To set ground rules, for this list I wanted to look at great collaboration teams that have worked on more than one project together so this ruled out plenty of fantastic runs counting for this list. I wanted to know that lightning could strike more than once with these teams.
These two creators might be worlds apart now but back in the day they created two of the most iconic runs for two of the more iconic characters. There is no doubt that Miller and Mazzucchelli together spent a good time in the 80's redefining what comics would look like for the next few decades. They made comic heroes hard boiled bad asses and they sold us stories of gritty realism that brought two decades old stalwarts back to a nice grounded base. Some might see these things as negatives, but I'd disagree on the whole.
The first to get the treatment was Daredevil with Born Again. He'd be up and down, and Miller had already had his turn at defining that Matt Murdock still means today, but this team got together and decided they had one good tale in them. They sold Daredevil's secret identity to his sworn enemy and they tore his world down brick by brick. It's a brutal tale that strips Murdock of everything he knows and thinks he understands and then gives him an opportunity to craft something new. I wouldn't, personally, call this tale the ultimate Daredevil run but there's no doubting it is pretty damn good and set Daredevil well into a new era.
A year later this team switched teams and worked their magic on Batman over at DC. They created the Year One tale, which was short and punchy much like Born Again, and this story shows us the beginning of Batman. Miller plays this for real as we see Bruce Wayne is much greener than we know him now and it's interesting to see Gotham City in what seems to be its nascent days. The story works well and is possibly the greatest Batman tale ever told. It's certainly a must read, that much can be guaranteed. If you put these two works together it only makes me want to see these guys travel back to 1988 and give Iron Fist a go.
9 - Mark Millar & Steve McNiven
They’re one of the best selling collaborative teams and they’re still dominating the charts with their recent fare. They style is definite widescreen blockbuster story with massive moments, cool lines, and plenty of ‘that’s cool’ moments. They’ve made a lot of money for Marvel and seem to very nearly given themselves a carte blanche when it comes to getting stories published.
It all started with Civil War. It was one of the biggest Marvel events of all time, sales were massive, and it all centered around superheroes having to choose; did they want to reveal their public identities or not? The Superhuman Registration Act was going to make every hero need to make themselves known to the government and there was going to be more control in his these people worked their heroics. The choice was there to be made, whose side are you on? The story looked absolutely stunning, but once it became plagued by delays fans became a little bit irate. The events of this story seem to have been washed out by recent events but at the time this was Marvel telling their biggest tale.
Old Man Logan certainly sold well and has been nominated for an Eisner award so the fans answered with their wallets and they loved it. Each issue of this story packed in plenty of large moments and McNiven certainly knew how to draw whatever Millar threw his way, be it fallen Avengers, crazed Nazi’s, creepy Moloids, Venom dinosaurs, or exploding Hulks. It was a shame that delays also marred this story’s run but the fans were willing to wait.
The latest collaboration between these two men is one of the largest creator owned sellers for a long time; it’s called Nemesis and it pits the idea that a billionaire genius actually becomes the villain and he decides to go after the best cops in the world and kill them. It’s only 2 issues in but people seem to be enjoying the spectacle of the premise and you can only assume it’s going to build to some very big moments before it is done.
Millar and McNiven are a team that bring massive moments and very large selling titles. They structure a story around some very cool concepts and images and they could certainly be described as fan favourites in many circles.
8 - Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale
Say what you will about Jeph Loeb these days, and most people have said it all, but there’s no arguing that he’s written some pretty big stories, and some damn fine and entertaining reads. It might be something to make note of that this event most frequently occurs when he’s partnered with Tim Sale. These two creators have a pretty good hit ratio of making good comics, maybe not always great, but not always that far off.
It all began with Challengers Of The Unknown way back in 1991. The collaboration obviously worked for both men as they have now gone on to work together on another 10 major projects. They then worked on three Halloween specials in Legends of the Dark Knight over 3 years which was a riff on A Christmas Carol. Batman is visited by three ghosts and shown three Halloween adventures he had against a variety of villains. The storyline was collected as Haunted Knight and led to more Batman work for the pair.
Batman: The Long Halloween in 1996 was the big hit for the pair in which we see a tale from Batman’s Year One period and has him investigating a series of crimes that sequence around major holiday dates on the calendar. It’s a pretty nifty story and makes for one hell of a read in trade as it’s 13 issues. The entire tale is very enjoyable if not exactly perfect. As time has gone on more people have slowly picked holes in the plot but there is no doubting that it was a hit at the time.
From the Long Halloween the pairing then went on to Dark Victory which retold the origin of Batman’s young ward, Robin. It’s also a well told tale and the artwork is gorgeous as ever. It was a hit as well, though it’s still viewed, usually, as being just a bit below Long Halloween.
They also got to work on Superman in the mini series For All Seasons, and Catwoman in When In Rome. Both stories are set in the past, with Catwoman’s series running against the final issue of Dark Victory. Both have earned praise from critics and been well received by fans. The major issue with their DC work was that it all took part in the past and relied heavily on elements already established. This trend would continue in their Marvel work but it’s almost understandable as Sale’s art style has a very vintage feel to it.
The pairing kicked off with Spider-Man: Blue, a tale of Peter Parker meeting, and losing, Gwen Stacy. They follow this up with Daredevil: Yellow, which was all about Matt Murdock falling in love with Karen Page. Then we were served up Hulk: Gray, a tale of Bruce Banner and Betty Ross. They are all good minis, with the usual level of Sale art, and very emotive text from Loeb but they are also completely based directly on actual issues that has already been told. They are complete retellings of these issues and after a while it does get to seem a bit slack.
Both men are currently at work on Captain America: White which is the ultimate romantic tale of the Marvel U, Cap and Bucky. It’s the usual style of great art laid alongside a remix of already told tales. There’s a place for it but it seems this collaboration is great at presenting old history, like a greatest of countdown show, but they so rarely forge new ground and develop their own independent ideas. I would like to see them try but for now we can just enjoy the many trades they have worked on together because they are enjoyable, not revolutionary, but definitely enjoyable.
It’s an impressive writer that can manage to hold down more than one completely classic collaboration, and Brubaker isn’t even done in his career, we can only hope. Though Lark’s artwork is different to that of Phillips it still suits the darker tones of Brubaker’s words and scenes. Lark knows how to make shadows and darkness work for how he tells the story and when these two creators have gotten together they usually create fantastic crime drama on the page.
This collaboration began with a Vertigo mini series called Scene of the Crime. The story, A Little Piece of Goodnight, centers around a young private investigator whose uncle was a famous crime scene photographer. He is given the job to track down a missing person and from there a Chandler-esque tale unfolds with our hero getting beat up a fair degree and plenty of great dialogue carrying us from scene to scene. Brubaker certainly weaves a wild tale and Lark is very confident in following him along and making the characters open and known. Jack Herriman as the young PI is an interesting creation and I wish they had gone on to create more adventures for him. He’s well set up in this title.
It’s also amusing to note that Sean Phillips did the majority of the inking over Lark’s work in this series. It seems Brubaker keeps his stable relatively open.
Brubaker and Lark then went to work on a new DC title called Gotham Central. Into the fold they also welcomed Greg Rucka who would share writing duties with Brubaker where they’d co-plot to begin with but then take turns telling arcs and using their own shifts of the Gotham City Police Department. The series ran for 40 issues and despite a glut of praise and even a few awards it eventually was canceled after sales just weren’t what DC wanted them to be.
Gotham Central was one of those experiences that was purely sublime and so obviously wasn’t going to survive on the market. Issues would pass without a costumed character appearing because they were the wallpaper, the drama was with the cops. The brilliance was in playing it completely straight, and showing the complexity of having to deal with doing your job when the criminals are harder than usual and the help is an undercutting vigilante who dresses like a bat. It’s a comic you want back but also want to stay pure and what it was at that time. A return would be scary, to say the least.
The final collaboration between Brubaker and Lark was an epic run on Daredevil that fell hot on the heels of Bendis’s award winning opus. They took the handle of a Matt Murdock on his way to jail and they left him there for a surprisingly long time. Their collaborative style worked perfectly for the gritty story being told behind bars. Lark’s strength is drawing real people though he also drew Iron Fist running around in the Daredevil costume and it looked spectacular. The opening double page splash of ‘Daredevil’ in action (a device Brubaker also got David Aja to employ in the first issue of the Immortal Iron Fist to just as great success) is something I’d easily buy a poster of. Lark continues the Maleev led tradition of showing Murdock in a rainy Hell’s Kitchen that might never get clean.
They eventually took Murdock to Europe and pitted him against Mr. Fear and finally built up a final ninja showdown that would lead right toward the Shadowland event in which we find DD. The run, to me, seems exceptional because both Brubaker and Lark manage to make any villain seem relatively steeped in the real world. Mr Fear came across as daunting and purposeful, even the Matador looked pretty damn cool. The title was one long noir story of Daredevil slowly losing everything (I know, shock for a DD tale) but it all seemed like it was a little more grounded, within reason.
Greg Rucka managed to sneak his head into the mix once more in one arc on Daredevil titled Cruel and Unusual. It sees a return to Matt Murdock the lawyer as he takes on a new case, one where the defendant claims he is guilty but Murdock can tell he is not. It’s actually quite a brutal story and though one of the weaker arcs in the Brubaker run it is still good comics.
This duo, and oft-times trio, are known for bringing great crime into each page they create. While Brubaker’s work with Phillips is usually quite dire and dark, when paired with Lark there does appear to be a more modern approach to the characters. Lark brings a slight glimmer of brightness to his tale that makes it feel like a current version of noir whereas Phillips’ work makes it more like the comic is actually an artefact of that time. It’s been a while since Brubaker and Lark have teamed together but I can only hope that they get together again at some stage, I’d certain invest some time and money into it.
6 - Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon
Garth Ennis is a man whose writing certainly needs the art. He’s also a man who needs his artist to have complete faith and the ability to draw things most people wouldn’t even talk about. In that he certainly found his match in Steve Dillon. They first collaborated in 2000AD and then later on Hellblazer with a few arcs of the cancerous Constantine doing what he does best. These stories should have been some warning of what was to come from these two men if they were left unfettered.
Preacher ran for 66 issues and within that time this team managed to break boundaries of nearly every taboo, be they sexual, violent, religious, or still to be classified. Preacher is undoubtedly a classic and a long form story that will go down as some of the best and grossest work from either creator. The fact that they managed to work so well together through all that was shown in that title shows you just how well these men click. They understand the gross out, but they also know it needs to be connected to character work, emotion, and that’s exactly what they managed to give in equal doses making us swear to never return, each and every time we were there.
The duo have also had a few hits at Marvel as they managed to make the Punisher an even more violent man as they created a long run within the Marvel Knights imprint before Ennis had a chance to take the character to the MAX line and really stretch his muscles. This collaboration will always be known for taking each other to extremes, and you can only wonder whose fault that was. Or was it constantly one-upmanship?
It’s a relatively short collaboration, in amount of runs, but this pairing yielded some fantastic results from the two creators. Stan Lee, as always, had plenty of zany ideas but he needed a good visual conceptualist to truly bring them to life. He took one idea to Kirby but was unhappy with the results he was given back so he then went to Steve Ditko and thus the Amazing Spider-Man that we know and love today was born.
Ditko was able to create a superhero who looked different from the rest of the pack. Spider-Man had a mask that covered his entire face and he wasn’t the usual broad shouldered man mountain but was instead a boy within a costume and Ditko did well to constantly draw him as such. For 38 issues this pair collaborated and then created some of the greatest, and longest standing, characters within the Marvel U. Ditko was on the ground floor with Stan to create possibly the greatest comic character of all time, and his incredibly well rounded ensemble cast.
Very soon after Spidey debuted, Ditko and Lee also worked together within the title Strange Tales. In issue #110 they created the Sorcerer Supreme, Dr. Stephen Strange. This collaboration was a much more cosmic event and it allowed Ditko to experiment more with his weirder, more outlandish and surreal styles. While they worked together on the character they created an entire world for Strange, his lover, his enemies, and his power set. The outcome was a run of titles that progressively became more confident and different from the usual Marvel fare. An icon was created and Ditko was eventually able to take the character even further by being given the reins solo to move the tales into stranger areas.
Much of the Marvel Universe as we know was put together by the collaboration of these two fine gentlemen so they most assuredly guarantee themselves a place on this countdown for their two main characters alone, if not for their surrounding casts and worlds.
4 - Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely
Morrison is a man with ideas, there’s no doubt about that. He’s got a mind like a gamma infected hamster on a wheel, it just keeps going round and the more it does the more you want to watch. Getting an artist to keep up with such thoughts and visuals must be hard but it seems that Morrison found his man in the Scot Frank Quitely. It all started with a man named Flex Mentallo. They did a 4 issue mini for DC and things obviously clicked well between the two because some of Morrison’s best work has subsequently been told through the pencil of Quitely.
The two went on to make JLA: Earth 2, several arcs on the freshly re-titled New X-Men, the WE3 mini series for Vertigo, the opening arc of Batman and Robin, and probably most importantly All Star Superman together. In each of these collaborations, over a decade and a half, the two have worked spectacularly together. Morrison has had him drawing classic superheroes from the two big companies, animal heads on robot bodies, and some of the crazier and zanier moments in mainstream titles with very un-mainstream villains and scenes. It’s interesting to see Quitley’s more realistic design for clothes and people played over the operatic superheroics that Morrison writes. Getting to see Quitely draw Wolverine or invent Professor Pyg has been an outstanding pleasure. It’s also interesting to note that at some stage people thought it was a possibility that Quitely was actually just a pseudonym of Morrison’s, so synergistic was the work being put out.
I’d wager that the most important work between the two would have to be All Star Superman. It’s possibly the greatest story ever written about the character, it’s pretty much continuity standalone, and it’s absolutely gorgeous in the way that the images and the words constantly flow together to make repeat instances of perfect pages. Morrison makes sure that his words don’t get in the way and Quitely is certain to make each and every image stand up to the grandeur on offer with what is so economically being said. It’s great comics and well worth checking out.
3 - Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev
This collaboration can be easily summed up in a quote by Brian Michael Bendis. “Alex draws the way I wish I could draw.” That’s why these two guys work so well together. It’s part love and part respect and just a dash of kismet sprinkled in on top. When these two men come together to make comics the comics usually look pretty good and because the scribe has faith in the images he lets the words do what they need but doesn’t bang you over the head with them. Usually.
Bendis and Maleev first worked together on Sam and Twitch for Image. They obviously formed a tight bond on that title because when Bendis was given the chance to helm Daredevil he asked Joe Quesada if he could have Maleev come along for the ride with him. Obviously, Bendis could see exactly how he wanted DD to look but didn’t think he could do it himself so he got the man who actually could draw the way he wanted it to come out. Their run together on ol’ Hornhead has gone down in history as one of the best collaboration runs in the history of superhero comics, and rightfully so. They used their shared words and art to turn Daredevil into a noir comic with spandex and thankfully made Matt Murdock a main protagonist, which so many creators forget to do. The run is legendary and looks absolutely amazing.
Since then all of Maleev’s Marvel work has been against Bendis’s scripts and it’s all been pretty good, though nothing as epic as their DD run. They kicked off a Spider-Woman run but slapped it into hiatus after 7 issues that spun their wheels but didn’t exactly get anywhere. Now, however, they’ve started a creator owned comic called Scarlet that is more to the experimental side of Daredevil as compared to the more superheroic, and yet still gritty, Jessica Drew tale they told. Scarlet takes liberties with how the story is told and presented and it just might be their best work yet. It might, it’s just too early to call. The debut issue certainly blew my mind in many ways and I hope that this collaboration team still has a lot of juice left in their tank.
It’s almost embarrassing how much this team was able to do in just a handful of years. Stan Lee was the writer, he’d come up with the scripts, or the ideas, but he was completely dependent on having Jack Kirby there to flesh things out for him. What might be one or two verbose and staccato sentences from Lee would become decades of iconic character work for Kirby. Together these two giants of the industry launched the X-Men, and all the characters entailed within that series, they kick started the careers of the Avengers, they brought life to Iron Man and Thor and the Hulk, as well as making Nick Fury the top man at S.H.I.E.L.D. They not only created these classic characters but they told some of their best stories too. As a one-two punch they were comics as much as Vinnie Chase is Queen’s Boulevard. They were the embodiment and the soul of the creative hive that spawned the legends of thousands of childhoods for decades to come. But their most impressive feat was a 102 issue run that went unbroken as a collaborative successive run for over 30 years.
The Fantastic Four was the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine and it’s almost hard to argue with that hyperbole. Within 102 issues Stan and Jack managed to create a slew of Marvel icons that live on to this day. Some of it was Stan’s work, and some Jack’s, but it would be safe to say that the melting pot of psychedelia and verbosity that came out in those years could only come because the two were working together. Without this monumental collaboration we might not have the eponymous four, as well as the Silver Surfer, Galactus, the Inhumans, Black Panther, the Kree, the Skrulls, Adam Warlock as well as the treasure trove of villains created. This collaboration made comics what it is today, and without these two finding time to create together the four colour world might have become a very different place.
1 - Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
Sometimes a creative team just seems to work as one. Their tone is the same, their ideas are the same, and the end product ends up coming out like it was generated from a hive mind of brilliant beings. Strangely enough Brubaker and Phillips seem to have this with every collaboration and their prolificacy is both impressive and completing warranting of praise.
The amazing quality of the Brubaker/Phillips collaboration is how well they’ve cornered a genre market and are clearly the best there is at what they do, and what they do can be pretty nasty. These two men have brought noir and pulp comics back to the forefront of the four coloured world. They’ve made crime and bad men very good once more. They started together in Sleeper for Wildstorm. A perfect little super-noir tale about a hero who goes undercover and then gets left out in the cold. It’s a great mash up of genres and this team up seemed to instantly gel and just know exactly how to make their styles fit to tell the tale in the best possible way.
Were this their only work together we could have been very happy but instead these two have become symbiotic as Brubaker purges his system of all the morbid and dark tales he has brewing under the surface. They’ve launched both Criminal and Incognito through the Icon imprint at Marvel and both have been showered with praise and Eisner nominations. Their flip sides of a coin, one brutally real crime and the other neon-pop super pulp. Both great and yet the equivalent of subbing in a decadent dessert for a rich and fatty dinner. They’ll kill you but you’ll die smiling. I would send this collaboration in for the Pepsi Challenge to take out all other teams to bring me a tale that I know I’ll love. These two together is a no-brainer as a must read.
Those are my ten selections for greatest collaborators in comics (with more than one run together), who would yours be. Let us know in the comments below.