Gateway Drug is a primer for the new or casual fan interested in deep diving into a large but specific subset of entertainment. Gateway Drug provides the perfect path that new readers or listeners can start on. Today’s Gateway is…
Comic books are at an interesting place right now. More than ever they are commodified for television and film. Their sweet intellectual property are harvested for mega-franchises like Marvel and DC. But what of the comics themselves? There are decades of masterfully crafted stories that can seem overwhelming to enter.
But let’s say you wanted to get into modern comics. Where do you start? Are you a Marvel or DC head? Do you want indie cape comics? There are plenty of ways to go. So take my hand and I’ll show you the way…
Astonishing X-Men | Joss Whedon and John Cassaday
It might seem strange to enter the world of modern comics with a story that’s more than a decade old. That however is just a testament to the strength of this 36-issue run–completed entirely by Whedon and Cassaday. If there were a template on how to tell a complete story start to finish in graphic form this would be it. It is a clean and simple story. Revolving around the same small core group of X-Men, the subplots don’t stray too far and the relationships dynamics are clearly defined then deftly explored. Astonishing X-Men’s characters are familiar: Wolverine, Cyclops, and Beast are well known characters and they are perfectly cast in this book. Not only is the writing inviting–feeling much like Whedon’s formative series Buffy: The Vampire—but the art is just as stunning. Audiences new to comics can be sometimes be intimidated from trying to understand how comics are read. With so many different styles and aesthetics, figuring out the actual mechanics of a comic can be daunting. Cassaday invites readers with large panels , never more than 6-8 on a page. It gives the book a cinematic feel that is familiar to new readers. And with clean lines and bold colors it’s easily understood without sacrificing any of the dramatics that the X-Men are known. Astonishing X-Men lures you into the world of superhero comics with fresh eyes and then leaves them watering for more.
Batman: Death of a Family | Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo
Batman: Death of a Family is a classic blockbuster Batman story-line. For those who sampled the previous entry but want to foray to the other side of the big two, there is no better place to start. Batman is one of the most ubiquitous heroes of our time, with a comic book run going uninterrupted for the better part of 70 years. And when Scott Snyder took over for legendary writer Grant Morrison on his main title he quickly dissuaded any worry about the handover with this now classic run.
Death of a Family is the perfect starting point for would-be Batman enthusiasts. While not forgetting the decades of history before it, it deftly handles Batman’s relationships with his growing number of protégés without being weighed down by particulars. You can get the tension between Bruce Wayne and his biological son, Damian without having to know specifically that he was grown in a lab by Talia al Ghul to lead the League of Assassins which he then betrayed…etc. You also don’t need to know that Jason Todd was once a Robin who was killed by the Joker and then brought back to life and became a vigilante/Batman adversary known as The Hood. Snyder doesn’t bore you with details like I just did. He gets down to the emotional core of each relationship and explores how they can be devastated by the return of a chaotic element like the Joker.
Snyder’s introduction of the Joker is the best case to be made for this book. It pushes the Joker into stranger and darker territory than what the movies have portrayed him as and dials into the most frightening aspects of his character—his unpredictability. The Joker moves beyond flashy villain and becomes a force of nature in Gotham.
These qualities are best exemplified by Greg Capullo, the book’s sole artist. His style is dark and moody while still being easily approachable for new readers. His dark shadows and lines combine with a deep vibrant color that make for an interesting collision of grim and cerebral.
Death of Family is like if David Fincher made a Batman movie. Those looking to push a little further than the bright colors of Joss Whedon can look here.
Thor: God of Thunder | Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic
Thor: God of Thunder is the book for the person looking for a true epic.
While Jason Aaron’s writing is great and the story is completely grand (What’s more epic than a one-eyed metal armed Thor from the future hunting a beast going around killing gods?), what makes the book a complete knockout is Esaad Ribic’s revolutionary artwork. Ribic is perfectly suited for this tale of gods and monsters; his art is operatic and evokes stories of legend. The inking in the blacks is thatched and textured. The art doesn’t feel drawn, it feels painted, as if you’ve discovered a long lost book of fables. Ribic makes his characters look as huge as they feel. The muscles bulge, the veins and eyes pop, and the hammer feels weighted and heavy even through the page. To experience Esaad Ribic’s artwork is to experience a master at the height of his craft in an element perfectly suited for him.
Writer Jason Aaron writes a story that allows to be as grandiose and mythic as he can be. The three Thors are distinct and complex while still being true to Thor’s essential character. The young Thor is immature and headstrong, the present Thor is confident and helpful, a hero but he lacks perspective, the eldest Thor is wise but jaded, hardened by millenia of fighting. These tropes are well worn but Aaron uses them to his advantage. Aaron knows how to inject humor without sacrificing the gravity of the story being told.
God of Thunder is excellent comic book crafting at every level. Readers already somewhat familiar with comics will appreciate the more stylistic art choices made here as well as the singular character focus.
After finishing these three books you are perfectly primed for everything the modern cape comic book has to offer. So venture off. Try your hand at the weird and quirky with a Mike Allred book like X-Force or FF. Get into moody crime noir with Brian Bendis’ runs of Alias and Daredevil. Get into the humor of Matt Fraction with Hawkeye. Or sample some of Marvel’s tentpoles with Hickman’s Avengers and Bendis’ All-New X-Men. The possibilities are limitless.