You are on page 1of 114

WATCHMOJO’S

50 MOST INFLUENTIAL
COMICS OF THE ‘80S
LAMBERT MUIR
WatchMojo informs and entertains viewers by producing
videos on topics that audiences are nostalgic or passionate
about, providing them with a daily dose of escapism.

5369 St. Laurent, Suite 430


Montreal, QC, H2T 1S5, CANADA
Phone: 514 448 1631
Fax: 866 868 0981
wmp@watchmojo.com
www.watchmojo.com

Follow Us On:

All contents ©2017 WatchMojo. All rights reserved.


Published by 6059350 Canada Inc, WatchMojo
ISBN 978-0-9953137-4-3
05
06
Introduction
The ‘80s were a vibrantly transgressive time for comics. Creators were constantly
pushing the envelope, challenging the scope and content of genres. Most of what
was produced during the decade is still relevant and influential today (just check
out your Netflix queue and try to imagine what it would look like without any Marvel
Cinematic Universe content forged in the ‘80s).

Because so many great stories came out in the decade—and because there’s only
so many spots on this list—some of your favorites might have missed the cut. Mike
Grell’s Green Arrow story Longbow Hunter isn’t here, and neither is John Byrne’s
Man of Steel or the George Perez Wonder Woman run. It doesn’t mean they aren’t
amazing. It just means we had to make tough choices.

We also couldn’t include all the superb independent artists who produced
groundbreaking work during the decade, so we left out some well-known works in
order to highlight some underrated gems. For instance, Art Spiegelman’s Maus isn’t
here, while Charles Burns’ Big Baby—which started as a feature in Spiegelman’s
avant-garde comics magazine Raw—is.

Ultimately, this magazine aims to give you a multi-faceted picture of this decade of
passionate creativity which redefined the comicsverse.

Because, ultimately, that’s what comics are all about: passion.


07
08
THE NEW TEEN
TITANS No.1
1980
Here’s a question: what exactly made this title so popular? Marv Wolfman’s writing, sure, but
“soap opera taking a backseat to heroic action” feels a little counter-intuitive in a storyline
starring teenagers. It goes against the tried-and-true Spider-Man method of “heroic action
taking a backseat to soap opera” and doesn’t really manage to make it work. So then... what
made this title so memorable? George Perez’s art, that’s what. Because George Perez made
the Titans sexy.

While Nick Cardy, the most recognizable artist of the Silver Age Titans, drew the characters
as older kids, full of buoyant energy and clean-cut charm, George Perez drew post-
pubescent athletic young adults for whom sexuality is part of how they interact within the
team dynamic. Donna Troy (Wonder Girl) is the level-headed more mature co-leader of the
team, and she’s engaged to a university teacher named Terry Long. Koriand’r (Starfire) is
a (literal) fiery redhead space princess who lives her emotions to the fullest and questions
American mores on love and sex at every turn. Garfield Logan (Beast Boy) is a rich
playboy shown going from date to date and looking for the next fun thing to do to escape
his anxieties and self-doubt. Wally West (Kid Flash) is reluctant about joining the team,
preferring to go to college and put behind him his past as a sidekick to the Flash, until
Rachel Roth (Raven) uses her magic to make him fall in love with her. Dick Grayson (Robin)
is a young team leader who starts preferring the company of Starfire to night patrols with
Batman. (This series would also be when the idea of Dick Grayson as DC’s male sex-symbol
started taking shape.) As for Raven and Victor Stone (Cyborg), it’s their lack of sexuality that
sets them apart from the team. Raven renounces sex and even love as she keeps a tight
leash on her emotions for fear of becoming like her demon father Trigon, and Vic Stone’s
transformation into Cyborg has, well, kinda castrated him by making him a robot from the
waist down.

So the reason for this team’s success is twofold: on one hand, Marv Wolfman was crafting
stories that presented the team with increasing danger and linked them to the greater DC
universe, preventing them from appearing as a “Justice League Junior”; on the other hand,
George Perez’s art added a layer of subtext with his depiction of sweaty, fit young heroes.
09
10
BATMAN: THE DARK
KNIGHT RETURNS
1986
Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is a story packed with social commentary,
digressions, narration boxes, talking heads and panel-heavy pages. In the hands of a lesser
storyteller this wouldn’t work, but it does here because Frank Miller knew every element of
the story inside and out, and worked to have them play off of each other perfectly. In every
chapter, we see opposing elements meeting to create tension.

The first chapter contrasts Bruce Wayne’s need to become Batman again with Harvey Dent’s
relapse into Two-Face. The second reminds Batman that his training was as much mental as
physical, and that’s how he defeats the leader of a mutant gang, when all police can think of
doing is to wage brutal but ineffectual war on them. The third chapter has Batman and the
Joker fighting to a bloody standstill for the last time, with neither gaining the upper hand.
Both of them realize they’ve been careening towards their doom since the very beginning,
just as the decades-old Cold War stretches towards endgame. Chapter four opens with
Batman barely escaping capture alive, and the Cold War reaching its apotheosis with the
launch of a Soviet nuclear warhead, which plunges Gotham City, along with other parts of
the United States, into a dark winter. It’s only then that Batman fights Superman, after all this
build-up.

The Batman and Superman battle is not just about them fighting, it’s about everything that
leads up to the confrontation. Batman essentially represents the American people waking
up to a Cold War getting hotter without their approval, and demanding the government stop
before it’s too late. In the storyline, a now-decrepit Ronald Reagan is still president and has
the keys to the biggest nuclear device ever: Superman. The biggest story element is that
Batman and Superman had been best of friends since... forever. They were the World’s
Finest super-duo and now they were brutalizing each other, though neither wanted to. Go
back to the fourth chapter, read what each of them say. Read Superman’s pleas before
the fights starts. See Batman hating the fact that his best friend, who he’s poisoned with
kryptonite gas, notices his failing heart and shows genuine concern about his health in spite
of the situation. Frank Miller knew how to push these emotional buttons.
11
12
THE PUNISHER No.1
1987
The inaugural issue of The Punisher in 1987 may not have been the first appearance of
the character, and not the first “1st issue” the character had launched (that honor goes to
the 1986 mini-series), but it is nonetheless important, because it shaped how the Punisher
would be perceived for more than a decade. Mike Baron, who would write the character’s
main title along with four annuals and a few specials until 1993, wrote about a Punisher
who was not the “Charles Bronson in Death Wish” everyman who first appeared in the
Spider-Man comics. Nor was he the violent, sullen psychopath of more recent vintage. In
this series, the Punisher was an action hero, the same type as the squared-jawed, muscle-
bound, red-blooded men of action who invaded the theaters and home video market of the
late 1980s. Klaus Janson’s rendition of the character in this issue even has him look a teeny
bit like Steven Segal. (A casting choice that would cause many to cry nowadays.)

The comparisons to the action hero archetype is not purely physical either: this issue sees
him take on Bolivian drug dealers in an abandoned tenement building in an area of New
York City lit by neon signs and gun barrel flashes. The Punisher later meets a man he knew
during the Vietnam War, who seems to be making a living flying charter planes, in order to
get information about a higher-up in the drug-dealing operation who asked the man to pilot
a plane full of coke. He later goes to meet this higher-up at a swanky penthouse, and even
flirts with the baddie’s model girlfriend. When the narco gets wise to his plan, The Punisher
is captured and tortured, but, being a total badass, he can take it, and fights his way out,
killing his opponent (and saving the model, natch). She packs her bags and The Punisher
watches as her plane takes off. Thing is, the drug dealers’ leader in the end actually turns
out to be his friend from ‘Nam.

It might seem like the plot of a cheap movie you might’ve caught on TV one Sunday before
football when there was nothing else on, but Mike Baron tapped into something people
wanted to read more of… Even when elements of the Marvel universe came into his stories,
or more nuance was given to the criminals, the Punisher remained an action hero, with
swagger, a fast draw, and a witty line to say over a dead body.
13
14
X-MEN: GOD LOVES,
MAN KILLS
1982
Released as the fifth issue of the Marvel Graphic Novel line in the ‘80s, God Loves, Man Kills
remains the quintessential X-Men story. It’s a story that does away with most of the artifice
of superhero storytelling to get at the heart of the X-Men’s allegorical struggle. This isn’t a
story where the X-Men swing into action and save the day by defeating an army of robots,
or fighting supervillains. There isn’t a big battle in space, or downtown Manhattan. The plot
doesn’t involve time-travel or an attempt by some demon lord to annex our world to his dark
dimension. Here the villain is Reverend William Stryker, a man who has decided that mutants
don’t fit God’s plan and that humans should not suffer them to live. This is the story to put in
people’s hands when they have never read any X-Men.

The story opens with two black children being hunted in a schoolyard by a group of armed
white people who shoot them and then hoist their bodies up on a swing set for all the
children to see the next morning. On the hanging bodies are signs that read “Mutie”, the
epithet for those whose only crime is to be born with the mutant gene. The first person to
find the bodies is Magneto, who swears vengeance for the children. And contrary to the
current popular idiom: It doesn’t actually get better.

God Loves, Man Kills gives readers all they need to know to understand who Magneto is,
and why he’s the X-Men’s most enduring villain: he’s also their ally in some way. Because
he, too, wants a world where mutants are safe. It’s just that his vision of the future doesn’t
necessarily involves peaceful coexistence between mutants and humans. Compared to
the world shown in the story, a place where armed militias of bigots can just claim religious
reasons to justify the murder of children and be accepted, and even cheered, by mainstream
America, Magneto’s world does seem safer.

The artist on God Loves, Man Kills is Brett Anderson and it’s too bad he didn’t do more
X-Men work. The way he and colorist Steve Oliff render the world around the characters is
sedate, and this complements Anderson’s work on faces, which is expressive, yet not in an
exaggerated comic book style. Costumes are also an area where this book’s art just works.
The X-Men and Magneto’s bright and colourful costumes do clash with the background
of any given scene, but Brett Anderson was working at a time when some artists still drew
costumes as fabric, rather than body painting or awkwardly tight body-hugging fetish gear.
So the costumes clash, but they do look like costumes. Besides, if you can suspend your
disbelief at “the next step in human evolution involves shooting energy blasts out of our
eyes,” the costumes shouldn’t be too much of a hang-up.
15
16
DAREDEVIL
No.168-191
1981
Daredevil used to be a character no one knew what to do with. Sometimes a superhero,
sometimes a spy, sometimes fighting common crooks or taking on his relatively
uninteresting rogues gallery, Daredevil seemed to survive only by the grace of the great
artists who drew his stories (the most famous among them being Gene Colan, and Wally
Wood way back in the ‘60s). Daredevil was a bi-monthly series that was B-list or even C-list,
until Marvel allowed then-newcomer artist Frank Miller to become the new writer.

With Miller writing, and providing rough pages for Klaus Janson to finish and ink, Daredevil
became a hit series and its titular character changed irrevocably. No longer a swashbuckling
acrobat, he became a ninja. No longer a lawyer moonlighting as a superhero, he became
a conflicted man driven to violently hurt criminals by night and passionately defend the
justice system by day. Even the world around him changed, as Miller paced and colored
his scenes more like film noir rather than adventure stories. And Daredevil’s villains became
much bigger threats, most notably Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of crime. He was a Spider-Man
villain used when the webhead needed to fight a mobster big enough to take a few punches,
but was now re-imagined as a ruthless and calculating crime lord who ran his criminal
organization like a business, shrouded in a veil of legitimacy that made him untouchable.
Bullseye, a hitman whose gimmick was darts, became something even more sinister: a
deranged killer with the uncanny ability to take anything and turn it into a deadly accurate
weapon, killing his victims in one throw.

The most famous addition to the Daredevil canon Frank Miller made, however, was the
introduction of Elektra Natchios. Matt Murdock’s college girlfriend returned as an assassin
working for the Kingpin and tied to a ninja death cult called The Hand. Elektra quickly
became a fan-favorite character, which is why her death in Daredevil 181 was such a shock,
and her resurrection in Daredevil 190 is seen as less of a cop-out than other resurrections in
comics. Her resurrection also allowed Miller to show more of the The Hand’s magic rituals.
But Elektra herself was a breath of fresh air, a love interest as skilled as Daredevil, who
could save herself. She was the one who first defeated The Hand’s undying ninja assassin
Kirigi, while Daredevil was looking for his former master, the blind ninja called Stick (another
Frank Miller creation, who helped a young Matt Murdock hone his other senses after he was
blinded as a child).
17
18
WHATEVER
HAPPENED TO THE
MAN OF TOMORROW?
1986
From the ‘50s to the ‘80s, Superman was drawn almost exclusively by Curt Swan, so much
so that Swan’s Superman was the definitive Superman for many fans. His Superman looked
and moved like a barrel-chested dad whose brow was weary from being humanity’s saviour.
By all means he could’ve been a tragic figure, except that Curt Swan’s tenure as artist on the
Superman books happened during the Silver Age, and the stories he drew were crazier than
five Philip K. Dick stories having a knife fight with each other.

Enter Alan Moore, British comic book writer and anarchist wizard, a man whose massive
beard and multiple magic rings hide the fact that he is a giant comic book geek. In 1986, as
DC Comics was in the midst of rebooting their universe with an event comic called Crisis on
Infinite Earths, Alan Moore was tapped to write a story chronicling the death of the previous
Superman: Curt Swan’s Superman. Story has it that Alan Moore threatened to kill editor in
chief Julius Schwartz if he didn’t get the assignment, but that’s besides the point. What is
the point is that Alan Moore went on to write the two-part story Whatever Happened to the
Man of Tomorrow?, a tribute to the Curt Swan Superman… and that he asked Swan to draw
it.

The story tells the tale of Superman’s last stand in the Fortress of Solitude, surrounded by
his dearest friends, assailed by his greatest enemies. It’s a tale of the end of the Silver Age,
with people dying by the same fanciful dream-logic ways by which they had lived. And it
could only have been drawn by the man who first drew so many of the concepts, characters,
and ideas that are put to rest in this story.

Put to rest? Really? Of course not. You see, the Silver Age of comics saw the creation of
something called an “Imaginary Story”, a story taking place outside of normal continuity,
free to go in whatever wild direction the writer wanted. This type of story was popular with
Superman because it allowed readers to see Superman get happy endings in wonderful
marriages, or suffer strange deaths at the hand of his wiliest enemies. And that’s the key to
Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? It’s an imaginary story, nothing that happens
in it actually happened in the Silver Age continuity. No one has really died. That may sound
like a cop-out, but it’s not, because the story’s status as an Imaginary Story is stated on the
first page.

In writing that last Silver Age Superman story, Alan Moore decided not to kill him, decided
not to write the last story at all. He and Curt Swan created the last Silver Age Superman
story published, but being an Imaginary Story meant that it was never the end.
19
20
THE AMAZING
SPIDER-MAN No.300
1988
The first (full) appearance of Venom, one of Spider-Man’s most famous villains, is really
merely half the content of Amazing Spider-Man 300. It’s the back half actually, the action
half, the stuff around the main story. That’s right, Venom is a back-up feature.

You see, while this issue has the payoff to a mysterious threat that first appeared in shadows
in Amazing Spider-Man 298, 300 is mainly about Peter Parker and Mary-Jane Watson-
Parker, newlyweds, moving into their new apartment. It’s about Peter figuring out how he’ll
pay for his half of the rent and about Mary-Jane reassuring Aunt May that they still want her
in their lives. The stuff with Venom comes after, because Amazing Spider-Man has always
been about the life of Peter Parker and how his becoming a superhero didn’t make his
personal life any easier than mine or yours.

The fight with Venom is the second half of the story and it mostly gets by on Todd
McFarlane’s style. Its story elements are kinda forced, the least of which is Venom dressing
up as a priest just for the theatrics, when his plan is to trap Spidey in a bell tower’s central
bell and wait for the clapper to smash him. The other thing is that Venom is one of those
characters whose origins are revealed in a way readers didn’t see in past comics: Venom is
a former journalist called Eddie Brock whose career ended when he wrote multiple articles
on the man he believed was the Sin-Eater Killer. The real Sin-Eater Killer was apprehended
and unmasked by Spider-Man; the man Brock had been writing about was a compulsive
confessor. Brock blamed Spider-Man for losing his job and planned on killing himself in the
same church where Spider-Man got rid of his living alien costume. The alien bonded with
Eddie Brock because it sensed a common hatred for the web-slinger. As I said before, this
half of the comic is really carried by Todd McFarlane’s art. McFarlane is often cited as one of
the best Spider-Man artists because of how he drew the wall-crawler as just that, a man who
crawls on walls: not a conventional superhero who stands tall, but who contorts, crouches,
moves in an unconventional way. To that I would add McFarlane’s way of drawing movement
into still images, because his Spider-Man moved and his fights were kinetic. This is why
the Venom backstory section doesn’t work in the context of this particular issue, because it
interrupts a fight. There are better retellings of Venom’s origins, and McFarlane would get the
chance to draw better, uninterrupted fights. This is Venom’s first (full) appearance, but not
his best.
21
22
BATMAN: A DEATH IN
THE FAMILY
1988
5271 votes for Jason Todd to live, versus 5343 votes for him to die. That’s 72 votes that
decided the fate of the second Robin. With two 1-900 numbers for fans to call, charging fifty
cents for each call, it only took 36 dollars to kill a fictional underage character.

There’s no way to talk about A Death in the Family without talking about the somewhat
disturbing way part of the story was written, with Jason Todd being beaten and blown up by
the Joker while attempting to save his long-lost mother. Batman arrives too late and finds his
corpse. There exists a page by Jim Aparo in the DC archives featuring Batman finding a still-
living Jason Todd; it is fully drawn and inked, but not colored. That didn’t need to be done:
the readers had called in, the fate of the second Robin had been sealed.

Jim Starlin, the man who wrote the Batman series at the time, has admitted he never liked
the idea of Robin, and wrote Jason Todd, whom he was forced to write, as someone who
talked back to Batman and went against his orders, someone who even killed a guy (in
Batman 424). That’s the thing: Jason Todd was an asshole. Batman found him stealing
the Batmobile’s tires and had to navigate being a mentor to a young man who didn’t
automatically respect and idolize him in the same way Dick Grayson, the first Robin, did. But
nope, 36 dollars bought Jason Todd a pine box and he came back as the Red Hood, one of
DC’s many discount Punishers. Yay.

Lots of people focus on the Jason Todd part of the story, but you haven’t experienced A
Death in the Family until you reach the part where the Joker arrives at the United Nations
in New York as the official Iranian Ambassador. Oh yeah, he was personally appointed by
Ayatollah Khomeini. Well, that part doesn’t last long, as Joker uses the opportunity of his
first speech to the U.N. to unleash his lethal laughing gas on the attending diplomats, before
running away and getting into yet another fight with Batman that ends with him plunging to
his death. The Joker’s body is not found, of course.
23
24
THE CROW
1989
This is a hard comic to write about because it’s just a tale of revenge. Its creator, James
O’Barr, has admitted that that’s all it ever was: a way for him to get revenge on the drunk
driver who killed his girlfriend. Only in later iterations has it become something else, with
O’Barr working through his pain in other ways, and The Crow gaining an ending that goes
beyond simple revenge. As it was in the ‘80s, the story ended with its revenant revenger
main character killing everyone involved with his and his girlfriend’s murder.

As such, this is one of the darkest comic books of its decade. Oh, this is the same decade
in which many a dark comic came out, but all of them had characters who acted violently for
a good cause. The Punisher kills, yes, but it’s to protect the innocent. The Crow, however,
isn’t concerned with other victims: all that matters to him is that his girlfriend was killed. He’s
just doing this for revenge. Revenge as a motivation is common among many comic book
vigilantes, but the scope broadens to include all evil-doers. The Crow just wants to kill the
specific people who killed him and his girlfriend. Like a wraith, his black and white figure
cuts across the nameless city’s back alleys and crack houses to get revenge on the people
who destroyed Erik Draven’s life.

In this way, there’s something incredibly universal about the story of The Crow. The Crow
itself, the supernatural being that saves Draven’s life (or brings him back from beyond the
grave, depending on your personal reading of the events), isn’t attributed to a specific
tradition in the story, it is simply the crow, a being who offers the suffering dead a chance to
take revenge.

The trade-off is seen throughout the story, the Crow cannot die. That’s great when you
need to take revenge on heavily armed criminals, but not in the times in-between. Not in the
sleepless hours of the day when Draven interrupts his hunt. In those times, all his immortality
can’t save him from his memories, dream-like memories of his wonderful girlfriend, always
leading him to relieve her death in ever horrible details. It’s no way to live and it’s a hell of a
living death.

As I said earlier, James O’Barr brought many a change to his original 1989 series. The
biggest change is an ending in which the Crow finally leaves the world of the living to rejoin
his girlfriend in the afterlife. There’s no other way to feel about this but to be happy, because
in its original form, the story ends on the Crow approaching his final victim, and the next
panel is nothing but black. In its original form The Crow ends on nothing. An emptiness
befitting what its main character had become.
25
26
THE ROCKETEER
1982
In 1982, the comic-reading public didn’t have much use for a character like the Rocketeer,
a character representative of a bygone era. Everyone’s eyes were turned towards the stars,
Return of the Jedi was a year away, comic book heroes were slowly getting darker, and the
Justice Society of America, the original super-team from the Golden Age of comics, weren’t
having crossovers with the Justice League as much as they used to in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Aside from Raiders of the Lost Ark, not much attention was being paid to that pre-war era
of daring heroes. The Rocketeer, originally a back-up feature in Pacific Comics’ Starslayer
series, had therefore no competitor, nor any equals.

The brainchild of Dave Stevens, who, wouldn’t you know it, worked as a storyboard artist
for Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Rocketeer tells the story of stunt pilot Cliff Secord, who
happens upon an experimental rocket pack coveted by the US government, as well as the
Axis. The first story, being that it was published as a backup feature, has a very episodic
pacing, reminiscent of the old theatrical adventure serials, with Cliff finding himself in ever-
more dangerous cliffhangers. Wait… Cliff Secord… cliffhangers… was that pun intended?
The second story is basically a Shadow story with the Rocketeer as one of the Shadow’s
special agents. Oh, and it’s heavily implied that the rocket pack itself was invented by
famous pulp hero Doc Savage.

That’s the thing with this comic: it’s Dave Stevens’ love letter to the pop culture of that era:
pulp adventure novels, movie serials, and pin-up models (especially Bettie Page, whom
Stevens used as the model for Cliff’s girlfriend, Betty). Fans of Bettie Page can thank
Dave Stevens for her resurgence in popularity and her being paid royalties for reprints of
her various photos. The pop culture don’t stop there: fans of old movies will recognize a
character being modelled after famous horror film icon Rondo Hatton in the second story.

Beyond the references, the original stories of The Rocketeer are a lot of fun to read, because
Dave Stevens was a really good comic book artist who blended modern storytelling
techniques with the Golden Age’s tendency to pack a page full of panels of different shapes
and sizes. The finished product is a vibrant piece of cartooning which keeps readers’ eyes
on the page at all times, and is among those first attempts at revitalizing interest in the
Golden Age of comics and pop culture.
27
28
CAPTAIN AMERICA
No. 332-350:
THE CAPTAIN
1987
This story wasn’t the first in which a superhero gave up their mantle only to see it usurped
by someone who doesn’t share their stalwart heroism and virtue, and it wasn’t the last. Still,
this is probably the gold standard for this kind of story. Every recurring element of the type
of story found in The Captain works somehow better with Steve Rogers. These are familiar
story elements, but this can only be a Captain America story.

The reason why Steve Rogers would abandon the Captain America costume is well-
thought-out and gives the story its forward momentum. Rogers is brought in for a hearing
with The Commission, a group acting on the behalf of Ronald Reagan, to discuss his
activities and remind him that the Captain America identity is property of the United States
government. They want to make him accept to have his future activities coordinated and
assigned by them, whatever those activities may be. Rogers then gives up the Captain
America costume, because for him being Captain America means to be a symbol of the
American Dream, of the freedom for all to become all they can be, not just to be a soldier for
whatever administration is in charge at any given time.

Steve Rogers’ replacement is not just the typical “evil” or “morally bankrupt” version of the
original character. There’s a lot more subtlety to how Mark Gruenwald, writer of the Captain
America series for 10 years, wrote the character of John Walker. Walker is a man from
Georgia who saw his brother go to Vietnam and come back in a casket, motivating him to
want to serve his country by joining the army. He later became a patriotic superhero known
as Super Patriot, leading him to ultimately accept the government’s offer to become the new
Captain America. His biggest failing is that he doesn’t question authority, and makes being
Captain America about serving America’s interests only, not its ideals. Walker is also known
for his lethal tenure as Captain America, but this has more to do about the stress of the job
than with any deep-seated violent nature. This is something he even acknowledges himself,
proving that he isn’t the “ruthless right-wing” version of Captain America some remember
him as.

The Captain sees Steve Rogers pursue his mission for America under the guise of the
Captain, never letting circumstances get him down. In his new identity, Steve rekindles
alliances with partners both well-known and forgotten or inactive in modern comics: not
just the Falcon, but Jack Monroe and D-Man as well. The story also dives into Rogers’
relationship with the Serpent Society member Diamondback, using her vacillating
allegiances to both Steve and Serpent Society leader Sidewinder to add tension, and
personify the story’s themes of choosing between authority and ideals.
29
30
SUICIDE SQUAD
1987
The original Suicide Squad series from writer John Ostrander and artist Luke McDonnell
was unlike anything that had been done before, and unlike any of the many series that later
tried to imitate it. Even more recent Suicide Squad series don’t seem to measure up, and
that may be because the best element of Suicide Squad is its cold political satire. On the
surface, it is the story of a team of super-criminals earning time off their sentences by joining
Task Force X and accepting to be deployed on various high-risk suicide missions. On the
surface, this is a team that exists in the same world as Superman and the Justice League,
and therefore their missions sometimes involve elements from this fantastical world of gods
and monsters. The element everyone seems to forget when discussing the Suicide Squad’s
original series is the one hiding beneath the surface: their missions often dealt with the
political landscape of the time, making them a covert strike team. In their first mission, they
must defeat a team of superpowered operatives from the fictional Middle Eastern nation of
Qurac before the team can commit terrorist acts on US soil.

That’s what the Suicide Squad is for: to provide the United States government with
expendable assets experienced in dealing with superpowered targets. That’s why it’s a team
of supervillains. It’s not because they work well together and are loyal to their commanding
officers, but because if they get caught running an off the books operation… well, they’re
criminals, and the White House can claim ignorance of their actions. Or, better yet, an
explosive device planted at the base of a skull can be detonated and eliminate any fear that
anyone will divulge any information to any enemy intelligence service. It’s grim political satire
advertised as comic book action.

Of course, one can’t very well talk about Suicide Squad without talking about its breakout
character: Amanda “The Wall” Waller. At first glance she looks almost likeable, a dedicated
civil servant and overweight widow, but if you think that, you’ve already lost. Amanda Waller
is the brain behind the Suicide Squad who, without being cruel, can maintain an iron grip
on the volatile members of her team of killers and threaten them into obedience, directing
their actions in ways politically advantageous for her. Many tried to stop her rise within the
corridors of power, and all failed because Amanda Waller is not easily outmatched. Batman
tried once, and she casually threatened to out him as billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. Yeah,
she knows, and Batman better stay in line.

Lastly, Suicide Squad is not just a name. The series was marked by close calls and even
deaths of some of its members. Those who survived, notably Captain Boomerang and
Deadshot, were rewarded with character development which heavily influenced later writers
who wrote them.
31
32
BATMAN: THE
KILLING JOKE
1988
In The Killing Joke, Batman asks himself the following question: “How can two people
hate so much without knowing each other?” We can’t think of a sentence that better
encapsulates this story’s themes. It’s a story about hate, about these two men whose hatred
of one another is so great as to launch them into a deadly fandango destined to kill one of
them in the end, and make scores of victims. Yes, never forget that in this book, Jim Gordon
and his daughter Barbara are nothing but victims of Batman’s and Joker’s danse macabre.
Many recent critiques have lamented the poor treatment that Barbara Gordon, Batgirl,
receives in this story, with the Joker paralyzing her and undressing her to take pictures that
will drive her father mad. Distasteful? Shock for shock’s sake?

Returning to the question of hate and ignorance: Batman claims he knows little about the
Joker, and that may be true, but the Joker claims to know plenty about the Bat. Well, at least
that he knows the kind of man Batman is, and the kind of events that shaped him. For you
see, the Joker claims that all it takes for a normal person to go completely and irrevocably
mad is just one REALLY bad day. Just one day, when events conspire to drive you into the
darkest pits of insanity. Of course, his version of insanity is a cruel and nihilistic one, one
that allows for the murder and humiliation of innocents because nothing really matters.
Batman, who made meaning out of a personal tragedy, rejects this. We should, too. Not
merely because of morality, but because the Joker lies, or his mind lies to him. The Killing
Joke presents us with memories of Joker’s origins, of that one bad day seen through the
Joker’s mind’s eye, but he later tells Batman that he doesn’t know his origin story, that he
sometimes remembers it one way and other ways at other times. On what authority can he
really speak about madness if he can’t really remember the cause of his? Ultimately, it’s this
ambiguity that makes the relationship between Batman and the Joker terrifying.

Artistically, Brian Bolland kills it, (pun intended) regardless of the version you have, whether
an older version with the original coloring or a more recent re-colored one. The original
coloring is better. The re-colored editions are closer to what Bolland had in mind and was
unable to do in 1988 because of the coloring techniques of the time, but the original with
its saturated colors offers such a great contrast between narrative and imagery. The original
coloring forces you to look closer and see all the lurid details. It’s maddening, really.
33
34
THE NEW MUTANTS:
THE DEMON BEAR
SAGA
1984
New Mutants came about because it had been decades since the X-Men comics were about
a group of mutants learning to use their powers under the tutelage of professor Charles
Xavier. But the title didn’t really get a real identity of its own until artist Bill Sienkiewicz took
over art duties and writer Chris Claremont finally resolved Dani Moonstar’s story with the
mysterious Demon Bear. New Mutants 18’s opening page marked the true beginning of
the series: Dani, scared, taking cover under a checkered blanket that slowly darkens and
morphs into the menacing face of a bear, as the readers’ eyes go downward on the page.

What makes the Demon Bear Saga so scary is that Dani Moonstar, who was growing more
and more into one of the leaders of the team, is scared simply to think of the Demon Bear.
The headstrong and courageous Cheyenne was scared. Not just scared, but “stay hidden
under the blanket” terrified. And during the first real encounter with the Demon Bear, we
got to know how valid that fear was. Bill Sienkiewicz gave the Bear its frightful scale not
in terms of how much space it occupied in a given panel, but at times being those entire
panels. As the New Mutants would find out, the Demon Bear is a space, another dimension,
a terrifying dreamscape, that they had to escape from. Indeed, in issue 19, the team’s final
confrontation with the Demon Bear is inside it, in the other realm known as the Badlands.
The whole thing plays out like a Nightmare on Elm Street sequel, with Dani Moonstar in a
coma after her first solo fight with the Bear, rushed to a now snowed-in hospital running on
emergency back-up, and the team inside a nightmare world fighting for her soul.

Many X-fans would argue the real moment that New Mutants became what it would be
until it became X-Force is issue 21, the introduction of the techno-organic teenager known
as Warlock. But the Demon Bear Saga is where Sienkiewicz first gets to showcase the
surrealist style he would become famous for, and where Chris Claremont starts putting
the New Mutants in extremely dangerous situations, forging the chemistry that makes
this particular time in the history of the New Mutants so special for a lot of fans. It’s that
chemistry in the creative team that would make the fictional team into a tight-knit group of
friends, even if they didn’t see eye to eye and had such clashing personalities. Still, they
were just young people, living in a scary world, who didn’t know if they would see the next
day... and when they did, they made sure to have fun. It’s in that way that this iteration of
the New Mutants has stayed so relevant. They didn’t have the same problems as their target
audience, but they dealt with their problems like teenagers do, with great angst, anger, and
relief once it’s all over.
35
36
SQUADRON
SUPREME
1985
One of the sub-genres of superhero fiction in recent times is the trend of stories that
seek to darken the fantastic and wondrous stories of the superhero genre, revealing dark
and morally grey acts committed by superheroes in old stories but never shown. 1985’s
Squadron Supreme is interesting then, as it is a morally grey superhero story that still clings
to the days of good old-fashioned tales of fantastic superheroes saving the world.

Maybe that’s because the man who wrote it, Mark Gruenwald, was such a fan of the Justice
League. It was no secret in the Marvel Bullpen that Captain America writer Mark Gruenwald
had an undying love for DC’s Justice League. By all accounts, the man loved his life, his
work, and his family, but his one regret is that he would never write a Justice League story.
He could, however, use Marvel’s own “loving” parody of the Justice League, the Squadron
Supreme, to write the ultimate love letter to his childhood, and one of the finest “Superhero
Fascist Utopia” stories.

It all begins with the Justi… uh, the Squadron Supreme thinking that America is in a bad
way since the latest attack from the supervillain Overmind, and that maybe the way to make
things better is for the Squadron to take charge and become the rulers of the United States
just for one year. One year to solve every problem from poverty to gun violence. Nighthawk
opposes, but he is outvoted by Hyperion and the rest of the Squadron. To their credit, the
members of the Squadron Supreme do have the best intentions, and they do great work to
make things better, but the problem becomes apparent fast: this utopia they are building
is forced on the American people, and slowly we see that “It’s for your own good” sounds
a lot like “Obey”. With Nighthawk and a group of villains who didn’t wish to go through
the Squadron’s re-education machine opposing them, and tensions within, the great work
crumbles. Just as any fascist regime should.

We’re social animals and we want our groups to function, and we often try so hard, for so
little result, we’re faced with the incredibly tough choice to either abandon, keep going, or
make the group function, despite itself. The Squadron chose the last option and they tried to
go about it in the kindest possible way. It’s still fascism, though.
37
38
AMERICAN
SPLENDOR: THE
LIFE AND TIMES OF
HARVEY PEKAR
1986
So this one is a bit of a cheat. American Splendor: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar is not
technically an ‘80s comic, but the very first anthology collection of material self-published by
writer and creator Harvey Pekar since 1976, and was published by Doubleday in 1986.
So it is a collection published in the ‘80s, but some of the comics also date back earlier. You
might see it as a cheat, you might be lenient, it’s up to you. But American Splendor is just
about some of the best work of autobiographical comics ever created. No, Harvey Pekar
never went to war and he never did anything heroic; the only grand thing about him was his
jazz record collection, which he started selling so he could produce a comic book about his
life after strong-arming Robert Crumb and other underground artists to draw it.

Harvey Pekar knows life can be a bore most of the time. In his stories he talks about the
reality of having to work really hard to make interesting things happen. Sometimes they
happen by chance. Sometimes they don’t happen at all, no matter how much you toil. It’s a
bit of a nihilistic viewpoint, with Pekar residing in a chaotic and uncaring universe, trying to
carve out a bit of happiness from it. But it’s far from a humorless one. Not every American
Splendor story is designed to be funny, some of them are tragic in fact, but many are
humorous because they are told in such a mundane way that the similarities with your own
life might be enough to make you smile.

The artists, in a weird sense, don’t really matter. Robert Crumb and Val Mayerik fans must be
shaking their heads violently right now, but the fact of the matter is that American Splendor
is Harvey Pekar. It’s the little windows into the life of of this malcontent Jewish raconteur
and his thoughts about them. American Splendor is how he sees the world and reacts to it.
It’s Harvey Pekar being content, angry, petty,rude, wise… just being Harvey Pekar. But yes,
the fact that he has collaborated with so many great artists over the years, and got them to
illustrate the most innocuous of life events, is kind of amazing in its own right. Then again,
he just sort of happened to know now-legendary underground comix artist Robert Crumb,
because he was a friend of a friend. Even the most miraculous and future-defining event of
Harvey Pekar’s life isn’t a miracle, just a mundane meeting with a guy who digs jazz like he
does, and works for a greeting card company. That’s American Splendor, the ugly beauty of
real life, told as a comic book by a file clerk from Cleveland.
39
40
X-MEN: DAYS OF
FUTURE PAST
1981
This story changed the X-Men franchise in major ways, even more so than The Dark Phoenix
Saga. Really? Yes, The Dark Phoenix Saga was retconned five years later, and for all its
importance and grand scope, it’s a very personal story, a Scott and Jean story. Days of
Future Past is mainly a Kitty Pryde story, but it affects, and continues to affect, the whole of
the mutant race.

It begins sometime in a future 21st century, New York is ruins stalked by violent bands of
rogues, and mutants live in internment camps guarded by the rulers of this future world:
the Sentinels, mutant-hunting robots who decided long ago that the best way to protect
humanity was to enslave it. In one of these camps, Kitty Pryde, along with a few surviving
X-Men, hatch a plan to stop their torment: send Kitty’s mind back into the past and into her
younger self, to prevent the assassination of anti-mutant senator Robert Kelly, hopefully
preventing the passing of the Mutant Registration Act and the mass production of Sentinels.

Days of Future Past sees this plan succeed. Kitty’s mind is catapulted into the body of
her then-X-Men recruit’s body, kickstarting a race to stop the assassination plans of the
Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. In the future, where lies the unconscious body of the older
Kitty, the remaining X-Men are decimated. Neither the X-Men of the future nor those of the
present know if the plan succeeded. Present X-readers know the answer is complicated,
with this specific future being partly averted, yet echoes of it being found in every other dark
future the X-Men encountered and tried to prevent ever since.

The story is the last collaboration between long-time X-Men scribe Chris Claremont and
Canadian superstar artist John Byrne. Theirs is such a beloved run on the title that it has
been dubbed the “Claremont/Byrne run” by fans. There have been other great artists who
collaborated with Claremont during his 13-year run from the late ‘70s to the early ‘90s,
but the legendary status is attributed to this collaboration in particular. This is probably
because of the one-upmanship at work, with Byrne growing as an artist and Claremont
creating bigger and bigger stories that still retained his love for character work. This was
the first story centering on the X-Men’s newest recruit, Kitty Pryde, but it’s also a time-travel
story about the fight for the future fate of the entire mutant race, taking place in two eras
simultaneously. Days of Future Past works so well as an X-men story because they fight for
a better tomorrow, one of harmony between humans and mutants… but what if the future is
already written? And what if they lost?
41
42
JUSTICE LEAGUE
No.1
1987
1987’s inaugural issue of the new Justice League can either be viewed as the ushering in
of a fanciful and fun era in the Justice League history, or the barking of a dog that senses a
catastrophe coming. You see, this is where the Justice League starts to be funny, and you
either have fond memories of this era or you discover it later and wonder everyone is acting
like they have sacks of hammers for brains and why Olivia Newton John is the new Black
Canary. The subsequent five issues would become the launching pad to the Justice League
International series, which would in turn help launch Justice League Europe.

Still, the first issue does a good job walking the line of action and comedy, taking a newly
formed Justice League cobbled together at the last minute to thwart a terrorist attack on the
U.N. in New York (notice a trend?). The comedy stems from character interaction, and the
stakes are high during the action-oriented moments. All in all, this issue works, but it’s what
it led to that makes it worth talking about. This issue started at least five years worth of the
Justice League becoming a joke, with its members going from gag to gag. Not always, there
is character growth and stories concerned with the shifting political landscape of the time,
but then there’s Booster Gold and Blue Beetle using Justice League funds to open an island
resort and having to do chores to pay back the money.

There is something to be said for the reason why this iteration of the league became popular.
This came following the “Justice League Detroit” era of the League, an era that tried to
introduce new characters and get the Justice League away from it’s domineering image
both in and out of story. Gone was the orbiting satellite, now the league would be based
out of a bomb shelter at the edge of the Detroit River, and the only remaining longstanding
members on the roster were Aquaman, Zatanna, Martian Manhunter and Elongated Man. By
comparison, 1987’s Justice League was lead by Batman and had long-standing members
like Martian Manhunter and Black Canary; Green Lantern Guy Gardner and Captain Marvel
were among the new recruits. Furthermore, the comics landscape was getting darker, but
the writing team of Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis went for a lighter tone, setting it apart
from so many competing books that readers simply had to take notice.

Lastly, if there’s one element of Justice League and Justice League International that didn’t
age, it’s Kevin Maguire’s art. His characters are expressive, their movements fluid, and they
don’t stand like statues; You can almost see their weight shift. Except for Batman, that guy’s
really uptight and never smiles.
43
44
THE SANDMAN No.8
1989
We know.

This entry will likely be contested, as many consider Neil Gaiman’s opus—The Sandman—
to be more of a ‘90s series than one from the ‘80s. And they’re not wrong either, as the
bulk of the series was published during the ‘90s, but it started in the late 1980s (with this
issue in particular being published in 1989). To add to the confusion, there’s also a quote
(misattributed to Gaiman) in which he says he thought the series would be canceled after
its eighth issue. However, it’s also written elsewhere that the eight issue is his favorite in the
Preludes & Nocturnes paperback collection. Author’s blessing or not, The Sandman 8 is one
of the finest single issues around.

Our story begins on a sunny day when the titular Sandman—the Lord of Dreams,
Morpheus—is feeding some pigeons. He’s joined by his big sister who insists on telling him
about a favorite movie of hers called Mary Poppins. Here Morpheus retells the events of the
last seven issues, and readers are slowly clued in as to the identity of his sister. She is Death
and they travel together for a time, as she comes for those who have died. An old Jewish
man, a young female stand up comic, a newborn boy, those who commit suicide, an addict,
and another old person... she comes to them one by one when their time’s up. Because
she’s Death. She’s one of the Endless, and she has her responsibilities.

Taking a page from Sir Terry Pratchett’s depiction of Death in the Discworld series, Gaiman
presents the character as a cosmic public servant. People die and it’s the natural order of
things. Death—as seen in both Gaiman and Pratchett’s work—is just the person charged to
come for the souls who have expired. While Death in Discworld is a somber character, with
very little humanity, Gaiman’s version—who would go on to become the unofficial version of
Death in the DC universe for many fans and creators—has a perky and pleasant personality
and a genuine interest in life. She even allows herself to become mortal once per century to
experience life as humans do. This contrasts not only with classical ideas of death, but also
with her brother, who takes his role as Lord of Dreams very, very seriously.

Issue eight is all about Dream’s big sister telling him to get on with his life after getting back
his magical items and Death—as well as the issue in its entirety—pushes the Sandman
series forward. The character has been established, the basic rules and functions of his
world have been explained, the quest to get him back to full power has ended. Time for The
Sandman and Neil Gaiman to explore more, to push forward, and to become the breakout
hit series of the ‘90s.

The series had just begun, but needed Death to breathe some life into it.
45
46
CRISIS ON INFINITE
EARTHS
1985
It all begins with a wave of anti-matter destroying Earth-3.

There are two ways this story can be read, and each comes with its own approach to the
story and characters. One the one hand, you have new readers who hear that this is an
important story and find themselves in awe of its scale, even if they might not know all the
characters involved. On the other hand, you have fans of DC comics who may have read
this back when it was first published, who are in awe of its scale and how so many of their
beloved character to go out with a bang.

Both readings are valid and welcome, because even if Crisis was first and foremost a way
for DC to streamline their publishing line by doing away with the confusing continuity of a
hundred multiple Earths, not to mention celebrating their fiftieth anniversary with genocide
on a cosmic scale, it still holds up. And it holds up because it’s a twelve part multiversal epic
that allows itself quiet moments for characters to reflect on what—to them—are the very
real casualties of a war for survival, and the grief of losing a close personal friend, family,
or home world. It helps you forget that the origins of the main villain of the piece, the Anti-
Monitor, are confusing at best.

It has something to do with his creation being caused in part by Krona of the Guardians of
the Universe doing something in the past, but also because a group of superheroes went
back in time to prevent his birth in the first place and failed. It’s also how the multiverse
was created in the first place, even though the beginning of Crisis on Infinite Earth implies
the multiverse is just a natural result of a single Big Bang… but also that it’s the result of
Krona’s experiments and—you know what? It really doesn’t matter because the multiverse is
destroyed by the end of the story anyways.

A lot of the events in Crisis on Infinite Earths also don’t matter because they’ve been
retconned or changed by fans-turned-writers who revived the concept of the multiverse or
straight-up resurrected those who died during the story. (We’re looking at you, Barry Allen.)

This story conjures a sense of awe and wonderment in all who read it. Every action has
weight, and every character stands out despite the cast of a thousand. Crisis might not be
the universe-redefining event today that it was in 1985, but it’s still a great read, one that
exemplifies the grandiose nature of superhero storytelling.
47
48
AMERICAN FLAGG!
1983
Howard Chaykin is the comic creators’ comic creator. He’s the guy all your favorite creators
are into, and who’s created a bunch of stuff you probably haven’t read, but definitely should.
Most of his well known works are the stories he created by reinventing popular characters,
like his series about DC’s Blackhawk aviator group as well as his modernization of pulp
character the Shadow. And while his reinventions of popular characters are good, the
original series he’s created are even better and reveal a transgressor enamoured with classic
pulp and comic book storytelling. In American Flagg! we follow a square-jawed Jewish
Russian actor as he tries to return truth and justice to the hopelessly corporate dystopic
America of 2017 2031.

After the economic and nuclear collapse of 1996, the United States government relocates
to Mars, leaving the surviving corporation to safeguard the remaining cities. However, they
turn them into giant malls filled with screens broadcasting a never-ending deluge of noise,
with commercials and shows indistinguishable from one another which put today’s kinkiest
porn to shame. Of these mega-mall city complexes, the Chicago Plex is the absolute worst.
Apathetic “Plex Rangers” turn a blind eye to the corruption and vice around them, while
enduring the violence outside.

Enter Reuben Flagg, former star of the popular vidshow Mark Thrust: Sexus Ranger, who’s
been replaced on the program by a digital copy of himself, and who has since signed up
with the Chicago Plex Rangers. Why? Because he believes in America and what it used to
stand for.

While the idea of a rugged American hero coming to restore peace to a fallen city isn’t a
new idea, American Flagg! is very much set within a cyberpunk world, hence the genre
dissonance readers may experience. Cyberpunk’s bread and butter is flawed heroes in
dystopian worlds—something Chaykin knows since he did his own adaptation of Alfred
Bester’s The Stars My Destination in 1979, which is widely considered to be the grandfather
of cyberpunk—meaning that Flagg isn’t your classic hero in a world that alienates him. No,
Reuben Flagg is a man who does heroic deeds, but is still being very much a product of his
environment. And, since this is a Howard Chaykin comic, that means Flagg gets around. A
lot.

The ‘80s saw the start of a trend in how exposition was delivered: talking head news
media. Panels upon panels of faces dumping information onto readers. Although this
normally slows down the narrative, American Flagg! takes special care to keep these
sequences visually interesting. Every page is laid out imaginatively, each page flows, and the
information readers are given perpetually serves the story.
49
50
SECRET WARS II
1985
Back in 1984, a cosmic being called the Beyonder transported a group of heroes and villains
from the Marvel universe onto a planet of his making, Battleworld, and forced them to fight
to the death in a story called Secret Wars. It was Marvel Comics’ first big crossover event
and it helped Kenner sell a lot of toys. Unfortunately, it proved popular enough to warrant a
sequel in 1985, unburdened by toy sales, and thereby giving Marvel’s then Editor-in-Chief
and writer Jim Shooter complete creative control. Secret Wars II chronicles the rise and fall
of a being with unlimited power, that no one can defeat, who forces his existential crisis
on the Marvel universe. Interestingly enough, the behind the scenes story is, well, not that
dissimilar.

Secret Wars II’s main thrust is the Beyonder’s quest to understand what it means to be
mortal, while still retaining his God-like power. This leads to some hilarious moments—like
him asking Spider-Man how humans empty their bowels and using his bathroom—as well
as some more sinister moments—like the Beyonder using his powers to coerce women into
having sex with him. Essentially, he acts like this for nine issues, and like an angry god in all
the tie-in issues, until he finally decides that to truly understand humanity, he needs to make
himself mortal in order to experience life firsthand. He turns himself into a human baby and,
before he can do more harm to anyone, Molecule Man kills him.

Stories of Shooter clashing with both the writers and artists have since come out about
the publication of Secret Wars II and its subsequent tie-ins. Shooter is said to have asked
for multiple rewrites—hampered by him changing his mind multiple times about where he
wanted to take the story—when he felt the writers didn’t get the Beyonder. (It’s tremendously
telling that one of the better tie-in issues is New Mutants 37, in which the Beyonder
annihilates the team of young heroes because they reject him.)

Other parts of Secret Wars II feel removed from the readers because Jim Shooter is using
the Beyonder to judge the popular culture of the time, as well as tormenting a not so subtle
“parody” of comics writer Steve Gerber, with whom Shooter had disagreement, and who the
readers are supposed to be rooting for.

The reason why this story makes the list is because it’s the Rosetta Stone to understanding
comic book companies—not just Marvel—and their decision to have big crossover events
that intrude upon ongoing series. This, inevitably, results in a story fans want to see end, so
they can forget it ever happened.
51
52
WATCHMEN
1986
At the beginning of the first issue of Watchmen a character by the superhero name of The
Comedian is thrown from the window of his high rise apartment. At the end of the issue, two
former superheroes share a laugh, with the Silk Specter remarking that there haven’t been
many laughs to be had these days. To which Nite Owl responds, “What do you expect? The
Comedian is dead.”

The issue then continues entirely in prose, which is meant to be the first chapter of the
original Nite Owl’s memoir. He begins by relaying the advice he was given about penning
his book: start with the saddest thing you can think of. This inspires the first Nite Owl—a
man named Hollis Mason—to tell the story of how his first employer—a man known to make
jokes—committed suicide.

The great thing about Watchmen is that with each read you discover something new, and
each time you feel something new. Partly because you change as a reader each time you
read it, because maybe you skipped the text portions the first time you thumbed through
it, or because upon subsequent readings you know more about comics history and what
comics characters the characters in the book were analogous to. The other reason is
Watchmen is itself a masterclass in comic book storytelling.

Every element—from Alan Moore’s scripts, to Dave Gibbon’s pencils and John Higgins’
colors—goes into making this an example of all that’s possible with the sequential art form.
The nine-panel grid first pioneered by Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko is perfected here.
The technique of using narrative captions to tell a story separated, but complementary,
to the images on display is arguably first used here. The pirate story, an homage to older
comic book genres phased out by superhero stories, is used as an analogy to the main
antagonist’s damnation. Watchmen isn’t a great novel and has no business being on a “Best
Novels” list, because it’s such a great comic book.

Of course, one of the most discussed aspect of Watchmen is its realism. The realism of
Rorschach’s vigilante activities, of course, being the result of psychosis and violent paranoia.
Yes, through Walter Kovacs, Alan Moore explores the uneasy reality of what sort of man
would feel a compulsion to go out at night and hurt criminals. But he also does this when
exploring the characters of Hollis Mason and Dan Dreiberg—the two Nite Owls—whom
he depicts as well-meaning and possibly the closest thing the world has to pure-hearted
superheroes. Dr. Manhattan is also supposed to show what could realistically (relatively
speaking here) happen to someone who gained superpowers. However in a great twist, it’s
the human villain of Watchmen who loses his humanity in the end.
53
54
WOLVERINE No.1-4
1982
If Wolverine wasn’t both the X-Men and Marvel’s most popular character by 1982, then Chris
Claremont and Frank Miller’s four-issue mini-series made sure he was before the year was
over. The character had been shown on occasion to be something besides a hard drinking
bruiser with a shady past, but it’s this mini-series that allowed his character to be fleshed out
into the failed samurai he’s known to be nowadays.

In the story, Logan goes to Japan to investigate the reason why he’s been unable to contact
Mariko Yashida, the daughter of a powerful Yakuza family and the love of his life. This drops
him into a story of honor among powerful families, where his sense of duty is tested more
than his healing abilities or his unbreakable adamantium claws, forcing him to find balance
between the man he wishes to be and the mindless beast he knows he can become.

That’s what makes this the best Wolverine story released to this day, because it’s about
Logan’s inner conflict and it reveals insight into his past without making the reveal the
central focus of the story. Yes, we’re now made aware that Logan lived in Japan for a time—
it was only conjecture until then—but his time training as a samurai isn’t only relevant to
the story being told in the present, or in explaining his fighting skills and ability to speak
Japanese, it’s relevant to who he is as a character. We now understand why this anti-social
violent loner is so unshakably loyal to the X-Men. It’s because they offered a home to this
Ronin, this masterless samurai, and he now sees dying for their cause to be his duty.

A good deal of the ideas that made their way into Claremont’s scripts were provided by
artist Frank Miller. The genesis of this story, as retold by Claremont himself, is that they were
carpooling from San Diego Comic-Con and started talking about Wolverine, and a lot of the
ideas discussed during this car ride became the mini-series. To anyone familiar enough with
their writing styles during that time period, it’s clear that the written part of the equation is
all Claremont, with the captions and dialogue ticks easily recognizable as his style. On the
other hand, you can’t mistake the artwork for anyone else’s but Frank Miller’s.

With Wolverine, Miller continues building upon what he did during his run on Daredevil;
mixing heavy shadows with fluid movement. Josef Rubinstein inked the series, giving it
a smoother look than Klaus Janson’s inking of Miller’s Daredevil. Still, Miller’s taste for
rooftop chases, broken glass, ninjas, and his use of negative space is unmistakable and
lends the story the pace it needs. A pace that can switch between action scenes and quiet
introspective moments, like its title character.
55
56
A DISTANT SOIL
1983
Colleen Doran first conceived of A Distant Soil when she was twelve years old, and the
stories in the saga were published in fanzines when she was still in high school. It was then
published by WaRP Graphics starting in 1983, until Doran left in 1985 after nine issues were
released. The reason for her departure was WaRP Graphics’ attempt at claiming copyright
on A Distant Soil. Starting in 1987, the new home for the series was Starblaze Graphics, an
imprint of The Donning Company.

Now, if this all seems like legal mumbo-jumbo to you, it’s because you haven’t heard the
kicker yet. When she went with Starblazer, Colleen Doran started A Distant Soil from scrap,
abandoning the three hundred pages worth of work she’d done at WaRP. The original
version of this story, famous to some for using only pencils without inks for the artwork, are
dead to its creator, who became a creators’ rights activist.

So what’s the big fuss about? Well, A Distant Soil is about a little girl who discovers she and
her brother are not only descended from a great race of beautiful superpowered space elves
called the Ovanan, but have superpowers, and she must now journey back to the world of
her father to save Ovanan from religious zealots. Along the way, she will be helped by the
Ovanan messianic Avatar, his lover, a street kid, a cop, a renegade of Ovanan, and Galahad.
Yes, that Galahad. You know, the one from the round table, who was transported to the
present thanks to a magic gate that opened during a battle in Avalon. Yeah, that one.

Keep in mind that Doran did conceive the story when she was only twelve. And yes, this
summary makes it look like either fanfic or a YA book series trying to score a movie franchise
deal, but remember that this was made years and years before any of that sort of thing
happened. This comic was before it’s time, and it’s better than you might think.

The main character—a teenage girl—is written believably, she’s neither too precious or too
annoying, and she’s an active participant in her own story. Also, for a sci-fi fantasy comic
book in the early ‘80s, the cast is considerably more diverse than a lot of the comics and
science fiction/fantasy stories published today. That’s not to say it’s perfect; the somewhat
manga-inspired art style sometimes plays against Doran’s attempt at creating a larger world
since a lot of Ovanan characters look the same—pretty and fair haired—meaning you’ll have
to flip back and forth to see when you’ve encountered a given character before. To make the
matter a little more confusing is the fact that the Ovanan Avatar uses two names early on in
order to hide his true identity… only he uses his fake name with humans who wouldn’t know
he’s the Avatar anyway. It’s the one gripe we have with a series that otherwise sucks you
into its fantastical world, regardless of whatever predispositions you bring coming to it.
57
58
TALES OF THE TEEN
TITANS: THE JUDAS
CONTRACT
1984
With The Judas Contract, Marv Wolman and George Perez crafted a story that introduced
a new team member and a new costume for its leader, and added depth to both one of the
Titans’ most iconic villains and their most jovial member.

The first part of the story held a shocking reveal for the readers: the Teen Titans’ newest
recruit, Terra, a girl with the power to control and manipulate the earth and rocks around her,
has in fact been working for Slade Wilson all along. Wilson, aka Deathstroke the Terminator,
is the mercenary super-soldier who had been trying to kill the Titans since the beginning of
the series. And now, with the help of his underage spy and lover, he knows all their secrets.
Robin (Dick Grayson) is the only one who manages to escape the Terminator’s calculated
and ruthless attack, while the rest of the team is captured. That’s when two new characters
are revealed: Adeline Kane, Slade’s ex-wife and the mother of his sons, and Joey Wilson,
his youngest son. It is then that readers, and Dick, learn of Wilson’s history: he was a
Vietnam War super-soldier, who caused Joey to go mute during a stand-off against a group
of mercenaries. Donning the new costumed identity of Nightwing, Dick goes to H.I.V.E.
headquarters with Jericho (Joey) to rescue his teammates.

The end of the story is heartbreaking. Heartbreak from Beast Boy, the Titan’s resident bon
vivant ladies man, who has to stop Terra, after coming to terms with the fact that she never
loved him, could never feel love for him or anyone, and would rather kill everyone than
reform. Heartbreak from Jericho, who has to use his power of possessing people’s bodies
on his father, a man who only seems to thrive on conflict, who seems to have no regret for
what happened to his family.

The Judas Contract was the first story of the Tales of the Teen Titans book and heralded
the splitting of the publishing line. After this, the Teen Titans would find themselves in two
different books. The first, Tales of the Teen Titans, was sold everywhere in the regular comic
book format, and focused on stories in the periphery of the main series, like the wedding
of Donna Troy and Terry Long, and the trial of Deathstroke. The main series, a new volume
of The New Teen Titans was only sold in specialty and comic book stores and was printed
on better-quality paper in an effort to really give a push to the emerging direct market.
Eventually Tales of the Teen Titans would become a book reprinting the main series, and
the main series would see its name changed on its fiftieth issue to The New Titans because
editorial found the team no longer had teenagers on its roster.
59
60
WEST COAST
AVENGERS
1985
The fact that West Coast Avengers has become something of a joke in fandom is quite
perplexing. It’s not like Great Lakes Avengers, who were conceived as a parody featuring
characters so outlandish they would hardly be able to pass as Avengers rejects. West Coast
Avengers was a legitimate title, a four issue mini-series to—at first—test the market waters
and eventually become an ongoing series some years after. The team formed because the
Avengers bylaws only allowed a certain number of Avengers on the roster at a time, leading
Vision to suggest that Hawkeye—who was fresh off a pretty good and popular four issues
mini-series himself—should lead a team of Avengers based on the west coast, for the
purpose of expanding the team’s influence. Which made sense, given that Tony Stark was
bankrolling the team and that the group is based in New York City, making it hard to reach
other crises that may arrive somewhere else in the United States.

Who are the West Coast Avengers? Well, seeing as the regular Avengers roster can change
depending on what character the writers prefer, let’s just look at the original mini-series’
roster. That means Hawkeye (Clint Barton), his wife Mockingbird (Bobbi Morse), Iron Man
(James Rhodes), Wonder Man (Simon Williams), and Tigra (Greer Nelson). Out of these five
people, two have superpowers, one has a power suit, and the two others are just really good
at what they do (be it archery or being a spy). Their first major villain is Graviton (Franklin
Hall), who has power of over gravity itself, and that’s what makes West Coast Avengers a
really good story.

Because the Avengers aren’t DC’s Justice League—although, yes they are called “Earth’s
Mightiest Heroes”—which features some of the most powerful heroes of its world, Marvel’s
premier superhero team was often staffed by whoever was available at the time. One of it’s
most popular roster was affectionately nicknamed “Cap’s Kooky Quartet,” and consisted
of Captain America, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch, and the four did battle
with exceptionally powerful villains such as Kang the Conqueror. The West Coast Avengers’
original roster reflected that, and consisted of what some considered to be slim pickings,
but they made it work by assembling and pooling their powers, skills, resources, expertise,
and field experience together (not to mention their baggage too, because this is an Avengers
book after all).

If there’s one thing you’re for sure to take away from reading West Coast Avengers, it’s the
evolution of Hawkeye’s character, who starts out as the team’s resident asshole, and who’s
always trying to prove that he deserved his place on the same team as Captain America and
Thor. In West Coast Avengers he finally stops looking up to someone else, and finally begins
to be the man everyone can look up to. Which also means he finally has to stop being the
tough guy who goes at it alone.
61
62
HELLBLAZER No.3
1988
So you wanna know what’s the big fuss with John Constantine? What sort of character he
is and why people seem to love him so much? Well, then it’s safe to say you need to read
Hellblazer 3, the story about pro-Thatcher yuppie demons.

The time is July 11, 1987. Election day, London. John Constantine makes his way through
the poor part of town while mulling over Margaret Thatcher’s promises of economic stability
and return to “Victorian Values” for her third turn in office. Good news though; his friend
Ray provides him a distraction for the day, a lead about a string of yuppies dying in varied
and outrageous ways (such as drowning in guacamole and running until their sneakers
melt). When John investigates, he discovers demons from Hell are buying the souls of the
upwardly mobile and wait for Britain’s own predatory economy to render the humans unable
to pay back the cost of their souls. And they all hang out in a trendy wine bar established in
a poor neighbourhood, because aggressive gentrification is the work of demons, duh. So
how will our intrepid hero—our urban fantasy knight in a shabby trench coat—defeat these
capitalists from Hell? What spell? What weapon?

None.

John Constantine’s not a wizard. He’s barely a magician. He’s more of a dabbler with a bad
attitude, a punk with enough arcane knowledge to royally mess with your day, and that’s
exactly what he does in this issue. John travels to the realm of Blathoxi, Lord of Flatulence
and boss to all soul buyers, and does the one thing he knows best: he bluffs, making
Blathoxi believe a victory from the Left is going to happen, causing him to sell back all of the
conservative British souls below cost and pay the gold price for leftist souls. These souls
are, of course, worthless with a Tory win. Victory? Well, John still finds himself trapped,
hanging upside down in front of a TV on election night with early results indicating a win for
Thatcher’s administration.

That’s pretty much the essence of a John Constantine story. A tale of a con artist with just
enough knowledge of the dark arts to prevent petty pricks from taking advantage of other
people, even though he’s mostly in it for himself. It’s a story that uses horror elements as
satire, and pits the former frontman of an obscure ‘70s British punk band against magical
evil representing the worst of humanity.

Hellblazer was the longest running series at Vertigo, the “mature readers” imprint of DC
Comics. If you ask us, it’s because of John Constantine’s place in the hero lineup. Directly
contrasting the magical heroes—such as Marvel’s Doctor Strange, or both DC’s Doctor
Fate and Zatanna—John isn’t all powerful. He isn’t the chosen one who studied the arts
to protect our realm from otherworldly tyrants. At his simplest, he’s a punk swindler from
Liverpool with just enough of a moral compass to use his knowledge of magic for (mostly)
good.
63
64
X-MEN: INFERNO
CROSSOVER
1989
Inferno was the last X-Men crossover of the ‘80s and as such it really exemplifies the way
X-crossovers would be in the coming decades. This also means that navigating this story
requires prior knowledge of what came before in X-books, meaning a working knowledge
of three different ongoing series: Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, and New Mutants. It’s
overwhelming but, truth be told, you don’t really have to read them to understand Inferno
thanks to a policy by Marvel Comics. Taking Stan Lee’s logic that every comic is someone’s
first, this policy—instituted by Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter—basically forced the writers
to have at least one character recap the events of the previous issue and give a quick
explanation of the info necessary to understand the current issue’s story.

The policy is useful since Inferno deals with the heel turn of Cyclops’ wife, Madelyne Pryor,
who is revealed to be the Goblin Queen of the limbo dimension as well as a clone of Jean
Grey. She was created by Mister Sinister in order for him to make the ultimate mutant
child—Cyclops and Madelyn’s son—whom Madelyn now wants to sacrifice in order to usher
in a new world of darkness. And that’s just on the Uncanny X-Men and X-Factor side of
things. The New Mutants’ side of the story deals with Magick increasingly turning into the
evil Darkchylde—ruler of the limbo dimension—as her soul is consumed by evil and they’re
forced to save the other mutant babies Madelyn Pryor is attempting to sacrifice. Although
there’s an uncomfortable number of baby sacrifices here, there’s also New York City itself
succumbing to evil, meaning some manic cartoon moments when fire hydrant, signposts,
and entire barber shops turn evil and try to eat people (which helps you forget about all that
other creepy stuff).

The X-books crossovers are a bit of a confusing mess for anyone not hella familiar with the
various titles, so it’s not necessarily a good place for new readers to jump in. (Actually, the
best place for a new reader to jump in is usually after a crossover has finished, because
the various books have new status quos that are easy to figure out.) Still, Inferno is a good
read for those who understand the universe, and it does a decent enough job of making
everything pretty clear for new readers too. It’s a blast for X-fans as storylines crash, pay
off, and gives readers the chance to see their favorite characters from the different teams
interact as they fight evil.
65
66
GRENDEL: DEVIL BY
THE DEAD
1983
Grendel: Devil by the Deed is the name given to the first story featuring Matt Wagner’s
Grendel character, it’s also the title of the book written about Grendel by his adoptive
granddaughter. Beginning as a back-up feature in Matt Wagner’s urban fantasy series Mage,
the parts of Devil by the Deed would be collected in 1987, offering a more streamlined
experience for readers. Every page is it’s own art deco stained glass window, where
illustrated panels and blocks of text come together to create an adult picture book.

The story of Devil by the Deed is that of Christine Powell and the book she writes to
understand the circumstances of her mentally ill mother’s childhood. Her mother grew up
as the adoptive daughter of the enigmatic man known to the public both as award winning
author Hunter Rose, as well as the assassin and crime lord Grendel. Hunter Rose, she
comes to understand, was a profoundly bored man who saw crime and the domination of
others as the only worthwhile and exciting pursuit of his life. Well, crime and being a father
to Stacy Palumbo, the daughter of a man he’d killed.

By far the most crucial thing Powell discovers about her mother is her friendship with
Argent, a seemingly immortal man-wolf crime fighter, and nemesis of Grendel. A friendship
she would come to use after she learns about her father’s true nature, and sets out to stop
him. The last part of the story is where Matt Wagner gets to explore the themes he would
eventually explore in future Grendel series, focusing on Hunter Rose’s legacy and Christine
Powell, who would be the second person to wear the mantle of Grendel.

It’s then that readers are introduced to Stacy Palumbo’s hidden cunning and cruelty; with
the sudden and unexplained drowning of her nanny, and a plan that led to the death of her
adoptive father. Steps which are corroborated by Powell’s own investigation, phone records,
police reports, and the the logs Hunter Rose kept. Though it’s clear by the end that Stacy
Palumbo’s action didn’t just end her father’s criminal activity, but also her life, as both the
high society circles she and Hunter Rose belong to, as well as the authorities, now view her
in an entirely different light. She’s no longer the author’s child, but the victim—and possibly
accomplice—of the Devil himself.

Matt Wagner would return to flesh out parts of Devil by the Deed at other junctions in his
career, but it’s easy to see the original story as complete; the missing parts left for the
readers to fill by their own judgment.

Did Stacy kill her nanny? Is she a hero for killing her father? And was she able to kill him only
because he raised her to be as cunning as he was?
67
68
G.I. JOE No.21
1984
Marvel Comics didn’t get into the licenced comics game until writer Roy Thomas convinced
Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter to acquire the rights to a little independent movie called Star
Wars. The immense successes of Star Wars merchandise is said to have influenced Hasbro’s
decision to re-introduce their G.I. Joe character as a line of diverse figures, which Marvel
took on. Now, while Marvel’s long-running original Star Wars series is now considered a
mess of apocryphal texts, Larry Hama, the writer of the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero
basically had final word on the content of the stories and contributed in parts to the
expansion of the toy line. It’s in this environment of creative freedom that Hama scripted
issue 21 of the series, “Silent Interlude”.

The plot of this issue is outrageously simple; Scarlett is taken to a Cobra castle and
imprisoned by a ninja wearing white: Storm Shadow making his first comic book
appearance. Snake Eyes, G.I. Joe’s ever-silent ninja operative, goes to rescue her (though
that’s unnecessary, since Scarlett is already escaping on her own). The two heroes escape
the castle; it’s outrageously simple, but exceptionally well-told. Without dialogue or sound
indications of any kind, the story is told solely through images, which isn’t as easy as one
might think. They have to be well-placed and flow. As for the characters, Snake Eyes,
Scarlett, Cobra Commander, and Destro had already been introduced in previous issues;
Storm Shadow is not properly introduced in this issue, he’s only there to fill the role of
“ninja”, a stock character most people already understood in 1984. But the final page offers
shocking information: both Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow have the same red tattoo on
their right forearm. This would later be revealed as the mark of the Arashikage Clan that they
both belong to.

Another important element of a silent issue is the characters’ body language and movement.
They can’t be static, and they need to react and move according to their inner thoughts.

The idea of a completely silent comic would subsequently be revisited by others, and Hama
himself.We have seen this issue’s “children,” but this remains the standard-bearer.
69
70
V FOR VENDETTA
1988
What sets V For Vendetta apart from most dystopian science fiction books about oppressive
regimes is that there aren’t any real heroes or villains. The moral ambiguity of the text was
underlined by David Lloyd’s black-and-white art, the book’s original style when it first ran
as a serialized strip in the British science fiction comic book anthology Warriors. It was then
reprinted and completed at DC Comics, this time in color.

This story pits one man against the regime: the fascist Norsefire Party who seized power
after widespread crop failures and nuclear war had made the people of England afraid
enough to place their faith and their future in goose-stepping men who preached racial
purity. The fascists of this world are neighbours, shopkeepers, mothers, and pharmacists.
Their leader—Adam Susan—is a mild mannered bureaucrat with an honest belief in the
benefits of a Fascist England: prosperity, unity, and strength. Of course, this unity is easier to
enforce when all the undesirables—all the people of color, all the non-Christians, and all the
non-cisgender heteros—have been sent to die in camps.

The man, or rather the person (since there are “V is trans” fan theories based on the
evidence of hormone therapy experiments referenced in the story) is V: an anarchist and
romantic figure wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. They wage a one-person war against the
Norsefire Party. Alan Moore is an out and proud anarchist and so V is the hero of the piece,
but Moore also understands that V’s actions cannot be fully condoned. Which is something
that V seems to be aware of, as seen in a passage where he talks about the two masks
of anarchism. There are the destroyer and the builder: the first turns the world into rubble;
the other builds a better world from it. Destroyers have no place in the building of this new
world.

Lloyd’s aesthetic contribution is also the Guy Fawkes mask, which he suggested the hero of
the story should wear. The mask one of the most iconic symbols of the story—and has even
been claimed by the worldwide online collective Anonymous—but its historical relevance to
British dystopia can’t be ignored. Guy Fawkes, member of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot, was a
Catholic terrorist who was part of a conspiracy to blow up the House of Lords, in an attempt
to kill King James IV and place a Catholic Queen on the throne in his stead as a means
of fighting the persecution of Catholics by the Church of England. A very British terrorist,
inspiring a very British anarchist comic, inspiring a worldwide phenomenon.
71
72
ZOT!
1987
In 1984, comic book theorist Scott McCloud started working on Zot! at Eclipse comics. The
series was a light-hearted throwback to the golden age of science fiction and the Silver Age
of Comics, as it followed the story of Jenny Weavers and her adventures in an alternate
world through the eyes of a teenage superhero named Zot. The series ran in full color for ten
issues, with the 11th marking a turning point for the series’ direction and its creator’s artistic
journey.

It began a black-and-white experimentation phase that lasted until the 36th—and final—
issue. The story started on our world, with Jenny becoming increasingly aware of the
contrast between the two universes. Zot’s world was one with flying cars and world peace,
ours… well, you know. The stories mixed the mundane and the fantastic until 1989’s issue
27, at which ended with Zot permanently trapped on our world. The remaining issues are
dubbed “The Earth Stories” by McCloud, and start with a period of adaptation from Jenny
and Zot, before delving more into the private lives of supporting characters.

The smaller stories reflect a change in McCloud both as an artist and a storyteller. There’s
an abandonment of the superhero genre in Zot’s failure to fight crime in the “real” world
(since he succeeded effortlessly in doing so in his world), and the comic’s focus on issues
like poverty, divorce, alienation, and homosexuality. With this intense concentration on story
came an increased focus on the artistry as well, which McCloud admitted caused the book
to fall behind schedule in the later years, as sometimes he’d rework pages to get them
exactly as he wanted. This attention to detail shows, and while the earlier superhero-focused
stories aren’t badly drawn, you can see a greater attention to detail and more expressive
faces in the later issues. There’s a clear evolution between the beginning and the end of the
black-and-white run of Zot!.

When we say that McCloud “abandoned” the superhero element of Zot!, we mean it in a
literal way; the series genuinely stops being the throwback superhero book like it was. That
being said, Zot is still there, still hanging out with Jenny and her friends in his superhero
costume. His role is dramatically changed, from superhero to an avatar of earnest goodness
who still manages to help Jenny and her friends in need. There’s something resembling
Peter Pan in Zot later in the series, and nowhere is that more evident than in the last issue, in
which he offers the rest of the characters a chance to visit his universe so they can escape
to of a perfect world, if only for a while.
73
74
ANIMAL MAN
1988
If there’s one thing that we’ve all learnt from reading comics—aside from a semi-functional
moral compass centred around punching Nazis in the face, and the unwavering belief that
radioactive waste is all we need to become a superpowered guardian of truth and justice—
it’s that there is no such thing as a bad character. There’s no such thing as a character too
ridiculous or too unpopular, because with the right creative minds even something as stupid
as “a guy who gets the abilities of animals he’s come into contact with” can be one of your
absolute favourite characters in the same universe as Batman.

Animal Man first appeared in 1965 as a back-up feature in DC’s Strange Adventures. Buddy
Baker, movie stuntman, finds an alien spaceship on Earth and is granted the power to
emulate animal abilities by its alien crew, which he uses to fight crime. Because that’s just
what you did in 1965. His adventures continued without fanfare in the same short format by
the same title, and he made some other appearances, becoming a member of the pre-Crisis
Forgotten Hero group of barely recognizable crime fighters.

This all changed in 1988 when DC saw the popularity of series featuring old properties
reinvented by British writers, so they hired Scottish writer and chaos magician Grant
Morrison to make something new out of Animal Man. Which he did by making Buddy Baker
into a vegetarian and animal rights activist, enlarging the scope of his powers—he could
now regrow limbs like a gecko or multiply like a protozoa—and having him slowly realize the
fictionality of his own existence as a comic book character. Yes, because of Grant Morrison,
Animal Man can be added to the same Deadpool list of comic book characters who are fully
aware that they’re fictional. However Buddy Baker represses this knowledge and convinces
himself it was all a dream, because he’d probably would fall into a pit of existential despair if
he didn’t. We can relate.

Joking aside, Grant Morrison’s Animal Man doesn’t just pay lip service to these ideas. In
its final issue, Buddy meets Morrison who, quite frankly, tells him that he’s his greatest
nemesis. And of course he is. Writers create conflict and in superhero fiction that conflict is
played out in battles and challenges, the monthly aspect of most comic books forcing the
writers to constantly come up with bigger and meaner ways to hurt the hero. Speaking of
meaner, Morrison also touches on the tendency born in the 1980s to make superhero stories
more violent and dark as ways to make them increasingly realistic. A trend Morrison’s later
superhero work seems to reject still to this day.
75
76
A LIFE FORCE
1988
Will Eisner is integral to the comic book medium. Whether you think of him as the creator of
The Spirit—a hugely popular comic book insert in many newspapers and an influence on too
many creators to count—or the man who pioneered the use of sequential art as a teaching
tool in the American army, his achievements in the field are too numerous to list. There’s a
reason the American awards in comic book excellence are called the Eisner Awards.

A Life Force is emblematic of the type of works Eisner did later in life; self-contained
stories about life of Jewish immigrants and their children in Brooklyn during the 1930s.
Considered the second volume of the A Contract With God trilogy, which started in 1978
with the publication of A Contract With God and Other Tenement Stories, A Life Force is
interested in survival. Indeed, this idea is presented as the common element of all species
on Earth. The life force, for Will Eisner, keeps both cockroaches and humans not only alive,
but going, keeps them struggling to stay alive. Yes, cockroaches are compared to humans,
not only because is it said that cockroaches will outlive us all, but because the buildings the
characters live in are so rundown, cockroaches are ever-present.

Set in 1934 and 1935, A Life Force chronicles the story of Jacob Shtarkah, an elderly man
we’re introduced to after he’s completed his last building job, and is now adrift on his way
home, looking for meaning in his life. It’s then that he encounters a cockroach struggling to
get off its back and realises that both humans and cockroaches have a similar life force that
keeps them going. As he’s compelled to keep on living, a larger tapestry of characters and
events swirls around him as he and his family navigate the economic recovery after the 1929
crash, the rise of socialism and unions, and the rise of the Reich in Europe.

While A Contract with God was a short story cycle, A Life Force merges what could have
been disparate short stories into a whole greater than its parts.

There was also a visual evolution for Eisner. More and more he eschewed the use of
conventional panels in order to create pages where images and words fit into each other.
Panels aren’t completely abandoned, but their integration is more deliberate.
77
78
STRAY TOASTERS
1988
If you were to read a short synopsis of Bill Sienkiewicz’s Stray Toaster, you’d probably think
it was another Red Dragon copycat: a criminal psychologist with a dangerous past, tracking
a man who kills women in an unusual way, needs to reconnect with his past in order to catch
the killer. But that’s because most synopses wouldn’t mention that this story takes place in
the future… and that the killer is a giant machine man with a toaster for a head.

See, the premise is just an excuse for Sienkiewicz to continue the type of increasingly
experimental work he started while focusing on conventional superhero books like Moon
Knight and New Mutants, and to go even further than his work went on Frank Miller’s Elektra:
Assassin. With Stray Toaster he uses every technique, every style, to give each scene the
mood it needs, and the end result is a story where oil painting, photography, ink sketches,
collage, and old magazine advertisements come together. They tell a story where you’re not
sure if you can trust the protagonist’s grasp on reality, or your own.

There are two violent mysteries at play in this book: the serial murder of young boys whose
bodies are found with strange markings, and the serial murder of women whose eyes are
stabbed out and have been found electrocuted with wires sticking out of them. There’s also
a woman named Dahlia—who makes a ritual out of painting strange symbols on her body—
and a young boy named Todd, who’s taken in by each of the women killed by the machine
man. Stray Toaster seems more interested in having broken people interact with one
another—exploring how they play off each other’s worst qualities—than it does the crimes
at the heart of the book. At the center of this narrative is a boy without a mother, who likes
toast with jam.

Dogs being considered an endangered species, and women being unable to produce female
offspring, are some of the few contextual clues as to the futuristic setting of the story. More
in the foreground are Dahlia’s robot butlers, and the character of Dr. Montana Violet, an
obese and decaying cyanotic man who built himself a life support rig and uses mechanized
birds to feed and assist him. While at first he seems a peripheral character to add flavour to
the story, the third chapter makes his role in the whole affair clear, and when reading Stray
Toaster, moments of clarity are meant to be savored, like sweet jam on toast.
79
80
MARSHAL LAW
1987
As we’ve seen, the 1980s saw a trend in comics featuring stories of dark and disturbed
superheros, as a way to deconstruct the inherent violence of the genre (these are stories
about people getting into fights, after all). These stories also introduced sex, because
while some superheroes ran away from relationships, others pursued chaste relationships
with their loved ones, which seemed dated even in the ‘80s. Pat Mills’ and Kevin O’Neill’s
Marshall Law might be the most ruthlessly dark and comedic story of them all.

Because, naturally, the comic depicting superheroes as genetically altered and violent
perverts is going to have a genetically altered cop called Marshall Law. You just wouldn’t
be able to tell that Pat Mills sees the superhero genre as having an inherent fascist slant
to it otherwise… kidding, kidding. Marshall Law still is one of the better stories to take
superheroes and make them into something sinister, because it’s so unsubtle in how it tries
to be shocking. Marshall Law isn’t just a story where superheroes are genetically engineered
veterans of a South American war: it’s a story where all superheroes are genetically
engineered veterans of a South American war. They wear gimp masks and fetishistic
clothes, and are all sadists and perverts who get off on hurting people, since the process
that turned them into “superheroes” made them unable to feel pain, while endowing them
with the urge to inflict it on others. There’s a relentless energy in Marshall Law that lets you
know it’s a joke. It’s a joke Pat Mills knows from his previous work on Judge Dredd, itself a
parody of a fascist government’s law enforcer.

Yet by far the person who does the most to sell the joke is artist Kevin O’Neil, whose art you
might know from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. While he can draw naturalistic
figures, Marshall Law gives O’Neil a chance to let loose. Figures are ugly and exaggerated,
every wrinkle and scab are shown, backgrounds are dirty, and bright colors look out of
place. Without O’Neil, it’s unlikely this book would be the same. Marshall Law drawn too
realistically would be a horror book, or an oddity passed around in fandom circles. On the
other hand, making it overly cartoonish would de-fang the joke.

Marshall Law might be too much for some, as it does make light of some uncomfortable
subjects. Comic fans might be bored with sinister deconstructions of superheroes
nowadays, but the great thing about this story is that it’s so wild, it can even be seen as a
parody of deconstruction stories.
81
82
RONIN
1983
The Japanese stories of ninjas and samurais have always been an influence in Frank Miller’s
work, and nowhere does he fully plunge into this influence than in his 1983 six-part series
Ronin. It’s a series on which he had complete creative freedom and it’s arguably one of his
most creative works. Ronin is completely unfettered by genre convention—unlike Sin City
—and is the merging of manga art, Miller’s own sense of movement, and a dash of French
master Moebius in a cyberpunk samurai story with elements of time travel and psychic
abilities.

Ronin tells the story of a nameless samurai whose master is killed by the demon Agat,
causing him to become a Ronin—a masterless samurai—and roam the land until he’s skilled
enough to kill the demon, which he does by sacrificing his own life. However all of this might
just be the imaginings of Billy Challas, a man born without limbs, but with psychic powers,
who resides in the living research center of the Aquarius Corporation in the ruined New York
City of a dystopian future. The return of the demon Agat to Earth might just have been the
catalyst Billy needed to break free of the control of the research center’s sentient computer,
Virgo, and use his power to create the body of the Ronin for himself. Then again, something
has come over Aquarius Corporation’s founder, Mr. Taggart, who’s breaking his most sacred
vow to never use the corporation’s technological advances to make weapons. All the while,
Virgo is growing, both literally (by using the research center’s self-creating material to
expand), but also in how much control it has over the corporation.

The story of Ronin exists at the intersection of these seemingly disconnected and disparate
elements, and it’s never made clear which of the explanations for Agat’s return is the real
one. Similarly, the art is at an intersection of different styles and influences. The comic
is reflective of the sort of work Miller was doing in the pages of Daredevil, but also the
drawing he would later go on to do. The two-page spread of the Ronin riding a horse and
shooting arrows at an Aquarius Corporation security guard, in normal Western page order,
is seemingly reversed to give more the action more impact. The Spartans pushing Persian
soldiers over a cliff in 300 is similar to this scene, but not nearly as fluid. The series, really, is
much more about Miller pushing himself than it is about the Ronin or Virgo.
83
84
THE INCREDIBLE
HULK No.312
1985
Before Peter David began his seminal run on this title, The Incredible Hulk was written by
Marvel writer, public defendant, and Rocket Racoon co-creator Bill Mantlo. Mantlo’s career
at Marvel garnered him a reputation as someone who could have a full script done at a
moment’s notice for a fill-in issue if a title was falling behind. He was a regular writer on
Spider-Man’s second series Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man, and the man who
petitioned for Marvel to acquire the comic book rights to both the Micronauts and Rom:
Space Knight, so that he could write fully a realised series about them. On the Hulk side of
things, his run on The Incredible Hulk is one which was eclipsed by Peter David’s twelve-
year tenure, but has since been re-discovered and reappraised as one which really ran the
gambit of story possibilities for the Jade Giant.

Issue 312 came in the later part of Mantlo’s five year run, after he turned control of the
behemoth’s body to Bruce Banner, after the Hulk received an official pardon from President
Reagan, and after the fiendish lord of dreams Nightmare made the Hulk go crazy. But this
story begins in Dayton, Ohio, with the birth of Bruce Banner. The birth is difficult—Bruce’s
mother almost doesn’t survive—and his father, Dr. Brian Banner, wonders if his years as
an atomic researcher have damaged his genetic structure. If so, his alcohol-addled mind
concludes, his son has been altered. As Brian Banner thinks this, Bruce takes his first breath
in the shadow of the Hulk. The shadow, a visual motif throughout the issue which constantly
appears as a green outline around Bruce. It grows as he does, and rages violently when
Bruce is too frail or too afraid to let his anger show: as his father beats his mother, as he is
bullied, and even as his father tries to beat him to death on his mother’s grave. Only when
Bruce Banner is bathed in gamma radiation is the shadow made flesh, turning Banner into
the thing his father believed him to be since his inception: a monster. Coming to terms with
the fact that Hulk has always been part of him, Bruce Banner returns to his human form for
the first time since he had earlier gained control over the Hulk’s body.

It’s been said that Peter David brought psychology to the Hulk, and that’s true given he
did literally send Banner to therapy, but Bill Mantlo’s contribution cannot be denied. He
asked why the Hulk was depicted as little more than an angry child, and answered his
own question in the most human and tragic way: because the Hulk is a child, unloved by a
father who beat his mother, always resented his birth, and treated Bruce no better than how
everybody else treats him. Like a monster.
85
86
JUDGE DEATH
1980
It took some time for Judge Dredd, the adventure of Mega-City One’s most ruthless and
unforgiving lawman, to gain mainstream visibility during the 1980s. Aside from some re-
formatted and colored strips from his early appearances in 2000 AD—brought over to North
America by Eagle Comics—there really wasn’t much. There was Anthrax’s 1987 album
Among the Living, which featured the song “I am the Law,” but that’s as mainstream as it
got. Despite all that, if there was one figure who followed Judge Dredd into popular culture
recognition, it’s his wraith-like doppelganger from an alternate world: Judge Death.

First appearing in British science fiction magazine 2000 AD, Judge Death is like the final
punch line to the fascist joke that fuels the Judge Dredd stories. The eponymous character
acts as judge, jury, and executioner in a totalitarian world. Judge Death comes from a world
where judges reasoned that all crimes were committed by the living and so they came to the
conclusion that the ultimate crime was life, so naturally the sentence should be death. The
Judge Death story is also where Judge Anderson—Judge Dredd’s most popular partner—
is introduced as a flippant young psi-judge called in to probe the charred body of Judge
Death, before being possessed by his spirit form. Unfortunately, readers would have to wait
a long while for the return of both Judge Anderson and Judge Death, as they both ended
up encased in the hard plastic material known as Boing at the end of this story, in order to
prevent Judge Death from moving on to a new host. Her body, and the monster within, are
displayed in the Justice Department’s Hall of Heroes.

Judge Death is but one example of the sort of anything-goes mindset that dominated
2000 AD since its start in 1977, as well as a visible effort to create a recurring villain for a
protagonist known for killing characters who oppose him. An undying evil is the perfect
solution, and one drawn by Brian Boland to boot. His rendition of Judge Death captured
the specter’s mockery of life and his now instantly recognizable visage: a grinning corpse’s
head with its eyes hidden by the portcullis-like visor of his helmet. Judge Anderson would
also come to be a ubiquitous figure of the Judge Dredd cannon, getting her own feature:
Anderson: Psi Division, in 2000 AD.
87
88
USAGI YOJIMBO
1984
Starting as a feature in different furry publications before getting its own series under
different publishers, Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo chronicles the adventures of Miyamoto
Usagi, an anthropomorphic rabbit ronin—a masterless samurai—wandering across a
cartoon version of 17th century Feudal Japan as a yojimbo, a bodyguard.

The series’ beginnings as a feature in anthology publications is still reflected in the episodic
nature of Usagi Yojimbo stories, with new issues having been published regularly at Dark
Horse since 1996. The work functions as both a standalone story that’s accessible to
new readers, while painting the larger life story of Miyamoto Usagi. These stories—all
historical—range from the tragic to the humorous. The stories can range from being monster
hunting adventures to being stories of samurai honor. All reflective of the series’ main
character, one which appears incredibly human despite technically being a cartoon rabbit.
He’s a man maintaining self-discipline without snuffing out his fun-loving temperament,
ultimately making him feel more real than other samurai characters who exist solely as stoic
regurgitations of the bushido code. Miyamoto Usagi’s humanity is what helps the series
gather a rich ensemble of supporting characters which includes bounty hunters, thieves,
samurai, lords, and childhood friends who bring out the different sides of his personality. It
helps reader see him as three dimensional; capable of laughing, loving, hating, as well as
playing the part of the samurai and (when necessary) holding these feelings back.

When it comes to the art, there isn’t too much that’s changed between the early stories of
the mid-1980s and the ones published nowadays. That isn’t to say that Stan Sakai didn’t get
better. He has, but Usagi Yojimbo is very much a cartoon and cartoons almost always stay
on model. Over the years the characters have come to include more detail, but there isn’t a
huge disparity in quality between the series’ early instalments and recent issues, because
Usagi Yojimbo seems to have been exactly what Sakai wanted from its inception, and it’s
something that’s already garnered him praise in not just the comic book field, but outside
it as well. The series has even received awards considering it children’s fiction. Indeed the
series is pretty inclusive for all ages and readers, and it’s a great vehicle for learning about
Japanese history and culture.
89
90
KRAVEN’S
LAST HUNT
1987
The story of Peter Parker has always been one of growth. One in which a young man
realizes his sudden physical change hasn’t absolve him of his day to day problems, and that
the powers he’s gained come with responsibilities. And yet there seems to be two warring
schools of thought about how the wall-crawler’s adventures should be written. Some believe
that Spider-Man works better when he struggles with employment, with making rent, with
his love life, with villains, all in the vein of tales more closely resembling the ‘60s and ‘70s
high school and college-era Peter Parker. Others want Spider-Man to get his shit together,
and show a hero who isn’t an amateur crime fighter anymore. Unfortunately, the first school
of thought can lead to repeats of popular stories and eventual stagnation, while the other
runs the risk of making Spider-Man into a conventional science hero, losing that spark of
relatability he has to everyday people which helped make the original Amazing Spider-Man
so distinctive when he first appeared.

But with Kraven’s Last Hunt, we get the best of both worlds.

As you may have guessed from the name, this is the story of the last time Kraven attempts
to kill Spider-Man. It’s the story in which he comes closest to realizing his goal, and it’s the
story in which he kills himself for failing. On the Spider-Man front, it’s a story of a newlywed
who digs his way out of a coffin buried six feet under after being in a coma for two weeks,
fueled only by his love for his wife. In Kraven’s Last Hunt, Spider-man is shown to be more
than a match for petty criminals, taking care of the rat-man villain known as Vermin pretty
easily. He’s still allowed to doubt and to love, and it’s these human traits which separate him
from the ruthless image of the “Spider” Kraven the Hunter seeks to kill.

In Kraven’s Last Hunt, J.M. Dematteis humanizes Kraven the Hunter by showing how his
quest to be like a beast was always doomed to fail, while showing Spider-Man’s growth as
a character as his humanity drives him to be better. Mike Zeck’s expressive faces and his
use of shadow really work in tandem with Dematteis’ script, and gives the story the weight
in needs to show an important chapter in Peter Parker’s life alongside the haunting final
chapter of Sergei Kravinoff.
91
92
WALTER SIMONSON’S
RUN ON THOR
1983
Ask any Thor fan and you’ll know that Walter Simonson’s run on the Norse god is the one
to which every other is compared. Simonson’s run goes from Thor 337 to 382, including
a 4 issue Balder mini-series, and it all tells one continuous story, despite hiccups from
Thor’s participation in Secret Wars, Secret Wars II, and the X-Men Mutant Massacre
crossovers, making the attention to detail all the more impressive. Be it the development
of new characters—like the horse-headed hammer-wielding alien warrior, Beta Ray Bill—or
the smallest details in old favourites—like reminding you why Loki is such a great foil for
Thor—everything in Simonson’s run shows his love of both Norse mythology, Jack Kirby’s
reinvention of it, and comic books as a medium for storytelling.

Simonson’s art is vibrant, dramatic, big, boisterous, and supports a text which is equally so.
This is a cosmic fantasy story. It’s an epic where everyone speaks from the heart, screams
out to the heavens as they fight for their lives and the fate of the nine realms themselves.
It’s Wagner by way of a progressive metal that hasn’t been invented yet. These stories are
unapologetically big; they exude fantasy, existing as a counterbalance to a lot of the darker
stories from the ‘80s.

This isn’t all Simonson’s doing though; without George Roussos’s color, these stories just
wouldn’t have the same impact. And let’s not forget letterer John Workman Jr., whose
grandiloquent onomatopoeia adds a sonic dimension to match the epic feel of the run,
leaping off the page with force and making the readers reel back as though impacted by
sound waves. Even in the first issue, Workman’s work is felt when the fire demon Surtur
forges the Twilight Sword and the hammer strikes the anvil with the sound of “DOOM!”
echoing through the surrounding void.

This is an epic not just in scope, but in how aspects of the story are followed through. The
souls lost in the battle against Surtur have to be brought back from Hel, which causes Hela
to curse Thor, leading to further complications with other bits of the story coming in to bear
fruit at just the right times, all of which is centered around the heroic deeds of the Odinson.
93
94
MIRACLEMAN
1982
In the beginning C.C. Beck created Captain Marvel, an orphan named Billy Batson who
could transform into the world’s mightiest mortal by saying the name of the Wizard Shazam.
Then DC sued Fawcett and Captain Marvel ceased to be. In the United Kingdom, reprints
of Captain Marvel’s adventures were still popular enough that British writer Mick Anglo was
approached by the reprint publisher and contracted to create what can only be called the
British Captain Marvel. Anglo created Marvelman, a young reporter named Michael Moran
who could transform into a superhero when saying a word “Kimota”, given to him by a
mysterious astrophysicist. The comic enjoyed a great deal of success until the superhero
craze ran its course and died down in the 1950s. In 1982, the British comic magazine
Warrior accepted a pitch from comics writer and wizard Alan Moore, who offered the world
its first glimpse at a devastatingly realistic superhero.

In Alan Moore’s Marvelman—renamed Miracleman when Eclipse Comics brought it across


the pond—superhumans are the result of a perverted Nazi scientist’s experiment with alien
DNA, and their memories of fanciful adventures are just dreams used to pacify them. Still,
once Michael Moran re-discovers his abilities, the genie is out of the bottle along with
Johnny Bates—aka Kid Miracleman—whose violent nihilism explodes upon London in a
fury of limbs and collapsed buildings in the climax of the story. Ultimately Miracleman and
Miraclewoman, along with their allies from space, make it their goal to lead the Earth into
a Golden Age, establishing themselves as the new Pantheon of a space-age Olympus and
slowly helping the world birth more gods.

This is where Alan Moore cut his teeth when it comes to re-inventing comic book characters
and concepts, with the harsh light of reality upon them. We see Moran’s wife Liz abandon
him when he leaves for space, and see her realize their newborn daughter—Winter—is
already more powerful than her father is. We seen Moran struggle with his own godhood. We
see it through the work of many talented artists, the last of them being John Totleben, who
shows us the devastation of Johnny Bates, the alien world of the Qys Imperium, and the
majesty of Miracleman’s super-utopia.
95
96
ARKHAM ASYLUM:
A SERIOUS HOUSE
ON SERIOUS EARTH
1989
Have you ever felt a chill come over you when driving by your local mental health institute?

You shouldn’t.

Today’s mental health treatment centers are far removed from the post-industrial gothic
nightmare you probably imagine after watching your favourite old movies or thumbing
through the pages of some Poe-era literature. Unfortunately, no one relayed this message to
the city planners or architects of Gotham.

In Arkham Asylum, Grant Morrison forces Batman to go deep into the heart of madness
by visiting the gothic castle—aka Arkham Asylum—he condemns all his mad foes to, all
while challenging the idea of Batman’s sanity and suggesting that, perhaps, the asylum is
where he belongs too. Obviously this isn’t the first time the question of Batman’s sanity has
been explored, but it’s the first time explored in this fashion. Morrison, the self-described
“chaos magician”, used elements of the tarot, symbolism, and mystical traditions, along with
Jungian archetypes, to dig into Batman’s psyche. This doesn’t plunge the caped crusader
into a superhero mission, forced to restore order to an asylum overrun by inmates, but rather
paints him into a story where he must confront his demons.

Batman is trapped not because of his mission to save hostages, but because someone’s
created a magic circle with salt around the asylum. Trapped inside is both the madness
of Amadeus Arkham—the asylum’s founder—and the bat-like wraith that his late mother
believed haunted their family home.

In this story, madness leaves an imprint. One which echoes through the past and present,
making the house feel like home to Gotham’s lost and damned; a place they can hide when
the outside world feels too insane for even them.

While Morrison’s script is dizzying on its own, the real show stopper is artist Dave McKean,
whose surrealist rendition of Morrison’s psychomagical story draws the reader in. New
details in the art give the impression that elements on the page are moving in the corner of
your eye as you descend further into the mysterious house alongside Batman—whose grip
on reality you’ll begin to question as much as your own.
97
98
BIG BABY
1986
The name of Charles Burns is known among some people for Black Hole, his tale of
teenage sexual anxiety. It’s a dark look at the rise of STDs casting an invasive black and
white spotlight on issues of alienation, peer pressure, and existential angst. But before that,
Burns was able to develop his particular shadowed style with an equally anguished look at
childhood, and the inherent creepiness of children developing an awareness of the seedier
issues that come with adulthood. These stories were published in different formats by RAW,
Art Spiegelman’s avant-garde comic book anthology.

Big Baby is about a boy named Tony who’s very much like any other ten-year-old boy
you’ve ever encountered. He likes to play with his toys and has a big imagination fueled by
the schlocky horror films and weird horror comics he reads. These last two elements are
recognizable as being from the ‘50s, or at least how Charles Burns remembers the decade.
This idea of imagination filling the gap is ever present in Big Baby as Tony, an ever-curious
young lad, will get glimpses into the adult and teenage world around him that he won’t
understand. He won’t know why the neighbor slapped his wife or what the hickey on his
babysitter’s neck really is, he’ll just find it creepy and understand these concepts through the
lens of late-night horror and lurid comic books about space monsters. This allows Burns to
merge the reality of a given situation with what Tony imagines is happening in order to create
stories of suburban dread; the image of a safe and clean 1950s eroded by a repugnant
blend of the real and the imagined.

The reason why it works so well is Charles Burns’ use of black and white on every page.
There’s no distinction between the way the real world is drawn and Tony’s comics. The
blending of the two is therefore much easier—and much more effective—in how it plays with
the reader. Did Tony really find monsters in the hole in his neighbor’s backyard? Probably
not, but in Tony’s young mind it really happened, and he serves as our anchor in the story.
People who have a much-read copy of Black Hole in their personal library will notice that
Burns’ style in Big Baby isn’t quite at that level of work, but they’ll see artistic and narrative
styles starting in Big Baby which are further developed in his later pieces.
99
100
TEENAGE MUTANT
NINJA TURTLES No.1
1984
The story of that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ inaugural issue has been told and retold
over the years, and has since turned into a sort of pop-culture myth of origins. There are
different accounts from different people, with sources spread across interviews, magazine
articles, and countless web pages (a commonality when it comes to the inception of most
comic book origins). Still, this story’s unchanged elements are a lot easier to track down
than others. The general consensus it it all started with two young artists—Kevin Eastman
and Peter Laird—renting a room in Dover, New Hampshire, which they called Mirage Studios
(a joke on how the studio was just two guys and their drawing space). One evening, Kevin
doodled an upright turtle with nunchucks and, later that night, a funny image of four turtles
was made and titled “The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Using their savings, plus money
borrowed from an uncle, they printed 3000 copies of a comic blending their influences,
mainly Jack Kirby and Frank Miller, in their first attempt at self publishing. Which, apparently,
sold out in 30 days.

Much like the story of its creation, the forty pages story within TMNT 1 has been told and
retold in various mediums, serving as the basis for the first episode of many cartoons and
the majority of the plot for the amazing 1990 film, which accurately rendered the gritty mood
of this first issue. The comic came out in 1984, sporting a cover reminiscent of Frank Miller’s
Ronin, in which Splinter—the turtles’ master and father—explains in no uncertain terms that
the radioactive ooze which mutated the turtles fifteen years ago fell off the same truck that
blinded Matt Murdock—Marvel’s Daredevil. So yes, if you’ve seen a version of this, then
you probably know the story of Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello, and their
fight against The Shredder, leader of the Foot Clan of ninja assassins. He dies in this issue
(spoiler alert), because neither Eastman nor Laird thought they had a runaway hit on their
hands. How could they? It’s a story of upright turtles against ninjas.

A particularity of Eastman and Laird’s collaborative process was that they both worked on
every page. Passing a page back and forth, each of them would contribute to the art, be it
penciling or inking, making both of them involved in every stage of the process. The only
page done exclusively by Lair was page nine, which Eastman didn’t think was necessary.
101
102
LOVE AND ROCKETS
1982
The story behind the creation of this work is, in essence, the same as all independent comic
books. It’s the story of someone who really likes comics books and, not seeing their own
tastes reflected in the mainstream market, elects to make their own. In the case of Love and
Rockets, we’re talking about brothers Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez—who, along with their
older brother Mario—put out a story that would touch on their interests as South Californian
punks of Mexican descent. Love and Rockets, published in magazine size for its first run,
touches on many different elements including the two main narratives that have been, and
continue to be, staples of the comic.

The first story, by Jaime, is the story of Maggie and her best friend/sometimes lover, Hopey.
In the first installment of this story, Maggie was a mechanic on a team that repaired robots,
spaceships, and who would go on pulp-style adventures, while Hopey would stay behind
and cause trouble with her group of friends and siblings as part of the local punk scene.
Later stories would retain some of these odd elements from earlier ones, but would be more
realistic. While the style draws influence from Archie Comics’ artist Dan Decarlo, Jaime’s
love for punk style and culture keeps the comic from being too polished, helping the later
stories feel more real.

The second narrative, by Gilbert, tells the story of a buxom woman called Luba and
how she comes to the small and remote town of Palomar with her daughter, and slowly
integrates into the community. The stories are about the town’s goings on, and the forming
or dissolving of relationships—most of them romantic—between the characters. This soap
opera feel is helped by his eye for body language and facial expressions, which keeps the
comic looking true to life and less idealized.

Love and Rockets is an independent comic with the continuity of a superhero series,
but which acts as a reflection of real life. In these comics people age, they change jobs,
friendships are made and broken, people fall in and out of love, characters come in and out
of the main characters’ stories, and they all have their own baggage. It’s real life, if real life
looked this good.
103
104
ALAN MOORE’S RUN
ON SWAMP THING
1985
Swamp Thing used to be your everyday story of a swamp monster who fought other
creatures in a swamp. Created by writer Len Wein and artist Berni Wrightson, he enjoyed
some popularity in the 1970s before his series was cancelled. In 1982, to cash in on the Wes
Craven Swamp Thing movie, Saga of the Swamp Thing debuted. When series writer Marin
Pasko left for other work, the now-editor Len Wein gave comics writer Alan Moore a call to
see what he could come up with.

Alan Moore proposed a complete re-invention of the character. No longer would scientist
Alec Holland turn into a swamp creature thanks to some weird science, but he’d become
the avatar of Earth’s flora’s life force which had used Holland’s memories to build an identity
for itself. Saga of the Swamp Thing now became a place for Moore to experiment with
horror, supernatural fiction, and even science fiction. Swamp Thing, free from the limitations
of believing he was a man, could now experiment with his powers in new and impressive
ways, and his relationship with Abigail Arcane—the woman he loves—would be explored in
radically different ways than most normative and carnal superhero/girlfriend narratives often
did. Indeed, Swamp Thing and Abigail’s relationship, while being romantic in essence, was
consummated by way of a not-so-metaphorical merging of minds and souls using Swamp
Thing’s ability to grow psychotropic yam-like tubers. It’s also during his tenure on this title
that Alan Moore would create everyone’s favorite petty con-man magician John Constantine.
All of this would have to wait one issue, because, while issue twenty-one, The Anatomy
Lesson, is considered the beginning of the run, Alan Moore’s first issue on Saga of the
Swamp Thing is actually issue twenty. Aptly titled Loose Ends, he clears the way for his run
by having several of the supporting characters go their own way, getting Abigail where he
wanted her, and, well, killing the Swamp Thing.

Beautifully illustrated by the team of Stephen Bissette and John Totleben, this run has
arguably aged less than Moore’s other work from the ‘80s because it doesn’t attempt
realism. This is allowed Swamp Thing to stay a supernatural fantasy story, and remains
enjoyable even today because of it.
105
106
DAREDEVIL:
BORN AGAIN
1986
So, as noted, Frank Miller re-invented Daredevil in the early ‘80s, taking a Spider-Man rip-
off and turning him into a hardboiled ninja. Then, in 1986, he returned to create arguably the
greatest Daredevil ever, one where he destroys Matt Murdock from the ground up, only to
rebuild him into something great, and retire him. For this, he didn’t do any of the art, finishes,
or even layouts. He left all of that all in the capable hands of David Mazzucchelli, who cut
his teeth as a professional comics artist on the Daredevil run that came after Miller’s. Ladies,
gentlemen, and non-binary individuals, we’re swimming neck deep in heavy shadows, tight
red devil costumes, and a lot of Catholicism.

Born Again begins not in New York City, but in a seedy room in Mexico where Karen Page—
former secretary for Nelson and Murdock—sells Daredevil’s secret identity for a hit of heroin.
This information makes its way to Wilson Fisk who proceeds to target Matt Murdock and
Daredevil’s allies, in addition to sicking the IRS on him and keeping his rent from getting to
his landlord. Fisk observes as Murdock slowly works himself into a rage until he finally has
his brownstone blown up. All of this is in part one of this seven part story. It only gets worse
from there, with Murdock facing his steepest downward spiral yet, inevitably reaching an
all time low where his bleeding body is discovered by Sister Maggie. Thankfully, she brings
him to a church where he can be saved, in more ways than one. There are loads of religious
undertones to this story. But hey, maybe the story of an Irish American who dresses up
like the devil was always supposed to include Catholic elements, right? Sister Maggie—
who’s heavily implied to be his mother—assists in Daredevil’s rebirth and his return to Hell’s
Kitchen to forgive Karen and finally defeat the Kingpin.

Born Again is widely viewed as the best Daredevil story to date, and its influence is still felt
all these years later. Maybe it’s because Miller showed he could do a Daredevil story without
any of the trappings he first brought to the title.

There are no ninjas here.

There’s no Miller-style action.

And yet this is Daredevil. This is Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer from Hell’s Kitchen fighting
tooth and nail for justice to prevail.
107
The Independent
Publisher Boom
Caliber Comics (1989-2000)

Founded by writer Gary Reed, one of its initial publications was Caliber Presents,
whose first issue featured the debut of James O’Barr’s The Crow.

Capital Comics (1981-1984)

This publishing branch of Capital City Distribution published the first issues of Nexus
by Mike Baron and Steve Rude ( about an intergalactic hero who hunts down mass
murderers), and Badger by Mike Baron (about an Vietnam veteran martial artist
vigilante who can talk to animals). Richard Burning—who would go on to help design
Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns—was Editor-in-Chief.

Comico (1982-1997)

Founded by Gerry Giovinco and Bill Cucinotta, Comico was where a lot of now-
established professionals got their start. Matt Wagner, for instance, had both Grendel
and Mage published by Comico. It also boasted a catalogue of comics like Mike Barr
and Adam Hughes’ Maze Agency, and Bill Willingham’s Elementals.

Eclipse Comics (1977-1994)

Founded by brothers Jan and Dean Mullaney, this was one of the first independent
publishers to offer royalties and ownership rights to comic creators. It’s best-known
as the American publisher of Alan Moore’s Miracleman, and Don McGregor and Paul
Gullancy’s Saber (the first graphic novel sold exclusively to comic book stores in
1978).

Epic Comics (1982-Present)

Founded by Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter after the success of Marvel’s Epic
Illustrated—a 1980 mature audience sci-fi/fantasy anthology published to rival Heavy
Metal—it was created to cater to the direct market with its high quality paper and
explicit content. Marshall Law and Stray Toasters were published under this imprint,
along with the American releases of Akira and Moebius’ Airtight Garage, and an
unfinished (and practically impossible to find) adaptation of William Gibson’s debut
cyberpunk novel Neuromancer.
108
Fantagraphics Books (1976-Present)

Founded by Gary Groth and Michael Catron as a way to publish their fanzine—
The Comics Journal—this press is still in publication today. As the popularity of
The Comics Journal grew, Fantagraphics started publishing works by alternative
cartoonists, with one of their first publications being the Hernandez Brothers’ Love
and Rockets. Their recent catalogue includes careful and well-presented collections of
classic cartoons such as E.C. Segar’s Popeye, George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, and the
EC Comics works of Wally Wood and Al Feldstein.

First Comics (1983-1992)

Founded by Mike Gold and Ken F. Levin, First Comics was the second home to both
Nexus and Badger, previously published by Capital Comics. It was the home of
American Flagg!, the first American edition of the Lone Wolf and Cub manga, and of
the many adaptations of fantasy writer Michael Moorkock’s works by Roy Thomas and
P. Craig P. Russell. First Comics was known as the publisher of Shatter by Peter B.
Gillis and Mike Saenz, the first comic book drawn entirely on a computer.

Gladstone Publishing (1986-1998)

A subsidiary of Another Rainbow Publishing, a company founded by Bruce Hamilton


and Russ Cochran, this is a bit of an odd duck in the publishing landscape of the ‘80s.
The pun is fully intended, as Hamilton and Cochran made it their mission to re-print
and publish the works of Carl Barks, long-time writer and artist on the Donald Duck
comics, and creator of Scrooge McDuck: Gladstone published Barks’ works almost
exclusively. They made it so that Barks’ death in 2000, at age 99, did not go unnoticed.
Another Rainbow closed up shop after the publication of the thirtieth volume of the
Carl Barks Library.

Pacific Comics (1971-1984)

Founded by Steve Schanes—who was seventeen at the time—and his brother Bill—
who was only thirteen—Pacific Comics started as a mail-order comic book retail
service advertised in the Comic Book Buyer’s Guide, before the brothers opened a
brick and mortar store in Pacific Beach, California in 1974.

When they saw Capital City Distribution trying their hand at publishing, the
brothers decided to give it a shot too. Their first move was to contact Jack “King
of the Comics” Kirby and ask him to come out of retirement. He unexpectedly did,
providing these new publishers with a new and exclusive bi-monthly series called
Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers in 1981. Their second title was Mike Grell’s
Starslayer, in which Dave Stevens’ The Rocketeer first appeared as a backup feature.
109
Quality Communications (1982-Present)

Founded by Dez Skinn to publish his new comic anthology Warrior, this is where Alan
Moore’s Miracleman and V For Vendetta first appeared.

Raw Books & Graphics (1980-1986)

This publisher was founded by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly to print their
alternative comic book anthology magazine Raw. The magazine was first printed and
bound by Mouly, and featured Maus as a serialized story in each issue. This “graphix
magazine” as it was called, featured the first Big Baby story from Charles Burns.

Revolutionary Comics (1989-1994)

Founded by Todd Loren, this publisher is infamous for its Rock N’ Roll Comics line of
unauthorized rockstar parody-biographies in the style of Mad magazine. The parody
angle was dropped along the way, but people—mainly the companies which held the
official comic book rights for the various rock stars featured in Rock N’ Roll Comics—
still sued Loren.

Thoughts & Images (1983-1989)

Founded by Steven A. Gallacci as a way to put out Albedo Anthropomorphics, a furry


comic anthology, which featured Gallacci’s own furry military science fiction story
Erma Felna: EDF. Issue #2 of Albedo, published in 1984, included the debut of Stan
Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo.

WaRP Graphics (1977-Present)

WaRP Graphics—whose name is an anagram for its two founders—was created by


Richard and Wendy Pini as a way to publish their still-running Elfquest comic. After
releasing the original twenty issues of Elfquest in high-quality magazine format,
the Pinis turned publishing duties over to Apple Comics (1986-1994), founded by
Fantagraphics co-founder Michael Catron.
110
FRANK MILLER
The fifth of nine children in an Irish Catholic family from Vermont, Frank Miller grew up
reading comics, and was especially affected with the ‘70s reprints of Will Eisner’s The
Spirit stories from the ‘40s. In may ways, Will Eisner’s exaggerated noir-styled series
about an undead detective in a trench coat is key to understanding some of Miller’s
own work, which is often steeped in classic film noir tropes paired with comic book
action.

Miller’s pre-’80s professional trajectory was fairly typical for a young artist working his
way up the ranks. After drawing a three page story in Gold Key’s The Twilight Zone #84
in 1978, and a five-page story in the following issue, he managed to show his portfolio
to a few established artists before landing small jobs at both DC and Marvel. His first
DC work was art on Weird War Tale #64 in 1978, and his first at Marvel was a story in
John Carter, Warlord of Mars that same year.

It’s at Marvel that Miller would finally get regular work as an artist, starting out by
working on single issues for a series here or there, most notably Peter Parker: The
Spectacular Spider-Man. Getting a feel for Marvel’s catalogue of heroes, Miller would
come to see Daredevil as the perfect hero for his ideal Eisner-inspired stories, and
lobbied then-editor Dennis O’Neil for creative control of the book after working as the
artist on Daredevil #158 in 1979.

The rest, as they say, is comic history.

CHRIS CLAREMONT
Born in England, Chris Claremont moved to the United States with his family, studied
acting and political science at Bard College, and was an avid science fiction reader.
Like most acting majors, he took a job in another field and started working at Marvel
in 1969, where he would do whatever task was asked of him, which eventually
evolved into writing stories for a multitude of Marvel titles during the ‘70s. His name
crops up everywhere: back-up stories for Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu; early Star Lord
stories in Marvel Previews; a run on Spider-Woman; a run on Ms. Marvel (where he
first introduced audiences to future X-Men villain Mystique); an issue of Peter Parker:
The Spectacular Spider-Man; and a run on Iron Fist (where he first worked with future
X-Men artist John Byrne, and introduced future X-Men villain Sabretooth to readers). If
it was published by Marvel in the ‘70s, then chances are Chris Claremont worked on it.
While his career as an X-Men writer took off in the ‘80s, his work on the band of merry
mutants began in 1975.

From 1969 to 1975, X-Men was a bi-monthly book which ran reprints of issues 1 to
66, meaning that issues 67 to 93 of the original series are actually reprints of previous
material. Looking to re-energize the concept, Len Wein wrote a story introducing a
new cast of mutants. Published as a “giant-size” 68 page comic, and drawn by Dave
Cockrum (then better known for his run on DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes), the story
111
was an instant hit. However Wein was Editor-in-Chief at the time and preferred turning
the scripting duties of X-Men #94, the first fresh issue of the book starring its new
team, to Chris Claremont. Thus began a 17 year-long stint on X-Men.

Claremont saw X-Men as a character piece set in a science fiction universe, which
reflected his aspirations of becoming an actor as well as his childhood love of sci fi.
His passion for the project showed throughout the work, and the title was elevated
from a bi-monthly reprint book to a monthly best-seller.

ALAN MOORE
Alan Moore was born in a Northampton hospital and grew up in a poor part of town
known as the Boroughs. As a child, Moore used his library card to satisfy a voracious
appetite for reading, an appetite later fed by British comic strips and American imports
from DC and Marvel. He was at the top of his school class… until he was admitted
to the Northampton secondary school and lost all interest in schoolwork. Insead he
turned to fanzine self-publications and was expelled from school in 1970 for selling
LSD.

Landing a steady job at the local Northampton newspaper doing a comic strip called
Maxwell the Magic Cat allowed him to get off social security. He desperately wanted
to get published in comics anthology 2000 AD, home of Judge Dredd, for which he
submitted many scripts. Unfortunately, Judge Dredd already had a regular writer (John
Wagner), so editor Alan Grant directed Moore towards their Future Shock anthology
strip, making Moore a regular contributor. Moore also wrote for Doctor Who Weekly.

His role as a freelancer for British publications would last well into the ‘80s, with Moore
creating D.R. & Quinch and the unfinished Ballad of Halo Jones for 2000 AD, while also
getting hired to write Captain Britain for Marvel UK. This portfolio would get Dez Skinn,
former Marvel UK editor, to bring him in on a venture: a magazine named Warrior,
where Moore would get the freedom to write Miracleman and V for Vendetta, works
which would eventually attract the attention of DC Comics.
112

Related Interests