A summer blockbuster four years in the making (sorta) bursts onto the screen this weekend with Marvel’s The Avengers. Marvel Comics has made some tremendous victories, (Iron Man, Captain America) and also some calamitous blunders, (Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider) all with the stable of movies based on its characters. Most of those victories are lead-ups and tie-ins to The Avengers. The fact is, this movie is going to be a license to print money whether or not it’s any good. So, as Policymic’s resident comicbookographer and superherologist, I’m going to ignore the movie and tell you about some comics instead.
This Saturday, May 5, is also the date for an annual event that has happened in comic book shops since 2002: Free Comic Book Day. Virtually any comic book store you walk into will have a wide assortment of comics for patrons to sample, and all absolutely free.
If other stores are anything like New World Comics here in Oklahoma City, there will be a carnival atmosphere with local artists selling and signing their work, face painting, balloons for the kids, and people sporting costumes of their favorite superheroes. It's a ton of fun. And, hey kids! Free comics!
But this day is not free for the shops, so doing a little light shopping — in addition to grabbing the freebies — could be huge for a local business. Just in case you like The Avengers enough to read more of their individual adventures, I’m here to help you out with a buying guide.
First up is Captain America. Cap is enjoying a renaissance in quality storytelling that starts with Captain America vol. 1, by Ed Brubaker and Steve McNiven. These Captain America stories are right where superheroes and super spies meet, as Cap joins up with SHIELD agents to handle the Red Skull’s latest plot. The best news is that, if you like this first volume, there are a lot more where it came from.
Next is the Mighty Thor. There have been some great Thor stories, but for my money, the best is written and drawn by Walt Simonson. You can find his entire run in Thor Visionaries - Walt Simonson vols. 1-5, but just start with the first one to see if it’s to your taste. High fantasy meets superheroics when Thor must defend Asgard against Malekith, the evil lord of elves. Malekith wants to use his Cask of Winters to start a new ice age across the Nine Worlds, all in the name of revenge.
The most recent and best Iron Man stories are written by Matt Fraction, with truly gorgeous art by Salvadore LaRocca. The story of how Tony Stark has to deal with a younger, more aggressive genius who appropriates Iron Man technology for nefarious purposes, starts in The Invincible Iron Man vol. 1 - The Five Nightmares.
There’s a lot of zaniness going on in the Hulk books right now, but I think my favorite read has to be Planet Hulk by Greg Pak and a handful of talented illustrators. Finally tired of his rampages, a cadre of superheroes tries to send the Hulk to a planet where he can live alone and without hurting anyone. Unfortunately, his ship is knocked off course and the Hulk finds himself on a savage planet where he’s captured and forced into gladiatorial games. The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets ... but is he strong enough to lead a rebellion against a cruel and despotic king?
The Black Widow doesn’t normally get the solo spotlight, but her two best stories of super spy action are collected in The Black Widow: Itsy Bitsy Spider. Greg Rucka, with gifted illustrators JG Jones and Scott Hampton, writes a story of a younger Russian spy who feels the mantle of the Black Widow was stolen from her country by Natasha Romanov. Now she’s going to take it back.
Hawkeye ... let’s face it. Hawkeye is a guy with a bow and arrow. He doesn’t have any good stories. He works, more or less, as a team player in various Avengers books but I certainly can’t recommend any stories that are just about him. Bow. Arrow. Lame.
When it comes to the team as a whole, what you want is big action with absolutely zero need to engage your brain. For that, you can’t do better than Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s The Ultimates vol. 1 - Super-Human. Gorgeous art, widescreen action sequences, and fast paced superhero storytelling combine into a book that will introduce you to a team of Avengers similar to the gang on the big screen, but with enough differences to keep you guessing.
If you aren’t sure where your local comic book shop is, use this online locator. There’ll be plenty of free comics to try out and you just might find something to spend your money on as well. You’ll enjoy getting lost in the long histories, and amazing stories, of superhumans beating the hell out of one another in the name of a better world.