On my Facebook feed recently was one of those memories posts, three years ago I did a post on 5 one shot stories. 5 Comics: 5 One off stories
I realised that I never followed up that post with longer stories, so I have decided to do that here.
One of the good things that comics can do is long form serialisation. With a small amount of people involved in the whole creative process, it’s easier for the vision of a single creator to shape a series and spend years doing that. Being a more writer driven fan, it’s easier for me to see the writer’s ongoing influence on a series, especially when this writer is playing in someone else’s sandbox, so I have picked this 5 based on properties owned by one of the big two comic companies. I may do another based on creator own works, hopefully within three years of this one.
Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America
Captain America vol 5 1-50, art by Steve Epting mostly
Steve ‘Captain America’ Rogers is often categorised as humourless and a little bit sanctimonious, all straight-laced and speechifying. Mark Waid wrote excellent stories with Cap during his run on vols 1 & 3, making him a more sympathetic guy, but the person who fleshed him out the most was Ed Brubaker, one of Marvel’s super-start writers of the early to mid 00’s. Brubaker did crime really well, so his Cap was more of a secret agent with a mask than hero and as more of a soldier, had a two fisted, take no prisoners approach. He was no killer, but in his first issue, hospitalised a number of bad guys and threw another off a moving train. Steve was well travelled and experienced, but his cynicism was tempered with hope, in fact the characterisation for the whole cast, good and bad was tight and when halfway in Steve was killed off, the book carried on without missing a beat and maintaining quality even without the star. It was consistently fully of high octane action, tension and wonderful characterisation.
Highpoint 1: Captain America vol 5 16 – During Cap and Sharon’s search for Bucky, they get into a firefight with A.I.M. and Steve dodges the bullets and when Sharon asks how he could do that so well, he calmly points out that he can see faster than most people as if it’s perfectly normal.
Highpoint 2: Captain America issue 25 -The moment when we learn who the real shooter is, as does the shooter.
Ed Brubaker’s Sleeper
Sleeper Season One 1-12 and Season Two 1-12, art by Sean Philips
After a darker turn on Captain America, Brubaker went further into the night with the Noir-fest that was Sleeper, a spy thriller with a super villain twist. Containing pre-existing Wildstorm characters like John Lynch, Grifter, Backlash and Tao, Brubaker added to that world with his own characters to tell the story of Holden ‘Conductor’ Carver, a spy for International Operations, who goes off book and under cover in the new crime syndicate run by the Tactically Augmented Organism known as Tao. After an accident involving some alien technology, Holden can no longer feel pain, but store it up and conduct it to other people. He can also no longer feel anything else either and he’s bitter because of it. Also, only John Lynch knows he isn’t the traitor that IO think he is and just before the story starts, Lynch is left in a coma. The ‘good’ guys want him dead, some of the bad guys do too and he has nowhere to turn.
It’s the seedier side of a super hero universe, with drugs, illicit sex, groupies, murder and bizarre characters. A 24 part self contained story, it’s exciting, with tension built into the moody art and it’s completely devoid of the hollywood-esque happy ending.
Highpoint 1: The character and origin of Miss Misery, who needs to be evil to survive.
Highpoint 2: Sleeper Season Two 12, the final fate of Tao
Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men
Astonishing X-Men vol 3 1-24 and Giant Size Astonishing X-Men 1 art by John Cassaday.
After a decade or more of owning the comics world, the end of the 90’s was a bit more of a low point for the X-Men, if not for sales, at least in the stories and characters themselves. It wasn’t what it was under Claremont, or even what it was under Lobdell, so in 2000, Marvel gave the flagship title X-Men vol 2 to Vertigo Wunderkind Grant Morrison. Morrison revitalised the franchise with new ideas and characters and an infusion of energy that was much needed. The franchise was alive, but lacked it’s soul. I was interested with Morrison being announced as writer, but excited with Whedon. If anyone could restore that lost soul to the X-Men it was him. The evidence was his shows, he’d be writing X-Men for years, he just didn’t call it X-Men. I waited and hoped it would deliver upon it’s promise.
Whedon’s X-Men while new, used a lot of old school X-Men tropes to craft an enjoyable story with excellent art, iconic yet relatable and recognisable characterisation. He deconstructed characters, without taking away anything that made them work for many years before. He wrote a 25 issue love letter to the comics of old, but was accessible enough that non-X-Men fans liked it, including my own wife the MIGHTY Rosie. It’s not a comic I would recommend to just anyone, it’s one I would recommend to everyone.
Highpoint 1: Just everything with Cyclops, from him taking Xavier to task for enslaving Danger in issue 12, to his bad-assery in issue 22-23 ‘To me, my X-Men”
Highpoint 2: Issue 18, Beast recovering his mind and dressed in a tweed three piece suit, classic Beast. (When I was talking about getting my left arm tattooed with the MIGHTY Rosie, that image of the Beast was being considered.)
Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory
30 Comics, 2 bookends and 7 4 issue minis, by various artists.
Grant Morrison seems fascinated with both super-heroes and the metafiction of stories. His stories often go left of where you expect them to go, or what you expect the story should be or could be. So when he did a 30 part event, he went left once more, with no big characters, no recognisable threat and just recycled names, but the biggest left turn was that this super hero team, never actually meet up as they save the world. They cross paths briefly as needed, but never really interact. We have stories with roots in horror, standard super-heroics, fantasy quests, time lost knights and Jack Kirby’s 4th world all wrapped up in a single story that only feels like a single story, when you get to the end. It’s ambitious, interesting and ultimately a great read.
Highlight 1: Seven Soldiers Manhattan Guardian 1, Subway Pirates
Highlight 2: Seven Soldiers Mr Miracle 4, the last escape of Shiloh Norman
Warren Ellis’ Stormwatch
Stormwatch Vol 1 37-50, vol 2 1-11 & WildC.A.T.S vs Aliens, art by Tom Raney, Brian Hitch, Chris Sprouse and others.
Stormwatch was one of the second wave of Image comics from the early to mid 90’s. It was a timely mix of military sci-fi and ‘EXTREME’ super heroics and did at the time catch my attention. The idea of a UN run super-hero team was interesting, but the title ultimately suffered from sub-par writing and very inconsistent art and design. After the crossover Fire from Heaven, Wildstorm handed the title over to Warren Ellis, most likely with caveat that he could do what he liked with this mid-level and forgettable comic.
Within the first issue, Ellis had got rid of all but 9 of the cast and brought in three of his own characters and the team was repurposed as a special forces style black ops team. There was no longer a sprawling team of ill-defined characters, under Ellis’ stewardship it was three small three-man teams and some support staff, offering violent action, reprisal and espionage. The good guys saw no issue with using lethal force when needed and the bad guy? Well he was in charge of them. Weatherman One, Henry Bendix was as evil and complex a villain as anything Marvel had at that time. He did the dirty work for a UN that really didn’t want to ask questions about what he was doing. At the end of Vol 1, an actual super team of mainstream allegories and their mission was to kill them. It was a great tail end to the series, with Bendix being ousted and replaced with 3rd in command Jackson ‘Battalion’ King, who started the second volume being more open and media savvy, but still running a spy team and making the hard choices. The second volume ended with a bit of a whimper with Stormwatch being mostly destroyed by the Aliens (yeah, Ridley Scott/James Cameron ones) who were defeated by the WildC.A.T.S. Ellis was by this point done with this iteration and was ready to launch the Authority, so Stormwatch fell by the wayside, but at the time, being on the ground floor of this series relaunch was a great part of my fandom.
Highlight 1: Issue 37, people fired, danger, death and Nietzsche quotes.
Highlight 2: Any issue with Jenny Sparks, a truly great comic character.
That’s all for now internet people maybe next 5 comics, should be creator owned stories?