Welcome back to our special holiday look at comics we wish were collected! [Click here for part one] In today’s installment, we look at runs by specific creators that could use a collection. There’s a number of well-known series in here – and some buried treasures by many of today’s most popular creators. Let’s go!Andrew Helfer’s Shadow Stories: If you’re enjoying Kyle Baker’s subversive work on Deadpool Max with David Lapham, you need to see him teamed with Andrew Helfer on the pulp character the Shadow in this demented 1980s series.
Taking off from Howard Chaykin’s insane reboot of the character, Helfer turned the series into a bizarre, ultra-violent, sometimes political parody of the original character, with Baker going equally mad on art (the first storyline was done by another equally mad artist, Bill Sienkiewicz).
Allegedly, the license-holders for the Shadow were not pleased with this take, meaning that Helfer and Baker’s series was canceled before it could finish its last storyline, and replaced with a more traditional take. This doesn’t auger well for any potential reprints. Still, it’d be great if this offbeat pulp fiction – along with Helfer and Baker’s miniseries Justice, Inc. – could find their way back into print.Don Newton’s Shazam: I wasn’t familiar with artist Don Newton’s take on the classic Captain Marvel until I did my series on the character’s history last year. What I found were some of the best modern-day stories of the Marvel Family, combining a modern energy and design with the whimsical sense of wonder of the older stories.
Cited as a major influence by Alex Ross and others, Newton’s stories were spread over the last issue of the regular Shazam! series, several years of World’s Finest and two issues of Adventure Comics, about 30 stories in all. The first volume of DC’s Shazam! Showcase reprints everything up to Newton’s run, but seeing as his Batman work was recently spotlighted by DC, here’s hoping he gets a volume devoted to the character closest to his heart.Mark Evanier and Dan Spiegle’s Blackhawk: Blackhawk had a rough time of it in the 1960s, with the WWII character and crew turned into ridiculous superheroes in the wake of the success of the Batman TV series. A short-lived 1970s revival fared little better, but Evanier and Spiegle took the character back to his roots with this 1980s series that ran for 22 issues, #251-273.
The stories returned to the WWII setting and added to the character of Blackhawk and company, while featuring gorgeous art by Spiegel and a host of guests, including Howard Chaykin, Dave Cockrum, and Gil Kane. The series was allegedly revived with this team because Steven Spielberg expressed interest in doing a film version – if this cinematic run made it back into print, a few new directors just might take interest.Comprehensive Collection of Mark Millar’s Superman Adventures: A few digest editions of this tie –in to the animated series were published a while back, but it’s worth a one-volume edition of the series that saw future Ultimates and Kick-Ass writer Mark Millar writing…for all ages. And doing a darn fine job of it, with such issues as one with 22 one-page stories, and dead-on hommages to the Silver Age. You will believe a man can fly…and that Mark Millar can not be dark, grim and “Edgy.” Warren Ellis’ Early Marvel Stories (Hellstorm, Druid, Doctor Strange, etc.) : Before Transmetropolitian, before The Authority and Planetary, Warren Ellis earned a rep in the US as the writer who brought a unique combination of darkness and wit to seemingly random Marvel books.
His first memorable run was on Hellstorm: Prince of Lies with Leonardo Manco, a collaboration he continued on the aborted series Druid (which ended with Druid being killed by, yes, Hellstorm). The run influenced writers such as Jason Aaron, who brought Hellstorm’s interpretation from this run back when he was on Ghost Rider.
There’s a number of other random Marvel Ellis tales worth reprinting from this era: His fill-ins on Daredevil and Ghost Rider, his three-issue run on Doctor Strange with Fables’s Mark Buckingham, and a one-shot about Carnage with The Goon’s Kyle Hotz that mocks the concept of the character. Marvel has reprinted a lot of Ellis’ work on such books as Excalibur, but here’s hoping some of his darker and more eclectic titles from this era return to print.Adam Warren on Gen 13: Adam Warren’s take on Gen 13 was one of the most acclaimed of the title’s long run – so of course it was canceled. Witty, observant and full of crazy SF concepts, Warren depicted the crew as a group of average twentysomethings that just happened to have superpowers, and who hung out with a similarly-powered group.
The first 2/3 of his run were collected at the time, but the conclusion – where Gen 13 gets exploded, and goes skinny-dipping, in that order – remains unreprinted. One of the overlooked highlights of the Wildstorm line, it’s well worth a collected edition.Deadenders and Other Early Ed Brubaker Works: Before taking over as writer of Captain America catapulted him to the A-list, and before his various collaborations with artist Sean Phillips (Sleeper, Criminal, Incognito, Fatale) made him a critical darling, Ed Brubaker did the dystopian series Deadenders at Vertigo, whose 16-issue run told a complete story of scooter gangs in a future devastated by a mysterious reality-warping cataclysm.
Though the first four issues were collected as “Stealing the Sun,” the full 16-issue saga remains uncollected. Also worth a reprint are a couple of Brubaker’s short crime stories: The Fall, a tense thiller with Berlin’s Jason Lutes, and An Accidental Death with Oz and Age of Bronze’s Eric Shanower. A fix-up volume collecting these, along with Brubaker’s Lowlife stories (reprinted by Top Shelf a few years back), would be a great gift to his fan base.The Pre-Kevin Smith Daredevil tales by Joe Kelly, Karl Kesel, Gene Colan and Cary Nord: Mark Waid, Marcos Martin and Paolo Rivera’s take on Daredevil has earned raves as one of the few takes on The Man Without Fear that doesn’t leave readers reaching for The Scotch With No Chaser.
But there’s another fan-favorite, albeit less heralded run of DD worth bringing back – the late 1990s run that overlapped writers Karl Kesel and Joe Kelly, with art by future Conan penciler Cary Nord – and some of the last work ever by Silver Age DD artist Gene Colan. Like the current run, it emphasized fun characterization, swashbuckling heroics, and even a little lawyering.
The advent of the “Marvel Knights” line brought this era to an end, and Marvel Comics to a new age of glory – but these are stories worth having back in print.
José Ortiz’s Warren Magazine Work: Dark Horse has done a great job reprinting the best stories from the Warren horror magazines Creepy and Eerie, and recently did an amazing volume celebrating the best of Bernie Wrightson from those books. One artist from those books who’s been undeservedly forgotten, however, is the Spanish artist José Ortiz – the single most prolific artist of all Warren’s magazines.
On more than 120 stories, Ortiz’s lush black-and-white art was detailed, horrifying and inventive. His work included several serials for Eerie, including the zombie Western “Coffin,” the demented Victorian bloodbath “Night of the Jackass” and many other tales for different Warren magazines, including “The Apocalypse” and the Will Eisner-influenced “The Escape Chronicle.” Ortiz has faded from the American comic scene, mostly focusing on work in the Italian market, but his genuinely horrific tales deserve to be rediscovered.
Elliot Maggin’s Superman novels and stories: Elliot Maggin – often billed as “Elliot S! Maggin” – was an oddity in the 1970s, a writer who embraced the idealism of the classic superhero stories as opposed to the darker tone Marvel Comics made popular in the 1960s. Many of his Superman tales are often included in “Best of” compilations, such as “Must There Be a Superman?” and “The Luthor Nobody Knows.”
Perhaps his best work on the character, though, came from two prose paperback novels, The Last Son of Krypton and Miracle Monday. Cited as a major influence by the likes of Mark Waid and Grant Morrison, their characterizations of Superman and Lex Luthor remain among the characters’ best.
While the books are still easy to find through used booksellers, an omnibus reprint – perhaps with some new illustrations? -- would be a great tribute to one of Superman’s best writers. And there’s plenty of great Superman tales he wrote that have never been reprinted, such as the tale of the Earth-Prime Superboy that inspired Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immomen’s Superman: Secret Identity…along with a certain, very meta supervillian we won’t mention.Various Alex Toth DC Tales: The definition of an artist’s artist, Alex Toth’s decades of work in comics and animation established him as a master of the medium, and DC published many of his best stories.
There’s his work on the Golden Age Green Lantern, his tales of the Western Johnny Thunder, and even oddities like Rex the Wonder Dog. There’s tales from various horror and war comics, the Challengers of the Unknown, the Black Canary, and such oddities as the Brave and the Bold story that teamed the Flash and the Atom against a rapidly expanding micro-world.
Most importantly, there’s his work in animation – specifically on the Superfriends cartoons and on Space Ghost. There’s a great opportunity to reprint his Superfriends comic stories, his designs, and even the article he did on creating a cartoon show for a Superfriends treasury edition. While there have been several retrospective volumes of his work at other publishers, there’s tons of Toth at DC – and a new generation waiting to experience it.Various John Ostrander DC Runs: A personal favorite of this writer, John Ostrander established himself in the 1980s and 1990s as one of the best writers on long-run comics with his great sense of action, characterization and plotting. And some of his best work has just been reprinted recently, such as the highly influential Suicide Squad series at DC and the First Comics series Grimjack at IDW. But a lot of his DC work has a heavy bearing on the DCU today, and deserves a comeback.
What do we mean? Well, there’s his run on Firestorm, where he took the character to a politically-relevant place that’s reflected in the character’s new title. There’s his long run on The Spectre with Tom Mandrake, which laid the original version of the character to rest and even introduced the current Mr. Terrific, Michael Holt, in a later issue (its glow-in-the-dark covers were also a rare example of a 1990s gimmick comic cover that worked).
And there’s such scattered stories as “Oracle: Year One,” with his late wife Kim Yale, which explained how the injured Barbara Gordon went from Batgirl to computer expert. There’s also the darkly comic horror anthology Wasteland, which he co-wrote with the highly influential comic Del Close, a mentor to John Belushi and others.
Ostrander’s work at DC can be felt in many of the characters, concepts and themes he introduced that are still used in titles today. It’s worth letting readers know where these ideas came from.Steven Grant’s Challengers of the Unknown: It was just announced that Dan DiDio and Jerry Ordway will be doing their own take on this classic team of adventurers That’s a good excuse to get some of the classic stories reprinted (one already done is Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s offbeat reboot, a favorite of Brian Michael Bendis).
Worth mentioning is this series written by Steven Grant, which ran for 18 issues in the late 1990s. Featuring art by the likes of Tommy Lee Edwards, John Paul Leon and others, it featured a new team of Challengers, and was influenced somewhat by The X-Files (Grant later said it was originally a TV series proposal DC asked him to do).
Actually, the current version, with the Challengers on a reality show, is actually close to an idea Grant mentions in this interview on a Challengers fan site. Perhaps Grant’s version was more ahead of its time than he realized…Brian K. Vaughan’s Swamp Thing: Though he’s one of the most acclaimed writers in comics today, Brian K. Vaughan was once a young up-and-comer whose first ongoing title was a unique take on the classic DC character…specifically, a Swamp Thing title that wasn’t about a giant muck monster.
Instead, Vaughan’s take on Swamp Thing focused on Tefé Holland, the daughter of Alec and Abby Holland, and the biological child of John Constantine. At home neither in the world of humans or plants, and possessed of incredible power, Tefé was the ultimate angry teenager, capable of wreaking horrific vengeance upon anyone who crossed her path.
Fans expecting a big green guy in a book called Swamp Thing turned away from the book, which was canceled after 20 issues. Vaughan was down on himself about this, later saying in interviews that he felt he’d tanked the Swamp Thing franchise. But Vertigo liked his work enough to give him a new series…and his breakout hit, Y: The Last Man was born.
The roots (pun intended) of Y, Runaways and much of Vaughan’s later work can be found in his Swamp Thing run, and the new series by Scott Snyder has helped fans accept a take that doesn’t have a plant-man right away. Maybe now it’s time to give BKV and Tefé another chance.
That’s all for this installment – next, our series concludes with a look at some different series that deserve a collection, period, along with a number of Golden Age oddities that have never been collected.