I despise superhero comics. Should I give 'em a chance?

I’ll begin this by explaining that I have had a lifelong obsession with comix. Not comics, but comix - the underground kind. When I was seven and eight years old I’d go to the bookstore and pull out the R. Crumb collections, hiding the pages with my arm while I discreetly gazed on the big-assed women and quirky sexual misadventures depicted within. I loved MAD magazine and the New Yorker cartoons and the illustrations in Dave Barry books. I drew obsessively from the time I was a tiny kid all the way up until now. I was sent to the principal’s office in sixth grade for drawing a naked cowboy with a massive schlong on the blackboard. I spent my high school years reading Dan Clowes and R. Crumb and S. Clay Wilson, and drawing on every scrap of paper I could get my hands on.

The one thing I couldn’t dig, though, was superhero comics. I read the Dark Horse Star Wars comics, because they were Star Wars and I loved Star Wars. And I read the occasional Spawn comic, because they were “dirty” and sexual and adult, jampacked with sick humor. This, in my mind, set them apart from “superhero comics,” Superman, Spider-Man, X-Men, Batman, The Hulk, Justice League of America, and all that. I hated it. I hated the garish obnoxious costumes, I hated the black-and-white “we must fight evil” mentality, I hated that there was never any naughtiness or seediness or innuendo. It seemed like it was phoned in, intended for kids, and just cheezy. Every now and then I’d look at a Marvel or DC comic and I simply could not get what all the fuss was about. There was no hard edge! No sarcasm or wit!

A few years back I worked with a guy who was obsessed with comics. He couldn’t care less about Comix, but he was nuts over Comics. He would ramble on and on about which X-Men had the best skills and which Marvel storylines he loved, and I was just totally lost in all of it and could not comprehend how this guy was so interested in it. So I decided to go buy some comics at the bookstore and read them, and maybe then I’d “get it.” But I couldn’t. I read X-Men and Hulk and Spider-Man, but I could not get into it at all. It still seemed too antiseptic, not gritty enough, and not connected at all to reality and the human condition the way I percieved R. Crumb, for instance, to be.

Well, today I went to the local Borders and realized something. I’d been going there for years and years, sitting down in the comics section, and reading the same five or six underground comics compilations. Meanwhile, there was a gargantuan shelf of Marvel and DC comic anthologies and collections and seemingly hundreds upon hundreds of superhero comics. Now maybe I’m thinking that I should give the tight-suited colorful men another chance. Maybe there’s something I’m missing. Should I? How should I maximize my enjoyment of it? And what comics should I start with?

Any reccomendations, or comments?

Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

Read that, and then it will all make sense. Still the best superhero story ever. After that, try:

Starman: Sins of the Father
The Golden Age
Kingdom Come
Daredevil: Born Again
Batman: Year One
The Dark Knight Returns
The Authority: Relentless
Planetary: All Around the World
Justice League: A New Beginning

I’m there! I’m there!

I’m… not there anymore.


Wow. You definitely had all the stereotypes of superhero comics down. They’re not true, nor were they back when you first started reading comics. And you found Spawn to be a good non-superhero book? Each their own, but you’ll have a hard time finding any Spawn fans nowadays, and the few you do find I’m sure read other superhero comics.

Anywhose, I shouldn’t bust your balls because you are trying to be open minded. In addition to what Big Bad Voodoo Lou suggested I’d add:

The Absolute Authority*

Absolute Planetary*

Ultimates Vol. One (talk about moral ambiguity)

The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank

Any Hellboy collection (not exactly a superhero, but close enough)

Rising Stars

Supreme Power

Astonishing X-Men, Vol. One

Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

Superman: Red Son

Batman: Arkham Asylum

*These books include stuff Lou recommended, but they have longer runs of the series printed in oversize hardback form. They’re $50 so you might want to see if your library can get them for you.

The books I recommended above are generally ones that offer more than just a good story and actually comment on things other than how best to beat up a supervillain.

I liked that the good guy was also kind of a bad guy, I found the relationship between Spawn and Clown/Violater to be interesting, and I could not help but love the sleazy villains like Tony Twist and Billy Kinkaid…I mean, an evil ice cream man? How cool is that?

This stuff, for me, set Spawn apart from other superhero comics.

I should also recommend Wildcats, the best post-superhero superhero comic, if that makes any sense. I guess Brand Building would be the best TPB to read if you want to just jump in and be impressed, but the story really takes shape before then, in Vicious Circles, Serial Boxes, and Battery Park (all written by Joe Casey).

I personally like superhero comics, but it sounds like you checked 'em out and didn’t like them. Why waste your time and money on something you don’t like just because people you know do like them?

I can’t speak for Argent, but I tend to give things a second chance if people whose opinions I respect continue to speak highly of them. It’s a good thing, too, because I used to feel the same way as the OP, but so many people I knew were so into superhero comics that I finally went back and gave 'em another look, and figured out what I was missing the whole time.

Anyway, the titles that hooked me big time were the Ultimate lines (Spiderman, Fantastic Four, and The Ultimates in particular), which are good re-introductions of these characters for those of us who missed the last forty-plus years of backstory and continuity. I’m also a big fan of Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Strazynski’s run on Amazing Spiderman, and Kevin Smith’s re-introduction of Green Arrow (now being penned by ex-Real World cast member Judd Wynick, which is not nearly as awful as you’d think).

If you like all that Superhero-with-an-edge stuff that was done (so very poorly) in Spawn, check out Brian Michael Bendis’ Powers. It’s costumed superheroes from the POV of a pair of average plainclothed detectives whose job it is to clean up after them. Lots of blood, boobs, and bad words, but not presented in quite so juvenile a fashion as Spawn. Similarly, the already-recommened Authority books take superheroes to their logical extreme, with Superman-strong “heroes” who don’t pull their punches when smacking down villains. Really kind of shallow, but still a lot of fun. Defininetly a guilty pleasure.

Lastly, absolutely anything by Alan Moore. In Watchmen, he created the seminal deconstruction of the superhero genre, but eve more impressive was watching him build it back up in titles like Tom Strong and America’s Best, which capture the innocence of golden age comics, but with his hallmark genius, wit, and literary insight.

I’ll second those two, especially if you want to know why Superman remains so popular despite being virtually unbeatable and morally unambiguous.

The first is basically the last story of the Pre-Crisis Superman. It focuses on Supes’ attempts to balance his personal life with the trials and demands of being Superman, and pretty much failing.

The second is an out-of-canon tale postulating that Superman landed in Soviet Ukraine, not Kansas. Basically, what if Superman was raised in a society that valued the individual less, and did encourage the government, or the superheroes that run it, to try and take on the world’s problems directly, instead of waiting for the next villain to beat up? Would it work, would it be worth it? [/highjack]

A few other good series that haven’t been mentioned yet: Top 10 (about a police precinct in a world where everyone has superpowers), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Victorian superheroes using characters from that era’s popular fiction), The Elementals (probably going to be hard to find but worth the effort), The American (definitely going to be hard to find), The Ultimates (basically a major rewrite of the Marvel series The Avengers), and Ultra (about the difficulties of a superhero having a social life).

…And Astro City by Busiek. Especially the first trade paperback, which has two excellent and thought-provoking Samaritan stories in it.

Another recommendation is Green Arrow: Quiver.

I sucked my father back into comics with that one. I don’t think my mother has forgiven me yet.

I read some superhero comics, certainly, but most of them really aren’t that good. Astro City is consistently good, Authority was good when Ellis wrote it and was OK when Millar wrote it. There are good runs that pop up from time to time in most titles and some authors that are IMO generally reliable (Grant Morrison, Mark Waid usually, Chuck Dixon usually, Ron Marz when he’s not writing Green Lantern, and Gail Simone), but no, I wouldn’t recommend reading “superhero comics” anymore than I’d recommend watching cop shows on TV. Some are really good; most blow.


Batman: The Killing Joke

If you want moral ambiguity, it’s hard to beat the character of Atom Smasher in JSA. However, he’s not in every issue, and in addition, unless you have at least a passing familiarity with the DC Universe, the constant guest-shots and references to the Golden Age will probably be more annoying than pleasing.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – anything with the words “Astro City” in the title is a damn fine read. Super-hero stories where the super-heroes are secondary to the humanity.

And to further back up Rocketeer here, you can get a quick sampler by picking up the first Astro City collection (“Life in the Big City”) in a bookstore, then reading the first story in it (“In Dreams”). If you aren’t hooked by the end of those 22 pages, there’s no point.

Well, I went to the bookstore today and began reading Red Son. And, as I had hoped, I found it to be very interesting and enjoyable, and the art was great. I read about half the book there in the store, but didn’t buy it (I didn’t have enough money at the time. I may go back and get it.) I was kind of distracted by the young Japanese girls all around me.

If Red Son is any indication, there are definitely superhero comics that I will enjoy. Thanks for the recommendation.