I carry with me at all times a near-perfect recipe for making new comics readers:

Good comics.

That is the best way to convince people this stuff is worth their time. By showing them. But a random confluence of events has brought together some particular comics in my shoulder bag. These comics together represent many of the talking points I think might help people to recognize comics as the separate, viable, wonderful art medium it is. And as I walk the streets of New York City I thought I would share with you what they are and why I think they might work as somebody's 'first comic'.

Some of these I bought just recently, some of them were given to me as birthday presents, some of them I have because I'm reading them, some of them because I am or was reviewing them, or both the former and the latter:

"Electric Ant" #1
From Icon (an imprint of Marvel Comics), David Mack's and Pascal Alixe's adaptation of Phillip K. Dick's prose novel

Opening a comic such as this one can lead to thoughts like: Oh, a smart adaptation of a prose novel? It's really not a new edition is it? Comics isn't just illustrated prose. It's a different experience of the same story. Not a translation, an adaptation. Just the idea that a book can become a comic in the same way a book can become a film encourages one to think of it as smart mass media entertainment instead of junk. And it's by David Mack (@davidmackkabuki), of "Kabuki" fame. So you know it's good.

"Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island" #2
From Avatar Press, Warren Ellis' and Raulo Caceres' steampunk crazy time

Well... This one's crazy and perhaps not great for most new readers. Shocking an old lady with bloody violence and guns that shoot tiny light bulbs for bullets probably won't endear her to my beloved sequential art. But someone who digs steampunk, someone who likes things off the beaten path. Pirate ships flying on electric oars? They should see this stuff. The imagination owned by Warren Ellis (@warrenellis) has few equals in the field of comics. The evidence of vibrant imagination in the art-form is priceless to an argument that it should be appreciated. I bought issue #1 on a whim and I'm glad I did.

"Superman: Earth One"
DC's experimental graphic novel written by J. Michael Staczynski and drawn by recent L & S interviewee Shane Davis

This one has blown not only individual brains but the entire industry straight to the ground. A depiction of Superman as a 20-year-old young man with the problems of the average modern American 20-year-old: what the fuck do I do with my life? how the fuck do I do it? why am I doing it? To see a superhero character made so simply and easily relatable would no doubt be a major eye-opener to many who see superheroes (most particularly ones like Supes) as dumb jocks in a cape. No, the main genre found in the medium isn't only punching and explosions. My review of this just went up days ago.

"Captain America: Man Out of Time" #1
A new series from Mark Waid and Jorge Molina about one of Marvel's first superheroes

Speaking of recent comics re-telling a superhero's story from their own point of view, this is another great-looking work. Captain America is, in the perception of the mainstream, probably the only more prissy superhero than Superman. But, as usual, the mainstream is missing the new trees because it is expecting to see an old forest. I was sold on this issue the moment I saw the way Waid (@markwaid) brought Cap from World War II through his frozen state to the present in two successive splash pages. Someone who doesn't know what mainstream superhero comics are actually like will be amazed to see so 'goofy' a character as Captain America presented with such imagination and gravitas.

"Amazing Spider-Man" #648
With a three-year debacle behind him (mostly) Marvel's Spider-Man moves on to the "Big Time" with Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos

Well... I haven't read this yet. But it ISN'T "Brand New Day". So it might be more new reader-friendly than Spider-Man has been for a few months to a few years, depending on your point-of-view. Dan Slott (@danslott) has a great ability with humor. Anybody with a funny bone would probably enjoy Slott's writing and thus prove that the Joss Whedon style of dramedy can be found in comics, further proving that it's capable of anything.

"Falling for Lionheart"
A glorious mash-up of the two worlds of American comics by Ilias Kyriazis, released on the same day as "Superman: Earth One" from IDW

Not having actually read this, I can only comment on what it looks like. But it looks like one of the best graphic novels of the year and maybe the best 'first readers' graphic novel I have ever seen. It tells the story of Lionheart, a super-powered man on a state/corporate-approved team of superheroes. It is also the story of a man who feels that something about this life is hollow and chooses to make autobiographical mini-comics to express his ennui. None of that is new material (superheroes beholden to centers of authority, characters who make comics about their lives), except of course the brilliant twist that these men are one-and-the-same! Yes, "Falling for Lionheart" is about a superhero who is also an underground comicsmith. A tortured artist superhero love story. The two strongest arms of American comics re-introduced in one slim volume. I'm going to LOVE it. Look for a review soon.

I hope this silly list serves a few purposes for you, dear L&S readers:
1. I hope it has laid out just a little bit more of the incredible variety available in the medium of sequential art.
2. I hope you now know that you can ask me for reading material, if you ever see me on the street!
3. I hope you have some ideas about how to get that special STUBBORN someone in your life to give comics a chance. Lord knows there's plenty of them left out there...


21-Year-Old Clark Kent "had to save the Earth. And at the end it's believable."

"Superman: Earth One" from DC Comics

Penciler Shane Davis said that to me when I interviewed him early last month at New York Comic-Con. I suspect that we, as humans, are designed to only believe that which we see before our eyes. That is why the promotional tagline for the 1978 "Superman: The Movie" was "You Will Believe a Man Can Fly". But Superman is a do-gooder. He makes the choices we all think we would make thrown into extraordinary circumstances. Often without reservation or hesitation. As Bradford Wright said in the History Channel documentary "Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked": "We couldn't accept a goodie-goodie coming down and doing things just because they were good, but we could accept somebody who felt some twisted emotional need to fight evil." The question has been raised: 'How believable is that "goodie-goodie"?' J. Michael Straczynski's and Shane Davis' graphic novel "Superman: Earth One" attempts to give us new answers in a new story unburdened by either old Superman stories or the 22-page monthly comic-book format. Possibly even as a first step toward an ongoing series of graphic novels with the gravitas of something like a big-budget film franchise.

The scope is certainly cinematic, in fact it's more like a Hollywood action movie than any comic I've ever read. That means it's exciting, action packed, smartly structured, and visually stunning, with just a splash of powerful emotion but it also means it all moves too fast leaving a few emotions, circumstances, and characters without full development. Clark Kent is introduced on page 1, he displays superpowers on page 5, we have a threat introduced on pages 37 to 45, fighting begins on page 74 and lasts until page 104. This threat, an alien invasion with ties to Clark's original home planet of Krypton, is (mostly) resolved and a status quo is established by the final page clocking in at 124. The people who interpreted the promotion and design to indicate a 'sensitive' Clark Kent, an emo Superman, just about couldn't have been more wrong: BIG explosions, punching, flying, and dramatic hero vs. villain talking moves along, broken only by flashbacks, for 60 pages. A little bit under half, but a little bit too much for my liking.

That leaves only about 35 pages of pure character development. Just a third of the book, and a little bit short for my liking. 'How sad,' I thought when I hit the 40th page of the graphic novel, flipped ahead, and saw that the quiet scenes were mostly behind me. We get 30 pages of character, 60 pages of fighting, and 20 pages of set-up for the sequel? Or so I thought. Amid those pages of superhero fighting in the skies of Metropolis there's 13 pages of very emotional flashback to Clark's babyhood on Krypton or Smallville-style teenage years of being raised by Ma and Pa Kent in images and highly effective dialogue. OKAY, ENOUGH NUMBERS NOW. All of that should not stand against the simple fact that there is still more character moments than the average superhero comic.

The beauty of the story is in those flashbacks to Clark's conversations with Jonathan Kent. We're given some wonderful, sad, meaningful dialogue about growing-up, taking risks, and choosing your path in those snippets. "That's when we wake up. That's when we know who we are. That's when people will show up and take your side-- When you decide what it is you stand for, when standing is the hardest." Straczynski with all the headlights on, forging ahead into darkness. This is what I was looking forward to for the past year.

The beauty of the book itself is in the art: there are moments in here where Shane Davis' pencils and Barbara Ciardo's colors are at a caliber second to none. I compare it to John Cassaday and Laura Martin's work on "Planetary". (Yes, THAT good.) The splash page of the little ship holding baby Clark as he shoots past collapsing buildings in the last moment before Krypton's destruction. Davis and Ciardo firing on all cylinders, making other worlds appear. That is the thing I didn't predict I would love so much.

And the moments in which the storytelling synergy of script and pencils come together: Clark flies in a series of relative POV panels all the way into the stratosphere, the moment Superman wakes up in free-fall remembering his father's words encouraging him to "fly". They are magnificent.

But there are moments where it didn't all come together for me. Moments that were a little too easy. Dramatic, but over-played. Clark becoming a reporter for The Daily Planet at the end, putting on the suit for the first time in the middle:

That said, I think the final effect is that we do have the most believable Superman we have ever seen in a comic. And, as a direct result, the most heroic. He does make difficult decisions about his purpose and you can imagine a young man in his position making his choices. He must make a choice with the possibility of sacrificing what he wants personally for what he perceives is needed in the world according to his ability. And when he puts his own needs aside to make those choices, a financial, social, and emotional sacrifice is made. My generation is making that decision every day. Clark Kent really becomes a SuperMAN. Jimmy Olsen is replaced with James Olsen and this new grown man of a character speaks some inspirational words. (This is amazing if you've seen enough 1940s-50s Superman comic-book covers.) Olsen almost steals the show. Perry White is a newspaperman in a world of dying newspapers. He refuses to give up. Lois Lane seems, to me, to be the owner of the short end of the stick. She seems the same.

The question of whether an out-of-continuity graphic novel implying a series of new-continuity graphic novels featuring a well-known superhero could sell enough to warrant those sequels actually being greenlit has been answered. Another Superman Earth One graphic novel will arrive and the sales numbers have been clearly stated as the reason. [via DC: Source blog] And the Long and Shortbox Of It would like to congratulate J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis for those sales and being allowed to continue this project together because of those sales numbers.

But is the comic good?

There is no question that what has been created here is a full-length work, a movie on paper, a novel in pictures: a graphic novel by just about any definition you can throw at it. It's over 100 pages. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It was created and published in one push by a single creative force consistantly responsible for what is on the page. It depicts a character in a moment of true emotional difficulty and growth. It stands as a work by itself, but with the potential for sequels and prequels. My answer to whether or not the graphic novel was good is: Yes. It is in fact, great. But no, it is not exceptional. Being a graphic novel, it competes on a different playing field against things like last year's "Asterios Polyp", "Blankets", and the Scott Pilgrim series but it opens up new worlds of possibilies.

More high quality graphic novels from Marvel or DC, either with superheroes or other genres, featuring established characters or new ones, in-continuity or out-of-continuity?

Possibilities I look forward to. And in the meantime, we have a beautiful Hollywood-style graphic novel in "Superman: Earth One".

~ @JonGorga