Friday, 31 December 2010

Inspired by...

I've just finished reading the collected 3 volumes of Brian M. Bendis and Alex Maleev's Daredevil run. An interesting take on a character that, despite some less than great creative directions over the years (especially on screen), I've always had a soft spot for.

Part of the reason for that fondness comes from reading the Frank Miller Klaus Janson run on the character.

Those issues took Daredevil, a second-rate Spider-Man with a twist, to a whole new level of comic book story telling. I know a lot of people who got into comics because of those stories.

Which got me thinking... which comic books inspired me to want to write these things?

And so, with the new year approaching, I thought I'd make a nice list for you all - everyone likes lists, right?

In no necessary order...

1. Frank Miller, Klaus Janson - Daredevil - Filling out the character, adding catholic guilt and personal tragedy - it all seems so obvious now. But when Miller took over writing duties on the low-selling Daredevil series, he managed to add a roster of supporting characters who remain some of the most 3 dimensional characters around (Ben Ulrich, anyone?). Together, this creative team made this book a must read. Elektra, Bullseye, Ninja and Matt Murdock's chess-battle with the Kingpin - all themes which continue to define the character to this day, some 30 years later. Also, some of the most human stories to appear in comics years before it became popular. The Angel Dust, Punisher story-line is simply perfect.

2. Alan Moore, David Lloyd - V for Vendetta - Forget the movie. Please, forget the movie. V for Vendetta came to me in two chunks. Chunk one was in Warrior Magazine. It was a strange story in amongst other strange stories, seemingly told by 2000ad alumni who had grown up, wandered off, become disillusioned. I loved it. The second chunk was as the DC mini-series, which repackaged the story and finished it off (something which Warrior's early demise had left undone). It came to me at a time when my father was in prison, the power's that be were a pain in the arse and authority was crossing the line in Britain with regular alacrity. Everything that the story told, albeit in exaggerated tones, was seemingly coming to pass, although with more of a "smile" on it's face. Toned down and at once bleak and inspirational, I read and re-read this series more than any other.

3. John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra - Strontium Dog - 2000ad had a big influence on me as a young reader. Part Sci-Fi, part action, part horror, part humour, it was all things punk and anti-establishment, all things new and exciting. Strontium Dog, in many ways, was a calm little island amidst all the noise. It was about not belonging, about being different, about being able to rise above all of the hate thrown at you and be honourable. And it was about the most human story telling to appear in the comic. Rejected as a freak by his father, sent to die, but somehow becoming a beacon of everything good about his kind, Mutant Johnny Alpha operates as one of the titular Dog's. A bounty hunter for only the most dangerous criminals. Humour played a part, as it always seemed to with 2000ad stories, but it was when Alpha's back story started to get filled in, and when his friendship (bro-mance) with Wulf, his partner, started to take more story up, that it really became something special.

4. Grant Morrison, Steve Yowell (and Brendan McCarthy) - Zenith - I will get this out of the way now. Grant Morrison is probably my favourite comic book writer ever. He invents, creates, explodes with ideas in a way that no other writer in the field does. Often creating polarized opinions of his work. I am firmly in the Grant Morrison is Great camp on this one. Zenith was an early work by him, and an oddity in 2000ad. Odd because it was a superhero story. Something they had never done. It was, however, undertaken with pitch perfection. Told in 4 "phases", Zenith is a rock-star super hero, more interested in his column inches and chart position than in saving anything. Morrison introduced ancient gods attacking reality, and multi-verses crumbling under duress, as well as an evil Richard Branson-a-like in the first three stories alone. It was quite simply some of the most exciting and inventive comic book work I had ever seen. Sadly, anyone wanting to check this series out will either have to be rich or know someone who has it. It has been out of print for several years, following ownership issues between the creators and the publishers.

5. Alan Moore, Alan Davis - Captain Britain - Captain Britain was one of those books that I found in a flea-market style market place. A second hand book store in a market would have comics in a box under one of it's shelves, and my friends and I would rummage through them once a week, picking the best out, before heading off to read them over a plate of Pie and Mash in Tooting. The initial comics were just Marvel UK editions, original and classical Marvel comics, combined Captain Britain with reprints (including the rather excellent Jim Steranko's Nick Fury series, which would be on this list, but I feel it cheats a little as a back up strip). Later he found himself in his own book, written by Moore. People who do not know Moore's work, or presume that he is in anyway responsible for the movies carrying his work's names, are missing out on a great writer. He manages to filter magic (and magick) into four-coloured worlds, and really invests the reader into those worlds more than one would expect. Captain Britain was flawed, but very British - with just the right dash of horror.

6. Warren Ellis, John Cassaday - Planetary - Planetary came at a moment when I had lost interest in comic books. My own second phase into that whole world. Books seemed to be less and less interested in story telling and more into merchandise and mass-production. Planetary deconstructed the idea of the super-hero, or more importantly, the comic book. It took the whole idea to pieces, chapter by chapter, idea by idea, and then rebuilt it as a comic book. Familiar yet fresh. Cassaday's crisp art work and Ellis' smart ideas combined across some 30 issues (spread over a 10 year release period) with very little flab or wrong-footedness amongst them.

7. Chris Claremont, John Byrne - X-Men - It's kind of hard to get across how influential, how important the X-Men once was. In particular the Uncanny X-Men. Now it is the over-used, over-sold, over-mentioned every-comic, with Wolverine especially appearing in every book possible. It is a bloated, continuity heavy mess of characters and resurrections. But once, long ago, and for a very long time, Claremont and Byrne (who joined him later) made it the most 'must-read' book ever. I remember the exact issue which drew me into that world - I remember picking it up randomly at a store, the same store where I picked up my first issue of Moore's Swamp Thing - Wolverine alone against the Hellfire club. Beautiful story, characters and art, and I was hooked.

8. Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguie - Justice League (International) - It was the late 80's, early 90's. Comics were a miserable place. Everyone was obsessed with being the next Watchmen or Dark Knight Returns, everyone wanted their super heroes to be wracked with doubt, anger, fear, humanity. So for this title to exist, and to be such a success, says a lot more about the types of books people wanted over the idea from publishers about what people wanted. Taking lesser known and ranked costumed characters and imbuing them with more humanity and neurosis than an episode of the Sopranos, but keeping the mood light, fun even. Justice League was more like an episode of Friends than a comic book. But a great episode of friends. I still care about the characters that appeared in this series now, even though the publishers seem not to.

9. Peter Milligan, Chris Bachalo - Shade The Changing Man - Taking a forgotten D.C. character (in this instance a Steve Ditko one), and twisting the premise through the Vertigo wringer seemed all the rage back in the 90's. Making sure that you had a British writer on board was par for the course. Shade was an amazing series about people and character and madness. It is truly one of the most heartfelt series I have ever read, and contains some of the most grounded and surreal characters in comics. Initially starting as a walk through the mad-side of American culture, the character's soon found their own voices and came to life in a long running and beautifully realised series.

Well, that will do for now. There are plenty more, which I may revisit at a later date. But for now, thanks for reading, have a great new year, and see you all in 2011!

Coming soon, as I leave behind the Universes of Marvel and DC for a whole year, I will be recommending indie titles each week which I think people would enjoy. People, like me, who want a break from continuity and event driven franchises, and would rather read comics for the, you know, stories and art...


Javier Hernandez said...

Have only read three of the series you listed: Daredevil, X-Men & Strontium Dog.

Miller really became an inspiring storytelling to me because of his
work on DAREDEVIL. Although I don't care for his mismatched collaboration with Jim Lee on BATMAN & ROBIN. His DARK KNIGHT sequel was a mess, and his direction on the SPIRIT movie has perplexed me to no end! But I still hold out hope for a 'return' of some sorts. Perhaps XERXES may be what I'm looking for?

X-Men by Claremont & Byrne remains a nostalgic favorite of mine. Very good use of multi-character narrative.

And Strontium Dog? You get a gold star for having him on your list! Recently on Twitter I was encouraging a friend to check out this series.

Have a great 2011!


pdore said...

Fun list Jamie!!