There might not be any new American comics in the shops this week, but that isn’t going to stop some of us from wanting to go out and spend our weekly comics budget. And hey, a comic doesn’t have to be newly-released to be worth reading. So in this post, we’re going to each recommend 5 back issues you might want to go and have a look for down the local this afternoon (or on Saturday, or whenever your New Comics Day is) – not the obvious ones, of course (you don’t need us to tell you to go pick up Gaiman’s Batman issues) but hopefully, a few you might not be aware of.
Although comic shops that stock back issues are a dying breed nowadays, there are still a fair few around that offer good selections. If you’re in London, then the dusty old-fashioned Comicana has probably the best selection, and the back section of the new Orbital premises has rows and rows of stuff as well. Or there’s always Book & Comic Exchange in Notting Hill Gate, which carries an excellent range of second-hand back issues and trades. Meanwhile, if you’ve a Travelling Man in your town, note that for today only, all back issues are being offered on a 3 for 2 deal in their shops. If you’ve any other suggestions for places to pick up back issues this week, then leave them in the comments!
Generation X #71 – Brian Wood might currently be best known for writing three awesome Vertigo series in the shape of DMZ, Northlanders and Demo, but back in the day he wrote this – my favourite issue of the X-Men spin-off, Generation X.
At the time, Wood had joined Marvel under the instruction of Warren Ellis, who was revamping the second-tier X-books, bringing in new creative teams and establishing new directions. The revamp was branded “Counter X”, and the issues of Generation X, X-Man and X-Force that Ellis was directly involved in were recently collected under that name – although, sans the final arcs, which Ellis was not involved in. This issue is from Wood’s first solo arc on Generation X, and also turned out to be his last, as the book was cancelled with #75.
Titled “Four Days”, this arc comprised 4 single-issue stories about Gen X members, set on the same day. This one was the Chamber solo issue, and sees him heading into New York to buy some records, becoming friends with someone as a result. Fans of the original Demo might remember that it tangentally span out of Wood’s “NYX” treatment – and that, itself, seems to have notionally spun out this. It’s a clear precursor to the work Wood and Cloonan would later do in Demo, and if you think this might lack Becky Cloonan’s visuals, well, it has Steve Pugh instead, which is almost enough to make up for it. This issue is easily my favourite, but if you see any from this arc (which ran in Generation X #71-#74) you should snap them up without hesitation.
Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #23 – Remember when Spider-Man unmasked himself live on TV? Admittedly, the denizens of the Marvel Universe don’t, but that’s what makes this issue worth tracking down. Produced during the brief period between Civil War and One More Day when the world knew that Peter Parker was Spider-Man, this issue features the meeting everyone wanted to see – that between Peter and J. Jonah Jameson.
It’s a shame that the change in the relationship between Peter and Jameson couldn’t be explored more, because if this issue’s anything to go by, it could have been an interesting one. Writer Peter David makes excellent use of Jameson, resolving his ranting, insane persona and his honourable member of the press identity to explore the psychology behind his hatred of Spider-Man. It’s not the first time it’s been done – but it is an entertaining example of it. It’s just a shame that things never evolved past this.
Thunderbolts #26 – Back in the days when Thunderbolts was still about villains becoming heroes but not all of them doing it very convincingly, Kurt Busiek had Hawkeye join the team to help steer them in the right direction – after all, he’s an Avenger who started out as a criminal. One of his stipulations, though, was that Abe Jenkins, the former Beetle and one of the teams less hardened criminals – went to jail for a murder he was involved in years ago. Jenkins agreed.
Flash forward to this issue, and the guest creative team of Joe Casey and Leonard Manco write a fill-in about Jenkins’ time in jail. It’s a fantastically atmospheric story in which a gadget-less Jenkins helps quell a prison riot, proving his desire to reform and realising his heroic ambitions – even if no-one knows he helped out. It’s also an interesting perspective on the marvel universe – the super-powered prisons as seen by the villains – and even though it’s not Busiek and Bagley, it manages to be one of the best issues of the original run, worth a look even in isolation.
Uncanny X-Men #351 - The Seagle and Kelly period of the core X-Men books might have been truncated rather disappointingly due to editorial interference, but that’s all in the past now. The issues themselves remain – and of those, this one is an absolute gem.
The story follows Cecilia Reyes, the self-loathing mutant who, despite being rescued by the team during Operation Zero Tolerance, doesn’t want anything to do with the X-Men. She just wants to go back to her life as a doctor, and that’s what happens. Of course, now that she’s a known mutant in affiliated with the X-Men, her old life doesn’t really exist, and visits from Daredevil and a legacy-virus afflicted Pyro only serve to drive that home, as we follow the major beats of a day in which she comes to realise that she’s stuck with the X-Men, whether she likes it or not. Which she doesn’t really. Sadly, the good story is slightly hampered by some fairly gratuitous artwork frolm Ed Benes, who thinks that even a rather sour and highly professional doctor needs to arch her back unnaturally at all times. Still, that’s the kind of imperfection that means this rather good story might just be overlooked in the back-issue boxes.
Incredible Hulk #454 – Peter David and Adam Kubert do Hulk & Wolverine in the Savage Land. And it’s awesome. Assuming, of course, you believe that the Hulk and Wolverine fighting dinosaurs is awesome, which it objectively is. Oh, and at one point a T. Rex attacks a jet plane. If, however, you’re the kind of person who likes a good story to go along with it, Peter David has crafted a classic “outer man versus inner beast” piece that always works for Hulk/Wolverine meet-ups. Add to that his dry wit, and you have a fun read made to look great by the artwork. My personal favourite factoid about the issue is that it’s the first meeting of The Hulk and Wolverine… when he had bone claws, and as you can imagine, there’s plenty of comedy that results from that.
If you’ve missed out on getting started with John Layman and Rob Guillory’s cracking and utterly bonkers tale of cops, contraband chicken and cannibalism, and you don’t want to fork out for the first trade until you’ve had a bit of a taste first (that “taste” thing is a pun that will make more sense when you’ve actually read the comic), and the bajillion reprints that the first issue had at full price *still* weren’t enough for you to catch it, then the ludicrously generous $1 version put out this last month as part of the “Image Firsts” scheme is surely an absolute no-brainer. The fact that Tony Chu is modelled on Miles out of Lost never fails to amuse, even more so when we’re introduced to his floppy-haired part-cyborg partner (in the cop sense, not the Biblical sense), who could quite easily be played by Josh Holloway.
Chloe Noonan : Monster Hunter #1
We’re established fans of Marc Ellerby’s work here at CD, but even if you’re not into romances about young people in bands or autobiographical webcomics, it’s hard not to love Chloe Noonan. You may think you’ve seen plenty of stories about teenage girl monster hunters before, and you’d be right, but what sets Chloe apart is the way the foreground focus is on everyday mundanity, and the monster battles are almost background detail – as Ellerby puts it, the book’s more about Chloe getting the bus to a monster fight than it is about the fight itself. There’s a deadpan tone to it that’s somehow utterly charming, and it’s laugh-out-loud funny at times. Ellerby shows surprising nous as a cartoony-action artist (considering his background), AND it’s got Pixies references in. Both issues so far are cracking fun, though I slightly prefer the first one – largely for the Twix gag at the end. You can find Chloe Noonan in Page 45 in Nottingham, Gosh! in London, the various Travelling Man stores, OK Comics in Leeds, Nostalgia & Comics in Birmingham, and Excelsior in Bristol. So check it out. Huff.
The Dreaming #16
Peter Hogan’s issues of Sandman sequel/spinoff The Dreaming were a rare bright spot in what was initially a patchy-if-interesting venture, before quickly degenerating into unreadable goth nonsense. His best story, “The Lost Boy”, was a four-parter – so instead I’m going to recommend this done-in-one, drawn by Gary Amaro, called “Ice”. It concerns The Sandman‘s two major faerie characters – Nuala and the Cluracan – and shows the former, now living among humans, paid a visit by the clearly infatuated Lucien; while the latter gets drunk in a pub and is similarly visited by his rather-less-infatuated nemesis. It’s the latter thread that’s the more entertaining, and provides a surprising twist to the setup originally created by Gaiman (sadly, it’s a plot strand that to my knowledge was never subsequently followed up on). What really makes it work is that Hogan gets most of Gaiman’s character voices spot on – particularly the ever-amusing Cluracan, but also Lucien, in a subplot that feels slight but is quite sweet and charming. Oh, and there’s a third subplot that doesn’t seem to do much, but briefly picks up on the doings of Brief Lives’ Pharamond. If you’re a fan of Sandman, this is one of the few single issues put out after Gaiman’s departure from all things Vertigo that’s actually worth picking up as a bit of fan-pleasing closure/continuation. Lovely-looking issue, too.
Ghostbusters : Displaced Aggression #1
Another recent one, but the inconsistent shipping patterns of IDW licensed books to UK shops meant I never actually got an issue of this miniseries in the week it was published, and so didn’t properly cover it on the site. Anyway, it was really rather enjoyable – probably my favourite comics interpretation of the Ghostbusters (and I say that as someone who liked the 2004 88mph Studios version, too). Maybe it’s just the Back to the Future fanboy in me that got such a kick out of a flying, time-travelling Ecto-1, but the time travel scenario actually suits the characters down to the ground. This first issue is “the Venkman issue”, and it rattles along (thankfully moving on from the Wild West scenario quicker than expected, having launched into the story in medias res). The addition of more-than-she-seems-at-first grad student Rachel Unglighter to the cast actually works surprisingly well – in fact, in this issue you barely notice that the other three ‘busters are missing. It’s just well-paced, entertaining fluff, basically. Well worth a look.
Justice League International Annual #4
I reviewed the previous year’s JLI Annual on the site some time back, but if anything, this one from 1990 is even better. What makes it worth recommending as a random back-issue to try is that it’s almost entirely standalone – the characters it focuses on, The Injustice League, had only had one prior appearance, and are given more than enough context here that it’s almost an entirely new introduction. All you need to know is that they’re down-on-their-luck, rubbish supervillains who don’t much like each other yet can’t avoid forming a team. Basically, the issue reads like a pilot for the best supervillain sitcom you’ve never seen – and the idea of having them decide to try and join the JLI, judging it a more profitable career path than petty crime, is inspired. It’s tremendously funny, and it’s got G’nort in it. What more could you want? Should you happen to stumble across this in the back issue bins, you couldn’t ask for a more chucklesome read.