Entry for July 02, 2007: Top 10 comic books

Friends, I hope you had a good weekend. Janice and I spent several hours sorting through my comic book collection, which totaled about 26 short boxes. I transferred some from long boxes to short ones, and I had lost about three or four long boxes, or six to eight short ones, during my basement floods of two years ago.

Since co-worker Brian F. asked last week, I've given some thought to which titles I'd recommend reading right now. My top 10 are below, in no particular order:

-"Detective Comics:" Since Paul Dini, one of the creators of the excellent 1990s animated series, has been writing short storylines, this has become the best of the Batman family of comic books, although I've also been reading "Batman," "Robin," "Nightwing," and "Catwoman," all of which have been strong lately.

-"All-Star Superman:" Writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quietly have returned to Superman's science fiction roots with weird and whimsical stories, making this and "Action Comics" (which "Superman: the Movie" director Richard Donner has been co-writing) among the best of the "One Year Later" books.

-"The Spirit:" Brian is a fan of Darwyn Cooke's "New Frontier," which will be an animated direct-to-DVD release later this year, and Cooke's take on Will Eisner's classic masked gumshoe has been consistently entertaining. I wish that Cooke rather than the often over-the-top Frank Miller was in charge of the planned "Spirit" movie. Honorable mention: Mike Mignola's pulpy Goth goodness in "Hellboy."

-"Conan:" O.K., this sword and sorcery book isn't strictly a superhero title, but Kurt Busiek, Tim Truman, and others have done an excellent job of reaching back, past the Marvel comics of the 1970s and '80s, to Robert E. Howard's original short stories. They were tinged with horror from Howard's fellow author H.P. Lovecraft, creator of the "Cthulu" mythos. Their success has led to another revival of the subgenre, including books for "Red Sonja" and others.

-"The Lone Ranger:" Again, as a fan of the pulps of the 1920s and '30s, it's hard to ignore the strong artwork of John Cassaday in Dynamite Comics' well-done updating of this Western legend. While some prefer Vertigo's fantasy and horror, I'm also a fan of some of "The Phantom," "Highlander," "Xena," and "Battlestar Galactica" work from this publisher.

-"Astonishing X-Men:" Cassaday and "Buffy: the Vampire Slayer" creator Joss Whedon know how to handle this ensemble, which has mostly stayed clear of the "House of M," "Avengers: Civil War," and other Marvel crossovers. Their lines are clean, and the dialogue is snappy, even if some of the plots (fighting aliens and robots again?) are sometimes a bit cheesy, not unlike Whedon's "Buffy: Season 8" comics.

-"Captain America:" Even with its title character dead, writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting have managed to continue the relatively realistic political intrigues and paramilitary action of this title going strong. I prefer this version of the "616," or main, Marvel Universe even to the popular "Ultimates."

-"Mythos:" Paul Jenkins and Paolo Rivera tell out-of-continuity tales featuring classic Marvel superheroes. This is how D.C. handled "Elseworlds" and how it should have approached its "All-Star" line. For all-ages readers, especially my younger nieces and nephews, I recommend "Marvel Adventures: Avengers," "Mouse Guard," and "Justice League Unlimited."

-"Birds of Prey:" Departing writer Gail Simone has managed to take a bunch of B-level female characters, led by former Batgirl Barbara Gordon/Oracle, and make them interesting. (For cheesecake art, I recommend Frank Cho's "Liberty Meadows" and "Mighty Avengers.") While not at the power level of the Avengers, Justice League, or even the Titans/Outsiders, this is by far a more interesting look at good intentions gone wrong and amusing team dynamics. Of course, as a longtime fan of Black Canary and Green Arrow, I look forward to seeing their eventually unified title…

-Tie: "Astro City/Powers:" Busiek's "Astro City" is the natural heir to Alan Moore's "Watchmen" and Alex Ross' "Marvels/Kingdom Come" as an exploration of how the various ages of comic book heroes (Silver, Iron, etc.) would map against a realistically complex world. Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming have made the homicide detectives in "Powers" the equivalent of an HBO series about less-than-perfect metahumans. As much as I usually prefer four-color, idealistic superheroes, these postmodern examinations of the responsibilities of power and of how power corrupts are must reads, IMHO.

O.K., so I cheated and included more than 10 titles in these capsule reviews. On the other hand, I didn't list the usual Marvel and D.C. "events," such as "World War Hulk," "X-Men: Endangered Species," "Amazons Attack," and "Countdown." While I've been following them, these books are more for fans of continuity and its changes than for fans of particular characters or good writing and art.

Looking back on my collection, I have some excellent "Silver Age" stuff — George Perez's run on "Wonder Woman" and "Teen Titans" (also, soon to be animated) or Marvel's original "Secret Wars" — as well as some bad, such as the X-Men meeting the characters of "Star Trek: the Next Generation," and what was with the mullets, pockets, and chains on costumes in the 1980s and 1990s? Let us hope that this decade eventually brings us new highs to match those of past eras!

With all the cinematic (and role-playing) adaptations of comic books lately, it's worth looking at the source material. Also, I've found comic book shops and fans to be more welcoming than those of other subcultures, such as speculative fiction fans or gaming shops.

What comics and superheroes, if any, do you follow? In my next posts, I'll finish my update for my New York trip and look ahead to more games, music, and genre television!

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