First, a flurry of WARNINGS:

WARNING: Yes, I’m a complex man. Enjoy the richness and fullness of character that is Dave.

SECOND WARNING: My long term goal is to turn this into an audio podcast (hosted elsewhere and linked here) with Lorin as my co-partner in crime. Watch the digital airwaves – I’ll likely explore this more after Val and I return from our upcoming honeymoon!

THIRD WARNING: If you think reading comic books in general are a waste of time, I don’t need to know your opinion. Keep it to yourself. If you are a comic book reader and don’t like the specific books I’m referencing, go right ahead with an atomic flame-war of passionate comic commenter hell.

I’m ready for you. ☺

For those that aren’t well versed in the comic-book scene – for many popular comic titles of late – there’s been a recent sales push to add “exposure” to particular titles in a larger area. Rather than rely on comic books alone, often stories are collected into book format (softcover and hard cover) that are distributed at any good Barnes and Noble, Borders or Amazon. To make things simpler — I’ll ID these books so that those with a passing interest might be tempted to jump into these stories without going to the pure “comic book” (i.e. the serials) format.

For those that don’t partake in the world of comic books — think of reading and/or collecting comics as reading into a serialized story without end. If you take the analogy that there isn’t much difference between a doll and an action figure, then a soap opera in print would be very similar to a comic book. There’s usually super powers, folks beating up on each other, and lots of angst.

But it’s the stories that have something a little bit MORE than those standard three things that usually garners my attention. And art is art. I either like it or I don’t. But it’s the writing that generally keeps me coming back.

(That, and for some of you, you’ll get the actual serial comic books from my cold, dead hands, or if you smile and ask nicely. The serial nature of the comics and the collecting market is very different from the way it was even 10 to 15 years ago, and as such, the comics themselves can be an exercise in both ongoing madness and swift profitability on E-Bay if you know what you’re doing. More on this subject later.)

So here’s what I’ve been reading recently (again, I’m leaving out any discontinued or older stories to keep it simple):

She-Hulk: It’s the drama of Law and Order, the romantic comedy of Ally McBeal all wrapped into the Marvel Universe written by Dan Slott, who seems to be very good at keeping track of over forty years of Marvel history.

Imagine what the law would be like if superpowers existed…

  • How would time travel be allowed in court?
  • Telepathy?
  • Shapeshifters?
  • And ghosts as witnesses?

These are actually plot points within these stories and it makes for interesting bubble gum for the brain as a result.

While Jen’s (She-Hulk’s) character is well characterized, she isn’t why I keep reading. There’s a silent partner known as “Awesome Andy” who is a ten foot android sporting a head with no facial features. As a result, his thoughts are unspoken and appear on a chalkboard that he carries around his neck. He’s the breakout character to watch in this series. 🙂

Paperbacks: She-Hulk Volume 1 (Single Green Female), She-Hulk Volume 2 (SuperHuman Law)

Astonishing X-Men: While there’s still a glut of X-books on the market, the brand has become somewhat less than satisfying for the last… oh, ten to fifteen years. Astonishing X-men is the superior book because it’s written by Joss Whedon. That’s right, THAT Joss Whedon.

Joss excels over the other titles because Joss “gets the X-men”. He understands the magic of the earlier issues that made them so amazingly successful in the 80s. It isn’t the cosmic, the “I’m-related-to-your-uncle’s-clone’s-robotic-sister” revelations that the other books continue to recycle over and over and over, but the smaller moments of character and emotion in between things blowing up or going to heck in a handbasket.

Books: Astonishing X-Men (hardcover)

Ex-Machina: This book answers the question: What if a Gavin Newsom look-a-like had superpowers (he talks to machines and they, more often than not, do as he asks), became a superhero (but wasn’t very good at it) and then became the mayor of New York City?

This is a great political drama with the super-powers thrown in as flashback window dressing similar to Lost.

So far Ex-Machina has had terrorists, a serial killer tied to the super-powers used by Mayor Hundred, a discussion of anti-war activism, sarin gas attacks, a discussion of school vouchers, drug use, the media, capital punishment and more. There’s an interesting back-story hook– as “The Great Machine” (his hero title before he gave it up, hence the title), the backstory is that Hundred actually saved one of the 9/11 towers from being hit, yet he feels guilty about not preventing the other tower from destruction. This is an excellent title by Brian K. Vaughan.

Paperbacks: The First Hundred Days, Tag, Fact or Fiction, March to War, basically, all of ’em!

Runaways – this goes by the theory that “if you like one writer, chances are you’ll like his other stuff too”. Brian K. Vaughan, the writer mentioned above, also writes Runaways, and recently announced he’s retiring from this title and letting Joss Whedon (yes, THAT Joss Whedon) succeed him.

The story goes something like this: When you’re a teenager, you’re convinced your parents are evil. But what if they really WERE evil and planning to take over and/or destroy the world? What would you do? The answer – it’s in the title.

It actually FEELS like I’m reading a WB TV show, and it’s the only comic-book related title that I’ve actually motivated Val to read.

Books: Runaways HC

(NOTE: Vaughan also writes Y-The Last Man, which is a story about a world in which ALL of the men die off except for one guy and his pet monkey. It’s like Frank Herbert’s “The White Plague” for the other sex. It’s also entertaining, and I do read it periodically, but it’s just too dark for me at times to put my Dave-Seal-Of-Comic-Approval on it.)

Powers: If She-Hulk is the Law and Order of the Marvel Universe, then Powers is the NYPD Blue meets HBO drama with the occasional Miami Vice flashback complete with the music video.

It’s very violent and adult themed (trust me, there’s pretty much EVERYTHING in this series – it’s like South Park, if you haven’t been offended in the first few issues, just keep reading, you will be), but the added punch is that the art done by Michael Oeming is very similar to the style used in the Batman Animated Series to establish a cartoon-like mood.

As a result, it’s got an off-kilter feel to it that works.

The two cops in the story bump heads and eventually share some level of mutual understanding, but it isn’t necessarily sexual tension. They investigate the homicides of the superhero world, and as such, it isn’t very pretty. And one of them is a former superhero with a Highlander-type origin (i.e. he’s really REALLY old, which affects how he relates with people).

This one is written by Brian Michael Bendis, who is a very prolific writer who also writes Ultimate Spider-Man (which deserves its own blog entry later) as well as some noir-ish like stories prior to entering the super-hero genre.

Paperbacks: Uh, all of them

Daredevil – One thing I like about Daredevil is that many people go to comics to escape into a world that doesn’t make sense, yet does. It’s simpler. Daredevil somehow turns that entire concept on its side but does it without making it seem inconsistent, despite multiple writer’s hands being on this title. It USED to be a superhero comic. Then under Bendis’ watch, it became noir. Then it drifted into Oz territory. Now it’s probably best described as being modeled after the Fugitive. Writer changes on comic book titles are often very jarring and scare off folks from reading books consistently (cough cough X-Men cough cough), so the fact that this title has held onto these changes and made them part of the book has been nothing short of amazing.

Daredevil is a blind lawyer who has the combined skills of a boxer and a ninja (at different times, I haven’t seen many boxer ninjas lately, but that does project a great mental image) and possesses a bat-like-radar sense. With these powers, he’s a lawyer by day, and uses them as a vigilante on the off-hours. So in short, he’s a really conflicted kind of guy.

Yet the major theme is a man on the edge – both with his sense of emotional survival and one of his sense of justice versus his sense of the law. His real superpower is his sheer ego, and how it gets him closer… but to what exactly is most often than not a mystery.

Paperbacks: Anything by Bendis or Brubaker (softcover TBD), and yes, I’m neglecting the great Frank Miller on purpose. He deserves his own entry for his contributions back in the 80s.

There’s more titles that I read. The ones I haven’t included will follow in another blog entry — but these titles I’ve just mentioned represent the books that I genuinely TAKE the time to read because they aren’t necessarily more of the same.