O Say Can You See: The Greatest Patriotic Super Heroes of All-Time
Here are the next five runs in a countdown of runs, as voted on by Comics Should Be Good readers!!
30. Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson’s Astro City – 323 points (4 first place votes)
Kurt Busiek’s Astro City #1-6, Kurt Busiek’s Astro City Vol. 2 #1-22 (plus a #1/2), Astro City: Local Heroes #1-5, Astro City/Arrowsmith: The Flip Book #1, Astro City Special: Supersonic #1, Astro City: The Dark Age: Book One #1-4, Astro City: The Dark Age: Book Two #1-4, Astro City Special: Samaritan #1, Astro City: Beautie #1
Astro City was, in many ways, a follow-up to Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’ acclaimed mini-series, Marvels, their tribute to the Golden and Silver Age of Marvel Comics. Astro City, too, was a bit of a tribute to that spirit, as, through a series of semi-analogous characters, Busiek repeated the formula that made Marvels such a popular book, having the stories of Astro City told mostly from “Point of View” characters, although sometimes, the superheroes themselves were the point of view characters!
Astro City, which is the actual city in the book, is filled with a ton of superheroes, and Busiek takes his time introducing readers to a ton of them over the long run of the title (it’s been going on since 1995). Helping him on his journey is Al, an observer from his own time, who appears in the form of a hologram…okay, actually, artist Brent Anderson, and Alex Ross, who helped design the superheroes of Astro City, as well as draw the covers for the book.
What makes the book so notable is the way that Busiek really seems to grasp the depiction of a standard person, and how awing it must be to live in this world of superheroes, without ever really going to the cynical, “well, if superheroes actually existed, all sorts of bad stuff would happen” routine, which is greatly appreciated.
The current storyline, The Dark Age, is Busiek’s take on the later years of superheroes, told through the eyes of two brothers – one a crook and one a cop, and through them, seeing how superheroes slowly got darker during the 1970s and 1980s.
Perhaps the two most notable heroes in Astro City are Samaritan, the Superman analogue, who Busiek gave an origin so great that it was later an inspiration for the ending of Red Son, and The Confessor, who we learn has a tragic secret that makes his heroism even more notable.
Astro City does not always come out in the most timely fashion, but you know you are going to get a well-told story with deep humanity each time you crack open an issue of Astro City, so it is well worth the wait.
29. Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen’s 1st Legion of Superheroes Run – 328 points (10 first place votes)
Legion of Superheroes #281-313, Legion of Superheroes #1-5
Paul Levitz had already had a short, but well-liked, run on the Legion of Superheroes during the 1970s, so when he returned to the book in 1981, readers had reason to be excited, but after a short run with Pat Broderick, Keith Giffen joined Levitz, and when the got together, they clicked in a way no one could imagine – and soon, the Legion was probably DC’s second biggest title, next to the New Teen Titans.
It was not long on the book before Levitz and Giffen began the epic storyline that became their most notable work, the Great Darkness Saga, which introduced Jack Kirby’s Darkseid as a villain of the Legion, in a brilliantly moody action adventure story that saw the Legion involved in a battle greater than any they had seen before (or at least more visceral). Giffen’s artwork handled both action scenes and character moments with equal greatness, and Levitz was sure to give him a lot of both, keeping the book extremely grounded in humanity, while also keeping the action at a breakneck measure.
Giffen and his inker, Larry Mahlstedt, were also quite good at depicting the future as a Kirby-esque place of bizarre devices and places.
After the Great Darkness Saga, and a few character pieces, they had the landmark 300th issue, after which Giffen began to experiment with his artwork while, at the same time, he began to have more of an influence in the writing department.
Levitz and Giffen launched a brand-new Legion series together, a brutal storyline that left one Legionnaire dead, and Giffen departing the book.
Levitz continued his run with artists Steve Lightle and Greg LaRocque, until eventually Giffen returned for the conclusion of the new volume of the Legion, at which point Levitz more or less retired from writing (Levitz was already a higher-up at DC when he began his run, by the time he finished, he was, for lack of a better term, even higher up).
28. John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad – 336 points (5 first place votes)
Suicide Squad #1-66
The Suicide Squad is a rare comic that stars mostly supervillain characters, although with some superhero characters mixed in, and it is quite impressive that it managed to last five whole years, and wow, what a good five years it was.
Based on an old comic series (which was a backup in Brave and the Bold in the late 50s) that was a lot like the Challengers of the Unknown, the Suicide Squad a group of adventurers who had missions that one would term were, well, suicide missions.
When he joined DC in the late 80s, writer John Ostrander revamped the series as a Dirty Dozen-style comic, where a group of supervillains were given time off (or their freedom outright) if they would go on missions for the government.
The head of this group was a new creation, a middle-aged, stout black woman named Amanda Waller (the “Wall”), who was one of the most engrossing new characters that DC had at the time. Due to the fact that the members could easily die, membership in the Squad was always changing, although there were a few members who hung around for mostly the whole run, such as Captain Boomerang, Deadshot, and the heroic Bronze Tiger and Vixen.
The book had a lot of political storylines, and had a LOT of great action stories, but what the book is probably most remembered for is the character work that Ostrander did with these characters, who were such minor characters (or new ones, entirely) that he was able to do whatever he wanted with them, so he was able to make them, well, HUMAN – and it was such a great thing to see. He would routinely have “downtime” issues, where we would see the characters when they were NOT on missions.
Deadshot became a major character in the DC Universe thanks to Suicide Squad, even gaining his own mini-series.
The artists on the series were Luke McDonnell for the first half of the run, and Geoff Isherwood for the latter half of the run (with a number of fill-in artists, as well).
Luckily (for me, at least), Ostrander recently returned to the Squad for a mini-series that just wrapped up this week. It was good, just like the original.
27. Grant Morrison’s Invisibles – 349 points (10 first place votes)
The Invisibles #1-25, The Invisibles Vol. 2 #1-22, The Invisibles Vol. 3 #12-1
Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles was designed to deal with the edges of society, in a post-modern explosion/examination of pop culture and paranoia. It was a trippy series that was also a lot of fun.
We are introduced to the world of the Invisibles through the eyes of the latest addition to the Invisible College (a group designed to fight against evil, whether it be physical or mental), or more specifically, the specific cell of the Invisible College that is led by King Mob, Dane McGowan, who is a young man who disbelieves until he is confronted with the reality (or rather, unreality) of the world. He takes the name Jack Frost, and joins up with King Mob and their other members, Ragged Robin, Lord Fanny and Boy.
The series opens with a time travel story involving the Marquis de Sade and then…you know what, giving the “plot” of the Invisibles really does not do it justice – it’s not really a plot-driven book, as the plot goes in all sorts of directions, and at times, Morrison even drops the main characters to focus on other people before returning to the main Invisibles.
So let’s just say that the Invisibles is an ambitious mind-blowing experience that you must see to believe.
So many artists have worked on the Invisibles that it is almost impossible to name them all, but I’d say Steve Yeowell, Phil Jimenez and Jill Thompson drew the most issues of the series.
26. Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man – 364 points (3 first place votes)
Ultimate Spider-Man #1-110
While it seems like such an obvious idea now, when Ultimate Spider-Man came out, very few people gave it a chance, thinking it was just another revamp of Spider-Man for kids, which had been tried before, and flopped. So it was with some great surprise that Ultimate Spider-Man not only became a hit, but it was the highest selling Spider-Man title for quite awhile (until JMS took over Amazing Spider-Man, I believe).
The key to the book was writer Brian Michael Bendis’ ability to depict the humanity of both Peter Parker and the characters around him, in this Spider-Man reboot that started over from scratch, and left Peter a perennial teenager.
One of the earliest major changes was the way that Bendis stretched out the origin of Spider-Man. By giving us more scenes with Uncle Ben, his death is that much more tragic.
Another major change in the comic was Mary Jane Watson. In the original series, it was almost three years before Mary Jane showed up – here, she not only shows up right away, but she is completely different from the MJ from the 60s, as this MJ is almost as brainy as Peter. In a landmark early issue of the series, Bendis has Peter reveal his identity to Mary Jane in an issue that is made up entirely of dialogue.
Throughout the series, Bendis introduces new versions of classic Spider-Man villains, as well as different versions of supporting characters, like Ben Urich, J. Jonah Jameson and Aunt May. The Kingpin is a major villain, as is Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin.
Aiding Bendis during his run was Mark Bagley, who already had had a substantial tenure as the artist on Amazing Spider-Man, so Bagley was only going to do the first story arc, almost as a favor – instead, he ended up doing 110 issues!! Not only did he do 110 issues, but that was with the book releasing about 18 issues a year, as opposed to the standard 12. The consistency that Bagley gave the title was also a great boon to the title.
A few years into the run, Bendis shook up the title by adding Kitty Pryde to the cast as Peter’s new girlfriend (as Peter feels his life is too dangerous for a normal girl like Mary Jane), which was a brilliant move by Bendis.
Bagley eventually left last year, but his replacement was Stuart Immonen, who is also an amazing artist (who can also work fast), so the book is in good hands.
That’s it! More tomorrow!
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