Believe it or not…there are people out there completely disinterested in the prospect of reading a comic book.

Poor things.

Last week, in the introductory shot called The Readership Movement, I forcefully suggested that from a content standpoint…we possess what the masses desperately need. Good stories. Told by accomplished and talented storytellers. Containing these great stories by skillful craftsman (and women) in the satisfying mold known as the graphic novel serves to deliver into the hands of the comic virgin the best chance for conversion. Include your coveted behind-the-scenes material and we’re ready to do some damage.

Now, with this is mind…allow me to toss a fresh rock into the pond.

Pop Culture Superhero Icon

There are certain comic heroes, through a convoluted train of events, that have secured status as pop culture icons. The everyman, though unfamiliar with the intricacies of their present-day comic interpretations, have some vague mental perspective on their existence. We’re talking heavyweights like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, and possibly even the X-Men. They may not read comic books, but they’ll know these characters upon hearing them mentioned in conversation.

These are potential weapons in our cause.

I have a roommate who doesn’t read comic books…at all. Period. If I’m attempting to feed him some quality material accessible to someone who previously couldn’t give a damn…what should I give him? How about Marvel’s beautiful Inhumans mini-series from a couple years back? It’s a complete story, nice trade dress and all. Good idea?

Possibly…but not the best one.

I’m giving him X-Men, Spider-Man, Batman, delivering expert representations of characters he holds some familiarity with. Remember what I said last week…gotta crawl before you can walk.

The following are five graphic novels appropriate for anyone confused or ambivalent to what we do around here. They blend my prescribed requirements to varying degrees, and sometimes even contradict them, but at the end of the day…

…if my roommate ever wanted a comfortable place to start…this is where I’d send him.

Batman: The Long Halloween (DC Comics)
Writer: Jeph Loeb; Artist: Tim Sale

Fandom continues to ineffectively wash the foul taste of Batman and Robin from our collective consciousness. When that responsibility is completed, attempts must be made to perform a similar act of cleansing in regards to the 60s television series. Mainstream press would have you believe that this pop culture icon exists in the realm of camp antics and colorful sidekicks. But at least they know who the hell Batman is, and we’ve got just the thing for that ass anyway.

The Long Halloween is a murder mystery. A modern whodunit where the list of likely suspects includes nearly anyone in Gotham City with a functioning pulse. The serial killer strikes exclusively on holidays, and utilizes an untraceable murder weapon and bizarre modus operandi that leaves corpses lying aside small tokens of celebration. Meanwhile a criminal empire is collapsing, an eager district attorney is hiding a terrible secret, and a dark knight is learning that nothing is ever as it seems.

The end result is a page-turner of frantic proportions that not only offers an exciting visual take on the Batman himself, but on his bizarre rogues gallery as well. The nearly inseparable duo of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale are among the industry’s best storytellers and The Long Halloween is just the thing to begin a novice’s comic odyssey and show them how Batman really gets down.

Ultimate X-Men: The Tomorrow People (Marvel Comics)
Writer: Mark Millar; Artists: Adam & Andy Kubert

People fear and hate what they don’t understand. But only in the realm of the X-Men would the government send a battalion of giant robots into a major city to exterminate their little social problem.

If you enjoyed the X-Men movie then you’ll enjoy The Tomorrow People. Mark Millar offers a progressive look at what it means to be a hunted minority in the twentieth century and is unencumbered by considerations of budget and restraint. This allows the writer to script a tale that does everything one could want from a summer popcorn flick. His artistic collaborators the Kubert brothers handle the bold widescreen visuals, while Millar sprinkles the package with sharp dialogue and unexpected plot twists. This could very well become the next X-Men movie…if Hollywood was willing to spend three hundred million.

Star Wars: Dark Empire (Dark Horse Comics)
Writer: Tom Veitch; Artist: Cam Kennedy

Just when you thought I was following a prescribed formula for this thing comes a collection from Dark Horse Comics that was one of the first mini-series I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish as a novice reader. Why did I pick it up in the first place? Did you honestly just ask that question? It’s Star Wars. A galaxy far, far away and all that jazz.

There’s not a person alive that hasn’t devoted at the very least a passing thought to the possible untold adventures following the events in Return of the Jedi. Does Luke Skywalker revive the Jedi Knights, once again forming the backbone of a New Republic? Do Leia and Han have a flock of little Jedi kids? Does anyone finally kill the damn droids?

Dark Empire offers one interpretation of the next battle, and it’s certainly exciting watching it all unfold. The emperor comes back to life. Young Skywalker falls to the Dark Side. The heirs of Jabba the Hutt have put a monumental price on the heads of Princess Leia and Han Solo. And there’s something even worse than the Death Star lying in wait. This collection is going to make you wish that Lucas wasn’t only intending prequels to the Star Wars mythos.

Supported by nearly thirty pages of supplemental material that offer a more comprehensive look at the ‘expanded’ Star Wars universe, this collection is for anyone that ever enjoyed the Star Wars Trilogy and wondered what could possibly come next.

100 Bullets: First Shot, Last Call (DC Comics/Vertigo)
Writer: Brian Azzarello; Artist: Eduardo Risso

Imagine someone screws you over. I mean really screws you the fuck over. Screws you to the point where your life is never the same, where everything you ever cared about, ever valued…is painfully stripped away. You’re living a perpetual existence of ‘what ifs’ and ‘what could have beens’ revolving around a highlight reel of your life being flushed down a drain. And you don’t even really understand why. Or that it wasn’t even your fault.

One day you’re approached by a man claiming that your so-called life wasn’t the result of an unfortunate accident. This man offers irrefutable evidence implicating the bastards that conspired against you and turned your existence into an inescapable nightmare. He’s carrying an attaché case with a gun and one hundred untraceable bullets, providing you the opportunity to commit murder against those that have plotted against you…and get away with it. This stranger has offered you the chance to get away with murder…do you take it?

This is the remarkably sharp premise behind the critically-acclaimed DC/Vertigo series 100 Bullets that is one of the most consistent monthly reads in comics today. It’s edgy, graphic, violent, and haunting while never failing to simultaneously astonish and bewilder. Like any good epic it leads you by the nose from place to place, dealing out answers at its own leisure, and maintaining a vow of secrecy and nondisclosure that ensures the tale’s ultimate conclusion will be as satisfying as its beginning.

I’m bending my own rules by including this collection of the first five issues on my list of recommendations, but to put it simply…it’s just that good. 100 Bullets is the comic industry’s version of an HBO Original Series that breaks and then re-invents the rules every time out. Crisp realistic dialogue, engrossing character development, and phenomenal storytelling make this a graphic novel to display just how much the artform has evolved.

I allowed a professor to borrow this and he was literally knocked on his ass. This was unlike any “comic” he’d ever seen…and that’s why it’s here. It admirably substitutes mainstream costumed theatrics with pure style and execution.

Ultimate Spider-Man Volume 1: The Hardcover (Marvel Comics)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis; Artist: Mark Bagley

Take notice for this is the official Big Poppa of the trade paperback. It takes nearly everything into account and causes it to manifest in three dimensions, and offers the perfect package for someone that isn’t quite sure what we’re all about. The story is a bold retelling of the origin and humble beginnings of a powerful superhero pop icon. Yeah, the one with the movie hitting theaters in May. After viewing it they may become fascinated regarding the source material from which the likely blockbuster was based. This book is what they will be asking for.

Brian Michael Bendis, one of the busiest and most talented writers in the game today strips outdated continuity and concepts down to their ankles and delivers the origin of Spider-Man as filtered through the lens of modern pop culture. Where others have fallen flat on their face attempting such a feat, Bendis revels in the freedom, successfully developing his characters to such an unbelievable degree that even with Peter Parker not emerging from the ashes as Spider-Man until nearly the fifth issue…you haven’t even really noticed.

Anyone that’s ever wondered what it’d be like to have powers beyond those of normal men will find something to personalize over the course of thirteen frantic issues. Whether it’s Peter’s inclination to benefit his own nonexistent popularity through the use of his abilities, his naiveté in believing that he can strong-arm the Kingpin of Crime,
or when he decides to…well, that would be telling wouldn’t it? Regardless, there are aspects of Bendis’ opening assault that people will be able to relate to and therefore internalize. In the Ultimate universe, Peter Parker is that kid many of us were in high school that longed for something great in our lives.

To make matters even better the saga unfolds over hundreds of oversized glossy pages wrapped in a beautiful hardcover and dust jacket. The rear of the weighty text is filled with additional supplements that detail the birth of the Ultimate universe and the attention to detail that encompasses modern comic books. The original plot by Bill Jemas, character sketches from Mark Bagley, detailed communications between Bendis and Marvel, lost pages of script, and concluding remarks.

This is the total package here folks. And it stands the potential of flying off the shelves in the wake of the Spider-Man film. Get your copy now before some greedy newcomer steals it out from under you.

These are the bullets I’d fire at someone who doesn’t know whether or not they want to test the waters. Accessible stories (most featuring well-known characters) that can easily serve to wane a novice into a very deep and very diverse pool.

Brandon Thomas

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