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Entries for month: March 2011

Twin Peaks Retrospective

March 30, 2011 · 1 Comment

Greetings from the Odinson,

Before X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly and Lost, there was Twin Peaks.  Twin Peaks, co-created by director David Lynch (Dune, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive) and writer Mark Frost (Hill Street Blues, Fantastic Four), was a much too short lived television series from the early 1990s.  The story is set in the remote logging town of Twin Peaks, Washington.  When a local girl, the prom queen Laura Palmer, turns up murdered, the ensuing investigation pulls back the veil on all the interconnecting lies and secrets being kept by the citizens of Twin Peaks.  I compare Twin Peaks to the aforementioned shows because like X-Files, Buffy and Lost, Twin Peaks deals with the supernatural, has wonderful off-centered characters, and excellent writing.  And like Firefly, Twin Peaks was a commercial (i.e. ratings) failure yet generated a huge cult following of devoted and loyal fans from all over the world saddened by its untimely demise.  And the critics loved it.  Twin Peaks was voted one of Time Magazine’s “Best TV Shows of All Time.” 

I have a confession to make.  I am a late comer to Twin Peaks, a really, really late comer.  Twenty years late to exact.  But as they say, better late than never.  I do remember the phenomenon though.  In 1990-1991, when Twin Peaks first aired, the Odinson was a 16-17 year-old-high school junior with nothing but girls and driving his first car around on his mind.  Television was the furthest thing from my mind at that moment in time.  But I do remember hearing the things about the new show called Twin Peaks.  Tid-bits about a dancing midget, a super strong cheerleader, the ghostly giant and the aptly named Log Lady would reach my ears.  These topics of conversation peaked my curiosity but I just never got around to checking the show out, to my detriment.  And since the show was cancelled, I missed out, if only for a while. 

Twin Peaks became a pop culture phenomenon.  It is said that if The Simpsons spoof you then you are firmly in the lexicon of pop culture.  Well, the Simpsons not only spoofed Twin Peaks, they did it twice.  In the 7th Season premiere episode “Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part 2,” Lisa appears to Chief Wiggum in a dream with clues; the scene takes place in The Red Room.  The Red Room is a place of great significance in the Twin Peaks mythology.  And in the 9th Season episode “Lisa’s Sax,” Homer is watching TV and on the screen a giant is dancing with a white horse while Twin Peaks-like music plays.  Homer then says, “Brilliant!  I have absolutely no idea what’s going on.”  This is a funny reference to the mysterious and ambiguous nature of Twin Peaks.  In the 1990s, Saturday Night Live, Sesame Street and the cartoon Darkwing Duck all paid homage to the series as well.  The musician Moby, a huge David Lynch fan, has sampled music from the show and worked with Julee Cruise, the singer who lends her voice to the Twin Peaks soundtrack and sharp eyed fans may recognize her as the singer in the Road House, one of the main set pieces from the show.

Damon Lindelof, creator of Lost, is on record as saying that Twin Peaks was a huge influence on him, and that he wanted his show to generate the same kind of excitement and to challenge the viewer in the same way Twin Peaks did.  The great Joss Whedon (Buffy, Angel, Firefly, and now director of The Avengers Movie) has said that he is a huge Twin Peaks fan.  David Chase, creator of the HBO series The Sopranos, has also stated that he was a fan.  As I said, I went twenty years without ever seeing a single episode.  Then a few months back Wizard ran an article about the Top 25 pop culture finales of all time.  The article appeared in Wizard #233 and it is definitely a must read.  The cliffhanger ending for Twin Peaks ranked in at #24.  For the record, after reading this article I made it my mission to seek out and finally watch this show that I have heard nothing but good things about for two decades. 

I went right to the man himself, Craig Miller, co-editor and publisher of the long running Twin Peaks and pop culture magazine Wrapped in Plastic.  Fortunately for me he had the complete series on DVD and the prequel movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.  After watching the first episode I was completely hooked.  Over the course of the next few nights, I proceeded to devourer all 30 episodes of the series and the prequel movie.  I was complete blown away and delighted.  And utterly disappointed.  How could a show of such high quality be cancelled?  Just like with Firefly, I felt robbed by the suits and powers that be in Hollywood.  Twin Peaks ends not on one but several cliffhangers that leave the future of a lot of the main characters in question.  The follow up movie, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, is a prequel which actually raises more questions than it answers. 

What are the White and Black Lodges?  What are the Owls that aren’t owls?  What is up with the Log Lady?  What exactly is the Red Room?  What is up with Josie Packard and that drawer in the hotel room?  Just who or what are Killer Bob, the old woman and little boy, the dancing midget and the ghostly giant?  What will be Special Agent Cooper’s ultimate fate?  Whatever happened to Special Agent Desmond?  What was the odd scene with David Bowie about?  And what in the world is up with the cream corn?

These are just some of the questions raised by the TV show and movie.  Seeking answers, I went back to Craig Miller.  It is from my interview with him that a lot of the details in this column are filled out.  Unfortunately, when it came to answering the questions above, he, like the rest of us, is in the dark.  He did say that is way Lynch would probably want it.  Or maybe, as far as David Lynch is concerned, the answers are there already.  For Wrapped in Plastic, Miller, along with his co-editor John Thorne, has interviewed many of the cast members and crew of the show, including co-creator Mark Frost (an interview that can actually be seen on the Twin Peaks complete series DVD).  And unfortunately a lot of the answers are left up to the viewer’s interpretation.  If it were left up to Lynch he never would have revealed the identity of Laura Palmer’s murderer.  That would have been a huge mistake, because without that the viewer would absolutely have no closure whatsoever.  The Hollywood suits actually got that one right when they forced the issue and made the show’s creators solve the crime.    

Some of the best moments of the show are small ones.  Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twin Peaks bends and mixes genres with seamless ease.  An episode can be very laugh out loud funny one moment and intensely eerie and scary the next.  FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, played by actor Kyle MacLachlan (Dune, How I Met Your Mother), is utterly likable.  His affinity for cherry pie and a good cup of coffee is infectious.  So much so that the diner that served as one of the main locations for the show in real life has thrived on its cherry pie business since the show aired.  Special Agent Cooper’s deductive prowess was so profound that it bordered on psychic.  With the supernatural elements of this show maybe he was.  Yet another question left up to the viewer to decide. 

Something else I really like about this show is that it never seems to fall into the trap of the cliché.  Usually when a federal agent comes to a small town he butts heads with the local authorities.  Not so in Twin Peaks.  Special Agent Cooper and Sheriff Truman hit it off right away and become fast friends, working together to solve this crime rather than carry on an antagonistic relationship.  Another aspect of the show is that its creators and cast were not opposed to taking risks.  There is a scene when Laura Palmer’s murderer is finally revealed, and this leads to the surprising and violent murder of a main cast member.  The brutality and sudden viciousness of this moment is shocking to watch.  It’s a powerful scene.  A scene of this kind of violence is rarely seen on a network television show.  That’s what the show was really good at, balancing the shocking horror with the light-hearted humor.  That is where the movie prequel fell just a bit short.  It was a quality movie, to be sure, with a fantastic cast, but it lacked the balancing lighter side that the TV show possessed.  This was probably due in no small part to the subject matter the movie was tackling.  Even though it is a prequel, if you have never seen Twin Peaks, watch the TV show first.  The movie reveals the identity of the murderer.   

The cast of this show was amazing.  Rarely have I seen a TV show with such established and burgeoning star power.  The cast included the afore mentioned Kyle MacLachlan, as well as Michael Ontkean (Slapshot), Sheryl Lee (John Carpenter’s Vampires), Madchen Amick (Sleepwalkers), Lara Flynn Boyle (Wayne’s World, Men in Black II), James Marshall (Gladiator, A Few Good Men), Warren Frost (The Stand, Seinfeld), Heather Graham (Swingers, The Hangover), Billy Zane (Titanic, The Phantom) and many others I’m leaving out.  But my standout cast member has to be the beautiful Sherilyn Fenn (Boxing Helen, Friends).  Long has the Odinson had a crush for this raven haired beauty.       

Twin Peaks built such a cult following that hundreds of fans gather every year at the Twin Peaks Festival.  This festival is an annual weekend long celebration of the cult hit TV series.  It has been going strong since 1993 and it gives fans a chance to meet some of the cast members from the show and tour North Bend, Washington, the town where the exteriors for Twin Peaks was filmed.  Craig Miller himself has attended three festivals and reports they are quite fun. 

I have so much I want to convey about this show I know that I am not doing it justice.  However, I know I cannot talk about this wonderful show without mentioning the music.  The music for the show really sets the mood.  It’s melodic and quite entrancing.  The main scores and theme were composed by Angelo Badalamenti.  The soundtrack for the show is heavily jazz influenced, and singer Julee Cruise adds her haunting tones to some the songs.  The music helps to amplify the moods of each scene, whether it be humorous or eerie.  The CD has not left the rotation in my truck since I watched the show for the first time in December of 2010. 

I have had a couple of weird Twin Peaksian real life moments happen to me since then.   First, right after my extensive interview with Craig Miller, as I started my truck Chris Isaak’s CD Forever Blue came up in rotation.  Chris Isaak portrayed FBI Special Agent Chester Desmond in the Twin Peaks movie. It’s just a little odd that that particular CD would come up right after I was discussing Twin Peaks.  The second Twin Peaksian thing to happen was right after I watched the series for the first time.  It just so happened that the television show called Psych aired an episode named “Dual Spires.”  The episode was a complete homage to Twin Peaks from the story and the fact that it incorporated quite a few original Twin Peaks cast members.  How serendipitous is that?    

Twin Peaks has had such an impact on me with how good it is that I find myself hoping beyond hope that someday we’ll see a follow up series, mini series or movie to tie up the loose ends.  However, if that were to happen, knowing David Lynch, he’d just raise even more questions.  Always leave them wanting more.  And Twin Peaks most certainly does that. 

This is Odinson bidding thee farewell

1 CommentTags:

Iceman and Angel #1

March 23, 2011 · 2 Comments

 

Greetings from the Odinson,

It’s easy to get into a rut when it comes to reading comics.  Some storylines drag on for six months to a year and one resolution seems to simply open the door for a new dilemma.  And on and on it goes.  But if you are not careful some gems can slip through.  Fall through the cracks and go by without notice.  For instance, this past week as I was previewing the new books hitting the comics rack, I completely overlooked what is quite possibly the single best comic book I’ve read this year, so far. 

Since this issue stars members of the X-Men, and anyone who has followed my column for any length of time knows that the Odinson is not the biggest X-Men fan, it is easy to see how I overlooked this issue.  The fact that it’s yet another 1-shot didn’t help either.  Despite all these factors working against it, Mr. Shark, a colleague of mine here at Lone Star Comics, suggested that I check this issue out.  And, boy, am I glad I did.

Iceman and Angel #1 – Set in the early days of the Marvel Age, this story stars the high-flying Angel and Iceman, the co-star of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, one of my all time favorite Saturday Morning cartoons from my youth.  Right away there is something refreshing and different about this offering of Marvel’s Merry Mutants.  It doesn’t star Wolverine or Deadpool or Gambit or whoever the X-flavor of the month is.  No, it stars two all time classic heroes that have been around since the Marvel Age began. 

Though they’ve flown mostly under the radar, these two very underrated heroes have been around and done it all.  No one really seems to take notice unless an immortal mutant despot morphs one of them into a razor-winged killing machine (i.e. Archangel).  Iceman and Angel were two of the Xavier’s original students at the School for the Gifted.  They were part of the X-Men’s First Class.  Side-by-side with the rest of the X-Men they faced down mega threats like Magneto, the Juggernaut, and the Sentinels.  Even as neophyte heroes they’ve stood toe-to-toe with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the Avengers, Spider-Man, and the Incredible Hulk

After the arrival of the All New, All Different X-Men, Iceman and Angel left New York and headed to the west coast.  There they joined Black Widow, Ghost Rider, and the mighty Hercules to form the much missed Champions.  This all too short-lived team of heroes defended their west coast home against such major threats as Pluto, Lord of the Underworld, the enigmatic Stranger, and Godzilla, King of the Monsters.  After the Champions disbanded, Iceman and Angel joined their former X-Men teammate, Beast, as they all joined the Defenders.  Together with the Asgardian goddess Valkyrie and the grotesque Gargoyle, they were one of the most eclectic group of heroes ever seen.  After the demise of the Defenders in their final battle with the Dragon of the Moon, Iceman and Angel reunited with the original members of the X-Men and formed X-Factor (see the Return of Jean Grey to see how that is possible). 

For years X-Factor fought the good fight.  They faced many challenges.  They survived the Mutant Massacre, Fall of the Mutants, Inferno, Judgement War and the X-Tinction Agenda.  They survived challenges that would have destroyed lesser heroes, albeit not without scars, both physical and mental.  They eventually rejoined the ranks of the X-Men where to this day they defend mankind against evil.  I recap all this to emphasize just how relevant these two characters have been throughout the history of the Marvel U. 

This brings me back to Iceman and Angel #1.  If you haven’t read this issue yet you are missing out on a gem.  This issue is what super hero comics are all about.  Gone is the cynicism, angst, and dark mood of most comics out today.  This issue features two brave young men doing everything in their power to save the city from being trampled by a giant monster.  Brian Clevinger’s script is full of humor and I laughed out loud no less than four times while reading this issue.  Clevinger writes Bobby Drake and Warren Worthington’s dialog with seemingly such ease that it’s easy to imagine these two mutant heroes being long time friends.  After reading this issue I want to see these two characters in a buddy/road story.  I simply want more Iceman and Angel as written by Brian Clevinger (Atomic Robo, Avengers and the Infinity Gauntlet).  Plus, Juan Doe’s art is spectacular and fits the mood and action of the issue like a glove.   

I don’t want to talk too much about the details of the story because I don’t want to give too much away.  It’s set against the backdrop of Spring Break, and when the monstrous GOOM, The Thing from Planet X, attacks, Iceman and Angel are seemingly the only two heroes left in New York City to face this threat, a fact that does not go unnoticed by the two mutant heroes.  A huge belly-laugh comes from seeing why Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Marvel’s First Family and the U.S. Army are unable to aid the two X-Men.  Long time Marvel fans will recognize GOOM from the Golden Age when he made his triumphant debut in Tales of Suspense (1959-1968) #15.  The reasons behind the beast’s sudden attack is yet another source of great humor and this plot twist does a great job of tying the Modern Age with the Golden Age. 

How can Iceman and [regular non-razor-winged] Angel hope to defeat this monstrous titan from Planet X with no help from anyone else?  That, my friends, is part of the fun of this issue.  If you’ve been looking for a gem, that singular super hero action/adventure issue that sticks out among the throng of others on the rack, then Iceman and Angel #1 is the comic for you.   

This is Odinson bidding thee farewell!

 

2 CommentsTags: Comics

Fight Night with the Odinson

March 15, 2011 · No Comments

Greetings from the Odinson,

Every comic fan has done this.  They’ve sat around with friends, or gathered at the local comic shop, or simply pondered “who would win?”  Superman vs. Hulk.  Captain America vs. Batman.  Aquaman vs. the Sub-Mariner.   These match-ups we’ve seen before (see Marvel vs. DC).  But there are still a multitude of face-offs that we’ve never been treated to.  Here are some showdowns the Odinson would love to see come to fruition. 

Batman vs. Thomas Crown

By day Bruce Wayne is a billionaire playboy, head of a Fortune 500 corporation, and cannon fodder for a TMZ/paparazzi world.  By night he is the caped crusader known as Batman, a martial arts master armed with a utility belt full of high tech gadgets and a keen, deductive mind.  By day Thomas Crown is a wealthy investment banker fueled by competition and always hungry for a challenge.  By night he is a world class thief armed with an array of high tech gadgets and an analytical mind that always seems to keep him one step ahead of his adversaries.  Crown is always on the lookout for a good challenge and who better to take on than the world’s greatest detective?  Just imagine the cat and mouse game that would be played by these two genius-level intellects locking horns in a chess match for the ages. 

Artemis Fowl vs. Tom Swift

Artemis Fowl is a 12 year old super villain.  He comes from a long line of criminals and he uses his genius level intelligence to obtain great wealth and bend the laws of physics.  Tom Swift is a teenage genius/inventor/adventurer.  He uses his amazing inventions like the flying submarine to solve mysteries and foil crimes around the world.  Both have used their uncanny brains to overcome great challenges.  Fowl has enslaved magical fairies, and Swift has stood toe-to-toe with alien life forms from beyond the stars.  It’s the battle of boy-geniuses to end all others. 

Christopher Chance vs. Jason Bourne

Christopher Chance is a former assassin that now takes on bodyguard jobs for people he would have previously been hired to kill.  He is a highly skilled martial artist, an excellent marksman, and a daredevil capable of pulling off amazing feats of death-defying aptitude.  Jason Bourne is a black ops specialist that is betrayed and left for dead in the cold waters of the Mediterranean Sea.  He recovers from his injuries but has no memories of his past.  But when that past comes looking for him he suddenly realizes he possesses skills and abilities that make him a living weapon.  He sets out to discover the truth about himself and becomes wrapped up in a web of lies and betrayal that goes to the top of government ranks.  Chance and Bourne’s skill sets are very similar and they are both accustomed to taking on other assassins and special agents, and winning.  But where Jason Bourne walks his path alone, Christopher Chance has surrounded himself with a close-knit team of confidants and friends.  Perhaps Chance can give Bourne that second chance he has given to others, and Bourne could find a home helping others along side the Human Target.  Or, perhaps Jason Bourne finally proves to be the one opponent that Christopher Chance can’t defeat.

Percy Jackson vs. Harry Potter

Percy Jackson lives in a world where the gods of myth and legend actually exist.  As the son of Poseidon, lord of the sea, the teenage Percy has power over water, which also feeds him strength. And, since Lord Poseidon is said to have created horses, Percy himself is a horse whisperer.  Harry Potter is an orphan who at age eleven discovers he is born to become a wizard.  He is sent to the magical boarding school of Hogwarts where he will train and master his magic-using abilities.   Percy, along with his supernatural friends, must use his skills and pit his abilities against the minions of the titan Kronos.  Harry, along with his fellow fledgling wizards, must use his magic and pit his abilities against the minions and evil plots of the sorcerer Voldemort.  When the world of witches, werewolves, and elves collides with the world of Cyclopes, dragons, and medusa, it will truly be a clash of titans. 

The Mask vs. Mister Mxyzptlk vs. the Impossible Man

Stanley Ipkiss possesses a magical mask that imbues him with reality warping powers that include invulnerability, shape-shifting, and a skewed sense of humor.  Mister Mxyzptlk is an imp from the Fifth Dimension whose magical reality warping powers perplexes even the greatest super hero in the DCU.  The Impossible Man is a shape-shifting immortal from outer space that perplexes and annoys the heroes of the Marvel Universe.  None of these troublemakers are “evil,” but they are quite possibly the greatest practitioners of chaos ever created.  Mxyzptlk can only be undone by being tricked into saying his name backwards.  This banishes him back to the Fifth Dimension for at least thirty days.  Only one thing has ever defeated the green-skinned Poppupian, and that is when Warlock of the New Mutants beat him in a contest of shape-shifting by performing a change even the Impossible Man could not do (See New Mutants Annual #3).  And the only thing that seems to be able to slow the Mask down is when his host removes him.  Since there is no real harm they can do to each other, their contest will be to see who can come up with the best prank.  Two things are for sure, if these three maniacs ever assembled together within the pages of one comic book: 1) the heroes of the world are in for one big headache, and 2) the readers are in for one hilariously good read. 

These are some of the showdowns and crossovers I would love to see.  Well, Powers that Be, the ball is in your court now.  Hey, if Marvel and DC can get along together long enough to give us JLA/Avengers, then surely the owners of these properties can somehow make these crossovers happen.    

This is Odinson bidding thee farewell!

No CommentsTags: Battles · Comics

Top 10 Character-Defining Runs, Part 2

March 09, 2011 · 1 Comment

Greetings from the Odinson,

Every now and again a certain creator gets paired with a certain comic character and sparks fly.  Something amazing happens.  It just fits like a glove.  And what usually follows is a character defining run that stands out and becomes a measuring stick by which all other runs on the character before or after will be judged.  Every comic fan has their favorite heroes, writers, and artists.  And once every decade or so, a character is matched up with a creator or team of creators that define that character for a generation.

This is a list of the Odinson’s all time favorite character-defining runs.  These writers, artists, and the stories they tell are the reasons why I read comic books.

Last week I listed and talked about the first half of this list.  Here’s a recap.

10) Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and John Byrne

9) Spider-Man by Todd McFarlane

8) Green Lantern by Geoff Johns

7) Hulk by Sal Buscema

6) Fantastic Four by John Byrne

5) Superman by John Byrne

 

 

I present now the rest of the list.

04) Hulk by Peter David

Few creators get to put their mark on an iconic character like Peter David did with the Incredible Hulk.  Even fewer creators stay on one title as long as David did on the Hulk. Including 1-Shots and mini series, Peter David wrote over 150 issues chronicling the adventures of the Jade Giant.  For this Herculean task the Odinson awards Peter David with the Iron Man Award.  He edges out Sal Buscema, who made an appearance earlier on this list at 115 issues.  During David’s run fans got to see him team up with an up and coming artist by the name of Todd McFarlane.  Together they challenged the Hulk with mystery and pitted him against one of his oldest and deadliest foes (see Ground Zero).  

It was also during this team up that the world was treated to the greatest Hulk vs. Wolverine throw down ever (see Incredible Hulk #340).  After McFarlane split for Amazing Spider-Man, Peter David, along with Steve Englehart, treated the reader to another classic showdown between the Hulk and his longtime rival the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing, orchestrated by none other than Doctor Doom (see Fantastic Four #320 and Incredible Hulk #350).  Long time fans finally learned the origins of why the Hulk is a creature fueled by rage (see Incredible Hulk #377).  It was during David’s run that fans were introduced to a certain team of villains pretending to be heroes known as the Thunderbolts (see Incredible Hulk #449).  David introduced the world to the Maestro, a despicable future incarnation of the Hulk that the Jade Giant must deal with (see Future Imperfect).  

David put a period on his run by telling the story of the Hulk’s last days (see Hulk: The End).  From the morally ambiguous Grey Hulk to the super Intelligent Hulk, from highly successful collaborations with artists Todd McFarlane to Dale Keown, Peter David has definitely earned a spot on this list and his run on the Hulk is, without a doubt, one of the greatest of all time.

03) JLA by Grant Morrison and Howard Porter

When it comes to comic books in the nineties, the Odinson has very few kind words to say.  However, in 1997, a Scottish writer by the name of Grant Morrison teamed up with an up and coming artist named Howard Porter and together they created the most bombastic, in-your-face, over-the-top, mind-blowing run on a super hero comic ever!  They changed the title from Justice League of America to nothing but the bold initials of JLA.  For just over forty issues, JLA was literally the perfect comic book.  The adventures were grand, the characterizations were true, and the execution of the creative team was flawless.  

How can you possibly challenge a squad of heroes that includes names like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, the Flash, and Martian Manhunter?  Morrison simply orchestrates the most epic challenges rarely conceived in this medium.  From White Martians (JLA #1-4) to an all out invasion by rogue angels (JLA #6-7); from a Mystery in Space (JLA #20-21) to the return of the League’s very first foe (JLA #22-23); from an all out invasion by the magical denizens of the Fifth Dimension (JLA #28-31) to senses-shattering conclusion of their run in World War III (JLA #36-41); Morrison challenged these great heroes like few before, or since.  

But, hands down, the Odinson’s all time favorite JLA tale has to be “Rock of Ages.”  This tale is simply a masterpiece of storytelling. JLA #10-15 is what reading comics is all about.  Just imagine the most mind-blowing movie with a limitless budget and infinite imagination and that comes close to what this story accomplishes.  It starts with a full on attack by the newly reformed Injustice Gang, a group of the JLA’s greatest foes comprised of the Joker, Circe, Ocean Master and led by the diabolical Lex Luthor.   Luthor gets his hands on the legendary Philosopher’s Stone [think the Cosmic Cube x 10].  In order to stop the annihilation of mankind, the JLA must embark on a space/time odyssey the likes which have never been seen before.  From the titanic wonders of Wonderworld to waterworlds to the Source Wall the League journeys.  They land fifteen years into the future where Darkseid rules with an iron fist and only a handful of heroes remain to oppose him.  This chapter is a precursor to the events of Final Crisis and victory can only be obtained with ultimate sacrifice and through the actions of the most unlikeliest of heroes.  The tale comes full circle as the Justice League and the Injustice Gang face off in a final showdown for all the marbles.  To put it simply, “Rock of Ages” is amazing.  Howard Porter’s off-center art style fits Grant Morrison’s broad imagination like a glove, and their run on the World’s Greatest Super Heroes has yet to be matched to this day.  

02) Thor by Walt Simonson

Walt Simonson’s run on the mighty Thor is the reason why this character will always be one of my all time favorites.  Every now and again the comics industry catches magic in a bottle, and that describes what happened here.  Simonson’s Thor is regal, powerful, compassionate, and, above all else, heroic.  His pictures jump off the page!  Simonson renders the mighty Thunder God in such a way that when he twirls his invincible hammer it moves so fast that it starts to crackle with energy and power, and the reader feels it.  His stories are epic.  

How do you challenge a hero as strong as Thor?  Simonson not only does that but he tests the Mightiest Avenger’s mettle like never before.  Thor battles the Dark Elves of legend (Thor #345-348); he stands side-by-side with Loki and Odin in defense of Asgard (Thor #353); he faces down the hordes of Hel and is cursed by Hela to have brittle bones (Thor #360-362); he stands against the unbeatable foe known as Kurse (Thor #363); he gets turned into a frog by his treacherous brother, Loki (Thor #364-366); he saves the mutant hero Angel from the Mutant Massacre (Thor #373-374); and he defies fate and goes into battle with the creature destined to slay him – the Midgard Serpent (Thor #380).  It was during Simonson’s run that we were introduced to arguably the noblest hero in the Marvel Universe – Beta Ray Bill.  Walt Simonson’s titanic run on Thor is some of the most epic tales I’ve ever read and certainly some of the most satisfying reads of my lifetime. 

01) Captain America by Ed Brubaker

Of all the names on this list and in the Honorable Mentions section below, when it comes to a creator clicking with a character, Ed Brubaker stands out.  Now that’s saying a lot, considering the names and definitive runs I’ve already mentioned.  To say that Brubaker and Captain America fit like a glove would be an understatement.  Captain America is my personal all time favorite comics character and I can honestly say that I’ve never enjoyed a run on this character as much as I have Brubaker’s.  And that’s even with him killing my hero off.  The way Cap talks, acts, and moves, the description of his skills and abilities; the character’s history as a veteran of World War II, as a member of the Avengers, and a spy for Nick Fury - Brubaker captures it all.  

It has been said many times, whether it’s true or not, that Cap will find a way to win no matter what, and with Ed Brubaker at the helm it’s easy to believe that’s true.  From the first issue with the assassination of Cap’s greatest foe (see Captain America #1) to the mystery of the Winter Soldier, through Civil War to Cap’s own assassination (See Captain America #25), Brubaker keeps the reader on the edge of his seat.  From the fallout of the Death of Captain America to the emergence of the New Captain America, from the Road to Reborn to the return of the Sentinel of Liberty in the pages of Reborn proper, Brubaker never once takes the easy way out and challenges his characters every step of the way.  

One of the longest running unspoken rules of comics was that Bucky Barnes, Cap’s wartime partner, was dead and he’d stay dead.  Not only did Brubaker bring him back, but he did it in a way that was so utterly entertaining that once it was done no one could argue against it, including myself.  Ed Brubaker channels Steve Rogers like no one else.  There is a moment in the pages of the Winter Soldier storyline that encapsulates Brubaker’s take on Captain America for me.  Captain America suddenly finds himself surrounded by the MODOC Squad, a team of cyborg killing machines designed only to eliminate super humans.  Undaunted, Cap quickly assesses the situation and simply says, “All right, let’s go.”  The next panel the reader sees Cap in, he’s literally leaping into battle against a superior force.  That’s Cap in a nutshell.  Outnumbered, outgunned... the bad guys don’t stand a chance.  

Honorable Mentions

These are the definitive runs on these characters that have kept the Odinson coming back to the comic shop week after week for years.  What are some of your favorites?

This is Odinson bidding thee farewell!

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Top 10 Character-Defining Runs, Part 1

March 02, 2011 · 1 Comment

Greetings from the Odinson,

Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.  Batman by Bob Kane and Bill Finger.  Wonder Woman was created by the man who invented the lie-detector, William Moulton Marston. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko launched the Marvel Age with the Fantastic Four, Hulk, Spider-Man, Captain America, Thor, the Avengers, and the X-Men.  Over the last half century all these characters have become icons, fixtures in pop culture and embedded in the American consciousness.   These are the creators that breathed life into these iconic characters.  As the decades have passed many other writers, artists, and editors have taken the reins for these heroes and taken them in many, many different directions. 

But every now and again a certain creator gets paired with a certain comic character and sparks fly.  Something amazing happens.  It just fits like a glove.  And what usually follows is a character-defining run that stands out and becomes a measuring stick by which all other runs on the character before or after will be judged.  Every comic fan has their favorite heroes, writers, and artists.  And once every decade or so, a character is matched up with a creator or team of creators that define that character for a generation.

This is a list of the Odinson’s all time favorite character-defining runs.  These writers, artists, and the stories they tell are the reasons why I read comic books.

10) Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and John Byrne

For a while the X-Men title had become nothing more than a reprint book and the Children of the Atom were on the verge of going the way of the Dodo.  Then along came the great Len Wein who, along with Dave Cockrum, created a new breed of X-Men.  This new team was a group of heroes from around the world: Storm (Africa), Colossus (Russia), Nightcrawler (Germany), and Wolverine (Canada).  They exploded onto the scene with Giant-Size X-Men #1.  But it wasn’t until Chris Claremont took the reins of the title in Uncanny X-Men #94 that the X-Men really took off.  In Uncanny X-Men #108 John Byrne joined Claremont on the title and the two of them went on to define the X-Men for generations to come.  Much like Stan Lee did for the Marvel Universe with the Fantastic Four, Claremont and Byrne, during their run, laid down the foundation of what would become pillars in the X-Men’s corner of the Marvel U.  The Shi’ar Empire, Alpha Flight, the Shadow King, the Phoenix, Proteus, the Hellfire Club and Days of Future Past all came out of this era.  But their crowning achievement was the operatic epic known as The Dark Phoenix Saga.  When their most powerful member loses control and threatens all existence, the X-Men have to make a decision that will change their lives forever.  This is a Top 10-must-read story of all time.  And Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s run on the X-Men is positively a definitive one.

9) Spider-Man by Todd McFarlane

Love him, or hate him, Todd McFarlane is, without a doubt, one of the most influential artists to ever draw Spider-Man.  Rarely does an artist leave such a mark on a character that every single artist that comes after him tries to emulate what he did.  For instance... McFarlane’s design for Spider-Man’s webs.  They’re beautiful and they’ve stuck with the Web-Slinger throughout the proceeding decades since McFarlane’s departure from the book.  When McFarlane draws Spidey he really looks like a “spider-man.”  Even throwaway panels with Spidey squatting on top of a phone booth are fascinating and wonderful to look at.  Under McFarlane’s pencil, Spider-Man moved around and actually looked like someone with spider-like powers.  McFarlane worked with writer David Michelinie, and together they pitted Spider-Man against some of his deadliest foes – the Prowler, Chameleon, Taskmaster, Mysterio, the Goblins (Green and Hob), the Lizard, Hydro Man, Scorpion, Morbius and the Red Skull.  He finished his run on Amazing Spider-Man with an exclamation mark by pitting Spider-Man against the Grey Hulk, the character McFarlane had been working on before coming over to Spidey.  But the coup de grace that cemented his name in Spidey lore is that it was during Todd McFarlane’s run that comic fans were introduced to Venom, arguably, other than Deadpool, the most significant Marvel creation of the last twenty-five years. 

8) Green Lantern by Geoff Johns

Geoff Johns has accomplished the impossible.  He redeemed the irredeemable.  The 1990s were a crazy time for comic books, both business wise and creatively.  And one of the more over-the-top stories to come out of that era was Hal Jordan’s fall from grace.  After Mongul and the Cyborg-Superman destroyed the city under his protection, Hal Jordan descended into madness and even murdered his fellow Green Lanterns.  He became the Parallax and one of the greatest threats the DCU has ever faced (see Green Lantern #48-50).  He tried to rewrite history during Zero Hour, but ultimately sacrificed himself in Final Night.  So, in a genre where resurrections are as common as the rising sun, Geoff Johns not only brought Hal Jordan back from the dead but he did it in a plausible way (well, plausible for comic books).  Not only was Hal back from the dead, but Johns also explained his unnatural behavior during his days as Parallax.  And that was plausible.  Since his return, Hal Jordan has re-established himself as one of the DCU’s premiere super heroes.  Geoff Johns has an amazing ability of taking the Green Lantern lore and stories from the Silver Age and connecting them to his modern tales in a way that makes going back and re-reading the old stories that much more fun.  And, because of Geoff John’s run, the Emerald Knight will make his Big Screen debut in this summer’s Green Lantern movie.  Hal Jordan, thanks in no small part to Geoff Johns, has come a long way since his standout days in The Challenge of the Super Friends cartoon.

7) Hulk by Sal Buscema

For ten years one man’s art defined how the world looked at the Green Goliath.  That man’s name is Sal Buscema.  Like Jack Kirby before him, Buscema’s panels are powerful and alive with action.  One thing is for sure when you read a Sal Buscema penciled comic, it will not be boring.  His Incredible Hulk was truly a force of nature and the battles he had with the Abomination, Absorbing Man, Bi-Beast, and the U-Foes looked like they rocked the earth.  Over the course of his run, Sal Buscema worked with some of the best writers, Len Wein, Roger Stern and Bill Mantlo, and together with them delivered a steady helping of great Hulk adventures.  During this time, the Hulk was a world wanderer, and whether it was in the deserts of Egypt, the wastelands of Russia, the artic tundra, or the cold vastness of deep space, Sal Buscema captured the essence of each setting no matter where the Hulk’s adventures might take him.  If not for another name on this list Sal Buscema would receive the Odinson’s Iron Man Award for longest run on a character, but that honor belongs to another (see entry #5 in Part 2 of this column for the winner of the Iron Man Award). 

6) Fantastic Four by John Byrne

Nobody can top what legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did with this title, but one run on the book that at least did the Fantastic Four justice was John Byrne’s.  After he left the X-Men, Byrne took the reins of Marvel’s First Family and took them in directions and on adventures undreamed of.  To list all the highlights of this masterful, definitive run would be futile but a few of my favorites are: Into the Negative Zone; the ultimate showdown with Galactus (see Fantastic Four #242-244); the FF vs. Gladiator (see Fantastic Four #249-250); the destruction of the Skrull homeworld (see Fantastic Four #257); the Trial of Reed Richards (see Fantastic Four #261-262); the Invisible Woman’s miscarriage (see Fantastic Four #267); and the return of Jean Grey (see Fantastic Four #286).

5) Superman by John Byrne

During the eighties John Byrne became known as the fixit guy.  In a post-Crisis DC Universe Byrne redefined the Man of Steel and produced easily some of the most entertaining post-Crisis tales to date.  Byrne’s take grounded Superman’s abilities a bit.  He wasn’t quite as strong as he had been in the past and he was nowhere nearly as invulnerable.  But I say these changes brought an element of danger to a character that had become so powerful that he had nothing left to fear.  That debate aside, some of the best artwork of Byrne’s career can be seen here.  He draws a definitive Man of Steel.  I find it hard not to measure others up to what Byrne did with the character.  The way he flew, the way he displayed his super human strength, the way his eyes glowed with the power of the sun, Byrne’s rendition of this was great.  One of the gems that came from John Byrne’s run was the revelation of how a Man of Steel shaves.  If you are invulnerable, how do you shave?  Byrne helped lay down the foundation for what the DCU would be like Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths.  He helped set-up and define what Superman’s relationships with Batman and Wonder Woman would be like for the following decade.  And he teamed up with Art Adams to produce, to this day, one of my all time favorite World’s Finest tales (see Action Comics Annual #1).

The top half of the list is done.  Has your favorite character –defining run made the list yet?  If not, check out next week as the Odinson finishes his Top 10 list of the definitive runs and the creators that make comics worth reading.

This is Odinson bidding thee farewell!

1 CommentTags: Comics