Thursday, September 23, 2010

What comic books to read (Marvel)

As an avid comic book reader, here is my take on the industry and my personal opinion on certain titles.  This post is a focus on a newbie's quest to start reading.  Here, I start off with Marvel Comics.

There are several reasons to read titles in Marvel Comics.  One is continuity.  Though all comic book characters eventually die in a major storyline move, they still end up alive in more ways than one.  Heck, this is comics so it really doesn't matter if they die now (in the long run, they'll be alive sooner or later).  But lately, some characters in the Marvel universe have ended up staying dead.  Several examples would be Jean Grey of the X-Men (she's been through it a lot of times actually), Kitty Pryde (Shadowcat), and the minor characters who perished during the Civil War storyline.  In comparison to DC Comics, Marvel does not go into reset mode as commonly as DC.  The Marvel Comics reader would expect that what happens in a major storyline now is expected to have consequences in the future.  Several examples: House of M which led to mutants number being decimated to 198 (and counting down).  Another example would be Civil War, which led to Iron Man taking over SHIELD.  While being the SHIELD leader, the Hulk declared war on all heroes in World War Hulk.  The next big event came with Secret Invasion when the Skrulls secretly invaded Earth by portraying several heroes (also gave Marvel a good reason to reincarnate several dead heroes from the past).  Secret Invasion made Norman Osborn the hero and he replaced Tony Stark/Iron Man as the head police and renamed SHIELD to HAMMER which led to Dark Reign (most of his (mis)adventures can be read in Dark Avengers, Vol. 1: Assemble).  In Dark Avengers: Siege, we see the fall of Norman Osborn and the good guys are once more at the helm.  All the storylines mentioned show the continuity of the stories in Marvel.  From Civil War down to Siege, they are all somehow connected.

Another reason to read Marvel is the well organized structure of its universe.  To wit, one can choose among the categories:

1. Mutants (any title dealing with the mutants)
2. Avengers
3. Space guys (Guardians of the Galaxy, etc.)
4. The other teams (Fantastic Four)
5. The other solo guys
6. Ultimates line 
7. Max storyline

Team-up titles are almost non-existent now.  Although there are team titles, there is nothing like DC's Superman/Batman nor Trinity (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman).  Frankly, there should be a limit towards over-exposure in the comic book universe.

Third reason to read Marvel would be how they incorporate current issues and trends to their stories.  Unlike in DC in which each hero's city is a fictional location, the Marvel characters use actual cities as their base of operations.  Case in point, Spider-man, the X-Men, and X-Factor.  Want to get a feel of New York City?  Just read Spider-man as he swings around the skyscrapers.  Need to get a little bit of sunny California?  Check out the X-Men.  As for X-Factor, they recently relocated to Detroit but are currently having a "vacation" in Las Vegas as of this writing.

Both companies are using the same trend of treating each comic book title as its own. (they  seldom overlap the stories unless there's a big event).  The good thing about Marvel is that they have streamlined their solo hero titles.  Spider-man has gone back to the Amazing Spider-man title and Marvel has placed its focus on it.  Wolverine is appearing on X-Men books as well as Avengers while he has 2 on-going titles as of the moment (Sidenote: Wolverine even made a comment that being present in both the X-Men and the Avengers is one of his powers).  Deadpool is currently overexposed but since he does not appear in any team book, he can have any (mis)adventure wherever he wants to.

One thing of note with the Marvel universe is that its characters should not be confused with the characters in the movies.  The movies should be treated separately as since the hardcore comic book fan will always disagree over what's happening in the movies.  Chalk one up to Hollywood for always insisting on having a different script or storyline.

For those who want to dive into the Marvel universe, these are probably the titles that I would recommend:

1. Amazing Spider-man

Where to start? Spider-Man: Brand New Day, Vol. 1 (v. 1) is probably a good place to start and gradually work towards the current issues.  Spider-man has never been more fun.  Peter Parker is back to being a single guy.  He's jobless.  He's making ends meet trying to live in New York.  He's back to what he was when he was in high school and down on his luck. Aunt May is back though but she just got married to J. Jonah Jameson's father (yup, JJJ and Parker are now stepbrothers).  And probably one of the best kickers, JJ is the mayor of New York City and has devoted quite a lot to ridding the city of Spider-man.

After Civil War, Parker and Mary Jane Watson had to run for their lives since Spider-man's secret identity was revealed.  Brand New Day erased all that and more.

By far, I can say that this is one comic book title that I'd say is fun to read.

2. Deadpool

This is a fun title to read.  I call it a semi-team book because he speaks to at least two other voices in his head.  This aspect of Deadpool makes it all the more funny.

Start off with Deadpool, Vol. 1: Secret Invasion (v. 1) then work towards the current issues.  Guaranteed all fun and considerably light reading.

But I do suggest to not overdo on reading Deadpool.  I've gone through Deadpool: Suicide Kings and Deadpool: Merc with a Mouth.  They're all fun to read.  I'm still reading Deadpool Team-up.  When Deadpool Corps came out, I just had to say enough is enough.

3. Agents of Atlas

If there's a team that is not the usual superhero-oriented team like the Avengers, X-Men, or Fantastic Four, it's the Agent of Atlas.  The team is composed of hard hitters like a gorilla man and Namora, and their aces in the sleeve are a sensually tempting diva named Venus and an old school robot named M-11.  Oh, and they have a telepathic alien in Marvel Boy, who is from Uranus (yes, he gets to be a butt of the "your anus" jokes too).  What makes Agents of Atlas fun is that they don't answer to any higher power, even to a powerful dragon.  They're a semi-black ops team who can kick any other team's butts with their lineup.

Start with any of the Agents of Atlas storyline.  The current on-going series is entitled simply as Atlas.

4. X-Factor

This is probably the most improbable X book to read.  X-Factor is always underestimated as just a ragtag team of mutants (and non-mutants) but it is so well written by master scribe Peter David.  X-Factor brings together Multiple Man (now usually referred to as just Madrox), Siryn, Monet St. Clair (of Generation X fame), Strong Guy Guido, the de-powered Rictor, the always evolving Darwin, the know-it-all Layla Miller, and recent inclusions to the team: the always lucky Longshot and the suddenly queer Shatterstar.  X-Factor's current numbering is weird but just start somewhere.  Peter David is so worth it.

5. Wolverine

The last ongoing book that I would recommend is my all-time favorite character from Marvel.  This countdown wouldn't be complete without his inclusion.  I've been reading his ongoing title since Wolverine #90 when he got the adamantium removed from his bones.  I waited patiently as Larry Hama weaved the story around up to the #100 when some bad guys attempted to get the adamantium back into his body.  Wolverine became more feral after that issue.  I haven't known how he got his adamantium back but I caught up with him once more somewhere along the way.  So, where to start with him?  Of course, knowledge on Wolverine wouldn't be sufficient without reading Wolverine: Origin.  Get a copy of the limited series.  Then jump into Wolverine: Weapon X, Vol. 1: The Adamantium Men or Wolverine: Weapon X, Vol. 2: Insane in the Brain.  The stories are all good from master storyteller Jason Aaron.  Also, the ongoing series with the title Wolverine is getting a sort of a reboot as he journeys into hell in spirit (his body is still on Earth).  It should be fun to see how they'll get him to battle demons in hell.

If you're looking to just read around the Marvel universe without getting into the ongoing titles, I suggest several good books that are sure to pique an interest in the geek in you.

First off, Dark Avengers, Vol. 1: Assemble.  Brian Michael Bendis does a great job a la Thunderbolts with this bad guy version of the Avengers.  The story: Norman Osborn has just taken over SHIELD and renamed it as HAMMER.  He dons Tony Stark's Suits and becomes this Avengers' version of Iron Man.  To round up the team, he calls on Bullseye to be Hawkeye, Venom to be Spider-man, Daken (Wolverine's son) to be Wolverine, etc.  They are a dysfunctional group that tries to be functional.  There is a very good reason why this has been one of Marvel's best books during its time but you just have to read it to believe it.

Still staying with the Avengers theme, make sure to grab The Ultimates Vol. 1: Super-Human and The Ultimates Vol. 2: Homeland Security plus The Ultimates 2, Vol. 1: Gods and Monsters and The Ultimates 2, Vol. 2: Grand Theft America (v. 2).  These are all great reads from Mark Millar.  Nick Fury is African-American and looks like Samuel L. Jackson.  There's a bit in one of the issues where the heroes discuss who would play who in a movie.  It's a very outrageous moment.  Actually, I'd recommend any of the first Ultimate line books for light reading.  They are all great.  The writers are all given full leeway as to how to treat the characters in a different light.  Art is spiffy too.  Special props to Mark Bagley for Ultimate Spider-man.

Astonishing X-Men Vol. 1: Gifted is a great take by Joss Whedon on the X-Men.  I might say that this was the first Marvel book that I had read for a very long time.  I quickly got hooked to Whedon's dialogue.  This will most probably be the only Mutant book that I'd recommend for light reading.

Also check out the following great books by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale (their partnership, by the way, is just awsome): Daredevil: Yellow (Daredevil (Unnumbered)), Spider-Man: Blue, and Hulk: Gray (Incredible Hulk). There's supposed to be a Captain America: White but I think it's not yet done.  If you've noticed, the Marvel books by Loeb and Sale has a color in its title.

I think, that should be enough for the Marvel side of things.  Next post would be about DC Comics.

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