The Red Menace Tells You What to Read Next!
Boston Comic Con is this week, so I thought we were overdue for some comic book reviews. If you're going to be in town for the con, keep an eye out for us! When we're not walking around talking to cosplayers and getting tongue-tied in front of our favorite artists, you'll be able to find us at either the Comicazi (B605-609) or the Bad Kids Press (C405-409) tables. You might even see us in the audience of the special live Hadron Gospel Hour show!
Hadron Gospel Hour is a fun comedy-scifi podcast, and they'll be performing live at 2 pm at The Boston Button Factory as part of Boston Comic Con! Sound like it's up your alley? You can grab tickets online for just $8 via http://hadrongospelhour.brownpapertickets.com/ or at the door for $10.
Now that all of that excitement is out of the way, on to the reviews!
Plot: Astro City is an epicenter of superhero activity - imagine Metropolis, Gotham, and Central City all rolled into one. Sure, a few heroes live in places like Boston and Detroit, but Astro City is the hub of superhero life. However, plenty of regular folks live there too, and Busiek's stories are all about the way everyone's lives - from the most famous hero to the lowliest thief to the guy who runs the newsstand - interact and affect one another.
Why Read It: Other writers have explored this territory before - the interplay of ordinary human lives with the extraordinary powers of superheroes and villains - but few have done it with the depth and heart that Busiek achieves. (Heck, Busiek himself did it in Marvels.) In part, this is because the characters are all entirely his own, so he's not bound by seventy-plus years of continuity and world-building. Sure, many of the characters are clearly analogs of more recognizable heroes - The Samaritan, for example, is instantly recognizable to any Superman fan - but they still aren't those characters and they can act in ways that Marvel and DC's heroes just can't. Busiek also spends quite a bit of time with the other side of the coin, the regular folks who need to live in a city where it's commonplace to see men and women in crazy costumes fighting above your head, and it's innovative to see stories about non-powered folks who are necessarily victims who need saving or girlfriends (who need saving) or angry military men trying to bring down the heroes - these are just the people who live in and love Astro City.
I'd recommend starting with Life in the Big City, first volume of the series, even though most of the stories are stand alone and could really be read in any order, for the most part. Life in the Big City is a series of short stories from different perspectives and provides a great introduction to the world Busiek's created.
Bonus: Alex Ross' beautiful painted covers, which are typically reprinted in the trades. I don't always love Ross' photo-realistic style (scandalous, I know!) but the weird world of Astro City is completely suited to it. In a bonus bonus, many of the characters and settings in Astro City are fun nods to the larger world and history of comics, so if you are super into continuity and comic book culture, there are still a lot of fun in-jokes for you.
Top 10 by Alan Moore, Art by Gene Ha and Zander Cannon
Plot: Like Astro City, Top 10 is all about a city, Neopolis, that is full of superheroes. However, unlike in Astro City, there's no interaction between powered and non-powered folks, because in Neopolis, every man, woman, child and pet is super-powered. The hot dog vendor cooks his wares with heat vision. The guy selling watches on the street corner? They're signal watches. But Neopolis is far from a utopia - it has all of the violence, vice and drugs of any city in the real world - and Top 10 is all about the cops who have to manage it. The 10 in the title refers to the 10th precinct, and the concept is a Hill Street Blues-style cop drama - but in a place where the cops and the robbers all have super powers.
Why Read It: You've probably heard of Alan Moore if you're even remotely familiar with comics. He's famous for writing books like Swamp Thing and Watchmen and V for Vendetta. He is not famous for writing Top 10. It hasn't been optioned as a movie or TV show, and it's printed by America's Best Comics rather than DC or Marvel - but honestly, it might be my favoirte book of hi. It manages to be about the same things his better-known works are about - social justice and who really has the power in society, how that power warps and changes people, how to fight back - while being way more fun. The main characters have a wide range of superpowers from the ability to administer electric shocks to invulnerability to being a talking dog with a penchant for Hawaiian shirts, and there's a sense of humor to the whole endeavor, despite the serious nature of some of the crimes the 10th precinct has to investigate.(There's a particularly funny side plot involving a teen delinquent Godzilla and his much larger dad.) The artwork adds to the sense of play - it's bright and colorful and busy without being confusing.
Bonus: The sight gags. That packed artwork is full of sly in-jokes and humor - every bit of graffiti and signage is a comic book reference (and often a dirty joke) and the background characters get up to a variety of hi-jinks while the main action happens around them.
Gotham Central by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka, Art by Michael Lark
Plot: Much like the cities of the previous two books, Gotham is an urban landscape with a bit of a super power problem. Sure, Batman's there to deal with the really big issues, but plenty of other crimes happen that he doesn't have time to tackle. We all know about Commissioner Gordon and the role he plays in keeping the city in semi-order, but whaat about the rest of the force? How do they handle being detectives in a city where a routine murder investigation uncovers a plot by Mr. Freeze?
Why Read It: Gotham Central is everything I like about Astro City's regular people land how they're affected by folks with powers and Top 10's police procedural in a super-powered city and blends them seamlessly, all while telling the tale in a mainstream, well-known comic's continuity. This no "What-If?" story - the plot lines of Gotham Central are part of the larger Batman and DC universe. Batman's presence is sparse in the book, yet clearly morphs the attitudes and approaches of the cops in his city. Still, it's great to see stories set in Gotham where the villains aren't taken down in epic battles, but by detectives trying to get their jobs done the way all detectives do, by following the clues and getting into the heads of their crazier-than-average criminals.
Bonus: Some really great female characters, including Detective Renee Montoya, who goes on to bigger and better (?) things in later DC series.
So there you have it, three comic book series with a bit of a twist on the tradition superhero narrative. I hope to see some of you at Boston Comic Con this weekend - we have new and exciting swag to share with you! If you find me, ask what the deal with the
Spider Clown Clown Spider is.