Best Comic Books / Graphic Novels for National Comic Book Day – The Mary Sue

Happy National Comic Book Day! While comic book movies and shows are dominating theaters and streaming services, it’s important to note that the medium itself is still less mainstream and in need of support. I know some people see comics as being for kids or nerds, but chances are, if you like any kind of genre fiction, you can find a comic you’ll like. A lot of genre movies and television shows (Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gravity Falls, etc) have continued on in comic book form. It’s also a medium rife with experimentation and independent writers/publishers.
So, without further ado, here’s some of the best introductory comic book stories for those who want to see what all the fuss is about.
This is probably the seminal standalone Superman story. In an attempt to take the Man of Steel out of commission forever, Mongul traps Superman in a dream world where he has everything he ever wanted: Krypton is whole, he’s living on a farm with his wife and son, and he has no need to be Superman. It’s a beautiful character study and a wonderfully bittersweet tale that has been adapted into Justice League Unlimited and Supergirl.
A Neil Gaiman classic, it follows the funeral of the Batman as many different characters give their own stories of how they died, showing the many potential fates of the Batman, how his loved ones and enemies view him, and how the endless cycle of death and rebirth for the Batman is its own reward.
For those who want to get into Batman comics in particular, Batman: Year One is an excellent place to start, showing a very green. This is one of the series that Batman Begins and The Batman (2022) drew inspiration from.
This follows Lucky the Pizza Dog and is told from his perspective as he meets Hawkeye. Warning: this story features animal abuse, after Lucky the Pizza Dog is beaten by the tracksuit mafia for defending Hawkeye.
Another story about a ‘heroic’ (anti-heroic?) pet, this one being Dex-Starr the Red Lantern. Warning, this story does feature animal abuse, including the attempted drowning of a cat, but don’t worry, the cat bites back.
Another Neil Gaiman classic, all of the Sandman is amazing but this one-off comic deserves a highlight. Recently adapted into episode 4 of the Netflix show, Sandman: Men of Good Fortune follows the life of Hob Gadling, an Englishman who is given Eternal Life to answer the question of whether it is a gift or a curse. 
Basically a META love letter to comic books and their fans, it follows the aftermath of the “real” and “fictional” worlds colliding and the fallout caused by fictional characters living in our world. Also highlights the fact that despite often being associated with superheroes
Something for the mythology fans out there, The Wicked + The Divine is about the Pantheon, a group of reincarnated deities who get fabulous fame and glorious power, but also are burdened with the knowledge that they will die within a few years of discovering their identities.
Another series that was recently adapted into live-action television by Hulu (only to be cancelled too soon), Y: The Last Man is about Yorick Brown, the last man on Earth who’s desperately trying to find his girlfriend. It’s an interesting twist on the often male-dominated dystopias while also having a lot of complex female characters. If you liked the show and want to see how it ends, I’d suggest taking a look at the comic.
For fans of fairy tales, I would suggest Fables, where fairytale characters live in secret in New York. The Big Bad Wolf is now the Sheriff and interacts with Snow White, Prince Charming, and all kinds of favorite fairy tale characters.
Perhaps the best route is to go to your local comic book shop and ask for recommendations or just see what they have. I found out that the current run of the Darth Vader comics has him facing Sabé, Padme Amidala’s bodyguard and decoy queen from The Phantom Menace.
There’s a ton of interesting comics to be found on Webtoons, from independent writers and large publishers alike. My current fav is My Sweet Archenemy, about the superhero Miss Sunshine and her archenemy, Mad Spade, and the friendship their civilian identities strike up. It features all kinds of explorations of queer identity (both gender and sexuality), and discussions of asexuality, race, beauty standards, the pressures of social media and public life, told in a colorful fun way that’s very much a call back to golden age comics. Think The Boys but done in a lighter, almost Powerpuff Girls style.
Thank you to Sarah Lawrence comic book club, Ash Avenue Comics, and PantherNow for recommendations.
(featured image: Image Comics)
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Kimberly Terasaki is a Creative Writing graduate, fanfiction author, and intersectional feminist. She liked Ahsoka Tano before it was cool, will fight you about Rey being a “Mary Sue,” and is a Kamala Khan stan. She appreciates all constructive criticism and genuine discussion.
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