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.
We’re getting very close to the very top of the list now! Here are a few more modern comics – perhaps in time they might take on greater importance and find themselves higher up the list in years to come? If you’re looking for something more classical, though, you’re also going to enjoy this next section of the list. Here come Stan and Jack!
40: Mister Miracle Vol 4 #10
Published by DC Comics in 2018
Written by Tom King
Drawn by Mitch Gerads
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Most of Mister Miracle is a slow, unstoppable walk towards the inevitable, and that’s what issue #10 is as well. Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ story is depressing, bleak, and most-importantly slow paced. Sticking to an insistent nine-panel grid – King’s got a thing for them – each page becomes an element of the story with a relentless, endless same pace as every other page before it and every page after it. The tenth issue of the series sees Scott Free and Barda one year into the life of their son, Jacob, and holding their relationship and lives together as well as any couple at that point in their lives. The question of Darkseid, and the war, and everything which looms over them, though, is still there, and that nine-panel grid is so linear and depressing.
Each page of this issue feels inevitable – once you complete one set of nine panels, another set of nine panels are waiting on the turn of the page. The creative team know exactly what they’re doing in forcing the reader into this death-march through their series, but one thing which gives this issue an edge is that is ends with a note of defiance. Although the characters are heading towards what seems like inevitable tragedy, here they casually decide to make one last attempt to save the day. For a relentless march like Mister Miracle, that feels like a huge moment of triumph.
39: Daytripper #10 – 76
Published by DC Comics (Vertigo) in 2010
Written and drawn by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá
Coloured by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Sean Konot
Every issue of Daytripper features the death of Bras, whose life we see had the possibility of ending at several different points, based on different choices and decisions he had the option to take. The final issue sees him living, however, as we head to his far future to see him living in quiet, happy retirement with his family in an isolated part of Brazil. After nine heartfelt issues, perhaps the reason people chose the tenth is because of the optimistic chord it strikes: Bras is truly happy, and is thankful for the life he’s been able to live. Dave Stewart’s colours are muted throughout the series, which gives a sense of life and authenticity to the surroundings of Bras peaceful retirement, as the story sees their lead walk around his home, talk to some of his family, and drink a little coffee.
Brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá don’t try to sum up their series or wrap everything up in some kind of hard message: they simply let the reader experience a life well lived, with Bras standing in the middle of the ocean, staring up at the stars. It could be that Daytripper’s final issue works because of the story that came before, but just taken on its own merit this is a standout piece of work from the brothers.
38: Y: The Last Man #60 – Alas
Published by DC Comics (Vertigo) in 2008
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Drawn by Pia Guerra
Inked by José Marzan, Jr.
Coloured by Lee Loughridge
Lettered by Clem Robins
The final issue of Y: The Last Man jumps forward from a horrifically bleak moment for the series, and into the far future for the “last man” himself, Yorick Brown. After every man on earth dies, the series concentrates on efforts to keep Yorick alive so humanity has some kind of hope of survival after the current generation have passed. It’s with issue #60 that we get to see the results of that mission: a new generation of humans, based on successful cloning techniques. But with a new generation of men based on Yorick, that makes the final issue an exceptionally bittersweet one: where is the Yorick we’ve spent the last 59 issues with?
The answer, it turns out, is particularly cruel and sad – but fundamentally human. Pia Guerra and Brian K. Vaughan flashback to show us the life and times of our protagonist, offering sweet farewells to the other characters. Some are wrapped up nicely; others are left as complicated in the end as they’ve been throughout the series. And in the end, Guerra and the artistic team sum up the entire series with one last, hugely evocative image. Yorick finally got what he wanted.
37: No Mercy #9
Published by Image Comics in 2016
Written by Alex de Campi
Drawn by Carla Speed McNeil
Coloured by Jenn Manley Lee
The story of a group of schoolkids who go on a trip abroad only to find themselves in terrifying danger when their bus careens off the road and leaves them stranded in the wreckage, No Mercy actually gets scarier when it leaves the plight of the abandoned children for a flashback story. Issue #9 of the series skips the bus and turns back to look at Sebastian, a trans boy whose childhood is the focus for the creative team in what is the most memorable, troubling, and upsetting issue of the run. The character’s life is depicted as a conformist hell, forced to wear dresses and act up the part of a girl by his family, who consistently misgender him – and ultimately, deciding that they need to do something, they send him to a school for “troubled teens”.
In other words, a reeducation camp, which keeps children in cages and tortures them in the name of education and religion. What the character goes through in the issue is horrifying (and true to life, worst of all), but the issue doesn’t do this simply as a shocking lesson. This is a deepening of the character, and it expands out the philosophy of the book away from the crash which formed the basis of the first issues. The whole world is a car crash, with everyone trying to escape from it with their personhood intact.
36: New X-Men #114 – E is for Extinction Part 1
Published by Marvel Comics in 2001
Written by Grant Morrison
Drawn by Frank Quitely
Inked by Tim Townsend
Coloured by Brian Haberlin
Lettered by Comicraft
Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely took over the X-Men with an incredible impact, although the first issue of their run only hints at some of the excitement that awaits readers. At once understanding the voice of every one of the characters in its cast, the first issue gives each of them something to do and sets them up for the future, whilst making their present arresting and interesting. Beast is losing his motor functions as his body seemingly devolves whilst his mind upgrades all the time; Cyclops and Jean are distant to one another and have lost their connection as husband-and-wife; Xavier is overreaching in an attempt to remember why he’s fighting this cause anyway. And Wolverine is, well, Wolverine, bub. Quitely gives each character something distinct and different from the others, with Cyclops having a lanky and tall body type against Logan’s stocky and stubbled body language. These are the X-Men we know, but they’re growing outwards rather than standing in place.
Morrison’s immediate interest here is in the X-Men as a growing entity – somewhat ahead of his time, the issue looks at how humanity deals with the idea of becoming obsolete in the face of the new mutant race which is rapidly outgrowing them. It’s akin to the face of white male society right now as they realise more people are coming out into their true identity; or that other racial groups are finally forcing their way through into positions of power; their community becoming part of the global community and in several cases a breakthrough force. It’s fascinating to see the X-Men, who can easily become a fairly dated and weak metaphor for “oppression” be used in a viable way like this, and that forms the foundation of an innovative, advancing run on the X-Men, as new enemies start to form ever more horrifying ways to try and stop what they see as their “extinction”.
35: Top 10 #8 – The Overview
Published by DC Comics (America’s Best Comics) in 2000
Written by Alan Moore
Drawn by Gene Ha
Inked by Zander Cannon
Coloured by Wildstorm FX
Lettered by Todd Klein
Alan Moore’s sprawling story of a multiversal police precinct gave free reign to Gene Ha and Zander Cannon to throw their brains all over each page. This is a very busy issue of the series, set in a world where everyone has superpowers, and following some of the day-to-day exploits of the police force in authority. There’s a hundred new ideas across every handful of pages, creating a feeling that this is genuinely a world unlike anything seen anywhere else. There are several subplots and tangents in this issue, drawn together in intricate and clever ways through Moore’s scripting – but the throughline here is what appears to be a teleporter accident gone wrong.
The issue explores two people who have been somehow fused together as a result, making this a little like that horrifying episode of Homicide, although with every bit the heart and a significant amount of soul. Although the investigation into the cause of the accident is discovered, that doesn’t help the two people – a man called Captain Cosmos and a titanic horse-man – who are in terminal condition. The two characters start off as completely opposed to one another, with Cosmos angry and upset. As the story goes on and the realisation comes through of what’s happening, Moore eloquently and upsettingly draws the two characters together through some of his most poignant writing to date, creating an elegiac and memorable finale to a sad day on the beat.
34: The Invisibles Vol 1 #12 – Best Man Fall
Published by DC Comics (Vertigo) in 1995
Written by Grant Morrison
Drawn by Steve Parkhouse
Coloured by Daniel Vozzo
Lettered by Annie Parkhouse and Clem Robins
After a lot of big splashy mad missions where The Invisibles lay waste to endlessly waves of nameless and faceless goons, the series suddenly takes a severe left turn and hits the ready blunt-force with an incredible amount of trauma. A lifetime of trauma. This issue takes a quick moment from the very first issue of the series – the random killing of a random minion – and races back and forth through time to showcase the life he lived, for better and worse. Mainly worse, it’s a very upsetting life he led.
Steve Parkhouse does an incredible job of telling this story, one of the most purposely disjointed but weirdly linear uses of the comics page you could hope to find. The script skips through the life of the minion completely at random, it feels, until you start to see the way it ties the man’s life together and highlights the mistakes, injuries, emotional wounds and faults which led him to sign up as a minion in a supervillain’s private security team… and to the bullet in the head which ends his life. Flashbacks sit inside flashbacks, as the narrative flicks brutally quickly backwards and forwards, sometimes within only a few panels, illustrating the thin, frail, winding thread of a human life. It’s not even that high concept, which is what surprises the most. This man lived a pretty simple life, which went to some high and very low places – and that’s what sticks with you after the issue ends. After you’re caught up with everything, what you can’t forget is how ordinary the man is, and how extraordinary the telling of his story.
33: Fantastic Four Vol 1 #50 – The Startling Saga of the Silver Surfer
Published by Marvel Comics in 1966
Written by Stan Lee
Drawn by Jack Kirby
Inked by Joe Sinnott
Lettered by Sam Rosen
Actually, the Startling Saga of the Silver Surfer isn’t the issue which sees the Herald of Galactus find conscience and a respect for humanity – however, it certainly is the issue where he takes up arms against Galactus, the impossible enemy, and distracts him just long enough to allow the Fantastic Four and their allies time to find a solution to their world-eating problem. This is the culmination of Stan and Jack’s epic storyline with Galactus coming to earth for the first time, intent on consuming the energy of the planet and leaving it destroyed, killing everyone and everything on it. With the Fantastic Four unable to land a blow on him – although Ben Grimm tries, bless ‘im – it turns to the unexpected duo of the Silver Surfer and The Watcher to provide them the means to save the planet. This is the quintessential Marvel story in many ways, with the downtrodden heroes finding strength to negotiate their own survival, and the heroes here take very different journeys to the rooftop where Reed Richards finally threatens Galactus into leaving the planet for good.
In the process, hundreds of ideas are thrown at the reader, many of which will survive in the Marvel Universe for years to come (Galactus, Power Cosmic, The Silver Surfer, The Ultimate Nullifier to name a few) and show the seemingly-endless imagination of both sides of the creative team. Kirby is working overtime on design, always aware of the grand scale of the battle whilst showing how, really, this is all just distraction to Galactus, who is by this point almost unstoppable. Lee, in turn, is able to handle the myriad turns of the story with aplomb, banishing Galactus from Earth and even finding time to provide each member of the team with a coda and tease for what happens next. I imagine most people voting for this issue didn’t do so because of the tease for Johnny Storm’s possible career in college football – but that’s certainly in there too! This issue is absolutely packed with invention, from two of the fastest-working minds the industry has ever seen.
32: Transmetropolitan #1 – The Summer of The Year
Published by DC Comics (Helix) in 1997
Written by Warren Ellis
Drawn by Darick Robertson
Inked by Jerome Moore
Coloured by Nathan Eyring
Lettered by Clem Robins
With Transmetropolitan, writer Warren Ellis swung for the fences as hard as he possibly could, creating a series washed out in a sea of caffeinated crazy. The first issue gives no easy way in for readers, instead jumping immediately into the exact tone and frame of mind which’ll stick with the comic for the remaining issues. The story knows exactly what it wants to be and who it wants to upset, creating a ludicrous futuristic world ideal for the creative team to fill with pot-shots at anything and everything which gets on their last nerve. But for a series which is so focused on the ethics of the big city, we start off in a small cottage high up in the hills, away from everything. Introducing lead character Spider Jerusalem, a drug-addled, maniac paranoid award-winning journalist who believes himself the only sane person in the world, we’re forced to believe everything he says – and thereby everything Ellis and a clearly delighted Darick Robertson offer the reader – at face value. Because we haven’t seen anything else yet!
It’s his descent down into the city, filled with every stereotype and ridiculous idea the team can think of, which gives the series its edge. Because as absurd a figure Jerusalem cuts (he blows up a pub using a rocket launcher within the first few pages), the city is that much wilder and crazier than anything the reader could’ve prepared for. Robertson is on crackling form, bringing intensive detail to every weaponised zealot or oversexualised reactionary who wanders the city, each bringing a new sense of disillusionment and disappointment to the acidic Jerusalem. It’s hard to tell where the series will go, because everything is hyperactive and relentless – it provides every opportunity for satire, being at once the most cartoonish type of mayhem and the most mythic character-building for Spider Jerusalem himself, whom Ellis and Robertson turn into a ridiculous messianic figure in a world of idiots.
31: The Spectacular Spider-Man #200 – Best of Enemies
Published by Marvel Comics in 1993
Written by J.M. DeMatteis
Drawn by Sal Buscema
Coloured by Bob Sharen
Lettered by Joe Rosen
If you want some kind of grand, memorable story for an anniversary issue, then boy have you come to the right place with Spectacular Spider-Man #200. J.M. DeMatteis and Sal Buscema trace through all Spider-Man’s history for a sad story which looks firmly at the past before letting go and moving onwards into an uncertain future. It’s the downfall of Harry Osborn, Peter Parker’s best friend who has dosed himself with chemicals to give himself the same powers that his father Norman once had. Those chemicals are killing him, but more importantly, they’re poisoning his mind. Harry spends this issue delirious, racing round New York City in his father’s old costume and riding the Glider. He doesn’t really know what he’s doing, his mind a mess and affected by his memories of his father and his old friends Peter, Mary-Jane, Gwen and Liz. He married Liz, Gwen died, and his relationship with both MJ and Peter is completely snapped. He alternately harrasses them and seeks help from them, often at the same time, but without listening to any of the advice they try to give.
It’s a unique threat for the two characters, because Harry knows Peter’s identity and keeps showing up in public, rambling and threatening to reveal it to the world. Peter doesn’t know what to do, Mary Jane doesn’t know what to do, and it all leads Harry into a destructive spiral which threatens the lives of everyone he knows about. In a final rooftop showdown he defeats Spider-Man at last, and prepares to kill him by blowing up the building. When he realises there are innocents still in the building (his own son!) he heroically returns and gets them and Spider-Man out… before collapsing and dying right there. It’s a tricky ‘redemption’ for the character, but a perfect tragedy for Spider-Man and Mary-Jane to have to work through. Buscema treats the Goblin as this mosquito who keeps showing up to pester the heroes, but when he takes off the mask this villain shows a very human face. It’s the complete reverse of Marvel’s belief that heroes need to be human underneath the costume: here the same is true but for the villain, and it leaves a powerful impact on the reader and the Marvel Universe.