Books, Comics

The Top Ten* Superhero** Comics*** of All Time****

*       Alan Moore Homage, and a possible 11th title in this list.
**     Limited to the two mainstream companies that have copyrighted the word.
***  Which have been collected into self-contained collections referred to, but not necessarily all the time, as graphic novels.
***  Temporally located around the turn of the 20th century.

Raja Sen wanted me to list my top 10 superhero comics. I looked up a list I had done a few years ago for Men’s World magazine, and decided that nothing in it deserved to change, except for some of the accompanying text.


Sleeper A nifty mash-up of noir intrigue and super-villainy, Sleeper is Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips’ story of a covert operative within the ranks of a criminal organization, whose dual life takes its toll on his moral judgement, his interpretation of right or wrong becoming skewed as he is manipulated as a pawn between the warring organization and the government. Crime fiction, except super powers are involved.This is one of the rare superhero graphic novels that blend costumed characters with gritty street-level realism and manages to make the combination work without dissolving into excessive grimness or parody.

The Brubaker/Philips team have worked on numerous collaborations, straight-up crime fiction or mash-ups with other genres – check out FataleCriminal and the new ongoing Fade-out.

hitmanbatman1 hitmanbatman2

Hitman – For a writer who claims to hate superheroes, Garth Ennis sure knows how to write a classic superhero title. Hitman, featuring a happy-go-lucky assassin who obtains telepathic powers and uses them to kill supervillains is a complete revelation. This overlooked gem of a comic, within a span of sixty chapters, transformed itself from an irreverent laugh riot poking fun at mainstream icons like Batman and Green Lantern into a blood-soaked tale of friendship and sacrifice.

This series also features Dogwelder, possibly the greatest superhero ever created on any medium.

Dogwelder 1



Ultimates – Remember the first time Samuel L Jackson made an appearance at the end of Iron Man? That scene would never have happened without The Ultimates. Hell, nearly every bit of characterization of the characters in the Marvel movies was based on this series, a modern-day reworking of the popular Marvel supergroup The Avengers. Scottish writer Mark Millar interpreted the superhero phenomenon as a military project led by the United States army, and gave rise to a number of startling variations of familiar characters – Captain America as a duty-bound soldier trapped in the idealism of the ’40s, Giant Man as a wife-beater, Thor and his thunder-god ramblings as a sign of possible insanity, and Hulk as a sex-crazed cannibal. It could have been cheap schlock, but two things – Bryan Hitch’s magnificent cinematic artwork and Millar’s liberal use of the contemporary political climate elevates Ultimates from a Michael Bay ripoff to a tome worth of the ages.

There was a sequel (pretty good!), another (really bad!) and a bunch of other sequels (oh good lord!). They had creative names such as Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates, All-New Ultimates, and Avengers vs New Ultimates. Whether you choose to read them is entirely up to you, but please don’t expect me to sympathize.


Marvels/Kingdome Come The reason these two titles are tied is not because they both feature the painted art of Alex Ross. It’s because each graphic novel, one from Marvel, the other from DC, uses Ross’s art to imbue their respective universes with an amount of gravitas. While Busiek’s script for Marvels dealt with key events in the lives of the superheroes through the eyes of a photojournalist, Mark Waid wrote of an alternate future where heroism was all but dead, and it would take earth’s retired superheroes to avert the destruction of all humanity. Marvels and Kingdom Come both celebrate the iconic nature of superheroes, and you cannot help but mention both of them in the same breath.

Sometimes I get the feeling that these two series are exercises in fan-service for readers who grew up in the 60s and 70s. Other times, I marvel at the fact that long before the movie industry got their act together, Alex Ross’s art was the closest you got to seeing these characters as real people.

Starman  What made James Robinson and Tony Harris’s Starman so special was the way it honored the long and checkered heritage of the character ( there had been five versions of Starman over 5 decades), and at the same time showed the evolution of a novice underdog into someone worthy of taking up the family mantle. Over the course of 81 chapters, Jack Knight – the son of the original Starman of the 1940s. A hero who refuses to wear a costume because he finds super-heroics at odds with his day job, a regular joe who finds friendship in the most unlikely places and a man who travels across the universe (and through time) for his love.

According to the contract between DC and James Robinson, the character of Jack Knight cannot be used in any subsequent stories without Robinson’s explicit permission. This is one of the rare instances when a comic company’s trademarked character is reserved for exclusive use for a writer.


All Star Superman – They said Superman was boring and unhip, too noble to be taken seriously. It took Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s epic saga to elevate this age-old superhero to the glory he rightfully deserves. All-Star Superman embraces the silly Silver Age elements of the Superman mythos – the bumbling secret identity, the curious girlfriend, the evil nemesis –  and transforms them into a poignant, engaging saga of a god-like being who sees the potential in humanity and serves as an inspiration to everyone. This twelve-part series is possibly the Superman story ever written – and drawn.

Artist Frank Quitely’s pencilled work was directly used to print the comic, without a traditional inker. The digital coloring was done by Jamie Grant under specific instructions from Quitely, which gave the comic a distinctive glow and highlighted every bit of the artist’s detailed art.


Daredevil: Born Again  When Frank Miller, once the regular penciller for Daredevil, was invited back to work for Marvel in 1986, he crafted an elegant story of the crimefighter’s greatest defeat, and his greatest triumph. Drawn by artist David Mazzuchhelli in a sleek, minimalist style, ‘Born Again’ is a story that borrows equally from American crime fiction and Christian theology. It pits Daredevil in a no-holds-barred struggle against the Kingpin, a crime lord and arch-nemesis who discovers his secret identity and decides to destroy his reputation and his life.

Miller and Mazzuchhelli would team up again the same year for Batman: Year One, a look at Batman’s early career. Director Christopher Nolan borrowed a number of elements from Year One for his movie, Batman Begins.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns This was Batman’s finest hour. Donning his costume after 30 years of retirement, the Dark Knight fights mutant juvenile delinquents, has a final showdown with his archnemesis the Joker, and goes up against the US government by fighting mano-a-mano with Superman. Frank Miller and Klaus Janson’s story of an aged superhero’s comeback merged the cynicism of the Reagan administration and the paranoia of the Cold War with a twisted, media-centric worldview. It is one of the definitive Batman stories, an instant classic that has just gotten better and better with time, and has influenced – for good or for bad – every single Batman story that came after it.

Miller did a sequel to Dark Knight Returns in 2001, but a lot of story elements were changed post-9/11. The series was not so well-received because of its computer-generated coloring and idiosyncratic storytelling.

Miracleman 15

Miracleman What would it really be like if superpowered beings really walked the earth – the ways in which humanity might change, if society would ever be the same again. Alan Moore’s Miracleman answers these questions, and how! This sixteen-chapter storyline is a deconstruction of every superhuman cliche that has ever been worked into the page of a comic. By the end of his run, after you have had your brain seared by the concepts (including the harrowing visuals of destruction that follow an epic battle between Miracleman and his erstwhile protege), you will never look at another superhero comic the same way again.

The reason why Miracleman is not on many people’s radar is because it used to be out of print for nearly a decade, following legal issues about ownership of the character’s rights. Marvel comics are now reprinting the entire Moore and Gaiman run, bringing this classic series to a whole new generation.


Watchmen And then there’s this, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ towering achievement – a twelve-chapter Last Word on the very idea of the superhero, a story set in an alternate 1980s where Nixon still presides over the USA, and masked vigilantes walk the streets. A work so precisely structured that even today, two decades after its publication, there is still no other work in the medium that can challenge its presence on the top of any such list. All that is to be said about this series has been covered already – and if you still haven’t read it, well, shame on you.

And then there’s Before Watchmen, a series of ruthless moneygrabbing corporate comics terrible storytelling choices absolutely brain-damaged prequels that DC published 2 years ago, which were meant to convince the publishing industry that the franchise is bigger than a work of art. Needless to say, lessons were learnt and hasty retreats were beaten. Whew.


Comics you should not read: Shadowland.

Once every 6 months, I get that urge again. The need to sit my ass down with a pile of the latest in buzzword comics that I keep hearing about.

Buzzword comics, you ask?

Blackest Night. Shadowland. Siege. Dark insert-Marvel-title-here. Flashpoint. Final Crisis.

You know, the kind of stuff mainstream comics still keeps putting out, probably hoping that their latest offering will cause hordes of unbelievingly masses – the kind of sinners that do not read comics at all, or worse, read those fancy graphic novelly titles, or horror of horrors – manga – will suddenly discover a copy of Dark Avengers (not to be confused with Dark New Avengers, or Dark Mighty Avengers) in the spinner rack of their local bookstore. And then their eyes will pop and their hearts would beat faster, when they realize what they have been missing all along, at which point they burn their copies of Strangers in Paradise and Azumanga Daioh, and spend the rest of their lives finding out every single issue where the Avengers have appeared in, just so  they can understand Dark Avengers completely.

Yes, I probably went overboard with the sarcasm. But seriously?

Fuck. This. Shit.

My latest incursion into this buzzword comics mess was something called Shadowland. All I knew about it was that it deals with Daredevil being more and more miserable, which has kind of been the theme of every Daredevil comic since 1979 (incidentally, I was born that year. That does not relate to anything I am saying right now, but just thought I would put it out there.) Apparenly this is what happened – Daredevil suddenly figures out that he owns The Hand. Which sounds vaguely dirty, but what we’re referring to here is a medieval group of ninjas that’s been a thorn in Murdock’s path ever since Franky Miller did things his way, mashing up Hell’s Kitchen with repeated readings of Lone Wolf and Cub. Ninjas in the Marvel universe, just so you know, refer to human-looking characters that jump off rooftops and then die. They are also known for talking in genre-speak – the way someone from India thinks  a waitress’s speech patterns by watching True Blood, or an writer from the USA thinks a Ninja would sound like. Or, to put it more simply, Ashok Banker’s writing. Kind of like this.


Something as badly-written as Shadowland does not even require the kind of effort I am putting into explaining it, but let me see if I can break it down easily.

Everybody thinks there is a problem.












Yes, there is a problem. P.S The costume is now black.










Stop! Hammer-time! (Nothing like a fight sequence for plot development)











It's not his fault. He's just possessed.













The Japanese Hangover Part 2





















Oh yeah, and somewhere in the story, just to show how dark and edgy Daredevil has become, this happens.


















Yes. Nothing that says ‘serious comics’ like a big fat kill.

There’re a bunch of tie-in books too, like every self-respecting crossover title should have. Needless to say, they add nothing to the story except for some more convoluted posturing of various characters who nobody would give a shit about. Moon Knight? Power Man?

I hate to think that there are people paying for this crap, or that there will be actual paper wasted to reprint these books as hardcovers and then trade paperbacks. That a bunch of ‘creative’ people still get together to come up with storylines like this, and there are editors who allow dialog and plot twists like this to tell a story, in this Age of Postmodern Irony, shows a lack of storytelling sense 101. Rating: 4 stars, out of a possible 4000.


Comics, Movies

Why I hated Daredevil: the Movie

Last night, inspite of being tired beyond belief, I went and saw Daredevil. Some movies have to be seen before the critics get to me.

Not that I didn’t know it was a bad movie. I have been following the careers of comic-books-turned-into-movies with a great deal of interest, and more often than not, have been disappointed by how comic-characters, and storylines get tattered on screen. Ditto Daredevil! And that, despite being one of the rare movie adaptations that stick to established comic-book storylines without veering off towards the surreal, the mundane; or the bane of movie-making, directorial interpretation. (Nipples on Batsuits, anyone? )

Right now, this is a comic fan speaking, a guy who has been disillusioned once again by the Hollywood Machine, and wondering how on earth these guys managed to screw up, how they always manage to screw up a concept again and again, and how, I think, they will continue to do so.

So what went wrong?