Ten Comics Which You Must Read

By on 8 November 2010

Lenore’s post about her favourite comics left me wondering if comics have finally found acceptance.   They are certainly being recogised by film-makers and TV producers for their story content.  Red has been screened at the cinema which was loosely adapted from the Warren Ellis comic series of the same name, and The Walking Dead’s opening episode was both critically and popularly acclaimed.

I have always maintained that comics – or graphic novels – are a perfectly valid form of literature and not second-rate books for people who cannot read, as some people perceive them.  The common perception that comics are just about improbably proportioned superheroes is also a frustrating oversight.  There are just as many genres in comics as there are in any other medium.

With this in mind, I thought I would offer a choice selection of my favourite comic and graphic novels.  For reasons of variety, I have decided to limit myself to only one piece of work by each author.

1. The Adventures of Luther Arkwright by Bryan Talbot
Quite possibly one of the most ground-breaking pieces of comic fiction ever.  The Adventures of Luther Arkwright follows the titular hero (a Jerry Cornelius archetype) in a trans-dimensional psychic-espionage war against an enemy known as Disruptors.  The story is science-fiction in setting, but contains elements of steam-punk, horror, and time travel; as well as being littered with religious and mythological symbolism.  Unlike other graphic novels, the nine-part series is unusual in that we (and the protagonist) know he will die; the only questions are ‘when?’, ‘where?’, ‘how?’… and ‘what then?’  Not only did Bryan write this incredibly complex story, but drew the story as well.  Bryan’s artwork is exquisite, as his pen and ink is peerless.  One of the great joys of this graphic novel is that no matter how times you read it, there is always something new you will spot next time.

2. Iron Man: Extremis, written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Adi Granov
The first arc in the rebooted Iron Man was written by Warren Ellis, and it shows.  The story explores Iron Man’s origins as technologist and alludes to the Iron Man armour being a jet fighter rather than an outfit.  The story itself is also pure Ellis, as it explores trans-humanism with cyber-tech vs. bio-tech in a deceptively uncomplicated yet nonetheless subtle story.  Unlike some Iron Man story-arcs, and despite some of the more technologically advanced elements, there is a certain sense of realism in how the story is presented, which is a testament to Ellis’s writing ability.

3. The Button Man: Killing Game written by John Wagner and drawn by Arthur Ranson.
The Button Man was first released in the early nineties and at the time came as quite a shock to this (then young) comic reader.  First printed in 2000AD, the story was incredibly visceral, and read more like a film than a graphic novel.  The story follows an ex-mercenary called Harry Exton as he is drafted into a modern-day gladiatorial battle.  What impressed me was how realistically the story was presented (helped by Ranson’s fantastic artwork), and how easily something like The Killing Game could exist today.

4. The Walking Dead written by Robert Kirkman and drawn by Charlie Adlard
As regular readers of Dominion will know, The Walking Dead is something I have commented about before.  Unlike many other comics, The Walking Dead is purely monochrome, whilst off-putting at first, soon feels entirely natural given the grim subject matter.  The comic follows Rick Grimes, a small-town police officer and his family, who have banded together with a number of survivors in order to find sanctuary after a zombie apocalypse. The Walking Dead is an on-going series that continues to explore the cost of surviving, and the price to our humanity.

5. Devlin Waugh: Swimming in Blood written by John Smith and drawn by Sean Philips
Deliberately created as a new breed of (anti-)hero for 2000AD, Devlin Waugh is an urbane, exorcist priest employed by the future Vatican, and described as a cross between Noel Coward and Charles Bronson.  Despite this surreal character description, he works exceptionally well, and is refreshingly different.  This horror comic was not particularly complex, but nonetheless well written and beautifully drawn.

6. Daredevil: The Main Without Fear written by Frank Miller and drawn by John Romita Jnr.
Frank Miller’s retelling of Daredevil’s formative years is one of the best origin stories to date (closely followed by Batman: Year One, also by Frank Miller), as well as quite possibly one of the most tragic and heroic as well.  Everything we know of Daredevil is here (his costume, Elektra, King Pin, etc), yet all are presented in a fresh perspective that provides greater depth on the character of Matt Murdock/Daredevil.  If only the Daredevil film had even close to this!

7. Hellblazer: All His Engines, written by Mike Carey and drawn by Leonardo Manco
Hellblazer’s working-class anti-hero John Constantine was initially created by Alan Moore during his tenure on Swamp Thing, and proved so popular that John Constantine gained his own title.  First written by Jamie Delano, it was probably Garth Ennis’s run that saw John Constantine truly come to life.  The appeal of John Constantine is that despite all of his magical abilities, his smooth talking is John’s greatest weapon.  Mike Carey’s All His Engines graphic novel is the quintessential Hellblazer story, with demons, cons, backstabbing, and John being a git.

8. Mage: The Hero Discovered, by Matt Wagner
The first in a trilogy, The Hero Discovered is Matt Wagner’s homage to Carl Jung’s hero-myth.  In The Hero Discovered, a cynical Kevin Matchstick discovers he is a Hero: the Pendragon Reborn.  Despite the simple artwork, the story is tightly written and deliciously powerful, which is littered with Jungian archetypes and references to Arthurian legend.

9. Batman: The Long Halloween written by Jeph Loeb and drawn by Tim Sale
Numerous iterations have seen Batman presented as everything from a camp sixties TV series to noir action-thrillers, but in all of these Batman has always been a detective.  This is not more so than in Jeph Loeb’s The Long Halloween, which follows Frank Miller’s amazing Year One storyline (rivaling his work in Daredevil: Man Without Fear).  The thirteen-part story follows Batman’s hunt for the mysterious Holiday killer, and unlike other detective stories, Holiday’s identity is never definitively answered.

10. Nomad, written by Fabian Nicieza and drawn (mainly) by Pat Olliffe
Whilst Darkhawk was my initial introduction to comics; it was Nomad that appealed to me the most at that time.  The premise of Jack Monroe, a failed super-soldier, exploring his country for the American Dream still appeals to me to this day. Unlike other super hero comics at that time, Nomad was refreshingly different in that it approached stories with a more realistic approach, and explored real word issues (such as AIDS and the LA riots).  Despite its cancellation, I would love to see Jack Monroe’s return in a modern retelling of Nomad.

Honourable mentions that did not make the list include Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, V For Vendetta, From Hell, League of Extraordinary Gentleman, Watchmen, Global Frequence, XKCD, Death: The High Cost of Living, Sin City, and Preacher.

About Miranda Yardley

I'm Miranda. Bite me.

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