A Very Super Christmas

Dec 30 '09  /  Filed under Graphic Fiction  Posted by

newfrontierOn my way back to Michigan to see my family for Christmas I stopped in Fort Wayne, IN to see my chill-buds (and fellow Ferociousers) Nate and Ty. I really needed to give Ty a bunch of books back because he had loaned me a ton of graphic novels/comix (not to be confused with comics i.e. Jerry Seinfeld, Singbad, etc) back in September. While we were hanging out I mentioned to Ty my dilemma of not being well-versed in superhero comix so he dropped some super-knowledge on me. The thing that has always scared me and turned me off to the world of superhero comix is  mainly the extensive and complex stories that have been told, re-told, doubled over and re-imagined along the way. Plus, there are about 3 billion superheros out there and how can you possibly learn about all of them if you didn’t start reading comix before you were conceived? These things overwhelmed me and kept me from reading anything of super-substance thus far in my comix journey.

But all that changed in Fort Wayne, IN for me this weekend and I have good news to report. I have gained new faith in superheros and I have found that at their worst they are convoluted and boring, but at their best they are inspiring and awe-inducing. Those in “the know” will have already tuned out probably at this point, but just so we’re clear, you can feel free to totally discredit anything I ever say because I am no expert. Just some guy who likes to read comic books.

Here are my findings (so far):

DC: The New Frontier (Absolute Edition) by Darwyn Cooke (pictured up top)

Holy smokes was this thing immense and brilliant. Darwyn Cooke employed a rare technique in the superhero world by writing AND illustrating this epic story of the transition from the Golden Age of comix to Silver Age. If you are not familiar with a lot of the DC superhero’s back-stories, then this is a good start because you get quite a bit of detail on the origins of The Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), The Flash (Barry Allen) and my favorite, the Martian Manhunter (J’onn J’onzz).  I don’t want to throw out any spoilers in case you haven’t read it yet, but the basic concept behind the story is that there is a terrible cloud of worry overcoming the entire Earth right after WWII and some very strange events are occurring at the same time and a lot of these bad vibes seem to be coming from a myster island. Is it all connected? At the same time, superheros have been outlawed by Sen. McCarthy’s Red Scare troops, and the ability of the supers to help the world is greatly diminishing. Can one superhero fight these battles by himself? Is there any way to work together? THESE QUESTIONS AND MORE!!

This collection is so much more than your standard superhero story. This is storytelling at its best. Seamlessly weaving political history, commentary, and aliens into a gorgeously layered story complete with artwork that is so simple and stunning that it seems classic and revolutionary at the same time. I have not read much else, but I would think it would be incredibly hard to ever find a better written or drawn Wonder Woman. He really nailed her role. Cooke positioned himself as a master of the medium when this collection was released by pulling inspiration from Jack Kirby, Golden Era gods like Alex Toth and Frank Robbins, and even the Timm-ishness of modern DC animation. I would say that this must be the perfect introduction to superheros a boy could have asked for. It is is akin to Watchmen with Vitalis, somehow retaining the humanity while upping the sheen.

All-Star Superman by Morrison/Quietly/GrantAll-Star Superman: Vol. 1 by Grant Morrison/Frank Quietly/Jamie Grant

I have always been a bit of a Superman-hater. It’s not that I actually hated him, but he always seemed like a bit of a cop-out to me. I mean, come on, he can do whatever he wants basically and is pretty much unstoppable and his only real weakness is some green rocks. He’s kind of like the TMNT’s Leonardo of the comic book world. He’s designed to be so instantly likable, patriotic and pure that he kind of turns my stomach.

A while back my buddy Sean gave me WE3 which was also done by this trio of comic visionaries and it blew my gourd wide open. This collection did about the same. It takes the classic ideals and history of Superman and allows the character enough room to breathe without the whole smog of DC Continuity. Morrison’s storytelling is fascinating in his depiction of this super dude who always seems to be just shy of really being able to relate to the Earth he genuinely loves and gives everything to protect.

While Morrison’s storytelling is tops, it’s Frank Quitely’s illustrating that really rams home the humanity of this non-human. His strokes are often round and forgiving, but jagged and gritty when they need to be. Plus, if Lois Lane’s super outfit isn’t a picture of modern-subtle-perfection, then I don’t know what is. Seriously though, I don’t even know what that means.

If you’re looking for a good introduction to a modern Superman story arc, then look no further. I can’t imagine it getting too much better than this, and I’ve looked too. These guys were right on for the All-Star series. I can’t wait to read Vol. 2.

Green Lantern: Rebirth by Johns/Van Sciver/RollinsThe Green Lantern: Rebirth by Geoff Johns/Ethan Van Sciver/Prentis Rollins

Hal Jordan to the rescue! I was definitely not up to speed on the complex happenings of The Green Lantern over the past 20 years, but according to this book, some serious stuff has gone down. Still, undeterred by my ignorance, and encouraged by this gorgeous series which shoots some much needed adrenaline in the Green Lantern Corps, I plunged into this comic gem. My first ever experience with The Green Lantern was a little one-issue comic I picked up years ago called Emerald Dawn (4 of 6) from 1990 which jumps in the story in the early stages of Jordan’s immersion into the GL world. The story wasn’t really breathtaking or anything but I was always struck by a brash class that Hal Jordan always had, and I was mesmerized by his Kilowog’s boot camp training. Regardless, when Ty told me that Green Lantern was pretty much his favorite superhero I wasn’t too surprised. There’s a reason Green Lantern has been kicking cosmic ass since 1939. He’s a great character and the Corps speak to the universality of willpower and justice. blah blah blah

Anyway, enter Geoff Johns who might just be the most bad-ass writer in comix today (and he’s from Michigan!). He somehow brings Jordan back from his Parallax prison and restores the beauty to the franchise. Jones takes a potentially muddled, complex, and obese storyline and shapes it into a coherent narrative that is thrilling in its ability to make sense of the senseless and to draw bold lines between dimensions. Now I cannot claim to know anything about Van Sciver’s previous illustration work, but holy crap Batman, this book is beautiful. The visual story moves and flies and soars under Van Sciver’s control like few artists are capable of. Lord knows there are a billion illustrators out there, but this book is one of the best I’ve seen. One of my main complaints about modern digital illustrating is that it can be so hard to follow and so noisy that the story is lost in the spectacle. Van Sciver navigates these treacherous waters and has enabled this collection to be so much more than just a story with pictures. This is comic book heaven (…or Oa).

Justice Society of America: The Next Age  by Geoff JohnsJustice Society of America Vol. 1: The Next Age by Geoff Johns/Dale Eaglesham/Art Thibert/Ruy Jose

Geoff Jones Round 2. Let’s just get this out of the way: I am now officially a Geoff Johns fan. I was a little wary of this book since it’s a JSA book, and we all know that the JSA is the bastard child of the JLA. Seriously though, I was a little hesitant to get hammered over the head with a whole new cast of underwhelming superheros, but put my trust in Mr. Johns and he pulled me through.

Now I say bring on your Power Girl, your Wildcat, your Hawkman and your Mr. Terrific. You now have my attention. This collection of the JSA details their recruitment process when they realize that they need to up their ranks if they are going to maintain their strength. The ensuing battles with the Fourth Reich (can we say “Party Picnic Crashed by Nazis”?) and the immortal Vandal Savage are brutal and exhilirating. I really did not expect to enjoy the book as much as I did, and while I was, at times, a little confused on some of the characters this book was engrossing. I particularly loved Stargirl and Stripesy and thought their characters were fascinating. The artwork in this book is really fantastic throughout. There were times when it got a bit overwhelming, but it served the story extremely well. Starman was a pretty brilliant character as well. Plus, his suit is SO LEGIT!!! Sorry about that. I just got excited for a second.

Anyway, these are mostly my first encounters with superhero comic books and I was hit hard. What are your favorites?

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