Superhero-free comics and why the medium matters

I’ve decided to put my comics, film and TV-focused writing on Medium. My latest post is about comics and why I hope more people recognise that it’s not all unnaturally fit people wearing minimal, tight clothing; and also, that comics are a medium, not a genre. I also made a short list at the end with recommended comics. Let me know of your favourites – and why – in the comments, too.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    You praise Willingham (& co)’s Fables series, but without noting it occasionally veers into downright racist pro-Israeli propaganda. A pity, as otherwise they told good stories well.

    Grant Morrison’s work, such as Joe the Barbarian and WE3, also deserves a look from superherophobes.

    And, this being FtB, a shout-out to R. Crumb’s impressive The Book of Genesis Illustrated seems de rigueur.

    • Tauriq Moosa says

      I praised all the work without pointing out bad bits. Wasn’t aware either while reading Fables and loved what I did read.

      Agree about Joe the Barbarian and WE3: adore those (hate most of his other stuff, including All-Star Superman).

      Agree about Crumb, too. Thanks.

  2. deepak shetty says

    Lets see
    Lucifer is probably my all time favorite comic (I prefer it to Sandman) – I think as a story it was cool – but it also explored some philosophical issues with God and Religion and since I was doing that at that stage in my life , I identified with it. It’s also a good illustration of how having principles doesn’t make one good if those principles are flawed – like Lucifer. it made me re-evaluate certain principles I had.
    A book that entertains , makes you think as well as has impact on your life – priceless.

    Scalped, CrossingMidnight, American Virgin were good reads as well
    The Unwritten is good too (I love Mike Carey!)

    I think superhero comics get a bad name though – These are some good ones
    All Star Superman
    Alan Moore’s Superman annual and Whatever happened to the man of tomorrow
    Giffen and De Matteis’s Justice League
    Batman : year one

    For all ages – Bone,Calvin and Hobbes,Asterix Anything by Don Rosa – especially the Life and Times of Scrooge Mc Duck

    Agree with #1 – Fables was great – then I read the issue where Bigby praises Israel for their policies and wondered wtf? Then I came to know Willinghams political views and Fables has always been a bit less enjoyable after that. I dont care whether Willingham is a conservative but making characters act out of well character to promote his political causes has reduced my enjoyment of the series.

  3. Tauriq Moosa says

    I listed Irredeemable and Saga as my two favourites from post-2000’s. I really, really hate All Star Superman. I cannot understand the love people have for it. But then I really hate Superman, too. Great list, thanks.

  4. deepak shetty says

    Yes I forgot saga – it’s something even my non comic book reader wife reads (the others are fables and morning glories)
    Im curious as to why do you hate Superman? (and all star) – never tied a towel round your neck and jumped from a sofa as a child :)?

  5. leftwingfox says

    Comics in general left me cold for a long time. Didn’t like the aesthetic much, absolutely could not deal with the cross-promotion that caused storylines to dip into other comic lines, and was turned off by a lot f the comic spinoffs of movies and cartoons I enjoyed.

    I didn’t start getting into them until high school, thanks in part to an influx of anime in the video store. My little brother started collecting early american manga comics (Gold Digger and Ninja High School), while I went the indie/furry anthology route (Furrlough, Bone, and Usagi Yojimbo).

    I’ve dropped most of it, but I still collect Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo series, and I’m working my way through the graphic novels for Sandman and Jeff Smith’s new work, Rasl. I also adore the Blacksad graphic novels, as well as the “Flight” anthologies. I also started picking up some of the Star Wars graphic novels; Empire, and Dark Times.

  6. Some Old Programmer says

    I fell out of the habit off reading comic books in my late teens (which was in the 70s). When I casually revisited them some time later, I found it hard to engage in a single issue, as the story arcs seemed to be stretched to an extent that I didn’t understand the backstory–I had a book for which half the pages were ads and the story incomprehensible.
    I’ve found graphic novels more interesting, likely for both the lack of ads and complete storytelling. My introduction to the form was “Maus”. And, being gay, I really enjoy themes of gay life addressed in “Dykes To Watch Out For,” anthologies, and “Stuck Rubber Baby”, among others.

  7. says

    I’m actually surprised that Strangers in Paradise isn’t mentioned around here more. One of the few comics that has no supernatural elements, strong female cast, complicated issues dealing with sexuality and body issues and what it means to love someone when you’ve been told all of your life not to love them. There’s organized crime and international conspiracies mixed in with all of that too. Terry Moore does an amazing job drawing women realistically (and has a few books on how to draw women).

  8. kestra says

    It hasn’t been regularly published in almost two decades, which I guess is why people forget about it, but Elfquest by Wendy and Richard Pini is excellent. A sprawling fantasy epic about a small group of elves, the Wolfriders, trying to survive on a stone-age planet. Huge cast, really well-drawn, and super sex-positive. The whole archive is on-line for free now:

    Of course, Persepolis, a woman’s memoir about life in Iran, is really excellent. There is a beautiful animated movie version too.

    Ghost World , by Daniel Clowes, about the difficult friendship between two post-college, disaffected American girls is wonderful, and that also has a movie version.

    I love all of Bryan Talbot’s art, but his self-written story about child abuse, The Tale of One Bad Rat, is extremely emotional and brilliant.

    Another artist/writer I adore is Colleen Doran. Her creator-owned series A Distant Soil is a beautiful sci-fi epic about galactic empires and telepathic powers. It is sort of hard to find, and sporadically published, but really worth the read.

  9. Shplane, Spess Alium says

    I really like Mouseguard and Hellboy.

    Note that Hellboy is not at all a superhero comic, despite the name. It’s closer to oldschool pulp action series mixed with Lovecraft in feel.

    Mouseguard is about mice with tiny medieval technology and a tiny medieval society. It’s phenomenal.

  10. says

    Am I reading you wrong or is there a certain disdain you have for superhero comics?
    At 37, I have been reading comics for most of my life. As a child, teen and young adult, my non nuaced view of the world led me to reading the exploits of traditional superheroes. It wasn’t until I began to grow up a bit that I saw many of those stories lacking in depth. I agree with many of your recommendations. However, I still enjoy mainstream superhero comics. I think the writer artist team of Fraction and Aja on Hawkeye is amazing, as well as Jonathan Hickman’s run on Avengers. JMS had a great run on Thor several years ago that breathed new life into the title character.
    Mark Waid on Daredevil has been a fun ride too. It isn’t Watchmen, but it isn’t supposed to be. His work combines great storytelling combined with inventive artwork (which does not fall into the sexist style so frequently seen in comics).
    Over at Image, I have followed The Walking Dead from near the beginning and find the ‘what happens after…’ scenario highly interesting (I long ago wondered how things would change in the wake of War of the Worlds or Gojira’s attack on Japan).
    For sheer fun, Atomic Robo is awesome.
    Warren Ellis on The Authority was a nice twist on the superhero genre.

    All that said, I do recognize that mainstream comics have suffered and continue to suffer from mediocre writing and art. I just recognize some gems within the schlock.

    (I cannot comment on DC at the moment, as I have stopped reading the line following my distaste for the reboot following Flashpoint)

  11. says

    Alan Moores ABC line was great as well with Tom Strong and Top Ten being my favorites. I liked Promethea too, but found I could not wrap my head around much of what Moore was doing, so my enjoyment was limited.