The Watchtower

What the?! Where the hell am I?!

Oh, right, the new web site”¦(notice how easily I could have gone with some sort of joke about the DC multiverse, the Marvel Ultimate universe, Earth-2, etc., but I didn’t”¦know why? Because just when you think you know the answers, The Nexus is changing the questions!!)

It’s certainly been a stressful week”¦as I’m sure you’re all aware by now”¦Nomar got traded to the Cubs. Frankly, I didn’t get as into the Red Sox as I am at the moment until Noma’s heyday had somewhat passed, but I’d be lying if I wasn’t always aware of what the icon to Boston the guy was. From a business and sports decision, I see why it had to be done; there was no way in hell Nomar was coming back next year after the A-Rod crap and better to get something now than nothing later. Also, to be honest, I was sick of hearing about the “is he/isn’t he injured” crap and the attitude disruptions he was causing in the clubhouse. From a PR standpoint, it was a disaster (and I’ve had to hear that on WEEI for the last seven days), but sometimes there is that necessary evil that needs to be done. The Sox still frustrate me night after night with their lack of a short ball game, but their defense is much better. Will this finally be the year? It will have a strange feel as it is, with Nomar gone and a manager I have absolutely NO love for at the helm”¦but wouldn’t it be a strange ironic twist if this were it? If nothing else, it would spare Boston fans a few years of rebuilding hell (oh well, we’ve still got the Pats and you don’t)”¦

And that, ladies and gents, was my tribute to Eric S. (and my unofficial audition for a “Bitching about the Red Sox” column over on the Sports section)!

Now back to the reason we’re all here, the comics, baby.

I thought for quite some time about what my initial Nexus column should be about.

There was the possibility of simply continuing on with the Guide to TPBs I was doing on 411 before San Diego and the big jump interrupted me, but part four of a long series seemed like the wrong way to kick off a new era.

There was a sort of “State of the Comic Book Industry” idea I had, but then I took inventory of what titles I actually read regularly and realized it would be more like a “State of the DCU and X-Titles” column.

So here is what I have settled on”¦it’s an introduction to me for those of you who are new readers, and for those of you who have followed me for a bit (hey Tim & Mathan), it’s the long-awaited detailed explanations for certain comic book fixations I have. You all know I love comics and I’d like to share with you the five principal reasons why.

Certain writers and artists make certain characters or books. If you’re lucky enough to pick up an issue by a creative team that truly blows you away, you soon find out one of two things: this was a one shot and you’ll never get to enjoy such work again, or that creative had a long and fulfilling run on that title and you’ve got a reason to hit the back issue bins with a stocked wallet.

If you’re lucky enough for the latter scenario to be the reality, you’ve just found a new reason to love comics.

This column, I’m going to go into detail on five runs by creative teams on titles that have made me love comics. To narrow it down, I’ve excluded runs that are still going on or back issue runs that I’m still in the process of tracking down; these are five books I own full runs on.

Now I’m not saying that these are the five greatest runs by any creative teams ever, just the ones that I’ve personally enjoyed the most (that’s to deflect in advance angry e-mails from fans of Bone or Mille’s Daredevil”¦I know they’re good, I just don’t happen to have them)”¦they’re very important to me.

Hopefully if you’re a fan of these books, you’ll be able to relive some nice memories, and for those of you have haven’t”¦something for you to think about on your next trip to the comic shop.

Without further ado, my five favorite runs on comic books (in a particular order)

Peter David & Todd Nauck’s YOUNG JUSTICE

Issues: Young Justice #1-55
Characters Featured: Robin, Superboy, Impulse, Wonder Girl, Secret, Arrowette, Empress, Lobo/Slobo, The Red Tornado, Snapper Carr

Why I Love It: Humor series don’t generally last long in comics (and this one, like most Peter David epics, sadly, didn’t last as long as it deserved), but I’d like somebody to show me the one that was funnier than Young Justice. Every issue I picked up made me practically roll on the floor, not with dumb fart jokes, but with intelligent humor that did an incredible job at satirizing the comic world and the real one. Each issue was also packed; it took me three times as long to read a YJ issue as it did any other”¦the first time, then I’d read it again and again. The characters, as ridiculous as their attitudes and the situations they ended up in were, were real; from Wonder Girl’s crush on Superboy, to the clashes between Robin and Superboy, to Secret’s struggles with her identity and the nature of evil, you cared about what happened to these kids. Todd Nauck’s art was fun, slick and crammed with details and homages that gave you an excuse to read the latest issue for a seventh time (and always on time”¦take note so-called “superstar” artists who turn in one issue a year). Reading Young Justice is like going to the most enjoyable high school on Earth with the kids you’d love to hang out with and spending all your time laughing and having fun.

Best Storyline: The first outer space issues (issues 25-28)
Doiby Dickles (sidekick to the Golden Age Green Lantern) leading YJ in a hostile takeover of an alien planet; a drag race with the Forever People; a friggin’ baseball game with the fate of the Earth on the line”¦these are the things that make up comic genius. I swear, in between tears of laughter during the baseball game issue, I never cared about the outcome of any Red Sox-Yankees game as much as I did that one. What reason on Earth would I ever have to care about Doiby Dickles other than this storyline? And who else could treat Kirby’s characters with such respect and still make them hilarious? This is YJ at it’s best: funny, but clever, with a reason behind every action and an ingenious plan by Robin out of every problem.

Best Issue: #15 (“Unstrung”)
And, amazingly, for all those laughs, the best issue: the serious one. If you were not much older than a child and something bad happened to somebody close to you, what would you do? So many young heroes in comics take the “high road,” but let’s be honest, that’s not real life. This issue is very real, from the tragic fate of Arrowette’s counselor, to the way she reacts, to the haunting final panels”¦this is real. Superboy is still there to remind us the responsibility being a young person with these powers and abilities must bring, but this is Arrowette’s story”¦a gripping, brutal, powerful story that pulls no punches.

Fabian Nicieza’s X-FORCE

Issues: X-Force (v1) #13-43
Characters Featured: Cable, Cannonball, Boomer, Sunspot, Rictor, Shatterstar, Warpath, Feral, Siryn, Domino

Why I Love It: Fabian Nicieza did what many thought was impossible: he took a series featuring a bunch of soulless creations of Rob Liefeld and made it a series with actual depth; if nothing else you have to give Fabe props for making so much out of so little. Feral wasn’t just a bitch with fur, she was a girl with a hard life who didn’t know any better; Warpath wasn’t just an angry stereotype, he was a lonely young man who just wanted companionship and sought it in all the wrong places (mainly with Siryn); Shatterstar wasn’t just a weird looking dude with a stupid name, he was the ultimate outsider looking for a place to fit in; and most amazingly of all, Cable was more than big guns and a flashing eye, he was a son who had never known his father and a father who was no longer sure if his children needed him. Fabian Nicieza’s X-Force was an incredible drama about kids who had no place to belong finding that place with one another and carving out their place in the world.

Best Storyline: X-Cutione’s Song (issues 16-18)
I know what you’re thinking: these were only three issues in an X-Title crossover”¦true, but pick up the trade, look for the chapters with the beautiful Greg Capullo artwork and you’ll see there can be no doubt that X-Force’s parts, as penned by Fabe, were what raised the event a level above the average X-Over clusterf*ck. Stryfe is a perfect example of the amazing things Fabe did with this title: he started off as a one-dimensional Rob Liefeld creation that simply looked cool and ended up, by the end of this crossover, as a tragic and unique creation who took so many crappy 90s stereotypes (clone, from the future, etc.) and made them work (of course he was ruined by later creative teams, but that’s not the issue here). Cable also took his first steps away from gun toting cyborg with a neat visual towards an actual character with potential. When I read the final chapter of this crossover as a kid, Fabian’s final panels with Cyclops, Cable & Stryfe brought me near to tears. In the first X-Force chapter of the crossover, Fabe also laid the seeds for where exactly the team stood, finally establishing why they were no longer the New Mutants and not yet X-Men after three years of floundering.

Best Issue: #19 (“The Open Hand, The Closed Fist”)
The issue that made Cannonball one of my favorite characters ever. Following the events of X-Cutione’s Song, the team must decide what their purpose is without Cable and at the same time convince Professor X that they shouldn’t have to go to jail. Great character moments for everybody, choice guest appearances by the likes of Beast, Storm and Stevie Hunter, and without a doubt, my all time favorite speech by any character ever, as Sam Guthrie explains to Charles Xavier that’s he’s not that awkward skinny kid from the South anymore.

Kurt Busiek & George Perez’ AVENGERS

Issues: Avengers (v3) #1-33
Characters Featured: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye, The Scarlet Witch, The Vision, Warbird, Firestar, Justice, The Wasp, Goliath, She-Hulk, Triathlon, Silverclaw

Why I Love It: Do you currently enjoy JSA? Fantastic Four? The Flash? Ultimate Spider-Man? In short: do you enjoy any comic book currently on the market that involves somebody or several somebodys throwing on a colorful costume and having adventures that are fun, exciting and unbelievable on scales we can’t imagine and not just a bunch of sociopaths with transposable personalities shooting the hell out of each other with crappy art that only serves to highlight the size of women’s breasts and men’s guns? If you fall under this category, make sure to say a silent thank you to Kurt Busiek and George Perez the next time you pick up your comics. In my mind, these guys’ work on this title nearly single-handedly (I always note that Grant Morrison & Howard Porte’s JLA played an almost equally significant role, but I just have more personal fondness for this series) saved the comic book industry following the disastrous post-Dark Knight Returns era of the 90s. Busiek told a compelling story that keeps you wondering what will happen next at the end of each issue; he developed characters in sensible and compelling arcs (see Justice mature from boy to man, see Hank Pym confront his inner demons, see The Scarlet Witch become more than a hanger on); he juggled multiple sub-plots without ever losing sight of them despite the enormous epics he’s telling in the main part of the book. When a character wasn’t available due to a solo book, he dealt with it seamlessly. He brought back the days when comics were larger than life and he made it always seem as if everything were on the line (and note to Brian Michael Bendis: he did it without killing off a single character). And despite all this, George Perez’ artwork still got the most attention when people looked at the book”¦and if it were any other writer on the other end of the comparison I might say it was well-deserved, because damn if that wasn’t the best art I’ve ever seen.

Best Storyline: Ultron Unlimited (issues 19-22)
Read this story and then hold it up to the recently released Avengers #500 and you’ll see why a lot of people are underwhelmed with the handling of Ultron in that issue. This arc shows why Ultron may be the most genuinely terrifyingly inhumane villain in all of comics. This is also the Avengers at their best”¦meaning the Avengers at their worst, getting the crap kicked out of them, fighting against insane odds, and still coming back for more; the Avengers are not the JLA and there’s good reasons why. In four issues, Busiek creates more character triumphs, poignant and powerful moments and amazing action sequences than some series see in fifty. Perez’ art conveys the emotions of the characters (from horror to anger to relief) with an incomparable power; his battles speak volumes. In my mind there is no question: this is the best Avengers story of all time.

Best Issue: #10 (“Pomp and Pageantry”)
This issue is really Perez’ show, but Busiek gets a chance to shine as well. It doesn’t feature a particularly pivotal battle and nobody joins, quits or dies, but nearly every aspect of the history of the Avengers (and a good part of the Marvel Universe) as a whole is celebrated both verbally and visually. The level of detail Perez works on, cramming an unspeakable amount of cameos and visual nods in, speaks volumes on why many consider him the greatest of all time. No anniversary issue or special edition has come close to showing the greatness of a franchise the way this issue did.

Fabian Nicieza’s NEW WARRIORS

Issues: New Warriors (v1) #1-53
Characters Featured: Night Thrasher, Nova, Firestar, Marvel Boy/Justice, Namorita, Speedball, Silhouette, Rage

Why I Love It: I find it sadly ironic that the New Warriors became a punchline for a series like Alias, as it was telling the kinds of stories that series did so brilliantly, adult stories about real life issues, over a decade ago. Fabian Nicieza took characters that were considered jokes and made them three-dimensional; he took a title nobody thought could succeed and created a cult hit fans and creators still revere to this day. He was telling stories that had far more depth and social relevance than anything else Marvel or DC was producing on a regular basis at the time; ironically, the New Warriors were the “heroes for the 90s,” yet they would probably have been far more successful in the eras that bookended that decade. Fabian explored urban violence, drugs, child abuse, killing and political warfare without once going over the top or becoming preachy. He gave younger readers a window with which to view the power of love. He did outer space epics, martial arts throwdowns, and stories that took place in the streets with normal humans with guns as the bad guys, and he did them all with style. And along the way, this collection of “unmarketable” characters, this group of misfits tossed together in order to put another book on the shelves, they became a family”¦and the readers became a part of that family. Reading Nicieza’s New Warriors, you always felt as if you were part of something bigger”¦and you were. This was the comic I grew up reading, and I credit my watching the characters mature from wide-eyed teenagers into adults who saw the world as it was as a large factor in my own maturation. “Hard Choices,” “The Love of Power vs The Power of Love,” “Trying to Change the World;” these were more than just taglines.

Best Storyline: Nothing But The Truth (issues 22-25)
I never felt any worse for any fictional character than I did for Vance Astrovik aka Marvel Boy during the run of New Warriors. Here was a genuinely likeable character, a hero who did what he did for the right thing, and he was hounded by a public that hates him for being a mutant, and tormented and physically abused by a father who felt the same way. When Vance accidentally killed his father as he tried to hurt him and his mother, my heart broke”¦and so did his. This storyline is about Vance dealing with the consequences of his actions, and he faces them like a man and like a hero. Meanwhile, the sub plot that had been running through the entire series, the mystery of Night Thrasher and his advisors, Chord & Tai, comes to a satisfying and exciting conclusion. No villain has ever creeped me out like Tai did (thanks in no small part to Mark Bagley’s incredible rendition of her). When he was first introduced, Night Thrasher just seemed like a second rate black Batman, but as time went on, his story became more and more intriguing, with layers of murder, deception and history that drew you in; unlike many other comic epics, the payoff here does not fail to deliver.

Best Issue: #50 (“Till Death Do Us Part!”)
It’s tougher than I thought it would be to pick a winner in this category, mostly because the best New Warriors stories were always ones that took place over several issues and had their roots even further back (again, this series would thrive in today’s marketplace), but though this issue is guilty of both offenses, it still stands so well on its own. Maybe it’s because Nova is my favorite character and he is made to look like a complete bad ass in this issue; maybe it’s because the love story between the two Sphinxes touches me to my core; maybe it’s because Darick Robertson goes to town artistically; whatever the reason, if you can only read one issue of the series”¦you’re screwed, because you’re going to want to read more, but this one is a good one.

Marv Wolfman & George Perez’ NEW TEEN TITANS

Issues: New Teen Titans (v1) #1-40, Tales of the Teen Titans #41-50, New Teen Titans (v2) #1-5
Characters Featured: Robin/Nightwing, Wonder Girl, Cyborg, Changeling, Starfire, Raven, Kid Flash, Terra, Jericho

Why I Love It: If this entry ends up being shorter than the others, honestly, it’s because it’s hard to find more to say about this book that I haven’t already said elsewhere or that has been written extensively. In my humble opinion, the fifty-five or so issues Marv Wolfman & George Perez collaborated on of New Teen Titans make up the greatest collective body of work in comic book history. If I were trying to get anybody who has never read comics before into them, this is the series I would handle them. What other series does straight action, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, real life drama, adventure, historical mythology, espionage, mystery and every other genre worth mentioning and manages to get every single one right on the money? There are no bad issues of New Teen Titans if Marv Wolfman is listed as the writer and George Perez is listed as the artist. This is the series that gave us Cyborg, Starfire, Raven, Deathstroke the Terminator, Trigon, the Fatal Five, Blackfire”¦and that was just like the first two years! For the first time in the history of comics, teen sidekicks were allowed to grow up and become adults. For the first time in the history of DC comics, it was shown that heroes could be flawed. New Teen Titans had the alien outsider trying to fit in, the boy trying to be a man, the inner city kid trying to work through his rage, the prankster using comedy to mask his pain, and it had so much more. You loved these characters; they became part of your life; clichéd as it sounds, you laughed with them and you cried with them. New Teen Titans is the most beautiful story I have ever seen crafted in comics; if it had ended with issue #50 and the wedding of Donna Troy, it could have still stood apart as the greatest complete story ever told. Trying to encapsulate in a paragraph all the things that made New Teen Titans great is next to impossible”¦so I’m going to stop trying.

Best Storyline: The Judas Contract (Tales of the Teen Titans #42-44, Annual #4)
Nobody saw it coming. When you introduced a sweet if troubled young girl into a team of super heroes back in the 80s (hell, if you did it today), she eventually softens and becomes the darling of the team. Terra was a stone cold sociopath in the body of an adorable teenage girl, and she was one of the most frightening characters in the history of comics. Never had a team been so thoroughly betrayed”¦and neither had a group of readers. I dare you to read the run of New Teen Titans up to this point and not feel a lump in your throat as Gar searches the wreckage for her body. Even without the transformation of Robin to Nightwing, the introduction of Jericho, the origin of Deathstroke and a hell of a cool forensics issue to set up the whole thing in part two, the story of Terra alone makes this one of the best tales in the history of comics.

Best Issue: New Teen Titans (v1) #8 (“A Day in the Lives”¦”)
This is like being asked to pick a favorite child. I loved every issue of New Teen Titans, but I’m always drawn to this one in particular. I’m just a sucker for character development and no single issue gives a better clinic in how to do it than this one. Each character is given the chance to shine; each is given a reason why readers should adore them; simple as that.

Well, I hope you all enjoyed this little glimpse into my comics past and profile. I’d heartily recommend each and every book I discussed here (and am always game to chat about any of them).

E-mail me at both about the column and the new site because I’m anxious to hear from all of you.

Next week, at long last, after a month plus absence, the Guide to TPBs returns”¦will you be ready?

In the mean time, thanks for reading.