As the Avengers sets new box office records everyday and SpiderMan and Batman are about to sling their way into a cineplex near you, I’ve been getting emails and queries from educators about comic books. Frequent readers of this blog know of my love for the comic book in all it’s forms. Teachers, librarians and parents who might have heard me speak at their schools also know I’m a big advocate of using comics as a gateway to reading. After all, I know how successfully it worked for me. Comics helped instill in me a love of storytelling, action, and as a writer, they are an excellent training ground for writers.
And the great thing is, since most kids want to be in on what’s ‘cool’ what is cooler right now than Comic Book Movies? Thinking…thinking…or that’s right…nothing! Hulk Smash! So here is an opportunity for us as parents and educators to encourage kids to read comics, good comics, because after all reading is reading. I’m willing to bet if you take your kid to the comic shop and indulge their passion for SpiderMan and Captain America, before long you’ll be taking them to the library and the bookstore. So think about it. There’s a lot to learn and more importantly, and let’s not forget this please, ENJOY when it comes to reading a comic.
So without further ado…here is a short ‘Summer Reading list of Comics you should check out and get your youngster interested.
1) BATMAN: YEAR ONE. This is comics genius Frank Miller’s retelling of the first year of Batman’s appearance in Gotham City. It is often referred to as “The Canon” and is the source material used by Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan for the films. It gives those making an entree into the world of the Dark Knight his origin story as well as his ‘first contact’ with many of the villains of the Batverse such as Joker, Penguin and the Riddler. There are great questions you can ask your student/reader. What does it mean to be a vigilante? Is vengeance ever justified? Why do people sometimes fear those who seek to save them?
2) IRON MAN–Extremis. Another comics writing genius, Warren Ellis discusses the role of technology and humanity. At what point does advanced technology chip away at our souls? Just because we can make or create a marvelous invention are we obligated to use it? On top of those questions you might ask your young reader, if you could design a new set of armor for Iron Man what would it look like? How would you insure such technology could not be used for evil purposes?
3) SUPERMAN–Birthright. You cannot have a comics discussion without including the Man Of Steel. And in my view this is the best Superman comic in the last ten years. Ask your reader what makes Superman reluctant to use his gifts? When we have special abilities are we obligated to use them for the benefit of man kind? What about just ‘fitting in?’ All of these themes are beautifully explored in this book.
4) THOR Vol 1. A great introduction to the demi-god from Asgard. While this particular story takes place after Marvel’s huge ‘Civil War’ event of a few years ago, it still stands alone. Here is a good introduction to the major figures of Norse Mythology. Ask your reader how the gods of Asgard compare with those of Rick Riordan’s Olympians. Written by J. Michael Strazynski, this is an awesome story by, in my opinion one of the best writers working in comics today.
5) THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN Vol 1. Another ‘re-boot’ of SpiderMan and a good book to read before seeing the movie. Also written by Strazynski it explores the burden that comes with great power. And it shows why the character of Peter Parker/SpiderMan has been so popular with generations of teenagers. He’s awkward with girls, struggles to balance a social life with the demands of his ‘other job’ and has to deal with bullies. But it also shows that Peter Parker is the hero more often than the Amazing SpiderMan. Strength comes from inside our hearts. Not from the bite of a radioactive spider.
Michael P. Spradlin