Todays post comes from our graphic novels guest star Nicola! She’s come up with a collection of graphic novels that are “re-imaginings” of characters that you’re sure to have heard of. Usually if you’ve kept half an eye on pop culture you can pick one of these books up without being completely up to date with the entire mythos. Of course, these books also reward hardcore fans, too. So what makes a good “re-imagining?” It’s not just enough to say “what if?”… the writer has to somehow make the comic more than just “Batman but a bit different.” The trick with a good “re-imagining” is to keep the core of the character, make the setting feel fully developed and not to take the obvious or easy route by ignoring the historical forces that might affect the characters.
Here are Nicola’s four picks for the best re-imaginings:
This is a fascinating take on a Victorian era Batman. The essential details are still the same; Bruce Wayne is a millionaire by day, mysterious caped crime fighter by night. But in the first part of this book, Jack the Ripper has come to Gotham, and Batman is being blamed for his crimes. In the second story, Batman fights another villain desperate to stem the tide of progress in Gotham. What’s great about this story is that it’s a lot more than just “Steampunk Batman”. While there are still some of the famous characters of the Batman universe (Alfred, Commissioner Gordon) many of the other characters are new, so it’s a fairly fresh take on Batman’s world. Although the careful reader may be able to spot the Joker cameo.
This, like Gotham by Gaslight, is a look at what would happen if you took a superhero out of a cotemporary setting and placed him in the past. Spider-man is working as a vigilante in New York in 1933; a city filled with gangsters and shaped by racism. This is a more adult take on the Superhero concept; Peter Parker tries to fight against evil, but he’s helpless to change the larger forces (racism and the rise of eugenics and Nazism) that threaten the people he loves. True to the noir setting, there’s no happy ending and no easy answers.
Even if you’re not a Marvel fan, you should read this book. It’s written by Neil Gaiman, and that alone should be enough to recommend it. In my opinion this is the best re-imagining of either the Marvel or the DC universe. Like it says, this book is the Marvel Universe as it would exist in 1602; but it’s so much more than that. Gaiman manages to stay true to the spirit of the fantastic Marvel characters yet keeps it from becoming too silly. All the forces that were changing the world at that time; colonialism, religious intolerance and the status of women are woven into the book. As well as being amazingly well written, the artwork is gorgeous.
The central concept of Superman: Red Son is so simple you wonder why no one’s ever thought of it before. What if Superman, who’s come to be a paragon of All American virtues, landed in Russia as a baby and not Kansas? Of course, this changes everything. What is so great about this story is it’s not just about Superman; it’s also about Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Jimmy Olsen, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and the Batman and how their lives are shaped by this. Mark Millar, the writer, never reduces the concept to “Russian Superman is evil,” It also attempts to answer the question “If superman’s so powerful, why doesn’t he try to fix the world’s problems? This gives it a more complex morality than some of the ‘normal’ Superman titles.