Friday, December 11, 2009

Things I've Noticed: Non-Traditional Superhero Stories are becoming my favourites

One of the best things about Superhero stories is that they have rules. The traditional European story tends to follow folklore; A young boy is granted magical powers and must rise to be a hero (Spider-man or King Arthur), If you follow the classic American story, a town is in trouble, a stranger arrives and fixes it, and then leaves (Superman, Incredible Hulk). The best part of having these rules is that now different writers can play with them and tell us stories in ways we haven't thought of before.

Today I'm going to look at five of my favourite Superhero stores that play with the rules a little and tell some very compelling stories. Since they are all great, I'm just going to list them in alphabetical order.

1. 52
As this is my 52nd post, I wanted to write about one of my favourite comic series of the last few years, 52. The comic, written by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka and Mark Waid, followed the DC universe for the period of a year without relying on any of its big three heroes (Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman) and doing by releasing a new issue each week (52 issues). It focused on B-level heroes and at the same time really made you care about them. When people ask me where to start with DC comics, this is definitely it.

One of the hardest parts of getting into Superhero comics is that there is so much back story you need to know, it can become overwhelming (I definitely found this out myself a while back). So when a new series, set in an entirely new world comes about, it kind of feels like a breath of fresh air. Astro City actually follows the lives of heroes, villains and normal folks in a city not unlike New York in the Marvel Universe (which houses everyone from the Fantastic Four to the Punisher). Author Kurt Busiek has chosen to follow a location rather than a team or a specific hero, and in doing so, has brought us a comic series that paints a far clearer picture of a world populated by Superheroes.

Joseph Torchia's novel follows a pretty simple structure; a young boy whose life and family are in trouble, tries to make sense of his life by writing to his hero Superman. This novel is really good at showing the relation between readers and comics and how they can help in very difficult times. A warning though, bring some Kleenex, this book is heartbreaking.

Recently I was emailing a friend who was explaining to me that:

"I've read a lot of novels and graphic novels in which the origin story of the superhero is regurgitated for the umpteenth time"

and just how frustrating that can be for the reader. In my opinion, if you want to see an origin story, rather than going for one that focuses on a well-known hero, you should look at one that focuses on the origin itself. In my opinion, M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable was exactly this. A very simple and quiet origin story for a Superhero. Also the fact that it didn't have a sequel added to its impact. Although the massive amount of origin stories out there can get tiring, this one is probably the purist example of an origin story I can recommend.

This anthology series of mosaic novels (wherein many authors get together to tell one story) is one of my personal favourites when it comes to Superheroes. The format is intriguing, as the stories don't have the pictures you would get in a standard comic book. The feel is very similar to the back-story of Watchmen, wherein you follow a number of characters through an alternate history to our own. Oh yeah, and the sex and violence levels are pretty high (which really appealed to me when I started reading these books at age 15). Like all anthologies, some of the stories are better than others, but overall this series of books is definitely worth the look.

So there you have it, five Superhero stories that play with the format a little, and are all the better for it.

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