I grew up watching Star Trek, Doctor Who, and Blake’s 7. Spaceships, epic battles, robots, time travel, the stars! Exciting people doing exciting things on exciting other planets! What’s not to love? And clearly I love comics, though it took me longer to find them. So here are my favorite graphic novels with a sci-fi vibe.
Let’s start with Federal Bureau of Physics, co-created by writer Simon Oliver and artist Robbi Rodriguez. Colors by Rico Renzi, letters by Steve Wands and Jared K. Fletcher.
In the near future, you can call 911 for police, fire, ambulance… or physics emergencies, since the “laws” of reality intermittently break. Adam Hardy is an agent with the Bureau, responding to these emergency calls. Or not, or possibly two hours late, since he’s kind of a slacker. Things are about to get serious, though, and Hardy’s right in the middle of it.
Rodriguez and Renzi together have created a look that I wouldn’t call attractive, really, but instead dynamic, expressive, and totally appropriate to a story about the warping of reality. It really grew on me. Then there’s the casting diversity, which you know I always appreciate. Hardy is Pakistani, and partway through this volume Hardy gets a new partner, Agent Rosa Reyes, who is Latina. His ethnicity isn’t brought up as an issue. Hers only comes up once (I think), when a receptionist mistakes her for a job applicant in housekeeping and Reyes comments on that racism. So I appreciated a team-up of people of color investigating jacked-up science stuff because that’s not something you get to read every day.
However one warning: Hardy makes a couple of jokes mentioning Asperger’s that are consistent with his character, but are based on the idea that people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum lack compassion and/or the ability to make small talk. Not super-offensive, but I rolled my eyes. The second volume, though, introduced a transgender character who I thought was presented amazingly well. So yay for that!
Concrete Park, created by Tony Puryear, Erika Alexander, and Robert Alexander. Written by Puryear and Erika Alexander, with art and letters by Puryear. Color assistance from Alicia Burstein and Alexandra Quimby.
In the near future, criminals from poor communities are deported to “correctional colonies” in space where they work in the mines or try to survive in the gang-controlled neighborhoods.
This book just about crackles with electricity. The art is bold and striking, it’s full of action, and I can’t wait to see what’s next. For example, why don’t the people back on Earth seem to know about the colonies?
Deadenders, co-created by writer Ed Brubaker and artist Warren Pleece who did the pencils. Inks by Cameron Stewart, Richard Case, and Jay Stephens. Bjarne Hansen and Marguerite Cook did the colors, and letters are by John Costanza. (That sounds like a lot of people, but this book is almost 400 pages long.)
I was familiar with Brubaker from reading his crime and noir works, and also some of his X-Men run. This is SO unlike any of that. It happens in a post-cataclysm future where most of the population lives without sunlight, and poor teenagers have no future.
When small-time criminal kid Beezer starts having visions of the world before the cataclysm, though, he draws far more attention from the authorities than his crimes warrant. I don’t want to spoil things for you, but it grows increasingly science fiction as it goes on. Yeah, I think that’s all I can say.
Switchblade Honey by Warren Ellis and drawn by Brandon McKinney.
Trigger warning on this book for discussion of a sexual assault and revenge taken on the rapist.
Oh Warren Ellis, what have you done? This is amazing. If this is what humankind’s future in space looks like, at least we’re going down fighting. The book starts when military prisoners are offered their freedom if they’ll fly a ship with no support on a long-term guerilla war against a race of aliens who are going to kill us all because we’re so backwards and rude.
The now-ex-prisoners all have one thing in common – they got screwed over by their own, yet they still believe in saving humanity. Or at least giving the aliens a big middle finger before they die while cursing, smoking, and doing drugs. Ellis’s introduction explains that Switchblade Honey was created in response to the sterile future he reviled in Star Trek… which really cracks me up given the intro to this post! It’s okay, I can love them both.
The High Ways, written and drawn by John Byrne, with colors by Leonard O’Grady and letters by Tom B. Long.
The High Ways is not a flashy book. It doesn’t have to be. It has solid storytelling, a retro sci-fi vibe, a likeable protagonist, and a deep-space mystery. Newly minted navigator Eddie Wallace takes his first job on a spacebound freighter, hoping everything goes nice and easy. (The art is not as blurry as in this page, sorry about that.)
But a job offer brings his ship to Europa where everyone’s acting really strange… and is Wallace hallucinating, or is there someone wandering around outside without a hardsuit? The villains are a little bwahaha and the characters are a little talky, almost as if we’re being taken back a couple of decades in comics to a more pulp style. I liked it. I was hoping there would be more of this series, but alas it doesn’t seem like that’s happening. Especially sad because Wallace and his mentor, Mrs. Jones a.k.a. Jonesy, lead the story and they’re both people of color. It was a nice change of pace.
A Boy and a Girl by Jamie S. Rich, illustrated by Natalie Nourigat, and lettered by Ed Brisson.
I’m not usually drawn to “slice of life” or dating comics, but this one has robots, so I gave it a whirl. It’s a very “awwwww!” kind of book, as two lovers meet and spend a few precious days together.
What happens after they meet? Dancing, talking, fleeing the Russian mafia, that kind of typical new relationship stuff. As the book goes on, though, there are some hard questions about identity, destiny, and what love means in a world where people are being supplanted by androids. Nicely drawn by Nourigat. I love the black, white, and blue palette and the crisp drawings.
On a similar set of topics, but very different: Alex + Ada, co-created by writer Sarah Vaughn and artist Jonathan Luna.
Alex is still moping from a breakup, so his rich grandmother buys him a top of the line android companion that he didn’t want.
But as Alex tries to get to know Ada, he starts to suspecting that she could be more than the company that made her will admit. What I like about Alex so far is that he seems like just a fundamentally decent person. His struggle is to figure out what the right thing is, not whether to do the right thing. So when he learns more about Ada, he simply does what needs doing. Luna’s reserved art style is a perfect match for the quiet personalities of the main characters Alex and Ada, and the story provides good contrast between them and some of the more expressive characters – notably Alex’s grandmother, who seems to delight in sharing TMI with Alex about her relationship with her android.
Four women military pilots in space, helping fight a war against a hive mind robotic force that wants to take over the universe. Someone has a pet spy who may be playing both sides, and someone just brought home a “survivor” of a robot attack that may be more than she appears to be. And for good measure, someone’s dating someone they shouldn’t be. There’s a lot going on! And it’s funny too.
C-Man feels like the jokes are so “present day” with their slang that they disrupt the future setting. I get what he’s saying, but it doesn’t bother me. I love the gals in this book and all their slangy jokes. I love the setting. I love the intrigue. And I love how Jules Rivera draws people.
Daisy Kutter: The Last Train, written and illustrated by Kazu Kibuishi.
We were lucky enough to hear about it when Kibuishi had some additional copies of Daisy Kutter for sale. It’s a sci-fi western about a female gunslinger and do I really need to say more? Really? Because if that’s not enough for you, I’m not sure what to do about that. I’m not particularly into westerns myself and I loved it, so you can’t use that excuse.
How bad could one last train robbery be, even if you got tricked into it and your ex-boyfriend is the town sheriff? Um, maybe don’t answer that. But do read this book if you get a chance. It also has a bonus story at the end, Phantoms, in Kibuishi’s rich and subtle colors that we loved so much in Amulet (more about Amulet here).
The Midas Flesh by Ryan North, illustrated by Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb, lettered by Steve Wands.
Sometimes I feel like describing the book’s setup should be enough. For The Midas Flesh, all I should have to write is “talking dinosaur as part of revolutionary spaceship crew” and BAM you should be reading this comic.
Clearly, though, as a blogger I should probably work a little harder, so here goes. Evil empire crushing planets underfoot. Talking dinosaur uncovers rumors that evil empire has hidden that old planet Earth because it fell victim to a deadly weapon. Rebel starship captain agrees to take talking dinosaur and hijab-wearing ace starship pilot to Earth to retrieve weapon, stop war.
Seriously, why are you still here? You should be on your way to your local comic shop, or at least logging into Amazon or Comixology by now. Go! The story has action and drama in turns, the art is cute, and I want to know what happens next, which means North is doing his job as a writer. Boom! Box, the publisher, has been putting out some super titles lately and this is one of them.
Letter 44 by Charles Soule, with art by Alberte J. Alburquerque, colors by Dan Jackson and Guy Major, and letters by Shawn DePasquale.
NASA found extraterrestrial life in our solar system seven years ago. A crewed ship was sent to make contact, and they’re almost there. Jack Blades is the new President of the United States, and he’s finding out about it now.
It’s a little slow to get going since the reader is getting brought up to speed along with the President, but by mid-way through the volume I was hooked. The dynamics of the crew (who have been in space for a looong time) plus the political maneuverings around the President as he struggles to deal with this situation… and then towards the end, the first contact looming large… goosebumps! And I can’t stop looking at how Alburquerque draws faces. Absolutely no chance here of mistaking any character for any other character (like with some artists), and the range and subtlety of emotion is fascinating.
My only issue with this book is who dies first. I don’t want to spoil! But I am desperate to have a conversation about this with someone who has read it, because I had an epic eyeroll reaction. I hope the story will take a less overdone path with any further character deaths.
Descender by Jeff Lemire, illustrated by Dustin Ngyuen, letterde by Steve Wands.
First of all, the book is beautiful. Nguyen’s painting style lends soft edges and humanity to a futuristic setting and robot characters. His art enriches the story at every turn. Even the paneling changes depending on what characters are interacting. And is there an award for comics lettering? Steve Wands should win it. Watch the styles used for each character and how they compare to other characters. It’s a great demonstration of how much lettering can add to visual storytelling.
Lemire, the writer, is adept at mixing past and present with clarity, and without slowing down the forward momentum of the story. That’s good, because Descender is a story about how the past influences the present. Dr. Quon, formerly a stylish and famous robotics genius but now a down and out academic, is grabbed by a government team because he may have the key to stopping an alien menace – one he failed to stop when they first attacked. Tim, a “young” robot companion who awakes from a too-long sleep to find that everyone he knows is dead – but his design is somehow related to the alien menace. Lemire also writes the characters with skill. Different robots have different personalities, as do the various humans and aliens. And in the middle, Tim, who clearly sees them all as just different kinds of people, bridging any gap between biological and machine sentience.
RunLoveKill by John Tsuei and Eric Canete, with art by Eric Canete, colors and lettering by Leonardo Olea, and amazing covers by Manu Fernandez.
This is another book I fell in love with because of the cover, in this case the first issue cover, though I do like the cover of Volume One seen above. It reminded me of Aeon Flux, but with a style uniquely its own. I ended up loving the art as much as the cover. The people and places in this futuristic action comic are all jutting angles, while the fight scenes are explosive movement. It takes place in a future city ruled by a defense ministry called The Origami. Rain Oshiro’s past involves them, and she’s trying desperately to get to her future away from them. But time is running out and she has very few people to trust. It feels like the beginning of an amazing science fiction / action film. Shout out to her friend Deyliad who is just the sweetest thing ever.
Trees by Warren Ellis, with art by Jason Howard, and lettering by Fonographix.
Warren Ellis can be an amazing writer when he’s working on his own creations. As a science fiction fan, I’ve read and seen a lot of alien invasion scenarios, but the one in Trees is fresh and interesting. Ten years ago, tall cylindrical alien artifacts descended onto Earth as if humanity didn’t exist, and they’ve been there ever since. Ellis and artist and Jason Howard have created a fascinating world – not quite post-apocalyptic, but certainly heading that way. The Trees haven’t even done almost anything but land, and yet they’ve effectively destroyed whole cities and permanently changed the world. Multiple simultaneous storylines around the world show the devastation and uncover a frightening truth about what may be happening next.
Beyond the diversity in national origin, race, and ethnicity among the major characters, the storyline also includes a significant plotline that centers around diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity. It’s not handled as skillfully as I could have hoped for. Specifically, the first sighting of the trans woman character is appalling. She’s inexplicably standing in her open apartment doorway in her underwear, and the reader is shown her genitals. Because that’s clearly the right way to communicate she’s trans, right?! UGH. Re-reading the book just made me hate that scene more. Obsession with what’s in a trans person’s pants is already a huge problem, no need to play into that with fiction!
Some of the speechifying later in the book is probably a good 101 for a lot of comics readers, but that first misstep is so huge! I’m personally used to Warren Ellis being 90% on target with diversity and his 10% fails being spectacularly bad, but not everyone will be. And it’s a shame that a story with such a big GLBTQ component ends up as something I couldn’t recommend on a list of GLBTQ comics.
Blacking out that one panel from my mind, though, leaves a solid, interesting science fiction comic.
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and art by Fiona Staples who is probably physically incapable of making any art that isn’t gorgeous.
Vaughan, best known for writing Y: The Last Man, has totally blown us away with this space opera / parenting / war story. A prisoner and a jailer from opposing sides fall in love and escape together with their baby. The prisoner, a former soldier, renounces violence. The bounty hunter following them loses his true love during the chase. Add 17 more parts intrigue, a ghost teenager, but maybe ignore some of the part with the giant because ICK. But it’s a book that many people have absolutely loved.
It’s so rare to see parenting as part of a mainstream comic book. Even the Fantasic Four, arguably the most prominent “family” superheroes, doesn’t show a lot of actual parenting. Since one of their kids is a supergenius and one of them has powers, they don’t need a lot of parenting I guess? Anyway, I didn’t keep reading Saga for various reasons, but I’m leaving it here because I know so many people who love it.
And that’s the list of our favorite science fiction comics and graphic novels! If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments – and thanks for sharing on social media or with friends!