The comics you love needn’t be embarrassing – instead you should learn to love them. Embrace your comic book guilty pleasures (even if everybody else hates them!)
So the trailer for the latest DC/WB game Injustice 2 was released today, and it got me thinking about the comic book series that has been coming out pretty consistently since the first game was released over 3 years ago. I wouldn’t be surprised if it ranked pretty highly on people’s lists of comic book guilty pleasures. The comics themselves lead up to the events of the game, where Superman, driven somewhat mad by the death of Lois Lane at the hands of The Joker, establishes a new world order. He is the head of a totalitarian regime, which seems unlike him. Batman, obviously against this sort of thing, enlists the help of fellow Justice Leaguers to bring down said regime.
If you read all of that as “something-something-video-game-logic now all your heroes fight each other”, you’d be pretty much spot on. The comics meanwhile, using a structure of 5 separate seasons or ‘years’ of comics, brings the reader from a ‘standard (if alternate)’ DC Universe to an ‘Oh God no why are my beloved heroes knocking seven bells out of each other?!’ DC Universe.
To say the reception has been mixed is an understatement. I’ve never known a comic to be more polarising than this one, from people loving the over-the-top action and freedom that an alternate history provides, to complete bafflement at it’s sheer dumb awfulness.
I’ve yet to dive in to the series, but now that a trailer for the inevitable sequel has brought the franchise back onto my radar I’ll have to give it a go. A massive part of me has avoided it – at least subconsciously – due in some small part on the very nature of it. The cynical side of me sees it as nothing more than a glorified advert designed to sell the game. The snobby part of me sees it as ‘not real comics’ because it’s a weird prequel/adaptation of a video-game. The downright weird part of me worries that if I read it and enjoy it, those first two reasons would force it into my list of ‘comic book guilty pleasures’: a truly random category in my mind.
Why the hell do we feel guilty about things we enjoy??
Saying that something is a guilty pleasure of yours is in some way admitting that liking it is wrong, and making light of (read: dismissing) the fact that you like it in order to compartmentalise it – heaven forbid it sits in your mind next to more socially acceptable books to enjoy, like Usagi Yojimbo or Stray Bullets. If you like something that other people hate, then for some reason that enjoyment needs justification. If enough people hate the thing you love – be it hundreds, or hundreds of thousands – then sometimes it’d be easier (and less damaging on your ‘street cred’…do people still say ‘street cred’?) to call it one of your ‘comic book guilty pleasures’ and move on.
So when does a comic book guilty pleasure become just a regular pleasure? Logic would suggest it’s when you no longer feel guilty about enjoying it, when you can openly and confidently admit that the thing other people dislike, deride or straight up hate is something very dear to you. So that’s what I’m going to do – by admitting my love for the books that I have, in the past, firmly categorised in the ‘guilty pleasure’ category I can shed myself of the burden of guilt and get back to actually just enjoying these comic books! Therefore I present to you:
My Comic Book Guilty Pleasures
I cut my teeth on the Heroes Reborn comics. Back in the late 90’s, Marvel – dsperately trying to stave off bankruptcy – ended some of their core comics after decades of continuity and hundreds of issues, rebooting four of them with new number 1’s under the coolest, most sought after creative teams of the time.
Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Captain America and The Avengers were all cast off to an alternate dimension for a year where they got new origins, new costumes and new adventures under creators such as Jim Lee, Brandon Choi, Rob Liefeld, Scott Lobdell and more.
These were among some of the first American comics that I got my hands on and I lapped them up. While some of the sheen has been taken off them with subsequent re-reads, I still enjoy them to this day. The whole Heroes Reborn – and it’s follow-up/conclusion Heroes Return- are pretty universally panned by critics as a cheap gimmick that worsened the franchises it touched. For me though, that 4-part Heroes Return mini-series still stands up as super fun.
Marvel Civil War
Ok, this one I don’t love per se, but I genuinely don’t see what all the negative fuss is about, and why people are coming out in droves almost universally hating this book. Overall I prefer my books to be about the heroes fighting the bad guys and not, you know, each other, but Steve McNiven’s art was fantastic and Captain America’s escape from theHelicarrier in issue one is awesome. At the time I enjoyed reading it and subsequent re-reads haven’t really changed that.
Brian Michael Bendis
Not him as a person you understand – I’ve never met him – but rather his body of work so far. I’m starting to see what people mean when they say his ‘realistic’ way of writing dialogue is tiring. His latest books for Marvel (Invincible Iron Man and International Iron Man mostly) have irritated me more than normal, but I’m loving the new Spider-Man series he’s writing, and the complete over-sized hardcover collection of Ultimate Spider-Man sitting on my shelf right now is proof I love his work on that series.
When it was coming out I had nothing but praise for his Avengers/New Avengers run. Looking back on it I get frustrated that it’s so ground-level, you know? The Avengers I love are cosmic adventurers, not trapped in a building fighting Hood over and over again (rubbish character in my humble opinion). But that was a particular era of The Avengers and the ground-level stuff was sort of a consequence (in universe) of stories like Breakout and Civil War, as well as being very much a product of their time. So while I have in the past consigned Bendis’s Avengers run to the pile of Comic Book Guilty Pleasures, today I admit that I am guilty no longer!
Now those in the know would never consider this a comic book guilty pleasure, but for many more casual fans in the west, Manga is an extremely niche interest at best, and weirdly fetishistic at worst. While some books definitely do fall into the latter category, manga is becoming ever more prominent thanks to series like Attack on Titan and Deathnote. So why do I still feel guilty?
To dismiss Manga is as ridiculous as dismissing comics or movies. The genres and diversity of content is as vast as either of those two mediums and I guarantee you’ll find something that you’ll love. Yes there’s seedy, creepy manga out there, but there’s seedy, creepy movies and comics from the west too.
I’ve never felt particularly guilty about enjoying Manga, but there’s still a stigma attached to it that may raise a few eyebrows among the uninitiated. But I’m currently deep into FullMetal Alchemist and loving books like Nisekoi, One Punch Man and Requiem of the Rose King, all of which are as brilliant as they are unique.
Just…90s comics in general
If you have a list of comic book guilty pleasures, there’s no way there’s not a few of these on your list. I feel like there’s actually a turning tide in favour of 90s comics, and there’s a couple reasons behind that. Firstly, we’re far enough out of that time period that we can really examine it ‘from the outside’ so to speak; it’s a lot clearer to pick out the wood when you’re not surrounded by the trees you know?
Secondly all the creators coming up in comics and really shaping the landscape right now grew up reading those 90s comics, and as we’ve already established in this very article, nostalgia is a big thing. That’s why you get people like Remender and Zdarsky building stories around characters like Onslaught and Howard The Duck.
The thing is, the books they’re referencing are the very books I grew up reading too, so while people of a slightly older age-bracket might have been frustrated with the endless knifes and pouches, there’s a whole wealth of awesome 90s comics just waiting to be rediscovered with fresh eyes.
I can only imagine that if I dig deeper through my long boxes I’ll find more and more books that I love despite the haters, but I think the list above is certainly enough to keep me going. The big question now though is: