As the holiday season approaches, I thought I’d lend my expertise to those gift-givers out there with comic book fans of varying levels on their shopping list. Unlike a lot of the comic book gift guides I’ve seen around the web, this list is strictly books to be read- no etsy crafts, no action figures, no lingerie, no DVDs- just graphic novels and collected editions.
This list is set up to help you give the perfect gift, but giving the perfect gift involves two parties: the giver and the receiver. This list focuses on the receiver, but the true treasure of the gift should be that it came from you. (Actually that’s not entirely true: giving the perfect gift involves three parties: the giver, the receiver, and the producer of the gift- which is why independent comics make especially good gifts! Most items on this list, however, are not independents.)
Right now the comic book world is filled with comic book fans who have actually read very few comics. They may avidly watch TV shows, wear T-shirts, and rush to the movies, but they’ve had little contact with the source material.
CLASSICS: There are a few comics that critics insist belong in everyone’s collection. These can be dangerous gift purchases as these titles are pretty popular and may appear in even the mildest comic book fan. These books include works by Alan Moore (Watchmen; V for Vendetta; League of Extraordinary Gentlemen; The Killing Joke), works by Frank Miller (Batman Year One; The Dark Knight Returns; Sin City), and works by Grant Morrison (Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth; The Invisibles). These books are all well and good, but they’re pretty old and their iconic status means they might be in the person’s collection already. Another thing these books all have in common is that they’re not appropriate for young children. My advice is steer clear of these titles as gifts even though they’re all pretty great reads.
COMICS FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE VIDEO GAMES: A lot of superhero video games are based on movies and those games are largely terrible. Some of the Spiderman games are good as is LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, but largely Marvel games have been duds. I can’t speak to the Disney Infinity stuff because I haven’t played it. Games based on DC properties have proven somewhat better- I’m a particular fan of the under-rated Batman: The Brave and The Bold, but the obvious ones are the Batman Arkham-verse games and Injustice: Gods Among Us. If you know that the person on your list loves playing the Arkham-verse games, I highly recommend the accompanying graphics novels (Batman: Arkham Asylum-The Road to Arkham; Batman: Arkham City; Batman: Arkham Unhinged; Batman: Arkham City-End Game; and Batman: Arkham Origins). While those books are good, the books that accompany Injustice: Gods Among Us are amazing. The collection hardcovers are also beautifully printed.
COMICS FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE THE FLASH TV SHOW: The Flash can be an overwhelming character and Grant Gustin’s Flash on the show doesn’t exactly fit with any specific Flash story. The main storyline of the television show has been the murder of Barry Allen’s mother and some ambiguous Reverse Flash foreshadowing. The best Reverse Flash story is probably Flashpoint, but it comes with a lot of baggage that might be frustrating for the newcomer. To truly do Flashpoint justice, one should probably start with Flash: Rebirth (the return of Barry Allen) and then read The Flash Vol. 1: The Dastardly Death of the Rogues!, followed by The Flash Vol. 2: The Road to Flashpoint. After reading those three volumes, your Flash fan should be more than prepared to encounter Flashpoint, but to get the most of that story, they’ll want the accompanying World of Flashpoint collections. They don’t need to read every WoF story, so you might want to pick one that speaks most to your relationship or particular interest of the giver. I do recommend that you at least give a couple of World of Flashpoint The Flash along with the Flashpoint graphic novel. Below is a list of the collections that I’ve ranked based on personal preference:
1) World of Flashpoint Batman
2) World of Flashpoint Wonder Woman
3) World of Flashpoint Superman
4) World of Flashpoint Featuring Green Lantern
The truly generous Flashpoint gift set would include a total of 9 books and that can be pretty expensive, so you may want to get this Flash fan started on the New 52- start with The Flash Vol. 1: Move Forward.
Good indie option for Flash fans? The Manhattan Projects
COMICS FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKED SMALLVILLE: The obvious choice here would be to further the Smallville universe in the Smallville Season 11 series. If you want to provide them with a Superman story that evokes the same emotions as Smallville, I’d recommend Superman: Birthright or even Kurt Busiek’s Elseworlds story Superman: Secret Identity. One nice thing about both of these Superman books is that they don’t require the reader to have too much background knowledge and are self-contained stories.
Indie option? Invincible
COMICS FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKED MAN OF STEEL: Man of Steel centered largely around Kryptonian concerns, which can really be hit-or-miss in the comics and enjoyment depends largely on how the reader imagines Krypton themselves. Good Kryptonian reads include: Last Stand of New Krypton; Krypton Returns; H’el on Earth; Last Son of Krypton; and a lot of Supergirl stories. Another good choice that contains a lot of elements of Kryptonian lore, but takes place largely on Earth (and the Phantom Zone) is Superman for Tomorrow- great writing and great art.
Indie option? the rebooted X-O Manowar
COMICS FOR PEOPLE WITH REFINED TASTES WHO LIKE SUPERMAN: Personally, my favorite Superman stuff strays from the beaten path a bit. Considers these gift sets:
SUPERMAN + COLD WAR: Red Son asks what if Superman landed in the Soviet Union instead of the United States. The New Frontier posits Superman and other DC heroes in a 1950s atmosphere of McCarthyism, arms and space races, and a changing American dream.
SUPERMAN+FINE ART: Batman/Superman Vol. 1: Cross World and Vol 2: Game Over feature some of the dreamiest superhero art you find by master Jae Lee. Likewise Alex Ross has made significant contributions to raising the bar of superhero art with works like: Kingdom Come; Justice; and one of my personal favorites and a book that truly captures the Christmas spirit is The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes, which unfortunately is out of print. If you can track down that last one, you might be a comics reader hero.
SUPERMAN+FREAKOUT!: Sometimes Superman gets downright psychedelic as authors let their freak flags fly. This is especially true whenever Grant Morrison gets his hands on the Man of Steel. The first three volumes of Morrison’s run on Action Comics (New 52) would make a mind-bending gift for your Superman fan or his All-Star Superman if you only feel like giving a single book. Many Superman Elseworlds stories like The Nail, Metropolis, Kal, and those I’ve already mentioned (Kingdom Come, Red Son, Secret Identity) all challenge the reader to expand their understanding of the last son of Krypton.
COMICS FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE THE GOTHAM TV SHOW: Gotham Central was a series by Brubaker and Rukka that focused more on the cops than the bats in Gotham City. Without this comic, there might not have been a Gotham TV show.
The recently released first volume of Batman Eternal is a great Jim Gordon-centered drama. It’s big and fat and wonderful.
COMICS FOR BATMAN FANS WHO FEAR THE NEW WORLD ORDER: The Court of Owls and The Night of Owls are Batman books from the New 52 that introduce an Illuminati Golden Dawn Skulls Freemason Rotary Club called the Court of Owls. Scott Snyder’s writing and Greg Capullo’s art are the current Batman standard. These books are complimented by the New 52 titles: Nightwing, Talon, All-Star Western, and Birds of Prey and to a lesser extent, Detective Comics, Batwing, and Catwoman.
That’s a good start to flood a comic fans stocking with a bunch of comics starring white male heroes, but trust me- there are many great books out there that don’t focus solely on muscular white dudes getting their science fiction on! If I have time, I’ll try to post some on those as well as suggestions for fans of the Constantine show in the next installment of the World’s Second Greatest Detective’s 2014 Comic Book Gift Guide.