The Comics Canon

I’m guessing I’d get maybe a C+ in Comics Literature. I’m way behind on the required reading.

Maybe you can relate to this. In just about any discipline, there are certain books that you simply have to read if you want to act like you know what you’re talking about. I try to be well rounded and well read, but no matter how much I devour I still end up feeling like an English Lit major saying, “‘Tee Ess… Elliott’? I don’t think I’m familiar…. Did you say that was pronounced ‘Proost’?… ‘Dickens,’ indeed. Now you’re just making up names to try and trick me.”

On paper, my list actually looks pretty good, as long as no one has any follow-up questions to reveal how spotty the reading has actually been. I read Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, but I did it in grade school, which in hindsight is like defusing an atom bomb by giving it to a monkey. I crammed V for Vendetta in an hour because I needed to finish it before seeing the movie that night. I read Maus in one sitting an alarmingly long time ago and never looked at it again.

Then there are the gaps, which I have been trying to fill recently during an unexpected abundance of “me time.” I finally tackled Sandman this winter after taking an eight-year hiatus between volumes two and three (the serial killers’ convention was the last straw; more on that shortly). This week, after being closed-minded about it for the better part of a decade, I have been plowing through Preacher like there’s money hidden in one of the volumes. I’ve been making up for some lost time.

The question is, what do I read next?

If you were trying to show someone the zenith of comic booking– if you were trying to demonstrate to him or her what the medium could really do– which four or five volumes would you hand them? Y the Last Man? The Dark Phoenix Saga? Bone? Asterios Polyp? X-Men: The End Book Three: Men and X-Men?

All of the stories that comprise the Kree-Skrull War are sitting in my house; I guess I could take a crack at that next. That’s another one I sat down to read six or seven years ago and got exactly one issue into before being startled by a shiny thing.

It’s probably quite a shift to go from Preacher to a seventies Avengers arc– I feel like I’m going to get whiplash just mentioning them in the same sentence– but “classic” is a big tent that holds a lot of eras and genres within it. Looking at my own shelves, which are basically a shrine to Books Good Enough To Have Forever, I see the Alias omnibus resting comfortably beside the Howard the Duck omnibus and neither is out of place. In fact, that tonal shift can be a life saver if you’re a dainty buttercup like me.

Above: the nicest thing that happens in Preacher.

My daintiness is the reason I never got within five feet of Preacher before now, and the reason Sandman had been on my library list since before I met my wife. For whatever reason, an integral part of the comics canon seems to be what I will call (for the benefit of my fellow buttercups) Some F***ed-Up S***. Whether brilliant storytellers are just drawn to Some F***ed-Up S*** or whether Some F***ed-Up S*** is what makes the stories compelling enough to be worthy of the canon, I do not know. I do know that the first volume of Sandman has a story in it about a massacre at a diner that made me despair for Neil Gaiman’s children. And, Jesus Christ, Preacher should just be called Some F***ed-Up S***. If Garth Ennis got onto my elevator, I’d get off at the next floor just to be safe.

Maybe I’m more into escapism than I’d like to think. Maybe I can’t handle the truth. Whatever it is, I think I have denied myself a huge chunk of the canon because I have essentially no appetite for Some F***ed-Up S***. I react to seeing a bit player’s jawbone get blown off about as well as I would if that really happened in my kitchen. I am hardening in my old age, though. Ten years ago, between the gore and the blasphemy, I would have torn up Preacher and burned the pieces. Now, having spent some time getting used to how awful the real world can be, I find myself reacting to it like I’m watching an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon. You’re not always ready for every book. When I took another look at Dark Knight in my twenties, not only did I see how well it held up, but I also saw that I had no idea what I was looking at the first time. “Oh, Robin’s parents are Frank Miller stinkin’ liberals. Also, I know who Oliver Queen and Selina Kyle are now. How about that?”

But then, the true mark of a classic is that you can get something new out of it every time you read it, isn’t it?

Which books should make up the canon of comics? What have I missed? I would love to get some suggestions, even if they are brimming with Some F***ed-Up S***.

Jim Mroczkowski hardly ever turns on the TV anymore.


  1. Very excited to see people’s responses and get ideas myself…

    Pride of Baghdad is something I frequently recommend to the “uninitiated.”
    Likewise with Age of Bronze (since many of my friends are Classicists).
    One of the Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale Marvel “color trilogy” (Spider-man Blue, Hulk Grey, Daredevil Yellow).
    Green Lantern / Green Arrow (Dennis O’neal, Neal Adams)
    Identity Crisis

    Honestly, so many of the other books that I would put on the list are pretty new – (e.g. Sweet Tooth, Scott Snyder’s Detective Comics)

    • Agreed on Scott Snyder. Black Mirror is an instant classic, especially if you’ve read Year One, which is also in the canon.

    • Pride of Bagdad is one of my favourite things

    • Thumbs up for Pride of Baghdad. I don’t usually hear a lot of people talking about it. I got it as a gift for my aunt who never read a comic book before and she absolutely loved it, now she reads Supergirl every month and loves that too, how cool is that? Well, I think it’s pretty cool.

    • Pride of Baghdad is definitely superb.

  2. I’ll give a recommendation for Paul Chadwick’s Concrete. A really smart and brilliant take on the ‘real world superpowers’ thing that feels as original today as it was 25 years ago. It’s a simple premise that doesn’t require strict continuity knowledge, plus Chadwick is an amazing artist. I think the trades are still in print, but I’m not sure in what form. And that concludes my annual Concrete flag-waving.

    • Seconded says the kid with the Concrete avatar. I would add Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol, and Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men.l

  3. American Splendor and Ghost World are pretty high up there on the must read list. Transmetropolitan as well. Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing if you feel like being locked in the most well written fever dream this side of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Oh and The Crow. Don’t think for a second that seeing the movie excuses not reading this. It’s a gorgeous book.

  4. Read Miracleman if you have not had the chance (and if you can find it)- great work by Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman.
    All-Star Superman (Morrison and Quietly at their best; if you like this and want even wackier Morrison read Flex Mentallo)
    The first few volumes of Cerebus are fantastic if you have not give them a look.
    Another more recent one is Fables (read the first story arc at least, but that series continues to be great)
    Frank Miller’s Daredevil run is another nice example of great storytelling (Born Again being the finisher)
    If you have never read Hellboy, Seed of Destruction is a lot of fun.
    New Teen Titans “the Judas Contract” is wonderful for the introduction of Dick Grayson’s Nightwing identity and Deathstroke’s general “I am a dick”-ness. (that’s two dicks in one easy volume)
    Batman “the Long Halloween” shows why Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale should always have some project going on together- still holding out for Captain America White…any day now- reminds me of the recent article on comics never being late anymore.

    I am sure that I could list more, but this is a start…

  5. Bone should def be in the comics canon, great stuff and definitely not F***ed up lol. Even if you don’t like it, it’s kind of amazing from an independent publishing standpoint, and should be recognized for that

    I really also enjoyed Zot! by Scott McCloud, the second volume. It has some really groundbreaking stuff, and also not F***ed up

    Planetary would also make my list

    This is all i got for now

  6. I hate to put something so new, making me sound like more of a noob than I am, but Brubaker and Phillips’ Criminal is AMAZING. I think it should be read by everyone that considers themselves a fan. Perfect balance of art and prose. The first book that lit a fire in me with comics.
    Also, everyone always mentions Year One and DKR, but The Killing Joke has always been my favorite Batman story. That and God Loves, Man Kills would both be on my list. (I’ll admit I’ve yet to read the Dark Phoenix Saga. Sorry lol)

    • The Killing Joke is the most perfect single story comic ever produced. Great suggestion.

    • killing joke is wonderful. it’s the only time i can remember batman laughing at something the joker said that was meant to be funny. plus the ride he put gordon through with the pictures and all, truly horrific, especially if you have kids.

  7. I suggest Love and Rockets. The Jaime Hernandez trades of characters Maggie and Hopey. There’s Maggie the Mechanic, the Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S. and La Perla Loca.
    As far as Preacher, my initial reading of it I found more shockingly funny. The story is just taking the P!$$ out of “God” and shouldn’t be taken too seriously and this comic book interpretation is benign in it’s intent. Ultimately, if he/she/it does exist: then It has a hell of a lot to answer for.

  8. Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men
    Lemire’s Essex County

    • Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men gets a demerit in my book because of the way it ended. Actually, it’s not the ending that’s the problem. It’s that we don’t get a resolution to the ending until years and years later. Otherwise, yes, it’s great.

    • Do people read Whedon’s Astonishing without having read Morrison’s New X-Men? I would think people would get lost in the Cassandra arc.

    • Definitely agree with Essex County, so far I’ve loved everything Lemire has done.

    • You can figure out Astonishing without reading New but it Whedon draws on Morrison’s run quite a bit – particularly the stuff with Emma Frost.

    • Ya whedons astonishing and morrisons new xmen were great.

  9. I am in the same boat re: buttercuppery. I haven’t touched Preacher, I made it through vol. 1 of Sandman, and I’ve avoided Transmet for years only because it smells like Preacher. I really should sack up and try these books.

    My Comics Olympus includes Bone and Y: The Last Man, which you have mentioned, as well as a nice, big hardcover of Busiek and Perez’s first year on Avengers in the late 90’s. We3 is required reading, as is all of Runaways. Also, while I do not pray DIRECTLY to Scott Pilgrim, I do maintain a small shrine.

    Finally, while I wouldn’t hold it up with the pillars presented previously, if you haven’t already do yourself a favor and sit down with the last few years of Cosmic Marvel. Start either at Annihilation or Nova and just have a ball. Those books are what “fun comics” means.

    There’s more, I’m sure of it.

    • I should qualify: All of BKV’s Runaways.

    • I feel the same as you. I’ve always steered clear of those books. I am secure in my beliefs and don’t have a problem with differing views, but I’m also not going to read 60 issues of some guy that doesn’t understand my beliefs taking a dump on them. Anyone got an opinion? Am I just being silly, and these books aren’t that bad? I would love to know.

    • Garth Ennis seems to understand Catholicism extremely well. He grew up with it. He’s certainly developed problems with it, but it’s not an ignorant viewpoint.

      Preacher is also almost the single best long form character study in comics I’ve ever read. It’s my favorite comic series ever.

    • You’re missing out on Transmetropolitan. Easily my favorite series of Ennis. It’s kind of just a ‘gross out’ humor book for the first volume or two. But they are genuinely funny and by the third volume it turns into a very serious political thriller for the rest of the run.

      I tried reading Preacher but I just couldn’t finish it. Nothing against it but it didn’t hold my interest for very long. Maybe I’ll try it again in the near future.

    • Of course I’m such a HUGE fan of Transmet I wrote the wrong writer down…..HUGE fan. -_-;

    • As someone who works for the Catholic Church and is at the same time not Catholic, Ennis doesn’t really take a dump on the core beliefs of the church but more the bureaucracy of the Vatican. It’s great stuff

    • Hmmm might not be too bad considering I left the Catholic church a long time ago with the bureaucracy of the Vatican being one of several reasons.

    • See, as a Religious Apathist, Preacher sounds like it’s right up my alley. It’s really just that I generally don’t like incredibly depressing stuff, and that’s how I imagine Preacher going down.

      It’s like the Sopranos. I watched the entire series, and I think it’s the most perfect story that American television has ever produced. That said, I never, ever want to watch another second of it.

    • It’s not depressing at all. Preacher is a western. Traditional westerns don’t typically end on down notes.

    • Never thought of it like that… Ok, now I’m a little excited to try it. I’ve been in a western mood lately.

    • Ya Josh is right. Preacher is the best comic series ever. It doesnt have any close competition.

    • Yup, Preacher is the best

    • In terms of Sandman, you should really stick with it. Gaiman himself thinks the diner issue of Sandman was too intense, as he was trying too hard to create a horror book. By the time you get to the third book, Sandman begins to gravitate more towards modern fantasy. That’s when it becomes the book everyone raves about. There’s nothing in it in terms of “gruesome” that’s any worse than the woman losing her baby in Y: The Last Man. That’s an image that I’ve tried to get out of my head since I first came upon it.

    • Like previous comments, Preacher is not ignorant and contains western elements. And yeah, its gory in some parts and f**** up… but it pretty much dark/black HUMOR. Above all else, Preacher has a strong sense of humor. A kid tries to kill himself in the name of Kurt Cobain, FAILS horribly and disfigures himself, and he decides that adopting the moniker ‘Arse Face’ is a GOOD thing? That is COMEDY GOLD right there my fellow fanboys. Preacher really kind of holds the same themes as Kevin Smith’s Dogma… or actually, I would go on a limb and say Smith probably read Preacher and got inspired to do Dogma.

      Ennis gets a bad rap as ‘the guy who does gory f**** up s***”, but that’s really unfair. In the comics he creates with such elements, if you can get past it, you can see the point he’s trying to make. (Although Crossed is a bit hard to defend, as much I love Ennis, I’m not much of a fan of Crossed). If you think I love The Boys simply because of gore and big tits, then you have no idea what The Boys is.

      Or, if you take a chance on something Ennis that actually isn’t meant to be a cynical piece of satire… like Battefields or Back to Brooklyn, you’ll find that he is a VERY capable and great author.

      Don’t forget, this is the guy who created DC’s Hitman back in the day!

  10. Howsabout…

    1. Killing Joke. While not initially intended to be canon, the Joker’s actions in this story defined Barbara Gordon’s rule in the DCU for years. While Alan Moore was firing on all cylinders, the real sell is Brian Bolland’s art.

    2. The Master Planner Saga. We talk a lot about the early days of Marvel, how it was so different and influential and dynamic. But we don’t often provide examples. This is one. For me it’s the definitive Spider-Man story. Stan wrote Peter Parker like few have managed since and Ditko … wow.

    3. Planetary.

    4. Ex Machina

    5. Sin City: The Big Fat Kill. While not the definitive Sin City story, this one formed the centerpiece of the movie (so it’s a recognizable story), but it’s also some gorgeous, gorgeous Miller art.

  11. Frank Miller/Bill Sienkiewicz – Elektra

    Matt Fraction/Gabriel Ba – Casanova “Luxuria”

    Frank Miller/John Romita Jr. – Daredevil, The Man Without Fear

    Alan Moore – Saga of the Swamp Thing

    • YES! That Elektra series is not for a newbie, but in a lot of ways was the most daring but totally successful use of art I’ve ever read in a comic series. AWESOME!

  12. Invisibles by morrison really went places others just couldn’t; it was a book of magic that became magic..

  13. I’ll think outside of the box a bit:

    If you want a great example of how different comics can be then go get anything by Jason. I KILLED ADOLF HITLER is my favorite title of his for a bunch of different reasons. The title in itself is one, but it’s a great example of his style both in terms of art and writing. The cover and early beginnings of the book feels like one style of title but then quickly turns into something more.

    Crecy by Warren Ellis is one of the best historical comics. He’s faithful to the entire battle and it is just one long monologue about the historical facts about the battle. I remember Conor mentioning it in a podcast and everything about the book intrigued me even though I knew nothing about the battle.

    • Oh snap, Crecy is fudging amazing

    • Crecy has the best message in a historical book.

      Something along the lines of: Just because we lived in a more primitive time doesn’t mean we were stupid. So many people think people were living backwards in these periods but they weren’t. Instead of missiles they had catapults or instead of bullets they had arrows. It’s the same principle but we just evolved to be more deadlier.

    • Never would have thought of either of these. Plus, not only does my library system have the Jason book, but it is sitting in the specific library I go to as we speak. I will have it by tomorrow.

    • Sweet! I expect the next article to be all about Jason.

      Or at least I hope you enjoy it.

  14. Sandman, Transmetropolitan, Essex County, I Kill Giants, All-Star Superman.

    And as long as this canon is limited to five, one of these will soon have to removed to make room for Scalped upon its conclusion.

  15. Bone is essential, life just seems better after. Perfection.
    Daredevil born again is a masterclass.
    For advanced extra credit Jimmy Corrigan the smartest kid on earth.

  16. You know, I find Y: The Last Man to be one of the best comic series ever written. It’s emotional, touching, and exciting all rolled into one. I can’t think of a single issue or trade that felt out of place or let down.

    In terms of superhero work, I’d say that Starman is one of the best of all time, especially if you’re talking about what comics can do. With the different story tangents, styles of stories, and the amazing character development that comes from those issues in order, I can’t think of a finer example of long form superhero storytelling.

    And lastly, I have to mention Blacksad. I remember showing that book to my dad, and even he, ignorant of all things comics, thought it was one of the most beautiful books he’d ever seen. He demanded immediately to read it, which he did and loved it. Sometimes the amazing art can bring people in and the writing can keep them there.

  17. Dark Knight Returns is essential canon even if it isn’t. (Confusing anit it?)

    But I dare say Dark Knight Strikes Again should get a mention as well. It’s a testament to Frank Miller in that it’s ‘the’ defining moment where he went batshit insane as a person. But the art is really good too and the story is compelling enough to be readable (unlike in Holy Terror). Plus he writes a great Plastic Man and as a fan of the character I’m a sucker for that.

    In fact, speaking of Plastic Man, everyone should find the Kyle Baker run of Plastic Man. Fantastic art and some really, genuinely, hilarious stories. I got lucky that my LCS was selling the only trades (which are out of print now) for $5 bucks each.

    • Glad you brought up Plastic Man. The original Jack Cole version is sadly overlooked, however it is, in my opinion, critical to understanding comics. Moreover, it is pure enjoyment. And therefore I believe it is canonical.

    • I’ve been talking up Jack Cole’s Plastic Man to anyone who will listen. Kyle Baker’s run is the only take on the character since I consider worthy.

    • @jimmyboy/djtrudeau: I feel great shame for never reading Jack Cole’s run. I mean he created the character for christ sakes. I really should get those reprints of his run cause Plastic Man is one of my favorite characters all time.

  18. Johnathan Hickman – Check out the collection “Test Pattern”, which contains his major works to date (Pax Romana, Nightly News, Red Mass to Mars, Transhuman. Don’t remember if Red Wing is included too).

    Daredevil – Born Again.

    Larry Marder’s Beanworld.

    Anything by Jacques Tardee.

    Incal and Metabarons (pour one out for Moebius). For that matter, Moebius’ Silver Surfer story with Stan Lee and the original run of “Silver Surfer.” I know the latter is available in Essentials.

    D.C. New Frontier

    While one could argue the quality of story telling, for its importance to the ongoing mythos of Batman you should include “Death in the Family.” As its own story, it works. In fact, I would read it with “The Killing Joke” and “Under the Red Hood” to fully appreciate its impact – this would lead to a great moral/ethical debate on justifications for execution.

    “Dark Phoenix” deserves to be in the pantheon of great works. My only problem with it is the fact that it is both a culmination and a launch pad, and unless you read enough to understand its place in X-Men history it’s hard to fully appreciate it. “Death of Gwen Stacy” is in a similar vein for Spider-Man.

  19. If you’ve got a couple of months (or years) to burn, I think everyone should read Cerebus at one point or another.

  20. Damn:

    First off, anything by Darwyn Cook is a must read- Parker is a must big time.

    Queen and Country is phenomenal.

    Y: The Last Man is fabulous. As is Fear Agent.

    I loved Lucifer by Mike Carey was great. I could go on and on.

  21. I would have to give a nod to Daytripper. One of my favorite books in the last few years. Also for superheroes i’m going to go back and say Spiderman’s “The Death of Gwen Stacy.”

  22. I would say Frank Miler’s Wolverine mini-series. It took a B level character(at the time) and launched him into cult status. Great story by Claremont, awesome art by Miller(the lighting and “wide screen” panels gave it the now famous cinematic look/feel! It was among the first (if not THE first) self-contained, in continuity, mini-series “spotlight” story that was a big success.
    Finally, the awesome brown/black Wolverine costume!!! IMHO the BEST Wolverine story hands down!!
    My favorite panel:

  23. Narrowing the list down to 5 is harrerd. But:

    Batman: Year One
    Spider-Man: Kraven’s Last Hunt
    Essex County
    V for Vendetta

    I think that covers the gamut of what the art form can do. Year One is the perfect superhero origin story. Kraven’s Last Hunt is the perfect superhero story. Bone is the perfect fun, (mostly) lighthearted comic. Essex County is the best personal, emotional comic I’ve ever read. And V for Vendetta is comics functioning as literature.

  24. Good article. Canons, on the one hand, are relatively subjective. But on the other hand I think it’s generally pretty obvious which comics are more canonical than others. If you had to list ten canonical comics, I think it would be reasonable to name Y the Last Man as something that could be on that short list… but then you start thinking “Well, Y is obviously not as canonical as Watchmen… or Sandman… or Maus… or Dark Knight returns…” and then personal favorites and comics that are just “pretty good” or “pretty important” move down the list quite fast.

    What strikes me is that it still seems that so much of any canonical list would just be made up of what Moore, Miller, Gaiman and maybe Morrison did between the mid-80s to the early-90s. Even if you weren’t reading comics then (and I wasn’t), then it seems like every wave of readers eventually recognizes that those comics were the ones that really exploded the literariness of the medium. They may not be the best comics ever from every pseudo-objective standpoint, but there’s no doubt that the big name works during those years pretty much summed up what came before and set the tone for what came after.

    That said, I have to laugh when people name recent things like Snyder’s work as canonical. The Black Mirror? It was very good but it’s so steeped in the continuity of the moment that I don’t think it holds up as anything very representational of anything. In the future people will have to understand “Oh, this is Dick Grayson as Batman?”, and then they’ll inevitably recognize that what Morrison was doing on Batman & Robin (whether you like it better or not) was very much “the” important Dick Grayson as Batman story. There are also little touches like the Joker’s crowbar which are totally unexplained and not really all that important to the story. James Gordon Jr., while a great villain, is also kind of obscure, and it seems like Snyder was pressed for time towards the end of the run and turned him into a more generic serial killer. It’s a very good run overall, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t see how it’s representational of anything in any wider context. It’s nothing new, and thematically it wasn’t even clear what the “Black Mirror” even means. I don’t see how a course could be taught on Snyder’s work. It’s cool but there’s just not enough depth to it. On the other hand, college courses have been taught on Sandman, Watchman, etc. If there just isn’t much to academically say about a work, then the odds are high that the work in question just isn’t canonical. (Not that that’s a bad thing. What’s canonical isn’t always equivalent to “what’s the best”.)

    Sorry if that sounds snarky. But I think a problem that a lot of fairweather critics face is that they can’t separate the great work of recent years from the work that really matters from a historical standpoint.

    • Agreed! For instance, no matter how much you love Locke & Key, you can’t say its canonical. What you can do is get a sense of canon by picking up the nods and homages to classic comic work from within Hill and Rodriguez’s work. They’re pretty good at that.

  25. Since you said you already read Sandman, Watchmen, Maus, V and Dark knight. I would say:

    Jimmy Corrigan
    A Contract with God (any and all Eisner would is good)

  26. I tried to put together my “Essential Series” a few months ago and I was pleasantly surprised at the number of Batman series that I considered. Dark Knight Returns, Year One, Killing Joke, would all get consideration from he and I’m not even a huge Batman fan.

    Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Y the Last Man, Preacher, I could just go on and on. I will say that, for purely personal reasons, the Dark Phoenix Saga will probably be my all-time favorite because that was the first comic series that blew my mind. I really ran the emotional gamut as a 10 year old reading that.

    I don’t know if this has happened on the site yet, and I think it might have, but I’d love to see an article (and comments) about series or creators that people are ashamed to say they have never read. I suspect the replies to the comments would read “I can’t believe you’ve never read (insert comic title), you definitely need to read it.”

    • I agree with the first paragraph so much. My favorites are probably Cap and DD, but I end up reading Batman way more often because there’s just so much more good stuff.

  27. I loaned my copy of Preacher v 1 to a college professor, along with a copy of Astro City: Life in the Big City, and never saw either again. I enjoyed the Preacher, but for whatever reason I’ve just never gotten back to it.

    I would list at least of couple volumes of Astro City as must reads, too. (That’s not the only copy of Big City I’ve had vanish on me.)

    • I slapped my forehead when I read your post. Astro City is a great series and very representational of classic superhero comics.

  28. Marvel 1985. For happiness.

  29. so many suggestions to go through.

    Sale and Loeb on The Long Halloween really was one of the first self contained stories that got me back into comics. I found it so accessible and was everything i was. I think Bendis Ultimate Spiderman run is a really good modern superhero epic, and really does so many things right….not to mention being really fun.

    I’ve dabbled over the years in some of the “required” readings listed here…its always tough, because sometimes its outside of your genre’s or just not your thing or maybe even a bit too dense for where you are as a comics reader, and then you feel like a “n00b” for not getting what the big deal was.

    • The second paragraph describes how I feel every time I read some Grant Morrison. I don’t get the hype, but then again I’ve only read his recent Batman stuff and All-Star Superman. Maybe I didn’t try the best stuff.

  30. I just want to make two quick suggestions for Blankets and Box Office Poison. Check them out if you haven’t yet. There’s nudity in both but no Some F***ed-Up S*** that I can recall.

  31. Bone, Ex Machina, The” Welcome Back Frank” Punisher, Groo, The original Authority, Lots of the original crossgen stuff, and almost anything by the Luna Brothers. and the soon to be canon scalped. I know im forgetting 90% of what should be on this list.

    • authority is awesome. the first gay marriage in comics if i’m not mistaken. i love my wife to death, and if someone had a problem with me marrying her for whatever reason, they can go fuck themselves. the same applies if someone has a problem with the beautiful union in the authority.
      i also love how they’re a metaphor for batman and superman.

    • Ya i was just lucky.. I was at a convention once and someone was selling hundreds of various full runs. I was like “hmmm i heard something about this”. It was like half of cover price … crazy. I had no idea what i was in for. Awesome series… Im kind of looking forward to them meeting Batman and Supes now… Im thinking team up during which Superman needs Apolo to survive.

  32. Here’s two that I haven’t seen mentioned yet.

    Grant Morrison’s JLA run. To me, this is such a definitive run, so much so that for me the book hasn’t been the same since he left, no matter which creative team they put on there. It’s also the most accessible Morrison work that might act as a gateway for his more eccentric stuff.

    Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four run. I feel like no comics canon would be complete without this run. I bought the first two omnibi on this pretense but still haven’t read them yet which I totally feel bad about. Still, I know much of the Marvel Universe was built in that run and we probably won’t see something like that again.

  33. Ex Machina
    Y: The Last Man
    Walking Dead

    Those are good ones to start with 🙂

  34. Yeah, Bone is important because it reminds people why comics are fun for all ages and why it works so well as a medium.
    I have to say Louis Riel by Chester Brown is way up there for me. It shows you what comics are capable of. It teaches, draws you to conclusions, and makes you laugh out loud. I learned more from this than most of my junior highschool social studies. On that note Maus is up there too in the same regard.
    Any and all of Eisner’s stuff is great. A Life Force is my fave there.
    I agree with Cosmic Marvel. Starlin is a genius and the galaxy he built has much to offer for many years. Marvel is missing me as a reader because there’s currently NOTHING to read that way. All AvX. Pfft.

  35. Pretty much everything that NEEDS to be Comics Canon has been mentioned, but I would like to put in my recommendations for great stuff to give to beginners:

    -Usagi Yojimbo – An epic achievement, accessible to all ages, and great for bridging the gap between manga and comics. Also, a testament to what one man can create on his own (the longest running single-creator comic of all time).

    -The Flight anthologies – A great introduction to the comics medium itself, with special attention paid to showcasing a wide variety of visual storytelling techniques. Everyone has been mentioning epics and ongoings and such, but the short-form comic is also an essential aspect of comics. Plus, your initiate doesn’t have to make a commitment to a longer story, so you won’t scare anyone away.

    -Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud – This book is basically what I would give any snobbish English or Art professor or grad student that looks down on comics as a “lesser” art-form. It’s essentially a textbook about comics as a medium, told through the medium itself. I don’t think it’s for everyone, but if you want an intellectual understanding of comics, you’ll find it here.

    And at the opposite end of the spectrum is Alan Moore’s Promethea, which is a comic for people who think they’ve already seen everything comics are capable of. It’s a much harder read, and I’m sure many people will be turned off by the long, drawn-out lectures on mysticism, but J.H. Williams III and Moore went to great lengths to show us what comics can do that no other medium could. This is comics’ Boss Level.

  36. Preacher is my favorite story ever. In any medium, not just comics.

    I religiously read Box Office Poison by Alex Robinson once a year. It was very nice of him to make a comic about my life.

    I love Concrete by Paul Chadwick. Such a fantastic story. great characters, great art, and takes the standard super-hero origin and tosses it on its head by NOT having him be a suer-hero. So touching and funny and sad and basically perfection.

    Bone is the same way. The very definition of “all ages.” I love it as an adult and can’t wait for my daughter to be old enough to read it.

    Also, Squadron Supreme is criminally underrated. Mark Gruenwald was very ahead of his time.

  37. Preacher is great. I agree with Josh, not depressing. Some amazing characters in that.

    Starman is probably my favorite series ever. Sprawling and funny and sad and pretty much everything you could ask from a superhero comic. Like if Spider-Man was a planned long form Vertigo series.

    Batman: Year One is amazing. Especially the Mazz recolored watercolored one from a couple of years ago. It looks insanely good.

    Y: The Last Man is probably the best “page turner” series. You will blaze through it because you won’t be able to stop reading it.

    • “mazz recolored”
      as in mazzuchelli? i love year one and if that’s the case i need to give that a look see. had no idea he ever colored anything in comics. if it’s anything like the killing joke recoloring, then it’s definitely worth looking at.

  38. Dark Phoenix Saga has probably the single best two issues of Wolverine defining in history though. Including the single greatest Wolverine panel ever created. Something that is still being aped to this day, right up to the current issue of Batman.

  39. You want good comics, read Astro City. Everyone at iFanboy should read Astro City.

  40. All things Hellboy, BPRD, Transmetropolitan, and Planetary. The classic Warren Ellis stuff is perfection in my book.

    Also, I would say Essex County, and MAYBE Black Hole. Lots of F***ed-Up S*** in Black Hole.

    • Hellboy and BPRD and so much Warren Ellis stuff…. its just years of near perfection.. All of that should be considered. I have planetary but havent started reading it yet, Will get to it within the year.

  41. James Robinson’s STARMAN run. Great covers and interior art by Tony Harris amongst others throughout the roughly 7year six omnibus run along with a great list of guest star and breakout characters, truly some of the best to come from the 90’s.

  42. Saga of the Swamp Thing, Wolfman and Perez’s Teen Titans, John Byrne’s Fantastic Four Run, Akira, Jack Kirby’s Kamandi, From Hell, Bone, All-Star Superman, Sin City. These are probably the only books I consistently re-read every couple of years or so.

  43. Not really canon, but Garth Ennis’ war books, like Battlefields. His other works seem disingenuous compared to those. Other than that, Gotham Central.

    Also, is Manga ok? Then Pluto by Naoki Urasawa.

  44. While most of my absolute favs have been mentions like Morrisons JLA run, (he made Electro Superman cool for Gods SakeL and the Sin City books, I think 100 bullets and Sandman Endless Nights deserve attention. The Counterfifth Detective alone showcases the phenomenal feel of the storytelling, simply awesome stuff. Endless Nights breaks down the endless to their core and shows u the genius of Gaiman and the ridiculous talent of Frank Quitely in the Destiny story. Great Stuff.

  45. I can’t help noticing that no one has mentioned:

    Crisis on Infinite Earths
    Secret Wars
    Civil War
    Infinite Crisis
    Geoff John’s daisy chain of Green Lantern events

    …or any of the other events that dominate the conversation 90% of the time. Interesting that the “big” books that get the most hot air expended on them are not really considered classics by anyone.

    • Secret Wars II is the SHIIIIIIIIIIITTTTTTTTTTT. Makes DKR look like knock off Van Gogh!

    • Oh I would never suggest Infinite Crisis to ANYONE. A small decent core story happening in the middle of 50 billion random “epic” events.

    • I wouldn’t recommend Crisis on infinite Earths because it isn’t really a stand alone story. It’s a story used to end a whole bunch of previous continuity and set up a whole lot of new continuity, which is fine for hardcore comic fans, but i would never give it to somebody who was a casual fan or a non-comics reader.

      I liked Civil War, but I would hardly call it essential.

      Infinite crisis was horrid.

      I actually kind of like Secret Wars, though. It’s a fun story, and because it was done during the Jim Shooter “Every comic is somebody’s first comic” era, it explains everything you need to know (sometimes OVERexplains.) but while it probably isn’t a “classic” or a “must read” it is certainly a good time.

      I never read Geoff John’s Green lantern events, so I can’t comment. I read Rebirth, which was just ok for me, and I read the first few issues of the series, but quickly lost interest.

    • My brother tried to win me back to Marvel (and to a certain extent, superheroes in general) by giving me Civil War. As someone who hasn’t ever followed Marvel (except for Spider-Man cartoons and the new Ultimate Spider-Man), I was completely lost in most of the storylines and didn’t get why it was such a big deal beyond the obvious “Everyone fights everyone!!!!” cliche.

  46. Definitely Stray Bullets if you can track it down, or for a more focused sampling of Lapham’s best solo work read Murder Me Dead.

    To me, the Annihilation saga from Marvel has been the absolute epitome of cosmic storytelling in recent memory.

    Powers, but only if you stop before you get to the current volume.

    Astro City, Local, definitely X-Statix…

    Oh, and Bomb Queen! Amiright people?

    • Loved Annihilation … makes me long for those DnA days.

    • DNA cosmic Marvel from Annihilation to Thanos Imperative are some of my all time favorite runs, love many characters in that obscure corner of Marvel and like it that way. Nova looks to be the one bringing the news from space about the Phoenix force coming and will be his 1st appearance since Thanos Imperative, with the whole tear in the actual fabric of space affecting the spacetime continuum and the cancerverse stuff, the many currently missing cosmic characters could return with an intelligent sci-fi explanation, with Nova being the 1st, I’d love to see the return of a few others. DNA cosmic is classic canon material in my book.

  47. Oh how bout the original Days of Future Past xmen story. You know the one with wolverine getting blasted by a sentinel cover… and so many dead xmen with just a hand full fighting back against interment camps etc..

  48. If you know any punks or fans of dystopian literature, you should give them a copy of Channel Zero by Brian Wood.

  49. Daytripper.

  50. Is there no love for Camelot 3000?

  51. bendis/maleev daredevil and frank miller daredevil
    civil war
    batman year one
    dark phoenix saga
    all hellboy books
    blackest night
    watchmen and DKR are definitely worth rereading if you didn’t fully grasp them at a young age.

  52. New Mutants Vol. 1 Issues 1-30 (for starters)
    Moon Knight Vol. 1
    The Walking Dead
    Locke and Key

  53. Atomic Robo – Each volume is a different genre/story style
    Planetary – What everyone above said.
    Cerebus – At least up to the end of Church and State
    Judge Dredd – The Apocalypse War
    Daredevil Born Again
    The Adventures of Luther Arkwright
    Y – The Last Man – Again, for everything said above
    The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

  54. Apologies if I missed an earlier mention of this in my brief skim of the comments, but: MOONSHADOW. Seriously.

    Also, I second CONTRACT WITH GOD. Or third it or whatever. I know I saw it in there somewhere.

  55. Finder by Carla Speed Mcneil
    Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore
    Fables by Willingham

    Those should be canon for sure!

  56. Okay, I know I’ll be the only one to say it, but I love going back and re-reading the entire Earth X saga.

    There’s so much density to it that every time I go back, I know more of the characters, and understand more of the implications behind the connections that were drawn in that book. It takes getting familiar with individual characters and their place in the Marvel mythos to truly understand how difficult their choices are at the end of their lives. Franklin Richards becoming Galactus is an excellent example of that. (Spoiler?)

    A lot of people akin it to a ‘poor man’s Kingdom Come’, but I personally think that Earth X was Kingdom Come’s next evolutionary step, which turned off too many people for it to be as popular. Kingdom Come was easy to follow, and most of the characters were self explanatory, while Earth X was narrated by two C-list Marvel characters at best, so even beginning to understand what it all means required a very deep well of Marvel knowledge.

    Anyway, enough about the Earth X details, but it’s the story I continually come back to.