Saturday, April 12, 2008

Top 10 Comic Book Runs Part 1

Comics Should Be Good! is currently counting down the Top 100 comic book runs of all time, as voted by over 700 people in the interwebs. I stupidly forgot ot vote, and I even had two different opportunities. So, instead, I'm going to post my Top 10 comic book runs of all time.

This is very difficult for me, as I'm torn between my sense of history and my own personal tastes. I know, instinctively, that the Lee/Kirby combo on
Fantastic Four should be the best, but it's not my favourite run to read for entertainment value. Nor is the Lee/Ditko run on Spider-Man, or the Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans, or Claremont/Byrne/Cockrum X-Men. This are all the best of the best, but are they my personal favourite? I think not.

So, here goes.

10 - Walt Simonson on
Fantastic Four
9 - Alan Moore, J.H. Williams, and Mick Gray on
8 - Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev on
7 - Grant Morrison, et al, on
Animal Man
6 - Alan Moore, et al on
Swamp Thing

Simonson's run on
Fantastic Four is ridiculous awesome because, as with most things on this list, it's widescreen balls-to-the-wall epic action. There's a singularity or something, and it's eating the entire omniverse, and it's Galactus, and the Fantastic Four, Iron Man and Thor drive a timeslad called Rosebud (ha) into the end of the universe and beat up a Celestial. Yeah. Then, the Time Variance Authority, who controls the timestream, puts the Fantastic Four on trial for all of their time-traveling. And there's this issue, which is ballin'!

Promethea is Alan Moore's painfully complex didactic comic book story about stories and the Kabbalah. But this isn't Madonna's Kabbalah; this is the entire thing in minute detail with visual metaphors. Ostensibly, the series is about Promethea, a fictional superheroine (or science-hero as the series calls them) who inhabits a storyteller in time of need. The main character, Sophie, becomes Promethea by writing a poem about her, and for most of the series, goes on a metaphysical journey through the 32 paths of Kaballah. Just like Moore's other works, this is a structuralist's paradise. Everything has been organized perfectly, down to the smallest tiniest details. It also helps that J. H. Williams and Mick Gray's art is beyond belief beautiful. For each metaphysical realm the characters enter, the art and style matches that realm, for example, the angry Hades-like realm is drawn red and charcoal-y. There's also a double-page spread of the characters walking a Moebius strip, which you could read forever. It's stunning work.

When Bendis and Maleev started on
Daredevil, they weren't the top dogs they are now. Bendis was famous mostly for his crime comics and his work for Image Comics. But right out of the gate, Bendis and Maleev take Matt Murdock on a wild and crazy ride, redefining the Man Without Fear and coming out from underneath Frank Miller's shadow. The whole arc is based around identity, documents, and power. Murdock's identity is outed to the papers, and he spends most of his time trying to fight that losing battle. He also watches the Kingpin go down, watches people try to take over, and then finally he himself takes over. Creating a complex chronology and a complex system of themes, Bendis creates a really solid run that features Maleev's gritty photorealistic style (much better than Gaydos' - a frequent Bendis collaborator).

I came back to comics because of Grant Morrison's run on
Animal Man. I had drifted away thanks to Spider-clones and mega X-events, but came back after hearing about the environmental issues, the emotion, the metafictional elements present in this Scot's reinvigorating of Animal Man, a third-tier DC superhero long forgotten. Lovingly immersed in continuity and Crisis On Infinite Earths, and lovingly immersed in metafiction, this is the story of Buddy Baker, a man who can emulate any animal's traits. Morrison takes him from the sea saving dolphins to the desert trying to help a Wile E Coyote analogy, all the while, standing back, a passive viewer in his own life. This finally comes to an end when Buddy Baker is faced with his own writer: Grant Morrison himself. It's a stunning issue, and easily one of the best single issues ever.

And Alan Moore appears a second time on the list with his acclaimed and classic and highly influential run on
Swamp Thing, the series that gave him his big break. A lot has been said about what Moore added to the deep mythology of the DC universe, including Cain and Abel, the Elemental ideas, the Parliament of Trees, John Constantine, but for me, the reason why this run is so great is for the gorgeous and tender love story at the center. I don't think I'd ever seen anything so beautiful as when Swamp Thing and Abby are reunited after ten issues. Or when Swamp Thing comes to Gotham, kicks the city's ass, and takes on the Batman, all for Abby's love. It's very beautiful. And of course, Moore's run is complex and engaging and emotional and funny and horrific and influential. It's all gravy.

I will continue with the second half of the Top 10 Comic Book Runs tomorrow. Join us.

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