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THE TOP 20 WHAT IF? COMICS OF ALL TIME (According to me)

I started out reviewing every issue of What If? to see if it came true, but there’s a ton of shit to shovel through and I don’t have time for that kind of a long slog anymore.  Too damn busy.

But I didn’t want all my work to go to waste—and there are a lot of good comics in there.

Hence, this post.

Also, Secret Wars 2015 is basically the greatest What If story ever, offering glimpses into dozens of alternate universes.  But we won’t count it because it’s a compression of alternative universes rather than a view of what they all could look like—when it’s done, as i understand it, everything will be 616 canon.

I’m pretty sure I was able to find every issue of What If? ever created, either through the Marvel app or in my old long boxes, and in on-line summaries from places like the great Supermegamonkey. Based on those readings and reviews, I’ve determined that these are the 20 greatest What If? stories ever produced by Marvel…

Click next to start!



Priest may be the most prolific comic book author with the most names, but the least known name, in the business.  He started as Jim Owsley, then changed his name to Christopher Priest.  When a published Sci Fi author of the same name complained, he went by Christopher J. Priest.  And then, simply, Priest.  Oh, and he is a priest.  Or a minister.  Something like that.

He’s been an industry insider for over 30 years, having served as the youngest Marvel editor of all time, and the first black editor, and starting his career with Marvel’s flagship character: As editor Spider-Man.  He’s also written some of the most interesting, least “comic book-y” comic book stories I’ve had the pleasure to read and, ironically, wrote most of these iconoclastic stories for Marvel—the most corporate comic book company in existence.

So, he gets a top 10.  These are my favorite Priest comics.  As usual, a few caveats: I haven’t read his Valiant work (and I really, really want to), and I can’t stand Conan comics.  That immediately cuts out about a third of his published work.  So let’s just go on the record and say that Quantum and Woody probably deserves to be here but isn’t because this is a list of what I’ve read—not what you’ve read.

As usual, any disagreements or notable omissions are welcomed in the comments.  Let’s do this!

10.  Spider-Man vs. Wolverine (Marvel, 1987)

The rare example of a great Priest story about two white people.  This one-shot is a forgotten fan-favorite, involvind the KGB, a little lost girl, death and intrigue.  There’s one sequence where Peter Parker is caught in Europe and needs a costume so he goes and buys a red-and-blue one, and then jumps over the Berlin Wall.  Peter Parker gets all the good photos, and nobody puts it together that he and Spidey were overseas at the same time.  Yes, it’s a ridiculous, convoluted super-hero story—but it’s a good one.

9.  Deadpool #34-41 (collected as Deadpool Volume 6) (Marvel, 1999-2000)

Priest took over Deadpool after Joe Kelly wrote what is considered by many to be the definitive run on the character, so if his run is not remembered well it’s probably at least half due to that fact.  But it’s pretty good when read on its own.  Deadpool deals with Asgard and Loki “curses him” to look like a movie star.

8.  Captain America and the Falcon #1-14 (Marvel, 2004-2005)

I have to admit that when I first read these issues I found them very hard to get into.  If you’re having the same problem, I’ll give you a piece of advice: If you can’t hang with it, start with issue #5.  I won’t say more, lest I spoil a pretty big part of the run.  The earlier stories were more about Christopher Priest understanding the characters than the characters themselves.  But once he got going, the book started to have a distinctive feel and became one of the better books on the Marvel market in the early 2000s.  Granted, that was a time when Marvel’s books were not as good as they used to be, as the company was finding its feet again after the terrible 1990s, but I don’t mean to damn it with faint praise.  And most of the problem was from Bart Sears’ “Rob Liefeld squared” art style, where everyone from Cap himself to the local butcher was a body builder.

7.  The Unknown Soldier (DC, 1988-1989)

This was a very different version of DC’s faceless supersoldier.  Under the name of Owsley, Priest turned him into an immortal, supernatural force working more for justice than for the causes of the United States Army.  It wasn’t really a reboot so much as a reimagining, since the Unknown Soldier as a character was never a mainstay of the DCU.  Also, this was a more mature title involving some fairly grisly depictions of the horrors of war.

6.  The Ray Annual #1 (DC, 1995)

I wasn’t a tremendous fan of The Ray, but this self-contained story with art by the great Oscar Jimenez is so different from anything you’ve ever seen.  There’s an extended sequence of The Ray frantically trying to stop a plane crash and save his girlfriend’s life, but then he fails.  And just as he’s dealing with the horror of it, he finds out she’s actually alive because she never got on the plane.  But then instead of relief, he’s filled with guilt because of all the people on the plane he failed to save.  It’s a simple narrative twist, but I’ve never seen a comic book deal with grief and responsibility in this kind of a mature way.

5.  The Crew (Marvel, 2003-2004)

Priest has said he originally wanted to call this book The Black Avengers, but claims he (not Marvel editorial) decided it was a bad idea.  The book is really like Oceans Eleven with Marvel fringe characters trying to take down drug dealing mob lords.  Yes, all four of the main heroes were black, but that seems to be what drew them together to the environment where they found themselves.  It felt natural.  The book only lasted seven issues before it was cancelled, which is a damn shame.  If it had come out today, I bet it would have gone on much longer.

4.  Xero (DC, 1997)

Xero was created by Priest and artist Chris Cross for DC, but the publisher allowed him to maintain a 50% ownership stake in the character—even though the book took place in the actual DC Universe.  It only ran for 12 issues, but it was pure gold—right from the start.  A black basketball player doubles as a secret agent/hitman who is…White!  Most of Priest’s work involves African American characters, but he rarely makes race the focus of the story.  Here, of course, it was a major story element.  Priest claims that he cancelled the book after issue #12, but DC wanted to keep it going.  Too bad he dropped it—it was just getting good.

3.  The Falcon (Marvel, 1983)

This was Priest’s first published work and man was it good.  He’s not as good at dialog or characterization yet, given his youth and inexperience, but what he accomplished was no small feat: He turned a B (or perhaps even C) list character and made him a superstar.  I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like this miniseries.  And Mark Bright’s wonderful art didn’t hurt a bit.

2.  Marvel Knights/Black Panther Volume 3 (Marvel, 1998-2003)

Priest’s longest run with a single title, and some might say his best.  Indeed, it’s hailed by many as the best Black Panther series of all time.  As for me, I’m currently reading every single issue of Black Panther ever published—so my opinion is still being formed.  From what I remember and what I have already read, I can’t say that I love the art (Mark Texeira is a little too cartoony for me), but Priest took a mature look at the character for the first time in decades, and did a good job at bringing the African king into the mainstream Marvel Universe without sacrificing the core of Jack Kirby’s original intent, i.e., without making him generic or too corporate.  Towards the end, T’Challa is relegated to the back seat to give more space for Kasper Cole, the White Tiger, who would later join The Crew.

1.  Power Man and Iron Fist (Marvel, 1984-1985)

When he still went by Jim Owsley, Priest wrote some of the best PM&IF stories of all time.  The first thing he did was avoid really dealing with the fact that Luke Cage is black.  Most versions of him before Priest took over were characterized by stilted dialog or occasional references to structural racism.  Priest made the book about Danny and Luke’s friendship, and really not much else.  Other than, of course, Misty and Colleen, who got lots of screen time under Priest.

And of course he wrote the last issue, where Iron Fist is brutally killed, quickly, and nearly off-panel.  It was such a surprise to most of us reading it that, even though we knew Fist would be back, it felt…Real.  Frustrating.  It even made me angry. I felt like there was no reason for it, why would he do that?  And then I realized, that was the whole point.  In real life, death often feels senseless—purposeless.  So why should a hero’s death be any different.

Priest wrote the final 14 issues of the series, and standout stories included #115-116, where the due is trapped in an Arctic bunker and Fist meditates to survive; Iron Fist changing into a red suit and becoming possessed (#119-120), and “What’s Eating Misty Knight” (#122).




I don’t usually do top 10 features on artists because, frankly, I’m more of a words guy, but a bad artist can make a good script unreadable and a great artist can turn a mediocre script in to a must-re-read issue. For example, Mike Zeck transformed Secret Wars from what seemed like an attempt to sell toys and comics by mashing a bunch of guys together (since Contest of Championshad already been a big hit) into the Most Important Event of All Time. He also designed that very cool black Spidey costume.

And that’s just one reason I love Mike Zeck. Here’s ten reasons you should, too…

10. Mike Zeck’s Classic Marvel Stories Artist’s Edition (2015)

An oversized breakdown of some of his most important work for Marvel (Secret Wars, Kraven’s Last Hunt, Punisher and Captain America) with roughs and details and inside baseball. No, it’s not a comic—it’s about comics.

9. Logan’s Run #6 (1977)

It was strange to see a Thanos story in the back of an issue of a licensed property, but it was great to see Zeck drawing the mad Titan. Not the best Thanos story, but one that actually has grown on me since I read it for my “Every Appearance of Thanos” feature.

8. The Kingdom #2 (1999)

Zeck is paired with Mark Waid on the final issue of the two-part sequel to Kingdom Come, the Elseworlds book that spawned Damian Wayne. Zeck’s work is quite different from Alex Ross (Kingdom Come) and Olivier Olivetti (The Kingdom #1), and some may find it a little jarring. Plus the story is really a transition between the first miniseries and a series of one-shots that followed. But it’s cool to see Zeck drawing the DC stable. One thing he’s great at is team books: Lots of characters in lots of situations.

7. Damned (1997)

After stellar work on superhero crime (Punisher, below), Steven Grant and Mike Zeck reteamed for a creator-owned crime story, published by Image, about an ex-con who gets wrapped up with a local kingpin. Zeck didn’t do a lot of noir stuff, and it’s cool to see what he can do in this genre. This is also the rare creator-owned project by Zeck, who spent most of his career working for Marvel.

6. Batman #417-420 (1988)

Mike Zeck just drew the covers for these issues, collected as “Ten Nights of the Beast,” but they’re phenomenal. And since this is a top ten for an artist, it seems appropriate to include work based solely on the art and without regard to the story.

5. Master of Kung Fu (1977-1981)

Along with Doug Moench, one of the best writers of the late 1970s/early 1980s, Mike Zeck was responsible for nearly every issue of Shang Chi’s mag from #59 to #102. This work is pretty different for Zeck—his work is characterized by barrel chests, and karate is about being lean and agile. But it’s phenomenal stuff, truly. One of the best things Marvel produced in the 1970s.

4. Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars (1984-1985)

Remember what I just said about good art helping a good script? Well, it can also help a mediocre one. Secret Wars wasn’t Jim Shooter’s best work, but it was his most ambitious, and drawing this book required Zeck to illustrate most of the “major” Marvel characters at the time, as well as design the look and landscapes of Battleworld and, of course, create the infamous “black costume” for Spider-Man, which would eventually lead to the creation of one of Marvel’s most lucrative villains, Venom. The work on this series was so consuming that Zeck took a break between issues #3 and 6.

3. Captain America (1978-1986)

I like to think of Mike Zeck as presaging Rob Liefeld, what with his emphasis on huge torsos and heavy musculature. But I like Zeck a lot more. And his bigger-than-life style was perfect for America’s hero signature hero. Most folks remember best his work on the Deathlok story, but there’s lots of other great work in this run, too, including a great Nick Fury arc; the introduction of Vermin (a half-man, half-rat); and the new Nomad story. Great work, with great scripts by Roger Stern.

2. Kraven’s Last Hunt (1987)

Perhaps the best Spider-Man story of all time, rumored to have originated as a script for a Batman comic. JM DeMatteis and Zeck were a powerful team, and certainly the writing here—and the story beats—are beyond compare. But Zeck’s muscular style worked perfectly for a story that was really much more about the barrel-chested Kraven then the lithe-and-nimble Spidey. Zeck also did some of the best “face work” of his career here, telling a very emotional tale that relied heavily on interior dialog and expression. This comic, interiors and covers alike, is one of the most studied, reproduced, copied and admired comic books of all time—and at least of half of it is Mike Zeck’s fault.

1. The Punisher (1986).

This is the one he’s best known for (along with the graphic novel, “Punisher: Return to Big Nothing”). Zeck’s art changed Punisher from the go-go booted weirdo from Spider-Man, where he never really made sense, into the badass we all know and love and look forward to seeing on next season’s Netflix Daredevil.



When it comes to non-Marvel/DC, Image gets most of the attention.  But Dark Horse has been around longer—since 1986—publishing truly different comics that often have a horror(ish) bend.  And Manga.  My first exposure to the publisher was probably Boris the Bear #1 in which a cute teddy bear took a machine gun and slaughtered all the animal knock off characters who were inundating the comic book stands in the late ‘80s (everyone from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Adolescent Radioactive Blackbelt Hamsters and on down).  It was irreverent, hilarious, bloody, and awesome.  Everything I wanted as I made the transition from a young comic book reader to an adult one.

Dark Horse has also had early and continued success in adapting their properties to film and TV, including movies like Tank Girl (which had an awesome soundtrack) way back in the early 1990s; more mature works like the Oscar-winning American Splendor; brilliant, “true comic book films” like Hellboy; and hugely influential box office monsters like 300. 

These are my personal favorite books from Dark Horse’s long publishing history.  As with any list—particularly when the source material is rich and vast—there are regrettable cuts.  Here’s my caveats: 

  • Boris the Bear, which I loved as a kid, isn’t on the list.  Only #1 was good, it was a one-note title and beyond that it didn’t seem to matter.
  • I’m not including Manga here because as a rule I don’t read it.  Although I did love Gantz and Lone Wolf and Cub.
  • And then there are the “big” Dark Horse books that I just, on a personal level, didn’t fancy.  Frank Miller‘s Sin City and 300 are two of these.

Finally, in the interests of space I’m not including licensed properties like Buffy, Star Wars, etc., even though some of them are really, really good (I was shocked at how much I enjoyed their Planet of the Apes stuff, and Brian Wood’s work on Conan was the only time I’ve ever liked a Conan comic). 

10.  SPY BOY (1999)

The tenth item on a top ten list is always hard.  Because there’s always at least one book you regret having to cut.  In this case, it’s The Goon.  I liked that book a lot in the beginning, but I dropped it around issue #10. 

I read every issue of Spy Boy, though, and mostly because I love Peter David.  He’s one of the best writers around, and rarely gets the credit he deserves.  It’s a basic action comic—a kid who doubles as a spy.  It book was so popular it even crossed over with David’s DC teen team, Young Justice. 


So if you’re gonna team up Frank Miller with Geof Darrow, you can pretty much expect success.  And Dark Horse got it with this one, big time—it even became a cartoon.  In this two-issue miniseries, we see the titular Rusty fail to prevent the Godzilla-like destruction of Tokyo, so they bring in Big Guy—a symbol of the American military-industrial complex.  It’s a simple story, beautifully written and wonderfully illustrated.  And it’s one of the few Frank Miller books that’s appropriate for (almost) all ages.


I debated for a long time whether to include this four-issue mini by Joe Casey and Steve Parkhouse because the first time I tried to read it, I couldn’t get through it.  Casey’s writing is never easy to read, and this is one of his more dense books.  But since then, I’ve re-read it several times and each time I find it more chilling.  The basic story is aboutu the horror underneath the lives of a perfect American nuclear family.  They’re mean to each other.  The husband is full of rage.  The kids are rude and distant.  And one of them kills neighborhood cats and dogs.  It continues to descend into violence and madness.  It’s not an easy read.  But it will stay with you.

 7.  AXE COP VOLUME 1 (2011)

It’s written by little kid, but its drawn by an adult.  It’s insane.  There are dinosaurs and violence and cops and car chases.  It’s silly and impossible.  And it might be the most fun you’ll ever have reading a comic.  And remember to be grateful that Dark Horse put this webcomic into print form, so we all can enjoy it.

Rebels #2

This list probably could have consisted of 50% Brian Wood stories, but some had to be cut.  So I didn’t include Demo (which was really only reprinted by Dark Horse, and was first printed elsewhere) and instead included an ongoing series.  Rebels is historical fiction, which is always a big risk in the comic book world, but it’s phenomenal.  What makes it great are the characters in the story—the Revolutionary War is really only a backdrop for an examination of love, honor, and duty, as well as a look at the effects of big government (a common theme of Wood).

5.  LADY KILLER (2015)

Lady Killer isn’t deep.  It’s the story of a 1950s housewife who works nights and weekends as an assassin, and has to keep this identity a secret from her kids and doting husband.  It’s also not really anything “new,” in the sense that juxtaposing gorey violence against a suburban idyll has been done before, many times.  So why is great?  Because it’s so damn smart about it.  The writing and characterization is crisp and wholly devoid of stereotyping, and the art alternates between something you might see in a mail order catalog and sweeping, wonderful action sequences.  It perfectly captures the torn-between-two-worlds nature of the concept.  And then there’s the villains, who don’t seem all that villainous, and the hero, who, as a killer, is hardly heroic.  The worst thing the bad guys do (other than kill) is be incredibly sexist.  The firm is like a Mad Men version of SHEILD.  Oh, and then there’s the color work by Laura Allred that is some of the best I’ve ever seen her do.  And that’s saying a lot.

Lady Killer may not be a different kind of story, but it’s definitely a different kind of comic book—and it’s a great example of how just looking at an old story in a new way can make the whole thing seem fresh and extraordinary.

4.  HELLBOY (1993)

Hellboy has been the gift that keeps on giving for Dark Horse, spawning any number of spin-offs and miniseries, in addition to two of the best comic book movie adaptations I’ve ever seen.  My relationship with the comic is more of arm’s length appreciation—I’ve read many arcs and spin-offs, but I’m not interested enough to read every single issue.  Still, I can appreciate it and enjoy it as an extremely well-done comic and a wholly novel premise.


This is technically perhaps not a Dark Horse book, as it was released on their M Press imprint, but since they funded it and produced it, I’m counting it.  Plus, it gives me another opportunity to sing the praises of a biocomic that did not receive nearly enough attention.  It’s an emotional, well-researched recounting of Brian Epstein’s experience as a gay man who happened to manage the greatest rock and roll band of all time. 

2.  THE MASSIVE (2012)

Brian Wood is one of Dark Horse’s best known creators, and he’s a powerhouse.  There is certainly room for argument in this area, but for my money The Massive is his best work.  It ran for 30 issues and told one long story of postapocalyptic espionage and supernatural mystery.  The concept was massive, and the story crushed together so many genres and ideas that some found it unfocused.  I can understand that.  But it made me think.  Every issue was fantastic, the artists who worked on were terrific—everything about it was perfect.

1.  MIND MGMT (2012)

When Mind MGMT #1 came out, everyone was asking: Who the fuck is Matt Kindt?  It was shockingly different, with art that looked primitive and sketchy; notes scribbled all around the margins; advertisements and a letters page that contribute to the book’s content; and a story that started out as a horrifying episode of The Twilight Zone but quickly turned into a conspiracy/spy book of epic proportions.  Part Bourne Identity, part Lost, part road trip, and partly a treatise on the effects of advertising and subliminal government influence, Mind MGMT is one of the few comic books that actually changed the way I think about politics and life in general.  It’s deep, disturbing, and complex—a book for intellectuals that makes no excuses for itself.  No, it’s not emotional.  It’s cold.  And it’s supposed to be.  It’s also the best example of how comic books are a unique medium that can be used to tell a story in a way that no other medium can.



dc you
Between the Image Expo, San Diego Comic Con, and Marvel’s previews of its post-Secret Wars lineup, there’s been a lot of news. And while all the other big companies are previewing what’s to come, DC has already started with “DC You.” For DC, this was one of several major publication shifts that we’ve seen over the past few years, and it wasn’t as “major” as Marvel’s. But it was still big news.

With half the year done, Comic Con over, and both Marvel and DC being nearly done rebooting, I thought it might be a fun time to look at where we’ve been and where we’re going.

It also might give you some ideas for what to buy in trades, because the number of new books on the market right now is staggering.

Let’s start with DC.

Despite the horrible name of “DC You,” the newer new DCU is better than any DC slate I’ve seen this century. Hell, I can’t remember being this interested in DC comics since 1986, right after Crisis on Infinite Earths.

The big event, Convergence, was awful. But in its aftermath we got some very interesting new titles. Unlike Marvel, though, we still had some old ones as well. Here’s how I rate the current crop of new #1s, followed by my ten favorite DC books right now, and then a look at what else will be coming soon…


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