In 1998, Wizard published a list of the “greatest moments in comic books.” Peter David wrote about their selections for Comic Book Buyer’s Guide, and later reposted the article on his website.
In the September 1998 issue, now on sale (with three different covers, yet), the Wizard staff “picks the 25 most memorable moments in comics history.” If the article were titled “25 most memorable moments to us” or “25 most memorable moments in comics that came out since we were born,” there would be no problem. But the article purports to cover “comics history.” The Wizard staff “set about picking and choosing the 25 most memorable comics moments,” which is defined as moments that are “so vivid, so surprising, so shocking that they are forever etched in your memory.”
A laudable goal. Could be interesting. Since we’re discussing “in comics history,” that’s a lot to consider.
Except apparently—it’s not.
Because of the 25 moments selected by the Wizard staff, only two occurred before 1979.
Let me say that again:
Of the 25 most memorable moments in comics history, according to the Wizard staff, only two occurred before 1979. In case you’re interested, one of them was the death of Gwen Stacy, and the other was the death of Uncle Ben, both in Amazing Spider-Man.
To summarize this article in a way that can quickly and cleanly be considered, in order to put it into its proper perspective: Judging by the staff’s picks, we must conclude that, apparently, Jack Kirby never drew a single incredibly memorable moment in all of comics history.
There are some factors in Wizard‘s defense. At that point, the trade paperback market was just kicking off, so many notable classic comics were not available in that form, which meant individual moments were less likely to be selected, and that there was less likely to be agreement among multiple staffers on the merits of a classic scene. Many of the big moments in Wizard’s list played on established characters, or subverting expectations in the form. That required longer stories that weren’t the norm before 1979. In addition, it’s difficult to assess how groundbreaking a moment from a comic in 1961 might be, if the thing that was once refreshing had become the norm. In the context of comics from 1969, a junkie’s overdose is shocking in a mainstream superhero comic, but it doesn’t have that effect to anyone who read Vertigo. A particular heroic sacrifice by a bystander in a superhero story may be moving, but it isn’t objectively better than another.
That said, there was no excuse for Wizard neglecting the opening of Amazing Spider-Man #33.
9. The confrontation between the elderly black guy and Green Lantern (Green Lantern/Green Arrow #76). If the creation of Hal Jordan as Green Lantern was one of the defining moments of the Silver Age, this sequence (and retitling of the book) was the redefinition. Green Lantern, who had concentrated his adventures and will-powered ring on matters of mostly cosmic scale, suddenly found himself confronted by a guy who kind of looked like Joe Seneca.
The unnamed elderly black man said that he had heard tell that GL worked for “the blue skins,” and had done considerable things for beings of other assorted hues, but what had he done “for the black skins. Answer me that, Mr. Green Lantern.” A letter writer in a subsequent issue opined that Hal should have replied, “I saved your entire world a half a dozen times, now sod off,” and in real life, he just might have. Maybe even should have.
But the point of the moment was that Hal was becoming so involved with matters of cosmic importance that he had totally lost sight of social difficulties and problems right here on planet earth. Granted, there’s a disturbing side to this logic: It’s exactly the same school of thought that leads short-sighted critics to be opposed to the space program. In this instance, though, it was probably worth it since it lead to a memorable series of stories as GL took a long, hard look at himself, found himself wanting, and wound up going on a road trip with Green Arrow and an incognito Guardian of OA.
You know, they could probably do this comic now as a movie: Make Green Lantern black and cast Danny Glover, have Mel Gibson as Green Arrow, Joe Pesci as the Guardian—you got yourself a film.
10. The cover of Action Comics #1. I know it’s not a story—but it’s a moment nonetheless. Imagine what it must have been like, being a kid and seeing this incredible imagery. A man in a blue and red costume with a cape, lifting a car over his head with no more difficulty than you might lift a baseball, preparing to toss the auto at scattering thieves. Proof that it’s a memorable moment? Not only is it immediately leaping to your mind right now as I describe it, with crystal clarity, but it’s one of the most imitated and “homaged” covers.
It was a comic so memorable that it launched an entire damned genre, for crying out loud: the comic book superhero. (Yes, yes, I know, the Phantom predated him, but even the Ghost Who Walks couldn’t bench-press a Buick.)
He later wondered if there was an ahistoricism among comic fans. This is something that may have changed in the intervening twenty (yikes!) years, and might be the same. Classic material is now more available than ever before, although there are enough readers who won’t care for it, due to stylistic developments (the focus on cinematic comics) and demographic changes (plenty of readers want female and minority characters to be as important to a narrative as straight white males and that won’t always happen in comics written for teenage boys in the 60s, 70s and 80s.)