Recommendations for the New Comic Reader is exactly what it sounds like — the posts where I recommend current ongoing comics to new readers, mostly based on the current or most recent arc. I focus heavily on the series being new reader friendly, so if the latest masterpiece of Grant Morrison’s isn’t here, you know why. I’m mainly concerned with what I myself am reading, but will occasionally recommend something people have told me or I’ve heard is good, if I feel it bits (these recommendations will be clearly labeled).
DC’s output has finally levelled out a bit, with the Rebirth titles being frequent enough that I can now determine quality more accurately, so quite a few things have dropped off this list. At the same time, both the Young Animal imprint and the rebooted Wildstorm universe have been establishing themselves, and have been mostly excellent, so they easily fill in for the series that I wouldn’t recommend. Join me after the break for my comic recommendations for new readers based on Q1 of 2017.
Supergirl: Being Super
Written by Mariko Tamaki
Latest release: Issue 2 (of 4)
Length: 2 regular issues
This is the first miniseries I’ll be recommending, and that says something about its quality, since I normally don’t even read limited series, let alone recommend them. But Mariko Tamaki’s Being Super is such an amazing read, one that makes Supergirl incredibly relatable and human, without veering too far into angst territory.
Tamaki’s Being Super isn’t canon with the mainstream DC universe and uses this to its advantage. Kara Danvers arrived on Earth when she was (at oldest) 10, and there’s no Superman around. Her origin is shrouded in mystery, but unlike modern runs involving Kara Zor-El, Being Super doesn’t wallow in Kara’s life on Krypton and define her solely by it–in fact, she doesn’t even seem to recall any of it, and that’s if she’s still even Kryptonian. Her powers are fluctuating and she’s not sure why, and it’s approached in a way that anyone who remembers beign a teenager can relate to — she thinks she’s on drugs, her parents say hormones are probably the cause, things like that. There’s a cool mystery set up concerning the possible explanation behind Kara and/or her powers that I won’t spoil, but with Tamaki framing it in a way that’s so human and grounded, it’s a joy to read.
In fact, what makes Being Super so good is Tamaki’s depiction of Supergirl as a teenager. Kara managing high school life is done very well, with Kara doing things like track and going out for burgers with friends. You get that sense of waywardness that comes when you’re about to finish high school, when you’re both celebrating an ending and dreading what comes next. Kara just embodies the average teenager so well under Tamaki’s pen. She has doubts about who she’s becoming and where she’s from, she loves her parents but is growing apart from them, she loves her friends but they’re headed in different directions. Things like pimples that end up having enough puss to cover a room and friends badgering you about their latest “phase” help to give the series a sense of levity while also adding to the general teen life atmosphere. And in all of this, Tamaki still captures the sense of wonder and rustic charm this type of story needs. One of Tamaki’s greatest strengths is her characterisation, and Being Super shows that she’s also able to craft a story that speaks to readers on a deep emotional level.
Oh, and there’s very rarely some minor disconnect between the art and story (is this just going to be a thing with Tamaki?), but it’s worth noting in such an otherwise amazing series. The art is very good, however, and is expressive enough to convey the wide spectrum of emotion a comic like this requires.
Supergirl: Being Super isn’t just a great Supergirl comic, it’s the comic by which I judge all other Supergirl comics. It’s an amazingly real depiction of teenage life, with such a strong emotional impact that you can’t help but relate. If you have any interest in the Superman franchise, or just like good, emotional comic of age stories, this is a comic you NEED to read.
Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Latest release: Issue 2 (current arc begins in issue 1)
Length: 2 regular issues
With Super Sons, we move away from teenage life and into the realms of boyhood adventures! Tomasi’s greatest strength is his ability to write incredibly human characters while still writing typical superhero stories, while still maintaining nuance. He’s done an amazing job reinvigorating the Superman franchise with Dan Jurgens, and Jon Kent is a big part of that. And with Super Sons, Tomasi brings the other boy character he made awesome, Damian Wayne, and it’s as great as you’d think it’d be. With some great interactions, perfect characterisation and a sentimental look at the boyhood lives of the two iconic sidekicks, Tomasi hits it out of the park.
The way Tomasi plays the two characters off each other is what makes this comic so great. You really get to see the difference in the two, as Damian’s interactions with Batman and Alfred are generally formal, and seem to show that he’s ready to strike out on his own. Meanwhile, Jon is a boy who’s lives a sheltered life, but has just discovered the amazing side to his family, who are loving and supportive and show it well. The two are opposites, but also similar in how they’re both living in the shadow of their fathers. While Jon has no problem with that — his dad is Superman, written at his best, so who wouldn’t want him as a dad? — and loves his place in his family, Damian is obviously itching to be his own man. And just from a meta standpoint, it’s just great to see Damian — a character who’s a deliberate deconstruction of the hyper competent sidekick — and Jon — a more traditional sidekick, flaws an all — interact. Tomasi has fun with that, while adding in Damian’s lack of powers to the mix, as the two tease each other over their capabilities.
The story is relatively simple, with Jon and Damian doing typical boy things like sneaking out past curfew to investigate another superpowered boy. It gives this nice air of innocence and rebellion that suits the characters and their ages. The story is simple, but serves to get the two interacting, and their interactions feel perfect. Things like Damian obviously trying to act cool around Jon, to Jon’s innocent reaction to everything around him (he’s new to superheroing) and Damian’s reactions to them, these characters feel right. While over in Nightwing, Tim Seeley seems to write Damian like he’s eight, with Super Sons, Tomasi gives him some pseudo-maturity, which is a good development for him. Meanwhile, Jon’s annoyance at Damian is adorable, as he’s dragged along on Damian’s adventures. But during all this, you really do get the feeling that the two are friends, or at least want to be, and no doubt this adventure will be the first of many as they get to know each other.
Super Sons is a comic all about the characters, characters who Peter J. Tomasi is an expert in writing. With his trademark sentimental tone, Tomasi is writing the story of two boys having adventures without their famous dads, and maybe becoming friends along the way. If that sounds like it’s up your alley, read Super Sons!
The Wild Storm
Written by Warren Ellis
Latest release: Issue 2 (current arc begins in issue 1)
Length: 2 regular issues
With the success of Gerard Way’s Young Animal imprint, it only made sense for DC to do the same with WildStorm. Way was a good fit for Young Animal due to his previous work fitting with the sensibilities of the Vertigo line’s more superhero-based stuff and Way himself being a confessed Vertigo fanboy. Warren Ellis’ work always gives off a counter-culture vibe, and takes on just enough high-concept ideas to feel distinct from the usual superhero fare, so it made sense to bring him in to revive the WildStorm line. While no other series have been announced so far, The Wild Storm is a great read in its own right, while also establishing an interesting universe.
The story, so far, has largely served the purpose of world-building. We’ve seen two warring, seemingly secret organisations. One side is determined to keep aliens and super-powered people a secret, with operatives sent in to clean things up all stealthy-like. However, they may have more nefarious intentions. And the other is a faction run by Alien Not Steve Jobs, who seems to be an alien. The story isn’t clear so far, but a wrench is thrown into the mix when Angela Spica employs her hidden armoured harness — think Iron Man back when the armour was stored in Tony’s body, only more violent — to save Not Steve Jobs from an assassination attempt. And thus, a race to acquire Spica begins, with the at-first good guys having ill intent towards her, while Alien Not Steve Jobs seems more benevolent! And in all this, we’ve got some agents questioning their place in the grand scheme of things. It all makes for an exciting and intriguing story, albeit one that will probably read better in trade — this is Warren Ellis, after all. Oh,a nd there are some cute references to the previous WildStorm universe and other DC stuff, and I’m sure I missed a few of the former.
As you could tell by the lack of proper nouns, it’s all just a little bit overwhelming. Keep in mind, however: I haven’t read an issue of The Wild Storm in, I think, a month. The world is interesting however, as is the way we’re introduced to it. The exposition that’s used flows rather naturally, as is common with Ellis. And the world itself captures that spirit of conspiracies and the deconstructionist approach towards superheroes that,I believe (I’ve read next to no WildStorm comics) WildStorm was known for. In fact, seeing these ideas done so well by Ellis here made me think of the early years of the New 52, which, if anything, feel like a poor man’s WildStorm! The mistrust of heroes, the secret nefarious organisations, the more intricate designs, it’s all just done so much better here.
The Wild Storm is an interesting read, filled with cool ideas and set in a cool world. It has good sci-fi, an interesting world and a compelling cast. It’s bursting with ideas and concepts, and that might also be its curse. But if you think you can handle possibly being overwhelmed, The Wild Storm is a rewarding read.
Written by Tom King
Latest release: Issue 20 (current arc begins in issue 16)
Length: 20 regular issues + 1 Rebirth one-shot + 1 annual + 2 issues of Nightwing (for the “Night of the Monster Men” crossover) + 2 issues of Detective Comics (for the “Night of the Monster Men” crossover)
Tom King’s Batman run was highly anticipated, what with his wildly successful run on Grayson, along with his other works giving him a much bigger profile. However, initial reception to his run was mixed, with many readers feeling it’s a bit too understated for DC’s biggest series. Indeed, King’s Batman run is the epitome of a slow burn, and makes Jonathan Hickman’s work look fast-paced! But now everything’s set up, the pieces are where they need to be, and “I am Bane” is set to really get things rolling. And it does just that, with flying colours, while only slightly tripping.
“I am Bane” features Bane’s assault on Batman and his allies, as he demands the return of the Psycho-Pirate, whom Batman needs to restore the mentally damaged Gotham Girl. Gotham Girl and her brother, Gotham, were aspiring superheroes who bought Superman-like powers that got more powerful the more the two were willing to “use” their lifespan, something Bruce didn’t know. He was trying to make them Gotham’s new superheroes after a near-death experience. However, Gotham and Gotham Girl were attacked by the Psycho-Pirate under orders of Hugo Strange, and Gotham was determined to destroy Gotham City, with even the Justice League unable to stop him. However, Gotham Girl was able to force her brother to exert himself to the point of death, but was further psychologically damaged as a result, and Batman promised to find Psycho-Pirate and cure her. However, Psycho-Pirate was traded by Hugo Strange to Bane for some Monster Venom, and Bane was using the Pirate to make himself brave, implied to be a big reason for why he used Venom. Batman forms his own Suicide Squad and attacks Bane’s island, with Catwoman breaking Bane’s back. Oh, and Catwoman is wanted for over 200 murders, though Batman doesn’t believe she did them. Turns out, he’s right, because she was covering for Holly Robinson, who grew up in the same orphanage as her. Holly almost kills Bruce, but Catwoman brings him to Alfred, and establishes that she knows Bruce Wayne is Batman, and that she’ll be around if he needs her.
That was long, wasn’t it? And I’m skipping over a lot of recurring themes and most of the relationship between Batman and Catwoman, which King writes extremely well, some weird dialogue aside (Batman and Catwoman refer to each other as ‘Bat’ and ‘Cat’, respectively). Yeah, the set up took a while, but here we are. Bane is back on Venom and wants Psycho-Pirate back, Bruce needs five days for him to fix Gotham Girl, and the game is on. The arc itself is great, and King writes a great Bane. Bane is once again incredibly menacing — physically powerful and very cunning, King makes Bane a force of nature without making him a mere plot device. Batman’s interactions with the rest of the Batfamily, namely the Robins, Alfred and Catwoman, is on point, and King clearly understands these characters. And during all of this, King maintains a sense of tension as Bane’s looming presence never completely disappears.
While Tom King’s Batman run is best read from the beginning, “I am Bane” is a great standalone arc that, although not resonating quite as much without reading the prior issues, is still a powerful look at Batman and Bane. Just don’t expect any “big” moments, and you’ll probably dig it.
Warning: After “I am Bane”, Batman is entering a four-part crossover with The Flash called “The Button”, which is intended to be the first direct follow-up on the Watchmen subplot running throughout the Rebirth line.
Written by Jody Houser
Latest release: issue 5 (current arc begins in issue 1)
Length: 5 regular issues
I generally avoid recommending Young Animal stuff to new readers because it’s a bit too out there for someone just getting into comics to read. They’re either made on some great drugs (Shade), are steeped in references — both direct and passing — to prior continuity (Doom Patrol), or are just… boring (Cave Carson, which probably also has the references thing going for it). But Mother Panic is definitely the most inviting of the current Young Animal line (we’ll see how Bug! does), firmly taking place in the DC Universe while also being its own thing, which is basically a grittier, more teen-focused take on the Gotham vigilante. While that might sound like it has limited appeal, Jody Houser writes a compelling protagonist, gives her a good supporting cast and is crafting some interesting stories.
Our protagonist, Violet Paige, is a bitch. She’s rude, uses people, and loves her some violence. But unlike other characters, there’s a degree of self-awareness in how Houser writes her. It never feels like we’re supposed to agree with what she does; we want to see her get better. She has good reasons for her attitude, namely her life in the mysterious Gather House, a boarding school for teens that did… stuff to them. What exactly happened is revealed gradually, but the current arc brings in another victim of the school. Violet’s reactions with him and other characters in general is interesting, and adds layers to her character, while keeping the edge (a word I use without irony, I swear) that sets her apart from the rest of Gotham’s vigilantes. What makes Violet interesting is that she’s a grittier, more modern take on the typical Bruce Wayne-esque superhero — she sleeps around and acts shallow to maintain a secret identity, but does so in ways that are more likely to actually put people off than what Bruce does. She doesn’t just have one-night stands, which isn’t that big a deal anymore — she leaves creepy messages for when the other person (man or woman) wakes up. She doesn’t act ditzy but well intentioned on talk shows like Bruce, she acts like she could barely give a crap about anything. And unlike with Bruce Wayne, it’s actually convincing, since that we know how self-destructive and broken Violet Paige truly is. It’s a nice play on a familiar formula.
The aforementioned supporting cast helps to flesh Paige out a bit. It includes her mother, who suffers from some mental issues, as well as the former assistant of a mob boss. Other characters introduced include an “artist” whose idea of art is something gruesome, and a mysterious man who can talk to rats. Also, Batwoman shows up at one point, and she may or may not have dated Violet. The other characters, Mama Paige aside, aren’t very interesting, but they have interesting interactions with each other and Violet.
The current arc is focused on Gather House itself, as the previous arc set up the status quo — Paige is a reluctant vigilante who butts heads with other Gotham vigilantes, takes care of her frail mother, who recently got a new friend in the form of the former assistant of one of Paige’s targets. Oh, and there’s a guy who can control rats. The story feels more fast-paced, and it’s definitely interesting to find out more about Paige’s character and the history of Gather House. It all feels like it fits into Gotham’s history, definitely more than other evil organisations that are similarly retconned into comic book canon. Simultaneously, we have other villains making plays that are starting to merge into a central story, so while Paige is delving into Gather House, the supporting cast and villains are getting a more urgent plot moving.
Mother Panic is an interesting read, with a compelling, self-destructive and angry protagonist. It feels like it fits into the Batman world while still feeling like its own entity. If you want a grittier take on Gotham’s vigilantes, Mother Panic is the comic for you.