Comic books got their start in the 1930s as reprints of newspaper strips, but when they went the Netflix route and started producing their own content, comic books really came into their own. The boom would officially begin in 1938, with the debut of Superman in Action Comics # 1.
Now, comic books provide the basis for multi-billion-dollar film franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC Extended Universe. However, for many fans of comics, the medium has provided some great stories to be enjoyed in their original form. Which do Goodreads users rank as the best?
Graphic-novel memoirs began in the 1970s underground, but in the 21st century have reached mainstream attention, and Craig Thompson’s Blankets is one of the best examples of the genre.
A coming of age story, Blankets follows Thompson’s experiences growing up in a religious household, while also documenting his first time falling in love and how his upbringing comes into conflict with the feelings he has for this woman. Although several hundred pages, it’s a brisk read that envelopes the reader like a blanket, and leaves its mark.
9 Y: The Last Man, Volume 1
What would happen if all of the sudden, every mammal with a Y-chromosome suddenly died simultaneously across the world – with the exception of one man and his male Capuchin monkey? That’s the premise behind Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man comic book series, and the TV show based on it.
The book follows Yorick Brown, the titular last male, as he goes from a nobody to the most valuable person in the world to a number of different groups, and the travels he must go on because of it. A great story in its own right, the series also went on to inspire the 2013 Naughty Dog video game The Last of Usas well.
8 Saga, Volume 1
Y: The Last Man definitely made a huge impact throughout its run from 2002 to 2008, and the still-ongoing Fairy tale is another one of Brian K. Vaughan’s best comics. This sci-fi fantasy epic, begun in 2012, tells the story of Marko and Alana, members of warring species, as they flee conflict while taking care of their new daughter, Hazel.
Brian K. Vaughan’s writing is top-notch, as always, but his pairing with artist Fiona Staples on the book is a match made in Heaven. Staples’ artwork is gorgeous on nearly every page, and brings readers right into the fantastic world of Fairy tale.
7 Batman: The Killing Joke
Widely considered the best Joker comics story by fans, as well as the definitive Joker origin story (even if the Joker is an unreliable narrator), Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke packs a massive punch in one comic issue.
One of the few Alan Moore stories to originate from the artist rather than Moore himself, the story follows the Joker as he tries to mentally break Commissioner Gordon in the same way the Joker seemingly was by “one bad day”.
6 Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
If The Killing Joke is the best Joker story in comic books, then The Dark Knight Returns is the best Batman story. That’s not just Goodreads saying that, by the way, as this comic inspired both Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises and Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman.
Written and drawn by Frank Miller, the story imagines a future, aged Batman coming out of retirement in a dystopian Gotham City, and features an epic showdown with Superman. Both smart and groundbreaking, even after three decades the story is still incredible.
5 The Sandman, Volume 1
Neil Gaiman’s writing career in comics did not begin with The Sandman, but it’s almost certainly his most-acclaimed comic book of all time. While Goodreads ranks the first volume, “Preludes and Nocturnes”. as the best, the series never waned in praise.
Focused around Morpheus, the lord of dreams, The Sandman follows his journey across time, as Morpheus interacts with historical characters at times, while at others has to deal with supernatural or metaphysical conflicts. It’s a complex book that shows Neil Gaiman’s genius in a way no other work of his has.
Another entry in the comics-memoir genre, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is the story of Marjane’s experiences growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, told in vignettes of a few pages at a time.
Readers may find themselves drawn to some stories over others, but the overall arc is impactful even if not all stories have the same appeal for certain readers. Satrapi’s book was also unique at the time as one of the first comics memoirs written by women to gain wide attention.
3 V for Vendetta
Alan Moore has become the most acclaimed comics writer of all time for good reason, and he began to make a name for himself with this 1980s series, V for Vendetta, with artist David Lloyd. Taking place in a 1984-style totalitarian future after a nuclear conflict has destroyed much of the world, the work was a commentary on the administration of Margaret Thatcher, to which Moore was vehemently opposed.
It was in fact this reason that led him to complain that the film adaptation had transplanted the story to comment on the War on Terror. Regardless of the adaptation or politics behind the work, V for Vendetta is still a masterwork of the comics medium.
The term “comics” comes from the fact that originally, newspaper comics were focused on gag humor, and were therefore “comic”. Art Spiegelman’s Mousea story of his father’s experiences during the Holocaust – as well as how that experience indirectly impacted Art himself – is anything but funny.
Not only was Mouse itself a searing tale that is still the only Pulitzer Prize-winning comic book, but it also helped demonstrate that comics were capable of mature artistic expression. They deserved the same respect as the novel, cinema, and paintings.
Even in the 1980s, superheroes were a dominant genre … at least in comic books. Taking what he had tried to do with his work on the character Miracleman, Alan Moore imagined a story that critiqued the idea of superheroes, and of the power-worship inherent in the genre. The result was Watchmen.
Originally planned to use Charlton characters, including the Peacemaker, Moore was asked by DC to instead create new characters. (The Comedian took the place of the Peacemaker.) What resulted was a work of staggering mythic proportions. Watchmen stands as the definitive take on superheroes, and, for Goodreads, the best comic book of all time.
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