Fanzing's Top 100 Graphic Novels
compiled and introduced by D.J. LoTempio
Back in May, Wizard magazine published their list of the top 100 graphic novels and trade paperbacks. The usual stable of books appeared on the list - Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, Neil Gaiman's Sandman series - but, not surprising, many people were critical of certain books that appeared or were missing from the list. Let's face it. Creating a declarative list of the top 100 of anything is a controversial endeavor no matter how you slice it. In fact, it is the pinnacle of hubris and amounts to the proverbial line drawn in the sand. We here at Fanzing are not adverse to controversy and have never seen a line that we didn't like to cross. The four-color gauntlet has been thrown and, instead of responding with four-color language, we have crafted our own volley of 100 graphic novels and trade paperbacks that encapsulate the crème de la crème.
Some familiar names will be found here and some hitherto unknown or overlooked books are included in this list. Pursue the later at your own risk, because many of these books will expand your reading horizons into unusual arenas. The former are no less dangerous with their unbridled creativity and deadly execution.
The reader will immediately notice that the list is organized alphabetically and into tiers, and that it contains over 100 titles. We are not using new math. After tallying the votes, a number of books received tie votes and so those books have been placed on aggregate tiers. Those books are considered peers in quality and their relative numbering is not indicative of greater or lesser value. Also, many books were recommended that never received a vote, like little voices lost in the wind. For your pleasure, we have included them as a collective section so that readers can investigate these books at the leisure.
#1 Crisis on Infinite Earths
The clear winner of the voting was this controversial, yet seminal piece of DC history. While mega-crossovers have been much derided as convoluted marketing exercises, this book retains a genuine passion that elevates from other attempts. It doesn't' hurt to have Marv Wolfman, uber-fanboy, and George Perez operating at the top of their game.
Style, structure, humanism, politics, soap opera, murder mystery and a dissection of the superhuman medium up to 1987. A hallmark book that should be studied and enjoyed for decades. What more need be said?
#3 Kingdom Come
In some ways, this series was the bookend to Crisis on Infinite Earths and allowed the DC heroes to transcend the artificial limitations placed upon them by DC's editorial fiat. It also serves a wonderful satire of mid-90s superheroes and a loving remembrance of what superheroes were supposed to represent. Stunning art by Alex Ross and Mark Waid's most heartfelt writing make this an unbelievably good book.
#4 New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract
Arguably the high point of the history of the Titans. As betrayal from within rocks the group, Dick Grayson graduates from Robin to Nightwing. One of the most strongly characterized super-hero stories ever.
#5 The Dark Knight Returns
Frank Miller's book still remains a high watermark for a character that has enjoyed over 60 years of continuous publication. It also remains a compelling examination of psychological trauma and whether a determined man can overcome it. It set the conceptual stage for Tim Burton's movies - Batman and Batman Returns.
#6 The Golden Age
This Elseworlds explores how the heroes of the 1940s might have been shoved aside as society moved on. Author James Robinson combines historical trends with his own original (and controversial) interpretations of many classic characters to show a whole new side of The Golden Age.
This beautiful book helped to clear the collective palate of fans everywhere. After years of watching stories become increasingly epic and ponderous, Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross eloquently remind us of the human side of comics through the eyes of a reporter following the exploits of Marvel's superheroes.
#8 Squadron Supreme
The Squadron Supreme was a Marvel substitute version of DC's Justice League and never amounted to an A-list team, but this series finally distinguished them from their forbearers. Its premise - a superteam decides to fix the problems of the world by running it - would later be re-examined in Watchmen and Kingdom Come, but this book did it first.
#9 Batman: The Killing Joke
The Killing Joke was a re-telling of the Joker's origin that firmly cast Batman and Joker as more than just adversaries; they were two sides of the same coin. Published on the heels of Dark Knight Returns, Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's story was a sharp contrast to Miller's highly stylized and baroque narrative. The story also features the crippling of Barbara Gordon (Batgirl); an event important to the creation of the Birds of Prey comic and television show.
#10 Batman: Year One
Dark Knight Returns may be better known, but this story about Batman's first year in Gotham refocused the character upon his basics: one man against an entire city of crime and corruption. Or, since this story also radically revamps Commissioner Gordon, two men.
#11 Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters
While never a critical favorite, Mike Grell's revival of Green Arrow continues to appeal to many fans because it injected the character with a refreshing dose of maturity and subtext, freeing it from Silver Age gimmicks and two-dimensional characterization.
#12 JLA: Year One
Mark Waid's limited series focusing on the early days of the JLA spotlighted fan favorite Silver Age characters like Hal Jordan and Barry Allen. A combination of retro feel, solid characterization, and engaging plot make this book a modern classic.
#13 Legion: The Great Darkness Saga
The Legion of Super-Heroes are arguably the most powerful super-team ever. But when they face off against Darkseid and a planet of enslaved Daxamites (each as powerful as Superman), even they look outclassed. With the fate of the entire universe hanging in the balance, the stakes have never been higher. Often considered the best story in LSH history.
#14 Batman: A Death in the Family
The story that made history. Robin died... and it was all the audience's fault.
This was one of the books that Fanzing felt was criminally ignored by Wizard in their list. Big-game hunter and adventurer Paul Kirk is conscripted by a conspiracy to control the world and graphic excellence ensues. Winner of several awards in the mid-70s, the elegance and power of these former back-up stories have not diminished with age.
#16 Nightwing: A Night in Bludhaven
Chuck Dixon's revamp of Nightwing begins here. The trademark set pieces and action sequences are among the most intensive fight scenes produced in recent years.
#17 Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?
The final story of the Silver Age Superman brings many elements of his mythos together into one tragic showdown. As supporting characters and villains alike fall, two questions remain? Who is behind this? And can even Superman survive it? Considered by many to be one of the best Superman stories ever.
#18 Top Ten TPBs
Alan Moore yet again makes the list with the collections of Top Ten. In a city where everyone is a super-hero, how would the law operate? This very strange question has even stranger answers, as the super-hero genre becomes merged with the police procedural.
#19 Understanding Comics & Reinventing Comics
There have been other books that have touched upon comic books as an artistic medium but few have expounded upon it with such masterful skill as Scott McCloud in his one-two punch graphic novels. McCloud attempts to kick start our understanding of the mechanics and principles behind comic books and lays the foundation, as well as much of the plumbing and electricity, for a language to analyze our favorite medium.
#20 Astro City TPBs (Confessions)
What would it really be like to be a sidekick? This question is perhaps given its most realistic and involving answer in Confessions, which doubles as both a murder mystery and a science fiction story, but is ultimately a tale about trust.
#21 Batman: Arkham Asylum
#22 Camelot 3000
Mike W. Barr takes the King Arthur story into new territory in this sequel. He's aided by gorgeous Brian Bolland art. One of the first non-Comics Code stories of the 1980s, it was among DC's first attempts at dealing with issues of sexuality.
#23 Green Arrow/Green Lantern
#24 League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Anyone who thinks that comics are just about super-heroes should read this biography of a Holocaust survivor in the form of an anthropomorphic animal comic. One of the most affecting non-fiction works the medium has ever produced.
#26 Spider Man: Death of Gwen Stacy
Gwen's death changed Spider-Man forever, and mainstream comics as well. From this point on, readers knew that no one was safe.
#27 Saga of the Swamp Thing TPBs
Alan Moore's epic run covered the gamut from terrifying horror to touching love story to thought-provoking mysticism to social commentary and back again.
#28 Starman TPBs
29 Animal Man TPBs
Grant Morrison's first major work in American comics. The down to Earth presentation of Animal Man, an intelligent examination of animal rights, and some mindbending commentary on the medium make this a memorable debut.
30 Aquaman: Time and Tide
31 Batman: Strange Apparitions
The brief run of Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers on Batman is nevertheless considered one of the Dark Knight's finest hours. This book has just about everything a Batman fan could want: one of the definitive Joker stories, appearances by the Penguin, Deadshot, and Hugo Strange, with a running romantic subplot.
32 Black Canary/Oracle: Birds of Prey
33 Daredevil Visionaries Frank Miller
The work that catapulted Miller to stardom. Redefining Daredevil, Bullseye, and the Kingpin, as well as introducing Elektra, this collection also features one of the most memorable deaths in comics.
34 Enemy Ace: War Idyll
Gorgeous painted artwork illustrates this meditation on wars and its effects on those who fight them, with the First World War and Vietnam being compared and contrasted.
35 Flash: The Return of Barry Allen
36 From Hell
Forget the movie, Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's massive autopsy of the legend of Jack the Ripper is a masterpiece. It is the type of book that deserves to sit beside Don Dellilo or Russell Banks on your bookshelf, instead of the Fantastic Four. Painstakingly researched, Moore and Campbell dissect the theories and evoke the spirits of Victorian England to reveal ...well, that would be telling.
37 Road to Perdition
38 Robin: A Hero Reborn
39 Sandman TPBs
40 V For Vendetta
41 Avengers: The Kree-Skrull War
The first great multi-part cosmic epic, and still one of the best. With Earth caught in the middle of a war between two galactic empires, the Avengers are Earth's only hope. A wildly twisting storyline by Roy Thomas and memorable art (including Neal Adams) make this one of the Avengers' most memorable adventures.
42 Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying
The origin of the third Robin is also a story about loss, change, and growth.
43 Batman: The Long Halloween
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's work, The Long Halloween, gives Batman what he always deserved: a good mystery. Readers still debate over who was the true killer, but no one questions the beauty of Sale's art and Loeb's gripping story.
44 Batman: Tales of the Demon
45 Blaze of Glory
46 BONE TPBs
Three cousins are kicked out of their hometown and discover a wondrous valley filled with dragons, talking bugs and, quite possibly the greatest villains of all time, stupid, stupid rat creatures. Bone is fantasy series that combines the best elements of J. R. R. Tolkein, C. S. Lewis and Warner Bros. cartoons. It is a story that crosses age groups and the boundaries of comedy and drama, making it one of the most consistently rewarding comics produced today.
47 Daredevil: Born Again
48 The Death of Captain Marvel
A group of carefree sylvan elves embark on an epic quest to find a new home and their lost ancestors. Wendy and Richard Pini set a high watermark on the quality of independent books in the early 80s with Elfquest and its story still stands strong today.
50 Essential Spiderman V.1
Stan Lee and Steve Ditko redefined superheroes with Spider-Man by making him a more realistic and less idealized protagonist. These groundbreaking stories, which also introduced much of Spidey's Rogues Gallery, feature some of Lee's finest pathos and Ditko's offbeat art stands out from anything else out there.
51 Fantastic Four: The Trial of Galactus
After Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's initial run, many people consider John Byrne's tenure as the FF's second best period. This storyline is among the most fondly remembered of that period, asking difficult ethical questions and demonstrating why the Fantastic Four are heroes.
52 The Greatest XXXXX Stories Ever Told books.
Beginning in the late 80s and continuing through the 90s, DC comics assembled several collections billed as the greatest stories ever told of a particular hero or type. It was hard to argue with the quality and breadth of such collections like the Superman or Batman volumes, which included work for masters like Curt Swan, Alex Toth, Neal Adams, Denny O'Neil, and Dick Sprang. Any of these books is fabulous.
53 JSA: Justice Be Done/Darkness Falls
54 JLA: Rock of Ages (a write-in)
55 The Kents - A western comic for the 21st century.
56 Lone Wolf and Cub
57 Nick Fury: Scorpio
58 Preacher TPBs
Preacher is a scathing and acerbic satire on religion, government and culture in comic form. Jesse Custer, a drunken preacher, is possessed by a strange force that gives him the voice of God. Havoc ensues. Not for the thin-skinned, the series features everything from God, vampires, undead cowboys, inbreeding, cannibals, a guy with a meat fetish, serial killers, malevolent matriarchs, and prolonged amputation and emasculation. That's not even the heart of the story, which contains a lot of honor, trust, and love.
59 Promethea TPBs
Never one to avoid controversy, Alan Moore has crafted a series that has only the thinnest link with superheroics yet maintains its moorings with heroic fiction. Fans can't decide whether it's a heavy-headed polemic or a tour-de-force meditation on creativity and human values. It uses the comic book as a language to discuss these fascinating topics, much like Scott McCloud's use of the comic form in Understanding Comics, and that language is given frightening force by J. H. Williams' art. Promethea is imagination given earthen form and her adventures not only thrill but also mystify, in the best sense of the word, her readers.
60 Sin City
Sin City follows in the best tradition of hard-boiled noir fiction, typified by Jim Thompson and Raymond Chandler. Marv, the ersatz hero, is a misanthrope who leaves a bloody trail of dead as he follows his own cruel brand of honor and justice. Frank Miller spun the comics world on its head when he serialized this story a decade ago and it hasn't lost any of its excitement and danger. Miller adopted a style that emphasized positive and negative space, and demonstrated that black and white comics could pack as much punch as color. An impressive work from the bad boy auteur.
61 Untold Legend of the Batman
A fondly remembered mini-series from DC comics that compiles 50 years worth of Batman history into one story.
62 World's Finest TPB
63 X-Men: The Phoenix Saga
Widely considered the finest X-Men story ever told. With cosmic stakes and a very human core, this storyline was instrumental in catapulting the title to where it is today.
64 Archie Americana Series: The Forties (a write-in)
A collection of the first appearances of many of Riverdale's most prominent residents as well as the best stories from the 1940s. If you have any interest at all in Archie, this is a book you need to own.
65 300 by Frank Miller
66 Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa
On 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Barefoot Gen is the eyewitness account of the artist Keiji Nakazawa who survived the bombing. The series is a gripping story about one boy's attempt to preserve human dignity while the world dissolves into chaos and incivility around him. The art and subject is disarming to American readers but neither obscures the passion of this story. Only 4 of the 10 volumes are available in English, but a fully translated set is rumored to be released in 2003.
67 Batman: Anarky
68 Batman: Collected Legends of the Dark Knight (a write-in)
69 Batman/Green Arrow: The Poison Tomorrow (a write-in)
70 The Complete Frank Miller Batman (a write-in)
71 Crisis on Multiple Earths
72 Daredevil: Guardian Devil (a write-in)
73 DC/Marvel Crossover Classics (a write-in)
Back when DC/Marvel crossovers meant something, four were produced. Superman and Spider-Man, Batman and the Hulk, and the X-Men and New Teen Titans all teamed up for extra-long stories by some of the day's hottest talents, who seemed to understand that these stories had to be momentous.
74 Death: The Time of Your Life (a write-in)
75 Doctor Strange/Doctor Doom: Triumph and Tragedy (a write-in)
76 Exiles (a write-in)
77 Marvel Masterpieces: Fantastic Four
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's initial run on the Fantastic Four marked the beginnings of Marvel's Silver Age. Memorable characterization, bizarre locales, larger-than-life foes, and more can be found in these pages. The Fantastic Four Masterworks include classics ranging from The Galactus Trilogy and This Man, This Monster, to numerous Thing/Hulk fights, to the marriage of Reed and Sue.
78 Green Lantern: Fear Itself (a write-in)
79 Green Lantern: Ganthet's Tale (a write-in)
80 Heart of Empire
81 Hercules: Full Circle (a write-in)
82 The Invisibles TPBs
For Sale! Anarchy for the masses. The Invisibles appears to be a non-linear story about anarchists hoping to save humanity from mental oppression. In reality, it is about everything, and I mean EVERYTHING: time, the three dimensions plus, consciousness, and the fate of human evolution. The book is a rescue mission to wake the reader to greater awareness. Some say it was the basis for THE MATRIX. A rip-roaring, mind-bending read in the tradition of good science-fiction.'
83 JLA: The Nail (a write-in)
84 Las Mujeres Perdidas
85 Little Nemo in Slumberland collections
86 Marvel Superheroes Secret Wars (a write-in)
Not exactly the most intellectual of works, but if you want the primal thrill of seeing all the major Marvel heroes and villains lined up against one another, this is your book.
Cartoonist/Reporter Joe Sacco lived in Palestine for several months during the late 80s and early 90s to record the stories of Israeli occupation. While over a decade old, the book remains topical and even prescient. It is also an example how comics can be successfully used in new directions
88 Poison River
89 Pulp Fiction: Mystery In Space
90 Prince Valiant
91 Ranma 1/2
A lighthearted martial arts comedy about a gender switching teenager and his many fiancées. You don't find this stuff in American comics. A good introduction to Manga, with the various volumes standing more or less on their own.
92 Spider-Man: Kraven's Last Hunt (a write-in)
93 Spider-Man: The Saga of the Alien Costume
94 Spirit Archives
95 Tale of One Bad Rat
Another book that demonstrates the power of the comics medium. A young English girl is traumatized by emotional and sexual abuse and runs away from home and reality. With nary a superhero or magic trope in sight, Bryan Talbot constructs an arresting comic that ventures into territories that most creators fear to tread. Beautiful watercolors make this an equally attractive read.
96 Ultimate Spider-Man TPBs (a write-in)
97 Batman: Dark Victory (a write-in)
98 Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (a write-in)
99 JLA: Earth 2 (a write-in)
100 X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills (a write-in)
101 Big Book of Urban Legends
102 Tarzan In Color collections (specifically the Burne Hogarth stuff)
These aren't even comic books, so why include them on the list? Two reason - Tarzan and Burne Hogarth. These stories established the visual language that was the foundation for all heroic comics. Hogarth's illustrations are pure muscle.
103 RECOMMENDED BOOKS:
Captain America: Operation Rebirth
X-Men visionaries - Neal Adams
Life On Another Planet by Will Eisner
Hellblazer: Original Sins
The Green Hornet Collectors Edition
Big Book of Conspiracies
Safe Area Gorzade by Joe Sacco
BERLIN: Book One by Jason Lutes
Blood of Palomar by Gilbert Hernadez
Hellboy: Wake the Devil
Hellboy: Seed of Destruction
Ghost In the Shell by Masamune Shirow
Castle Waiting TPB by Linda Medley
Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD
Captain America: War and Remembrance
Captain America: To Serve and Protect
Fighting American collection by Kirby
Cadillacs and Dinosaurs TPBs
Avengers vs. Defenders
Jack Kirby's Fourth World
Deadman in Strange Adventures
Green Arrow: Quiver
Essential X-Men vol. 1 & 2
Essential Dr. Strange
is an aspiring writer with a wife, child and dog. He is a closet libertine and thinks he can sing like Marvin Gaye...on his good days. Wishes he could write like Nelson Algren. He is also a contributor to our first comic book, "Fanzing Presents: Job Wanted", which can be purchased at Too Many Longboxes.com!
Fiction editor Nicolas Juzda
is currently studying law in Saskatchewan. He fills the void that was left in
his soul by contributing to Fanzing. He has twice been among the winners in
the Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest for bad writing.
All characters are © DC Comics
This piece is © 2002 by D.J. LoTempio
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