The single issue comic book is almost a lost art. These days, it’s far more common to have long story arcs and often times this can allow for several crossovers between other books. While I love long form storytelling, I appreciate the art of telling a succinct and compelling story with just one issue. Sometimes I think it’s harder to tell a story in this way, even harder to find a really good one. Often times, creators only have 22-30 pages to tell such stories. Managing to tell a compelling and memorable story under theses parameters is something that every writer and artist strives to be able to do.
It’s no surprise that comic companies push the long form story. After all, it’s far more lucrative if the reader buys 5 of 5 of a particular story arc as opposed to one comic. Many times publishers simply allowed single issue stories to be told in their series simply to be fillers until the next major story arcs, and often times they were merely that. But every so often a gem would appear. This list focuses on some of Marvels best one shot issues ( in my humble opinion.)
Edge Of Spider-Verse #2: Gwen Stacy Spider-Woman – by Jason Latour & Robbie Rodriguez
we start things off with a wonderfully crafted tale about Gwen Stacy in an alternate universe. You remember Gwen Stacy? Peter Parker’s girlfriend that died at the hands of the Green Goblin? Well not here. In this universe, it was Gwen Stacy that was bitten by the radioactive spider that gave her super powers, and it was Peter who died. It certainly turns the tables on Spider-man lore.
It also is able to build a fresh character, almost from the ground up. In this world Gwen is in a punk rock and she’s a kickass drummer. Her father is still a Police Chief, and Gwen chooses to follow in his footsteps, just not as a cop. Meeting Spider-Woman, or Spider-Gwen as she is affectionately referred to y fans turns out to e loads of fun. The script is imaginative and fun. The art is energetic and colorful, like her costume. Don’t let the fun tagline fool you, there are some excellent deeper moments in this issue too. Above all the thing this issue does best is introduce a new character that fans like AND telling a fully realized story, while leaving fans thirsting for more. So much so that Marvel decided to give Spider Gwen her own ongoing series thanks to the buzz from this one shot.
Winter Soldier: Winter Kills – by Ed Brubaker, Lee Weeks & Stepfano Gaudiano
This comic was created as a Casualties Of War one shot, and written by Ed Brubaker, (the man who brought Bucky back from the dead) so you know it’s going to be something special even before you crack it open. “Winter Kills” turns out to be a surprisingly melancholic and nostalgic look back to the early days of Bucky’s life. He recalls both, better days and sins past. After all, Bucky is celebrating his first Christmas since the 40’s at the beginning of the story.
But there’s never too much time to go down memory lane for an agent of Nick Fury’s. Sure enough, Winter Solider gets called up on an emergency mission to ” assist” a team of Young Avengers. The young team gets to see a legend at work as chaos ensues. This story balances action, drama, and emotion excellently, even providing moments of levity. The artwork is stellar throughout thanks to pencils by the underrated Lee Weeks. His work really fits in nicely with Brubaker’s noir storytelling style. The last few pages of the story features Namor and it’s my favorite part of the story. Together they trade war stories and even touch on the present and future. A touching issue that allows readers to feel the struggle of repentance and acceptance for yet another man, out of time.
Spider-man’s Tangled Web # 4 – by Greg Rucka & Eduardo Risso
This particular issue comes with a few accolades from the industry. Wizard magazine ranked this issue #31 on their list of”100 Best Single Issue Comics Since You Were Born”. I actually stumbled upon it because of my fandom of Greg Rucka, Eduardo Risso and Spider-man himself. It’s a simple but intriguing premise… What happens when someone who works for the Kingpin screws up? Like you might expect, the margin for error is next to none, and the poor schmuck working for Kingpin knows it too. One of the best things this issue manages to do is make you care about a character that is completely made up in the 22 pages you are reading. Spider-man is barely even in it, and it doesn’t matter. A masterclass in writing while being awfully cool to look at too.
Ghost Rider Annual #2 – by Warren Ellis & Javier Saltares
Interestingly enough, this issue happens to be Warren Ellis’s first ever published work, and what a way to start. Ghost Rider has always been a cool character, but he lacked a roster of villains to match his appeal. Annual #2 gives us one frighting villain that makes you take notice… The Scarecrow. I know, I know… Sounds like a Batman ripoff. That’s what I thought until I started reading and then quickly discovered a character that was a lot more demented and messed up than even Batman’s fearsome foe.
In essence, the issue serves as a character study for this new villain. Ellis manages to make Scarecrow fascinating. It’s impossible not to be intrigued by him despite his morbidly evil nature. Eventually Scarecrow’s thirst for fear and power leads him to a standoff with Ghost Rider. It’s a wonderfully tense climax which ends with a brutal finale. Think, a Tales From The Crypt type ending. This issue is a tough find but it’s worth the hunt.
Marvel Fanfare # 15 – by Barry Windsor-Smith
If you’re looking for a change of pace and tone, look no further than this issue. For those that are unaware, Marvel Fanfare was a series that ran in the eighties that was meant to tell short stories by various acclaimed comic creators. In this issue the main story is featuring the Fantastic Four’s The Thing.Written, penciled and inking the whole story is the legendary Barry Windsor-Smith. What an icing on the cake.
It’s a charming tale that explores the tumultuous, and often humorous relationship between The Thing and The Human Torch. It’s a masterclass in storytelling, particularly on the visual side of things, and funny! There are a few laugh out loud moments for sure. The important thing that this issue hammers home is that behind every prank and annoyance, there’s love.
Star Wars- C-3po – by James Robinson & Tony Harris
This is a, sort of tie-in with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but it’s minimal at best. It’s meant to tell the story of how C-3po ended up with that red arm that he has in The Force Awakens, but it’s so much more than just that. I’d hazard to say that this one shot is better than the movie it’s meant to tie-in with. It’s surprisingly philosophical, exploring themes like freewill, war and the nature of good and evil. It’s brilliantly written by James Robinson, who made his name writing Starman for DC a number of years ago. Tony Harris ( also from the Starman alumni) provides the art that is surprisingly dark for such a bright character like C-3po. Honestly, it feels more like a really good episode of Star Trek rather than Star Wars. That may turn off some but if you like a little more brain than brawn in your science fiction than this one is for you. At the very least it manages to tell a story that doesn’t portray C-3po as an annoying robot and the butt of many a joke. I can honestly say that I see the character with a new respect thanks to this comic.I urge you to seek out this gem.
Daredevil #7 (Vol 3) y Mark Waid & Paolo Rivera
Winner of the Eisner award for” best single issue”, Daredevil#7 tells a tale about survival, trust and redemption. Matt Murdock( Daredevil), decides to volunteer to take a group of blind students on a field trip when disaster strikes and their school bus gets in a heavy accident. The bus driver is fatally wounded, which leaves Daredevil to guide these kids to safety in the middle of a deadly snowstorm.
One of the best things about Mark Waid’s run on Daredevil was his focus on character, particularly what makes Matt Murdock/Daredevil tick. It’s noted for it’s drastic change in tone, as Waid’s run was considerably lighter than previous iterations of the character. At it’s heart, this story is a very human one. How would we react in a life threatening situation? Especially when there are other lives at stake who depend on you. Matt/Dardevil goes through what we all might go through. Fear, self doubt and regret, but through it all he carries on. It’s not his super powers that make him do that, it’s his sheer will. Something that we all aspire to tap into in moments of crisis. Matt’s determination and will ends up rubbing off on his students which leads to a wonderful climax. No good vs evil here, just an inspiring story. Check this one out.
Wolverine: Debt Of Death – by David Lapham & David Aja
Wolverine makes an appearance on the list with a tale about honor, loyalty and paying your debts, no matter what. Almost sounds like Wolverine is a Lanniser from Game Of Thrones… Except for the parts about honor and loyalty.
To be honest, Wolverine is one of the characters whom has had TOO many one shots over the years but this one is a real keeper. The creative team of David Lapham and Aja really craft a wonderfully prototypical Wolverine story that every fan of the character should read. It’s as plot driven as it is character driven, but it’s Wolverine’s character that is at the heart of this story. Set in an ambiguous time period, Nick Fury also features in this war tale. I thought it was around the world war II days due to the appearance of giant robots and battlerobo suits but it’s never mentioned as far as I can tell. Regardless of the time period it’s an excellent story. It’s very grounded and not flashy in the typical ” superheroey” way you might expect. The script and story are great but it’s David Aja’s art that really steals the show. His fantastic panel work is a sight to behold. A simple story with various nuggets of complexity peppered throughout. it’s entertaining and engaging and most importantly, it’s Wolverine done right.
The Incredible Hulk # 420 – by Peter David & Gary Frank
Who would’ve thought that an issue of the Hulk could have such emotional heft to it. The issue covers a very taboo, yet important topic… Aids. Sometimes it can be a bit strange when comics that were created, essentially for escapism cover such heavy themes but this one did an exceptional job with the subject matter. I imagine that it probably hit harder when it actually came out ( 90’s) but in many ways the message is a timeless one and that sadly still affects too many lives.
Hulk’s friend, Jim Wilson has Aids, and he’s running out of time. Of course, the Hulk desperately wants to save his friend and is willing to try experimental measures to do so, but when Jim asks for a transfusion of Hulk’s blood, things get tricky. It’s a moral dilemma for him because giving Jim his blood would mean damning him and others around him, to a life as a monster. The alternative isn’t pretty and Hulk knows it. Meanwhile, Betty Banner( Hulk’s wife) tries to help a man with Aids who randomly called her office. This man has told Betty that he intends to kill himself due to his condition. Heavy stuff.
What this comics does is shine a light on the horror of Aids, homophobia, suicide & depression. It has hopeful moments but it doesn’t shy away from many of the realities of dealing with such an illness. It doesn’t cheapen the problem or trivialize it, which the story could’ve done so easily. It respects the nature of the problem and recognizes that even someone as strong as the Hulk can’t stop Aids. Hulk isn’t real, He could never stop aids in the real world. In a way, the story knows it too . It’s a sad read but it’s also a touching story about friendship and acceptance. Hats off to Peter David and Co. for this one.
Peter Parker: Spider-man # 35 – by Paul Jenkins & Mark Buckingham
Since we’re on the subject of sad stories, I present issue 35 of Paul Jenkins and Mark Buckingham’s fantastic run on Spidey. While it is sad, it’s also touching and so very important, at least to me. It tells the tale of a young inner city boy named Jamal and his day to day life. Suffice it to say, the kid has it pretty rough. Some days Jamal shows up to his filthy apartment and finds his mother passed out on the couch from booze. Other days Jamal comes home to find his Mothers drug dealer beating on her. Jamal doesn’t seem to have a father but he does have his hero…Spider-man. He imagines him always being there, watching over him, guiding him, talking to him.
Eventually Jamal’s aunt and teacher desperately try to work with social services to get him out of Jamal’s horrible situation, but it turns out to be an uphill climb. Much like the issue of Incredible Hulk, the story doesn’t trivialize or diminish the real problem at hand. What it does do a bit differently is show the importancethat these comic book heroes can make in the comic world and in the real world. Spider-man is more than just a well needed escape for this boy. Spider-man is a friend, an example, an inspiration, and even a moral compass. Sometimes we diminish what these heroes really mean to people, especially kids. They’re meant to give hope and point us all in the right direction. Sure, we might outgrow them but we should never forget or diminish their importance.
The reason this issue can be heart breaking is because it understands that while looking at the reality of the world we live in. I’m not sure if i can call the ending of this comic a happy one, but it is a beautiful one. I will admit that even I teared up a bit reading it. If you only check out one comic on this list, it has to be this one. I would especially recommend it to non comic fans. It’s certainly one of my favorite comic book issues of all time.