I work in marketing, and we’re always putting together holiday gift guides. I figured I’d make a list of 10 excellent graphic novels. All of these can stand on their own, even if they’re set in the DC or Marvel universe. So yes, some are even for the non-comic book fan.
1. Fables Vol. 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham and Lan Medina
Fables takes characters from fables, mythology, and other classic stories and puts them in present day NYC. They have a secret community in the middle of the City. The story focuses around Snow White, the deputy mayor of Fabletown, Bigby, the town’s sheriff, and Rose Red, Snow White’s sister who’s been tragically murdered. It’s a good who-done it. This story is a launching off point for the complex world of the Fables, so be careful because you’ll get hooked.
2. Unmanned (Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1) by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
This is another epic comic tale, but one that has a clear end at Vol 10. Basically, there’s an apocalypse where all the men and other male mammals on the planet are wiped out, except Yorick Brown and his monkey. While Yorick sometimes reminds me too much of loser ex-boyfriends in his directionlessness, the series has a bunch of kick ass women from tough government agents/spies to protective mothers. There’s mystery — what killed all the guys? Romance — Yorick purposed to his girlfriend Beth right before the apocalypse, but she’s stuck in Australia and him in the US. Fighting — The world has just lost half it’s work force, I don’t think Starbucks is going to stay open. Humor — Yorick has to pass himself off as a woman.
3. Runaways Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan, Adrian Alphona, and Takeshi Miyazawa
Notice an author theme? Runaways does exist in the Marvel universe. Though that doesn’t mean you need to be a Marvel reader. In fact, all the characters, teenagers and their parents, are created in this comic and for this comic. There are a few visits by other Marvel characters, but it’s set in LA, not NYC. (Don’t forget Wikipedia.) Plus, it’s friendly for all ages of readers. The main story revolves around how the teens find out their parents are actually super villains who are bent on destroying the world. Or at least turning it into a “paradise” of evil. The teens runaway and try to stop their parents. The teens are pretty diverse in their backgrounds with the backing of an interesting, universal story of thinking your parents are evil and out to get you. Runaways really stands out as a great modern, all-ages comic.
4. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Watchmen is a classic comic. It’s also a critique on comics. While I don’t think it’s necessarily a universal book, I do think that if you think someone would enjoy a comic, they would enjoy this graphic novel. Of course, Moore always creates more than just a comic and Gibbons’ art is really outstanding in it. (Keep your eye out for a symmetrical chapter.) The story features superheros and their foes that have been forced to retire and are being killed off. It’s also about NYC and modern world problems. There’s much millennial and economic tension. The perfect gift in our current financial crisis. And don’t forget, there’s a movie coming out next summer.
5. Gotham Central Vol. 1: In the Line of Duty by Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker
I love this entire series. I definitely wouldn’t stop at Vol 1, especially since Vol 2 is better. Gotham Central is about the Gotham Police Department and their struggles. It certainly takes place in the Batman part of the DC Universe, but if you’ve seen any of the Batman movies, particularly the last two, you’ll be okay. In fact, these comics were a heavy influence in The Dark Knight. This storyline focuses on good and bad cops and an investigation of Mr. Freeze. Gotham Central was the first comic to actually convince me that Mr. Freeze was a legitimate and scary villain.
6. Queen & Country Vol. 1: Operation Broken Ground by Greg Rucka and Steve Rolston
Yes, another Rucka book. However, this one’s independent. The story follows a British Special Operations office Tara Chace and her colleagues. It opens immediately with action as Tara is sent to assassinate a terrorist. This causes problems as Tara’s kill isn’t clean. Our world is very global and espionage isn’t that simple. Levels above the last Tom Clancy thriller in writing, but will appeal to the same audience.
7. White Tiger: A Hero’s Compulsion by Tamora Pierce, Timothy Liebe, and Phil Briones
Set in the Marvel universe, White Tiger features FBI agent Angela del Toro turned superhero. She takes up the White Tiger mantel after her uncle’s death. This story mostly features guest appearances from the B-listers in Daredevil and Heroes for Hire. The great thing about this story as it shows a superhero who is gaining her wings. But at the same time, she’s a grown woman and in the FBI, so she’s already used to detective work and some fighting. An interesting read, especially for anyone who’s interested in superheros who aren’t rich (like Iron Man) or immature (like Spider-Man).
8. Batgirl: Year One by Scott Beatty, Chuck Dixon, Marcos Martin, and Alvaro Lopez
I love this title. A wonderful, heartfelt look at the origins of Batgirl in an all-ages comic. Barbara Gordon is young and spunky. She’s smart, but definitely not going to heed to her father’s warnings that she should stay in and be safe. Even if he is the police commissioner. I love the little elements, like Babs writing a fan/mentor-seeking letter to the Black Canary and her not wanting Batman to be her guide. It’s a sweet coming-of-age story with fun, colorful art.
9. She-Hulk Vol. 1: Single Green Female by Dan Slott and Juan Bobillo
Any story that starts with the hero being fired and kicked out of her home (the Avengers’ mansion) is hopefully going to be a good tale. She-Hulk (Jen Walters) is something of a partier. She’s big and green and loves life. However, her employer and her roommates (particularly Jarvis, the Avengers’ butler) are not amused. Even playboy Tony Stark (Iron Man) conspires with Steve Rogers (Captain America) to have Jen move out. Luckily for her, she immediately gets a new job offer. With a catch: she has to be Jen, not She-Hulk, while she’s at work. Her first appearance as Jen with her new employer has her puking on his shoes. (Her drinking killed Jen’s metabolism, while not touching She-Hulk’s.) Slott sets up a law firm, specializing in superhuman law, full of interesting characters, creating a different sort of world for Jen than she’s used to.
Since this review was posted, Warren Ellis was outed as an abuser. As comic books are a collective effort, this review will remain live, but I cannot in good faith recommend purchasing this book or other works by this person.
10. The Authority Vol. 1: Relentless by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch
The Authority are a different sort of superhero group. They’re saving the world, yet they’re doing it on their terms. They live on a ship, known as the Carrier, that they don’t quite understand how it works in a place known as the Bleed. However, every time there’s a crisis on Earth, they can just transport through a “Door” to where they’re needed. They all have flaws (arrogance, jealousy, drug addiction) and they can all win a fight without a sweat. They don’t hesitate to kill the bad guy or gal. Jenny Sparks, their leader, is the spirit of the century and she guides their mission to do exactly what they think is correct. It’s awesome.