Best non-superhero comics of all time: 2-10

Yikes. It took me over a year. Well over a year in fact. But I finally finished this project. Well, almost. You’ll see.

Any regrets? Like Sinatra, I’ve had a few. I wish i had put more older works in, and that the list hadn’t ended up being “The Best non-superhero comics of the last 30 years, with a few others added on”. I wish I had figured out how to get EC comics in the list, considering how many of them are among the greatest comics of the 20th Century (Other than just having one line item for all EC comics, which I didn’t think was fair either).

I wish more people had read this, considering how much work I put in. Can’t do much about that I guess. I was originally going to do a “Best superhero comics” list next, but so few people read this that I don’t think I’ll be doing that now.

Anyways, I still enjoyed the hell out of doing it. Let me know what you think of my list, and what you think I missed.

10. Everybody is Stupid Except For Me by Peter Bagge (2009, Fantagraphics)

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Purists will probably choose Hate as the best example of Bagge’s work. But I’ve chosen this collection of his work for the libertarian magazine Reason, because I think it showcases a seriousness that Bagge isn’t always given credit for. In Everybody, Bagge follows his subject matter wherever it takes him, despite the ideological bent of the magazine he’s working for. His exaggerated, hyper-kinetic art style belies the utter seriousness of the subject matter he’s tackling.

9. Clyde Fans by Seth (2000, Fantagraphics)

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Seth’s thick, brush-style cartooning is familiar to most serious Canadian comic aficionados, and nowhere does it get utilized more effectively than in Clyde Fans, arguably the best comic book about air conditioner manufacturing ever created.

8. Bone by Jeff Smith (1991, Scholastics)

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When I just want to unwind, have fun, and read comics just for the hell of it, Bone is always among my two or three top picks. Smith pays as much attention to character development as he does to his carefully laid out action sequences, which makes Bone basically the best Disney epic never made. Probably the best book to guarantee that your kid will love comics as much as you do.

7. From Hell by Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell (1989, Top Shelf)

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From Hell is Moore’s version of how the Jack The Ripper killings could have taken place. Unlike most Ripper stories, Moore’s version isn’t a whodunnit, it’s a whydunnit. Moore tells you within 20 pages who he thinks killed those women over a hundred years ago. He then spends the next 500 pages telling us why. And the why is absolutely bat-shit crazy. Or not, if you believe in the illuminati and love conspiracy theories and hate jewish people. Eddie Campbell is the MVP here, with his dense, claustrophobic cross-hatching being the perfect foil for Moore’s endless paragraphs of descriptive prose.

6. Asterios Polyp by David Mazzuchelli (2009, Pantheon)

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I was hesitant to place something so recent so high, and there’s no doubt that if Polyp was 20 years old it would have a fair shot at taking the top spot. But Polyp more than holds it’s own with the other books on this list, and was being considered a classic almost immediately upon publication. Mazzuchelli is as highly regarded in the mainstream superhero world as he is in the “indie” world, and Polyp very much feels like a master reclaiming his rightful place at the top of the heap, after years out of the spotlight. Very few comics showcase the storytelling potential of narrative art the way that this one does.

5. Palestine by Joe Sacco (1996, Fantagraphics)

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Joe Sacco didn’t create comics journalism, but with Palestine, he might as well have. Based on various visits to Palestine & Israel that Sacco took in the early 1990’s, it’s the documentation of the systematic destruction of a people, done in a time where such a viewpoint was not only unpopular, it was almost unheard of. Utterly polarizing to this day, Sacco’s work takes the 100 years worth of storytelling tools comic artists have taught themselves, and applies them to the most important story of all: The story of us.

4. Love & Rockets by Los Brothers Hernandez (1982, Fantagraphics)

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How do I sum up the plot of Love & Rockets?

Let’s see. It’s the story a group of people (mostly women, mostly Mexican), and….actually, that’s kind of it. Some of the comics are part of the Palomar storyline, which is the name of the fictional Latin American town that these stories are set, and some of them are part of the Locas storyline, focussing on Maggie & Hopey, two Mexican-American women whose destinies are often entwined. And some of the comics feature characters from both, and some of them are stand alone, and some of them are set in the future, and some of them have the characters dressed as superheroes, and so on. What Love & Rockets, is the single greatest arthouse movie ever done in comics form. To read these characters is to love them wholly, and to root for them whole heartedly.

3. Hellboy by Mike Mignola (1993, Dark Horse)

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Probably the entry I most fretted about. I added it to the list, and then took it off. Then added it again,  and so on. Not because of it’s quality, but because of it’s subject matter. The question: Is Hellboy a superhero book or not. The answer? Probably. It is at the beginning of it’s run, at least. However, relatively early on in morphed from a monster of the week narrative, into a vehicle for Mike Mignola to explore the mythology and fantastical stories that he loves. Though definitely more mainstream than many of the books here at the end of the list, Hellboy for me will always be the comic I read when I want to feel the pure joy that the medium of comics gives me like no other. It’s got everything; Action, pathos, and plenty of monsters, all by one of the most amazing artists that comics has ever known.

2. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid On Earth by Chris Ware (2000, Pantheon)

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“The first formal masterpiece of the medium”. That’s how The New Yorker described Corrigan when it was first published, and they weren’t wrong. The shadow that Ware created with Corrigan has loomed over comic books ever since. Ware uses complex design, alternate storylines, and flashbacks, to create an intensely personal story that is extremely small in scope, yet threatens to overwhelm in effect. If you love comic books, but haven’t read Corrigan yet…I’d argue that you don’t actually love comic books.

Yet.

On a personal note, it’s also the first comic book that ever made me cry as an adult (Don’t worry Crisis on Infinite Earths #7, you still get the overall win).

What? No Number one?

Agh! Cliffhanger!

I’ll post my top pick in the next day or so, but feel free to tell me what you think it is, or what you think it should be.

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 39: Marvel Comics – Daredevil: The Frank Miller Years

 

The greatest blind superhero ever. Well, other than Ray Charles.

Daredevil is either Marvel’s most popular B list character, or he’s their least popular A list character. I’m not exactly sure which, but I’m leaning towards the latter. But while his popularity waxes and wanes, he’s been extremely fortunate from a creative standpoint, and we’ve been the beneficary of some pretty tremendous DD stories as a result.

So why does this character seem to inspire so many great stories?

I have no idea. I know why Batman works. I know why Spider-Man works. But Matt Murdock? Not really sure. On the surface, his origin is a retread of what we had already seen with Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker: Traumatic family loss, dedication to fighting crime, blah blah blah. But he never seemed to be as defined by his origin as

A younger, happier Daredevil, painfully unaware of the lifetime of misery that awaits him.

Spidey and Bats are by theirs. Maybe the key is that he’s more malleable than those two? He’s been written as the brooding vigilante, the righteous superhero, and the carefree wandering adventurer. And while all three have worked to some extent, it’s the version of him as fate’s eternal punching bag that has endured.

Here is what you need to know about Daredevil:

  • He’s a blind lawyer named Matt Murdock.
  • Yes, he’s really blind. He was struck by a container of radioactive waste as a child, which both blinded him and gave him super radar. Super radar? Yes. Sorry.
  • He’s a whore. Seriously. He’s the Bill Clinton of the Marvel Universe. He’s fucked everybody except for maybe Sue Storm. And possibly Howard The Duck. Though I’m not sure about that one.
  • The character was essentially a cheap knock-off of Spider-Man for the first 20 years of his existence, until Frank Miller took over the character in 1982. In fact, his book was on the verge of cancellation. Miller’s version is usually the one people think of, and it’s the version that the movie was based on. DD before Miller wasn’t exactly awful, but it was pretty average.
  • Although firmly entrenched in the Marvel Universe, the character is often written as being slightly apart from it, and isn’t often part of the company’s huge semi-regular cross-overs. He’s Marvel’s premier “Street” hero, but he gets a little diminished when you put him beside Asgardian Thunder Gods.
  • Bad things happen to him. All the time. He has the month that Japan is having EVERY SINGLE MONTH. It’s kind of his gimmick.

Is that enough? I say it’s enough. Let’s begin.

Daredevil – The Frank Miller Years (Marked For Death, Daredevil: Visionaries Vol. 2, 3, Daredevil: Legends Vol. 2)

Like the X-Men, DD stands apart from his Marvel brethren by being one of the few characters that didn’t have great stories in the 1960’s. Or even the 1970’s. In fact, a strong case could be made that there were no great DD stories for the first 20 years of his existence. Harsh, but true. It wasn’t until a fresh-faced kid named Frank Miller first took over the art chores in 1982, and then the writing a few issues later, that the book actually took off. In fact, Miller’s run on Daredevil is now considered to be one of the very best superhero runs of the 1980’s.

But does it deserve the hype? Absolutely. Miller transformed Daredevil like very few characters before or since, to the extent that his take on the character is now considered the definitive one. So many of the constants that are now considered part of the Daredevil canon came from his era (Elektra, Kingpin, Ben Urich), that it’s hard to imagine a Daredevil before Miller got his hands on him.

Rereading this was an absolute pleasure. Seeing a young creator expand his horizons by leaps and bounds issue by issue is something that is seen so infrequently these days. From the minute Miller starts to write this book, you know that this is something special. It’s easy to mock Miller these days (Cough…The Spirit…cough), but there is a reason why he’s considered one of the preeminent storytellers in the comic business, and a big part of that reason is Daredevil.

Miller’s run technically starts with him just as artist, and while those issues are strong (Roger McKenzie did the writing), it’s not until issue 168 that Miller fully takes over the title. And he gives us Elektra. And then he gives us the Kingpin as DD’s arch nemesis; Bullseye as truly terrifying psychopath; Ben Ulrich as tortured confidant; The Hand; Ulrich getting stabbed; One of the greatest death scenes in comic history. And so on. And it’s all done in a noir style that pays earnest tribute to Will Eisner’s Spirit, but never copies. In short, there’s brilliance here. The second half of the run isn’t quite as strong as the first, and there is some filler here and there. But all in all it’s a tour de force in visual storytelling.

A panel from issue 227 of Daredevil. This is the beginning of the worst day of Matt Murdock's life. Until the next worst day of Matt Murdock's life. He's had a lot of worst days.

Although his original run is what gets most of the attention, it’s often forgotten that Miller came back to Daredevil a few years later, this time to handle the scripts, while David Mazzuchelli worked his magic with pencils. In my opinion, this arc is almost the equal of Miller’s original “Elektra” saga, though some would say that the ending isn’t as finite, or satisfying. All I know is that issue 227 of this series should be studied at comic book schools for decades to come when it comes to the “How to build enough tension to make a rat chew off his own tail” part of the course. It’s the story of a man being destroyed, piece by piece. And unlike most superhero stories, this one really did change the character forever. I can’t recommend these stories highly enough, and I was happy to see that they’ve only improved with age.

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Daredevil – Yellow

This was a mini-series by the esteemed pairing of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. While they’ve received more attention for their DC work (Superman – For All Seasons, Batman – Long Halloween), they’ve done 3 Marvel mini series together, and this one’s my favourite  of the bunch. This is a throwback to the original swashbuckling era that Stan Lee originally envisioned for the character. It’s a fun look at the early years of the character, and Tim Sale’s work here is stunning, as always. Although this rarely comes up as one of the great DD stories, it’s quite good, and worth keeping.

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Next up: The Brian Michael Bendis years!