Astro City ½
Back before I started collecting again, Nan got me a subscription to Wizard. One of the first issues had a list of the "Best" 100 Single Issues of Comics. I figured hunting down some of these would be a great way to find out what I had been missing during my sabbatical.
This story is called "The Nearness of You". In the story we meet a man named Mike Tenicek. He is haunted by the memories of a woman named Miranda. Unfortunately, he doesn't know the woman, but he knows everything about her, even dreams about her.
His "memories" begin to overwhelm him and start to interfere with his job and social life. Even though he lives in "Astro City", where heroes and villains battle on a daily basis, all Mike can do is try to track down Miranda. He is so convinced that he MUST have known her. He asks his family and tracks down old friends in an effort to gain any help....but no one knows who he is talking about.
Mike decides to turn to sleeping pills in an effort to sleep and put his dream girl out of his head. As he is about to up his dosage, he is visited by "The Hanged Man", a ghostly super-being who holds the answer to Mike's dilemma.
The narration lets us in on The Hanged Man's words: "YOUR DREAMS TROUBLE YOU, AND IN TURN THEY TROUBLE REALITY. YOU FEAR YOU ARE GOING MAD, YOU ARE NOT....I SHALL SHOW YOU."
Through The Hanged Man's narration (via flashback) we learn that after being defeated in 1943, a super-villain named The Time-Keeper was defeated. Frustrated, he found a way to rip a hole in "The Time Barrier" and is confronted by Eterneon, Lord of Time. A mind-blowing battle ensues where we see time torn asunder and rewritten and torn apart again. In the space of 6 panels, we see time re-woven to the best of the heroes abilities.
We return to the present day and Mike realizes what happened. "She died, didn't she? I knew her, and she died in that...that maelstrom." The Hanged Man replies, "SHE WAS YOUR WIFE, AND SHE NEVER EXISTED."
We understand that the "chronal reconstruction" was not exact. Miranda was a casualty of the tampering with time. The Hanged Man tells Mike that now that he knows this, Mike's mind can be at peace, and The Hanged Man can help ensure that Mike forgets both Miranda and this meeting.
Resurrecting Miranda's time line is not an option, but The Hanged man can give Mike the ability to forget Miranda and live the rest of his life in ignorance of the love they once shared, if the pain of the loss is too much for him to bear any longer.
Mike barely takes a moment to decline the offer.
The Hanged Man then shares that Mike and Miranda were only two of many "civilian" casualties. He starts to leave to visit the others. Mike suddenly asks him, "WAIT! Others? What...uh...what do most people choose? Do they forget or..."
"NO ONE FORGETS...NO ONE." And The Hanged Man disappears.....
My summary does not do the story justice. I just love it. All these stories I read, with the fantastic and the powers and the cosmic sprawling epic stories, it's a "love story" like this represents the "best" of what comic books can be.