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When you conjure an image Superman in comic books, or on lunch boxes, advertisements or Saturday morning cartoons, you probably think of Curt Swan's version of Superman.
Swan was one of the most prolific artists at DC after WWII. He began penciling Superman occasionally as far back as 1948 and also penciled the Boy Commandos and Tommy Tomorrow.
Swan in the 1960s brought a "new look" to Superman. He softened Superman's square jaw. His Metropolis had a realistic-looking supporting cast that featured a consistent-looking Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White and Lex Luthor.
Whereas Joe Shuster (the original Superman artist and creator) had been somewhat cartoony, and Wayne Boring had been bold and dramatic, Curt Swan drew the Man of Steel as handsome, realistic and friendly.
An often-overlooked talent in comics is the ability to realistically draw backgrounds and supporting artwork: cars, trees, animals, cities, and everyday people. Scan through any Curt Swan Superman adventure and chances are will you enjoy detailed (and realistic) artwork of city streets, forests, or even distant planets. Babies, horses, cars -- these things are often difficult to draw, but Curt Swan was a master of consistency.
It's difficult to overstate the important of Curt Swan during some of Superman's most iconic moments: Superman meeting Brainiac for the first time (Action Comics #242), the first appearance of Supergirl (Action Comics #252), the first Superman/Flash Race (Superman #199), the first appearance of Bizarro (Superboy #68), the first appearance of Krypto, Superman's dog (Adventure Comics #210) and Superboy meeting the Legion of Super Heroes (Adventure Comics #247). All of these historic books have Curt Swan covers.
When the "Amazing New Adventures of Superman" was introduced in 1971, superstar artist Neal Adams updated the look and feel of the Man of Steel on the covers, but the interior artwork was still for the most part Curt Swan. With DC wanting more bold and modern stories, Swan was given the freedom to expand his panels, use more dynamic angles and update clothing and backgrounds to make Metropolis more modern. Although Neal Adams is often credited as a pioneer in the Bronze Age of comics, Curt Swan was right there through the change as well.
As the Bronze Age dawned, Swan lengthened Superman's hairline and gave Clark Kent and Lois Lane a modern wardrobe. Most Superman merchandising at the time, from lunch boxes to peanut butter all used Curt Swan art (or was inspired by it). DC Comics revamped Superman in the 1980s and with it Curt Swan was unceremoniously replaced by John Byrne, ushering in a new age for the Man of Steel. Swan's final send off was a brilliant two-book farewell with Superman #423 and Action Comics #583 called "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" It is often considered a high point of Swan's career and is highly-recommended reading.
Underrated and often overlooked, Curt Swan helped define Superman's universe for over 30 years. He was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame posthumously in 1997.
For a complete list of Curt Swan's work, click here
For a hero with no super powers, it's remarkable that Nick Fury repeatedly finds new life. He's recognized today as the cigar-chomping leader of S.H.I.E.L.D, played by Samuel L. Jackson in the Captain America and Avengers movies. But, his origins go all the way back to the very beginnings of the Marvel Age of Comics.
In 1963, Jack Kirby created Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, a war comic featuring an elite band of misfits fighting the Nazis in WWII, led by Nick Fury.
His popularity soared and in 1968, Marvel aged him and moved an older, wiser Fury to 1968 as a then current-day hero in Strange Tales (1951 series) starting in issue #135 when he made his first appearance as "Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. The stories and Jack Kirby's art were inspiring, and the series became a quick fan favorite. Marvel spun him off into his own title, Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD (1968 series).
Nick Fury: Agent of Shield is definitely a book of the times. Marvel was producing groundbreaking, psychedelic artwork by Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and in the case of Nick Fury's self-titled series, the great Jim Steranko at the helm taking over for Jack Kirby. The Nick Fury covers by Steranko are bold and eye-catching. He was one of the first artists to use optical illusions in his art -- just look at the cover to #4 for an example of some eye-popping appeal.
Another cultural influence at the time was super-spy James Bond. So, Nick Fury was transformed from a grizzled World-War-II hero into a sleek, tech-savvy agent of espionage. As the leader of a secret organization called S.H.I.E.L.D. (originally standing for Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division). Fury's war-time buddy "Dum Dum" Dugan also made the cut, surviving World War II and joining Fury within the ranks of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Although the series only ran for 17 issues, Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. is widely regarded as one of the high points of the Silver Age. Jim Steranko wrote, drew and even inked Nick Fury, and that level of creative control really shows during the early part of the run. A rotation of artists such as Frank Springer, Barry Smith and Herb Trimpe took over for the rest of the run (and all were all very good), but it is the Steranko innovations that really caught the imagination of a dedicated group of comic fans. Within a ten-year period of late 60s to 1970s, comics went from basic storytelling to dynamic, bold layouts. Steranko even used outrageous four-page spreads and elements of photorealism with great effect.
Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. will definitely appear dated in places, but if viewed through the lens of the late 1960s, it is a fun thrill ride-and definitely entertaining. This work, along with Neal Adams on Green Lantern (1960 series) and Jack Kirby at DC working on New Gods (1971 series) really helped move comics from a simpler art form into a more mature, "hip" entertainment medium.
What do Daredevil, Wolverine and Batman have in common? If Frank Miller is involved, the answer is grit. As an artist, Miller set the industry standard for minimalist, shadowy film-noir style. As a writer, he evolved each of these superheroes into dark, conflicted vigilantes. He set the tone for the modern-day anti-hero.
Frank Miller first made a splash with Marvel's Daredevil (1964 series) in issues #158 to #191. After sporadic success working with other writers, Marvel finally let Miller write and draw his own book and the result was dynamite. Daredevil went from Marvel's B-list to a best-selling crime drama. The Kingpin was reintroduced as Daredevil's main foil. Hell's Kitchen in New York was showcased as a violent hellscape. Miller reduced or eliminated many cosmic elements (such as Avengers guest appearances and alien invasions) and Daredevil became a realistic drama, filled with martial arts and organized crime. Fans loved it and Miller's run on Daredevil is often considered the high point of the series. A key introduction during Miller's run was the super-assassin Elektra in issue #168. Her showdown with the hit man Bullseye is a must read for any Daredevil fan.
Miller also teamed up with X-Men writer Chris Claremont for Wolverine (1982 series). The four-issue miniseries follows Logan as he ventures to Japan with girlfriend Mariko to fight crime lords. It remains one of the most popular miniseries Marvel has ever published and the four wordless comic book covers remain a testament to Miller's dark and powerful artwork.
After Wolverine, Miller joined DC Comics and premiered Ronin, a six-issue series that combined Japanese manga and noir style. It was one of the first "creator-driven" series at DC. While Ronin was not met with the same mass appeal as Daredevil, it was a critical success and helped cement Miller's reputation as one of the few artists that could script their own work.
The evolution of storyteller and artist reached the next level with arguably Frank Miller's greatest work ... Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Miller painted a futuristic Gotham where a middle-aged Bruce Wayne reluctantly comes out of retirement to stop a gang of cyberpunks. The innovative artwork is bursting with action and the series remains one of the most valuable books of the modern age. Miller's Batman shed all remnants of the campy 1960s television show. Batman became truly dark, mysterious and violent. The look of the 1989 Tim Burton movie and the feel of the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy was inspired in part from Miller's ground-breaking work.
Miller continued defining Batman for a new generation, writing Batman (1940 series) issues #404-407 in the famous "Year One" storyline. A huge best seller, it retold the origins of Bruce Wayne and helped explain the ferocious, pathological drive of the Batman. Miller redefined Batman as grim, determined and downright scary--a true vigilante that must face evil head on in order to conquer. The Dark Knight Returns and Year One set the mold for the look and feel of Batman that continues right up to present day. Comics as a medium evolved as well--the idea that fans would follow an artist's work (regardless of the project) was cemented. "Frank Miller" had become a household brand that would help sell books.
Frank Miller had a falling out with DC Comics over censorship and moved toward more creator-driven projects. He created the Sin City franchise for Dark Horse Comics, moving into noir crime. Miller also penned the Spartan-fantasy-war miniseries 300, which also became a successful box office hit.
In 2005 Miller teamed with superstar artist Jim Lee to create All-Star Batman & Robin: The Boy Wonder, which met with mixed reviews-some fan loved the dark, twisted psychology behind Batman and claimed it was the best book of the year, while others were repulsed at the violence and portrayal of Batman as a pathologically cold and emotionally distant mentor to young Robin. Despite the controversy, Miller has never wavered in his vision or tried to placate fans-which is exactly the reason why he has remained a fan favorite.
Stan Lee often gets credit as the creator of Spider-man, but he's the first to acknowledge that artist Steve Ditko was his co-creator and vital to Spider-Man's success. And many fans believe Ditko's artwork, which gave Spider-Man a distinctive lanky, almost fragile appearance, did more to establish his character than any other factor.
Ditko's style fit perfectly with the persona of Peter Parker's weak, skinny teenager. Whereas DC's Superman and Batman and Jack Kirby's Marvel heroes were square-jawed and full of muscles, Spider-Man was fully-masked, gangly, and quite frankly, a little frail-looking-just like many teenagers, who have not yet fully developed. The disparity between this skinny superhero and his incredible feats of supernatural strength was truly innovative.
Ditko did more than merely draw Lee's stories. The "Marvel Method" was a true collaboration between artist and writer. While Stan Lee set the big-picture starting point for stories, the artist played a central role. The introduction of entirely new supporting characters, the look and feel of the book and pacing of the stories were many times the work of the artist, not Stan Lee.
Marvel Comics in the 1960s is often called "the house that Kirby built", although this is not entirely true. There were two distinct artistic styles: the bold, bombastic artwork of Jack Kirby (as seen in the Fantastic Four and the X-Men), and the more muted, thoughtful and poetic style of Steve Ditko. Amazing Spider-Man (1963 series) was a top-seller from the start. It was Ditko's greatest triumph.
The rogues gallery of weird villains like Dr. Octopus, the Green Goblin, the Sandman and the Vulture-some of the most recognizable and popular villains of all time-were the handiwork of both Ditko and Lee. The duo defined the look and feel of Peter Parker, J. Jonah Jameson, Aunt May and the whole world of Spider-Man through the first 38 issues-a look that has remained nearly unchanged for over 50 years. The Ditko run on Amazing Spider-Man is highly sought after by collectors.
Another big hit at Marvel was the Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange, who Ditko showcased in the pages of Strange Tales (1951 series). Ditko instilled in Doctor Strange a sleek, almost poetic look. Fans loved the creepy, hallucinogenic artwork which perfectly matched the otherworldly, supernatural odysseys in the comic book.
Ditko left during Marvel's heyday in the 1960s, moving to Charlton comics-a company where the artist's pay rate was lower, but creators were allowed even greater artistic freedom. At Charlton, Ditko worked on Blue Beetle, the Question and Captain Atom. Warren Publishing also sought out Ditko, and his lean, creepy style was a perfect fit for its horror magazines Creepy (1964 series) and Eerie .
Ditko made a move to DC Comics in 1968 and created the off-beat anti-hero the Creeper (1968 series). Again, this seemed like a perfect fit-the agile and super-strong Creeper did not look particularly heroic; instead, he was designed to look scary and weird, and Ditko did a masterful job of introducing a character that has resurfaced over the decades at DC.
Ditko returned to Marvel in the late 1970s and worked sporadically on titles like ROM, Micronauts (1979 series) and Machine Man (1978 series). Ditko never publicly expressed why he left Marvel in the first place, and it is frustrating for fans to wonder what "might have been" if Ditko's Spider-Man or Dr. Strange runs had lasted longer.
Of course, the reasons for Ditko's decisions to leave Marvel, or any of his inner thoughts is mostly speculation-Ditko is notoriously reclusive and hasn't given an interview since the late 1960s. Nor does appear at a comic book conventions. He has stated that his personality is not what is on display; he wants his artwork do his talking.
For a complete list of Steve Ditko's work, click here.
A female version of Spider-Man, Marvel's most popular hero seems like a no-brainer. After all, Supergirl followed Superman, the Incredible Hulk's cousin became She-Hulk and Batwoman and later Batgirl followed Batman. But, how do you create an alternate sex derivative and make her story line enticing? That was the challenge for Marvel writers Tom Defalco and Ron Frenz who created Spidergirl in Spider-Girl (1998 series).
The twist they came up with was that she was the teenage daughter of Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson set in MC2-an alternate universe. The goal was that this new universe would entice readers to a new world without decades of old storylines to be concerned about. Other MC2 titles included the short-lived Fantastic Five (1999 series), Wild Thing (the daughter of Wolverine and Elektra) and A-Next, an alternate team of Avengers. Out of these, Spider-Girl lasted, with 100 issues over eight years. Why did Spider-Girl succeed when so many female knock-offs don't?
Superior writing is the key. Tom Defalco was a hugely influential Spider-Man writer. He introduced Spidey's black suit in the 1980s and contributed the controversial "Spider-Clone" saga in the 1990s. He brought his fertile imagination to Spider-Girl. In Spider-Girl, an injured Spider-Man is forced to retire and when his teenage daughter May "Mayday" Parker starts exhibiting strange new powers, she finds a Spider-Man costume and continues the family legacy.
Foes such as Hobgoblin, Venom and Carnage make appearances. However, they do not have the same identities as in the mainstream Marvel universe, making Spider-Girl a romp into a "similar but different" universe. In addition, completely unique characters such as April Parker (a clone) and Felicity Hardy (the daughter of Felicia Hardy and Flash Thompson) create a unique universe with a vaguely familiar feel.
Despite the similarities to Spider-Man, or maybe because of them, Spider-Girl (1998 series) is a great way for new fans to jump on board and enjoy a self-contained storyline. This is a smart series that is worth the read.
Years later, Marvel took a different direction in Spider-Girl (2011 series). There, Anya Corazon adopts a "Spider-Girl" identity and wears a costume similar to Spider-Man's original 1980s black suit. Instead of creating a brand-new character, Marvel merely labeled this new character Spidergirl. Such is life at Marvel, where using an existing brand is a safe way to establish a fan base to introduce a new character.
John Byrne is a comic book creator who has repeatedly injected new life into superheroes, turned around fledgling titles, and been given the freedom by major publishers to re-boot old characters, on occasion even destroying years of history as origins were rewritten. He was a major influence during the Bronze age of comics.
In 1975, interest in the X-Men was waning and the X-Men (1963 series) was only reprinting old X-Men stories. In one final attempt to save the title, John Byrne helped redefined these now-iconic characters-with the "All-New, All-Different" X-Men -- a fresh-faced team of mutants. No one had heard of Storm, Colossus or Nightcrawler, and the gruff Canadian Wolverine had made all but a couple of appearances in Incredible Hulk (1968 series). Over the next few years John Byrne, alongside writer Chris Claremont, helped propel the X-Men into Marvel's most popular comic.
Byrne's work stretched from issue #108 through #143. During that time, both the "Dark Phoenix Saga" and "Days of Future Past" storylines were massive hits with fans (the plots of the hugely-successful films X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: Days of Future Past are all based in part on stories during John Byrne's run).
In 1981 Byrne, Marvel picked Byrne to revitalize the Fantastic Four (1961 series). He brought the flagship book back to the cosmic spirit of Stan Lee's and Jack Kirby's glory days. His run from issues #232-293 features great artwork and a multi-issue storyline where Reed Richards saves Galactus' life... and then has to stand trial against an intergalactic tribunal. Silver Surfer and Dr. Doom also make some notable appearances during this fan-favorite run, which featured the Thing quitting the group and She-Hulk taking his place.
In 1983, Byrne returned to his Canadian roots and created the Alpha Flight (1983 series), which featured some quirky but popular Canadian superheroes such as Northstar, Sasquatch and the tiny, acrobatic Puck. Byrne left this series after 28 issues. On his website, Byrne says "Alpha Flight (the team) were never really meant to be anything more than a bunch of superheroes who could survive a fight with the X-Men." Although Byrne claims they had no real depth, the first issue sold more than 500,000 copies. The series featured occasional cameos by Wolverine and the X-Men, original villains and some great storytelling (such as the death of Weapon Alpha/Guardian). Bryne also created the Sensational She-Hulk, updating the sassy green cousin of The Incredible Hulk. Fans of Deadpool will note that She-Hulk often breaks a fourth wall and talks directly to her comic-book fans, similar to today's Merc With A Mouth.
By 1986, Byrne's reputation was so great, that when DC decided to re-launch their most valuable asset, Superman, it selected Byrne to do the new retelling. Byrne pencilled Clark Kent ripping open his shirt to reveal his famous "S" logo on the cover of Time Magazine back when appearing on its cover was a big deal. Byrne re-wrote the history of Superman in the phenomenally successful miniseries the Man of Steel and then spearheaded the relaunch of Superman in the Superman (1987 series). While some criticized Byrne for wiping out decades of Curt Swan history (and bringing back Ma and Pa Kent from the dead), it was a popular starting point for new fans of Superman.
One of Byrne's last projects for Marvel was X-Men: Hidden Years, which looked at the early days of the X-Men and expanded on the early Lee/Kirby storylines. Disagreements at both Marvel and DC has ultimately meant fewer projects in mainstream comics, but Byrne's work is so prolific, new fans can enjoy years of inventive artwork and storytelling.
For a comprehensive list of John Byrne's work, including runs on many famous DC and Marvel titles click here
"You are traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone!". These words were spoken in 1959 by Rod Serling, the creative force of the uniquely original TV show, The Twilight Zone.
Since then, "Twilight Zone" has entered our language as a synonym for anything mysterious, weird and/or spooky. The original black-and-white TV show can look dated (it debuted in 1959), but one thing about it remains timeless: suspenseful writing. The Twilight Zone (1962 series) adapted the tone and style of the TV show, with original stories. It was published by Dell and Gold Key comics.
Each issue featured several stories with a straightforward theme: the hero suffers some weird twist of fate or runs into a trouble featuring a variety of monsters, aliens, time travel or the supernatural. The interior art is relatively simple, but the comic books feature beautifully painted covers that usually show the hero in a mysterious peril. Like the TV series, each story is "stand alone", so you can grab any issue and not worry about being thrown into the middle of a long, drawn-out story arc.
Twilight Zone was one of the few horror/science fiction comics during comics' Silver Age because Dell and Gold Key never adopted the "Comics Code Authority", which censored comics, reducing or eliminating terror and violence.
This is great news for collectors looking for truly scary, compelling fiction. Some issues are downright terrifying. Stories could end with our hero stuck in an intergalactic zoo, or destined to relive a horrible nightmarish situation ... for eternity. This was scary stuff. The comics pushed the boundaries and featured characters in peril all over the globe, or in outer space. Stories sometimes took the reader back to the Middle Ages or Old West.
The 1962 Twilight Zone comic series ran for 20 years and 92 issues. The series can be dated - hairstyles, automobiles and technology have evolved. You don't see many jewel thieves sporting a derby hat and driving a 1967 Ford Mustang these days. However, this is part of the charm of the comics.
Ever wonder when and why comics evolved from the Silver Age to the Bronze Age? Look no further than Green Lantern (1960 series) #76, featuring Green Arrow shooting an arrow through a surprised Hal Jordan's lantern. The iconic artwork is by Neal Adams, one of the most respected and influential artists and writers of the past 50 years.
His work on Green Lantern, Batman and Superman transformed each character giving each a modern, relevant temperament. Mixing current events and ethos in his stories, his works drastically redefined the definitive "look", style and tone of those characters in the 1970s. His style has influenced the generations of artists who have inherited those characters. As such, his comics are highly sought after by collectors.
Adams joined DC comics in the late 1960s. Within a couple of years, he was drawing incredible covers for Strange Adventures (1950 series), helping popularize Deadman with issue #207 and later Batman (1940 series) with iconic covers like issues #222, #227 and #232.
Neal Adams is best known for his groundbreaking work on Green Lantern (1960 series) and Batman. As much as Silver-Age comics are beloved by collectors, most fans would agree that they were aimed primarily at a juvenile audience. With Neal Adams, comic books became relevant, including plot lines and characters that reflected the real world. College kids and adults could enjoy Green Lantern and Batman. These books tackled social issues. This was a new age of comics, now known as the Bronze Age.
He took over the slumping Green Lantern title with writer Dennis O' Neil for a legendary series of issues known as the "hard travelling heroes". In issues #76-#85, Green Lantern and Green Arrow tackled racism, worked with a new Green Lantern (John Stewart) and discovered that Green Arrow's ward was a drug user. With detailed artwork and fantastic writing, DC ushered in new relevant storylines, with sharply drawn characters displaying real emotions and reactions, at the dawn of the 1970s.
Adams also revamped Batman, just as the hugely-popular, but campy 1960s TV series ended. Adams discarded the campy elements and took Batman back to his dark roots, having the Dark Knight appear only at night. Again with writer Dennis O'Neil, this superstar team created one of the most popular Batman villains: Ra's al Ghul in Batman #232. Neal Adams' Batman inspired an entire generation of artists and set the standard for most of the 1970s (until it evolved yet again with Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns mini-series). Adams pencilled many covers for DC during the 70s, such as Superman, Lois Lane, Action, Batman and Detective, and World's Finest Comics.
Neal Adams is not only respected by fans, but comic creators as well. Adams has been a proponent for creator's rights, helping Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster get additional compensation from DC for their creation of Superman.
Neal Adams was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 1998 and is a frequent guest at comic book conventions. In 2010, he wrote and drew Batman: Odyssey for DC, spinning a mini-series for Batman fans set in the current day.
For a comprehensive list of Neal Adams' work, click here
When the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey hit theatres in 1968, the epic story of prehistoric cavemen, astronauts and a computer named HAL instantly created a new generation of fans hungry for grown-up science fiction. Yet the movie was so startling inventive it took Marvel Comics 10 years to find the right artist and writer to adapt the movie. With a cosmic story featuring mysterious alien monoliths, the legendary Jack Kirby who co-created the Silver Surfer and Galactus, was tasked with writing and drawing the book. Kirby of course was one of the greatest illustrators in comic book history, helping create the Fantastic Four, X-Men, Captain America, Thor, and dozens more.
2001: A Space Odyssey was one of many high-profile licensed Marvel comic books based on prior works which included Conan The Barbarian (1970 series), Planet of the Apes (1974 series) and Star Wars (1977 series). Marvel published an oversized "Treasury" edition of 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1976, and followed up with this series.
The series is better appreciated today than when it was first published -- it was cancelled after only 10 issues . However, this short run makes collecting all issues a relatively easy quest. The first few issues retell the plot of the Stanley Kubrick film. Whereas the film is quiet, suspenseful and full of intricate subtleties, Jack Kirby's writing and drawing is bombastic, loud and full of bold cosmic power. Later issues branched out from the film, and it is here that the series really finds a voice. Issue #8 is the most sought after, containing the first appearance of Machine Man, a "living robot" that was so popular that Machine Man (1978 series) was spun off.
Fans of Jack Kirby and of the movie will enjoy the series for what it is: an epic, far-reaching comic with one of the all-time greats at the helm.
Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane were so popular in the 1960s that both starred in their own series -- Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen and Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane. Both series featured outlandish Silver Age stories -- Jimmy's time travel and interstellar capers and Lois Lane's attempts at trying to determine Superman's secret identity and plotting for him to propose marriage. When interested finally waned in the 1970s, DC merged the titles into Superman Family.
Superman Family replaced these types of stories with more mature writing, featuring street crime, and urban settings and revamped these supporting characters as heroes. Jimmy was now an investigative reporter hitting the streets as "Mr. Action" without Superman showing up to save the day. Lois uses her detective skills to battle bad guys by herself.
The series included Supergirl's solo adventures, too. However, some reprints are sprinkled in these issues, so there are some space-age adventures to go along with the more down-to-earth 1970s stories.
Other "super" friends are featured, such as Superman's dog Krypto teaming up with detective Ed Lacy, Perry White, Superboy and even Superbaby. Superman's cousin Van-Zee makes frequent appearances (along with his assistant Ak-Var) as the team of Nightwing and Flamebird, occasionally giving the book a "Kryptonian Batman" feel.
Some of the best writing is in the long-running feature "The Private Life of Clark Kent", where Superman (as Kent) is forced to solve a mystery or thwart the criminals. However, circumstances won't let him change into his powerful alter ego. This is an interesting twist on the detective genre. We know that no harm will come to Clark Kent, but he must juggle his secret identity in addition to solving the crime.
Each giant issue (early issues were 100 pages) contains up to six different stories, and issues are relatively inexpensive. This series is a good choice if you are looking for variety combined with solid detective and adventure writing. Similar to Superman Family, DC published Batman Family (1975 series), featuring adventures of Robin and Batgirl, along with shorter stories with supporting characters such as Alfred the butler, Vicki Vale and the Huntress.
Why would these three team up? Long-time Marvel writer Roy Thomas crafted the Defenders out of a storyline from Dr. Strange (1968 series), where the Sorcerer Supreme teamed with the Hulk. Thomas rejuvenated the team in Marvel Feature, adding the Sub-Mariner. With their combined might, enemies had to be either cosmically powerful (like invading aliens) or mystical in nature. After three issues of Marvel Feature, the Defenders struck out in their own monthly title.
At times the team up feels forced, but Thomas does his best to take three loners and weave storylines where they combine to overcome some ominous threat. Silver Surfer, another brooding solitary hero, joined the Defenders in the second issue, and from there things got really strange -- Asgardian warrior Valkyrie joined, and then Hawkeye from the Avengers showed up and stuck around. In addition to these outcasts, Black Knight, Luke Cage, Son of Satan, Daredevil, Man-Thing, Professor X, Ms. Marvel, Moon Knight and even Spider-Man all became occasional members.
Despite the strange beginnings, the artwork in the early issues feature some of Sal Buscema's best work-his portrayal of the Hulk was so vibrant he eventually became the primary artist for Incredible Hulk (1968 series) in the 1970s and 1980s.
This title is definitely an acquired taste. At times the stories feels like an excuse to just get a bunch of random heroes on the same page. The series ran for 152 issues, eventually adopting the name "The New Defenders" before ending in 1986.
All the issues, except the first few are easily affordable, but this may change if the 2016 Netflix TV series is a success.
The formula is straightforward: Take a teenage hero, add some cool galactic superpowers, and throw in some Spider-Man angst and you get Nova.
Created by writer Marv Wolfman, who crafted a Tomb of Dracula (1972 series) and enjoyed an acclaimed run on Daredevil (1964 series), Nova is secretly teenager Richard Rider, selected by a powerful galactic police force known as the Nova Corps. Nova can fly, has super strength and can absorb and redistribute energy, but like Spider-Man is not sure how to use his powers. When Nova #1 premiered, the banner even read "In the Marvelous Tradition of Spider-Man!"
While not ground breaking, the stories are fun and action-packed. Imaginative bad guys like The Condor, Diamondhead and Megaman all pop up early on and allow readers to see the awesome power of Nova. Spider-Man himself shows up in issue #12 for the obligatory fight-then-team-up (a Marvel storytelling staple).
Although Wolfman wrote the entire 25-issue series, a few artists drew the series. The artwork by John Buscema in the early issues makes it a good read. After John's departure, Nova was drawn by brother Sal Buscema, and then long-time Batman artist Carmine Infantino.
Quality Comics published 43 issues of G.I. Combat from 1952 to 1956, when DC took over the title. DC's first issue was #44.
Rather than focusing on the same soldiers every issue, G.I. Combat featured multiple short stories with different regiments and soldiers. Unlike Sgt. Rock and G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (1982 series), whose stars avoided capture, death or serious injury by the enemy for decades, G.I. Combat stories generally featured "regular" soldiers fighting in World War II.
The series also featured some great recurring features such as "The Haunted Tank" (which began in issue #87), in which the ghost of an American Civil War Confederate General roamed the battlefield, watching over an American tank and it's crew. If you enjoy Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, with weird plot twists and the occasional supernatural element, you'll enjoy issues that feature the Haunted Tank.
When the Vietnam War divided the USA in the late 1960s, the tone of G.I. Combat changed-gone were the days of glorified soldiers gallantly marching towards the Nazis; instead, fatigue, depression and anger often were the main driving forces in stories featuring scared and confused soldiers, forced to do things that they weren't even sure were noble or even justified. Issues from this era often showcased other warriors like guerillas or mercenaries for hire.
The greatest artist for war comics was the legendary Joe Kubert, who drew many issues of G.I. Combat during the 1960s. They don't get any better than Kubert, with dynamic battle scenes and riveting human emotions. Kubert also penciled many issues of Sgt. Rock and Star Spangled War Comics.
For years the letters column featured military trivia and quotes from famous leaders. Did you know that Costa Rica has no standing army? Or the U.S. in the early 1980s investigated ways to replace a soldier's dog tag with an implanted digital microchip? Sure, some of the trivia and news stories are outdated but they make for interesting reading.
As World War II veterans aged, war comics became less popular and G.I. Combat ended its long run with issue #288 in 1987. Although not as popular a genre today, fans of Joe Kubert and dramatic writing enjoy these books. Most copies, especially later ones, are inexpensive.
Looking for a well-written crime drama with the look and feel of Batman or the Punisher? Vigilante will suit your tastes.
The Vigilante is Adrian Chase. a district attorney who crossed mobsters. In revenge, they murder his family. Now alone and angry, Chase seeks vengeance. He dons the guise of the Vigilante to serve up justice where courts have failed.
Unlike super powered heroes, Vigilante is just a normal guy who puts on a black costume with infrared goggles and holster, and starts taking the law into his own hands. Unlike Batman, he is not a world-class athlete or martial-arts expert. As such, he often gets beat up, injured and loses his fair share of fights. When the hero is terrified and fighting for his very life, it makes the tension more harrowing.
The 1980s were the age of the anti-hero -- dark, brooding and morally ambiguous heroes like Wolverine, the Punisher and Watchmen's psychopath Rorschach.
Writer Marv Wolfman challenged readers' preconceptions about revenge, justice, and what it means psychologically to put on a suit, grab a gun and run around chasing bad guys. Wolfman's Vigilante is hell-bent on revenge, but is often conflicted about killing. He even "corrects" some of his own court cases where a criminal avoided punishment due to a technicality or a bribed judge. Vigilante is tormented by his actions, growing more mentally unstable as the series progresses. Some times, Vigilante inflicts justice on criminals he later finds out were innocent! Such is the series' real-world feel, where actions can have damaging consequences.
Vigilante was published on a high-quality glossy paper (rare in 1983). This prestige format really made the artwork pop compared to comics printed on regular paper. Many covers are ominous. Issue #1 has a silent Vigilante pointing a gun right at the reader. This comic is definitely intended for mature readers.
Vigilante has never made it to the big screen and has never become a household name. As a result, issues (even the first one) are very inexpensive, even in high grades.
This series is beloved by a small, dedicated group of science-fiction fans, who often cite ROM as an example of sci-fi that actually works. Marvel offered something unique (an alien cyborg) and familiar (existing in the Marvel universe). Similar to the Silver Surfer, ROM looked at humanity from an alien perspective. The narrative flowed from issue to issue which allowed the stories to grow complex.
The series was created in 1979 to tie into the "ROM, the Space Knight" robot which hoped to tap into the public's new fascination with space adventure spearheaded by the 1976 debut of Star Wars. Electronic toys were new, and ROM robot was one of the first.
But, for every Rubik's cube, there are hundreds of toys that aren't successful and the ROM toy was a bomb. Where Star Wars had an entire army of heroes, villains and vehicles, ROM was just the one clunky robot -- with no supporting cast.
Luckily for fans, Bill Mantlo was an accomplished writer, having enjoyed long runs on Marvel Team Up (1972 series) and Micronauts (1979 series), also based on a toy. Mantlo made ROM a cyborg -- an important distinction for a hero of an ongoing comic book. Cyborgs have life, feelings and emotions. ROM could make choices, opening up a world of possibilities.
With Sal Buscema's artwork, Manlo created an interesting series. Motivated in early issues to find his home world of Galador, ROM spends time fighting his primary foes, the Dire Wraiths (alien shape-shifters). Later issues focus on themes such as interstellar war and what it means to strive for humanity -- pretty heady stuff for a toy-based comic.
While G.I. Joe and Transformers rarely crossed over into the world of Marvel's other superheroes, other mainstream Marvel characters appeared in ROM, like Power Man & Iron Fist, the infinitely-powerful Galactus and even crabby J. Jonah Jameson.
Because of complicated copyrights, ROM has never been reprinted, and has not appeared in the Marvel Universe since the 75-issue series ended. Back issues are inexpensive, with only the first few issues commanding a high price. If you're looking for an affordable run of high-quality science fiction, ROM offers an interesting take on a cosmic scale.
Life is tough enough as a superhero's sidekick -- but how do you establish your own identity when you have fought crime alongside Batman, one of the most famous superheroes of all time? Dick Grayson was the original Robin, followed by Jason Todd. Tim Drake, the third Robin, was introduced in the late 1980s in the pages of Batman (1940 series) and his stories are chronicled in Robin (1993 series).
In the audience at the circus the night Dick Grayson's parents were murdered, a young Tim Drake correctly deduces Dick Grayson was the original Robin. Years later after Dick Grayson had become Nightwing, DC replaced him with a second Robin, Jason Todd. Unpopular with fans, DC killed off Todd. Later, Tim Drake was introduced and he befriended Nightwing. Fan reaction to Tim Drake was much more positive than Jason Todd. Drake convinces Grayson and Batman that the Robin identity should continue to exist, to help combat the darkness of Batman's vigilante mind. He also convinces them that he is the person to fill the costume.
Unlike the first two Robins, however, Drake was not an acrobat and possessed no fighting skills. He's just a kid with remarkable intelligence and deductive insight.
The 5-issue limited series Robin (1991 series) showcases Tim Drake's long training regimen. Robin II (The Joker's Wild) features Drake taking on the Joker and Robin III: Cry of the Huntress was a successful 6-issue series. These series garnered sales and critical praise, especially for long-time Batman writer Chuck Dixon and feature the Dynamic Duo mostly from Robin's (rather than Batman's) point of view. Unlike Dick Grayson and Jason Todd (who were wards of Bruce Wayne), Drake's parents are still alive, and he has a house and a life outside of the Batcave.
Robin (1993 series) features the solo adventures of Tim Drake. Why the split from Batman? The series debuted right after the famous Knightfall storyline, where Batman is crippled by the monstrous villain Bane. A new Batman takes to the streets -- Jean-Paul Valley (later known as Azrael)-- and Drake is forced to team up with a new, unstable and violent anti-hero calling himself Batman. It was a perfect opportunity for Robin to strike out on his own.
Dixon, who created Bane, has written hundreds of Batman stories. Here, Dixon wrote the first 100 issues, providing ongoing plots and twists. Robin's stories are not "leftover" Batman stories, but rather a long-term look at a teenager struggling to juggle all sorts of problems -- the missing Bruce Wayne, a teenage girlfriend, schoolwork, a dangerous new Batman and of course, a barrage of weird villains that could only land in Gotham.
The interplay between Drake and his girlfriend is especially fun to watch. Drake often lies about his whereabouts, the reasons for his bruises and disappearances at inopportune moments. Early Marvel Spider-Man issues are often praised for this type of realism, and Robin strives for a similar approach. It's also interesting to watch Robin take on fully-grown adults in battle. Often he's physically outmatched (after all, no amount of Tibetan martial arts will help a teenager defeat a 400-pound mobster with a gun).
The series ran for 183 issues over 15 years -- an amazing feat considering it features a sidekick and was launched in the early 1990s (shortly before the comic book industry imploded). It also enjoyed a remarkably low turnover of writers and artists, giving fans consistent storylines.
Following DC's 2011 reboot, DC remade Tim Drake as Red Robin. But the 1993 series, along with the three mini-series give lets you see Robin not as a sidekick needing rescue, but rather as a bona fide superhero in his own right. Great art and especially adept writing make this series a great read.
Marvel tried it again in the 1970s with Astonishing Tales, which featured a jungle caveman, Ka-Zar, sharing a comic with a power-hungry, armor-wearing monarch, Marvel's greatest supervillain - Dr. Doom!
In issues #1 through #8, Marvel showcased Ka-Zar and Doom in two completely separate 10-page stories. Early issues featured Dr. Doom fighting off a potential usurper to his Latverian crown, and later he even fights the Red Skull. Although the artwork was average, it was the first opportunity to see Dr. Doom living his day-to-day life in Latveria, and for that reason alone it remains a solid collectible.
Doom dropped out after eight issues, leaving Ka-Zar to carry the load through issue #19. The popularity of the series led to Marvel spinning him off into Ka-Zar (1974 series).
After Ka-Zar got his own book, Marvel changed gears. Many fans associate Marvel with superheroes, but in its early days, Marvel (or Timely as it was known then) churned out entertaining monster stories, with scary dragons and winged demons terrorizing cities. Astonishing Tales re-emerged as a monster magazine for issues #20 to #24 with "It!" These stories featured lots of destruction and scared citizens running for their lives.
Few comic books have reached the cultural and historical importance of Detective Comics. Many key moments span this series including the very first Batman story (issue #27), new characters first appearances such as Batwoman and even lesser-known weird characters like the impish troublemaker from another dimension, Bat-Mite. Decades upon decades of history lie in the pages of Detective Comics.
The brand name "DC" even comes from the title, short for Detective Comics. Since Batman's debut, his exploits have continuously appeared in both Detective and Batman (1940 series).
But over 800 issues, where does a collector begin? Each decade featured a completely different Batman -- the 1940s and early 1950s showed a more innocent "kid-friendly" Batman, with almost no violence. His sidekick Robin also played a prominent role in Batman's early adventures.
From the late 1950s through the mid-1960s Batman and Robin battled aliens and mad scientists. In the mid-1960s, the tone shifted with the hugely-popular and "campy" Batman TV show affecting pop culture -- the artwork, bright colors and gaudy super villains were reflected within Detective's pages.
In the 1970s, after the TV series ended, superstar artists Carmine Infantino and Neil Adams re-imagined Batman as the "New Look" Batman -- the ray guns and aliens were gone, and a sleeker, darker, more mysterious and mature Batman appeared --- often only at night to hunt criminals on dark Gotham streets.
Fans can enjoy not only the different eras, but also the different interpretations over the years of the greatest rogues gallery in history -- The Joker, Clayface, Mr. Freeze, Ra's Al Ghul, Killer Croc, Bane.
Early issues (from #1 to #200) are extremely expensive and often hard to find. However, it is fascinating to read early Batman stories and get a glimpse into middle 20th-century culture -- clothes, hats, cars, the attitudes towards females and minorities and even cultural references like "the Soviets" have all evolved greatly.
The Bat family grew in 1967 with the introduction of Batgirl (issue #359). The daughter of the police chief, Barbara Gordon often teamed alongside Batman and Robin.
But Detective was more than just Batman, Robin and Batgirl. In addition to the Caped Crusader's lead story, other characters were featured in their own stories. "The Martian called J'onn J'onzz" (Martian Manhunter) debuted in #225. Roy Raymond, TV Detective was another popular feature throughout the 1950s-Raymond would investigate (and often debunk) spectacular claims made by people who wanted to be seen on his "Impossible But True" TV show. Mysto Magician Detective was another popular feature from this era-the powers of ancient mysticism help a stage magician fight crime using illusions and misdirection.
Also in the 1950s Detective would reprint stories from earlier decades- stories featuring Gang Busters, Alfred "Armchair Detective", Danger Trail, Strange Adventures, Rex the Wonder Dog, Sierra Smith, Captain Compass and Casebook Mystery were all reprints.
In the 1970s, another great backup feature starred the Elongated Man (starting in #327). Stretchy Ralph Dibny travelled the country solving mysteries. With witty banter and intelligent writing, these are true "Detective" stories, featuring hidden clues and often a direct challenge to the reader to help solve the puzzle or crime.
The Batman family grew in 1967 with the introduction of Batgirl (issue #359). She was popular enough to eventually share the billing on the title. Batgirl was featured in many backup stories in the 1960s and 70s often teaming up with Robin. Detective Comics hosted others, including solo adventures of Robin; Tales of Gotham City, which featured no super-powered people but rather ordinary citizens; and Human Target, a master of disguise who worked as a bodyguard and private detective for hire.
Other notable backup stories in the 1970s included criminologist and private investigator Jason Bard and the critically-acclaimed Manhunter series, which mixed globetrotting adventures and martial arts. Detective moved to a giant-sized "Batman Family" format with a $1.00 price in 1978, allowing for even more backup stories, such as solo adventures of Man-Bat, The Demon and even Bat-Mite.
How do independent comic book publishers stay competitive with giants like Marvel and DC? Simple, develop a unique concept, like taking classic fairy tales and adding dark, modern twists.
Zenescope's Grimm Fairy Tales debuted in 2005 and quickly made impressive inroads among fans of fantasy and horror comics. Modifying classic fairy tales for use in movies, television or comic books is not new. Disney's early works in the 1940s often offered new spins on classic fairy tales like Snow White and Cinderella.
Zenescope's flagship title Grimm Fairy Tales takes the same concept but gives it a darker, more adult twist. The stories adapt fairy tales but include mature themes, horror, and sinister turns. You can recognize most Grimm Fairy Tales comic book covers from the buxom heroines in distress -- definitely not a comic book for young children or Disney fans!
Early issues featured classics such as Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel. Many people aren't aware that the Brothers Grimm stories from the early 19th century are quite scary and violent, and Zenescope has done a good job staying true to the original darkness of the stories while merging some 'Twilight Zone' elements as well.
Grimm Fairy Tales is written by Joe Tyler and Ralph Tedesco (who is also one of the founders of the company), and over time Zenescope has become one of the few successful independent comic book publishers capable of delivering a high-quality product on time. Rather than competing directly with powerhouses Marvel and DC, Zenescope serves a niche market of horror and fantasy books with loyal followers.
Horror comics were extremely popular in the 1950s, most notably EC ComicsTales from the Crypt (1950 series) and Shock SuspensStories (1952 series). While often gory and violent, these stories had a certain morality to them (often warning the reader that if they didn't change their ways, they too could end up like the unfortunate hero of the story). EC Comics ceased publication with the advent of the Comics Code Authority in the mid 1950s, and a half century later Grimm Fairy Tales rekindled interest in scary fantasy comics.
Created in 1938, Superman was the world's first comic book superhero. By 1985, 47 years later, a new generation of readers was buying comics and it was nearly impossible for a new reader to pick up a copy of Superman comics and know about all of Superman's history to put the story in perspective.
The same was true for other DC heroes with decades of history. So, in 1985, in hopes of eliminating inconsistencies in storylines and simplifying the DC universe, DC published Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985 series), 12 issues that simultaneously destroyed and rebuilt the mythos of many DC superheroes and (spoiler alert!) which included the death of Supergirl and The Flash.
The mini-series took big risks with big changes: In Byrne's new world of Superman, Superman began displaying his super powers only as an adult in Metropolis. As a result, Superboy's exploits were retroactively erased. Lex Luthor went from being a mad genius to a rotund, billionaire businessman. Lois Lane's main endeavor of getting Clark Kent to admit he was Superman was discarded.
The follow-up to the Man of Steel mini-series was a complete rebooting of Superman's comics in four different titles. The lead title was Superman (1987 series) with the first issue numbered #1. With Byrne and Terry Austin at the helm, the series featured great artwork and self-contained stories. Early issues are a delight for anyone looking for Superman championing truth, justice and the American way. The original Superman (1939 series) ended with issue #423 and in its place Adventures of Superman (1987 series) began with #424. Stories with Superman's new history also appeared in Superman: Man of Steel and of course Action Comics (1938 series).
Dan Jurgens took the helm of all the books in the 1990s and created the one of the most enduring and epic storylines in the history of comics -- The Death of Superman. He created the villain Doomsday, who ultimately killed Superman. The Death of Superman story in issue #75 was one of the best-selling issues of all time (selling over 2 million copies). Fans flocked to stores for a chance to buy this "once-in-a-lifetime" collector's item available in a both a regular format and a special collector's edition, which was sealed in a black wrapper with an imprinted Superman's logo. The bag contained the comic and a black mourning armband. Collector's beware -- the issue was reprinted three times.
When Superman rose from the dead a year later, many fans were outraged, leaving the hobby (many for good). The implosion of the comic book industry in 1990s can be attributed, in part, to mass printings and shameless marketing stunts like this. Decades later, however, the "Death of Superman" storyline itself is still interesting, featuring a funeral, supporting heroes and friends, four mysterious "new Supermen" and ultimately the return of the one, true Man of Steel. Love it or hate it, the two-year "Death of Superman" saga remains a key storyline that fans remember.
Collecting tip: Because Superman stories appeared in four comics (Superman, Action, Man of Steel and Adventures of Superman) and stories are continued from one title to another, DC began a secondary numbering system, known as "the triangles". For long storylines like "The Death of Superman", the triangular numbers on the covers of the four titles indicate the sequence of the storyline.
Recognize the catchphrase, "More than meets the eye?"
If you do, you were probably young in the mid-1980s and a fan of the Transformers -- robots that could turn into vehicles.
Marvel's Transformers comic books were based on the toys of the same name. The premise was simple: the good guys were automobiles, the bad guys were airplanes. It was one of the first large-scale cross promotions which included the toys, an after-school cartoon show and the comic books.
The toys and comics were hot -- most every kid in North America had heard of Optimus Prime, Megatron and Bumblebee. Intended as a four-issue limited series, Transformers (1984 series) sold extremely well, and ran for 80 issues. The original four issues are valued by collectors. Many early issues were reprinted.
The Transformers storyline is simple: a spaceship crashes on Earth, and Optimus Prime and his heroic Autobots team with humans to thwart the evil Decepticons and their plans for domination. Major characters like Bumblebee, Shockwave and Starscream are staples. Transformers were extremely popular with an entire generation of youngsters, but when these fans aged, book sales suffered and the series ended in 1991. During the comic book run, many mainstays were introduced such as the Dinobots (issue #8) and Omega Supreme (issue #17).
Twenty years after their debut, with the success of the Transformers movies, IDW revamped the line with Transformers (2005 series) and Transformers (2009 series), with stellar artwork and improved production (as is the case with most modern comics printed on higher-quality paper). So there is something for everyone -- enjoy the original series, or check out the newer, up-to-date Transformers in the IDW series.
Once a generation a title comes along that captures everyone's imagination and sparks a frenzy. In the 1940s it was Superman. In the 1960s it was Spider-Man. At the start of this century it was The Walking Dead.
Prior to its premiere in 2003, zombie comics and stories were not popular beyond a hardcore few. But the Walking Dead rekindled interest in the genre. Within a few years, The Walking Dead was one of the hottest properties in the world. The comics led to a ratings-busting TV show, tons of licensed merchandise, legions of fans, and many comic copycats.
The series focuses on Rick Grimes, a sheriff's deputy who wakes from a coma to discover the world he knew is gone. Zombies are everywhere. Entire cities are overrun with the undead in search of a meal of human flesh. Nowhere is safe and mysteries remain: Why did this happen? Is there a cure? Can safety and peace ever be found?
Various still-living people form alliances, but many of the people, and the alliances, do not survive for long. The Walking Dead repeatedly kills off its main characters, creating a real sense of danger for readers. Anyone and everyone is at risk of being permanently eliminated any time.
The comics have gotten more popular as the TV show gains fans. Is it too late for a TV viewer to jump into the comic book series? Absolutely not. Like any serial drama, the appeal is the ever-changing hellish landscape that Rick and his group endure. A word of caution: The TV series does not follow the comic story line perfectly. Some comic book characters died earlier in the TV series, some later, some not at all.
Written by Robert Kirkman (who later created Invincible), the stories focus on more than just bogeymen popping from behind a car. The interplay between the surviving members is fascinating. The roles they play in this new society, the leadership fights among them, how the group functions without laws, the moral dilemmas that each consider when facing life-and-death choices are great reasons to read this series.
Fans of the TV show and comic are quick to point out that "The Walking Dead" refers not only to the zombies, but to the human survivors, forced to fend for themselves in this new world of dread and near certain death.
Early issues are very expensive. But, Walking Dead trade paperbacks which compile about 6 issues each, are widely available, affordable, and a good way to catch up on the earliest issues.
How are Rama-Tut, Kang the Conqueror and Dr. Doom related? Speaking of Doom-what exactly powers his medieval-looking armor?
By the 1980s, the Marvel universe included thousands of characters. Keeping track of 25 years of stories, thousands of characters and storylines could get overwhelming and confusing.
The series solved the problem. It was an expanded version of an in-house guide used by Marvel's writers to keep things consistent with past adventures. The series was an all-inclusive encyclopedia for readers. It featured biographies of Marvel superheroes and villains, and detailed pictures of each character by leading artists like John Byrne and John Romita, Sr.
Issues #1-12 are alphabetical listings of characters from A-Z, and the last three issues feature deceased heroes like the original Human Torch as well as weapons and hardware. You can enjoy close-up views (and descriptions) of Captain America's shield, the evil Mandarin's rings, or even Wolverine's adamantium skeleton.
The handbooks have no storyline, but include detailed specs on major and minor Marvel players. The series was a huge help for those engaged in a favorite 1980s pastime: role-playing games. Similar to Dungeons & Dragons, the Marvel Super Heroes Role-Playing Game was popular -- fans would play the roles of the Fantastic Four, Uncanny X-Men or even made-up aliens or mutants that they created. The Handbook became an invaluable tool for gamers.
Although RPGs are not as popular now, the handbooks have retained their popularity because they're an inexpensive guide to biographies and detailed pictures of Marvel characters.
As a fan, you can enjoy the biographies which rekindle memories of key storylines or teach you something new about your favorite characters. Did you know that Galactus had two different heralds? How many maniacs have called themselves the Green Goblin? Trivia fans love the series, too.
This is our best selling mini-series. We constantly get more copies and they consistently fly off the shelves. That's what happens to a series that some consider the most important DC mini-series of all time.
Published in 1985, the series was designed to simplify the then 50-year old DC universe. The problem originated when DC re-booted their superheroes starting in 1956 with a re-introduction of a new Flash. To reconcile the new Flash with the Golden Age Flash, DC said that the two superheroes existed on "alternate" earths. In fact, DC threw all of their Golden Age heroes (including a duplicate Superman with gray hair) into that alternate
universe, named Earth-Two. That opened up a Pandora's box of alternate worlds, like Earth-Three (where heroes were villains and vice versa) and Earth Prime.
By 1985, it was pretty hard for readers, and DC's writers, to keep track of all the different worlds. Crisis on Infinite Earths tackled the problem by combining all the worlds into one universe in this 12-issue mega event. In the process, DC consolidated everyone into one universe and killed off about 30 characters.
The series was very successful in sparking renewed interest in comics and popularizing "crossover" events, where one story line spans every title of a publisher's line of comics, which is now an annual event for both DC and Marvel.
One of the most-respected comic books, Four Color Comics offers an amazing glimpse into the past - early appearances of now-famous licensed characters, beautiful artwork and a fascinating view into 20th-century pop culture. The series' name, Four Color Comics was devised to set the colorful series apart from the only alternative for readers in the 1940s- dreary black and white comic strips published in daily newspapers.
First published in 1939 - one year after Superman's debut in Action Comics, Four Color Comics showcased characters still popular today (like Bugs Bunny) and icons of the last century, now mostly forgotten (like Bozo the Clown, Jungle Jim, Spin & Marty and Spike & Tyke.
Most collectors don't collect the entire series, but rather hunt down issues that feature their favorite characters. High-grade issues often fetch hundreds if not thousands of dollars because in many cases, the first comic featuring a character, like Bugs Bunny, appeared in Four Color Comics. Enjoy Rocky and Bullwinkle? Frosty the Snowman? Tom & Jerry? Western heroes? Action movies or TV series of the 1950s? You name it, chances are any character of the mid 20th century, animated or live action movie or TV show, was showcased. That's why they're a popular buy for people looking for a gift for people born before 1960 because the characters featured were a part of their childhood.
Multiple issues appeared each month, and Dell produced 1,354 issues in 25 years - the longest run of any comic book ever.
The series featured characters hugely popular in the 20th century, many now all but forgotten like the Hardy Boys, Huckleberry Hound, Jim Bowie, Johnny Mack Brown, or now politically incorrect, like Marge's Tubby. Characters that first appeared in syndicated newspaper comic strips, like hardboiled detective Dick Tracy made many appearances in Four Color Comics, as did the popular action-adventure series Terry and the Pirates. Many 1950s and 1960s TV shows were featured, like Twilight Zone, Leave It to Beaver and 77 Sunset Strip.
Arguably the most popular characters from Four Color Comics are Disney properties such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and one of Disney's original characters, Oswald the Rabbit. Legendary artist Carl Barks drew Donald for the first time in Four Color Comics in 1942 (issue #9) and later created Uncle Scrooge.
Warmongering aliens! Maniacs trying to take over the world! Destructive Monsters! A superhero's work is never done. But, giving super villains their own title? In 1975, Marvel published two Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up books, featuring Dr. Doom and Namor, the Sub-Mariner (either battling it out or teaming up) and they proved popular enough to warrant an ongoing series.
Super-Villain Team-Up was born. It boasts some cool covers and solid artwork by workhorses John Buscema and Gil Kane. Don't confuse this Marvel series with DC Comics' Secret Society of Super-Villains (1976 series) which featured Flash adversaries like Captain Cold, Gorilla Grodd and Captain Boomerang.
The first issues of Super-Villain Team-Up featured Doom and Namor battling Attuma, the Atlantean warlord bent on usurping Namor as the ruler of the underwater kingdom. The novelty of villains as protagonists, rather than just getting thwarted and slinking off into the night, makes the series a worthwhile read.
Doom and the Sub-Mariner go their separate ways after issue #10, and the evil Red Skull and Magneto swap team-up duties with Doom. The final issue features the Red Skull and a rare appearance by the Hate-Monger.
History has been kind to Super-Villain Team-Up. Many fans appreciate the solid artwork and "A-list" villains. To meet publishing deadlines, some issues, like #15, reprint earlier silver-age classics from Astonishing Tales. There are some key moments in the series as well: the death of Betty Dean, Sub-Mariner's long-time romantic interest (issue #2) and the first appearance of The Shroud (issue #5).
What do you do when you're a major corporation with a character so popular and making so much money for you in his current persona that you cannot kill, grow or alter him in any meaningful way? This is always the dilemna in any medium, and it was Marvel's problem in the early 1990s.
So, in 1992, with Marvel running into this same problem with other characters, it created a new line of comics including Doom 2099, Punisher 2099 (1993 series), X-Men 2099 and Hulk 2099. This permitted writers and artists to use an already familiar brand (mainly the name of the hero) while creating completely new situations in a dystopian future, with fresh supporting characters and villains. Less than a decade later, Marvel did it again, creating the "Ultimate" line of comics, re-imagining its top characters in an alternative universe.
For Spidey is was Spider-Man 2099, first introduced as a 5-page story in Amazing Spider-Man #365.
Set a century in the future, the hero of Spider-Man 2099 was Miguel O'Hara, a Latino who works for Alchemax, a drug company with corrupt board members. O'Hara winds up the guinea pig in a risky genetic experiment and gets his DNA spliced with the genes of a Spider. Now infused with superpowers, he dons a costume based on the "Day of the Dead" Mexican holiday. More than just another guy in a spider costume, O'Hara's DNA has been genetically altered -- he has venom glands and sharp fangs.
During the run, Spider-man 2099 fought evil corporations and fought for the downtrodden. Of course, there are some team-ups as well, with Spider-Man 2099 eventually joining forces with the futuristic counterparts of the Punisher and the X-Men.
While Spider-Man 2099 was well received by fans, at the time Marvel was struggling both financially and creatively. One casualty of seemingly endless staff firings, artistic change-ups and corporate restructurings was the Marvel 2099 line -- the series' editor was let go in 1996, and almost all of the writers on the 2099 line left as well. As a result, Spider-Man 2099 ends rather abruptly after 46 issues.
Miguel O'Hara surfaced over the years in various cameos and one shots, and eventually travelled through time to the current day in Superior Spider-Man (issues #17-21).
There is a dedicated group of Spider-Man 2099 fans, and Spider-Man 2099 (2014 series) was launched with writer Peter David at the helm. Miguel O'Hara is back- but this time he is a Spider-Man stuck in present day! Whether you want to enjoy the original 1990s series or the new, ongoing book, both series offer solid writing from David, as well as a cool costume and a fresh take on the future. Spider-Man 2099 offers fans a new way to look at a familiar web-slinger.
Who would have figured that the rocky, cigar-chomping monster known as "The Thing" would be the most popular member of the Fantastic Four? By the early 1970s, Fantastic Four (1961 series) was not only one of the best-selling comics in the world, but the team of radioactive superheroes even had a Saturday-morning cartoon show.
To appeal to the popularity of The Thing, a stand alone comic featuring him was first tried in Marvel Feature (1971 series) #11. Marvel used this as a showcase to see if the Thing could financially support his own comic. He could and Marvel gave The Thing his own series -- Marvel Two-In-One.
This series features Ben Grimm, forever trapped as a superhuman orange behemoth teaming up with big-name Marvel superheroes like Captain America, Iron Man and Daredevil, and lesser-knowns like Spider-Woman, Nova and Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu.
Early issues feature great artwork by Sal Buscema and Gil Kane, with dynamic action and large, bold layouts. Eclectic writer Steve Gerber (creator of Man-Thing and Howard The Duck) set a slightly strange tone early on, injecting symbolism about the United States, dystopian futures and all sorts of weirdness that a "team up" book normally would not have.
Because Ben Grimm teams with a different character each issue, the storylines usually stretch for only one or two books, which is great if you are a fan of the guest star. Some of the more bizarre teammates are the Scarecrow (#18) and Skull the Slayer (#35). Many of the villains are just as strange. For example, Grimm battles the Impossible Man in #86 while teaming up with long-time foe the Sandman.
Marvel Two-In-One ran for 100 issues over a decade before being replaced by Thing (1983 series). The familiarity of having the Thing in every issue, as well as the novelty of seeing him without his Fantastic Four teammates and battling alongside a different Marvel hero every issue kept this series fresh and interesting through most of the 1970s.
If you're a fan of the Fantastic Four, you should be collecting Marvel Two-in-One. As a spinoff of Fantastic Four (1961 series), the issues are reasonably priced.
I like this series because there are so many ways you can collect it.
It was a horror anthology for its first 34 issues. So you can pick up any issue and get several self-contained stories, with no need to find the previous or next issue.
Starting with #35, and with Marvel's success with its newly created superhero comics, the series started to feature Ant Man. So you can either collect the first 34 issues, or the Ant Man issues. Then, starting with #49, Ant Man became Giant-Man (and I guess he had to buy a whole new wardrobe). Giant-Man stories ran until issue #69. So, the 21 Giant-Man stories are another way to collect.
But wait, there's more. Incredible Hulk stories were a feature from issue #60 to #101 (Then, the series was renamed The Incredible Hulk (1968 series) starting with issue #102). Sub-Mariner replaced Giant Man in #70 and appeared through #101. Then, Marvel moved Sub-Mariner to Sub-Mariner (1968 series).
Let's count the ways to collect this series:
1. The entire run #1-#101.
2. Just the Ant-Man stories
3. Just the Giant Man stories
4. Ant-Man and Giant Man stories
5. Just issues with Sub-Mariner
6. Just issues with the Incredible Hulk
7. Just Ant Man and Sub-Mariner
8. Just Ant Man and the Incredible Hulk
9. Just Sub-Mariner and Incredible Hulk
10. Sub-Mariner in Tales to Astonish plus Sub-Mariner (1968 series).
11. Incredible Hulk in Tales to Astonish plus Incredible Hulk (1968 series).
There have been many "Green Lanterns" -- from blonde-haired Alan Scott, the original Golden Age Green Lantern, to the Silver Age's Hal Jordan to countless aliens donning rings in Green Lantern Corps, to Simon Baz in DC's "New 52" relaunch in 2011.
While Green Lantern helped usher in DC's silver age in Green Lantern (1960 series), and Neil Adam's artwork in the 1970s garnered critical acclaim, by the 1980s Green Lantern had become an ordinary title with safe storylines and mediocre artwork. To spice up the series, the edgy anti-hero Guy Gardner and John Stewart also became Green Lanterns. When the series changed names to Green Lantern Corps (1986 series) and finally ended, the Green Lantern mythos was confusing to many.
In an attempt to reinvigorate the Green Lantern family, DC decided to focus again on the Silver Age Green Lantern, Hal Jordan in Green Lantern (1990 series). An older Hal Jordan (with grey hair at the temples) was joined by fellow Corps members John Stewart and Guy Gardner.
Issues #48 to 51 feature a key storyline where Hal Jordan goes crazy, apparently killing fellow Green Lanterns (and getting their rings) to try to restore his destroyed hometown of Coast City. As Hal Jordan goes off the deep end, a new Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner) is selected in issue #51.
Green Lantern (1990 series) was popular enough to retain some fan interest, especially with Kyle Rayner learning how to control the powerful ring and injecting some new personality into the franchise. However, there is little here for the key comics collector -- the artwork is average, the storylines are three and four-issues long, and it can be difficult to keep track of the seemingly endless parade of superheroes with a ring calling themselves Green Lantern.
However, for a dedicated core of fans, that is exactly what makes this series so enjoyable: the huge variety of heroes and villains. Since the Green Lanterns can travel into outer space, storylines often feature bizarre aliens and far-out plotlines. Hard-core Green Lantern fans will enjoy this, but the casual reader may find this series hard to digest.
When Marvel created their military-themed G.I. Joe, A Real American Hero comic book in 1982, many young readers had no idea that the phrase "G.I. Joe" had its roots back in the mid-20th century.
The series ran for 155 issues over 12 years. One major factor for its success was the synergy between the comic book, Hasbro toy line and after-school animated TV show. Marvel editor and main writer on the G.I. Joe series Larry Hama worked closely with Hasbro to create characters with actual back stories and relationships. Popular characters include the ninja warrior Snake Eyes, crossbow-wielding Scarlett, and muscular Marine Gung-Ho.
But it was really the villains that brought the series to life -- mainly the silver-headed villain Destro, and the ultimate bad guy, Cobra Commander. Both villains remain mainstays at comic book conventions today. There are always a few Cobra agents wandering around. Another popular baddie is Cobra Commander's bodyguard Storm Shadow. A popular storyline involved the brotherly bond between Storm Shadow and his enemy Snake Eyes; both served in Vietnam and were friends, but later found themselves on opposite sides of the global war of Cobra versus the Joes.
Although sometimes viewed as a "toy book" and not part of Marvel's pantheon of superhero titles, G.I. Joe has a loyal fan base, partly because of nostalgia for the cartoons and toys and partly for solid writing. Issue #21, for example, features no words -- the entire story is told through pacing, action and facial features (an unusual feat, even by today's standards).
Even though the last issue was published in 1994, the popularity of the Joes continues -- successful movies (the latest starred Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) have renewed interest in the series. Subsequent G.I. Joe comics series, most notably Image's G.I. Joe (2001 series) and IDW's G.I. Joe 2008 series), rebooted the origins of many of the heroes and villains.
However, for older fans, the original series remains the definitive books for the Joe collector.
Todd McFarlane, one of the hottest comic book artists of the late 1980s, is a name forever synonymous with Spider-Man. His unique drawing style of the webslinger (premiering in Amazing Spider-Man #298) captured the attention of Spidey fans, who loved seeing long, detailed spaghetti strands of webbing and flexible, seemingly-impossible contortions.
In 1990, after a short run on Amazing Spider-Man, McFarlane was the hottest name in comics and when Spider-Man #1 premiered with McFarlane's artwork, the issue sold a then-record 2.5 million copies. This was one of the first books to feature variant covers (encouraging readers to purchase the same story, but with different covers, several times).
McFarlane's artwork on this series is as good as anything he has ever done. The detailed, innovative drawings of Peter Parker, Mary Jane Watson and villains like the ridiculously-muscled Venom and a new, more-savage looking Lizard were a delight for fans. However, one widely-held criticism is that the stories are a little on the weak side (McFarlane is considered an incredible artist but a very average writer). McFarlane had some fun on Spider-Man, especially with covers (Spider-Man #3 which featured an upside-down logo, and issue #13 a beautiful homage... to his own cover art on issue #1)
McFarlane penciled Spider-Man #16 (which happens to be completely drawn sideways, including the cover) and then left Marvel to help start Image Comics. The Spider-Man series continued, featuring a rotating stable of writers and artists such as Eric Larsen and Bob McLeod. Originally a stand-alone series, after McFarlane's departure Spider-Man started to mix storylines with its other monthly counterparts, such as Amazing Spider-Man (1963 series), Spectacular Spider-Man (1976 series) and Web of Spider-Man (1985 series).
For the Spidey fan, this series is an affordable way to collect some stellar McFarlane artwork. Issues of McFarlane's Amazing Spider-Man run (issues #298-328) command a much higher price, partly because of the introduction of Venom in #300, and partly because Overstreet values the original, flagship title higher than the others. Because Spider-Man was (and is) so popular, this series sold in huge quantities so there are plenty of copies around (and they are quite affordable).
One word of caution: There are many versions of issue #1, each with its own Near Mint minus
Platinum Silver Silver bagged
Green Gold   Gold 2nd print
value: Platinum ($150), Silver ($10), Silver bagged ($25), Green ($8), Green bagged ($12), Gold ($25), and Gold 2nd printing ($125).
This series' biggest claim to fame is that it spawned an animated TV show in 1979. Like other female spin-offs (Supergirl, Batgirl), she was designed to bring female readers to the hobby.
Stan Lee, Marvel's editor commented at the time that she was created so another publisher couldn't create a female character with the 'Spider' prefix.
With its creation driven by protecting the Spider-Man brand, not artistic vision, the series is not very distinguished. In fact, its Wikipedia entry discusses none of its storylines or characters found in its 50 issues.
The series lasted five years because Marvel's strategy of reaching female readers was successful. So, if you're looking for a series that empowers women, try it. If not, ignore it.
Few comic books adapted from movies make an impact on comic book collectors, but the newest series of Star Wars comics is sure to make an impact. The stories are set immediately after the events of Star Wars: Episode VI.
Dark Horse comics had the rights to Star Wars comics for decades, but with Marvel Comics now owned by Disney, the ability to cross promote both the movies and the comics has never been greater. Star Wars will again be everywhere -- on Disney's TV channels, in theme parks, etc. Yet another generation worldwide will be drawn into the Star Wars world.
Of all the previous Star Wars series (and there have been hundreds), the one that is still the most popular among collectors is the original 1977 Star Wars series, first published when the first movie hit in the late 1970s.
Issue #1 of the 2015 series sold a reported 1 million copies, which made it the biggest seller of 2015. This series is attractive because with new issues appearing every month, prices are still reasonable.
If you're a Captain America or Iron Man fan on a budget, Marvel Double Feature is a must read. The oldest silver age Captain America stories and the first Iron Man stories shared each issue of Tales of Suspense (1959 series). As a result, Captain America stories in Tales (#59-99) and Iron Man stories in Tales (#39-99) are the most expensive of their stories.
All 21 issues reprinted the best of these stories. Like other reprints, the issues are reasonably priced so you can read the original stories without breaking the bank. If you're not a Captain America or Iron Man fan, skip this series.
In 1986, DC re-booted its super-hero universe in Crisis on Infinite Earths. But it was the Legends 6-issue mini-series that followed it that greatly added to the new DC mythology. It was also springboard for new titles.
In the series, Darkseid plotted to destroy all superheroes by launching an anti-superhero media campaign with his message that superheroes were a menace. The storyline was a psychological, rather than physical, battle.
The series introduced the new Justice League and the Suicide Squad. The original Suicide Squad included heroic individuals who lacked powers. The new team consisted of super-villains Captain Boomerang, Deadshot, Bronze Tiger, Blockbuster, and Enchantress.
It borrowed its premise from the 1967 hit movie, "The Dirty Dozen". The villains would receive a full pardon for their crimes if they successfully carried out a deadly assignment for the government. Their mission -- defeat Darkseid's creation, Brimstone, who had unleashed fear and chaos upon Earth. And, as with any team of anti-heroes, you never knew if one would double cross the team, or even if they would survive. The team proved so popular it was given its own title in 1987. And a Suicide Squad movie is currently in the works for 2016.
Government agent Amanda Waller formed the Suicide Squad and she didn't take any guff. For example in issue #3 when Captain Boomerang makes the mistake of calling her "Amanda, m'dear" she forcefully tells him, “You ever call me Amanda or Sheila or m’dear again and you’ll be using those cock-eyed sticks of yours as splints!” Pretty good for 1987! And she doesn't hesitate to use extreme methods, such as clamping an explosive device on some of the members to ensure they follow orders. Waller has become more popular over the years and is often featured on the TV show, Arrow.
The series also re-launched the Justice League and the new team had a perfect blend of action and humor, and consisted of heroes other Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, like the Martian Manhunter, Black Canary, Guy Gardner, Captain Marvel (Shazam), and Dr. Fate.
If you're a fan of the Justice League, Legends is a perfect addition to your collection. The tentacles of the Legends storyline reached into other DC titles, with offshoots of the basic themes appearing in 22 other DC comics. And although Legends reads well as a standalone series, you can also read the other 22 stories to see how the series affected the re-booted DC universe.
She's been portrayed in the movies by Anne Hathaway, Michelle Pfeiffer, Halle Berry, and on TV by Julie Newmar, Lee Merriweather and Eartha Kitt, but with the possible exception of Hathaway, no one has captured the personality and motivations of Catwoman better than the artists and writers of this series.
The series' artwork by Jim Balent, who drew the interior art (and some covers) for the first 77 issues is notable. He drew Catwoman as a sleek, graceful, tenacious character, perfectly encapsulating her playfulness and athleticism.
In this series, Catwoman is an anti-hero who enjoys what she does, whether it be stealing or kicking butt. Whereas Batman's moral code is to save lives, even the bad guys, Catwoman isn't tethered to this ideal. She prefers to allow those who wronged her to die even if she can save them.
The series depicts Catwoman as more than just a street-level criminal. For example, her stint working as a spy for the government (issue #15) was full of action, adventure, and suspense. In 2001, Comic Book Resources ranked it among the 10 Greatest Catwoman Stories ever.
Collecting this series is interesting, especially if you collect hero/villain crossovers. Two-Face appears in #38-41, 46-47, 60, and 92, the Joker stars in #38-40, 60, 63-65, Bane appears in #1-4, 35, 60, and Batman arrives in #0-2, 5-7, and 19 other appearances). Harley Quinn, pops up in issues #82-84, and #89. The series is the longest-running Catwoman series, lasting 94 issues. If you're a huge Catwoman or Batman fan, this series is definitely worth checking out.
Do you have a friend who's always getting into trouble? Always buzzing you to bail him out. Is he a real pain? Well, in the comics, we call that friend Jimmy Olsen and his savior is Superman.
Created for the 1940s radio show, "The Adventures of Superman", Olsen, a cub reporter for the Daily Planet befriended both Clark Kent and Superman. By 1952, the Superman TV show featured Olsen and it spurred his popularity even further.
In the comics, Superman, realizing Jimmy had congenital 'getting into trouble' disease, gave him an emergency signal watch which Jimmy could press when in danger. Presto! Superman, with his super hearing would come flying (literally) to help and save the dopey Olsen from yet another calamity.
These exploits were all captured in the comic book series Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen which began its run in 1954. The series was so popular among young boys that DC copied the format and launched a version which it hoped would appeal to young girls, Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane in 1958.
Jimmy's appeal, I believe, was that he was just an average Joe, who rubbed shoulders with a celebrity. (Sort of how Kim Kardashian got her start -- as Paris Hilton's sidekick).
By 1970, with American youth caught in the counter-culture movement, Jimmy's inconsequential exploits seemed irrelevant.
Jack Kirby saved the title by transforming it from silly stories to real adventure. The story goes that Kirby asked to be assigned the worst selling DC comic to show that he could turn it around. He did - writing and drawing issues #133 to 148.
In these issues, Kirby introduced his Fourth World characters -- the New Gods and Darkseid. He ended Olsen's dependence on Superman and made him a tougher, investigative type reporter/detective, on hand to witness cosmic events only Jack Kirby could create. For any Jack Kirby or Fourth World fan, these 16 issues are an indispensable part of the Forever People, New Gods and Mister Miracle story line.
After Kirby left, the title lingered. Unable to match Kirby's greatness, DC changed the title to Superman Family starting with #164 and rotated stories starring Olsen, Supergirl, Superboy, Lois Lane, Krypto and Nightwing.
The 2003 series contained several important storylines in Spider-Man's life, such as Civil War, One More Day and Peter Parker's body exchange with Doctor Octopus.
In Civil War, starting with issue #532, a government law ordered superheroes to make their secret identities publically known. Would Spider-Man abide by the law or keep his Peter Parker identify secret to protect his loved ones? The storyline worked well because it came across like a Shakespearean play with Marvel heroes pitted against one another, some supporting the act (Iron Man) and others not (Captain America) in dramatic fashion. Spidey's involvement is key. The story was also featured in other titles including the seven-issue series Civil War, Fantastic Four (2003 series) #536-543, and Captain America (2005 series) #22-25.
In the One More Day storyline, starting with issue #544, Peter and Mary Jane make a deal with the demon Mephisto to erase their marriage from history in exchange for Mephisto saving Aunt May's life. It resulted in a reboot of Peter Parker's character - single again and living with Aunt May. But, critics said it resembled bad television soap operas, whose characters routinely divorce, only to remarry, only to break up again. The story is widely talked about to this day and the story is a definite pickup for Spider-Man collectors.
The series also added new wrinkles to the Spider-Man mythos. Spidey first appears in his Iron-Spider armor, made by Tony Stark aka Iron Man in #529. The costume, with mechanical arms was controlled by thought, had bullet-proof armor, and a mask filter. It proved popular enough to appear in the first season of the animated show, Ultimate Spider-Man.
Flash Thompson, Peter's old high school adversary became the new Venom in #654. Flash's Venom became more of a hero, working for the government. Flash is shown, adding a new dimension than the bullying jock, on-and-off friend of Peter Parker. A war hero who lost both his legs saving a comrade during battle, you find yourself rooting for him in his new role as a superhero/spy.
Also noteworthy is #583, published during the hysteria that swept America just after Barack Obama's first election as President. The issue featured an 8 page story about Obama meeting Spider-Man and Obama appeared on the cover in the hard-to-find 2nd through 5th printings. It was the biggest selling comic book of the year.
J. Scott Campbell's sleek and stylish cover art for issue #601 was also an instant hit. It features a lonely Mary Jane while Spider-Man swings behind her. That cover became an instant classic. By November 2014 the issue was selling for $50 on eBay, almost ten times its Overstreet Guide value.
The series also added popular, new supporting characters, like J. Jonah Jameson's absentee father, Jameson Sr. in #578. Jameson Sr. eventually marries Peter's Aunt May in #600, making one of Spidey's biggest enemies, his father-in-law, too.
But perhaps the biggest key issue is #700. Peter Parker's personality and mind transfers to Doc Ock's body and vice versa. Once transferred, Peter “dies” in Doc Ock's damaged body. It's a milestone and further solidified Doc Ock as Spidey's fiercest opponent.
For his first 40 years, Iron Man was a "B List" character in the Marvel Universe. His comics were good, but Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men were always at the top of the heap. But once Iron Man movies hit the screen, he catapulted onto the "A List".
But, the power of a blockbuster Hollywood film was never more evident than when the 2014 Guardians of the Galaxy movie bumped the Guardians from the near anonymity of the "D List" to the apex of the comic book world.
Their stories were always great, but it took the movie to broaden their audience beyond a small core of loyal fans.
The Guardians of the Galaxy first appeared in Marvel Super-Heroes #18, back in 1969. But, even Marvel didn't know what to do with such an off-beat team. It was five years until their next appearance in Marvel Two-in-One #4 and 5. They floated from title to title, always as supporting players -- Astonishing Tales, Giant-Sized Defenders #5, Defenders #26-29, Marvel Presents #3-12, Thor Annual #6,
Avengers #167-177 and 181, Ms. Marvel #23, Marvel Team-Up #86 and Marvel Two-in-One #61, 63 and 69. They were truly the nomads of the Marvel universe.
It took until 1990, 21 years after their debut, for Marvel to put them in their own title. I can't think of any other Marvel superhero or team that wandered in the desert so long.
The cast of the Guardians has evolved, so don't confuse the original team with the movie team. The movie team of Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Quasar, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer and Groot debuted in the 2008 series and Marvel re-booted that series in 2013 in anticipation of the movie.
Since the movie, the value of most early Guardian comics has exploded even though the cast is different than the movie cast. I can't explain, I don't understand it and it really makes no sense.
If you loved the movie, you're sure to enjoy the 2008 and 2013 series, since the character interplay in these series resembles the movie characterizations. And, the more recent series remain reasonably priced.
If you grew up from 1940 to 1970, at one time you probably read an Archie comic. Archie was a "typical teenager" and the comics always had a light, happy, upbeat positive tone. The creators, writer Vic Bloom and artist Bob Montana were appealing to fans of the popular Andy Hardy movies, which was the most lucrative movie series of the 1940s. The series was so popular, that the company typically published six or more titles each month, all featuring Archie and his friends - Jughead, Betty, Veronica and Reggie.
The comics weren't the least bit socially or politically conscious in those days and by the late 1960s they were generally viewed as a cornball view of the American teenage experience.
In 1969, when Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In was the #1 watched TV show in America, Archie comics created Archie's T.V. Laugh-Out, ripping-off the name, and having nothing to do with the TV show.
The old comics are rated G and are suitable for any age.
The characters drifted into social topics in the 1970s, but unlike other media outlets which tried to capture a progressive, liberal air, they countered with a conservative series of religious themed issues, co-published with Spire Christian comics.
Boy, have times changed! A new ownership has shaken things up and today Archie Comics has morphed into a comic line featuring both the old goofy characters as well as stories which better reflect current media fads. In 2013, they created Afterlife with Archie which depicts a zombie apocalypse which began in Riverdale. The company also created a title with Archie as an adult, rather than as a teenage. In 2014, they killed the adult Archie, saving his gay friend from a hateful attack.
So, if the evolution of the media's depiction of the American teenager appeals to you, check out an issue or two. Pick copies from various eras to see how different times were depicted.
If our civilization is dumbing down, Classics Illustrated may just be our last hope, or a part of the contribution.
As its title suggests, the title highlights a classic piece of literature and illustrates it. Hamlet, The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo and 166 other of the greatest books in history are given the comic book treatment.
If you're looking for a short (240 pages), relatively inexpensive series, this it. Nearly every Marvel super-hero is included in the 12 issues, including Spider-Man, the Avengers, Captain America, Captain Marvel, Fantastic Four, Iron Man and Thor. The ladies are represented too, by Spider-Woman and the She-Hulk.
This is the best selling Marvel mini-series of all-time. Marvel had previously featured lots of crossover appearances in its regular series, but this was the first time it brought together a whole gaggle of characters in a long series. Back in 1984 it's what made the series unique. The 12 issues gave writer Jim Shooter (Marvel's then editor-in-chief) room to create a large epic story.
The most valuable issue is #8, which featured the first appearance of Spider-Man in his black costume.
Two years earlier Marvel had experimented bringing together lots of heroes in the 3-issue Marvel Super Heroe Contest of Champions mini-series, but it was the financial success of Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars that put company-wide character get-togethers a regular feature of comic book publishing.
The series was created to hype a series of action figures and toys. As a result, the series is a really good starter set. If a young reader is going to get interested in reading comics, then they'll definitely find one or more characters they really like in this series.
The series was so successful, that a sequel, Secret Wars II was published two years later.
Following the success of the first Batman movies, DC added this Batman title in 1992.
The series introduced many new villains and the most notable was serial killer Victor Zsasz, who made his first appearance in #1. His motive -- to "free" his victims from a dull, zombie-like existance. He's become a popular Batman villain and had a cameo in the 2005 film Batman Begins.
This series also added fresh layers to the Batman mythos. The first issue introduced Dr. Jeremiah Arkham, head of Arkham Asylum. Issue #45 explored Wayne's ancestors, and one is revealed to have been an abolitionist. For the first time that I can remember I knew a bit more about Bruce Wayne's ancestors beyond that his parents were murdered. Turns out that the Batcave was once part of the Underground Railroad which helped runaway slaves escape to the North.
The series is also known for writer Alan Grant's creativity and artist Brian Stelfreeze's painted covers. Grant told stories in a truly original way. For example in issue #46, most of the story is framed as flashbacks with narration by serial killer Cornelius Stirk.
Painted covers, used through issue #82, (most by Stelfreeze) established the title's gritty, realistic style, rich in tone and definition. The phrase "art popping off the page" applies. In July 2014, Stelfreeze won the prestigious Inkpot Award.
The series shared storylines with other Batman titles. The biggest crossover was 1999's No Man's Land. With Gotham City devastated by an earthquake and cut off from the outside world, escaped criminals try to seize control - a theme that served as the key point in the 2012 film, The Dark Knight Rises. The storyline appeared in the final 12 issues (#83-94), Detective Comics (1939 series) #730-741, Batman (1940 series) #563-574, Robin (1993 series) #67-73, and Nightwing (1996 series) #35-39.
The series is a must for any big Batman collector, and with low cost copies due to high supply, is a good way to start an affordable Batman collection.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Superman was by far the most popular comic book hero. And to capitalize on that fame, DC created comics for two supporting characters -- Daily Planet reporters Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. Incredibly, each series ran for over 100 issues. Why was the Lois Lane series so popular?
What is amazing about the early issues, is the stereotypical way DC's all-male editorial staff depicted women. Their stories
focussed on Lois' romantic interest in Superman to maneuver him into marriage and Lois' attempts to learn Superman's secret identity. The stories gave the editors a monthly excuse to make Lois look like a weak woman needing to be continually rescued by Superman. If you were a fan of Terry Hatcher's performances in the TV show, "The Adventures of Lois and Clark" in the 1990s, you'll see Hatcher's ditzy take on the character was partly grounded in the persona created in this era.
The first 81 issues were drawn by artist Kurt Schaffenberger and for years his rendition of Lois Lane became the definitive version of the character.
It wasn't until 1968 that DC woke up and changed the focus to Lois' career challenges and social issues and underplayed her romantic pinings. For example, in Issue #106 published in 1970, Lois transforms herself into an African-American woman for 24 hours.
But the change in editorial perspective wasn't successful. Could it be that readers wanted to escape the social upheavals of the era and be entertained with silly fantasy stories? By 1974, the series was cancelled as sales dropped.
When John Byrne re-tooled the entire Superman story line in 1986's Man of Steel series, Lois evolved again, into a tough-as-nails reporter and independent woman who rarely needed rescuing. When Amy Adams played Lois in the 2013 Man of Steel movie, she channeled this version of Lois Lane.
So, if you're interested in any of these eras, or in the depiction of American women in pop culture over time, or looking for a gift for either type of woman, check out Lois Lane comics.
The Eisner Awards are the comic book industry's Oscars. The six-issue Umbrella Academy series, about a "dysfunctional superhero family" won the Eisner Award as the year's best limited series. The series is great, but don't take my word for it, take the word of the professional comic book artists and writers who pick the winners.
In the early 1990s, the hottest comics were not Marvel Comics nor DC Comics. No, the hottest comics were Valiant comics. They were "the only publisher to have ever seriously given Marvel and DC a run for their money,' according to comicbookbin.com. "If you read comic books, [in the early 1990s] chances were you read Valiant comic books … They were the books everyone collected and the ones everyone was excited about", according to IGN.
the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. Valiant was founded by Marvel editors Jim Shooter and Bob Layton and they recruited some of Marvel's best talent to jump to Valiant.
And in this Valiant galaxy, X-0 Manowar became its first breakout hits. Created by Shooter, Layton and Joe Quesada (who later became the chief creative officer of Marvel), X-O Manowar #0 sold over 800,000 copies making it the biggest selling non-Marvel and non-DC comic book of the decade and Diamond Comic Distributors awarded it its "Best Cover of the Year" Award.
If you're a fan of Iron Man and epic heroes like Hercules, or Conan, this series is a must. Its story: Aric Dacia, a fifth-century Visigoth, abducted by aliens, escapes and takes their powerful suit of armor. The armor had many capabilities. It could hack into computers, fire deadly blasts, provide air and protection to the wearer, and could be commanded by pure thought. Transported to modern-day Earth, this a true fish out of water tale, as Aric goes from a barbaric Medieval life to one of modern comforts.
Aric, a child of a barbaric age, would often take things to the extreme. For example, in issue #17 he lays waste to mob members. He leaves only one alive so he can send a message to the survivor's boss. The series also featured guest stars from the Valiant line. Issue #4 featured the first appearance of Jack Boniface, who became Shadowman. Also, Turok, Dinosaur Hunter guest-starred in #14 and would appear on and off throughout the rest of the series.
According to Comicbookbin.com, three of the 10 best comic books of the decade came from Valiant - Solar #0 (Alpha and Omega) was at position #8, Magnus Robot Fighter #1 (6th) Harbinger #1 in the top spot. But publishing is an expensive business, and when the entire comic book industry faltered in the mid-1990s, Valiant lost its funding and it mojo.
By 2000, the value of those $100 early Valiant issues had dropped back down to $5 or less. In 2012, the line was reinvigorated, with the new owners hoping to convert their cache of heroes into billion dollar movie franchises. With new issues of Valiant comics available, the values of the originals are increasing again.
This version of The Flash was so influential, comic book experts mark the beginning of the Silver Age of comics with his debut in 1956. That's right, without this series, there probably would never have been a Silver Age of comics. Superhero comics were at the bottom of their useful life by 1956. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and only a handful of others had survived Congressional hearings into the detrimental effects of graphic horror comics of the era. Then, in Showcase #4, DC comics re-launched The Flash, one of their heroes from the 1940s. But, instead of resurrectiong the old character, they created a brand new Flash.
In 2008, Brian Cronin surveyed comic book readers asking them to name their favorite comic book series of all time. The winner was Sandman (1989 series). That alone is reason enough to collect this series.
Created by Neil Gaiman, this series helped make him a legend. The series follows the adventures of Dream, who rules over the world of dreams. It is a great series.
The series is the only comic book to win the World Fantasy Award and the graphic novel which reprinted parts of the series was on the New York Times Best Seller List. It was also one of Entertainment Weekly's "100 best reads from 1983 to 2008". This series is the comic book industry at its very best.
When the X-Men were created in 1963, the team consisted of Angel, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman and Jean Grey, a great mix. All of these characters appeared in the first X-Men movie. But as the comic series progressed, various writers ran out of ideas for them and the metamorphosis of the team began. By issue #94 of the original X-Men series, an entirely new group of mutants had taken their place.
By 1986, the originals were relegated to other Marvel titles, but not the original X-Men comics series. But the original characters were still great fuel for storytelling.
Enter X-Factor. Its members were the original X-Men but with a really interesting twist. Professor X had placed their old enemy, Magneto, in charge of the new team. The five set up a business which they advertised as mutant-hunters for hire.
For a collector there are plenty of issues in great condition and most all are $4 or less in Near Mint minus condition. But don't believe me, believe comic book fans -- X-Factor is consistently among NewKadia's best-selling comic books.
Johnny Depp, who created the behemoth Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise tired his magic again when he starred in a new version of the Lone Ranger in 2013.
And even though the movie was a box office disaster, each time a motion picture has been released, the demand for its comics and their value, have increased.
The Lone Ranger's exploits started on network radio back in the 1930s and successfully transitioned to TV in the 1950s. As we've said before, when a character holds the interest of the public for 80 years, there has to be great storytelling connected to that character. A classic is a classic only if the character strikes a chord in the soul of his readers.
The Lone Ranger was an ex-Texas Ranger (not the baseball player, but the law enforcement officer) who fights injustice in the Old West.
The first issues of the 1948 series reprinted syndicated newspaper comic strips. New stories began in #38.
A person trapped in a hostile environment or lost civilization is a common literary theme. It was the theme of the original "Planet of the Apes" movies and countless others.
One of the best comic book versions is "Warlord", the story of U.S. Air Force pilot Travis Morgan who crashes in the underground world of Skartaris. Quickly he becomes leader, due in part, to his fully loaded .44 caliber pistol.
With its first issue in 1976, the series lasted 12 years (133 issues) which is a testament to its popularity. But somehow, the series never entered pop culture. Perhaps it was that Morgan was a Viet Nam veteran and the series debuted at a time when the war was still extremely unpopular.
Most people know something about Superman or Spider-Man, but ask them about Warlord and a blank stare is returned. As a result, demand for the comic is relatively low as is its cost. But in any event, it is one of the best comic book examples of a hero trapped in a strange world.
During the series' run, several characters appeared in their own back-up stories, including Arion, Arak: Son of Thunder and OMAC.
For fans of Conan the Barbarian, this series is a must. Printed in an over-sized magazine format, the magazine was not subject to the Comics Code Authority. The CCA was formed in the 1950's to monitor the comic book content to eliminate salacious or overly violent comic books.
As a result, the Savage Sword of Conan could present Robert E. Howard's Conan without the Marvel's self-censorship in its 1970 Conan the
Barbarian comic book series.
The series was created for an adult audience. The battles are gorier, the ladies sexier and scantily dressed, and the language rougher than its comic book counterpart.
The series is considered a cult classic. With 235 issues, it's one of the longest running magazine-sized comics. The covers are in color, but the interiors are black and white. The size of each page is about 40% larger than a comic book, and frankly, I love the larger format.