WRITE OR WRONG #62 - Diversity of Superhero Comics
Write or Wrong: Define Yourself
Before I dive into the heart of this column, please allow me to make a few quick “public service” announcements:
THE 2011 EAGLE AWARDS
In case you missed the big news, I’ve being considered for formal nominations in the 2011 Eagle Awards in the categories of “Favorite Writer” (Question #3) and “Favorite Web-Based Comic” with NIGHTMARE WORLD (Question #19). If you have a few minutes to swing by and send a vote in my direction in those two categories, I’d certainly appreciate it… and I won’t mention it here again. Honest.
(Unless I make the “Final Five,” of course… at which time I get to start asking for your support all over again.)
• The bulk of my time will be spent at my own Artists’ Alley Table (Table E3, to be exact) with my frequent artistic collaborator and Shadowline superstar in-the-making Seth Damoose, but we’ll also be making a few appearances at the ComicsPipeline booth throughout the weekend as well along with Ben Templesmith and some other friends.
• Friday, March 18th from 3:30-4:30 in Room 475a I’ll be hosting a “WRITE OR WRONG: LIVE!” Panel, wherein I will largely answer questions from the audience… so please plan on attending, as I don’t want to spend an hour talking to myself. I do that at home enough the way it is.
• Saturday, March 19th from 5:30-6:30 in Room 475b I’m one of the guest presenters for the Bleeding Cool Fan Awards. In fact, I think I’ll be presenting two awards… so be sure to swing by and join the fun. Thankfully, as it currently stands now I’m not nominated for any of them.
• Sunday, March 20th from 1:00-2:00 in Room 475b I’ll be sitting-in as a guest for the “Horror in Comics” panel talking about, as the title suggests, horror in comics.
In other words, if you’re attending C2E2 there’s NO reason you shouldn’t swing by to introduce yourself and chat for a bit, ya’ hear?
(I’ll also post additional details and plans on my Facebook page as we get closer to the show… so feel free to keep an eye on that space, too. If you send a “Friend Request,” though, at least include a note to let me know you’re a reader of the column or something. Thanks!)
That aside… over the last few columns (all of which can be read HERE) I’ve been talking about the importance of creators making a “name brand” of themselves followed by the importance of us, as readers and consumers, supporting books that these creators actually create for themselves (rather than exclusively supporting the continuing-and-ultimately-unchanging adventures of corporately-owned-superheroes).
This, of course, leads to the logical question: “Like what?”
And it’s a fair question, since sometimes it’s hard to find new stuff worthy of spending our money on.
After all, one of the reasons that 70% of the market is currently dominated by corporately-owned superheroes is because they’re familiar territory to us and, when push comes to shove, we all go back to what’s familiar to us.
This is also the reason I suggested in the last column that I suggested that you all consider taking a six-month sabbatical from the books that aren’t currently genuinely exciting you each and every month and instead try spending the money you’ll be saving on some new, non-corporately-owned superhero books.
Call it “The Six Month Plan.”
Again, though, this begs the question: “Like what?”
After all, comics certainly aren’t the cheapest form of entertainment out there these days, and as a result it’s sometimes a little daunting to try diving into new series – especially in TPB form.
Furthermore, trying to tell as diverse an audience as all of you what you will or won’t like is all-but-impossible since you all have our own distinct tastes…
But fear not, as there’s a way to make this work.
Rather than to do something as presumptuous as try to tell you what you should be reading (which, again, is pointless since I don’t even know what you like to begin with)… allow me to tell you the diverse, creator-owned books that I buy and why I like them.
Then, based on what you read here, you can perhaps decide whether or not these particular titles (many of which you’ve probably already heard at least a little bit about) worth exploring.
This really isn’t as vain and self-centered as it sounds. Honest.
Rather, this is about me practicing what I preach when I say that we all need to do our part in talking about the comics we like – and especially the non-“event” books out there and why we like and why we like them.
After more than a little internal debate I’ve decided the most efficient way to do this is highlighting such columns by genre… and to do this I’ll be breaking this topic into five(!!!) more-or-less-daily installments divided by genre throughout the next week.
Read ’em, enjoy ‘em, and please feel free to share these links with your friends all over the Interweb and spread the word, ya’ hear?
Now, all of that being said, let’s facilitate some discussion about diversity in comics!
[NOTE TO CREATORS WHOSE BOOKS ARE DISCUSSED BELOW: I certainly have no problem with any of you using pull-quotes from this column to promote your books if you so choose… but please credit them to Dirk Manning at Newsarama.com or, at least, “Write or Wrong” at Newsarama.com, mmm’k? That’s not too much to ask, is it? Thanks!]
A few NON-CORPORATELY-OWNED BOOKS FEATURING SUPERHEROES that consistently excite and entertain me are…
INVINCIBLE by Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley (Image Comics)
Let’s start with an easy one, shall we? After all, if you’re seriously trying to pare-down on the corporately-owned superhero books that no longer genuinely excite you, why not check out a CREATOR-OWNED superhero book that everyone who likes superheroes should probably be reading?
After all, INVINCIBLE is one of the genuinely freshest and most exhilarating superhero books to hit the stands in the last decade… at least.
Unlike most corporately-owned superhero books where things always inevitably return to the status quo, INVINCIBLE is a book where the only constant is change.
With its numerous subplots oftentimes running at the same time, INVINCIBLE keeps me on the edge of my seat in the same way Peter David’s run on THE INCREDIBLE HULK did so many years ago. As was the case with the aforementioned title, when reading INVINCIBLE you grow to learn fairly quickly that even the tiniest plot-points usually grow to have major ramifications for the story and the characters.
Here’s a word of warning, though: if you’re going to pick-up this book in TPB form (which if the most economical way to do so at this point, unless you want to delve feet-first into those sweet oversized hardcovers) do yourself a favor and pick-up the first two collections at once since the elements that make this book so fresh and exciting don’t really come to light until Volume Two.
Rest assured, though, once the big reveal/plot twist about a key character takes place, the whole series (which starts off as your typical “coming-of-age” superhero book) is irreversibly turned on its ear, and you’ll see why INVINCIBLE is a book that lives-up to the promise of what all superhero books could and should: A wild and intelligent roller-coaster of a series where anything can, and usually does, happen.
I’d love to go into more details about the ever-evolving plot of the book here, but doing so would spoil the many surprises that this book offers to readers… so if superheroes are your thing, jump into the first two TPB collections of INVINCIBLE blind (or at least as blindly as possible) and prepare for an exhilarating and refreshing reminder of how much fun the superhero genre can be.
SAVAGE DRAGON by Erik Larsen (Image Comics)
I used to call SAVAGE DRAGON my “guilty pleasure” book because of the book’s “stigma” of a gritty tough-guy-book that seemed to fill all the bad stereotypes all the Image titles (be them unfair or not) earned for their first several years of publication.
What I feel a lot of people have failed to realize, though, is that even if SAVAGE DRAGON started as a “typical” superhero comic (which is arguable to begin with)… in many ways it’s almost as far removed from Amazing Spider- Man or Superman these days as is, say, a book as strongly-creator driven as CEREBUS.
Did I just compare a book about a misogynist aardvark to a book about a big green superhero with a fin on his head?
In fact I did… and it’s a comparison I’ll stick by because I can think of few other books that are as strongly and unabashedly creator-driven as SAVAGE DRAGON. In this title Larsen uses the books as a title to do whatever the heck he wants, including (but not limited to) resetting reality, letting the bad-guys win and killing major characters seemingly on a whim.
Major, major characters… and quite permanently at that.
You remember how a few minutes ago I was talking about how anything can and usually does happen in Robert Kirkman’s INVINCIBLE? Well, I think even Mr. Kirkman himself would be hard-pressed to argue against the fact that this shoot-from-the-hip style of storytelling was largely influenced by Erik Larsen’s work on SAVAGE DRAGON.
(In fact, Kirkman’s debut work for Image was writing a SUPERPATRIOT mini-series with original INVINCIBLE artist Cory Walker for mini-series for Erik Larsen… and Superpatriotis a major supporting character in – you guessed it – SAVAGE DRAGON.)
As someone who’s read SAVAGE DRAGON from the debut issue, my only complaint, ironically, comes from one of my favorite aspects of the book: the sometimes dizzying pace that Larsen moves things along at in order to keep the book moving in “real time.”
(In a fairly recent issue Larsen successfully covered a year in the life of the main cast in order to get the “real-time” aspect of the book back on track! One year… in 22 pages. And it worked remarkably well. Really!)
As for a jumping on point, the most recent story-arc, titled “Emperor Dragon,” (Issues #163-169, all of which are covered in a nice review HERE and will soon be released as a TPB) is as perfect a jumping-on point as you could ever wish to get in such a long-established creator-owned book, as it immediately delves into over-the-top action as Dragon – upon learning his true origin (something that was simultaneously kept from fans for well over a decade) – tries to take over the world.
Lest you think that needed a spoiler alert, trust me when I tell you that this sudden 180-degree turn for the title character of the series is one of the least dramatic and shocking events of the “Emperor Dragon” story-arc.
If you like superhero books and are tired of predictable story-arcs, overly-hyped event-driven crossovers and static characters, damn, you really owe it to yourself to be reading SAVAGE DRAGON… and “Emperor Dragon” is the perfect place to start.
ATOMIC ROBO by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegner (Red 5)
ATOMIC ROBO is to science geeks what HELLBOY is to horror freaks.
As the fifth mini-series (titled “Deadly Art of Science”) races towards its conclusion – with Robo joining forces with a pulp vigilante in order to stop Thomas Edison(!) from joining forces with the mafia(!!) via an army of giant robots(!!!) – my love for the refreshingly fun, “old-school” and heartfelt vibe of ATOMIC ROBO grows more and more with every new issue I read.
Robo (as his friends call him) is likable in the same way characters like The Thing from FANTASTIC FOUR, Yorick from Y: THE LAST MAN and/or Peter Parker are likable.
Simply put, he’s a character you’d enjoy going to have pizza and a few drinks with (if Robo ate or drank, that is)… and his exploits involving a seemingly long-standing battle with the aforementioned Thomas Edison, his battle the citizens of the vampire dimension, and his annoyance with the absurdity of his self-professed arch-nemesis Dr. Dinosaur (who’s quickly becoming one of my favorite villains of all time) all do nothing but endear you to the character while, on the personal side of things (in the current story-arc, at least), he continues to try to wean himself from the overprotective reach of his father/inventor Nikola Tesla.
ATOMIC ROBO is comfort-reading in the bombastic fashion of the funny books of old… and the fact that every mini-series jumps to another part of Robo’s life makes the narrative all more engaging.
If you’re looking for some old-school, knockabout, action-filled comic reading, you could do no better than reading ATOMIC ROBO.
BOMB QUEEN by Jimmie Robinson (Image Comics/Shadowline)
Like too many people, I suspect, I somehow initially failed to recognize just how tongue-in-cheek BOMB QUEEN is… as well as what a delightfully hilarious read it is once you get acclimated to the fact that this book is, indeed, meant to be as offensive as it is fun.
Sure, sure, it’s portrayal of sex and violence are both over-the-top… but, hey, that’s the point!
I’ve grown fond of BOMB QUEEN over the years because – once I broke down and gave it a chance, I found the premise of a book that focuses on a genuine, 100%, uncompromising villain to good to pass-up… and that’s exactly what happens here.
Jimmie Robinson (again, with tongue planted firmly in cheek), takes the concept of an uber-villainess and, in the words of Spinal Tap, “Turns it up to 11.”
The result if a disgustingly funny book, and under Jimmie’s singular vision BOMB QUEEN manages to be irreverent and violent without being jaded… something that’s a lot tougher than it may sound when dealing with a completely uncompromising (and hyper-sexualized) super-villain.
If you’re looking for a “superhero” book that focuses on over-the-top sex and violence and a mature sense of humor, look no farther than BOMB QUEEN.
Rest assured… this isn’t your stereotypical “bad-girl” comic. It’s just drawn that way.
FLY by Raven Gregory and Eric J. (Zenescope)
I’m sort of cheating a bit here since FLY won’t be hitting the shelves until July, but friendship with Zenescope Head-Hancho Raven Gregory does have its occasional benefits (aside from the ridiculous late night after-hours parties at cons that Raven organizes, of course)… and one of them was me being given the chance to read and report to you all about his new upcoming superhero title FLY.
While Gregory is nowadays mostly known for his work on the GRIMM FAIRY TALES titles, let’s not forget that he cut his teeth on the critically acclaimed wish-fulfillment series THE GIFT for Image Comics (with artist Tyler Kirkham!) back in the day… and FLY is a return to these dark and gritty roots for the writer as he again brings to life yet another book that revolves around a concept so simple yet so powerful you’ll slap yourself in the forehead for not doing it first:
“What if you could take a drug that would make you fly?”
Beautifully illustrated by original REX MUNDI artist Eric J., with FLY writer Raven Gregory offers readers an equally gorgeous and horrifying take on the superhero genre based not in a utopian “City of Tomorrow,” but rather the drug-addled crack-houses and grimy back-alleys of the urban squalor seen in too many of our fine country’s big cities.
After reading the first three issues of FLY, I’ve got to tell you, I haven’t been this excited about a new superhero comic since INVINCIBLE… and this is your invitation to get-in on the ground floor with this well-crafted, realistic and shocking take on superheroes in the vein of MIRACLEMAN by Alan Moore and BLACK SUMMER by Warren Ellis.
Yes… it’s that good, folks.
Much like THE WAKING, this is another non-fairy-tale-based book from Zenescope that could do well in pushing the publisher as a whole to “the next level” in regards of mass-appeal recognition. Add it to your pull lists now so you won’t be sorry later when it becomes a first-week sell-out.
OK… that’s it for today, folks!
Tomorrow (really!) we’ll dive into some horror comics worthy of your attention… followed by some worthwhile all-ages reads, specific genre pieces and finally some specific creators whose body of work shouldn’t be ignored.
Stay tuned and, again, if you like what you’re reading here, hit the “Like” button down below and then share this link with all your friends!
Dirk Manning is the writer/creator of NIGHTMARE WORLD a web-to-print comic now being loudly and proudly published by Image Comics/Shadowline and FARSEEKER, a fantasy series with artist Len O’Grady being hosted by those fine folks at ACT-I-VATE. He is also a longtime contributing columnist for Newsarama and a staunch advocate for comic creators everywhere. He lives on the Internet and can usually be found lurking around Facebook and Twitter on a fairly regular basis… when he’s not busy writing, of course.
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