Axel-In-Charge: Navigating the "Civil War II" Landscape, Bringing DMC to Marvel
Here are the next five runs in a list of the Top 100 Comic Book Runs, as voted on by about 700 Comics Should Be Good readers, who voted on their favorite runs, I tabulated their votes, and now, here they are!
50. Jack Kirby’s Fourth World – 180 points (2 first place votes)
Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #133-148, New Gods #1-11, Forever People #1-11 and Mister Miracle #1-18
In 1970, when Jack Kirby left Marvel for DC, he brought with him his plans for the Fourth World, which was an entire line of comics that Kirby had envisioned which would, when finished, could be repackaged as collected works.
To introduce this new line of comics, Kirby took over as writer/artist on Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen, where the battles of the Fourth World were first seen. In Olsen, Kirby first showed the world the evil power of Darkseid, who was the ruler of an awful planet called Apokolips, which was caught in a ancient war with a nice planet called New Genesis.
Darkseid’s main goal was to retrieve the Anti-Life Equation, which would allow him to control all living beings.
Their war had been stalled for many a year by a pact done decades before where Darkseid and Highfather, the leader of New Genesis, swapped sons. Highfather raised Orion, while Darkseid “raised” Scott Free. When Scott escaped Apokolips (all according to Darkseid’s plan), Darkseid had reason to restart the war.
However, standing up to fight him was his own son, Orion, who was now more or less tamed by Highfather.
These rip-roaring adventure yarns filled with over-the-top plots and larger-than-life characters were told through three main titles, New Gods (which starred Orion, mostly), Mister Miracle (which was the name Scott Free took when he escaped to Earth, as he became the world’s greatest escape artist) and the Forever People, who were a gang of young New Gods who had wacky adventures – but could merge into the powerful Infinity Man if need be.
The books were a ton of fun, but sales were not particularly great, and each title was canceled. Kirby wrapped up all the plotlines, and then went to work on other DC titles.
Years later, Kirby was given the chance to wrap up the stories in The Hunger Dogs, but DC seems to just ignore that story, as Darkseid has become a major part of the DC Universe now, as has Mister Miracle and Orion.
49. Steve Englehart’s Detective Comics – 184 points (3 first place votes)
Detective Comics #469-476
For whatever reason, Steve Englehart decided to leave Marvel in the late 70s, and quickly found work at DC, which was totally fine with taking on one of Marvel’s most prominent writers. Englehart began an acclaimed run on Justice League of America, and an equally acclaimed run on Detective Comics, with issue #469.
Working with Walt Simonson and Marshall Rogers (Rogers for the bulk of the run), Englehart re-introduced the notable Bat-villains, Hugo Strange and Deadshot, with Deadshot getting a significant revamp, including an amazing new costume from Rogers.
The pair also introduced Silver St. Cloud, one of the best love interests Batman has ever had.
It was only a short run, but it was so well-liked that Englehart and Rogers reunited a few years back to do a sequel mini-series.
Sadly, Marshall Rogers died last year.
Reader McKit gave his reasons for voting Englehart’s run #1…
The splash title page of Detective Comics #469 announces “The Batman you’ve been waiting for,” and that statement truly sums up this memorable and influential run on the title. In the span of eight issues on Detective Comics, writer Steve Englehart created two villains – Dr. Phosphorus and corrupt politician “Boss Thorne” – and revamped two villains – Hugo Strange and Deadshot – that had not been in the comics since 1940 and 1950, respectfully. Furthermore, within this series Englehart featured two “definite” takes on Batman’s arch-foes, the Penguin and the Joker. Englehart’s Joker is the final step towards the unpredictable, homicidal madman that stemmed from Denny O’Neill’s own revitalization of the character from only a few years prior. Englehart’s Joker is scary and murderous, but you can’t help but laugh at his outlandish plan to turn the world’s fish into “Joker fish.” This story was memorably adapted for an episode of the critically acclaimed “Batman: The Animated Series,” and I would argue that the brilliant version of the Joker depicted on the series came straight from Englehart.
Englehart did not use all these villains in the Jeph Loeb “let’s throw all the villains together in one big conspiracy” style, but rather in individual stories connected by the common thread of the “crime villain” Thorne attempting to discover Batman’s identity and run him out of town, and how the Gotham “super villains” react to that. This is the comic book “arc” at its finest, a group of “done-in-one” and two part stories that form a narrative storyline, something that is very commonplace today (such as Morrison’s current run on Batman) but had been done rarely in the Batman titles prior to Englehart’s run. What Englehart brought to the character was the cohesive vision of a master storyteller.
Perhaps the highlight of Englehart’s run was his introduction of Bruce Wayne’s most credible and intelligent love interest, Silver St. Cloud, the only woman intelligent enough to figure out that he is Batman and smart enough to leave him because of his mission. Writers have created numerous love interests for Bruce Wayne over the years, but none of them were as strong or beautifully drawn as Silver.
That brings me to the art, by Walt Simonson and Al Milgrom (469 and 470) and Marshall Rogers (471-476). Prior to this run most Batman comics were drawn by a number of Neal Adams clones. Simonson’s Kirby-style art is dynamic enough on the first two issues, but it is Rogers and Austin who really take all the attention, and rightfully so. Rogers’ Batman exudes as much athletic raw power as Adams’ does, yet his facial detail and emotion are unparalleled. Unfortunately, Rogers would only draw Batman a few times outside of these issues (‘Tec #468, 477-479, 481, DC Special Series #15, the 1989 comic strip, Legends of the Dark Knight #132-136, and the Englehart/Rogers/Austin reunion “Dark Detective” miniseries) before his death in 2007. Reportedly a second “Dark Detective” miniseries was in the works at the time of his passing. That, however, is a true testament to this original run – thirty years later, readers still looked forward to more. While the original run has been reprinted often, I feel a “Marvel Visionaries” style volume of all Roger’s Batman work is long overdue.
48. Geoff Johns’ JSA – 192 points (1 first place votes)
JSA #6-77, 81, Justice Society of America #1-current (#14)
Soon into the revamped version of the JSA, which was about the remaining members of the Justice Society serving with new legacy versions of classic JSA members (while also serving as mentors to the newer heroes), co-writer James Robinson left the title, leaving David Goyer, who co-launched the title with Robinson in need of someone else to script the comic.
When Goyer added Geoff Johns as his co-writer, it is likely that few people knew what to expect, but the result was a long partnership on the JSA (with some breaks here and there), ending with Goyer leaving the book for good with #51.
During their run, Johns and Goyer’s most significant storyline was probably the return of Hawkman, who had been stuck in limbo for a number of years due to confusing continuity surrounding the character. Johns helped strip the character down a bit, and relaunch him in JSA, with a return so popular that Hawkman was soon given his own titled (which Johns also wrote for awhile).
During the run, the book’s main artists were first Steve Sadowski, then Leonard Kirk and finally Don Kramer.
The book was so popular that it received its own spin-off, JSA Classified, which ran for a number of years (it is ending in a couple of months).
After Infinite Crisis, JSA was relaunched as Justice Society of America, with Johns writing and Dale Eaglesham drawing it (Alex Ross did covers and was a story advisor). This current run has the Justice Society stressing their mentoring a good deal more, searching out young, inexperienced heroes that they can tutor – because of this, the Society has grown quite large.
Recently, the Superman from Kingdom Come has shown up and joined the team. This current story arc involves the villain who inspired the main villain from Kingdom Come, Gog.
47. Joe Kelly’s Deadpool – 202 points (6 first place votes)
Deadpool was first introduced by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza in the closing issues of New Mutants. The “merc with a mouth,” Deadpool was an amusing mercenary who often encountered Cable and his gang of mutant mercenaries. He has healing powers, but his body is horribly disfigured.
Popular enough to receive a pair of mini-series in the early 90s, it was still a bit surprising when Deadpool was given his own series, but within a year or so, Joe Kelly’s Deadpool was an acclaimed series.
The original artist on the book was Ed McGuinness, in one of his very first comic assignments. Later artists included Pete Woods and Walter McDaniel.
Kelly played Deadpool up for laughs, including one of the funniest single issues you’ll see, where Deadpool travels back in time…to an issue of Amazing Spider-Man!! Through Deadpool, Kelly plays Mystery Science Theater 3000, of sorts, on an old issue of Stan Lee and John Romita’s Amazing Spider-Man. Classic comedy.
During his run, Kelly introduced a new supporting cast member for Deadpool, an old blind woman named Blind Alfred who apparently was being kept hostage by Deadpool, even though they seemed like friends. Kelly also increased the role that Deadpool’s weapons supplier, Weasel, had.
The book was amusing, but Kelly also would bring in drama from time to time, particularly the notable Annual where we learned the meaning behind Deadpool’s name – when he was being experimented on by Weapon X, fellow prisoners would often bet on who would die next, since Deadpool had regenerative powers, they all knew he would likely never die, so he was the king of the “dead pool.”
Kelly wrote Daredevil at the same time as Deadpool, so he intertwined a lot of the same plots and characters, including having Deadpool win Matt Murdock’s seeing eye dog in a poker game and naming him Deuce the Devil Dog. Also, Typhoid Mary was a major character in Deadpool, too (I especially enjoyed how Kelly surreptitiously retconned Frank Miller’s The Man Without Fear, in using Typhoid Mary).
During Kelly’s tenure on the book, the sales were never exactly stellar, and the book was actually canceled TWICE during Kelly’s run, only to be brought back from cancellation by fan support BOTH times.
The second time, though, was enough for Kelly. As you might imagine, it’s not fun to work on a title that was canceled out from under you, only to have it brought back (so you have to suddenly come up with a new storyline), only for it to be canceled AGAIN, so Kelly took the second cancellation as his cue to leave.
46. Will Eisner’s The Spirit – 204 points (7 first place votes)
The Spirit Newspaper Strips 1940-1942, 1945-1950
The Spirit was an example of the comic strip business trying to cash in on the comic book business, and Will Eisner provided them with their way in, with his Spirit, which was a seven-page comic book that came as part of the comic book funnies section of the paper for over a decade (although Eisner did not work on the strip the whole time).
The Spirit was Denny Colt, a private investigator who was thought murdered, but was actually just in a state of suspended animation. Now thought dead, Colt put on a domino mask and fought crime as The Spirit!
During his run on the Spirit, Eisner developed many techniques that would become commonplace in comics of the future, most notably his stylistic double-page spreads, but also his more adult-themed sense of storytelling. Each issue of the Spirit had Eisner work the title of the comic into the story in some way or fashion, often with amazing results.
The stories in the Spirit were mostly noir crime fiction, but Eisner experimented with all sorts of different stories, from horror to romance to comedy to mysteries.
When Eisner went into the Armed Services during World War II, a number of ghost-artists kept up the series for him. He returned to the strip after the war, but eventually gave it up in 1950. Wally Wood drew the strip for the last year, and he got REALLY adventurous, with the story barely resembling Eisner’s early work.
The Spirit may be the most influential comic book ever, in terms of artistic techniques.
All the Spirit stories have been collected into trades.
Okay, that’s it for today! The next five will be tomorrow!
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