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by Wayne Markley
It is a common misconception that comics are filled with non-stop action and adventure, such as in action films or video games. Although DC Comics has made a strong attempt to capture the video game feel with their new 52, it falls far short when it concerns actual adventure. In fact, there are surprisingly few comics that are actually filled with adventure. As you will see in this blog, a lot of the great adventure comics are from the past and few are from present day comics, and some of them are not even comic books. now to be fair, this is a subjective topic, and the sense of adventures is based on my reading of the books. I find a great deal of today’s comics to be wordy soap operas that go on and on and very little happens, and I think this is predominately because of the tendency to write for the collection (so a single story will fill a collection or a trade) and it’s not written for what’s best for the story.
The first adventure comic I would like to recommend is Tintin by Herge. Tintin first appeared in 1929 in France and became an immediate hit. Over the last eighty years, Tintin’s popularity and fame has grown to become worldwide. There have been various albums (graphic novels), cartoons, a movie, and tons of merchandise based on Tintin and his cast of colorful characters. The basic story behind Tintin is he is a young reporter who, along with his companion, Snowy (a dog), travels the world in search of stories that in turn result in adventures. There are a number of reasons for Tintin’s popularity; possibly the most apparent is the beautiful simplicity (which it really is not, but it looks like it is) of the storytelling. There is a sense of grace to the pacing of the stories, where practically everything is leading to something. plus there is very little padding in these stories. The stories are written similarly to the classic film serials where each chapter ends with a cliffhanger that makes you want to come back for more. Also, the stories are a product of their time and they may not be politically appropriate (Tintin in the Congo, for example) but that does not take away from the delight of reading these stories. possibly the best thing about Tintin is it can be read by any age, young or old. As an aside, I should say the cartoons and the film are just as good as the comic, all of which are highly recommended.
Prince Valiant Vol. 3
A precursor to the comic book is the comic strip that, at one time, was one of the most popular features of newspapers. I could spend the rest of this blog talking about great adventure strips but I am going to spotlight two collections that I have praised various times in the past so I will not dwell too long on them. The first is Hal Foster’s prince Valiant. So far there have been seven volumes from Fantagraphics and all seven of them are in full color and they are storytelling at their best. Foster’s storytelling style is to tell all the stories through narrative boxes, there are no word balloons to clutter the art but the mix of the text boxes and the really fantastic art makes these adventures fly by. There is everything from Vikings to witches to King Arthur and the Knights of the round Table. treat yourself and read one of these amazing collections.
Steve Canyon Vol. 1
Another comic strip collection that moves like a freight train is Steve Canyon. This classic strip by Milt Caniff is as far away from Hal Foster’s style as you can get, yet it is just as good. The stories revolve around Col. Steve Canyon of the USAF. Steve travels the world on one adventure after another, each as exciting as the last. Caniff uses the conventional word balloons, but his art is such that the world balloons practically seem to be part of the art. IDW is currently collecting the complete Steve Canyon as part of their library of American Comics series and each volume is a beautiful hardcover with over two years of strips. There have been three volumes so far. Both prince Valiant and Steve Canyon have their share of drama and peaceful moments, but they are few and far between. Each of these is like viewing your favorite action hero in a comic strip instead of on the Silver Screen.
X-9: secret agent Corrigan Vol. 4
A few other comic strip collections you might want to check out if you are interested in great adventure strips include, the complete Buz Sawyer (Roy Crane’s epic currently being collected by Fantagraphics), X-9: secret agent Corrigan by Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson (a five volume series published by IDW), and Phantom by Lee Falk and Ray Moore currently be collected by Hermes Press.
Wolverine by Larry Hama and Marc Silvestri Vol. 1
From a much more recent era, I would recommend Wolverine by Larry Hama and Marc Silvestri. These stories pick up where the Wolverine classic collections ended (and they are just as good and are written by the fantastic Archie Goodwin) and they continue the pace that Goodwin had started. These are superhero stories, but they tend to involve mobs and low life criminals rather than full-blown super-villains, not that there are not a few be found in these stories. These stories read like a rollercoaster filled with twist and turns, and non-stop action. I would also like to point out that Larry Hama is possibly one of the most underrated writers in comics and this is a good chance to see what a good writer he is.
Clone Vol. 1
I recently wrote about image Comics title Clone, so I am not going to spend a lot of time on it again aside from saying that it is an adventure comic at its finest. The comic tends to be incredibly violent, but the story does relocation at a rapid pace and the twists and turns will keep you guessing as to where the story is going. another title I recently wrote about but I really feel a relocation at a quick pace is Nightwing. When the character is not drawn into crossovers with other Batman titles, writer Kyle Higgins and artist Eddie Barrows weave a tension-filled adventure story that rolls along at a very quick pace and is well worth reading.
Indestructible Hulk #12
A current title that I find moves at a quick pace is mark Waid’s Indestructible Hulk. While his stories do seem to be structured to fit a trade collection, the stories are filled with action and adventure. From combating standard villains to traveling through time, Waid has been able to make the Hulk interesting again and these stories do not suffer from the padding and plodding of a lot of modern comics. Also, Waid does not spend page after page of his characters talking but saying nothing to relocation the story ahead. I am not going to mention particular titles, but there are a few comics out there that month after month are like eating cotton candy; they look really good, and you really look forward to them, but after reading the book for a year you realize the story has not moved at all. This is just poor storytelling.
Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: The Old Castle’s Secret
I would be greatly remiss if I did not mention the legendary Carl Barks when talking about adventure comics. I have sang Barks’ praises forever in this column, but aside from his classic shorts (ten page stories) which are mostly gags done for laughs, he also did spectacular adventures with Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge, and the gang which took them all over the world and is adventure storytelling at its finest. and these stories are practically always less then forty pages and much more action happens than in three years of modern comics. Fantagraphics has been collecting these adventures in full color hardcovers, which feature a great adventure strip and then a series of the gag comic stories, all worth checking out.
As always, these are my thoughts and opinions. I welcome your thoughts and any suggestions of adventure books you think I may have overlooked (and yes, I intentionally left out adventure Time). Am I missing a great read out there? Please let me know.
Everything I have written here is my thoughts and opinions and they in no ways represent the thoughts or opinions of Westfield Comics or their employees (Although I cannot image anybody there arguing the greatness of Tintin or Carl Barks.). I look forward to hearing from you and I can be contacted at MFBWAY@AOL.COM.