Top Five Comics – All Time

This has been surprisingly difficult to come up with.  I mean, my number one is really obvious to me, but the other four were quite difficult to come up with, and may not be in exact order.

5.  Ex Machina – Brian K. Vaughan

Imagine a world exactly like ours.  No super heroes, no aliens, none of that.  And then one day, this guy shows up in a jet pack who can talk to machines, and starts fighting crime.  Badly.  The cops hate him, the government hates him, most people hate him.  Until he stops the second plane from hitting on 9/11.  After which he becomes a celebrated hero, and is elected the first Independent mayor of New York City.

That’s the premise behind Ex Machina, but it’s mostly an excuse to explore both sides of the political spectrum with relatively little bias.  I’ve only read the first two volumes (which is why it isn’t higher on the list), but they’ve already explored gay marriage and censorship.  I mean the FIRST issue was all about the N-Word.

This series is witty, and intelligent, and political, and fun.  It’s definitely not your typical super hero comic.

4.  X-Factor, Vol. 3 – Peter David

Since the 90s, X-Factor has been a series about B- and C-list mutants.  Which I think is brilliant.  I mean, in addition to giving some exposure to the lesser-known members of the X-verse, it basically allows David to do whatever he wants.  Who’s gonna care if he makes Rictor gay?  Who the heck is Rictor??

In this third incarnation, X-Factor eschews its super hero roots and follows a different path – NOIR.  A group of mutants – and a few non-mutants – open up a detective agency.  They get hired by clients (and occasionally criminals) to solve crimes.  Of course, they frequently get roped into super-powered brawls, but that’s to be expected.

This comic has banter like you wouldn’t believe.  The characters face real problems (and some un-realistic ones too).  The characters are fully-formed and well-developed.  And did I mention it’s NOIR??

3.  Runaways (Vol. 1 and 2)  – Brian K. Vaughan

See a pattern forming?  I do.  So, Runaways is the story of six normal kids who find out that their 12 normal parents are actually super villains who rule L.A. with an iron fist.  Over the course of the first two volumes, they try to take down their parents, get roped into some crazy hi-jinks, and evade Social Services and the rest of the adult super human community.  And in the process, become a new family.  Awwww.

What sets aside Runaways – to me – is the dialogue.  It is easily one of the wittiest, and certainly most pop-culturally relevant, comics I have ever read.  But unlike other authors *cough – Whedon – cough – Millar – cough – Bendis -cough* the jokes and references are always funny, and the characters don’t just yammer on and on and on.  Each character has a very distinct voice, and a very relatable set of issues to sort through.  This comic is so much more than your average teen-age super team.  It’s coming-of-age, it’s dysfunctional, it’s hilarious, it’s real.

P.S. I don’t consider any issue not written by Vaughan canon (aka the whole of volume 3 and the transitional Whedon issues)

2.  Watchmen – Allan Moore

How could I not include this classic?  I would have to say this is probably the most influential comic series in history.  I mean, it’s virtually flawless.  I could ramble forever about it, but I’ll try to give you the highlights.

The art. Normally a comic consists of primary – and bright – colors.  Especially for heroes.  Look at Superman and Wonderwoman’s costumes.  Villains, on the other hand, tend to wear orange, purple, and green.  Pretty much the entire pallet for Watchmen is secondary colors, and it’s very muddy and dark.  Very different.  Furthermore, there is virtually no variation in panel layout.  It’s pretty much 16 panels per page, every page.  Also the issues tend to be symmetrical.

The story.  Wow.  Talk about dark.  There is a very palpable sense of terror that builds throughout the series.  There is gratuitous violence, sex, and language, so beware if that’s not your jam.  But the underlying idea – taking super heroes and exploring the SERIOUS ISSUES they have…that was pretty revolutionary.  The idea that people get into the vigilante game and wear these costumes is because it turns them on? Or because they have rage issues?  Or to release sexual tension?  That’s definitely not normal.

Other.  So there’s a really cool story-within-a-story that got omitted from the theatrical version of the movie, which is a shame because it’s awesome.  Each issue of the series also contained a purely prose section with all sorts of neat background information.  And the end.  I still think it’s a little silly, but it was clearly planned from the beginning, so props for that.

Overall, this is a definite must-read for anyone who wants to get into the graphic novel game.  I can’t imagine you being disappointed.

1.  Y: The Last Man – Brian K. Vaughan

Yes, it is another BKV comic, and no I won’t deny that he is my literary hero and I want to be just like him when I grow up.

So Y starts with every male mammal on the planet dying simultaneously.  Except for Yorick Brown and his monkey Ampersand (which is what “&” is called).  So Yorick, his special agent bodyguard 355, and snarky lesbian Dr. Mann travel the country – and eventually the world – in hopes of figuring out what caused the “gendercide” and if mankind can be brought back.

Ultimately, Y is two things.  One, it is a true coming of age story.  Yorick is an emotionally-crippled borderline shut-in at the beginning of the series.  He’s a man-child who is suddenly “the greatest man on Earth.”  Two, it is an in-depth exploration of women.  In a society with no men, women are forced to take up ALL the slack – from farming to policing, piloting to engineering.  What happens to the Catholic church with no priests?  Or the Muslims? Or the Jews?

This comic is incredibly interesting.  It’s poignant, it’s funny.  There’s snark, there’s romance, there’s violence.  There are enough pop-culture references to make your eyes pop.  It is – in my opinion – completely flawless.  I would not change anything about any of the 60 issues.

READ IT.

Honorable Mentions:

1) Young Avengers – almost made the cut for pretty much exactly the same reasons as Runaways.  There are definite similarities between the two – for example, the including of gay characters, and two of them being “siblings.”  Ultimately though, YA is much shorter at this point, and is way more integrated into the Marvel Universe (which means more editorial tampering).

2) V for Vendetta – easily in my top ten movies, I enjoyed the comic, but not as much as I would have thought.  I actually found it pretty boring.  There’s a LOT going on, which isn’t bad, but I like how the movie stream-lined it for me.  I also found the art less than enjoyable.  And all the 80s anarchy stuff didn’t seem very relevant, at least not compared to government scare tactics and stuff.  But it’s still legit, and worth the read.

3) League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – SO much better than the movie.  I can’t even begin to describe how much.  There’s more hard-core stuff in the comic, but it’s just superior in every single way to that travesty of a movie.  There are more references to 19th Century literature than I could wrap my mind around, which was cool as long as Wikipedia was handy.  The only flaw was how abruptly it ended.

4) Scott Pilgrim – I loved the movie so completely in every way that I found the comic slightly underwhelming.  I mean, the movie is incredibly (read: panel by panel) faithful to the source material.  And as much fun as the book is, a movie is better because of a) SOUND and b) moving, color pictures.  This is a story about our technology dependent, raised-on-TV-and-video-games generation, so having technology tell the story just makes more sense to me.  But they’re both amazing

5) Anything written by Grant Morrison.  His (fairly literal) deconstruction of Batman absolutely blew my mind.  This man does NOTHING without having the end in mind.  His run on X-Men was the most radically different, intelligent, interesting take on the team since the 70s.  And even if Marvel pretty much erased ALL of his contributions to the mythos, it was still impressive.  All-Star Superman is easily the BEST take on Superman I’ve ever read, and if you think Superman isn’t relatable after reading it, you probably aren’t very relatable yourself.  Final Crisis is basically a huge experiment in story-telling, and really an essay on Story itself.  This guy is crazy (seriously he’s like a wizard. Like for a religion.), but he’s brilliant.

There are so many more comics I could recommend, but these are my favorites that I think build a solid foundation for anyone interested in reading comics that are more substantial than your average book.

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