The Big Smoke Guide to Reading and Enjoying Comics, Part 1

DOWNLOAD: Action Comics 775 ‘What’s So Funny About Truth Justice And The American Way?’

Welcome to a new feature of my blog which I have just invented. Basically, the idea of this feature is to write an introduction to a particular comic and explain why it is worth reading. I’ll make the comic I write about available to download with each blurb and then you can read it and be amazed at my insightfulness. If I can find the time to do so, I will post up more comics in future and perhaps I’ll succeed in sharing some of my childlike enthusiasm.

I recently told some friends I’d upload a personal favourite of mine, Action Comics 775, which features a story entitled ‘What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice And The American Way?’ That seems an appropriate starting point, and actually I happen to think it makes a pretty good introduction to modern comics.

If you’re new to comic books, Action Comics is one of several Superman titles currently available. I’m fairly confident I don’t need to explain who Superman is.

In order to fully appreciate the message behind this particular issue, it helps if you know a little about the evolution of superhero comics. It’s fair to say comics have become virtually synonymous with superheroes and the storytelling conventions well-established even among non-readers. Partly due to the success of film and television adaptations, superheroes have now been thoroughly integrated into all aspects of popular culture.

During the 1990s, the popularity of comics began to seriously wane as younger readers were lured away by video games and movies. In response, publishers made desperate attempts to revamp their major titles, with mixed success.

Although comic book storytelling had made major advances in the 1980s, the writing began to become secondary to the artwork during the 1990s. This was because the stylised art of the time was one of the few features of comics capable of attracting the younger readership the publishers were so desperate to retain.

In 1992, seven of the most high-profile of this new breed of artists formed Image Comics in order to develop their creator-owned properties. As you might expect, the comics which they published featured weak characterisation and poor scripting. However, they also had the most dynamic art available in comics and as a consequence were massively successful. Therefore they set the benchmark for the whole industry and publishers worked even harder to turn established, previously wholesome superheroes into bland, brooding anti-heroes.

At the tail end of this period, readers were introduced to Warren Ellis’ The Authority. I love The Authority, but it is characterised by graphic violence, its grand scale and the uncompromising attitudes of its central characters. The Authority, published by Wildstorm, once a subsidary of Image, took the evolution of the 1990s to its logical and thoroughly nihilistic conclusion.

Of course, there was an inevitable backlash as hardcore comic book fans lamented the loss of their beloved characters. Consequently, during the last decade a lot has been done to restore continuity which had been lost (most notably by DC Comics).

The story in ‘What’s So Funny About Truth Justice And The American Way?’ is allegory for these shifts in comic book history. The Elite, with their careless attitude to law and order, function as a thinly veiled parody of The Authority. Superman of course represents the more traditional and wholesome superhero of a bygone era, who abides by a strict code of morality at all times. The writer, Joe Kelly, concludes Superman’s greatest power lies in the values he ardently upholds and his terrifying powers do not make the man.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, but I’m curious to know what people think regardless. The download link is at the top of this post.

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4 Responses to “The Big Smoke Guide to Reading and Enjoying Comics, Part 1”

  1. great intro! i’ve never heard of it, but very much look forward to reading it.

  2. thebigsmoke Says:

    I saw this. Hopefully it will be better than Batman: Year One.

  3. the LiDer Says:

    Why are superhero animated series so badly drawn?

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