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.
Welcome back for week two! This next ten comics should be of interest for fans of Fantagraphics, and contains the first appearance of some of the most iconic characters in the history of comics. If you were worried this was all going to be Marvel and DC with no room for anybody else – here’s proof otherwise! Let’s find out what’s next…
70: Love & Rockets #22 – Jerusalem Crickets, Vida Loca and Human Diastrophism
Published by Fantagraphics in 1987
By Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez
We have two stories from Jaime Hernandez and one from Gilbert Hernandez in this issue from “Los Bros”. They’re both partway through telling their stories, with Jaime focusing on Maggie and Hopey whilst Gilbert has his attention turned to Palomar. Gilbert’s story finds him noodling around and experimenting a little with his cartooning, hyperexaggerating with proportions and perspective for a tale which throws in a serial killer, bickering surfers, and Luba’s daughters revealing some of their deepest-held secrets. Jaime’s pieces in the issue go a little further, first off by looking at Hopey’s current love life and the various travails his headstrong lead has found herself in this time round. The “Vida Loca” story is the heart of the issue, though, as Maggie and the people around her variously bicker, make up, and make out with one another. It’s Love and Rockets in classic mode, perhaps, and works as a decent representation of the stories that the much-acclaimed series likes to tell, and the two mindsets of the brothers who first created it.
69: Moon Knight Vol 7 #5 – Scarlet
Published by Marvel Comics in 2014
Written by Warren Ellis
Drawn by Declan Shalvey
Coloured by Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by Chris Eliopoulos
The most elegant brutal fight sequence in modern comics came together as part of Warren Ellis’ reboot of Moon Knight, which sees the writer purposely disengaged in favour of putting together simple, smart action comics which took full advantage of the excellent artistic team. There’s barely a plot to the issue, which sees Moon Knight walk into a building filled with guards, fighting them one by one until he can reach the top and rescue a kidnapped girl. The poise created by Declan Shalvey’s approach to the series gives the fight scenes a grace and balance to them, each punch and each kick clearly marked out in an enormously satisfying fashion. Bellaire refuses to add colour to Moon Knight’s outfit, which makes him stand out even more. As he heads up each new staircase to a higher floor, he sheds a little of himself – his weapons, his outfit, which are destroyed over time – but keeps his mask, which is his true identity and personage. It ends with a great one-liner, having built up and built up a great, tense fight sequence which keeps momentum and keeps the comic happily singing along without dropping for a moment. Each new guard thrown over the railing adds to what ends up as a vastly entertaining piece of pulp, a simplistic story which gives you bad guys getting gleefully punched in the face.
68: Spider-Man’s Tangled Web #4 – Severance Package
Published by Marvel Comics in 2001
Written by Greg Rucka
Drawn by Eduardo Risso
Coloured by Steve Buccellato
Lettered by Richard Starkings and Wes Abbott
In which Greg Rucka, Eduardo Risso and Steve Buccellato offer a look at how the Kingpin organises, and the high code of honour which characterises the villain’s mindset. When an unseen Spider-Man foils an operation to move weapons across New York City, the blame falls on one of Kingpin’s higher-up operatives, who gets the call late at night that he has to go across town to go see his boss. From the opening few pages it’s made clear that this is a death sentence: he’s being asked to fall on his sword. This is the sort of story made for an artist like Risso, who loves a good bit of crime drama, and as the man walks through his house, says a very very restrained and businesslike farewell to his family before leaving, what stands out is the weird formality about everything. Risso is meticulous in his use of perspective to show that this man is completely done, his sunglasses hiding his eyes until right at the end when he stands before Wilson Fisk, ready for whatever is next. The story is a real surprise – despite the comic telling you what’s going to happen, it’s still hard to work out exactly what Rucka’s next step will be until the moment he takes it. Pretty good for a weird Spider-Man spin-off comic from 20 years ago.
67: Eightball #23 – The Death-Ray
Published by Fantagraphics in 2004
By Dan Clowes
After two years away from his sporadic series Eightball, Dan Clowes returned with his sights set on the superhero genre, or at the very least his perception of it. Yes, this is the issue with the superhero, although that should really have air quotes around it. “Superhero” isn’t really the term for Andy, the scratchy loner who acts as the protagonist. Set during his teen years and in the far future, the issue reveals that Andy has been given powers by his father, to make sure he doesn’t grow up weak, and that whenever he smokes his powers seem to activate. Thus begins a heroic reign which sees him vaporise people who annoy or bully him, accidentally kill animals, and generally grubby up the whole concept of heroism.
Although it can be seen as some kind of kiss-off to superheroes, the issue reads more as a deconstruction of American policy – shoot something and then pretend that the day has been saved. But getting rid of your problems by shooting them with some magic death ray doesn’t help anyone if you aren’t dealing with what caused the problems to begin with. Andy ends the issue in not particularly great fashion, and it isn’t hard – it’s very easy, which is why I’m doing it – so suggest the same might be said of 2004 America.
66: The Omega Men #9 – In The Deepest Heart of All of Us
Published by DC Comics in 2016
Written by Tom King
Drawn by Barnaby Bagenda
Coloured by Romulo Fajardo Jr
Lettered by Pat Brosseau
A particularly brutal and unsettling issue of The Omega Men finds Kyle Rayner, the former White Lantern, stuck between two violently opposed factions. Neither is willing to back down at all despite pretending that they each want to compromise in some way. As stated, there is an “alpha” (the establishment) and an “omega” (the rebels who tried to convert Kyle to their cause), but Kyle sees things in more open terms than that. He’s not focused on a binary idea of good and bad, because he sees things in spectrum, and as the issue concludes he demonstrates that in notably effective fashion. The issue marks the start of the end for the fan-favourite series, which entered end-game shortly afterwards.
Characters are seemingly killed here, and half the premise for the conflict is literally blown up by the time the comic ends. Here, King and his beloved nine-panel format find that the best way forward is to continually cheat the nine-panel grid, with Barnaby Bagenda on particularly impressive form with his use of the stifling page structure. This is the issue which rewards readers for their patience so far, hitting them with a series of huge shocks and surprises which leaves everyone’s future in peril.
65: Deadly Class #21 – Die For Me, Part 5
Published by Image Comics in 2016
Written by Rick Remender
Drawn by Wes Craig and Jordan Boyd
Being so wrapped up in the “class” part of Rick Remender and Wes Craig’s series sometimes means you forget about the “deadly”. In their 21st issue, their comic about a school for deadly assassins headed into the end-game for their first year students, who are forced into battle with one another if they want to ace it through into their second year. Here, the final part of that arc reveals who gets to live – and it’s not many of them, to be honest. Remender slowly builds up to absolute mayhem towards the end of the issue, taking the time to give us a reminder of who each of these characters are before ripping half of them from the series forever.
It’s pretty horrific at times, but aided by Craig and Jordan Boyd’s work in giving the series a seedy, dirty look which makes the events here hit the gut so much harder. For readers, it was an incredibly charged piece of storytelling, changing the entire format of the series in some ways, whilst keeping a surprising amount of the framework which first hooked them in. This was how it was always going to end: the clever thing was that the creative team didn’t give readers any time to prepare for it.
64: Runaways Vol 1 #1 – Pride and Joy
Published by Marvel Comics in 2003
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Drawn by Adrian Alphona
Inked by Dave Newbold
Coloured by Brian Reber
Lettered by Paul Tutrone
Just like the characters, readers don’t know what they’ve stepped into until they reach the end of Runaways’ first issue. Deliberately set up to feel like a new team superhero book featuring a cast of fresh and likeable kids, everything about the issue seems like it’s about to spur them off into some zany adventures… until they witness their parents murder a young woman. It’s a twist which throws the whole series off-course, forcing the kids to flee their parents in subsequent issues and become “the runaways”. What’s impressive about this issue in particular, however, is how it manages to reflect the time whilst using that to catch the reader off-guard.
The characters speak like children from the time, which has dated (and in a few cases is now recognised as being offensive: this script would never be approved today) but the story has classical elements strung right through it. Vaughan is brilliant at introducing characters, and here he zips through introducing each character and their parents without pausing for breath. Each character feels different to one another and different from anything else offered by Marvel at the time, giving this a more contemporary voice. There’s a traditional format to the comic, but the final twist throws it away in favour of something rather different and new, and by doing so Runaways helped usher in a new generation of comics creators.
63: Love & Rockets New Stories #4
Published by Fantagraphics in 2011
By Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez
Decades on and Los Bros Hernandez show that they still know how to put together a story. Their “New Stories” continuation of Love & Rockets sees the brothers going off on their own tangents, with Gilbert taking some lurid genre-heavy steps in a decidedly strange and surrealistic direction. Jaime, though, is on incredible form still, and this issue sees him continue his return to the character of Maggie, after she spent a few years being absent from the story. Maggie has been one of the rocks of this series, and this issue sees Jaime put a bow on her story, for anyone who wishes to find it there. He circles back around to her in the modern-day, setting up questions before wistfully answering them in warm and clever ways.
His cartooning somehow seems to improve even further here, perhaps with the return of Maggie giving him new creative life, and it makes for some wryly observed thoughts on love and relationships. There’s a little bit of everything here – squabbles, fights, romances both new and rekindled, and told with the skill of a master cartoonist. Jaime’s stories are what set this issue apart, crossing back and forth in time to remind readers the long-tenured bond they have with Maggie, and her life across the years. It’s effortless and authentic, even now, and ends on a cathartic and happy moment. All is calm, for once.
62: Hellboy: The Corpse
Published by Dark Horse Comics in 1996 (full vers.)
Written and drawn by Mike Mignola
Coloured by Matt Hollingsworth
Lettered by Pat Brosseau
The Corpse is perhaps the story which best sums up everything about Mike Mignola and Hellboy which makes it a fitting entry into the top 100 list. Starting with an unusual premise and getting stranger from there, one foot in the grave, the other foot firmly in old European mythology, this early issue for the character sees him dealing with a stolen baby in the most unexpected fashion imaginable. As he conducts a short interrogation and then heads out – reluctantly as ever – we get to see Mignola cosy up to a number of ideas which he’ll be really familiar with by the time he finishes his time with the character.
This issue has surly supernatural beings, backstabbing, defeatist cynicism, inconsequential characters who prove to be vital in the long-run, and absolutely no respect for what the expected track should be for the narrative to stomp down. It’s illustrated with an eye to the macabre and an eye on the hysterical, finding some wonderful humour in Hellboy’s latest trudge through a supernatural twilight which is as bewitching as it is mildly irritating for him. Such is his journey in life.
61: Batman Vol 2 #5 – Face the Court
Published by DC Comics in 2012
Written by Scott Snyder
Drawn by Greg Capullo
Inked by Jonathan Glapion
Coloured by FCO Plascencia
Lettered by Richard Starkings
Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s run on the core Batman series is well-loved by fans, and the first arc provides some of the strongest work of the run. Face the Court is the issue which sees Batman trapped in a fluorescent nightmare of an underground labyrinth by the Court of Owls, a clandestine group who have secretly been running Gotham since it was founded. FCO Plascencia gives the comic a sterile look which makes the maze feel impossible, clinical, and hopeless to try and escape, and its from there that the story gains strength. As Batman drinks drugged water and staggers, injured, through the maze, he’s taunted at every step by the unseen Court, who warp his mind and wreck his mental state. As they do so, the comic deploys a cute trick: the panels rotate sideways, so the reader has to physically turn the comic on its side in order to continue reading, before ultimately turning it again so they’re reading the comic upside-down.
It’s an unsettling affectation which unseats the reader just as the maze unseats Batman himself. There’s not much to the issue other than that opportunity to explore Batman at a weakened state (other than his eventual escape from the maze), but Capullo pulls off the twisting panel layout with aplomb, creating a memorable and entertaining new take on Batman in captivity.