Ben Ellenberg’s Top 5 Graphic Novel Series

Ben Ellenberg ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff

DMZ Vol. 8 “Hearts And Minds.” Art by Riccardo Burchielli and Ryan Kelly. Photo property of DC Comics/Vertigo.

1. DMZ

In the not-so-distant future, America experiences a second Civil War. At first, it begins as a grass-roots insurgency in the form of the Free States of America. Soon, the war spreads, and Manhattan is the Demilitarized Zone separating the occupied New Jersey and the still-protected Brooklyn. What was once a great city has been left crippled by the war. Some 400,000 still live in the DMZ, though. Enter Matty Roth, a rookie journalist who ends up in the DMZ after his news helicopter crashes. Matty is left to fend for himself in the warzone of Manhattan. Along his journey, Matty encounters rogue special forces teams, an isolated Chinatown under the rule of a beloved local leader, politicians vying for power on every side, and his mother. Matty’s journey examines the polarization of politics, a study that is no more appropriate than right now in such a heated political season. DMZ is a modern war novel for modern audiences. It’s sharp, unflinching, and a truly excellent read. Above all, this 12-book series is a love-letter to New York City.

Transmetropolitan Vol. 7 “Spiders Thrash.” Photo property of Vertigo Comics.

2. Transmetropolitan

I lovingly refer to this series as “Fear and Loathing in the Future” because that’s exactly what it is. Anyone with a love for Hunter S. Thompson will be instantly struck by the lead protagonist of this series, journalist Spider Jerusalem, a drugged out chain-smoker (not that it matters, since anti-cancer pills are over-the-counter medications in this future) that embodies Gonzo journalism. After authoring a successful string of books covering a political campaign season, Jerusalem escaped to the woods to live a life of tranquility. When he runs out of money, Jerusalem returns to the city for another round of reporting. He encounters martian protests, mass-media marketing campaigns that infiltrate his dreams, and a particularly endearing mutant cat. This 13-book series is an engaging read for all those Hunter S. Thompson fans out there, and is a perfect example of why graphic novels are the perfect medium for Science Fiction. Each page is riddled with absolutely striking detail, decorated with all sorts of images that would cost any visual productions billions to recreate. Do not miss this. Buy it, borrow it, steal it from that kid you don’t like too much. You won’t regret it.

Chew Vol. 1 “Taster’s Choice.” Photo property of Image Comics.

3. Chew

This Eisner-Award winning series is absolutely bizarre. In the middle of an avian-flu-based chicken prohibition, the books follow one Tony Chu, a Cibopath (can taste the lives of what he eats). If he eats a plant, he can tell what it was sprayed with, how long it took to grow, and who picked it. If he eats a burger, he can see it’s life story and eventual slaughter. Tony is recruited by the now all-powerful FDA to investigate chicken-related crime syndicates by tasting the quite often gruesome crime scenes. Expect lots of absurdities like food-communicators, Frog-Chicken hybrids, and the most bad ass chicken to ever be found in print. This series is still running, having just put out it’s fourth volume. Get in now and get up to date fast, this is quickly becoming the most intriguing and downright entertaining series in recent history.

Top Ten Vol. 2. Art by Gene Ha. Photos property of America’s Best Comics (DC Comics).

4. Top 10

This underrated Alan Moore series follows the lives and work of the members of the police force of Neopolis, a city in which everyone from the police and criminals to animal exterminators and lawyers, children and even pets, has super powers and colorful costumes. This two-book work barely counts as a series, but it is so packed with subplots and character arcs that it easily covers enough ground to qualify as a fully-fledged series. Top 10 is Alan Moore’s superhero dissection, even more so than Watchmen. Everyone gets a moment here and there, but Moore goes so far as to dissect the silliness of the constant tweaks made to superhero story arcs in a memorable Cat & Mouse storyline that quickly devolves into a war of Super-Powered animals. Every panel is packed with references, from some very noticeable nods to Superman and even Doctor Who, but also some very low-key mentions of The Rocketeer and Futurama. Read every page twice; once for story and once for art.

Tom Strong Book 2. Photo Property of WildStorm.

5. Tom Strong

Another Alan Moore series, Tom Strong is a 6-book series that follows the titular character, the 99-year-old hero of Millennium City. Born on New Year’s Day, 1900, on the island of Attabar Teru, he was raised by his scientist father in the crater of an extinct volcano: gravity had been quintupled in his special room, and he was fed a special plant that slowed his aging process and increased his intellect and physical prowess far beyond human ability. When he was 8, an earthquake killed his parents, and he was raised by natives of the island. Tom subsequently embarks upon a life of adventure, invention, and heroics throughout the century, bouncing between Attabar Teru and the rest of the world. Along the way he marries Dhalua, youngest daughter of the Oku chief, and she soon joins him in the adventurous life–as does their daughter, Tesla, years later. Their other companions are Pneuman, a steam-powered robot invented by his father, and King Solomon, a gorilla enhanced by Tom into sentience. Tom also has a fan club/following, the Strongmen of America. Tom Strong skips through different times of Tom’s life. One book may jump between a 90 year-old Tom battling Nazi supermen and another may find a fresh-faced Tom finding his way around his abilities. This book is an excellent read, focused on intellect rather than strength (though there is plenty ass-kicking too) and with a certain charm that makes it feel like an old book. Tom Strong feels like it’s from the Golden Age of comics. Yet, it is fairly recent. Instead, Tom Strong is a successful attempt at translating the magic of Golden Age comics to a modern audience.

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  1. Great list. I’ve been fortunate to read most of those series and i heartily agree. I would also add:
    “the Authority”. For me it was the series that took a genre that i loved and gave it weight and a mass i hadn’t experienced before.

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