The next few weeks will prove a challenging time for those of us faced with the prospect of lockdown. However, since it is for the health of society’s weakest that we practice social distancing, it’s a good idea we practice recommended measures. In the next week, The Badger will be recommending some of the best art to while away the hours with.
This time, myself, Features Sub-Editor Olly Williams, TV & Film Co-Editor Michael Humphreys and Writers Tom Polyblank, Adam Broda and Sacha Thomas are recommending the comics and graphic novels to read during self-isolation.
This article recommends everything from the recently ended The Walking Dead that inspired the TV franchise to comics classics like Watchmen to all-female adventuring comic Rat Queens.
If you don’t fancy ordering physical copies, find most of them on Comixology – a supplier of digital comics.
For a variety of brilliant free online comics, check out this Nerdist article too.
The Walking Dead (Image Comics, 2003-2019)
Nearly everyone will have heard of The Walking Dead TV franchise, so why not explore the ultimately superior comic series that started it off? Follow the story of post-coma Rick Grimes as he reunites with his family, makes new friends and tackles a post-apocalyptic America that comes with a whole host of both zombie and human threats. And if you like that, then give the TV show a crack too – it’s good for about 5 seasons and then god knows.
Calvin & Hobbes (1985-1995)
Described as ‘the last great newspaper comic’, Calvin & Hobbes follows a six-year old boy and his anthropomorphic stuffed tiger on their daily adventures. Exploring Calvin’s relationships and imagination, the comic strip tackles issues from child-parent relationships to philosophical quandries to environmentalism whilst maintaining a light-hearted nostalgic tone.
Alias (Marvel Comics, 2001-2004)
Following superhero turned personal investigator Jessica Jones, Alias follows Jessica as she deals with her past demons and tackles cases including presidential conspiracies, rumoured mutants, a missing Spider-Woman and, the story that inspired Netflix’s Jessica Jones series, The Purple Man. One of Marvel’s first R-rated series, Alias is an encapsulating read to enjoy during isolation.
Civil War (Marvel Comics, 2006-2007)
Perhaps the most famous of Marvel’s superhero crossover events, Civil War sees the U.S. Government passing the Superhero Registration Act with Captain America leading those against it and Iron Man leading those for it with Spider-Man caught in the middle and the X-Men taking a neutral stance. A true comics classic, it’s a must read especially with its gorgeous artwork. Perhaps after reading, you can watch the MCU’s loose film adaptation Captain America: Civil War (2016).
Doctor Who: The Lost Dimension (Titan Comics, 2017)
If you’re a fan of Doctor Who and just want something enjoyable and referential to read, then look no further. The Lost Dimension sees The Doctor’s daughter Jenny (last seen on TV in 2008) cross paths with Doctors one through twelve as she tries to prevent the Void from devouring the universe. Whilst slightly indulgent and a tad disjointed, this comic series is an entertaining multi-Doctor story that every Who fan will adore.
Batman: The Black Mirror (DC Comics, 2011)
Despite not having any actual superpowers, Batman and his technology is still pretty far from anything we see in the modern day. His rogue’s gallery continues this trend with prominent figures prominently displaying inhuman strength, control over plant life and the ability to freeze people on touch. So, what happens when a truly realistic take of a psychopathic serial killer comes to Gotham? It makes for one of the most intense, unnerving and overlooked Batman stories that should be considered essential reading for any fan of the caped crusader.
Doomsday Clock (DC Comics, 2017-2019)
Alan Moore’s Watchmen series had long been separated from the rest of DC’s roster of heroes. Doomsday Clock is the pivotal novel that branches the two worlds together. However, it is not just a cheap way to see fan-favourite characters meet. Like the original watchmen, philosophical questions are at the heart of the story. This is all perfectly encapsulated by the meeting of the optimistic alien Superman and the pessimistic god Doctor Manhattan as they debate and consider the nature of humanity.
Batman: The Long Halloween (DC Comics, 1996-1997)
The novel that inspired 2008’s The Dark Knight. That statement alone explains why this book is a must read. This is a detective story featuring Batman. A killer is on the loose and all of Gotham’s criminal inhabitants are suspects. Featuring cameos from Joker, Catwoman, The Riddler and many others, The Long Halloween remains a brilliant Batman story, yet also a perfect starting point for anyone curious about the wider world of Gotham.
Saga (Image Comics, 2012-present)
Saga is constantly compared to the likes of Star Wars or Game of Thrones, but thisalmost fails to do justice to the unique flavour of this scifi-fantasy-love-war-epic. Written by Brian K.Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples, the award winning Saga tells the story of two parents from different worlds, Marko and Alana. The pair must raise their daughter while their home planets wage war upon one another, leading to a beautifully grounded story of family set against the backdrop of a space epic. Currently half way through it’s run at #60, Saga is a book with something so much more to say than ‘war = bad, love = good’, and is a perfect read during isolation thanks to it’s hilarious escapism and deeply human narrative.
Hawkeye (Marvel Comics, 2012-2015)
The Avengers are a superhero team consisting of thunder gods, billionaire geniuses and hulking monsters. Hawkeye, their resident archer, shoots bad guys with pointy sticks. Writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja lean into this imbalance brilliantly, telling the story of how Hawkeye spends his off-time and defends not the world, but his local apartment complex. Many comics and TV shows about ‘realistic’ superheroes, such as Watchmen or The Boys, are gritty and dark. Hawkeye however, is genuinely relatable, funny and ultimately upbeat, perfect for isolation. And if that doesn’t sell you, there’s an entire issue about Hawkeye’s dog fighting mobsters and eating pizza.
Rat Queens (Image Comics, 2013-present)
If you love anything fantasy, Rat Queens is the comic for you. Created by Kurtis J.Wiebe and Roc Upchurch, the ongoing series explores the misadventures of the all-female adventuring party: the Rat Queens. The series is a love letter to the fantasy genre, drawing inspirations from Lord of the Rings and the Dungeons and Dragons game. However, the series manages to brilliantly flip fantasy tropes on their heads, with a drug dealing gnome, a dwarven warrior who hates beards, and an atheist demon worshipper. The compelling cast, expertly choreographed action and general badassery mean I cannot recommend Rat Queens enough.
House of X/Powers of X (Marvel Comics, 2019)
These two intertwining miniseries by writer Johnathon Hickman have revolutionised the landscape of all X-Men comics. The series tell the story of the X-Men, who for years have fought hate and discrimination against their mutant species, drawing a line in the sand and saying ‘no more’, by founding an island homeland for their species named Krakoa. If you’ve ever wanted to get into X-Men comics, this series is the perfect place to start as it kick starts the new era of ongoing X-Men comics. Even if you have no clue what’s happening, don’t worry, neither does anybody else and it’s bloody marvellous. Hickman has created a story generating machine with the flawed utopia of Krakoa. There are so many ideas and themes that it’s staggering in the best way, and I beg you to join this new journey the X-Men have only just begun.
Watchmen (DC Comics, 1986-1987)
If you’ve only seen either the 2009 film Watchmen directed by Zach Snyder, or the new TV series, I have some good news for you! Truly a testament to the statement that ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness’, these unfortunate bastardisations come nowhere close to the quality of their source material. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s original graphic novel Watchmen is both a biting commentary on the Neo-liberal politics of the cold war, one of the first, best artistic expressions of the western culture’s unsettling fascination with the concept of heroism, and a truly deconstructive work in this capacity. The novel explores the viability of the concept of the superhero, using a cast of characters as representatives of different types or possible outcomes of the genre’s logic and testing them within a realist setting. Included in Time’s list of the 100 best novels since 1923, Watchmen is the most thought-provoking, and perhaps the darkest, entry into the superhero canon, and one that by all rights ought to have tolled the death of the genre. However, reading it at a time when superhero movies are mechanically pumped out each year will perhaps lend an even greater contrast with which to appreciate this masterpiece.
Maus (Pantheon Books, 1991)
Art Spiegelman’s Maus is the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize, special award in letters. It follows Spiegelman himself as he interviews his father Vladek about his experience as a Polish Jew during the Holocaust, from the lead up to the second world war to his parents’ liberation from the concentration camps. The gut-wrenching tale audaciously depicts Jews as mice, Germans as cats, Poles pigs etc. in a dark, austere, high contrast art style. The decision provoked ire from a number of commentators who tended to view artistic representations of the holocaust as uniformly trivialising, and the comic genre as especially derogatory. However, comic critics were quick to point out Spiegelman’s participation in a history of artistic usage of comic animals to present dark subject matter, a la Robert Crumb’s Fritz the Cat. In fact it is Spiegelman’s knowledge and surreal usage of the comic genre which allows him to best present the ironic difficulty of attempting to tell such a dark story.
Kafka (Fantagraphics Book, 2007)
Keeping in line with the other two harrowing examples of the comic form I’ve recommended is David Zane Mairowittz and R. Crumb’s illustrated Kafka. If you’re at all interested in the famous Czech author and desire either cultural commentary from the similarly pathological artist Robert Crumb, or an appropriate aesthetic representation of Kafka’s brand of existential dread, you’ve come to the right place! Both fantastically rendered and an interesting read, even if you happen to dislike Crumb the man, Kafka is sure to pique your interest. The book comically adapts some of the authors most famous works, such as The Metamorphosis, A Hunger Artist, In the Penal Colony, and The Judgement, and provides brief sketches of his three novels, The Trial, The Castle, and Amerika.
Star Wars: Doctor Aphra (Marvel Comics, 2016-present)
Darth Vader is the formidable prophesied Sith apprentice, who’s terrifying character design and infamous voice and iconic force choke abilities have made them one of the most recognisable Sci-fi villains to have ever existed. But who was this revered lord of destruction’s worst enemy? The Doctor Aphra series tells the story of this young, intrepid and troublesome archaeology student, whose desire for more leads her to an epic cat and mouse chase with the most violent force in the galaxy. This comic explores the complex interweaving of the dark and the light in the galaxy, and the true extent of Vader’s rage.
The Saga of the Swamp Thing (DC Comics, 1984-1987)
Alan Moore (the creator of the well-respected Watchmen series), debuted into the comic book industry with his series deconstructing DC Monster-hero Swamp Thing. The series is illustrated and written as a horror style comic but makes poignant remarks on social themes such as the environment, modern politics and social injustice. The series is founded on the basis of supernatural environmental forces: THE GREEN, the force that unites all plant life; THE RED, the force that unites all animal life; and THE ROT, the force of death Swamp Monster themselves are a somewhat loveable outcast, who’s deep and very human storyline and emotions are what make me such a fan of the DC universe and its characters.
God Hates Astronauts (Image Comics, 2014-2015)
This, at times satirical, series is a hilarious take on comic book superheroes. The series depicts ‘The Power Persons Five’, a group of heroes who spend more time fighting each other than they do fighting crime. These heroes can never seem to shake personal vendettas, and certainly don’t hold the same moral absolutism as the likes of Batman or Superman. Extra-marital affairs, corrupting governments, the group get up to it all in a similar absurdist tone to the popular Rick and Morty TV series. The art style of the comics reminds me a lot of the iconic Borderlands art style, and is both a hilarious and witty universe to explore.
Ultimate Spider-Man (Marvel Comics, 2000-2011)
Ultimate Spider-Man is one of the best comic series released by Marvel because of its modern recreation of Peter Parker. This version of Peter Parker is arguably the strongest ever produced, having a perfect mix of the traits embodied by the three Peter Parker’s we have seen onscreen: he’s smart like Tobey Maguire, funny like Andrew Garfield, and like Tom Holland he actually seems like a teenager. This version is also without some of their more annoying traits: while a kid he’s not a suck-up like Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, who at times seems more like Iron Man’s sidekick than his own hero. This is the definitive version of Spider-Man, with a story that isn’t overly long but is long enough to get you through quarantine.
Superman: Earth One (DC Comics, 2010-2015)
What would you do if you could do anything? This re-imagining of the Superman saga takes a look at Superman’s younger years, focusing on Clark Kent struggling to decide what he wants to do with his life. He has the ability to be almost anything he wants to be, nothing is a challenge for him. And that’s the problem. This graphic novel focuses on the decisions Clark makes that lead to him becoming Superman and why he makes them, while also delving into Clark’s decision to take a career in journalism; because it is one of the only things which truly presents a challenge to him. This is one of the strongest takes on the Superman origin story.
Batman: The Court of Owls (DC Comics, 2011-2012)
Scott Snyder kicks off his new Batman run the right way with a complex detective story as Batman deals with a cult as old as Gotham itself. The story pits Batman against a brand new, yet already iconic, criminal organisation with links right back to the Wayne family. The Court of Owls are not only frightening due to their prowess but also their size and ability to break down Batman mentally, they hide in plain sight and have connections in almost every part of Gotham. Snyder excels at testing the hero to his absolute limit yet always coming up with a clever way for Batman to gain the upper hand.
Avatar: The Last Airbender (Dark Horse Comics, 2005-present)
A continuation of the animated series, following Aang and his friends as they attempt to rebuild the world they have so recently saved. Everyone needs some Avatar in their lives.