OF THE POPS
OF THE POPS:
Welcome to a brand new monthly column wherein our opinionated reviewers
get even more opinionated! Tops of the Pops is an opportunity
for both PI reviewers and readers to expound upon the greatest
comics ever created. Simply put, each Tops column is a single
contributor's vain, narcissistic, blue-eyed list of top 10, all-time,
personal favorite comic storylines or single issues.
Some of the comics mentioned below are easily attainable in trade
paperback form; some are uncollected and more difficult to get.
But in each case, we've made suggestions about where even the most
rare/oblique issues can be found. And to inaugurate this first column
and make some of the issues even easier to find...
CONTEST CONTEST CONTEST
...we're running a little contest. Simply submit your own personal
top 10 list to the
PopImage Forum. Two winners will be picked at random to receive
the entire DEFENDERS run of "The Headman Saga" (never collected
in any form) as well as some other hard-to-find goodies from
the list below.
Reviews Editor Alex Bernstein's Top 10 Picks
DEFENDERS VOL. 1 #31-40, ANNUAL #1
"The Headmen Saga"
Writer: Steve Gerber
Artist: Sal Buscema
Inker: Klaus Jansen and others
Okay, so they brought the comic back and everyone's wondering: Nighthawk?
Hellcat? Valkyrie? What's this about?! Well, let me tell you...before
Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and the entire "British Invasion",
there was American Steve Gerber and Marvel's "B"-line
of comics during the '70's. These were experimental books, not watched
so closely by Stan Lee, where artists and writers were left to create
whatever the hell they felt like creating: e.g. TOMB OF DRACULA,
WEREWOLF BY NIGHT, WARLOCK (see below), HOWARD THE
DUCK, and, especially, THE DEFENDERS. Gerber's DEFENDERS
run was solid from the beginning, but with issue #31 he started his
massive "Headmen" storyline mixing heavy satire, social
observation, slapstick, science fiction, psychology, soap opera, whacked-out
imagery, and good-old-fashioned superheroics into a heady, orgiastic
brew. Whether Gerber had a master plan or made it up by the seat of
his pants, who knows, but this kind of storytelling wasn't seen again
in comics until WATCHMEN.
Some highlights: The Headmen (villains with physical deformities/superpowers
involving their heads) capture Nighthawk and literally transplant
his brain into one of their own, the mystic Chandu. Valkyrie goes
on a quest for her true identity and winds up in a women's prison.
Dr. Strange (never better in a leadership role) faces off against
Nebulon the Celestial Man and hordes of malevolent clowns appearing
everywhere all over the country. A mysterious Elf has a gun. Hunters
kill Bambi. Luke Cage joins the team. And on and on. Stunningly, Gerber
ties all these disparate ideas into a coherent, emotional narrative.
By the time it ends, you actually want to join the team. Excuse me,
the non-team. An underrated peak for Marvel in the early '70's.
"The Headmen Saga" is not currently available in any trade
paperback or collection as far as I know, but Marvel will probably
put one out any day now. Otherwise, submit your top 10 list to the
PI forum and win the entire run, today!
FOUR VOL. 1 #48-50
"The Coming of Galactus"
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Sinnot
I read it first in MARVEL TREASURY EDITION #2 and let's just
say it worked extremely well with the gigantic, oversized treatment.
What stays with me to this day was that Reed wasn't able to shave.
Beaten, overwhelmed, the city being ripped apart around him -- he
looked like a man at the brink of exhaustion. Rarely, to this
day even, do you see something as seemingly irrelevant as stubble
on a comic character's face. It was this kind of well-thought-out
detail that made the entire "Galactus Trilogy" so powerful,
and gave it the sense of reality that used to be Marvel's hallmark.
Add to that Kirby's photo-montage backgrounds of deep space, Stan's
crowning story, the introduction of the Surfer, and, of course, Galactus
himself (clearly the most unstoppable character in the Marvel universe
to date), all playing against the sheer humanity of the FF, and you
have epic drama unsurpassed to this day in comics. The only Marvel
story you really must read.
"The Galactus Saga" is available at most comic stores and
at Amazon.com in the inexpensive
ESSENTIALS format, or as a higher quality MARVEL MASTERWORK.
AND ROCKETS VOL. 1 #21-26
"Blood Of Palomar"
by Gilbert Hernandez
di·as·tro·phism (dI-'as-tr&-"fi-z&m) n.
The process of deformation by which the major features of the earth's
crust, including continents, mountains, ocean beds, folds, and faults,
Hailed as the Gabriel Garcia Marquez of comics, Gilbert Hernandez
had been telling stories of the little village of Palomar in L&R,
for years. Always, his "Heartbreak Soup" serial was wistful,
poignant, and rich in character moments. But in "Human Diastrophism"
he crafted his most powerful, human, and tragic story. Beginning with
a plague of monkeys assailing the village, Beto moved from subplot
to subplot, from Luba's love interests to Tonanzin's protests to murder
mystery. The story is rich in symbolism, and it included, perhaps,
the most horrifying denouement ever in comics. "Human Diastrophism"
beat out Alan Moore's V FOR VENDETTA for a Harvey Award in
1989, which should give you an idea of the scope and quality of this
"Human Diastrophism" can be purchased at
Fantagraphics.com in the collected trade paperback BLOOD OF
MARVEL 2-IN-1 ANNUAL #1
AVENGERS ANNUAL #7
Writer/Artist: Jim Starlin
Inker: Al Milgrom
CAPTAIN MARVEL gave Jim Starlin a place to get his chops and
experiment with new characters. But WARLOCK is his magnum opus.
Taking the somewhat simplistic "Warlock-as-Christ figure"
theme from the previous Len Wein/ Gil Kane run as a jumping-off point,
Starlin pumped it to the stratosphere, mixing in superheroics, '70's
psychedelia, avante garde imagery, and leftover impressions of his
own Catholic upbringing. What came about was a long saga, running
through at least four different titles, that was unique, emotional,
trippy, and mesmerizing, and one which defined the word "cosmic"
at Marvel. This may have been one of the first times that a writer/artist
had such a complex, adult saga to tell. (Certainly, at Marvel, anyway.)
And his art is gorgeous. Unfortunately, except for THE DEATH OF
CAPTAIN MARVEL and a couple of moments in his "Metamorphosis
Odyssey" (DREADSTAR), Starlin never reached these heights
again, settling instead for the more commercial fiascos of INFINITY
GAUNLETS ad nauseaum, besmirching the high quality of his
own earlier work (and characters). But for a few moments in the early
'70s, Starlin spun pure gold.
Starlin's WARLOCK run is not currently available in tpb form,
but may be available at comic shops online.
"The Dark Phoenix Saga"
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: John Byrne
Inker: Terry Austin
What can I tell you? In 1980, nothing in comics was more exciting
than watching the "Dark Phoenix" storyline unfold. The New
X-Men had finally begun to establish themselves as mainstays in the
Marvel universe, and Claremont and Byrne were building their thrills
higher and higher with each issue. The Cyclops and Phoenix love story
was engrossing. New characters Nighcrawler, Colossus, Storm, and,
especially, Wolverine were thrilling to watch develop. The Hellfire
Club was cool and scary. The thing was actually becoming a freaking
"event." Even Jim Shooter made a contribution, forcing Claremont
and Byrne to tag the "correct" ending on the story (although
they've negated it so many times since). Before they had cartoons
and movies and 50,000 spin-offs and competitors, the X-Men were simply
the most FUN comic being made. Forget everything you've seen since,
this one's still worth the price of admission.
"The Dark Phoenix Saga" is easily available at most comic
stores and Amazon.com both in
the ESSENTIALS format and as a collected trade paperback.
DISNEY COMICS DIGEST #34
"No Such Varmint"
"The Many Faces of Magica DeSpell"
by Carl Barks
While racking my brain for the perfect Barks story for inclusion here,
I realized that my first experience with the Great Duck Man included
not one, but two of my all-time favorite stories. During the late
60's Gold Key published Walt Disney and Golden Comics Digests, mammoth
(160+ pages) anthologies of all their best kid's comics. WDCD #34,
one of the best in an entirely enjoyable series, showcased the whole
Duck Family Tree. Each story in the digest hit a different character,
from Buck Duck (western relative) and Moby Duck (seafaring) to Grandma
and the Jr. Woodchucks. But of course, the Donald and Scrooge stories
-- "No Such Varmint" and "The Many Faces of Magica
DeSpell" -- are vintage Barks and stand head and shoulders above
all else. ("Varmint" is a classic out-of-work-Donald vs.
the Loch Ness Monster, with gigantic perspective shots of the monster
practically filling entire pages; "DeSpell" is an absolute
edge-of-your-seat thriller with Scrooge and the boys vs. DeSpell in
the heart of the jungle no less.)
Quite a few of the shorter pieces are also by Barks, but even the
non-Barks material is very entertaining. And I bought it for
50c! For quality alone it is worth a hundred times that, easily.
WALT DISNEY COMICS DIGEST #34 is often listed on
E-bay at a fairly reasonable price (approx $5). Various Barks
collections including the two stories above, can often be found at
as well as other worthwhile internet venues.
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Dave Gibbons
"Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl..."
from All Along the Watchtower by Bob Dylan
I was never a fan of Bob Dylan until I read "Two Riders Were
Approaching," the final issue of WATCHMEN. Like every
chapter in this history-making saga, the epigrams (and therein the
title chapters) were particularly relevant to the story and sublime.
The final riveting chapter underscored everything that had come before
it. Rorschach and Night Owl sped their way across the frozen tundra
towards what would truly be their final encounter with the mastermind
of this saga. (If, for some reason, you haven't actually read
WATCHMEN, I won't ruin it for you here.) It's almost easier
these days to list Alan Moore's crappy stuff than his good stuff.
(It's certainly a much shorter list.) Even after assessing SWAMP
THING, MIRACLEMAN, and the entire ABC line, among others,
WATCHMEN still stands as simply the finest comic book work
ever created. It could almost transcend comics -- except it is, in
so many ways, an homage to the entire form -- as well as a ripping
good yarn in and of itself. Should comics have stopped being created
after WATCHMEN? Possibly. At least DC Comics had the integrity
to leave the characters alone after Moore finished his story.
WATCHMEN is easily available at most comic stores and at
Amazon.com as a collected trade
LEAGUE OF AMERICA #100-102
"The Seven Soldiers of Victory"
Writer: Len Wein
Artist: Dick Dillon
Your first comics are almost always your lifelong favorites , and
so it goes with JLA #100-102 for me. (My first JLA comic
was actually #101, so I really came in halfway through the story and
had to search for months for part one. No comic shops in those days!)
My nine-year-old brain was just spinning with all these guys running
around, their names flashing above each chapter. The JLA, the JSA,
Metamorpho, Wonder Woman (in her Mrs. Peel phase), Zatanna and Black
Canary (both in fish nets), Hourman, Batman, Starman, et al. -- all
searching through time for the lost "Seven Soldiers of Victory"
before the Iron Hand could crush the Earth. Wow! And the Soldiers?
The Crimson Avenger! Speedy! The Star-Spangled Kid (now there was
a cool name for a hero)! One of them even died at the end! The art
by Dick Dillin served the cast and story beautifully. The story by
Len Wein was exciting and emotional, but most of all it was FUN.
In my mind there's never been a "team-up" to equal this
seminal outing of the JLA/JSA.
"The Seven Soldiers of Victory" should be hitting the
JLA ARCHIVES in about 4-5 volumes (i.e. 3-4 years). Until then
it's pretty easy (and inexpensive) to find at
E-bay in addition to quality comic book shops online.
"Follow that Dream"
by Peter Bagge
Stinky sticks a feather duster up a certain part of his anatomy resulting
in a "gimmick" that turns his band, "Leonard and the
Love Gods", into the hottest thing around. Loading up the van
with best friend Buddy Bradley as their manager, the boys go on a
raucous tour, picking up chicks and taking every advantage of their
newfound grunge success. Depressed over the loss of his bitchy gal,
Val (a much more interesting girlfriend in my mind than whacked-out
Lisa ever turned out to be), Buddy and Stinky argue across the heartland.
Taking some cues from Crumb and other underground cartoonists of the
day (but really leading most of them), Pete Bagge created the smartest,
funniest, truest underground comic of the '90's. HATE should've
become the new Simpsons, Beavis, or South Park.
But somehow it never evolved past the comic. Still, HATE was
brilliant and hysterical; particularly these two issues, in light
of where Buddy and Stinky's relationship would head in years to come.
Let's hope it one day makes it to the big screen.
"Follow That Dream" is available through
Fantagraphics.com in the second HATE collection "Buddy
PATROL VOL. 2 #26-29
"The Brotherhood of Dada"
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Richard Case
Twenty years ago Alan Moore breathed life into comics by taking superheroes
seriously. By NOT taking them seriously (and quite often giving
them a good, swift kick in the "arse"), Grant Morrison carved
out his own niche. Grant focused his attention on the irony, absurdity,
and the rich, inherent embarrassments of his source material. And
no comic fit that vision more than DOOM PATROL. Leaping into
the series with a narrative on Robotman's never-mentioned-but-obvious-once-you-thought-about-it
emasculation (only Cliff Steele's brain survived the crash that made
him "Robotman"), Grant took "dysfunctional" to
Applying satire, slapstick, conceptual twists, and visual and verbal
puns, Grant hit his stride with the brilliant "Brotherhood of
Dada" storyline. Led by the almost-stick-figure Mr. Nobody, The
Brotherhood "deconstructed" not just the Brotherhood of
Evil (from the original DP), but almost every "super-villain"
group ever. And the story featured my all-time favorite comics battle:
Rebis (Grant's hermaphroditic retread of the original DP's Negative
Man) and The Quiz (the Quiz' power: she has every super-power you
haven't thought of yet). Not even the JLA could stop (or even understand)
the Brotherhood and their destructive "Painting that Swallowed
Paris," But thank heavens the all-new Doom Patrol could!
"The Brotherhood of Dada" is not currently available
in trade paperback form. No doubt DC will be issuing a collection
any year now.
And some picks that didn't quite make my Top 10...
"Terror on the Planet of the Apes" by Doug Moench and Mike
Ploog (PLANET OF THE APES magazine); Chester Gould's DICK
TRACY; E.C. Segar's POPEYE; Don Rosa's "Life and Times
of Scrooge McDuck" (UNCLE SCROOGE) and "The Universal
Solvent" (WALT DISNEY COMICS & STORIES); "The Nearness
of You" by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson (ASTRO CITY);
and almost any 100 PAGE SUPER-SPECTACULAR from DC.
Bernstein is Reviews
Editor for PopImage.
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