Ask Chris #200: The Best Issue #200 In Comics History
Q: Since this is Ask Chris #200, what’s the best 200th issue in comics? — @therealdealkern
A: You know, Kern, I’m glad you asked. 200 is a really weird number, especially in comics. It should be a pretty huge deal — as alert reader Charlotte pointed out in her own question this week, once a comic racks up 200 issues, it’s pretty much going to be around forever — but it doesn’t quite have the ring of #100, and even hitting that third century mark seems way more important than breezing through the two. Maybe it’s that it feels like a foregone conclusion, that once you’ve passed that first milestone, the second feels like more of an inevitability than an achievement. But at the same time, there’s definitely one issue that sticks out as being everything you want out of an anniversary comic, and that’s the subject of this week’s column.
I mean, come on. You didn’t really think I was going to answer 100 questions again, did you?
Before we actually get to the one that I’m thinking of, I thought it might be worth it to round up a few of the usual suspects so that we could get an idea of what kind of competition there is for the odd and very specific title of the Best 200th Issue Of All Time, and folks, it is a weird crop of comics. The list of comics to actually hit that number is, of course, a pretty short one, and the biggest ones that you’d expect to be milestones for characters like Superman and Batman came at a time when issue numbers weren’t as big a deal as they would come to be in the mind of the fans. Action Comics, Superman and Detective Comics #200 all pass without even a mention, and Action has the dubious distinction of marking its second century with a best-left-forgotten story about Superman palling around with a bunch of Native American stereotypes and helping them pass the “Tests of a Warrior.” Even Fantastic Four #200, which should’ve been a huge deal with Dr. Doom being unmasked and driven mad and losing control of Latveria, is almost always forgotten due to being in that shadowy period just before John Byrne arrived on the book.
The earliest one to really make a big show of it is 1968′s Batman #200, which makes sense when you consider that it came out right in middle of the Caped Crusader’s pop culture popularity, thanks to the Adam West TV show. Really, though, the showiness of it is mainly confined to the cover. The actual story, “The Man Who Radiated Fear” by Mike Friedrich and Chic Stone, is a great little Silver Age scarecrow story, but the only real acknowledgements of the anniversary in the story itself comes from Batman and Robin taking a moment to recap their origins before segueing right into shirtless gymnastics:
The issue also includes a reproduction of the first page from Detective Comics #27, a conversation in the place of a letters page between Friedrich and Biljo White, the publisher of the Batmania fanzine who had a pretty solid lock on being the Silver Age Chris Sims, and a reprint of one of my favorite pieces of ephemera, a half-page PSA from Batman about how much he hates crime that originally ran in 1940:
“I think Robin and I made it pretty clear that WE HATE CRIME AND CRIMINALS.” Yes, Batman. Yes, you have.
It’s a decent bunch of stuff — and it’s got cameos from Killer Moth and the Joker thrown in for good measure, which probably made it feel like a huge story when set against its contemporaries — but it doesn’t really scream “anniversary.” Origin recaps and boxing in tiny pants were not, after all, very rare plot elements in the Silver Age.0
Amazing Spider-Man #200, on the other hand, is the first one to really make a shot at being the best, if only for the scene where Spider-Man decides that he has had JUST ABOUT ENOUGH out of that one table lamp:
Oddly enough, this one is also a product of Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard — the team behind FF #200 — but it’s way more memorable and engaging for the way that it goes back to the very first Spider-Man story and, consequently, the very first Spider-Man villain. See, this is the one where Spidey finally gets his hands on the burglar who shot Uncle Ben.
It’s a dodgy idea, but the team pulls it off phenomenally well, and in doing so, they give Spider-Man the superheroic victory that completes the cycle started by his horror-structure origin story. It’s the reason I always talk about the first 200 issues of Amazing Spider-Man as a single story, because this one goes back to wrap it up and shows just how much Peter Parker has changed over the course of his years. And to be honest, there’s no other superhero comic I can think of that was that good for that long.
But as far as single issues go, there’s one 200th that’s better than just about anything else.
Here’s a fun fact about me: I have bought Justice League of America #200 six times. It’s not because I like the comic that much — which I do — but because there was a string of conventions where I’d see this thing in dollar boxes at every show, and that cover looks so awesome that whenever I saw it, I would be completely seized with the need to own this comic, and I’d forget I already had a growing stack of them at home. That’s 100% true, and while it sounds like something I’d make up, just consider that I’m also the person who bought two complete runs of Punisher 2099 for the exact same reason.
The thing is, I don’t really regret buying it that much, because it’s amazing every single time I read it. Anniversary issues are tricky, because they’re often trapped between this desire to celebrate the past while also taking the opportunity to move forward into the future, and that’s a delicate balance to maintain. It’s one of the things that Spider-Man #200 (and X-Men #200, now that I think of it) really has going for it, in that it hits that balance perfectly. Justice League of America #200 does the same thing, but it does it in a way that’s just bigger.
And I mean that in every sense of the word. This comic is huge — it clocks in at 72 story pages, featuring 15 Justice Leaguers and an army of alien invaders. Like ASM #200, it’s a sequel to the first Justice League story, but it also follows the classic team book tradition of breaking out into one-on-one battles and then culminating in an all-out war against the actual villains. It’s essentially a modern-day event done in one comic, with an amazing roster of artists handling each battle between the JLA of the past and the present — Jim Aparo, Brian Bolland, Joe Kubert, Carmine Infantino, Dick Giordano, Gil Kane and more, all wrapped up in a framing sequence drawn by George Perez, who also handles the climax.
But more importantly, it’s also a comic where Batman goes to the Carolinas.
I’ll admit that Batman kicking ass in a Carolina swamp is probably only pertinent to my extremely specific interests, but if y’all can’t appreciate that Brian Bolland splash page, we’re never going to understand each other and probably shouldn’t even try.
The whole thing is written by Gerry Conway, and let’s take a moment here to talk about that dude. Conway is easily one of the all-time greats, and if you need proof of that, consider that he is the only comic book writer who ever got to write an episode of Baywatch Nights. It’s the one with a mummy.
Seriously, though, he’s also the dude that Stan Lee handed Spider-Man to after staying on it longer than he’d actually written any other Marvel comic, who then gave DC its first viable attempt at a Spider-Man type character of their own with Firestorm, and who then wrote some of the greatest Justice League stories ever printed. “Crisis on New Genesis,” the JLA/JSA/New Gods team-up story that ran in JLA #183-185 and introduced George Pérez to the stage that he’d pretty much dominate for the next decade? That thing is astonishingly good. And in a way, what he’s doing here puts it all to shame.
Again, it’s the scope of it that’s really breathtaking about this story. The idea is that the seven original Justice Leaguers — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter — all get brainwashed into recovering the Appellaxian meteors that led to their first adventure, and the eight current Justice Leaguers — Firestorm, the Atom, Hawkman, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Zatanna, Elongated Man and Red Tornado, which is the mötleyest dang crüe I’ve ever heard of — have to stop them while also figuring out why their teammates have no memory of the time since the League was formed.
They all end up splitting up to take them on one-on-one — well, two-on-one in the case of Canary, Arrow and Batman — with each one getting its own gigantic splash page:
And just to make things a little better, a) Aquaman and Red Tornado fight each other first so that they’re easy to just skip over so you can get to the characters you care about, and b) Hawkman gets literally punched into space by Superman. I told y’all before: Hawkman sucks real bad. He does talk about how when you’re fighting robots, they’re probably prepared for high-tech weapons so you should really just hit them with a mace or stab them, which is pretty great, though.
In the end, of course, the two teams reunite, and in one of the really cool moments of the story, something that actually fealls earned and exciting, you get to see the Justice Leagues of the past and present fighting alongside each other against a magnified, multiplied version of that original threat that brought the team together. It’s the same sort of idea that makes Avengers #400 such a great comic, but done as the culmination of this massive adventure that went everywhere from North Carolina to Outer Space. It’s a tribute to the past, a celebration of the future and a showcase of everything that had made those characters and that team great for the past eighteen years, all while still being a compelling adventure in its own right. It’s probably the perfect anniversary issue.
I mean, Batman goes to the swamp and Hawkman gets punched into space.
After 200 installments of this column, can you think of anything I’d possibly like more?