the Nighthawk for which it is all named

Does the name Kyle Richmond mean anything to you?  Probably not.  It means something to me, though.  At the height of comic book obsession, around about seventh grade, I desperately wanted to be a comic book writer.  I would spend countless hours explaining to people that no, I can’t draw, and that perhaps they couldn’t grasp what it meant to be a writer.  I hope today, with all the people who read Kavalier & Clay, that they would understand the difference.

Well, I was trying to figure out a character, and I wrote an entire character from outside the Marvel Universe.  This was in the days just after Crisis on Infinite Earths, when DC was in the process of getting rid of all their multiple realities and I thought it would work well for Marvel.  I envisioned a character who would cross over from our own Earth, a comic fan who happens to have the whole knowledge of the Marvel Universe at his fingertips.  So, he would naturally choose to be a hero with some significance.

Enter Nighthawk.  Otherwise known as Kyle Richmond.  There were two Kyle Richmonds in the Marvel Universe, from two different worlds – the primary Marvel Earth and the one from the Squadron Supreme Earth.  Both were blatantly ripped off from Batman, but both of them had recently died.  The primary one had died saving the Defenders.  The other one had died in an effort to make the Squadron Supreme realize the error of their ways (more on that below).  So I wrote a character who picked up Kyle’s mantle and carried it forward.

Nothing came of the character idea.  But everything came of it.  I’ve had a few different Yahoo e-mail addresses, but for 13 years now they have all been variations on Nighthawk.  This blog is called Nighthawk News because that’s the character I have stuck with.  And it only seems right to use that as a kick in to a new list – 10 comic books to remember.

I started reading comics when I was quite young because I had two brothers who collected them.  And by the end, my collection was in four digits.  It probably could have gone on to five digits, but a few other things got in the way.  And now, my collection consists of just a few comics and one long bookshelf of graphic novels – many of which aren’t really comics.  My shelf, of course, includes some of the great works of literature of the last few decades that is done in a graphic form, and thus ends up on graphic novel shelves, but has nothing to do with the traditional comic books that graphic novels usually are thought of in relation to.  There is Maus, of course.  And Persepolis.  There is also The Plot, the wonderful Will Eisner book that he did at the end of his life that deal with The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  There is also Fun Home, Alison Bechdel’s wonderful memoir.  And there is a book that predates all of this by several decades – Lynd Ward’s wonderful novel of woodcuts, Gods Man.

I quit comics three times and the same title made me do it all three times – the last for good.  And I really did it for the same reason all three times.  In 1991, Chris Claremont, in his last issue as writer of X-Men after 15 years, killed off Magneto in a magnificent three issue arc that made X-Men the biggest comic in the known universe  (more on that below).  It felt like the right moment to go out and so I stopped collecting.  But when I got to Brandeis, I had several friends who were comic geeks and they drew me back in.  But, as always happens in comics, Marvel brought back Magneto – completely negating his wonderful death scene.  So, I was headed back out anyways.  But then they also killed off one of my favorite characters – Illyana Rasputin – in a tragic and haunting way.  She wastes away of a disease and my favorite character has to make a plea to Professor X that he has to love her enough to let her go.  So she died and I quit.  And I stayed away for a long time.

I still bought older books.  I started buying the DC Archives and collecting the really older stories that I had always wanted but could never afford (hell – at $50 a pop they still weren’t very affordable, but it was better than trying to buy 60 year old comics).  And I would buy the occasional graphic novel, especially one I discovered the wonderful Sale / Loeb works.  But I wasn’t buying new comics.  I especially tried to steer away when I saw some of the things that were being done.  Things like Scott Summers falling in love with Emma Frost seemed like lazy writing to keep things interesting that wasn’t true to the characters and stories like the death of Sue Dibny in Identity Crisis seemed pathetically exploitative.

But then I had a friend at Borders who talked me into Astonishing X-Men.  One moment really did it and brought me back in – when Kitty Pryde, who has long been my favorite character and Collosus finally consummated their relationship – an unbelievably funny moment where Kitty phases through the floor in the middle of it – possibly the funniest thing I have ever read in a comic.  So, with some great humor in the series, I got involved again, even if it did have the stupid relationship between Scott and Emma.  And then, Joss Whedon fucked me over just like Marvel always does – after finally giving Kitty the chance to be with the character she always should have been with, but had to wait 20 years for because Marvel was concerned over her character being so young (she was 13 when she first appeared), he took her out of the picture.  She was stuck, bonded to a bullet the size of a planet, lost in space, seemingly forever.

I was done with it.  I knew that she would be back at some point and the whole emotional roller coaster of finally having my favorite character be happy only to be completely screwed would be pointless.  No one stays dead forever, especially not in Marvel (though not in DC either – I never bought into the whole Superman dying thing in 92 because it was so obvious that DC would bring him right back – only the flip side of that was that it eventually ended up with the downfall of Hal Jordan in another of those stupid storylines that isn’t true to the character).  It used to be said “no one stays dead except Uncle Ben and Bucky.”  But that’s not even true anymore.  So I was through with it.  And, of course, Marvel did eventually bring back Kitty and Illyana.  But I was sick of it.

When you have OCD and it manifests itself in the way mine does – by obsessively collecting things, you can’t manage it.  You have to control it.  And I was collecting too many things and we don’t have that kind of money.  So I had these seven boxes of comics and it was hard to manage the collecting and we were going to move again and we were living across from a comic shop.  So I cauterized the wound and I dragged the boxes across the street and asked them for a bulk amount.  It was all or nothing and I took the few hundred dollars they gave me for 25 years of my life and that was it.  So I have a shelf.

But every now and then I look back with fondness.  And, of course, having just written about The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, the wonderful novel by Michael Chabon about the Golden Age of comics, it seemed like the right time to look back and celebrate some wonderful comic book moments.

Now, this is not a Top 10 list.  These are not the greatest comics of all-time.  That list would be a little too heavy with Frank Miller and Alan Moore.  These are 10 great comics that have personal meaning to me.  I could have included Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns – easily the two of the greatest comics ever written.  Or I could have included the Green Lantern / Green Arrow stories that brought a whole new world of social relevance to comics.  But I have limited myself to 10 and to ones that really mean something to me.  It isn’t quite complete – there is no Avengers story and they were for a long time one of my favorite titles and I couldn’t find a way to include New Mutants #45, one of my favorite comics of all-time.  But hopefully, someone will like this list.

the second annual JLA / JSA crossover in Justice League of America #29

1.  Justice League of America #29  /  30  (Aug 1964 – Oct 1964)

Christmas 1983 was a big moment in collecting comics for me.  I was taken to Sav-On and was allowed to buy a bunch of comics with some Christmas money.  One of the comics I bought was All-Star Squadron #31.  I already was familiar with the Earth-2 heroes of DC’s Golden Age from reading the annual team-ups in my brother’s Justice League of America comics.  But this issue of All-Star Squadron, with a complete roll call of all the Golden Age heroes that Roy Thomas was filling the book with cemented my love for those heroes.  And I went about buying old issue of JLA, always trying to find the annual crossover issues.  Imagine my joy, then, in a chest of old comics in the back of the comic shop at the Orange Circle when I found an old tattered copy of Justice League of America #29.  It was the first part of the second crossover, involving the discovery of Earth-3, where the Crime Syndicate of America ruled.  I paid something like 50 cents for a comic that was already over 20 years old and I treasured it deeply.

In 2002, DC finally started collecting these into trade graphic novels called Crisis on Multiple Earths.  In the first collection, you can find the two part story from here as well as the first crossover, among other early crossovers.  There are currently five volumes covering the 20 years of these team-ups.  It was an annual treat that I looked forward to, that sadly didn’t last long after I discovered it, because DC did away with the concept of multiple earths in 1985.  But finding this comic is still one of my greatest thrills.

a perfect example of the great artwork of Marshall Rogers from Batman: Strange Apparitions

2.  Batman: Strange Apparitions  (Aug 1977 – Aug 1978)

Marshall Rogers wasn’t the artist for Detective Comics for very long.  But the run he worked on, in collaboration with Steve Englehart is one of the greatest stretches in Batman history.  It is one of the perfect combinations of art and writing in the history of comics.

I first discovered this stretch from the Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told.  There is a great Deadshot story that is part of this run that is included.  But then I discovered two more parts to it: the Penguin story is included in Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told Volume 2.  Then there is a Joker story that is in Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told.  I absolutely loved the artwork.  Look at the picture, and the way that Batman’s cape seems so long, stretching out around him.  Rogers does that kind of thing in every panel.  And in a story arc that didn’t last very long (Detective Comics #471 – 476 and 478) that managed to bring back Hugo Strange and Deadshot (and make them both great characters) and make good use of The Penguin and The Joker, Rogers and Englehart created a tale so memorable that it was eventually collected together in one book.  When I ditched most of my comics, this was one of the ones that I kept.  The artwork was too great for me to part with.

The version of the Dark Phoenix Saga that made me an X-Men fan

3.  The Dark Phoenix Saga  (Jan 1980 – Oct 1980)

My brother came home from college with a graphic novel in his hand.  It wasn’t what was then known as a graphic novel – the one-shots that Marvel was putting out like God Loves Man Kills or The Death of Captain Marvel.  Instead, it was one of the very first collections of a comic book story arc in book form.  You didn’t have to go out and try to spend outrageous sums of money on X-Men #129 to 137 anymore (which was good, because the prices were going up all the time).  You could buy the whole seminal story in one book.

Which was good, because it was then, and remains today, one of the greatest storylines in comic history.  Chris Claremont and John Byrne together, took Jean Grey and moved her powers to a cosmic level, to a point where she could no longer handle them.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely and things turned very dark indeed, ending with a heroic, painful sacrifice.  This was all of X-Men lore tied into one book.  There were characters that we saw at the beginning that we knew nothing about; I had to invent in my mind the whole history of Banshee, Havok and Polaris, not knowing anything about them.  Then we get old characters returning – both Beast and Angel return to the X-Men for this seminal story.  And there are the introductions.  This stretch of comics introduced Dazzler, Emma Frost, Sebastian Shaw, the Hellfire Club, and, best of all, the young 13 year old mutant who would become my favorite character of all-time: Kitty Pryde.

This book transformed how I read comics.  Characters could die.  They could pay for what happened.  And sometimes battles don’t end the way you want them to.  And love can be painful as well as rewarding.  It’s true, that Marvel would eventually think of a way to return Jean from the dead.  But this remains one of the greatest stories that Marvel has ever put together.

one of the funniest comics ever written: The Uncanny X-Men #153

4.  Uncanny X-Men #153  (Jan 1982)

This is the flip side to the X-Men.  From being hunted, watching their friends die, watching the government turn against them, nothing ever seemed to go right for our band of heroes.  But then we get this story.  This is Kitty’s Fairy Tale – one of the great comics of all-time.  Kitty is telling a bedtime story to Illyana and to create one, she takes all of the people that she knows and she creates a magnificent fairy tale, complete with a happy ending.  To add to the enjoyment, all of the X-Men end up standing outside in the hall listening to the story and relishing in the individual moments where they realize that Kitty, with her 13 year old eyes, has understood what is at the heart of every character.  They would return to this twice more, neither one quite as good as the original, but all faithful in the joy of the moment – a nice aside between all the battles.  It remains one of my favorite single issues of all-time.

The New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract – DC grows into its own

5.  The New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract  (Feb 1984 – Jul 1984)

Marv Wolfman and George Perez are one of the great teams of all-time.  Wolfman is a great comic writer and Perez has long been one of my favorite artists (one of the few books I kept is a book devoted to Perez’s art).  They had been working on New Teen Titans and been saddled with comparisons to X-Men because both had taken dead books and revitalized them with new teams and created huge followings.  So, Wolfman and Perez decided that if X-Men had a new spunky teenage hero, they would do the opposite.  So they created a new spunky teenage member of the Titans, but she turned out to be a mole – placed there to destroy the team from within.  Thus came one of the best story arcs of the 80’s – The Judas Contract, with the deadly, lunatic Terra trying to kill the Titans that had come to trust her.

But in the midst of this comes one of my favorite moments in comic history.  Dick Grayson comes into his own.  Dick had been Robin for almost 45 years by this point and DC finally decided to promote him.  He had become a man, a great leader of the Titans and he took on the new mantle of Nightwing and was finally able to come out of Batman’s shadow just a bit.

the death of Barry Allen (The Flash) in Crisis on Infinite Earths #8

6.  Crisis on Infinite Earths  (Apr 1985 – Mar 1986)

I could have used a picture of Crisis on Infinite Earths #7. That cover, with a dead Supergirl in the arms of Superman, almost instantly became iconic.  It showed with DC was willing to do in the course of this maxi-series.  But it was never my main focus.  That was the bigger, more glamorous aspect of the series.  It was issue #8 that showed what they were really willing to do.

I followed Crisis from the very beginning.  DC had made it very clear that they were changing the name of the game.  The whole concept of the multiverse, which some of us loved, but was so confusing to so many fans, was going away.  And they were going to make a lot of big changes at the same time.  And they killed off Supergirl in a magnificent battle.

But here was Barry Allen – the Flash.  The first appearance of Allen in Showcase #4 had kicked off The Silver Age and began the revival of the whole superhero genre that had been in decline for a decade.  But his own sales had been going down for a while, and his title had just been cancelled.  DC had sent him off to the future to live with his resurrected wife.  But a happy ending wasn’t to be.  And in the issue after Supergirl died, with millions watching and mourning, DC decided to kill off Allen.  He died the same way she did – saving five planets.  But no one even knew he was gone.  One of the greatest heroes in comic history and he was just gone.  That was the kind of thing that DC was willing to do in this series.  And then they ended it in big fashion by killing off dozens of characters in the final issue and reworking their whole history.

This was the big question that always tested how much DC was dedicated to this.  They even brilliantly wrote it into his death scene that he had gone back in time and became the very lightning bolt that gave him his powers in the first place.  And for 23 years, DC stuck to their guns and, while bringing back just about everybody else, they left him dead.  But then, in Final Crisis, they finally undid his magnificent death scene.  And this is why I don’t read comics anymore.

The final triumphant and deadly issue of Squadron Supreme

7.  Squadron Supreme  (Sep 1985 – Aug 1986)

In 1969, Marvel created a team of villains called the Squadron Sinister.  They were a blatant rip-off of the Justice League of America.  They weren’t used much, but eventually it turned out they were villainous version of a group called the Squadron Supreme – an even more blatant rip-off of the JLA.  But then, Marvel finally gave them their own limited series and did a great job with them.

Their world had just been released from the control of a villain named the Overmind and was in shambles.  The Squadron, the most powerful people on their Earth, decided that the best way to overcome everything was to take control.  They would take over the country, do away with guns, with poverty, even with death.  The group agreed this was the way to proceed, except for Nighthawk.  Nighthawk argued that this was just a form of fascism – just because the Squadron was a group dedicated to justice didn’t mean that taking over was okay.  He was outvoted and he left the group.  Over the course of the series (taking a year of time), he works to undermine this process while the Squadron does exactly what it set out to do: do away with all the horrors of the world, even death.

In the magnificent final issue, with the Squadron having taken complete control, with no more crime, no more pain, no more suffering, no more death, Nighthawk, with a group of super beings of his own, confront the Squadron.  What follows is a horrific battle in which the writers were not afraid to kill off most of the combatants.  But Nighthawk has a long talk with Hyperion and makes him see his point of view – that the power of their utopia needs this group of super beings dedicated to good to keep it under control.  It is untenable.  People must be allowed choice, even if they make the wrong choices.  Nighthawk had just won the moral battle when another character tries to stop the battle by killing him.  Hyperion surrenders, looking at his dead friend, realizing that he was right.  It is the kind of story that was rare to see at the time, and because the characters were outside the normal Marvel Universe, the writers had no problems with wantonly killing off the characters, just as would really happen in such a tremendous battle.

Daredevil: Born Again – the very best of Frank Miller

8.  Daredevil: Born Again  (Feb 1986 – Aug 1986)

I really could have done the whole list of just Frank Miller and Alan Moore comics.  But while everyone always talks about Dark Knight Returns (and with good reason), I think this is the best work Frank Miller has ever done.  It takes one of the best Marvel characters – Daredevil, grinds him down to his core, where there is nothing left, and then brings him back up.

It is a gutsy move.  First of all, he takes one of the best Marvel heroes, and reduces him to shambles – an incoherent mess, striking out at anyone in his way.  Then, he spends most of the storyline out of costume, just struggling at first to stay alive, then to make his way back up.  Then comes the wonderful moment where he finally puts on the costume again, at the end of one of the issues, emerging from the flames.  Then comes the moment that everyone remembers – standing above the fallen soldier Nuke, lying dead on Ben Urich’s desk.  It is one of the best panels I have ever seen and it instantly became iconic.

The whole thing would have made the perfect Daredevil film.  It is the perfect length.  It covers a great storyline, even bringing in some other characters, especially some good scenes with Captain America.  Yet, it doesn’t get bogged down in the origin story (though it does bring the origin story in).  It was the film that should have been made and would have been great.  It even comes complete with perfect last lines, the actual last lines from the story itself on the very last page, as Matt and Karen walk together in the sun: “My name is Matt Murdock.  I was blinded by radiation.  My remaining senses function with superhuman sharpness.  I live in Hell’s Kitchen and do my best to keep it clean.  That’s all you need to know.”

all of the covers of X-Men #1

9.  X-Men  #1-3  (Oct 1991 – Dec 1991)

In 1990, Marvel launched a new Spider-Man title, simply titled Spider-Man.  It immediately became the biggest selling title in comic history (over 3 millions copies sold).  So, the next year, Marvel tried it again.  They had finally brought all the disjointed X teams together and decided to launch a new X-Men title, simply called X-Men.  They had four different covers and the issue sold over 8 million copies – still the industry record.  Part of it was the talent involved – the final storyline from Chris Claremont, who had created the new X-Men back in Giant Size X-Men #1 and had been writing them for 15 years, and hot new artist Jim Lee.  Part of it was the multiple covers, all of which looked phenomenal.  And part of it was just how great the story was.

It started out with some great humor (including the moment where Gambit points out that Jean is hot and Scott threatens to drop a very large house on him).  But then it re-established Magneto as the pre-eminent villain in the Marvel Universe and brought the decades long battle between him and the X-Men to a head.  It was a great story, with great use of all the characters, including the development of the two teams of X-Men who would continue for several years.  But the best part was the end of issue #3, when Magneto realizes that the only choice is for him to sacrifice his own life and send the X-Men back to Earth.  It gives him a great speech about their differences and the X-Men watch as their greatest adversary finally dies.  It seemed like the perfect moment to stop reading.  Nothing was ever going to top this.

Did you like The Dark Knight? Then you should read The Long Halloween.

10.  Batman: The Long Halloween  /  Dark Victory  (1996-1997, 1999-2000)

Like with Frank Miller and Alan Moore, I really could have filled this just with the works of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale.  I easily could have picked Spiderman: Blue as a choice here, but this was the story that got me into their work.  Actually, it was the end of Dark Victory, when it came across my desk at Powell’s that really got me into their work.  I was so impressed, not only with the artwork, but with how well they had continued the work of Frank Miller from Year One.  There had been a Year Two at one point that wasn’t all that good and a Year Three that was designed to flow right into the rebirth of Robin in the form of Tim Drake.  But this really takes the place of both of those and does so in grand style.  It has phenomenal artwork, makes great use of all the great Batman villains (including Solomon Grundy).  And it was the basis for The Dark Knight – easily the greatest superhero film ever made.