Friday, October 24, 2008

20 Most Significant?

I love Steven Grant's column on comicbookresources. At best I agree with about half of any of what he says, but as a longtime professional, his insights to the industry are informative and interesting. At worst, he's what Holmes would credit of Watson, while not a source of light, he reflects it and is often illuminating ie I may ultimately disagree, but what he says does make one think.

His most recent column about the 20 most significant comics fired up the boards as most lists are apt to do. Some of his choices were interesting such as American Flagg and Blackmark. Not really up on the independent scene at the time though I sampled quite a few of the comics from First and Eclipse, it's hard for me to judge how significant those and some of the others actually were.

A few of his other choices I disagreed with. Such as the Showcase debut of the Flash. If any "history" is a myth it's that of the debut of the Flash signifying a great superhero revival and the start of the Silver-Age. In an older post I explored in more detail the various "ages" of comics and the context of the Flash and the other heroes debuts. Ignore the conventional wisdom of when the "ages" were as they are nothing more than convenient constructs and look at the broad picture of superhero comics and the debut of the Flash is just one blip among many before and after, at about a steady rate all told. There is nothing any more significant about that comic than a host of others. The "Flash of Two Worlds" is a far more significant comic in the scope of superhero history.

What's also puzzling is his choice of Amazing Spider-man #1. What little of the logic he applied to Showcase would by default kick out Amazing Spider-man in favor of at least his debut in Amazing Fantasy or the true comic: Fantastic Four #1. But, even when talking about significance, everything that is significant in Spider-man is first found in the FF. When truly looking at a logical start of the Silver-Age, it's the Fantastic Four. It's the first "new" superhero comic. While it is still built upon comics and superheroes of the past, in style, themes and substance, it is new and different from how they've been done before. Spider-man may have been the more popular and the more significant character especially in terms of the Marvel Empire, but it's not the more significant comicbook in the context of comicbook history.

Of course, as talks generally go, it gets one thinking exactly what would be one's own list. Mine is more superhero-bent, it's what I read and enjoy, and it's all American based comics. But, if I had to compose a list:

If I had to list with a slightly more supehero-centric list:

1-3 of Steven's list is correct and would be foolish to try to come up with something better.

#4: Whiz Comics #1: While taken to the courts as infringement, Captain Marvel was significant: it recognized we don't want Robin to identify with, we want to be the hero. The ultimate in wish fulfillment and a modern day fairy tale in superhero form. Might be impossible to gauge whether it was he or #5 that is responsible for all the Captains that would eventually litter the superhero landscape.

#5: Captain America #1: the title that really launched the patriotic superheroes, from Captain America punching Hitler on the nose. No messing around with fictitious dictators and countries. The tail would wag the dog as Irv Novick, the artist on the earlier Shield would change his artwork to match more closely Simon & Kirby's work hyperkinetic artwork. Not the first patriotic hero nor the first of S&K teaming up, but this is where they became a recognizable force and influence on comics for the next couple of decades. Just a Robin may beat out Bucky as a kid sidekick, most of those that followed owed more to Bucky down to using their own names in lieu of code-names.

#6: Whiz Comics #21: The introduction of the Lieutenant Marvels. May not seem like much now, but this was the first attempt at franchising a superhero; not introducing a sidekick, but other characters capable of carrying their own strips based on the popular lead. Soon, Marvels were everywhere at Fawcett: Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr., Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, Uncle Marvel, Freckles Marvel, the Aunty Anti-Marvel, the whole Sivana clan and culminating in Black Adam, the evil Marvel. To them we owe Supergirl, Superboy, Superwoman, Bizarro, Batgirl, Batwoman, Bathound, Bat-Mite, Man-Bat, etc

#7: Pep Comics #41: Archie debuted sometime earlier and even appeared on the cover since, but from here on out, he starts out figuring prominently on the cover, slowly edging the Shield out. He goes from being an above-average back-up strip to a cultural phenomenon. The times are changing.

#8: All-Star Western #58: With this, the title that gave the JSA a home for a decade became a Western, superheroes were going dormant. Westerns that had been around for a long time as a minor part of comics would now be a dominant genre for the next two decades.

#9: I'll concede to Crime Does not Pay for the reasonings that it helped fuel the campaign against comics and the formation of the CCA.

#10: FF #1: The first true SA comic book. DC's SA was still being fueled by the late 1940's and early 1950's, Marvel recreates the superheroes into something new. Like the GA, the heroes are rooted in their times, the fears of communism, the space race, science unchecked. The heroes bicker, they are cursed as much as they are blessed and can be motivated by selfish means (in this sense Amazing Fantasy #16 is more significant than the first issue of his ongoing, the theme that with power comes responsibility vs our selfish nature that contributes to unhappiness and undoing).

#11: The Flash #123: "Flash of Two Worlds" the beginning of modern continuity sensibilities at DC and in a sense giving a measure of power to fans.

#12: Fantastic Four #49: issue #48 started the storyline, but Galactus' first appearance is here. There had been cosmic stories and stories featuring gods, but the power and scope of Galactus and the Silver Surfer as done by Kirby, it showed what his creative mind was capable of and unlike anything before. It set a whole new benchmark for what superhero comics could be and what cosmic really meant. The Legion had the Sun-Eater, which is probably a bit more realistic, but his nature doesn't achieve the Greek tragedy heights of the characters of the Watcher, Galactus and Silver Surfer. The best creators today are still trying to catch up to what Lee & Kirby were able to do here.

#13: Mad: Another one I cannot fault his logic for inclusion.

#14: Green Lantern #76: I was torn on this or The Amazing Spider-Man #96 which ran without a comic code seal of approval. But it's with this issue of Green Lantern, that superheroes started rediscovering their relevancy. The true significance of these titles was far more subtle than generally recognized. After all, the more serious and relevance take didn't signify higher sales and it went back to being more straightforward space-opera soon enough. However, Denny O'Neill brought a bit of that sensibility to every comic he wrote and edited. Writers and editors would follow suit in other comics, reflecting more of the culture and society unrest, expanding the types of stories superheroes could be about and the power of the CCA was weakened as not carrying the label didn't bring doom and gloom upon a comic. There's a reason why issues of this run are among the most reprinted comics in one format or another, never staying unavailable for long.

#15: Amazing Spider-man #121: There have been deaths in comics before and Peter Parker had his share of heart-ache and break-ups. But no character's death has ever really served as a watershed moment as did the death of Gwen Stacey. That the hero would not only fail but be partly responsible for the character's death, it's a true landmark comic. If Quesada and company were really daring about rebooting the character, they should have undid this issue along with the wedding. That really would have set things in an uproar and made for some interesting stories.

#16: Swamp Thing #20: Alan Moore takes over the character and redefines the concept of horror and superhero-esque titles written for adults. To be fair, he had done this before this title but it's here where he made his name and where he laid the groundwork that would give rise to the British Invasion of comics writers and make works like Neil Gaiman's Sandman, Morrison's Animal Man and Doom Patrol possible and eventually lead to the creation of a whole imprint, Vertigo. It is doubtful that we'd have seen other revisionist superhero works like Miller's Dark Knight Returns, O'Neil's Question, Grell's Longbow Hunters if Moore hadn't paved the way here first. I say this and recognize this, but I miss the way Swamp Thing was before Moore got his hands on him.

#17: Maus. I've not read it, but I respect and recognize its achievements.

#18: Cerebus. No specific issue and I don't agree with a lot of Sims' point of view. But, it is a testament of a creator forging his own path and creating his own work and unique vision. A lot better example to hold up than Youngblood.

#19: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Not every one was significant for being good. I agree with Steven on this one. I think one has to acknowledge the success of this questionable comic parody lead to a boom in independent comics and readers recognizing that b/w is a viable option and at least trying various b/w comics whether it be various output of Dark Horse, The Southern Knights, Cerebus, Zenazoic Tales, or Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters. 90% of what it helped spawn was dreck, but there was some good stuff too. Wish someone would bring back the Southern Knights.

#20: Crisis on Infinite Earths. This is basically a tie between it and Watchmen. Two great and landmark works yet, both have lead to the excesses of the 90's of modern revisionism and strip mining continuity while pretending to be honoring history by recasting heroes as ineffectuals, fascists and closet fetishists, where creators' egos feel their version trumps all that went before... to write continuity driven stories while creating retcons right and left, stories about continuity instead of with continuity.

Somewhere in there I would have liked to include the likes of Camelot 3000. I may be wrong but it is or close to being the first maxi-limited series, not based on superheroes or continuity, had Brian Bolland artwork, printed on high quality paper-stock AND intended for the direct market to boot. One of the first showing DC taking away from Marvel the role as being the innovator and producing comic intelligent comics for adults and not just kids. But, then again, some of that can be credited to Alan Moore's Swamp Thing as well. Then, there's The Death of Captain Marvel, the first original graphic novel that lead to some pretty good original graphic novels out there. And, one of the best death of a superhero stories ever done. Had the graphic novel format been a bigger ongoing success, who knows. Maybe it was just too early, the trade market not really existing like it does now.

1 comment:

Chuck Wells said...

Cash, old buddy, I have to agree with everything that you just said.