Why I read comic books
By John Borger
I read comics for the same reasons I read other kinds of books and watch movies: for relaxation, for amusement, and for inspiration. Iconic superheroes like Superman embody instinctive altruism, Truth and Justice as the ideal American way, and the principle that "with great power there must also come — great responsibility," in the closing words of the first Spider-Man story.
Comics are more than superheroes in costumes. Will Eisner told compact human-interest stories with innovative art in The Spirit newspaper supplements in the 1940s. Eric Shanower is painstakingly telling the gods-free tale of the Trojan War in Age of Bronze. Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier use a dimwitted barbarian to explore social issues in Groo. Ron Marz and Greg Land delved into high fantasy in Sojourn. Bill Willingham brings fairy tale characters into the modern world in Fables, with the Big Bad Wolf and Little Boy Blue battling an unexpectedly familiar adversary. Matt Wagner's Mage put a contemporary spin on Arthurian legend in Mage. Terry Moore examined organized crime, love and death, and the search for happy-ever-after in Strangers in Paradise. I recommend them all, with age-appropriate caveats.
Even within the superhero category, there are too many good stories to pick a single favorite. I've enjoyed a range of superhuman exploits in Neil Gaiman's Sandman, Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, Mark Waid and Alex Ross' Kingdom Come, Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson's Astro City, Darwyn Cooke's The New Frontier, Warren Ellis and John Cassady's Planetary, J. Michael Straczynksi's Rising Stars, Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming's Powers, Neal Adams' Batman tales, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's early Fantastic Four, James Robinson and Tony Harris' Starman, Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse's Tom Strong, Brad Meltzer and Rags Morales' Identity Crisis, and Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting's Captain America.
"The World's Greatest Super-Heroes" by Paul Dini and Alex Ross collects outstanding self-contained stories that capture the essence of classic characters. Some of the smaller, quiet stories have stuck with me the longest: the often-reprinted return to Batman's roots in "To Kill a Legend" in Detective Comics #500 (March 1981) by Alan Brennert and Dick Giordano, and the determined heroism of Wally West in "Nobody Dies" in Flash #54 (Sept. 1991) by William Messner-Loebs, Greg Larocque, and Jose Marzan.
Thanks to the wonders of search engines, interested readers can find most of these stories, and more details about them, with relative ease. If I had to pick a single book to recommend as an introduction to comics, though, it would be Watchmen. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' complex epic deconstruction of superheroes, fascinated me in the 1980s and still resonated with my son's high school and college friends in the last few years. I'm looking forward to the movie.