Comic books have endured a sordid history. Long seen as the type of reading material that would turn kids’ brains to mush, they have been derided by parents, teachers, and even the government. However, in recent years a more literary crowd has begun to read, and produce comics. While your favorite Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man titles are still available at your local comic book store, there are some titles that you may have missed which are just as exciting and creative. Here are five of the essential comic series you should add to your collection.
Stray Bullets/Stray Bullets: Killers
Stray Bullets is a comic series by writer/artist David Lapham. Set in the late 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, it boasts a large cast of characters and a noir style that would make Elmore Leonard envious. It’s current spin-off, Stray Bullets: Killers, focuses more on two teen characters, but the violence and shady characters are just as prevalent as the parent series. Yes, this comic book includes sex, drugs, and violence. No, it’s not one for the kids. There are no super powers, few heroes, and redemption often comes at a price. If Dashiell Hammett books leaving you wanting more shadowy story lines on your bookshelf, get your dirty mitts on Stray Bullets.
The Walking Dead
Sure, you’re a fan of the show, but that doesn’t mean you know what happens in the comics that inspired the hit series. Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comic series is nearly ten years old, and while many of the characters are the same, the situations they find themselves in are often very different than what happens on TV. The show combined some characters, dropped others, and made changes to some of the early plot points. This isn’t to say that one is worse than the other, but it’s a different experience. If you’re looking for more zombie fighting goodness, The Walking Dead should be taking up space on your shelf.
Writer Matt Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky aren’t fooling around with their book Sex Criminals. Like Stray Bullets this one isn’t for the kids, but this time there are super powers. Sort of. See, Jon and Suzie have the ability to stop time…when they orgasm. At first, they each thought they were alone in the world with this gift (curse?) but then they found each other. Then they used their power to rob a bank. Now they have Sex Police – you read that right – with the same powers coming after them. But Sex Criminals is more than just a wild romp of good storytelling; it also tackles mature and realistic discussions about sex and relationships. It avoids juvenile humor, most of the time, and adds complexity to the characters with each issue. Definitely check out Sex Criminals, if you’re old enough, of course.
Brian K. Vaughn created one of the most celebrated comic series ever with Y: The Last Man. His new series, Saga, is receiving every bit the acclaim and for very good reason. Part Romeo & Juliet, part Star Wars, Saga follows husband and wife Alana and Marko as they try to raise their new child in a universe that is constantly at war. Alana is from Landfall, the largest planet in the galaxy, and Marko is from Wreath, Landfall’s sworn enemy. The war between the two planets has expanded into other planets, making it difficult for star-crossed lovers to find a place to settle. If the sci-fi elements weren’t grand enough, people from Wreath have magic abilities, amping up their strangeness to others in the galaxy. These are not gimmicks, however. Vaughn uses them to make astute commentary about things happening in our world, such as war and cultural differences. The art, by Fiona Staples, is gorgeous and worth the cover price alone. If sci-fi and fantasy are your preferred genres, you’ll fall under the spell of Saga.
Rise of the Magi
So far this list has been pretty much exclusive to comics that are geared for older teens and adults. You might be wondering if there are any comics that parents can enjoy reading, while still being able to leave them out in the open for the kids to find and read. The answer to this is Rise of the Magi. Kids will like the magic, the flying carpets, the monsters, and the world hopping, while parents will enjoy the excellent story and mystery that unfolds. In the world of Rune, the Spellguards discover a plot to steal some of the most powerful magic in the universe, and they send young Asa to another world to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. Fans of great adventure stories will instantly be hooked on the multi-world, sword-and-sorcery plot. The art is fantastic as well, produced by illustrator Sumeyye Kesgin and writer/artist Marc Silvestri.