Ok incoming rant alert but i really need to throw down here. I’m actually getting really sick and tired of how on the one hand people are pushing for more diversity and better portrayals of racial and gender minorities in comics but are, at the same time, continuing to push the same canon of 1986 era proto-Vertigo comics like The Sandman and The Watchmen. Things really seriously are not going to change in the industry if you keep pushing the same nearly thirty year old comics as the high water mark. You’re literally agreeing with the executives and creators who you’ve been critiquing when you do that. We need a new canon and we need it fast.
Aside from being violently transmisogynist, The Sandman is really dated and leans too hard on prose literature to validate itself. A much better alternative that is also a magical realism comic about illuminating the transformative power of stories and imagination is Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III’s Promethea. It’s the template for next level trans inclusive queer feminist storytelling and is consistently touted as being one of the most beautifully and inventively illustrated comics ever. The flip side of Promethea is of course Grant Morrison’s wildly experimental The Invisibles saga which is low key the most influential comic of it’s time on film and television, exerting massive influence on The Matrix Trilogy, True Detective, and Gerard Way’s multi media Killjoys project. Warren Ellis and John Cassaday’s Planetary is really the gold standard for easily accessible and beautifully executed comics that explore genre conventions in pop culture spanning an entire century. To Be in England in the Spring also really just lays the late 80s proto-Vertigo era to rest in a way that we should all take to heart.
Just plain don’t tell people new to comics (as adults) to read The Watchmen. It’s a product of the darkest and most cynical period of Alan Moore’s career and basically just set out to bludgeon superhero fiction. The Watchmen is basically that shitty neighbour kid in Toy Story who got off on torturing toys, and you know superhero comics have never really gotten out of their Mrs Nesbitt phase as a result. You also kind of really need to know the Charleston characters that their Watchmen counterparts are based on to really understand the full impact of it. Naoki Urusawa’s Pluto is the first step in an alternative. Like Moore drawing from the Charleston characters to make The Watchmen, Urusawa (best known for Uzumaki and Monster) adapted Pluto from an arc of Osamu Tezuka’s Astroboy. Instead of trying to break superheroes by turning them into violent psychopaths and impotent losers, Urusawa took the opportunity to meditate on deeper topics and interrogate consciousness itself rather than a specific genre trope. Moore’s own Swamp Thing is a far better sampling of that era of his career for something that is psychedelic, unnerving, and ultimately life affirming which is a very rare commodity in his work at DC. V for Vendetta is also really a far superior political allegory that examined the dangers of retreating into extreme doctrines of anarchy in response to fascism and also stands the test of time as the most daring and vitriolic interrogation of Margaret Thatcher’s reign of terror in English comics of the era. Especially as an example of a narrative about purely secular radicalization. Grant Morrison’s Animal Man run is also an indispensable reaction to late 80s cynicism in comics, deeply exploring the perceived need for creators to make their creations suffer while maintaining charm and wit throughout. The Coyote Bible is an early example of Morrison’s talent for being able to distill the key themes of his sprawling arcs into a single issue. The steam hasn’t cooled from Joe Keating and Ross Campbell’s Glory run yet, but it already stands as a serious milestone in post-1986 superhero comics exploring cycles of violence and attempting to grapple with just what the fuck Wonder Woman is or could be.
But you know really, we need to collectively get over the fear of canonizing conventional superhero stories and arcs. Making subversions and “deconstructions” the ideal will only keep mainstream comics in a state of deep fragmentation and arrested development.
John Rogers and Mark Waid’s Blue Beetle reboot that launched Jaime Reyes’ short career ought to be the absolute gold standard in teenage superhero storytelling. It’s fitting that they anchored the comic in a new generation of the heroes Alan Moore based The Watchmen on, because Blue Beetle was essentially a work of reconstruction to restore the joy and emotional resonance of good superhero comics. If that run came out now, alongside kamala khan it would be printing more issues than the mint spits out benjies, but alas.
Ed Brubacker’s Catwoman run spinning out of the Selina’s Big Score graphic novel contains over a dozen lessons in how to write, draw, and maybe even more critically, edit a contemporary superhero comic. It’s just pure top form street level shit on par with Brian Michael Bendis and Frank Miller’s tenures on Daredevil. Brubacker made Selina her own person in a way she’d never been before and brought Holly screaming back to life in a way she hadn’t been since her first appearance in Batman Year One. DC also really took great care to maintain consistency in the artists rotating on the book to keep the comic tonally on point, which has been a gigantic problem for the last twenty years (see Grant Morrison’s runs on X-Men and Batman for the worst examples).
John Ostrander and Kim Yale’s Suicide Squad is absolutely essential reading that gets buried under the hubris over the contemporaneous proto-Vertigo books. This was a comic that quietly shattered the rule of three convention about black characters in a single title, established Amanda Waller as one of the greatest forces in the DCU, and transformed Barbara Gordon into Oracle. Fans of Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey and Secret Six as well as anyone watching Arrow absolutely have to devote the time to these comics.
Peter Milligan’s X-Force/X-Statix saga, birthplace of doop, is effectively what made things like Matt Fraction’s FF and Wolverine & the X-Men possible. Breaking superhero comics by breaking your ribs with repeated spasms of laughter.
If you aren’t telling people to read All Star Superman, you may be beyond help.
But like, you’ve also got to be giving time to the innovators and trailblazers who tried to break comics in the sense of redefining what they could be and do, even if they didn’t always work. I have no problem saying that Nextwave: Agents of HATE is a contemporary classic with a straight face. I mean where are you ever going to laugh that hard again or see superheroes puking on aliens and beating up cops? Probably never. There’s currently only one volume in print of Robert Rodi’s Codename Knockout, a sexy spy romp about an awesome biracial spy and her legitimate gay best friend, which is absolutely criminal. Garth Ennis’ Midnighter solo book is a forgotten gem of the last days of Wildstorm. Those two titles put together are everything you’re currently loving about Grayson and more. Brian K Vaughan’s guest issue of Midnighter with Transmetropolitan co-creator Darrick Robertson is actually kind of rude in terms of how good it is. The unbelievable and unlikely team up of Bill Sienkiewicz and Frank Miller produced the most unique and addled Marvel comic in recent history in the form of Elektra: Assassin. It’s what happens when you just throw the rulebook out the window and go off.
I think what pisses me off the most though is that there just is not enough talk about Will Eisner in general. American comics fandom is incredibly shitty at recognizing the true founders of the medium. Sure, you might talk a little shit about Bill Finger cause you heard Chris Sims talk about him or preface your jerking off to Stan Lee’s movie cameos with a tidbit about Jack Kirby, but where’s the love for Will Eisner? The dude wrote the holy fucking bible of how to do comics. He carved the stone tablets of American comics storytelling and practically invented the graphic novel. Anyone who’s serious about comics needs to own at least the Best of The Spirit collection. The story from the perspective of the toy gun is the pizza dog issue of like half a century ago.
all i can say is imma cry and i’ve been school’d yo.
OP is a glorious human being.
Bless this entire goddamn post.