Nothing But Comics is about to hit our two year mark and in observance of the sites anniversary, every Tuesday from now until we finish, one of our staff members will list off their favorite series, runs or issues of all time. This week it’s Patrick
Honorable Mentions: Grant Morrison’s Animal Man, Y The Last Man, Khamandi The Last Boy On Earth, Batman Year One, Runaways, We3, Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol, Walt Simonson’s Thor, Alan Moore’s Saga Of The Swamp Thing
Though it’s perhaps more well known as an (excellent) animated film, like most comic book source material, the original work has all the same hallmarks of the movie while being denser, having more depth and being ultimately superior for it’s expanded scope. Akira is purely the creation of Katsuhiro Otomo. While comics are often created with the aid of assistants in Japan as Akira was with Satashi Kon, the story and visual narrative of the book is singular to Otomo; nobody else could have made this book. The comic is equal parts cyber punk, political commentary, urban dystopia & Japaneses folklore, but what truly elevates the work is a through-line of this raw, unfiltered & unhinged atmosphere that permeates the entire book and bleeds into the art and writing; translating into something truly dynamic, visceral and exciting like nothing else on either side of the Pacific. This has possibly the best action illustrations in the history of the medium while the way it builds up and destroys it’s world with shocking regularity is consistently breathtaking.
While Akira brought high level science fiction to the crime ridden street’s of urban Japan, Frank Miller brought the crime ridden streets of New York City to the Marvel Universe in his iconic run on Daredevil. Starting off as an illustrator for writer Roger McKenzie, the creators signature run on the book really doesn’t commence until he began writing & drawing the series in 1981. Miller’s era on Daredevil is the New York City of it’s time, it’s kung fu films at dingy time square theatre’s, crime families ruilling over the working class like fuedal lords, gangs, graffiti, crack and unmitigated urban decay. There is a sense of urgency to the entire run that makes Miller’s entire work on the series engrossingly addictive; once you start reading you’ll never want to stop. For his part, reading the entirety of Miller’s time spent plotting the book, you can see the creator grow and mature in real time. There’s a huge difference between the artist that was drawing McKenzie scripts & the guy who did The Dark Knight Returns and the evolution is in his initial time spent on the series between issues 168 to 191. And while Miller’s art on Daredevil is some of the best work he’s ever done, there was also a murderers row of all time great talents working with him later on like David Mazzuchelli, Bill Sienkiewicz, John Buscema & perhaps best of all, Klaus Jansan, whose illustration and ink work complimented Miller’s visual story telling to make for one of the greatest collaborations in the history of the medium. More then just a fantastic superhero run and defining take on the charachter, Miller’s run on the title remains a living document on the dark side of Regan’s America, blending the popular genre fiction of it’s time and place with the feeling of dread as the inner city looked as if it was burning into a wasteland of drugs, crime and poverty.
8. Uncanny X-Men 94-279, God Loves Man Kills, Wolverine 1-4, New Mutants 1-54, X-Men 1-3 by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, John Byrne, Paul Smith, Brent Anderson John Romita Jr, Frank Miller, Barry Windsor Smith, Alan Davis, Marc Silverstri, Jim Lee, Bob McLeod, Bill Sienkiewicz, Sal Buscema, Steve Leialoha, Mary Wilshire, Keith Pollard, Rick Leonardi & Jackson Guice
Never has one creators vision been so important to a title the way that Chris Claremont was on the X-Men. Going from a series that was cancelled to being the defacto top selling comic book of it’s time by utlizing a bunch of cast off and new charachter’s was a feet in and of itself, but to do so for 26 years is simply amazing. Claremont created a whole new universe within an already existing one with more original character’s and idea’s then Marvel had ever seen since Jack Kirby. But more importantly, Claremont had a way of huamnizing his superhero’s like nobody had done prior. His X-Men had depth and dimensions in a way that had never been done with a superhero comic prior. They were flawed, emotional, complex and because of all that, endearing. From there, he built up a mythology within the Marvel universe whole cloth by having the X-Men go toe to toe with space aliens, evil mutants, sewer people, bigoted religious leaders, greedy politicians and everything in between. In his aid, Claremont had many of the greatest artists of that era to provide the stunning and eclectic visual narrative to his ideas with titans of the medium like John Bynre, Jim Lee, Marc Silverstri, Alan Davis, Barry Windsor Smith & more. There has never been another run on a superhero comic as comprehensive and expansive as Claremont’s time writing the X-Men and their many offshoots & spinoffs and there never will be again. Claremont’s writing of the X-Men is a singular achievement in attrition, imagination and limitless storytelling that belongs in it’s own category.
It’s nearly impossible to consider Watchmen’s excellence with any kind of context at this point in the mediums history. It’s been deconstructed, critiqued, celebrated, re-considered, monetized & rebooted multiple times in the almost twenty years since it’s original publication. With all that said, Watchmen remains perhaps the most important comic book in the history of the medium for it’s influence, ambition and excellence. It has a casual brilliance that allows for a multifacited reading experience that works as meta commentary on superhero comics, political insight & a simply riveting story at it’s core about a group of superhuman’s having to live with themselves after they are done being superhero’s. Watchmen is the ultimate post modern statement on the genre, that while being the authoritative work of the medium, is still ahead of it’s time all these years later. Writer Alan Moore was at the apex of his genius and illustrator Dave Gibbons was the perfect match to translate his vision of the decaying golden age. There is no overstating Watchmen’s signifigance, it remains the mediums greatest paradigm shift.
Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting’s time spent on the relaunched Captain America is the most post 9/11 superhero comic of it’s time. While cornballs like Chuck Dixon were appealing to the prevailing culture of the time by making him a dumbed down patriot devoid of any nuance, Brubaker & Epting took the charachter back to his essence mixing noir & classic spy fiction for one of the centuries great political allegories. I’ve written in greater depth about Brubaker & Epting’s time on the series here, but in short, Captain America 1-25 is a heartfelt and ultra modern American tragedy wrapped in a blend of the cultures classic genre fiction that was a near perfect exploration of it’s time and the troubling past that led us there. In the waning age of the iconic Marvel Knights era and revival of the publisher, Brubaker & Eptings first chapter of their time on the series remains a high point for that era of the publisher.
If Brubaker & Eptings Captain America is the definitive post 9/11 superhero comic, then Brian Wood & Ricardo Burichielli’s DMZ is the definitive comic in capturing the politics of that era. DMZ is the story of America going into a second civil war between the United States traditional goverment against upstart liberitarian militias, with the island of Manhattan acting as demilliterized zone between the two factions. But more then that, DMZ is about the journey and growth of it’s main charachter Matty Roth, it’s about the dysfunction of society in a war zone and it’s a brutally honest love letter to New York city. Issue’s 18-22 of the friendly fire story arc is one of the most nuanced and thoughtful examination’s on the nature of guilt and culpability within a chaotic and degenerating society representing the books high point, but the entire series is essential reading for anybody that remembers living in America during the United States failed occupation of Iraq. Poignant, smart and engaging in every way, DMZ is an excellent snapshot of the America it was conceived in, and an America we are still in danger of becoming.
Another series I covered in depth here, The Incal is probably the high water mark in the long and iconic careers of both writer/filmmaker Alejandro Jordorowsky and french comics illustrator/god Moebius. It’s imagination, idea’s and heart are unparalleled in anything else. Part of what makes The Incal so endearing is that it could only exist as a comic book drawn by Moebius. If you’ve loved a space opera from Image or Boom! lately, if Grant Morrison ever blew your mind with one of the profound conclusions to his stories or even if you had fun watching The Fifth Element; you can thank The Incal for having the vision and courage to take comics and science fiction to a whole nother level of creativity and expression. A comic whose quality is so high, it’s concepts so unique and it’s art so beautifully rendered that it feels forever timeless and evergreen.
Grant Morrison has never had the “definitive” take on a superhero or property in the way that Claremont or Miller had, but he’s consistently among the best and most profound writers to work on whatever superhero comic he chooses to approach. In that way, All-Star Superman remains the greatest crystallization of the character that started the genre by breaking the concept down to it’s essence and exploring the minutia. In that, you get perhaps the strongest argument for Superman’s existence and importance by digging into his core and showing how it’s this magnificent blend of love and wonder for all living things. Artist Frank Quitely does some of his most beautiful illustration work in his long and accomplished career and makes a definitive statement on the simple astonishment of Superman’s world. In All-Star Superman, Morrison & Quitely break down the worlds first and oldest superhero to his principle nucleus, and then mine it’s infinite well of possibilities.
While Claremont’s time on the X-Men will always be the definitive take of the concept, Morrison’s writing of the charachter’s is easily the best. Having come on the book when the property was at an all-time low point, Morrison rejuvinated the series with his own unique concept. Like All-Star Superman, New X-Men is about deconstructing the X-Men then expanding on it’s core, but while Superman is one person, the X-Men is a series of complex individuals forced to work together to ensure the survival of their own existance and in that way, Morrison is able to take a hard look at the relationship of what it means to be a group of individuals within a larger society and the shaky balance of power they often stand apart on. In New X-Men, Morrison also expands on Claremont’s mythology in creating some of the coolest new Marvel charachter’s of the twenty first century like Fantomex or Xorn. And to top it all off, after ending the main storyline of the series in an epic meta fashion, Morrison closes out his time on the book with perhaps the series best arc in Here Comes Tomorrow, a story about how love transcends all human scientific understandings of time & space. In addition to All-Star collaborator Quitely, Morrison get’s some fantastic visual story telling from artists like Chris Bachalo, Phil Jimenez & Marc Silverstri, with each different illustrator giving their own unique stamp on an aspect of the series. While Claremont’s time on X-Men is the most important, Morrison’s has proved to be the most influential, as almost every great run on one of the many X-Men titles since his time on the book has either been a reaction to it(Astonishing X-Men by Wheeedon & Cassidy) incorporated it’s elements & aesthetic as a jumping off point (Uncanny X-Force by Rick Remender) or both (Jason Aaron’s Wolverine & The X-Men) In that way, Morrison’s time on New X-Men is perhaps the greatest run on a superhero team book of both the modern age & in the mediums history
- The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson & Lynn Varley
I wrote extensively about why I loved this series last year during Bat-Month. All I’ll add is that The Dark Knight Returns continues to endure as one of the most expressive, unique and excellent comic books of all time. In four issues, it’s a near perfect approximation of form, craft, vision and imagination. Yes, some of it’s problematic and yes some of it’s deeply stupid, but those warts are also what makes it endearing and gives it it’s charm. It’s a period piece that has proven timeless with some of the most dynamic and visceral visual storytelling that has ever been created. Best of all, The Dark Knight Returns is so purely a comic book, in spite of Warner Brother’s best efforts, I don’t think this will ever translate as a film just like I don’t think it would work as straight prose. Even trying to describe the story to someone couldn’t really capture it’s excellence. It is visual storytelling at it’s apex, the greatest comics work of all time.