I used to be a massive comic book geek. In part this was just luck and timing – as a child in the late 70s/early 80s with a high reading age and a nearby newsagents that stocked a decent selection of comics I was perfectly primed to enjoy such classics as The X-Men’s The Phoenix Saga (the first comic book I remember really enjoying, though I have a vague memory of loving Wonder Woman, too), Frank Miller’s Daredevil (oh, how I wanted to be Elektra, which possibly explains a lot) and, a little later, the Claremont/Miller take on Wolverine that I adore to this day.
Eventually, I gave up my collection – shallowly lured away by trendier things like teenage boys, the Smiths and a crush on Daniel Day Lewis in My Beautiful Laundrette that is still going strong even now. I retained, though, a love of graphic novels, but the vast expansion of the Marvel and DC universes meant that I found it confusing to keep up with the myriad storylines and so would only occasionally dip in and out, picking up an arc that intrigued me but never again going back to the regular purchases of my youth. Plus, I was skint, and graphic novels weren’t cheap. I never lost my fondness for the characters or the form, but somehow it seemed just too much work and too much money to do enough to still call myself a comics fan.
Then fast forward a decade or three and then came the bloody iPad. Bought on a whim after quitting my job – see, I like to be sensible – I love my iPad, I really do, but the ability to download comics at a touch (and to stick them on the credit card – much like I did the iPad – thereby not actually paying for them with ‘real’ money) has been both a boon and a curse. I’m back reading individual titles regularly without ever having to brave the mind boggling variety (not to mention the temptation to buy cute Star Wars merchandise) that comes with a visit to my local Forbidden Planet, but I have also spent a fricking fortune on things that, when it comes down to it, it takes me mere minutes to read. So, in a blatant attempt to feel like I’m getting something productive out of spending all that money, I thought I’d share my current reading list – all available on a tablet near you…
Now probably most famous thanks to Comixology’s misguided belief that a briefly glimpsed but graphic gay sex scene would get the book banned on Apple apps, Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga deserves to be read for more than just salaciousness – though, be warned, a blow job is the least of the images you’ll contend with here, so it’s not for the very young or those who are prudish about sex or squeamish about violence. But it’s a towering, ambitious, highly original space opera that spans worlds, is packed with smart ideas and clever dialogue, compelling characters and (yes!) strong women. If you don’t mind sex and violence, it’s definitely worth your time.
The ‘problem’ of the massive success of superhero movies – and how to attract fans of the cinematic outings while retaining comic book enthusiasts – is a vexing one for both DC and Marvel, which they have addressed with varying degrees of success. One book that has got it totally right is Matt Fraction’s glorious take on Hawkeye, centred around what he does when he’s not an Avenger, but with enough crowd pleasing cameos to keep the film fans happy (the scene where he gets Tony Stark over to sort out his TV/ DVD set up is genius). This run makes the most of the fact that Hawkeye is the least super of his superchums, playing up his ‘regular guy’ status in a book that owes as much to Philip Marlowe as it does to Stan Lee, with sometimes gritty, always witty writing offset by gorgeously minimalist art by the likes of David Aja (my personal favourite, whose covers are just divine), Javier Pulido, Steve Liber and Jesse Hamm.
Another book benefitting from a super clean, modern style that is perfectly suited to digital reading (complete with faux social media updates to remind you of the story, and lots of breaking the fourth wall) is this series by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie / Mike Norton, which even has some nice Hawkeye crossover in the form of the ‘other’ Hawkeye, Kate Bishop, who is also a regular in Fraction’s book. Teen romance comes courtesy of one of comics’ most famous (and likeable) gay couples, Wiccan and Hulkling, which is handled beautifully (and, given their relatively young age, with appropriate sensitivity), add in oodles of snark courtesy of a youthful Loki, great female characters and a script so sharp it could cut you scattered with some gorgeously throwaway moments (a scene where a couple of ‘real’ Avengers totally fail to notice the battle raging outside the mansion while they enjoy a nice cuppa is a classic) and you have a book that is a real joy.
It took me a while to warm to this, because while I should love it – a female led title, with a least one lesbian character, and the kind of smart, self-aware writing that I adore – I was massively put off by Will Sliney’s art, which has a tendency to contort all of the characters (especially Misty Knight, who really is too tough for that shit) into stupid ‘brokeback’ tits and ass poses, so that every scene was less about what they were doing, than how much of their body could be on display in any panel. Really, Marvel, who the hell are you aiming this book at? Luckily, realising that a female-led title might attract women readers – who, y’know, tend to have at least a passing knowledge of how female anatomy works, and understand that we have spines, and internal organs and the like – this has calmed down a bit (though I’d still like the book better with a different artist on board, I suspect). While the main story (about the resurrecting of an evil sisterhood of Valkyrie, or something – it’s early days) hasn’t completely engaged me yet, the interplay of a bunch of strong, interesting women who are all in their own way kick ass makes for an entertaining read.
So, folks – what else should I be buying? Though given how much I have spent on comics so far this year, possibly I shouldn’t ask…
Remember you can also pop over to my blog, Body of A Geek Goddess, to say hi, or if YOU fancy something new to read (and on an iPad, too!) you can download my book, Wolf Night, which has much in common with the above comics in that it features a Valkyrie, a gay couple and a superhero archer. OK, I lied about the archer, but still…