The Other Side of the Page: Books and Comics
Where to Start: Six Must Read Comic Series
I grew up around comics, but recently I’ve realized that I never even scratched the surface of what’s out there. My dad would take me to comic marts, he collected Marvel Team-Up and Iron First, I had the Scooby Doo and Teen Titan comics and later Harley Quinn. We’d get the odd Daredevil or Spider-Man series, but after I read Buffy Season 8 I stopped going to my comic store for a few years.
It’s funny because with Marvel’s cinematic universe I was more into superheroes than ever, but I wasn’t reading anything. I realized I’d always had a problem knowing where to start and it scared me away, but recently I was suddenly throwing myself into any recommendations I could get my hands on and I haven’t really looked back since.
So, to help anyone else out there struggling with where to start, I give you… about half of my “must read” list, which was really hard to narrow down.
The Wicked + The Divine (2014, Image Comics)
This is the comic that started it all again for me. I heard about the first issue and after reading it I fell back into comics more than ever.
Every ninety years, twelve gods are sent to earth as humans. For two years they’re the center of attention, loved and hated, and then they have to die. In our modern times these gods aren’t being worshipped by organized religions or found talking in churches however, they’re pop stars.
Our protagonist is Laura, a normal girl thrown into a series of events that has her trying to help Lucifer, but you can call her Luci. After meeting Luci at a concert a mystery quickly develops that is causing friction and distrust between the gods, and it’s not making the public any less nervous either.
I’m reluctant to say anything more and risk giving the whole story away, which should be some indication of how much I love this comic book and how much I want you to go read it. The plot is already compelling only a few issues in, and Jamie Mckelvie’s art is really brought to life with the stunning colours used in the book. With the first trade paperback just released there’s no excuse not to catch up.
Lumberjanes (2014, BOOM! Studios)
If you’re into Gravity Falls, Adventure Time, or just really like the idea of magical foxes, you should check out Lumberjanes. The story follows five girls during their adventures at summer camp (Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types), and their discovery that the forest they’re staying in isn’t completely normal.
A bearwoman, hipster yetis, river monsters, and arm wrestling statues, there isn’t really much these girls don’t run into while trying not to be found out by their exasperated camp counsellor, Jen. But as crazy and fun as the whole thing is it’s just nice to see a story about a group of girls and their friendship, without it being overshadowed by boyfriend drama, or backstabbing (or backstabbing because of boyfriend drama).
The story is a real breath of fresh air, five very different and interesting female characters all in one place, and a great read for any younger comic fans in your life as well as yourself.
Rat Queens (2013, Image Comics)
From one group of friends to another, though this one is certainly a lot less kid friendly.
Hannah, Violet, Dee, and Betty, also know as the Rat Queens, are a group of adventurers for hire currently causing trouble in the town of Palisade. Anyone that loves any kind of fantasy game from D&D to Dragon Age will feel right at home in the world we follow the group into.
While vastly different to Lumberjanes it is again the diverse all female cast and their strong friendship that really bring out that connection you feel to the comic. Some of the best moments in the series come in the quiet moments between the girls, but that’s not to say the action scenes can’t hold their own against any superhero comic.
The comic and it’s rich cast of woman have already been picked up for a TV show, and it will be interesting to see this story reach a wider audience because as the producer Jeff Krelitz told Variety, “it is not only perfect for the TV space, but much needed.”
Black Widow (2014, Marvel)
I don’t think I can describe how much deeper I’ve fallen in love with Black Widow over the last few weeks, and it’s probably thanks to reading these comics.
Most people reading this are probably familiar with Black Widow from The Avengers movies, if they’ve never run into her in comics before, which shouldn’t scare you away. The series is completely accessible for people coming to it from the movies. As the opening page of the comics say, Natasha Romanov is an Avenger, an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and an ex-KGB Assassin, but on her own time she uses her unique skill set to atone for her past.
The series followed Natasha during her downtime away from her usual Superhero and secret agent duties, taking jobs assassinating evil and helping the people that she’s wronged in the past. Nathan Edmondson does an amazing job taking us inside the mind of the Black Widow, showing us how she deals with her past and how it might not be as behind her as she’d like. He also recently wrote a six page intro for a Black Widow movie, which Marvel should really think about taking a look at.
Ms. Marvel (2014, Marvel)
Speaking of superheroes in desperate need of their own movie and/or tv show, say hello to Kamala Khan. Kamala is a teenage girl that discovers she has superpowers and takes on the mantle of Ms. Marvel, a title previously used by her hero Carol Danvers (who recently moved on to being Captain Marvel).
While Kamala isn’t Marvel’s first Muslim superhero she is the first to be given her own solo comic, and the amount of love the comics are getting just makes it clear that more diverse characters is what we need to bring a new perspective to these stories. It’s a lot more interesting to see Kamala try to juggle her new responsibilities while still trying to please over protective religious parents that don’t really understand her interests and be a normal teenager than it is the usual “middle-aged man with stubble has angst over dead girlfriend” setup.
What’s great about Kamala is she reads as a completely realistic teenager. She writers fanfiction, she takes selfies, she knows what it’s like to have your class nerfed by the developers of your favourite game. What she says never comes across as badly written or put there to try force a relationship with the audience, it’s all completely the character, and if you can’t tell already I’m 100% in love with her.
The Unwritten (2009, Vertigo)
It was actually quite hard to find an image to show you from this comic, because there’s so much going on I’m not sure how you express the feel of the whole story with a panel or two. Especially since you quickly realize there isn’t just one story going on here.
The Unwritten follows Tom Taylor, son of a very famous author that mysteriously vanished in the middle of writing a series of books about a boy wizard named Tommy Taylor. Tom is rather jaded about his fame, but with no real accomplishments himself he continues to make money off of the back of his father’s books, attending conventions and book signings to keep himself afloat. That is until a woman accuses him of not being who he says he is in the middle of one of these events, creating a media frenzy about Tom being nothing but an gold digging imposter or a stolen child.
That still sounds rather normal, until I mention that Tom Taylor is kidnapped by a crazed fan dressed as the villain from his father’s stories, and starts to develope Tommy’s powers.
As the mention of a boy wizard may have made you think, the glimpses of the story we see do bring to mind Harry Potter, and the story does seem to play on this, but writer Mike Carey has also spoken about Christopher Milne. Famous as Christopher Robin of Winnie the Pooh, Milne reveals in his autobiography that his childhood really felt stolen by his father, who turned it into something he couldn’t use and made a profit from it.
For anyone looking for a more established series to lose themselves in The Unwritten is a rich story that mixes magic and fantasy with a brutal modern setting.
So there you have it, my suggestions to all of you that might be looking for a start, or a new start, or just a really good comic to add to your collection. All of these books are great reads, and also contained enough to be accessible to anyone like me that was worried about a jumping on point. This list could easily have been twice as long, but I’ll spare you all for now.
I make no promises for later.