10 Fascinating Graphic Novels About Detectives

I have watched a LOT of Law and Order. Though I often have big issues with the shows around due process etc., something about the puzzle-solving is addicting. I’ve also gone through Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, and Columbo periods. So it’s no surprise that when I started reading comics, detective series grabbed me. Here are my favorites so far, a mix of private investigators and police officers. Hope you find something new and fascinating to read!

Before we jump in:

  • All comics here can be bought as graphic novels/collections, not only as single issues. Your library may own many of these!
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Past Lies: An Amy Devlin Mystery (Amazon / Kindle / Goodreads) By Christina Weir and Nunzio DeFilippis, with art by Christopher Mitten.

Nunzio and DeFillippis are a writing team we often enjoy, and the Amy Devlin series delivers. Amy graduated from college and kind of accidentally set up her P.I. practice without a license. Oops. It’s not going so well.

When she finally gets a client, though, it’s a bizarre one. A young actor believes he’s the reincarnation of Trevor Schalk, a millionaire who was murdered in 1982. The murder was never solved. The cop who didn’t solve it isn’t happy to see Amy during her preliminary investigation, but she can tell he’s hiding something, so she takes the case. Unluckily for Amy, there are still a lot of people who want to conceal the truth about what happened that night.

It’s a fast-paced, interesting mystery that calls for both smarts and compassion. I enjoyed it so much that we bought the next two books, though it was hard to adjust to the change in artists each time. If you’re looking for a classic detective story with plenty of twists and turns, give this trilogy a shot.

Watson and Holmes: A Study In Black (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) Created by Brandon Perlow and Paul Mendoza, written by Karl Bollers. Illustrated by Rick Leonardi and Larry Strongman. Colors by Paul Mendoza, GuruEFX, Archie Van Buren, and Jay David Ramos. Letters by Taylor Esposito, Nicole McDonnell, Wilson Ramos Jr., and Dave Lanphear.

This modern take on Sherlock Holmes operates out of Harlem, New York City. He’s an eccentric private investigator who shows up an an inner-city emergency clinic asking questions about a kid brought in unconscious. Watson is an ex-military medical intern at that clinic. When the kid’s toxicology screen shows exactly what Holmes told him it would, Watson wants to know how Holmes knew. And he gets pulled into an investigation that quickly becomes dangerous.

This blew my mind. All the familiar Sherlock Holmes elements are there, but remixed and made fresh. Watson is a sympathetic protagonist, and Holmes is a delicious enigma. Both artists and all the colorists work together well, creating a tense atmosphere as the case unfolds. I didn’t much care for the second volume, but this first book is one of our favorite reads.

Diversity note: Bollers is African-American. Ramos is from the Philippines.

Master Keaton (Amazon / Goodreads) Co-created and with art by Naoki Urasawa, story by Hokusei Katsushika and Takashi Nagasaki. Translation and English adaptation by Pookie Rolf, lettering by Steve Dutro.

Taichi Hiraga-Keaton wants to be an archaeologist. Since that hasn’t worked out full time, he takes side jobs as an insurance investigator on suspicious cases. He seems like a gentle, affable fellow, and he is. But he’s also a former member of the British Army’s SAS special forces. The Master Keaton series tells various tales about his cases, adventures, and family stories about his relationships with his teenage daughter and elderly father.

What I love about this series is that while Taichi is smart, skilled, and deadly, there is absolutely no machismo about him. He’s refreshingly different from the stereotypical action hero. And he’s so nerdy and passionate about archaeology! You just want to make him a cup of tea (his mom’s British, after all) and help him brush up his cover letter applying for another teaching position.

After a good number of volumes in this long series (12 volumes total), I felt like it lost its focus on the combination I liked, which is Taichi’s investigative brain + action + occasional bits of his family life. YMMV, and it’s definitely worth reading at least the first handful of books.

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The Fuse (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) By Antony Johnston, illustrated by Justin Greenwood, with colors by Shari Shankhamma and letters by Ed Brisson.

I didn’t like the first page of this book. A homeless-appearing black man who says “ain’t” a lot is killed. It felt like a tired trope. But I usually love Antony Johnston’s writing, so I stuck with it. I’m glad I did, because this is a damn good book. Ralph Dietrich, a 28 year old black homicide detective from Germany, transfers to the orbiting space station known as The Fuse. His partner, an older Russian white woman named Klem Ristovych, isn’t about to give this new kid any unearned credit. Especially when he starts by assuming she’s a civilian. Awkward!

This is a solid police procedural, set in space, with a touch of larger conspiracy to make my heart sing. Greenwood’s people are angular, dynamic, and interesting, especially when they’re grumpy. The cast is diverse, reflecting what our future in space will actually look like. If you enjoy following detectives around as they patch together clues and solve a case, this is for you. Four volumes in and I’m still loving its consistent quality. The Fuse is an ongoing series.

Diversity Note: Shankhamma is Thai. There is a major queer character here but it’s a spoiler.

Bedlam (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) By Nick Spencer, with art by Riley Rossmo, colors by Jean-Paul Csuka, and letters by Kelly Tindall.

Madder Red, brutal serial killer, is dead. Right? He was arrested, and blew his own head off with a bomb in a holding cell. Right? That’s what the police said, anyway, and they said they knew who he was. And yet it appears that a man named Filmore Press was Madder Red, and he’s still alive. After extensive, clandestine “psychiatric” treatment and brain surgery in a very strange clinic, he now lives in a halfway house. When he sees news of a new serial killer on the loose, he feels compelled to help the police, because he can see the patterns so clearly. Thus he becomes an unpaid quasi-consultant to Detective Ramira Acevedo as she tracks down a mutilated man with metal wings who’s committing religiously themed murders.

It’s disturbing and creepy as hell, and very graphic with the violence. Madder Red’s crimes are shown in detail, albeit stylized. And it’s disturbing that you can’t avoid rooting for Press to continue his normal life and be okay now… while getting a distinct feeling he may not be a reliable narrator. Did the “treatment” even happen? Did it happen the way he shares it with the reader? He’s helping society now, but he’s clearly unwell, and shouldn’t he be in prison for the rest of his life?! I couldn’t wait for the second volume, and I was not disappointed. The ending was like being punched in the stomach.

Unfortunately it looks like there may not be another. Spencer writes multiple series, and there hasn’t been a new Bedlam issue since January 2014. Like television, though, that’s what happens to comics sometimes – they get canceled. :( I still recommend it.

Copperhead (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) By Jay Faerber, with art by Scott Godlewski, colors by Ron Riley, and letters by Thomas Mauer.

Clara Bronson moves to the planet Jasper to take over as Sheriff of Coppertown, because she and her son Zeke needed a fresh start. That’s what she says. But she doesn’t say much about herself. Not that her deputy, Budroxifinicus, would listen. He’s too bitter about getting passed over for the job. Seems humans aren’t ready for one of his species to be in a position of power. There are many different species on post-war Jasper, and peaceful co-existence isn’t exactly universal. To be honest, Sheriff Bronson isn’t my favorite character in this series. I’m usually a sucker for strong women, but she’s too closed off, and kind of a jerk. My real interest is in Budroxifinicus. He’s a good detective, a good cop, and I’m curious about how he ended up in this job. (And how long he’s going to put up with Bronson.) Everyone in this book has a past and I suspect at some point, they’re going to collide. Should be interesting.

Update after four volumes: I warmed up to Clara in the second book as we were given more insight into her life. By the third book, yep, there was much collision, and it’s been quite interesting. I’m a fan! Thank goodness this is an ongoing series.

Stumptown (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) By Greg Rucka, with art by Matthew Southworth. Colors by Southworth, Lee Loughridge, and Rico Renzi.

Dex Parios is a private investigator who’s perpetually low on cash. Her relationship with local police is slightly strained. Her younger brother and roommate Ansel, who has Down’s Syndrome, is way more popular than she is. Probably because he doesn’t have an attitude and a chip on his shoulder. When Dex runs up a debt she can’t pay at a casino, the owner gives her a job: find a missing granddaughter. Sounds straightforward, except too many people don’t want said granddaughter to be found. And they’re willing to mess Dex up to keep her out of it.

As previously mentioned, Rucka writes female characters very well. The first volume of Stumptown is full of double-crossing, threats, secrets, lies, and everything else that makes up a good P.I. story. I liked the second volume even better. The third revolves around a pro sport I know nothing about, and Rucka brings on a new artist, so it didn’t click for me as much. I look forward to future Dex stories, though. You can’t help but root for the underdog, right?

Diversity note: Dex is bi.

Whiteout (Amazon/Kindle / Goodreads) By Greg Rucka, with art by Steve Lieber.

U.S. Deputy Marshal Carrie Stetko is stationed at McMurdo Station in Antartica, as far as humanly possible from her past. There’s a murder just before many people stationed in Antarctica will return to their homes off the continent, meaning Carrie has a limited time to solve the case.

British secret agent Lily Sharpe enters the picture because the murderer took something from the ice, and she wants to know what it was. Mayhem ensues as Stetko and Sharpe track an unknown murderer through the ice. If you’ve seen the movie, don’t hold it against the book. Rucka’s two-volume comic book is far superior, not least because there are two female main characters. (Yep, it’s true, they swapped Lily for a man in the movie. Eyeroll.) This book does an amazing job showing Carrie’s emotional damage and isolation, the PTSD she carries from an assignment gone horribly wrong. But it gives you just enough that you can hope for a happier future for her. Really suspenseful and enjoyable.

Gotham Central (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) By Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka. Art initially by Michael Lark, then by Brian Hurtt, Stefano Gaudiano, Greg Scott, Jason Alexander, Kano, and Steve Lieber. Colors by Noelle Giddings, Matt Hollingsworth, and Lee Loughridge. Letters by Willie Schubert.

Gotham Central is the human side of the Batman universe. It’s four volumes (in hardcover), each focusing on one set of partners in the Gotham City Police Department’s Major Crimes Unit (MCU). These are the cops who deal with regular crime happening every day, and who too often get drawn into the chaos created by the “costumes.”

I fell in love with this series because of the top-notch writing and art. The cases these detectives work are interesting, but the stories Brubaker and Rucka tell are as much about the officers themselves as the cases. There are some truly heartbreaking moments in these books. Both writers make you care deeply about the characters they’re creating. I also appreciated the diversity of the cast. (Bigots in the department call the MCU the “affirmative action” department because many of its detectives are not straight white men.) And finally, both the writers and the artists do a great job maintaining that “am I dreaming?” feeling that you or I would have if we ran into a costumed villain from a movie. For the MCU officers, that’s normal, and yet it doesn’t ever feel normal.

Diversity note: Within this series is the debut of Renee Montoya, one of the DC Universe’s most prominent lesbian characters, and she’s Latina. And wonderful, though she has a very tough road here!

Alias (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) By Brian Michael Bendis, with primary art by Michael Gaydos and additional art by Bill Sienkiewicz, David Mack, Mark Bagley, and Rodney Ramos. Colors by Matt Hollingsworth and letters by Richard Starkings, Comicraft’s Wes Abbott, Oscar Gongora, and Jason Levine.

Alias is one of my most beloved comics. The series originally ran in 2001-2003, and it’s been collected and reprinted twice now, I think? As you may generally know if you’ve watched the Netflix adaptation, Jessica Jones is a former superhero turned private detective who drinks too much, sleeps with guys she probably shouldn’t, and in general doesn’t have her act together. She’s good at her job, though, and in the comics she’s a very smart kind of compassionate, so you’re always rooting for her. Except when she lets her mouth run away with her.

The Alias comics series was Jessica’s debut, and it’s about Jessica moving through this phase of her life and into something new. Amazing to watch it happen. This ran under the MAX line from Marvel, so there are plenty of adult situations and much profanity. Jessica is also drunk during some of her sexual encounters, and the guys she’s with are not, which makes my skin crawl. So fair warning on that front, it’s messy. There are people who hate this series because it’s depressing, and I can see their point, but sometimes you have to see where someone starts before you can appreciate where they end up.

That concludes today’s roundup of comics about cops and detectives that I love and recommend! If you have any suggestions for me, please leave them in the comments – and thanks for sharing this post on social media or with friends.

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