Last time I wrote about comics, I wrote about the comic books that are being actively published.

Today I’m going to write about the stories that I believe, despite their age, have a bit of timelessness or impact about them and therefore should be sought out and not just read once, but consumed, discussed, re-read and re-discussed.

These are the books that the comic book reader shoves into the hands of a non-comic book reader that loves reading in general but otherwise poo-poohs the medium as being childish.  (It’s not, it’s NOT!)  🙂

NOTE: Most comic fans have their own personal version of this embedded in their skulls and can rattle these off to whomever will listen (and often those that won’t!) in their sleep.

This list is usually called something pretentiously awesome to give a feeling of greatness about their opinion. People outside the comic book world may label this as “obsessive” behavior, we just call it “our list”…

(in no particular order)


X-Men: The Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont and John Byrne

This classic (i.e. 1979-1980) comic book story started out as common fare but didn’t have a traditional comic book ending. It’s got flashy four-color costumes, space aliens, and answers the question – what can stop the corruption of someone with absolute power?

SPOILERS: Love, self sacrifice, and a good (but sometimes scary) editorial staff. The back-story is that the actual ending that saw print that made this story jump up ten notches almost didn’t happen.

This story opened my eyes fairly wide when I first read it as a ten year old. Reading it as an adult, I can see why others would find some of the super-heroics a little too “old school” but I think all can appreciate the work for what it tries to accomplish. Those who watch movies may recognize elements that went into the recent movie X-men 3: The Last Stand.

The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller and Klaus Jansen

Before this classic hit the stands, many people saw Batman as Adam West, the guy who danced the Bat-tu-si and now is the mayor in the Family Guy cartoon.

This story was written when Reagan was the president, the Soviets still loudly pointed their atomic weaponry at us (yes, I know they still do, they’re just a lot quieter about it), and was a reaction to the perception of increasing urban violence in the 1980s… so the morals coming out from the story is rather simplistic and representative of the 80s tough guy era.

It is a story that transforms Batman into the ultimate vigilante (using the definition of vigilante as NOT BEING A REPRESENTATIVE OF THE LAW and not a “superhero”) and turns Superman into a government foreign policy stooge sap. Superheroes are treated as icons and feared, but not necessarily respected.

The art in this story is striking, especially the cover. At the time it came out, my mother was experimenting with airbrushing and whipped up a facsimile that I still proudly own to this day. In addition, the 1989 Batman film by Tim Burton owes a lot to this work for the tone it set for the character of Batman. And Frank Miller was the king of symbolizing the “talking TV head” as a measure of the media before it became a bloated cultural icon.

Frank Miller went on to future success with Sin City (wrote the comic AND co-directed the movie) and 300 (coming out soon).

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

This book also dissects the superhero genre, but it overlays that metaphor even moreso. How would the WORLD change if superheroes existed since the 1940s? And one of them was SO powerful he WAS the “deterrent upon a deterrent” during the time of the US/USSR Cold War? And what happens to that world if that deterrent is removed?

Another 1980s era book, this dissects the genre from several historical, sexual and psychological viewpoints. It feels like someone’s alternative universe thesis at times (i.e. it’s slow in parts) but the intellectual weight of this story can’t be denied.

I’ve mentioned my friend Lorin in previous posts. Lorin and I bicker at least once per quarter on the relative merits of Watchmen versus The Dark Knight Returns as to which had a more profound impact on the comic book industry.

However, I’m going to tell you all a secret: There is no true answer.
Both are solid books for different reasons.

Just don’t tell him I said so, because I can’t keep track of the number of times we have discussed this topic — I might owe him money to be admitting as much. 🙂

Box Office Poison by Alex Robinson

Rarely am I so touched by a comic book that I actually wanted to meet the characters in real life.

Box Office Poison is a story of a couple of roommates muddling through life, girls, bad jobs and everyday life. There’s also a minor plot about an aged comic book artist that was screwed over by his former comic book company, but that’s not the draw of this book. The draw is how accurate the portrayals of these characters are to what I’d consider folks I’d probably have known in college. However, these characters are not ones to aspire to be, only folks that I could easily see knowing as friends.

Another solid entry is Tricked by the same author. The method of story-telling is the same, and I liked the story even if it was a little more dramatic than the first — but I didn’t find myself sympathizing with the characters as much.

Powers Volume One by Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Oeming

I discussed Powers earlier, so I won’t repeat myself, but I do think the first book earns the distinction among the “awesomely awesome” award due to the fresh combination of a developed art form in the 90s most directly associated with Batman: The Animated Series that’s noirish yet cartoony with a unique, mature take on the superhero world.

So that’s my list. To the non-comic book readers – you owe it to yourself to sample one or all of these books. To the comic book readers – I’m sure your list varies.

Which is okay – but you’re just WRONG. 🙂