I take no pride in being something of a harsh grader when it comes to comic books. I am not really sure why it is–I tend to grade out movies much more generously than I do comics for whatever reason–but if you look at my grading history, it is easy to see I am typically likely to score books relatively lower than others might. The reason behind that is this: If I am reading what I consider to be an “average” comic–average art, average story, nothing stands out, and while it is perfectly inoffensive, I won’t remember reading it in a few weeks’ time–then that is a C grade to me. C is average; C is the peak of the bell curve, so the laycomic is, to me, a C. So if I came out of a book with anything resembling negative feelings, we are starting a BASE of a C-.
But that’s just looking at the average. How do some of the best books ever fare?
I have something of a “You can’t have thirty-five books in your Top Ten All Time books” sensibility, and I feel that A+ grades are more personally sacred along the same lines. I feel there is a rationing of A+ that should occur (or, in terms of my Stew’s Reviews segment, 10/10 scores). I have long said that I believe that, for me, somewhere around 20-25 A+ books exist. I don’t have such a list–so don’t ask for it–but that’s been the number that exists in my mind. It’s possible there aren’t even that many, but that’s kind of the quota I have established for myself. 20-25 hypothetical A+ books, and anything else that I really love would get an A. This belief causes me to be a little stricter in terms of the aforementioned A+ or 10/10 scores because I have to REALLY consider “is this a book that will stick with me forever, and one I will read many times in my life before I die?”. I can read a book and love that book in that moment, but if I think I won’t ever go back to it, then it’s not an A+ to me. It could be an A–I have no such quotas on A; I could grade a hundred books 9 or 9.5 out of 10–but it’s unlikely to be an A+. Why is an A+ sacred, but an A is more flippantly rewarded? Look, I don’t know. It’s how my brain works.
I have had friends who have found this abhorrent. “What if you read a new book that you love? Your list is full!”, they would cry. My response was that the list doesn’t actually exist; it’s just a conceptual number of whereabouts how many I think there should be. But if the list DID exist… I guess I’d bump something off? It’s now an A! No shame in being an A. “A” is for Awesome. But in my head, it’s like… I have my top ten favorite books of all time, but if I read another great one, I don’t have eleven books in my top ten… I just bump #10 off the list. It becomes #11. That’s not so bad, is it? It happens with wrestling matches all the time. I may have a current Top Ten matches I have ever seen, but what happens when I see another stand out one? Something drops!
All that said and all of that rambling aside… how terrific would it be if I was super hypocritical right now?
You see… I figured I would top off this article with the first part of a two part “My Ten Favorite Comic Stories Ever”, showing off #6-10 before unveiling the rest in a week or so. But as I sat down and started coming up with a quick-and-dirty cutdown list of my favorite stories ever, I easily came up with 20 options.
From there, the top 7 were unquestioned gimme’s; they were always the cream. And I was able to scratch 5 from the bottom of the list without too much guilt or difficulty. But then I was left with 8 that I was ultimately able to sort, but I felt that #11-15 were worthy of some kind of inclusion beyond a haphazard “Honorable Mention”.
So with that, my Top Ten did, in fact, become a Top Fifteen. Not technically, though! I still ranked them, and have a definitive Top Ten! So these first five are just… also really great stories that need to be remembered.
YES! Pulling through with my integrity intact based on a technicality! Story of my life!
#15) Daredevil: Born Again
The last inclusion of merit is this seminal Daredevil tale, considered by many as the single greatest Marvel Comics story of all time. I won’t go that far personally–you’ll see other Marvel stories ahead of it later–but it really is awe-inspiring. What Miller and Mazzuchelli do to the Man Without Fear is almost depraved, stripping him of his sanity, his pride, and his world. They take Matt Murdock to rock bottom, then bust out the jackhammers and take him further, just for his excruciating climb back to reclaim his life. If I have an issue with this tale, it’s minimal and that the Nuke stuff at the end feels like the conclusion to a separate story that has no place here. But the ride there is borderline flawless.
#14) Rurouni Kenshin – the series
Rurouni Kenshin–and I wish I didn’t like this story as much as I do so when people ask what my favorite series is, I could stop saying “Rerr… Roo… rerr-roo-nee Kenshin? I can’t pronounce it, but it’s good!”–is a wonderfully action-packed, emotional tale of a samurai who has sworn off the bloodlust of his past and now lives only to protect those who need him. The cast of characters is fun, the story is engaging, and the art is beautiful. From what I understand, for transparency’s sake, its creator is an absolute shitstain of human being who has been convicted on no less than possessing child pornography, but eh. I’m not voting for the guy. His book was still great.
#13) Vision #1-12
Beautiful. This book is just beautiful. From the art to the dialogue to the way every single thing that happens matters to the heart-wrenchingly perfect ending, this story is just beautiful. I’ve talked about this book before, and it all just works. The best work Marvel has produced in ages, and one of thew Marvel books from the 2010’s that I care to re-read. And that last issue… damn. What a punch to the chest.
#12) Deadpool – Bullseye
A combination of one of the funniest comic arcs I have ever read AND one of the best comic fight sequences I have seen, this won’t be the last time I re-read this storyline from Daniel Way’s tenure as writer on Deadpool. Way’s run, though I love it as a whole, has ups-and-downs, but this multi-issue brawl with Bullseye just hits all the right notes. A brutal, intense all-out war between the two mercenaries, great art, and some hilarious lines (“Who commits suicide with a bow-and-arrow?”, “I am the meat”, among others) makes for a tale that is a lot of fun. Bonus: remember the pizza delivery guy scene from the first Deadpool flick? That’s inspired from this arc!
#11) Superior Foes of Spider-Man
Deadpool vs Bullseye is funny, but this book is FUNNY. Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber’s mini-series detailing the crimes and capers of some of Spider-Man’s lowlier villains is a gem. It stars Boomerang as he leads up a new incarnation of the Sinister Six in attempt to get rich and secure his future. There is an ocean’s worth of character depth here, with all the members of the story getting some great touches along the way, and this funny book has a charming amount of heart and tragedy that you almost won’t notice between the belly laughs. Spencer’s characters are fun and Lieber’s art a treasure. Fantastic stuff.
And that’s just the beginning, folks! #11-15 of my Top Fifteen stories ever. Come back around next time to cover #6-10 as we get into the meat of the list. And while you’re here, let me know what YOU think about A+ books. Are they as free as candy on Halloween? Or should they be more carefully guarded and restricted?
Until next time… take care!