Comics I Read: Marvel Top Five (ish)

I've spent a lot of time on DC's New 52 lately, and I'll probably continue to check in with them once a month, but I'm long past due to talk about my favorite Marvel titles.

My Top Five
Ultimate Spider-Man: It was the most daring, game-changing idea ever in the Ultimate universe: replace Peter Parker permanently as Spider-Man. (And no, I don't think they're ever going back. At least not with Bendis.) Instead, Brian Bendis and Sara Pichelli have created a hero for a new generation, and I'm really enjoying getting to know him. Miles Morales got his powers while Peter Parker was still alive, so Bendis wisely backs up the clock in #1 and shows us his story from the beginning. With #4, we've caught up to Peter's death and funeral -- which I wasn't mentally prepared to relive, because I actually teared up the first time -- from Miles' point of view. (The Miles pages from "Ultimate Fallout" also fit into #4.) I won't give away exactly how, but Bendis draws a direct line from Peter's inspiration to be Spider-Man to Miles. It was a gesture I really appreciated, and it made me feel like the torch has been officially passed. As I've said before, Miles is my Ultimate Spider-Man now. Peter's story is done (and ended well), and I wouldn't have it any other way. (However, there have been some appearances from Peter's supporting cast and I hope there will be more.)

Daredevil: Frankly, even if "Shadowland" had been more creatively successful than it was, Matt Murdock would have been damaged almost beyond repair. Even worse, it was kind of a mess at the end -- though I still maintain the last page redeemed it somewhat -- so how could the character be rescued? Along came Mark Waid, who decided that Matt's coping mechanism was to have a positive attitude and not deal with his feelings about what he's done, like the good Catholic he is. (Murdock, not Waid, whose religion is both unknown to me and irrelevant.) Visually, Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin's simple genius & innovative styles make this book a joy to look at and Waid's scripts show such a mastery of craft that they're a joy to read. They make it look easy, but I'm sure a lot of hard work goes into it. Without sacrificing depth -- Matt's going to have to deal with his issues someday, if for no other reason than his friends will force him to -- this book just makes me smile on a level I can't fully explain.

Avengers Academy: As much as I enjoy the other books, this is by far my favorite Avengers title. It was risky to create new characters instead of using existing Avengers or their kids, especially with "Young Avengers" alread successful, but Christos Gage created some great characters and the fact that they're new has allowed some real consequences for them. The stuff they go through during "Fear Itself" is particularly heart-wrenching, and the point one issue makes a good case for an alternate way the kids could be using their powers other than being Avengers. The cast has recently expanded to include potentially every young Marvel hero, which I was a little worried about, but #22 proved that Gage & company haven't missed a beat. The great Tom Grummett ("Superboy", "New Titans", "X-Men Forever") is coming on as regular penciller soon, which I'm really excited about. (Grummett & Gage just did interviews at Newsarama if you're interested in getting some more background on the book.)

FF: Jonathan Hickman not only understands what the FF is about, he's amped up both the family and the exploratory aspects of the book by expanding the cast (except poor Johnny) into the "Future Foundation". Hickman's the master of intricate plotting (see "Secret Warriors") and all the moving parts of the story he's been telling since before his first issue are now locking into place in an exciting and unpredictable way. The book's had a number of artists, especially since it's been double-shipping lately, but if they can't keep Steve Epting then Barry Kitson would be an excellent choice. For example, I love the relaxed body language between Reed and Sue on the panels from #10 I've included here. Marvel obviously wants us to think Johnny will be back in #600 this week, which makes me think it'll happen some other time, but apparently when the book splits in two, "Fantastic Four" will follow the adults and "FF" will follow the kids. (Which should be interesting, because Valeria Richards is one scary child.)

Amazing Spider-Man: Meanwhile, in the land where Peter Parker is still Spider-Man... The "Brand New Day" era was about building up new situations and a new cast, but when Dan Slott took over as solo writer he decided to embrace Spidey's place in the larger Marvel Universe and his rich history. It's a delicate balancing act, but Slott pulls it off well. "Spider-Island" was the most successful of the smaller-scale crossovers; much better than "Shadowland" in my opinion. (Due in no small part to artist Humberto Ramos, by the way.) The spinoff minis were also mostly high quality, though unfortunately Nick Spencer's "Cloak & Dagger" didn't sell well enough to get an ongoing series. There have been times I thought things were changing too quickly, but when I went back and thought about it those things were status quo for 8-9 months, which is around 16-18 issues or almost a year and a half if the book didn't ship twice a month. Slott's always adding new and interesting elements to Peter's life, but with new complications to go with them.. This is a good, solid, well-crafted, entertaining book, and I often go for it first when it's in the pile.

Honorable Mentions
If I'd had time to write a detailed top ten (OK, thirteen) I would have included these titles.
Moon Knight: It's Bendis & Maleev, so you know it's good, and I love that they're playing with West Coast Marvel which nobody's explored in a long time.
Journey Into Mystery: Kieron Gillen's doing a kind of Sandman-y book here, which is probably an unfair comparison, but I can't think of a better one offhand. Loki, now a kid, has to rely on subtly manipulating those around him as a means to his (now good?) ends. Gillen is great about answering reader questions on Formspring and giving background information on his blog. He says #632 is a good place to jump on, "and also a fine Christmas gift for a friend who you only want to spend a couple of quid on."
Generation Hope: Loved Gillen's #1-12, have not read James Asmus' #13 yet but I have high hopes. (No pun intended.)
Uncanny X-Men & Wolverine and the X-Men: I like the ideology of the split, and both first issues were great (but very different).
Thunderbolts: Golden Age Thunderbolts! 'Nuff said! (Almost: the art by Kev Walker and Declan Shalvey is always first-rate.)
Punisher: Rucka's taking a different tack here by not letting us inside Frank's head anymore. Great noir stuff by a master.
SHIELD: I wish I liked this as much as Hickman's "Secret Warriors", and I wish they published it more often, but it's an exciting and ambitious book and Dustin Weaver's art is phenomenal.

The Usual Suspects
These are all quite good too: Avengers (Prediction: the character Bendis just brought back in #19 makes me think a related character will not survive "Children's Crusade"), New Avengers, Captain America, Captain America & Bucky, Mighty Thor, Invincible Iron Man, Fear Itself.

Recently cancelled books I liked: Alpha Flight, X-23, Black Panther, All-Winners Squad: Band of Heroes, Iron Man 2.0.

Looking Forward To
Matt Fraction & Terry Dodson's Defenders, and Ed Brubaker & Buitch Guice's new series (which I won't name because the title kinda sorta gives away a secret of "Fear Itself" and that collection isn't out until January.)


  1. Thanks for the Marvel update, Jeff. I've been ignoring Marvel lately to concentrate on New 52, so your tips are appreciated. I don't have an unlimited budget and I didn't want to bounce the indie books I'm reading - - so Marvel got bumped. I'm almost down to ordering zero monthlies from them, although I suspect I'll pick up a few trades. I just ordered the first volume of Waid's Daredevil - oh yeah.

  2. I wish I liked the new Ultimate Comics Spider-Man more, but something about it hasn't clicked quite as much as I want it to. Maybe it's that I'm absolutely loving the other Ultimate books so much right now (I'd put Ultimate Comics The Ultimates as my favorite--Millar's Ultimate Avengers didn't do much for me, but this is just as intense as his original Ultimates work). Miles Morales is very intriguing in just how different he is from Peter Parker (it would've been so easy to pick a generic Peter clone), and I like Bendis' choice to go back to before Peter was killed, but something just isn't working for me.

    With that said, I agree with your other choices. Avengers Academy is, like you said, my favorite Avengers title, and I'm ecstatic that Tom Grummett is joining up (although I hope Raney finds a new home soon.) Generation Hope's new issue is oddly just as good as the Gillen issues, which I never expected to say. And my favorite canceled title is probably Daken - Dark Wolverine, which I've really grown to love since Rob Wiliams took over (although recent issues of X-23 make that a strong contender, too. I'm going to miss them both.)


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