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comcigiftguide2014

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.

wondermatt

Atlanta’s Synchronicity Theatre  will be presenting Carson Kreitzer’s Lasso of Truth, a play about Wonder Woman and her creator William Moulton Marston. The play will run from September 26-October 19, 2014 at the Synchronicity Theatre’s new location at Peachtree Pointe 1545 Peachtree Street in Atlanta, Georgia. The World’s Second Greatest Detective asked Matt Myers, one of the actors performing in the production.

wonderwomanwrisd

WXL: Briefly describe your role in Lasso of Truth.

MATT MYERS: I play Guy, who is the owner of a comic store in the 90s. He’s an artist himself, having learned to draw partially from reading Wonder Woman comics, and partially from going to the Rhode Island School of Design. He’s minding his own business one day, when in walks a girl bent on owning the first appearance of Wonder Woman (All-Star Comics #8), and thus his life is changed forever.

It’s a really interesting take on Wonder Woman’s origins and some pretty cool storytelling elements in there. And I get to play a comic shop owner who is not like Comic-Book Guy on the Simpsons.

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WXL: What are some of the differences between theatre and comic books as story-telling mediums?

MATT: The luxury of comic books is that you can accentuate things with closeups and angles and using the visual language of comics to convey information very quickly. No closeups in theatre, unless we run at the audience suddenly, or angle changes unless we move the stage. I’m only half joking on that. But theatre has its own conventions to fall back on. Music, sound design, lighting; that can make it a more visceral experience. Both mediums have their own ways of letting you into the minds of the characters, thought-bubbles versus soliloquy. Comics are (generally) a one reader at a time experience, while everyone is experiencing theatre together, so both offer there own types of intimacy with an audience. Honestly, I think they’re more similar than different, though, just from pacing and the types of stories we tell and the types of people who are drawn to them.

finchfeminism

WXL: Personally I’ve grown very attached to Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s work on Wonder Woman and feel nervous about the Finches taking over the title. Azzarello and Chiang had Wonder Woman standing nearly outside of the DC universe and the Finches intend to tie the title more closely with events with the DC universe as whole. Likewise Wonder Woman will make her first appearance on the silver screen in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Do you prefer Wonder Woman as a stand alone character or as part of the larger DC universe? How do you see her involvement with the larger DC universe affect her and her strength as a character?

MATT: For total transparency, I haven’t really read Wonder Woman since John Byrne rebooted her, and before that, George Perez. Guess I’m dating myself there.

We were discussing at rehearsal the other night why Wonder Woman is a difficult character to write. She’s not only Iconic, but Symbolic. So you can tinker around with the iconic characters (and Lord knows they have) but her symbolism and significance makes it hard to do as much with her. Folks get ticky when you deviate too far from form with her. Look no further than David Finch saying they weren’t focusing on the feminism of Wonder Woman. Folks get upset. Even folks who may not have read Wonder Woman recently or ever. She’s that important, Symbolically. And someone has to keep that torch lit.

So all of that to say, I think it’s important that there’s a Wonder Woman in the DC universe and that the other characters show her reverence.  It’s a small but important thing. If Batman and Superman treat her as their equal and not like an equivalent to Aquaman (sorry, Aquaman fans) or the JLA admin (sorry, Flash fans), it’s better for the character. There is no other female character in comics with her kind of cache and power. Still, I understand wanting to give her some distance from the rest of the universe because that frees her up from some of that baggage.

bowwow

WXL: When the New 52 launched in September 2011, Azzarello and Chiang received a lot of flack for changing Wonder Woman’s origin from daughter of clay to daughter of Zeus. Many critics felt a certain degree of her essence came from her fatherless origins. Having worked with the character’s real life origins and Marston’s own challenges to gender meaning for Lasso of Truth, how important is this detail of Wonder Woman’s origin to you?

MATT: Hmm, that’s an interesting question. Never really thought about it. But you know, since you brought it up, I think it is important to the character that she didn’t have a male authority figure. It keeps her from having to kowtow to a man, for anyone to have sovereign over her. Zeus is the big boss and all the mythological guys have to bow to him, but Hippolyta seemed a bit more of a guiding force, rather than a vindictive one. In theory, I preferred their relationship. Granted, all of these characters could be much different now than I’m remembering them, as the characters continue to evolve whether I read them or don’t, but I imagine they’ve stayed similar. Wonder Woman bows to no man.

wonderwomanmovie

WXL: Do you believe Marston’s ideas are still present in the character of Wonder Woman?

MATT: Absolutely. She is the standard-bearer for female superheroes. In any incarnation of her, they always have her strength, fortitude and force of will. These are key to her. He wanted to show that strength and femininity are not at odds with each other and she does that.

bathamlet

WXL: Which DC Comics superhero do you believe is best suited to play Hamlet?

MATT:  I guess the obvious answer is Batman. The death of a loved one causes them to become single-mindedly focused on vengeance, taking their own sanity into doubt at times, and using cunning to defeat the wrongdoers. Maybe Green Arrow? Both of those guys can dwell in the dark places that Hamlet has to go. I guess that makes Claudius Ra’s Al Ghul.

Ooh, I would add that Essential Theatre did a show called Bat-Hamlet a few years ago, that focused on exactly that.It seemed to lend itself more to the Adam West Batman but it followed the train of thought you’re talking about.

mattspulllist

WXL: What are you reading?

MATT: I’m reading She-Hulk, Nightcrawler, Afterlife with Archie, Astro City, and Saga. I go in and out of reading Walking Dead and Invincible and have lately mulled over catching back up on Fables. It’s hard for me to keep up with single issues so I mostly do trades these days.

 

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