Cloak and Dagger are the most basic opposites, light and dark. This is a common trope, and a simple but solid premise that allows the reader to accept these new characters without bogging down the story with exposition. As the story advances, the characters become more nuanced and interesting. Cloak is darkness. He must feed on the light of humanity to satisfy his cravings or suffer the maddening effects of hunger. If he does not feed, he will begin to consume his own humanity. Where Cloak is darkness and retribution, Dagger is light and forgiveness. She produces pure humanity in the form of daggers. These light daggers act as a jump start to give a person a chance to redeem themselves before Cloak enacts his more permanent form of justice. However, Dagger’s light is limited and thus can not redeem those too far gone nor can it totally satisfy Cloak’s hunger. In addition to seeking out the wicked, Cloak and Dagger must confront their own personal demons. In issue two, Dagger confronts a man whom she slaps across the room and states “My light knives are too good to waste on the likes of you!”. In retrospect she realizes that she acted without compassion. She must learn to control her emotions to give every person equal opportunity for redemption. Cloak begins to perceive himself as a burden on Dagger, causing him to spiral into a state of selfloathing and harm. Eventually banishing himself to the sewers in an attempt to not affect anyone instead of realizing the potential for good that he possesses. So enough about the series, why do I love it so much? Well let me tell you… Cloak is a badass. He is troubled and dark, and essentially everything he says is the basis of a death metal song. For example: “You have chosen your fate, scum of the street. Darkness seeks darkness. Let you soul now scream – as is greets a darkness greater than its own.” “I am shadow. I darkness deeper than any dungeon. I am called Cloak… and I hunger.” “There is only one law, detective, as this murderer of women and children shall soon discover… the law of retribution.” “I am not a man, detective. I am merely a being who exists from one day to the next – locked in a struggle between hunger and appeasing that hunger. But I have learned that if I am ever to again be a man – that hunger must be denied!” But his darkness dissipates in the presence of Dagger’s light. Both Cloak and Dagger deal with issues that I see in myself. The whole series provokes the idea that neither light, nor dark is the answer the the issues of humanity. Rather, it is a balance of good and evil.
Hasty scribbler on comics and culture
Batman: The Long Halloween #1
When I was a much younger geek I followed my older brother into reading comics; my pull list consisting mostly of random Superman stories and Chris Claremont’s sub-X-Men for DC Sovereign Seven. At some point my brother quit comics in spectacular fashion selling off most of his collection and giving away the rest. One book that I was able to salvage from the flames was Batman: The Long Halloween #1. For some reason unknown to me even now it would be another few years until I actually read the thing, but boy when I did was my mind blown. Here was a comic that showed me what comics could really do; that amongst the kapow-action there could be smart plots and shocking surprises, and it could all be delivered with the perfect grace of Tim Sale’s elegant art.
In retrospect it is probably that gorgeous Sale artwork that does a lot of the heavy lifting on an issue by issue basis, keeping things flowing and providing a sublime canvas on which the story is drawn, but I wouldn’t want to do writer Jeph Loeb out of some well-deserved credit either. Sure, when reading the book again the strange choices and dubious pacing are a little more obvious (mostly due to the villain-an-issue structure), but there is still an intrinsic magic to the concept and plot. This is a vision of Batman’s early career that picks up on the oft-quoted but very rarely shown fact that Batman is allegedly the world’s greatest detective and runs with it all the way to the goal line. There are clues and red herrings and mis-directions and it all comes together with a perfectly satisfying conclusion by the time the story is done.
Seeing the last three ‘good’ men in Gotham (Jim Gordon, Harvey Dent, and Batman) come together to instill law, justice, and order makes for a wonderful story and it’s perhaps not surprising that the best Batman movie is built on the same foundation. Speaking of films it is probably fair to say that this is the greatest Godfather comic book out there too, as it draws heavily on the Coppola film visually and the Puzo novel narratively. Again the concept shines through with a unique take on the superhero genre as Loeb takes the decision to examine the fall of traditional crime in Chicago-inspired Gotham as clown princes and other such masked super villains take over the city.
After reading that first issue I was hooked and many anxious shopping trips at local comics fairs and back issue parlours followed. It took me a while to pick up every part of The Long Halloween, but it was well worth all of the searching. Tim Sale has continued to deliver amazing work since then, but the Loeb/Sale partnership never yielded anything quite so perfectly formed (even the sequel Dark Victory lacks a certain something) and I think this would probably be my choice for best Batman story too. For me it remains the quintessential tale of the dark knight; it demonstrates his detective skills as well as his physical prowess, it features his greatest allies and most dangerous villains, it paints a vivid picture of Gotham as a living place and more than just the backdrop to random adventures, and overall it makes for a compelling and beautiful read. Even after all these years and all the comics since this is still how I see the Batman, and for that I am very grateful to Tim Sale and Jeph Loeb.
When Andrew invited me to do this piece, my first thought was ‘oh,
this is going to be hard to pick’. But then my second thought was ‘oh
wait, no it isn’t!’
Because probably the comic book ‘event’ that has the most sentimental
attachment for me and that also ensured my lifelong status as a
comic-book reader was an event called ‘Fatal Attractions’ in 1993,
which briefly crossed over all the X-Men titles of the time. I had
been reading comics a couple of years by then, and in fact the first
comic-book event that really had been a big deal to me was the
legendary Claremont/Lee ‘X-Men: Mutant Genesis’ storyline from two
years earlier – which would be regarded as the prequel to ‘Fatal
Attractions’. Released in 1991, that had been the event that had
relaunched the entire X-Men mythology and ensured that the X-Men would
become a multi-media sensation and cultural phenomenon in the 1990s
and beyond. That story, which was at the time the farewell masterpiece
of Chris Claremont (who had been so important to the X-Men for so many
years) not only breathed new life into the X-Men but also established
Magneto as the most complex, fascinating ‘villain’ in Marvel Comics.
These first three issues of the then new ‘X-Men’ title told the story
of a reclusive and somewhat retired Magneto being reluctantly drawn
back into the mutant crisis on Earth and once again coming into
conflict with Charles Xavier and the X-Men (after years of having been
‘on the good side’). The story remains probably the greatest ever
exploration of that crucial Magneto/Xavier dynamic that for so long
epitmosed the X-Men mythology, and it all builds to its epic climaxe
in X-Men #3 where Magneto is betrayed and killed by one of his own and
Professor X can only look on helplessly as his friend dies. Both as
the beginning of a new X-Men era and as the sign-off for Chris
Claremont, this was the absolutely perfect story and event. But then
two years later, Magneto ‘returned’ from death (note: he wasn’t
technically dead, it turned out) and we got an even more epic story
and Shakespearean tragedy with ‘Fatal Attractions’.
Even though I’d read some ‘crossover’ events already by then
(Operation Galactic Storm, the Infinity War, etc), there was nothing
that blew away my 13-year-old self more than this X-Men event did.
Crossing Excalibur #71, X-Factor #92, X-Force #25, Uncanny X-Men #304,
X-Men #25 and Wolveirne #75, this storyline set the bar up to a whole
new level. Dealing centrally with the return of Magneto, these comics
were an obsession to me for years. The writing, the character work,
the dynamics, it was all epic.
There were so many unforgettable moments; the funeral of Illyana
Rasputin, the emergence of the character ‘Exodus’, the epic
confrontatino between Magneto and Cable, the defection of Colossus to
Magneto’s side, and of course everything culminating in that
unforgettable showdown between Charles and Magneto in X-Men #25, with
Wolverine getting the adamantium brutally ripped from his body and
Charles breaking all of his ethical codes by psychically assaulting
Magneto and leaving him a braindead vegetable. It was – and still is –
utterly gripping stuff, full of poetry and resonance, as if some great
literary figure was suddenly writing X-Men comics. And godammit, those
bad-ass holograms on each of the covers still hypnotise me every time
I look at them, even twenty years later! The Havok hologram for
X-Factor #92 has to be seen to be believed!
I was about 13 when these comics came out, but I still go weak at the
knees every time I come across them in my old collection. I must’ve
read these issues over the years about as many times as I’ve watched
Empire Stikes Back or Return of the Jedi. They’re that good.
G.I. Joe A Real American Hero #21 (“Silent Interlude”)
I used to own a copy of this comic and to this day one of my biggest regrets is that I loaned it to a kid I knew and never saw it again.
Written by the legendary Larry Hama who crafted pretty much the entire series of over a hundred and fifty of these books for Marvel and ended up creating some of the most intriguing and definitely ahead of their time (and comic-medium) stories for what was meant to be just an add-on to a toy-line, this book is a prime example of what Hama and Marvel accomplished.
Simply put, this is a comic that has no dialogue.
None. Nada. Zip. Zero.
It starts off with Snake-Eyes (arguably either the coolest or most over-rated Joe ever) silently infiltrating a Cobra fortress in an attempt to rescue his comrade and beloved Scarlett. Meanwhile, in keeping with the less sexist tone of much of the series, Scarlett herself is busy extricating herself from the inside out quite capable – something that seems like nothing special until one considers how such things influence our minds as children and eventually as adults.
Each page was filled with tension and I would be on the edge of my seat each time I read this comic, devouring the artwork on each page as he made his way through, silently taking out guards and even facing down and defeating Storm-Shadow and his ninja’s before making an explosive exit with his target acquired.
I had read none of the other comics and came to possess this in the late 80’s as a little tyke, purely by chance and knew the Joe’s only through the less intense/hard-edged cartoon series. Within these pages though I found a level of intelligent, well thought out and engaging story-telling that would never have been expected and the lack of dialogue and using visuals is a concept that has burned itself into my mind to this day with thus far two of my own published comics being in a similar vein (sans dialogue) and must I admit that until making this list I never truly realised where that interest in purely visual story-telling had been born.