Comics 101’s Most Wanted

As it’s become more and more more clear that I’m not really the audience for DC’s “New 52” (which isn’t a value judgment — it’s just becoming apparent that longtime fans are no longer the prime demographic, as the upcoming Earth-Two series seems to bear out), I find myself increasingly looking to back issues for my comics enjoyment, both in their original form, and in hardcover and trade paperback collections.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at what’s most glaringly absent from my comics shelf, in terms of previously published material that’s crying out to be re-presented in a glossy, archival format, in a little something I’m calling:

Comics 101’s Most Wanted


In the mid-1980s, just after the Jason Todd character was introduced as the new Robin in the pages of BATMAN, writer Mike W. Barr and artist Alan Davis did a sweet little run of Batman and Robin stories in the pages of DETECTIVE COMICS, stories that showed Batman teamed with a young kid sidekick for the first time in probably 15 years (as opposed to the “Teen Wonder” Dick Grayson of the 1970s), and breathed new life into some of the less frequently used members of the Rogues’ Gallery, folks like Scarecrow, the Mad Hatter and Tweedledee and Tweedledum. The scripts were suspenseful but still fun, and Davis’ art brought a cartoony vitality while still keeping things dark and moody.



When the Paul Dini/Bruce Timm-helmed BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES first hit screens back in 1992, DC published a tie-in comic entitled THE BATMAN ADVENTURES, written by Kelley Puckett and drawn by Mike Parobeck, stories that completely captured the feel and quality of the then-breakthrough animated adaptation. With Parobeck’s tragic far-too-early demise at the age of 30, these 30 Batman stories were the final output of a tremendously talented artist just beginning to show what he was capable of. And they just happen to be some of the Batman stories of the decade.



Just before Peter David took over the Aquaman character in the 1990s with the “beard-and-harpoon” makeover that was before this year the most successful version of Aquaman to date, he and artist Esteban Maroto created THE ATLANTIS CHRONICLES, a sweeping historical epic recounting hundreds of years of Atlantean history, establishing a backstory and mythology that he would later reference in his lengthy AQUAMAN run. Without a modern setting or component, David was unable to fall back on much of his usual crutches like his tendency for puns or topical humor, and the result was the best, most ambitious and most satisfying writing of David’s career, with compelling characters, shocking tragedy and a sense of gravitas like nothing else he’s done before or since.



Batman’s long-running team-up book has always been a guilty pleasure of mine, particularly the lengthy stint under the pen of my favorite Batman artist, Jim Aparo. As great as the art was, the stories were also tremendously fun, as long as you didn’t think about them too hard, especially the ones written by Bob Haney, who took a slightly more laissez-faire approach to continuity than most other DC writers at the time, to the point that, in the multiple-Earth continuity of the era, there was even some consideration to declaring that these stories took place on “Earth B&B.” Even though many of these have been collected in DC’s B&W Showcase editions, they desperately need a full-color reproduction.



Writer Bill Mantlo took an admittedly silly-looking plastic toy and turned him into a mainstay of the Marvel Universe, with Rom the Spaceknight and his space-opera mythology crossing over into nearly every book Marvel published. Mantlo instilled a surprising amount of pathos in his tale of a cyborg warrior who had sacrificed his own humanity to save his world, and with long artistic runs by Sal Buscema and Steve Ditko, the art was always top-notch. Looks like legal issues may prevent this from ever being collected, which is a real shame.



Writer/Editor Roy Thomas had long been an uber-fan of DC’s Justice Society, and all of the company’s Golden Age characters for that matter, so when he made the big move from Marvel to DC in the 1980, he finally had the chance to play with all the toys he ever wanted. And play he did, as DC essentially gave him all of Earth-2 to call his own, which he did in the pages of ALL-STAR SQUADRON, which pretty much united all of DC’s WW II-era characters under one banner, as a gigantic super-team called together by President Roosevelt to protect the home front from the Axis powers. With a core group of team members like Liberty Belle, Johnny Quick, Robotman and Firebrand, and a constantly rotating stream of guest member, the ALL-STAR SQUADRON was an Earth-2 fan’s dream, until the CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS made the whole concept unfortunately no longer viable. It’s an extremely solid 67-issue run, and long overdue for the collected treatment.



Probably the most commonly thought-of series that’s crying out to be re-released, there’s a good reason for that: Alan Moore’s Miracleman was a series ahead of its time, paving the way for later books like SWAMP THING and WATCHMEN that would change the way comics were thought of for years to come. But in many ways, MIRACLEMAN was even more powerful, as it had a humanity that the others lacked, even as it veered into horror as the stakes got higher and higher. A grim, harsh look at how the “Captain Marvel” archetype might work in the real world, MIRACLEMAN has a melancholy that much of Moore’s other work lacks. Hopefully someday Marvel will be able to put this material back on the shelves; there’s a whole new generation or two that has no idea what it missed.



Admittedly, a sentimental favorite, but I’ll stand by it: the first eleven issues of MICROANUTS by Bill Mantlo and Michael Golden represent some of the best long-form comics storytelling of the 1970s. Mantlo and Golden took what could have been the crassest and tackiest of commercial endeavors, a comic book based on plastic toys, and instead created a captivating mix of science-fiction, fantasy, mythology and superhero action, with a unique flavor and heart all its own. Mantlo’s dialogue was never stronger than on Micronauts, perhaps because it was his first series with characters of his own creation, and so he was able to establish distinctive speech patters for everyone early on and really stick with them. You can pluck any word balloon away from the page and discern immediately who’s speaking, which is the way it ought to be, but is a much harder trick to pull off than you’d think. As for Michael Golden, his work here is excellent. He incorporates many of the Mego toys on which the comics were based in appearances both obvious and subtle, but never in such a way that it feels like cheap product placement. Golden was also clearly inspired by the subject matter, designing a wholly unique architecture and fashion sense for the people and places of Homeworld, which very much transcends the source material, mixing sci-fi high-tech with a little Art Deco and some Renaissance flair.

Again, legal issues will probably prevent this from ever seeing the hardcover treatment it deserves. Do yourself a favor and find the back issues.

Scott Tipton feels like re-reading some Miracleman. If you have questions about comics, send them here.

One Response to Comics 101’s Most Wanted

  1. Jeff Nettleton April 4, 2012 at 3:30 pm #

    I wouldn’t hold my breath too long for a Marvel collection of Miracleman. I suspect they were playing a bluff in hopes of getting everyone to surrender any potential rights to the material. Puchasing Mick Anglo’s rights didn’t really cover the rights to the stories not done by him, as I understand the UK copyright laws and the US publishing is just as convoluted.

    Anyway, I second Micronauts but would throw out the Moench/Gulacy Master of Kung Fu as the body of work most crying out for a collection. There again we have the pesky legal issues, a byproduct of licensed work.

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