FREE COMIC BOOK DAY is nearly upon us so rather than doing my usual countdown of new comics and rather than highlighting the free offerings you’ll find at the comic shop this Saturday I thought I’d point out some other worthwhile books to hunt down while you’re at the shop picking up the free stuff. The following is some different types of books that will satisfy some of your particular comic needs.
SO, YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A GOOD WOLVERINE COMIC?
Every year we get a new comic book movie as the driving force behind FCBD and this year it’s X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE. So, what are the good Wolverine comics to pick up and enjoy after seeing the movie? Since there are a bajillion books out there featuring the famous X-men it can be a little overwhelming to pick out one that might actually be a good read on its own (without being up on everything that comes before it). There’s always the book WOLVERINE: ORIGIN which the movie draws a few elements from. But be aware that this is a book about Wolverine as a kid in the 19th century so it may not be what you’re expecting. For a modern, action-packed book showing Wolverine kicking ass and taking names try WOLVERINE: GET MYSTIQUE by Jason Aaron and Ron Garney. All you need to know going into it is that it’s about Wolverine on a mission to kill the shape-shifting villain Mystique.
WANT A DIFFERENT KIND OF SUPERHERO BOOK?
If you’re tired of the same old superhero books from Marvel and DC you really need to try Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba’s THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY. Yes, Gerard Way is the lead singer of the band My Chemical Romance. But after you read this book you’ll only think of him as Gerard Way, The Comic Book writer. This is really that good. It’s a fun story full of crazy superhero action, explosions, time travel and all that stuff but done in a way that surprises you at each step. At it’s heart it’s a story about family. I like to think of it as What If Royal Tenenbaums Director Wes Anderson Made The Incredibles?
Way’s writing style reminds me a little of Grant Morrison who is no stranger to post-modern superhero deconstruction. Probably my favorite superhero work by Morrison is his SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY series. An ambitious story consisting of seven four-issue minis that weave in and out of each other to tell a larger epic that spans from the beginning of time to the end of the world, Seven Soldiers is a dense and complicated read. Best enjoyed by reading multiple times with a set of annotations nearby.
INTERESTED IN FINALLY TRYING SOME MANGA?
If you think there are a lot of Wolverine comics out there to sort through, wait until you start trying to figure out what kind of manga to read. There’s a lot and, unlike Wolverine comics, they’re all pretty different. So, if you’re new to it, where to begin? Start with two names: Tezuka and Urasawa.
Osamu Tezuka is the grandfather of modern Japanese manga and you might know his most famous creation from the famous anime is spawned: Astro Boy. He has a variety of work out there though and a lot of it has geared more towards adult tastes but with artwork that can look like it’s made for kids. One of his most revered works is the epic multi-volume BUDDHA which tells the life story of the founding prophet of the Buddhist religion but mixes in fictional characters and some almost Disney-like cartoon elements to make it a fun, family-friendly epic (though with its fair share of nudity and things like a little kid getting eaten by a snake which I guess could freak some little ones out).
Naoki Urasawa is the modern day master of manga. His artwork is less cartoony than Tezuka’s but his stories draw a lot of influence from his predecessor. In fact, the most recent U.S. release of Tezuka’s is Pluto, a dark and intriguing sci-fi book that is based on some secondary characters from Tezuka’s kid-friendly Astro Boy. Tezuka’s award-winning masterpiece is MONSTER, a 15 volume epic about a Japanese doctor in Germany that 10 years ago saved the life of a young boy who has now grown up to become a dangerous serial killer.
WANT A GOOD CRIME COMIC?
This is an easy one. If you like crime stories and aren’t already reading Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips’ CRIMINAL then you’re missing out on arguably the greatest crime comic ever made. There’s a few volumes available now and each one is mostly self-contained so check out my favorite, Vol. 3: THE DEAD AND THE DYING. It’s a three parter that basically tells the same story three times from three different points of view.
If you want to dig a little deeper into the comic world’s crime offerings, seek out some STRAY BULLETS by David Lapham. Over the course of several volumes, Lapham introduces numerous characters and gets them all in over their head in some really nasty situations. For the most part you can pick up any volume that you find and jump in as there is a good mix of self-contained stories with some continuation of larger over-arching plots. Just be aware, if you get too caught up in it, Lapham was self-publishing this book and sort of ran out dough and has left the book hanging for a while now to do some paid work for DC. No word on if and when he will get back to it.
HOW ABOUT A COMIC FOR KIDS?
These seem so rare these days but a new comic just released by Boom Studios is sure to please both you and your kids: THE MUPPET SHOW. Written and illustrated by cartooning genius Roger Langridge, this five issue mini-series perfectly captures the vaudeville feel of both the old show and Langridge’s own work like Fred The Clown. The second issue of this series just came out this week.
Boom has recently published a couple of Pixar related books too like a CARS prequel and an INCREDIBLES comic written by the great superhero writer Mark Waid.
LOOKING FOR A LAUGH?
TALES DESIGNED TO THRIZZLE does exactly what the title implies. It’s the brainchild of Michael Kupperman and its absurdist sense of humor is sure to appeal to Adult Swim fans (in fact a reoccurring bit in this book, “Snake ‘n Bacon” is soon to be a series on that network. The most recent issue is #5 which is intended by the author to only be read by old people for some reason. Stories include Mark Twain and Albert Einstein teaming up to solve mysteries and aliens abduct a man and give him sexy woman legs.
For something a bit on the risque side, there’s the self-aware cheesecake comic EMPOWERED which is secretly a fantastic commentary on superhero comic stereotypes and the demeaning nature of “good girl” art. It’s about a plucky, superheroine named Empowered whose power derives from her skintight, alien costume. Unfortunately it is ridiculously fragile and prone to being shredded in very revealing ways which leave her powerless and susceptible to being tied up by super-villains. All of which makes her a laughing-stock among other heroes and gives her a complex about her own worth as a hero.
HOW ABOUT SCI-FI?
I mentioned it above but it’s worth re-mentioning Naoki Urasawa’s PLUTO. It’s a robot story that mixes 50’s style Astro Boy robots with Blade Runner replicant-style “human” robots.
If you’re sci-fi tastes lean more to the retro-side of things though you should be reading Rick Remender and Tony Moore’s FEAR AGENT. You can start at the beginning but I really enjoyed VOL 3: THE LAST GOODBYE which tells how an alien invasion turned our hero from a Texas family man into a hard-drinking, spacesuit-wearing ray-gun slinger. It’s a horrific invasion story despite its use of goofy looking aliens which will make you think of some of the chilling sci-fi stories told by the EC Comics greats like Jack Davis.
Zombies are everyone’s creature of choice these days but don’t go for that Marvel Zombies stuff. Robert Kirkman’s THE WALKING DEAD holds true to the zombie tenet that the undead are always the least of the survivor’s problems. Start at the beginning with volume 1 and follow the dwindling number of survivors as they try to make a go of it in this post-apocalyptic world.
For sheer terror though, try Kazuo Umezu’s classic manga THE DRIFTING CLASSROOM. It’s about a school in Japan that disappears in an earthquake and reappears in a desert wasteland leaving teachers and children confused, terrified and alone. Everything begins to break apart, much as it did to the poor kids in Lord of the Flies, but Umezu holds nothing back and no one in this story is safe. Children especially.
FINALLY, HOW ABOUT SOMETHING MORE EMOTIONAL AND RESONATING?
Comics aren’t just about zombies and superheroes remember. There’s a wealth of stuff out there that will tug at your heart strings and maybe even make you cry.
Jeff Lemire’s Essex County Trilogy is a highly acclaimed graphic novel series that begins with TALES FROM THE FARM a story about an orphaned ten year old who befriends the town’s gas station owner as both share a common desire to escape their real world problems into the world of superhero fantasy.
Alex Robinson’s TOO COOL TO BE FORGOTTEN is, on the surface, a similar story to that new Zac Effron flick where a middle-aged dad finds himself magically transferred into the body of a high school student. Robinson uses the concept to explore ideas about memory and parenthood in a very touching way.
And, Dash Shaw’s BOTTOMLESS BELLY BUTTON is just about the most realistic portrayal of a disfunctional family I’ve ever seen in comics, despite the fact that the youngest son is drawn with a frog head.