The greatest hero can only ever be as great…
as his most fearsome villain. For Batman, The Joker. For Daredevil, Mark Waid. And of
course, for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles… their arch nemesis The Shredder!
What many comic fans don’t realize… is that for the first several years of the Turtles’
existence… they had no clear antagonist. They killed the shit out of The Shredder…
in literally the first issue! He was Elvis dead, Turn-based RPG dead… with zero ambiguity
on the subject. It wasn’t until a mysterious figure reformed
The Foot in 1988’s Return of the Shredder storyline… that the Turtles at last located
the yin to their yang. To anyone who’s seen the 1990 TMNT film – which
still, for me, ranks among the all-time great comic book adaptations on the silver screen
– the story will seem very familiar, indeed. In fact, reading this comic, you will even
note exact panels from the comic… reproduced in faithful detail on the screen in Steve
Barron’s film adaptation. From Casey Jones’ introduction to the establishment
of the Foot as a clear and legitimate threat, this was Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird at
the absolute height of their creative powers. For the first time in the life of their creator-owned
series, not only elevating the TMNT above their humble origins as a tribute to Frank
Miller Daredevil… but filling out the world of the Turtles with a ground-level lore that
is largely adhered to to this very day. …that… and it doesn’t get much more badass…
than this full three-page foldout splash… to reveal the new incarnation of The Shredder
for the very first time. Be still, my beating boner.
Return of the Shredder: READ THAT SHIT. Next! Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev… may
well be my favorite Daredevil creative team of all-time, and in my opinion, the controversial
and plot-hole-ridden masterpiece ‘The Murdock Papers’… was the perfect bookend to an exceptional
run. So, Daredevil finally puts the Kingpin away.
And thanks to declaring himself ‘The New Kingpin of Hell’s Kitchen’ (long fuckin’ story, on
that one), he manages to secure a lengthy, albeit fragile, peace. The Kingpin claims
he has the complete file on Matt Murdock, the vigilante. A complete catalogue of his
origin, his motivations, irrefutable proof that Matt Murdock is Daredevil! He calls them
– you guessed it – The Murdock Papers! And he’s willing to talk trade with the FBI…
if they let him go. See, the FBI already has the Kingpin. And if they let him loose, as
an established crime boss, they still have 1,000 reasons to put him back behind bars.
It’s Daredevil they want. And this looks like their only shot at him. His secret identity
was outted in the tabloids, but he fired right back using the Barack Obama method: Deny,
Deny, Deny. What follows is a masterfully written modern
film noir, with The Kingpin showing his unrivalled manipulative acumen… as he plays all sides
against the middle. And, let me tell ya’, there are more sides than a fuckin’ dsco ball.
Everyone catches wind of the Murdock Papers – The Hand, Bullseye, Black Widow… and even
a long-believed deceased young lady by the name of Elektra. It erupts into a full-scale
war on the rooftops of Hell’s Kitchen and ends with one of the most excruciating cliffhanger
endings I’ve ever fallen victim to. Admittedly, you’re going to get a hell of
a lot more out of this graphic novel… if you go back and read from the very beginning
of Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s Daredevil run… a storyline called ‘Out’…
but as a climax to a very well-penned and consistently exceptional run… The Murdock
Papers are without fucking peer. The polar opposite of Mark Waid’s pseudo-retro hipster
pretense in more recent Daredevil offerings. Whereas Mark Waid’s Daredevil volume 3 has
aged like milk… Bendis’ take on the Man Without Fear has aged like Cindy Crawford.
Emphatically recommended. Without Superman, the very concept of the
modern superhero would not exist. That’s a big deal. One publication… essentially responsible
for the creation of an entire subgenre of science fiction. But lightning struck again
in the year 1975, and would later be reprinted within the pages of a very different kind
of comic book emanating from France. You call it ‘comic’. They call it ‘bandes dessinee’.
Whatever the nomenclature, what is certain is that without this comic, Cyberpunk – as
a visual and literary concept – very well may not exist.
That comic’s name was Metal Hurlant, known stateside as ‘Heavy Metal Magazine’… and
that graphic novel’s name… was ‘The Long Tomorrow’.
Long before William Gibson coined, and championed the term in his ‘Neuromancer’ novel from 1984…
‘The Long Tomorrow’ embodied every solitary tenet that comprises Cyberpunk… and even
threw in a bit of film noir for good measure. Written by Dan O’Bannon, whose name should
sound familiar if you’ve ever seen a little movie he wrote by the name of Alien – with
breathtaking illustrations by the late artistic demigod known as ‘Moebius’. Weighing in at
a mere 17 pages, to even call it a graphic novel is a bit of a stretch… but in the
gestative years of the fledgling format, The Long Tomorrow nevertheless fit the bill.
And I’m not the only person whose mind was blown clean off his shoulderblades when he
read this for the first time… in the mid-’70s, a rising Hollywood director by the name of
Ridley Scott felt much the same way. It not only convinced him to hire Dan O’Bannon to
pen the Alien script… it also inspired him visually and tonally into ultimately crafting
the cyberpunk watershed – my favorite film of all-time – Blade Runner. Without this graphic
novel… there is no Alien. There is no Blade Runner. And thanks to causing a massive stir
on an east asian island chain that shall remain nameless… you can thank Metal Hurlant – and
the 1981 animated film it ultimately inspired – for changing the aesthetic, violence, and
level of mature content in both Manga and Anime.
Before The Long Tomorrow? Manga and Anime was Robotech… and Astro Boy… and Speed
Racer. After it? It was Akira. And Bubblegum Crisis. And Ghost in the Shell. That’s a fairly
radical stylistic shift, and it’s staggering just how few people ever actually discuss
the profound influence of French comics on Japanese entertainment. Without it, the entire
face of late ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and even modern manga and anime – like post-2000 Nikki Cox
– would be completely unrecognizable. It’s a Napoleonically short read, but I can’t recommend
it highly enough. Everyone has ‘that book’.
The comic or graphic novel that – although they’d long since fallen out of love with
comics – somehow single-handedly siezed them from the mire of their own adolescent indifference…
and once again planted their feet firmly on the path of comic fandom. For some, it’s Neil
Gaiman’s ‘The Sandman’, for others it was Jim Lee and Jeph Loeb’s early 2000s ‘Hush’
storyline in Batman, and for others still, it was Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s
‘New X-Men’ revamp around the same time. There’s no wrong answer on this one.
What set me apart, I suppose, is that when I re-entered comics in 2002… I still had
no interest in superheroes, at the time. I’d soured on the genre in the ’90s, and I wasn’t
about to come crawling back to the Long Underwear Brigade.
What I was looking for – thanks to my lifelong love of The Oz Books, Brian Jacques Redwall
series, and of course the recent release of a little film franchise you may have heard
of called ‘Lord of the FUCKING RINGS’… was FANTASY!
Not Dark Horse’s Conan. Not Dynamite’s Red Sonja. The REAL shit. A PROPER, brand new
world of fantasy, without genre clichés like Elves, Dwarves, or Orcs, but created solely
for the comic book medium, taken seriously, with the lush illustrations the genre invariably
demands… …and then I found ‘Sojourn’.
Simultaneously exploiting and inverting all of the established fantasy tropes in contemporary
fiction, Sojourn stands worlds apart from literally any fantasy story I’ve encountered
– in comics or in print – in the past 15 fuckin’ years. Main character’s a scorching hot blonde
chick? Main supporting character is a thiefy, male ne’er-do-well with bulging pecs and a
heart of gold? Well, these two’ll be fuckin’ in the first five panels! Nope. Never happens.
Because Arwyn is treated (and yes, that is a tribute to Tolkien, but Arwyn is treated)
as a three-dimensional female character. Her husband and daughter were murdered in front
of her! The very fact that she’s on a revenge quest proves she hasn’t emotionally moved
on! You think she’s gonna’ hop on the first dick she sees? (Well, okay, maybe if she’s
a bad ex-girlfriend) But Fuck no! She’s bitter, she’s vengeful, she’s in extraordinary emotional
denial… and don’t tell Anita Sarkeesian, but she’s *GASP*… actually fucking flawed!
Possibly the most controversial artist of modern comics, a man by the name of Greg Land,
does the illustration. Why controversial? Chiefly because nerds don’t realize there’s
a difference between lightboxing poses because you’re going for photo-realism on a fuckin’
deadline… and tracing your fuckin’ comics wholesale. They also want to crouch behind
a wafer-thin double standard, apparently, because nearly all of these morons who ‘hate
light boxing’… LOVE the work of Adam Hughes… who has unequivocally admitted to tracing
PLAYBOY MODELS in the past! In my opinion, Sojourn is still the high water mark of Greg
Land’s career, and Hughes fanboys can choke on my lightboxed cock. He stagnated a bit
at Marvel, because it’s easy to stagnate while drawing superheroes. But on Sojourn, the subject
matter is eternally transient. It’s a journey. You’re trekking through the Snow-capped mountains
of Skarnhime or the arid deserts of Ankhara. It never. Gets. Old.
If there were one comic company I would resurrect, fuck the Valiant relaunch. To hell with Malibu
Comics! Make mine fuckin’ CrossGen. Without CrossGen comics… the industry would
not be what it is today. They set the new standard with high-gloss, magazine paper.
They made listing creator credits on the front cover an industrywide standard back when the
big two were half-hearted and inconsistent about it. Hell, even the page-one narrative
summary at the beginning of most modern comics was one of their innovations. Combine that
with the fact that they discovered some of the biggest artists in the field today – from
Civil War’s Steve McNiven to Josh Middleton – and even helped revive George Pérez during
a period when that god made flesh was seriously considering never drawing a comic book again!
And get this: They published… not one superhero title! But they sure as shit did everything
else! Spy Fiction, Sci-Fi, High Fantasy, Low Fantasy, Feudal Japanese Drama, Historical
Fiction… CrossGen comics… was the fucking shit!
Marvel now owns the rights to their properties, but apart from the odd testing of the waters,
they’ve done fuck and all with it. Meridian? Abadazad? Look, they’re great comics, for
children, and Meridian would make a fantastic animated children’s film… but SOJOURN was
in the top fuckin’ TWENTY on the sales charts! Consistently! A fuck of a lot higher than
MArk Waid’s Daredevil, that’s for fuckin’ sure! And yet we didn’t even get a fucking
ending! Marvel Comics: Resurrect this book… or eat dessicated Mordath dick. Next! Daredevil is not ‘Marvel’s Batman’. The modern
incarnation of BATMAN, however… owes an awful lot to ’80s Daredevil. And that’s a
fact. Yes, we all know Batman predates Daredevil. Thank you, Prince of Pedantry. But the simple
fact is that – when Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, Denny O’Neil and David Mazzucchelli gradually
turned Daredevil from a B-grade Spider-Man… to the first modern exploration of the ‘Pulp
/ Noir Superhero’ and promptly leap-frogged the Dark Knight to the very top of the sales
charts in the ’80s… DC Comics sat up and took notice.
…and then… they started stealing shit. Needless to say, Frank Miller Daredevil caused
a stir. And the entire industry took heed. And the apex of the Frank Miller regime – at
both Marvel and DC – is unquestionably ‘Daredevil: Born Again’.
The story? Very simple. Daredevil’s longtime flame Karen Page left
him years ago to become a star in Hollywood. But like many aspiring actresses, she finds
herself more often working a director’s button-fly than working reporters on the red carpet.
She develops a taste for heroin. She trips and falls into porn. To feed her illicit habits,
she begins seeing a small-time South American drug lord. At the end of her rope, to pay
for one more fix… she lays down the one trump card she has:
She tells the drug lord that Matt Murdock… is Daredevil.
And the drug lord, in an effort to ingratiate himself with his betters and improve his station
in the criminal underworld… promptly informs the Kingpin.
This was earth-shattering stuff, in the 1980s, and even now. Karen Page was an all-American
girl prior to that. The Lois Lane to Daredevil’s Clark Kent. Marvel’s LOIS LANE got hooked
on H and sold Superman out to Lex Luthor! Frank Miller has balls the size of of a fuckin’
planetoid. Needless to say, over the length of the graphic
novel, Matt Murdock is put through the proverbial ringer, and for much of the story… he doesn’t
go anywhere fuckin’ near his actual Daredevil costume. Which is downright fuckin’ incredible.
I won’t divulge the full story, because it’s a ride that must be experienced… but I will
say that this was Miller’s creative peak. It’s better than literally any Batman story
he ever told, because Marvel doesn’t keep its creators on nearly as tight of a creative
leash as DC does. Frank Miller hadn’t yet disintegrated into a caricature of himself.
And David Mazzucchelli… simply put, cranks out the finest artwork of his entire fuckin’
career. I understand – and even echo – the accolades afforded Mr. Mazzucchelli for his
incredible work on Batman: Year One… but his artwork in Born Again… just fucking
demolishes it. The linework is thinner, making the detail much sharper and the illustrations
more precise… on Batman: Year One, I don’t know if he went with a brush for inking or
what the fuck, but the lines were thicker, the figures more fuzzy and indistinct… there’s
just a more cartoony, less realistic edge to his Batman art. The polar opposite of the
photo-realistic approach to his work on Daredevil. It’s invariably featured in the top 10, if
not top 5 of every ‘Greatest Graphic Novels of All-Time’ list that’s ever existed. But
unlike overrated, pretentious tripe like Watchmen or The Killing Joke… this is one graphic
novel that well exceeds expectations. I’m RazörFist. Hope you enjoyed the list.
God – fuckin’ – SPEED!