The Misunderstood Comic Book

I have spent the last year or so reading pretty much nothing but comic books. In the past I’ve read a few graphic novels–Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Sin City, The Dark Knight Returns, among others. I’ve not spent a lot of serious time catching up on the antics of superheroes. But I’ve got to say, and I do so fully aware that it pushes me deeper into nerdom, I’ve really quite enjoyed it.

It all started when I wanted to revisit Frank Miller’s rendition of Batman. I picked up his Dark Knight set and burned through them. Then I wanted something else, so I did a little research and settled on the Marvel anti-hero, Deadpool. Oh holy hell do I love Deadpool. I burned through just about ever volume that featured him, and now it’s gotten to the point where I’ve been seriously considering getting a tattoo in tribute to that insane, genius of a ninja (which my wife thinks is ridiculous). I worked my way through Marvel’s Age of Apocalypse and Civil War story arcs, as well as reading up on Wolverine’s Origins and currently I’m burning through the Joker-centric Batman story arc, Death of the Family. 

I never before realized how good the writing actually is in most comic books. The characters are compelling, relatable, and surprisingly real. Often a series will last long enough for the reader to become familiar enough with a character that you relate to them on a sort of friendly level. It’s similar to how The Office has been on television for so long that we avid viewers can speak about the characters as if we knew them ourselves. Comic books often looked down upon or, at the very least, scoffed at. They’re not always taken seriously. But they’re certainly taken seriously by the writers. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the type of storyboarding and planning that must be done when a multi-series story arc is outlined in a meeting. Comics, though not always, can often be very complex. I often had to google characters and references to fully understand what, exactly, was going on at times. But I think that’s a testament to how devoted these writers are to their craft. They know the avid fans are going to pick up on any errors, so they’re very meticulous and very good at creating polished, enjoyable stories.

I started off as a skeptic. I believed that comic books would be entertaining, but that they were nothing more than action flicks with fun artwork to look at. Yet in the back of my mind, I was curious. After all, the graphic novels I’d read had turned out to be better than a lot of books I’d read. But I told myself, that’s just because you’re reading the famous ones. Of course they were good, they’d been vetted and stood the test of time. However, my curiosity itched at me. And when I finally gave in to scratching it, I realized how good it felt. Now, I’m certainly no expert at reading comic books or superhero lore, but in the time I’ve spent reading about Batman, the X-men, Wolverine, Uncanny X-Force–and, of course, Deadpool–I’ve really become a believer in the comic genre.

All of this is to say, if you’re even remotely intrigued by the idea of comic books, give them a chance. Many of them are superbly written and if you put a little time into researching it, you’ll be able to start with some really great stories. And to get you started, I’d recommend Cable & DeadpoolBut be careful, it’s addictive and could make you go on quite the comic book bender.

Steven E. Athay is an aspiring story designer and connoisseur of all things awesome. Follow him on Twitter at @steveneathay, or read his blog Afflatus.

9 thoughts on “The Misunderstood Comic Book

  1. Right on. It’s truly amazing how much time and effort goes into making good comic books these days. That said, it’s unfortunate when good comics go awry, which they often do with changes in editorial staff, writers, and so forth. I’ve been really into the new Venom comic that’s out at the moment, but even that hits hiccups every now and then. C’est les vie. 🙂

  2. Great post! I’m glad to see that you’ve come to appriciate comics at a deep level. Many of them really are both great works of art and literature. Thanks for the reommendation, I will be sure to check out Deadpool!

  3. If you like comic book where “the characters are compelling, relatable, and surprisingly real”, I do suggest you to read Animal Man. It’s the best New 52 series (along with Vibe).
    What makes Animal Man special is the way Lemire deconstructs the superhero mythology. For example:
    1) Superheroes tend to monopolize the attention of the reader, while Animal Man is constantly upstaged by the supporting characters of the series.
    2) Superhero comics usually don’t give much importance to the private life of their main character (they tend to focus only on the “costume on” part); in Animal Man, on the contrary, the private life of Buddy is the main theme of the series. In fact, it is rather infrequent to see Buddy with his costume on.
    3) Buddy is not perfect, and is not perceived as perfect by the other people: in fact, in the 11th issue, when he tells his wife “It’s going to be okay”, she replies “Don’t give me anything of that superhero crap, Buddy.” That cut and thrust perfectly enlightens the philosophy of the series.

      1. I do see what you mean. This is one of the reasons why I prefer to read comics in a TP format, instead of buying them month by month: you usually get 6 issues for about 15 dollars, instead of 18. Thank you for your reply! : )

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