There are a lot of great comic books in the world. There are few that have been as lauded as often as Watchmen has. It is the only comic book to ever...moreThere are a lot of great comic books in the world. There are few that have been as lauded as often as Watchmen has. It is the only comic book to ever win a Hugo award. It is the only comic book to ever appear on Time Magazine's "100 best English-language novels", despite not actually being a novel. It is also being made into a major motion picture that will be released in March 2009.
Watchmen begins simply enough. The age of superheroes is over. Most are retired or working directly for the US Government. When the former "superhero" known as the Comedian is killed, the vigilante Rorschach begins investigating the murder.
The story then begins to go in directions far removed from a simple murder mystery. In Watchmen, Alan Moore begins to play with many storytelling techniques he would latter perfect, including heavy symbolism, no thought balloons, text pieces inserted into the comic, and even a pirate comic within the comic used as a dramatic echo of the main plot.
Using these tools Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons weave a complex morality play. They do not take the easy road and tell you who is right and who is wrong. Instead, they present their characters with a no win moral dilemma, and leave it up to the reader to decide who is right. Watchmen would be innovative if it was released today. It is not surprising people were stunned by it when it was first released in 1987.(less)
When I was a kid, I was a complete Marvel Zombie (i.e., a person who only bought Marvel Comic books and nothing else). I even remember picking up The...moreWhen I was a kid, I was a complete Marvel Zombie (i.e., a person who only bought Marvel Comic books and nothing else). I even remember picking up The Killing Joke off of a spinner rack, flipping through it, and putting it back because I just couldn't bring myself to buy a DC book, even though it looked good.
Over the years my tastes have shifted quite a bit. I actually collect very few Marvel comics nowadays. Still, because of my youthful obsession, I am have more nostalgia for Marvel Comics than most. In other words, Marvels was tailor made for me.
Written by Kurt Busiek and illustrated by Alex Ross, Marvels looks back at the events of the Marvel Universe through the eyes of an average man, specifically photographer Phil Sheldon. Retelling old Marvel stories from the perspective of a man on the street gives these old stories a completely new and different feel. It helps that Kurt Busiek has an amazing knack for telling deeply personal stories against a four-color superhero backdrop, a talent he would later perfect in his Astro City series.
Alex Ross' hyper-realistic art style is also perfect for this story. When Giant-Man steps over the anxious crowd during a battle, it looks every bit as awe-inspiring as you would imagine a 30' tall man would be in real life. The Human Torch really looks as terrifying as you would expect a man on fire to look. Yet, despite the sense of grandeur he imparts on his heroes, he shows you their little imperfections as well. If you look close enough, you can see the seams on Spider-Man's costume and the slight bulge on his wrists where his web-shooters are located. Honestly, I think Marvels and the similar Kingdom Come are some of Alex Ross' best work.(less)
**spoiler alert** Set in the future of the DC Universe, most of the old generation of superheroes have retired and have been replaced by a newer and m...more**spoiler alert** Set in the future of the DC Universe, most of the old generation of superheroes have retired and have been replaced by a newer and more violent breed. When Kansas is irradiated and rendered uninhabitable by their antics, Superman comes out of retirement and reforms the Justice League to police these new heroes.
However, in the attempt to restore order, the Justice League begins to trample over the very freedoms they are trying to protect. This is a familiar theme in comic books, I can't call Kingdom Come the most original story. Still, between the amazing artwork by Alex Ross and the sense of grandeur imparted by Mark Waid's storytelling, this story has never been told better.(less)
I am a big fan of the Concrete series, which might be best described as a superhero comic without the superheroics.
Concrete is the story of a man who...moreI am a big fan of the Concrete series, which might be best described as a superhero comic without the superheroics.
Concrete is the story of a man who is abducted by aliens and finds his mind transplanted into a nigh indestructible cyborg body. However, rather than decide to try to save the world by punching out bad guys, he uses his newfound fame to become a writer and use his words to elicit change.
Most of the drama in Concrete comes from his feelings of alienation and the fact that he has to deal with the all too fragile world around him. He cannot have a physically intimate relationship with the woman he loves. His strength and weight make him unable to sit in normal chairs or even dial a phone without breaking it. Concrete is not bitter though, more wistful and melancholy as he tries to make the best of the hand life has dealt him.(less)
Darwyn Cooke's amazing blending of political allegory and superhero comic history. Set in the late 1950's, superheroes are in decline after being inve...moreDarwyn Cooke's amazing blending of political allegory and superhero comic history. Set in the late 1950's, superheroes are in decline after being investigated by Joseph McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).
With the exception of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman the Golden Age comic heroes have given up the fight. A new generation of heroes is ready to take it up, but can they overcome the paranoia and mistrust of their own government?
Honestly, this is a great comic which makes great use of Darwyn Cooke's unique style. It was even made into a great animated movie. (less)
I consider Grant Morrison one of the "Mad Geniuses" of comics. I think his work helps stretch the boundaries of the medium. On the other hand, occasio...moreI consider Grant Morrison one of the "Mad Geniuses" of comics. I think his work helps stretch the boundaries of the medium. On the other hand, occasionally he stretches the medium to its breaking point and when he does his writing can border on incoherence. Still, I am willing to grant the occasional grand failure among grand successes. Animal Man is an example of Morrison nearing the edge, but not going over. Morrison was brought on to revitalize Animal Man, a truly minor hero in DC's pantheon. It worked, but it is doubtful DC was expecting what they got.
Morrison presented Buddy Baker as an Everyman hero. He is the type of guy who started wearing a jacket over his costume because he needed somewhere to hold his keys. He has a wife and kids who actually act like you would expect them to act. He is a super hero primarily because he has super powers and figures he should try making a living that way. After all, if you had super powers, would you go work at Walmart?
If all Morrison did was establish this niche for Buddy in the DC Universe, Animal Man would be a decent comic. Animal Man: Deus Ex Machina brings it to the next level.
In Deus Ex Machina, Buddy Baker slowly comes to awareness that he is a comic book character. I am not normally a fan of breaking the fourth wall. However, in this case Morrison uses it as more than a simple gimmick. It is an integral part of Buddy Baker's search for meaning. Unlike most of us, Buddy gets to meet his maker. He gets to ask him all of the questions we would in that situation, often getting less than satisfying answers. Whether this makes him lucky is a matter of debate.(less)