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For some reason, people will go see a superhero movie, then walk out the theater and immediately start berating people who read comic books.  It’s a very odd double-standard, particularly given that most of the comics coming out today are more intelligently written than…well, 90% of the films playing in your local Cineplex at this very moment, frankly.  If you’re up to the challenge, here’s a suggested reading list of some of the better graphic novels and trade paperback collections for the heroes who’ve made it to the big screen over the years.

Comic Book Movies


Superman Archives: Vol. 1As you’d expect from one of the definitive comic book heroes, there are no end of Superman collections. The best place to start for younger fans to start, however, is probably with a book that’s not even out as of this writing: The Death and Return of Superman Omnibus, scheduled to hit stores on September 12, 2007. The script for “Superman Returns” was, at some juncture, more or less supposed to have been based on this story, but the only thing that made the final cut, I think, was that Superman, um, returned; the similarities pretty much end there. For those who remember the major media blitz that occurred in 1993 when DC Comics purportedly killed the Man of Steel, this collection gives you that whole saga: the entrance of the rampaging killing machine known as Doomsday, Superman’s apparent death at the creature’s hands, the four new “Supermen” who stepped in to try and take his place, and Superman’s eventual return to the land of the living.

Other recommended collections:

  • Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? – Written by Alan Moore, it’s the ultimate “imaginary story,” taking a dark edge to the Superman mythos by providing a possible final adventure for the Man of Steel.
  • Superman: The Man of Steel – John Byrne’s reinvention of the Superman mythos for the ‘80s was controversial at the time, and almost all of it has since been written out of continuity, but it looked great and made for a fantastic read.
  • Superman Archives, Vol. 1 – See how it all began, back when Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster first created the character.


Batman: Year OneFirst he was dark. Then he got silly. Now he’s dark again. In other words, you’ve got to choose your Batman collections wisely. None of the movies are really based on original comics, but the tone of “Batman Begins” is definitely not so far removed from Batman: Year One, written by Frank Miller. Miller – who also wrote the original comic book versions of “Sin City” and “300,” in case you didn’t know – is responsible for several other classic Batman tales, but arguably the best is The Dark Knight Returns, which offers a look at an older, angrier Caped Crusader and takes place in a future not so far removed from “Blade Runner.” Now that we’d like to see filmed…but, even more so, we’d like to see Alan Moore’s “The Killing Joke,” which lays out the back story of The Joker in excruciating detail.

Other recommended collections:

  • Batman: A Death in the Family – Oh, my God! They killed Robin! Even worse, they did it via an 800 number vote, and then let The Joker take the blame. The gimmick, however, didn’t lessen the impact of seeing Batman cradling the lifeless corpse of his partner.
  • Batman: Knightfall – A long-running story that moved throughout the various Batman titles which told the story of Bane, a mysterious, muscle-bound criminal with a desire to rule Gotham. He succeeds, too…by breaking Batman’s back. He got better, thankfully…but the long build-up to the climactic moment is fantastic.
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum – Definitely one of the darkest, best-written Batman stories of the last 20 years, with Batman’s rogues gallery taking over their asylum of residence and Bats having to deal with the situation.


Essential Uncanny X-Men vol. 1None of the X-Men films have come anywhere close to approximating the drama inherent in the best of the original comic books, but for what it’s worth, at least they tried to borrow occasional plot elements here and there. “X-2: X-Men United” was very, very loosely based on the graphic novel, God Loves, Man Kills; the villain was Rev. William Stryker, who attempted to stir up anti-mutant sentiment; it was an admittedly heavy-handed metaphor for racism, but it still made for a successfully dark story. “X-Men: The Last Stand,” meanwhile, borrowed elements from two different stories: the legendary Dark Phoenix Saga from “The Uncanny X-Men,” where Jean Gray transforms from Marvel Girl into the destructive force known as the Dark Phoenix, and Gifted, the first story arc written by Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) for “The Astonishing X-Men,” which focuses on a supposed “cure” for the mutant gene.

Other recommended collections:

  • X-Men: Days of Future Past – You might notice a similarity between this vision of an alternate future for the X-Men, one where mutants are hunted down and either imprisoned or killed, and the one presented in a recent episode of “Heroes.”
  • Essential Uncanny X-Men, Vol. 1 – A nice, inexpensive black and white collection of the earliest incarnation of the X-Men.
  • Marvel Masterworks: Uncanny X-Men, Vol. 1 – This is when the X-Men really became Marvel MVPs: when they brought Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Storm onto the team.

Swamp Thing

Saga of the Swamp ThingStop laughing, you bastard! You don’t know what you’re missing until you’ve checked out the original comics that the two less-than-successful “Swamp Thing” flicks were based on. The character was created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, and his origin stayed somewhat the same in the first flick: scientist Alec Holland is in an explosion in his lab, jumps into the swamp to extinguish the flames, and emerges as…Swamp Thing. As such, Swamp Thing: Dark Genesis provides a collection of the origin story and the first several issues of the original comic. Still, what we need is an adaptation of the Alan Moore version of the character, which is in no way camp; it takes Swamp Thing, declares him to be an Elemental, and finds him traveling in time and space, between dimensions, and, most importantly, around this green planet of ours. Check out Swamp Thing, Vol. 1: Saga of the Swamp Thing for the beginning of Moore’s stint on the series; it’ll be like Adrienne Barbeau and Heather Locklear never happened.

Other recommended collections:

  • Swamp Thing, Vol. 2: Love and Death – The saga continues, with Moore paying tribute to Pogo in one issue and taking Swamp Thing on a trip to Hell itself in another.
  • Swamp Thing, Vol. 8: Spontaneous Generation – Writer Rick Veitch had a hard road when he took over for Moore, but he was up to the challenge. These issues focus on a search for a human host for a new Elemental being, providing ample reason to suspect that nothing in this world occurs by coincidence.
  • Swamp Thing – After taking a break, Swamp Thing made his return to DC Comics. I’m sure Andy Diggle is tired of hearing that he’s no Alan Moore, but his take on the character is an interesting one.


Spider-Man/Dr. Octopus: Year OneLike Superman for DC, Spider-Man is essentially the face of Marvel Comics, which means that precious few comics bearing his name remain uncollected in graphic novel or trade paperback form. If you’re still basking in the post-“Spider-Man 3” glow, you’ll want to check out The Birth of Venom and The Saga of the Sandman, each of which collects crucial adventures in the history of those villains. Surprisingly, there’s no definitive Green Goblin collection, but Marvel did a nice mini-series in conjunction with “Spider-Man 2” called Spider-Man / Dr. Octopus: Year One that’s available in trade paperback. Beyond these, however, you’ll certainly want The Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus, Vol. 1, which includes 43 issues from the web-slinger’s earliest adventures; if they keep making movies, expect to see just about every villain from its pages showing up onscreen.

Other recommended collections:

  • Ultimate Spider-Man, Vol. 1 – Writer Brian Michael Bendis took the Spider-Man concept and reinvented it for today’s generation. It shouldn’t work; it should be annoying and seem desperate in its attempts to seem current. So why is it such a compelling read?
  • Essential Marvel Team-Up – This is totally a personal pick, but if you’re a comic geek, there’s nothing more thrilling that seeing one of your favorite heroes team up with another of your favorite heroes, and this series gave Spidey the chance to work alongside everyone from The Thing to Ghost Rider.
  • Civil War: Amazing Spider-Man – Normally, I wouldn’t include something as recent as this – it came out earlier this year – but Marvel’s latest event, a “Civil War” where superheroes must register with the government, screwed up Spider-Man’s world more than anyone else’s. Well, except maybe Captain America’s.

Ten more collections to consider:

  • Blade: Black and White BladeBlack and White – This collection of the vampire hunter’s early black-and-white adventures might have you wondering, “Um, could he look any less like Wesley Snipes?” But they’re still full of plenty of ‘70s-styled vampire-slaying action.
  • Daredevil: Guardian Devil – It was too easy to pick one of Frank Miller’s collections, so I’m going with this one, which found Kevin Smith making a damned fine entry into the world of comic book writing.
  • Hulk: Ground Zero – The Hulk’s had a few incarnations in recent years, but few have beaten Peter David’s take on the character, which found him returning to his earliest incarnation: gray in color, nasty in temperament, but still intelligent.
  • Elektra: Assassin – Okay, fine, we’ll go with another Frank Miller story, mostly because no one can argue that this story defined the character of Elektra. Bill Sienkiewicz’s art is an acquired taste, but it’s definitely unique.
  • Fantastic Four: Visionaries: John Byrne – Sure, the classic Lee / Kirby era set the stage, but Byrne’s run remains one of unparalleled quality. There are six volumes in this series, with a seventh on the way, and I’d recommend them all.
  • The Punisher: Welcome Back, FrankThe Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank – Garth Ennis gives everyone’s favorite skull-shirt-wearing vigilante the Tarantino-esque treatment he’s always needed.
  • Ghost Rider: Team-Ups – The dirty little secret about Ghost Rider is that, despite his cool concept, his comic was never that great. This collection of his team-ups with other Marvel heroes is pretty fun, though.
  • Constantine: Original Sins – Listen up: Keanu Reeves is not John Constantine. John Constantine is British, has spiky blonde hair like Sting in his heyday, and is much cooler than the movie would have you believe.  Read this collection of the first nine issues of his comic for proof.
  • League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume 1 – On a similar note, you might be surprised to learn that the original comic book version of Sean Connery’s last film to date doesn’t actually suck.  Leave it to Hollywood to ruin a perfectly good epic tale by trying to dumb it down.
  • Catwoman: Selina’s Big Score – I almost didn’t put this on here, since we should really all pretend that there wasn’t a Catwoman movie…but since there was, this Darwyn Cooke tale might at least help wash away the memory.
Comic Book Movies

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