Welcome to a new column at Heave – The Third Panel! Every other week, Alex dispels the myth that comics are only about superheroes by sharing comics books, graphic novels, and webcomics that are off the beaten path.
Okay, so let’s pretend you’re looking to get into superhero comics (or “cape books,” as they’re sometimes derisively referred to by people who only read bande desinée with titles like “Le Pantalon Mortelles” or something), but you don’t know where to start. After all, the current Justice League doesn’t even have Hawkman or Martian Manhunter in it anymore (mistake), and yet somehow Aquaman’s lurching back into his seat like an incumbent running for re-election unopposed (bigger mistake). Not to mention all the backstory you’d have to read just to grasp what these characters are all about, the “unforgettable” runs by certain comics big wigs whom you’ve never heard of—it would get exhausting and you’re all busy people.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to show off a few of my favorite DC one-shots, all straight from the internet and all by people who are doing phenomenal work outside of cape books! So let’s get started.
1) Lois Lane, Reporter — Kate Beaton
Lois Lane is Clark Kent’s coworker at the Daily Planet in Metropolis, and Superman’s primary love interest. But unless you’re a fan of some of the more ridiculous Superman’s Girlfriend: Lois Lane comics from the 1960s and 70s, like the one where Lois has to gain weight to avoid getting killed by the mob, or when Superman accidentally turns her into a giantess and she gets so mad she banishes him to the Phantom Zone (which is basically a much harsher version of “I think we should see other people”), Lois is at her best when she’s a tough-as-nails reporter lookin’ for that scoop, which is something I think Beaton explores well in this comic. Plus I’m a huge sucker for Kate Beaton’s hard-talkin’ women: her chain-smoking grump of a Wonder Woman is at this point more iconic to me than DC’s actual characterization of Wonder Woman.
2) The Boy Wonder — Jake Wyatt
Jake Wyatt is a total dynamo—not only did he do a Marvel illustration (chosen by fan request!) every day for a month last March, or as he called it, the Mighty Month of Marvel, he’s also managed to perfectly crystallize the Batman/Robin dynamic in a comic that has two pieces of spoken dialogue. And it tells you everything you need to know about Batman and Robin in that one page.
A lot of people hate on Robin, but I think he’s one of the best parts of the Batman “mythos” if you will—Batman’s a dude who loves dispensing justice and beating up weird designer villains, but I’ve always felt that Robin adds an interesting dimension to Batman, which is him as a father figure. Robin forces Batman to consider if there’s anything he cares about more than justice, and I’ve always thought that’s the most difficult battle a writer can make Batman fight—how does the guy who never had a childhood cope with being a father?
On a lighter note, I also LOVE the 1960s pro-wrestling aesthetic Bats and Robin have in this comic—it’s very DIY and also reminds us of the fact that even though Batman might be a billionaire playboy, sometimes the best you can do is get a pair of calf-high wrestling boots and cutoff sweatpants and beat up a bunch of goons dressed like clowns at the freight warehouse until your city’s a little safer.
3) This Is WILD DOG — Kyle Starks
(Writer’s note—this one works the best if you full-screen it so just click on the two arrows pointing away from each other diagonally on the tooltip after clicking that link and enjoy!)
So Wild Dog: Basically he’s a college football player who spends a little time in the Marines and decides to be a gun-toting, hockey mask-wearing vigilante in the Quad Cities after his girlfriend gets assassinated by terrorists. And that’s hardcore as hell.
Kyle Starks (best known for his pro wrestling epic The Legend of Ricky Thunder) promised a while back that if his Twitter got 200 followers, he’d do a comic based on Wild Dog—and when he hit that mark, he delivered. What I love about this comic is both the technical skill Starks puts into the action shots of this comic, and the phenomenal characterization he puts into Wild Dog. All of his little wisecracks over the course of the comic only serve to underline the fact that this dude is telling jokes to himself while blowing away terrorists with a Finnish submachine gun—not necessarily someone you’d expect (or want) to be fighting for truth, justice and the American way.
But I love the final panel of him against the black background as he explains to the Vice President what he is. It really shows how well-composed the panels in this comic are, that even with the simplified aesthetic, Starks gets his point across: the path Wild Dog walks is lonely and dark and empty, but he’s walking it regardless. And that’s such a great image to end on.
And that’s all I’ve got for right now on the DC side of things! At the very least, I hope I exposed you to some great new artistic talent, and now at parties when some total jerk is going on and on about superhero comics, you can shut them up quick by asking how much they know about Wild Dog or Superman’s Girlfriend: Lois Lane. And really, making people look dumb at parties is really what life’s all about.