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Feeling the Power of Reality

(This  Stripped column originally appeared in the December 18-24, 1997, Long Island Voice. Click on the artwork for a larger image.)


" ‘The earth is a sphere,’ she thought. ‘If you run away long enough, you arrive back at where you started.’ "

— recollections by Anna Carey in Shades of Gray: A Healing Presence

by Beth Hannan Rimmels

So you’ve got people on your Christmas list who aren’t into superheroes but might read comic books. Have I got some books for you.

First up is Jimmy Gownley’s Shades of Gray. It’s a coming-of-age series featuring four friends — no mutant powers, no dropping into fantasy realms, etc. Just a gentle story with believable characters that nonetheless holds your interest through its lyrical dialogue and meticulous art. I’m a tough sell for reality-based stories, particularly adolescent coming-of-age tales. I read comics to escape. I’ll escape into mysteries, fantasy, science fiction, history, superheroes — you name it. I’m reluctant to read anything that reminds me of how painful my teen years were, no matter how well written. Shades of Gray is so good that if my pile of unread comics didn’t grow geometrically, I’d subscribe in a heartbeat. Gownley has released two compilations so far: A Healing Presence ($12.95) and Days to Remember ($8.95), both from Lady Luck Ltd.

Know someone into Arthurian legends? Even though it will be 10 years old next year, Camelot 3000 ($14.95) is still one of the best King Arthur stories I ever read as well as one of the best stories told in a comic book format. Surprisingly today, it was both the first story anywhere that explored the idea of Arthur’s much prophecized return (brush up on your Malory if you don’t know what I’m talking about) and the first comic book miniseries DC ever aimed specifically at a mature audience. The story is by Mike Barr, whose Maze Agency I adore, and the art is by the incomparable Brian Bolland. Bolland only does covers and posters today, not interior art, so this is one of the remaining examples of his visual storytelling ability.

For something completely different, check out Frank Miller and Dave Gibbon’s Give Me Liberty ($16, Dark Horse). Set in the early 21st century, it imagines today’s problems run amuck and tells the story of a young black girl born in Cabrini Green who ends up becoming one of America’s — and later the world’s — greatest defenders. The follow-up, Martha Washington Saves the World is also great, as is the one-shot, Happy Birthday, Martha Washington. Parts of it aren’t easy to read because they’re chilling in their bleakness, but I can never put it down once I start reading it.

For something a bit more traditional, check out P. Craig Russell’s Jungle Book Stories ($16.95, NBM). The slightly convoluted history of the project is detailed by Jo Duffy in the introduction, but as usual, Russell’s artwork and pacing are wonderful. This volume contains the last three Mowgli stories: "The King’s Ankus," "Red Dog" and "The Spring Running."

If you do know someone into superheroes, particularly classic heroes, try The Golden Age of Marvel Comics (($19.99) which reprints classic stories from the 1940s and ’50s. It even includes a Captain America and Bucky story by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby — not something you’d find easily in the back issue bin of your local shop.

If they like golden age characters but might appreciate a twist, consider James Robinson’s Elseworlds tale, The Golden Age ($19.95), which takes a decidedly different look at the golden age of DC Comics. I think the trade paperback is actually better than the original four-issue miniseries because this is a story that works best read all at once so you can see how everything interconnects.

Then there are the perennial gift suggestions, which, strangely enough, are mostly fantasy: Sandman by Neil Gaiman (dark fantasy; $15.95-$19.95, DC Comics’ Vertigo); Bone by Jeff Smith (all-ages fantasy; $12.95, Cartoon Books); Poison Elves, the Mulehide Graphics editions, by Drew Hayes (hard-edged fantasy; $14.95, Sirius); Leave It To Chance: Shaman’s Rain by James Robinson (light, modern-day fantasy; $9.95, Image); Cerebus by Dave Simm (satirical fantasy; $17-$30, Aardvark-Vanaheim); Preacher by Garth Ennis (horror; $14.95, DC Comics’ Vertigo) and Books of Magic, with the original miniseries by Neil Gaiman and the continuing stories by John Ney Reiber (fantasy; $17.50, DC Comics’ Vertigo).


Column 1997 Long Island Voice. Shades of Gray: A Healing Presence artwork 1997 Lucky Lady Ltd. Camelot 3000 artwork 1997 DC Comics. Give Me Liberty artwork 1997 Dark Horse Comics.  P. Craig Russell's Jungle Book artwork 1997 NBM. The Golden Age of Marvel artwork 1997 Marvel Comics. Leave It to Chance artwork 1997 Homage.