Just another round of Comic Recomendations.
Batman: No Man’s Land (Including Cataclysm)
In 1999 DC comics did a year long story across all the Bat Books where a huge earthquake (Cataclysm) sealed off Gotham City from the outside world making it a “No Man’s Land.” The city then became divided among the major criminals, and the police holding onto only a small section. It’s a wildly inconsistent series with so many different creative teams working on it, but I love it as a setting. One of my favorite aspects of Batman stories is the interplay and power struggle between the criminals and this brings that to the forefront. There’s a map of territories that got updated as the story develops and the year progresses.
As it builds to the finale the pieces comes together in a way that I think really pays off.
Detective Comics 821-824, 826-828 831, 833-834, 840-852; Streets of Gotham 1-21
Written by Paul Dini
These issues kind of serve as a straight run on Batman from Paul Dini, most known for his work on Batman the Animated Series. Also these comics are better with the later issues of Detective (841 on) and Streets of Gotham because that’s when Dustin Nguyen becomes the regular artist and really brings out the best in these stories. Issue 826 of Detective really stands out from the issues before that as I think one of the best Joker comics. It’s a simple story well told with him just driving around murdering people with Robin (Tim Drake) tied up in the seat next to him.
One of the things this run did that I appreciate is that it made me really like Hush as a Batman villain. I’m not a fan of Hush the comic, but here Dini gives the character the same kind of treatment Batman The Animated Series gave all its villains. I always love when a writer can find an angle on a character I don’t like and make them compelling.
The big standout for me though is Streets of Gotham 10-11 in which Robin (Damian Wayne) takes down a child gladiator ring being run by Victor Zsasz. He even makes a friend along the way.
Judge Dredd (IDW 2012) 1-30
Written by Duane Swierczynski
Art by Nelson Daniel
After the release of the Film Dredd IDW started putting out an all new Judge Dredd series. This series existed in its own continuity the 2000 AD Judge Dredd comics are their own weird beast, a 70s British parody of America that I still find intimidating.
IDW’s Judge Dredd series however was very easy to jump right into and does a great job quickly building out its world and delivering on the strengths of that world. And honestly Dredd should be appealing, a lot of the scripts that were ke to developing the modern version of Batman were reworked Dredd scripts. Basically just noire thrillers that sit between standard super heroics and Twilight Zone stories. Which is the same kind of super hero horror mash up that defined early Marvel and gave us Spider-Man.
What I’m saying is that this is just classic comics done well.
Mega-City One is a more brutal setting than Gotham and Judge Dredd is a more violent, brutal protagonist than Batman. If you think Batman should be using guns you should probably just be reading Judge Dredd instead of Batman.
This series came out in the wake of the 2012 Dredd movie, which I love, and it proved an easy jumping on point for me since it also feels more like dark future New York than a British parody of America.
Also I just really like Nelson Daniel’s art.
Hawkeye (2012) 1-22
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by David Aja
Matt Fraction is great. You should probably just go out and find every Matt Fraction comic you can get your hands on and read it. Also David Aja is fucking incredible. This comic isn’t just good, it’s worth studying.
The big key to it is that it’s not just about Clint Barton, it’s also about Kate Bishop the Young Avenger who also goes by the moniker Hawkeye.
This is one that I think is so good it’s hard for me to talk about it generally, I just want to show off every page.
The Spectacular Spider-Man from issues 241-253
Written by J. M. DeMatteis
Sensational Spider-Man 12-24, 26, 29-31
Written by Todd DeZago
The Clone Saga was a dark time for Spider-Man. And so was the Howard Mackie era. And so was the J. Michael Straczynski era. The Brand New Day era is really where main-line Spider-Man comics became consistently good again despite coming directly out of one of the most hated Spider-Man stories.
But these two shorter runs on side Spider-Man books that came right on the heels of the Death of Ben Reilly are just solid and fun. They were an amazing breath of fresh air at the time; Spider-Man stories that felt classic.
Venom (2011) 1-22 (including 13.1-13.4) [6-8 are part of a larger Spider-Man Crossover so be aware]
Written by Rick Remender
This is the story where Flash Thompson, who in a previous Spider-Man story had joined the army and lost his legs in Afghanistan, agrees to become Agent Venom for the US military, a fun throwback to that time Brock became a secret agent for the government himself.
Venom was my favorite comic book character as a kid, I have the entirety of the original run of Venom comics, trust me when I say this was easily the best Venom comic up until then. Flash Thompson is just a much more compelling character to follow than Eddie Brock.
Brock is defined by his pure blinding hatred for Spider-Man, but once you take him out of the content of doggedly trying to make Peter Parker’s life a nightmare he doesn’t work as well, and writers struggled to give him purpose. This was not helped by the fact that Marvel editorial was never that comfortable with Venom having his own book.
And on the other side, Flash Thompson is a classic Spider-Man character, a bully turned friend for Peter Parker who has always loved Spider-Man, that writers struggled to figure out what to do with as time went on. Flash’s struggles with alcoholism and his losing his legs in the military were not stories I ever particularly cared for, they just never quite fit into the context of the Spider-Man comics they were in. But these Venom comics make both of them into story assets that work together.
What makes this series though is the version of Jack O’ Lantern in it. He’s a great villain and nemesis for Flash. Also the Circle of Four crossover that takes place over issues 13,13.1-13.4 and 14 (Which is a nod to a story where Hulk, Wolverine, Spider-Man and Ghost Rider were presented as a replacement Fantastic Four) is really great, crazy fun.
Dark Reign: The List – Punisher, Punisher 11-16, Franken-Castle 17-21
Written by Rick Remender
Dark Wolverine 88-89
Written by Daniel Way & Marjorie Liu
Look, I’m a sucker for stories that just exist because of a dumb pun. Turning Frank Castle into the Franken-Castle is an idea so good I’m surprised it too so long for it to happen.
Honestly I think the best issue in this story is the one that kicks it off Dark Reign: The List – Punisher in which Frank, on the run from Norman Osborn (You can read the earlier 10 issues of Remender’s run on Punisher for the details) is finally cornered and killed by Daken. Frank pulls out every trick he’s got to try and get away put at the end of the line Frank’s fate is brutal and grizzly. As he’s sliced into chunks and left in an alley to rot. Just as a Death of Punisher story I really like it.
But it’s all just setup so that Morbius the living Vampire can resurrect Frank as an undead abomination. One of the great things about the Punisher is that he’s an 80s action movie anti-hero who happens to live in the Marvel universe and so has to encounter stuff that he just should never have to deal with. Sometimes that’s just Spider-Man, but here it’s The Legion of Monsters an entire underground society that honestly Frank does not give a shit about. Despite having a hulking mutated body and severe mental damage the he tries to fight with pills, Frank is as always still Frank and that’s what makes this story work.
Captain America (2012) 1-10
Written by Rick Remender
Art by John Romita Jr.
It can be hard for Super Hero books to establish stakes that feel meaningful, praticularly within the context of a singular book. On the other hand giant crossovers have their own problems with sprawl. The ideal is a story that feels big and meaningful while still having tight pacing and a focused narrative and I think that’s what these ten issues deliver on.
Steve Rogers is put through the ringer. I can’t think of another story that pushes and punishes him harder both emotionally and physically.
There are plenty of comics where characters find themselves trapped in an alternate reality or dark future, but usually they’re not stuck there very long. The aging nature of the major characters usually preventing any kind of meaningful time passage, but this story doubles down on Cap’s Man out of Time nature. Kidnapped and trapped in an alternate dimension created by Arnim Zola, issue 1 ends with Cap having a “This is fine” moment and issue two opens up “One Year Later.”
Also I just love Romita Jr’s art, and this story allows him to really get his Jack Kirby on.
Daredevil (2011) 1-36, (2014) 1-18
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Chris Samnee, Paolo Rivera and others.
One of the jokes about Daredevil is that he is essentially “Red Batman.” I think that’s mostly a result of some of his most famous and defining comics coming from Frank Miller who was pretty singular in his approach to writing noire heroes (eventually to the point of self parody). And I’ll be honest, Daredevil was never a character I particularly cared for… until this run.
His brooding, angsting catholic guilt never really appealed to me. And before this Marvel also had no idea what to do with the character. Shadowland is a bad story nobody cares about.
The thing that Waid got right about Daredevil from the start of his run was to bring Matt Murdock’s sense of humor to the forefront. Because here’s the real thing about Daredevil he’s actually just a cross between Spider-Man and Batman. He’s not as good as either of those two, but he can support stories that could have been about either of them, plus stories that take advantage of the fact that he’s a lawyer and/or his blindness. He’s an incredibly versatile character who got pigeonholed into a smaller range of stories.
Also this is another book where the art is just great (although there are some weak fill in issues). Paolo Rivera sets a great standard off the bat, Marcos Martin and Mike Allred deliver some great work along the way, but it’s Chris Samnee who delivers consistently from issue 18 on that defines this run.
Issue 8 is part of a two issue crossover with Spider-Man, which is where I hoped on this train (Waid was one of the rotating writers on Spider-Man at the time) but the early story stand out for me is issues 14-15 wherein Matt is trapped in Latveria with limited radar vision.
Although I think my favorite thing about the run is still his “I’m not Daredevil” shirt.
P.S. Waid and Samnee are the current team on Captain America if you’re looking for something more recent.
Thank You for Your Time.