Five Comics You Should Read

It’s all fun and games until someone calls the Homicide Crabs

As the nation goes Dark Knight crazy once again, regular columnist Olivia Cottrell offers up some tantalising alternatives for those of you looking for more than just men in tights…

So, you like comic books, do you? Or maybe you’ve seen the big Marvel movies, or the Nolan Batman, and you want to get into the genre proper but don’t know where to start. Well, here are my top five comic books of all time: each one perfectly acceptable as a series on its own, but each, I hope, a great example of what the medium can offer in superheroes and beyond. There’s dinosaurs, cowboys, explosions and crime, serious comics and comics that will make you laugh your head off. They also probably say far more about me and my tastes than I intended.

Well, never mind. Onwards!
5. The Sixth Gun by Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurt (Oni Press)

The Sixth Gun is a relatively new find for me, but it’s already become one of my all-time favourites. It’s a supernatural Western story that reads a little like a post-American Civil War version of the TV series Supernatural. It has ancient weapons, long-dead generals returning from the grave, golems, thunderbirds (the Native American kind, not the British puppets) and all kinds of spooky, spine chilling stuff. What I love most about this book is its wonderfully distinct voice, which is due in part to the old-timey language of the characters and the narration but also to the complete self-assurance with which it handles these crazy supernatural elements and balances them with more human themes of jealousy and redemption. Though the characters regularly face zombies and ghosts, they remain grounded and compelling. Like all the best comics, it doesn’t make too many allowances for its audience and just assumes they’re smart enough to follow where the story takes them.

Plus, this book is just cool. Like the main character, Drake Sinclair, it has an easy swagger about it that makes it a joy to read. And what’s more important for a cowboy book than being cool?

The Sixth Gun

4. Mouse Guard by David Petersen (Labyrinth)

How do I explain Mouse Guard? It’s kind of like Brian Jacques’ Redwall series, only more epic, harsh and gorgeous. The world of the Guardmice is large and dangerous and often frighteningly brutal, with story beats and characters reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings: the importance of friendship and community is very much at the forefront of the book, and it’s an ensemble cast rather than the story of just one hero, however important certain characters become to the plot. It can be very scary too, touching on the idea of prisoners of war and the simple, stark terror a mouse must feel facing hungry predators like owls or snakes.

For all its brutality though, the world of Mouse Guard is beautiful. The care that David Petersen takes with the artwork shines through on every page, with the colours in some cases practically glowing in the panels. He really thinks about how mouse society and day to day life works, too, and his backgrounds and props have a verisimilitude that really rewards re-reading. Like all good fantasy books, he includes maps and lore for the reader to peruse, creating a rich and satisfying world that’s well worth a look.

Mouse Guard

3. The Immortal Iron Fist: The Last Iron Fist Story & The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven by Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker & David Aja (Marvel Comics)

I love mainstream superhero books, and these are very nearly my favourites – The Last Iron Fist Story and its sequel, The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven. I had never heard of the Iron Fist before picking this series up, but it was a perfect introduction to the character and a fantastic, self-contained story. Danny Rand was the only survivor of his family’s attempt to find the mythical city of K’un Lun. Orphaned at the gates, he was taken in by the inhabitants and trained to become the city’s champion, the Immortal Iron Fist. While the story retains problematic elements from its original Marvel concept (I will be happy if I never see another white saviour in a comic book again) Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker work well with what they have, expanding the history of the Iron Fist into a legacy that spans decades and opens up the possibility for hundreds of stories exploring the men and women who bore the title before Danny.

The plot moves effortlessly between the modern-day responsibilities of Danny as a superhero in New York and his more mystical commitments in K’un Lun as Iron Fist, packing in humour, pathos, and a whole lot of fantastic kung fu action, brilliantly rendered by David Aja. It ends up feeling less like a Marvel comic and more like a wonderful, high-octane martial arts movie with a good helping of action and adventure. If Marvel were smart they’d have commissioned a big-screen adaptation long ago!

Immortal Iron Fist

2. Whiteout by Greg Rucka & Steve Lieber (Oni Press)

Greg Rucka is possibly my favourite comic book writer and the first volume of Whiteout is one of his best stories. Set in Antarctica, the plot follows US Marshal Carrie Stetko as she tries to solve the murder of an American national at a research camp. The characterisation is wonderful – Carrie in particular stands out as a wonderfully strong, grounded heroine with compelling and believable flaws – and the plot is delightfully twisty. Rucka will keep you guessing until the last moment and the payoff will leave you heartbroken, but ready to re-read the story and see which clues you missed. Along the way Rucka develops one of my favourite female relationships in fiction, between Carrie and British agent Lily Sharpe.

The artwork, too, is great. Steve Lieber uses black and white art to really capture the bleakness of Carrie’s surroundings and the grittiness of her situation. The comic is full of broad, blank skies and swirling snow. At times you can literally see his fingerprints in the cross-hatching where the shadows of the snow meet the sky- it’s simple but, like the rest of the comic, brutally effective.

Whiteout

1. NEXTWAVE: agents of H.A.T.E by Warren Ellis & Stuart Immonen (Marvel Comics)

NEXTWAVE is, quite simply, the best comic book I have ever read. It’s an absolute pure distillation of the superhero genre: five characters rescued from Marvel Comics’ z-list (and one invented purely for the story), pitted against a poorly disguised version of Nick Fury and SHIELD, punching their way through some of the most ridiculous concepts from Marvel’s history. There’s Fin Fang Foom (a giant dragon wearing purple underpants), a cherry-red dinosaur in a smoking jacket, and men made from broccoli. And that’s just scratching the surface – by the time the series is finished it has run through nearly every crazy, shameful thing from Marvel’s extensive back catalogue. However, it’s not just the high-concept ideas that make this a great comic: everything from the pacing to the dialogue is pitch-perfect (there are lines you’ll be quoting for the rest of your life), while the bright, cartoonish art from Stuart Immonen compliments the Saturday-morning-cartoon-gone-wrong feel of the book. It’s a very tight, very solid comic that’s an absolute blast to read.

Put simply, NEXTWAVE is utterly insane and utterly brilliant and if you don’t like it, then I’m sorry but we can never be friends.

NEXTWAVE: Agents of H.A.T.E.

What’s on your top-five list? Let us know in the comments section or on our Facebook page.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>