Monday, March 2, 2009

Top 5 Favorite Comics

Hello everyone. I just wanted to start off by thanking everyone who commented or sent me emails. I really appreciate it. This has been the best writing exercise I’ve done so far and it’s really helping me build up my confidence as a writer and it’s motivated me to start work on other editing and writing projects. I probably wouldn’t be at this point without everyone’s encouragement. So thanks from the bottom of my heart.

Now that the sappy shit’s out of the way I’ll jump right in. This week I’m doing a top 5 that I’m sure many of you have probably expected from me the beginning of this. My top 5 favorite comics. This is the other piece of the tri force of my life (music, movies, and comics). If you’ve talked to me for 2 minutes you know that I’m into comics. Not just the pretty pictures and scantily clad characters, but I’m in love with the story telling medium. It’s a graphic, non-juxtaposed, sequential story telling art form that relies on non verbal queues to convey subtle story points. If done wrong you just have a bunch of pictures with some word balloons, but if done right you come out with an amazing piece of unique literature.

For most of my life comics have been stigmatized as children’s material or exclusive for nerds because of the dominant super hero genre. That’s like saying TV only has crime dramas and reality shows. Comics also have a large and diverse selection. I’ve read romances, crime dramas, mysteries, fantasy, science fiction, spy fiction, and many others. Many major motion pictures have been made after these books such as From Hell, Road To Perdition, Ghost World, V For Vendetta and many others. In fact, many of the highest grossing movies since 2000 have either been based off comics, or largely influenced by them (Hancock, Unbreakable, Kevin Smith’s entire career, etc). So everyone goes to see the movies based on the books, but still people refuse to acknowledge that they’re a legitimate and important medium for story telling. It seems that it’s changing slightly, but it’s not where it should be.

So the goal of my top 5 today is to let all my loyal readers know of a few of my favorite books in hopes that you’ll go out and give some of these a read. I cover a few different genres here so hopefully there’ll be something for everyone. Now I’m going to let you guys know that there’s a lot of awesome stuff that’s not making my list such as Watchmen, Green Lantern, Daredevil, Y The Last Man, Mage, Jinx, Strangers in Paradise, and Captain America. Not because they’re not awesome books (go get em), but I want to say the 5 that really ring loud in my heart as the most influential. The ones that in many ways turned me into the nerd I am today. So…here we go!!!

5. Battle Chasers

Joe Madureira’s first (and so far only) gig writing and penciling a comic was by far the best work he’s done in comics. He first hit the scene as a sixteen year old prodigy at Marvel doing covers for Excalibur and the X-Men. When he turned 19 he became the regular artist for Marvels consistently best selling book, The Uncanny X-Men. At the age of 22 he left Marvel and started up Cliffhanger comics with his first original set of characters. Madureira was voted by Wizard Magazine as one of the ten best comic artists of all time and one of the top 25 most important things to happen to comics in the 20th century. He’s by far my favorite artist and his story of getting drafted out of high school is inspirational to me and a long time day dream of my youth.

Battle Chasers at first glance is just another fantasy epic. In fact, in an interview with writer/penciler, Joe Madureira, he admits to it being loosely based on Dungeons and Dragons adventures he had with friends as a kid. So of course you have the warrior, thief, wizard, etc, but what makes Battle Chasers unique is that it doesn’t suck. Now I’m a fan of sci-fi/fantasy in theory, but most of the time it’s just a good idea wrapped with terrible dialogue and cookie cutter characters. Sci-fi/fantasy usually consists of more stereotypes than a rap video. Everything about Battle Chasers is awesome. The story is great, the dialogue is snappy and engaging, the art is phenomenal, and a little girl is the most powerful person of the group. That’s just cool.

Unfortunately, Joe Mad is extremely ambitious and decided to leave comics to become a video game designer. So far no game he’s worked on have ever come out (although one is supposed to come out this year) because the companies he’s been a part of have either folded or been acquired by larger companies. Because of his departure from comics he let the series end on the 9th issue with a huge Cliffhanger. He recently made a return to comics on Marvels, The Ultimates 3 (which I have a 5 foot wide poster of in my room), so there’s a chance he might come back and finish up his series. It’s extremely hard to track down in single issue from it and as far as I know there isn’t a complete collected volume, but if you’re looking for the best art comics has to offer with a great story, shell out the cash and get Battle Chasers.

4. Ex Machina

So I don’t want to give to much of the plot away on this one, but I’ve got to rope you in. This is the story of civil engineer, Mitchell Hundred. He obtained the ability to talk to machines in a freak accident. Being a fan of comic book super heroes as a kid he figures he should use his powers for good and become a costumed hero named The Great Machine. The thing is, he sucks at it and usually causes more harm then good. He decides to give it up, reveal his identity and run for mayor of New York. He knows he has no chance of winning but he wants to do some good in the world. Then 911 happens. The first plane hits the tower. Hundred decides to put the costume and jetpack on one last time to help. As the second plane comes in he uses his power to talk the plane down, thus saving the second tower. He wins the election by a landslide. Ex Machina is the story of a real hero trying to make a difference on a political level. He’s someone who’s actually concerned about the people.

Written by Brain K Vaughn (TV’s Lost, Y-The Last Man, Runaways) and penciled by Tony Harris, Ex Machina is one of the best on going series I’ve ever read that tackles a lot heavy issues such as gay marriage, racism, drugs, the education system, terrorism and super villains. Hundred is neither a republican nor democrat. This puts an interesting angle to his decisions because he often swings from conservative to liberal on many issues showing you don’t have to be an extremist in politics.

Ex Machina is easy to track down with most collections being relatively cheap for comics. So far seven books have been released, but you can collect it monthly from single issues. I recommend the books because you get a good chunk at a time and it’ll be easier on your wallet. So if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to see someone have a conversation with a toaster then make a controversial judgment on gay marriage, Ex Machina is a book for you.

3. Kingdom Come

Kingdom Come is about the end of the DC Universe. It’s told from the point of view of Pastor Norman McCay who has been receiving visions of the apocalypse. He’s guided through the DC Universe to observe how the heroes react to the events unfolding. The story takes place in the distant future where after the death of Lois Lane to the hands of the Joker, Superman decides to quit. Over the years many other heroes follow suit as a new generation of heroes take the reigns. The problem is that the new heroes are reckless and seem in many cases like villains. When their irresponsibility triggers a nuclear disaster in the bread basket of America, Superman and the heroes come out of retirement to clean up the mess. This triggers a super hero civil war of biblical proportions. All the while basic humans have their fingers on the nuclear weapons in fear of the battling gods.

Written by Mark Waid and painted (yes, painted) by Alex Ross. This marks Alex Ross’ 2nd major main stream comic effort (the first being Marvel’s, Marvels) and is easily the biggest spring board for his career. He used models for every character of the comic to make it look as real as possible. Every frame feels like looking at a photograph making the story hit even harder. This is also by far the best writing from Mark Waid. He’s practically a DC historian and it shows with how beautifully connected everything is and how much history is dug up for the story.

I first read Kingdom Come during my freshman year of college and I’ve probably reread it more than any other comic. There’s so much social observation layered through the book as well as religious commentary. What would Armageddon be like in a world where gods live among us? Before writing this top 5 I was on the phone with a friend who said, “How can you not love Kingdom Come?” He didn’t know at the time that I was putting this on my list. So if you’re looking for the ultimate knock down, drag out battle in history with the best visuals and story telling, pick up Kingdom Come. It’s easy to find because it’s been reprinted many times. You will not be disappointed.

2. Powers

It’s NYPD Blue meets the Marvel Universe. Powers in the story of Detective Christian Walker and Detective Deena Pilgrim, who specialize in police cases involving metahumans. There are so many crime dramas on TV these days but none as interesting as cases involving super humans. How are you supposed to perform an autopsy on someone who has impenetrable skin? How are you supposed to arrest a suspect who can break through hand cuffs like they’re string? What happens when a hero snaps and decides to try to take the planet with him? It’s all in this book.

This is by far the best ongoing series I’ve ever read. Brian Michael Bendis has been my favorite writer since I first read Ultimate Spider-Man. He has the best dialogue I’ve ever seen and his frame pacing is nothing short of genius. I’ve now met him a few times and every time he always offers great feed back and support as a prospective writer. I actually met him on my birthday when he randomly dropped in on the comic store that I go to (he lives in Portland). I grew some balls and introduced myself to him. We then proceeded to talk about comics for more than 45 minutes. It was like picking the mind of God. It was amazing and he gave me some great things to read that were big influences to him. A few months later he even gave me an autographed copy of The Powers Script Book for free because he remembered the conversation we had when I first met him. That was the first time I ever met one of my heroes and he lived up to every expectation. The artist for the series, Michael Avon Oeming, has designed such a great world that makes you throw a double take. The art seems so cartoony, but the content is so raw. It’s like watching the Batman animated series if The Penguin was a serial rapist and The Justice League hated each other.

Powers consistently wins multiple Eisner awards (The most honored award in comics) and it constantly seems to be upping the ante every story arc. Every time there’s a new issue I’m left feeling like there’s no way that can be topped, and yet every issue they do it again. I believe there are 12 collections out now so collecting them all will take some time and money, but I assure you it’s very much worth it. When I see shows like CSI and Law and Order I have to cringe because they are just tired and boring compared to Powers. The best crime drama on is in comics.

1. The X-Men

What can I say about the Uncanny X-Men? Everything. They’re life changing. I remember when I was a little kid in K-Mart with my brother. He got a Nightcrawler action figure and I got Cyclops. I had absolutely no idea who these characters were I just knew my brother liked them. When we got home he introduced me to X-Men #1 with art by Jim Lee. I’d never really read comics before, hell I never really read before. When I was a kid I had trouble reading, not because I was slow, but because I was stubborn as hell and school stuff didn’t interest me. X-Men did. X-Men is probably the main reason I’m even literate. The characters were just so cool and so different from Batman or Superman.

I didn’t even realize when I was younger the social undertones of the entire comic. It’s all about racism. The book originally came out in 1963 right in the heart of the civil rights movement just 5 years before the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Ever since the beginning it was always about humans and mutants living together in peace in a world where humans hated mutants. During the Cold War and Vietnam the team line up changed to represent people from all around the world. Every person had a different nationality, religion and political view. Wolverine (Canadian), Cyclops (American), Storm (Kenyan), Colossus (Russian), Banshee (Irish), Nightcrawler (German) Sunfire (Japanese), and Thunderbird (Native American) made up probably the most diverse cast of characters ever. In the last century the X-Men started showcasing homosexual heroes Like Northstar, Phat, Vevisector, Anole, and Karma. It seems that whenever there’s an issue of the world not accepting people, the X-Men are there to save the day.

Aside from the politics of the comic and the childhood nostalgia, there have been some amazing stories to come out of this series. I literally have completed the entire X-Men collection. Every x-title and every issue amongst those is in my possession. I can go over the whole history of the comic for you, but just so you won’t hate me I’ll recommend a few story arcs for people who just want to get a few good stories under their belt. You should be able to find collections of these on the internet or any comic store worth anything. X-Tinction Agenda, Operation: Zero Tollerance, The Astonishing X-Men, The Age of Apocalypse (I’m currently rereading it), Deadly Genesis, and of course the classic Phoenix Saga.

So that’s my top 5 favorite comics. Most people I know really aren’t into comics so hopefully some of these will interest a few of you non believers. If you’re local I’ll probably let you borrow some of these too because I am totally for spreading the love. If you have a top 5 on this I’d love to see it. Go see Watchmen this Friday and join me next week for my top 5 places I’d love to visit.

P.S. Like I said last week I’m going to also be posting my top 5 on a real blog site. So here’s the address for that.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Mikey, just wanted to drop by and say I've been reading your blogs and I like them. Keep it up! Oh, and X-Men rule! Can you give a branch off top five? Top 5 Powers?