Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Geek List

Okay, here's my comicy geeky list of 
Top Comics That I Love, 
that you don't have to read but I would think that you were cool if you did.

Exiles: With an Iron Fist by Judd Winick
Exiles is the one comic that had the most cool potential but was never allowed to bloom because of the almighty franchise driven mainstream publisher.
The idea is that there is a 'multiverse' filled with alternate versions of... everything!
And that some how some of these worlds have 'gone wrong' and certain individuals are 'unhinged' and recruited to restore the order either by defeating some 'big bad' or killing some innocent kid.
They could have done so many great things with remixed versions of super heroes and teaming them up to do all kinds of crazy things.  It was like an actual version of 'What If'.  What if guys like Ennis, Ellis, Morrison, or Bendis had been turned loose on this title?  It drives me crazy to think about the stories that could have been, but never were.  I guess what happened is that a cast of regular characters were used over and over again and like every other stupid mindless sucky money making property of the Marvel Corporation, nothing was allowed to happen to them, and if it did then they some how came back.

New X-Men: E is for Extinction by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
When these two guys get together wonderful magical things happen.  I'm told that none of Grant Morrison's ideas here are new and happened in the late 90's.  I say, who cares?  Their story telling sensibilities are off the chart, they avoid all the usual cliches.  Some action and drama is explicit and bizzare on the level of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Other times their story telling takes an H.G. Wells approach, showing only the aftermath of something crazy which sends your imagination into overdrive.  Quitely's sequences and panels are on the level of an Ennio Morricone picture.  I'm not screwing around here, buy everything by these guys.
All Star Superman art by Frank Quitely
JLA: Earth2 art by Frank Quitely

also by Morrison
Marvel Boy, art by JG Jones
Seven Soldiers art by JH Williams III
Arkham Asylum art by Dave McKean

Judge Dredd: Apocalypse War by John Wagner and Alan Grant
Judge Dredd is the first 'Dark Age' comic.  
(side note, comic eras like golden, silver and bronze age are distinguished on the timeline by clusters of common characteristics, of which there are always outliers of each type that are both ahead of their time and behind their time)
That whole angst 'Grim and Gritty' thing... that was the brits in 1977, at the peak of the Bronze age Dredd was the harbinger of the coming Dark age of comics.  Judge Dredd was published by 2oooAD comics, the house that allowed guys like Alan Moore and Garth Ennis to cut their teeth.  
Judge Dredd is a unfeeling merciless cop of a dark megalopolis in post-nuclear apocalyptic America.  He hates everyone, but especially criminals.  He also goes toe to toe with mutants, monsters, aliens and zombies.  He says things like, 'Drokk!' and 'Grud!' and 'Stub Gun! (as he's using his stub gun)'
Also check out 2000AD
and Marshal Law

Twisted Tales Horror Anthology by Pacific Comics
In 1982 Pacific Comics published the first issue of Twisted Tales, which might have been the first rated R horror comic to emerge out of the underground, where graphic comics hid since the 50s, to appear in the suburban racks of commercially distributed and marketed comics.
(but this is not my area of expertise, check out The Horror of it All for more information)
Twisted Tales was the perfect comic for a junior high punk rocker growing up in the mid-west.
It had sex and gore and no moral. It often featured awesome art by Richard Corben, Bernie Wrightson, Dave Stevens, and I want to say Mark Schultz, but now I don't think so.
Also from Pacific, Alien Worlds
If horror and sci-fi aren't your thing some other good small press stuff from the 80s:
Nexus, Mike Baron and  Steve Rude's vast epic.
Love and Rockets, Hernandez Brothers' post-punk/latino... indie thing turned drama.
Xenozoic Tales, Dinosaurs and 50's style futurism, awesome art - Mark Schultz
Rocketeer, Dave Stevens R.I.P.
American Flagg, it's weird, a lot of Howard Chaykin's stuff turned out to be true.
Grendel, Matt Wagner, it's better than it got credit for.
Miracleman, nuff said.
Flaming Carrot, uh, his head is a flaming carrot.
Usagi Yojimbo, Samurai epic with cute angry animals, way better than ninja turtles.

Supreme by J Michael Straczynski and Gary Frank
So this is like a modern day evil version of the Justice League.  
A nice small town couple find 'the boy who fell to Earth' (Superman, basically) but are intercepted and killed by the government to seize the alien and study it and exploit it for their own purposes.  It doesn't go well.

Hellboy by Mike Mignolia
I'm sure everyone knows Hellboy by now.  The movie was okay for what it was, but the comic is way better.  Super gothic art akin to the shadowy German noir of the 1920's.
Occult action.

League of Extraordinary Gentleman by Alan Moore and Kevin O'neil
Alan Moore is a great writer.  My pastor told me that it is better to be effective than original, and although it might be hard to believe, I actually agree with him.  But, Moore is both effective and original in a medium where writers are usually neither. 
I know some people hate Kevin O'neil's art... if you are one of those people then just don't talk to me.  I was a fan of O'neil since Nemesis the Warlock.  I've always like abstract artists like Sienkiewicz and McKean, but O'neil was just a little more comicy than those guys which was cool with me.
The League has nothing to do with that craptastic movie that came out.  Moore's League kill people and have sex... at the same time... not really... but kind of.  This is about a super hero team based on classic characters in the vein of Jules Vern, all of which are public domain. I guess on the one hand I love this because it proves that you can tell an awesome super hero comic that isn't a popular American franchise property.  And that some of those characters can die or go bad and you still have a great story.  Screw big media, buy this comic.
Also by Alan Moore
Swamp Thing are by Bissette, Totleben, and Veitch
Watchmen art by Dave Gibbons 

JLA: Obsidian Age by Joe Kelly and Doug Mahnke
Um, this really isn't a great comic.  But I love it and I've read this story arc a million times.  The story kicks off in the fallout of one of those huge company wide events (Our Worlds at War) which I never read and probably never will read.  I gather that Aquaman used some kind of Atlantian magic to save the Earth from the aliens, but had to sacrifice the Atlantians to do it and turn them into air breathers and send them back in time... yea, I know that sounds dumb and I'm not even sure that that's what happened.  But Kelly sets up the Justice League to fight an ancient world version of themselves.  These 'Obsidian Age' heroes are just as powerful as the JLA and revered as heroes in their own setting, but completely devoid of anything that resembles modern ethics. In their time there is nothing wrong with collateral damage, slavery or human sacrifice.  Needless to say, they have a disagreement.

Also by Kelly and Mahnke
Action Comics: What's So Funny About Truth Justice and the American Way? (widely considered to be the best single comic ever made... not by me, I'm just saying)

X-man by Warren Ellis
Okay, there is this stupid generic X-mutant that was produced in the mid 90s and then Warren Ellis did awesome things with him.  He went from being a character with the lame factor of Cable and Bishop to the best X-mutant character in the Marvel U.  On Ellis' run he has elevated to a being that can 'walk the multiverse'  and has adventures that are as brutal as they are existential.  Once again, I'm not screwing around here, if you don't like this comic then you are an idiot... go play in your sandbox.
Art by Ariel Olivetti, he's another one that polarizes people.  I love his painted covers, but I can get overdosed on his painted interiors.  It's like too much sugar.

The Authority by Mark Millar
Hmm... this is hard to describe.  The heroes are actually the bad guys, but they don't come right out and say that.  In fact it is never even implied, but if you look at who they are and what they do and what they stand for... they are bad.  I think this comic is a satyr of something, but I'm not sure what.  
The Authority kind of resemble the Justice League, but they kill God, push around the President, dismantle dictatorships, have no accountability... and they are arrogant self-righteous (and yet morally empty) pricks. 
So, that said, it's a great comic.  Millar addresses some political and social justice issues in this titles.  I admire the effort and enjoy his story telling, but I don't agree with his politics.  I think he over simplifies things and misses the real villains is this country that grafts into his comics, but hey, that's why we have Johnathan Hickman.


Karswell said...

Yeah, Twisted Tales was an excellent 80's horror anthology series, much better than Gore Shriek, Death Rattle, Wasteland, and a handful of others that always suffered from poor writing, poorer artistry and total lack of real horror focus. We must give mention to Bruce Jones too who not only scripted all the Twisted Tales stories but also created the art on a handful of them too. Other stand out artists: Mike Ploog, John Bolton, Doug Wildey, Mike Hoffman and Bill Wray! My favorite issue is #7, Holly's Hobby is so spooky, and the last story The Shut-In has one of the absolute greatest / saddest false endings to any story I think I've ever read period.

Another wonderful 80's Eclipse horror series was Tales of Terror:

And thanks for the plug too Brian!

BBOW73 said...

Yea, Twisted Tales... it kinda went back and forth between very clever and very disturbing.

I'm still in the process of re-buying all my old issues. When I left St. Louis my mom gave my entire collection to the local comic shop. How's that for a sad ending. :(

Karswell said...

Awww dude, you mean Fat Man made off with all your comics? That makes it even more sad. But on a lighter note, if you go to Ballwin now and visit the plaza where his shop used to be it's now a Buffalo Wild Wings! There's probably something ironic about that I'm sure...

BBOW73 said...

lol, fatman comics is now a wing joint!?!?

That guy gave me so much crap about joining his weird club. I don't even know what it was, I just know it was after hours and there were little kids there.
It reminded me of the episode on Different Strokes where Arnold came out of the back room of the bike shop in his underwear. YUK!!!

Matthew H Camp said...

The Authority Vol. 1 is on my list of greats also.

You say they are the bad guys.

They are actually gods.

Ellis & Millar tackled the question that Moore posed in MiracleMan and Watchmen: If there really were human beings with power on the level of gods, what would they do with this little planet of ours?

The Authority reads like the tales of the Greek dieties - only with better dialogue and more sci-fi action. They are our fantasies writ large, and embody the same moral triumphs and failures that we do. Were the Olympic gods good or bad?

Even Yahweh sent bears to maul, maim, and mutilate some young men for making fun of his prophet. Sounds a lot like Jenny Sparks sending the Midnighter in to take care of some scumbags!

And this colorful superhero tale really points to a larger and more real question. We trust our social institutions and people of power to do what is right and protect us - but aren't they flawed in the same ways that we are? Other than power, what is the difference? Can they be trusted? Can we?

Ellis began his examination of the question in the pre-Authority days of Stormwatch. Here you had a perfectly good international higher authority policing the planet and keeping us safe. But the head guy got a god complex.

The trouble with power is the temptation to use it for your own agenda, to the detriment of others. But whether that makes you a good guy or a bad guy really depends on who makes that judgement call. Like war: We kill them. They kill us. We are good because we kill them. They are bad. But to them, we are the bad guys.

It was a pleasure to see Millar continue this line of thinking in the Ultimates. His characters are more like Homer's Ulysses than Clark Kent! Ulysses was a hero, but he had shortcomings and made some mistakes. He was flawed - and those flaws make for far more interesting stories than Superman has ever had!

Mark Millar is great at turning the Super HERO format into a Super CHARACTER format.

Don't be Swindle! said...

Good insights on the Authority. The 'bad guys' remark came from a Millar interview. I thought it was an interesting idea. But you're right, it's totally subjective, good... bad... from who's perspective?

I love that story about the bears killing the kids that made fun of Elijah's baldness. I'll do a blog on that.

Matthew H Camp said...


My mom gave all my comic book collection to the Fat Man at Discount Comics too!!!


I spent this whole year re-building it!!!!

We need to form a support group or something. Or a meet-up group called GIVE ME BACK MY COMICS FAT MAN!!!!!!

and no wing sauce on them!!!