Monthly Archives: January 2019
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Thirty years ago reading a comic book in the presence of your classmates in a middle school was a surefire plan to get picked on relentlessly. Now, every third movie and new television show is about one superhero or another or a team of them combined. The world has changed and now the geeks rule pop culture. So what do you read if you like being on the cutting edge of graphic novels? How do you boost your geek cred in a world where the popular people know the significance of Bobbi Morse and who Caitlin Snow really is? There are only two places left and I’m going to tell you where to find them (if you don’t already know).
Before I delve into the mines of alternative superheroes, I want to quickly mention other options. There are plenty of great graphic novels out there that don’t have anything to do with super heroes. You can find everything from mystery to fantasy to history to horror and even physics covered in books of sequential art. Our blog titled Little Known (but Amazing) Graphic Novels covers some great options that are not as well known. By that same token, Superhero 101: Foundations in Superhero History can give you some great reading suggestions from the heroes of the distant past. In fact there are a lot of great books out there that might even be considered superhero books if I weren’t sticking with the cape and cowl set. So while Buffy and Harry Dresden and the New Types of the Gundam universe might be super powered they’ll have to stay on the shelf today.
The most common place to look for new super heroes for your reading enjoyment is …the other publishers. There are dozens of small imprints and local publishers but you don’t even have to look that hard. If you are a fan of the super hero books from Marvel and DC, but just want something new try looking at Image, Valiant, and Dark Horse. While these guys are outside of the big corporations, they’ve been around for a while and many of their books have the history and depth you are used to.
Dark Horse is the oldest, dating back to 1986, and has specialized in the types of characters that don’t fit the traditional mold of a superhero, but they do have a few exceptions in their history.
- They had a revival of Doc Savage, a physician trained mentally and physically to superhuman levels (think Batman). There are many claims that he is the first superhero, predating certain Kryptonians by five years.
- Ghost was another more traditional hero, she was an undead spirit who spent her afterlife righting wrongs.
- The American was a cynical take on the patriotic type superhero.
Valiant is more traditional in its character creation. While they did some revivals back in the early nineties, like Turok and Doctor Solar, they had their own stable of superheroes.
- X-O Manowar is a Dark Age European warrior kidnapped by aliens who stole their greatest weapon and turned it on them only to return to earth and discover that, due to time dilation, 1600 years had passed.
- Ninjak is a superspy meets techno ninja. It sounds like cool overload, but this Joe Quesada created hero manages to pull it off.
- Bloodshot was a nanite infected assassin who was trying to rediscover the past that was stolen from him.
Image is possibly the best known of the alternative publishers. In actuality it was a collection of creator owned studios trying to start a company where the idea men actually remained in control of their characters. The initial line up of talent with image was legendary. Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee, Todd McFarland, Erik Larsen, Jim Valentino and Marc Silvestri all had their own studios producing new characters and new stories like we’d never seen before. Liefeld eventually left somewhat acrimoniously, Lee sold his Wildstorm Productions to DC and the modern day has seen a shift to a more diversified field of titles with things like Saga and Walking Dead (which we have at the library). While the company has seen changes to its direction since 1992, the list of superheroes they created is lengthy and many are worth a read.
- The Savage Dragon was Erik Larsen’s childhood creation brought to the page in form he wanted. A green, scaly, fin headed humanoid with invulnerability and super strength.
- Spawn took a deal with the devil and turned it into one of the most popular anti-heroes of the era.
- Witchblade is a series detailing the stories of a mystical gauntlet that bonds with women and gives them the ability to fight evil.
One other place to look for stories you’ve never read is the past. Golden age comics are where it all began and while there are decades of stories out there about the heroes you already know, there are other great heroes you may not be quite so familiar with. Marvel predecessor, Timely Comics, gave the world Captain America and Namor, but they also created the original versions of the Angel, Vision, and Human Torch as well as the speedster known as the Whizzer (the Nazi-fighting Destroyer), and the Blazing Skull (the champion of Freedom). DC’s history is even deeper. Not only do they have a host of golden age superheroes you’ve never heard of, they have added those of other now defunct companies to their in-house universe. Fawcett comics gave the line Captain Marvel and the Marvel family, probably better known as Shazam. Quality Comics published the early adventures of the hero Plastic Man as well as Will Eisner’s original Spirit. Fox Comics (and later Charlton Comics and Americomics) created the Blue Beetle, Captain Atom and the Question. These are just a few of the many options from golden age.
If you’re bored with the current run of comics and tired of seeing the same old stories retold, look into the corners of the other heroes and the past and find new books to rekindle your love of heroes.
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
It’s the start of a new year. A blank slate for new beginnings and refreshing our resolutions and to do lists. That means it is also time for our 3rd annual New Year’s Reading Challenge! (Please make sure your read that in your head with the appropriate cheesy deep toned echo sound effect).
Last year, I tried to theme the options to the month or season they were in. I’m not doing that for 2019. There’s no order, very few rules and will be a challenge the whole family can participate in. There will be three challenge levels; Novice, Reader, and Book Wyrm.
The Novice Level is the simplest level with the easiest qualifications. Read twelve books and twelve periodicals at your reading level. That’s it. Just one book and one magazine or newspaper per month at the level you read comfortably. So if you’re in third grade you don’t have to try to read outside the level your teacher thinks is appropriate, but if you’re 43 let’s leave the Beverly Cleary to the youngsters. The only rule is read the whole book and the whole magazine or newspaper.
The Reader Level is more complicated it’s still 24 books and periodicals but instead of having free reign to read everything you want, this one guides you a bit. With this level you will choose twelve of the options from the list for the Book Wyrms and twelve books or periodicals of your choice. The rules are the same as the novice, read it all the way through, and it has to be at your reading level. The only new regulation here is that you can’t have more than 12 periodicals. If you want to read all books, and no periodicals, that’s fine.
Finally, it is The Book Wyrm Level (devour those books in your literary hoard!). If you’ve made it this far, you probably already planned to read at least two books a month and now you want someone to make it a little difficult. Well, you’ve come to the right place. Below is a list of twenty-four challenges (with two bonus challenges for those of you who want to do a book every two weeks rather than two a month). These are some of my favorite selections from lists from the past, mine and otherwise. All the rules from above apply.
- A book that was published in 2019
- A book that has won a major award[i]
- A banned book
- A book that was given to you as a gift (even if you have to give it to yourself)
- Read a single issue of a comic book
- A book with a song lyric for a title
- A book from an author you’ve never heard of before
- A collection of Short stories from a single author
- A graphic novel that has nothing to do with superheroes or zombies
- A book you were supposed to read in high school or college, but didn’t
- The next book in a series you’ve started
- A collection of poetry
- A Classic of Genre fiction[ii]
- A book with a terrible cover
- A book set in a country that fascinates you
- A book you meant to read last year
- A collection of poetry
- Listen to an audio book
- A book you’ve checked out or bought but never read
- Something from a book club list, either online, on TV or in your community
- A book that was translated from another language
- Something from an author that writes in English but is not American
- A magazine on a subject you’ve always been interested in
- Read a book with somone, or a group of people
Bonus 1: Reading builds a person’s ability to empathize, read a book that tells the story from a point of view you are unfamiliar with.
Bonus 2: Do all of these challenges using making sure that each title you read starts with a different letter in the alphabet. Use this one for any book with that last letter you need.
Read and enjoy and watch this blog for potential opportunities to interact with other people in the challenge.
[i] National Book Award, Man Booker, PEN/Faulkner, Hugo, Nebula, Eisner, Rita, Edgar, Newberry, Caldecott to name a few.
[ii] Mystery, Scisnce Fiction, Romance, Adventure, Western, etc.