The 100 Must Read Graphic Novels (Pt. 4)
Aaaaaand we’re back! The age of DC is over and this weeks list will be all about the Marvels!
#31 – Marvels
Entry written by G-Funk
One of the many titles that have achieved widespread recognition due to the artwork by Alex Ross. In order to recap and celebrate the long history of Marvel superheroes we follow an everyman photographer as he witnesses events from the sidelines. He’s in the crowd when the Human Torch fought Namor, Galactus attacked the Earth, mutant appearances cause riots and the age of The Avengers. It’s a stunning volume for both long term fans and newcomers. The incredible artwork alone is worth the price.
#32 – Wolverine: Origins
Wolverine started out as a Hulk villain before joining the X-Men and becoming the most popular character at Marvel comics ever. For the longest time, his most prevalent character trait was not his claws or his impossibly bad haircut (although they are all up there) but his amnesia. He couldn’t remember much, if anything, about his life before his debut in The Incredible Hulk. Over time, different aspects have been revealed like his time in Japan and his time fighting alongside Captain America in WWII, but they wouldn’t dare tell the story of how he was born and raised. He would lose his specialness right? Surprisingly wrong. Its use of rural family drama makes it stand on its own in comparison to other origins that are dependent on science fiction and magic.
#33 – Astonishing X-Men: Gifted
As a pretty big fan of the beloved X-Men I can confidently say that Joss Whedon and John Cassady’s run in “Astonishing X-Men” is hands down my favorite representation of the characters. It was a way to bring the team back to trademark glory while still adding a flair of sarcastic hilarity that Joss Whedon is known for. This was almost like his test-run for The Avengers when you think about it as he’s balancing a handful of starkly different personalities in one goal-oriented team. The story is focused, linear and amazingly easy to get into but it’s the character representations that truly make this series as memorable as it is. They’re the heart and soul of the universe and are treated as such in this run. It’s not just a hilariously exciting read but one with a great amount of sincerity, emotion and twists you don’t see coming.
#34 – Marvel 1602
Yet another alternate take on familiar characters. We’ve seen plenty already. Babies, zombies, monkeys. What better way to spend our money. This one is a bit different, in that it’s written by the immensely talented Neil Gaiman. The Marvel universe now exists in the Elizabethan Era, with Sir Nicholas Fury and Dr. Stephen Strange in the employ of the Queen. With conspiracies and prophecies involving Von Doom, the ‘witchbreed’ teacher Carlos Javier, Spanish Inquisitor Magnus, a blind Irish minstrel with remarkable powers, an American born girl Virginia Dare and her native bodyguard Rojhaz and others intersect we have an epic story set in a richly imagined world. It avoids the pandering and silliness that comes with such spin-offs and instead becomes a modern classic.
#35 – The Immortal Iron Fist: The Last Iron Fist Story
I never knew much about Iron Fist before reading this series. It was always that weird white guy with the high collar who hung out with Luke Cage. It was co-written by Ed Brubaker (the best writer at Marvel at the time) and Matt Fraction (the best writer at Marvel now). They turned Iron Fist’s “Marvel Knights” street corner into the epic kung-fu movie it should have always been. They dive deep into Iron Fist’s origin, which is connected to a mystical realm known as K’un-Lun, and developed a larger mythos for the wealthy and street-savvy Danny Rand to navigate.
#36 – X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills
The X-Men franchise has always sort of been a metaphorical stand in for race and racism. But with mutants being targets of intolerance for what they might be hiding more often than what they look like, I have always found them to be a better metaphorical stand in for the LGBT community and homophobia (Ultimately, they are a great stand in for any social group). This story is probably the oldest that took advantage of it (whether it was intentional or not). Written by Chris Claremont, the most influential X-writer Marvel ever had, an evangelical reverend William Stryker targets the X-Men as abominations of God going as far as to kidnap Xavier and hook him up to a machine that would amplify his telepathy to kill all mutants. You might recognize it as the inspiration for the movie X2: X-Men United.
#37 – Ultimate Spider-Man: Power and Responsibility
For those unable or unwilling to delve into the long history of the webhead this series represents a fresh start. Retelling the story from the very beginning in the modern age may not sound like a great sell, but the writing/artist team of Bendis and Bagley turned it into fried gold. It is one of the definitive superhero sagas, addressing life in and out of the tights and spinning out great new versions of classic characters. Some of them, such as Green Goblin, don’t match up to the classics, but the writing is always solid.
#38 – The Amazing Spider-Man: Kraven’s Last Hunt
Kraven the Hunter might be my favorite Spider-Man villain of all time. Spider-Man, the perpetual underdog that he is, is always winning by the skin of his teeth. Kraven always makes it seem more dangerous though, and this time he actually wins. In case you think this is a spoiler, its only the beginning. It might look a straightforward comic like any other with all the action and suspense, but it takes narrative risks that come once in a blue moon, risks that I will always appreciate in a medium that likes to play safe. It also carried with it deeper and more complex meaning for both Kraven and Spider-man’s motivations.
#39 – Captain America: Winter Soldier
Well now that the Winter Soldier is a mainstream character after the movie crossed the half a billion mark at the box-office I can spoil his origin for you right? Don’t worry I won’t go there, but where I will go is to a place that constantly tells you to PICK THIS BOOK UP IF YOU HAVEN’T READ IT YET. Captain America’s greatest foe is often viewed as the Red Skull based on his longstanding tradition and his ties to the Nazi regime, and while that might be true to some extent I’ll always argue that it’s the Winter Soldier who brought out the most difficult times in his stories. There’s an added layer of emotional drama that you just don’t get when he’s going up against Red Skull and for that his inclusion will always make the best Captain America comics in my opinion. The story here introduces Cap into a much nastier, darker world than he’s used to while he’s tasked with defeating a villain that represents everything he used to love about his past. It’s ripe with gorgeous artwork, electric characters and a bonus layer of symbolism that reintroduces itself in just about every Winter Soldier appearance. I highly recommend this graphic novel to all, especially those who absolutely loved the movie.
#40 – Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle
This is probably the most memorable Iron Man story ever. Much like Kraven’s Last Hunt, Demon in a Bottle cleverly adheres to the usual comic sense of action and adventure underlying it with deeper and more complicated personal drama for titular hero, Iron Man. In it, Tony is being played by rival businessman Justin Hammer driving Tony to drink. Tony already has a problem with drinking being a Genius Billionaire Playboy Philanthropist, but with the extra push, his hard partying days catch up with him in a big bad way. It may not be the most compelling tale of addiction (and yes, it does conclude rather quickly), but it is the kind of dramaticism that is often lost on the medium.
We’ll be back this time next week with the remainder of the Marvel picks and some of our favourite tales about villains!
Don’t forget to vote for your favourite from this week!