It’s certainly been a while, faithful readers of GIMMGP. Laura and I have been working the weeks away on some super-secret projects that we hope to unveil soon, so look forward to that day (whenever it may be)! In the little bit of spare time I manage to scrape up at a day’s end, I have been reading plenty of comic books which I borrowed from the library.
Thanks to the massive catalog at our local branch, I have discovered several superhero one-shots that slipped under my radar during their initial release. These paneled pages have been a soothing balm for my electronics weary eyes after a long day of technology-filled work and play. Allow me to share some of my favorite titles from these library excursions.
Superman: Red Son
Let me be frank at the commencement: I don’t care for Superman comics. Perhaps it’s the overly good-natured character, or simply the idea that at his power level, no foe should be too great yet the Man of Steel keeps getting subverted by evildoers. Something about his nigh-invincible abilities laced under the tropes of classic superhero comics has made the character and the stories around him rather uninteresting to me. In spite of this, there are some titles starring Superman that I find to be genuinely engaging and Red Son is one of these tales.
The premise of Red Son is a seemingly simple twist on the classic origin: instead of landing in Kansas, what if Superman happened to land in the Soviet Union? From this basic idea, an alternate history of the Cold War unfolds with Kal-El going from benevolent Russian super-citizen to paranoid Big Brother-esque dictator. On the side of the Americans is famed scientist Lex Luthor, whose attempts to balance the power between nations leads to the creation of major villains from the Superman universe. Just as there are analogues to villains like Brainiac and Bizarro, there are alternate versions of heroes like Batman (a disenfranchised KGB agent) and Hal Jordan (leader of the Green Lantern Marine Corps). All of these intriguing characters and twists on the traditional Superman story are wrapped up in fantastic artwork, full of highly detailed backgrounds and colorful character redesigns. I would recommend this comic for anyone who has given up on the Man of Steel, or for those who love the Last Son of Krypton and are looking for their next fix.
Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil
Before I realized who wrote this title, I had little interest in reading it. Captain Marvel was never on my radar, save for the occasional shouting of “SHAZAM!” as a sort of pseudo-inside joke. Then I heard that Jeff Smith, the fantastic author of my beloved Bone comics, penned this superhero tale. And so began the rapid devouring of The Monster Society of Evil.
Mr. Smith’s take on Captain Marvel is a perfect jumping-off point for any novice to the classic superhero. A fresh look at young Billy Batson’s encounter with the wizard who would tie him to his magical alter-ego provides a proper origin story at the start of this four issue series. From this not-so-chance meeting, Billy Batson gains the power to utter a magic word and become Captain Marvel, the world’s mightiest mortal! This comic is chock full of heart, featuring plenty of bombastic superhero moments that frame a touching story of an orphan who finds a new family in the city he dares to protect. In addition to the great story and emotive artwork, the collected trade of Shazam! features a making of section that glimpses Jeff Smith’s production notes and compares his work to the original comics from the 1940s. I would recommend this comic to kids and the adults who still have a spark of childhood joy from comic book magic.
Now we come to the biggie, the crème de la crème, the best superhero comic I have read in years. Kingdom Come is from the DC Elseworlds imprint (read: the fun comics that don’t interfere with their oddball continuity) and details a story from a future universe where a conflict grows between the Justice League and their mostly amoral offspring. What results is a fascinating tale that unfolds around a seemingly simple character: a sullen minister named Norman McCay.
At the outset of Kingdom Come, Norman McCay visits a dying Wesley Dodds (the original Sandman) and the passing superhero transfers grisly visions of impending doom to the minister. Shortly after, Norman is visited by The Spectre, who recruits him to pass judgment at the approaching superhuman apocalypse. Norman is whisked behind the scenes as the old guard of superheroes (including a mourning Superman, a sullen and aged Batman, and the ever battle-ready Wonder Woman) deals with the destruction and chaos of a new breed of superhumans, many of which are their own children. An interesting parallel between the scriptures of Revelations and the acts of these titans is made, and Norman (along with the reader) is caught in the background; merely a spectator to the oncoming tragedy. This comic features the amazing artwork of Alex Ross, whose painted work feels like a glimpse of photographs from another reality. I would highly recommend this comic to everyone, particularly those who think that superhero comics have become silly and childish, with no message of hope to be had in their overly dark pages.
There you have it, fair readers. While I have managed to ingest other solid comic books from our library, nothing comes close to these three great stories. If you are looking for more articles to scratch your comic book itch, be sure to pop over to Geek Force Network, where I have recently highlighted several great indie comics (and video games!). While you’re at it, why not check out your local library? It might surprise you to see how much sequential art is nestled right beside the summer reading program lists.