Throughout my many years of geekdom, I've always considered myself something of a comic connoisseur. By no means am I the best there is, but I've read my fair share of pages to have developed an extensive knowledge and refined appreciation on the matter. You name it, I've either read it or heard of it. But as the years have gone by, I've noticed that some books stick out further than the rest. These stories exemplify the pinnacle of comic book storytelling and I've logged them in my brain as some of the best you can read. They are so essential to a comic fan that if you have not read them, you must put it on your bucket list to do so. Now keep in mind this list is subjective, so it's my own personal pick of the best. But you'll be hard pressed to find many others who would disagree that these comics are not great in quality and merit reading. So without further adieu, I present:
THE TOP TEN COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE:
#10. Old Man Logan
Written by Mark Millar (the author of countless comic book greats), Old Man Logan brings us a futuristic, dystopian telling of the Marvel universe, told from the perspective of everyone's favorite Canadian X-man. But trust me when I say: everything's fucked.
One day long ago, the super villains banded together and decided to systematically eliminate almost all the superheroes. Spider-man, the Fantastic Four, you name them, they're gone. The only heroes remaining have either gone into hiding or retired. Enter our hero (or rather, X-hero), Logan. He no longer goes by “Wolverine,” has a little family on the homestead and even refuses to pop out his claws. Until one day, Hawkeye shows up asking for help with “a job.” Without a means to pay his landlords (the incestuous brood of the Hulk), Logan agrees and our adventure starts.
Normally, I only merit alternate reality stories at face value (What if Captain America was a ginger? What if we set the DC universe in medieval times?). Stories to be read lightly to see all the variations and then put back on the shelf, never to be read again. Not so with Old Man Logan.
Sure, you get to see all the ruin of the characters of the Marvel universe, but the story is more than that. You'll be shocked to know that I'm mostly indifferent to Wolverine on a normal basis. He was never more than a hack n' slash character to me. But this story really added depth and development to his character, culminating his final badassery in the last pages of the book. It meant something as to why he was tearing up baddies, instead of “Hey bub, you looked at my team funny.” And that sold it for me.
#9. Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth
As you may pick up from the title, this story was the basis for the popular video game, Arkham Asylum. But as warped as that game might've been, it pales in comparison to the insanity that is this book. Written by a DC favorite, Grant Morrison, the plot sounds like any other Batman story: the Joker has taken hostages at the Arkham Asylum and it's up to Batman to stop him. But right there is where we leave any semblance of “normality.” Because every character in this book, Batman included, is insane. As in has a debilitating mental illness catered specifically to their character in the established universe.
Batman is a masochistic figure whom actively hears his parents berate him. Joker is a multipersonality schizo who seems sexually attracted to Batman.
It's the Batman mythos on acid, basically.
But it would be a sin not to mention the artwork. Done by Dave McKean, the art is so disturbingly twisted that it perfectly synchronizes with the motif of the story. Its non-linear panels and graphic images will leave you turning on a night light in bed.
If you love the Batman universe, this is definitely a version you're going to want to read.
#8. Scott Pilgrim
Breaking with the entirety of the rest of the list is our number 8 spot, Scott Pilgrim. But while it may not be as serious as the rest of the entries, this series makes up for being totally awesome and hilarious. Just as the movie you've probably already seen, the Scott Pilgrim series follows the progress of our self-titled protagonist, who journeys from zero to hero in the course of 6 books. He must defeat his girlfriend's 7 evil ex-boyfriends in an attempt to win her heart and become the hero we all need him to become.
Written and illustrated solely by Bryan Lee O'Malley, this series is waaaaaaay better than the movie (which is hard to do). It's filled with countless video game and pop culture references, has its own quirky humor and leaves you with a satisfying progression of story and development. Even better, it's got a ton of little jokes that you might miss the first read through. So it gives you a reason to reread the series, all to catch the things you might've missed before.
And speaking of books you should read more than once.....
It had to be on here. You knew it, I knew it, we ALL knew it. No top comic book list would be complete without Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's masterpiece, Watchmen. However, there's a reason it makes it onto every list: it's truly a work of art.
This book, both in narrative storytelling and artwork, is some of the finest you'll find in the medium of comic books. It's a great satire on the superhero culture that shows us the dark truths of the world of capes and masks. But even better than this, it introduces characters that are at the same time new and familiar to us. The characters parallel the well-known superheroes so well that it brings to light new perspectives and changes our outlook on heroes.
And it has a ton of hidden messages and reveals masked in plain sight. Plot points you learn late in the story are disguised so masterfully in the beginning that you have to reread the book just to appreciate them. Definitely a comic book fan's must-read.
#6. Batman: Year One
Prepare yourself, because this isn't going to be the only entry by Frank Miller on this list. Here Frank brings us the origin story of the Caped Crusader, as told for the first time since the Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot of the DC universe (trust me, too long to go into).
This new origin tells the one we've all been used to: Bruce Wayne's parents are murdered in Crime Alley and thus he dedicates his life to becoming Batman, the cloaked fighter of justice and champion of Gotham city. But this book is more than just that simple story. It chronicles not only Batman's story, but also that of Commissioner Gordon, one of Batman's most trusted allies. The two stories parallel each other as they both come to rise in defense of the innocents of Gotham, even explaining how the two came into alliance.
Not only this, it reminds us what we shouldn't forget about Batman: that he is human. It shows his amateurism at crime fighting and even lets us know that Batman makes mistakes. But despite this, he learns and becomes the legendary figure we've all known to love. THE BATMAN.
It's no secret that the Marvel universe is my favorite. To me, they provide some of the most interesting and realistic superheroes in any medium. But what you don't see is what goes on behind the scenes of this universe. With what happens to the ordinary citizens who have to live in this world of super strengths and killer laser beams.
Thus comes Marvels, a book that follows Phil Sheldon, an average citizen witnessing all the great events in Marvel history. From the birth of the first Human Torch (not the one of the Fantastic Four, mind you) to the end of the Silver Age of comics, Phil sees it all and narrates his thoughts on the events as they happen. It's a great window to the bystanders of the Marvel world and what they think of all these costumed heroes and villains. Possibly even greater than the story is the artwork, painted by the holy-cow-I-want-him-to-paint-so-many-things-for-me, Alex Ross. It's all beautiful and the story compliments it perfectly. You won't regret picking up this book.
#4. Batman: The Killing Joke
This is another great story brought to you by Alan Moore, but it differs by being his greatest work to date. The book follows the story of the Joker, both past and present, as his origins are told in a series of flashbacks. Moore weaves it all together beautifully while at the same time providing you with an insight into the relationship between Joker and Batman.
Joker, in his mad grasp of logic, believes everyone is capable of being insane and that only a proper nudge is needed. Meanwhile, Batman is in hot pursuit and fretting about the final end of Joker and Batman's go around. It all works wonderfully and is one of the best Batman stories I've ever read. Well, second best.....
#3. The Dark Knight Returns
The Dark Knight Returns. The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller. Possibly the greatest Batman story every told. Why? Because it's got everything ever cool about Batman: Batman coming out of retirement to kick ass, being hunted by the police (and always having the upper hand), a final and poetic fight with the Joker and to top it all off, a showdown with the Man of Steel, Superman.
It dares to answer the question that's been asked ever since their creation: Who would win in a fight? And seeing as this is a Batman story, you can just guess who comes out on top. The Dark Knight Returns gives us all this and more with astounding social commentary. I remember finishing the book and being in awe of the Batman legend.
#2. Y: The Last Man
Out of all the entries on this list, this is probably the least well-known. But damn should everyone read it. I'm serious, everyone needs to read Y: The Last Man.
It's a compelling story that's so well written that I honestly consider it one of my favorite books, comic or otherwise. Written by Brian K. Vaughan, Y is one simple premise: suddenly, every man on the face of the Earth dies...except for one. Sounds like the makings of a porno, but the mystery is even deeper. How did he survive? Is he really the last alive? What will happen to mankind without reproduction? These questions pull you in and keep you wanting to read on. But what I really love about this series is its theme. For a story about the last man alive, this story is really about what it means to become a man. When the story begins, the protagonist Yorick Brown is a goofy man-child who's chalked full of references. But over the course of his ordeal and adventures, he learns what it means to take responsibility and to stand up for what you believe in. It's beautiful and tragic like a fine painting played to a soulful symphony. Truly, a fantastic story.
There is only one greater...
#1. Earth X
Earth X is hands down the greatest comic book I have ever read. It's the culmination of the Marvel universe, past, present and future. It weaves together the history of Marvel and attempts to give meaning to every superhero, super villain, cosmic entity and the very nature of super powers. It does so with a philosophical finesse, bringing new insights and commentary on mankind in general.
The plot takes you into the future, as narrated by Uatu the Watcher, where everyone in the world suddenly gains super powers. The established characters of Marvel have aged and are all going through their own personal crisis, dealing with the new world and fighting their own demons. But it's all told so well that I truly consider this alternate future to be cannon (don't even get me started on their explanations for the Asgardians). Lest I mention it was co-written by Jim Krueger and...ALEX ROSS. And although he didn't illustrate it (John Paul Leon did, but it's still fantastic), it's clear Ross is also handy at writing a story.
If you only pick one comic book from this list to read, make it Earth X.
That's the list, ABOGers! If you've got any thoughts on the entries or have your own suggestions, let us know in the comments!
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