web stats

CSBG Archive

Top 100 Comic Book Runs #90-86

Here are the next five! As always, if anyone wants to send me the reasons they chose their picks, feel free to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com!

90. Chris Claremont and John Romita Jr’s X-Men – 106 points (1 first place vote)

Uncanny X-Men #175(partial), #176-197, 199-200, 202-203, 206-211

As was the case for the X-Men juggernaut of the 80s, whoever an artist replaced was seen as impossible. Replace Byrne and Cockrum with Paul Smith? Impossible!

And yet when it came time for Smith to leave the book, it was “Replace Paul Smith? Impossible!”

And yet that was the task for John Romita, Jr., the young budding superstar that was coming off a popular run on another one of Marvel’s major titles, Amazing Spider-Man.

Matched with inker Dan Green, Romita produced artwork that was a bit grittier than previous X-artists, and it matched writer Chris Claremont’s slightly darker stories of the mid-80s.

This was the run where Kitty calls the guy the N-word, where Professor X is almost beaten to death, where Magneto ends up taking over the team, where Wolverine stabs Rachel in the chest to keep her from killing – it was not the funnest of times for the X-Men, and Romita left the book just as one of their darkest periods period came up, the Mutant Massacre.

By the time Romita left, it was once again “Replace John Romita Jr.? Impossible!”

89. Mark Gruenwald’s Captain America – 107 points (3 first place votes)

Captain America #307-422, 424-443, Captain America Annual #8

Mark Gruenwald came to Captain America in an interesting way. Mike Carlin was writing the book and Gruenwald was editing the title. Then The Thing needed an editor. So Gruenwald took over editing The Thing, and brought Carlin over to write the Thing, leaving Captain America available.

So Gruenwald then had Carlin take over as editor of Captain America, with Gruenwald writing the title.

Gruenwald then stayed on the book for about eight years, writing well over a hundred issues of the title.

During his tenure, Gruenwald worked with a number of artists, most notably Paul Neary, Tom Morgan, (a young) Kieron Dwyer, Ron Lim, Rik Levins and Dave Hoover.

His run included the introduction of a number of new supporting characters, such as Diamondback, USAGent and Demolition Man.

A big part of Gruenwald’s “manifesto,” as it were, for his run on Cap was to introduce new villains for Captain America, and while the Serpent Society really has not lasted that much past Gruenwald’s own run, his introduction of Crossbones has been successful, with Crossbones still having an important role in the Captain America title today.

Gruenwald also wrote a story where Steve Rogers was replaced as Captain America by John Walker, who would later become USAgent.

Diamondback became Captain America’s girlfriend. Gruenwald ended his run by having Captain America’s Super Soldier Serum turn against him, and he appeared to have died in Gruenwald’s last issue.

88. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s Doctor Strange – 108 points (2 first place votes)

Strange Tales #110-111, 114-146

In Strange Tales #110, Steve Ditko and Stan Lee introduced one of the best characters the two worked on together, Doctor Strange. The initial story introduced the basics of the story really quickly, and what basics they were!

A jerkish surgeon whose recklessness led to his hands damaged, Strange searched for a cure, until he ended up becoming the apprentice to the Ancient One, and his life was totally turned around for the better. No longer a jerk, Strange began to use his newfound mystical powers for the good of the universe.

After a short break, the feature returned to Strange Tales where Ditko and Lee produced a number of classic issues, introducing many new characters that are still used to this day, like Baron Mordo, Dormammu, Eternity, Nightmare and more.

The comic was a nice counterpoint to Ditko’s more grounded work in Amazing Spider-Man, as this series allowed Ditko to cut loose with bizarre and trippy concepts.

It was a tremendous work, and it gave such a great foundation to future writers (Note – towards the end, Denny O’Neil did some scripting on the book).

86 (tie). Roy Thomas’ Avengers – 109 points (2 first place votes)

Story continues below

The Avengers #35-104

Roy Thomas took over from original writer Stan Lee, and proceeded to write the title for the next seventy or so issues, working most notably with artists John Buscema (hey, how do you pronounce Buscema?) and Neal Adams.

During this run, Avengers readers were treated to the introduction of Ultron, the introduction of the Vision (who starred in one of Thomas’ most notable stories of his run – Even an Android Can Cry), the introduction of Yellowjacket, the marriage of Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, Hawkeye becoming Goliath, Vision and the Scarlet Witch beginning to date, and probably the most notable part of Thomas’ run on the book, the epic Kree Skrull War, where Neal Adams did some dynamite work (on the issues he actually drew).

Sal Buscema and Barry Windsor Smith also drew some notable issues during this run.

Thomas’ run was marked by an interesting blend of character drama with grand adventures – the reaction to Jarvis betraying the team was treated just as it was just as important as whatever villain they were fighting that week.

Thomas laid a great foundation for Steve Englehart’s excellent follow-up run.

86 (tie). Jim Starlin’s Warlock – 109 points (1 first place vote)

Strange Tales #178-181, Warlock #9-15, The Avengers Annual #7 and Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2

Jim Starlin had already established himself as a tremendous cosmic writer with his work on Captain Marvel, but his run on Warlock (spanning FOUR different titles) really cemented that reputation, with his back-to-back classic arcs, The Magus Saga and then whatever you call the story with Thanos.

Starlin had Adam Warlock face off against an evil religious empire, also Magus, his evil future self, not to mention Thanos, who is, as you know, an evil guy who loves him some death.

Starlin introduced some notable supporting characters, too, with Pip the Troll and Gamora, the “deadliest woman in the universe.”

Sadly, the books didn’t sell that well, so Starlin had to use other comics to finish his story, with the two Annuals, which ended with, well, everyone dying. :)

Starlin would later revive all these characters for future fun stories.

The next five will be up later tonight!!


I’ve always pronounced it “Bu-SHE-ma.” I could be wrong, though.

I did e-mail you reasons, sir! You better use them – don’t make me fly back there and beat you up!

Man, I hope that Englehart’s Captain America is still to come, because I’ve always sided with it against Gruenwald’s as the “ultimate Cap run”.

Five Marvel books! Oh no! Where are the DC’s!? Not to mention independents . . .

Brian, is it too late to email you reasons for these?

Nope, folks can keep sending me their thoughts throughout the countdown, and I’ll edit them in!

Your first mention of USAgent has a capital G, making him the “United States (of) America Gent” instead of the “United States Agent”. Not that it is in any way relevant or important; I just wanted to float the idea of USA-Gent, the overly polite superhero (and clearly the polar opposite of John Walker).

While I’m here, is Snark-Free Corner cancelled for the week? I need to block the snark!

Wow. Really? I found both Romita Jr.’s X-Men and Gruenwald’s Cap to be massive letdowns after the stellar runs that preceded them. Disappointing finish for Ditko Dr. Strange, the first appearance of one of my top ten. I guess not enough people have read them. After all they’ve NEVER been collected in color trade paperbacks! Starlin’s Warlock got squeezed out of my top ten, but I’m SO happy to see it made the list! (And don’t forget that Starlin’s Warlock had an issue that was an homage to Ditko’s Dr. Strange!)

Thanks so for providing so much fun, Brian! These lists have really got me jazzed up. It feels like election night or the Oscars! Good times.

I at least toyed with the idea of voting for some portion of Gruenwald’s run on Cap. One of the problems was that I couldn’t in good conscience say that his entire very long Cap run was one of my Top Ten Favorites, because it was of such variable quality as the years rolled past. Some bits of it I’d have to force myself to really read, word for word, all over again. (A story arc with “Capwolf” in it promptly springs to mind, from the early 400s.) And I wasn’t sure I could point to any lengthy run of Gruenwald + One Particular Artist as being one of my Top Ten Favorites all by itself. In the end, I regretfully discarded the idea and went with something else to fill that slot on my ballot.

I don’t think anything else listed in this installment was a serious contender for my vote, although this time I’ve actually read some or all of each of the runs being mentioned!

Uh-oh. Thomas’ Avengers? Ditko’s Strange? Starlin’s Warlock? I was expecting these classic Marvel runs to be much, much higher. Admittedly, I didn’t vote for Ditko’s Doc Strange, but only because I haven’t read them all yet. I guess that leaves me in no position to complain how low it is, then.

Starlin’s Warlock was my #2 choice. I’m sad to see it so low. So that’s 3 of my list to show up already. I’m still expecting 6 more I voted for to show up. Though I wonder if I’m wrong…

Patrick Joseph

April 8, 2008 at 4:44 pm

The day I voted I had just had a long conversation with my room mate about Ditko and Lee’s Doctor Strange. He had just tread my copy of the Essential for the first time, and we were praising the run with a ridiculous amount of hyperbole.

The series was truly unlike any comic which had come before. Ditko was able to create his own visual vocabulary for this, transcending influence and blazing quite a few trails. Ditko and Lee melded perfectly and practically created psychedelia and the graphic novel with their run. Forty odd years later, few artists have created such a distinct environment with such simple tools.

As great as their Spider-Man was, you could see how it happened; it was suggested by what preceded it Doctor Strange came out of nowhere, and was a constant joyous surprise.

Wow, I’ve read all or most of 4 of these runs, Dr. Strange being the exception. I have read a couple of those issues too. Gru’s Cap made my list, specifically the Lim/Dwyer period. Thomas’ Avengers were a strong contender for me, too. Two posts in and 2 of my picks have shown up. Cool.

I always pronounced Buscema “Byoo-sem-uh.”


None of these made my list, though Lee & Ditko’s Dr. Strange is way towards the top of my fav list. I read the Pocket Book reprint from the 70’s and couldn’t put it down. Ditko greatness !

Lemon Scented Yeti

April 8, 2008 at 5:58 pm

I know a woman with the same last name that pronounces it boo-SHEM-uh.

Wow, seeing stuff thats this good so early really has me intrigued as to whats yet to come

Love me some Starlin WARLOCK, but it and DREADSTAR just missed my list. Gruenwald’s Cap was a bit too inconsistent in quality for my list (the Neary and Dwyer issues were the best). Never dug Romita Jr on X-men.

I always pronounced it BYU-shem-uh.

I was never a fan of JR Jr’s art on his first X-Men run, but I love it after that. Not sure what exactly it was that changed, but I’m a big fan of his now.

I say put the “Buscema” question up for the Urban Legends Revealed column…

Not one of my picks has appeared yet.

But I’m shocked that Lee/Ditko’s Doc Strange, Thomas’s Avengers, and Starlin’s Warlock all ranked so low!

Okay, continuing to sort out the data, this time only highlighting only the 5 new ones in the parenthesis.

We have 17 runs so far (and 1724 pts)

– 8 runs are set in the Marvel Universe (all the new ones! – 838 pts)
– 2 runs are set in the DC Universe (203 pts)
– 2 are manga (198 pts)
– 1 is a Vertigo comic (101 pts)
– 12 are superheroes or close enough (all the new ones! – 1234 pts)
– 5 are non-superhero (490 pts)

Sorted by decade the first issue in the run was published, we have:

– 1980s (6 runs – X-Men, Cap – 612 pts)
– 1970s (3 runs – Warlock – 304 pts)
– 1990s (3 runs – 292 pts)
– 1960s (2 runs – Doc Strange, Avengers – 217 pts)
– 2000s (2 runs – 204 pts)
– 1940s (1 run – 95 pts)

The 80s lead by far.

Sorted by associated creator (so far this STILL isn’t very interesting, since we didn’t have any creators with two different series appearing).

– Roy Thomas (109 pts)
– Jim Starlin (109 pts)
– Stan Lee (108 pts)
– Steve Ditko (108 pts)
– Mark Gruenwald (107 pts)
– Chris Claremont (106 pts)
– John Romita Jr. (106 pts)
– Mike Grell (104 pts)
– Warren Ellis (103 pts)
– Stuart Immonen (103 pts)
– Garth Ennis (101 pts)
– Brian Michael Bendis (101 pts)
– Michael Gaydos (101 pts)
– Kazuo Koike (100 pts)
– Goseki Kojima (100 pts)
– Denny O’Neil (99 pts)
– Denys Cowan (99 pts)
– Matt Wagner (98 pts)
– Stan Sakai (98 pts)
– Terry Moore (96 pts)
– Chris Ware (95 pts)
– Doug Moench (95 pts)
– Jack Cole (95 pts)

And yep, this time I’ve read all of those 5 runs, except for Gruenwald’s Cap, that I dropped when it started to get too silly towards the mid-90s. It was pretty good until then.

I think this X-Men run is probably my second favorite ever, only behind Claremont/Byrne. I think it ranked comparatively low because when people think of Claremont’s X-Men now, it’s always the Byrne stuff, but we had some AMAZING stories in this phase too. Like the Kulan Gath issues. It’s when Claremont matured as a writer and we have the perfect mix of light and darkness, IMO. The following phase starting with Mutant Massacre is good too, but already starting to get a bit TOO dark and depressing, I think.

The other 3 are all seminal stuff that should rank a lot higher. Roy Thomas’s Avengers is too often overlooked by modern fans, but I think it’s vastly superior to the Stan Lee issues that came before. I guess Doc Strange unfairly ranked so low because there is other Stan Lee Marvel stuff from the period that captures more of people’s attention (and votes)

The Goddamn Skateman

April 8, 2008 at 8:11 pm

Stan Lee pronounces it “Boo-SEM-uh” in the How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way video, IIRC

Had no idea that these runs would be so low–the top ten must be stuff everyone agrees on, like Kirby/Lee FF.

In case it’s nice to know your work is appreciated~ I am glad you keep track of these stats Rene!

Gurenwald’s Cap bumped Claremont/JR Jr’s X-Men off of my top ten. Interesting to see them place so close to one another.


Josh Alexander

April 8, 2008 at 8:49 pm

Still 0 for 10. I just order the Ditko Marvel Essentials, so I’m excited to delve into that. Loved Romita’s X-Men, and what I’ve read of Thomas’ Avengers has been fun. Wish I could say the same for Gruenwalds’s Cap. I was kind of surprised to see some of these so low.

Makes me believe alot of the runs will be much more recent.

Is this the Top 100 runs, or really Top 130ish. Usually in rankings, when there is a tie, the tied entries get the same number, and then the next non-tied entry continues where they would be if there was no tie. For example, if there were 3 people tied for 2nd, the next person would be 5th, instead of 3rd.

I’ll confirm that I’ve heard professionals pronounce both Big John and brother Sal’s name as boo-SEM-uh. Before I’d heard that I was mispronouncing it with a long with a long ee too.

It’s funny about JR Jr’s X-Men art. Up until then I had loved all the art on the New X-Men (Cockrum, Byrne, Paul Smith), and had liked JR’s Amazing Spidey. I can’t remember if his Iron Man came before or after X-Men, but I think it too was before and I liked it there too. For some reason, his X-Men just didn’t, and don’t, resonate with me. Maybe a different inker would have helped. Too often fans overlook what an incredible difference an inker can make. I’m certainly not saying it was bad, it just didn’t match up with the characters IMHO. JR doing Kirby, like his Eternals mini or Thor was awesome. I’d buy that all day long. Oddly enough, that was part of what made me step away from the X-titles. I came back for about 3 issues when the Image gang and John Byrne were at the helm, still didn’t like it and was very lost, and didn’t come back until Morrison & Quitely made it great once again.

Thanks, Chris!

Next posts I’m thinking of adding some other stuff, like oldest run (so far it’s Plastic Man), more recent run (so far it’s Nextwave), and total of runs that are over vs. runs that are still being published.

I’m very curious to see what age of comics is the most beloved. With Lee/Ditko’s Doc Strange ranked so low, I wonder whether some Stan Lee stuff will make the list at all? I’m thinking of some of his work that is usually less well-regarded than his Dr. Strange – Daredevil, Captain America…

Is this the Top 100 runs, or really Top 130ish. Usually in rankings, when there is a tie, the tied entries get the same number, and then the next non-tied entry continues where they would be if there was no tie. For example, if there were 3 people tied for 2nd, the next person would be 5th, instead of 3rd.

Yep, that’s how this is done, as well.

Because there was a 3-way tie at 100, there ARE two extra runs on the list, though. So Top 102! :)


I remember hearing many complaints when Romita Jr. took over X-Men. His earlier work on Spider-Man and Iron Man was a lot more traditional. His Uncanny X-Men run was the first time he completely unleashed himself and started displaying for real his very unique style with blocky figures and stylized backgrounds, in a time when “unusual” art styles weren’t really very well-received. Add to that that he was doing this in the top Marvel title that had had lots of fan favorite pencillers in the past.

I didn’t like his X-Men at first myself, but slowly it grew on me, and I found myself surprised when I really missed John Romita Jr. when he finally left. By the time he started on Daredevil, there were plenty of “weirder” pencillers in superhero titles, readers were more used to experimentation.

I love JRJR’s X-Men. Wish I coulda’ voted for it. I settled for only one X-Men run (not Byrne). JRJr would have been my second choice for an X-Men run though.

And Rene raises a good point. Lee’s Dr. Strange is right up there with his FF and Spider-Man. If that’s so low, what does that say about his Avengers or X-Men? Did those not place at all (I wouldn’t of voted for em; I like the Thomas stuff) or will they place higher than the Doc just due to the popularity of X-Men?

Theres’s nothing I’ve ever read or (going by the writers concerned) ever plan to read.

That’s too bad, Dan. Don’t know the Captain Americas well enough, but the others are all excellent comics.

Ditko’s Strange and Starlin’s Warlock are among the best of superhero comics.

I’m sure the Doctor Strange and Avengers are good, but I seem to have lost the ability to enjoy older comics with their stilted dialogue.

As for the others, Chris Claremont, Jim Starlin and Mark Gruenwald are writers whose work has never really done it for me.

Stephane Savoie

April 9, 2008 at 6:27 am

All 5 runs were Marvel books. Interesting trend.

Two of these- Doc Strange and Warlock- were on my “honorable mentions” list. I debated for ages (well, minutes) about which Lee/Ditko collaboration to go with, and ultimately Spider-man won out, because it’s just so much more important.

The first genuine surprise of the list is Mark Gruenwald’s Captain America. He probably stayed on the title too long, but for the most part he delivered a consistently entertaining comic month in and month out. Nice to see it get some recognition.

Brian, I guess my mind was playing tricks on me. I thought there were…say a couple 96s, and a 97. Nevermind.

I’ve read, and owned, 4 of this group of 5. Neat.

The Ditko Dr. Strange just missed my list, as did the Roy Thomas Avengers. A different Avengers run and a different Starlin storyline did make my list.

FWIW: After buying & reading the entire original Captain Marvel series, I gotta say that Starlin’s run on it is WAY over-rated. The series as a whole probably shouldn’t have lasted the 70-or-so issues it went. There was no continuity of characters, stories, or power sets. Captain Marvel is one of those characters who have developed a reputation after he stoped being a player.

Yea… Starlin’s run on Warlock was MUCH better than anything done in Captain Marvel.

Agreed, but the man was just cutting his teeth. Starlin’s Captain Marvel works great as a prequel to the Warlock stuff, right? In fact, when I re-read it, I just read the CM special edition, the Warlock special edition and the “Death of Captain Marvel” OGN as one complete saga, which is pretty damn satisfying.

No one really knew what to do with Captain Mar-Vell, it seemed. Each new writer would take the series in a completely different direction than the former, and no one writer stuck for long.

BIRD: I could see the point that Starlin was cuttinh his teeth on C/M. That would explain why those cosmic stories were bland where (almost) every other cosmic story he’s done since has been prety good.

RENE: That’s a pretty fair assessment as well. I remember seeing a letter sent in by a young Kurt Buisek commenting on the fluxuating power sets. EG: After getting the nega-bands, one writer had him needing a space ship for interstellat travel, another didn’t.

I will admit that Starlin’s run on C/M was among the best on the series. That’s just not saying much. There wasn’t much for competition. ;) Didn’t Roy Thomas start the whole thing off? I remember it starting out OK but sliding pretty quickly.

According to the 92/93 Official Comic Book Price Guide For Great Britain (which had a handy guide us Brits without such interesting surnames) it’s byoo-SEM-ma. Which is close to what Hondo and others have said.

With this posting I’m 2/10. I’m loving me some Starlin Warlock.

Sorry Brian just seen your official word on Buscema further up the blog.

If I remember right Roy Thomas wrote some of the first Mar-Vell stories with the white-and-green costume, and it was okay. Then Arnold Drake came along and it got weird and messy (I know there is much love for Drake for his DC work, but damn it, his Mar-Vell and X-Men were just horrible). Then Roy Thomas came back and did the first stories with Rick Jones joining Mar-Vell.

Hmmm… Starlin’s Mar-Vell. I think it was great, but it’s a funny thing… it’s a bit like some of Claremont’s first stories. You read them today, and you think “what the fuzz was about, this isn’t that good.” But then you realize that you’re only dismissing it because you’ve read thousands of later stories in the same mold, so those early stories don’t look so special.

But you got to realize they were the first of their type. I don’t think there was anything quite like what Starlin did with Captain Mar-Vell before he did it. Just like there wasn’t anything in comics with quite the feeling of complex continuity and secret history being revealed before Claremont started on X-Men.

I was the one 1st place vote for Claremont/Romita Jr. X-Men was my gateway comic and remains a favorite, as does Romita Jr. So favorite characters+favorite artist=#1 run.

It also showcased the perfect combination of done-in-ones with overarching subplots and story arcs, before Claremont became a parody of himself and the industry became obsessed with writing for the trade.

Glad to see it placed at all; I figured with all the (justified) love for the Claremont/Byrne and Morrison runs, the Claremont/Romita Jr. gem of a run would get completely overlooked.

I love that Kulan Gath two parter…

I can’t make any comment on what the Starlin C/M was like at the time it came out. I didn’t read them until about 6 years ago. I CAN, however, make the comparisons of his C/M followed by Warlock to Clairmont/Byrne’s early X-Men (<120) to the latter part of the run (120-142). They both took a while to get used to the genre and settings, then went to town later.

Still, as good as the Starlin Warlock is, it isn’t his best work. For my money, the Infinity cycle blew it all away.

Mike Loughlin

April 9, 2008 at 1:41 pm

The Claremont/ JR Jr issues leave me cold- I think the character designs grew less interesting, the new villains (Nimrod, Selene) didn’t have the oomph of past adversaries, Claremont was getting even more wordy, and I don’t like Romita Jr.’s art on X-Men (on Daredevil, though, it looked great). On the other hand, I read them in my late teens, about ten years after they came out. I might like them more if I had read them at a younger age.

I’m surprised Ditko’s Dr. Strange isn’t much higher. The art on those comics is phenomenal- Ditko imagined an entirely new way of doing comics about a magical super-hero. Jim Starlin’s excellent Warlock comics were directly descended from those Dr. Strange comics.

Very, very cool feature. It’s tremendous fun to see runs I remember reading as they came out (the X-Men !76 cover immediately made me feel like I was twelve again), and exciting to read about great runs I’ll have to check out in the future. Thanks for doing this.

I liked Infinity Gauntlet, but I didn’t love it.

I started to get the impression Starlin was always telling the same story, only more elaborated.

You have it dead on, Rene. Starlin really only tells one story: the universe is destroyed/almost destroyed/controlled by some god-like being. All of his mainstream Marvel work revolves around Warlock & Thanos. Thanos destroys everything, Warlock saves it, and nobody remembers. He’s a one-trick pony, but it’s a REALLY good trick!

I’ve never read Dreadstar, so I can’t comment on it. It’d really like to read it, though.

Dreadstar’s worth the read. It won’t be the Thanos story again. Though the battle against the evil cosmic church that shows up may also seem familiar. The best of it is the beginning though, which is the Metamorphosis Odyssey. That’s both good and unique.

The Claremont-Romita, Jr. run on the X-Men was what caused me to drop that title at around #200.

I believe that the appearance of the Gruenwald Cap run here is largely due to affection for the person of Mark Gruenwald and out of sympathy for his untimely death. The actual quality of the work is not worthy of being on this list. Need I remind anyone of the Cap Wolf story arc or where Gruenwald teased but did not deliver on turning Cap into a woman? This run was far to wacky, clunkily plotted and featured very heavy handed moralism at most opportunities. In many ways, it’s hard to fathom how this was published for years after both of Miller’s runs on Daredevil and Watchmen. I believe the quality of this run is actually below average for the comics of it’s period.

I disagree on the Gruenwald inclusion as sympathy. While it was an extremely uneven run on the whole (the whole Capwolf- with extra special Wolverine appearance no less!, Cap in Drag plots were horrid, made moreso by the awful artistic stylings of Rik Levins who took all the terrible habits of the 90’s artists and brought them to the nadir- a special place in artist hell shared with Web of Spiderman’s Alex Saviuk where Rik has to continuously draw knee joints over and over again), Gruenwald hit some major high notes with his work on Cap that I still enjoy flipping through and as we see with characters like Crossbones, reverberate to this day.

As another poster mentioned these were the Dwyer/Lim issues, where not only was the art highly enjoyable (and I’m perfectly willing to leave that as a matter of taste rather than fact), but the plots were simply mesmerizing, with equal time given not just to some sterling action sequences but an emphasis on Cap’s personal life that really allowed Steve Rogers to come into his own as never before as a more well-rounded person than just a speech spitting fighting machine- the “date” issue with him and Diamondback being secretly chaperoned by the Serpent Squad so Rachel and Steve can actually enjoy a night out without costumes is one of my favorite done-in-one’s ever, and I really loved Diamondback being added to the cast of characters. There was a bit of work done on this side of Cap’s life in the earlier runs, but even with the Bernie Rosenthal relationship, it kind of fell by the wayside to the superhero stuff. Not so here, where Cap’s personal and professional lives were expertly balanced and equally compelling.

Two other points worth mentioning during this run that I loved

– we really got to see Steve’s strategies as a fighter- Gruenwald had him thinking through his moves and Dwyer and Lim really put effort into showing a man fighting for his life rather than effortlessly dispatching legions of foes (though there was plenty of that to be found through the run as well)- but we saw Steve’s thought process in combat -without telegraphing anything-and it heightened the stakes of the action for me.

Also we saw a startling bit of insight into the villains side of things. For a while, one wouldn’t have been wrong to call this comic “Red Skull” instead of “Captain America” – we got a fly on the wall view of Skull’s inner workings and politics of his organization, and again, Mark delved deeply into who all of these people were other than moustache twirlers – before this, Skull was the behind the scenes plotter who would then appear to flourish his plans in Captain America’s face- but Gruenwald took the whole “Skull House” adventure set up by his predecessors one step further and gave us the planning stages and day to day workings of Skull and his lackeys- he even made the best work out of “Acts of Vengeance” by setting the stage for a great Skull/Magneto showdown where at the end, we are supposed to empathize with Skull’s plight and see if he can survive Magneto’s judgement (as a secondary tale drawn up by Mark Bagley no less).

And of course, “Streets of Poison” is to this day one of my favorite Cap stories- there’s so many plates spinning throughout this arc you’d think a circus crashed into a restaurant (Skull versus Kingpin, Crossbones versus Bullseye, Diamondback versus Widow, Cap out of his mind on drugs, Cap without Super Solier Serum, Cap versus Daredevil). Yes, the run fell by the wayside in the later years, but man, this was one of those desert comics for me back in the day- the one you save at the end of the pile so you can end your reading with a bit of sweetness- like a Slott She-Hulk issue or Ultimate Spidey.

Apologies for what I now see is a really long post.

I’m not sure it’s fair to compare Gruewald’s Cap to Watchmen or Miller’s Daredevil, since few works could stand this comparision. I think Gru’s stories are average for the period, but I think there was a lot of good stuff going on in the mid-1980s, so “average” was probably not such a bad thing.

There was heavy-handed moralism, but at least Gru was interested in discussing morality, it wasn’t just slam-bam action. I remember villains like Flag-Smasher and Madcap, that represented interesting concepts (anti-nationalism and nihilism, respectively). And was Gru the first writer to work intimately with a group of villains, making them more like supporting characters in the ensemble cast of the comic than just occasional adversaries? The way he dealt with internal workings of the Serpent Society, while not as cool as the later Suicide Squad or Thunderbolts, was a first in comics, I think.

Still, for all of that, I would have ranked it even lower in this list, more closer to the bottom, if at all. Maybe it would be fairer to put it into a top 200. I still prefer J. M. deMatteis run that came almost immediately before, for instance.

Yay for Gruenwald’s Cap! I voted for it based on it being my favorite as a kid. Some of the later parts of the run haven’t aged well, but I think the meat of it — especially the 332-350 run — holds up.

I recently wrote about Gruenwald’s Captain America over at my blog, with some comparisons to the current Brubaker run:


Rene, I have a feeling you’ll see the JMdeM probably lower down- the Death of the Red Skull storyline was one of the first comic arcs I ever read- somebody had a copy of issue 299 at summer camp and I would just read it over and over, and the moment I got home, I went to the comic store and picked up all the issues before and after- and of course got hooked on other titles as well. Some of the most riveting fiction I’ve ever beheld. Truly great stuff that is a must-read for any Cap fan. It was almost a shame when they brought Johann back, if it hadn’t been done so cleverly (the nod to Boys from Brazil with the ol’ Nazi cloning storytelling engine), and as part of a truly devastating scheme to besmirch the meaning of Captain America- done by of course, Gruenwald.

Also good point on the “lighter” tone of Cap versus Daredevil Rene. Just because it was “lighter” didn’t mean it was any less effective, or any less of a good comic. Seems to me people taking things darker ruined a lot of comics to follow thereafter.

As others have said, just because parts of Gruenwald’s Cap run were bad doesn’t mean it all was. I loved most of it, and it was on my top 10 list. Crossbones made my top 10 Marvel characters list, as well. The stuff with the Serpent Society and Crossbones and Steve Rogers being replaced as Cap were great.

Plus this entire list is individual people’s opinion of what they like the most. To claim that the quality is not worthy of being on the list is like telling someone that they’re wrong to like their favorite food or movie. It’s all opinion.

No it’s not simply all opinion. In this case we are comparing runs of comics against each other for quality, not just personal favorites. I won’t argue with you over your favorite food but I will argue over a chef’s ability to prepare food and the complexity, skill, and invention used in preparing a dish. I argue against Gruenwald’s run not because I don’t like it (I own most of it) but because I feel it simply doesn’t have the level of quality in it’s art and writing and lacks complexity in its ideas and plotting.

I liked it is not a very sophisticated method of comparative analysis. I have personal preferences and weaknesses for certain runs and material but I would never place them near the top 100 runs. Honestly, is this Cap run anyhwhere close to Brubaker’s Sleeper?

Rene may well be right though in placing the Cap run in the top 200.

And yet the run has found its home here in the top 100. Primarily because of opinion, and the majority felt that the quality spoke for itself, even amid the weaknesses of the work entire. Hey, I understand its not going to please everyone- these are comic fans- one of the pickiest, most willful, most contentious fan base out there- that any consensus can be found long enough to even accomplish a top 100 runs, well… that’s pretty amazing in and of itself, and telling of people’s admiration and love for this particular run. For me, the Dwyer/Lim periods have quality and complexity in abundance- and yes, that’s my opinion, but I am an admirer of their skills. And when I think of Captain America, I think about one moment during “Streets Of Poison” where Cap is convalescing in the Avengers medical center, having a hallucination, and raging against the drugs in his system- Gruenwald uses this moment to explain, more passionately and eloquently than any other writer I’ve ever seen handle the character why Captain America works- Why Steve Rogers works. And in the midst of doing it, he cleverly addresses the inherent hypocracy of a character that met his full potential by using drugs. “Other men have taken the Super Soldier formula but none of them have become what I’ve become! Why? Because of my ideals! Because of my will to fight to make America the kind of place where everyone can be free to pursue their dreams! Drugs have NOTHING TO DO WITH THAT!”

And then he crumples, and his friends run to his aid. Steve curls into a ball and whimpers to his friend Hank Pym (in full Thriller outfit- ugh), “Hank… I sick, I need help”. Steve Rogers at his strongest and weakest at the same time. The idea of Captain America clearly defined as being far more than a patriotic anachronism, or corny superhero. Is it Watchmen or Cerebus or something like that? No. But its good comics, good art, good storytelling and yes, it deserves its place. The quality and skill are there. Gruenwald was kind of like Cap that way- he could say the silliest things sometimes but he had conviction behind it, and like Jimmy Stewart, you just had to buy into it.

I love the JRJ era of X-men. One of my favorite runs ever. So many great stories and moments…plus, Storm had arguably her best years during that area, as far as character arcs go.

“In this case we are comparing runs of comics against each other for quality, not just personal favorites.”

I don’t know where you got that idea–the instructions specifically said “Vote for your top 10 top (and by top, I mean your favorites) comic book runs”.

I liked it is not a very sophisticated method of comparative analysis. I have personal preferences and weaknesses for certain runs and material but I would never place them near the top 100 runs. Honestly, is this Cap run anyhwhere close to Brubaker’s Sleeper?

And is Brubaker’s Sleeper anywhere close to Acme Novelty Library in terms of conceptual scope and pure ability to utilize the comics medium to tell stories?

(Short answer: No.

Long answer: Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! Whew. No.)

We’re not rating the best comics. More than anything else, it’s a list of what this particular audience at this particular time thinks is cool.

I read most of Gruenwald’s Captain America for the first time this year and was suitably impressed. It’s fast paced, it thinks long term, it’s relatively smart – And it knows exactly what it wants to be. Unlike Sleeper, which never really figured out it it was a comedy or not.

Beautiful, beautiful list! I love this stuff!

J.M. Dematteis’s Captain America

Leave a Comment



Review Copies

Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.

Browse the Archives