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Ask Chris #15: Favorite Runs and Volstagg’s Love Life

Here at ComicsAlliance, we value our readership and are always open to what the masses of Internet readers have to say. That’s why we’ve given Senior Writer Chris Sims the punishment pleasure of stepping into the grand tradition of the Answer Man as he responds to your reader questions!

Q: Over the years, I learned a few things about you: You are THE Batman guy, every week something comes out that may be the best thing ever, and you have a special love for Herbie Popnecker, Punisher, Spider-Man, and Jack Staff. But besides the awesomeness that is Simonson’s Thor run, is there a top 5/10 “Chris Sims’ Favorite Runs EVER!”. If you answer this, I promise I will spare you and 2 humans of your choice in the upcoming Monkey Revoultion. –G.Grodd, via email

A: Huh. It’s not every day that I get an email from a telepathic talking super-gorilla, but I guess that’s the life of a professional Batmanologist.

Anyway, as to my all-time favorite runs, you’ve pretty much named most of them in your question: Walt Simonson’s “Thor” is in the solid #1 spot as the Best Run of Comics Ever, and Paul Grist’s “Jack Staff,” Garth Ennis’s eight-year tenure on “The Punisher,” every single Herbie appearance and most of the first 150 or so issues of “Amazing Spider-Man” (especially #33 and #50) would make the cut pretty easily too.Chief among them: Alan Moore‘s run on “Swamp Thing” with artists Stephen Bisette, John Totleben and Rick Veitch, my second favorite run of all time. I’m pretty sure that nobody reading this needs me to tell them that this Alan Moore guy is pretty good, but I’m continually amazed by how often “Swamp Thing” gets overlooked by more casual readers, especially given how it’s the book that started Vertigo. Seriously, not only is it an excellent run that manages to blend in the strongest character work of Moore’s career into his incredible talent for generating true horror, but it’s the series that led directly to “Hellblazer” and “Sandman.”

Cain and Abel and their respective Houses being part of the kingdom of dreams? Matthew the Raven? John Constantine? Zatanna’s nebulous status as the one character that can move back and forth between Vertigo and DC? That all started with what Moore was doing here. Even “Sandman’s” recurring themes of identity and what you have to give up to fulfill a role chosen for you have their roots (har har) in “Swamp Thing.”

Plus, it inspired some pretty great comics after it wrapped, too: Rick Veitch’s run as writer/artist is phenomenal, although it’s criminal that he didn’t get to finish comics’ best time travel story the way he wanted to, leaving the book due to editorial interference, especially since the freedom that would’ve come from the inception of Vertigo as an imprint would arrive just a few years later. Also, while it’s probably the comic of his that the least amount of people have read, Mark Millar’s run as “Swamp Thing” writer is easily some of his best stuff, and heavily influenced by Moore’s run. So yeah, “Swamp Thing” is definitely on the list.

And speaking of underrated comics by popular creators, my next pick would be Garth Ennis and John McCrea’s “Hitman.” It’s never been fully collected in paperback (although DC seems to be remedying that currently, though there’s a long way to go), but I’m of the opinion that it’s actually better than both “Preacher” and “Punisher,” and that’s saying something.

For those of you who haven’t read it, it’s about a Gotham City hitman (hence the name) named Tommy Monaghan who got super-powers during the “Bloodlines” crossover and uses them to become a better killer-for-hire, albeit one who only kills bad people. That’s the surface. Beneath that, however, it’s Ennis’s strongest character work (again, that’s saying something) and stories that alternate between absolutely hilarious, thrilling, emotionally resonant and genuinely moving, dealing with everything from zombie animals to the corruption of absolute power to the nature of a man who kills for a living. It is absolutely incredible.

And it’s not just Ennis that makes it that great. McCrea does exceptional work here, not just in drawing great pages (Tommy at the wedding. Those of you who have read this know what I’m talking about) but in everything from his distinctive, note-perfect character designs all the way down.

My pal Ken Lowery is another big Hitman booster, and while I was talking to him about it, he pointed out that as a series, it’s the only book that really shows off both Ennis’s total frustration with super-hero comics and the fact that he is really really good at writing super-hero comics. There’s a Green Lantern story that is basically just Ennis and McCrea bashing him like a piñata for four issues (I remember an interview around the time it came out where Ennis talked about an utter hatred of Green Lantern and how if you ever see him writing “GL,” you’ll know he desperately needs the money), but he also uses characters like Catwoman and Batman and especially Superman and does great stories with them. There was even a two-issue follow-up with the JLA that reuinted Ennis and McCrea that was easily the best Justice League story since Grant Morrison left the book, and again, goes from hilarious to resonant in the space of a page, sometimes hitting them at the same time.

On the complete opposite end of the scale, my next favorite would be Bob Haney‘s original 1960s “Metamorpho” stories with artists Ramona Fradon and Sal Trapiani. I’ve gone on record as a pretty huge fan of the Silver Age, but virtually everything Haney wrote captured the anything goes wildness of the era, and “Metamorpho” was his peak. I mean, just look at this thing:

That is an entire story on the cover, complete with Haney’s signature ’60s hipster slang and Fradon’s smooth, clean artwork. Every page of every issue of “Metamorpho” is just brimming with excitement. It just pops off the page with this brilliant, almost manic energy to it that just transmits the joy of comic books directly into your eyes. It’s pure unfettered imagination, thrown directly on the comics page with no limits and a good faith attempt at educating readers thrown in for extra craziness.

It’s also got my favorite comics-based contest of all time, where readers were invited to send in suggestions for stuff that Metamorpho could turn into…

…with the prize being a page of original Sal Trapiani art and the inexplicable sum of $24.98, which — assuming you spent it all on comic books at the going rate (12 cents then, $3.99 today) — is the equivalent of over $830 in 2010 money. It was brilliant, beautiful, and amazingly ahead of its time.

Finally, a run that I think is severely underrated: Ann Nocenti‘s run on “Daredevil,” which (give or take a couple of fill-in issues), she was on from #236 to #291, and which also featured some of my favorite artwork from John Romita Jr.

I almost never hear anyone talking Nocenti’s “Daredevil,” which I think has a lot to do with the fact that she took over the book a relatively short time after Frank Miller left, and on one level, that’s understandable. Anything as definitive as Miller on Daredevil is going to overshadow what comes after it. But the tragedy is that while so many people who have done that book in the time since have followed in Miller’s footsteps (and a lot of them have done so very well), Nocenti took it in a different and incredibly interesting direction.

Her run is marked by an incredible sense of surreality that sets it well apart from Miller’s gritty, crime-oriented take, full of dream sequences and hallucinations and people who are profoundly psychologically broken. The idea of identity as a thing that can be lost and taken away and regained is also really prevalent. I mean, she does a story where Bullseye dresses up as Daredevil and kills people so Daredevil dresses up as Bullseye and saves people and then they fight each other and they both go crazy and neither one really knows who’s who because they’re both going crazy and it is awesome.

Also, it’s set aside by its villains, mainly in the fact that this is a comic where Daredevil fights Ultron and Mephisto. Hell, Mephisto is pretty much Daredevil’s arch-enemy for half the run…

…which makes it a run where a good guy dressed as the Devil fights the actual Devil. And then there’s the issue where Daredevil ends up beating Ultron to death with a stick. A stick! He also fights a vacuum cleaner possessed by demons fro two issues, and I will guarantee you that those are the best two comics where a title character fights a demonic appliance you will ever read. And yet, even with all that craziness, it never rings false, and the Kingpin is never completely gone. His presence is felt throughout the series in what amounts to a masterful use of a villain.

Sadly, most of the run hasn’t been reprinted, although what’s out there is really good. For a while, though, it was only the Typhoid Mary storyline that was available, and while it’s great, it’s also the story that’s most like Miller’s work. Still, the run isn’t too hard to find (like I said, a lot of people just don’t know about it), and if you like Daredevil, you oughtta give it a read.

There are other comics I love — when it’s all said and done, Morrison’s Batman stuff will probably end up on the list too, but I could also probably spend a whole column talking about my favorite Batman comics, as though that’s not what I do here already — but along with the ones you mentioned, those are some absolute favorites.


Q: I’m reading through Simonson’s Thor on your recommendation, and in issue #355 I was thrown for a loop when Volstagg casually mentions that he has a wife, but I’ve never heard of (let alone seen) her before. As the internet’s foremost Volstaggologist, perhaps you could tell me whether the Lion of Asgard truly is off the market or if he is too much man for one woman. – Marcus, via email

A: You would’ve found this out reading through the rest of the Simonson run eventually, but the answer is yes: Volstagg the Voluminous is indeed married to a lovely Asgardian lady. Say hello to Gudrun

…who I think it’s also safe to say is Voluminous.

What’s more, Volstagg’s not just a husband, he’s a proud father of five kids: Alaric, Rolfe, Gudrun, Flosi and Hildy, the last of whom is actually pretty important later on in Simonson’s run. Gudrun and the kids were created by Simonson [or not, see below], presumably to set Volstagg apart from his companions, Fandral (the dashing ladies’ man) and Hogun (who is pretty antisocial).

It also reinforces both the idea of Volstagg as a “cool uncle” sort of figure to Thor (as opposed to Fandral, Hogun and Balder, all of whom are more buddies of a similar age), and the idea that he’s old enough to be a little past his prime as a warrior. Maybe it’s just me, but given Volstagg’s general role as comic relief, I’ve always had the idea that he wasn’t always a huge fat dude, but in his youth actually was the Lion of Asgard, before he decided to settle down and have kids, only returning to adventuring later. The key to his character is that for all his bluster and rotundity, he actually is a brave, stalwart, and extremely formidable guy, even among the gods of Asgard.

EDITED TO ADD: Shortly after this was posted, Simonson emailed me, which is pretty much the highlight of my writing career thus far. He adds:

Volstagg’s wife was first mentioned and shown (albeit in a very small drawing) by Stan and Jack in the Tales of Asgard story that introduced the Warriors Three in the first place. This would have been about 1965 or so. I don’t remember if she actually had a name mentioned or was only shown. The comedic suggestion in that story was that Volstagg wanted going on the quest as a way of avoiding going home. I’d have to look it up to get more detail but this would have been around Journey Into Mystery 119, 120, 121 or so. I didn’t invent her, so credit where credit is due.

Thanks for the correction!

And that’s Volstagg for you: Always going on journeys to Midgard to avoid household chores:



And now, the Quick Hits:

Q: Where would you recommend starting on Silver Age comics, DC in particular? Brian, via email

A: DC’s put out some great, relatively inexpensive black-and-white Showcase volumes that are well worth picking up if you want to get into the Silver Age. I’d say start with “Metamorpho” (see above), “Superman,” “Superman Family,” “Metal Men” and “Legion of Super-Heroes.” Together, that pretty much encompasses all of the best and craziest Silver Age DC books.

Q: Which Bat-logo do you prefer, the yellow ellipse or the black-on-grey? SantFarrell

A: When I was a teenager, I thought the black-on-grey logo was awesome, but as i grow older, I find myself wanting the yellow oval back more and more. I really hope that when Bruce Wayne makes his eventual return as Batman, he’ll go back to the blue/grey/yellow costume.

Q: Which is worse- Nazi Monkeys, or Monkeys Dressed As Nazis?JMReynolds

A: Here’s the thing: You know where you stand with an actual Nazi Monkey. In the words of Walter Sobchek, “say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism but at least it’s an ethos.” Monkeys that are just dressed as Nazis, however? They’re clearly just going for a reaction. Those monkeys are jerks.

Q: As a man who enjoys the occasional mixed drink, do you have any comics-related cocktail recipes? Perhaps a fruit drink and Jaegermeister mixture that’ll knock you out in “One Punch”? –Steven, via email

A: I actually make a drink I call the ROM Collins, named in honor of “ROM: Spaceknight,” the long-running Marvel toy tie-in written by Bill Mantlo. Originally, it started as an attempt to combine the Tom Collins with the Rum Collins (get it?), but the way I make it now is:

1 part Coconut Rum
1 part Gin
1 part Lemonade

Mix with ice in a shaker, then pour into a Collins glass with an equal amount of Sprite.

I think it’s pretty tasty, but it’s very sweet.

Q: If all the different versions of Batman fought, which would win?xiombarg

A: Short Answer: They wouldn’t fight! They’d team up and eradicate crime.

Longer Answer: Back when “Countdown” was coming out and they did that “Arena” book where different versions of heroes fought each other, I thought that was crazy. The best Batman has to be “our” Batman, or else why have we been reading comics about him for the past 70 years? Therefore, regular ol’ Batman wins.

Actual Chris Sims Answer: Jim Aparo’s Batman, because he is the only guy who will straight up slap you in the face.

And that is real.

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