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Author Topic: Best Superhero Comics Ever?  (Read 13373 times)
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JulianPerez
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« on: August 30, 2005, 11:50:18 PM »

Many people have compiled lists of what are the best superhero comics ever. Not just in single issues, but in terms of high periods or creative bursts, like for instance, the Schwartz stable of Superman writers in the 1970s (Maggin, Bates, and the artists Paul Kupperberg and Curt Swan) or the Lee/Kirby FANTASTIC FOUR.

It's time to step into an overcrowded field and say, "hey, me too!"

That said, here's my personal list of 20 Best Superhero comics ever. If it is an ongoing title, assume it is the period under the writer that is highlighted.  

20. GREEN LANTERN/GREEN LANTERN CORPS (Steve Englehart)

19. Any of Jack Kirby's FOURTH WORLD comics, but most especially the clever, unpretentious MISTER MIRACLE

18. AVENGERS/DEFENDERS WAR (Steve Englehart)

17. TOM STRONG (Alan Moore)

16. Any Superman story after 1952 (or thereabouts) written by Jerry Siegel, especially "Return to Krypton" and the "Legion of Super-Villains."

15. DETECTIVE COMICS (Steve Englehart)

14. MIRACLEMAN (Alan Moore)

13. Any SUPERMAN or ACTION COMICS story written by Cary Bates or Elliot S! Maggin, with the exception of ACTION COMICS #502, with its ridiculous ending that destroyed the premise of the story.

12. "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow" (Alan Moore)

11. SUPERBOY AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES (Cary Bates)

10. MARVEL FAMILY (C.C. Beck)

9. LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES (Jim Shooter)

8. 1963 (Alan Moore)

7. "To Kill A Legend" and "The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne" (Alan Brennert)

6. ASTRO BOY (Osamu Tezuka)

5. SUPREME (Alan Moore)

4. AVENGERS (Kurt Busiek)

3. JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA (Gardner Fox)

2. AVENGERS "Celestial Madonna" Arc (Steve Englehart)

1. FANTASTIC FOUR #60-80 (Stan Lee)

To determine most of my rankings I looked at the following things that are necessary to a superhero comic and ranked them in order:

1) Characterization. This is why there are so many stories here by Steve Englehart, as are the Luthor stories written by Elliot S! Maggin, as well as Kurt Busiek and Stan Lee.

2) Real Emotions. This is why stories like ASTRO BOY, Alan Brennert's Batman stories, and "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" are here: because they make you cry. Because they suckerpunch you in the gut with very real, legitimate emotions that aren't trumped up.

3) Trippy Concepts. That is to say, how often does the story WHAM! you with an incredible, neat idea? The better the story, the more often it should do this. The old arcade screen that says that "Winners Don't Do Drugs" should be amended to read "Winners Don't Do Drugs...unless they Write Superhero Comic Books." One can see now why SUPREME, 1963, Fox's JLA, and TOM STRONG make the list.

4) Plausible Science. Superhero comics are an offshoot of science fiction. All philosophy aside, there's something about science that gives plausibility to a situation, and something about science that makes things more detailed, gives powers greater permutations, suggests weaknesses, and in general makes the world feel all around more real and detailed. For this reason the Gardner Fox JLA, ASTRO BOY, TOM STRONG, and MIRACLEMAN are on the list.

5) Sense of Humor. How often does the comic give real belly laughs that come from the characters? This isn't as necessary as the others, but can save a concept from being terrible. Alan Moore's work, for instance, somewhere between 1985-1990 was absolutely, utterly unreadable because it only had glimmers of the usual Moore humor and charm (WATCHMEN is an example of a particularly terrible story by Alan Moore standards; a plodding, self-congratulatory dinosaur, it only has a few places where it is ironic, only occasionally is it funny, and only occasionally does it have has legitimate emotions besides existential angst, and it's vile, unlikeable characters utterly repulse me)

Most of the superhero comics on this list suggest themselves based on the criteria that I listed above.

Also, I limited the list to SUPERHERO comics. Which means that KAMANDI, a personal favorite of mine, the Silver Age TOMMY TOMORROW, and Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN, as well as Roy Thomas's CONAN, great works every one, are off the list, unfortunately. Many independent comics also don't make the list. To which I say - tough tamales.  Cheesy  I liked ELFQUEST in High School. On a related note, I'd love to go back in time and beat myself up in High School. MAUS was emotionally manipulative, dishonest "emotional pornography," the comic book equivalent of Steven Spielberg's A.I., except instead of teddy bears and little robot boys that want Mommy, Spiegelman cloyingly goes for the greatest inhuman act in human history with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the gut. MAUS has only one thing going for it, which is it came out in that year where superhero comics wanted desperately to be taken seriously by anal, trendy jackasses that feel embarassed of their hobby and seek to justify their existence to girlfriends and landlords. In other words, coddling their neuroses and anxieties about adulthood by insisting comics be taken seriously. And why is it nobody can point to "adult" comics as great as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit of DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, WATCHMEN and MAUS? Because 1986 came and went, that's why. These comics just happened to come out in the right place at the right time, and the window of relevance shut. Oh, and if you're doing a "comic that wants to be taken seriously," don't put funny animals as the main characters! Symbology my Aunt Banana - the real reason he used it is because Spiegelman's crude, clumsy art style just can't draw realistic humans. Why didn't Spiegelman go all out and make MAUS about the Donald Duck Holocaust?
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« Reply #1 on: August 31, 2005, 12:31:59 AM »

Oh you and your opinions Wink

Maus is a retelling of his father's actual experiences during the Holocaust as a sort of animal fable, with the Jews represented by mice and the Nazis by cats. The book won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

from an interview:

BOLHAFNER: Harvey Pekar has commented that he feels you shouldn't have used mice for any of it. He thinks it would have had more impact if you had used people, and is especially critical of your using pigs for the Poles.

SPIEGELMAN: And I'm unhappy that so many readers thought it was OK to use vermin for Jews but not pigs for Poles.

BOLHAFNER: But mice have a long history of cuteness in cartoons. Look at Mickey Mouse.

SPIEGELMAN: Look at Porky and Petunia Pig. But that's beside the point. These images are not my images. I borrowed them from the Germans. At a certain point I wanted to go to Poland, and I had to get a visa. I put in my application, and then I got a call from the consul. He said "the Polish attache wants to speak with you." And I knew what he wanted to talk to me about. On the way over there, I tried to figure out what I was going to say to him. "I wanted to draw noble stallions, but I don't do horses very well?" When I got there, he gave me the perfect opening. He said, "You know, the Nazis called us schwein" (German for pig). And I said, "Yes, and they called us vermin (German for mouse or rat)."

Ultimately, what the book is about is the commonality of human beings. It's crazy to divide things down the nationalistic or racial or religious lines. And that's the whole point, isn't it? These metaphors, which are meant to self-destruct in my book - and I think they do self-destruct - still have a residual force that allows them to work as metaphors, and still get people worked up over them.

BOLHAFNER: What about the idea that it lessons the impact? I kind of agree, but I see it as a positive thing. It makes the work more accessible. I don't know if people could take it if you'd done it in the style of "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" for instance.

SPIEGELMAN: I don't agree at all. I don't think it lessens the impact, I think it increases it. I think by screening things through the masks it makes the reader envision them himself, re-create them in his mind.

BOLHAFNER: Like in the panel where the German soldier smashes the Jewish child's head against the wall. It's not graphic, in terms of the picture, but the image is powerful in the mind.

SPIEGELMAN: Exactly. If you look at that picture - do you have the book with you there?

BOLHAFNER: I can get it. Wait a minute . . . (short pause while interviewer locates his copy of Maus) . . . OK.

SPIEGELMAN: OK. Now if you'll turn to page 108, Professor Spiegelman wil explicate those last two panels for you. First, the way it's drawn, I defy you to tell me whether that's cats and mice or people. I remember this panel very well, because it went through several revisions. That's one reason Maus has taken so long, because I keep doing these things over and over and sketch it different ways before the final version.

Anyway, I had a dilemma. I couldn't show it and I couldn't not show it. I said to myself "Spiegelman, you can't just avoid this." But I didn't want to be overly graphic. I didn't want the picture drawing the attention like "Ooh, look at that!" The panel is basically like an ideogram of a swinging motion. The head is outside the panel, although there is a splash of blood. And on the next panel, the splash of blood is covered up by a word balloon as my dad and I walk by and he says "This I didn't see with my own eyes, but somebody the next day told me." And that's important.

BOLHAFNER: Instead of happening on the page, it goes on inside the reader's head.

SPIEGELMAN: Exactly. It took me a long time, when I was starting Maus, to develop a visual style that would be easy to look at and wouldn't intrude and would keep the flow going and allow me to do what I wanted to do. "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" was something that happened to me, something that affected me in a certain way that the style, heavily affected by German Expressionism, was appropriate. The Expressionists weren't trying to put things on canvas, they were trying to put emotions on canvas, and these emotions were very powerful and personal and that style fit. For me to appropriate my father's emotions and portray them in that style would have been very dishonest.

read the whole thing here: http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Zone/9923/ispieg2.html
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JulianPerez
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« Reply #2 on: August 31, 2005, 06:09:51 AM »

Here's a kind-of retraction: I considered bringing my copies of MAUS off the shelf to point out particularly eggregious examples of what I'm talking about with my claim of "emotional pornography," but then I realized that I didn't want to read MAUS again for the same reason I don't want to see GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES again: because it made me cry like a little girl.

Perhaps my dislike of it comes from a kneejerk distaste for Independent Comics, Crumb and Pekar, Dave Sim, Wendy Pini, Gary Groth and Clowes on up. I'm tired of their identical, obsessively autobiographical tales of failure and not getting laid. I'm tired of their ultra-cynical malaise and postmodernism. I'm tired of their kneejerk, unreasoning contempt for superhero adventure comics. I'm tired of their fan base (all 1,000 of them). While Japanese Animation and Harry Potter fandom may be ridiculous at least at this stage in development, in terms of sheer unwarranted self-congratulation, lack of a sense of humor, and undeserved, infuriating pretention, Independent Comics has them all beat hands down.

And at least Japanimation can be fun, albeit geeky.
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« Reply #3 on: August 31, 2005, 08:16:48 AM »

10 Best Superhero Comics

1. The Death Ray by Dan Clowes
2. Maggie meets Maniak by Jaime Hernandez (early Love and Rockets issue)
3. The Roy Stories by Gilbert Hernandez (Love and Rockets)
4. Herbie
5. Jimmy Corrigan by Chris Ware
6. Wonder Warthog by Gilbert Shelton
7. "Power Femmes" by R.Crumb
8. Jetcat and Space Ape #8 by Jay Stevens
9. Flaming Carrot by Bob Burden
10. The Labors of Hercules, Gustave Dore
10a. Sparky Watts by Boody Rogers

My standards:

1. Beautiful Cartooning: comics are a visual narrative art form and substandard art or generic hackwork by wage slaves working on a deadline can only occasionally create great art (even though they can be regularly entertaining, highly professional, and even profound and beautiful occasionally).

2. Humour: because life is short

3. An adult sensibility: not to knock the work of Kirby, Ditko and Lee on the 60s Marvel comics, or the work of the Silver Age Superman family editorial teams (probably the greatest fictional and mythic story series of our time), but great superhero comics, like great novels or movies, are usually best enjoyed if they seem to be the expression of a coherent individual adult worldview, without hackneyed melodramatic or other generic constraints (I say this realizing that the concept of a superhero story as well as "comics," "novel" and "serious literature" are considered genres).
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JulianPerez
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« Reply #4 on: August 31, 2005, 09:52:45 AM »

Quote from: "TELLE"
3. An adult sensibility: not to knock the work of Kirby, Ditko and Lee on the 60s Marvel comics, or the work of the Silver Age Superman family editorial teams (probably the greatest fictional and mythic story series of our time), but great superhero comics, like great novels or movies, are usually best enjoyed if they seem to be the expression of a coherent individual adult worldview, without hackneyed melodramatic or other generic constraints (I say this realizing that the concept of a superhero story as well as "comics," "novel" and "serious literature" are considered genres).


Superhero comics are inherently for children. By their very nature as a type of story.

This is not to say that the medium of comics is inherently for children, but that what makes a SUPERHERO story specifically operate are elements that only appeal to a childlike mentality: fantasy elements, strange powers, keeping secrets, dressing strangely, monsters, robots, and secret treehouse bases. Removal of the child-like elements from superhero comics yields a product that is dreary, dull, boring, unreadable, and borderline sleazy.

This does not mean that good superhero comics, like other wonderful works, cannot be appreciated for different reasons by both children and adults. As a kid, I loved Steve Englehart's action-centered plots and mysteries, and only now as an adult do I grasp his gift for characterization and how he created living, breathing characters.

And the note about things being best from an "adult worldview" is really a case where it is important to say WHY we like things flat out. This reasoning is one that I do not share. I feel guilty for leaving off another of possibly one of the greatest superhero comics of all time, Bob Layton's HERCULES: PRINCE OF POWER miniseries. When a robot asks Hercules why his chariot can fly in space without them requiring oxygen, Hercules responds: "Because it is the will of Zeus, of course!"

What delightful, surreal non-logic! How typical of the "Magical Realist" weirdness that children accept without a second thought. Does this disconnect between cause and effect, this lack of a truly adult worldview destroy HERCULES: PRINCE OF POWER aesthetically? Well, let's see:

Is Hercules less emotionally accessible? Nope.

Does it prevent the story from advancing? Nope.

Does the world feel any less real? Nope. They're consistent with their mythic cosmos.

So, in conclusion, a childlike perspective make HERCULES: PRINCE OF POWER, and superhero comics as a whole stronger and more charming.

Is it possible to successfully do a superhero comic that is for adults alone, however?

The only one I can possibly think of off the top of my head is Alan Moore's MIRACLEMAN, where the problems that the main character faced were ones that were comprehensible to adults but not to children, for example. As a kid I wondered why Mickey Moran would CARE if Liz's baby was either his or his alter ego, Miracleman's, but as an adult I understand why that's a big deal.

But apart from that, it's never been done.
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« Reply #5 on: August 31, 2005, 01:26:11 PM »

It's hard to give an answer, so I'll mention one only comic book: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.
Spider-Man is my favorite comic book character, and his flagship comic book is for me a sort of guide to superheroes: whatever you want to read... Is here!". I am talking especially about issues #1/122 (plus AMAZING FANTASY #15). Peter Parker, aunt May, Jonah Jameson, Mary Jane Watson, Gwen Stacy, Jor Robertson... A little universe which has always seemed great to me.
I'm sorry 'cause now this title and the main character are so ruined...
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« Reply #6 on: August 31, 2005, 05:06:02 PM »

Quote from: "JulianPerez"
\

Perhaps my dislike of it comes from a kneejerk distaste for Independent Comics, Crumb and Pekar, Dave Sim, Wendy Pini, Gary Groth and Clowes on up. I'm tired of their identical, obsessively autobiographical tales of failure and not getting laid. I'm tired of their ultra-cynical malaise and postmodernism. I'm tired of their kneejerk, unreasoning contempt for superhero adventure comics. I'm tired of their fan base (all 1,000 of them). While Japanese Animation and Harry Potter fandom may be ridiculous at least at this stage in development, in terms of sheer unwarranted self-congratulation, lack of a sense of humor, and undeserved, infuriating pretention, Independent Comics has them all beat hands down.

And at least Japanimation can be fun, albeit geeky.


Hmmm.  Looks at an issue of the comicbook Flare and the Sparkplug back-up feature.(Mein gott, they're both insane!) or I look at Go! Girl.  Both are superhero comics and have a sense of whimsy.  The original Flare, League of Champions, Icestar, etc comics could easily be able to be published in Japan and be available to kids(no nudity taboo in Japan and since there is a lot of ties to Greek Myth....).  Again, the sense of whimsy was there.(the Sparkplug mini-series was a flop due to the extreme diffiulties writning a character like Olga Gottman)

Look at theese covers:
http://www.heroicpub.com/previews/default.php?sid=05083174lq

Especially this one:

http://www.heroicpub.com/previews/fl33.php?sid=05083174lq

Back to the topic at hand:

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents the entire run.

The Mighty Crusaders meetings with Archie and company in Ridgedale
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JulianPerez
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« Reply #7 on: August 31, 2005, 06:35:25 PM »

Quote from: "ShinDangaioh"
I look at Go! Girl.  


I did forget about Trina Robbins' charming, cute and all-round great GOGIRL. Which is a shame, my gosh, where to even begin on how great that series was. I especially love the cut-out paper dolls in the back with various fashoins, and the humorous asides from the writer which made it feel more like being a part of a community than an actual comic book, a thing unseen since Stan started the Merry Marvel Marching Society. I wouldn't consider it an "independent comic," at least in the model of DAVID BORING or AMERICAN SPLENDOUR because of its sense of play and joy and non-angsty, autobiographical content.

Quote from: "ShinDangaioh"
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents the entire run.


If I have read more of the title I would probably include that on my list too. What little I've read of THUNDER AGENTS is GREAT - the robots it is possible to download one's mind into was an especially nice touch. Wally Wood was an amazing artist and his unfortunate death was a loss to the entire world.
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"Wait, folks...in a startling new development, Black Goliath has ripped Stilt-Man's leg off, and appears to be beating him with it!"
       - Reporter, Champions #15 (1978)
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