Dec. 18th, 2011

templemarker: (on a date)
Hey there, Slash Reporters! If you've stumbled here, it means you might've listened to this week's episode of Slash Report. I had the delightful pleasure of joining [info - personal]mklutz and [info - personal]rageprufrock on this week's episode to wax philosophical about comic books, aka the thing I love most in the world that isn't Generation Kill.

Comics are--well. Comics, and its insane fandom, are about the craziest shit in Western media there is. The main characters, and comic book titles, have been around for more than seven decades. They've gone from 10-cent cheap weeklies for boys to squabble over to a respected, robust creative industry to the relative mainstream media they are now. Every major (and most of the minor) heroes have died, most of 'em have been revived or had their mantle passed on to another individual, and just like in 1938 when Superman was first introduced to the world, fanpeople have been eagerly stalking their local comic book stores or desperately hitting refresh on their iPads to read the newest issue to find out what happens next.

I started reading comic books when I was a teenager. I was obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and a friend of mine (from the internet!) offered to send a bunch of already-read Buffy comics my way. I had never really thought about comics--which was suprising, because I was the girl that played Magic with the boys in the back of the band room--but figured anything to do with Buffy was all right with me.

Then came Sandman.

Then came [personal profile] minim_calibre and her dangling Birds of Prey in front of me like a shiny toy.

And the rest, shall we say, was history. And a $35 per month reading habit.

Not everyone is going to be as devoted to and obsessed with comics as I am. That's okay! It's also totally okay if your interest in comics is peaked from watching X-Men First Class, or Captain America, or Batman: The Dark Knight. That's what those movies are for: to introduce you to a world of entertainment that you might not otherwise have been interested in.

I went over a bunch of great comics to ease you into the media with this week's episode of Slash Report, and provided some links for you to get started. But I thought it might also be helpful for folks who haven't been moved to read any comics before to provide a quick primer of where to start.

The thing to note with all of these recs, though, is that the characters and situations you see in the films tend to be stories unto themselves. The graphic novels and issues I'm going to point you to won't be exactly the same characters as on the big screen--but you should give them a chance, because they're pretty freakin' amazing. (A parallel would be Star Trek XI--you didn't need to watch all of Star Trek's canon before you watched the eleventh film, but it is definitely worth going back to check it out.)

Comic Books for Moviegoers, Marvel Version

If you liked Thor, try Thor by Walter Simonson. The eighties were a revolutionary period for comic books--authors had license to go out and experiment in ways they weren't allowed to in earlier years, and a lot of titles got rebooted into new versions. Simonson's work is generally credited with making Thor exciting and relevant again, and it still holds up two decades later. This is a good way to become more familiar with Thor's backstory.

If you liked X-Men First Class, try New X-Men Volume 6. The key thing to remember about X-Men is that the cast of characters for this particular section of Marvel is huge, and the story is only occasionally about Magneto and Professor X and their decades of tragic manpain. Most of the time, it's about Xavier's students and the hero team he builds. Grant Morrison, who is one of the comics industry's top authors, constructs a solid introductory story to Magneto's antipathy towards the X-Men and Xavier in particular. For a broader look at some of the greatest X-Men stories told, I reccommend this list, which is a pretty decent guide. prepared from some rad eighties hair and a few bikini thongs.

If you liked Captain America, I highly, highly reccomend Captain America Omnibus, volumes one, two, and three. This is the fifth version of Captain America, and headed by Ed Brubaker this story is easily one of the best recent Marvel series period. Don't let the title of the second volume dissuade you--if you want to know about Steve and Bucky, Steve and Tony, and just how amazing Steve is, these are the books for you. Top notch writing and storytelling, even in the middle of the stupid Civil War.

If you liked Iron Man and Iron Man 2, do not stop, run directly into the arms of Iron Man Extremis. Now, I caution that this is a book that doesn't really resemble the world of the film much at all, but what it does do is explain Tony Stark. This illustrates Tony's relationship with Iron Man, and the kind of dissociative relationship he has with his hero self. It's so tightly paced and written--I mean hell, it's Warren Ellis--and the story is just amazing. Even talking about it makes me want to read it again. ComicMix also has some additional suggestions for good titles to read once you've read Extremis from cover to cover.

I don't think anybody liked Hulk--it's gotten a really poor treatment in cinema in the last decade, which is a shame, because there's a lot of potential there. The Incredible Hulk #240, "Let Darkness Come" is a heartbreaking story that shows us Hulk's compassion and loyalty. The Incredible Hulk, "The End" by Peter David (<3) makes the Hulk's wish come true, with awful consequences. Give Bruce Banner a try! He'll be appearing in the Avengers.

If you liked Spiderman, um, well, I will probably like the new one a lot better than the previous three if only because they won't have Tobey Maguire. But Spiderman is a key hero within the Marvel Universe, so I'm going to give him a little credit here. If you're just interested in Spidey, and not so much how he plays in the rest of the MU, I'd steer you to Ultimate Spiderman, which incepted a lot--I mean a lot--of people into loving the web-spewing wonder. For a quick jaunt through Peter Parker's world (man, Marvel loves alliteration), I'd suggest the 10 Greatest Stories, because it's self-contained but will introduce you to everyone.

Comic Books for Moviegoers, DC Version

I have a whole rant about how disjointed DC's movie franchise is, but I won't repeat it here. Suffice to say, they do kind of a shitty job, especially compared to Marvel. And they don't do as many, as often. But we'll mine the back catalogue for you anyway.

If you liked The Dark Knight, there is free therapy available in the lobby. I kid, I kid. The first two have been really stellar films, and jump-started Batman back into the public consciousness. It's been broadly assumed that The Dark Knight was based on and influenced by Frank Miller's Batman series by the same name, which may or may not be the case. Suffice to say that Miller's Batman stories are not where I would start anyone looking for an introduction to the character, but let your own judgement prevail. I'd start with Year One, and use that as a jumping off point for The Killing Joke and The Long Halloween. But I also maintain that the Bruce Wayne: Murderer/Fugitive story arc is amazing, because it not only gets you Batman, but it introduces you to the entire fucked up, dysfuctionally wonderous Batfamily. At least, it incepted me, so there you go.

They haven't made a film yet about Dick Grayson (except for the execrable Batman & Robin) , Jason Todd, Barbara Gordon, Cass Caine, Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown, or Damian Wayne yet, but I can point people to books on any of of those Batfamily characters upon request.

If you liked Superman Returns, well, there's nothing quite like that out there. Absolute All-Star Superman is Grant Morrison's take on Big Blue, and he does a fine job. Lex Luthor: Man of Steel is one of my favorites, because it inverts expectation in a delightful way and makes you root for Luthor the way only Smallville could. Kingdom Come is an alternate universe future and a self-contained story that gives the darker edge, if that's your thing.

If you liked Catwoman, um. Let's just skip ahead. I loooooove Selena. Catwoman, version 2 volume 1, is a great place to start for a very entertaining series of stories by Ed Brubaker. But I also love the contained story When in Rome, which was just delightful to read when it was being produced. Tim Sale does absolutely beautiful stylistic art in this, and Jeph Loeb's story is charming while still pointing to that thread of deceit that's inherent in the Catwoman title. Love it.

If you liked Green Lantern, first of all, Hal Jordan is a tool and thankfully he is not the only Green Lantern. There's a bunch of them. There's hundreds of them, actually, but only a few over time that have been assigned to the sector of space including Earth. But if you want to read about Hal, the original Earthman GL, try Green Lantern Rebirth. However, I really like The Sinestro Corps War, because it is awesome and features a wide cast of characters. ([profile] perpet_fic, I expect you to give better recs than me in the comments.) (ETA: More suggestions from perpet in the comments.)

Also, if you liked Green Lantern, try Green Arrow! I'm almost glad they haven't made a Green Arrow movie, because the Arrows are my second favorite after the Bats and I looooooove Roy Harper. Year One does a superb job of introducing you to the ridiculousness that is Oliver Queen, but for my pennies I like Kevin Smith's (yes, that Kevin Smith) Quiver and subsequent volumes better. Roy Harper, Oliver's first sidekick and hero in his own right, is a character designed to make you cry, but I love him all the more for it. Try Outsiders. I love it so.

Fundamentally, DC just hasn't made as many films from their titles, for any number of reasons. But DC has a rich history of stories and a wide field of characters that are equal to Marvel--especially in terms of slashiness, to where it concerns slash fandom. (In both the male and female persuasions, can you dig?) There's also the whole section of film adaptions that have shit-all to do with the mainstream superheroes, so--

Comic Books for Moviegoers, Other Titles Version

Alan Moore's Watchmen remains one of the germinal critiques of superhero culture to date. They did a decent job with the film, but the book is so much better--though it's probably best read shortly after reading some of the above titles.

Andy Diggle's The Losers is significantly different from the film by the same name. There's a lot more depth, more stories told, and a resolution to the whole arc that the film just couldn't achieve. It's a great action-political story with some tight art.

Alan Moore's V for Vendetta is--well, I'm going to get tired of calling Alan Moore revolutionary, but he was, and this story was. Highly reccomended for even the most casual of comics interest.

Don't even talk to me about The League of Extraordinary Gentleman movie; it doesn't exist for me. But the graphic novel basically fueled the invention of Steampunk, and offers a rollicking good tale of intrigue and investigation. If you like the idea of Sherlock Holmes and Spooks, give this a go.

For anyone who's watching Grimm or Once Upon a Time right now, drop the clicker and run straight for Bill Willingham's Fables, which did it first and did it better. We talk about it in the podcast, but this is an engrossing story using the fairy-tales-are-real convention.

Powers is a big, big favorite of mine by Brian Michael Bendis, aka my personal hero. If you like noir, if you liked Watchmen, if you like basically any procedural on television, you will like Powers.

The Authority gave us the canonical relationship between male heroes Apollo and Midnighter, and while it's worth reading for that alone there's so much more. Thank you, Warren Ellis, for being grumpy with comics and revolting by creating this.

If you liked, uh, any of the movies Robert Downey Jr. was in while he was on drugs, try Transmetropolitan. That's either a glowing or insufficient reccomendation, but these books are fucking brilliant so give 'em a try.

This really only begins to plumb the depths; there's just so much more that I feel even this primer is inadequate. Things I wasn't able to get to: the dominance of male heros and male authors who write the books about male heroes; the recent shift in DC comics to reset everything; what an "event" is and why Civil War is a perfect example of how terrible they are; how many times Superman and Captain America have died. But it should at least get you started, and you're always welcome to come back and ask me for more.

Resources for the Nascent Comic Book Reader

First of all, find your local store. Those nerds behind the counter are going to be your best, most knowledgeable and opinionated resource for comic books. Don't let the whole "girl in the comics shop" thing dissuade you. You are there to give them money in a down economy; don't take any shit, and only walk away with what you're interested in, not what they think you'll be interested in. I hate that this is still a pervasive characteristic of the fandom, but it is, even though I've always had really positive relationships with my comic book store vendors.

Most older traders and issues aren't terribly expensive. You can usually find them used for the price of a new paperback book. Just be warned that comics grow like mold in your house, and they take up a lot of room. For the last five years I've been focusing more on digital comics, so I have more detail on those resources than on hard copies.

On your computer, your Android or your iDevice, Comixology is an excellent resource for reviewing, purchasing, and reading digital comics. They're reasonably priced to the print versions, and their back catalogue is constantly growing. Excellent easy entry into comics, especially the older titles that are being digitized.

DC, Marvel, and many of the smaller publishing houses all have individual applications for purchasing and reading their digital comics, but Comixology is better by far--not in the least because you don't have to switch applications just to read a different title.

For as long as there have been digital scanners, there have been people scanning comic books to digital files. I'm not going to give you direct links to where you can obtain them, but torrents are key. is probably the best online repository of digitally scanned comics out there, and it's reasonably well curated. There may or may not be a livejournal community dedicated to these efforts as well, but I'm not going to publically post the name of it.

To manage those files, I really love ComicRack, which pulls down metadata on all your files and organizes everything for you in a really neat fashion. Comical and CDisplay are both programs that allow you to read scanned comic files, in their native formats, on your desktop. ComicBookLover is singlehandedly the best application to organize digitally scanned comics on your iDevice. I'm sure there's a comparable one for Android, but I'm not aware of it.

ComicVine and the Comic Book Database are very helpful resources when you're trying to figure out how to order your new collection, or in what order to read things. Goodreads is actually a pretty solid source for guidance on what to read and in what order as well, as long as you're going by the graphic novel trades.

Scans Daily on DW is a great community of dedicated fans who regularly talk about comics and will provide you with the best education on the hilarity that is comics fandom. Comic Store News is a fandom newsletter that routinely rounds up not only fiction, but pieces of meta and fanworks around comics.

And...that's all I've got. For now, anyway. This really serves to get you all into reading comics; for an introduction to comics as a fandom, and to comics as a fanfiction fandom, I'd need a whole other series of posts and an indication that it would be helpful. Either way, I hope you find something new to read, and that you enjoy comics even a bit as much as I very much do. Thanks!


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