03 September 2011

100 Things I Love About Comic Books

This is a spin-off of the "100 Things I Love About Film" prompt.  Things on the list can be as specific or general as you'd like.  This list is not ranked in any way.  Most of this list revolves around DC Comics.  I can't help the fact that the majority of comics I've ever owned and read were published by them.

1. The debt I owe Larry Hama for introducing me to myriad words in Marvel Comics's G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero as a young reader.
2. Covers by Dave Dorman

3. Absurd crossovers, like Archie Meets the Punisher.
4. Frank Miller's keynote address at the 1994 Diamond Comic Distributors Retailers Seminar.
5. The many properties and powers of Gamma radiation.
6. The satirical commentary on anti-heroes in the "KnightQuest" and "KnightsEnd" stories, in which an injured Bruce Wayne is temporarily succeeded by the increasingly violent Jean-Paul Valley who at first prides himself on being willing to do what Bruce was not, but is soon exposed for being a crazed lunatic.  The message: limits are healthy for the good guys.
7. Ty Templeton's blog.  I loved his work on The Batman Adventures and it's been a thrill to have some online exchanges with him.  His Top Seven lists are terrific.
8. Jerome K. Moore's crosshatched art, specifically Star Trek #26.
9. Superman: The Man of Steel #30, direct market edition.  It came with Superman and Lobo Colorforms so you could customize the cover!
10. Stan's Soapbox and the Marvel Bullpen.

11. Batman punching Guy Gardner in Justice League #5.
12. Alan Moore can write about superheroes in an alternate reality where Richard Nixon is triumphant, a team-up of 19th Century literary characters or a porn comic featuring grown-up Dorothy Gale, Wendy (from Peter Pan) and Alice (of Wonderland fame) and they all read as high art.
13. Reading about that ongoing prank where the Wizard staff would steal Jim Lee's bathrobe every year in San Diego.
14. Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight.  (Discussed often enough in this blog, that shouldn't be a surprise.)

15. Deena Pilgrim

16. That Archie Comics introduced Kevin Keller, an openly gay character in Veronica #202.
17. Superman #75.  Say whatever you want, but that fight between the Man of Steel and Doomsday to the finish was the epitome of "epic."
18. Gil Kane's Green Lantern costume design.
19. Joe Quesada defending Ed Brubaker's Captain America #606, which caught a lot of flak because it featured an angry mob very similar to the Tea Party.
20. Me hate Bizarro.
21. The fact that Batman enjoys a reputation of being a "loner," but has an entire roster of sidekicks (Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, Oracle, Ace the Bat-Hound), associates (Commissioner Gordon, Alfred, Dr. Leslie Thompkins, Lucius Fox), membership in the Justice League and the Outsiders and has partnered with everyone from Superman to Spawn.

22. The courage of Julius Schwartz, Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams in creating Green Lantern #85, in which Green Arrow's sidekick Speedy is revealed as a heroin addict.
23. The numerous covers that have paid homage to George Perez's iconic cover to Crisis on Infinite Earths #7, featuring an anguished Superman holding the lifeless body of Supergirl.
24. The juvenile rivalry between Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm throughout Fantastic Four.
25. NOW Comics's brief resurrection of Green Hornet in the early 1990s.
26. Silver Age goofiness.  Seriously, look at the varieties of Kryptonite and their effects sometime.
27. Clark Kent's Social Security number: 092-09-6616 (revealed in the letters column of Action Comics #340).
28. Danger Girl, the perfect homage to Cold War-era glamour spy movies.
29. Ben Edlund designed three different covers for The Chroma-Tick #4, each depicting The Tick holding up a newspaper declaring victory for one of the three presidential candidates in 1992 (George Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot).
30. Elseworlds.  Not all of them were great, but I loved the idea of characters being re-imagined in non-traditional settings.
31. Rorshach.
32. Comics not approved by the Comics Code Authority (which thankfully no longer exists).
33. Harvey Pekar's autobiographical American Splendor, of which I've read shamefully little.  If anyone questions whether the comic book medium could support a narrative of real life, from the mundane to the appalling, Pekar is the only response one needs to make.
34. Metallica gave a shout-out to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the liner notes of their Master of Puppets album...in 1986, a year before the animated series took the Turtles mainstream.
35. Terry Moore permanently expanded mainstream comics beyond
superheroes and fantasy stories with Strangers in Paradise.
36. One of the bonus features on the DVD of Comic Book: The Movie is a lengthy discussion between Mark Hamill (in character as the film's Don Swan) and Hugh Hefner.  Listening to Hef wax nostalgic about comic books, and tell the story of Jack Cole, is gold.
37. Ever since Jack Kirby showed everyone how to do it, the arrangement of panels has become as dynamic a part of the comic story as anything else.  It is a unique property of the medium, and I frequently find myself just staring at a page long after I've finished reading it.
38. Letters columns and Uncle Elvis.  Scott Peterson ran a particularly nice letters column.
39. Back-up stories.  They're like short films that play after the main feature.
40. Before it became a punchline, Tony Stark's alcoholism was a daring character development and exploration of a topic often ignored by the industry.
41. The feeling I got when I realized that I owned enough comics that a long box wasn't sufficient to hold them all.
42. Editorial comments.  Whether they tell us which previous issue was just referenced, or break the proverbial fourth wall to crack a joke, those sporadic little boxes of text remind us that we, the reader, are being included in the storytelling process.
43. Marv.
44. Spelled out sound effects.  "Blam!" "Screech!" "Whack!"
45. G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #21, a "silent" issue featuring Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow and not one word of text.

46. Bryan Talbot's The Tale of One Bad Rat, an unflinching expose of child abuse and teen homelessness draped in the veneer of an homage to Beatrix Potter.  Touching as it is upsetting.
47. When a comic book character dies, they stay dead.  Except, you know, when they come back as a crazed villainous version of themselves.
48. Covers by Bill Sienkiewicz.
49. Post-Crisis, the first meeting of Jason Todd and Batman took place in an alley where Jason was in the act of removing the tires from the Batmobile.  That still makes me laugh.  (Batman #408, written by Max Allan Collins.)
50. That brief period where Kyle Rayner and Jade were roommates; 'twas like a Green Lantern domestic sitcom.
51. X-Men continuity is so convoluted that it makes a Glenn Beck chalkboard rant seem sensible.  Only, it makes sense.
52. The short-lived Hero Illustrated.
53. DC Comics's gorgeous Archive Editions hardcover series.  I only own one (Superman Archives, Volume One), but I cannot imagine a more deserving publication of those vintage Golden Age tales.
54. The thoughtfulness and optimism of Marvel 1602, written by Neil Gaiman in response to the fear and pessimism of the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.  (Reviewed here.)
55. Art Spiegelman's Maus, which recounts his parents's experiences as Holocaust survivors.  The Nazis are shown as cats; the Jews, mice.  Concurrent throughout is the depiction of Spiegelman's interviews with his father and the nagging, family drama surrounding the origins of the comic.  It's a distillation that avoids the crime of being reductive.
56. Alex Ross's paintings.  For a while in the late 90s I got jaded, feeling they were being pushed on us, but then I got over my foolishness.
57. Cam Kennedy's water color work on Star Wars: Dark Empire.  A lot of fans gripe about it, but I loved the tones of his panels and pages.

58. Free Comic Book Day, which unfortunately for me is on the same schedule as the Kentucky Derby and I've been reluctant to deal with traffic to get to a local comic shop.  I went in 2009 and had no problem; missed 2010 and this year traffic to, and inside The Great Escape, was significantly higher.
59. In 1993, Previews (the monthly catalog of comics and related merchandise published by Diamond distributors) serialized "The Babe Wore Red," a Sin City yarn spun by Frank Miller.  I bought every issue and thrilled to finding those two pages each month.
60. The success of Dark Horse Comics, which proved there was room in the industry for a creator-friendly independent publisher to cut a swath in a market previously dominated exclusively by DC Comics and Marvel Comics.
61. Carrie Kelley, spud.
62. Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis.  Who would have thought that an autobiographical graphic novel about growing up amidst the Iranian Revolution would be so funny, or universal in its themes?  Very moving.
63. Comic nerd debates.  Publisher vs. publisher, character vs. character, artist vs. artist...the time spent between two like-minded readers with a difference of opinion can be as passionate as it is absurd.  I've rolled my eyes at many of these debates--even ones in which I've participated--but they're always fun.
64. Recipe for a popular character: Take one British woman's brain.  Transfer it to a hot Asian woman's body.  Give her ninja skills and a skimpy costume with a thong.  In a movie, that would be exploitative and cheesy.  But in a comic book?  That's Psylocke!
65. "Political Pull!" from Tales from the Crypt #26, set during the French Revolution.  I read it in a reprint edition some time in high school and still vividly remember it.
66. The shameless metafiction of John Byrne's The Sensational She-Hulk.
67. I love that different creative teams can take the same characters and basic premises, but produce wildly different stories.  There's something appealing to me about the endless malleable nature of comic book characters.
68. Comic book writers just take for granted that the audience can keep up with multiple continuities and the storytelling rules of their wholly made-up technologies and societies.  Movie writers all too often speak to us as though we're all stupid and can't possibly follow anything remotely complex.  It's refreshing to find a medium where my intelligence is expected and assumed.
69. DC Comics actually published 13 issues of Welcome Back, Kotter.  Oh, you're not impressed by that?  Up your nose with a rubber hose!

70. Comic specialty shops.  They're always locally owned and operated,
and cultivate the local comic culture in a way that makes shopping a communal experience.
71. Cars drawn by Frank Miller, which actually look like cars, not "electric shavers."
72. Talking with someone who knows to distinguish between a "graphic novel" and a "trade paperback."
73. Sometimes an issue will refer back to something seemingly forgotten from an older issue.  When I've actually read that older issue, it makes me feel like I'm seeing some dividends on my investment as a reader.
74. Every now and again, Wolverine makes a guest appearance in another Marvel comic.  Not too often, though.  I mean, that would risk overexposure of the guy and that wouldn't make sense.
75. The passage of time.  It can be as long as the storytellers desire.  Six issues can take place in the same night, or two adjacent panels can convey the passage of years.
76. "With great power must come great responsibility."
77. Mike Madrid's analysis of feminism in superhero comic books in The Supergirls (which I reviewed here).
78. John Stewart, who gave a voice and face to the civil rights movement that expressed angst tempered by righteousness, and later arrogance tempered by humility to become one of the most human characters to ever wear a costume.
79. Barry Allen kept his Flash costume in a ring.  A ring!
80. Whatever you were ever taught about not trusting manipulative, conniving women was entirely undermined by Emma Frost joining the X-Men.
81. Mail-away comics and store giveaways.  Whether it's Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron from a box of Fruit Loops or Thor from Taco Bell, I love getting comics through these less conventional means.
82. Splash pages.
83. The inane shamelessness of the very existence of the Gen13 Swimsuit Special.
84. Alliterative character names: J. Jonah Jameson, Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Lex Luthor...Could have done a sub-set of just LL's in Superman's world.
85. Speaking of Superman and all that alliteration, how about the fact that the dude wasn't just hookin' up with Lana Lang in Smallville and Lois Lane in Metropolis...but even got him some mermaid tail in Tritonis with Lori Lemaris!
86. Jeff Smith's Bone.
87. He-Man and Muhammad Ali have one thing in common: they've both been pitted against Superman in comic books.
88. The existence of Gen13 #13A-C, featuring Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, Fone Bone, Spawn, The Savage Dragon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Maxx, Monkeyman and O'Brien, Madman, Shi, Wolverine, Hellboy and Francine & Katchoo.
89. FDR became the first sitting president to appear in a comic book, which was brought about because Hammond Fisher had written his character Joe Palooka into a storyline with the French Foreign Legion and needed a reasonable way to extricate his protagonist.  The White House approved the appearance of FDR to intervene.
90. Michael Turner's Fathom #1 was just coming out when I went to my first comic convention (Wizard World Chicago) in 1998 and copies were selling in excess of $15.  I just bought all three standard variants for a quarter a pop at Half Price Books.  Yay, 13 years of patience!
91. Most trade paperbacks and graphic novels fit in a Silver Age-sized polybag, meaning I only have to buy one size.  I don't mind letting my modern era single issues have the extra space.
92. The Green Lantern oath.
93. The sheer absurdity of domino masks being an effective way to protect someone's identity.
94. Peter David.  Everyone has their favorite run of his, and mine is his work on DC's Star Trek.
95. Team-ups, particularly ones that put a hero with someone else's sidekick (i.e., Batman and Supergirl, Superman and Batgirl).
96. Standalone issues!  Special shout-out to Batman: Shadow of the Bat #13 ("The Nobody").
97. Neal Adams, properly praised here by Ty Templeton.
98. Evan Dorkin's Milk and Cheese, who clearly paved the way for Aqua Teen Hunger Force.
99. Creator feuds.  I know I shouldn't enjoy them, but there's something exciting about the gossip and picking sides.
100. The Joker