Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What to Read Next: Batfamily

While I offered some reading recommendations to fans of the new Batman comics a few days ago, there are still lots of other Gothamites to cover. From former Robins to the Birds of Prey, here are some suggestions for what Batfamily fans should read next.

The controversial first issue of Batgirl took Oracle out of her wheelchair and put her back in the Batgirl suit. Fans of the Batgirl concept should check out Kelley Puckett and Bryan Q. Miller's run of the title, while fans of Babs Gordon can enjoy Batgirl: Year One or Birds of Prey. Gail Simone's most recent run on the title feels fairly similar in tone to this. Looking for something to read that doesn't involve Batgirl? Check out these titles:

Ongoing: Angel and Faith, published by Dark Horse Comics

While Barbara isn't on the sort of redemptive quest that Angel and Faith are, all three characters are haunted by their pasts and learning how to move forward. This title is aimed at people who have some familiarity with the characters, but those who haven't read a Buffy comic needn't fear. All necessary information is quickly recapped via flashback before the story moves forward. Christos Gage does a great job mixing action with character moments, and Rebekah Isaacs is a strong artist who's especially skilled at visual storytelling. It's tricky to work with characters people know best from an entirely different medium, but the creative team handles it with ease. I suspect there's a lot of crossover between Buffy fans and Batgirl fans, and this is hands down the best Whedonverse comic being published right now. Angel and Faith just released its second issue, and now is the perfect time to jump into the series. If you'd like to see more of Angel and Faith, you can check out a free preview here.

Concluded: Manhunter

Barbara Gordon isn't the only whip-smart lady vigilante in the DCU. Manhunter tells the tale of Kate Spencer,  a criminal prosecutor who decides to take the law into her own hands. Kate isn't as naturally likable as Babs or many other DC ladies, but in this case, it's a good thing. She's a complex, fascinating character whose motivations and actions feel believable, even in a world full of metahumans. Manhunter never holds back, and it's often a tense and uncomfortable read. Kate's supporting cast is full of fleshed out, lovable characters, and often includes appearances from less used DC characters like Al Pratt, the first Atom, and Obsidian. 
Kate's mostly been written by the very talented Marc Andreyko, and drawn by Jesus Saiz, the current Birds of Prey artist. I don't think all her stories are collected in trade, but there are several volumes available on Amazon for cheap. There are no previews available, but here's a scan from the series' first issue.

If you liked Batwoman #1 and you haven't read Batwoman: Elegy yet, stop reading right here and go pick it up. Batwoman #0 is more of a teaser than anything else, but that's definitely worth grabbing too. While 52 is a wonderful comic that's great as a general read, I wouldn't really recommend it to anyone trying to get a better feel for Kate Kane's characters. I don't think anyone really had a feel for how to write her then. I also highly recommend picking up Chase when it's released- it was illustrated by Batwoman writer and artist JH Williams III, and it looks like he's going to make frequent use of its cast of characters. And beyond that? I suggest you try:

Ongoing:  Daredevil, published by Marvel Comics

Both Batwoman and Daredevil are well written books with wonderfully crafted characters in which the art still takes center stage. While Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martín's panel layouts aren't inventive in the way William's are, they still do some really creative and interesting stuff, like this spread that shows readers how Matt Murdock "sees" the world. Daredevil doesn't have quite the level of atmosphere Batwoman does, but it makes up for it with a relentless sense of fun. If you associate Daredevil endless angst and misery, it shouldn't take long for this comic to change your mind. It's written by the terrifically talented Mark Waid, and every issue so far has been a great one. It's my favorite Marvel title by far, and I hope plenty of Batwoman fans will give it a lookk.

Concluded: Promethea

With a creative team like Alan Moore and JH Williams III, it goes without saying that Promethea is a terrific book. This is an incredibly smart and stunning comic that gives readers a sense of how Moore perceives all things mystical. The comic follows Sophie, a college student, as she takes on the role of mythical warrior Promethea. It frequently deals in the fantastic, and allows Williams to show off his skill for drawing in a variety of styles. His page layouts here are even more elaborate than they are in Batwoman, and the plot itself is very experimentive. Themes like sexuality, religion, and philosophy play a big part in the stories, as does the nature of comics. There are all sorts of strange and compelling characters, from the Five Swell Guys to the Weeping Gorilla. It's beautiful to look at, a really great read, and I think fans of Batwoman will absolutely appreciate it. 

Judd Winnick is a writer who's very hit or miss for me, and Batwing was a hit. I really enjoy the character, the setting, and the superhero history he's started to establish. While Batman Inc, the comic in which David Zamvimbi originated, seems like an obvious recommendation, the character is actually barely featured there. He's pretty much brand new, so I'll skip straight to my suggestions:

Ongoing: DMZ, published by DC's Vertigo imprint


Mentioning DMZ here feels like a little bit of a cheat- the series ends this December- but it's still a great read that fans of Batwing should really enjoy. The comic is set in a war-torn but not too distant future in which Manhattan has become a demilitarized zone. For the most part, we see the story through the eyes of photojournalist Matty Jones, who covers the plight of Manhattan citizens. The situation is always portrayed in a plausible way, which makes the book's story that much more compelling. Brian Wood takes a simple concept and turns it to an intense and fascinating tale. Riccardo Burchielli's art adds to the comic's atmosphere, and his work on the more damaged and defaced parts of the city is especially compelling. Most of DMZ is available in trade form, and I highly recommend trying to catch up with the story while you still can. 

Concluded: Christopher Priest's Black Panther

Black Panther is a character who only works for me with the right writer, and it doesn't get any better than Christopher Priest's run on the comic. He makes the politics of Wakanda fascinating even when T'Challa himself is away from his homeland, and  packs the book with great action and strong characterization. There are several different artists during the book's run, but it's Joe Jusko's stunning painted pages that really stand out in my memory. Black Panther obviously isn't involved with the Batman Inc initiative, but it almost feels like he could be. Throughout the series, he comes up with these marvelous, Batman-esque contingency plans, and it's a blast to see all the pieces come into place. If Batwing turns out to be as half as good as Priest's Black Panther was, it's in a pretty good place.

Selina Kyle works best for me in small doses, so needless to say, Catwoman #1 wasn't really my thing. Any fan of the artwork in this title or Catwoman herself should check out Gotham City Sirens, a Guillem March illustrated book which also featured Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, and the Riddler. For those who'd like to see a different take on the character, I recommend Ed Brubaker's run, which features some great art from Darwyn Cooke. And for those who want something else, these are the books I'd recommend:

Ongoing:  Executive Assistant Iris, published by Aspen Comics

Those who checked out Catwoman because they wanted to see a tough, badass hottie kicking ass would be wise to check out Executive Assistant Iris. The series' title character is a combination secretary, bodyguard, and assassin that seems to get more chances to use the violent side of her skillset than the administrative one. This series isn't a masterpiece, but it's a lot of fun, especially when we get to see more of the comic's supporting cast and Iris' backstory. Eduardo Francisco's art has a pin-up quality, but he never fails to make the executive assistants look like they really could kick your ass. Some people may be put off by Iris' personality in the earliest issues, but I promise, she has plenty of growth as the series goes on. You can read the first issue for free here.

Concluded: Madame Mirage

Madame Mirage was a six issue series written by Batman: the Animated Series' Paul Dini and illustrated by Kenneth Rocafort, who is currently working on Red Hood and the Outlaws. Set in a world where all superheroes are manmade, Madame Mirage uses her various powers- including mind control, shapeshifting, and the creation of illusions- to confuse and eventually defeat the various enemies she goes up against. As the cover makes clear, the series is heavy on cheesecake, but it's an old fashioned pulp comic at heart. Madame Mirage was primarily based on The Shadow, and there's a sort of old fashioned feel to the comic in spite of its somewhat futuristic setting. Madame Mirage herself is a lot of fun, mostly because she seems to really enjoy what she does. You can check out Top Cow's trailer for the series here.

If you liked Nightwing #1, you're in luck! The new series is very close in tone most of what came before, and Nightwing ran for hundreds of issues. I'd also recommend taking a look at Gates of Gotham, which Nightwing writer Kyle Higgins co-wrote with Batman scribe Scott Snyder, as well as Supreme Power, which Higgins wrote for Marvel. If that's not enough, here are a few more suggestions:

Ongoing: Mysterious Ways, published by Image Comics

The obvious recommendation here is Daredevil, but since I already suggested that to Batwoman fans, I'm going a little bit more off the beaten path and suggesting Jason Rubin's Mysterious Ways. If you're intrigued by the "is Dick Grayson a serial killer" plot over in Nightwing, then I think you'll be equally interested in the "is he or isn't he crazy" story Mysterious Ways sets up. Our protagonist is an alcoholic former cop under suspicion for them pretty brutal murders. At the same time, he begins to discover he has supernatural powers- or maybe it's all in his head. This comic is a lot more decompressed than I like my serialized stories to be, but it's still got neat ideas and some nice art from New Guardians penciller Tyler Kirkham. You can take a look at the comic here.

Concluded: Denny O'Neill's The Question

On the otherhand, if what you're looking for is a really great street level vigilante comic, it doesn't get much better than Denny O'Neill's The Question. The Question may not have Dick Grayson's acrobat background, but when you've received training from Richard Dragon, you can bet there are some great looking action scenes. Still, what really makes The Question shine for me is the way Vic Sage perceives the world. He's not awkward in the way he sometimes was in Justice League Unlimited, but he has a very strange way of thinking that's really fun to read. Sometimes, you get the sense The Question and Vic Sage are two different people, and the question of how much his mask changes him is one that intrigues. I especially like his occasional interactions with other members of the DCU, like Batman. This series came out during the 1980's but it's aged wonderfully, and is available in trade paperback form.

Much like Batgirl, there are plenty of easy recommendations to make for fans of the new Birds of Prey. The old Birds of Prey series are a great bet, as is writer Dwayne Swierczynski's work with Marvel. While she hasn't made a true appearance in the new series yet, those intrigued by Katana can check out the Outsiders, the comic in which she originated. Here are a few more suggestions:

Ongoing: Heroes for Hire, published by Marvel Comics

Soon to be re-launched as Villains for Hire, Heroes for Hire is the closest thing to a team of alleged supercriminal hotties that Marvel's got. Both books are full of fun characters, with Misty Knight filling a role similar to what Oracle did in the old Birds of Prey. Most of the characters here are fairly street level, but there's plenty of flash, excitement and fun. The art quality of the series is really up and down, but writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning are consistently great. Best of all, Heroes for Hire had a reboot of its own about a year ago, so there's very little for new readers to catch up with. If you really want to start at number 1, you can wait till November when Villains for Hire #1 is released. 

Concluded: Secret Six

If what you're really looking for is a dysfunctional family dynamic, there's no book finer than Secret Six. The team is made up of former villains who'll take on any mission for the right price. Unfortunately, they frequently discover they have more morals than they'd prefer. Even as the team expands beyond the 6 mentioned in the title, every character remains so well-crafted, so perfectly characterized, and so lovable. The characters realize they're broken, damaged, and doomed people, but they keep living their lives all the same, even when damnation itself is staring them in the face. This was the series from the old DCU that it hurt most to lose, and I really look forward to seeing it brought back anyway possible. For now, you can read the series in trade form. Secret Six trades may occasionally be hard to get a hold of, but they're re-printed frequently, so you should be able to acquire whatever volumes you need.

Red Hood and the Outlaws was a bit of a strange book. In some ways, it felt like three different comics, and I want to recommend a book for each of the issue's aspects. For now, I'll suggest that Red Hood fans read Under the Red Hood if they haven't already, and that those curious about Starfire check out R.E.B.E.L.S., which features one of my favorite takes on the character. For a book that matches the books's action-comedy meets sex romp meets underground mystical secret society conspiracy feel? The best titles I can come up with are these:

Ongoing:  The Goon, published by Dark Horse Comics

If you're looking for a slightly schizophrenic, sometimes offensive, frequently hilarious comic full of beat em up action, than The Goon is the book for you. The longrunning series is written and illustrated by the eccentric Eric Powell, is often weird but always a blast to read. Goon and his sidekick Franky are always finding someone interesting to fight, and the comic is full of colorful characters. From a Spanish speaking monster turned manservant to the never seen (but frequently mentioned) Charlie Noodles, the weird world of The Goon is wonderfully fleshed out. I'd definitely describe The Goon as a fun comic, but that doesn't mean it's not dark- there have been some truly brutal moments over the course of the series, and more than a few scenes that made me squirm. But even when the comic's taken a turn for the miserable, The Goon manages to leave me with a smile on my face. You can check out the comic for free here.

Concluded: Nextwave

The tragically shortlived Nextwave had it all. Excitement! Explosions! Naked ninjas and Wolverine monkies and broccoli men! Nextwave never tried to be anything deep- it just wanted be silly, fun, and revel in the craziness of the comic book world. Nextwave doesn't really feel like it's set in the Marvel universe, and the series takes full advantage of that, portraying major heroes in fairly out of character ways and blatantly parodying others. At one point, we meet Charlie America, a would-be super hero allegedly created from Steve Roger's superpowered pee. The comic bucks the trend of decompression, featuring nothing but 2 issue arcs. This thankfully helps the 12 issue series to feel a little longer than it actually is. If you like fun, you should probably read this comic. If you don't like fun, you should probably read this comic and see if it changes your mind. If you're still not convinced, click here.

That's it for the Batfamily! Check back later this week for Superbook recommendations.

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