Comics You Should Be Reading in 2011


Since I got back into comics, a few people have asked me for suggestions on what they should be checking out.  Obviously, I usually try to tailor my answer to that person’s specific tastes, but now I will present a list of books I am excited about as we enter a new year, and that I think other people (especially other people like me, who are new at this comics thing) might enjoy.  Bear in mind that I’m no expert, and this is far from a definitive list.  For example, you will see that there are zero Marvel books on the list, because I don’t personally give much of a shit about Marvel and don’t read any of it.  This is the stuff I am jazzed for, and that I think you might be too. 


BATMAN INC.
(DC Comics, Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette)
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WHAT IS IT?
This is the latest chapter of Grant Morrison’s amazing Batman saga, which has been going on for a few years now.  To sum it up as efficiently as I can, Bruce Wayne has returned to Gotham City after a long absence to find that Dick Grayson has taken over his role as Batman.  For reasons that are not entirely clear yet, Bruce reveals to the public that he finances the activities of the caped crusader, and that he’ll be franchising out the Batman name on a global level.  Batman Inc. chronicles Bruce’s travels around the world, as he seeks out and recruits crimefighters to be the local Batmen for their districts.  The tone of the story is way more light-hearted and fancy-free than most of Morrison’s previous Batman work, but still retains his near-obsessive reverence for the character and his long history.
WHO SHOULD READ THIS?
Long-time fans of Batman and his universe.
WHAT DO I NEED TO CATCH UP ON?
Ideally, to follow the story 100%, you should be all caught up with Grant Morrison’s batstories of the past few years, which I wrote about in detail (up to a certain point) here.  But if you don’t feel like actually reading all of that stuff, the Batman Inc. book (which is on its second issue) is a fine jumping-on point.  You may need to hit up the internet once in a while to get a clearer understanding of some of the little details of the backstory, but for the most part you should be okay.
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DARKWING DUCK / CHIP ‘N’ DALE RESCUE RANGERS
(Boom Studios, Ian Brill and James Silvani / Leonel Castellani)
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WHAT IS IT?
I already wrote about these books here, here and here, so I won’t go into too much detail.  These are exciting and hilarious continuations of the Disney animated shows, with brilliant writing and gorgeous art.
WHO SHOULD READ THIS?
Fans of the Disney Afternoon.
WHAT DO I NEED TO CATCH UP ON?
It should go without saying that if you aren’t familiar with the original TV shows, then you probably won’t get much out of these comics.  But then again, if you aren’t familiar with the original TV shows, then you’re a jerk and I hate you.  Beyond that, Darkwing Duck is up to its 7th issue, and just about to wrap up its second story arc.  To fully grasp the new status quo in St. Canard, you should start at the beginning – luckily, the first five issues are available in trade paperback form.  Chip ‘n’ Dale‘s second issue just came out.
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THE UNWRITTEN
(Vertigo, Mike Carey and Peter Gross)
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WHAT IS IT?
The Unwritten is the story of Tom Taylor, son of the world-famous author of a popular series of Harry Potter-esque novels, who finds the lines between fantasy and reality beginning to blur.  The book is in line with the usual Vertigo fare, but the nature of its story allows the excellent writer and artist to have a lot of fun with the comic book format.  Issue #17, for example, takes the form of a Choose Your Own Adventure book, and it’s one of the coolest single issues I read in 2010.
WHO SHOULD READ THIS?
Literature majors, and fans of stories about stories (such as The Neverending Story).
WHAT DO I NEED TO CATCH UP ON?
We’re 20 issues into this story, and you really do have to start at the beginning.  But chances are good that once you start reading this, you won’t be able to put it down, so you can probably get that done in one lazy-ass Sunday afternoon.
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JUSTICE LEAGUE: GENERATION LOST
(DC Comics, Keith Giffen / Judd Winick and Aaron Lopresti)
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WHAT IS IT?
This 26-issue miniseries is a continuation of the Justice League International stories created by Keith Giffen in the late 80’s.  Giffen’s awesome JLI book popularized characters such as Booster Gold and Maxwell Lord, and is also known for the now-famous scene in which Batman knocks out Guy Gardner with one punchGeneration Lost finds the JLI team reunited under mysterious circumstances, and once again at odds with the evil and powerful Maxwell Lord.
WHO SHOULD READ THIS?
Fans of the classic JLI stories, team books, or of the larger DCU in general, and those who dig stories in which C-List characters are given a chance to shine.
WHAT DO I NEED TO CATCH UP ON?
Having some knowledge of the original JLI stories is really helpful – I read the first JLI trade before diving into this, but doing a little bit of research on Wikipedia would probably suffice just as well.  Generation Lost is released on a bi-weekly basis, and is up to issue #17 of 26.
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IRREDEEMABLE
(Boom Studios, Mark Waid and Peter Krause)
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WHAT IS IT?
Irredeemable is the tale of the Plutonian, a beloved Superman-esque superhero, who snaps one day and decides that the world doesn’t appreciate him enough, and he’s going to fucking destroy it.  In my opinion, this is the most interesting deconstruction of superhero tropes since Watchmen.  The great thing about this book is that whenever the reader starts wondering how much more mileage the Plutonian’s story has left, some crazy shit happens that makes you rabid for the next issue.  Mark Waid is also smart enough to regularly shift focus to this universe’s other superheroes, showcasing them as characters just as interesting and complex as the Plutonian himself, and way more than just supporting characters.  I don’t know how much longer this title can keep upping the ante without beginning to lose steam, but man, so far so good!
WHO SHOULD READ THIS?
People who would enjoy an exciting exploration of the responsibilities and temptations that stem from heroism, as set in an archetypal comic book universe.
WHAT DO I NEED TO CATCH UP ON?
There are, as of now, 21 issues of Irredeemable to work your way through.  There is also a companion title, Incorruptible, which takes place in the same universe, and features a the reverse scenario (a supervillain gone straight).  I haven’t had a chance to read Incorruptible yet, but I have no doubt that it’s fantastic.
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MORNING GLORIES
(Image Comics, Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma)
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WHAT IS IT?
The tale of a group of kids who suddenly find themselves trapped in a mysterious and sinister boarding school, Morning Glories has the feel of great mindfuck TV shows like Lost and The Prisoner, topped off with a healthy dose of teen drama and some really impressive artwork.  A big part of why this book works is that Nick Spencer allows these kids to transcend the stereotypes they seem at first to represent, and fleshes them out into unique and nuanced characters.  The story here is dripping with intrigue, and the first few issues provide a ton of “What’s in the hatch??” type questions, the answers to which, I’m sure, are a long way off.  I can’t wait!
WHO SHOULD READ THIS?
Fans of the aforementioned TV shows, and other such mystery tales of seemingly normal people thrust into a world of intrigue and mythology.
WHAT DO I NEED TO CATCH UP ON?
Only five issues so far, with the sixth scheduled for this week.
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FABLES
(Vertigo, Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham)
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WHAT IS IT?
Fables is about a group of famous fairy tale characters taking refuge in New York City after being driven from their fantasy homeland by an evil empire.  The “modern and irreverent twist to classic fairy tale characters” concept has been done a million times before, and the result is usually garbage like Shrek, so Fables may make you wary at first.  But once you get an arc or two into it, you realize that Bill Willingham has sculpted a brilliant and wholly original universe to play with, and you’ll soon care about these characters as if you’re encountering them for the first time.
WHO SHOULD READ THIS?
The same people who I said should read The Unwritten, particularly those whose tastes lean a little bit more towards epic fantasy.
WHAT DO I NEED TO CATCH UP ON?
Fables just celebrated its 100th issue, plus there’s a spin-off series and a handful of one-shots, miniseries and graphic novels.  So, if you want to start from the beginning, a hell of a lot.  But, the upcoming 101st issue is the beginning of a whole new chapter in this narrative, so that might be a great jumping-on point for those who want to check it out.
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SUPERIOR
(Icon, Mark Millar and Leinil Yu)
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WHAT IS IT?
Mark Millar is an interesting dude.  In 2010, he debuted one of the stupidest comic books I’ve ever read (Nemesis, which I will hopefully dedicate a blog post to bitching about in the near future), as well as Superior, one of my favorite things of the year.  In a story that is kind of like Big meets Captain Marvel, Superior introduces us to a wheelchair-bound kid who suffers from multiple sclerosis, and the day a magical space monkey transforms him into his favorite comic book superhero.  MS is a thing that I have a personal connection to, and I know how frustrating and shitty it can be when your body won’t always do what you want it to.  So it’s very emotionally powerful to see this character break the chains of his fucked up disease and take to the skies, becoming the hero that he always wanted to be.  Knowing Millar, this might eventually turn stupid and ugly, but so far it’s been an inspiring, heartwarming and empowering story.
WHO SHOULD READ THIS?
So far this has been a very feel-good and uplifting story about childhood and heroism, so fans of that sort of thing will enjoy this.  However, don’t blame me if at some point the story goes in a different direction!  I can’t see the future, people.
WHAT DO I NEED TO CATCH UP ON?
There have been three issues of Superior released so far.
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BATGIRL
(DC Comics, Brian Q. Miller and Lee Garbett/Dustin Nguyen/Pere Perez)
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WHAT IS IT?
Stephanie Brown (former Spoiler and Robin) is the new Batgirl, and I am in love with her.  She has more personality than almost anyone else in comic books, is very funny and charming, and offers a huge ray of sunshine into the otherwise dark and grim Batman universe.  Likewise, the stories in Batgirl are short, breezy and fun, and don’t require an encyclopedic knowledge of Grant Morrison’s convoluted-as-fuck current continuity.
WHO SHOULD READ THIS?
Batuniverse fans who miss the days when comic books offered quick and easy tales of adventure, and weren’t so fucking gloomy all the time.  Also, Buffy fans.
WHAT DO I NEED TO CATCH UP ON?
Batgirl is up to 17 issues now.  Most individual story arcs don’t last more than three issues or so, and a handful of issues (#14 and #17, for example) offer stand-alone adventures that don’t require much background knowledge.  If you’re interested in this book but don’t feel like starting at the beginning, the most recent issue (#17) is a stand-alone team-up story with Damian Wayne, and it’s a ton of fun.
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ECHOES
(Top Cow, Joshua Hale Fialkov and Rahsan Ekedal)
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WHAT IS IT?
One issue in, Echoes is a disturbing and emotional horror story about a man suffering from schizophrenia, whose visit to his father’s deathbed leads to an unexpected discovery about his family’s history.  I don’t want to give much more away, because I want the last couple of pages of this issue to be just as shocking and creepy for you as they were for me.  Echoes drags the reader into its creepy and gloomy world, with beautiful black-and-white art and great writing.  If it keeps up this level of quality, this could be one of the most interesting series of 2011.
WHO SHOULD READ THIS?
Horror fans who are getting tired of zombies and vampires, and want a story that’s a little more down to earth, but no less bone-chilling.
WHAT DO I NEED TO CATCH UP ON?
The first issue just hit the stands, so you can (and should) get in on the ground floor of this one!
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Those are only some of the books I will be keeping up with in 2011, but they are the ones that I think are most representative of the medium, and most accessible for a newbie reader.  You can’t really go wrong with any of these titles, so if any of them pique your interest, do yourself a favor and give it a try!  Then let me know how you enjoyed it.  Happy reading, gang!

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