Of the comics on the shelves now, here’s what I’d recommend to a new reader. I’ve broken the series down into tiers of about $15 each so you can pick your budget and dive in. The Comic Shop Locator can find you a store in your area, and most of these are sold on the iPad via comiXology’s app, too.
Action Comics by Grant Morrison and Rags Morales. Morrison is my favorite comics writer, bar none. I own all of his major work and most of his minor work, excepting some of early stuff published in Britain. He’s written Superman before, and many already consider his All-Star Superman to be one of the finest Superman stories ever told. While that book was Morrison telling an “imaginary” Superman story outside of the normal DC universe, Action Comics is Morrison getting to play with the “real” Superman. Even better, because DC just relaunched its entire line of comics, Morrison is free to tweak whatever story elements he wants, so there’s a lack of constraints to keep him down. Morrison’s stated goal is to start out with Clark Kent early on in his career in Metropolis, reverting him to more of the socialist advocate for the common man he was when Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel originally wrote him in 1938. Here’s an interview with Morrison from Newsarama in which he discusses his pitch for the book that has some preview art.
Batman by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. Snyder is a rising star at DC Comics, having recently done a an eleven-issue stint on Detective Comics that got a lot of recognition. Now he’s on Batman with Bruce Wayne back in the costume (former Robin Dick Grayson had taken over as Batman for a little while during a story in which Bruce was thought to be dead). Batman no. 1 is the highest-reviewed comic of the relaunch. Snyder describes his take on the book in an interview with the LA Times’s Hero Complex column.
Batwoman by JH Williams, III and William H. Blackman. Batwoman first appeared in 2006 and drew a small bit of mainstream press with headlines like “Holy Lesbian, Batman!” That it took years for her to get her own series is often attributed to DC Comics being afraid of having a gay character take a leading role. I’ve never heard anything concrete about this, and in fact she did appear a few times between her introduction and her first real storyline. Greg Rucka, who created the character, wrote her for a year with art by JH Williams, III. That book, collected in paperback as “Batwoman: Elegy”, is a stunning and emotional piece of work, and a lot of that credit goes to artist Williams. Rucka left the company a few years ago so Williams is picking up where they left off with the help of co-writer Blackman. In short, Batwoman is Kate Kane, billionaire heiress who was kicked out of West Point under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and, due to the requisite childhood tragedy, now fights crime in a bat costume. The new series picks up after the previous “Elegy” book, though unfortunately the paperback collection doesn’t include a shorter story which introduces Batwoman’s wannabe sidekick Flamebird, Kate’s cousin Bette. You can start fresh with Batwoman no. 1, but I recommend checked out the previous series because it’s so damn beautiful. Williams talked about the series with Death + Taxes.
Casanova by Matt Fraction and Gabriel Bá. If I’ve talked about this series a lot on this site, it’s due to the pain of things I love not being popular enough to be able to stay on the market (see Firefly, Arrested Development, Pushing Daisies, Heritage Dr Pepper). Writer Matt Fraction hopes to do seven volumes of Casanova, each with art by either Gabriel Bá or his twin brother Fábio Moon. Vol. 3, “Avaritia”, started this month, and it’s glorious. You can (and should) get the two previous volumes, “Luxuria” and “Gula” from Amazon or download them via the comiXology app. It’s a hyperactive psychedelic action spy story about Casanova Quinn, a rogue agent who works for a series of secret agencies led by his father and a three-headed robot. And while that all sounds delightfully zany, it also has tons of heart and is full of sadness. I wish I could describe it better. Here’s an interview with Fraction.
Animal Man by Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman. Animal Man was a d-list character from DC’s catalog until the late 1980s when Grant Morrison decided to take a stab at the character and made it into a book about Buddy Baker as Animal Man, a loving father and husband who takes up animal rights activism and somehow winds up on a bizarre metatextual journey. Lemire is taking up the reins now and has pitched the new series as a horror book but promises to keep Buddy’s family at its core.
Captain America by Ed Brubaker and Steve McNiven. Ed Brubaker started writing Captain America in 2005. The first act of his book was a compelling Steve Rogers Captain America story that brought James “Bucky” Barnes back from the dead. Then Brubaker killed Captain America and put Bucky in the role. As with Grant Morrison taking Bruce Wayne out of the Batman book, Brubaker did such a great job on the book that you didn’t care that it wasn’t the “real” Captain America. To coincide with the release of the movie, Marvel relaunched Captain America with a new no. 1 and, while I liked the Bucky as Cap stories, it was probably wise for Brubaker to quit while he was ahead and put the shield firmly back in Rogers’s hands. All along he’s told compelling superhero stories with no signs of slowing down. (If you like this one, do also check out Brubaker’s Captain America and Bucky, set in WWII.)
Daredevil by Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera. As I’ve said before, this book was a big surprise to me. I didn’t even consider buying a Daredevil book, but the reviews of the first and second issues were so good I picked them up, and am glad I did. Writer Mark Waid is intentionally trying to lighten the character up, and it’s so refreshing, combined with very inventive art by Paolo Rivera who’s trying out different ways to highlight Daredevil’s powers. Chris Sims’s “Why You Should Be Reading Daredevil” is a good place to start on what makes this book so good.
Swamp Thing by Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette. Most famously written by Alan Moore, DC is trying hard to bring Swamp Thing back into the DC Universe in a way that’s accessible to readers who don’t know Moore’s seminal 80s run. Snyder’s script for issue one sort of accomplishes that, and while I wouldn’t blame a new reader for being confused, I would urge everyone to stick with it, anyway. Snyder will reveal in time exactly how Alec Holland and Swamp Thing are related, and in the meantime we all get to look at Yanick Paquette’s gorgeous artwork. It sounds gimmicky to say that he makes the panel gutters look like tree branches, but it works and it’s something to behold, suitably matching the beauty of nature with the horror in Snyder’s scripts.
Wonder Woman by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang. Wonder Woman is a character with almost no famous stories to her name despite a decades-long history and wide name recognition. Judging by the first issue, this may wind up being the Wonder Woman run. Cliff Chiang depicts the various Greek Gods and scary, otherworldly things that use Earth as a playground. Here’s a piece on DC’s blog about how he developed the look for Hermes. Brian Azzarello’s script intentionally shies away from retelling Wonder Woman’s origin or even defining her powers. Instead, we hit the ground running, and we’ll figure that stuff out as we go along.
All Star Western by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Moritat. One of the things DC has tried to do with its relaunch is cast a wide net of genres beyond standard superhero tales. Available are war comics (Men of War), horror (Swamp Thing, Animal Man), vampire romance (I, Vampire), and, here, western. Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti have been writing the character of Jonah Hex for several years now, but this series promises to be a little different. Most every issue of their previous Jonah Hex series was a standalone issue. All Star Western will feature a continuing storyline and every issue will have a backup strip that will intertwine with the main plot from time-to-time. I absolutely loved the first issue and had no trouble jumping in despite not having read much of the writing duo’s earlier work. Moritat’s art is suited wonderfully to the setting of 19ᵗʰ-century Gotham.
Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis and John Romita, Jr. and New Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Deodato. Critics of Bendis charge him with writing superhero comics that are too heavy dialogue (I’ve heard his comics called “board room superheroes” because of the idea that his characters just sit around tables and talk) and that his books are just filled with his pet characters who don’t “deserve” to be Avengers. I love ’em. Yes, he tries a little too hard to be David Mamet sometimes. Yes, he absolutely does use his characters as his own personal voice box sometimes, but in there is some very solid long-form storytelling and great development of his characters’ relationships. He’s been writing New Avengers since 2005 and has been instrumental in guiding the status quo of the Marvel universe. The current volume of Avengers finally reunites Marvel’s heavy hitters by putting Thor back on the team while New Avengers is home to more street-level characters like Luke Cage and Iron Fist.
Demon Knights by Paul Cornell and Diogenes Neves. Paul Cornell’s Marvel series from a few years ago, Captan Britain and MI:13 was a true gem. He moved over to DC after it was cancelled and wrote a fun Lex Luthor arc in Action Comics, but it’s clear that he was waiting for something like Demon Knights to really let himself go wild. It’s set in the dark ages after the fall of Camelot. The cast includes a few of DC’s immortal characters, but no foreknowledge of them is required.
The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard. I’ve never been a monthly subscriber of The Walking Dead. Instead, I read the big hardcovers that come out every year containing twelve issues each. That’s a mistake. This is a series that was meant to be read as a periodical. The hardcovers look great on my shelves, but I’m missing out on the ongoing monthly grind that these characters suffer through. If you’re just starting out now, do start from the beginning. You won’t be able to stop.
I wouldn’t recommend these to the general public, but if you were a fan of the TV series, check out Angel and Faith by Christos Gage and Rebekah Isaacs and Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Joss Whedon, Andrew Chambliss, and Georges Jeanty. In 2007 Dark Horse got Joss Whedon to write an “official” eighth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a monthly comic book. It went on for forty issues and had its highs and its lows but was a fun book. Interestingly, its last issue included a sort of apology by its creators because they felt that they’d gotten carried away with the comic book format and let the story wander too much. Season nine has just launched, and it’s obvious they’re working to keep the story tighter and truer to the show. The two titles, Angel and Faith and Buffy the Vampire Slayer will be linked in some way that’s not apparent yet, but for now they’re both off to a great start.
Other Series and Admitted Gaps
- Further recommended reading: FF, The Flash, Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE, Green Lantern, Invincible Iron Man, and Justice League.
- I understand Uncanny X-Force to one of Marvel’s gems. I haven’t read it.
- This is heavy on superhero stories. Personally, I think that’s what comics are for.
- It’s also heavy on DC and Marvel and light on indies. I’d love to expand my horizons, but that’s the field as I see it for now.
- I intentionally left out Scalped since it’s almost over.
- Also left out mini-series like RASL and Nonplayer since they’re limited and I’m focusing more on ongoing series.
- I like Morning Glories but don’t think it’s the masterpiece others seem to.