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My 10 Favourite Completed Series, 10-6

Posted in comic books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2010 by vagabondsaint

So, you may be wondering to yourself right now Who is this Vagabond Saint guy?  What sort of comics does he like?  Why should I listen to his opinions?  Does he like the same stuff I do?  Why does his blog smell like bacon?

Well, I’m going to try to answer most of those questions (you’re on your own about the bacon) by telling you, Dear Reader(s), what comics I like, what stories and writers and artists I am into.  If these choices agree with yours, well, so much the better and we can continue on in harmony.  If not, well, you can complain and be largely ignored in the comments section!  Everybody wins!

To start it all off, let’s begin with my favourite completed series.  They’re all available in trade paperbacks or hardback editions, so you can read the whole story for yourselves, which is why I chose to do these separate from the ongoing series.  Top ten only, or else we’ll be here all day, and keep in mind that these are in no particular order (except number one, of course).

10.  Preacher (1995-2000, DC/Vertigo, 66 issues plus one-shots and a 4-issue miniseries, writer: Garth Ennis, artist: Steve Dillon)

Preacher: Gone To Texas

So, Garth, why don't you have the book start off in Hell? What? It starts in Texas? Close enough, then. Carry on.

Preacher is the simple story of Jesse Custer, one man on a quest to find God.  Well, one man with a horrifically abusive family and a criminal past.  And possessed by a being that gives him the power of the Word of God, meaning that whoever hears him must do as he says.  And being pursued by a secretive worldwide organization dedicated to bringing about Armageddon.  And also being chased by an invulnerable, indefatigable killing machine in a leather duster.  And he’s joined by his trigger-happy ex-girlfriend and an alcoholic Irish vampire.  And God, hiding somewhere on Earth after abandoning His creation, doesn’t want to be found.  Okay, maybe it’s not so simple.

This was my real introduction to the warped, twisted, and possibly illegal mind of Garth Ennis, who has since become one of my favourite writers (and the only one that I suspect of seriously hating superheroes).  In addition to Preacher, Ennis also wrote The Pro (ever wonder what happens when a street prostitute gets super-powers?  Read The Pro and wonder no more) and the absolute best Punisher books ever written.  Without Garth Ennis on Punisher, neither one of those movies would have been made, and that’s probably a strike against him.  Let me rephrase that:  without Garth Ennis revitalizing the character of the Punisher and gaining a large fan following, Marvel Comics would never have had the chance to screw said fans over with two crappy movies.  There.  That’s better.  Back to Preacher.

Preacher starts off being about the search to find God, but really delves deeply into themes of friendship, love, camaraderie, forgiveness, and most importantly, searching for one’s self.  It’s gross at times, and violent a good part of the time, but don’t let that stand in the way of a great story with few lagging periods.  It also contains the brilliant solution of how to hurt a Texan who can command people with every word he says:  use assassins who don’t speak English.  I do have to note that, by the latter half of the series, Jesse Custer rarely uses that ability; for a while, you might even forget that he has it. . .until the explosive end, of course.

Also, the first trade paperback (pictured above) has this awesome quote from Joe R. Lansdale in his introduction: “It’s scarier than a psychopathic greased gerbil with a miner’s helmet and a flashlight and your bare asshole in sight.”  That guy has a definite way with words.

9. U.S. (1997, DC/Vertigo, two issues, Prestige Format, writer: Steve Darnall, artist/painter: Alex muthafucking Ross, suckas, and don’t you fuckin’ forget it)

Alex Ross is probably the most famous comic book cover painter.  His clean, photorealistic style makes people like me (who dig photorealism) drool.  He doesn’t do comic interiors very often, though (the 192 pages, plus covers, of Kingdom Come took him two years to do), so when he does, it’s usually something to be savoured, like Marvels, Kingdom Come, the DC treasury edition stories, or even Justice (in which he painted over someone else’s pencils).  Most people, however, probably know him for this image:

". . .what? She was like this when I found her."

In U.S., he does the interior art, which is the first thing I loved about the story.  The second, though no less important, is the story itself.

Our protagonist in U.S. is a white-bearded homeless guy.  He is down-and-out, desperate, lost, confused, and seems to speak primarily in quotes from politicians and celebrities of the past.  (“Give us twenty-two minutes and we’ll give you the world!” he tells two orderlies that are throwing him out of a hospital.)  He hears voices in his head that also speak in quotes, and, as he admits, he can no longer distinguish between the past and the present, between reality and fantasy.  Sometimes he’s walking the streets of an unnamed American city, sometimes he’s somewhere else entirely, talking to a wife he can’t remember from over 200 years ago, watching a man in a convertible get shot, being taken to a lynching by a talking Negro lawn jockey, or conversing with sick and dying Union soldiers.

The real problem, however, is that his fantasies aren’t fantasies at all – they’re history.  American history.  He’s there when Kennedy is shot and killed.  He’s there to see the real horror and corkscrews of a lynching and the fallacy of “freedom” for African-Americans in the early 20th century.  He’s at Andersonville, a Civil War prison for Union soldiers where, pressed 1,500 people per acre, there was no medical aid, the food had maggots in it, and the only water came from a nearby creek, downstream of the Confederate soldiers who used it for bathing and as a latrine.  He’s there in the Dustbowl, there at Dearborn when police fired on laid-off autoworkers in 1932, there for Shay’s Rebellion.  He doesn’t know why he’s being shown all these horrible things; the lawn jockey tells him it’s “because you need to know, that’s why!  Because you have a tendency to forget these things.”

His name is Sam. . .but is he still the Uncle?

Steve Darnall wrote what is, in my reading, one of the hardest, most unforgiving looks at American history in comic form – nothing about this is glorious, nothing sugarcoated or gussied up to be all pretty.  It’s harsh, it hurts, and, if you are like me, it’ll make you look a little closer at America and where it’s been over the years.  Few other graphic novels have had the impact on me that this book has; it influenced my writing in a major way.

Sadly, the trade paperback of U.S. is out of print.  Luckily, DC published an hardcover deluxe edition of it in October.  If you can’t find a copy of the trade paperback online somewhere or in a shop (or if you don’t get really lucky and find the original issues in a comic shop’s dollar bin after you lent your copies to someone who never fucking returned them), then the  deluxe edition is an option, and one well worth the $20.  (Amazon has it cheaper than that.)

P.S.  U.S. is so good that I stopped writing this list for a bit to go read it again.  Just saying.

8. World War Hulk (2007, Marvel, 5 issues plus too many tie-ins to be named, main series writer: Greg Pak, main series artist: John Romita Jr.)

While most of the books on this list are thought-provoking and reflective works on themese such as friendship, loyalty, religion, history, and journalism (next entry), sometimes I’m just in the mood for a good old-fashioned mindless slugfest.  You must sometimes have those “mindless entertainment” moods too, otherwise Michael Bay would be homeless, half of Hollywood would be unemployed, the Twilight books wouldn’t have become bestsellers, and the romance novel industry wouldn’t dominate sales charts.

So when I’m in the mood for a good punch-up, where do I go?

Straight to World War Hulk, do not stop, do not pass go!

Here’s the set -up:  tired of having to clean up after the Hulk’s rampages, the leading heroes of the Marvel Universe, Iron Man, Reed Richards, Black Bolt, and Dr. Strange (Professor Xavier was busy that day, but we’ll get to that shortly) decide to send the Hulk into outer space, to an uninhabited planet where he can smash to his heart’s content and be left alone.  However, the space ship that they tricked him onto went into a wormhole (whoops) and ended up on an inhabited planet (whoops) where a cruel emperor maintained his rule through slavery and gladatorial combat (double whoops).  Long story spoiled and shortened, the Hulk fights in the arena, beats the holy hell out of anyone that crosses him, makes some friends, starts a revolution, takes over the planet, marries and impregnates the now-deceased emperor’s bodyguard (it’s not like she liked the emperor all that much anyway), and appears to be heading straight towards a happy ending. . .when the ship he arrived in, brought into the capital as part of a commemorative display, blows up and wipes out everybody but the Hulk and a few of his friends (super-big-fucking whoops).

I’m sure we are all familiar with the notion that “the madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk is,” right?  Well, this is the Hulk mad beyond mad; this is the Hulk super-pissed, on the highest levels of pisstivity.  This is like Reed Richards and Iron Man and the others peed in his cornflakes, screwed his wife, his daughter, and his dog as a prelude to shoving his toothbrush up their arses and gangbanging his mother. . .then making billboards, Facebook accounts, and TV commercials with pictures of all of it.

hulk

Goddamn, that green motherfucker is pissed.

In World War Hulk, Hulk and his new friends borrow a spaceship from some of his other alien pals and head to Earth, determined to make the people who sent him away pay.  What follows is one of my absolute favourite slugfests of all time, as the Hulk stops by the moon to beat the tar out of Mr. “my merest whisper can level mountains” Black Bolt, previously regarded as one of the most powerful douchebags around.  After that, and Hulk’s order to the people of New York (because everything happens in New York in the Marvel Universe) to bring him the ones who sent him away or get smashed, Iron Man straps on his special “Hulkbuster” armor, designed just for such an occasion, and gets his metal-clad ass beat.  Reed Richards and the other clowns in the Fantastic Four get it next, even though Reed stretched himself as thin as possible, not realizing that this was a Hulk who could punch microbes into submission.  Dr. Strange gets his hands broken and his ass handed to him after using mystical powers to punch a hole through the Hulk.  Everybody else that shows up to challenge the Hulk also takes a beating, including the Avengers, Ghost Rider, the US Army,

In the final issue, the Hulk faces the most powerful being in the Marvel Universe, the Sentry.  It’s an epic battle, to say the least:  Hulk is the angriest he’s ever been and the Sentry can finally cut loose and unleash his “power of a million exploding suns” (wouldn’t that pretty much wipe out Earth?).  They knock each other into space, they level entire city blocks from the shockwaves of their punches, and in the end they pound each other so hard that their powers run out and we’re left with Bruce Banner and Robert Reynolds, the Sentry’s alter ego, punching each other in the face until one of them falls.  It’s a mindless slugfest without peer.

As for the tie-ins, the best of those was World War Hulk: X-Men, in which the Hulk takes a side trip to upstate New York to ask Professor Xavier how he would have voted if he’d been present when the decision was made to send him away.  What follows is the Hulk, alone, taking on every still-living member of the X-Men, Excalibur, X-Factor, the X-Babies, the XFL, zombie Malcolm X, and anybody else with an X in front of or behind their name – and smashing them all, including Wolverine, and you know I’m always down to see Wolverine take one.  (The invulnerable girl, M, gets kicked out of the state and told to “go be invulnerable in Jersey.”  To the solid-stone guy who can control his limbs even if they are detached:  “Can you still control them if they’re in Connecticut?” Hint: no.)  More face-breakin’ goodness from the Hulk.

7.  Transmetropolitan (1997-2002, DC/Helix/Vertigo, 60 issues plus 3 or 4 one-shots, writer: Warren Ellis, artist: Darick Robertson)

My longtime follower knows I loves me some Transmet.  The hilarious, often drug-fueled, truth-seeking adventures of Spider Jerusalem are just irresistible and should be required reading for anyone that cares about journalism, politics, or excellent stories.

When the story starts, Spider has been retired for five years and lives alone and hairy in a mountain cabin.  Reminded that he still owes his last publisher two books, he’s forced to come down from the mountain and re-immerse himself in The City, in journalism and politics, the very things that drove him out of The City five years ago.

Transmet is one of those works about which I can’t say enough and yet can’t say much without giving it all away.  While I’ve given a lot of spoilers out so far, the twists and turns of Transmet definitely need to be experienced – so I’ll just implore you go to get it and dive into this wonderfully trippy sci-fi world that Ellis and Robertson created.

P.S.  If, like me, you can’t get enough of Transmet’s bizarre-yet-somehow-vaguely-plausible sci-fi world, try to track down City of Silence, by Ellis with art by Gary Erskine, published by Image.  It predates Transmet (though wasn’t published until after Transmet started) and takes place in a world that is, if not the exact same world, certainly eerily similar.

6. Kingdom Come (1996, DC, 4 Prestige Format issues, writer: Mark Waid, painter/artist: Alex “Badass with a Brush” Ross)

If I could make only one comic book into a movie, this would be it.

I’ll let Wikipedia handle a quick summation:

Set some twenty years into the future of the then-current DC Universe, it deals with a growing conflict between “traditional” superheroes, such as Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Justice League, and a growing population of largely amoral and dangerously irresponsible new vigilantes. Between these two groups is Batman and his assembled team, who attempt to contain the escalating disaster, foil the machinations of Lex Luthor, and prevent a world-ending superhuman war.  The series draws heavily on Biblical apocalyptic imagery, especially that of the Book of Revelation.

They don’t manage to prevent the war, by the way.

It’s a great book, and it will really affect the way you see superheroes and their moral codes, especially the one against killing; in fact, it is the Metropolis public’s endorsement of the hero that killed the Joker (after a murder spree at the Daily Planet that also killed Lois Lane) and his acquittal at trial for the crime that drives Superman into retirement, ten years before Kingdom Come starts.  And that, of course, leads other heroes to quit and fosters the “amoral and dangerously irresponsible” semi-heroes that replace them.

The other thing I like about Kingdom Come is that it more clearly delineates the differences between DC’s Big Three – Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman – along ideological lines.  They’re all heroes, they all want to help and protect people, but how they do it is the biggest difference between them, and Waid does more exploration of that difference than I’ve ever seen, before or since.  To me, this is Waid’s Watchmen; this is his unsurpassable superhero magnum opus.

So that’s my first five – next we get into the really good shit!

VS – 1.23.10

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