Tuesday, July 24, 2007

You could do worse than read these

The best comics to hit the rack in recent years have their biscuits and eat them too, simultaneously sending up familiar spandex tropes while telling fine and hilarious yarns. An indirect pathos is also experienced, especially in the case of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All Star Superman. But mostly they are hilarious.

Marvel Zombies cashes in on the recent zombie frenzy and renders some of our favorite heroes into flesheating monsters. While I was initially reluctant to read this mini-series, it hooked me almost as soon as I opened the first issue. Peter Parker's lament about eating Aunt May and Mary Jane alone is worth the cover price -and the series only gets funnier from there. It appeals mainly to comic geeks who know these characters and Marvel Comics history, but I think there are probably pleasures for the uninitiated too.
Pathos rating: 9 (out of 10)
There is great satirical value to be had from characters that have been around so long and are so burdened by decades of continuity that the most interesting thing they can do now is eat each other. It's tragic because it's true and stirs tears from those of us who adored these guys when we were tots -mostly tears of laughter, though.

All Star Superman is the closest thing to mythmaking you will see in comics today. Grant Morrison and his brilliantly gifted illustrator Frank Quitely (both live in Glasgow, Scotland) have condensed everything that is grand and epic about the Superman icon. The result is an inspired amalgamation of highlights from Big Blue's long and historic career (he is the first four-color superhero after all). For anybody interested in pure powerhouse storytelling in sequential art: seek no further than this book.
Pathos rating: 3
Since this series depends so much on reconstituting what has gone before, it is not too pathetic. It is so glorious and unfettered that one can truly appreciate the lasting vitality of the Superman mythos here by seeing it remixed and remastered. One notable encounter we've never seen before is when Supes has to vie for the hand of Lois Lane after gifting her with superpowers for a day. As soon as a woman of her stature (however temporary) is available, heroes from other epochs show up to woo her away. Seeing Samson and Atlas enter into contests of strength with Superman is uniquely entertaining and very clever to boot!

Finally we come to Nextwave, the greatest comic book of all time. The prolific and witty Warren Ellis writes and Stuart Immonen renders in a panacea of illustrative styles this comic book to end all comic books. Truly, this is the apocalypse of sequential art -and I could not more wholeheartedly embrace it. This ragtag bunch of "Agents of H.A.T.E." are taken from one insane battle to another, all the while parodying and transforming the entire concept of superheroes. Nothing will ever be the same after Nextwave, and rightly so. If all comics made me laugh this hard, I would have perished before puberty.
Pathos rating: 10
Everything that is absurd in comic books is thrust rudely into the spotlight here, making it the most pathetic display of spandex and hyperbole imaginable by man and dog. What makes the motor hum in this book is also what underscores its tragedy: superheroes only really work anymore if you make fun of them. And when fun is poked with such vim and whimsy as this, it makes you almost glad that the age of capes and cowls has come to an end.

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