Welcome back to the OFF THE RACK 100th edition spectacular!
When last we met, I covered the books that made up (more-or-less) the bottom half of titles I have reviewed for this series. That sounds negative, but I have reviewed a LOT of fantastic books, so even in the bottom half, there were a plethora of books I would and have happily read more than once.
What that means is that this week, we are getting forty-five truly wonderful books. What can I say? I have really good taste and choose really good books. Pretty much everything here comes highly recommended, just to varying degrees.
This summary list has been a lot of work, and I hope you appreciate it. In the meantime, we are back to the regular grind next week. Maybe in another hundred reviews, I’ll revisit this whole idea. Whoof.
Anyway, let’s kick it off:
45. X-Tremists – An interlude series as part of the Age of X-Man, this was better than it was ever supposed to be. Leah Williams built a gorgeous dynamic across just five issues, and it’s only flaw was that after AoXM, it never mattered. Read up on it here!
44. Daredevil: Love & War – Bill Sienkiwicz art makes everything better. It’s weird that Daredevil was the least relevant part of his own story, but the rest was good enough that it was forgivable. Read up on it here!
43. Return of Superman – I really enjoy this just for how important it was and for how it shaped the DC Universe for years in its wake. It gave us Superboy and Steel and Cyborg Superman. It was the catalyst for Parallax and Kyle Rayner over in the GL side of the universe. It was handled well and was so relevant. Read up on it here
42. Wolverine & Jubilee – I actually miss vampire Jubilee; it was a nice touch. I appreciate the way she was revived and returned to her mutant powers, but I thought her vampirism gave the character a nice touch. And anything with Jubes and Wolvie working together will get me every time. Read up on it here!
41. Winter World – An original dystopian world concept about eternal winter and a protagonist who is likable and realistic. And a badger! Read up on it here!
40. Bitch Planet – Angry space prison Handmaid’s Tale! This was cleverly written and timely in the modern era, but some of the non-prison scenes admittedly dragged. Read up on it here!
39. Walking Dead: Days Gone Bye – The very first trade of The Walking Dead, and DAMN have I reviewed a lot of books drawn by Tony Moore! He is a really talented artist, though. I regret nothing. Read up on it here!
38. X-23: Chaos Theory – A wonderful first half by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, followed by an all right second story. If they had extended the opening, this would be even higher. Read up on it here!
37. Sin City: Hell & Back – My favorite of the core Sin City stories is also probably the most humorous (when it wants to be) and the most hopeful. Read up on it here!
36. Booster Gold – Booster Gold and Blue Beetle! This story, taking place in the wake of 52 in which Booster was given a prominent role, embraces everything innocently fun about the pairing while mixing in the updated seriousness of Booster’s story. Read up on it here!
35. The Fix – This was a delightful Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber Image title about corrupt cops. As anything done by those two would be, it looked great and was a joy to read. It could have used some editing to tone down some more “look at what we can get away with” aspects, but they weren’t that bad. Read up on it here!
34. Flash: Blitz – Geoff Johns’ amazing run on The Flash built to this story, wherein the new Zoom–Hunter Zolomon–came into his powers and accosted Flash for not helping him undo the mistakes of his own past. Zoom felt like a ridiculously high level threat, and Scott Kolins’ pencils were a treat as always. Read up on it here!
33. The Tick – The very first Tick series starts off funny enough, but is a touch unpolished and amateurish. Edlund gets better before your eyes as it goes on, though. Read up on it here!
32. Death Note – A manga series that has an utterly engrossing and thrilling first half, but suffers badly from a lackluster second half when new characters come in who aren’t as built up or exciting. Read up on it here!
31. Iron Fist – Brubaker and Aja’s “The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven” story is the best Iron Fist book I have ever read, and the immortal weapons of the other cities are incredibly creative and appealing. There is a side issue that takes away from the flow of the main arc, but everything else is super. Read up on it here!
30. Death of Superman – The story only serves one purpose–it’s a big ol’ fight book that leads to an inevitable conclusion–but it does that one purpose as well as can be. There’s no depth or tact, but who needs tact when two behemoths are punching each other to death? Read up on it here!
29. Superboy – Picking up on his Teen Titans characters and dynamics, Geoff John’s short Superboy series has a ton of heart as Kon-El struggles with whether he is more Superman or more Luthor. I already loved the character long before this book, but it only expanded on that. Read up on it here!
28. Astro City: Local Heroes – While just “average” by Astro City standards, Astro City has some pretty high standards! This was a book that showcased Busiek’s specialty: making a superhuman world feel human. Read up on it here!
27. The Life & Times of Scrooge McDuck – So much better than it had any right to be. The last issue is pretty “meh” compared to everything else, but this made me laugh and choked me up. Read up on it here!
26. Amazing Spider-Man: Coming Home – JMS’ first arc from Amazing Spider-Man introduces Morlun, Ezekiel, and… totems. It really set the tone for a run that was mostly top-notch, with a few weird valleys thrown in. Read up on it here!
25. Secret Empire – I keep having to defend my love of this maligned book, but I will do it until I die. I thought this was markedly better than any other Marvel event this century! Read up on it here!
24. Batman: Holy Terror – Breyfogle art is always what I want from a Bat book, and this nuanced story is Pacing 101 because it tells a complete and engaging tale in just 50 pages.
23. Batgirl of Burnside – This reimagining of Barbara Gordon in the new 52 was a breath of fresh air that made the character instantly more appealing to a younger and female audience. The art was tremendous, and the story was a great jumping on point. Read up on it here!
22. Generation X vol. 2 – I wish, I Wish, I WISH this book was still running, as Christina Strain put so much love into it and made the characters feel alive. This was a gone-too-soon book that I dearly miss. Read up on it here!
21. Monstress – A beautiful world created by Liu and Takeda with an intricate mythology and growing characters. Read up on it here!
20. Batman: Dark Victory – The follow up to the unimpeachable Long Halloween plays a LOT of the same notes, but in a way that feels like a worthwhile follow up rather than just playing the hits. The Alfred/Dick Grayson scene is one of the best Bat-moments ever. Read up on it here!
19. Superman: Hunter/Prey – I irrationally love this book, and have talked my cohosts into doing it for a future Read Pile on the show. I honestly can’t wait to gush on it. It’s JUST another Superman/Doomsday beat-em-up, but there is a dearth of character here and some marvelous ideas. Read up on it here!
18. Black Cat (manga) – One of my favorite manga series that isn’t too deep and is just a fun read. At 20 volumes, it gets in and gets out without overstaying its welcome. The characters are so lively and diverse, too. Read up on it here!
17. Generation X vol. 1 – Scott Lobdell’s next-gen take on Claremont’s New Mutants was this 1990’s title that showed a new batch of younger pre-X-Men getting their education in. The Banshee/Emma dynamic was handled well, and everything worked. It managed to be funny and touching and intense. Read up on it here!
16. Hawkeye – Fraction and Aja’s acclaimed Clint Barton and Kate Bishop vehicle featured some of the cleverest art and ideas you will see. It reinvented a character who’d been around for decades and made Kate a prominent Marvel star. Read up on it here!
15. Superior Foes of Spider-Man – So. Damn. Funny. Lieber’s art is beyond perfect for this series, and Spencer’s twisting narrative that keeps you from knowing what is ACTUALLY going on until the very end is engrossing. Read up on it here!
14. Daredevil: Born Again – This just has some of the best LINES in comics, and Miller had his sense of timing and moment down-pat here. The last issue is bizarre and feels like it belongs in another book, but everything until then is gravy. Read up on it here!
13. Azumanga Daioh – A comic strip collection, this always felt a bit odd-man-out to me, but this book is laugh-out-loud hilarious. Read up on it here!
12. Dragon Ball – What a malleable story that ends with almost an ENTIRELY different tone than the one it starts with. You see its growth in real time as Toriyama shifts his perspective and where he wants to go with Goku. Read up on it here!
11. Superman: Secret Identity – Stuart Immonen’s art is phenomenal, and the story is wonderful as Kurt Busiek tells a Superman story in our real world (mostly). I waited far too long to read this, and I regret it. But I’m glad I eventually got to it. It’s a bit TOO cliched in some moments (even though that is the point), but I can’t bring myself to care. Read up on it here!
10. Rurouni Kenshin – Sure the creator is a scumbag, but this is still an incredible journey of a sympathetic protagonist and his friends as they meet larger-than-life foes. Read up on it here!
9. Spider-Man: The Child Within – There are less a dozen comics I have read in my life–MAYBE four?–that changed what comic books meant to me, and this early Spectacular Spider-Man arc by JM DeMatteis and Sal Buscema was the first such gem. It made a ten year old me realize that comics could have real emotional weight and that as a reader, it was okay to CARE about these characters (CARE-acters! It’s RIGHT IN THE WORD). Read up on it here!
8. Hellboy In Hell – After what I felt was kind of a lull in the last few Hellboy collections, Mignola came out swinging when he sent the titular character to the afterlife. Mignola’s hell was no less vibrant than his pre-death realms, and a “I just want to drink in peace” Hellboy is the best kind. Read up on it here!
7. Batman: The Long Halloween – My favorite Batman story ever published. Tim Sale’s art is striking, and Loeb’s mystery story reinvents some of Gotham’s lesser appreciated characters. This is the very best combination of Batman as a detective and as a street-level super hero. Read up on it here!
6. Savage Dragon – When Image comics initially formed, I read several of the introductory titles, but none was I more excited for than Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon. And it turned out that Larsen had the most passion for his character, building a strong legacy as an independent creator and developing a rich world around the titular Dragon. Read up on it here!
5. Superman: For The Man Who Has Everything – The book that changes for me every time I read it. Alan Moore’s Superman tale is heart-wrenching, layered, and subtly focuses on some of the best aspects of The Man of Steel (his alien/immigrant nature). Read up on it here!
4. Maus – Even as someone who thinks that comic books don’t get enough respect for what they are, Maus feels “bigger” than the medium to me. It’s just so powerful in its subject matter, so brilliant in its gimmick, and so heartfelt in its deeply personal story. Objectively, it might be the single greatest story ever committed to comic format. Read up on it here!
3. Astonishing X-Men – Joss Whedon and John Cassaday reinvigorated the X-Men universe with a 25 issue storyline that is possibly the best X-tale ever written, and in a world of Dark Phoenix and Days of Future Past and God Loves, Man Kills, I don’t say that lightly. Read up on it here!
2. Stan Lee Presents: The Amazing Spider-Man – This mass market sized reprint of Stan and Steve’s first several Spider-Man stories stands not only head-and-shoulders over everything else from its era, but in the annals of the best and most complete comic book stories of all time. For a Silver Age comic, there is a lot going on here! Read up on it here!
52 – An odd choice for the top of the heap, but I love and re-read the entirety of 52 with great regularity. The story of DC’s missing year is such a blast, and the focus on so many of DC’s lesser characters is always where that company shines. There are no weak arcs in the bunch, and most of them are downright fantastic. Read up on it here!
That’s it. Man… now I want to dig back in to some of those books. I still haven’t read volumes 2 or 3 of Monsters… what’s my problem? I’ll have to use this article as an excuse to finally crack those open.
Anyway, that’s my loopback at the first 99 books of this series. Where do you stand? What is in the wrong tier? What are your thoughts on some of these? Let me know in the comments. I, meanwhile, have to catch back up and get more review written!
Until next time… take care!