Wednesday 21 September 2011

Using Comics To Get Your Son Reading

At the end of August I went to watch Batman Live at London's O2 Arena. Although the show was quite obviously aimed at the younger end of the market both my wife and I loved it, and I got the feeling that most of the rest of the audience did as well. The character costumes based on Jim Lee's character designs looked amazing on the big stage, and I only wish I could have been a little nearer to see them in close-up. However, a very small part of my enjoyment was marred by an observation I had made relating to the merchandise that was on sale pretty much everywhere you looked both inside and outside the Arena. Programmes were being shifted by the truckload at £15 a copy, with pretty much every child there trying to badger their accompanying adult into buying them a copy. A quick glance through showed that these programmes, attractive though they were, were very image heavy and light on the text, and this got me thinking. If I had been one of those parents I would have told my child that I would not buy them a programme but would instead, on our return home, buy them a batman graphic novel or one of the DC New 52 comics. 

From this one thought my mind started making more connections. 2011 has been a year that has seen a string of super-hero films in the cinemas, and I imagine that the likes of Green LanternThor, Captain America and X-Men: First Class have had audiences chock-full of younger viewers who could be classified as reluctant readers. At school we have tried to capitalise on the appeal and success of these films by making sure we are well stocked with a variety of DC and Marvel books, thanks in no small part to our local Education Library Service, and so I thought I would share some of these titles with you. That way, if your son says reading is boring but loved one of these super-hero films you could surprise him with a related graphic novel that might just be the catalyst that has him wanting more.

Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli

Not as 'glossy' as some Batman stories this is a gritty and hard-hitting look at the origins of Batman and his mission to rid Gotham City of its plague of crime. We are introduced to a Bruce Wayne before he dons his disguise for the first time, as well as a Lieutenant Jim Gordon, newly assigned to Gotham City and quickly discovering that corruption is rife amongst the ranks of its police force. Both men have what appears to be an impossible task ahead of them and it isn't long before their paths begin to cross. Classic Batman villains are not present in this story, and it is all the better for this, although the ending leaves us with Gordon pondering on reports of somebody threatening to poison the Gotham reservoir with the words "Calls himself the Joker". Batman: Year One is probably going to have more appeal to slightly older teens as its dark storyline may be a little much for the under 13s.

Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee

Fans of the Dark Knight are sometimes divided over this story, but it remains one of my all-time favourites and I know a number of boys at school who have read it share my love of it. The first thing that grabs the reader on first opening this book are the truly stunning images created by Jim Lee to accompany Jeph Loeb's story; many of the classic villains are present including Riddler, Joker, Harley Quinn and Catwoman and in my opinion they have never been so beautifully drawn as they are by Jim Lee in this book (although I hasten to add that my experience is still rather limited and should any Batman fan wish to point me to even better images then I will gladly go there).

Green Lantern: Secret Origin by Geoff Johns ans Ivan Reis

My experience of Green Lantern stories is rather limited and this may be why I quite enjoyed the film earlier this year where long-time fans of the character found it more than a little disappointing. Green Lantern: Secret Origin is, however, a great trade paperback collection for those seeking an introduction to Hal Jordan and the retelling of his becoming a Green Lantern. Another popular title since we introduced it to the school libary.

Ultimate X-Men by Mark Millar 

Started back in 2001 Mark Millar's Ultimate X-Men is the perfect entry point to the Marvel mutant universe for young readers. I have said before that as someone who has not grown up buying a lot of Marvel comics I have sometimes found it difficult to 'break in' to the Marvel universe. In this series author Mark Millar, more than ably assisted by a host of incredibly talented artists, completely reimagines the X-Men story, starting from their beginnings as a band of mutants fighting for good. Familiar characters like Professor Charles Xavier, Cyclops, Storm and Wolverine are all present, and the stories are all exciting and guaranteed to have boys turning pages excitedly to find out what happens next, and then going back though the books to gaze longingly at the stunning artwork. There are now four volumes, titled "Ultimate X-Men: Ultimate Collection", each with more than 300 pages, and I highly recommend them.

Ultimate Spider-Man by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley

If your son is more of a spider-man fan then why not try the Ultimate Spider-Man series instead? In a similar way to Ultimate X-Men, these volumes (of which there are more than twenty) go right back to the origins of how Peter Parker becomes the webslinging super-hero and well-loved characters like Mary Jane Watson, Aunt May, Green Goblin and Doc Octopus are all present.


This list is far from being exhaustive and I know that there will be some DC and Marvel fans reading this who will shout "What about....?" As I have said many a time on The Book Zone, this is an area that I am still slowly learning about for myself and I am therefore more than happy to hear from readers about any entry-level recommendations they might have. This also explains the absence of Superman from this list, although having enjoyed the recent DC New 52 #1 issue of Action Comics then this is something that may change in the future.

#edit: Following my tweeting of this post one of my Twitter followers mentioned the DC and Marvel comic apps that are available, and that are a great way of engaging boys with reading, possibly without them even realising it. I will endeavour to find out more about these and create a post of this subject in the future.