From their first appearance in the pages of newspapers to their own dedicated publications, superheroes have enthralled the world for nearly a century. Today, graphic novels offer one of the simplest means of getting to know the origins and intricacies of your favourite heroes.
With a superhero graphic novel, you'll be able to enjoy storylines in one convenient collection, instead of having to hunt down old issues. But with so many masterpieces from just the likes of Marvel and DC, it can be difficult to know where to start. In this article, we're here to help you hunt down your next read with a ranking of the top 10 best superhero graphic novels and trade paperbacks in the UK on Amazon.
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With hundreds of heroes and nearly a century of works to choose from, finding a new graphic novel can be quite a daunting prospect. There are ways of narrowing things down, however, and locating a new superhero story that you can get truly excited about diving into needn't be an arduous task!
Like comic books, a graphic novel uses words and images to tell its story. The difference between graphic novels and regular comics, is that they usually feature a self-contained story arc with a clear beginning and end. You'll almost always be able to pick up a graphic novel and enjoy it without needing too much background knowledge.
However, the term has been expanded to encompass compilations, often known as 'trade paperbacks' (or TPBs), which compile several individual comic issues into one edition. While these usually feature recognisable story arcs, they don't always have a clearly defined beginning and end.
For example, X-Men, Days of Future Past compiles seven issues, only two of which actually cover the storyline of the title. So, If you want to enjoy your story in isolation, opt for graphic novels and avoid anything with 'TPB' or 'Vol' in the title.
Superhero stories are just as varied as the colourful characters whose lives they depict, and one of the biggest issues that those new to comic books face is knowing where to start. We can't claim to be able to sort every graphic novel into neat little categories, but we can outline some key narratives that you may wish to look into when shopping for your next superhero graphic novel.
Every superhero's story begins with their origin - the unlikely event that turns them from regular Joe into crime-fighting superhuman. Not only do they offer a great introduction to a superhero, they're pretty much essential reading, as they inform every choice the hero makes from that point onwards.
In the wonderful world of world of comics where storylines can be retconned, deleted and rebooted, origin stories aren't only to be found in the pages of issues that are decades old. They can, of course, be found collected in trade paperback, but origin stories are often retold in graphic novels years later. If you're beginning your journey with a superhero, these are a great place to start.
One of the reasons that superhero narratives, and comic books in general, present such an appealing prospect for writers is that they offer endless scope for imagination. Characters can be killed off, reborn, transported to entirely different universes and endlessly reinterpreted.
It's for this reason that the same character can be at the centre of hundreds of storylines. You might think, that after 82 years the well of Batman stories might finally be running dry, but a truly great writer is able to place a hero in a completely novel situation, using it to bring out essential truths about the character.
If you already have a favourite superhero, there's no reason why you shouldn't pick a graphic novel with them at its centre. Unless the character is a relatively new, one or you're an extremely voracious comic book reader, chances are there'll be plenty of stories to explore that'll allow you to discover various sides to a hero as you watch them deal with different situations.
It may not be the individual psyche of a superhero that intrigues you, but how multiple heroes interact within a wider world. From two heroes working side by side, to the building of entire superhero teams, there are plenty of graphic novels that feature several of these larger than life characters.
What you lose in personal insight, you'll usually gain in scale. Graphic novels featuring several heroes often centre around huge, world-changing events that a single hero couldn't handle on their own - think the Infinity Gauntlet Saga. Other times, writers will take the common thread and weave together storylines that explore what it means to be a hero, or offer an objective perspective on superhuman abilities.
From 1938 to the present, every superhero comic can be divided into one of four ages: The Golden Age (1938-1956), The Silver Age (1956-1970), The Bronze Age (1970-1985), and the Modern Age (1985-Present). Comic books have changed quite significantly over the years, meaning earlier comics have quite a different feel to more modern ones.
If you're looking for something old-school, then Golden Age comics might be your bag. Considering the time in which they were written, these comics often used superheroes to encourage patriotism and give readers a little bit of a morale boost. In fact, it's not unusual to see a superhero fighting the Nazis! Colours are vivid, and illustrations are cartoony - much in the vein of what might be considered a traditional 'comic book' style.
Over the years, as comics moved through the Silver and Bronze Ages, these patriotic tales gave way to grittier storylines, featuring real-world issues such as loss and drug use, favouring more realistic artwork. If you're looking for something a little darker, focusing more on a superhero's struggle rather than their indefatigable efforts to thwart their enemy, you may wish to stick to more recent comics.
Unlike many fans, comic book writers don't stick exclusively with one superhero, and often dot about between different series, even moving between publishing houses. Sticking exclusively to storylines centring around one hero can lead to a rather uneven reading experience, so if you really love a graphic novel by a particular author, it makes sense to check out more of their work.
Legendary writers such as Frank Miller, who has written graphic novels centred around Daredevil and Batman, and Alan Moore who wrote two of the most critically acclaimed graphic novels of all time for Superman and Batman are held in very high esteem. Both of their bibliographies offer great places to start when looking for incredible superhero graphic novels.
No, most graphic novels don't take as long to read as traditional novels, but that doesn't mean that they don't get pretty lengthy! Whether you're a beginner, or simply someone with a little less time on their hands, you may want to avoid lengthy storylines that require you to remember crucial plot points and a wide cast of characters over numerous pages.
Choose a graphic novel under 200 pages for a self-contained story that you can enjoy in a shorter space of time. Page count won't give you everything as some longer graphic novels have less words and are therefore quicker to read, but it will give you a good estimation of how much of your time a graphic novel will occupy.
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Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
Batman: The Killing Joke (Deluxe Edition)
Witness the Disturbing Origin of the World's Favourite Villain
Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross
Marvels (The Remastered Edition)
The Terrifying Glory of Our Favourite Heroes From a Unique Perspective
Grant Morrison and Dave McKean
Batman: Arkham Asylum (Deluxe Edition)
A Chilling Storyline and Disturbing Artwork Depict Batman's Descent Into Madness
Stan Lee, et al.
Spider-Man: Death of the Stacys
A Revolutionary Storyline in Which the Hero Wasn't There to Save the Day
Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli
Daredevil: Born Again (Artisan Edition)
Witness Daredevil's Fall and Rebirth in This Densely Layered Story
Mark Waid and Alex Ross
Heroes of the Past Come Out of Retirement to Battle Issues of the Future
Grant Morrison, et al.
Explore Every Aspect of the Man of Steel
Chris Claremont, et al.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Travel Between Time Zones to Prevent a Dark Future
Greg Rucka, et al.
DC Universe Rebirth - Wonder Woman Vol. 1: The Lies
Discover the Truth and Lies Of Wonder Woman's Origins
Mark Millar and Steve McNiven
Explore the Shattering Power of Opposing Beliefs
The Joker's mindless anarchy has always held a mirror to Batman's relentless pursuit of what is right. Legendary writer Alan Moore expands this idea, revealing that, just as it was one significant event that birthed the Caped Crusader, it was 'one bad day' that gave rise to the Clown Prince of Crime.
Everything that makes Batman and The Joker two of the most enduringly compelling characters ever created is right here in an origin story that's intensely disturbing, yet somewhat sympathetic. But, most importantly, it's an essential read for comic book fans and fans of popular culture in general.
One of the primary appeals of superhero media, whether it be comics or the films, is that it allows you to experience their way of life and see things through their perspective. As this graphic novels shows, experiencing their world from the perspective of a bystander can be just as intriguing.
The four-part series relives significant Marvel events from the perspective of photographer, Phil Sheldon. Whether it's watching the Human Torch set the city ablaze or Captain America fight the Nazis, this comic offers a unique perspective on our favourite heroes, showing them in all their awesome and terrifying glory.
Evil, insanity, and the fine line between hero and villain have always been at the core of Batman storylines. This graphic novel offers a truly haunting exploration of those themes as Batman descends into the house of madness, Arkham Asylum.
The inmates have overrun the asylum, demanding Batman become one of them. As he walks the halls of the asylum, his gradual loss of his grip on reality is reflected in Dave McKean's truly unsettling artwork. Low on dialogue, but high on psychologically impacting imagery, this is a story that'll stay with you for a long time after you read it.
At a time when the hero was always there to save the day, this storyline broke that tradition in particularly distressing fashion. By killing off Spider-Man's love interest, and one of the series' most popular characters, even Stan Lee himself was reportedly very upset!!
Not only was it a watershed moment for Spidey himself, lending further truth to the idea that 'with great power comes great responsibility', it also affected comic books as a whole, giving rise to grittier storylines that reflected real-world problems. It's an intense and historically significant story that you must read.
Perhaps a lesser known Marvel hero due to his absence from the Cinematic Universe, Frank Miller's depiction of Daredevil in Born Again is undoubtedly familiar to comic enthusiasts. This particularly intense storyline follows Daredevil's descent into madness and poverty as he battles against his nemesis, the Crime Lord, Kingpin.
Peppered with Christian symbolism, this is an intensely layered story that'll reveal something new every time you read it. Although the slightly pricier 'artisan edition', with colour scans of the artist's original sketches, it's a fantastic way of experiencing this incredible story.
In a future where the Justice League are now retired, Superman, Batman and co. are brought out of exile to battle a new breed of merciless superheroes. The task is not an easy one, resulting in the inadvertent deaths of loved ones and the ageing heroes having to come to terms with their declining abilities.
This is a particularly dark story, which explores themes as varied as xenophobia, to the thorny issue of depictions of violence in superhero media. All of this is perfectly complemented by Alex Ross' hyper-realistic art style, which allows the story to more accurately reflect our own world.
After his nemesis Lex Luthor leaves him with just a year to live, Superman reflects upon the meaning of his life. Facing off against a series of threats, this story gives him the opportunity to demonstrate every facet of his character, and proves exactly why this 80-year old character remains so popular.
In addition to showing him soaring through the air, this comic also reveals a more grounded side to The Man of Steel. Whether it's helping out friends and family, or talking a suicidal teenager down from a ledge, these stories show a compassionate, human side to a character that often seems larger than life.
In this time-travelling story, a dystopian future is revealed, in which mutants are locked up in concentration camps. In order to prevent this terrible future, the X-Men must travel back in time to alter the course of events.
Featuring allusions to World War II, and even a comic book version of Dante's infamous descent into hell, this is definitely not a comic book for kids. The actual 'Days of Future Past' storyline only forms 2 issues of this 7 comic collection, but this is a poignant story about how seemingly small actions can have huge consequences - for better or worse.
DC's 'Rebirth' event created a great excuse to rediscover Wonder Woman's origin story. Suffering from memory loss, Wonder Woman recalls her different origin stories, and with her Lasso of truth no longer working, she's unable to decipher her true roots.
This means journeying to find her vanished home, and resorting to desperate measures, such as teaming up with her arch-nemesis, Cheetah. Liam Sharp's artwork is gorgeous, and this first volume is a great set-up to a new series that you'll want to keep following.
Following an unfortunate event in which the actions of superheroes lead to the deaths of innocent civilians, the heroes of the Marvel universe are divided between those that feel they should work in accordance with the government, and those that wish to remain independent. With Cap and Iron Man working against each other, this storyline explores the difficult conflicts between freedom and security.
While this graphic novel covers the core Civil War storyline, individual perspectives are missing. Therefore, if you want the whole picture, there are several other comics you'll need to collect.
No. 1: Alan Moore and Brian Bolland｜Batman: The Killing Joke (Deluxe Edition)
No. 2: Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross｜Marvels (The Remastered Edition)
No. 3: Grant Morrison and Dave McKean｜Batman: Arkham Asylum (Deluxe Edition)
No. 4: Stan Lee, et al.｜Spider-Man: Death of the Stacys
No. 5: Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli｜Daredevil: Born Again (Artisan Edition)
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