50 Things I Love About Comics
1. Peanuts and its collection of morose, neurotic, and quixotic kids made a big impression on this neurotic, quixotic, and morose individual.
2. Batman in nearly all his incarnations (with the notable exception of Knightfall and Clooney/Kilmer’s rubber nippled bat-performances) and “Bat,” as a prefix to just about anything. The Batmobile, Batcopter, Batarang, Batdance, and the oft-cited “Bat-Shark Repellent.” Favorite Batman artists: David Mazuchelli, Neal Adams, Brian Bolland, Jim Aparo, Bruce Timm, J.H. Williams, and Dustin Nguyen’s art in Detective Comics is really starting to grow on me.
3. Chris Ware as an artist representative of both comics past and future. Ware is obsessed with history (Chicago’s World’s Fair notably) as well as the idea of commodifying nostalgia. And while his hand-drawn font work and cleanly rendered characters often reflects those sensibilities, his graphic design sense is innovative and has taken page/panel composition beyond left-to-right and up-to-down American reading instincts in a way that is effective visually and emotionally. Ware is also representative of a breed of comic book creators who tend to be a morose, neurotic, and quixotic lot whose self-inflicted miseries are resonant of my own. (See also: Art Spiegelman, Ivan Brunetti, Kilhoffer, Chester Brown, et al.)
4. The X-Men. And okay, if I keep writing/posting pics as above– this post will be far, far too long. Maybe I’ve already lost you. Anyhow the X-Man I have always liked in particular is Cyclops. A lot of folks think Cyke is a humorless prick but I’ve always responded to his no-nonsense leadership, especially in opposition to gimmicky anti-heroes like Wolverine or Gambit. I mean, when in de hell does anyt’ing Gambit say makey sense, cher?
5. Promethea and the idea that its heroine is both inspiration and imagination manifest. This is Alan Moore’s love letter to comics and writing and the pure joy of creating art. Even with all the metaphysical Tarot/Kabbalah/Magick stuff, I found Promethea to be one of Moore’s most accessible and enjoyable stories. The setup: a college student studying poetry becomes the latest embodiment of the Promethea archetype whose crimefighting becomes the entry point into the history of magick/religion, creation and the apocalypse. Dense with references to comics history, literary jokes, and metatextual elements– the plot (at least in the first 2-3 trades) moves it all along engagingly, thanks largely to J.H. Williams’ fantastic art. And why Weeping Gorilla doesn’t have his own title is a mystery.
6. Grant Morrison’s acid-washed approach to comics and continuity. Yes, sometimes he’s too clever for his own good (not ashamed to say The Invisibles lost me several times during its run) but his work on X-Men, Animal Man, and especially All-Star Superman have distilled those characters so cleanly while marrying them with a wildly inventive approach to science fiction, post modernism, and lateral thinking. Okay, the Xorn/Magneto thing wasn’t great but so much about the rest of that run was, more for how he defined the X-Men’s weaknesses than their strengths. I’m loving Final Crisis so far and while Batman RIP is making less and less sense with each installment– I’ve been thrown more by the subpar art in the latest issues than the Batmite-haunted, post-hypnotic-trance drug-addled hypen hyphen Bruce Wayne. Jezebel still seems pretty thin as far as love interests go, though.
7. Tin Tin and his swoopy hair.
8. Peter Milligan’s psychological loop de loops on Human Target. Milligan always likes to explore notions of identity and pathology, but with a protagonist who sublimates his own personality to embody (rather than impersonate) potential targets of assassination, individuality and the sense of self become blurred in a plot that’s equal parts noir, Day Of The Locust, and double-oh seven.
9. Joe Sacco and his humane and accessible reporting on complex political situations.
11. Los brothers Hernandez– Jaime for his immaculate line-work and Gilberto for his manic magical realism.
12. Runaways as conceived and written by Brian K. Vaughn. Wordier thoughts on the series here.
13. “My Spidey-sense is tingling!”
14. Frank Miller & David Mazuchelli’s collaborations on Batman and Daredevil.
15. While it’s been erratic in quality, I’m thankful that we have Buffy: Season 8 and that Joss Whedon’s brain was available for Astonishing X-Men. A sensory-stimulant loaded ball of string? Awesome.
16. Fables and Hellboy as a reminder that there’s a lot of fantastic folklore and mythology in the world, and that stories evolve and change with a society. Of course there are assholes out there who wouldn’t know what to do with a decent story, if it laid eggs in its head and ate its way out. Replacing a fairy tale and fables’ moral/social subtexts with g-strings and slasher villains doesn’t count (especially when the originals are already sexually charged if not outright metaphors for sexuality to begin with).
17. Speaking of Hellboy, I’ve always loved Mike Mignola’s use of shadow and the particular texture he gives to stone and metal. Also if anyone has a spare $250 (plus shipping) lying around, go ahead and get me this.
18. THWIP! SNIKT! BAMF!
19. Dan Clowes before Hollywood started distracting him from making some goddamn comics already.
20. Charles Burns and surreal wrestler/detective El Borba arriving at the best possible moment in my life to appreciate it.
22. Planetary as example of Warren Ellis as a genius rather than a self-indulgent mook.
23. James Robinson and especially Starman, a hero who almost makes me miss those misbegotten 1990’s.
24. Scalped and Criminal as representatives of the popularization of crime/noir comics.
26. Dynamite’s Lone Ranger, which stand apart from other “gritty reimaginings of popular characters,” by actually being good.
27. Gotham Central
29. Maus, for convincing my mom that comic books might actually be worth reading!
30. Batman always beats Superman
32. The following scenario recurring ad infinitum…
(Hero throws trademark stick/boomerang/shield/web at Villain.)
Villain exclaims, “Fool! You missed!”
Hero responds, “That’s what you think, scoundrel/thief/scofflaw/etc.!”
(Weapon richochets striking Villain in anticipation of their next move! And/or strikes nearby object which topples and smashes Villain in anticipation of their next move!)
33. Lex Luthor as a distillation of capitalist conservatism and Ayn Rand-ian objectivism taken to its logical super-villainous end. Luthor is the true antithesis to the Batman/Bruce Wayne archetype (much more than say the lamely shoe-horned into continuity and tedious Hush). Luthor/Wayne are individuals whose guile and willpower enable them to be the equal of those with super-powers. It’s the pull-yourself-up-by-your-non-radioactive-boot-straps philosophy of post-humanism. Of course being absurdly rich didn’t hamper their efforts.
34. Amanda Waller is a similarly compelling villain as a hawk-ish patriot whose loyalty to her country supersedes silly things like civil rights and due process. While it gives my pinko-liberal heart comfort to see such an individual regularly cast as the villain, it also gives my critical thinking brain great pleasure that she’s not simply a cackling and selfish power-mad type. Her methods are ruthless, her belief system adamant(ium), and she exists in a complex political reality where her perspective is just as often seen as the legitimate if not politically expedient choice. She’s a character born of a rightful distrust of the players behind closed doors who are dictating our wars and the sacrifices demanded for them.
35. Madman and its pastiche of pop art and B-movie camp. Somehow its airy adventurism and open-ended existentialism seems at odds with what one typically expects of an artist whose faith is based who was raised within on the restrictive edicts of the Mormon Church. I don’t get it either, but damn if Madman isn’t a lot of fun.
36. Top 10, particularly that in a world where nearly everyone has super-powers– a hyper-intelligent dog wearing a humanoid exo-skeleton gets to be police captain.
37. Vertigo should probably be way higher up on the list but renumbering at this point would be a pain in the ass.
38. Little Nemo and discovering artists and comics from before my time like…
39. Krazy Kat
40. Jack Kirby and especially his Fourth World zaniness
41. Will Eisner, although I gotta say I’m far more enamored with his memoir-ish stuff like Last Day In Vietnam and haven’t really grasped the full appeal of the Spirit as a character.
42. Great movies, the kind I wished were around when I was a kid are finally being made from comics.
43. DC comics obsession with heroic legacy
44. Marvel’s lack of obsession with legacy
45. Gorillas who are often accompanied by brains in jars
46. Stan Lee-isms like, “Excelsior!” or “Make mine Marvel!” And all the little bits of alliteration in the credits of Silver Age comics.
48. Alfred Pennyworth, maker of fantastic watercress sandwiches! (Among other worthy skills.)
49. Caesar Romero often didn’t shave his moustache when playing the Joker in the 1960’s Batman TV series.
50. Having the good sense to avoid absolute dreck like Hack/Slash and generally making fun of assholes like Rob Liefeld.