The mid-Eighties were a tumultuous time for the already-struggling Value Comics. Their parent company had just sold off numerous assets to stay afloat, their printers were having great difficulty acquiring green ink, and their two biggest competitors were beginning to advance in storytelling and art in ways Value simply didn’t intend to keep up with.
As tends to happen, it was decided that a line-wide shake-up was the best way to revitalize interest in a stable of characters who had been around in some form or another since the mid-50s. Cataclysm in Space had far-reaching effects on the VCU, even if it did ultimately fail to improve Value’s standing in the industry. In addition to some long-needed changes to the status quo of the line’s major characters, the event did much to streamline their oft-convoluted, frequently contradictory histories.
#3: Craig Merriweather’s Superman (2007-2009)
When former Taos, New Mexico public access weatherman/mime Merriweather was handed the reins of DC’s most iconic hero, he was an unknown quantity. By the time of his mysterious death by suffocation in an invisible box in late 2009, he was heralded as one of the greatest writers ever to tackle the character. The supporting cast had chances to shine and profoundly develop in story arcs like Lex Luthor’s harrowing Rogaine addiction and Jimmy Olsen’s romance with his robot maid, and Superman’s skills were tested against a creative new rogues’ gallery including Icemaster 5000, Amorphous Dennis, and the inimitable Murder Torus. Now available in trade and digitally, Craig Merriweather’s run on Superman is a great starting point for new readers looking to see what Superman is all about and an essential part of any fan’s collection.
#2: Pete Shropshire’s Spider-Man (1981-2002)
Just as Chris Claremont came to define the X-Men, so too did Pete Shropshire come to define Marvel’s legendary webslinger. The state of things when Shropshire came onto the title in 1981 was grim; Aunt May was an undead lich married to Ape Walt Simonson after the infamous Ape Writers vs. the Army of the Dead event, and Mary Jane was addicted to horseback riding. Shropshire quickly set to work righting these missteps, neatly resolving them with an ingenious twist on the classic “it was all a dream” formula. With the road ahead clear of inconvenient obstacles, Shropshire was free to create countless memorable story arcs, from Peter and Mary Jane’s sensual honeymoon in the giant spider dimension to Norman Osborn’s humanizing and not at all exploitative or problematic adoption and care of a Wakandan orphan named Toot-Toot. Many thought (even hoped) that the resilient Shropshire would keep writing Spider-Man forever, but sadly his run ended with his death in 2002 by suffocation in an invisible box.
#1: Bob Sellers’ Iron Man (1999-2001)
If the popular film was your introduction to Iron Man, you missed out on experiencing the far superior comic run it was based on, brought joyously into this world by the brilliant Bob Sellers. The films kept the general story beats of Sellers’ run but excised the most important character, Tony Stark’s hallucinatory best friend Jack Daniels. Jack Daniels’ quick wit and compassion brought much-needed levity to dark situations and acted as Tony’s conscience, and his absence in the films is felt almost as painfully as the absence of Sellers himself, who was killed on September 11th, 2001 when a piece of falling debris crushed the airtight invisible box he was trapped in.