5. Usagi Yojimbo – Stan Sakai
Like Jeff Smith, Wendy & Richard Pini, and Dave Sim, Stan Sakai made comics his way, telling stories about feudal Japan through the eyes of a ronin rabbit. And while it could have lent itself to parody, and make no mistake, parts of Usagi are hilarious, Sakai made us believe in an ancient time populated by animal-people and taught us Japanese history and life truths simultaneously. Frank Miller wishes he could tell samurai stories like Sakai can.
4. Daredevil - by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, David Mazzucchelli, and John Romita Jr.
I had been reading comics from the age of four...monster comics, Disney, Casper, Archie to start and moving on to Batman, Thor, Avengers, Marvel Team-Up...but the first comics I ever read that really made me think that an adult might be interested in reading them was Miller's Daredevil comics. Before Batman: Year One and Dark Knight...before Sin City and 300...here were the really ground-breaking comics that helped, along with Alan Moore's work going on in the UK and eventually for DC, bring comics books out of the child-gutter it had been thrown so many years before by the comics code. These were the true children of Eisner, picking up the baton that had been dropped on the track years earlier. Miller took a title that was floundering and was given free reign as a rookie creator. He ran with it. This was noir comics with all the despair and death that that implies. After reading the recent adventures of a wise-cracking Spider-Man or another Batman adventure against the Penguin or Clayface, Miller's Daredevil was like gettin' your head dunked in a sink full of fetid water by a scarred thug. After that initial, amazing run, Miller came back for what I consider his masterpiece, Born Again. And then a few years later, he and John Romita Jr retold Matt's origin story with all the great pieces of a 30s Warner Brothers gangster film...the boxer dad, the fallen woman who redeems herself with work for the church, and the most fatal of femmes, Elektra. It's just amazing stuff and it made me a man...no, not in that way. :rolleyes: When I think of the comics that belong to my generation...Daredevil and Uncanny X-Men lead the pack.
3. Zot! - Scott McCloud
Zachary T. Paleozogt lives on Earth...not our Earth, but one where all of the amazing predictions about the future...flying cars, robot servants, John Lennon living to make albums with his sons...actually came true. Jenny Weaver is a teen girl, moving to a new town, with recently divorced parents and a brother who is just this side of an ape. When these two find each other, it is initially Zot (Zachary’s superhero nickname) who leads the show…allowing Jenny to break out of her shell and experience life again through the wonders of the universe. While the first, full-color issues (1-10) are full of fun and adventure, the series really took off when it went to black and white and Zot was trapped on our Earth. It would be like taking a kid from San Francisco and sending them to live in 50s East Berlin. At that point, Jenny has to help Zot as much as he helped her. As I’ve said many times, Zot! is the title which seemed to mature along with me as I read it at the perfect time (around 15 to 19 years of age). It melded C.C. Beck, Moebius, and Osamu Tezuka and expanded my thoughts about culture and politics by never preaching, but using engaging stories and characters. Zot! is my absolute favorite comic produced in the last 25 years…and you can read it in a new collected form this month!
2. Donald Duck comics by Carl Barks
Good heavens, what can I say about the comic book genius of Barks? It has been said that because of the huge sales numbers of Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories and Four Color Comics in the 40s through the 60s, Barks may very well have been the most read storyteller of the 20th century. His expanded adventures with Donald, Scrooge, and the boys influenced, by their own admissions, both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. From Barks historian Geoffrey Blum:
"Carl Barks' "The Seven Cities of Cibola" is considered one of his best adventure tales. It made the top fifteen in a fan survey conducted some years back, and that was no small survey: the researcher canvassed from Los Angeles to Stockholm. Readers who grew up in the 1950s and don't otherwise remember Barks know the collapsing canyons of Cibola, though I've noticed their memories of quirkier tales like "Land Beneath the Ground" are even stronger. Most conclusive, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg hijacked the cities' emerald guardian for the opening sequence of their first Indiana Jones film, Raiders of the Lost Ark. In the process Barks' carved idol shrank a bit and turned to solid gold, but his booby trap remained the same. Every reviewer worth his salt knows of this borrowing and, for want of better things to talk about, will parade it. If the comic wasn't a cultural icon before Indy, it certainly is today."
But more than all of the amazing stories of travel and intrigue, Barks gave the ducks actual personalities. The citizens of Duckburg were forerunners to the amazing population of Springfield of Simpson’s fame. You could find any and every type of human being there and recognize a piece of yourself in almost all of them. Barks lives on in the comics of Don Rosa and William Van Horn. His stories and characters are loved the world-over, more so than in the US. He’s our Herge, our Tezuka… To paraphrase a quote by Michael Caine about Batman, Donald Duck is how the world sees Americans…loud, brash, rude, but also loyal, funny, and, ultimately, understanding of what is important in life…friends and family.
1. The Amazing Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and John Romita Sr. – (Amazing Fantasy #15 and Amazing Spider-Man #1-100 roughly)
By the early 60s, Stan Lee was pretty much sick of comic books. He had been working in the industry since he was a teen and the monster and romance books held little meaning to a man entering middle age. Then, in 1961, he wrote the comic he wanted to write figuring that if it didn’t work, he was leaving comics anyway. Well, Fantastic Four was a hit and Stan and Jack Kirby began to create their own universe to play in. I think Stan stayed in, mainly, because for the first time ever he was getting feedback. And these weren’t just letters from kids, students from places like Yale were stopping in the Marvel offices, wanting to talk to Stan…readers of Rolling Stone were talking about Marvel…Stan was feeling like what he was writing actually mattered to thinking people. While FF is the darling of the comics intelligentsia, especially big time Kirby fans, its family of characters still trail behind Peter Parker, the amazing Spider-Man, in the hearts of most folks. I think the genius of the character, from the minds of Stan and Steve Ditko, was that many of the known tropes of superhero comics were used, but were tilted in a way never fully explored before. Clark Kent lost his parents and was raised by an older, loving couple – check. Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed by a street thug – check. An accident with radiation gave a person incredible powers (FF, Hulk) – check. Peter Parker had all of these…so what made him special? He didn’t start out with goodness in his heart or a sense of justice…he had to learn it the hard way. That pushed Spidey closer to all of us. Because of the fantastic origin story of Spider-Man, Peter could never completely put himself above the petty crime, the greed, or the selfishness he fights against. Batman looks at a criminal and sees the person who took his parents. Superman can’t understand man’s inhumanity to man. But Pete knows, in his heart of hearts, that, while he didn’t kill his beloved uncle, he certainly played an important part in the events that led to his murder. Peter Parker had to live with his aunt after those events…had to watch her mourn…and it had to twist his stomach. But…and this is important…Peter didn’t let this make him sullen. He made a life-change and it launched him into action. To start out so tragically, but become so upbeat, a force for hope and goodness…that’s what we love about the character and his adventures. And it certainly helped that 1) Stan, Steve, and John surrounded Peter with a fantastic cast of supporting characters (the best in mainstream comics) and 2) Stan wrote some great, laugh-out loud dialog accompanied by Ditko’s strangely beautiful art and Romita’s window into the New York of the 60s and 70s.
While Superman and Batman may still be the most iconic superheroes in the world, Peter Parker, the amazing Spider-Man, is the most human and, ultimately, the greatest creation of 20th century comic books.