It's hard not to take a swift glance at the SF section in any bookstore these days and throw up your hands in despair. Not that Sturgeon's Law wasn't in effect back in the "Good Old Days", but honestly, folks, I have seen very little at Ye Olde Bookshoppe that tempts me to part with my limited cash. So where is a discerning literate SF fan to go for quality, mature reading?
Would you believe...comic books? Over the last ten years, neatly sandwiched between the Adventures of Superduperman and Skippy the Wonder Hamster, some of the best genre writing produced has come with artwork attached. Sometime in the 1980s, it occurred to editors that the little kids who read comics in the 60s and 70s had grown up, and might not much care about guys in tights punching each others lights out, so why not send out a few "adult" stories and see if they sold.
If you havenít given much thought to the comic genre of late, take a look at these selections, all of which are conveniently available in book form.WATCHMEN by Alan Moore
This may have been the one that started the mature comics trend. WATCHMEN follows a twisted trail of intrigue in a dark near-future. In this universe, costumed heroes were merely mortal men, Most of whom were put out to pasture in 1977 when a series of laws were passed by the government outlawed vigilante crimefighters. Suddenly, one of them is brutally murdered, and the rest wonder if they are next. The truth turns out to be more even more frightening. Originally published as a 12 issue limited series in 1985, this series established Moore as one of the most original and talented voices in the comics field. WATCHMEN is filled with intriguing characters, from the mysterious more-than-a-man Dr. Manhattan to the enigmatic Rorschach, most of this compelling storyís principles are perplexing puzzles, and even in the end, when we have all the pieces, we can still only see facets of these complex individuals. You really donít want to miss this one.PREACHER: GONE TO TEXAS by Garth Ennis
This isnít everyoneís cup of tea, but if you donít mind a bit of gratuitous violence, this story features a compelling story and rich, complex characters. Jesse Custer is a minister in a small town in Texas who is possessed by a strange entity Ė the only ever offspring of an angel and a demon. Accompanied by his ex-girlfriend Tulip and Cassidy, a nocturnal Irishman with a strange diet, Jesse sets out to find out why Godís not in his Heaven and allís wrong with the world. Staying just one step ahead of the enigmatic Saint of Killers, Jesseís quest takes him all the way from the heart of Texas to the wilds of New York. Ennis has a knack for making the most bizarre situations and the most colorful characters believable, and deftly makes the violent and profane immensely entertaining. A second book, PREACHER: UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD continues the story.SANDMAN by Neil Gaiman
SANDMAN chronicles the recent life of Morpheus, Lord of the Dreaming. In the beginning of this award winning series, Morpheus is captured by a group of occultists attempting to snare his sister, Death. Eventually, he escapes, and sets about reclaiming his realm, but he finds that his 80 years of captivity have changed him somehow. There is no way to neatly summarize this epic tragedy, which really must be read in its entirety to fully appreciate it. Originally published in 75 issues over a 5 year period, the entire saga has now been completely collected into 10 books. Admittedly a hefty price tag at around 200 dollars, I guarantee you will get more than your moneyís worth. An interesting introduction to the series is SANDMAN: DREAM COUNTRY, which includes 4 stories not tied into the larger epic, but which are nonetheless illustrative of the nature and scope of Gaimanís canvas. Included in this volume is the only comic ever to win the World Fastasy Award, A Midsummer Nightís Dream, drawn by noted fantasy artist Charles Vess .HELLBLAZER: DANGEROUS HABITS by Garth Ennis
DANGEROUS HABITS is one episode of the long, strange career of occultist John Constantine. In this particular storyline, Constantine discovers that he has cancer, and finds an interesting cure. This story is powerful, and explores wide range of human emotions. While there is a good bit of backstory the reader simply has to infer (a problem when reading an arc from the middle of what is essential an ongoing story. -- DANGEROUS HABITS as originally published as HELLBLAZER #41-46), it doesnít really hinder the unfolding of the drama, and in fact, can lead to some rather interesting surprises when you figure out who a regular character is in the cosmic scheme of things. This is also an excellent starting point to HELLBLAZER; although it comes from almost exactly the middle of series, it is a tighter story than the eight issues collected in HELLBLAZER: ORIGINIAL SINS (issues 1-8), and introduces story elements that would otherwise be hopelessly confusing in HELLBLAZER: FEAR AND LOATHING.. In all, DANGEROUS HABITS is a gripping read from start to finish, and the complex character of John Constantine is perfect for examining this particular vestige of the human condition.THE BOOKS OF MAGIC by Neil Gaiman
Imagine that you have been identified as having the potential for being the greatest sorcerer in the history of mankind. Imagine that all of Earthís mystical community approaches you, trying to lead on you down the right path lest you turn that great power to evil. Now, imagine that you are only 12 years old. BOOKS OF MAGIC follows the story of young Tim Hunter, and he is everything you just imagined. In this 4 part mini-series, Tim is shown his potential by a number of prominent mystics, including John Constantine. At its heart, though, this is a story about a young boy who is in way over his head, and manages to be touching and human. If you enjoy this collection, which comprises Gaimanís original 4 part mini-series, try picking up the continuing adventures of Tim Hunter in BOOKS OF MAGIC: BINDINGS and BOOKS OF MAGIC: AWAKENINGS, which collect the first 8 issues of the ongoing comic series written by John Ney Reiber.
So, what have we wrought? Four excellent books, three with sequels, and a 10 volume epic that puts almost everything over there in the "real books section" to shame. If you read any of these and like them, let me know. Better yet, let a friend who hasnít read them know...
Until next time, may your dreams be full of pleasantry and pageantry...