Zack & Nick's Culture Cast

Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!

Friday Five – Comic Storylines!

Inspired by a comment Zack left on my Facebook wall, I decided to look back at some of my favorite comic book storylines for this week’s Friday Five!

Kick-Ass
Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.

Like most things, the book is better than the movie.  Kick-Ass the comic is a hilariously crafted story that wonderfully is satirical towards comics and comic fans.  Much of this was cut from the film.  It is also incredibly dark and surprisingly subversive at times as well.  All of this was cut from the movie.  That’s why it works for me.  I get what Millar is trying to do, and, as a comic fan, I can appreciate it on a deeper level than someone who picks up the book cold (wow, that sounded much snootier than I intended it to).

The story deals with Dave Lizewski, a comic-obsessed teen, who starts to moonlight as the superhero Kick-Ass with some very mixed results.  He ultimately develops the ire of the mob due to other superhero vigilantes.  Hijinks ensue.  I love how grounded this story is.  Granted, it is completely ridiculous, but it never breaks its own rules and things say relatively realistic.  The dialogue is tongue-in-cheek, while staying completely believable (with the arguable exception of anything Hit-Girl says).

I was disappointed that the movie took out or removed more of the subversive elements (particularly the Big Daddy reveal).  However, as a movie, that needed to reach a wider audience, so the changes make sense.  There is always the book, and that will never change.  Personally, since I haven’t been collecting the individual issues, I cannot wait until the Kick-Ass 2 collection is released this summer.

Batman: The Long Halloween
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale

This is a classic Batman story.  Jeph Loeb crafts an interesting mystery that ties together Batman’s early days, all of his famous rogues, and the creation of one of Batman’s popular enemies Two-Face.  Gotham City’s mob bosses are being picked off one at a time on every holiday by a serial killer appropriately known as “Holiday”.  Batman teams with Lt. Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent to not only bring down the mob, but to discover the identity of this new mysterious killer.  I felt this was a great mystery.  When I first read it, I couldn’t put it down as I found it so engaging.  I’ll admit the reveal of who Holiday is hurts the ending (it’s an amazing twist when you first read it, but when you think about it later, you realize it makes little sense).  However, I don’t feel that destroys everything else that comes before it. For my money, this is the definitive Batman story.

Tim Sale’s artwork is completely stunning.  I don’t think there has been anything this guy has done that isn’t gorgeous.  It also completely fits the story as Sale’s work have a very noir feel to it with muted colors and minimalistic backgrounds at times.

Superman For All Seasons
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale

Before they teamed for Batman: The Long Halloween, Leob and Sale crafted this Superman tale.  Focusing largely on Superman’s first year as a superhero, the story delves into what makes Superman great and delves into Superman’s own misgivings and doubts.  Split into four parts (one for each season…get it?), each part is narrated by a different member of Superman’s supporting cast: Pa Kent, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, and Lana Lang.  Telling the story from their perspectives juxtaposed with Superman’s own misgivings was a smart move.  It was able to make the story seem much more grounded and added an extra level of humanity to it.

I won’t lie, this isn’t a complex story, but why it works and is so memorable is because it gets down to the core of who Superman is and how he is seen by others.  I haven’t seen any other story within the last 20 years that captures this as succinctly as For All Seasons does.  Adding to this feeling is Sale’s artwork which is very reminiscent of Norman Rockwell, particularly the continued use of bright yellows and browns.  It gives the book that feeling of small town America which fits perfectly with the Man of Steel.

The Death & Return of Superman
Dan Jurgens, Louise Simonson, Roger Stern, Jerry Ordway, Karl Kesel, William Messner-Loebs, Gerard Jones
Jon Bogdanove, Tom Grummett, Jackson Guice, Dennis Janke, Denis Rodier, Walt Simonson, Curt Swan, M. D. Bright

Covering nearly 40 issues and a year’s worth of time, this was the comic event in the ‘90s.  I don’t care what John Landis’s hipser son says.  It was popular, critically acclaimed, and people completely bought into it.  Additionally, the story still holds up and is remembered popularly today.  The funny thing about it is that the creators didn’t intend on the story to be as big as it became.  They felt it would have been an interesting story to tell as they had to jettison their original plans due to the then-new Lois & Clark TV show.  They came up with the idea that Superman is being taken for granted.  What happens if he is just gone one day?

The story is really three parts.  The first is a seven issue throw down which ultimately ends with Superman’s death.  The second part is a nine issue tale that centers on how the DC Universe reacts to Superman’s death and what happens due to it.  The final part is a twenty issue arc that deals with 4 new characters claiming to be Superman and concludes with the original Man of Steel back to life.  Length alone, this story is epic.  And, surprisingly, it never got dull.  The writers plotted this out very, very well, especially after the death became national news and there would be a more critical eye on the two subsequent parts.

Something like this had never quite been done before on this scale.  The downside of Superman’s death and return is that it lead to a host of other “events” in comics to radically change characters to boost sales.  It happens a lot today, but I feel that, unlike during the Death and Return, it is now looked at as more “how can we build sales” and less “lets tell an awesome story”.

I’ll admit my views on this tale might be a bit nostalgic fueled.  This is when I first got into comics and I was enthralled by it all.  However, the story is still great today, and I like looking at these old issues.  Honestly, as a kid, it was a great time to be into comics.

Earth X
Jim Kruger and Alex Ross

After the success of Kingdom Come, Wizard Magazine (anyone remember them?) asked Alex Ross how he envisioned the Marvel Universe’s future.  What came from it was a sketch book with various notes.  Apparently, it impressed Marvel so much that they commissioned it as a 14 issue series.

The story centers on the idea that, in the “near-future”, everyone in the Marvel Universe has gained superpowers, and how the world reacts to it.  Most of the A-List Marvel characters come together in a story that cleverly connects most of the origins and major events in the Marvel Universe to one singular fate which suggests that these superpowers may have been given to humanity at a specific time for a specific purpose.

At first glance, that sounds either a bit ambitious or completely fan-wanky.  However, writers Ross and Jim Kruger avoid this by making their tale wildly interesting and only revealing little bits at a time (making the reader wanting to know more).  Further making this an excellent series is that it is completely accessible to non-Marvel readers.  Each issue/chapter follows a specific format that allows the writers to fill in the blanks on who some of these people are through dialogue between two characters observing these events.

Ross doesn’t do the interior artwork.  Those duties went to John Paul Leon.  This was a smart move as I don’t think Ross’s art would have worked for this series the way it might have for Kingdom Come.

Earth X had two follow-ups which, while entertaining in their own right, were fairly disappointing.  However, it doesn’t take away anything from the original series.  Earth X is probably my favorite comic storyline.  I recently re-read it about a year ago (the first time in over 10 years), and it completely recaptured my imagination.  I am not kidding when I say that I became so engrossed with it that I lost all track of time (I started reading at 8pm and the next thing I knew, it was midnight!).  If a book can do that, I can’t deny it’s anything short of fantastic.

~N

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6 responses to “Friday Five – Comic Storylines!

  1. Ben April 22, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    Great choices! I have read and own all these (in collected editions) except Earth X which I hadn’t even heard about but will go and find. Kick-Ass 2 is good but not a patch on the original. Way darker though, not sure how they are going to manage to “adapt” it for the planned film too.

    • CultureCast-Z April 22, 2012 at 6:12 pm

      Yeah I haven’t read Kick-Ass 2 but a trusted website I visit rated it as a C-. Seemed pretty disappointing to me.

      • CultureCast-N April 22, 2012 at 8:57 pm

        Personally, I can’t buy into websites that review comics for a couple of reasons that center around the fact that nine times out of ten, they are run run by the unpleasable fanbase. I’ll judge it for myself when the collection comes out in the next month or so.

    • CultureCast-N April 22, 2012 at 8:52 pm

      Thanks Ben. Earth X is pretty solid, in my opinion. If you are Marvel fan, you’d probably really like it. I wouldn’t call myself a Marvel guy, but I was really taken with the story. Your mileage may vary.

      As for Kick-Ass 2, I’m staying away from as many reviews and such as I can so I don’t develop a pre-developed opinion going in. If they never make a movie out of it, I am perfectly fine with that.

  2. Pingback: ‘Kick-Ass 2′ – I’m A Little Disturbed « The Culture Cast with Zack and Nick

  3. Pingback: Hit-Girl – The Comic! | The Culture Cast with Zack and Nick

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