The current coronavirus situation is very complicated for many of us and I’m not going to pretend that I have all the answers for you, so I’m going to focus on what I can help: the fact we’re all stuck at home and we need something to keep our minds busy.
So I’ve decided to make a list of ten comic books that I think don’t get enough attention or interest from fans in general; comics that I think deserve much more credit or appreciation because of the writing, the art, and the fact they are just plain fun.
Without trying to add too much unnecessary talk, let’s get down to the action, shall we? In no particular order, these are some underrated comics you should try to read during your quarantine days:
10. J. Michael Straczynski’s Thor run (2008-2010).
I’m a huge Thor fan and I have a big article coming up fully dedicated to him, but this article was the perfect opportunity to talk about J. Michael Straczynski’s time writing the God of Thunder.
This run marks the return of Thor after dying in Ragnarok and him trying to start a new Asgard on Earth, also reconnecting with Dr. Donald Blake, who has been his human alter-ego at multiple points in the character’s history.
Straczynski does a very good job in portraying a wiser Thor that is now coming to terms with the fact that he is the ruler of Asgard, the different challenges that come with returning from the death and building a new kingdom on Earth, plus having to cope with threats such as Doctor Doom, Loki’s manipulations and the aftermath of the Civil War, which included Tony Stark using Thor’s DNA to create a clone of his.
Great artwork, fifteen-issues long (plus a one-shot finale), and Straczynski offering once again quality writing, showing that he is one of the most consistently good writers in the industry over the last twenty years.
If you have never understood Thor or never felt too interested in reading his comics, this could be a very interesting starting point for you.
9. J. Ishiro Finney’s Casefile: ARKHAM: Nightmare on the Canvas (2015).
J. Ishiro Finney is a very underrated writer, so I think he fits perfectly with this list. And what better work of his to choose from than one of his most popular graphic novels, Casefile: ARKHAM: Nightmare on the Canvas?
This comic takes us back to 1946, where war veteran and current private investigator Hank Flynn is doing his job in the most cursed city in the entire world, Arkham, Massachusetts. Tormented by his time at war and dealing with some of the most gruesome cases in human memory, Flynn needs to overcome all of these struggles to find the truth of his cases.
Finney actually offers a very appropriate pitch on his website about this graphic novel: “What if Raymond Chandler wrote Lovecraft stories?” The moment I read it, he sold me on the story because I was very curious and he didn’t disappoint: Casefile: ARKHAM offers the hardboiled elements of Chandler’s writing plus the sheer darkness and fear of the unknown that made Lovecraft, all combined and expressed through Patrick McEvoy’s wonderful artwork. And I don’t usually mention editors, but Kat Rocha is one of the best in the business when it comes to that (in fact, we need more people in the medium specialized in editing services) and I’m sure she helped Finney to bring his A-game here, which he does.
You can find the graphic novel in Amazon and give it a shot. If you want something different from the usual superhero stuff in comics, then Casefile: ARKHAM: Nightmare on the Canvas is made for you.
8. Brian Reed’s Ms. Marvel run (2006-2010).
Carol Danvers is a very unique character in the Marvel Universe because she has gone through multiple identities and even becoming part of Rogue’s mind during a large part of the latter’s history. And even though she has been pushed a lot in the last decade as Captain Marvel, her time as Ms. Marvel has been liked the most and Brian Reed’s run is especially underrated when it’s perhaps the character’s finest hour.
During the House of M event, Carol Danvers saw an alternative universe where she was the most beloved hero in the universe and after going back to normal she decided she wanted to make that a reality and live up to her potential, thus leading to some of the most interesting stories that we have seen the character go through, facing aliens, another confrontation with Rogue, the consequences of the Civil War event, multiple different challenges and also trying to keep a sort of balance in her personal life after years of bad decisions.
The run lasted fifty issues, it’s very well-drawn, the coloring is phenomenal and it manages to deal with the many events Marvel did at the time quite well without losing the flow of the plots it has going on, plus Brian Reed writes the best characterization that I have seen of Carol so far: she is shown as a very flawed woman that tries to overcome said flaws, work on herself, deal with many different challenges and all that while also being very heroic and selfless.
Reed took what was a C-list character of the Marvel pantheon and made her extremely likable, relatable, cool, and inspiring. He found the right balance between the extraordinary and the ordinary.
If you have never been a Carol Danvers fan, then you should give this book a chance because it’s very likely to change your perception about her.
7. Ron Marz’s Green Lantern run (1994-2004)
When people talk about 90s comics, they think to reject all of them as edgy drivel with no substance and while there are many examples to back that statement, the reality is that we can also find a lot of interesting stuff. Especially in DC’s case, who did many underrated runs and established characters that are beloved even to this day.
One such example is Ron Marz’s Green Lantern run, which is one of my favorites and the one that made Kyle Rayner my favorite comic book character. In fact, Marz was the writer of the title for ten years, so you have from the Emerald Twilight storyline way until Green Lantern: Rebirth when Hal Jordan returns to enjoy Kyle at his absolute best.
You can read his origin, his first steps as a superhero, his development as the run goes on and his different obstacles, such as his predecessor Hal Jordan as Parallax, Darkseid’s son and many other threats that made this title one of the most interesting (and sadly, also one of the most forgotten) of the mainstream comic book industry in the 90s.
You also have the great Darryl Banks (who we had here last year!) on pencils, so you know you’re going to get quality art.
6. Robert Geronimo’s Blood Realm (2018-).
Alterna Comics is one of the best comic book companies in the United States as far as content, quality, professionalism, and services go, so I thought it was a good idea to throw one of their comics here for an introduction to those not familiar with them. They usually offer less conventional comics compared to the mainstream and they have a wide variety, with Robert Geronimo’s Blood Realm being one of the best examples, in my view.
In a world of epic dark fantasy, we are introduced to three characters known as the Sisters of Silence who have to embark on a journey to keep a violent and evil general from getting a sacred relic that it’s going to give him enough power to vanquish the last kingdom of men. It’s a tale of violence, greed, power, and manipulation, which is that kind of gritty fantasy approach that made the first seasons of Game of Thrones so great.
I also have to give credit to Robert Geronimo, who writes, draws, colors, and does pretty much everything in this book. I would have to search for examples of other creators that have done all the aspects of making a creator-owner comic. It’s certainly amazing and the end result is worth our time, which is the most important thing.
5. Jerry Ordway’s Power of Shazam (1995-1999).
I don’t think there was a characterless suited for the edgy and gritty trends of the 1990s in comics than Captain Marvel/Shazam and somehow Jerry Ordway managed not only to keep the title going for four years (a miracle in today’s estranged and uninterested mainstream comic book industry) but also to deliver one of the best eras in the character’s modern history.
Now, I have been very vocal about DC not seizing this character’s full potential, but I can’t throw those criticisms to Ordway’s run, which is very respectful to the character’s rich history and also manages to expand a little bit, allowing Billy to go through different ordeals to become a better hero. There are issues where Captain Marvel is dealing with street-level criminals and others where he is dealing with challenges on a much grander and epic scale, but always maintaining that strong moral and heroic nature that has defined the character throughout his whole existence.
I also like the fact that this run feels timeless in its storytelling devices; you can make in the 70s, the 80s, the 90s, 2000s, or 2380s and it could still be applied with ease. Ordway is not trying to be current or popular; he is just trying to tell great stories and succeeds tremendously here.
If you want a solid run of Captain Marvel/Shazam and you are in need of some classic superhero stories, then you should give this series a chance.
4. Julien Blondel’s Elric – The Ruby Throne (2014).
I’m a major fan of writer Michael Moorcock’s Elric books, so when Titans Comics made a comic book adaptation of the first book, I had to give it a look. And I’m very happy to say that it is a worthy adaptation and one of the best comic books of the last decade.
Written by Julien Blondel, it tells the story of Elric’s first adventures as they were told in the book, but he makes a few changes here and there, which Moorcock himself has said to have improved the story. Add to that the tremendous artwork, which is both very expressive and aesthetically pleasing, and you have a great comic in your hands.
There are very few sagas that I enjoy more than Elric of Melniboné and I was honestly blown away by how well-done this adaptation was done. I’m normally not interested in these types of adaptations (I would rather read the book in most cases), but this time it was done so well that I don’t want to spoil you the experience of reading the comic yourself.
3. Robert Venditti’s Hawkman (2018-).
The best ongoing run in comics right now. I will not accept any other option. And written by Robert Venditti, who is one of the most underrated comic book writers of the last decade, this book had to be on this list.
Hawkman, also known as Cartel Hall, is a character with a complicated background story: in some versions, he is another life of an ancient Pharaoh from Egypt and in other versions, he is an alien from another world. So Venditti brought a very simple solution to that problem: he is not one or the other, but both. He can reincarnate in both time and space, going through different lives and experiences that are now coming back to haunt him.
The writer little by little starts unfolding the different overarching plots that are dominating his run, but we also get to have self-contained storylines much to our enjoyment and does so by also maintaining the uplifting and exciting elements that have defined DC throughout the years. It is also hardly frustrated by other events that DC has done in recent years, so that helps a lot with the flow of the story.
We also have the phenomenal art of Bryan Hitch of The Ultimates fame, thus making this book a real winner in pretty much every single possible angle. Definitely one of the best options that you can have right now in the market and Venditti is a very good writer, so I strongly recommend other works of his such as X-O Manowar, Hal Jordan, and the Green Lantern Corps and Freedom Fighters.
2. Walt Simonson’s Ragnarök (2014-2017).
Walt Simonson is the quintessential Thor artist/writer and that is an objective fact. He has penned some of the God of Thunder’s best stories of all time, but he doesn’t seem interested in stopping with Norse mythology and he decided to carry on with his own interpretation of that mythos, IDW’s Ragnarök.
I think this is one of the strongest comics in the last decade, so I wouldn’t spoil too much, but I’m just going to say Simonson, a longtime fan of Norse mythology, goes to town with these mythos and manages it to give a somewhat darker and still very energetic approach. Sure, it has a lot of the tropes he applied during his Thor run in the 80s, but you can also tell how much he has grown as a creator, and here you can read a total veteran that fully understands the medium.
Of course, this is Walt Simonson, so the art is top-notch and it is incredibly visually appealing. His art has always fit very well with epic stories and here you can tell that he is enjoying himself, which makes sense: Simonson has nothing to prove at this point of this career and this comic seems much more like a passion project in the right sense of the word.
A modern classic. Get it.
1. J. Michael Straczynski’s Silver Surfer – Requiem (2007).
We started with Straczynski and we ended with Straczynski. Talk about symmetry in life.
This miniseries is set outside of the main continuity and it has a very simple premise: the Silver Surfer is dying and now in his last days he wants to close many aspects of his life, so we embark on an epic tale that signals the end of one of the universe’s greatest tragic heroes. It is a celebration of one of Marvel’s most unique characters and also another example of how great the Marvel Knights imprint was back in the day.
Straczynski is amazing here, doing some of the best writing work that I have seen him do in ages and he is perfectly complemented by one of the most talented artists in the business, Esad Ribic. Ribic certainly has a lot of that Alex Ross influence in his work, but he manages to give his own spin on things and develop his own style, which truly suits the Surfer’s grandiose nature.
A wonderful story that has a strong emotional component and that is going to share your perception about this character. A phenomenal story that reminds of what comic books can be at their absolute best.