Dark "Superhero" comics

Great suggestions everyone, I’m putting together a nice shopping list :)

Has anyone here read Hench by Adam Beechen and Manny Bello? A very funny and dark look at being a minion. Kind of the Nickeled and Dimed for the world of superheroes.

I’m reading Planetary right now and loving it, even without the comics background. Am I missing a lot not knowing who any of the characters they meet are? And if so, is there any concise way to read up on them? I’m sure there’s nothing as convenient as the prequel movies Marvel did for The Avengers…

Random question for calibration purposes: do you know who The Four are based on?

It’s comically obvious to certain people, but it also helps set the foundation for how much to dump on you.

That is the cutest pun, but I haven’t a clue.

I’m really new to comics that aren’t of the Calvin & Hobbes variety, web or print.

No worries. I haven’t read Planetary in a while, so there will probably be some more detailed posts after mine, but as a good starting point: The Four are a teardown of one of Marvel’s more iconic groups (mediocre movies aside), The Fantastic Four.

I liked that a lot, along with the companion series Incorruptible.

For seriously dark stuff, you can’t go wrong with Garth Ennis. The Boys, The Pro one-shot, and his Punisher MAX runs have all been good anti-hero-superhero stuff.

Warren Ellis’ Black Summer and No Hero are also good ultra-violent “superhero” books. The Umbrella Academy books aren’t necessarily gory, but are darker and deal with more complex moral issues than the usual cape book.

And if you have never read Veitch’s Brat Pack or The Maximortal, look into those unless you really can’t abide black & white comics.

Both very good recommendations. DC lost a lot of credibility when they fired Simone.

A good chunk of “Planetary” is devoted to creating “dark” mirrors of silver-age Marvel heroes, so…

Not plot-spoilers, but…

There is a stand-alone comic where an US Army general recounts the creation of an analogue to Marvel’s “The Hulk”. In the “Planetary” universe, the army manages to capture the creature and they imprison it at the bottom of a five-mile deep shaft where it eventually starves to death after a few decades.

“The Four” are the main villains of the series, a group whose origin story is roughly similar to that of Marvel’s Fantastic Four, but in this case the four “heroes” use their powers to secretly control the world. It’s a cool riff on the nonsensical situation in most super-hero comics where the super-teams have technology advanced enough to build space stations, starships and teleporters, but they never make this world-hunger-ending largess available to the people of the world for reasons that are never explored.

Likewise there are some riffs on Thor, Galactus, the Silver Surfer, and a couple others. They also do Hong Kong action heroes, Godzilla movies, and 50s-era sci-fi movies. And of course they do Tarzan, The Shadow, Doc Samson, the Lone Ranger.

And there was one issue (the weakest of the series in my mind) where they do 80s-era British comics and Brit-authored comics like John Constantine, Swamp Thing and a few others, but that is the one book that doesn’t really have any impact on the final resolution. There is at least one issue where they do dark versions of the Superman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman origin stories – those these too are just one-shots and don’t really affect the outcome.[/spoiler]

Planetary is enjoyable enough without a background in super-hero comics, but there is definitely a layer of subtext that you’ll be missing if you aren’t familiar with the rudiments of that culture.

Oh, wow, I had no idea it was so extensive. I’ve been picking up on the way it’s riffing off genres (for example, I thought to myself “hey, that looks a lot like Godzilla, and it’s a giant monster!”), but I didn’t realize they were intended to be so specific.

This will definitely be one to go back to years from now with a new perspective.

Check out the Planetary Comics Appreciation Page: home.earthlink.net/~rkkman/frames/

The annotations for each issue are very helpful.

Was just about to bring that up, but decided to skim the previous posts to make sure no one had mentioned it already. I read Irredeemable a while back and while fun, it was pretty much just a rip off of the far superior Miracleman.

Moore is an unlikeable bastard, but man he can write.

I don’t know. I mean, there’s some crossover in that they both have a nearly omnipotent superpowered character go crazy and do some deconstruction of how people would generally react to these sorts of things being in their midst, but I feel like they have very different themes, emphases and narrative styles. Miracleman is very meditative and strange, grounded in its human elements and bizarre and awful in its horrific elements. Irredeemable is twist central and takes a fairly direct analogue of the DC universe and peels it apart.

Actually, that reminds me that J. Michael Straczynski did some fun stuff with this idea space - Rising Stars, which has a stellar event empower a whole bunch of kids all at once from one sleepy community, the subsequent government response, and their gradual filtration into society, then starts a story about what happens when someone starts killing them. And then a Marvel “MAX” line title called Supreme Power - evidently this was a Squadron Supreme reboot but I didn’t know it at the time. That’s pretty good too, although there are a few spinoffs that he didn’t write that maybe aren’t so hot.

His Nick Fury Max series are pretty similar to the Punisher stuff too (and Nick Fury appears in Punisher). It’s a bit smug and lecturing, but amusing over the top violence. He definitely peaked with Preacher though - everything since just seems less nuanced and resigned to the same type of character and predictable narrative beats.

I’ll toss in a quick recommendation for the Wild Card series of books from George R. R. Martin. I liked some of his alternate history take on superheroes in Cold War America. This isn’t a comic book, but you mentioned you enjoyed Soon I Will Be Invincible. It is definitely dark and takes a more nuanced look of normals and their fear of heroes.

Wow, that is an awesome analysis of each issue. (Even if the website itself is stuck in the 90s…)

My takeaway from the first few breakdowns is that I’ve been understanding things well enough in the cultural paradigm sense not to be missing out on too much of the fun that comes with knowing the specifics. Thanks for the link.

Edit: And I ended up knowing almost all the characters introduced in the back half of the series anyway. I was a little disappointed that they kept the original names of the public domain characters. It ended up feeling more like fan fiction that way. Fortunately, that bit was brief.

What did he do?

I almost mentioned Rising Stars as well, for the first third it’s a pretty good story about how things might turn out if people really did get super-powers, some good, some horrible, but I remember it being pretty dumb by the end. I don’t know if it would hold up at all now.

It’s been a while since I read Rising Stars but I don’t think I agree that it faltered along the way, though I seem to recall feeling that it moved a little too quickly and it could have used more space to justify its particular conclusion.

Well, it also had some delays toward the end, so I didn’t go back and read it until well after I’d read the first 2/3. Maybe that screwed up my perception. Still, it would be a second-tier recommendation at best from me.