Suggestions for the Super Canon?
May 18, 2007 4:21 PM   Subscribe

[Comic Filter] I was recently offered a job that requires a working knowledge of popular American superheroes from the 1930's onward. I've always been a fan of the darker comics (Hellboy, Sandman); now I need to know the difference between Green Lantern and Green Arrow. What should I be reading?

Graphic novels, websites, and popular histories would all be helpful. (I intend to dig up my beloved copy of The Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics next time I visit my parents.)
posted by roger ackroyd to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: here's some good dc stuff!
posted by fillsthepews at 4:34 PM on May 18, 2007

Best answer: The Marvel Universe
posted by Roach at 4:36 PM on May 18, 2007

Best answer: Trade publications like Overstreet might be useful.
posted by footnote at 4:38 PM on May 18, 2007

Best answer: It's not superheroes, but it is an important chapter in American comic books, one which lead to the dominance of the superhero genre; Seduction of the Innocent by Dr. Fredric Wertham. If I remember correctly, there was a good section on this period of comics history in Comic Book Confidential (which does cover hero history, iff iremember correctly).
posted by lekvar at 4:51 PM on May 18, 2007

Best answer: It might be worth reading The Marvel Encyclopedia, and the DC Encyclopedia. Also, Marvel has a comic book called the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe that is a pretty complete rundown of pretty much every character.

Of, if you prefer to read actual comic books, spend a few weekends in Barnes & Noble reading graphic novels.
posted by graventy at 5:08 PM on May 18, 2007

Best answer: If you have time, you should read Men Of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book [my review] which has an awful lot of stories about early comic book histories in NY and the men who drew them. In fact the book is a little name-droppy which might be really useful for what you're planning to do.
posted by jessamyn at 5:13 PM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Both Marvel and DC have recently set out to publish inexpensive, black & white compendia of their early works (ie, "Essential Dr Strange" and "Justice League of America"). You might pick up a few representative volumes and learn what you've been missing all these years.
posted by SPrintF at 5:46 PM on May 18, 2007

Best answer: For specifics wikipedia is probably your freind.

To get the big picture I'd suggest maybe starting with stuff that isn't quite in continuity, to avoid getting bogged down, especially grand sweeping epics that touch on a lot of characters, like Kingdom Come or Marvels.

You've read The Dark Knight Returns and Arkham Asylum, right?

Grant Morrisosns stuff is usually great at summing up the essence of a character - try his Justice Leagues or All Star Superman, or his run on X-Men.

Planetary might make interesting reading - lots of little storys which either capture the essence of or darkly parralel almost all of the big hitter characters.

The Bruce Timm animated Batman, Superman and JLA cartoons are actually quite a good way of gist of the major characters and themes of the DC universe.
posted by Artw at 6:06 PM on May 18, 2007

And I'd definately second Men Of Tommorow.
posted by Artw at 6:08 PM on May 18, 2007

Best answer: I think part why "knowing" comic books is so difficult is because you are not just learning a single plot/arc, but rather learning about all sorts of parallel universes and reimagined origins, crossovers and Crises, Earth-Twos and Elseworlds, etc. For example, did you know there have been multiple Green Arrows and many Green Lanterns?

I think it would be very difficult to fake any kind of in-depth knowledge of superhero comics. If your job is going to require you to recall names/titles/allegiances/relationships/identities at the drop of a hat (like, say, who was Green Lantern after Hal Jordan?), I'm not sure you will be able to gain that kind of knowledge without a semester length course taught (or at least directed) by a real expert. If it is more like something where you will be able to get on Wikipedia or pull out the Marvel Encyclopedia to answer a question, you can probably get by with a brush-up in your local B&N and a couple evenings spent browsing online.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:39 PM on May 18, 2007

Best answer: The best source, period, (for your purposes and in my opinion) for the '30s and '40s would be the Steranko History of Comics, vols 1 and 2, available on eBay and at some libraries and used bookstores. Then read a couple of Stan Lee anthologies from the '70s -- Origins of Marvel Comics, Son of Origins, Bring On the Bad Guys, etc. Then I would skim the Krypton Companion and the Justice League Companion for DC. I think if you wanted to cheat, skimming 5 or 10 of the above mentioned books would allow you to fake it with some facility.
posted by Mr. Justice at 7:10 PM on May 18, 2007

Best answer: The History Channel had a nice doc on Comic Book Superheroes. I know nothing about comic history, and I found it was a good primer, but someone already steeped in Comic Canon may find it too simplistic. Mostly, I was watching it to get more background for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which I highly recommend once you get up to speed for your job.
posted by saffry at 7:10 PM on May 18, 2007

Honestly, Wikipedia is your best friend here.
posted by BackwardsCity at 7:12 PM on May 18, 2007

Sorry for this completely unhelpful post, but might I ask what your job is or would be? I'm just incredibly curious. (And I can't be the only one.)
posted by lioness at 7:22 PM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

lioness's question is actually quite relevant: It all depends on what you mean by "working knowledge". Even if you could settle on a core set of characters to track, you've got at least a dozen each from Marvel and DC, plus another dozen assembled from smaller publishers -- plus another dozen just for the X-Men. Now, for each those fifty or so, you've got 30 to 70 years of ongoing continuity. You can't read all these books, unless you wanted to make that your life's work. So what you really need to know (and what we need to know in order to answer your question) is what level of detail is useful to you in your work, and what level of detail is superfluous.
posted by jjg at 12:28 AM on May 19, 2007

Best answer: Aside from missives from me steeped in jealousy?

The two things that will likely help you with the modern era super hero the most are the giant nĂ¼-canon crossovers: Crisis on Infinite Earths and Marvels. Both have heavy recaps of endless history, both are written by and for geeks, both will (with a bit of Wikipedia) allow you to quickly delve into the modern mythoi of American major publisher works, even though both are now a couple years out of date (which means that hundreds of characters will be dead or reborn or missing their powers or trapped in an alien space tanker, but none of their personal lives will have advanced more than two weeks worth).
posted by klangklangston at 12:58 PM on May 19, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks guys! Is there a limit to how many "best answers" I can dole out? I'm traveling this weekend but will follow up on every single piece of advice above.

The job involves marketing and licensing, and the super-knowledge aspect is a small (but significant) part of my duties.
posted by roger ackroyd at 4:46 PM on May 19, 2007

Best answer: Scott Tipton's top-fuggin-notxhfor easily-digestible info-dumps about mainstream comics. His stuff is spread out over two websites:

Comics 101 v1
Comics 101 v2

And I have to ask: what is this job, and are they hiring in Minneapolis?
posted by COBRA! at 7:48 AM on May 21, 2007

Best answer: Mike Conroy's 500 Great Comicbook Action Heroes is a nice survey of a wide range of figures from the 1930s to the present day, including a good number of non-Marvel and DC characters. It also has a good amount of detail about the assorted artists and writers associated with various titles and their publishing histories. Be advised, though, that there are some curious omissions and the organization of topics is idiosyncratic.

I concur that the Marvel and DC encylopedias are worthwhile (if pricey) reads and that their websites and Wikipedia have a ton of information. You can also probably track down some of the old role-playing games (from Mayfair and West End, maybe?) based on these universes and get 'em cheap. Those have a surprising amount of data about a lot of characters.

You could also consider hanging out at your friendly local game store and demand that some of your less threatening-looking nerds lay down some science for you. They'll be happy to tell you the difference between the Green Arrow and the Red Arrow or Tigra and Pantha. The problem will be in getting them to shut up.
posted by Midnight Creeper at 10:50 AM on May 21, 2007

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