We are ALMOST TO THE HALFWAY POINT! Keep making the climb with me, everyone!
The last two segments of this list, covering #70-61, were pretty damn solid and full of entertaining books. Are we hitting a point where things won’t really feel questionable anymore? Let’s see!
(And yes, I, too, question that what I said might just be foreshadowing)
And to keep up on this list, click HERE and you can work your way backwards!
#60: Sandman #50
This issue of Sandman may have scored higher than Calliope or A Parliament Of Rooks for Wizard, but… not for me. As a matter of fact, I’d have them in the inverted order that Wizard did. But that’s the beauty of subjectivity!
Ramadan is a Gaiman story, no question about that. Wildly imaginative and just beautiful, it takes place in ancient Baghdad where the ruler Harum Al-Raschid calls on Dream to make Baghdad immortal in memory because he knows great civilizations always fall.
The most noteworthy aspect of the story is of Al-Raschid’s journey into the depths of his castle. He passes prisoners and fortunes and an entire room full of eggs to find the bargaining chip he needs to get Dream’s attention. We linger on the room of eggs as Gaiman describes the legend of the phoenix and the black egg it leaves behind. Typical Gaiman stuff, you know.
#59: The Thing #2
The story of Ben Grimm’s college girlfriend, Alynn!
You see, Alynn was a beautiful student who Ben dearly loved, but who would also not commit to him. She turned him down flatly, tried to run from him, and then declined his proposal so that she could move to Hollywood and not have Ben felt left behind because her career.
Anyway, years have passed, and Ben receives a letter from Alynn saying she is visiting. Ben unloads his soul to a hospitalized Alicia Masters, who advises her beloved to see what Alynn wants, but to be careful of having his heart broken again.
The story concludes with Alynn showing up after having suffered a stroke that has stopped her movie career in its tracks, and she’s visiting Ben to ask his advice on what it’s like to… be horrifying, I guess? This is one of those books that had to have SEEMED like a better idea than it actually was.
Still, the story works because Byrne always wrote the definitive version of the Four. But the whole story of this girl who quashed Ben’s love then returned years later to basically say “You’re ugly; how do you do it?” because she had a tragic medical condition just feels… maybe worse now than it was supposed to. Or maybe we were always supposed to hate Alynn.
But if that was the case, Ben should have slammed the door in her face. I want that ending!
Also, I want a sweater with my initial on it.
#58: Dr. Strange #56
On a list where Wizard sure friggin’ loved random issues that retold origin stories, we get this: a retelling of Dr. Strange’s origin!
I will admit to always loving Paul Smith art, so I was glad to get some of his work here. Smith is hands-down THE most underrated X-Men artists in history. He has such a great gift for storytelling and expression.
But yeah, I’m not sure why Wizard loved these modern retellings of origins. Here, Strange invites a news crew into his home for an interview. He explains how he came to be the Sorcerer Supreme, and then he fights some evil minions who disguised themselves as the crew. One of them is Kaecilius! So there’s that. Just close your eyes and imagine Mads Mikkelson.
Really just… nothing of note here.
#57: Dark Horse Presents #1
The focal point of this special is a nine page story about Concrete.
In this story, the newly revealed Concrete is opening his fan mail after a late night talk show appearance. It’s full of adoration, some creeps, and many requests. One letter in particular gets his attention… an offer of a large payout for Concrete to schmooz at a ritzy party. Concrete happily takes it up.
When Concrete arrives, he finds out he has been had; the event is actually a child’s birthday party hosted by a single mom who has nowhere near the moolah to pay what she promised. But she talks Concrete into staying, and the cement man ends up having a really good time with the kids.
The mom here, kind of like Alynn earlier, comes across as really detestable. This isn’t some special birthday or desperate idea for her son to meet a hero; she openly tells Concrete that she does to some celebrity or another every year for his party. She doesn’t even feel bad about it! You’re a jerk, lady! What is with this stretch of books and despicable female supporting characters?
Oh well, Concrete does put her car on top of her garage to get her back for the duplicity.
#56: Animal Man #7
Rounding out these five, we have far and away the best book of the batch.
Animal Man, home on Earth from fending off part of the invasion (of the DC event by the same name), comes across a sadsack golden age era villain called The Red Mask. The Red Mask is planning one last big caper before he kills himself, and has unleashed an army of barely-functional robots on Miami.
The neat part of this story is how villainous The Red Mask is NOT. He was gifted super powers from a magical meteorite, but the powers were… a death touch. The first thing he did was accidentally kill his own dog!
Feeling like he had no choice but to become an evil doer, that’s what he did. But it was never what he wanted. He wanted powers that could help others. He at least just wanted to fly.
Buddy and TRM form a bond, and the hero agrees to get the villain a spot on TV to tell his life story. But when Animal Man leaves to finish stopping Mask’s ‘bots, The Red Mask jumps to his death.
You really feel for the guy! In one issue, you get his story, his reluctance, and his acceptance of his fate. He just wanted to be more than he was, but… you don’t help the world by having a death touch.
A really great story–one that will almost assuredly at least challenge Fantastic Four #489 when I do my re-racking here–finishes off a section of the list that… really underwhelmed. We’d been riding a high the last few articles, but like The Red Mask in his final fate, we came crashing back down.
Let’s recap where I would rank the list so far if I were in charge of it!
- Fantastic Four #60 / #489 (legacy numbering)
- Animal Man #7
- Sandman #17
- Amazing Spider-Man #248
- Astro City #1
- Nightwing #25
- Incredible Hulk #393
- Hitman #22
- Sandman #40
- Uncanny X-Men #268
- Planetary: Night On Earth
- Avengers #217
- Animal Man #16
- Batman B&W #4
- Robin #46
- Preacher Special: Cassidy – Blood & Whiskey
- Sandman #50
- Avengers Annual #10
- Batman B&W #1
- Gotham Knights #8
- Web of Spider-Man #1
- The Thing #2
- Preacher #50
- Exiles #16
- Ghost Rider #68
- New Teen Titans #20
- Adventure Comics #466
- Justice League Annual #1
- Legion of Superheroes #3
- Batman Adventures Annual #1
- Preacher: Tall In The Saddle
- Adventures of Superman #474
- Legion of Superheroes Annual #1
- Batman: Devil’s Asylum
- Dark Horse Presents #1
- Conan The Barbarian #100
- Dr. Strange #56
- Alias #3
- Tales of the New Teen Titans: Cyborg
- Fantastic Four #3 / #432
- Punisher #10
- Legion of Superheroes #296
- American Century #9
- Demo #3
- Semper Fi #1
This was the toughest call yet for the current #1 spot. Do I stick with the book that DEFINES Reed Richards as a character for me–a book that handled him so much better than almost any other–or do I move on to Grant Morrison’s work on Animal Man with a fantastic one-off tale?
In the end, obviously, I stuck with Fantastic Four. I really love that comic, and there have been so few good stories about Reed over the years. The Red Mask is marvelously handled, but ultimately… he’s a character I never had to think about after that issue (as far as I know, anyway).
We will keep this ride going next time where we finally hit the halfway point! Phew!
Until then… take care!