Holiday Gift Guide: 10 Graphic Novels

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.

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.

She-Hulk: Ceremony Part 1 and Part 2

In 1989, Dwayne McDuffie, along with Robin Chaplik and June Brigman, wrote She-Hulk Ceremony, a two-part mini-series about the Sensational She-Hulk and her ex-boyfriend Wyatt Wingfoot. Stan Drake does the art.

In this story, She-Hulk decides she wants a baby with Wyatt, gets a mysterious mystical basket, and travels to visit Wyatt’s family to announce their engagement. But finds out that it’s much, much more.

Spoilers.

Continue reading “She-Hulk: Ceremony Part 1 and Part 2”

Strong Women of Comics I Like

This post is inspired by a comment over on Whedonesque about what one is to do without Joss writing Astonishing X-Men. Without Joss there to write strong women. This post assumes that AXM is the only mainstreet comic that the poster has read (i.e. the Firefly and Buffy/Angel comics don’t count). I will also decline to comment on Joss and strong women. Instead, I give you – Strong Women of Comics I Like:

She-Hulk
Jennifer Walter aka She-Hulk

Anyone who’s known me longer than five seconds probably knows about my love of She-Hulk. Jennifer Walters is the Hulk’s cousin and received superpowers when she was shot and got a blood transfusion from him. It saved her life, but made her transform into “some kind of She-Hulk.”

She-Hulk maintains her human sensibilities when she’s in hulk form and prefers to be big and green instead of tiny Jennifer. She’s had her own titles, but has also been a member of the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. She is often relayed upon for both her superpowers and her mind.

When the Earth is attacked by Scorpio and the U.N. gives its power to the Avengers, She-Hulk not only fights, but she also is the one who reads the U.N. carters to help the crashing world economies. In more current history, she’s was a top lawyer in a superhuman law firm and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and now a bounty hunter.

I suggest reading Dan Slott’s She-Hulk, starting with She-Hulk Volume 1: Single Green Female.

Jessica Jones
Jessica Jones

Jessica Jones is a newer Marvel character created by Brian Micheal Bendis in 2002 and was inserted into the Avengers’ history. When you meet her, she runs a private detective agency and has a variety of personal problems include a temper, poor interpersonal skills, bad relationships, and problem with drinking. Her first outing in her own series Alias gives the reader the mystery of why Jessica is no longer a superhero and doesn’t want to be one.

Jessica gained her superpowers — flying, super strength, and resistance to damage — through a tragic car crash with her family’s sedan and a truck carrying nuclear waste. However, she is often reluctant to use them.

Her more recent storylines include her relationship/eventual marriage to superhero Luke Cage, their baby, and how she (kind of) joins the Avengers and mentors the Young Avengers. One of my favorite scenes is where a pregnant Jessica beats up on the Green Goblin in a way that makes even Spider-Man acknowledge that she’s tough as nails.

I suggest starting off with Brian Michael Bendis’ Alias, which is her origin story(s) and first appearances.

Snow White
Snow White

Snow White is a character in Bill Willingham’s Fables, a comic set in modern-day NYC with “fables” living in hiding in the middle of the city. Snow White is introduced as the Deputy Major of Fabletown and clearly the one who’s really in charge of the city’s operations. She’s the only one not afraid of Bigby, the Big Bad Wolf who’s the town’s sheriff, and she always thinks on her feet despite the antics of her sister, Rose Red; an impending war with evil Fables; and when her ex-husband Prince Charming decides to come back into town and run for Mayor.

Snow White’s story is interwoven into this cast in the on-going comic. And while there are certainly other strong women — Frau Totenkinder, Cinderella, Rose Red, the Snow Queen, etc. — Snow White remains my personal favorite. She even gets her own narrative in the flashback book of Fable’s tales 1001 Nights of Snowfall.

I’d suggest starting at the beginning of the Fables‘ series with Legends in Exile.

Dr. Mann and Agent 355
Agent 355, Dr. Allison Mann, and the other women of Y: The Last Man

Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man is about Yorrick and his male monkey, the only survivors of whatever killed all the male mammals on the planet, and their quest to find Yorrick’s girlfriend Beth and figure out what the hell actually happened. Vaughan populates the book with a wonderful cast of female characters including Agent 355, the tough American spy who protect Yorrick, Dr. Allison Mann, a genetics doctor who clones herself, and Yorrick’s sister and mother, the latter is a U.S. senator and then president when all the men die off. Additionally, all the women in this story are given agency and come from various backgrounds, ethnically and politically. Vaughan truly makes this story a global story. Plus, Pia Guerra’s art is incredible throughout this book.

I’d suggest starting with Unmanned, the first volume in this recently ended series.

Renee Montoya
Rene Montoya aka The Question

Rene first appeared on the animated Batman TV show and was so popular that she was put in Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka’s Gotham Central. She’s a hard-lined, but at her core, good detective on the Gotham Police Force with ties to the community through her family and the Hispanic community. In Half a Life, she takes center stage with her collaboration and then stalking problem with Two-Face. She’s outed as lesbian in one the best coming out stories I’ve ever read. (And that says a lot considering I’m a bisexual English major who took many “diversity” literature courses.)

Rucka took Montoya even further than her police roots by putting her in the post-Crisis epic 52, which was where I first encountered her outside cartoons. Montoya is one of the characters in the story to have an amazingly done transformation with the publicity bonus of her ex-girlfriend, Kate Kane, aka the new Batwoman. Post-52, Montoya’s story continues in Crime Bible and then Final Crisis: Revelations.

I’d suggest starting with the first hardcover Gotham Central #01: In the Line of Duty, which includes the “Half a Life” story.

Barbara Gordon
Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl aka Oracle and the rest of the women of Birds of Prey

Barbara Gordon starts off her crime-fighting career as Batgirl, fighting alongside Batman, Robin, and a host of other DC superheros as part of the Bat-family. She is, of course, the daughter of Jim Gordon, Gotham’s Police Commissioner. Besides, being kick ass, Barbara is also super smart and a whiz with computers. She is shown to be perhaps the only person who can outspy Batman, the world’s greatest detective.

In Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke (1988), Barbara is shot by the Joker and paralyzed from the waist down. Now, the normal person would hang up the cape and become head of her own internet start-up company, but not Barbara. No, she uses her computer genius to fight crime under the name Oracle and assembles her own, all-female team, Birds of Prey.

Birds of Prey contains many awesome strong women over the years, including Black Canary, Huntress, the new Batgirl, Spoiler, Lady Shiva, and more. Black Canary and Barbara’s friendships is perhaps one of the best portrayals female-friendships ever.

For Batgirl’s origins, I suggest Beatty and Dixon’s Batgirl: Year One and for more current Birds of Prey action, Simone’s Of Like Minds.

Ms. Marvel
Carol Danvers aka Ms. Marvel

Ms. Marvel should be the Wonder Woman of Marvel-verse. However, she’s not. She should also be Captain Marvel, like she was in House of M, but she’s not. If you’re scratching your head, don’t worry, you’ll eventually understand what I mean. Because Ms. Marvel is just that awesome.

Carol starts her life as a Air Force officer working with the then Captain Marvel, who was actually a Kree (a type of alien) undercover. She becomes super-powered when hit by a Kree “Psyche-Magnitron” device and has super strength, speed, stamina, and durability; can absorb energy; and can fly. She goes through many trials and tribulations including being the mind-controlled slave and mystical womb of a guy trying to reincarnated himself, having her powers sucked out by Rogue, and being kidnapped and experimented on by the Brood (another alien species).

Ms. Marvel is a survivor and she never looses her military officer determination. She bounces back and becomes a New Avenger, after the original Avengers are destroyed. Currently, post-Civil War, Tony Stark (Iron Man) has made her the head of the Mighty Avengers. She also has a solo series, which is about her getting her life in order after seeing an alternative version of herself as Captain Marvel, the greatest and most revered superhero in that world.

You can read about the start of her self-improvement in Reed’s Ms. Marvel.

Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman is the most famous female superhero around. Linda Carter’s portrayal of her in the ’70s TV show cemented her fame and everyone knowing her name. Created in 1941 by William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman has survived when other lesser heroes have faded in time. She’s an Amazon princess warrior. She’s good, courageous, diplomatic, and has a great body. Who doesn’t want to be her?

Overall, Wonder Woman is a class act and you’d be hard-pressed to find another character with such dignity who can still kick ass. Heck, even Mr. Goodie Superman dates and marries her (when Lois Lane isn’t available, of course).

Wonder Woman has gone through many writers over the years, but if you’d like to catch up on current Wonder Woman happenings, check out Gail Simone’s run of Wonder Woman (Vol 3 starting at issue #14) or pick up the first tpb Wonder Woman: The Circle. I also hold a special love for Rucka’s Wonder Woman: Hiketeia

Old Lace and Gert
Gert, Nico, Molly, Karolina and the rest of the Runaways

Runaways is a great title to start with for someone who hasn’t read a lot of comics, considering that it’s basically a self-contained story. (There are crossovers here and there, but the writers do a good job at explaining just who those people are.) The basic premise is that a group of kids spy on their parents and find out their parents are actually super villains plotting the destruction of the world. And they runaway…

Gert with her glasses and cynicism is a daughter of time travelers who owns the coolest pet ever, Old Lace, a Deinonychus (similar to a Velociraptor). Nico is a loyal witch who has her heart played with more than once. Molly, the youngest of them at the beginning, is a mutant with budding powers. Karolina is a free-spirit alien and a self-described “freak” of the group, even before she knew she was an alien. And that’s just a few of the female characters.

I’d suggest starting with Vaughan’s Runaways Vol 1 to journey with this newer group from their origins and into the present.