DC Comics' July Highlights: "Batgirl," "Nightwing" and a "New Super-Man"
Here are the next five runs of ongoing comic book series (so no Watchmen), as voted upon by about 700 Comics Should Be Good readers, who picked their top ten favorites, with their votes being weighted depending on where they ranked titles, then I counted them all up and list them here for your reading enjoyment. Enjoy!
45. John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake’s The Spectre – 205 points (5 first place votes)
The Spectre #1-62 (plus a #0 issue)
John Ostrander had just wrapped up work on two of his acclaimed DC runs, Firestorm and Suicide Squad. Along with his Firestorm artist, Tom Mandrake, Ostrander began work on a run of the Spectre that was so definitive that DC allowed Ostrander to essentially end the character with the end of his and Mandrake’s run.
Ostrander’s run was built around the notion that Jim Corrigan had been The Spectre for about fifty years, and yet nothing had changed – HE had not changed. And that doesn’t seem right, does it? You can’t really become the embodiment of God’s Wrath without changing, and Corrigan’s quest for an understanding of good and evil is what drives the bulk of Ostrander’s run, concluding with his final issue, where Corrigan’s quest draws to an end.
Mandrake’s dark, moody artwork fit the mood of the series perfectly, and Ostrander’s ability to work with continuity has always amazed me, as he managed to constantly bring in characters from outside The Spectre, and always have them work well inside the story, particularly Ramban, the Jewish magician that Ostrander had created for his previous Suicide Squad run.
During their Spectre run, Ostrander and Mandrake also introduced the latest Mr. Terrific, who has gone on to become an important member of the JSA under Geoff Johns.
But mostly, as I mentioned before, this comic was Jim Corrigan’s story – how he dealt with the ambiguous situations the Spectre was sometimes faced with, and also how a 1930s cop dealt with the modern world.
It was a brilliant run, and I am quite impressed with how much class DC handled the end of Ostrander’s run.
44. Keith Giffen and Tom and Mary Bierbaum’s Legion – 208 points (4 first place votes)
Legion of Superheroes #1-38, with the Bierbaums taking over until #50
When Keith Giffen rejoined Paul Levitz on Legion of Superheroes in 1988, the book was already in a slightly darker place, but it only got darker. Levitz and Giffen really began to stress that the Legionnaires were getting older. However, nothing prepared readers for what they were about to experience when Levitz left the book at the closing of that volume of Legion.
When Legion of Superheroes re-launched with a brand-new #1, Giffen was now the plotter of the comic as well as the artist, and he brought scripters (and long time Legion fans) Tom and Mary Bierbaum and finisher Al Gordon with him. And the book had moved forward five years into the future.
The world of the Legion was now a grim, desolate place, and the days of young men and women in colorful costumes were long gone. Instead, they were now, well, five years older, and no longer in costume – yet they all remained heroes. The story was an extremely ambitious look at a bunch of grizzled characters somehow coming together to reform some semibalance of the Legion they all once cared so much about.
One of the most notable aspects of the comic was how DENSE each issue was. Giffen used the nine-panel grid to great effect, making each issue filled with so much story that it would have easily twice as much stories as most other comics of the time (and that’s not even counting the pages at the back of the issues, which they used to fill in readers on what was going on in the Legion world).
Perhaps the most impressive thing about this run to me, personally, was how they dealt with having to come up with a brand-new origin for the Legion (one sans Superboy, who was off-limits), without it really being too confusing.
The comics were dark, but they were also filled with humor and great character work.
Eventually, Giffen introduced apparent clones of the original Legion, still in bright and colorful costumes, and his original plan was for them to revealed to be the ACTUAL Legion, and Giffen’s older Legion would get their own spin-off book. That fell through, and Giffen departed the title.
The Bierbaums stayed on until #50, and tied up a lot of loose threads.
Giffen drew the book at first and was followed by Jason Pearson, who did a wonderful job in his first (and only?) regular penciling assignment for Marvel and DC.
43. Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Daredevil – 211 points (3 first place votes)
Usually, Tom Wolfe is correct, but in the case of Frank Miller in 1986, he COULD go home again, and not just return to Daredevil, the comic book where he became a star a few years earlier, but return with a comic that was just as good, if not BETTER, than his previous run on the title.
When Miller left the title, Denny O’Neil took over as writer, and David Mazzucchelli became the artist. Over time, Mazzucchelli slowly developed from a good artist into a GREAT artist, and it was at this high point in his development that Frank Miller returned to Daredevil for an epic seven-part run in which Daredevil’s whole life comes crashing down around him, only to slowly and painfully regain his balance.
It’s a beautiful storyline.
Here is why Graeme Burk had this run at the top of his list…
In many respects, this run (just seven issues) prefigures the tendency today toward having short runs with a high profile creator. And in the mid-1980s there was none more high profile than Frank Miller, returning to the book which gave him fame no less.
And what a brilliant seven issues they are, too. This is quite simply my all time favourite run on a superhero comic, ever. Admittedly, that’s a contradiction in terms when you consider that the story hardly features Daredevil at all. Miller’s premise here is brilliant. The Kingpin finds out Daredevil’s secret identity and then destroys Matt Murdock: taking away his job, his finances, his home and eventually sending Matt toward a complete breakdown. After the first issue, Matt doesn’t appear in costume as Daredevil until the finale. The story is how Matt Murdock, the man, emerges from the destruction of his life as he knows it. Only that doesn’t do the story justice as Miller uses an ensemble cast of characters (using the multiple voice style of narrative he perfected in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, which would be published later in 1986) all with fascinating arcs: Karen Page, Ben Urich, the Kingpin, Foggy Nelson, even Matt’s ex Glori all wind up in very different places than when they started.
David Mazzucchelli’s moody, shadow-filled art is gorgeous: gritty and yet full of remarkable subtlety that creates a real sense of being in a real place. This sense of reality makes the departures into the expressionistic (such as Ben Urich’s descent into terror) have a huge impact on the reader. It’s Mazzucchelli’s art, I would argue, that brings life to this remarkably human-scaled drama (Miller shows a surprising amount of warmth in the writing as well).
It’s a story that one remembers not for the superheroics (though the final battle with Nuke is stunning) but for all the tiny little victories, like a terrified Ben Urich saying Murdock’s name out loud, or Matt recognizing he’s fulfilled slinging hash in a diner in Hell’s Kitchen. Whereupon we come to the central tragedy of this run (and indeed all short runs with high profile creators even today): in successive issues, all the toys have been put back in the proper place. But these seven issues are a harrowing and yet uplifting tale– the best the superhero genre has ever come up with.
41 (tie). Steve Gerber’s Howard the Duck – 218 points (1 first place vote)
Adventure into Fear #19, Man-Thing #1, Giant-Size Man-Thing #4-5, Howard the Duck #1-27
When the late, great Steve Gerber introduced Howard the Duck in the Man-Thing series Gerber was doing at the time, he was a total throwaway character. However, something about Howard resonated, so Gerber brought him back to the title, and he was quickly popular enough that Marvel greenlit Howard for his own series.
The book quickly became a cult success, as Gerber slowly took the series from the beginnings, which were more about wacky hijinx, to better and deeper sets of satire and parody. Frank Brunner started on the ongoing series, but Gene Colan did the bulk of the series, and he did an amazing job depicting the odd stories Gerber asked of him.
Eventually, Gerber became editor of the comic, and then the book got REALLY experimental, including the famous (infamous?) issue that is all about Gerber’s inability to come up with a story for the issue.
This was during the same time as the classic Saturday Night Live introductory cast, and Gerber’s Howard the Duck was filled with the same sense of fresh, edgy humor with a dark irreverance to it.
The book was so popular it even got its own spin-off newspaper strip!!
Sadly, due to differences over his rights as creator of the book, Gerber was taken off the title, and replaced with a succession of writers.
Years later, Gerber returned to Howard for an acclaimed mini-series.
41 (tie). Kurt Busiek’s Avengers – 218 points (1 first place vote)
Avengers Vol. 3 #1-15, 19-56
When Avengers returned to Marvel after the Heroes Reborn storyline ended, putting Kurt Busiek and George Perez on the title was practically screaming, “Everything is back to normal, people! Please come back!”
In the first storyline, more or less every Avenger who ever was participated in the story, with Busiek choosing through all of them to pick his initial “perfect” team lineup, which included Busiek’s attempt to bring Carol Danvers back to prominence, as well as elevate Justice and Firestar to a bigger place in the Marvel Universe.
Busiek’s knowledge of Marvel history helped inform a lot of his stories, but his great attention to characterization was probably his strongest suit, as the book was filled with a lot of interesting character interactions. I especially liked the issue where Beast returned when he heard the news that his old friend, Wonder Man, was back from the dead.
While there was characterization work, there was also a ton of action, and George Perez did a fine job depicting it all, with the most notable storyline likely being the big Ultron storyline, Ultron Unlimited, which contained the classic scene with Thor and a bunch of battered Avengers burst through a wall at an opprtune time to tell Ultron – “Ultron… we would have words with thee.” Probably the acme of Busiek and Perez’ run.
Perez would leave after about three years worth of story, and after a quick run by Alan Davis, Busiek had a series of artists, including Ivan Reis and Kieron Dwyer, for the rest of his run, which mostly involved a big war with Kang.
During his run on Avengers, Busiek also wrote the popular mini-series, Avengers Forever, with Carlos Carlos Pacheco.
That’s it for this time around!
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