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:
JUSTICE 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.
DETECTIVE 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.
X-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.
NEW 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.
FANTASTIC 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.