Top Comic Book Storylines: 44-41

Today, we continue our countdown of your picks for the greatest comic book storylines of all-time with #44-41.

You voted (over 1,000 ballots cast and a little bit more than the last time we did this countdown) and you all sent in ballots ranking your favorite storylines from #1 (10 points) to #10 (1 point). I added up all of the points and here we are!

44. “Squadron Supreme” by Mark Gruenwald, Bob Hall, Paul Ryan, John Buscema, John Beatty, Sam De La Rosa, Jackson Guice and Keith Williams (Squadron Supreme #1-12) – 241 points (1 first place votes)

The concept of this series is a simple but powerful one. What if the superheroes of the world just decided to fix the world? It is a concept that many comics (Authority, for one) have addressed in the years since, but at the time, Mark Gruenwald’s story was quite novel. Here, see the Squadron come to their determination of going through with their plan to make the world a Utopia…

And Nighthawk is just as determined to object to the plan...

The conflict between Superman and Batman…oops, I mean Hyperion and Nighthawk is the centerpiece of this series. The rest of the maxi-series shows how superheroes would go about changing the world while also showing Nighthawk try to come up with a way of stopping his former friends from what he feels is an ultimate betrayal of the concept of free will.

There are detours along the way, of course, including some disturbing plots involving mind control and rape, but in the end it comes down to two former friends coming to an impasse in their beliefs and the bloody after effects of what happens when their conflict comes to a head.

This was truly ahead of its time and it was rightly the proudest Mark Gruenwald ever was of one of his works (even going so far as to have his family and Marvel mix his ashes with the printing of the trade paperback after he died). Bob Hall and Paul Ryan did fine work on the art for the series.

RELATED: Top Comic Book Storylines: 48-45

43. "Identity Crisis" by Brad Meltzer, Rags Morales and Michael Bair (Identity Crisis #1-7) – 249 points (1 first place vote)

Identity Crisis is a murder mystery, where the victim is the wife of a superhero, Elongated Man.

Sue Dibny, like her hero husband Ralph, was a public figure, so when she was murdered, it threw the whole superhero community into a frenzy – are THEIR loved ones at risk, too? What do you do if your secret identity is threatened?

Before Sue dies, we get a touching tribute to their life together…

Very sad.

The death of Sue also caused a group of Justice Leaguers to reflect back on the last time they caught a super-villain messing with a loved one (Sue, actually) – they wiped his memory clean. So they figured that this villain might have remembered it, and since Sue’s death possibly could have been caused by someone with this villain’s powers, he became the most wanted villain on the planet.

Soon other loved ones of heroes are attacked (and some killed) and the mystery ratchets up, all the while contrasting with the loss of trust between some of the heroes when they learn what these Leaguers did in the past to Doctor Light after his assault on Sue. We also learn that their actions did not stop just with Doctor Light. What they did to him inspired them to repeat similar experiments on other super villains, which was particularly tough for Wally West to hear about his uncle Barry Allen, who he always looked to as a paragon of virtue.

There's a memorable fight in the series when the most wanted man on Earth, Doctor Light, hires Deathstroke the Terminator to protect him from the crazed Justice League.

When the murderer is revealed – it is a shock to the system, to say the least.

Rags Morales and Michael Bair do a wonderful job with the facial expressions in this series, which is important because writer Brad Meltzer includes a good deal of emotional scenes.

This series has been one of the most influential series of the past 20 years for DC Comics, as a great many comics spun out of this one.

42. "Life as a Weapon" by Matt Fraction, David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth (with Javier Pulido, Steve Lieber, Jesse Hamm, Annie Wu and Francesco Francavilla) (Hawkeye #1-11) - 257 points (3 first place votes)

Back in 2008, there was a Young Avengers Presents mini-series where each issue spotlighted one or two members of the Young Avengers. Matt Fraction did the Hawkeye spotlight issue, featuring Kate Bishop interacting with the then-newly resurrected Clint Barton, who was going by the name Ronin at the time. The issue was great and Fraction surely had it in mind four years later when he launched Hawkeye with artist David Aja, as he brought Kate Bishop along as Clint's new partner/student, as Clint got involved in an apartment building and these bad guys who wanted to take control of the building.

The series is driven by Hawkeye's purchase of the building, which he did to do some good, but in typical Hawkeye fashion, things went a bit haywire. When you've got Captain America on one side of you and Thor and Iron Man on the other, it's easy to feel alone in the world.

Aja was brilliant on this series, trying experimental things with art that you just don't see in comic books very often...

This was made abundantly clear in the highly acclaimed 11th issue, where Hawkeye's rescue dog, also known as "Pizza dog," gets the spotlight in an issue that is seen entirely though the unique non-verbal perspective of a dog...

The success of Hawkeye was both out of nowhere (as Fraction noted at the time, it wasn't like he put more effort into Hawkeye than he did The Order or Defenders, but something just clicked with the fans and the book) and proved to be integral as part of Marvel's decision to expand into slightly off-kilter approaches to superheroes, like the Ms. Marvel run and the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl run. The world of superheroes before Hawkeye was a lot different than it was post-Hawkeye.

RELATED: Top Comic Book Storylines: 52-49

41. "Saga, Volume 1" by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Saga #1-6) – 266 points (4 first place votes)

The opening arc of Saga throws us right into the middle of a fascinating story, as two couple from warring planets (well, one is a planet and one is a moon) have a baby. They are sort of like an intergalactic Romeo and Juliet, and many people want to track them down.

The story is narrated by Hazel, the baby in the series, as she tells her story from the future and Vaughan uses this plot device very well, as he allows certain hints to drop here and there about future stories. Also, the way that he breaks off her narration to form powerful cliffhangers is quite impressive. Vaughan has always been a big cliffhanger guy, but I think that Saga is his best use of the cliffhanger that I have seen from him yet. They’re much more fluid. They feel like they arise naturally and are not being forced.

I like that we get consistent flashbacks filling us in on Marko and Alana’s courtship. It is a strange one, to be sure, so I think it was a smart move to begin the book with them already together and fill us in as we go along.

While this approach is admirable in and of itself, it would mean nothing if Vaughan and Staples did not create compelling characters that we’d like to follow through this unvarnished fantasy world. Luckily, that’s just what they do, and not just Alana and Marko. Slowly but surely, Vaughan and Staples populate this world with a variety of fascinating characters. Most notable are the the bounty hunters hunting down the couple and their child and the robot prince who is tasked with their capture, as well, in an official governmental capacity.

Some of the most striking aspects of the series come from the bounty hunter known as The Will, who is accompanied by a Lying Cat, a cat who can tell if you are lying. The Will is not a good man, but he is also driven by a certain code of honor that comes up in a bizarre fashion while on a pleasure planet. The Will has had his heart broken by a fellow bounty hunter and their interaction is fascinating in how it drives him.

Another major addition is the ghost who acts as Hazel’s nanny, of sorts.

I’ve long been an admirer of Staples’ prodigious talents and she is absolutely destroying this series. Her designs are excellent, her character work is sublime and she is an amazing storyteller. Vaughan sure is lucky to be working with her.

Here we see Alana, Marko and their nanny try to head for a rocketship forest to find a way to get away from the people tracking them...

How cool is that?

KEEP READING: Top Comic Book Storylines: 56-53

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Brian Cronin (15129 Articles Published)

CBR Senior Writer Brian Cronin has been writing professionally about comic books for over a dozen years now at CBR (primarily with his “Comics Should Be Good” series of columns, including Comic Book Legends Revealed). He has written two books about comics for Penguin-Random House – Was Superman a Spy? And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed and Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellent? And Other Amazing Comic Book Trivia! and one book, 100 Things X-Men Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, from Triumph Books. His writing has been featured at ESPN.com, the Los Angeles Times, About.com, the Huffington Post and Gizmodo. He features legends about entertainment and sports at his website, Legends Revealed and other pop culture features at Pop Culture References. Follow him on Twitter at @Brian_Cronin and feel free to e-mail him suggestions for stories about comic books that you'd like to see featured at [email protected]!

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