It’s taken me very many years to realize this about myself, but basically funny sells me over just about anything else. I mean, we almost universally all love to laugh and so we naturally like funny things, but I have realized I prize it more highly than I understood, and more highly than do a lot of others. I find time and again, what can keep me hooked when it comes to media – especially serialized media like comics and television – is if something is funny. If I can get good laughs week to week (or month to month), out of your creation you have a really good shot at keeping me invested and perhaps even more impressively, becoming a die hard fan.
Books have become my hallowed favorite for not only being hilarious on a first read but making me laugh regularly and often on subsequent reads, and even characters I have had literally no interest, have become beloved (and quickly) with a creative team that can keep me howling (looking at you, Squirrel Girl! *makes pointing finger guns movement and clicking sound with cheek*).
So I thought I’d talk about some books and characters I fell in love with over the years in large part thanks to the power of jokes, and in writers who seem to be able to mainline into my particular funny bone – which let’s face it, is not everyone’s. We all like different things, these here happen to tickle me and thus make me happy and thus inspire endless and surprisingly permanent devotion.
Note: I’m talking mostly about writing in this post. Obviously art plays a huge part, even when it plays a lesser role in some executions than others. It’s comics and so art ALWAYS matters. But today I’m focused mainly on writers, forgive me.
WONDER WOMAN by Gail Simone and various artists including: Terry Dodson, Aaron Lopresti, Nicola Scott, and Bernard Chang.
This goes front and center, because I wrote several years back about how it was Gail Simone’s more humorous take on Wonder Woman that first allowed me to fall in love with Diana. Wonder Woman had always been a character that I wanted to love but to me she had always felt kind of removed and serious, things that didn’t make her feel relatable and human to me. But Simone’s run brought a lighter and funnier tone, not just to the book but even to Diana herself that really helped lower my defenses and let her in as a character. I’m honestly so grateful for this run, because it’s the run that helped me not only first embrace Diana but fall head over heels in love with her, and once I felt I had a handle on who she was and why I should love her, no amount of awful portrayals since then have swayed me away from being totally devoted to her. Even going back and reading other stories that I had liked but not really loved now felt different because I saw the character differently. That is some powerful writing. One thing that both Simone did on Wonder Woman and Kelly Sue DeConnick did on Captain Marvel (more on that below) was bring in some definitely funny supporting characters that made it easy for the sometimes more serious leads like Diana and Carol to play off of - it really lightened the overall tone of both characters for me to great affect. Even when Diana and Carol aren't the ones cracking jokes, the overall feeling is fun and memorable.
First page jokes...which instantly disarmed me. Surprising readers is almost always a good thing:
Funny sidekicks matter more than you know, especially when you're dealing with a character that is/has been pretty serious overall:
CAPTAIN MARVEL – by Kelly Sue DeConnick and artists David Lopez, Felipe Andrade, Marcio Takara, Emma Rios, Dexter Soy, Scott Hepburn, and Patrick Ollife (art below are two samples from Andrade top, and two by Lopez).
Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel both being the kind of “heir apparent” at DC and Marvel makes it kind of intriguing that they were both characters I didn’t really “get” until the right writer came along and gave me a take that I could really relate to and have warm fuzzy feelings about. In Carol’s case, and I’ve talked about this before, she was never my favorite character growing up, because I was in the Rogue tank SO HARD. But it speaks to powerful creators telling resonant stories that I am such a devoted fangirl of the character now. When I look back at what Kelly Sue DeConnick did with Carol to endear her to me so permanently, there are a lot of things (great stories, fun strong supporting cast, relatable trials and tribulations, emotionally resonant connections, etc.) but it was giving Carol a voice and sense of humor that I found so ridiculously enjoyable that really sealed the deal initially. DeConnick’s Carol had a sense of humor that made her instantly relatable and gave her a humanity and realness that I attached to permanently. It’s the mark of a great creator I think that they can not only turn you around on a character so fully (I mean, for me this was a total 180) and to make that a permanent connection – I love Carol now regardless of what stories come next. Fortunately Carol as Captain Marvel isn’t going anywhere and it getting the attention she deserves, but even if she disappeared for a while or had a series of bad stories or bad creators attached to her, the Kelly Sue DeConnick Carol is now firmly lodged in my brain and heart and that’s how I see the character. It’s a true defining portrayal and one that was paved quickly through jokes.
I could have picked a lot of different stuff to show from either of DeConnick’s Captain Marvel runs, but this was one of my favorite bits – Cap and Spider-Woman trading quips and fighting dinosaurs in New York City, sidebar anything with Carol and Jessica is extra magic-y. Dinosaurs are almost always a good bet, so is pretending your cat is Spider-Man:
Jess always has the best advice:
Talking about space fruits:
Revisiting the classics:
NEXTWAVE AGENTS OF H.A.T.E. by Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen
I’ve talked a lot about Nextwave in this column, and it is, without a doubt one of my favorite superhero books of all time and that’s for a lot of reasons from consistent gorgeous amazing art by Stuart Immonen, to subverting superhero tropes in interesting ways, and being unapologetic “adult superhero comics,” but let’s be real, it’s mostly my favorite for all the awesome jokes. Not only do I love the entire volume with a ridiculously fevered passion but Ellis and Immonen forever cemented Monica Rambeau and Elsa Bloodstone as two of my favorite characters of all time. Like other characters mentioned on this list, Ellis’s take on these two women is just full stop how I see them now. They can be jammed into all sorts of other things by other creators and given different personalities but I just reject them outright. NOPE. That’s not Monica. That’s not Elsa. I don’t know what it is about certain writers just nailing a character voice for me and tapping into what I love about them…but I guess I must think it has something to do with jokes. I mean, that’s what this whole post is about, right? How jokes can be your gateway drug for a book and character? I guess maybe I’m talking about laughter not JUST being a gateway drug but the way to solidify and make beloved a certain take on a character? Here’s Elsa being hilarious and hilariously violent…but really with Elsa it’s always both, right?:
Nobody makes this look as cool as Elsa (and Stuart Immonen!)
UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL by Ryan North and Erica Henderson
Another example of a character I had literally no interest in based on what I knew/what I’d seen or heard who has been completely lodged in my brain as a favorite thanks to a brilliant take by equally brilliant creators is Squirrel Girl. Unlike some of these others books where humor is a sidebar to superheroes or horror or something else, Squirrel Girl is straight up a comedy book. Sure it’s also full of superhero romps, but I’d categorize it as humor more than any other thing. As a result it’s hard to find specific instances to show, because you’d be better off just posting the whole damn thing, but I’ll pick a few that I thought were particularly great. Just know, if you like to laugh and you have even a passing interest in superheroes you are doing yourself the greatest possible disservice if you don’t read Unbeatable Squirrel Girl it is pound for pound the funniest most laugh out loud book I read right now...of ALL THE BOOKS. And if you click here you can see more great stuff.
Squirrel Girl making her own Iron Man armor - make special note of the ingenious armor for her squirrel sidekick - which is just a head and a glove. Amazing.:
Squirrel Girl and new allies (and friends) so much fun, both classic superheroes and also poking fun at classic superheroes all at once:
ASTONISHING X-MEN by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday
It’s no real surprise given what a fan I am of Joss Whedon that his Astonishing X-Men was what brought me back to reading superhero comics regularly after a pretty lengthy hiatus from monthly books. Though Whedon is well known for a very specific sense of humor and it’s a “voice” he tends to add to almost any property he works on, Astonishing is sort of "classic Whedon" in that it's incredibly personal stories set against and epic background/plot and peppered with a ton of funny little gems that stay with you and make you laugh while you cry. There’s so much to love about Whedon’s arc, not the least of which is that he took Kitty Pryde, a character that was never my favorite and totally made me fall in love with her both through truly heroic feats, and lots of good jokes. I was already in the tank for Emma Frost, but the oil and water combo of Emma Frost and Kitty Pryde is pure magic on the page. Of course, part of the reason they work so beautifully is because that hatred and barb throwing eventually grows into mutual respect and admiration, even if they’re never gonna be besties. Here are a couple of said Astonishing gems:
We know how to verify our people, Nick!:
Ah, complex romantic relationship dynamics!:
Beast is here for the costumes:
Sidebar: god you guys remember when Scott and Hank were friends? Oh I miss it so!
Ah the simpler times when things were just knives and flame throwers!:
This one needs no introduction.
GOTHAM ACADEMY by Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher with art by Karl Kerschl
There are a lot of things to love about Gotham Academy – the fact that it feels like a completely obvious book to do in the Gotham mythos and yet feels completely fresh and different from most of DC’s books, the introduction of fascinating new (young) characters into an already rich world and with Gotham itself anchoring them together, the limited use of Batman in a powerful way that doesn’t overwhelm the story, there's so much great stuff in here. But I gotta be real, it’s the jokes that made me fall in love so hard and so fast. Especially the jokes of one Mia “Maps” Mizoguchi, who quickly shot to the top of my favorite female characters list in 2014. There’s an effortless youth and now-ness to Maps that’s also rooted in hardcore geek and the classics that hits all my sweet spots and it’s why she (and her jokes) steal every issue. Whether she’s calling out “HARPY!” when an owl startles her to her unbridled enthusiasm for just about everything, I can’t get enough of Maps…and as a result, Gotham Academy. Here’s Maps being…Maps:
Maps seeing owls and instinctively yelling HARPY:
Maps seeing people inside the walls and instinctively wanting in:
Maps doing construction plus ghost hunting:
Maps...just being Maps!
AVENGERS ASSEMBLE by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Kelly Sue DeConnick PLUS Warren Ellis and artist Matteo Buffagni
Another win for the funny that is DeConnick! DeConnick’s Avengers Assemble run was really enjoyable for me, but it reached hilarious greatness heights when Warren Ellis joined up and the title shifted to focusing on Spider-Girl Anya Corazon teaming up with various Avengers for issues (21 - 25). There are a lot of great little humorous bits in here – the kind of things that make a team book just chemistry magic, but that also build character and advance plot at the same time. This arc with Anya at the center is great because it works as a story of a fledgling superhero getting trained in straight on the job training and it doubles as a “stranger in a strange land” tale of sorts in that Anya is a hero but she’s not an Avenger and so she gets to take this peek behind the curtain at how these people behave in private, what their relationships and dialogue looks like…and as I said it’s chemistry magic. Some favorite bits: Jessica threatening Anya over breakfast burritos, Iron Man stepping on people’s toes (literally) with his rocket boots, why Spider-Man isn’t dead, and Anya’s constantly shifting costume thanks to conflicting advice by Wolverine and Iron Man. But the moment that stuck me as so fun that I’ve never been able to forget it was the somehow totally natural and yet also weirdly bizarre temporary team up of Spider-Girl (Anya), Spider-Woman (Jess), and Black Widow (Natasha) – which is actually in the issue DeConnick did sans Ellis. There’s a joke in here about them being team Lady Spider (or Lady Spy-der!) and never have I wanted more to see a book come to fruition than seeing that team joked about on page. Here are some pages and highlights from the scenes I mentioned before. ALL FUN.
Wolverine tells Anya why she should "upgrade" her costume:
Tony tells Anya why Wolverine's costume additions were all wrong:
Tony has MANY FEELINGS about Filing Systems:
Team Lady Spider...or Lady Spy-der is born (almost):
Obviously this is just the tip of the iceberg, both of what these books/arcs/characters have to offer and also in the books I sampled. So many more would easily qualify: Hawkeye, Saga, Young Avengers, Lumberjanes, Adventure Time, Steven Universe, Spider-Woman, Sex Criminals, Silk, the sadly canceled She-Hulk, Howard The Duck, Rat Queens, Ms. Marvel, most Brian Michael Bendis books...the list is long!
What about you? Does humor guide comics buying for you? If so, what are the things you love for their sense of humor?
Kelly Thompson is the author of the novels THE GIRL WHO WOULD BE KING and STORYKILLER. She’s also the writer of IDW’s JEM & THE HOLOGRAMS the Dark Horse Graphic Novel HEART IN A BOX and co-writer of Marvel’s CAPTAIN MARVEL & THE CAROL CORPS. You can find Kelly all over the place, but twitter is easiest: @79semifinalist