I have spent the last few weeks pouring over comics, graphic novels and mini-series in an effort to come up with the 10 greatest comic books/graphic novels of all time. Some I have read many times before while others were new to me. In all I have read about 3,000 pages worth of comics, not mention all the articles, lists and blog posts around the web dealing with this topic. In the end I got myself down to a shortlist of 30 Titles. It was then that I found myself in a serious bind. I didn't know which ten titles to select from the list. I honestly felt they were all that good.
In the end I chose ten comics that I feel represent the immense variety found in the world of comics. While I think the ten I chose are all pretty widely recognized as being superb, I also know that I am going to leave out some of your favorite comics. Before you start typing an expletive-laden comment lamenting the omission of your favorite comic book, please stop, take a deep breath, delete your expletives and kindly type a response that my mother could read without blushing. In other words, share your opinion, just try to avoid becoming one of these as you do it:
10. Infinity Gauntlet - Jim Starlin
Remember when you were a kid and you would gather all of your action figures, dump them on the floor, and then proceed to create the most epic, drawn out battles? Infinity Gauntlet sees Marvel dig into their proverbial toy box pulling out a good portion of their characters for an all out melee. Universally grand in scope, this series is an incredibly fun read, and will forever be remembered as one of the rare gems in the complete comics turd-fest that was the 90s.
Laura Dern looking through her 90s comics collection.
9. Spider-Man: Blue - Jeph Loeb
The incredible duo, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale (Batman: The Long Halloween) take a look at the events leading up to (spoiler alert for a 40-year-old story-arc) the night Gwen Stacey died. The story picks up with Peter making a tape recording for Gwen on Valentine's day many years after her death in which he offers up his perspective on the couple's relationship. Poignant and gripping with a healthy helping of classic Spider-Man humor, this comic is the perfect summation of the Hero's Curse that Peter is burdened with. No matter what he does, every good thing that happens to Peter is immediately followed by something terrible, and that makes him relatable to readers.
I know man, I know. It still hurts even after all these years.
8. Daredevil: The Man Without Fear - Frank Miller
If your only experience with Daredevil has been the unholy mess that was 2003's Daredevil I plead with you, read this excellent mini-series. In it you will find an incredibly absorbing hero, who continues to pick himself up after falling down again and again.
Penned by the immortal Frank Miller, The Man Without Fear does an excellent job of capturing the spirit of one of Marvel's greatest and most compelling heroes. Miller adeptly constructs a story that puts its protagonist through the ropes emotionally and physically, until at the end he emerges as the hero we all know. Seriously, Miller is a master at retooling origins. Speaking of which...
7. Batman Year One - Frank Miller
My shortlist contained five Batman comics. If I had my druthers I would have included all five in the list but I kind of felt like that would have undermined everything I said about trying to keep this list as diverse as possible. In the end I decided to include Frank Miller's classic origin story. Year One allows the reader to get inside the head of both Batman and Jim Gordon as they fight to reclaim Gotham from the cancer of crime and corruption.
This masterfully written story gives the reader a rare glimpse into the lives of two men who each feel the personal burden of reclaiming Gotham on their own. It also chronicles how those two men came to realize that they need each other in their noble quest. I love Batman and Robin as much as the next guy, but I have always been a bigger fan of Batman and Gordon's relationship. Besides, there have been times when things between Batman and Robin have gotten a little...
6. Hellboy: Seed of Destruction - John Bryne & Mike Mignola
When the comic you're reading starts with Nazi's trying to summon a demon in order to aid them in the waning days of World War II, you know you are in for one hell (Zing!) of a ride. Combining folklore and pulp fiction to create what I have just named the pulplore genre, John Bryne and Mike Mignola have crafted a series that is wholly unique. With vibrant art complementing its entertaining story, Seed of Destruction is an absolute joy to read. Much like Infinity Gauntlet this series is another comic book gem buried in the afore-mentioned comic book turd-pile of the 90s.
Jeff Goldblum admiring Laura Dern's collection of 90s comic books.
5. V for Vendetta - Alan Moore
Do the ends justify the means? That is the question at the center of this incredibly thought-provoking tale. The tale takes place in a future Britain under the rule of a fascist government. V, the story's central character, carries out a series of destructive acts in an effort to free the people of Britain's oppressive government. Moore bravely portrays V as an ambiguous character, leaving the reader to wonder whether he is in the right or wrong. I would divulge more about the plot, but I would not want to ruin it for you if you have not read the comic or seen the excellent film adaptation starring Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving.
4. The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes - Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman has an unearthly imagination. I tried to think of something funny to say about this comic, but I could not come up with anything. The story is supremely imaginative and deliciously rich in symbolism and mythos. The comic follows Morpheus the Lord of Dreams, who is. As arresting as it is haunting, this is a book that will stick with you long after you have read it.
Oh yeah, and Lucifer is in the story. As in the Lucifer. He looks just like Jim Morrison. Seriously, its uncanny:
The Prince of Darkness and Jim Morrison
3. Maus - Art Spiegelman
Maus is a memoir of a Holocaust survivor in the form of a graphic novel. Don't let the mice fool you; the use of anthropomorphic animals is not intended in any way to "lighten" this incredibly dark story. In fact, the use of mice to represent Jews and Cats to portray Germans shows through image the idea that the Jews were little more than mice tapped in the mouths of hungry cats. What hope could any mouse have of fighting against a cat?
Emotionally wrenching and incredibly memorable, this masterpiece demonstrates the power comics can have when drawn and written by the right hands. Like The Diary of Anne Frank and Night by Elie Wiesel, Maus should be considered essential reading for any person who wishes to understand one of the darkest parts of humankind's history.
2. The Dark Knight Returns - Frank Miller
Okay, okay I know that this is not the most original choice. I think it's an unwritten rule that one must include The Dark Knight Returns in any list of the best comics and/or graphic novels. I could have gone the hipster route and chosen something a little less "mainstream" but I refuse to take the road less traveled simply for the sake of being original. The simple truth is that Frank Miller's classic is one of the greatest graphic novels ever written.
The Book explores complex issues, such as whether or not Batman's presence has bred all of the super-villains that plagued the city. The ethics and moral integrity of Bruce Wayne is brought into question as well, when Superman is called in by the US government to ask him to stop his war on crime. With a story that grips the reader from panel one and an incredible look into the mind of a man crazy enough to dress as a bat and beat the snot out of criminals, this is a comic that is not to be missed.
Additionally, this comic answers the age-old question of who would win in a fight between the Dark Knight and Man of Steel. I'm not going to tell you who wins, only that the loser has been making sandwiches for the winner ever since.
1. Watchmen - Alan Moore
Alan Moore's seminal work. This series demonstrates the power comic books can have to express complicated social and political views. It seems like humans have a need to find heroes. We look for people who will rescue our world from the grips of moral depravity and evil. Throughout the decades we have raised up different heroes. We vote for leaders, single men or women who we feel have the desire, the know-how and the strength of will to rescue society from itself. We look to set up watchmen.
But who watches the watchmen? That is the question this incredible series attempts to answer. It looks at heroes and their ability to tear the earth apart in their efforts to save it. Reading Watchmen can make you feel uneasy if you start thinking about its themes. It will make you question who you have put your faith in in the real world, and whether or not you are taking personal responsibility for the decay of the social body you are a member of. I cannot express how amazing this book truly is.
20 Other Amazing Comics:
These are titles which would most certainly feel right at home on this list. Please understand that the titles listed below are every bit as good as the ones explored above, I just simply did not have the time to explore them in depth.
X-Men: Age of Apocalypse
Batman: The Long Halloween
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Batman: The Killing Joke
Justice League: Kingdom Come
Walking Dead Volume I: Days Gone By
The Age of Ultron
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Fables Volume I: Legends in Exile
Invisibles: Volume I: Say You Want a Revolution
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume I
Alice in Sunderland
100 Bullets: Volume I
Y the Last Man: Volume I: Unmanned
Ultimates: Volume I: The Super Humans
It's a forgone conclusion that your list of comics that everybody should read is different than mine, so be sure to leave your list in the comments below. Want more interesting stuff? Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter.