Thinking about masterpiece runs

Greg has a very interesting post at Comics should Be Good about quasi-masterpieces, runs of comics by creators that are defining and the peak of their work. It’s a large subject to discuss, and requires someone with a greater range of comic book history than Greg has, something to which he readily admits.

The post got me thinking about my interpretation of this idea, as it is something that I have been ruminating on recently with regards to my own collection. My Trimming The Collection series was initiated by looking through a couple of boxes of my collection and wondering why I still owned them; the posts examine why I bought them in the first place, why I am removing them from the collection, and hopefully defining what it is I want from my comic book collection. I want to have comics that I simply could not imagine being without; single issues, series and runs that are just plain fantastic comics (as I see them).

X-babiesI can agree with Greg on two of the three he discusses; Claremont & Byrne on The Uncanny X-Men and Peter David’s run on The Incredible Hulk. I would probably include all of Claremont’s run on The Uncanny X-Men, as I didn’t get the original Dark Phoenix saga – I came in at issue 201, meaning the subsequent comics will always have greater resonance for me (for example, the Asgardian crossover makes me giddy with nostalgia just thinking about Art Adam’s renditions of my favourite mutants) – but I realise that I am heavily biased in this area. I’m so subjective on the topic, I’d also include The New Mutants, from when Bill Sienkiewicz started drawing until when Claremont left, which is much harder to defend (except for the Sienkiewicz issues, perhaps).

HulkPAD’s Hulk has a similar link; I came in around the time of the unification of the three Hulk personalities (sheer genius), and the combination of PAD in full swing with Dale Keown and then Gary Frank in those issues are the ones that really do it for me. I can’t comment on the Moench & Sienkiewicz Moon Knight, as I haven’t read them, even though I own them.

ThorHe mentions in passing some other runs which I would also put on the list, Walt Simonson’s The Mighty Thor and John Byrne’s Fantastic Four. Simonson on Thor is wonderful comics, the crackling art matching the stupendous story of an all-action god. Byrne’s FF is probably his best work, redefining the FF for an audience that can’t forget Kirby & Lee (not that I’ve read any of that). So, what about some runs in my collection that I would include on the list?

TransmetGreg mentions another one; Warren Ellis & Darick Robertson on Transmetropolitan. I know I am Ellis’s bitch, but this is a brilliant series. I would mention Authority and Planetary as well, but Transmet is his masterpiece so far.

Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon on Preacher. ‘Mature’ comics done to balls-out perfection. Undiluted joy in sweary violence and theology. I would also include Hitman and Ennis’s run on Hellblazer, which are also excellent comic books.

Animal ManGrant Morrison has too many; Animal Man was a delightful shock to this reader, when Morrison put himself in the book. Doom Patrol was psychedelic superheroes done wonderfully (what about Flex Mentallo?). The Invisibles is unique. Zenith, with Steve Yeowell, is a personal favourite of mine, as it coincided with me getting 2000AD for the first time. Even The New X-Men and the JLA are worthy additions.

ShadePeter Milligan & Chris Bachalo on Shade, The Changing Man was a brilliant use of an old character and completely reinventing it for the author’s own purposes. Enigma, with Duncan Fegredo, may be only 8 issues, but should be mentioned as well.

Neil Gaiman’s Sandman – literary comic books with a flair for storytelling (and the concept of storytelling) that helped to alter my view of the comic book.

WatchmenAlan Moore; well, where do you start? Watchmen, Swamp Thing, Top Ten, Promethea, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, V for Vendetta, From Hell, hell, even Supreme and WildCATS; all amazing, and I’m probably forgetting a whole load of things.

FlashMy love of superheroes means that my collection is spandex-heavy, but hopefully with a twist. Mark Waid’s run on the Flash, particularly the Weiringo-drawn time, when he was really hitting his stride, mixing the science with an almost autobiographical feel.

James Robinson’s Starman, particularly the first half with Tony Harris; the second half, with David Goyer helping out, was never quite as strong.

Priest’s Xero, Quantum & Woody, and Black Panther; comics that you had to read properly, your intelligence not insulted.

Kurt Busiek’s Astro City; a love for superheroes shining through via an angle not investigated before.

Giffen’s Legion of Super Heroes ‘5 years later’ reboot; daring to play with the history and concept of a much-loved team. And what about Ambush Bug, anybody?

Alan Davis’s ClanDestine and his own run on Excalibur; classic superhero comic books with a British flavour.

Usagi YojimboUsagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai. Black and white brilliance about a rabbit in feudal Japan. A description doesn’t do it anywhere near justice.

I could also include Joe Kelly’s Deadpool, DC Johnson & JH Williams III on Chase, Evan Dorkin’s Milk & Cheese and Dork, Paul Grist’s Kane, but we’re entering a foggier realm.

AliasThis record of my personal definitions doesn’t even include comics collecting now that I think will still hold their own in the future:
100 Bullets, Alias, Barry Ween, Bendis’s Daredevil, Ex Machina, Fables, Waid & Weiringo on the Fantastic Four, Gotham Central, Hellboy, The Losers, Powers, Queen & Country, Runaways, Sleeper, The Ultimates.

I’d better stop, or it will just turn into a inventory of my collection. This is a topic about which I have many (unfocussed) thoughts that can’t be controlled in a quick reactionary post. One of the aspects I always have a problem with is the subjective versus the objective; in many lists, the academic version tends to be a drier recital of ‘approved’ classics, while the fans’ endeavour will be more about the personal, visceral response to material, leading to a more-personal catalogue. This topic bodes well for an interesting discussion.

6 Comments

  • Anonymous 26 April 2006 at 5:45 pm

    Going deeper into the past, I would certainly add Lee/Kirby FF and the Lee/Ditko Lee/Romita Spiderman.

    From the 70s I would include Steve Englehart’s Captain America, plus his Avengers/Defenders run. And certainly Gene Colan’s Tomb of Dracula.

    Reply
  • Greg 27 April 2006 at 4:14 am

    Sheesh, David, insult me, why don’t you! I thought we were pals!

    Interestingly enough, I’m working on the next installment of the post right now, and Shade, Sandman, Preacher (and/or Hitman), Watchmen (up for discussion), Starman, Transmetropolitan, and Astro City will all make the cut. I’m still trying to decide about Animal Man or Doom Patrol or possibly something else that Morrison has done.

    It’s really a neat topic to think about, simply because of the nature of the medium allows these long runs during which creators can let their imaginations go. The monthly serial nature also means that unlike a novel, these things can go on for years. Neat.

    But now I’m going to go cry because my ego is shattered. You’ll have to excuse me.

    Reply
  • David 27 April 2006 at 12:45 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts, Anonymous; I tired some early FF and Spider-man, but found I couldn’t get through them, mostly due to Lee’s torturous dialogue (same applies to early Dr Strange). I think it comes down to the point I made about the impact it has on you at the time. I have never read the Englehart work or the Tomb of Dracula, so feel free to add it to your own list.

    Greg, dear Greg; I wasn’t insulting you, I’m amazed by your courage! I wouldn’t have the nerve to try something of the scope of your idea. It’s incredibly difficult to be definitive when one hasn’t read enough comics, something you admitted to (and something I will cop to straight away). Your post was well-written as always; it got me thinking so much, I couldn’t reply in the comments section and had to post something of my own.

    It is a very interesting topic to ponder, and there is something quite magical about the long run of a series by one main creator, that makes it even more special.

    I look forward to the next installment, not just because you agree with some of my choices :), but because it will be interesting to see your reasoning and thought processes.

    I didn’t mean to shatter your ego; do you want me to say nice things in your comments section to repair any unintended damage?

    Reply
  • Greg 27 April 2006 at 2:41 pm

    I think I’ll survive!

    Reply
  • Dale 27 April 2006 at 7:24 pm

    Brubaker’s run on CATWOMAN deserves some love.
    He is being recognized finally for being A-list talent for his Marvel work, but I just reread his CATWOMAN run again and it’s perfect. Selina was sad, fickle, and perhaps the most complicated woman in comics… and he made it all intense and fun.
    His SLEEPER was terrific stuff- Gee it sounds like I’m a fanatic here…
    Also the first 15 issues of GOTHAM CENTRAL were tight.
    ——–

    Also THE ULTIMATES volume one didn’t have a clunker in the mix. We just had to wait forever.

    Reply
  • David 28 April 2006 at 12:53 pm

    Can’t argue with The Ultimates, Dale; I will be writing a post about the near-perfect first season when I can access my comics again after the move.

    I’m very tempted to read Brubaker’s Catwoman; I’ve heard nothing but good things, even with a character I feel is very silly (but I realise I am in the minority on that one), and his work on the other books you mention (and Scene of The Crime, for example) certainly suggests it warrants attention.

    Glad to hear you will survive, Greg!

    Reply

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