Friday, 8 April 2011

The Top 10 Comics For People Who Don't Read Comics

(Note: This is actually an old blog pinched from my Myspace page. But I don't really have time to write anything new this weekend, and figured most of you on facebook haven't actually read it, so here it is, posted again, with some changes and revisions. Enjoy!)

I read comics. Shocking admition, huh? Bet none of you knew that one. But as a comic reader, I have a lot of friends (some of them are you!) who don't read them, and say they have no interest in doing so. BUT, most of my non comic reading friends have ended up reading the odd comic, and have enjoyed reading it. I mean, lets face it, how many movies over the last few years which you've enjoyed have been based on comics?

The fact is, like any other medium (books, films, TV shows, plays, etc.) there are so many different comics out there about so many different things, that I can guarantee you that there's at least one out there which you will enjoy, no matter what your feelings on comics are beforehand.

With this in mind, I am hear presenting my list of the 10 comics I think you should read if you DON'T read comics alread. Now this list is just a personal thing rather than a definitive list put together by professionals, and I'm certainly not saying that you have to go out and read them. But I am saying that if you give one or two of them a try, you may well find yourself enjoying a new medium you haven't tried before. Note that I have excluded spin-offs, such as the recent Buffy Season 8, and adaptations, such as Marvel's recent Dark Tower comic, excellent as they are.

1. The Sandman: The Dream Hunters, by Neil Gaiman and Yoshitaka Amano

The Sandman is a seminal work by author Neil Gaiman which tells the story of Morpheus, the lord of the Dream world. Gaiman weaves a classic dark fantasy story over the series as only he can and fans of his prose fiction wil love it, but the whole thing lasts for 10 volumes of graphic novel collections. A little daunting for someone new to the world of comics. For newbies, my recommendation would be to go for "The Dream Hunters", a stand alone story Gaiman wrote which was illustrated by famed Japanese artist Yoshitaka Amano. The story itself is a retelling of a traditional Japanese fairy tale, but adapted to feature characters from the Sandman series, and as such, it requires no previous knowledge at all of the Sandman universe. The other thing that makes it instantly accessible to newbies is the fact that it isn't told in the traditional comic book style. Gaiman writes in prose accompanied by absolutely glorious illustrations from Amano. Some people would argue that technically, this doesn't make it a comic, but Amano's pictures are key to the story, moving it on just as much as Gaiman's prose, and at the end of the day, a comic is simply a story told with pictures. So yes, it is a comic which is instantly accessable to those who haven't touched a comic before. And Amano is one of the most interesting artists working today. There's a myspace page in my friends list which showcases some of his work. Check it out, then hunt down (or just borrow off me) "The Dream Hunters"

2. Daredevil: The Man Without Fear by Frank Miller and John Romita Jr.

In the 1980's, writer Frank Miller penned the seminal run on Marvel's Daredevil title, transforming a character who at the time was nothing more than a B-list character at best into one of their top selling titles. However, while Miller's original run is quite simply one of the finest superhero comics out there, to be honest, it's probably not the best starting point for someone new to comics. Instead, I'd offer up this retelling of Daredevils origin from the 1990's. Miller returned to the character with fan-favourite artist John Romita Jr. for DD's 30th anniversary. Miller offered up a dark, gritty story which combined elements of an urban crime tale with traditional martial arts action. And it's not your typical superhero story by any means. DD doesn't even appear in costume until the final page! Instead, what this gives us is a hardboiled vigilante taking on organised crime and a child prostitution ring that has more in common with movies like Taxi Driver rather than your average superhero comic!

3. Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazuchelli

Of course, DD wasn't the first time Miller had retooled a classic heroes origins. That honour went to Batman, whom Miller tackled soon after his first stint on Daredevil ended. Many will point to Millers "The Dark Knight Returns" as the seminal Batman story, and they're not wrong. But if you are new to comics, before you move on to his tale of a Batman returning to Gotham in his fifties and coming up against a corrupt American government, then it's best to start with his story of a much younger Batman, still new to the world of crime fighting and fumbling the ball on more than one occasion. Like "The Man Without Fear", "Year One" can easily be described as dark and gritty, also introducing us to a young Lieutenant James Gordon and Catwoman, and the art by David Mazuchelli captures this feel perfectly. "Year One" was largely the inspiration for much of the feel and story of the excellent "Batman Begins". If you enjoyed that movie, then it wouldn't hurt to check out its original inspiration.

4. Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon

This tale of three lions who escaped from Baghdad zoo and were killed by American soldiers was based on true events taken straight from the newspapers, and Vaughan (who curently writes for "Lost" on TV) weaves a moving and tragic story around their plight. Accompanied by gorgeous art from Henrichon this is without a doubt one of the absolute best, if not the very best, comics of the last 10 years.

5. Preacher: Gone to Texas by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon

Read any "Preacher" comic, and immediately you'll notice that it's a little... different to any comic, hell, any book you've ever read before. The story of a small town preacher named Jesse Custer (note the initials) who becomes host to Genesis, the spawn of a demon and an angel, which gives him the power of the word of God (he uses it, people have to do what he says). Jesse discovers that God has buggered off somewhere with no explanation, so with his ex-girlfriend, Tulip, and a hard drinking Irish vampire named Cassidy, he resolves to find God and get some answers. But it gets much more twisted than that. Ennis is famed for pushing the boundaries of what's acceptable in comics, and Preacher is no different. In the first arc alone, we see the consequences of what happens when Jesse uses the word of God to tell someone to go fuck themselves, but rather than being revolted by it, you find yourself laughing and eager to turn the page. But Preacher isn't just funny. By turns it's a moving tale of friendship, a western, a romance and a comment on how stupid religion can be. Check out this first volume, and become addicted.

6. Origin by Paul Jenkins and Andy Kubert

Who was your favourite character in the X-Men movies? It was Wolverine, wasn't it? Well, here, in Origin, writer Paul Jenkins gives us the definitive origin of the man named Logan. Set in nineteenth century Canada, during the first issue it doesn't even reveal which of the characters is Wolverine, but as the story unfolds, it is revealed that everyone's favourite feral X-Man has a deeply tragic background. It's no wonder he's an angry man. You won't find any sign of any other character from X-Men mythology. There's no Sabretooth, no Professor Xavier and no Magneto. Simply the story of a young man trying to come to terms with who and what he is. Coupled with Andy Kuberts art (beautifully coloured by Richard Isanove, probably the best colourest working in comics today), this story often feels more like a period drama than a superhero origin story. But then, can't superheroes come from any background?

7. Ultimate Spider-Man: Power and Responsibility by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley

The only ongoing title on this list, Ultimate Spider-Man is now over 100 issues in. A new take on the Spider-Man mythos told from the very beginning, this brings a modern update to the early life of high school student Peter Parker, who was bitten by a... well, you know the rest, right? This first volume collects the first story arc of the title, which tells us of the famed spider bite, the death of Peter's Uncle Ben, and Spidey's first battle with the Green Goblin. What impresses here though, is Bendis takes his time with it. Uncle Ben, killed off in Spidey's very first appearance in Amazing Fantasy 15 originally, here survives for the first few issues, giving you a chance to get to know him that much better, and really feel the loss when he does get killed. Bendis is one of the best writers of dialogue in the business, and Peter Parker comes across as what he is: a fifteen year old boy. Add to that, it's funny, with Bendis giving Spidey some of his best lines ever, bar none! And when it comes to Spider-Man artists, Bagley is up there with the best, capturing the movement and athleticism of Spider-Man, and the youth of Peter Parker perfectly. Check out this first volume, then read the rest.

8. 30 Days of Night by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith

Vampires attack an Alaskan town at night. Simple enough. Except night in this town lasts a whole month. And all of a sudden, you've got a brilliantly simple idea which you wonder why you didn't think of first, and executed wonderfully. Steve Niles writes a dark story which actually manages something you don't find that often in comics: It scares you. This is horrror comics at their very best, and Templesmiths art only adds to the terror. If you like horror, you'll like this. Ignore the movie though. That sucked.

9. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill

Forget the God awful film from a few years back. The original comic from legendary writer Alan Moore is brilliant. Alan Quartermain, Mina Harker, Dr Jekyll, Captain Nemo and the Invisible Man are brought together by Champion Bond working the mysterious M to fight the villainous Fu Manchu. It's a brilliant concept which Moore has plans to take even further. Volume two pitted the team against the Martians from "War of the Worlds", The Black Dossier pitted Quartermain and Harker agains James Bond and Emma Peel, and with volume four due out this year, now is the perfect time to brush up on you League history. League is clever, funny and just a bloody good adventure story in the traditional style. Check it out. You won't be sorry.

10. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

When I originally wrote this list, Watchmen didn't feature. Obviously, I'm aware that it is probably the greatest comic of all time, but I also felt that maybe it was a little too niche. Well, boy, was I wrong. Having read it again a couple of times (mostly as a refresher before the movie came out), I realised that there is no reason not to recommend it to a non comics reader. Many people find their way into comics because they started with Watchmen, and it constantly finds its way onto various lists of the greatest novels of all time. If you haven't seen the film, then please, do yourself a favour and read the comic first. It will defy all the expectations you'll have for a superhero comic, featuring flawed characters, real drama and tragedy, and simply some of the best storytelling you'll ever find. There has never been a better blend of script and art than this. And it's got an absolutely killer ending.

So there you have it. My picks for the 10 comics to read if you don't read comics. Any of you who do read comics, post some of your own suggestions. I own most of these, so if anyone does fancy giving them a go, just ask to borrow them. Then feel free to borrow more. And more. And more. Ooh, not that one though. It's quite valuable.

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