Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
While this is what many would consider a graphic novel, Through the Woods definitely deserves a spot on this list. This is a collection of five hauntingly beautiful illustrated stories that will leave your spine tingling. If you loved Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark as a kid, then Through the Woods is the book for you.
Batman: The Killing Joke (DC Comics)
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Brian Bolland
From the mind of the wizard and writer Alan Moore, Batman: The Killing Joke is a stand-alone story centered on Batman and the Joker, who is trying to prove that “all it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy.” Read this if you want to enjoy a DC classic or to see what kinds of storylines Warner Bros. seems incapable of recreating in live action.
Bitch Planet (Image)
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Artists: Valentine De Landro (Wilson IV, Peter, Cowles)
In the sci-fi world of Bitch Planet, women who are deemed “non-compliant” get shipped to an off-world prison where they are to atone for their sins of not fitting into their box. Bitch Planet is the feminist comic that you never knew you needed. Also, if you pick up one of the books (that holds five issues each), then you can go through the thoughtful discussion guide that DeConnick has provided to help readers unpack what unfolds in this wonderful comic.
Black Hammer (Dark Horse)
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artists: Dean Ormston, Dave Stewart
Black Hammer: Secret Origins takes the superhero genre and turns it on its head. In this series, a group of heroes save the world from annihilation and get stuck in an alternate dimension as a result. For ten years these heroes have been stuck and we get to see how they have been coping with their new lives (*spoiler* they have not been coping well at all).
Read this comic if you want a new perspective on a classic genre (also, it’s fun to see what heroes the characters in Black Hammer mirror from other comics).
The Sandman (Vertigo)
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artists: Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III
The Sandman follows the character Dream (or Morpheus, among several other names), who is one of the seven Endless (embodiments of parts of the universe). This comic series changed the way a lot of people looked at comics. Instead of only thinking of comics as simple or only for children, people started to see comics as genuine and complex works of literature/storytelling.
X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills (Marvel)
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Brent Anderson
In this standalone tale, the X-Men must stand against a new foe, Reverend Stryker and the members of his Crusade that are out to “cleanse the earth [of mutants], no matter how much blood stains their hands.” What does it mean to be human? Why are people afraid of those that are different from them. These are the kinds of questions raised in God Loves, Man Kills. This story is old, and the writing can be a bit clunky and too direct at times, but it’s still a classic worth reading.
Motor Crush (Image)
Created by: Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, Babs Tarr
In Motor Crush, we follow Domino Swift, rising star of the World Grand Prix by day and street racer by night. But when Domino discovers she can take Crush, “an engine-boosting machine stimulant,” and live, things get even more complicated for her. This is a great sci-fi/action adventure, but what is even more awesome about Motor Crush is that the protagonist is a black woman. Black women aren’t often featured in comics and they are rarely seen as main characters, so this is quite refreshing to see.
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Once you’ve read through The Sandman, you’ll probably come to the conclusion that Dream’s sister Death is the best and that there was not enough of her in the story. Well, you’re in luck! Because in Death, by Neil Gaiman, you follow Death as she figures out life. This collection of stories is made up of her appearances in The Sandman as well as original miniseries. While Death is the main character, you get to see how many characters live and how they meet Death in the end.
If the other comics didn’t tickle your fancy, here are some more options to consider:
Colder (Dark Horse)
Look at that cover. It’s disgusting. It’s beautiful. The story is pretty compelling, but it’s the killer art that hooks you.
HP Lovecraft meets noir.
Loose Ends (Image)
A Bonnie and Clyde type story with a unique art style.
The Wicked + the Divine (Image)
Lots of drama. Don’t get too attached to any one character.
Beautiful art and a wonderful fantasy comic.