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27. “Under Siege” by Roger Stern, John Buscema and Tom Palmer (Avengers #270-277) – 300 points (7 first place votes)
This story was a brilliant example of sub-plots simmering to the point of boiling over in an explosive succession of issues. For a number of issues, Baron Zemo was secretly putting together a team of super-villains specifically designed to defeat the Avengers. Studying and planning, Zemo eventually put together such a large and powerful team of villains that his Masters of Evil were able to basically just bumrush the Avengers Mansion and take it over (taking advantage of another simmering sub-plot, Hercules’ distaste for being led by the Winsome Wasp – he did not like the idea of warriors like himself, Captain America and Black Knight taking orders from a woman). After beating Hercules within an inch of his life, they spent the next few days torturing their captive Avengers, including destroying all of Captain America’s belongings in front of him (including the only picture he had of his mother) and then making Captain America and Black Knight watch as they brutalized Jarvis, the Avengers’ faithful butler.
You have to love first how hardcore Cap is in the face of adversity (“I’ll remember this.” Chilling!) and then how disgusted Cap and Black Knight look at Jarvis being attacked. Such amazing facial expressions from artists John Buscema and Tom Palmer.
This being the Avengers, though, they were able to make a comeback, with Wasp, the only Avenger to evade capture, putting together a makeshift team of heroes to save the captive Avengers (who were doing their best to free themselves). This likely remembered as writer Roger Stern’s masterpiece. And, of course, the aformentioned John Buscema and Tom Palmer did a wonderful job themselves.
26. “Who is the Fourth Man?” by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday (Planetary #1-12) – 305 points (8 first place votes)
Planetary is about a group of (this is what is on the cover of the first issue) “archaeologists of the impossible.”
Essentially, Planetary explores unexplained phenomena and, if there is any practical use to mankind out of said phenomena, they extract it.
The Planetary team consists of the super-strong Jakita Wagner, the “plugged-in” Drummer and the century-old Elijah Snow. The team is funded by the mysterious “Fourth Man.”
The first “season” of Planetary ends with the discovery of just WHO the Fourth Man is and how that revelation changes the game plan of the title for the rest of the series.
Each issue of Planetary explores the concept of “what if all popular culture characters existed, in some form or another, in the Wildstorm Universe?”
So each issue, Ellis and Cassaday examine a different notable pop culture figure, almost always with analogues for the characters who are not yet in the public domain (Doc Brass, for instance, instead of Doc Savage).
As the series goes by, we learn that there is a group out there with an entirely different focus than the Planetary folks – this group, known as The Four (based on the Fantastic Four, naturally), wants all of the “super-science” of the world to themselves – they don’t want the rest of the world to have any access to these wonders.
That, and the identity of the Fourth Man, are the key points of plot development over the first 12 issues of Planetary.
Here we see Elijah Snow in battle with a member of The Four…
Cassaday, for his part, draws in a slightly different style for practically every issue, so as to perfectly meet the needs of the pop culture character being referenced in that issue. It’s quite brilliant work on his part, as is the whole series by Ellis. These first twelve issues were impeccably planned out by Ellis, all rising to the striking revelation of the Fourth Man in the final issue of the “season,” as the Fourth Man makes his presence known in a remarkable fashion.
25. “The New Frontier” by Darwyn Cooke (DC: The New Frontier #1-6) – 307 points (10 first place votes)
New Frontier was Darwyn Cooke’s love letter to the Silver Age of the DC Universe.
The set-up of the series was to present the formation of the Silver Age in the context of the actual late 1950s/early 1960s.
So Cooke highlights the days of McCarthyism, and applies that to the world of superheroes, painting a bleak picture for heroes.
Probably the two main characters in New Frontier are J’onn J’onnz and Hal Jordan, as Cooke shows each of their journeys to superherodom from start to finish.
The rest of the series is populated with essentially a who’s who of DC characters, all drawn wonderfully by Cooke.
The book is more or less a collection of set pieces (a Losers story here, a Superman story there, a Hal Jordan here, a Flash story there) all leading up to the point where an alien invasion forces all the heroes to band together. The key is that at this point in the DC Universe, Superman is such a major force that he has been relied on to do pretty much everything. So when the big bad guy knocks Superman out, all of the “little” guys, the DC Silver Age characters Cooke has so much affection for (and rightfully so) have to step up and save the day for themselves. This leads to one of the most epic slow walks in comic book history…
Cooke had been working in animation for years and while he had done comic book work before this series, this was his most significant introduction to the comic book world and wow, what an intro!
24. “Batman R.I.P.” by Grant Morrison, Tony Daniel and Sandu Florea (Batman #676-681) – 329 points (12 first place votes)
Batman R.I.P. is the conclusion of Grant Morrison’s initial Batman run, and it basically is as straightforward of a “Good” versus “Evil” story as there is out there (which is particularly interesting seeing as how it came out concurrent with another major Good vs. Evil story, Final Crisis).
Batman has been fighting against the criminal organization the Black Glove, but by the beginning of Batman RIP, the Black Glove has struck at Batman through various methods, some physical but mostly psychological, all designed to destroy Batman’s virtue.
Then Batman essentially goes insane, becoming a twisted form of himself…but is that REALLY what’s going on?
Morrison teases the reader with the question – could anyone go through the events that Batman has gone through over the last 60 plus years and NOT go insane?
So that lends some dramatic tension to Batman’s seeming insanity.
But really, R.I.P. is basically a love letter to Morrison’s view of Batman as “Batgod,” as when the bad guys think that they have broken Batman mentally and physically…well, they forgot one thing…
The whole story turns on its head when you realize just HOW prepared Batman is. I love that the story even forces you to go back nearly twenty issues and see exactly when Batman figured out one part of the plan. It’s all there in the story (even if Andy Kubert did not exactly make it evident).
Go to the next page for #23-21…
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