55 minus 36: One-offs, part 2… comics

Posted: 12 July 2019 in 55 minus, comics, one-offs
Tags: ,

(For part 1 of ‘one-offs’, about individual television episodes I will rewatch whenever they’re shown, click here)

I mentioned last week that even in ‘baddie of the week’ tv shows, in every medical drama, in every sitcom, an individual episode will stand out for some reason; the guest star will knock it out of the park, the writing on that episode will particularly impress, the specific plot will reward rewatching.

The same, of course, applies to long running comic books, which are also serialised drama/fiction. And as with tv, there are too many, far far too many, for me to list all of them, the individual issues that mattered to me, that I’ll dig out and reread every so often. Picking ten isn’t meant to imply that they’re ‘better’ than the others; it just means they’re the ten that sprung to mind when writing, ok?

But here are ten. Of course with some series, there are multiple issues, but as with Part 1, I’ll limit it here to one issue per series, in some case per character.

Oh, and where I can, I’ll list the creative teams. Apologies upfront to any I don’t know at the time of writing; I’ll slot them in if I discover them later.

OK then.

Iron Man: “Star Hunter” (Vol 1, issue 237)
Writer: David Michelinie, Bob Layton; Penciler: Jackson Guice; Inker: Bob Layton; Colourist: Bob Sharen; Letterer: Janice Chiang
I love this issue. Everything about it. The plot is sharp and clever, a one character issue in which Tony Stark (Iron Man… oh shit, you didn’t know? Oops.) investigates why satellites have been going offline and discovers the real story behind SDI: an artificial creature, created specifically as a satellite killer, designed to adapt to whatever circumstances it finds itself in. The art flies off the page, the captions and thought balloons aren’t intrusive and make sense given the circumstances – most of the issue is silent, the station’s in vaccuum – and the final couple of pages linger in your brain long after you’ve put down the issue. In them, Iron Man kills the creature, after introducing an atmosphere into the satellite… and he gets the shock of his life when the dying creature speaks. When Iron Man asks why the creature tried to kill him… and did kill its creators, the answer is simple… and still chilling: “It was what I was created to do.” It’s rare that I can look back, decades after an issue saw print, and can remember almost panel for panel what happened in a story. Iron Man #237 is one such story.

 
 
The Flash: “Shot In The Dark” (Vol 2, issue 30)
Writer: William Messner-Loebs; Penciller: Greg Larocque; Inker: Larry Mahlstedt; Colourer: Carl Gafford)
Wally West is at the cinema on a date, watching a movie when he notices everyone has frozen around him, as has the movie; he feels something in the back of his neck, the pressure slowly increasing. He reaches behind him and disovers it’s a bullet. Another almost silent issue, but this time not because of a lack of oxygen, but because the entire issue (bar the first couple of pages) takes place in about a tenth of a second. I’ve now seen this kind of thing done any number of times on the tv show, and in movies, but this was back in the late 1980s and it was the first time I’d seen it done in a comic book. West had automatically flipped into ‘Flash Time’ the moment his body felt the bullet touch it, and it took a moment or two – subjective time – for his brain to catch up with his body. The issue is great at handling the physics of momentum, and how it feels to be in that state, and how the slightest relaxtion – when he realises what’s going on – means someone could die, almost does, if he is blasé about it. Great writing, great art, really nice colours.
 
 

Sandman: “Men of Good Fortune” (Issue 13)
Writer: Neil Gaiman; Penciller: Michael Zulli; Inker: Steve Parkhouse; Colourer: Robbie Busch; Letterer: Todd Klein
Despite the official title of this story being “Men of Good Fortune”, I find it impossible to think of this by any other title than “The Hob Gadling story”. This was one of the few Sandman stories that I immediately reread the moment I had finished it. The story is deceptively simple: a ‘common’ man announces to his friends that he won’t die… in 1389. That’s all, that he simply won’t have it. As luck (and a Neil Gaiman script) would have it, Morpheus and Death are in the ale house when he makes his statement and Death agrees to forsake him. Dream does not inform him of it directly, but merely says that he will meet Gadling “one hundred years hence” at the same spot. After a hundred years, they meet. And a hundred years later. And another hundred years… You see the best and worst of humanity summed up in a single character, the highs and lows a man can be brought to. The final panel sums up a relationship. over 600 years in the making, in eleven elegant words. Gaiman excels himself in this story and Gadling remains my favourite character in the entire Sandman saga. Todd Klein also seems to do that little bit extra in this book…

 
 

X-Men: “Elegy” (Issue #138)
Writer: Chris Claremont, John Byrne; Penciler: John Byrne; Inker: Terry Austin; Colourist: Glynis Wein; Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
This is the epitome of how you do a ‘what you may have missed’ or ‘what has come before’ or even ‘Previously…’. Anyway, it’s a catchup issue. The issue after the Dark Phoenix Saga ends, with the death of Jean Grey, the conceit of the story is that it’s her funeral… and the entire story is done as a reverie of Scott Summers at funeral. From his meeting with Jean – as it was in continuity then, anyway – through various adventures, various teams, and various identities. And takes it through to her death. No, stop sniggering, you at the back. No one at that time expected her to come back. Repeatedly. But it’s a great lesson on how to tell a story – because it is still a story being told – catchup or not. There’s a personal element to me liking this issue as well. It’s one of two things that got me back into comics after some teenagerly absent years. (and maybe that’s an entry all on its own…) Claremont’s script is great, and Byrne and Austin deliver. Wein’s colours are usually ignored when this issue is talked about, and they shoudn’t be; they help set the tone throughout.
 
 

The Incredible Hulk “He’s Back” (Issue #372)
Writer: Peter David; Penciller: Dale Keown; Inker: Bob McLeod; Colourist: Glynis Oliver; Letterer: Joe Rosen
Peter David’s long run on The Hulk, though with the very occasional ‘blip’, remains one of my favourite long runs on any comic by any creator. David is, I’m sure, sick of reminding people that it wasn’t he who came up with the idea of the Hulk being a multiple personality (it was Bill Mantlo’s, for the record), but it was certainly Peter David who took the idea and ran with it. And despite the later retcon by other writers, the eventual amalgamation of the “Green Hulk”, “Bruce Banner” and the “Grey Hulk” into an integrated personality was, for my money, the best issue David wrote, with the possible exception of the final issue, but it’d be cheating to include that one. There’s just nothing wrong with this book. The final panel “I’m home…” is worth the price of admission on its own.

 
 

Moon Knight “Scarlet” (Issue 5)
Writer: Warren Ellis; Art: Declan Shalvey; Colourist: Jordie Bellaire
I loved Warren and Declan’s short run on Moon Knight, treating the character as a sort of half-urban myth/half-consulting detective. In this issue, however – a story that is, by their own admission, Ellis’ and Shalvery’s take on The Raid – Moon Knight knows there’s an abducted young child in an abandoned hotel; the only way to get her back is to wade through 20 or so mob guys, all of whom will quite happily kill anyone who comes to rescue the child. So Moon Knight goes in to rescue the child. It’s a 20 page fight issue, floor by floor. It’s gorgeous, brutal, and the injuries are forensically accomplished, and portrayed. Not my normal ‘preferred’ style of story, but somehow this one always gets me. Glorious use of the medium and each page is wonderful. Huh. I just realised. Another, pretty much, silent issue.
 
 

Fantastic Four “This Man, This Monster” (Issue #51)
Writer: Stan Lee; Art: Jack Kirby; Co-plotters: Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
Wow, this one’s going back to stone age… How the hell do you follow a three parter that introduces Galactus and the Silver Surfer in which you save the planet? Stan Lee and Jack Kirby deliver a masterclass in early Marvel, let alone early Fantastic Four. A simple, elegant, story, beautifully and stylishly executed: someone steals The Thing’s powers and goes off to the FF’s HQ, thinking Reed Richards does it for the glory. Learns he doesn’t and sacrifices his life in the Negative Zone to save Richards. At its heart, it’s the story of a man’s redemption from a life of selfishness, by the most selfless act one can perform. And as for Ben Grimm? Delighted to no longer look like The Thing, he goes to a woman he like and turns back into The Thing just as she was about to see the ‘real’ him. It’s cleverly written, wonderfully draw, and it’s a perfect synergy of their individual talents. Just great.

 
 

Kurt Busiek’s Astro City “Dinner At Eight” (vol 1, Issue #6)
Writer: Kurt Busiek; Artist: Brent Eric Anderson; Colourist: Steve Buccellato; Letterer: Richard Starkings/Comicraft
For a series that asks, better than any other book, to my mind, the ‘what would it actually be like if super powered, and supernatural, ‘people’, good and bad, existed in ‘real life?’ question, this is an odd one… because it subverts that entirely. This isn’t about normal people reacting to super-powered characters in their midst, but the reverse, super-powered people doing – or trying to do, anyway – something… ‘normal’. This issue is, basically, ‘what if Superman went on a date with Wonder Woman?’, but in their civilian identities. (That might seem disparaging to Samaritan and Winged Wonder; it’s not intended to be; the super-man and super-woman characters start from those archetypes, and very, very quickly move away from it.) I love this issue. Everything about it just… works. The guilt both feel about taking some time away from crime fighting is obvious and understandable, despite promises from their comrades to step in. They can’t… relax. And they know it. and they know the other can’t, and they understand it. As always with Astro City, it’s a delightful character study.

 
 

Holy Terror
Writer: Alan Brennert; Artist: Norm Breyfogle; Letterer: Bill Oakley; Colorist: Lovern Kindzierski
A bookshelf edition, and an Elseworlds title at that, but it’s within the ‘rules’ I set up for myself – a single issue – so there. Holy Terror is my favourite Elseworlds book. Now, in case that sounds like “faint praise that damns”, it isn’t meant to at all. It’s one of my favourite all time comic books. It starts from the premise that Cromwell remained in power in the UK and that England won the War of Independence with The Colonies. America is in effect would now be called a Fundamentalist Christian State. Bruce Wayne is a novice priest who finds out that his parents weren’t killed by a common mugger as he had always believed but were executed by the State. He becomes The Batman in order to find out why and who ordered it. It’s a superb book with many twists in it, including a wonderful sub-plot throughout about The Green Man, someone rumoured to be an alien… and it’s not who you think it is. Written by Alan Brennert, whose work never disappoints, with art by the wonderful Norm Breyfogle.

 
 

The Wicked and the Divine: (Issue #1)
Writer: Kieron Gillen; Artist: Jamie McKelvie; Colourist: Matthew Wilson; Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Where the hell do you start with a book like WicDiv, as it’s known to its fans? At the start, obviously. Which start, though? And that’s a question that in order for me to answer it in any way that even came close to making sense, you’d have had to have already read the book. Every 90 years, twelve gods are re-incarnated; they live as gods for a maximum of two years. A wonderful concept, expertly delivered… with wonderful scripts, beautiful art, clever stories, and twists and turns of the best kind: those you don’t see coming but in retrospect seem if not invitable then at least perfectly sensible. So, why am I choosing the first issue? Because nothing makes sense – literally in two cases – without having read and understood the first issue. Add to that the commencement of one of the best ‘normal person interacts with the abnormal’ storylines I’ve ever read, and a shock ending that still gut punches you even though you know it’s coming… Both Gillen and McKelvie are doing the best work of their already sparkling careers, and it’s been a pleasure being along for the ride. Special call out for the covers, which have both been original and stylish.


Final note: while writing this entry, I had so much fun, reliving the stories, the sheer talent shown throughout, and I thought… y’know what, maybe at the end of the run, I’ll do another ten… it’ll be equally as easy and as much fun.

And then I deleted the entry in error and had to rewrite the whole thing from scratch. It was less fun after that. So, there may well be another ten at the end, but don’t hold your breath.


If you’ve been paying attention, you know what’s coming tomorrow. See you then.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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