Thursday, April 16, 2015

A Fistful of Single Issues -- Superhero Comics

Conceived and used with the permission of Matthew Constantine and Brad Gullickson, the original dorks.

Everyone has a “Top 5.”  But Brad and Matt, choosing to walk a different path, amended that to “A Fistful…” over at their blog, In the Mouth of Dorkness.  A film-centric blog where they also discuss comics and books and TV, these two regularly share their top 5, ranging from “Heroic Kids” to “Spies” to “Summer Movies” to “Punches” to all things in between.  Always fun, often insightful, and something I hope to regularly pilfer for Warrior27.  As they say:  If you’re going to steal, steal from those you know relatively well, who will not sue you.

I love comics.  Been collecting since 1984 (31 years for those who don’t want to do the math).  I have sixteen or so longboxes full of single issues, not to mention the collections I own and those I’ve read through the library.  I’ve ingested a helluva lot of comic books, across a wide swathe of genres and styles and formats—superheroes, mini-comics, autobiographical, black and white, fully painted, photorealistic linework or animation styles, manga, etc. etc. etc.  And for the most part, those comics have been at the very least entertaining, and at their best, mind-blowing (see: Alan Moore & Grant Morrison).  Even with all that, there are still only a relatively small number of comics I can re-read and be exhilarated with the experience every single time.  So, despite the tens of thousands of comics I have read, it was fairly easy to narrow down those five (+ 1) single issues of superhero comics that I go to whenever I want to recapture my youth. 

Note: Some might argue that I took slight liberty with the definition of a superhero comic in some of the choices below.  Technically speaking, there are two Vertigo books in the bunch, Swamp Thing & Animal Man, but both of these issues were published before the mature readers imprint was implemented.  And though Swamp Thing does not wear a costume and was actually created for DC’s horror line, I’m going to allow it because it’s my site, my post, and my rules, plus the Justice League and Batman make significant appearances in Moore’s run.  So, case closed.  And G.I. Joe—don’t know that there’s been a cooler superhero team in comics’ history with all the code names, cool skills, and various costumes.  But I’ve rambled on too long, something I am fairly good at when I sit down to the keyboard, so let’s get to it…

MY TOP FIVE SUPERHERO COMICS (in no particular order):

Incredible Hulk 340
“Vicious Circle.”  Written by Peter David; Art by Todd McFarlane
Wolverine.  Hulk.  Battle royale.  ‘Nuff said. 
I don’t know how many times I’ve read this issue, but it’s easily a couple dozen.  This is a visceral story, with Hulk and Logan beating the snot out of one another as they both try to prove their superiority over the other.  Peter David’s script is great, but what really makes this work, for me, is Todd McFarlane’s art (something I’m not often heard saying).  His frenetic, overly hatched style imbues the narrative with a frenzied agitation that enhances what could easily be seen as a simple punch ‘em up.  I’m not a huge fan of McFarlane’s work, but I love his Hulk, and he puts it all on display in this issue.  Great, fun, cathartic stuff. 

Superman 400
“The Living Legends of Superman.”  Written by Elliot S! Maggin; Art by a plethora of comic giants
I wrote about this comic for our 400th post.  It is easily one of my all-time favorite comics.  The variety of stories on display, with art from a murderer’s row of talent, including Frank Miller, Steranko, Al Williamson, et al.  This comic, more than any other, beautifully captures the wonder and grandeur of Superman, while also evincing the humanity that is the core of his character.  Ever wondered why Superman is the pinnacle of superheroes?  Read this comic to find out.  And if you want a more detailed look at this issue, go here.

G.I. Joe 21
“Silent Interlude.”  Written by Larry Hama; Art by Larry Hama & Steve Leialoha
For comic readers of my generation, few single issues have been more influential than this one – the Silent Issue.  Relatively early in the run, Larry Hama not only wrote but penciled this issue, wherein Snake-Eyes parachuted into Destro’s castle to rescue Scarlett, and a mysterious connection with the Cobra ninja, Storm Shadow, is revealed at the end.  As the title suggests, this issue is entirely devoid of word—no dialogue, no captions, no thought balloons—and it works amazingly well.  The body language, the action, the facial expressions, all add up to a very emotional and exciting adventure.  G.I. Joe was a gateway drug for many comic readers of the mid-80s, and this was the pinnacle of that magnificent run by Larry Hama and a host of talented artists. 

Saga of the Swamp Thing 21
“The Anatomy Lesson.”  Written by Alan Moore; Art by Steve Bissette & John Totleben
This comic was my introduction to Alan Moore and his writing.  At the end of these 23 pages, I was all in with respect to Moore.  The issue opens with Swamp Thing, dead.  And from there, Moore, with lush, unsettling art from Bissette and Totleben, overturns all that readers and fans thought they knew about the muck monster, drastically resetting the status quo without ever changing what has come before.  The pacing, the imagery, the revelations throughout these couple dozen pages all combine to create a suspenseful, engaging, and exciting story.  Probably my favorite comic on this list.

Animal Man 5
“The Coyote Gospel.”  Written by Grant Morrison; Art by Chas Truog & Doug Hazlewood
As Moore did with his second issue of Swamp Thing above, Grant Morrison, also early in his career, completely upended expectations in this fifth issue of his seminal run and provided a powerful emotional reaction in his readership (or in me, at the very least).  I have never felt such pangs of sorrow, when reading a comic book, as I did within the first ten pages of this issue.  Animal Man is confronted with a being from a parallel universe—a coyote-like being who comes from a Looney Tunes universe—who relays the injustices and physical abuses he’s endured on his alternate world to our hero, only to discover upon completing his narrative, at the same time the audience does, that Animal Man cannot understand anything he said.  This revelation hit me like a dead weight falling on my chest.  It was so painful, so real, and yet, did not feel forced.  Morrison, with art from Truog and Hazlewood, completely sold this moment, and I knew I’d found another writer whose work I needed to keep an eye out for.


Miracleman 16
“Olympus.”  Written by Alan Moore;  Art by John Totleben
For the longest time this was the only issue of Miracleman I owned.  The culmination of Moore’s story, it was a final issue that tied up loose ends, while leaving some dangling, with which I hadn’t a proper context.  Miracleman and Miraclewoman made love in the sky, which the populace experienced as some mirthful lightshow, if memory serves me well.  Miracleman had created a utopia; Charles Manson was even rehabilitated; and now he could look down from his amazing crystal palace on high and appreciate what he had built for humanity.  It was epic, with Moore’s signature use of language on display, and the art from Totleben was breathtaking.  I read this single issue multiple times before I was ever able to find the collections of the earlier issues, and it is one of the singular memories from my hobby that is seared into my brain and brings a smile to my face and a chill to my skin every time I think of it.  Love.  This.  Book. 

[for me, MM is Moore’s “final word” on superheroes, not Watchmen, and someday I’ll get around to writing that post here]


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