One: If I already listed the creator as one of the best writer/artists, then I didn’t include them again. Seems only fair to let everyone else have a turn.
Two: I know that lots of folks are missing. To get on this list, the writer has to have a large, solid body of work with few misses. That’s why Jason Aaron and Matt Fraction aren’t here: Not a good enough hits-to-misses ratio. And their work has to have been impactful on the industry.
Three: If you disagree with me, please drop me a comment. But try to make it more intelligent than “Ekko, you suck!” Remember, this is my list, not yours. But I’d love to see who you think belongs here…
Four: Don’t bother telling me that Gardner Fox, Mark Millar, Marv Wolfman, JM DeMatteis, etc., should have made the list. I agree. I’m all broken up about it, too, but I had to narrow it down to ten because ten is how all the cool kids number their lists.
Five: Peter David is more literary than any author on this list, in that he uses many novelistic conventions and emphasizes character development over plot. This is especially true of his later work on X-Factor, which is probably the best-written comic book currently on the market in terms of individual characterization. David truly establishes a unique voice for every one of his characters. Still, he hasn’t produced enough superb work to get on the list. But when he loves his subject, there is truly no better character-and-dialog writer working today. So he gets his own caveat.
Hit the break for the big ten.
10. Garth Ennis.
This is definitely my most controversial entry. I can hear some of you gasping that he knocked Marv Wolfman or Rick Remender or (fill-in-the-blank) off the list. But PunisherMAX is, hands down, my favorite comic book run of all time. Toss in solid, not-for-the-squeamish books like The Boys and The Pro, and he’s firmly entrenched on this list. Yes, his stuff can push the edges too hard, and can wear thin after a while (after about 20 issues of Preacher, I’d had enough), but he has a truly unique voice and, other than Warren Ellis, nobody is trying harder to make explicitly disgusting books than Ennis. He’s shocking, irreverent, and sometimes offensive, but he uses that edge to tell stories that nobody else really can tell. Or wants to.
The Garth Ennis top 5 (for new readers):
- The Hitman vol. 1 (DC)
- Preacher Vol. 1 (Vertigo)
- Crossed (Avatar)
- PunisherMax (all volumes, including Punisher: Born) (MarvelMax)
- The Boys (all volumes) (Dynamite)
And if that doesn’t convince you that he’s versatile enough to be in the top 10 of all time, check out Back to Brooklyn (Image), a crime novel, or Chronicles of Wormwood (Image).
9. Roger Stern.
In the 1980s, everyone was talking about Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Frank Miller. But at the same time, Roger Stern was churning out, month after month, the best Spider-Man, Captain America and Avengers stories of all time. And they’ve never been reprinted in color (and most haven’t been reprinted in black and white, either). Shame on you, Marvel. What did he do, exactly? He created Hobgoblin and Captain Marvel and West Coast Avengers. He turned Hank Pym into a traitorous pawn of Egghead, and sent him to prison. He helped kill Superman. Oh, and he put The Avengers on David Letterman.
Any of his Spider-Man or Avengers work from the 1980s, if you can find it.
8. Brian Michael Bendis.
If all he ever did was Daredevil, Alias and Ultimate Spider-Man, Brian Michael Bendis would probably make this list. But of course he’s done much more. Bendis can do two things extremely well: Events and dialog. The problem with Bendis is that he can get bogged down in either one. Secret Invasion was way too much plot, and the storytelling suffered. His current Avengers work is too much dialog, and the pacing is suffering. At the same time, there’s no denying that he is the most influential Marvel writer today. And his pre-Siege works were simply the best modern popcorn comics have to offer. It’s also fair to say that Civil War probably wouldn’t have come about—at least not in the way that it did—but not for Bendis and Maleev’s transformative work on Daredevil, experimenting with secret identities and the press. I’m nervous he’s fallen off his game, like Geoff Johns, and won’t have the staying power of some of the others on this list, which is why he’s not higher, but the recent Scarlet book (under the Icon imprint) is a return to form for Bendis. So there’s also reason for hope.
The top 5 Bendis books:
- Alias (Marvel)
- Avengers Disassembled and New Avengers vol. 1 (Marvel)
- House of M (Marvel)
- Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man Vol. 1 (Hardcover) (Marvel)
- Daredevil (all volumes tell one long, expanded story) (Marvel)
7. J. Michael Straczynski.
It truly pains me not to put JMS higher on my list, but his bibliography is so uneven that I can’t put him above the folks who have expanded the boundaries of the comic book medium time and time again. But there’s no denying his talent for telling a story. He doesn’t rely on experimental weirdness (and for that reason, his material rarely out-and-out fails) or on high concept, but instead thinks of a cool tale to tell and then goes ahead and tells it. He’s great with dialog and pacing as well, which is why his work has served as the basis for several super-hero films (including the recent Thor movie)
The JMS must reads:
- Supreme Power (Hardcover) (MarvelMAX)
- The JMS Thor Omnibus (Marvel)
- Amazing Spider-Man by JMS Ultimate Collection vols 1, 2 and 3
6. Warren Ellis.
Warren Ellis is either brilliant or terrible, much like Grant Morrison, because he is such an experimental writer. But his hits have been extremely influential not just artistically, on the way the medium tells stories, but on the characters themselves. He created Iron Man’s “Extremis” armor, for example, and his take on Ultimate Galactus in the Ultimate Galactus Trilogy (as a virus that infects planets) was the first one that made sense of Galactus as a character, Ultimate or otherwise. He’s also responsible for Nextwave, one of my Favorite Comic Titles Of All Time.
The Ellis top 5:
- Iron Man: Extremis (Marvel)
- Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. (Marvel)
- Thunderbolts (Marvel)
- The Authority (Wildstorm)
- Black Summer (Avatar)
5. Ed Brubaker.
Part of Ed Brubaker’s genius is his ability to tell non-super comic book stories (such as in his Criminal line) and traditional super-tales (Captain America). But what makes him one of the greatest of all time is his ability to combine the two. If you haven’t read Sleeper (super hero espionage), Incognito (super hero witness protection) or Gotham Central (how do real cops deal with a world where Batman exists?), you haven’t lived.
Brubaker’s top 5:
- Captain America (all volumes) (Marvel)
- Criminal Vols. 1 and 2 (Icon)
- Gotham Central (all volumes, but Greg Rucka wrote some of them) (DC)
- Immortal Iron Fist Omnibus (with Matt Fraction) (Marvel)
- Sleeper (Wildstorm)
4. Grant Morrison.
It’s funny. A couple years ago, I might have put Grant Morrison on my “worst writers” list, but that’s because my main introduction to his writing was Batman R.I.P., which is widely recognized as not being his strongest arc and, more importantly, is nearly impossible to jump into. Since then, however, I have read (and re-read) the stories leading up to (and following from) R.I.P., and have gained intense, overwhelming respect for this writer. In fact, I almost put him at the top, but his track record isn’t as strong as those above him. Sometimes, he can be overindulgent, obtuse, and almost contemptuous of his fans with the way he hides the ball and refuses to provide backstory. But when he’s on fire, he’s pure genius, and he excels at using comic books to tell stories in ways that no other medium can tell them.
The Grant Morrison top 5:
- All Star Superman (DC)
- Batman & Son (trade paperback) (DC)
- Batman & Robin (DC)
- New X-Men (Marvel)
- Joe The Barbarian (Vertigo)
If you like those, and you’re ready to jump into wilder and crazier stuff, check out: The Invisibles (Vertigo); Flex Mentallo (Vertigo); and the rest of his Batman stuff.
3. Alan Moore.
Why? I hate to go for the cliché—everyone loves Alan—but there are many, many good reasons for that. He took a fringe horror character, Swamp Thing, and used him to introduce “philosophy” into mainstream comics. Sure, there had been weird books before. And there had been romantic books as well. But I’m pretty sure that Swamp Thing was the first book to tell a long-form decompressed story about the struggle to find love in a twisted, diseased world while simultaneously dealing with superpowers and the supernatural. Moore sowed the seeds of Stan Lee’s emphasis on personal life and broke the secret identity barrier in Swamp Thing—all was one. And there was a sense of maturity here—Frank Miller had introduced “adult” story-telling into mainstream comics, but Moore’s maturity didn’t rely on violence. And then of course there’s Watchmen, which revolutionized long-form superhero storytelling. Moore’s work can be as dense and difficult as he is as a person, but courageous readers who stick with it will, invariably, be rewarded.
The Alan Moore top 5 (according to me, results may vary):
- Promethea (America’s Best Comics)
- Neonomicon (his newest work is fantastic; it’s about a cop investigating whether HP Lovecraft’s old Sci Fi stories were actually true stories, but be warned: It’s gruesome and horrific) (Avatar)
- Green Lantern #188 (“Mogo Doesn’t Socialize”) (DC)
- Swamp Thing (all volumes) (DC)
- Watchmen (DC)
2. Chris Claremont.
People forget that Len Wein, not Claremont, created Wolverine and wrote Giant Size X-Men #1. But Claremont is the one who grabbed the reins and turned the X-Men from a failing book to the best-selling comic franchise in history. He’s the one who created Psylocke, Kitty Pryde, Rogue, Emma Frost, Sabretooth, Gambit, and the phrase, “I’m the best at what I do. But what I do best, isn’t very nice.” He’s the guy who introduced (and killed) Phoenix.
It’s hard to think of anyone who has moved more product or won over more new comic readers than Claremont. Yes, some of his stuff is a little dated by modern standards (and his current work doesn’t measure up), but that’s what happens when you’re the standard-bearer for an entire generation. Chris was, in many ways, the Stan Lee of his day: An endless fountain of ideas and spin-offs, and having him in your corner was a license to print money.
Obviously, his Uncanny X-Men work. But for some fun, non-mutant stuff, check out his stint on Marvel Team-Up (which I think is scheduled for an upcoming reprint collection).
1. Stan Lee.
Why? The man invented modern super-hero comics. Sure, Batman and Superman were already around, but it was Stan the Man who gave the pulpy pamphlets the potential to be a lucrative art form. Plus, for at least the decade of the 1960s, the man thought up just about everything.
The Stan Lee top five are the first dozen-or-so issues of . . .
- The Amazing Spider-Man
- Fantastic Four