Maybe I'm just imagining things. Anyway, in honor of Free Comic Book Day this Saturday, the topic for the League this week is:
I got thinking about a bunch of different comic-related topics that I wanted to talk about... but since I share pretty extensively all the comic books I buy at Goodwill, I decided to skip that for now.
Instead I'm going to talk about 10 comic book titles that I love above ALL others. I'm going to do it in a countdown format, but honestly, there's really no particular order to these 10 titles. And honestly, I could probably list a LOT more than 10... but I'll keep those in my back pocket for now. So here goes. In no particular order at all my 10 favorite comic book runs/titles/collections/whatever criteria I choose.
10. Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men
In 2003 I returned to comics when Neil Gaiman wrote a mini-series for Marvel called "1602". That series was just okay but what was truly important about it was that it got me back into my local comic book shop for the first time in almost 8 years or so. Neil Gaiman may have gotten me back into comics... but Joss Whedon kept me there. In 2004 he began an new series called "Astonishing X-Men". It starred Cyclops, Emma Frost, Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, and Beast. Colossus, who was dead at the time would soon rejoin the cast as well. Whedon added to the X-canon by inventing some new characters from whole-cloth such as X-student Armor, alien villain, Ord, and one of my personal favorites, the sentient Danger Room construct known simply as Danger.
Whedon's series was an excellent blend of all the significant X-Eras. You had the classic feel of the old Byrne/Claremont books, mixed with the high concepts of the Morrison run. He combined the concepts flawlessly and told retro-but-fresh feeling stories that displayed the same light-and-dark hearted tone he displayed on his television shows like Buffy and Firefly. I can pick these trades back up years later and still find them entertaining, gut-wrenching, tear-jerking, and simply astonishing.
I like stories that take old concepts like this, respect the continuity, and still manage to make everything new, exciting, and most importantly, easy to follow. I found Marvel Knights 4 (a Fantastic Four book) to be a very similar sort of reading experience.
9. The Goon
The Goon by Eric Powell from Darkhorse comics is one of those books that I started reading late in the game and immediately felt I needed to get caught up in a major way.
The Goon and his sidekick Franky bust heads through a monster-filled, slap-stick, supernatural, crime-noir, absurdist, low-brow, high-concept, sci-fi infused, sex-filled, profane, brilliant romp full of cool cars, stage magicians from hell, booze, sea witches who just want to be loved, voodoo priests, booze, wicker men, giant latin lizards, haunted houses, booze, mad scientists, cannibalistic hobos, skunk apes, zombies, robots, hook-handed fish men, werewolves, bartenders, giant talking spiders, crazy old gypsy ladies, booze, psychic seals, leprous hooded freaks, bog lurks, ghosts, booze, giant squid, and Peaches Valentine, who has to be seen to be believed. The writing, sense of humor, sense of horror, and storytelling both absurd and serious are all incredible. And as ridiculous as the main series is... it's Powell's departures into projects like "Chinatown" that show his storytelling range. Also "Satan's Sodomy Baby" should totally be a Disney film somewhere down the road.
"Knife to the eye!"
Warren Ellis has a bevvy of books that fascinate me. FELL, Desolation Jones, Transmetropolitan, Newuniversal, and Freakangels are all favorites that spring to mind... but by far one stands tall above his other works in my mind:
Planetary is an incredible series starring Elijah Snow, Jakita Wagner, The Drummer, and a cast of characters meant to be direct references to dozens of other fictional characters. You see, Planetary takes place in a world populated by literally any and all kinds of fictional beings, including monsters, superheroes, aliens, ghosts, and everyone is a recognizable archetype based on characters like Doc Samson, Captain Marvel, The Fantastic Four, Tarzan, Wonder Woman, John Constantine, Mothra, Marilyn Monroe, and many more.
But beyond the gimmick, Ellis uses the characters to turn traditional genre fiction on its ear and get down to the hearts of the heroes behind the stories. He makes all the fantasy and wild concepts a real core of character relationships. It's an incredible read, an incredible team book, and an incredible collection of tales and adventures.
7. Astro City
Kurt Busiek takes a similar tact to his storytelling in Astro City as Ellis does in Planetary... with a few major differences. Busiek doesn't use the classic archetypes and storytelling tropes to just tell "hey this seems familiar" style comic book adventures. Instead he grafts a completely human experience onto each story, giving the reader a brand new perspective on what it is to be a villain, a victim, a hero, a henchman, or a hapless onlooker in the experience of "real-world" super-battles.
The concepts of age, legacy, generations, duty, social class, culture shock, xenophobia, and so much more are explored in the run of stories. We get aged villains and heroes who feel past their prime, others who pass their duties, ethos, and in some cases their very mantles on to the younger generation. We have everything from condemned criminals too tired to do anything but the "right thing" and children who explore the world through sometimes super-powered but often all-too-human eyes of wonder.
If you've never read it, please realize it's not a rip-off, it is one of the most genuine forms of homage I have ever seen in comic book form.
6. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Alan Moore has a ton of books out that completely knock me flat, like Watchmen just to name one (Promethea, V for Vendetta, and Top Ten to name a handful more).
But where Watchmen takes comic book archetypes and elevates them to literary gold... LoEG goes in the opposite direction. It takes a collection of literary characters and reduces them to the basic concepts that make them super heroes and villains. Characters like Mr. Hyde and The Invisible Man go toe-to-toe with the Martians from War of the Worlds and Moriarty. There are great call-backs to other works of classic literature, like the Island of Dr. Moreau, Pollyanna, 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea, James Bond, Orlando, and Gulliver's Travels, among literally hundreds of other references. Some pages in LoEG play like a page from Where's Waldo, with a who's-who of old Newspaper cartoons, poems, songs, and of course more books. It's a shared literary universe. The series tends to get a little bogged down in Moore's weirdness the further it progresses from the first two collections, but they are still brilliant. Nothing reads better than that original pair of mini-series though. Such an excellent concept, executed in such a clever and humanized fashion.
5. Hawaiian Dick
Hawaiian Dick is a criminally ignored series that NEEDS to have it's third collection put back out in TPB STAT. The stories are incredible period-piece 50's era crime noir stories with just enough Hawaiian folklore and forces mixed in amp things up and keep them interesting.
B. Clay Moore's stories with Steven Griffin's illustrations cast a hypnotic spell over the reader, with incredible color, kick-ass crime storytelling, and an awesome retro feel that would work without any supernatural elements at all.
The stories hero, Byrd, is your typical gumshoe, albeit a bit more light-hearted and likeable than most (even though he's an alcoholic with vast emotional problems). The supporting cast around Byrd, like his buddy on the police force, Mo, and lady friend, Kahami are all well developed and help to build a fascinating and compelling world that I always want to crawl inside and make a home in.
But I'm a sucker for good genre private dick stories, like Brian Bendis's Marvel MAX title ALIAS, and Sam Noir: Samurai Detective by Anderson and Trembley... but Hawaiian Dick really stands apart.
4. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's Batman Books
There are plenty of excellent Batman books out there, definitive ones that stand the tests of time. But for me, I like a good stand-alone story that redefines a hero without having a ton of baggage it drags around behind it.
Jeph Loeb abd Tim Sale have worked on a set of four collections of Batman-universe stories together. Batman: Haunted Knight, Batman: the Long Halloween, Batman: Dark Victory, and Catwoman: When in Rome are all incredible collaborations between Loeb and Sale that tell some incredible stories about the Dark Knight and his twisted rogue's gallery.
Tim Sale's hyper-kinetic line-work make characters like The Joker and Poison Ivy larger than life. Yet there's also a sort of gritty realism that helps characters like Jim Gordon and the gangsters he's fighting keep a very realistic integrity. The idea of the freak culture of Gotham city with it's masked vigilantes and villains slowly edging out "traditional" crime and crime fighting is heavily referenced here, as the last big crime family and an idealistic District Attorney have to try to defend their respective statuses in the face of changing times.
3. All-Star Superman
With the exceptions of his run on the X-Men, and his short Vertigo series WE3, I am often left out in the cold when it comes to the rabid Grant Morrison love. His Seven Soldiers series was cool, but didn't strike all the right notes for me. I haven't read his run on Batman at all.
But Superman? I've read his Superman. All-Star Superman is Morrison's love-letter to the insanity of early era Superman comics juxtaposed with the insane futuristic visions of technology and techno-voodoo that only Grant Morrison seems capable of. With Frank Quitely's amazing artwork setting it all on fire, All Star Superman is a paean to the crazy mythology only found in the pulpiest and wildest of the comic book medium.
This is truly an incredible Superman story to end all Superman stories, with epic battles, legendary villains, and allies who straddle the line between helpful and harmful. Clark Kent is amazingly rendered here, as are all the classic characters like Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and Lex Luthor. I am generally not a fan of Superman in the slightest, but this is the kind of reality bending insanity that I think Superman was invented for.
2. Ex Machina
Brian K. Vaughn is a household name for most comic books fans at this point. With a hugely successful run on Y: The Last Man, and his new series, Saga tearing up the controversy with its sex and non-titillating titillation... as well as BRILLIANT books like Dr. Strange: The Oath and Pride of Baghdad under his belt... it was hard to pick one book of his to focus on.
But by far one of my favorite books of his is Ex Machina, a strange blend of the West Wing, Fringe (I know Fringe came later), and The Rocketeer. Brian K. Vaighn found an outlet to talk not only about superheroes, but real-world politics in a non-preachy and interesting way. Every story arc dealt with a mystery or villain of some sort, as well as the mechanics of having to be the Mayor of New York, all while building on the mystery of just where the main character's superpowers (talking to machines and inventing science-fiction hero gear) come from, and what they mean. There's political intrigue, mystery solving, a touch of science-horror, and some good old fan-boy geek-out moments in the mix. All wrapped up with a well-written and so-human-it-hurts cast of characters you won't know what hit you.
We've come to the #1 slot, although I don't really feel that iZombie would hit #1 if I were grading on a genuine scale here. It's just the last book I decided to write about. But it is AWESOME.
With Chris Roberson on writing chores and the legendary Mike Allred on art, this book is an incredible blend of cheesy pop-culture and horror tropes gone noir. They mine everything, from a Scooby-Doo meets the Munsters sort of vibe, to a Dr. Phibes sort of style. The book is stylish and smart, and has modern monsters trying to adapt to a harsh and modern world. The supporting cast is a brilliant assortment of characters that would have fit in perfectly with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and her crew, and the plot device behind main character Gwendolyn's need to feed and her need to help those she's fed on is an excellent one.
Allred's art is both retro and modern at the same time, especially when characters like Ellie the ghost take center stage.
WOW. I feel like I've been writing about comic books for HOURS now... and actually I have. But it's easy when it's a set of books like the ten I featured above. I also managed to sneak in references (some subtle some not) to some various runner-up titles that I would have loved to explore in more depth... but this is ENOUGH.
Let's take a look at what some of the other Leaguers are saying about our topic this week:
- Nerd Rage Against the Machine introduces us to a comic I've never heard of before, called Desert Peach.
- Toyriffic is a big cheating cheater who cheats and uses a post he put up about the AWESOME Plastic Man archive editions he recently picked up.
- Fortune and Glory (Days) goes all 90's collector's bubble on us with his homage to the Death of Superman.
- Yelinna at Traveling Pics gives us her purview on perusing Peruvian periodicals.
Well that is IT for tonight's blog post, ladies and gents. I'll be back soon with some Geeky Goodwill Goodies! until then, Happy Hunting!