A couple weeks back (holy crap when did it become late September) I got an email from the excellent Steve Morris (of The MNT, CBR, and Shelfdust) asking me if I’d be interested in contributing to an experiment he’s doing. He hasn’t posted the results yet so I don’t want to go into too much detail, but ultimately what he asked of me was for my top ten comics. Specifically top ten issues of comics, not graphic novels or arcs or trade paperbacks even.
Cue semantics crisis. I know what my favorite comics are, but I can only identify them by arcs. Maybe there’s a one shot here or there but it’s a real struggle to think of comics that I love that are single issues rather than two to ten jammed together to make a cohesive story. Single issues of comics are hard to craft, they’re beholden to so many different influences and short enough that they fall out of your head a lot faster than a 300 page book might.
But what I was really hung up on was the idea of a top ten. Did that mean my personal ten favorite comics? Did it mean the ten I think are mandatory reading for all comics lovers? Is it the ten comics I wish more people read? None of that seems particularly helpful to anybody, if I’m honest. There are a lot of “required reading” comics, those books that were hugely influential to the industry in so many ways, that I would never demand (in some cases, would never even suggest) people read. Do you need to read The Killing Joke and Frank Miller’s triptych of suffering in order to understand modern Batman comics? No, absolutely not. Does having a baseline knowledge of what those books covered help? Yeah, probably.
So after thinking about it way more than I should have, I landed on my own personal criteria for what I would include in a top ten list:
It has to be easily accessible.
It has to be a comic I would happily encourage someone to pay money for, let alone read.
It has to be able to at least vaguely be able to stand alone as a single issue.
It has to demonstrate in some way why I think comics are so great and what comics are capable of.
That fourth one is really loosey goosey, but I couldn’t think of a better way to put it. I love converting non-comics folks to enthusiastic comics readers. I love watching people who’ve only ever read cape-and-cowl stuff from DC or Marvel pick up something way outside their comfort zone and be blown away by it. And really, that’s what I’m talking about. I want a comic that I can hand someone and even if they’ve never read a comic before they’ll have an emotional reaction and want to read more.
So here’s my list:
Pluto: Urasawa x Texuka Act 21: Uran’s Search (this is in volume 3 of the collected manga)
Bitch Planet #6
All Star Batman (2017) #13
Lady Killer #5
Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth
DC Bombshells #12
Batgirl (Vol 4) Annual #2
Of course, there were a slew of honorable mentions. These all fell off for a variety of reasonsons, either because they didn’t exactly fit the format of the request or because I honestly can’t count to ten and thought I needed more.
Russian Olive to Red King
Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love #1
Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? (Batman #686 and Detective Comics #853)
With one or two exceptions, these aren’t from my favorite series of all time, and they certainly aren’t the issues that mean the most to me, personally (off the top of my head Batman (2011) #27 is probably pretty high up there). It doesn’t even approach how much I adore webcomics and graphic novels have been left out of the conversation almost entirely. But they are comics I would give to someone and say “This is why I dedicate so much of my time and energy and love to this medium. Please spend a half hour with this.”
And really, that’s the best part of my job as both a reader and a reviewer. Sharing a book with someone and saying “I like this, I hope you like it too.”