Wanderings and Woolgathering has invited some guests in to pick our favorite artists and our favorite writers. This week, we invite the owner of Comics Cubed in Kokomo Indiana, Shawn Hilton, to join us to pick our favorite stories of all time. We are not simply picking the most iconic or well-known stories, but those stories that we love. They can be long run stories, short story arcs or even single issues. So, without further ado, our favorite stories.
Ray: Superman: Speeding Bullets (1993 One-Shot) – Elseworlds provided some insane visions of alternate DCUs in the 1990s, but none ever quite stuck with me like this JM DeMatteis/Eduardo Barreto one-off. Creating a world where baby Kal-El was adopted by the Waynes, only to see his powers emerge after the brutal murder of his parents, reinvented both the legends of Batman and Superman in a brilliant way. I’ve been begging for a follow-up to this fascinating world for decades.
Steve: Atomic Robo- FCBD Dr. Dinosaur and Crystals – Robo is a joyful concept created by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener. It is a wonderfully drawn and written book that does not take itself seriously. This choice may be odd as an all time favorite story when there are so many classics out there; however, this one makes me so happy. It’s a one issue story that finds Dr. Dinosaur outwitting our titular character. It involves crystals, time travel and witty banter. Can Dr. Dinosaur be taken seriously? Is he as dangerous as he claims? Who knows, but every time he’s on the page, it is GOLD! I go back to this one and reread a lot. Clevinger and Wegener have created a comedic character that delivers, and I can’t get enough.
Shawn: BAKER STREET from Guy Davis and Gary Reed – Baker Street is one of Guy Davis (Sandman Mystery Theater, Hellboys BPRD, Marquis) earliest works and it shows growth in his abilities throughout. Baker Street is Punk Sherlock Holmes in an alternate Victorian London clawing its way into the 20th Century in which WW2 never happens. It’s a lot of theme to say it’s PUNK SHERLOCK HOLMES and over 10 issues comprising two stories (two mysteries) it works. Guy Davis is the creator, artist, and writer with now departed Gary Reed providing most of the story for the first arc/mystery.
To be clear Sherlock and Watson are not to be seen. They are re-created as original characters based on the Doyle characters. Sharon, the Sherlock character, is punk through and through, and Susan, the American Midwest roommate acts as her Watson, become involved in two mysteries that make up the entire 10 issue run of Baker Street with a few shorts (scenes) running in other books (as memory recalls Sharon meets Sherlock for a scene in another book and Baker Street makes an appearance in the annual Swimsuit issues of Amazing Heroes from the late 80’s and early 1990s).
Baker Street is a thrilling read that feels PUNK. It NEVER feels like some guy writing PUNK or GOTH from the outside looking in trying to emulate what the kids are up to vibe. Guy Davis was PUNK. He got it, he lived it, and he molded that look, feel, and thought process into Baker Street. And it WORKED. Over those 10 issues two complete stories unfold that have depth and heart. It’s not just surface level gloss with a shiny coat of PUNK drizzled over the top. The black and white line work, the backgrounds, the visuals it all conveys an alternate reality and world that feels lived in and very real.
Over the years I have heard different versions of Gary Reed’s involvement from both Guy Davis and Gary Reed. Up until Mr. Reed’s death I would press for a new reprint each time I met him. It seems to me that Gary Reed helped write the first story arc with a lot of input from Guy Davis. However, with the second arc Davis had grown comfortable and sure of his abilities to take over all the chores of writing and penciling.
Baker Street is 10 issues of Punk/Goth Sherlock Holmes. It’s 2 complete mysteries that have unique depth and are fulfilling. The characters, while based on a template created by Doyle, are themselves unique and interesting takes on the classics. I re-read this book every few years, I own signed copies of the individual issues, and I still want this book to be reprinted regularly to make it easier for the world to read.
You can find HONOUR AMONG PUNKS on E-bay and Amazon. Unfortunately, it is no longer in print.
Ray: The Night Gwen Stacy Died (Amazing Spider-Man #121-#122) – There’s a lot of debate over this story, given that it was the first “fridging” (bridging?) in comic book history. It’s also one of the most important stories in that history, as it set the tone for the first time in comic book history that anything could happen. Gwen’s death may not even be the most consequential here – Norman dying as a result of his own machinations remains one of the most shocking moments in Marvel Comics. It’s amazing that this all played out in two issues with little fanfare.
Steve: Doom Patrol- The Painting That Ate Paris – This story by Grant Morrison is so brilliant on many levels. I love Morrison in that he can take any property and find an angle that most hadn’t thought of, and sometimes runs contrary to conventional thinking; i.e. that Superman doesn’t have to be relatable to us normal humans. What makes him special is that he is not like us. He is equally good with mainstream books and ideas, as well as zany books that allow his imagination to run wild.
Enter The Painting that Ate Paris- a story about a crazy band of villains who have changed their name from the Brotherhood of Evil to the Brotherhood of Dada. Following the dada art movement, they are an anarchist bunch who seem happy to cause problems that fall outside of the concept of good and evil. This leads to their heist, to steal the Painting that eventually will eat Paris, and our heroes, the Doom Patrol. Once the painting is activated, the Fifth Horseman is reborn. The Brotherhood and Doom Patrol must work together to stop him. As the horseman moves through the painting, the different art concepts fuel him. They work to guide him to the dada section of the painting where sense goes out the window. While there the horseman is turned into a rocking horse. The ending is as silly as the concept….and brilliant. Finally, one member of the Dada is named Quiz. She has a phobia to dirt so must wear a suit to protect her. She also has every power you haven’t thought of. To defeat her, you must think of super powers to eliminate them from her arsenal. Now, THAT is clever.
Shawn: Starman. James Robinson and Tony Harris back in the 1990’s created an instant classic that resonates with readers till this day. Starman is James Robinson’s 81 plus issue run, a couple of specials, and years later a #81 (taking the series to 82 issues as it began with #0 instead of a traditional #1) for a DC EVENT is my long form pick for this list. Manhunter is superb on all levels except one. It’s short. A reader can realistically read the compilation of Manhunter in one sitting. Starman, unlike Manhunter, gives a reader a much longer journey.
James Robinson and Tony Harris create a unique and thrilling reading experience by bridging the Golden Age of comics to the then Modern Age of comics by following the Starman legacy from Ted Knight to David Knight, and finally to the star of the Starman series Jack Knight. Family and legacy are themes that flow through the entire series from issue 0 through to its completion in issue 80. A reluctant and rebellious son who has a life outside of the superhero legacy his family has created and has little interest in the role of Starman is thrust into the spotlight. Slowly Jack Knight grows into a role of protector as he slowly changes before the readers eyes. Starman charts the development of Jack Knight who unlike so many comic characters CHANGES over the course of his series. He matures and is treated in the more classic prose manner of protagonists who are not the same at the end of their journey.
Robinson creates an entirely new DC comics fictional city in Opal City that fits in with Gotham, Metropolis, Star, or Keystone. He creates a bevy of background characters who also, over the course of the series, undergo change as their interactions with Jack and his legacy impact their lives. Nearly every hero who has taken on the moniker of Starman become embroiled in Jack’s journey.
It is a nearly perfect series with only a few minor blemishes scattered throughout the run, and none of those tiny imperfections take away from the whole in any meaningful way to dimmish the reader’s journey.
Tony Harris provided the pencil art and the style that would make Starman a visually mesmerizing and stylistic delight from issue 0 – 45 with only a few issues throughout that run provided by guest fill ins. Harris provides nearly half the art for the entire run and remained the cover artist for well over a year after he was finished providing the interior art. Harris’ style has often been described as a modern retelling of the art deco movement and this is clearly seen in his interpretation of Starman’s fictional home of Opal City. His work on this series is impressive. I have to admit that at one time I owned over seven pieces of original Starman art and still own a Tony Harris sketch of my favorite Starman character, the Shade.
An entire series of articles can be written about the James Robinson and Tony Harris work on Starman from the golden age tie ins, the talks with a dead relative, a journey into space, but for this TOP 3 favorite list I believe I have gone on long enough. I’ll leave it at this is one of my all time favorite reads. It’s a fan favorite of many comic shop owners and employees. It has a true beginning, a middle, and a satisfying conclusion.
Ray: The Death and Return of Superman (Superman titles, 1992-1993) – The Death of Superman got the most hype, but it’s probably the weakest part of the greatest long-form comic storyarc ever. The epic battle against Doomsday is dramatic, but the somber coda of “Funeral for a Friend” is probably the most unique event story ever told and something I don’t see ever happening again. And what needs to be said about “Reign of the Supermen”, maybe the most buzz-worthy mystery in comics history? It not only brought the epic to a satisfying close, it set up effects that are still felt almost thirty years and two reboots later.
Steve: Daredevil – Born Again – issues 227-231, or in deluxe form- 226-233. As a Daredevil fan, I would be hard-pressed to find a better story than Born Again. Frank Miller returns to the property with David Mazzucchelli on art. It is a beautifully rendered story that does what the best Daredevil stories do, which is to run Matt through the wringer. In this one, his best villain, Kingpin, completely destroys his life in all facets. It begins with his ex-secretary and girlfriend, Karen Page, selling his identity to the Kingpin for some heroin. The Kingpin uses the information to ruin Matt financially, to take his home, and eventually to eliminate his ability to practice law. Of course Matt fights back and eventually is “reborn” as a much better man and hero. I won’t ruin the story here with spoilers.
As a practicing Catholic, there are elements in this story that I love. Miller cleverly uses imagery from Catholicism to tell this story of the fall and eventual rise of Matt. The coolest comparison is Michelangelo’s Pieta. This time it’s recreated with the nun Maggie (Matt’s mom likely) and Matt. Another is Matt lying on a bed at the convent. His pose is reminiscent of Christ on the cross and the be is pushed up to a white wall with two picture frames that create a white cross. Earlier in the story, as Matt walks through Hell’s Kitchen, he falls a number of times, recreating Jesus’ walk to Golgotha. This isn’t the first time it has been recreated, Hemingway used the technique in Old Man and the Sea. Pretty good company, I would say. If all of those weren’t obvious enough, each comic was titled with Christian themes: pariah, apocalypse, saved, etc.
This story embodies what Daredevil is better than any other story and is quite simply an amazing story. That is why it is my number 1, all time favorite story. I would highly recommend the artist edition to see it in its full sized glory.
Shawn: Manhunter. Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson recreate a golden age character, Paul Kirk the Manhunter, who had not been seen in nearly 30 years, place him as a back up story in DETECTIVE COMICS, and then in eight pages stories left an impact on comic fans that at the time rocked the world, over time faded, and in the end left ripples that are felt to this very day.
The entire run takes only 67 pages to tell from beginning to end. Each of those stories except for the final story that concluded the storyline (and it has a definite conclusion) was only eight pages long. EIGHT PAGES! These eight pages were jam packed with panels that Simonson lavished attention and detail into. His layouts were works of art framing the art. Simonson’s framing was never just a frame to delineate one shot from the next, but instead flowed together to produce movement and action. His framing helped tell a visual story within the story.
Archie Goodwin used those eight pages to tell you an entire comic books worth of story, and then he connected those stories over seven issues to re-introduce and revive a character, change him into something fresh and new, and then in a final full-length issue bring the entire thing to an ending that was both shocking, surprising, and fulfilling. Archie Goodwin proved that eight pages in the hands of a master storyteller was the equivalent of a modern trade paperback and often more satisfying.
This is just one fans opinion but the accolades the Manhunter series received as awards tell the story from the view of critics. Archie Goodwin would win best writer for 1973 and 1974, two of the eight-page installments would win best short story for 1973 and 1974 and the epic conclusion (the only issue to be full length) would win the best full length comic award in 1974. Simonson would win (sharing a tie that year with Jim Starlin) outstanding new talent. In only 67 pages Goodwin and Simonson racked up the accolades, told a complete story, and made one of the best comics runs of all time.
Over the years there have been characters that have shared the name, a final silent installment penciled by Simonson working from a script of Goodwin’s before his death, and even clones, but for me those seven original issues still hold their own and are well worth reading for any comic fan.
Manhunter originally appeared in Detective Comics vol. 1 #437-443, and has been reprinted in a black and white format, a color format, a prestige format, and recently in a hard cover deluxe edition.
And there you have it, our favorite stories. There is a lot of variety here. Make sure you head to your local comic shop to pick up some books. Ask for these stories- you won’t be disappointed. Come back next week for our favorite covers.