Entry for October 27, 2008: Comic book roundup

While I've blogged a fair amount about food and genre television lately, it has been a while since I discussed comic books. Although I read them occasionally as a child, I became a fan in college in the late 1980s and have been collecting them (to read, not as some investment) ever since.

On most Wednesdays, co-worker Ken G. and I drive out to Bedrock Comics in Framingham, Massachusetts, during our lunch hour. I also pick up my subscription from New England Comics in Norwood, Mass., about once per month, and I try to stop by Newbury Comics and other shops when I get a chance.

Although graphic novels and a wide range of topics represent a maturing of the art form, I still enjoy superhero titles. Most are from the "big two" publishers, DC Comics and Marvel Comics, plus some from Dark Horse, Dynamite Entertainment, IDW, and Image. Of course, with the popularity of recent movies such as Iron Man and The Dark Knight, the prevalence of metahumans on TV in Heroes and Smallville, and games such as City of Heroes and Mutants & Masterminds 2nd Ed., I happen to be back in the mainstream.

I find the ideas of teamwork, justice, and adventure to be appealing, and I'm pleased that my nephews David and Joshua are a new generation of fans. I generally rate comic books in terms of the writing, artwork, and characters/universes involved.

Not all of the comics I regularly enjoy focus on the capes-and-tights crowd. Conan and Red Sonja (both of which had recent reboots) are based on Robert E. Howard's gritty sword-and-sorcery stories, and Prince of Heroes and Mouse Guard represent the best high fantasy for young audiences. Westerns such as Zorro (see above) and The Lone Ranger harken back to yesteryear with updated (i.e., more enlightened) sensibilities.

The Spirit has maintained Will Eisner's pulpy style and humor, but it remains to be seen how well Frank Miller will manage with his movie adaptation of that and Buck Rogers. For crime-fighting procedurals with metahumans similar to Heroes, there's Powers, while Umbrella Academy delves into weirder territory.

The only horror I've followed has been tie-ins to television shows: Buffy: the Vampire Slayer, Angel: After the Fall, and The Dresden Files. For space opera, the latest licensees for the Star Trek and Star Wars shared universes have done a decent job of continuing those franchises in Year Four and Clone Wars, respectively.

Speaking of nostalgia, photorealist artist Alex Ross is behind both DC's Justice Society of America and Marvel's Avengers/Invaders. While they require a knowledge, or at least an appreciation of Silver Age comics, they've been more consistent than either publisher's major crossover: DC's Final Crisis (and Justice League tie-ins) or Marvel's Secret Invasion. The latter story is more compelling because of Brian Michael Bendis' writing on the two Avengers teams.

The adolescent angst of the Teen Titans and various X-Men teams has been a bit predictable lately. My favorite all-ages superhero books, which are mercifully free of the above continuity and deconstructivism, are Marvel Adventures Avengers and Super Friends.

The best solo titles include Ed Brubaker's espionage-flavored Captain America and Paul Dini and company's psychological approach to Batman: Detective Comics, even though both violated longstanding rules of comic book writing in incapacitating their lead characters (Steve Rogers and Bruce Wayne) and resurrecting former sidekicks Bucky Barnes and Jason Todd, respectively. Grant Morrison's recently ended All-Star Superman also re-examined and yet exemplified traditional superheroes, and the other Superman (and Spider-Man) titles are particularly strong right now.

From Mike Grell's Longbow Hunters to Kevin Smith and Gail Simone's recent runs, I've been a fan of Oliver Queen's extended family in Green Arrow/Black Canary and Birds of Prey. If only the mythologies of Wonder Woman and Thor could untangled and expanded as successfully. Superheroines haven't been especially popular lately, with both Spider-Girl and Manhunter getting canceled again.