The 100 Must Read Graphic Novels! (Part 6)
The time of superheroes are over (in this series, at least) and it’s time to look elsewhere. This week we delve into the underworld of crime and secret agents before turning the lens onto the real world. Some amazing true stories have been committed to the panelled page, and we’d be amiss not to feature a whole pile of them!
#50 – Sin City
Entry written by G-Funk
Frank Miller was already known for his work redefining Batman in to the grittier, more realistic hero we know today, but his work was far from over. The strictly black and white contrast world of Sin City gave us a brutal and extreme version of classic crime noir. Returning are the femme fatales, trenchcoats and corruption but now they are draped over hulking monsters of people, heavily armed prostitutes, samurai and other grotesqueries. There are now dozens of stories to delve into – best start with The Big Fat Kill.
#51 – The Losers
During the war on terror a squadron of troops affiliated with the CIA are hung out to dry by their handler, the shadowy ‘Max’. Rather than go to ground they band together to get revenge and get their names of the CIA hit list. This is a classic team story, with each character a unique figure bringing their own specialty to the table. It’s a smart and stylish tale of espionage and action with plenty of twists and turns. Despite good casting the movie squandered the material by pitting the team against a crummy wannabe Bond villain.
#52 – Danger Girl
During the era of over-the-top colourful heroes such as Savage Dragon at the turn of the century we got Danger Girl. Sadly, in spite of the heavy merchandising, video games and promotion it fizzled after the first story – but that story is worth a read. Abbie Chase is a curvaceous, swashbuckling archaeologist who is recruited by an international team of spies and adventurers to take on the emerging Fourth Reich. It’s as silly as it sounds with heavy reliance of T&A, but the blend of Bond, Indy and Lara Croft is all the fun it promises.
#53 – V For Vendetta
In what would become a modern symbol for anti-authoritarian groups the world over, Alan Moore gives us the masked terrorist ‘V’. Written in response to Thatcher’s Britain we trace the actions of different characters in a dictatorship run England. Key figures are the young Every and the mysterious figure who would become her mentor, the knife wielding V. Although much of the popularity stems from the film adaptation there is no substitute for Moore’s writing.
#54 – Chew
Chew is the strange tale of Tony Chu, a cibopathic agent of the US Food and Drug Administration. Set in a world where all poultry is illegal, thanks to a bird flu related catastrophe that wiped out a significant number of American citizens, Chu begins as a member of the Philly PD vice squad, using his abilities to solve crimes. You see, as a cibopath Chu gets psychic impressions from the food he eats, learning the history of the food, including, as it happens, people. This is just the tip of the iceberg in this bizarre series. Great writing and excellent art.
#55 – Thief of Thieves
If you a fan of a good heist movie than this is not to be passed over. Written by Robert Kirkman of The Walking Dead it’s an ultra-slick story of the world’s greatest thief pulling off impossible jobs. It’s very cool, and the writing will outsmart you at every turn. I spent half the first book waiting for the heist to start, unaware that it was playing out right under my nose.
#56 – From Hell
He wasn’t the first, nor was he the most proficient, but there’s no doubting that ‘Jack the Ripper’ is the most notorious serial killer who ever lived. In part due to the mystery of his identity, the blatantly public nature of his crimes and the media frenzy it caused at the time, he’s remained in the public consciousness. Alan Moore took on the story in his epic account, drawn in a scorched charcoal. Although it’s not intended to be a ‘true’ or even well researched version of events, the research done into the era and city is without fault. Mythology, history and conspiracy combine in this gruesome and mind-bending tale.
#57 – My Friend Dahmer
Cartoonist John ‘Derf’ Backderf noted that people tended to focus on one incidental part of his life…he attended school with psychotic murderer Jeffrey Dahmer. After recounting what was an innocuous part of his life and being bombarded with questions Derf put the story and his reflections on the page. Although he reserves his judgement it’s a disconcerting read, and Dahmer often comes across as a sympathetic figure, living a life completely ignored by the world around him and seeking attention any way he could get it.
#58 – Maus
I had to read this once for a history class. It was a really awesome history class. Cartoonist Art Spiegelman was interviewing his father, a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor, about his time during WWII, and subverting a little with his cartoonish flare, he turned into this really compelling and interesting tale. The cartoonish flare of course is the black and white doodles depicting Polish Jews as mice, Germans as cats, and Polish Nazis as pigs. The personal touches make it especially emotional, while the disarming cartoons let it be approachable without removing its edge.
#59 – Persepolis
You can never really understand someone until you’ve walked in their shoes. Or, in the case of Iranian Marjane Satrapi, you can read her excellent autobiography. Growing up in wartime Iran she spend her formative teenage years facing segregation, religious and cultural extremism and strongly ingrained gender roles. With perceptions of the Middle East being heavily influenced by western media this is an account that will open your eyes to a part of your world you can’t fully understand.
#60 – When the Wind Blows
In the modern world the threat of subversive propaganda and terrorism have overshadowed the Cold War’s impending nuclear attacks. This book had a heavy impact on release and stands as a stark reminder of a horror that never really went away. Briggs adopts the same art style and characters from his children’s stories Gentleman Jim and The Snowman, throwing the content in stark relief to the art. Jim and Hilda Bloggs are a normal British couple who are going about their day when the radio announces the risk of incoming missiles. We chart their experience through preparing their house, remembering with nostalgia their lives during WWII and hiding in their fallout shelter. Eventually they emerge to the ruined world, unknowingly smelling the burning corpses of their neighbours and slowly succumbing to radiation poisoning. It’s a unique read that will leave the world feeling a bit more bleak.
We’ll be back next week to share some more of our favourite true stories, and step into the worlds of horror, fantasy and sci-fi! Meanwhile, vote for your favourite book for week 6!