Well friends, with the great Comixtreme changeover finished, it’s definitely time to use Time Travel Tuesday to re-present all the lost EBIs, since there will be more of them soon. So let’s just go to the oldest column I’ve got that you haven’t seen elsewhere. This is from February 25, 2004, a column I wrote about going in and reading some comics that were recommended to me by well-meaning readers…
EVERYTHING BUT IMAGINARY 2/25/04 — SON OF THE BEST COMICS I’VE NEVER READ
Back in November I sat down with you, my rabidly devoted readers, and we had a long chat about some of the best comic books out there that don’t get enough attention, as well as some of the best books I haven’t read but that you guys think are in the upper eschelon of comic book goodness. (You can check out that first column by clicking here.) This week, we’re going to take the first look at some of the books you suggested and that I’ve checked out in the interim, as well as one new book I’ve discovered that I’m adding to your reading list. And I think some of you will be surprised by my findings.
This works rather simply — any book you guys suggest that I haven’t read (and don’t know enough about to have formed an opinion) gets put on my reading list. I’ve formed a second reading list of great graphic novels that I think you should read. When I read a book from the first list, if I like it enough, it moves up to the second list. The complete lists will be at the end of the column.
The first book I checked out from the list you guys gave me was the premiere Hellboy trade paperback, Seed of Destruction. I’ve always had a marginal interest in Hellboy, even though I’ve never read any of his comics before, because the idea of a demon working for a paranormal investigation agency seems deliciously campy to me, and with the movie coming out soon I thought it would behoove me to read this introduction to the character before I saw it.
And actually, I thought that was the best way to sum up Hellboy: Seed of Destruction: as an introduction. We meet the character and examine the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. We meet the ancillary characters, including my favorite, the weirdly entertaining Abe Sapien. We get a story about Nazis and monsters and a lot of cool fighting.
But that’s about it.
Reading this book and looking for answers about Hellboy’s past (let alone answers about Abe or the others) is a futile effort, there are none to be had. But that’s okay. This book exists to let you meet these characters and get interested in them, and as such, it succeeded. With any graphic novel series, the primary function of the first book is to interest you enough to make you want to read the second one. Well done, Mike Mignola (and a tip of the hat to scripter John Byrne as well.) Hellboy: Seed of Destruction is the first book to “graduate” from my list of books I need to read to my list of books you need to read.
Unfortunately, I don’t have such high praise for the second book I tried out based on your recommendations. Some people will be shocked to hear me say this (and others, I suspect, will be somewhat gleeful), but I was quite disappointed in The Invisibles: Say You Want a Revolution.
It pains me to say it, folks, it really does. I enjoyed Grant Morrison’s run on JLA and he’s writing the first X-Men comic to really get me excited in over a decade. But The Invisibles didn’t really work for me. Before reading this book, I really knew nothing about it, other than the fact that some people claim the Wachowski brothers ripped off some of the concepts for The Matrix. Maybe that’s what hurt it for me, as I read I kept looking for the parallels and I didn’t find many. The only similarities to be found in this first volume were those of a secret organization fighting against a some sort of phantom big brother that is secretly controlling the world, and the idea of people leaving their bodies behind to travel to another reality (or another level of reality). Did Morrison use these concepts before the Wachoswkis? Certainly. But there were a lot of people using the same concepts before Morrison as well.
That wasn’t what let me down, though, it was the story that let me down. Once I put down the trade paperback I felt like I’d read a 200-page anti-establishment rant with no real soul to it. The characters let me down. When we first meet our “hero,” Jack Frost, he’s blowing up a library. As someone who considers a book to be the highest product of humankind, this did not serve to endear him to me. I was let down because when I finished reading, I didn’t feel like I understood any more than I did when I started.
Now I’m going to be fair about this — I did just read the first graphic novel in a rather lengthy series, and it’s entirely possible that many of the questions and doubts I have are addressed later in the title. In fact, I intend to read the second book in the series, The Invisibles: Apokalipstick, in the hopes that it will lay some of my fears to rest. But with Hellboy I’m reading volume two because I liked what I read in volume one and want to read more. With this title, I’m reading volume two out of a sense of frustration, in the hopes that something about the book will begin to make sense. Graphic novel format is the only thing that could have saved this book for me, because if I had tried reading it in single-issue form I would have dropped it after issue four and never looked back. So sorry, Mr. Morrison, but Invisibles: Say You Want a Revolution doesn’t make the cut.
Third, I’m adding a book that I really dug that wasn’t brought up in our last discussion (it’s my column, I reserve the right to do this): Kurt Busiek and James Fry’s short-lived series from Eclipse Comics, The Liberty Project.
For those of you who have never heard of The Liberty Project (even I, crazed Busiek fan that I am, had never heard of it until About Comics announced they were releasing a collected edition last year), the concept is simple — the federal government starts a program that allows supervillains to pay their debt to society by acting as government-sponsored superheroes instead of spending time in jail. If it sounds familiar, that’s because DC comics used almost the same idea at almost the same time (1987-1988) when it relaunched its old property Suicide Squad.
The Liberty Project was a bit different, however. First of all, Suicide Squad used established DC villains like Deadshot and Captain Boomerang, while these characters were all-new (although the similarity in skill, if certainly not in character, between Deadshot and Crackshot is curious). Second, while DC’s team stuck to the shadows and didn’t operate in the public eye, the Liberty Project members were out in the open, and actually found themselves celebrities. Third, many of the Suicide Squad members remained cruel, unrepentant creatures, whereas Busiek’s creations almost all were changed by their experience working on the right side of the law. In many ways, it’s like reading a beta test for his later work on Marvel’s Thunderbolts series (about villains masquerading as heroes and some of them realizing the prefer life on that side of the fence).
Busiek still owns the characters, so I keep hoping someday he’ll return to the world of Slick, Burnout and Cimarron. In the meantime, About Comics recently published a dandy digest-sized, black and white, inexpensive volume of the eight-issue run, along with a Total Eclipse special. If you liked Busiek on Thunderbolts, you’ll dig this book.
So let’s recap. As of last time we talked the list of books you guys think I should read are as follows:
Animal Man Vol. 1
Cerebus Vol. 1
Doom Patrol: Crawling From the Wreckage
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Boy in the World
Lone Wolf and Cub Vol. 1: The Assassin’s Road
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale
New Teen Titans Archives Vol. 1
Punisher: Welcome Back Frank
Record of Lodoss War: The Lady of Pharis
Safe Area Goradze
V For Vendetta
Conversely, the list of books that I really dig that you should be reading is now this:
The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius (Vol. 1-4)
Bone Vol. 1: Out From Boneville
Daredevil: Wake Up
Dork Tower Vol 1.: Dork Covenant (then Vol.s 2-6…)
Fantastic Four: Imaginauts
Hellboy Vol. 1: Seeds of Destruction
The Liberty Project
Meridian Vol. 1: Flying Solo
Preacher Vol. 1: Gone to Texas
Road to Perdition
Understanding Comics/Reinventing Comics
The Wizard’s Tale
I’m open for suggestions to add to the first list, folks, and if you’ve read some of the books on the second list and want to comment, this is the place to do it. In the meantime, it’s back to the bookstore for me!
(By the by: If you’d like to suggest a title to add to the list, please try to suggest books that are available in graphic novel form — either original works or trade paperback collections. It’s not that single-issue runs aren’t great, but for the purposes of this project, it’s a lot easier to track down graphic novels and read those.)
FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: February 18, 2004
Since I started the “Favorite of the Week” feature in this column, I think this was the hardest week ever to choose a winner. I was very close to selecting Fantastic Four #510 and Superman: Secret Identity #2, both titles that have won this honor before. I was close to selecting Abadazad #1 because it was such a great beginning for what promises to be CrossGen’s best comic yet. But in the end, I picked a title that was a fantastic conclusion to a fantastic storyline: Superman/Batman #6.
Jeph Loeb is the best writer either of these iconic characters have had in over a decade. He nails who they are, what they mean to the world and what they mean to each other. He caps off the story of President Lex Luthor in a way that is smart and satisfying (and also answers a question I had about Aquaman #15, which clearly takes place after this issue). It’s a fantastic comic book. You can keep your spiders and your x-people friends. This is a comic book that proves the first two superheroes are still the greatest.
Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast and the weekly audio fiction podcast Blake M. Petit’s Evercast. E-mail him at Blake@comixtreme.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page.