3 Comic Book Stories that “Work”

In previous posts, I discussed comic book stories some deem silly or heinous, and a lot of comments, both here and elsewhere, agreed with those assessments.  

However, I don’t want to give the impression that comic book writing is necessarily bad.

In fact, comic book writing requires a special set of skills similar to movie making.  The comic book writer serves as scriptwriter, cinematographer, dialogue and scene editor, and researcher, and has to convey ideas from all of these disciplines to an artist who will draw the story (unless, of course, the writer and artist are the same person, in which case he or she wears even more hats – penciller, inker, and often colorist.)

The comic book writer must also be a team player who is willing to modify her original vision of the story to accommodate contributions from the artist and, often, dicates from an editor.

Having written both comic book and prose stories, I can tell you that, for me at least, the former were  much more difficult to write.

So, here’s an attempt to even the score by highlighting “good” comic book stories.   I confess up front that these stories are very old and are biased toward Marvel and DC.  Since we’re talking about super-heroes, the latter seems appropriate, and, as for the former, a good story should be memorable – which means neither you nor I should have to think very hard to recall it.

1. The Avengers/Defenders War

Avengers # 115-118 and Defenders # 8-10, September-December 1973
Source: GCD.  © and TM Marvel
Writer: Steve Englehart (with principle art by Bob Brown)

The skinny: Two teams of heroes are tricked into fighting each other over a powerful weapon that can alter the world.

What works:  Hero teams battling hero teams is nothing new, but I’ve rarely seen it done so well as here.  Every development of the story flows organically from who the characters are and from what they want.

For example, when the Avengers are tipped off that the Defenders might be up to something, they disperse to the far corners of the world to investigate.  The Silver Surfer (a Defender) accidentally triggers a volcano, demolishing an Avengers quinjet and injuring the Scarlet Witch.  Her beau, the Vision, is so overcome with rage that he attacks the bewildered Surfer – and their fight “confirms” the lie the Avengers have been told about the Defenders’ motives.

My favorite chapter, though, is from Avengers # 117, when two apparently mismatched heroes – Captain America and the Sub-Mariner – decide to trust one another and come to realize they’ve been had.  Only Cap – because of who he is and his past association with Namor – is able to see beyond the latter's imperious threats and put aside his own ego, which turns the tide of battle.

2. “The War Between Krypton and Earth”
Adventure Comics # 333, June 1965
Writer: Edmond Hamilton (with art by John Forte)

Source: GCD. © and TM DC ComicsInc.
The skinny:  The Legionnaires travel back in time and take sides in a war between two alien races which seek to colonize prehistoric earth.

What works: Both sides – the Kryptonians and the Vruunians – establish a legitimate claim to earth.  Both have traveled great distances to give their people a new home, and neither wants to abandon their dreams and search for a new world to colonize.

Neither side is portrayed as villains, yet their war escalates due to factors beyond their control (when weapons intended by the Vruunians only to stun prove lethal to Kryptonians).

The story serves – in the best science fiction tradition – as a metaphor for how wars get started among people of “good will” and how they can escalate – and why they should be avoided.

The story also ends on a tragic note (rare for the Silver Age) when Superboy returns to the future and unearths Kryptonian records that reveal why their colony did not survive.

3. “Flashback”
Amazing Spider-Man # 181, June 1978