Blacksad Rose

My Favorite Comics, sans Superheroes

I spend a lot of time ranting about superhero comics, especially the ones from Marvel and DC. Mainstream comics usually hold the most intrigue for me. They not only serve as a rare example of serial fiction that has lasted for decades on end, but also provide a good cultural snapshot of American society. Characters like Captain America and Wonder Woman are as ingrained in our popular consciousness as folklore legends like Paul Bunyan.

When it comes to sheer quality of storytelling in comics, though, superhero comics usually aren’t the way to go. Not that they are inherently inferior or anything, but they are so continuity-laden, riddled with conflicting interpretations, and driven by corporate agendas that the very best storytelling in comics tends to be divorced from that genre. Luckily, comics are a versatile medium with lots to offer beyond flights and tights. Here’s a look at some of my favorite non-superhero comics. I don’t mention them a lot in rants, but that’s largely because they’re so good that I don’t often have anything to say but, “This is awesome.”

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Superman's Secret Identity

Superman’s Secret Identity

Clark Kent’s glasses are both the most iconic and most ridiculed superhero disguise in comic book history. The disguise has been parodied in Saturday Night Live, called out as ridiculous in The Adventures of Lois and Clark, and called “the ludicrous glasses disguise” by David Goyer, one of the writers behind Man of Steel. How far can a pair of glasses and a changed hair style really get a person?

Well, actually, pretty far.

When confronted with this question in the Silver Age, Superman writers came up with a goofy explanation involving super-hypnosis and Kryptonian glasses. They didn’t have to try that hard. There are legitimate and believable reasons that people don’t immediately recognize Clark Kent as Superman.

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New 52

Successes from DC’s New 52

In 2011, DC Comics kicked off the “New 52,” canceling all of their previous titles and rebooting their superhero universe with 52 titles in a brand new continuity. Despite an initial uptick in sales, it’s safe to call the experiment a failure, as the whole continuity got rebooted again in 2016 with “Rebirth.”

There were a lot of reasons why the New 52 failed, but it primarily boils down to a lack of consistently good writing. DC editorial tried to pick and choose from the old continuity, deciding that some things happened and some things didn’t, but never developed a consistent timeline that its creative teams could follow. Editors also heavily meddled in the direction of the books, often hamstringing talented writers. (Prime example: the excellent Gail Simone getting what should have been her dream project on Batgirl, only for the story to turn joyless and perfunctory as the character got sucked into Batman’s “Death of the Family” crossover.)

Despite its failings, the New 52 did have a few gems. Here are a few titles I found really enjoyable.

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Leap Year Menace

Green Lantern in “The Leap Year Menace!”

Hal Jordan has always been one of my favorite comic book superheroes. At first it was simply because he had the coolest costume. Then I read his comics and found out that I like the character as well.

There are a lot of things that set Hal Jordan apart from the rest of the classic Silver Age superheroes, such as the fact that he’s got a female boss or the fact that his early issues dealt with racism against Inuits (yeah). But the biggest thing that sets him aside from others is that he’s an impulsive man-child. This is a guy who tries to do the right thing, but he’s hampered by the fact that he doesn’t think things through and is kind of an idiot. Perhaps because I am also a well-intentioned idiot, this resonates with me.

There seems to be a large amount of dislike for Hal around the Internet, with many people arguing that he’s boring. Like him or not, I can tell you one thing for sure: he’s not boring. Allow me to show you what I mean as we delve into the classic Silver Age Green Lantern story known as…“The Leap Year Menace!”

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Justice League

Crowning Moments of Awesome: The DCAU

When it comes to comic adaptations, the DC Animated Universe (DCAU) is pretty much the cream of the crop. Running for over a decade, the shared universe included Batman: the Animated SeriesSuperman: the Animated SeriesBatman BeyondJustice LeagueJustice League Unlimited, and various tie-in movies and comics. Each series was full of awesome moments.

A good number of the scenes below come from Justice League Unlimited, which is my favorite of the DCAU series, but that’s not intended as a slight to the other shows. Suffice it to say that most everything associated with the DCAU was awesome, and the shows generally got better as they went on.

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Captain America vs Hitler

Captain America Punching Hitler was Once Controversial

In 1941, the people of the United States got their first taste of a superhero known as Captain America. This star-spangled soldier introduced himself to the world by punching Adolf Hitler in the face. Can’t get more American than that, right?

Too bad Cap’s creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby got death threats over it.

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