Things in Print Thursday :: 5 older comics you should check out

14 May

Courtesy of my drift partner.

Since the last time I talked about comics here, I focused on currently running series (or at the time currently running, damn you Secret Wars), this list is about slightly older comics that I think should be read more. Every series listed is collected in trades and should be fairly easy to find, as there’s nothing in here older than early 2000s.

5. Thor: The Mighty Avenger by Rodger Langridge
This is far down on the list because it’s a short series that doesn’t really have a purpose, except for being adorable. Basically it’s the plot of the first Thor film, wherein Thor ends up banished on Earth, staying with Jane Foster and learning how to be a decent person while fighting whatever monsters come his way. The upside, at least for me, is that there’s no Loki, so the entire emotional core is Thor and Jane, and they are the cutest thing. The downside is that there are only eight issues (two trades) and you will be sad after you finish them because there’s no more. But they’re very much worth reading if you like fun, lighthearted stories with likeable people in them.

4. Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. by Warren Ellis
Warren Ellis is a well-known name in comics, mainly for The Authority and Transmetropolitan, but he’s been writing superhero comics for Marvel and DC for years. Which is why Nextwave is such a funny series for him of all people to be writing. It’s basically a satirization of modern superhero comics, featuring a ragtag team of the worst heroes you’ve ever seen in your life: Aaron Stack, the drunkard asshole Machine Man; former Captain Marvel and Avenger Monica Rambeau (who is actually awesome); Tabitha “Boom Boom” Smith, possessor of the silliest X-Men name; aggressively British monster hunter Elsa Bloodstone; and The Captain, whose former name contained an expletive so bad that Captain America “beat seven shades of it out of him.” These five are chosen to be part of the Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort, or H.A.T.E., and in retrospect the fact that H.A.T.E. is a SHIELD parody and also ends up being involved with an evil organization is even funnier. (Is Warren Ellis psychic?) When they find out about this terrible secret, the Nextwave team steals a ship and goes on the lam, tailed by Director Dirk Anger. Twelve issues of completely delightful batshittery ensue.

Here is a quote from the man himself on the series: “It’s an absolute distillation of the superhero genre. No plot lines, characters, emotions, nothing whatsoever. It’s people posing in the street for no good reason. It is people getting kicked, and then exploding. It is a pure comic book, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. And afterwards, they will explode.” And if that doesn’t make you want to read it, well, I don’t know what to say.

3. Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan
This is the only book on this list that has no superheroes. I’m aware of how awkward that is, but hear me out. This story begins with a mysterious plague that simultaneously kills all men and male animals on the earth, save for one man, Yorick, and his Capuchin monkey Ampersand. Yorick quickly figures out that something’s wrong and (because he’s a romantic idiot) sets out for Australia to find his long-distance girlfriend Beth. Once he realizes that he’s the only man around, he panics just a bit and runs to Washington D.C. to reunite with his mother, a member of Congress. She and the newly appointed President assign him a bodyguard, the mysterious and badass Agent 355, and tell 355 to take him to Boston to meet with Dr. Alison Mann (a geneticist and cloning expert) to examine him. Meanwhile, they must keep Yorick’s identity a secret. I’ve read criticisms that this series is both misogynist and misandric (lol), and while I acknowledge that it’s not perfect and that a male writer writing a single-gender dsytopia is bound to have problems, I still think it’s one of the more compelling stories I’ve ever read. It is very much an adult book, with violence and swearing and sex and other fun things, and I think it’s a great example of the sort of stories the comic book format can tell. (This is also by far the longest series on this list, at 60 issues. Totally worth the read, even if the ending is ambiguous.)

2. Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane by Sean McKeever
Funnily enough, as I type this the internet is buzzing with debate about whether or not it’s “okay” to tell stories about female characters/superheroes that are presented like traditionally female-marketed entertainment, i.e. romantic comedies and teen dramas. And Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane is unmistakably both of those things. The art style is soft and animesque, and the story is set in high school and deals with high school drama. That being said, the series never patronizes its audience. Mary Jane is a likeable, relatable character with an emotional arc, and more importantly she is a layered character. I will go to bat for Mary Jane Watson any day of the week, because I feel that at her best, she is every bit as interesting as any of Marvel’s superpowered women. Here, she’s a teenager, but she’s still recognizably herself in my opinion: clever, upbeat, trying to make the best of bad situations, and underneath it all, a quiet strength.

I am also just a giant sucker for high school AUs, though, honestly, and this comic just makes me happy.

1. Runaways by Brian K. Vaughan
This is my go-to rec when people ask me about comics to read. Aside from Marjorie Liu’s run on X-23 and Saga, this might be my favorite comic series, period. I think it’s one of the best things Marvel has put out, even today, when they’ve got so many excellent series.

But that’s enough buildup, here’s a summary: Six teenagers of varying ages and life circumstances have grown up seeing each other at the annual gathering of their parents and are vaguely friends. During one such gathering, they discover a secret passage in one of their houses and end up eavesdropping on their parents and learning that their parents are actually…SUPERVILLAINS. Or at least, working for an entity that wants to end the world. They panic and flee the scene, along the way discovering that each one of them has some kind of power or talent: super strength, electric shock gloves, a telepathically bound dinosaur (no, really)… So now the kids are on the run from their parents as well as the police, determined to stop their parents from ending the world. Sounds great, right? Except there’s a mole in the group.

I really can’t speak highly enough about this series, at least the issues written by Vaughan. (Joss Whedon took over later in the series and the less said about that the better, quite frankly. Same for the Terry Moore run.) It has a diverse cast, both in terms of race and gender, an adorable lesbian character (and this was 2008, back before Marvel was really in the race for Most Progressive Company, too), and Vaughan writes believable, intelligent teenagers without crossing them over into annoying savante territory. Also, it’s hilarious and touching and probably you will cry, if you’re the type to do that. I think everyone should read this comic, because it’s important.

sunshine smile


One Response to “Things in Print Thursday :: 5 older comics you should check out”

  1. ladymismagius May 2015 at 12:53 am #

    May I ask you why you didn’t like Joss Whedon’s approach to the Runaways series? I actually appreciated it and I am curious to hear your opinion, if you’d like to write a bit about it. 🙂

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