Last week, I wrote about one of my favorite comic book writers, Kurt Busiek. This week, I’m going to write about another favorite, Mark Waid. Waid has been every bit as important to me as Busiek. The two of them are like twins in my mind- drawing me into comics in the mid-‘90s and giving me endless hours of enjoyment in the time since. So, once again, here’s a happily random celebration of Mark Waid, in order of appreciation.
10. JLA: Year One
Mark Waid is insulted by his detractors for being too much of a fan. He knows the ins and outs of comic book history as well as anyone. However, that doesn’t have to be an impediment. And it can be an asset. In Year One, Waid wrote a new origin for the Justice League. After all, their history was no longer coherent due to the many revisions that had taken place over the years. But this was no mere exercise in history. Waid gave interesting personalities to his key characters. Aquaman was truly a fish out of water. Black Canary was competent and charming. Martian Manhunter was humble and secretive. And the Green Lantern and the Flash became fast friends. Waid wove known events and new ones into one coherent narrative, showing the foundation and formation of the greatest team of superheroes ever assembled. Plus, he and artist Barry Kitson brought in the guest stars by the bushel full.
Mark Waid took a short sojourn as a staff writer for CrossGen and while he may want to forget his experiences there, his books are unforgettable. Crux was the closest CrossGen had to a superhero team yet they were also something incredibly different. The cast was made up of Atlanteans who each had special powers, such as shape-shifting or speed. But they were no team. They were thrown together by fate, wondering why they were the last survivors of their people and trying to figure out what went wrong. The real draw, however, was the interaction between the characters. There was a sibling rivalry and a love triangle. There was friction with the youngest- and smartest- of the group. And, as the series progressed, there were plenty of difficulties and shifting allegiances with new characters.
Ka-Zar is an underappreciated classic. Mark Waid teamed with Andy Kubert on this short-lived title. Waid came up with the brilliant idea of reversing the standard Ka-Zar story. Usually, Ka-Zar stories are about Ka-Zar or other heroes travelling to the Savage Land and experiencing the jungle in its full force. But for this series, Waid brought Ka-Zar and the Savage Land to a very different jungle: New York. We saw how Kevin Plunder (Ka-Zar) and Shanna dealt with the modern world in different ways. And we got to experience the thrill of watching sabretooth tigers and tyrannosaurus rexes run around the streets of Manhattan.
It’s hard to know how much credit to give to Mark Waid as this title was written by four writers working in conjunction. But it would be an even bigger mistake to leave 52 off of the list. With Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns and Greg Rucka, Waid helped put together one of the comics’ great epics. 52 featured interweaving stories focusing on some of DC’s lesser known characters like the Elongated Man, the Question, Will Magnus, Steel and Starfire. It had plenty of classic moments, like “the rain of the supermen” and featured the full range of superhero comics. It was simply a great read.
Captain America was one of the first ongoing titles to really be associated with Mark Waid. He had two tenures on the title. The first was with Ron Garney. It had critical acclaim and growing sales as Waid re-examined what it meant to be a patriotic hero while also taking Cap’s powers away. Unfortunately, the title was canceled to make room for Marvel’s Heroes Reborn launch. When that was done, Mark Waid came back for a second stint and showed that you can go home again. He matched Captain America up with classic villains like the Red Skull and the Skrulls and gave Cap fans something to cheer about. He even made me, who wasn’t a Cap fan at the time, a reason to pay attention.
This is the other ongoing title that really raised Mark Waid’s profile. Waid identified with Wally West and poured himself into the title. It was as if Waid was writing himself and the readers responded. Wally West soon became the most popular Flash, winning fan polls as the best Flash ever ahead of his mentor Barry Allen. Waid built a huge supporting cast of fellow speedsters: Jessie Quick, Max Mercury (who used to be Quality Comics’ Quicksilver) and his own creation Impulse. He brought in guest stars and friends like Nightwing. And he gave Wally a significant love interest, Linda Park. Waid would leave Flash and come back for a second run that wasn’t as well-received as his first. But that initial run made stars out of both Mark Waid and Wally West.
Mark Waid has a reputation as a superhero writer. But, like Kurt Busiek in last week’s list, Mark Waid has shown that he’s a great writer even when he switches genres. One of Waid’s best books is the mystery title, Ruse. Mark Waid introduced detective Simon Archard and his plucky assistant, Emma Bishop. Their interaction was brilliant. Simon was caustic and sarcastic. Emma was hopeful and bright. Together, they solved crimes that had mystical trappings but usually turned out to be surprisingly mundane. Emma developed a rivalry with the baroness Miranda Cross, Simon relied on a rogue’s gallery of unlikely assistants and they both matched wits with Simon’s mentor turned villain Simon Lightbourne. Ruse was a consistently entertaining and excellent book.
Mark Waid followed Grant Morrison on JLA. Morrison’s run was great and is rightly lauded, but Waid’s run is also great and is criminally ignored. He started with an over-sized special, Heaven’s Ladder, with artist Bryan Hitch before taking over the regular title. Mark Waid pulled from his interest in modern science, telling stories of time and space and atoms. He pulled from his interest in fable and mythology, introducing the Queen of Fables as a new villain and Santa Claus as a new teammate. He broke the team apart and put them back together again. He exposed their weaknesses in order to showcase their strengths. It was a tight, action-packed and often intense superhero story.
Kingdom Come is one of the greatest stories in comic books. Artist Alex Ross had the initial idea and Mark Waid developed it into a classic. It’s a glimpse of a possible future in which the good heroes have given way to anarchy. It’s the call of hope as the classic heroes come back to save the world they once abandoned. It’s the clash of ideas as some who claim to be humanity’s saviors jealously protect their world from this superhuman help. It’s a literary masterpiece, with Biblical allusions and prophetic foreshadowing, but also a comic book extravaganza with hundreds of heroes both new and old. It’s a story that I re-read almost every year. Thanks, Alex and Mark.
This is the book Mark Waid was born to write. He poured himself into Reed Richards the way he once poured himself into Wally West. He understood Reed better than any other writer, including his creators Stan and Jack. He gave Reed a credible motive. He gave the team a new modus operandi as imaginauts, adventurers of the imagination. He took them to space, microspace, Heaven and Hell. He wrote the greatest Dr. Doom story I’ve ever read in “Unthinkable.” He had Johnny Storm grow up, while staying youthful. He wrote a masterful tribute to Ben Grimm, and to Ben Grimm’s creator Jack Kirby. He wrote one of the best comics ever. Period.
And that’s my list of the best Mark Waid books. Of course, half the fun of writing a top ten list is finding out where others differ. So go ahead and tell me what you think I got right and what books you think I should have included.