Categories
comics

An Easy Introduction to the Comic Book Hobby

Modern movies have taken heroes and villains flying into the mainstream. Whether it was Superman in 1978, Avengers: Infinity War in 2018, or somewhere in between, superheroes are now a large part of our current entertainment culture. Every fan has their favorite characters that they connect with in some way. From the silver screens, these larger than life heroes have found their way from our kid’s pajamas and toy boxes into our own likings.

If your story is similar to mine, this led you to an interest in comic books. Comics are such an interesting medium because the combined talent of the writers and artists come together in a way that makes their stories intriguing.

Have you ever stepped into a world that you feel like you know very little about? Even if you’ve kept up with all the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, knowing where to jump into comics can be daunting. What comics should I look at? Which issue do I start with? Where can I even get these comics?

From someone who didn’t even see all the movies but decided to start reading comics in late 2015, I’m here to help you with some of the steps that I took to clear the confusion on where to start your new comic book hobby.

Your Local Comic Shop

Have you been to a local comic shop? Yes, they still exist!

The first time I stepped in front of the sweeping rows of shelves lined with the week’s new releases against the backdrop of boxes and boxes of back issues, I began to feel overwhelmed. Where do I start? Not every city is going to give you this luxury, but if there is a comic shop nearby it will be a great help! Introduce yourself to one of the staff and tell them you’re just starting your hobby. Ask them what new releases are showcased this week, what they’re reading, and if they have any recommendations. Be sure to tell them if you have any characters you are particularly interested in. Mine was Batman.

If you’re on social media, remember to #SupportYourLCS. Mine is Borderlands Comics and Games in Greenville, SC.

Start Small With a Mini-Series or One Shot

Maybe you’ve entered the fray in the middle of some giant summer event like Marvel’s Civil War or Secret Empire, or a complete relaunch like DC’s Rebirth. This can really make things confusing. As story arcs can run several issues, it can be difficult to know what’s happened up to this point, and you don’t necessarily want to start in the middle. I came in at the tail end of DC’s five-year initiative called The New 52, with questions like why was Jim Gordon wearing the Batman cowl and fighting crime in Gotham, but Bruce Wayne was allegedly dead? How many Robins are there? Where I started was to look for a mini-series that caught my interest (which happened to be Batman: Arkham Knight Genesis). Unlike an ongoing series, a mini-series will typically be published in four to six issues.

If you want something even smaller than a miniseries to test different books out, you could try a One Shot or a promotional book. One Shot is an issue where the entire story is self-contained to that issue. Some publishers re-release back issues as promotions, like Marvel’s True Believers or DC’s Justice League Essentials, at the price point of $1. These are all lower commitment, so you don’t have to feel like you’re taking anything on for the long term. While you are reading your smaller story arcs, the issues will have ads for upcoming series that may be of interest to you, as well.

Ask your friends at the comic shop which new mini-series have started or will be starting. How can you know what to look forward to in the months to come?

Comic Shop News

At your local comic shop, you can pick up a free copy of Comic Shop News. This newsletter comes out every week with the latest on what events are happening, what new releases are slated for the coming month, what events are on the horizon, and even what authors and artists are taking on new projects. It’s a great way to get a handle on what might be interesting to you, and a little easier to digest than standing in front of a wall of comics for the first time.

The Pull Box

If you find a particular title (or titles) that you’d like to keep up with, a pull box basically works like a subscription service. Tell the clerk at your shop that you are interested in starting a pull box and ask for the details. It is no cost to have a box, and a store will sometimes even give you a discount (like 10% off cover price) of any books you have set aside for you. Of course, may still want to shop the rack each time you visit. New releases come out every Wednesday. The frequency of your pick up will be up to you. Will you visit once a month, or will your visit be a highlight of your week?

Events

Attending a convention like SC ComicCon or an event hosted by your local comic shop like Free Comic Book Day or Halloween Comic Fest, these can be great points of entry for a new reader. For example, on Free Comic Book Day, you can have your selection of several comics made available free of charge to you. You don’t even have to buy anything in the store! The shop owner will typically put a limit on how many you can take on the day, but it doesn’t hurt to return later in the week to see if anything is left, either.

Your Local Library

Sometimes you have to go beyond your local shop to find out what you’re interested in. One good place to start is your local library. Ask your librarian if they have a selection of graphic novels. I have found large volumes of old black and white SpiderMan from the newest DC Rebirth or Marvel Legacy titles. Checking out graphic novels and trade paperbacks (collected editions of single release comics) doesn’t replace the experience of getting your new releases from your pull box

Online Resources

Sometimes there is just so much backstory to be read, and so many heroes and villains and teams to make sense of, reading all of those back issues is just too much. When I need help to catch up on the backstory of Mister Miracle, Suicide Squad, Robin, Green Lantern, X-Men, or Guardians of the Galaxy, I start listening to the podcast Geek History Lesson. With continuing episodes going back to 2014, it’s worth looking at to see if this podcast can help clear the fog around someone you want a deeper history of.

Expand Your Horizons

Whether you are just through the front door of the comic shop or have boxes and boxes of sealed comics in your collection, a final piece of recommendation I have for you is to expand your horizons. Keep an eye out for things that look interesting to you, even if they aren’t mainstream. Big name titles with instant recognition have a lot of fanfare, but sometimes a title or series you’ve never heard of can be even better.

If you use the resources I’ve told you about in this post, you are on your way to enjoying a hobby that is a lot of fun!

Categories
Adventure comics

Thoughts on Judas 4:4, and final series.

March brings us the finale to BOOM! Studios comic mini-series of Judas, an imaginative and exploratory new telling of the events leading up to and after Judas’s death. **This will contain spoilers.**

If you missed my thoughts on the prior issues, you can read 1 here, 2 here, and 3 here. You’re now reading 4.

The final issue treats the reader to some of the best artwork Jakub Rebelka has brought to this series. What started to build in the 3rd issue comes to fruition with bold and contrasting color palettes to tell the dramatic culmination of this story.

It seems that Judas finally has his head on straight and is thinking clearly. Jesus has been taken to the deepest depths of hell, beyond the beasts of John’s revelation. He is being held where all hope is gone. Jesus needs a savior.

In this inner circle of hell, Judas finds Jesus in his weakest state yet. Deflated into a shell, he is also defeated and depressed. He has believed the lie. “Lucifer was right. He was always right. The story is broken.” Then, as Judas sits by the limp Jesus, lost in the defeat of his friend, the story begins to shift. The reservoir of Judas’s accusation has been completely emptied, and now what is left?

The Father has been testing. The Old Testament recounting of Abraham sacrificing Isaac that prophetically points to Jesus is reshaped to suggest that God has been testing himself on a small scale to see if these things could be done. Could a father truly give up his son? To give him up to a place where the Father could not follow, where he would be alone?

But wait, Jesus is not alone. Judas is here. Judas has been sent before him, to be with him. When Jesus is weak, Judas was intended to be next to him to make him strong. Is this the grace of God, Judas asks himself? Is this his purpose, his story? In this section, we do find the answer to the close relational death Judas experienced in the first issue.

One thing is holding Jesus back. There is one sin that is keeping Jesus defeating death: his own sin of making Judas the villain in the story. Satan steps back in, seeing that he is about to lose what he has worked for, and Judas turns his doubt toward Satan and regains his faith in Jesus. As the betrayed and the betrayer are about to be overcome, Judas utters, “I forgive you.” In a dramatic change, light enters the darkness. Jesus’s power returns, and the gates of hell have been broken.

God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. – Acts 2:24

Even if this comic entertains the possibility of Jesus being held by death, there is no escape for Judas. His black and broken halo remains, and Jesus goes where Judas cannot. Judas is not bitter, though. Even in death, he is watching the story continue on without him, but is comforted in love. Judas’s identity will always be the villain. He will always remain as broken as the story he finds himself in. In truth, Judas comes to the conclusion that there is more to our story than we know.

Judas, even in death, finds redemption in love. He doesn’t escape the dark wasteland he finds himself in, but he chooses to love. His bitterness towards Jesus is gone, his resentment of the story is no more, and in a bizarre turn that I was not expecting, we find Judas echoing the beatitudes and becoming the Christ of hell.

The curtain closes.

Final thoughts on the Judas mini-series

I’m reminded while reading that this series is called Judas, not Jesus. Jesus, while an integral part of this story, is not the focus. I found him quite uninteresting, drained of being fully God and fully man. The story started strong, with the heavy emotions and accusations that Judas was wrestling with. Even as Judas was trading words with the Satan, there was clever dialogue in the way that Satan was guilty of the exact things he was accusing Jesus of but disguised it with sleight of words. When Jesus entered hell, and lost his godhood (with a show of his words fading from red to black), the story took a turn which felt like an Academy Award winning movie doing something for the sake of being artistically provocative that wasn’t compelling. From the beginning, with the uncomfortable juxtaposition of Judas and Jesus, there was a tell in this ring the way the story would go. Artistically, the resurrection of Jesus was great, but without any significance, why should I care? Again, this is a story about Judas, and not Jesus, but as I closed the book, it was just not satisfying.

Even from an angle of something I didn’t line up with, the story that was told didn’t seem like it was a story that had to be told. It felt like art for the sake of art, and not much driving it beyond that. I stated at the beginning that this mini-series could be considered a good gift, but I’m not entirely convinced of that at the end of the tale. It falls flat. There may still be value in the discussion that can come from shared readers, but on what authority can any conclusions be tested against to be found true or false?

Categories
comics

Thoughts on Judas 3:4

The last time we left the scene, Judas and Satan were beholding Jesus who had just joined them in the barren wasteland of darkness.

If you missed my thoughts on prior issues of Judas, you can read 1 here and 2 here.

Judas is wrestling in his mind with what is before him. He’s seen Jesus in a spectrum of human emotion and experience, but he’s never seen him like this. This is a side of Jesus that Judas is unfamiliar with, which is a wind that begins to toss Judas himself.

Satan continues the momentum of twisted words and accusations, stirring up strife in Judas heart while trying to divide the Son from the love of his Father. Jesus is now on trial in hell while taking on the sins of the world, and according to his accuser, now he knows what it’s like to be faithful and hear nothing in response. As these sins are being taken upon him, Jakub Rebelka lays more vivid art on the pulp for the reader.

Thus far, the Judas mini-series has been an imaginative exploration of events. What it feels like to me at this point is that Satan is telling Jesus that his works have not made him righteous, just like the rest of us. The fear, the guilt, the separation; it’s all because Jesus has believed the lie that the rest of us do. Judas is as unfamiliar with this side of Jesus as Scripture is. This is a Jesus that lost his identity and broken the over and over commandment of Do not fear. Perhaps it is also because the whole “Jesus went to hell for three days” event is a questionable discussion, as well, but that is the machine to make this story move forward. God is infinite and therefore not under any threat from a comic book any more than he is threatened by the accusations of Satan.

As the trial continues, the other thief on the cross comes forward. This is the thief who did not ask to be remembered in paradise, bringing to Jesus his own self-righteous comparison. Judas has seemingly been wrestling with God’s absolute sovereignty in the extremes of being a manipulative puppet master, but then the story turns to seeing Jesus as weak in his own rescue mission. “I tried.” He is accused for his sovereignty and then made not sovereign.

This flip flop of Jesus’s role in the biggest story of all history is confusing. Maybe the author, Jeff Loveness, is going this direction because of the fear that Jesus is caving into and the accusations of the devil are finally causing him to doubt the love of his Father, and therefore his mission? Even suffering and weakness he experienced during his crucifixion did not drain him of his power and authority that this story seems to.

With his final breath before he enters this story, even after he asks, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus boldly proclaims that It is finished. In the juxtaposition that has become common here, Satan echoes his words, and we see a change in Judas that sets him up to be the savior of the Savior.

I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt that I am not reading this clearly, as there’s one more issue to be published. As it stands, it feels like Jesus is being stripped of all that makes him compelling, like his power in weakness. Here, he is even more confused and conflicted than Judas is.

A final thought. In their song called As The World Bleeds, the band Theocracy has a line that I was thinking about while writing this post. “Why do we call for free will and reject all consequence?” It’s that feeling of a thing negating itself leaving a meaning of nothing. Maybe, though, this story is meant to leave the reader feeling that way. Maybe, we are meant to see that robbed of a story with meaning, a barren wasteland paradise is all we have.

Regardless of who Jeff Loveness and Jakub Rebelka portray Jesus as in this story, we would do well to follow Jesus’s words and make that judgment for ourselves.

Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.”Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” – Luke 9:18-20

“Who do you say that I am?” How will we know without the accounts of Scripture?

I am conflicted yet anticipating the final issue. We will see how this story concludes.

Categories
comics

Thoughts on Judas 2:4

The second installment of Judas from BOOM! Comics had this cover and a variant cover with art that felt like a nod to Dante’s Inferno or Paradise Lost. Though the variant cover was well done, I wanted my collection to all be the same style covers.

If you missed my post on the first issue, you can read that here before you read this post.

What is Judas up to in these pages? We find the unnamed being who I can only assume is Satan (or Lucifer, or the devil) welcoming Judas into a bleak wasteland of darkness. The accusations from the last issue carry through into this issue, though they transition from Judas to Satan. “YOU WERE IN MY HEAD!” Judas screams.

Satan calmly teases out the notion that he alone has the truth of the story. The only story. The story where God has compassion on all except those who He needs to be villains in His story. Pharaoh. Goliath. Jezebel. Lot’s wife, who wasn’t even given the dignity of being named. After several pages, this culminates in Judas returning to his original blameshift which feels just shy enough of a trite “The devil made me do it” to give it some gravity. Then comes an extremely interesting panel.

That old liar has spent pages telling Judas how the fall of villains in the only story were due to God’s sovereignty, and when Judas tries to turn the tables on him, Satan conveniently leans on man’s responsibility and spins that right back at Judas, shifting the blame again away from himself. Unbelievably clever, and so subtle I had to read it several times to catch it. It just didn’t sit right, and felt like I had read the panel too quickly. Wow, Jeff Loveness.

The story then continues with the war in heaven that Satan waged against God, and his fall like lightning to the wasteland the story now occupies. “There is no escaping your story,” he leads. There is an ace up his sleeve, from his perspective at least, as the issue comes to a close in a way that seems more supported by Christian culture than Scripture. I didn’t see it coming, but wasn’t surprised to see the cliff hanger of Jesus being in hell after his crucifixion. I’m anticipating which direction the next two issues will go, but I am looking forward to seeing if and how Judas 4:4 handles the resurrection. The resurrection is what we’re all waiting for anyway, whether we know it or not, isn’t it?

Reading this series is like reading The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. It is diabolical. However, unlike The Screwtape Letters, I do not know the authors intent with his medium. If he is trying to get the reader into the mindset of Judas and the devil, then I think he has succeeded brilliantly, even if some of the dialogue makes me wince. In all honesty, I don’t know his full intention, but that is how I’m going to interpret this unless I have further reason to believe otherwise.

As with the last issue, Jakub Rebelka illustrated the book in such an engaging way that every illustration begs you to linger over it for just a little while longer, taking in the richness of each line, each point of contrast, each use of color.

Halfway through the series, Judas is highlighting the strengths of graphic storytelling.

If you’re reading Judas, how has the series landed with you? Let me know in the comments. I’m interested to see what conversation it sparks.

Categories
comics

Thoughts on Judas 1:4

“Every story needs a villain.”

A couple months ago, I first saw the solicitations for a new mini-series from BOOM! Studios. Having read a few different mini-series that BOOM! has published (like Warlords of Appalachia and Bill & Ted Save the Universe), I was familiar with the quality and attention that goes into their art form. Seriously, a whole comic that isn’t half advertisements? Plus, this may seem a small thing, but the paper quality gives the book a tactile richness that most Marvel or D.C. books don’t have.

Immediately, Judas was a title that caught my interest. Especially that it was a mini-series, which tells me the author has a story to tell. Any story that had Judas front and center is bound to be controversial to someone. Going into it, I wanted to make room for any theological disagreements I might have to try (while also not picking those points apart) and understand the story Jeff Loveness and Jakub Rebelka are trying to tell.

The first panel immediately drew me in.

The gravity to that statement, Did you know it would be me?, lays out the premise for the story. Judas sets himself up as the lynchpin of Jesus’s plan to glorify Himself and rescue people. Judas is wrestling with his predestined path as the fall guy. It all depended on his sacrifice to make God’s plan go forward. Enter discomfort.

Within the first few pages, I found myself wondering what this book is trying to say? Judas begins with questioning, and the tone escalates to accusation. There is a part of that that makes me cringe, and then there’s a part I find as brilliant storytelling. Is this accusation a sentiment that Jeff Loveness shares, or are we only pulling back the curtain and getting into the mind of Judas Iscariot, the most famous traitor of all time?

As the mental movement of Judas dives deeper with each question, it culminates that there is a personal pain that makes each question twist like a knife in his back. We hear the classic thought of God, if you are good, then why is there suffering in the world? None of these questions are unexpected, or even unreasonable for any doubter or seeker among us.

There is one particular series of panels that have Judas evading demons in pursuit of him. What makes this page particularly the most uncomfortable for me is the overlay of Isaiah 53:3-4 across the panels: He was despised… and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” The juxtaposition of those words describing Judas and/or Jesus is heavy. Coming to a close that is to be continued, we find Judas at the feet of another in another parallel that sends me back to wondering what is going on.

One thing I wondered about that is not in the comic is Peter. He also betrayed Jesus, but instead of 30 pieces of silver, it was for his own skin and reputation. They were both traitors, yet one of them ran to Jesus for grace and forgiveness, and the other was self-condemned and hung himself. This is something I’d like to see explored more, if not in the series, then at least conversations.

As a graphic and visual medium, the art is wonderfully dark and feels representative of the reeling dizziness in Judas’s own head. Jakub Rebelka has done a masterful job here.

In the Bible, Jesus asks his disciple Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” I don’t think that this comic is telling us who Jesus is, though that Isaiah bit feels like it’s dancing on a boundary for me. I think Judas 1:4 is an imaginative and speculative exploration of Judas. In addition, it raises questions our culture is asking, and I think it would be detrimental to not look those questions straight in the face. Do I have all the answers to every question or doubt that could ever be raised? No. There are gaps in what I comprehend. However, I have every reason to believe, even in spite of those questions, in the goodness and trustworthiness of God. Questions and doubts are not a threat to Jesus. He can handle them. That being said, even if controversial, I feel this book is a good gift. Judas, as a comic book mini-series, is an overlapping of circles. The conversations that can come out of people reading it could be so beneficial.

Judas is a four part mini-series, and I’ve already asked my LCS (Local Comic Shop) to put it in my pull box. I’ll check back in every month as the story unfolds. If you’re reading it as well, let’s talk about it!