My 10 Favorite 80s Single-Issue Stories

I really started reading American comics in the 80s, at a time when serialization was only just becoming the standard. So while some great story arcs came out of the decade, I remember done-in-one stories just as, if not more, fondly. Today, I attempt to track down my 10 favorite oners published between 1980 and 1989. Saving myself the trouble of ranking them, I'll instead put them up chronologically. #coward
Kitty's Fairy Tale from Uncanny X-Men #153 (January 1982) by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and josef Rubinstein
There's no way around it, some of these stories have lived with me for so long, I've talked about them on the blog before and will unashamedly point you to the older article. That's the case for about half of these. Kitty's Fairy Tale was my first X-Men comic, so I started with a "change of pace" issue quite accidentally, and it introduced me to the core of the characters, if not the characters themselves, as soon-to-be-teenage-crush Kitty Pryde tells an X-Men story as a bedtime story. And I used it for the same purpose with my younger siblings. It's what got me into X-Men, which was the series I would be most dedicated to through the decade.
Ambush Bug II from DC Comics Presents #59 (July 1983) by Keith Giffen, Paul Levitz and Kurt Schaffenberger
The first comic I ever bought with my own money, it's at the crossroads of many things my blogging has shown interest in - Superman, Ambush Bug, and the Legion of Super-Heroes. To this day, I skew towards humor in comics, as opposed to the grim, angst-ridden and gritty.
Friends from World's Finest Comics #293 (July 1983) by David Anthony Kraft, Adrian Gonzales and Tony DeZuniga
And another one I've mentioned before, this issue of World's Finest shows that I'm in no way compiling a list of "best", but rather of personal "favorites". Null & Void eventually got a follow-up story, but the never hit the big time (which is being showcased in Who's Who). I still love them to bits. They look cool, have unusual powers, a unique shared history, and are friends, just like Batman and Superman are supposed to be. Read and reread often, but that's what happens with your first few comics, isn't it?
The Anatomy Lesson from Saga of the Swamp Thing #21 (February 1984) by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette and John Totleben
Sometimes you have to call a classic a classic. The Anatomy Lesson was one of the biggest game-changers in DC history, as shocking to Swamp Thing fans as it was literate, with creepy adult artwork from Bissette and Totleben. The story redefined Swamp Thing, but with it, Alan Moore also redefined DC Comics. Its critical success would not only lead to Moore getting seminal projects like Watchmen, but would also get DC on the trail of other UK writers, all steps leading to the creation of Vertigo, which probably saved my comics fandom in the 90s and made DC the place to be if you were an older, more mature reader.
Last Days of the Justice Society Special #1 (April 1986) by Roy & Danette Thomas, David Ross and Mike Gustovich
In the throes of Crisis on Infinite Earths came this special, which I know many did not like, but if you forgive DC for sweeping the JSA under the rug for a minute (and without Roy Thomas, they wouldn't have gotten a send-off AT ALL), think about how awesome their "last" story actually is. They end up staving off Ragnarok! I mean, come on! Yeah, I wrote a piece on this one too.
Blast from the Past from Captain Atom #3 (May 1987) by Cary Bates, Pat Broderick and Bob Smith
Captain Atom had a very strong initial run, and the way it integrated the Charlton stories into its narrative always stuck with me. The character started from scratch, of course, but Cary Bates used the Charlton stuff as a cover story to explain who this superhero was and hide the fact he was working for the government. Brilliant, especially since I had a couple of Modern Comics reprints of his old stories in my collection. The idea was reused in Captain Atom's Secret Origins story, so not a forgotten one-off. The post-Crisis era was an interesting time because continuity problems and implants were being handled so differently by different writers. That could be a problem, but it could lead to some creative stories as well.
William Hell's Overture from Suicide Squad #4 (August 1987) by John Ostrander, Luke McDonnell and Bob Lewis
The last story on this list that's been discussed before, I swear, Suicide Squad #4 was the first issue I found and read (I would soon find the first three and complete the collection), and it absolutely made me fall in love with the concept and the characters - a concept that, beyond the original John Ostrander series, was never done right again, I hasten to add. Not only is it a done-in-one Mission Impossible story (and I love that), it's also got the regulars firing on all cylinders. Boomerang is a real a-hole. Deadshot is cool as hell. Waller doesn't take any crap from any of them. Great stuff, and still fondly remembered.
The Coyote Gospel from Animal Man #5 (December 1988) by Grant Morrison, Chaz Truog and Doug Hazlewood
This issue blew my mind and made me a Grant Morrison fan forever. Not only is The Coyote Gospel cheeky as hell, bringing a cartoon coyote (a thinly-disguised version of Wile E. Coyote) into the DCU, but it's an affecting tragedy despite its absurdity. And just for that, I would call it a classic. But it does even more. That last page which pulls out to show the colorist's brush finishing the page is the first time I ever encountered meta-textual narrative in a dramatic (as opposed to comical) context. AND as it turns out, was a fable that illustrated just where Morrison's run would take Animal Man over the next couple years. Why must a creation suffer for the edification of its creator and that creator's audience? Trust me, even though only a year and a half of the series was actually published in the 1980s, I still found it difficult not to include a few more Animal Man stories in this list (chief among them the Invasion tie-in).
Golden Rut from Daredevil #268 (July 1989) by Ann Nocenti, John Romita Jr. and Al Williamson
While the 80s were a great time to read Daredevil stories, most were serials, and those are against the rules. But Ann Nocenti wrote a couple of one-offs I really appreciated. One of these was the issue featuring a character called Rotgut ("Bad Plumbing") which stayed with me as a kid, but I'd much rather give the prize to Golden Rut, in which Matt Murdock stays at a rural B&B and experiences an entire local/family drama with his heightened senses, only taking part at the very end as a kind of fearsome devil. The 80s are when JR JR was at his best - in Uncanny X-Men and DD - and that helps, but more than that, it was a fine example of the kind of philosophical superheroics Nocenti was trying to achieve at the time.
The Sound of Her Wings from Sandman #8 (August 1989) by Neil Gaiman, Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III
The first few issues of Sandman are awkward, trying to fit elements from the standard DCU in a dark, urban fantasy where they don't really belong. Issue #8 would prove the first true Sandman comic. It's just a conversation between siblings, just Death telling Dream to get his head out of his ass, but in that portrayal of Death, readers found something wonderful, and she would become one of the most important characters in the comics medium of the next decade. With her introduction, Gaiman and the book found their common voice, and the series would return often to that conversation, and to a format that enabled such stories. Looking at my collection, The Sound of Her Wings is the decade's last great single-issue story.

But of course, your list would look very different, and I encourage you to compare notes with me in the comments or your own notes. I know that, for example, there aren't really any Batman stories in my list. I just didn't get into him, really, until after the 1989 film. Many other franchises were great because of their extended story arcs, which would be a list of its own (maybe I'll attempt it some time). Anyway, you tell me: What did I miss?


Madeley said...

A couple of alternative choices for me would be Daredevil 241, also written by Ann Nocenti. Black Christmas, a haunting story that didn't have a villain in it, just an unhinged one-off character that reflected Murdock's unhealthy thrill-seeking side. I'm sure I've mentioned it in comments here before, it was the first American-format comic I read, and probably made me the fan I am today.

Sandman 13, the first Hob Gadling story and my favourite Sandman story. It was the Sandman story I liked even back when I didn't really "get" Sandman. It's 90s rather than 80s, but only by a month or two.

One for the Brits: Transformers 100, the UK comic. Dark, surreal, disturbing, Optimus Prime is hunted in Cybertron by his own side, and tells a dying Autobot the story of how he and others were once trapped in limbo between worlds. It exemplifies the ambitious kind of story Simon Furman was able to get away with because no-one was watching what he was doing with a Marvel toy tie-in licence in a British comic Marvel HQ assumed no-one cared about. Utterly blew my 8 year old mind.

Siskoid said...

Ann Nocenti's run on Daredevil is still my favorite Daredevil run ever. Mark Waid is giving it a run for its money, but both definitely above Miller's, which is still seminal.

I'll keep Sandman 13 in mind for my inevitable 90s follow-up.

Anonymous said...

Not here, but elsewhere, I have been highly critical of Nocenti's body of work in the nu52 -- she ruined every title she touched, basically because she eschewed the normal techniques of storytelling (plot, tension, dialogue where it seems like characters are actually in the same conversation) in favor of what I might very euphemistically call a "quirky" style. Green Arrow, Catwoman, Katana, Klarion -- read the reviews, there is near universal agreement that they were all terrible under Nocenti's watch.

But when it came to Marvel in the 1980s, man, Nocenti had the mojo. (I didn't mean that as a pun, but it works out nicely, since she did the "Longshot" miniseries.) My personal favorite of hers was Warlock of the New Mutants deciding that he wasn't learning enough about the world from watching TV, so he morphed into the Mach 5 and drove to NYC to experience reallife. Nocenti could really hit stuff like that out of the park.

Is it possible there are two comic book writers out there who happen to be named "Ann Nocenti", and one is really awesome but hasn't done much work the past decade or two, and the other is getting writing gigs solely because of the confusion?

Randal said...

Man, Romita Jr, Marvel Hunk of the Month as he was, sure drew a hell of a lot better back then.

Simon (formerly Johnny Sorrow) said...

I'll second Madeley's endorsement of Daredevil 241. I read it as a kid when it first came out, and it occasionally returns to haunt me even now.

Sea-of-Green said...

Oh HECK yeah! Good single issue tales were rare even back then, but now they seem to be extinct.

Mr. Morbid's House Of Fun said...

Solid, solid picks man.
I shudder at the prosepct of picking my favorites, only because I believe most of them weren't one in dones.

Gotta' go find that Captain Atom issue though.
I definitely have to say the way that characters personality has changed over the years, not to mention his appearence, you'd think there realy were three different Captain Atoms.

Jeff R. said...

The two that leap to my mind are the Blue Devil Summer Fun Annual and the Superman Annual with For The Man Who Has Everything. Let's see, what else? Cerebus #51 ("Exodus"). Crisis on Infinite Earths #7. Myth Adventures #7 (In which Foglio makes a big divergence from the original text). I'll go with Saga of the Swamp Thing Annual #2 for that series, Violent Cases, Legion of Super-heroes #30(Brainy's Lucky Day), New Teen Titans #38 (Who is Donna Troy), and round off with Suicide Squad #1.


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