Batman, the Watchmen and others have taken the comic book medium to new heights after the release of some of the best graphic novels ever to grace a reader’s eye. A graphic novel is different than a comic book as it often contains an entire story arc within a thicker binding instead of the monthly cliffhanger that comics are associated with. Full length movies have been made off these collections of colored panels and word bubbles, and their influence has changed the direction of entertainment on more than one occasion.
Below is just of some of the best the medium has to offer. There will be light spoilers. There will also only be one per superhero, where appropriate, as otherwise this would be a list of only a select few heroes graphic novels.
The first star is the Caped Crusader in his novel by Frank Miller, The Dark Knight Returns. Serving as the plot basis for the upcoming Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, there is a reason this is one of the most talked about novels ever. Bruce Wayne, many years after his prime, finds himself back in his Bat suit after years in retirement to take down a new gang that is pillaging Gotham. The action ramps and ramps until the Man of Steel himself is tasked with “putting down” the Dark Knight. That end fight, plus a violent encounter with The Joker earlier in the story, make this a chilling look into how far Wayne is willing to go to save Gotham.
Superman had himself a monster success with The Death and Life of Superman written by Roger Stern. After being in publication for over 50 years, Superman comics had several established series, but nothing ever touched the success of this mini-series made into a novel. The best selling graphic novel of all time, Death and Life follows Superman’s first defeat and his death by the hands of Doomsday. Although some critics say that the writing does not hold up today, the moment of release sent the entire comic world into a collective frenzy as this was the first time many fans felt Superman was in any danger at all. Even if he came back to life within the same story, millions of people were already hooked.
Batman and Superman have had their respective twists over the years in graphic novels, and those two and more owe a lot of their success to The Watchmen. Only ever a graphic novel, Watchmen by Alan Moore questioned every value the heroic comic world took for granted. A famous tagline from the comic and subsequent movie is “Who Watches the Watchmen,” which calls into question these supposed heroes and their imposing moral codes. Almost every shake-up in comics, such as the two novels above, can trace their lineage here where the heroes’ lack of a moral compass allows for monstrous disasters to happen across the world. Ozymandias, Dr Manhatten and Rorschach are still enduring characters to this day because of their roles in this melancholy tale.
Batman and the Watchmen are not the only characters to inhabit the greatest graphic novels ever, and neither are superheroes. Maus, written after a real Nazi survival story by Art Spiegleman, is one of the few graphic novels to be used in schools as an example of Jewish violence during World War Two. Cats play Nazis while mice are the Jewish prisoners in Auschwitz, but the depictions create a sense of violence and mistreatment still that continues into the second part of the story. This novel penetrated in a way superhero graphic novels have not, bringing facts and recounts into classrooms in a way that comics were never intended to do back in their inception. Batman may never be taught in standard school symposium, but he still adds to the medium and society by offering chilling tales through many graphic novels.
Opinion by Myles Gann