5BC: Five Best Comics of 1981

1981 was a year of many anniversaries, and many anniversary issues as a result. This 25th anniversary issue of FLASH was built around a premise that was even then a bit old: Barry Allen wakes up in a hospital room, his body paralyzed and horribly scarred from the accident when lightning struck his police laboratory. His entire career as the Flash has been a delusion of his cracked mind. Of course, this set-up cannot be true, but it provides a framework for Cary Bates and Carmine Infantino to examine each and every facet of the Flash’s long history.

is run as writer/artist was only a few issues old when John Byrne was forced to grapple with the need to put together a story commemorating the 20th anniversary of the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine. Like Bates, he opted for a story in which the principle players are normal people, unaware of their super hero personas. It’s all a plot on the part of Doctor Doom, of course, but Byrne tells it with elan (despite some dodgy plotting.) It’s one of his nicest art jobs on the series as well. The back-up, sadly, was more controversial, where Jack Kirby’s storyboards for the Fantastic Four cartoon were inked by a bevy of inkers to create a new story, without Kirby’s knowledge.

As the independent market opened up, new series began to launch outside of the requirement of the newsstand comic book business. One of the best and most long-lasting was NEXUS by Mike Baron and Steve Rude, which told the tale of an erudite assassin whose dreams of mass-murder granted him cosmic powers and who was driven by those dreams to seek out and exterminate the culprits. While on the surface it had the trappings of a regular super hero book, NEXUS was a potent mixture of influences and stylings, and not so easily pigeonholed.

The 200th issue of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA was another oversized colossus, whose story hearkened back to the origin of the League itself. Writer Gerry Conway and main artist George Perez were joined by a bevy of perfectly-cast artists, each of whom illustrated a chapter in which a formative member of the League did battle with a newcomer. Even the absence of Neal Adams on the chapter devoted to Batman, Green Arrow and Black Canary worked out, as his substitute was Brian Bolland, doing some of his first interior work for the United States.

This double-sized issue of DAREDEVIL was the unforgettable climax to writer/artist Frank Miller’s Kingpin/Elektra/Bullseye storyline, and was as brutal and uncompromising as any comic book released in this period. The series’ transition into a noir crime comic book was complete, and in the death of Elektra, Marvel had found another emotional gold mine to compete with the prior year’s Death of Phoenix. It was a shocking turn of events, and one that literally everybody in fandom was talking about once it happened.

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