Challenger - Return Home   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Winter 2003


(okay, 15) (not including Carl Barks) (just to be fair)

Guy Lillian

      Reading a comics fanzine that recently fell upon me, and contemplating Mike Resnick's frequent ten-best listings of various pleasures, I wondered if my own lifelong affection for the comics genre was susceptible to such a valuation. I couldn't restrict the list to ten, of course, so here's what I came up with ... very subjective, of course, almost all stuff that's appeared since I attained titular adulthood, and almost all DC. (Hey, they were my first job; I might need a reference.)

     Seriously, I should explain some of the titles unlisted here. I did exclude Barks, because it wouldn't be right to introduce religion into such a secular discussion. Carl Barks is simply the most skillful artist, the most skillful story-teller, and the wittiest comic book guy ever to get ink on his sleeve. I could easily fill this list with ten of his Uncle Scrooge masterworks – "Land of the Frozen North", "Land Beneath the Ground", "The Golden Fleece", the Bombastium yarn, oh c'mon, let's give the rest of the genre a break. As for why there are no Marvels present, I can only plead that I loved The X-Men, "Song of Red Sonya" and "Fin Fang Foom", but that most of the rest of the Marvel oeuvre seemed like fodder to me. I realize this rends me from the life judgments of most of my ‘60s comrades, but hey, I never smoked grass, either.

     Missing also are V for Vendetta and The Killing Joke, two great Alan Moore pieces. Moore is the best comic writer of his generation, and in VforV he is at his most overtly political, in a bitter, brilliant anarchist tale, occasionally over the top but beautifully complex and passionate. The Killing Joke is a consummate retelling of the Joker legend, with epic art by Brian Bolland. Where is Moore's Miracleman? Where is Bolland's Judge Dredd? Where is Dave Michelinie's Unknown Soldier? They're here! They're here! They're treasured parts of my comics collection. But below are the stories which hang with me...

1) Watchmen I had to argue and kvetch to get an "Other Forms" category introduced onto the Nolacon II Hugo ballot – just so fandom could note and honor this ultimate masterpiece of graphics storytelling. We did so honor it, the only comic book ever to win a Hugo, a suspenseful and thought-provoking alternate world where heroes dress in costumes and save the world – despite itself. Alan Moore's masterpiece, Dave Stevens art, creative, symbolic, deeply rooted in comic book tradition (these guys understand visuals and understand action) – it's the genre at its height. And what an ending ...

2) "Flash of Two Worlds" Flash #123 Julie Schwartz's grandest story of the Silver Age evokes the Golden Age. It won the first of the short-lived Alley Awards. Surpassed by "Vengeance of the Immortal Villain" and "Crisis on Earth-One/Two" in The Justice League, and burdened with Gardner Fox's stiff and uninspired style, this re-introduction of Golden Age heroes still marks one of the reasons comic books have been important and wonderful in my life. After all, it taught a generation of comics readers that their fathers had been boys, once, too.

3) Kingdom Come The most recent entry up here, and a beauty – something of a confused and convoluted script, but a wonderful homage to what we really value about superheroes: character. Author Mark Waid understands what's cool about Batman, what's attractive about Wonder Woman, and what's eternal about Superman. Such analysis is at the heart of the current superhero craze, and I believe it's why Smallville is such a superb series. Also, the Alex Ross art is revolutionary in its beauty and depth.

4) "Dream of a Thousand Cats" Sandman Neil Gaiman's Sandman was the most creative and original graphics work of its time, and here – in a rare stand-alone issue – the book is at its best, not to mention, its most frightening. To show you how scary I find this story of feline revenge, the cute teenybopper figure of Death doesn't appear – see the extraordinary "The Sound of Her Wings" – and she would have been welcome.

5) "Pog" Swamp Thing #32 This sad, gentle fable of Walt Kelly characters visiting our all-too-real world is hilarious and heart-rending, using – and crushing – the language and the innocence of the original strip to make a bittersweet point about the search for impossible dreams.

6) "Ghost Dance" Swamp Thing #45 I read this tale of guns, ghosts and the Winchester Mystery House, set it down, and said, "Well, just another masterpiece of horror. That's all." Moore's multi-issue Swamp Thing stories tended to sag under their own weight, but in his single-issue works, he could pack a taut, telling, terrifying thriller with a subtle political point – and an ending that jolts like an electric prod.

7) Jack Kirby's wonderful New Gods/Forever People/Mister Miracle/Jimmy Olsen series was a glorious creative act. When I once listed my ten favorite comic characters, Darkseid was right up there. It's almost impossible to single out one story in the universe of Apokolips and New Genesis, but New Gods #7, the origin story, stands out . "Hate is no longer a word in this place. Put that knife down ... son.

8) "Swamp Thing" House of Secrets #92 The original story of one of the epic comic antiheroes, beautifully told from three points of view, it gave birth to a book I've cited twice above. Berni Wrightson only handled the art for nine issues, as I recall, and Len Wein's genius only guided the character for another few stories before good Dave Michelinie took over, to be followed by Alan Moore, Nancy Collins, and others, but this was the first, and it was stunning.

9) "Night of the Hunter" Detective Comics A beautiful retelling of the Batman myth that appeared just before my year at DC, and I got to tell the author face to face how much I loved it. He brought forward the sadness and the loss at the heart of the legend better than Bob Kane – what a ... a ... a ... Spanier? Putz, that's it – or even the movies could.

10) "Superman Under the Green Sun" Superman If I must single out any of the Wayne Boring Superman tales that gassed me as a kid, this Edmond Hamilton yarn qualifies – corny as a Hitler-esque villain might be. The last panels are just lovely. Competing hard for this spot: the story of "Super-Menace" (drawn by that master of the possible, Curt Swan) and the exciting and Sfnal "Thing from 30,000 A.D." They were a joy of my boyhood and they're still good.

11) "Beyond the Sinister Barrier" The Spectre in Brave & Bold Later, Mike Fleischer took the Spectre in a violent new direction, and attained popularity for the spook that he never had before. Here, Julie Schwartz, Gardner Fox and the great realist, Murphy Anderson, take on Satan himself in a skillful story that wowed me silly when I was 17. It doesn't stand up well on re-reading, but how I mourned when it lost its Alley Award to "How Green was My Goblin" in Spider-man. I have to respect that teenage passion.

12) Rocketman They made a lousy movie out of a crackerjack comic, exquisitely drawn by Dave Stevens, a book in love with planes and Betty Page and a pre-WWII age bursting with innocence and optimism, a pure-hearted hero, Doc Savage in the background – I only have the first volume of this beauty; is there more?

13) Enemy Ace In the mid-sixties the erratic genius of Robert Kanigher found a footing, and delivered thoughtful, powerful work, kicked up a notch or more from the standard war stories that had gone before. The story of Hans von Hammer, the haunted World War I killing machine, was compelling, and beautifully realized by that most fluid and feral of comics artists, Joe Kubert.. I must list but one of the tales – let it be the first Brave & Bold issue, with the fabulous red-on-black cover.

14) "What's the Color of Your Blood?" Our Army at War This story of a black heavyweight champion facing down – and then saving – the Nazi superman who had humiliated him in the ring was the most effective yarn of the revived, much improved war series. I've never forgotten Joe Kubert's last panel: "You're catching on, buster!"

15) "Mirror Madness" House of Secrets #? Well, this one is junk – a stupid story of a plastic surgeon who somehow gave a mangled scuba diver the face of a frog. But I wrote the dialog, one of several yarns I did that for in 1974 – and because it's so tacky, this one is my favorite.

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