I’m a big comic book fan, but I’m not the traditional type. I don’t hang around the comic shops every Wednesday waiting for the doors to open so I can grab all the new issues. I wait sometimes YEARS before I get caught up on the coolest plot-lines and stories. That’s because I don’t (usually) buy single issues. I wait for Graphic Novels to come out. Graphic Novels, for those who don’t know, are either collections of multiple issues of a single comic book compiled into one volume, or they are independent stories written specifically for the medium of Graphic Novels. Basically, it’s a comic book BOOK. I buy those because you can have the ENTIRE story in one sitting, and it’s cheaper overall than buying issue after issue. (Plus, no one really cares if you have a Graphic Novel in “mint” condition or not…I’ve always thought that kind of stuff is ridiculous.)
Below is a non-definitive list of fifteen Graphic Novels that I’ve really dug over the years. Some of them are on the list for historic impact…some are just stuff I liked. I was going to do TEN, but I ended up leaving out some really important stuff, and I didn’t have enough for twenty without going with WAY too much Batman…so I landed on fifteen. My opinions change rapidly on stuff like this…but this is where I stand currently. Thought the few comic nerds among you might like seeing this list. Either that or you’ll judge me harshly. Anyway…here we go. (Fair warning, there’s still more Batman than there should be…also the list is in no particular order.)
- “Bone” by Jeff Smith – This is the series that got me back into loving comics. Smith is a freaking genius, and it’s little wonder that his work has been printed, reprinted, reprinted again, and is now being colorized by Scholastic, who are making a concentrated effort to get his work into school libraries. It’s a sprawling epic in the vein of “The Lord of the Rings” but with significant comedy and less wizards–though only a FEW less. I can’t describe it, exactly. It’s pretty much written with all ages in mind, but it’s got real depth to it. It’s funny, it’s dramatic, it’s gripping. There’s stuff that’ll make you laugh out loud and stuff that’ll just about make you teary. Even if you don’t dig comics, you’ll probably like this book. It’s available in a (HUGE) one-volume edition, if you’re not into collection eight (nine?) full-sized novels…check it out. (I also recommend visiting Jeff’s site/blog at www.boneville.com.)
- Batman and Dracula: “Red Rain” – No, I’m not kidding. It’s a Batman story with Dracula in it. It’s stupid…but I loved it. It’s exactly what you’d expect, I think. It’s just Batman vs. Dracula…but it’s way more awesome than you want it to be! 🙂
- Batman: “Hush” – This kind of revived Batman a few years ago. A new villain (“Hush”) is bringing up all kinds of ghosts from Batman’s past. Virtually every major Bat-villain from over the years makes an appearance (or two) and the mystery keeps you guessing, and has some really interesting twists. A little-bit predictable at times, especially if you’re used to how Batman stories work…but still great. Definitely worth the read.
- Batman: “The Killing Joke” – Yeah, this one’s been mentioned in the news a LOT since Heath Ledger’s death, since it’s one of the books he based his read of the Joker on. It’s quite probably the sickest Batman story ever written and actually accepted as canon. Written by Alan Moore (of “Watchmen” fame) and really twisted. As much as I HATE his take on the Joker’s origin (I mean…he actually NAMED the guy “Joe Kerr” prior to the “accident” – UGH!), it’s an essential read…and the actual post-origin Joker stuff is pretty intense, and almost makes up for that awful, awful pun.
- “FABLES” – I’m mentioning FABLES as one series, though it’s in multiple paperbacks. The basic premise is “What if the fairy tales were real, and they lived in modern times?” It’s a very adult-orientated telling of what it would be like for all of the heroes and villains from old children’s tales living in one community. It’s actually remarkably sick in places. Sometimes bordering on pornographic. Not for kids…but really gripping for some reason (and not just for the drawings of boobies).
- “The Quitter” by Harvey Pekar – This tells Harvey’s life-story as a kid. It’s pretty dark in places, but has Pekar’s wit and humor sprinkled throughout as well. Really good read and beautiful art.
- “Another Day” by Harvey Pekar – This is more in the style of Pekar’s “American Splendor” comics. It’s a bunch of happenings from his life (more recent days than covered in “The Quitter”) and it’s funny. You might have to already be a Pekar fan to really dig it, though…but I’d recommend it even if all you’ve seen is the “American Splendor” movie. Kind of picks up from there.
- “Infinity Gauntlet” – Okay, as a kid, this was one of the BIG collectibles everyone I knew (including myself) sought after. It was a six-issue run dealing with multiple characters from the Marvel Universe fighting a war for control of the universe. People loved it. It was recently re-released in Graphic Novel form, and I bought a copy thinking it’d be cool to re-live the hype and re-experience the War for Time Itself (or whatever)…and I got to about page three before realizing that I didn’t understand what the hell was going on…but it was significant to me at the time, so it made the list. 🙂
- Marvel Civil War (Particularly “Frontlines“) – Okay…the ending of the Civil War sucked and made absolutely no sense at ALL. We all know they dropped the ball, and that it was terrible…however, there were some good moments, and the “Frontlines” arc was among them. If you want to see the GOOD version of the “Civil War” I’d recommend getting the “Civil War” title, the ones for Iron Man and Captain America, MAYBE the Spiderman one, and DEFINITELY “Frontlines,” which I’d read immediately following the “Civil War” one. Prepare to be let down by how the war ends…but the story of the “Frontlines” arc makes getting to the letdown kind of worth it.
- “Watchmen” by Alan Moore – People keep singing Alan Moore’s praises, but I’ve never really gotten it. I think he made ridiculous, terrible decisions with the Joker in “The Killing Joke.” I found “V for Vendetta” incredibly boring. I thought “From Hell” was a good movie, but a terrible book. Even “Watchmen” drags in a LOT of places, and it’s clear that the guy primarily just wants to write stories of perversion and try to fit “adult” themes into comics, whether they belong in that particular narrative or not…but for whatever reason, even though part of me thinks it was a colossal waste of time, I liked “Watchmen.” It’s multi-layered, and there are some really interesting characters. But, in typical Moore fashion, it’s a little bit drag-ass (a new favorite expression of mine) in places, and he does some really, phenomenally STUPID stuff that isn’t at ALL justified coming from the characters as we know them. Read at your own risk, but it’s worth it with the movie coming out soon.
- Batman: “A Death in the Family” – This is the one where the Joker kills Robin. It’s pretty cool and intense. One of the first times comics were so intense. It’s a little bit dated and there’s some of the old-school cheesiness in there, but the murder scene is so nuts that everything you have to muddle through is worth it. I hear this one caused a rift between DC and Frank Miller (a legend of the genre, who made HUGE strides in keeping Batman interesting). Apparently Miller wanted the Joker to sodomize Robin as he was murdering him, and the DC people told him that was going too far, so he parted ways with them. I don’t know if that story’s true or not, but if it is…uhh…Frank? You know the primary Batman audience at that point, was made up of KIDS, right? Just checking.
- Alice Cooper: “The Last Temptation” – Okay…I admit, it’s not great…but I enjoyed it. I liked it when it first came out (my brother got the comic along with the first-release of the CD of the same name), and years later when they FINALLY completed it in a re-release, I enjoyed the ending. It’s still out there for purchase, and I recommend it…and no, you don’t have to be an Alice Cooper fan to enjoy it. I will say that the ending kind of chickens-out…but it’s still a good read.
- X-Men: “House of M” – This re-shaped the Marvel Universe when it came out. Apparently, this hit the stands and people at Marvel actually RESIGNED because they didn’t think they could go anywhere after this story. Anything I tell you about it would have to be BATHED in spoiler warnings, so I’m not going to bother…but I will say that I’ve always been a DC guy, but this got me thinking that Marvel writes better overall stories.
- “Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil!” by Jeff Smith – The Guy who did “Bone” took his hand to Captain Marvel, and it’s really good. It’s bland, and it’s old-school, but it’s a fun read. Don’t expect to be blown away, but if you just want a light, fun read with Smith’s trademark genius, this is a good one.
- Batman: “The Long Halloween” – This (along with “Year One” and “Dark Victory”) seems to have made up the background for the “Batman Begins” movie. Incredible read that keeps you guessing. A MUST for all Bat-fans.
That’s it… There’s some stuff I probably SHOULD have on the list, like “Blankets” or “Strangers in Paradise.” Only reason that kind of stuff isn’t here is that I just haven’t gotten around to all of it yet, even though I’m quite aware of it. That’s why I qualified the list as “non-definitive.” 🙂
- Jackson Cage – self titled first release. Kind of a cool, roots-rock record. I don’t know it that’s the guy’s name or if it’s the BAND’S name and they named it after the Springsteen song (I’ve been listening to it on Rhapsody and I don’t own the physical CD yet)…but if it IS a full band, they picked an accurate name. The Springsteen influence is obvious, and welcomed.