I know a guy named George -- another adult who still reads comic books as much as he did as a child -- who recently asked, “Which ten comic books influenced you the most?” Apparently, George found a book in which the author listed what he thought were the 100 most influential comic books of all time, and George was curious to know which comics had influenced other comic book readers, including me.
“Influence” is a hard term to pin down. What kind of influence was George talking about? Comics that influenced me artistically? Socially? Psychologically? As it turned out, George's question pretty much covered "all of the above.” By ten comics, he also meant ten actual, separate comic book issues rather than ten stories, considering many comic book story lines run on for several issues.
I must admit, I thought it would be difficult for me to come up with a list of only ten comics, but when I sat down and thought about it, it really wasn’t difficult at all. There’s a huge difference between comic books that are influential and comic books that are favorites -- some of my favorites were influential, but not all that were influential were favorites. So, following is my list of the ten comics that influenced me the most, albeit in different ways. The comics are presented in the order in which I first read them, not in chronological order or order of preference. I encourage all readers who love comic books to think about the comics that had the most influence in their lives and to come up with their own lists:
1. Magnus Robot Fighter 4000 A.D. #8 (1964), “Havoc at Weather Control.” This comic came out just shortly before I was born, but an old copy made its way into my hands years later, in a stack of comics given to me as reading material for a family road trip. It was my introduction to comic book heroes, and to Russ Manning's artwork, and I love it to this day.
2. Batman #237 (1971), “The Night of the Reaper.” This was my introduction to Batman in print. Prior to then, Batman was known to me only through T.V. This story, written by Denny O’Neil and illustrated by Neal Adams, completely blew me away. Decades later, it’s still my favorite Batman story of all time.
3. Green Lantern-Green Arrow #83 (1971), “…and a Child Shall Destroy Them.” Another Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams collaboration. I could give a million different reasons why I love this comic book, but the most important reason to note here is that it made me a lifelong fan of Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and Black Canary -- the Hard-Traveling Heroes.
4. Adventure Comics #438 (1975), “The Spectre Haunts the Museum of Fear.” My first exposure to the Spectre -- and to horror comics in general -- and it scared me half to death. I loved it, though, and I fell in love with Jim Aparo’s early artwork, and with scary comics in general.
5. The Uncanny X-Men #101 (1976), “Like a Phoenix, From the Ashes!” I was one of the lucky kids to acquire this comic when it was first released -- my first exposure to the X-Men. Though it had Jean Grey’s first appearance as Phoenix, Nightcrawler would become my favorite X-Man and would remain so for many, many years. This comic also made me a lifelong fan of Dave Cockrum’s artwork.
6. Detective Comics #40 (1940). I didn’t actually have this comic book -- rather, when I was still a kid, my dad bought me a book called Batman from the 30’s to the 70’s, which contained a lot of old, reprinted comics, including this one. This story introduced the original Clayface, Basil Karlo, and incorporated a lot of elements that I loved at the time: Batman & Robin and old movies in a Phantom-of-the-Opera setting and a villain based on Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney, Sr. It made me appreciate stories from the Golden Age of comics.
7. Camelot 3000 #1 (1982), “The Past and Future King.” I’ve always loved Arthurian legends, and this was irresistible: A science-fiction story about King Arthur and his knights (or at least some of them) coming back to save Earth in the year 3000? I was soooo there; I was totally hooked on the mini-series from the first issue. It was my introduction to comics that had much more “adult” themes than what I was used to at the time.
8. ElfQuest #1 (1978), “Fire and Flight.” In college, my friend Georgette introduced me to her collection of ElfQuest comics. I came to love and adore ElfQuest, and I remained a fan up through ElfQuest: The Hidden Years (1992). The plotting and characters were extremely well done, and Wendy Pini’s art, though very “cartoony,” was endearing. ElfQuest was partly responsible for inspiring me to become a writer. (Georgette also introduced me to Jeff Smith’s Bone. Curse you, Georgette!)
9. Marvels #1 (1994), “A Time of Marvels.” The man who would then go on to become my husband introduced me to this comic. It was my introduction to the artwork of Alex Ross, and I loved it immediately. Though Alex Ross has since illustrated many other publications and produced many more paintings of characters I love, Marvels remains my favorite story that he’s illustrated so far.
10. DC: The New Frontier #1 (2004). I'd been absent from reading super-hero comics for nearly a decade when this one brought me creeping back. Darwyn Cooke’s vintage-style artwork and reverent approach to the story and characters were an irresistible combination. When the series showed a very young Hal Jordan, the future Green Lantern, meeting legendary pilot Chuck Yeager, I became completely engrossed in the story. I’ve been reading comics regularly, again, ever since.
HONORABLE MENTION: Spectre #27 (2003). DC: The New Frontier started me on a trend of picking up back issues to find out what had been going on with Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps over the last nine or ten years, and at the tail end of my "research" came the entire stack of Spectre comics covering Hal Jordan's time as the Spectre. I sat down and read the entire series in one night, without any expectations, and without any discomfort over the idea of science-fiction-hero Hal being forced into the horror-mystical-spiritual world of the Spectre. By the time I got to the last issue (#27), I was bawling my head off -- I loved it. I contacted artist Norm Breyfogle the next day and soon acquired from him four original page panels from issue #27. I also sent a note to writer J.M. DeMatteis to thank him for expanding my world view a little bit. I can't say that this comic has really affected a change in my overall behavior since I read it, but it is the only comic book that's ever made me cry.