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Tuesday, July 01, 2014 

ComicBook.Com thinks some brand new duds are great for beginners

ComicBook.Com's written two lists of 25 stories they think make for great jumping on points, but most are really jumping off points. Here's the first list, which begins with the following commentary:
The world of mainstream superhero comics is notoriously hard to become acclimated to. The characters have decades-long histories and the serialized, soap operatic nature of the storytelling has created an insular fan club mentality that makes the average monthly comic harder to pick up for a new reader than just about any form of entertainment.

At the same time, it can be argued (and I would argue) that that same complexity, serialized nature and ongoing stories make those comics some of the most compelling and addictive entertainment created in the American mainstream media. As difficult as it is to get into comics in the first place, it's just about as hard to get out of them once you're hooked.
Not today it isn't. Soap opera or not, superhero comics worked years before because their stories were usually self-contained, any guest appearances by other superheroes and co-stars notwithstanding, and some stories continuing to another issue didn't last much longer than 3 at best. Today's writers and editors write them forcibly for trades, often padding them out so that a story once told in just 2 or 3 issues is now told in 6 or more, and what could once be told in just 5 pages now extends to more than 15.

The reason fan mentality became so insular is because the marketing became narrower, with publishers refusing to adapt to more viable formats like paperbacks, and lest we forget, there's those company-wide crossovers to think about, which all began with Secret Wars and Crisis on Infinite Earths. To make matters worse, the stories being published today are limited only to what the editors and writers think fits the bill, had their established character traits destroyed, and are just plain pointless. That's why it's not so hard to get out of superhero comics now, if one can even get hooked on them in the first place.

Now, here's some of their choices for the first 25. We'll begin with a brief note on Batman, post-New 52:
In the New 52, The Court of Owls storyline that kicked off Batman by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo is arguably the most obvious choice, but really anything from that creative team will do you right.
Are they kidding? They have nothing impressive to offer, and Snyder went overboard with a sleazy boast about one of his Joker stories. Next, and more laughable, is their citation of Dan Slott on Spider-Man:
While I've not read an issue of a Spider-Man comic since "One More Day" unless somebody was paying me to do it, it's my understanding that most readers consider Dan Slott among the best Spidey writers who's ever done it.
Just who would "most" be? The ones still left reading, or the ones who've long abandoned Marvel? His work is politicized fanfiction of the worst kind, and he's among the "braintrust" who's fine with throwing out Mary Jane Watson from Spidey's life. But, it gets worse:
He came on board following "One More Day" as part of the near-weekly "Brand New Day" initiative Marvel launched in part to compete with the success of DC's weekly event series 52 (they lured 52 editor Steve Wacker over to Marvel to tackle it, and you can hear more about that in a great interview with Wacker here). You can get three volumes of "Brand New Day," around 20 issues of comics, for under $30 and it's a perfect jumping-on point because, while Marvel wouldn't ever use the word, they basically rebooted Spider-Man, resetting him to about a 1980 status quo and significantly altering his relationships with just about everybody in the Marvel Universe.

Later on, Slott killed off Spider-Man (he got better) and replaced him briefly with a spider-powered Doctor Octopus (it's apparently better than it sounds, and also it makes more sense in context). That story, Superior Spider-Man, can be picked up in trade as well (at least the bits of it that have been collected; Peter just came back and not all of the SpOck stories are collected yet).
Wow, why should we trust the "picks" of somebody who's oblivious to the deeper, more overlooked problems with that publicity stunt? Slott built a "one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter" premise that's insulting to the intellect, and they think that's fun? Uh uh. Furthermore, I don't see what's so great about "rebooting" - certainly not when Mephisto is taking charge of the proceedings, something they don't mention - and altering his relations with the other MCU cast doesn't work when it basically makes Peter out to look like a jerk.

Next, here's what they say about Wonder Woman post-New 52:
The New 52's version of Wonder Woman is flawed and problematic in some ways, as many feminist comics bloggers and commentators have pointed out. Still, it's arguably the most coherent, cohesive vision for the character DC has had in years and art by Cliff Chiang is always gorgeous. The title is hard to recommend without a warning that some people will be very frustrated by it...but that's the New 52 in a nutshell.
Some people will also be very repelled by Brian Azzarello's vision. He turns the DC Amazons into savages, as though the Amazons Attack miniseries wasn't bad enough, retcons Diana's background so she's the product of a relation with Zeus instead of being developed from enchanted clay, and we're just supposed to be fine with a premise that makes it less imaginative? I don't think so, and sales seem to bear this out.
A few general Marvel Universe books that you should check out, not particularly tied to one massive, ongoing thing?

She-Hulk and The Thing, both by Dan Slott.

Slott's run on The Thing was at times wildly out of character and a bit too silly for hardcore FF fans (sorry, Michael Brown), but it was a ton of fun...which was the name of the game for Slott for a while, who came from kids' comics to break into the mainstream and almost immediately start doing books that made people laugh, even while they were pretty smart.
Gee, that's only telling why Slott's writing is worthless. Even before Inferior Dr. Octopus, Peter was written very out-of-character, and Slott's work on She-Hulk and Thing is just a precursor to what came later.
FF by Matt Fraction and Mike Allred is fun, clever and gorgeous. It's a crime the series ended, but it's a joy to have it to re-read, and the fact that it wasn't burdened by too many crossovers and tie-ins makes the collected editions a breezy read.
A book written by somebody as overrated as Fraction? No, I don't think so. It's not bad it ended at all.
52 told the story of the reintroduction of the Multiverse; a group of misfit heroes had to save the world from a massive global crisis following the disappearance of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman in the previous massive, global Crisis (DC has a lot of those, and some of them require capital C's). It's available in four trade paperbacks or one big hardcover, and you can probably get a good deal on it digitally if you wait a bit until the next sale. It helped to really flesh out some of DC's supporting characters in a way they hadn't got in a while because of the focus on plot that tends to distract from character.
Oh, for heaven's sake. It was nothing more than a followup to some of the sick themes found in Identity Crisis, and as such, it was disgusting. If it was supposed to "reintroduce" the Multiverse, they didn't do a good job on that either. 52's problem was that it didn't build anything organically or tastefully.
The Golden Age was an Elseworlds story so beloved that it basically became canon in the main line. Dealing with the "lost" period between the end of the Golden Age and the start of the Silver Age, the story saw heroes dogged by the US government and blacklisted by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee.

That story's writer, James Robinson, worked on an ongoing Starman series for DC that similarly explored the history and breadth of the DC Universe. It's one of the greatest superhero series ever written, and is available in a number of paperbacks, or oversized hardcovers if you prefer.
That premise from the Golden Age miniseries wasn't new. It was originally featured in the last Bronze Age Justice Society tale from the late 1970s, and Roy Thomas once wrote a special in 1985 that also looked at it. But the difference is that what was seen in years past, while questionable, was still done in better taste than what Robinson ended up doing in the 90s. Once, I might've thought his work was a gem, but today, I view it as some of the most pretentious products coming out of DC in modern times.
Structured similarly to Starman (utilizing a minior character with a lot of history and various incarnations) is Marc Andreyko's Manhunter, which saw District Attorney Kate Spencer lose her patience with a criminal justice system that allowed supervillains to become mass-murdering recidivists and stole some super-hardware from an evidence locker to make herself a brutal, chain-smoking, teenage-son-having superheroine. I cannot stress enough how brilliant this series is, and if you haven't read it you should do so now.
Bad news here too: that series also followed up on Identity Crisis, and if that's how they're going to handle it, then they threw away any credibility it could've had too.

Now, here's the second list, and what they say about Iron Man does not inspire much confidence:
There are a lot of great Iron Man stories, but one problem is that most of them don't really provide the best "in" to the world of the character.

Classic Bronze Age tales like "Demon in a Bottle" are no doubt key to his development, but they're mired in characters and concepts that are no longer relevant to Tony, and if that was your "in," you'd want to just keep right on reading through the '70s and '80s rather than jump into the monthlies.

Matt Fraction's Iron Man run has been collected in a number of volumes, and is arguably the best jumping-on point in recent memory. There's even Omnibus collections if you're really ambitious.
What do they mean those far more admirable stories are no longer relevant? And what do they think would be? That he be depicted as a marxist/socialist? And are they saying Bethany Cabe's not worthy either? It's just like them to write off some of the best ideas of yore without telling what kind of social issues and such they think would make for more relevant stories today, while at the same time they recommend the work of a pretentious leftist like Fraction.
Not quite as good as Fraction's, but a solid read and an organic jumping-on point, is the recently-launched Marvel NOW! Iron Man series. This, of course, is going to be the case for most Marvel titles...but Kieron Gillen and Greg Land's Iron Man Volume 1: Believe is pretty good stuff, and it ties closely into what was going on in Iron Man 3 that casual fans should be able to wander right in.
I don't see what's so great about the work of a writer whose idea for "developing" Tony was to retcon him into an adoptee instead of the son and heir to Howard and Maria Stark. Now, here's what they say about Justice League books:
There are a lot of books that are objectively good, but which don't actually "exist" in continuity anymore. That means as a jumping-on point, for instance, the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League is a terrible idea. But if you like yourself, and want joy in your life, you should buy them.

The obvious one, since the launch of the New 52, is Justice League: Origin by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee. It's a solid, modern retelling of the League's first meeting and it inspired the Justice League: War animated film and will likely play a big role in inspiring the Justice League live-action feature.
Oh, isn't that clever. Claiming the Giffen/DeMatteis run on the League is worthless, while Johns' run, with its stupid explanation for why Martian Manhunter's no longer an official member, and horrible retcon of Capt. Marvel, is recommended at the older output's expense.
There's been plenty of Justice League tie-in books since the New 52 launched, but frankly most of them are based on peripheral characters and not particualrly new-reader friendly unless you know you're going to like a particular character or theme. If so, by all means: the first trades of both Justice League Dark and Justice League International are quite good and easy to follow, but they won't really illuminate the DC Universe for you and in the case of Dark, the series really got kind of reinvented when Volume 3 hit.

In spite of the fact that it doesn't "count," Grant Morrison's first volume of JLA still holds up and gives a sense for the characters that's hard to match...although Mark Waid's JLA: Year One gives it a run for its money.
I'm not so sure of that. IIRC, Morrison put in a conversation between Batman and Kyle Rayner where the former tells the latter he likes him more than Hal Jordan, because, unlike Hal, Kyle knows the meaning of fear. But at least that tells us where Morrison stood on the Emerald Twilight issue.

As for the other League spinoffs, they're not new-reader friendly because their writing is weak, or because they pander to the hardcore addicts who don't care about writing quality.
Brian Michael Bendis and Kelly Sue DeConnick both have a trade paperback of Avengers Assemble under their belts which would be great entry points, with Bendis's tying the Avengers to the Guardians of the Galaxy and the larger Marvel Universe while DeConnick's is largely done-in-one or a few stories that inform the heroes' backstories -- an important thing to do in team books when you get a chance, since so many heroes can't support solo titles in today's market.
Just what the world needs, recommendations for one of the worst writers Marvel's hired in years. Bendis isn't worth it, as Disassembled from 2004 demonstrated.
Avengers vs. X-Men is pretty much indispensible for today's Marvel readers, since it kicked off the mountain of crap that, among other things, led to Uncanny Avengers, the first volume of which is a cautiously recommended read (it's pretty accessible but not the best representation of some of the characters).
It's not the best representation at all. I figure that "mountain of crap" line was supposed to be a joke, because seriously, Bendis' work is awful. What's so accessible about his and Rick Remender's work anyway? They continue to Green Lantern with:
Really, at this point it's all about Geoff Johns.

Not only did he craft a whole new mythology for the character, and not only did he do it in a way that really endeared him to the fan base, but he is, almost certainly, the most celebrated Green Lantern writer of all time, and since his stories were all grandfathered into continuity when the reboot happened, it means his whole run is basically worth a read and it will actually "count."

Green Lantern: Rebirth is the volume you want to start with, although it's not my favorite. Starting with The Sinestro Corps War, the title just exploded and the New 52 volumes are actually a great, fresh reboot in spite of the fact that the book didn't really reboot much. The first of those is just called Green Lantern: Sinestro. If you start with that and keep reading, you can make the call whether to keep going when the new creative teams take over.
Uh uh. Rebirth tied into Identity Crisis, and whatever "characterization" Johns gave Hal amounted to little more than making him bitter over the death of his father and not moving past it. The bloodletting in the ensuing tales didn't help either. And why do they think Johns is the most celebrated writer, but not John Broome, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, Denny O'Neil or even Gerard Jones? Johns is nothing more than a figure whom the press decided to lionize because his vision fits their PC bill.
Civil War has never been a favorite of mine, but it's easy to understand and it was the key jumping-off point for all of the insanity that has followed, from Ed Brubaker's Captain America to Avengers vs. X-Men.
What, they're suddenly being honest for a change? Because it was a jumping-off point, as a crossover and otherwise. Actually, if they're saying it was easy to understand, I'd say it's not, because of the awful politics involved, and come to think of it, the "off" was probably just a typo.
...previous volumes of Booster Gold could turn out to be important: the character came back after Flashpoint remembering the past. There's a handful of Booster Gold volumes, plus World of Flashpoint Presents Superman.

Speaking of which, you should read Flashpoint. For an event series, it's surprisingly good; while the characters are all butchered and turned around, it did give a primer on all fo them and you can glean a lot about the "standard" versions of the characters from the changes made...and it explains the birth of the New 52-verse in a way that's important if you decide you like Justice League and want to read something like Trinity War.
If it's the original Booster tales from the late 80s, yes. But if it's any of the PC junk that turned up post-Identity Crisis, no. And anyone who gushes over Flashpoint and has no ability to draw the line at all this superfluous retconning of the DCU isn't a very reliable critic.
All-Star Western is one of the best books of the New 52, and the Jonah Hex stories from Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and company have LONG been some of DC's best books. He doesn't "matter" much to the big picture since he's a Western hero who lives in the past, but it's a great book and ANY volume is easy enough to jump in.
Oh please. Even they've been recycling some of the sloppiest ideas of yore, like the time Jonah was transported into the future at the tail end of the Bronze Age series' run. I wouldn't consider their work the greatest either.

It's funny how the writer says some of these aren't his favorite books, yet recommends them anyway, while ignoring many of the better stories from decades ago, which make for better recommendations and escapist fare. Another case of writers with no ability to offer a serious look at the Golden/Silver/Bronze Ages.

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Pop culture's always been about what's hot and cool right now, not about staying power and longevity. Within the next 10-20 years, people will be wondering "who?", when asked about these writers.

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