Graphic/Novels Roundtable: Our Favorite Creative Teams
By CM Team | CultureMass Staff Published: 10/07/2013 10:00 am EST
Many long-running comic titles have been defined by runs showcasing a specific combination of artist and writer, but there are also finite series that featured the same team throughout and left an indelible mark on the medium (or, more importantly, us). Sometimes, the right creative pairing can elevate a sub-par comic to new narrative heights. Whether their contributions defined the form, or merely thrilled us month after month, these are the writers and artists who embody our love of comics. In this edition of the Graphic/Novels Roundtable, the CultureMass gang looks at our favorite creative teams.
Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen (Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 2 #287-313, vol. 3 #1-5): When I was growing up, I kind of shied away from the Legion books because they always seemed to me to be “members only”—that is, they were inaccessible to newcomers. As an adult, I’ve come to appreciate the rewards to be found in the dense stories and consistent appearance these two gave to the late 30th century. Story arcs like “The Great Darkness Saga” and volume 3’s “Death of Karate Kid” set the standard for character development in large teams. I often hear creators whining about the difficulties of writing big groups; this title showed that it can be done, and done well.
Marv Wolfman and George Pérez (New Teen Titans vol. 1 #1-40, vol. 2 #1-5, Tales of the Teen Titans #41-64): I’ve written before about how much this series pushed the comics medium during the early to mid ‘80s, but it’s worth repeating. I honestly believe that comics would still be kid stuff today if it weren’t for the run these creators had on this book. The complex motivations given to some of their signature villains (such as Brother Blood and Deathstroke), coupled with honest portrayals of these kids’ growth into adults, complete with sex, betrayal, and identity searching, brought the whole industry kicking and screaming to a whole other level. If you’ve ever read it, do yourself a favor and check out “The Judas Contract.”
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (Action Comics vol. 1): If you’re reading this, these fellas probably need no introduction, but it’s very likely that comic books as we know them wouldn’t exist if they hadn’t created a little character named Superman back in the ‘30s. Comics’ first costumed superhero made his inaugural appearance in the first issue listed above and set the industry on its ear almost immediately, giving rise to countless imitators both blatant and subtle, not to mention TV shows, movies, and who knows how much other assorted paraphernalia. Supes’ following today is not what it once was, but the lasting contribution made by these gentlemen to pop culture is inarguable.
Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson (The Boys #1-43, 72): One of my favorite comic writers of all time, Garth Ennis set out to top his previous magnum opus, Preacher, with a new series called The Boys. Ennis had worked with Robertson before on projects like Punisher: Born, and promised him free reign as the artist on the project. Initially published by DC Comics, the series was so amazing and gory that the publisher couldn’t handle it, cancelling the book after six issues. Finding a new home at Dynamite Entertainment, Ennis and Robertson pulled out all the stops, showing readers that power corrupts absolutely in superheroes and how gray the world can be in seventy-two issues of bloody awesomeness.
Brian Michael Bendis and Olivier Coipel (House of M): Bendis has impressed me often, but his epic House of M, with Olivier Coipel, entrapped me. I used to hate big events in comics, but after the first issue of this series I was hooked. The characters were so fully realized and beautifully drawn, and it was this book that made me notice and love Scarlet Witch. The end of House of M shattered my perception of the Marvel Universe, reducing the mutant race down to less than two hundred and showing what one powerful mutant could accomplish. Bendis and Coipel delivered on showing an engaging new alternate world.
Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona (Runaways vol. 1 #1-18, vol.2 #1-24): The first eighteen issues of Runaways will always hold a special place on my shelf. I enjoyed the entire series, but nothing compared to the work Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona put into that first run (nope, not even the Joss Whedon issues). I liked the idea from the beginning—kids finding out that their parents were super villains—but it expanded far past that and really became about the characters, embracing the younger feel and humor, but never losing that seriousness. Vaughan and Alphona appreciated their characters and gave them goals and depth, making them strong and memorable.
Jeph Loeb and Michael Turner (Superman/Batman #8-13): My favorite team would have to be Michael Turner and Jeff Loeb on the Superman/Batman series. Turner’s characters were never just physically fit, he had a way of drawing them in perfect physical condition. This was almost too good when it came to Loeb’s writing during the series. The emotion that needed to come with Superman and his only surviving fellow Kryptonian, not to mention family member, is always sort of skirted because of the nature of Supergirl’s introduction way back when. Loeb and Turner were able to give Superman that push he needed to show how strongly he cared and how he also doesn’t always keep a level head (understatement) when it comes to those he loves.
Brad Meltzer and Rags Morales (Identity Crisis): Another team that I thought came together perfectly was Rags Morales and Brad Meltzer. Their work on DC’s Identity Crisis delivered the ultimate crime drama. Identity Crisis was one of the darkest comics to come out of the main DC lineup. Morales has a way with faces of terror and Meltzer’s writing took that idea and ran with it. The way they were able to make every discovery about more than just the initial investigation was key in this story.
Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee (Batman #608-619): As much as I hate to use this guy again, I have to say that another team that got together to make comic book magic was the Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee collaboration. When I first read DC’s Batman: Hush I was blown away. Jim Lee is another favorite of mine, and it’s not hard to see why when you look at his resume. I think Lee has a way of catching that grandeur that Alex Ross is able to portray and at the same time include the gravity and hardness of Michael Turner. Loeb just knows how to deal with the personal, intense stories. Hush took all of these factors and combined them for a tale of past and present. And when dealing with Batman, these two are always hand-in-hand.
Doug Moench and Gene Day(Master of Kung Fu #100-120): From issue 100 to 120, inker extraordinaire Gene Day took over for Mike Zeck on Doug Moench’s Master of Kung Fu. What should have been a jump on the martial arts bandwagon that produced mediocre issues and died a quick death was treated (from day one) with utmost respect and a lot of originality. Many Kung Fu purists will argue for the Moench/Gulacy years, when the strip established itself permanently as a covert spy series a la James Bond, and those issues are justly famous. But it is the ornamentation and page design of Gene Day that stands as a true testament of an artist who died far too young. Do yourself a solid and grab any issue from the run from any dollar bin—114, 117, and 120 are the true standouts. Read it—you will go back for the rest.
Mike W. Barr and Alan Davis (Detective Comics #569-575): Ever wonder why some of us oldsters balked at the popularly elected execution of Jason Todd and felt the poor bastard never got any respect? The reason was the Mike W. Barr/Alan Davis short but wonderful run on Detective Comics. There’s action, excitement, and, above all, page after page of great humor. Barr and Davis focused on the partnership, the camaraderie, and the age difference. We all loved the new team—it was a marvelous new/old direction. But it was not to be. Plus, Davis draws a stunning Catwoman. Collected in the hardcover Legends of the Dark Knight: Alan Davis.
Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones (Groo): These two creators are in total sync. A monthly book where the letters page was required reading. Yes, it was the same four jokes over and over…but what jokes and, more important, what execution! The narration and dialogue by Evanier is always clever and oft-times laugh-out-loud funny. Mr. Aragones puts more detail and imagination in one page than most artists provide in an entire issue. Those who know his work know I am not exaggerating. And those who do not know his work, stop what you’re doing and run to the local comic shop for a few issues. All this plus Rufferto—perhaps the greatest sidekick/ faithful dog/potential future dinner a mass-marauding Wanderer could ask for!
Chris Claremont and John Byrne (Uncanny X-Men #108-143): Every X-Men reader has a “definitive” creative team, but you’ll never convince me that anyone deserves that title more than Claremont and Byrne. Both creators were at the absolute top of their games during their run, with Claremont becoming more comfortable (and taking more risks) with the book and Byrne providing clean linework and expressive characters. These words and images turned Uncanny X-Men into a believable superhero soap (and, at times, space) opera, and set the standard for the series moving forward. Together, Claremont and Byrne crafted storylines that are still among the best the title has ever seen, such as “The Days of Future Past” and the legendary “Dark Phoenix Saga.” When I think “X-Men,” I think of these two guys, first and foremost.
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale (Batman: The Long Halloween): Sometimes, pairing a mediocre writer with the right artist can create absolute magic. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does it is breathtaking. I am not a big Jeph Loeb fan, but pair him with the distinct, dynamite artwork of Tim Sale, and the result is comics gold, without fail. The first collaboration between these two I encountered was the Wolverine/Gambit: Victims mini-series (which is still surprisingly good for a mid ‘90s X-Men title), but it was their work on Batman, particularly the acclaimed The Long Halloween, that solidified Loeb/Sale as a favorite of mine. Throw in the subsequent Superman for All Seasons and their “color” books at Marvel, and you’ve got a creative pairing that I will follow anywhere. These guys could make a D-Man: Beige series and I’d still be all over it.
Kurt Busiek and George Pérez (Avengers vol. 3 #1-34): I’m not sure there have ever been two guys who just “get” comics more than Busiek and Pérez. Busiek felt, at times, like the lone voice of sanity in mainstream comics in the 1990s, approaching material in a way that embraced the classic feeling of comics but never felt outdated (see Marvels, Astro City, Thunderbolts). Meanwhile, Pérez was (and, arguably, still is) Mr. Comics, having illustrated New Teen Titans, Crisis, and the previous Avengers series with oftentimes mindblowing precision. It’s no surprise that, when JLA/Avengers finally saw publication, these were the two guys behind it.
These are our favorite creative teams, but what are some of yours? Sound off in the comments!