Not every comic is going to be well known, not even ones by famous comic book creators. Sometimes it’s from before they got famous or sometimes it’s after, they are just simply overshadowed by other things they have created. Here are some books from famous comic book creators that may have slipped under your radar.
These days, Frank Miller is well known for writing things that are borderline crazy (All Star Batman & Robin) or straight up racist (Holy, Terror!). Previously, he was well known for his outstanding run on Daredevil, as well as writing the pretty much definitive origin of Batman and a dark future take on him in The Dark Knight Returns.
However, did you know that there was a time period in-between his brilliant Batman stories and his...crazy Batman stories? In the 1990s, while everyone else was trying their damnedest to make things dark and gritty, Miller was working on his own stuff in Dark Horse Comics and churning out not just Sin City, but things like Hard Boiled and The Big Guy & Rusty the Robot (which was actually oriented for children). But his best work in the ‘90s was probably Give Me Liberty, a science fiction social satire starring a black woman named Martha Washington.
While current day Frank Miller’s stories tend to have a fascistic bent to them, Give Me Liberty is a much more thoughtful satire of America and American excess, taking the problems started by Reagan and extrapolating them into the near-future (the book starts off in the “future” of 1996). Martha Washington herself comes from Cabrini-Green, which has turned into a prison-like ghetto for poor people, and the only way she can find to escape it is to become a soldier in the army. The book follows her as she rises in rank, even as the country around her falls apart.
Back in 1984, Alan Moore hadn’t yet written V for Vendetta or Swamp Thing or Watchmen. He was merely an up-and-coming British comic writer getting his start writing in the magazine that most up-and-coming British comic writers did: 2000 AD. He wrote some of “Tharg’s Future Shocks” and he wrote a bunch of D.R. and Quinch stories (which were always hilarious), but then he wrote what I still consider to be his very best work, even today: The Ballad of Halo Jones.
The story takes place around 500 years in the future, in an area of Earth called “the Hoop.” Halo Jones is an 18-year-old who wants to live her life in peace with her best friend Rodice and her robot dog Toby. The entire first book, in fact, takes place within a single day as Halo gets into various misadventures while traveling around the Hoop, trying to avoid things like the Different Drummers. It’s not until the end of the first book that we really delve into what makes this book great: Halo and her journey outwards.
Halo Jones is really a remarkable figure in comics. She isn’t a superhero, she doesn’t have special powers. Moore stated that he wanted to just create a regular woman and had “no inclination to unleash yet another ‘Tough Bitch With A Disintegrator And An Extra Y-Chromosome’ upon the world.” Halo Jones is pretty much a regular woman, with the only caveats being that she lives in the future and tends to get into adventures. The second book is all about her working on the Clara Pandy, a luxury space liner traveling to an ice planet.
It’s the third book, however, that really makes the entire thing work: Halo, increasingly unable to get work, joins the army and things take a very dark turn. The story was supposed to continue, going on for nine books, but a dispute between Moore and the publisher over rights stopped that. However, the end of book three is the perfect ending place anyway. If you haven’t read it, I sincerely recommend it.
Signal to Noise is one of the many, many collaborations between Gaiman and McKean (it’s their third, actually, the first and second being Violent Cases and Black Orchid), but it’s one not many have possibly read, which is a shame. It was first serialized starting in 1989 in the UK magazine The Face and then later published as a large-format graphic novel by Dark Horse Comics in the US.
The story is, for a Neil Gaiman comic, kind of simple: a filmmaker finds out that he is dying of cancer. He wants to make one last film, about a group of people living in the year 999 AD who think that the world will end when it becomes 1000 AD. However, the filmmaker knows that he will never finish this film, because, of course, his world is ending too.
The book is a great introspective look at the thought process of a writer and it trends not towards despair, but ultimately towards hope. “We are always living in the final days. What have you got? A hundred years or much, much less until the end of your world.”
Back in 1991, before Warren Ellis started writing for Marvel, he wrote a series of cyberpunk stories for Blast! magazine in the UK which starred “Lazarus Churchyard,” a drug addict who had accidentally become an immortal “plasborg” — he was made out of living plastic, so he couldn’t be killed, not by age or disease or bullets.
What this meant, really, was that all he really wanted to do was to drink and get fucked up and perhaps sleep with someone (although who could withstand his withered face, I don’t know), but he kept on getting dragged into places he didn’t want to be to do things he didn’t want to do. He wants to die, but since he can’t, he’ll settle for drowning his sorrows in a cyberpunk future.
Of all the stories collected in Lazarus Churchyard: The Final Cut, the best is probably “Lucy,” where Lazarus tells the tragic tale of the living plastic girl they made before him. It’s really good and you can read it all here.
Okay, this looks bad, but let me explain: The New Adventures of Hitler was a surreal satire done by Morrison and Yeowell for the Scottish magazine Cut! and then later reprinted in the UK magazine Crisis. And, for reasons that are eminently obvious, it has never been reprinted since or collected into trade paperback form. But it really should.
Yes, the main character is Adolf Hitler. The story proposes that between 1912 and 1913, Adolf lived with his brother Alois and his sister-in-law Bridget Dowling in Liverpool, England. The comic then follows Hitler and his increasingly unhinged “adventures” around Liverpool. And yes, Hitler is very unhinged — this is not by any means a sympathetic portrayal of him. He is obviously mental unbalanced and the comic uses its surreality to show this. At once point, Hitler opens his closet to find...
...Morrisey. And the political satire of the book is nearly as surreal, with Hitler coming off as a cross between a slacker and a brutal dictator. (It’s a weird cross, but it works.) If you have a chance, you should definitely read it.
Today, Mark Millar is known for writing some, well, unsubtle comics. The Ultimates brought up widescreen action, but it also brought up a borderline xenophobic Captain America saying stuff like “SURRENDER??!! Do you think this letter on my head stands for France?!” A lot of his creator-owned titles, like Wanted, Kick-Ass, and Nemesis, come off as dark and mean-spirited, almost as if he hates the very concept of superheroes. This has only recently started to change with books like Starlight and Huck.
But that wasn’t always the case. In fact, Millar had a pretty long run as the main writer for Superman Adventures, the comic that was “inspired by” the Superman: The Animated Series cartoon. And the highlight of the book and of Millar’s run was issue #41, “22 Stories in a Single Bound,” which had, yes, exactly 22 stories in that single issue.
How? Well, every single page of the issue was its own story with its own artist. Millar wrote each story and they were illustrated by Ty Templeton, Joe Stanton, Neil Vokes, Bret Blevins, Min S. Ku, Cameron Stewart, Mike Manley, Craig Rousseau, Rick Burchett, Darwyn Cooke, Aluir Amancio, Philip Bond, with Terry Austin providing all of the inking and Marie Severin providing all of the colors. And the stories ranged from poignant to hilarious:
It’s a shame that only the first ten issues of Superman Adventures have been collected so far, because this is one issue that everybody should read.