74. 106 points - Uncanny X-Men (Claremont/JRJR) -1 first place vote
#175 - #211
In the first of a few appearances on the list by Chris Claremont on a Marvel Mutant book, we get one of my personal favorite runs. Starting in 1983, John Romita Jr. joined Claremont on Uncanny X-Men, which Claremont had turned into a huge selling title (we'll get to that first run in a bit), and this run only continued that streak of popularity on the title that was once in danger of cancellation.
At the time, JRJr was an emerging star, in the middle of his Amazing Spider-Man run that we saw earlier, and this pretty much set him as a megastar in the industry. During this run the X-Men would deal with some of their most famous stories ever.
During this run Scott met a woman that looked exactly like Jean by the name of Madeline Pryor (who would play a big role later on in the series) and married her, the birth of the mutant that would come to be known as Cable, the debuts of Nimrod (one of my personal favorites), Rachel Summers coming to the present and joining the team, and stories involving the team protecting characters like Rogue and the Morlocks who had previously been seen as threats from various groups within the Marvel U.
Oh and some story called The Mutant Massacre which served as the sendoff for JRJr's run. This event, which I had never heard of before, deals with a group called the Marauders killing most of the Morlocks, completely destroy the X-Men and X-Factor teams, and just generally kick ass before pissing off the heroes to the point that many of them are killed. Plus, there's this great fight between Wolverine and Sabertooth. Oh and Angel gets freaking crucified by his wings leading to his signature storyline when he meets Apocalypse and turns into Archangel.
All in all, it's a pretty great run. Claremont obviously stuck around for a few more years. JRJr would later return to the book with writer Scott Lobdell for a brief run in the early 90's.
73. 107 points - Nextwave (Ellis) - 3 first place votes
#1 - #12
This book is ridiculous. That's not meant in a derogatory sense, as I'm pretty sure Stuart Immonen and Warren Ellis would totally agree. Filled with groups with silly acronyms for names, and parodies of major characters, the book was a joke that looked at the Marvel U through the eyes of some lesser known or forgotten characters like Machine Man and Photon that were previously used as serious characters (albeit characters who had a sense of humor at times).
The Nextwave group was a group of heroes working for an organization known as H.A.T.E. (Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort), which they come to find out was secretly funded by the Beyond Corporation, a group that was formerly known as the terrorist group SILENT. The series featured weaponized koala bears, plant monsters, a clone of Fin Fang Foom going on a rampage and eating people, and many other equally ridiculous moments. The characters acted wildly out of character when the plot called for it, or when the jokes called for it, or when they just felt like doing something random. Characters would get kicked and then explode for no reason except to explode, because explosions are cool.
In addition to the ridiculous plots, the series had some other things that set it apart. The stories all were two issues long, as opposed to the six issue stories that have become standard for many comics. Issue #5 had a special "Crayon Butchery Variant" which was a black and white issue that encouraged the readers to color it in and send it back for a contest, and the winner was announced in issue #10. Issue #11 featured a series of splash pages that made a 12 page spread that required buying six issues and lying them side by side to properly see, and featured a cover that said, "Nextwave: Blatantly wasting your money since 2006".
The series ended after 12 issues because of low sales that couldn't justify the use of an artist like Immonen who had become rather high profile during this time period. The book developed a cult following and was generally well received by critics, including being listed as one of the top 10 Graphic Novels by Young Adult Library Services Association in 2006.
72. 109 points - Ghost Rider (Aaron) - 4 first place votes
Ghost Rider #20 - #35
Ghost Riders: Heaven's on Fire #1 - #6
A couple of things before we get started. This run made my list, and I am a huge fan of the character and this run in particular. I wrote this for Bubba months ago, back when I was only going to do a couple of write-ups. Also, since I knew the other Ghost Rider runs weren't likely to make the list, this covers pretty much the entire publication history of the character and why I love the concept. As a result this is really really long. If you don't like the blatant favoritism, just skip this one.
Now this is supposed to be about Jason Aaron's run on the character, and we'll get to that, but before we do that you need to know a few things about the history of this particular character. See, to long time fans this run meant a lot more than it did to people that had no idea who Death Ninja and Caretaker were, and the reason for that is that it's a run that people had been waiting more than 30 years for. The Ghost Rider was always a better visual and a better concept than the writing took advantage of. That's not to say there weren't some great stories or some great work done over the years, but there was never that single definitive run that fans could point to and say, "This is why I love this character. This encompasses all that is great about Blaze, Danny, their rogues, the concept, and everything else that Ghost Rider ever has been or ever will be."
So here's some of that history, just bear with me and we'll get to Aaron. It might take a while, but personally I waited 20 years for it, so you guys can wait a few minutes while I set the stage. Besides, I don't even know if any of these other runs will be on the list, so we might as well cover the whole publishing history and give credit to some of the guys that set the stage for Aaron.
In 1972 in Marvel Spotlight #5 writers Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, and artist Mike Ploog created the concept of the Ghost Rider. It was a striking visual, a man with a flaming skull on a motorcycle that ran on hellfire. The man's name was Johnny Blaze (one of the best names of any superhero ever) and he was a stuntman with more balls than brains, as they say. Well he found out that his step-dad, who he loved more than anyone, was dying from cancer, so Johnny sold his soul to the devil to save him. Shockingly, this wasn't a great idea and Blaze was cursed by being bonded with a demon known as Zarathos that would turn him into the Ghost Rider whenever innocent blood was spilled. He would eventually retire and die and be reborn many times, and every time he thought he had put the Ghost Rider behind him, it would always come back again.
In 1990 a new Ghost Rider was introduced Howard Mackie and Javier Saltares. His name was Danny Ketch, and he didn't sell his soul to do. There was a mystical medallion that he touched when trying to find a way to save his sister, and it bonded him with Zarathos (or not, depending on who you listen to) and gave him the same powers as Blaze, but with the addition of The Penance Stare (which gave him the ability to make anyone relieve all the sins they had committed, but from the point of view of the victim) and a handful of other new powers. Ketch would quickly be swept up in the revival of the various Marvel horror characters such as the vampire hunting Nightstalkers (Blade, Hannibal King, and Frank Drake), Dr Strange, Man-Thing, the living vampire Morbius, Werewolf by Night, the Son of Satan Damion Hellstrom, and others. Also caught up in this was a man that at the time had no powers except a shotgun that shot Hellfire, Johnny Blaze. Over the course of the 93 issue run that made up Ketch's solo book, it was revealed he and Blaze were actually half-brothers and that the curse of the Ghost Rider ran through their blood. Blaze and Ketch were fated to end up with this life, one way or another. A lot of this was revealed via a new character named Caretaker that debuted in 1992, who was actually a member of a family tasked with guarding the Medallion of Power that gave Ketch his powers and with chronicling the history of the Ghost Rider.
As you can see, there was a lot of retcons and changes in the history of the character, some on a very fundamental level that brought up lots of questions and didn't make much sense, such as why Caretaker never helped out Blaze? Why did Blaze have to make a pact with the devil to gain his powers? Why didn't Ketch and Blaze know about each other? Well, most people just ignored this stuff or tried to make up overly convoluted reasons involving their mom or their dads or Satan or a million other things, most of which contradicted other things or at least made other events not make much sense. It was like Hawkman or Donna Troy and if you really want a detailed breakdown, there's a lot to read about on various fan sites around the internet where people try to make sense of it all.
So for the next 15 years or so, the character continued to get by on his look, his attitude, and some really cool moments. One such moment, which might be the coolest use of the Ghost Rider ever, happened on the Fantastic Four cartoon, where their solution to the Galactus problem was a bit different from the comics. Instead of Reed inventing some doodad to send Mr. I Eat Planets Like You For Breakfast running, Danny Ketch showed up and gave him the Penance Stare, making Galactus relieve the lives of every single person on every single planet that he ever devoured. See what I mean? It's a really cool concept, but nothing like that was ever done in the comics.
Then in 2005 Garth Ennis and Clayton Crain brought Ghost Rider back, this time as Johnny Blaze escaping from Hell (he'd died, yet again) or at least trying to with the help of a couple of angels. He fails, but following on that story, Daniel Way and Mark Texeira started an ongoing series that followed up on that story. Blaze found his way out of Hell, but brought Satan with him. The story ended with Way promising to shake things up in his last issue as a favor to oncoming writer Jason Aaron. And he did this with one of the biggest, and most logical, retcons of all time. Which I will get to in a moment after discussing Jason Aaron very briefly.
Jason Aaron was still a mostly unknown writer, who had only done a handful of superhero stories, mostly dealing with Wolverine, at this point in his career. However, he was also writing Scalped (a book that I'm sure will be on this list) which was about life on an Native American reservation and he'd also written a miniseries called The Other Side, which was about the Vietnam War from the perspective of two soldiers, one on each side of the conflict. All of these stories had a couple things in common. One, great characterization. Two, brutal violence. Now over the years Ghost Rider had seen tons of brutal violence, but not so much of the great characterization. Sure there were moments that were touching to long time fans, but there wasn't a consistent emphasis character as much as there was on action.
OK, so back to that revelation. Well in the final issue, after Satan was sent back to Hell, it was revealed that the Ghost Rider was not a demon powered by Hell. Nope, he was an instrument of God's wrath and vengeance, much like the Spectre at DC. This was revealed by an angel named Zadkiel. I know, this seems like a wild contradiction of all that came before, but it makes sense. Why would Satan want evil deeds stopped on Earth? Wouldn't he want more sinners? Why would all this contradictory crap be true, especially since about half of it came from evil beings like Satan and Mephisto and Blackheart? Doesn't it make much more sense that a guy that goes around punishing sinners for hurting innocents is on the side of the angels? And with that, Aaron's run began.
So Aaron takes over the book with Blaze looking for answers as to his role, and a desire to take on God, Himself and make him explain his actions and pay for ruining his life. This leads him to a church of ninja, gun toting, nuns. It also leads to a highway haunted by a bunch of ghosts, that were cannibals in life, a hulking mountain of a man known as the Deacon, lots of old villains, a cannibal that isn't a ghost, a cop that loses a hand to that cannibal, and many other strange characters. See, Aaron decided that Ghost Rider should be involved in the craziest shit imaginable and generally succeeded in putting together some crazy grind house movie concepts for him to deal with, all the while building the bigger picture. The nuns and the Deacon were disciples of Zadkiel, who was pushing Blaze in a very specific direction for a very specific purpose. The cop would later become the new Vengeance, another spirit of vengeance like the Ghost Rider, and was sent after Blaze with a very specific mission that involved a bus ride to the middle of nowhere. One of the nuns would turn out to be the granddaughter of the man known as Caretaker. While it may seem at times like randomness, Aaron had a specific plan in mind.
And that plan involved all the Ghost Riders of past and present. At some point someone decided to use the old west to tell a story about a Ghost Rider that rode a horse. It's a great visual, but no one ever talked about any of the Riders between then and now. Also, Ghost Rider was meant to be a spirit of vengeance and whether that was doing God's work or Satan's, he probably should have had a global presence, but for the most part Blaze and Ketch were always in the continental US. Aaron asked the question, who was guarding the rest of the world and who was there between the 1800's and the present day and no one had an answer, so he made one up. He created legions of Riders based on mythologies around the world and on different eras. Would the Rider in WWI be a biker? No, it would be a guy in a fighter plane. A tank for WWII, a gangster with a Hellfire Tommy Gun in the Prohibition era. A Pacific Islander that rode a shark. A voodoo priest. A Cossack on a bear. And many other interesting characters that made for some awesome visuals and represented different parts of the world. If you saw the character, you could probably tell where they lived, which was the whole point. Aaron established that the Rider takes on the characteristics that would cause the most fear in criminals of a given area, and that every area of the world had it's own Rider protecting the innocent.
Plus, he would bring in the most obscure characters from Marvel history and also used just about every major Ghost Rider villain except Deathwatch. Blackheart, Death Ninja, the Orb, Blackout, the Rat King, and many many others all play a part in the book. Then there were the non-Ghost Rider characters that had been mostly forgotten like the crazed demonic trucker from forgotten series US 1, who showed up in a very fun stand alone issue. The haunted bulldozer that appeared in one issue of one story 30+ years ago was one of the villains recruited to kill Blaze. And one of my personal favorites, the man with demons for hands a portal to Hell in his chest known as Master Pandemonium.
At one point we even see Danny Ketch and find out he's working for Zadkiel. Now, this might seem wildly out of character, but there was a miniseries that explained how this happened. Ketch lost the power of the Ghost Rider. He became a normal guy, but missed the power and then became a drunk that liked to get in bar fights. Zadkiel gave him the power back for a few hours and let him make a difference. He then sent him on some missions, feeding him a little bit here and there like a drug dealer until Ketch was totally hooked. He then revealed the information about the various different Riders and told Ketch that the power kills them over time. The only way to save the other Riders was to take the power from them. Ketch thinks he's doing right by them, despite the fact half of them die when he takes their power. He honestly believes he's doing the right thing and working with an angel that has the best interests of the world in mind. Plus, he's an addict and justifying his actions.
So, back to that big picture. Blaze finds out that Danny has been following him and is working for Zadkiel. Ketch is the one setting all this shit in motion on behalf of his boss. Blaze ends up with Caretaker's daughter and finds out about the Riders after Ketch's minions kill the original Caretaker. The former nun inherits all his knowledge and becomes the new Caretaker. Blaze and her take off to the other side of the world and find out that Zadkiel and Ketch have been killing all the other Riders, taking their powers for some reason. A small group of them band together in an attempt to make a last stand. Ketch and Zadkiel find them, take them out, and they are all left either powerless or dead, except for Blaze. Blaze and Ketch end up in a race around the world to control the power from these fallen Riders, and as they pass a bus stop in the middle of nowhere, the new Vengeance is unleashed and takes out Blaze (see, I told you it was all part of a bigger picture). Ketch gives the power to Zadkiel, who then steals it all for himself and reveals his big plan. He's going to use the power of all the Spirits of Vengeance to knock down the gates of Heaven and steal the throne from God in order to remake the universe in his image.
Yep, all this time the angel was just as corrupt as Satan. Ketch and Blaze retain a fraction of their powers, and end up trying to find a way to stop Zadkiel. They travel alone, but eventually the new Caretaker brings them together and leads them on the path to Heaven. The actions of Zadkiel involve bringing about the Apocalypse, the Anti-Christ, and the fall of man so he can remake the universe, which in turn leads to a major role for an old friend named Damion Hellstrom. The book leads to a giant battle in Heaven with all the angels Zadkiel has converted to his plan vs. to weakened Riders, brothers that hate and love each other in equal measure. You can probably figure out how it ends.
Aaron took a concept that always seemed like it was limited to a cool visual, a concept ripe with potential to tell an epic story, and actually delivered that story over 21 or so issues. Yep, all of that happened in just 2 years. The entire concept of the Ghost Rider was spun on it's head, twisted around, fundamentally changed, and expanded into a million different directions in 2 years. He embraced continuity at times, ignored things at times, and added layers that no one in the previous 30 years had thought about. For all of this, and for giving us a run that fans can point to and say, "This is why I love this character. This encompasses all that is great about Blaze, Danny, their rogues, the concept, and everything else that Ghost Rider ever has been or ever will be.", I say thank you to Jason Aaron. Thank you for taking one of my all time favorite characters and giving the fans a book they've waited decades for. Thank you for taking advantage of all the potential laid at the feet of this character by the many talented guys that came before, and thank you for adding to it while doing your best to not take too much away. Thank you for your appreciation of history and continuity, but for not being afraid to make changes that serve the story and the character. Thank you for taking Ghost Rider and leaving the character and the concept in a better place than where you found them.