127: What’s Actually Good (In Comics)

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What's Actually Good (In Comics)

"The brilliant writer of 100 Bullets, Brian Azzarello, recalls in an interview being told by a lawyer of all people 'novels are about what people think; plays are about what people say; and film is about what people do. And comics is about all of that, or has the potential to be about all of that.' All these elements can be found within your modern comic book, and this is the medium's greatest strength. ... And there are a lot of them. Enough to confuse even a veteran page-turner. So, if you're new to modern comics, what should you be reading?"

Dominic Davies, in an exclusive off-topic feature for The Escapist, examines what's hot right now in the world of comics.

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I can only add one thing to your list: Mike Mignola's excellent Hellboy series. I haven't read anything that can match it yet.

I would have mentioned the writer Gail Simone who is very hot right now. She's writing Wonder Woman and is receiving rave reviews. She also made Birds of Prey a hit. For younger readers PS 238 is a great comic with kid superheroes.

It's nice to see The Escapist with a little something different! Some off-topic stuff is always fun! Great article. I'll have to check a couple of those writers out.

Props for breaking things down by author, which is really how people should be looking at comics, not the franchise they belong to.

Though how you mentioned Brian K Vaughan and missed out Pride of Baghdad, easily the best comic of last year, is a mystery.

Also, stepping away from DC/Vertigo/Wildstorm, I also reccommend Finder, by Carla Speed Mcneil.

While the article mentioned Bendis, I'm surprised it didn't mention 'Powers'- a real breath of fresh air in the superhero field; as is Kurt Busiek's "Astro City".

Keep an eye out for 'Stray Bullets'by David Lapham. It's fairly old (say 10 years or so) but very very good- especially the earlier ones. Very knowing, well-drawn, coherent noir...

Ok, one thing to learn about Wikipedia - NEVER EVER QUOTE IT DIRECTLY! Absolutely ANYONE could have written that. It's useful for a cursory summary of a subject, but it really shouldn't ever be used as a source. Instead, look at the citation for the information you want to quote, and cite that source, and not Wikipedia itself. If you can't find the underlying source, it is simply not a valid quote.

I've been enjoying the hell out of Ed Brubaker's current runs on Captain America and The Immortal Iron Fist.

I must have had bad luck with superhero comics before, because every single issue I've ever read I would easily summarise with one word: Rubbish.
Of course, I haven't specifically been looking for different authors/artists either.

Now, I'm not American so I don't have any natural fondness with Superheroes like you over the pond seems to have, and that might colour my perspective of it all. Here in Sweden we have a huge comic industry as well, however you will be very hard pressed to find comics about superheroes.
I've got a pretty large collection of comics myself actually. Should I count them there'd probably be somewhere between 1000-3000 comics and pocket comic books, where a large part of them are Donald Duck, who's huge in Sweden.
In fact, nearly all the comics in Sweden are comedy comics, made to make you laugh. You'd be hard pressed at finding more dramatic comics over here, and of those few I can think of right now it's "The Phantom" and "Secret Agent X-9" who are the most popular. Hard to find a store which sells them though.

Still, no matter what kind of comics you enjoy I'd recomment trying to get ahold of Don Rosas Donald Duck comics. It's without a doubt the best Disney writer out there right now, with imense detail and thought put into both art and writing.

Now I'm very happy to see the Escapist doing some comics coverage. That said I'm pretty disappointed by that coverage. First off it was very brief, two pages with plenty of semi-filler content.

And as a fan of comics and manga I have to say the second to last sentence "So get out there, take some market share away from that generic manga bullshit and be a better person for it." is just ignorant. Yes lots of manga is "generic bullshit" but no more or less so than American comics. A manga like PlanetES is both amazing an unlike anything else in manga or comics. The Akria manga would be another example of an amazing work. It might seem cliched now was ground breaking on release.

The comment on manga had nothing to do with the content of the article and just makes you look petty and ignorant.

I agree with most of your comics recommendations, though I think not mentioning Fables is a cardinal sin.

Oh and RE Zanzibar's post, most comics are "bad." Just like most TV shows, movies, and games are. That said there are tons of good comics. One problem with these major franchises comics is there are 100s of back issues and tons of history. This can make finding an X-Men or Superman comic made recently that you can follow and appreciate hard.

There are a few solutions to this. Comics unconnected to these vast back stories have been made, most notably Marvel's Ultimate line. Another option is shorter comics involving new super heroes. Planetary mentioned in the article is one of the best of these but there are many others.

Then there are more and more comics that have no super powers involved. Y the Last Man, DMZ, or 100 Bullets are example of these (Vertigo publishes some good comics...)

Of course you said most comics you read are designed to make you laugh. Most "serious" comics or comic books will have humorous moments but are not designed to make you laugh all the time. When you read Ultimate X-Men think of it like watching an action movie, when you read Y the Last man think of it as a drama. Few comic books are like a comedy, in America that is usually saved for news paper comics.

The comics i'd reccomend would have to be, Neil Gaimans: The Sandman (like a mature fairytale and also a fantasy) , Garth Ennis's: Preacher (like reading a very well made action movie) , and Warren Ellis's: Transmetropolitan ( sci-fi which is not only interesting, full of lovable character, but amazingly hilarious).

I like superhero comics and manga myself (I love Wallflower series among others). I might even try the manga version of the X-men that will be coming out.

Zanzibar:
I must have had bad luck with superhero comics before, because every single issue I've ever read I would easily summarise with one word: Rubbish.
Of course, I haven't specifically been looking for different authors/artists either.

Superhero comics frequently are rubbish.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of comics, including many of the ones referenced in the article, where there is not a cape to be seen. Start with Transmetropolitan.

oneplus999:
Ok, one thing to learn about Wikipedia - NEVER EVER QUOTE IT DIRECTLY! Absolutely ANYONE could have written that. It's useful for a cursory summary of a subject, but it really shouldn't ever be used as a source. Instead, look at the citation for the information you want to quote, and cite that source, and not Wikipedia itself. If you can't find the underlying source, it is simply not a valid quote.

You do understand how humor works, right?

This article mentions a few decent authors, who will be very difficult to find in one of the few surviving comics shops in the country. It totally ignores anything from smaller publishers, or from outside the US borders. This is like a general article about games that only covers RPGs produced by Activision. I could rant a lot more, but I'd end up rewriting the article.

Comics are a medium, not a genre. An article like this is not helpful when it ignores the output of the entire world, including all U.S. publishers other than Marvel and DC. It's all well and good to name authors worth reading, but it's naming corporate properties that were done as work for hire. It's like recommending Star Trek novelizations "because these ones are less crappy".

I don't even care for manga and I find that last comment irritating.

And! No mention of places you can buy the physical issues of comics mentioned in the article? Given the number and quality of comics shops in the US, that pretty much guarantees nobody's going to get them.

And and! Nothing about webcomics? What the hell do you think we're using to read this?

Anyway: yay comics coverage, boo coverage depth.

Although he isn't very prolific, I also suggest taking a look at the few runs penned by Kevin Smith. His take on both Daredevil and Green Arrow were fantastic - if the movie writing/directing thing doesn't work out, the man definitely belongs in comics.

I thought this article was too brief, and considering the breadth of comic books out there, too focused on superhero stuff. Only about 6 writers (and then the plethora of books they've done) and it ignores things like Brubaker's crime stuff, or Walking Dead, or almost all of Dark Horse's or IDW's publications.

onefiddyone:
Now I'm very happy to see the Escapist doing some comics coverage. That said I'm pretty disappointed by that coverage. First off it was very brief, two pages with plenty of semi-filler content.

And as a fan of comics and manga I have to say the second to last sentence "So get out there, take some market share away from that generic manga bullshit and be a better person for it." is just ignorant. Yes lots of manga is "generic bullshit" but no more or less so than American comics. A manga like PlanetES is both amazing an unlike anything else in manga or comics. The Akria manga would be another example of an amazing work. It might seem cliched now was ground breaking on release.

The comment on manga had nothing to do with the content of the article and just makes you look petty and ignorant.

I agree with most of your comics recommendations, though I think not mentioning Fables is a cardinal sin.

I am petty, yes. Ignorant? I wouldn't say so. Manga used to take up a big part of my budget as well but I find that these days the artwork and writing seems too generic and bland. I found this with anime too. You are right however, I was making a very general comment, although I am probably just upset with how poorly my beloved Western comics are suffering right now compared to say in the early 90s when I was younger.

Akira will always have a prominent spot on my bookshelf.

It was short yeah, I agree. I could have mentioned many more writers and artists, including Gail Simone, Bill Willingham and of course Ed Brubaker but there was just no room. I had limits. So much more could be said, I agree.

I am sorry I missed so much, but there really is quite a lot to fit in. I am glad people are bringing up what I missed, gives those people who are new to the industry even more to look for.

Just here and now guys if you are interested in those three writers I would tell you to go out and get Birds of Pray (Simone's run just ended on it), Fables (still going strong from Bill) and Brubaker's Captain America. In Cap you might have heard about the big thing that just went down (I noticed some American newspapers ran a story on it) to do with Cap's death. It really is superbly written.

Oh, and I am never going to mention webcomics ever again because thats really not what I am into but I will say here and now that xkcd.com is my favorite.

Nobody has mentioned 2000AD?

Zanzibar:
I must have had bad luck with superhero comics before, because every single issue I've ever read I would easily summarise with one word: Rubbish.

I'm certainly not unbiased here as I read quite a lot of superhero comics but if you read Robert Kirkman's Invincible and still think they're all rubbish then I don't think there's a series out there you will like. In the spirit of plugging Kirkman further I would like to second the recommendation of The Walking Dead.

Oh, and if you can find it The Red Star.

zander2231:

I'm certainly not unbiased here as I read quite a lot of superhero comics but if you read Robert Kirkman's Invincible and still think they're all rubbish then I don't think there's a series out there you will like. In the spirit of plugging Kirkman further I would like to second the recommendation of The Walking Dead.

Oh, and if you can find it The Red Star.

While I think that Kirkman's work for Marvel is very ordinary I will always throw my hat in with those who love Invincible and The Walking Dead. The first three or four trades specifically for Invincible is great.

The Red Star was solid, especially the artwork. There was a video game in the works for a long time as well, I wonder what happened to that.

I soured on the superhero stuff long ago (like, the seventies :), even though I was tempted back by the Dark Knight series and other modern reinterpretations. Still, there's only so much romantic angst and tortured impotence that I can deal with without experiencing extreme medical reactions.

My all-time favorite remains the Sandman series by Gaiman -- maybe the art was not always great, but for writing and depth it remains unsurpassed.

A recent find, fascinating and brutal and honest, is Blacksad. Yeah, it looks corny, but the plots and the characters are grim and devious and smart. The best and most unexpected read i've had in a few years.

Well most of what was mentioned were very good and I would like to echo previous suggestions of Pride Of Baghdad which is amazing full stop. Hellboy is a great series really different from anything else that is out there.

Fables as well it a great series by Bill Willingham it's by DC's Vertigo and is just amazing of a read.

Speaking of Geoff Johns quickly he's doing "The Sinestro Corps War" arc in Green Lantern which is just an epic storyline and should have been DC's event of this year rather then Crapdown.

If I was going to reconmend a easy Marvel Read then I would go with a series that unfortuntely is actually ending soo which is Cable & Deadpool which features Deadpool my personal favourite Marvel character he was in Ultimate Alliance and X-Men Legends 2 if you played them. Unfortuntely Marvel are yet to re-print any of his stuff he's been in outside of C&D which makes it really annoying to recommend any of his stuff to first time readers.

The Sandman, Alan Moore classics like V for Vendetta and Watchmen (soon cometh the Watchmen movie, yes?), Dawn... Anything strange and philosophical is my cup of tea (and I don't even drink tea!).

Some constantine books are great too, like Hard Time, Good Intentions, Setting Sun and Highwater. As long as they don't powergame or do a "monster-of-the-week" they are usually of high quality.

Otherwise I'd say local or national comics often hold a high standard (mainly humoristic comics though). Interestingly though, some local comics become so popular that they spread abroad. Rocky, a comic about the artists everyday life in Stockholm has become so popular that it's being released in the US.

As for the article itself it feels like a list more than anything else. It's a good subject, but I'd rather seen a more in-depth discussion of good comics and why they are good rather than this ~~

Since I'm new to comics, and getting them is hard in my part of the world, is there a way to try some comic books for free? (I mean complete books, not the 4-page crap Marvell has on its site).

Fupjack:
You've got to keep a few things in mind though, when an American says comics there's a 99% chance he means what we call American comics (which will sometimes have foreign writers or artists). And in America comics is also synonymous with superheroes for the large part as well, which is why the word graphical novel pops up more and more often. I also wonder how big the knowledge on European standards like Asterix, Tin Tin, Storm and the like is in the States(Suske & Wiske?).

Zanzibar:
Any good comics store will be able to get a hold of the books named in this article, I live in Holland and have no problem getting this stuff ordered in. They probably won't be lying on the shelves, though you may be surprised, Y the Last Man and Transmetropolitan were just lying around locally when I picked them up. Hey, now I think of it, it was a Swede who recommended Marvel 1602 to me (by Neil Gaiman; see coot's post), don't get this book if you haven't got a very solid background in the Marvel universe though, half the fun will pass you by.

Dectilon:
I can't wait for Black Summer to be finished and collected (I don't buy loose comic issues). It's a book by Warren Ellis about a super hero who deems the American President is a criminal due to his policies defying human rights and the amount of deaths that can be directly linked to him without justifiable cause. So he kills him. This naturally spins out into all manner of debate on heroes, their rights and dissidence among the heroes themselves who agree or disagree with his actions, madness abound. (The president getting killed is the book's opening.) Maybe you're as interested at looking into this as I am.

Sharp as a cork:
Most of the longer books have had their first issue released by the publisher on the internet for free so you can check out what you're getting into even if it isn't on the shelves, this is true for Transmetropolitan at least and I've seen a few others. Many publishers don't believe in this kind of thing though, so google around with titles that sparked your imagination.

Article:
Good to see this article broken up by author (as someone mentioned above). It really is the most telling factor in a book. I've been reading more and more American comics of late, I'm slowly building up a collection largely based around Warren Ellis, Alan Moore and Frank Miller and filled up with random assorted stuff. I was already planning on looking into Ex Machina, thanks for the confirmation there, though Y was really all I needed to search out more of Vaughn's stuff.

I'd love to read more stuff on comics. Maybe a rundown of European stuff? The Killer, XIII, SAS, Gilles, Siegfried, etc...?

to be honest most [hero] comics these days tend to suck, the golden age is over and all we're getting are nostalgic highs from them, all the creativity these days can be found in the graphic novels, like the stuff from gaiman, ellis, davis etc. great review btw thew way, some interesting points in it, oh and manga is'nt generic bleeep. its the atypical shonen drivel that the companies are flooding us with becuase little kiddies and fun loving goth girls like it, but theres alot more to manga, some of it rivals a doystesky [bad spelling] novel, and have more social commentry and impressive art and all that imbetween stuff than any of the western comics. well in my opinion anyway

"Maybe you're as interested at looking into this as I am."

Thanks mate! I think I am : )

"to be honest most [hero] comics these days tend to suck, the golden age is over and all we're getting are nostalgic highs from them"

When was this exactly? : ) All I can remember that I was reading spider-man back in 1994 and thinking: "Woah, they completely nailed the art here. And the dialog isn't ridiculous anymore".

That said, Spider-man will never be anything more than it has always been : )

How did you mention Warren Ellis and not talk about the single best thing he's working on right now, 'Black Summer'? Seriously, anyone who liked 'Transmetropolitan' and/or the spectacular Alan Moore book, 'Watchmen', go and get the 5-so-far books in this series now. You can pick up the now rare 99 cent #0 issue combined with issue 1 as issue Alpha, released last month. But you owe this to yourself. It is bloody classic. Doktor Sleepless is also quite fantastic. And finally, while Ellis is now taking over 'Astonishing X-Men' and that rocks, recall that he's taking over from Joss Whedon, whose issues I think spawn 2 trade paperbacks worth of excellent. That's a lineup that can't be beat, without having Frank Miller or Alan Moore pick up the thread after Ellis is done with his go.

I've been meaning to check out Jeff Smith's new Captain Marvel mini-series. If it's anywhere near as good as Bone, I'm gonna love it.

zander2231:

Zanzibar:
I must have had bad luck with superhero comics before, because every single issue I've ever read I would easily summarise with one word: Rubbish.

I'm certainly not unbiased here as I read quite a lot of superhero comics but if you read Robert Kirkman's Invincible and still think they're all rubbish then I don't think there's a series out there you will like.

Invincible is great. Meltdown was pretty good too. Too bad it was a miniseries, only 2 issues (?).

As others have mentioned, Fables is good as well, though more so in the first 50 issues. As is Mouse Guard. If we're going back a bit, Rising Stars was awesome. It's like a combination of 4400 and Heroes.

If we're going with DC/Marvel...Ultimate Spider-man and All-Star Superman are the ones to check out.

2000AD?

I hope I'm not a unique snowflake in wanting to see the two "Joe's" work together on something; J. Michael Straczynski and Joe Madureira.
My two absolute favourite at story and art.

And yes, most definitely great to see a mention about comics.
Dissing manga's bad though - it's like saying comics are bad just because whatshisface wrote the story about whatshisface that's the merging of Magneto and Xavier that wants to kick Benjamin Franklin Richards' ass for being more awesome.

First, thanks for the interesting article, though I can't critique anything about comic books since I'm only now considering getting into them outside a few web-comics...

However... What's with writers at Escapist slamming non-game formats (even while praising one of them)? I know it's not a constant by any means, but it's often enough to be irritating, and it's usually done with surprising ignorance. Different people get an immersive experience full of action, thought, etc. from different formats, and having it with one of them doesn't mean we can't also get it from others or that we automatically think they're inferior. It's possible to go into details at length about some aspect of one format without dissing another; other sites (usually non-game, not always) manage it. This site is great in so many other ways, so I kind of expect more than this from it.

I'm sorry, I'm coming back to gaming after a 10+ year absence, and the Escapist seems to be the best site for me thus far (it certainly has the most intelligent discussions). Since I'm trying to also broaden my horizons by getting into new formats, I'm checking out recommendation-focused articles & discussions, and it's just frustrating to see an entire format (or format subtype) I've loved for ages put down based on someone's experiences with a specific sub-genre. (The quoted lawyer clearly hasn't watched much film outside the blockbusters, and certainly hasn't read many books or much outside a particular genre, if he seriously thinks only comics can combine all of the elements he mentioned!)

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