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The only comics gift guide you'll need this holiday season
There is no shortage of comics-related gift guides floating out there on the Internets. Which is good, because what's great about comics is there are so many awesome books out there — there is literally something for everyone! But if you're having trouble picking out the right item to put under the tree for that geek who's near and dear to your heart, I put together a list that hopefully makes your holiday season a bit less stressful.
Just about every one of these items is available online, but may I kindly suggest you visit your local comics shop or even your favorite independently owned bookstore to make your purchase? Holiday season sales can be hugely important to small businesses.
Now then, let's get to the 2019 Behind the Panel Holiday Gift Guide:
For the fan who's in it for the art:
DC Comics: The Art of Jim Lee Vol. 1 — A massive book chronicling the first half of Lee's DC career, packed with Wildstorm and DC artwork featuring his trademark dynamic layouts and stunning pencil work. This includes art he created right up until the New 52. Comic art nerds will rightly salivate over this gift, but hopefully not on the actual book.
Bill Sienkiewicz: Revolution — Few artists have expanded the boundaries of what comic art could be than Bill Sienkiewicz. From his early days on Moon Knight to his groundbreaking stint on New Mutants, Elektra: Assassin and the countless covers he's done, he has inspired and motivated a generation of artists to follow their own artistic path. This book includes more than 200 pages of Sienkiewicz art, including lots of rarely seen examples.
For the kid you're trying to get into comics:
Black Canary: Ignite — DC has found success with its line of YA novels. I could easily recommend Kami Garcia and Gabriel Piccolo's Teen Titans: Raven GN, but I've always had a soft spot for Dinah Lance. This reimagining of the character as a 13-year-old trying to balance her love of questionable music choices and her dream of following in her dad's footsteps as a cop in Gotham lead to an utterly charming story by first-time comics writer — and the bestselling author of The Princess Diaries — Meg Cabot. Cara McGee's artwork is so good here, full of clever facial expressions and clever panel layouts. My 9-year-old grabbed this off my review pile and declared this her favorite DC YA book.
Captain Marvel Little Golden Book — You know what I would've done to have Little Golden Books as a kid that featured Marvel superheroes? Kids today have NO IDEA how good they have it. This Captain Marvel LGB is a perfect example. Writer John Sakaklis and artist Penelope Gaylord make Marvel's cosmic heavy hitter utterly adorable. For the under-6 crowd, this is a great appetizer for the wonderful world of comics.
For MCU fans who want to prep for Phase IV:Shang-Chi: Master of Kung-Fu Omnibus Vol. 1 — I'm going to be tub-thumping for MOKF from now until 2021, when the Marvel Cinematic Universe feature film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, starring my new favorite Twitter follow, Simu Liu, debuts. Simply put, MOKF was one of the best comics series of the Bronze Age. Its unique awesome-sauce of martial arts and espionage, combined with some of the best art '70s-era Marvel was putting out, made it a standout from the typical superhero fisticuffs of the day. You can find the first omnibus fairly easily, especially the one with the killer John Cassaday cover.
The Eternals by Jack Kirby collection — Nothing against the 2006 Eternals limited series; it's the team of Neil Gaiman and John Romita Jr., so I'm not exactly kicking it out of bed. But if you're excited to learn more about the new heroes the MCU is introducing in late 2020, then you have to go back to the source. Jack Kirby's late-'70s series is usually described as his last "big" idea, and that is correct. The Eternals was expansive, ambitious, and full of the "gods mingling with their worshippers" ideas that fascinated Kirby. The art, featuring huge, detailed double-page splashes, frenetic action, and Kirby Krackle everywhere, was staggering. Also, Ikarus is one of the great Kirby character designs, and Kevin Feige and Co. better figure out how to give us a costume that at least resembles the awesomeness we saw on the page. Time has been kind to these characters — meaning that, once again, the King proved to be ahead of its time.
For fans of Watchmen and Frank Miller:
The Life and Times of Martha Washington in the Twenty-First Century — Why not treat someone you love to the classic team-up between two industry legends, Dave Gibbons and Frank Miller? We know that HBO's Watchmen series, based on Gibbons and Alan Moore's monumental comic, is blowing people's minds in the very best ways. And with Miller in the news for projects such as Cursed and the just-released DC Black Label one-shot, Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child, there is no better time to check out one of great science fiction comics of all time. Martha Washington is a 21st-century freedom fighter who pulls herself out of the Chicago projects to join the front lines of the second American Civil War. Complex, uncompromising, and loaded with political overtones that are remarkably relevant today, Martha Washington was a story told in various mini-series and one-shots over two-plus decades. This trade paperback collects it all in one nice, affordable format.
For fans of The Umbrella Academy Netflix series:
The Umbrella Academy Library Edition, Vol. 1 and 2 — Only Stranger Things drew more viewers to Netflix than the streaming series adaptation of Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba's award-winning Dark Horse comic. These fab new volumes reprint the source material in high quality and include dozens of pages of sketches from Way, Ba, James Jean, and others.
For fans who want a superhero universe that isn't Marvel or DC:
Black Hammer: Streets of Spiral — Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston's fresh superhero reality is one of the best things to happen to comics in recent years. The inspired storytelling, which also takes into account our own POV on superhero comics, has led to a rapidly expanding universe. This collection is particularly with its guide to the Hammerverse.
For creative kids:
Blank Comic Book Notebook for Kids — One thing I've learned as a parent is that the moment your kids show an interest in something, pounce on it and try to determine if it could develop into a passion. This DIY kit comes with dozens of pages and templates to let children run wild with their imaginations. So what if the likely result is something messy/disastrous/completely lacking in storytelling logic? The victory is in the attempt.
For fans of comics history:
A Marvelous Life: The Amazing Story of Stan Lee — Danny Fingeroth's thorough examination of Stan the Man's complex legacy provides new insight into a pop culture figure who already has numerous books dedicated to his life and career. What makes Fingeroth's stand out is that he spends ample time examining the period in Lee's life that too often received short shrift in books about comics icon: the pre-Marvel years. It's that era that helps shed light on Lee's later actions and achievements. Lee was a much harder person to interview and examine than one might think. He certainly did nonstop press for decades, but he very rarely went beneath the surface of his well-rehearsed (and often contradictory) stories of the Marvel Age of Comics. Fingeroth had the advantage of knowing Lee well, and in interviews conducted over a period of at least a decade, he gathered refreshing candor from Lee. It's that depth that makes this biography a must-read for anyone who wants to learn more about one of comics' greatest and most polarizing figures.
For fans waiting for Marvel's Disney+ series:
The Vision: The Complete Collection TPB — Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta's award-winning series about the Android Avenger's quest to live a normal family life is one of the first comics I recommend to non-comics-reading friends who call me after watching a Marvel movie at the theater. Kevin Feige revealed at CCXP in Brazil that the upcoming Disney+ series WandaVision will incorporate the '50s suburban aesthetic from King and Walta's comic. This book is beautiful and heartbreaking and impossible not to devour in a single sitting.
For fans of The CW's Crisis crossover:
Crisis on Infinite Earths box set — Weighing in at a hefty 28 pounds with 3,752 pages, this collection has all the stories leading up to and including the classic Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline. Let's not kid ourselves; whoever you get this for, you should kiss them goodbye, pack them a month's worth of meals, and send them on their way. Because this is one comics rabbit hole they may not emerge from for a while.
Happy Holidays from Behind the Panel!