Categories
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

My starting point for the Flash: Mark Waid’s Born to Run storyline

I tried to get into Flash a few years ago, with its New 52 incarnation, and it didn’t grab me — but the itch remained. This week I sampled a Geoff Johns issue, then a Rebirth (paid link) issue, then a couple issues of Flashpoint[1] (paid link) — and with every one, I became both more intrigued and more confused.

But I homed in one one villain, Reverse-Flash, who sounded like something I hadn’t seen in a superhero comic before: a time-travelling mirror of the Flash, who uses his speedster power to destroy Flash’s life from the future.[2] So cool! I love time travel, superheroes, and creative exploration of the possibilities of superpowers; combine all three, and you have my interest.

Where to start?

I went down that rabbit hole, eventually reaching this excellent Comics Alliance guide to the character, eras, and best runs of the Flash, and came out with a consensus on where to start: Mark Waid‘s 100-plus issue run on the title (followed by the Geoff Johns run (paid link), and then on to Morrison and Millar (paid link), Rebirth (paid link), and New 52 (paid link)).

I deeply enjoy falling in love with a new-to-me superhero/superteam, and in recent years I’ve had a fantastic experience doing just that with hundreds of issues of Fantastic Four, (paid link) Green Lantern (paid link) — the topic of one of the most popular posts on Yore, Green Lantern trade reading order: Geoff Johns’ run and all concurrent Lantern TPBs) — Deadpool (paid link) and Swamp Thing (paid link); all signs point to the Flash being just as rewarding.

Context

I also love context, and find that having some helps me appreciate new-to-me comics and characters on their own terms. Comics Alliance had my back here, too:

The Flash, perhaps more than any other character in DC Comics’ stable, represents the strength of the legacy hero: the passing of the mantle from mentor to protege, with each successive version having their own strengths and weaknesses.

And:

Let me be clear: if you buy only from one section of this Flash comics list, make this that section. Waid’s Flash is the best Flash, period.

That bit was what really sealed the deal.

Born to Run

Last night I got a few issues into Waid’s run, and it’s amazing. It opens with an overview of the three Flashes, and then a history of the then-current flash, Wally West — and that sounds like a lot of exposition, but it’s deftly and beautifully done (and perfect for a newcomer).

Like Green Lantern: Secret Origin (paid link) or the start of John Byrne‘s run on Fantastic Four (paid link), Waid’s Book One TPB tantalizes while guiding me through enough Flash background to get my feet under me; there are references I don’t yet get, but which I’m sure a longtime fan would know well — but they’re revealed and paced perfectly. It feels like a perfect on-ramp.

Waid’s run entire run isn’t collected into TPBs yet, but the first three books (paid link) are. Book One (paid link) is where I started, and now that I’m strapped in I can’t wait to see what the rest of the ride is like!

[1] Yes, Rebirth and Flashpoint are also Geoff Johns runs; I was bouncing around looking for recent comics as possible starting points, and he’s done a lot of them!

[2] I’m confident I’ve grossly oversimplified Reverse-Flash here, but I’ve been trying to avoid spoilers before getting to see him in the comic.

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
Miniatures

Karl Keesler on rebasing HeroClix minis

Over on G+, Karl Keesler posted about how he rebases his HeroClix minis (and sometimes adds base textures and highlighting, too), and damn if that’s not a great idea. Here’s Karl’s intro:

I am always trying to find cheap ways to make my role playing game tables look cool. I often take modern looking Heroclix or Horroclix minis and cut the big bulky bases off and stick them on 25mm Armskeeper bases. They look better and I can use them on maps with 1″ squares in them You can buy these bases in packs of 80 or more. They are relatively cheap.

The Clix base is big and clunky, whereas nice uniform 25mm black bases are smaller, more streamlined, and take up less space. If you’re already not using the Clix base for HeroClix, why have it at all?

From repairing one of the minis that came in the bulk HeroClix lot I bought recently, I can confirm that even the ones whose little feet are attached directly to the Clix wheel (as opposed to being on a sort of micro-base atop the wheel) can be glued right back on, so gluing them to another base should be no big deal.

I glued Wrecker back onto his base with two dots of Krazy Glue, and he looks good as new:

Even if you skip Karl’s next steps — adding a texture and/or paint job to the new base, and then touching up the mini itself with highlights or other simple techniques — just swapping the bases looks like a dandy upgrade.

Categories
Miniatures Tabletop RPGs

Buying bulk HeroClix to use for other supers games

I recently stumbled across Scott Pyle’s Super Mission Force, read up on it — it’s a low-complexity superhero miniatures game that uses power suites to make character creation simple, and it supports campaign play — and thought, “That sounds totally rad! Except I don’t have any miniatures for it . . .

Enter HeroClix, which have been around for years, and which are readily available in bulk lots — perfect for someone who doesn’t care about them as HeroClix[1], just as miniatures. SMF is specifically designed to work with whatever minis you have on hand (just like Frostgrave (paid link), which I love).

The best I could do for bulk minis, with some duplicates and likely a few broken ones in the mix, was $0.50/figure on Ebay. Or so I thought, until I remembered that CoolStuffInc — a fantastic online game store I’ve shopped at for years — stocks loose/single miniatures.

Their HeroClix selection includes batches of 100 assorted HeroClix for $15, with the note, “May contain duplicates.” (They also have batches of 100 different HeroClix for $28, but those were sold out and in any case were pricier than I’d like.) I rolled the dice and bought four packs.

Zero minis enter, 400 minis leave

Here’s the first 100, which turned out to be the lot with the fewest duplicates of my four (dupes and broken are in front):

Those plus the second hundred (growing horde of dupes off to the left):

The final 200:

The breakdown

Here’s how my 400 HeroClix shook out:

  • 332 unique miniatures
  • 68 doubles (and multiples, etc.)
  • 3 broken figures, all easily repaired with glue

At $60 for all 400, that’s $0.15/figure, or $0.18/unique figure — much better than the best I could find anywhere else.[2] And duplicates aren’t a bad thing: Superheroes fight forces of goons, squads of robots, evil crime families, and the like all the time, after all.

The variety across my 332 unique HeroClix is staggering. A wide range of skin tones, genders (male, female, genderless, ambiguous, etc.), ethnicities, species, roles, and heroes/villains are represented in my lot. Also included are a dozen or so minis on flying bases, some mundane non-super folks, and a handful of giant-sized figures.

Compared to the other prepainted minis I’m used to, WotC’s old D&D Miniatures line, the paint jobs on HeroClix range from awful to pretty good, with the occasional excellent one — but I knew that going in. HeroClix get the job done, and what they lack in quality they make up for in variety. I don’t know of a better way to acquire this many prepainted figures, with this much variety, this cheaply.

Some of the fancier and more interesting-looking ones actually look pretty awesome, too. Here are a few favorites:

I also threw in a random assortment of $2 HeroClix maps for good measure.

Overall, I’m beyond thrilled with how this worked out. When Super Mission Force arrives, I’ve got a deep catalog of potential miniatures to match damn near any character concept we can come up with. I also bought a superhero RPG by the same author, 3d6 Supers!, that looks it will work well with miniatures.[3] I’ve loved superhero RPGs since I was a kid — I’m sure there will be plenty of chances to put these to use.

If you need a walloping great bunch of inexpensive superhero minis, this is a splendid option.

[1] I’ve played HeroClix and it’s neat, but it’s not my jam. And the older I get, the harder it is to read the tiny icons on the bases.

[2] Compared to CSI’s $28/100 different, which shakes out to $0.28/figure, this is the clear winner.

[3] I don’t always love using minis in supers games — Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, for example, is superb as a theater-of-the-mind game — but some supers games lend themselves to that approach.

Categories
Comics

Manga bakuhatsu: Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, One-Punch Man, and Assassination Classroom

A recent family outing to Uwajimaya snowballed into a trip to Kinokuniya Bookstore, and that place is trouble — particularly because their manga selection is insane.

I wound up picking up the first Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (paid link) omnibus and the first volume of One-Punch Man (paid link), and quickly followed those up with the first Assassination Classroom (paid link) collection.

Just look at these covers. They’re glorious! Graphic design for all three of these books is on fucking point.

I’ve been reading manga since I was a teenager, but generally less of it than American comics. These three books have brought me roaring back to it, and I wanted to share some of that joy here. (The only spoilers in this post are revealed in the first few pages of each respective first issue.)

Sound effects and Watchmen

I also want to focus a bit on sound effects, which are so often used poorly in comics. Alan Moore’s Watchmen (paid link) was, I think, the first comic I read that did something I’d been waiting years to see: There are no sound effects in Watchmen.

Watchmen is the comic that made me realize my general annoyance at sound effects was justified, at least most of the time, and it’s an aspect of comics I’ve paid close attention to ever since.

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service

KCDS is about a group of students and alumni at a Buddhist university who all have talents which relate in some way to the dead, and they use those skills to identify souls trapped in corpses and bring them to peace — usually by taking the body somewhere and righting a wrong in the process. It’s a horror comic, at least in part, so murder and revenge play a big role in many of those corpse deliveries.

Housui Yamazaki’s artwork is stunning, and it’s beautifully matched by Eiji Otsuka’s writing. The whole series is suffused with dark humor, and the characters are weird, believable, and fascinating.

It’s genuinely creepy, and it manages to make what are essentially zombies unnerving. I find myself thinking about things from KCDS long after I’ve put the book down.

KCDS also does something I’ve never encountered before in manga: The dialog is translated into English, but the sound effects are left in Japanese. Each volume has its own page-by-page glossary of sound effects, but it’s not really needed — you can almost always figure out what the sound would be.

I love this approach because it reinforces the story’s tone (many sound effects are creepy), but leaves me to imagine the specifics.

One-Punch Man

One-Punch Man (Saitama) is a superhero who’s so powerful that he can defeat any foe with a single punch, and this bores him to tears. It’s a pure comedy/action blend, with Saitama’s egg-like, low-on-details head nicely contrasting with the rest of the artwork.

Yusuke Marata’s writing is quite funny, and OPM only takes things seriously in order to make fun of how seriously other manga take them. ONE’s approach to drawing Saitama meshes perfectly with how the character is written: He’s often bored, far more excited by a big sale at the grocery store than punching out a hundred foot-tall kaiju, and he doesn’t think about the world like a “normal” superhero would.

The sound effects in OPM are a hoot. It wouldn’t be the same comic without them.

OPM is a good example of a comic that uses written sound effects to reinforce humor, and it works really well.

Assassination Classroom

Just as much a full-bore comedy as OPM, Assassination Classroom is one of those comics you’ll know whether or not to read just based on the premise: An apparently omnipotent alien destroys Earth’s moon, then announces that in one year he’ll disintegrate the Earth itself unless he’s allowed to teach a class of junior high school rejects — and unless they can succeed in assassinating him before the end of the school year.

The alien, Koro Sensei, is a big smiley face atop a multitude of tentacles. He can fly at Mach 20, he’s invulnerable to normal weapons, and he reveals other powers over the course of the series. He also turns out to be a fabulous teacher, making the students — who’ve never been given much of a chance before — feel conflicted about being assigned to kill him.

Yusei Matsui both writes and illustrates AC, and he somehow manages to maintain — and constantly escalate — the ridiculous premise. It’s a hoot.

It also uses sound effects traditionally, which I usually don’t enjoy, but it does so sparingly — and artfully. In AC, I enjoy the sound effects.

In the scene above, Koro Sensei is demonstrating that yes, the special weapons he gave his students can actually harm him, and without the SPLORCH it would veer from over-the-top and funny into darker territory. The scene works so well because of the SPLORCH.

Manga bakuhatsu!

I love all three of the series I’ve written about here. After reading the first volume of each of them, I was hooked. I’ve already devoured all of the One-Punch Man (paid link) trades, I’m working on the third Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (paid link) omnibus, and all of the other volumes of Assassination Classroom (paid link) are winging their way to me from Amazon.

If you’re in the market for some manga to read, I highly recommend all three of these titles.

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.