Markley’s Fevered Brain: The Long Road

Wayne Markley

Wayne Markley


by Wayne Markley

Comic books have been around for well over a 150 years now in a variety of forms. So I thought I would devote this blog to creators that had long runs mostly writing, although a couple of these titles include the artist hanging with the writer for the whole run, or being a writer/artist. All the books I am going to discuss have all, or at least most, of their runs collected (or soon will be) so if you are up for the challenge, you will have weeks worth of reading. Also of note, these are all comic books, not comics strips, which had one creator for decades more often than not, with perhaps Hal Foster (Prince Valiant) and Charles Schulz’s (Peanuts) being to the most famous as well as having all of their work collected by Fantagraphics in multitudes of volumes.

Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four


First is Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s run on The Fantastic Four. Lee and Kirby’s run may be the most influential in comic book history. Not only did they do a 102 issues in a row together, plus annuals, they also defined the modern adventure comic. The early issues of the run are clearly them feeling their way and Kirby really does not find his footing till the early 30s. But by the time they got to issue 40 through 80, it is easily the greatest comic book in the world as the tag line claimed. Within issues 40-80 they introduced the Inhumans, Black Panther, Galactus, Silver Surfer, Annihilus, and so, so many more characters. And to be fair, in the early issues they introduced the Dr. Doom, the Skrulls, the Mole Man, re-introduced the Sub-Mariner, started the Hulk-Thing conflict, and much more) so it is not like the pre issue 40 comics were not as great, but to me, Kirby’s work bloomed by issue 40 and he evolved past his early style into what we think of “King Kirby.” All of these stories from the beginning are a fast paced adventure series with some of the best storytelling in the history of comics. The comics have been reprinted a number of times over the years, in a pricey but beautiful omnibus, and a large portion of the Lee/Kirby run has been collected in five Epic Collection, so far reprinting the first 87 issues and first six annuals, all in full color. Well worth seeking out.

Incredible Hulk

Incredible Hulk


Next is another Marvel book, but it is by a single writer. Peter David’s run on Incredible Hulk is, to me, one of the best runs on the character, as he wrote the book for 12 years with a number of artists, including such greats as Todd McFarlane, Gary Frank, Dale Keown, Eric Larsen, and many others. David wrote Incredible Hulk from issue #328-467. An amazing run. What I also think is so amazing in this run is what David was able to do with the character of the Hulk. While the Fantastic Four was mostly the Fantastic Four under Lee and Kirby (who also were the creators of the Hulk, by the way) Peter David took the traditional portrayal of the Hulk as the misunderstood monster and changed him to a number of different characters including a gangster, a leader of a super-hero team, and helped define the future of Marvel Comics with his Future Imperfect story (with the great George Perez). There are so many twists and turns in David’s run you will never know where the story is going. As with all of the titles in this blog, while any single issue may not knock your socks off, the entire run is amazing. David’s run has been collected in a number of trades called Hulk Visionaries: Peter David and these reprints were continued in Hulk Epic Collections Vol. 19-22. And there are also two omnibuses reprinting the early David issues.

The Flash

The Flash


Now we turn at look at what is one of DC’s longest and most creative runs, Mark Waid’s run on The Flash. The reason I picked this run over a number of other choices from DC Comics is I think that Waid’s Flash run had more influence on the history of the DC Universe than almost anyone else, and he never gets much credit for it. First off, there are seven trade collections collecting his run on the Flash. Waid wrote The Flash Vol. 2 from issues #62-#150 plus specials and annuals. Within his run, Waid introduced a huge amount of concepts that defined the DCU in later years. Perhaps the most important one being the Speed Force. He introduced Impulse, brought back Johnny Quick (and Jonnie Quick) and Max Mercury, and used the Rogues Gallery in an innovative way. I see this as closer to Fantastic Four as it is focused on one character and the stories are well thought out and are filled with foreshadowing and sub-plots. (While in David’s Hulk, the character of the Hulk was constantly changing). I think the art in both the Fantastic Four and Hulk runs was better than the Flash’s run. The art is very much the DC look of the ‘90s which does not appeal to me, but the writing is so strong it more than makes up for this perceived weakness. Some of the artists on the Flash included Greg LaRoque, Mike Wieringo (who was great), Sergio Cariello, Paul Pelletier and many others. A very good read, but the art style does not work for me most of the time, but still worth your time and money to read.

Cerebus

Cerebus


Finally I would like to briefly mention two creator owned books that have had amazingly long runs by a single creator. First off there is Dave Sim’s Cerebus. Dave Sim wrote and drew (often assisted by Gerhard) 300 consecutive issues of Cerebus. The whole series has been collected into 16 trade collections. Overall, Cerebus is a masterpiece, but there are a number of points where it goes up and down. The 300 issues tell the tale of an Aardvark’s life from his humble beginnings (as a parody of Conan) to an amazing look at politics and religion and even relationships and ends at Cerebus’ end of life. There is very little, if anything else in comics like this book. Clearly one man’s vision and opinions, which seem to change over the years as the series went on, but with the conclusion it perfectly reaches a satisfactory end. A long read, but so very good. (And Sim’s personality has tainted how good this work is over the years. So please do not hold what you may think of Dave Sim the person against the work).

Usagi Yojimbo

Usagi Yojimbo


Another long running series from a number of publishers but always written and drawn by Stan Sakai is Usagi Yojimbo. Usagi first appeared in 1984 and is still going strong more than 35 years later, currently being published by IDW. Usagi tells the tale of a wandering samurai in feudal Japan where he encounters a wide variety of characters from crooks, demons, princes, and, most importantly, friends. Sakai has created a whole world which feels like a place you know and love. Usagi is a good soul who you want to succeed even when the odds are overwhelming against him. Also, Usagi is perfect for all ages, is a great introduction to young readers, and would appeal to fans of Bone and Amulet. There are over 30 collections of Usagi stories so far. Of all the books mentioned here today, I think Usagi has the broadest appeal, and might be the most charming of all of the books I have written about.

Grendel

Grendel


I am not going to discuss it here, but in talking about long term visionaries it would be a crime not to mention Matt Wagner’s amazing Grendel. An epic tale covering 4000 years that is still going. If you want to read Grendel, please read the Grendel Omnibuses from Dark Horse as they reprint all the stories in sequence, they are in a linear timeline, while the stories when they were originally published were all over the map. (One story in the 1920s, the next in the year 3000, the next in the 1990s, etc.).

This is it for this blog. In comics it is not common for a creator to stay with a book for decades, or even 25 issues at this point, so my hat is off to all of these creators. The titles I have mentioned here are very different from one another yet all of them are great reads and will take a large chuck of your time to get threw them, but it is well worth the effort. Have you read any of these books? Is there a book by a single creator that you really enjoyed and I didn’t mention? (I know, Spawn and Savage Dragon). I would like to hear from you. I can be reached at MFBWAY@AOL.COM or on Facebook at Wayne Markley. All of the thoughts and words here are mine, but I am sure my esteemed editor, Roger Ash would agree with me about Usagi. (I would – Roger) As always…

Thank you.

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