Today we will break into the top 25! First up, three books that just miss that milestone. A work of metafiction, a re-imagining of a classic team for the modern age, and a book I'm thrilled did as well as it did.
29. 336 points – G.I. Joe (Larry Hama) - 13 first place votes
#1 - #155 (minus a couple issues, maybe) plus various minis and one shots
Thirteen people thought this was the best book ever written and seven year old rdrsfn82 would have agreed 100%!
The Real American heroes got 13 first place votes and made it way, way, way higher than I thought they would. That's freaking awesome. The cartoon and the comic were some of my favorite things as a kid. Jude brings us this write-up of one of the best surprises of the list. Take it away Jude!
One of the most overlooked comic book runs of all time is probably Larry Hama's 155 issue run on Marvel's G.I. Joe series in the 1980s. Beloved and revered by Joe fans to the point of fanaticism (I know I refuse to pick up any Joe books that disregard his continuity), Hama's run on this book took licensed properties to a new level, far surpassing the popular cartoon in quality and complexity. Telling compelling stories with a toy company breathing down your neck to include the latest action figures and vehicles can't be an easy job, but Hama made it look effortless, weaving long-running plots filled with twists and intrigue, like the Cobra Civil War, the saga of the Freds, and of course the long-running drama of the Arishikage ninja clan. It's impossible to pick a standout moment from this run, but one of the most notable has to be G.I. Joe #21, titled "Silent Interlude," which told a story without any word balloons or sound effects, setting a creative benchmark that many have tried to imitate since with varying degrees of success.
Hama was a G.I. Joe machine in the 80s, also writing the character profiles on the action figure file cards. He brought his real life military experience to the table, giving a realistic feel to the crazy adventures of these ridiculous characters. He is also celebrated for writing strong female characters, much like his contemporary, Chris Claremont.
The comic was much more violent and dangerous than the cartoon. Issues with guys behind enemy lines crawling through sewers while blood dripped through grates over their heads, the deaths of teammates that stuck around, and other things that would have been cut from the cartoon were common. Battles were more than parachutes opening after planes were shot down and charging heedlessly into your enemies with no one being hit by actual bullets, instead having real tactics and strategies from both sides, and real loss of life from both sides more often than not.
The series has recently been collected and is being re-released by IDW. Meanwhile they picked up the series right from where it left off with issue #155 1/2 being a FCBD giveaway, followed by the debut with issue #156. The series is written by Chuck Dixon. Meanwhile Hama has continued to do various Joe stories with other publishers over the years since ending his classic Marvel run.
28. 344 points - Ultimates (Millar) - 12 first place votes
Ultimates #1 - #13
Ultimates 2 #1 - #13
Twelve people thought this was the best book ever written!
Following on the success of Ultimate Spider-Man, Marvel decided to expand the Ultimate imprint with re-imaginings of other characters from the Marvel U, such as the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and the Avengers. The Avengers were given to the creative team of Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch. While the books were delayed many times and the first 13 issues took over two years to come out, it was considered a high point for the Ultimate line and was met with both critical and commercial success. This led to a second 13 issues series being released, which similarly took about two and a half years to finish, and was again met with critical and commercial success. It appears many of the changes made to the Avengers for the Ultimate U have been used by the movies, such as the way Hitch drew Nick Fury as Sam Jackson. In fact, he drew many of the character to resemble actors, but only that one has been actually cast in the movie in that role.
While some books only had minor changes from their main universe counterparts, the Ultimates had radical changes to almost everyone. Hawkeye wasn't a trick arrow using guy that grew up in a carnival, instead he's a top S.H.I.E.L.D. agent that kills and has a power more in line with Bullseye, with unfailing accuracy with anything, including an issue where he kills a bunch of guys by tossing his fingernails. As you can tell by things like that, people that describe the book as a realistic take on superheroes are full of crap. Another big change would be Captain America who is much more like U.S. Agent from the main Marvel U, a brash, arrogant, guy prone to anger and who uses much more brutal tactics.
Millar's idea was to try and make the heroes more in tune with modern society and modernize their origins as much as possible, while also trying to stay somewhat grounded. For instance, Thor is presented as a guy who thinks he is the Norse god of thunder, but who most people (including the other heroes) assume is just a meta-human with amazing power and major delusions, even going so far as to incarcerate him in a mental hospital at one point in the series.
Other aspects remain similar to the main Avengers books, but with twists. Hank Pym loses his temper and beats Janet, though it's much more brutal than a simple slap and he shows less remorse. As a result, he is beaten by Cap and kicked off the team. As a result of his beating, he becomes even more unstable, joining a team of reject heroes called the Defenders and eventually siding with a group of enemies called the Liberators in trying to destroy the Ultimates. After their defeat, Pym claims it was all an act and he was trying to stop them from the inside, eventually ending up in jail. Similarly Black Widow eventually betrays the team, only rather than it being part of a larger plan, she's killed by Hawkeye for murdering his family.
The Hulk is a blood thirsty savage beast that goes on a massive rampage the first time he turns, and is eventually killed by the team by dropping an atom bomb on his head. This doesn't actually kill him though, and he eventually returns to help the team at the end of volume two in their battle against the Liberators.
Overall the series has the trademark big screen action you would expect from a typical Millar book, brought to life with great art by Hitch. The character work is also considered to be among the best Millar has ever done. Unfortunately, the series was given to Jeph Loeb and quickly fell apart, leading to the much despised Ultimatum crossover. Millar has since returned to many of the characters in his Ultimate Avengers series that is currently being published.
27. 347 points - Animal Man (Morrison) - 14 first place votes
#1 - #26
Fourteen people think this is the best book ever written! I am actually surprised that number isn't a bit higher and that it doesn't have more first place votes. This book has a lot of love from a lot of people. I'm interested in checking it out, but Morrison's recent superhero work at DC has soured me on checking out some of his older runs.
In 1988 Grant Morrison was given a chance to create a four issue limited series focused on a minor hero that had been around since 1965, but who hadn't been used much before joining the Forgotten Heroes in the 80's. As such, he was the sort of character where you could take chances, do whatever you wanted, and not really upset too many people as most of them don't know the character. Despite the unknown nature of the character, the book had strong sales and was upgraded to an ongoing series. Though Morrison left after 26 issues, the book would run for 89 issues and become one of the launch titles for the Vertigo imprint with issue #57. Not bad for a character who probably didn't have more than 89 appearances in any book before that and who had never had a solo ongoing title.
Under Morrison, the idea of family, animal rights, and the role of an everyman hero in a world of gods and aliens and other larger than life figures would play major roles. Buddy Baker was shown as being a fairly down to earth character who loved his wife and kids, and also couldn't stand by to see animals mistreated. Battling aliens, saving dolphins, and coming home to his kids are all treated as equally important events in his life.
However the biggest theme of the book was the idea of the nature of fiction and the eventual awareness on the part of Buddy of his role as a fictional character living within a comic. One of the first and most celebrated examples of this was issue #5 which focused on a character similar to Wile E. Coyote as he tires of the endless cycle of cartoon violence and his endless failed attempts to kill his enemy, only to find himself dead or brutalized and then brought back to full health later on. Knowing that he exists in a cartoon, he starts communicating with the cartoonist and makes a deal to end the violence by moving on to live in the universe that Animal Man's comic exists in. The final shot shows the character dead, with his blood yet to be colored, as the panels pull back to show the page laying on the desk of the artist as he prepares to color in the blood on the page. The issue would go on to be nominated for the best single issue of any book at the Eisner awards for that year.
Over the course of the series, Buddy gains a similar awareness of his existence and the fact that the entire DCU is simply a fictional world subject to the whims of the writers. Upon returning home from an adventure late in the series, Buddy finds his family murdered. He then tracks the killers to the ends of the Earth and beyond, into comic book Limbo, a place where fictional characters not being used by any writers exist, waiting to be used again. While there, he sees many of the Golden Age heroes that hadn't appeared in any comics in many years, including Mr. Freeze and the Inferior Five. Eventually Buddy actually meets Morrison himself, and pleads with him to return his family to life. Morrison does, and he also explains that the reason that Buddy is a vegetarian and passionate about animal rights is because Morrison feels that way and that as new writers come on to the book there's no telling what will be kept and what will change. As if to illustrate this point, the next writer on the book, Peter Milligan, has Buddy bite into a horse in the very next issue.
Overall the run is considered a classic and one of the most beloved by Morrison fans. Buddy would eventually become a decent part of the main DCU, playing a big role in events like 52 and having a much higher profile than anything he ever had before this series began. Morrison meanwhile would go on to have many popular runs, a couple of which have yet to show up and will be in the top 25 of this list.