Friday, October 9, 2009


Jon D. W. throws down a good bit of his hard-earned cash on comics. Here, he spills the beans on whether or not it was worth it. But to paraphrase LeVar Burton, don’t just take his word for it--you should read comics, too.

Edited by Scott McCloud

This collection, assembled in 2004, features a story each by Steve Bissette, Alexander Grecian, Paul Winkler, Jakob Klemencic, Matt Madden, Neil Gaiman, David Lasky, K.Thor Jensen and Ald Davison, and was an incredibly inspiring read before my last go at the 24-hour challenge. (Of course, comparing my work to what’s collected here after I did my comic can be a bit depressing.) For anyone who wants to make comics in general--even if it does take more than 24 hours--seeing these pages, all of which burst with love for the medium, should make you want to put pen to paper straightaway. Also, in case you missed it in the list: Neil Gaiman.

Written by Harvey Pekar
Art by Zachary Baldus, Hilary Barta, Greg Budgett, John Cebollero, Darwyn Cooke, Gary Dumm, Hunt Emerson, Rick Geary, Dean Haspiel, Mike Hawthorne, Lora Innes, David Lapham, John Lucas, José Marzán Jr., Sean Murphy, Josh Neufeld, Ed Piskor, Warren Pleece, Darick Robertson, Chris Samnee, Ty Templeton, Chris Weston
Lettering by Pat Brosseau, Darwyn Cooke, Hunt Emerson, Rick Geary, Sean Murphy, K.T. Smith

Collecting a four-issue Vertigo miniseries from 2008, this book partners Pekar with a terrific group of artists, including such American Splendor stalwarts as Gary Dumm and Greg Budgett. (Of the lineup, I was probably most thrilled to see Rick Geary’s take on Pekar--it’s a match made in comics heaven.) To borrow from the cover of Pekar’s self-published American Splendor #5 (1980), this book mostly contains “stories about sickness and old people,” but humor prevails even as Pekar faces the quotidian and banal with an increasing diplomacy. Granted I’m a good deal younger than Pekar, but American Splendor has long helped me make sense of everyday life, or at least reassured me that I wasn’t alone in the human condition; this chapter in the continuing saga fills me with hope for all the years to come, both for Pekar and for myself.

By David Mazzucchelli

A lot has already been written about this book, and rightly so--this work needs to be discussed, and I can’t imagine anyone reading it and not wanting to talk about this masterpiece of sequential art. To guide you through some of the early comics criticism surrounding this book, I’ll point you to Ng Suat Tong’s roadmap, put together for The Comics Reporter. Tong likens aspects of the book to Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, and I would agree that reading Mazzucchelli’s tome for the first time reminded me very much of the feeling I had after first finishing McCloud’s treatise: I was humbled, I was moved, I was awed and utterly inspired by the limitless possibilities of comics. This book is absolutely a must-read.

By Art Spiegelman

I know I really should have read this long before now, but for anyone else who’s had that thought, I urge you not to let it stop you from picking up this book. Spiegelman’s work--at once universal and painfully personal--is an absolute triumph, even as it lays bare the very worst of humanity. This tale of survival is revelatory in its ability to present the human spirit in deceptively simple words and pictures. Maus is, without question, one of the finest works, in any medium, that I have ever encountered.

By Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Colors by Val Staples

The end of this dark and twisted tale might be a bit too Tyler Durden/Fight Club-y for my usual tastes, but the nightmare atmosphere is so enveloping--inviting, I would even say--that the end makes a sick kind of sense and took me willingly as I read. The formal layouts, with three evenly sized rows to each page, play counterpoint to the story’s chaos, a whirling mashup of strippers, butchers, mobsters and Chester Gould. Yeah, it’s trippy. Yeah, you should read it. And everything else Brubaker, Phillips and Staples do together.

Greg Rucka & Ed Brubaker: writers
Michael Lark: artist & original covers
Noelle Giddings: colorist
Willie Schubert: letterer

It’s the first half of Law & Order (before the cases go to trial and Sam Waterston strolls onscreen), but with Batman creeping in the shadows. And the dynamic between Batman and Gotham’s finest is utterly fascinating and too little explored outside of this title. It’s taken me awhile, I realize, to get around to this series, but it strikes me now as maybe the best Bat-book I’ve ever read, and its success lies in its focus on “real” people, sans powers, just trying their damnedest to do a job that can itself seem damned from the get-go.

Greg Rucka: writer
Michael Lark: artist, “Half a Life”
Jason Pearson & Cam Smith: artists, “Two Down”
William Rosado & Steve Mitchell: artists, “Happy Birthday Two You…”
Matt Hollingsworth, Digital Chameleon, Wildstorm FX: colorists
Willie Schubert, Rick Parker, Todd Klein: letterers

The actual Gotham Central story here is every bit as good as that in the previous volume, but the two opening stories are rather unattractive in this book. I appreciate having Renee Montoya and Two-Face’s backstory right here at my fingertips, but the art (originally from Batman Chronicles and Detective Comics) is so wildly far afield from the grit, soot and dank Eisnerspritz of Gotham Central that it’s actually jarring to flip to the first two stories. Anyhow, the real meat of this volume is an absolutely moving story all about the ties connecting heartbreakingly lonely people.

Written by: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Robert Bernstein, N. Korok
Penciled by: Don Heck, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko
Inked by: Don Heck, Dick Ayers, Paul Reinman, Chic Stone, Mike Esposito, Vince Colletta, Wally Wood
Lettered by: Art Simek, John Duffi, Marty Epp, E. Thomas, Sam Rosen, Ray Holloway

It took me almost two years to make it all the way through this book. That said, I’m glad I did it, and I’m glad to have this on my shelf, ever ready to be referenced. But wow, these stories can be a real plod. It was awesome, though, when Iron Man fought The Uncanny Unicorn (the adjective having not yet been bogarted by the X-Men).

Writers: Roy Thomas, David Michelinie, Bob Layton, Denny O’Neil
Pencilers: Barry Windsor-Smith, John Romita Jr., Mark Bright, Bob Layton
Inkers: Jim Mooney, Bob Layton, Akin & Garvey
Colorists: Bob Sharen, Glynis Wein
Letterers: Art Simek, John Costanza, Joe Rosen, Rick Parker, Janice Chiang
Editors: Stan Lee, Jim Salicrup, Mark Gruenwald

Look, I know: This book is just another way for Marvel to eke a few more bucks out of their loyal readers’ pocketbooks. But I’ve got sort of a developing habit of writing about ol’ Shell Head for a certain publication, and so I picked this up for “research purposes.” As a showcase for some of the different, specialized armor the character has worn over the years, the book doesn’t offer much in the way of a cohesive reading experience. (The afterword with Bob Layton has some embarrassing typos, too, that I would hope Marvel will correct for any future printings.) The Denny O’Neil-scripted story in which Iron Man fights Iron Monger is interesting in being so dull and yet so important to the plot of the first film. If you really love Iron Man, it’s a fun book to read. Otherwise, probably not so much.

All images copyright their respective publishers. Text copyright Jon D. Witmer/The Danger Digest.

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