Monday, 5 May 2008

Incredible reading

This feature is designed to give me a chance to recommend and comment on various graphic novels and stories I’ve read and think deserve discussion. Of course Watchmen which I wrote about here in July 2007, is essential reading, as it has shaped the approach of comic writers ever since.

The DC Universe Stories of Alan Moore – It’s been said before, but Alan Moore is really good at taking characters and putting a new light on their actions by subtly hinting at their secret (often fairly self-centred or obsessive) motivations through clever dialogue. He also has a knack for compelling horror-fantasy and tough crime drama, and it’s this that shines through in this collection the most. In “Vigilante” a rookie hero tries to save a young child from a recently released convict, who, feeling betrayed by his wife, brutally slays her to get to his daughter. The ambiguous ending, with the pointing glove, reminds us of the villain’s words earlier in the story, including his defence to his daughter for his previous crime, that the authorities are always pointing the finger, when he is trying to live his life his way. The theme of obsession is shown in other stories, including one piece exploring the emotional depths of one of Batman’s enemies, Clayface II. There are two editions of this collection – try to find the later one, which includes a brilliant tale which was written as if it was “The final Superman story ever told” – we get to see Superman fear for his life and retreat into a stronghold to hide from his enemies, and the future perspective is also very interesting, raising interesting questions about the kind of life Lois and Clark had dreamed for.

“Hulk: The End” by Peter David in Hulk: Banner & The End
“The End” is a tragedy and a tale of apocalypse rolled into one. The masterful Peter David recognises the savagery of the Hulk and the desperate loneliness of his alter-ego, Bruce Banner, and has pushed both to the extreme. In a world wracked by nuclear war, without any human contact, Banner is tired of life itself, while the Hulk represents the stubborn impulse within us to survive, and to never be seen to be beaten by anyone. It’s very profound. What would we do? Would we see a reason to live without other people? Why don’t we want to admit how much they mean to us? Why are we so stubborn, that we always want to show ourselves to be strong?

Astonishing X-men: Gifted – if you’re a comics fan at all, you must be reading the current classic run on Astonishing Xmen, and this story is where it all started. Writer Joss Whedon (writer on Toy Story and creator of Firefly, Serenity, Buffy and Angel) has crafted a plot involving moral dilemmas the team have never faced before. How do they respond to the new mutant “cure”? What kind of scientific research has been carried out on one of their team members, and how do they bring the well-respected scientist to justice? How do they gain favour with the public? This is an entertaining first arc, with stylish art, and I think its greatest strength is its focus on character and the emotions of the team through this trial. (The cover pictured here is actually from the beginning of the second arc, called Dangerous.)

Gotham Central (DC) – this series (written by two of the finest modern writers, Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker) followed the work of the Gotham police dept. as they try to bring criminals to justice, infiltrating gangs and suffering losses at the hands of criminals who show no mercy to the men or women in uniform. One highlight I remember from the first volume was the reaction of a cop who’d lost a friend to Mr Freeze: he blamed Batman and became obsessed with bringing a result for the department the official way. His grief really brought home the pressures and daily strain of his job in such a dangerous city.

*Coming soon: She-Hulk, the Origin of Venom, Astro City, Lex Luthor: Man of Steel. See my March 2008 entry for a full review of Superman: For all Seasons.

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