There are certain graphic novels that everyone should have in their library as a seasoned comic book reader, and those same essential books are also ones that every new comic book reader SHOULD have in their collection. Now every comic book reader is going to have a different list on what you SHOULD have read/will read, and here is mine. Get these graphic novels in your collection, buy them for new comic book readers, these are great books to have on a Christmas list, and the best part about these books, they are all introductory books so you need not know anything prior to reading them!
Honorable Mention books would be Watchmen by Alan Moore and Marvel Civil War. They were originally on my list, but I took them off solely because fellow Following the Nerd writer Christopher Williams put them on his 10 Graphic Novels list, and I felt his explanation of why you should own them is enough. (By the way, these are written in the order the books are stacked in the photo, not by absolute best. If I had to put them in a list at #1 being highest I would probably have an aneurysm).
Fables Vol. 1: Legend in Exile by Bill Willingham
If you are a fan of the TV show ‘Once Upon A Time’, or a fan of the show but want a little bit more ’mature’ material in the show, then I highly recommend this book as it’s basically the TV show with a different twist…though this book came out WELL before ‘Once upon A Time‘ aired, and yet Fables was set for a TV series but nothing came of it…coincidence?! In Fables, all the characters of folklore and fairy tales are fully aware of who they are, they all fled their homelands to live in New York City as “normal” people with the use of false names, and ‘glamour‘ magic for others to blend in (like The Beast). This book begins with a murder mystery, and leaves you hooked for more, and there are many more Fables books to get after this one.
The Waking by Raven Gregory
If you are a living dead/zombie enthusiast, then this book is for you! It isn’t your stereotypical zombie tale though; this is thought provoking, as well as funny at certain points. To read this, you must also forgo everything you think you know about zombies because this story is an entirely new take on the zombie mythos. There is no infection, there is no ‘being bite by one makes you one’, there is no apocalypse to survive, nothing like that. In fact while some people often peg this as a zombie story, I don’t. I would consider it a ‘living dead’ story. The illustration in this is great as well, the coloring alone giving its somber setting. Oddly enough, midway through the story, you kind of find yourself rooting for the living dead.
Fly by Raven Gregory
“What if there was a drug that gave you the power to fly? How far would you go to possess it and who would you hurt to get your next fix?” That’s how this story/graphic novel is described. It’s a very realistic yet metaphorical portrayal of how drugs, love and power (in this case the ability to fly) can corrupt (literally) and you end up even feeling sorry for the “bad guy” towards the end of the story. It leaves you wanting more! The art in this book is beautiful, the way the art tells the story by switching from past to present using different artwork so one can see what is past/present, and at the end of the story I craved more!! The way the book is described is the way you feel after reading this book; you want and need the next fix!
Return to Wonderland by Raven Gregory
This is the book you need in order to start reading Zenescope’s Wonderland series. If you’re into fairytale/classic literature reinterpretations and you’re okay with sometimes-gory art & dark/mature audience storylines, get this book! If you simply like horror comics, get this book! The book is dark, there’s blood, guts, disturbing people & ideas. Zenescope did a great job with this interpretation of madness to the classic story. I absolutely loved the art, even when it got gory, and the book was pleasing in colors, page formation, panels and pacing. The arc of the story is easily understood. The story revolves around Alice’s daughter Calie, long after Alice returns from Wonderland. Alice is now insane and the effects of Wonderland start to spread until even Calie enters the world of nonsensical sense and has to fight to find a way out. Calie’s reactions in Wonderland are “human” in that she reacts the way most people would if placed in that situation, which is simply: ‘WTF is going on?’
The Joker by Brian Azzarello
This story is told by a street thug who gets in with the Joker’s crew & from his perspective (as if we’re in his head) we get to see all the behind the scenes of being a Joker Henchman and understand how/why he sees the Joker in a different light. This interpretation of Joker is a mix between the comics and Nolan’s Bat universe since this did get released just shy of The Dark Knight. I almost want to say that this story gives the Joker a slight sense of humanity…while also showing the monster he can be. I’d recommend this story to any Joker fan and even Batman fans too, BUT don’t pick this up expecting a Batman story, or even a lot of Batman in it to begin with, it is a Joker story.
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore
Trying to sum up why you should get this book in a summary is difficult. First off, this book gives us a Joker origin…how true it is or isn’t we will never know as the Joker toys with his origin all the time in the DC verse, while many claim this to be his definitive origin, DC has neither confirmed nor denied it. Secondly, it shows the dark relationship between Batman and the Joker, in essence that once cannot exist without the other and that Batman & Joker are in fact more alike than dissimilar. As if Bruce Wayne took a right when The Joker took a left, and their roles could very easily have been switched if either took the opposite road. Lastly and most importantly though, we see how twisted the Joker can be to his victims in this book, and of course how Barbara Gordon “becomes” Oracle.
Batwoman: Elegy by JH Williams III & Greg Rucka
This graphic novel contains the story arc from Detective Comics issues 854-860. Normally a series of Batman, but during this time, the care and protection of Gotham is in Kate Kane’s hands (a.k.a. Batwoman, do not call her Batgirl). Now though this is a pre-New 52 book, Batwoman’s origin never changed with the DC Comics re-launch, and her first New 52 collected edition ‘Hydrology’ continues from this book. The plot follows multiple but clear, storylines. We learn a little bit about Kate’s family, her military service, some of her origin as Batwoman. It is the artwork, however, which I think brings Kate, Batwoman and this story to life. The page layouts and panels are brilliant. It’s obvious that a lot of thought went into the overall design of each page.
Invincible Iron Man: The Five Nightmares by Matt Fraction
This was the first Iron Man book I had ever picked up, I knew a little about the character from the comics (prior to the movie, thank you very much), which was enough knowledge to jump into this book already. Matt Fraction gave a story that not only recognizes past Iron Man comic book continuity, but has some elements that are in the Iron Man movie. So fans get the best of both worlds: pre-Iron Man movie and post-Iron Man movie. The action is intense and the pacing along with it hardly enables you to stop for a minute to catch your breath, the artwork is gorgeous (not too Downey-ish) and the dialogue is witty & sharp. The Five Nightmares is easily the best Iron Man collection since Iron Man: Extremis in my opinion. It’s a must-read for long time Iron Man fans, and is a great starting point for new readers as well.
Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon
Between giving us Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, etc., what else is there not to love about Joss Whedon? Not sold yet? Then I give you one word: Avengers! Before the Avengers movie though, Whedon gave the Marvel Universe his rendition of Astonishing X-Men, cleverly written with both serious and humorous moments, and in classic Whedon form, he gives us the literal (sometimes metaphorical) returns and deaths of miniscule yet beloved characters to tug at your heartstrings. This book came after Grant Morrison’s run and (in my opinion) ruin of the New X-Men, and Whedon restored the original X-Men costumes we all grew up to know them in, as well as spinning off his stories from the Claremont era of X-men with a tight story and solid team. (This can be purchased one of three ways: A-as four trade paperback titled 1-Gifted, 2-Dangerous, 3-Torn, 4-Unstoppable; B-as two hardcover collected editions; C-as a complete omnibus)
Elektra by Frank Miller
I could very easily just tell you to get ‘Elektra: Assassin’ by Frank Miller, but I would suggest this omnibus. Not only does it feature ’Assassin’ but gives you ’Elektra Lives Again’ by Frank Miller (which is more of a Daredevil story but fits perfectly as both an Elektra story and Frank Miller piece in this collection), an issue of Marvel What If?, and ’Bizarre Adventures’ by Frank Miller! Consider this the Essential Elektra that should be a part of all the Marvel Essential/Marvel Masterworks books they release! It’s a great read, with beautiful artwork, and the collection as a whole is definitely a ride worth going down.