Tag Archives: John Byrne

Listmania part 2: Favorite individual issues

Daredevil #181 “Last Hand” April 1982: Frank Miller was just hitting his stride and the character of Elektra was becoming hugely popular.  I remember picking this one up at the local newsstand and thinking it was just going to be cover hype.  I was already a jaded fan at that point.  By the time I was done reading this I had a new interest in comics.

Justice League of America #0 “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow” September 2006: This was more like favorite single page.  Each of the short scenes in this story are interesting, but the single page that references Batman’s reaction after Superman was killed by Doomsday redefined the character for me and put a lump in my throat.  You don’t often think of Batman as human and this changed that for me.

The stunning wraparound cover to Mage #14

Mage #14 “…Or Not to be” August 1986:  This was the issue after the series lost the character that was the emotional center of the book and set out the direction for the lead Kevin Matchstick.  Drawing the parallels to King Arthur seemed odd on the first page, but by the last page I could not imagine a time when I couldn’t see them.

Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children #21 “Dances with Cows” February 1991:  There was never a point I didn’t love this forgotten series from Piranha Press (a DC precursor to Vertigo), but this issue was funny and sad and odd all at once.  I really wish they would collect this anthology series in bookshelf volumes.  There is a large amount of creator owned and fringe material that is all but lost to readers now unless they search out the original back-issues.  This series was uneven at times, but so different from what was out there then, and still very readable now, that it could not help but find a new audience today.

Miracleman #22 “Carnival” August 1991:  It is very hard to pick a single issue from this amazing series, and picking a Gaiman issue over a Moore one might be considered a bad choice, but this issue had an emotional core that would resonate with anyone, even people who had not read the preceding 21 issues.  It touched on much of what had come before without ever relying on it and made this a stand-alone issue that really packed an emotional punch.  Now all we need is for these to be reprinted.

Avengers Annual #10 “By Friends — Betrayed!” 1981:  An uninspired Al Milgrom cover (nothing against Al, the cover just didn’t work for the book) covered up the first appearance of Rouge, and began a run of X-Men stories that would see the book rise in sales to be Marvel’s biggest book for many years to come.  The fact that it was in an Avengers book, and that the X-Men are only in a few pages of it messed with my head a bit, but this really is more of an X-book than an Avengers one.  Art by the amazing Michael Golden with inks by Armando Gil gave this book a look that no other book at the time had.  This is collected (finally) in Marvel Masterworks X-Men vol 7 and the Claremont omnibus.  It had been reprinted before, but never in an edition where it really worked, and certainly not as nicely as it is here.

Lord Julius and a “like-a-look”. Cerebus #137

Cerebus #137 (& 138–sort of) “Epilogue” August 1990:  This was a single story that Sim used an issue and a half for, but the first part is the best.  It has never been collected in the phone books since it was a fun filler issue that really does not fit in either the book before it (Jaka’s Story) or the one that followed it (Melmoth), but gives a silly look at Lord Julius and his “like-a-looks”, explaining a lot about the character in a funny way.  It is available ONLY as the original issue(s) or in Cerebus #0 which collected the other in-between issues that are not included in any of the phone books.

Toad Men!?!?

Sensational She-Hulk #2 “Attack of the Terrible Toad Men” June 1989:  The first issue seemed like a fluke or a one-off, but when they did this one I was left in awe of how funny this book really was.  Byrne left the book after issue 8 over a flap with editorial and the book never quite recovered, until his return in issue #31 that is!  Then he left at issue 50 and the decline started all over.  Dan Slott did some fun stuff with Shulkie later, but this series is still the best there has been.

Alpha Flight #12 “… And One Shall Surely Die” July 1984:  I freely admit I was one of the zombies that jumped on this Byrne book when it arrived, and I loved it for the first years’ worth of stories.  Byrne himself has said he never really saw the point of having an AF book, but it didn’t show for most of his time on the book.  This issue was a surprise in every way.  Yes, they advertised that a major character was going to die for weeks in advance, but how often had we heard that before only to see some turd third stringer die?  Yes, death in comics has since become a revolving door plot hammer.  Never in a million years did I think Byrne would GUT the heart out of the team and kill someone as important as that!  Naive of me?  Maybe, but I had not become so jaded at that point and just didn’t see it coming.  This book gave me chills, and still does when I read it.

Uncanny X-Men #186 “Lifedeath” October 1984:  The single most beautifully drawn mainstream issue of the 1980s.  Barry Windsor Smith as inked by Terry Austin was too much for many at the time. It was a challenging story that made me expect more (too much) from my comics after that.

Superman #712 (had to sneak this one in) “Lost Boy: A Tale of Krypto the Superdog” August 2011:  I was never a huge fan of big blue and have only occasionally read his adventures.  What I AM is a dog person.  This was an inventory story used to fill time while the Grounded arc needed to get caught up.  This issue was better than ANY of those.  I defy any dog person out there to not be an emotional wreck after reading this book.

This was a REALLY hard list. To just come up with ten (OK, eleven) was really tough, and if asked in a month I would think that there would be changes.

Feel free to start throwing chair and arguing, but I would really rather see some other people’s lists.

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A little listmania! part 1: favorite stories

Blogger wwayne got me thinking about my favorites;  Favorite story arcs and favorite single issues.  Putting the definitions as simply as possible ( since us geeks love to argue about the definitions ) we get….

Story arc:  a  story occurring within an ongoing series.  OK, that is not going to work for me, dammit!  Since I am a trade waiter and have been for 2 decades, some of this will have to be at least a little in the self-contained series vein.  But I will try to justify and explain as I go.

Single issue:  Just like it says on the tin, a single issue of an ongoing series.

So, in no particular order except the order if find them on the shelf….

Concrete:  Strange Armor.  (1997)  This is where the definition gave me trouble as Concrete creator Paul Chadwick didn’t really DO an ongoing Concrete series, just connected limited series, the definition became an issue.  Also in the age of trades and collections the actual issues of a particular arc are harder to recall.  This one I did read as the single issues when they came out in late 97 and early 98.  A 5-issue limited in the continuing story of Ron Lithgow, this was the story that finally gave the full and definitive origin of the character, and fleshed out the back story greatly.  The “series” of concrete stories that Chadwick has done are an amazing character study with its roots in the sci-fi and super hero stories he grew up with and have more heart than any other book(s) I have read since.  All but the most recent DHP series have been collected as trades and are still powerful today.

Cerebus #139 to 150 (Melmoth). (1990) The was the story that followed Jaka’s Story and is one of the shorter Cerebus arcs.  A beautifully written and drawn book, it explores the final days of Oscar Wilde as seen in this fictionalized universe.  Taken directly from contemporary accounts of friends of the dying writer, this is a powerful and sad story.  It is available in “phone book” number 6 of the Cerebus run.

Action Comics  #866 to 870. (2008) Geoff Johns and Gary Frank update and redefine the Brainiac character.  One of the most successful updates DC has ever done.  Gary frank’s art is at its very best here.  Available as the Superman Brainiac trade.

Justice League of America#1 to 7  (2006)  Brad Meltzer is a polarizing figure in comics thanks in large part to the love it or hate it Identity Crisis series.  (loved it)  This arc started up the new volume of JL with artist Ed Benes, and is a story that actually made me interested in JL.  What got me into the story in the first place was my affection for Red Tornado, and this story focuses on him and his existence heavily and is a great team book to boot.  Available as The Tornado’s Path trade collection.

Planetary #7 to 12 (2000)  After setting up the world of Elijah Snow and his team in the first arc, Warren Ellis and John Cassaday outdid themselves on this arc (available as Planetary:  The Fourth Man collection).  The jumped into the homages of the comics with both feet here.  They did versions of Transmepolitan, Hellblazer, Doc Savage and touched on the origins of the big three at DC and still managed to keep the main story moving forward without the meanderings that affected some of the later issues.

My Jill Thompson sketch in my Absolute edition

Sandman #41 to 49 (1992)  This was the arc that really made the series sing for me.  After the A Game of You arc cooled me on the series (It took me years to learn to appreciate it) this series just sang with life.  Gaiman was really flying here and this is the run that made me love Jill Thompson’s art.  This is available in the Brief Lives collection or in Absolute Sandman vol 3.

Fantastic Four #242 to 244 (1982)  I still go back and read these every few months.  In fact the whole #240 to 250 part of John Byrne’s run is just crazy fun to read!  This was the first Galactus story I read that I actually liked.  Available in several reprint volumes from FF Visionaries vol 2 to the big-ass omnibus collection of the Byrne run.

Uncanny X-Men #165 to 168 (1982)  Paul Smith’s first issues on this title were the wrap up to Chris Claremont’s Brood story.  ( I include 168 here as the epilogue to that story–because I CAN!) To this day, his art in these issues is amazing to look at.  Collected in too many versions to count.

Mage #1 to 15 (1984)  Technically this was a limited series, but to my mind, when you know that you are just going to do a series of limited series, it is just a series with breaks.  In the case of Mage the break between the first and second series was a little more than just a break.  The same is true with the ongoing wait for the third series.  This story by Matt Wagner was lightning in a bottle.

Avengers #198 to 200 (1980)  This was David Michelinie and George Perez’s last regular issues on the title(in a run anyway) and they rent out with a great story that was a follow-up to the Claremont/Golden story in Avengers Annual #10.  This run is not yet collected.  Hopefully the Marvel Masterworks will continue long enough to get to these.

Well, I stuck to 10.  I omitted runs where there was a single good issue that MADE that run, and I avoided genuine limited series.  Maybe that will be another list.  Next up…

Favorite single issues…

 

 

 

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Trio review or: I still think there should be a “Lizard and a Spock” in this group.

Trio

2012

IDW

120 pages $18

John Byrne was and still is comic book royalty.  Like most royalty he is simultaneously loved and hated by the people he encounters.  Like royalty most people form their opinions having never met him.  Others that do know him usually have a more realistic opinion of him.  Sometimes they come to a positive opinion, other times not so much.  There are stories all over the industry of how awful he is and just as many saying the opposite.  Personally I do not care.  He is human like anyone else and since I do not know him personally, I don’t care about anything other than his work; a comic book career decades long and filled with amazing things.

Trio is the newest work to come from his fertile imagination.  This collection is the first four (and so far the only) books of the series from IDW.  It is not his strongest story by any means, but there are some great touches here.  This was billed as a “traditional” super hero book, I think to its detriment.  This is really only traditional in that there are a lot of “bang”  “pow” and “zap” type sound effects graphics.  The book also is largely devoid of the needlessly dark and angst ridden “heroes” that are so common and tedious in most modern comics.  This is not a Garth Ennis book.  Calling this old school or any other term of the kind devalues and restricts the potential audience for this, and this was reflected in the book’s dismal sales.  Why tell people anything other than “it’s a John Byrne book”?  Anyone who has a clue will already know what they are in for, why scare them away with descriptions that are pejorative?  Unless this trade collection sells well, I think this is all we are likely to see of this book as a solo feature, and the poor marketing of the single issues will have been to blame.

Trio focuses on One, Two and Three, or as the media calls them “Rock, Paper and Scissors”.  Their powers are pretty much described in the names and the personalities are not all that well-defined in this book.  There was obviously more intended to follow this, and that would be a caveat for some, I guess.  If this volume does not sell well, the chance of a second volume is not great, so it is problematic.  I recommend buying this volume even though it does not actually have a complete story.  Yes there is a risk that you will never read the next part, but if you don’t get it, then the chance that there will be no follow-up is even greater.

Enough preaching about the lamentable state of the industry.  The book is quite good.  The story is a bit basic, due largely to its unfinished status, I think.  The art is just great though.  Byrne’s work post Terry Austin is hard for some people even to this day.  Austin’s clean and tight line gave Byrne’s pencils a very different quality from the line when he is inking himself.  I for one like both and this book is one where Byrne is clearly enjoying himself with these drawings.  At times he seems to be channeling Neal Adams or even Steranko, but not to the books detriment.  There is also more than a few things that will remind many of the Fantastic Four here.  This is a well-drawn book.  What little character development we get centers around Rock, and to a lesser degree, Scissors.  The group’s only female, Paper is the McGuffin the other two seem to focus their emotional depth on at this point, so her development is somewhat lacking at this stage.

The package is fairly typical of IDW’s trade collections, but I felt the paper was very flat.  This could have used a bit nicer grade of paper to liven up the visuals even more.  All in all, a good book that I hope you will support.  John Byrne is one of those creators that should be given the benefit of our doubts.  Anyone that likes his work in general should give anything he puts out a fair chance.  I have not liked everything he has done, but I have always given his work a look each time, before deciding to buy or not.  As long as he doesn’t pull a Miller and go bat-crap-crazy, we should continue to support and enjoy his works.

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Cap for President. Now where have I heard that before…?

Ultimate Captain America is now US President.  No, I am not spoiling anything.  If you read almost any comic book related item, or the Washington Post you will have already seen this.  Spoilers are a given at Marvel, so I don’t really care about it for this item.

I have already seen the idiots (pundits) arguing that this is not the Cap they remember.  Obviously, it isn’t.  No fans that recall Cap from childhood are recalling Ultimate Cap.  This Cap is a right-wing conservative and only slightly to the right of Rush Limbaugh.  The Captain America most of us think of is the one in the 616 Marvel universe.  He died and came back recently.  Found his long dead partner back from the dead too.  The classic Cap has already been in the spotlight as a potential candidate for US President.  In the November 1980 issue (number 250) of Captain America, Roger Stern and John Byrne’s run on the book had yet to achieve the legendary status it has since been granted.  They were on the book for less than a year and managed to imprint themselves on the book in such a way that their version of the character was THE version for a long time. 

In that now classic issue, our hero did the right thing and declined a nomination for the highest office in the land.  He did it for all the right reasons.  He is not selfish that way.  Characterized then and for much of the time since, as a New Deal democrat, that Cap is all about the oppressed and downtrodden.  He fit that category once himself after all.  (with the exception of the Brubaker run, he has pretty much always been portrayed this way) The ultimate version is very much the opposite, but for all the same reasons.  His reaction to the “man out of time” situation he was placed in is harsher and more conservative, but it comes from the same place inside.  The ultimate version accepts the job as President for the same reasons classic Cap turns it down.  There are even parallels between the speeches given.  Ultimate Cap will likely be presented as a poor choice for President, as he is not as strong a person in this incarnation.  He is far more selfish and fallible.  He takes the office, I think, because he thinks he can do better.  Generally, those are the people throughout history that have failed the most spectacularly.

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The Children of the Atom

The cover to issue #1

The X-Men has always been a sore spot with me.  One of the richest pools of characters in comics regularly misused.  Creators at the top of the industry doing their best work, or people so inept that they fail in every possible way to make something as inherently entertaining as a comic book even remotely readable.  This is a book that vacillates wildly between the best in the industry to not worth wiping your ass with. 

Such is the way of things with many books that have been around for as long as the X-Men.  In 1963 Stan Lee and Jack Kirby started the book up and wasted no time in taking interesting characters and writing them like they didn’t care a bit. To be fair this was true.  This was just another comic to them, and they did not care all that much about it.  It didn’t sell well from the start, and they were not doing their best work.  Not even close.  Kirby did not stick around long, leaving main art chores after the first dozen issues and working with other artist for the heavy lifting for a few more.  As was often the case with a Kirby drawn book, once he was gone things tanked.  Since this was already a marginal book, things were really pretty awful.  Not to say there were not positives.  Golden Age artists Don Heck, Werner Roth (AKA Jay Gavin) and Alex Toth  graced the pages, sometimes aping Kirby’s style, but often doing their own.  The book looked great at times.  There was the all too short Roy Thomas, Neal Adams run.  One of the best of both their long careers.  Then with issues #67 the book started reprints.  Not bothering to reprint the entire run, they started with issue #12.  The reprints were sloppy, concerned with cramming a couple of issues from the early run under 1 cover, they were often done out of original sequence. 

Issue #94

Then Giant Sized X-Men #1 arrived.  Len Wein and Dave Cockrum put together a book that threw caution to the wind and made a book that was limping to its death into a book that was still limping to its death, only slightly slower.  This issue (followed by #94) is remembered incorrectly by people today.  It was not a thunderbolt.  People remember this as the book that changed everything and made the X-Men hugely popular.  Only the first part of that was true.  When Chris Claremont took over the book with issue #94, co plotting the book with Wein for a few issues, sales were slow to improve.  The book got only a small bump with the new team.  When John Byrne came on as penciller with issue #108 the title had not improved much, and things were not looking great.  At that time in his career, Byrne was not very popular and certainly not the legend he would become.  He was replacing the fairly slow, but very popular Dave Cockrum in the hopes they could get a terminally late book back on schedule.  This began what was at the time, a very underappreciated run on the book.  The ABC books, as I used to hear them called, for inker Terry Austin, Byrne and Claremont, have become some of the most beloved in Marvel’s long history.  Byrne and Austin stayed with the title until #143, along the way creating with Claremont, The Dark Phoenix Saga; the story that really did redefine modern comics.  Dave Cockrum returned for a nice run and the book’s sales continued to climb, but they were still not stellar.  In those days 100,000 copies was a borderline book, always waiting for a dip in sales that would cause it to be cancelled.  X-Men did not become THE Marvel book until the 150’s or so. 

The cover to issue #165 by Paul Smith, marked a drastic change in the look of the title.

The popularity was cemented by the arrival of Paul Smith with issue #165.  At this point spin-offs and limited series with the characters were done to capitalize on the popularity of the X-Men.  Other highlights such as Magneto’s conversion to a much deeper and more resonant character, and the Fall of the Mutants arc, were strong entries as well.  A host of artist came and went, while Claremont stayed on the book until 1991, when editorial pressure, and a willful artist named Jim Lee wanted more story input.  The lunatics artists were running the asylum at this point at Marvel, and  it shows.  A lot of the guys that left to found Image were big on the idea that you didn’t need a writer if the art was good.  Well they were proven both right and wrong.  The X-books went almost immediately into the crapper.  Sales followed once the hot artists all defected to Image, where poorly written books like Spawn and WildC.A.T.S. sold just as well as the well-written ones, better much of the time.  The X-books lost much of their previous sales numbers, and Marvel with its new “just put whatever pretty bit of foil-covered crap we can on the stands” policy in place, fell with it.  Eventually they declared bankruptcy, leading many to foolishly fear that the company would fold.  An artistic and editorial black hole opened up and Marvel managed to destroy almost every book they had.

The suck-itude lasted for nearly a decade.  When the ship was finally righted, it took a long while for people to pay attention to even the best books Marvel was putting on the stands, even the well written X-Men.  Grant Morrison was writing the New X-Men and with Frank Quietly, making this a premier book again.  The books were more in line with the movies, at least visually, and contained wild and outlandish stories at times. This let this book soar again.  There were even good crossovers.  The House of M and original Age of Apocalypse, were actually not bad, and continue to draw readers and have new stories or direct call backs to them even now.  

The absolutely stunning cover to Astonishing X-Men #6

Then there is Astonishing X-Men.  OMF-ing G this was a great book!  Joss Whedon and John  Cassaday brought out 24 issues over nearly 4 years, and gave us the best X-Men comic in over a decade.  Bringing back major characters from the glory days, putting a sick amount of Whedon-esque humor and then kicking us in the gut with a climax that truly was astonishing!  These were the X-Men I remembered, possibly even better than I remembered.  I could not wait for each issue, and I was never let down by what I read. 

Since then, things have been pretty uneven. Vampires on the low-end, with some powerful stories with classic characters on the high.  The trip into the cosmic storylines was interesting, if not all that well executed.  Some of the spin-off series are quite fun also.  The returned New Mutants being the highlight there. 

With AvX running now, I cannot honestly say that there is much to look forward to.  There have been a couple of interesting twists, but Marvel still is a “House of Ideas”, they just can’t translate even the coolest ones into strong stories.  The brightest light right now is Wolverine and the X-Men written by Jason Aaron.  This is a very fun read.  Lots of action and humor, with something strong underneath called good writing.

When well written, the X-books can be among the best of the Marvel titles, thanks to a rich stable of strong and much-loved characters.  If you seek out the stories mentioned here, you will not be disappointed.

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Not a review of the Avengers film

There is no point in adding my 2 cents to the pile on this film, except to say, “WOW!”  This was far more fun, silly and action packed that I could have ever hoped for.  Go see it.  I don’t care if you don’t like comics, go see it.  You will have fun, and that is all that matters with a film like this.  I never thought this would be a failure, but I never expected it could be this good, or this successful at the box office.  With an opening weekend of $207 million (blowing past HP 7 pt 2), it will be a hard opening weekend to beat.  This movie is almost certainly going to hit half a billion dollars in domestic box office, and could challenge Avatar if it doesn’t falter too much in the next two weeks.  Not likely, but it is possible.

The real reason for this Avengers related post, is to do what comic book movies almost always fail to do.  I want you to read more comics, so I will mention a few Avengers comics that people who enjoyed the film might like.  This will be more or less divided into 2 groups, modern and classic.  The division is because the classic stuff, while a great read, is very dated and comes off as a bit silly at times.  While well written for comics of the day, these books just don’t pack the serious tone and darker, more realistic style of the newer ones.  Many modern readers will just not be able to connect with them as they will seem trite and simplistic, with too much over written dialog.

Cover to the Kree/Skrull Trade Collection

One of the more interesting classic books was The Kree/Skrull war, available as a trade or hardcover collection, the Chitauri of the film are a different version of the Skrulls.  Written by Roy Thomas and drawn by John and Sal Buscema and Neal Adams, this was the first really good cosmic Avengers story.  There are a few beats from this that ended up in the film.

Another classic story would be the Korvac Saga, written by Jim Shooter.  While not one that ages well, it is a decent story that showcases the team dynamic well.

The last of the great classic stories on my list, and one that is unfortunately not collected in any form yet is the runs of (primarily)writers David Micheline and Roger Stern.  With art by George Perez, this was the run of stories that really defined the title in the 1980’s and is still my favorite run on the book.  Now if Marvel would just get it into a reprint volume that would be great.  This run was from the 180’s to the early 200’s and also featured art by John Byrne, among others.

Staying with John Byrne as we go into the transition years where the stories started to develop the more modern sensibility, is Byrne’s run on a couple of Avengers titles.  The better, more noteworthy run is on the West Coast Avengers book where he redefined the Scarlet Witch and the Vision characters.  This run really pissed off some fans who didn’t like that Byrne upset the apple cart so dramatically, destroying a much-loved romance between these two characters that had lasted for over a decade.  The Darker than Scarlet and Vision Quest storylines have  been collected in trade format, and are well worth the read.

Then things went into the crapper in the 1990’s.  Lack of good stories and no real editorial direction lead to some pretty awful books.  The sales went so low as to allow Marvel to essentially hand the books over to the Image guys to revamp.  It was awful.  Many attempts are made to modernize comics for a new audience, but only a few succeed.  The Heroes Reborn books are available in trade collections if you want to see how NOT to reboot a classic title.  The Heroes Return books that came after and reset things to pre Reborn run continuity was a much better storyline by Kurt Busiek and George Perez, and is also available in trade and hardcover collections.

In 2004 the Avengers Disassembled story destroyed the team, literally.  Killing off several members, incapacitating others and destroying the team’s long time HQ, this story was designed to rip the concept to its’ foundations so it could be rebuilt.  Another run that really upset long time fans, this was the book that made the Avengers a top seller again for the first time in many years.  They essentially gutted the team like a fish and started over with a new mission and a new lineup.  One of the places they went was The Mighty Avengers by Brian Micheal Bendis.  The first arc, The Ultron Initiative drawn by Frank Cho is the best of the bunch and is a great look at defining a villain that is particularly hard to write well.

The hot new book is AvX, which is not what I call great, but it is selling well and will be the story that sets the status quo for the Avengers and the X-Men for the next couple of years.

There are also a number of good runs highlighting the Avengers from the movie in solo adventures.  One of the best is Captain America: The New Deal and The Extremists arcs written by John Ney Rieber.  A very modern take on Cap and Nick Fury and how they would function in a post 911 world.  Very powerful stuff, that takes a look at the very normal and human side of the living legend of WW2.  There is also an amazing run on the Thor solo book that is not dated at all.  Walt Simonson turned everything on its head with the Beta Ray Bill story line that started in #337 of the Thor monthly book.  Lots of thees and Thous and cosmic action, with a fair splash of humor, make this book exciting for all ages.  The Iron Man Extremis story by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov is also one of the more interesting attempts to modernize a classic character, and while it is not for everyone, this was a compelling book to read and a strong entry into the mythos.

Lastly there are The Ultimates books.  This is where the Nick Fury look you saw in the movie came from and a few other similarities such as the use of the Chitauri.  This is in a different continuity from the above books, and take a more modern approach in telling the Avengers stories right from the beginning.  The first 3 Ultimates trades are excellent versions of the characters and bear some definite similarities to the version you see in the films.  Fury, Hawkeye and the Black Widow in the movie are very much drawn from these volumes.

While this is by no means a comprehensive list, it is the list of books I have most powerful memories of reading in the 30+ years I have been reading comics, and they give a good snapshot of some of the best (or at least most popular) Avengers stories.  There are many others, but these would be a good place to start for anyone that liked the movie and may want a little more.

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Hickman departing the FF.

With the announcement yesterday that Jonathan Hickman will be leaving The Fantastic Four (and I assume that includes the newer FF book) I was thinking about his run and the others that I have enjoyed.

The FF was the first of three books that I read regularly in the wayback times.  The other two being Uncanny X-Men and The Avengers, both of those are now books I have almost no interest in since they became incomprehensible at several points in their history.  The X-Men, shortly after Chris Claremont was pushed off the book in favor of the soon-to-be Image guys  (Bloody well ruined that book). The Avengers just slowly descended into dazzling mediocrity over the years, with only a few bright spots since.

The first issue of FF I picked up was #203.  Marv Wolfman had started his run on the book a few issues prior; Keith Pollard and Joe Sinnot were doing the art.  Pollard would soon make way for John Byrne for his first stint on the book.  I read sporadically for the next dozen or so issues and was completely hooked by issue #218 or so and as Byrne began to really sink his teeth in, I decided I was there for the long haul.  There was a break in the Byrne run in the 220’s where Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz did some pretty nice issues, then Byrne returned to both write and draw things with issue 232.  He stuck around until 294.  For over 5 years the book was as good as it could possibly be.  Most readers and critics favorably compared the book to the Lee/Kirby run.  At the time, I had not yet read the Lee/Kirby run, but now I can see what everyone meant.  The book really was worthy of the title “world’s greatest comic magazine” again.  Then the book went off the rails; not because the writers were all that bad.  Some were awful, but most were very good at what they do; they just didn’t get the book.  Many have tried since, and most have come close, but still they’ve missed the mark.

Then Jonathan Hickman came on board in 2009 with issue #570.  He immediately reset the tone and style of the book back to the core concept of family.  He did not jettison all the previous continuity, even in cases where the stories they came from were less than great.  Instead of a full reboot, he just started a new story of his creation that incorporated the elements from the past he wanted to use.  I had to catch up fast since I had not been reading the book during the creation of Nu-World, or the birth of Valeria, or any of the odd changes that had happened in the intervening years.  Once I had done a little back-story research, everything clicked.  This was a family.  All the characters were fully realized and had a believable quality.  Even all the odd supporting cast of kids and other misfits that were there or brought in over the course of the story were fun, interesting and real.  The threats in the book were threats to the family first and as dangerous as any other in the past.  This time, because you care about the family, you are far more invested in what happens.  In the past, sometimes even in the Byrne run, Franklin was an afterthought.  The issues of family only entered into things AFTER the villain was dispatched.  Now the family is standing right there as the Annihilation wave approaches.  Calling this book the Fantastic Four almost doesn’t work.  This may explain some of the motivation behind the creation of the separate FF book.  The main catalyst for that was, and I don’t think I am spoiling here since everyone saw the press on this, the “death” of the Human Torch.  Everyone knew he was not really dying.  He didn’t even die on panel.  Everyone knew he would be back.  The main thing was that the story was good.  It was good.  The “death” never seemed forced and yet it was not something that came out of left field either.  In most pop culture stories, death is a result of an arbitrary change.  In TV, it is because an actor is leaving.  Those deaths are almost always poorly done.  They feel rushed and simply do not fit what has gone before.  Anyone recall how Jadzia Dax was written out of DS9 when the actress could not come to contract terms with the studio?  It was a slap in the face to the fans, the actress and the character.  In many comics, they are the result of the need for a stunt.  This felt like it was an organic part of the story being told and never felt like a stunt.  It WAS a stunt, but not being done just for the sake of a stunt.  Upon re-reading the series, it now feels like it was always leading to this organically, not just by Hickman’s design. 

While this run on the book, even if you include both titles, is far from the length of the Byrne period, this feels no less satisfying.  There are currently four collections of Fantastic Four and two of FF, with one or 2 more of each coming before the end of the run later in 2012.  At that time I will feel a little depressed about then end of Hickman’s run.  Yes, there are other books he has done.  His creator owned stuff at Image has been very good, for the most part.  But I want to have a good FF book.  Until I started reading this run, I had forgotten how much I had missed these characters.  They are like family or friends that you reconnect with after years apart.  Not exactly the way you remember them, but still special.

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