Almost 100 comic critics were asked to submit their personal choice of the Top Ten Single Issues they’ve ever read. The choice was subjective: some people chose to pick comics that meant something important to the industry, some chose ten comics that meant something personal for themselves; some simply picked ten comics they loved reading. And after compiling together all their choices into a master list, Shelfdust are excited to be able to reveal how the Top 100 looks.
Here are the entries for positions 100-91, which feature a few comics in joint place. Where two comics scored the same, they were both given the position together without the issue below being knocked out the top hundred. Perhaps controversial! But with that aside, here we go…. the Top 100 Comic Book Issues list starts now!!
100: Sandman #19 – A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Published by DC Comics (Vertigo) in 1998
Written by Neil Gaiman
Drawn by Charles Vess
Coloured by Steve Oliff
Lettered by Todd Klein
On a calm Summer’s day, William Shakespeare’s theatrical troupe are asked to put on an unexpected performance of the Bard’s latest play, in one of the most well-regarded issues in Neil Gaiman’s most well-loved comics work. Gaiman, never one to turn down the opportunity to wrap a story inside another story, twists the already fairly hazy story of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in simple but endlessly complex fashion, revealing that the play is based on real characters and real “faeries” – before bringing those characters in to act as the audience for the first-ever performance of the story.
As Dream, the benefactor of the play and protagonist of the series, watches on, both the performers and audience being to realise what’s happening and who they’re facing, allowing the creative team to consider meta-textual questions and add more of their own, ending the issue with a decidedly worrying wink through the fourth wall which leaves the reader wondering who the real audience has been all along.
=99: Sex Criminals #10 – Alone Together
Published by Image Comics in 2015
Written by Matt Fraction
Drawn by Chip Zdarsky
That’s right – this isn’t your daddy’s top 100 comics list! Well, depending on your daddy, I suppose. Very much not a comic for everyone, but the people who love Sex Criminals are people who utterly love it. This is the end of the second arc, which sees the relationship between Jon and Suzie develop quite substantially, even if Suzie isn’t aware of it. It’s an issue which delves into the difference between sex and love, as Jon realises he’s got the L-word for his girlfriend. The heart of the issue is between Jon and his therapist as they work through and around that development (and for debate, Jon does look like Fraction whilst his therapist looks like Zdarsky, interestingly), with shenanigans round the side of those sections. There are a lot of jokes snuck into the comic, and it acts as a major stepping-point for Jon, illustrating his head-space in fascinating and involving ways.
=99: New X-Men #142 – Assault on Weapon Plus Part One: Brimstone and Whiskey
Published by Marvel Comics in 2003
Written by Grant Morrison
Drawn by Chris Bachalo
Inked by Tim Townsend
Coloured by Chris Chuckry
Lettered by Chris Eliopoulos
Cyclops heads to a strip club to try and clear his head, only to get emasculated by every alpha male in the X-Men universe in quick succession, before collapsing over a table. The quintessential Cyclops experience, in other words. With his marriage possibly in tatters, Cyclops goes out to drink in an issue which offers one of the clearest looks at one of the most confidential characters in superhero comics. Chris Bachalo keeps things fairly simple for once – perhaps preparing himself for madness to come – but slowly things get more and more dreamlike and off-kilter until Cyclops’ night comes to an early evening and he crashes to the floor. Along the way we get some superb character moments for Wolverine, Sabretooth and Sebastian Shaw, of all people, in an effective and refreshingly uncomplicated script by Morrison.
98: Uncanny X-Men #173 – To Have and Have Not
Published by Marvel Comics in 1983
Written by Chris Claremont
Drawn by Paul Smith
Inked by Bob Wiacek
Coloured by Glynis Wein
Lettered by Tom Orzechowski
The worst day in Wolverine’s life. This is an issue with so many big and small moments that have such life to them in the hands of the incredible skills hands of artist Paul Smith. Uncanny X-Men #173 finds Wolverine set to marry the love of his life, Mariko, only for her to reject him at the altar in particularly suspicious fashion. Before there, however, we have the introduction of Madelyne Pryor to the rest of the X-Men; Rogue and Wolverine forming a super-effective team who run roughshod through the city; Storm unveiling her mohawk; Rogue sacrificing her life for Wolverine, in the process gaining his eternal respect; and a stunning near-silence fight sequence between Wolverine and the Silver Samurai. This is an issue which has absolutely everything, one of the best issues of Uncanny X-Men of all time, and one which leaps from iconic moment to the next with wild abandon.
=97: Avengers Assemble #15:AU – Submit, Britannia!
Published by Marvel Comics in 2013
Written by Al Ewing
Drawn by Butch Guice
Inked by Tom Palmer and Rick Magyar
Coloured by Frank D’Armata
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
A one-off tie in to a story set in an alternate dystopian future which’ll never be referenced again? Not many writers would take that as an opportunity to create a memorable and lasting piece of work, but Al Ewing has made his career from salvaging and repurposing the apocalypse. Teamed with artist Butch Guice, he brings a scrappy sense of British resistance to a story which really didn’t need to be quite as well-told as it was. Set in England, the story is part of the “Age of Ultron” crossover event – but all readers need to know in advance is “the enemy is robots”. From that point, Ewing and Guice assemble an unlikely team of heroes who lead a last resistance before their country is completely overruled by their new metallic overlords. Ewing revels in matching well-known but resurgent characters like Carol Danvers alongside new creations like “Magic Boots Mel”, a football dynamo who volleys her way into the heart of the reader. And although the issue closes out in sadly inevitably fashion, it raises a surprisingly strong and resilient last hurrah.
=97: Hawkeye Vol 4 #3 – Cherry
Published by Marvel Comics in 2012
Written by Matt Fraction
Drawn by David Aja
Coloured by Matt Hollingsworth
Lettered by Chris Eliopoulos
Hawkeye was always the boring Avenger, with nothing really going for him. In 2012 Matt Fraction, David Aja, Matt Hollingsworth and Chris Eliopoulos got together with editor Steve Wacker to prove that statement wrong. The series was already popular by the time it reached issue #3, the big car chase issue, but it was here that the team proved how much fun they were having in proving everybody wrong about Clint Barton. “Cherry” flips around in time back and forth between a car chase being set up and coming to an explosive conclusion, giving David Aja the opportunity to show off his ability to pinpoint action in clear, frenetic detail. Marked with a wicked sense of humour and some lovely page arrangement, Cherry proved that Hawkeye wasn’t a fluke accident – it was a comic which knew exactly what it wanted to be, and was able to deliver on its promise and then some.
96: Superman Vol 2 #082 – Back for Good!
Published by DC Comics in 1993
Written and drawn by Dan Jurgens
Inked by Brett Bleeding
Coloured by Glenn Whitmore
Lettered by John Constanza
Five Superman enter this issue, and at the end one of them flies out alone, triumphant (and rocking a most bodacious mullet). This is the culmination of the massive “Death of Superman” and “Reign of the Supermen” storylines, as the heroic replacement Supermen team up with the returned original Superman to take on a villainous Superman. It’s big and brash and incredibly silly – the villain has control of all metal, which means at one point he gets Steel to start choking himself – but it is endearing, and after a long period of absence in which DC showed readers a variety of responses to the absence of Superman… there’s something to be said about getting to end the issue with Superman, our Superman, the original Superman, flying back into the skies, leaping buildings in a single bound.
95: Graffiti Kitchen #1
Published by Tundra Publishing in 1993
By Eddie Campbell
A very hard to find story, originally published as part of Eddie Campbell’s semi-autobiographical “Alec” series which were published through the 1990s. In it, Alec enters a relationship with a woman – having previously dated her daughter. Like I say, a rare comic to track down, because it was published by the now-defunct Tundra – so rare to find, in fact, that I haven’t personally been able to find it… so in this case I’ll turn to my colleague Graeme McMillan for his notes:
Simply one of the best one-shot issues ever, one of the best autobiographical comics ever — sure, he’s pretending to be Alec McGarry, but still — and one of the most honest pieces of writing about how complicated and dumb and hopeful we get when it comes to relationships.
94: Batman Vol 3 #24 – Every Epilogue is a Prelude
Published by DC Comics in 2017
Written by Tom King
Drawn by David Finch, Clay Mann and Seth Mann
Inked by Danny Miki, Clay Mann and Seth Mann
Coloured by Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by Deron Bennett
So it certainly ends with a big moment, in which Batman gets himself down on to one heavily-padded knee and asks Catwoman a question fans have been wanting to hear for years. But issue #24 of Batman is, much like every other other issue of Tom King’s run with the character, some form of suggested thesis on the character. King has a lot of questions about Batman, and especially about the trauma which shapes his choice to put on a costume every night and go out into the streets of Gotham. Not every thesis is designed to be right, but each one has some kind of element of truth which might seem right about the character, and pulls you in a little closer. Across a long run, we learn increments about Batman, and are given the option to choose which are true and which we don’t believe. Here, we see him wondering if it’s possible to be happy, and how his choices have defined him – but not so much that one question at the right time couldn’t give him a redefinition. The issue is really one long conversation, marked with a change of direction at the end – but it also offers a take on Batman which is quite sweet, in its own hard-boiled way.
=93: Eel Mansions
Published By Uncivilized Books in 2015
By Derek Van Gieson
Here’s something wildly different and just plain weird: the first issue of Derek Van Gieson’s Eel Mansions, which is deliberately obtuse and strange, but rewards anyone willing to read it more than once. Ostensibly a conspiracy thriller of sorts, the comic is marked by spots of complete surreal genius, where the comic doesn’t recognise just how off-kilter it’s become. It feels like the sort of comic you could sit down with, grabbing a magnifying glass and a pen and paper so you can carefully note down every reference, every non-sequitur, so you can see how carefully they actually form into a whole. Even in a list of the top 100 comics, there’s going to be a curio or two, and there are few comics on the list more curious than Eel Mansions.
=93: Darkseid War: Green Lantern – Will You Be My God?
Published by DC Comics in 2016
Written by Tom King
Drawn by Evan ‘Doc’ Shaner
Coloured by Chris Sotomayor
Lettered by Tom Napolitano
The idea of “Darkseid War” was that the Justice League took on the powers of the New Gods in order to fight Darkseid, which is all very well and good I suppose. However it’s an unexpected tie-in to the series which makes it into the top hundred, as the Green Lantern Hal Jordan takes on an entire planet in a hopeless suicide run which could end if he’d also be willing to accept the powers of godhood. Tom King takes away some of his usual mannerisms and presents this as a stark choice: Hal can either die fighting all his friends and colleagues in the Corps, who have been possessed… or he can claim power and become a God himself, able to end the fight in one go. That struggle is played out through flashbacks which show Hal’s previous attempts at understanding faith as a child, which circles back through to the present (and, spoilers, the future then circles backwards to itself). It’s a clever idea, and one which plays in such absolutes that it earns the ridiculous high concept that span it into life in the first place. With Evan Shaner offering an earnest and powerful landscape to play in, this is a moral struggle which feels earned rather than forced.
92: Pluto Vol 3 Chapter #21 – Uran’s Search
Published by Viz Media in 2009 (NA)
Written by Takashi Nagasaki
Drawn by Naoki Urasawa
One of the most acclaimed Manga works of all time, Pluto stands as one of those series which everybody rates, and everybody knows stands up there as a truly important work that will change the way future people approach their stories. Chapter 21, which follows Uran as she wanders the city and stumbles upon a strange man collapsed in the street, is an utterly charming piece of the whole. There’s a sweetness to the chapter which makes it captivating; a mini-mystery which is solved in part through Uran’s pure generosity and kindness to even a stranger. A robot, Uran has the ability to sense emotion in animals, which is presumably what leads her on her search to begin with. After a false start with the police, she moves on the search herself, which leads her to a strange piece of art and then the stranger. The two would never be connected again if not for her kindness. Just as a standalone it makes for a heartwarming chapter – but what the reveal at the end suggests, far from just being just a nice and sweet moment, is actually that the whole world could be about to shift, and that the robots could be capable of so much more than originally expected.
91: Uncanny X-Men #297 – Song’s End
Published by Marvel Comics in 1993
Written by Scott Lobdell
Drawn by Brandon Peterson
Inked by Dan Panosian
Coloured by Marie Javins
Lettered by Chris Eliopoulos
The 1990s are dismissed as a rule by superhero fans, believing the decade largely brought greater and greater excess without any sense of distinction or real character. Here, then, is a comic which gives you a little bit of excess but a whole lot more personality than you might expect from a comic which has an emotional rollerblading session as its centrepiece. This is the issue best known for a heartfelt sequence wherein young mutant Jubilee spends a night talking to Professor Xavier about his newfound – and short-lived – ability to walk again, having spent most of his comics life in a wheelchair. Writer Scott Lobdell was always best when writing young, bratty characters, and here he makes the conversation between the two least-likely characters into a fascinating exploration of ability, intent, and ambition. In between we also get some overwrought angst between Rogue and Gambit and a charming rekindling of the long-term friendship between Angel and Beast, which overall makes this a neat bridge between the original X-Men comics, their second wind, and their future generation.