The Greatest Comics of All Time, Part 2

Number 245- Marvel Zombies/Army of Darkness #1-5 (Marvel Comics and Dynamite Entertainment, 2007)

John Layman (writer), Fabiano Neves (artist).

In 2005, a storyline in the pages of Ultimate Fantastic Four introduced the concept of the Marvel Zombies, the denizens of a parallel universe who have been transformed into flesh-eating undead ghouls. The idea was an immediate smash hit, and Marvel quickly capitalized on the cadaverous cannibal craze with a succession of Marvel Zombies miniseries and one-shots which combined horror with jet black humour. The best of the lot was easily this cross over with Dynamite’s licensed Army of Darkness series. In a pairing few people ever could have imagined they’d ever see, MZ/AoD saw the ravenous hordes of the Marvel Zombieverse going toe to toe with the chainsaw-wielding ladies’ man with the chiselled chin, “Evil Dead”‘s own Ashley J. Williams!

As the series begins, Ash has just come tumbling out of an inter-dimensional portal (as he is wont to do), arriving immediately before the outbreak of the plague of undeath. Naturally, he chalks the carnage up to his old enemies the Deadites, meaning the only hope of saving the world would be to get his hands on the ancient book of the dead known as the Necronomicon. Teaming up with the Scarlet Witch and Dazzler, Ash and his bespandexed arm candy head out to find the unholy tome- which, unfortunately for them, sits on a shelf in the personal library of one Doctor Doom.

The inter-company crossovers are historically a mixed bag, MZ/AoD is one of the best in recent memory, boasting a rollicking story, top-notch art and pitch-perfect dialogue that completely captures Spider-Man’s sense of humour, Doctor Doom’s haughty arrogance and Ash’s roguish swagger. The book is also just plain funny- you haven’t truly lived until you’ve seen the Blob huffing and puffing as he runs away from a small army of zombies looking for an all-you-can-eat buffet. Above all though, MZ-AoD is a love letter to both the “Evil Dead” films and the wackier side of the Marvel Universe. After all, anyone can write a story about how a zombie plague affects Spider-Man and the Avengers, but it takes a special kind of brilliance to gives readers a comic about zombified versions of MODOK, the Power Pack and Howard the Duck. This miniseries is an absolute hoot from beginning to end- hail to the king, baby!

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Number 244- Black Summer #0-7 (Avatar Press, 2007)

Warren Ellis (writer), Juan Jose Ryp (artist).

Since the mid 1980s, there’s been a movement in superhero comics to strive for “realism,” an often misguided attempt to take real world situations and concerns and apply them to the cape and tights set. In Black Summer, Warren Ellis takes that concept to the extreme with a superhero story set squarely in the post-9/11 America. The result is an over the top story that shows why sometimes realism just doesn’t work.

Instead of spandex-clad heroes with the power to leap tall buildings in a single bound, the nominal heroes of Black Summer are the slightly less inspirational Seven Guns, a team of technologically enhanced individuals with questionable morality, and super powers that are tied to specially-designed firearms. As the series begins, the team has mostly disbanded following an incident that left one member dead and another missing a leg. The Guns are suddenly thrust back into the public spotlight the morning that team member John  Horus walks out of the Oval Office, covered in blood, and informs a shocked press corps that he had just executed President Bush and the entirety of his cabinet for crimes against humanity related to the invasion of Iraq. As the country reels from Michael Moore’s wet dream, the shit quickly hits the fan, with the military declaring war on the Horus and the other surviving Guns.

Needless to say, Black Summer is a very  dark series that’s probably not for all tastes. It often verges on self-parody, especially in scenes where it seems like Avatar is paying Ellis by the f-bomb. In the end though, it’s a fast-paced thriller, brilliant (and often horrifically) captured by Ryp’s ultra-detailed pencils. I just wouldn’t pick it as a Christmas gift for any Fox News enthusiasts out there.

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Number 243- Thor: Reign of Blood One-Shot (Marvel Comics, 2008)

Matt Fraction (writer), Khari Evans and Patrick Zircher (pencils).

Like all great characters, there are a bunch of different ways to handle Thor as a character. When using him as a member of the Avengers, Roy Thomas and Kurt Busiek played up his super hero side, establishing him as the most regal and virtuous of the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Walt Simonson drew huge critical acclaim for accentuating Thor’s fantasy roots, while J. Michael Straczynski built his run around sweeping, Shakespearean drama. When Matt Fraction began to write the character in a series of one-shots beginning in 2008, he put his own spin on the character, essentially combining traditional Norse mythology with Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”. Though all four of Fraction’s books were excellent, Reign of Blood the best by far.

After being rebuked by Odin for trading her womanly virtues to a trio of dwarves in exchange for a beautifully crafted trinket, the jilted Enchantress seeks revenge by cursing Odin’s mortal followers. The sky is torn asunder and blood begins to rain down upon the land, as the skeletons of the deceased begin to rise to walk the Earth again, destroying everything in their path. To save humanity, Odin dispatches his son Thor, who takes control of a hundred-foot-tall colossus made of blood and steel and heads out to re-kill everything that has ever died before. So yeah, it’s no coincidence that Reign of Blood sounds suspiciously like a Slayer album- this may be the most Metal thing ever to appear on the printed page.

I’ll be honest with you- when people ask me why I love comic books, the image of Thor going to war against ravaging hordes of the undead is one of the quickest things to spring to mind. Alright, so Reign in Blood may not be Emily Brontë, but it’s still simply one of the most ridiculously awesome comics I’ve ever read. And frankly, if you weren’t sold on it by the time I mentioned the hundred-foot-tall blood colossus, then you should go speak to a priest or a rabbi or something, because you may not have a soul.

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Number 242- The Life of Groo (Marvel Comics/Epic, 1993)

Mark Evanier (writer), Sergio Aragonés (writer and artist).

At a time when comic book store shelves are dominated by gun-toting vigilantes and brooding avengers of the night, one of the most pleasant diversions has traditionally come from Groo the Wanderer, Sergio Aragonés and Mark Evanier’s fun little series about a mighty but dimwitted barbarian warrior and his many adventures. Without fail, Aragonés and Evanier’s Groo comics have provided readers with clever plots, witty dialogue and beautifully detailed artwork, filled with the little background sight gags that made Aragonés famous in the pages of Mad magazine. With such a consistently high level of quality, it’s almost impossible to pick any one story as the definitive Groo comic book, so we’re going with 1993’s The Live of Groo, which provided our first look at the simple-minded warrior’s origin.

We open with a small village being ruled by the greedy tyrant Battu, who uses the threat of his telepathy and magic powers to bankrupt his subjects with a series of unreasonable and arbitrary taxes. When one man makes the mistake of thinking too many rebellious thoughts, Battu gets his vengeance by cursing the pour soul, declaring that the man’s first-born son would be born without the ability to think. Thus was Groo born into the world, and The Life of Groo shows us just how a precious (if destructive) infant transformed into the loveable (if even more destructive) Groo the Wanderer that the world knows today. It’s a fun and surprisingly sweet story, the perfect balance of action and comedy, adding up to a first class adventure. This is a great jumping on point to newcomers to Groo’s adventures, but really, you pretty much can’t go wrong with any comic that has the big doofus on its cover.

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Number 241- Blueberry Book 1: The Chihuahua Pearl (Marvel Comics/Epic, 1989)

Jean-Michel Charlier and Jean “Moebius” Giraud (co-creators).

Another gem brought to American readers by Marvel’s Epic imprint, Blueberry was the brainchild of the legendary European creators Charlier and Moebius. Originally published in French, the series follows the adventures of Lieutenant Mike “Blueberry” Donovan, a roguish and rebellious lawman in the old west who turned his back on his Confederate roots to fight for the Union army. Far from a conventional hero, Blueberry lives by his own moral code, and as often than not finds himself at odds with the very laws he’s sworn to uphold. Admittedly, that comes across as a bundle of clichéd action movie tropes, but bearing that in mind it’s to Charlier and Moebius’ extreme credit that the rich and complex stories of Blueberry made it one of the best western sagas of all time. (Hey, if Italian filmmaker Sergio Leon’s films are “Spaghetti Westerns,” can we call Charlier and Moebius’ comics Crêpe Suzette Westerns? Just a thought…)

Originally published in French in 1973 as “Chihuahua Pearl” and “L’homme qui valait 500 000 $” (loosely translated, “The Half-a-Million Dollar Man”), this Epic graphic novel collected and translated the two-part story for an English-speaking audience in 1989. The story begins with Blueberry intercepting a squad of Mexican soldiers who have passes the border onto American soil to chase a fugitive whose alleged crime they claim is a closely guarded state secret. As it turns out, their quarry carries with him a letter for the president of the United States, detailing the discovery of a half-million dollars worth of Confederate gold that went missing in the waning days of the Civil War. Blueberry is given the dubious honour of being hand-picked to cross into Mexico and secure the gold at all costs; he isn’t exactly given much of a choice in the matter either, as he finds himself blackmailed, drummed out of the army and framed for murder, all to establish a cover story for his cross-border exodus. Soon, Blueberry finds himself dogged by bounty hunters, ex-Confederate outlaws, a duplicitous showgirl and half the Mexican army, all of whom want to get their hands on the missing gold or the bounty on Blueberry’s head. The story is jam-packed with exciting twists and turns, accompanied by some of Moebius’ finest artwork.

Though roundly praised by critics, Blueberry sadly languishes in relative obscurity these days, which is an absolute travesty. For anyone with even a passing interest in the western genre, The Chihuahua Pearl and Blueberry’s many other adventures are absolute classics, buried treasure just waiting to be discovered by a new generation of readers.



3 Comments

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by hearwax, hearwax. hearwax said: The Greatest Comics of All Time, Part 2 http://bit.ly/9KHA9l […]

  2. dude80 wrote:

    C'mon.. too slow and too few at a time :(

    • Logan Broger wrote:

      We are working on getting more done. Karsten is the genius behind this, so we should all start bugging him!

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