A certain web site which shall not be named (okay, it’s Comic Book Resources) has been counting things down. Our Former Dread Lord and Master, Brian Cronin, has been running these polls for years, and while I missed the last time he did the whole “Best Runs” thing (he did it in 2016, when we were just getting off the ground, and I just forgot about it), his latest two are ones that I think are pretty neat, so I’m going to list them and argue for or against them, and then maybe everyone else can argue for or against them! If you’re interested in some other commentary and some sample artwork, you can find them at this link. Let’s go!
Brian did two lists, one for the best single-issue stories and one for the best graphic novels (which I guess included “fancy” issues that weren’t necessarily graphic novels, like all those Elseworlds one-shots DC used to do, but we’ll see that they count as GNs). So we have fifty of each, and I’ll list the single issues first. ‘Salrite? ‘Salrite.
50. “Maybe Next Year” in Peter Parker: Spider-Man #33 (2001). This is fine. It’s a pretty good story, but like far too much Spider-Man stuff, it traffics in really maudlin stuff. Writers can’t seem to write about Uncle Ben without really troweling on the gooey sentiment (and this from someone who is probably more sentimental than is good for him). But it’s still pretty good.
49. “With Great Power Comes Great Coincidence” in Deadpool #11 (1997). This is a very fun story, and depending on what’s higher ranked than it (I haven’t been keeping up, so this is the first time I’m seeing the entire list), it might deserve to be higher. Deadpool and Blind Al travel through time … into the pages of an old issue of Amazing Spider-Man. It works really well. Joe Kelly’s run on Deadpool is lauded, but while it’s a bit overrated, this issue is excellent.
48. Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween Special 1995. This is the third Halloween Special that Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale did together, and like everything Jeph Loeb does, it’s wildly overrated and remembered mainly because Loeb had a bizarre talent to hook up with great artists and then simply say to them, “Hey, what do you want to draw?” and then he’d write that. This is just A Christmas Carol, Batman-style, but it’s drawn by Tim Sale, so it seems amazing in our memories. It’s certainly good, but I’m not so sure it belongs here (again, I haven’t seen what’s on this list).
47. “Of Thee I Sing” in Hitman #34 (1998). Hitman is the second-best comic ever, so of course I have no problem with this issue being on the list. I think it’s probably too low, to be honest. It’s the one where Tommy Monaghan tells Superman how awesome he is. It’s not the best issue in the run, but the others don’t count because they’re not ones-and-done, so I’ll settle for this one!
46. “Another Cold Morning” in Transmetropolitan #8 (1998). This is an excellent issue, about a woman who was cryogenically frozen and then awakened in Spider Jerusalem’s future, a future she’s really not ready for. A lot of these so-called “bastard” writers (Ennis, who wrote the Hitman story, is one of them, and so is Warren Ellis, who wrote this) are actually quite sentimental, and Ellis writes a beautiful story about a woman who doesn’t know how to live in her new life. This is a great series, and this is a superb issue.
45. “Wounded Wolf” in Uncanny X-Men #205 (1986). Yeah, this is an amazing issue. Wolverine gets his ass kicked and then kicks ass, drawn with fierce beauty by Barry Windsor-Smith. The ending still gives me chills.
44. “Nobody Dies” in Flash #54 (1991). This is such a famous story that I feel like I have read it, but I haven’t. It routinely shows up on lists like this, so I guess it’s pretty highly regarded! This is the one where Flash jumps out of an airplane with no parachute, in case you don’t know.
43. “Calliope” in Sandman #17 (1990). Another great story, as Gaiman tells the tale of a writer with writer’s block who finds out an older writer can write because he captured Calliope, the muse of poetry. He buys Calliope and becomes successful, but dang, you shouldn’t be such a tool, Richard! Morpheus shows up, of course, and it all gets resolved. Kelley Jones’s art is haunting, and I’m still peeved at Gaiman for throwing out all those cool story ideas when Richard is wandering around at the end of the issue. Damn it, Gaiman!
42. “Judgment Day” in Weird Fantasy #18 (1952). This is the famous anti-racism story where the people in charge of the Comics Code wanted to change the final panel, which would completely neuter the point of the story. Idiots. It’s quite excellent; Brian spoils the ending in the post about this, but, I mean, it’s 66 years old.
41. “24 Hours” in Wolverine #10 (1989). I’ve never read this, but it seems pretty cool.
40. “Terror in a Tiny Town” in Fantastic Four #236 (1981). I’ve read this, but it was a while ago, and it didn’t make much of an impression. Byrne’s run on FF is good, but I’ve only read it once, so I can’t comment too much on it. Still, I have no problem with this one.
39. “Last Night” in Marvel Fanfare #15 (1984). Here’s one I don’t really object to – it’s Barry Windsor-Smith drawing the Thing and the Human Torch, and he gives us a pretty funny story – but it’s kind of fluff, and I just can’t call it the 39th best one-shot/single issue/short story ever. I mean, it’s not that funny stories can’t be great, but this is a gag strip. Would you put Charlie Brown failing to kick a football on a list of best single comic strips ever? Still, it’s a beautifully-drawn story!
38. “The Amazing Screw-On Head” (2001). Another I have no problem with. Mignola’s story is weird and gorgeous, and while I probably wouldn’t rank it this high, I don’t really have any issue with it being here.
37. “Who Is Donna Troy?” in New Teen Titans #38 (1983). I’ve really tried to get into the Wolfman/Perez Titans stuff, but I just can’t. They’re not bad, they just don’t really do anything for me. So I’ve never read this, and therefore can’t comment on it. Nice art, though.
36. Spider-Man versus Wolverine (1987). I guess this counts, even though it’s the culmination of the Hobgoblin saga (the extremely messy and terrible culmination, but still). But it’s quite good, so it’s cool.
35. “No Evil Shall Escape My Sight!” in Green Lantern #76 (1970). “Only there’s skins you never bothered with … the black skins!” Dum-dum-DUMMMMMMM!!!!! Yeah, this hasn’t aged well at all (and I would argue it’s not the best story of the run), but it’s important. Gorgeous art, of course! I guess I don’t have a problem with it, although “best” and “important” are not synonyms.
34. “In Dreams” in Astro City #1 (1995). Astro City is a brilliant series, and the first issue really kicks it off well, so I have no problem with this.
33. “The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne” in The Brave and the Bold #197 (1983). This is okay, I guess, but not that great. It’s the one where all his loved ones are invisible to Batman (thanks to the Scarecrow), so he has to get help from an enemy, Catwoman. So of course he falls in love with her. It’s a solid story, sure, but 33rd?
32. “Flashing Back” in Flash #0 (1994). I’ve read some of the Mark Waid Flash, but what I did read didn’t wow me, so I never got the rest. I have, as a consequence, not read this.
31. “Confessions” in Ultimate Spider-Man #13 (2001). Hey, remember when Bendis was good? I enjoyed this entire series, and this issue is really good, so sure, why not here?
30. “The Good, The Bad and the Uncanny” in Silver Surfer #4 (1968). This is the one where Silver Surfer (or, as my daughter used to call him when she first saw him in the Fantastic Four movie, “UGLY MAN!!!!”) fights Thor because Loki clouded his mind or something. I’ve never read it, but it looks terrific.
29. “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” in Batman #251 (1973). Dang, this is a great comic. Almost everything you think about when you think about Neal Adams’s iconic Batman is in this issue, and Denny O’Neil’s terrific story just keeps up with it. This is the kind of Joker I like, before Frank Miller ruined him: A killer, sure, but a calculating one who doesn’t simply slaughter everyone. That’s a great villain, if you ask me.
28. “Master Race” in Impact #1 (1955). The only reason this isn’t higher, I have to think, is because more people haven’t read it. This is a superb short story by Al Feldstein about a man who sees another man on a New York subway and flashes back to World War II, and it features a clever and devastating twist. Bernard Krigstein’s art is stunning, frenetic and choppy and just creepy enough to get across the horrors of a concentration camp. Plus, he uses a lot of panels to make the story feel longer, plus some beautiful staccato effects to imply motion. It’s amazing that EC sat on this for a year before publishing it, but it’s good they eventually printed it, because it’s amazing.
27. “There Is No Hope In Crime Alley” in Detective Comics #457 (1975). This is a solid story, as Batman revisits the spot of his parents’ death (a tradition begun in this issue) and Leslie Thompkins is introduced, unrecognizable from her later incarnations (why they used this name when they wanted to use the character instead of just inventing someone new is bizarre, and this Thompkins is just a random old lady). It’s perfectly fine, but I’m not sure it should be this high on the list.
26. Fantastic Four #1 (1961). Some things happened in this book, but come on, the reason it’s on this list is because it features one of the top ten single panels of all time:
25. “A League Divided” in Justice League of America #200 (1981). I’ve never read this, but it seems pretty keen, especially because they got artists associated with the characters to draw some of the sections, or they just got Brian Bolland to do it. Brian name-checks our very own John Trumbull while writing about this issue, so there’s that.
24. “Captain America Joins … the Avengers!” in Avengers #4 (1964). I still have never read this, despite seeing so much of it over the years. I wonder what it’s about? I don’t have a problem with it being here, even if I haven’t read it – it’s historically important, and it’s Kirby. You can never go wrong with Kirby!
23. “To Kill a Legend” in Detective Comics #500 (1980). This is another story that’s probably remembered more fondly than it is good, even though it’s perfectly fine. Batman and Robin get “It’s a Wonderful Life”-ed and go to a world where Bruce is given the opportunity to save his parents, and Dick discovers that the world has no heroes, so shouldn’t he make sure two innocent people get slaughtered so that the world can have Batman? It’s another of these good stories that seem ranked a bit high, but it’s not embarrassing that it’s here.
22. “Demon” in Uncanny X-Men #143 (1980). Byrne’s last issue is terrific, as Kitty faces down a demon that escaped another dimension 40+ issues previously and does it with style. Great art, and Claremont did a great job creating tension and fear. It’s notable because it’s the end of the era, but it’s just another stone cold classic by the Claremont/Byrne/Austin creative team. I mean, yawn.
21. “The Pact” in New Gods #7 (1971). I own all of the Fourth World saga in trade, and I’ll get around to reading it one day, I swear. Much like the Avengers story above, you can’t go wrong with Kirby, so I assume this is fine where it is.
20. “Roulette” in Daredevil #191 (1982). This is Frank Miller’s final issue on Daredevil (well, on his long run; “Born Again” was a special return) and it’s quite good, as Matt confronts Bullseye in the hospital. I think Miller on Daredevil is just a bit overrated, but I don’t have a problem with this being here.
19. “Second Genesis” in Giant-Size X-Men #1 (1975). I wonder if the people who voted for this have read it recently, because I have, and it’s just not that good. As a seminal moment in comics history, sure, it’s fine, but there’s that difference between “important” and “best” again, and as important as this issue is, it’s not very good. Oh well, such is life.
18. “Even an Android Can Cry” in Avengers #58 (1968). I’ve never been a big Avengers fan, so I’ve missed most of their big moments, including this one. Solid ending, though.
17. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in Sandman #19 (1990). Another terrific single issue from Gaiman, and definitely worthy of being on this list. I wonder if the second of these, which is the final issue of the series, suffered because the series wasn’t the hot new thing anymore. As I noted, I haven’t read ahead on these, so I don’t know if “The Tempest” is coming, but you could argue it’s better than this issue, so I’m curious.
16. “X-Animations” in X-Factor #87 (1992). You know, I don’t think I’ve ever read this. I bought X-Factor when Peter David took over for a while, but I think I dropped it before this issue. I’m getting close to “X” in my back issue re-reading, so I’ll see then, but I don’t think I’ve read it. I know it has a very good reputation, so I don’t mind that it’s here. Maybe I should read it at some point!
15. “Silent Interlude” in G.I. Joe #21 (1984). This is the silent issue with Snake Eyes, and I’ve never read it. I suppose it’s fine – what I’ve seen of it seems all right, but it feels a bit high here. I mean, it could be the most amazing work of fiction ever (again, I haven’t read it), but #15? Really?
14. “In Mortal Combat With … the Sub-Mariner” in Daredevil #7 (1965). This is the famous story where Daredevil fights Namor and gets his ass kicked, but earns Namor’s respect. It’s pretty good. Wallace Wood’s art isn’t as great as it usually is, but it’s still pretty danged strong.
13. “Ramadan” in Sandman #50 (1993). This is another great story, as P. Craig Russell goes nuts with beautiful art and Gaiman gives us a sumptuous tale of a glorious Baghdad and then twists the knife at the end. I don’t have any issues with where this is on the list.
12. “Return to Krypton” in Superman #141 (1960). Ugh, Silver Age Superman. I’ll pass. I suspect this is too high, but I haven’t read it, so what the hell do I know?
11. “Pizza Is My Business” in Hawkeye #11 (2013). This gets a ton of accolades, as it’s the issue of Hawkeye told from the perspective of his dog, and David Aja kicks so much ass on it that it’s not even funny, so I don’t have a huge problem with it being this high. However, it’s in the middle of that arc that is basically the same story told over and over again, and it robbed the series of the momentum from the first arc, and I’m not sure it ever recovered. This is an artistic tour-de-force, but in the context of the longer series, it almost feels like Fraction and Aja are showing off just because they can.
10. “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man” in Amazing Spider-Man #248 (1983). I’ve never been a big fan of this story, because much like the ending of Toy Story 3, it dives so deeply into schmaltz just to make you cry, and I dislike such manipulation (I don’t mind crying over fiction, but I don’t like being so blatantly manipulated). It’s as if Roger Stern thought, “How can I make the nerds weep?” and worked backwards from there. It’s not a terrible story, just like Toy Story 3 isn’t a terrible movie, but the praise heaped on it is a little much. It’s definitely not a Top Ten All-Time Story.
9. “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way?” in Action Comics #775 (2001). This is Joe Kelly’s somewhat pissy response to the rise of “extreme” heroes in comics during the 1990s, and it’s a perfectly fine story, although knowing the back story gets in the way a bit, for me, of complete enjoyment. I’m surprised this is ranked ninth – it feels a bit high, but there’s nothing really that wrong with it.
8. “Men of Good Fortune” in Sandman #13 (1989). Hob Gadling decides that he’s never going to die, so he doesn’t. This is a wonderful story, as we see Hob learn some hard lessons and tell Morpheus things he might not want to hear, which helps set up the rest of the series in a way we don’t necessarily see coming. This is in a perfectly good spot on this list.
7. The Batman Adventures: Mad Love #1 (1993). Yeah, I’ve never read this, and I’ve never really had any inclination to do so. I guess it’s fine here, but I suspect it’s ranked a little too highly, and that’s based solely on Harley’s current popularity.
6. “The Anatomy Lesson” in Swamp Thing #21 (1983). This is a brilliant comic, and definitely worthy of this ranking (and possibly even higher). Nobody has done the “everything you know is wrong” schtick better than Moore in this comic, even Moore in something like Miracleman (which was still a great “everything you know is wrong” moment). After wrapping stuff up in issue #20, this kickstarted Moore’s amazing run on this character.
5. “Spider-Man!” in Amazing Fantasy #15 (1962). Top Five, really? I mean, it’s a good story, and the origin of one of the best comic characters ever, but let’s go over this again: “Important” DOES NOT NECESSARILY EQUAL “best.” Sigh. Although this is good, don’t get me wrong. It’s just not Top Five Of All Time.
4. “The Coyote Gospel” in Animal Man #5 (1988). I’m surprised this is this high, not because it’s not great (it is), but because I’m a bit surprised enough people voted for it. I think it’s a bit high (Top Ten, maybe Top Fifteen, but not #4), but it’s still a superb story that let everyone know two things: Animal Man was going to get weirder going forward, and Grant “The God Of All Comics” Morrison was really, really good at writing comics.
3. “This Man, This Monster” in Fantastic Four #51 (1966). This is perfectly fine – it’s the one where the evil scientist switches bodies with Ben (or something) so he can get close to Reed and murder him, thereby saving the Marvel Universe from the egotistical, megalomaniacal Richards and saving his future children from the most neglectful father in history, but the bad guy realizes that doing that would mean Horrible Commie-Hating Sue would be free to marry someone who’s actually compassionate, so he doesn’t kill Richards and sacrifices himself. Wait, isn’t that how the story goes? Anyway, the slogan still holds – YCGWWK (You Can’t Go Wrong With Kirby) – so this is fine. I wouldn’t put it Top Three, but I won’t complain too much about it.
2. “The Nearness of You” in Astro City 1/2 (1997) Seriously? Number Two? Not that it’s not a great story – this is the one where the dude’s wife got erased in a superhero retcon event – but it’s shocking that this was voted #2. I guess that’s encouraging, that the voters would go with something like this instead of some of the older, more-classic-but-not-as-good stories on this list?
1. “For the Man Who Has Everything” in Superman Annual #11 (1985). This is another odd choice, especially for #1, but it’s a great story. Mongul traps Superman with the Black Mercy plant, which grants your deepest desire, and Supes has to get out of his dreams while Batman and Wonder Woman fight Mongul in the “real world.” Two dudes who no one ever heard of again wrote and drew this story. It’s pretty good.
Now let’s check out the graphic novels!
50. The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire (2012). I love Lemire, and this is a pretty good book, but it’s not as good as his best work. Still, I don’t have a problem with it being on this list.
49. Dropsie Avenue by Will Eisner (1995). I’ve never read this, but it’s Eisner, so I can’t believe it doesn’t at least belong near a list like this!
48. Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley (2014). I enjoyed this, but something about it bugged me. The lead character did some ridiculously dumb things, if I recall, and it took me out of the story. But overall, it was pretty good.
47. Blackmark by Gil Kane and Archie Goodwin (1971). I’ve heard of this, but never read it. I’d like to, because it’s Gil Kane and Archie Goodwin, but I haven’t yet.
46. Joker by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo (2008). Bermejo’s art is technically beautiful but kind of creeps me out, and Azzarello is overrated, so I never got this. I don’t really have any desire to read it, either.
45. Batman: Ego by Darwyn Cooke (2000). Yeah, I haven’t read this, either. Dang. I should, because it’s Cooke doing Batman, so maybe some day.
44. Why I Hate Saturn by Kyle Baker (1990). Baker is WILDLY overrated, so I’ve never felt any need to get this or his earlier work, and I haven’t. Onward!
43. Jungle Book by Harvey Kurtzman (1959). Another thing I’ve never read. It’s Kurtzman, though, so I’m sure it’s worth a look.
42. March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (2013-2016). I was waiting for all three of these to come out before getting them, and then I just never did. I will at some point, because the subject matter is interesting and Powell is a tremendous artist.
41. Mystery Play by Grant Morrison and Jon J. Muth (1994). I haven’t read this in years, but I think it’s slightly overrated. Morrison had an unfortunate habit of taking himself too seriously in his early years, and it could become ponderous, and while this is an interesting story, that tendency crops up a bit too much. Muth’s artwork is lovely, though, and it’s a good book, just perhaps not quite this good.
40. Safe Area Gorazde by Joe Sacco (2000). I’ve read this, but I like Footnotes In Gaza better.
39. The Story of My Tits by Jennifer Hayden (2015). I never had any inclination to read this when it came out. It’s about a woman coming to terms with her breast cancer, as well as her relationship with two other women who had cancer. It just didn’t seem like my thing.
38. The Golem’s Mighty Swing by James Sturm (2001). I like Sturm, and this is a pretty good book, so this is a fine placement.
37. Obelix and Co. by Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo (1976). I don’t know if I’ve read this particular story, but I grew up reading Asterix and Obelix comics, and I love them, so I don’t have any problem with this being here.
36. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris (2017). There my copy sits, on a shelf, unread. I get some books and then fall so far behind that at the end of the year, I just shelve them and start over, hoping to keep up. This happened in 2016 and 2017, and I’m really trying hard not to let it happen in 2018 (I’m doing a bit better this year than the last two, so fingers crossed!). So I own this and will read it at some point, but I don’t have an opinion on it yet, except to say that a lot of people really like it.
35. Pedro and Me by Judd Winick (2000). I’ve always heard good things about this, but I’ve never read it.
34. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (2014). This is another one of those universally loved graphic novels that I, the curmudgeon, thinks is quite overrated. The art is beautiful, but the story is nothing special. Hey, guess what? Two girls grow up! How cutting edge!!!!!
33. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (2006). Now this is a great comic. Yang tells three stories, which only vaguely interconnect, and while one is a coming-of-age story (blech), it’s done in a way that makes it different and better than most. Plus, the other two stories aren’t coming-of-age stories, so that helps. I love this book and will read almost everything Yang does because of it.
32. The Sculptor by Scott McCloud (2015). McCloud’s art is staggering on this, and the story is very ambitious, but the problem with ambition is if you don’t quite achieve all you want, the finished product falls flat, and The Sculptor tends to do that. McCloud tries to tackle far too many topics, and because of space constraints (the book is 500 pages, but still), he doesn’t really tackle them all that well. This is worth it almost to see how McCloud tells the story, but not for the story itself.
31. Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon (2006). I read this when it first came out, and I loved it, except for the gang-raping. Yep. Anyway, it’s about lions in the Baghdad zoo that are freed when the Americans bomb the city. They then have to get through the city, and of course many dramatic things happen. I really hated the gang rape, and I seem to recall Vaughan taking some umbrage over my hating of the gang rape, but other than that, it’s really good, and Henrichon’s art is beautiful.
30. Marvel Graphic Novel #4 (1982). This is the first New Mutants story, and it’s fine, I guess. It’s probably not #30, but whatevs.
29. Tricked by Alex Robinson (2005). I’ve read Robinson’s Too Cool To Be Forgotten and it was all right, but it didn’t make me want to run out and read his other work, either, so I haven’t.
28. Marvel Graphic Novel #3 (1982). This is the Dreadstar one, and in typical Starlin fashion, we get beautiful artwork with a pretty decent story that isn’t quite as good as the art. Still, this one’s placement on the list is fine.
27. Patience by Daniel Clowes (2016). I’ve never read anything by Clowes, and I’m not about to start now! Actually, I’ve just never been too impressed with his artwork, and the stories don’t sound so good that they will overwhelm that. So there you have it.
26. Marvel Graphic Novel #27 (1987). This is “Emperor Doom,” and I’ve never read it. Sounds pretty keen, though. I wouldn’t want to place the entire fate of the world in Wonder Man’s hands, but what the hell, right?
25. Stitches: A Memoir by David Small (2009). I’ve never read this, so oh well.
24. Fax from Sarajevo by Joe Kubert (1996). I haven’t read enough of Kubert’s graphic novels. I really should, shouldn’t I?
23. The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean (1994). It’s been a really long time since I’ve read this, but I remember liking it. I’ll have to read it again eventually! I don’t have a problem with it being here.
22. Here by Richard Maguire (2014). I’ve never heard of this, but it sounds … like a good idea, but nothing I’d want to, you know, read. Maguire picks a corner of a house and depicts it at different moments in time. Some overlap with each other, so you get a giant bison sleeping in the middle of a room, but that seems about it. Interesting? Sure. Compelling? I mean, how could it be?
21. Gotham by Gaslight by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola (1989). These “Prestige Format” things that DC did for years count as graphic novels, I guess, even though I would put them in the “one-shot” category. It doesn’t really matter, I suppose. Anyway, this is a terrific book, but I’m not sure it belongs this high. Once again, we get the “important” versus “best” argument, as this is important – it’s the first Elseworlds book, even though they didn’t call it that – and it’s Mignola getting his feet wet in horror, which may or may not have given him the idea to delve more fully into it a few years later. It’s an entertaining comic, but it’s also very much helped by its high concept – Batman meets Jack the Ripper – which almost allows you to write anything you want as long as you don’t screw it up too badly. Augustyn doesn’t screw it up, and so we get a very entertaining comic. The 21st best EVER? Probably not.
20. Marvel Graphic Novel #24 (1986). In other words, the Frank Miller/Bill Sienkiewicz Daredevil one. This is terrific, with Miller being somewhat restrained (as much as he can be, I guess), and Sienkiewicz painting the living shit out of it. It’s absolutely stunning to look at, and the story is scary and exciting and also manages to humanize Wilson Fisk just enough so he’s not a cartoon villain, which made him even scarier. Good stuff.
19. My Friend Dahmer by Derf (2012). Another critically acclaimed book that I have no interest in reading. So I guess it’s fine that it’s here?
18. Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse (1995). I read this years after it first appeared, and while it’s quite good, it’s one of those works that doesn’t transcend its moment in history. It was a bold move by DC (through Paradox Press, true, but still) to publish a memoir of a gay man in 1995, as sad as that sounds today, and for that reason, this got a lot of attention. It’s not a bad comic, and in fact is, as I mentioned, quite good, but I wouldn’t put it this high.
17. Elektra Lives Again by Frank Miller (1990). This is overrated, as Miller’s story is overcooked, despite the amazing artwork. It was kind of the first indication that Miller was slowly going around the bend, but that took a while, so it’s still a good read. This feels too high, though.
16. Smile by Raina Telgemeier (2010). Well, I’ve never read this, but my daughter likes it quite a bit, so I guess it’s properly ranked?
15. Our Cancer Year by Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner, and Frank Stack (1994). Beats me. I’ve never read this either. People seem to really like Pekar (I’ve read one thing by him, and it was just all right), so sure, why not?
14. Wilson by Daniel Clowes (2010). Another Clowes book? Ugh.
13. Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud (1993). How is this even eligible? Wouldn’t that be like putting “The Internet For Dummies” on a list of greatest works of fiction? This selection makes no sense. It’s great, sure, but it’s a how-to book.
12. Enemy Ace: War Idyll (1990). This came out just when I had started buying comics, so for some reason I didn’t think I’d like it. That seems stupid now, because it’s such a gorgeous comic. Maybe I’ll get it one of these days.
11. JLA: Earth Two by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely (1999). Yeah, this is a great comic. I have no objections to it being here. I did hear recently that Quitely made so much money just working with Mark Millar that he can afford to retire and just do covers if he feels like it. How much money is Millar making if just paying one of his collaborators accomplishes that? Dang.
10. Blankets by Craig Thompson (2003). After having many issues with Habibi and hearing that Thompson has the same issues in Blankets, I’m not in any hurry to read this. Based on Habibi (which wasn’t terrible, I just had issues with it), this might be worth it for the art, but I don’t know. I know a lot of people love it, so I’m not surprised it’s here.
9. Marvel Graphic Novel #49 (1989). Doctor Doom and Doctor Strange go to hell! This is quite good, as Roger Stern writes a nifty story in which Strange and Doom try to free Doom’s mother’s soul from Mephisto. This is another book where you think that Mike Mignola realized he enjoyed drawing shit in hell, so a few years later, he went back to that well. It’s a beautiful comic, obviously, and it’s a good read, too.
8. A Contract With God and Other Tenement Stories by Will Eisner (1978). Another Eisner book I haven’t read (I own several Eisner books that I haven’t read yet, because I suck), but I imagine this is good.
7. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2000). I’ve never been that impressed by this. It’s fine, but nothing special. It’s one of those books that you should read because it gives you a fascinating perspective on a culture we don’t see much of, but other than that, it’s just not great. It’s, you know, fine.
6. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (2006). I got in a lot of trouble lo those many years ago when I argued that the reason Fun Home was so critically acclaimed was because it was by a lesbian and it was about coming out of the closet and that people wanted to like it because it made them feel good and not because it was so great. AND I REALLY LIKE FUN HOME!!!!! Brian argued, and I agreed and tried to mend my ways, that no one should ascribe reasons why other people like something – we should take them at their word – and a bunch of others jumped on me for various reasons, and a good time was had by all. Then I went to Changing Hands bookstore in Tempe to see Bechdel read from the comic, and afterward I introduced myself … and she had heard of me specifically because of that post, which someone had forwarded on to her. I was actually mortified, but she was very cool about it, and I told her that I really did like the comic. It’s a great comic, and while I’m not positive it’s the sixth-best all-time, it’s still excellent. But that’s my story. (I’d link to it, but the CBR version has all the junk from before the format changed, so it’s a mess, plus the comments aren’t there, and I can’t find it on the Wayback Machine.)
5. Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli (2009). Did Asterios Polyp really come out NINE years ago? Dang. Anyway, there’s no way this deserves to be this high, because Mazzucchelli simply doesn’t care about story, and story is a big part of fiction, whether we want to admit it or not. Artistically, this is a staggering work, and if you’re into art, you should get it, but the writing is so weak and the characters so bad that it almost ruins it. It’s a good book, but nowhere near deserving of the acclaim it receives.
4. Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean (1989). This is still, I believe, the best-selling American graphic novel ever – if it’s not, it’s a new development, because it was for a long time – and it’s pretty amazing, even though the God Of All Comics indulges his pretentious side a bit too much. McKean’s art is stunning, and the story is good, as Morrison gets to play around with a lot of the great Batman villains. Again, a bit high on the list, but not too bad.
3. Marvel Graphic Novel #1 (1982). This comic – the death of Captain Marvel – is really ranked too high – it’s another pretty good comic, but Starlin has never been the greatest writer, so although the art is amazing, the story lags behind a bit. It’s a cool idea, certainly, and it’s impressive that Marvel had the balls to let Starlin do it, but it’s more important than good. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
2. The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland (1988). First of all, this is another one that isn’t really a graphic novel, as it’s just a one-shot, but again, that’s splitting hairs. Second, this is a pure nostalgia pick, because after all the dissection of this story over the past 30 years, it’s pretty clear it’s not that good and has a lot of issues, the wrecking of Barbara Gordon being the biggest one (but the laugh between Batman and the Joker coming not too far behind). It’s just mediocre Moore, which is better than 90% of the other comics out there, especially when it’s drawn by Bolland, but #2 of all time? That’s ridiculous.
1. Marvel Graphic Novel #5 (1982). It’s indicative of the stranglehold superheroes have on the American comics-buying public that “God Loves, Man Kills” in #1, followed by two Batman comics at #2 and #4. This is another perfectly fine comic, although Claremont wouldn’t know what subtlety was if it walked up and smashed him over the head with a dictionary. It’s beautifully drawn, and it really kick-started the whole “mutant persecution” angle that Claremont and many other writers milked for years, so I don’t have too much of a problem with it being #1. I wouldn’t put it there, but whatever.
Okay, so let’s see what’s not on these lists. Let’s go back to the single issue/one-shot list. I’ve read more of that than I have the graphic novel list, so maybe I can comment better on it? Beats me. I’m actually stunned that it has three (3) issues from Sandman on it but not “The Sound of Her Wings.” Have these people not read all of Sandman? That’s probably the best issue of the run, but if it’s not, how about “A Hope in Hell” or frickin’ “24 Hours,” which is quite possibly the creepiest comic book ever? Those omissions, especially the first one, are shocking to me. Continuing with the Neil Gaiman section of omissions, I love “Hold Me” in Hellblazer #27, which he did with Dave McKean. Just a wonderfully sad story about the homeless, and I guess it’s just not as well known, because it’s amazing. Finally, Gaiman’s Riddler story in that Secret Origins Villains special, which is drawn by Bernie Mirault, is the best Riddler story ever written, so it should probably be on the list somewhere.
I would put the final issue of Morrison’s Doom Patrol on the list, because goddamn does that get me every damned time, but it might be too tied up with the rest of the run for it to have an impact if you haven’t read everything else. There are some brilliant Grant/Breyfogle Batman stories that are done in one, and Milligan/Aparo did some superb Batman stories as well. If you think I don’t like funny comics because I pooh-poohed that Marvel Fanfare story, I would say that Uncanny X-Men #245 – the one with the alien invasion – deserves some consideration, and I would definitely have Ambush Bug Nothing Special on the list, because that might be the funniest single issue I’ve ever read. It’s not that I don’t like funny comics, I just don’t think that Thing/Human Torch one is so funny it deserves to be on the list.
I’m a bit gobsmacked that Avengers Annual #10 isn’t on the list. First appearance of Rogue, a brilliant story, amazing art by Michael Golden – what’s not to love? Similarly, I don’t love it as much as some, but the Titans/X-Men crossover with Simonson on art isn’t here, either, which is a bit of a surprise. Speaking of Simonson, that Batman story he drew with all the clichés could bump one of these, couldn’t it? Miracleman #15 ought to be here, too, but I imagine not enough people have read it. Yes, it helps to have read the build-up to it, but all you really need to know is contained within, and it’s the most perfect and brutal and horrific distillation of a superhero fight ever.
Anyway, this is a deep rabbit hole, so I suppose I’ll stop there. Some of these I’m actually surprised didn’t make the cut, but others are just personal preferences. Let’s move on to the graphic novels!
This is a bit harder, because there are so many graphic novels but not many are universally popular, which is why some of those ended up high on the list. There’s also a dearth of international graphic novels here, so there’s no Sergio Toppi, there’s no Milo Manara, there’s no Enki Bilal, The Eternaut is nowhere to be found (it probably doesn’t count because it was serialized in weekly strips, but damn it’s good stuff), there’s no Muñoz, there’s no Blacksad … the list could go on and on, obviously. But I can live with that. Anyway, let’s get to ones that I’d definitely put on my list. I’m just going to list some in alphabetical order, as I look around at my bookshelves. If it’s already on the list, I won’t mention it.
Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot. A history of comics, northern England, and what Lewis Carroll has to do with it all. It’s brilliant – insightful, funny, beautiful to look at, and tells you new things that you probably never considered before.
Son of the Demon and Birth of the Demon, two of the three Ra’s al Ghul graphic novels. The first is by Mike Barr and Jerry Bingham, the second is by Denny O’Neil and Norm Breyfogle. The middle one isn’t as good, but the two bookends are excellent.
Beast by Marian Churchland. A spooky fairy tale, an examination of masculinity and desire, with absolutely beautiful art.
Cairo by G. Willow Wilson and M.K. Perker. A group of people move around modern-day Cairo looking for a genie. Yes, it’s full of magical realism, but it’s gripping. Wilson has done some great comics, but I’m not sure if she’s ever been better on this, her first one.
Capote in Kansas by Ande Parks and Chris Samnee. The Capote movies might get all the attention, but Parks was there first, and this comic is intensely powerful. It’s early Samnee art, and he’s as good as ever.
Displaced Persons by Derek McCulloch and Anthony Peruzzo. This takes place over three timelines in 30-year increments, and they all connect eventually in a clever way. It’s a family drama, dealing with related people who don’t quite fit into society, and that informs the clever way they’re connected, too. McCulloch is a good writer, and this is one of his best.
Dry Spell by Ken Krekeler. Krekeler tells the story of an ex-supervillain who misses his villainous lifestyle and the tragedies that follow when he decides to get back into it. It’s a clever deconstruction of superheroes while still being an action-packed story, and Krekeler’s photo-reference art is very good. Krekeler doesn’t make too many comics (presumably because there’s no money in them), but the ones he does make are excellent.
Exit Wounds by Ruta Modan. This is a story about an Israeli cab driver and the soldier who tells him that his father might have been killed in a bombing. They investigate (he’s estranged from his father, so he wouldn’t know) and grow closer, even though the soldier was having an affair with his father (she’s a bit younger than he was). It’s a beautifully done tale about relationships, and Modan’s art is terrific.
Fishtown by Kevin Colden. Colden’s terrific story about a horrible murder in Philadelphia in 2003 (Fishtown is a neighborhood in the city). This was originally a web comic, so I’m not sure it counts, but it’s really good.
Heart in a Box by Kelly Thompson and Meredith McClaren. I still can’t emphasize enough how much I love this comic. A young woman wishes her heart away, but then she realizes she needs it, so she has to find the pieces and put it back together. It sounds like a fantasy, and it sort-of is, but it’s really about the woman and the way she lives her life and relates to others. And the art is superb. If you’ve only read Thompson’s Marvel work, do yourself a favor and track this down.
It’s a Bird … by Steven Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen. I love this book, and I’m surprised it hasn’t gotten more love over the years. Seagle got the gig writing Superman, but this book is about how he feels about that, and it’s also about the health problems in his own family and coming to terms with it. Kristiansen paints the book beautifully, and it’s a superb example of how superheroes can make us think about a lot of other things, too.
The Judas Coin by Walter Simonson. One of the coins paid to Judas to betray Jesus passes through history, and coincidentally it ends up in a lot of DC characters from different time periods, and Simonson is there to chronicle it all! This is Walt Freakin’ Simonson drawing all kinds of cool DC characters, so of course it’s excellent!
Kingdom of the Wicked by Ian Edginton and D’Israeli. A successful children’s author gets transported to the fantasy world he created, which is now in the middle of a horrible war. It’s gripping. Edginton and D’Israeli do a lot of good things together, but this might be their best work.
The Lone and Level Sands by A. David Lewis and mpMann. This is a tale of the Exodus, and it’s very good. Lewis tells the story from the point of view of Ramses II, so we get to see what he’s thinking as Moses messes with him, and Mann does a great job evoking ancient Egypt. Lewis doesn’t write many comics, but he always brings his A game!
Lost at Sea by Bryan Lee O’Malley. The comic O’Malley worked on before Scott Pilgrim is quite good, better than the one he worked on after Scott Pilgrim (which, as you know, is on the list above). It’s a quiet story about a teenager who doesn’t know what she’s doing in life, and while that subject has been beaten to death, O’Malley does a nice job with it.
The Lost Boy by Greg Ruth. Ruth is a superb creator, and this comic is fantastic. A boy moves into a house and finds a tape of another boy describing the town in which they live. The town is apparently quite bizarre, and the boy on the tape ended up disappearing, so the boy and a girl he meets try to figure out what happened to him. Ruth creates a terrifically creepy atmosphere, and his artwork is amazing.
Moving Pictures by Kathryn and Stuart Immonen. This is the story of a woman in Occupied France falling in love with a Nazi officer even as she tries to save artwork from the museum she works at. It’s a gripping story, with astonishing artwork by Stuart Immonen.
The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon. This is the story of a girl with some mental issues who falls in love. Yes, it’s simple, but Dillon does a marvelous job with her issues and he makes the characters so real that the romance becomes something we’re totally invested in. The ending isn’t perfect, but it’s still a marvelous comic.
Nil: A Land Beyond Belief by James Turner. Turner’s comics are usually good, and this is an excellent example of his weird, angular art and his wry sense of humor, as a guy looks for meaning in a world that has none. It’s really well done.
Northwest Passage by Scott Chantler. It’s a book about finding the Northwest Passage in Canada during the 1700s. I mean, what did you expect? Except it’s very adventurous, gripping, and beautifully drawn. So there’s that.
The Red Diary/The Re[a]d Diary by Steven Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen. This is really good, but it’s probably best just to link to my old review to explain what the heck is going on with it.
Red Handed by Matt Kindt. Kindt is a comics genius, so it’s no surprise this is great. It’s a surreal detective story, as a very good detective is suddenly confronted with many very weird crimes, and he can’t figure them out. The detective has a rocky marriage, too, which adds to the cool story, and Kindt slowly builds to a terrific ending. It’s really well done.
Solstice by Steven Seagle and Justin Norman. A millionaire is obsessed with staying young, and he takes his son on voyages to find a “fountain of youth” elixir, and of course Seagle explores their contentious relationship wonderfully. Norman – whom you may know as Moritat – does amazing work on the art, and the book never lets you go once it grabs you. I love this comic.
Some New Kind of Slaughter by A. David Lewis and mpMann. This is a story about flood myths, and Lewis ties it to current environmental concerns, and while it’s a tiny bit preachy, it’s mostly just an excellent story about people and how they deal with nature. Good stuff!
The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan. A boy in Dust Bowl Kansas meets strange man in a barn one night, and Phelan uses this odd event to examine a community on the edge of utter ruin, as the townspeople live in despair because of the drought that makes it impossible to farm. It’s a fable, sure, but it’s also a powerful story about who we are and how we survive, and it’s definitely something to check out.
Sudden Gravity by Greg Ruth. Stories about mental hospitals can easily fall into cliché, but Ruth gives us a supremely creepy story that works because he takes the time to make the characters interesting. There’s a lot going on at Bentham Hospital, and Ruth does a nice job tying everything together, and his art (which was done completely by a ballpoint pen) is astonishing.
Super Spy by Matt Kindt. I mentioned above that Kindt is a comic genius, and while I don’t want to call any one book his masterpiece, if I have to, this would probably be it. He tells the stories of spies in World War II, and he does it out of order chronologically, so we have to piece together who’s alive and who’s dead at any given moment. While the book is exciting, Kindt shows the effect spying has on people and how it changes them, and that’s the devastating part of the book. It’s a very tense book, and it’s made even more so by the fact that Kindt has made these characters real, so we’re very invested in what happens to them. It’s a great comic.
Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell. I get that March is a much more high profile work for Nate Powell, but he’s been doing exquisite comics work for years, and Swallow Me Whole is a brilliant work. Powell writes about an Arkansas sister and brother, and how unusual they are, and how perhaps the fact that the girl is treated differently than her brother destroys both of them. The art is beautiful, the story is powerful, and when I first read it, I didn’t get the ending. Maybe I still won’t when I re-read it. But until the ending, I loved it. Maybe I’ll love it even more if I understand the ending!
The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua. Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace live in an alternate reality where their “computer” worked and they became big-time celebrities. Padua’s book is a charming adventure that is ridiculously educational, as well, as she points out what really happened even as her two stars have a bunch of adventures. It’s a terrific comic.
Tumor by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Noel Tuazon. A seedy private eye is hired by a gangster to find his missing daughter, which he does fairly easily. She doesn’t want to go back, though, so they embark on a journey through Los Angeles so the detective can figure out what to do. Oh, and he’s dying because he has a brain tumor. Fialkov does a terrific job with the characters, and Tuazon creates a gritty, grungy L.A. that matches the characters very well. It’s a sad story, but a very good one.
Two Brothers by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá. Brazilian brothers tell the story of … Brazilian brothers! Moon and Bá are great creators, so it’s not surprising that this adaptation of a novel is great, too, as we get a family drama in which two brothers take very different paths in life, set against the backdrop of 50 years of Brazilian history. It’s beautiful and powerful.
Vietnamerica by GB Tran. I’m still a bit mystified that this book isn’t more revered, because it was easily the best comic of 2011, but it didn’t get much press. Tran’s story is about his family, who left Vietnam before he was born, and how he went back to the country to meet those left behind. It’s heartwarming, sad, hopeful, and gorgeously illustrated. I really can’t recommend it enough.
Anyway, those are some of my favorites. My point is not that the ones on Brian’s list are bad (okay, some are, but only a few), but that when it comes to great mainstream comics, there’s usually a consensus, but when it comes to graphic novels, which are usually more specialized, it’s very easy to overlook many worthy ones. But that’s just my opinion.
So those are the lists. Anyone want to comment on them? It’s fun to nitpick lists!!!