23
Sep
10

Classic EBI #66: The Best Comics I’ve Never Read III

There will be a new chapter of Other People’s Heroes this week, friends, I promise. But because of assorted play-related activities, it’s being delayed one day. I’ll be up on Friday. Please forgive me.

In the meantime, please enjoy my (also a day late) new Everything But Imaginary column from cxPulp.com. In EBI #368, I look at the news that DC Comics is shutting down its Wildstorm imprint: Everything But Imaginary #368: The End of the Storm.

And in this week’s classic EBI, I travel back to 2004, when I took a look at some great comics that I hadn’t even read yet…

June 9, 2004

The Best Comics I’ve Never Read III: Payback Time

Longtime readers of “Everything But Imaginary” will recall my infamous November 12, 2003 column where I outlined some of the best graphic novels I’d read and discussed what I’d heard were the best ones I hadn’t. You remember that, don’t you? C’mon, it was a classic! Um… Julia Roberts guest-starred in it.

Anyway, a few months later on Feburary 25, 2004, I came back with my first progress report on which books from that reading list I’d read and whether or not they cut the mustard. Well, that time has come around again — I’ve read a few more books on the list and a few more that weren’t on the list that I want to share. The rules are simple: I have two lists, one of books I haven’t read that people have recommended and one of books I have read that I’m recommending to you guys. Once I read a book on the first list, if I like it, it “graduates” to the second list. Simple enough? Let’s get to it.

The first book I picked up off the list this time around was recommended repeatedly by my friend Jenny. Jenny told me I had to read The Punisher: Welcome Back Frank by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillion. I resisted for quite some time because, frankly, I don’t really like the Punisher as a character. I finally relented because I trust Jenny’s judgment, because I really enjoyed the Preacher series by the same creative team and because I heard several elements from this comic were being used in the then-upcoming movie.

What I got was the best Punisher comic I’ve ever read.

Ennis brought Frank Castle back to his roots in New York City, dispelled an earlier storyline where he killed people as a service to a band of angels with one snarky page of captions, and infused the book with a sense of humor I’d never seen there before. It went from being a crime drama about a gun-toting mob-targeting serial killer to being a dark comedy about a gun-toting, mob-targeting serial killer, and somehow that made all the difference.

I still don’t like The Punisher, but I liked the story Garth Ennis told about him very much. So much, in fact, that I’ve already gotten the second book of their run, The Punisher: An Army of One. It too, was a lot of fun. The Punisher: Welcome Back Frank has graduated to my recommended list.

The second book I tried this time out was Criminal Macabre: A Cal McDonald Mystery, recommended by our resident Steve Niles junkie Andrea Speed. After Andrea convinced me to try Steve Niles’s Love Me Tenderloin one-shot, I started grabbing everything I could of his: 30 Days of Night, Fused… and this great graphic novel featuring the hardboiled film noir spook hunter Cal McDonald investigating an odd alliance between various groups of monsters that typically have nothing to do with one another. McDonald is a real detective, part Sam Spade, part Peter Venkman, with lots of hard-drinking, hard-living entertainment thrown in to boot. As a lover of old movies — both detective and monster — seeing those two genres sandwiched together makes for an excellent read.

The art, by 30 Days collaborator Ben Templesmith is just gory enough to satisfy slasher movie fans and just chaotic enough to get across the world Cal is living in. It’s a perfect fit.

I’ve jumped on with the next miniseries, Last Train to Deadsville, and read one of the three prose books Niles has written about Cal, Guns, Drugs and Monsters. I’m still trying to hunt down the first novel in the series, Savage Membrane, and the collection of Cal short stories called Dial “M” For Monster.

So it’s safe to say I liked this one. It graduates, big-time.

Finally, I’ve got to give props to a book that Andrea reviewed last month, which I had already purchased but hadn’t had a chance to read yet: 24 Hour Comics. Back in 1991 Scott McCloud (whom you should know because his Understanding Comics should be required reading for anyone who picks up a comic anywhere in the universe) first proposed the idea of trying to create a complete 24-page comic book in 24 hours. You could get together your materials, food, etc. together beforehand, but no writing, preliminary sketches or anything creative was allowed. Once you put your pen to the paper, the clock starts, and you’ve got just 24 hours to write, draw, letter, color (if you wish) and edit the comic to make it qualify.

Since then hundreds of people have taken up the challenge. This book collects nine of McCloud’s favorite efforts. From a bizarre tale by Steve Bissette to a rare story written and drawn by comics writing legend Neil Gaiman (who couldn’t finish 24 pages in the time allotted and stopped when the time ran out), these nine stories really show what a creator can do when he pushes himself. Some of them, I admit, fall into the category of what I think of as “pretentious alternative comics” (which is a different category than “quality alternative comics,” of which there are many), but all of the effort is appreciated and the very idea of the experiment is exciting enough for me to recommend this book. And stay tuned, because back in April a nationwide “24 Hour Comic Day” was held, allowing creators from all corners to take the challenge. A second volume will be published later this year collecting the best stories from that event.

One last thing I want to recommend, technically, isn’t a comic book, but it is about the purest comic there is: Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts. A few weeks ago here in EBI I did a column trumpeting the arrival of The Complete Peanuts: 1950-1952, the first in a proposed 25-volume set that will collect all 50 years of the legendary comic strip. Around the same time I stumbled onto the website of the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, Calif., and specifically, found my way to two books offered through its online store. Li’l Folks is a collection of early strips featuring the childlike characters that would eventually evolve into Peanuts. Second was a volume called Tribute to Sparky, a collection of cartoons and comic strips done by other artists to honor Schulz upon the announcement of his retirement, his death in February 2000, and then again that May when nearly every newspaper comic strip in syndication ran a tribute to him on the same day. Tribute especially is a particularly moving collection, and these two books will make very fitting bookends to the Complete Peanuts collections once those are complete.

Anyway, there’s my two cents for this round. As before, I’ll finish this column by printing my complete lists — if you’d like to recommend something for me to look out for the next time I do one of these in a few months, go right ahead. If I haven’t read it, it’ll go on the list. I’m looking for great comics that you think people might not know about, preferably something available in graphic novel form, because it’s just plain more economical and easier to find. And if you’re suggesting a series of graphic novels, make sure you give me the title of the first book in the series so I know what to look for. Ready? Here goes:

BLAKE’S READING LIST

Animal Man Vol. 1
Black Panther: The Client
Blankets
Cerebus Vol. 1
Doom Patrol: Crawling From the Wreckage
The Gypsy Lounge
Herobear and the Kid
Hulk: Boiling Point
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Boy in the World
Jinx and Goldfish
Knights of the Dinner Table: Bundles of Trouble
Lone Wolf and Cub Vol. 1: The Assassin’s Road
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale
New Teen Titans Archives Vol. 1
Record of Lodoss War: The Lady of Pharis
Red Rocket 7
Rex Mundi: Guardian of the Temple
Safe Area Goradze
Terminal City
300
Torso
Top 10
V For Vendetta

YOUR READING LIST (From Blake)

The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius series
Astro City series (Vol 1: Life in the Big City)
Bone series (Vol 1: Out From Boneville)
The Complete Peanuts
Creature Tech
Criminal Macabre
Daredevil: Wake Up
Dork Tower series (Vol 1: Dork Covenant)
Fables series (Vol 1: Legends in Exile)
Fantastic Four: Imaginauts
Hellboy: Seeds of Destruction
The Liberty Project
Meridian series (Vol 1: Flying Solo)
Preacher series (Vol 1: Gone to Texas)
Punisher: Welcome Back Frank
Road to Perdition
24 Hour Comics
Understanding Comics/Reinventing Comics
The Wizard’s Tale

So that should keep us both busy for a while. Let’s get reading.

FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: June 2, 2004

It was a pretty slow week for me at the comic shop, and the Favorite of the Week this time out gets the crown mostly on sheer potential. Tony Bedard was one of my favorite CrossGen writers (I am hoping against hope for the salvation of Route 666 and Negation), so when I found out he was taking over Exiles, a book I’d long thought about trying out anyway, I jumped on board. I haven’t been disappointed. Bedard gave me a pretty good grasp on the characters and situations, and last week’s issue #48 closed off his first storyline with a strong finish, and good close to the previous chapter of the characters’ lives, and a great launching point for the next chapter. This story took place in the mainstream Marvel universe, though, and idea of hopping from one alternate universe to another is the hook that got me interested in this title in the first place. I’m very anxious to see where it goes from here.

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 BlakeMPetit@gmail.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page.


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