Recommended Graphic Novels for Public Libraries

selected and annotated by Steve Raiteri

latest revision 10/29/2003


    Hello! By way of introduction: I'm a librarian at the Greene County Public Library in Xenia, Ohio, and for the past few years I've been buying graphic novels (comic books, that is) for my library system.  They've proven very popular at our libraries, and I put this page together to help other librarians who may want to add graphic novels to their collections but have difficulty locating information about them.  I've been a comic book reader for over 25 years, and this is a selective list of what I think are the best books we've gotten so far, out of over 1000 titles we've bought.  (It also includes a few titles that I have not bought for the library yet, but hope to, if budget allows.)  The list grew out of a handout I created for a program on graphic novels that I presented at an Ohio Library Council chapter conference in 1997, and I have updated it regularly since.  I've read almost every book listed here.

    A word about terminology: a "graphic novel", by definition, is a stand-alone story in comics form, published as a book.  Examples are Batman: The Killing Joke and Cathedral Child.  Most of the titles on this list, however, are actually trade paperback (or sometimes hardcover) collections of stories that were initially published serially in comic books.  Many of the best books on this list, from Batman: The Dark Knight Returns to Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, are books of this type.  Some of them do amount to stand-alone novels published serially (as Charles Dickens used to do), while others are anthologies of a variety of stories, and some are excerpts from larger narratives, with subplots introduced in the middle of the story (in the manner of a soap opera) and concluded in later, uncollected issues of the comic book.  To simplify matters, the term "graphic novel" is sometimes extended to cover all of these books, and I use it that way here.

    After each title, I've listed the ISBN number and price.  Most are trade paperbacks -- I've noted hardcovers with an "hc" before the ISBN.  At the end of each listing I've noted the publisher in italics (except for in the DC and Marvel superhero sections -- those books are of course published by DC and Marvel respectively).

       Most of these should still be in print.  I've left the best of those that have fallen out-of-print, too, since they may become available again at some point, and also because comic book stores may still have copies of them on the shelf.  Marvel Comics used to be notorious for deleting titles soon after release, so snatch up their older stuff if you find it -- but they have been doing a great deal in the past year to shore up their reprint program.  Those books I believe to be out of print I've marked with an (op).

    Titles added in the most recent update are listed in red.  Some of the newer listings don't have annotations yet -- I hope to add them at some point.

    All of the books listed on this page are in our Young Adult collection.  Juvenile titles, adult and "for mature readers" titles, and non-fiction titles are not included.  This is a list of books I think are 1) good to great, and 2) appropriate to buy for an audience aged about 12-16 -- and older folks might like them too (I do).

     I have two subsidiary pages here as well.  The first is a suggested opening collection for those of you just starting to collect graphic novels.  The second links to other websites related to comics and graphic novels that librarians might find of interest.  There are links to them below.

    Since mid-2002 I have been reviewing graphic novels for Library Journal -- my first column was in the Sept. 2002 issue, and it has appeared bimonthly since.  The column covers books like those on this page, which have crossover teen/adult appeal, as well as adult and "for mature readers" titles, graphic nonfiction, and books about comics.  Working on the column has left me little time to update this page -- but several of the newer titles that go un-annotated here have appeared in the column, so please check there for more information.

    Finally, everything here reflects my own opinions -- yours may well differ.

    Feel free to e-mail me with comments, at sraiteri@gcpl.lib.oh.us.


You may jump ahead to these categories:
Spotlight Titles
Superheroes from DC Comics
Superheroes from Marvel Comics
Marvel/DC Collaborations
Other Superheroes
Science Fiction and Fantasy
Comedy
Japanese Manga
Others
 

Subsidiary pages:
Opening Collection: 30 Selections
Links to other comics and graphic novel sites



 
 

Spotlight Titles

Comics creators from across the industry come together to respond to the horrible attacks that the United States suffered on September 11, 2001.  Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Kurt Busiek, Will Eisner, Michael Moorcock, and dozens and dozens of others -- many styles, many viewpoints, all united by a single purpose: to help those who were hurt, and who are still hurting.  All proceeds from the sale of these books go to charities aiding those whom the attacks put in need.  Buy them, read them, and remember.
 
 



 
 

Superheroes from DC Comics

Superman

An anthology covering Superman's history from his first appearance in 1938 to the mid-'80s.
  These three books collect the heavily publicized story of Superman's death and rebirth from 1993.
  These collect various storylines from the 1980s and '90s.  The Man of Steel is John Byrne's reinvention of the character for the early '80s.  Hunter/Prey is a sequel to the death of Superman story. The Wedding and Beyond features Superman's marriage to Lois Lane. Superman For All Seasons is an excellent story of Superman's early career by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale.
  Three books set outside of regular Superman continuity, featuring different takes on the character in alternate worlds.  (DC calls books like these "Elseworlds" titles, and they regularly publish such tales.) Superman/Aliens is a crossover with the aliens of the Alien movie trilogy (co-published with Dark Horse Comics, who own the comics rights to the Alien franchise). War of the Worlds has a 1930s Superman fighting the alien invaders from H.G. Wells's famous novel of the same name.  Whatever Happened... is a story about the end of Superman by Alan Moore of Watchmen fame (see "Other DC superheroes" below).
  This is done in the style of the recent animated Superman cartoon.
  An excellent oversized Christmas book in which Superman takes on the problem of world hunger.  Written by Paul Dini (writer of the Batman cartoons) with wonderful painted art by Alex Ross (artist of Kingdom Come and Marvels -- see below).  Not exactly a comic book, this is in the "illustrations with text" format of children's picture books (as are its companion Batman, Shazam, and Wonder Woman books listed below).


Batman

Anthologies of various stories from 1939 to the mid-'80s, the last focusing on Batman's nemesis, the Joker.
  Together these hardcover editions collect the earliest Batman stories, from Detective Comics #27-70 (1939-42).
  Self-explanatory titles.  The first is a collection of often light-hearted stories, including many from the time when the original Batman TV show was first being shown; in the second, the creators returned the Batman to his roots, and the stories became serious once more.
  Tales of the Demon collects stories from the 1970s featuring Batman's enemy Ra's al Ghul.  Strange Apparitions reprints a celebrated series of stories from 1977-78, most written by Steve Englehart and drawn by Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin, which provided some of the inspiration for the first Batman movie.  The others collect various stories from the '80s to the present.  Frank Miller's excellent The Dark Knight Returns, a grim future tale of Batman's return to action after ten years of retirement, set the tone of Batman stories for many years to follow -- it's a classic.  Miller also wrote Year One. The Killing Joke is the origin of the Joker, written by Alan Moore.  Faces (by Matt Wagner), a story of long-time villain Two-Face's attempt to band together a group of people who like himself are considered "freaks", has to my knowledge been the target of complaints at a couple of public libraries (not my own) -- it's a powerful and well-drawn story, though.
  Three fine books written by Jeph Loeb with stylish art by Tim Sale.  The first collects three Batman Halloween specials.  The second is a mystery set early in Batman's career, dealing with a murderer who kills only on holidays.  It retells the origin of Two-Face, one of Batman's most intriguing villains.  The third, a sequel to The Long Halloween, introduces Robin.
  An excellent anthology of black-and-white short stories and artwork by some of comics' most famous and respected creators, showcasing a wide variety of styles and approaches.  Contributors include Neil Gaiman (see "Science Fiction and Fantasy" below), Bruce Timm (artist for the recent Batman animated cartoon series), Howard Chaykin, Walter Simonson, Bill Sienkiewicz, Matt Wagner, and Japanese artist Katsuhiro Otomo (creator of the Japanese animation classic Akira).  Frank Miller, Barry Windsor-Smith, Alex Toth, P. Craig Russell, Alex Ross, Neal Adams, French artist Moebius (famous in America for work published in Heavy Metal magazine) and others contribute cover art or "pinup" portraits of the Batman.
  This book isn't available through normal library channels -- it's a squarebound "prestige format one-shot", a 64-page graphic novel available only through comic book stores.  Writer and illustrator Darwyn Cooke subtitled this book "a psychotic slide into the heart of darkness," and in it the Batman vividly confronts the demon inside him.  Penetrating, genuinely scary (and somewhat bloody), and excellent.
  These are done in the style of the recent Batman animated cartoon series. Dangerous Dames & Demons includes "Mad Love" by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, a great story of surprising depth.
  A companion book to the oversized Superman: Peace on Earth, by the same team of Paul Dini and Alex Ross.
  This collects early adventures of the third Robin, Batman's latest sidekick.
  A very good new series about the new Batgirl, Cassandra Cain -- a mute girl trained by an assassin to be the perfect fighter.  Co-starring Oracle (aka Barbara Gordon, the original Batgirl) and Batman himself.  Good writing by Kelley Puckett.
 

Other DC superheroes

An excellent "future history" story, written by Mark Waid with superb painted art by Alex Ross.  An aging generation of classic DC heroes (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and others) have to deal with a new generation of "heroes" -- the reckless and amoral killers that are their children and successors.  One of the very best modern superhero comics.
  Reprints a twelve-issue series of major impact, published in 1985, which merged the various alternate universes of DC's characters into one.  The intent was to simplify the DC universe for new readers, and I personally feel that the effort caused more problems than it solved -- but that isn't intended as a slight to this story, which is excellent and memorable. Written by Marv Wolfman and illustrated by the meticulous and excellent George Perez, it amazingly features practically every major character ever published by DC.  It also includes the deaths of the original Supergirl and the SilverAge Flash, Barry Allen.
  The members of the Justice League (see the JLA books below) are summoned almost a million years into the future by their far future descendants and successors, to battle a great threat and witness a great ceremony.
  Oracle (the former Batgirl, now information broker to the superhero community after a gunshot from the Joker left her legs paralyzed) hires the down-on-her-luck heroine the Black Canary to engage in international intelligence gathering and crimefighting.  Includes some above average adventures, enlivened by snappy dialogue and interesting characters.  Also features several other female DC characters of note, including the Huntress, the Catwoman, and Lois Lane.
  Recent adventures of "the Fastest Man Alive", written by Mark Waid, one of the best current mainstream comics writers.
  Adventures of a black superman and his female sidekick, Rocket.
  Impulse is a hot-headed young descendent of the Flash learning to use his powers.  Funny and well-written, by Mark Waid.
  Recent stories featuring the super-team including Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, and others.  The first two, Tower of Babel, Divided We Fall, and Terror Incognita were written by Mark Waid; New World Order through World War III are by Grant Morrison. World Without Grown-Ups, though titled as a JLA book, is actually an adventure of Robin, Superboy, and Impulse (see Young Justice below) in a world where the Justice League has disappeared (along with everyone else over 16 years old).  Superpower (an excellent book available only at comic shops) is the story of a new hero, Mark Antaeus, and it answers the questions, "Why don't JLA members interfere with international politics?" and "What if one of them did?" A League of One spotlights Wonder Woman, as she tries to save the rest of the JLA from a prophesy foretelling their deaths. The Nail is an Elseworlds story of a JLA without Superman, with great art by Alan Davis. Secret Origins is another oversized Paul Din/Alex Ross collaboration (see Superman: Peace on Earth).
  Recent stories about the re-organization of the very first super-team, the Justice Society of America.
  The origin and early adventures of this large super-group living on 30th century Earth.  Fun science fiction with a good cast of characters.
  This collects a fine serial written by Archie Goodwin and drawn by Walt Simonson, originally published in Detective Comics in the mid-1970s.  It's the story of Paul Kirk, an ex-superhero and hunter who is wanted as a killer -- but his victims are all exact duplicates of Kirk himself.  The Batman co-stars in the concluding chapter.  This edition features a new epilogue by Simonson.
  In the early 1970s, comics legend Jack Kirby created his "Fourth World" series, introducing the titanic struggle between the New Gods of the planet New Genesis and the evil Darkseid, ruler of Apokolips.  (Collected editions of Kirby's stories, including The New Gods, The Forever People, and Mister Miracle, are now available, but unfortunately they're in black and white.)  Kirby left the New Gods saga unfinished, but writer and artist Walt Simonson continues the Kirby tradition of bold art and wild storytelling in this story of Orion, the son of Darkseid who became the greatest hero of New Genesis, as he challenges his father to a final showdown.
  The Power of Shazam is a new version of the origin of the original Captain Marvel, one of the earliest superheroes. Power of Hope is another in Paul Dini and Alex Ross's excellent series of oversized books (the others are Superman: Peace on Earth and Batman: War on Crime).  Ross's painted art is amazing.
  Jack Knight didn't want to be a superhero -- he wanted to be, and was, a collectibles dealer.  His older brother David was the one who had taken over the hero's mantle from their father Ted Knight, the original Starman.  But when David is killed, Jack has to do what he can to keep his father, and Opal City, safe -- and he finds he can do more than he thought he could.  Strong characterizations and good writing by James Robinson.
  An excellent and inventive book about an unusual future version of the Teen Titans.  Great art and story by Adam Warren, an American artist heavily influenced by Japanese comics (see "Japanese Manga" below).
  This groundbreaking series, complete in this book, was written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons and published in the mid-1980s.  Along with The Dark Knight Returns (see above), it introduced a more adult sensibility into superhero comics.  Complex and superb.  (Although published by DC, it features none of that company's regular characters.)
  The first four are recent adventures of the most prominent female superhero. Amazonia is set in an alternate world around the beginning of the 20th century; it was written by William Messner-Loebs and has intricate art by Phil Winslade. Spirit of Truth is the fourth of DC's oversized storybooks, written by Paul Dini with very lifelike painted art by Alex Ross.
  A trio of very good Superman/Batman team-ups.  The first is illustrated by Steve Rude of Nexus fame (see "Science Fiction and Fantasy" below).  The second is done in the style of the recent cartoons.  Generations is an Elseworlds tale by John Byrne, in which Superman and Batman, instead of remaining perpetually young, age in real time after their first adventures in the late 1930s.
  Robin, Superboy, and Impulse are joined by three girl heroes -- Wonder Girl, Arowette, and Secret -- in the adventures of this teenage super-team.  Peter David's fine writing mixes over-the-top humor with some serious elements and compelling character examination.



 
 

Superheroes from Marvel Comics

X-Men

The X-Men are mutant outcasts who have banded together as heroes under the leadership of Professor Xavier, who believes that mutants and humans can live together in peace. Most of these collect storylines from the classic period of the new X-Men in the 1970s and '80s, when writer Chris Claremont and his artist collaborators (most notably John Byrne) made the book a sensation.  The Marvel Masterworks volume collects the earliest Claremont stories.  The Dark Phoenix Saga, which deals with the fate of Jean Grey, one of the original X-Men, is especially well-remembered by fans.  Fatal Attractions and Zero Tolerance are more recent stories, and Clandestine vs. the X-Men is a crossover with a new super-team created by the excellent artist Alan Davis.  The Avengers and Fantastic Four books team the X-Men with other Marvel super-teams (see "Other Marvel Superheroes" below for those teams' own books).
  A recent story (from 1999-2000) about the formation of the X-Men.  It tells how the telepath Charles Xavier, in the shadow of militant anti-mutant prejudice, brings together the teenagers who would become the first X-Men: Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, Angel, and Marvel Girl.  It also tells of the emergence of Xavier's rival Magneto, a powerful mutant who despises humanity and wants to rule over it, rather than live in peace with it.
  Reprints a well-remembered series of stories from 1969 and 1970, mostly written by Roy Thomas and all illustrated by Adams.  This new edition features some previously unpublished Adams sketches from the '80s intended for the God Loves, Man Kills graphic novel (which was eventually illustrated by another artist -- see above).
  These feature one of the most popular X-Men, Wolverine.  The first is by Chris Claremont and artist Frank Miller, the second is written and drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith.
 


Spider-Man

This collects Spider-Man's very first adventures, from the early 1960s.  Written by Stan Lee and drawn by Steve Ditko, these are widely considered classics and seminal works.  Spider-Man (secretly high-school student Peter Parker) was the first superhero with the problems of an average person: he was an insecure teenager with an infirm aunt, constantly low on money, in trouble with girlfriends, and ridiculed by peers.
  Collect various stories from the 1960s to the '90s.
  This collects two famous stories from the early 1970s.  The first deals with drug abuse, and was bold and groundbreaking in its time; the second tells of the death of Spider-Man's girlfriend at the hands of the Green Goblin.
  These collect storylines from the 1980s and '90s. Fearful Symmetry is an excellent story in which the villain actually kills Spider-Man (don't worry, he gets better); Soul of the Hunter is a sequel to it.  The Visionaries book reprints the first eight issues of of artist Todd McFarlane's run on the comic.
  Coming Home is an excellent recent story in which Peter gets a new job, and Spider-Man meets someone else who has powers like his: a man who seems to know more than he does about the nature of the spider-powers, their source, and their danger.  Fine writing by J. Michael Straczynski. Revelations continues from it, and also features Stracynski's story from Amazing Spider-Man #36, an eloquent response to the September 11th attacks.  One Small Break is another collection of recent stories, written by Paul Jenkins.
  A new Spider-Man "for a new millennium", as the back cover of the first volume has it.  Spider-Man's original origin was published and set in 1963 -- this new version takes place in the world of today (with Peter Parker looking up "spiders" on the Internet after he is bitten by one).  Very enjoyable books, with excellent writing by Brian Michael Bendis.  The Vol. 1 hardcover collects the paperback volumes 1 and 2  in one very sharp-looking oversized book.
  In the future, Peter Parker has given up being Spider-Man, but his daughter May has inherited his powers.  This book deals with May's discovery of her heritage and her conflict with her parents over whether she should become a crimefighter herself.  An enjoyable book with obvious influences from the earliest Spider-Man stories of the 1960s.
 


Other Marvel superheroes

This volume reprints the origin stories of many of Marvel's earliest and best-known characters, including the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Sub-Mariner, Thor, Iron Man, Doctor Strange, the X-Men, the Avengers, Daredevil, and the Silver Surfer.
  Collects stories from the late 1930s to the early 1950s, featuring Captain America, the original Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner, and others.
  A series from 1994 set in the early years of the Marvel universe, featuring many of Marvel's earliest characters as seen from the everyday perspective of average people.  Superb painted art by Alex Ross and sophisticated writing by Kurt Busiek (creator of Astro City -- see "Other Superheroes" below) set it apart.  Thoroughly excellent, and considered a classic.
  Reprints a 14-issue series set in the near future, a sort of Marvel analogue to DC's Kingdom Come (though despite good ideas -- and covers, designs, and plotting by Alex Ross -- it's not as good as the DC book).  The entire human population of the world has been mutated, and the story follows many heroes of the past in a world where their abilities are no longer unusual, as they attempt to determine what caused the mutation and to deal with its effects.  They discover some hidden information about the history and nature of humanity, and about other, more powerful races also.  And there are some interesting developments in the lives of Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and others.
  A big crossover story, originally published in the early '90s, written by Jim Starlin with great art by George Perez and Ron Lim.  Features many of Marvel's heroes (including the Avengers, the Silver Surfer, Dr. Strange, the Hulk, Wolverine, and Spider-Man) and many of its ultra-powerful cosmic characters (such as Galactus, the devourer of worlds), led by the mysterious Adam Warlock against Thanos, a villain who has stolen six gems which together give him power over all that exists. (See The Life and Death of Captain Marvel below for Thanos's first appearances.)
  The Avengers, a super-team, includes Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and many others.  The Kree-Skrull War is a well-remembered story from the '70s of a war between two alien races, with the Earth caught in the middle -- written by Roy Thomas with art by Neal Adams.  Celestial Madonna is another '70s story.  George Perez illustrated all of the stories in the Visionaries book. The next four books, written by Kurt Busiek and also illustrated by Perez, reprint issues from the most recent Avengers series.  They're some of the best mainstream superhero comics Marvel has published in a long time. The Kang Dynasty is by Busiek with various artists. Avengers Forever, written by Busiek with great art by Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino, is a fantastic time travel story starring Avengers from the past, present, and future.
  T'Challa, the Black Panther, is king of the African nation of Wakanda, a wealthy and technologically advanced country thanks to its deposits of the rare metal vibranium.  In this story, he travels to New York to avenge the death of a young girl, and comes into conflict with the devil himself, Mephisto, while at home an uprising threatens his throne.  Writer Christopher Priest tells the story from the viewpoint of a twenty-something State Department official, with humor and more of an edge than the average Marvel comic displays.  Part of the "Marvel Knights" line (Marvel's designation for some of their edgier comics).
  Together these collect an excellent story written by Mark Waid about the rebirth of this iconic character.
  Adventures of a blind urban superhero.  All but the last are by Frank Miller, of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns fame (see above).  The first retells the origin of the character -- the others comprise a complete reprint of Miller's celebrated run on the comic, from 1979-83.  The last book reprints a superb story written by film director Kevin Smith (Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy).
  The Fantastic Four, created in the early 1960s, were Marvel's first super-team.  The Visionaries book reprints the early issues of writer/artist John Byrne's excellent run on the comic, from the early 1980s.  The other two reprint several recent and well-done issues of the latest FF series.
  Recent adventures of the Hulk, the character that inspired the 1970s TV series with Lou Ferrigno.  Written by Peter David, an excellent comics writer also known for his Star Trek novels (and comics -- see below).
  The first book is fine story from the 1980s in which Iron Man (alias Tony Stark, famous inventor, industrialist, and playboy) deals with not only the usual assortment of villains, but also a challenge most superheroes don't have to face: alcoholism.  In the second book, reprinting a 1999-2000 story, Iron Man's computerized suit of armor develops intelligence and wreaks havoc on his public and private lives.
  Bob Reynolds, an average guy, starts to have vague memories of being the Sentry, a hero who fought alongside the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the X-Men and others in the early years of their careers.  But now no one remembers him, and there's no trace that he ever existed.  His odyssey of self-discovery leads him to those he believes to have been his old allies.  An excellent book, written by Paul Jenkins with moody and introspective art by Jae Lee.  The Sentry's flashbacks are illustrated in witty homages to early Marvel comics, drawn in period styles.  A "Marvel Knights" title.
  The Surfer, former star-spanning herald of the world devourer Galactus, is one of Marvel's most cosmic, and contemplative, characters.  The first book is by the Surfer's creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; the second is by Lee and French artist Moebius.
  Reprints the first 12 issues of Simonson's excellent 1980s run on the God of Thunder's comic.  Bold art, great stories, fun reading.
 
 



 
 

Marvel/DC Collaborations

DC vs. Marvel collects a crossover from the 1990s.  It spun off the four Amalgam books, in which the DC and Marvel universes merge, and established characters are "combined" into new ones.  -- DC or Marvel, as titled
  Both written and illustrated by John Byrne.  -- DC
  Illustrated by Steve Rude.  -- Marvel



 
 

Other Superheroes

These collect issues of a 1990s series written by Kurt Busiek.  Thoroughly excellent, it eschews the grim tone of many modern superhero comics while retaining their sophistication. -- Homage
  This series by Paul Chadwick is highly regarded.  Concrete, a human whose brain was transplanted into a rocklike body by aliens, is a superhero only in the most general sense; he has superhuman abilities and sometimes performs heroic feats, but his stories are entirely free of standard superhero clichés.  The first three books are in black and white.  -- Dark Horse
  Zot! is an excellent series about a young hero on a futuristic alternate Earth, and his adventures with visitors from our Earth. -- Kitchen Sink
  Writer Kurt Busiek tells the story of Cody Bridges, a superhero who depends on bio-energy donated by his adoring fans to power him in his crime-fighting battles -- so his ability is determined by his popularity.  His media-manipulating father keeps his profile high, but Cody is reluctant to be exploited.  -- Image
  Writer Alan Moore, responding to the "grim and gritty" tone of many recent comics inspired by such works as his own classic Watchmen (see "Other DC Superheroes" above), brings the fun and sense of wonder back into comics with his "America's Best Comics" line.  This book relates the exploits of Tom Strong, scientific adventurer, with his wife Dhalua, their daughter Tesla, the robot Pneuman (the pneumatic man), and the talking ape King Solomon.  Studded with homages to comics of earlier eras, the book has both a modern style and an optimistic outlook.  -- America's Best Comics
  Another book in Alan Moore's "America's Best Comics" line (see Tom Strong above), this is the story of the super-powered cops whose beat is Neopolis, the city where *everyone* has a costume, a code name, and super powers.  Moore tosses is just about every idea you've ever seen in superhero comics -- aliens, monsters, intelligent animals and robots, alternate realities, super-science, and every kind of power -- and puts them in a situation where they're all just part of daily life.  A book with great humor and a more-adult-than-usual tone for superhero comics (lots of sexual innuendo, but no actual sex).  Great fun for long-time superhero fans.  -- America's Best Comics
 



 
 

Science Fiction and Fantasy

Star Wars

These are original stories based on the Star Wars movies.  They form a trilogy which takes place directly after Return of the Jedi.  -- Dark Horse
  These original stories are liable to appeal to a younger audience.  -- Dark Horse
  These are adapted from novels; the first three by Timothy Zahn, the last by Alan Dean Foster.  -- Dark Horse
  These are comics adaptations of the first three Star Wars movies, published in Japan and done in Japanese manga style (see "Japanese Manga" below for more examples).  They follow the movies very closely, and if you like the Japanese style, they're excellent.  This version of Star Wars: A New Hope is the best comics version of a movie that I've ever seen.  There's also a manga adaptation of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, which squeezes the entire movie into two books (half the length of the others), and is less successful -- but then, so was the movie itself.  -- Dark Horse
  In this alternate version of the Star Wars saga, Luke Skywalker fails to destroy the Death Star, and the Rebellion is crushed.  Luke and Han Solo believe that Princess Leia is dead, but in fact she has been captured by the Empire, and Darth Vader is trying to turn her over to the Dark Side.  -- Dark Horse


Star Trek

Published by DC Comics, these are original stories using the TV characters. Debt of Honor, written by Chris Claremont, has been called "the best Star Trek story never filmed".  Who Killed Captain Kirk? was written by Peter David.  -- DC


Elfquest

Wendy and Richard Pini have been self-publishing this superb fantasy series since the 1970s.   An American Library Association reviewer called it "one of the most important works in American fantasy."  The first four volumes collect the initial storyline, a compelling tale about a tribe of elves searching for others of their kind. Elfquest has also spun off a series of novelizations and original short story anthologies.  The excellent color hardcover editions of Vols. 1-9 are out of print, but get them if you can -- all of those volumes have been reprinted in the the black-and-white paperback "Readers Collection" series, but the hardcovers are much more attractive.  (There are more Readers Collections in the series, but the ones listed above are the most essential.)  -- Wolfrider Books
 

Akiko

Akiko is a fourth grade girl who is brought from Earth to the planet Smoo on the order of King Froptoppit, and charged with leading a mismatched team of adventurers on a rescue mission to free the king's son, who has been kidnapped by the fearful Alia Rellapor.  This highly acclaimed series, filled with comedy and adventure, is fun for all ages.  The initial storyline is concluded in Vol. 3.  Vol. 4, subtitled "The Story Tree" has Akiko's friends from Smoo telling stories of their earlier days, and  Vol. 5 involves the gang in a new adventure, the quest for Bornstone's Elixir.  -- Sirius
 

Bone

A fun and highly regarded black and white fantasy series written and drawn by Jeff Smith.  When the three Bone cousins -- good-hearted Fone Bone, avaricious Phoney Bone, and dimwitted Smiley Bone -- are driven out of Boneville, then end up in a valley unknown to them.  Fone Bone is befriended by a girl named Thorn who takes him to stay with her Gran'ma Ben, but the Bones' arrival sets in motion a chain of events that will bring them all into contact with dragons, invading rat creatures, and an ancient evil thought long gone -- as well as a variety of talking animals, both cute and dangerous.  A series full of adventure, suspense, and humor, with a satisfyingly deep and complex story. Stupid, Stupid Rat-Tails features the comedic adventures of Big Johnson Bone, founder of Boneville, and the indelible mark he leaves on the society of the rat creatures, in a story written by Tom Sniegoski and illustrated by Jeff Smith; it also includes another tale of the rat creatures by Sniegoski and Stan Sakai (of Usagi Yojimbo fame -- see below). Rose is an excellent prequel to Bone, written by Smith and with art by Charles Vess.    -- Cartoon Books
 

Cerebus

This black and white fantasy series by Dave Sim began in the late 1970s, and was one of the first self-published comics to gain a large audience.  The title character is a walking, talking aardvark in a world of humans.  Together these two books collect the first 50 issues of the series.  It began as a parody of Conan the Barbarian, quickly growing to include parodies of other fantasy and comics characters and characters patterned after real-life comedians, but by the middle of the first book Cerebus becomes involved in complex political intrigue, and the parody becomes only part of a much larger story.  There are many more books in the series to buy if demand warrants -- these first two are the most accessible, in my opinion.  -- Aardvark-Vanaheim
 

Nexus

An offbeat series by Mike Baron and Steve Rude, set in the far future. Nexus is a tortured archaeologist, Horatio Hellpop, who has energy powers given to him by a race of aliens and uses them to kill mass murderers. -- Dark Horse
 

Usagi Yojimbo

Writer and artist Stan Sakai has for over a decade been chronicling the adventures of Usagi, a wandering ronin (a masterless samurai) in historical Japan.  Beyond the appealing art (in black and white) and excellent storytelling, the hook/catch is this: Usagi is an anthropomorphic rabbit (the title translates to "rabbit bodyguard"), with a mostly human physique and long floppy ears (tied up in a topknot, naturally).  Other characters include a cat-woman, bat-ninjas, a panda-boy, and Usagi's friend Gen, a rhinoceros-man.  Appropriately enough, volumes 3 and 8 also guest-star the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  The stories are often serious and sometimes funny, often action-packed and sometimes lyrical, and always well-done.  Space Usagi features a far-future descendent of the original Usagi, in a Star Wars-esque setting and series of adventures.  -- Books 1-7: Fantagraphics -- books 8- : Dark Horse
 


Others

An excellent book written by Neil Gaiman, author of several prose fantasy books and also the extraordinary Sandman comics series for adults.  It deals with a boy's induction into the world of magic by several of DC's mystical characters.  -- DC
  Both written and drawn by Lea Hernandez.  Cathedral Child is set in Texas in 1897, and it deals with a giant and mysteriously powerful "analytical engine", Cathedral, built in an old church; the struggle between the native tribe who helped build the computer and the financiers who wish to exploit it; and the romance between two of Cathedral's "tutors", Glory and Sumner.   Black and white work influenced by Japanese comics (see "Japanese Manga" below) and animation.  Clockwork Angels is a sequel with a different cast of characters, including psychic Temperance Bane, her longtime companion Amy, and their protector, Temperance's Uncle Jules, in their struggle against the assassin Sacerdote (note: this one contains homosexual content.)  -- Image
  The story of Princess Mabelrose, the kind and fun-loving (but unladylike) daughter of the rulers of the less-than-wealthy kingdom of New Tinsley.  A fearsome dragon kidnaps her, and taunts her that no handsome prince will ever want to rescue HER -- so she decides to take matters into her own hands.  A nice series with impressive computer-composed and -colored artwork, by Rod Espinosa.  -- Antarctic Press
  Comics version of the last novel in Michael Moorcock's highly-regarded fantasy series about the doomed hero Elric of Melnibone.  Adapted and beautifully illustrated by P. Craig Russell.   -- Topps/Dark Horse
  Comics version of Douglas Adams' hilarious book.  -- DC
  Comics version of the classic J.R.R. Tolkien novel, adapted by Chuck Dixon and illustrated by David Wenzel.  -- Ballantine
  A horror/fantasy series featuring the rock band Kiss as the Elder, a quartet of ancient, powerful mystical beings.  The band members (the original lineup, with makeup) make great comics characters, but the stories are often not so much about the Elder as they are about the people who, at critical moments, encounter them.  -- Image
  The tagline for this highly regarded black and white series is "A most peculiar comic book experience" -- and no advertising copy ever spoke truer.  It chronicles the adventures of a tribe of, yes, beans, that live on a totally invented world (with a carefully worked-out ecosystem) in the shadow of the benevolent Gran'Ma'Pa (a tree, I think).  See the daring beans raid the domain of the Hoi-Polloi Ring Herd in search of chow!  Read the legend of how Mr. Spook received his fork!  Watch Beanish break out!  Absolutely unique, and fun. -- Beanworld Press
  Collects the horror series Alice Cooper: The Last Temptation, released in conjunction with Cooper's album of the same title.  Written by the celebrated Neil Gaiman.  This book was originally released by Marvel in color, as The Compleat Alice Cooper: The Last Temptation; that edition is long out of print.  This edition is printed without colors, in sepia ink on cream-colored paper.  -- Dark Horse
  Teenage Sephie is the daughter of the minister of Meridian, one of many islands floating above the world of Demetria.  When her father dies, both she and her uncle Ilahn, minister of Cadador, are granted a mysterious mark of power.  The power-hungry Ilahn attempts to manipulate Sephie and control Meridian -- but the people of Meridian have secrets Ilahn is unaware of, and Sephie has not only emerging powers, but a mind of her own.  The best of the four inaugural releases from CrossGen Comics (the others are Scion, Sigil, and Mystic), this is obviously a labor of love for writer Barbara Kesel, and it also features excellent art and superb coloring.   -- CrossGen
  By Scott McCloud of Zot! fame, this is a fun, far-out story about Abraham Lincoln's return to America in the present day, with artwork done entirely on computers.  -- Homage
  This is an intriguing and unique book in many ways.  First, in its story: creator Christian Gossett has given us "an epic mythology of the Soviet Union" (from the back cover copy) -- a science fiction- and fantasy-based alternate history of the communist U.S.S.R.  Second, in its art: in addition to traditional comics penciling, it makes use of high-end computer modeling and coloring to striking effect.  Third, though the original comics were published in regular comic-book size, the collected edition is printed much larger.  Finally, the margins of the book include Internet website addresses where story and production background information can be found.  In this first volume, we are introduced to Maya Antares, Sorceress-Major of the Red Fleet, still in mourning many years after her husband died in the Battle of Kar Dathra's Gate -- a battle which the United Republics of the Red Star lost.  We also see the struggle that took place between two supernatural forces over her husband's dying body, and we are given hints of a greater battle to come.   -- Image
  On his 21st birthday, Prince Ethan of the Heron Dynasty fights a ritual duel against Prince Bron of the Raven Dynasty, the Herons' hereditary enemy.  The duels are intended as a substitute for all-out warfare, but during the fight Ethan is suddenly gifted with a new and strange power, and he accidentally scars Bron for life.  Now Ethan must deal with the revenge the Ravens inflict on him, the war that erupts between the two houses, and his new and unknown powers.  One of the four initial releases from CrossGen Comics, like all CrossGen books it features good art (and excellent coloring and lettering).   -- CrossGen
  This black-and-white fantasy series, written and drawn by Mark Oakley, is the story of the young thief Rubel, who has sworn allegiance to Princess Katara of Highborn.  He returns home from a long sea voyage to find that his city has changed, and that he's being stalked by a Shadow Lady who wants to steal his soul.  Volume two introduces Rubel's friend Quinton Zempfester, a wizard who never seems to do any magic -- but he's more than he appears, as most of the main characters turn out to be.  The story is told with humor and a touch of strangeness, in an unusual style, shifting between traditional comics format and a text-with-illustrations format.  Fortunately Oakley is good at both, and the text sections serve to present some well-thought-out background.   -- I Box
  In the year 2192, Cassandra Andrews, daughter of the president of Earth, becomes the first human to attend the Galactic Academy, in a Galactic Alliance that only tolerates humans because humans' unusual warlike tendencies were of use in the war against the invading Bono Kiro.  When the Bono Kiro return, Cassandra and her few friends from the academy, aboard the experimental spacecraft the Wandering Star, are swept up into the conflict.  Good storytelling, with black-and-white art, by creator Teri Sue Wood. -- Sirius
  By Kurt Busiek (of Marvels and Astro City fame) and David Wenzel (illustrator of the Hobbit adaptation listed above).  The story of Bafflerog Rumplewhisker, an evil wizard who somehow can't manage to be that evil, and his half-hearted quest to retrieve the legendary and powerful Book of Worse.  -- Homage
 

 
 

Comedy

Archie

All-American teenager Archie Andrews was introduced in 1941 (in the pages of a comic book called Pep), and his adventures have been published regularly ever since, making him one of the longest-running characters in comics.  His gang includes his slacker pal Jughead, his shifty rival Reggie, and Betty and Veronica, the two rivals for Archie's affections whom he can never choose between.  These books reprint stories from the extensive Archie Comics line (which has included titles such as Everything's Archie, Archie's Pals & Gals, Archie's TV Laugh-Out, etc. etc.), many spoofing trends, fads, and heroes of the decade in question (Elvis and sock hops in the '50s, the Beatles and hippies in the '60s, and so on).  Good clean fun.  -- Archie Comics
 

Groo

Created and drawn by Mad magazine cartoonist Sergio Aragones, Groo is a deadly but brainless barbarian swordsman who fouls up every task he undertakes and spreads destruction in his wake.  Aragones and collaborator Mark Evanier have extended this concept into a consistently good, and consistently funny, series.  (Rufferto, by the way, is Groo's loyal dog.)  -- Dark Horse
 

The Simpsons

These are collections of original stories based on the Simpsons TV show.  Overseen by Matt Groening, the Simpsons' creator, these capture the humor of the show well.  Simpsons Comics Royale includes some text features along with the comics.  -- HarperPerennial, except "Unchained" and "Big Book of Bart Simpson" from Bongo Comics
  Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier, creators of Groo (see above), here turn their attention to the world of comic book fans, with the story of Finster: comic-book store clerk, budding artist, and all-around geek.  His popularity level is zero (unless you ask Sandy, the girl he ignores in favor of his hopeless crush on the snobby Kimberley), but his fantasy life is extravagant.  In fantasy sequences drawn by two dozen famous comics artists (including Neal Adams, Frank Miller, Wendy Pini, and Steve Rude), Finster meets Superman, Green Lantern, Batman, and other comics stars, who help him deal with the problems of his real life.  A hilarious book, and a knowing satire on comics fans, comics shops, comics censorship, and comics in general.  -- DC
 



 
 

Japanese Manga

"Manga" is the Japanese word for comics.  Japanese manga are almost always published in black and white, and often have an identifiable style, known for its "big-eyed, big-haired" characters and intricate renderings of  "mecha" (robots, spaceships, weapons, and the like).  Manga are very popular in Japan, and they cover a much wider range of genres than contemporary American comics, with stories published for both genders and all age groups.  Many manga are adapted into, or derive from, "anime", or Japanese animation.  All of the ones listed here have been translated into English.
  An extraordinary series, complete in these four volumes, written and drawn by Hayao Miyazaki, one of Japan's most highly acclaimed and widely admired anime directors.  Nausicaa is the princess of a small kingdom in a far future Earth that has been devastated by terrible wars and where humankind is in danger of being exterminated by a poisonous forest that is spreading to cover the planet.  She and her people become involved in a war between two much larger powers, but Nausicaa herself, a pacifist and lover of nature, is more concerned with exploring the secrets of the forest.  Stepan Chapman, a reviewer in the Comics Journal, called this incredibly rich and complex 1000-page epic "the best graphic novel ever".  (Miyazaki, by the way, directed My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service, two great animated films made for kids, both of which have been dubbed in English and released on video in the U.S.  He also made Princess Mononoke, a movie for an older audience, which is absolutely the finest animated film I've ever seen.  It saw a somewhat limited theatrical release in the U.S., dubbed in English, and has been released on videotape and DVD here.)  -- Viz
   See "Science Fiction and Fantasy" above
  A good example of shojo manga (Japanese girls' comics), a genre under-represented in English translation.  Shojo stories are generally characterized by expressive artwork and a focus on emotion.  This book features three love stories by writer and artist Tomoko Taniguchi. The title story is about a young girl who seeks solace watching the sea creatures in a public aquarium, after failing the entrance exam to the high school that all her friends (including the boy she loves) are attending.  She falls deeper into despair until she does something drastic -- but the boy she met at the aquarium wants to help her.  -- CPM
  The most famous series by Japan's most revered anime and manga creator is finally being published in English.  Osamu Tezuka created Tetsuwan Atom ("Mighty Atom" in English) in a 1951 manga, and in 1963 he started a long-running animated TV series based on the comic. The TV show was brought over to America as "Astro Boy" in the '60s, and it became the first anime that many Americans ever saw.  The story deals with a little robot boy, created by a powerful minister of science, Dr. Tenma, to replace his son, who died in an accident.  But when Dr. Tenma realizes that the robot boy will never grow up, he casts him out.  Fortunately the robot is eventually discovered by Professor Ochanomizu, who sees great potential in him.  The Professor names him "Astro" and trains and teaches him, and Astro becomes involved in many adventures.  These first volumes reprint stories from the early 1960s, and deal with the place of intelligent robots in the human world.  The manga is translated by long-time Tezuka associate Frederik L. Schodt, author of Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics and Dreamland Japan, two indispensable English-language books on manga.   -- Dark Horse
  Another good shojo manga by Tomoko Taniguchi.  Schoolgirl Mako idolizes her older sister's husband Shin, and wants to be loved by someone like him: someone who will call her "princess."  Then Shin's younger brother Ryu comes to live with her family -- despite his bad reputation, could he be the one for her?  -- CPM
  Fourth-grader Sakura Kinomoto finds a mysterious book on her father's bookshelf.  It once held a set of magical Clow Cards, created by a powerful magician, but now the cards are missing, and they will wreak disaster upon the world unless Sakura can collect them and return them to the book.  She's aided by her best friend Tomoyo (who videotapes Sakura's exploits and makes her a new costume for each battle), and by Kerberos (or "Kero"), a cute flying creature who is the guardian of the book.  Created by the four-woman manga team called Clamp, who are also responsible for Magic Knight Rayearth (see below).  Note: there are quite a few same-sex infatuations among the main characters in this series, all tastefully, wistfully handled.  The Master of the Clow book is the first of a second series, published in Tokyopop's larger "Authentic Manga" format, which is read right-to-left, as the original Japanese books are.  -- Tokyopop
    (This series is also available in a bilingual edition [English and Japanese] published by Kodansha in Japan [Vol. 1, the only one we've bought, is ISBN #4770026447, 16.99 imported to the USA].  The bilingual version is read right-to-left, as all Japanese books are, but it features a clearer English translation and improved art reproduction.)
  Junior high school girl Miaka Yuki is a less-than-excellent student trying to get into a top high school to please her mother.  One day at the library, she and her friend Yui find an old book of Chinese legends called The Universe of the Four Gods, and when they open it they are drawn into the world of the book.  They return back home quickly, but Miaka is drawn back to the book and becomes stranded in its world, where she is recognized by the Emperor as the Preistess of Suzaku.  If she can find the seven celestial warriors who can protect her, she will be able to lead the empire to glory and have all of her wishes granted.   -- Viz
  Three Japanese girls are summoned by a princess to the magical land of Cephiro, where they must become heroic magic knights and defend the land against the princess's captor, Zagato.  Created by Clamp.  This box set is a new edition. There are three additional volumes available, but to me they're only a tacked-on cash-in sequel to a story that was essentially finished.  -- Mixx/Tokyopop
  Based on the phenomenal animated TV series of the same name, created by the Japanese animation studio Gainax.  The manga version is written and drawn by Yoshiyhki Sadamoto, Gainax's original TV character designer, ensuring a look very like the show, but the comic's story diverges a bit from the original.  In the year 2015, fifteen years after half of the Earth's population was wiped out in a huge disaster, introverted and apathetic 14-year-old Shinji Ikari is summoned by his estranged father and told that he must pilot a giant bio-robot, Evangelion Unit 01, into battle against the "angels" that are attacking the Earth.  What may seem to be a standard giant-robot battle story turns out to feature interesting intrigue and deep psychological character exploration, as Shinji attempts to come to terms with his new role and the people now surrounding him.  -- Viz
  Tenchi is one of the most popular anime series in America.  It started with a series of direct-to-video episodes, then expanded into TV shows and three movies.  Tenchi Masaki, Japanese high school student, is descended from the royal house of the planet Jurai, and has extraordinary powers as his birthright.  This series of original stories picks up after the first six direct-to-video episodes, in which a cast of alien women are drawn together around Tenchi, including the hot-headed space pirate Ryoko; Princess Ayeka of Jurai, Ryoko's rival for Tenchi's affections; bubble-headed Galaxy Police officer Mihoshi; mad scientist Washu; and Princess Sasami, Ayeka's little sister and the most level-headed of the bunch.  This series of adventures, set on Earth and in space, has just about everything; alien menaces, romantic complications, advanced technology, sitcom and self-referential humor, heartwarming sentiment, and blazing super-powered combat -- and cute artwork.  Fun stuff.  One more note: it also occasionally contains minor nudity.   -- Viz
  A light-hearted and romantic fantasy/farce that begins like this: a lonely teenage boy, Keiichi Morisato, accidentally dials the phone number for the Relief Goddess Office, and receives a visit from Belldandy, a lovely goddess who grants him one wish.  He wishes for a goddess like her to stay with him always, and she surprises him by announcing that she herself will stay to live with him.  Their adventures begin when they are thrown out of Keiichi's all-male dorm, and become crazy when Belldandy's sisters Urd (a mischievous goddess of love) and Skuld (a young inventor of weird and wonderful machines) join her on Earth -- but none of this stops romance from flowering.  A sweet series, with, in the later volumes, excellent art.  -- Dark Horse
  A shojo manga by Miwa Ueda.  High school girl Momo tans very easily and and has light-colored hair (both uncommon in Japan, I believe), and is consequently looked down upon by her classmates as a "playgirl" -- but she's not like that at all.  She's loved her friend Toji for a long time, but hasn't been confident enough to tell him so, and she's being pursued by Kiley, a boy she doesn't like.  Complicating things is Momo's conniving "friend" Sae, who manipulates all three and orchestrates disaster.  A well-plotted emotional roller coaster ride.   -- Mixx/Tokyopop
  A manga version of an anime TV show; the show is popular among American anime fans.  When she was a little girl, grieving for her dead parents, Utena Tenjou was visited by a prince, who gave her the courage to go on, and gave her a ring which he said would lead her to him one day.  She was so inspired by him that she decided -- to become a prince herself!  Looking for her prince years later, she enters the Ohtori Academy, where she becomes involved in the intrigues of the Student Council, the members of which wear rings exactly like the one the prince gave her.  They engage in sword duels to win the hand of Rose Bride, and the power that she possesses -- and Utena, without knowing any of this, challenges one of them to a duel.  Told more straightforwardly than the sometimes surreal anime, the manga also features an interesting new prologue to the story.   -- Viz
  Rumiko Takahashi is probably the world's most popular female comics writer and artist.  Her long-running series Maison Ikkoku, Ranma 1/2, and Urusei Yatsura have all been hugely popular in Japan.  Each was made into a successful series of animated TV shows and movies, and all have been (or are being) translated and released in America.  The Rumic Theater books are excellent collections of some of her shorter, non-series works: some true-to-life (such as "The Tragedy of P", in which a family who live in an apartment complex where pets are not allowed briefly hosts a visiting penguin), and some with a fantastic element (like "One Hundred Years of Love", in which an old woman suddenly gains telekinetic powers).  -- Viz
  A collection of heartwarming and down-to-Earth short stories about young love by Mitsuru Adachi.  (Well, mostly heartwarming -- one is about a stalker of sorts.  And mostly down-to-Earth -- one of them does feature one Maxim Agf from the planet Lipton...)  -- Viz
 



 
 

Others

A beautifully drawn, wordless book by Ricardo Delgato, about the daily lives of dinosaurs.  -- Dark Horse
  Written and drawn by Jay Hosler, a biologist and bee specialist, this is the life story of Nyuki, a honey bee.  Holser includes a good deal of information regarding bee behavior, but this isn't a dry non-fiction book -- it's a story, told with an understanding of and sympathy for nature, and with humor (other characters include a flower named Bloomington and a dung beetle, always seen rolling a ball of dung, called Sisyphus).  -- Active Synapse
  The story of a girl group in the music world of the early 1960s.  -- Oni Press
  Written and illustrated by George Pratt, this is an excellent story about a retired German World War I fighter pilot.  Pratt's painted art is striking.  -- DC
  Written and illustrated by Bryan Talbot, this story of child abuse and recovery received a lot of notice in the popular press and much acclaim.  It's told with great sensitivity and realism, and draws inspiration from the works of Beatrix Potter.  -- Dark Horse
 
 



 
 














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