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CSBG Archive

Top 100 Comic Book Runs #6

Okay, let us see which run ended up at #6, thereby ruining about 75% of all top five guesses!


6. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man – 926 points (19 first place votes)

Amazing Fantasy #15, Amazing Spider-Man #1-38, plus two Annuals

Introduced in the last issue of the anthology, Amazing Fantasy (which had its name changed from Amazing Adult Fantasy to Amazing Fantasy in the last issue), Spider-Man quickly got his own title, also written and drawn by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

Really, it is extremely hard to quantify the impact of this run by Lee and Ditko, particularly on Ditko’s end, who soon became the driving force behind the comic strip during probably the greatest period of comics in Marvel’s most famous superhero.

During this period, characters who were introduced include Spider-Man, Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson, Flash Thompson, Harry Osborn, Gwen Stacy, Betty Brant, Liz Allen plus pretty much every notable Spider-Man villain – Dr. Octopus, Electro, Sandman, Mysterio, The Vulture, and one of the most notable villains – the Green Goblin.

Ditko’s style was one of great economy, so readers got a great deal of story in every issue of Spider-Man, and Ditko manages to make the book so realistic and so down-to-Earth, which was aided greatly by Stan Lee’s clever dialogue, which made the stories a great deal more appealing to the populace than they would have been if Lee was not present.

Perhaps their greatest moment on the title happened towards the end of the run, with the classic storyline that was so influential that it must have been homaged about three gazillion times since then – where Spider-Man is trapped under heavy rubble and is forced to fight against all odds to escape with the cure for Aunt May (suffering one of her many illnesses).

Such a brilliantly told story.

Ditko’s last issue was Amazing Spdier-Man #38…

Here is my pal Michael Pullmann on why this run was #1 on his list:

Stan Lee likes to tell the story that he took his pen name because he wanted to write the Great American Novel one day under his own name, and didn’t want it associated with his work in comics. What Stan, or anyone else, could never foretell was that he would go on to write, with Steve Ditko, the Great American Graphic Novel, the tale of Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man, serialized in Amazing Fantasy 15 and Amazing Spider-Man 1-33 and Annual 1-2.

You didn’t read that wrong, True Believers; the Spidey story as told in those issues comprise a classic mid-20th Century American Bildungsroman. Peter Parker as portrayed in these issues joins the ranks of Huckleberry Finn, Holden Caulfield, Valentine Michael Smith, and more, as he journeys from being the “Timid Teenager” to Marvel’s greatest hero, and, more importantly, a man.

As Amazing Fantasy 15 begins, Peter is, well, a twerp. Obsessed with science, socially awkward, and more than a little solipsistic, he is not the stuff of heroes. Even after the spider bite, his abortive career as a novelty act, and even Uncle Ben’s tragic fate, he’s still a callow, untested youth. The very first panel of Amazing Spider-Man 1 shows Peter throwing a tantrum in his room, tossing his mask to the ground and wishing he’d never become Spider-Man. But he doesn’t stay that way for very long; duty and the growing pile of unpaid bills on Aunt May’s desk call, and so he ventures out unsteadily into the world to make his way the only way he can think of: as Spider-Man.

Danger and defeat taunt him at every corner: J. Jonah Jameson begins his eternal smear campaign that bans him from the variety shows and brands him a criminal; Vulture, Dr. Octopus, Sandman, and even Dr. Doom all hand him devastating defeats; he’s consistently shown up by the brash and more popular Human Torch, whose cavalier attitude is mirrored in Peter’s perpetual high school nemesis, Flash Thompson. And yet, he perseveres; in just the first ten issues, he courageously risks his own life to save others, builds the confidence to begin dating the lovely Betty Brant, and says “farewell” to those pesky coke-bottles when he challenges Flash to a boxing match in the school gym.

Story continues below

And so it continues, success and setback. The defeat of Doc Ock creates the death of Bennett Brant. The first meeting of the Spider-Man Fan Club ends in disaster as Peter runs out on a fight with the Green Goblin to rush to the ailing Aunt May’s side. The friendship and rivalry with the Torch solidifies, even as Peter ducks and avoids the attentions of Liz Allen and constant blind dates with the mysterious Mary Jane Watson. Victory over the Sinister Six drives yet another wedge between Peter and Betty. A full scholarship to college lands Peter once again in unsure territory, as he meets and snubs Harry Osborn and Gwen Stacy.

And all of it builds to an unforgettable climax, where, as Aunt May lies dying of radiation poisoning from a transfusion of Peter’s own blood, Spider-Man battles the crime lord Master Planner, alias his old enemy Doc Ock, in an undersea laboratory, for the rare isotope that can save May’s life. Trapped under a massive piece of machinery, with seawater rushing into the base in torrents, Peter faces the Hero’s Choice as never before: Die, and end the struggle, or live, and stand tall as a man of honor and dignity. The moment when he lifts that machinery off of his back, straining muscle and sinew like never before, is the climax, not just of this issue, or this story, but of Peter’s entire life to this point. Afterwards, we see that he is not the same person, as he tosses off Dr. Bromwell’s concerns for his health with grim determination, gives Jonah an ultimatum that leaves the old publisher speechless, and silently accepts that he’s lost Betty for good. Greater adventures and loves are yet to come, but the Story of Peter Parker, the Boy Who Called Himself A Man, has reached its conclusion. The tired but triumphant hero limps off into the night, now and forever worthy of the name that will pass into legend: Spider-Man.

It’s an age-old story told from the point of view of the unlimited possibilities of the 1960s, given life by two great artists at the top of their game. It’s the Marvel Way of Storytelling in microcosm, a comics epic as never seen before or since. It’s an inspiration to generations of young readers as callow and afraid as Peter, about to step forth into the uncertain world of adulthood. It’s a friggin’ humongous $99 hardcover.

It’s the Story of Spider-Man, and it’s my favorite comic book run of all time.

Thanks, Michael!

Okay, tomorrow – the top five begins!!


A rightful place inside the top ten.

No one can ignore this as being a true meisterowrk. This was so pure, maybe because back then they wrote comics to tell a story then stop-rather than to go on for years. Notice how Peter Parker rushes through H.School in what 35 issues, then once the character became a phenom he was stuck in college for what? 150/200 issues?

Still don’t totally dig that Ditko art though (ducks thunderbolt from the comics gods).

The suspense is killing me. Which Liefeld run will be number one?!

Well–there goes the last of my top 10–I don’t expect the 3 that haven’t appeared to be in the top 5.

I had this one #2. It is a classic, and is the standard by which I, at least subconsciously, judge all other comics–especially solo heroes. The first 2 Spidey movies had heavy grounding in this run (& in Lees run with Romita), and that’s a big part of why they were so good.

I have a feeling that there will be at least two runs in the top 5 I don’t like at all, one that I am lukewarm about, and one that just missed my top 10 and maybe one I forgot about when voting.

Honestly, I can’t believe this run isn’t Top 5. I’ll chalk it up to Ditko’s art not being to everyone’s taste, and the fact that it’s “old.”

Great write-up, Michael Pullmann! You summed up Peter’s growth and the flow of the series very well. Those few issues after “The Final Chapter” almost feel like throw-aways, as Peter seemed to grow from boy to man in one story. In fact, nothing done with the character since has matched the drama and power of the Ditko years.

HOW IS THIS NOT #1?! !?!?!?!

I repeat: HOW IS THIS NOT #1?!?!

My heart aches.

Put this collection into any 13-year-old’s hands and they will be a comic book fan (or at least a Spider-Man fan) for life.

I’ve read the first two Spider-Man Essentials, and I just don’t get it.

But, I just can’t stand the way Stan Lee writes dialogue. And I say that as a big fan of Golden Age DC comics.

No. 6? Blasphemy! … Can Lee/Kirby FF be next?

Yes, it’s an antique … so explain to me why Marvel keeps rebooting to this original run?

Well, from here, it’s “Sandman” or bust.

I’ve been rereading these issue, and the plot and Ditko’s layouts and expressions were truly years ahead of their time. There are little moments that just amaze me — a highlight would be the character moments in the Sandman/Green Goblin epic, #17-19.



go back to you coffee shops playing on you MAC’s and listening to depeche mode

Yes, it’s an antique … so explain to me why Marvel keeps rebooting to this original run?

The setting, not the actual writing style.

I’d have guessed this a bit higher, but I think splitting up the Lee era by collaborator (which makes sense) probably reduced his total ranking.

I think it’s official at this point: no one can beat Grant Morrison’s point total; Lee was the only one with a shot, and his FF run would need 1338 points for a tie, with one more point for a win (Lee will undoubtedly be second, though).

Okay, this was #1 on my list. That’s the last of my picks which I’ve long expected to see make the Top 100. Which means I’ve now seen just 5 cases where my own “Top 10″ overlapped with our community’s “Top 100.” The other 5 items on my list are basically “lost causes” at this point; I don’t remember seeing anyone mention any one of them lately as likely contenders for the “Top 10″ or “Top 5″ in this contest, which suggests to me that practically nobody else voted for any of them! :(

As I’ve said before . . . when this countdown of the top scorers is completely over, I’ll be posting a copy of my own ballot! Probably with extra explanatory text regarding the merits of those items which didn’t make the Top 100, since they appear to be languishing in comparative obscurity, these days.

P.S. buttler said:
The suspense is killing me. Which Liefeld run will be number one?!

That actually made me laugh out loud! :)

I just hope Chris Nowlin’s going to be okay.

“Notice how Peter Parker rushes through H.School in what 35 issues, then once the character became a phenom he was stuck in college for what? 150/200 issues?”

Uh, do you know how long it takes most people to get their degrees?


I’ve never been a fan of Ditko’s artwork on Spider Man. The dude couldn’t draw a face consistently to save his life and had no talent with body language unless it was in the middle of a fight. I’ve never been able to get what was so “masterful” about his Spider Man work.

Drat. My contest entry = completely kablooey. I wonder if anyone is going to win it outright i.e. naming the top 5 in order.

Also, are the CSBG bloggers going to post their personal top 10s?

I, too, am rather surprised that this rated this low.

I figured this would be higher. What I didn’t figure was that it would be so overplayed in the description. This is certainly a great Spidey run, but I would hardly call it “the greatest period.” The JMS/JRJR run has a much higher quality of both art and writing, and the Lee/Romita and Conway/Kane runs had some even better stories than this run. I gotta say that I lost a lot of respect for Brian Cronin when I read the words “Stan Lee’s clever dialog.” Lee was a great concept man, but when it came to execution he was an utter hack. ASM is one of the more readable Silver Age stories, and some of the plots were very good, but it’s only truly remarkable for it’s creation of the groundwork for the rest of Spidey’s stories. It isn’t quite good enough to make it into my top 10, but it was pretty close. I should now point out the irony of the accusations people have been making about inflation of modern day stories in the list. While I will admit that some runs are definitely too young to judge well (Bru’s Cap run for one), but I knew going in that the ’60s runs would be overinflated by far, in description even more than in placing. People remember things like the death of Bennet Brant and forget the things like the robot that figured out Peter’s identity. The great moments were few and far between in those early runs.

I assume this means Claremont and Cockrum’s X-Men run made the top 5? I wasn’t sure it’d make it that high.

I’m pretty sure it means that Claremont/Cockrum’s X-Men didn’t crack the top 100. Which does seem odd, though not as odd as it beating out Kirby’s FF, Miller’s Daredevil, Moore’s Swamp Thing, Sandman, or Byrne’s X-Men.

Rene argued this is where Spidey would end up, but it makes me sad. I was really, really hoping it would make the top 2, Kirby’s FF being the only thing I’d allow to beat it.

*sigh* I’ll be fine though, Dan. But thanks for the concern.

I promise not to do anything drastic like break into Brian’s computer, look at who voted for what, and put out hits on anybody that didn’t vote for Spidey.

I called this one, but will be the first to say I don’t necessarily agree with where this ranked.

First of all, it was not in my personal top 10 list I submitted. What I submitted was my interpretation of what Brian asked for : MY top 10 favorite runs. That to me meant the runs that immediately popped into my consciousness and I enjoyed enough to re-read them again and again and again and again and probably never parting with them for any amount of money regardless of what a price guide says they’re worth. They’re priceless to me.

OTOH, do I think this run deserves to be extremely high ? I do. It was very, very important historically and it’s just a great classic piece of work. I love it ! I’m an absolute nut for Ditko’s art and this and his Dr. Strange are some of my very favorite work of his. Lots of classic Spidey characters were introduced and this run is the “truest” run of Spidey ever despite later great runs and work by Romita and son, Gil Kane, Ross Andru, John Byrne ( * I * like his Spidey visuals ), and yes, even Todd McFarlane with great stories by Gerry Conway, Roger Stern, and JMS, among others. I’ll be the first to say I don’t think everything Stan Lee claims is 100 % accurate, nor do I agree with how he denied Ditko more credit (among others), but his input can’t be denied and he helped steer the Bullpen in a bold direction no one else was pursuing the Spidey was the face of Marvel as much as Stan was.

I love that we can all identify with Petey on some level and that he’ll probably always be Marvel’s icon, much like Superman will always be DC’s single solitary most recognized character, despite the successes of others like Wolverine or Batman who may actually pass these two sales-wise.

Great Spidey write up too.

Onward to # 5 !

Well, I had this as my number 6 so for once I was spot on.
If we were selecting our choices of BEST runs ever as opposed to our personal favorites I would likely rank it higher, but I have huge sentimental attachment to Shooter’s LSH and Kirby’s Fourth World so they came in at 5 and 4 respectively.
I’m still pissed that my #2, Kirby’s Thor, ranked so abysmally low.

Ditko’s Spider-man was a revelation for me when it was reprinted in Marvel Tales starting around 1982 or so. Before that I’d only read the origin issue and a couple of others, not enough to really appreciate it and get into the art style. Reading the stories one by one as they were reprinted, it quickly became the title I most looked forward to every month.

Historically, a great superhero story. Artistically, above-average superhero stuff.

Da Fug: Well, I’m going to post my top ten, plus some annoying thoughts on the top 100. That’s my prerogative as a blogger here, after all! :)

Dalarsco said:
People remember things like the death of Bennet Brant and forget the things like the robot that figured out Peter’s identity. The great moments were few and far between in those early runs.

I did a little hasty research to double-check the details (such as which issue the robot debuted). You’re talking about the big green robot called The Living Brain, which was brought to Peter’s high school in “Amazing Spider-Man #8″ and was then asked to deduce Spidey’s secret identity as a test of its abilities in logical reasoning — right?

But you make it sound as if the robot actually did figure it out! There was no evidence in that story that the robot ever came within a mile of solving that puzzle correctly! It’s just that after the other students sttarted coming up with various tidbits of information about Spider-Man, and some sort of mathematical symbols on a tickertape were printed out by The Living Brain, Peter (who for some reason was assigned to decipher the symbols and translate them into English overnight) became dreadfully afraid that the robot might have somehow figured out the secret identity of Spider-Man! But the later Obligatory Malfunctioning Rampage of the robot provided enough chaos for Peter to decide he could plausibly claim to have lost the printout somewhere during all the commotion. (Why this would prevent the scientist in charge of the robot from running the same program through The Living Brain’s circuitry all over again — if he really wanted to know what answer it had come up with — was, of course, not addressed.)

I mean, okay, if you didn’t like the robot then you didn’t like the robot. That’s your privilege. But there’s no need to give it credit for solving a puzzle it wasn’t actually stated to have solved at the time! Peter didn’t even try to translate the answer, so who knows what it might have said? :)

So, do I get to say it? Can I say it? Can I?

I told you so.

And I say this as someone who loves Lee/Ditko’s Spidey, and that recognizes that it sucks that this run isn’t in the Top 5.

Mason, since you were wondering, here are my Top 10 and brief reasons for choosing them. It seems a bit taboo to reveal all our picks before the ending, but what the hell. I’ll probably expand on them later, when these picks appear on the list.

Yes, I’m a big superhero fan, and unrepentant about it.

1 – Alan Moore’s Miracleman (Always been a fan of the “superhero in the real world”, and this is as good as it gets. Moore is my favorite writer, but I chose to diversify and include only one of his comics)
2 – Neil Gaiman’s Sandman (Fantastic breadth. After all these years, I still re-read the occasional issue and I’m amazed all over again, particularly love the more standalone stories)
3 – James Robinson’s Starman (A bit of Miracleman, a bit of Sandman, not as good as either one, but still amazing creation of a superhero that is both classic and iconoclast)
4 – Kurt Busiek’s Astro City (The comic that restored my faith in classic superheroes)
5 – Warren Ellis’s Planetary (I just love metafiction, de/reconstruction, and playful takes on pop culture)
6 – Claremont/Byrne’s X-Men (The ultimate superhero Marvel comic)
7 – JMS’s Rising Stars (Probably my only choice not on the list. The costume-less, ordinary guys with powers has been surprisingly rare in comics, but I’m very fond of the sub-genre, and I think the first 8 issues are great. The series dropped in quality depressingly, but those first issues still blow me away.)
8 – Byrne’s FF (The second ultimate Marvel comic)
9 – Miller’s DD (The birth of the noir superhero, a pity Miller got crazier as he got older)
10 – Simonson’s Thor (The greatest fantasy run in comics)

9 – Miller’s DD (The birth of the noir superhero, a pity Miller got crazier as he got older)

I dunno, I’d say noir superheroes were around before Miller, and noir comics were around before noir superheroes. What do we call some of the old Spirit stories, like “Sand Saref”/”Bring in Sand Saref,” if not superhero noir? Heck, Miller himself has repeatedly said that the Elektra arc started out as an outright lift of that particular Eisner masterpiece.

New Totals.

The major effect of this run was to push Stan Lee right to the 3rd place in the creator’s ranking (and Steve Ditko to 7th). Marvel has about a 1500 pts lead on DC. And the 60s almost caught up to the 70s.

We have 97 runs so far (and 24417 pts)

– 35 runs are set in the Marvel Universe (8662 pts)
– 10 runs are X-Titles (2123 pts)
– 2 runs are Ultimate titles (679 pts)
– 37 runs if you get Marvel plus Ultimate Universe (9341 pts)

– 24 runs are set in the DC Universe (7197 pts)
– 3 runs are Bat-Titles (452 pts)
– 9 are Vertigo comics (3106 pts)
– 28 runs if you get DC plus Vertigo sub-universe plus Plastic Man retcon (7417 pts)

– 5 runs are set in the Wildstorm Universe (994 pts)
– 5 runs have female protagonists (960 pts)

– 80 are superheroes or close enough (19809 pts)
– 17 are non-superhero (4608 pts)

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

– 1980s (30 runs – 7545 pts)
– 1990s (26 runs – 7181 pts)
– 2000s (25 runs – 6297 pts)
– 1970s (9 runs – 1570 pts)
– 1960s (5 runs – 1525 pts)
– 1940s (2 runs – 299 pts)

Sorted by associated creator:

– Grant Morrison (6 runs – 2754 pts)
– Garth Ennis (4 runs – 1579 pts)
– Stan Lee (4 runs – 1416 pts)
– Warren Ellis (5 runs – 1285 pts)
– Keith Giffen (3 runs – 1278 pts)
– Brian Michael Bendis (4 runs – 1079 pts)
– Steve Ditko (2 runs – 1034 pts)
– James Robinson (921 pts)
– Alan Moore (5 runs – 909 pts)
– Brian K. Vaughan (2 runs – 854 pts)
– J. M. de Matteis (742 pts)
– Ed Brubaker (3 runs – 739 pts)
– John Cassaday (2 runs – 722 pts)
– Marv Wolfman (643 pts)
– George Perez (643 pts)
– Chris Claremont (5 runs – 638 pts)
– John Byrne (2 runs – 627 pts)
– Peter David (2 runs – 624 pts)
– Howard Porter (574 pts)
– Pia Guerra (547 pts)
– Kurt Busiek (2 runs – 541 pts)
– John Ostrander (2 runs – 541 pts)
– Geoff Johns (3 runs – 534 pts)
– Walt Simonson (514 pts)
– Alex Maleev (480 pts)
– Bryan Hitch (2 runs – 474 pts)
– Bill Willimgham (428 pts)
– Darick Robertson (418 pts)
– Mark Waid (2 runs – 378 pts)
– Dave Sim (370 pts)
– Gerhard (370 pts)
– Mark Bagley (364 pts)
– Roger Stern (2 runs – 334 pts)
– Paul Levitz (328 pts)
– Brent Anderson (323 pts)
– Jeff Smith (321 pts)
– Mark Millar (315 pts)
– Adrian Alphona (307 pts)
– Jack Kirby (2 runs – 292 pts)
– John Romita Jr. (2 runs – 276 pts)
– John Romita (270 pts)
– Denny O’Neil (2 runs – 261 pts)
– Peter Milligan (2 runs – 255 pts)
– Brothers Hernandez (236 pts)
– John McCrea (232 pts)
– Joss Whedon (229 pts)
– Steve Gerber (218 pts)
– Frank Miller (211 pts)
– David Mazzucchelli (211 pts)
– Tom and Mary Bierbaum (208 pts)
– Tom Mandrake (205 pts)
– Will Eisner (204 pts)
– Joe Kelly (202 pts)
– Steve Englehart (184 pts)
– Mike Mignola (179 pts)
– Frank Quitely (176 pts)
– Mike Baron (174 pts)
– Steve Rude (174 pts)
– Neal Adams (162 pts)
– David Michelinie (152 pts)
– Bob Layton (152 pts)
– Mike Wieringo (150 pts)
– Brian Azzarello (150 pts)
– Eduardo Risso (150 pts)
– Kevin O’Neill (148 pts)
– Alan Grant (146 pts)
– Norm Breyfogle (146 pts)
– Michael Avon Oeming (134 pts)
– Paul Smith (133 pts)
– Marc Silvestri (133 pts)
– Christopher Priest (130 pts)
– Greg Rucka (122 pts)
– Alan Davis (122 pts)
– Paul Chadwick (120 pts)
– Joe Casey (117 pts)
– Robert Kirkman (115 pts)
– Mike Carey (114 pts)
– Peter Gross (114 pts)
– Ryan Kelly (114 pts)
– Mike Allred (113 pts)
– Sean Phillips (113 pts)
РSergio Aragon̩s (110 pts)
– Mark Evanier (110 pts)
– Roy Thomas (109 pts)
– Jim Starlin (109 pts)
– Mark Gruenwald (107 pts)
– Mike Grell (104 pts)
– Stuart Immonen (103 pts)
– Michael Gaydos (101 pts)
– Kazuo Koike (100 pts)
– Goseki Kojima (100 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)

– 80 are superheroes or close enough (19809 pts)
– 45 are traditional superheroes (12219 pts)
– 35 are non-traditional superheroes (7580 pts)
– 12 are nonpowered superheroes (2182 pts)
– 8 are comedic superheroes (1749 pts)
– 33 are team books (8853 pts)
– 17 are non-superhero (4608 pts)

One quick question, Rene — Miller’s worked on DD three times that I can think of, years apart. We could call it his three “runs” on the Man Without Fear. The first one when he was just starting to write scripts for Marvel, and drew his own pictures as he went along, with Elektra and all that (he actually started out illustrating his predecessor’s scripts and then took over that duty as well). The second one (“Born Again,” with Mazzucchelli doing the pencils.) And then there was the miniseries years later that basically gave Matt the “Year One” treatment, with John Romita Jr. doing the pencils.

I think of those as three separate units. Did you mean to include one, two, or all three of them when you said one of your picks was “Miller’s DD”?

Chris Jones- Everyone’s entitled to their opinions, but to say that Ditko had no talent for facial expressions or body language is absurd. Try covering up every caption in his Spider-Man stories. See if you can figure out what’s going on without the words. Hell, look at the first panel of the first Spider-Man story. Everything needed to understand the story, what the characters are thinking and feeling, and how they relate to each other, is there. Ditko didn’t draw attractive people, certainly, but his figurework is among the most expressive in the medium. None of the other Spider-Man artist could touch his intensity, either.

Stan Lee’s dialogue… not my favorite, even though it has a certain charm. I will give him all credit for giving Peter Parker and his supporting cast their distinctive voices, and setting the tone for Spider-Man writers of the future. In Spider-Man, I feel there’s a certain sincerity to his scripts, the kind that surfaced in “This Man, This Monster,” and much of his his Captain America.

Omar, I didn’t read Spirit, but I think Daredevil is closer to the modern conception of superhero, while the Spirit is closer to a pulp hero, proto-superhero. So he is the first noir “superhero”. But perhaps it would be better for me to say Miller’s DD is the birth of the noir superhero TO ME. :) I didn’t include any runs that I didn’t read as they were coming out, because those are the ones I have more emotion invested in.

Lorendiac, the run I was thinking of when I voted was the first one, with Elektra. But I only said “Miller’s Daredevil”, so I don’t know how Brian counted it.

One reason it occurred to me to wonder was that when I sent in my ballot, I voted for what I called “Miller’s second run.” I specified that it was the one illustrated by Mazzucchelli, etc., to avoid any confusion. Despite which, I was fairly sure some of the ballots Brian received would have room for argument in just what they thought they were voting for in some cases!

For some reason, I’m having flashbacks to almost twenty years ago when I was reading a letter column in an issue of “West Coast Avengers” and the editors had apparently been recently conducting a survey for the readers that had included such questions as: “Which former Avenger do you most want to see come back on active duty?” and “Which hero do you want to see serve as an Avenger for the very first time?” They said wryly that from the ballots they’d received in the mail, it was clear that there was a lot of confusion out there among their readers regarding just who had or hadn’t previously served as an Avenger way back when, and that the next time they did this sort of survey, they’d offer a complete list of all Previous Avengers in the letter column that announced the survey, in order to make it more crystal-clear who was eligible in which category! (“If you don’t see your favorite Marvel hero on this list of Former Avengers, then he’s eligible to become a first-time Avenger!” That sort of thing.)

Aaaand the third (and almost certainly final) one of my picks to make the top 100.

Unless, y’know, we get a whole crap-load of Reptisaurus voters at the last minute. :)

Honestly, I rate this so far above every other “straight” superhero comic that I can’t even think what my # 2 pick would be.

I’ll try to hack out a post explaining Ditko’s art, how it works, and why it’s so great in the near future.

If you’ve grown up on Jim Lee-esque bombast I can see how it would be hard to work your head around Ditko’s Spidey stuff, which is pretty much all about defining mood.

Which is why this works so well for me – It’s claustrophobic, kind of angry, a little bit creepy, warm, and often laugh-out loud funny. Often in the same story. It simply has never been matched in superheroes for range of emotional content.

But I only said “Miller’s Daredevil”, so I don’t know how Brian counted it.

I counted it toward John Jackson Miller’s Iron Man.

I counted it toward John Jackson Miller’s Iron Man.

That kind of creative accountancy does a lot to explain why Joe Simon’s Prez is going to be at # 1.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: a list with 700 other people voting could’ve turned out very differently. Heck, replacing 1/2 the people who voted could’ve ended up with a different list also.

It is interesting to note just how much of the Spider-man mythos was created during this era. Particularly the characters. Some, like Betty, have become less prominent. But still, this run did more or less lay the groundwork for the next 40-something years…for that alone, it deserves a classic status.

I guess its safe to say that Young Justice is nowhere near this list :D

maybe its in the top 300 runs

Its weird that I guess Spidey would number 6 based on BC’s before the cut description

I didn’t have Kirby FF or Ditko Spidey on my personal list (just way more attached to slightly more modern fare), but ranked them #1 and #2 in the “predict the top five” list. So that contest is out the window for me.

I did have Sandman on my list, but didn’t even put it in the top 5 ’cause I’ve way underestimated its popularity. I think I figured it’d be the comic everyone knows they’re “supposed to” say is the best, but on a secret ballot they’d vote with their hearts and go superheroes all the way…

Sandman deserves all its praise, but I’m still hoping big sprawling, corny slugfests come out on top. Lee/Kirby at #1 just feels right.

Well, I didn’t quite go “superheroes all the way,” but I think they did get 8 slots out of 10 on my ballot. And no, “Sandman” was not one of the other 2 items I picked — and I don’t feel I’m “supposed” to pretend it’s one of my top favorites when it definitely isn’t!

My personal list had Sandman and Swamp Thing in the non-superhero category (and to an extent, Warlock, which I kind of think of as more of a space-opera thing, at least until the Avengers show up), with at least seven firmly in the superhero camp. While I love stuff like Fables and Lucifer (the latter being my latest addiction, the TPB’s are great) I voted for the stuff that gave me the most excitement when I read them years ago and that still conjure up that feeling to a large degree. It’s cool that this list seems to represent both modern and nostalgic sensibilities pretty evenly.

Peter didn’t even try to translate the answer, so who knows what it might have said?

It would have said “Spider-Man is Clark Kent.” :)

Anyway, reading Michael Pullmann’s summation/analysis of these issues really makes me want to pick up the first couple Essential Spider-Man volumes, so I can read the Ditko/Lee run in its entirety. Over the years I’ve gained more and more of an appreciation for Ditko’s work (yes, even his Objectivist tracts) so I really ought to go ahead and read this classic run.

I joined too late to vote, alas. Not sure if I’d considered voting for stuff from this era. Let me explain…. I’m 56 and read stuff like this as it came out new. If I’d interpreted “favorite series” as stuff that gave me most pleasure, thent stuff like this (and the Lee/ Kirby Fantastic Four) would have been on list for sure…. because of enjoyment they gave me as a kid.

But I suspect I’d have interpreted “favorite” as present day favorite (i.e. stuff I re-read nowadays)… and my list would have been dominated by 80’s and 90’s stuff.

My number three! It’s shocking to see it do so poorly– only five points ahead of “Starman”, a comic that I’ve barely even ever heard of– but after seeing how gob-smackingly low Lee and Ditko’s other masterpiece, Dr. Strange (my number 9), ranked, I should be thankful it cracked the top ten.

This is beautiful work. I wish it were available in color trade paperbacks. (There was briefly a run of “Barnes and Noble”-branded trades, but they’re out of print.)

Hondo said: “MY top 10 favorite runs. That to me meant the runs that immediately popped into my consciousness and I enjoyed enough to re-read them again and again and again and again and probably never parting with them for any amount of money regardless of what a price guide says they’re worth. They’re priceless to me.”

Perfect! Yes, everything I voted for qualified under this definition – for me. I voted for things that I wouldn’t have if the poll had been titled “Most Important Runs” or “Greatest…” or “Most Influential…”, and that included some for which I had little hope of appearing in the collective Top 100 – such as Green Lantern: Mosaic, or Loebs’ Flash. I’d still rate both of those higher on the scale described in the quoted paragraph above than dozens of the items that did make the Top 100, though. Yes, dozens! :D

But, so what? There’s no right or wrong in these things, there’s just a spectrum of opinions. One can’t mathematically prove that Ditko’s Spidey is better or worse than Sandman, say, or find a syllogism showing that Waid’s Flash was actually “better” than Loeb’s, just that more or fewer people voted that way. And those results are fascinating enough!

Incidentally, to me, comments where people assert their subjective artistic opinions in the phraseology befitting discussions of objectively ascertainable facts are… misguided at best. To say that comic A in position X is “wrong” is meaningless in the context of this poll (unless one is claiming that there has been a mathematical error in the vote-counting). The nature of the topic under discussion implies an inherent “in my opinion” in almost all of the individual postings here, even if some people may phrase things so dogmatically they seem to be in danger of confusing their personal artistic opinions with axiomatic scientific facts. While potentially annoying to witness, such confusion can also be seen as amusing if one steps back far enough :)

All that aside, I certainly enjoyed Ditko Spidey very, very much, but not enough to vote for it. O’Neil/Adams Batman got its spot in my ten – and can the latter really not have made the Top 100? That’s the one missing from my ten I’m most surprised at – I knew Mosaic hadn’t a chance. :D

Uh, do you know how long it takes most people to get their degrees?

What I meant was the first 38 rushed by, sophomore to senior about to start college in almost realtime 3 years, then they saw they had a bigger character than they realized, and decided to keep him there in ‘illusion of change time’ for four times that , it’s just a jarring slow down of time once Ditko left is all. Based on the time scale established Peter Parker would have to be in college for twenty years. I’m just saying…

I don’t ‘hate’ Ditko’s art, but I’m just not as jazzed as some other people clearly are about it. It always seemed a little 2-dimensional, and is female faces were a little cookie-cutter. I personally think that Ditko had more influence on the writing side. When it was him and Stan it was an adversarial ‘Freaks and Geeks’ type atmosphere where everyone was always out to get Peter Parker, once Romita Snr took over it was more soap-operaish (though that era was great too).

Bill K. You’re patently right about the subjectivity of the voting. But just for a bit of fun I tried to come up with a reason why O’Neil / Adams Batman didn’t make top 100. All I can come up…. possibly not counted as a run at all? (My memories very dodgy, but its suggesting to me that the issues were “scattered around”… rather than running one after the other.)

jackdaw53 You’re absolutely right, O’Neil/Adams Batman stories in consecutive issues of Batman or ‘Tec were the exception rather than the rule, and that may have put it behind the eight-ball of people’s memories, if not disqualified it completely!

It occurs to me that if we were looking for future variations of this theme of poll, we could easily imagine a series of “Top Ten Runs” for some of the longer-running characters. We could infer some likely early results for some characters from the results of this poll (including the comments).


1. Lee/Kirby
2. Byrne
3. Simonson(?)

1. Simonson
2. Lee/Kirby

1. Englehart/Rogers
2. Grant/Breyfogle
3. O’Neil/Adams(?)

Sean C.:”I think it’s official at this point: no one can beat Grant Morrison’s point total; Lee was the only one with a shot, and his FF run would need 1338 points for a tie, with one more point for a win (Lee will undoubtedly be second, though).”

I have disagree with your assesment as the presented calculation includes only the points amassed from the runs that made the Top 100. The ranking of the creators would be more accurate based on the entire voting data, including the runs that did not make the Top 100. For example, Stan Lee may have a number runs that did not make the Top 100 list but may have accumulated just the necessary number of votes to take the lead.

Thus, the rankings presented by Rene are in no way conclusive, even though they do give a nice sketch of the final ranking and present the most obvious trends in the popularity of different creators.

Also surprised at Lee/Ditko’s Spidey being this low. But it reminds me of one of my favorite scenes ever in comic books from their run…as usual, things are going badly for hard-luck Pete. It may have been the issue where the robot is sure to ascertain his secret identity. Romantic entanglements, school trouble, Aunt May’s health…Peter sits down on a curb to lament it all when a street cleaner with a broom says, “Move it, bud, you’re blocking progress.”

For some reason this always cracks me up.

As much as I appreciate the significance of these issues… I’ve always preferred the Romita era. JRSR is probably in my top five favorite artists, and that was when ASM turned into more of the superhero soap opera that I think of when I think of the “glory days”.

Plus, MJ’s intro is still the greatest payoff to a running joke in comics history. That has to count for something, right?

It should easily be in the top 5.

Wow! I’ve never been a huge Spidey fan personally, but I still expected this to be #1 as I know so many people DO love it.

I guess that means Claremont/Byrne on X-Men are the most likely winners. But for sure it’s an intriguing list so far, with a lot of good stuff :).

“If you’ve grown up on Jim Lee-esque bombast I can see how it would be hard to work your head around Ditko’s Spidey stuff, which is pretty much all about defining mood.”

I did but still voted for this run, largely because of Ditko’s artwork, which is unlike anything else.

And my voting methods were very much in the order of “personal favorites” not “culturally and historically significant” (I mean, I voted for Harras/Epting Avengers for crying out loud. I’m sorry, I really liked the leather jackets…)

For me, Lee/Ditko Spidey is culturally and historically signficant AND a heck of a lot of fun. It was one of the first Silver Age runs I read after getting into comics in the early 90s and despite the weird-by-comparison-to-art-of-the-90s art and sometimes-stilted dialogue, I devoured it as readily as the slicker, more bombastic modern comics I was reading alongside it. And I it found far more easier to dive into and enjoy than other Silver Age titles, even the Lee/Kirby FF, for which I had to work a little bit harder to enjoy.

I return to the Lee/Ditko run again and again, and to this day, when I think of “Peter Parker” I think of him as as he appeared in this run. Just as I often say there is a little Charlie Brown in everyone, I think there is a little of the Lee/Ditko Peter Parker in everyone too: a touch awkward but well-meaning, trying to do the right thing despite the world around him making that as difficult as possible.

I think the dawn of the Romita Sr era was a surefire signal that Marvel was abandoning art for commerce.

I’m off to stroke my Omnibus.

And of course the weird development was that when Ditko left and Romita came in sales went UP.
Bad news for Ditko, for Kirby, for art.
Great news for Stan Lee and Martin Goodman, and for, as Nick would describe it, commerce.

Dalarsco said:

“This is certainly a great Spidey run, but I would hardly call it “the greatest period.” The JMS/JRJR run has a much higher quality of both art and writing…”

This is just so wrong. And because it is so obviously wrong, it is impossible to rebut without relying on a string of vulgar words and slurs against your heritage.

Teebore, I’ve always thought the Harras/Epting Avengers weren’t as bad as people say it is. Very readable. I thought it was cool that Harras chose characters that already had potential for “darkness” (Hercules, Black Knight, Sersi, Black Widow, Vision in his emotionless phase) instead of trying to make paragons like the mainstream Captain America “gritty”.

But it still wouldn’t make my Top 100 list, I think. As far as Avengers runs go, I still prefer Thomas, Englehart, Shooter/Michelinie, Stern, Busiek, and Johns (not necessarily in that order). Harras/Epting would come in 7th.

This is a great one, all right. I think it deserves to be a bit higher if only for its influence.

I think the dawn of the Romita Sr era was a surefire signal that Marvel was abandoning art for commerce

Nah. Stan’ll tell you. It’s always been about makin’ scratch. Occasionally the suits will decide that having quirky, individualistic artists and writers make (makes? Grammar hard) for good commerce, but it’s always about moving product.

I think the dawn of the Romita Sr era was a surefire sign that Ditko quit.

Rene, yeah, I had both Stern’s and Englehart’s Avengers on my list, both higher than Harras/Epting’s. The Harras/Epting run was ongoing when I started reading Avengers, so there was a clear and admitted bit of nostalgia on my part when including it. They introduced me to the Avengers, and thus led me to better things like the Stern Avengers. And I still enjoy re-reading the Harras/Epting stuff today.

Good point about the darker characters; I hadn’t thought of that specifically before, but one of the things I like about that run is the choice of lineup, classic characters (Cap, Vision) mixed with some newer ones (Sersi, Crystal).

…we now return to our regularly scheduled Spidey-program…

“This is certainly a great Spidey run, but I would hardly call it “the greatest period.” The JMS/JRJR run has a much higher quality of both art and writing…”

I enjoy Romita Jr.’s artwork on Spidey more than Ditko’s, but that may be my modern sensibilities speaking.

JMS is a strange mixture of talent and arrogant cluelessness. I have a lot of love for Babylon 5, and I loved the starts of both Rising Stars and Supreme Power, but there is no two ways about it, “Sins Past” is just awful.

And I’m not sure what to think about the whole Morlun/Ezekiel/Dr.Strange/Other stuff. Maybe JMS is overly fascinated by Alan Moore, and wanted to replicate what Alan Moore did with Swamp Thing, but Spider-Man is a character with too much history for such a big paradigm change.

It would probably read better if JMS were writing about an insect-based hero of his creation that had magical roots.

I liked how he worked with Mary Jane and Aunt May, though (before One More Day, of course).

“I liked how he worked with Mary Jane and Aunt May, though (before One More Day, of course).”

Agreed. I think the best thing that can be said for JMS’s run is the work he did with May (before One More Day, of course), making her relevant compared to how she had treaded water since her misguided resurrection leading into the now-ignored Chapter One “reboot” (although I did also like the notion of making Peter a science teacher-it was time to move past the photog stuff, and science teacher made a heck of a lot of sense for the character).

A lot of that went off the rails (along with everything else) as Civil War reared its head, but for awhile there, May was a character in a way she perhaps had never been before. Having her discover Peter’s secret was a great move. I particularly enjoyed the issue where she goes out of her way to improve Spidey’s image in the media.

This is my number one favorite run, not what I think should be number one or deserves to be, but my favorite. I never buy trades of anything I have in single issues, but I own all the stories in early 80s Marvel Tales reprints, plus the Essentials and the Omnibus! I started reading comics int he early 1990s when the X-Men were white hot and Image was booming. I was into all that stuff, but at some point (3rd grade) I acquired the old Marvel Tales reprints and wore them ragged. Even as I embraced the contemporary comics of those times, I was incredibly fascinated by the Stan Lee/ Steve Ditko epic. Anyway, even when I read them now, I feel nostalgic, which is weird, since I grew up in the 90s and not the 60s.

9 of mine have shown up. The only one left is the Gerry Conway JLofA but given how few Marvel runs have appeared in the Top 20 I don’t think it made the cut.

This might be bad form, but I’m copying and pasting a comment I made back when Spider-Man was one of the 365 Reasons to Love Comics:


In 1978, I bought a paperback reprint of Spider-Man 1-8 and Amazing Fantasy 15 to read on a family trip to Alberta (I was 8 and easily bored)…and it totally changed my life. Ditko’s art was so ugly, especially compared to the Romita Spider-Man I was used to in the newspaper (and in the comic books themselves– they were all about being ‘on model’ back then). But it was so evocative too. Something about it just grabbed me at a visceral, gut level that said to me even as an 8 year-old ‘this is ugly but it’s like life’.

I’ve loved Ditko ever since.

And it’s still true for me today. Back when Bill was asking for graphic novels for a course list that didn’t involve superheroes, I was still insisting on the Marvel Essentials volume featuring Lee/Ditko Spider-Man and Miller/Macchuzelli Daredevil to be put on the list. Because I think Lee/Ditko Spider-Man somehow encapsulates a total revolution of what superhero comics can be even today.

I was just reading Michael’s text. Great stuff!

It’s easy to forget, because we’ve lived in the shadow of Spider-Man and angsty heroes our entire lives, but back then, Spider-Man was a big revolution.

Just imagine the archetypical superhero of the time: the DC Silver Age hero, a man in his 30s, the idealized Dad complete with sidekick and chaste girlfriend, ruling over an ordered fictional city where everything was perfect, until some weirdness intruded, and then this “Super-Dad” solved everything in a single story, and things always were put back together by the end, order prevailing, the confident hero acclaimed.

Spider-Man was such a reversal of a lot of these conventions. A teenager, not still a man. No sidekick (he was hiw own sidekick!), no girlfriend to speak of (but a hyper-complicated love life), living in a real city, in a world that was chaotic, always facing problems that were never complete triumphs, because he was never acclaimed as hero, and sometimes his victories cost, and cost dearly.

That is why Marvel became a giant. That is why Marvel came to dominate 70% of the market in the following decade and a half. Nowadays it’s easy to dismiss the template of superhero that was started by Lee, because the template has been used and abused and over-used. But back then, just think how original it was.

And John Romita Sr took the template apart. Peter Parker became cool and popular. The Green Goblin was revealed (ongoing mystery solved). Mary Jane revealed (another mystery solved).

Mind you, stories can’t go on forever. Even King Arthur & Jesus had a death scene.

Things got brighter in Romita’s era, sure, but this was also the time of “Spider Man No More”, among other things; Peter’s personal issues didn’t stop; if anything, his love life became even more complicated, for example. He grew up a bit, went to college and found a circle of friends, with new challenges and new problems.

Yes, even the Romita Spider-Man could never be considered something close to a DC Silver Age hero.

I think Spider-Man only started to get stale by the 1970s. Despite Gwen Stacy’s death being a classic, I always thought Spidey’s stories by Conway, Wein, and Wolfman were the ones that were more formula than heart.

I think it’s so bizarre that people are so upset that this run could be ranked so low, or so high. I’m really surprised that they are, because people like to get upset, but why should everyone have the same taste as you? Taste is a complicated thing and you’ve got to factor in all sorts of things like culture, age and all sorts of other influences. Chances are nobody read that first Spider-Man run exactly the same way you did. Everyone has a different impression on it. And the thing is, when we’re talking, like, the Top 15-or-so comics out there, who really cares where these books ended up on that list? The fact that we can all agree that they’re aMONG the best seems more significant to me than quibbling over which one’s THE best.

But I’ll say this: If any one of Stan Lee’s superhero comics WAS the absolute best run that comics has ever produced, that would be pretty sad. Those books were a starting point. Stan’s vision was to spearhead this whole movement of comics as modern mythology; he opened the door for it. They were a springboard, which the whole of superhero fiction has taken inspiration and momentum from… but a good teacher’s students will always surpass him. If the Lee/Ditko Spider-Man didn’t inspire comics that were BETTER than it, it wouldn’t be nearly such an important work. Same goes for Kirby, for Byrne and Claremont, for Miller… and someday I hope I’ll be reading comics that make Moore and Morrison look like dinosaurs in comparison, because they’ve taken inspiration from Watchmen and Invisibles and so on, and evolved.

If you really love your Silver Age comics… let ‘em go. There’s something even better coming down the line.

It wasn’t Lee. It was Steve Ditko & Stan Lee.

I’m a big fan of Moore & Gaiman (never seen anything too impressive by Morrison). But this is a visual medium…and Ditko was drawing off the wall stuff, and especially a Spidey, that doesn’t appear in amy of those writers’ works.

Anyone remember Spidey webbing up his shop bought costume in the Goblin/Crime Master sequence? And then it shrinking after he got dunked in the water? Jonah’s face leering out of the first Spider Slayer?

Many have tried, but none have matched. In my humble opinion. Of course.

Ditko’s plots were tight, his images were memorable, his choreography was breathtaking, his characters’ body language was spot-on- really, I don’t think he’s been equalled. In fact, Kirby, Caniff, Toth, Joe Kubert, Cole, Kane, Eisner, & Ditko have yet to be topped. They created comics’ visual language. It’s telling that many of the modern creators lauded as pushing the medium forward are writers. The art nowadays looks better on the surface, but the best old stuff accomplished more.

Independent (non-adventure) comics are a whole other story…

But I’ll say this: If any one of Stan Lee’s superhero comics WAS the absolute best run that comics has ever produced, that would be pretty sad.

Well, best superhero comic.

But I agree. It is pretty sad.

I very much agree that while today’s artists are phenomenal, the more I look towards the Silver and Golden Ages the more that some of these giants of the industry hold up so well with their very stylized work. Every artist that Mike Loughlin listed fits within these parameters. I would add a few more : C. C. Beck, Frank Frazetta, Carmine Infantino, Harvey Kurtzman, and Wally Wood, to name a few more. Their stuff is as good as anything that’s being produced today, and maybe better.

What has gotten much better is the level of writing. Some really great writers have entered the field in the last 20 years that have definitely helped to broaden the appeal of the medium and to bring a new freshness that has helped the industry to grow and mature beyond the Silver Age. Some of my favorite writers that I would that IMO have helped to broaden the appeal of the medium include Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, Steve Gerber, Frank Miller, James Robinson, Brian K. Vaughn, Ed Brubaker, Mark Millar, Los Bros Hernandez and Peter Milligan more I’m failing to mention. Every one of these authors has placed somewhere on this list of the Top 100 Comic Book Runs.

I wonder how different a Top Ten Titles would be? Especially considering how many runs on the list are entire runs of a title as well.


Lorendiac: Ya, I just looked at the issue again and you’re right. The robot didn’t figure it out. But my point still stands was that the story was silly without being amusing and lacked any emotional drama.
Alan Coil: If you can’t give any reason why you are right then you are wrong by default. Almost every writer today can out-dialog Lee. The stories during the Romita Jr. period of the run were all well plotted and managed to strike a great balance between humor and drama. JMS moved Peter into the future, finally having Aunt May learn his secret and develop as a character, and giving him a real job as a teacher. The art is better for two reasons. First, Romita Jr. benefited from all the modern technologies that Ditko didn’t. I’m sure Ditko with modern technology would be fantastic, but when it comes to quality of the run I look at what it is, not what it could be. The second reason is simply personal preference. There’s just something magical that a Romita brings to Spider-Man. Now, to pre-rebut the most obvious counter-argument, I’ll talk about foundations. The foundation is important. Serving as such a magnificent foundation and really the beginnings of almost every aspect of the Spider-Man mythos gives the Lee/Ditko era an easy spot in my personal top 20. But it doesn’t make it the greatest run by default. A gorgeous work of architecture needs a foundation to stand, but if that foundation is dull concrete the above structure will still be more beautiful. Of course, if you think a different run is the best run I would love it if you’d tell me. I haven’t read every Spidey run, only the first and most recent ones. If you can recommend me something I haven’t read, especially if you feel it was overlooked by this list, I would love to read it and if it’s really better I’ll gladly admit that I was wrong. And if it isn’t I won’t insult you for it, since I can separate people from opinions. Of course, I will insult you be saying that I am a superior person due to that trait, since I only ignore opinions. Attitudes are fair game for insult, especially indirect insults such as yours.

Two things I always thought were interesting:

1)Without Lee, Kirby, and Ditko, I doubt we would have the stories of Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, Steve Gerber, Frank Miller, James Robinson, Brian K. Vaughn, Ed Brubaker, Mark Millar, Los Bros Hernandez and Peter Milligan

2)Why does everyone assume that once Romita came onto the book, Peter suddenly morphed into that era’s Brad Pitt or something?

I think a lot of the perception of “quality” in genre work in any medium springs from matters of individual taste in preferring a set of conventions, and how closely a work follows those conventions. Sets of conventions evolve, and their popularity is as much a function of fashion as of any intrinsic quality.

Youngsters (and the following certainly applied to me when I was young) who have spent only a short time (say, up to half a decade or so) enjoying a genre or a medium typically absorb the currently fashionable conventions (without really being aware that they are doing so) as if they were laws of the universe instead of just the latest in a long series of artificial and arbitrary collections of formats and styles. Older work can seem clunky or silly or lesser to them at a glance because it doesn’t conform to the modern set of conventions, the only set they are really familiar with.

For instance: Musicals used to be a very, very, very popular movie genre; now they are extremely rare. A common complaint against them from audiences who did not grow up surrounded by them goes along the lines of “It’s so silly when the characters start singing in the middle of the story! That doesn’t happen in real life. Today’s movies, which don’t do this, are more realistic, and so, better”. Breaking into song is a convention that is currently not fashionable, but it is no more artificial and unrealistic a convention than many others that are still in fashion (or have come into fashion), but are invisible as conventions to the majority of current audiences who are immersed in them, in the same way that fish aren’t conscious of water, or we (usually) aren’t conscious of the air.

One obvious example of such a cinematic convention that is so ubiquitous that its artificiality is ‘invisible’ to most people is the musical score. Another is the extreme amplification of the sounds of impacts in, say, a fist-fight. Yet another are the usual multitude of mysterious light sources in, say, forest night scenes.

So if it’s true that modern assessments of contemporary works are significantly fashion-driven (and so, ephemeral), what happens when fashions change? When one has been following a genre or a medium for long enough, one sees it again and again: What was radical and hot and cool and exciting in one decade looks dated and clunky and tired the next. (Then often the decade after that it’s cool again as kids discover things from the decade of their birth of childhood). The works themselves don’t change, the audiences, and their unconscious sense of what is a fashionable set of conventions, do. (To revert to the fashion-as-air image, we are most aware of air when it is moving around us – some exciting “new” genre approach is even often described as a “fresh breeze” :) )

A truer gauge of quality, I think, should always seek to judge the work in question in the context of its own time and the then-current set of genre conventions. How well does a work fulfill, and play with the edges of (and so contribute to the expansion and evolution of), the conventions of the genre at the time? THAT gives us a level playing field for comparison, in a way that seeming to compare two works (but really only comparing their respective convention sets instead) cannot.

I’d encourage curious people to think about their preferences and ask themselves – is it the work itself that I think is better, or do I just prefer the older/newer set of conventions it follows because I grew up with them?

Learning a new (to you) set of conventions can take work – but so did learning your first set. You just didn’t notice it at the time, and it was spread out over years. A more modest effort may suffice, but only if there is willingness. Yet the efforts can be an excellent investment, as they unlock the treasure trove of the best material of that type gathered over decades. For instance, many modern audiences struggle to enjoy silent movies – the set of conventions is at first glance too different from what they are used to, and the works seem hopelessly outdated and dull because of this. Yet with practice it is possible to learn to watch, then follow, then be absorbed by silent movies. And once this skill has been engendered, all the wonders of Chaplin, Keaton, Murnau, Fairbanks and Chaney, to name a few, lay at your feet for the taking, some of which have not been surpassed, of their kind, to this day.

Ditko/Lee Spidey is standing the test of time, as its appearance here attests. Which modern interpretation(s) will, if any, it is by definition too early to tell.

Sorry for the length of this!

Very wise words from Bill K.

It goes beyond Comics. How do you compare Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler to Chuck Palahniuk? Or Dickens to Sarah Waters? Sherlock Holmes to Inspector Morse?

It looks like Miller’s Daredevil will be ahead of Ditko’s Spidey. To me, that’s like preferring Rockford to Marlowe.

I liked Rockford. But Chandler is classic.

Almost every writer today can out-dialog Lee

Holy shit. That might be the single most wrong statement I have ever heard on the internet. I am, frankly, in awe.

Does everyone else get what dialog is and what it does or do you need me to explain?

Also very nicely done, Bill K. Although I think a truer gauge of quality is “Is it good” but you need to be aware of your own prejudices and cultural biases to make those kinds of decisions – And I do think that in terms of
creating a specific mood, teetering between horror and comedy and a smidgeon of sublimated sex, this run of Spider-man is as good as anything I’ve ever read in comics.

And, y’know, I’ve read kind of a lot of comics. He understated.

Now Bill K is a good debater. While conventions are something to look at, I still don’t think that can necessarily excuse things such as poor dialog. While I think that things like pushing the form forward are important (hence why the Lee/Kirby FF run ranked in my top ten.), I think that it’s the emotional resonance of any story that is the major element it’s quality. Dialog tends to help that. If we were only counting the best elements of the runs then the Lee/Ditko Spidey would be nearer the top, but parts of it were unenjoyable. It was amazing for it’s time, but there are a lot of more modern runs that have more emotional resonance throughout. And for the record, I love musicals. :P

MarkAndrew, don’t simply praise Bill K. Actually explain this supposed point you vaguely allude to on why Lee’s dialog is so good. Actually explain what makes Lee’s dialog so good. I find it stilted, and the exposition awkward, but I’m open to being convinced otherwise.

Here’s a simple proof: whole chunks of Lee’s dialog from this series were put into the mouths of actual human beings for the first Spider-Man movie. Lo and behold, it sounded great. Moving and believable and raw. Who else could you do that with?

Lee’s gift for dialog is absolutely staggering. Here the best test: anybody reading this, go write a scene where the Fantastic Four watch a dinosaur egg hatch in Time Square. I’ll bet you can do it, even if you’re not a trained writer. That’s because we can all hear those four very distinct voices in our heads. Now write the same scene with the original Justice League. Hell, try it with the modern Justice League. You might hear Batman’s voice clearly, thanks to Denny O’Neil, but good luck with the others. Lee’s dialog was so great because it was filled with character and it was so specific. Reed Richards wasn’t Bruce Banner. Peter Parker wasn’t Johnny Storm who wasn’t Rick Jones. In seventy years, no writer has ever given Superman or Wonder Woman that kind of rich character-filled voice to speak with.

[…] seawater rushing into the base in torrents, Peter faces the Hero??s Choice as never before: Die, …http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2008/04/28/top-100-comic-book-runs-6/CLASH OF THE MORONSMy attitude to the revolution’s always been very simple: when it all kicks off […]

I think one thing which has to be kept in mind when comparing Stan Lee to modern writers is that he was literally writing for a different demographic. The modern writer of superhero comics is really aiming for his or her work to be read primarily by twenty-somethings whereas Stan was writing for kids. It’s very easy for an adult now to read those early Marvel comics and think that they are lacking something, in the same way that an adult picking up The Famous Five or the Chronicles Of Narnia for the first time will likely be under-whelmed. They are simply not the target audience.

For that reason, I’m not sure it’s possible to compare Stan (Or any of the early writers) to modern writers except in terms of mastery of their craft – and there’s no doubt that Stan was a master. His pacing, plotting and characterisation skills are all excellent, pitched perfectly for the demographic he was aiming at.

As I first really discovered him as an adult, I cannot claim to be a huge fan. but while I don’t think he’s the best writer in US comics history (That’d be Alan Moore) I do think he’s at least top twenty and probably top ten.

That’s actually a very good point.

Not only did Stan successfully write for kids, but for kids of almost all different ages and reading levels, deftly utilising a technique used by Shakespeare in producing work aimed at a range of understandings – repeating things at different levels of complexity.

A great example on a tiny scale:

Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.

Line three is for the educated toffs, but Willy doesn’t leave the groundlings wondering, giving them line four.

I can’t point off the top of my head to any such specific example in Stan’s writing, but I do have my memory:

As a young child reading Lee’s dialogue, I didn’t always understand every word or even every speech balloon, nor every gag or cultural reference or plot subtlety, but I never, ever had difficulty following the story well enough to be drawn along in rapt excitement and curiosity about what was going to happen next.

Read pretty much any Marvel issue from the mid or late 60s (Silver Surfer excepted!) imagining yourself six or eight years old again, with the limited vocabulary and cultural worldview that imples, and see how well Stan looks after you, and how seeing to your comprehension and entertainment (as well as that of the college students who read these comics at the time) is a duty he takes seriously.

Stan Lee was of course very accessible to us all or we probably wouldn’t be following this thread, let alone collecting comics.

Yes, he was very important to the Silver Age / Marvel Age, and I acknowledge that he was a great editor who helped to guide and nurture the Bullpen and bring out the best in his staff, but, my question is : Why is it that none of Stan’s stuff is acknowledged by fandom overall as being of the same high level after he stepped away as E-i-C ? Striperella ? Stan Lee Presents at DC ? She-Hulk ? The Cat ? Stan Lee Media ?

Creators are not entirely consistent throughout their careers. Sometimes they just keep getting better, other times they stall or nose dive, becoming mere caricatures of who they once were.

In Stan’s case it’s probably a combination of factors. Maybe he needed a Kirby or a Ditko to bounce ideas off, maybe times and fashions changed and he couldn’t adjust his style to match. Maybe his creative powers were just not so good as once they were. Could even be a combination of all three and a few factors I’m over-looking.

For quite a while, Stan caught lightning in a bottle. That’s not a trick anyone can just repeat any old time they like.

[…] I’ve always had mixed feelings about the Lee/Ditko run of ASM #1-38. Yes, I know this run is responsible for the creation of Spider-Man and lays the foundation for EVERYTHING. I respect and appreciate that, but it doesn’t mean I’m obligated to like everything they […]

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