would make him a Commander-in-Chief who could not be intimidated.

I’d vote for any of them.

Really? You’d vote for Perry White? Great Caesar’s Ghost! That guy has to be about 112 years old. Scary. Could you imagine Jimmy Olsen being a heartbeat from the most powerful seat in the free world? It sends a cold chill up my spine.

It’s not often you get to overtly fuse politics with superheroes (or their supporting cast). Sure, many creators over the years have subtly infused their own leanings into certain characters. But overall, the heroes are more concerned with traveling to distant dimensions or battling imminent threats to all of civilization. They don’t have time for petty squabbles over land use rights or foreclosure crises.

When discussing this topic with John, I let him know that I always imagined DC as sort of the old school version of the GOP in comparison to Marvel’s more liberal-leaning characters and settings. And I think you can find a lot of parallels in the way the two universe are set up and how the heroes operate. DC has had government involvement in their world for decades, but when Marvel introduces the seemingly “fascist” Superhero Registration Act, the fans erupt in protest. I know that’s a simplification of the situation, but it sets up my point. DC heroes are icons in costume before they’re people. Marvel’s characters are built on their alter egos and resonant with the “common folk” more easily.

I have the same criteria for selecting these candidates as John: legal age and citizenship. Beyond that, I’m not really concerned with scouring their backgrounds for weird instances of alien possession or mind control or minor penal infractions. Hell, after all the crap that takes place there on a daily basis, I would think that the regular citizens in these universes would just be relieved to have a President who wasn’t blue and four-armed. I mean, seriously, the DC peeps elected Lex Luthor. My picks couldn’t possibly be worse than that decision!

I played around with the idea of trying to select all non-hero types from DC, but the pickings were pretty slim. People with some government or police/detective work were easy to find, but their personalities or pasts seemed to disqualify them. Names like Harry Stein, Sarge Steel and Slam Bradley came to mind. Hal Jordan seemed like a perfect GOP analogue, except for that pesky “went nuts and killed countless innocent people” thing. I was also interested in nominating Jonny Double, but only because his creator, Len Wein, described him as “a down-beat Don Quixote in a society that frowns on windmills. A once white knight in rusty armor searching for that last dragon to slay. The poor man’s Peter Pan.” Awesome.

Instead, I chose these five contenders, in descending order:

5. Lucas “Snapper” Carr: Stop laughing, I’m serious! No single non-hero knows the hero community better than Snapper. He’s been involved with the covert operations of Checkmate, held his own as a member of the inter-dimensional Blasters, and even had his hands replaced by Vril Dox. How cool is that? Snapper also relished the time he spent mentoring Hourman and Young Justice. He’s a born…uh…leader? Plus, he has a gimmick. The media LOVES gimmicks. I can already hear the slogans…”Picking the President is a SNAP!”

4. Noah Kuttler (Calculator): Look, if John is going to nominate Oracle, then I can throw in Calculator. This is supposed to be the evil GOP side of things, right? Seriously though, if Lex Luthor can win an election, anyone can. Calculator has way too many criminal contacts to NOT be able to put the fix in. He’s smart, but more in the “clever” or “conniving” sense. He’s an accomplished strategist and has the resources to dig up dirt for an overwhelming smear campaign against whoever opposed him.

3. Doctor Will Magnus: It’s funny that I gravitated towards smart, science-y types when I was thinking of presidential candidates. I guess, after the last eight years or so, that I’m not-so-subliminally hoping for some intelligence in the Oval Office…perhaps even an honest-to-gosh “rocket scientist.” Say hello to Will Magnus, creator of the Metal Men. Sure, he’s technically bipolar, aided and abetted a criminal gang and even killed a dude once. But really, who hasn’t had indiscretions in their recent, unstable past? Besides, it’d be comforting to have a president who favors the classic Ward Cleaver look of tweed suits and pipe smoking.

2. Michael Holt (Mr. Terrific): I agree with John on this one. Fourteen Ph.D’s…Olympic Gold Medal-winning decathlete…self-made millionaire. He’s a very smart man (third-smartest on DC’s Earth), an expert problem-solver and seems to always want to fight the good fight. He has government experience with his involvement in Checkmate and has leadership skills from his chairmanship of the JSA. He has felt tragic loss and demonstrated strong compassion. The only stumbling block for him might be his religion: he’s an avowed Atheist.

1. Alan Scott: All the others are plausible (especially Mr. Terrific), but this is my number one choice. Alan Scott has the ideal story to showcase his campaign. From his humble beginnings as a locomotive engineer, to his stint as head of the Gotham Broadcasting Company, to his heady days as a member of the heroic JSA, Alan Scott has lived the American Dream. Yes, he was brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee…and he more or less abandoned his first wife and two children…and his second wife vainly tried to sell her soul. But hey, he was on the right side of the Checkmate thing AND he now rocks an eye patch. That’s an instant winner! I could easily see a Scott administration. I’m thinking he’d probably pick someone like Jay Garrick as his running mate, a solid colleague who’s always had his back. I’m picturing King Faraday as Secretary of Defense. Maybe Michael Holt as Secretary of State. And wouldn’t it be fun to have his old sidekick Doiby Dickles doddering around as his Chief of Staff? Great Scott!


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.