In which I ask YOU a question.

§ May 18th, 2016 § Filed under question time, reader participation § 53 Comments

Gareth volleys the following at me:

“What’s the best comic book story that’s told completely in a single issue?”

WELL SURE THAT’S AN EASY QUESTION…uh, hoo boy, lemme think. I know my favorite superhero story is Justice League of America #200, but it’s basically a sequel to the team’s origin issue so not really “complete” as such. And it’s basically a framework to get heroes to fight and show off the work of several talented artists, so…yeah, I don’t think this counts. And then there’s Spider-Man’s origin in Amazing Fantasy #15, which I think is still the Most Perfect Superhero Origin Story of All Time, but…I don’t know, that’s setting up a follow-up series, but even if that were the only Spider-Man story ever published, I think it would still stand up as a classic example of the genre.

But I think I’m going to go with “Only A Poor Old Man” by Carl Barks, from Four Color Comics #386 (1952), in which we learn that Uncle Scrooge’s attachment to his fortune isn’t greed, but rather the memories each coin brings him. Also it’s the example of Scrooge fighting the Beagle Boys, and the whole thing is just perfect. It’s been reprinted many, many times, most recently by Fantagraphics, and there was a Free Comic Book Day version of the story released in 2005, if you can track that down.

• • •

Okay, the next question in the list is going to take a bit of effort to answer, but in the meantime, I’m kind of curious what your answer to Gareth’s question might be. So, let me know in the commentswhat do you think is the best comic story told completely in a single issue? Yes, that’s right, I’m soliciting responses to a question while I’m still answering other questions. HEY, I CAN MANAGE IT. But please, let me know…I’m curious as to how you’d answer this tough question.

Yes, I know those characters over at War Rocket Ajax are doing their “Every Story Ever” list, but the entries there run the gamut from single issues to full series to even sequences in comic strips. But here, let’s keep it to single issues of comic books…no graphic novels, or trade paperback collections of minis, or what have you. Just one story, in one comic book, with a beginning, middle, and end. Even if that ending is “…THE BEGINNING” in which case you have your work cut out for you explaining why this is so great.

So again, drop that suggestion in my comments, with a few words of explanation if you’d like, but you don’t have to. In a while, I’ll tally up results or at least comment on your responses in my usual overly-verbose fashion.

53 Responses to “In which I ask YOU a question.”

  • Gareth Wilson says:

    Thanks for the answers. I’ve haven’t read any of these, but I’ll check them out. The best one I’ve read is Ultimate X-Men Volume 1, Issue 41, by Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch. Amusely enough, it’s presented as part 2 of a continuing story, but it is self-contained. If you haven’t read it, it’s the last word on the “mutant paranoia” idea.

  • Damn you for splitting hairs… I have to be picky, too. I was gonna say “POG” in an attempt to appeal to your Swamp Fing Fetish, but that really relies on knowing the Pogo characters already. (I think it’s fair to pick an issue that uses characters and concepts from the “commons” of the title, but not one that requires advanced research.)
    Then you’ve gotta also set limits on page count, right, because there’s stuff like “Mad Love”. It’s one issue, but it’s big and perfect-bound: Graphic Novella.
    And there’s no accounting for continuity: I think the Denny O’Neill Question issue where the Big Q poems the Riddler into submission is a fine, complete story, yet the Riddler continues to vex my Playstation to this day. It didn’t take.
    Ummmmm… Maybe Planetary #3, because Chow Yun Fat?
    Basically, “Done in One” is a fantasy concept. They point that out in “Watchmen” and “Final Crisis”. :)

  • Zeb says:

    Hmm…I can’t think of too many ENTIRELY self-contained books per stated rules, but I have great fondness for Demo 8 (the Mixtape issue).

    Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan’s thinly veiled X-men anthology is entirely self-contained throughout the series, sure, but this issue in particular just hones in on an individual experience that everyone can at least relate to, even if (hopefully) they have never actually had to deal with the same emotions.

    Starting with the low-key opening in the apartment through the mixtape-mandated journey, it all just clicks. And the ending is left conclusive and yet vague enough that everyone can find some sense of meaning from it.

    Runner up: Squirrel Girl 7. The Choose Your Own Adventure issue. Because its Choose Your Own Adventure and features Galactus wearing a cravat.

  • Thelonious_Nick says:

    Fantastic Four #236: Terror in a Tiny Town–It’s a triple-sized issue to celebrate the FF’s 20th anniversary, but I think it counts

    Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben live in a small town and don’t remember their super-heroing lives. Reed is a professor and is happily married to Sue, Johnny works at an auto body shop, Ben is human and happily married to Alicia.

    Though happy, Reed is also somehow dissatisfied, and suspects something is going on. He starts working to uncover the mystery…

  • Imp says:

    “The Kid Who Collected Spider-Man”.

  • Thelonious_Nick says:

    But after I posted the above, I also thought of another single issue from a few years ago that’s still with me:

    Beasts of Burden #2 (2009)–For a fun little book about dogs and cats who practice magic and solve mysteries, this issue sure disturbed my sleep at night for weeks. The most chilling part is at the end the animals don’t really understand what’s happened, but the reader does.

    Other good single issues I thought of:
    Sandman #17 (Calliope)
    Sandman #18 (Dream of a Thousand Cats)
    Giant-Size Man-Thing #4 (Kids’ Night Out)
    All-Star Superman #3 (Sweet Dreams, Superwoman)
    Detective #439 (Night of the Stalker)
    Doom Patrol #45 (The Beard Hunter)

    More recently:
    Harrow County #9
    Southern Bastards #11

    I know I’m missing lots…

  • Tim O'Neil says:


  • AbsalomDak says:

    “Then you’ve gotta also set limits on page count, right, because there’s stuff like “Mad Love”. It’s one issue, but it’s big and perfect-bound: Graphic Novella.”

    Was originally stapled.

  • James says:

    G.I.Joe,#21, Silent Interlude. Such a great comic, and it revealed a lot about the relationships of the three main characters.

  • Chad says:

    Not sure if it’s the greatest, but one single-issue story I keep going back to again and again is Spider-Man Tangled Web #4: “Severance Package,” by Greg Rucka and Eduardo Risso, in which a lieutenant of the Kingpin has really screwed up, and now he has to face the boss.

    Of course, “For the Man Who Has Everything” is definitely a contender, and I’m sure there are like hundreds of stories by the Fantagraphics/Drawn and Quarterly crew that are slipping my mind, but that’s what I’ve got for now.

  • William O'Brien says:

    “To Kill a Legend” from Detective Comics #500

  • Greg says:

    Hitman #34.

  • William O'Brien says:

    Though I guess Detective 500 isn’t a single story issue

  • Sean Belt says:

    Showcase #100. A great self-contained story by Paul Levitz and Joe Staton using virtually every character that had ever been ‘showcased’. I loved it when I first read it and continue to do so when I dig it out of the collection every couple of years.

  • I guess the memory cheats.

  • Put another vote down for “The Kid That Collected Spider-Man.” That was a great story and only HALF an issue. That makes it extra good!

  • Jim Kosmicki says:

    FF 51 has the very tag end of the Galactus saga in the first few pages, as I recall. Plus, I don’t know that it can have as much effect if you aren’t familiar with the FF and Ben Grimm’s past. It is one of my all time favorite issues in comics. period.

  • “Only A Poor Old Man” is a solid choice, and hard to top. I was thinking that some of Don Rosa’s duck stories would also work, like “Incident At McDuck Tower” (Donald Duck, window washer) or “Guardians Of The Lost Library” (Scrooge and nephews try to unlock an ancient mystery), since they’re easy to grok.

    But if it weren’t for the “no graphic novel” rule, I’d pick “Buck Godot: PSmith” in a heartbeat. Comedy, action, wild ideas, Phil Foglio’s underrated art and drinking. How can you go wrong?

  • Ben Gebhart says:

    I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, and I think the Single Story that I’ve gotten the most repeat entertainment out of – in that “Only in Comics” kind of way – was “What If…?” Vol.2 #34, featuring the story, “What If Thanos Changed Galactus Into a Human Being?”

    The silly, heartwarming joy I got from witnessing Galactus – who coincidentally looks exactly like Elvis when changed to a Human – stumbling his way through his new Trailer Park existence and eventually embracing it, even when the truth was revealed to him by Adam Warlock – makes me smile just thinking about it…

  • DanielT says:

    I could probably spend all night thinking about this so I’ll just list the first that came to mind.

    Sandman #30: Avgvst
    Angry Youth Comix #14
    Flaming Carrot Comics #24

  • Jack says:

    “Do Not Fall In New York City” by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, The Punisher vol. 4, issue 6. One and done story about Frank Castle trying to find a fellow Vietnam vet who was killing people, with a magnificent ending. Given a bit of resonance because it was published just after 9/11, and the story was about how cold and cruel a city New York could be, but damn, that ending.

  • Jack says:

    Clarifying the resonance in the story: a story about how New York can be a cruel city where no one cares about you arriving after 9/11, where people bonded together in the face of calamity, somehow made Castle’s viewpoint work even better.

  • DanielT says:

    Oh, hell: Corny’s Fetish by Renee French

  • Andrew Davison says:

    Another vote for FF Vol 1 51

  • Andrew Davison says:

    Amazing Spider-Man Vol 1 24 is another favorite

  • googum says:

    What If? #44, what if Captain America was arrived today? (1984-today, but still.)

  • Brad says:

    I’m going to say the imaginary story about Superman-Red and Superman-Blue. Originally I was going to disallow it because it features almost the whole of the Superman family, but decided to allow it because when I first read it I was unfamiliar with characters such as Lori Lemaris and the Phantom Zone villains, yet I wasn’t lost. It even served as a nice introduction.

  • Thom H. says:

    I feel the same about Superman #156 — familiarity with the extended cast of Superman characters probably helps, but everything is basically explained in the story (as was the convention back then, almost to an annoying degree). Anyway, “The Last Days of Superman” is a sweet story where Superman’s friends and family gather around him as he’s dying from an unknown cause. Probably one of the inspirations for Morrison’s “All-Star Superman.”

    Also, Doom Patrol #34, “The Soul of a New Machine,” in which Monsieur Mallah and The Brain break into Doom Patrol headquarters with a dastardly plan to take over Robotman’s body. Again, everything is explained in-story, including the villains’ origins, so it’s easy to read without knowing the ongoing story. And frankly, everything’s just weird enough that not knowing a couple of details isn’t going to seem unusual.

  • Will Pfeifer says:

    I have to second Doom Patrol #34. That issue tells such a complete, memorable and oddly touching story.

  • ScienceGiant says:

    That’s easy: the 2012 FCBD issue of MouseGuard by David Peterson. And Usagi Yojimbo, with literally any issue.

  • D says:

    Do you remember Don Rosa’s Comic Book Hall of Fame column in the old Comic Reader? A pretty good list of great single issues. I even had my own list published in it. Maybe some retailer with a large collection of that ‘zine could check the final tally, cause I never saw it.

  • Mikester says:

    D – I have a run of The Comic Reader from about issue #90 all the way to the end. If I get a spare moment (which are harder to come by these days) I’ll see if I can’t track that down.

  • Mike Loughlin says:

    For me, the greatest single comic is Incredible Hulk 372. It’s the comic that got me into comics. Is it a single issue story? Technically, yes, in that it is not “part x of y,” it has a clear beginning, middle, & end, and does not require much background knowledge beyond the basic Hulk set-up (Bruce Banner turns into a super-strong monster, and is on the run because of it).

    I had never heard of Betty Banner, didn’t know anything about the grey Hulk, and hadn’t read a single Hulk comic since early childhood, and Peter David made me care about the characters and situations immediately. The ending was perfect. Dale Keown’s art was amazing. His interpretation of the green Hulk is one of the best. His storytelling skills were equal to his facility with splash pages and big moments. I read it over and over, and couldn’t wait for the next issue.

    I maintain that Hulk 372 is a great super-hero comic, even if it’s maybe not as good as FF 51, “For the Man Who Has Everything,” Doom Patrol 34, or any of the other great choices others have submitted. It’s my sentimental favorite, though.

    My second choice is Stray Bullets 4, the story in which young Virginia goes hitchhiiking. It’s so damn tense, with a great twist ending. It’s one of the best crafted comics I’ve ever read.

  • James says:

    Master Race from Impact #1 by EC. Amazing revenge take about the Holocaust from an era where that topic was still taboo. The ending also allows the visuals to tell the story when most comics in the mid-1950s were very verbose. Just wondering if anybody else has read this one?

  • Anthony says:

    Superman: Kal

  • Iestyn Pettigrew says:

    I’m going to say – Disney’s adaption of the White Fang movie from the 90’s or 00’s.

    Beautiful artwork, sparse story telling.

    I know it’s an adaptions, so probably doesn’t count…

    So – there’s an issue of Daredevil by Ann Nocenti, where a kid allows a man to drink a poisoned glass of water at the end. Loved that. Loved that whole run.

  • philfromgermany says:

    The first ones that come to mind:

    Detective Comics #439 (Night of the Stalker)
    Detective Comics # 523 (Batman vs Grundy)
    Starman #39 (intro of the Mists daughter)
    Starman various talking with David issues
    The issue of HATE where Buddy and Butch dig up the corpse of Stinky
    Cerebus #44 (The deciding vote)
    Suicide Squad # 22 (Death of Senator Cray)
    Suicide Squad # 51 (Fractured Image)
    Suicide Squad #52 (The Death and Life and Death and Life and Death and Life of Dr. Light)
    Promethea #12 (I think it is #12 the Metaphore which stands alone even though it is part of a larger story)
    Supreme – The Return #2 (Planet Dax)
    several stories from Astro City most likely, but I need to reread those

  • Chris G says:

    All-Star Superman #10, “Neverending”

  • Rob S. says:

    The first one that comes to mind is Zot #33: “Normal.”

    A few others: Astro City #2: “The Scoop”
    Flash #54: “Nobody Dies”
    And I’ve got to second Sean’s pick of Showcase #100…which feels so much like the prototype for all of DC’s Crises to come.

  • Daniel says:

    Superman #400 is the single greatest issue of a mainstream super-hero series ever published (so, so, so many great artists). Still baffled why DC has never collected it in a more durable format like a hardcover Deluxe Edition.

    But that’s not really a single story. So I’ll have to go with “Paul in the Country” by Michel Rabagliati.

  • Jackie Estrada says:

    Here are the issues that have won the Eisner Award for Best Single Issue:

    1988 Gumby Summer Fun Special #1, by Bob Burden and Art Adams (Comico)
    1989 Kings in Disguise #1, by James Vance and Dan Burr (Kitchen Sink)
    1991 Concrete Celebrates Earth Day, by Paul Chadwick, Charles Vess and Jean Giraud (also known as Moebius) (Dark Horse Comics)
    1992 Sandman #22–28, by Neil Gaiman and various artists (DC)
    1993 Nexus: The Origin by Mike Baron and Steve Rude (Dark Horse)
    1994 Batman Adventures: Mad Love, by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm (DC)
    1995 Batman Adventures Holiday Special by Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, Ronnie del Carmen, and others (DC)
    1996 Kurt Busiek’s Astro City #4: “Safeguards”, by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson (Jukebox Productions/Image)
    1997 Kurt Busiek’s Astro City, vol. 2, #1: “Welcome to Astro City”, Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, and Will Blyberg (Jukebox Productions/Homage)
    1998 Kurt Busiek’s Astro City vol. 2 #10: “Show ‘Em All”, Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, and Will Blyberg (Jukebox Productions/Homage)
    1999 Hitman #34: “Of Thee I Sing”, by Garth Ennis, John McCrea, and Garry Leach (DC)
    2000 Tom Strong #1: “How Tom Strong Got Started”, by Alan Moore, Chris Sprouse, and Al Gordon (ABC)
    2001 Promethea #10: “Sex, Stars, and Serpents”, by Alan Moore, J.H. Williams III, and Mick Gray (ABC)
    2002 Eightball #22, by Daniel Clowes (Fantagraphics)
    2003 The Stuff of Dreams, by Kim Deitch (Fantagraphics)
    2004 Conan The Legend #0, by Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord (Dark Horse) and The Goon #1, by Eric Powell (Dark Horse) – tie
    2005 Eightball #23: “The Death Ray” by Daniel Clowes (Fantagraphics)
    2006 Solo #5 by Darwyn Cooke (DC)
    2007 Batman/The Spirit #1 by Jeph Loeb and Darwyn Cooke (DC)
    2008 Justice League of America #11: “Walls” by Brad Meltzer and Gene Ha (DC)

    2010 Captain America #601: “Red, White, and Blue-Blood” by Ed Brubaker and Gene Colan (Marvel)
    2011 Hellboy: Double Feature of Evil, by Mike Mignola, and Richard Corben
    2012 Daredevil #7, by Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera, and Joe Rivera (Marvel)
    2013 The Mire, by Becky Cloonan (self-published)
    2014 Hawkeye #11: “Pizza Is My Business,” by Matt Fraction and David Aja (Marvel)
    2015 Beasts of Burden: Hunters and Gatherers, by Evan Dorkan and Jill Thompson (Dark Horse)

  • Mikester says:

    Jackie – But what’s your favorite?

  • DanielT says:

    Stray Bullets #2

    Superman #400 is a great comic and does deserve a good reprinting.

  • Adam Ford says:

    Hold Me – that Neil Gaiman single Hellblazer – #27 I think?
    Patton Oswalt’s welcome to the working week is good
    St Swithins Day by Grant Morrison
    Oh and that excellent Rogers/Giffen Blue Beetle issue where we find out Jaimes dream is to become a dentist. #18 I think?
    Also the Vroom Socko one shot by Evan Dorkin. And Fight-Man #1.
    And Eightball 18 – The Death Ray.
    Power Company 15 is awesome.
    And The Intimates 8 and Mr Majestic 1 by Joe Casey.

  • Adam Ford says:

    Does Crecy count as a single issue? It’s awesome too.

  • Thom H. says:

    Ohh, good thinking, Adam. Some of Warren Ellis’ done-in-one books are just great — I’m thinking of Simon Spector and Frank Ironwine, especially. Carla Speed McNeil’s art on the latter really elevates the whole story.

  • Ben Gebhart says:

    OK, I’m throwing another on here before you do a post about it:

    Sensational She-Hulk #4 by Dan Slott & Juan Bobillo, in which Shulkie convinces Spidey to sue J. Jonah Jameson for libel! It had more genuine laugh out loud moments than any comic in recent memory, and it’s a total done-in-one, with a satisfying and hilarious conclusion. If you haven’t read it, please do!

  • Snark Shark says:

    “What If? #44, what if Captain America was REVIVED today? (1984-today, but still.)”

    I wouldn’t call that the best ever, but it was certainly quite good! the original series of WHAT IF is generally very entertaining~

  • Robert March says:

    As I said at the shop yesterday, I think Brubaker’s recent Criminal specials in the folio size have bee spectacular. I love the way that they intermingle the old ’70s comics with an ongoing crime saga.

  • Joshua Leto says:

    The first that came to mind was “Heartland” by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon.

    Two that I re-read many times (when budget was a greater concern, I read the same comics repeatedly) are:
    “Batman” #400 and
    “Cerebus” #75

    It’s probably not a coincidence that those issues were the first I can remember reading of the respective series.

  • Brian D. says:

    Another vote for “The Kid Who Collected Spider-Man.” It’s touching, it’s funny, it’s a great introduction to the character if you’ve never read the book AND a resonant take on the character if you’ve been reading him forever, and without punching out any bad guys, it somehow acts as the most moving definition of WHY folks read Spider-Man that the book ever offered.

  • Bear says:

    Adventures of Superman #28. The single greatest Superman story I’ve ever read, with such a simple premise: a little girl writes a story to Superman.

    It has an ending that gets me *just there* every single time, and it contains the best summary of Superman ever – ‘You can do anything you want, and all you want to do is help.’

  • Bear says:

    Argh, I meant she writes a letter to Superman, not a story! Stupid fat fingers…