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I have recently taken on the idea to submit ten essays, one per week, taking an in depth look at what I think are some of the finest examples and collections of comic book stories around. By no means have I read everything ever printed and don’t claim to know it all. I have read and own everything on this list as well as a large amount more. This is an eclectic collection that I, personally, think would please not just hardcore collectors, but casual fans as well. And that’s the most important criteria in forming this list; I looked at complete stories, easily accessible, without too much history to learn. Something that a casual fan, or even non comic fan can pick up and possibly enjoy. Last week featured Preacher by Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon, and Glenn Fabry.
Number five: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, and Lynn Varley, $19.99 for the soft cover collection.
Set in a dystopian future, Bruce Wayne is an old man and retired from crime fighting. Compelled to return to the bat suit, he finds himself at odds with the local authorities, the government and its authorized, duly deputized super person, Superman. Along the way Bruce encounters the Joker, for the last time, and finds a new Robin to help both lighten the load and add a little light to the Dark. It’s a super dark interpretation of the Batman and his mythos and the art is classic Miller. Visually it was unlike anything else we’d seen at that time. Even now, Miller continues to be instantly recognizable in his talent. Lynn Varley used water colors to color the book and that adds to the look and feel of the book in a great way. You need never read Batman to understand this, so the history isn’t as important as the story, allowing anyone to pick it up and enjoy it. It’s an easily read story that left a couple of indelible marks on the imagination and anyone who’s a fan of Batman, or even just comic books themselves, should be happy to have this on their shelf.
At the time of release in 1986 it was a series of four square bound issues priced at 2.95 each, which was high comparatively. It arrived to mixed reviews as it was compared to the original creation by Bob Kane. When holding Bob’s work to the current run of Batman I don’t think that necessarily holds up. Created late in the 30’s Batman had to grow up and the Batman of the 30’s, while good enough at the time to last heading towards 100 years, it wouldn’t work today. In the quarter century since The Dark Knight Returns was published, it’s held up very well and is now considered one of the standards as far as Batman stories. Batman grown up made me feel like I was growing with him. It was the first of the truly dark mainstream comics from which we may not have seen Swamp Thing or Preacher, if it had never been done. As stated a few weeks ago in the essay for Watchmen, this was one of the books that originated the term ‘graphic novel,' further evidence of how important this book was to the comic industry.
Michael R. Murray read his first comic and has been buying and collecting for over 35 years. At one point his collection included two copies of Amazing Spider-man #1, and one copy each of Amazing Fantasy #15, Fantastic Four #2, Avengers #4, Showcase #22, and dozens more high grade and key issues. The collection has grown to include original art pages, as well as statues and busts, with the current emphasis on collecting original drawings from appropriate artists on the inside of his hard covers. His personal collection of graphic novels consists of over 2,000 hardcovers and trade paperbacks. He has attended all of the Boston and New York Comic Cons and experienced Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Diego. He has championed comic books in the local schools and was very proud that both of his children read at least three years above their grade levels, due nearly exclusively to comics. He’s quick to point out that none of this makes him an expert, but that his love of comics is most enjoyable when he can share it. Follow on Twitter at mycomicstore001 or like his Facebook page.