Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Suggested Reading for National Superhero Day April 28th

Today, as I learned on my Alexa device this morning, is "National Superhero Day," celebrated every year on April 28th to honor superheroes, both real and fictional.

While superheroes like Batman, the Flash, Superman, and Captain America are fictional, as I've mentioned here before on my blog, they are also symbols of hope and role-models, inspiring people to be and act better. They are really just part of America's mythology of shared stories, similar to how stories of the Greek myths of antiquity were used as morality tales.

How can you celebrate National Superhero Day? For starters, something extremely meaningful you can do is recognize and thank all of the healthcare workers and others, like grocery store employees, who are putting themselves on the front lines of COVID-19 to provide treatment to those who are sick, and food and supplies for the rest of us. Those are some true real-life superheroes.

After that, you might be looking for something new to read. A recent study by a huge advertising agency conglomerate  indicated that "...nearly half (46%) of American consumers say they've already run out of media content to watch, read, or listen to." First off, that's just ridiculous. There is so much content out there in all three media (video, books, and music) and one could never "run out" in their lifetime. As I've been discussing with my friend, this is really just a case of people running out of what they're comfortable with reading/watching/listening to, and they're not using this as a chance to expand their media consumption to try something new, like listening to a different genre of music, or watching a documentary instead of another reality show or sitcom, or reading, say, a comic book instead of a romance novel.

Today I'm providing some recommendations of three different superhero stories of which I'm a big fan, but that have somewhat flown under the radar and don't often make the trendy lists of "best comics" alongside titles such as The Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, Marvel's Civil War, of the Infinity Gauntlet. The three comics I feature below have something for everyone - one is an age appropriate title that will especially appeal to tween/teen girls, one has an intriguing story involving villains realizing that superheroes don't do enough to help and deciding to use their powers to make things better for the world, with some fantastic art, and one story has some fun comedic moments and some fantasy elements, and is written by a famous fantasy book author.   

DIAL H FOR HERO
This is based on a concept developed in the mid-1960's involving a magical rotary-dial telephone that is found by a young boy, who dials "H" and is transformed into a new, unique superhero for a short time. Every time he dials, he turns into someone else, with a different variety of powers and without knowing which hero he's going to turn into.

It's a fun concept, made even more so by a revised version of the story, recreated in 2012 by fantasy author China Miéville (of Perdido Street Station fame). In this version, the hero of the story is an out-of-shape and unemployed guy in his late 20's and already recovering from a heart attack, Nelson Jent, who accesses the powers of the H-dial via a phone booth. Interestingly, in his town, there is another dial user, and elderly woman named Manteau, who becomes a type of mentor to Nelson. The two of them begin working together to find other dial users as well as someone called Ex Nihilo, a "nullomancer." Along the way, each time Nelson uses the H-dial, he turns into unpredictable heroes like Boy Chimney, Captain Lachrymose, the Iron Snail, Baroness Resin, Shamanticore, Rancid Ninja, and Cock-a-Hoop. As you can tell by the hero names, there is a lot of humor in this story, but underlying everything is a darkness that adds to the creepy fantasy elements. There's also a theme involve Nelson, who wants to be a better person and become a hero, realizing that he is losing his own self-identify every time he uses the H-dial to gain the powers of a different superhero.

There are two trade paperbacks of the 2012/2013 Dial H series, which you can order from your local comic book shop if they are still open (I highly encourage this, as they need all the help they can get right now and it's worth spending a few extra dollars to help them stay on their feet versus ordering them from a big online merchandiser).

The series was once again resurrected just last year as part of an all-ages imprint of DC Comics, called Wonder Comics, spear-headed by superstar comics writer Brian Michael Bendis, whom DC Comics wooed over from a very long stint at Marvel Comics recently. The new Dial H for Hero series is written by one of my favorite comics writers, Sam Humphries, and it just concluded a few months ago - it was a 12-issue maxi-series that tells of the new founder of the H-dial, Miguel Montez. Miguel meets a runaway girl named Summer Pickles, and the two of them accidentally stumble across an H-dial and then become embroiled in a battle with the sinister Mr. Thunderbolt, and his Thunderbolt Club, who are trying to find all four dials (in this version of the story, there are four different colored dials - Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black), and the identify of Mr. Thunderbolt, as well as a benefactor named the Operator, were a huge, but fun shock. Both Miguel and Summer end up using the H-dial and become different heroes including Jobu the Zonkey King, Bluebird of Happiness, Iron Deadhead, Lo-Lo Kick You, Chimp Change, Alien Ice Cream Man, and Li'l Miguelito. Once again, the heroes are intended to be humorous, and each time a new hero is called up, the story takes a detour to tell the origin of that particular hero, who will most likely never be seen again. It's a fun homage to old-school Silver Age comics, while still being up-to-date enough to suit modern tastes.

This story is also told in two trade paperbacks. Volume 1 is available right now, whereas Volume 2 will be released in June 2020.

JUSTICE

This was a 12-issue limited series, published bi-monthly from 2005 to 2007, written by Alex Ross and Jim Krueger, with art by Alex Ross and Doug Braithwaite. Alex Ross is known for his photo-realistic style of art. He uses models for almost every single shot, to ensure that the musculature is in the correct position, and he bases many of his figures on famous actors (most notably, he uses Fred MacMurray as his basis for Captain Marvel/SHAZAM and Bruce Willis for his version of an elderly Captain America in the Earth-X story).

Justice tells the story of how earth's super-villains all have a shared dream or vision involving a nuclear Armageddon of Earth, which the Justice League fails to prevent. Believing that overconfidence on the part of the Justice League is to blame for the impending disaster, the villains decide to use their powers to destroy the Justice League by first improving the lives of the citizens of the world. They improve crops and food growing capabilities of third world countries, provide medical resources to combat disease, and fix other problems, earning them the respect and admiration of the general public, who begin to turn their backs on the Justice League.

Meanwhile, the leader of the super-villains, Lex Luthor, engineers a plan to remove the Justice League from the equation by utilizing stolen contingency plans Batman has created in the event that any member of the Justice League went rogue and needed to be stopped. One by one, the members of the League are brought down by Luthor and his cohorts, as a well to prevent them from then making the mistakes that cause the nuclear destruction of the Earth.

Of course, not everything is what it seems, but this is a great story that specifically causes the reader to consider how far heroes should go to interfere in the lives of others, even if it's for good or noble causes. Should Superman stop people from fighting, or should Wonder Woman interfere to stop a war just because she has the power to do so?

As a story that involves dozens of heroes and villains, this is a great way to get introduced to DC's huge library of characters if you're not familiar with them, and this story arc is non-continuity, meaning that it has specific ending point and it's not related to anything else that was happening in DC Comics at the time of its publication, so you don't need to read anything else for this story to make sense.

On top of all that, you have the gorgeous artwork to appreciate.

SUPERGIRL: BEING SUPER

This short four-issue story is my favorite Supergirl story in recent memory. Written by Mariko Tamaki with art by Joelle Jones, Sandu Florea, and Kelly Fitzpatrick, this is a new retelling of Supergirl's origins, which takes inspiration from the first telling of her origin, but updating it to tell a coming-of-age story of a young 16 year-old girl. Yes, she's Kara Zor-El, an alien with incredible powers. But, she's also a girl trying to navigate all of the things that a typical teenager has to deal with: friendships, relationships, school, and more. In this case, Kara's powers don't really manifest until her teenage years, so not only is she dealing with figuring out what's happening to her and wondering if it's part of normal puberty problems, she's also trying to hide what's happening from her friends.

I loved this story and highly recommend it, especially to parents of tween or teen girls. The entire series is available in one trade collection, and, as with Justice, it's "non-continuity," so it's self-contained and doesn't require any additional reading for context. In this case, it's also an origin story, making it a great introduction to the character for new readers.



As mentioned, your local comic book shop should be able to order these for delivery to you. If you're not sure if you have shop nearby, check out the Comic Shop Locator and just enter your ZIP Code to find your closest shop.

And lastly, a little treat - if you've also out of things to listen to, you can check out a playlist of Superhero themes I made on Spotify. These aren't all of the themes on there, but they're some of my favorites.

What are some of your favorite superhero stories? Share them below in the comments or on my social media channels.

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: CalifornIPA by The Dudes Brewing Company
Listening: "Robin's Theme" by Dan and Dale, Sun Ra & the Blues Project, from the album "The Music of DC Comics: Volume 2"



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