As announced yesterday, NBC will be discussing this week what issues we think that Marvel should be including in their upcoming 75th Anniversary Omnibus. When compiling my list, I left off many of the obvious milestones; Amazing Fantasy #15, Fantastic Four #1, Avengers #4 etc. are all pretty much givens for inclusion. Instead I focused on stories which have more personal meaning, as well as historical importance.
1. Fantastic Four #44 by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby (1965): Of all the Stan Lee stories I have read, my favorites remain his run on the Fantastic Four. Similarly, I think that these issues contain the best art Kirby did for Marvel. Also, it was Volume 3 of the Essential collections which partially influenced my decision to start reading comics more regularly once again. For the 75th Anniversary anthology, I would single out #44 for its role in the introduction of the Inhumans. While Medusa was the first Inhuman to debut back in #36, it is this issue in which Lee begins to reveal the larger concept of who these characters are. Reading their initial narrative, I instantly became fascinated with them, especially Crystal. If comics are indeed the myth cycles of the 20th century, these Inhuman tales are an excellent example of that phenomenon at work.
2. Omega the Unknown #1 by Steve Gerber, Mary Skrenes & Jim Mooney (1975): Superhero comics took some unconventional turns in the 70s, and this is one of the most notable examples. The debut issue bounces between a super-powered alien and teenager James-Michael with whom he shares a mysterious connection. By the way, right before James-Michael’s parents die, he discovers that they were really robots. The story grows odder from there, yet, Gerber and Skrenes never lose sight of crafting intriguing, relatable characters. One of the weirdest series ever to come out of the House of Ideas.
3. Iron Man #128 by David Michelinie, Bob Layton & John Romita, Jr (1979): During their run on Iron Man, Michelinie and Layton added many important elements to the mythos of Tony Stark. Out of all of these, the most significant (with the possible exception of James Rhodes) was their decision to make Tony Stark an alcoholic. While, some of the details of this story have dated, its overall power remains. Indeed, after 35 years, this story still defines who Tony Stark is. Michelinie and Layton’s work with Iron Man is generally considered the greatest run for the character, and this storyline is a prime example of their talent.
4. X-Factor #24 by Louise Simonson & Walt Simonson (1988): They say you never forget your first one, and, X-Factor was my entry point into the world of mutants. I actually jumped on in the 40s, but quickly amassed a bunch of back issues from the Simonsons’ run, which to this day remains my first reference point for all things X. This issue introduces Angel’s make-over into Death/Archangel, as well as gives Apocalypse his first major storyline. These two characters quickly became favorites, and remain so today. Also, some great art from Simonson.
5. Silver Surfer #50 by Jim Starlin & Ron Lim (1991): As with X-Factor and the mutants, my entry point into Marvel’s cosmic line was Starlin’s work in the 90s. His use of philosophy and psychology immediately fascinated me, and sent me down the road of being a life-long fan of this corner of the Marvel Universe. In this issue, the newly all-powerful Thanos torments Silver Surfer by digging deeply into the hero’s past, unearthing plenty of uncomfortable memories along the way. Meanwhile, Lim’s rendition of the Silver Surfer remains one of my two favorites ever.
6. Spectacular Spider-Man #178-184 by J.M. DeMatteis & Sal Buscema (1991-2): OK, this is a bit of a cheat. I read this storyline, The Child Within, when it was first released and it really stayed with me. Indeed, while I have read other Spidey stories which may have been more fun, this is probably the one that made the most dramatic impact on me. Problem is, while I remember scenes clearly, I can no longer say what happened in which chapter (and my copies are not here in Brooklyn with me). So it goes. The narrative concerns the legacy of child abuse in various forms, but most prominently on Vermin and Harry Osborn. This was also the first story I read which really delved into the legacy of Harry’s father and the question of whether the son was pre-disposed to inherit his father’s madness. Needless to say, some powerful material. Also, Buscema’s art is suitably first rate.
7. Marvels #3 by Kurt Busiek & Alex Ross (1994): Simply put this limited-series is one of my favorite comics of all time. Busiek’s revisiting of the Marvel Universe through the eyes of an ordinary photo-journalist truly gives fresh perspective on pivotal moments in Marvel’s history. This is especially the case with #3 in his take on Lee & Kirby’s original Galactus story. Busiek captures how confused, overwhelmed, and ultimately powerless the average person must have felt in the face of such events, what it would really be like to face the prospect of complete planet wide annihilation. Such threats are often faced by heroes (and readers) with a shrug of the shoulders and a sigh of “here we go again.” Busiek makes us feel both the wonder and fear of such circumstances as never before. Ross’ painted, naturalistic art, only strengthens the power of the story. His Silver Surfer is thing of beauty.
8. Captain America #25 by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting (2007): I returned to regular comics reading shortly after Civil War wrapped up, and bought a second printing of this issue out of curiosity. Even though I had previously possessed little interest in Cap, I was instantly drawn into the world of this character. I knew I needed more. Unlike, Superman #75 from the 90s, this is a “death” issue which will stand the test of time as simply a great read. Also, Epting provides some fantastic art.
9. Thanos Imperative #6 by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Miguel Sepulveda (2010): Along with Brubaker’s Captain America, the Abnett/Lanning run on Marvel’s cosmic titles were the best Marvel comics of the decade. This issue, a thrilling conclusion to a brilliant limited-series, is the culmination of their time with the characters. Nothing Marvel has produced cosmic-wise since then has come close to equally it. It is also, incidentally, my favorite Thanos story not written by Starlin.
10. Journey into Mystery #622 by Kieron Gillen & Doug Braithwaite (2011): Originally it seemed like such a silly idea, reincarnating Loki as a young teenager. In Gillen’s hands though, he instantly became not only one of the most fascinating characters in comics, but ultimately, one of the most heartbreaking as well. His charming, poignant journey of self-discovery, self-reinvention and the limits thereof, starts here.