It’s war and peace, with a bit of crime and punishment in this week’s So You Want to Read Comics. This is our weekly feature where we take a look at a single topic or genre, then give you two comic book recommendations, perfect for new readers, based on that topic or genre. This week we’re looking at Russian Literature.
While just about every country or group of people has a culture surrounding their literature, there are few that are as celebrated or revered as Russian Literature. For centuries, names like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky have adorned the covers of some of the most well-known classics of all written literature. While of course, Russian literature is as varied as any other category, there are a few characteristics for which Russian Literature has come to be associated. One of which is bleakness; often the stories told are ones of hopelessness and predestined pain, through which a vision of human nature that isn’t concerned with comforting the reader can be revealed. On the other hand, Russian literature can have a very sharp wit and a strong sense of sarcasm, especially with more satirical work, of which there is a vast amount. There has been no shortage of film and television products that have captured the spirit of some of the most well-known Russian novels, but there have also been a few comic books that have done this very same thing.
So, for all you fans of Russian Literature out there, here are a couple of comic books that I think you might enjoy.
20TH CENTURY MEN
Writer: Deniz Camp
Artist: S. Morian
Publisher: Image Comics
20th Century Men is a comic book series with a somewhat simple premise. What would global conflict look like if each major player had a superpowered person in their ranks? It’s not a new question, Watchmen asked something similar and series like Superman: Red Son dared to imagine a world where some of the most beloved superheroes the world has known had different allegiances. But 20th Century Men takes a somewhat different approach. Rather than focusing on what effects these people have on society, the focus is on what happens to the nature of a superhuman when they’ve become little more than a tool to enact the wills of the societies they belong to. While there is a plotline here about rising tensions between the U.S. and Russia, much like War and Peace, this graphic novel is a story of soldiers first and foremost and a rather unflinching one at that. 20th Century Men doesn’t pull any punches as it puts its characters through the wringer and forces the reader to ask themselves what we as a society demand of people with gifts and abilities.
THE OMEGA MEN: THE END IS HERE
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Barnaby Bagenda
Publisher: DC Comics
In Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita, the devil shows up in Moscow and begins causing all sorts of havoc which ultimately shows society to be a bit messed up while also suggesting that the only difference between good and evil is forgiveness. So, what happens when a member of The Green Lanterns is embedded with a group of so-called terrorists and must determine who the good guys are and who’s evil, or if such a thing is even possible in an entirely tainted society? At its core, The Omega Men is a series that doesn’t really concern itself with the typical hero vs. villain story, but more about the capacity for everyone to become either of those things, depending on who’s telling the story and what details are being focused on. There’s a subtle bit of satire at play here with the way that the book seems to criticize the reader themselves for buying into everything that’s going on in this story, as it’s shown, and not looking deeper.
What are some of your favorite pieces of Russian Literature? What did you think of these recommendations? Let us know in the comments section below.