Saturday, February 1, 2014

Lists -- Just Something Made To Be Blown Up!

Doug:  Welcome back!  Well, welcome back to Karen and me.  It's good to be back behind the wheel, although I'll stand by comments I've made in the past that some of you could be running your own show and it would be quite successful!  Today's subject for conversation was inspired by a couple of emails I received from in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  DC Comics was offering special pricing on their "25 Essential Graphic Novels", at only $5.99 for the Kindle platform.  I was intrigued, until I got to the lower sections of the email and actually saw what these 25 books were.  Let's just say, this fish wasn't biting.

Doug:  Who doesn't like a list?  Let's face it -- the best thing about lists is that they immediately spawn a simultaneous chorus of affirmations as well as "boos".  I look at the list below (which was copied/pasted from the Collected Editions blog; the original hyperlinks to these titles' pages on are carried forward to this post.  My thanks for the legwork previously done!) and it certainly doesn't scream "Must Have Reading!"  I'd grant you that there may be a tome or two that I'd put on my list, but if I wanted to school a DC-ignorant fan on the lore of the company there are many titles here that wouldn't make my cut.

Doug:  The titles marked with an asterisk below are new to DC's latest list; those not marked were on a similar list of 30 Essential Graphic Novels that DC recommended around six years prior.

• Watchmen
• Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
• Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes
• Batman: Year One
• V for Vendetta
• Saga of the Swamp Thing Vol. 1 *
• Fables Vol. 1: Legends in Exile
• Batman: The Killing Joke *
• Y, The Last Man Vol. 1: Unmanned
• All-Star Superman *
• Kingdom Come
• Batman: The Long Halloween
• League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 1 (previously Vols. 1 and 2)
• Batman: Earth One *
• Green Lantern: Rebirth
• American Vampire Vol. 1 *
• Blackest Night *
• Final Crisis *
• JLA Vol. 1 (previously New World Order)
• Identity Crisis
• Batman: Hush (previously Vols. 1 and 2)
• Joker *
• Flash: Rebirth *
• Superman: Earth One *
• Planetary *

For the record, those books that have now been retired from DC's Essentials list are:

• Sandman: Endless Nights
• Superman For All Seasons 
• Superman: Birthright 
• Superman/Batman: Public Enemies
• Batman: Arkham Asylum
• Batman: Dark Victory
• Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again
• Crisis on Infinite Earths
• Transmetropolitan, Vol. 1: Back on the Street 
• Quitter
• Hellblazer: Original Sins
• Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne 
• Sword Of The Dark Ones 
• Ex Machina Vol. 1: The First Hundred Days

Doug:  Well?  What do you think?  Today we'd like you to nominate collected editions and/or graphic novels from DC's history that you would consider "essential".  How shall we define that term "essential"?  I don't know -- what say we craft that definition as we go along?  That sounds like just another layer of controversy -- and isn't that what makes for an interesting conversation?  Thanks for playing today, and thanks again for your efforts over the past 30 days.  And come back tomorrow -- we'll do this drill again on the Marvel side of the aisle!


Humanbelly said...

Man, how could DEATH OF SUPERMAN/REIGN OF THE SUPERMEN not be included? Granted, that's a BIG ol' omnibus, but even for the non-Supes fan (moi), it's compelling, engaging, highly entertaining, and on the whole really does serve as a fine gateway into the DC Universe.

Oh wait. . .

Maybe that's the problem?

I've been out of touch w/ DC for a loooooong time. Is it possible that Super-Arc is on the wrong side of a DC Universe reboot or three? And therefore is no longer canon or considered "relevant"?

Hmm. One has to wonder who came up with the list. I daresay it looks more Marketing Dept-driven than Editorial. . . and many of the titles are ones that show up for cheap FREQUENTLY on the pages of book clubs like SFBC and QPBC. Heck, I got V FOR VENDETTA about 15 years ago as a remainder at huge book clearing-house store in Michigan.

Just seems. . . dubious to me.


Doc Savage said...

The best intro to (real) DC (as opposed to Nu-DC) would have to be Showcase Presents Superman Family. You get huge dollops of Superman mythos, one of comics' best supporting casts, adventure, and humor. 500+ pages for under $20.

For the flavor of modern DC, I recommend beating one's head against the nearest wall until one passes out. It's "gritty" and "realistic."

Edo Bosnar said...

I agree with HB, seems like a list compiled by a marketing department, perhaps based on more recent sales figures.

Of the material on the list with which I'm familiar and/or have read, I can agree with Watchmen, Swamp Thing (ah, heck, anything on it written by Moore) and ... that's about it.
Some of the entries I think are good, but not necessarily essential. Case in point: All Star Superman. I thought that was a really solid and enjoyable Superman Elseworlds story, and nothing more. To this day, I don't understand all of the gushing praise I've read about that series - often it's characterized as "the best Superman story, ever." Really? Viewing it in the context of Elseworlds (and I refuse to see it any other way), it's not even the best in that category. Personally, I like Gerber's Last Son of Earth, Millar's Red Son, Chaykin's Son of Superman, and Busiek's Secret Identity, just to name a few, much more. Also, although it's more of a World's Finest story, Byrne's Generations I and II.

Others I'd consider more essential include: Englehart's run on Detective, as collected in the Strange Apparitions tpb, the Legion's Great Darkness Saga, Byrne's 6-issue Man of Steel mini-series, and the original Batman/Ra's al Ghul saga as collected in the Son of the Demon tpb. Another personal favorite that most people probably don't think of when compiling 'best of' lists is the Wrath of the Spectre tpb collecting the Fleischer/Aparo stores from Adventure.

William said...

Here are some I'd put on the list.

• Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight Marshall Rogers

• Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams Vol. 3

• Batman: Mad Love and Other Stories

• Batman: Year One

• Batman: DKR

• Man of Steel Vol. 1

• The Death of Superman

• Crisis on Infinite Earths

• Legends

• Justice League International Vol. 1

david_b said...

As with most responses here, I just ask myself,with all the rebooting and reimaging, 'Why does it matter..?'

If you're going to get to the key concepts of characters, is it worth going back to either the hardcover 'From the 30s to the 70s' books for either Batman or Superman any longer..?

Stories like 'Mad Love' are certainly very entertaining and insightful for Harley and Joker's relationship, but I guess it's what DC's trying to address here.

I'd go with the above mentioned '30s to the 70s' set, along with 'Greatest Joker Stories', 'Batman:Year One' and definitely the Flash Cronicles and Lantern Showcases.

Is it basically down to someone's favorite stories of the current generation (or like HB said, some marketing decision..), or are they entertaining stories to learn about the characters and what makes 'em tick..?

oh, and great point on the head-beating, Matt.

Anonymous said...

I'd say Crisis and Transmetropolitan should have stayed on the "Essential" list. The first ten titles (plus League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) are all pretty good...I've got no problem with them being on the list.

As for additions...maybe some Kubert war stuff, some Deadman, maybe Wolfman/Perez's Titans, and Fleisher's Jonah Hex...that's a well-rounded list. Maybe even Grell's Warlord (although that's a personal preference...most people probably wouldn't consider it "essential").

Mike W.

Humanbelly said...

Yep, I agree-- good point, MattC. And to continue on that point: Surely, SURELY, "grim & gritty"-toned story-telling MUST be years past its likely trend expiration date by now, mustn't it? It's literally a decades-old motif in the mainstream, and has been cliche' and an object of parody for at least the last fifteen. That mainstream pendulum has GOT to swing at some point, sooner or later. . .


Edo Bosnar said...

Oops - above I meant to say the Tales of the Demon tpb, not Son of the Demon.
William reminded of a few books that I think should be essential:
Legends of the Dark Knight/Jim Aparo, both volumes
Tales of the Batman/Archie Goodwin

Another one that came to mind is the Sword of the Atom trade - again, it may not be essential, but it's lots of fun.
And I agree with Mike W., the Wolfman/Perez Titans are definitely essential.

Garett said...

I agree with Edo's Spectre and Watchmen, and William's Batman Illustrated Vol.3, Year One, and DKR. Also from the list Planetary, and I'll throw in Batman Hush for the Lee art. Many acclaimed series here I've tried and haven't been able to get into, like Fables, Sandman, Y the last Man, Batman Long Halloween...they seem well put together, but not my bag, baby. On the retired list, Transmetropolitan was also not the type of story I like, but I can see there are people who'd enjoy it. Ex Machina was an interesting one, and seemed like something Howard Chaykin would come up with--blend of politics and superheroics. I read several volumes.

On my list:
Legends of the Dark Knight, Jim Aparo Vol. 1
Teen Titans Omnibus Vol. 1
World's Greatest Superheroes (Dini/Ross)
Jew Gangster (Kubert)
100 Bullets Vol 4 + 5 (my intro to the series)
and because I'm nuts about Kirby now...
The Demon
The Losers
Newsboy Legion

Doc Savage said...

I only do pre-Crisis DC, so if I were to make a list of ten or twenty inexpensive collections to try to entice someone into mainstream super hero DC:

Teen Titans Terra Incognito
Teen Titans Judas Contract
12 Trials of Wonder Woman (or whatever it's called)
Showcase Presents JLA
Showcase Presents Batman
Showcase Presents Superman
Showcase Presents Aquaman
Showcase Presents Superman Family
Showcase Presents Atom
Showcase Presents Metamorpho
Showcase Presents Doom Patrol
Showcase Presents Hawkman
Showcase Presents Flash
Trial of the Flash
Showcase Presents Green Lantern
Showcase Presents Batman & Outsiders

Just realized there are hardly any Bronze Age collections from DC...a shame as I dig '70s-early '80s Flash, GL, WW, Black Lightning, and JLA. Are they ashamed of the Bronze Age at DC?

Doug said...

Hey, everyone --
Thanks for the wonderful suggestions so far.

Matt, DC is gradually coming around to reprinting Bronze Age material, though I think they do lag way behind Marvel. All of the Batman artist compilations fit that bill -- Neal Adams, Don Newton, Gene Colan, Marshall Rogers, Jim Aparo, Alan Davis,Archie Goodwin -- really, you have hundreds of Bronze Age Batman stories in print again (a Carmine Infantino volume comes out late this spring). As to the other characters you mentioned I think you have a real case.

Edo, great call on the Archie Goodwin book, which I just received earlier this week. I was telling Karen that the compilation editors did something really nice: the books that contained the Manhunter back-ups are reprinted with the Batman stories reprinted first, and then the Manhunter stories all printed together. Separating them as such allows the reader to read both characters linearly.

Hey, art preferences aside, I'd have to give a DC novice the Dini/Foss treasuries. As I would want to show off DC's classic interpretations, those books really do it for Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Capt. Marvel, and the JLA.

As much as Karen and I have had issues with the O'Neil/Adams GL/GA books (stay tuned for Monday's review), I would have to say that they were very formative -- they'd go on my list.

I would have to put Crisis on my list, simply because of the breadth of the story. Even if a new reader found it slightly confusing, it would show the density of the DCU.

I'd want to give a volume of the Legion Archives, but probably not an early Silver Age one; maybe closer to the change to Cockrum buy before.

Some thoughts for now -- maybe more later if we get some other comments.

Thanks again,


Doug said...

I typed that last one without my glasses on. Of course I meant Dini/Ross.

Dini/Foss... heh.


Anonymous said...

No Wonder Woman, Byrne's run or when Artemis took over? Nothing of Birds of Prey?

The Prowler(wondering what's up with girls).

Anonymous said...

I will put in an "amen" to Saga of the Swamp Thing vol.1, Batman, The Dark Knight Returns and Year One, Watchmen, and Crises on Infinite Earths.
A lot of other good ones mentioned here, as well. I have a few oddball references, including anything with Ennis and Mcrea's Hitman, and Love and Rocket's Ape Sex (no apes appeared).
I wished the Marvel Essential series had been in color. I've got Thor and Tomb of Dracula, but, without the color it isn't the same.

Edo Bosnar said...

Prowler, I was thinking about mentioning the first few tpbs that collect the Perez years in Wonder Woman, as well as the "mod" era, and even the archive editions from the Golden Age, but since I've actually read little or none of that, I can't gauge how 'essential' others might consider. Those are all things I really want to read, though.

I also agree with Matt's point about DC reprinting Bronze Age material. Just looking at the books I have or even the ones I want, it's apparent that DC hasn't very systematically reprinted (in color) its inventory from the '70s and early '80s.
I like these 'Tales' and 'Legends' hardcovers collecting the Superman and Batman stories by various (mainly) artists, but currently they're way out of my price range and they are a bit piecemeal.

That said, Doug, I envy you that Goodwin Batman tales book. I really, really want it, but like I said, it's a bit costly for me. Ditto for the Don Newton and Jim Aparo books.
One that really irks me, though, is the Alan Davis book. What DC should have done instead is publish a Mike Barr book. It would have included all of the stories in the Davis volume, plus the rest of the Year Two story, plus the Batman Special from 1984, plus Batman Annuals 9 and 10, plus that story arc in Legends of the Dark Knight, plus a few Elseworlds stories... you get the picture. Could have been a nice big book like the Goodwin volume, with a bunch of that era's best Batman stories.
And on that note, another one for the wishful thinking department is a Batman book featuring the stories of Alan Brennert, or really, just book of DC Universe stories by Brennert, since there's not that many.

Doc Savage said...

I picked up all 4 volumes of WW by Perez, which are out of print now, on the cheap. Haven't read much of it yet. needless to say the art is amazingly beautiful. Not crazy about WW being turned into a novice heroine and no longer a founder of the JLA. Also not crazy about her sudden ability to fly (what for?! she could already glide). And especially not crazy about how this ruined Wonder Girl as her origins no longer make any sense. But the part I've read stands on its own as good stuff if I disregard the side effects. WW as an ambassador of peace was a pretty good idea and seems in line with her character, especially as played by Lynda Carter.

It's too bad after "Crisis" DC didn't take the opportunity to begin anew since they re-did Batman, Superman, and WW's backstories anyway. They should've just said, "Hey, everything before '86 was Earth-1 and Earth-2, now we are chronicling Earth-86."

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Matt, I'm not quite sure which Earth they're making comics about right now. 52 in all, right? Not crazy about the current one. I hope the cosmic axis spins back to 1986 at some point.
Bizarro M.P., phoning in from Earth-prime.

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