In the previous installment of this look at my top ten comic book runs, I examined five entries on my deserted-island list. Here are the other five—in no particular order:
MARVELS #’s 0-4 by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross
When I read the first issue of Marvels in 1994, I was taken aback by painter Alex Ross’s artwork: never before had the Marvel Universe looked so, well, realistic—like the it really was the world outside my window. If I lived in New York City. Which I didn’t. And still don’t. Essentially, Marvel allows readers to experience some of the most pivotal events in Marvel history through the eyes of Phil Sheldon, a photographer for The Daily Bugle. He witnesses the arrival of super-heroes—the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner—on the scene in the late 1930s; the dawn of the Marvel Age with the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, and Thor, among others; the rise of mutants; and the death of a pivotal figure in the life of the ever-amazing Spider-Man. Busiek’s particular strength over the course of this series is the Phil Sheldon character; he is one of us—with many of the same fears and foibles, and his sense of awe is what ours would be if all these heroes and villains criss-crossed our skies. Stunning, stunning work that should not be missed.
Marvels seems be perennially available in trade paperback, and a more expensive, slipcased, hardcover “platinum” edition is available is available, too.
Key Issue: Marvels #4 for its take on the death of Gwen Stacy from Phil Sheldon’s perspective.
STARMAN, VOL. 2 #’s 0-80, plus annuals and specials, by James Robinson, Tony Harris, Wade von Grawbadger, Peter Snejbjurg, and others.
I’m about to type something incredibly oxymoronic: in the 1990s, I probably bought more comic books than at any other point in my reading/collecting life, but I enjoyed fewer comic books than at any other point, too. That decade’s comics landscape was littered with dreck, but one of the gems was James Robinson and Tony Harris’ Starman. Our hero, Jack Knight, is a reluctant crusader who takes up the mantle of the Golden Age Starman, his father, after his older brother David is killed. Essentially, Starman is about Jack figuring out who he is and repairing his relationship with his father as he protects Opal City, an art deco metropolis that’s as much a character in the series as the lead and his supporting cast. Perhaps one of Robinson’s crowning achievements is his revitalization of the Golden Age villain, the Shade, who became an immortal dandy who’d palled around with Oscar Wilde and Charles Dickens. The Shade becomes a powerful ally and one of the most intriguing characters in comics, and Starman is, at once, cool and literary.
Starman has been collected as a series of trade paperbacks, and The Starman Omnibus has reprinted the entire series in deluxe hardcovers and trade paperbacks.
Key Issue: You know, I’m going to go with Starman, Vol. 2 #80, which wraps up threads from the entire series and clearly defines the legacy of the Starman mantle.
UNCLE SCROOGE #’s 285-296 by Don Rosa
What?!? An anthropomorphic duck made this list?!? You bet he did. These twelve issues comprise “The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck,” the serialized “origin” of Uncle Scrooge by the great Don Rosa, the heir-apparent to the Duck-Man himself, the great Carl Barks. Here, we learn of McDuck’s humble beginnings in Scotland and follow him through a number of adventures across the United States and around the world that deliver him to Duckburg in 1947, just before his first appearance in the Barks classic “Christmas on Bear Mountain” in Four Color Comics #178. Writer/artist Rosa has a particular talent for both comedy and adventure—as did Barks before him, and discovering the events that shaped Scrooge McDuck into the lovable curmudgeon we know is a thrill ride, from start to finish. Even better, Rosa has left plenty of room for additions to the story.
These issues have been collected in The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck trade paperback, and The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck Companion trade paperback collects those in-between stories.
Key Issue: Um, #296 for its connections to “Christmas on Bear Mountain” and the efforts of Scrooge McDuck to reconnect with his family.
LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES, VOL. 2 #’s 290-294 by Paul Levitz, Keith Giffen, and Larry Mahlstedt
These four issues comprise the Legion classic “The Great Darkness Saga,” which has lost absolutely none of its impact in the 32 years since its original publication. This is easily the Levitz and Giffen’s Legion at its finest—and most bounteous, since it features just about everyone who’s ever been a Legionnaire and most of the team’s allies. Why the big roster? Well, what else do you do when Darkseid himself is trying to conquer the 30th century? This is probably a bit of a spoiler, but, by now, most everyone who’s interested knows who the villain is, and it doesn’t really rob the story of any of its punch. It’s a truly intricate tale—oh, let’s call it the saga it claims to be—that spans the breadth of the Legion’s extensive stomping grounds, including the planet of super-powered Daxamites and the prison world of Takron-Galtos. It’s virtually a love-letter to anyone who’s ever loved the Legion, but that doesn’t mean it’s inaccessible to new readers.
“The Great Darkness Saga” is available in the Legion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga deluxe hardcover and trade paperback. These relatively recent collections include #’s 284-296 and Annual #1.
Key Issue: I’m going with #294 because it’s a pretty awesome finale to a pretty awesome comic book saga.
BLACKEST NIGHT #’s 0-8 by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, and Oclair Albert
I’m not going to even bother tempering my passion for the work of Geoff Johns, DC Comics’ Chief Creative Officer. I love it. Unequivocably. His work on The Flash, JSA, and Green Lantern is enough to secure his legacy as one of comics’ best writers, but, for me, the Blackest Night limited series is just about as good as modern superhero comics get. It begins as something of a Green Lantern/Flash team-up that becomes an epic struggle by a host of super-heroes and variously hued Lanterns to defeat the Black Hand and Nekron, who have empowered the dead of the DC Universe to rise and terrorize. It’s a big, sprawling story that is bursting with action, but it also does a lot to advance the cache of characters like Mera, the Atom, and the newly resurrected Barry Allen-Flash. (Johns has a knack for breathing new life into secondary characters and characters who have been languishing for some time.) In fact, my only complaint—which has absolutely nothing to do with Blackest Night itself—is that DC didn’t get to do much with the fallout from this series and its follow-up, Brightest Day, because they hit the reboot switch and launched the New 52.
Blackest Night is collected in both hardcover and trade paperback editions.
Key Issue: #8 for all the returns from the dead. Wonderful stuff!
Here’s a quick list of runners-up; if I could fit them in my luggage before heading to that deserted island, I’d take them:
Daredevil: Born Again (Daredevil #’s 227-233)
Superman for All Seasons (Superman for All Seasons #’s 1-4)
Batman: The Long Halloween (Batman: The Long Halloween #’s 1-13)
Wonder Woman: Gods and Mortals (Wonder Woman, Vol. 2 #’s 1-7)
Saga of the Swamp Thing (Saga of the Swamp Thing #’s 21-27)
Please allow me to add that his list is not permanent; in fact, I could probably change it pretty easily in the next week or two. Still, these runs represent comics I have truly enjoyed and ones I gladly read again and again.