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Taking the plunge...COMICS!
Lately, I've been thinking about dipping my toes into comic books. This past week the urge has reached the point where it's time to take action! Except...I have no clue where to begin. Getting into comics at this point feels like trying to catch up with a TV show that is going on it's 50th season. It's sort of intimidating and it has actively discouraged me from comics for a couple of years now. At this point the only comic I own is Watchmen. Which I like. A lot.
I feel like the best way to start is to simply find some characters, stories that interest me and dive in. I've broken it down into a few tiers of what I'm interested in.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
MiracleMan / Marvalman
Tier 3 (Individual Stories...I guess)
Daredevil: Born Again
DC: The New Frontiers
The Dark Knight Returns
The Killing Joke
As you can see...I'm already spiraling out of control! So I'm looking for any sort of help or advise you can give me. Is there stuff that is required reading? Should I just start with some of these individual stories? Should I stick to something semi-self contained (like Watchmen)?
I dabbled into the Sandman stories (Neil Gaiman) back in college and picked up the first volume recently to get back into it.
I've also started Saga (Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples), which is amazing.
Otherwise, I have no idea what I'm doing.
For the moment, I will just address your first tier:
Dr. Strange - The early Lee/Ditko stories are collected, in both affordable black/white collections and fancy color collections. Ditko had a particular style of depicting magic that is appealing, and the early stories laid groundwork for a semi-consistent system of magic. The greatest run was in the early '70s, with writing by Steve Englehart and art by John Brunner. That was followed by an okay run that included some nice art by Marshall Rogers. Several years ago, there was a good six-issue story by Brian K. Vaughn called The Oath, which featured some wonderful Ditko-style artwork. The new Dr. Strange run looks potentially good, except that Doc is now apparently compensating for a small penis by carrying a huge magical battle axe. I plan to skip it.
Daredevil - Aside from some nice artwork by Wally Wood and maybe Gene Colan, most of Daredevil's first 12 years is just average quality. Frank Miller did a legendary run that elevated Bullseye to a major villain and introduced Elektra. Bendis did a great modern run, though I found it too wordy, downbeat, and punctuated by unsatisfactory endings to story arcs. Mark Waid has been doing great work with Daredevil in recent years.
Hellboy - I love early Hellboy. Mike Mignola is channeling Jack Kirby's art style, only somehow doing more with less. It's dark, a bit humorous in places, and well grounded in all kinds of myth, legend, and mysticism. The stories are generally quite good. Eventually there are spin-off titles, and everything is connected, and then Mignola starts doing major, game-changing apocalyptic stuff to his setting. It's fascinating, but I find the apocalyptic stuff less enjoyable than the early adventures.
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - I'm a big fan of Alan Moore, and I really like the concept of bringing together classic 19th century literary characters into a team of adventurers. But I don't like the artwork. And after the first two volumes, the quality of the stories drops significantly. Maybe buy the first volume and see if you like it enough, and then proceed with caution.
Judge Dredd - I'm not qualified to really advise you about Judge Dredd. I've read enough to know that I like the setting and some of the artists. There are big b/w reprint collections now, and I have heard that the first one can be skipped, but the next few are essential reading.
Buy gently at first and see if it holds you. Trade Paper is likely the best use of your money to start. And buy actual paper, the online stuff doesn't give you the same feel for the page layouts or the artwork in general, even on bigger screens. It's still best as a paper genre.
WATCHMEN isn't essential anymore. It's amazing, don't get me wrong, but what made it essential was its post-modern nature, and now everything is post-modern. It can't have the same impact. You needed to have been reading comics in the 60s/70s/80s to really get walloped by its powerful reversal of comics world-building. It's still good, but folks that are gaga about it are coming from a certain place that you are not.
I haven't read enough comics to know what's essential, but these are my favorites:
SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING
THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS
SUPREME: STORY OF THE YEAR
X-MEN (circa DARK PHOENIX stuff)
...in general I like John Byrne's stuff. ALPHA FLIGHT is cool, his time with FANTASTIC FOUR was good, &c.
I can't watch DAREDEVIL on Netflix and not think about Vanessa in the sewer, so I will credit Miller's run there.
Bill Sienkowicz (spelling that wrong) did some amazing stuff with NEW MUTANTS and Legion/Warlock/Magus while he was there.
For Judge Dredd, I liked: The Cursed Earth, The Day the Law Died, Block Mania, and The Apocalypse War.
I found League of Extraordinary Gentlemen to be subpar. The sequel was garbage. This is gonna sound nuts, but I actually enjoyed the movie more than the comic. Mainly because I thought the inclusion of Tom Sawyer was an interesting nod to the rise of America during this time period.
For my funny book dollar, Marvels and Astro City (and to a lesser degree Kingdom Come) are some of the top stories in the superhero genre. Honestly, though they're more high level storytelling and not down in it like Killing Joke or Kraven's Last Hunt. I'd figure one would need to be well read in the field to get the most of those, but I could be overselling knowledge of the universes histories and basic Marvel/DC Universe could be fine. But, you may miss some subtleties like young Danny Ketch in Marvels.
EDIT: That is a great run on Thor that Nate mentions. Even if the character misses your tiers, give it a shot at some point.
EDIT II: I always have a soft spot for the original Secret Wars. Fun read that requires pretty much no background knowledge besides knowing the characters from lunch boxes.
I'm also not tied to these specific comics and characters. It's just stuff that seems...cool. The appeal of comics to me is mostly the visuals...but it's also the storytelling. I feel like it's a interesting medium to tell a story and one that I've missed out on. Hence, the strong desire to dive in.
If you guys have any suggestions for stuff that is, "duh...you gotta read this" that I'm oblivious to...well feel free to talk some sense into me. These tiers I've made are just some ramblings and a vague starting point I've created. I'm certainly not married to following it.
I read some random Marvel comics in the 90s and loved the Xmen cartoon to death, but as far as recent comics it's only been Watchmen (after Barnes and others extolled it way back when) and TWD hardcover collections.
Was thinking I might check out Sandman next after all the great things I have heard / keep hearing. Plus a pending movie.
Most of my favorite superhero comics are therefore one-offs, like Batman: Year One or All-Star Superman. You want to add both of those to the list.
I LOVE Tintin, though I'm never completely clear how available it is in the US. I bought most of my books in my time overseas. There aren't many duds past the early books either, but many would point to the Secret of the Unicorn/Red Rackham's Treasure and The Seven Crystal Balls/Prisoners Of The Sun as highlights, and they aren't wrong.
Usagi Yojimbo is really good too.
Egg Shen wrote: If you guys have any suggestions for stuff that is, "duh...you gotta read this" that I'm oblivious to...well feel free to talk some sense into me. These tiers I've made are just some ramblings and a vague starting point I've created. I'm certainly not married to following it.
Astro City's 'Confession' is hands-down my favorite comic book story.
It's basically Busiek's 'not-Batman & Robin' but it insightfully covers a lot of ground from the nature of heroism, to religion, and to several ideas later used in Marvel's Civil War. Like the rest of the Astro City line the characters and story are fairly self contained, so you need to know nothing going in.
I used to re-read this about twice a year, but got rid of it when I got out of comics. I'm buying it again now. Thanks, Egg!
Egg Shen wrote: Tier 2
MiracleMan / Marvalman
Tintin - I don't know anything about it.
Batman - Lots of mediocrity over many decades of publication, punctuated by a few great runs or stories. Neal Adams did some great art in the early '70s, around the time that writer Deny O'Neill introduced the villainous Ra's al-Ghul. The Brave & the Bold was a monthly team-up book for Batman that had some good artwork by Jim Aparo in the early-mid '70s. Steve Englehart & Marshall Rogers had a legendary run in the late '70s, but I haven't read those issues yet. Frank Miller did his legendary The Dark Knight Returns in the mid-80s, and that's relatively self-contained as a possible future for Batman. Around the same time, Alan Moore wrote the standalone issue The Killing Joke, which had some outstanding artwork. In recent years, Grant Morrison wrote a critically-acclaimed Batman run for several years. He mixed together both many references to older Batman stories with exciting and sometimes experimental stories that are quite accessible to modern readers. Scott Snyder had a decent run in Detective Comics a few years ago, collected in The Black Mirror.
Swamp Thing - There have been three great runs on Swamp Thing, and that is all that I can recommend. The original run on the book in the early '70s has good stories by Len Wein and amazing artwork by Bernie Wrightson, at least for the first dozen issues or so. Alan Moore did a legendary run on the book in the early-mid '80s, which basically gave him enough cred with DC to get to do Watchmen. Rich Veitch, a member of the art team on that Moore run, takes over the writing after Moore leaves, and it's just as great as Moore's material. Unfortunately, his time travel story was too daring for DC when it veered into the immediate vicinity of The Resurrection of Christ, so DC pulled the plug on that issue and Veitch quit the book in disgust. I can't remember the writer's name, but the guy who picked up the reins at that point did an interesting storyline a few months later, involving Hell, but then there were years of bad stories after that before DC gave up on Swamp Thing. A few years ago, Scott Snyder rebooted Swamp Thing. That started well, but the story got bogged down in decompression, and I steered clear of that mess.
Bone - One of my friends loves this comic, but it looked too cartoonish for my tastes.
100 Bullets - I heard that it starts well but wanders into mediocrity after the first couple of years.
Captain America - My favorite era for Cap is the '70s, when Steve Englehart had a long run on the book. That was when Cap got an African-American sidekick named Falcon, and Englehart did a nice job exploring the racial tensions of the day. Nick Fury and SHIELD frequently appear during this run. Cap confronts the version of his character that appeared in the '50s. And Cap runs into a fictional equivalent of Watergate and has a major reaction to that. Mark Gruenwald did some fun stories with Cap in the mid-'80s, but some of that got silly.
Godzilla - the only Godzilla comic that I ever noticed was the Marvel run in the '70s. SHIELD appears constantly, and the quality of the writing and artwork is just average.
Miracle Man/Marvel Man - After getting hooked on Moore's Swamp Thing run and Watchmen, I was eager to read more Moore. I bought the latest issue of Miracle Man at that time, which unfortunately featured a rape scene that I wish that I could scrub from my memory. I never read any other issues. Moore is a great writer, but rape is a recurring event in his writing. I don't think that I can recommend much of anything that Moore has written in the last ten years.
You have a decent roadmap here-
Doctor Strange- Stick to the 70s stuff and The Oath, as Steve mentioned. Unfortunately, he is very much a second stringer and he's never really had a great run. Try some of the other weird 70s Marvel stuff- Son of Satan, Man-Thing, etc.
Daredevil- Consistently one of the best comics, period. Aside from the Miller stuff (foundational), you do really need to read the Brian Michael Bendis run. He's a toolbag, but put aside all the crappy writing he does elsewhere. This series is simply stunning, and it really sets the bar pretty high for mature comics. But then read the Mark Waid series (2011- ). He sort of flips the darker, drearier tone on its head and turns out a FUN Daredevil book that is just as good, with some really lovely character work and lots of great art.
Hellboy- Hugely overrated.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen- I like everything, the first trade is where to start.
Judge Dredd- I have something like 16gb of Dredd scans including a shitload of weekly strips, one-shots, miniseries, etc...but the way to go here is to buy the Complete Case Files. There are, I think 16 of them. Phonebook sized. Not all of the are available in the US. But caution, start with 3, 4, or 5. Not that the early Dredd is bad, but the Dredd you are wanting to read starts there. The third collection is where it really hits its stride, and going through those books you get a lot of the really top Dredd story arcs- Judge Child Saga, Apocalypse War, the Dark Judges, etc.
Tintin- I actually have not read much Tintin.
Batman- Start with Grant Morrisson's Batman and Son trade. You don't need any previous background or anything. Then read the next five years worth of continuity. It is the best Batman run ever, including the usual Frank Miller favorites. Beyond that, most of the high profile graphic novels are pretty much as great as you've heard. The Long Halloween, Dark Victory, etc. The recent Scott Snyder stuff is very good as well.
Swamp Thing- Read the entire Alan Moore run. If you like Doctor Strange, you will love this. Very important, groundbreaking work. BEAUTIFUL artwork throughout.
Bone- A masterpiece, read the whole thing. The choice here is between the original B&W and the respectfully colored version. I went with B&W.
100 Bullets - Hated it.
Captain America- The Ed Brubaker run is a great place to start without any previous reading, and it runs for a good long time to keep you occupied. This is where all the Winter Soldier stuff comes from, and it dovetails into Civil War but you can safely avoid Civil War. This is the best of Cap, by far.
Godzilla- Go buy James Stokoe's Godzilla: The Half Century War. It is the best Godzilla story ever, including the movies. Insane artwork, a great book.
MiracleMan / Marvalman- Truth be told, I kind of find Miracleman sort of grating after reading it recently. It is really kind of the genesis of the dark, gritty, angry superhero books of the 1980s. It sets up Watchmen to some degree with the whole "psychopath hero" thing. It's an important, influential book and there are some really jaw-dropping moments in it. It's great that they're actually available again.
Tier 3 (Individual Stories...I guess)
Daredevil: Born Again- It's great, but it is dated. I would read the Bendis run over this, easily.
DC: The New Frontiers- Loved this. It's an "all hands" DC story with a really cool Cold War-era setting and some mighty fine Darwyn Cooke artwork. Definitely recommended.
Marvels- I didn't care for this.
Kingdom Come- Eh, it's OK.
Civil War- Read Wikipedia. It is NOT worth pouring through all of the crossovers.
The Dark Knight Returns- Yes, you need to read this. It is pretty great, but I can't help but think the impact is diminished reading it now. I read it in issues back in 1986 and it was just MINDBLOWING at the time. It was topical, it was futuristic, and it took Batman into some unexpected areas.
The Killing Joke- This one is also one that I'm not sure has aged well. Moore did something unexpected and gave Joker an origin story AND made him actually, really, very dangerous. This book represents something of a transition for the character (who is one of the greats for good reason), sort of working between the purple zoot-suited loon of the silver age, the more homicidal 1970s Joker and the more recent depictions. The artwork is stunning, it's Brian Bolland the best penciler 2000 AD ever had.
As you can see...I'm already spiraling out of control! So I'm looking for any sort of help or advise you can give me. Is there stuff that is required reading? Should I just start with some of these individual stories? Should I stick to something semi-self contained (like Watchmen)?[/quote]
What really hit me after a few years is that it isn't so much the subject that was good or bad, but the author and artist. So you'll see (when you start looking for it) that people's recommendation will be phrased like "_____'s run on ____" or very specific books like The Killing Joke or Kingdom Come or Marvels. Or a specific limited series by the same author like Scalped or Y: The Last Man. All things tied to a specific author.
So my recommendation is to look for authors rather than subjects...Find the good authors and you'll find better content.