Top 10 Limited Series of All Time
Because everyone loves Top 10 lists, I’m going to run down my list of my Top 10 limited series of all time. The rules are simple, when published, the series had to have a stated finite number of issues. One-shots are not eligible. I had to have read them, which means this is just my opinion. Everyone clear on the rules?
10. Cloak and Dagger
(by Bill Mantlo and Rick Leonardi)
I remember being a kid in the 1980s, and there was buzz about this before the Internet. Cloak & Dagger started out in Spectacular Spider-Man as vigilantes and kept that motivation going into their own mini-series. It explained their origin as runaways and told a finite story that gave them a home base and internal conflict on the purpose of their mission to stop those that prey on children and runaways, especially with drugs. It also did this solely on the strength of the characters themselves, without any appearances from Spider-Man, with whom the characters had a history.
It doesn’t place higher because by the end, the heroes aren’t much different from the beginning, but it did do well enough to justify a regular series that floundered within a year, another tarnish on this excellent mini-series.
9. Camelot 3000
(by Mike W. Barr and Brian Bolland)
This is one of the first “maxi-series,” a limited series that lasted for more than six issues. It tells the Arthurian legend in the far future, after an oppressive alien species has invaded Earth. One lone man finds King Arthur and fights alongside him with his reincarnated Knights of the Round Table. It mirrors the classic legend with all of its betrayal and tragedy.
The most interesting subplot, especially given that this was published in the early 1980s, is that Sir Tristan finds himself reincarnated in the body of a woman, and his lover Isolde also reincarnated as a woman. He is forced to examine his view of gender roles and how his relationship with his true love can get past his problems with his gender. It’s very refreshing, and something that isn’t done enough in comics, although at times, the conversation comes across as very dated and chauvinistic.
8. Sword of the Atom
(by Jan Strnad and Gil Kane)
When you mix Ray Palmer with John Carter, you get Sword of the Atom. It has gorgeous art by the legendary Gil Kane. When Ray Palmer goes to the Amazon to get away from his wife’s infedility, he runs afoul of drug traffickers and finds himself stuck at six inches tall in a primitive civilization of tiny yellow people in the midst of a rebellion against a cruel dictator. Along the way, Atom finds himself falling in love with a princess, and becoming a hero to people that know nothing about his past with the Justice League.
Jean Loring’s infidelity plays into the beginning of this adventure, but also carries through as she searches for a husband she’s wronged and everyone believes is dead. Jan Strnad, while channeling Edgar Rice burroughs, never forgets that this is Ray Palmer, and the story becomes less about the Atom fighting to overthrow a despot, and more about how one’s life goes on after a life-changing event. It works on several levels, is beautifully drawn and only places where it does on this list due to the fact that DC couldn’t let this happy ending be, and continued Sword of the Atom for one special too long, and in relaunching Ray Palmer, obliterated a civilization of tiny people that had rich potential.
(by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch)
This is the series that formed the basis for the Avengers films, although more with its tone than the story. We see the team formed. We see conflict within the ranks as Hank Pym pushes Bruce Banner to the background. We see Captain America have issues with Pym’s treatment of his wife. We see Thor’s sanity questioned all while an alien race threatens the entire Earth. The artwork is excellent, albeit seemingly heavily photo-referenced, but without it, Samuel L. Jackson would not have played Nick Fury.
The first half reads well and is genuinely linear, but perhaps the first series should have stopped there. The second half features an alien race that is clearly based on the Skrull threatening all of Earth. The final battle makes use of Hitch’s ability to draw big, complex scenes along with giving us great moments like Bruce Banner being pushed out of a helicopter to trigger a change into the Hulk and Tony Stark having a moment of doubt. It also has Captain America making an anti-French comment that is given such importance in the story a to warrant a full page splash. Some have trouble with the divergent portrayal of the Hulk as a libido-fueled threat, the portrayal of the Wasp as an over-sexualized submissive or Tony Stark’s rampant alcoholism portrayed as an asset, rather that a character flaw.
Overall, the pluses outweigh the minuses, which is not something that I can say for the sequels to this series, which lessen its impact.
(by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Oliver Coipel and Pascal Alixe)
A complex and convoluted team like the Legion of Super-Heroes sometimes needs a fresh start. With Zero Hour, they rebooted it completely, but for this 2000-2001 Limited Series, instead of throwing everything out and starting again, A change was made to the creative team that had brought us “the Archie Legion” and gave them a world shattering event that left a handful of members stranded in another, more hostile galaxy with none of the comforts and backup that had given them the advantage before.
The team faces some harsh realities when they discover who actually is behind this horribly cruel galaxy that they’re stranded in and what one of them has done along the way to help them through the harsh truths of their isolation. We do see a new character introduced, Shikari, a native of this galaxy with interstellar flight and tracking abilities, much like Dawnstar of the original Legion. Old ally ERG-1 also sees himself reborn as Wildfire, getting a new look that is reminiscent of his former incarnation, but gives him his own identity.
Ultimately, this new direction for the Legion wouldn’t last more than a few years when it was decided to reboot the Legion again.
(by Kurt Busiek and Carlos Pacheco)
This limited series featured a variety of Avengers from different eras, including the future, being recruited by Kang. There were great dynamics, including a Captain America whose faith and resolve had been shaken. Hank Pym was there both in his present day incarnation and as an split personality Yellowjacket. There were even future Avengers Captain Marvel (linked to Rick Jones) and Songbird, who was still known to some of the Avengers present as a reforming villain. We also got signs of alternate incarnations of the Avengers, including a 1950s version of the team previously seen in What If?
The major appeal of this mini-series is how it existed outside of the current continuity, yet wrapped up in a way that fit all of the team members back in their proper place, except for Yellowjacket, who went on to be a bothersome subplot in the regular Avengers book. In the end it led into multiple comic story-lines, which ultimately wrapped up and were never heard from again. Only recently has Songbird actually shown up on an Avengers team, and I’m not certain that we’ve ever heard from this version of Captain Marvel again, much less seen Rick Jones lose an arm. The future has always been fluid in comics, so it shouldn’t lessen your enjoyment of this series, but it would be more enjoyable if the future hinted at in this series were as ingrained as the past is.
(by Alan Moore, Gene Ha and Zander Cannon)
This series actually runs with the concept of a city where super-powered beings all live and work and completely runs with it. Centered around a police precinct, Alan Moore is not content to keep the story there, showing us how the precinct is linked to a multiverse of other cities where super-humans are gathered in a mega-city. Cameos from a plethora of characters from various companies, genres and media make almost every page a geek-friendly game of “Where’s Waldo?”
The character designs are extremely unique from Girl One, whose costume is ever-changing pigment in her skin, to Sergeant Ceaser, who is a talking dog in a exo-skeleton. There are a variety of other great characters that all get a chance to shine, making the most of this series, where some of the ones that seem two-dimensional actually grow as people over the course of the story.
The story is the best part of this, though. It starts with a simple serial killer on the loose, and transitions into huge scandal involving a premiere super-hero team based on the archetypes of the Super-Friends. The conclusion of the story shows the human element in these police officers, and makes for great repeated readings to find all of the clues along the way that have been placed by the creators.
It’s placement on this list is lessened only by an inferior limited series which should be ignored by fans of this series. Beyond The Farthest Precinct tries to duplicate the feel of the original series by expanding a minor plot thread left in the original series. Season Two has promise, but feels like a downbeat from the original story, destroying too many characters that were far too interesting. Feel free to check out Smax and The Forty-Niners, both excellent additions to this series.
3. Kingdom Come
(by Mark Waid and Alex Ross)
This is the groundbreaker that catapulted Alex Ross into the upper echilon of comic artists. It used biblical themes to explore the relationship of iconic characters from the Golden and Silver Ages of comics to the edgier and more violent heroes of the 1990s. All the while, we saw the eternal power play between Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.
There was hardly a character that Mark Waid and Alex Ross didn’t touch on in this series, and even the covers become a comic fan’s game of who’s who, not to mention the numerous cameos in the backgrounds of important scenes. The only thing even remotely tarnishing its legacy is DC’s attempt to produce a sequel, The Kingdom, which Alex Ross wanted no part of. It’s not necessary to appreciate this series, and it might be best if left on its own, since it stands up pretty well.
(by Darwyn Cooke)
Stylistically, this one stands head and shoulders above other series. Darwyn Cooke showed a love for the simpler time around the early Silver Age, but integrated it with the darker side of America during that period.
The characters are kept to their essence, with the Flash being the stable, stand-up guy and Superman being the icon of the American Way. Wonder Woman was the greatest departure, being a larger-than-life icon for women’s rights to the point of almost being cruel towards men that abuse them. Batman comes across as the detective that sees the advantage of changing his frightening ways in lieu of a friendlier approach and appearance.
While Cooke is an artist first, he doesn’t shy away from the themes of the time period, unlike many of the comics of the time. This period in history saw an over-simplistic world view playing on the basest emotions of a population. Into that atmosphere, Cooke brings in a common threat for the distrusted heroes to band together against as a new decade and a new era come to the fore.
(by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons)
Was there really any doubt that this would end up here? Watchmen works on several levels, from the base story of retired costumed crime-fighters to the “normal” people who cross their paths along the course of the story. Even the back-up text pieces and the “Tales of the Black Freighter” tie into the themes of the main story.
The cast is kept small, which keeps the story moving forward. The effect of just one super-hero is shown on the world at large. The legacy of costumed crime-fighters makes its impact felt years after they have vanished. Characters based loosely on the Charlton-era characters are made into icons of the genre. Almost 30 years after it was first published, these characters are still talked about, almost more than the characters that they were created to replace in Alan Moore’s story.
It’s impact can’t even be diminished by a sub-par feature film and a line of mini-series exploiting the characters without the blessing of Alan Moore. This is the limited series that will change the way you read comics, from the use of a simple nine-panel grid to the way the heroes respond to the plot as it unravels. You’ll find yourself wishing all comics were like this.
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