Sunday, December 1, 2013


Concluding the list:
  1. Thunderbolts by Kurt Busiek, Fabian Nicieza, & Mark Bagley
    (THUNDERBOLTS #1 - 50, plus assorted related issues)
    Nostalgia Rating: 5 | Story Quality: 4 | Overall: 4.5
    Art: Mark Bagley
    Reason: When this series launched, the first issue revelation secured it immediately as the book I waited most for every month. About a year later, it was supplanted by the next item on this list, but even then Kurt Busiek and subsequent writer Fabian Nicieza maintained the twists, turns and momentum that had gripped me from the outset. I capped this run at THUNDERBOLTS #50 because I believe that's the apex of the series. I like the stories for about another ten issues, but 50 is the peak. And if we were to include the final 15 issues, the "Story Quality" grade would drop a point or two, as Nicieza became hampered by the Bill Jemas/Joe Quesada mandates of minimal continuity and "writing for the trade", and the series became aimless and boring. But the first fifty or so issues of THUNDERBOLTS were some of the finest comics coming out of Marvel at the time.
  2. Avengers by Kurt Busiek & George Perez
    (AVENGERS vol. 3 #1 - 34, plus annuals and various other issues)
    Nostalgia Rating: 5 | Story Quality: 5 | Overall: 5
    Art: George Perez
    Reason: Kurt Busiek is on record as saying he really just wanted to write IRON MAN post-"Heroes Reborn". And while I enjoyed his Iron Man stories well enough, it's his AVENGERS run which I (and probably most other fans) remember most fondly. This was a fantastic run, combining modern day storytelling with more old school continuity and plot points than you can shake a stick at. The action was exhilarating, the sub-plots were plentiful, and every issue felt important -- like if you didn't read it, you were missing out on the center of the Marvel Universe. George Perez was a huge part of this run's success. His artwork contributed heavily to the "neo-retro" feel of the series, and although there were some decent stories after his departure, things never felt quite the same.
  3. Warlock by Jim Starlin
    (STRANGE TALES #178-181, WARLOCK #9-15, and a handful of additional related issues)
    Nostalgia Rating: 5 | Story Rating: 5 | Overall: 5
    Art: Jim Starlin
    Reason: I found these stories via a reprint series around the time of THE INFINITY WAR, and Starlin's work blew my 13 year-old mind. I had read older comics before, but nothing like this. The use of light and shadow was like nothing I'd ever seen in a comic, and the writing was intense. The fact that Warlock's saga had -- at the time -- a definitive ending in which he was glad to have his past self take his own soul, effectively killing himself, was unbelievable. I dust these stories off every few years to remind myself of their greatness. I've never again encountered a comic that affected me on such a primal level as these stories.
  4. Spider-Man by Roger Stern
    (SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #43 - 61, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #224 - 252, and assorted related issues)
    Nostalgia Rating: 5 | Story Quality: 5 | Overall: 5
    Art: John Romita, Jr.
    Reason: I've already said a little about this run elsewhere on the blog, but I'll reiterate: this is, hands-down, the textbook for crafting the adventures of a solo superhero. The action, supporting cast, sub-plots, and overarching storylines are juggled with astounding expertise. But even more, Roger Stern has a grasp of Spider-Man's personality and voice that is second only to Stan Lee himself. Add to this the art of John Romita Jr. (once Stern moves to AMAZING), plus the mystery of the Hobgoblin in the run's final year, and the whole thing becomes one of the finest comic book runs ever produced. There's only one negative thing I can say about Roger Stern's Spider-Man, and that's that it didn't last long enough!
  5. X-Men by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, John Byrne, & Paul Smith
    (UNCANNY X-MEN #94 - 176, plus various related issues and limited series)
    Nostalgia Rating: 5 | Story Quality: 5 | Overall: 5
    Art: Dave Cockrum
    Reason: Yes, the Claremont run lasts well beyond issue #176, but for me nothing is better than this span of stories. It's all great stuff, but the heart of it is Claremont/Byrne, the definitive X-Men run, and -- for my money -- the definitive superhero team book run, period. I can't explain how special this material is to me. I found it in reprints -- Marvel Masterworks, CLASSIC X-MEN -- when I was about 12 or 13 years old, after getting hooked on the X-Men via their Saturday morning cartoon. These stories are imprinted on my brain. There's nothing, book, comic, or TV series, that I've re-read and/or skimmed more. I have it memorized. I know exactly what happens in each issue, from the main story to the sub-plots. To me this is, quite simply, the bible of super-group comics. Some series and creators may do certain aspects better, but no one has crafted an entire package this iconic and enduring.

    Someday I'm sure I'll write a whole post -- or a series of posts -- about the run, but for now I think I've praised it enough.
And that's it. These are my choices. Some probably match up with yours. I'm sure others don't. Spider-Man and the X-Men make up about half the list, but it would be impossible for them not to, as they're my top two favorite comic book franchises. Anyway, who knows -- maybe ten years from now, I'll be nostalgic for some of the things I didn't discover till later on, and they'll supplant some of the other items on the list? I guess time will tell.

HONORARY MENTION goes to a handful of runs I like, but couldn't justify adding to the list:
  • John Byrne's FANTASTIC FOUR (issues 232 - 295, plus annuals). It's one of those runs I talked about at the beginning, which I feel should be here, but it just didn't connect with me like these others. But maybe someday, when I re-read it.
  • IRON MAN by Michelinie & Layton (both runs, issues 115 - 157 and issues 215 - 250). This material isn't here because I've not read either run in its entirety, but I like quite a bit of what I've seen so far.
  • X-Men by Alan Davis (roughly X-MEN #85 - 99 and UNCANNY #366 - 380, plus ancillary material). This was the last time I truly enjoyed the X-Men unconditionally. The wheels came off in the end with the Apocalypse storyline, but I have great memories of reading this run while I was in college.
  • Spider-Man between the Clone Saga and the 1999 reboot (too many issues of too many titles to name here). Following the grimness of the Clone Saga (which, for the umpteenth time -- I liked), some fun returned to Spider-Man, thanks to two years of stories by Tom DeFalco, Todd DeZago, J.M. DeMatteis, and yes, even Howard Mackie. As with Davis's X-Men, this was the last time I loved and eagerly awaited my Spider-Man comics on a regular basis.
Rated by Nostalgia Rated by Story
1 - Daredevil by Miller 3 - Spider-Man by Conway, et al
1 - Excalibur by Davis 3 - X-Men by Lobdell & Nicieza
1 - Thor by Simonson 4 - Excalibur by Davis
2 - Captain America by Gruenwald 4 - Spider-Man by Lee & Romita
3 - Spider-Man by Lee & Romita 4 - Captain America by Gruenwald
5 - Spider-Man by Conway 5 - Daredevil by Miller
5 - X-Men by Lobdell & Nicieza 5 - Thor by Simonson
5 - Warlock by Starlin 5 - Warlock by Starlin
5 - Thunderbolts by Busiek, et al 5 - Thunderbolts by Busiek, et al
5 - Avengers by Busiek & Perez 5 - Avengers by Busiek & Perez
5 - Spider-Man by Stern 5 - Spider-Man by Stern
5 - X-Men by Claremont, et al 5 - X-Men by Claremont, et al

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