Graphic Novel Recommendations (Superhero Genre Preferred)
April 13, 2004 10:59 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for recommendations for some good graphic novels. More inside...
posted by Tallguy to Media & Arts (50 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
books of magic (not names of magic or age of magic)
iron wok jan
posted by lotsofno at 11:02 AM on April 13, 2004

Response by poster: As a kid I collected comics during the mid-80’s. It was almost exclusively Marvel, and I have especially fond memories of the X-Men (the Mutant Massacre saga, Wolverine and Kitty Pride, etc.), New Mutants, and others, but I probably collected every title in the Marvel line for awhile. In the intervening years I have read only a handful of comics. A few Sandman issues, the Watchmen, and the Dark Knight Returns. Recently, I decided I would like to rediscover comics. So far I have picked up Koslowski’s “Three Fingers” (liked), “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” (liked), Busiek and Ross’s “Marvels” (really liked), and all of the Astro City graphic novels (really, really liked). I have no interest in collecting a regular comic series, so graphic novels are perfect. I would love to get some recommendations from the MeFi community. I probably have more interest in the superhero titles, but since I have barely sampled the non-superhero titles I would like to explore that too. Ideas?
posted by Tallguy at 11:02 AM on April 13, 2004

100 Bullets, by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, is one of the (if not the) best ongoing series right now, and has quite a few collections in GN format. Needs to be read in order.

The Invisibles, by Grant Morrison. Needs to be read in order (or does it?).

Hellboy, by Mike Mignola. Way better than the movie. Self-contained stories.

From Hell, by Alan Moore (of Watchmen fame).

Y The Last Man, by Brian K. Vaughan. Needs to be read in order.

If you liked Marvels, you might like Kingdom Come. Same creative team, but different story (future history of the DC universe).

They're hard to find these days, and bulky and pricey, but the Akira collections are good.
posted by mkultra at 11:11 AM on April 13, 2004

Watchmen, Sandman, Spider-man:Blue and Daredevi: yellow (the large scale format makes the art that much better), second kingdom come, johnny the homicidal maniac, squee, v is for vendetta

and there's more but i can't think of them off the top of my head :\

keep us posted about good ones you fine! i'm always looking for new material myself.
posted by Stynxno at 11:15 AM on April 13, 2004

whoops, saw you read the watchmen. Read it again! :)
posted by Stynxno at 11:17 AM on April 13, 2004

Art Spiegelman's MAUS, parts 1 and 2, of course

All of Sandman, or at least from A Game of You On.

Acme Novelty Library and Jimmy Corrigan, World's Smartest Boy

I've heard that Chester Brown's Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography is quite good, but haven't read it yet.
posted by Capn at 11:27 AM on April 13, 2004

I fullheartedly second Jimmy Corrigan (if possible, the hardbound version w/dust jacket). The creator's company, Fantagraphics, does nothing but good work. But it's kinda depressing.

Also both volumes of Maus. Also depressing.

On preview: dammit, capn!
posted by LionIndex at 11:30 AM on April 13, 2004

Transmetropolitan. I can't recommend this one enough. Totally amazing.

Anything written by Warren Ellis. Seriously. His time on Stormwatch, plus Authority and Planetary are all awesome. I haven't read everything he's done, but I'd like to.

I'd be remiss in discussing Graphic Novels not to mention (mention? proselytize, more like it!) Sandman, if you haven't already read a lot.

For old-school crossover madness, I enjoyed DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths and Marvel's Secret Wars trade paperbacks.

I'll second the recommendations for J:THM and Squee. Fantastic stuff, and Squee is worth it just to get the "Meanwhile"s from the J:THM comics that were left out of the trade paperback (Hilarious interstitial minicomics).
posted by Eldritch at 11:34 AM on April 13, 2004

I can't recommend From Hell enough. Watchmen is fantastic from a perspective of pure fiction, but Moore's historical fiction in From Hell, especially if you read the citations in the back as you progress through the book, will completely knock you off your feet.

It is meticulously researched and expertly constructed.
posted by rocketman at 11:38 AM on April 13, 2004

strangers in paradise

characters, rather than heros. and funny.

and definitely maus.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:46 AM on April 13, 2004

If you have to read one: the unsurpassed, greatest masterpiece of the genre, Watchmen.
If you have to read two: W + From Hell.
Others: Arkham Asylum (which, as far as I remember, started the whole GN trend), The Killing Joke (which is rather a Graphic novella, so to speak), Batman Year One, The Dark Knight Returns, Elektra Assassin, Stray Toasters, Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron, V for Vendetta and the x-rated Black Kiss are also good.
You get the idea: Alan Moore is the very best and that's it. The others follow suit.
ps: don't avoid but don't overestimate the visually interesting but dorky and self-important Chris Ware.
posted by 111 at 11:50 AM on April 13, 2004

I've been reading a lot of non-superhero graphic novels lately. Some that are particularly good are:

Hard Looks stories by Andrew Vachss, drawn by others -- very very dark stories, non-superhero

Blankets by Craig Thomson -- full length graphic novel about first love, bad families, church camp, etc. A good quality version of the non-superhero variety.

After the Snooter by Eddie Campbell -- good companion to From Hell. Same illustrator writing about himself instead of fiction stuff

Also recommend anything by Joe Sacco. He's an amazing illustrator hand has written several graphic novels about war torn areas like Safe Area Gorazde and Palestine. Riveting storytelling, good illustration.
posted by jessamyn at 11:58 AM on April 13, 2004

Response by poster: Great recommendations. Keep them coming!

Also, if I am going to order online, is there a good source? I would prefer to order from a smaller venue, but Amazon’s free shipping and 30% off most of the titles I have checked is tough to beat.
posted by Tallguy at 12:08 PM on April 13, 2004

Anything written by Warren Ellis. Seriously. His time on Stormwatch, plus Authority and Planetary are all awesome.

Yeah. Transmetropolitan didn't really do it for me, but everything else is awesome. Be careful on StormWatch as much of the first volume is not Ellis. As for other books, I just read V for Vendetta and loved it. In, pure superheroes, Red Son (think that's the name-- it's Superman in Soviet Russia).

I would put Brian Michael Bendis on the same level as Ellis.
posted by yerfatma at 12:12 PM on April 13, 2004

Tallguy, support your local comic book shop, they need your business, and if you stay away from The Guy In The Batman Shirt Who Won't Stop Talking (every comicbook shop has one, prove me wrong!) they will be useful in the "if you liked that, you may also enjoy this" department.
posted by Capn at 12:13 PM on April 13, 2004

Viz Communications have started reprinting Miyazaki's Nausicaa graphic novels. I couldn't recommend anything more highly.
posted by GeekAnimator at 12:15 PM on April 13, 2004

You should find this list useful.... Andrew Arnold - A Graphic Literature Library

Blankets was okay, I'd still recommend it. I've heard some people say that the good reviews was more for the concept (a 600 page graphic novel that wasn't serialized first, but published all at once like a novel) than the story. This might be the way more "art" comics are published in the future, Chester Brown's Louis Riel has sold so well in the book format that his publisher suggested abandoning doing a serial of his next work and going straight to a graphic novel.

There seems to be a growing trend of older readers ignoring or abandoning monthly "pamphlets" and instead buying comics in book format, and some younger readers who are buying stuff like Chobits and Rouruni Kenshin (both good titles) in the 200 page volume format.
posted by bobo123 at 12:18 PM on April 13, 2004

Also, Grant Morrison's recently-completed run on X-Men is available in trade paperback form (I believe the last volume is just about to come out; or it could be already, not sure), and it's well worth a look. It's a self-contained story spanning about 40 issues, and it leans a lot more towards science fiction than superheroism. No spandex in the book.
posted by COBRA! at 12:20 PM on April 13, 2004

Domu, by Katsuhiro Otomo
Otomo is famous for the Akira story. This is another album by him, much shorter, set in contemporary Japan. Cops investigate a block of flats where too many people commit suicide, but they fail to understand what's going on below the surface. Nothing made in the West looks or feels like this comic.

Enki Bilal - see some of his drawings here.

Joe Sacco
Journalism through comics seems impossible, but Sacco just pulls it off. This is good.

Tardi & Legrand: Roach Killer

... and did anyone mention the Hernandez bros. Love & Rockets? is where you go for the interesting stuff.

From Hell: overrated. They manage to make the story of Jack the Ripper boring and dull. The obsessive footnotes are the best part of it. The drawings are lousy.
posted by Termite at 12:21 PM on April 13, 2004

Another vote for Transmetropolitan here.
posted by Orange Goblin at 12:22 PM on April 13, 2004

Technically it's a mini-series compiled into graphic novel form, but Miller and Sienkiewicz's Elektra: Assassin is pretty incredible.
posted by sad_otter at 12:23 PM on April 13, 2004

Do you just want "graphic novels", or are series collected into "trade paperbacks" okay as well?

If so, these series are in TPB format now and are quite good:

"Powers" - superheroes in a real world setting...sort of. Don't bother with any of the series after #30 though.

"Invincible" - the son of a superhero gets powers himself. Nice and sweet treatment, and the art is refreshingly simple.

"Supreme Power" - the old Marvel Squadron Supreme redone. Very harsh, but entirely engrossing. The series is up to #9, but the first 6 issues are in TPB format. My favourite continuing series right now.

"Top Ten" - by Alan Moore. There are only two TPB for this series, but they are both fantastic. It's the "whole world has superpowers" storyline, but his attention to detail in the background (and storytelling) is wonderful. If you liked Watchmen, you'll like this one too.

"Tom Tomorrow" - also by Alan Moore. Really, everything he does is pretty much gold.
posted by grum@work at 12:29 PM on April 13, 2004

All of the Alias collections by Brian Bendis are very good. It's the story of a failed superhero (in the Marvel universe) who works as a private investigator. The dialogue and character development are miles beyond anybody except Gaiman & Moore.

Once you've read through the Sandman collections, you 'll probably appreciate The Furies by Mike Carey, but you'll need to read the Sandman issues first or you'll be lost.
posted by tdismukes at 12:30 PM on April 13, 2004

I thought Fables was very clever.
posted by nicwolff at 12:32 PM on April 13, 2004

If you're going with the Marvel stuff, I've found the Ultimate relaunches to be pretty fun. I couldn't read comics, esp. X-Men, for the longest time because of the seeming cast of thousands and plot threads from ten years back.

After the success of a few of the Marvel properties on the big screen, they relaunched X-Men, Spider-man, Daredevil, and a few others, updating them to recent years and trimming away some of the latent fat from the 80s/early 90s.

Also, anything with "Batman" and "Jeph Loeb" on the cover is worthwhile.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 12:34 PM on April 13, 2004

About sad_otter's comments re Elektra: Assassin, which is very complex btw, let me add that Frank Miller's Elektra Lives Again (four years in the making if I recall correctly and visually revolutionary) is also essential. And for completeness sake, it's not even a GN, as it is being serialized by Fantagraphics, but Charles Burns' "Black Hole" is the only comic book I ever read that made me feel I was literally stepping into someone else's dream. It's a masterpiece.
OK, last one: Dylan Horrocks' Hicksville. Excellent!
posted by 111 at 12:46 PM on April 13, 2004

I'm pretty sure grum meant to say Tom Strong by Moore.

Also, if you're into the very twisted with a large dash of head trauma, check out Garth Ennis' Preacher series.
posted by Skot at 12:55 PM on April 13, 2004

Comics Worth Reading can give you some good pointers.
posted by teg at 12:57 PM on April 13, 2004

A friend who's really into comics recently came to visit and brought me a bunch of stuff to read. I liked Sleeper most of all.
posted by Dean King at 12:59 PM on April 13, 2004

Skot: Yes, Tom Strong, not Tom Tomorrow. I have no idea where THAT came from. Thanks for the correction.
posted by grum@work at 1:02 PM on April 13, 2004

I can't believe nobody's mentioned the outstanding BONE yet. Still in progress, but there are several TPBs.

And grum@work, I think you mean Tom Strong, not Tom Tomorrow, although I do think that Sparky™ is overdue for the Dark Knight treatment.
posted by ulotrichous at 1:02 PM on April 13, 2004

Jason Lutes' Jar of Fools and Berlin.

And Jimmy Corrigan, World's Smartest Boy is fantastic.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:04 PM on April 13, 2004

Does "Understanding Comics" by Scott McCloud qualify?
posted by grefo at 1:13 PM on April 13, 2004

Barefoot Gen is an interesting companion piece to Maus.

Most anything drawn by Kyle Baker (Why I Hate Saturn, The Cowboy Wally show) is a lot of fun.

Carol Lay's Now, Endsville, if you can find it.

Usagi Yojimbo, especially the later ones.

If you want to jump into Cerebus, start with High Society.

More as I think of them. About everything mentioned in this thread is seconded as well.
posted by furiousthought at 1:36 PM on April 13, 2004

If you're an old Marvel fan, you might also want to consider doing what I'm doing: collect either the Essentials compilations or the Masterworks compilations.

The Marvel Essentials collect 20-25 issues of a series in B&W format on cheap paper. They cost about $15/each (though you can find them for less on eBay). If you don't care about color, they're a great way to go. Long stretches of all the major titles are available, and a couple of new volumes are published every year. (I think the X-Men will be updated through the Mutant Massacre this year.)

If you must have color, there are the Marvel Masterworks editions. These lavish volumes are more expensive ($40? $50?) and of much higher quality. They collect about ten issues of continuity. They're a joy to read. But expensive.

DC has a similar, more extensive, line called the DC Archives. These, too, are beautiful volumes. But if you're like me, DC titles can seem a little, well, weak. Still, there's some good stuff if you know where to look.

If you liked Astro City and Marvels, I think you'd also like Powers and Top 10.

All of the above are compilations rather than graphic novels, of course, so I haven't really addressed your question. :/

The Comics Worth Reading site's classics sidebar is great.

On preview: I disagree re: starting Cerebus with High Society. Start from the beginning. The beginning is fun, and Dave Sim doesn't have a cob up his ass yet. If you start Cerebus from the beginning, you can keep holding out hope that it'll return to the "old days". Then you'll reach Melmoth and realize that it's never going to get better! :)
posted by jdroth at 1:53 PM on April 13, 2004

If you want to jump into Cerebus, start with High Society...

...and stop around the end of, say, Jaka's Story.
posted by bonehead at 2:01 PM on April 13, 2004

Matt Wagner's various Grendel series are quite good. And I second the recommendation for Nausicaa. I'm currently quite enjoying Excel Saga, but a bit of a grounding in manga/anime is helpful to get some of the references (each volume has copious footnotes). Larry Marder's Tales of the Beanworld was pretty great. Does anybody know what happened to him? I've been out of the loop but it seems like the work just stopped. Scott Saavedra's Dr. Radium is being rereleased.

Hmmm. I think I may be dating myself.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 2:09 PM on April 13, 2004

I'll second the Marvel Ultimates collection. If you like superhero stuff at all, Bendis' Ultimate Spiderman is can't-miss. I also liked the Avegers relaunch as wel, but I was amazed by how good Spiderman was.
posted by yerfatma at 2:15 PM on April 13, 2004

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned Road to Perdition by Max Allan Collins - a dark period piece about sin, redemption, and father-son relationships.
I haven't seen the film...if the movie-ification kept anyone from recommending the graphic novel, don't hesitate to pick up the original.
posted by hsoltz at 2:31 PM on April 13, 2004

Response by poster: I want to thank everyone for all these great pointers! Almost 40 posts in just over 3 hours.

When I originally posted this, I was thinking of this as a long term project. But the recommendations got me so psyched I gathered up my 4 mo old and headed off to the local comic shops because I could not wait.

I just got back from the stores with Maus, Jimmy Corrigan, the first two 100 Bullets, Palestine, the first two Transmetropolitans, and the start of Sandman. I will let you know what I think. Also, don’t let this be an end to the recommendations, since I am sure I will be back for more soon. ;)

And to clarify some questions, I don’t really care whether it is a trade paperback, a graphic novel, or a collection. I am just less interested in a regular serial comics since my time to go to the store is so irregular and I would much prefer a self-contained story (more-or-less) at this point in my life and my level of interest.

As for the Marvel Essentials, I have considered them several times in the past. But I have to say that I really miss the color. Dropping color from comics that originally had it seems to rob something from the presentation. I am glad to hear there are also series of old comics with the color included.
posted by Tallguy at 2:44 PM on April 13, 2004

Second most choices... I would also like to add "Box Office Poison" by Alex Robinson and the "Starman" graphic novels by James Robinson.

Stay away from "Bulletproof Monk."
posted by drezdn at 3:07 PM on April 13, 2004

I rather liked "Midnight Nation."
posted by kindall at 3:18 PM on April 13, 2004

Here are a few more for your reading list: Pop Gun War (from Farel Dalrymple, a rising star in the graphic novel biz), Summer Blonde (much much better than the title would suggest) and David Boring (from the same guy who brought us Ghost World).
posted by TBoneMcCool at 4:59 PM on April 13, 2004

I disagree re: starting Cerebus with High Society. Start from the beginning. The beginning is fun, and Dave Sim doesn't have a cob up his ass yet.

I'm not saying don't ever read it, just that you may not want to start with it, because it's really rough at the very beginning. bonehead's right about when to stop, by the way.

I'm out of other suggestions, unfortunately, except for a personal favorite in graphic nonfiction, the mighty and fearless Cartoon History of the Universe. And...

*snaps fingers*

Not a soul here has mentioned Will Eisner, huh? I'm really looking forward to his book about The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, that is, if I can remember it when it comes out.
posted by furiousthought at 5:22 PM on April 13, 2004

Wow, nice work! I just read Sacco's new book, The Fixer, and the latest ish of Drawn and Quarterly, both of which I enjoyed and both of which are published by the Canadian DnQ.

And I'm gonna wave my hands around in the air for Thompson's Blankets, which points the way toward a new school of American literary comics, if people can get over the 'teenage love story' angle long enough to actually read the huge thing. It's like 600 pages long. And it's fantastic.

I gotta speak up for Old Europe, though.

I recently read Tardi's adaptation of the first of Leo Malet's Nestor Burma books, The Bloody Streets of Paris, on the newish ibooks label, and it was wonderful. Drawing bandes dessinees in Europe is a much better-compensated and respected profession than it is here, and therefore there are by now three generations of European creators to check out.

Surely everyone's heard of Tintin [flash] by now - Spielberg's even making a movie featuring the plucky, ageless boy reporter. The other well-known long-running European series that's easily accessible in English is of course the saga of Asterix the Gaul (you'll have to pick your lingo, and truth be told, I did it for you on the Tintin site, sorry). Of course, Asterix hasn't had the best luck with movies, so I'm trying not to get worked up about Tintin.

And, I really must emphasize, in European comics, there is so much more...
posted by mwhybark at 5:51 PM on April 13, 2004

Coming in a bit late in the game, but I highly recommend Kaiji Kawaguchi's Eagle: The Making of an Asian-American President. It's a pretty huge series, but at least it's cheap.

I also [number] Transmetropolitan. Spider Jersualem is my hero.
posted by calistasm at 6:46 PM on April 13, 2004

Forgive me my duplicates, but I'm a big sucker for graphic novels.

I just read Palomar: The Heartbreak Soup Stories (Love and Rockets) -- awesome awesome awesome. Incredible writing, especially of female characters. As a bonus, it's a huge book -- coffee table-sized. It took me days to finish it.

I second, triple and quintuple any suggestion for The Dark Knight Returns, it's well worth a re-read; it has held up better than most. Oh, Elektra Lives Again is amazing, and (I almost forgot) Ronin is right up there. You know what, here's an Amazon list for Frank Miller stuff.

I agree with the Arkham Asylum votes as well. While I'm not sure it started the whole graphic novel trend, it is surely a milestone for "comic as art" with its fully painted pages. It's certainly the darkest graphic novel I have ever read.

The Akira books can be found at Barnes and Noble these days, but not all of them. Keep going back as they replenish. Then there's always The Ghost in the Shell for classic (almost cliche) anime appeal, Wolf and Cub for pocket anime appeal, and Kabuki for painted anime appeal.

Are you including trade paperbacks? DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths is the original "worlds end so we can shake up our universe" series.

The whole Death of a Superman series is worth reading -- a bit melodramatic, but what about Superman isn't? In the same skein, Batman's Knightfall is good too.

For literary and "comic as history" appeal I re-suggest the Maus books. For academic and "comics explained" appeal, I strongly suggest Understanding Comics (skip the sequel, unless you have a deep interest in the minutiae of the comic industry). For "illustrated classics" look at "">The Metamorphosis.

While not comic books, the Griffin and Sabine books are amazing for their artistry and storytelling. These are great gifts.

Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan, etc is a bit over-hyped, but not much, and there's no doubt it's an amazing piece of both fiction and comic art. If the hype brings in more non-comic readers to the graphic novel, I say more power to it. Also recommended is his Quimby the Mouse, with the same caveat.

Slightly off the beaten path (but not really, as it's still DC) is Planetary: All Over the World and Other Stories, about a team of superhuman archelogists.

For a true "illustrated novel", try Blankets, a touching coming of age story. Goodbye Chunky Rice, by the same author, is worthwhile as well.

Has Ghost World been mentioned? (Along with the follow-up David Boring.) Or V for Vendetta?

Some folks will remeber The Maxx from MTV's Liquid Televison.

I have to repeat the suggestion for Watchmen, while asking you not to forget about Kingdom Come and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Last thought; I'm not by any means suggesting this isn't a good AskMe question, but Amazon is the perfect place for this kind of research -- I usually find their user-created guides and lists very very on target, like this guide to Sandman.
posted by o2b at 8:21 PM on April 13, 2004

Seconding Y: The Last Man, the book that single-handedly restored my faith in mainstream comics. Inventive, engaging, and sharply written. The third collection has just been released.

And Termite is totally, totally wrong about From Hell.
posted by jjg at 8:52 PM on April 13, 2004

"Hard Boiled" by Frank Miller & Geof Darrow -- and "The Big Guy & Rusty the Boy Robot," which is a much lighter story in the same hyperdetailed Darrow style, minus the heavy violence and sexual content. [There was a Fox cartoon series based on BG&R, never saw it.]

Hollywood liked Garth "Preacher" Ennis' Punisher comics so much they used them as the basis for the new film [which I haven't seen]. I guess that's not a particularly ringing endorsement. But I liked them way better than other Punisher series by less black-humored writers.

I liked several of the books on this page [links on page are to PDFs] when I bought them in their paper forms [specifically, Blue Monday by Chynna Clugston-Major, Whiteout by Rucka and Lieber, and all the Barry Ween books by Judd Winick].

Last summer, I read "Beg the Question" by Bob Fingerman, that was a pretty entertaining autobiographical comic. [At least, I thought it was autobiographical, until the author appeared in a chapter late in the book to give the protagonist career advice.]

"Sam & Max" by Steve Purcell, and anything by Evan Dorkin or Kyle Baker. [Did they ever make a collection of all the Instant Piano comics? I'd buy that for a dollar or twenty.]

No Amazon kickback links here. Go to your library and request them, I've found they can get just about any book in the universe through the magic of Interlibrary Loan.
posted by britain at 7:04 PM on April 29, 2004

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