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Your Top Creative Runs part 6

The last entry for day will get us to #150 on our list, and features two well done and incredibly verbose write ups by noted bald lawyer Chap22, as well as a pathetically insufficient write-up of a legendary creator's signature comic character by me.

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152. 12 points - Judge Dread (Wagner)judgedredd

I've never read a comic with Judge Dredd, but I saw the Stallone movie and I'm excited for the new Karl Urban movie. I think the actual look, with the giant helmet, is pretty badass.

John Wagner is an American who moved to Scotland and created one of the most famous comic characters to come from England's comic scene. In 1976 he was brought on to write for a brand new sci-fi anthology title called 2000 A.D. In issue #2, which came out in 1977, there was a story about a futuristic cop in a world full of crime called Judge Dredd. Due to various behind the scenes issues, the first story wasn't actually written by Wagner, but he returned with issue #9 and soon after the character became the most popular part of the book. Within that book many famous creators from Wagner to Garth Ennis to Mark Millar and Grant Morrison have written the character. Wagner took the character into a solo book in 1990 called Judge Dredd Magazine, and returned to 2000 A.D. to continue writing the character there as well.


151. 12 points - Ka-Zar (Waid)

kazarHere's the esteemed Chap22 with his views on the short lived Ka-Zar series. Ka-Zar was a Tarzan type of character that had been around for decades, he was a modern guy that got stranded and ended up living in the Savage Land, which is basically the Marvel version of The Land That Time Forgot, filled with dinosaurs, saber tooth tigers, mutants, and all kinds of other weird crap. Take it away chappy!

While the movies made us believe a Superman could fly, and a Spider-Man could swing, it only took Mark Waid and Andy Kubert 14 comic issues to make us believe Ka-Zar could beat a mad Titan god and a High Evolutionary. And the fact that this was believable should really be all you need to know to realize just how good this far-too-short series really was. While the 90s is well-known for a lot of awful, awful comics, this was one of the few offerings which stood out from the muck as a truly well-written, well-drawn comic. It didn't re-invent the wheel, but showed just how cool one of Marvel's many fantastic C-list characters could be when treated appropriately and given some fun action romps to tear through. Sadly, after 14 issues, Waid and Kubert were both gone to greener pastures, and the book was gone 6 issues later, as without its big-name creators, the book shed readers like my mutt sheds hair (editor's note: chap clearly meant himself, as he's bald) . But it was fun while it lasted.

The book starts with Ka-Zar and happy family in the Savage Land, while Ka-Zar's brother Parnival is scheming away in NYC. Seems Parnival is in cahoots with/working for a mysterious (but VERY thinly-veiled) mastermind who ends up being Thanos (yeah, that's right, Ka-Zar vs. Thanos...what? You wanna make something of it?), in a scheme to steal the equipment that maintains the Savage Land's jungle environment. It seems Thanos is trapped in an alternate dimension and is using Parnival to attempt escape, planning to control all vegetation and cause universal havoc in the meanwhile. Parnival hires Gregor, Kraven's old mentor, to arm one Savage Land tribe with laser rifles to attack Ka-Zar, and kidnap Ka-Zar's son Matthew while Ka-Zar is occupied. Ka-Zar and Shanna rescue the baby and discover Parnival's hand in the matter, so Ka-Zar travels to New York City to confront him.

While there, the Rhino attacks Ka-Zar on Parnival's behalf, though Ka-Zar turns the Rhino into a weapon against his brother. Shanna, who had followed Ka-Zar to New York, is then attacked by Parnival's men. Parnival smuggles the Savage Land's terraforming machinery into New York City, which has devastating effects on both the Big Apple and the Savage Land. Ka-Zar, with the help of the coolest pet in comics, Zabu the saber toothed tiger, defeats Thanos in the "Urban Jungle" arc, trapping him again in the alternate dimension.

Immediately following this, the long-running subplot involving Ka-Zar and Shanna's ongoing marital problems (K-Z was basically being a bit of a kid and wouldn't share his feelings, particularly those related to wanting to go back to the big city and/or play videogames, etc in the Savage Land) reached crescendo, as Shanna became infused with the power of the Savage Land's terraformer and became a kind of Earth-mother goddess: powerful, well-meaning, and mentally unstable. In this state, she attracted the desires of the equally powerful and unstable High Evolutionary, leading to a battle between HE and K-Z for Shanna's heart and the soul of the Savage Land. Through this, Ka-Zar learned his lessons, and took his family and his role as Lord of the Savage Land much less for granted.

In the end, Waid gave this book heart, humor, kickass savage action, family squabbles, betrayals, pure evil, fantastic scenery, internal conflict, external conflict, and a badass saber-toothed tiger...this book had it all. But alas, it was a bit like Icarus, I guess: it just flew too close to the sun. Waid took a character who probably had no business being this good, in a time when comics weren't supposed to be this good, and told stories that were just too much fun. As soon as he was gone, Marvel had nothing else they could do at that point to replace him, and the book plummeted from the sky, never to be seen again. But Marvel just recently finally collected the early stuff in trade, so if you haven't read it, now's the time to track it down and enjoy the ride.


150. 14 points - Marvel Team-Up (DeMatteis)marvelteamup

Once again, here's Chap with his take on one of the signature anthology series of the 70's and 80's, which unfortunately is no longer around. As you can tell by the cover used in this entry, it was a pretty fun book. Take it away chappy!

Marvel Team-Up, for most of its history, was a book you could actually read by it's cover. A Spider-Man vehicle (to ensure consistent sales) where the book's creative team would find some contrived way to team Spidey up with the guest-star du jour A to fight random villain B in standard comic-book plot C. That's not to say the book was bad (it remains actually one of my all-time favorite titles, with some really good superhero stories told over the years), just that it was rarely if ever much deeper than team-up, fight, move on.

But all that changed when now-famed writer J. M. DeMatteis took over the book in the early 80s. JMD (along with artists Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema, and most especially Kerry Gammill) turned the book into something more than the sum of its parts, returning long-dormant characters to the universe (Dominic Fortune, anyone?; Necrodamus), introducing new characters (Frog-Man, White Rabbit, Professor Power), mixing off-beat hero pairings with old standards, and most importantly mixing the typical Spidey humor and action with serious themes and stories not usually told in 4-color comics.

DeMatteis was also scripting two other books at Marvel at the same time, Captain America and Defenders, and wove plots, characters and ideas between these books seamlessly, masterfully crafting that classic Marvel feel of a truly shared universe. Plot lines from Cap or Defenders would carry over into MTU, and characters introduced in MTU would later be revealed to play large roles in Defenders. Defenders such as Devil-Slayer, Valkyrie, Gargoyle, and Son of Satan would show up in MTU. Vermin made his first appearance in a Spidey book in MTU #128, following Cap there from his book (Vermin would of course become solely a Spidey villain after this when JMD featured him so centrally in the classic Kraven's Last Hunt story). A Defenders villain named Ian Fate was revealed to have a shared past with Jonah Jameson as Spidey and Man-Thing duked it out in the city streets. Spidey and Vision come across androids created by the Mad Thinker in a Cap storyline. MTU sees the debut and origin of Professor Power, who reforms the Secret Empire to later battle the Defenders in their book. And on and on...

But beyond the characterization and the continuity and the action, it is the actual stories, and the heart and craft on display therein, that made this run shine. While JMD started out a bit slow, with a couple clunkers featuring Devil-Slayer and King Kull of all people, a Falcon team-up most notable for its use of the word "honky", and a by-the-numbers pairing with Thor, the run really began to find it's legs and pick up steam around #118 with the introduction of Professor Power. From that point on, the book tackled themes ranging from family dynamics and relationships, to generation gap, to coping with old age/dying, to lost souls, redemption and forgiveness, respect, thankfulness, self-sacrifice, and what it takes to beat back personal monsters, the difference one man can make in someone's life and what it means to truly be a hero. And despite these seemingly heady issues and lots of serious moments, the book never lacked for action, heart, or humor, including some of the patented DeMatteis ridiculousness, particularly in issues #116 (Spidey goes for a ride on Valkyrie's sword), #121 (Frog-Man defeats Speed Demon while Spidey and Torch rag on each other for most of an issue), and #131 (Spidey and Frog-Man vs. White Rabbit).

All in all, JMD did basically the impossible, or at the very least improbable: took a simple team-up book and turned it into a book of surprising pathos, depth, insight, and emotion. And if you don't believe it, go track down in particular issues #118-133 and see for yourself (I particularly recommend #119-124, #127-130, and #132-133). You'll be glad you did.

 
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