100 Comic Stories Every Man Should Read, According to Someone Else’s List (With Notes On the Lessons in Manliness That One Might Gleam From Them)
So I’m checking out one of my favorite sites the other day and I see an image on the side of the screen with the tagline “100 Comics Every Man Should Read.”
Okay, I think to myself — I’ll bite. (Click)
Turns out it’s a link to an article on AskMen.com (“Become a Better Man”) that was posted last year to mark the start of San Diego’s annual Comic-Con.
“This is a golden age for comic book and graphic novel fans,” the article’s author writes. “But most of you probably know comic books from the big screen, and have perhaps never leafed through an actual comic.” Definitely not true in my case, but go on.
“To help you navigate the stormy seas of the world of comic books, I’ve compiled a list of over 100 of the best comic book story arcs, graphic novels and comic issues that every fanboy and comic novice alike should experience.”
Now, I don’t mind admitting I was a little disappointed. Here I was, thinking I was getting a list of comics that would teach me how to be a more manly man, and instead I’m reading what looks like a random list of someone’s favorite books from the past 15 years or so (with the occasional “Dark Phoenix Saga” tossed in for us old-timers). Fine, lesson learned: don’t fall for the clickbait.
Wait, no — that’s not the lesson a real man learns! The lesson here is, if you’re given something that doesn’t work for you, then you get in there and you fix it.
So let’s do this list, and let’s do it right — man-style.
1. SUPERMAN: RED SON
First published: Superman: Red Son #1-3 (DC, 2003)
Why read? (quotes from the AskMen.com article) “If you’re not into the traditional ‘Truth Justice and the American Way’ vibes of Golden Era Superman, than this book flips that concept on its head, as Kal-El’s rocket lands on a Ukrainian farm rather than Smallville, Kansas.”
Lesson for men: Real men know that who you are and where you are in life has a lot to do with where you started, and they never forget that.
First published: Marvels #1-4 (Marvel, 1994)
Why read? “Amazing visuals aside, Marvels takes origin stories that may come across as dull to a comics audience, and gives them fresh and exciting perspective, making for a profound narrative.”
Lesson for men: Don’t just focus on the flashy dudes if you want to learn about heroism. You want to see a hero, look to the ordinary people who stand up for what’s right when the world gets a little insane.
3. CIVIL WAR
First published: Civil War #1-7, plus numerous tie-ins (Marvel, 2006)
Why read? “The book is one of the keystone events in the Marvel timeline, forever changing character alliances and showing that even the mightiest of heroes fall.”
Lesson for men: It takes a strong man to stand up to his enemies, and an even stronger one to stand up to his friends.
4. BATMAN: THE LONG HALLOWEEN
First published: Batman: The Long Halloween #1-13 (DC, 1996)
Why read? “The arc sees the Dark Knight teaming up with Harvey Dent (pre-Two Face era), as well as some of the best in the Batman rogues gallery. It’s a gritty take on an inexperienced Batman (one that we rarely see), showing that even the Dark Knight makes mistakes.”
Lesson for men: Real men never put all their eggs in one basket… or all their liquid assets inside one flammable warehouse.
5. THE WICKED + THE DIVINE: THE FAUST ACT
First published: The Wicked + The Divine: The Faust Act #1-6 (Image, 2014)
Why read? “An indie tale rooted in mythology, pop culture and mysticism, The Wicked + The Divine begins as a tale of 12 gods reborn every 90 years in the form of various pop star archetypes.”
Lesson for men: Life is short, so savor it while you can. Also: it wouldn’t kill you to brush up on your mythology.
6. UNCANNY X-MEN: LIFEDEATH
First published: Uncanny X-Men v1 #186, 198, 205, 214 (Marvel, 1984)
Why read? “Lifedeath is a tale of loss and triumph as readers see Storm, the weather-controlling mutant powerhouse, lose her goddess-like abilities. Because of this, Storm takes a pilgrimage to her homeland of Kenya to find solace and emerges anew; finding strength in her inner self rather than her abilities.”
Lesson for men: Into every life, a few Dire Wraiths must fall. Real men don’t let the little setbacks in life keep them from striving forward.
7. X-MEN: GOD LOVES, MAN KILLS
First published: X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills (Marvel, 1982)
Why read? “Told through the eyes of young Kitty Pryde, God Loves, Man Kills shows religious bigotry at its height, in the form of antagonist Reverend William Stryker.”
Lesson for men: If your God commands you to hate someone just because of who they are or how they were born, then you chose a really shitty God to follow.
8. WONDER WOMAN: SPIRIT OF TRUTH
First published: Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth GN (DC, 2001)
Why read? “Spirit of Truth follows the Amazonian wonder on her day-to-day crime fighting, reflecting her ideals as an ambassador for women. While this may sound dull, it’s a great look into who Wonder Woman truly is and what drives her passion for being the protector of women and men of earth.”
Lesson for men: Real men know women don’t exist for their amusement. Real men know the women in their lives have their own shit going on, and make an effort to learn about it.
9. CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER
First published: Captain America #8-14 (Marvel, 2005)
Why read? “Taking the ideals and beliefs of Captain America and defiling them, Winter Soldier follows the story of Captain America and his sidekick Bucky. Their discovery of a corrupt government drives a true seat-gripper rooted in a world of lies, espionage and the Cold War.”
Lesson for men: Even when his buddy seems completely lost, a real man never gives up hope of bringing him back home.
10. CATWOMAN: TRIAL OF THE CATWOMAN
First published: Catwoman #1-9 (DC, 2002)
Why read? “Selina Kyle’s got all the makings of a crime noir star as a seductive, sharp and inevitable dark horse in the crime-filled world of Gotham.”
Lesson for men: There’s not much sense in saving the world from alien conquerors and tin-plated despots if the world continues to be an unjust place for the poorest people living in it. You want to save the world, then start with your neighborhood.
11. AQUAMAN: THE TRENCH
First published: Aquaman #1-6 (DC, 2011)
Why read? “Geoff Johns writes Arthur with conviction, making the book one of the New 52’s best sellers… The comic is charming and doesn’t take itself too seriously, as seen when Aquaman debunks an annoying fan who accuses of him of ‘talking to fish.'”
Lesson for men: Real men don’t dismiss the talents of others, especially when it’s things that they can’t do themselves. Because you never know what that talent will come in handy.
12. MARVEL: HOUSE OF M
First published: House of M #1-8, plus numerous tie-ins (Marvel, 2005)
Why read? “The creators craft a new world where the mutant populus [sic] is the majority, placing Magneto and his ‘dynasty’ in power… It’s a fun and witty superhero team-up that shows the ramifications of one being having too much power.”
Lesson for men: Always treat other people with the same respect that you would expect from them, because you never know when the tables might be turned.
13. MARVEL: 1602
First published: Marvel: 1602 #1-8 (Marvel, 2003)
Why read? “Legendary fantasy writer Neil Gaiman takes Marvel’s superheroes and tosses them into 17th-century England at the height of exploration and the Spanish Inquisition… No one merges history and fantasy like Gaiman, and this book is no exception. Despite the difference in time, these characters are just as familiar to readers as their original selves, illustrating their definitive character traits.”
Lesson for men: Some people like to think they’re special because they happened to be born in a time when a lot of supposedly big events are happening. Real men know what that Billy Joel fellow is talking about when he says the fire’s been burning since the world was turning.
14. KINGDOM COME
First published: Kingdom Come #1-4 (DC, 1996)
Why read? “The alternate universe in Kingdom Come has become dangerous as a new generation of vigilantes and rebel heroes have ushered in a cataclysmic era for all heroes. It’s a standard action-packed crossover event, but challenges the ideals behind superheroics and the difference between a hero and a vigilante in hero garb.”
Lesson for men: With great power comes great responsibility. Also, evil prevails when good men do nothing. You know, general “Don’t be an asshole” stuff.
15. RAT QUEENS
First published: Rat Queens #1-18 (Image, 2013)
Why read? “Taking some of the prominent archetypes of RPG fantasy and making satire of them, Rat Queen’s follows a ruckus-starting, all-woman quartet and their adventures… With equal doses of sass and sorcery, the girls. You’ll rarely find something so deliberately funny and diverse in the world of fantasy.”
Lesson for men: Writer Kurtis Wiebe once described the series as “Lord of the Rings meets Bridesmaids.” Remember when a bunch of guys threw a hissy fit about the existence of Bridesmaids, or the other times when some guys were angry about another piece of pop culture that dared to put women front and centre? Real men don’t sweat that stuff.
16. BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE
First published: Batman: The Killing Joke (DC, 1988)
Why read? “The Killing Joke takes a deeper plunge into the Joker’s psyche by recounting his tragic past… Joker is hands-down one of the most nefarious villains of all time, and The Killing Joke is a deeply disturbing look into his chaos. It’s a true reflection of the darker forces of this world, making for a cringe-worthy tale of villainy.”
Lesson for men: Real men try to talk out their differences with each other before resorting to violence that may end up destroying them both. Also? You have a peephole in your door, Barbara. Fer crissakes, use it.
17: NIGHTWING: TRAPS AND TRAPEZES
First published: Nightwing #1-7 (DC, 2011)
Why read? “Nightwing, the adult version of Dick Grayson for you newcomers, has always added a detailed introspective to Gotham…. In Traps and Trapezes we see Nightwing taking on multiple personal missions to save the people he loves. It’s a testament to warmth and compassion, something rarely seen in Gotham, even from Batman.”
Lesson for men: Real men are okay with letting their kids grow up and figure out for themselves who they want to be.
18. HAWKEYE: MY LIFE AS A WEAPON
First published: Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon #1-5, Young Avengers Presents #6 (Marvel, 2012)
Why read? “Unabashed, quirky and delightfully awkward, this arc follows Hawkeye on his everyday non-Avengers activities. He saves his building from being overrun by the Russian mafia and saves the neighborhood dog from dying. He’s an all out champ with a heart of gold… It’s an easy read that leaves you feeling as if you guys should be best buds.”
Lesson for men: Real men love animals. Simple as that.
19. DAREDEVIL: THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR
First published: Daredevil: The Man Without Fear #1-5 (Marvel, 1993)
Why read? “Penned by superstar creative team John Romita and Frank Miller, the story is a dark and sprawling tale about the war for Hell’s Kitchen… It’s a violent and sometimes brutal take on the path of the vigilante, but if you’re looking for a few panels that make you grimace, Man Without Fear is that and more.”
Lesson for men: Real men with people who depend on them understand that sometimes they have to do things they don’t like in order to provide for their family. Seriously, Jack, what were you thinking?
20: UNCANNY X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST
First published: X-Men #141-142 (Marvel, 1981)
Why read? “This dystopian future takes place in 2013 (yes, I chuckled too) where all mutants are apprehended in internment camps by the Sentinel/Human populus [sic]. The only way to fix this bleak future is for Kitty Pryde to travel back in time to foil Mystique’s sinister plans. This book is pretty fast-paced, and like the movie of the same name, it takes on government policy regarding mutant affairs while still packing in lots of sentinel-on-mutant brawling. It’s a story of a mutant holocaust, and it’s that dramatic core that propels this story and makes you truly invested.”
Lesson for men: The future can’t ever be known, and some things once done can’t ever be undone. Real men understand there can be very real consequences to their actions.
21. BLACK PANTHER: WHO IS BLACK PANTHER?
First published: Black Panther #1-6 (Marvel, 2005)
Why read? “Focusing on the heritage of Wakanda and the previous holders of the Black Panther mantle over the Black Panther himself, Who is Black Panther? offers an extensive history to both new and current readers. It’s one of the few canons where history is more compelling than the protagonist and told in the lens of rich Afro-futurism.”
Lesson for men: Hey, did you know there’s a whole world of people out there, many of them in places that don’t often make appearances in cable news broadcasts and James Bond films? Real men leap at the opportunity to learn more about the world they live in.
22. BATGIRL OF BURNSIDE
First published: Batgirl #35-40, Secret Origins #10 (DC, 2014)
Why read? “Batgirl is truly the millennial superhero. Designing her own DIY costume and starting an official Batgirl instagram are just the start to the antics in the hipster-filled suburb of Burnside. In the throes of standard college drama, Batgirl thwarts a new horde of villains, some intent on hurting her, others intent on impersonating her. It’s a unique tale of a familiar heroine that would exist in today’s social media-obsessed world, providing a relatable read to a more GIF-savvy reader. There’s something unnaturally wholesome about Batgirl, and she’s an exceptional role model for younger girls looking into trying out comics.”
Lesson for men: Look, if you don’t understand all this Twittering and instagramming and snapchatting and gleep-glopping the kids are doing these days, don’t sweat it. The kids are going to be fine, and you’re not missing out by not being on those things.
First published: Maus: A Survivor’s Tale (Pantheon Books, 1986)
Why read? “Maus is Art Spiegelman’s 1991 blend of history, fiction, and chilling memoir. The novel depicts Spiegelman himself as he interviews his father about his experiences as a Holocaust survivor. With Jews as mice and Nazis at cats, it’s one of the few comics that takes a historical event and adds an extra ounce of humanity to it in the form or characterized animals.”
Lesson for men: Real men understand metaphor, and why Spiegelman made the absurd choice to depict different nationalities and ethnic groups as different types of animals.
24. THE 6TH GUN: COLD DEAD FINGERS
First published: The 6th Gun #1-6 (Oni Press, 2010)
Why read? “The 6th Gun is a post-Civil War epic, where six guns with supernatural abilities are found by a ragtag group of villains. The sixth gun goes missing for years, but suddenly resurfaces in the hands of an innocent girl. The book is vulgar, twisted and not your run-of-the-mill Western tale.”
Lesson for men: Whether they’re supernatural or otherwise, real men recognize guns as tools and treat them as such, not as political props or fetish objects caressed to compensate for a lack of something else.