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Comics

The comic book that started it all for me

I grew up in NYC, and when I was a little kid most of my comics came from bargain bins, the school fair, or the hole-in-the-wall newspaper shop/convenience store nearest our apartment. What I read was a grab bag largely determined by circumstance — and, in the case of the little shop, actual grab bags: They would bag three comics, with the outer two covers visible and the inner one a surprise, and charge less than the cost of all three for the bundle.

So while it’s possible — maybe even likely — that I read a superhero comic before this one, the first one I actually remember reading as a little kid was Marvel Tales #139, published in 1982. That’d put me around age five or six, which tracks.

When I started getting into collecting CGC-slabbed books a few years back, I thought it’d be fun to slab this one — but I also wondered if it would hold up as an adult, or if I just remembered it fondly because I loved it as a kid.

So I dug it out and reread it.

The One, dog-eared, read and reread, and much-loved

I opened it up and saw that 1) it was a reprint of Amazing Spider-Man #2 (I didn’t know at the time that Marvel Tales was a reprint line), and 2) it was a Steve Ditko/Stan Lee joint. No fucking wonder I remembered loving it!

So yeah, absolutely still a great comic as an adult. And just look at that Ditko cover! Iconic.

One of its stories, which features the Vulture dropping Spidey — who has run out of web fluid — into a New York water tower is the reason I can’t look at a water tower and not immediately think of Spider-Man. (And, more broadly, see or be in NYC and not think of Spidey.) We had one on the roof of our apartment building, which my best friend and I regularly snuck up and climbed — and it sort of terrified me.

It was locked, or our dumb asses might have considered going inside.

Anyhoo, I didn’t want to frame The Actual Issue because that felt sort of sad. Why lock it away? It’s fun to read, to hold an actual connection to my childhood that has so many connections to my adult life. So I set about finding a copy in good condition — which, given that it’s essentially worthless, was a challenge!

But I eventually found one and sent it off to CGC. It came back at a 9.6, and damn is it gorgeous.

Marvel Tales #139

Slabbed books are a real challenge to photograph well, but someday I should try and get a few good shots of the ones I have up. I love them all, but so few people get to see them!

Categories
Comics

Squadron Supreme blew my mind as a kid, and it’s still amazing

When I was in 4th or 5th grade, my art teacher gave me a copy of Squadron Supreme #12. Back then I devoured every comic I could get my hands on, so this being the final issue of a limited series I knew nothing about didn’t phase me — I dove right in. What I read was completely unexpected, and totally unlike any of the other superhero comics I’d read.

The final issue (SPOILERS) is a knock-down, drag-out battle royale between former superhero teammates — all deeply flawed human beings, all relatable in their very human failings. And in that battle, some of the titular heroes get killed by people who used to be their friends, or at least their allies. And not “comic book killed,” just plain ol’ killed.

My 8- or 9-year-old mind was blown. I’d never read a superhero comic where heroes fought each other for real before, and certainly never one where the marquee characters got killed (and didn’t come back). It stuck with me, and looking back on it I can see many threads connecting things I love as an adult with that issue of Squadron Supreme and its inversion of superhero tropes.

A few years back I remember that issue, and wondered why I’d never finished the series. So I bought a TPB collecting the whole series (paid link) — and it was amazing. And then I bought a second copy, one from the first printing that — per his last wishes — incorporated Squadron Supreme creator Mark Gruenwald‘s ashes into the ink, because how could I not?

I also picked this up, a CGC-slabbed copy of issue #1[1], and added it to my wall of original art and other comics and RPG geekery. I love it, and every time I look up at it I wind up thinking about comics, and what I’m reading, and what I want to read next, and . . .

If you’ve never checked out Squadron Supreme (paid link) I highly recommend it.

[1] There are a dearth of CGC slab frames with UV protection (which I consider a must-have for wall hanging anywhere near windows), but I love the ECC Frames basic model (paid link) shown here. They’re not cheap, but I don’t frame many comics; it’s worth it.

Categories
Books Comics

The Marvel Encyclopedia is awesome

As a kid, I used to spend hours poring over any sort of “superheroes A-Z” content I could find. I had some that came in issues of comics, and the long-running Marvel-phile column in Dragon, and probably other sources I’ve forgotten about.

When I started playing TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes, I traced hero silhouettes from those articles (Captain Britain was a favorite) and used them as the basis for drawing all of my characters.

Fast forward from the late ’80s/early ’90s to now, and I’m kicking myself because it wasn’t until a few days ago that it occurred to me that of course this is still a thing, and it’s probably gotten even easier to acquire big volumes of it.

It has! Enter the Marvel Encyclopedia (paid link) which — although it’s a bit squirrely about its author credits — is at least partly written by Matt Forbeck, and which is utterly fabulous.

This book is titanic. It’s a coffee table book, hardcover, and over 400 pages. Full color, of course. (It had a dust jacket, too, which I find less than useless on books this size.) And it’s $22 shipped with Prime.

It covers more than 1,200 characters, both heroes and villains, with origins, pictures, background info, and other fun tidbits. It also covers crossover events, famous hero/villain groups, and more. It’s exactly the kind of big, splashy, high-production-values book I’d expect from DK and Marvel.

This is the kind of non-gaming RPG sourcebook that I love. Need on-the-spot inspiration for an NPC? Flip through this beast. Stuck for hero ideas for your next character? Lose yourself in over 1,200 of them. Can’t remember who Obscure Hero X is? They’re probably in here.

This book is so cool.

Categories
Comics

Green Lantern trade reading order: Geoff Johns’ run and all concurrent lantern TPBs

Want to read a whole lot of awesome Green Lantern comics? This is the list I used to do just that, plus some context to explain the order I chose and some gushing about Green Lantern in general.

Just want the reading list without the context?
Skip straight to the list, and happy reading!

Caveat added in April 2020: Geoff Johns’ primary collaborator on the core GL series, Ethan Van Sciver, is a terrible person. His misogynistic bullshit is beyond vile. Were this a post about his work, it would be long gone from Yore. But this post isn’t about his work, it’s about a decade of Green Lantern comics that includes numerous titles not associated with Van Sciver — and one, the core GL book, which unfortunately does feature his artwork. For now, I’m leaving this post in place as a resource for folks who want to explore this era of Green Lantern comics.

In 2013 I got back into superhero comics (after reading mostly indie stuff for many years) when I read a comic that surprised the hell out of me: Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman, which took a character I’d more or less dismissed and made him fascinating. That started a slow burn that led — by way of Morrison’s New X-Men, Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye, Jason Aaron’s Thor: God of Thunder, and a couple of other titles — to a desire to explore a superhero who was new to me. A bit of Googling led me to Green Lantern, and specifically to Geoff Johns’ run on the title, which was widely regarded as being excellent.

I decided if I was going to jump in, I’d do a cannonball: read Green Lantern and all concurrent lantern-focused titles for all of Johns’ 2004-2013 run, 10 years worth of comics in 40 trades (plus a 41st for good measure). It was one of the best reading decisions I’ve ever made.

I came to love Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, Mogo, Despotellis, Kilowog, Sinestro, Soranik Natu, B’dg, and so many other great characters. I love the Green Lantern Corps, the mythology of the corps and the universe the lanterns inhabit, and the fact that lantern titles — especially Corps — are more sci-fi with superheroes than straight-up superhero tales. Taken as a whole, Green Lantern and its companion titles are over the top, pulpy in the best ways, often pretty crazy, larger than life, and a whole lot of fun. They’ve become some of my favorite comics.

But this venture wasn’t without its challenges. It’d been a long time since I’d read a DC or Marvel title on an ongoing basis, and I was unfamiliar with the mechanics of crossover events, dovetailing and intertwining stories that span multiple books, and the like. It was confusing.

More confusing still, while it seemed like there should be one correct reading order, I saw lots of disagreement online about the order in which these titles should be read. I wound up using two lists as the basis for my own (and many thanks to the folks who created them!): this post by SmashBrawler on ComicVine, and The Superheroes List part 1 and part 2.

My reading order isn’t definitive — this is just how I chose to read these titles. I had a blast doing it, and I hope I can simplify this process for others who are in a similar situation.

The goal of this list

For context, here’s what I wanted to do:

  1. Read Green Lantern and every other book starring lanterns (not necessarily every book in which lanterns appear) for the entirety of Geoff Johns’ run
  2. Keep it simple by, whenever possible, reading whole trades at once
  3. Introduce myself to Hal Jordan, who I knew next to nothing about
  4. Avoid spoiling anything in the process of figuring out my reading order
  5. Strike a balance between simplicity (reading trade by trade) and maximum fidelity to the story (reading issue by issue and roping in lots of non-lantern books)

This is the list I used to accomplish those goals. It’s presented as simply as possible because that’s what I found I wanted when I was reading these trades: a simple list. “Do this and you’ll have fun.” I did this, and I had fun.

Green Lantern reading order, 2004-2013

For 1-19 and 23-37, you can read each trade on its own, one after the other. (I call out a couple of cases below where I took the lazy route and you might prefer to go issue by issue.) Three big cross-title events — Blackest Night (20-22) and Rise of the Third Army through Wrath of the First Lantern (38-41) — however, need to be read issue by issue, jumping between concurrent trades as you go, in order for them to make sense.

You can also download this list, including my notes, as a simple text file.

Do any of these books suck?

Red Lanterns is terrible. The first trade is basically just an excuse to put Bleez in lots of boobs/butt poses, the writing in all three trades is godawful, and the story is generally wretched to mediocre. There are a couple of cool moments, but I was glad every time I could put a Red Lanterns trade behind me.

New Guardians wasn’t great for the first two trades (though still much better than Red Lanterns), but it picked up in the third one and finished strong. I wound up liking it.

The two Ion trades were just okay, but important for Kyle Rayner’s story. Not bad, just not great; well worth reading.

Everything else on this list — over 30 TPBs — I loved reading and would be thrilled to read again. This is a fantastic set of comics.

Look, a rabbit hole

In the course of reading these trades, I came to dig the lanterns so much that I bought a replica lantern:

…and jumped at the chance to pick up a piece of original artwork (Green Lantern Corps #15, page 11 — one of my favorite storylines in the whole arc, featuring one of my favorite parts of that story), which my wife framed up for my birthday:

So be warned: Your wallet won’t thank you for getting into Green Lantern — but apart from that you’re in for a real treat.