Welcome to the Comics Stand, Moviefone's look at comic books and their big screen adventures.
You've gotten a Christmas gift card to a book store, but you don't know what to buy. Maybe you made a New Year's resolution to "read more." Or perhaps you're aware of the ensuing glut of comic book movies coming next summer and you still don't know why it's such a big deal. With the new year approaching, it's the perfect time to pick up a comic book and broaden your horizons.
But how do you know which comics are right for you -- especially if you've never read them before? That's simple: ask yourself what kind of movies you like. We all consider ourselves some kind of "movie buff" in one way or another. Your taste in film is the crucial clue for what comics you might like. After the jump, we've got comic picks for the war, action, crime, samurai and "quirky" indie movie buff.
For the War Movie Buff ...
'IT WAS THE WAR OF THE TRENCHES'
Writer/Artist: Jacques Tardi
This classic French comic has finally been fully translated into English, and it was well worth the wait. Rather than following a group of soldiers on one mission, or having a motley crew of goofball personalities, 'It Was the War of the Trenches' eschews a traditional cast and is better for it.
By presenting a series of stories about soldiers taking part in World War I, with the point of view character changing when his story is done, 'It Was The War of the Trenches' shows how war simultaneously dehumanizes and strengthens our connection to life. The dehumanization derives from the fact that soldiers who die in this book tend to do so alone, or by surprise, and life just goes on. The strengthening point, however, is due to how the soldiers eagerly grasp what life they have left, despite their situation. 'It Was the War of the Trenches' is heartbreaking and maybe a little funny, but more than anything, it's fulfilling.
Recommended if You Like: 'Saving Private Ryan,' 'Band of Brothers,' 'All Quiet on the Western Front'
For the Action Movie Buff ...
Writer: Jeff Parker
Artist: Kev Walker
Sometimes, to get a little bit of action, you need to stop looking at the heroes and start looking at the villains. Marvel's 'Thunderbolts' series focuses on imprisoned super-villains forced to go good and do missions for the government. The series originally began in the '90s, but writer Jeff Parker and artist Kev Walker (sometimes assisted by Declan Shalvey), have breathed new life into the franchise.
Rather than indulging in boring punch-ups every issue to stay in line with other superhero comics, Parker and Walker have created a world where the fights not only matter, but are approached inventively. Every fight has a purpose, whether that purpose is to show that someone is completely in control of the team or to demonstrate the sheer glee that comes from battling. The mix of deft dialogue and meaningful action makes "Thunderbolts" one of the best mainstream books on the stands.
Recommended if You Like: The 'Bourne' Trilogy, 'Four Brothers'
For the Samurai Movie Buff ...
Writer/Artist: Stan Sakai
Fantagraphics Books/Dark Horse Entertainment
Feudal Japan has not been very well represented in comics. Ninjas have been turned into punchlines and turned into generic goons for stereotypical mob bosses, and the concept of samurai and ronin have been sensationalized into something that's just a knight in different clothing. If your local Akira Kurosawa buff is eager to get into comics, but has a short temper for Ninja Turtles and fake samurai, the book to go to is Stan Sakai's 'Usagi Yojimbo.'
On the surface, 'Usagi Yojimbo' looks like another joke. Miyamoto Musashi, one of the greatest swordsmen of all time, has been recast as a rabbit named Miyamoto Usagi. The rest of feudal Japan has been similarly altered. Despite its looks, however, 'Usagi Yojimbo' is not only deadly serious, but a fantastic read. Sakai clearly knows the era he's writing stories about very well, and his research shows. If not for the funny talking animals, this series would be fantastically realistic. With them, though, it's a series that hits many of the same high points as classic Kurosawa, but often from a fresh angle.
Recommended if You Like: 'Seven Samurai,' 'Yojimbo'
For the Crime Movie Buff ...
'PARKER: THE OUTFIT'
Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke
The crime movie buff has only seen a few bright spots in the sea of mediocrity that's been released recently. The stylish crime picture -- where pretty people steal pretty things -- has slowly faded out of the public eye. In comics, though, there has been something of a renaissance.
Darwyn Cooke's 'Parker: The Outfit' is an adaptation of a classic Richard Stark novel. The original book was made into a movie in 1973, featuring Robert Duvall in the title role, but Cooke's book blows it out of the water. The book is intensely stylish, showing us the cool side of crime in the '60s; the central portion of 'The Outfit' is a collection of heists that would make for cool viewing in a movie, but are fantastic in comics form. With 'The Outfit,' you've got an inventive marriage of great story, fantastic art.
Recommended if You Like: 'Ocean's 11,' 'Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang'
For the "Quirky" Indie Movie Buff ...
'ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY #20'
Writer/Artist: Chris Ware
Drawn & Quarterly
Sometimes you just can't get into action, horror, crime or slapstick comedy. All you want to see are movies about normal non-super people, perhaps with a little bit of love, and just eat up stories about how people live. You usually have to go to an indie cinema to find them, and the word that gets thrown around all the time to describe them is "quirky."
In that case, Chris Ware and Drawn & Quarterly just released the silver bullet for the "quirky" indie fan. 'Acme Novelty Library #20' is about the life of Jordan Wellington Lint. Each page is a day, or experience, in one year of his life. We see Lint go from pre-verbal childhood up through the sullen teenager years and on, until he's finally past his prime. We get the barest of glimpses into his life, but those glimpses reveal a shocking amount of information. By the end of the book, we've gotten to know Lint, for better or for worse. We can see ourselves, or people we know, in his actions, and seeing his choices laid bare with Ware's careful work can be harrowing. If you're a movie buff that likes stories about life, 'Acme Novelty Library #20 is the book to beat.
Recommended if You Like: 'Being John Malkovich,' 'Juno'
Get more comic book news and reviews from David Brothers at ComicsAlliance.