This Thanksgiving season, the Paste comics crew is taking a deep, inquisitive gaze into our bookshelves, iPads and souls to pay thanks to the books that set us upon a lifelong love affair with an art form that gives so much more than it takes. What makes this medium so much more addictive to us? It could be the near-endless modern mythologies, the rotating cast of hyper-talented storytellers and artists, the sterling optimism of mainstream super heroics or the branching literary epiphanies from the indie library. (Also: it’s smarter. Comic books singularly engage both the visual and symbolic dimensions of our brains, leading to a far more complex, and arguably gratifying, deciphering process.)
For the next two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, each member of the Paste Comics Team will be taking a reprieve from basting turkeys and hiding their parents’ Josh Groban holiday albums to dive into their favorite comics of all time. Feature writer, reviewer and house provocateur Barry Thompson dives into a nostalgia well of nonsensical crossovers of mutants and flaming skeleton motorists, teenage serial killers and humanoid reptiles.
Paste’s Favorite Comics of All Time
Tobias Carroll, Contributor
Tini Howard, Contributor
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10. The X-Men & Ghost Rider: Brood Trouble in the Big Easy
Writers: Scott Lobdell, Howard Mackie
Artists: Jim Lee, Ron Wagner, Others
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Rife with bad '90s comics cliches though it may be, I defy anyone to cite a crossover that enthralled its era's pre-pubescent boys quite like the X-Men and Ghost Rider joining forces against insectoid Brood aliens in 1992. I'm thankful the endoparasitoid hordes invaded New Orleans, massacred the Thieves and Assassins Guilds and nearly transformed Noble Kale into their insidious ranks, because while my enthusiasm for comics experienced a peak around this point in history, this is the only story arc from that time that I remember.
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9. Kingdom Come
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Alex Ross
Publisher: DC Comics
I don't remember precisely when I first read Kingdom Come—an Elseworld's bookend to the DC Universe and sendup of the "dark," "gritty" superhero comics that defined the previous decade. I was definitely not old enough to pick up on the metacommentary. However, the slightly hokey gravitas of Superman, pleading with Batman to reunite the World's Finest duo, sure registered. Supes babbles, "When you scratch away everything else from Batman, what you're left with is somebody who doesn't want to see anybody die!" Mark Waid and Alex Ross effectively evolved my understanding of the Batman/Superman dichotomy from "cool guy/lame guy" into "two guys with a sh#tload of optimism and not much else in common."
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8. Earth X
Writers: Jim Krueger, Alex Ross
Artist: John Paul Leon
Back in high school, I recall initiating an unprompted and one-sided discussion regarding fat Spider-Man from Earth X with the first girl I formally dated, shortly before she decided to become my first official ex-girlfriend. Whether my fascination with Peter Parker's fluctuating weight helped wan whatever remained of her interest, I'll never know for sure. But we had already outlived our usefulness to each other. She needed a man who didn't care if Spider-Man was fat, but did know where to get halfway respectable drugs. I should've realized then that comics are more important than drugs and women—sadly, I wouldn't see the light until my mid-'30s.
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Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Darick Robertson
Publisher: Helix, Vertigo, DC Comics
I've occasionally wondered if, on some subconscious level, Spider Jerusalem influenced my decision to pursue a career in journalism. If so, Warren Ellis' cyberpunk reimagining of Hunter S. Thompson steered me in a direction toward the abysmal, and I am bitter because of this. Journalists in the real world don't get neato gadgets like bowel disruptor guns. Most of us don't even get famous by blowing off an assignment for Sports Illustrated to trip balls in the desert. We basically just type stuff and be poor. Being a journalist in the 21st Century is boring. But Transmet is light years in the opposite direction of boring, even though it lied to me, so that's good.
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6. Johnny the Homicidal Maniac
Writer/Artist: Jhonen Vasquez
Publisher: Slave Labor Graphics
Johnny hasn't become a major Hollywood film starring Johnny Depp, or even a slightly snuffy teen angst B-movie along the lines of The Doom Generation, because Jhonen Vasquez hates money. That's the only explanation that makes any sense. Behind all the wonton slicing and dicing, Johnny's a coming-of-age tale, in which the angry young man gradually and unconsciously formulates a strategy for existing. (Spoiler alert: Mass murder turns out to be a poor long-term plan.) I would also like to use this space to honor Vasquez's Fillerbunny series, because I greatly appreciate the reminder that even some of the people I admire have just the worst time management skills ever.
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5. New X-Men
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Frank Quietly, Others
For most Grant Morrison cultists, their first encounter with the guru occurred via The Invisibles or Arkham Asylum. But I found myself converted after his controversial, lauded, and ever-so-slightly twisted X-Men run. In the preceding years, one too many stories about Wolverine's mysterious past chilled my interest in Marvel's Merry Mutants. Morrison undid the damage by turning the franchise upside down, while miraculously retaining its essence. He even wrote a story about Wolverine's mysterious past that didn't bore the crap out of me.
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4. The Dark Knight Returns
Writer/Artist: Frank Miller
Publisher: DC Comics
"Okay, Barry, Paste wants sincerity with this list. No irony, no eclectic-for-eclecticity sake. So with that in mind, what's your favorite Batman comic?" "Um, well, with Killing Joke, Alan Moore took an unflinching inventory of Bats' relationship with the Jo-" "Shut up. What's your favorite Batman comic?" "Uh, well, Gerry Conway's run is underappreciated, and struck an elegant balance between the noir and camp elements of Gotham C-" "What's your favorite Batman comic?!?!?" "It's The Dark Knight Returns, okay?! Jeez…." "Thank you."
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Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: David Mack, Alex Maleev
Publisher: Marvel Comics
A handful of uncommonly edgy Daredevil tales from the '80s helped inspire the aforementioned industry-wide obsession with "keepin' it real,"—but Daredevil himself, oddly, failed to benefit. In the '90s, they put Daredevil in a stupid looking grey and blue motocross outfit and nobody complained because everyone was too busy buying 50 copies of X-Force #1. Luckily, in 1998, I would've bought any Marvel comic penned by the guy who made Clerks. Kevin Smith's "Guardian Devil" served as step one to a new Daredevil addiction. Under writer Brian Michael Bendis, The Man Without Fear reclaimed his rightful rep as the Greatest Marvel Superhero of Them All. We used to dismiss Daredevil as Spider-Man lite. Now we know that it is Peter Parker, as well as his numerous alternate reality counterparts, who is inferior.
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2. The Maxx
Writer/Artist: Sam Kieth
Publisher: Image Comics
I had aged out of Disney World's target demo by the time my parents scheduled the Thompsons' second trip to The Happiest Place In Florida. So while mom, dad and my sisters waited in lines and shook hands with actors who were sweating profusely inside oversize fiberglass orb heads, I stayed in our hotel room and caught up with The Maxx. I understand today that only the most insufferable, thankless teenager would sit out an expensive family vacation in favor of Sam Kieth's treatise on pop psychology and superhero deconstruction, but I regret nothing. Disney World sucks.
10 of 10
1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Writers/Artists: Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird
Publisher: Mirage Studios
I'm honestly not sure if my dad was ever really a TMNT fan, or if he bought the original trade paperbacks because Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird based bits of their "New York City" off what they saw out their windows in Northampton, Massachusetts. My dad has a weird nostalgic thing for Northampton. Regardless, the colorless sequence of Leo, Raph, Don and Mikey's first encounter with with The Foot prompted my earliest attempt at leisure reading. Today, I'm proud to say I understand the pictures and the words. I also get a little emotional during the final 20 minutes of 2009's straight-to-TV Turtles Forever movie, in which substantial chunks of that inaugural turtles story appear in full-on animated splendor.