Greetings from the Odinson,
Comic books are a big part of our lives. They are a wonderful source of entertainment. And there are few things as great as that comic series (usually a particular run) that keeps us coming back week after week to pick up the next issue. New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, Incredible Hulk by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema, Mighty Thor by Walt Simonson, Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont, Fantastic Four by John Byrne, Superman by John Byrne, Amazing Spider-Man by Todd McFarlane – these are the creative runs that kept the Odinson coming back for more and to this day have made comic books a major part of my entertainment budget.
There was a dark period for me in the ‘90s, a time when the Odinson nearly turned his back on comics forever. Two words nearly ruined everything for me. Those two words…CLONE SAGA. The singular issue that nearly changed the course of my comics history was Spectacular Spider-Man #226. To this day I can still remember the betrayal and hurt I felt when I learned in these very pages that Peter Parker, the Spider-Man that I had grown up with since the late ‘70s (since around Amazing Spider-Man #148-151), was actually a clone and the real Spider-Man, the original Lee/Ditko Spidey, was in fact Ben Reilly. I was absolutely floored and quite frankly mad. Now when this issue hit the stands I was a young adult, but I was still young enough (and had the energy) to really be affected by comic book cliffhangers and shocking moments (i.e. Bane breaks Batman’s back, Doomsday kills Superman).
It was at this moment and because of this “clone” revelation that a young Odinson swore he would never collect comics again. And for a few years, the industry made it easy for me, as it adopted flashy big guns-big pecs-super model-super heroes that would come to dominate most of the decade. The Avengers were running around in leather jackets trying to be the X-Men. The Man of Steel sported a mullet that would make Billy Ray Cyrus proud. And Heroes Reborn nearly ruined Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. So suffice it to say, there was a 2-year period there when the Odinson actually turned his back on comics.
But, of course, it didn’t last.
Heroes Return signaled the triumphant return of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Marvel’s First Family back into the fold of the Marvel Universe and also signaled my own return to the wonderful world of comics. I will be forever grateful to Avengers by Kurt Busiek and George Perez, Captain America by Mark Waid and Ron Garney, and JLA by Grant Morrison and Howard Porter for restoring my passion for this extraordinary medium. And thank God for the brick and mortar comic stores like Lone Star Comics that carried the back issues of JLA that I had missed during my hiatus. Equal parts good storytelling and great artwork, once again comics were fun. I even learned that Peter Parker was still the real Spider-Man. I also learned a valuable lesson - not to take works of fiction, and myself, so seriously.
And it seemed that I jumped back on board at just the right time, for as the New Millennium dawned, comic books entered a renaissance.
Over the course of the first decade of the New Millennium, comic fans would be treated to some of the greatest comics ever produced in history - The Ultimates, JLA/Avengers, House of M, Annihilation, Infinite Crisis, Planet Hulk, The Sinestro Corps War, Civil War, and World War Hulk. And super heroes weren’t the only comics breaking new ground. Titles like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Walking Dead, Buffy Season 8, Umbrella Academy, Scott Pilgrim, and other genre-bending titles stormed the racks and helped redefine what a great comic book could be. Invincible by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley and Bill Crabtree is easily the best teenage super hero comic since Stan Lee and Steve Ditko introduced the world to Spider-Man way back in Amazing Fantasy #15. Add to this the fact that movies like Batman Begins, 300, Iron Man and the Avengers are getting made is a good sign that the rest of the global community is taking our beloved medium seriously as well.
And as we head into the second decade of this New Millennium, with DC Comics: New 52 grabbing headlines and breaking rules, and Big Events like AVX on the horizon, the train is showing no signs of slowing down.
Aquaman – Part of DC’s New 52 regime, this series features wonderful characterization by Geoff Johns (something we’ve come to expect form this accomplished writer) and amazing artwork by Ivan Reis (dare I say the best so far in his career). Aquaman has always been one of those characters that we want to like but over the decades, due to no fault of his own, he has seemingly become a punch line (a candid fact that this series does NOT ignore). I love how the story is unfolding with the world at large reflecting the feeling of the real world toward this proud hero. Watching Aquaman deal with the snickers and taunts is part of the gold, especially when he silences the critics with a super heroic feat that drops jaws. The first storyarc entitled The Deep is 1-part super hero story and 1-part sci-fi/horror. From the darkest depths of the ocean, horrible flesh-eating creatures rise out of the sea and besiege a small coastal town. The mystery of these attacks finds Aquaman and his consort, Mera, venturing down into places even the King of the Sea should not go. The Deep is a good old fashioned 1950s monster movie gold. Issue #5 kicks off a new storyarc that finds Aquaman stranded in the middle of the desert with no water in sight. The mystery of how he got into this predicament is part of a bigger mystery involving the lost City of Atlantis.
Daredevil – I guess Matt Murdock’s life as a broody rooftop vigilante experiencing every single hardship life can throw his way probably started with the classic run by Frank Miller on the title. Don’t get me wrong, Miller’s is the definitive DD and those that came after him picked up the torch and ran with it. Kevin Smith killed his girlfriend. Brian Michael Bendis exposed his secret identity to the world. Ed Brubaker had him walking a fine line between right and wrong. And Andy Diggle flat out turned him into a super villain. Now all five of these writers have had amazing character-defining runs on the Man without Fear but all these dark storylines seemed to forget one thing – Daredevil is a fun guy. I wouldn’t change anything that has transpired in Murdock’s life over the last few decades but the poor guy deserves a break from the drama. Enter Mark Waid. Waid has brought the swashbuckling adventure back to the pages of Daredevil. Matt seems happier than he’s been since Stan Lee, John Romita and Gene Colan were helming his adventures (see Essential Daredevil). Daredevil is actually one of those titles that I really look forward to every month, and not one issue since its re-launch has disappointed. One tale in particular I want to point out is the 2-part team-up with Spider-Man (see Amazing Spider-Man #677 and Daredevil #8). Through all the years of my comic reading experience I have always enjoyed it when these two characters interacted. They are the Odd Couple of rooftop vigilantes. And anytime they are together the writers seem to really have a good time of it. This tale is no exception. Spidey seeks the Man without Fear’s help to clear Black Cat’s name. She’s been framed, and the reasons behind it and the twists and turns of this caper set up even more fun for the future.
Justice League – Yes, yes, I know that saying this title is a must read is stating the obvious. But, hands down, Justice League is the cream of the crop when it comes to the current roster of titles out of DC. Some creative team-ups go together like peanut butter and jelly, French toast and syrup. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Chris Claremont and John Byrne, Marv Wolfman and George Perez, and now Geoff Johns and Jim Lee can be added to the list of no-brainer team-ups of instant greatness. Comics like Justice League are why we read comics in the first place. When DC Comics first announced they were doing The New 52 re-launch, Justice League is what the Odinson had in mind. It’s what the entire affair should have been. Sadly, only Justice League and a few other titles feel like a true NEW beginning. The rest of the titles seem to be just business as usual. I love the feel of this book. Seeing a neophyte group of heroes coming together to take on a threat so big they will have to learn how to become the World’s Greatest Super Heroes in order to save the day, and we get to witness it happen. That’s exciting. Especially since we already know the heights to which these heroes will go. Justice League gives us a chance to see how they get there.
If these titles aren’t already on your pull list then they need to be added ASAP. Fantastic work like this needs to be supported.
There was a tough stretch there in the mid-90s, when the Odinson nearly turned his back on comic books. But thanks to the resurgence of the equality of story and art and the renaissance of the last decade, comic books are better than ever. If you haven’t checked out these titles or maybe you, too, haven’t been reading comics lately for this reason or that, or maybe you have a friend who hasn’t been a part of the scene for some time and they need a way back in, check out the current issues of Aquaman, Daredevil, and Justice League. You will not be disappointed.
This is Odinson bidding thee farewell