So Sayeth the Odinson: The Odinson’s Guide to the Wonderful World of Comics: Part 3 of 3

Greetings from the Odinson,

I invite you to join me in the Wonderful World of Comics!

The Odinson has been reading comics now since the late 70s.  I have over thirty years of comic reading experience and a vast knowledge of the Modern Age of Comics.  I consider myself very blessed to be able to make a living in this world at a job working with the medium I love so much.

Over the years, there has been one question that I get asked over and over again – Where do I get started?  It’s usually asked by those that have never read a comic, used to read comics and want to get back into it, or somebody that wants to buy something for a friend or loved one but don’t know what to get.

Comics History starts over 75 years ago and trying to decipher that history and its convoluted continuity for a non or lapsed reader can be a daunting task to be sure.  So here is The Odinson’s Guide to the Amazing World of Comics, a 3-Part column.  In Part 1 I shared my Top Creator Runs on a Title, in Part 2 I shared my Top 5 Big Event Crossovers, and now I will share my Top 5 Must Read Comic Book Stories.

NOTE: On this list, I point out the comics that had major impacts on MY reading habits and the comics that shaped me into the fanboy I am today.  That means the Big Two are getting a lot of love today, so apologies to those expecting to see the smaller and independent publishers on this list.

Part 3: The Odinson’s Top 5 Must Read Comic Stories

First, the Honorable Mentions:
All-Star Superman, Fantastic Four vs. X-Men, The Judas Contract, Wolverine: The Japan Adventure, Under Siege, JLA/Avengers, The Sinestro Corps War, Planet Hulk, and World War Hulk.

5 – Preacher There are many words that can be used to describe this supernatural epic by writer Garth Ennis (Punisher, The Boys) and artist Steve Dillon (Punisher, Hellblazer) – controversial, polarizing, magical, monstrous, inspired – but the Odinson describes it as pure unadulterated FUN.  Make no mistake, boys and girls, this tale is most definitely not an All Ages affair.  When a brand new divine entity awakens in Texas within the mind of disgraced Reverend Jesse Custer, his congregation is destroyed in the holy fires of its unnatural birth.  This new entity empowers Custer with “The Word,” an ability to speak with the voice of God and gives him visions of an empty throne in Heaven.  So Jessie Custer sets out on a harrowing, cross-country quest alongside his gun-toting ex-girlfriend and an Irish vampire to find God.  What follows is the most over-the-top, decadent, thrill ride adventure ever produced in any medium.

Along the way, Custer and his companions have to wade through serial killers, psychotic family members, cannibalistic hillbillies, sadistic hitmen, voodoo magic, gothic underground groupies, the Angel of Death, and a clandestine organization hell-bent on world domination.  From the main cast – two-fisted, no nonsense Reverend Jesse Custer, his tough-as-any-man-walking and Jesse’s true love Tulip, and the hard-drinking Irish vampire, Cassidy, a creature of habit that just can’t seem to fight his true nature, to the most colorful and eclectic supporting cast and Rogues Gallery this side of Batman – the tragic and lovable Arseface, the evil Herr Star, the ominous Saint of Killers – this supernatural tale is full of complex and colorful characters.  Why Hollywood has not turned Preacher into a movie trilogy or a television series on AMC or HBO yet I’ll never know.

NOTE: Glenn Fabry’s amazing and beautifully painted covers add extra POW and visual depth to the mythology (see Preacher: Dead or Alive).

4 – Watchmen Writer Alan Moore (Swamp Thing, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) and artist Dave Gibbons (Doctor Who, Rann/Thanagar War) re-imagine the Charlton Heroes and tell a tale that would change everything.  Watchmen signaled to the rest of the world that comic books were not just for kids anymore.  The story opens with the murder of a masked hero and the investigation by the Question-inspired vigilante Rorschach leads to an eye-opening conspiracy for world change that goes far beyond just a simple close-and-shut case of a Mask-Killer.

The inner monologues, the complex characterization, the dynamic page layouts, the pacing, the rich mythology, the inspired story structure all came together to produce a masterpiece.  The colors by John Higgins are just as important as any other element and add nuances both subtle and obvious that shape and mold this tale into the magnum opus of the Modern Age of Comics.  Watchmen was voted one of the Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century by Time Magazine.  It inspired the movie that is easily one of the best adaptations of the medium and a series of prequels (Before Watchmen).  And it inspired a whole generation of writers and artists and helped pave the way for the comic book market that is thriving today.

3 – Ultron Unlimited The Avengers are Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and the Marvel U’s premiere super hero strike force and of every single super villain, every dark demi god, every single titan from beyond the stars they’ve ever faced down, only one foe sends shivers up and down their spine – Ultron.  Ultron is an A.I. created by Hank Pym (Ant-Man/Giant Man) who based the A.I. on his own brain patterns.  Pym is a brilliant scientist/inventor on par with Bruce Banner and Tony Stark, but the only problem is he can be emotionally unstable and that aspect of his personality transferred over into his creation in spades.  Ultron became self aware and is now on an unholy mission to eradicate mankind.  After every defeat, Ultron always returns stronger, deadlier…smarter.

Ultron Unlimited, a tale by writer Kurt Busiek (Astro City, Conan) and artist George Pérez (New Teen Titans, Wonder Woman), is a the ultimate Ultron story.  The robotic killing machine returns with a vengeance and the first thing it does is wipe out a small country, and that was just to set up a base of operations.  Cold-heartedly, Ultron transforms the eliminated citizens into an army of zombie-cyborgs and his personal watchdogs.  Ultron then kidnaps his extended human family including Hank Pym (his father) and the Wasp (Pym’s ex-wife and by extension Ultron’s mother) and plans to create the ultimate race of machines to exterminate the plague of humanity once and for all.  Captain America and an elite team of Avengers that includes Thor and the Black Panther must fight their way across a hellish landscape to confront the mechanical monster.  It is only after the Avengers narrowly defeat a single Ultron that the true scope of the mechanical nightmare’s threat is revealed.

This tale gives us one the greatest single moments in Avengers History – Thor saying “Ultron, we would have words with thee.”  I get goosebumps just typing the words.  It’s not a coincidence that Ultron is the next Big Bad in Marvel’s next installment of the Avengers movie franchise.

2 – JLA: Rock of Ages This gem set right smack in the middle of the brilliant JLA run by Grant Morrison (Batman, New X-Men) and Howard Porter (Flash, Justice League 3000) is, hands down, one of the greatest pieces of super hero fiction ever produced.  I am on record many times over singing the praise of this beautifully executed masterpiece.  Kevin Smith, director/writer of Clerks and Dogma sang this tale’s praise on his podcast Fatman on Batman, even bringing himself to tears as he reads the final chapter of the piece.  The grand scope of this story arc is mind-blowing.  The World’s Greatest Super Heroes start the tale by trying to derail the latest diabolical scheme of Lex Luthor and his newly formed Injustice Gang, but the Justice League find themselves in the middle of a an adventure through space and time where they will confront titans, dark gods, and a decision that will decide the fate of all existence!  Rock of Ages is truly what super hero comic books are all about and an absolute Must Read for any fan of the genre.

1 – Batman: The Dark Knight ReturnsWas there every really any doubt that this seminal and character-defining tale by Frank Miller (Daredevil, Sin City) and his stellar creative team, Klaus Janson (inker) and Lynn Varley (colorist), would top this list?  This story is the reason Tim Burton’s first Batman movie got made back in 1989.  It is, without a doubt, the inspiration behind Christopher Nolan’s movie trilogy with actual scenes and dialogue being cribbed from the graphic novel and put right into the films.  Frank Miller’s Batman defined the character for the Modern Age and still influences creators to this very day.

In the not too distant future, Bruce Wayne lives out his twilight years with regret, but events are set in motion that draw the Batman out of retirement and the Dark Knight springs into action once again to bring justice to a dystopian Gotham City and lead the way for heroes to return to the DCU once more.  This is an older Batman, a harder edged Batman.  As Miller himself states, he is Clint Eastwood in a cape and cowl.  In this tale we witness the tragic fate of Harvey “Two-Face” Dent, the final battle with the Joker, and an unavoidable showdown with the Man of Steel, a meeting that has defined the relationship of the two icons for nearly thirty years and the inspiration for the upcoming Batman/Superman movie set for release in 2016.

These are the Creator Runs, Major Crossovers, and Storylines that shaped the Odinson into the mega comic fan he is today.  Any one of the links in this column will lead you to an amazing world of discovery, a world of heroes, villains, super science, magic, and high adventure.

Welcome to the Wonderful World of Comics!

This is Odinson bidding thee farewell

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About Odinson

I am a lifelong comics fan and pop culture enthusiast. Comic books, novels, games, television, movies, I love it all. From fantasy to science fiction, drama to comedy, as long as the writing and execution are interesting, I love it, and I want to talk about it.

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