Graphic novels (or comic books, as you might like to refer to them) can be great ways to kill a couple of hours in a visually appealing way. They can provide multilayered immersion into different worlds and present to you timely elements in interesting ways that other mediums can’t provide. But with so many to choose from, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of multiple volumes and spinoffs. To avoid such confusion, here are five recommendations ranging from the supernatural to the medieval to get you started on the venture into the comic world.
1: Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t know even a little bit about the famed Caped Crusader we call Batman. As a detective and crime fighter, Batman is forever on his nightly escapades to protect Gotham City, all while maintaining his public image as the billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne by day. In The Long Halloween, his sleuthing skills are put to the test in this compelling mystery. A mysterious serial killer picks off various members of the Falcone mob family one-by-one, each killing taking place on a holiday starting with the mischief-ridden Halloween Night. Batman must hunt down this “Holiday Killer” and bring him to justice before he does any more damage.
This special one-off story has been collected in one full volume. The art is appropriately noir-inspired to fit the comics hauntingly gritty setting, and the engrossing mystery takes many twists and turns that will leave you guessing until the very end. As an exciting thriller, The Long Halloween is not to be missed.
2: Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman
You’ve never seen your favorite Marvel heroes quite like this before. Taking place within the Middle Ages, the acclaimed fantasy author reimagines characters like the X Men, the Fantastic Four, and many others as mystical medieval fighters living during Queen Elizabeth I’s rule. Mutants are “witchbreed,” Daredevil is a singing minstrel, and Peter Parker is Peter Parquagh in this fantastical convergence of superheroes in an era of kings and castles.
Gaiman is in top form with 1602. With this unique blend of mythology and classic comic lore, he exercises two of his greatest strengths in order to tell a wondrous tale. If you ever felt like jumping into a new world with familiar yet different faces, or if you’ve wondered what it would be like for (Marvel character) to be (medieval thing), this is a must-read.
3: Fables by Bill Willingham
If you enjoy ABC’s hit drama, Once Upon a Time—a series following fairy tale characters (or more recently, straight-up Disney movies) being trapped in the real-world town of Storybrook—it might be worth your time to read the thing that might’ve more-or-less spawned the show except not really but kiiiiinda. Willingham’s ongoing comic series depicts classic fairy tales living in their own magically concealed section of modern-day Manhattan known as Fabletown after having been forced to flee their original world by the dark and mystery-shrouded Adversary. For the most part, they try to live normal lives among the rest of us mundane folk or “mundies.” Snow White acts a mayoral deputy of Fabletown, the Big Bad Wolf is the local sheriff under the guise of Bigby Wolf, and a slew of other fairy tales take up their own jobs to get by. Naturally, fantasy follows them no matter how they try to avoid it—darkness that lurks even in our regular world still serves to cause the fable folk plenty of trouble.
You may have heard of this story first as The Wolf Among Us, a successful adventure video game by Telltale Games. As aforementioned, it may have indirectly been the inspiration behind Once Upon a Time, in this writer’s opinion. The 20-volume series with ongoing issues being released may be quite the commitment, but the captivating tales and interesting depictions of classic characters make that commitment well worth it.
4: Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Ever wish you could take back a mistake? Have you ever felt like going back through one especially bad day, finding out what went wrong, and erasing that event to start anew? That’s exactly what Katie goes through in Seconds. The author of the popular Scott Pilgrim books returns with a cautionary tale told through Katie, a girl grappling with the many obstacles thrown her way, including construction holds on her second restaurant and lingering sentiments for her ex-boyfriend. After stumbling upon a stash of magic mushrooms that allow her to travel back to almost any mistake she’s ever made and correct it in a way she sees fit, she begins using her new power to perfect her life and avoid as many complications as possible. But this abuse of power begins to upset strange forces around her, and Katie might not care in time before something terrible happens.
An incredibly relatable and thought-provoking story, Seconds serves as a delightful little lesson for anyone struggling with the decisions of their past. It’s a visual treat and boasts a wonderfully diverse cast of quirky and interesting characters. You can never go wrong with Bryan Lee O’Malley, and Seconds is an excellent reinforcement to that fact.
5: Blacksad by Juan Canales and Juanjo Guarnido
Imagine, if you will, a Disney animated film with talking animals. Now picture its various plots, a murder mystery of the protagonist’s former lover. Or a city where anyone with white fur is considered superior to animals with other color fur. How about a dog who flees from the pressures of the music industry and suffers a heroin addiction? Hard to imagine? Well, perhaps reading Blacksad will help with that. In a world fully inhabited by humans portrayed as animals (maybe vice-versa?), there lie some violent and gritty stains all over the U.S. As a lonely sifter of the grime, John Blacksad—a cat—acts as a private investigator who desperately tries to make his hopeless world just a little better.
As a former Disney animator, Guarnido’s illustrations of anthropomorphic animals act as a fascinating contrast to the usual song-and-dance whimsy that such characters are often associated with, especially when portraying such gritty noir stories. Tales of social relevance and raw emotion are told with style and originality. It’s easy to pick up any volume and become engrossed in Canales’ and Guarnido’s deep storytelling, so this GN is definitely worth a read.