In a momentary lapse of character, I am not writing about games as I usually do, but about graphic novels! You see, I’m a big fan of the visual-literature genre. I’ve been reading oodles, but I feel my closeness to the subject makes it very hard for me to critique it in the same way I can dissect video games. But what I can do is wax lyrical about the different graphic novels I’ve read that I’ve loved to bits that I think you should be reading too.
This is by no means my top 10 list or definitive selection. It’s just a bunch that I’ve read that I think is worth a go. It certainly has taught me a lot about the art of lean, mean storytelling and crafting characters that could punch you in the gut as much as grab you by the heart.
FEAR AGENT BY RICK REMENDER
If there’s only one graphic novel anyone must read, I would probably have to say that that’s Fear Agent.
What seems on the surface as a simple good ol’ space pulp adventure, becomes a bigger story about what it means to be a hero in the grand scale of things. When saving the universe and yourself is at stake, no one but Rick Remender knows how to make it count. Aliens to shoot, a heck load of whisky, and the most screwed-up hero in the galaxy makes a heady mix of awesomeness. Great art by Tony Moore, the lines are striking and the colors are dope. The best thing about Fear Agent is the ending. It had me weeping openly and profusely, it is the most beautiful conclusion I’ve seen in my entire life of reading graphic novels. Let’s just say that anything written by Rick Remender is godly.
IRREDEEMABLE BY MARK WAID
When the world’s greatest superhero goes rogue and destroys everything with nuclear devastation, what do you do? Mark Waid turns the superhero concept on its head with a really intimate and absolutely ruthless story of the poisonous nature of creeping resentment, and how can we fight against someone so utterly irredeemable? Includes an ensemble cast of deeply flawed superheroes, powerful sure, but deeply flawed in ways only humans can be. And they have to stand together against the ultimate villain. Not a new concept but this is probably the most well plotted and compelling story of its kind.
I never felt that there was any excess, everything is trimmed to perfection. And the final battle and conclusion is probably one of the smartest. This is the best thing to read if you’re fatigued as I am on occasion with the standard stuff from DC and Marvel. Also watch out for the companion piece INCORRUPTIBLE which takes place in the same story, about a former super-villain turned good and his quest for redemption. The writing is not as great, and the art is shitty at times, but the overall idea and hero is well worth the read.
LONE WOLF AND CUB BY KAZUO KOIKE AND GOSEKI KOJIMA
I’ve read a tonne of manga, and there is still a lot out there that I haven’t read, but I can say hands down, this is probably the greatest manga ever crafted in existence. The most badass motherfucker in all of feudal-era Japan, Lone Wolf and Cub is a masterless samurai on a death trail of vengeance, with his infant son. There is no comic in history of mankind that speaks truer of fatherhood, honor, duty and the way of the samurai as well as this book. There are a lot of heart-and-gut wrenching moments, this book doesn’t shy away from showing the worst of humanity, but in the face of it all, you will root for Lone Wolf and Cub bound by their unflinching code. It is a profound telling of Zen philosophy also, and Kazuo Koike’s words are matched only by the beautiful brushstrokes and penmanship of Goseki Kojima. Landscapes and people all look like paintings right out of the Tokugawa-era, but the breathtaking swordfights are what’s the most awesome. This book is positively epic, and you can see where a heck of a lot of filmmakers got their inspiration from. If you have a taste for deep graphic novels, this one needs to be read immediately.
PREACHER BY GARTH ENNIS
God’s gone missing and the only person who can find him is a small-town preacher blessed with the Word of God. Literally. Infused with the spawn of an angel and demon, Jesse Custer can tell people to take their own cocks and shove it up their asses, and they can’t do anything but follow the Word of God to the letter. And that’s pretty much how darkly grim and hilarious the story is for the rest of the way. An On the Road style quest with a rag-tag bunch of badasses, that includes our preacher hero, a vampire with self-esteem issues, and Jesse’s gun-toting girlfriend. Garth Ennis is a great writer who doesn’t shy away from showing how dark people can get, and as he is a self-professed atheist, this is most definitely his manifesto on a world abandoned by God. If you want to see some really grotesquely depicted humans, look no further than Steve Dillon’s art. Not for the faint of heart, but read it anyway because this is a pretty important piece of storytelling about faith, friendship and heroism.
SCOTT PILGRIM BY BRYAN LEE O’MALLEY
How do you tell a coming-of-age story about love, friendship, heartbreak without being just another boring ass teeny bopper story? You add in a lot of awesome manga-styled kung-fu fighting and a host of ex-boyfriends like a laundry list of assassins that Scott needs to beat in order to win the girl of his dreams. And quite literally, she flits in and out of his dreams with her funky colored hair, oversized goggles, and sweet rollerskates. As down to Earth as it is out of this world, Bryan Lee O’ Malley has crafted a fun, heart-warming series.
PHONOGRAM BY KIERON GILLEN
This one I had to think about before putting it in. Phonogram is former video games journalist Kieron Gillen’s mega contribution to the world, a seriously unique, unlike-anything-else story about your average Joe in the UK, David Kohl (which is secretly channeling Kieron himself). David Kohl and his bunch of music-loving friends are special, because they are Phonograms. People who can harness the magic of music.
It’s a desperately hard read. There is no exposition whatsoever, there is nothing going on whatsoever, it can just be two people talking in a club, in fact that’s what happens most of the time, and yet it has everything going for it on a meta-level. The references to a lot of music and bands, big, small, indie, obscure come flying fast and hard, and it’s all crafted to such a degree that the very nature of the music they talk about has a significant role to play in the narratives. It’s really all about the love of music, and how music seeps into our very existence. This is that concept spelled out in the most metaphysical and literary of ways. I can’t recommend this to anybody or everybody, to read this is to open your mind, let the music of Gillen’s awesome words in, and enjoy the ride for what it is. And then realize that, just like the music we listen to sometimes, it’s sheer genius on a higher level that we cannot comprehend. But I can guarantee that just by reading this, like listening to the best underground bands, you will be cooler to nobody but yourself.
BATMAN BY GRANT MORRISON
Batman has been treated by many writers, but none of them has done as magnificent a turn as Morrison’s run on him pre-New 52. Morrison is a very hard writer to get because it’s as if he writes a story and then pokes holes out of it so you’ll be missing parts and scratching your head at every turn. But then he brings it around later and it all seems like a grand machination to fuck your mind over.
For Batman, he wrote an epic long series that begins with Batman finding out he has a son with Talia al Ghul who becomes the new Robin. Batman is actually killed in a grand fight against Darkseid. In the meantime, Dick Grayson (Nightwing) becomes the new Batman, and for awhile, we are treated to the breath of fresh air that is a different Batman – coming out of the shadow of his mentor, and taking the fight for justice in his own way. Then we find out Bruce Wayne actually did not die but was sent back in time, and we see him fighting through the ages to get back to the present, and it all concludes with the founding of Batman Inc – an international corporation of Batmen around the world.
If that isn’t the most epic Batman story yet, I don’t know what is. But don’t take my word for it, give it a go. You’ll be at it for a long time. And this is definitely inaccessible if you aren’t already knowledgeable of the Batverse. Because Morrison makes the most obscure references ALL. THE. FRIGGIN. TIME.
THE UNKNOWN BY MARK WAID
Catherine Allingham is a modern-day female Sherlock Holmes with a terminal illness, and a razor-sharp skepticism which she applies to all the cases she takes on that seem to have a supernatural slant. And yet, she can’t shake her own deep-seated belief that there may be something dark and sinister at work that can’t always be explained by science. The art adds to the chilling and scary atmosphere as she solves the strangest crimes. There’s nothing more to it, but it’s a great read with a strong heroine.
TRANSMETROPOLITAN BY WARREN ELLIS
As a writer myself, there is nothing cooler than reading about heroes that are badass writers, sticking it to the Man in the only way he knows how, by writing. Warren Ellis’ vision of the future is not a pleasant place. All manners of degradation seeps into the streets, the people and the country as a whole are dying slowly from its decadence and lack of care, and most of all, politics is rotten to the core. Enter Spider Jerusalem, the most crankiest drugged-addled loud-mouthed crudest baldest wittiest journalist-writer ever, who cares for nothing but to write the Truth with a capital T. This is a story about the profound articles he writes, his epic fight against two corrupt Presidents, and his friendship with two equally as fucked up but awesome women. And despite how ugly Darick Robertson paints the future of America, you can feel it in your bones just as Spider does, there is an undercurrent of love. And that’s what gives this story such power. A compelling read indeed.
Y – THE LAST MAN BY BRIAN K VAUGHAN
Y – The Last Man answers the question – what would happen if you’re the last dude on Earth, in a world of only women? Well, not a very pleasant place apparently. Some strange worldwide phenomenon has caused all the males to die, except for Yorick Brown, the most unlikeliest of the last of the penis to be left on Earth. He has to make a cross country journey to save all of humanity with his DNA, but it’s not a safe journey (obviously). Turns out not all women want to jump his bone, some actually want to kill him to purify the world of mandom, while others just want things to return to normalcy. Hot on his trail are a death squad of Israeli female soldiers and a ninja looking to steal the monkey that’s with Yorick – which might be the answer to why he stayed alive all this time. A really epic adventure story with a somewhat annoying protagonist that you grow to love over time, this is classic graphic novel storytelling.
That’s it for Part 1. Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow!