Everybody loves a superhero; in fact, in the last decade they have become commonplace in more of our clothes, ads, and favorite movies and TV shows; we even have Marvel heroes–inspired apparel at the Union store. But in the beginning, it all started on the written page splashed with colorful figures in exotic costumes performing amazing feats of strength:comic books.
But this post is NOT about those types of comics; your hint was the lack of “BIF! BAM! POW!” at the start of this post; and I haven’t even used an exclamation point yet. But those come later, because the stories I have to share below are some of the most interesting, bizarre, frightening, and exciting comic books I have ever had the chance to read.
Though I grew up on a steady diet of super hero comics like most people, I am so happy that I have experienced a little more of what else the medium has to offer in the form of creator–owned and indie publications, such as the ones below. The following five titles are my favorite in the non-superhero genre of comic books, so check ’em out, even if it’s just to re-read.
Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory
Tony Chu is a police detective with a strange gift: he is Cibopathic, and this power feeds him psychic visions from anything and everything he eats. I found this tender little morsel alongside some of my other favorite Image titles like Invincible and The Walking Dead. This book is so funny, and it is one of the greatest buddy-cop stories out there. And as great a character as Tony is, half the fun really is watching this weird world crap all over him and seeing how he bounces back. This comic has one of the most colorful supporting casts, too, so if you like unique and recurring twin sisters with food powers, mentor figures, and secret agents, strap in, this book is for you.
2. LOCKE & KEY
Written by Joe Hill
Art by Gabriel Rodriguez
After the death of their father, the Locke children move with their mother to their old vacation home, Keyhouse, only to discover that for things to get better they have to get much worse. Magical keys are popping up all over the house and letting in strange mystical creatures that will change their lives forever. Horror isn’t usually my thing, but when I first picked up this title, I couldn’t stop reading. The world and the people who populate it are well-established. The dialogue is snappy and believable, and Rodriguez’s art gives each character their own sense of style and dress, be they human or not. This is a family of characters I regularly route for and want to see grow in the face of tragedy. What makes the comic scary are the suspenseful moments after the reader has come to connect with this family. It’s not just creepy art; it’s context and solid writing mixed with deep empathy for the Lockes that makes this a must read. Plus, it’s created by the son of Stephen King! Here’s hoping the TV show–turned–movie trilogy is worth the price of admission one day.
3. SCOTT PILGRIM
Written and illustrated by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Scott Pilgrim is dating a high schooler, and in love with an American (he’s Canadian). But if he’s gonna find companionship with either girl, he’s gotta survive Seven Evil Exes out for blood. Admittedly, I read this after I saw the movie because I couldn’t find the time to read all seven books. The film was also my introduction to Edgar Wright’s genius.This comic is one of the reasons I enjoy reading after screening the movie for various properties. My friends know me as the guy who sees the “source material” as extended commentary. I’ve gotta say, the book actually serves up mature ideas from the characters more-so than the movie ever did, though I still enjoyed the movie version. It can be a very thought-provoking and cathartic read. As funny as it is, it has a message that is timeless, but you’ll have to read it to find out what that is mwahahahaha!
Written by Brian K. Vaughn
Art by Fiona Staples
When two aliens, each from a different side of a galactic war, fall in love, all eyes turn on them and so begins a universe-wide manhunt. Everyone is talking about this book, and it’s the newest addition to my comic book collection. As cheesy as this may sound, what intrigued me the most about this space opera was the image of a woman breastfeeding with a laser in her hand; I had to know what this book was about, but I admit it eluded me for maybe the first year it came out. I just found it late, but now I am loving it. Weird thing is, I’m not sure why I am so enriched by it. What all of these books have in common is they are full of great storytelling that makes you… feel good, engaged, and enthralled while you read them. Just pick it up and travel with these alien parents as they try to raise their kid in a galaxy at war and you’ll see what I mean. And its funny, too.
5. THE UNWRITTEN
Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross
Last, but not least, possibly the one book on this list I get so giddy about every time a new volume comes out, is this little gem. Tommy Taylor is the most famous boy in the world, and so is his real-life counterpart, Tom Taylor. All is good in the world until a secret organization with universal connections and otherworldly abilities target Tom, thinking he is the savior his author father made him out to be in his novels. The world will never be the same when Tom Taylor is through – if he can find a way to rewrite his life story that is. I am sadly maybe 3 trades (volumes) behind, but that just means I have more to read when I get around to it. This book is so much more than a lose Harry Potter fan-fic; it’s about what I was saying above regarding Saga. It’s about reading and the impact stories of all kinds, big and small, innocent and epic alike that bind relationships and powers both societal and physical, together. Like Locke & Key, it’s crammed with some of the most familiar examinations of people, specifically fandom culture, I’ve ever seen. The last battle between good and evil won’t be fought with nuclear weapons or robots… but with words and their stories. Please, pick this one up as soon as you can, it’s definitely for literature lovers, and you won’t be disappointed.
By Josiah D. Bradley