Σάββατο, 3 Νοεμβρίου 2012

What I Think About Stuff-A primer to comic book nerddom

You’re about to start off on a wonderful journey…

A comic book primer Or Initiate’s guide to the cult of the OverMan

Not too long ago, I had the pleasure of friending Chris Gavaler, a nerd scientist extraordinaire and fellow spandex enthusiast. I also had the even greater pleasure of going through his blog, which focuses on the superhero mythos, ideal and trivia in ways my blog wishes it could.

But it’s gonna.

I had proposed a collaboration with Mr. Gavaler, which was held back due to personal matters on my behalf and will be thankfully completed in full in the near future (mostly because I hate letting the cool people I meet down).

So instead of the original collaborative article aiming to serve as a beginner’s primer to the DC and Marvel cosmology, what you’re going to get instead is (what I hope is going to be) a joint list of 


Now, keep in mind that this is a guide intended for people starting off on the medium, not for hardened veterans, though there are a couple good entries that some of you might have missed.

It is also important to note that these comic books presented here are, for the most part, completed mini-series or self-contained titles so that you (the aspiring nerd) will not be disheartened at the sheer volume of the complete works presented.

So with that in mind, let’s start off our list:

Supreme Power

It’s been ten years and a hundred reads and this cover still gives me the chills

Once upon a time, the creative team of Roy Thomas and John Buscema (two Silver Age superhero titans) decided to create a comic book series titled Squadron Supreme, which was the closest thing Marvel ever came to reproducing the JLA without getting sued.

It was a story of superhuman responsibility, of terrors from beyond the stars and of the most powerful beings in the universe messing up their chance to make the world a better place.

Fast-forward to 2000 and scifi legend and character developer extraordinaire J. Michael Straczynski takes on the series and revamps it, reboots it and retools it, turning it into a veritable masterpiece.

Supreme Power is essentially a cynical, much more realistic take on the actual presence of superhumans in our world and is the absolute perfect primer to people who like the idea of a superhero mythology and teams but cannot be bothered with a huge backstory and tons of trivia.

(There’s also been a Supreme Power spinoff, titled Squadron Supreme but that wasn’t as good as the original series and also didn’t seem to actually go anywhere)

And since we’re talking about Straczynski, there’s no way we can’t mention…

Rising Stars:

And lo, did the thirsting multitudes find solace in the middle of the wasteland…
The 90’s was a crappy time to be a superhero nerd. Most titles out there were garbage and most heroes had pouches instead of a personality.

The black guy on the foreground has about a dozen pouches round his thighs. In Liefeld-speak, that means he’s important!
Rising Stars is the story of 113 children conceived on the eve of a UFO crash in a small town in the USA, born with extraordinary powers. It’s actually a story of extraordinary people struggling to survive in a world that doesn’t quite shun them, as much as suppress their power.

It’s also a story that’s much more brutal and optimistic than Supreme Power, with an ending that makes you smile like an idiot for the rest of the day.

Moving on to more familiar pastures, let’s check out some of the medium’s better known heroes, starting off with…

All-Star Superman:

Six seasons of Lois & Clark abusing this scene and Frank Quitely gets it just right in one frame. Suck it, television.
Grant Morisson has made some weird stuff in his time, not all of it good. But for the sake of All-Star Superman and every other work that revamps a popular character and makes him cool and awesome again in brand new ways, I forgive him.

All-Star Superman is the definitive Superman series. It compresses the mythology of the OverMan into three (count them, folks: 3) trade paperbacks and presents every great battle, idea and challenge the Last Son of Krypton has ever faced, from his conception to his death, requiring little to no knowledge of Kal-El’s origins or backstory.

And while we’re at Superman, what better way to get to know him than…

Red Son:

First time I ever saw this frame, I could not decide whether I should feel awed or slightly amused…
Red Son is the story of Superman landing in the Soviet Union instead of the US out of cosmic coincidence. It’s the story of the Man of Steel growing up in a country ruled by a totalitarian regime, nurtured in ideals that hurt its people and stunt its growth and his own personal struggle between obeying and upholding the laws of man and doing what he does best:
Saving people.

To Mark Millar’s credit, Red Son is not an unintelligently written story about communism VS everyone else or even a story about how in Soviet Russia, Superman saves YOU! It’s a story about superhuman and human responsibility and also stars the coolest Lex Luthor I’ve read to date, along with Russian Batman.

Speaking of Batman…

The Dark Knight Returns:

If you’re going to die tomorrow, then read this shit right now.

If you are somehow unaware of Batman’s existence, if your only knowledge of the Batman mythos comes through the Nolan trilogy, if you’re only just starting in comics and want to see what all this Internet fixation with Batman’s about, then read the Dark Knight Returns.

Not Strikes Again. Returns. It’s the definitive, ultimate stand-alone Batman comic book, it comes in a single trade paperback and tells you everything you need to know. The ending is also chilling.

Overanalyzers tend to spot far-right political notions in the narrative. To these people I say: shut the fuck up and read the best Batman story ever, Steve.

But since we’re on Batman, why not look at a more canonical approach with…

Batman: Hush

 Ding…dong…the gang’s all here.

If The Dark Knight Returns is the definitive newbie’s guide, then Hush is the best Batman Crash Course in recorded history. It’s an action packed story that introduces new readers to the entire cast of masked vigilantes of Gotham City, presents Batman’s complete backstory (all four Robins included) depicts Batman kicking Superman’s ass and presents old and brand new supervillains with a flair you won’t find in other comic books.

Hush is one of those comic books you just gotta read, if you want to impress your friends with witty commentary explaining the trivia of the Nolan trilogies next time you’re feeling the burning need to play the intellectual.

But enough about heroes. Let’s talk villains, shall we?

Bomb Queen:

Tits, bums, bombs, plots, violence, gore, villainy, great dialogue, cynicism, horrible people, superheroes, supervillains, social commentary.

Bomb Queen is the kind of comic book that has never once taken itself seriously while at the same time presenting great stories in a dead serious manner. It’s funny (in that horrible sort of way), it’s intelligent and above all every volume is pretty much self-contained, which means that you aren’t really that pressed for mythos throughout your read.

Bomb Queen is also a pretty hot piece of ass, all things considered. On another note, read:

Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing Run:

From Death to Divinity

If you’re never going to buy any comic book ever again, then buy Swamp Thing. Along with his MiracleMan run, this is Alan Moore’s finest work in DC comics, beautifully illustrated and presented.
But just in case you aren’t yet convinced, here’s a few of the wonderful things you’ll get to see through this series:

-DC universe’s Hell and Heaven

-The Crisis on Infinite Earths, condensed in a half-dozen pages that bore into your brain and explode with awesome

-The rise of Alec Holland to absolute lord of the biosphere

-Alien Starship-worlds, yo.

Unless of course you want to die without ever truly knowing beauty. Speaking of beauty…

Alan Moore’s Stories of the DC Universe:

 Batman’s laughing at you for not having read it yet.

Superman’s death. The Crime Olympics. A madman and his dream wife. The Killing Joke. The Green Lantern known as Mogo. A world without light or colour. The Empire of Tears. Worlds filled with wonder, watched over by immortal giants.

Pitch is over. Go fucking buy it.

On a final note, regarding the DC Universe in total…

Kingdom Come:

 Needs more Immediate Music

The word ‘epic’ is tossed around a lot in these days. People talk about how this and that is awesome and how comic books are at their height, but not a single one of them stops to consider that not every comic book is a comic book.

Some of them are works of art.

Kingdom Come is the series that should be sealed in an air-tight vacuum and translated into every language, if only so that the alien settlers or future-monkeys that will find it will know it for what it is: a tribute to the OverMan.

Alex Ross paints a masterpiece, Mark Waid breathes life into it and makes you care and that’s all you need to know.

Honorable Mentions:

Because this list is going to get huge if I just keep going at it, I’ll add a few short listing here for your convenience. These are titles that are intended for the intermediate level of comic book enthusiasts, who have read the aforementioned works and want more:

Pretty much everything I’ve reviewed on this site, except Rogan Gosh and Dark Knight Returns

Wanted is the penultimate supervillain book, Planetary is superhero history, Rick Veitch’s the One is the embodiment of cynicism, Flex Mentallo is meta-superhumanity.

Alan Moore’s Supreme run:

The worst artist and the best writer in comic book history combine forces. Things turn out way better than expected.
A reborn version of a shitty comic book, Alan Moore’s Supreme is a look at every superhero trope in existence with a fresh new perspective. It’s funny, it’s clever, it’s fun to read but it’s very vexing to the uninitiated, since Supreme is comprised of constant references to superhero history and might be too much for those of your just getting into the superhero scene.

Garth Ennis’ Hitman:

I keep quoting this every day and as often as I can.
Garth Ennis’ work is blasphemous, witty and funny as hell. It pokes fun at every single superhero trope and does it in a way that makes you feel at the same time embarrassed as well as unbelievably proud of your superheroes. 

It also stars the nicest guy in comics to date.
The Authority:

Warren Ellis’ own little superhero universe.

The Authority is violent, gruesome, wondrous and above all, GLORIOUS. It’s only getting an honorable mention because I’m going to be reviewing it in detail in the near future. 

The only reason why this series is not suggested for aspiring nerds is that it tends to work with extremes: you’re either going to love it or you’re going to hate it, without any middle ground to be covered.

That’s about it for my iniate’s list, folks. I’m signing off, hoping that I’ve gotten at least one of you hyped to read these series and explore the superhero medium and its silent maelstrom through the multiverse.


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