I’ve wanted since I was a kid to write superheroes but I never expected to be able to do so.
Getting a job as a writer at Marvel or DC is one of the most sought-after jobs in writing and the odds are long. It’s a job you basically have to commit to full-time at the exclusion of any other writing. I have to admit, I love my blogging and fiction writing and I’m just not willing to put all that aside for a couple of years for a job that seems uncertain even when you’re established.
But then I realized I could write my own version.
When I sat down a couple of years ago to write a paranormal/urban fantasy story because they seemed all the rage, I was at a loss. Vampires are cool but I’m not into them enough to commit to a full book. Ditto with all kinds of shapeshifters. And then I thought–D’OH!–I know how to write people with super-powers. At least, I should, after reading them all these years.
And, naturally, I had a blast. My critique partner teased me that I wrote “Young X-men in Love with stuff blowing up,” and I guess that’s somewhat close. It’s an X-Men influenced story in that it features two protagonists born with powers they have to control–firestarting and telepathy–who have to work in tandem to save the world or, in my case, New York City.
Her comment did get me thinking, though, about my favorite superhero stories, ever, the ones I return and return to over and over like comfort food. So I thought I’d list my top five for you.
1. X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont and John Byrne
Forget Twilight. Scott and Jean were my forever couple for years, even though they ended so tragically and poignantly at the end of this story. Want to know where all the good X-Men stories stem from? You have to read this one. And while I love Hugh Jackman, it’s just a crying shame that Scott/Jean together never got their full due in the X-Men movies.
2. The New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract by Marv Wolfman and George Perez
It was an awesome time to be a comic reader in the early 1980s, as this story ran about the same time as the Dark Phoenix saga. It’s the place where Dick Grayson grew up to become Nightwing, where Wonder Girl became the fully realized Donna Troy, where Changeling/Beast Boy became more than a joke, and where a teen sociopath almost tore them apart. It also features absolutely breath-taking art by George Perez. The ladies look good but, wow, so do the men.
3. DC: The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke.
Whenever people ask me why I love superhero stories, I hand them this book. Of course, then their hand breaks because I have the Absolute Edition, which is a coffee-table sized book with slipcover. There are paper trade versions, too. New Frontier is set at the dawn of the 1960s, with the country coming to the end of the era of suspicion at home and abroad and into the New Frontier. It’s about yesterday’s heroes giving way to a new generation. It’s also, at times, wrenchingly tragic, incredibly uplifting, and always epic.
4. Birds of Prey: Sensei & Student by Gail Simone & Ed Benes
There are so few superhero books about female friendships and this one knocks it out of the park. The core of Birds of Prey is the relationship between Black Canary and Oracle (Barbara Gordon, the former Batgirl) as both struggle with a new way of thinking. Canary’s recovering from a traumatic kidnapping and Oracle’s learning to reach outside her circle to form friendships with others, including the prickly and intense Huntress. Oh, and, yeah, it has the best superhero punch-panel I’ve ever read.
5. Captain America: War & Remembrance by Roger Stern and John Byrne
I hadn’t realized until I got to this entry that Byrne appears twice on my list as an artist. At his peak in the 70s and 80s, he drew some of the most incredible panels but I think the quiet ones are what makes this run shine. It’s panels that feature Steve Rogers deciding to have a partially normal life and spending downtime with an attractive Jewish lawyer. Cap seems to be having fun a lot in this run, despite the threats. For those who are curious about him from the movie, this is an excellent place to start.