Show Me Your Lightning Bolt!

My burgeoning affiliation with the All New! All Different! Boomtron, with its Ooku reviews and its Sandman Meditations and its other various lovingly crafted commentaries, comes with the knowledge that I am lacking in … well, knowledge. And it isn’t even the sort of knowledge your average Jim-Bob on the street would see as significant. Unfortunately, it’s something I prided myself in for years, and now …

Now I find myself at a distinct loss. And it’s a little embarrassing.

It’s comics, man. I just don’t have any knowledge of the modern comic book.

My Daily Tangent: this post, back when I began it, had a completely different flavor. I wanted to touch on the Mash itself, about the necessity of the Mash – or at least on my belief in the need for a Mash-like endeavor; on how badly I want to see this fuckpuppy grow, becoming a Super Mash, or, dare I dream, a Monster Mash. It’s still viable within the conversation here, because everything mashes nowadays. Movies spawn television shows, which spawn comic books and novels … which then sometimes go on to spawn even more movies, a fact that Whedon is still pissed about. These days, you rarely see an online conversation about a beloved series of novels without the requisite Casting Call thread, or some link to a fanfic in which one male protagonist ends up in an incestuous Yaoi relationship with his evil twin brother.

It’s just gotten strange, man. And it’s almost trite to mention how technology has completely changed how we interact with our obsessions of choice, but you kids (Ooooh you kids!) have to recall the fact that there was indeed a time back when interaction meant getting dressed and leaving the house – something I am now personally hesitant to do, because what if I miss something on my Twitter feed? (No, I don’t have a smart phone yet. I’m working on that.) And sure, I know there are a gazillion other troll caverns online that purport to give coverage to All Things Geek, but I have not seen a single one that does it so lovingly. Not like here.

For me, that’s the draw: the people here love what they write about. Old fool that I am, that’s what I want to see. The love. It’s not flash; it’s the simple art of putting word to paper. Metaphorically speaking.

Not to mention the fact that so many other sites seem outdated. Not outdated-but-still-useable like my dad’s old Apple 2E, or outdated-but-still-pretending-to-be-viable like Sport’s Illustrated’s Swimsuit issue, but rather more outdated-by-everything-else-but-still-making-various-people-small-amounts-of-money like … MySpace, or some shit.

Or, some are extremely viable and I just don’t like them. That’s my damned prerogative. Maybe it’s the company they keep, or it’s the number of times their readers end sentences with “lol.”

Anyway, this article was set. It was good to go. I even had a really good dig at Harry Knowles. Some other time perhaps.

Ryan Lindsay’s recent Mashilicious article on Phonogram: Singles Club 4 really got my mind a-whirl, though. Bloody great read. The comic sounds like one of those nice, sublime, tell-it-with-pictures comics I used to love, something maybe in the vein of Love and Rockets, back in the day, back when L&R was incisive and good. I badly wanted to throw out a few meaningful comparative allegories, modern ones, but … Jesus, what the hell do I know? I just don’t have the knowledge I used to possess.

Now … most of you don’t know me very well, so I’ll let you in on a badly kept secret: I’m not particularly bright. I’m actually accustomed to being in the “lower half of ill-informed” category, and deservedly so. Sure, I can type an amusing sentence, even string a few together if I’m lucky, but Raging Intellect is something I will never be accused of possessing. People don’t hire me to bring up the overall Mensa quota. My math skills would make your seven-year old giggle.

My greatest gift, if I have one, is the keen ability to find other, smarter people, and befriend them in order to sponge off of their vast learnings. Consider me the equivalent of a land-bound brain remora with a penchant for strangely placed tangents and an interesting tee-shirt collection. I will brag from time to time that I do currently hold a 4.0 with the University of Maryland. However, this was won solely on the strength of three creative writing courses I took back in the ’90’s. I have subsequently refused to attend any other class for fear of marring this very interesting little conversation starter.

So while I get my share of respect from my peers, it is often for the wrong skill set, and generally undeserved.

The problem here is the subject at hand. Television? No one’s better than me. Movies? I see anything recommended to me by people I trust. Books? I like to think I can hold my own in the fantasy / sci-fi aisle at my local Borders. But comic books … man, I used to be all about comic books. What happened?

I’m a kid of the ‘70’s, a teen of the ‘80’s. I remember a time long before there was an interweb, back when fanzines were largely delivered by mail-in subscription or shady dudes in trenchcoats hanging out at the fringes of comic book and Star Trekconventions. Back then the coolest path to self-affirmation was seeing your slightly-desperate letter begging Keith Giffen to bring back Ambush Bug reprinted in a DC comic. (Yes, because the ability to break the 4th wall is the greatest super power ever, hands down.) Back in Ye Olde Days, comics were just comics.

Time has seen comic books become more widely accepted, and even lauded, with Hugos and Eisners (and a Pulitzer!) to brag about. There’s even a portion of the erudite herd that call the tome-sized versions “graphic novels,” which, to me, is a bit much. But George R.R. Martin still calls them “funnybooks,” so me going all hardcore old school “comic” can’t be all that dated.

But these great G-Mash articles are making my pea brain ache in an attempt to try and recall the last really good modern comic I read. Remember the part about how I loved them in the ’70’s and ’80’s? If I have to be honest, for me … comics are a little played out. At least the super-hero versions of comics, which was what I was raised on. And I say this with the utmost respect for the medium; I simply can’t find too many these days that I can read past three pages without rolling my eyes.

Don’t get me wrong, for many years they served their purpose; Sal Buscema’s earlyIncredible Hulk work got me warmed up for the Claremont / Byrne X-Men stuff in the late ‘70’s. The 80’s had me following Byrne all over the place (Fantastic Four and Alpha Flight), but mediocrity at the “big two” forced me to seek out the burgeoning array of independent offerings, introducing me to Cerebus (Aardvark Vanaheim), ElfQuest, (WARP), The Elementals, (Comico), and others. DC’s Watchmen came in the late ’80’s, but I didn’t actually pick it up until the ’90’s because I was initially put off by Dave Gibbons’ oldschool art and hated the coloring. (Yeah, I know. Shut up.)

The ‘90’s were, for me, more focused on some of the best shit I’d ever seen: Byrne’s Next Men, O’Barr’s Goth wet dream The Crow, the beginning of the end of Cerebus’s run (watching a comic creator sort of unravel before your eyes, issue by issue, was in itself memorable), Ennis’s Preacher, and of course Gaiman’s Sandman, which the Mash’s Matthew Cheney so excellently gives coverage to. Lost in that shuffle of ‘90’s goodness was all that re-launched / re-imagined crap that came from Marvel. All the Image shit too, though there were of course bright spots. (Loved the dark disturbia that was Spawn, and even got what they were trying to do with Gen-13 and J. Scott Campbell … but this subject could touch off an unwanted ramble about lazy “rockstar” comic artists, and I hate to insult Joe Madureira.)

And it wasn’t just the comic industry drowning itself in its own ink that put me off in the ’90’s; that decade also introduced me to the Smarter Than Thou comic fan, and by the time the ’00’s rolled around I’d just about had my fill of faux intellects trying to pretend to see Kerouac and Salinger allusions in the latest issue of Lady Death. Comics had either ceased to be fun for me, or I was simply growing in a different direction than they were.

People have their own reasons for disliking anything, of course, and what seems silly to one person can be eye-gougingly serious to the next. I have a friend who scoffs at me for my insistence that Daenerys’s eyebrows should match her damned silver wig, and I in turn scoff at him because he thinks Muse is shit simply because Matthew Bellamy is into himself. Hell, some people will actually dislike something simply because others like it. (A phenomenon both illogical and ultimately self-defeating, but hey. Some people have issues.)

When something is recommended to me, I seek it out. I have a good friend on the periphery of the comic-creating world, Joey Cruz (the NeverWanderer from Geeks of Doom, a writer and creator of no small skill), who from time to time pimps comic books that he finds excellence in.

He introduced me to Powers (Bendis), and to Transmetropolitan (Ellis), which were both fantastic, and introduced me to the re-imagined (there it is again) Ultimate Marvel universe of comics. Ultimate Spider-Man felt a little too high school for my tastes (I suppose that was the point), but the Avengers redux (The Ultimates) was fanfuckingtastic, and the Ultimate Galactus trilogy (Ellis again) was literally brilliant in both approach and execution. The last thing that had sparked my imagination like that, like a slap to the face, had been The Authority (’99), by Ellis yet again, and later by Millar.

Ultimate Galactus – what a story! – gave me that spark of hope that Marvel could indeed reinvent itself and its stories, and that the reimagining trope wasn’t just some sort of hokey money-making scam.


It didn’t. Not that I saw. I tried to find more of that crack, but everything else I tried or looked into just fell by the wayside. Nothing compared. Joey’s recommendations regarding anything featuring anyone in tights just seemed to get weaker and weaker. Yes, I found his recommendation for We3 (brilliant – Morrison at the top of his game, and Quitely finally doing something that didn’t involve having to draw too many of his bloated renditions of people), and for MouseGuard (quaint, but … whatever), but the hits came with decreased regularity.

Even Ellis failed me; I didn’t like Planetary at all, which is odd, but maybe by then I’d just moved on. I even jumped online to check out “The Future Of Comics,” Nawlz

Sure, I’m impressed with how they do it. But what the fuck is this story even about? If I had half of these dudes’ ability to make a living, breathing, online comic (I don’t – see the I’m not particularly bright part, above) I could make one for the ages. This just seems like … a waste of talent. And bandwidth.

I want to love this stuff again. I’m ready for it – ready for love, like … fuckin’ … that chick in that movie where she goes to Italy and … something-something.

I’m ready for it! I’m here to take suggestions, especially in the super hero genre. I’m putting it out there for fans to shout it out. Tell me about something really good.

Show me your lightning bolt!


  1. Wow, that is like a trip through my comics history (at least the early parts). I too started with typical superheroes stories, then branched out to the atypical. I loved the Claremont/Byrne X-Men (although I read them as back issues). Walt Simonson’s Thor was what got me into comics in the first place, and I would definitely recommend them if you haven’t read them.

    I also loved Byrne’s Next Men, and Sim’s Cerebus, and Willingham’s Elementals. And of course, The Sandman – in my mind the best single literary work of art yet created in the medium of comics (or “sequential art” or whatever you want to call it). Preacher was also a favorite.

    So you’re looking for more. Here are some favorites that I didn’t see you mention (not all are completely modern, but you should check them out if you haven’t yet).

    Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics run. Top Ten especially, but Tom Strong and Promethea were also personal favorites.

    Fables, by Bill Willingham. The edginess he had back in his “Elementals” days is still there, the art has improved tremendously, and the stories he is telling this series are just phenomenal.

    Thieves and Kings. Although published sporadically and independently (and now, it seems, almost exclusively through the website) this series is just amazing. A mix of classic comics layout with juxtaposed text/background illustrations, this series is one of the best I have ever read. I love the characters, and the mythology is grand. I’m dying to know what happens next.

    The Stuff of Legend. This one floored me. I got the first issue about 1 1/2 years ago, and the artwork is to die for. The scene where Hammy, the piggy bank, reveals he knows his longterm fate “he breaks me” is just mindblowing.

    For pure superhero fun, I’ve been enjoying the most recent run of the New Avengers. I was about to give it up, but the last few issues have been just wonderful, with great dialogue and character interaction.

    Ennis’s Punisher is always fun for a (anti)superhero read.

    The Boys is also a fun Ennis read, with a major anti-superhero bent.

    Just several suggestions. My $0.05 as it were,


  2. MFer, I TOLD you… read the SECOND Planetary trade. *I* didn’t like it until I read the second trade!

    This is an awesome article, though, sir. I really, really enjoyed reading it (and not just for my name-drop).

    (the check’s in the mail)

    As for those initial books you loved so much… those were definitely my top tier recommendations. My “OOMPH!” books. Powers, Transmet, We3, Ultimates, Ult. Galactus… I love those comics deeply. The next ones I recommended were still enjoyable for me, maybe in certain aspects more than others, but I can definitely see why the hits came less and less for you.

    So, here are a couple “OOMPH!” titles I may have neglected to throw your way:

    1. Bendis & Maleev’s run on “Daredevil” (starting with the Underboss story arc and ending with The Murdock Papers) followed by the first Brubaker & Lark story (The Devil in Cell Block D) is a warhorse. I know you’re an old-school DD fan. You can’t miss this stuff. This is a lightning bolt.

    (To Jay’s comment about the last few years of Daredevil being too similar to television crime dramas: I can’t speak to the entire Brubaker run, but I really thought that Bendis’s DD was doing something special with the character and with the genre that I wouldn’t expect to find in any regular crime drama. It’s why I think DD is prime real-estate for a network like FX or… well, just FX really… to plant their flag in. There’s something to be said for the added dimension a seriously-handled vigilante story can bring to the typical cops & robbers procedural. The Dark Knight was proof enough of that.)

    2. “Violent Messiahs: The Book of Job” (IDW). I always worry that other people’s mileage may vary with this title, because it’s gone largely unacknowledged since it’s initial release in 1999, but it’s one of my favorite comics of all time, just under Transmet, The Crow, and Akira. What starts as a “typical” dark vigilante crime story becomes something much more intricate and intriguing. Great characters, an exciting ramp up and a perfect ending, told with the sort of gothic, poetic finesse that any old-school O’Barr fan should love.

  3. I like that. “OOMPH” titles. I would love to read a comic book again that just gets me addicted to the story. Like the old days.

    For me what draws me in is the story and the art that reflects it well (Watchmen distracted me with art style that did not appeal to me… I still have not read the whole thing >.< ). I don't care as much for allegories, gimmicks, or "something new" … I want a GOOD EFFIN STORY. Engaging dialogue. And awesomely done art panels.

    I have rarely found all three in the same book. When the artist has control (usually because their work is awesome) the story suffers because artists rarely make for good storytellers. I love John Byrne's storytelling, but not his art. When the story is good, they don't always fork out money for the GOOD artists.

    A ready exception though would be The Ultimates. I really liked that. And the Ultimate Galactus Trilogy. Those were awesome.

  4. I’ll second Fables and The Boys (unless you are easily offended…which I’m pretty sure is not the case)

    If you’re looking for some simple superhero fun, try Joss Whedon’s run on Astonishing X-men (Filled with all the banter you expect).
    Kurt Busiek’s Astro City is prettyy good too, and if you haven’t read Y: The Last Man by Brian K Vaughn you should. I also really enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s 1602, which is an alternate reality of Marvel characters in the year 1602.

  5. My college-aged daughter went through a similar arc, only highly condensed, as she belongs to a comics enlightened family.

    If you want to know what “the kids” are reading, she highly recommends Locke and Key. She also reads Fables and loves the Boys. Y, the Last Man is on her list of best comics ever. She also liked Powers and started out liking Rising Stars, a 24-issue comic book limited series by J. Michael Straczynski, but the problems with it’s completion annoyed her, and she thought the ending was a little off.

    She was reading the DC and Marvel superhero comics, but recently stopped, highly angered over the whole, let’s change continuity by (insert device) and plague of killing characters for press. She didn’t think the stories were worth the aggravation.

  6. So I have my first big order of Must Read comics on order, shipping to my domicile via Amazon (and other sundry sources). I got a number of ’em used, so the prices weren’t that high. Here’s what I’m trying:

    “The Stuff of Legend, Book 1: The Dark”
    “Fables: The Deluxe Edition Book One”
    “Seven Soldiers of Victory, Vol. 1”
    “Violent Messiahs: The Book of Job Volume 1”
    “The Boys Volume 1: The Name of the Game”
    “Daredevil by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev Ultimate Collection Book 1”

    … And of course a pre-order of “A Dance With Dragons” by George R. R. Martin, but that doesn’t count as a comic.

    I will keep you posted on what knocked my socks off and what didn’t.

  7. By Meltzer? No! You’re probably the third person who mentioned it though.

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