Five Notable Comic Books has never featured an article about comic books before. Which is absurd. After all, haven’t we finally gotten to the point where comics should be universally considered an art form?

Art Spiegelman’s Maus is a Pulitzer Prize winner; comic writer Neal Gaiman is a World Fantasy Award winner. Some of the highest-grossing films of recent memory include the comic book adaptations X-Men, Superman Returns, Spider-Man, and Batman Begins. And some of the most critically acclaimed films of the last few years include the comic adaptations A History Of Violence, Ghost World, Sin City, and American Splendor. But that’s cool. Comics are still kid’s stuff.

Now, I’m not talking about graphic novels. Literary types insist that they totally respect graphic novels. But what few people know is that those “graphic novels” are pretty much comic books when you get right down to it. In fact, most “graphic novels” are just collections of runs of previously released singular comic books. In Hy Bender’s book, The Sandman Companion — basically a 300-page interview with author Neal Gaiman about his Sandman series — Gaiman relates a story about a cocktail party at which he introduced himself as a comic book writer to a high-society type. He recounts how when the man realized who Gaiman actually was, he condescendingly informed Gaiman that he is not, in fact, a comic book writer, but a graphic novel writer. It is this thought process that keeps the growth of respect for comic books almost entirely stagnant.

I think Alan Moore, the writer of such acclaimed comics as Watchmen and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, explained it best. He said that comic books are the only real art form that simultaneously exercises both sides of the brain. You look at the art. You read the words. And somehow you connect the two in your head to form a story. It’s beautiful. It’s succinct.

Another misconception about comics is that their glory days are already behind them. However, we’re only halfway through 2006 at this point, and a number of great new books have already been introduced. Here are five of them:

5. Moon Knight by Charlie Huston and David Finch

Superhero books are the most popular genre in comic books. They have been since 1961, when Marvel introduced their first super-team, the Fantastic Four. It’s always been a viable genre, despite the big-muscle, tight-spandex appearance. After all, characters like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, which were created nearly seventy years ago, are, for my money, the closest things America has to true mythology.

Moon Knight is a character that was created in the seventies by writer Doug Moench as Marvel’s answer to the DC hero, Batman (funny, considering Moench later wrote a well respected run of Batman books for DC). His origin is pretty average. He was granted his powers by Khonshu, the Egyptian God of the Moon and now fights crime. But in classic Marvel form, the guy had problems. He was the son of an absentee rabbi, and he renounced his Judaism and became a mercenary.

Oh, yeah. And he had split personality disorder. In fact, he may not have been granted powers by the Egyptian God of the Moon. He might just be a nut job.

Charlie Huston’s new take on the character has him without powers, horribly depressed, thinking he’s paralyzed, and living in an empty apartment with only a statue of Khonshu taunting him. Huston juxtaposes these scenes with an oddly structured parallel story of a group of shadowy figures who appear to be the only people on the planet who haven’t completely forgotten about Moon Knight. We don’t know who these people are yet, because only four issues of this monthly comic have, thus far, been released. But I’m sticking around to find out.

4. American Virgin by Steven Seagle and Becky Cloonan

American Virgin is the latest ongoing launch from Vertigo, which is DC Comics’ Mature Readers imprint. Over the last twenty years Vertigo has launched the classics Preacher and Sandman and, more recently, the acclaimed Y-The Last Man, and Fables.

American Virgin is the story of Christian Youth Group Leader — and engaged 20-something virgin — Adam Chamberlain, whose fianc

8 Responses

  1. childhood beckonsI think I
    childhood beckons

    I think I will indeed be picking these up. It’s been a long time since I’ve allowed myself to be whisked away to alternate universes the way I once was. Plus, I was looking for a new hobby anyways.

    Folks who dismiss comic books as kids fare are missing the point.

    And by the way – hello. It’s been awhile.

  2. Graphic novelsGreat first
    Graphic novels

    Great first posting, Dan. I didn’t read it all, but printed it out to digest the five reviews later, at my leisure.

  3. I can’t believe my eyes.
    I can’t believe my eyes. It’s kind of like an Elvis sighting, or when Jesus shows up on a piece of toast or in the grout of a tile floor. Mr. Vinny. . . I’m cyber-hugging you the way one heterosexual man hugs another. The testosterone is raging on both sides of the US-Canadian border.

    And comic books — wasn’t Moon Knight put out in the 80’s and drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz? Don’t ask me how I know this.

  4. ComixComic Books are a

    Comic Books are a touchstone for me:

    1. Consider that Superman Comics had the Bizarro World

    2. Neal Cassady was the fastestmanalive

    3. Dr. Strange – ’nuff said…

  5. A timely and essential
    A timely and essential article!

    Great observation, that comic books use both sides of the brain. Great job all around, Dan.

    I have vivid memories of learning to read with Superman and Batman. These days, it so happens that Teen Titans, created by Sam Register and Glen Murakami, is on the Cartoon Channel every morning. I watch it while I’m getting ready to go to work. One of the characters on that show is Beast Boy, who first appeared in my favorite comic book of all time – The Doom Patrol.

  6. Vinny and Malt, together
    Vinny and Malt, together again in cyberspace. That alone would make a kick-ass comic book.

  7. yeah, you’re invited too,
    yeah, you’re invited too, Bill. we’ll call it “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”..that title hasn’t been taken, right….?

    My power will be disappearing for long stretches of time.

  8. ZinesYou could probably say

    You could probably say the same thing about the zine artform. People tend to think of them as toss-offs that punk kids make to wax unpoetic about their favorite bands and goof off. The zine has developed into a really important and moving artform though especially with the growth in popularity of “per-zines” or personal zines like Cometbus . In fact Aaron Cometbus, creator, primary author, editor of the aforementioned zine, is one of my favorite modern authors who has started putting out chapbooks of his short stories and autobiographical confessions (Chicago Stories and Cometbus’ Mixed Reviews for instance). Now that I ramble about it, I might have to write an article about this myself…

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