I want to recommend Grant Morrison’s Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human as if it was just a straight up recounting of superhero comics and how they developed. It’s a prose book, not comics itself. Very readable history. Yep. That’s it. Go read it.
Okay, I can’t do it. Even though I want to completely obscure the idiosyncratic bizarre excellence that the book contains, I won’t paper over the fact that an unsuspecting reader of comic-book history blithely following along with the tales of Bob Kane and Stan Lee and Kirby and Miller could be blindsided by this turn into Grant Morrison’s time in Kathmandhu when he met higher dimensional beings who explained to him how the universe works and how that affected his superhero comics (like the amazing All-Star Superman).
It’s a crazy great book about one writer’s relationship with superheroes and because he’s a bit of a mad egotist (in a very charming way) it feels like it’s more than just a story about a drug trip, at least more than one man’s psychedelic voyage but about a chunk of society’s weird shamanic voyaging.
If that sounds like a totally wankery waste of time to you, I won’t feel bad if you skip this one. I loved it though.
Dial H: Into You is the first trade paperback I own from DC’s New 52 initiative (though not the first I read). The New 52 was DC’s superhero universe reboot that happened in 2011 in an effort to get new readers. I’m not a huge fan of being reminded how crassly commercial the literature I consume can be, so I haven’t been reading a lot of mainstream superhero stuff recently.
Dial H is not a normal superhero book.
I mean, sure there are cosmic problems which are solved by punching, but China Miéville is writing this book so those problems get weird. Plus the superhero at the centre of it is a Colorado schlub named Nelson Jent who, when he dials H-E-R-O on a payphone, taps into some other universe to become a random superhero for a while. Random superheroes like Boy Chimney (powers of smoke-control and telepathy through pollution), the Iron Snail (heavily armed and power-armoured snail shell and tracks dragged by a ‘roided-out soldier-type), and the Cock-a-Hoop (a giant metal hula-hoop with the head of a rooster).
I like how the book makes a ridiculous concept into a kind of exploration of the universes of weirdness and how they’d intersect with DC’s own universe of “normal weirdness” (with its aliens, magic, unnatural disasters and high-technology). The main story is about learning how to deal with the powers of the dial (which does get disconnected from the payphone) and coming to terms with weirdness. I also really like that his superheroing partner is in actuality a woman in her 60s.
I bought this one because it’s China Miéville doing superheroes. While it’s not as good as a Miéville novel, there’s enough good stuff in here to let me forget that it’s part of a stupid comics event. At least while I’m reading it.
I think The Hunt is the first trade paperback that came out of DC’s New 52 initiative that I’ve read. Animal Man is a superhero who can take on the powers of different animals through the lifeweb, but he’s also done some acting and at the beginning of this book he’s trying to kind of stay out of the whole “dress up in a costume and fight crime” scene. For his family.
Then he starts bleeding out his eyes and his daughter is reanimating animal corpses and she’s being hunted by agents of the Rot and everything goes pear-shaped.
It’s perfectly fine commercial superhero storytelling (which is kind of odd, seeing as it’s coming from Jeff Lemire, whose non-superhero stuff I love), but didn’t feel like a really personal story. Which makes sense. It’s work-for-hire, not The Underwater Welder.
At the end of the book Animal Man is off to find Swamp Thing, which is a pairing that certainly makes sense, but not something I’d ever really thought of before. Not that I think that hard about DC mythology on my best days.
Really. I don’t.
Dan Clowes’ The Death-Ray is kind of like a superhero story, but a very Dan Clowesian version of one. When Andy starts smoking back in the 70s he learns he’s got super strength. He and his friend try to find people who need beating up, but it’s difficult. Then he finds that his dead father left him a death ray. Using that is even harder.
It’s not a happy book. Andy isn’t a real heroic type. I like the format and how the storybits are fragmented in a less regimented way than Wilson, the last Clowes book I read. Good but not mind-blowing.
Dallas is a time travel story about trying to kill President Kennedy. At one point the planet is destroyed. There are psychotic timetravelling hitmen and Number 5 is trying to stop a past version of himself.
I keep on digging the art in this book and Way’s approach to time travel (and the inaccuracy of such methods) was pretty sweet. This isn’t the kind of story you can just drop into, so make sure you read Apocalypse Suite to figure out who these characters are and why you should care first.
Supergod is the story a British scientist tells of how the world was destroyed by nations putting their trust in hugely powerful beings who can fly. It’s an interesting read for the ideas and the pictures of superbeings reshaping the world.
There aren’t really any characters to get attached to apart from the narrator, who basically takes the place of Uncle Warren telling creepy tales of mushroom sex and soviet robots. Also, because it’s a Warren Ellis comic, of course the British space program plays into the story.
It’s a different take on superhumans than something like Black Summer; a much bigger picture story, and one that highlights how badly people would really deal with that kind of thing.
Apocalypse Suite is a time travel, get the team back together to fight something that’s gone horribly wrong, high adventure style comic that I enjoyed immensely. It’s Gerard Way’s first time writing a comic and it doesn’t really show.
The Umbrella Academy super team was once a bunch of orphan kids brought together to fight terrible threats (including an animated Eiffel Tower). This story takes place when their mentor has died and they regroup after scattering to the winds (or the moon) for years. Then one member comes back from the future and the team member who doesn’t do anything special feels slighted and it all spins out of control. It’s a great story, illustrated superbly by Gabriel Ba. Highly recommended.