Artist Robert Sikoryak has a knack for introducing skittish readers to dense classic literature with comic book adaptions. Try Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment with a 1950s-era Batman with blood on his ax.
But would you consider reading Apple’s terms and conditions user agreement for iTunes as a graphic novel — all 20,699 dry, legalistic words?
Sure, comic books are an old art form, dating back to the 1930s in American culture. The four-color sequential art format has had some major success as well as several dips in its fortunes over the intervening eighty years, but the comic book is very much alive and well at this point in time, thanks to a resurgence of the comic book movies and television series currently in vogue.
There are so many new books out there as a result, that it’s hard to choose which ones to pick up and read when you head to your local comic book shop (still the way most of us get our comics). If you’re picking up two to three-dollar single issues, things can add up quickly. That’s why we’re here — to get you a sampling of the finest comics your money should buy, right now. Scroll through the images above to see what we’ve put together for you.
Photo: Rob LeFebvre, Cult of Mac
Trees - Warren Ellis, Jason Howard
Warren Ellis is one of the best comic writers out there right now. From his brilliant run on his own series, Transmetropolitan and Planetary to his time on the Astonishing X-Men, Ellis continually takes standard comic book tropes and turns them in on themselves while turning in characters that live, breathe, and speak like the rest of us do. No purple prose here. Trees plays out like an epic story already at seven issues, with no real sign of letting up. Giant alien artifacts named Trees appear in various places across the globe with no warning or explanation, and the mere presence of these massive enigmas is enough to change things for everyone. The various stories within these pages offer tantalizing glimpses at what it means to be human -- one of the best things about science fiction as a genre. Photo: Image Comics
Thor - Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman
At only two issues, the new female Thor is the epitome of "just getting started." While the first issue waited to the final page for her reveal, the second issue just released gives us an inside look at an unnamed woman who can wield the power of Mjolnir, the God of Thunder's famous hammer. What's most intriguing to this reader, anyway, is the way this woman's thoughts and her speech are so very different. She speaks like a Norse god, but thinks like a modern woman. It's a great mystery, and much more important than the rest of the story, which drops us in media res to an attack on a multinational company with a minotaur for a CEO that's being attacked by frost giants. Very Thor, and very...not. Be sure to give this one some space on your pull list.
Photo: Marvel Comics
Roche Limit - Michael Moreci, Vic Malhotra
The Roche Limit describes the distance within which a planet will disintegrate due to a second planet's tidal forces exceeding the first body's own gravitational pull. This gorgeous hard science fiction comic of the same name focuses on one woman's search for her missing sister Bekkah Torin. Set on the Roche Limit Colony, a manmade space colony near the cusp of an energy anomaly in the Andromeda Galaxy, this comic pulls in some great themes, like violence against women, the drug trade, organized crime, and humankind's place in an uncaring universe. Uplifting stuff, for sure.
Photo: Image Comics
Brass Sun - Ian Edginton, I.N.H. Culbard
From the anthology comic company 2000 AD comes a fantastic new steampunk comic book called Brass Sun, which focuses on a teenage girl (Wren) and her quest to make it to the center of her world's clockwork solar system and restart the literal brass metal sun that lies at the heart of it all. There's a corrupt Church of the Cog with it's own hypocrites and true-believers, a crazy cult devoted to the secrets of the Brass Sun, and some fantastic sequential storytelling. It's a quality book with amazing art and a deliciously engaging storyline with characters you'll root for on every page. Photo: 2000 AD Comics
Coming off a brilliant Gail Simone run, Batgirl has a new writing team, a new costume, and a whole new sensibility. Her exploits are still superhero-centric, fighting off bad guys (and gals) across a variety of settings. What's new here is Barbara Gordon's life as a college student in current times. She's navigating social reality, dealing with dating apps and other bits of current technology that puts the action clearly in today's world. Babs Gordon is a young woman living in our world with the typical issues that plague all young women in our society. And then the whole crime-fighting thing. It's a fun read, and worth your comic dollars.
Photo: DC Comics
If you’re a fan of stylish, true-to-the-comics movie adaptations, you’ve probably already seen Sin City. The trailer (below) released during last week’s Comic Con shows us the sequel, based on the second book in the Sin City series by Frank Miller, A Dame To Kill For.
Rodriguez (Spy Kids, Sin City) will produce and Miller (Dark Knight Returns, 300) will direct a script co-written by the two men and William Monahan (The Departed).
Actors returning include Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Powers Boothe, Mickey Rourke, and Bruce Willis. New folks to the series include Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Christopher Lloyd, Ray Liotta, Stacy Keach, Christopher Meloni, and yes, even Lady Gaga, who you can see as a waitress handing over some cash to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character in the trailer below.
Everyone knows that a hero is defined by the villains they go up against. Or to put it another way, every great comic book needs an equally great antagonist to truly kick it into high gear.
Scouring through the pages of our favorite print and digital back issues, we've assembled a list of the meanest, the nastiest, and the most compellingly evil four-color baddies to ever walk the face of, well, a flat sheet of paper. We've purposely left out the undisputed greats -- The Joker, Magneto, Lex Luthor, Steve Ballmer -- to make room for a few of the more interesting choices.
Who made the grade? Click through the gallery above to find out.
Mr. Freeze has been an enduringly chilly presence in the Batman universe since his first appearance (as Mr. Zero) in Batman #121, back in February 1959. The most famous take on the character was the one engineered by Paul Dini in the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Heart of Ice.” That story introduced us to Freeze’s terminally ill, cryogenically frozen wife Nora, which both explained Freeze’s obsession with cold and turned him into a tragic character in the process.
But while Dini’s animated version of Freeze was good enough to become the standard portrayal of the character in most forms of media, more recently I’ve been loving the reinvention of Mr. Freeze seen in DC’s New 52. (SPOILERS) You see, in this universe it turns out that Nora was never Freeze's wife at all, but rather a woman born in 1943, who was put into cryogenic stasis at the age of 23 after being diagnosed with an incurable heart condition.
Writing his doctoral thesis on Nora, Freeze fell in love with her, and became obsessed with finding a way to bring her back to life. One cryonic chemical accident later, and the already unhinged Dr. Victor Fries is transformed into Mr. Freeze. It’s a clever re-imagining of Freeze’s origin which makes him less sympathetic, but a whole lot creepier.
The main antagonist of Steve Niles’ tremendous 30 Days of Night, Vicente is an ancient vampire several centuries old, who may or may not be the parent to all vampires.
In a series full of vicious vampires, Vicente takes the (presumably blood-soaked) biscuit: not only torturing, murdering and eating people, but also planning to blow up the Alaskan pipeline — something that would result in a whole lot more slaughter than you’d normally expect from a vamp.
Oh, and his wife Lilith is pretty damn crazy, too.
A once silly comic book villain, Doctor Light was instantly transformed into a perverse and sickening antagonist with DC's 2004 miniseries Identity Crisis — celebrating its tenth birthday this year. Exposed as a serial rapist (most controversially of Sue Dibny, wife of the Elongated Man), Doctor Light was eventually given an equally brutal death: turned into a candle by the Spectre and melted alive.
Post-New 52, Doctor Light has been rethought somewhat, with DC shying away from the more horrific aspects of his character incorporated over the past decade. Why does Doctor Light make this list? Because whatever you thought of Identity Crisis, it marked a high (or low) point for super villain nastiness in comics’ darkest and most nihilistic era.
Unlike a lot of the other villains featured here, Brainiac’s not a sadistic super villain who gets off on being bad, but rather a cold, calculating mind who represents the perfect brainy counter to Superman’s brawn.
An artificial intelligence created by the Computer Tyrants of Colu, an alien world which prizes logic and knowledge above all else, Brainiac has an almost indestructible body and a brain that is constantly hungry for knowledge and power. In a long and storied career, he’s perhaps still best known for taking the Kryptonian city of Kandor — one of the last surviving relics of Superman’s home world — and shrinking it down to the size of a bottle.
Saint of Killers
I’m a massive fan of Preacher, Garth Ennis’ 75-issue Vertigo series, that is equal parts spaghetti western and religious thriller. Picking a most memorable character from that series is a bit like choosing your favorite quip from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.
If I had to choose one, however, it would likely be the series’ premier antagonist, the Saint of Killers. Picture Javier Bardem’s cold-blooded character Anton Chigurh from No Country For Old Men, and then take it up several levels of badass. A grim killing machine charged by God to be a killer for hire, the Saint is a murder machine with a mullet: someone so vicious he even manages to kill (SPOILERS) both God and the Devil.
His tragic backstory (his family were killed, which brought about his fall from grace) just makes him a more interesting, multifaceted character.
Having been around just 28 years (hardly a drop in the ocean when you consider that Batman himself has been in print for 75 years) Black Mask has nonetheless risen to become one of the Dark Knight’s greatest foes — with much of that good (?) work having been done over the past decade.
In a grisly inversion of Batman’s origin, Black Mask murdered his own super-wealthy parents by burning down their mansion with them inside. Becoming one of Gotham City’s major crime boss players, Black Mask has proven utterly ruthless and totally sadistic. Oh yes, and he once tortured Catwoman's brother-in-law to death with power tools, and then did some horrible things with the remains. Yum yum!
One of The Walking Dead’s most grotesque characters in a series that’s full of them, the Governor is the ruler of the town of Woodbury. After initially appearing hospitable, the Governor turned out to be bat-guano crazy: a Jim Jones-type leader who keeps his own zombified daughter alive by feeding people from his own town to her — along with the severed hand of protagonist Rick Grimes, which he first lops off.
The Governor does far more than that, too — torturing several characters, while killing the daughter of Rick and Lori. The fact that he does this without any apparent sense of remorse just makes him all the more terrifying. On the plus side, he does find himself on the receiving end of a suitably unpleasant death.
Who would have thought that the nastiest character in Robert Kirkman's zombie epic would turn out to be a flesh-and-blood human?
In the real world, you make a name for yourself by working hard, pursuing goals and steadily gaining recognition among your peers. In super villain land you make a name for yourself by kidnapping 16 super-powered Marvel teenagers and then pitting them against each other in a Hunger Games-style Murderworld. By forcing teen superheroes to kill teen superheroes, Arcade became one of the most reviled villains out there. Even after being beaten, Arcade got the last laugh by uploading footage of the Murderworld battles to YouTube, ruining a few reputations in the process.
To be extra evil he probably upvoted a few Justin Bieber videos while he was there, too.
When your nickname is "The God Butcher" it’s hardly a surprise when you turn out to be a less than upstanding citizen. The newest character on this list, first appearing in January 2013’s Thor: God of Thunder #2, Gorr has wasted no time in establishing his super villain credentials. In his case this meant a genocidal rampage across the cosmos, battling gods left and right like Christopher Hitchens in the body of a super-powered agnostic murderer. After killing literally thousands of gods, Gorr finally faced off with Thor, who barely managed to defeat him.
Tentative excitement about Michael Bay's upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie made me revisit the original comics by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. Along with a refresher course in just how much I love the art and overall tone of that original series was a reminder of what a great villain Shredder can be.
If you’ve only ever seen one of the Turtles cartoon series, be prepared for a wake-up call at the hands of a razor-gauntleted crime syndicate boss who's got his fingers in everything from drug smuggling to assassinations. Far more revenge-minded than in the cartoon, the comic book Shredder is a highly skilled strategist and master of ninjistu. Oh, and he once bounced back from decapitation by being resurrected as a shark. When did the Joker ever manage that?
Who’s the baddest of the bad?
Got your own favorite underappreciated supervillain? Let us know in the comments below.