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.
Our next ten comics include the grisliest issue, the issue with the highest death count, and the most family-friendly, happy series you could expect to find! We have comics from the thirties, as well as comics from only a few years ago. Let’s find out which!
80: Omega the Unknown #1
Published by Marvel Comics in 1976
Written by Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes
Drawn by Jim Mooney
Coloured by Petra Goldberg
Lettered by John Constanza
There’s something off about the first issue of Omega the Unknown, which is probably because it’s a superhero concept which, in the hands of Steve Gerber, Mary Skrenes and Jim Mooney, is cold, distant, and deeply mysterious. The issue weaves two separate characters into their own worlds, whilst leaving enough room to suggest that there’s some kind of weird connection between them. Omega is an alien on the run on an alien planet, attacked by strange figures and thinking unconnected and distant thoughts which delve into deep metaphysical ideas but then cut them off in deliberately confusing, unnerving fashion.
At the same time there’s a young boy on Earth who finds out after a tragedy that his parents are actually robots, and he is developing powers similar to Omega, whom he has never met. Where is it all going? Well, due to the series ultimately being cancelled, readers never got to find out the full story – but this opening issue is a rush of Gerber madness, humanised by Mooney (and likely Skrenes), leaving a peculiar and deeply memorable legacy as a comics curiosity.
79: New Fun #1
Published by National Allied Publications in 1935
Written and drawn by various
New Fun is an important comic more than it is a good comic, to be honest. This was the first-ever publication of all-original material in comic book format in America, from a series which went on to debut work from Siegel and Shuster (who’d be quite important for comics themselves, you know) in future issues. This opening issue features a series of humour and adventure strips thrown together into a collection, including “Caveman Capers”, “Ivanhoe”, and “Sandra of the Secret Service”. I won’t lie – there’s dubious content on here from the very first page, with era-accepted racism prevalent throughout the comic.
Like I said: this is here for its relevance, and not for its quality of content, but there is a real mix of styles and ideas here, and some cute pieces. National Allied Publications would go on to become National Comics Publications, before ultimately changing their name… to DC Comics. Editor Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson was in many ways the man who created the American style of comic books, and New Fun was the first step of a very long, very convoluted journey that led us to the comics industry of today. It also has a comic where a bully at the beach kicks sand into a young nerd’s face, so now you know where that came from too.
78: Casanova Avaritia #2 – What If It’s Never Enough?
Published by Marvel Comics (Icon) in 2011
Written by Matt Fraction
Drawn by Gabriel Ba
Coloured by Cris Peter
Lettered by Dustin K. Harbin
By the time we reach the third volume of Casanova, the lead character has become the greatest mass-murderer imaginable, having travelled from universe to universe and snuffed it out using a tiny little device which creates universal holocaust. But the second issue switches this overwhelming but abstract mass-murder and pushes Casanova in a different direction. Rather than destroying a universe in order to make sure he snuffs out one life which he believes can’t be allowed to continue, Casanova realises he just needs to kill that one person over and over again. A faceless click of the button becomes instead a person, face-to-face murder of someone who often doesn’t understand what is happening to him, and the series shifts into far more horrifying form.
The whole thing seems to play into Fraction’s view of the creative process, with subtle and… less subtle moments which see him killing his darlings in visceral, painful view so he can progress any further. The issue sees the creative team continuing at the same pace, but the toll on them all seems to be greater, more personal with each new page they create. There’s something incredibly tense roiling around inside Casanova Avaritia, with Fraction and Ba twisting themselves into more and more fragile shapes, as the comic itself shifts itself ever-forward.
77: Superman #400 – The Living Legends of Superman
Published by DC Comics in 1984
Written by Elliott S. Maggin, Jim Steranko et al
Drawn by Joe Orlando, Al Williamson, Frank Miller, Marshall Rogers, Wendy Pini, Mike Kaluta, Klaus Janson, Jim Steranko et al
Inked by Terry Austin, et al
Coloured by Tatjana Wood, Lynn Varley, Anthony Tollin et al
Lettered by Gaspar Saladino, Ed King, John Constanza, Ben Oda et al
Elliot S. Maggin was able to turn the 400th issue of Superman into his own personal playground for DC’s most beloved and inspirational hero, with the writer joined by one of the most impressive line-up of artists imaginable for the time – or any time. In Maggin’s hands this quadricentennial becomes not just a celebration of Superman, but a celebration of humanity and the spark one inspirational figure can light for generations to come.
Several of the stories here are set in a distant future – Frank Miller draws a segment where future journalists try to retroactively decide who Superman’s civilian identity was, whilst Mike Kaluta appears for a story where children living in the far, far future take on aspects of Superman’s myth for playtime, misremembered as it may be after centuries without him. The memory of Superman is as powerful as anything else, Maggin argues, with characters inspired by the mythos, the legend, just the sheer concept of what a hero can be.
76: Punisher Vol 7 #28 – The Slavers Part 4
Published by Marvel Comics (MAX) in 2006
Written by Garth Ennis
Drawn by Leandro Fernandez
Inked by Scott Koblish
Coloured by Dan Brown
Lettered by Randy Gentile
Bookmarked in masterful fashion by Ennis and Fernandez, this issue of the gleefully grim Punisher MAX sees Punisher almost stepping through the motions as he carefully – and quickly – takes out an entire gang at once, leaving only one member alive so he can extract more information for later. Punisher MAX as a whole was expert at portraying the Punisher almost as the wind of change within the Marvel Universe, a figure whose presence is actually necessary simply through the actual deep villainy of those he is up against. He descends so low to find his prey that it becomes a relief when he gets his hands on them, rather than a depressing power fantasy for white guys.
Here, we see him rescuing a group of kidnapped girls in methodical fashion, his plan going off without a hitch. There’s something which creates a feeling of relief when everything goes right in Punisher MAX – Ennis deftly creates overcomplicated structures of criminal power which the Punisher himself mows straight through, like a kid kicking over a Lego tower. As the series goes on Ennis allows himself more and more dark humour, and the first and last page (both of which are pretty entertaining, grim takes on the Punisher read alone) form a gutpunch of a punchline when connected. Sorry, phrasing.
75: Bone #10 – The Great Cow Race
Published by Cartoon Books in 1993
By Jeff Smith
Coloured by David Reed
Jeff Smith packs calamity upon calamity into the pages of Bone #10, which sees the brothers Bone trying to rig a race. Of cows. A professional cow race. One of the trio gets into a cow costume on the explicit proviso that they have to lose, whilst the other takes bets on his brother ‘cow’ winning – so they’ll pick up the profits, you see. When it turns out everybody has put their bets on one of the other competitors, however, the race becomes legitimate as the Bone in the cow costume suddenly has to make sure that he actually wins the race.
While this is all going on, Fone Bone – the third of the trio – is being chased through the woods by a group of rat-creatures, and coincidentally is accidentally headed straight for where the race course is laid out. The issue showcases Smith’s elaborate and brilliant sense of comic timing, creating the obvious but hiding it deftly behind a series of brilliantly funny swerves which leaves the reader guessing the whole time. It’s a swift piece of comic brilliance, stacking up incident after incident before unleashing them in a hilarious race to the finish line.
74: Preacher #54 – I Built My Dreams Around You
Published by DC Comics (Vertigo) in 1999
Written by Garth Ennis
Drawn by Steve Dillon
Coloured by Pamela Rambo
Lettered by Clem Robins
A fairytale in New York, as somehow Jesse and Tulip find each other after months apart, each of them going through Hell in the meantime. As a series, Preacher splinters halfway through and throws Jesse one way (on a road of recovery and reconciliation with himself) and Tulip and Cassidy the other (as Cassidy takes advantage of the broken-hearted woman and drugs and abuses her for months on end). They reunite, and although there are a million small stumbles as they talk to one another about the last few months, here is a relationship which is strong enough – and two characters who are open and honest enough – to be able to work through and around it all.
The implicit trust and respect they have for each other, earned through the previous 50-odd issues, shines through, with some of Garth Ennis’ best and most honest writing of the series. They talk to one another through the issue, their story punctuated by the series’ secret best character Amy, a lonely woman who strikes up conversation with a bartender while she waits for her two friends to leave her apartment’s spare bedroom. Amy’s conversation lays out the heart of the series, darkly funny at times with a real bittersweet feeling. Amy recognises what Tulip and Jesse have in each other, and as the issue goes on we see them reconnecting to that as well. It’s a rare case of being told and shown something at the same time, an issue which has some disturbing moments but ultimately shines a light through the earnest underbelly of America.
73: 20th Century Boys #6 – Flag on the Moon
Published by Viz Media in 2009 (NA) Originally published by Shogakukan in 2000
By Naoki Urasawa
Sometimes it feels like everything is crashing down and the world is ending, but in Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys that isn’t because of paranoia – the world very specifically is in the throes of a death spiral. Chapter six of the Manga is where things start to become at least a little bit clear as to what is actually going on in this dense, time-hopping series, increasing the tension which has been hanging over the pages since the start. We get to see a room full of people addressed by a weeping man sat in shadow, who refers to himself as “Mike Collins”, the only one of the three Astronauts on Apollo 11 who didn’t land on the Moon.
We find out more about Donkey, the young boy from 1969 who killed himself in the present day in the incident which really kicks off the story as a whole, and we also get a bit of morning aerobics too. There’s a uniquely strange tone to 20th Century Boys from the start, with Urasawa drawing incredibly emotive characters and setting up two stories at two points in time – here is where things dovetail a little, at least, providing some kind of clear view for what kind of apocalyptic cult-type story we’re really settling on for with Urasawa at the helm.
72: The Flash Vol 1 #123 – The Flash of Two Worlds
Published by DC Comics in 1961
Written by Gardner Fox
Drawn by Carmine Infantino
Inked by Joe Giella
Coloured by Carl Gafford
Lettered by Gaspar Saladino
A cross-universe caper sees Barry Allen vibrate himself into another world – in turn introducing the concept of the Multiverse to DC Comics, and revealing that all the golden age superheroes are still alive. After volunteering to entertain a theatre of children by performing some impromptu magic tricks (aided by his ability to move at super-speed), Barry accidentally vibrates at such high speed that he finds himself in Keystone City… the home of the Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick. And sure enough, Jay is alive and well, married and somewhat retired from the superhero business. Barry takes the opportunity to go on one last adventure with his hero, revealing that in the main DC Universe all the Golden Age characters (like Jay) exist in the form of comic books… written by Gardner Fox.
It’s an entertainingly subversive concept, especially as Barry ends the issue by pledging to go track down Fox to tell him this story – so it can become a comic issue. Aside from the creation of the Multiverse, the comic also tells a fairly charming tale with its two heroes, drawing the line between them both whilst giving readers a chance to once more see Jay Garrick race off on the trail of his super-villains. The whole thing is superbly put together by the great Carmine Infantino, who draws the iconic scene where a civilian cries out for The Flash to help him, only to have both Flashes answer the call together.
71: Uncanny X-Men #94 – The Doomsmith Scenario!
Published by Marvel Comics in 1975
Written by Chris Claremont and Len Wein
Drawn by Dave Cockrum
Inked by Bob McLeod
Coloured by Phil Rachelson
Lettered by Tom Orzechowski
So Chris Claremont’s first issue of Uncanny X-Men proper lands into the top 100, and is possibly in the list more for what it represents than for the issue itself. Given a heap of new X-Men characters to use by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum, this issue starts out by filtering through them a little so a core team can become the focus – cementing Storm, Nightcrawler, Wolverine and Colossus (amongst others) as X-Men forever.
It’s already possible to sense a few of the hallmarks of Claremont’s style within the issue, although he doesn’t truly get going until further on – here, though, you can already see the distinct personalities of the new and old characters scratch against one another, forming relationships which will go on to have huge importance for decades to come. Here, the stage is set for the X-Men to become the biggest thing in comics.