Top 100 Comic Book Runs #20-16
Here’s the next five runs!!
20. Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s Daredevil – 480 points (9 first place votes)
Daredevil #26-50, 56-81 (Maleev did not draw #38-40)
What is most remarkable to me about the run that Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev did on Daredevil is how tightly plotted the fifty or so issue story is by Bendis. A lot of his works seem to be a little open-ended, but his run on Daredevil was quite focused. Of course, as good as the story was, the artwork by Alex Maleev was probably even better, as Maleev made the perfect marriage between the artwork of Frank Milller that made Daredevil such a major work and the more noir elements that Bendis wanted to use with the book, as Daredevil under Bendis was very much a crime comic.
In his first storyline, Bendis dealt with an upstart gangster trying to take over the Kingpin’s racket. This led to a violent encounter with the Kingpin’s estranged wife, Vanessa, as well as Daredevil’s secret identity being revealed. This was a major plot point throughout Bendis’ run, as he showed how Matt Murdock dealt with everyone knowing that he was Daredevil.
During this time, Bendis introduced Milla Donovan, a blind woman who eventually became Matt’s wife.
Another major storyline was when the Owl attempted to take over the Kingpin’s (now vacant) racket, but the Kingpin returns to try to take it himself – this leads to Matt making a dramatic decision about who exactly will run his neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen.
Hell’s Kitchen was a character itself during Bendis’ run, and Maleev depicted it beautifully.
After a time, Bendis made a revelation about Daredevil’s mental state that was mind-blowing, and really tied together the entire run, just in time for one final storyline that would set things up for the current run of Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark.
It’s one of Bendis’ finest comic works.
19. Peter David’s Hulk – 484 points (7 first place votes)
The Incredible Hulk #331-388, 390-467
What was probably most consistent about Peter David’s run on the Incredible Hulk was that there was no consistency to the book, David was constantly taking the book in different directions, and it made for an eventful ride for readers.
When he took over the book in 1986, the book was in the middle of a storyline, but David picked it up without a hitch, and soon turned the book into a sort of odd road trip book, with Bruce Banner, Rick Jones and Clay Quartermain traveling together. At this time, the Hulk had become Grey again, and turned into the Hulk at night. During this time, Todd McFarlane was the artist on the book, and there was a notable encounter between the Hulk and Wolverine while on the road.
After an encounter with the Leader, the Hulk was feared dead, but he soon popped up in Las Vegas, working as a bouncer called Joe Fixit. Jeff Purves was the artit on these stories.
Eventually, Hulk hit the road again, and Dale Keown joined the book. He and David combined for an impressive run together, and during this run, David made probably his biggest change to the comic, having Doc Samson merge the various Hulk personalities (Banner, Grey Hulk and Green Hulk) together to form one powerful green Hulk whose personality was controlled by Banner. This version of the Hulk was soon hired by the peacekeeping group, the Pantheon, to work for them as a peacekeeper. This was the status quo of the book for about forty/fifty issues.
However, this ultimately fell apart, too, and the Hulk went on the run once more, and then Onslaught happened, with Banner and the Hulk becoming separated – the Banner-less Hulk went on a bit of a rampage, but eventually Banner returned. Adam Kubert took over as artist for an acclaimed short run on the Hulk, and in his second-to-last issue, David had Betty Banner, wife of Bruce, die. David’s last issue had Rick Jones in the future looking back at all the various stories that David had had planned for his run before his departure.
David’s run was marked by a lot of character work, and also a lot of humor. The biggest vote-getters of all David’s artist partners was Dale Keown (he got about 70 of the 484 points), so here is Mike Loughlin specifically talking about their run together, in explaining why he picked Hulk #1 on his list….
When I was 12 years-old, in 1990, I did not care who wrote my comic books. One super-hero comic was interchangeable with another. (I was reading all Marvels at the time) All I cared about was the art. Did the characters look cool? Was the action exciting? Was there lots of detail? (a.k.a. lots of lines) The words were there to move things along, sure, but a Jim Lee comic could have empty word balloons and still be “awesome.”
Certainly, Dale Keown’s art in Incredible Hulk 372 met my criteria. The cover, depicting a snarling green Hulk bursting from a split Banner-grey Hulk face, jumped out at me from the spinner rack. Keown emphasized the Hulk’s bulk and savagery, and made him an unstoppable force within the pages. The souped-up rocket car that tried to capture him stood no chance. Incredible Hulk 372 had the cool look, action, and detailed art I was looking for. It had something else, however, that made it stand out from the other comics I was reading: a story.
The writer of the issue was the first comic book writer’s name I learned: Peter David. In the course of the story, he reintroduced me to Bruce Banner; caught me up on the history of Bruce and his wife, Betty; gave me the lowdown on the grey Hulk; and gave me the return of the favorite comic book character of my childhood, the green Hulk. In between the exposition, mysterious events (who was that Prometheus guy driving the car, and why did he want Banner?), and action, David made me care about the characters. The last scene, in which a helpless Banner watches his wife leave on a train, only to be reunited with her at the last minute, was both an emotionally satisfying conclusion and a teaser that made the next four weeks feel like four months.
From that jumping-on point, I witnessed Betty’s accord with the grey Hulk; an epic (and funny) battle with the Super-Skrull; the return of/ my introduction to Doc Samson, Rick Jones, & Marlo; and the Hulks at war within Banner’s mind. Peter David’s humor and character development made Incredible Hulk the most interesting and mature comic I’d yet read. Dale Keown’s John Byrne meets Jim Lee pencils were perfect for the fights and the carnage, but his knack for facial expressions and body language made his art equally suited to the quieter scenes.
Issue 377 was a milestone- the reader learned why there was a Hulk. Although Bill Mantlo introduced the idea that Banner had been abused as a child, Peter David showed the reader just how his father’s evil and insanity had fractured Bruce’s mind. Keown drew the father as a gruesome monster, blotting out everything else in Banner’s mind scape, and interposed the Hulks into Banner’s memories. Finally, Doc Samson merged all three personalities into a new Hulk. Keown’s almost-human looking Hulk, looming over Betty and grinning maniacally, was startling. The first line David wrote for him (“Honey, I’m home”) was chilling. What would happen next?
I had no idea how Betty could live with this Hulk-Banner hybrid, or if the new Hulk was even sane. Would he revert to the green Hulk’s mindless tantrums? Would he have the grey Hulk’s maliciousness? Would he become a true super-hero, or a bigger menace than ever? David had me hooked.
The events of the next twenty one issues- the Hulk joined an underground organization called the Pantheon, fought wars and villains, and almost ended up losing everything- were less important than the character moments. David wrote villains sympathetically, and made heroes question their actions. The Abomination (wonderfully rendered by Keown as a reptilian body-builder by way of Jonah Hex) wanted nothing more than the love of his wife, and became protector of a homeless community. Rick Jones ends a war, not through heroism but by making an unthinkable decision. The Pantheon members had a wide range of personalities and motivations. Igor, the spy whose duplicity led to the Hulk’s creation, was torn by guilt.Doc Samson struggled to help Banner, and wondered if he made the right decision when he merged Banner’s personalities. The reader knew the Leader was up to no good, but he was so charismatic. The Hulk and Betty (whose transition from perpetual victim to a tough survivor was a high point of David’s run) struggled to understand and accept each other, and a gift of bunny slippers said more than any other super-hero comic’s sloppy speechifying.
David wrote better dialog than his contemporaries. His humor arose out of situational absurdity as much as word-play. Sabra constantly railing against a temporarily mute Hulk about the oppression of her people became laughably over-the-top until the Hulk finally shut her up. The Punisher launched weapon after weapon at “Mr. Fixit,” unable to believe their ineffectiveness. Rick Jones’ explanation for why he carried a parachute with him, the grey Hulk’s fight with The Blob, Dr. Strange’s banter with Namor… Despite the occasional groaner, David was mixed action and humor with aplomb.
Keown’s art knocked me out. He had a good sense of storytelling, and his splash pages were astounding. His art had some of Kirby’s blocky bigness, Byrne’s cartooniness, and Neal Adams’ sense of mood. The Hulk and his foes looked suitably scary; the excellent inking of Bob McCloud and Mark Farmer smoothed out the rough edges while maintaining the scope and detail, but I wonder how the comic would have looked under Keown’s scratchier rendering (as seen on some of the covers). Most of the fill-in artists did very good work. Sam Kieth drew the amazing, surreal issue 368. Bill Jaaska produced a couple Kevin Maguire-esque jobs, perfect for 378’s funny Christmas issue and 380’s moody Doc Samson solo story. Chris Bachalo showed up for half of issue 400, drawing more traditionally than in his current style. Still, the Hulk was Keown’s book, and even the best fill-in felt a little lacking. Subsequent artists, notably Gary Frank and Adam Kubert, did great work on the book, but Keown remains my favorite Hulk artist.
From Hulk 372 to Hulk 373 and beyond, from the spinner rack to the comic book shop, from casual reading to a love of the medium… Peter David’ and Dale Keown’s Hulk was my gateway book, the comic that I read and re-read every month, the comic that seemed to dig a little deeper and hit a little harder than the average four-color fantasy, the comic that taught me to expect more from comic book writers. If I picked another comic book run as a favorite, even Lee’ & Ditko’s classic Spider-Man or Los Bros Hernandez’ groundbreaking Love & Rockets, I’d be lying.
18. Warren Ellis and John Cassaday’s Planetary – 493 points (7 first place votes)
Planetary #1-current (#26)
“Archaeologists of the Impossible” is the tagline for the Planetary, and that’s as good of an explanation as anything else, as Warren Ellis and book co-creator, artist John Cassaday, have developed a fascinating look at popular culture with this title that really is a bit of cultural archeology.
The concept of the book is that there is an organization called Planetary, which employs agents to track the secret history of the world, partly for curiosity’s sake, but partly to see if there’s anything that could be learned to help mankind. The book begins with the mysterious Elijah Snow joining two other field agents, Jakita Wagner and The Drummer.
From then on, while there is an overarching storyline that deals with the villainous Four, the book mostly takes each issue to examine a notable popular culture character, like Zorro or Doc Savage or the Lone Ranger of the Fantastic Four or Nick Fury, and so forth. Through these characters (almost all analogues of the originals), Ellis examines the underpinnings of the very genre of superhero comics – notably, what is BEHIND superhero comics? What makes them tick? Stuff like that.
It’s quite engrossing, and Ellis is extremely lucky to have John Cassaday with him doing it all. John Cassaday was a good artist before Planetary began, but it was during his work on Planetary that he became a GREAT artist. The amount of different characters he has to create/emulate is amazing, and yet each issue is like a mini-epic, with beautiful design work and excellent character work, as well.
The series has suffered a few delays, and is currently in a long delay before the latest, and final, issue is released some time this year.
17. Ed Brubaker’s Captain America – 504 points (4 first place votes)
Captain America #1-current (#37)
Ed Brubaker began the current volume of Captain America with quite an opening issue – killing off the Red Skull! Of course, the move was a bit of a feint on Brubaker’s part, but it was still a notable beginning to his title.
The most notable aspect of Brubaker’s run was not a death, but instead, a rebirth – as Brubaker brought back Captain America’s World War II partner, James “Bucky” Barnes, who apparently had been rescued by the Russians, then brainwashed into becoming an assassin for them, who would be kept in cryogenic status between missions, so in the sixty years since they found him, he’s only aged less than ten years (earning him the name the Winter Soldier). Finally, Bucky comes into contact with Steve Rogers, Captain America, and this begins a mission of Rogers to bring Bucky back to the side of the good guys.
After a few other action stories, mostly dealing with the secret plan of the Red Skull (remember what I mentioned about the feint?), Steve is seemingly murdered by his own estranged girlfriend, Sharon Carter, Agent of SHIELD.
Since then, Brubaker has been crafting a story where Bucky slowly comes to terms with Steve’s death and agrees to become the new Captain America. However, the Red Skull’s plans are still going on. Can the new Captain America stop him? We shall see!
There are probably three particularly notable aspects of Brubaker’s run:
1. The artwork by Steve Epting and Mike Perkins – both men bring to the book an interesting, realistic style that they both seemed to have learned while working with the great Butch Guice over at Crossgen. Recently, Guice himself has signed on to be one of the book’s artists, as well, which is a treat.
2. Brubaker’s return to a more realistic, more violent comic – one of the retcons he has established is that the reason Bucky was around was because he was secretly trained as a Black Ops soldier, and he would often go on secret commando missions for the US Government that Captain America had no ideas about. Brubaker compares the violence in his run to Steranko’s Captain America, and the book does seem to evoke those great early Steranko stories.
3. Brubaker has picked out the most notable characters (in his view) from the past of Captain America, and used them ALL in one big swooping story, so you don’t just get Captain America (or the new Captain America), but you get Sharon Carter, Red Skull, Crossbones, Sin, Doctor Faustus, Falcon and Nick Fury. It’s filled to the brim with great, engaging characters.
Let’s hope Brubaker is on the book for a long while.
16. John Byrne’s Fantastic Four – 508 points (7 first place votes)
Fantastic Four #232-293
A lot of creators have a certain idea in mind when they take over the Fantastic Four, but John Byrne, hot off of his stint co-plotting Uncanny X-Men with Chris Claremont, was one of the few who actually carried out his plan in the comic itself.
Byrne intended to treat his run in a similar manner to what Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did on their original run – take the Fantastic Four to far off new worlds, introduce bizarre new characters, while still re-using the really notable ones like Doctor Doom and Galactus (and yes, Diablo, too), and that’s exactly what Byrne did.
Soon after Byrne took over the book, he was tasked with coming up with a 20th anniversary story, and he came up with a beautiful one with the Fantastic Four trapped in a world by Doctor Doom where they did not have powers. It was quite a touching story.
Then Byrne launched into his first major storyline with the title, a major tale involving Galactus and the Avengers. Byrne introduced many different new alien races during his tenure with the book, but probably his most notable achievements were with the characters he already had, as Byrne did a great deal of character development during his run, specifically the evolution of Sue from the Invisible Girl to the Invisible Woman, having Sue become pregnant but miscarry, having Thing leave the team (to be replaced by the She-Hulk) and having Johnny Storm become involved with the Thing’s erstwhile girlfriend, Alicia Masters. Doctor Doom, who is practically the fifth member of the book, also saw a number of interesting character work via Byrne.
Art-wise, Byrne did a lot of experimenting, with one notable example being the issue where the comic is read horizontally instead of vertically. This “widescreen” approach was used by Marvel a few more times after Byrne.
Sadly, Byrne’s tenure on the book was cut short, but he still ended with a strong five-year run on the title.
Okay, that’s it for today! The next three tomorrow!!