Five Comics Stories I Love

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So, we here at goki’s Giving Groin are going to be doing some lists about comics about the next indeterminate amount of time. They’ll probably be not at all standardized, as we’ll come up with our own lists and formats, but I’m going to kick it off with five comic book stories that I have loved over the years.

To be clear, this is not at all a Top 5 Stories (for one, there’s no Watchmen here, which would be a must), since frankly, that would be harder. At some point this summer, I’d like to attempt that list, and there are one or two here that would stand a shot at making that list. But for now, I’m just going to throw out a few stories that I really enjoyed, and that have stuck with me. So without further ado, here they are, in no particular order:

JLA: ROCK OF AGES

Rock of Ages

JLA #10-15

The Players: Written by Grant Morrison with art by Howard Porter.

The Book: When Grant Morrison was picked to jumpstart the JLA, he was given his choice of any characters in the DC Universe. Morrison wouldn’t wouldn’t disappoint DC’s faith in him. He grabbed the Big 7 off the bat, and would add many other character, big profile and small, over the course of his run, as he built one of the best team books in comicdom. Morrison’s JLA run was like a summer blockbuster. Although his characterization was always good, it was never the focal point of the book. Rather, Morrison did a series of high-action, high-drama storylines, each one increasing the stakes until the JLA was practically the most important group in the universe. The only complaint I’d have against his run was that his final arc, World War III, which he’d building up to for more than 30 issues, had a very anticlimactic ending, IMO. But still, there’s several stories I could pick from his run (which, btw, always had great supporting art from Porter); the very close runner up for me is Prometheus Unbound. Nevertheless, this is probably my favorite.

The Story: Rock of Ages starts off as a classic battle between the latest Justice League and the newest version of the Injustice Gang. Lex Luthor is in charge of the villains, and his brilliance quickly takes out much of the league using corporate takeover tactics. Just as the JLA, led by their own corporate mastermind in Batman, start to strike back, Metron shows up and whisks away Aquaman, Flash, and Green Lantern in a search for the Worlogog. Things go terribly wrong, and they wind up in a twisted future ruled by Darkseid. This is where the story goes from very good to very great. The future issues are amazing, with the last one being probably the most stunning issue the title ever saw. Then a really strong conclusion, where nearly every character (including Plastic Man, by far Morrison’s greatest addition) got a chance to shine. Porter’s art is fantastic throughout, though for some reason they had to have like four guys pencil different pages in the conclusion, so that one is a little up and down. Anyway, this is brilliant story with a lot of layers, very well constructed.

 

SUPERMAN: RED SON

Red Son

Superman: Red Son #1-3

The Players: Written by Mark Millar with art by Dave Johnson

The Story: In what easily goes down as my favorite Elseworlds story, Mark Millar creates a world where Superman crash landed in the Soviet Union in the 1950s. From that simple premise comes a remarkably rich tapestry that has far less to do with politics than you might think. In many ways, it’s a classic Superman story from the familiar formula: Lex Luthor, jealous of Superman, sets up numerous obstacles that Supes struggles to overcome. Yet at the same time, everything is turned on its head, as you can never quite tell who to root for. Superman is brash, and a communist, yet he still has pieces of that boyscout persona. Lex is fighting for all the things Supes traditinally fights for, but he’s still an egotistical ass. I rooted for Lex, because I too am an egotistical ass. Anyway, along the way, Millar weaves slanted versions of classic characters, from Jimmy Olsen to Brainiac to Hal Jordan, into the Superman/Lex war. It’s a frequently surprising and constantly entertaining story. Johnson’s art isn’t overwhelming, but it’s very solid for the style.

 

EXILES: A WORLD APART

Exiles

EXILES #8-10

Wish that image was bigger? Well, me too, but apparently I “don’t have permission to access’ the larger version.

The Players: Written by Judd Winick, and I don’t remember who was the artist, since I think it might have been before Calafiore came on.

The Book: I wish I had these issues with me to reread, but I remember well enough. When this book started out, it was, for me at least, a true sensation. The first arc brought the team together and had a very good story with an evil Charles Xavier and the first death of a team member. From there, the next nine issues were truly amazing. The team visited the showdown with a Dark Phoenix in an amazing two-parter. They had an encounter with Alpha Flight and the Hulk in a story that turned Thunderbird into a great character. Winick could use his his imagination in any way his saw fit with the dimension-hopping team, but he could do more than that. He had a way of taking good story ideas and giving them a certain power. He could introduce characters that you’d only see for an issue or two, but make you care about them enough that you’d get goosebumps when you said goodbye to them. The first 11 issues were just spectacular, and while Winick’s would have continue to be good, those issues were the clear high points.

The Story: Again, I wish I could reread this before writing on it, but I think I remember it well enough. It starts off as a brutal gladiator story on a Skrull-run Earth, then an intense rebellion story, then suddenly, a struggle against cosmic forces. It’s an intense story that combined Winick’s strengths: a good conflict and great characterization. So much of what worked for the book was the perfectly written interaction between the Exiles, which made the ending, which I hardly saw coming, so terribly, terribly heartwrenching. Really moving stuff; the kind of story that actually gets under your skin.

 

SPECTRE: THE REDEEMER

Spectre

The Spectre # 6-8

The Players: Written by J.M. DeMatteis with art by Ryan Sook and Manuel Garcia.

The Book: This was, without a doubt, the most bizarre series I ever read. Not just in terms of the very out-there stories; those were fine. No, what made this book so bizarre was the incredible inconsistency. I bought about 20-25 issues of the run. About half were good to very great. The other half may have been the worst comics ever published this side of Chuck Austen. On multiplie occasion, I dropped the book, only to pick it back up a month or two later, then be pleasantly surprised, then wonder why I wasted my money. It was the ultimate love/hate relationship. But when DeMatteis was on, he was capable of big things. And at no time was he on quite like this story.

The Story: “The Redeemer” revolves around the continued journey of new Spectre Hal Jordan as he’s tortured by a odd new foe, Monsieur Stigmonus. To say Sitgmonus was a great character would be an offensive understatement. The book would’ve been far better off if he’d been made the focus, really. It was the perfect answer to DeMatteis’ biggest problem: how do you create conflict for DCU’s most powerful character? You don’t challenge him in terms of power. You challenge him with philosophical and moral ambiguity, and you attack the remnant of him that’s still human. Stigmonus did all that and more, shaking Hal and his quest viciously in a story that flowed like poetry. It was fascinating, and it tread in places that comics often fear to go. Stigmonus would return some time later, when the book was making one last play to avoid cancellation in #21-23. Stigmonus was the agent of Sinestro’s return (at the time), in what was also a very good story, mixing Hal’s classic villain with a truly chilling (yet thought provoking) new villain who sadly didn’t get the chance to become a classic as well, which he could’ve been. “The Redeemer” and its aftermath issue, #9, gave the book a chance to really aspire to great things. Sadly, it instead plummeted into mediocrity, and Stigmonus would be the only true heighth the series reached.

 

FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE JUSTICE LEAGUE

The real Justice League!

Formerly Known as the Justice League #1-6

The Players: Written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis with art by Kevin Maguire

The Story: And now, for something completely different, I give you the funniest story I’ve ever read in comics. It was a great idea, really. Twenty years after DC forced Giffen and DeMatteis to subsist on a Justice League in which they were denied using hardly any of the big names, they gave the creative team a chance to revisit the character they had made the most of, and just play around and have fun with it. It worked, in a big way. It was a simpler time, before Sue was murdered and Maxwell Lord was evil. And it was so damn funny. I admit, I can be made to laugh relatively easily. But still, for a comic book to make people actually laugh out loud is not an everyday occurrence, much less laughing so much, and so hard that I think I remember crying once. It’s that good. The jaded old characters play off each other so well, and the addition of Mary Marvel (and G’nort!) was just great. For six months, a robot I’d never heard of named L-Ron was one of the best characters in comics. It was very nonserious, but I don’t think anyone cared. It just worked. I didn’t get to read the sequel, but after rereading this, I desperately need to buy that one (“I can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League”) in trade.

 

There you have it. Five comic book stories that I love, and that if you ever get the chance to read, you would probably love as well.

Hearts.

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3 Responses to “Five Comics Stories I Love”

  1. Gokitalo Says:

    What a great list. Seeing Formerly Known as the Justice League in there just warmed my heart. You know, in the first edition of the trade, they poke fun at how the mini-series wasn’t award-winning. Right after that, it wins an Eisner for Best Comedy Series.

    I liked a lot of your other picks, too. Red Son is one of my favorite Superman stories, as well as one of my favorite Mark Millar stories; for a guy known for writing darker and more cynical characters, he writes a wonderful Superman. Exiles is a fine example of how good Winick used to be and perhaps could be again. Rock of Ages was very enjoyable, despite some misgivings I had about its plot.

    The only one that threw me off was The Spectre series by J.M. DeMatteis, which I admit I haven’t read myself, but I’ve heard it wasn’t very good. From the sounds of it, they were partially right, but for a second there, it looked like the series could’ve reached greatness. It’s always painful when a series or a story fails to live up to its potential.

  2. davidry214 Says:

    Oh, Spectre was impressively terrible the majority of the time, probably worse than I painted in my inital post. There were what, somewhere around 30 issues of Spectre, six of which had Stigmonus and were very good. The other 24 or so were not. There were a handful of decent ones along the way, but when it was bad, and it usually was, it really was Austen-level bad. Which is why it’s so bizarre that “The Reedemer” (and to a slightly lesser degree, it’s somewhat sequel, the Reurn of Sinestro) reach such heights. It’s rare to see such high-reaching flashes of brilliance in the midst of a book that was usually in the gutter.

  3. spiffyithaca Says:

    A lot of this I said to you after you posted it online, but I’ll recap it anyways for our friendly readers at home.

    Really well done post David. It was actually kind of an emotional read, because I was attached to 3 of these stories as well (although probably not to the same level, because I don’t think any of these titles will make my 5 stories/titles/run’s/what have you).

    First off, Rock of Ages sounds pretty sick, and I don’t use the word sick very often mind you. I’m sad that I’ve read about 8 good issues of JLA in my life because I came onboard toward the end of Waid’s run and then for some reason read Kelly’s despite its glaring mediocrity. This was the only title that I guessed you would do. And also, LOVE Plastic Man. I’m glad Morrison brought him back into the limelight.

    Red Son was something I read fragmented. It took me ages to get #3, and then I didn’t reread it, so it’s something I’ll have to do. But, it was fantastic even reading it like that, so that tells you how good Millar is at storytelling. But very good choice and good description.

    Exiles is probably the run I can most identify with, since I read it from issue 1 until close to the end of Winick’s run when it tailed off. Fascinating stuff, and while I honestly can’t remember the particulars of that story other than the vague basics, it made me realize how much I miss that title, so well done. And I remember you loving Thunderbird.

    Like I told you, while your Spectre choice might be the weirdest choice of them all, it was my favorite one to read. You made it sound really interesting and the story of the title’s up and down ways harkens me back to those days when you constantly complained about it but always bought it. While I don’t think I’d understand it, this story is the one I most want to read after reading this article.

    And hell yes to the JL! That was such a great series. I don’t think I remember laughing that much, but it was definitely one of the funnier things I’ve ever read, and like you said, comics isn’t really the easiest medium for purely comedic works.

    Good stuff David, and I’m impressed you got it done. I plan on getting my first of the 5 on the blog next week, and I’ll probably do 1 each week to make it a long drawn out and terrible process for all of us. 😉

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