May of 1986. At the age of 4 and 3/4, this was the moment my addiction began. A trek to Cleveland Tennessee’s Collector’s Choice led me down a long road of comic book bliss. I remember my first purchase being Marvel’s Star Comics imprint title of Masters of the Universe and a 4 for $1 selection of Thor comics. The “Thee’s,” “Thou’s,” and “Dos’t” being too much for my mind to translate, but the cover of one of them had Thor raising his hammer much like He-Man raising his sword and that was enough for my 4 year old brain. Thirty years of buying comics began that day (with an unfortunate break when I discovered that they created girls in junior high…..yes, they created them then. No sooner. No later.)
A lot goes into narrowing down years and years of collecting to a small and finite list of “best” or “favorite.” But that’s just it, it never has to be finite. There are comics everywhere today. Some that never even take physical form. Some that exist only within the ether of the internet (one of my favorites that comes to mind is Misery Loves Sherman by Chris Eliopoulos). There’s a seasonal offering from the Big 2–Marvel and DC, Image’s bevy of creator owned independent comics, Dark Horse, Valiant, Boom!, IDW, Dynamite, and a host of smaller houses such as Titan and Action Lab Entertainment. My specific comic upbringing led me to a sampling of all of these publishers and many more (I’m looking at you Malibu and Lightning Comics), but my main course was always a steady diet of Marvel.
I could very easily made this exclusively a “Best of Marvel” list or only picked the “greatest” Marvel comics, as I appreciate the importance and craft of such issues as Amazing Spider-Man 121 and 33, or the brilliance of Independent comics: Mignola’s Hellboy, Kirkman’s zombie epic The Walking Dead, or Brian Michael Bendis’s noir/crime/superhero spectacular. However, this selection of mostly “Marvel” comics mean more to me than that (all but one are Marvel comics). All things X-Men and Spider-Man were the realm in which I grew up. They speak to me in a way that isn’t “just a superhero comic.” They represent what comics can be at their greatest. They breathe history.
10. X-Men, vol. 2 #142
by Grant Morrison and Chris Bachalo
During the later 3rd of Morrison’s controversial run on New X-Men (after Riot on Xavier’s but before Planet X) there is story that focuses on Cyclops, Wolverine, and a new-ish character called Fantomex. Assault on Weapon Plus sees these characters infiltrate the Weapon Plus stronghold, but the initial issue is the first one to earn a spot on my list. Cyclops is drinking in the Hellfire club, watching a dancer that is a spitting image of Jean Grey. He is sulking because his psychic affair with Emma Frost has been found out, and Wolverine joins him. There is a camaraderie between Logan and Scott that is rarely seen, and even rarer confirmed by Logan. Also, the scene of Logan and Sabretooth at the urinal is not to be missed. Also, I could easily do a Top 10 Chris Bachalo issues list, but I tried to refrain from doing so on this list.
9. Runaways, vol. 2 #1
by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona
Marvel’s Tsunami imprint in the early 2000’s had some mild successes. I personally loved a small book called Sentinel, about a kid whose family owns a junkyard in which he finds and reactivates/reprograms a decomissioned Sentinel. But it was 2003’s Runaways, about a group of teenagers who find out their parents are all supervillains and part of a dangerous cabal. Like their namesake they run away. Volume 1 lasted 18 issues and saw them tackle the terrible reality that their parents established for them, but Volume 2 begins with the perfect storm of mystery (who is Victor’s dad), history (the Wrecking Crew), reflection (past teen heroes Darkhawk, Turbo, Chamber, etc.), the obligatory teen angst, and time travel (a member of the team’s future self). This issue is a testament to the possibilities that superhero comics still possess. Maybe that’s why the Runaways are finally getting the TV treatment on Hulu.
8. Uncanny X-Force, vol.1 #18
by Rick Remender and Jerome Opena
I came in late to this book, as I’m not one of the faithful Wolverine followers. In my opinion, this is as close to a perfectly weaved multilayered X-Men narrative as we’ve seen for the last 15 years. My list is X-Men heavy. And it takes something special for a contemporary book to break into a list of my favorite comics. Remender’s reverence for and unflinching mastery of corners of the X-Men mythos, that most would be afraid to tackle, is astounding. A sequence of events has left Warren “Archangel” Worthington as the heir to Apocalypse’s Four Horsemen, and he is planning to wipe all life from existence and start over. Joining Archangel, as well as X-Force is a selection of the Age of Apocalypse alternate universe X-Men and villains, such as Nightcrawler, Sabretooth, Ice Man, Sunfire, and Dark Beast. This issue is the climax of the Dark Angel Saga, and the action scenes are some of the most viscerally beautiful panels I’ve seen in a long time. Jerome Opena was definitely a boon for this arc. But the highlight of this issue/arc is the scene leading up to the final moments between Psylocke and Archangel. I feel like the ending is a bit of a cop out, but it doesn’t ruin the overall effectiveness of the issue for me.
7. Bone #16
by Jeff Smith
The sole non-Marvel entry on this list happened by chance. I picked up 4 or 5 issues from a bargain bin on vacation, and this issue happened to be one of them. I had never taken the plunge and read Bone during its 13 year run. I was aware of it, but never compelled to jump in. Bone always looked too “Uncle Scrooge” or comic strip comics to me. Issue 16 was the perfect issue to change this perception. One issue changed my perception of Bone from something that was surface into something that was steeped in mystery. 99% of the issue takes place with Fone Bone, Thorn, and Gran’ma fleeing through the forest at night in the rain to escape the pursuit of those Stupid Stupid Rat Creatures. The nighttime journey cemented the relationship between Fone Bone and Thorn for me as the reader, but it was the unseen scene between Gran’ma and The Great Red Dragon that really hooked me into this story as a world that I wanted to know about. There is also the customary comparison with The Lord of the Rings also, if that is your thing.
6. Astonishing X-Men vol.3, #4
by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday
Joss Whedon loves putting female protagonists front and center. Buffy. River. Daisy. Echo. Hell, even the Black Widow. So, it came as no surprise to me that, when handed the keys to the X-Men kingdom, he put Kitty Pryde front and center. She fits his mold perfectly, and she was quite literally created to be the reader’s point of view character back in the 1980’s. The initial arc of Whedon’s Astonishing run involved a mad tyrant threatening the earth and a mysterious supposed “cure” for the X gene– standard “fate of the world” fare. But it’s one unexpected reappearance that literally raised the hair on my arms. It is one of the most astounding scenes in all of comics.
Stay tuned tomorrow for part 2 of my all-time favorite comics.