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10 Comic Books That Changed the Industry (Or Just Look Darn Cool)

1. The Death of Superman

Superman #75

In the early 1990s, comic books (or comicbooks, as industry veterans call them) were becoming very gimmick oriented. Every other week, there was a new "special first collector's issue", another "holo cover" or "glossy cover", and another purportedly industry-changing story line.

One of those special story arcs was the death of Superman. Though it's best to put "death" in quotes, because comic buffs know that nearly nothing is forever in the fantasy world of superheroes. Well, while comic buffs might have known that Superman would eventually become reanimated (and right they were), many people new to comics – with a little help from mainstream media – figured this is the big one. And so they bought the comic book. And a lot.

2. Spider-Man Makes His Debut

Amazing Fantasy #15

When it became clear to Stan Lee of Marvel Comics that the comic series Amazing Adult Fantasy was to be cancelled with issue 15, he knew there was nothing to lose. So Stan, with artist Steve Ditko, for that last issue in 1962 (renamed to Amazing Fantasy) decided to give a new character a chance.

I guess that would be the end of the story, if not for one little thing: Amazing Fantasy #15, with its not-so-heroic teenager facing everyday problems, happened to sell like crazy. Of all superheroes, the one that was a recreation of a little animal many of us find yucky, was an incredible success. The rest, of course, is history, and by now Spider-Man is one of Marvel's most successful characters both in comic book form and on the big screen. And if you got around 40,000 bucks to spare, you might want to collect that particular comic issue with his first appearance yourself...

On a side-note: To this day, Stan Lee makes guest appearances in Marvel movies, like Spider-Man or X-Men. Similar to what Hitchcock did in his movies, you will briefly see Stan as a random neighbor, customer, or other citizen. In this year's Iron Man movie, he faced Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) on the red carpet playing a party guest – but Tony identified him as Playboy's Mr. Hugh Hefner.

3. Is It a Bird? Is It a Plane?

Action Comics #1

Superheroes were popular even back in the late 1930s, but there probably aren't that many creations of the time which you might still know to this day! Superman of course was one of the more long-lived heroes, ever since his 1938 inception by Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster in Action Comics.

Originally the son of planet Krypton (which was a doomed planet, so his parents sent "Kal-El" away in a space shuttle) didn't have all the powers attributed to him now. But thanks to the competitive comic industry, he learned quickly, as his creators had high hopes to make him the ultimate super hero of all. These days, Superman can do anything from looking through walls with x-ray vision, flying, shooting blasts from his eyes, blowing superstrong winds, lifting superheavy objects, and last not least, going back in time (thanks to faster-than-light speed flying). His most surprising skill of all however might be that he's able to go "incognito" as Clark Kent simply by putting on a pair of glasses...

If you want to buy this comic issue, please save around $470,000. Yeah, if only we could go back in time to collect that comic while it still had cost 10 cents...

4. Superwhat?

Superboy #124

In the evolution of comic book characters, the rule of nature seems to be: cancel whatever doesn't work, and clone what does work. Due to the success of Superman, the character spun off several mutations. One of those was Superbaby – supposed to be Superman during his toddler years! On the cover shown, Superbaby knocks out a boxer in the ring and says, "Naughty Man! You hit your friend two times right after he shake hands with you, so me punch you back – twice!"

Other Superman-style characters were Superboy, Superdog Krypto, and Supergirl. And let's not forget Comet, the Super-Horse. As Superman puts it, "A horse that can fly... and is invulnerable to Kryptonite!"

5. Hulk Can Has Smash

Incredible Hulk #1

If you ever feel like impressing non-comic buff friends, just tell them: Oh, I liked Hulk better when he was still gray. (Yep, that was the original color of the now-green man monster, as shown on the cover to The Incredible Hulk #1 from 1962. Extra points if you manage to sneak in the sentence "Lou Ferrigno was a much more convincing Hulk in the TV series than the 3D Hulk in the movies will ever be!")

6. Rai

Rai #0

Rai wasn't an industry changing comic book, but Rai #0 from November 1992 had an incredibly iconic looking cover going for it. The publisher of this title, Valiant, was highly successful in the early 1990s, but went down in 1994 during a slump in the comic industry.

On a side-note, some people say the cover to Rai #0 was cloned from another cover – judge for yourself.

7. Eightball

Eightball #13

US-based Fantagraphis is one of the most interesting comic book publishers in the world, and one of their most interesting titles is (or was, as the comic is rarely released these days) Eightball. Written and drawn by Daniel Clowes, the comic in the meantime spun off two movies; Ghost World, and the only semi-great Art School Confidential.

A character of Ghost World, Enid Coleslaw, is also shown on the cover to Eightball #13. You think Enid Coleslaw is an odd name? It's an anagram of another name – shuffle the letters and see if you can guess it...

8. Frank Miller's Sin City

Dark Horse Presents #51

Publisher Dark Horse used the anthology title Dark Horse Presents (DHP) to introduce different kinds of characters and stories. One of those was character Marv appearing in The Hard Goodbye, the first of what would become several tales of Sin City. Creator Frank Miller, who also worked on Daredevil (and later on 300), told the Sin City stories in high-contrasts of mostly just black and white. As of 2005, Sin City is also available as a film, featuring stars like Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis and Jessica Alba.

9. CGC-wrapped Zombies

Marvel Zombies #3

Two things are noteworthy about this cover. First, that it's wrapped in a CGC sleeve. What's CGC? CGC is short for Certified Guaranty Company. If you're a comic collector or seller, their service is to grade your comic on a scale of 0.5 to 10, where 10 is the (ultra-rare) absolute perfect condition. For instance, you'd get minus points for a tear on a page, a spine split, and other signs of the comic book having suffered through – gasp! – someone actually reading it. After the grading, the book is assigned a unique verifiable number, and it's then put in a Fort-Knoxish sealed transparent capsule... a "combination of compression and ultrasonic vibration", as the CGC site claims! Afterwards, provided the rating is good, the price this now-sealed comic book sells for can jump upwards quite dramatically.

Another thing interesting here is that the mini-series Marvel Zombies is one of the species of comic books published outside of the universe's main continuity. That's why you can see Wolverine (and reflected in his Adamantium claws, the Hulk) in a walking-dead zombie state, even though they may appear quite normal, healthy and undead in other comics of the time. "Out-of-continuity stories are often using mechanisms like dream sequences or alternate dimensions to get away with telling an odd story without affecting the "real" fantasy character. This way, things can get more radical. Like with Marvel Zombies. Or *cough* Marvel Apes...

10. Who Watches the Watchmen?

Watchmen #1

Watchmen is currently about to hit cinemas near you. Like the movies V for Vendetta, From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, it is based on a comic book written by industry legend Alan Moore. When Watchmen hit the comic book stands via publisher DC in 1986, it made quite a splash due to its intriguing vision and writing. On the surface, this was a superheroes story. But Watchmen had so many layers above, beyond and across that, expressed through things like symmetric panel layouts, near-hidden details, and cut scenes creating double meanings, that it was much more than that.

These multiple layers, expressed in ways Alan might consider unique to the comic medium, might also be why Alan doesn't like to see his creations turned into movies. So you won't see his name on the movie poster of Watchmen... though you may find him talking about it in interviews. Like the one with the Los Angeles Times, where part time magician Alan says he will "be spitting venom" all over the movie "for months to come."

Who watches the Watchmen? Probably not Alan Moore.


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