The Sandman: Overture – Neil Gaiman

18310944

Read this book.

The Sandman is the point of Neil Gaiman; I feel that everything else he does is merely extra curricular activities. As a whole, The Sandman tells the story how the Lord of Dreams learned that value of humility and changed. This new prequel, this overture, tells us how a mad star and a lost girl set him on that path.

The art is gorgeous. The art is diverse. The art alone would justify buying this book, if I was the sort of person to buy books.

I don’t know if you should read this book first, or read the other eleven and come back to this one. To be perfectly honest I think I worry too much about that sort of thing, and I’ll admit that I didn’t read this series in a linear order. But I’ll tell you this.

Sandman is the essential comic. Read this book.

Wonder Woman – George Perez

23995432

I haven’t read much of Wonder Woman, but I like what I’ve read here.

Wonder Woman has the most complex origin story of any super hero I can think of right now. There’s mythology, in that the Amazons are created by the Greek gods to show mankind a better way to live. There’s history, in that they were created in ancient Greece spent a few millenia frozen in the Iron Age after the gods removed them to the paradise island of Themyscira. The great woman herself was molded out of clay by her mother and given life by the gods, before having to complete several trials before being allowed to visit Man’s World. That’s complex. Superman gets a sci-fi update of the Moses story for his origin, Batman gets childhood trauma, but Wonder Woman’s beginnings are centuries in the making. That’s a strength, though, because it sets her apart from the rest of the DC universe and gives her a ready-made cast of Amazons to interact with.

Her rogues gallery is composed of Greek myths and angry women, with significant overlap between the two. I liked the stories that invoked Greek culture best, they felt like the most plausible continuation of classical mythology I’ve seen.

It’s not always about violence though; there’s more than a few stories about the effect Wonder Woman has on the more normal people around here. Like how she makes the slightly overweight military secretary feel inadequate, or how she inspires her teenage friend. I like this sort of thing in superhero comics, because nobody can do nothing but fight baddies all day.

I’d recommend George Perez’s Wonder Woman work to anyone thinking about making  a movie about the character.

Three Fables – Bill Willingham

Bill Willingham’s Fables tells the story of how the world’s beloved fairy tale characters were exiled to New York and how they came back home. Containing moments of almost any conceivable genre, but mainly dominated by a highly literate mode of comic fantasy, Fables is a series that I’d unhesitatingly recommend to anyone with an English degree.

6503780

The Great Fables Crossover

Besides the mainline Fables series, there was also the spin-off Jack of the Fables, the titular protagonist of which is every trickster or person named Jack in fairy tales. Jack of Fables was always a lot more postmodern than its progenitor, with the main character’s sidekick being the tubby middle-aged personification of the pathetic fallacy. As time went on Jack encountered more and more personifications of literary ideas, such as genres or censorship, and learned that he was half one himself. (I don’t understand how that works – I must’ve missed that issue.)

In this book, Jack teams up with the leadership of the New York fairy tale colony to defeat Kevin Thorne, the man who wrote the world and is planning to erase it before creating a new one.

Many commenters on Goodreads called it pretentious filler, but I thought it was pretty cool. Still, if you really hate postmodernism, you could always skip it without losing track of things on the Fables side.

22522686

Happily Ever After

In this penultimate volume we learn that Snow White and her sister and cursed to fight to the death. Apparently it’s a family thing, something to do with the conservation of magic. Things are tense, although to be perfectly honest thing book kinda blurs into the sequel in my head. Great art though.

23012547

Farewell

Now this is how you write a satisfying conclusion to a beloved long-running series. Ever character named in the Fables, and there must be at least seventy of them, gets a fulfilling ending. It feels like  the literary equivalent of weaving a beautiful basket out of a thousand messy ropes. (My feelings have always been complicated.) And coolness of coolness, the whole thing culminates in a glorious section where two pages fold out into a panel four pages wide.

The only way to go further than that is to create a pop-out comic book.

 

So I say to you, if you can handle comics at all, try out some Fables sometime. You’ll thank yourself for it.

 

Angel & Faith Season Nine Volume Two: Christos Gage

23212230

The Angel & Faith series is so good I’m almost sad that it’s never going to be better known that its source material. Because it might actually be better.

The greatest thing that happens in this volume is that Spike cruises around space in his own little space ship, attended by insectoid aliens. That’s the way the Buffy biscuit crumbles, with a mixture of engaging characterisation, awful tragedy and the occasional dash of farcical whimsy.

Read some of this, if you ever get the chance. Don’t worry about reading it in the correct order or anything like that. This is fantastic stuff.

Weird Horrors and Daring Adventures – Joe Kubert

14475440

Joe Kubert is an important and influential comics artist who I’ve never heard of before reading this book, and I’m likely to confuse him with  Jack Kirby.

Here we’ve got about thirty different stories covering genres as diverse as horror, war, crime, and even school comedy. My favourite thing was an except from a Flash Gordon pastiche about the effects of interplanetary conflict on young love; sadly I only got to read the first issue because that was the one Kubert drew. Other standouts include a WW2 story where an old Jewish man explicitly compares America to Rabbi Loewe’s golem and a few true crime stories where the narrator explicitly addresses the villainous protagonist. If you’ve listened to enough Old Time Radio you’ll know what I mean, the authoritative voiceover will say something like ‘And you thought you could get away with the murder, didn’t you, Fred?’ There’s probably some valuable academic work to be done on the interaction between old radio and old comics.

Anyway, read this is you want to see what mainstream comics would be like without the influence of comics. It’s a mixed bag.

DC Presents Volume 1: Deadman, Challengers of the Unknown – Paul Jenkins and Jerry Ordway

135368291

This is a two in one title, you get one story about Deadman and another about the Challengers of the Unknown.

Deadman exactly what he sounds like. After an arrogant circus acrobat dies in a horrific accident, a blue goddess gives him a chance of redemption by stepping into the lives of troubled souls and fixing their problems. In this reboot he helps a paraplegic veteran regain his confidence by defeating a bunch of domestic terrorists while questioning the motivations of his azure mentor. I’d like read more about this new Deadman, get him over into Vertigo, he’d do great over there.

I don’t know much about the Challengers of the Unknown beyond their cameo in Darwyn Cooke’s The New Frontier. In this story they’re a bunch of reality TV stars who stumble upon a bizarre plot involving ancient mystical artefacts when their plane crashes over the Himalayas. The characters weren’t that great, although I appreciated how they’d keep dying. That was a great way to keep up the tension. Besides that, I wouldn’t concern myself with these new challengers.

The Shade – James Robinson

15798387

Now James Robinson’s The Shade is spun off from his Starman, and I only read the first volume of that series. Perhaps it speaks to Robinson’s skills as a writer that I felt perfectly situated reading this book, despite not knowing who this blue alien dude calling himself Starman is, or why The Shade is suddenly a good guy. Robinson delights in teasing lacunae as much as he does exposition, so I figured my obliviousness to the story’s context only serves to make The Shade the undisputed protagonist of his own tale.

The Shade himself is an immortal gentlemen with powers over darkness, which he uses to teleport himself and keep immortal. His immortality is what kickstarts the plot, with an unruly relative seeking a sample of his blood for similar longevity. The Shade has to go all over the world to figure out what’s going on, at one point even encountering an Australian superhero. I found the story’s conclusion unsatisfying – it felt as though this story was a pilot for a longer series.

I’d still recommend it. Robinson writes superheros-as-real-people, similar to Kurt Busiek. That, and the intimations of a world larger than the America of the DC universe, make this a book worth reading.