Top 10 Final Issues

A column article, Top Ten by: The Comics Bulletin All-Stars

Let's face it. Goodbyes downright suck. Whether it's saying farewell to your 9th grade girlfriend who's moving to another town or reading the last issue of one of your favorite comic book series, it's never easy to let go of something you love. In light of the fact that DC is putting a lot of their current series to rest to make way for the new and improved 52, we decided to take a look at some of our more memorable final issues in comics. In no particular order we give you the…


10. Superman/Batman #87
by Steven Wilcox

In the final story arc of DC's Superman/Batman book we are treated to a noir tell about murder, coverups and secrets. The story opens with a dead Gotham City reporter, washed up on the beach in Metropolis. The dead reporter happened to be an old friend of Perry White's and he sends his best investigative reporter, Clark Kent, to find out who killed his friend. Apparently, Garrett Remington had uncovered "the secret of The Bat!" Garrett had bragged about uncovering the secret identity of Batman and it was that story that leads to his murder. All clues seem to point to The Batman himself.

This three-part tale, written by Joshua Hale Fialkov and illustrated by Adriana Melo, JP Mayer and Greg Adams (issue 85) and Thomas Giorello (issues 86-87) takes Superman out of his usual element and spotlight as Clark must rely more on his skills as a reporter than his super-powers to clear the Batman from being persued as a suspect in Garrett's murder. In fact, Superman barely makes an appearance in the arc after the first issue.

Why did this tale make my list of favorite final issues? Well, for one, it was the final storyline for a DC book before The New 52. Secondly, it was a great way to show us why these characters have endured for so many years and through so many interpretations. I'm hoping the new versions of these characters get it right as well…

9. Omega the Unknown #10
by Jason Sacks

The great cryptic Marvel Comics series of the '70s ends with a literal bang, in one of the oddest and most climactic endings of any comic series of its era. This series was a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, full of incredibly odd characters and sometimes inexplicable events, and this final issue was just the perfect culmination. This issue is bookended with death: a funeral on page one and a killing on page 31. In between, the enigmatic and usually silent hero of this comic (who, by the way, is never called "Omega" by any of the characters in the series) talks his friend, only referred to as "Old Man", to go to Las Vegas and win tremendous amounts of money, for reasons never revealed. What does he find for his trouble? Major casino winnings and the major vengeance of a strange sand creature.

Omega was created as a complex satirical mystery by the late Steve Gerber and his frequent writing partner Mary Skrenes. The obscurities of this bizarre final issue followed Gerber to his grave, and have haunted me since I first read this comic in 1977. I guess Gerber and Skrenes succeeded in what they tried!

8. Tom Strong #36
by Jason Sacks

Alan Moore has always been one to find the perfect grand conclusion to a storyline - Watchmen excluded, of course – and the final issue of Tom Strong was an elegant conclusion to the entire America's Best Comics line. As Moore told George Khoury in the wonderful book The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore:

Nobody's ever really had the chance to finish off a comic line deliberately before. Usually, comic companies run out of money halfway through a three-part story, or books get cancelled at the drop of a hat. All the comics companies have flirted with the idea of the end of the world, well, what I'd like to do with ABC is to actually do it for real. What if some big, apocalyptic event affected the whole line? And it was all real, it wasn't an imaginary story, it wasn't an Elseworlds, it wasn't a What If?, this is the end of a comics line planned months in advance, orchestrated and brought hopefully to a fitting conclusion."

One lament about the America's Best Comics line has been that the Alan Moore who brought us Watchmen, Miracleman, From Hell and V For Vendetta was slumming and doing good work but not his typical brilliant work. But in this issue, Moore rises back to his classic level of work. This is a majestic comic that only Alan Moore could write.

7. Hitman #60
by Jason Sacks

Hitman, when it's remembered at all these days, is referred to as "the poor man's Preacher". That's a fitting description since comics were written by the gritty Garth Ennis and both feature some awfully shocking scenes and moments. (See below for more about Preacher.) But it's also not fitting. Because few comics portrayed the two-fisted mythology of male bonding, violence and drinking in quite the way that Hitman did. Tommy Monaghan was a brash, nasty, pissed-off piece of work, but we loved him and reveled in his love for his friends, most especially his pal Natt the Hatt. So when Tommy and Natt face odds that they can't beat, and find themselves in a doomed situation, we reveled and feared in the way that the two friends would face their certain doom. I still miss Tommy terribly.

6. Starman #80
by Jason Sacks

The real star of Starman isn't Jack Knight, son of the Golden Age Starman and a reluctant hero. Oh, Jack appears in most issues of this comic (it's complicated) and the 80 or so issues of this comic follow his rather majestic heroic arc. But the real star of this comic was James Robinson and his wonderful plotting and planning. This series has a novelistic structure. From the very first issue of this series, Robinson was setting up situations that would occur later in the series. So it was no surprise that the final issue of this fabulous comic book presented a fitting, sweet and conclusive end to Jack's comic adventures. Robinson takes the time in this issue to form conclusions to all the many story arcs that he had set up in this series, taking time to give each one a fitting and appropriate end. It feels like the textbook ending to a comic series, all the way to the final page.

5. The Astounding Wolf-Man #25
by Shawn Hill

The last issue of this Robert Kirkman study in calamity wasn't a downer, maybe because it was a planned ending. We've still got Invincible and Guarding the Globe to get our Kirkman superhero fix, but Wolf-Man's story had a horror spin on it. And horror stories have to end, or else you'll just stop being scared. Kirkman's story of werewolves, vampires and their victims was adept at contrasting the darkness of the night with the light of day. This final issue is full of murder, battle and blood, but it represents for protagonist Gary Hampton a release from his trials and tribulations.

Gary is more than cursed by lupinism; he's lost his wife, his butler, his job and his freedom, all because of the werewolf's attack. He's like Peter Parker bitten by the spider, times twenty. He's in over his head from the start, and struggling just to survive and stop making things worse when he meets seeming friend Zechariah, a suavely deceptive vampire. Kirkman reveals nearly as little to us as to Gary as the series develops, but this issue answers all questions, in a long but not boring exposition dump from the Elder Wolf who has been dogging him since day one.

It turns out the Elder wolf specifically targeted Gary as his replacement, and what unfolds is an admission of guilt and foolishness on the seemingly all powerful werewolf's part. Like the prodigal son, he's squandered every gift he was once given, and has led the remaining members of his tribe to the brink of ruin. He picked Gary because he noticed, while stalking him, that he was a benevolent billionaire. The entire series has been his test to become the new tribal protector (which of course requires a battle to the death).

It's not even disappointing that it's the Elder who dispatches Zechariah, whose treachery certainly deserved Gary's vengeance … because the Elder knows how to deal with summarily with a foe who was always at least five steps ahead of Gary. What's even more interesting than this entire denouement, however, is what Gary does next: he decides to make use of his new charges, giving them homes during the day in his mansion, and deploying them as an action team at night, in the service of others.

Political ambiguities are rather lost on Gary and this crew, but a sense of duty is not. And Kirkman even throws out a few tantalizing tidbits that may or may not ever be picked up, one being that Gary has attracted the attention of a worse vampire than Zechariah ever was. A feeling of hope and accomplishment, loose ends tied up, respect paid to the fallen and hope for a better future … that's the way to wrap up a series that started as a breath of fresh air on Free Comic Book Day 2007! Added bonus: the demons that wear Stonehenge as a hat return!

4. Ex Machina #50
by Dave Wallace

You shouldn't always give your audience what they expect. That seems to have been Brian K Vaughan's mantra when writing the final issue of Ex Machina, a series that effortlessly mixed politics and superhero fantasies with gradually-revealed hints of an imminent inter-dimensional invasion, culminating in a remarkable single-issue climax with issue #50.

Instead of taking the easy option--and writing a finale that explained everything neatly and pitched Hundred against the the other-dimensional aliens in a derivative and cliché-ridden final battle in which he sacrificed his political ambitions in order to save New York and patched things up with his estranged friends in the process--Vaughan threw his readers something of a curveball.

Despite Mitch informing us in the very first issue of the book that his story was a tragedy, some readers were still surprised by the dark and somewhat depressing tone of the final issue. Not only does Hundred destroy his relationships with two of his best friends, but he also sells out his nonpartisan views for the chance to take on a secondary political position, despite having been told earlier in the series that he had the potential to become president some day.

It's undeniably a difficult read for anyone who has enjoyed following Hundred's virtuous political struggles and well-meaning superhero antics up to that point. But I think this is exactly what Vaughan was aiming for. As the old saying goes, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely", and Ex Machina #50 is Vaughan's way of reminding us that even the most laudable hero can be brought low by that most human of weaknesses.

3. Sleeper Season Two #12
by Steven Wilcox

Before they teamed up on Criminal and Incognito, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips created Sleeper, a noir/spy thriller set firmly within the Wildstorm Universe. The story involves Holden Carver, a meta-human spy who works for Wildstorm's version of S.H.E.I.L.D. International Operations, or I.O. for short, sends Holden deep undercover into the criminal organization run by master-mind Tao, last seen in WildC.A.T.s. The only problem is Holden is sent so deep undercover the only one who knows he's still on the side of the angels is I.O.'s director John Lynch. Did I mention that when the series starts, Lynch is in a coma?

I won't spoil any of the series for you. You need to check it out if you're unfamiliar with it. Especially if you're a fan of Brubaker and Phillips' Criminal and Incognito books. Let's just say that the final issue has you at the edge of your seat, as if you were watching the third part in a great trilogy. All the players have returned. There are some deaths. There's some revenge. There's an ending that is pitch perfect. It almost had me in tears as I had grown to know and love some of these characters as if they were co-workers or family.

2. Preacher #66
by Kyle Garret

For me, Preacher is Garth Ennis' best work, because it transcends the ultra violence and sexual perversions that is so engrained in much of his work. There's a very simple reason for this: Preacher is a love story.

Yes, it got a lot of attention because it pushed various envelopes. But at its core it wasn't so much a story of a man looking for god, as it was the story of Jesse and Tulip, which is reflected in how the series ends. We come full circle with the two of them, Tulip again having been left behind by Jesse, Jesse now returned to the state he was in when he first met Tulip. This is, to a certain extent, their chance at a new start.

This focus on the love story is underscored by the fact that the previously mentioned shock elements of Preacher are no where to be found. The Saint of Killers murders and entire host of angels and then attacks god himself, but it all takes place off panel, a surprising creative decision for a book that has so often relished in violence. But that's the point: the book, and it's characters, have moved beyond that mold. They're changing the pattern.

Jesse and Tulip literally ride off into the sunset at the end of Preacher, but they've earned that moment, just as the series did.

1. Sandman #75
by Thomas Crawford

Neil Gaiman's story about the life and times of the King of Dreams has always been an amazing body of work for a number of reasons: How friendly it is to new readers, the grand themes it explored, the complexity of the characters. These are the reasons it is still considered one of the best comic book series of all time.

All of these things are encapsulated in the final issue, where Morpheus for (presumably) the last time with William Shakespeare. In fact, it is Shakespeare who receives a majority of the issue's attention. Like the comic he appears in, Shakespeare is in his twilight. He is in the process of completing his last labor, and then he will at last be free of the Dream King's gift/curse of stories. And in talking with Morpheus, Shakespeare also offers the Sandman his own chance at liberation. What is said in that exchange explains, if not justifies, everything that led Morpheus to where he is at the end of this series.

All of this, I might add, is drawn beautifully by Charles Vess. You have to see it to believe it, but I promise you, the art is pitch-perfect for this story, and every beat is spot on. How fitting that an issue about a playwright boasts such terrific "acting" from the penciller.

Reading it, one can't help but wonder if Gaiman felt the same way back in 1996 (Congratulations, you now feel old) as Shakespeare did in his own time. After turning out 75 monthly scripts, was Gaiman himself liberated by the end of this series? Who knows. Still, this issue was as good a send-off for one of the most iconic characters to come out of the 1990s.

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