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After Watchmen — Some of Josh’s Favorite Graphic Novels

April 8th, 2009

Recently I’ve had a number of conversations with friends about graphic novels.  A lot of this was prompted by the Watchmen film.  People have been asking me what I thought of the original Watchmen graphic novel (it’s a masterpiece!), if they should read it (YES!), and if I could recommend other graphic novels that might be of interest (read on!).

Which brings me to today’s post.  While this is by no means a comprehensive list of my all-time favorite graphic novels, below are several extraordinary works that I think anyone who is interested in seeing what comics might have to offer would really enjoy.

A quick note, before we begin: I am using the term “graphic novel” to refer to any comic book story available in “book” format (as opposed to 24-32 page “pamphlet-style” single issues).  I am not distinguishing between a collection of comics that were first published as single issues or something that was originally published in this longer format.  I’m talking about any sort of collection that you could pick off your book-shelf and read as a complete story.

V For Vendetta — It is November the 5th, 1997, and a young girl is rescued by a mysterious vigilante wearing a Guy Fawkes mask who calls himself V.  Set in an alternate history in which Britain has become a fascist state, this towering work by Alan Moore and David Lloyd explores issues of identity and individuality.  It also turns the entire idea of the super-hero vigilante on its head.  When the figure of V first appears, we readers are conditioned to root for him as the clear hero of the tale.  Subsequent events cause one to question that thinking, as Moore and Lloyd pose difficult questions about the nature and necessity of the use of violence.  This is a beautiful, haunting work, a true masterpiece of the comics medium.

Give Me Liberty — Like V for Vendetta, this is a story of a slightly-alternate world, in which individual freedoms have become a thing of the past.  In Give Me Liberty, the cause is the unchecked spread of enormous corporations that have long-since co-opted the American government. Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons’ tale begins in 1995 with the birth of Martha Washington, a young, precocious African-American girl who grows up in the horrifying squalor of “The Green,” an extension of Chicago’s Cabrini Green housing project.  Her brains and her courage help her escape the projects and join the military, where she finds herself embroiled in a much larger conspiracy.  This astounding mix of social commentary and sci-fi adventure rises above other works of speculative fiction mainly because of the compelling lead character of Martha.

Jinx — This was the first work I ever read by Brian Michael Bendis, well before he became one of Marvel Comics’ go-to writers, and it remains my favorite.  A dark (but also very funny in places) tale of a young bounty hunter (the titular Jinx) and her hunt for $3,000,000 in loot and all of the trouble that ensues.  Bendis’ gift for dialogue and the rhythms of conversation is immediately apparent, but the twisty story of crosses and double-crosses is also compelling.  Bendis doesn’t do much drawing these days, but I must confess to quite enjoying his unique art style, filled with dramatic page layouts and a lot of what look like photo-copy tricks in the backgrounds.  It gives the work a unique flavor.

Ocean — I just loves me a good sci-fi story, and Warren Ellis, along with illustrators Chris Sprouse & Karl Story, spin a great one here.  UN Weapons Inspector Nathan Kane is sent to a space station orbiting Europa.  The team there has made an astounding discovery: what look to be ancient caskets floating in the ice-covered oceans of that moon.  As Kane struggles to determine the origin and purpose of the amazing find, it quickly becomes apparent that one of Earth’s software conglomerate has its own plans.  Filled to the brim with many of Ellis’  fascinating ideas about science and the universe, all wrapped up in a gripping mystery, Ocean feels a lot like 2001: A Space Odyssey — only a lot more exciting!  The beautiful art is just the icing on the cake.  (Warren Ellis has written several other magnficent sci-fi tales, such as Orbiter and Ministry of Space.  Both are also phenomenal!)

 

All of the above are one-volume tales that represent complete stories, start-to-finish.  I’ll be back here tomorrow to discuss some other fantastic graphic novels that represent pieces of much longer, more elaborate tales.  See you then!  (Click here for Part II of this article, and here for Part III!)

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