This week our angst over DC’s nerd rage inducing treatment of our favorite spooky comics characters has been released into the wilds of the internet via Topless Robot. Trying to slog through the latest disaster of a crossover made me yearn for the glory days of Vertigo, back when the idea of comics for a more mature audience was innovative and the Brits did it better than anyone else. (AKA the age when Gaiman, Ennis, and Morrison ruled the comic universe) This week I combine my nostalgic love for the great comic book writers of the 90s with my habit of retranslating everything cool into a potential top ten list pitch and bring you my in-no-particular-order list of vital trade paperbacks from the era you should go out and totally buy this week instead of that horrid “Forever Evil” crap.
Neil Gaiman is best known for Sandman, and that is also well worth checking out, but for a girl geek, this book was amazing. For a goth geek girl, even more so. Wise, powerful, funny, empathetic, and looking like Siouxie Sioux’s adorable younger sister, who didn’t wish Death was their best gal pal?
From the amazingly twisted but thoughtful mind of Garth Ennis, Preacher is a must read for any adult fans of the show Supernatural, or just urban fantasy with a heavy dose of religious commentary. Jesse Custer is up with Sandman for great Vertigo protagonists that really challenged you to question everything while being highly entertaining. Its NC-17 level of mature content makes me wonder if we will ever see this one hit the small or big screen.
This is a hard pick. There were some wonderful trades for JLA during the 90s, not in small part due to Grant Morrison’s legendary run as writer, but also excellent stories like “The Nail”. But there is a reason Morrison’s run was so loved, and for your DC comic staples like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman this is the best place to start. This was the JLA being epic but fun, the way the JLA should be. (Also, the Hitman guest spot in the JLA recruitment issue is still one of my favorite panels ever.)
Lobo was one of the best characters to ever be introduced to the DCU – rude, crude, and a badass dude, Lobo was the anti-Superman. A shot of heavy metal into whatever book they had him guest starring in that week. Although he had his own title, Lobo seems to most commonly show up in everyone else’s stories, so it seems appropriate that my favorite take on him was in this brilliantly funny crossover with one of my other favorite DC anti-heroes, Hitman. This book covers pretty much everything you need to know about both characters, including Hitman’s colorful group of sidekicks. (And it’s Garth Ennis again. Because he is the king of twisted storytelling.)
(Will also be available as The Maxx: Maxximized in June! Squee!)
Like many people, I was first introduced to The Maxx when MTV aired an animated series based on this surreal comic book about a young woman named Julie with some serious issues and her would be superhero The Maxx. Besides the protagonist’s name, I related to this book on so many levels, which is interesting when you consider the fever dream like nature of Sam Keith’s storytelling style. Like Sam Keith’s previous work on Sandman, the art style is as fluid and dreamy as the writing. It’s a modern day Alice in Wonderland with some serious Jungian overtones.
You probably know Johnen Vasquez best as the gothtastic mastermind behind Hot Topic favorite Invader Zim. But before there was Zim there was Johnny (or just Nny), an angsty serial killer with some serious home decorating issues, prone to waxing philosophical in that way only angsty teenagers can. This is Zim with a R rating and a Nine Inch Nails soundtrack. And the reason I occasionally think about getting a “Z?” tattoo.
While the movies have been much fun, you are robbing yourself of Mike Mignolia’s witty writing and unique art style if you don’t pick up at least one of the Hellboy trades, and I can easily recommend you keep right on going. (Strange Places has my favorite comic panel of all time.) While the subject matter might be rooted firmly in the occult and folklore, the general feel of the books reminds me more of an old fashioned 1940s adventure story. Hellboy as a protagonist has more in common with Indiana Jones than his more anti-hero contemporaries, dishing out clever one liners as he carries on from one mythology inspired situation to the next.
The longest running title in Vertigo’s line up, I recommend you start with the first story from Garth Ennis. Besides being award winning and thought provoking, it will make you realize just how unacceptably awful that Keanu Reeves version really was. We can only hope the new Constantine TV show will do the comic more justice. In the meantime, here is John Constantine, in all his smoking, long coat wearing, occult dealing glory, as he was meant to be enjoyed and written by an actual Brit who knows a thing or two about characters struggling with Heaven and Hell and all the powers in between.
There really aren’t many names cooler than Spider Jerusalem. On that point alone I could tell Warren Ellis was going to make this a fun ride. But the character himself is also fantastic – a futuristic Hunter S. Thompson with a spider tattoo on his bald head and iconic sunglasses with mismatched lenses, it amazes me this book doesn’t get more pop culture attention. Like Doonesbury on acid, this was a comic for fans of political and social satire that doesn’t pull punches. Released into the world only a year before the infamous “W” would take office, it was surprisingly timely for being a comic set in the 23rd century.