In Which We Debate How To Spend Those Gift Certificates We'll Tell Our Grandchildren About
Saturday, January 10, 2009 at 12:00PM

Superhero Comics, The Best Ever

by Alex Carnevale

Not to spoil what's ahead, but there's a notable omission from the list, it starts with "Watch" and ends with "Men." If it was called Watchwomen maybe I could get into it. Whoa, settle.

Everybody loves Watchmen, although to be fair it doesn't exactly get you wanting to read other books about superheroes, it more makes you want to cry your balls off. The movie, directed by 300's Zack Snyder, is about as promising as Frank Miller doing The Spirit (read: not promising at all). League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is Moore's more traditional attempt and it's also fabulous, as was his From Hell that turned into a Johnny Depp movie. From Hell is probably the greatest book of all time, but it's not really a superhero book. Moore's Lost Girls, the erotic trilogy about Dorothy, Alice, and Wendy, is incredible and the only thing I will take with me in a fire, or, god forbid, Galactus.

Once a superhero hooks you, you will be willing to watch him do most anything. Jerry Seinfeld's ability to walk out of a car crash unaffected forced me to illegally download Bee Movie and close my eyes while watching it. Jenna Fischer's superpower is her lack of acting ability. Jennifer Beals' superpower is her love of photography.

My point is that most everyone knows about Watchmen. Here's ten books that are just as good.

10. The Eternals & The New Gods

by Jack Kirby

While Kirby's Eternals was, in fact, a DC comic, he's Marvel through and through, and there is nothing about these books that screams DC.

Kirby was at his best when working with the super characterization and wit of partner Stan Lee. Their Fantastic Four collaboration was one of the most risktaskingly stupendous runs of all time, a period in which they created all sorts of awesome ideas that stood the test of time like The Silver Surfer, the Inhumans, and Galactus himself.

The reason I focus on the Eternals is both because it was a more limited series and because the color artwork is the best things I have ever seen done in the comics medium.

When it came to dialogue and plot, Kirby wasn't terrible, but the visual element is where he really shined, and I'd be psyched to hang any page of The New Gods or The Eternals on my wall. If you want to experience the full brilliance of the Kirby-Lee collaboration, try the Essential Fantastic Four, volume 4.

The last volume of Kirby's collected work at DC just came out, and you can buy it here.

9. Earth X

by Alex Ross and Jim Krueger

The enigmatic Alex Ross established himself as a force in the comics world by his photorealistic work in Marvels, a re-imagining of the Marvel Universe from the perspective of a photojournalist. I don't think that book holds up very well, but Ross' Kirby-esque reimaginings of the Marvel universe have been a huge impact on what followed. His marvelous D.C. Universe all-in-one Kingdom Come is a must read if you're a fan of Superman and the like, but for me his more exciting work came in the Marvel version, Earth X.

Is Earth X for newbies? No. Are its sequels any good? They're largely terrible. Then there is the small matter of Ross basically just contributing the concept of the series and the covers.

Once you get past that, and the everything but the kitchen sink feel of the book, Earth X is a gorgeous rendition of a dark future in the Marvel universe, Jim Krueger's plotting is more than up to par, and from the moment you see a fat-out-of-shape Spiderman, you're appropriately hooked.

The central role given to Machine Man, the Watcher, and Black Bolt are all of interest, and the ancient Reed Richards is one of the best manifestations of Mr. Fantastic. While X isn't a great superhero comic, as something different and the pleasure that comes with reimagining characters familiar to us - as if I Love Lucy was about a crack whore - this book is worth reading. Don't buy the sequels unless you have a wish for the sweet embrace of death, however.

Buy Earth X here.

8. Ultimate Galactus Trilogy

by Warren Ellis

Sometimes it seems like all the giants of comics are either Jews or Brits, and in the case of Warren Ellis, it's the latter.

Ellis has his admirers and detractors. He doesn't care about catering to his fanbase and he's not shy about saying so. His Vertigo series Transmetropolitan, which Patrick Stewart has wanted to star in for awhile, is sublime and his run on Thunderbolts added to his glowing legacy. His new series is Gravel, about British combat magician Mike Gravel who he debuted in the wonderfully weird B & W series Strange Kiss & Strange Killings.

Warren Ellis' version of the Galactus story, which prominently features the Ultimates (a revised take on the Avengers that is the best team in comics after the Fantastic Four) is my favorite thing he has done. Ellis has a tendency towards broad strokes and cutting to the point. For better or worse he's never afraid of his own ideas.

With UGT, it seems like getting boxed in by basically having to write a Galactus movie suited Ellis, and his focus on Hawkeye and Falcon, as well as a more rough and tumble Cap, all benefit from the Ellis take. As a Galactus fanboy, I love this book dearly, and the special bonus is a Millar-Romita Jr. (the amazing Kick Ass is well worth seeking out) collaboration.

You can buy Ultimate Galactus Trilogy here.

7. The Punisher MAX: The Slavers

by Garth Ennis

I never liked The Punisher, née Frank Castle, very much. He always struck me as the worst kind of moralist - someone who thought and acted from a place of rage rather than a place of reason. (Kind of like Eliot Spitzer but he takes his socks off during intercourse.) If you're not familiar with Castle's story, every Punisher restates it. Castle metes out justice to wrongdoers, and is violently indifferent to those who stand in his way.

Turned onto this particular Punisher story by a friend who is a Garth Ennis fanboy, I was more than pleasantly surprised- I was gifted with bloodlust and a desire to avenge prostitutes. They pretty much stole this story for Eastern Promises, but the Punisher's version has different twists. In the wake of the Spitzer scandal, it's also nice to see the men and women of the slave trade get their just deserts. This book shows you don't need glitzy powers or epic storylines to get a character over: you just need a lot of blood.

Buy Vol. 5 of Ennis' run on The Punisher here.

6. Wanted

by Mark Millar

Wanted is Millar's best one-shot, a from-scratch tribute to the supervillains of Marvel and D.C., along with the best of Ellis' and Garth Ennis' evil protagonists. As a story it has its flaws, but as a conceptual re-imagining of the superhero, it hooks you from the very first. Night Watch director Timur Bekmambetov helms the adaptation, which looks a little silly, but should have plenty of enjoyable moments. Enjoy these images of Jolie's tats from the movie:


i believe one of these tattoos is for jon heder

There is the feeling that Angelina probably should have just done this movie while pregnant. It was little strange for her to be going around promoting a movie in which she is a brutal murderer while she was all Heigled, but hey, if she can end the conflict in Iraq, she can do this.

Buy Wanted here.

5. Y: The Last Man

by Brian K. Vaughn

Current Lost scribe Brian K. Vaughn was at his best in this landmark series about the last man on earth. I can totally sympathize.

On July 17, 2002, something simultaneously kills every mammal possessing a Y chromosome - including embryos, fertilized eggs, and even sperm. The only exceptions are Yorick Brown, a young amateur escape artist, and his Capuchin monkey Ampersand.

The world would be so much better without Ampersands, they nearly killed the poetry of Will Hubbard. Y would be great as a series, it's too bad they already did Harsh Realm. This is also a great concept for an Albert Brooks movie. Failing that, there's always the downside of Ryan Gosling's career.

Buy Y: The Last Man here.

4. Sandman

by Neil Gaiman

The mother of all comic books, Neil Gaiman's take on Sandman is the most ambitious, literate, engaging and complex effort in the genre. The original Sandman concept belonged to Jack Kirby. It's pointless to try to summarize Sandman. How many other comic books have a book of academic essays dedicated to them?

Even women enjoy Sandman:

Written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by various people, including the regally named Malcolm Jones III, Sandman was one of the smart-people comics, bought by twenty-one-year-old former art students with good haircuts and cool shoes and by thirty-eight-year-old guys in bands that were actually good. It was common to see Sandman in a stack with back issues of Hate and Love & Rockets. Every Sandman had a zillion references, from Greek mythology to Shakespeare. When you got the obscure ones, it made you feel smart, like you'd just finished the Friday crossword puzzle.

Some of the storylines took place in parts of New York I walked through every day. In one of my favorite mini-stories, Death has a talk with a skateboarder in Washington Square Park, where we bought pot before we realized 1) it was frequently oregano, and 2) we were girls, and girls never had to buy their own drugs.

For most people who have experienced it in its entirety, Sandman ranks as one of the top achievements in any genre. While it's a titanic achievement and a monstrous challenge to tackle as a whole, I'd rather sit down and read either of the titles below. Sorry Neil, it was so real though.

Buy Absolute Sandman here. The whole thing is $162. Neil Gaiman's blog on Amazon is here.

3. X-Men: Age of Apocalypse

Written by many writers, but featuring major contributions from Fabian Nicieza, Brian K. Vaughn and Warren Ellis, among others, the Age of Apocalypse is the greatest long form storyline ever done with traditional characters. Spanning a massive number of issues and a cast of about 300, the series began with a relatively simple premise: Charles Xavier is dead.

Recasting the hero of this world as Magneto worked for so many reasons, and most of all was that he finally had a worthy adversary in the timeless villain Apocalypse. I also dug this incarnation of the Four Horsemen, Holocaust, Abyss, Sinister, and Rasputin. Sinister especially is as enthralling a turncoat as his master is a fearsome beast.

The Age of Apocalypse ran right up against some of the most taboo issues of the time - mass death, government control, independence, democracy - and never blinked. While it can be challenging to keep track of all the characters and their abilities, there are so many interwoven stories that it's easy to pick favorites and enjoy what stands out to you. It's like if Lord of the Rings were a Choose Your Own Adventure. It is really sad to see what the X-Men series on the big screen has become when they have this Godzilla of a storyline waiting for them to use. Also, I still am a little freaked out that Magneto married Rogue and named the baby Charles, that's not cool.

Buy the first volume of the Age of Apocalypse here.

2. The Ultimates 1 & 2

by Mark Millar & Bryan Hitch

Mark Millar is on the verge of becoming an even bigger superstar than he already is. His new book, about a regular kid who wants to be a superhero, is called Kick Ass. His new take on the Fantastic Four, including the spectacular idea of giving Reed Richards an ex-girlfriend, is terrific. Basically he is hot right now, and for good reason. This reason.

The Ultimates came out of an attempt to do a big budget Avengers movie. Hopefully when they do bring Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Giant Man, Wasp, Nick Fury, Thor, and the Vision together, it will be an adaptation of this mindblowing great superhero comic. For my money, Ultimates 2 is the better book, but I'm not the biggest Bruce Banner fan so perhaps that's understandable. Ultimate Hulk is a smidge too powerful for my taste, but the characterization totally works.

There's so much about these books that other superhero comics can't match: the mindblowingly awesome panel constructions by Bryan Hitch, the badass military aspect combined with the NYC feel of the team headquarters, the Triskelion, the Dashiell Hammett-esque murder mystery plot thrown in for kicks, plus a superb internecine battle versus Thor as faux Al Gore. The Ultimates has it all, and if you prefer the X-Men, Millar did Ultimate X-Men in part as well, and it's nearly as good.

What makes this book so terrific is that in the context of a superb story tying different superheroes together, Millar never loses track of the character moments that make you feel about the people in question.

Buy The Ultimates here and The Ultimates 2 here.

1. Preacher

by Garth Ennis

I was never very into westerns, but one film showed me what a Western could be by having fun with the rules. That film, The Good, The Bad, And the Ugly, thrived on the superficiality and coolness of the genre. I never really got the longer, more ponderously good feeling a story set in the West can give you until I read the finest superhero comic of all time, Preacher. I was never really into the Bible, either, until Preacher. Now I think the Bible is the No. 2 book about the Bible.

herr starr

What to say about Preacher? Garth Ennis may never be able to approach something this genius again. There are very few art works in any medium to engage in storytelling this deep. Lord of the Rings can't touch Preacher, neither can The Prisoner, or Star Trek: TNG, or Babylon 5, or any of these tales of the page. Preacher is more satisfying than them all.

jesse custer

Jesse's power is The Word. That is, when he speaks, and people can hear, they do exactly what he says.

Tulip, Cassidy, Jesse, the Allfather, the Saint of Killers, and Herr Starr, are all deeply ingrained in my memory. Herr Starr in particular is one of the most awesome villains ever and his life story, as told at the beginning of Volume 5, is the best thing Ennis has ever done.

Buy the first volume of Preacher here.

"Electric Bloom" - Foals (mp3)

"Red Socks Pugie" - Foals (mp3)

"Olympic Airways" - Foals (mp3)


He just liked to look at it.

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