Contemporary Vintages

My first full thesis draft, at time of writing, is nearing completion – and by that, I mean that within six hours I will have close to 15,000 words typed, smooshed together and submitted to my supervisor for first review.

This is a tremendous day for me; nine months of research, essays, classes, blood, sweat, tears, scotch and more research has finally led to the first entire draft of what will be my 2012 brainchild. I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed right now, seeing the fruits of my labours begin to ripen as it all comes together towards the explosive finale on October 4th.

This entry is not about that thesis.

Instead, I’m going to adapt an idea I’ve had for a while now. Last year I wrote a piece for my Creative Non-Fiction class that compared the three comic book stores closest to me to three different kinds of places – the high-end shop was akin to the Hilton, the mid-level was like a favourite pub with punch-ups every other day, and the abortionate hole-in-the-wall alley store was…an abortionate, hole-in-the-wall alley store, but with sweatier Europeans.

This time, I’m taking a similar path with something else – comparing comic books to alcohol.

This might sound like a very indulgent piece, and you’d be well within your rights to switch off and read something else, but since this process is calming me a little from the hectic maelstrom that is thesis drafting I figure I’m gonna be indulgent for a moment. Plus, it might be kinda funny. A bit. Maybe. If you like that sort of thing.

As I’ve already covered, I’m always the first to jump up and tell people what to read when they want to start on comic books, so consider this an augmentation of that process. Admittedly, the current company-wide reboots DC and Marvel and instituting have, in some cases, made it far easier for neophyte comicphiles to get involved with all the superheroes they loved seeing on the big screen (and Superman). Having now experienced a large portion of DC’s New 52, and seeing the recent Marvel offerings for most of their favourite heroes over the last few years, here’s some tips on identifying the best brand of book booze for the affluent new reader. As an addendum, I’m positive I’ll regret this idea by the end of writing it.

For the purposes of staying contemporary, the following examples will only be plumbed from 2000 onwards. Please also note this list isn’t particularly exhaustive, so if I’ve missed your favourite writer or story it’s not because I hate them – it’s because this thesis won’t write itself, and I need to make a quick point between panic sessions.

CHEAP GOON (BAD WINE FOR ALL NON-AUSTRALIANS)

Novels have Mills and Boon as a crap alternative to the really deep, cerebral stuff. Movies have Sci-Fi Channel Originals. Comic books are no different.

Admittedly, I have found large amount of recent material has managed to be somewhat enjoyable (most of which falls in the next category) which means these days I find only a handful of particular authors and storylines fall under the subheading of Cheap Goon – the kind of comic book you read for the sake of reading something with pictures and words on the page. If I’m completely honest, these are the books and authors that make me want to take up penis-flensing as a pastime.

Authors/Artists:

TONY DANIEL – Vintages include Faces of Death (possibly the worst Batman book ever written) and Life After Death (probably a close second to the above)
ROB LIEFELD – Vintages include Deadpool: Merc with a Mouth (ignoring Victor Gischler’s otherwise fine dialogue) and Hawk and Dove: First Strikes (which included necrophilia, kind of, and a rather abrupt ending)
DANIEL WAY – Vintages include almost every Deadpool book released since 2007 (alright, some of them are good, but it’s gotten way too tired, formulaic and boring)

Titles:

JUSTICE LEAGUE: CRY FOR JUSTICE (almost turned me off team books altogether, with dialogue provided by an eight-year-old Captain Planet enthusiast)
KICK-ASS 2 (should probably go in the next category, but the hyperviolence, rape and depressing atmosphere make it look like Mark Millar is trying too hard)
X-MEN: ENDANGERED SPECIES (the kind of wine that makes you depressed and wishing you got that lost time back after drinking it)
ANY MAIN CONTINUITY SUPERMAN STORY BEFORE 2011 (Enough said)

WORKHORSE BEER/ALE

This is the reliable, solid, kinda fun but not excellent sort of drink you take for a quick bit of fun after a long day at the office, supermarket or slave torture pit. Don’t expect anything too revelatory or incredibly cerebral, but it’s a step up from Rob Liefeld at least.

Authors/Artists:

PETER TOMASI: Ales include Nightwing: The Great Leap (a good precede for Dick Grayson’s time as Batman) and Green Lantern Corps: Blackest Night (a great chance to see Guy Gardner get comeuppance for mooning Batman)
JUDD WINICK: Notable stouts include Batman: Under the Red Hood (reintroducing Jason Todd as something other than a clay replica) and Batwing: The Lost Kingdom (a good chance to see African Batman go up against African Jason Voorhees)
KIERON GILLEN: Particular lagers such as Uncanny X-Men (a great intro for new readers, but disappointing to veterans) and Thor (provided a great conclusion for the preceding run, but meandered around a bit too much afterwards)

Titles:

THE RESURRECTION OF RA’S AL GHUL (the art can get a bit schizophrenic, but on the whole it’s a great supernatural punchfest)
THE WALKING DEAD (an exceptional story that does tend to fluctuate quality-wise, but is no less reliable as a source of entertainment)
BATMAN: BATTLE FOR THE COWL (could’ve been deeper, but the art’s pretty and the punches are visceral)

LOW SPIRITS (CHEAP VODKA, JACK DANIELS AND JOHNNIE WALKER RED)

This is better on the quality scale, while not quite reaching the awesomeness drunkenness of the next level. These are good, solid, reliable, entertaining and contain a level of depth beyond anything Rob Liefeld’s capable of. This list’d be the one I have most titles on, but for the purposes of this entry I’ll limit it to three of my favourites:

Authors/Artists:

MATT FRACTION: Labels such as The Invincible Iron Man (an excellent serial almost on par with the Dark Knight trilogy in terms of progression) and Fear Itself (might’ve failed as a major crossover event, but had some quite deep psychology to it nonetheless)
GEOFF JOHNS: Great imports like Green Lantern (which’d take too long to explain how cool it is) and The Flash (better than it sounds – seriously, go read it)
SCOTT SNYDER: Top-shelf stuff like The Black Mirror (hands-down the best Batman story of 2011) and Swamp Thing (like the Flash, better than it sounds)

Titles:

BATMAN: EARTH ONE (a great example of what can really be done with Elseworlds-style parallel universes. Plus, Alfred with a shotgun)
MARK WAID’S DAREDEVIL (easily accessible to newbies, greatly satisfying for veterans, and finally gives ol’ Hornhead some positive elements for once)
SCOTT PILGRIM (I’d be stunned if no-one’s heard of it – videogames, Canada and Ramona Flowers. Need I say more?)

HIGH SPIRITS (SMIRNOFF, JOHNNIE WALKER BLACK AND GLENMORANGIE SCOTCH)

The best that contemporary comics has to offer. The creme de la creme. The anti-Rob Liefeld. This is stuff that’s not only formed the backbone of my thesis, but is highly enjoyable in its own right.

Authors/Artists:

GRANT MORRISON: High-end bottles like Batman (you all know it by now) and New X-Men (if you disliked X-Men The Last Stand or Wolverine, read this to wash the taste out of your mouth)
ED BRUBAKER: Outstanding collections like Captain America (the best interpretation of the character) and Gotham Central (Law and Order meets Batman – only thing missing is Sam Waterston)
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Premier stuff like Daredevil (depressing, but an excellent character piece with some grungy art) and Dark Avengers (Seinfeld meets supervillains)
JOSS WHEDON: Well, duh (do I really need examples?)

Titles:

BATMAN: HUSH (my favourite Bat-story ever, and the best jumping on point for fans. Also, Catwoman)
UNCANNY X-FORCE (fast becoming another favourite, following an eclectic collection of Marvel nutters killing other Marvel nutters)
JUSTICE LEAGUE: ORIGIN (so far my favourite of the reboot, with great parallels to the Avengers movie and the prettiest Superman costume I’ve ever seen)

CLASSIC VINTAGES (ANYTHING YOU’D NEED TO SPEND A YEAR’S ALLOWANCE ON)

The classics are, like any narrative medium, as relevant today as they were back then. These are the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings of the genre, some of the best works comics have ever produced to make Rob Liefeld look like a six-year-old with a box of crayons.

Unlike the others, these are taken from pre-2000.

Authors/Artists:

ALAN MOORE: Fine, aged work like Watchmen (the definitive superhero deconstruction) and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (as long as you distance it from the movie)
CHRIS CLAREMONT: The greatest bottle of pre-90’s substance for X-Men (plus dialogue to rival Joss Whedon)
FRANK MILLER: Awesome stuff, before the vineyard went weird, like The Dark Knight Returns (as dark and gritty as an unwashed bathroom) and Batman: Year One (the only real origin story that hasn’t been too heavily retconned recently)

Titles:

THE SANDMAN (pushing the envelope of the comic book medium, with an engrossing plot and a truly tragic hero)
BATMAN: THE LONG HALLOWEEN (chronologically, one of Batman’s earliest and most enjoyable adventures with a great murder mystery plot attached)
SPIDER-MAN: BIRTH OF VENOM (the emergence of one of the comic book world’s most iconic supervillains)

Alright, I was correct – this was a terrible idea. Almost as terrible as Rob Liefeld’s ability to lose a fight gracefully. Was it clear that I think he’s a douchebag?

In all seriousness, if you’re perusing the local comics haunt and wondering what chaser you’d like to go with your microwaved cordon bleu and mashed potato, check out the list and see what appeals. Or, y’know, splash out and just buy an Xbox instead. Whatever works.

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