The 1990s were a time of gimmicky covers for comic cooks. My favorites are the X-Men Holograms from the Fatal Attractions crossovers, and the skeletal madness of Wolverine #100. But 1994’s Man of Steel #30 takes the award for the most ridicuously creative. DC polybagged this relic with a sheet of “vinyl clings”, which are like the ColorForms I played with as a kid. Through some arcane magic, they cling to the surface but are easily peeled off and re-arranged. Man of Steel‘s character-less, wraparound cover invites you to create your own fight between Superman and Lobo, who spend most of the issue hitting each other before shaking hands at the end. Enjoy this gallery of scans of the front and back of the polybag, the front and back cover, and the vinyl clings.
My scan of the “stickers” is 600 dpi resolution, because I am thinking of getting it enlarged and printed on a t-shirt. My one-of-a-kind parasaurolophus t-shirt arrived last week, printed with a scan of one of the stickers from the Dinosaurs Attack! trading cards.
My version of the cover features eight-limbed octo-versions of the characters:
For being almost thirty years old, the vinyl clings adhere okay, but not great. They were somewhat unenthused about sticking to each other when piled on in layers. And they are much thinner than I recall Colorforms being. Still, they are a bit of nostalgic geek fun. (Update: Redditor /u/bloodfist converted these scans to a web-based version you can play with! If you want something more advanced, check out their digital version at the Photopea site, which is a free alternative to Photoshop.)
Man of Steel #30 went for the gimmick-cover trifecta by also being a variant. The other edition was printed with a face-bashing cover by Jon Bogdanove, who penciled the interior pages of Louise Simonson’s story. I am sure some speculators bought this issue with a $2.50 cover price thinking it would someday pay for their kids’ college funds. Sorry, 90s Boom Buyers! I got it last week for $2.70 in Near Mint, sealed condition. And since it actually cost me nothing with some store credit I earned thanks to this blog’s readers, it deserves a place in the Big Box of Comics!
Welcome to the third installment of the Top Ten Lists of my favorite single comic-book issues. The first Top Ten came out in 2011 when this blog was fairly new, but it left out all kinds of great stuff – a problem addressed with an “expansion pack” of even more awesomeness in 2014. But now in 2022, the list seems increasingly incomplete, so let’s go for round three.
The rules for inclusion are simple. First, only one book per series. This adds variety and avoids filling the list with, for example, ten issues of Nexus. Second, entrants must come from a work with individual issues, not something published as a complete, self-contained graphic novel. (Those really deserve their own list.) Third, every issue has survived numerous re-readings without losing its appeal. These are issues I’d happily share with anyone who wants a sense of everything I love about the medium.
The previous lists were in no particular order, but this one follows the order of when I first read the books — from some of my oldest, most nostalgic reads from childhood, to books I discovered in the last couple of years. Let’s go!
1. Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #245.
“Mordru: Master of Earth” from 1978 was of my most-read issues as a wee Martian. I’m fairly certain I had the Whitman variant. Despite the goofy names of the teen heroes in LOSH, this issue captured my imagination with its characterizations and camaraderie between the young Superboy and his futuristic friends. When kid Kal-El succumbs to the villain’s magical summons, one of his pals restrains him with martial arts until the spell is over. All is quickly forgiven, because these friends look out for each other. We also get a detailed look at just how blazingly fast the boy of steel can move as he races against a bolt of mystic energy to carry out a daring rescue of his comrades in a slow-motion scene that even a film would be hard-pressed to match. Add in high stakes where the fate of galactic civilization is on the line, and this is a stand-out slab of 70s superhero superbness.
2. Marvel Treasury Edition #28: Superman and Spider-man.
This is the second time these two classic heroes met in the pages of Marvel Treasury Edition, but I never cared for the first one. The second, however, is the comic I probably read the most times in my life. From the spot-on, evil-yet-tormented characterization of Doctor Doom to an epic confrontation between Supes and the Hulk, from the spectacular action drawn by John Buscema to the fulfillment of my geek fantasy of Spidey meeting Wonder Woman, there’s so much to love here that I can’t even describe it all. Oddly enough, I never owned the original, oversized Treasury Edition until I was in my forties. Instead, I had a small, trade-paperback reprint of it that I basically memorized from reading it so much. This one never gets old and has stood the test of time, and it’s even more glorious at full-size.
3. The Avengers #266.
I’ve written about my love for this issue before, so I’ll just briefly reiterate that it is a stand-out issue from one of the stand-out runs on The Avengers. Combining excellent characterizations with breathtaking visuals and high stakes that rival any modern disaster movie, this issue has a lot to say about the power of mutual trust and fearless vulnerability when people set aside their differences and work together to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It’s also the third appearance of artist John Buscema in my list of favorite issues.
4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #10.
Shout out to my high-school buddy Brian who introduced me to punk rock and indie comics. If not for him, I might still be listening to Bon Jovi and reading only mainstream super-heroes. I’ve written before about my love for this issue, so I will just say that with its wraparound cover, the massive fold-out triple-splash page shown above, and adventurous layouts of relentless action sequences, this issue delivers one of the best of the best depictions of our sewer-dwelling heroes.
5. Watchmen #4.
There’s no sense in reviewing one of the most-analyzed comic-book series of all time, but this issue (along with the issue recounting Rorschach’s origin) remains among my personal favorites. In a series of flashbacks, it tells the history of Jon Osterman’s tragic transformation into a godlike being who sees the past and future all at once, and its nonlinear storytelling perfectly captures his unique perspective on life. The intimacy with which we view Jon’s life is contrasted with the remote detachment from the human condition that it brings him. The fractured narrative is more than just a storytelling gimmick; it’s integral to understanding the character.
6. Animal Man #5.
I’ve shared this issue with you before, but it breaks my heart every time I read it. This tragic take on gratuitous cartoon violence transported to the “real”, physical world is a pivotal issue for a series that blatantly broke the fourth wall and culminated in a meta-commentary on fiction. Author Grant Morrison’s choosing the plight of Wile E. Coyote to subvert our laughter at his absurd fate and lead us to see that fate from the character’s point of view speaks a lot to me as a fiction writer who loves his characters but must do awful things to them to create dramatic stories.
7. The Authority #12.
Jenny Sparks is one of my all-time favorite characters and a huge influence on Meteor Mags. This issue concludes a four-part story where her team goes up against a massive alien who is basically god. After unleashing horrific destruction on Earth to purge it of humans, god returns from outer space to wipe it completely clean. Jenny – the embodiment of the twentieth century and a goddess of electricity in her own right — enters his massive body with her team and seeks out his brain for a final showdown. God’s about to find out why you don’t mess with Jenny Sparks, and her unequivocal claim that Earth belongs to her is both reinforced by her triumph and underscored by the tragedy that follows.
8. The Manhattan Projects #19.
This issue is the culmination of a sub-plot within a series that explores the idea that the people working on the atomic bomb in the 1940s were a bunch of utterly sick sociopaths. Oppenheimer is revealed to be his twin brother who murdered and ate him, and the consciousness of the original Oppenheimer lives on inside the mind of his evil twin. A psychic war breaks out between the bad Oppenheimer (depicted in red) and the good Oppenheimer (colored in blue). The resolution is one of the most over-the-top battles in all of comics, and the tragedy which follows is one of the most stunning surprises. Relentlessly weird, often disturbing, and masterful in its brutal execution, this series is like a massive highway pile-up you can’t take your eyes off – and this issue encapsulates all those qualities.
9. Godzilla in Hell #5.
My all-time favorite Godzilla story drops the radioactive reptile into the ever-descending pits of hell to face a series of challenges I’ve shared with you before. Like an irresistible force of nature, he triumphs over every horror hell can throw his way. But in the final issue, he encounters a monster (and the monster’s swarm of smaller evils) that even he is powerless to overcome. Told entirely in wordless pictures, this issue perhaps more than any other Godzilla book, comic, or movie captures the unquenchable fire at the heart of the King of Monsters: his fearsome will to survive, to destroy all obstacles in his path, and emerge triumphant.
10. We3 #2.
Grant Morrison makes his second appearance in my lists with the second issue of a story I’ve discussed in greater detail before. Showcasing the masterful art of Frank Quitely who pulls out all the creative stops in his action-packed pages, this issue depicts three animals who have been converted into horrifying war machines and have gone on the run to escape being “decommissioned” by their creators. The cat, Tinker, proves herself with a display of brutal ferocity in some of the most inventive panel layouts you’ll find in comics. We3 is also a heart-rending tale that has been known to reduce adults to tears, and it’s a solid example of just how much emotional power can be conveyed through comics.
While everyone else was obsessing over “The Snyder Cut”, I skipped all that and dug up some Justice League issues featuring Bryan Hitch, whose work I loved on The Authority, The Ultimates, and Fantastic Four. Here are the highlights.
In 2000, DC published a “100-Page Spectacular” called Heaven’s Ladder, written by Mark Waid and brought to life by the comic-art dream team of Hitch on pencils, long-time collaborator Paul Neary on inks, and the incomparable Laura Martin on colors. The story begins on the microscopic level as The Atom does microsurgery on viral DNA, then expands to truly epic scale as the most massive spaceship I’ve ever seen steals Earth from its orbit.
The epic scale is why I recommend reading this book in digital format instead of the perfect-bound paperback format. In the paperback, too much of the art is swallowed by the gutter, the area of book pages that “disappears” near the spine—not just Hitch’s masterful two-page spreads, but even some of the dialogue. It would have worked much better in print if DC broke it into smaller issues in standard, stapled comic-book format so we could open the books all the way to see everything.
Still, the visual splendor is undeniable. What is there not to love about Wonder Woman being a total bad-ass and taking on a fleet of spaceships, wrangling one with her lasso and steering it on a collision course with a planet where it explodes, leaving her to emerge from the flames with a look that wordlessly says, “Is that all you’ve got?”
This tale has many great moments like that. I especially love Superman’s line of dialogue as the team goes into combat, where only three words lend all the emotional punch that’s needed on a perfectly rendered double-splash page.
Without giving away the plot, I’ll say that Waid’s script includes many thought-provoking concepts, including how different sentient races conceive of the afterlife in different ways. It’s a “thinking man’s” Justice League story, but if you think about it too hard, some of it makes no sense. For example, members of the League are forced to become exposition machines to explain to the reader what is being seen on the page, even when it seems improbable that they would understand the crazy cosmic stuff they are looking at.
Plus, Waid’s use of “science” concepts conveniently ignores plenty of science in service of the plot. For example, a bunch of planets are held in place by some kind of hand-waving gravity thingies, but if planets were really as close to each other as depicted, their gravities would rip each other apart. Worse, the Earth is removed from its orbit and *spoiler alert* gets put back in place at the end. But what about the moon? I can suspend my disbelief to think a giant spaceship took Earth away, even without the ship being crushed into a sphere by its own massive gravity. But I can’t believe that the moon would be waiting for Earth when it got back. The moon would be long gone!
If you can kick back and enjoy the spectacle without overthinking it too much, if you’d love to see the Justice League in a cosmic-level battle drenched in glorious color and eye-popping art, give Heaven’s Ladder a shot.
I looked into more of Hitch’s work on Justice League, and my favorite story is a multi-issue drama where a legendary Kryptonian god named Rao comes to Earth with wonderful gifts and apparently benevolent purposes. He turns out to be a scumbag, and the conflict is not just interplanetary but involves a bit of time travel, too.
Even with Hitch writing and penciling, we get “sciencey” stuff that ends up making no sense. The thing that bugged me most was how it’s clearly stated that part of the evil plan involves genetically altering humans, but the plot conveniently sweeps that detail under the rug by saying the solution to stopping Rao’s control over humans is an electrical blast. I am willing to suspend my disbelief in favor of the old trope that electricity can do anything—and look awesome while doing it—but you can’t genetically alter the human race then just ignore that.
So, like Heaven’s Ladder, the Rao storyline is one to be enjoyed for its epic scale of conflict and jaw-dropping artwork, just so long as you don’t require your science-fiction to be consistently scientific when it might get in the way of advancing the plot.
Finally, I read the first arc of Justice League that Hitch wrote after the “Rebirth” nonsense at DC. I call it nonsense because DC realized they had screwed up some things with the New 52 and decided the solution was to reveal that Dr. Manhattan from the totally unrelated Watchmen had been altering DC history, leading once again to a complete overhaul of the hapless “DC Universe”.
This is such a stupid idea and such a horrible use of Watchmen characters that I get angry just thinking about it. Back in the 1980s, DC revamped their whole universe with Crisis on Infinite Earths, and it seemed like a decent idea at the time—even a dramatic, exciting, and original one. But now, every time DC sees declining sales, the big bosses decide they need to do some pointlessly convoluted mega-event to give all their comics a simultaneous makeover. Let’s have an Infinite Crisis! Let’s have a Final Crisis! Let’s have a New 52 relaunch! Let’s have a Flashpoint! Let’s have a Rebirth! Let’s reboot everything all the time!
Let’s give me a frickin’ break, DC. All you need to do is write awesome stories with awesome art about awesome characters. The constant reshuffling of the DC Universe every few years is garbage. I don’t usually rant on this blog, but this is a major flaw that Hitch needed to deal with in the pages of Justice League. Suddenly, we have a new Superman who is really the old Superman from an alternate universe, and he doesn’t want to do his world-saving job because he is married or something, so the League needs to talk him into it, despite Batman not trusting him because it isn’t the right Superman. Please, make it stop. Even Marvel has been infected by this mentality now. Stop revamping and smashing “universes” together!
To Hitch’s credit, he did the best he could with the flaming pile of dog crap that DC management left on his porch. The result is a bunch of characters who don’t talk or act like the characters we’ve known for decades, but more like they are in a vintage Authority story using different costumes. Batman acts like Jack Hawksmoor. Wonder Woman acts like Jenny Sparks. It kind of worked for me because I loved Hitch’s run on The Authority, but I felt like this “Rebirth” version of the League wasn’t really the League at all.
Still, the story looks absolutely amazing even though Hitch didn’t draw it. One of my favorite moments is Wonder Woman’s first scene in the adventure, where once again she is portrayed as an absolute bad-ass, a goddess you do not want to mess with. Behold.
Hitch ignited a fanboy crush on Wonder Woman I didn’t know I had! And even the new/old Superman gets some awesome moments, too. Is Hitch’s work on Justice League an indispensable part of my collection? No, but it looks so damn good that I can’t avert my eyes, and it includes memorable moments for these characters in the kind of grand conflicts that made The Authority such a joy to read. It’s a mixed bag, but one worth looking into if you want to see the League save the universe in style.
In January, thanks to this blog’s readers, I reunited with my all-time favorite Daredevil run in the form of the Daredevil by Bendis Omnibuses, Volumes One and Two. Brian Michael Bendis approached the series like a crime story—of which he has penned many—and even when he embraced cliché superhero tropes, he stayed close to the heart of the superhero as a crime fighter. He never pitted Daredevil against cosmic battles where the fate of the universe was at stake. Bendis kept Daredevil on the streets in brutal, hand-to-hand combat with the criminal elements who sought to take over his neighborhood.
That’s the strength of this run and, at first, a weakness. I mean, aside from the nonsensical way that aging takes place in serial superhero comics, Daredevil has been trying to clean up his neighborhood since the 1960s. Does he just suck at his job? How long will it take before this guy finally snaps and kills Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime? How long until Matthew Murdock starts beating a mile of ass and filling graves to protect his city and free it of scum?
I guess Bendis asked himself the same question. About a third of the way through this run, Daredevil can’t take it anymore. He beats Fisk nearly to death, puts the body on the hood of a car, and drives it through a frickin’ wall! To the astonished sleazebags at Josie’s bar, the Man Without Fear unmasks and declares himself the new ruler of Hell’s Kitchen. Hell yeah! An issue later, the series cuts to one year in the future, where reporter Ben Urich tells the story of how Daredevil cleaned up the city with his fists and his force of will.
The art team deserves so much credit for this run. Alex Maleev and the colorists and letterers all mesh perfectly to bring the stories to life. Every now and then in comics, we are treated to a perfect union of art, design, and script. This is one.
As thrilled as I am to be reunited with my favorite Daredevil, three things are missing. First: a multi-issue story written and illustrated by David Mack. It takes place after the Mack-illustrated story that begins the Bendis Omnibus. It’s a beautiful work that explores the character Echo and features an offbeat yet mystical cameo by Wolverine. It really belongs with this Daredevil run, even if Bendis didn’t write it.
The second missing piece is the brilliant resolution to this run that takes place in Ed Brubaker’s first story arc: The Devil in Cell Block D. I have mixed feelings about the rest of Brubaker and Lark’s gripping yet soul-crushing continuation of the series, but their first arc is a memorable finale to the tense cliff-hanger left by Bendis. Despite its bleak prospects for our hero, the story and its continuation weave perfectly into the theme that unites the entire Bendis/Brubaker/Diggle run: How far will Daredevil go to defeat the evil that surrounds him, and will he become evil in the process?
One other thing is missing. The first time I read this run as a series of TPBs from the Burton Barr Library in downtown Phoenix circa 2006, I did not read it alone. I had a feline companion, a fluffy orange cuddle beast named Leo who decided that me and he and Daredevil on the couch made three. Leo and I spent a long holiday weekend snuggling and reading Daredevil, with occasional visits to our food bowls and litter boxes, then right back to the extremely serious business of cleaning up Hell’s Kitchen with our spandex-clad paws. We fell asleep on each other more times than I bothered to count before we finished the entire series.
Leo’s been gone for eight years now, but I miss that big fluffball, and he will always be part of my Daredevil memories. He stole my bacon off the kitchen counter like a brazen pirate, but he hid behind the bedroom curtains anytime people came to visit. He stole my spot on the bed, then purred like an engine when I used him as a pillow. Leo couldn’t tell you a damn thing about Marvel Comics, but he sure as hell loved reading Daredevil with me.
The Big Box of Comics series celebrates the treasures I collect thanks to this blog’s readers using my affiliate links to find the books they want, for which I earn a bit of store credit. In January 2021, I put that credit towards reuniting with my all-time favorite Iron Fist books.
The first Iron Fist story I read as a child was the two-part Marvel Team-Up with Spider-man and the “Daughters of the Dragon”, meaning the sword-wielding Colleen Wing and the bionic-armed, butt-kicking Misty Knight. With an opening scene featuring Iron Fist on the brink of death, and Spider-man telling the story through flashbacks, the tale was one of the most literary I had read at that age and—with John Byrne’s dramatic artwork—the best illustrated. Though the magic has worn off a bit now that I’m forty-eight, it’s only because I’ve read the story so many times I practically have it memorized.
I treated myself to some well-worn copies of the originals, though I have nicer copies of the slightly more recentreprints. Who knows? Maybe my VG+ copies are the same ones I had as a kid! You can also find this story in black-and-white in the Essential Iron Fist TPBs.
In the late 1970s and early 80s, I also had a few issues of the original Iron Fist series by Claremont and Byrne, and even an issue of Marvel Premier where Iron Fist first appeared. My favorites were when he went up against the Scimitar and Chaka. So, I got those again in a Fine grade that was about the same as the ones I had when I was a kid.
Thanks to the Essential Iron Fist TPBs, I’ve read all the Claremont/Byrne issues, and some were less than thrilling. But I couldn’t resist picking up two inexpensive color reprints: one with the classic cover of issue #8, and one with the first appearance of the now-legendary X-men villain Sabretooth.
Honestly, the Sabretooth issue isn’t that great. He feels like a villain Claremont introduced with minimal character development to see if reader response merited keeping him around. He isn’t the bestial nemesis to Wolverine he later became. Still, it’s a historic issue, and the reprint costs far less than the original.
In the mid-80s, I had some of the Jim Owsley/Mark Bright run near the end of the Powerman and Iron Fist title, issues I bought off the local news stand just as the series was ending. I’ve since read the issues I didn’t have. I loved them as a kid, but they don’t do it for me these days. You might recall that the run ended in issue #125 with the senseless death of Iron Fist.
John Byrne later brought Fist back to life in the pages of Namor the Sub-Mariner, but that story doesn’t hold up very well either, despite a guest appearance from our favorite feral Canadian mutant with huge frickin’ claws. But it set the stage for Iron Fist’s return, and nowhere was that return more fully realized than in the pages of the Brubaker/Fraction/Aja series, The Immortal Iron Fist.
I first read Fraction’s run as two TPBs from the public library, and it blew my mind. It took a 1970s attempt to exploit the popularity of kung-fu movies, then expanded the mythos into a rich history of amazing people who had earned the power of the Fist over centuries. Daniel Rand, who up until that point had been the only Iron Fist we knew about, met Orson Randall, a man who knew Danny’s father and was also the Iron Fist in WWI—and rejected the role due to the horrors he witnessed. Along the way, Orson reveals there are more uses for the Fist power than Danny ever dreamed, and an untold history that forever changes Danny’s life.
The storyline starts off with “The Last Iron Fist Story”, and it ends with the revelation that every Iron Fist except Orson died on their thirty-third birthday—a birthday that arrives for Daniel Rand on the final page of the story arc. Everything about this arc screams impending doom. For some of the characters, that doom comes true. Some of those characters are Iron Fists.
The interruptions in the main narrative to tell the tales of ancient Iron Fists take this series to a whole other level. From page one, you know this story is unlike any Iron Fist story you’ve read before. In another post, I’ve shared a few pages from issue #7, a standalone story about the first female Iron Fist. She suffers, she loves, and she shoots magical dragon-energy arrows from her bow to conquer a fleet of pirates. She’s far and away my favorite Iron Fist, and I’d happily read a thousand pages of her adventures.
Orson Randall also comes off as especially awesome. His role as a “pulp” version of Iron Fist pays homage to vintage heroes such as Doc Savage and the Shadow, with David Aja specifically mentioning in his design notes that the costume should invoke those characters. Orson opened up so much storytelling potential that it couldn’t even be contained in the main series. He appeared in a couple of one-shots which are fun but not indispensable. Orson’s potential remains largely untapped. I would love to see an Orson Randall series by Ellis and Cassaday with the pulp flair they brought to so many issues of Planetary.
All good things come to an end, but I like the next two story arcs after this creative team leaves. Duane Swierczynski picks up the scripting and imprisons Iron Fist in a horrifying hell from which escape seems impossible. Travel Foreman, who did many of the flashback scenes to Iron Fists of yesteryear during Fraction’s run, becomes the primary artist. This continuation of The Immortal Iron Fist is an enjoyable read that capitalizes on the expanded mythos opened by the previous run—and it looks amazing.
Having read these runs of Immortal Iron Fist both in TPBs and single issues—and having sold them both—I opted for the single issues and snagged a few variant covers such as the Marvel Zombies variant (which had nothing to do with the storyline) and the “Director’s Cut” of #1. As far as I can tell, all the material in the Director’s Cut appeared in the TPB. It has some great design-process pages of David Aja explaining how he developed an Iron Fist costume that didn’t suck, no matter how awesome John Byrne made booties and spiky spandex collars look in the 1970s. Aja’s notes on his sketches make it clear he hated the booties.
Anyway, I totally geeked out on Iron Fist for a few weeks in January, and no matter how many people tell me they didn’t like the TV series, my fondness for Fraction’s Immortal Iron Fist and most of the vintage Claremont/Byrne stories remains undiminished. It has become like unto a thing of iron! Thanks to this blog’s readers who made this reunion possible.
The Runaways Omnibus is the latest treasure I got thanks to this blog’s readers who help me earn store credit at MyComicShop.com when they click through my affiliate links to find the books they want. My big box of comics series aims to bring the love full circle by sharing those treasures with you.
Once upon a time, I had all the single issues of the first and second Runaways volumes. But they took me a few years to collect, and I read a bunch of them out of order at different times. So, it was great fun to finally kick back and read the entire Brian K. Vaughan run in its original reading order with this Omnibus.
Teenagers are the stars of this series and, it’s fair to say, the target audience. I don’t read many books like that anymore, and most of the “young adult” category of fiction is lost on me. If I never hear another thing about Hunger Games, Twilight, and Harry Potter, it will be too soon. But author Brian K. Vaughan lists Harry Potter as one of the influences on this series, according to the original proposal included in the Omnibus. So, what about this foray into overtly young adult superhero fiction appeals to me?
My favorite thing is the character interaction. The dialogue is PG in terms of cursing, but our teenage heroes fling savage insults at each other when they aren’t getting along. Their reckless insensitivity seems authentically adolescent, and it acts as a foil to the intentional diversity of Vaughan’s cast. One of the characters, for example, uses the word “gay” as an insult—as in “superhero costumes are gay”—which creates tension because one of the characters is a girl who likes girls. One character is repeatedly ridiculed for being chubby, and one endures transphobic insults for being a gender-switching alien. One encounters casual racism for being Asian, and a cyborg is constantly reminded that machines are soulless, unfeeling, and less than human.
I love a diverse cast of characters, but sometimes authors shy away from the conflict that naturally arises when you put wildly different people together on the same team. And when I say “natural,” I mean it is so prevalent that we even studied this conflict in my graduate-level management classes. Globalization means we often work on teams of people with a vast array of cultural, ethnic, and gender identities, and Vaughan mines that situation for dramatic conflict. But along the way, Vaughan imbues each character with depth and humanity, contrasts that with the way people flippantly dehumanize each other for being different, and ultimately makes the experience rewarding by showing how these characters grow to accept their differences, work together, and form bonds of true friendship—even love.
Another thing I love about Runaways is that while it isn’t about a dystopia like Hunger Games and a zillion other young adult novels, you could say that the real dystopia for these characters is adulthood. The kids become disillusioned and distraught about grown-ups when they find out their parents are all child murderers who are sacrificing the souls of other kids in a weird pact to bring about the end of all humanity (except for six survivors). If that doesn’t breed a severe distrust of adults, I don’t know what would. The other adults in this series—from Marvel’s Avengers to two warring alien races who cannot make peace, from parents to the police—continually reinforce the Runaways’ conviction that adults suck.
Even as the characters grow up and mature throughout the series, they express disgust at the idea of adulthood. One of the worst ways one Runaway can insult another is to say, “Now you sound like our parents.” And when one character turns eighteen, someone asks if he should even be included in the group anymore. That same eighteen-year-old, now legally an adult, embarks upon a mission that tempts him to become a killer just like his parents, driving home the point that adults can’t be trusted.
That story arc expresses a major concern shared by many young people. We all tend to become more like our parents when we age, but does that mean we are doomed to make the same mistakes as them? How many people in their thirties or forties have had a moment where they realized they sounded or acted just like their mother or father, despite their youthful determination to never let that happen?
I like how Vaughan explores this tension, and I love the way the artwork brings the characters to life. The Omnibus is an excellent reproduction of the original issues and their gorgeous covers. Upon re-reading the forty-two issues collected here, only a few flaws nagged at me.
First, the dialogue relies heavily on pop culture references—even ones that seem oddly out of place, like kids born circa 1990 quoting lines from “classic” rock songs from the 1960s and 70s. Similarly, much of the slang might have been relevant to teenagers at the time but is already beginning to feel dated. I see it all the time in novels and comics that are trying to be “relatable” to today’s young audiences by trying to sound current or hip. Maybe that helps sell more books at the time, but it tends to distract from the quality of being timeless.
The other flawed aspect of these stories is the mystical evil beings called the Gibborim. They have a stupid, nonsensical plan for world domination, and their power levels and abilities make no sense either. They say they need a sacrifice of one innocent soul for twenty-five consecutive years to bring about the end of the world. What? Why not get all twenty-five souls at once then, and get on with the apocalypse? Or, if they can appear on Earth, why not kill the kids themselves instead of hiring six married couples to do it? Evil plans should at least make some sort of strategic sense.
Later in the series, the Gibborim have been banished to a kind of limbo where they need to eat another innocent soul to escape. But they didn’t seem to be doing anything about that until the plot allowed one of the Runaways to find them in limbo. So, these beings who are powerful enough to end humanity are… totally impotent? Pick one!
The only way I can see to resolve this problem is to assume the Gibborim were lying to the Runaways’ parents from the beginning, that they never had the power they claimed to have, and that the parents bought into a total scam due to their own greed and stupidity. I doubt that is what Vaughan had in mind, but it’s the only explanation I can think of that is consistent with the plot and fits with the theme that adults are bad.
Finally, I would gladly trade the “bonus material” in the Omnibus in exchange for the six-issue story by Joss Whedon that finished the 2005 series. I recall it as a good coda to Vaughan’s run.
Despite these minor problems, the Runaways Omnibus is a terrific read with great characters who have some wild adventures while dealing with the conflicting emotions and traumas of adolescence, struggling to create new identities for themselves after all that was familiar and secure about their childhood has been torn away.
When I was a kid, Dad had a term for people who looked disheveled and messy: Rag-picker Joe. Eventually, I discovered it was a mild version of “Joe Shit the Rag Man”. Maybe Dad picked it up in the Marine Corps. It’s listed on a site of Marine slang, and Dad was a Drill Instructor in the early 1970s, when this phrase seems to have been at the peak of its popularity.
Rag-picker Joe made regular appearances in my childhood: sometimes as me when I couldn’t get my shirt tucked in or my cowlick to lie down, and sometimes as random people on the street seen from a car window, or someone in a retail store. Rag-picker Joe was everywhere.
In the summer of 2019, while looking through my late father’s personal effects, I found papers about a family tree that seemed to be the work of Dad’s mom—my grammy, who died in 2005. I’m sure it was her distinctive handwriting.
Back in the mid-1980s, I asked both sets of my grandparents for any information they could contribute to my junior-high genealogy project. They gave me next to nothing to go on, so I suspect Grammy gained additional information over the years.
Reviewing her notes was how I learned that Rag-picker Joe was not just a bit of slang. He was one of my ancestors.
I forget his last name, but his first name was Joseph, and he was from enough generations ago that I didn’t even bother to figure out the great-great-great or however many greats it was. His occupation of record? Ragman.
If you don’t know what a ragman is, don’t feel bad. I didn’t know either, and I had to look it up. A ragman collected what we might think of now as junk or scrap, and even bones. I don’t know why people would buy bones, but I assume it was either for their nutritious value (soup stock, perhaps?) or for their household utility as material for buttons and knife handles.
The cousin of Joe Shit the Ragman was the Bone man, and these nearly extinct characters from more than a century ago went from town to town, supporting themselves on what meager coin they could make from selling other people’s cast-offs and throwaways.
Bleak as it sounds, the rag-and-bone man was a mobile thrift store and scrap yard, and he was “upcycling” before any of us invented hipster words for re-using old garbage. I imagine that being a ragman required Joe Shit to be a salesman, and no song expresses that rag-selling energy as well as Rag and Bones by the White Stripes.
Sell me that old junk, baby. Come on andgive it to me!
In the fifteen months that passed since discovering the ragman of my childhood was part of my family, I have often wondered if Dad ever put that connection together. I wonder if he knew Rag-picker Joe was his great-grand-uncle or whatever it was. Did he know this bit of information when I was a kid, when he used Joe as an insult on a regular basis? Or did he, like me, have an epiphany about Joe when he saw Grammy’s research?
I also wonder about things the genealogy documents didn’t tell me but seem apparent from reading between the lines. If you go back just a generation or two beyond my grandparents, my family tree is full of immigrants who came to this country and survived in abject poverty, somehow, even if it meant carrying bones and rags from town to town in a fucking wheelbarrow.
It upsets me to see our national attitude and policies becoming so obviously anti-immigrant and anti-poor. But this isn’t the first time. This always happens in our country whenever our economy is disastrous or when people feel threatened. Anti-immigrant and overtly racist attitudes flourish in times of economic trouble. The rich pit the middle-class against the poor as enemies, and the rich get richer. These aren’t mysterious ideas any longer; they are statistical conclusions verified with data from more than two centuries of U.S. history.
I only bring it up because I think of Joseph, my distant relative, a man who died long before I was born. A man who died before he became a piece of slang in the urban dictionary. A man whose station in life was used as an insult, even though he was family. A man who must have lived at the absolute ass-end of society, but somehow survived to be listed in my family tree.
In memory of Rag-picker Joe and Joe Shit the Ragman, I’ll share with you the complete issue of The Brave and the Bold #196, where Batman teams up with Ragman.
I had this comic when I was around seven years old. Coming back to it forty years later reveals why I loved it so much. The prose from Bob Kanigher could use a little editing for adult readers, but his captions are more fun than most prose I see in novels these days, and Jim Aparo’s artwork is in fine form here.
This is obviously a comic for boys and, though I was a boy once, I would not recommend it to adult women due to the short shrift the women characters get here. None of them pass the Bechdel Test. They only exist as motivating plot points for male action.
This issue also has some too-convenient plotting in the way that serious injuries take exactly as much time to heal as the plot requires. Is that how it works when falling out of a window? I should fall out of the motherfuckers more often. In spandex.
Also, the re-cap of Ragman’s origin is pointless filler and stupid. Getting electrocuted with other people does not give you their traits. That’s the lowest rung of idiocy on the ladder of superhero origins, right below “Holy shit, gamma-ray exposure makes me bad-ass!”
Actually, gamma rays kill you. I’d prefer that authors stop insulting me with bogus reasons for powers, and instead tell me a story about an awesome character who has powers.
For these reasons, I wouldn’t put this issue in my list of all-time favorite comics, but it’s a cool time capsule from the late 1970s at DC, and it stars one of my ancestors.
Now let’s see how my great-great-grand-uncle Joe Shit the Ragman teams up with Batman to kick all kinds of ass.
DC’s New 52 is now old news, and it came and went without my paying any attention to it. But the one thing I missed that I really wanted see was Greg Capullo drawing Batman, beginning with Bat’s first New 52 adventure The Court of Owls. So, last year, with some of the store credit I earned thanks to this blog’s readers who use my affiliate links to find books, I got the first paperback collection.
It’s a wild ride, and I’ve since read a digital version of the rest of the Snyder/Capullo run just to see what happened next. I plan to get the second TPB, but after that one, the series began to lose my interest. The second TPB features an amazing Mr. Freeze story, and if you’re expecting the cartoon silliness of Arnold Freezinator from the movies, you won’t find any of that. Snyder writes Freeze as a mentally and emotionally disturbed villain, playing up the sympathetic tragedy and ultimate self-delusion that drive his maniacal actions.
After that, the series goes into a Joker story that starts off well and is exquisitely drawn but eventually collapses under its own weight. It asks us to believe that everything that happens is all a part of a wildly complicated “evil genius” plot, kind of like the Saw movies or virtually any of the “serial killer” thriller films, except there’s no way anyone could plan for all the eventualities, and much of it is downright implausible. Then the series goes into a lengthy plot involving Commissioner Gordon becoming Batman, and a whole lot of “Batman’s early days”. I didn’t care for either development.
The first two story arcs for Court of Owls feature an inventive mix of crime, horror, and superheroics, and it’s a perfect blend of genres for a “world’s greatest detective” who dresses like a frickin’ bat. I can’t even describe how glorious it is to see Capullo drawing Batman in action, and the first arc does an inventive thing with page layouts when Batman is caught in a maze and hallucinating his ass off. I won’t spoil it for new readers, but I will say that I got just as turned around as Bats did at that point in the story, and I thought that was brilliant.
While Court of Owls and its follow-up arc are dramatic and gripping, it soon becomes apparent that they lack any consequence. For example, Bats is subjected to unimaginable beatings and torture, but then a few pages later, he’s totally fine. No bruises on his face. No long-term disability from being stabbed almost to death and drowned. He just sort of gets back to business. I was worried he was going to die, but then he’s okay because the plot demands it?
Plus, the Owls succeed in killing off many prominent local politicians and governmental figures, but all this does is give the rest of the Bat-family an excuse to jump into the story to protect whoever is still alive. If you killed most of the public officials in a city, there would be ramifications, but Court of Owls never deals with them. I didn’t want a series exploring the politics of Gotham—although I loved Brian K. Vaughn’s politically themed Ex Machina—but I did want some sense that what happened in the story mattered. Instead, it’s glossed over as quickly as Batman’s mortal wounds.
There are a few other details like this. The Owls figure out where the Batcave is, but after Bats defeats the cave invaders, that knowledge is never used again. That’s powerful information! They wouldn’t—I don’t know—send an email to Lex Luthor with the GPS coordinates? Or spam every person on the planet? Or announce it on Twitter? Are they serious about Bat-termination or not?!
Also, in the first issue, Bats uses an amazing facial recognition technology that is never mentioned again. It only serves as a plot device to give us information dumps about characters—apparently to get new readers on board with the cast by disguising the info dumps as Bat-science. It’s a cool trick, but it’s a tech without any lasting consequences.
Despite those flaws, Snyder gave Capullo some amazing, moody material to work with visually, and the first couple of Snyder/Capullo TPB volumes deserve a place in a “best of Batman” collection. And, if you don’t mind implausible “serial killer movie” plotting, the third volume with the Joker is also a visual feast.
Once upon a time, I had the complete Next Men series, except for the Hellboy issue. Though I read the series three or four times, I’ve missed having it around ever since I sold it. This month, thanks to this blog’s readers who use my affiliate links to find books, I earned enough store credit to get all six of the 1993 trade paperback collections. Reading the series again reminds how much the series blew my mind the first time through, and as a bonus, it includes the Hellboy issue with pages drawn by Mike Mignola.
Hellboy’s appearance in issue #17 makes it the most expensive one to collect. It’s easy to collect all the other original, single issues for less than $3 each, but #17 will cost as much or more than all the other thirty issues combined. That’s not a problem with the collected paperback.
Hellboy might be part demon, but he is a far cry from the absolute evil of the series’ main villain. Sathanas is the remnants of a mutated energy vampire who kills people by draining their lifeforce, and since so much of him got blown up, he survives in a mechanical suit. Despite his silly name, he’s among my favorite John Byrne villains.
Despite the fun of the paperbacks, they have three disappointments, possibly because they were made more than a quarter-century ago before TPBs became so popular. These days, we expect the TPB to include all the original covers and, if any, all the variant covers. But the Next Men covers get treated terribly, reduced to about 1/6 of the page size and combined in a “gallery”. It’s an odd design choice, considering that there’s a useless page between each “issue” that just splits the words “Next Men” across its front and back. That would be a lovely place for a cover!
Second, the story is so intertwined with the short graphic novel 2112 that the original Next Men series isn’t complete without it. This oversight is forgivable, since the events of 2112 get summarized by one of the characters.
What’s unforgivable is the omission of the entire series of “back-up” stories, M4. These were short episodes with characters who, at first, seemed only tangentially related to the main series. But the stories intersected eventually, and the M4 characters were essential to the finale and resolution. Leaving out the M4 pages makes these characters appear to pop out of nowhere in the main storyline, which makes for utterly confusing plot developments for unfamiliar readers. Plus, M4 had its own covers, featured on the back of the single issues where it ran, and the TPBs have none of them.
For the completists: When IDW reprinted the series in color in 2009, they included M4 but not 2112. IDW’s 2011 reprint series (“Classic Next Men”, in three TPBs) includes both M4 and 2112, and it’s also in full color. I’ve only ever seen it in stock on Amazon for around $40 per volume in paperback, but you can get them for $10.99 each for Kindle and Comixology, and as a set with the sequel for a total of $43.
Even with these omissions, I loved re-reading this imaginative and intricately plotted series that features some of Byrne’s most humanized and fully realized characters. Consider what he does with three wordless pages to show Jasmine’s emotional state as she flees from an attack in underground tunnels. Her old, perfect life was taken from her, and she’s not adjusting well to reality, where trauma awaits her at every turn. Without a single line of expositional captions or thought balloons, Byrne portrays her fragile condition in these pages.
One of my favorite Avengers stories features the time-traveling psychopath known as Kang The Conqueror. He sports a ridiculous outfit that only John Buscema and Tom Palmer could make cool.
What kind of evil plan can a person hatch in striped purple thigh-high boots? Stripping to pay his way through college? But don’t judge Kang by his fashion sense, because he rocks hard in this minor masterpiece.
I was 13 when this issue appeared on the comic book rack at the Walgreens on Manchester Road in Ballwin, Missouri. The opening sequence blew my mind, and I still get a thrill reading it years later. The complete three-issue story is one of the few mid-80s superhero yarns that still holds up for me as an adult reader, and though I no longer have the complete Stern/Buscema run, I’ve read it a bunch of times. These days, I just reserve a little space for my absolutely favorite Avengers stories, including this one.
It begins the day Colossus joins the Avengers, and opens with Storm descending from the sky like the weather goddess she is. Goddess and, as we discover, an Avenger.
I love the mood and tone of Stern’s captions on that page and generally for the entire run. Despite some typical comic-book clunkers such as expositional thought balloons, his prose always made me feel like I was reading a book for adults, not children. But back to our story.
The President of the USA escorts Colossus onto the scene to induct him into the Avengers and become an American citizen.
What’s that? You don’t remember Storm and Colossus being Avengers in the 1980s? Pay attention!
Iron Man flies onto the scene to give a gift to the POTUS on this momentous occasion. And gosh, isn’t Tony Stark such a great guy?
Just tug a little harder, sir! But suddenly…
Wait, what? The whole team just got nuked into oblivion? Is the series cancelled? What do you do after THAT?!
If you’re a super-villain, you gloat.
The nuke was just a warm-up. Now, it really starts to hit the fan. It turns out that Kang’s time-traveling adventures are creating all kinds of alternate timelines, and each has its own Kang. A mysterious council has summoned our nuke-loving Kang to their secret chamber in a limbo outside of time. When Kang questions the council’s authority to tell him what a massive screw-up he is for getting his entire planet destroyed, they reveal themselves to be a trio of alternate Kangs!
They kill him then adjourn and vanish. But one Kang comes back to snoop around the building, and who does he run into? One of the other Kangs! John Buscema gives the Jack Kirby treatment to the wonders inside the secret chambers inside the secret chamber, and Kang gives Kang a tour of his time-monitoring operations.
In fewer than ten pages, Stern gave the Avengers new members, nuked an entire planet, discovered alternate realities, hatched a nefarious plot of betrayal and murder spanning centuries and multiple universes, and plumbed the depths of grief, greed, and evil in the human soul. And the real Avengers, the stars of the series, haven’t even appeared yet!
The heroes show up soon enough, and the adventure is a solid one with plenty of twists and turns and mysteries to solve. Despite his goofy outfit, Kang is a strong villain with a plan he seems entirely capable of pulling off, and he steals the show in a way usually reserved for Dr. Doom. Fitting, I suppose, since Kang originally came from the future using Doom’s time-machine and, after becoming an Egyptian Pharaoh in the past, patterned himself after Doom. As far as alternate timeline stories go, I’d rather re-read this classic than re-watch Avengers Endgame any day.
Collector’s Guide: The full story appears in issues 267, 268, and 269 of the original Avengers series, and they cost about $3 to $6 each, depending on their grade.
A big “thank you” to this blog’s readers for making it possible to get these issues as part of my ongoing big box of free comics series.
The big box of comics series is a tribute to the fun things I wouldn’t have in my life without the readers of this blog who help me earn store credit at MyComicShop.com or Amazon.com every time they use my handy “Collector’s Guides” links to make a purchase.
It’s a symbiotic relationship — much like when an alien
symbiote bonds to your nervous system and drinks your adrenaline for survival.
This month, thanks to readers’ generosity, I put together a run of inexpensive reprints of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #2–5, courtesy of IDW’s “Color Classics” versions of early TMNT. A few months ago, readers helped me reunite with the ridiculous majesty of TMNT #6, and I couldn’t go on without reading the preceding issues at least one more time!
Was it fun? Oh, hell yes. But maybe not as great as I remember from my black-and-white collections or the original colorized graphic novels from First. IDW’s coloring is part of that, since they put dark colors over the original Zip-a-Tone midtones, and obscuring the mid-range tends to flatten the artwork and make it less dynamic. Also, one of the pages in one issue seems to be a misprint that duplicates a page from earlier in the story.
But in terms of being an affordable way to read the Turtles’ earliest adventures, these reprints did the job admirably. Because #6 is one of my all-time favorite comics, I enjoyed reliving the outrageous plot that led up to it, and seeing how the storytelling evolved and improved in the early days. As a bonus, I got a few issues from the second volume of Color Classics, including a solo Michelangelo adventure in a kind of Lone Wolf & Cub fantasy of feudal Japan mixed with mystic lizard demons from hell. That issue includes one of my favorite Turtles pages:
Also from the second volume, a color version of an issue of the Return to New York story that’s a favorite of mine. In the black-and-white original, a brain-damaged, dying Triceratops with some kind of plamsa gun kills and burns his way through the New York sewer system for his new friends: a quartet of mutated, intelligent reptiles who are also armored killing machines.
If that doesn’t sound like the greatest scene ever, then you are at the wrong blog!
Along with the batch of ninja nostalgia, I picked up some bargain-priced Fine copies of Paul Chadwick’s The World Below. It’s no secret I love Chadwick’s Concrete series. World Below and its sequel, the four-issue Deeper and Stranger, don’t have the same depth of storytelling and lush rendering as Concrete, but they are a fun romp through Chadwick’s science-fiction imagination.
I like the sequel better than the first series. The sequel uses black and white art with no color, which is almost always how I prefer to see Chadwick’s art. And, the first series suffered from too many flashbacks trying to make me care about characters I never properly met, since the story started right in the middle of the action. Each time a character faced a crisis I wasn’t invested in, the character flashed back to a similar situation in their early life to beat me over the head with how huge an emotional deal it all was. That didn’t work for me.
Also, I could have lived without seeing the characters say, “eff this” and “eff you, you effing effer” instead of using the actual profanity. Those pages in World Below #3 were physically painful to read, and even old-school characters like F@%$ would have been preferable.
It seems to me that if your dialogue depends on using the word “fuck”, then you should just say “fuck”.
The narrative problems (mostly) smooth out in the sequel, which has my favorite issue of the series and an unexpected ending that blew my mind. Deeper and Stranger fulfills the promise of the first World Below and the tagline on those covers: the deeper you go, the stranger it gets!
Finally, this month’s box of comics included a favorite from my Avengers collection that I sold off a few years ago. Recently, someone commented on my old post about the Stern/Buscema/Palmer run on Avengers in the 1980s. It reminded me that while I basically memorized those issues after reading them so many times, Avengers #266 featuring the Silver Surfer really needed to come back to my modest “Avengers favorites” collection.
Let’s get this out of the way right now: the issue is a post-script to one of the most god-awful, tragic dumpster fires Marvel produced in the 1980s: Secret Wars II. Don’t even get me started.
But this issue focuses on two powerful beings—one a
respected hero, and one a reviled villain—who need to work together to heal a
cataclysmic wound in the Earth before the planet falls apart and kills
everyone. All in 32 ad-free pages, in which the fate of the world might depend
on one total nerd’s desire to watch sitcom re-runs with his girlfriend instead
of letting the disaster take its fatal course. It’s so insane!
This issue has many examples of Stern’s dialogue that endeared me to his Avengers. Namor and Hercules bust each other’s balls like only gods can do, but below their arguing I sense a mutual respect born of the knowledge that they are both beings of power, and maybe they need each other to call each other out sometimes to help keep their rages in check.
She-Hulk isn’t turned off at all by Hercules’ temper
tantrums; she flatters him and straight-up asks him to dinner, which is almost
as awesome as that time she hooked up with Juggernaut. Jennifer’s a being of
great power, too, and she seems perfectly comfortable and relaxed about it.
Hercules’ thoughts on nobility and heroism after the villain
supposedly “loses his powers” while saving the Earth — also a lovely piece of
But my favorite part is the final scene where the villain reveals he never lost his powers at all, and that the hero was complicit in this deception.
The Silver Surfer’s comment on courage and vulnerability really sums up what I love about this Avengers run. Sure, it’s all fun and games in spandex with lots of punching and the fate of the universe at stake, and there’s no shortage of expositional thought balloons. But every now and then, Stern’s humanistic and thoughtful depictions of his characters meld with John Buscema’s and Tom Palmer’s artwork to create peaks of visual literature.
You know what? I might need to reclaim a few more of my favorite story arcs from this run — especially the Kang saga and the assault on Avengers Mansion.
That’s it for September’s big box of free comics, and I am excited to tell you about the October box that is on its way!
Now that films based on comic books and superheroes have firmly entered the mainstream of popular culture, characters and storylines we comics readers have enjoyed for years regularly come to life on the big screen for a wider audience than comics ever reached. Long-time readers are often thrilled to see their favorite heroes in live-action movies, but some feel a bit of regret. After all, it can be disheartening to hear people discussing characters as if the movies tell the entire story, when many readers have followed the characters in-depth for years or even decades.
Compressing years of story into a two-hour theater experience means a lot gets left out, as anyone who read the Planet Hulk stories can tell you about the movie Thor: Ragnarok, or anyone who read Marvel’s Civil War comics can tell you about the Captain America movie of the same name. Plus, the big screen and the printed page are two distinctly different mediums, each with its own storytelling conventions, so they deliver distinctly different stories.
Movies usually follow a formulaic narrative structure. From the inciting incident to the hero’s crisis, predicting the next story beat in a movie is pretty easy. Comic books often employ more flexible and unusual structures—a point in their favor in my opinion. This is true despite a trend toward making modern mainstream comic books more cinematic in their approach to storytelling.
Near the turn of the century, Warren Ellis used the term widescreen comics to describe the blockbuster-movie style he was creating in The Authority with artists Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary. After 12 issues, writer Mark Millar and artist Frank Quitely came on board and kept up the cinematic approach. Millar, Hitch, and Neary soon combined forces to reinvent the Avengers as The Ultimates—the forerunner of the current film versions of the Avengers. For a more in-depth look at widescreen comics, and how they influenced movies as much as movies influenced them, see Peter Suderman’s article for Vox.
As far as I’m concerned, there hasn’t been a movie yet that equals those first 29 issues of The Authority. But it’s more than just the awesome stories, vicious dialogue, and stunning artwork. What makes the printed page most enjoyable for me can be summed up in two words: time control.
In a film, time passes at a fixed speed determined by the flow of film through a projector, or its digital equivalent these days. Yes, a movie can use slow motion or speed up time, but all of that is determined by the movie itself. Moviegoers have no control of it in a theater. Time passes at a pace determined exclusively by the filmmakers.
With printed pages, the reader controls time. The reader determines how long to spend on a panel or page. Readers can turn back the pages to see something again if they did not absorb it on the first read. The reader can set the book down and walk away, then come back to it and pick up again from any point in the narrative. Movies only provide this convenience if you own or stream a copy at home and can rewind it or freeze the frames.
While I enjoy movies, I tend to enjoy their comic-book source material far more due to time control. An awesome action scene might be over in seconds or minutes on the big screen, but I can linger on it for as long as I like with a printed page. A stunning visual appears on the screen for fleeting moments, then moves on to the next one. It leaves me feeling unsatisfied when I want to spend more time taking in all its detail and beauty. With a comic book, I can pore over the artists’ rendering and take time to appreciate every line and shape, every bit of hard work that went into inking and coloring the picture. Instead of having it all fade away as I leave a theater, I can come back to it again and again with a book.
While many recent comic-book movies do look great, the awesomeness always go by too quickly for me. I never have a chance to fully appreciate it before its gone. And when the theater lights come on, fun time is over unless I want to buy another ticket. The experience is transient and ephemeral compared to a physical book I can keep for years.
None of this should be taken as an argument over which medium is “better”. Enjoy what you enjoy. This is only an attempt to articulate a feeling I’ve had for years but never explained very well to people who expect me to be super excited about recent superhero movies. It isn’t that the movies are bad; they simply lack one of the biggest things that gives me enjoyment with comic books: time control.
We posted these pages in serialized form in the early days of this blog, but that’s proven inconvenient for people searching for this entire epic. Here they are, all in one spot for those legions of internet users who want to know the answer to the most burning question in the universe: Where the heck did Galactus come from?!
Super Villain Classics #1 (1983) compiled pages from even older Thor comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Some supplemental art and dialogue was added to streamline the story into one coherent narrative. Are you interested in those original Thor issues? Check our archives for samples of Thor #162 here and here! Super Villain Classics #1 was reprinted in 1996 as Galactus the Origin.
As a guy, I can tell you that writing female characters presents some unique challenges—not the least of which is trying to sort out their clothes and hair! Back in 1969, Supergirl’s creative team rose to the challenge by engaging readers to come up with costume and hairstyle ideas. Both Action Comics #273 and Adventure #387 ran the following page about her hair:
By the time Action Comics #281 hit the presses, reader votes determined the winner by a huge margin. With nearly as many votes as all other hairstyles combined, the “Campus Cuddle-Bun” style won by a landslide. I would have preferred the “Contempo Cut” perhaps, but the “Pony Tail Sophisticate” really makes the most sense when half of your superhero time is spent flying through the air! As a hairstyle for Supergirl’s secret identity, any of these would work, but if I was flying faster than the speed of sound I would definitely want my hair tied back. And don’t ask me how the “Kitten Cut” would even work. How do you cut invulnerable hair? Maybe her stylist has a machine that pumps out red sun rays.
That settled her secret-identity hair. But as you can see from the fan letters below, Supergirl’s costume was the subject of much discussion. These letters appeared in Adventure #384-395.
Both male and female readers had pretty strong opinions about her costume. Who says guys don’t think about these things?
Here is the panel from Adventure #397 which reveals the winning design.
The next issue, Adventure #398, added to the costume saga by showcasing some of the different designs submitted for consideration. Supergirl speaks to the reader directly, explaining that the winning design was actually a combination of two designs submitted by two different readers. She even asks one to write in because the address got lost!
The final design looks pretty cool to me, but no sooner did it debut than it got drawn wrong! Look closely at the middle panel on the following page and see if you can spot what went missing.
If you said, “The dang S logo on her chest,” then give yourself today’s SuperVision Award!
Supergirl wraps it up in Adventure #398 by speaking directly to the readers again, naming even more contributors and suggesting she might adorn herself in different costumes now and then just to give all the great ideas a chance. How hard would you have geeked out if you got your name mentioned by your favorite heroine?!
Now, now. Don’t really go burning comic books… unless you post a video of it on YouTube, and then I’d like a hyperlink. Here is a quick rundown of goodies I recently listed for sale on eBay.
New Gods #9 has seen better days. It’s the issue that got me into this series, and the Bug’s pathos-drenched speech is a favorite comic book monologue of mine.
Issues of the Elektra limited series used to be priced higher, but they’ve come way, way down since they got reprinted in TPB editions. Miller and Sienkiewicz offer up a mix of action-movie firepower and hallucinogenic sequences of mental illness, medication, and demons from hell. It’s a wild story.
The Essential Iron Fist Vol. 1 “phone book” style reprint includes all the legendary Claremont/Byrne issues. They don’t rock my world as much as they did when I was a teenager, but I got this just to sit down and read them all in order in one go for once in my life! Mission accomplished.
Turtle Soup is a cool one-shot that belongs in any true Ninja Turtles fan’s collection. It has a cool dream sequence by Steve Bissette, which we’ve posted scans of before.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #9 and #10 have a few spine creases, but the three-page splash fold-out in #10 is a thing of wonder. I’ve posted scans from it before.
This first issue of Punisher War Journal features some of the earliest work Jim Lee produced for Marvel Comics, along with Carl “Alien Legion” Potts. It’s pretty good, but I think a true Punisher afficionado will appreciate it more than me.
Gobbledygook is another Ninja Turtles-related treasure from Mirage Studios in the late 1980s. It’s a sprawling affair with “pin-up” Turtle art, stories from various artists, and lots of non-turtle weirdness.
Last but not least, a seven-issue Avengers run that includes the complete Red Zone storyline. The art is super cool, and the story of a red cloud of infectious agents released from a lab under Mount Rushmore is pretty compelling. Plus, She-Hulk totally rages out of control, and Black Panther gets fed up with Red Skull’s racist nonsense and punches his bloody jaw right off his face.
If you really want to make this a viking funeral, take your monitor or mobile device and set it on fire. Otherwise, let’s just take a nostalgically informal tour through my recent eBay sales.
Clutch is one of my favorite rock bands, and this album has some great jams on it. (My favorite album of theirs is Blast Tyrant.) The buyer turned out to be a huge Static-X fan, and was very excited about the Wayne Static postcard included in this shipment.
I got lucky and found these two issues of Freak Brothers years ago for 50 cents each, so I made a few bucks on these in the auction. This stuff cracks me up.
I got this historic appearance of Wolverine for free from MyComicShop thanks to the affiliate program on this blog and my angelic readers who click through links to buy comics. I thought I’d make $10 or so in auction, but someone walked away with a sweet deal on this at 99 cents final bid. Plus, I packed a few extra 90s-era X-men goodies with shiny silvery covers. The buyer called it the best eBay transaction ever and effusively praised me and my ability to totally rock. Even if I made zero dollars, it was fun to spread the joy of comics across the globe.
I’ve posted scans of Michael Zulli’s work on these three issues of Ninja Turtles, and they get a stupid amount of page views sometimes. Why? Because they’re friggin’ awesome, that’s why. These would have a higher resale value if the covers didn’t have visible wear, and the buyer again walked away with a steal of a deal getting them for less than $2.
These babies retail for $10-15 a piece in this condition, but they don’t sell very fast. So I opened the auction at 99 cents, and someone got a murderous deal at less than $5 for the set. Rick Veitch did the story in these three issues, and it has some of my favorite pages from the original Mirage Studios series.
This 2009 edition of The Arabian Nights is a gorgeous hardcover production complete with gilded page edges, a cloth bookmark, and full-color illustrations. I read a few, and felt the repeated abuse and sexual enslavement of women did not make for entertaining reading. Even the consensual sex in here is described using the language of violence. It’s neat to look at this as a reference on an ancient culture, but it just made me think the culture in question was full of assholes. Sold for 99 cents!
I was excited about IDW bringing the Turtles back, until these first issues turned out to be a kind of rehashed origin story with changes that seemed utterly pointless. I love these covers, but honestly I’d rather have them as posters than be reading the series. Fortunately, they’ve retained their resale value, and someone overseas will be enjoying them for what I paid for them brand new a few years ago.
Like Arabian Nights, Jules Verne’s story Tigers and Traitors (which you might also see referred to as The Steam House) kind of convinced me that people of history were total assholes. On the other hand, by being everything I did NOT want in a story, it helped me define my own kind of ultimate story. A story where the women kick ass, the cats totally destroy and reign supreme, and imperialists are crushed beneath the bloody heels of the rebellion. You know, a happy story!
I expected that everyone who wants a copy of Old Man Logan already has it, considering how popular it was and how many printings the issues went through. But, even though my collection of the complete story included some well-worn early issues, it turns out most of the Old Man Logan issues are worth more than their original sales price in VF+ or better. I got nearly $40 for the set on a 99-cent auction, and stuffed the envelope full of all the Wolverine-related items it could hold.
Last but not least, I sold four individual issues from the original New Gods series by Jack Kirby. I had assembled a nice but affordable set of these in VG+ to FN condition over the years, but the glossy five-issue reprint is good enough for me. My favorite issues are #6, #7 and #9, so I put the rest of them up at 99 cents each. #1 still has a decent street value even in a somewhat battered VG condition, with a final bid of about $14.
In this 1970s story from DC’s Adventure Comics #415, Supergirl gets abducted by evil space pirates to serve as their captain’s unwilling wife while the rest of Earth is destroyed. These creeps find out soon enough that they picked the wrong woman to mess with!
The Saturday-morning-cartoon tenor of Supergirl’s 1970s adventures makes them somewhat dull for an adult reader, but they are occasionally impressive in their portrayal of her character. This story shows of a range of heroic qualities besides her super-cute costume and classic beauty. Supergirl is powerful enough to hand out beat-downs to the pirates, but compassionate enough to try and reason with a misguided member of the crew. She uses her intelligence to deduce their plans, and her might to unravel them. Even the male-dominated Planetary Galaxy Patrol shows her respect, and suggests that word of her “innumerable accomplishments” has spread far beyond Earth. Supergirl is the only female in this story (other than in a panel on page 3), so you won’t find it passing the Bechdel Test. But she certainly commands the stage!
If you would like to see more scans of vintage Supergirl tales from the 1960s and 70s (including Action Comics, Adventure Comics, and her short-lived self-titled series from 1972), then head over to The Supergirl Project!
Nexus #3, a magazine-sized publication by Capital. This was the last of the magazine-sized Nexus books. Numbering would restart at #1 when Capital made Nexus a regular-sized book in full color. Despite having a playable record in it, the retail price of this comic book is under $10 most of the time. The interior has been reprinted more than once, but the original comes with a dramatic back cover by Frank Brunner and an editorial on the inside cover.