Graphic Storytelling: On the Brilliance of Comics

So Avengers: Age of Ultron has come out and it is freakin’ fantastic. Opening up with one of Joss Whedon’s trademark one-shots and continuing to be excellent in pretty much every respect. Comic book movies are IN. And they have been for the better part of a decade now. But what about the source material?

A few months back I decided I would try to read as many Marvel comics as I could from the Silver Age onwards. I chose a starting point with the Fantastic Four #1, published in 1961, and am in the process of reading as many as I can in publication order. It’s proving to be a mammoth task, but I am enjoying it. In particular, I’m pleasantly surprised at how good some of the stories are, at least for books aimed at children in the sixties. I am also surprised at how much I enjoyed the Incredible Hulk‘s original six issue run. It was comprised of individual stories with a running plot about Bruce Banner dealing with his condition. Over the course of two or three issues, he manages to completely control the Hulk, transforming into the beast at will and keeping his own mind. But when he turns back to Banner, he is severely weakened and over time, his mind is subtly changed into a more aggressive version while in his Hulk form. Honestly, if there’s any Silver Age comic you must read it is these first six issues.

Okay, so I’ve only reached 1963 so far, but I’ve been introduced to the likes of Ant-Man (Not the best invention, but has some nice moments, especially the introduction of the Wasp), Spiderman (definitely one I am enjoying, and am also surprised at how closely the Sam Raimi film followed the plot), Thor (completely different to the film), and Iron Man (Not quite as good as I wanted, but enjoyable nonetheless.

No, this isn’t my first foray into comics. I’ve read many since I was a kid. I used to collect The Beano, I read any Asterix comic I could get my hands on, but it wasn’t until the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics came out that I truly appreciated the depth and scope they could achieve. Not to mention the glorious artwork on display. Soon, I trawled through the library for loads of comics. I primarily read Batman, but I also read a bit of Superman (though to this day I’m not a huge fan of his, Man of Steel being the exception. that film was amazing!). I must have read a few others as well, but it was always Batman that I came back to.

And so it was, the other day I took a trip into my local comic store (which by itself is amazing, there’s not many of them in England) and I bought up a few comics. I’ve never been a collector per se, just a couple trade paperbacks here and there, so I wasn’t sure what to get as there were hundreds there. I eventually decided on a Doctor Who one, because … well … Doctor Who. I wanted to get a Marvel comic, but really couldn’t decide and pretty much picked one at random, Amazing X-Men. But one I knew I would get before I set foot in the store was Batman. It was pretty much a no-brainer.

The Doctor Who book was okay, though the artwork was terrible, nobody looked like who they were supposed to. The X-Men book was a little disappointing, but it was the last part of a story arc and from what I know about these things, you can’t really appreciate it without reading the rest of the story. The Batman one I have yet to read. Why? Because I opened it up and found it was the fourth in a series (why oh why don’t they put this info on the cover?). I was willing to forgive the X-Men this, but not Batman. So, I went in yesterday and bought up the relevant back issues and I’ve read all of them. So I’ll probably read the last one when I’ve written this out.

To this day, while Marvel has a higher output of decent characters and storylines, better overall movies, and is of a higher average calibre than DC, Batman trumps anything put out by them. I am genuinely hooked by these comics. The artwork is simply some of the best I’ve ever seen and really evokes a true sense of horror in some cases. The arc I’ve been reading is called Endgame and is about the Joker taking over the minds of the Justice League to defeat Batman. And the Joker is terrifying.

Before I’d read any of the the comics featuring the Joker, the only way I knew of him was through the atrocious 60’s TV series. I didn’t like him. I thought he was just a prankster who caused trouble but was more of an annoyance than anything else. I really couldn’t understand the appeal of this guy. I then saw Tim Burton’s movie and things changed. Afterwards, while I still never really read any comics with him, I saw pictures and the character was slowly redeemed. These pictures, this fantastic artwork, showed a demented character, not an annoying comedian. And then Heath Ledger brought him to screen. While everything about him was truly fantastically insane and wonderfully performed by Ledger, he still didn’t look like the Joker. It wasn’t the cracked make-up, I actually liked that, it was that the Joker is often depicted as a tall lanky figure, with almost a Slenderman type feel to him. I imagined his movements to be slow and creepy. Ledger did not bring that to his performance.

Why all this wordage about the Joker, but none about Batman? Because after reading most of Endgame, I feel it is the Joker that is making me love the comics. His words are written in a different font to everyone else’s making him feel out of place, his full face is rarely seen, and he is often depicted just by his smile. It is genuinely creepy, and I just want someone to make a live action film or TV programme where this is realised.

Of course, Batman himself is great, and the storylines rock. This is definitely one I will be keeping up with. I might try another Marvel comic next month, but nothing in the verse can stop me continuing with Batman if they keep up with this quality of storytelling.