the monster society of evil

jcogginsa  asked:

What would be your DC Starter pack?

I’ve put together equivalent lists for Superman and Batman in the past (and in deference to that I’m leaving them off this list; take Superman: Birthright/All-Star Superman and Batman: Zero Year as what I’d put on here), but this is obviously an entirely different ballgame. DC is BIG, with all manner of different corners and subgenres to it - getting into it as a whole is a pretty substantial undertaking even for those who’re already fans of a handful of given characters. But as before, here’s a set of springboards - 15 this time instead of 10 given the scope of the undertaking - for getting a sense of how DC as a whole works, and what aspects of it you might want to pursue further, almost all of which should be available on Comixology or at a local comic book shop. Two caveats up front though:

* I’m sticking to titles that can claim at least some sort of tangential, secondhand connection to the ‘main’ universe, if even by the absolute slimmest of threads, so I’m not including the likes of Astro City, Transmetropolitan, Preacher, Ex Machina, etc., even though they’ve all been published by DC and absolutely deserve your attention.

* Since this is for prospective new readers, I’m with a singular exception sticking with comics from the mid-1980s or later.

1. The World’s Greatest Superheroes

What it’s about: A group of six oversized all-ages comics by Paul Dini (critically involved with many of the DC family of cartoons, especially the beloved shared universe of shows extending from Batman: The Animated Series to Justice League Unlimited) and Alex Ross; four stories focusing on Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Captain Marvel handling ‘real world’ issues, the Justice League trying to stop a very different kind of global threat than their usual supervillains, and a set of origins for most members of the classic Justice League of America.

Why you should read it: If you’re in the market for a one-stop shop of “what’s the deal with DC Comics?”, then this is as good as you’re gonna get. A set of introductory stories with their biggest icons by proven crowdpleasers, along with a set of storybook-esque explanations for a bunch of their other biggest heroes (at least among the ‘classic’ crowd) to boot.

Further recommendations if you liked it: This is more a “getting your feet wet” example than a direct gateway to other material (especially since most of the all-ages titles I’d suggest following up on this I mentioned in those Superman and Batman starter packs), but it’s notable that Captain Marvel plays such a prominent role in here given how scaled-back his presence has become over the years. He’s terrific when handled properly, and past his original 1940s comics, I’d recommend Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil, The Multiversity: Thunderworld (while that’s part of a larger series this issue works perfectly well standalone), and Convergence: Shazam! (ditto).

2. DC: The New Frontier

What: In the 1950s the age of heroes seems to have come to an end - most of the Justice Society of America retired following congressional inquiries, Superman and Wonder Woman have grudgingly aligned directly with the United States government so that they can continue operating somewhat unobstructed, and the Bat-Man has gone underground, while human champions such as the Challengers of the Unknown, the Blackhawks, Task Force X, and the Losers now carry the day. But with the dawning of a new era, the first stirrings of a new generation of extraordinary individuals, and the creeping emergence of a new threat, all of America’s heroes must unite to defend and shephard in its future if it is to have any future at all.

Why: A radically different origin for the Justice League set against the backdrop of McCarthy’s America and the beginnings of the space race, it’s largely considered to be the late Darwyn Cooke’s masterpiece, and one that perhaps more than any other story demonstrates the breadth and potential the larger universe offers. It’s a rugged, heartfelt, soaring story of our strive to reach farther and better ourselves in the face of a world that would fight back against that impulse, and one that draws on every corner of the world it’s set in to show old and new fans alike how it comes together as more than the sum of its parts when handled right.

Recommendations: Two of the three main heroes presented here - Flash, Martian Manhunter, and Green Lantern - have quite a stock of classic adventures of their own, which I made some recommendations from here and here (on top of those I’d recommend Tim Seeley’s tenure on Green Lanterns, which just began last week with issue #33). For the beginnings of the “superheroes dealing with Relevant Social Issues” strain of comics that this delves into, there’s the classic Green Lantern/Green Arrow run, which has aged awkwardly but was a seminal moment for DC, and established Green Arrow as he’s known today (who I understand has been doing well in his current Rebirth title under Ben Percy, if you want to pursue him further). And for large-scale DC sagas drawing from across the scope the universe and interrogating the place of superheroes within it, I have to mention Kingdom Come, Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s end-of-days vision for the latter-day Justice League and their world that proved one of the company’s most enduringly popular and influential books.

3. Wonder Woman: Year One

What: When pilot Steve Trevor crash-lands on the hidden island of Themyscira - a mythical paradise where immortal warrior women live in peace and prosperity under the protection of the Greek gods themselves - Diana, daughter of queen Hippolyta, volunteers to escort him back to Man’s World and serve as their ambassador knowing that she may never return. Finding her place in a strange new culture, discovering the depths of her power, and detecting the hand of the gods in mortal affairs, these are the first steps towards a girl fashioned from clay becoming Wonder Woman.

Why: You know who Superman and Batman are, so you should get a decent grasp on the other member of the ‘trinity’ that props up the rest of the universe too, and this is as fine a place to begin with Wonder Woman as it gets thanks to Greg Rucka’s fantastic handle on the character and Nicola Scott’s absolutely gorgeous, iconic artwork. It tells you everything you need to know and shows you everything you expect to see, and it does the best job of it that anyone yet has.

Recommendations: For another take on Diana’s early days and adventures I can’t recommend enough The Legend of Wonder Woman, a recent all-ages take on her origin set in World War II that brings more depth to Paradise Island itself than I’ve seen elsewhere and serves as an at least equally fine introduction; I chose Year One since it’s both contemporary and the current ‘official’ origin. The rest of Greg Rucka’s run here is fine, but a lot of it is essentially cleaning up the larger mythology since Wonder Woman’s background and world had undergone some major revisions in prior years; his original run is what I’d recommend, essentially him handling her as a political drama. Aside from those two, Gail Simone’s run on the character is I believe easily the most universally-beloved modern take on her, and what I’ve read absolutely lives up to that. I do also have to mention her original 1940s adventures, which were bizarrely playful and politically unusual in a way that little else with her has been since.

4.  History of the DC Universe

What: A recording by the woman Harbinger, one of the only survivors of a cosmic crisis that shredded and reassembled reality to recall the full extent of what was lost, detailing the ‘new’ history of humanity from the dawn of civilization to the end of time.

Why: I don’t want to make too many concessions with this list to what’s ‘important’ over what’s good, and large chunks of this are long since out of date anyway. But in terms of getting a sense of the world as a whole, having a basic outline of what’s a big deal and what happened when certainly helps.

Recommendations: If you want more that can give you a sense of the history of the larger world, I’d recommend Flash of Two Worlds! as the introduction of the multiverse, Crisis on Infinite Earths as the (temporary) dissolution of that multiverse and a truly major event that’s still being referred back to, The Multiversity Guidebook which - in spite of some connections back to the main story that’ll only make so much sense without reading the rest of it - outlines the history and current cosmological setup of that multiverse (though even that’ssince been upheaved with the official reintroduction of an infinite multiverse around the ‘core’ 52 universes, even if it hasn’t been taking center stage), and DC Rebirth, which sets up and foreshadows most of the big stories happening right now. I’d also suggest trying Supreme: Blue Rose, a pseudo-sequel to Alan Moore’s classic run on Supreme (a book that under his direction was essentially one long riff on DC Comics and Superman in particular) which takes a much heavier and stranger look at a new version of that world from a ground-level perspective, telling the story of what it feels like to live in a universe constantly subject to reboots and revisions in the way DC is.

5. JLA

What: The return to an iconic Justice League lineup under Grant Morrison after years of second and third-stringers, this run pits them against some of the wildest, weirdest, and most definitely BIGGEST threats of their considerable careers, from a new Injustice Gang and Solaris the Tyrant Sun to renegade angels and warring higher-dimensional colors.

Why: The template for 21st century Big Action Superhero Comics, defined by excellent characterization and incredible setpieces, it’s the premiere example DC’s big guns working together alongside allies from across the universe against the worst the universe has to throw out them. A lot of what defines modern DC’s approach to how these characters are supposed to work together and what constitutes a threat to their entire universe traces directly back to here.

Recommendations: In the immediate aftermath of Grant Morrison’s run, Kingdom Come writer (and already part-time fill-in writer on the book) Mark Waid took over with existing artist Howard Porter and The Authority big gun Bryan Hitch, in a run that’s similarly worth your time and in many ways just as influential for its first story, Tower of Babel; you can and probably should collect both runs across JLA Deluxe Edition Volumes 1-6. Speaking of The Authority,both Warren Ellis/Bryan Hitch and Mark Millar/Frank Quitely’s original runs on the team represent the refinement of the widescreen formula JLA pioneered to a brutal science, and Steve Orlando’s handling of series breakout star Midnighter in his own title set in the DCU proper - along with the followup mini Midnighter and Apollo - pushed it even further. Orlando’s gone on to write JLA himself, starring an eclectic lineup led by Batman trying to hang in there against the kind of cosmic horrors the classic model fought back against, and that’s definitely worth your time, as are numerous arcs of JLA Classified (particularly Morrison’s opening that acted as a prequel to his book Seven Soldiers of Victory, Warren Ellis and Jackson Guice’s New Maps of Hell, and Gail Simone and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez’s The Hypothetical Woman). On top of those, I’d suggest Aztek, a short-lived series by Morrison and Millar around the same time as the original JLA that ultimately figured into it, and Geoff Johns and Mike McKone’s Teen Titans, which mixes the broad strokes of the approach with the requisite teen soap opera and yields probably the best take on that group outside the mid-2000s cartoon.

6. Tom Strong

What: Born at the turn of the 20th century on the island of Attabar Teru to a pair of scientists and raised in a gravity chamber, the stories’ titular hero was freed in an earthquake that killed his parents and raised by the natives - journeying at 21 to Millennium City to learn of the legacy his parents left for him, he found himself a “science-hero” to the beleaguered metropolis. Now at the dawn of the 21st century, kept in his prime by the mythical goloka root alongside his wife Dhaula, they, their daughter Tesla, steam-powered servant Pneuman, and talking gorilla Solomon still use their wits and skills to defend their home in Millennium, and unknown realms far beyond.

Why: With the recent announcement of the Strong families’ integration into the DCU in some fashion it’s likely these comics are going to be reprinted, and that’s a darn good thing - as far as I’m concerned, they’re the platonic ideal of classic-flavored superhero books. Fun, funny, adventurous and warm-hearted, while it wasn’t intended as part of DC it represents its arguable baseline tone and approach as well as any comic ever has; if this ends up doing it for you, it’s likely to be a gateway to plenty more.

Recommendations: If Tom Strong does it for you, then that’s really a sign that you might be up for older DC titles in general; I made suggestions in that regard for Superman and Batman in their respective starter packs, but I’m also especially inclined to mention the likes of Metamorpho and Legion of Superheroes, alongside other titles you can pick up in DC’s inexpensive black-and-white Showcase Presents reprints (a list of which you can read here). For something more modern with a similar tone, I’d suggest Mark Waid’s 12-issue run on The Brave and the Bold with George Perez and Jerry Ordway, and for more period-piece style heroics with heart, try the currently ongoing DC Bombshells (currently running as Bombshells United).

7. Solo

What: A 12-issue anthology, each stars a beloved artist with whichever collaborators they wish doing whatever they please, the only restriction being that at least one story must involve some permutation of some version of a DC character.

Why: I recommended Tom Strong as representative of the baseline for how DC Comics generally aspires to work; this represents the farthest possible afield territory from said baseline. Treating DC’s biggest names as broad iconographic tools to be shaped and reshaped at a given creators’ whim for the sake of their stories, this is DC as indie comics, and it’s a valuable perspective.

Recommendations: Along with Batman: Black and White, DC’s other big project in this vein was Wednesday Comics, a 12-part set of 15 running stories presented one massive page at a time in the oversized format of Sunday newspaper comics; some of them indisputably stink, but for every one of them there’s at least one fun title and one borderline-masterpiece, and nearly all of them are at least interesting. Another title significantly varying in style and content was Tomorrow Stories, from America’s Best Comics along with Tom Strong and operating in a completely different mode with each story, whether the Eisner-flavored Greyshirt or the Kurtzman-esque shenanigans of First American. And if Solo’s anarchic spirit and artistic variety appeal, I’d also have to give a shout-out to World’s Funnest, where a feud between goofball super-imps Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite reaches multiversally catastrophic proportions.

8. Watchmen

What: Set in a 1985 that has significantly diverged from our own - first in the 1930s and 40s with the emergence of costumed crimefighters inspired by comic book heroes, and much more radically in the 1960s with the creation of the world’s one superhuman, the near-omnipotent Doctor Manhattan, who has spent the last two decades changing the technological landscape and securing American interests even as his mind grows more and more detached from any human perspective - Edward Blake is murdered. An investigation by the unhinged vigilante Rorschach uncovers that Blake was the Comedian, one of the only ‘superheroes’ to join with the government rather than be driven into retirement or forced to operate outside the law, and the detective becomes convinced that this is sign of a larger plot against the former costumed community. As the terrible secrets of the one-time crimefighters are unearthed, the question becomes not whether Rorschach is correct or as demented as his one-time comrades believe, but if it matters in the face of a Cold War escalated by Manhattan’s presence into the very real possibility of a nuclear apocalypse.

Why: Reading superhero comics at this point means reckoning with Watchmenone way or another: realistically speaking, if you’re reading this you’ve probably either already read it, already intend to get around to it, or have actively chosen not to. As a meticulous artistic construction it’s the standard by which all other modern comics are measured; as an interrogation of the genre its influence is for better or worse incalculable across the breadth of popular culture as a whole. Even minus the upcoming efforts to somehow merge these characters into the larger structure, there is no comprehensively understanding DC Comics in 2017 or beyond without reading Watchmen.

Recommendations: The most obvious suggestion -  if also by far the most questionable one - is the upcoming Doomsday Clock, the thoroughly unexpected sequel where Doctor Manhattan and likely other figures from this world are revealed as having interacted and tampered with the ‘main’ DC universe, leading to some form of confrontation between Manhattan and Superman and their radically different cosmic viewpoints and representations of the moral nature of the superhero. As far as the structure and ambitions of the comic itself go, you’d likely be better served looking into the likes of Omega Men by Tom King and Barnaby Bagenda (another grimly political and acclaimed superhero comic operating on the unifying structure of the nine-panel grid), Top 10 by Moore and Gene Ha (another ABC title, this one a police procedural in a city where everyone in a superhero, it’s another 12-issue attempt by Moore at showing how superheroes would ‘really’ be using many of the same artistic tricks, but on an altogether wilder and more overtly optimistic wavelength), Miracleman (not a DC title but a book by Moore based on DC characters, and his other seminal superhero ‘deconstruction’ alongside Watchmen of the 1980s), and The Multiversity: Pax Americana (another standalone Multiversity issue, this one stars the Charlton Comics characters that inspired Watchmen’s leads and pushes its concerns and structural tricks even further in a time-bending overview of one man’s life and death that attempts to deconstruct superhero deconstructions themselves).

9. Planetary

What: Elijah Snow has spent over a century bearing witness to the world’s hidden wonders and horrors, and now that he’s been recruited by the mysterious Planetary organization he has a chance to make use of that experience. Alongside the invincibly powerful Jakita Wagner and the eccentric technopath The Drummer, they are “mystery archaeologists”, investigating beneath the grim, ‘realistic’ superhero surface of the Wildstorm universe to uncover the buried, wondrous mysteries hiding in its corners, from Kaiju graveyards to lost underground city-ships from beyond the cosmic fields we know. As well as hunting the greatest mystery of all: the force that has conspired to keep these miracles a secret.

Why: Essential to an appreciation of a superhero universe is a well-developed sense of wonder: Planetary built itself on distilling artifacts of 19th and 20th century pop culture (typically by proxy) down to their most essential ideas and iconic values as mysteries to be unveiled, whether 1920s pulp heroes, Godzilla, Sherlock Holmes, 80s and 90s Vertigo comics, James Bond, John Woo revenge flicks, or any of a dozen others, so as to best allow them to be appreciated in that regard. It’s a celebration and reinvigoration of the base genre components that have made up American comics for lifetimes, an articulation of an approach that merges the intimate and grungy with the cosmically fantastic, and a masterwork of one-shot comics storytelling.

Recommendations: The immediate things that come to mind are, well, other Wildstorm comics by Warren Ellis, specifically his original run on Stormwatchwhere he turned a generic edgy ‘realistic’ superhero black-ops book into a bizarre political sci-fi adventure series with a bloody black wounded heart that later became the far more popular The Authority, and his current fascinating relaunch of the universe line in The Wild Storm (along with other titles, so far solely consisting of Wildstorm: Michael Cray, under his supervision); I also have to recommend by reputation Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Wildstorm crime comic Sleeper. Also, there’s Wildcats 3.0, which similarly converts a formerly achingly 90s title into a corporate drama as a gaggle of superhumans deal with the obstacles in attempting to provide a boundless energy source.

10. JLA/Avengers

What: When the manipulative Grandmaster and the amoral cosmic seeker Krona decide to settle their titanic dispute via proxy, the greatest superheroes of two worlds find themselves pitted against one another in a conflict that leaves each of their realities’ at stake.

Why: There’s little better way to understand something than through contrast, and that at its core what JLA/Avengers is about: enmeshed within a fantastically written and drawn fanpleasing crossover adventure, easily the best of its kind, is a story on just what it is that separates the worlds of Marvel and its distinguished competition on a basic conceptual level, and how they overcome those barriers just once in the face of an unthinkable threat. Above any other comic, this defines what it is that separates DC superheroes from the rest.

Recommendations: For another exercise in contrast, Jonathan Hickman’s massive Avengers saga critically involves a crossover of its own with DC, at least in spirit, with the volume New Avengers: Perfect World. As the Illuminati (a gathering of many of the Marvel universe’s top minds alongside preeminent experts and political leaders) attempt to rout the threat of the Incursions, destructive collisions between parallel universes that can seemingly only be averted with the prior annihilation of one universes’ Earth, they discover another reality home to a far more morally forthright group of heroes known as the Great Society whose powers match their convictions, and who thus far have saved their world without compromise. But when the Society and the Illuminati find themselves in opposition, will their ideals win out? And if not, what is to become of the Illuminati when they make a choice no man can live with?

11. Jack Kirby’s Fourth World

What: On numerous fronts across the cosmos, a secret war rages - with Jimmy Olsen and Superman investigating the Wild Area alongside the Newsboy Legion, with a group of bizarre teenagers landing on Earth, with a mysterious young man taking up the mantle of the fallen world’s greatest escape artist Mister Miracle, and with the mighty space god Orion arriving on our planet with a mission of direst import. For when the Old Gods died their world was torn asunder into the warring planets of New Genesis and Apokolips, and as the ultimate tyrant Darkseid seeks the utter domination offered by the Anti-Life Equation, the New Gods’ gaze turns to the Earth…

Why: The king of comics’ Jack Kirby’s unfinished masterpiece, the Fourth World Saga - soon to be recollected in a single titanic omnibus as several of the concepts make it into the upcoming Justice League - spans from the slums of Metropolis to universe-shattering wars in epochs long since past. It’s a treatise on youth and free will that’s perhaps the most purely ambitious DC publication of all time in its attempt to create a new myth for our times, and one of the only superhero stories to truly deserve the title of epic in the classical sense. I’ve only had a chance to read a fraction of it myself as of yet, but from that fraction it’s clear it not only has the combined brains and energy of nearly any dozen modern comics, but was and remains one of the most powerful testaments to the potential of the genre ever put to paper. And Superman and Jimmy Olsen fight a planet of horror movie monsters in it so evil it grew devil horns, so you really have no excuse not to take the plunge.

Recommendations: The King contributed plenty of concepts to DC such as the Challengers of the Unknown, the Boy Commandos, and an incarnation of Sandman; most promising if you’re sucked into his Fourth World material would be his other 1970s DC books, The Demon (where the immortal Jason Blood’s spirit is caught in an eternal tug-of-war with the dread Etrigan), OMAC (where Buddy Blank is forcibly conscripted to become the One Man Army Corps and stop the threats of tomorrow from becoming wars that would end the world, by way of punching like seven dudes at once), and Kamandi (where the last boy on Earth struggles to survive a post-apocalyptic wasteland where mutated anthropomorphic animals have long since come to reign supreme). The Fourth World itself has been followed up by numerous creators, usually weakly as they attempt to warp the characters to fit more traditional superheroic archetypes; some exceptions that fit with the King’s vision and ambition include several works by Grant Morrison mentioned above and below, (by what I’ve heard of its reputation) Walter Simonson’s Orion, and the current Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads.

12. Books of Magic

What: Twelve-year-old Timothy Hunter is met by the ‘trenchcoat brigade’ of the Phantom Stranger, Mister E, Doctor Occult, and John Constantine, with an unbelievable prophecy: that he has the potential to become the greatest sorcerer of all time. Taken on a tour over twelve issues of the magical side of the DC universe, Tim will ultimately have to decide whether to turn away from his potential destiny and live a normal life, or accept it knowing the horror of the price that always comes with magic.

Why: A small, self-contained story by the pretty dang beloved Neil Gaiman starring an archetype that many should find themselves familiar with (while Hunter preceded him by a few years and both Gaiman and Rowling have denied any inspiration, many have noted his undeniable similarities to Harry Potter), it’s not exactly the meatiest story, but it serves perfectly for its intended purpose as an introduction to the magical side of the DC universe. If you enjoy this - even if you don’t but could imagine the same tone, aesthetics, and general approach yielding interesting results under a different premise or creators - it may well open the doors to an entirely new set of fantastic comics for you.

Recommendations: Books of Magic is a single branch on a mighty tree of magical DCU books inspired by and connected to one another, appropriately beginning with Alan Moore’s transformative run on Swamp Thing, which itself introduced John Constantine who would go on to a great deal of acclaim in his own title Hellblazer. Swamp Thing in turn beget the titanically popular and influential Sandman, which had its own phenomenal spinoff title in the form of Lucifer. Books of Magic continued as well under different creators, and while only now tangentially connected to DC via Tom Strong, Moore and JH Williams III’s book Promethea is brilliant and very much of the same breed.

13. Flash & Green Lantern: The Brave and the Bold

What: In the years leading up to their deaths (and subsequent resurrections, though they weren’t in effect at the time this story was written), Barry Allen and Hal Jordan were friends through thick and thin. Here, from their early days in the JLA to their twilights, these are six stories showing how that friendship changed and endured over the course of their careers.

Why: Two big things come with big superhero universes: histories, and the relationships that come with them. Both can go wrong, whether in the form of purely continuity-driven comics or soap opera titles driven entirely by the old faithful, but when creators handle them properly they’re an essential part of the magic of the shared world, and few comics are better examples of how to do it right than this.

Recommendations: For starters, this mini is itself a sequel of sorts to JLA: Year One, an origin for the team that while no longer their official history is regardless an excellent character-driven Justice League story. For the culmination of preexisting history being used as a tool for great storytelling, you’re in the market for Starman, extrapolating a D-list superhero lineage into a century-spanning family odyssey (and if you enjoy it, you’ll want to check out James Robinson’s book Golden Age, showing the retirement of the Justice Society in what many consider their definitive story). And Brave and the Bold is in many ways the final gasp of an era of phenomenal 80s and 90s character-driven DC titles, including (both from personal experience and shining reputation) the likes of Hitman, Hourman, Justice League International, John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad, and Chase.

14. Seven Soldiers of Victory

What: A set of seven interconnected miniseries plus bookends, this is the story of seven minor superheroes forced to band together and punch far, far above their weight in the face of a cosmic apocalypse that only they by prophecy can stop. And the catch on top of it? None of them know they’re on a team. Or even meet each other.

Why: Seven Soldiers is a tour-de-force in just about every regard, but even beyond its incredible quality, it just as importantly serves to teach the final, most important lesson of all when it comes to the DCU: there are times it gets buck wild. Superhero worlds are crazy as hell, and to a certain extent you’re going to have to not just accept that on the journey to loving them, but embrace them. And nothing’s going to help you learn that better than a crimefighting newspaper mascot unwittingly working alongside the likes of Frankenstein and the god of escape artists to save the world from evil fairies.

Recommendations: Past the 1970s and truly weird superhero stuff falling out of fashion, Grant Morrison’s the master of this kind of bonkers material - alongside material by him I’ve mentioned before and in the final recommendation, I particularly have to bring up Final Crisis, the event-comic sequel to Seven Soldiers and his JLA that brings his incredible, bizarre vision of the DCU onto the largest scale possible. That itself spins out into the incredible Multiversity, and the current Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo DC event book (overseen to some extent by Morrison) Dark Nights: Metal; if you want to check out the latter I’d suggest Return of Bruce Wayne, another Morrison-written Final Crisis spinoff that ends up planting some very important seeds even outside the context of his larger Batman run.

15. Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery

What: Gifted with the superpower of being able to do anything by flexing his muscles and posing dramatically (with the incredible mental discipline of muscle mystery!), Flex Mentallo was brought to life by a the dying wish of young boy Wally Sage into the real world - albeit a ‘real world’ far stranger than any we might know - but faced with apocalyptic cynicism and a seeming message from an old ally in his fictional days, Flex finds himself on an odyssey to find where all the superheroes have gone and how to save the world the way they used to. Meanwhile, punk rocker Wally Sage is ODing in an alley and babbling away on a suicide hotline about the comics he loved as a child…most of all his own creation, Flex Mentallo.

Why: Grant Morrison’s ultimate statement on superheroes and the potential they hold in our own lives, Flex Mentallo is perhaps the most important comic of all on this list, because while the rest of the recommendations illustrate aspects of the history or genre possibilities or characters that will make you fall in love with the world of DC, Flex is the definitive text on Why This Superhero Comics Shit Actually Matters.

Recommendations: Well, most of Morrison’s other DC work, which I’ve suggested plenty of above alongside his Superman and Batman material in their respective starter packs; the big two I haven’t brought up are his run on Doom Patrol, the headtrip freako comic that introduced Flex in the first place, and Animal Man, his first DC book and alongside Flex his most foundational. If you enjoy Flex you might also be the market for more of DC’s odder Vertigo output meshing the superheroic with the supernatural and horrific; much of its best material was under the Books of Magic entry, and it’s not a field I’m that acquainted with, but I’d also recommend the current volumes of Doom Patrol and Shade the Changing Girl under DC’s Young Animal imprint, which is carrying on the tradition now that Vertigo has mostly switched to creator-owned work.

Also, I find them very adorable

I mean, just look at them.

They’re adorable

They got so upset at Tawny.

Am I weird for thinking this?

Where to start reading Shazam!/Captain Marvel?

If you want to start with the older comics first read Whiz Comics #2

  • Captain Marvel Adventures #1, 4, 5, 22-46, 69, 127
  • Whiz Comics #3-15, 16-18, 21-24, 25
  • Legends #1-6
  • Marvel Family
  • Master Comics #21-22
  • America’s Greatest Comics #1-8 (especially #2)
  • Adventures in the DC Universe #15
  • Action Comics #826
  • L.E.G.I.O.N. ‘91 #31
  • Superman #276
  • DC Comics Present Annual #3
  • Justice League of America vol.1 #137
  • Shazam vol.1
  • Shazam: The New Beginning
  • Action Comics Weekly #626

Now if you’re more into reading his modern stories start with

  • The Power of Shazam
  • Shazam: Monster Society of Evil
  • Shazam! Power of Hope
  • JLA #28-31, 120
  • JLA: World Without Grown-Ups
  • JSA vol.1 #26-80 (especially black reign)
  • Superman/Shazam: First Thunder
  • Day of Vengeance
  • Infinite Crisis
  • 52
  • Brave New World
  • The Trials of Shazam!
  • Justice Society of America vol. 3 #23-25

Also check out Kingdom Come.

SHAZAM!: THE MONSTER SOCIETY OF EVIL TP
Written by Jeff Smith
Art and cover by Jeff Smith
“Remarkable … a comic book that can be savored and admired by everyone from kids to the most sophisticated graphic novel devotee.” — Entertainment Weekly
Jeff Smith, the award-winning creator of BONE, tells the story of young orphan Billy Batson who finds himself transformed into the World’s Mightiest Mortal whenever he says the magic word “Shazam!” In this new trade paperback edition collecting the cclaimed 4-issue miniseries at DC’s standard trim size, Billy must use these extraordinary abilities to face an invasion of alien creatures as well as stop mad scientist Dr. Sivana and his Monster Society of Evil from taking over the world!
Advance-solicited; on sale March 4 • 208 pg, FC, $19.99 US

kamenwriter  asked:

Follow up, then! Favorite Captain Marvel story ever.

I’ll never be able to pick just one. The original Monster Society of Evil is a great story, but boy oh boy are there some very problematic elements that make it impossible to endorse that whole-heartedly. Just about anything from Cap’s original GA run is a contender, for me. I love Jerry Ordway’s original Power of Shazam! novel, and the series that followed with Pete Krause. I maintain that Shazam: Power of Hope is the best of those Dini/Ross oversized books. I can’t tell what the popular opinion is anymore but Jeff Smith’s MoSE is a favorite too.

I don’t know, guys. It’s got to be something with Binder and Beck behind it, I think. Certainly not some bologna with him meeting Gotham by Gaslight Batman.

Convergence: Shazam - the best (and best looking) title to come out of this “Event”:Thoughts on the state of the Marvel Family

So I’ve already briefly gushed and posted posts about the “Convergence: Shazam” #1 title (written by Jeff Parker, art by Evan “Doc” Shaner and colors by Jordie Bellaire) and there’s a reason for it. 

You see, I am extremely cynical about DC Editorial’s relationship with the Marvel Family (remember Didio saying the “Marvels didn’t fit the modern DCU” and then we had Countdown! and FC Mary and Freddy/Shazam and Billy as the Wizard who did nothing? - yeah). The only “good” versions of the Marvels seem to come out of non-continuity titles - Jeff Smith’s “Monster Society of Evil”, Mike Kunkle/Art Baltasar and Franco’s “Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam” (for the Johnny DC line) and Grant Morrison’s treatment of Billy in “Final Crisis: Superman Beyond” and Multiversity’s “Thunderworld” (though Morrison also gave us Final Crisis Mary Marvel). Meanwhile over at the regular DCU, we have Judd Winick’s dreckful “Trials of Shazam”, the aforementioned treatment of Mary Marvel (which I really do think is something everyone involved with that should be ashamed of), and the depowering of Billy, Mary and Freddy right before the old DCU ended which left the Shazam franchise in such a state that it HAD to be rebooted - which gave us Billy Doucheson/Bratson, where the most idealistic hero in the DCU (more so than Superman) was turned into a juvenile delinquent and a jerk (because that makes him SO much more relatable?) On par with the rest of the “new 52″, DC and Geoff Johns apparently think you can’t have heroes (especially teen heroes)  who do heroic things just because…they are good…and kind…and you know…heroic. So slap Kyle Rayner’s origin on Billy Batson and Boom! new Shazam! Billy goes from being a one in a billion incorruptible soul who deserves the powers of Shazam, to just a bratty kid who just happened to get picked by chance. And then there’s DC’s elevation of Black Adam as the “face” of the Shazam! franchise - which really fits the current regime at DC - putting characters who aren’t heroic ahead of those who are.

Which brings us to “Convergence: Shazam”. Yes it takes place in a continuity that no longer exists (pre-Crisis Earth-S) but it is probably the best depiction of the entire Shazam mythos in one comic in my lifetime and…guess what..no Black Adam in sight. He is not necessary at all.  It does it all with Billy, Mary, Freddy (original black-haired version), Uncle Dudley, Tawky Tawny, Sivana and the original Monster Society of Evil.

The art is fabulous. THIS is how Billy, Mary and Freddy should be drawn in any ongoing title. Heck, I would even love to see Shaner on Geoff John’s re-imagined “new 52″ Marvel Family. It’s like they stepped out of the Golden Age, but are still fresh and vibrant. And Parker not only writes like someone who knows their Shazam history (something the Countdown writers, Dini aside, obviously did not), but LOVES the Marvels. 

What a huge difference there is in the depiction of the Marvel Family when they have someone writing it who actually loves who they are and what they stand for, and is not trying to make them dark or edgy or more “mainstream”, or use their traditional “good-two-shoes” image to be subversive (yeah, you Morrison). Nor is it depicting Billy as someone’s stooge (cough*Damien Wayne*cough) or punching bag (cough*Injustice*cough). But to actually celebrate the Marvels as heroes in their own right - as PRIMARY heroes in their own right. It kills me to see the success of Marvel’s “Ms.Marvel” title, because it so GOOD and it’s heroine is idealistic and heroic and a role model, yet also fun and enjoyable, and know that DC treats its version of the “Marvels” (particularly Mary, who used to sell tons of her copies of her own title and was a role model for girls in the 1940s) as literal in-universe jokes and punchlines.

And more importantly heroes who don’t need the Powers of Shazam! to be heroes and who are willing to be heroes when they don’t have powers. 

Want proof? Just panels from a combination of two pages of the “Convergence: Shazam!” issue. 

Notice how all of this takes place while they have no powers? None of them have transformed yet. As far as they know they can no longer do that. But they are still heroes. They are still protecting their city - with the power of friendship. 

Think about what Billy tells Mary: “But I don’t think it’s hopeless. I think we’ll get through this if we stay who we are” (with the “who we are” bolded). That’s what Billy Batson is all about. It’s what Didio doesn’t understand. Billy represents “HOPE” (heck Paul Dini’s and Alex Ross’s graphic novel about Captain Marvel is literally titled: “Shazam: The Power of Hope”). “Who we are” are heroes. That’s what Billy, Mary and Freddy are. 

Thank goodness, somebody at DC (thank you Jeff Parker!) actually understands it. Let me put how defining those lines are in another perspective: Can you ever see “the new 52″ version of Billy Batson saying it?……Nope. Me either.

If there’s one Convergence book you must pick up, its this one. It may be the last time we see Billy and the “Power of Hope” in a long time. 

Where to start reading Mary Marvel?

With Mary if you want you can start with her older comics starting with her first appearance in Captain Marvel Adventures #18 then continue on

  • Mary Marvel vol.1
  • Marvel Family #1-5, 7, 10, 28, 33, 47, 53, 56, 88-89
  • Shazam! #1, 3-4, 10-11, 19-20, 26
  • Captain Marvel Adventures #37, 43, 69
  • World’s Finest vol.1 #278-282
  • All Star Squadron #36-38
  • Shazam! The New Beginning

Or you can ignore those go straight to Power of Shazam Graphic Novel

  • The Power of Shazam! (especially #2-4, 16, 28, 39)
  • Showcase ‘96 vol.1 #7
  • Supergirl plus the Power of Shazam
  • Action Comics vol.1 #768
  • Supergirl vol.4 #68-74
  • Formerly Known as the Justice League 
  • JLA Classified vol.1 #4-9
  • Countdown to infinite crisis #1
  • The Omac Project #5-6
  • Infinite Crisis #2, 5-7
  • Outsider vol.3 #33
  • 52 (especially #16, 25, 43, 45, 50)
  • Trials of Shazam #2
  • Justice Society of America vol.3 #23-25
  • World War III #1-4
  • Brave New World #1
  • Countdown #27-51
  • Final Crisis #3-6
  • Justice Society of America vol.3 #23-25

Also check out Shazam! the Monster Society of Evil and Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!

If you think I missed something let me know :)

anonymous asked:

Just read Thunderworld. Where's the best place to start if I want to get in to classic Captain Marvel?

As I have mentioned before, all the classic Fawcett Marvel Family stories are now in the public domain (even though the characters themselves are not), and are thus available legally and for free online. In this post, I lay out each of the individual titles each member of the Marvel Family appears in with direct links for easy access.

You could certainly just start at the beginning (Whiz #2) and move forward from there, reading everything chronologically with the help of the Grand Comics Database like this idiot is doing.

The problem with that is, the first couple years’ worth of Cap stories are by and large pretty standard Golden Age hero fare, where a hero beats up some gangsters or some Japanese dudes and that’s really all, with a few bits of classic Cap charm shining through here and there. If you do decide to read chronologically, be aware as you slog through some of the boring stuff that it will eventually get really, really good.

I think it is a pretty well known matter of record on this blog that I am in the bag for Otto Binder, aka the most underrated creator in the history of comics, but the fact of the matter is, he’s really the one that brings the magic to the Marvel Family and he introduces many of the elements that we associate with those stories. Also, it’s worth mentioning: he wrote more than half of the entire Fawcett-era Marvel Family canon, roughly 1000 out of about 1700 stories. His tenure doesn’t start until about two years into Cap’s history, but then he’s there until the end of the Fawcett era.

That said, here are some issues to get you started:

Whiz #2: Hey, this is the first appearance and origin. You should start here. Actually, read the first handful of Whiz stories so you can also see the first appearance of Sivana and Beautia and what they’re all about.

Whiz #20: The story here is one of the earliest examples of what you might consider the classic Cap style, with Sivana and his robot suit and Billy hypnotizing a monkey.

Whiz #21: The first appearance of the Lieutenant Marvels, the first real expansion of the Marvel Family.

Whiz #25: The first appearance of Captain Marvel Jr. This story crosses over with Master Comics #21-22.

Captain Marvel Adventures #8: First appearance of IBAC.

Captain Marvel Adventures #18: The first appearance of Mary Marvel.

Captain Marvel Adventures #22-46: THE classic Marvel Family story, The Monster Society of Evil, which includes the first appearance of Mister Mind.

Captain Marvel Adventures #79: First appearance of Mister Tawky Tawny.

Captain Marvel Adventures #100: Classic Cap vs Sivana story.

Marvel Family #1: The first (and only classic) appearance of Black Adam.

Those are a few to get you started, but once you get to about 1942, anything is going to be good. All the Captain Marvel Jr stories and Mary stories are good, all the issues of Marvel Family are good, it’s all good.

And if you’re an Otto Binder nerd like me (or think you would like to be one), here is a list of issues containing stories currently attributed to him:

  • Captain Marvel Adventures #8-11, 14, 16-18, 20-58, 61-76, 78-97, 100-150
  • Captain Marvel Jr. #1-18, 21, 23, 28-29, 35-36, 38-63, 65, 68, 70-74, 76-90, 93, 95-96, 101-102
  • Marvel Family #1-4, 7, 10, 53
  • Mary Marvel #1-8, 10-24, 26-28
  • Master Comics #16, 18-19, 21-22, 25, 33, 40
  • Whiz Comics #21-22, 27-28, 39

Happy reading!

edit: Whoooops. I should add the warning that, as an unfortunate side effect of being made in the 1940s, some of these comics feature less-than-flattering racial caricatures, primarily of the Japanese as was common during WWII, but also of African-Americans, chiefly in the form of an occasional supporting character named Steamboat. This kind of stuff doesn’t pop up every issue, or even most issues, but it does pop up, so if that kind of thing bothers you, be forewarned.