Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The 10 Best Peter David Stories

As a young comic fan, I remember Peter David as being the first writer I became aware of. I think every comic reader, especially those who start young, don’t really associate the stories that are blowing your mind as being written by actual human beings when they’re first getting into the medium, despite there being a credits box more often than not prominently displayed somewhere on one of the first pages. But I do remember PAD as being the first writer to capture my attention enough that I felt compelled to not only find out who he was, but what else he has written.

With that said, I’ve sat down and, after careful consideration, picked my top 10 Peter David stories. Bear in mind this list is purely, 100% subjective based on what has struck me over the years and pertinent first and foremost to my tastes. But worry not. As a man of impeccable tastes, I’m certain this list is as near definitive as definitive can get.

10) Aquaman: Time and Tide


Over the years, there’ve been more attempts at making Aquaman cool than anyone can readily count, but I've always been of the opinion Peter David did it to the greatest effect, and it all started with this series. Sure, most remember the David-penned series that came after this one featuring a hook-handed, long haired and scruffy bearded Arthur Curry (which, make no mistake, was fantastic under David) but this is the series that got the ball rolling. David deftly shows that when it comes to the king of Atlantis, it ain’t all talking to fish and that life was hard for this man of two worlds. If (fine, when) you hear someone mock Aquaman, point them to this series.

9) Madrox


This one took everyone by surprise back when it was first published. It was a book about a D-list character, surrounded by other D-list characters. Hell, Wizard Magazine had just run a feature openly mocking one of them. Peter David took these misfits and shoved them into a noir-style book. Sure, he was playing with characters from his beloved and cut-much-too-short the X-Factor run, but hardboiled, detective noir? With also-ran X-Men characters? Really? Yeah, really. And it worked. Like, really, really well. Madrox was a good detective story and thrust, Jamie “Multiple Man” Madrox into the fore of the X-Universe arguably for the first time in his history. Madrox was successful enough that a new X-Factor series centered around Multiple Man was launched from it that is not only the best, most non-X X-book, but consistently one of the best comics Marvel publishes month-to-month.

8) Spider-Man: The Death of Jean DeWolff


Heroes on opposing side of an issue is nothing new to comics, nor is moral ambiguity is nothing new to comics, but The Death of Jean DeWolff handles both with maturity and balance. This tale is notable as the titular character, Captain Jean DeWolff isn’t killed in the hail of battle by a supervillain or the like, but rather by a sociopath in her sleep. What follows is Spider-Man and Daredevil teaming up, and not so much their heroic mettle being put to the test but rather their morals and values.

7) The Last Avengers Story


In the future, The Avengers are… mostly old, out of shape and retired. Sure, we learn that some of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes met bad ends in battle over the years, but for the most part, this is the story of men and women on the cusp of old age, their triumphs and defeats long behind them, being called back into action by one of their oldest adversaries for one last epic battle. Not only that, but the Hank Pym/Ultron relationship actually arrives at its logical conclusion and it's pretty damn fulfilling.  This was one of those “final showdown” books that was less shock and awe and more personal.

6) Supergirl: Many Happy Returns


While it does help to be up on pre-crisis DC and post-crisis DC, it’s not essential to enjoy this fantastic arc. The pre-crisis Supergirl is pulled from her timeline into the then current DC timeline, meeting the new Supergirl. The duo couldn’t be more different, what the new Supergirl being quite modern and properly angsty, and the original Supergirl being appropriately Silver Agey innocent. Like other Peter David stories, the premise shouldn’t have worked, but he pulled it off and he pulled it off well. Funny, poignant and tragic, this is Peter David at the top of his game.

5) X-Factor 87


Peter David is that rare writer that has perfectly mastered dramatic whiplash and X-Factor 87 highlights that ability perfectly. The team is ordered to go through psychological evaluations, and hilarity ensues to be sure (Polaris’ new costume is a fantastic dig at 90’s design aesthetics), but  we also get keen insight for established characters we never really got before. For example, we learn why Quicksilver is a dick, why Strong Guy is always cracking bad jokes, and why Multiple Man is an attention whore.

4) Captain Marvel 31


Peter David’s criminally underrated Captain Marvel run (both of them) is a perfect showcase of what he’s capable of as a writer. It’s got drama, humor, beautiful triumphs and despairing tragedy. This particular issue exemplifies what made this series so special, as it comes at the end of a big, cosmic time travel arc yet serves as a look at Rick Jones’s wife, Marlo (a character David himself created years before in The Incredible Hulk). This is the small, personal story of an ordinary woman who consistently finds herself in extremely extraordinary circumstances, right smack in the middle of a giant cosmic epic.

3) The Hulk: The End


Another look at a terrible future, this entry is notable for perfectly capturing the loneliness that is the existence of both The Hulk and Bruce Banner. Everyone and everything is gone, save an ancient, decrepit Bruce Banner who just wants to die but isn’t allowed to thanks to his monstrous alter ego. The climax is both what you’d expect and at the same time offers up a nice, bitter twist.

2) Fallen Angel


Most of Peter David’s writing is peppered with a fairly decent amount of light-heartedness, if not outright humor, before he turns things around and whallops your heartstrings. Not so much with Fallen Angel. This creator-owned series is about as dark as David gets, but it’s not depressing and dour. It’s just… well, it’s just good. To tell too much of the premise is to give away much of the good stuff, suffice to say that nothing is as it seems in the city of Bete Noir, including time. Part super hero tale, part old school pulp story, all unique and constantly engaging.

1) Incredible Hulk 466


This was the first time a comic ever made me cry. Sure, I'd seen heartbreak in comics before, but nothing this intensely personal and painful. This is the penultimate issue of David’s legendary run on The Incredible Hulk and it’s not a happy ending. After Banner’s wife Betty becomes terminally ill thanks to what seems to be continued exposure to the radioactive Hulk, the oft-put upon scientist pulls out all the stops trying to save her. And near the end, it seems he may have succeeded. Only, he doesn’t succeed. Betty dies in pain despite Bruce doing everything in his power to stave it off. Add a narration that offers up passages from Betty's autobiography and you’re left with one of the most truly emotionally crushing moments in comics. 

2 comments:

  1. This is a great list and, though I'm a little reluctant to admit it, there are some large chunks in my Peter David knowledge (I've read very little of his Aquaman, Captain Marvel, and Fallen Angel. Although I've read all the Hulk comics on this list, I've barely scratched the surface of his Hulk work) but thanks to digital comics and cheap back issues on ebay, I think I'll fix that soon. I was huge fan of his original X-Factor run and recently while flipping through my collection, I pulled X-Factor 87 and reread it just because. I'm way behind on his current X-Factor, but I was thrilled to see him return to the series.

    Since we probably started reading comics around the same time, I guess it's not that strange that Peter David is one of the first writers I became aware of as well (along with J.M. DeMatteis and Chris Claremont (and while we're on the subject, I think, despite their acclaim, PAD, DeMatteis and Kurt Busiek are the three most underappreciated writers in comics when compared to their output of outstanding work versus some of the more popular guys who are much more hit or miss for me)

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  2. But back to Peter David, before I ever read The Death of Jean Dewolff (I didn't read it till I was an adult and actually looked it up), I was just a simple kid whose back issue building was mostly limited to digging through the dollar bins at Gallops. I spent a lot of that time looking for any old Spider-Man comics I could find and was lucky enough to get quite a bit of David's Spectacular Spider-Man run which is all too short. And one issue, Spectacular Spider-Man 118, is one of those comics that has stuck with me for so many reasons. Leading up to this issue, we had met a kid named Alex in little interludes. His story is a spin on the classic origin. Instead of loving parents, he had an abusive father that was a scientist. One night Alex stuck his hand in one of his fathers experiments and his hand started glowing. Later, his father raised his hand to strike Alex and Alex raised his hand to protect himself and disintegrated his father. Alex ran away from home, scared for his life and, in traditional PAD style of interjecting humor into dramatic situations, Alex's mom vacuumed up her husbands ashes while worrying about her husband and sons whereabouts. Then came issue 118, which still holds a special nostalgic place in my heart. I won't ruin it for you and it probably won't live up to the hype I've just laid down to an adult, but if you read it, pretend you’re 12 years old and you are used to Spider-Man fighting larger than life super villains for the fate of something large and inanimate, not the life of a scared little boy that’s the same age as you. You can google the cover easy enough, but the cover reads "Alexander has the power to level cities. Shield has the power to level Alexander. Spdier-Man versus the Agents of Sheild"

    Other moments in that Spectacular run that blew my fragile little youthful mind, Spider-Man did something he has done a zillion times, he covered a villain's face with web fluid, only the villain was Sabretooth and in his rage he ripped the webbing off and his face with it (#116).

    And last but not least, at this time period Aunt May had turned her home into a boarding house for several middle aged to elder tenants when some thugs broke in and took everyone hostage. This was actually a follow up to a sub plot from The Death of Jean DeWolff in which an elder man named Ernie shot up some questionable looking guys who were asking him for money. The grand jury has decided not to press charges for the shooting so Ernie is free to go which is headline news. The guys he shot follow him to Aunt May's house to "thank him" with guns and we end up with a "Die Hard" scenario in which the house is surrounded by police and the thugs are threatening to start shooting people if their demands are not met. Spider-Man slips in and takes out the guys one by one, but what made this story different were the characters, most importantly Aunt May's elderly, wheel chair bound fiancĂ©, Nathan. The leader of the thugs had already insulted Nathan’s manhood and when Nathan stood up to him, the leader knocked him out of his wheel chair. So when Spider-Man is down to just the lead thug, who he easily disarms and the battle is over, Nathan quickly opens a window shade and a police sniper shoots the lead thug, killing him (#113).

    What I find most impressive about this Spider-Man run is that it was Peter David's first professional comic book work and it's so much more exciting and emotional charged than anything Brand New Day has done (or JMS from what I read of his run, really than anything I've read in the modern era since J.M. DeMatteis stopped writing Spider-Man).

    Well, i've rambled on, I'll be going now.

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