Another installment of my 100 favorite single-issue reads: Stories from ongoing series presented in a single issue (not miniseries, not annuals, not one-shots). I hope you’re enjoying it so far….
60. DETECTIVE COMICS #475 (1978)
Written by the genius Steve Englehart (who, I’m surprised to say, isn’t represented anywhere else on this list) and drawn by the great Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin (who drew himself into this comic), this is hailed by many as one of the greatest Joker comics of all time…The Laughing Fish!
Joker makes creates something that makes fish smile, puts it in the ocean, and then tries to copyright all the fish. He can’t, of course, so he decides to start killing people.
59. PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL #4 (2006)
“Small Wake For A Big Man.” From early in Matt Fraction’s run on Punisher, this story was about Stilt Man’s funeral. All the bad guys reminisce about him, but really they’re talking about how much they hate and fear Frank Castle.
In some ways, this is very similar to Neil Gaiman’s two-issue story, “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader.” Those are the only two comic book stories about wakes that I know of, and both are fantastic.
58. MACHINE MAN #1 (1978)
Machine Man might be my favorite Jack Kirby book.
In issue #1, he wrestles (philosophically) with being a sentient machine in a world of humans. In particular, he hitchhikes and gets picked up by a trucker who is better versed in real-world applications of existentialism than most professors. Great stuff.
I wrote in detail about it here.
57. NEW X-MEN #137 (2003)
“Riot at Xavier’s” is hilarious and excellent, and the rare example of a comic that introduces a ton of new characters and still succeeds. Creating new, lasting heroes (or villains) is notoriously difficult, that’s why Marvel and DC focus so much on their established roster. It’s hard to pick just one issue of New X-Men, because the entire series is extraordinary, but this one wins because of that panel above.
56. CEREBUS #95
Cerebus is one of my favorite books of all time (at least until about issue #200—around there it starts getting….Weird). I loved those comics so much I had ongoing letter pages wars with Dave Sim and went to a con to meet him—in the days when Comic Conventions were tiny, dusty events on the third floor of obscure hotels near Grand Central Station. It’s hard to find a single issue that one can read alone, though, because it’s basically one long saga. Or, at a minimum, several long sagas strung together. But I picked #95 because it was so controversial, and so powerful. In this issue, and the ones that follow, a woman named Astoria—who served as one of Cerebus’ political advisors—is being held captive in a dungeon and Cerebus has the power to free her. She is blindfolded for most of the sequences, and he rapes her, but the way it is written it is clear that she is in control the whole time.
Many women found this offensive—that a woman is portrayed as being in control and causing her own rape as a form of mind control over her captor. But others, like the great comic artist and writer Trina Robins, totally understood the scene and what Dave Sim was trying to do. She wrote a letter about it here.
Yes, Dave Sim is a misogynist and a religious zealot who thinks in a way that is antithetical to most liberal, progressive comic book fans—including me. But fear of women, and fear of their sexual power, is also a universal truth. And this is one of thefew comics that speaks of it in a dirty, brutal, and genuine way. He’s not saying it isn’t rape. He’s not saying Astoria deserved it. He’s saying that she was totally without power and the only way she could exercise some control over her life was to manipulate her captor into taking what he wanted from her, and thereby ruining for Cerebus any sense of power or control he thought he would get from the experience.
55. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #50 (1967)
“Spider-Man No More.” Come for the iconic panel, stay for the first appearance of The Kingpin!
54. ALIAS #15 (2003)
The first word of Alias #1 was “Fuck,” which immediately let you know this wasn’t your daddy’s Marvel Comic. Alias’ mature themes and pseudorealism are often held as the best that Marvel’s MAX line had to offer (it wasn’t, Punisher MAX was—but Alias was
great), but it was issue #15 that left the biggest impression on me. It’s a simple story. The first half is just Jessica and Luke Cage talking while they’re bodyguarding Matt Murdock (they don’t know he’s Daredevil), tying into Brian Michael Bendis’ brilliant run on Daredevil. It’s great stuff, but what seals the deal on this one is her date with Scott Lang, where she gets drunk and gets…Strange. It’s an island of wonderful, touching character work in a book that was generally a sea of cynicism, violence and sex.
53. THE INCREDIBLE HULK #1 (1962)
A terrific mix of horror and superheroics (superherror?), mixed with a great, martyrousorigin story. Hulk may be the most relatable major Marvel hero of all.
52. ANIMAL MAN #26 (1990)
Guest starring Grant Morrison in his last issue of his monumental run.
51. DEFENDERS #36 (1976)
The women’s prison movie issue, by Steve Gerber. Valkyrie is in jail and learns that it’s the right place for her. In the sense that you have to kick ass to survive.