Discussion! Mou’s Top Ten Comic Book Runs, Part One

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My name is Mou, and I am a comic book fan. (Hello, Mou!) A longtime comic fan. Longtime, like 43 years longtime. I read my first comic book, Justice League of America #92, when I was five years old, and what I couldn’t get from the words I doped out from the pictures. That was it: the bug had bitten me, and there would be no turning back—not even as a fully functioning adult. After all, when one can have regular access to myth and legend in glorious color on the printed page, why would s/he choose to avoid it?

That said, I have seen my heroes through a number of seasons—both scintillating and silly, and I have my favorite runs of certain titles—my “deserted island” must-haves, if you will. These are storylines I return to again and again, when I want to read something that will both engage me and take me back. As I said, I’m still a fan, but I am buying and reading fewer comic books than at any prior point in my collecting life. Some of it has to do with the expense of the hobby, but a good portion of it is that I’m not entirely pleased with the tendency toward decompressed storytelling and the current state of some of my favorite heroes. (Gosh, I hope that’s not too you-kids-get-off-my-lawn, but I would guess it does, indeed, have something to do with age and nostalgia.)

So, without further ado, here are—in no particular order—Mou’s Top Ten Comic Book Runs, Part One:

MNIM 1.2JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA’s #139-150 by Steve Englehart and Dick Dillin (with a two-part JLA/JSA crossover by Martin Pasko and Dillin)
Englehart was hired away from Marvel to essentially Marvel-ize the JLA, and, boy, did he ever! Suddenly, the World’s Greatest Super-Heroes don’t always see eye-to-eye—not just Green Arrow, but also Superman and Wonder Woman, and Mantis, one of his additions to the Avengers, starts hanging around the JLA as Willow. She comes “from a place that cannot be named” (Ha!) Further, Englehart’s run establishes the connection between the Green Lantern Corps and the Manhunters—something he will revisit later, in his Millenium series. Best of all, Englehart retells the JLA’s origin in a sprawling epic that brings together pretty much every DC hero from the 1950s. That issue, #144, remains one of my all-time favorite comics. A Justice League/Justice Society/Legion of Super-Heroes team-up interrupts Englehart’s run, but it is excellent—absolutely bursting with heroes.

Oddly, this run has yet to be collected in full, but #146 appears in the Justice League of America Hereby Elects… Trade paperback, and #’s 148 and 149 appear in Crisis on Multiple Earths Vol. 4.

Key Issue: Justice League of America #144 for the retelling of the team’s origin.

MNIM 1.1DETECTIVE COMICS #’s 469-476 by Steve Englehart, Walt Simonson, Marshall Rogers, Terry Austin, and Al Milgrom
While I’m on the subject of Steve Englehart, I may as well get his lauded Batman run on the list. His work here, most notably with  Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin, represents the best the Dark Knight can be—even better than Frank Miller’s interpretation, in my humble opinion. Batman is grim, but not completely obsessive and morose, he has a hot girlfriend—one Silver St. Cloud, and his foes are the psychotics, not him. Simply put, it’s a classic run by master craftsmen—among the best Batman stories ever told.

These issues are collected in the Batman: Strange Apparitions trade paperback, which is currently out of print—and a crying shame.

Key Issue: Detective Comics #476 for conclusion of one of the best Joker stories of all-time.

MNIM 1.5X-MEN #’s 94-143 and GIANT-SIZE X-MEN #1
It’s difficult for me to separate the Dave Cockrum’s first run as the penciller of X-Men from John Byrne’s stint because it’s during their eras—with writer and co-plotter Chris Claremont—that much of what made the X-Men great was established—heck, much of what made comics great from the mid-1970s-on. Of course, the “All-New, All-Different” X-Men first appeared as a team in Giant-Size X-Men #1 by Len Wein and Cockrum; then, Claremont took over the scripting chores with X-Men #94. Here, we see the concept of the super-hero team really change into something more…soap-operatic. There subplots, unexpressed thoughts and desires, supporting characters who come and go, and a good bit of everything-you-knew-before-is-wrong—very much early Marvel taken to even further heights. Of course, two of the X-Men’s best story arcs occur near the end of Byrne’s tenure: “The Dark Phoenix Saga” and “Days of Future Past”; nothing in these issues is to be missed.

All of these issues and a few more are reprinted in X-Men Omnibus Vols. 1 and 2, and specific storylines are available in the X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga and X-Men: Days of Future Past trade paperbacks. They are also collected in the Essential Uncanny X-Men black-and-white trade paperback series.

Key Issue: X-Men #137 for the “final” fate of the Phoenix and the conclusion of a true comic book saga.

MNIM 1.3NEW TEEN TITANS/TALES OF THE TEEN TITANS, Vol. 1 #’s 1-50 and annuals by Marv Wolfman, George Pérez, Romeo Tanghal, and others
Wolfman and Pérez created something very X-Men-like in New Teen Titans, which hit in 1980. Combining three established Titans (Robin, Kid Flash, and Wonder Girl) with one sort-of Titan (Changeling, formerly Beast Boy) and three newcomers (Starfire, Cyborg, and Raven) was a stroke of genius, and the chemistry quickly made this team-book DC’s biggest seller. Deathstroke the Terminator was introduced in #2, and he’s certainly had more than his share of staying power, even becoming a recurring figure on TV’s Arrow and in the various Batman video games. Beyond that, the series saw Dick Grayson step away from Batman and establish himself as Nightwing, provided insight into the origin of Wonder Girl, and made Starfire, Cyborg, and Raven mainstays of the DC pantheon of heroes. Wolfman and Perez also had fun with former Titans Speedy and Aqualad, but their crowning achievement remains the creation of Terra and “The Judas Contract” story arc, which is easily one of the series’ best.

This series is collected in New Teen Titans Omnibus Vols. 1-3, and parts of it are collected in the New Teen Titans Vol. 1 trade paperback, due out later this month, and the New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract trade paperback, which is, sadly, out of print.

Key Issue: Tales of the Teen Titans Annual #3 for the conclusion of “The Judas Contract,” likely one of the best-executed comic book stories ever.

MNIM 1.4FANTASTIC FOUR, Vol. 1 #’s 232-293 by John Byrne, Terry Austin, Bob Wiacek, and Jerry Ordway
I recall being disappointed when it was announced that penciller John Byrne’s final issue of X-Men would be #143, but I was over the moon when I found out he would be taking over the writing and the artwork on Fantastic Four. Interestingly, Byrne’s first issue, #232, began much like the first issue of the series with our heroes going about their days until they are called into action to take on foes whose powers are inspired the four ancient elements of earth, air, fire, and water, leading them eventually to the villainous alchemist, El Diablo. Things kick into high gear with #236, the FF’s 20th anniversary issue, which sees Byrne’s first Doctor Doom story. No lie: It’s an amazing story, and it’s only five issues into Byrne’s stellar run, which sees the Human Torch’s girlfriend become the Herald of Galactus, the Inhumans relocate to the moon, She-Hulk replace the Thing on the team’s roster, the Invisible Girl become the Invisible Woman, Reed Richards put on trial for saving Galactus—my gosh, the list goes on an on. It’s second only to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s run in terms of quality and energy. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Byrne’s run is collected in its entirety in Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus Vols. 1 and 2 and the Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne Vols. 0-8. Both of these titles collect Byrne’s FF work prior to his run as writer and artist.

Key Issue: Fantastic Four, Vol. 1 #236 because it’s an amazing Doctor Doom story, and it’s everything you ever need to know about the FF in one shot.

So, fellow enthusiasts, there you have the first five entries in my personal “essential comics” list. The rest will follow later this week, and, yes, I will break into the 21st century.

Mou

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Retrospective! Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets [SERIES SPOILERS]

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I’m not going to mince words: I was flabbergasted at how much of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets had seeped from my memory. Whole passages—gone! Forgotten! Let me assure you, dear reader: this is no reflection on the redoubtable Ms. Rowling’s talent as an author; it is a testament to the fact that I have read and slept quite a bit since 1999, when I first read the second installment in the Potter series.

Revisiting Chamber was a lot of fun—and illuminating. Fairly early in the novel, Rowling gets us—and Harry—out of the Dursleys’ house at Number 4, Privet Drive—thanks in no small part to Dobby the House-Elf’s efforts to protect our titular hero and Arthur Weasley’s predilection for Muggle objects and artifacts. After all, we have to experience life in the Burrow with the Weasleys, who aren’t well off, but whose home is full of love—unlike the Dursleys’. It’s important that Harry—the Chosen One, the Boy Who Lived, etc., etc.—have a real home outside of Hogwarts, and it’s clear that the Weasleys are meant to provide a place that grounds him, despite their inherent wackiness. Honestly, Harry’s time at the Burrow is likely my favorite part of Chamber because of what the place comes to mean to him.

HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, the second volume in the Harry Potter epic, features a considerably raising of the stakes in the life of the Boy Who Lived and expands the world of Rowling's invention considerably.

HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, the second volume in the Harry Potter epic, features a considerably raising of the stakes in the life of the Boy Who Lived and expands the world of Rowling’s invention considerably.

Here are some other bits that struck me as I made my second journey through the novel:

  • The self-aggrandizing Gilderoy Lockhart, the latest Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, is a terrific one-off character who represents the ugly side of fame. He’s absolutely what Harry doesn’t want to be. Harry is uncomfortable with his renown, and Lockhart becomes the engine for illustrating where fame can go horribly and hilariously wrong.
  • Lucius Malfoy makes his first appearance in Chamber, though much was said about him by his son Draco in Sorcerer’s Stone. He is truly evil, instigating everything that comes to pass by planting Tom Riddle’s diary among Ginny Weasley’s in order to get back at her dad and the Ministry of Magic. Sure, it’s fiction, but his vile nature is completely overwhelming. It’s fun to detest him.
  • Draco Malfoy laments more than once that it’s a shame Hermione didn’t die as a result of one of the mysterious attacks on Hogwarts students, and he speaks out against “Mudbloods” quite a lot. Sure, he’s likely aping his father, but, still, wishing someone had died…? That’s stone cold.
  • Tom Riddle’s transforming the diary into a Horcrux—and something of a living memory that will give him a shot at killing Harry Potter is a fantastic idea. The once and future Lord Voldemort is one smart cookie—as is J.K. Rowling.
  • We finally get “The Secret Origin of Rubeus Hagrid!” Awesome!
  • Scary, talking giant spiders! Wouldn’t J.R.R. Tolkien be proud? Aragog and his “children” are absolutely frightening, even though they are loyal to Hagrid. Thank goodness for Arthur Weasley’s enchanted car—sort a ghost-in-the-machine with a ghost in the machine. (Confession: I read this chapter with the lights on, not just, you know, a single lamp.)
  • Poor Ginny Weasley.
  • TWELVE-YEAR-OLD HARRY POTTER KILLED A GIANT SNAKE WITH A SWORD!!! HOW THE HECK AWESOME IS THAT?!? (And not just any sword, but the sword of Godric Gryffindor! Just so we know and he knows he’s not supposed to be in Slytherin House.)
  • So far, we’ve seen a parasitic, half-living Voldemort and Voldemort as a living memory. The build to a full-on confrontation is truly compelling. Rowling knows how to build an overarching narrative.

Now, it’s on to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

BACKLOG RATING: If you’ve never read it, 10/10—what have you been waiting for? Of course, now I’ve spoiled lots of things for you. If you’ve read it, 8/10: there are likely things you’ve not read you’d like to get to.

– Mou

Retrospective! Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone [Spoiler-free]

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Note: To mark the occasion of the opening of Diagon Alley at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we submit to you this series of retrospective looks at J.K. Rowling’s more-than-masterpiece fantasy series.

I first discovered J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series in late 1998, perhaps early 1999—a few months after Chamber of Secrets had been published and Prisoner of Azkaban had been listed for pre-order on Amazon.com. At that point, I didn’t know there was any sort of Pottermania; I was just intrigued by the descriptions of the first two novels and thought, “What the heck? Let’s give ’em a try, and I’ll pre-order the third one if the first two are good.”

They were.

So, I did.

Some eight years later, the series wrapped up with the Deathly Hallows, and, like a good fanboy, I closed the book after reading the last page, satisfied, but sad that this particular literary journey had come to an end. In my early 40s, I hadn’t grown up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, but I had certainly grown to care about them and their story.

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HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE, first published in 1997, has well withstood the test of time, to no one’s surprise.

Recently, after purchasing the e-book versions of the novels, I got the bug to re-read the Potter series from the beginning, wondering what knowing the outcome would do for my enjoyment of the story. Turns out, that foreknowledge enhances the reading because, as I read of, for example, the pain in Harry’s lightning bolt-shaped scar, I knew what that meant to the larger scope of the story. (It’s Harry’s version of Spidey-sense, but that’s neither here nor there.) There’s also the joy of rediscovery: for example, I’d forgotten that Hagrid had borrowed the flying motorcycle from Sirius Black. Black is one of my favorite figures in the entire saga, and getting back that little tidbit of information was quite enjoyable.

All of that said as a matter of introduction, does Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone hold up? Yes, it does. Rowling provides us with plenty of details of Harry’s lamentable living situation with the Dursleys to make his discovery of the many shops of Diagon Alley and the hallowed halls of Hogwarts a true wonder, not unlike the children’s journey from the empty, lonely manor house in rural England to the crisp, wintry—and magical—world of Narnia in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Who hasn’t dreamed of an enchanted world just beyond their own humdrum life?

The build-up is very nearly perfect. Harry gets a taste of the wizarding world with Hagrid—and learns the truth about his parents and his hero-status, but he doesn’t actually leave the Dursleys ’til nearly a third of the way into the novel. Then, along with Harry, we discover the majesty and mystery of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Here, as she introduces more characters and establishes the novel’s essential conflict (Who’s trying to get the Sorcerer’s Stone—and why?), Rowling truly soars. The core team—Harry, Ron, and Hermione—coalesces, and Harry steps up and becomes the hero he is celebrated as in the wizarding world. And, hey, Quidditch! And bawling mandrake roots! And Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans! (“Alas, earwax.”) And Platform 9-3/4! It’s a wonderful world—free of smartphones and laptops and other distractions; after all, there are bigger fish to fry.

Re-reading the novel after fifteen years and having seen the film version a couple of times in the intervening time allowed me to see the seeds of Ron and Hermione’s future relationship more clearly and to appreciate Voldemort’s relatively meager efforts at resurrection here—because, of course, he returns rather spectacularly later on.

…the Sorcerer’s Stone is truly the opening salvo in a grand battle that will be waged over the course of six more novels.

Backlog Rating: 8/10. There are likely other things you haven’t read, and, chances are, you’ve read these. Still, get back to them when you’re ready to revisit some old friends.

– Mou