Comics don’t get no respect, I tell ya. No, I’m not talking about Rodney Dangerfield. I’m talking about the somewhat inadequately named “comic books”. Despite their origins as the most disposable form of entertainment available for just a dime, the so-called funny books started out as something more than a means to share stories of Caped Crusaders and Star Spangled Avengers. No matter the type of story (horror, crime, romance, western, and yes, even comedy), comics were employed through a myriad of talented writers and artists to bring those stories to life. However, the comics published these days are often far from funny, especially among the ever popular superhero titles. There are many exceptions to be found throughout the offerings of independent publishers, but superheroes tend to lean toward being earnest and soapy more often than not. When it comes to big publishers like Marvel and DC, maintaining their big corporate bottom line depends very much on their readership taking them seriously and not slipping into parodies of themselves, which can happen all too easily depending on the creative team or the editorial mandate (see also: most comics published in the 90s).
Of course, it’s not always been straight faces and grim and gritty anti-heroes over the years. Superhero characters over the past 50-75 or so years have come across as fairly silly, intentionally or otherwise. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it really, really did not. Look up the redundantly published “worst hero” or “worst villain” lists peppered all over the internet and you’ll see what I mean.
But what happens when a character stands out for being everything most heroes and villains could never be over the last century? And while he’s transformed greatly since the first time he faced off with Cable and his pre-natal X-Force in New Mutants #98 back in 1991, Wade Wilson has only stepped further and further away from what people expect from a superhero (well, anti-hero). He is more villain than hero if he isn’t given a reason to hold back on the killing. His banter annoys even Spider-Man, who invented the “yammer incessantly until the bad guy is beat” schtick. He talks to himself. He talks to the reader of the comic. He knows he’s in a comic book. And now he knows he’s in a major motion picture from 20th Century Fox and Marvel. Trust me, when you see the film, be prepared for him to address you directly more than a few times. It’s what he does.
But, what about the rest of the Marvel Comics stable? Is he the only funny guy in town? (not counting Peter Parker, whose humor is only tempered by the weight of his power and responsibility, something Deadpool has never bothered with) I’m here to tell you NO. Deadpool might be the the most outrageous and obnoxious funny book character coming out of Marvel comics, but he’s far from the only one headlining his own book that offers up big laughs in addition to big adventure here in the year 2016.
Not to dismiss DC or any other major publisher, but I’m going to show you a few of my favorite Marvel comics being published today that make me laugh out loud that don’t feature the Major Motion Picture Merc with a Mouth (though his books are worth checking out too). Of course, considering how Deadpool is more popular than ever now, expect him to pop up in more than a few of these ongoing series as a guest star or at least take over a few of their variant cover offerings. It’s been done before.
10 – M.O.D.O.K. Assassin
This version of the big-headed villain has appeared only in a short limited series that loosely tied into 2015’s Secret Wars event. Very much in the spirit of Deadpool, MODOK (I’m skipping the periods from here on out) is weirder and more intense than he’s ever been depicted in any other comic. He’s certainly no hero, but when he finds a beautiful warrior companion who can not only match his violent bloodlust, but surpass it, readers get to see what happens when a floating head falls in love. Beyond the rediculous levels of violence, this book is all about MODOK’s inner struggle, spilled out hilariously on the page through some truly fun dialogue, even if he’s mostly just talking to himself. Picture Mr Spock as a floating head killing machine in the throes of Pon Farr and you’ll have an inkling of just how crazy this book gets. Five issues of fun or just grab the graphic novel at a comic shop near you.
9 – Patsy Walker aka Hellcat
This isn’t the Patsy you might know from Marvel’s Jessica Jones series on Netflix. Same character, yes, but a very different execution. Patsy isn’t new to the Marvel universe, but she’s often been a troubled background hero with a history of bad relationships but no lack of super powered friends. In this newly launched series, you can see that the writing and especially the art are aimed directly at a broad audience. If not all ages, you can tell this was meant for all genders with its art bouncing steadily between straight superhero and manga depictions of our hero. So far the book is light on the hero/villain beatdowns and heavy on Patsy’s struggle to get a job, a home, and help out others in a way no hero has yet to try. Oh, and her past as a teenage superstar isn’t going away anytime soon. The storytelling is energetic and brightly colored and the perfect book for anyone who has ever tried to make something of themselves when everyone else is telling them to just be satisfied with the status quo.
8 – Howard the Duck
Yes, that Howard the Duck. While it’s a far cry from creator Steve Gerber’s days on the book, Marvel isn’t afraid to throw Howard in the middle of street to cosmic level adventures with a female companion for the 21st century. Sounds a bit like Doctor Who, now that I’m thinking of it, if the Doctor was a detective with a foul temper and a magnet for inter-dimensional trouble. Oh crap. That really sounds like Doctor Who. Why didn’t I see this before? Honestly, if you look at the book, you’re going to expect a funny talking animal comic firmly planted in the center of the Marvel Universe, with lots of guest appearances throughout. And if you ever wondered what it would be like if he ran into an equally grumpy Rocket Raccoon, this is the book for you. This unlikely hero adventure guest stars more than funny animals though. Expect everyone from She-Hulk and Doctor Strange to the Silver Surfer and Galactus to make guest appearances, showing a funnier side to each of these heroes than you’d normally see in their own books.
7 – Weirdworld
While this started out as a very odd but beautifully painted limited series tied into 2015’s Secret Wars event (worth picking up as well), this ongoing Weirdworld series throws an unsuspecting young woman into another dimension that adheres to no rules we know of on earth. Before she can let out a decent cry for help, she’s attacked on all sides by creatures unlike anything we’ve seen outside a Frank Frazetta painting. Every page of this book holds another surprise you as the reader cannot expect, making for a fun read. But it’s the characters she comes across that make this book genuinely funny. Can she trust the Furiosa-meets-Red Sonja warrior woman in the monstrously souped-up muscle car to help her find a way home? I honestly never expected to like this book as much as I did when I first started reading it last year, but it quickly became one of my favorites and I’m very happy it’s now an ongoing series. Add to the fact that Weirdworld has been showing up in a number of other Marvel comics over the past few weeks, from the X-Men to the Avengers and the Black Knight, it makes you think that they’ve got something big planned for the denizens of this dimension, if not the comic itself.
6 – Totally Awesome Hulk
Bruce Banner is no longer the preeminent Hulk in the Marvel Universe. Why? You’ll have to read the book to find out. But for now, we’re getting a Hulk that doesn’t hate his alter-ego or fears his potential for destruction. This Hulk embraces his new found strength, rivaling only his powerful mind. Expect Bruce Banner to show up again at some point, but I don’t think we’ll see this Hulk go away anytime soon. Amadeus Cho, an old friend of the Hulk’s is an Asian-American genius who is not holding back and wants to have fun wherever his id takes him, even while he’s battling monsters bigger than him. This is a refreshing new take on a classic character, written by Greg Pak, the man behind Planet Hulk and World War Hulk, and drawn by Frank Cho, of Liberty Meadows and Shanna the She-Devil fame (a man born to draw curvy women and muscly green heroes).
5 – Ms Marvel
You’d think that a character with religious and cultural origins that hold the potential to be socially and politically controversial couldn’t be the star of an immensely funny comic book, but you’d be wrong. Ms Marvel is a Muslim teenage girl raised in Jersey City, just across the river from where all the superhero action tends to happen. The point of the book is to show us that she’s a lot like any of us. She has family, relationship, and school problems that pretty much make her the Peter Parker of the 21st century, but she also is a fangirl at heart. If Wolverine showed up to fight alongside you, you might freak out a bit too. Now that she’s an Avenger (post-Secret Wars, again), she doesn’t have time to get weak in the knees whenever she meets her heroes. Between the All-New, All Different Avengers and her own book, Kamala Khan has quickly become one of the most likable and fun characters to follow as she struggles with her identity, her powers, and her place in the Marvel Universe. The writing and art on the book (on the series both before and after Secret Wars) blend perfectly to make it one of the most unique and funny books Marvel is putting out these days.
4 – Rocket Raccoon and Groot
Up until Secret Wars wiped away all of reality, each of these Guardians of the Galaxy had their own solo series. Now the oddest intergalactic pair are back together in their own book… or are they? I can heartily recommend their previous solo series (especially Rocket’s manic and all too brief comic), but these guys belong together, even if they don’t exactly realize it themselves. This book puts two of the oddest heroes in the Marvel Universe at odds with each other that lends new insight into both characters’ internal lives (at least Groot’s) while still being a fun, galaxy-spanning action adventure book. With these two teaming up without their Guardians of the Galaxy pals around, they tend to get into a bit more trouble than usual, with Rocket often making the messes and Groot cleaning them up. And while the first issue starts out with a surprising dark tone, no series can ever stay too serious when it stars a talking tree and raccoon.
3 – Spider-Woman
So, Secret Wars happened (as I’ve said many times before)… and Jessica Drew almost immediately gets pregnant. It’s eight months later and Jessica is letting her friends pick up the slack when it comes to solving mysteries and foiling crimes instead of doing the hero-ing all herself. And it’s driving her crazy! All she wants is to get back in the action, but her baby bump keeps getting in the way. But no matter where she goes, trouble will find her, even when she takes time for a pre-natal wellness checkup at the best (secret) maternity clinic in the galaxy (referred by her best friend Captain Marvel, who knows a little something about troubled pregnancies). I won’t ruin the twists, but I will say that this book is equal parts superhero action adventure and a cosmic level comedy. With a solid supporting cast made up of investigative reporter Ben Ulrich and bumbling former Z-grade supervillain the Porcupine trying to make amends by helping out the good guys, Spider-Woman is one of the most unexpectedly fun reads out there, no matter what your taste in comics.
2 – Ant-Man
You saw the movie, now read the comic. Scott Lang has moved to Miami to start his own security business with the help of a few former villains of his own on the payroll, much like Spider-Woman. The Grizzly (simply a big guy in a bear suit) was never much of a villain, but he’s trying his best to be a hero, much like the constantly down on his luck Ant-Man. Scott attempts to balance his family life, his love life, and his job, while fending off attacks from random super villains, who get their marching orders from a new mobile app called “Hench”, which pairs up eager to work bad guys with people who are willing to pay for crimes to be committed or superheroes to be smacked down. The subplot that follows the app developer’s attempts to acquire funding for his new service is almost as funny as Ant-Man’s struggle to keep his head above water (or just keep his head) in the face of these relentless attacks. I figured this book would be just another simple superhero adventure, but Marvel has taken this newly popularized character (thanks to the film) and given him an identity in the Marvel Universe all his own that relies on laughs as much as it does action and adventure.
1 – The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
The name says it all. This is a hero who cannot be beat, simply because she refuses to be. Doreen Green is Squirrel Girl and she’s gone up against Galactus and won. In an alternate reality, you say? Nope. Our Galactus. And she does it in between classes at college. If there ever was a series that could truly be called a “comic” book, it’s Squirrel Girl. The book has a whip-smart and hilarious supporting cast that is as fun to read about as our titular hero, including her roommate Nancy and her squirrel sidekick, Tippy (of course she can talk to squirrels). There have been many iterations of Squirrel Girl over the years, but she’s never been depicted in such a silly manner. What makes her even more likable and fun is that she doesn’t look or act like any other superhero. She’s not overly endowed with superpowered cleavage and a tiny waist, but she does have a real tail, which, when tucked into her pants, gives her the illusion of having a much bigger butt than she already has. She’s got a real, regular girl’s figure and is 100% okay with that. Doreen is earnest, funny, loyal, and smarter than she’s given credit for. But if this were simply a comic about a superpowered girl with the proportionate strength and speed of a squirrel, who also “eats nuts and kicks butts”, it wouldn’t be enough to place it at the top of my list. There are layers to the humor that goes beyond your normal Marvel comic series. Deadpool may have once had two (or more) voices in his head, but Squirrel Girl provides a running commentary on her own comic book. If you look very closely at the bottom of each page, you’ll find Doreen giving her take on what’s happening on the panels above, giving her adventures a whole new, hilarious dimension, especially when going up against villains like Kraven the Hunter and Doctor Doom or when trying to decipher database architecture in her computer science class. Plus, if thought there’s no such thing as too much Deadpool, Squirrel Girl regularly consults her own special deck of Deadpool trading cards whenever she needs a quick refresher on whoever the heck she’s battling at the moment. Whether you’re an old school Marvel-ite or you’re trying to get your teenage niece or daughter into reading comics, there is no better book than Squirrel Girl. Don’t let the name fool you. And don’t for a minute think you’re too old or too cool for it either. Squirrel Girl is smart, silly, and chock-full of adventure that never takes itself too seriously. Cleverly written and deftly drawn, this book is spiritually the polar opposite of Deadpool’s blood-soaked, dark-humored adventures, but still packs a comedic punch unlike any other comic on the shelves today.
Recent books worth checking out for a laugh: Hawkeye (by Fraction and Aja), She-Hulk, Superior Foes of Spider-Man, Silver Surfer, Invincible Iron Man, and even Venom: Space Knight. Oh, and of course, Deadpool. He has a few series out right now. As I’ve said before, Marvel is far from the only publisher creating funny comics these days. If you’re interested in any of the titles mentioned here or seeking out more from other publishers, visit your local comic shop. Just go to www.comicshoplocator.com to find a store near you and tell them Forever Geek sent you!