In which I butt in on somebody else's conversation for an easy post and a cheap bit of self-promotion.
I recently got an e-mail from one of my professors saying "I'm kicking around the idea of a class looking at the golden age comic books, the novelists that are riffing off them now, and then contemporary comics that participate in the same commodity pool as Chabon and Lethem and all the guys who are mining their comic book nostalgia." and then asking for suggestions.
As it happens, I spent about half of last year working on an article about this same group of nostalgic comic book novels (current status: finished, submitted to a journal, waiting patiently to hear back from them, still ensconced in slow time), so I naturally think this would be a fantastic idea for a class.
Jog offers some good suggestions (Alan Moore's Supreme) and reluctantly tenders some not-so-good ones (it may fit the bill, but I'm not sure I could recommend teaching Kingdom Come under any circumstances). I would add that since many of these novels express nostalgia for Silver Age comics, particularly Marvel Comics, comics trading on that period would serve just as well. Kurt Busiek's Marvels and Astro City ought to be at home on any syllabus that can include Rick Moody's paean to the Fantastic Four.
Any comic that deals with comics as objects (particularly fetish/nostalgia objects) would match the tone and content of many of these novels, so Jog's suggestion of Clowes's David Boring works perfectly - even though I suspect Clowes's work would especially suffer in comparison to actual examples (and fine examples) of the psychologistic, novelistic mode he so frequently apes. Indy comics, and Clowes's comics in particular, are littered with comics/nostalgia fetishists and a few representatives would make a nice complement to the novels and superhero comics.
Finally, there's the Escapist comic itself - not great comics by any means, but an interesting example of Chabon's Golden Age nostalgia coming full circle. Of course, I'm not sure the Escapist series does the historical pastiche thing any more inventively than Planetary or the dozens of other meta-comics, mostly dull, that have come out in the past decade or so.
What would be really interesting, in light of Moody's and Jonathan Lethem's celebrations of the intricacies of continuity-heavy Bronze Age storytelling, is to find a well-done modern nostalgia comic that looks back to that era. It may be too soon, but it seems like superhero comics have just wrapped up a wave of Silver Age nostalgia and are pushing into the 1970s, with reprints of everything from Luke Cage, Power Man to Super-Villain Team-Up. Writers like Brad Meltzer and Geoff Johns are frantically referencing the comics they read as kids, but they usually incorporate them into a distinctly and unpleasantly modern style of storytelling. I'd think there must be somebody who's writing Bronze Age homages in the Bronze Age style and writing them well, but I can't think of anybody at the moment. I suppose Busiek and Nicieza tried to pull it off in their Marvel work, but there's a difference between copying Bronze Age comics and writing about them as a site of nostalgia, and it seems like this hypothetical class would require the latter. Perhaps this comic is yet to be written.
Other suggestions? Send 'em Jog's way!
(By the way, that same post links to this group of reviews of Grant Morrison and Philip Bond's Vimanarama #1 - scroll down for Olivia Woodward's fascinating reading of religious symbology in the double-page splash, hidden in plain sight!)