I’ve been a comic book lover for most of my life. I started out with collecting every issue that my favorite character was featured in. As I got older, I began to look at comics for writers, artists, and publishers. Comic books are one subject I am completely passionate about. I love recommending comics, finding and discovering new comics, and going off on tangents about characters in comics. You can normally find me in a local shop every Wednesday.
One of my friends is getting to ready to open comic book shop, which brought us to the question: if someone asked you which comics they should read or be reading what would you tell them? The list started to become long, as I asked others for their answers too. When finally I comprised a list of five comic series (I had to narrow it down or this article would be pages and pages) that I think a novice reader or veteran reader can enjoy reading. And please, if you have any recommendations or something you feel should have been on the list, let me know! Who knows maybe I’ll make a part two.
Character created by: Alan Moore & Stephen R. Bissette, Various series writers & artists, DC Comics/Vertigo Imprint
Imprints are often created by publisher houses to appeal to a more mature age-demographic. Many of the stories in the Vertigo Universe are horror/fantasy related and graphic in nature. John Constantine, the series protagonist, was introduced in the 80’s as a reoccurring character in DC’s comic book Swamp Thing; when finally in 1988 he was given his own title due to overwhelming audience response. In 1993 the imprint of Vertigo was unleashed, and Hellblazer became Vertigo’s longest running title since the launch. That is until 2013 when the series finally ended, with Vertigo becoming its own entity, and John Constantine getting flung back over to the DC universe in the series titled Constantine; he is also being featured as part of DC’s reboot mission The New 52, as the leader of The Justice League Dark. Okay, that was a mouthful; let’s get to the fun stuff.
Aside from the fact that you can read this for ages as the title dates back to 1988 (your collection can look nice and neat too, for all of these issues are offered in trades), the series has featured many award winning writers and artists. I personally like reading certain comics this way as it gives you a different perspective, story arc, and feeling of the character. John Constantine’s baddassery never changed, but his predicaments and style did. On the outside this guy looks like a dick and that’s because he is. He’s a cunning, street-smart, con-artist, whose friends die by the hands of his enemies because they might be innocently standing next to him. This kind of messes John up because he sees their ghosts, who follow him around like his own Puff Daddy entourage. Oh, and magic!
John Constantine is a master occultist, said to be one of the most powerful in the World descending from a family line of all magicians. I’m not sure why but, he hardly uses that shit, and mostly decides to resort to trickery to outwit his opponents. But alas our anti-hero does have a heart, and once in a while you can see a gleam in his eyes that he actually does want to do good. If I had to sum John Constantine up I would say he’s like Allister Crowley, Sarah from the Craft, the “I see dead people” kid, Matt Damon from Ocean’s Eleven, and “Now You See Me” (the whole movie), trapped in the Allegory of the Cave. This is a fun great read, with such a great character composition. Even if you don’t care to go back through and read all 300 issues, I would say start with the new Constantine.
Creator/Writer Neil Gaiman, Artist: Various, Vertigo
We all have a story we will read strictly for the author, this is mine. I don’t think this series would have worked with anyone else helming the wheel. Another transplant from DC, The Sandman finished its run in as a Vertigo powerhouse in 1996. Neil Gaiman originally wanted to revive a character from a previous DC comic, until it was offered up to him to create a new character with the same name. Thus, our Lord of Dreams was born.
Dream is one of seven “Endless”, each one taking on human forms of their concepts. Dream is out for vengeance, and seeks out the entities that have held him captive for 70 years. Each Endless has a domain, or a kingdom in which they reside, Dream looks to rebuild his home which has fallen to ruin in his absence and must locate his objects of power. The series intellectually makes you look inside of yourself, and you begin to relate to Dream. To rebuild he has to reevaluate himself, and change wrongs that he has done over his immortal life, a task that is easier said than done. Neil Gaiman describes the plot as, “The Lord of Dreams learns that one must change or die, and makes his decision”.
This story will engulf you. It’s almost as if you get a taste of theology and the Seven Deadly Sins, without getting too religious. Our favorite fantasy writer left no detail out when creating this series. A mix of legends, mythology, the occult, and folklore is the base of the comic and the artwork is equally as entrancing being dark, gritty, gothic and handsome.
Created & Written by Gerard Way, Artist: Gabriel Ba (accent over a), Dark Horse Comics
This is the sleeper hit of the bunch. The Umbrella Academy has been out since 2007 and it took me seven years to read it, I wanted to hate it. I didn’t think that the lead singer of My Chemical Romance could put out a comic book I wanted to read; I thought he was bored, and since he was famous, this was the only reason he got to write a comic. Boy was I wrong. As of right now, there are only two trades each with six issues available; the next two series are in development. If you are a fan of Gerard’s music career, you will be able to see the influence in the stories. The most notable example of this are the titles of some of the issues, “Baby I’ll Be Your Frankenstein”, “Thank You for the Coffee”, and “…But The Past Ain’t Through With You”.
The first series of the Umbrella Academy, titled Apocalypse Suite, gives you a background of how the Umbrella Academy came to be. When a cosmic event happened, a number of super children were born to random ladies, who had no idea they were with child. (Why is this never on the show “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant”)!? Seven of these children survived and were adopted by a man named Sir Reginald Hargreeves. Sir Reginald, or The Monocle, as he makes the children call him, trains the children and helps them fine tune their powers to do what else, but save the World.
The children are each numbered by The Monocle by order of usefulness to him, with #00.07 being Vanya, or the White Violin. Unsuspectedly you find out later that she should probably be a little higher than number seven. The children grew up very privileged in that sort of boarding school let’s take the kids to the opera kind of way. They do things like save the Eifel Tower and the Lincoln Monument, and are even on JFK’s speed dial. They disbanded once, until a tragedy brought them back together. Since the series is so short, it’s hard to give too much of a plot point or character descriptions without giving away the whole story. All in all it’s a neat and different take on a superhero team, and you’ll come out definitely having a favorite one. For only 20 dollars it’s worth the pick-up and the read. Also, keep your eyes peeled for a character named Dr. Pogo.
THE WICKED + THE DIVINE
Writer/Creator: Kieron Gillen, Artists/Creators: Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson, Image Comics
This gets my vote as an exciting new series. There are only two issues, with the third coming out this month. The artwork is vivid, bright, and glittery; and the writing is much of the same way. With this one, I know just as much as you do. So I’ll leave you with this summary from Image’s website:
“Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead. Welcome to THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, where gods are the ultimate pop stars. But remember: just because you’re immortal, doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever.”
Writer/Creator: Brian K. Vaughan, Artist/Creator: Fiona Staples, Image Comics
If Saga were a human entity, it would be that hot step-sister you have that makes you feel uncomfortable because you get tingly when you just so happen to see her changing in her room when her door was left cracked open. I mean she does that intentionally right? Image is such a powerhouse distributor everything they put out is just so damn good. Saga is my favorite series by any publisher to date. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples have done such an immaculate job creating characters and a story that pull you in from the very beginning. This is one where the art is just as good as the writing, and for a lot of comic books readers, that means a lot.
There’s so much thought that goes into every detail of the story. Down to the way each and every character’s speech balloon is depicted, every time you read a different one, the voice in your head changes, and you know what these characters sound like and what thought they are conveying. I wait every month for that Wednesday when the new Saga is released, I go get it, read it, and then I am left wanting more.
Saga is like the Romeo and Juliet of Space, but just more hardcore. Alana and Marko meet, when their races are at war, because Marko gets thrown in prison while Alana is his guard. Whoops they bone, and get pregnant, now they are on the run with their newborn Hazel (not necessarily in that order) who serves as the narrator of the series. Everyone wants these two dead, but their child alive, so they hire bounty hunters, who are also pivotal characters in the series to kill them, one of them has a Lying Cat, and the other one is some weirdly hot spider/crab/total babe; the former saves a young child from a brothel with the help of Marko’s ex-fiancé.
The Aristocrats of the series are robots with TV’s for heads, and dress like Louis the XVI. Then there’s Izabel, poor Izabel, who looks like a total scene kid, except she’s pink, a ghost, and her innards are hanging from her torso, because she died by being blown up by a land-mine. Izabel serves as a babysitter for Hazel, to give Marko and Alana the sweet relief of rest, because they HAVE A NEWBORN AND ARE ON THE RUN. I want to give you so many more details, but I really can’t. I cannot explain this series because I cannot do it justice. Just trust me, you have to read it, the awards it has won speaks for itself. Fiona Staples lends her actual handwriting to the series, you can see this whenever Hazel is speaking. See attention to detail!
You’ll notice I left superheroes off, that list is so extensive, and whether you read them or not, we all have our favorite flavor. Wolverine or Superman, The Avengers or Justice League? Right now though I am reading Rocket Raccoon, and Harley Quinn, even though I lean towards Marvel and their Superheroes, I am very happy with DC’s revamping of the New 52, re-introducing some of our favorite characters, and helping us get to know the ones who may not have got much credit before (I’m looking at you Aquaman!).