So last week, we looked at the first half of The List. All the comics I’m currently reading on the regular, alphabetical by title, with a discussion of why I’m reading it, and whether it’s a “keeper,” a book that goes into the permanent Nerd Farm collection, or whether it’s something that I’ll read once and then put aside to sell at some future date.
Which brings up an interesting thing that happened after last week’s column: I got feelers from people offering to take some of the “selling pile” books off my hands. Especially Immortal Hulk.
That book’s garnered a lot of buzz recently, but was largely ignored and under-ordered when it started. So lots of people are looking for them. I turned down the offers in that case, for two reasons: One, I’m still reading the book, and might want to refer back to the early issues at some point. And Two… That might be a book worth sitting on, to sell later for more money. If the Al Ewing run turns out to be a classic (which it’s showing signs of doing), the scarcity of those early issues might turn them into that rarest of all things in modern funnybook collecting: a genuine collector’s item.
I mean… That might NOT happen, and it’s possible that I should go ahead and flip the damn things while they’re hot. But you know… I’ve gotten my entertainment out of them. So if I wind up selling them to a local funnybook store for nickel-a-book credit… Eh. So be it.
Of course, I’ve got a more laid-back attitude toward that sort of thing than a lot of people, simply because I tend to read things that don’t generate much collector buzz. Which is to say, I don’t buy a lot of corporate spandex, and that’s what the funnybook collecting market values most. That may change over time, as more indie books like The Walking Dead get adapted to movies and TV, and create a larger fanbase that’s interested in collecting those kinds of comics. So I do have things that are probably worth holding onto for the future. But mostly, I look at my funnybook dollar the same way I look at the money I blow on a Netflix subscription or a paperback novel: that’s just what my entertainment costs. Anything I get back on it is cake.
But, anyway. That doesn’t get us any closer to finishing off The List. So let’s get back to that, shall we…?
Why Do I Read It? Because it’s beautiful, charming, and weird.
Creators Brendan Fletcher and Karl Kerschl have managed here to digest the influence of Hayao Miyazaki and apply it to something that is entirely their own. It’s a fantasy adventure comic set against a backdrop of war and politics, but it’s also a romantic fairy tale starring a lesbian couple, and it manages to treat magic the way that folklore often does but that modern fiction mostly fails to: as something frightening and uncanny, linked to dark forests and soul-deep places that society often keeps us from exploring. It’s a little gem of a comic, and I hope it’s finding enough of an audience to keep it going for as long as Fletcher and Kerschl want to do it.
Is It a Keeper? Yes. Though if this becomes one of those indie books that takes off in collecting circles in the future, I could see myself selling it. If only to fund the purchase of what I hope will be a really freaking beautiful hardcover collection…
James Bond: the Origin
Why Do I Read It? Because Jeff Parker writes good adventure comics. This one follows the young James Bond through World War II, from basic training to a submarine thriller in the style of Silent Running, and then on to his first actual spy mission in Nazi-occupied France. Parker writes the young Bond as idealistic, daring, and smart, taking chances and making mistakes, but pulling through most of them thanks to pluck and ingenuity. I don’t love the book, but the first six issues have been a lot of fun.
Is It a Keeper? Nah. I’ve enjoyed these, but I’ll never read them again. Honestly, I should probably just be buying this book digital and having done with it. I doubt I’ll ever get much more than a nickel out of it, and at that price, I might as well just wait a month for the digital copies to drop to half price.
Why Do I Read It? Currently, I’m not. The book’s on hiatus right now, to give artist Michael Lark a breather, but also in preparation for going to a quarterly format with longer stories, set to debut about a month from now. But when it returns, I’ll be reading it because it’s great near-future sci-fi, a dystopian war story about a future under feudal corporate rule. So there’s intrigue and action, intertwined with politics and character drama to create an intelligent, thought-provoking sci-fi drama.
Is It a Keeper? Yep! I’ve been buying it since issue one, and I’ve got the first 20 issues in hardcover for my bookshelf. Of course, those hardcover collections mean that if the original funnybooks ever became especially valuable, I’d be more than happy to part with them. And with the book having been picked up for a series by Amazon, that just might happen one day.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Why Do I Read It? Because it’s Alan Moore having fun with pulpy adventure stories and junk culture commentary. Because I’ve been reading it for 20 years now(!), and don’t plan to stop til it’s over. Because it’s Alan Moore’s funnybook swan song, his last major comics work before he retires from the medium for good (or at least until he has an idea for something else he’d like to do). And because it’s still one of the best books on the market, even if I do find the current volume a bit too tongue-in-cheek for my liking.
Is It a Keeper? Oh, yes. Though, like the rest of the League series, I will no doubt eventually have it for my bookshelf, and be willing to sell the original funnybooks.
Why Do I Read It? It’s a complex and twisty little crime story, and I love complex and twisty little crime stories. It’s got a fascinating villain: a serial killer (known to us only as The Lodger) who travels from town to town, befriending his victims under a variety of assumed identities before ending their lives. And it’s got a protagonist who’s maybe even more interesting: a survivor of a previous Lodger attack whose thirst for revenge threatens to make her just as crazy as he is. It’s David Lapham at his best, and while I hope this is a book with a beginning, middle and end that doesn’t take him away from his epic Stray Bullets for too long, it’s also nice to have him telling other stories.
Is It a Keeper? Definitely. Assuming this is eventually collected in a trade, it’ll join all of Lapham’s other major works (Stray Bullets, Young Liars, and Murder Me Dead) on my bookshelf. At which point (if I’m not sounding too much like a broken record here) I would be willing to sell my funnybook copies. But not before.
Love and Rockets
Why Do I Read It? Do I seriously need to answer this question? It’s Love and Rockets! The Hernandez Brothers! And while I’m not finding either Jaime or Gilbert’s current work (which is to say, their work since the most recent relaunch back to the book’s original magazine format) to be my favorite stuff of theirs… It’s still the freaking Hernandez Brothers, doing their patented blend of character drama and magic realism, and turning in some of the very best realistic cartooning ever to grace the comics page.
Is It a Keeper? Of course. Though I’m sure these current issues will never be worth very much, and though I’m equally sure this work will continue to be collected in book format, and though magazines are a pain in the ass to store… I wouldn’t part with them. I might switch back over to reading Los Bros’ stuff in books eventually, but I do enjoy getting the magazines as they come out.
Mage: The Hero Denied
Why Do I Read It? Because I’ve followed Matt Wagner’s fictionalized autobiography since the 80s, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to stop with so few issues remaining. But also because, even if I’ve found this final Mage volume a bit disappointing, I’m still a sucker for these heroic quest stories, and I’m genuinely curious to see how Wagner wraps his up. Especially considering that he’s still alive, and still writing, and this is supposed to be his own heroic journey as much as it is Kevin Matchstick’s.
Of course, considering the subtitle, I guess this may mean that he considers the “heroic” part of his life over. His kids are grown, and he hasn’t written much other than simple, pulpy stuff in a long time. He’s honed his basic storytelling skills, but at the same time, his work’s long-since ceased to have much in the way of strong themes or (sorry, Matt) even very interesting ideas. He’s become more of a craftsman than an artist. So… Hmm. I’ve really gotten way past what I usually discuss in these List write-ups, but the answer to the question at hand here is a bit more complicated than usual, too. I’m still reading Mage because I want to see it through, and maybe understand why I still love Wagner’s older work, and am so luke-warm to what he’s doing now.
Is It a Keeper? Probably not. I’m not sure I even still have my copies of the second Mage series (The Hero Defined), and I liked that one more than I do this one.
Why Do I Read It? In part, because the Martian Manhunter is one of my all-time favorite super heroes. He’s a classic weirdo, a strange-looking character with a bizarre array of powers (Shape-Shifting! Mind Reading! Super Strength! Flight! Invulnerability! Invisibility!), and I’ve always loved him for that. But there have been very few (if any) Martian Manhunter comics that were ever any good. And this one’s not great. Not mind-blowingly good. But it is the first one I’ve ever seen that embraces exactly how weird this character really is, and bakes that into his story from the ground-up. It’s the first one that makes his backstory cool and interesting, or that makes J’onn himself interesting as a character. It tosses any and all past continuity for him out the window, of course, but that’s probably a good thing. It was all pretty boring, and this freaky character deserves something more imaginative. Something better.
Is It a Keeper? So far, I’d say yes. I like Steve Orlando’s new origin story, and Riley Rossmo’s weird, angular, cartoony artwork. But at this point, we’ve only got two out of twelve issues, so who knows where it’ll go by the end?
Why Do I Read It? Heh. A-heh-heh.
Sorry. That question’s just too funny.
This is, of course, one of those “hope springs eternal” books I discussed last week. But, hey. I’ve been waiting to read the conclusion to Neil Gaiman’s Miracleman run since… what? The late 80s? And by all accounts from all involved parties (including artist Mark Buckingham), they will get around to it. Eventually. So why not leave it on The List? If that thing ever sneaks out, I’m gonna want one.
Is It a Keeper? Man, I didn’t even sell my original copies of this book when it was selling for ridiculous money, before Marvel reprinted the whole thing. You think I’m gonna part with it NOW? Pssh.
Why Do I Read It? Actually, I just started reading it. Seriously, like, in-between last week’s column and this week’s column, I read the whole damn series. All six trades, and the two most recent issues. So maybe the question I should be asking here is, “Why haven’t I been reading it all along?”
The answer to that question is easy: I don’t like The Walking Dead, or most other Robert Kirkman comics I’ve read. So I gave Kirkman’s second horror series a miss when it started. Which I suppose leads us to another question: “Why am I reading it now?”
Because I found a digital copy of the first trade for stupid-cheap money at some point, and decided to give it a shot. Then it sat on my tablet for… I’m really not sure how long (my backlog of cheap digital comics may be the subject of next week’s column, in fact). But I finally got around to it last week, and discovered that I really liked it. So now I can finally ask…
Why Do I Read It? Because it’s an interesting take on demonic possession horror. It has believable, flawed characters and a visceral take on exorcism that I like quite a bit. That said, about two-thirds of the way in, I started not to like it as much. Kirkman opens the story up from the claustrophobic beginning to show us more of the wider world, and the book moves from moody slow-burn horror into some kind of horror-adventure thing where exorcism is treated kind of like a super power. That makes it sound worse than it is. I mean, I kept reading it, and will probably follow it through to the end (which is evidently about ten issues away now). But those earlier, moodier issues were a lot better.
Is It a Keeper? Well… Since I don’t own any physical copies of this, it’s not an issue. But if I did… I don’t think it would be. It’s fun, but I’m kind of happy that it’s not cluttering up my house.
Why Do I Read It? Because it’s the best comic Brian Michael Bendis has written in quite some time, with the best artwork of Michael Gaydos’ career.
But also because it’s a good little crime comic about the tattoo industry, and its importance in Asian organized crime. Actually, we haven’t gotten a lot of that last bit yet. But it’s in there, and I find the artist’s perspective on this kind of story to be an interesting way to frame things.
Is It a Keeper? I think so. I mean, Bendis could still blow this if he gets over-worked and starts phoning it in like he was doing in his later days at Marvel. But if he keeps the quality up, I could see Pearl in the permanent collection.
Why Do I Read It? It’s a fun vampire comic that seldom fails to surprise me.
Is It a Keeper? Hmm. In the initial flush of discovery, I would have said yes. Now that the book’s had time to settle in and tell its story… I dunno. I don’t have any plans to sell it right now, but if a good offer came along, I could see myself going for it. Of course, I don’t have a first printing of issue one, so I doubt any offers like that will be materializing anytime soon…
Why Do I Read It? Considering that the second issue of this four-issue series came out last September, I’m not sure that I AM reading it anymore. But if Ann Nocenti and David Aja do manage to finish it, I’ll be reading it because I like them both an awful lot. This is Nocenti at her weirdly convoluted best, in a cautionary tale about ecological disaster, space aliens, and how the paranoid fears and stubborn idiocy of 21st-Century America could fester into something far worse if we’re not careful. And Aja’s accompanying artwork is the kind of beautiful minimalist stuff we’ve come to expect from him, with perhaps a little less of the formal storytelling experimentation he’s also famous for.
Is It a Keeper? Yeah. Yeah, it’s a Keeper. Even if they don’t finish it, I’ll enjoy looking at it again later.
Why Do I Read It? I am a great appreciator of the profane, when the profane is attached to compelling characters and interesting ideas. And this book delivers that combination, in spades. It’s about sex, love, and relationships, how all three of those things are connected, and how they complicate each other. But it’s also about sex as a super power. And stopping time. And jizz angels. And bloobing.
Like so many other books on The List, I’m not currently reading Sex Criminals because we haven’t seen a new issue since last June. But I’m hoping that Matt Fraction gets back to writing funnybooks soon. I miss it something fierce.
Is It a Keeper? You betcha. Though, since I’ve got the two hardcover collections (BIG HARD SEX CRIMINALS), I could possibly be convinced to part with my originals. If, again, the price was right.
Why Do I Read It? Long-time readers undoubtedly know the answer to this question by now, and if you want a (slightly out-of-date) long-form version of it, I would direct you here:
Short form, though, Stray Bullets is my favorite on-going funnybook. It’s an epic crime drama taking place over the course of 20 years, featuring a huge cast of well-developed (and utterly messed up) characters. There’s true love, horrible violence, funny jokes, deviant behavior, friendship, and madness. And I love it so.
Is It a Keeper? What part of “my favorite on-going funnybook” did you not understand?
Why Do I Read It? Because I’m also reading Action Comics, and I feel like I need to read this in case something important happens to affect that book. Because, taken on its own, this is not a comic I would read. It’s Brian Bendis in Big Dumb Action Movie mode, and while it has its moments, it’s largely kind of forgettable. I thought the second storyline might have been developing something interesting, but all the stuff I thought Bendis might have been leading into turned out not to be the case. And what he’s actually doing, while it (again) has a few cool ideas in it, isn’t great.
Is It a Keeper? Definitely not. I’m only reading it because it’s holding Action Comics hostage, and I’m not keeping Action, either. So this one’s a goner.
Why Do I Read It? See last week’s comments on Injection. This book was part of a Warren Ellis renaissance a couple of years ago, and it’s not finished, so I hope it comes back soon. The same team of Ellis and artist Jason LaTour is currently doing the not-as-good (and not on The List) Cemetery Beach, so I don’t know how much hope I should hold out for the return of this one. But they say it’s coming, so… Hope springs eternal.
Is It a Keeper? Probably. I could see myself selling it eventually, if only because the second arc wasn’t as good as the first, and I don’t know how the third’s going to be. But I’ll definitely be holding on to it at least until the book’s either over, or officially not coming back.
Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion
Why Do I Read It? Because I liked the first two series? Because I dig on Gabriel Ba’s artwork? Because I still think the concept has promise, even though this third series has been kinda disjointed and disappointing? Am I trying to convince you or myself, here…?
Is It a Keeper? I don’t think so. Truth be told, I’m not even sure if I still have the first two series. But I’ll be doing some spring cleaning in the library soon, so maybe I’ll see. I’m given to understand that I might be able to get decent money for it, anyway, now that the Netflix series has debuted.
The Wicked + The Divine
Why Do I Read It? Because I dig mythology and complicated genre mysteries. Also because I’ll read anything by the team of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. Gillen by himself often lets me down, but teamed with McKelvie, he never has so far. This book is about godhood and celebrity and culture, and how each new phase in human civilization tends to be shaped (or maybe just inspired) in its opening years. It’s twisty and quite good, with a few mysteries left to unpack, even as the series launches into its final chapter.
Is It a Keeper? Yes. I haven’t picked up any of the collected editions so far, I don’t think, in part because some of the series’ meditations on celebrity leave me cold. But it really is quite good, and I don’t see myself parting with the original comics unless I get it for the bookshelf. Or unless I can get enough for it to pay for the hardcovers…
X-Men: Grand Design
Why Do I Read It? Because it’s cool. The neo-underground style artwork of cartoonist Ed Piskor is a refreshing departure from standard super hero fare, but I like the look of the series as a whole. He’s also doing a great job on the story, taking 300 issues of X-Men comics and presenting them as something resembling a coherent history. I like the connections he’s drawing between the book’s various eras, and the small changes he’s making to the stories, sometimes so they’ll all connect better, but sometimes just because they didn’t make any damn sense in the first place. I liked that least in the stories I know the best, but it gives me a greater appreciation for the stuff I’ve never read or thought was actively bad. And considering that he’s entering the 90s with the third and final volume of this project… I can’t wait to see if he can make me appreciate that crap.
Is It a Keeper? Absolutely. This is the best X-Men comic since Grant Morrison left the book, and I’m happy to have it. The trade collections are even better. They’re being done at the old Treasury Edition tabloid size, and the first two have reprinted key X-Men stories, re-colored by Piskor to match the aesthetic of the rest of the book.
Aaaannnddd… That, finally, is all.
I started this thing off wondering why I was kicking so many more books than usual out to the selling pile, but somewhere along the way, the idea of “keepers and sellers” started to lose meaning. It’s like how, the more you think about a word, the more meaningless it becomes. “Cat” loses its context at some point, and just becomes an arbitrary sound attached to letters that have nothing to do with the animal they signify. And that’s what happened to me somewhere in the middle of all this. I mean… Why do I need to actually own ANY of this stuff? Keep it, let it go… What’s it matter? We are all just dust in the wind, maaaan.
But luckily, in that weird meaningless fugue state, the difference between keepers and sellers finally hit me, and I understood what was happening. I think it’s just that I’ve been picking up more books that are fun, but not great. Or maybe more accurately, books that appeal to my inner dork, but that don’t challenge or delight me. There’s nothing wrong with any of them. They soothe and entertain me. They’re fine examples of the things they are. They just don’t sing my particular weird tune.
So that, then, became my new standard: Does it sing to me? When I go back to a comic five, ten, fifteen years from now… when I pull it out of a box and look at it… will I be reminded of how beautiful and strange it is? Will it make me smile to be reminded that it exists?
If so… That’s a keeper.
If not… Well. Maybe it would be better to just go ahead and put that one out of its misery.
Or, rather, mine.
See you next week.