This article was originally published on The Nerd Cave on November 15th, 2013.
What is your favorite issue of a comic book?
Don’t rush to an answer. Just think about it for a few minutes.
One or two ideas will come to mind right away when you hear “favorite comic book issue”, but if you’ve read many comics. Give it a few more minutes and more will arise in the competition. So think about the question and why those issues come to mind.
The reason for this request is that I asked myself the same question when thinking of comics-related topics to write about for The Nerd Cave. There are so many comics worth talking about, that it is tough deciding on one particular idea to write about. A favorite issue seems like a reasonable place to start, but it’s not an altogether reasonable question. Trying to answer this question in the comfort of my own home led me to think about a lot of comics and why they’re important to me.
The very first comic book I read was Spawn #14 in August 1997 when I was seven years old. The only reason I recall this particular issue is that I remember seeing Spawn in theaters and immediately begging my dad to take me to my local comic store afterwards. I grabbed the first cool looking cover I could find.
Although the art was fantastical and Spawn was covered in armor and swords inside, it wasn’t enough to hold my interest. The story of medieval Spawn and his mother’s witchy ways didn’t match what I recalled seeing in theaters and didn’t offer me any reason to care about what came next. So I set Spawn down at home and didn’t return to comics (besides newspaper strips) until 2002 when I read my first favorite comic, Suicide Squad #6.
I pulled Suicide Squad #6 out of the twenty-five cent bin at Dragon’s Lair, a local store where I played Mageknight, a miniature game. It was a random purchase caused by the boredom of waiting between matches, but it was one that would have a massive impact upon my life. The reason I purchased this particular issue was that its cover, like that of Spawn #14, looked cool. There was a dangerous gunman targeting a beautiful woman. That was all I needed to know when I was twelve, although I can now better appreciate the wonderful design elements at play. Unlike Spawn #14, what filled the pages of this book made me want to read more. For all intents and purposes, Suicide Squad #6 is not a good starting place. It is the exact middle of a three-issue arc involving the rescue of a political prisoner, in which the team of B-list characters is disguised as Russian citizens. What could have been a difficult read was enthralling though.
The book (literally) explodes from the first page and propelled me from panel-to-panel with a mix of shootouts, car chases, and tense character moments. The action is the true focal point of the book and, to a twelve year-old, seeing the set pieces like those in Die Hard captured by Luke McDonnell’s pencils was thrilling. The action is clear and pushes the reader through all twenty-two pages of the title, never relaxing the pace enough to allow the eye to wander. Deadshot steals the show, using his guns to knock out a deranged teammate, gun down soldiers, and knock cars off the road. The comic captures the cause-and-effect nature of each gunshot beautifully.
John Ostrander’s character work was more important in maintaining my interest though. I couldn’t have explained it at the time, but the real reason I returned to Dragon’s Lair was to keep reading Ostrander’s characters. Deadshot and Rick Flagg are still two of my all-time favorite protagonists. They are psychologically complex characters with conflicting desires and needs, developed over the series. In this one issue, there’s no means to fully understand Deadshot’s devil-may-care attitude or Flagg’s unbreakable commitment to his mission. Yet their actions and speech define those personalities and at the more complex people beneath the action hero exteriors. That’s why I tracked down all sixty-six issues of the Suicide Squad over the next couple of years, since there were no collection or digital copies available at the time. The mix of dynamic art, Cold War-influenced, espionage plots, and crystalline character work ensured that I would keep reading comics for a long time. It’s easy to see why this could be my favorite issue, but I hadn’t yet started to really explore the medium or engage with it as literature.
I think everyone remembers their first time reading Watchmen. I do. I rode in the backseat of a Jeep Cherokee huddled over this comic devouring panels while my parents drove us about the Midwest, antiquing. Watchmen #5 is easy to defend as a favorite issue. It uses the comics’ medium to tell its story in a way that only comics possibly can. The overlapping narratives of the core story and ironic crossover of dialogue between panels are the kinds of cleverness that ignites a young person’s imagination. I recently had an opportunity to speak with several high school classes reading Watchmen and it was obvious that the story had many of the students excited about storytelling and the ideas crafted into every panel of the book. Even after almost thirty years, an issue like this excites young readers. The structure of each page is a treat to read and teaches an incredible amount about the comics’ craft.
The best part of the issue is its overall structure. Compare the first and last pages.
They are perfectly symmetrical pages. In fact, the entire book is symmetrical. As you move from the covers towards the center of the book, every opposite panel is mirrored. If you have a copy of Watchmen handy, I suggest you take it out and start from the beginning and end of issue five and work your way to the middle. It’s a truly marvelous effect that is simultaneously subtle and, in retrospect, glaringly obvious. This structure leads to the anti-climax of the entire comic, in which we see Adrian Veidt as a hero defeating a dangerous villain.
It’s a lie that is woven throughout the entire book, but cannot be seen until it’s too late (about thirty-five minutes too late, to be precise). The entire issue takes on additional value in a second reading, only as you are aware of the entire story and not just its individual pieces. This issue is as much a thesis for the unique storytelling potential of comics as any other.
But there are a lot of comics that stand out to me as being shining examples of comics writing. Animal Man #5, Sandman #8, Hawkeye #11, Saga #10; each of these are issues that could be discussed for hours on end and they all have some personal significance to me and my life. That’s why picking one, single favorite issue is so very difficult.
None of these comic, not Suicide Squad #6, nor Watchmen #5, nor Animal Man #5 are my favorite issue of comics though. These are books I love because they’re the issues that addicted me to reading stories, that , and taught me so much about comics. My absolute favorite issue though is about the greatest superhero ever… All-Star Superman #10.
All-Star Superman is my favorite superhero comic. Created by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, each issue buzzes with the energy of the Silver Age without reveling in nostalgia. It pushes both comics and the superhero genre forward, showing off the medium without ever taking itself too seriously. In this issue alone, you can see Superman…
Reading his own DNA!
Creating our universe!
And punching giant robots!
I don’t want to live in a world where these things are not awesome. Yet the most awe-inspiring moment of this issue is much more human moment. It’s also what makes this my favorite comic. Just read this one page. I’ll be here when you get back.
Its scale is so very small compared to those other images, yet it’s the biggest moment in the comic. A gentle hand on the shoulder, some kind words spoken honestly, and a hug, that’s how Superman saves a life. In only five panels, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely craft a story where a small act of kindness pulls someone back from the edge and speaks to everyone, telling us that we can be strong, even if we don’t know it yet. I tear up every time I read it.
Thinking about that one page, that one issue, all of the issues mentioned thus far, and the countless others left out makes me realize the value of comics. It’s not that they kick-start a young person’s imagination. It’s not that they encourage a love of stories. It’s not that they help people see the world from different perspectives. It’s not that they can affect someone so deeply that they are moved to tears.
It’s all of those things.
When I share my thoughts about what my favorite comic issue is, it’s not to tell others what comics they should like or read. It’s to share a little bit of my history, my passions, and myself. When you think about your favorite issue of a comic, it doesn’t just speak to your favorite story, or writer, or artist, but to the value of art in your life. That’s why I’d like to you a question.
What’s your favorite issue?