With all of the comic book storylines invading TV and movies over the last decade, it’s easy to want to jump headfirst into it and read everything you can get your hands on. However, since the industry pumps out dozens of new issues per week, it’s almost impossible for new fans to know where to begin. But don’t worry, we’re here to help, and that’s why we’ve compiled a list of the best examples of comics from over the years. This isn’t a “Best Comics of All Time” list—it’s more of a starter course for where to start.
1. The Dark Knight Returns (DC Entertainment)
Before Frank Miller released The Dark Knight Returns in 1986, most of the general public associated Batman with his 1960s TV show. Thankfully, that all changed when this book was released.
Miller made it a point to “give Batman his guts back,”. In the book, Bruce Wayne, now in his early 50s, is retired from being the Batman. After witnessing his city being ripped apart by a new gang known as The Mutants, he dons the cape again for one last crusade.
Miller showcases the Dark Knight as a hulking mass of raw rage. He’s less of a hero and more of a man with a death wish. Miller’s neo-noir art brings the darkness back into Batman’s world. Even the epic fights against foes like The Joker and an out-of-control of Superman have a brutal finality about them.
Miller has looked at the Caped Crusader through a lens of violence and political corruption, and there’s nothing friendly or comforting about this book. Somehow, it’s still the blueprint for all new-age Batman stories.
2. V for Vendetta (Quality Comics, DC/Vertigo)
Since its publishing debut in 1982, V for Vendetta has served as the symbol of the Occupy Wall Street movement and has also been adapted into a major motion picture in 2005. When the title was first released, there was nothing else like it on the market. V for Vendetta took an uncompromising look at the dangers of an all-powerful government and a lone hero who sets out to end its domination. The faceless V, a hero known for wearing his iconic Guy Fawkes mask was at the centre of this classic tale.
V is a highly intelligent read with literary allusions and heavy social commentary. Writer Alan Moore brings his sharp observations into the depiction of this tyrannical government. And while the character of V does give a particular superhero feel into the narrative, the book is more about plot and character, and it’s paced more like a novel than a movie.
X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills (Marvel Entertainment)
There are countless X-Men titles we could have been included on this list, but if you’re looking for one that defines everything that this franchise is about then it has to be God Loves, Man Kills. The story revolves around a churchman named William Stryker who attempts to start a crusade against the entire mutant race, no matter what the cost.
In 2003 the book was immortalised when the Hollywood movie X2: X-Men United recreated many of its plot points. Brutal imagery like the time when some of Stryker’s fanatics gun down two young mutants and hang their corpses in a schoolyard puts “God Loves, Man Kills” on this list over other macabre stories on the market. Those stories are great reads for avid comic book fans, but this is the perfect entry point for beginners.