How do you pass the time between the evocative madness of Burroughs and the impending, sure-to-change-how-I-think work of the world's greatest black feminist writer? With comic books, of course! I borrowed a small stack from the local library; sadly it wasn't much of a crop.

Straight up, I must confess a DC (that's Detective Comics to the uninitiated) bias. I have a soft spot for Batman, though I realise he can be as badly written and boring as any character written by multiple authors. A friend presented an argument (I can't remember if it was his or if he was quoting someone else) for Batman being the hero best representing young boys' fantasies, and it's a good one: he has no parents, effectively infinite money, cooler toys than everyone else and - for the slightly older boys - as many women as he wants with a "good excuse" to remain a bachelor. But still, I like the guy when he's written well, and so I like the stable that birthed him.

So three of the titles I borrowed were DC. Two of them, it turns out, were continuations of stories I haven't read. Justice League International, from the 80s, is a more-or-less comedy version of the DC super-team, with less well known heroes getting into comedy scrapes and bickering while saving the world. One fault with the library system - they always manage to obscure the volume number on the hardcover comic collections with the call number stickers. The one I picked up? Volume 3. And no, they didn't have volume 1 or 2 in my branch. So I skipped most of this one, except for a bit here or there which seemed to stand alone.

Justice Society of America - Thy Kingdom Come, Part One is quite a mouthful. So's the book: the modern version of DC's golden age (read: World War II, Nazi-fighting era) super team is bringin in new recruits, mostly heroes related to their original members. But then they also manage to free the older, darker version of Superman from Mark Waid and Alex Ross's famous book, Kingdom Come, and let him join their team too. But of course, it's hinted he didn't come alone... It's not bad, but despite the character bios at the start I'm still a little lost among the acres of continuity on display - and in this case I have read at least some bits of what came before.

52: The Companion was the best of the DC books in this batch. A couple of years ago DC did a big world-altering storyline called Infinite Crisis, at the end of which a bunch of characters died and Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman - the "big three" - took a year off. The comics telling their stories skipped a year into the future and a new title, 52, told the story of that missing year in little bits using a variety of less famous characters. I haven't read 52, but that's okay - this companion presents a story from the archives for each of the main characters of 52, and they're a gloriously varied bunch. Ridiculous time travel stories, a good scientist gone mad, a sportstar of the future turning to crime to become a superhero in the's all in there. So's a story from Grant Morrison's Animal Man from the 80s, when mainstream comics (by which I mean ones featuring superheroes from the big publishers) finally started to experiment with weird stuff. I do love Animal Man. This one was a lot of fun. There's a lot of time travel in it, too; I hadn't stopped to think about how much of that goes on in comics.

I'll skip quickly over Battle Hymn. I swore not so long ago that I would stay away from anything published by Image Comics, but this one... Well, it said "Moore" on the cover, and I can only assume this is a ploy to make you think of Alan Moore, and that's what made me pick it up. It's basically a "what if the government only recruited superheroes to kill them off?" riff on the early Golden Age Marvel stuff; the characters are not very far from the originals, though the designs and characterisations serve the story well enough. Nice art, okay dialogue in parts, but it's pretty sexist, even allowing it's a pastiche on the stories of the time. There's no real surprise about the ending. Disappointing but I might look up the writer and artist in future now they have this one out of their system.

Finally, I picked up a proper Moore - Alan Moore's Promethea, volume 2. I have it on good authority that later in its run Promethea devolved from an actual story into a place for Moore to air his theories on magic and the universe in general, and that starts with the issues in this volume. The heroine is the latest mortal to incarnate the titular goddess figure, but she starts off clueless and assaulted by demons. I confess that when Moore starts writing whole issues of "magical theory" and tied into ill-conceived folk versions of quantum theory that I'm slightly more interested in the second-string "science heroes" he's invented than in his actual heroine, but I have to give props for experimentation with style and content - this is one of those books you show people who think comics are just for kids - and also Sophie, the girl who becomes Promethea. In those rare moments when the character gets to come out and play, rather than just acting as someone who needs to be told all about mysticism and Moore's ideas of how the universe works, she's great. I fear there will be even less of that in future volumes, however...

Well, that ended up being much longer than I intended. Hopefully you'll have skipped this if comics aren't your thing. I realised while writing it that it's very difficult to talk about most comics without referencing other comics; the ones I truly love, though, tend to be ones that don't fall into this category. I promise to write about Y: The Last Man, which is amazing, when I finally read the last two volumes.


  1. I've seen Promethea in the library and thought it looked cool - is it worth reading? More specifically - does it have a decent female character who won't make me want to claw my eyes out?

    I've wanted to read Y: The Last Man for ages as well, and I gather that you recommend it. I've heard a lot of good things about it.

  2. The answer to your first question is tricky. The lead character in Promethea is okay, but I fancy that she - along with most of the rest of the female cast - are okay female characters, rather than excellent ones. They probably won't (all) make you want to claw your eyes out. I recommend reading the first collection, and taking it from there. I'm not sure I'll carry on past volume two, though.

    I definitely recommend Y: The Last Man. It's probably my favourite comic book. It may be written by a man and yes, the lead character is the only man in a world full of women, but the writing is very good and the lead women are good too. I'll write more about it here shortly, since I decided to get through some more comics before embarking on Bell Hooks, and will be reading volume 9 of Y any day now. I'm excited - it's almost the end!