Considering yesterday’s post on the Onion AV Club’s top 25 comics of the decade was a fairly important deal, I also wanted to direct your attention to another list that may have been overlooked: Christopher Bird, aka MightyGodKing, discussing 25 gateway comics for people.
At this point I have honestly lost count of the number of comics lists that suggest that someone brand new to comics start with, say, Jack Kirby’s New Gods. Or Walt Simonson’s Thor. Or the Fantagraphics Complete Peanuts. Or, god forbid, Herbie the Fat fucking Fury, a comic hardcover that will set back a prospective reader sixty bucks Canadian for a measly 224 pages of kitsch that relies desperately on people saying how awesome it is.
Or they’ll recommend something safe, like “you should read Sandman.” Or Watchmen, or Transmetropolitan, or [insert critically acclaimed comic by the Usual Suspects here]. Now, sure. These are great comics. But I’m not going to say “this is how you should get started with comics.” Watchmen should be nobody’s first comics read. Sandman has an impenetrable first volume. And Transmet is a commitment – not that Spider Jerusalem isn’t worth the ride, but I’m not going to introduce somebody to comics with it.
Bird goes on to list books like All-Star Superman, Bone, Criminal, Maus, Scott Pilgrim — it’s definitely worth a read (and i totally agree with him about not suggesting Thor or New Gods or Watchmen to someone fresh onto the scene). But I also wanted to add my personal list, as a regular comic book evangelist (not to be confused with a comic book Evangelion). Does it break Bird’s third rule of contemporary superhero fare? Yeah. Is it the best of the best of the medium? It’s good, but I wouldn’t go that far. And obviously the list isn’t meant for everyone — just those with an open enough mind to take a look at a medium we all care about. My rules of thumb: more character, less depressing, and comedy can’t hurt. (Obviously, more serious-minded people should read Scalped or Criminal, but that’s not what I open with. And I’m not putting Scott Pilgrim on the list, only because that one should be obvious.) Is this list the definitive list of things You Must Read? Heck, no — it’s just the books I give to people who are interested in reading ‘em. Obviously, your mileage may vary.
Amazing Spider-Man, by J. Michael Straczynski and John Romita, Jr.: The first arc is a decent introduction to the character, with lots of action and wit. But it’s the second arc — kicking off with the black covered 9/11 issue — that blows people away. One of the prime misconceptions of comics is that they’re kids fare, that there’s no depth: Straczysnki’s 9/11 story takes a national tragedy — one that most of the country was still reeling from — and gave a response. The rest of the book, up through issue #500, is great, as well: even if you don’t buy the Spider-Totem subplot, it doesn’t matter. J. Michael Straczynski, to borrow from an earlier Marvel campaign, puts the character into comics. Read it.
Astonishing X-Men, by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday. While the series (by the author’s own admission) occasionally veers off the rails in terms of subject matter, Joss Whedon knows how to make characterization work. Kitty Pryde and Colossus have a great arc, and Scott Summers in particular makes a fantastic movement from up-tight leader-man to the put-together general we now know and love. It’s also cut with a nice degree of humor to it, which makes anything more palatable. For more serious-minded readers, Morrison’s New X-Men isn’t a bad run either.
Batman: Gotham Knights, by Devin Grayson and Roger Robinson. It’s too bad this book hasn’t been collected in trade, because there isn’t a better look at Batman or his family than this. Fantastic moody artwork by Robinson, and the relationships between Batman and Nightwing, Batman and the Spoiler, Nightwing and Robin, all tying in with Bruce’s deep-seated issues, made this book an exercise in superiority for years. It eventually ties in with the Bruce Wayne: Fugitive crossover, which will likely confuse, but the much of the preceding work is just spot-on.
Batman: The Long Halloween, by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. But what if your target isn’t into the touchy-feely Batman? That’s okay — while it occasionally riffs heavily on things like the Godfather, The Long Halloween is a great introduction to Batman and his world. It’s rare to have One True Voice for the Bat, but Jeph Loeb pulls it off, giving us a great view of how he operates, and who he operates against. Tim Sale’s scratchy lines may put off a few people who are brand-new to the medium, but if they’re open-minded (or have read even one comic, just to get a sense that it doesn’t have to be a cartoon or photorealistic), this series will hook most mystery fans.
The Incredible Hercules: Love and War, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Clayton Henry, and Salva Espin. The gateway drug for that most awesome of Greeks. Clayton Henry was born to draw Herc in this incarnation, as his expressions add so much to Pak and Van Lente’s antics. There’s a lot of dumb action, but there’s also a lot of humor and (surprisingly) romance to it all. The final chapter — complete with alternate reality and new art team — takes a little bit of a weird turn, the first few chapters make it a worthwhile read. It’s also a great way to transition someone to another great run, Sacred Invasion.
Invincible, by Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker, and Ryan Ottley. The everyman factor strikes again — Robert Kirkman manages to go hog-wild with Invincible, as the first few volumes especially deal with the problems of superheroics, and plain old growing up. Walker transitions to Ottley smoothly in terms of the art, and the twist of the Viltrumites will keep people in it for the long haul. Additionally, while much of the world Kirkman creates is homaging something else, for new readers, they won’t know the difference — it’s like feeding them their vitamins, so they aren’t confused if they see it elsewhere. But the main hook of this book is character — Mark Grayson is one sympathetic character, but not necessarily a sad-sack like Peter Parker, and his family is a hoot. Worth it, especially if you’re looking past the Big Two.
Iron Man: Extremis, by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov. With Tony Stark hitting the cineplexes next year, there are a lot of people who want to know what he’s all about. I would direct them to Warren Ellis’s Extremis first — not only does Ellis really “get” Tony’s scientific streak, but Adi Granov will blow a new comics reader out of the water for his unique style. That said, if you feel the revised origin story might be a little redundant because of the movie, Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca are tearing it up in Invincible Iron Man. Definitely a toss-up, but one you really can’t lose.
Scott Pilgrim, by Bryan Lee O’Malley. UPDATE: I wrote at the beginning of this list that this book was an obvious pick for the list, and didn’t need me to explain why — but just to prevent people from missing that disclaimer, here goes. Music? Check. Romance? Check. Post Gen-X Ennui mixed with a healthy helping of Kicking Ass? Double check. Some people might underestimate this book because of its cartoony style: those people are idiots. This book out-indies the best of ‘em, and is going to get some added exposure by the upcoming film with Michael Cera.
Superman: Birthright, by Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu. Not knocking Geoff Johns’ Secret Origin, but it’s a shame that this book hasn’t gotten more critical acclaim. If you have a friend who even knows what the show Smallville is, then this is a great way to introduce Superman as a character to them. While the ending is a little flat, the thing about these books is that all you need is a strong intro to prove what this medium can do — and Mark Waid does that in spades. Showing the globe-trotting Clark Kent is a side we haven’t seen of him before, and it gives a worldlier perspective to the Big Blue Boy Scout.
Y: The Last Man, by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra. This is likely as much of a “commitment” as Bird describes Transmetropolitan, but it’s worth it. This totally flies in the face of male-centric superhero convention — this is a book someone who wouldn’t be caught dead reading a capes-and-tights book might budge a little over. Some strong characterization and the fact that the creative team sticks around for 60 issues is what helps — by the time this series is over, it’s as if you’ve lost a friend. Highly recommended for fans of long-form storytelling, whether it’s the West Wing or How I Met Your Mother.
Zot!, by Scott McCloud. UPDATE: Oversight alert! I can’t believe I forgot to put Zot! down as a gateway comic. Sure, it plays with a lot of sci-fi/superheroic tropes, but the social issues that the book eventually gets into are some really powerful stuff. “Look what they’ve done to you” — life is painful, and McCloud is great at showing people struggle and transcend their problems… and include sci-fi robots, jetpacks, and monkeys. I would strongly suggest picking up the black-and-white collection, which picks up the later (and greater) issues of McCloud’s run.
What say you, Rama readers? Any books I’ve missed? Sound off!