20 Greatest Graphic Novels of All Time — Number 10 to Number 1

Here is part two of Nerdcore Movement’s look at the 20 greatest graphic novels, this time counting down from number 10 to the greatest of all time!

By Trevor Dueck — Staff Writer
Follow on Twitter @TrevDueck

Here we go! It’s time for part two of Nerdcore Movement’s top twenty graphic novels of all time. If you missed part one (#20-11) feel free to catch up. I made it known in my part one introduction that this was a hard process and I relied on a few friends to help me out. Most of these I have read, while others I have not, but I have been assured by Nerd Nation that they should be on the list. Although it’s a top twenty list, look at it more as just a list of books you should pick up and read. Please no hate tweets.

10. Hellboy Library Edition Volume 1: Seed Of Destruction/Wake The Devil – Mike Mignola

Since Mike Mignola’s Hellboy first hit the stands in 1993, it has become a cultural sensation, racking up a dozen Eisner Awards and inspiring numerous spinoffs, from a novel line, to video games, to feature films. Mignola is the writer and artist and he produced an instant classic with his stylized artwork and cult-like storytelling. Hellboy Volume 1 collects the first two story-arcs-Seed of Destruction and Wake the Devil-with the original introductions by Robert Bloch and Alan Moore. This is the beginning of the collection and a great start for anyone who wants to be introduced to this brash paranormal investigator from Hell.

Synopsis: Hellboy was brought to Earth as an infant by Nazi occultists but discovered by the Allied Forces; amongst them, Professor Trevor Bruttenholm. Post WWII the Professor forms the United States Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D.) and as an adult Hellboy becomes their primary agent fighting Nazis, demons and anything that goes bump in the night!

9. Daredevil: Born Again – Frank Miller

I would say that this 1986 Daredevil story arc is one of my favorites and nobody did it better than Frank Miller and the amazing artwork of David Mazzucchelli for Born Again. Many have said that this is Frank Miller’s finest work even better than Sin City, Batman Year One, or Dark Knight. That is definitely up for debate but if you are a comic book nerd and you haven’t read this classic story, you should be ashamed of yourself. Just FYI, this book contains Daredevil #226-233, which were all done by Miller and Mazzucchelli. But since Born Again starts in issue #227, Marvel decided to stick issue #226 all the way at the end of the book; don’t ask me why they did that. Although not officially part of the story, #226 is like a prequel or prelude to Born Again, introducing some characters and elements that play a pretty big role. I also give special mention to Daredevil: Man Without Fear which is also by Frank Miller and if you’ve never entered into the world of Hell’s Kitchen before that’s the place to start.

Synopsis: Karen Page, Daredevil’s former lover, trades away Daredevil’s identity for a drug fix. Matt Murdock must find strength as the Kingpin of Crime wastes no time taking him down as low as a human can get.

8. Marvels (New Printing) – Kurt Busiek (Amazing art by Alex Ross)

Marvels is a four-issue limited series comic book written by Kurt Busiek, painted by Alex Ross and was released by Marvel Comics in 1994. It is high on my list because this was the beginning and the breakthrough work that made both Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross into comic legends. They reunited once again for another honorable mention that couldn’t make it on this list, Astro City. If you want another look at the story arcs of some of the greatest Marvel superheroes ever, this is a must have. The artwork alone is well worth the price

Synopsis: Marvels portrays ordinary life in a world full of costumed supermen. Each issue features events well-known to readers of Marvel comics as well as a variety of minute details and retelling the most infamous events in the Marvel Universe through the eyes of an ordinary man: news photographer Phil Sheldon

7. Batman: Year One – Frank Miller

Nobody does a better job or retelling a story line than Frank Miller. This really is one of the greatest Batman stories ever and high on the list of most important and critically acclaimed Batman adventures ever. Year One defined Batman for a new generation! It was not only written by Frank Miller but illustrated by the great David Mazzucchelli. It originally appeared in issues #404 to #407 of DC Comics’ Batman comic title in 1987. If you are looking to get into Batman and want to know the origins, here is where you start. Nerdier nerds than me have pontificated that this is the greatest graphic novel ever created. It’s not my number one but it definitely deserves all kinds of praise.

Synopsis: The story recounts the beginning of Bruce Wayne’s career as Batman and Jim Gordon’s with the Gotham City Police Department. Bruce Wayne returns home to Gotham City from training abroad in martial arts, manhunting, and science for the past 12 years, and James Gordon moves to Gotham with his wife, Barbara, after a transfer from Chicago. Both are swiftly acquainted with the corruption and violence of Gotham City.

6. Sandman: Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes – Neil GaimanThe Sandman

Critically acclaimed, The Sandman is one of the few graphic novels ever to be on the New York Times Best Seller list, along with Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. It was one of five graphic novels to make Entertainment Weekly’s “100 best reads from 1983 to 2008”, ranking at 46. Neil Gaiman wanted to take on the challenge of re-writing DC’s 1974-1976 Sandman series and making it his own. He weaves the story of a man interested in capturing the physical manifestation of Death but who instead captures the King of Dreams. The chapter ’24 Hours’ is worth the price of the book alone; it stands as one of the most chilling examples of horror in comics. The Sandman’s main character is Dream, the Lord of Dreams (also known, to various characters throughout the series, as Morpheus, Oneiros, the Shaper, the Shaper of Form, Lord of the Dreaming, the Dream King, Dream-Sneak, Dream Cat, Murphy, Kai’ckul, and Lord L’Zoril), who is essentially the anthropomorphic personification of dreams. Once you read Preludes and Nocturnes you will be happy there is still more Sandman to read.

Synopsis: The first issue of the first volume of Neil Gaiman’s horror/fantasy epic! An occultist accidentally traps Morpheus, the embodiment of Dreams, and holds him for 70 years. Finally free, Morpheus seeks his lost objects of power and rediscovers his place in the universe.

5. Alice in Sunderland – Bryan Talbot

Alice in Sunderland: An Entertainment is a graphic novel that is neither fiction or coherent narrative. It was created by comic book writer and artist Bryan Talbot and I’m not exactly sure how to explain what it’s all about. I remember more of the artwork than the actual story. It explores the links between Lewis Carroll and the Sunderland area, with wider themes of history, myth and storytelling all rolled into one 300 page, very picturesque novel. The Guardian said, “It has some of the most luscious and audacious artwork yet attempted in comics.” It truly is one of the most unique graphic novels out there. The total package is presented in a nonlinear, non-chronological manner, circling backward and forward in time and subject, so the total experience is rather like dreaming. This is not for everyone. You either love it or you don’t, but considered by many a must read. If you are an admirer of Lewis Carroll’s work like Alice in Wonderland, pick this one up. It’s a definite trip.

Synopsis: Sunderland! Thirteen hundred years ago it was the greatest center of learning in the whole of Christendom and the very cradle of English consciousness. In the time of Lewis Carroll it was the greatest shipbuilding port in the world. To this city that gave the world the electric light bulb, the stars and stripes, the millennium, the Liberty Ships and the greatest British dragon legend came Carroll in the years preceding his most famous book, Alice in Wonderland, and here are buried the roots of his surreal masterpiece. Enter the famous Edwardian palace of varieties, The Sunderland Empire, for a unique experience: an entertaining and epic meditation on myth, history and storytelling and decide for yourself – does Sunderland really exist?

4. 2000AD: Judge Dredd: Complete Case Files: Vol. 1 – John Wagner

One of my favorite comic book heroes of all time so there maybe some bias involved with putting this graphic novel so high on the list. The crazy thing is, I didn’t mind the original movie either. Cut me some slack I was in my teens, $2 movie theater, late showing, and I thought the movie was fun…but doesn’t really stand the test of time unfortunately. The newest Dredd film was a better attempt at being somewhat true to the comics, but unfortunately the writers appeared to have “borrowed” the plot line from one of the best action films of 2013: The Raid Redemption. Back to the graphic novel, if you want to be introduced to a British comic book icon, I suggest you start with the beginning. John Wagner’s unique six page writing style will at times be over the top but there are a few huge story arcs that will grab your attention. I’m a fan of the attitude, the violence and the kick ass villains. This large first volume covers 2000 AD progs #2 to #60 (Dredd, although now the biggest character, didn’t appear in the first issue).

Synopsis: Judge Joseph Dredd is an American law enforcement officer in a violent city of the future where uniformed Judges are empowered to arrest, sentence, and execute criminals at the scene of crime.

3. Kingdom Come – Mark Waid (Amazing art by Alex Ross)

For those who are not familiar with DC’s Elseworlds, they were stories that took place outside of DC’s canon or continuity. Existing characters or storylines were introduced to an entirely new idea or concept and often put into alternate timelines or realities. Gotham by Gaslight, featuring Batman, is considered to be the first Elseworlds story. One of the best written was Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and illustrated by the great Alex Ross. It was Alex who was the mastermind behind Kingdom Come as he wanted to do something similar to the artwork in 1994’s Marvels and within the scope of Alan Moore’s The Watchmen.

Synopsis: This Elseworlds story is set in a future that deals with a growing conflict between “traditional” superheroes, such as Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Justice League, and a growing population of largely amoral and dangerously irresponsible new vigilantes, in many cases the offspring of the traditional heroes. Between these two groups is Batman and his assembled team, who attempt to contain the escalating disaster, foil the machinations of Lex Luthor, and prevent a world-ending superhuman war.

2. Batman: The Dark Night Returns – Frank Miller

One of my all time favorite graphic novels was written by Frank Miller and illustrated by Miller and Klaus Janson, and published by DC Comics in 1986. It started off as a four-part series that eventually came in graphic novel form later that year. The overall story is great because it shows a vulnerable Batman who is fighting crime and father time. Both Christopher Nolan and Tim Burton have said that The Dark Knight Returns was the inspiration for wanting to do their Batman films. DC Universe Animated Original Movies produced a two-part animated version. Part 1 of this two-part animated film was released on DVD/Blu-ray on September 25, 2012. Part 2 was released on January 29, 2013, with Peter Weller voicing Batman and Michael Emerson voicing the Joker. A sequel written and illustrated by Miller, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, was published in 2001.

Synopsis: The Dark Knight Returns tells the story of Bruce Wayne, who at 55 years old returns from retirement to fight crime and faces opposition from the Gotham City police force and the United States government. Batman also takes on familiar foes in Harvey Dent (Two-Face) and the Joker. Without giving too much away there are a few epic battles throughout the story, including a showdown with Superman.

1. The Watchmen – Alan MooreWatchmen

To me this is the greatest graphic novel ever comprised. It was written by Alan Moore and illustrated by artist Dave Gibbons, and colorist John Higgins. It was serialized as a limited series by DC Comics in 1986 and 1987, and collected in 1987. Alan Moore, although a tad eccentric, is a legend in my opinion and this is his greatest work. In 2009 Time Magazine said that Watchmen falls within the top ten greatest novels ever written. Although it might be cliché for me to put this novel as #1 on this list, there really has been no other book that has stood the test of time as Watchmen, and to be honest, it is one of the biggest reasons we are blessed to have so many great comics out there. The work that Alan Moore did, inspired so many other writers and artists that it deserves to remain at the top of the pile. If you haven’t checked out Zack Snyder’s 2009 Watchmen movie I highly recommend checking it out after you read the book.

Synopsis: Watchmen is set in an alternate reality that in the contemporary world of the 1980s with flashbacks to the late 30’s. The primary difference is the presence of superheroes. In 1938, their existence in this version of America is shown to have dramatically affected and altered the outcomes of real-world events such as the Vietnam War and the presidency of Richard Nixon. In keeping with the realism of the series, although the costumed crime fighters of Watchmen are commonly called “superheroes”, the only character who possesses obvious superhuman powers is Doctor Manhattan. The existence of Doctor Manhattan has given the U.S. a strategic advantage over the Soviet Union, which has increased tensions between the two nations. Eventually, superheroes grow unpopular among the police and the public, leading to the passage of legislation in 1977 to outlaw them. While many of the heroes retired, Doctor Manhattan and The Comedian operate as government-sanctioned agents, and Rorschach continues to operate outside the law.

So that concludes my top twenty list that I’m sure some will disagree with. I know how we nerds are, we always think that certain books should be included and some should not. Like I said in my introduction, look at this as a list of graphic novels you should add to your collection and read. I want to give special mention to a few others that I had a hard time leaving off my list. Make sure to check these beauties out too.

• Tank Girl Vol. 1 – Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin
• Astro City: Vol. 1: Life In the Big City – Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson
• Astonishing X-Men – Joss Whedon and John Cassaday
• Punisher Max: Vol. 1: In the Beginning – Garth Ennis
• The Walking Dead: Vol.1: Days Gone Bye – Robert Kirkman
• Batman: The Killing Joke – Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
• Violent Cases – Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean
• Batman: Arkham Asylum – Grant Morrison and Dave McKean

And the list goes on… It’s crazy how much Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and even the likes of Garth Ennis and Alex Ross have influenced the graphic novel scene.
Did I miss anything? What is your favorite?

Special thanks to Wikipedia, Forbidden Planet and all my geeky friends for helping and contributing to this list.

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  • MiloPal

    I’m new to graphic novels, but am looking forward to reading a bunch on this list.
    Watchmen is indeed awesome. As for oversights, what about Persepolis, From Hell and Black Hole? Here’s another list:
    http://twopalswiththoughts.wordpress.com/2013/11/17/graphic-novels-my-new-way-to-read/

  • hondito

    You have Batman: Year One at #15 and at #7. So really this is a top 19 list

  • Bob Genghis Khan

    I hate to be that guy, but there is no “The” – it is simply titled “Watchmen.”

  • Lalon

    Tintin, I’ll admit is fantastic.
    But c’mon, One Piece? Really?

  • Lalon

    Why does “Bone” never make the list?