Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Top 5 Comics by John Ostrander

As you have probably gathered from the contents of some of my recent posts, I gots me a mad crush on Johnny O.  He's one of those writers whose name on a project will get me to consider buying a comic about a character that I would normally give a wide berth.  He has a talent for taking lame or under utilized characters and giving them depth and life.  Even his weakest efforts are worth reading at least once.  When he's at his peak, he exemplifies the best that comics as as medium, not just the super-hero genre, has to offer. 
Here, then, is my list of what I consider to be his five greatest accomplishments in the comics field.

5. The Kents--Essentially this is a Western, though it was likely its connections to the super-hero genre, and the Superman mythology in particular, that sold it to DC and to readers.  The 12 issue series, drawn by frequent Ostrander collaborators Tim Truman (issues #1-8) and Tom Mandrake (#'s 9-12), tells the tale of the ancestors of Jonathan Kent, Superman's Earthly father, and how they came to settle in Smallville, Kansas around the middle of the 19th century.  Ostrander uses this framework to dramatize the events leading up to the Civil War by placing members of this fictional family near the center of those events.
4.   Wasteland--Co-written with Chicago theater legend Del Close and drawn by a variety of  artists including Don Simpson, David Lloyd, Tom Artis, Ty Templeton, Tim Truman and William Messner-Loebs, just to list the ones I can name off the top of my head, Wasteland was an 18 issue experiment in reviving the horror anthology, though perhaps editor Mike Gold was more on the mark when he described it in the letters pages as a "black hole humor" book. Eschewing blood and guts for the most part in favor of more psychological horrors, Ostrander and Close produced short tales that were sometimes funny, often disturbing, generally thought provoking and always worth reading.  Among the highlights were the recurring adventures of The Dead Detective, a corpse who was nonetheless capable of thought, and constantly wondering why that was, and of getting involved in increasingly absurd situations, and the frequent biographical sketches showing incidents from Close's colorful past.

3. Deadshot--A dark, disturbing and compelling journey into the life and mind of the Suicide Squad's resident killer with a death wish, Floyd Lawton, a.k.a. Deadshot.  For more details on this one, see my previous post.

2. Hawkworld--Expertly blending super-heroics, hard science fiction and social commentary, Ostrander uses the characters of Katar Hol and Shayera Thal, visiting policemen from the alien planet Thanagar, to show the readers modern day American society as seen through the eyes of outsiders from a repressive totalitarian society, in the process challenging the reader to really think, for perhaps the first time, about the principles on which this country was founded and the rights and freedoms we so blithely take for granted.  This, by the way, is another series about which I have written previously.

1. The Spectre--My choice for the top spot on this list should be no surprise considering the glowing write up I gave this series last week.  By focusing on the Astral Avenger's human side, Jim Corrigan, as a three dimensional character rather than the Spectre entity itself as a cosmic force, Ostrander crafted the finest series of stories ever told about the character in his seven decades of existence, telling the tale of the spiritual growth of a lost soul struggling toward his ultimate redemption. 
This list, of course, represents only my opinion, and yours may vary.  I'm almost certain that one particular regular reader of this blog will take me to task for not including Suicide Squad.  That was the hard part of making this list.  There was so much good stuff that it was difficult to decide what to leave off. If I were David Letterman, and this was a Top 10 list, Squad, as well as Firestorm, Grimjack and even Batman: Gotham Nights would surely have found its way onto the list.


  1. As a fellow fan of John Ostrander this list was interesting to read. I appreciate your gutsy move of including the oft-overlooked Wasteland. I've never seen a comic like Wasteland (for better or for worse) before or since it was published.

    I can't really give you grief over neglecting Suicide Squad (or am I being vain in assuming an identity that is not mine to take?) since you included the Deadshot miniseries. Because the beginning of the miniseries features Floyd on a Squad mission and the end of the series so affected Floyd's behavior when he returned to the team, I consider these comics a piece of Ostander's longer Suicide run (pun intended).

    I've recently begun reading Ostrander's Star Wars comics and while I have yet to encounter anything there that's as good as the above titles, they're still pretty good. As you say, even his worst material is still well worth reading.

    1. Yes, Jonathon, you are, in fact, the Suicide Squad supporter I referred to in the final paragraph.
      I agree with your point about the Deadshot mini-series. After re-reading Suicide Squad #22, which I picked up along with about half a dozen other Squad issues out of the quarter boxes at Half Price Books during their Labor Day Weekend 20% off sale last weekend, I can't help but feel that issue should have been included with the forthcoming trade collection of the mini-series. It's essentially an epilogue to that story, as Lawton's actions in that issue are a direct result of the events of the mini-series.
      By the way, have you read The Kents yet? You must have liked it, as you did not object to its place on this list.