There are the Best comics of all time, and there are the Worst comics of all time, and then there are the Best and Worst comics published every year. Without them, we wouldn’t have the year-end lists of Best and Worst. And, boy, are those lists out there right now. Why, just this past month dozens of 2004 ‘Best of/Worst of lists’ have been written, uploaded, and read on the internet. I perused two of them myself this morning, and four last night, which is way more than enough to inspire me and also drive me a little mad. What follows, however, is NOT a Best or Worst list. They are simply “THE” comic books of all time. What do I mean by “THE”? Read on!
36,482 ? 10.
I only have so much time to write a different column each week, so there are only 9 entries. Rest assured, the others deserve their respective “THE” listing.
His name is Rob Liefeld. He’s an artist. He knows how to draw superheroes in motion. In so much motion, they look like they’re standing still. Without Liefeld, there would be no Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or Matrix-style battles. So why does Liefeld receive such a hard time from not only critics but the very people who buy and enjoy his comics? It’s beyond me. But what isn’t beyond me is that Youngblood #1 is a sure “THE” comic. It ranks #9 on my list.
Grant Morrison has written Doom Patrol, JLA, New X-Men, Sebastian O, Seaguy, We3, Dan Dare, Animal Man, and a host of other comics that have been smothered in critical acclaim. And yet, this tale of Flex Mentallo, Hero Of The Beach (and alleged copyright infringer), and his encounters with mysterious men and situations behind the return of hidden superheroes could be, may be, probably is, the best superhero comic book of all time. So how come so few know this? Beats me. An instant “THE” comic book qualifier, and it ranks number 8 on my list.
For years this comic book was considered one of the worst comics of all time. Today, it’s considered a cult classic and very well-liked. Dozens of learned and literate comics critics are singing the praises for this oddity from the late 1960s. How does it happen? How does a comic once considered so BAD become something so GOOD? I have no idea. It doesn’t make sense. Therefore, it qualifies as a “THE” comic, and ranks 7th on my list.
Okay, we all know that Jack Kirby was in on the creations of Captain America and the Fantastic Four. He also helped kick off the romance comics genre, and created the ultimate in cosmic epics with New Gods, Forever People, and Mister Miracle. Jack Kirby is not called The King for nothing. But let’s face it, a continuation of 1975’s “The Dingbats of Danger Street” would have been the greatest of Kid Gang comics, putting the Little Rascals to shame and starting a genre that would have rocked the second half of the 1970s to its core (the Sweathogs would never have seen the light of day). So what happened? Kirby left DC for Marvel, that’s what. He returned to Captain America and took on another epic series, The Eternals. Same old, same old. The Dingbats only saw one of their adventures in four-color print. Without a doubt, one of “THE” comics of all time, and it’s at number 6 on my list.
“War Games” was meant to re-establish Batman as a loner. In the old days, that was harder to pull off. You could send Dick Grayson to college. But what kind of original idea was that? You might have Barbara Gordon run for the United States Congress. But that could enrage the comics-reading nation (“On a Republican or Democratic ticket?”, politically-polarized readers would want to know). But forget what may have been in the old days, to make Batman a loner in today’s modern world of grim irrationality, you’ve got to make him psychotic. You’ve got to put his supporting characters through the emotional and physical wringer, you might even have to bump one of them off. And when, thankfully, it’s just about over, you give it an ending that the once-heralded Comics Code Authority would be up in arms over: You let the bad guys win, and it’s the hero’s fault! That’s the way to do it! “Batman: War Games” is not only one of THE comics of all time, it’s one of “THE” comic book series of all time! It had to rank somewhere, so I placed it at number 5.
It’s nothing but a white cover. Sure, there’s the logo, and interior story credits listed on the left-hand side. But outside of that, it’s nothing but a white cover. No artwork at all. And there’s even an explanation for why this happened (it’s a little wordy, but an explanation nonetheless)! Did it start a fad? Did artists throughout the industry stop and think, “Hey, this’ll save some wear and tear on pens, brushes, and drawing hands! I think I’ll start doing white covers!” Did white covers suddenly saturate the market? Heck, no, on all those questions. But there’s one thing that we can be sure of, and that’s that it was done at least once. A “THE” comic if ever there was one, and it ranks at number 4.
For Pete’s sake, for Will’s sake, what was EC thinking? Look at this cover! It’s got a man, holding the head of a woman, a woman who has just had her head whacked off by the man, who is also holding an ax! Look at the woman’s dead expression, look at the gore, look at the blood! It’s just begging for someone to say, “Waitaminnit! This is gonna corrupt the children of America!” And not just any children of America, but the children of 1950s America! It was the end of the comics world as others at one time knew it. While some comic book companies went out of business, censorship was imposed (self-imposed, mind you), funny animals would do all the ax-whacking, and you wouldn’t see a drop of blood in comics (not even a nose bleed) for years. But at least the children of 1950s America were saved. God bless psychologists and politicians of a simpler era.
Well, at least the idea was good. A popular comic strip translated to comic book form. But one thing was missing: the creator of the comic book strip. Charles M. Schulz may have done the covers, but he had nothing to do with the comics inside. So it looked like Schulz-wannabes writing the adventures of a bunch of Peanuts-characters-wannabes, and it’s not a very good production. In the words of Charlie Brown, “It’s all wrong!” Nothing wrong with it being #2 on my list, though.
They could’ve been contenders, but, no, they were regulated to Saturday morning television. The Bugaloos sang happy songs and wore goofy, colorful costumes and soared optimistically in the clouds and had a talking firefly as a friend (The Beatles hadn’t had this much fun in years). If you were five- to twelve-years-old in 1970 and 1971 you probably saw The Bugaloos, and they’ve haunted your dreams and memories (in a good way, but you won’t admit it) ever since. Charlton, God bless ’em, gave The Bugaloos a comic that lasted all of four issues and then nothing more, ever again, not even a big budget movie remake. But there’s still hope for that. Until that time, we have the comic. And it ranks as “THE” #1 comic because I can’t think of a better way to bring attention to it. Frank and Jim, forget Batman and Robin, reinvent The Bugaloos (but keep ’em cute)!