Ode to the Sequential Art – or: Go read a friggin‘ comic!

If you know me at all, then you probably know I’ve been reading comics for as long as I can remember. And you know what? You should try it. If you’re a fan of genre fiction, be it literary or televised, you owe it to yourself to give comics a shot, because if you don’t, you are missing out.

Now that comic book heroes routinely make millions for Hollywood, the medium is quickly approaching a new golden age. The current market is overflowing with unique books that cater to a wide variety of tastes and extend well beyond the usual superhero fare. With services like Comixology now releasing all major titles digitally and collected editions lining the shelves of bookstores, comics are also more accessible than ever.

So here’s the deal: Even if you’ve never read a comic in your life, allow me to recommend to you seven extraordinary books that are out right now and that you should be able to get into without a lot of catching up. In return, I will then quit bugging you. Maybe. So let’s get this show on the road…

Captain America (Vol. 7) (Marvel Comics)
Confession time: I never cared much for Captain America, ever. To me, he was a name, not a character. It seemed like there was little to the guy but the costume and the shield. Thanks to writer Rick Remender, I’m happy to report that this is no longer the case.

Captain America tends to work best when he’s fighting the odds, be it behind enemy lines in World War II or as a man out of time in the 21st century. Remender wastes no time in returning him to this status, as Cap finds quickly finds himself in the nightmarish Dimension Z, where mad scientist Arnim Zola rules with an iron first. Trapped here, Cap is truly alone and more out of his element than ever, which allows you to actually feel afraid for this muscledbound super soldier. Remender further facilitates this by providing a candid look behind the mask, revealing, for the first time ever, what makes Captain America tick. The juxtaposition between the trials of Dimension Z and Cap’s younger years is a thing of beauty — you come to like the guy more and more due while his  present-day situation grows increasingly dire.

This is the tale of a soldier’s most fierce battle, heightened to the extreme by way of the sci-fi and horror elements that Remender introduces into the equation. It’s not the kind of story you usually see Captain America in, but it is a captivating one.

Earth 2 (DC Comics)
In 2011, DC relaunched their entire line of comics, resetting the continuity of their shared universe, cancelling numerous books and starting all-new ones in their place. Nearly two years after the fact, one of the best things to have come out of the relaunch is Earth 2.

As the title suggests, this book takes place on a parallel Earth, which means it gets to buck the rules in some pretty major ways. DC mainstays Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman promptly die in the first issue of series, sacrificing their lives to repel an alien invasion and leaving Earth in the hands of a new batch of heroes. Longtime fans will recognize these „new“ heroes as members of DC’s original superhero team, the Justice Society, but their overhaul here is so complete they might as well be all-new characters. This is a full-on reboot.

The creative freedom it enjoys remains the book’s biggest selling point. Its setting allows Earth 2 to play in the rich, multi-facetted sandbox of the DC Universe without years of history or editoral mandates to bog it down. The result is a vibrant, forward-looking superhero romp where no one is ever 100% safe and nothing is a foregone conclusion. It’s also a fun team book. And it’s been known to cure migraines. Okay, I made that last one up.

Morning Glories (Image Comics)
There’s no way I can do this one justice in a few short paragraphs. Hell, even summarizing the main idea is going to be a tough one. I’d say imagine Lost in the world’s most terrifying bording school, but the writer of this comic actually answers the questions he sets up, so that might not be a fair comparison.

Morning Glories is a dense read, featuring a cast of dozens across multiple time periods, with a bit of time travel and/or dimension hopping thrown in for good measure. If you’re frustrated by the average JJ Abrams show, Morning Glories probably isn’t the book for you, but if you enjoy complex characters and layered, interconnecting mysteries, you don’t want to miss it. It’s, weird, spooky, mindbending fun.

I feel that this series flows more smoothly in collected editions, which is why that has become my preferred way of following it. The first three story arcs are already out in paperback, with the forth coming soon. Do yourself a favor and start at the beginning with this one.

The Movement (DC Comics)
Technically speaking, this recommendation is cheating, since issue #1 won’t actually come out until May, but, hey, my list, my rules. I’m excited for this.

Writer Gail Simone, who can always be counted on to deliver an engaging story, poses a simple question that The Movement will revolve around:

“How does someone feel when the world is full of superheroes, but all the problems of the world still exist? “ 1

Inspired in part by the Occupy Movement, this book promises to examine such  a world — in this case, the DC Universe — through the eyes of the 99% who don’t belong to the super-powered elite. What a great premise! I’m a sucker for a good underdog story and the addition of sociopolitical themes only makes the proposition juicer. Comics like Green Lantern/Green Arrow, Teen Titans or X-Men were steeped deeply in the issues of their times and are remembered fondly to this day. With a writer of Simone’s calibre attached, I have some really high hopes for her new pet protect.

The Private Eye (self-published)

Brian K. Vaughan’s Private Eye is an interesting beast — an internet-only comic about a post-internet society. You can get it right here in a variety of DRM-free digital formats and at a price of your own choosing.

In the not-too-distant future of The Private Eye, reliable information of any kind is nearly impossible to come by, as privacy concerns have led an entire generation to adapt secret identities. Most people walk around in elaborate disguises that allow them to hide their true selves from the outside world. Our protagonist is private investigator Patrick, whose skill at digging  up  information makes him a wanted man to some and a valuable asset to others.

Welcome to the mindscape of Brian K. Vaughan, folks. This is the kind of wildly inventive premise that the guy’s become known for and he hits another one out of the park with this book. A mere one issue in, the world of Private Eye is already brimming with possibility. Can’t wait to see where this goes.

Sex (Image Comics)

What happens when you’re a superhero whose entire life is built around your one-man war on crime, and then you have to stop being a superhero? That’s the question that lies at the heart of Joe Casey’s new series Sex, which stars former superhero Simon Cooke. Says Casey:

„[I]t’s a bit like post-traumatic stress disorder, y’know? [H]e […] went through some intense experiences… experiences that would […]  leave a mark. He’s not normal, by any stretch of the imagination… so to try to be normal isn’t something that comes naturally to him. But, hey, he’s sure as hell in there trying“ 2

Yes, yes, the title is unfortunate as far as looking it up on Google goes, and the fact that it’s put out by Image Comics doesn’t exactly help in that regard. Just try googling „Sex + Image“. Don’t blame me for the results though. Nonetheless, the idea behind this book is so intriguing I can’t believe nobody decided to mine it until now. Life after superheroics is long overdue for some exploration. Sex is shaping up to be an HBO show in comic book form. You wouldn’t set it in front of a child and it gets pretty weird at times, but, damn, it’s good.

Superior Spider-Man (Marvel Comics)

Here’s the deal: I love Spider-Man. Spidey’s the best. He may well be the first superhero I ever came into contact with. His was definitely the first superhero comic I read, so this guy will always have a place in my heart. Nonetheless, I haven’t been a regular Spider-Man reader since the mid-90’s, when my interest in the monthly title began to wane. I’d return to the book occasionally, but found nothing that held my attention for long. Then along came Dan Slott and his all-new Superior Spider-Man.

The basic premise? Peter Parker — Spider-Man — is reduced to a ghostly echo in the back of his own head after his body and life have been upsurped by long-time nemesis Otto Octavius. The arrogant super villain, unaware of Peter’s continued presence, resolves to live his new life to the fullest, vowing to prove that he is, in fact, the better man — a superior Spider-Man.

While this may sound like a standard mindswap story, which tends to pop up at least once on any longrunning genre franchise, Superior Spider-Man goes well beyond the familiar trope. It’s not about the switch as much as it is about what comes next. We follow Octavius as he adjusts to his ill-gained new life and to the duties of a superhero. As writer Dan Slott puts it:

„Peter Parker was selfish and horrible for […] part of one story [when he first got his powers]. From then on, we’ve seen him be a hero. [Octavius] though has a lot to overcome, and on some level, […] it’s more interesting to see it from a character who has to fight his basic nature to do that.“3

Slott hits the nail on the head. Otto Octavius is a conflicted protagonist who is often his own worst enemy. You find yourself rooting for him one moment, then cursing him the next. Of course, there’s also the question if and when he’ll make a mistake and give himself away, and what that might entail. The fact that Slott is quickly proving himself to be the master of the curveball, subverting genre tropes and reader expectations alike, only adds to the experience.

Those would be my recommendations to you. Now this is the part where you go out and buy some of them. You can thank me later.

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