My Favorite Comic Books

Historically, comic books are things that get devoured in childhood, and outgrown in adulthood. But, like so much in my idiosyncratic life, I did it backwards. I credit my attraction to the medium to the discovery that the stories in comics could extend far past that of the repetitive narratives found in Marvel and DC, entering worlds featuring brand new bits of imagination.

Now that I’m a full-fledged groupie, I can confidently say that the comic book medium is severely underrated by the general public for what it offers in terms of enticing storytelling. On top of that, these chronicles are typically very quick reads (it’s as much looking at pictures as it is actual reading), which fits well within the modern-day landscape where people have micro-attention spans and have trouble consuming information longer than a caption-length.

Okay, onto the comics!

(The following was co-written with ChatGPT, w/ analysis of the experience at the end.)

100 Bullets

100 issues

At its core, 100 Bullets delves into the alluring concept of revenge, exploring its eternal costs. Spanning precisely 100 issues, this gripping narrative immerses readers in a vividly crafted criminal underworld. What sets it apart from other comics is the construction of its setting, which feels both lived in and genuinely frightening, evoking regular surges of adrenaline. As the events unfold and the reader is pulled further in, the precarious nature of dealing with the devil is on full display: you’re either in, or you’re (taken) out.

The engaging storytelling by Brian Azzarello is complemented sublimely by Eduardo Risso’s mesmerizing illustrations, and the tandem breathe life into a multitude of morally ambiguous gangster-esque characters. This is perhaps the greatest strength of the comic, capturing the essence of the characters through their unique dialogue and distinctive character designs, both of which remain vivid in the mind’s eye long after finishing the series.

All in all, this is a must-read for fans of the crime genre or for anyone who appreciates intricate world-building and morally complex characters.

The Sandman

75 issues

When it comes to modern day brilliance for narrative and imagination, Neil Gaiman is amongst the few who have an argument for being the best alive. For evidence of this, look no further than The Sandman, a comic he co-created with Mike Dringenberg and Sam Kieth, which is unequaled in its artistry and expansiveness and represents the crowning achievement in Gaiman’s illustrious career. As arguably his most iconic and creatively ambitious work, the series takes readers on an extraordinary journey through an array of fantastical realms and intricate myths. Along the way, Gaiman weaves together a rich tapestry of characters – led by Morpheus A.K.A. Dream – who each possess their own quirks, complexities, and vulnerabilities. From enigmatic deities to whimsical supernatural beings, every page is infused with Gaiman’s unparalleled ability to bring mythological and magical realms to vivid life.

Beyond its magnetic characters and visuals, the series is known for the thought-provoking themes it explores. Gaiman delves into existential questions, the nature of reality, and the power and mystery of storytelling itself. His prose dances with poetic beauty, inviting readers to contemplate the profound while submerging themselves in a world teeming with both enchantment and darkness.

Moreover, the collaborative synergy between Gaiman’s words and Dringenberg & Kieth’s illustrations is nothing short of extraordinary. The pair’s artwork seamlessly captures the soul of Gaiman’s vision, breathing life into the pages with meticulous attention to detail, evocative imagery, and a nuanced understanding of character expression. This comic book series serves as a testament to the enduring legacy of Neil Gaiman and his ability to transport readers to realms beyond their wildest dreams. It is an engrossing, provactive, and visually stunning masterpiece that deserves its place among the pantheon of comic book classics.

Invincible

144 issues

Superhero comics often struggle with two things: 1) delivering original stories, and 2) maintaining a sense of genuine peril due to the ubiquitous plot armor worn by the main characters. Fortunately, comic writer Robert Kirkman shared this sentiment when he set out to create his superhero series, Invincible, alongside the talented artists Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley. Kirkman’s series takes a refreshing approach to the genre, fashioning a world where a (lack of) permanence among the superpowered is the fundamental principle.

The story begins when high schooler Mark Grayson first manifests the superpowers he’s inherited from his alien father, and from there readers are taken on a riveting and comical journey, witnessing Mark’s outer struggles, inner growth and encounters with an enjoyable cast of characters. Kirkman’s distinctive storytelling style, honed through his work on The Walking Dead, infuses the narrative with a sense of unpredictability, where no one is immune to the specter of death; prepare for a rollercoaster of emotions, because Kirkman is never afraid to surprise the reader with agonizing scenes that serve to underscore the gravity of the story.

The comic series was conceived with permanence in mind, so it’s fitting that it now sits forever in my heart. I recommend it to anyone seeking a superhero story that challenges the genre’s conventions while staying true to its own narrative.

— On a side note, while I typically steer clear of adaptations of the works I’ve read, the animated series of Invincible (streaming on Prime Video) was made with remarkable care to the source material. It artfully captures the spirit of the comic while offering a fresh experience due to the rewriting of some plotlines. It’s an excellent way to revisit the comic series. —

Watchmen

12 issues

Crafted by the ingenious Alan Moore and brought to life through the brilliant illustrations of Dave Gibbons, Watchmen represents a towering achievement in the realm of limited series storytelling. This iconic comic showcases Moore’s unparalleled ability to subvert the superhero genre, while also dissecting the pressing political issues of the 1980s.

Where Watchmen derives its impressive legacy is from Moore’s meticulous plotting, which is set against the backdrop of an alternate United States, and which he doles out gradually from the story’s beginning through to its looming end. The narrative also weaves together a cast of complicated vigilante characters and explores their motivations through the lens of morality, power and duty.

Nearly 40 years later, Watchmen remains an enduring masterpiece that has left its mark on the superhero genre. The visionary storytelling combined with the exceptional artwork make this series a foundational read for all comic book enthusiasts.

— As a bonus, Damon Lindelof created an exceptional sequel TV series for HBO, which expands upon the Watchmen universe by picking up the story years after the events of Moore’s original run. Lindelof skillfully adds layers of depth and intrigue while also expanding the universe, further enriching the already captivating world. The TV show is highly recommended for those who have delved into the original story and want to know where the story went after that. —

Promethea

32 issues

After discovering the brilliance of Alan Moore’s storytelling in Watchmen, I made it my mission to delve into his other work. Landing on Promethea, where Moore collaborated with the talented J.H. Williams on illustrations, I instantly fell in love.

In this remarkable series, Moore seamlessly blends his long-standing fascination for the occult with an intriguing superhero whose power is derived from the boundless realms of imagination. The result is a narrative that eschews straightforward plot and instead offers an absorbing (if not slightly complicated) reading experience. Moore’s writing has always possessed the rare ability to prompt deep contemplation about our place in the world, and Promethea is no exception.

J.H. Williams’ visuals are bewitching, and he brings Moore’s imaginative world to life with a deft hand, creating an optical tapestry that complements the complex storytelling.

If there’s one comic book writer whose consistently challenged me to question and reflect on my perspective in the world, it’s Alan Moore. For those seeking a mind-blowing (verging on hallucinatory) experience, I would gladly hand over the first issue of Promethea as a ticket to be transported to the Immateria.

Transmetropolitan

60 issues

While it took me a few issues to fully appreciate the enigmatic character that is Spider Jerusalem, once I became immersed in his world and in his head, there was no turning back. It’s a lamentable fact that this series concluded in 2002, as Spider, a fearless journalist dedicated to unearthing the evil secrets of the most powerful people in the world, feels like a voice sorely missed in our present times. Written by the brilliant Warren Ellis and brought to visual life by the talented Darick Robertson, this series presents a fully realized dystopian future that embodies the very essence of what any comic should strive to achieve: igniting our imagination by any means necessary.

Though Spider Jerusalem may be drowning in his own issues and sometimes difficult to love, he ends up as a beacon to a better future. Though his methods might seem unorthodox, and at times even regressive, Spider is awake to the sinister banality of the world, which makes all the difference. The continuous odyssey that the character is on fascinates the reader, and his navigation of the intricacies of his of his morally ambiguous world make the story a page-turner. Warren Ellis’s supremely weaved narrative exposes uncomfortable truths, challenges societal norms, and encourages readers to question their own status quo. Spider’s unyielding pursuit of the truth serves as a reflection of the importance of journalistic integrity and the relentless pursuit of justice for the common person.

The artwork by Darick Robertson transports us to a vividly imagined future, bringing to life the gritty and atmospheric backdrop against which Spider’s exploits unfold. While the series does not shy away from the grotesque or disturbing, it serves a purpose in illustrating the darker aspects of society and emphasizing the urgency of Spider’s mission.

In its entirety, this comic series stands as proof to the power of storytelling and the potential of the comic medium. It pushes boundaries, challenges our perceptions, and forces us to look in the mirror. Though Spider Jerusalem may no longer be actively exposing the secrets of the aristocracy, his legacy endures, inspiring us to question, imagine, and strive for a better world for ourselves.

The Boys

72 issues

Another comic written by Warren Ellis, The Boys leans even further into his relentless point-of-view, this time with an emphasis on grisly violence. Offering his take on the superhero genre, The Boys distinguishes itself through its audacious storytelling and no holds barred chronicle of an evil Justice League. Accompanied again by the illustrations of the extremely talented Darick Robertson (et al.), the evocative drawings spare no details in matching the uncompromising tone of the story.

This comic revels in shock and awe, and while it may not be an everyday choice, when it’s in the reader’s hands it undeniably captures their attention. The visceral portrayal of violence and the unflinching exploration of morally complex themes add a layer of intensity that permeates every page.

In this unforgiving landscape, Butcher emerges as an all-time comic character, trying to fight against the corruption within the ranks of the “Supes”. His presence looms large throughout the comic, deftly exemplifying the flawed and morally ambiguous antihero archetype.

This comic is not for the faint of heart, as it embraces the darkest corners of human nature. Yet, for those seeking a visceral and unapologetically intense reading experience, it delivers in spades. The commitment to shock value and the relentless pursuit of pushing boundaries make this comic a unique entry into the superhero genre.

Y: The Last Man

60 issues

Y: The Last Man delves into a dystopian world plagued by a mysterious devastation that’s left all male mammals dead, with the exception of young Yorick Brown and his companion, a monkey named Ampersand. The remaining women across the globe are left grappling with the daunting task of keeping society afloat while harboring the rightful fear that the human species is facing extinction. Written by the first-rate Brian K. Vaughan and co-created with the artist Pia Guerra, the series embodies the essence of a slow burn, favoring stirring conversation over high-octane action.

As the story unfurls, the weight of the situation permeates every panel, gripping readers with its intensity and emotional depth. The narrative doesn’t shy away from exploring the complexities of human nature, resilience, and sacrifice when confronted with the precipice of extinction. It invites readers to ponder profound questions about humanity, gender, and the very core of existence itself.

While Y: The Last Man may take its time developing its world, the investment in its characters and their struggles pays off in dividends. The evolution of Yorick Brown and the relationships he forms on his journey become the heart and soul of the series. The ending stands out as one of the most powerful and emotionally charged conclusions I’ve ever encountered in comics, and it’s a good reminder that sometimes the destination is as important as the journey.


Saga

66 issues (ongoing)

I’ll admit, I wasn’t instantly hooked by Saga, as it centered its otherworldly love story above all else. However, as I stuck with it and got used to the world the comic was presenting, I began to appreciate its unique approach, especially when I realized it was driving towards a profound exploration of the enduring impact of loss, akin to Invincible. Eventually I was caught so off guard by the comic’s ability to evoke deep emotional responses that when I found myself reflecting on its sudden story beats long after reading, I knew I was obsessed.

This is another Brian K. Vaughn gem, this time brought to life in combination with artist Fiona Staples. Vaughn has a history of collaborating with female artists, and his success with this approach is reflected in the narratives, which possess depth and sturdy perspectives from a diverse set of characters. This adds deep authenticity to his projects, resulting in a richer and more engaging experience for readers.

While I usually prefer to read comics that have concluded their run so I can binge-read the full story, I made an exception for this series based on numerous recommendations; as much as I love the story of Saga, I find it agonizing to have to wait for each issue to come out. Perhaps wait til it’s over to begin.

Attack on Titan

139 issues

While Attack on Titan is technically a manga from Japan, I felt it deserved a place on this list. Written and illustrated by Hajime Isayama, it holds the distinction of being the first manga that I’ve ever dug into. The novelty of adjusting to reading from right to left and from back to front proved to be a fun experience that made the story feel special. As I dove deeper in, I found myself increasingly engaged by its developing chronicle, as it quickly outpaced its initial dramatic beats in favor of creating a larger world. While the ending did feel a little bit rushed and slightly disappointing, I was nonetheless left with a hugely positive impression overall.

The manga’s narrative possesses a distinct quality of growth and expansion, constantly revealing new layers within characters and factions. However, there were instances where I encountered challenges in distinguishing between characters due to the comic being entirely black and white.

The manga’s progression and engaging narrative were major highlights, and it was fascinating to witness the creative journey of Hajime. While the ending perhaps left something to be desired, the experience of exploring my first manga left a lasting impression, and I’m looking forward to choosing my next read soon.

This piece was co-written with ChatGPT. I wrote very short and very rough first drafts for each comic and fed them into ChatGPT to be improved upon. I’m blown away by how fast and competently the AI can expound on my thought process. The AI’s output still needs to be filtered through a human to make it fit for reading, but it works great for drafting.

I do worry my voice got lost in this process, and that I was editing more of the AI’s POV than my own, but this was an experiment and that was perhaps the collateral damage. It seems like we’re headed toward a world where we think less for ourselves in the name of efficiency, and whether that’s a net positive or negative remains to be seen.

I’m looking forward to monitoring how AI writing assistants grow and develop, as I’m fascinated by their potential to speed up my own personal workflow. I hope that by keeping this technology close to me, I’ll swallow it up before it does the same to me.

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