What medium do you prefer for experiencing comic books?

This is a topic I have given a lot of thought to.  And quite frankly my attitude continues to change.  I use the word experience because not everyone reads their comic books.  Small children who can’t read still love to flip through comics and look at the pictures.  (Almost half of the folks at the Free Comic Book Day I attended this year were children).  Some comics have no dialogue (or almost no dialogue) and rely almost entirely on sequential art, letting the pictures be the narrative. (A quick aside: Fantastic Four #588 is one of my favorite examples of this).  Motion Comics exist in a space between animation and comic book but have their own distinct experience.  More broadly, almost everyone you know has seen some movie or TV show based on a comic book, maybe without even realizing it!

There are countless other mediums with which to experience comic books, such as trade paperbacks, hardcover editions, webpages, and tablet devices just to name a few more.

I used to reside firmly in the print-based camp.  Comic books were comic books and were meant to be read as such.  In some cases collected editions were acceptable (if not necessary — I wasn’t going to shell out for Amazing Fantasy #15).  Graphic novels were meant to be bought in book form, devoured, and set on a bookshelf.  Comic book movies were rarely bearable (back then, the only decent ones were Spider-Man and X-Men 1 and 2).  I remember going to see V for Vendetta in the theater and walking out on the other end feeling like I had just watched someone throw red paint on the Mona Lisa.  I truly understood why Alan Moore wanted nothing to do with the project.  Film wasn’t the medium in which V for Vendetta was meant to be presented.  But looking back now I can see how limiting this attitude was.

My first major shift in attitude was more financially driven than anything else (as is often the case with people).  I was at the comic book shop I frequented in the mall when I saw The Amazing Spider-Man: The Complete Collection DVD by GIT.  (Sadly, they don’t make these anymore).  Intrigued, I picked it up.  One disc contained PDF copies of Amazing Fantasy #15; The Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #1-441; The Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 2 #1-58; The Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3 #500-531; Annual #1-34.  Literally every issue of ASM up to several months prior all for the low low price of $40.  I was flabbergasted.  I had been collecting Spider-Man since I was 11 or so, and I had bought up a number of TPB collections and odd issues here and there.  But I had never had the means to “complete” my collection.  There were large gaps I had never had an opportunity to read…until now.  So I bought it and read every single ASM up to that point…on my computer.  And I softened a little on the exclusivity of print.  Over the years I have gone back and filled in large swaths of my collection with the actual comics, but if I had been too close-minded to try a new medium, to this day I would have no clue what happened in almost 300 issues of Spider-Man.

Another shift came in the spring and summer of 2008 when Iron Man came to theaters followed by the Dark Knight.  True, Batman Begins had come out a few years prior and was better than other comic book films at the time but 2008 marked a why so serious shift in these movies.  They were bolder and better and they seemed somehow more authentic.  If you had told me then that Iron Man would one day be Marvel’s most popular hero and the cornerstone of their film franchise I would have said you were crazy.  And I would have been so wrong.  Because for the first time a film was able to provide, if not an exact replication of the comic books, an analogous experience in a different medium.  Watching Iron Man the movie felt like reading a Marvel comic book.  And they’ve kept that train rolling which in turn has altered the comic books in such a way that there is now more synergy than ever between the experiences.  Similarly, the Dark Knight really captured Batman in a way that the older films never had.  Gone was the campiness that had defined Batman for so long (despite this being mostly absent from the comics for decades).  This grittier tone really resonated with viewers and helped to redefine people’s experience of Batman.  (Personally, outside of Snyder and Capullo’s monthly, my favorite Batman experience — the one that feels most authentic to me — is Rocksteady’s Arkham games.)  Post 2008 comic books movies (on the whole) were no longer anathema to me and are something I get really excited for.  Instead of feeling like terrible misshapen representations of something I love, they now feel like genuine comic book experiences.

There is still one major hurdle I am overcoming with regard to the question of medium, and that is digital print.  I love comic books.  I love the physical medium.  I like to flip through them.  I like to bag them and sort them.  I like to fuss over my boxes.  I feel genuinely bad if a comic gets ripped or creased or crumpled.  One of the highlights of my week (for years now) is going to pick up my comics on New Comic Night.  I love the newsprint smell and soft feel of old comics.  So when the discussion of same-day digital comics began, I retreated to my old ways.  Comic books are meant to be physical, you need to be able to hold it, feel it, smell it.  Digital is no good for new comics.  And then Marvel started including a “free” (read: $1 more) digital copy of the books I was buying.  Then Comixology (the digital comics service) gave away around 700 free digital Marvel comics.  And y’know what?  I started to read them.  Before a long trip I’d load up the last few issues of Spider-Man just case.  I read a few issues here and there at my desk during lunch.  The Humble Bundle had a ridiculous deal for Image comics so I picked that up too.  I bought ComicZeal reader for the iPad so I could lay in bed and read comics in the dark.  And all of a sudden I have a collection of digital comics too!  And it’s really nice.

So, what medium do you prefer for experiencing comic books?

Not to give a spineless answer, but it depends on the experience I want to have!  I still primarily read physical comics, and that still feels the most…comic booky (?) to me.  But I also love to sit down and devour a fat TPB, and I like to punch up bad guys as Batman on the XBox, and I will most certainly be seeing X-Men: Days of Future Past this weekend!  So, don’t allow yourself to be limited by your biases about medium.  It’s true, some things are better in one medium or another, and some things are worse, but often times they are are just different.  And different experiences are almost always worth your time.

 

Where to start?

March 25, 2014

Often when I am talking with people and they find out that my passion for comics exceeds the occasional superhero film or odd graphic novel, they tell me something along the lines of “I’ve always been curious about comics but I’m not sure where to start.” And then, giddy with the rush of introducing a new reader to comics (one of us! one of us!), I blabber for an embarrassingly long time and insist that they read <insert title here>.

I have a list of what I call gateway comics.  These are comic books that are so tantalizingly awesome that the reader can’t help but want more.  My usual recommendation for the uninitiated is Watchmen because it is physically impossible not to like Watchmen.  Sometimes though, depending on the person (for instance, if they are young or averse to seeing blue dongs or saw the movie and loved/hated it) I will suggest something else.  The comics I suggest are loosely linked to other things that the person likes.  For instance if they say “I like Star Wars!” I might suggest they try some of Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four because of the sci-fi elements and because they are excellent comics that make you want more more more.

I put together this handy dandy flow chart to help people find a good comic book to try, depending on their other tastes.  The categories have two “If You Liked This!” suggestions and are color-coded along with the arrows.  The comics have been color-coded according to what genres they more or less align with.  Happy reading!

Comic Flowchart

Hello hello hello!  I’m here to let you know that I’ve added a new page called “What Am I Reading Now?”  As my monthly reading list shifts and changes I’ll add and subtract titles from this page.  This will give you an idea of where I’m coming from each month and might give you ideas for books you want to try or things that you think I should try.

I figured that I would dedicate this post to this page’s inaugural run by giving a brief run down of each title and my feelings on them.  I’ve added *Do Not Miss* to the beginning of titles that I think are really worth your time and money.

 

*Do Not Miss* Adventure TimeKaBOOM! Studios

Adventure Time #25

This monthly book by KaBOOM! follows Finn, Jake, and  a whole cast of other crazy characters on their adventures through the land of Ooo.  This is absolutely one my favorite books each month (and easily my favorite “silly” book).  If you are  a fan of the show this comic won’t disappoint.  They seem to have bottled lightning and transmuted everything great about the show into a comic that is more fun than any other comic I’ve read.  I literally laugh out loud (lol for you hip internet kidz) when I read it.  Each main story run is between 3 and 6 issues long so they feel like extra long episodes of the show!  In between those runs are individual issues that feel just like an episode.  I can’t recommend this book enough!  If you’ve never seen the show check it out; if you have seen the show go buy all of these.

 

Adventure Time: The Flip SideKaBOOM! Studios

This is a monthly mini-series by KaBOOM! which is in keeping with their tradition of having a 6 issue mini series running in tandem with their main Adventure Time series.  I would say that Flip Side is the strongest of these mini-series yet.  It centers on Finn and Jake on a topsy-turvy adventure to convince a wizard to kidnap a princess!  I’ve enjoyed this book more than the other Adventure Time mini series but I think it will be the last one I get until one really jumps out at me.

 

* Do Not Miss* BatmanDC Comics

Batman #27

This monthly book by DC was a part of their “New 52” a few years ago.  Under the tutelage of writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo this book has easily turned into the best monthly series of the past 2+ years.  Even if you aren’t a huge Batman fan (I wasn’t) this book is well worth your time because of Snyder’s nuanced writing and Capullo’s gritty, dynamic art.  The real strength of this book has been the way that it reflects on the 75 year history of Batman and re-imagines the mythos.  It constantly reads the way Batman should read, looks the way Batman should look, and feels the way Batman should feel while simultaneously bucking your expectations.  Pick up a copy of Batman Annual #1 (written by Synder and Tynion, art by Fabok) and you’ll see what I’m talking about.  I can’t stress enough how good this book is and how good a mood I’m in any day I get to pick it up at the shop!

 

*Do Not Miss* Black ScienceImage Comics

Black Science #4

This monthly series by Image reads like old school sci-fi pulp for a modern era.  Honestly I picked this up after reading a review of #1 on ign.com which gave it a 10/10.  How could I not check it out?  And boy-howdy, let me tell you, I was not disappointed.  The thing that stands out most to me about this title is the unbelievable pacing.  It is a modern exploration in en medias res.  We come into the story right as things go wrong.  You are bombarded with phrases and concepts (anarchist league of scientists, trans-dimensional travel, the pillar) with no context but you never feel lost.  This allows the reader to be swept up in the excitement of dimensional exploration while having the back story filled in as you go.  Each issue is about 60% current action and 40% back story which feels impeccably balanced to me.  Another thing that made this a stand out for me was that this book hit right as Matt Fraction’s run on Fantastic Four was wrapping up.  It really shone for me because it felt like an adult version of what I wished Fraction’s Fantastic Four had been (on the other hand, his FF run was great).  They share similar themes: family, exploration, the boundaries of science and ethics…but Black Science does it better.  Give it shot if you like sci-fi and weird worlds.

 

Detective ComicsDC Comics

This is another monthly book by DC that was a part of their “New 52” and serves as a different kind of Batman book from Snyder’s Batman in a few key ways.  It tends to have much shorter story arcs that feature villains (and allies) broadly.  The first year was intentionally devoid of the Joker, who then reappeared in Batman during the “Death of the Family” story arc.  This gave the team time to focus on other Batman rogues such as the Dollmaker, Penguin (later Emperor Penguin), and Scarecrow.  This book seems to me to be more about action and detective work than character development.  And it is really fun in that way.  You don’t have to think much about it but the stories tend to be enjoyable and the art is varied and strong. Definitely worth checking out if you like the Batman.

 

Fantastic FourMarvel Comics

A brand new volume of the classic Marvel title, this new Fantastic Four seems to be taking a darker turn this time around.  I won’t lie, I love the Fantastic Four.  They have always been one of my favorites.  Something about the campy pseudo-scf-fi adventure thing really speaks to me.  Jonathan Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four (and then FF) is one of my favorite runs of all time of any book.  I was wary when Fraction took over and they re-branded/re-numbered under the Marvel NOW! initiative.  As discussed in my Black Science post, I was disappointed in how the title turned out.  That being said, I loved FF and wish that it was still going.  I hope that this new volume turns out well but I have my concerns.  Fantastic Four shines when the odds are stacked against them, yet they can band together as a family against those odds.  Typically dark story arcs feel out of place for me.

 

Hellboy in Hell – Dark Horse Comics

I’m not entirely sure the release schedule for this Dark Horse title.  There will be a burst of releases for 2 or 3 months then nothing for 6 months.  But Atomic Empire considers it a monthly title, so here it is.  Any and all Hellboy books have been favorites for me for a long time.  I discovered Hellboy when I was about 12 and bought every trade paperback I could get my hands on.  I started collecting the issues thereafter.  While they only come out sporadically, they never cease to be a book that pleases.  With Hellboy in Hell, Mike Mignola is back on the art which is glorious.  His use of shadow to obscure and accentuate detail is unparalleled.  The dynamics of his forms is practically animated.  Hellboy books have always tended toward the esoteric and generally read fairly sparsely.  But if you can commit to reading things that you might not understand at first, you won’t be dissapointed.  I tend to read each issue a few times and, once the series is done, read them all in series because otherwise there is a lot of subtly that will slip through the cracks while you’re waiting 1 or 6 months for a new issue.  If you like mythology and religion, Hellboy is a great comic for exposing yourself to cool beliefs and stories from around the world.

 

MiraclemanMarvel Comics

This monthly reprint of the classic Miracleman stories from The Warrior magazine (amongst reprints from other volumes) is published by Marvel who acquired the rights in 2009.  I wanted to check this out because Alan Moore wrote the Warrior issues and I love me some Alan Moore.  I was intrigued by the fact that he explores themes in Miracleman that are similar to Watchmen.  I’ve been enjoying the book but it definitely feels like it was written by a younger author, which is really interesting.  The writing is much more heavy-handed than later Moore work.  It’s good, but not by any means his best.  I’ll be curious to move forward into the issues write by Neil Gaiman.  I tend not to love Gaiman’s writing so I’ll have to see if I want to continue with it.

 

*Do Not Miss* Superior Spider-ManMarvel Comics

Superior Spider-Man #28

If you couldn’t already tell by the name of the blog, I.  Love.  Spider-Man.  He’s always been my favorite.  I like the costume.  I like the corny jokes.  I like the drama.  I like pretty much all of it (barring One More Day).  This is a bi-weekly series that tells the story of Spider-Man who has been mind-swapped with Doctor Octopus!  I was interested in the idea and not as resistant to it as a lot of Spider-Fans but I have been more or less disappointed with it until recently.  It took a while for Dan Slott to fully commit to the concept and there were some awkward issues at the beginning of the series with Peter’s consciousness exerting his will over Ock.  As the series moved forward, though, it came into its own.  Spider-Ock is not Peter.  He doesn’t tell jokes.  He is brutal, tactical, and uses words like dolt.  I can’t say that I “like” this Spider-Man, but he is fun to read in a cringe-worthy kind of way.  This latest story (which I believe is the last Superior arc before Amazing comes back) is called “Goblin Nation” and it has rekindled my passion for Spider-Man.  It’s back to the basics: Spider-Man vs. the Green Goblin with the twist of Ock vs. Osborne.  I’m loving it.  I do wish that the whole “Superior” thing had just been a long story arc within Amazing rather than giving it its own title, but I suppose that was to give us the impression that this was going to last.  Check it out, this last story isn’t one to miss.

 

Superior Spider-Man Team-UpMarvel Comics

I picked up this monthly companion series to Marvel’s Superior Spider-Man because I’m a firm believer that there is no such thing as too much Spider-Man.  This series has been strange.  It came out of the short lived Avenging Spider-Man which sort of reinvigorated the concept of the Spider-Man team up book.  I like team-up books.  They tend to be light and action filled and less story-heavy.  Since becoming Superior Team-Up, though, this book has actually been a pretty important companion book for the main series.  There is some overlap in the stories but mainly, due to the fact that this book has had a different writer than the main series, Spider-Ock’s personality has been different in this book.  While he was still being “good” in the main series, he was already scheming in this one.  It gave a glimpse into the sort of Spider-Man he was going to become.  I don’t think this title is much longer for this world but it has been a fun ride.

 

Superman UnchainedDC Comics

This is a more or less a monthly title by DC that I picked up simply because Scott Synder was writing and Jim Lee was on art.  I don’t typically love Superman.  I have some Superman stories that I do love but this is the first monthly Superman series I’ve ever bought.  Synder’s Superman is interesting.  He’s no dumb farm boy with black and white morals.  He kind of feels – not surprisingly – like Batman with superpowers…that operates during the day.  There has been an interesting exploration of the history and mythos of Superman (I believe this book was started to celebrate 75 years of the original superhero) which Snyder is really good at.  Lee’s Superman art is definitive for me and always has been.  In my head Superman and the X-Men are always drawn by Jim Lee, which I guess is a testament to when I was coming up.  It has been good but I don’t expect to continue with it after this first story arc wraps up later this year.

 

I hope this gives you an idea of where I’m coming from each month.  I know that several of these titles will be turning over soon for me so keep and eye on the “What Am I Reading Now?” page.  In case you’re curious today I’m getting Batman #29, Fantastic Four #2, and Superior Spider-Man #29.