by Roger Ash
If you regularly read my columns here at the Westfield blog, you know I try to remain positive. The reason for this is simple: in my opinion, I think it’s better to steer people to books I like rather than away from books I don’t like. Why give time to books that I don’t care for? I know there are people who disagree with this stance, but it’s mine and I’m sticking to it. That being said, to get to the topic of this column – what I’m reading – I think it’s productive to go through the journey that’s gotten me to this point which includes what I’m not reading. And what I’m not reading is very many superhero comics.
Like many comic readers, I started out with superhero comics. I couldn’t wait for the latest adventures of Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, or Thor. Yes, I was a Marvel Zombie in my early years. I loved superhero comics then and I still do, but I read very few of them. Part of that is I simply aged out of the target audience the book was intended for. Some is that as I aged, my tastes changed. But the biggest factor recently is that I’ve become weary with events.
The majority of Marvel and DC books these days seems to be tied into some kind of event. DC’s recent Flahpoint didn’t really spark my interest so I gave it a pass, yet some of the tie-in miniseries looked interesting, so I tried them. And I enjoyed them until I got to the last issue. When I read a miniseries, I expect to get a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end. However, with the exception of Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown, none of the Flashpoint tie-in series I read ended. To get the ending, I had to read the final issue of Flashpoint. As a reader I found that highly frustrating.
Meanwhile, over at Marvel, I was very intrigued by the concept of Fear Itself. A villain who feeds on fear and gets stronger the more people are afraid? That sounds great! Yet the execution of that idea didn’t grab me. It all turned into a big superhero brawl (which, admittedly, can be fun) with the fear concept more of a background element than what I had hoped for.
Back at DC, we have the New 52. Granted, this is not an event in the same way that Flashpoint and Fear Itself are, but no one can argue the fact that it was a huge event for DC. We were told this would be new, exciting, and different yet, at the end of the day, I personally find I’m reading about the same number of DC titles as I read before the relaunch. And things don’t really seem that much different than before. There have been some character changes that angered people (Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws spring to mind) but before the relaunch people were mad about Justice League: The Rise of Arsenal and Justice League: Cry For Justice. As the old saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Enough. Ever since the big company-wide events started there have been two that I feel have lived up to their promise, DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths and Legends. I know they must be bringing in money for the publishers otherwise they wouldn’t keep doing them, but I’m through with events. I’m tired of having my expectations raised then dashed. So, I’m not reading that many superhero comics anymore for all the reasons stated above. There are some out there that I still enjoy such as Daredevil, Fantastic Four, and FF; and I’ll give anything written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning a try (Resurrection Man, Villains For Hire, New Mutants) as I think their work is fantastic and doesn’t get near the amount of attention they deserve.
So what am I reading? Well, there are non-superhero comics out there such as the very creepy Rachel Rising, the all-ages fun of Roger Langridge’s Snarked, and anthropomorphic samurai action of Usagi Yojimbo (which is, month in and month out, my favorite comic being published). But what I find I’m really excited about are some of the classic comic strip collections, with my favorites coming from Fantagraphics and IDW.
Fantagraphics’ collections featuring Charles Schulz’s comic strip masterpiece, Peanuts, are fantastic and if you’re a Peanuts fan, you need to be reading these. Floyd Gottfredson probably did as much to shape the personality of Mickey Mouse and his supporting cast as Carl Barks did for the Disney Ducks, yet his work has never received the same degree of attention as the work of Barks. Fantagraphics is correcting that with Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse. The first two volumes of this series are fantastic and the strips probably look better here than they did when they were originally published. It’s a joy to watch Gottfredson develop as a storyteller as Mickey and the gang evolve along with him. The stories are exciting and fun though of their time as there are racial stereotypes that were common at the time that are unacceptable by today’s standards. There’s also plenty of background material to place the stories into historical perspective. And the collection of Walt Kelly’s Pogo that hits stores this week is gorgeous. I have some of Fantagraphics’ previous Pogo volumes and this one blows them away. I’m also getting into Popeye for the first time with their collections of Segar’s classic strip.
Anything that comes from The Library of American Comics & IDW is worth a look but what has my attention right now is their recently-completed five-volume run of Berkeley Breathed’s Bloom County. Bloom County was my favorite comic strip in my late-high school/college years. It’s been a real pleasure to revisit it in these outstanding books. The books contain annotations from Breathed and I admit to feeling really old when the editors have to point out cultural references such as who Ed Meese, Caspar Weinberger, and Rona Barrett are. As an animation nut, their upcoming Chuck Jones: The Dream That Never Was could be the release of the year as far as I’m concerned.
Yes, events have finally gotten the better of me, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t lots more outstanding comics to read. What are you enjoying reading right now? Comment below and let me know.
Now, go read a comic!