I was having a conversation on Twitter the other day about comics, when someone said they didn’t buy mainstream comics anymore. That’s fine. I rarely do either, in fact, this week I dropped two Avengers titles simply because they got boring. Mainstream comics have long been mired in perfunctory writing and workmanlike art. Usually they exist simply for the writer or artist to make a few quick bucks on the side whilst they work on stuff they actually care about. Most of the time they don’t interest me.
However, I do buy a few, and I love them. I buy Wonder Woman from DC Comics, and it’s elaborate (three year!) long storyline about a war between the Greek Gods has been a magnificent case of a reboot being entirely worth it. From Marvel I buy Hawkeye, Ms Marvel, Daredevil, and Moon Knight because the creators involved seem to have a genuine love for the stories they tell. Combined though, the Big Two (as they are often called) release over 70 comics a month, so I only care about 7% of their output.
But the important thing is that there are gems out there. Now back to the chat I was having on Twitter. The reason that the person gave for not really buying mainstream comics is that they felt they didn’t want to be mired in decades and decades of continuity. Fair enough, it’s a reason a lot of people give for not reading comics, only, I don’t buy it.
I feel that continuity, or, knowing the entire history of a character, is something that the writers should know and consider, but that, for the reader, should be an invisible thing. It is not the reader’s job to know everything that happened to Spider-Man, but it is the writer’s job to get that information across as simply as possible. There is no starting point in comics. Every single comic could be someone’s first, and if you can’t follow it, then the writer is doing something wrong.
So, in honour of those who think that comics are impenetrable, here are five mainstream superhero stories you can pick up out of context and love.
1. Iron Man ‘Extremis’
Warren Ellis and Adi Granov’s Extremis was Marvel’s big updated origin for Tony Stark and Iron Man. Relocating his origin story to Afganistan and thrusting it into the modern age, they told a succinct story about the horrors of new technology in the wrong hands. Extremis’ flashback sequences became the focus of the first Marvel movie, and the meat of the story found itself being used as the inspiration for the third Iron Man film. It’s a great story too, finding its feet somewhere between William Gibson and Aaron Sorkin.
2. Batman ‘Club of Heroes’
A small three issue arc in the middle of Grant Morrison’s enormous seven year run on Batman (which span out across six different titles, killed Batman, didn’t kill Batman, destroyed the world, introduced Gods and demons, a son, a Batman inspired corporation), The Club of Heroes is more or less entirely standalone, and is probably the highlight of the whole thing. Batman and Robin are called to an island to attend a meeting of the International Club of Heroes, a group of Batman inspired costumed heroes from across the globe. What follows is a murder mystery with bickering superheroes. Art from JH Williams III doesn’t exactly hinder the story either.
3. Wonder Woman ‘The Hiketeia’
A solo outing from Greg Rucka before he took over the title fully. This short story pits Batman and Wonder Woman against each other when a murderer from Gotham invokes the rites of Hiketeia, forcing Wonder Woman to protect her at all costs. Obviously this goes against the ideas of justice that Batman believes in. It’s a complex story of morality, beautifully and succinctly told by Rucka.
4. Daredevil ‘Born Again’
One of the most famous Daredevil storylines of all time. Born Again was the final run of issues written by Frank Miller (and arguably the last run of comics he wrote before he went completely insane). Daredevil’s ex-girlfriend sells his identity to the Kingpin in exchange for drugs, and the Kingpin tears his life apart, forcing him to pick the pieces back up again and fight back. It’s a brilliant storyline, and if they never wrote Daredevil again, it would be the perfect finale to his story.
5. Wolverine ‘Weapon X’
Barry Windsor-Smith had the unenviable task of writing and drawing this ‘origin’ for Wolverine and he absolutely nailed it. By removing Wolverine from the story (he’s pretty much on an operating table for most of it), and focussing on the interplay between scientists, he manages to tell a creepy, intelligent tale about playing god, and the primal nature that exists in all of us.