Thursday, November 27, 2008

The ten: post-script

A conversation I just had with my pal Adam who I never get to talk to any more and that is sad:

(5:16:43 PM) Adam Murray: no infinite city on your list?
(5:20:30 PM) Me: Never read it
(5:20:37 PM) Adam Murray: :O
(5:21:35 PM) Me: I will look into acquiring this thing.
(5:21:53 PM) Adam Murray: yaay
(5:22:00 PM) Adam Murray: i loved it hardcore
(5:22:39 PM) Adam Murray: also, no secret Identity????
(5:28:41 PM) Me: Secret Identity is very good, but not essential in understanding Superman and what he's been. It's not a best of list, which i think many thought it was, but a list of books that would give a feeling for the character and how he's evolved. Actually terrible as it is, the most glaring omission would be the Death of Superman. Terrible, yes, but a milestone and very much a picture of the character in the 90s.
(5:31:44 PM) Adam Murray: i think a vital part of Superman is how writers try and handle the whole idea of a Super Man. its a massively high concept thing to get your head around, and Secret Identity is a very good exploration of that
(5:33:36 PM) Me: If that's your criteria Chuck Austens' radical departure and characterization is just as valid a choice, because his whole run was about him trying to make Superman something he understood and explore what could be done with him.
(5:35:28 PM) Adam Murray: yeah, but Secret Identity is fucking awesome, and Chuck Austen can't even put his pants on right
(5:36:21 PM) Me: Of course he can't, his mother forced him to wear dresses until he was 14 explaining his severe and obvious issues with women and gender.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The ten

People ask me what Superman stories they should pick up to get into the character. I don't know how good an idea that is, really. It's like asking a guy with no teeth which candy bar he likes best; he obviously enjoys them all on some level. That was a terrible analogy. I'm really out of practice at this writing thing. Any way, I try. Don't you judge me!

In no particular order, the ten Superman trade paperbacks/graphic novels you must own or you are worse than Hitler eating veal while driving a Hummer.

01. The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told (original version)

What it be: An anthology of tales from Superman's first 50 years.
Why you need it: It really is some of the greatest Superman stories ever. Siegel/Swan's "The Death Of Superman", "Maggin's "Must There Be a Superman?", the first appearances of Luthor and Mxy, and a lot more classic tales.

(Don't be fooled by the more recent book of the same name with the Alex Ross cover, its contents are almost entirely different and not nearly so good.)

It is a wide and impressive look at the first half century of Superman stories. These are the stories that every one cites as the most classic of the eras they represent, and deservedly so.

02. Birthright

What it be: Mark Waid and Leinil Yu's modernization of the origins of Superman
Why you need it: Visually, it's GORGEOUS. Let me just say that right up front. The art and design are as near perfect as can be.

This Superman went right every where Byrne's Superman went wrong. He's more real and human, but not at the cost of his sense of wonder. He's absolutely modern without betraying the idealism of the 60s version of the character. He's the sort of Superman who will save the day and throw you a knowing wink before flying off to help some one else. He's human, and like all of us some times feels like an outsider, but is never melancholy because despite that he knows how amazing the world is. He's smart, charming and more than anything he wants to help.

03. Man of Steel

What it be: John Byrne's mini series that redefines Superman for the 80s
Why you need it: In my opinion, solely for the experience of having read it. It's dated terribly, but not in any classic sense, just in a "this is not a time I know," way. But it is the foundation on which more than 20 years of Superman stories are built. It is a radical departure from what came before despite what Byrne would have you think, and it's an interesting picture of the time it was made in. It's left its mark on the character that lasts even today, though much of it has since been subverted and retconned.

In its favor, it is beautifully drawn. This is Byrne at his artistic peak in my opinion, and there are some amazing images in there.

04. Superman Chronicles, vol 1

What it be:
A collection of the first Superman stories in publication order, this volume containing every story printed in 1938
Why you need it: This is where it all came from. The first stories by the men who created the character. It's a wilder, less powerful Superman, but the core of a good man using his power to help others is there in spades. This is Superman the crusader for the underdog; the wish fulfillment power fantasy. I think the need for the very first Superman stories is pretty self-explantory. Know your roots, kid.

05. Superman, The Dailies 1939-1942

What it be: A collection of the first few years of the daily Superman newspaper strip
Why you need it: To see the fully expanded version of Siegel and Shuster's origin of the man of steel, and to see more stories by those guys period, and to see Superman as he was originally meant to be seen. Supes was originally conceived as newspaper strip, not a comic book, and it's important (and very interesting) to see the way the characters story was told in the medium he was created for instead of the one he helped define.

This collection also includes several interesting introductions about the this time in Superman's career.

06. Last Son

What it be: Geoff Johns and Richard Donner's Superman vs Zod story
Why you need it: It lost a lot as a monthly story because of delays and fill ins, but as a collection it is the perfect example of everything that's right with Superman comics today. Superman is a grand hero, there are epic fights, great villains and touching moments. It restores some of the silver age trapping of the character without ever seeming out of place with modern sensibilities. It gives us the General Zod we all know and love, it gives us Superman as a father in a way that works approximately 1 billion times better than Superman Returns. It's great, classic action packed Superman story.

07. Showcase Presents Superman (any volume)

What it be: Affordable black and white large collections of Silver Age Superman
Why you need it: This is Superman's most famous and successful era. This was the time of wonder and magic for Superman. Stories absolutely fearless in their desire to entertain. It was a Superman who could do anything and they still managed to tell every kind of story you could imagine with him from murder mysteries to magic lamps and alien invasions.

08. Superman Vs Lex Luthor

What it be:
A collection of Superman's clashes with his arch enemy Lex Luthor from all eras of their history
Why you need it: A man is defined by his friends and enemies. If you're going to know Superman, you have to know Luthor. And these are the tales of their clashes from the original wild red-haired villain and dictator of the golden age to the warped mad scientist of the silver age up to the corrupt business man of the 80s and 90s. It's broad spectrum, and you're given slices of all of it.

09. All Star Superman

What it be: Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's ultimate tale of the man of steel
Why you need it: Because it's magic. It's all wonder and wild ideas and stories that give you a very real and sincere feeling of hope. Superman is cool and comfortable and you smile when you see him. Luthor is evil and scary and perfect. Every page is an homage to the Silver Age and just as silly, but even as an adult you believe in it and manage to take it seriously. It's brilliant constructed and beautifully drawn. When I read it I was happy. (This is actually collected in two volumes; vol 2 due in Feb '09.)

I feel this is without question the greatest set of Superman comic books ever. There are issues that will make you laugh, make you wonder what the hell is going on, and others that will simply break your heart thoroughly and sincerely. But in the end, it's all about hope and how wonderful everything is to a man who can literally see the magic of how the universe really works.

10. Bizarro Comics

What it be: An anthology of tales featuring DC properties by some of the greatest creators working in independent comics.
Why you need it: This is not a strictly Superman comic, it has stories featuring a wide variety of DC properties, but many of them are about the Superman Family. There are a tons of stories in here you never thought you'd see, and all of them are different from what you've seen before. It turns the DCU on its head and gives a new perspective; it's funny, just flat out bizarre and amazingly creative along the way.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Several upcoming articles

Genuine items of interest that I am working on that I promise will be up over the next two weeks:

The Ten Essential Superman GN/TPBs

The Annotated All Star Superman

Superman III: The Review (Or, shooting fish in a barrel)

Mercy Graves, a complete character history

The pitch for the Terra Man mini-series DC will never let me write

The return of the word-association game

For posterity

Chris occasionally is a genius.

Here, have a PNG of the balloons to paste into things. Go forth and be fruitful with this bit of hilarity, because seriously, it's funny every damned time.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

... and the American way.

It doesn't matter who you voted for, you still won, I think. Welcome to history, folks.