I’ve been a good boy this year. I’ve been frugal with my money. I organized a team in a Walk To Fight Alzheimer’s. I even convinced a woman to dress up as Black Canary for Halloween. I’d say that those are all good things.
So I think that I deserve something special for Christmas this year. Like more trade paperbacks collecting classic runs of comics. The thing is, a lot of the trades I want don’t technically exist yet. I know that we’re living in a golden age of reprints, but there are still a few classic comics that have been unfairly neglected. So I’m writing you in the hopes that we can make these happen. You know some editors, right? Here’s my list:
Aquaman: The Quest For Mera by Steve Skeates and Jim Aparo (Aquaman #40-48, July 1968 – Dec. 1969)
For such a long-running character, Aquaman’s been sadly neglected when it comes to trade paperbacks collecting his classic storylines. This is one of the more egregious omissions. The recent Aquaman Showcase volumes stopped right before this storyline.
Steve Skeates and Jim Aparo were new to DC when they started on Aquaman with issue #40. New DC editor Dick Giordano brought Skeates and Aparo over with him from Charlton, and they wasted no time shaking up the world of the Sea King. When Aquaman’s wife Mera is kidnapped by person or persons unknown, our hero leaves Atlantis to track her down, having adventures at various undersea civilizations along the way. But while Arthur is gone from his kingdom, civil unrest begins to grow in Atlantis…
This is a great, fun storyline, and an actual arc from an era when those were the exception rather than the rule. Skeates and Aparo are at the peak of their powers here.
…And need I mention that issues #49-56 would make the perfect follow-up volume?
Aquaman: Depths of Atlantis by Neal Pozner and Craig Hamilton (Aquaman mini-series #1-4, Feb. – May 1986)
This 1986 mini-series is largely remembered today for introducing Aquaman’s short-lived blue camouflage uniform, but it did much more than that. Writer Neal Pozner evolved Arthur Curry to give him a more sympathetic and relatable personality, connected the scientific Atlantis of the 20th century with the mystical Atlantis of Arion’s time, further developed the rivalry between Aquaman and his brother the Ocean Master, and introduced a new lost Atlantean city in Thierna Na Oge. And artist Craig Hamilton gave Aquaman’s underwater world something it desperately needed — mystique. He revamps the Ocean Master into a fearsome presence, and his art nouveau-inspired illustrations make the series.
But because Pozner and Hamilton’s planned follow-up never happened, this new direction didn’t continue, and the mini became an unfairly-forgotten footnote in Aquaman continuity. That’s a shame, as it’s one of the high-water marks of the Sea King’s 75-year history.
I got the title Depths of Atlantis from the tagline they used to advertise the mini-series (“From the shadowy depths of Atlantis, his life will change forever!”), and I think it’s pretty spiffy. Include a text piece by Pozner’s protégé and partner Phil Jimenez, some of the unpublished art by proposed pencilers Alan Davis and Jerome Moore, put it all under a new painted cover by Craig Hamilton, and you’ve got a great trade paperback.
The Atlantis Chronicles by Peter David and Esteban Maroto (The Atlantis Chronicles #1-7, March – Sept. 1990)
This sprawling saga has been collected overseas, and it’s high time America got a trade of its own. The Atlantis Chronicles tells the story of Atlantis over several generations, from Orin and Shalako, the warring brothers at its sinking thousands of years ago, to King Honsu’s wars against Greece and Egypt, all the way up to Arthur Curry’s birth in the present day. And, as each issue is told by a different chronicler, we get a multitude of viewpoints over the years. A disciple of the mystic Shalako tells the tale of Atlantis’ sinking, while a follower of scientific Orin details its aftermath. The gossipy style of the next chronicler gives way to the more angst-ridden accounts of her son.
DC’s Atlantis had always been rather nebulously-defined before this series. Over the years, we saw several different versions of the sunken continent, but they rarely related to each other in any real way. Aquaman’s Atlantis didn’t seem much like Lori Lemaris’ Atlantis, which didn’t seem much like Arion’s Atlantis. Peter David manages to unify them all into one mythology. He also takes a lot of questions from DC’s continuity — Why did Atlantis sink? How did the cities of Tritonis and Poseidonis split off from each other? Why do some Atlanteans look human while others are mermaids and mermen? Where did Mera’s hard-water powers come from? Why is blond hair forbidden in Atlantis? — and comes up with logical explanations for each, setting up story threads for his eventual run on Aquaman’s solo book. Artist Esteban Maroto also brings his “A” game, giving Atlantis distinct fashions and architecture that believably evolve over time. It’s high fantasy at its best.
In the age of Game of Thrones, The Atlantis Chronicles could go over big. Make it happen, DC.
Batman: Darknight Detective by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams (Detective Comics #395, 397, 404, The Brave and the Bold #93, Detective Comics #410, Batman #232, 234, 237, 243-245, 251, Jan. 1970 – Sept. 1973)
From their creation of Ra’s Al Ghul to their restoration of Batman as a creature of the night, Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams have cast a long, bat-shaped shadow over the history of the Caped Crusader. But amazingly, this team have only done twelve Batman tales together. We tend to forget that, because they both have a long track record of Batman stories with other collaborators. And while O’Neil and Adams both did great work on their own, their chemistry together is still unmatched.
“Daughter of the Demon”, “Night of the Reaper!”, “A Vow From The Grave!”, “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge!” — Every one of these stories is a stone-cold classic. So even though they’ve all been reprinted elsewhere, we deserve to have them collected under one cover. That way everyone can see why 40 years later, O’Neil and Adams are still considered one of the definitive Bat-teams.
Justice League of America: The World’s Greatest Superheroes by Steve Englehart and Dick Dillin (Justice League of America #139-146, 149-150, Feb. 1977 – Jan. 1978)
Steve Englehart’s late 70s run on Detective Comics with Marshall Rogers is rightfully lauded and frequently reprinted. But did you know that at the same time Englehart was redefining Batman, he was also revamping DC’s premier super-team?
Since Englehart had been a popular writer of The Avengers over at Marvel (he was the guy who married off the Vision and Scarlet Witch), so when DC got him to write for them for a year, they wanted him to work his magic on their biggest superhero team. And so he did. At Englehart’s request, the book was boosted up to double-size, to give him room to work on the JLAers’ personalities in addition to monthly super-menaces. Although the League had developed a certain amount of characterization over the years, they were still by and large an agreeable lot who all got along with other more often than not. Englehart shook them up, showing the second-tier members like the Atom dealing with feelings of inadequacy, the conservative Flash clashing with the aggressive Wonder Woman, and Hawkman’s irritation over his wife not being admitted to the team.
These tales contain the first time the Manhunters menaced the DC Universe, the return of once-and-future Manhunter Mark Shaw, a cross-company cameo from an Avenger, Hawkgirl and Red Tornado joining the JLA, and the untold secret origin of the JLA–in 1959.
Rumor has it that DC isn’t reprinting these issues because they feel that Dick Dillin’s art is too dated to appeal to today’s readers. I hope that’s not true. These stories are terrific and they deserve to be seen by a wider audience.
All-Star Squadron: The Ultra Saga by Roy Thomas and Jerry Ordway (All-Star Squadron #18-26, Feb. – Oct. 1983, All-Star Squadron Annual #2, 1983)
All-Star Squadron, Roy Thomas’ valentine to the Golden Age heroes of DC Comics, was a pretty solid book for most of its run, but it really hit its stride once Jerry Ordway and Mike Machlan took over the art.
For much of the run of All-Star, Thomas focused on lesser-known heroes like Johnny Quick, Robotman, and Liberty Belle. For this arc, he pulled out all the stops and brought in the A-List heroes of the JSA – Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman & Robin, the Flash, and Green Lantern. And it works beautifully — you really feel like the ante’s been upped.
The main villain of this storyline is the Ultra-Humanite, a Golden Age Superman foe who would transplant his brain from one person to another. Here he’s in the body of glamorous actress Dolores Winters. Ultra, as we gradually find out, is gathering various items to increase his power. Things get more and more complex, until it eventually involves dozens of heroes and time-travel. This storyline is even better than Thomas’ classic Kree/Skrull War over in The Avengers, in my opinion.
A lot happens in this storyline — the All-Stars get a new headquarters, Amazing-Man makes his debut, Tarantula gets a new costume, and Infinity, Inc. makes their first appearance. There’s plenty of Thomas’ trademark retroactive continuity on display, too, as we find out how the Atom got his atomic powers, why the Sandman changed costumes, why Dr. Fate switched to a half-helmet, and how Dick Grayson is connected to Robotman. And, because it’s Ordway and Machlan, everything looks gorgeous.
This would make a great companion volume to the recently-reprinted “Generations Saga” from All-Star‘s sister book, Infinity, Inc.
Nemesis by Cary Burkett, Dan Spiegle, and Jim Aparo (The Brave and the Bold #166-178, 180-193, Sept. 1980 – Dec. 1982)
Nemesis was an 8-page backup feature that ran in the Batman team-up book The Brave and the Bold in the early 80s. It followed the adventures of Tom Tresser, a former federal agent combating the evil Council. Tom was avenging the murder of his mentor Ben Marshall, a murder that the Council brainwashed his brother Craig into committing. Determined to rebalance the scales of justice, Nemesis engraved the name of each Council member he defeated onto a bullet, which was then placed on a scale next to a weight with Ben Marshall’s name. Each victory brought the scales slightly closer to a balance.
Nemesis was a brilliant inventor and master of disguise, often infiltrating the Council to bring them down, but his inexperience in the field meant that he occasionally slipped up and was caught. This led to some classic cliffhangers. My personal favorite was when a wounded Nemesis was trapped with a hungry lion on the grounds of a bad guy’s estate.
Since he appeared in a Batman team-up book, Nemesis joined forces with the Dark Knight twice, once early in his feature and a second time at the end, both illustrated by the great Jim Aparo. The cool thing was that you could see all the progress Nemesis had made as a crimefighter in that time.
This needs to be a collection. The 8-page length meant that the Nemesis feature moved at a breakneck pace, and the benefit of The Brave and the Bold‘s cancellation is that it brought the saga of Tom Tresser to a definite end. Heck, DC, if you ask me nicely, I’ll even let you reprint my article about Nemesis from BACK ISSUE #64 as an afterword.
Blackhawk by Mark Evanier, Dan Spiegle and others (Blackhawk #251-273, Oct. 1982 – Nov. 1984, The Brave and the Bold #167, Oct. 1980, DC Comics Presents #69, May 1984)
So in the early 1980s, a fellow by the name of Steven Spielberg was thinking of making a movie out of the old war comic Blackhawk. This prompted DC to revive the comic under the auspices of writer Mark Evanier and artist Dan Spiegle.
And they knocked it out of the park. Evanier & Spiegle took the high adventure and cool super-science of the Golden Age (the War Wheel!) and melded it with the more in-depth characterization of the Bronze Age (former racial stereotype Chop-Chop was drawn like an actual human being, gained a Blackhawk uniform, and was given a real name, Wu Cheng). Mark Evanier excels at writing real, relatable people, and that talent is on full display here. This was the first time the sketchily-defined, caricatured Blackhawks all became recognizable as people, and the stories were all the better for it.
…Oh, and did I mention that Dan Spiegle can draw rings around most anybody who can push a pencil?
Another feature of the series was the periodic “Detached Service Diary” stories, 8-pagers detailing solo adventures of the various Blackhawks. And the guest artists who illustrated them were a murderer’s row of talent: Pat Boyette, Dave Cockrum, Will Meugniot, Don Newton, Mike Sekowsky, John Severin, Joe Staton, Ken Steacy, Alex Toth, and Doug Wildey, among others.
Unfortunately, the Spielberg movie never happened and the Blackhawk comic struggled in sales. The series was eventually cancelled and forgotten until the Howard Chaykin revamp a few years later. And that’s a shame. Put this series in one or two trade paperbacks and it might finally get the recognition it deserves.
Crossfire by Mark Evanier and Dan Spiegle (DNAgents #9-10, Feb. – March 1984, #24, July 1985, Crossfire #1-26, May 1984 – Feb. 1988, Crossfire and Rainbow #1-4, June – Sept. 1986, Whodunnit? #1-3, June 1986 – April 1987, The New DNAgents #17, March 1987, DNAgents Super Special #1, April 1994, Many Happy Returns, 2008)
Hell yes, I’m listing another Dan Spiegle book. This is an underappreciated classic.
After the cancellation of Blackhawk at DC, Evanier & Spiegle decided to do a creator-owned book. Crossfire spun off from DNAgents, another creator-owned book Evanier was doing at Eclipse Comics with Will Meugniot. Crossfire tells the story of Hollywood bail bondsman Jay Endicott, who finds himself in possession of the costume and equipment of the deceased criminal Crossfire. Endicott becomes Crossfire to fight for justice, while both the underworld and the law think he’s the same criminal as before. As you might imagine, this leads to trouble.
Crossfire takes place in and around the weird world of show business, a world that veteran TV & movie writer Evanier knows quite well. The scripts are peppered with showbiz anecdotes and trivia, along with Evanier’s trademark humor. Imagine The Rockford Files as a superhero series and you’re in the right ballpark.
…Did I mention that Dan Spiegle can draw? Because it bears repeating.
Crossfire ran for 17 issues as a color comic, before shifting to a black & white book with issue #18 to save costs. In between, there was a four-issue Crossfire and Rainbow mini-series that explored Jay Endicott’s romance with Rainbow, one of the DNAgents. Jay later returned in Whodunnit?, a periodic series where readers were invited to solve a murder mystery for a $1000 cash prize. There was a digest-sized, black & white collection of the first five issues and one of the Whodunnit? stories from About Comics in 2004, but sadly the entire series has never been reprinted. Someone needs to fix that ASAP.
Jonny Quest by Doug Wildey (Jonny Quest #1, June 1986, Jonny Quest Classics #1-3, May – July 1987)
Another massively underrated comics artist is the late Doug Wildey. IDW did a great collection of his western series Rio a few years back, but if you ask me, there needs to be a trade paperback of Wildey’s best-known creation: Jonny Quest.
Jonny Quest was an action-adventure cartoon that ran for one season in 1964, and near-continuously in reruns ever since. It was originally conceived as an updating of the 1940s character Jack Armstrong, but eventually morphed into the adventures of 10-year-old Jonny, his dog Bandit, his best friend Hadji, Jonny’s scientist father Benton Quest, and their bodyguard, Race Bannon. And when it came to adventure, Jonny Quest was the coolest thing going. One week they were fighting the henchmen of the evil Dr. Zin in a live volcano, the next they were escaping from pygmies, and the next they were tracking an invisible monster, all set to the coolest damn jazz score you ever heard.
When Jonny Quest was revived with new episodes in 1986, Comico got the rights to do a comic book tie-in, a fun book by William Messner-Loebs and a bevy of talented artists. Comico editor Diana Schutz was also smart enough to convince JQ creator Wildey to do an all-new 12-page story for the first issue, “The Sands of Khasa Tahid.” A little later, Wildey wrote and illustrated a three-issue mini-series entitled Jonny Quest Classics, where he adapted three of his favorite episodes, “Shadow of the Condor,” “Calcutta Adventure,” and “Werewolf of the Timberland” to comics form (Rumor has it that Wildey selected these episodes mainly for the variety of environments they would let him draw). Needless to say, they turned out gorgeous.
And just in case you think that three-and-a-half issues of material is pretty thin for a trade paperback, don’t forget that there’s no shortage of JQ model sheets and portfolio pieces by Doug Wildey to fill out the book. Why, here’s one now:
…Wouldn’t you like an entire book of that? I sure would. I’m not even sure who has the comics rights to Jonny Quest right now, but I sure hope someone is working on this.
Superman: The Secret Years by Bob Rozakis, Curt Swan, and Kurt Schaffenberger (Superman #359, 362, 365, 366, 370, 374, Superman: The Secret Years #1-4, Feb. – May 1985)
In the early 1980s, Superman had a series of rotating backup features. One of these was Superman: The In-Between Years, which told stories set between Clark Kent leaving Smallville and starting work at The Daily Planet. Clark Kent’s college years, in other words. When DC’s backups went away, writer Bob Rozakis pitched a 12-issue maxi-series, covering all four years of Clark’s college days. DC ultimately approved a four-issue mini-series, forcing Rozakis to shorten his story to just Clark’s senior year.
Unfortunately for Rozakis, a little thing called Crisis on Infinite Earths was underway, swiftly followed by John Byrne’s Man of Steel mini-series, which rewrote Superman continuity from scratch. So these stories were in continuity for all of a year. As a result, they’re unfairly overlooked today.
Which is a shame, because Rozakis is killing it on this series. Unlike most Superman or Superboy tales, Superman: The Secret Years features a Clark Kent who is allowed to grow and change. The series deals with Clark coming to terms with Jonathan and Martha Kent’s deaths, new friendships, the drunk driving of one of his college roommates, his romance with Lori Lemaris, the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle, and the machinations of Lex Luthor. By the end of it, Superboy has a definitive, non-gimmicky reason for becoming Superman, and it’ll break your heart.
…Oh, and did I mention that the covers were by Frank Miller? I know, weird that some editor is just letting those sit on a shelf, right?
Well, Santa, I know this letter went on a bit, but what can I say, I got excited. And the thing is, that’s not even all of the reprints I’m thinking of. Maybe I’ll write you again in a week or two with some more suggestions. I bet my friends can even help me out with a few more ideas. Have a happy holiday, and I’ll talk to you soon.