"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
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You voted, now here are the results of your votes for your favorite comic book creator runs of all-time! We’ll be revealing five runs a day for most of the month. Here is a master list of all of the runs revealed so far.
Here’s the next five runs…
25. Garth Ennis’ Punisher – 380 points (5 first place votes)
The Punisher #1-12, The Punisher #1-6, 13-37, Punisher MAX #1-60 plus Punisher: Born #1-4 and a bunch of one-shots
As famous as the Punisher is, do note that when Garth Ennis took over the character, Marvel was not even PUBLISHING a Punisher comic, and the last revival attempt involved the Punisher working as an Avenging Angel for Heaven fighting against demons with supernatural weapons.
So Garth Ennis was taking on a bit of a challenge when he and fellow Preacher creator, Steve Dillon, took on the character in 2000 with an initial 12-issue mini-series, “Welcome Back, Frank,” which quickly dispensed of the Angel approach, instead bringing a dark sense of humor to the comic. The result was a sales success, and Ennis and Dillon (and later a series of other artists, including Ennis’ fellow Hitman creator, John McCrea) continued the humorous approach on a Punisher ongoing series, with diminishing results, until the series ended after 37 issues. Then Ennis’ greatest work with the character began, with the creation of Punisher MAX, a serious look at the character, which (since it is a MAX title, or otherwise, an R-Rated comic) included a great deal of graphic violence and graphic language, but also a great deal of stunning character work (with new supporting characters added to the cast), engaging storylines, and a rich connected story that really reads like one big sixty issue story.
It is a fascinating, and powerful work.
The artwork for the series has been by a few different artists, but mostly Leandro Fernandez and Goran Parlov.
Here’s a sample from perhaps the most acclaimed of Ennis’ Punisher MAX stories, the Slavers, where the Punisher stumbles upon a slave ring, and as Ennis did throughout his MAX series, since Frank Castle is almost devoid of characterization (he’s basically a killing machine), Ennis goes into DEEP characterization on everyone else in the book, including the slave who brings everything to the Punisher’s attention, the social worker who tried desperately to use the system to help this girl to no avail, the slave ring leader and the son of the slave ring leader (imagine the kind of daddy issues you would have if you ran a freakin’ slave ring with your psychotic DAD), plus some cops who look to use the Punisher for PR purposes. A dramatic scene in the story is when the young woman who started everything, Viorica, explains how it all went down.
WARNING! NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART!
As you might imagine, the Punisher kills all of the bad guys in violent (sometimes poetic) ways. However, like a broken mirror taped back together, Viorica is never the same, which Ennis and artist Leandro Fernandez make a point of in the end of the sad, dark tale.
Most everyone vote for “Garth Ennis’ Punisher,” but it is worth noting that a few people specified Punisher MAX, as it is a much darker, more serious book than the wacky initial Ennis Punisher series. I lumped them all in together, though, for the sake of economy.
24. John Byrne’s Fantastic Four – 381 points (4 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, especially the story where the Fantastic Four did not even appear!
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.
In the story, the Fantastic Four visit the Negative Zone where Mister Fantastic is quickly incapacitated and the rest of the team is convinced to attack some sort of supernatural city…
Sadly, Byrne’s tenure on the book was cut short, but he still ended with a strong five-year run on the title.
23. Grant Morrison’s Animal Man – 393 points (6 first place votes)
Animal Man #1-26
When Grant Morrison started on Animal Man, the character was such a minor hero that even Morrison’s intriguing take on the character was only approved for a four-issue mini-series. However, once the series came out, the response was so positive that it was quickly turned into an ongoing series, which Morrison would work on for 26 issues, with artwork by Chas Truog and Tom Grummett (in some of his earliest comic book work!).
The two most remembered aspects of Morrison’s run were his work with environmentalism (which Animal Man, who gains his powers by a connection to animals, was obviously a big proponent of) and metafiction.
The former led to the classic issue where Animal Man is about to kill a guy who was mass-murdering animals, until a dolphin saves him, explaining that dolphins don’t believe in revenge. During these early issues, Morrison also had Animal Man encounter a number of other animal-themed heroes, such as Vixen, B’wana Beast and Dolphin.
The latter led to the concluding arc, which involved characters in limbo, the acknowledgement that DC’s Crisis had actually happened and that there used to be a different continuity, and even an introduction between Animal Man and Morrison himself, who discussed the problems Morrison had given Animal Man during the series.
Probably the backbone of the series, though, was Animal Man’s status as an “Everyman” figure. Buddy Baker had a wife and two children, and he was a lot more normal than other superheroes (which is presumably why Morrison tried to downplay Animal Man becoming a member of Justice League Europe).
By the time Morrison was finished, he took a hero who was so forgettable that he was even in a group CALLED the Forgotten Heroes, and made him a stalwart member of the DC Universe.
22. Ed Brubaker’s Captain America – 445 points (8 first place votes)
Captain America #1-50, Captain America: Reborn #1-6, Captain America #600-619, Captain America #1-19
Ed Brubaker began his run on 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 (it also involves the Cosmic Cube, which Bucky stole from Red Skull in the first issue).
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.
Brubaker then crafted a story where Bucky slowly came to terms with not only Steve’s death but Steve’s wish that Bucky become the new Captain America. Even after Steve returns “from the dead,” Steve lets Bucky continue to be Captain America.
Circumstances eventually force Bucky to give up the identity and return to the Winter Soldier moniker. Steve took up the name again and starred in a number of adventures in a new volume by Brubaker that just came to a close this very week, ending a remarkably distinguished more than seven year run on the character.
There are probably three particularly notable aspects of Brubaker’s run:
1. The artwork. The initial series was drawn mostly by Steve Epting and Mike Perkins, who both brought an interesting, realistic style that they both seemed to have adopted while working with Jackson Guice at CrossGen. Guice himself took over the book for a time. Even fill-in artists like Luke Ross and Mitch Breitweiser used a similar style on the title (Frank D’Armata’s colors surely worked as a unifying factor on the title). Bryan Hitch drew Reborn, the series where Steve Rogers returns “From the dead.” In the most recent volume, the art style changed up a bit as Steve McNiven, Alan Davis, Patrick Zircher and Scot Eaton gave the book a more traditional superhero feel to the title.
2. Brubaker’s return to a more realistic, more violent comic – one of the retcons he established was 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 compared the violence in his run to Steranko’s Captain America, and the book does seem to evoke those great early Steranko stories.
3. Brubaker picked out the most notable characters (in his view) from the past of Captain America, and used them ALL, so you didn’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 was filled to the brim with great, engaging characters.
21. Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men – 463 points (8 first place votes)
Astonishing X-Men #1-24, Giant-Size Astonishing X-Men #1
With Grant Morrison departing New X-Men, Marvel had some big shoes to fill, luckily, Joss Whedon, popular writer and creator of the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel (plus Firefly), was a big X-Men fan, so he accepted the task of following Grant Morrison’s run, and Marvel gave him his own title to do so, pairing him with acclaimed artist, John Cassaday.
Whedon’s first task was to introduce the idea that the X-Men felt that they needed to be more public as superheroes, so Cyclops insisted that Kitty Pryde, one of the best public faces of the X-Men, join the main team (made up of Cyclops, Wolverine, Beast and Emma Frost).
Whedon’s first storyline dealt with a “cure” for the mutant gene being developed, and how such a cure would effect mutants all over. This turned out to be some plot involving some bad aliens, and it all tied to the return of…Colossus!!
See, the Russian mutant, long thought dead (or, rather, fairly recently thought dead) was not actually dead, he was caught up in some big alien conspiracy. Colossus and Kitty had a tearful reunion.
The next storyline involved the Danger Room coming to life and fighting the X-Men. This storyline involved Professor X, as well.
Next, Whedon and Cassaday began a really long storyline that involved the big alien conspiracy.
Whedon’s sense of humor and his good ear for dialogue made the book a great place to look for nice character interactions. Cassaday’s artwork, meanwhile, was good for both character work AND for action scenes, making the book a visual delight.
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