As I’ve made no secret of my love for comic books, a friend of mine who has been enjoying the latest string of comic book movies asked if I had any recommendations for comics/trade paperbacks that a “comic newbie” (i.e. someone who doesn’t know the billion years of backstory that have accumulated over time in the comic worlds) might read.
Of course I do – who do you think you’re talking to? Here’s a quick list of things I’d recommend to a new reader who’d like to see what is out there in the comic world:
- Not really about superheroes
- The Watchmen : Written by Alan Moore and considered to be one of the best graphic novels/comic books of all time, it’s a fascinating look at how the world might have played out differently had super-powered beings and costumed heroes existed. And, heck, they made it into a movie too! Warning: it is a little disturbingly dark.
- V for Vendetta : Another one by Alan Moore that was also turned into a movie, this is about a 1984-esque dystopia run by an all-seeing, all-powerful government and how an anarchist-minded terrorist could bring it all down.
- The Sandman : This beloved series is by fan-favorite Neil Gaiman and while I’ve only linked to the first volume, if you have any love of the medium and want something more than just a superhero slug-fest, you have to read the entire collection. Its poignant and beautiful all at once.
- About DC superheroes (think Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Justice League)
- DC: The New Frontier : This set of stories (of which I’ve only linked to the first volume) is a favorite of mine, not only because it touches a huge swath of DC comics superheroes, but because I am a huge fan of the deco-style art. The first story may leave you a little confused (it doesn’t star any prominent DC superheroes), but read on: its an important setup and helps the story span a few decades!
- Batman: The Long Halloween : This is one of the quintessential Batman stories, where you get a taste not only of the richness of Batman’s “Rogues Gallery” but also his ongoing war with the Gotham mob.
- Batman: Year One : Frank Miller is very hit-or-miss with me, but there’s no doubt in my mind that he had a solid hit with this one. Its probably the quintessential origin story – and its probably *the* comic which pushed DC’s depiction of Batman towards the grim-and-grittier version that you’ve seen Christian Bale play.
- Gotham Central : Gotham Central was one of my favorite comic runs ever. Written by two of my favorite comic writers (Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka), it stepped into the shoes of the police officers who operate in Gotham, home of the Batman, and goes over the difficulties of operating in a city with a vigilante and his Rogues Gallery. Very unique vantage point for character development and for seeing a different side of Batman and his world. I’ve linked to the first volume, but I’d recommend reading the entire series.
- Kingdom Come : This is a “what if” storyline which provides some interesting commentary about the role of heroism in society. Set several decades into the future, it shows what happens with a world which has seemed to move past the morals of the DC superheroes we all know and love. And, unlike your traditional inked-and-penciled art, Kingdom Come was all about Alex Ross’s gorgeous painted scenes. This book is especially significant for me as it was the first trade paperback I ever bought!
- About Marvel superheroes (think Spiderman, X-men, Iron Man, the Avengers)
- Marvels : This is another set of stories illustrated with Alex Ross’s paintings, but it takes you on a crash course through Marvel Comics history. Like with Gotham Central, instead of seeing the world through the lens of a main character/superhero, this is told from the perspective of a photographer (and hence, the “common man”) who grows up from photo-kid to photography veteran.
- The Ultimates : Like with Kingdom Come, this is another “what if” storyline which takes a look at what the Avengers, Marvel Comic’s superhero team, might look like in today’s world as a government sponsored superhero group. Full of modern references and gorgeous art from Bryan Hitch and some interesting twists on the traditional Marvel comics, this one is definitely worth a once-over.
- Marvel 1602 : I promise this is my last “what if” storyline, but this storyline, by Neil Gaiman of The Sandman fame, asks what would Marvel superheroes have looked like had they been around in 1602. The art is very well done, and Gaiman does a great job of translating the Marvel characters of today into 1602 (and I got a chuckle that mutants were the target of the Spanish Inquisition – those guys never catch a break)
- New X-Men : I’ve mentioned Grant Morrison on this blog before, but in addition to being a weird, bald Scottish guy, in a single run he helped to redefine the status quo of the X-Men. Mr. Morrison’s efforts made the character of Emma Frost one of the X-men “regulars”, and unlike many of his predecessors in the 1990s, he was focused quite a bit less on arbitrary mutant-phobia as he was on what it truly meant to have a large population of another species co-existing with humans. Very interesting run and, if you want to dive into some of the richer tapestry of comics, this is a good one to dive deeper into.