Good Comics

by John Holbo on June 5, 2007

Emerson (not our John) writes:

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.

But, in honor of this panel from Tales of Woodsman Pete, with full particulars [highly recommended!] …


… I thought I would recommend a few good comics about people with powers.

OK, first things first: clearly, the worst superhero comic – worst hero ever – is Stardust (thanks, Kip). You really want to click that Stardust link. You really do. I only own one issue of Stardust, handsomely reprinted in coffee table-worthy format: Art Out of Time: unknown comic visionaries, 1900-1969 [amazon]. (Because sometimes the best argument for insider art is outsider art. Whew.)

But it is fairly awesome that, in response to Fifth Column, anti-American activity, Stardust forms … a Sixth Column:


Now that the worst is over: if you are the sort who even might like the whole capes-and-tights thing, you should check out Runaways, vol. 1 (and 2 & 3) [amazon].

I know, I know, vol. 1 is sold out right now. Well, let that be a lesson. Just a couple months ago I was going to recommend the Alias Omnibus, a real bargain. Now it’s out of print. (But still take my advice and buy the individual slices 1 & 2 and so forth.)

Second, you should check out Invincible, vol. 1 [amazon].

Without going into details, what Runaways and Invincible have in common is basically that Joss Whedon fantastic fiction crammed into teenage-shaped problems thing, if you like that kind of thing. Cosmic catastrophe in high school. The Runaways are a bunch of kids who realize their parents are supervillains and … runaway. The story arc collected in volume 1 proves to have a most wickedly clever conclusion. (Whedon, by the by, is doing a run of issues.)

Invincible is a kid who’s invincible … but, like the Runaways: family issues.

(I see young Matt Y. is recommending Powers. This is the correct course of action, just the sort of thing I’m talking about. I was on that months ago. I am rather proud of myself for having blogged at CT about both Brian Michael Bendis (comic author) and Bendis, the Thracean huntress-goddess. Perhaps it is no coincidence: I also have nice cartoons of Bendis – the goddess – that I use in my lectures. I’ll show you those another day.)

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I hope this means I am a Super-Friend and not a Wonder Twin « PurpleSlog
06.06.07 at 7:33 am



Ginger Yellow 06.05.07 at 2:26 pm

Are we only talking current comics? Because if not The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen is an obvious choice, even if only some of the characters have “powers”.

Otherwise, Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men is superb.


Alex 06.05.07 at 2:45 pm

Amusingly, the superhero with his “sixth column” is pretty much what “Tdaxp” and “Dreaming 5GW” think they are doing to fight 4th Generation Warfare.


J. Ellenberg 06.05.07 at 4:32 pm

And if you like books about superheroes without pictures, Austin Grossman’s novel Soon I Will Be Invincible is out today. I’ve read the first 50 pages and it’s fantastic — funny and knowing without being snarky and obvious. I fully expect to spend the rest of the day finishing this and blow off the rather boring 2-adic computation I ought to be doing.


gmoke 06.05.07 at 7:06 pm

There’s an interesting development in non-superpowered comics with GWOT as the theme in Vertigo’s DMZ (a journalist in a dystopian, break-away NYC) and Army@Love (a satire on the future of the permanent war in Afbaghistan). These comic books are commenting on the present circumstances with more reality than you see on the nightly news.

And dont forget the wonders of Astrocity, a great but infrequent gloss on superpowers.


Wax Banks 06.05.07 at 8:14 pm

Powers is almost without peer in the superhero stable, not least because Bendis knows his cop procedurals, no question. That’s something about comix that kinda bugs me – superhero writers who know nothing but the classic-superhero purely generic showdown-with-powers tend to write shitty superhero books (as the work tends to converge in intention with cape-n-cowl fanfic). Not unrelatedly, part of the reason I hate Stan Lee and his generation of comics storytellers is that so many early comic writers just didn’t seem to have chops – no skill, only a knack. The revolution in comics in the 80’s, near as I can tell, was the advent of comics writing that treated comics as the subset of a wider literary universe. (Or rather: the spreading of this belief to mainstream superhero comics.) Bendis is interesting in part because he just nails the cops-n-robbers argot and the conventions of the detective-procedural mystery; he’d write a blistering Batman, I imagine. Unfortunately he’s also really good at Spidey, so he spends his time on that sort of book. But I prefer his more Adult stuff by a healthy margin.

OK but while we’re on the BKV subject we gotta give it up for Ex Machina, right? Vaughan is a savant and I resent his storytelling facility (pity he’s slumming on Lost). But his strength is something else entirely from Bendis’s; like you said, there’s a lot of the natural-feeling blend of fantasy and generic form and teen/YA/idealistic-grownup angst in his work that makes it hard to categorize. Ex Machina is certainly a ‘powers’ book but it sure doesn’t feel like a superhero comic (at least the stories I’ve read). It has in common with Veronica Mars that genre-blending habit that somehow doesn’t seem forced, though Mars cut a hell of a lot of corners to clear up its weekly mysteries in 42 minutes (and by midway through S2 they seemed superfluous).

Whedon is hard to classify in part because he’s such an empathetic storyteller; part of his cult is that the strength of his writing seems to be his personal strength (true of BKV and Morrissey, not true of Bendis, massively not true of Alan Moore, Frank Miller, etc.). Buffy suited him in a way that X-Men doesn’t, exactly, because straight-up genre play seems like a waste of his time. It redounds to his credit that he doesn’t condescend to the genres he works in, but for instance in his introduction to the Identity Crisis mini, he praises the story in terms way out of proportion with what it deserves, and it almost feels like he’s doing the reqwyrt or lending his name. That miniseries has a bit of a boilerplate feel to it, a nothing-new-but-still-decent feel, and you get the sense that it’s just a good example of the shit Whedon grew up reading rather than the sort of text he’d actually ever, ever produce. (Then again who am I to say.)

To me, Astro City is just Great Superhero Stuff, the way Rendezvous With Rama is Great [insert type here] SF. The Authority, under Warren Ellis anyhow, was something else (and I’d add it without hesitation to any mandatory powers-related reading list). Went downhill when the overpraised Millar got his hands on it.


Stuart 06.05.07 at 9:34 pm

So this Emerson guy, not only does he play football for Real Madrid and Brazil, he also sounds like could be something of a philosopher after he retires.


richard 06.05.07 at 10:36 pm

the Stardust link reminds me strongly of the parody of 50’s-era cheap animation bundled in the 2 DVD set of The Incredibles, which you can play with original soundtrack (errily like the Stardust thing, really) or with hilariously pissed off commentary by Mr. Incredible and Frozone. Worth a view.


Tracy W 06.06.07 at 12:21 am

Stupid question time – what does that quote from Emerson have to do with the rest of your post?

And why is envy ignorance?


BillCinSD 06.06.07 at 1:24 am

Old School gotta go with the Flaming Carrot and Reid Fleming, The World’s Toughest Milkman.

New school — Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner is one of my faves


John Holbo 06.06.07 at 6:56 am

Why Emerson? Plus superhero comics? I guess I’m putting serious strain on the ‘power within’ plus Woodsman Pete panel.

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