Thunder Matt's Book Review: Nerd Edition

August 28, 2008 | Comments (0) | by Rich Funk

I'm not going to pretend. If you couldn't tell already, I am a nerd. A geek. A dork. I grew up watching the original 3 Star Wars movies over and over again. I read science fiction books on a regular basis. I've been in debates over who would win in a fight, Boba Fett or Harrison Ford from Blade Runner. You name the nerdy activity, and I'm probably guilty of it (although I never really had any interest in Star Trek...and I've never been to the San Diego Comic Con, although I was on math team in high school, so that may bring me back to even).

Knowing this, it's pretty much a given that I would be a comic book fan as well. It started while I was young with a few issues of G.I. Joe and grew from there. Over the years, I've read little bits of just about everything there is, from the really good (Preacher, Sandman) to the downright awful (Green Hornet? Lame.).

When The Dark Knight came out last month and had the trailer for Watchmen attached to it, the buzz started building immediately. What is this movie? Where can I learn more about it? For those of you who don't know, Watchmen is a graphic novel that's been out since the 80's that is considered to be one of the top comics of all time (more on that later).

Now what is a "graphic novel"? How is it different from a regular old comic book? Glad you asked. There are 2 things that a graphic novel can be:

1. One single story that's too big to fit into a 30 page comic, so it comes out in a book form.
2. A bunch of issues of a comic series that form one story and are collected in one place so you don't have to hunt all of them down to read the whole thing.

Watchmen falls into the second category. The original series was made up of 12 comics that came out once a month. Once the popularity spiked soon after, all 12 issues were re-released into one single book.

Graphic novels are the easiest way to read long (and usually way out of print and hard to find) comic stories without having to shell out much money. And honestly, despite the sometimes negative stereotypes that go along with both comic books and comic fans, they can be interesting to read and enjoyable for people of any age. And guess what? Did you see Iron Man this summer? How about The Dark Knight? Well then you are already one foot in the door, good sir. So strap yourself in as I give you a little taste of where you should go if you have the urge to jump into this wonderful world:

Watchmen is the Citizen Kane of graphic novels. It's a highly acclaimed piece of work both within the comic industry and outside of it. It's the only graphic novel to be named to Time Magazine's Top 100 Novels since 1923. The story is set in an alternate future in the 1980's, where President Nixon is campaigning for his 5th term in office. The Doomsday Clock, measuring the tension between the US and Russia, is permanently set at 5 minutes to midnight. Masked superheroes exist, but were outlawed in the 70's. Now, someone is going around and killing the ex-superheroes as part of a larger agenda. This story is less about big fights and superpowers (only one person in the whole story can actually do anything "super") and more about the constant nuclear threat and fear that people had to live under during the Cold War. This story starts out a bit slow, but the last three chapters will knock you on your ass.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
Anyone who enjoyed The Dark Knight this summer will most likely love this story. Also set in the future, Frank Miller's reinvention of Batman is considered the moment when Batman lost a lot of the campy fun he was known for in the early days of his comics, and became darker and grittier (just like the change from Joel Schumacher's Batman to Christopher Nolan's). After the death of Robin, Batman retires and starts hitting the bottle pretty hard. Only after trouble brews up again in Gotham City (why the hell would anyone continue to live there?), a 50 year old Batman has to come out of retirement to deal with Two Face and The Joker (Sound familiar?). The art is fantastic and the writing is top notch. And there's a Superman cameo. I highly recommend this book.

Superman: Red Son
We all know the story of Superman, right? Alien crash lands on Earth in Kansas and is raised to become the embodiment of America and defend the country against all kinds of bad guys. What would have happened if Superman's ship had crashed 12 hours later and ended up in Russia instead of America? That's what Superman: Red Son takes a look at. How would the Cold War have turned out if Russia had a super powered dude on their side that was more powerful than any missile or atomic bomb? What if Lex Luthor was the President of the United States and was hell-bent on destroying Superman while his wife, Lois Lane (naturally), grew more and more distant as the years went by. This one is a short read and you don't need to know anything about Superman or any of his allies to enjoy it.

Astonishing X-Men
If you know who Joss Whedon is, you probably dont't need any convincing from me because you've most likely devoured this series already. Joss Whedon is the mind between the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series and the cult hits Firefly and Serenity. Even if you've never read the X-Men before, you'll have no problem jumping in on his run. He did issues 1-24 and one giant sized final issue. The thing I liked most about this run was the subtle humor in every issue that you don't find a lot of in other comic books.