Comic book reading over the years has become synonymous with words like nerd, virgin, or my personal favorite ‘get away from me or die geek’. I am here to tell everyone who has been brainwashed that comic books have become a medium for beautiful artwork as well as deep intellectual story telling. I’m not saying the cliche superhero stories aren’t still the dominant force behind the industry or that there isn’t still an overwhelming amount of piss poor artwork out there, but I am going to give you a list of comic books that I think you should give a chance before you go pushing that geek who reads Batman into the lockers. A read through of anyone of the seven books I am about to talk about will either have you considering comics as a regular form of reading, or at the very least respecting the genre.

WARNING: IF YOU ARE A V FOR VENDETTA/WATCHMEN FANBOY AND EXPECT TO SEE THEM ON THIS LIST THEN BE WARNED, THEY’RE NOT. (not because I don’t love or enjoy them, but simply because they are too well known already)

1. The Nightly News – Jonathon Hickman/Jonathon Hickman

This is a story that revolves around a cult like group whose members have all been negatively affected by blasphemous news reporting. So in a response to the wrongdoing a man known only as The Voice, in order to revolt against the news media, has recruited them. This is a story that can easily be compared to the cult classic film based on Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Fight Club so if this was something you enjoyed then The Nightly News will be right up your ally.

2. The Fountain – Daren Aronofsky/Kent Williams

You might have been aware of this one via the motion picture staring Hugh Jackman with the same title. The stories are relatively the same exact thing because Aronofsky had written this story to be a major motion picture that went haywire during production. Feeling compelled to get this story out he turned to graphic novels as a medium, and as the graphic novel began to take shape Aronofsky decided that the film could be just as brilliant as an indie film. Both projects ended up being finished around the exact same time making them a pair of beautiful sister pieces. The painter Kent Williams does the artwork in this graphic novel, and I find it to be absolutely brilliant and unique. The story is an intertwining of three time periods in a seamless and intriguing way. It is a love story about the search for the tree of life and immortality in order to keep your loved ones forever. It’s far less cheesy and far more intellectual when Aronofsky tells it.

3. Pax Romana – Jonathon Hickman/Jonathon Hickman

Hickman is one of my favorite writers. Not comic/graphic novel writers, but simply writers in general. He writes comics that make me feel smart when I read them. He is a master of his craft, and his style is on another level. He pushes the boundaries and the ideas about comic books forward, and this should be a goal of any artist in any medium. Pax Romana is a story about a Vatican-backed research team who has found the secret to time travel. Their plan is to send a team of modernly armed soldiers back in time to rewrite the past in order to better the future for the Catholic Church. On arrival it takes a turn for the worst, and that’s all I think I should really tell you.

4. Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth – Grant Morrison/Dave McKean

Yes, I am aware that I talked negatively about superhero stories in my introduction, but this is far more than your cliché super hero comic. For me this could be one of the best Batman stories of all time. It doesn’t have the same emotional effect that The Killing Joke has, but for a non-Batman reader this is one to check out. Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth is a story about the inmates, led by the Joker, taking over Arkham Asylum, and their one request is that Batman joins them in the madhouse. The dark past of Amadeus Arkham is also tightly weaved into the story throughout the book. This is an interesting psychological look into all of the characters you know and love. This opens you up to them on a deeper and more realistic level. Is the Joker really so crazy, or are we the crazy ones? Does Batman belong in the Asylum with the rest of the criminally insane? These are the questions that come up in Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth, and they make this book one of the most compelling pieces of the comic book genre. McKean’s art is downright creepy in the best way possible. He adds so much effect, and horror with his delightfully dark paintings.

If you enjoyed Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth or The Dark Knight movie then I suggest you check out The Joker written by Brian Azzarello and Illustrated by Lee Bermejo

5. No Hero – Warren Ellis/Juan Jose Ryp

How much do you want to be a superhuman? This is the question Ellis asks in No Hero. We are thrown into a world where super humans have existed since the sixties when a man named Carrick Masterson developed a new drug called FX that can give us what we have all thought about at one point or another. Superhuman abilities. FX is an alteration of 5-methoxy-disopropyltryptamine, also known as Foxy, and FX has just as many possible negative effects as positive effects. Such as, severe hallucinations (that are seen in gruesomely beautiful detail through Juan Jose Ryp’s amazing artwork) or the loss of skin an fingernails just to name a few. The super humans are selectively picked and are part of a group called The Front Line. When someone starts killing members of the Front Line Masterson goes out in search of a replacement as he scrambles to find out who has taken up war with the Front Line.

6. Walking Dead – Robert Kirkman/Tony Moore (After the 6th issue he was replaced by Charlie Adlard)

This is the best piece of Zombie literature besides maybe World War Z that has ever been created. Yes, this is a bold statement that I would gladly stand by. The story follows a group of survivors during the zombie apocalypse. I bet you are sitting there rolling your eyes and saying, “how original”. Yeah, well it is what you expect in the most broad sense possible, but it is also so much more. The art is black and white, and even though I was personally a fan of Tony Moore, I still enjoy what Adlard does each week. This series has been so great that AMC and Frank Darabont (Yes, the Frank Darabont who directed Shawshank Redemption) have decided to turn it into a television series.

7. 100 Bullets – Brian Azzarello/Eduardo Risso

This pair of writer and illustrator is like Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison together. Their styles are so perfectly matched that you would think they were made for one another. At first glance the art won’t strike you as breathtaking or superior, but as far as the way it helps tell the story it’s second to none. Azzarello is a master of dialogue and dialect as well as story telling. This is a noir story told in 100 issues. Clever, huh?  The basic overlying theme deals with a man, Agent Graves, who gives people the opportunity to take revenge on whomever it may be using one gun and 100 untraceable bullets giving them carte blanche. There is also a more looming story about a confrontation between two groups. The Trust being one and the other being their former enforcers/police, The Minutemen.

Batwoman: Elegy – Greg Rucka/ J.H. Williams

This is a bonus for the artwork alone simply because I couldn’t bring myself to leave it off. This comic is about Batwoman, who is a lesbian superhero who kicks ass basically. Now for some that may sound great, but that’s not generally what I’m looking for in a comic. With that said, this comic is the closest thing to fine art you will find in comics. The artwork is page after page breathtaking.  I can spend hours looking at this comic without reading a word (which has nothing to do with Batwoman being a smoking babe… well maybe a little). J.H. Williams is a master of his craft, and this is hands down the best comic book art I have ever come across.