Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The 200 Best Comics of My Lifetime (The Last 20 Years): The Top 5

5. Astro City #1
Image - August 1995
Writer - Kurt Busiek
Artist - Brent Anderson
When it started, it became clear that Astro City was going to be an important comic book; co-created by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross, it was a world of superheroes, much like the Marvel and DC Universes, but one centred around newly created characters, each of them similar to a character from the Big Two in some way. The first issue follows The Samaritan, a Superman analogy who protects the world from disasters, throughout a single day. There's a wonderful emotional connection established with the character right away, mainly in regards to his ability to fly; he doesn't get to enjoy the experience, being that when he flies he's normally heading to combat danger. It's a wonderful way to look at a superhero and Busiek pens the character perfectly. The art by Brent Anderson is rough around the edges, but captures the beauty of the story perfectly in every panel.

4. Batman and Robin #2
DC - September 2009
Writer - Grant Morrison
Artist - Frank Quitely
It's one of those strange experiences when you read a book and instantly flip back to the front and read it again. This book was the first regular buying experience comic book that's ever had this effect on me; I re-read it twelve times the day I bought it and have re-examined it many times since. The central chapter of Grant Morrison's first arc featuring Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne as Batman and Robin was the masterpiece of the series; the action was perfect, the choreography was insane and the characterisations were some of the best in modern comics. As well as that, the threat of Professor Pyg, only teased in the first issue comes to the forefront with some truly unsettling moments and a cliffhanger that still sends shivers down my spine.

3. Action Comics #775
DC - March 2001
Writer - Joe Kelly
Artists - Doug Mahnke & Lee Bermejo
This was the moment when Superman went dark. Faced with the threat of the villainous Elite, a group of heroes who kill rather than capture, Superman finds the world turning against him and goes to drastic and brutal methods to prevent the Elite from gaining support for their unruly and inhumane methods. It's a frightening thought to comprehend Superman losing his cool, for even a moment, and when he does it turns into one of the most frightening moments ever printed in a comic book. The Elite themselves are a play on the Authority and the hyper-violent, cinematic style of comic book that was becoming commonplace in the early 2000s. After this, though, Superman has never managed to be as interesting or as poignant.

2. The Flash #182
DC - March 2002
Writer - Geoff Johns
Artist - Scott Kolins
When Geoff Johns took over the Flash it became obvious that the book was on it's way to returning to the glory it enjoyed during Mark Waid's titanic run, and as Johns developed the series the Rogues were given their own individual one-shots to flesh out their characters and add depth to foes who were still somewhat stuck in the Silver Age. This issue, exploring the character of Captain Cold, is the greatest single issue of Geoff Johns' career and will probably never be beaten in terms of sheer quality; Cold is portrayed as both hero and villain, given moments of clarity and humanity and his actions are given harsh justification, something many Flash villains lacked until Johns got his hands on them. As well as that, Cold is a brutal individual; his methods for seeking revenge are disturbing to say the least and the sequence where he explains just how horrifically he plans to kill everyone around him in a room is sensationally electrifying.

1. Ultimate Spider-Man #1
Marvel - October 2000
Writers - Brian Michael Bendis & Bill Jemas
Artist - Mark Bagley
Honestly, could it be anything else? This is the issue that started it all; Ultimate Spider-Man was an experiment to try and modernise Spider-Man for the youth of the day and create a separate continuity, and the first issue gives every indication that this was going to become the biggest thing to happen to comics in years, particularly with the emphasis on decompressed storytelling and character development, giving a truly definitive characterisation of the often mishandled Uncle Ben. There's a high level of skill and craft behind the book, and it demonstrates just how capable Bendis would become as a writer; Bagley's artwork compliments the story in every way, blending a classic Spider-Man style with modern sensibilities. This is the first comic book I ever read, and without it I would not be reading comic books right now; the series left a stamp on me that expanded to my love of the medium. This is the beginning of everything good about comic books today, and there is no possible contender for the spot of "Best Comic Book of My Lifetime."

The 200 Best Comics of My Lifetime (The Last 20 Years): 10-6

10. Detective Comics #741
DC - February 2000
Writers - Greg Rucka & Devin Grayson
Artists - Damion Scott & Dale Eaglesham
This was the finale of the year-long No Man's Land event in the Batman books, and to make it a harrowing and unexpected conclusion, the writers brought the Joker back into the fold. Having kidnapped all the newborn children conceived throughout the year, the Joker plans to execute them all; this in itself would be a horrific plot, but it's made all the more brutal by his murder of Sarah Gordon, Commissioner Gordon's wife, as she attempts to save the children. It's terrifying stuff, but the true menace comes when the Joker turns himself in afterwards, adamant that he will not be executed by the police and mocking Gordon openly over his actions. It's a wonderful finale, and sets up just how different things will be when the new status quo sets in for the new millennium.

9. Preacher #1
Vertigo - April 1995
Writer - Garth Ennis
Artist - Steve Dillon
This is where it all began; Vertigo's masterful epic of a Preacher gaining Godly powers and deciding to hunt down God and make him answer for all the wrongs in the world. As an introduction, this is near perfect; we get the feel of just the kind of man Jesse Custer is, he's a tortured soul driven by his own sense of self-loathing and a desire to break free of the bonds that have held him back most of his life. Then you've got Tulip, his ex-girlfriend, running from a darkness she cannot hope to escape; and finally, Cassidy, the sadistic Irishman revealed as a vampire at the end of issue 2. Their journey begins and we follow, begging for more brilliance and sheer cinematic poetry.

8. Marvels #1
Marvel - January 1994
Writer - Kurt Busiek
Artist - Alex Ross
Marvels was an historic event for Marvel Comics; an epic retelling of the early days of the Marvel Universe from the perspective of an every man. The first issue of the series deals with the impact of superheroes on the world, with the creation of the Human Torch, and the introduction of Namor into the world. It's a wonderful period portrait of humanity and the injustices of the world, while Alex Ross' gorgeous painted artwork captures realism and maintains a permanent sense of awe and suspense throughout; every character feels unique and real, and the pages seem to emit an unnatural glow of brilliance from start to finish.

7. Superman #75
DC - January 1993
Writer - Dan Jurgens
Artist - Dan Jurgens
The coming of Doomsday in the Superman books was going to be something special, that much is obvious right from the start, and the final chapter of the epic confrontation between the Man of Steel and this monster of destruction ended the only way it could: with Superman sacrificing himself to save the world from the creature. Every page in this issue is a full-page panel, highlighting the impact of the two behemoths' battle throughout Metropolis and punctuating the devastation of Superman's death. This is arguably one of the five most famous comic books of all time, and certainly the most historic death issue ever published; but, unfortunately, it falls just sort of perfection - losing out to a more recent death of an icon.

6. Captain America #25
Marvel - April 2007
Writer - Ed Brubaker
Artist - Steve Epting
The final chapter of Ed Brubaker's epic Captain America storyline featuring Steve Rogers and highlighting the return of Bucky ended the only way it could in the wake of Civil War; Steve Rogers was assassinated on the steps of the courthouse where he'd gone to stand trial for his part in the Civil War. It was a brutal moment, perfectly punctuating the end of an era for superhero comics and start of Bucky's journey to become the new Captain America. As far as shocking moments go, very few compare; this has a raw quality to it that seems to define the characters featured within and draw on the loyalty of us, as readers, to maintain it's own sense of foreshadowing and integrity.

Next: 5-1

The 200 Best Comics of My Lifetime (The Last 20 Years): 20-11

20. Planetary/Batman
DC - August 2003
Writer - Warren Ellis
Artist - John Cassaday
One of the biggest positives in Planetary is the ability of the characters to interact with various other dimensions, something which expands on the general fiction of the world and gives breadth to the majority of the overarching elements of the series. This one-shot brings Planetary into the DC universe and pits them against Batman, who is hunting the same person they are, someone possessing a device that could spell doom if it falls into the wrong hands. Ellis and Cassaday capture the world of Gotham wonderfully, and the strange shifts between different incarnations of Batman is hilariously fun and a perfect dedication to a character who has managed to last for decades.

19. Queen & Country #1
Oni Press - March 2001
Writer - Greg Rucka
Artist - Steve Rolston
When it comes to tales of the British Secret Service, nobody rivals Ian Fleming more than Greg Rucka; the American comes up with realistic, gritty ways to portray the spies working out of the United Kingdom, and this issue is the start of his legacy as the perfect purveyor of British society on the page. Following Tara Chace, we get a sense of the world and are introduced to the majority of principal characters; not everything is explained, but that's alright, because the story is meant to unfold slowly over the course of the arc. As a single issue, though, it works as the perfect introduction and maintains the perfect momentum to keep readers engaged and intrigued.

18. JLA #3
DC - March 1997
Writer - Grant Morrison
Artist - Howard Porter
By issue 3 of their JLA masterpiece, Grant Morrison and Howard Porter had allowed the villainous Hyperclan to utterly destroy the team by exploiting their weaknesses and imprisoning them all. Even Batman fell in a horrendous explosion that, as far as readers were aware, had killed him; but as ever, with Batman, that was not the case. As the only member of the team still on the loose, Batman does what Batman does best; he systematically takes down every single member of the Hyperclan, brutally, and saves his whole team. It's a defining moment for the character, and one of the most memorable sequences involving Batman to be published in the last two decades.

17. DC: The New Frontier #1
DC - March 2004
Writer - Darwyn Cooke
Artist - Darwyn Cooke
Darwyn Cooke was already considered a master storyteller before his magnum opus, The New Frontier, was published. That didn't stop the colossal reaction to this book, though; it was an intricate and engaging examination of Silver Age superheroes, set in the Cold War era of uncertainty and fear, where people who dressed up as heroes were seen as threats to the structure of society. This issue acts as a necessary prologue, focusing on Jack Kirby's The Losers, a team of mercenaries during the Second World War and their adventures on the mythic Dinosaur Island; it's brutal and sets you up for what's to come right away, while the focus on scarcely known characters adds a layer of depth to the proceedings that wouldn't have been there had the series opened with Superman or any other iconic figure.

16. G. I. Joe: Cobra Special #1
IDW - September 2009
Writers - Mike Costa & Christos Gage
Artist - Antonio Fuso
Nothing could quite prepare comic book readers for the stunning impact G. I. Joe Cobra would have on the industry; it was the perfect espionage series set within the G. I. Joe universe, and it set up the character, Chuckles, as a dangerous individual, rather than the jokey throwaway he had been throughout the early days of Joe. This issue shifts the focus away from Chuckles, settling on Tomax and Xamot, the equally useless twins from the old days, who are both presented as formidable and dangerous figures in this universe; this is a wonderful psychological piece, and the shift in storytelling at the halfway mark is an effective, genius move from the creative team that shows just how fractured and dangerous these two men are.

15. Blackest Night #1
DC - September 2009
Writer - Geoff Johns
Artist - Ivan Reis
After years of building up the Green Lantern universe, Geoff Johns began to seep his ideas into other books, hinting at a breaking point yet to come. Blackest Night was that breaking point; a union of the Green Lantern universe and the DC universe at large, facing a threat that was unstoppable and unrelenting. At it's core, Blackest Night is a zombie book, but it feels like so much more, playing on the emotions of the characters, setting up alliances within the various Corps from the Green Lantern ongoing series, and feeling as though it had genuine stakes, with characters being murdered left and right. This was the moment Geoff Johns redefined the event comic.

14. Scalped #1
Vertigo - March 2007
Writer - Jason Aaron
Artist - R. M. Guera
Scalped was a Vertigo series that felt unique; it didn't focus on anything supernatural or strange, it was a character study within the crime genre. But there was an original slant to it, the characters were all Native Americans living on a Reservation. Within 22 pages, Jason Aaron established the grim world of Prairie Rose and the characters of Red Crow and Dash Bad Horse; there was intrigue, violence and character development, all in a confined space. And there was one hell of a twist ending, too, to make it all the better. The highlight, though, is how close the series feels to the Sopranos style of crime fiction; any character could die at any moment, and the first issue shows just how dangerous things are going to be for our characters.

13. Preacher #66
Vertigo - October 2000
Writer - Garth Ennis
Artist - Steve Dillon
The Vertigo series that, for many, defined the imprint came to an end in the first year of the 21st century, and it came to an end with a bang. The penultimate issue killed off all the necessary villains and featured a wonderfully unique twist that apparently killed off one of our heroes; it was powerful and unyielding, and gave way to this final epilogue. Everyone gets their moment; Jesse and Tulip are finally united, Cassidy is granted his humanity, the Saint of Killers takes his seat in Heaven, and even God gets his due, finally paying for all the misery he's inflicted on the characters throughout the series. The final pages have a sombre fell to them, and the ending is poignant and original. It's all you could ask for really.

12. The Walking Dead #1
Image - October 2003
Writer - Robert Kirkman
Artist - Tony Moore
With The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore redefined horror comics for a new generation; focusing more on the human characters and giving them real development rather than paper-thin horror cliché personalities. The focus is Rick Grimes, a cop who wakes up from a coma to find the world in the middle of a zombie apocalypse; what follows is Rick's desperate search for his wife and son, leading to some of the best zombie sequences ever rendered in comic books, or any other genre. It feels like a short-form mini-series introduction, showing just how little faith the creative team had in it, and as it continues to this day, it's great to know that the series wouldn't fall at the first hurdle.

11. Batman #497
DC - July 1993
Writer - Doug Moench
Artist - Jim Aparo
The biggest Batman event in years was to be haunted by the awful repercussions involving the character of Azrael, but at the core of the first act, Knightfall was the destruction of Batman as a warrior. Having managed to, almost single-handedly, defeat the legions of Arkham Asylum, Batman returned to Wayne Manor only to learn that criminal mastermind, Bane, had worked out his identity and come to break him. The following fight was harsh and quick, ending with Bane breaking Batman's back, leaving him crippled and Gotham City doomed. It wasn't the end for Bruce Wayne, obviously, but the moment the story reaches that violent crescendo it sends shivers down the spine and reminds the reader of just how brutal Batman comics can be given the chance.

Next: 10-6

Monday, 14 February 2011

The 200 Best Comics of My Lifetime (The Last 20 Years): 30-21

30. Spawn #10
Image - May 1993
Writer - Dave Sim
Artist - Todd McFarlane
This, now legendary, issue of Spawn dealt with the prickly subject of creators rights in the early 1990s. Written by Dave Sim, creator of the epic Cerebus series, it featured a crossover between Spawn and Cerebus leading to one of the strangest and most compelling issues published in my lifetime. The dedication shown by Sim throughout, as well as the harsh realities of being an independent creator in the comic book industry, are startling and the honesty and power given to each page is nothing short of masterful.

29. Batman and Robin #1
DC - August 2009
Writer - Grant Morrison
Artist - Frank Quitely
The first, stellar, issue of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's collaboration stands as one of the few comic books in the last few years to grab me within the first few pages and constant beat me over the head with it's sheer brilliance for the remainder of the book. Morrison shows a different side of his creativity, moulding Dick Grayson into the new, less grim Batman, while also bringing Damian Wayne into the forefront as the darker Robin. It's a brilliant contrast, and together with Quitely's gorgeous artwork, it leaves the reader's gasping for more by the final, terrifying sequence.

28. JLA/Avengers #1
DC/Marvel - January 2003
Writer - Kurt Busiek
Artist - George Perez
It was strange to witness, in the early years of the 21st century, the birth of a creature so anticipated it had a 20 year cult following. Finally, after years of legal wrangling and threats from George Perez that he would exit the project, Marvel and DC put aside their differences and gave us JLA/Avengers. The first issue is set up, leading to the ultimate confrontation between the two teams that would spill over into the next three issues, but as an establishing portion of the story it is absolutely perfect; the characters react to each other the way they should and the general feeling is one of originality and pure dedication.

27. The Brave and the Bold #33
DC - June 2010
Writer - J. Michael Straczysnki
Artisti - Cliff Chiang
Sometimes, even a writer like JMS can surprise you once in a while; his run on The Brave and the Bold had been rocky, to say the least up until this issue, which featured a tale set during Barbara Gordon's tenure as Batgirl. At first it feels like nothing more than a fun romp through a night out with Batgirl, Zatanna and Wonder Woman, but by the conclusion of the issue, we know exactly what is going on; there are moments where things feel unsettling, and the final reveal of the reasoning behind the night out becomes clear in a horrific panel, torn straight from the pages of one of the greatest graphic novels ever published.

26. Ex Machina #1
Wildstorm - August 2004
Writer - Brian K. Vaughan
Artist - Tony Harris
This is definitely my favourite thing Brian K. Vaughan has ever written. As far as first issues go, it is almost certainly the template for how to craft a perfect introduction to a story, keep the reader engaged and also build a significant enough allure and mystery around proceedings to keep them guessing as time goes on. Dealing with politics and drama more than superhero antics, the book felt unique, giving a broader view of New York City than had ever been seen in a comic book; and then, the final page reveal of the significance of the protagonist, and his impact on the world, reflecting the harsh realities of life in the Big Apple, and the merits of heroism.

25. Ultimate Spider-Man #13
Marvel - November 2001
Writer - Brian Michael Bendis
Artist - Mark Bagley
Having put Peter Parker through the wringer throughout the first year of Ultimate Spider-Man, Bendis made the conscious decision to give him a moment of peace as he confided in Mary Jane, his true love, that he was Spider-Man. The issue was an example of how great Bendis was with dialogue, and Mark Bagley wonderfully captures the anxiety and electricity between the two teenagers throughout. It's frightening to think this happened so early in the run, but looking back, it is the definitive moment of Ultimate Spider-Man and set the stage for Bendis in terms of how well he could convey drama in his storytelling.

24. Batman: Shadow of the Bat #1
DC - June 1992
Writer - Alan Grant
Artist - Norm Breyfogle
A new Batman series was something of a novelty back in the early '90s, and Shadow of the Bat managed to assert itself as more than just filler material between issues of Detective Comics and Batman. Weaving an intricate storyline involving insanity and the threats of a deranged serial killer, Alan Grant handed in one of the most intense first issues of a Batman series I've ever read, while Norm Breyfogle's depiction of the character remains the definitive Batman in my eyes.

23. Planetary #1
Wildstorm - April 1999
Writer - Warren Ellis
Artist - John Cassaday
Planetary has been transformed, in more recent years, into a phenomenon; a series that seemed as though it would never reach it's conclusion, and had become so mired in delays and it's own continuity it was almost impossible to follow or enjoy. But, looking back, the first issue is absolutely one of the greatest introductory issues ever published; Warren Ellis creates a world steeped in realism, but also dedicated to mythology and science, while John Cassaday portrays the layout of the universe as stark and unique.

22. Amazing Spider-Man #617
Marvel - March 2010
Writer - Joe Kelly
Artist - Max Fiumara
When the Gauntlet event began in Amazing Spider-Man at the start of 2010, it felt like a gimmick; something to bring back old villains and keep Spider-Man engaging for readers who were buying the book three weeks out of every month. It became clear, though, with this issue that the Gauntlet was more than just a gimmick, it was a dedication to the villains of the past. Focusing on the original Rhino, and the newer, deadlier Rhino, this issue shows us a super villain who has become human, despite every fibre of his being pointing him in the opposite direction; it's a rare thing to care about a villain as bland as the Rhino, but somehow this issue captures the emotions perfectly; there was even a sequel issue, reverting the Rhino back to his brutal ways, which was painful to read given the torment he endured to get to that point.

21. Jonah Hex #50
DC - February 2010
Writers - Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti
Artist - Darwyn Cooke
Darwyn Cooke is a God among comic book artists; his style evokes the DC animated cartoons, while also drawing on a realistic, almost illustrious view of the world, but somehow it manages to be one of the most engaging styles of the modern era. This anniversary issue of Jonah Hex tells a complete story, chronicling one of the most brutally emotional periods in Hex's life, and Cooke draws the marvellous script with pin-point precision and a sense of grandeur and reverence for the material. There is nothing he can't do, and this issue illustrates that point perfectly.

Next: 20-11

Sunday, 13 February 2011

The 200 Best Comics of My Lifetime (The Last 20 Years): 40-31

40. Superman/Batman #26
DC - June 2006
Writers - Sam Loeb, Jeph Loeb, Audrey Loeb, Allan Heinberg, Brad Meltzer, Brian K. Vaughan, Joe Casey, Joe Kelly, Joss Whedon, Mark Verheiden, Paul Levitz & Richard Starkings
Artists - Art Adams, Carlos Pacheco, Duncan Rouleau, Ed McGuinness, Ian Churchill, Jeff Matsuda, Jim Lee, Joe Madureira, John Cassaday, Joyce Chin, Michael Turner, Mike Kunkel, Pat Lee, Rob Liefeld & Tim Sale
This is an issue that deserves recognition if only because of the stunning influence it had on the comic book industry. It's a dedication to the life of Sam Loeb, son of regular Superman/Batman writer, Jeph Loeb, who died of cancer; the story is his invention, and it's a showcase of talent, breaking contracts to do this charity issue, that bring it to life following his death. If you don't feel your heart break while reading this issue, you may have question whether you have a heart at all.

39. Strangers in Paradise #1
Antarctic Press - 1993
Writer - Terry Moore
Artist - Terry Moore
This is the book that started the greatest indie phenomenon of the last twenty years; Terry Moore's masterpiece about two best friends, and their relationship throughout their lives, became one of the most powerful, emotional comic books ever published. This issue introduces us to Francine and Katchoo and also gives us a look at the harsh nature of break-ups in a totally serious, and shocking way.

38. The Flash #0
DC - October 1994
Writer - Mark Waid
Artist - Mike Wieringo
As far as single issues of Mark Waid's Flash run go, this one takes the prize as the most enjoyable and accessible of the bunch, which is strange as it ties in to both the big Flash #100 arc, but also into the long forgotten DC Universe event, Zero Hour. It's a great look at how Wally West has evolved as a character and shows him as truly one of the greatest heroes in comic books; every page is fantastic, and it's still one of the best issues of the Flash I've ever read.

37. Hellblazer #46
Vertigo - October 1991
Writer - Garth Ennis
Artist - Will Simpson
How do you truly destroy your readers at the end of a story arc and make them see you as the greatest writer the premiere Vertigo series has ever known? You have John Constantine overcome the threat of the Devil and defeat death, overcoming the threats that have been thrown at him over the last six issues, and then just as hope is restored, you kill off his newest friend; someone he got close to, not realising he would be around long enough to mourn over them. It's harrowing stuff.

36. Hellboy: The Corpse & The Iron Shoes
Dark Horse - January 1996
Writer - Mike Mignola
Artist - Mike Mignola
Looking back, the days when Mike Mignola wrote and drew every Hellboy story were the golden era for the character; this double-feature one-shot illustrates perfectly just how outstanding Hellboy could be as a book. The second story may have faded into obscurity, but the first, The Corpse, is one of the most memorable Hellboy adventures ever printed, to the point where elements of the story were incorporated into the first feature film just to meet fan demand.

35. Invincible #12
Image - April 2004
Writer - Robert Kirkman
Artist - Ryan Ottley
Nobody saw the twist in the first year of Invincible coming; it was shocking to discover that Invincible's father, the trusted and beloved Omni-Man was actually an invader sent to conquer the planet. While this revelation was months old by this point in the story, it was the conversation between Invincible and Omni-Man that makes this one so special, as the father attempts to justify his actions to the son; the ensuing fight was arguably the most brutal superhero battle ever published, and served as an example of just how mature Invincible could become when necessary.

34. Gotham Central #10
DC - October 2003
Writer - Greg Rucka
Artist - Michael Lark
Gotham Central was an example of just how fantastic a book set in the DC Universe could be, even without the constant presence of superheroes in the stories. Focusing on the Gotham City Police Department it presented us with a brutal and realistic look at the world of police officers in a strange world filled with super-powered criminals. This issue, the final part of the award winning Half A Life arc, deals with a confrontation between Renee Montoya and her obsessive stalker, Two-Face, and is one of the rare issues to feature a major appearance by Batman, which comes as a wonderful shock, and fills the story with a sense of tension and fear missing from many of the other instalments.

33. Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 2) #36
Marvel - December 2001
Writer - J. Michael Straczysnki
Artist - John Romita Jr.
This is one of the most brutal and powerful comic books ever published, focusing on Spider-Man's reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City. It's one of the most poignant comic books of all time, but while it's here based on it's merits and impact, it is also the first implication that JMS may not be the best writer for Spider-Man or, indeed, any Marvel characters as he demonstrates a total lack of integrity when it comes to writing characters like Doctor Doom, whose reaction to the disasters would not be one of sadness and self-reflection.

32. JLA #1
DC - January 1997
Writer - Grant Morrison
Artist - Howard Porter
This was the moment that comic books began to be redefined for the 21st century; in fact, without this issue, I would go so far as to argue that a vast majority of comic book readers would not be the slightest bit interested in Batman or Superman right now. Grant Morrison and Howard Porter's tale of a new group of heroes emerging to save the world, only to be revealed as threats to both the JLA and the human race as a whole, was engaging and original; plus, the final page reveal of Batman is something borrowed numerous times since to gain a sense of power and menace and draw people in for the next issue.

31. Daredevil (vol. 2) #81
Marvel - March 2006
Writer - Brian Michael Bendis
Artist - Alex Maleev
With their final issue on the title, Bendis and Maleev made the conscious decision to completely ruin Matt Murdock's life. In the wake of the Murdock Papers arc, the Kingpin's checkmate move is to force Ben Urich into an impossible situation that compromises Murdock's identity, and places him in danger. This final issue reflects on that as Matt envisions a scenario where he escapes to France with his wife, only to end up in a final showdown with Bullseye; in reality, though, he remains trapped and imprisoned in a maximum security prison, alongside his enemies.

Next: 30-21

The 200 Best Comics of My Lifetime (The Last 20 Years): 50-41

50. Spawn #1
Image - May 1992
Writer - Todd McFarlane
Artist - Todd McFarlane
Spawn is where, for me, modern comics began; it was always the series people say you should have been reading in the early '90s, and looking back it is still a monumental achievement. It has it's flaws, certainly; the characters feel underdeveloped and the dialogue is outrageously over-bearing and unnecessary, but as an example of what comics could do, it is unrivalled.

49. Johnny the Homicidal Maniac #3
Slave Labor - January 1996
Writer - Jhonen Vasquez
Artist - Jhonen Vasquez
Johnny the Homicidal Maniac is one of the most disturbing, dark humour series ever produced, and the third issue is the prime example of just how frightening the book could become. The issue's main focus is Johnny rescuing the child, Squee, from a paedophile and the horrific acts that come out of this event; this, alongside the various other vignettes make up a truly brilliant piece of comic book.

48. JLA #14
DC - January 1998
Writer - Grant Morrison
Artist - Howard Porter
This issue of JLA was a true example of the extent of Grant Morrison's genius, as he propelled us into the future to see a world where Darkseid had defeated the JLA and taken over. It was a brutal portrait of a nihilistic future, and the final showdown between Darkseid and the members of the JLA is brutal and unforgiving.

47. Wolverine #66
Marvel - August 2008
Writer - Mark Millar
Artist - Steve McNiven
The Civil War team of Millar and McNiven reteamed in 2008 to bring the world "Old Man Logan," a portrayal of Wolverine in the distant future, in a world where the villains united and crushed the superheroes. It's essentially a superhero version of Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven," and the first chapter shows a changed Wolverine, on the start of a journey to reignite his brutality.

46. Chew #1
Image - June 2009
Writer - John Layman
Artist - Rob Guillory
Chew has become one of the best Image books being published right now, thanks to it's awesome creative team and it's insanely fun and original concept. The adventures of FDA agent Tony Chu in a world where chicken has been outlawed, is an immensely fun romp and the characters come to life thanks to Rob Guillory's insanely good cartoony artwork.

45. Batman: Gotham Noir
DC - 2001
Writer - Ed Brubaker
Artist - Sean Phillips
An Elseworlds one-shot focusing on a noir version of Jim Gordon was a fantastic concept, even before Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' names are attached to it. The idea of Gordon being a gumshoe and encountering the various Batman characters in fragmented, realistic forms was an incredible one, and the execution here is absolutely incredible.

44. Detective Comics #854
DC - August 2009
Writer - Greg Rucka
Artist - J. H. Williams III
This comic book was a long time coming; the ever-delayed introduction of Batwoman into the Batman family, having been given the starring role in Detective Comics following Batman's demise in Final Crisis. The story isn't the real draw here, though it's fantastic; the art is the dominant factor, with J. H. Williams III expanding the canvas of the comic book and turning this from storytelling into redefinition.

43. Planetary #3
Wildstorm - June 1999
Writer - Warren Ellis
Artist - John Cassaday
Every issue of Planetary was fantastic in the early days of the run, and the third issue is a prime example of just how vibrant and original the series could be. We follow the adventures of a ghostly police officer seeking revenge on those who murdered him; it's a great concept and when you throw in the main characters of the series, Snow, Jakita and Drummer, it becomes even more compelling.

42. Scalped #35
Vertigo - March 2010
Writer - Jason Aaron
Artist - Danijel Zezelj
Sometimes the best issues of Scalped are those that divert from the main thread of the series, like this issue which focuses on an elderly couple living out in the wilderness, completely separate from any of the characters we've met before. To show the brutality of life on the Rez through their eyes is a brilliant move, and it highlights the humanity that this series sometimes lacks due to it's various hate-fuelled characters.

41. New Avengers #1
Marvel - January 2005
Writer - Brian Michael Bendis
Artist - David Finch
This was the true start of everything great Brian Michael Bendis was going to pump into the Marvel Universe over the next five years. There's set-up here for stories that wouldn't happen for nearly half a decade, and the line-up on the soon-to-be formed Avengers team within is genius. This comic book changed things, and made Marvel comics a lot more fun. On the downside, it also brought the Sentry into continuity and everyone hates him, but this issue is almost devoid of that, as he doesn't turn up until the final page.

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