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Let’s not kid ourselves: the first half of this list was underwhelming.
Back in 2006, Wizard put together the list of the Top 100 single comic book issues of the previous two and a half decades–basically the best single issues of the 80’s, 90’s, and first half of the 2000’s.
A lot of it… frankly didn’t hold up. There were a few gems, sure, but also a LOT of middling books. And, honestly, there was a fair bit of crap, too. Books like Semper Fi #1, Demo #3, and American Century #9 that belonged nowhere near any kind of Best Of list. To be fair, finding single issue self-contained stories must have been a hard exercise.
Will the list improve in the top half?
I mean, you’d hope so. That’s how countdowns are supposed to work.
With that in mind, we are DOUBLING our output in this half, doing ten entries per article! Will our long national nightmare of Fantastic Four #60 being the king of the mountain finally end? And if so… how far will it fall?
#50. Iron Man #237
Right at the halfway mark of this list, we have this one-off Iron Man tale with Ol’ Shellhead rocketing into space–at the promise of having some recent bad court decisions reversed by the government–to track down a missing living weapon they had bred.
What’s interesting about this beast is just how… familiar he feels. Created by scientists in space. To be a peak predator/weapon. It is designed to be unbeatable, and certainly so by the same methods twice, as it evolves past anything that can harm it.
Holy crap, it’s a Proto-Doomsday!
Anyway, Stark finds it and has a knock-down battle with it until he finally figures out how to put it down thanks to some kind of biological agent AIM had previously (and conveniently!) unleashed on a space station.
In a sealed, non-vacuum environment, as the beast is dying, Iron Man can finally hear it, and he discovers it hasn’t just been shrieking as he had assumed: the creature can talk… and he’s asking Iron Man why the hero has killed him just for doing what he was created to do.
It’s a nice kick-in-the-shin ending to a story that could have just been a Monster Of The Month beatdown. The creation didn’t understand killing was wrong; it just knew what it was bred for. And it didn’t want to die.
#49. Ghost Rider Annual #2
Oh, I loved this story the first time I read it!
D-level Marvel villain Scarecrow, whose unfortunate name kind of puts him in that permanent “No, Not THAT Scarecrow” position in comic villainy, has finally hatched a plan to defeat Ghost Rider. No, not just defeat him, but torture him!
So Scarecrow’s powers involve being a contortionist (meh, but all right) and being able to power himself through the fear of others. He can heal from any wound if the fear of those around him is strong enough.
Scarecrow spends the first half (or more) of this book abducting people at complete random while reliving his past, which saw his abusive mother teach him the value of hiding and breaking free of grasps. After days of putting his plan in motion, Scarecrow lures Ghost Rider to his lair… a maze made up of innocent people strung up and surrounded by corpses. His own Hall Of Innocents where he is constantly empowered and Ghost Rider won’t dare hurt a soul!
I do still like this story a great deal, but boy does it end weakly. We spend most of the entire tale seeing Scarecrow prep his torture house while learning from the lessons of his youth. And when he finally gets Ghost Rider in position… the Rider’s reaction is pretty much “Yeah, so?”.
Rider immediately sees that eventually all these people will die from their battle, at which point, Scarecrow is his. This mentally breaks ‘Crow, who Ghost Rider then defeats by breaking all of his bones and holding them so they heal incorrectly, leaving the villain a cripple.
It’s DARK, but it just happens so suddenly at the end that it’s a bit of a letdown. So much build for this ultimate plan, and GR is barely even annoyed by it. Give this story 5 more pages of Scarecrow having the upper hand…
But this is a very good “It’s The Journey, Not The Destination” book regardless.
#48. What If…? #4
Another one of the rare books on this list that I had when it came out! Or shortly thereafter anyway; I definitely remember having this and What If…? #5 when I was young.
The story is exactly what it says it’s going to be on the cover there. In another reality, Peter did not get the symbiote off of him in time, and it completely and irreversibly bonded to him.
Marvel has done so much with the alien that this story only works as an alternate reality, but that’s fine. In this universe, fully bonding means the alien completely controlled him and absorbed all of the life out of Peter, eventually abandoning him after just a few weeks… and leaving him an 80 year old man!
The symbiote then jumps to The Hulk to take in more power before then latching onto Thor. Mr. Fantastic has a weapon to kill the costume, but calls in a different big gun: Black Bolt screams the suit off of Thor.
It’s a fun story–a lot of What If’s are–but the big points are that it’s one of the very first times (if not THE very first) that Mark Bagley drew the web-head! And the story of Black Cat losing her beloved and what she is willing to do to get revenge. The latter is what carries this over from fun to powerful.
#47. Flinch #1
Don’t like that cover. Nope. Not even a little. I’m not even 100% sure what’s going on there, but I know I don’t want to look closer and figure it out.
So Flinch, which I’d never heard of before, was a horror subsect of Vertigo, I guess. This story isn’t particularly horrifying, though.
This is a short tale of a man who, while I guess he hasn’t been abusive or a BAD father, has been kind of putting his family and their needs on the back burner while he tinkers with a jetpack he came across. He dreams of using it to fly and get rich and provide for his wife and kids.
You see where this story is going THE WHOLE WAY, but I won’t spoil it for you if you’ve never read it. I will say that even though I knew what was going to happen, I wasn’t prepared for it to be as… IT as it ended up being!
Also: Jim Lee drew this, and it doesn’t look like Jim Lee art AT ALL. I’d have guess Scott Kolins if you told me it was definitely someone I knew.
#46. Hitman #34
MORE GARTH ENNIS. Because Wizard couldn’t have been MORE obvious about their affect for the guy.
Ennis has been all over the map for me in the first half of this list, and upon my rerankings of #100-51, I had an Ennis book as high as #8 and as low as #43… with several more spread out in between.
So before we get into our thoughts let’s talk about the plot here. Superman and Tommy have a chance rooftop encounter while Supes is at a particular low point. A mission to save a crew of astronauts did not go as seamlessly as The Man Of Steel might have wanted, and the hero needs to vent. He talks about the failed mission to Tommy, and the hitman lifts Supes’ spirits by reminding him of who he is.
If you asked me, on a scale of 1 to 10, what the likelihood of GARTH ENNIS writing a definitive SUPERMAN book would be, my response would have been to eschew numbers entirely and just laugh at you.
AND YET. Here we are.
This book encompasses everything great about Superman. The burden of being the greatest hero alive. The pressure he feels and the right he constantly tries to do under it. The immigrant status and how he is a hero to so many.
Fuck, SO MUCH of what I love about Superman is embodied by this book. This GARTH ENNIS book.
Of course it has a twist ending where Hitman is just waiting for Kal-El to fly away so the former can kill a guy, but that’s just the laugh to end the book on. Everything up to it… it’s almost impossible to perfectly capture a character in twenty-two pages, but it’s done here.
#45. Sandman #18
Oh shit, I forgot they killed kittens in this book!
I was a little kid and one of my mom’s friends told me he did the same thing that happened in this story: their cat had kittens, and they tied them in a bag and threw them into a river. Broke my damn heart. I remember going to the grocery store after our visit, and I sat in the car and cried about it.
I was a little kid!
But sometimes I think “I sure hope I’m not a sociopath!”, and I remember that day and am comforted.
…why am I talking about this?
ANYWAY, the story here is of an older Siamese cat whose owner murdered her kittens. She escaped and made the long journey to visit the Cat Of Dreams. The Cat Of Dreams explained to her that cats used to be the dominant species on the planet until humankind dreamed together about a world where they were in charge. That dream was so powerful, it overwrote history and made it so.
Since then, the Siamese has gone basically cat-to-cat proselytizing about how the cats can take it all back if only THEY dream together. But cats are fiercely independent, so it’s unlikely to happen.
Just more fantastically brilliant and imaginative stuff from Neil Gaiman, with gorgeous Kelley Jones art. I’ve always loved this book.
#44 Gi Joe #21
The famous silent issue of GI Joe, which sees Snake Eyes storm a Cobra lair to rescue Scarlet.
This is creative story with a solid idea behind it, but when I re-read it here, I was surprised to see how… “forced” it is, for lack of a better term? I thought the whole issue took place in silence, but that’s not the case. There are panels where characters are clearly speaking, we just don’t get word bubbles as to what they are saying. In my head before re-reading, this story wasn’t on mute; it took place without sound.
Does that make sense?
Whatever, it does to me.
Still, this is a good comic. MAYBE the worst of this batch, but that’s not a knock–the 40’s are a REALLY strong group of books here!
Also, Snake-Eyes straight up murders another ninja guy with a grenade, and that’s tremendous.
#43 HERO #11
So I was unaware of this series previously, but it’s an updated version of the old Dial H For Hero series, but with a less clunky (and less enthusiastically fun!) title.
This issue sees a team of scientists and artists finding an ancient archeological dig showing artistic techniques far unheard of for the era from which they came. The tale then begins splicing present day scientific discoveries with an ancient tale of a caveman who gets the HERO Dial and becomes the first superhuman.
This is a lot of fun. The caveman is somewhat good-hearted and doesn’t just become the unstoppable bully a superstrong caveman might be in your imagination (though he does use his powers to impress all the caveladies!). He eventually flies away from his group when they seem jealous of him and try to take the dial.
He discovers he really likes sketching his adventures in the cave walls, and when the present day trail of him runs cold, we find he found something new he wanted to draw… his own world! So the scope pans out to see a peaceful caveman skeleton on the moon, next to a large rendition of Earth.
This is so simple, but so brilliant. In twenty-some pages you meet this character who can’t and doesn’t talk, but the art and his actions make him feel so REAL. He’s a bit smug. Somewhat lonely. But a good guy who just wants to record the world around him. Stand out story, this.
#42. New Teen Titans #38
The long-awaited reveal of Donna Troy’s mysterious upbringing is finally revealed as Dick performs a very Batman-like investigation into her history as an engagement present.
Who says Tim Drake is the only Robin to inherit the detective mantle?
I simultaneously don’t want to spoil this for people who haven’t read it, but also want to say the mystery isn’t particularly huge. She isn’t Superman’s long lost daughter or anything. Read it for yourself; the travel this book takes you on is pretty good.
This issue is cloying, but… in that good way. In a way that makes you feel rewarded. And with comics being so full of melodrama and suffering, to get a tale where someone finds her history–painfully normal for a comic character, but extraordinary to you or me–and ends up with a family she never knew she had… it brings the feel goods.
#41. Iron Man #128
I like that this story begins with Tony getting sloshed and going out to fail at being Iron Man and just make a chemical accident even worse. And it follows a whole “TONY STARK NO MORE!” nod to Spider-Man’s history where Iron Man briefly decides all of his problems are Tony’s fault.
We REALLY see Tony hit a sort of rock bottom here. Even when Bethany Cabe tells him the story of her ex and how he lost his life to his addiction, and Tony starts sobering up, it’s really only the start. He then finds out his previous drunken firing of Jarvis set off a chain of dominoes that led to SHIELD gaining majority control of Stark Enterprises. So with everything crumbling, Tony is tempted to throw away what he and Bethany worked for… but doesn’t.
Tony feels really vulnerable here, with Micheline giving him a quite human montage of becoming weak and hateful and sick from his initial attempt to grab sobriety. It’s a few pages in one issue of one comic book, sure, but we’re used to seeing our heroes struggle with muscular foes; not an inner affliction.
Before Robert Downey Jr came around and revolutionized the character, THIS was what everyone knew of Iron Man: An addict who had to fight an every day battle in addition to fighting other dudes in shiny clothes.
Damn me, that was a hell of a run. I definitely had a blast with all ten of those. Hell, what was the WORST book there? GI Joe? And that’s still a solid entry deserving of its spot on this list.
Let’s recap where I would rank the list so far if I were in charge of it!
- Hitman #34
- Sandman #18
- Fantastic Four #60 / #489 (legacy numbering)
- Animal Man #7
- What If…? #4
- Sandman #17
- Amazing Spider-Man #248
- Astro City #1
- Nightwing #25
- Incredible Hulk #393
- HERO #11
- Hitman #22
- Sandman #40
- Ghost Rider Annual #2
- 100 Bullets #11
- Uncanny X-Men #268
- New Teen Titans #38
- Planetary: Night On Earth
- Iron Man #237
- Avengers #217
- Animal Man #16
- Flinch #1
- Batman B&W #4
- Iron Man #128
- Robin #46
- Preacher Special: Cassidy – Blood & Whiskey
- GI Joe #21
- Legion of Superheroes #13
- Sandman #50
- Avengers Annual #10
- Batman B&W #1
- Gotham Knights #8
- Web of Spider-Man #1
- The Thing #2
- Preacher #50
- Secret Origins Special #1
- 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
- Classic X-Men #25
- 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
- Hellblazer #63
- 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
And so Fantastic Four #60’s reign has ended, alas. And we have THREE books from this set making the top 5. Great, great stuff.
The 40’s were a slew of winners… next, we’ll see how the 30’s shape up!
Until next time… take care!