One of my regular readers, Brian, sent me a message the other day in which he wondered, “What was the best storyline ever in….” And that made me think. There are some obvious ones. There are some that might only matter to me. But it sounds like something that would be fun to discuss.
I’m spread pretty wide in my comic purchasing. Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image, Indy books, I like ’em all. And I’ve been reading for over 30 years, so I have a pretty good variety to choose from. I’m not going to nominate every title ever produced, but I’ll offer my choices. Feel free to send me yours and I’ll post them in the next week or two depending on volume. And feel free to offer suggestions from titles I overlooked. For example, I’ve never been a big Fantastic Four fan so I have no “Best Story” for that series. I don’t care from whence you choose, but I think I’m going to confine myself to Marvel and DC. This week will be Marvel, next week I’ll hit the DC stories.
Please note, I don’t have all of these stories at my fingertips right now so what I call them and what the actual story arc was called on the title page may differ.
Avengers – “The Masters of Evil” – I’ve also seen it referred to as “Under Siege” but that always makes me think of Steven Seagal movies. This was some intense and violent material at a time when Marvel’s mainstream books weren’t often quite so brutal. The story featured Baron Zemo’s Masters of Evil, many of whom would become Thunderbolts years later, beating the four color crap out of the Avengers. Thor got pounded. Hercules got beat into a coma. Jarvis, the butler, lost an eye (mostly, apparently it got better). Zemo tore up the last remaining pictures of Captain America’s mother, bringing Cap nearly to tears. It was as thorough an asskicking as the Avengers have ever had outside of their own ranks. They do seem to like to fight each other as much or more than any actual villains (Civil War, anyone?).
Spider-Man – “Kraven’s Last Hunt” – I honestly, deep down inside, cannot fathom and argument against this story being THE Spidey masterpiece. It’s never been matched. Period. That’s it. Not even by Kevin Smith, try as he might, during his Daredevil run, or as I like to call it, “Mysterio’s Last Hunt.” Kraven was always an interesting character to me, but let’s face it, he was an evil Tarzan stalking the concrete jungle of New York City. This was the story that made him truly menacing. It’s one thing to be in someone’s “Rogue’s Gallery,” but it’s something else to be the guy who killed Spider-Man. OK, he was only dead and buried for two weeks but dead and buried for 5 minutes is 10 minutes more than I’d care to be. I’m mildly claustrophobic. Kraven went from loincloth-clad rogue to spider-eating maniac to sad, sympathetic man without a cause to shocking suicide in 6 issues. J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck, on behalf of comic book readers everywhere, THANKYOU.
X-Men – “Inferno” – I know this one will generate a lot of debate. But for me Inferno was damn good and still good even if I read it today. I’m sure some folks, including Claremont himself, might choose “God Loves – Man Kills” and it’s very good. Some of you might choose “The X-tinction Agenda” and I might buy your argument. Undoubtedly there will be some support for the Dark Phoenix Saga. Some might even pick the entire Grant Morrison run, but you would be terribly wrong. Inferno handled a large cast well, gave us Madeline Pryor and Mr. Sinister, and looked damn good. What more can you ask for? I suppose that description, minus Forge, could also describe Brubaker and Tan’s run, but I can’t really say I’ve been happy with it. The “Deadly Genesis” miniseries was pretty great, but I’ll stick with Inferno because it ran in the regular series. My close runner up is â€œThe Fall of The Mutants,â€ because I loves me some Forge.
Hulk – “Planet/World War Hulk” – What? Could it be? Jeff Ritter actually likes something that’s come out in the last year or two? Hey, I know, it’s shocking to me too. And there was some outstanding stuff by Peter David in the 90s to consider as well. But what it comes down to is the Hulk finally being what he should be. He’s one of those characters that shouldn’t necessarily be a hero. Banner maybe, but Hulk? Nope. And despite inhabiting the same body, if we’ve learned anything in the years since Hulk debuted it’s that they are two distinctly different characters. Peter David sorta merged their personas, so we go the strength and occasionally sarcastic wit from the Green Goliath and the brains of Bruce Banner. But Greg Pak and Co. have really let the Hulk, tired of constantly being f*cked with and desperate to be left alone, shine as the literal world beater he always should have been. General Ross was right, it wasn’t Namor and the Atlanteans or Magneto and Genosha the public should be worried about. I’ve never cared more about this character than I do now. Hulk smash!
Iron Man – “Armor Wars” – Though I guess to be truthful I’d take the whole Dave Michelinie/Bob Layton years. The Iron Monger, the Spymaster and the Ghost – all good stuff. I always did love the Spymaster. But Armor Wars appealed to the technogeek in me. When play City of Heroes I almost ALWAYS have my characters in armor or some sort. Having so many of the various armored characters in one story way right up my alley, but then we get that turn of events where Captain America (as just â€œThe Captainâ€ as I recall, easily one of the lowest points in Captain Americaâ€˜s history) confronts Tony about his methods. Ahh yes, the Civil War wasn’t novel in the Cap vs. Iron Man aspect. Cap is Old School and Tony is School Not Yet Invented, so they’re destined to clash. Like Hulk, Iron Man shouldn’t have to play the hero. More and more I think he’d be a better villain. Plus, that song by Black Sabbath would make more sense.
Dr. Strange – “Triumph And Torment” – OK, I know I picked the X-Men’s Inferno arc partly because it was in the ongoing series, but c’mon! I wrote the rule, so I can break it–that’s how the Bush Administration rolls. Besides, you can’t hold this pick against me. It’s Dr. Strange actually earning the mantle of “Sorcerer Supreme!” Versus Dr. Doom, no less! And featuring their unlikely team up to face Mephisto in Hell! And Mike “The Man” Mignola did the art! Sure, the underrated and under-appreciated Roger Stern wrote this gem, but did I mention it was drawn up and all prettified by Mignola? When people ask me, “What should I look for if I want to read some Dr. Strange?” I tell ’em “Triumph and Torment,” the first 12 issues or so of the 80s Dr. Strange series (actually just the 6 or so Butch Guice did) and “The Oath,” because Brian K. Vaughn is damn good at what he does.
Silver Surfer – “Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet” – This was really, really close. And if you ask me again a few years from now my answer might be “Requiem,” because J.M. Straczynski’s miniseries made me tear up a little. But Thanos is one of the baddest dudes to ever try to kill a universe, and he does it for LOVE! C’mon ladies, if I tried to kill the whole universe for you, you’d pretty much have to love me wouldn’t ya? Well, lets home we never have to find out. But the “Infinity Gauntlet,” the two-part “Thanos Quest” miniseries and the corresponding issues of the Silver Surfer’s ongoing series, around #50 if memory serves, was the best grand space spectacle Marvel ever produced (though to be fair I haven’t read Annihilation yet, I’m trying to find the 3 hardcover volumes without having to pay eBay’s ridiculous prices). By the time it was over, everyone in the Marvel Universe is trying to save their asses from Thanos. Say, he bares a rather uncanny resemblance to the Skrulls, does he not? I always wondered why he looked different than everyone else on Titan. Maybe this will be answered next year when we find Aunt May, Herald of Galactus, spearheading the drive against the Skrulls that have invaded the Marvel Universe.
Captain America – “Brubaker” – OK, so that’s not an arc, he’s the writer. But I don’t think you can very easily divide the Brubaker run between arcs as smoothly as you might in some other books. The flow from Winter Soldier to Red Menace to Cap getting capped to cap off the Civil War, Brubaker’s run is masterful to say the least. I could certainly find no fault if one was to pick from Mark Waid and Ron Garney’s terrific and much to short run, or several of Mark Gruenwald’s arcs – I’m partial to the Cap vs. Flag Smasher piece where Cap, in desperation, blows a terrorist out of a window with an Uzi. The Scourge arc is good too. I’ll pass on Cap-Wolf, thanks. But the Brubaker run, even his resurrection of Bucky which I feared a great deal, has been awesome without fail every issue, and that’s a feat very few books can match.
Daredevil – “Born Again” – Oh there’s a lot to choose from here. Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev made some consistently good stories for a very long time. Ann Nocenti had a nice run with various artists including a lengthy tenure by John Romita Jr. I even liked Karl Kesel and Cary Nord’s swashbuckling romp. Kevin Smith’s send up of “Mysterio’s Last Hunt” was…well hey, at least he finished it. And then there’s Frank Miller. Some people can’t stand his stuff. I don’t get it. His art has gotten sloppy, I’ll admit, but his writing was always strong. And as great as the Klaus Janson “Elektra-Bullseye” run was, I still find “Born Again” the most appealing. I love a good corruption story. The Kingpin’s image as a “Teflon Don” comes crashing down, that crazy Nuke dude shows up and Cap gets involved, and Matt’s love for Karen Page comes through as goes through great lengths to save her from the Scorcese mob. And it’s all beautifully rendered by David Mazzucchelli, a grossly underrated artist.
Thor – â€œWalt Simonsonâ€ – Like Brubaker’s Captain America, there’s no breaking up Thor by arc where Walt Simonson was involved. Walt is one of those guys whose style screams â€œunique!â€ There are some folks who have tried to emulate other unique artists. Ryan Sook, among others, seems to evoke a little Mike Mignola, especially in Sook’s earlier work. But NOBODY tries to do a Simonson style. Walt wrote the operatic, well-researched Norse myths, contributing many outstanding characters including Malekith the Dark Elf and Kurse. He turned Thor into a frog for three issues and gave us Beta Ray Bill. The epic battle between the bearded, battle armor-clad Thor and the Midgard Serpent, was a masterpiece of a single issue. Every panel was a one page splash shot, and it read like the climactic final battle of a movie. For Thor, make mine Simonson.
So what do you think? What gets your vote for the best story from any particular comic? Send me your picks and your reasons why and I’ll post them following mine. I don’t mind if you disagree with mine (except for Morrison’s X-Men, you gotta be out of your mind). And I don’t mind if you feel strongly about a non-Marvel or DC title like Hellboy or even Judge Dredd (how’s my mates across the pond?), and send as many as you like. Until then, I’m off to scrounge for a decent running back in my Fantasy Football League. I’m 0-2 already and Reggie Bush is KILLING me!
Welcome to my nightmare.