Chris Peruzzi is a comic book superhero historian who is passionate about how today's comic book heroes are the new mythology for America.
Starting a Passion
As with many things, you never forget your first.
My earliest comic book memory came when I was six and my cousin Glenn left me a shoe box full of Marvel Comics. Unlike the collectors of today, no one cared what condition the comics were in. They were read for pure enjoyment. Each of the comics were well used. I remember my cousin had actually cut out the collector stamps from many of the pages that left holes to the fan mail pages and I remember the fantastic art that could only come from the Buscema brothers, John Romita (Sr.), and the immortal Jack Kirby.
Stan Lee was still known as Smilin' Stan.
Upon reflection, it was a treasure trove of fantastic stories. I remember seeing Amazing Spider-Man #120, 121, 122 (The Death of Gwen Stacy and The Death of the original Green Goblin), many of the early X-Men stories, as well as concurrent issues of the "Avengers vs. Defenders War". To this day, I have yet to thank my cousin properly.
People start reading comic books and graphic novels for a variety of reasons. The one common denominator I've found is that they rarely begin without someone introducing them to the medium. In recent years, I've taken the role of indoctrinating many people to this fantastic medium.
It's my way of passing the "human" torch.
Many of these story lines have been assembled in the form of graphic novels. A few of these stories are "one-shots" and stand alone. Here are my recommendations for the graphic novels that no enthusiast should be without.
The Dark Phoenix Saga by Claremont and Byrne
If you spent ten minutes talking to X-Men fans, they will inevitably start talking about Chris Claremont. Two minutes after that, they'll start talking about the Dark Phoenix Saga.
No, this isn't about the X-Men relocating to Arizona.
This is about the sad heartwrenching story of Jean Grey and her death, resurrection, and death. There's more to it than that as well as more to the continuity of Jean Grey. However, for the point of the story, we see the tale of a long established character seduced by love, power, and corruption that climaxes in the death of billions and leaves an open wound in the team for decades.
Not only does this story define well-established characters, but it also sets the standard for X-Men tales for years to come. The dialogue is great and Byrne's artwork is outstanding. While I recommend the trade copy for anyone who wants to experience the story in full-color, ultimately true collectors will try to hunt down original issues. The Dark Phoenix saga starts with her initial death in X-Men #129 - 138 from January 1980 onward.
This story has been told within the cinematic universe and will be told yet again. Why? Well, it's a freaking awesome story.
This twelve issue Hugo award winning limited series written in 1986-87 by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons broke all the rules of the traditional comic book hero.
Each of the heroes is flawed one way or another.
The story, set in an alternate universe's 1985, deals with an America that has outlawed superheroes (except for the ones sanctioned by the government) and portrays a realistic human depiction of these heroes. While the movie adaptation is probably the closest one ever to an Alan Moore story, it falls short of the exquisite subtlety that Moore is known for.
I can read and re-read this book a thousand times and always find a subtle nuance to the story - whether it is in the pictures, the writing, or the unique tell-tale angle of a panel. I own two copies of the trade edition in case one starts falling apart.
Read the book, then see the movie.
The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
It's one thing to write a good graphic novel with a great story and a well-known character. It's quite another when it's your first one and you redefine the character into what it is today.
The Dark Knight Returns written in 1986 by Frank Miller (of 300 and Sin City films) takes the character of Batman, who has not been seen in over a decade and brings him out of retirement at the age of 55. Miller's writing is masterful as much of the story returns the character to urban myth and breathes a new mission to an old character. Much of the story is told through the eyes of the media or what we now know as television's "talking heads", each complementing and condemning the protagonist for his apparent actions.
The story climaxes in the much-needed battle between the Dark Knight and the government law-abiding Superman. While many of Miller's compatriots at the time had criticized him for "ruining the character", time has shown that this story has best defined Batman as we now know him.
The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman
I think one of the best comic con experiences I've ever had was listening to Neil Gaiman read from his book The Graveyard Book. If you've ever treated yourself to anything that Gaiman has written whether it is American Gods to Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett) to watching Lucifer on television, you need to start reading his Sandman series.
Here we see Neil Gaiman at his best. The pure creativity of him with his best protagonist Morpheus (aka Dream of the seven Endless). Gaiman has carved out new niches within the DCU with his version of Death and his take on Destiny.
In this story, a man wants to achieve immortality by holding Death ransom but mistakenly kidnaps Morpheus instead. The thing about these stories is how wonderfully intricate and how the author is able to draw the reader into the story.
Once again, if you're a fan of Lucifer, Constantine, and/or the Swamp Thing, you'll love the Sandman series. This book is certainly one of the best of the bunch.
The Death of Gwen Stacy
This is one of the series that Marvel wisely collected marketed as one story. The Death of Gwen Stacy (of The Night Gwen Stacy Died ASM #121 and #122) from Lee, Romita, Conway, and Kane is still talked about today.
Recommended by Walt Flannigan (of Kevin Smith's Comic Book Men) as one of the best Spider-man collectibles, it is truly one of the biggest turning points in the life of Peter Parker. This story written in 1973 still resonates with readers today as the story that not only killed Spider-man's first true love interest but also brought about the death of his greatest opponent, the original Green Goblin (Okay, yeah, I know. He comes back eventually. But he stayed dead for the longest time). True collectors should try to get their hands on the original issues, but read it for the stories as they are told best in the trade paperback.
Trivia Fact: The story of Harry Osborne's drug addiction is one of the first to be told without the Comic Book Seal of Approval.
Green Lantern/Green Arrow by O'Neill and Adams (Vol 1&2)
Written by Denny O'Neil and illustrated by Neal Adams, Green Lantern/Green Arrow trade paperback volumes 1&2 tackled some of the more controversial issues of the day from racism to drug addiction. Most notable among these stories is the addiction and recovery of Green Arrow's sidekick, Roy Harper from heroin abuse. These stories represented a new change in DC Comics that reflected the problems of the time and a break away from the classic comic book hero mold.
The thing that makes this collection magical is that for the first time we see a true bond between heroic friends. While we know that there's a bond between Barry Allen and Hal Jordan and friends, the bond between Ollie and Hal is profound. These are two guys that decided to chuck it all and go on the road to really know the world. While they're on the road, they see the world they've so easily ignored.
This 12 part mega comic book epic collectible is a good fun story. It introduces the Beyonder and has given us the Venom symbiote (as well as an introduction to Spider-man's black costume). It was a true Marvel event and a great story with good villains.
Current readers of the Marvel Universe can now see this as a common theme within the Seige and Secret Wars (current) storylines. While the current storylines are much more dynamic than this skirmish back in the eighties, this was the first and it kept fans riveted for a full year of crossover storytelling.
Here we change from typical comic book illustration to prime artwork. This series written by Mark Waid and drawn by the incredible Alex Ross (in watercolors no less) is a story about power and the precarious road it is in the wrong hands. Seen through the eyes of minister, Norman McCay, and guided by The Spectre, Superman with the survivors of some of the original Justice League return to show a new generation of super powered youth that there are repercussions to misusing powers. Met with paranoia from the human front (as well as Batman, Green Arrow, Black Canary, and the Blue Beetle) things come to a head in a final battle that can have only one outcome.
This story is a page turner from every edition that was made from it. I recommend whatever the latest edition is or even getting the Absolute Kingdom Come edition (in larger hardcover) for your own enjoyment.
Batman: The Killing Joke
Once again, this story is not only good but is famous for its repercussions. Written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland, The Killing Joke is the story of Joker's origin as he remembers it. I need to stress that as what we are reading may not be the actual fact of his origin. The Joker as a psychopath has almost separated himself from reality. He, himself, says within the novel that he remembers his past one way one day and then remembers it differently the next.. "If I'm going to have a past, it might as well be multiple-choice." The artwork is superb and, as always, Moore's storytelling with the use of overlapping images is pure entertainment. This is a MUST HAVE without any debate.
The 2016 animated rated R feature is based on the Moore novel. It stars Kevin Conroy as the voice of Batman and Mark Hamill as the voice of the Joker. I recommend that you not only pick up this book but you should also see this movie.
Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth by Grant Morrison
The problem with writing an article like this is that you really need to update it every so often. One of the worst crimes I've committed against the comic book community as a whole is that I forgot to include this book.
This story is simply amazing.
There is a hostage situation at Arkham Asylum and the Joker challenges Batman to save them. This story is told in tandem with the story of Amadeus Arkham and the tale of what happened to his family at the hands of Mad Dog Hawkins.
The story is masterfully illustrated by Dave McKean of Sandman fame and Neil Gaiman's Mr. Punch. One of the more poignant elements of this story is that whenever Batman is drawn, he doesn't seem to be real - it's as if he's still part of the urban legend of Gotham City. I hate to say this, but it's really a "must have". Morrison made his bones on this tale and has proven to be a master comic book writer.
The Life and Death of Captain Marvel
This is a collection of two graphic novels. I recommend you buy the trade paperback with both.
The first is the Life of Captain Marvel, which is a collection of Jim Starlin's run on the failing Captain Marvel run. This was a turning point. Starlin's illustrations are without peer and this graphic novel is a personal favorite of mine. We watch the character of Mar-Vell go from military warrior to cosmic protector after his transformation by the entity, Eon. Within this collection is one the best-illustrated fight issues made in comic history. Starlin introduces the world to his new villain, Thanos - a worshipper of Death. It is Captain Marvel (and his partner, professional sidekick, Rick Jones) who must stop him.
The second part, also written and illustrated by Jim Starlin, is the Death of Captain Marvel. This heartbreaking story is the first and only comic book story to deal with the issue of cancer. Marvel's death in 1984 was a fantastic and tragic representation of a hero who was able to defeat every enemy he was faced with only to be defeated by his own body.
I had my trade paperback signed by Starlin himself. If you get your hands on a copy, it's worth every penny.
Justice League: Identity Crisis
I have to say that they got me with the illustrations first. The seven issue storyline was nothing but addicting. This is what happens when the DC Universe villains get organized. So many people die in this story, I don't even want to spoil it with a summary. This story deals with issues of trust as well as the bigger story on how heroes cope with the death of a loved one. It is a pivotal story that affects Batman, Superman, The Flash, Green Arrow, Robin, and, most of all, The Elongated Man - in a story that you'll never forget. Rags Morales' inks are an incredible companion to novelist Brian Meltzer's story.
From a long distance between publication to 2016, the ramifications of this story are still felt. Ray Palmer still is estranged from Jean Loring and the Batman continues to trust no one. Since this story's publishing, not only is Sue Dibney still dead, but now Ralf has joined his love on the other side.
How many of you remember watching The Super Friends as kids? This story is taking that premise and doing it right. This is taking the Justice League and all of the villains that were the Legion of Doom and putting it to a story that is so sophisticated and so masterfully drawn that you will do anything to collect every issue you can get your hands on. I bought the first run of this and then bought the three volume hard cover set. Once again, Alex Ross delivers his extraordinary talent to water colors for a story so captivating you'll ask yourself midway through, "Who are the good guys?"
I loved this story and recommend it to everyone.
The story is dynamic. The plot is ingenious. And the art is just astounding. I originally picked this up issue by issue. Then I picked up the three volume collection and when it's collected in one book I will buy that too. This is a great read from both a superhero appreciation side and from nostalgic view as well.
Final Words and Honorable Mentions
There are so many really good stories that have been told through graphic novels that it's almost impossible to limit it to thirteen. In addition to these, without comment, I offer these honorable mentions:
- V for Vendetta by Alan Moore
- Bone by Jeff Smith
- The Boys by Garth Ennis
- Deadly Class: Reagan Youth by Rick Remender
- Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite by Gerard Way
- Daredevil: Born Again by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli
- Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli
- The Flash Rebirth by Geoff Johns
- Crisis on Infinite Earths by Marv Wolfman
- Zero Hour: Crisis in Time by Dan Jurgens
- Green Lantern: Rebirth by Geoff Johns
- Green Lantern: Blackest Night
- JLA: Earth 2 by Grant Morrison
- Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb
- Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb
- The Death of Superman
- Allstar Superman by Grant Morrison
- The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore (Vol 1&2)
- Punisher Born by Darrick Robinson
- Daredevil Visionaries by Kevin Smith
- Wolverine by Chris Claremont
- Wolverine Origin
- 300 by Frank Miller
- Sin City by Frank Miller
- Wolverine: Old Man Logan by Mark Millar
- Kick Ass by Mark Millar
- Invincible by Robert Kirkman Volume 1
- Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar
- The Walking Dead Omnibus Volume 1 by Robert Kirkman
Please if you don't see something that is glaringly obvious, please mention it within the comments section. If I've never heard of it, I'd love to read it.
What did you think?
Questions & Answers
Question: Why did you not add "Batman: A Death in the family", Jack Kirby"s "New Gods" and "Code name Wolverine"?
Answer: I would respectfully disagree on several levels.
First - While I'm a huge Jim Starlin fan and while "Batman: A Death in the Family" is indeed a historical issue with the death of Jason Todd (No longer a thing), added to that the 1-900 (pre-Internet) campaign to kill off the character - it really wasn't a good story. Seriously, the Joker getting recruited by the Ayatollah Khomeini? Yeah, it did have resonance for a bit and it did show Jason Todd for being a loose plank on a tight ship. Even now, when I watch an episode of Titans, I look at Jason Todd and think "What a waste of time."
Second - New Gods is a title. It isn't a graphic novel. Hey, show me a Jack Kirby one-shot graphic novel for that title that is a must-have, I'll consider it. But that wasn't really how the King did things.
Thirdly - "Code Name: Wolverine"... Just no. I would sooner say the Claremont/Miller Wolverine limited series made into a graphic novel is more of a must-have than that. After all, Marvel was pulling so much of that for the Origins films. Hell, even Wolverine: Origin was more of a must-have than that one - given the big reveal of Logan's real name as James Howlett. The just isn't enough resonance and staying power in that story.
Question: Why did you not add Bone and The Action Bible to your list of graphic novels no comic book fan should b without??
Answer: Bone will be added as an honorable mention. Jeff Smith is awesome.
Question: I know you put Red Son as an honorable mention but I think that it's one of the most well written and Kafkaesque graphic novels ever. And there are so many alternate DC timeline hints all over the book. I truly think it's incredibly underrated?
Answer: It is. It’s a wonderfully crafted continuity story that loops back to the beginning.
© 2012 Christopher Peruzzi
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on July 06, 2020:
I don't believe Locke & Key belongs on this list at ALL.
When you consider that Hill ripped off most of the concepts from his dad's books, it's kind of redundant. Seriously, read some more King and you'll see every one of the elements in his formula from the mean girl psychotic bullies to the beloved slow-witted supporting character. Hell, I'm surprised that Roland of Gilead didn't make an appearance.
My mailbox is bursting from so-called "experienced" comic book readers that somehow think by reading Manga makes them comic book veterans. Dude, you have no idea. When you have suffered through some really bad pre-crisis stuff dreamed up by Gardner Fox or Bob Haney, come back and talk to me.
I've read the books you mentioned - really... I wouldn't give any of them as a "must-have".
ComicBook Brother on June 25, 2020:
Man, this list kinda sucks. It's nearly all the famous stories people have heard about 500 times by now.
Learn to step outside the Marvel/DC world. I love superheroes, don't get me wrong.
But it you're missing comics like Saga, Locke & Key, Rat Queens, Scott Pilgrim, and more... you are just a comic book reading youngling. There's a thousand other worlds out there besides Marvel and DC, find them and enjoy.
Allison on January 12, 2020:
My Favorite Thing is Monsters
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on December 10, 2019:
Just a few things.
I agree that many of the series suggested are awesome. Really, I do. But the point is to look for a story that would constitute a graphic novel. So, while talking about Avatar is good, the field should be narrowed to a specific story. For example, V for Vendetta was a maxi-series that was one story in twelve parts (if I remember correctly), but saying Moore's run on Swamp Thing is not (apologies to ST fans - my favorite story always goes back to "Anatomy Lesson").
So, understand me. There are great series out there. Morrison's Animal Man and Doom Patrol are great series - but those should be focused on one story within the series that would constitute a graphic novel.
Dan on December 09, 2019:
I agree with most of your list, but l would have also included Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing and Miracleman, as well as much of the Hellblazer series, especially the Garth Ennis run. Also would have included Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's Preacher and Warren Ellis and Daerick Robertson's Transmetropolitan, and James Robinson's Starman.
Ben on December 02, 2019:
What about Hellboy tho? Mignola is an essential
Henry on December 01, 2019:
Should have at least one of the Avatar graphic novels
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on November 12, 2019:
Know what? I think you’re right. Not only was this one of the best works of Darwin Cooke, it was a damn good story. I’m going to add it to the list
Ben W on November 10, 2019:
DC's the New Frontier is one that I'd DEFINITELY consider a must have!
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on November 03, 2019:
I see you have a soapbox. Take it elsewhere.
Fembats on November 03, 2019:
All superheros, all big two, no books by women, no books written in the last decade... this is the sort of list that makes new readers shy away from the comic medium, books where years of context is needed to understand the story, where the cast is all white, where women are brutally raped and murdered for no reason. When you say no comic book fan should be without these, what sort of reader are you thinking of? The retailers I know would laugh at this list and suggest you add more topsellers of this day and age like Saga and Lumberjanes.
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on October 21, 2019:
The two things that keep that off the list is the answer to this question - "What caused the plague?"
The second is this was for a graphic novel - not a series of comics.
Grubby on October 20, 2019:
Y: The Last Man
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on September 13, 2019:
Jj and Greg Maas,
Once again, all good graphic novels and stories. Are they "must haves"? I collected all of the Squadron Supreme as they came out. I loved the story - especially its treatment on behavior modification against someone's will. Would I consider that story a "must have"? No.
When I consider the continuity issues (where there are none except that the Squadron Supreme's Nighthawk and Tom Thumb die, as well as the pseudo Hyperion dying - there really is nothing that's long lasting or permanent.)
The same goes for the DC selections. ALL ARE GREAT GRAPHIC NOVELS. They are not on the level of must haves or required reading.
They certainly are not on the level of The Killing Joke or on the level of The Death of Gwen Stacy. Would I read them? Absolutely. Would I consider my collection incomplete without them - probably not.
Jj on September 13, 2019:
Greg maas on September 12, 2019:
Superman last God of krypton
Superman last son of earth
Superman last stand on krypton
The royals: masters of war
The light brigade
A God somewhere
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on August 09, 2019:
If I had a nickel for every time I swooned over Batman: Year One, I could retire comfortably in Bermuda. Seriously, I post this on message boards all the time. The edginess of Miller's words and the raw art from Mazzucchelli can't be beat. Reading Batman: Year One is the artistic equivalent of skinning your own knees. You can feel the cold and road rash in the pictures.
The only reason for its omission was that I'd felt I'd over balanced the Batman stories over others. And that just would not have been right.
David on August 09, 2019:
Batman: Year One
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on July 16, 2019:
I will check out anything that JMS has worked on. While not everything he puts out is a home run, they are certainly worth reading.
I may even write a new article on his work. Thanks.
F8t3d0n3 on July 16, 2019:
Please check out Rising Stars and Midnight Nation. I got to shake JMS's hand to thank him for both. I picture Rising Stars as the Heroes that should have been and I have yet to come up with a likeness for Midnight Nation.
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on June 02, 2019:
I’m a huge fan of the Miller/Mazzucelli team. Year one echoes much of The Dark Knight Returns and serves as a great prequel to The Long Halloween and Dark Victory. Plus, it has the grit of Daredevil Born Again.
I think the only reason I excluded this from the list was if I had my druthers most of the list would have had Batman stories in it... and that’s not fair for a limited list such as this. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good. Really good.
Lil_duce on June 01, 2019:
Batman Year One
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on January 14, 2019:
I will check it out.
Droideka on January 07, 2019:
You should try "the vision" best series I read in a while. The hardcover is absolutely gorgeous with lots of extras. The story is profound, art is beautiful. Simply superb. No wonder it won a Eisner award ;)
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on December 12, 2018:
I thought the Lightning Saga was good - but I didn't think it was a "must have". Don't get me wrong. I have it. I love reading it. The part where Mister Terrific pulls an "Amazing Kreskin" was brilliant.
Wally is a great character and it made a nice nostalgic note with the Legion resurrection ritual (when the first Proty bit the dust).
However, I don't look at this the same as like Barry Allen's hiatus after the 1986 Crisis coming back. Much like Infinite Crisis bringing back the Golden Age Superman and Superboy-Prime, Wally coming back from the Speed Force happens with disheartening frequency - although Max Mercury spent an abnormal amount of time in there as well.
While there are many books I have forgotten to include, the Lightning Saga would not have made the cut.
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on November 11, 2018:
A funny thing. I’m doing the unenviable task of cataloging my collection and came across my copies of Web of Spider-Man #31-32, The Amazing Spider-Man #293-294, and The Spectacular Spider-Man #131-132. There are such great moments in that story. Spider-man digging out of the grave. Vermin abducting women for food. As Kraven saying, “Does my affection embarrass you?”
Harry on November 08, 2018:
Great list but what about Kravens last hunt , that is by far the most intense spider-man read
Greg on November 05, 2018:
Personally, I was pretty disappointed by Justice. The art was unbelievable. I love Alex Ross and that's my favorite thing he's ever done. but the story was so boring that I had to force myself to finish it.
Ryan on October 30, 2018:
I like the list and had written out a very lengthy response due to some omissions but I just saw the date of when this was published and had to retract my statement. I also would suggest reading "Blankets" by Craig Thompson. I personally like the artwork. I also appreciate the "Sandman" inclusion, Gaiman has some insane talent.
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on October 24, 2018:
@ Hot Carl,
Some things are just not intentional. I love Warren Ellis's stuff. Priest, Hitman, and his Punisher stuff are awesome. Once again, I'll need to write a companion update piece to this because there are definite updates and unintentional omissions.
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on October 24, 2018:
When I have two hours I can stick together to write a companion article to this (or two), I will consider that. Although, I've never really been impressed by many of the Golden Age stories in passing. I will definitely check out the ones written by James Robinson and perhaps write one just featuring those.
The other thing I really need to do is get some of the better non-superhero graphic novels on a list and talk about them. Stories like Bone by Jeff Smith (technically not a superhero story), Snowpiercer (Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob), and Maus by Art Spiegelman are great reading when you don't want to read about people wearing spandex.
When I get a chance, there will be writing-a-plenty.
Apalachin on October 18, 2018:
Great choices, but I'd add The Golden Age to the mix. A sophisticated adult story about many of DC's golden age characters by James Robinson.
HotCarl on October 18, 2018:
Wow, complete Warren Ellis snub. No mention of Transmetropolitan or Planetary?
I'm just going to assume you've never read them since they're not even honorable mentions
Chris on October 17, 2018:
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on September 28, 2018:
I think this article is about due for an update or reclassification.
Gus on September 28, 2018:
What about some Daniel Clowes? Ghost World or David Boring would definitely make my top ten.
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on September 18, 2018:
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on March 11, 2018:
@ Robert Collier
That's a good one. It was the first real appearance of Nightwing along with the classic betrayal of one of their own. I haven't found it in graphic novel format just yet. But yeah, that's a really good story. Good art from Perez.
Robert Collier on March 10, 2018:
I agree with the list but teen titans judas contract was a pretty cool story which was very long story
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on March 10, 2018:
Red Son was profound. It definitely deserves more than one read. It was that entire circle of life thing. I'd have to think about that. On the one hand, there are parts of it that are wonderfully dark - And I'd highly recommend it.
I don't know how these top ten video people do it without knowing more. There are so many good stories out there.
Ugh... now I won't sleep.
Kjkeefe on March 10, 2018:
I thought the choices were mostly great, but....(heh heh heh);
I would elevate “Red Son” from honorable mention to prime list. And while I love the O’Neill/Adams run on GL/GA (I bought them each as a kid, and consider it a historic run), I don’t think it hangs together as a “Graphic Novel”.
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on October 15, 2015:
The Life and Death of Captain Marvel is Jim Starlin's run on the title plus the Graphic Novel "The Death of Captain Marvel". The former is popular because it is Thanos's first attempt at Godhood prior to The Infinity Gauntlet.
Taranwanderer on October 15, 2015:
Awesome! I have read Red Son maybe 5 times - it is truly a fantastic rendition and one of my favorites. I never knew Captain Marvel that well as a superhero (except for vague remembrances from childhood, and how I often mistook him for Wonder Man for some reason until I turned 10 and could tell the difference). I might have to seriously consider The Life and Death of Captain Marvel now....
Never read All Star Batman - I might though just to see how bad it is. Justice League: The Nail sounds like a gem - I'd never even heard of it and have now resolved to order it from amazon. With the winter vacation coming up - it's time to get to reading!
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on October 15, 2015:
I'm glad you like my recommendations. These books have stood the test of time and most of them are still available even at your local Barnes and Nobles.
The Life and Death of Captain Marvel is rapidly becoming my favorite collection due to 1) its outstanding artwork and 2) the dignity and heartfelt drama dealing with the subject of cancer. I still reread it once a month.
It's hard to lose with a good Batman story. Although I will say that while I loved Frank Miller's work with both Batman: Year One and Return of the Dark Knight - his later stuff like DK2 and All Star Batman are legendarily bad - they are MST3K bad - So bad that they belong in a septic tank and sealed.
The ever expanding list for Superman grows annually - I would recommend "The Death of Superman" collection as well as Superman for all Seasons. You could also go with the Else Worlds story Red Son - Which is a great What If story (What if Superman's rocket landed in cold war Russia?) and Justice League: The Nail (Which goes with the question "What if the Kents didn't find the rocket?" and to the poem "for want of a nail")
Other commenters have made some excellent suggestions, and most of them I definitely recommend - so you might want to check out the thread on that, too.
Thanks for reading.
Taranwanderer on October 15, 2015:
As usual, this is one heckuva compilation from cperuzzi. The Dark Knight Returns and Kingdom Come are my absolute favorites so far; now, I have to check out some of the other ones - Justice, Identity Crisis and any others with Superman in it. PErhaps the Killing Joke, as well, since I'm a Batman fan.
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on June 25, 2015:
This is why I loved writing this article - I get new suggestions like this.
Yes, Maus is certainly an important work on that genre. Written by Art Spiegelman this series ran from 1980 to 1991. This Eisner and Pulitzer Prize Award winning graphic novel was a poignant commentary on the holocaust represented by mice, cats, and pigs. It is a powerful piece of work and certainly an eye opener.
While we're on that vein, I would also recommend Howl by Allen Ginsberg and Eric Drooker in graphic novel format.
dblyn from Staten Island, NY on June 25, 2015:
We all completely forgot "Maus". It's not a superhero tale but clearly was one of the most defining books of it's time and still very powerful today.
Michael Nolan from Sarasota, FL on April 17, 2015:
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on April 17, 2015:
It is nearly impossible to split hairs with Neil Gaiman. His stories involving the Endless are all just wonderful. I had gone to the NY ComicCon back in 2007 and Bill Hader had an entire improv (before introducing Gaiman as the guest speaker) about how reading him was good luck before every audition he ever went on.
For me, I just look at his work and say the Sandman is all good.
Michael Nolan from Sarasota, FL on April 16, 2015:
If I were to choose one Sandman, I would put Seasons of Mist before Preludes. I would also include Marvels and Days of Future Past.
Simon from NSW, Australia on February 06, 2015:
Some great recommendations. I have read many of them , but there are a few I will have to track down!
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on April 21, 2014:
I just got the opportunity to read through the comments again. I apologize if I didn't get back to you.
@ Jayfort - Never has a quarter been spent so well by so many.
@ NicholasA - I found it interesting as "A Death in the Family" and "Captain Marvell's" peak issues were both written by Jim Starlin. It's good to see writer illustrators that are really talented. It reminds me of meeting Jim Steranko at the last Asbury Park Comicon. He really loves drawing AND drawing from his own personal history as an escape artist (if you've ever read "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay" - rumor has it that Kavalier was based on Steranko).
But I digress.
I loved "Prodigal". When the original run had come out, I remember thinking that the story of Grayson filling in for Batman was WAAAY overdue. The fact that the line was drawn from older villains that Grayson knew well (like Mad Hatter and Two Face) to ones he had no experience with (like Killer Croc) reminded the reader how long it was since he had partnered with the original Batman.
I want to sum up with this - There are so many stories written since 1986 that are just awesome. 1986 marked a renaissance in comic book writing where not only had readership matured but the writers had matured as well. Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Grant Morrison, and Alan Grant are just a few artists that really broke the mold at that time. Marvel was churning out great stories and DC was shedding their immaturity after "Crisis on Infinite Earths". While there have been great stories written prior to '86 (mostly by Marvel - I won't pull any punches with DC's Pre-Crisis stories as I still cringe when I read them), the ones I listed, I think, have helped forge the characters into what they are now.
Moore made the Swamp Thing a true elemental. Miller made Daredevil the Kingpin's official bane (instead of Spider-man) and Batman, the grim and gritty dark knight again. After Crisis, Grant Morrison wrote JLA: Earth 2 - which reintroduced the Crime Syndicate of Amerika. A new team that had no choice to be evil because in that universe evil was what remained dominant. Gaiman gave us The Sandman. Alex Ross gave us artwork that is so stunning that it belongs in a museum.
The suggestions from the feedback are truly astounding. And they've gotten me reading some of the stories where I collected them outside of graphic novel format.
So, when I say that these collections are what no collection should be without, I'm not saying that they are the best... I'm saying that you really need to have them.
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on April 20, 2014:
That's a wild coincidence that I was just reading the beginning of his run today with "Anatomy Lesson".
It really deserves more credit.
Mo on April 20, 2014:
Moore's run on Swamp Thing was amazing get that on the list.
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on April 18, 2014:
All great graphic novels.
And, yes, any collection would be richer because of them. I had actually collected each of Miller's Daredevil run when they originally came out and it was truly a turning point within the DD mythos.
Miller is usually hit or miss. While I loved DK Returns, I hated DK Strikes Again and All Star Batman. However, DK Returns did a lot to focus the impact of who the Batman is and how the death of Jason Todd profoundly affected him.
Alan Moore's Hugo Award winning Watchmen stands on its own. He created such a fantastic array of imperfect characters that by the end of the book we're wondering how we actually define what a hero actually is.
With the exception of Secret Wars, all of these novels has stood the test of time. Moore's "Killing Joke" redefined the Joker and gave him more depth. Alex Ross's "Kingdom Come" is a masterpiece of art and story. The GA/GL by O'Neill and Adams is representative of what has been envisioned as the definitive in characterizing the core of both these characters - from Jordan's work with the guardians to Queen's break with Roy Harper after his heroin addiction.
Captain Marvel - one of the few character to not only lose his life outside of combat (attacking the serious topic of death by cancer), but one of the heroes to actually stay dead.
And speaking of dead, remember Gwen Stacy? Outside of Uncle Ben's death, the death of Gwen Stacy is one of the few that haunts Spider-man.
Burrhus on April 17, 2014:
Nice post. I didn't see:
Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller. IMO a superior run to Kevin Smith's.
Daredevil: Born Again- Frank Miller
American Flagg(not sure how many are collected)-Howard Chaykin
WE3- Grant Morrison
The second trade of 100 Bullets. That first one left me wondering what the fuss was about
The Complete Bone-Jeff Smith
New Frontier-Darwyn Cooke
TMNT-Laird and Eastman
I could probably keep writing for a while. I know this is an essentials list and I have a hard time narrowing things down.
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on August 14, 2012:
Mar-Vell has always been a favorite of mine, but only Jim Starlin could do him justice. The entire "Metamorphosis" story of Eon showing him that he's been on the wrong path until he becomes the protector of the universe against Thanos is nothing short of masterful.
The Batman mythos has a lot going for it... But recommending all Batman is a bit partial.
NicholasA from Midwest on August 14, 2012:
Secret Wars was a great read. It took me a couple years to track down all of the issues. I also have a What If? Secret Wars 25 years later. The heroes and villains stopped fighting, some are dead, those who are alive have kids and you know how super powered kids can get into trouble...Peter Parker is dead and the symbiote is still attached to his skeleton. "He" walks, talks, climbs wall, swings.....no one knows peter is dead though. They show his skeleton when he takes a shot from Klaw.
NicholasA from Midwest on August 14, 2012:
I read something earlier that Marvel was bring back Mar-Vell...I'm leery and don't have a big budget for comics. I only get 3 or four titles a month. Mar-Vell turned out to be a skrull last time he "returned". Batman: Prodigal is a good book too. Dick fills in for Bruce after "Knights End" and he works out some of his issues throughout the story.
Jayfort on August 14, 2012:
That phone poll was the best 25 cents I ever spent. Then DC goes back and resurrected Jason. *sigh*
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on August 14, 2012:
All good suggestions. The "Death in the Family" is particularly important because of the phone poll to kill Jason Todd.
NicholasA from Midwest on August 14, 2012:
I would recommend adding Weapon-X, DD Legends Vol 2 (Frank Miller), Batman: Birth, Bride, and Son of the Demon (3 separate books), DD: Yellow, Spider-Man: Blue, New Thunderbolts Vol 1-3 ( Death of Genis-Vell), Batman: A Death in the Family, Batman: A lonely place of dying, Batman: Year One and Year Two, and that's all I think of of off the top of my head for some really good stories. Continuity gets reversed so much these days so nothing above really follows current continuity anymore though, just keep that in mind.
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on June 22, 2012:
I'll need to get my hands on that one to determine if it's a "must have". I'm sure it's good... but required reading...?
I would have to add one more of my own... ZOT!! by Scott McCloud (speaking of making comics and writing them). If you are a comic aficionado and like something that's really well done, pick up the anthology... I don't think it's too expensive.
Nicolebresner on June 21, 2012:
I recommend The Alchemy by David Mack. There are predecessors to it that I intend to read, but it inspired me to start drawing my own comics. It's not for everyone--very philosophical--not a typical action story, but I loved it. I hear the others are amazing.
promaine from New York on April 25, 2012:
Great collection! Thanks for the really interesting post. I'm really glad to see Moore's Watchmen, which was really a game-changer. (I think of it as a kind of invasion of British writers who re-invigorated superhero stories.) It's interesting to see Gaiman's first Sandman book on your honorable list, since that first gathered set was the only one of the series to include the old "Sandman" superhero and then to set up a move *away* from superhero conventions for the rest of the series. Do you differentiate graphic novels with superheroes vs. graphic novels with everyday people (I'm thinking non-blockbuster stories like Will Eisner)?
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on March 25, 2012:
Marvel does a really good job at putting out trade copies of a storyline. This is especially good if you don't necessarily want to collect the individual issues and enjoy the stories. It's also good if you have already bought the issues, bagged, boarded, and boxed the originals and want something to reread.
If you get a chance, you may wish to pick up the Essentials to any of the superhero titles that are out there. They are the black and white prints of each of the books. I've seen them used on Amazon for $4-$5 each.
They are great reads.
htodd from United States on March 25, 2012:
Well,I loved marvel series ..Thanks for the nice post
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on March 22, 2012:
The Elseworlds stuff is usually pretty good. The Batman vs Dracula trilogy was spot on. My favorite EW is JLA: The Nail.
Are they "must haves"? ...Debatable. Are they good stories? Absolutely.
Jayfort on March 22, 2012:
I have Red Son, also! Very good story! I also enjoyed Kal (Superman raised in medieval times) and In Darkest Knight (Bruce Wayne receives Abin Sur's Green Lantern ring).
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on March 22, 2012:
I have Red Son. It's a great elseworld's story. The end if it is a great twist with the evolution of Lex Luthor to the House of El.
Domenick Dicce on March 22, 2012:
Superman Red Son
Else world title where Superman landed in the Soviet Union instead of America.
Jayfort on March 22, 2012:
Awesome Hub! Some favorites on there!