Category Archives: Underrated

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Underrated: Time Before Time Volume One

Time got away from me this week, so we’re rerunning an older column from yesteryear.

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Time Before Time vol. 1.


Time Before TIme

Ever since I first watched Marty McFly try and find his way through the 50’s in Back To The Future, I’ve always enjoyed a good time travel story. There’s something about being able to witness history first hand that has always intrigued me, and I get oddly excited when thinking about the details and implications of how the time travelling actually works in different stories. For example can you change the past, or have your actions already happened eve though you haven’t done anything yet?

Is time a river where you can hop out and in at different points but you are still in the same river and it’s course doesn’t divert regardless of what you do, or does each action that you take that differs from what should have happened create something new?

Time Before Time aligns closer to the former example in the above paragraph. In the year 2140, the criminal gang the Syndicate will smuggle you back in time from a world with very little prospects or future to a time with a better tomorrow (albeit with no Wi-Fi). Tatsuo, one of the Syndicate’s time smugglers has had enough of the grind (and radiation exposure) of constant time jumps.

It’s about this moment when he’s caught up with an FBI agent who throws a bit of a wrench into his escape plan, which obviously works out well for the reader.

The comic wasn’t on my radar at all until I was filing back issues away at my LCS and something about the cover caught my eye. I’d love to say I picked it up and read it at home, but instead I stopped what I was doing and read it there and then, and upon finishing picked up the remaining five issues for cover price. There is a trade also available for those same issues, and while the story doesn’t end with the first volume, I’m writing about it today because it was really enjoyable. Time Before Time is one of those stories that I didn’t expect to find – I’m not going to say I didn’t expect to enjoy it, because I’d heard nothing about the book until I actually read the comic. Maybe my head was in the clouds with this one, but I don’t remember putting it in many pull boxes during the initial run of the individual comics earlier in the year, either. So assuming my shop is typical (which it very well may not be), I figured there’s a chance that the book has been slept on by a fair few people.

Do yourselves a favour, and check it out.


Join us next week where there will doubtless be another movie, series, comic or comic related thing discussed that is, for whatever reason, Underrated.

Underrated: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

I may have spent far too much time over the last week watching Disney+. Because of that, I wanted to rerun an older column, and what better column than one focusing on the first chronological Star Wars movie? For no other reason than I’ve been watching a lot of Mandalorian.


This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace


Star_Wars_Phantom_Menace_poster.jpg

Released in 1999, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was written and directed by George Lucas, produced by Lucasfilm and distributed by 20th Century Fox. It is the first installment in the Star Wars prequel trilogy and stars Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Ahmed Best, Pernilla August, Brian Blessed, Ray Park, and Frank Oz. It  is also widely known for being a stonking pile of manure.

Released sixteen years after Return Of The JediThe Phantom Menace was set 32 years before Star Wars, and follows Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi as they protect Queen Amidala, in hopes of securing a peaceful end to a large-scale interplanetary trade dispute. Joined by Anakin Skywalker—a young slave with unusually strong natural powers of the Force—they simultaneously contend with the mysterious return of the Sith.

Now that you’ve read (basically) the first two paragraphs of the Wikipedia entry, allow me to tell you why this movie is underrated.

Look, I’m not claiming it’s good, just that it isn’t (quite) as bad as you think it is. And it does have good moments. If I can’t convince you, maybe I’ll make you laugh…?

Anyway.

If you’re of a certain age, or your parents are, then you would have been beyond excited to see this movie when it hit the theaters in 1999. I remember watching the lines on the local news back in England being in awe that anybody would care about a movie that much, but nearly twenty years later I can begin understand the level of excitement people would feel surrounding the return of such a beloved franchise – indeed, as I type this I am already planning to line up for the latest Star Wars flick, The Last Jedi, two hours before the screen doors open. But that’s after having two good movies released in the last two years, so can you imagine the excite fans of the franchise would have had in the weeks and months (hell, years) leading up to May 19th, 1999 when the movie finally opened for the masses. It would have been incredible! In the years before the widespread usage of the Internet (in comparison to what we see now), there were conversations in schools, at the water cooler and frankly anywhere fans would gather. The excitement was palpable wherever nerds and fans gathered. It’s hard to overstate how much hype was in the air surrounding the first Star Wars movie in sixteen years.

And then the movie was released.

fanboys.jpg
If you’ve never seen this movie, then you should check it out. It’s a great send up of nerd culture circa 1998 with a touching heart. Rumour has it the movie is based on real events – whether that’s true or not I’m unsure.

Look, without beating around the bush, it’s safe to say that it didn’t live up to expectations. At all. The movie is widely regarded as the worst live action entry into the saga, and rightly so, and fans have often said that the movie is best left forgotten in the deep recesses of history. Which is a touch harsh, but I understand where they’re coming from. But here’s the thing; despite the movie’s obvious flaws, I still feel like it gets the short end of the stick quite a bit.

Why? Well let me break out the bullet points…

  • Firstly, it was the first Star Wars movie in a generation, and as such it was the first time that many of us were able to sit in a chair and experience that title sequence – next time you see a Star Wars movie in the theatre and those titles start to roll with that music… you tell me that isn’t an incredible moment. Almost makes what came after those titles worth watching.
  •  Secondly, you can’t tell me you weren’t grinning from ear to ear with the extensive lightsaber duels. Everything is better with lightsabers.
  •  Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, there were people for whom this was the first Star Wars movie they’d experienced and as such it served, for those folks at least, as a gateway into the franchise.
  •  How many of you who did see, and loath, this movie in the cinema rushed out to see Episode II – Attack Of The Clones opening night because it couldn’t have been as band as this one, right? It wasn’t, was it? If nothing else, that the first movie was the worst in the new trilogy should be seen as a bright spot.
  • Dual lightsaber! Darth Maul’s dual blades were the first time we had seen a break from the standard style lightsaber from the original trilogy, which opened up a breadth of on-screen options for the iconic weapon going forward.
    darth maul.jpeg

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was always doomed to fail. No movie with as much hype as this one will ever meet expectations. But eighteen years on, while the movie may not hold up visually any more with the advances in digital technology, and Jar Jar Binks is still an annoying fuckwit, I came to realize that the movie isn’t as bad as you would think. Aside from Jar Jar, and a little too much time spent on the pod racing subplot, the movie isn’t bad. Could it have been better? Absolutely – I won’t argue that. But it wasn’t as  bad as you’ve heard, certainly not as bad as its reputation would have you believe.



Next week we’ll return to a more comic themed Underrated. Until next time!

Underrated: Starlight

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Starlight.


Conceived by Hollywood darling Mark Millar (with art by Goran Parlov), Starlight was a six issue miniseries that was released beginning in March of 2014 and ending in October 2014. Telling the story of the superbly named Duke McQueen, an Air Force pilot who went to space and saved the alien planet of Tantalus from tyranny forty years ago, before returning home and raising a family instead of staying to rule the planet. His exploits, sadly, were written off as the ravings of a attention seeker, and Duke became a joke to all but his sweetheart.

Now, with his wife dead, his family not giving him the time of day, and people still treating him as a joke, a spaceship arrives to take the old man on one last grand adventure to save the planet Tantalus once again.

One of the less Mark Millar-y comics that have come from his keyboard in the last half decade, this mini series had none of the hyper violence seen in things such as Kick-Ass, Wanted and Kingsman. Surprisingly Starlight is a sentimental yarn about a former hero redeeming himself in his own eyes and saving the planet from a tyrannical despot once again.

Starlight is a pleasure to read. Although criticism can be levelled at the sudden change as Duke McQueen goes from couch-bound crank to crack aimed space hero over the course of only a couple of issues, for me that misses the spirit of the book. Think not of Starlight in terms of the modern, more realism based stories we’ve become accustomed to, and instead fall back into the nostalgia of the classic stories of yesteryear as Millar embraces the straight forward nature of the story – almost against type, as McQueen battles against an antagonist who doesn’t measure up to the rich and deep characterization of the hero; Kingfisher is a perfectly adequate villain, but make no mistake, Starlight is a redemptive story for Duke McQueen.

Perhaps in seeing McQueen struggle against overwhelming odds, himself, and the reputation he had been given, we can find hope and inspiration in our own lives. Not quite the lesson I expected to take from a Mark Millar book.

I had forgotten how much I loved Starlight until I saw a tweet mentioning the series a few days ago that inspired me to dig the comics out and reread them.  It’s a love that I genuinely believe you’ll share when you give the series a chance – it’s an underrated gem that you wouldn’t typically expect to come from Mark Millar.


Join us next week when we look at something else that is, for whatever reason, Underrated.

Underrated: Incognito

Time got away from me this week, so we’re rerunning an older column from yesteryear.

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Incognito


My local comic shop recently got the hardcover edition of Incognito in, and it last all of ten minutes on the table where it was in line for pricing as I picked it up and read what amounted to half the first issue before scooping it up before it ever actually made it to the shelf.

Written by Ed Brubaker, with art by Sean Phillips and colours by Val Staples, the hardcover collects both Incognito and the sequel Incognito: Bad Influences within its 360-odd pages as well an essay, a series cover gallery and some interesting process pieces. If you’ve read any of Brubaker and Phillips other work together, such as Criminal, Fatale or Kill Or Be Killed, then you probably have an idea what you’re in for. If you don’t… well, let’s just say you’re in for a very compelling story that you’ll probably want to read multiple times.

If you want to read the series’ synopsis, it’s below. If you don’t… well, skip the next paragraph, I guess. Either way, you’ll find the core premise of the comic below.

What if you were an ex-super villain hiding out in Witness Protection… but all you could think about were the days when the rules didn’t apply to you? Could you be a humdrum office clerk after being the best at years of leaving destruction in your wake? And what if you couldn’t stand it? What would you do then? 

This story is steeped in the pulp fiction of the 30’s and 40’s, stories that undeniably inspired the superhero fiction of today. Brubaker takes those early influences and fills out a world that has descended from them; there’s a very clear path in Incognito back to characters like the Shadow and the Spider (or rather Brubaker’s version thereof), and it gives the reader the sense that we’re barely scratching the surface with the characters and history revealed through the course of the hardcover’s 360-odd pages.

I was immediately taken in by the story as we learned more about Zack Overkill and how he went from a heavy hitting super villain to a lowly file clerk barely noticed by his coworkers. We see flashes of his mandated psychiatric appointments, the oh-so-real struggles he’s facing in a life that he’s not accustomed too. If you remove the super powered aspect from the opening part of the story, you can see a man struggling with his mental health amidst an unfulfilling life of boredom and depression. Is it any wonder that he eventually turns to drugs in order to find an escape?

Zach Overkill is an oddly likable guy despite never hiding (at least from us) what kind of man he used to be; whether this story is about his trying to find redemption, or a larger tale about whether a leopard can truly change its spots is one of the best parts about this book. Brubaker asks you not whether you can change for the better after making a horrible series of life choices, but whether others can accept your change. Whether they truly believe it, or if once they’ve labelled you a villain then that’s how they will always see you.

I should have expected good stuff from this book, but I wasn’t quite prepared with just how good it would be.

In a story that can be so much to so many, we’re left asking ourselves who we really are; are you really the person you think you are, or are you just a product of what this world has made you?


Join us next week where there will doubtless be another movie, series, comic or comic related thing discussed that is, for whatever reason, Underrated.

Underrated: Marvel Epic Collections

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Marvel Epic Collections.


I noticed that my reading habits changed a little during the pandemic; rather than individual issues, I was drawn toward complete stories that were typically collected in some form of trade paperback or graphic novel. I say typically because my comic shop began selling sets of various kinds (full runs, miniseries, etc.) and I have picked up a few of those over the last year or two. But more often than not I’ve been reading tpbs. Over the past couple of months I’ve been reading Marvel’s Epic Collections – a series of books with between 3-500 pages that will focus on a particular series told in chronological order. There’s a chance that you may get more than the main series included if there’s a crossover story, but never more than the issues that pertain to the story.

My interest in these was piqued because I found the first volume of Wolverine’s Epic Collection that contained the early issues of Wolverine and around ten parts of a story from Marvel Comics Presents featuring the clawed mutant as the story led directly into the solo series. I didn’t have those issues of MCP, and reading the single issues of the main series in trade was far more convenient than digging out the individual issues. Yes, I paid for convenience, no I am not ashamed. But it did get me looking at other characters, teams and series that were featured in the Epic Collections. Spider-Man, Moonknight and Daredevil all now sit on my shelf (some in the “to read” category), and while they’re solid books, the opportunity they afford a person to be able to read comics from fifty, sixty years ago is fantastic.

I’d never be able to read a bulk amount of early Amazing Spider-Man comics in full colour, in print, unless I had a ton of disposable income or was lucky in finding a great deal, or had picked up an omnibus or two. Yes, there are doubtless trades featuring the odd collected story, Marvel Masterworks, for example, and there have been reprint mags in the UK (but those issues are long out of print), but the volume of the comics in the Epic Collection combined with the retail price makes them the best value for money out there.

Interestingly, because the Epic Collections focus more on collecting stories that either haven’t been published in trade form before they’re not published sequentially. So while the first eight volumes of The Amazing Spider-Man have been released, volumes nine through 14 have yet to have even been given a release date. While this can prove irritating for those looking to read a series in full from start to finish, for me it’s a relief because I’m able to get a complete story with each Epic Collection (minus the odd loose end because the books are collecting full runs for the most part).

There are Epic volumes with more than just the named series, though; Wolverine Volume 13 has nine issues plus an annual of Wolverine, but also the six issue Origin miniseries. I’m sure that this isn’t unique, and that other volumes will feature odds and ends apart from the main series, but for the most part in my (limited) experience the volumes focus on the named series plus crossovers more often than not.

I had thought of buying a Marvel Unlimited subscription to read these early Spider-Man comics, and while that would likely have been cheaper initially, eventually I’d have cancelled it and been unable to read the comics. Plus I tend to prefer print over digital for reading comics, books and graphic novels. Now, excuse me while I crack open the next volume in my pile.


In the meantime, Underrated will return to highlight more comic book related stuff  that either gets ignored despite it’s high quality, or maybe isn’t quite as bad as we tend to think it is.

Underrated: Autumnlands: Woodland Creatures

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week:  Autumnlands: Woodland Creatures


A few weeks ago I wrote about the first volume of The Autumnlands  in this column (which you can find in a horribly typo filled post here because apparently I forgot to spell check). I was quite taken with the book, and remarkably surprised that I’d never come across the story before, and as I’m sure you’ve figured out, I picked up the second trade. This time for full price.

The second trade, Woodland Creatures picks up, with the aftermath of the bridge battle sending Dusty and Learoyd left abandoned on the ground as the rest of the citizens are rehomed.

Whereas the first volume touched on the divide of rich and poor in a class-based society, the second really drives home the differences between the magic users and the rest of the woodland creatures, culminating in a shocking and remarkably relevant commentary on the imposition of one’s will over another.

Slavery, class divide, religion, environmental damage and technological abuses are all touched upon here in a way that doesn’t come off as Kurt Busiek standing on a soapbox, but rather encouraging us to think about the world around us. Maybe something that seems impossible has a rather obvious solution when approached from a different angle.

If you’re looking for a fun fantasy story, then you will find what you’re looking for with the second volume in the Autumnlands saga. Without question, this is a top notch comic book. But like any great science fiction or fantasy series, the messages barely beneath the surface are more powerful and relevant for their seemingly innocuous delivery and framing within the confines of the story.

As with all great works of fiction, Woodland Creatures asks exactly as much of the reader as it needs to in order to encourage you become a better person. Yup. But as deeply as I have read into this book, and possibly far deeper than I should have, you don’t need to do that. This is a book that can be enjoyed solely as a great story.

Image has a vast library of great books, and while we’re still waiting on the third volume of the series, this book is worth reading now. Yes, there’s a set up for the following issue, and yes there are unanswered questions, but nothing that will haunt you long into the night (though the wait for the next chapter  will suck).

As with most books covered in this column, it’s a book I don’t see getting the love it deserves – that’s why the book is Underrated. Go read it now. You won’t regret it.


Join us next week when we look at something else that is, for whatever reason, Underrated.

Underrated: Autumn Lands: Tooth And Claw

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week:  Autumn Lands: Tooth And Claw


In another case of “Alex bought something for Underrated without knowing anything about it beforehand,” we have The Autumn Lands: Tooth And Claw by Kurt Busiek, Benjamin Dewey, Jordie Bellaire and John Roshell of Comicraft. I had never heard of this series before spotting it at my LCS last week as I restocked the trade shelves (I’m not a nice person, they pay me to do it). Then this week a used copy came in, and I couldn’t turn down a half priced trade.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that $5 was an utter steal for this book. Within four pages I had become absorbed into this wonderfull world of anthromorphic animals, magic and class based society.

Autumnlands is published by Image, with the first volume being released in 2015 that collects the six issues released from November 2014 to June 2015. There was a second volume released in 2017 that collects the eight issues released from November 2015 to January 2017. As a person who only recently discovered the series, I can imagine that the less than frequent release date didn’t help garner Autumnlands much buzz – but I could easily be wrong here as it is entirely possible I just missed it. Like I missed the comics.

Magic is failing in the world, and a group of sky-city dwelling wizards want to bring back the Great Champion so that he can show them how to return the world’s magic. Only… the wizards didn’t bring back a savior, they snagged themselves a soldier. An effective soldier, but a soldier nonetheless. From anther world, or time, or dimension. Into this new world, then, the soldier finds himself embroiled in the politics of a city (or he would if he seemed to care about such things), and it’s through the uses of the types of animals that we can see a class-based commentary begin to form.

Although this is more a rule of thumb than specifically stated, meat eaters, generally, seem to be at the top of the hierarchy, while herbivors are (quite literally) at the ground level. There are exceptions to this, including a wizarding giraffe, however. But put the politics and commentary aside, and you still have a solid fantasy story about a hero who finds himself alone in a strange world who must somehow protect and save those who need him. Busiek delivers on multiple levels with this book, and it’s easy to see why there’s a cover quote telling us it’s his best work in some time.

Likewise, there’s also a cver quote extolling Benjamin Dewey’s art work, and rightly so, as he and colourist Jordie Bellaire deliver the second punch with their all out visual assualt. Rarely have I been so surprised by a book’s visual impact as I was when reading this.

Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw is fatastic, and I’d have been supremely happy with this at twice the price – I’m pretty sure my LCS has volume two (or they did when I put it on the shelf), so I’ll be picking that up this weekend, too. Volume one is going to set you backaroud $10 new, which is an astounding deal for six issues, let alone six issues of this quality. Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw is a really good read, phenomenl, even.

But as with most books covered in this column, it’s a book I don’t see getting the love it deserves – that’s why the book is Underrated. Go read it now. You won’t regret it.


Join us next week when we look at something else that is, for whatever reason, Underrated.

Underrated: Animosity Volume One: The Wake

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Animosity Volume One: The Wake.



animosity.jpgI’ve had this trade sat in my digital to-read pile for quite some time, and this week I finally got around to reading it. I could give you my take on the central premise, but it sounds so much better straight from the horses mouth (because I basically reworded this the first time I wrote the opening):

“One day, for no reason, the Animals woke up. They started thinking. They started talking. They started taking REVENGE. Collecting the first four issues of the best-selling series, plus the special one-shot issue ANIMOSITY: THE RISE. 

The world is plunged into chaos as the newly-intelligent Animals fight humanity, and simply fight each other, for their own life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. In the midst of the turmoil is Jesse, an 11-year-old girl, and her dog, Sandor, who is devoted to her and her protection. One year after the incident, Jesse and Sandor begin a cross-country journey to find Jesse’s half-brother, Adam, who is living in San Francisco.”

To be honest I actually went into this series knowing only the bare minimum about it, so when the animals woke up I was actually taken aback by the entire thing. I know. The entire premise of the comic caught me off guard when it happened on the opening few pages of the story. It makes me laugh a little, too.

Centering around Jesse and her beloved dog Sandor’s relationship, and his overwhelming desire to protect her because she loves him. He’s one of the few animals not to hate humanity, and others who are still somewhat fond of humans are typically those who weren’t abused or mistreated in any way – and sadly, humans have done far too much of that in our time on this planet. Marguerrite Bennett‘s script is remarkable; she touches on the bigger impact of animals gaining sentience and the political and economical ramifications of this often in passing but with enough detail to answer some of the questions you’ll be having regarding food sources, population control… there’s a lot to set up in this trade, and for the most part the four issues of the main series collected here succeed in doing that.

There is a time jump that some may find jarring, but as with  any time jumps it will give us something to flash back to in subsequent trades and issues.

Artistically, Rafael De La Torre and Rob Schwager deliver. Their animals are able to convey the requisite emotions and atmospheric design needed to pull you from page to gorgeous page. Animosity‘s first volume is remarkably solid and enjoyable – and well worth checking out.

 


Join us next week where there will doubtless be another movie, series, comic or comic related thing discussed that is, for whatever reason, Underrated.

Underrated: Graphic Novel Biographies

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Graphic Novel Biographies.


Biographies aren’t always the first thing you think  of when you think of graphic novels, and vice versa. But the thing is a graphic novel is a fantastic way to tell a person’s life story, or a portion there of, that isn’t often used as much as it could be. Graphic novel biographies are a wonderfully unique way of telling a story that you really can’t capture the same way with a prose book. By utilizing the graphic novel format, the creative team have the opportunity to bring the story to life with picture, or temper  the harshness of what the biography’s subject went through so that the reader can take more of the story in (seriously, imagine the first entry with realistic artwork). Or the artwork can tell give you a subtlety that’s missing in other mediums as you’re more readily able to spend time pouring over the images in front of you. Yeah, I think it’s safe to say that I think graphic novels are an underrated method of telling a biographical story.

So I present to you here a short list of graphic novel biographies. 

A few things before we start; firstly, these biographies are all told primarily in the graphic novel format, but they my not encapsulate  the entirety of the subjects life. Secondly, because I’ve got eclectic taste these selections may not be for everybody so be prepared for some potentially foolish claims. Lastly, this isn’t a complete, or inclusive, list and it is completely subjective.

Maus (Pengiun)
Lets’s be honest here, Maus is far from underrated as a comic book. It’s one of the prime examples of excellence in the medium, and for good reason; this is a book that tackles the harsh realities of life in a concentration camp, and is still every bit as relevant now as it it ever was. So its far from underrated as a comic, but as a biography? It’s not often thought of in that way, especially by non comics fans.  Granted, this book takes a spot in this weeks Underrated simply because it’s a graphic novel that really exemplifies the mediums power, but also because when those outside of comics think of a biographical tale seldom does a graphic novel crop up. It’s for this reason that Maus is on the list.

Andre The Giant: Closer To Heaven (IDW)
You don’t need to be a wrestling fan to appreciate this story, but I won’t deny that it helps. I am not a wrestling fan any more (though I still appreciate the talent these men and women have to do what they do), but I found Closer To Heaven is an incredibly touching tribute to a great man. A giant who entertained millions of people around the world, while suffering an incredible amount of pain because of his gigantism. Andre is a truly inspiring figure, and this is a fantastic way to honour his story. It’s not the only biography of Andre released in graphic novel form, but it is the only one that I have read.

Bill The Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator Of Batman (Charlesbridge)
Perhaps the most powerful book on this list that isn’t Maus, Bill The Boy Wonder tells the story of Bill Finger, and his integral role in creating Batman that went largely known know, and entirely uncredited, until last year. This is a must read for any fans of Batman who want to know the true origin story of the caped crusader, and for those who want to read the book that helped Bill Finger get the recognition he deserves.

Dark Night:  A True Batman Story (Vertigo)
Telling the story of the night that legendary Batman writer Paul Dini was mugged, this book is honestly hard to read at times thanks to it’s frank and honest depiction of one man’s struggle to overcome one of the mot traumatic nights of his life, and how Batman inspired him to get back up.

March (Top Shelf Productions)
This is a bit of a cheat because March is actually a three volume graphic  novel that tells the story of congressman John Lewis, a congressman in the state of Georgia. Each volume in this series is amazing, and delivers to an incredible reading experience about an American icon. Brett has an incredible series of reviews on this modern classic that can all be found within the first paragraph here, so if you want to know why you should read these books then read those.


There we have it – some of the best of the graphic novel biographies. Not all are underrated in the typical sense as relates to this column, (Mausfor example is one of the most respected graphic novels around), but all are worth reading. There are without a doubt other graphic novel biographies that I missed, so there’s a good chance there will be a second (or third) part to this list eventually.

In the meantime, Underrated will return to highlight more comic book related stuff  that either gets ignored despite it’s high quality, or maybe isn’t quite as bad as we tend to think it is.

Underrated: The Phantom

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: The Phantom.


First appearing in newspapers on February 17, 1936, the Phantom was the first character to wear the skintight costume that has become emblematic of the superhero (inspired, it turns out, by stage productions of Robin Hood). He was also the first character to wear a mask with no visible pupils; the Phantom’s creator, Lee Falk, explained  that Ancient Greek busts inspired the idea of the not showing the Phantom’s pupils when he was wearing his mask, incorrectly believing that the statues had no pupils, when instead it was just that the paint had faded over the centuries. But Falk felt the pupil-less eyes gave the statues an inhuman, awe-inspiring appearance – ideal for the Ghost That Walks.

The Phantom has been in continuous publication since he debuted as a newspaper strip in 1936, with Lee Falk continuing to write the character until his death in 1999 (let that sink in for a moment. That’s sixty three years on the same character), although before he died, Falk dictated his final Phantom story to his wife from his death bed.

The essence of the Phantom is that he is an undying ghost destined to protect the fictional country of Bengala, located in Africa, from the evil Singh Brotherhood – originally a gang of pirates, though they manage to evolve with the times. The Phantom’s reputation as The Ghost That Walks comes from his longevity – Bengala has been protected by the Phantom since the early 1500’s, but it hasn’t always been the same man. Son takes over the mantle from father, over and over, giving the impression of immortality to his enemies (establishing the character as the first true legacy hero in comics).

The reason I’ve gone in to such detail about the character is because I have finally found the 1996 movie on DVD from Amazon. I say finally because I’ve been looking on and off for this movie for quite some time. It hasn’t been on any streaming service that I subscribe to, and it comes and goes from online stores – usually for more than I want to pay for a Blu-ray. In the end, I needed to bulk up an Amazon order for free shipping, and the DVD was $7* or so – well worth the price for the movie.

*(Before you ask, my wife has Amazon Prime, so I could have gotten free shipping, but for some reason the item I wanted, a low end drawing tablet, gave me a coupon and not her so in the end the DVD was closer to $2 – which is an absolute bargain).

It had been nearly twenty years since I had seen this movie, and after the glut of big budget super hero films, and so I was curious as to whether it would hold up as more than a nostalgic diversion or whether it would still be a good film in its own right. Billy Zane’s performance is solid enough, though the script doesn’t give him much to do; Treat Williams commands the screen as a wonderfully camp comic book villain with just enough of a sinister bent to make you nervous; Kirsty Swanson and Catherine Zeta Jones are both able to play strong, if fairly one dimensional characters; and James Remar is James Remar – an actor who will never give a bad performance (you may see a bad movie with him in it, but it wasn’t bad because of him).

You might think that I’m going to start ragging on the movie, but I genuinely enjoyed it. It was exactly what I hoped it would be, and indeed remembered it as; a good movie that stuck to the core concepts of the Phantom (as I remembered them); the Phantom doesn’t shoot to kill, his horse and wolf are in the movie, the stunts and effects haven’t aged brilliantly, but they’re still not terrible (the only time that you really notice anything is anytime a vehicle crashes into a ball of flames; everything else is forgivable or still holds up).

Yes, it’s a kitschy movie, and the Phantom isn’t the one man wrecking machine that super heroes have become in movies today – which oddly keeps the flick pretty grounded – but it is a really fun film.

I am absolutely going to watch the movie again. And again.

If you’re curious about the Phantom in the comics, well although the character has been in continuous publication in newspaper strips from the 30’s, The Ghost Who Walks has also appeared in several comic books throughout the last few decades – the most recent of which was Dynamite Entertainment’s The Last Phantom, a fantastic 12 issue modern take on this legendary character that I highly recommend. You can find the issues collected under The Last Phantom: Ghost Walk and Jungle Rules


Join us next week when we look at something else that is, for whatever reason, Underrated.

Almost American
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