Top Four: Titles

Ultimate spider-manThe Top Four series looks at certain aspects of the comic book world from two perspectives: Rob’s, as a relative newcomer to mainstream comics, and Kristine’s, as an older hand in the world.  Each installment evaluates the top four choices from both Rob and Kristine and why they chose their picks.



By Robert J. Baden and Kristine Chester

 

 

 

 

There are several titles in the comic book world, be they the standard monthly lines, limited edition mini-serials, or annual titles.  Each has their own way of telling a story, of delving into or establishing a character’s personality and background, and each is unique, yet similar.  During our experiences in comics, we’ve read several different titles and have come to discover the top four that we feel would be excellent reads for people.  Of course, these are just our thoughts on the matter.

 


Rob’s Picks

#4: The Amazing Spider-Man & The Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do (2002-2006)

Background:

The Black Cat comes back to NYC to investigate the disappearance of a friend while Spider-Man investigates the death of one of his students.  The pair team up once they figure out they are after the same person, but the two end up at odds with one another.  Finally, the Black Cat confronts the perpetrator only to land in jail for his supposed murder, until it’s revealed his brother did it.  Why his brother?  Well, that’s for you to read and find out.

Pros:

The story flows really well and gives an important background on the subject of sexual assault and molestation.  The storytelling is absolutely fantastic, and the portrayal of characters is wonderful.  Truly one of the best mini-series I’ve read thus far.

Cons:

There’s such an extensive gap between the two halves of the series, when Kevin Smith took a hiatus.  While reading it in a trade now wouldn’t upset anyone, when the title first came out, such a hiatus no doubt annoyed fans.  The only other thing I can think of that would be a problem is that it takes a long time to get to the root of the series (Issue 5).



#3: G. I. Joe (IDW, Vol. 1) (2008-2011)

Background:

A revamp of the original Joe team with a more up-to-date and realistic sense of military protocol, the premise is much the same: protect the United States against foreign and domestic threats.  This particular line deals with the emergence of Cobra as a terrorist organization with extensive funding and capabilities beyond anything else.  Quite different from the previous incarnations of the team, as it has more realism to it.

Pros:

This is such a different unit than the original incarnation of the Joes; it's much more organized and stricter, yet still with a sense of relaxation that was evident from before.  The way missions are assigned and the professional level of both the Joes and Cobra are more in line with how things really work in a military organization.  This title can be read by even first-time readers, as well as old fans, with ease and enjoyment for both.

Cons:

The one thing that sticks out the most for me is the different personalities that known characters have.  While some characters are the same as before, there are significant differences in some of the key personnel.  This might make them seem more real—flawed, human—but it also makes it difficult for the die-hard fans from the original Marvel (and to some extent DDP) line to pick up on the series.


#2: New Avengers (Vol. 1) (2005-2010)

Background:

Formed following the disassembling of the original Avengers team, the New Avengers take on new (and old) villains while dealing with having new (and old) team members.  The biggest names to join as Avengers are Spider-Man and Wolverine (two of my favorite characters), and the team deals with some of the major Marvel-wide events since the turn of the century (the Marvel Civil War, Secret Invasion, etc.).  Later on, some more popular characters, such as Dr. Strange, appear, and there is an extensive relationship between the New Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D.

Pros:

The best part of the new team in my opinion is how hard they have to prove that they’re worthy to be considered Avengers by the public.  Jameson’s continual painting of Spider-Man as a menace doesn’t help, as he then goes on to paint the rest of the team—even long-term members such as Captain America and Iron Man—as losing their way.  They’re still Avengers as far as the rest of the superhero community is concerned, and the average citizen on the street, but they still have to prove it, even to themselves.

Cons:

Unlike the original Avengers when they first started, there’s a lot of conflict within the team.  There are several members who don’t outwardly trust one another—especially given the obvious mistrust issues during the Secret Invasion storyline—and are suspicious of each other’s motives following the Civil War.  And, honestly, the most shocking part of the title (for me, at least) was when Spider-Man revealed his identity on live television; I honestly can’t think of why he would have done that given his hesitation to do so for decades, and the consequences for doing so play out extensively.


#1: Ultimate Spider-Man/Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man (Vol. 1) (2000-2011)

Background:

A reboot of the title character, Ultimate Spider-Man takes Peter back to his high school days where he’s just learning about his powers and abilities.  He gets in trouble due to trying to maintain his secret identity while still living his life as best as he can, and his interactions with people are more attuned to someone his age (and high school clique status).  Much like when he was first envisioned in the 1960s, this Peter has to learn how to be a superhero by trial and error, sometimes resulting in significantly painful consequences.

Pros:

While it shows much of the same problems that Peter Parker has in Marvel’s main continuity, it takes on a very fresh perspective, especially in regards to his relationships with Mary Jane and Gwen Stacey.  Heck, even in this incarnation, Jameson isn’t that bad of a person (well, later on down the line, near the end), and the relationship that Peter has with his aunt is much more open than it has been in the main universe.  He’s also able to have great friendships, and its remarkable to see how his presence affected the other superheroes in New York City.

Cons:

The one problem I have with this title is that even though it takes on the form of another newer and younger version of Peter Parker, the essential origin is the same.  This was a great opportunity for the creators to start with something new, something different that would have not only made a great concept, but would have created waves throughout the comic book world that would have allowed for spirited debate amongst fans.  I just feel as though a great possibility was wasted on making sure the core group of Spidey fans would be able to pick up the series without much transition between the original and the new.

 



Kristine’s Picks


#4: Star Wars: Empire (2002-2005)


Background:

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

Empire is set during the Galactic Civil War between the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire, the original Star Wars trilogy, with many of issues featuring main Star Wars characters like Luke, Han, Leia, and Vader.  Empire helped fill in gaps between Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back while giving a helping of side stories.

Pros:

Empire shines when it's focusing on side characters.  The Biggs Darklighter arc took a character with only a few lines and showed readers his importance to Luke and the Alliance as a whole.  Tank, Biggs, and Luke's other childhood friend, only mentioned in passing in Star Wars, enters the scene as an Imperial officer, a man devoted to the Empire and unable to understand why his friends have betrayed the galaxy's peacekeepers.  BoShek is a force-sensitive smuggler who talks with Obi-Wan briefly in Star Wars before going off to have his own crazy adventures.  And, these are only just a few of the stories told in this series.  Conspiracies, blaster fights, and more, Empire has it all.

Cons:

Not all Empire arcs are created equal.  The series starts off a little slow and there are a couple of stories that fall flat or are so bizarre that they're unlikely to appeal to every reader.  Likewise, Empire's other strength, its changing focus on side characters, isn't going to appeal to fans who just want more of the main cast.  Overall, though, if you're a fan of the original Star Wars Trilogy (and if you're not, you may need to have your nerd card revoked), then you can't go wrong with Empire.


#3: Top 10 (1999-2001)

Background:

Top 10 takes place in a world filled with superheroes.  The hot dog vendor is searing his product with his heat vision, the cabby is blind but his amazing luck gets him to his destination safely, and sometimes someone abuses their powers.  That's where the cops of the 10th precinct come in as the protectors of Neopolis.

Pros:

Top 10 is Alan Moore at his best.   The characters of the 10th precinct are as endearing as they are flawed. Every scene is filled with wonderful metaphors to the superhero comic book medium such as living along deities, retcons, and the sort, while the main story is itself cleverly written and one of the funniest comics I've ever read.

Cons:

Top 10 was like a good police procedural and the concept still felt like it had a lot of life left in it, but when Alan Moore moved on to other projects and Paul Di Fillipo took over, it just wasn't the same.


#2: Batgirl (Vol. 3) (2009-2011)

Background:

Stephanie Brown has been many things, a Spoiler, a Robin, and now, she's the new Batgirl.  While juggling her new responsibilities as a college student, Stephanie patrols the streets of Gotham at night, teaming up with the likes of Oracle, Batman and Robin, Supergirl, and many other heroes in this light-hearted and brilliantly written series by Bryan Q. Miller.

Pros:

Stephanie Brown was everything I wanted in my comic book heroine.  She was smart, resourceful, funny, and worked alongside other amazing women such as Barbara Gordon and Wendy Harris.  Every issue of Batgirl is a fun read.  The series was sort of my pallet cleanser from my angst-driven titles as Stephanie's problems could be wrapped up in just a few issues every time.  Miller's smart writing even made me love the superhero team-up again with Steph working alongside Supergirl, Damian Wayne, and Klarion the Witch Boy being some of my favorites.

Cons:

Besides the fact that Batgirl ended way before its time due to the DC Relaunch, it's not a title for everyone.  Batgirl could have been taken to darker, more serious places, and had Stephanie experience more character growth.  For me, though, I'm happy with leaving that as the Dark Knight's schtick.  Oracle and Proxy are not around as much as they could have been.  Oracle was a major part of the first few issues but then drops off more and more, leaving Stephanie on her own.  I think this was done to minimize the appearance of the character in too many books with her also appearing in Batman, Inc. and Birds of Prey at the time, but she was missed in Batgirl.


#1: Ultimate Spider-Man/Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man (Vol. 1) (2000-2011)

Background:

Peter Parker was an ordinary high school student until he was bitten by a genetically engineered spider, which transferred spider powers to him.  He then spent over a year of his life as the amazing Spider-Man.  Ultimate Spidey's stories were all penned by the great Brian Michael Bendis and featured our hero juggling his home life and responsibilities as a hero while being way out of his league.  Bendis also wrote some fantastic interruptions of Amazing Spider-Man stories, with his interpretation and simplification of the Clone Saga being one of my favorite arcs.

Pros:

Ultimate Spider-Man is addictive.  Whenever I had a trade, I would read it in one sitting.  While I prefer some arcs to others, they are all good.  The cast of Ultimate Spider-Man came alive on the page in ways the Amazing Spider-Man stories never did for me, thanks in part to a much easier to follow timeline and modern sensibilities.  The evolution of the characters are amazing from Mary Jane to Aunt May to J. Jonah Jameson; there isn't a character in this series I didn't care for by the end.  The end of the first volume of Ultimate Spider-Man will also make you cry, in a simultaneous good and bad way, as Peter's story comes to a close.

Cons:

If Ultimate Spider-Man has a weakness, it's after Mark Bagley, the original artist, left.  The book lost its way going into Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man.   As amusing as it could be, the Human Torch and Iceman team-ups grew old quickly.  In hindsight, some of these less focused issues were probably a product of Bendis preparing the again great final arc of Volume 1 and putting work into preparing Volume 2 with Miles Morales taking over as Spider-Man.



There is an endless supply of titles dating back to the 1930s (and earlier), and the progression of storytelling and character development has only increased over time.  Some people may enjoy the earlier titles, some may prefer the more modern ones, and some may or may not like the suggestions we’ve put forth.  But, that’s for you, as readers, to decide, so go out there and pick out a title to read, new or old, and delve into the world that we like to call home.

 

 

Last modified on Monday, 31 December 2018 23:23

Kristine Chester, Fanbase Press Senior Contributor

Favorite Comic Book SeriesAtomic Robo
Favorite D&D Class:  Wizard
Favorite Ice Cream Flavor:  Cookies N' Cream

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