The graphic novel as we know it started as the comic boom medium elevated to a new level near the start of the 1980s. Starting as just longer comics, the graphic novels emerging around this time set the trend for the future of the medium: elevated characterization, deeper stories, original voices unshackled by the constraints of the comic book industry, and art work that could be at once breathtaking, beautiful, enigmatic, and grotesque. The graphic novels from genesis to the modern day all shared these qualities, but, naturally, there were some comics that took a stand above all others, rising to the highest echelon of the comic book medium--the greats among greats.
Maus: A Survivor's Tale (Pantheon)
Maus tells the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Nazi Germany, and his son, the comic's narrator, recording his coming to understand the struggles his father confronted. Maus works through metaphor and allegory. The Nazis are cats, and the Jews are mice. This is done to draw us away from the familiar iconography of World War II, so that we can rediscover the Holocaust in an all-new and all-shocking manner.
Vladek’s struggle to survive is woven into Art's difficult relationship with his elderly father--a relationship marked by unspoken guilt, unhappy visits, and tense silence. This comic, despite featuring cartoon mice and cats, is not an uplifting tale. It manages to capture the cynicism of the day, while reinforcing the imagery of the Holocaust with approachable animals... which, somehow, only serves to make things darker.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Collectors Edition (DC Comics)
The Dark Knight Returns revolutionized the comic industry. It brings us to a possible future of Bruce Wayne. Batman has retired following the death of the second Robin, Jason Todd. But a mutant gang has overtaken Gotham. Commissioner Gordon has grown too old for his post. And old villains, thought to be dormant or recovered, have returned. Bruce Wayne is compelled to retake the cape and cowl, but in the process may have to confront a world that both has grown beyond him and may not want him.
Frank Miller's iconic story served to reinvent Batman for the modern era. It remains Miller's crowning achievement, and a source of inspiration for every interpretation of Batman to follow.
Watchmen (DC Comics)
A Comedian died in New York.
When the aging "superhero" (government assassin) known as the Comedian is murdered in his apartment, lone wolf vigilante Rorschach sets off to solve the mystery behind what he thinks is the first of many murders. He tries to reach out to his fellow superheroes, who have all either retired, re-integrated into society, or work for the government, in order to compel them to help him fight crime once more... but the world is too complicated. The world is minutes from nuclear war, not aided by the presence of Doctor Manhattan, a walking God amongst men. With a clear presence behind the scenes, can the world be saved? And, quite honestly, should a world as rotten as this world be saved?
Alan Moore's iconic storyline revolutionized comics upon release, and, to this day, remains as one of the greatest comics ever written.
Absolute DC: The New Frontier (DC)
Over the years, no single work has integrated Silver and Golden-Age sensibilities with the elevated narrative qualities of the graphic novel better than Darwyn Cooke's DC: The New Frontier.
Set in an alternate timeline where DC's chronology moved realistically from the late '50s through President John F. Kennedy's administration, New Frontier rockets past the realm of nostalgic homage to smart, post-modern art. From its opening sequence telling the improbable survival tale of the Losers landing on Dinosaur Island, to the Justice League's final confrontation with the alien entity known as the Circle, this comic tale comes jam-packed with spine-tingling fanboy moments. Nearly every scene shocks the senses (and sensibilities) of longtime comic readers, including a battle-of-the-sexes twist that sees Wonder Woman tower over Superman both on and off the Korean War battlefields; the TV-educated alien Martian Manhunter's uneasy friendship with the Xenophobic King Faraday; or Batman's relentless underground War on Crime that teeters on psychosis.
Within the rotating vignettes, the book spotlights the iconic characteristics that make the Justice League Work in any era. Tying together the myriad character and plot threads is haunted war-vet Hal Jordan, who transforms from traumatized combat pilot to would-be astronaut to rookie Green Lantern as he struggles to find his place in the face of an untrusting World and his own personal demons. It's with these elements that Cooke reminds readers that in an age where the comics form can get easily dragged down by slick commercialism and indulgent violence, there's still room for bold, bright and fun ideas to run rampant through readers' imaginations. Best of all, Cooke's work comes to life thanks to his classic, elegant draftsmanship rarely seen in today's comics.
Like its predecessors in DC's Absolute line of hardcovers, this edition goes behind the scenes with annotated sketches and designs, and includes brand new story pages to fine-tune several character arcs. With all that intrigue, imagination and excitement housed under one cover, this to me demands to be the only collection-if you have to choose one-you must have on your bookshelf. So if you've missed out on this masterpiece up to this point, start saving up-this massive, moving story is worth every penny.
Marvels Premiere (Marvel)
It was like seeing the superhero world for the very first time. It was the difference between a courtroom sketch and videotape; the distinction between a thrilling Hollywood movie versus a raw documentary.
Any way you look at it, in 1993, Alex Ross's photo-realistic paintings were a milestone for the medium. Of course, all of Ross’s exquisite depth and accentuated details would have been just eye candy without writer Kurt Busiek's pitch-perfect dialogue and keen-eyed perspective--thanks to the P.O.V. of "Marvels" photographer Phil Sheldon--on our favorite heroes' earliest origins. No doubt, both Sheldon and comic book fans everywhere were in awe, witnesses to a whole new phenomenon.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 2 (WildStorm/ABC)
Like the original Alan Moore/Kevin O'Neill collaboration, the second adventure cobbling together heroic figures from Victorian literature into one story fits together its disparate elements and situations with clockwork precision. However, unlike the more straightforward origin presented in the League's inaugural tale, Volume Two explores the sinister and damaged sides of the characters, from the somber sex shared by Allan Quatermain and Mina Murray, to the Invisible Man's betrayal of humanity and his gruesome death at the hands of Mister Hyde. Once again, in Moore's hands, some stale archetypes get an innovative update that was controversial, complex and surprisingly accessible.
Y: The Last Man: Book 1 Deluxe Edition (DC/Vertigo)
In the opening pages of Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra's pop culture-driven, post-apocalyptic series, every male animal on earth dies with the exception of would-be escape artist Yorick Brown and his pet monkey, Ampersand. Yet despite the inspired nature of its premise, Y. The Last Man proves to be much more than a mere high concept with its opening ten issues. And as the series develops, weaving in plot threads that include the gasping government's response to the gendercide and a secret society bent on saving the last man's life, Y transcends its premise and tackles the complex nature of feminism and gender relations head on.
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (Pantheon)
It is the unsettling story of a man reconnecting with his long-lost father and the crushing revelations that ensue when expectations meet reality. This collection's slow-building emotional power comes courtesy of cartoonist Chris Ware's highly stylized, meticulously planned art. Cramming a nearly overwhelming amount of panels onto pages with a rigidly formal design, the cartoonist forces the reader to examine Jimmy's life and imaginative fantasies not as nostalgic memories of happy times, but as metaphorical reminders of deep character flaws. With a father figure reminiscent of a certain man of steel, Corrigan may feel oddly familiar at times, but the emotional and artistic depths the graphic novel reaches trumps the Standard fisticuffs of Capes and tights Comics any day of the Week (especially Wednesday, we assume).
Superman for All Seasons (DC)
With 70 years's worth of issues published, coming up with a new way to tell a Superman story is not easy. You need a unique and innovative perspective. Well, in this case, how about four?
Comic book soulmates Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale managed to add new layers to the Man of Steel with their four seasonal chapters narrated by those closest (in more ways than one) to him. Sale's beautiful Norman Rockwellesque imagery (heightened by the expressive color palette of Bjarne Hansen) is the perfect complement to Pa Kent's nostalgic journey, Lana's bittersweet remembrances, Lois' pragmatic reporting and even Luthor's vindictive missives. Like much of the duo's best collaborations, For All Seasons is a seemingly uncomplicated piece of work that leaves the reader thinking some very deep thoughts.
Absolute Kingdom Come (DC)
A dystopian take on the DC Universe stands as a proposition that's easily screwed up. Luckily, modern Superhero masters Mark Waid and Alex Ross reached deep into their toolboxes as topnotch storytellers while crafting Kingdom Come. Centering on the story of a world overrun by hateful, hardcore "heroes" who have risen to prominence since Superman abandoned society, the story seamlessly weaves together religious themes, revolutionary character re-designs, unexpected personality clashes, and inventive action twists. The Man of Steel's struggle to save a fallen culture he helped create serves as a thought-provoking criticism of the modern superhero genre, but unlike so many navel-gazing ruminations on the DCU, Kingdom Come relates a tale of altruism fit for any age and any reader.
Hellboy: Library Edition Vol. 1 (Dark Horse)
Over the past two decades, the growth of original, creator-driven and--more importantly--creator-owned series has changed the industry's landscape, and no one comic proved more successful on its own terms than Mike Mignola's Hellboy. In Dark Horse's high-end Library Editions, the folklore-influenced, action-oriented stories of the big red guy pop with unbridled energy, and the first Volume's presentation shows Mignola's quick ascension from unique mainstream artist to sensational solo auteur. In the first story, Seed of Destruction (co-written by John Byrne), the origin of the reformed demon and his team of paranormal investigators cleverly clashes with an old fashioned pulp tale of Nazi smashing, but by the time the reader reaches Wake the Devil, Mignola comes into his own unearthing forgotten, ghastly tales of lore which reveal the deep interpersonal dynamic Hellboy holds with mankind.
Bone: One Volume Edition (Cartoon Books)
Jeff Smith's signature series achieved the enviable status of being both a uniquely personal statement as well as a title that connected to a hugely diverse audience. Still, the most amazing thing about the black and white indie's meteoric rise remains how consistently funny, fast-paced and adventurous the comic is--and at 1,300 pages for this one volume edition, that's saying something. The tale of the funny animal-inspired Bone cousins, from their entrance into a mysterious valley to their improbable role as heroes in the war with the frightening Lord of the Locusts, combines the best elements of comedy, romance and high fantasy. Smith's knack for singular characterizations--Fone Bone's die-hard love of Princess Thorn, for instance, or Phoney Bone's insatiable lust for wealth--is the glue that, despite the series' lengthy 13-year publication, holds this collection firmly together.
New X-Men Omnibus
Two decades as the most popular franchise in comics had drained the X-Men of much of their potency by 2001. When writer Grant Morrison and a raft of cutting-edge artists, led by Frank Quitely, took over the franchise with the evocative, high-concept action comic New X-Men. Morrison tore the X-Men's world apart with science fiction-driven stories that further mutated the engaging main cast, added bizarre new players such as Cassandra Nova and Beak and reinvigorated the mutant minority metaphor with new cultural themes--and that's not to mention the radical visual makeovers, from form-fitting leather costumes to secondary mutations like the Beast's feline persona. Bold departures to be sure, but that didn't mean the franchise's patented soap opera techniques from the Chris Claremont and John Byrne era weren't readily embraced. For Morrison and the gang, a little bit of the old expertly mixed with a little bit of the new made for quite the compelling run in the X-Universe.
Before he relinquished his artist's pencil and became Marvel's premier architect, Brian Michael Bendis and Marc Andreyko's true-life crime tale of an aging Eliot Ness' investigation of America's first serial killer brought a new level of verisimilitude to graphic crime fiction.
Ghost World Special Edition (Fantagraphics)
the appeal of Daniel Clowes' breakout graphic novel lies not form what could be predictable plotting, but from its engaging character work. It is the relationship between outsider teens Enid and Rebecca that holds readers in its hilariously cynical sway from panel one.
Sin City: That Yellow Bastard (Dark Horse)
An over-the-top entry in Frank Miller's genre-redefining crime series, That Yellow Bastard injects heart into Sin City while also providing some of the series' most shocking images. Disgraced police detective John Hartigan's hunt to save a young girl from the wealthy, connected rapist who set him up for an eight-year prison stay remains unflinching and unforgettable.
Blankets (Top Shelf)
Craig Thompson's expert handling of comics' quieter moments is put to good use in this 600-page memoir of young love burdened by the pressures of evangelical Christianity. Despite the indie book's lack of serialization and limited comic shop availability, Blankets became the mainstream crossover success that rewrote the rules on how mass audiences experience graphic novels.
Daredevil by Brian Bendis Omnibus Vol. 1 (Marvel)
As the '90s came to a close, no one expected a Daredevil run to come along that would rival Frank Miller's unparalleled Work with the character. But Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev's 39-issue mash-up of neo-noir tales, engrossing legal dramas and jaw dropping Superhero revisions found a way to chart a brand new course for Matt Murdock with each issue.
Starman Omnibus (DC)
Unlikely hero Jack Knight soars in James Robinson and Tony Harris' first 17 issues worth of Starman stories. Reluctantly forced into accepting the heroic Starman identity to stop a devious attack by his father's archenemy, Gen X slacker Knight nevertheless manages to mend the broken relationship with his dead brother, accept his father's mantle and take his first steps to greatness.
Captain America Omnibus Vol. 1
Boy, and we thought Bucky coming back would be the big news. This oversized collection of Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting and company's Captain America relaunch includes 24 issues of rock-solid adventures and one tragic tale of a legendary hero's assassination that would shake the Marvel Universe to its core.
Astonishing X-Men Omnibus (Marvel)
With smart, dramatic storytelling, Joss Whedon and John Cassaday boil Marvel's mutants to their uncanny core with their run on Astonishing X-Men, collected here in total (and on sale in September). Energized by the threat of a mutant "Cure," anchored by the resurrection of Colossus and featuring Kitty Pryde as a series cornerstone, the story careens straight into classic territory with big-screen style.
All Star Superman Vol. 2 (DC)
The Eisner-Award Winning graphic novel, Grant Morrison's masterpiece All-Star Superman presents the Man of Steel with the one thing he can't punch his way out of: death. With one year left to live, Superman must do everything he can to leave the world a better place than he left it. Morrison integrates every quality that has made Superman an icon over the course of this one graphic novel. At once epic, incredible, and tragic.
JSA: The Golden Age (DC)
Revealing the hidden stresses and subversions of post-war America in a tale where the disbanded Justice Society is forced into civilian life, James Robinson and Paul Smith's revered Elseworlds story joins the building blocks of comics' Golden Age with sleek, modern storytelling to craft an essential DCU starter story.
Preacher Vol. 7: Salvation (DC/Vertigo)
Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's satirical masterpiece finds its perfect stand-alone Volume in Salvation. The story of Jesse Custer's ascension to lawman in a small Texas town contrasts the horrors of societal control with the beauty of big-hearted freaks, and while Custer walks away unscathed from a peyote trip Confrontation with God Himself, the reader is left transfixed, if not transformed.
300 Hardcover (Dark Horse)
Taking considerable liberty with historical fact, Frank Miller translates the Spartan Warriors' famed final stand at Thermopylae into an epic of scratchy, scary action sequences and testosterone-fueled characterizations. Formatted more like a Hollywood storyboard (that is, meant to be read horizontally), 300 was destined for the big screen from page one.
Top 10 Book 1 & 2 (WildStorm/ABC)
Alan Moore's most inventive mainstream work in years mixes police procedurals and continuity-heavy comics for a surprisingly human series of stories. But while Moore's scripts deliver drama on par with "Hill Street Blues," the hyper-detailed art by Gene Ha with its myriad hidden pop culture and comic references makes Top 10 an undeniably engrossing mix.
100 Bullets: The Counterfifth Detective (DC/Vertigo)
In its fifth collected volume, the head-spinning conspiracy theory of Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso's high-concept crime series finally begins to unravel. When battered and bandaged private dick Milo Garret receives the ubiquitous 100 untraceable bullets, a classic Chandler-esque mystery turns on its ear as Milo's mind cracks when confronted with the history of the Trust--and his hidden connection to it.
Absolute Sandman Vol. 4 (DC/Vertigo)
Neil Gaiman's groundbreaking lit-comic series gets an "Absolutely" perfect send-off in this oversized, extras-laden edition, which puts the finishing touches on Morpheus' Endless Saga with the series' final two stoy-arcs, "The Kindly Ones" and "The Wake." Sensitive types should keep the Kleenex handy.
Pride of Baghdad (DC/Vertigo)
Not your regular funny animal book, Brian K. Vaughan and artist Niko Henrichon present this heart-wrenching allegory about a pride of lions that escapes the Baghdad zoo during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and learns the true meaning of "king of the jungle."
Black Hole (Pantheon)
In this unnervingly surreal thriller by Charles Burns, angsty 1970s Seattle teens Keith and Chris Come to grips with "the bug," an STD that causes horrific mutations in its victims. Though the AIDS metaphor is hard to miss, it's equally compelling for its portrayal of disenfranchised youth struggling with teen issues.
Three lab animals-turned-living weapons by an unscrupulous black ops agency find themselves targeted for termination in this pulse-pounding, heart-wrenching, high-tech update of "Old Yeller" by Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly. Trust us: you'll never look at your house pets the same way again.
Absolute Batman: Hush (DC Comics)
Superstars Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee collaborate on this 12-part mystery in which the Caped Crusader faces off against all his big baddies while trying to stop new menace Hush--who may or may not have longstanding ties to Bruce Wayne!
Jinx: The Definitive Collection (Image)
Brian Michael Bendis pulls double duty as writer-artist on this classical noir crime thriller about down-on-her luck bounty hunter Jinx Alameda and her race to find millions in missing mob money--which could be her Only ticket to love and happiness.
Transmetropolitan Vol. 3: Year of the Bastard (DC/Vertigo)
The sullied bar is raised even higher for Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson's balls-out action series by Volume 3, where gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem jumps back into the political game to cover the impending presidential election--with potentially fatal results for someone.
JLA Vol. 1 Deluxe Edition (DC Comics)
In this oversized collection of Grant Morrison's first nine issues of JLA with artist Howard Porter, the A-list iconic League members-led by Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, natch-reunite to battle would-be world saviors the Hyperclan, unlock the mystery of The Key and welcome Tomorrow Woman into the fold.
Whiteout Volume 1: The Definitive Edition (Oni press)
Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber's Stark black and white crime thriller crackles with energy, as U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko must solve a deadly murder mystery while doing time in her own personal hell: Antarctica.
Scott Pilgrim Vol. 1: Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life (Oni Press)
Readers will get hooked for life after reading this initial offering from Creator Bryan Lee O'Malley, in which the titular slacker hero must battle the first in a series of seven evil ex-boyfriends to capture the heart of his would-be paramour, Ramona Flowers.
Powers: The Definitive HC Collection Vol. 1 (Marvel)
This premium volume collects the first three story-arcs of Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming's super-crime saga, which stars Detectives Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim, the go-to investigators for the city's capes-and-cowls set. Savor the butt-ton of extras, including interviews, sketches, commentary and more.
Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits (DC/Vertigo)
In Garth Ennis' first foray with John Constantine, he pits the mystical conman against a foe that supposedly can't be beat: lung cancer. But that's only the start of the story; Constantine winds up embarking on an epic journey to hell and back that could wind up saving his life-at the price of his immortal soul!
Complete Concrete (Dark Horse)
You'll have to shell out some bucks for this hard-to-find hardcover collection of Paul Chadwick's first 10 issues of Concrete, but his highly detailed black and white drawings and the moving story of a gentle man trapped in a behemoth body will crack any stone heart and is well worth it.
Green Lantern: Rebirth (DC Comics)
Superstars Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver teamed up for this seminal miniseries that reignited the Green Lantern mythos by reviving--and redeeming-–Silver Age standard-bearer Hal Jordan, who had earlier gone insane and become a murderer before dying.
Hellblazer: Hard Time (DC/Vertigo)
For his initial arc on Hellblazer, Brian Azzarello collaborated with legendary Heavy Metal artist Richard Corben to put John Constantine in prison for a murder he didn't commit, trading the usual supernatural chicanery for the scribe's patented razor-sharp barbs and stone-cold killer wit.
Alias Omnibus HC (Marvel/MAX)
Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos' hard-hitting, heart-wrenching portrayal of failed superheroine-turned-private investigator Jessica Jones is simply a mature readers masterpiece. Her journey from devastating defeat to eventual triumph is a joy to behold.
The Authority Absolute Edition Vol. 1 (DC/WildStorm)
The Authority demands your obedience, so don't bother messing around with flimsy trades. Get the oversized hardcover Absolute edition of Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch's "Relentless" epic so you can savor every god-killing, dimension-ripping, earth-burning, ultra-violent moment.
B.P.R.D. Vol. 5: The Black Flame
The B.P.R.D.'s long-running feud with the Frog Monsters takes a devastating turn in this action-packed, twist-laden chapter from Mike Mignola, John Arcudi and Guy Davis when a bizarre new villain, the Black Flame, leads the reptiles on an apocalyptic rampage.
Stray Bullets: The Innocence of Nihilism (El Capitan)
The introductory chapters to David Lapham's long-running crime saga are not to be missed, as he subtly weaves together seven unforgettable, impactful tales over a 20-year span starring an array of colorful albeit flawed characters; think "Crash" with a "Pulp Fiction" cast.
The Complete Persepolis (Pantheon)
This volume contains both installments of Marjane's Satrapi's poignantly funny, insightful and moving memoir series about the perils and rewards of growing up in 1970s Iran during the Fundamentalist Revolution.
Pedro & Me: Friendship, Loss, and What I Learned (Harry Holt & Co.)
Judd Winick writes and draws this enlightening and emotionally moving memoir of "Real World Season 3" co-star Pedro Zamora, a 22-year old AIDS educator who died from the disease in 1994 and sparked an international outpouring of support.
Identity Crisis (DC Comics)
Best-selling novelist Brad Meltzer and artists Rags Morales thrust the DCU into some shadowy territory with this wrenching mystery miniseries that finds its iconic heroes scrambling to solver the murder of Sue Dibny, wife of JLAer Elongated Man, while dealing with a conspiratorial cover-up in their own ranks.
Ex Machina Deluxe Edition Vol. 1 (DC/WildStorm)
It's "The West Wing," but with a handy jetpack. In Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris' political super-thriller, retired hero Mitchell Hundred (aka The Great Machine) becomes mayor of New York City-with predictably unpredictable plots in these first 11 issues, including a sewer-dwelling madman and a serial killer targeting snow plow drivers.
JLA: Earth 2 (DC Comics)
The superstar duo of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely pair up once again to pit the JLA against a mirror-image super-team that rules its universe with an iron fist, culminating in a patented mind-bending Morrison showdown that's anything but conventional comics combat.
The Complete Invincible Library Vol. 1 (Image)
Robert Kirkman's take on the teenage hero archetype--angsty human-alien hybrid Mark Grayson-–over these first 25 issues is strong enough to deserve this high-end collection: an oversized, library-worthy hardcover totaling nearly 800 pages.
The Death and Return of Superman Omnibus (DC Comics)
Whoever you were, wherever you were, whether you were into comics or not, you heard about this saga. Conceived at a time when the character of Superman was at a crossroads, The Death of Superman was like a shot of adrenaline straight into the heart of comic-dom.
Kramers Ergot 7 (Buenaventura Press)
The New York Times dubbed this art-comics lovers' delight "one of the grandest English language Comics artifacts ever produced." No doubt, this oversized, laboriously constructed anthology features the best auteur cartoonists working today.
Death: The High Cost of Living (DC/Vertigo)
Every 100 years, the Endless entity known as Death gets to spend one day on Earth living a mortal life. But when Neil Gaiman's beloved Goth girl meets Suicidal Sexton during her annual sojourn, she runs afoul of the evil wizard Eremite, who's after Death's mystical necklace.
Walking Dead Compendium (Image Comics)
This massive paperback volume-maxing out at 1,088 pages-houses the first 48 issues of Robert Kirkman's zombie epic, a shambling postapocalyptic thriller about survivors dealing with the end of civilization.
Punisher: Welcome Back Frank Marvel Premiere Classic (Marvel)
This 12-issue 2000 Marvel Knights relaunch by Preacher writer Garth Ennis sends Frank Castle back on his hardcore killing track against mob boss Ma Gnucci, three copycat vigilantes and two cops tasked with bringing him in.
The Ultimates Omnibus Vol. 1 (Marvel)
Collecting both 13-issue installments and their accompanying annuals by the bombastic team of Millar and Hitch, this modernist take on the Marvel U finds its assembled heros repelling Hulk, alien conquerors and Russian invaders in grandiose cinematic fashion.
Invisibles Book 4: Bloody Hell in America (DC/Vertigo)
Grant Morrison collaborated with Phil Jimenez for this Americanized edition of his mind-bending, gonzo adventure series, in which his conspiracy crusaders take a bite out of the Big Apple while hunting for a would-be AIDS vaccine.
Madman: Gargantua (Image)
Mike Allred completists take note: Get 852 pages of the best pop-art comic around in this hardcover edition that collects all of Frank N. Stein's earliest adventures from Madman, Madman Adventures and Madman Comics.
Gotham Central HC Vol. 1 (DC Comics)
The first 10 issues of Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka's multi-layered crime opus feature the detectives of Gotham's Major Crimes division racing to stop the cop-killing Mr. Freeze, while outed lesbian Detective Renee Montoya wrestles with enemies inside the department.
JSA: Liberty Files (DC Comics)
DC's Golden Age oldies get an Elseworlds facelift from Dan Jolley and Tony Harris, as the World War II-era Superteam--spearheaded by Batman, Dr. Mid-Nite and Hourman–-battles a would-be Nazi Superman who could turn the tide of war-and that's before staving off an alien invader bent on ruling Earth.
Buffy: Season Eight Vol. 3: Wolves at the Gate (Dark Horse)
Buffy and the Scooby gang must team with old foe Dracula to thwart a cell of Japanese super-vamps' plan to steal their Slayer mojo in this twisty, turny installment from Drew Goddard and Georges Jeanty.
X-Factor Premiere Edition Hardcover Vol. 1 (Marvel)
With Peter David's noir bent and moody art from Ryan Sook and Dennis Calero, the first six issues of the X-Factor relaunch Veered away from the typical costumed X-fare and instead featured a compelling blend of psychopaths, social deviants and corporate scum so evil they'd make Apocalypse take heed.
Doctor Strange: The Oath (Marvel)
Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin take Marvel's Sorcerer Supreme off life support with this five-issue medical mystery, as Strange searches for the cure to cancer to save the life of his stricken servant, Wong.
Plant Hulk Hardcover (Marvel)
Marvel's Green Goliath must play gladiator when Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic exile him to an alien world where he winds up as the prophesied savior, in this epic, outer space soap opera powerfully penned by Greg Pak and Smashingly illustrated by Carlo Pagulayan.
Rule No. 1 in the WildStorm Universe according to Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips: never trust John Lynch. Rule No. 2 in the WildStorm Universe: Never trust Tao. Holden Carver has to do both to live, making his life pretty worthless all around.
Usagi Yojimbo Book 12: Grasscutter (Dark Horse/ Fantagraphics)
In this edition of Stan Sakai's long-running signature series, ronin rabbit Usagi finds himself in the middle of a battle for a legendary sword forged in heaven.
Absolute Batman: The Long Halloween (DC Comics)
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale put a fledgling Dark Knight through his paces in this 12-part murder mystery that finds Batman taking on both the Gotham mobs and a serial killer called Holiday.
Absolute Planetary (DC/WildStorm)
For a heaping dose of super-science that's likely to melt your medulla oblongata, check out the first 12 issues of Warren Ellis and John Cassaday's magnum opus about a superpowered agency tasked with recording the secret history of the world.
Jae Lee's dark, moody art complements Paul Jenkins' complex, nuanced tale in which the superpowered royal family of moon-bound alien genetic mutates get caught up in palace intrigue and drama while poised on the brink of war with humanity.
Batgirl: Year One (DC Comics)
Barbara Gordon's early career gets the spotlight in this lavishly illustrated (Courtesy of Marcos Martin) flashback Story by Chuck Dixon and Scotty Beatty, which chronicles her earliest Bat-days, including her adoption into the Bat-Family and her first team-up with future Birds of Prey partner, Black Canary.
Supreme: The Story of the Year (Checker Books)
Previously little more than a Rob Liefeld Superman ripoff, Alan Moore reinvented the character as a homage to the Man of Steel archetype. After suffering amnesia, Supreme returns to Earth to rediscover his origins in a story filled with endearing human moments and awesome superheroic action.
Hard Boiled (Dark Horse)
Dark Horse published two versions of this Frank Miller/Dave Gibbons future noir-actioner, a Raymond Chandler-inspired mystery by way of Philip K. Dick. (Be on the lookout for the super-rare Big Damn Hard Boiled, a 15-by-11 inch black and white edition with no word balloons.)
Wanted HC (Top Cow Productions)
Spawning a hit feature film, Mark Millar and J.G. Jones' twisted tale of Wesley Gibson--a Would-be Slacker Who eVentually embraces a life of crime as the son of the world's greatest assassin--is the ideal example of the Scottish scribe's bold, take-no-prisoners scripting style.
Ultimate Spider-Man Collection (Marvel)
Once you start reading this reimagining of Marvel's most iconic character, you're not going to aant to stop. This Barnes & Noble exclusive hardcover from Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley collects Ultimate Spidey's first 39 adventures, as well as the Wallcrawler's historic debut in Amazing Fantasy #15.
X-Force: Famous, Mutant & Mortal (Marvel)
Before they went X-Statix, X-Force gained mainstream media cred thanks to Peter Milligan's inspired Satirical take on disposable celebrity mutants and Mike Allred's Vibrantly kinetic visuals-a recipe for a delicious mutant massacre.
Queen & Country: The Definitive Edition Vol. 1 (Oni press)
In this standout graphic espionage series from Greg Rucka, hardened British operative Tara Chase is an MI-6. Minder who kills abroad for the crown while fending off personal demons and political agendas at home.
Fathom: The Definitive Edition (Aspen Entertainment)
There's no better testament to the late Mike Turner's talent and legacy than this massive, 496-page hardcover collection of his undersea epic starring stunning Aspen Matthews, the amphibious fish out of water caught up in the struggle for control of an undersea empire.
The Boys: The Definitive Edition (Dynamite Entertainment)
Dive into Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson's profanely profound super-satire with these first 14 issues, which introduce the black-ops Boys as internal affairs cops keeping the chaotic, government-backed capes in check.
Thor: Blood Oath (Marvel)
Writer Michael Avon Oeming and artist Scott Kolins present this Jack Kirby-inspired flashback tale of the Thunder God's early days, as he teams with the valiant Warriors Three to embark on an epic quest across Earth and Asgard to settle a blood debt. By godly decree, we sayeth: a perfect blend of action, adventure, and mythology.
Joker (DC Comics)
If you dug Heath Ledger's inspired take on Gotham's Clown Prince of Crime, Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo present this perfect comic complement: a white-knuckle thriller in which Batman's arch-foe returns to carve out his criminal empire.
Spider-Man: Blue Premiere HC (Marvel)
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale work their retro magic in this flashback tale that finds Peter Parker falling in love with Gwen Stacy, meeting Mary Jane Watson for the first time and battling an array of his classic foes, including the Green Goblin, Rhino and two Vultures!
Super Spy (Top Shelf Productions)
Matt Kindt's painstakingly researched, lushly illustrated World War II spy drama reads like a how-to handbook on the tradecraft of espionage, yet never skimps on the human angles that make these tales so compelling.
Books of Magic (DC/Vertigo)
Long before Harry Potter earned his lightning scar, teenage Tim Hunter was destined to be the DCU's greatest mystic, but first he has to earn his stripes from John Constantine and the magical Trench Coat Brigade in this lushly painted graphic novel written by fantasy master Neil Gaiman.
New Avengers Vol. 1: Breakout (Marvel)
The blockbuster team of Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch relaunch Earth's Mightiest Heroes in this action-packed reboot that finds A-listers Cap, Spidey, Wolverine and Iron Man foiling a prison break at the Maximum Security Raft.
G.I. Joe WWlll Omnibus (Devil's Due)
Cobra's on the cusp of world domination, having invaded the U.S. after fomenting chaos around the globe, and it takes the Joes all 12 issues of this nail-biting combat epic to save the day-and democracy.
Human Target: Final Cut (DC/Vertigo)
Quirky P.I. Christopher Chance can't tell reality from fiction when he takes on this mind-bending puzzler by Peter Milligan and Javier Pulido: He must impersonate a hotshot Hollywood actor who's been targeted for death by a would-be stalker.
Last of the Independants (AiT/PlanetLar)
A throwback to 1970s drive-in days, this hard-boiled, Sepia-toned heist drama by Matt Fraction and Kieron Dwyer finds a trio of loveable crooks accidentally ripping off the mob before a final showdown in a ramshackle amusement park.
The Losers Vol. 5: Endgame (DC/Vertigo)
Though it's the last volume in the series, you still get the whole story of the relentless black-ops squad's death-defying campaign against a giant oil corporation in this masterfully plotted, politically charged revenge thriller from Andy Diggle and Jock.
Green Arrow: Archer's Quest (DC Comics)
The Emerald Archer and his former sidekick Arsenal travel down Memory Lane as they hunt for the resurrected Green Arrow's former treasures, in this genuinely funny and heartfelt Scavenger hunt directed by Brad Meltzer, with art by Phil Hester, that further Cemented Ollie Queen's return to the DCU.
The Nightly News (Image)
Jonathan Hickman began his subversion of the traditional comic form with this scathing examination of the media's role in society. Complete with hidden messages and a sinister graphic sensibility that evokes unsettling Big Brother themes, the series proves to be shocking, thought-provoking and an excellent introduction to one of the medium's rising Stars.
Criminal Vol. 2: Lawless (Marvel/lcon)
To get revenge on the Criminal Crew who killed his brother, ex-Soldier Tracy Lawless infiltrates their next heist, but winds up fending off the Feds, felons and femme fatales in this riveting, hard-hitting edition of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' pulp noir.
Hawaiian Dick Vol. 1: Byrd of Paradise (Image)
Imagine Thomas Magnum investigating supernatural mysteries in a seedy, 1950s era Hawaii, and you've got B. Clay Moore and Steve Griffin's island-centered noir-complete with tropical cocktail recipes!
30 Days of Night (IDW Publishing/ Dark Horse)
Ably elevated by Ben TempleSmith's terrifyingly good artwork, Steve Niles' 2002 feature film high-concept-vamps feast on an Alaskan town in the midst of a month-long eclipse-gave birth to a horror renaissance.
Umbrella Academy: The Apocalypse Suite (Dark Horse)
My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way hits a series of high notes with this frenetic, offbeat tale about a dysfunctional super-family of heroes trying to save the world-and their souls in the process.
Wolverine: Blood Debt (Marvel)
While in Japan, Wolverine gets caught between rival Crime lords trying to aid a young girl. Despite its familiar themes, Steve Skroce's hyperkinetic, eye-popping visuals elevate this Logan run to a must-read. Wolverine fighting ninjas and mercs a'la The Matrix? We're flaming there, bub!
Obergeist: The Director's Cut (Top Cow Productions)
In this complex, haunting adventure, Nazi Scientist Jurghen Steinholtz finds himself on a path to atonement when he's transformed into a near-omnipotent being and flung hundreds of years into the future to stop a would-be fascist dictator.
Blaze of Glory (Marvel)
Giddyup, pardners: The Last Ride of Marvel's Western Heroes--with the likes of Rawhide Kid, Two-Gun Kid and Caleb Hammer--features a more realistic and violent portrayal of these classic Silver Age comic cowboys by John Ostrander, in an action-packed Oater drawn by Leanardo Manco that's the four-color version of "The Magnificent Seven."
Scalped Vol. 3: Dead Mothers (DC/Vertigo)
A dead hooker's orphaned kids drive Prairie Rose Reservation Deputy Dashiell Bad Horse to deal with his own mother issues and quench his thirst for vengeance in this emotionally gripping crime thriller by Jason Aaron.
Box Office Poison (Top Shelf Productions)
One of the best pure comedy-dramas ever produced for the graphic medium, Alex Robinson provides real-world insight and emotion with his interwoven tales of a group of lovelorn city dwellers and their everyday trials and tribulations.
Catwoman: Selina's Big Score (DC)
Darwyn Cooke blazed a “new frontier" with this tongue-in-cheek, vibrantly colored caper concoction starring Batman's feline femme fatale, who's hatching an elaborate heist with an old cohort she once loved-and betrayed.