My epic summary of all my favorite comics has now concluded.
I shall now epilogue this blog series with a simple post about what I am currently reading.
In the end, I hate to say it, it’s still kinda about Marvel vs. DC.
Consider that both mainstream superhero comics are simultaneously promoting very similar continuity-rebooting crossovers about alternate universe locales being stolen away and various versions of characters fighting each other: Secret Wars and Convergence.
I got a free preview for Secret Wars. Now all the universes are dying, and the Ultimate and 818 will combine! Or something. I do like Jonathan Hickman and followed his Avengers run, which all led up to this. Guess I’ll do the graphic novel eventually…
Convergence is interesting, in that it’s less of a big deal but it includes callbacks to DC eras I once enjoyed and now miss. Specifically the pre-52 DC of the 90s and 2000s! I do love that Wally West is the Flash and has a family, and Clark Kent is married to Lois Lane (by Dan Jurgens no less). What can I say? I’m sappy that way sometimes.
Also, I’ll definitely be reading New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and Nightwing/Oracle by Gail Simone.
Speaking of DC and parallel Earths, Grant Morrison on Multiversity. I finally completed the story with the final issues and they are very, very good. Not Morrison’s best, but what could ever be that brilliant? Fun cosmic action as only he can do it, of course with many metafictional elements. One of the best things is that it’s self-contained without requiring endless crossovers to tell the story of Ultra and multiple Supermen against the archetypal hordes of cynicism. Perhaps there will be a sequel but I hope it doesn’t take too many years to come out.
Speaking of brilliant, the highly literary League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neil. I want to round out the Nemo trilogy with River of Ghosts. It’s already been out but I haven’t gotten the chance to purchase it yet. Damn you Hong Kong comic shops last week! After tthis hat, perhaps no Moore comics for another decade. So story of Captain Nemo’s daughter in Nazi South America better be good.
Speaking of acclaimed British authors, Neil Gaiman. Sandman Overture, the late update to the 90s classic, has been coming out very slowly. The incredible art by J.H. Williams is worth it, but I may be regretting already buying the individual issues and not waiting for the inevitable reprint. Dreams, dreams, dreams.
And speaking of Vertigo: Fables. The long-running series about fairy tale people hiding out in modern New York — the greatest currently published by DC/Vertigo — is ending after all these years. The trade paperback editions actually sell more than the magazine issues, so the final issue 150 will apparently also be a full graphic novel volume 22. That’s an amazing idea. But will take until late July to be completed by artist Mark Buckingham.
Whatever will happen to Snow White and rivalrous sibling Rose Red and the Camelot metaphor? I’m dying to know. Writer Bill Willingham hasn’t been apprehensive about killing off a lot of major characters; anything could happen.
So good, I even got my girlfriend to become a Fables fan.
Meanwhile, I’m catching up on spinoffs like Fairest.
Can’t leave out my favorite Shonen Jump manga One Piece! By the hilarious Eiichiro Oda, Volume 74 has been released for over a month, how can I be so late?! Super stretchy pirate Luffy in the tournament and fighting against warlord Doflamingo must be one of the great all-time manga climaxes. Dressrosa, what a country. I heard a certain guy from Luffy’s past isn’t dead after all. I. Need. To. Read. Now.
All you people reading the scans are way ahead and even the anime is past that, yet I still insist on supporting the official Viz translation.
And that’s it. Those are the comics I currently read.
(At least the ones I buy. No comment on pirated online and such.)
Thanks for following along with my blog, all you comics fans out there! It was fun sharing, and even if you aren’t a fan I hope I introduced you to some possibilities of new reading materials. Read and read alike, it’s good for you 🙂
That’s just a blurry pic I took at Comic Con ’07 or ’08. He is SO funny in person.
Warren Ellis is a damn interesting writer.
His work is violent, intelligent, sometimes dark, with a wicked sense of humor.
In my youth I read some of his Marvel work, like Thor and British X-spinoff Excalibur. I had mixed feelings, because it was that kind of “grim and gritty” style of postmodern comics. Ellis, similar to another (Irish) writer Garth Ennis, clearly hates the superhero genre. He has no use for it, other than a method of making a living sellilng comic scripts. In a perfect world these authors could do other genres without having to slum it among the capes. So they write heroes, all the while cynical and despising what heroism stands for. Still, makes for interesting stories at times.
Warren Ellis is a much sought-after writer for both DC and Marvel, but he rarely does mainstream work anymore. And that’s good.
I became a real fan of the Wildstorm era. Wildstorm, if you recall, was Jim Lee’s company within Image Comics, after all the big name stars left Marvel in the early 90s. Those early comics more than often shit, but Lee ended up with more staying power than, say, Rob Liefeld.
One of those Wildstorm books happened to be Stormwatch, which wasn’t anything great. Seemed another overblown X-Men rippoff about a government team or something. Warren Ellis came upon the title with little fanfair, and it soon gained critical acclaim. No one saw that coming.
I missed it the first time around, but around the mid-2000s I was ruffing it in Los Angeles and enjoyed going to a downtown library. They had an extensive graphic novel collection. I had little money and lots of free time. So I decided to catch up and see what I’d been missing.
Stormwatch was cool, but eventually all the characters were killed off and something new came along: Authority. That’s what it was truly all about.
Authorty, illustrated by Bryan Hitch (of Ultimates fame) was one of the first “widescreen” comics. Every issue was epic. It starred Apollo and Midnighter — a gay version of Superman and Batman, and Jenny Sparks the spirit of the Twentieth Century. Unapologetic in its epicness, they fought gods and aliens and were always high-level high-concept.
Moreover, Warren Ellis’s greatest legacy would be Transmetropolitan. Those graphic novels I ever so cherished, as they kept me going during my starving artist years…
Published by Vertigo, and that’s more like it. Actually was originally published by DC’s “Helix” imprint, but that went under and only Transmetro remained to become one of Vertigo’s most successful.
The story of gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem in that Hunter S. Thompson vein, but in an unidentified bizarre sci-fi future. There were crazies with alien DNA, a Nixonian character affectionately referred to as “the Beast”, and an even worse President called the “Smiler.”
Each issue punched you in the face and laughed loudly while doing that. Anarchy and journalistic integrity and weird post-science concepts. At 60 issues, by far a record for Ellis. Well done, sir.
In the 2000s Ellis continued with some Marvel projects in the midst of the more mature Quesada era. These weren’t quite rated R books from Image or Vertigo, but better than anything else out.
Nextwave Agents of H.A.T.E. was a cult hit, full of B-list characters like Machine Man and Boom Boom fighting against the Beyond corporation’s ‘Unusual Weapons of Mass Destruction.’ H.A.T.E. being a hilariously biting satire of S.H.I.E.L.D. The whole comic was full of pithy one-liners, nothing else like it from Marvel. First arc was about the dragon Fin Fang Foom and had many comments about purple underpants and lack of genitals. Only lasted 12 issues, which is unfortunately typical for Ellis.
Delicious art by Stuart Immonen.
Meanwhile at Marvel, Mr. Ellis wrote the Iron Man: Extremis storyline. You may recognize the nanotechnological elements in the film Iron Man 3, based off the comic.
Outside of the superhero world, we have Fell. This award-winning comic simpler in scope, starring detective Richard Fell in a very dark crime drama.
There were other little books here and there I read, miniseries from Image and Wildstorm post-bought out by DC.
Global Frequency, pretty cool. Typical Ellis, an elite team of agents fighting the secret forces of incomprehensible technology and great mysteries (un)revealed at the end.
Ministry of Space, an alternate reality take on what if proper British gentlemen won the space race.
Red, more spies. The bad movie was based off that, sorry.
Supergod, apocalyptic religious-transhumanist themes published by Avatar Press. I’d recommend a lot of his latter years work from Avatar.
Yet even Warren Ellis sometimes misses the mark. Personally, I had to give up on the webcomic FreakAngels
The ultimate Warren Ellis opus would absolutely have to be Planetary: Continue reading
There he is.
When it comes to literary comic icons, no man comes before Alan. So much has been written about the unofficial leader of the 80s British Invasion, who heralded the coming of Vertigo and then disavowed DC and all mainstream publishing. The mortal enemy to Hollywood who has had at least half-a-dozen films adapted against his wishes, unlike Neil Gaiman who always seems to rather enjoy his celebrity. Mr. Moore, the proverbial purist artist always refusing to compromise. The mad occultist who refuses to shave. The genius we all aspire to be and will always fail to live up to.
Documentary: The Mindscape of Alan Moore
I shall start with Watchmen, as most people have started with that famed tome. Though, please note I think Moore’s legacy is far bigger than that one superhero deconstruction — perfect work of controlled storytelling it may be — and I think he has since surpassed his early work time and time agian. More on that below.
I was about 14 when I read the full Watchmen in graphic novel form, having missed the original issues in 1986 as a small child. A reputation had long preceded it at this point and I was getting into comics on a deeper level at the time, so I was looking forward to reading and seeing what all the fuss was about. I had a whole Saturday afternoon to kill at detention, they made you sit around for 4 hours; I was not a good student at the time. I read the entire work in one sitting. I was, of course, blown away. And I did a book report.
Watchmen came about when DC Comics purchased the Charlton library characters, Blue Beetle and Captain Atom and The Question, and Moore put together a proposal called Who Killed the Peacemaker? DC realized the status quo would be torn asunder, and they were going to incorporate them post-Crisis on Infinite Earths anyhow, so he was told to keep the plot but make up new characters.
Illustrated with precision by Dave Gibbons, it grew bigger than the usual story. Blue Beetle became the cheesy Batman-esque Nite Owl, Captain Atom as the one Superman of this world became the omnipotent Dr. Manhattan. They were archetypes as well as individuals.
Not only did Watchmen win the coveted science fiction Hugo Award, after that they changed the rules so comics could no longer win.
What struck me most of all were the extras between each chapter. Newspaper clippings, magazine interviews, notes, all the the world-building to show the authenticity of a hyper-realistic setting.
Also, the usual Alan Moore themes of rape and the illusion of time.
Watchmen has since become passé. Gritty realistic superheroes have been done to death, and Moore has specifically said in interviews he regrets causing that trend.
Personally I never watched the movie all the way through, and I don’t intend to. Mr. Moore is famously against all Hollywood adaptations, and some people find him a cranky old man. I moreover stand with him on that.
With that, let’s go some earlier Moore.
His mainstream days were relatively sparse, but every single one had an impact. There was Captain Britain, with Alan Davis. There was a bit of Superman, such as the classic birthday tale For the Man Who Has Everything, also illustrated by Dave Gibbons. And that final imaginary tale (aren’t they all?) previously mentioned, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?
Speaking of Superman: Supreme. In the 90s, Moore was invited to work for Liefeld’s creator-owned imprint over at Image. Supreme was a very obvious riff on you-know-who. It quickly became a brilliant satire/homage/deconstruction on Silver Age superheroics. The ‘Man of Majesty’ was both corny and endearing, engaging within a complex plot involving multiple realities and retroactive timelines.
I should say that Moore’s American work really started with Swamp Thing, of which I’ve only read the first two volume. I know, I know, very late in the game on this. If I’m supposed to be completist the I better get to it. The Green, The Green…
Going back a bit further, there’s Miracleman. Now, the backstory of that character is Baroquean inof itself. The British knockoff of Captain Marvel was originally Marvelman, given a reboot in the 80s and published on the American side by Eclipse comics. However, in fear of being sued by Marvel Comics they changeed the name to Miracleman. And then it was abruptly canceled, with the legal ownership thereof in legal limbo for decades.
This made the series very hard to read before the digital age. I did order the first arc on ebay and it was a great read. Finally, I read the entire series online. Don’t ask questions about the legality of that, please.
Neil Gaiman’s brief run was interesting as well. A funny thing, now Miracleman of all things is owned by Marvel and they say they’re finally going to reprint the classic issues as well as let Gaiman complete his unfinished story! Guess I’ll believe that when I see it.
Meanwhile, Alan Moore in the 80s. There was the dystopian V for Vendetta, currently in print under the Vertigo banner, one of the first of his major comics that defied classification.
On the subject of V for Vendetta, this is very much the reason that I agree with Alan Moore on all things Hollywood. The film was an atrocity. It completely misses the point of the original, pretending to be a deep critique of American post-9/11 politics — taking place in the U.K. for no reason and badly done at that. It was supposed to be about Thatcherism. Moore was absolutely treated wrongly by the pretentiously stupid Wachowski Brothers. He was 100% right to disavow the film and have his name taken off.
In the end, the legacy lives on with those Guy Fawkes masks.
Another mediocre movie based off brilliant source material, From Hell is a literary masterpiece like no other. This riff on Jack the Ripper conspiracy theories doesn’t really aim to solve it, there are deeper takes on the nature of reality at play.
I remember when I read much of these graphic novels, I was living in L.A. during my starving artist period. How did I afford to read, you ask? I went to the library in hipster Silverlake and they had an extensive archive.
Back in the 2000s, Moore had started his own America’s Best Comics (ABC) with a host of deconstructionist characters. Tom Strong, among many others.
This is it, the very core of DC’s Vertigo Comics…
Sandman. By Neil Gaiman.
I remember when I first got into Sandman. Freshman year of high school in the mid-90s, too young to truly get it but old enough to start reading such grownup material by the great Neil Gaiman.
I came across some defunct Wizard magazine issue, at the height of my superhero obsession, it was about villains and cosmic beings and mentioned the mysterious Endless. Then I got the proto-Vertigo issue of “Who’s Who” that focused on the mature reader’s Vertigo comics, teaching me the basics of that mythology.
I was intrigued. A reputation was forming. But instead of getting the latest Sandmans on Wednesday at the comic shop, it seemed this one was no mere monthly periodical. Seemed it needed to be read like proper books.
I did get the first graphic novel collection, Preludes and Nocturnes, which made for a slow start. Then I ultimately ordered the rest from a book publisher outlet, out of order. Reading about the fall and rise of Lucifer and the key to hell, stories at the World’s End Inn, and I tried to make sense of it storyline by storyline. It taught me much about Greek mythology, Shakespeare, and Edwardian occult groups.
One chapter won the World Fantasy short story award, I believe the only comic to do so.
Seventy-five odd issues with various special editions. Eventually, I caught up to it all, and had to reread and reflect several times over in my life.
Vertigo’s greatest success. A uniquely popular DC comics for women as well (my sister read too). And goth kids.
What exactly was this comic, Sandman, so highly regarded? Why was it even called the Sandman? Hard to explain. Where to start…
Like many of the world’s greatest comics, the name was a jumping off point based off corny comics from the 40s and/or 60s. There was Golden Age Sandman, some detective with a sleep gun. There was the Kirby Sandman, a superhero battling in the land of dreams. All those characters were incorporated into Gaiman’s epic, though not the core.
Sandman was originally even in the DC Universe proper, with early issues including a few superheroes. That soon grew too small a setting and Gaiman wasn’t limited by continuity, though he toyed with DC history on occasion.
The main protagonist, if you will, was Dream of the Endless. Also known as Morpheus, ruler of the land of dreams. Dream was not a god because gods need to be worshiped to exist. He was a member of the Endless, which have higher origins. There was Destiny the oldest — who was a host from 70s horror comics, sister Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair, and Delirium. Sense a pattern?
But you can’t write a monthly comic based off near-omnipotent beings. Oftentimes, this mythology was the starting point for short stories about other mortals interacting in this grand fantasy world. And the immortals, the demons, the witches, and the lovers. The historical figures. It’s tricky to claim one protagonist.
Let me speak a moment about Death.
One of the most interesting creations was Gaiman’s interpretation of Death. Not a dark reaper, but a cutesy goth girl who gives great advice. You end up just adoring her.
We all like our quality television these days, don’t we? It’s a given that the new era of literature is television, started by HBO’s crime dramas and continuing on other networks. As we all agree. We all take it for granted that storytelling is evolving, and the once maligned medium of TV now produces the highest quality there is. Welcome to the Golden Age.
However, at least a decade before HBO rewrote the rules of television there was another maligned medium breaking all the rules. Comics never quite got the respect they deserved, but the proto-HBO of comics would still be Vertigo.
In the mid-to-late 1980s, DC Comics started publishing some very mature comics. It was very much the house that Alan Moore built. Starting with Swamp Thing and continuing with Watchmen and beyond, DC won award after award and their horror comics imprint began to get very literary indeed.
Mr. Moore has since disavowed DC Comics, and refuses to work with any mainstream publisher. He’s more of the INDIE camp these days… Yet, they owe him a great deal.
Alan Moore deserves a post all his own, coming soon.
Meanwhile, the most popular comics coming out of DC’s horror imprint in 1989 turned out to be Sandman by Neil Gaiman. It started out as a reference to an obscure superhero, incorporating various old 70s horror characters, and then it turned into one of the greatest fantasy epics of all time.
Issue 1 of Sandman simply said “Suggested for Mature Readers.” There was cursing, nudity, the whole bit. Like rated R movies. Was it risky for DC, the same mainstream publisher as Superman, to publish?
By 1993, there was a new label. It said Vertigo up there in the corner. Thus, Vertigo – a subset of DC – was born.
Neil Gaiman and Sandman will get a post all their own very soon as well!
And, you’ll notice both Moore and Gaiman are British writers. That’s another theme of quality comics – they tend to be part of the comic’s 80s British Invasion. Guess the founders of the English language tend to be better scribes.
Winning scores of Eisner Awards every year and popularizing the economic model of selling trade paperback reprints (i.e., “graphic novel” volumes) at bookstores, Vertigo changed the game forever and fully realized the medium’s potential. Finally, comics grew up.
Below are a few of my favorite Vertigo titles. Not meant to cover everything, just a few. As said, early Alan Moore and Gaiman’s most popular works – especially Sandman – will be covered later. Don’t you worry. I’ll also get into Invisibles by Grant Morrison and Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis. All in due time.
Firstly, Preacher by Irish scribe Garth Ennis was the most badass comic to read when I was in high school. Ennis, by the way, known for writing the Demon and John Constantine (an Alan Moore creation) in the Swamp Thing spinoff Hellblazer. A lot of up-and-coming writers would write Constantine over the years, it was Vertigo’s longest running series, but I didn’t usually follow.
Preacher wasn’t part of the greater “Vertigo Universe”, it was its own self-contained, creator-owned thing. Which is best.
I was determined to read it all, and snuck away at the bookstore to catch up on the graphic novels. I don’t think it was finished yet when I started back in the mid-90s, but by the time the last volume came out I read it to the end.
It was an American Western written with the perspective of the outsider, fully capturing and bottling that Americana essence. About Jesse, a preacher who fucks and drinks. And also on the lookout from a corrupt God. And had the superpower Word based off being possessed or something by the offspring of angel and demon. There were vampires and rednecks and the Saint of Killers and grungey-suicidal Arseface and Vatican conspiracies and an inbred descendant of Jesus Christ.
It was oh so blasphemous, so good.
I heard a TV show is finally in the works.
Let me add that I believe the Da Vinci Code ripped off Preacher. The Da Vinci Code was a terrible book as everybody knows, but most are unaware that the first work of fiction to successfully use those Holy Grail bloodline conspiracy theories was in fact Preacher. So, kudos to Garth Ennis and a hearty fuck you to Dan Brown.
In more recent history, I didn’t like Ennis’s superhero lampoon The Boys (it’s funny but enough already, we get it you hate superheroes). I am told I should be currently reading his series Crossed from Avatar Press.
Books of Magic was one of my heartfelt discoveries, not particularly popular but I enjoyed it. Originally a one-off graphic volume by Gaiman, it was about a bespectacled young wizard but moreso a vehicle to tour the mystical sections of the DC/Vertigo Universe.
Then, the long-running series by John Ney Rieber and then Peter Gross continued the story of Timothy Hunter. His boyhood, his girlfriend Molly, Faerie connections, dealings with demons.
You may notice that it’s suspiciously similar to Harry Potter, the young Brit sorcerer in glasses with an epic destiny. Books of Magic was created several years earlier. And Tim was much cooler than lame Harry Potter. Gaiman actually could have sued J.K. Rowling, like many others did, but gentleman that he is he declined.
In my early 20s I hunted down every used graphic novel and back issue until I read the whole story, and when Rieber’s run concluded I picked up the issues written and illustrated by Gross. It was lovely. I didn’t read those newer ones about him grownup, Wartime or somesuch, I’ll always remember Tim Hunter as a boy.
One of my absolute favorite things ever was Moonshadow, beautifully written by J.M. DeMatteis (remember I was a fan of his 80s-era Justice League) and elegantly painted by Jon Muth. By favorite things ever, I don’t mean one of my favorite comics, or even books/fiction, I totally mean one of favorite things ever.
Actually, was previously published by Epic – Marvel’s less successful imprint –but reprinted by Vertigo years later. I’m glad they did.
The very first painted comic, even predating Marvels. The watercolors by Muth have an altogether different feeling from Alex Ross’s oils. Surreal, dreamlike space saga about a boy exploring a ridiculous universe, spaceships and social satire and coming-of-age and sex, until enlightenment is attained.
I remember reading the whole book in one sitting on a quiet Ohio weekend as a kid, a thick book covering twelve issues and an epilogue.
A most perfect work of art, cannot be overstated. My heart aches in remembrance.
I like to share. Over the course of this blog, I’ve shared my writings, some of my taste in music, and yes my love-life. However, one aspect that I consider very important to my identity has been rather neglected. I speak of my biggest hobby of all, my first love. Comics. There are many facets to the complexity that is me Ray, but if anyone is interested in truly knowing the core of my being then you must know that I am ultimately.. a bigass comic geek. I used to go to the comic shop every Wednesday. I used to scour for good deals at used bookstores and comic conventions. I collected thousands of periodicals across all genres, and filled my various bedrooms with dozens of boxes. At last count, I had about 40 boxes. They contain over a hundred issues each, do the math. I have less now, that’s another story, but still a ton of these back in my dad’s closet in Indiana of all places.
To introduce this series detailing my great interest in the sequential art form, let me begin with profile links from my extensive Goodreads:
According to my Goodreads shelves, I have read over 1000 graphic novels (I think it’s more, that’s just what I recalled to list)
There are all kinds, all genres. But I must admit mostly superhero- https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=superhero
Split into DC and Marvel (I’m more into DC, least I used to be) https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=dc https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=marvel
Also, quite a lot of Japanese manga
Such as the fun volumes of Shonen Jump https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=shonen-janpu
The “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka
I do, of course, contend that comics are as literature as prose books Noting DC’s adult imprint Vertigo
Indie as well, all that which defies classification https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=indie
My favorite authors: