SO MANY amazing comic books vie for my attention each month but, realistically, there’s only so much money to go around…unless I forego food, electricity, my house, and all those other trivial things. So that means choices. (Ah, nothing like #FirstWorldProblems am I right?) One of my first blog posts was a look at the comics I’d decided to fill my file with once I returned to reading them regularly. I figured now, six months later, it would be an interesting topic to revisit!
Everyone has their own criteria for what makes something worthy of consumption and purchase. When I look at the art I consume, in this case comic books, I want it to entertain me. But I also want it to cultivate a mind of love, mercy, and compassion too. Art shouldn’t just be fun but it should also teach, challenge, elevate, and transform us. That may seem like a tall order for a comic book but it’s important to me. And, given the constant growing of my pull list, there are plenty of titles performing that function. So what criteria am I using for the comics I read?
1) It has to be fun. There is so much darkness in the world. I don’t want comics that feel dour, heavy, tragic or oppressive. Yes, art that explores those areas can be (and often is) very, very powerful. But the three full days I spent crying after seeing Still Alice aren’t something I relish. I also feel when the darkness is addressed in a way that is ultimately bright, optimistic, and enjoyable it orients our minds more enthusiastically towards positive change.
2) It has to be relevant. I have hundreds of old back issues in my closets from the 80’s and 90’s. I loved them as a kid and they can still be fun. But I don’t want stories I’ve seen before. I didn’t come back to comic books for the same old thing. I came back because (with Kamala Khan, Miles Morales, and Jane Foster around) the Marvel Universe felt new and necessary. I want comics that speak to life as I know it in 2016 not 1986.
3) It has to be socially aware and justice-oriented. I only have so much money to spend on/time to give to my comic book obsession. As a result, I want my money to go towards messages I believe in and my mind to be spent reflecting on that which I feel will raise me up and help enlighten me. That’s why the casual or direct glorification of violence for violence’s sake, the objectification of women, or demonizing the other will never making the cut. I’m seeking justice, diversity, inclusion not anger and ignorance.
Now, given that criteria, what makes the cut? Here are the five ten fourteen comic books that are waiting for me in my file every month. The list is numbered in reverse order, counting down to the books I find most important. The closer we get to #1, the harder it is to imagine my dropping the comic. But the Indispensible Four that top the list, well I can’t imagine ever NOT reading them. Unless the tone or message behind the books dramatically shift, those are the comics I need to read.
14) Black Panther World of Wakanda – Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze have created a modern masterpiece in Black Panther so it was obvious I’d eagerly jump into this further exploration of the world they’re creating. The first issue came out last week and I was not disappointed! The only thing that holds it from being further up the list is a) I already read one Black Panther title a month and b) the first issue was $4.99. Unless it settles at $3.99 I don’t know if I’ll keep it up or if (like TMNT Universe) it must turn into a twice-yearly trade paperback situation.
13) Green Lanterns – Thanks to Andrew‘s influence, a lot of DC titles filled my pull list in the wake of Rebirth :). But, Nightwing, Detective Comics, Batgirl, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Superman, and Batman were ultimately cut in favor of Marvel authors who directly engage with social justice issues and intentionally grow diversity in their cast of characters,. But I CAN’T STOP reading Green Lanterns!! There is a strong family dynamic to the book, something I value. And the relationships created, not just between Jess and Simon but all who are part of their world, are rich and rewarding. I’ve always been a Marvel guy but DC’s stolen my heart with Green Lanterns.
12) Deadpool & the Mercs for Money – Cullen Bunn has become one of my absolute favorite comic writers. I fell in love with his work after I read Night Of The Living Deadpool and have tried to read anything he writes – especially when he’s writing Deadpool. I always prefer Deadpool with a cast to bounce off of so I found the first merc team to be hilariously entertaining. But this new one – Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Hit Monkey, Machine Man, Masacre, Gorilla-Man, and (of course) Deadpool with Domino now leading – is absolutely perfect.
11) The Invincible Iron Man – I’d bet Brian Michael Bendis’ newest character will work her way up this list in the coming months. But, right now, I’ve just one issue of Riri Williams as Ironheart to work with. But I LOVED that issue! There’s something about teenage superheroes, a hopefulness and promise of potential, that is very attractive. Riri feels like a rich, textured, well-rounded character and she’s brought me back to regularly buying a title I’d dropped after issue #5!
10) Spider-Man/Deadpool – I love Spider-Man. I love Deadpool. And I LOVE Joe Kelly at the helm! This book is fast, soooo funny, and its mysterious plot has prompted many re-reads, keeping me up at night trying to puzzle out the answers. We also see Deadpool truly struggling to become the type of hero Spidey is so he can be a better model for his daughter. How great is that?? One of the most violent heroes in the Marvel Universe is now using rubber bullets and trying to be like Spidey for the sake of becoming the father his daughter deserves. It also explores the ideas of inclusion, self-esteem, and the struggle to define ourselves…and it does all of this while always offering rapid fire dialogue, pop culture references, and action.
9) The Mighty Thor – Growing up, Thor was my second favorite superhero after Spider-Man. And, during my long absence from reading comics, the news that a mysterious woman was now wielding Mjolnir was something I was itching to be a part of. When I finally came back to regular comic reading, post Secret Wars, I found that Jason Aaron’s move to make Jane Foster the new Thor made for the best Thor stories I’ve ever read. Everything about the book works. I’ve no desire to start following The Unworthy Thor (again, there’s only so much money to go around and I’ve seen lots of the Odinson) but what they’re doing with Jane Foster is incredible!
8) Sam Wilson: Captain America – This is one of the most socially important books Marvel’s publishing right now. As Captain America, Sam Wilson is dealing in-story with all the ridiculous cultural backlash legacy characters receive while also navigating the heat that comes with championing progressive political issues alongside the usual superheroics. Nick Spencer handles it all brilliantly. Some don’t want their superheroes to be political. I welcome it. As I said above, I appreciate a strong social justice bent in my narratives. Captain America is to represent the best in us. While he’s not Steve Rogers (nor does he presume to be), Sam’s fighting to do just that and I respect him for it.
7) Champions – This is another newbie on the list with just two issues to its run but it instantly won my heart! Credit goes once again to Andrew for insisting I check it out. I was really sad when I first heard All New, All Different Avengers would disappear post-Civil War II. And I wasn’t planning on trying Champions (I try to avoid cross-over hubs team books). But between the incredible cast (Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man, Nova, Viv Vision, the Hulk, and Cyclops) and the addressing of social issues (they’ve become frustrated with the lack of real, healthy change they see the adults modeling) and responsible superheroing, this quickly became a must-read. The book manages to be light and fun while also empowering. That’s something I need more of!
6) Black Panther – Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze’s Black Panther run has changed what I believe a comic book can do. It openly and intelligently explores the issues of nationalism, terrorism, racism, colonialism, and the effects all those forces have on the international community. It wrestles with what makes a government just and whether or not a monarch can ever be that in 2016. But, most interesting of all, it is a comic I need to read slowly. Whenever the new issue comes out, it’s always my save-for-last read. I take my time with it, savoring it and letting it move through my mind. This isn’t a comic to be quickly read and then I move on. No, this one calls me to deep reflection…and I love it!
5) Spider-Man – The phenomenon of Miles Morales is one of the biggest things to happen to comic books since I stepped away from reading them. Once I returned, I couldn’t wait to see this new Spider-Man who had won the hearts of so many readers in action. I devoured the back issues and Miles has become my Spidey of choice in the Marvel Universe. That’s saying A LOT as Spider-Man has pretty much been my favorite character for…well, forever. As I’m still struggling with the effects of the “One More Day” storyline I can’t read Peter’s adventures regularly as it makes me sad :(. But Miles gives me the wondrous webslinging I’m searching for! I’ll never stop loving Peter Parker or reading the thousands of old Spider-Man comics I have but Brian Michael Bendis gives me a brilliant new take on the Spider-Man mythos.
The Indispensible Four – Okay, now we’ve reached the top. Each of the comics below are, in their own way, the height of the genre as far as I’m concerned. I could never imagine reading comic books and not reading these titles. In fact, if I had to leave the world of comic collecting behind for whatever reason, I imagine I’d still read each of these titles. They transcend the genre for me. I’m hooked. I’m amazed. I’m in love. They are perfect!
4) Ghostbusters – As any casual reader of this blog can confirm, I love the Ghostbusters. I pretty much take any chance I can to write about them and encourage people to read the mind-blowingly perfect IDW series Eric Burnham and Dan Schoening have created. This comic captures all the Ghostbusters’ magic while growing their world in an organic way. The expanded cast of characters they’ve created fit the universe perfectly, compliment the mythology of the story, and are all fully developed, wonderfully complex characters in their own right. This isn’t just an exciting and entertaining comic, it’s a perfect example of world building and engrossing stories. And it’s SO MUCH FUN! As someone who wants to enjoy his comics, this is a necessity. I know Marvel and DC are the “big two”…but given my experience, I have no idea why everyone isn’t reading more IDW as well.
3) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Here’s another IDW masterpiece! I write a lot about how I love the Turtles too :). The only thing that stops me from writing about them more is my struggle to find new words to express how intelligent, elegant, and intriguing a series this is! Under the stewardship of Tom Waltz and Kevin Eastman, this new incarnation of the Turtles transcends the comic medium. Each month it only strengthens its place among the most emotionally vibrant stories I’ve ever read. Yes, it absolutely honors everything about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and it certainly feels like what I remember as a kid. But it is so much more. You know those books you read where they just feel like art? Well that’s IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. As with Ghostbusters, anyone looking to “pick up” and existing franchise and expand it should take note – this is how it’s done.
2) Ms. Marvel – I don’t think there’s a more important or a more relevant superhero comic being published right now than G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel. In addition to wrestling with the classic superhero problems of balancing family, faith, school, and world-saving after waking up with powers, Kamala Khan is a HUGE superhero nerd! She writes superhero fan fiction and is often quoting Star Wars so reading her adventures allows a comic nerd to consider what it would be like if we woke up with powers! She’s also a strong female character who’s intelligent, employing her knowledge of physics to both understand her powers and defeat her foes. Lastly, the book explores many justice themes while giving us an honest depiction of Islam, living as a first generation Pakistani-American, the experience of immigration, and how family and faith grow through all of that. What can be more important to read about in 2016??
1) The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl – I’m actually working on a larger post about Squirrel Girl that I’m saving for my 100th post (in fact…maybe I’ll spotlight all of my Indispensible Four on the way to 100). But everything about this comic is perfect. Ryan North and Erica Henderson have given us a strong female protagonist who uses her mind and her compassion to solve her problems far more than she ever uses her fists. Any comic willing to challenge the Myth of Redemptive Violence will sit close to my heart. But, beyond the social importance, it’s the funniest comic I read. I literally laugh out loud through entire issues. The humor is so unique too – nothing else out there feels remotely like Squirrel Girl. It’s a book that will appeal to everyone too. It’s an all ages comic that manages to give everyone what they’re looking for without compromising any part of the narrative! No matter who you are, you’ll find what you’re looking for with The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl!!
Okay, well that’s my pull list! Shall we take bets now on whether or not it will still be at fourteen books in another six months?? Oh! Six months will mean summer vacation’s almost here! That being said…I think it’s time to get back to my end-of-term grading. Yikes! Those papers won’t read and comment on themselves :).