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Friday With The Best

Every so often, I get asked to contribute to some sort of online ‘best of’ list. This time it was the folks over at Hooded Utilitarian, who asked me to give them my “Ten Best Comics of All Time.”

Now, I misread it at first, and thought they just wanted my number-one pick. So I wrote a little essay and sent it in. Then I reread the original email and realized I’d screwed up, so I shamefacedly sat down and hammered out a list of nine more. That got tossed into the pool of the other 200-plus comics creators, editors, reviewers, et al who contributed, and the whole thing starts unfolding in August.

But I hate to throw away anything I write, and I have a hunch my choice for number one won’t place all that high; it’s not Maus or Watchmen, or any of the other usual suspects. Everybody knows about those. I went in a different direction…. a personal pick as opposed to an objective, critical one.

So anyway, I’m going to go ahead and run a slightly-expanded version of my original answer, talking about my single favorite comics run of all time, as this week’s column. Enjoy.

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Best comics run of ALL TIME? If you mean just character and story, I’d go with the Archie Goodwin-Walt Simonson Manhunter.

My favorite run, my favorite character... but NOT my favorite comic.

That was just brilliant. Modern creators are still going back to the stuff there –ninjas, clones, superheroic anti-heroes that are willing to use lethal force.

That's right, kids. Manhunter was so hardcore he freaked BATMAN out.

Not to mention an approach to the art itself that was twenty years ahead of its time. Look at any original Manhunter page today and Simonson’s layout and lettering doesn’t look dated at all.

This looks standard now, but in 1974 it blew me right out of my chair.

But really I’d take it a step further. I’d add that the comics in which those seven installments appeared, Detective #437-#443, were themselves great comics as well. Manhunter was just a small part of the overall picture.


Simply the best. My favorite comics of all time.

Goodwin was writing the Batman lead feature along with Manhunter, and he kept luring guys like Alex Toth and a young Howard Chaykin to illustrate them, alternating with Batman regulars like Jim Aparo and Dick Giordano.

A sample of Alex Toth's masterful work from Detective #442.

It’s also where you found the original “Night of the Stalker” by Steve Englehart, one of the greatest Batman short stories ever.


Englehart, Amendola, and Giordano knocked it out of the park on this one.

And in the very next issue, you get “Ghost Mountain Midnight,” the story that caused Doctor K to proclaim this the greatest comic of all time.

Doctor K opines that the level of awesomeness increases exponentially here because Batman doesn't just punch the bear -- he beats it with a chain and then rides it down a cliff. Hard to argue with that.

Even the format was awesome. Most of the books were in DC’s then-current 100-page format — 20 pages new, 80 pages reprint — and Goodwin, who was also editing, had a really good eye for interesting reprints.

It was the first place I saw Kubert’s Golden Age Hawkman…

Reprinted in Detective #439.

Alex Toth’s Eclipso…

Reprinted in Detective #441.

The origin of the Creeper…

Reprinted in #443.

Not to mention other obscure reprints that were quite a ways off the beaten path for DC, like the Golden Age Doll Man…

Reprinted in #440.

…or “Alias The Spider” by Paul Gustafson.

Reprinted in #441.

It was all great stuff. Often, when I see bloggers or other comics pundits speculating on what a good newsstand superhero format would look like, I always think of the old DC 100-pagers; 20 pages of new content and 80 pages of reprints. That seems to me like a format that would really work well in a digest size for bookstores, and Lord knows both DC and Marvel have the libraries for an effort like that. I do like seeing the 100-page reprint packages we’re getting from DC lately, it’s a fine idea, but they could do even better.

This is a great idea, but the reprint choices are new enough that the customers in comics shops that would be interested probably already have the originals. Why don't we see these offered to a GENERAL audience, maybe in grocery stores as digests of some kind?

The 1970s 100-page era from DC, in general, was an amazing run of good comics from different eras, all conveniently collected together in one place. A great many modern DC strips have paid homage to things that appeared there in one form or another.

STARMAN, especially, seemed to go back to a lot of Golden Age stuff that was reprinted in the 1970s. Here's the Shade confronting the Spider in THE SHADE miniseries.

And of those generally memorable and exciting books, I think the best expression of the format was Detective, from Archie Goodwin.

So if I have to pick a feature, it’d be Manhunter; but… in my heart of hearts, whenever someone says “Best comics of all time,” I have to own up and tell you that my involuntary first response is “Archie Goodwin’s year on Detective, #437 to #443.”

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And there you have it. Maybe not the greatest comics run of all time, but certainly it’s my favorite comics run of all time.

See you next week.

15 Comments

Brian, can we vote on our top ten comic book issues/runs? That would be a great list to read. Thanks & thanks Greg for a great article!

i agree that i love the old DC 100 pagers, as there were loads of stories that i couldn’t afford to buy, but loved to have in my collection. Great choice for your #1.

Hard to disagree with any of that. I fondly remember this title, plus Goodwin’s tenure on the war books at about the same time. The Manhunter saga was highly respected during the 70”s and picked up a couple of awards. It was also one of the first mainstream series collected in trade paperback format, as early as 1980, and made a nice Baxter collection a few years later – using that cover you show if I remember rightly. I always cited this run as proof that DC could do good comics when arguing with rabid Marvel fans.

I couldn’t even come up with ten things for the Utilitarian’s list. The first three or four are easy, sure– Flex Mentallo, Watchmen, Kirby’s New Gods, and probably Simonson’s Orion close behind– but the rest? I’d probably just fill it up with Morrison comics. (And also, I forgot to finish the list, so my opinions– lost to the ages!)

Manhunter’s good stuff, though. Walter Simonson himself was kind enough to mail me a copy, and oh man, do I treasure that thing. It’s a masterclass in storytelling and compression.

Man, do I miss the 100 Page Giants. That’s where I first encountered many Golden Age greats. The Tarzan issues were awesome.

And Manhunter was a revelation. DC has muddied the name Manhunter so much over the years, but I would love to see Paul Kirk return.

Couldn’t agree more. Absolutely loved Manhunter when I first read these books, and they also fostered my deep love of the Golden Age. Took me a while to realize that they were reprinting the cream of the crop, and not everything from that era was so good.

Mike Loughlin

July 29, 2011 at 7:35 pm

The very idea of a story drawn by Toth in the same issue as a Simonson story is mind-blowing. The reality is even better. Great choice!

Brian, can we vote on our top ten comic book issues/runs?

We did! Back in…I am going to say 2008. Is that right?

We’ll probably re-visit that at some point in the future.

I’m STILL kicking myself for letting this run go when I sold off most of my 100 Page Giants to make the rent a few years ago. I was too young to see these on first go-around, but sometime in the late 80’s I wound up hunting them down. I suspect it was a combination of Millennium and seeing some other Simonson art that led me to these, it was the first time I can recall looking for back issues other than very recent ones on a title I was currently reading.

I simply agree with everything you wrote here. I absolutely love Manhunter – if I were forced to make a list of my top 10 (hell, even top 5) favorite comic book stories, that original Manhunter run would definitely be in it. And I’m always ready to express my love for DC’s 100-pagers (as well as the later dollar comics). They were big, fat comic books with tons of features in them, new and old – what’s not to love?
And I think the topic has already been covered in one of your recent columns, but I wholeheartedly second your suggestion for digest-sized comics sold in grocery and/or drug stores.

Steven Caplan

July 30, 2011 at 5:11 am

Manhunter still is my favorite as well. The perfect beginning (in the middle of the story! With blind, zen archers!). The perfect ending. A complete conclusion to the storyline.

I never forget the line: “Witness the second resurrection of Paul Kirk.”

We’ll probably re-visit that at some point in the future.

I’ve hoped that eventually CSBG will do some sort of “favorite single issue” poll in the future, rather than runs or arcs. So, no voting for “Watchmen,” it would have to be “Watchmen #6,” for instance. I suppose it would be implausible to reach any sort of consensus enough to develop tangible results though. I’m sure my list would be ten issues that no one else would come close to having in their own list.

@ Brian/ookerdookers:

That is part of what i am talking about. i don’t love Watchmen like others do, but the issue where Jon & Laurie are talking on the moon is fabulous. i could see myself putting it in my top 10 issues/stories. i didn’t mean runs as in ‘all the issues that one creator/pair of creators did’ [like all Waid’s Flash] but more stories/issues [like Astro City 1/2 or Waid’s ‘Born to Run’ arc in Flash].

Anyway, 2008 is a long time ago! Let’s get on this! ;-)

"O" the Humanatee!

July 30, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Wholly agree with you about both Manhunter and this run. Unlike The Mutt, I would not like to see Paul Kirk return – his death was too perfect. But I’ve been surprised that no one has ever (to my knowledge) done anything with his supporting characters: Christine St. Clair, Asano Nitobe, and Kolu Mbeya. I wouldn’t say any of them (or any combination thereof) could carry their own title, but I can certainly see them making guest appearances. Then again, probably anyone other than Goodwin or Simonson would not use them well.

I suppose it would be implausible to reach any sort of consensus enough to develop tangible results though.

Yep. Don’t get me wrong, like other ideas (like favorite non-Marvel/non-DC characters), I definitely like it myself, I just don’t think it’d get enough turnout that it would work for a site-wide survey.

Sadly I only own one of the original issues of Detective Manhunter appeared in (I came to Manhunter through the Baxter reprint you show at the top) but I nonetheless totally concur. Manhunter is the jewel in the crown, but the Batman story by Goodwin was superb and the reprints were amazing. It was as though Archie Goodwin was saying to a reader, “here’s some cool stuff I loved when I was younger. I hope you like it too.” It’s the comic book version of a hand done mix tape. Even the Batman reprints were incredibly well selected (The issue I had found a rare instance where a story from the ’40s had a sequel done to it years later and reprinted both tales).

Once again your columns have inspired me to try and collect this run. My bank manager will be in touch about this and all the other things I’ve bought over the years at your recommendation!

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