Every Wednesday is notable at my house, because it is the day that new releases hit the shelves of our local comic book store (waves at the guys at Comic Book College on Hennepin Ave).
Fairly recently – within the last couple of years – my daughter and I have both become comic book fans. Her more than me, but still. This is quite the turnaround for me. Oh, I watched my share of Saturday morning cartoons when I was a kid, but I was never enamored of them. My own kids went through infatuations with Teen-Aged Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, Pokemon, X-Men, Spider-Man, the Avengers, et al, but virtually all of those interactions were through television shows, movies, or trading cards. Rarely, if ever, did comic books come into play, even if that’s where their heroes first appeared.
Then a few years ago my daughter – a budding film student, and hardcore geek girl – wrote a paper entitled “Why Now is the Time for a Wonder Woman Movie.” While helping her with research, I became intrigued with Wonder Woman (who I had only known previously through the 1970s television show starring Lynda Carter). Add to that my daughter’s infatuation with Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye series (Marvel, 2012 – 2015) and a growing excitement about comic books amongst her friends (which found its way into other nerdish enthusiasms), and suddenly comic books became “a thing” in our household.
For a middle-aged (I’m being generous here) woman with grown children to start frequenting a comic book shop, a few things needed to be in place: a love of sharing interests with my kids, a wonderful local shop where I never felt out of place, and a lack of care on whether I was entering the hallowed halls of comic book fandom on what others might consider illegitimate standings. That’s one nice thing about getting older: who the hell cares about propriety?
I don’t know if it’s politically correct to feel the way I do, or if I’m treading on toes or showing my ignorance, but I’ve found that I’m not all that interested in comic book dynasties (well, except for Wonder Woman, but she’s near and dear to my heart). Instead, there are three triggers that can pique my interest in a comic book.
1 – It’s written by an author I know through other mediums. For example, Holly Black’s Lucifer series for Vertigo; Benjamin Percy’s run of DC’s Green Arrow, starting at #41; and Paul Cornell’s This Damned Band, at least for a few issues.
2 – It’s a new comic: “#1” will almost always have me at least checking out the inaugural issue, to see if I want to jump on board. And if it’s a #1 issue that has been written by a woman, or with a woman as the lead artist, I’m more likely to give it serious consideration. Also, if it’s unconventional somehow. Who wants the same old, same old?
3 – It has something to do with Wonder Woman. Not that I buy every iteration of Wonder Woman out there (Wonder Woman and Superman? No thanks.) But if Wonder Woman is involved, I’ll at least give it a lookover. I’ve been known to buy a WW comic just because it has a kickass cover.
But there are two things that every comic book series that I run with must have: a well conceived story line and compelling artwork. So what makes a story line well written, and artwork compelling? Simple. It all boils down to if I like it. And to be honest, I don’t like a vast majority of comic book art; blood and guts and loner killers and buxom warriors and leering faces and hyper-sexuality and ugliness for the sake of ugliness will not get you my $3.99. I want there to be art to my comic books, not just violence, and not just drawings, and I don’t care if that’s pretentious to say.
But it’s not hard to find comic books that have really piqued my interest. I’ve amassed a few series that I search for in the weekly New Releases listing on Comic Book College’s webpage for a Wednesday acquisition: Monstress, Silk, Spider-Man (the Miles Morales story line), Faith, Sex Criminals, Welcome Back, the aforementioned Lucifer and Green Arrow, and along with my daughter (meaning they are “hers” but I read them), Ms. Marvel, DC Bombshells, Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps, Bitch Planet, and other Avengers/Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. tie ins. And of course, Wonder Woman. And The Legend of Wonder Woman. And Sensation Comics Wonder Woman.
But there are there are two series that stand out for me, that have both an exceptional story line and amazing artwork: Old Man Logan (written by Jeff Lemire, art by Andrea Sorrentino) and Scarlet Witch (written by James Robinson, art by Vanesa Del Rey [#1], Marco Rudy [#2], Steve Dillon [#3]), both Marvel books.
In 2016’s Old Man Logan (not to be confused with Old Man Logan of 2008/2009), X-Men’s Wolverine is out to revenge the death of his family at the hands of the Hulk Gang. He now is an old man, and he’s in a world that makes no sense, but he still has friends – even though they may not be willing to join him in his agenda. The art is amazing – dark and brooding, with saturated colors and strong borders. Yet there are echoes of the old “POW!” and “ZAP!” from early comics. Narrative is minimal; Logan retains his brusque manner that is offset by his vulnerabilities. I love this comic book series, even though not being familiar with the canon, I have to take a lot of what happens on faith.
On the other hand, Scarlet Witch has a lot of exposition, and the story is episodic within the larger arc. Magic is broken, and ancillary Avenger Wanda, the Scarlet Witch, is traveling across the globe trying to fix it, all the while trying to figure out who broke it in the first place. While the artist has been different for each issue (three so far), each one is evocative of the place in which Wanda finds herself: Manhattan, Greece, Ireland. Colors, characters, borders, lines… they all set the stage and truly makes it feel like Wanda is wandering, searching – and reacting.
So I guess the point of all this is that no matter what you’ve gotten used to reading, keep your mind open to new possibilities. I never would have thought that at this stage of my life I would be getting into comic books, but the more I read, the more I appreciate the nuances and artistry that goes into many of these works. I may have entered into the comic book kingdom by the side door, but I’m really glad I ventured in! Now all that’s left is to settle back and enjoy my stay.
~ Sharon Browning