In a previous article, In Defense of Comics, I closed with a challenge to those who do not normally read comics to try one out. Of course, picking a title to get started on can be difficult for the novice. But as I was working up a best of list for this year’s graphic novels, it struck me that this could be a perfect opportunity to assist the those who would like to take me up on that challenge.
The list below comprises some of my favorite comics which I read in the past year (whether or not they were published in 2014). There are twelve titles in alphabetical (rather than rank) order. Many of the titles are ongoing series so I have just named each series as a whole rather than any specific volume. I have separately given both the author and main artist for each title (except for those titles where the author and the artist are the same person).
To make it easier still, all of these works can be checked out from LFPL. You can click the title and it will take you to the item’s record in our catalog. If it is not available at the branch you wish to go to, you may have the item shipped there by placing a request (using the button on the right hand side of the entry).
I suggest that one volume (or series) be read each month in 2015 so that you can become comfortable with the medium. Notice I said medium not genre. The works below span several genres – and only two can be said to be of the superhero genre – but they are all clearly using the comic medium.
So, here goes:
Bandette by Paul Tobin & Colleen Coover
Bandette is a teenaged thief but she’s the most stylish and fun thief you’ll ever meet. Watch as she defies both the police and the criminal underworld with her wits and panache in this giddy adventure appropriate for children but charming enough to capture adult hearts. Line art by Colleen Coover is in the Franco-Belgian style and colors are applied in a painterly manner harking back to America’s (then-contemporary) view of Paris in the late 1950’s or 60’s.
Battling Boy by Paul Pope
Son of a fierce warrior god, Battling Boy comes to Earth for his initiation rites. He lands in Acropolis as it is menaced by a series of monsters and quickly becomes its latest hero (now that the city’s former defender, vigilante Haggard West, has recently died). Paul Pope, both author and artist, brings his edgy punk rock style to this tale that will appeal to superhero, fantasy, and manga fans alike.
Fatale by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips continue their award-winning approach to this tale of crime noir (of course) mixed with horror in the vein of H.P. Lovecraft. The book’s title gets its name from the main character, femme fatale Jo, who is stalked across the 20th Century by an ancient evil power. The art is perfectly pulpy and creepy as befits a tale filled with crooked cops, Nazi spies, Satanic cults, snuff films, and other dark matter.
Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel
Ghostopolis is a boy’s adventure tale. The protagonist, Garth Hale, is accidentally zapped to the spirit world by failing ghost hunter, Frank Gallows. In the spirit world, Garth meets his grandfather’s ghost, Cecil, and the two go on a quest to find a way back home for Garth. Along the way, the evil ruler of Ghostopolis tries to take control of our hero as Garth has manifested powers that the spirits do not have. TenNapel‘s art is energetic and the page layouts are well-designed to keep the reader engaged in the story and ready to flip to the next page.
The Grand Duke by Yann & Romain Hugault
The Grand Duke, gorgeously rendered by Romain Hugault, is a non-fiction tale set in the waning days of World War II. It centers around a unit of the Luftwaffe and the Night Witches, a real life women’s air corps that flew for the Soviet Union, as they battle it out in the skies over Eastern Europe. Despite knowing how history turns out, the author keeps the reader engrossed as both sides raggedly pursue war’s end against great material odds and low morale.
Hopeless Savages by Jen Van Meter & Christine Norrie
The perils of punk rock parenting in suburbia with romance, intrigue, and reality TV are explored in this quirky, hip collection of tales. Due to the number of artists that have worked on the series over the years, there is no one style that dominates other than it’s all in black and white.
Lazarus by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark
Lazarus is a dystopian tale set in the near enough future that it sometimes feels scary, as if all that it would take for the events in the story to happen is a few bad years where government breaks down and corporations step into the void. Lazarus’ main character, Forever Carlyle, is her family’s main protector and enforcer of the harsh set of formal and informal rules that keep them in power. While in many ways a stereotypical strong female protagonist, Forever comes across as very real. Rucka deftly shows us how her contradictions and weaknesses form Forever’s motivations. Michael Lark‘s art combines science fiction and crime elements in a perfect blend with colorist Santiago Arcas‘ subtle use of shade and tone.
Peter Panzerfaust by Kurtis Wiebe & Tyler Jenkins
Peter Panzerfaust is a retelling of the J.M. Barrie classic story. The setting is World War II and the charismatic Peter helps a band of orphans survive the German invasion of France. Soon the group is pursued by an SS officer that Peter wounded in their escape but they are also given assistance by members of the French Resistance, including the alluring Tiger Lily. Tyler Jenkins manages to blend fantasy art and combat action art into a style akin to noir but which is much more lively and fantastic in tone. His composition moves the story along effortlessly, shifting from standard panels to open space with ease.
Scalped by Jason Aaron & R.M. Guéra
Scalped is a dark crime noir story that takes place mostly on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, home to the deeply impoverished Oglala Nation (also known as the Lakota). This is a sordid environment where the very worst in people is explored during an undercover assignment taken on by the reservation’s own prodigal son, F.B.I. Special Agent Dashiell Bad Horse. Readers are witness to harrowing drug and alcohol addiction, ultraviolence, and spiritual desolation as Bad Horse attempts to bring to justice the reservation’s Chief Lincoln Red crow, a former Native American radical now turned mob boss. Grim and dirty – even ugly at times – art by R.M. Guéra helps convey the sense that the world the characters live in is terribly damaged.
The Superior Foes of Spider-Man by Nick Spencer & Steve Lieber
Spider-Man is one of the quintessential characters that people think of when they think of superheroes. However, this is not your quintessential superhero book. In fact, neither Spider-Man nor any other superhero appear in the tale much at all. No, this is character-driven book that looks at the other side of the equation, what it would be like to be a supervillain. Much like another recent Marvel title, Hawkeye, this comic rests on a sturdy foundation of humor and rough art to convey the working class nature of its characters (i.e., the Sinister Six) as they clumsily attempt to carry off a variety of criminal jobs.
Thief of Thieves by Robert Kirkman & various artists
This is a straight up heist tale about a veteran thief working a last big score with his crew, the comic equivalent of Ocean’s Eleven. One twist is that this veteran, Redmond, is not just working for himself but to save the life of his wannabe yet ne’er-do-well son, Augustus, from a major crime boss to whom Augustus is heavily indebted. The art varies (as different artists were utilized over the run of the series so far) but as a whole, it is a mix of noir and mainstream comic styles that are appropriately gritty.
Watson and Holmes by Brandon Perlow & Paul Mendoza
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson together again! Sort of. This time, they are a pair of African-Americans who investigate crimes in New York City. The art is not easy to pigeonhole into one genre though the use of color and setting do clearly give it the feel of a mystery. Everyone from Doyle‘s classic tales, from Inspector Lestrade to Sherlock’s Irregulars, makes an appearance at some point as the duo are embroiled in a case that involves drugs, gangs, and guns.
Reviews by Tony, Main Library
If you are interested in discussing these titles or other works of sequential art, please join us at one of the following LFPL book discussion groups:
Graphic Novel Discussion Group @ Main
Meetings are held at the Main Library on the second Monday of every month, starting at 6:00 PM.
Graphic Novel and Comic Book Discussion @ Fairdale
Meetings are held at the Fairdale Branch on the first Tuesday of every month, starting at 6:00 PM.