The world of comics can be a pretty vast and cluttered space. Many companies release dozens of comic books every week, so it’s hard to know what’s worth your money and what’s not. I’m here to help you narrow down your choices with six comic series that you may not have heard of, but should be reading.
“Batman: White Knight”
What would happen if the great struggle of justice vs. chaos was flipped? In “White Knight,” Batman goes too far. During an altercation with the Joker in a pharmaceutical factory, the Clown Prince of Crime reveals that the factory has created a drug that can cure the Joker of his sadistic and manic tendencies. Batman shoves an entire bottle of the pills down The Joker’s throat until he nearly chokes and dies. A bystander films the scene and sends it to multiple news organizations. The video called into question the brutality of Batman in dealing with criminals, and many citizens started to criticize Gotham’s police force for choosing to ignore Batman and allowing him to hand out justice on his own terms. Meanwhile, a huge revelation has come to pass when the pills turn out to actually have cured the Joker of his sociopathic and homicidal psyche. Joker, now going by Jack Napier, begins building a case against the Gotham Police Force and Batman that results in him being freed from Arkham Asylum. Napier goes on a quest to become a Gotham councilman and bring an end to Batman’s reign of terror and the corruption still hiding within the walls of Gotham’s rulers. Can The Joker be the savior that Gotham has always wanted? Is he the white knight the city needs?
“Rise of the Black Panther”
The film “Black Panther” showed that superhero films could tackle the topic of racism, however, you may be interested in seeing how the comics also discuss the topic. In “Rise of the Black Panther,” we watch T’Challa deal with the difficulties of ruling his people as he decides whether or not to reveal his country to the outside world. T’Challa must also deal with outsiders who threaten his people’s safety and his sovereignty. The miniseries is written by notable journalist and black rights activist Ta-Nehisi Coates. In the series, the Wakandan king meets several fellow monarchs of the Marvel universe who teach him valuable lessons. Namor the Sub-Mariner teaches him how to balance protecting the world and being an Avenger by putting his people first; Doctor Doom teaches him the difference between a benevolent ruler and a despot. If you’re interested in more things featuring T’Challa and want to see the character’s personality and other interesting themes examined through a comic book lens, then “Rise of the Black Panther” is the new miniseries for you.
Brian K. Vaughan is not a novice comic book writer. Vaughan has created many series that are known for their deep themes and extensive narratives. “Saga” is his most sprawling work yet. A space-opera/fantasy that has often been described as “Star Wars” meets “Game of Thrones,” the series revolves around a massive war between a large planet called Landfall and its orbiting moon, Wreath. For centuries, the respective citizens have hated each other and been locked in a constant battle of racism, xenophobia, jingoism and resources. During the war, two soldiers from opposite sides, Alana and Marko, begin to grow close. They both desert their sides and conceive a child together. This puts a bounty on their heads, and soon dozens of high-ranking officials hire bounty hunters and assassins to take out the pair, since the ability for the two races of people to conceive a child has been touted by both sides as biologically impossible.
The characters are rich and dense, and – as the novel continues – alliances change, irresponsible choices yield damaging consequences and the war leaves a wake of destruction in its path. Alana and Marko are two of the greatest heroes in recent comic book history, and the characters that pursue and assist them are just as fascinating and delightful to read about. “Saga” is also astoundingly diverse, especially in terms of its portrayal of characters with non-traditional sexual and gender orientations. If you’re looking for a series with incredible representation, interesting commentary on the negative aspects of war, and fascinating drama featuring morally gray characters, then “Saga” is your go-to series.
Just in time for “Avengers: Infinity War,” the new Thanos comic digs deeper into The Mad Titan’s motives than ever before. The new “Thanos” series toes a pretty incredible line, as it never fully makes Thanos appear as a sympathetic character, but it does provide a story where he can develop and learn about his role in the universe. “Thanos” presents Thanos in the most interesting way that we’ve seen yet. He’s still the genocidal conqueror we’ve always known, but the shell begins to break. Thanos feels like a villain who was simply always villainous, yet no man (or Titan) exists in vacuum. No one is born into evil. Thanos may have been born into madness – one gaze into his infant eyes caused his mother to go permanently insane – but, Thanos grew into villainy. A man’s history makes him who he is, and Thanos is no different. For example, the most recent arc of the series, “Thanos Wins” is particularly captivating. It sends Thanos to a time when his future self wins and destroys nearly all of the known life in the universe. In the segment, Thanos encounters a Cosmic Ghost Rider who is a particularly familiar face known for his love of vengeance, a captive Hulk owned by Thanos as a pet, and Silver Surfer, who has worked extremely hard to become worthy of fighting Thanos. If you’re interested in seeing The Mad Titan at his most vulnerable, and you would like to dive into the madness of the mind of a villain, then “Thanos” is the new series for you.
In 1986, DC Comics released “Watchmen.” The combined composition of the books was hailed by many publications as the greatest graphic novel of all time, and it was named as one of the 100 best novels ever by Time Magazine. Now – 32 years later – the sequel has finally arrived. “Doomsday Clock” brings back the characters we know from the first “Watchmen” comic and mixes them in with beloved DC characters like Superman, Batman and the Joker. The series focuses heavily on Ozymandias, as well as a mysterious Rorschach replacement as the series travels into the DC Universe, where he assumes the powerful and deceitful Dr. Manhattan is hiding. Back in Ozymandias’ universe, nuclear war is imminent, and the smartest man in the world is hoping to use Dr. Manhattan’s powers to prevent the mass destruction of his universe. The sequel also makes massive changes to the status quo of the DC Universe with intense, dramatic moments. If you’ve been waiting to see these characters on the page again, and you want to see how they change and interact with DC characters, then “Doomsday Clock” will blow your mind.
The team of Jason Latour and Jason Aaron brings you their love letter/hate rant to the American South with their comic series, “Southern Bastards.” The story is set in fictional Craw County, Alabama: a small town where racism still festers, eye-for-an-eye is standard law and football is the only thing that matters. Euless Boss, the owner of the county’s most popular BBQ joint and coach of the Runnin’ Rebs football team, runs the town with an iron fist. His lackeys terrorize nearby towns. When Boss goes too far and removes the sheriff from power, his son, Earl Tubb, returns to the town he hates to end Coach’s reign of terror for good. “Southern Bastards” examines the American South under a microscope. Its critique of the South’s tendencies and obsessions makes it a really powerful and intriguing assessment of modern Southern communities. Latour and Aaron tell a story about living in a Southern small town. Filled with pride – and anguish – both men lay out all their grief and love for the South in a telling series.
There are always new series to read, but these six will give you huge breadth of themes and stories to indulge in. Remember that the best stories are what happen outside what you normally look for. Find publishers you don’t know about and read about characters you may not know much about.