Hi, everyone, my name is Rob McClellan and I have the pleasure of being your guest host for the 85th Episode of Cool Comics in My Collection.
I’ve been reading comics since I could grab them off the spinner rack, and it’s a hobby I still maintain today. But, I want to take you down a slightly different memory lane than Ed usually travels, because I’m here to talk about my favorite comic medium: the limited series.
While I definitely appreciate a good ongoing series or graphic novel, I’ve always felt that the limited series was the pinnacle of the comic book world.
A good limited series can turn a languishing background hero into a rock star. It can redefine an entire genre, or launch a new series in grand fashion. And, above all, it has the benefit of telling a complete story. That hard limitation of only having a few issues somehow makes the creative team shine all the more.
A limited series can afford to take bold chances, both in art and story, where new styles and new directions can be vetted. Frank Miller’s cutting edge art style that so defined The Dark Knight Returns was test driven in the post-apocalyptic, chop-sockey limited series, Ronin. Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean cast tradition aside and brought super-heroes back to Vertigo with their defining, and beautiful, Black Orchid, showing the world that the prestige format shouldn’t be limited to Batman.
And, a nobody like Machine Man became my favorite Marvel character in 1985, when a young Barry Windsor Smith illustrated the heck out of Tom Defalco’s four issue 2020 cyberpunk story (yes, those are the four covers at the top — aren’t they gorgeous?).
From Red Tornado to Watchmen, limited series have been bringing the awesome to comics since 1982. There are a lot of ongoing series I pass on, but I’m always game to taking a chance on a limited series. Here are some of my all time favorites.
1. Superman: Secret Identity
Kurt Busiek is a writer who consistently hits it outta the park, and Secret Identity is no exception. Backed by the excellence of Stuart Immonen’s artwork, this story, for me, redefines Superman, because it dares to completely re-imagine Superman’s entire history. Here we have a normal kid in Kansas, who happens to be named Clark Kent (and is teased mercilessly for it), who just happens to find out that he’s got super-powers — just like Superman in the comic books. And just like that, while everything is the same, it’s all different. Here we get to follow a Clark that lives in the same world as us, who uses his super-powers not to fight villains from outer space, but to protect us everyday citizens. He meets a girl, named Lois… Choudhurry, and they start a life, have kids, raise a family. It’s a textbook example of taking the familiar and making it new, and this sleepy little Superman story has become my favorite.
2. The Longbow Hunters
For a long time, it’s seemed like Green Arrow had taken second fiddle to DC’s Batman and Marvel’s Hawkeye. As if there is only room in the DC universe for one non-super superhero. In 1987, Mike Grell took away the trick arrows, the arrow-car, the sidekick, and the secret cave and reinvented Green Arrow in a way only the creator of The Warlord and Jon Sable could – and that was the three issue limited series, The Longbow Hunters. Here an Oliver Queen at middle age relocates to Portland with his true love, Dinah Lance (Black Canary), and soon runs afoul of the Yakuza, the CIA, and organized crime. This three issue prestige format series brought Green Arrow out of the background and fully into the DC pantheon. I’ve read it a hundred times…
3. Jack of Hearts
I know what you’re thinking – Jack of Hearts? Yes. Definitely. In 1984, Bill Mantlo and artist George Freeman took the very definition of a D-List hero and turned him into a cosmic force to be reckoned with. Jack Hart was a typical throwaway character with an origin story so stupid it hurts me to say it (he fell into a vat of fluid… I know, terrible). Now possessed with an unlimited amount of personal energy, he has to be kept in a containment suit to keep from exploding. And, that suit just happens to look like a multi-colored playing card. Absurd, totally. Yet, somehow, these two talented gentlemen turned Jack Hart into the last chance to save the dying planet of Contraxia by using his power to rekindle their sun. Suddenly, this nobody is swooshed away from Earth and thrown into the political intrigue of an interplanetary species that might not want their planet saved. When taken away from Earth, the Jack of Hearts really shines, becoming one of the most powerful galactic heroes in the Marvel Universe. Sadly, Jack was ignored after his four-issue greatness, and nearly two decades later returned once again to D-Lister status. But, for one fleeting moment he was mighty – and if you blinked, you’d have missed it.
Thanks to the Annihilation story line that brought back Star Lord and formed the modern Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel has been enjoying a huge upswing in their galactic heroes. But, DC also had a forgotten space retinue and, in 1990, writer Howard Chaykin and artist Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez brought them all back in the three-issue prestige format series, Twilight. Tommy Tomorrow, the Manhunter, Star Rovers, Iron Wolf, Space Ranger, Star Hawkins – even Space Cabbie! A darker story (as one would expect from Chaykin), it was incredibly bold, and laid tremendous groundwork for a launch in the deeper galaxy – a Galactic Vertigo, if you will. Chaykin really gave this one his all, and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez provided, what I honestly feel, was the best artwork of his career. DC decided not to go into the far reaches of space, so all we have is this brilliant limited series, but for three issues that vast darkness shined so very, very brightly.
5. Aquaman (1986)
Aquaman was revitalized in the New 52 by Geoff Johns, and for that I will always be grateful. But, for a very long time, Arthur Curry was languishing. In 1986, writer Neal Pozner and artist Craig Hamilton brought a heck of story in four parts. Boldly ditching the long standing orange and green suit, the brought out a super cool “blue camouflage” costume that really worked (way better than that ’90’s gladiator thing). In an almost Shakespearean tale, Arthur is once again locked into combat with his brother, Ocean Master, who has scoured the oceans for a dark magic equalizer. Everything about this story, from the portrayal of magic to the emotional depths Arthur must reach, all blended together into one fantastic tale.
There are tons of stories that were runners up to these five, from Claremont and Miller’s Wolverine to Millar’s Starlight. So many times over the years a limited series brought forgotten heroes to the forefront, such as Elektra, Ragman, the Forever People, and the Inhumans. Some were pure flights of fancy, like All Star Superman, Ultras, Slash Maraud, Camelot 3000, and Lords of the Ultra-Realm. Others became serious contenders like V for Vendetta and From Hell.
So keep an eye out, the short runs may not get the huge marketing push, but their stories embody the very best about comics.
Are you a fan of the limited series? What’s you favorite?