I’m occasionally asked for comics recommendations. Here’s a quick run-down of some of my favourite comics trades/arcs from the “Big Two” companies, DC and Marvel. At some point I hope to compile a list of favourite “one-shots” and indie comics.
I link to trades where they are accessible, and Comixology when it’s more complicated (e.g. for comics that are out of print, or just have such long runs that it’s easier for link to the digital collection).
Most of these are out of print so I have linked to the Comixology pages.
- Batgirl Volume 1
Featuring Cassandra Cain, the second Batgirl. Cassandra doesn’t just add a nice bit of diversity to the Batfamily (she’s half-Chinese); she is also just a fantastic character, period. The initial run by Kelly Puckett & Daimon Scott is a particular favourite of mine.
- Nightwing: Freefall & The Great Leap
Nightwing is my favourite character. His first ongoing series ran for more than 10 years, and featured many great issues (notably by Chuck Dixon and Devin Grayson respectively), but Pete Tomasi’s two arcs are my favourite. It showcases everything great about Nightwing: his earnest, friendly, sensitive and mature character, his deep family relationships and friendships, and his desire to just help people. There’s action, adventure, romance, and a lot of very poignant, touching moments that make for a very bittersweet ending to the comic’s deacade-long run.
- Batman: Gotham Knights #1-#32
The issues I’ve recommended are Devin Grayson’s run, during which the series was focused on the dynamics between Batman and his allies. This also contains the arc where Bruce Wayne adopts Dick Grayson, almost 50 years after their creations in the late 1930s. I wish there was a series like this right now.
- No Man’s Land
A horrific earthquake leaves Gotham in shambles. It gets so bad that the US government decides to “give up” on the city and quarantine it. This epic saga follow Batman, his allies, his enemies, and all the regular people of Gotham as they struggle to cope with the disaster’s aftermath.
- Batman & Robin Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3
This was one of the first superhero comics I picked up as an adult, and even though I didn’t know half of what was going on, I found the struggle of Dick Grayson — coping with his adopted father’s death, trying to mentor a sulky new Robin, and trying to be the Batman that Gotham needs — very intriguing, and immediately went out to get all the Bat-comics I could get my hands on. I later realised that the confusing stuff was probably just Grant Morrison being Grant Morrison. This series is still awesome.
- Batman: Gates of Gotham
This is a nice little mini-series which features the Bat-kids (Dick, Damian, Tim and Cassandra) working together to save Gotham from a new threat. It’s beautifully illustrated by Trevor McCarthy. The trade also includes a Batman, Incorporated story about Nightrunner (the Muslim Batman of Paris) drawn by McCarthy and written by Gates writer Kyle Higgins.
- Batman: Streets of Gotham
This series features more stories about Gotham and its heroes, particularly the new Batman and Robin. The stories might be considered hit and miss by some, but I really enjoyed Paul Dini’s take on Bruce Wayne’s parents, and there’s also a nifty story by Christopher Yost in there featuring the Huntress.
- Red Robin
The supposed death of Bruce Wayne/Batman was a huge shake-up for the Batman group of comics back in the late 2000s. But it was one that seemed to invigorate the line, and Red Robin was one of the many excellent series to come out of it. It featured Tim Drake, the third Robin, reeling from the death of his mentor & adopted father, and from being replaced as Robin by Damian Wayne. He goes on a journey to prove that Bruce Wayne isn’t really dead, and along the way forges a new identity and direction for himself. The first arc by Christopher Yost is fantastic. Fabian Nicieza’s follow-up is shakier, but Marcus To’s art keeps everything grounded & wonderfully illustrated.
Stephanie Brown’s run as Batgirl made huge waves, thanks in large part to Bryan Q. Miller’s excellent writing and Lee Garbett’s great costume design. While DC Comics’s treatment of Cassandra Cain during this time is still a great source of aggravation for me, this is still a very, very good series featuring a determined young herione, her mentor (former Batgirl, Barbara Gordon), Dick Grayson as Batman, and Damian Wayne as an annoying Robin with a hilariously “frenemy”-type rapport with Stephanie.
- Batman: Black Mirror
This isn’t my favourite arc of the Dick!Bats run, but it’s considered “seminal” by many. Certainly, it is very well written, and hauntingly illustrated by Jock and Franceso Francavilla.
- Gotham City Sirens
This series features Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn & Selina Kyle (Catwoman) as the eponymous “Sirens”. Female friendship and drama abound in this series written by Paul Dini and illustrated by Guillem March.
- Batman: The Court of Owls Vol. 1 & Vol. 2
Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo’s first story on the Batman title is also a nice segue into the New 52. There’s enough to keep old fans happy, while also bringing new fans into the fold. What I liked about this arc is the involvement of Dick Grayson, and the exploration of his friendship with Bruce. Snyder and Capullo have also introduced a new group of villains (the Court of Owls and its Talons) that still has fans talking, even years later.
- Batman & Robin Born To Kill (Vol. 1) & Pearl (Vol. 2)
Robin Damian Wayne’s first Batman was not his biological father Bruce Wayne, but his “step-brother”, Dick Grayson. Pete Tomasi ensures that Damian gets his bonding time with dad, however, even if it’s not all smooth sailing. These first two arcs comprise a moving tale about a father and son’s growing relationship. The rest of the Batfamily, particularly Alfred, also feature heavily. This is one of the few titles in the New 52 that have consistently focused on character and relationship development, and these first two arcs are a perfect distillation of that focus.
- Justice League: Origin (Vol. 1)
Is this a classic Justice League story? Probably not. But it’s a nice introduction to the New 52, and to the Justice League. Lots of action, adventure, and some fun character beats. Geoff Johns and Jim Lee are legends in the comic book world, and the result is a solid re-imagining of how the DC universe’s greatest heroes first came together.
- Wonder Woman #0-#35
Any lover of Greek Mythology will want to check this out. It’s not quite about Wonder Woman going around kicking butt and saving people, but Brian Azzarello’s portrayal of her as a compassionate warrior is still one of my favourites. Diana here uses the power of love and compassion to turn enemies into allies, and form a fledgling family-of-choice of her own. Meanwhile, her “actual” family (the Greek gods) wreak havoc through their squabbles with each other, not unlike in the epic tales of The Iliad and The Odyssey. Tony Akin’s designs for the Greek gods are particularly memorable, and Cliff Chiang’s covers for this series are consistently badass.
- Scooby-Doo Team-Up
I’ve tried going through a few “for kids” comics with my 9-year-old nephew (who isn’t the sharpest reader), and I found this was the best. The stories are structured in a way that is easy for kids to follow along and understand, but they’re still fun and enjoyable. As suggested by the name, the Scooby-Doo gang team up with various other characters, like Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, Teen Titans Go, and even the Flintstones (!).
- Tiny Titans
Freaking adorable take on the younger heroes of the DC universe by Art Baltazar & Franco Aureliani.
- Superman Family Adventures [Vol. 1 & Vol. 2]
The Tiny Titans team take on the Superman clan (Superman, Superboy, Supergirl, Krypto the Superdrog, Streaky the Supercat…). Each of the 12 instalments stand very well on its own, while also contributing to the overall “arc”. This might be easier for kids to follow along with than Tiny Titans, just in terms of story mechanics.
- Li’l Gotham [Vol. 1 & Vol. 2]
These are cute little stories about Damian Wayne (Robin) and his family (particularly Bat-Dad). The writing isn’t spectacular, but Dustin Nguyen’s watercolours are gorgeous, and some of the stories really are very fun.
- Superman Birthright
Mark Waid & Leinil Francis Yu update the Man of Steel for contemporary audiences with a powerful take that left me with more emotions than any other comic I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot of comics!). A true tour de force.
- All-Star Superman.
This story by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely is another favourite of mine, and another classic Superman tale. The animated film adaptation is also wonderful. After a series of unfortunate machinations by Lex Luthor, Superman finds that he doesn’t have much time left to live. This leads him to embark on certain final labours, to “close out” matters before he dies… and in the process, we see just why Superman has become one of the most enduring and inspiring superheroes in popular culture.
- Batman Adventures, Batman & Robin Adventures,
These comics, which expand on the acclaimed 1990s Batman animated series, are exceptional. Most of the stories are one-shot, and run the gamut from dark to light-hearted (sometimes within the same issue). Batman here is grim, yes, but it is appropriate to the work he does. I enjoy how his rapport with his allies — Robin, Commissioner Gordon, Alfred, Batgirl — is portrayed in these books, and the villains are great, too: flawed, pathological, and sometimes just a tad sympathetic (but not too much). These are wonderful introductions to the Batman universe that also have me nostalgic for childhood days when I’d park myself in front of our television to catch yet another exciting episode of Batman: The Animated Series. These comics have a few different iterations: Wikipedia has the lowdown on the details, and most of them can be found on Comixology. Awesomely, DC Comics has also begun to re-issue Batman Adventures in trade paperback: Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 (which, incidentally, were written by Batgirl scribe Kelley Puckett).
- Batgirl Beyond – Batman Beyond #27-#29
This arc stands well by itself, even if you have little to no familiarity with the Batman Beyond universe. In the future, Commissioner Barbara Gordon finds herself working with a mysterious new (brown-skinned!) Batgirl who has taken the fight for Gotham’s neglected neighbourhoods into her own hands. Writer Scott Peterson (the editor who enabled Cassandra Cain’s creation, amongst other things) and artist Annie Wu (who went on to illustrate the Kate Bishop/LA issues of Matt Fraction’s & David Aja’s acclaimed Hawkeye run) weave a tale about two women fighting together towards justice for Gotham’s poorer citizens who cannot fight for themselves.
- Batman ’66
Especially anything illustrated by Jonathan Case. The series is a wonderful callback to the old series. The camp-factor works better in comics form, and the stories are able to up the stakes in a way the TV show (given limitations of the era & budget) could not.
- Batman: Dark Victory
This is a poignant tale of Batman why Batman needs a Robin (though Robin doesn’t feature much), by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale.
- Batman: Hush
The story by Jeph Loeb (who is now running the Marvel TV universe!) isn’t anything great but en route we meet all the movers & shakers of Gotham. This story explores in detail the relationships between Batman, his allies, and his enemies, and that is one of its strongest selling points — along with the exceptional art by Jim Lee.
I’ve always been more of a DC girl. My reading of modern Marvel comics is extremely limited, though I’d give a blanket recommendation for pretty much every Silver Age comic trade out there — Fantastic Four, Captain America, Daredevil, Thor — because those old stories by the likes of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, John Romita and all those other legendary creators really are timeless. But here are a few “modern comics” recs below.
- Captain Marvel: In Pursuit of Flight (Vol. 1)
I cannot recommend this series enough. It’s just a wonderful story about Carol Danvers as she redefines herself as Captain Marvel. When we start the book, she has already taken on a new costume, and has a discussion with Captain America about taking on the “Captain” moniker. There are time travelling shenanigans which basically serve to bring Carol together with other kick-ass, trailblazing ladies of the sky. Dexter Soy issues the first four parts, while Emma Rios illustrates the last two. Their art styles are vastly different, but work beautifully to bring Kelly Sue DeConnick’s poignant and inspiring story to life.
- Journey Into Mystery Featuring Sif Vol. 1 & Vol. 2
The Lady Sif, Thor’s estwshile companion, has always been one of my favourite characters. I was excited when she got her own (short-lived) ongoing, and even more so when I realised how *excellent* it was. Writer Kathryn Immonen and artist Valerio Schiti portray Sif as the powerful warrior she is, giving her the formal speech of Asgard’s warriors… as well as an occasionally dorky demeanour that makes her tremendously relateable.
- She-Hulk (2014)
We get to follow the adventures of Jennifer Walters not just in her role as kick-ass hero, but also as a competent, intelligent lawyer. The stories do occasionally veer into creepy territory, but this only serves to give this book a complex and balanced tone. Javier Pulido’s stylized art may not be for everyone, but I feel it adds to the quirky and unique tone of the book. I also love how writer Charles Soule has brought in other characters of the Marvel U — from the famous, like Daredevil and Captain America, to the lesser known but still cool, like Hellcat and Wyatt Wingfoot.
- Avengers vs. X-Men Babies
This one-shot by Skottie Young & Guruhiru is the cutest comic you’ll ever read.