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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.

Batgirl has been unmasked as Leslie Grace Lands the Role of Barbara Gordon

Batgirl #50

Reports have been coming out that Warner Bros. and DC have found their Barbara Gordon/Batgirl in Leslie Grace. Grace is considered a rising star after her breakout role in In the Heights.

The casting has not been confirmed but Grace has confirmed it herself on Twitter.

Batgirl currently is going to be an HBO Max release and one of the major properties to debut exclusively on the platform. Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah will direct the film off of a script by Christina Hodson. Kristin Burr is producing.

Generally, Batgirl is Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Commissioner Gordon who must deal with balancing the Gotham Police force and masked vigilantes in the city, including his daughter.

Batgirl was created by Bill Figner and Sheldon Moldoff and debuted in Batman #139 in April 1961. Originally Betty Kane, she later became Barbara Gordon in 1967. Gordon debuted in Detective Comics #359 in January 1967 by writer Gardner Fox and artist Carmine Infantino. Others have donned the cape and cowl including Huntress Helena Bertinelli, Cassandra Cain, and Stephanie Brown.

Preview: Detective Comics #38 Facsimile Edition

Detective Comics #38 Facsimile Edition

(W) Bill Finger, Jerry Seigel, Others (A) Others (A/CA) Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson
In Shops: Mar 11, 2020
SRP: $3.99

Find out why Batman’s partner in crimefighting was billed as “the sensational character find of 1940” in this special reprint issue that features the first appearance of Robin, the Boy Wonder! Also in this issue: “Spy,” and “Slam Bradley,” both written by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel; plus the Crimson Avenger, Speed Saunders, and other detective features!

Detective Comics #38 Facsimile Edition

DC Celebrates 80 Years of Green Lantern with a 100-Page Spectacular

In brightest day, in blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil’s might,
Beware my power, Green Lantern’s light.

Since the first Green Lantern was introduced in All-American Comics #16 in May 1940 by artist Martin Nodell and writer Bill Finger, the Green Lanterns have been fan-favorite characters with millions of comic book fans. From that first ring-wielding Lantern to the latest, and every strong-willed Super Hero in-between, many have spoken the Green Lantern oath and pledged to defend their home sector from evils of every nature. Now, in 2020, this corps of extraterrestrial space police built up from all alien races and places are celebrating 80 years of keeping the DC universe safe!

To commemorate the 80th anniversary of the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott, DC will be publishing Green Lantern 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular #1 on May 20, 2020. The special issue features tales of all of the universe’s most legendary Green Lanterns: Alan Scott, Hal Jordan, John Stewart, Guy Gardner, Kyle Rayner, Jessica Cruz, and Simon Baz, plus appearances from other cosmic favorites!

In addition to a dynamic cover by Liam Sharp, fans and collectors can also look forward to eight variant covers spotlighting Lanterns throughout the decades, drawn by some of comics’ premier artists:

  • 1940’s variant cover by Nicola Scott
  • 1950’s variant cover by Matt Taylor
  • 1960’s variant cover by Doug Mahnke
  • 1970’s variant cover by Neal Adams
  • 1980’s variant cover by David Finch
  • 1990’s variant cover by Philip Tan
  • 2000’s variant cover by Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert
  • 2010’s variant cover by Jim Lee and Scott Williams 

The legendary lineup of creators contributing their talents to Green Lantern 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular include Geoff Johns, Darryl Banks, Charlotte Fullerton McDuffie, Sina Grace, Mike Grell, Jeff Lemire, Ron Marz, Denny O’Neil, Fernando Pasarin, Ivan Reis, Rafa Sandoval, Mariko Tamaki, Peter J. Tomasi, James Tynion IV, Robert Venditti, and more—all with the goal to keep the galaxy glowing bright!

Green Lantern 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular #1 is a prestige format comic book retailing for $9.99 and available at local comic retailers and digital retailers on May 20, 2020.

Green Lantern 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular #1

Zoë Kravitz Will Play Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, in The Batman

Catwoman

Rumors have swirled as to who will be seen in The Batman, the next iteration of the popular comic character. It has been revealed that Zoë Kravitz will slide into the role of Selina Kyle, Catwoman in the film. She’ll star opposite Robert Pattinson who will don the cape as Bruce Wayne, Batman.

Kyle/Catwoman has morphed into an antiheroine and sometime love interest for Wayne/Batman. A recent storyline had the two about to be married which didn’t go ahead.

Numerous other actors were rumored for the role including Zazie Beetz, Eiza Gonzalez, and Alicia Vikander.

Production on the film is slated to begin filming in late 2019 or early 2020. The Batman is scheduled to be released on June 25, 2021.

Kravitz is the latest in a long line of defining women to take on the role of Catowman. Actresses to take on the character include Anne Hathaway, Halle Berry, Michelle Pfeiffer, Lee Meriweather, Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, Camren Bicondova and many more. The character has appeared in comics, television, movies, video games, animation, and radio.

Catwoman was created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger and debuted in Batman #1 published in 1940.

Director Matt Reeves tweeted out the below in response to the news:

EPIX’s Pennyworth Gets an Official Teaser Trailer

Pennyworth is a ten-episode, one-hour drama based on the DC Comics‘ character Alfred Pennyworth created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger.

It follows Bruce Wayne’s legendary butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Jack Bannon), a former British SAS soldier who forms a security company and goes to work with Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge), Bruce’s billionaire father, in 1960’s London.

Pennyworth debuts summer 2019 on EPIX.

Commemorating 80 Years of Batman with Worldwide Celebrations

To mark the 80th anniversary of Batman, DC has unveiled plans for a global commemoration of the World’s Greatest Detective. Kicking off this March at SXSW, the multifaceted campaign for DC’s Caped Crusader will feature exclusive celebrations, special theatrical engagements, the milestone release of Detective Comics #1000, live events and first-ever Batman brand partnerships. As fans join together under the campaign’s tagline of #LongLiveTheBat, DC’s timeless character will be honored through Batman Day in September when the Bat-Signal lights up in major cities worldwide.

First appearing as socialite turned crime-fighter Bruce Wayne in Detective Comics #27 on March 30, 1939, the Dark Knight has stood as a symbol of determination, bravery and justice to generations of fans for 80 years. He has influenced every area of modern entertainment, appearing in countless comic books, Saturday morning cartoons, multiple television series, video games, theme parks and experiences, toys, collectibles, apparel and lifestyle products, as well as, blockbuster animated and live-action films. There have been Batman trading cards, board games and newspaper cartoon strips, and the U.S. Postal Service has even honored Batman with his own postage stamps. Batman is a multi-billion dollar icon who continues to reign as the most popular single Super Hero ever created.

To commemorate this milestone, custom artwork was created that pays homage to Batman’s legacy in all forms of media. The Batman profile pencil design is by beloved longtime DC artist José Luis García-López, and digital paint design is by Admira Wijaya. This graphic will be featured throughout the celebration.

DC will honor #LongLiveTheBat throughout 2019, including Batman’s 80th anniversary on March 30 and Batman Day on September 21. As part of this yearlong celebration, there are many ways fans can participate.

Read Batman:

  • Paying homage to the Super Hero’s 80-year publishing history, DC will present two commemorative books: including the landmark collector’s issue of DETECTIVE COMICS #1000, on sale at comics shops March 27, and a special hardcover release, DETECTIVE COMICS: 80 YEARS OF BATMAN THE DELUXE EDITION, available March 19.

Experience Batman:

  • SXSW in Austin, Texas, will kick off the global celebration with multiple fan experiences, photo opportunities, limited-edition merchandise and Instagrammable mural by a local artist. SXSW will also set the stage for an incredible moment when more than 1.5 million bats fly into the night over Austin’s famous Congress Bridge on March 15.
  • DC will celebrate Batman’s 80th anniversary with panels at major conventions, including a dedicated “Happy Birthday, Batman!” panel at WonderCon in Anaheim on the actual anniversary, March 30.
  • Generations of fans across the globe will gather together to honor the timeless hero on Batman Day, September 21. The Bat-Signal will light up in major cities worldwide, alongside a wide array of fan celebrations, including interactive photo opportunities, live music, food, games and more. Plus, fans will race across the finish line in their favorite Caped Crusader attire in a series of 5K and 10K runs in select cities.
  • Families can celebrate #LongLiveTheBat at multiple Six Flags locations across North America in August with extended hours, exclusive Batman-themed experiences and special merchandise. Warner Bros. theme parks across the globe, including Warner Bros. Movie World Australia, Parque Warner Madrid and Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, will host Batman 80thanniversary events.
  • Madame Tussauds locations in Orlando and Sydney will unveil interactive fan-friendly experiences, photo opportunities and special merchandise in September.
  • In May, collectible art boutique MONDO will host a curated anniversary exhibit at its Austin gallery celebrating iconic Batman cover art throughout the years.
  • The global touring exhibition THE ART OF THE BRICK: DC SUPER HEROES will celebrate the Dark Knight with a special Batman edition, beginning this September in São Paulo, Brazil.
  • Romics—the comic book, animation and gaming convention in Rome, Italy—will host an immersive Batman 80th  anniversary exhibit in April.
  • Designed for fans of all ages, visitors to Shanghai this summer will be treated to a first-of-its-kind special exhibit celebrating Batman.
  • Otter Media brands Rooster Teeth, Crunchyroll, VRV and Fullscreen will celebrate Batman’s 80th anniversary through a variety of programming and social campaigns designed to amplify DC’s global campaign.
  • AT&T will activate across retail, digital and DIRECTV, which will celebrate the anniversary with a Batman-branded channel. Plus, AT&T customers will get insider access through AT&T THANKS to Batman content, comics, merchandise, exclusive fan experiences and more.

Watch Batman:

  • Television broadcast partners worldwide will host Batman programming marathons in March and September.
  • Cartoon Network in the U.S. and key territories will host exclusive Batman themed programming and stunts for kids in March and September.
  • DC Universe—DC’s digital subscription service—will be celebrating in a big way with the promotion of Batman content in March and September.

Join Batman:

  • Boys & Girls Clubs of America will join Batman in a first-ever partnership to celebrate kids, teens and youth development professionals who stand up for positive change in their communities. The campaign kicks off in April during National Boys & Girls Clubs Week.
  • In honor of military appreciation month this May, DC will partner with the USO, the iconic military support nonprofit, on a special Batman-themed USO2GO kit featuring comics, movies, TV shows, games and more. The kit will offer a fun diversion for service members stationed in remote locations around the globe, connecting them to home and all things Dark Knight.
  • Fans in the UK can join in raising awareness of Genetic Disorders UK by wearing an exclusively designed Batman t-shirt on Jeans for Genes Day in September.

Shop Batman:

  • WB and DC are also joining forces with an extensive list of retail partners, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, iTunes, Walmart, GameStop and Google Play, among others.
  • Global partners such as LEGO, Mattel and Funko will release exclusive Batman 80th anniversary products throughout the year.

Conceived by artist Bob Kane with writer Bill Finger, Batman is humanity’s timeless hero. And he’s just getting started. More details on the global celebration will be released in the coming months.

Underrated: Books On The History Of Comics.

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:  Books On The History Of Comics.



Last week we looked at why comic book history was Underrated. This week, we’ll look at some books that, should you be interested, will help shed some light on the stories behind the stories.

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe was published in 2012. Howe decided to write the book because the stories comic creators told in fanzine interview always seemed different from the official narrative. Starting with the comics published during the golden age, and the characters created by Jack Kirby, Joe Simon and Stan Lee, the book follows the publisher’s story to the new millennium up until the creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with upwards of 150 interviews conducted by the author.  GQ’s Joshua Rivera described the book as “one of the most comprehensive and well-researched accounts” of Marvel.

Bill The Boy Wonder written by Marc Tyler Nobleman with art by Ty Templeton. Presented as a childrens book, Bill The Boy Wonder tells the untold tale of Batman’s creation. By shining a light on who Bill Finger was, Nobleman’s extensive research led to Finger finally getting a byline credit whenever Batman appears. The book’s presentation is designed to allow as many people, of any age, to learn about Bill Finger – and it works.

Superheroes!: Capes, Cowls, and the Creation of Comic Book Culture by Laurence Maslon and Michael Kantor.  Assembled as a companion piece to the three part PBS documentary series Superheroes, this volume chronicles the effect of superheroes on American culture through the various mediums they appear in, and conversely the effect of America culture on superheroes. Featuring more than 500 full-color comic book panels, covers, sketches, photographs of both essential and rare artwork, Superheroes is an in-depth look at this powerful presence in pop culture.

Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster – the Creators of Superman by Brad Ricca. Published in time for the 75th anniversary of the Man of Steel, comes the first comprehensive literary biography of Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, the co-creators of Superman Brad Ricca’s Super Boys is the first ever full biography about Superman’s creators, and with more than ten years of research he made some interesting discoveries; the book reveals the first stories and pictures ever published by the Siegel and Shuster, where the first Superman story really came from, the template for Superman’s costume, and more than will be listed in this blurb

The Art of the Simon and Kirby Studio by Joe Simon, Mark Evanier, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. At nearly four hundred pages, this historical look at the art produced by the Simon and Kirby studio is a must for any fan of either artist. The reproduced comics allow you to actually see the corrections done to the artwork such as drawings over areas of white-out, the faint lines used as reference for writing the text, portions of the panels being pasted over with bigger pieces of paper with bigger corrected drawings, the yellowing clear tape… The look into the creative process of these men is captivating.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Visual History by Andrew Farago. Detailing the story of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from their humble beginnings in black-and-white comics to where they stand now as four of the most recognizable in animation and comics, this book features interviews with the characters creators and other key figures in the Turtle’s ascendancy. With reproduction artifacts from the Turtle’s history, including their debut, this hardcover book is worth looking into for any fan of the pizza loving teenagers.

 

This is by no means a definitive list of books to look up, but merely a selection to get you started, and there are obviously many, many more great books out there to delve into; far more than I have listed here (you’ll find a few purely from Amazon’s suggested list after looking these up). But that doesn’t mean we should stop learning about the medium’s history, eh?


Next week’s Underrated will look at some other aspect of the comic book world.

Underrated: The History Of Comics

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 billboywonder.jpgcolumns 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 History Of Comics.



The history of the modern comic book is often overlooked, and in many cases under appreciated. Now I’m not arrogant enough to pretend that in a 700-odd word column I’ll be able to give the subject the depth it deserves, but what I will do is tell you why you should give the history of the medium we love so much more thought that the typical “what issue did this happen in?”

While I am far from be an expert in the history of the medium, it does fascinate me, and it should fascinate you as well.

Learning about the struggles of the early comic book publishers, writers, and artists, has lead me to realize that their story is something that could very easily be retold in a comic. From the way Batman was created and tale of Bill Finger – the Legend That Should Be, to Stan Lee having to fire the entire Timely Comics bullpen (Timely would later have a name change to Marvel) twice, to the industry devastation of the book Seduction of the Innocent by Fredrick Wertham in 1954, and the senate hearings that resulted from the book that eventually gave birth to the Comics Code.

There have been numerous books written about the subject of comic history, and I’ve been trying to build a collection of them – a personal library if you will –  to help me learn more than what can be found on Wikipedia about something that has over the past few years become of more and more interest to me. Books such as Sean Howe’s The Untold Story of Marvel marvel_comics_the_untold_story.jpgComics, Marc Tyler Nobleman’s Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman,  and  Brad Ricca’s Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster – the Creators of Superman are only a handful that sit on my bookshelf.

Over the past two years I’ve amassed books that contain the year by year visual history of Batman, DC, and Marvel; a history of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; as well as an X-Universe history. I also recently acquired Superheroes!: Capes, Cowls, and the Creation of Comic Book Culture by Laurence Maslon and Micheal Kantor .There are many, many great books out there to delve into; far more than I have listed here, more than I currently have on my book shelf, and more than I think I can ever expect to own.

Reading not your thing?

I’ve found a few documentaries out there that are worth the time – Turtle Power: Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle, and Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope. The three listed above are by no means an inclusive list of documentaries and I encourage you to hunt others down, whether from an online store or your own choice of online streaming service.

turtlepower def history.PNGAnd then there’s the utterly brilliant Batman & Bill that, technically, you can currently only find on Hulu that details the aforementioned creation of Batman.

The point I am failing to make is that there is a book out there to get you started no matter which publishing company holds your interest, all you have to do is look.

However you choose to learn about the history of the medium, about the creators and publishers that are such a huge part of our lives now, I encourage you to do it. Because I think not only does it help us appreciate where comics have come from, and what they have gone through, but that the creators of days gone by deserve to be remembered. What went before is just as important now as it ever was. One could argue even more so.

We just need to remember that.

 

 

 


Next week’s Underrated will look at some of those books I mentioned above.

Preview: Superman: The Atomic Age Sundays, Vol. 3 (1956–1959)

Superman: The Atomic Age Sundays, Vol. 3 (1956–1959)

Alvin Schwartz; Bill Finger (w) • Wayne Boring (a) • Pete Poplaski (c)

Superman’s newspaper comic strips are among the most rare of all Superman collectibles. This comprehensive series helps remedy that gap in Superman history by bringing back into print every one of the Sunday newspaper strips. The Man of Steel stars in seven classic adventures as the 1950s “Atomic Age” comes to a close. Two of the stories are original to the newspaper strip, while five were alternate versions of tales that were simultaneously published in the regular comic books. One of the featured adaptations is “Superman Versus the Futuremen,” written by Batman co-creator Bill Finger, which retells Superman’s origin. This concluding volume of Superman’s Atomic Age Sundays reprints all strips from July 1, 1956 to October 11, 1959.

HC • FC • $49.99 • 184 pages • 9.25” x 12” • ISBN: 978-1-68405-061-1

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