Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Gifts for Geeks, Part the Third: Comics for the Rest of Us

Today we're back with another edition of our Exfanding Holiday Guide, with an emphasis on (as the title suggests) comics that can be given as gifts to anyone. Even those who may never have read a comic before.

Especially to those who have never read a comic before.

Because, now, officially, comics are cool and you won't get beaten up if you read one on the train. So, here are a few suggestions for comics gifts for the rest of society:

--These first two are clear cut, no-brainer, can't go wrong gifts for that literary friend of yours who turns his or her nose skyward at the thought of reading a comic book. Watchmen. Not only is it literary, it is literature. And, yes, there's a difference. The same can be said about Neil Gaiman's Sandman series. Watchmen and Sandman are both readily available at comics shops, bookstores, and online sellers, collected in affordable trade paperback form. And, just a head's up--Watchmen is for mature readers, and while Sandman's audience base skews a bit younger, there are still mature themes.

As an aside to this, (and a thanks goes to our buddy and guest poster Gary for the idea) if you're thinking about a specific gift for a hardcore comics fan, consider getting him or her the Absolute Edition of either Watchmen or Sandman. These are much more expensive, leather bound, slip cased, over sized editions of the books, and they serve several purposes.

The first is that they can be used to defend your castle in case of an orc attack, being that they are simply massive, blunt-force-trauma-inducing books. The other, more practical (in most cases anyway), purpose of the Absolute Editions is that they present the art in a size much closer to that of the original art and the panels are re-colored. Think of these as a re-mastered box set of your favorite 1960s or 1970s era rock band.

Several DC Comics series have been given the Absolute treatment over the years, so there's a nice selection of titles available. Just to repeat a caveat, though--these books are expensive, and the majority of them cost $100 a pop.

--Next, we have some Batman stuff. With 2008 being the Year of the Bat, pretty much everyone is now well acquainted with good old Bruce Wayne. So, if you have a friend/family member who enjoyed the movie and wants to get started in the world of comics, here are some good options.

-Heath Ledger Joker fans will want to check out any of these three, creepy Joker stories: The Killing Joke, by Alan Moore, The Man Who Laughs, by Ed Brubaker, and Joker, by Brian Azzarello.

The nice thing about all three of these books is that you really don't need to know anything other than who Batman and Joker are to fully enjoy the stories. So, the casual fan should be able to follow along with no prior continuity knowledge necessary! That said, none of these books are for the kiddies, so be warned.

The Killing Joke is Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's seminal, violent 1980s Joker tale that hinted at the until-then-unknown origins of Joker. Although Moore (author of some of the finest comics ever written) has publicly said this isn't one of his favorite works, the book has become an all-time classic. And Brian Bolland's art is incredible. This is a scary-as-all-get-out version of the Joker, and the story is a haunting look at a life gone terribly wrong. And it's essential DC reading.

The Killing Joke has been collected in a variety of forms over the years, ranging from very affordable soft covers to the recently released 20th Anniversary Hardcover Deluxe Edition, which includes newly colored art by Brian Bolland, as well as an introduction from artist Tim Sale. The hardcover makes a great gift, and it clocks in at about $18.00.

Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke's The Man Who Laughs, written in 2005, is another early days story of Batman and Joker. It flew under the radar when it first came out, but has since gained a nice following, and DC re-released the book in a hardcover edition. Another good gift for someone new to the DCU, Man Who Laughs tells the story of the first meeting between Batman and the Joker.

Joker, by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo, is DC's current, hot book. While this one is set in a Gotham City already well acquainted with the menace of the Joker, it does shed some new light on the character. This isn't classic, old-school Joker by any means, but a new interpretation of the character. And, as you can see by the art, Bermejo's take on Joker is much closer to the Heath Ledger version of the character. Interestingly, Bermejo began drawing the book before the first images of Ledger as Joker were released.

Creepy Joker cover

--There are other great Batman stories that would serve well as introductions to the character, such as Frank Miller's fantastic Batman: Year One and the revolutionary Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

There are also classic Batman stories, written (mostly) by Denny O'Neil and drawn by Neal Adams, collected in three hardcovers entitled Batman Illustrated, volumes 1, 2, and 3. Although expensive at $50 a pop, these stories serve as the 1960s and 70s reintroduction of the character to his dark roots.

--Moving on from Batman and the world of mainstream comics, we have some indy gems for the discerning comics newbie.

For those who like off-beat, avant-garde humor and a mix of horror and noir, well...buy Eric Powell's The Goon. Seriously, buy it now. This Dark Horse series is handily collected in trade paperbacks, so you can start out with Volume One: Nothin' But Misery as a nice intro to the character.

Another great indy title is Alex Robinson's Box Office Poison, or BoP, and the entire series is collected in a big, ol paperback edition that retails for about $30. The story centers around a group of young people trying to find their way in New York City. It's a post modern coming of age tale, and you'll instantly recognize at least a couple of the characters as archetypes of college roommates or friends. And, since the story is collected in its entirety, all you'll need is the one, big volume.

And, if you have kids on your list, a fantastic introduction to the world of comics is Jeff Smith's epic Bone series. The entire, 55 issue run is collected in a massive softcover entitled Bone: One Volume Edition, published by Cartoon Books. And, while it'll run you about $40, this book is a surefire hit with kids. Bone is a whimsical, Lord of the Rings-type epic, with plenty of funny moments and Smith's simple and elegant line will immediately hook kids.

Well, since this post is quickly becoming epic in length, I figure now's a good stopping point. We'll have some more of our Gift Guide tomorrow.

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