Friday, January 14, 2011

Year of the Superhero: Introduction

I have two confessions. Okay, three, but the third barely counts because it's never been as much of a guilty secret.

1. I don't read comic books.

2. I love superheroes anyway.

3. I'm writing a superhero novel.

The lack of experience with comics is, potentially, a major failing for a geek. It seems like most women in the geek community online are familiar with the ins and outs of Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, Marvel, DC, so on, so forth, etc. Or perhaps I just have the bad luck to follow women who are into comics? Still, this is something I eventually want to remedy, especially because of Confession #3. I tell you this so you know I'm not an expert by any means. Moving on…

I think I've always been fascinated with superheroes, on some level. Even though I only know of them from pop culture references, movies, and (more recently) the occasional prose work, I'm pretty hooked. There are the themes of transformation and identity. There are the powers and the potential for greatness. There's the camp, the quips, the bright colors, the casual disregard for the laws of physics. There's the fact that there really is only one story—average Joe gets powers/technology/a cause and reinvents himself as a fighter of crime and champion of justice—but incredible variation within that story. We haven't run out of variations yet, actually. Every time I run into superheroes, I end up grinning like an idiot.*

You know that WIP I've been railing about off and on since … forever? It's about a guy who becomes a superhero, in a world much like ours where superheroes like these guys and these guys already exist and everyone's grown up watching the same superhero films and reading the same comic books as we have. So it gets a little meta in places, but not overmuch because, as noted above, I haven't read comics. But you can see why it would be important for me to be familiar with as many heroes and as many works of superhero fiction as possible. I've already made my way through a lot, in the name of research.

Sometimes this job is awesome.

I've got a lot more research to do, though, and since this is the year I hope to complete the novel once and for all, I'm going to try to cover as many heroes as possible. I'm going to meet the Green Hornet, the Green Lantern, Thor, and Captain America this year. I've got two unread superhero novels on my TBR shelf, and three or four more on my TBR list. There are superhero TV shows I haven't seen but want to. With any luck, I'll even find a not-too-scary way to break into this whole comic book thing.

Basically, I'm proclaiming this year the Year of the Superhero. I'll be blogging about my experiences with these as the year progresses—my impressions, my thoughts on how they relate to each other, the way they play with what I understand to be the tropes. And I'll be blogging periodically about the superhero shows, films, and prose works I've already been through in the name of research or otherwise. I hope you'll stick around.

To further my quest to familiarize myself with superhero works, I'm looking for recommendations. Books, movies, and TV shows are all welcome, but what I'd really, really like are comic book recs. For someone like me, who's just starting out with comic book heroes and is a fan of good plots, action, and camp, what are the good trade anthologies? The seminal ones? The good intro ones? I've read Watchmen, I've got Sandman marked as TBR, but otherwise… anyone?

* Okay, not every time. I've seen some episodes of Smallville that don't elicit this reaction.


Brooke Johnson said...

I've never been much of a comic book reader either, but I also love the idea of the superhero. Sadly, I don't have any recommendations for books. However, the animated series for superheroes would be a good place to do some "research." I especially recommend the X-Men TV series if you can find it.

I'm excited for this Year of the Superhero! :D

Amanda C. Davis said...

Hey! I love comics AND I've written superhero novels! Me to the rescue!

If you're looking for a starter comic book series already in trade PB format, try Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Spiderman.

Reissues of seminal comics works aren't too hard to find, but they can get expensive, like the EC Archives series.

At this point, 25 years post-Watchmen, superheroes have been deconstructed tip to toe, to the point where a five-year-old could tell you why not to wear a cape. Here are just a few comics that work with subverted or deconstructed superhero tropes:
Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.
Red Son
Marvel 1602
Marvel Runaways

Of course, find a local comics shop participating in Free Comic Book Day in May, and take anything they will give you.

Optional: To have your mind blown regarding comics as a medium, read Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics.

And here are some existing superhero novels to check out.
Hero, by Perry Moore
Soon I will be Invincible, by Austin Grossman
The Bigtime series: Karma Girl, Hot Mama, Jinx, by Jennifer Estep
Nobody Gets the Girl, by James Maxey
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon

I wish I could recommend you some of the most awesome comics I've read, but pretty much none of them are superheroes! Maybe eventually. :)

Anassa said...

Brooke - Yay, another superhero fan! Hopefully my posts will put you onto some good books, then. And the X-Men animated series … noted. Thanks!

Amanda - Thank you so much for weighing in with recommendations! I'm noting the ones I don't have on my TBR list already. I'm totally up for deconstructed tropes (as I'm kind of doing that too).

Feel free to tell me about non-hero comics as well. I want to read more graphic novel works, period.

NerdyGirl said...

I definitely suggest the X-Men, but I'll admit to being highly biased :)

If you don't mind gore, 30 Days of Night is an excellent vampire story.

Pride of Baghdad is short but very well written.

Tadbo said...


Do you have a crazy ride ahead of you.

I would suggest you go back and read Watchmen again after you've absorbed a bit of the accepted tropes and lore of the capes done by the mainstream publishers, namely Marvel and DC.

Also, know that I consider Sandman to be on par with Watchmen as the best comic book series ever to come from either of the big two.

I don't make a distinction in my recommendations between mainstream and non-mainstream books.

My recommendations:

- Marvelman
- Rising Stars
- Top 10
- Astro City
- Kingdom Come
- Identity Crisis
- The Dark Knight Returns
- Batman: Year 100
- All Star Superman
- Planetary (Yes, I see it up there but it's that good).
- The Authority
- Fables
- Ex Machina
- Y The Last Man
- Maus
- Blankets
- Pride of Baghdad
- The Sword
- Transmetropolitan
- Black Summer
- Hellboy: Seed of Destruction
- Joker by Brian Azzarello
- Mage
- Hellblazer

That should be enough for now. Happy reading and I look forward to your posts on the subject.

Tadbo said...

Also Powers by Brian Michael Bendis

Amalia T. said...


Superman: Red Son for SURE (it is amazing)

also, I would be remiss if I did not tell you to pick up J. Michael Straczynski's Thor relaunch. The first volume is INCREDIBLE. The second volume is still great, but not quite as awesome.

what else....

I really really enjoyed Superman/Batman: Supergirl and Superman/Batman: (I think it is Absolute Power?)
Batman: Hush and Batman: Heart of Hush
Trinity by Matt Wagnar
Superman: For Tomorrow

AND last but not least, for your average joe fix--
Ultimate Spiderman. any of it, really. It's all great.
The Ultimates and The Ultimates 2, but NOT Ultimates 3. (UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you read Ultimates 3, it is really that bad.)

House of M is pretty fascinating too, for research into a sympathetic villain type.

Tadbo said...

I had not heard of Trinity until now. I'm looking forward to reading it.

I second all the Ultimates recommendations made above and would like to add Ultimate Fantastic Four to that list, which was a lot better than I had expected.

Brooke Johnson said...

Just wanted to pop in again to tell you I've given you a blog award!