I read a lot of comics.
It's part of my job description, because I can't very well write and talk about comics without reading comics. Aside from personal favorites I pick up at my Friendly Neighborhood LCS, I'm also lucky enough to receive a bunch of preview copies from various publishers. They occupy an ever-imposing pile on my desk that I try to chip away at, with negligible success.
Poor me. I have too many comics to read!
Truthfully, part of the reason my To-Read stack of comics never seems to diminish is because I occasionally find myself pulling an old graphic novel or floppy issue from the shelf and doing a re-read. Sometimes it's part of the work process. An upcoming project led me to re-read Chris Claremont and Frank Miller's 1982 Wolverine mini-series for the first time in a couple of years. The brilliance of Marvel's House of X and Powers of X series compelled me, tractor beam-like, to grab my Marvel Masterworks Uncanny X-Men volumes from the old library to remember the last time I had enjoyed such compelling X-tales.
Talk to any comics fan and they will tell you there are certain comic books or graphic novels that they regularly, either by dedicated appointment or random impulse, revisit. It's no different than a movie or television show you watch over and over again. A good story is worth returning to. The joy of discovering something new in any storytelling medium is unmatchable, but there's a certain safety in returning to a tale where you know the beats, the characters and the journey.
It doesn't matter what comic it is, or the reason why. If you love it, own it! Embrace it.
It's comic book comfort food, and we all have a few issues that provide the familiar embrace we get when we go back home for the holidays. The reasons why may vary, but one thing they all have in common is the ability to captivate us just as they did the first time we read them. Here are three choices on the menu for me.
The Avengers #164-166
The Count Nefaria Trilogy has always been one of my all-time favorite Avengers stories. Featuring the quintessential lineup — Cap, Iron Man, the Vision, the Scarlet Witch, the Beast, the Wasp, Yellowjacket, as well as the Black Panther and my favorite Avenger, Wonder Man — it features a deceptively simple story told in exceptional fashion by writer Jim Shooter and artist John Byrne: What If a villain transformed into a Superman?
They turned Nefaria, a relatively mid-level Marvel villain, into one of the most dangerous foes the Avengers had ever faced. This was at a time when the team was plagued by in-fighting, something Shooter and Byrne weaved into the story effortlessly. But what makes this story a perennial re-read for me is the exploration of Wonder Man's fear of dying again (he had recently returned from a decade of being dead).
It provided a sense of mortality amidst the superhero wreckage that holds up remarkably well. There's a moment in issue #164 where Wondy is clobbered by Power Man (the evil one, not Luke Cage) and he freezes in panic. That moment, and the way Wonder Man struggled with his fear while still fighting Nefaria, made me a Simon Williams fan for life.
More than 40 years later, it remains a master class in self-contained comic-book storytelling.
DC: The New Frontier
This is one of those series I recommend whenever anyone asks me for suggestions to introduce people to comics. Darwyn Cooke's masterwork brilliantly composes a strongly-worded love letter to DC's Golden and Silver Age that also strips away some of the nostalgic cover surrounding the 1950s. Cooke's story mirrors the real-life ambivalence to superheroes that took root in that decade because of the "Seduction of the Innocent" outrage that threatened the comics industry. The suspicion and distrust between the government and the super-beings on Earth is on full display.
There are endless highlights from The New Frontier, but one of my favorites is the scene where Wonder Woman points out the hypocrisy of the mission her and Superman have undertaken in Indochina on behalf of the U.S. government. Kal-El, idealistic as ever, is horrified to learn the Amazonian Princess did nothing to stop formerly-kidnapped women from seeking bloody vengeance on their captors. Diana calls out the hypocrisy of being told to set an example as they carry out America's hidden agenda in a foreign land. The Man of Steel has no answers.
Every time I read this, I pick up on something else that Cooke has laced into his tale, be it a new theme or a well-placed reference to some part of the DC mythos. And the optimism and pure Space Age heroism of the next generation of heroes coming into their own — I'm looking at you, Hal Jordan and J'on J'onzz — will lift your spirits every time.
For goodness sake, if by some chance you haven't yet read New Frontier, rectify that immediately.
It's the 25th anniversary of the series that introduced one of the greatest heroes in the history of Marvel: Phil Sheldon! The ground-level history of the Marvel universe as told through the eyes of an Everyman, Marvels oozes love of the medium and the characters involved. Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross picked the perfect stories to build their story around — from Galactus' arrival to the death of Gwen Stacy — but for my money, the portrayal of Phil Sheldon is the high point of this four-issue series. He's as noble and imperfect as the heroes he takes pictures of.
When this title debuted in 1994, I had just about given up on comics because of all the speculator nonsense. Everything about the hobby I had loved seemed to have vanished. With few exceptions, I wasn't enjoying most of the comics I was reading. That changed when I picked up the first issue of Marvels. There has never been a purer synergy of script and art as in these four issues. Marvels made love comics again. I'll be damned if I don't fall in love with them all over again every time I re-read the graphic novel.
Those are three of my list of perennial re-reads. What's your comic book comfort food?
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