NPR recently released a list of 100 favorite comic books. They’re generally careful to add some qualifiers.
This isn’t meant as a comprehensive list of the “best” or “most important” or “most influential” comics, of course. It’s a lot more personal and idiosyncratic than that, because we asked folks to name the comics they loved. That means you’ll find enormously popular mainstays like Maus and Fun Home jostling for space alongside newer work that’s awaiting a wider audience (Check Please, anyone?).
If you google it, the title is “100 Best Comics And Graphic Novels : NPR” which goes against the spirit of that a little bit.
My first complaint is the lack of Spider-Man, and I think it reflects some of the backlash against political correctness among geeks.
The Lee/ Ditko Spider-Man, the Lee/ Romita Spider-Man, the Night Gwen Stacy Died, Roger Stern’s Spider-Man, Kraven’s Last Hunt, or Bendis/ Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man would all have been plausible selections here.
The best character in comics doesn’t make a list of 100 favorite comics, but choices to highlight diversity do. The NPR list still has Gail Simone’s Wonder Woman, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Panther, Ryan North and Erica Henderson‘s Squirrel Girl and G Willow Wilson’s Ms Marvel. If your belief is that each of those works is superior to any comic with Spider-Man as a lead, I question your critical faculties. I mention those books not to be mean, but because I believer if anyone thinks something was robbed of inclusion on a selective list, they should mention what they think doesn’t merit a spot (IE- If there’s an article about how an actor got robbed of an Emmy nomination, the critic should be explicit about who did the robbing.)
Someone made the comparison that getting upset about the lack of Spider-Man on the Top 100 is kinda like getting upset the lack of an Indiana Jones films on a Top 100 list. However, Indiana Jones has only been in one truly great movie, so I don’t think the comparison quite works. Maybe it’d be like seeing a Top 100 films list without anything by Spielberg.
There was the question of whether the best Spider-Man comics were less accessible but there are plenty of new reader friendly Spider-Man stories. Ultimate Spider-Man is probably more accessible than Ms. Marvel or Coates’ Black Panther, since those titles reference recent Marvel continuity.
NPR was explicit about how it’s a representative list rather than a true Top 100, although that in case they should pick the best-known character over a character who isn’t as well-known, or hasn’t had as many good runs.
Aside from Spider-Man stuff there’s some good work that was excluded. Howard Cruse’s Stuck Rubber Baby was effective at depicting the coming of age in a gay man in an interesting setting, as an activist in the Civil Rights era. Judd Winick’s The Adventures of Barry Ween Boy Genius is probably the funniest sci-fi comedy in the medium. Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s The Ultimates is the basis for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and one of the strongest examples of the “if superheroes were real” subgenre, showing characters who are more complex than expected. Larry Gonick’s The Cartoon History of the Universe is a hilarious and educational take on the beginnings of human civilization.
However, it’s probably the most comprehensive selection available, including comic strips, webcomics and foreign series. It provides a lot of good leads, given the relatively low odds that someone is going to be aware of all these options. You might know about the Korean coming of age manhwa trilogy, the late 1970s indie fantasy, the 11 page treatise on what white people should know, but the 1950s comic strip about life behind the scenes at Broadway could be new to you. And that makes it valuable.