Top 10 Favorite Moments in Comics
Even in this day and age many people consider comics to be a lesser art form. Sure the episodic format does put some dints in the narrative format but doesn’t come close to impeding the fantastic artwork, characters and stories that the artists behind the these tales. Anyone who dismisses the comics and graphic novels due to their origins as pulpy entertainment for children are missing out. Comics, like any art form, have the ability to lift our spirits and deliver shocks that feel like a punch in the gut. These are my ten favorite, in no order.
A quick spoiler warning…fans of the Walking Dead TV series may not want to read past the ‘Watchmen’ entry.
X-Men in the Danger Room
Back in 1990 I decided to take my interest in superheroes to the logical conclusion and buy my first comic book. X-Men caught my eye. I liked the look of the characters and the range of different powers they exhibited. Mostly what caught my eye was the fantastic artwork who I later learned was by Jim Lee who, to this day, is my favorite artist. I picked up #1 of the new series and took it home to read. After the prologue we jumped into the X-Men training in their Danger Room. It looked like this:
Over the course of the next few pages the X-Men work through a training scenario where the X-Men have to break in to the Mansion and assassinate Professor Xavier. The art is complemented by the great script that backs it. The individual characters and their powers are introduced with them working together to meet their goals. Psylocke uses ninja skills to fight back robots, Rouge gives heat seeking missiles a run for their money, Archangel flings Colossus through a wall and Gambit slips off to chase after a redhead. Perfect X-Men dynamic.
Dream’s Battle of Reality
Preludes and Nocturnes
If you’re not familiar with Neil Gaiman then stop what you’re doing and go and read everything he was ever written. Read his novels, comics and children’s books. Everything. Why? Because he is one of the only completely legitimate literary geniuses that we are fortunate to have living and working. Ok, fan-gushing done.
One of his first hits was The Sandman, a radical re-imagining of an old, forgotten DC superhero. Taking a mythology angle instead of a superhero The Sandman aka Dream aka Morpheus finds himself imprisoned by an occult circle who were attempted to capture Death (his sister). Escaping a century later Dream must reclaim his three totems of power – his gem, his helm and his pouch. His search for his helm leads him to Hell, where it’s in the hands of a demon named Choronzon. Before the population of hell Dream must defeat Choronzon in a battle of wits, asserting reality against each other. It is without a doubt one of the finest, most spell-binding sequences ever written with a finale that could not have been played any better. Like I said: genius.
Harley Tries to Kill the Joker
Gotham City Sirens
The recent Gotham City Sirens was more than an excuse to to package Catwoman, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn together in the one series. Whilst not consistant in quality when it was at it’s best it was fantastic. The concluding story was more than a little interesting in concept. Through the series Harley’s relationship with the Joker was always a point of contention with her colleagues, with Ivy constantly having to persuade her that getting back with her abusive boyfriend was a mistake. Eventually Harley gets the message – and resolves to break into Arkham to finish things with Joker once and for all.
After a very long story detailing Harley’s journey through Arkham, using her insider knowledge of the hospital to manipulate guards and prisoners to get to her goal. Throughout we’re privy to the thoughts of anger and madness that build inside her mind. Harley Quinn get’s a lot of coverage in comics these days, but this is one of the best insights in to her mind. Eventually she comes face to face with her lover and tormenter, and it’s perfect finale to this tale. The Joker’s response to her appearance and the final frame mark this as one of the best moments between two of my favourite characters.
Mr. Hyde Teaches the Martians Fear
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
During the second volume of Alan Moore’s literary mash-up the forces of Earth and the assembled heroes who make up the League are at the mercy of H.G. Wells’ Martians and their tri-pods. The invaders have marched effortlessly across the land to London, vaporising everything in their path. Having reached the Thames they sat poised to conquer the world. And that’s when Mr. Hyde stepped up. The Martians were so powerful that they had never felt fear. Hearing sound of Hyde crunching one of their own as he gobbled it down changed all that.
It’s one of the most visceral and satisfying turn of battles ever written.
‘Spider-Man saved me from a fire so I didn’t die.’
The death of Peter Parker, one of the famous and beloved comic characters in history, was never going to be a cheerful affair. Even in the alternate timeline of Ultimate Spider-Man it was quite a blow, especially as Marvel dedicated substantial ink to his funeral. With the city having now learned the identity of their hero the population of New York turned out in spades to mourn him. Aunt May is intimidated by the silent crowd but puts on a brave face until one little girl with a heavily scarred face gets her attention. Asking if she was Spider-Man’s mother she explains that Spider-Man saved her from a fire when she was little.
Yep, there were tears. You’d really have to be made of stone not to be moved by this simple page.
The Joker Laughs to Death
The Dark Knight Returns
Although Frank Miller’s legendary comic was only intended to be viewed as a ‘what-if’ scenario it was such a genre defining masterpiece that many consider it canon. Decades in the future the increasing crime rates on Gotham force Bruce Wayne to become Batman after a long absence. Since the dark knight faded back into the shadows the Joker has also been inactive, sitting in Arkham Asylum without speaking or interacting in any way. Without his nemesis the Joker’s life has been meaningless…he doesn’t even smile any more.
When Batman is reported in the news the Joker comes back to life. He smiles, and then breaks out of Arkham to wreck havoc. When he and Batman clash in a sewer it’s a violent confrontation with Joker stabbing Batman several times. Batman finally puts a stop to the mad clown by snapping his neck, leaving him paralysed. This is an intense confrontation as it is, with Batman going closer to the edge than ever before. What makes this such a memorable sequence is that the Joker isn’t going to let Batman have the last laugh, and twists himself around until his neck snaps entirely, laughing all the way out.
Scott Pilgrim in Color
Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together
Not the recent re-printings of the greatest indie comic of all time, but rather the color chapter at the beginning of the fourth volume. There’s dozens of comic books going for the ‘quirky’ feel, dropping in pop-culture and retro-gaming references but the Scott Pilgrim series elevated itself above the rest through it’s imagination, loveable characters and great relationships. Without the spark between Scott Pilgrim and Ramona Flowers it would have never worked out. With Scott being immature and inconsiderate and Ramona being prickly and secretive they may not have been likeable, but there’s one moment that sells them perfectly.
During this larger than life chapter we get, for the first time, the sense that they deeply care for each other. Putting aside evil exes, video game physics and Sex Bob-omb, this is a sweet little moment of them living their life and being with each other. It’s what makes the readers fall in love with the characters.
Batman Shares the Joke
The Killing Joke
As we discussed in the previous feature on the best depictions of the Joker, this is one of the best clashes between the two enemies ever recorded on the printed page. After escaping Arkham, putting a bullet in Barbara Gordon’s lower spine and driving to drive the Commissioner to madness Batman corners the clown on a rooftop. Instead of taking him in Batman takes the chance to try and reason with him, knowing that eventually the conflict will kill one of them and he couldn’t let that happen without trying to resolve things without violence. Batman even offers to help rehabilitate him. The Joker declines, claiming that it’s ‘too late for that’ and tells Batman a joke about two mental patients escaping from their ward.
When the joker is finished, Batman can’t help but laugh. His usually stoic exterior of the dark knight cracks and he laughs uncontrollably along with his enemy. Never before have these two outlandish characters been so humanised. It’s the most perfect moment in Batman history.
Nite Owl Forlorn
Every comic nerd, or anyone who’s heard of comics, knows that Watchmen is one of the pinnacles of achievement in the industry. There’s dozens of fantastic moments in the story here, and plenty of contenders for a spot on this list. Rorschach’s break at the end of the story, Ozymandias catching the bullet, Nite-Owl and Silk Spectre laughing about old times…
Personally I go for one of the most subtle and effective pages in the book. With Rorschach suspecting that someone is targeting former-vigilantes he visits his old partner in crime fighting Nite-Owl, who’s since retired. When Nite-Owl cheerfully jokes about the good ‘ol days of their partnership, only to be rebuffed by Rorschach who flippantly dismisses Nite-Owl as a quitter. We then get an unbelievably well played page of Nite-Owl sitting next to his old costume, staring at the ground. Gibbons and Moore nailed it.
Carl Gets Shot
The Walking Dead
The single image in this sequence was enough to make me feel sick. Not due to the violence or gore in the image or that it’s a child – just the emotional impact. The characters in The Walking Dead are incredibly well developed and by this point in the story the readers are very attached to them. Carl is only one of the remaining members of the original crew and even though children have never been considered safe in this world (Billy and Ben’s fate was especially horrific) it was still assumed that Carl was off the chopping block.
During the chaos of the zombie invasion of the Alexandria safe-zone at a time when political tensions between the survivors where already running hot, Douglas loses his cool and begins shooting wildly. One of the bullets strikes Carl in the face and takes out his eye. Turning the page and being confronted with the image of Carl with a gaping hole in his face was outright devastating.