Monday, January 11, 2010

Comic Book Series I Have Loved...

There haven't been too many series I've followed for extended periods. I used to just jump in and out on a monthly basis, giving The Amazing Spider-Man a ride for a few issues then switching to Batman. But every once in a while, there'd be a comic that would capture my imagination to the point of obsession. A comic that I enjoyed so much, I'd think about it between issues, wonder about the characters, draw them and write my own little fictions about them. These, then, are those comics...

1) Sgt. Rock/Our Army at War. To me, these are essentially the same comic. Sgt. Rock and his over-the-top yet strangely affecting adventures in WWII. I learned to read from these comics and maintained a collection of them from about age 4 to age 13 or so.

2) Micronauts. My friends and I loved the toys. Suddenly, there was this comic combining Michael Golden's slick art with a Star Warsian feel. Writer Bill Mantlo and Golden turned a licensed toy comic into a space opera epic, at least for the first twelve issues or so. I first got into it via issue 2 and bought it as often as possible even when it became a direct-only book. Somewhere early in Micronauts: The New Voyages, I finally fell out of the Microverse and resumed my normal size.

3) Uncanny X-Men. My superhero gateway comic. Before I got into Uncanny, I'd mostly just read a Batman, Superman, Spider-Man or The Incredible Hulk here or there, but it was a casual interest. This was the first ongoing superhero soap opera where I ended up caring more about the characters than their adventures, where I saw my own growing awareness of the world-- and subsequent pass through puberty into snotty, individualistic teenagerdom-- echoed by the book's growing sophistication. Looking back on it, Uncanny seems overwritten and overwrought, but at the time it was a revelation. The first issue I bought was #94, from a friend who had an almost complete run in a cabinet at his house. Actually, I accidentally ripped him off. In exchange for borrowing my left-handed fielder's glove for softball at school, he let me buy all his X-Men comics for a dollar each. I got 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 101 and a few others and paid less than ten bucks. This was also the only comic I subscribed to, but that was much later during John Romita's art run. A victim of my abandonment of comics at age 16.

4) Fantastic Four. John Byrne's storied run. Whatever else people may say about the guy, Byrne took Marvel's moribund flagship title and brought back the fun and family togetherness. Byrne combined a Stan Lee/Jack Kirby feel with science fiction concepts and produced a few classic tales of his own. Who could forget "Terror in a Tiny Town" from Fantastic Four #236 where Dr. Doom exacts his most devastating revenge against Reed Richards yet, or the annual where milk from some Skrulls who have been hypnotized into thinking they're cows affects an isolated community in a terrifying, Twilight Zone-inspired way? Byrne even managed to parody Walt Disney and Neal Adams-- in the same character!

5) Judge Dredd. The American color reprints from Eagle. For a year or so I lived in a Dredd-induced post-apocalyptic nightmare world. But it was fun. I especially loved Brian Bolland's impossibly detailed work, but Mike McMahon and Ron Smith also piqued my interest. Another one that fell during the Great Comics Purge.

6) Cerebus. Another weird find. I bought #5 at a flea market and it hooked me immediately. The local comic book store owners also recommended it, so it became one of my "pull" titles. But this only lasted a few months because by then I was outgrowing comics altogether. I loved it enough it affected my personal drawing style-- for a while, I did everything slightly caricatured, with heavy shadows and lots of inky black.

7) American Flagg! A cool comic with a mature storyline that spoke to my maturing teen-self. As an art aficionado, I found Howard Chaykin's drawings sweet enough I began imitating him in my notebooks at school. Lots of heavy, pointy eyebrows and angular lines. Another book I stopped reading when I gave up comics.

8) New Mutants. This one I liked because it felt like The Uncanny X-Men, but the characters were all my age, so I could identify with them. I was immediately drawn to Dani Moonstar, possibly because Chris Claremont seemed so in love with her he made her the book's star... until he replaced her with Magik, who did nothing for me. Too gothy. I gave up New Mutants when Bob McLeod left, but when Bill Sienkiewicz took over, I jumped back in and read it right up until I abruptly cancelled all my monthly pulls at the comic book store.

9) Nexus. The Dark Horse series. The comic book store owners who encouraged my reading of indie comics over Marvel and DC's output championed this book, but Nexus looked too much like Cyclops of the X-Men. I did admire Steve Rude's clean artwork, though. When Dark Horse put out an origin book in 1992 and announced a run of Nexus mini-series, I finally caught the bug. Although I'd recently been dabbling in speculation thanks to the likes of Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld, it took Mike Baron and Steve Rude to make me want to read comics again rather than just store them in plastic.

10) Every Valiant book. I got into this with the first issues of several of their titles and it became the first company whose entire output I bought each month. I still have a lot of these in a box at home. My favorites were Solar and Harbinger. Archer and Armstrong was cool, though. Who can argue with Barry Windsor-Smith's art? Not me!

11) Gen13. This light and stoopid comic-- heavily derivative of X-Men and New Mutants to the point where Marvel should have looked into a lawsuit-- kept me entertained with its trendy, misbehaving characters and tasty J. Scott Campbell artwork even as I deplored the submental writing and storylines and plot threads abandoned almost as quickly as they began. This was a dark time in my life, but Gen13 provided a bright spot. I even drew a couple of sample pages with the characters in a futile attempt to break into comics. The writing improved vastly-- Adam Warren especially brought a new and fresh intelligence to the series-- and Gen13 became less dependent on old X-Men plots but it still had the feeling of a road-to-nowhere ride. The high point is Adam Hughes's "Ordinary Heroes," a two-issue miniseries. Not only is his characterization of the teen heroes spot-on, but he makes their mentor look exactly like Clint Eastwood. It also appears to take place in Atlanta, Georgia, which is just down the road from where I was living at the time.

12) Hellboy. Anything Hellboy, including BPRD. I fell in love with Mike Mignola's artwork via his Bram Stoker's Dracula movie adaptation for Topps, so I first picked this up just to gaze at the pages. But before long the weird storytelling grabbed me and now I'm a die-hard fan of Hellboy and friends; I buy the monthly books whenever I find them and then I buy them all over again as trade collections. Currently my favorites are anything where Mignola collaborates with Richard Corben and anything drawn by Guy Davis, although that's not to take anything away from any of the other Hell-artists.

13) Lone Wolf and Cub. One of-- if not the-- greatest comic book series ever written and drawn. Dark Horse got me addicted (despite its consisting of twenty-eight volumes at a ridiculous 9.95 each) when they started putting out their little reprint books. This book destroyed my anti-manga stance. It also ended my interest in Frank Miller's work, because I realized everything I liked about him, he stole from Koike Kazuo and Kojima Goseki. If Koike Kazuo isn't the finest writer of pure adventure comics the medium has ever produced, I want to know who is so I can worship him or her. And the late Kojima is comics' ultimate storyteller, a producer of sequential work so vivid and perfectly paced, it's like experiencing a movie. He should be mentioned alongside Will Eisner and Bernie Krigstein whenever comic fans talk about this kind of thing.

14) Love and Rockets. Not since The Uncanny X-Men had a comic possessed my imagination so. I have no idea how this came about. I think I bought an issue of volume 2 one day on a whim and the next thing I knew, I was spending all my money on reprint volumes, almost trembling with anticipation whenever I scraped up enough cash to buy one. Love and Rockets turned back my comics-enjoying clock and gave me that old joy of discovery once again. Here we are almost 10 years later and I still buy everything Maggie and Hopey I can get my hands on here in Japan.

15) Swamp Thing. I read an issue here and there back when Alan Moore was writing it, but it never really clicked until DC started putting out the trade collection. Now I own them all, multiples in fact-- I bought some here in Japan I already owned but left back in the US.

16) Batgirl. The Cassandra Cain Batgirl, not the current one. I don't have a lot of interest in the boring new series, sorry. This is one I started picking up because the artwork confused the hell out of me, but I quickly fell in love with the concept, mostly because of its unfulfilled potential. Eventually, they revealed they had no idea of ever fulfilling it. The frantically paced early issues, when the concept was at its purest, work best. After that, it's hit-or-miss, although Rick Leonardi's run on art certainly looks wonderful. After a false re-start in Bludhaven, Cass abruptly lost her book and the next time we saw her, she was a horrible Dragon Lady caricature of herself. Since then it seems the powers at DC have deliberately done everything they can to destroy the character and alienate her fanbase. Sorry we liked your book, DC. Won't do that again. I'm still convinced this Batgirl could've been something vicious and sweet, like Kill Bill starring Zhang Ziyi instead of Uma Thurman, or DC's answer to Koike Kazuo's Lady Snowblood. Seems like they could never decide if this was a cutesy-pie title for kids-- a common failing for books starring teens, especially female teens-- or something disgustingly violent and dark. I would've gone for the latter, but no one asked me. Now why did I like this again?

17) Nana. Not so much a collection as it is evidence of an addiction. Has there ever been a book as packed with soap opera-ish drama as Yazawa Ai's Nana? If so, I don't want to read it because money and time are limited commodities. Dirk Deppey of Journalista! called Yazawa the "Gilbert Hernandez of Japan." Imagine that! I think that's an understatement, because as much as I admire Mr. Hernandez's work, that admiration is a distant echo of my insane love for Ms. Yazawa's. Only the X-Men and Maggie and Hopey have ever swept me into the characters' world in the same way Nana and Hachi have. This book is my current craze and I can't get enough of it.

Honorable Mention: Any series Mike Allred is handling art for and/or writing.

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