One thing you hear a lot as a fan of comics is, “What do I need to read first, if I want to get into comics.” Personally, I’m of the belief that you don’t really have wade through hundreds of back issues just to start reading comics. In all honesty, they do a pretty good job on their own creating starting points. Still, most people insist on having some knowledge of the universe before jumping in, or just a sample of how comics run in general. It’s not that simple though, everyone has their niche of comics they enjoy, some like capes, and some like noir stories. There are Marvel fans, and then DC Fans. Last week, when asked this question, my friend looked at me confused as I buried her with a barrage of questions, before cutting me off and saying,”No, I know nothing of comics…just give me a damn top 10.” Well poo. Still, I said fine and quickly wrote out a list for her. Thankfully, it worked and she’s now an avid fan of comics! So, I re-examined that list, tweaked it a bit and decided to make it an official thing. So I bring forth to you today, my definitive top ten trade paperbacks that you should own as a fan of comics!
10. Justice League International vol. 1 , written by Keith Giffen and J.M. Dematteis, with art by Kevin Maguire.
Okay, I’ll admit this one is a bit of a selfish choice; however, I stand by it nonetheless. Justice League International truly broke the grim-and-gritty style of comics that were rampant in the 80’s. In-fact, this book made previous Justice League titles feels uninspired, and void of any real heart. From the get go the team was not built to function. When you have alpha male such as Guy Gardner, clashing with the seriousness of Batman, and of course the care-free pranksters that are Booster Gold and Blue Beetle! You have a recipe for disaster! Good disaster, but disaster none the less. Still, the issues sold like crazy. With the previous Justice League broken down, Maxwell Lord decides he wants to put his hand in guiding the newly forming JL. Meanwhile Batman and Guy Gardner fight over who should be in control, while Martian Man hunter and Black Canary look on in dismay. Barely one issue out and you can see why this series is a guaranteed fun-fest. The art, although dated, is still some of the best pieces to date. Maguire is a true artist when it comes to expressions, and although at times they can be quite out there, they fit perfectly with the feel of the comic. Seriously, everyone read be required to read this, if only for the funnies.
9. Fables: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham with art by Lan Medina.
Vertigo comics, in my opinion, have really been cranking out some of the better stories in comics lately. Moving beyond the standard cape and mask hero tales, it’s embracing all kinds of new and interesting themes, one example is Fables. This comic tells the story of all your favorite childhood Fables, with a more mature and gritty twist. Now, I don’t mean mature as in sex, although there are few of those scenes, what I do mean though is this is not meant for children. You follow a group of refugee Fables as they attempt to live their lives in the Mundy world, their name for normal people. Having been forced from their homelands by “The Adversary”, a faceless villain for almost half of the current series, they found refuge in New York City, where they set up a quaint little part they like to call Fabletown. The story is absolutely amazing, never really becoming dull at any part during its so-far 108 issues run. Even better though, are the characters! Taking famous characters such as: Snow White, The Big Bad Wolf, Boy Blue, Prince Charming, and even the Three Little Pigs; and transforming them into some of the most diverse and interesting people in comics today, is no easy feat. Yet, Bill Willingham really worked his magic and made it so. I can guarantee that anyone who picks up this trade paperback will be hooked for life! The best part, it’s not that expensive. You can purchase this at your local comic book store for $13.00! Seriously, how can you pass that up?
8. Batman Hush written by Jeph Loeb, with art by Jim Lee.
Here is one Batman series that truly has it all. Batman Hush manages to cram in almost every single major Batman villain, and yet does it without over-killing the story. Spanning several issues of Batman, the Hush story-arc follows Batman as he tries to figure out who is controlling all of his prominent villains in a game poised to try and end Bruce Wayne’s career, and life. This is the story that further pushed Batman and Catwoman’s relationship together, with Bruce even finally trusting Selina enough, and showing her his true face. It is also the book that took the Riddler, and reminded readers why he is a major villain. I can honestly say this is one of the better TPB of Batman, and a must read for any fan of the Dark Knight. The art is truly amazing as well; Jim Lee creates a beautiful gothic Gotham, while still maintaining a grounded art style. Although I dread the new 52, you can’t deny that Jim Lee sure can draw.
7. Kingdom Come Written by Mark Waid, with art by Alex Ross.
This is probably one of my favorite elseworld series by DC, ever. In this gritty, and thought provoking series the reader is shown what a world without Superman would be like and believe me, it is not pretty. The reason for his departure was the rogue actions of Magog, a new so-called hero, who killed the Joker without allowing him a trial. Superman demanded Magog be brought to justice, but the world supported Magog. So, he left. Everything went down hill after that, with heroes virtually running rampant with vigilante justice. The narrator is Norman Mckay, a minister and long-time friend of a dying Wesley Dodds(the original Sandman), who tells Mckay of his apocalyptic prophecy. From there Mckay is thrown into a world he never could have imagined, as the heroes of old return and not everyone agrees on how things should be run. A great schism erupts between two groups, one led by Superman, and the other by an aging Bruce Wayne. From there, it just gets worse. Mark Waid gives us a look into a DC universe that has lost all hope, and the art by Alex Ross goes above and beyond expressing the emotion of this series. His paintings, and yes I do mean paintings, are some of the most strikingly beautiful images to fill the pages of a comic book. If you’re not that interested in the concept, you should pick this up just for the wonderful art!
6. The Walking Dead Book 1 written by Robert Kirkman with art by Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard, and Cliff Rathburn.
If you haven’t heard of the Walking Dead by now, then chances are you’ve never even walked in to a Comic shop. The series has been celebrated widely by critics abroad, and even garnered enough attention to receive its own ongoing television series on AMC. Boasting strong storytelling prowess, and a very unique art style, The Walking dead is the one series any fan of comics should be reading. Following the experiences of Rick Grimes, a small town cop, in the first pages is shot and falls into a deep coma. Unbeknownst to him, the world decides end will he naps. When he finally wakes up in a hospital, alone…well mostly alone, he discovers quite unpleasantly the new status quo of the world. The series really manages to keep the reader on the edge of their seat, as it is distinctly known for killing off critical characters, regardless of what is happening. Unlike most series where the safety of most characters is assured due to popularity, anyone can day at any moment in the Walking Dead. The art is also something to be praised, although you will notice a change in artists about six or seven issues into the series. Although I have to confess I loved the first artists pencils, Charlie Adlard did a fantastic job picking up where Tony left off. I really can not emphasize how amazing this story is. If you’re not willing to pick up the Book on such a whim, you can easily find the first issue at your local comic book store. After all, since summer it’s been re-released on a weekly basis because its just that damn good.
5. Ultimate Spider-Man Ultimate Collection vol 1, by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Mark Bagely
Now here is a title that has been in the news quite a bit lately. Ultimate Spider-Man was the launching title for Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, and what a launch it was. Turning back the clock and updating a few things, Ultimate Spider-Man allowed new readers to experience the epic tale of Peter Parker, as he transformed into a hero, and learned a hard lesson in responsibility. The great thing about the Ultimate Universe is it follows a much younger Peter Parker. I’ve always personally enjoyed Peter more when he was in high school, than as an adult. Ultimate Spider-Man really let me relieve those days, not only with an updated story, but a much darker one. Unlike Marvel’s core universe, earth 616, the Ultimate universe is not subject to the invincible character due to popularity policy. Throughout the series, Bendis really takes you on an emotional ride as you follow a teenager thrust into conflict after conflict leading to decisions that no teen should ever have to make. I’ve never been so attached to a character as I was to the Ultimate Universes Peter Parker. If you are a Marvel fan, you must own this book not only to get a taste of the Ultimate Universe is, but because it really is one of the better alternate interpretations.
4. Sin City: The Yellow Bastard, written and drawn by Frank Miller.
Frank Miller. Never has there been a better writer, or artist, for noir comics, and Sin City is truly the top seller when it comes to the pulp-fiction/noir style of story. Best among them, is the story of John Hartigan, possibly Sin City’s only honest to god genuine good guy. If you’ve seen the movie Sin City, then you probably already know how the story goes. John Hartigan is a good cop in a rotten city, filled with corruption on every level. Hartigan, on his final day as a cop before he is forced to retire, is determined to see a little girl is saved from the cruel hands of Roark Junior, son of one of the most corrupt men around. John manages to save Nancy, and mess Roark up pretty bad, however he’s betrayed and framed. From there it’s a downhill battle as John tries to do right by Nancy no matte the cost. It’s one of the bitter-sweet stories out there, and can probably even the toughest of men to tears. Even if you know the story, it doesn’t matter! You are actually harming yourself by not reading this beautiful work of fiction. Pick it up and buy it, there really is no excuse!
3. Watchmen, written by Alan Moore, with art by Dave Gibbons.
For many, this is the one. The first comic miniseries that had a deeper message then flashy stories on a page, the first comic to truly terrify the reader, and possibly the first one to draw the reader to tears. Watchmen is more then just a story of nuclear crisis, moral ambiguity and the limits of humanity. With this one comic, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons showed that comics could portray a sophisticated, hell even philosophical, story through the medium of comics. Its influences still can be felt through every dark and bleak page in comics today. Based in a world that has lost its faith in heroes, the government, and even humanity, one murder brings about a chain of events that will forever change the world. The Comedian is dead, and Rorschach is determined to find out why. If you have yet to read this, buy it. If all you’ve seen is the movie, buy it. Much like Sin City this is one series no fan of comics can avoid.
2. The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes, written by Neil Gaiman with art by Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, and Malcolm Jones III.
Whoever decided to bring Neil Gaiman into comics is an absolute mad genius. When approached by DC to write a new monthly comic, Gaiman had plenty of ideas about already existing, but very unused characters. DC didn’t want it though; they wanted him to create a new character. That’s how The Sandman came into being. A creature of the dream world, nay the Lord, Sandman brought an element of ancient lore and magic to the DC universe unlike any before. It wasn’t the corny Hocus Pocus magic, but a dark and macabre filled with ancient religious undertones, and archaic lore. Trapped for decades by one man’s lust for power, the Lord of Dreams is locked away from the dream world for decades. Kept a prisoner and prevented from doing what must be done. The world Gaiman creates blends even with the DC world, with cameos by Martian Manhunter and even brief glances of Batman, Green Lantern, and Blue Beetle. This is an absolute must read, and given the release of the new 52, and the melding of Wildstorm, Vertigo and DC, who knows whether or not the Sandman will once again grace the pages of comics!
1. Batman: the Dark Knight Returns, written by Frank Miller, with art by Klaus Janson.
Then there was the Dark Knight. The first true graphic novel and the launching point for all TPB’s to follow. The Dark Knight Returns showed a dark future for Gotham City. It is a future where Batman has stepped down after the mysterious death of Jason Todd, leaving the city to fend for itself. Interestingly, Miller wrote this comic prior to the actual death of Jason which was voted for by the fans. This comic took batman away from the campy, and set the dark tone for all future Batman comics. Without this story Batman would have been a different character altogether, heck the DC universe would be different. Miller once again provides a gloomy, yet brilliant story! The art is wanting in some areas, but it works! This is truly the one comic, above others, you should read.
There you go, love it or ignore it I hope you were able to take something new away from this. Now, what’s your list?