The 100 Must-Read Graphic Novels! (Pt 2)
We had a HUGE response to the first part of this feature! Quite frankly, we can’t wait to unfurl the rest of the list…but we’ll limit it to ten entries a week. Round 2 sees us still deep in the DC Universe, but don’t panic…the World of Marvel will be featured next time! Plus there’s still indies, horror, real world stories…
Batgirl: Year One
Entry by Jamie
Barbara Gordon is one of the most famous DC ladies, both for her run as Batgirl and for her turn as the handicapped yet kick-ass Oracle. Barbara first came about in the 60’s but it was her reimagined first year on the job in Batgirl: Year One that really delivers. This is the book that made me fall madly in love with the height-challenged, intelligent, witty, and charming young redhead who took it upon herself to follow in Batman’s footsteps. This is not only a wonderful introduction to the character, but an extension on her as well.
Arkham Asylum: A Serious Place on a Serious Earth
Grant Morrison was instrumental is turning the comic industry around in the 80s, skewing it towards an adult audience and taking an artistic bent. Morrison himself preferred surrealism to the gritty reality Frank Miller was laying down, and he expressed this in Arkham Asylum. The Joker takes over the madhouse and instills his own demented rule. The gothic, demented visuals by Dave McKean make it a truly special book, conjuring up imagary that comic readers had never been exposed to before.
The Question: Zen and Violence
Written by Denny O’Neil, a writer who had immense influence over the development of Green Arrow and Batman, updates The Question, a classic Charlton Comics character, for a contemporary DC world. He casts Vic Sage as an angry reporter who takes his fight to the streets only to get in over his head and killed. When he is revived, he practices martial arts and studies eastern philosophy, traits he carries with him as he returns to the street in a more thoughtful version of Batman (ie: Batman has a blanket “no kill” rule, Question actively struggles with it).
Hush has just about everything I love from a Batman story compiled into one epic arc. It further advances the relationship between Bruce and Selina Kyle, it introduces a brand-new and engaging villain into the Batman mythos and it’s chock full of appearances from a majority of the heavy-hitters in Gotham City. Batman literally has to run through a gauntlet of his biggest villains (and closest allies) to get to the heart of an elusive mystery. It takes the best elements of a Batman crime mystery while also marking the first major work for now famous Batman artist “Jim Lee”. Plus: he kicks Superman’s butt.
Aquaman: The Waterbearer
Aquaman has had a steep road to climb when jokesters decided to really lean into his classic Saturday morning cartoon version who was as useful as a talking fish despite the fact that the comics had been treating him as the regal powerhouse that he is. In my opinion, they over corrected when it came to the pirate bear and hook even though those were some fun years. When Arthur was exiled from his kingdom and given a new mystical hand made of water from the Lady of the Lake (of King Arthur legend), it was daring and interesting new direction that I wish was more permanent.
Batwoman, or Kate Kane, is an incredibly fascinating and important character that’s relatively new to the DC universe. She’s an ex-military, socialite, lesbian who kicks butt with the same fierceness and stoicism as Bruce Wayne himself. Batwoman: Elegy is not only a wonderful introduction to her character (including her backstory and family) but a truly fantastic story weaving natural and supernatural that is perfect as a standalone novel as well as an introduction to Batwoman’s New 52 series. Plus, it’s worth reading for J. H. Williams III’s beautiful artwork alone.
Birds of Prey: Endrun
Birds of Prey is a great group of (mostly) female superheros. It showcases a diverse number of ladies from the all-knowing Oracle to the supersonic Black Canary to the feisty Huntress. These girls make fighting crime in Gotham look easy, and stylish, and it is especially well-done in this first collection from Volume 2 of Birds of Prey. We’ve lost this particular group with the New 52 reboot but the chemistry between these ladies is wonderful reading despite that. With Birds of Prey Vol. 1: Endrun, Gail Simone gives us a story that is enchanting for any reader.
Batman: A Death in the Family
Sometimes giving the readers what they want can be the very worst thing they expect. During the run of Jason Todd as the second Robin the Batfans were unhappy with this new character. During a story of him seeking out his mother he encountered the Joker, and DC opened the phone polls. By a very close margin readers voted to kill off the new Boy Wonder…and then watched in horror as he was beaten to death with a crowbar. Be careful what you wish for.
JLA: Earth 2
Once the crossovers start happening, the idea of the publishers representing alternate universe crop up. Sometimes that gets messy with multiple universes within that continuity. DC tried to abolish it with their classic event series Crisis on Infinite Earths, and it lasted about 15 years when trippy writer Grant Morrison decided to write the post-Crisis debut of the Crime Syndicate and their fight against the Justice League.
Does this even need to be explained? Long considered one of the best, if not the best, superhero comic ever written this volume gives us realistic, damaged superheroes, a tale of subterfuge and manipulation and a psychological examination of the world of comics. Although Nite-Owl and Ozymandias are clear representations of well known characters others like Rorschach and Doctor Manhattan have gone on to be legends in their own right. Take the time to savor this story as you would an expensive meal, it’s worth the hype.
Tune in next week for the final wrap-up of the DC titles before we delve in to Marvel!