So one of my roles here at Ghosts Of The Stratosphere is that of “idea man”. Andy does all the heavy lifting, hosting and putting together the shows; Chad is charming and witty. and makes us worth listening to. Me? I have Dropbox document pages full of lists, versus, debates, exercises, and other goodies that I constantly badger on about using for future shows. I think of things at a much faster rate than we can ever get to them in recording, though, and then I just get all antsy because I want gratification immediately, damn it! Come on, why aren’t we yet talking about the 10 best comic book actors or which characters you would call upon for your Cabinet if you were the President of a comic book universe?!
That said, I’ve been itching to cover this particular idea for a while now. I love fights and I love the funny, but comics are best to me when they make you FEEL. I remember reading the last issue of the six-part Spectacular Spider-Man series “The Child Within” as a boy and being struck because it was different than what I thought comics could do. I was driven to launch into a tirade to my mother about how emotional and smartly written and powerful it was, only for her to dismiss me and declare all comic books are too immature and silly to make you feel like that.
If there is anything the subsequent thirty years of comic reading has shown me, it’s that she was absolutely wrong.
And with my having a blog due this week, weh-heh-hell, why not just pose a teaser version of this list here? Don’t worry… I’m going to press on the other Ghosts to cover this in depth on an episode of our shows, but for now, I’m going to let you in on what some of my nominees would be for the Top Moments In Comic Book History That Will Break Your Heart.
Before we start: Honorable mention to the aforementioned Spectacular Spider-Man run, from The Child Within through the death of Harry Osborn. That stretch was what taught me comics can worm their way inside your soul and inspire you.
5) Kingdom Come #4: Captain Marvel Makes His Choice
Kingdom Come is full of moments. Moments of inspiration. Moments of dread. Moments of hopelessness and moments of heroism. It’s a book where I can picture some of the most powerful pages in my head and instantly experience the way they affected me the first time I read it.
The “big fight” of Kingdom Come is Superman being countered by a brainwashed Captain Marvel while the old and new guard metahumans scorch the Earth with their struggle. But with a nuclear warhead falling towards all of Earth’s superbeings, Superman begs Marvel to decide the Earth’s fate. Superman knows everything to this point has been brought on by his decisions, and he is torn over whether he should stop the bomb or let it save the planet from the war he has caused. In that moment, Marvel breaks through the mind-control inflicted on him for years and sacrifices himself to leave a better, healing world. Self-sacrifice is usually a moving moment, but Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s handling of this scene is unimpeachable. The realization dawning on Billy Batson’s face, and the line… “And when he cries… seven thunders utter their voices”. Wow.
4) Astonishing X-Men #24: Kitty is Gone
Joss Whedon wasn’t just going to give us this one, huh?
Twenty-four issues of the best non-Claremont X-Men comic ever made (arguably, the best X-Men comic ever made, no qualifier), and he just couldn’t give us a happy ending. His run on the X-Men that brought Kitty Pryde back to the forefront, brought Colossus back from the dead, gave Scott and Emma’s relationship a heart and soul, introduced several great new characters, and built the team back up as heroes… it was never going to wrap everything up nicely. That’s too easy.
What we got instead was Kitty Pryde, fused to a giant space bullet shot towards Earth (and by-frickin’-god I love describing comic book plots sometimes because GIANT SPACE BULLET SHOT TOWARDS EARTH), using more of her power than she ever thought possible to save her world, even though it meant she would be stuck forever hurtling across the universe. The last words of the run: a narrated repeat of something Kitty told Colossus about grabbing the few moments of pure happiness you have in life before they are gone… just as she, too, is gone. Wow.
For an underrated moment, a few pages before she saves the world, Kitty makes peace with Emma Frost, the woman Kitty had spent 23 issues prior antagonizing and doubting and fighting. Both figuring they would ever see each other again, Emma offers to help ease Kitty’s pain. The latter refuses, but they finally earn each other’s respect.
3) Vision #12: The Death of Vision’s Wife
Tom King’s work on Vision is a masterpiece. Not a character I ever cared about, I did not expect to find this book engrossing at all. I heard it was good, saw it was short, and figured I would see what all the hubbub was about.
This is a book that doesn’t waste a word or a panel. Everything here is meticulously planned out from the very beginning to the bitter end. This is entirely likely the best book I have read in the 2010’s so far. Every line has meaning, and so many things that seem like throwaway bits end up of great import.
So it is with the first issue where Vision and his wife Virginia argue whether people should more often say “kind” when they use the word “nice”, and how “nice” is ultimately a nothing platitude.
This is all revisited in the end where, after stopping her husband from turning evil, Virginia is dying and says… well, just read it.
2) Astro City # 1/2: The Nearness Of You
A time-based supervillain travels through history to complete his greatest crime. The heroes of the world stop him and save the day. Out of this simple, dime-a-dozen comic plot idea, one of the best single issues in comic history is born.
Michael Tenicek dreams every night of a woman named Miranda, but he has never met her. He knows everything about her, but he’s never met her. He knows he loves her… but he has never met her. Until one night when he’s visited by the cryptic hero The Hanged Man to explain how the heroes’ victory over the time traveler slightly altered history… and caused his anguish.
In sixteen pages, Kurt Buisek tells as gorgeous a story of love and loss as you are ever going to find. And with the story wrapping up, Michael asks The Hanged Man what others do in his place… and the response is terrific and heart-lifting and depressing as hell all at once. “No one forgets”.
1) Green Lantern #55: The origin of Dex-Starr
Nope! Nope! Nope.
I can’t even talk about this book.
This stupid 6 page story about the stupid origin of a stupid cat in the stupid Red Lantern Corps. I can’t even do it.
I first read this story in the car with my wife and, I think, my sister-in-law, and this story friggin’ BROKE ME. All of these stories I mentioned today took an uppercut to my feels, but this damn tale punctured my soul.
“I find one who hurt you. I kill. I good kitty”. ARE YOU GOD DAMN KIDDING ME, COMIC BOOK?
So… whew. Okay. All right! I need to recover from this. I’m going to go watch the Clive Owen/Paul Giammatti movie Shoot Em Up, like, 30 times and see if that doesn’t get me back to normal. This list has given me sniffles.
In the meantime, what moments stick with you? What comic scenes punched through your ribs and gripped your heart tight and held it hostage? Let me know in the comics! Maybe we will mentioned them when I get Chad and Andy to drop their big he-man facade and discuss this topic on a future episode.
Until next time… take care!