Moon Knight: Brought into the Light of Day

Nov-06-08

Moon Knight, oft described as a Batman clone, has had a long but relatively undistinguished career at Marvel Comics. Personally, I’ve always felt the Batman clone comment was unfair; yes, they’re both superheroes who are millionaires and mostly fight at night, but otherwise, the similarities are pretty nonexistent. I mean, Wayne’s loyal butler is English and Moon Knight’s is French; I don’t see how their lives could be more different.

Moon Knight is Marc Spector, a mercenary and soldier-of-fortune who fights another mercenary named Bushman, and loses badly. Left for dead in the Egyptian desert, he is rescued by devotees of Khonshu, the Egyptian God of the Moon and Vengeance. Unconscious and near death, Spector has a vision in which Khonshu appears to him and offers him a new chance at life if Spector will be Khonshu’s avatar on Earth. Spector agrees, his life is saved and, when he returns to the United States, he creates the Moon Knight identity.

Not a bad origin, although, as mentioned, it hasn’t led him to much success in the Marvel Universe. Perhaps he should have surmised times would be tough when his first appearance was in Werewolf by Night, one of Marvel’s titles in the 1970’s which tapped into the horror market. This was in 1975, and after that appearance Moon Knight jumped around the Marvel Universe a little (even joining the Defenders for a few issues), until finally securing his own series in 1980. Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz chronicled these adventures and, while the book was critically lauded, it didn’t do wonders in sales, and was cancelled in 1984. Since then the character has appeared in numerous one-shots and limited series, and has also received other chances to carry an ongoing series; he’s currently on his fourth.

None of these series have been spectacularly successful, although all have had brief flashes of fame. Normally, it is the artist that seems to make the public take notice of a Moon Knight comic; Bill Sienkiewicz was in the beginning of his career when he pencilled Moon Knight, and it helped to push him into the spotlight; Stephen Platt was his penciller in the mid-90s and was quite a hit with those who enjoyed his very Image-esque art style; and his current series started off strong with pencils by fan-favorite David Finch. Oddly, while Doug Moench, his co-creator and original writer, gets some credit for his early stories, most other writers are rarely thought of in connection to the character.

Perhaps one of the reasons for that is Moon Knight’s striking visuals. His costume is distinctive and jumps off the page at the reader; the flowing cape and the contrast between the white of the costume and the dead of night work together to make Moon Knight a character to remember. However, his personality often seems to be ignored in the rush to focus on his visual representation, and I’m not sure that’s wise. The character actually could be quite interesting, if properly developed. So, the question before us for the next few days is: How do we make Moon Knight the interesting and successful character he has always had the potential to be?

Nail on the head with that last paragraph. Sienkiewicz set the tone for every Moon Knight story that will ever be published. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. At the time, his style was quirky and gritty and maintained a certain level of darkness and chaos. The art had a quasi-supernatural feel to it which fit the character’s design and his backstory well. I think Finch did a nice job in capturing that roughness in both his posing and his costume design.

The only problem (and it’s a big one) is that Moench’s ideas were a bit ahead of their time. See, Marc Spector was a mercenary and he realized that he was no Clark Kent…meaning that it may be obvious to the fine folks of Chicago that Spector and Moon Knight are one in the same. So, he takes the blood money he has earned and invests it, becoming a millionaire. He then creates the identity of Steven Grant to rub elbows with the upper crust folks. To keep up with what’s going on at the ground level, he also creates the identity of cab driver Jake Lockley. Let’s recap that. We have Marc Spector the mercenary, Moon Knight the superhero, Steven Grant the rich dude and Jake Lockley the common man…all in the same body. Helping him with this marvelous charade are his pilot/butler Frenchie and Marlene, the daughter of an archaeologist he tried to save from Bushman’s greed. It was a brilliant concept that allowed Moon Knight to mingle in different social classes without anyone suspecting his true alter ego. Imagine the long sleepless hours, the precise yet hectic schedule and the general confusion this kind of lifestyle would create. The story potential was limitless.

Unfortunately, the series was cancelled after only 38 issues.

And here’s where the problem of Moench’s ideas comes in. See, no one else knew how to handle the multiple personality thing. So instead of trying to use the concept creatively, Marvel’s editorial department allowed it to just be shoved aside and retconned away. When the Fist of Khonshu miniseries was released (with an all-new creative team), all of the established bits of Moon Knight’s background were stripped off. Alan Zelenetz, who had taken over writing chores on the last few issues of the ongoing series, was tapped to “reinvigorate” the Moon Knight concept. So what did he do? Well, let me break it down for you: Marc Spector abandons the identities he has created, including Moon Knight (bad move). He gets telepathically summoned to Egypt by the Khonshu followers (huh?). They give him a bunch of “mystical” weapons…some of which were created by Hawkeye that one time the Avengers got sucked back to ancient times (…speechless…). He absorbs the Spirit of Khonshu which gives him limited superhuman strength based on the phases of the moon (which is kind of cool, except when he has to say “I can’t fight this week. The moon’s in a waxing gibbous. Sorry.”). And he turns his back on his supporting cast to go hang out with the West Coast Avengers (and later finds out that it was actually Khonshu who wanted to join the team because he was always picked last for dodgeball or something). About the only really cool thing to come out of that miniseries was this Sienkiewicz cover:

So that’s the first reason behind the character’s continued wading in the bottom-feeding realm of Marvel’s cast. But I’ve got another pretty valid reason too: his rogues gallery. Check out this short list of villains that he has faced throughout his adventures: Bora, Bushman, Coachwhip, Commodore Donny Planet, Conquer-Lord, Flag-Smasher, Grand Bois, Hatchet-Man (his brother Randall), Hobgoblin, Jester, Karg, Killer Shrike, Master Sniper, Midnight Man, Morpheus, Phantom Rider, Ringer, Secret Empire, Sons of the Jackals, Stained Glass Scarlet and Werewolf by Night. Not exactly any Ali-Frazier matchup in the bunch, huh?

And let’s not forget that he’s been killed at least three times during his career too. I don’t want to make it sound like that’s a unique thing in the comics world, but when your character isn’t in a top tier book a needless death/resurrection thing can really throw off sales.

Basically, it comes back to the tenets John and I espouse for every revamp we detail. 1. You need a unique selling point. In this case, Moon Knight had it with the multiple personalities. 2. You need a strong supporting cast and some relevant foes to fight. The former was taken from him while the latter never developed. And finally, 3. You need some consistency. Stick with it. Make something of it.

In Moon Knight’s latest ongoing series, writer Charlie Huston brought the character out of a self-induced exile and revealed his waning faith in Khonshu, his apparent addiction to prescription painkillers and the trouble he’s having rebuilding past friendships. That’s all a great start. He’s even hallucinating from time to time. Great! The only thing I wanted to see more of was some sort of mental imbalance from trying to play so many different characters throughout his career. Unfortunately, the later issues of Huston’s run have turned into a stream of brooding heroes and punching contests. He did re-introduce Midnight, the poorly-conceived sidekick that was foisted upon us all during the second Moon Knight ongoing title, but that whole plot turned into a watered down version of the Miracleman/Kid Miracleman dynamic.

There’s more to say here about direction and mistakes and missed opportunities, but I’ll turn it back over to John for now. What can be done to re-energize this property? Can Moon Knight be made into a top player in the Marvel Universe? Should he be?

Well, making Moon Knight a top player in the Marvel Universe suggests making him front and center in the Marvel Universe, and I’m not sure that’s a good idea. I enjoyed the issues when Moon Knight was in the West Coast Avengers, but it never truly fit the character, and he always looked out of place with the team. In addition, because the Avengers rarely run around during the evening, he was forced to fight a lot during the day, and amongst the rest of the team, he just became another costumed hero. I don’t have a problem with him being an associate of the hero community, but I think he should be on the edges, and if he gets involved in things, he should be allowed to do things his way. I’d recommend few guest stars in his book, at least from the heroes and those that do drop by should expect to be dragged into Moon Knight’s world, rather than vice versa.

That being said, I truly do like the character. I’ve perused a few issues of the current run, and honestly, I thought they were practically unreadable. I found them to be full of mopey, over rendered characters speaking in tortured prose that made absolutely no sense. I read three issues in a row, and never really knew what was going on or what the character’s motivations were. The art was, I believe, attempting to be dark and moody, but sadly was simply dark and ugly (this was after Finch left the title). I was very disappointed, because I did enjoy Moon Knight and thought that a lot more could have been done with him.

The multiple personality bit was brilliant, and I enjoyed the fact that it could serve almost like a superpower in some cases (at one point during Moon Knight’s tenure as a West Coast Avenger, the villain Dominus paralyzes the Avengers by affecting their minds; Moon Knight is immune, because every time Dominus hit him with the ray, it just knocked out one personality, and another was always there to take over). However, I never saw the downside to the multiple personality really explored, and it needs to be. The man is at least three different people and there are literally hundreds of issues worth of stories that could be written on that premise alone.

I also believe that the visual style of the character is very important. The demands of it are not easy for any one artist to draw, especially if you play up the multiple personality aspect of the character. The world of Moon Knight is a dark place, and it needs to be drawn dark, but still readable, straddling that fine line between a horror book and a superhero book. Steven Grant’s world is that of high society; it’s bright and well lit and needs a different feel. Jake Lockley is more of a dark, noir feeling, since he’s on the streets with the people. Finally, Marc Spector is a straight up action mercenary, so a cleaner action style works best for him. To really emphasize the different personalities, you really want to portray their lives in distinct styles of art, which is going to be difficult for a lot of artists. There are some who could do it, although it might be best to hire two or three different pencillers, or to have different inkers working over one penciller to really make the book look unique. The differing artistic styles could seem jarring, but I think they’re necessary to really get across the fact that there are so many different people in Moon Knight’s head.

Even with that being said, we still have to work on his supporting cast and his rogues gallery. I think his supporting cast has potential. Marlene is a gorgeous woman who’s been shown to be strong as well. The interesting thing to explore there is how does Marlene love a man who is actually four different men. Does she love them all? Just some of them? How can she help him integrate his four personalities into one? (For that matter, does he even want to integrate his personalities?) What kind of woman can live like this? I also think that Frenchie could be used more. He’s run quite the gauntlet, and has been beaten up and paralyzed numerous times over the years. They’ve also recently decided that he’s gay. He’s Marc’s oldest and only true friend, and he needs to have a place in the series. He’s not just an “Alfred”, but a very involved participant in Moon Knight’s activities, with a long history of experience as a mercenary and the mechanical expertise to keep Moon Knight’s gadgets working.

The rogues gallery though? Yeah, that’s going to take a bit more work.

The thought of having more than one artist on an ongoing Moon Knight title is not only brilliant, it’s practical. Sure, setting the right mood is important for the book. What may be even more important to the success of the book though is its schedule. Marvel is notorious for its lateness. Having multiple artists means less pages for each and could (if everything is planned well) result in a shorter completion time. Of course, if one of the artists falls behind, then it could also spell certain disaster. It’s tricky.

I agree that Moon Knight needs to stay on the fringe. And the idea of visiting heroes adopting his tone is crucial. It’s like what we talked about with the horror setting. You need consistency to pull that stuff off correctly. Spider-Man is a good fit. Punisher may have his place. And Daredevil seems to work on the same outskirts of the Marvel Universe. Hulk? Not so much. Iron Man? Too techy. And the team thing is right out the window.

The multiple personality aspect HAS to be brought back. That’s what made him different from Batman. He actually played different roles all the time and it didn’t seem silly (Matches Malone, anyone?). Plus, it gives the opportunity to wonder which one is the REAL character. So many ways to play that theme out.

His supporting cast is small but important. Frenchie gives support and Marlene grounds him somewhat. I think there’s a big opportunity to expand the cast though…add some tension.

The rogues gallery has me stumped right now. One would think that his archenemy should be Bushman, but there’s absolutely nothing interesting about the character. He’s just an angrier version of Marc Spector. No, Moon Knight should be dealing with the more shadowy types. Conspiracy theorists. Twisted religious causes. Human trafficking. Back alley genetic experiments. The kind of overtly creepy stuff that the other heroes don’t want to get their hands in, let alone acknowledge.

We’ve established a general tone and at least one or two things to explore. You want to take a stab at the rogues thing? Maybe throw some names out and I can see if I can make them fit? Other ideas for expanding the supporting cast? And didn’t we make mention, during our Go West musings, that we would relocate him back to Chicago? Is there something we can do with that?

I’m going to start by discussing the rogues, since I think we agree that a hero stands or falls on the strength of their Rogues Gallery. You mentioned some of the people he has fought in the past above, and I’ll start with them. I should make sure I agree with you on Bushman first though. Bushman is, quite simply, dull and uninspired. The only reason he’s stuck around is because he was part of Moon Knight’s origin, but that ship has sailed. Time to use a better class of villain.

My first pick for a member of his Rogues Gallery would be Killer Shrike. I’m well aware that Shrike has never had a large role in the Marvel Universe, and this has puzzled me for some time. First of all, I like his visual look, and in the Moon Knight title, that’s important. He has a neat, streamlined look, with a nifty cape. The colors of his costume are dark, and he’d fit in quite well in a darker, moodier comic. Killer Shrike may need an attitude adjustment, or perhaps we simply need a new Shrike, which should be easily accomplished. Visually, I think Shrike is as close to Moon Knight’s opposite number as currently exists.

Another possible villain for him would be Hobgoblin. I fully understand that Hobgoblin is seen as a Spider-Man villain, but with the Green Goblin back among the living, Hobgoblin has faded from the scene in the Spidey titles. Let’s give him a new lease on life with Moon Knight. Again, Hobgoblin has a great visual look and is actually a rather scary looking bad guy; I’ve always felt he was a much more menacing villain than the Green Goblin. There have been quite a few men behind the mask of the Hobgoblin, and we could use any of them, or create our own Hobgoblin. Or, if we simply must keep Bushman in the picture, make him the new Hobgoblin. He wouldn’t be the first mercenary to don the costume, and you can retain the connection he has with Moon Knight and reinvent Bushman as a more interesting villain at the same time.

Sadly, Moon Knight’s past foes are really rather pathetic (although this could be a place to use the Ringer I mentioned in our “Building Better Villains” posts over Halloween), but I did notice Coachwhip. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the Serpent Society, and perhaps we could gather a few of their former members (including Coachwhip) into a smaller Serpent Squad to bedevil our heroes. Most of them are fairly freaky and would work in an edgier story.

After that, I fear we’ll be creating villains for Moon Knight. It might be interesting to create at least one villain that’s seen more often for one of the other identities. For example, a corporate bigwig who runs in the same circles as Stephen Grant could be interesting. He could either be a true villain who simply likes to run with the jetset or he could be more of a weak man, who does bad things because he needs to in order to maintain his lifestyle. The interest would be in seeing how Moon Knight handles him when this guy stumbles into that area of Spector’s life. It could be even more interesting as Moon Knight’s personalities begin to overlap; he can normally keep them separate because their worlds are so different. What happens when those worlds touch? How do his personalities interact when someone crosses from one life to the next?

That’s a start at a Rogues Gallery. I’m sure we could find some other villains being underused in other areas of the Marvel Universe, dust them off, and give them Moon Knight as a sparring partner. I think Xemnu the Titan is free…

After your “time to use a better class of villain” comment, I can’t believe I’m actually going to say this, but the selection of Killer Shrike as a main foe is brilliant! I feel dirty inside. To tell the truth, Shrike and Moon Knight have a lot in common. Both were mercenaries before they became costumed types. Both have generally succeeded on their own skills, with the exception being Shrike’s powered armor. And both have pretended to be something they’re not…Shrike has actually posed undercover in a number of criminal organizations. To take it a step further, there’s the topic of vengeance. In one of his earlier adventures, Moon Knight faced Shrike (with Ringer and Coachwhip) who managed to shoot down the Mooncopter (don’t laugh) and nearly kill Frenchie. Shrike was never punished for that daring act.

Now pardon me for a minute as I digress into another revamp, but I think we need to update Killer Shrike as well. I don’t mind the guy in the suit. He has that military background and extensive experience working in the underworld with various unsavory types. However, he has a few faults too. First of all, I don’t know about the cape (or the goofy plume on his head…if he still wears it). I could picture some sort of wing-like thing similar to Black Bolt’s costume. Secondly, his name is just silly. Can we drop the “Killer” part and just call him Shrike? I mean, from a scientific stance, all shrikes are killers. They’re creepy little birds (also referred to as “butcher birds”) that like to impale their prey on thorns or sticks. Why can’t we adopt some of that nastiness in his characterization? If Marvel wants to have a more visceral, ground-level title, this could definitely be it.

Your next pick was Hobgoblin and I have to disagree with you. As much as I like his look (even with its similarities to Moon Knight), in my mind he is inexorably tied to Spider-Man. Each man behind the mask had some sort of tie to the Spider titles and most of Hobgoblin’s encounters took place with Spidey. If we took the character and put Bushman or another meaningless person under the cowl it really wouldn’t make sense or be an original story. That’s a dead end to me. I would suggest we could use Demogoblin, because he had a previous run-in with Moon Knight too. However, I think his demonic origin may be a bit too “out there” for a grounded title. Let’s just skip the whole goblin subset.

Coachwhip is an interesting possibility. And she would add a villainous female to the ranks. I would absolutely LOVE to construct a new Serpent Society and the Moon Knight ongoing series is the perfect place to present a darker, dirtier lineup that could become involved in some of the less-flashy types of crime I mentioned earlier in the post. I’d include some of the members with interesting names and powers like Boomslang (which is actually one of the most venomous snakes in the world), Puff Adder and either Sidewinder (useful powers) or Cobra (creepy powers), plus create a couple new ones perhaps based on snakes like the Keelback, Lancehead and/or Pit Viper.

As far as creating new villains goes, there are a lot of options. The one you mentioned seems like a sort of Kingpin/Norman Osborn thing…which is an expected, though not altogether horrible, direction. Although I must say that “The Committee” sort of serves that kind of purpose for him right now (without the personality involvement you mentioned). It would be intriguing to have a bad guy who Moon Knight encounters in his various personas…a ruthless tycoon that gladhands with Steven Grant then badmouths Jake Lockley as the lowly driver. It would be kind of cool to demonstrate how someone like that acts when they have to interact with those they deem below them. Of course, this same guy might look up to Marc Spector and need to hire him for some nefarious scheme.

I could also see us creating a sort of anti-Moon Knight character as perhaps the champion of another Egyptian God, one that is in conflict with Khonshu (and, as an aside, didn’t the Serpent Society pal around with a version of Set – the Egyptian God of chaos?). Or perhaps we could set up an underground group that worships a different interpretation of Khonshu and is at odds with Moon Knight (sort of like radical Islam versus traditional Islam). That’s one direction.

I’m all for making Killer Shrike simply Shrike, since that’s less typing. Let it be done! Actually, I agree with everything you mentioned about him, and truly believe that he could be a first class villain for our hero.

I could disagree with a lot of your Hobgoblin comments, and while I agree that he’s tied to Spider-Man now, I don’t think it has to stay that way. After all, Sandman was another villain tied to Spider-Man, who moved over to become a Fantastic Four villain, and of course, the Kingpin was every inch (and he has many inches) a Spidey villain, who’s now more universally thought of in connection to Daredevil. These seem odd at first, while a reader’s mind adjusts, but soon the villain becomes associated with their new antagonist. I’d also point out that Jason Phillip Macendale, one of the Hobgoblins, was very pragmatic and I think he’d be happy to continue his criminal career avoiding Spider-Man. I could make these arguments, but I won’t. I’m more than willing to concede the Hobgoblin, mostly because you like the idea of a new Serpent Society!

I like the concept of keeping it smaller, with more like 5 or 6 members, rather than the 15 or 20 they had at one time. I think the character of Sidewinder is a fascinating one; he had gone straight, I believe, to be able to spend time with his child, but there are many ways to bring him back to the bad side of the street. That being said, I’ve also learned to like Cobra, a character that I never thought much of. Mark Gruenwald really fleshed him out during his Captain America run, and I think the Cobra would be very interesting; combining him in a group with Sidewinder could lead to some clashes, since both of them led the Serpent Society at times, and the two of them aren’t getting along right now.

While I recognize the cliche of the evil businessman, I think a character that can interact with all of Specter’s personalities is too valuable to dismiss. Besides, we don’t have to make this character a ruthless planner, which does tend to be the stereotype. Instead, he could simply be a weak willed man, who is desperate to hold onto what he has and will do reprehensible things to retain his wealth, his power, or maybe even his wife. Perhaps his wife is shallow and vain, and will leave him if she doesn’t get the jewels and valuables she covets. Perhaps the man is a city politician who had a skeleton in his closet, and was determined to hide it during a re-election campaign. He was forced to associate with less than reputable people to accomplish this goal, and unfortunately, he opened a door that he has not been able to close, as these people continue to force him into other actions or risk losing his political clout under a scandal. Perhaps he’s a young man who’s running his parents’ business, and not doing a very good job of it, and is willing to do anything to keep the business solvent so his parents won’t be disappointed. My point is, we don’t have to use the Norman Osborn archetype for this character if we don’t want to.

As for a secret organization, like the Committee or the Secret Empire, I like the thought of one, but the reality always seems to fall far short. In the end, they seem to either have no personality and/or very nebulous goals. If we were to use such an organization, we’d have to know exactly why they were formed and what their motivation is, and I’d want to detail out at least a few prominent members so that we had some personality we could infuse into their appearances. I think one of the main problems with the Secret Empire is that everyone has their identity hidden by those bloody faux Ku Klux Klan robes they wear. Normally the identities of the important members is a secret to the reader, as they’re someone the writer wants to reveal down the road, so they aren’t given personalities, in the fear that this could clue the reader into their true identity. Phooey! I say give them individual personalities; it makes the organization so much more interesting than any minor mystery about who’s actually hiding behind the hood.

A counterpart to Moon Knight, embodied in the avatar of another Egyptian deity? I can see that. The only other Egyptian deity that ever regularly appears in Marvel comics (and certainly the only evil one) is Set or Seth, depending on who’s writing him. You mentioned tying him into the Serpent Squad, which would make sense, because of the snake motif. However, we could also go with Sekhmet, a lion god that has fought the Avengers and the Black Panther. Even more interesting could be using an avatar of Anubis, the Egyptian god of funerals and mummification. In fact, Moon Knight had a run in with one of his priests already. A modern day priest of Anubis, Sheikh Ahmad Azis declared himself the reincarnation of Aram-Set and named himself Anubis the Jackal. He was killed in a confrontation with Moon Knight, way back in the first issue of his second series. Perhaps this Sheikh actually was connected to Anubis, and Anubis annoints someone else as his avatar to get revenge for the Sheikh’s defeat?

So, we have Shrike, a new Serpent Society, an unscrupulous businessman, a new Committee or Secret Empire (choose your favorite) and an avatar of a rival deity. That should keep Moon Knight busy, and the other heroes won’t laugh at his Rogues Gallery anymore. What about his supporting cast? Do we stick with just Marlene and Frenchie?

Your idea of having a Set-based avatar running alongside the Serpent Society makes me chuckle. Not because it’s a bad idea, but because it reminds me of Cobra and their dealings with Serpentor. Ridiculous. There are, however, some interesting paths to explore in the Egyptian pantheon. And I think that stuff could be mined to great effect. Also, I think one way to expand his supporting cast would be to introduce some sort of native guide or foreign professor steeped in the mythologies. If it were a guide, it could be someone who is determined to serve at Moon Knight’s side, in honor of Khonshu, and that would lead to some funny encounters with Frenchie as they both try to help Moon Knight. Perhaps the professor type could be female and Steven Grant could meet her at a museum fundraiser…the two of them hit it off and he uses her as a resource. I think we have to be careful to build up his alternate identities and make at least one of them strong enough to stand on its own. That’s another Batman trap we don’t want to fall into, where the costumed character is a bigger presence than the man under the mask.

Frenchie and Marlene should be the all-time core of the series. Building up both of their personalities apart from Moon Knight will help strengthen the storylines overall. And we can have supporting cast members bloom out of those characters too…Frenchie’s new boyfriend or a new love interest for Marlene that ends up being part of our new Secret Empire. The multiple personalities give us a lot of chances to introduce new characters, both useful and disposable.

I’m interested in the move to Chicago. There’s already an established image of political corruption there, which would lend itself to some sort of evil underworld. Crime has been up in the city recently as well. The Serpent Society might set up house there, seeing it as ripe pickings and new stomping grounds away from a gaggle of heroes. The Windy City backdrop gives us an easy in for pretty much everything we’ve talked about so far.

I’m certainly all for moving him to Chicago; think how cool his cape will look in the wind out there! I also like your idea of an expert in the Egyptian pantheon. One thing to consider about his supporting cast touches on something you mentioned, which was that we wanted to make sure his secret identities are all strong characters in their own right. By doing that (and I agree that it’s essential that we do it) we create a situation where Moon Knight almost is his own supporting cast. We now have a book tracking seven characters, if we include Frenchie, Marlene, our new expert, and all of the four Moon Knight personas. It also would probably be wise to introduced a few supporting characters for each personality who don’t deal with any of the other sections of Spector’s psyche. For example, Jake Lockley might have a few informants who only ever deal with him; Spector would have a few mercenary contacts and Grant would have some high society friends. We’d need a few recurring characters for each of these personalities if we’re going to sell them as independent of each other.

I would see the structure of the book being similar to the Green Lantern title that DC produced back in the early 90s; one story arc would deal with Hal Jordan, then one with John Stewart, and then one with Guy Gardner, with occassional stories involving them all. Of course, Moon Knight would always dominate the book, but I could see one story arc putting more focus on his Jake Lockley persona, and then another spending more time with his Steven Grant side….that sort of thing. The first story arc would have to introduce all of the personalities to the reader, but there would be plenty of time to flesh them out down the road.

Hmmm. We covered supporting cast and villains; we’ve discussed how to structure the series, and what we think the important beats are….did we forget anything?

Well, I don’t know if you have any opinion on it or not, but I think we should do a quick examination of Moon Knight himself and see what works and what doesn’t. As things stand, he’s pretty much Batman in white. We’ve talked about increasing the presence of his various identities, but we haven’t discussed what we might change about the guy in the fancy outfit. Does he have any sort of powers? What are his limitations? Does he rely on painkillers to get through his adventures? Is he a gadget hound? Does he have a Mooncycle and a Moonmobile and a pair of Moonskates? Let’s do a quick inventory of what makes Moon Knight tick.

I would like to see his “lunar-reliant” abilities make a return, not necessarily in reference to the various phases (though it would be cool to remove any additional powers during a new moon and have his powers go overboard during a full moon) but more in the “better at night than in the daytime” sense. He could be similar to a werewolf but without the creepy transformation. Honestly, he looks ridiculous fighting in broad daylight but the full whiteout effect would be pretty effective at night.

I think his painkiller addiction should be front and center in dealing with all of his various identities. The drugs will color his entire life, but each alter ego will handle it differently.

And the gadgets have to go. I don’t mind him having some sort of staff or a couple bladed weapons that may have been given to him by followers of Khonshu. However, the mass-produced throwing weapons and the helicopters and submarines and dirigibles have to go. I don’t like the “funded by a millionaire” quality of the character. It makes him too much like Batman. He should be more of a ground-level hero…relying on his skills and his environment to take out the bad guys.

I agree that returning to him his Khonshu derived might is a good idea.  If he’s Khonshu’s avatar, he really should get something out of the deal, and I love the idea that these abilities are dependent on the phases of the moon.  Ditto your feelings about the powers perhaps getting a little too strong and out of control during the full moon.

As for gadgets, I think he has to have some.  I mean, he is a millionaire, and surely he does something with his money.  I wouldn’t give him a utility belt and a submarine, but I’ve always liked his flying Moonjet (or whatever he calls it) and it does provide him with transportation, which every hero needs.  However, maintaining that would probably be expensive enough; certainly I think he should fight with his traditional weapons, like the ankh. 

I will admit that the painkiller addiction seems a little too Desperate Housewives to me.  I’m not fond of it.  That being said, it makes perfect sense; how would a human who gets beat on as much as he does, with no real powers to speak of, survive that sort of pain.  Of course, if we’re returning a measure of superstrength to him with his Khonshu given powers, would he still need the painkillers?  I’m thinking that, when the moon is waning, he would need them, since his powers are at their weakest.  However, for much of the rest of the month they wouldn’t be as necessary; of course, he’s addicted to them, so he’s taking them all the time.  Do they interact with his powers?  If he breaks the addiction, what does he do at those time when his powers aren’t strong enough, and he needs relief from the pain?  There is some potential in this concept.

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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.


1986: It Was A Very Good Year.

Apr-18-08

While doing research for our Defenders post, I began to realize that a lot of great (and a few not so great) things were going on at Marvel Comics back in 1986. So here, in a brief and highly disorganized ramble, is a recap of the year that Marvel Comics hit its stride (I think).

In 1986, I was making the transition from middle school to high school. It was a tumultuous year. I was saying goodbye to friends that would be attending a different high school and I was filled with anxiety over meeting new people at my new school (our school district is kind of twisted, don’t ask). This was the year that I embraced comics completely and let my paper friends comfort me in the transition. Granted, I had been reading comics since around 1978 and collecting them seriously since 1984, but this one year had it all for me.

I wasn’t the only one in transition though. Jim Shooter was running a tight ship at Marvel and the publisher was celebrating its 25th anniversary. However, not everything was puppies and rainbows. Marvel was about to be purchased by New World Entertainment, which looked great on paper and added both an animation studio and a feature film outlet for their characters. Unfortunately, New World didn’t know how to handle the business and soon sold it off to Ron Perelman. The rest of the debacle you can read in Dan Raviv’s excellent book, Comic Wars.

So what was the big deal with ‘86? I’m glad you asked. First of all, a couple miniseries hit the shelves that changed the way I looked at the Marvel Universe. Firestar was a character I knew from the Spider-Man cartoons and I was curious as to how they would work her into real continuity. Balder the Brave was an unknown Asgardian to me and I was eager to learn about more than Thor and Loki. And finally: The Punisher. The team of Baron, Zeck and Janson just blew my mind. At the time, all were minor characters and I don’t think anyone could have predicted what would become of Frank Castle’s story.

Punisher #1

Aside from the focus on new characters, Marvel was pulling off some of its best ongoing work as well. We had Bill Mantlo writing Alpha Flight AND Cloak & Dagger. Mark Gruenwald’s Captain America run was in full force (as was his Squadron Supreme maxiseries). Walt Simonson was working on what would become an iconic run on Thor. The West Coast Avengers, a pivotal book in my comic obsession, had recently begun their ongoing title. John Byrne was writing AND drawing not only the Fantastic Four but ALSO the Incredible Hulk!?! Oh, and Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham was still going strong too. Sue me, I like the funny.

Spider-Ham #12

It wasn’t all joy and excitement for me though. Two of my favorite books disappeared from the shelves forever: The Defenders and Power Man and Iron Fist. Also falling casualty to slowing sales were three licensed books: ROM, Star Wars and the Further Adventures of Indiana Jones (which was actually a great read).

Indiana Jones #34

Unfortunately, not only was the dreadful Secret Wars II going on in 1986, but the New Universe launched as well. But those travesties were offset by the launch of the new X-Factor series. And the end of 1986 marked the beginning of what I believe to be one of the best written storylines in all of comics history: Roger Stern’s great “Under Siege” run in Avengers.

But the biggest event of 1986 for me had to be the introduction of the new Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. I easily lost myself in the pages of each issue of that title…memorizing every detail, every event and every secret identity in Marvel’s intriguing world. To this day, I still test the true faith of supposed fans by asking them “Which villain’s real name was Bruno Horgan?”

Marvel Handbook #8

Yeah…look it up, posers! (CLUE: He’s in the issue shown above.)

1986. I can’t think of a better time to be a Marvel Zombie.

Interesting that you would pick 1986, and yet, as a Marvel Zombie, you don’t mention The Dark Knight Returns or Watchmen, two seminal mini-series from that time as well. They show up on most people’s lists, but not on yours, since you’re focusing exclusively on Marvel.

I know that Maggie Thompson from Comics Buyers Guide has said (and she may not be the only or even the first person to say this) that everyone has their own Golden Age of Comics, and that their personal Golden Age is when they were twelve. I’m not sure that the exact age is always correct, but I agree that the comics of our childhood will always be our favorites, or at least hold a special place in our hearts. It’s obvious that this describes 1986 for you. I also have a special place in my heart for many of these comics, but being a cold, unfeeling android, I can often separate what is good due to nostalgia from what is good due to quality.

I wouldn’t dream of arguing the memories of your childhood, so instead of mentioning a few of these series where I disagree with your opinion of them, let me focus on the ones where I agree wholeheartedly.

I think Mark Gruenwald’s writing was always underappreciated, especially when one considers that he was doing it while holding down a job as one of Marvel’s best Group Editors. I think that almost all of his long run on Captain America is worthy of reading, but I also agree that he was strongest right out of the gate. His stories involving the Serpent Society and Scourge were excellent. Captain America is, I think, a difficult character to write well, but Gruenwald seemed to understand how to make him inspiring and heroic, without being boring. As Jason says, Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme was another excellent read, and about fifteen years ahead of its time, looking at a superteam in a more realistic way. Finally, while it came out after 1986, I need to take a moment to plug the first few dozen issues of his Quasar comic. The later issues devolved into overly complicated messes that tied into some truly horrible miniseries, but the early issues were an excellent examination of a super-hero just starting out in his career.

I could comment on a few other series, but instead let me take a few moments to mention Roger Stern. You bring up his “Under Siege” storyline in the Avengers, and rightly so, as it remains one of the best multi-issue storylines in Avengers history, and truly in the history of about any comic I’ve read. Why Roger Stern isn’t currently writing four books a month will remain a mystery to me. I consider him one of the best writers I’ve had the pleasure of encountering in comics and I have been continually amazed by what he has been able to do with what have been some truly horrible comics.

Two series illustrate this point very well. The first is The Incredible Hulk which he started writing at a time when the book, to my eyes, sorely needed help. The Hulk had been a mindless dolt, running around the countryside having random adventures for what seemed like years. His comic was pointless and dull. Stern came on board, set up a new staus quo, introduced some supporting characters, and give the comic a purpose. He was the first writer in the series history to make the Hulk interesting for me. Sadly, his run on the title was very short.

He performed the same amazing feat on the original Ghost Rider series. Ghost Rider’s series had been boring me to tears since Tony Isabella left the title back in the 70s. The stories since then weren’t necessarily bad as much as they were unconnected stories which seemed to blend into each other. Again, the series lacked direction. Stern came onboard, and again, he gave this title direction. He brought in a supporting cast and gave us plots that made us care about these new people in Blaze’s life (and, to be honest, to care about Blaze’s life, which I had stopped caring about some time before). Unfortunately, he again left the title in a short time.

I could go on and on, talking about his work on Amazing Spider-Man, Captain America, and a slew of other comics, but instead, let me just come back to the Avengers. If I had to pick my favorite comic series of all time, it would probably be the Avengers. There are many reasons for this, but part of it has to be because I was lucky enough to begin reading it during Roger Stern’s run as writer, which thankfully, lasted quite a few years. All of his stories are good, but his run really began to take off when he was paired with John Buscema and Tom Palmer on art. This art team gave his stories a weight and grandeur that made them more than comic stories; they became epics. The “Under Siege” story was certainly the highpoint, but it was quickly followed by a multi-part epic where the team when to Olympus to fight the Greek Gods, which is almost as incredible. Never before or since have the Avengers so embodied their title of “The Earth;s Mightiest Heroes.”

Yeah, DC was pretty active in 1986 too. You mention Dark Knight Returns and the beginning issues of Watchmen…there was also the start of solo series for both Blue Beetle and Booster Gold. Crisis on Infinite Earths wrapped up in ’86 and the important Legends series began. And don’t get me started on indie comics…Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters, Ralph Snart Adventures and the relaunched Grendel all saw print then. It was a pretty busy year for all comics!

I’m not saying 1986 was the pinnacle of comics as we know them (although, not being alive during either the traditional Golden or Silver Ages, I think it was pretty close). Oddly enough, I was 14 going on 15 that year…so not too far off from Maggie Thompson’s ideal. I actually started collecting heavily when I was 12 though.

Anyway, yeah I know which of my spotlights — *cough*Firestar*cough* — you’re referencing when you talk about separating nostalgia from quality. But I think I pointed out the reasons WHY I thought they were important and, frankly, it had nothing to do with quality but more to do with coming from a different place and showcasing something new.

It’s funny that you touch on Mark Gruenwald. Not too many people know this, but I actually had a letter-exchanging friendship with Mr. Gruenwald around the time of his Cap run. We talked about the changing times in comics and he advised me to read what I liked. I was actually quite upset when I read that he had passed away.

And Roger Stern was perhaps my favorite writer of the time as well. Like you, I would call The Avengers my favorite book of all time (I have quite the extensive collection). While I came of age reading his run on the book, I was also active in collecting the back issues featuring runs by Englehart, Conway, Thomas and Shooter. In fact, right now I’m reading Assembled! by the folks at AvengersAssemble.net. It’s a fun read about Avengers history. DK Publishing also put out a pretty book called Avengers: The Ultimate Guide written by Tom DeFalco…beautiful art and brief write-ups of all the prominent members of the team, their villains and the important storylines.