Greetings from the Odinson,
Comic Books are known for their larger than life characters and heroic scenarios with mind-blowing revelations and twists that leave the cannon different than it was before. However, they are a compelling sequential style of storytelling that never ends.
Of course, a narrative can be adjusted to fit alternate realities where these rules do not apply, like The Dark Knight Returns and Spider-Man: Life Story, or maybe there are tales exploring a period in the lives of our heroes when they were much younger, like Batman: Year One and Spider-Man: Blue. However, within the mainstream continuity of the comics, our heroes will never grow old and they will continue fighting the good fight forever.
Superman has been around for over 80 years and he will be around, in his prime fighting the good fight on the four color page, long after we are all gone.
This does not prevent creators from telling compelling stories within those never ending confines, tales like The Dark Phoenix Saga, The Judas Contract, and Born Again which build on what came before and add to the lore. While these are self-contain within the narratives of our heroes, they are not the end all, be all of the hero’s journey. No, their adventures continue, albeit in varying degrees of good and bad execution, nonetheless, their overall tale goes on and on and on and…
While the Odinson is very thankful for this (I have always had comic books and the stories they tell in my life, and I cannot imagine them not being around) there is something to be said about a story with a beginning, a middle, and a definitive conclusion. There are few things more satisfying than reaching the end of the journey a good book has taken me on.
For example: The Lord of the Rings.
From the hopeful assembling of the Fellowship of the Ring to their fateful faceoff with the demonic Balrog, from Frodo and Sam’s uneasy alliance with Gollum to the harrowing Battle of Helm’s Deep, and from the immense Battle of the Pelennor Fields to Frodo and Gollum’s final confrontation in the bowels of Mount Doom, this was an epic tale with a rousing Set-Up, an enthralling Story, and a satisfying End that brought closure to it all.
Comic Books have their novels as well.
The Odinson’s Top 5 Novel Length Comics with a Beginning, Middle, and End
5 – The Boys
By Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson.
The Set-Up: In a world where some men and women can leap tall buildings in a single bound, bullets ricochet off diamond hard skin, and collateral damage affects only those without power, who will keep the super humans in check? That’s where the Boys come in.
The Story: After his fiancé is the victim of collateral damage caused by the super heroes, Hughie is personally recruited by Billy Butcher, the leader of a secret team of operatives charged with keeping the super human population in check. As the story unfolds, Hughie learns that the super heroes are not so heroic and conspiracies begin to see light that lead all the way to the highest branches of government.
The Conclusion: This is the story of power and the corruption that goes along with it. What if the super heroes were actually amoral? What would happen to those that stand on the ground and look up?
4 – Invincible
By Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker, and Ryan Ottley.
The Set-Up: Mark is the son of Omni-Man, the world’s greatest super hero. The day Mark discovers he inherited his father’s super powers is the best day of his life. The day he discovers his father is actually an alien spy sent to conquer planet Earth is the day that changed his life forever.
The Story: Robert Kirkman uses all the tropes of super hero comics, and I do mean ALL of them, to tell an epic tale. No stone is left unturned as the Marvel Universe and DC Universe, and even Image Comics and Dark Horse Comics, are all paid respect. But, what makes Invincible really stand out when compared to all the other homage tales out there is every time the reader thinks they know exactly where the story is going it takes a sharp turn left and explores nuances not seen before.
The Conclusion: We witness Mark’s journey from teenage super hero to becoming the champion of mankind to grizzled veteran of intergalactic war and ultimately leader and family man. We witness the birth of a Legend.
3 – The New Universe
By Jim Shooter, Mark Gruenwald, and John Byrne (and a who’s who of legendary talent).
The Set-Up: In a 1986 set in an alternate reality that resembles our real world, a celestial light called The White Event engulfs planet Earth. In its wake, hundreds of people around the globe begin to develop supernatural powers and abilities.
The Story: Several comic book series, including DP-7, Justice, Spitfire, Kickers Inc., Merc, Nightmask, and Psi Force, fleshed out this world and explored the dynamics and dramas created in this real world setting by the sudden emergence of super powers (years before the TV show Heroes). The flagship title of the New Universe was Star Brand. At the heart of the story was Kenneth Connell, a flawed man given the powers of a god. The origins of his immense power, basically the ability to do whatever it is he thinks he can do, ties directly into the White Event itself and his overall narrative impacts the entire New Universe.
The Conclusion: The story begins with The White Event and it is what would become known as The Black Event that brings the story crashing down to its end. After a moment involving Kenneth Connell and the power of the Star Brand leads to the total destruction of the city of Pittsburg, this world is forever changed, again.
All the comics set in the New Universe still being published at the time of the Black Event come to an end, as they show the aftermath of this cataclysm. The flagship title, Star Brand, ends with a philosophical look at beginnings, endings, and rebirths and cycles upon cycles.
NOTE: Over the years there have been references, reboots, and alternate realities featuring elements from the New Universe (i.e. Exiles: World Tour, NewUniversal, and Marvel NOW), but the original New Universe chronicle is still a self-contained narrative.
2 – Preacher
By Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon.
The Set-Up: In the heavens, a new divine power is born. A preacher in Texas has lost his faith. In a fiery explosion the two are merged. Now, empowered with the Word of God, Jesse Custer, along with his tough-as-nails ex-girlfriend, Tulip, and hard-drinking vampire buddy, Cassidy, sets out on a cross-country odyssey to find God, who is missing from Heaven.
The Story: To try and describe all the delicious goodness that is in this bombastic, epic tale would be futile, at best, and do this seminal tale a disservice, at worse. It’s a broad, deep story that involves serial killers, voodoo, faith, angels and devils, debauchery, the human condition, family, a clandestine organization bent on world domination, fear and anger, love and loss, and the Angel of Death.
The Conclusion: By time we reach the concluding chapter every single plot thread and subplot is given closure and every single character the reader has come to love, or hate, over the course of the graphic novel gets, in the writer’s own words, “…exactly what they deserve.”
Including one well deserved ride off into the sunset.
By Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema (and Steve Ditko).
The Set-Up: A centuries old intergalactic war between the noble Spaceknights of Galador and the sinister, shape-shifting Dire Wraiths spills over to planet Earth. Now, ROM, greatest of the Spaceknights, must try and defend mankind, who fear him, against an evil they don’t even realize walks among them.
The Story: Long ago, ROM gave up his humanity to become a super cyborg soldier in a war against the evil Wraiths, a race of aliens from the dread Black Nebula. After delivering a decisive blow to the Wraiths, the Spaceknights set out in pursuit of the Wraiths who have been scattered across the galaxy. This brings ROM to Earth where he is treated with fear and attacked by the very humans he has come to protect.
Over the course of the series, ROM gathers human allies like Torpedo and Rick Jones, and he falls in love with an Earth girl named Brandy Clark. Brandy herself eventually becomes a Spaceknight and joins the fight. ROM battles and befriends many of Earth’s heroes including Jack of Hearts, Shang Chi, Thing, Hulk, Sub-Mariner, the Soviet Super Soldiers, Alpha Flight, and the X-Men, to name a few.
The Conclusion: There is one final epic battle where ROM and the Heroes of Earth unite to finally defeat the Dire Wraiths once and for all. His duty complete, ROM leaves Earth behind and travels the stars for a while before finally making his way back home to Galador. The series ends with a heartwarming reunion between ROM and his true love, Brandy Clark.
After fighting for so long, ROM gets the ultimate treatment any fictional character can hope for. He and Brandy live happily ever after.
NOTE: IDW’s ROM is an alternate reality ROM whose story is still ongoing.
These tales above prove that comic books can be every bit as epic as any novel and provide the reader with a beginning, middle, and satisfying ending that they will remember always.
This is Odinson bidding thee farewell
NOTE: Be sure to check out my book – The Survivors: A Glen Haven Tale. Available in Paperback, Kindle, and Audiobook.