I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.
Though the two major comic book publishers, Marvel and DC, currently operate with as much animosity towards one another as at any time during their decades-long competition, I’m under the impression, perhaps inaccurately, that the schism doesn’t extend to the fan base. Maybe because the two of them are in a nearly perpetual state of reboot, readers feel free to shift back and forth freely between the lines, opting for whatever is most interesting at any given time. That wasn’t always the case. When I was a kid, it was somehow understood that it was important to choose one publisher — which largely meant the continuity of one shared universe — and stick with them. Switching from one to the other required a good reason. For me, that reason was John Byrne.
As I’ve already conceded, I was a fervent fan of Byrne’s work. But I surely wouldn’t have found my way to him if I hadn’t thrown in with Marvel Comics when I started favoring superhero sagas. At the time I was making my first purchases of titanic tales from the House of Ideas, Byrne was one of their more prolific creators. First connecting to his writing and art through Fantastic Four, I eventually bought practically everything he signed his name to at Marvel, so when he made a high-profile leap to the distinguished competition, I naturally followed. Luckily (and probably shrewdly on the part of DC Comics), one of his first projects there provided a wide-ranging introduction to the denizens of the fictional universe I now felt obligated to follow. The limited series Legends, co-written by John Ostrander and Len Wein and drawn by Byrne, put the heroes of the DC universe into turmoil. Of course, the orchestrator of such mayhem had to be Darkseid.
Created by Marvel Comics founding father Jack Kirby during his nineteen-seventies defection to DC, Darkseid became the obligatory villain for any storyline big enough to rattle and resound across the entire line, an approach that tediously persists to this day. When I first read Legends, though, he was largely new to me, at best vaguely remembered from a crossover comic I’d repeatedly lingered over a few years earlier. Using my Marvel experience to make sense of the character, I just knew he had the glorious menace of Dr. Doom combined with the godlike presence and power of Galactus, uncoincidentally two of the creations that had the most echoes of Kirby’s grandeur persisting in their continuing iterations.
The plot of Legends dealt with things like media manipulation and the meaning of heroism, but what really interested me was the opportunity to get acquainted with this batch of characters. Sometimes the thrill of that was as simple as seeing my favorite artist render a wholly familiar superhero.
There was also the unique appeal of discovering how my rough working knowledge of the most prevalent characters could be upended, as with my introduction to the Green Lantern now patrolling Earth, Guy Gardner.
What probably excited me the most, however, was the chance to find characters that I had never heard of (or at least had no recollection of, given that there were certainly a few older DC comics strewn throughout my younger years) who immediately captured my attention, typically due to their combination of imperiousness and oddity.
I’ll reluctantly confess that the drawing of Inza Nelson in the above panel created some, um, let’s call them complicated feelings. It’s worth noting that I was sixteen years old at the time.
Putting aside that slightly mortifying digression, I’ll add that besides the individual characters, Legends provided a orientation to the different mindsets and tones between the two publishers, doing so in a nearly ideal fashion. Marvel prided itself on a commitment to more ground-level, psychologically realistic superheroes, beset by personal problems that were a little more relatable and even mundane. DC took a more aspirational approach. These were heroes, writ large.
The contrast couldn’t have been more clear to me. That difference wouldn’t last much longer, though. The same year Legends was published, DC also released Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight and the Alan Moore-written Watchmen, both of them hugely successful and even more impactful. A nearly relentless bleak outlook started creeping into DC stories, even it would be a few years before the company’s optimism collapsed to its most dire women-in-refrigerators nadir. I’m glad I at least got a glimpse of the publisher’s former self before it was erased almost completely.
Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Contest of Champions by Bill Mantlo and John Romita, Jr.
Daredevil by Frank Miller
Marvel Fanfare by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith
Marvel Two-in-One by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Fantaco’s “Chronicles” series
Fantastic Four #200 by Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard
The Incredible Hulk #142 by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe
Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum
Godzilla by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe
Giant-Size Avengers #3 by Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas and Dave Cockrum
Alpha Flight by John Byrne
Hawkeye by Mark Gruenwald
Avengers by David Michelinie and George Perez
Justice League by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire
The Thing by Dan Slott and Andrea DiVito
Nexus by Mike Baron and Steve Rude
Marvel Premiere by David Kraft and George Perez
Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck
Micronauts by Bill Mantlo and Butch Guice
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
What If? by Mike W. Barr, Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito
Thor by Walt Simonson
Eightball by Dan Clowes
Cerebus: Jaka’s Story by Dave Sim and Gerhard
Iron Man #150 by by David Michelinie, John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Bone by Jeff Smith
The Man of Steel by John Byrne
Fantastic Four by Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz
“Allien and How to Watch It” by John Severin
Fantastic Four Roast by Fred Hembeck and friends
The Amazing Spider-Man #25 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Marvel Two-in-One #7 by Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema
The New Mutants by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod
Dark Horse Presents
Bizarre Adventures #27
Marvel Team-Up #48 by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema
Metal Men #20 by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru
The Avengers by Roy Thomas and John Buscema
Fantastic Four by Marv Wolfman and John Byrne
Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
American Flagg by Howard Chaykin
Marvel and DC Present by Chris Claremont and Walter Simonson
Batman by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #5 by Alan Kupperberg and Pablo Marcos
Web of Spider-Man by Louise Simonson and Greg LaRocque
Super-Villain Team-Up #12 by Bill Mantlo and Bob Hall
What If? #31 by Rich Margopoulos and Bob Budiansky
Fantastic Four by Scott Lobdell and Alan Davis
Magik by Chris Claremont and John Buscema, Sal Buscema, and Ron Frenz
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #7 by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell
Avengers #202 by Jim Shooter, David Michelinie and George Pérez
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. by Jim Steranko
Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers by Jack Kirby
What If? #6 by Roy Thomas, Jim Craig, and Rick Hoberg
Iron Man #39 by Gerry Conway and Herb Trimpe
Stig’s Inferno by Ty Templeton
Avengers #221 by Jim Shooter, David Michelinie, and Bob Hall
Fantastic Four #176 by Roy Thomas and George Pérez
Fray by Joss Whedon and Karl Moline