1,000 Essential Comics with Charlie … Round 1

1,000 Essential Comics with Charlie … Round 1

Some time back I told you about a book that’s been sitting on my library shelf just wasting away. I would occasionally spot the spine and it was just begging to be read. It is Tony Isabella’s much celebrated 1,000 Comic Books You Must Read and, with the permission of the author, I’m kicking off a quest to read and discuss all the comics contained within its pages. With each installment, I’ll cover 5 or so issues or story arcs and give my impressions. Let the games begin!

Catwoman v2, #1-4
DC Comics, 2002

If you say the name Ed Brubaker in a crowd of comic readers, you are certain to catch a few ears. His work in recent years has garnered critical and fan praise and it was very interesting to jump back to 2002 and settle into his redesign of the Catwoman character. Here, Catwoman is placed in a very real and almost noir feeling world where she’s arrived at a crossroads, reconnected with old friends and has begun rebuilding and redefining her life. As she reconnects with life, she is dropped into a murder spree where the killer is targeting prostitutes. By the end of this four issue run, I was less impressed by the climax of the story and the resolution than I was the atmosphere and rich character development presented by Brubaker. I can certainly understand why this run is viewed as one of the best presentations of the character and the brief interaction with Batman is a standout moment for me.

Fantastic Four v1, #26
Marvel Comics, 1964

This one took me by surprise. I’ve had a certain attitude toward silver age comic stories and possibly a bit of bias toward reading more in the modern era. Any time I think about seriously jumping back to the original issues for classic characters, it’s almost like I fear the stories will be too campy or lack the depth of character that I look for and so often find in modern storie. Here, I was quite impressed as we have a classic Hulk vs. Thing battle that draws in both a beaten and recovering Fantastic Four and, ultimately, the Avengers. As Tony Isabella points out in his book, this issue is key as it facilitates an interaction between the Avengers and the Fantastic Four that holds as a cornerstone team-up of the Marvel U to this day. For me, I was impressed by how much the story drew me in and held me. It was in part due to the feel of “classic Marvel” but also a real quality in the writing of Stan Lee that I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I wasn’t expecting. Stan Lee paired with Jack Kirby, I see clearly the reason for the long standing admiration here.

Howard the Duck v1, #1
Marvel Comics, 1976

Many laugh when they hear you talk about Howard. They think of the movie, but they often miss the classic wit and humor that was at the heart of this wonderfully depressive and sarcastic character. Howard was such a product of the 70’s and I think his character would have had a much more difficult time breaking into mainstream acceptance in any other era. The parody and social commentary in some of those classic issues doesn’t get enough credit for breaking ground and setting the stage for future cutting work. Steve Gerber opens with Howard working his way toward suicide then quickly thrusts him into a battle with a wizard accountant (aka Pro-Rata who is striving for ultimate power by becoming the chief accountant of the universe). Along the way, Howard stumbles through the adventure, acquires a girlfriend and begins his new life in “a world he never made”. One additional comment on this issue, the art here was just gorgeous. The panel layout and look of the story was perfect and I found myself, more than once, almost distracted by the art’s quality and interesting perspective. Frank Brunner and Steve Leialoha can look back in pride on their work on this issue.

Nexus #1
Capital Comics, 1983

As much as Howard the Duck was a product of the 70’s, Nexus #1 from Capital Comics was squarely a product of the 80’s. Out of all the titles I’m discussing here, this one holds the honor of being one I actually read back when it was first on the stands. I’ve always enjoyed Mike Baron and Steve Rude’s visually stunning and often just a little quirky hero. Here we had a series that, as I paraphrase Tony, combined science fiction with super-heroics and mashed it into a very human morality play. When I see Nexus, it takes me back to that era where independent comics were garnering mainstream acceptance and, at times, wild speculation. Some of the revelations in this issue are key to the characters eventual evolution, but ultimately did more to set the stage for future stories than encapsulate a great look at Nexus himself. That said, the final cliffhanger page here is still shocking to this day as [spoilers] the cast is greeted by a surprisingly headless Judah. Well worth a read, but I would say try the series here rather than just the single issue on its own.

Demon v1, #1
DC Comics, 1972

Jack Kirby turns up for a second time in this month’s installment. Here, in Demon #1, we see the classic Kirby at some of his full page best as the story opens. Tony credits the mix of horror with Kirby action as driving his respect for this issue and I cannot disagree. In the story, we are introduced to Jason Blood more than Demon, but that’s okay as they build to the character’s eventual emergence at the end of the issue. For me, it was great to resample this early look at the character as I was a fan of the 58 issue Alan Grant early to mid-90’s run of the series. I liked that version best, but seeing the recitation of “Change! Change, O form of man! Release the might from fleshy mire! Boil the blood in heart of fire! Gone! Gone! — the form of man —Rise, the Demon Etrigan!!” proved to be a wonderful little sequential cold chill moment. Love when comics elicit that kind of nostalgia in me as a reader.

Well my friends, this is the end of Round #1 for my new column here on the Charlie Tonic Hour. I hope you enjoyed it and know that I will be back with more classic comics as I read on and delve deeper into the very wonderful history of comics.

Coming up next time in Round #2…
Micronauts v1, #1
Daredevil v1, #181
Detective Comics #327
Welcome to Tranquility #1
Showcase #34

I highly recommend buying a copy of Tony’s book. You will not be disappointed.

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