Want to Read Some Comics?
Do you dig those movies based on comic books? Did “Iron Man” rock your world? Did you find “The Dark Knight” groundbreaking? Have you wanted to maybe give some of the source material a shot but found all those crazy-looking graphic novels at your local Borders too daunting?
Don’t worry about it, I’m here to help.Believe it or not, getting off my ass to write stuff for this site every couple weeks doesn’t in fact pay my bills. No, by day I’m living my childhood dream of working as an editor for Marvel Comics—part of Marvel Entertainment—the biggest comic book publisher in North America.
As a kid, I loved comics on the basic level a lot of kids do: They were cool. As I grew, I came not only to appreciate the inherent morality and, yes, trumped up soap opera of super hero stuff in particular, but I also expanded my palette to other genres and really saw a beautiful marriage of art and words that I truly feel can’t be pulled off in any other medium.
Now, not only have I been fortunate enough to make my living in a field I love and have great passion for since I graduated college, the rest of the world has also caught up and come to realize that comic books rock. Hundreds of thousands of people flock events like San Diego Comic-Con International each year and millions watch films based on the work the talented men and women and our industry have been producing for decades.
However, as many people as show up at the theaters, it’s a shame more of y’all don’t make your way down to a comic shop, bookstore or even hop over to Amazon and see where all that good stuff originated. In an effort to hopefully get a few more of those eyes that thrilled to the silver screen adventures of Batman and Spider-Man on the four-color pages, I’ve compiled some starter suggestions for those of you looking to see where Hollywood’s newest big guns came from and get hooked on the years of material that lies beyond.
The culmination of Marvel’s recent movie efforts with “Iron Man,” “The Incredible Hulk” and “Iron Man 2” plus next year’s “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger” will come on May 2012 with “The Avengers,” a blockbuster teaming all the characters I just mentioned and then some. While such a gathering of solo stars may be a rare thing in film, it happens all the time in comics, with the Avengers being Marvel’s finest example. While you can check out the original efforts of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (and later Roy Thomas and others) with the handy Essential Avengers series—as an aside, Marvel’s Essentials series, big ass black and white reprints of old comics, serve as a great and cheap way to jump into the mythology whole hog—I have a personal soft spot for Joe Casey and Scott Kolins’ entertaining and gorgeous Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, which chronicles the highlights of the team’s first year or so with updated storytelling techniques. Also worth a look: Ultimates and Ultimates 2, Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s big screen re-imagining of the Avengers had they been founded in the 21st century in a slightly more grounded and hard-edged world (the movies have already derived a lot of touches from these series).
You can’t go wrong with Batman: Year One, the 1987 gritty re-telling of the Dark Knight’s origin and earliest days under the pen of the masterful Frank Miller and pencil of the brilliant David Mazzucchelli; “Batman Begins” took much of this story and brought it to the screen, so if you enjoyed the movie, check out the comic. Christopher Nolan also turned to Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Batman: The Long Halloween for inspiration, and I’d recommend that 12-part murder mystery spotlighting Bats as well as his bad guys, plus Batman: Dark Victory, the sequel by the same creative team. If you want to take a trip into the twisted mind of the Joker, so memorably brought to life by the late Heath Ledger, check out Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke and/or Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s Joker.
For the most critically-acclaimed comics starring the Star-Spangled Avenger, you’d want either the too-brief Captain America: Operation Rebirth by Mark Waid and Ron Garney, or the Captain America Omnibus, collecting the start of the still-ongoing run by writer Ed Brubaker, who actually killed Cap and then brought him back, in a story that made major mainstream news. However, if you want to see how Steve Rogers went from 90-pound weakling to super-soldier, I’d suggest either the vintage Captain America: War & Remembrance by Roger Stern and John Byrne, or the more recent The Marvels Project by Brubaker and artist Steve Epting, which has the added benefit of also showing the birth of the Marvel Universe itself at the onset of World War II.
For decades something of an also-ran in the DC Universe, Green Lantern has become a huge deal in recent years thanks in large part to the hard work of writer Geoff Johns, who has really opened up the character while also expanding and explaining the huge sci-fi backdrop against which he operates; short version: There’s an interstellar brigade of space cops with green-tinted power rings who deal with threats across the universe and Earth has a fearless but cocky former test pilot named Hal Jordan watching out for us with the support of a few other human and several thousand alien co-workers. Johns began his run with Green Lantern: Rebirth, illustrated by Ethan Van Sciver and clearing up several outstanding continuity issues to explain in short why Hal Jordan rocked. For over six years now, Johns has been penning the adventures of Hal and friends, peaking with elaborate stories such as The Sinestro Corps War and The Blackest Night—the latter basically a zombie story where all of DC’s dead heroes and villains return to attack the living—but also taking the time to clear up our hero’s early days with the help of artist Ivan Reis in Green Lantern: Secret Origin; much of next summer’s GL movie starring Ryan Reynolds will no doubt borrow from all of this.
Iron Man’s an interesting case subject in that his most definitive and popular take thus far would in fact probably be his first movie, as it elevated the character from one most people outside comics had never heard of and made him a household name, also transforming him into among the Marvel Universe’s most prominent characters—not that he had been far off before—to boot. Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark happened to be so spot-on, that for the most part the comic has begun to take its cue from the film, as opposed to vice versa. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t find quite a bit of excellent pre-movie Armored Avenger material, much of it from the classic and lengthy run in the 70’s and 80’s by Bob Layton and David Michelinie, collected in Demon in a Bottle, Doomquest, Iron Monger and Armor Wars. Warren Ellis took his stab at putting Shellhead back at the forefront of the technological cutting edge with Extremis, featuring Adi Granov’s breathtaking painted art that served as the design basis for the movie. Finally, Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca have spent the last several years incorporating Tony Stark’s new high profile into some slick new stories, beginning with Invincible Iron Man: The Five Nightmares.
When it comes to Spider-Man, the original stuff remains the best stuff, and I heartily steer you towards the defining work of Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and later John Romita Sr. on the first 100 issues or so of Amazing Spider-Man collected in both the Essential and Marvel Masterworks formats or as an Omnibus. The classic origin, the colorful villains and the unique essence of the most put-upon hero of all emerged from this early work; the bonus if you’ve only seen the movies will be discovering the vast world of friends, foes and challenges Peter Parker faced from the get-go. Not to be outdone, writer Brian Michael Bendis has spent the past decade paying tribute to Stan and Steve while also crafting his own utterly original work with Ultimate Spider-Man, a more contemporary take on Spidey that kicked off in 2000 and has been going strong ever since.
Though the Man of Steel has been around for over 70 years and pervaded film, television and even Broadway, he may well have had his most elegant take in his original medium, comics, only recently. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All Star Superman presents a 12-part standalone story featuring Supes’ greatest hits without seven decades of continuity you need to follow and does it splendidly; it captures the high fantasy of Superman, the moral core, and everything in between that has made him the world’s most famous super hero. For another great and poignant tale, I’d suggest Superman For All Seasons by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, and for some great action on a whirlwind tour from Krypton to Smallville to Metropolis, I’d point you towards John Byrne’s Man of Steel.
A Viking warrior from a mystical realm, Thor does his best work when rocking hard and killing Frost Giants with a heavy metal soundtrack you can imagine, and few works in recent years have evoked that ambiance quite like Matt Fraction’s Thor: Ages of Thunder. However, the greatest Thor stories of all-time, building a second-to-none mythology and weaving both fun and epic yarns around the character, came from the great writer-artist Walter Simonson; you can check those out in the Thor Visionaries: Walter Simonson series, but do be warned they come with some baggage of previous continuity and may not be ideal for newbies (but they’re so awesome you really should try). Michael Avon Oeming and Scott Kolins also teamed for a slightly whimsical look at the Thunderer’s early days with Thor: Blood Oath.
Whether you liked the movie or didn’t, if you have any interest in the comic book medium, you should really give Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons a shot, as it stands pretty solidly as one of the finest super hero offerings we’ve got. That’s really all.
The X-Men as you may know them from the movies actually bare very little resemblance to the ones who got their start in 1963, as that team of unusual teenagers included Cyclops, Jean Grey and Professor X, but lacked Wolverine, Storm and any real “it factor” to make it stand out among the crowd. It wouldn’t be until 1975 that writer Chris Claremont—off a hat tip from Len Wein–re-cast the team as an international strike force battling for equal rights in a world that hated and feared them, kicking off an unheard of 16-year unbroken run that has been collected nearly in full via Essential X-Men. Along with phenomenal artistic talent like Dave Cockrum, John Byrne, Marc Silvestri and Jim Lee, Claremont perfected the art of melding action and angst with real world relevance in classic stories such as The Dark Phoenix Saga, God Loves Man Kills and Mutant Massacre. Claremont also teamed with Frank Miller to produce the original Wolverine limited series, an adventure set in Japan that will likely serve as the blueprint for the next Hugh Jackman-driven solo flick.
So that’s a start, but if you take a shine to any of that, hit up your local comic retailer, bookstore or even head to a comic convention—comics rock and there’s literal universes of excitement awaiting you!
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