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? So here’s a list of the first wonderful sci-fi graphic novels I stumbled across in my comics reading journey. I hope you’ll find something to enjoy here!
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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Dicebox follows Molly and Griffen, itinerant space station workers, as they bounce from one job to the next. Molly is the level-headed one who has strange visions, Griffen is the tempestuous one with a complicated past that, by the end of this first book, may be coming back to haunt her. Lee slowly builds a complex world out of characters of various genders, pasts, and interests. It’s working class lives set in space, very queer (including regular use of varied pronouns), with female characters who have complex and interesting personalities.
Someday there will be a second volume, I’m certain… Book 1 was 9 parts when published online as a webcomic, Book 2 is up to 7 parts so maybe we’re close? C-Man and I are waiting patiently. Well, almost patiently.
A love story with robots. Two people meet, become lovers, and spend a few precious days together. What happens during those days? Dancing, talking, fleeing the Russian mafia… all that 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. I love the black, white, and blue palette and the crispness of Nourigat’s art style.
A Boy and a Girl is complete in one volume.
RunLoveKill (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) Co-created by writer John Tsuei and artist Eric Canete. Colors and lettering by Leonardo Olea. Manu Fernandez contributed covers and helped with character design.
A futuristic action comic that takes place in a dystopia ruled by a defense ministry called The Origami. Rain Oshiro used to work for them, but she’s trying desperately get away and make a new life. Time is running out, though, and she has very few people to trust. The art here is great and really supports the mood. The people and places are all jutting angles, while the fight scenes are explosive movement. It feels like the beginning of an amazing sci-fi film. Highly recommended for fans of that genre, especially if you like the art style of Aeon Flux.
Sadly, though, this seems to have been planned as an eight issue miniseries, but only four issues came out, the last in July 2015. They’re all collected in this volume. If the lack of closure is going to bug you, I understand!
Diversity notes: (1) Most of the cast appears to be people of color. (2) As best I can tell from various articles and interviews, Tsuei is Asian-American, Canete is Filipino-American, Olea is Mexican, and Fernandez is originally from Colombia.
In a small British town populated by anthropomorphic animals, the town drunks see a falling star and head through the woods to investigate. Retired military officer Clive Slipaway, a newcomer, attends a town meeting the next day. It’s interrupted by one of those drunks, who claims the town is being invaded. Clive decides to investigate, and what he and other townsfolk find is terrifying.
C-Man called the book “The War of the Wind in the Willows” (seems to be a common reaction) and he’s not wrong. But the characters make this book a must read. Clive, the quiet tactician whose past causes him deep pain. Susan, the reclusive writer with the sharp tongue. Gilbert, the town solicitor and jolly busybody. Fawkes, the formerly drunk layabout called to action. You start to care about them, even knowing that Bad Things Will Happen. I’ve rarely felt such a building sense of dread while reading as in the first volume, especially in the nighttime scenes.
Abnett and Culbard are more ambitious with storytelling format in the second volume. Some sections are written materials authored by the characters, such as journal entries and even fiction, which is where Abnett’s wife probably helped out (she’s credited in the second volume). Culbard’s art, as always, is perfect, maybe even better than in the first volume. There’s nothing like seeing an anthropomorphized dog tilt his head exactly right while listening to a sound in the distance.
The second volume isn’t quite as successful as the first book, though, because of the one-dimensionality of the government character who’s the mouthpiece for the reactionary “national security” philosophy. But there are amazing moments. The inscription on Clive’s watch. Helena’s letter to her father, which just about broke my heart into pieces. Susan’s elegy for those lost to the invasion. Fawkes’s continued evolution. And it’s amazing how tense everything still is, from the beginning to the end. Almost moreso than in the first book, which had more immediate physical danger.
And that ending? CHILLS.
UPDATE Jan 15th 2018: Wild’s End has a third volume, Journey’s End, scheduled for 2018. The second volume, The Enemy Within, seems to be out of print, but can be purchased digitally.
In the near future, criminals from poor communities are deported to a “correctional colony” on a desert planet where they work in the mines or try to survive in the gang-controlled neighborhoods. The story roughly follows the intersection of two main characters: Isaac, a young black man who is transported, and Lena, a brown queer woman who’s been living on the planet for some time and whose gang controls a section of the only city there. Gangs come into conflict, characters struggle for power, and by the end of the second volume, a Big Secret is revealed.
This book just about crackles with electricity. The art is bold and striking, the colors are rich, and it’s full of action and even a little magic. Only two volumes were produced, which leaves the story incomplete, but this is a can’t-miss if you’re a fan of dystopias or high-action sci-fi.
Diversity notes: All of the primary creators are people of color. The cast is overwhelmingly people of color, many are women, and some are queer.
The book begins with military prisoners being offered their freedom if they’ll fly a ship with no support on a long-term guerrilla war against a race of aliens who are committed to killing all humans 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. Darkly hilarious. I guess if this is what humankind’s future in space looks like, at least we’re going down fighting…?
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 that I grew up on Star Trek and still adore it. It’s okay, I can love them both.
Switchblade Honey is complete in one volume. It’s out of print, but used copies seem fairly available.
Content heads-up: Discussion of an off-page sexual assault and revenge taken on the rapist.
Deadenders (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) Co-created by writer Ed Brubaker and artist Warren Pleece. Inks by Cameron Stewart, Richard Case, and Jay Stephens. Colors by Bjarne Hansen and Marguerite Cook. Lettering by John Costanza.
Deadenders takes place 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 petty crimes warrant. Because… reasons. Which I can’t discuss much because I don’t want to spoil things, but it grows increasingly science fiction as it goes on. Let’s just say that if you’re a fan of sci-fi that asks “what is going on with reality?!” or shows oppressed youth caught up in a corrupt system, this is a book for you.
Deadenders is complete in one volume.
Sometimes I feel like describing a book’s premise should be enough. For The Midas Flesh, all I want to write is “talking dinosaur is part of revolutionary spaceship crew” and BAM you should be reading this comic!
If that’s not enough, how’s this? An Evil Empire is crushing planets underfoot. A talking dinosaur uncovers rumors that the Evil Empire has hidden that old planet Earth because it fell victim to a deadly weapon. A rebel starship captain agrees to take the talking dinosaur and an ace starship pilot (who wears a hijab, yay diversity!) to Earth to retrieve the weapon and stop the war. It has strong female characters, one of whom becomes disabled during the story, which does not stop for lamentations about how her life is now over because she’s disabled. The characters struggle productively with how to be a moral person and a good friend. And I feel like I need to mention the talking dinosaur again, in case you missed it.
The Midas Flesh is complete in two volumes. Appropriate for middle grade kids and up, and both the adults in our house loved it.
An intriguing reality-warping story about superheroes, power, and the multiverse. Diana Dane, an unemployed investigative reporter, is hired by rich supergenius Darius Dax to secretly investigate a mystery. A disaster occurred in a small U.S. town, but Dax doesn’t believe the official reports of an airline crash. Dane doesn’t trust Dax, but she takes the job. What she finds is stranger than she ever could have imagined.
This was one of my favorite science fiction graphic novels in 2015. It’s based on a character and universe created by Rob Liefeld, but I wasn’t familiar with that before I read the book. The plot is complex because of multiple threads and intersecting timelines, but it wasn’t too complicated for me to follow. The cast is diverse in race and sexual orientation, and there is a significant character who uses a wheelchair, so you know I appreciated that. And Lotay’s art is gorgeous! Dreamy images, old newsprint-style coloring, and fluid lines that streak through the panels all reinforce the swirling feel of the story.
Supreme: Blue Rose is complete in one volume.
How bad could one last train robbery be, even if you got tricked into it because of a high-stakes poker game and your ex-boyfriend is the town sheriff? Um, maybe don’t answer that. Super-cool mashup of western and sci-fi, kinda steampunky, with a female gunslinger trying to make an honest living against her own nature and plenty of robots. Kibuishi is a master storyteller, and he uses Western tropes effectively here while making something that feels unique.
It’s one volume, out of print and spendy on Amazon, but you should try to track down a copy.
Diversity note: Kibuishi is Asian-American.
Letter 44 (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) Written by Charles Soule. Art by Alberto J. Alburquerque. Colors by Dan Jackson. Additional colors by Guy Major in the first volume, and Sarah Stern in the fourth volume. Lettering by Shawn DePasquale in the first and fifth volumes, and Crank! for the second through fourth volumes and in the fifth volume. Guest artists for the fifth volume: Joëlle Jones, Drew Moss, Ryan Kelly, Alise Gluškova, and Langdon Foss.
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 newly sworn in President of the United States… and he’s only finding out about this now.
Letter 44 starts slowly because the reader is getting brought up to speed along with the President, but by mid-way through the first 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! I also couldn’t stop looking at how Alburquerque draws faces. Absolutely no chance here of mistaking any character for any other character, and the range and subtlety of emotion is fascinating.
As the story has gone on, I’ve been more interested in the conspiracies and political maneuverings on Earth than I have been in the situation in space. However by the fourth volume, as the two start to blend, I became fascinated to see how they’re going to resolve anything by the end of the sixth volume. The fifth volume, a series of five short stories showing how various crew members ended up on the mission, somehow advanced the feeling of rushing inevitability even though it was all backstory, so now I’m on edge waiting for the last book!
Diversity/content note: The crew of the spaceship is diverse in gender and race. However, I felt it was cliche which character died first on page.
Nakahara Hiroshi, in his 40s, wakes up to find himself on the wrong train. Instead of heading home to his wife and daughters, he’s on his way to the neighborhood where he grew up, and where his mother is buried. Something happens in the cemetery as he’s visiting her grave.
When he regains consciousness, he’s in the past, in his 14 year old body, but with all of his adult memories intact. He has no idea how it happened or how to return to his current life. All he can do is try to live in his own past. Then he realizes exactly when he is, and the heartbreaking event that will soon follow. Hiroshi is increasingly frantic as he realizes what’s coming for his family. Can he change it? I was unprepared for the emotional wallop of this story. Hiroshi’s desperation, the family dynamics, the possibility of being trapped in the past forever… yikes! Seriously good, both the writing and the art.
There’s a two-volume edition, and also a complete edition that combines both.
Federal Bureau of Physics (Amazon/Comixology / GoodReads) Co-created by writer Simon Oliver and artist Robbi Rodriguez. Art by Alberto Ponticelli and Nathan Fox in the third volume, and by Ponticelli alone in the fourth volume. Colors by Rico Renzi, then by Michael Wiggam in the third and fourth volumes. Lettering by Steve Wands, and also by Jared K. Fletcher in the first volume.
Recommended for those who enjoy WTF moments, reality-within-reality sci-fi, and cranky reluctant heroes.
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. Will reality continue warping until it collapses, or can someone stop it?
FBP is complete in four volumes’ worth of investigations, bizarre scientific inventions, secrets, lies, growing friendships, and heroic sacrifices. The end… felt like the only way, and I was satisfied even though my heart had wanted something different. Rodriguez and Renzi together 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. The switch to different artists later in the series wasn’t wholly successful for me, but I was invested enough in the characters to keep reading and I was glad I did.
Diversity/content notes: (1) Hardy is Pakistani-American, and partway through the first volume Hardy gets a new partner, Agent Rosa Reyes, who is Latina. The third main character, Cicero, is a Jewish man. (2) Hardy does make a couple of jokes mentioning Asperger’s that are consistent with his kinda jerky character (because due to Reyes’s backstory, she does seem to have some autism spectrum characteristics). It doesn’t come across as author-endorsed, but it’s there. (3) Rodriguez is Mexican-American. He was diagnosed in 2008 with a degenerative eye disease.
A quietly wonderful social justice robot freedom romance comic. Alex’s rich grandmother thinks he’s still moping from a breakup, so she buys him a top of the line android companion that he didn’t want. As Alex tries to get to know Ada, he starts to suspect that she could be more than the company that made her will admit. His investigation leads him into contact with an underground robot rights movement, but it also stirs up questions among people close to him who might be more dangerous than he imagines.
Alex is a fundamentally decent person. His struggle is to figure out what the right thing is, not whether to do that right thing. So when he learns more about Ada’s potential, he simply does what needs doing. Luna’s reserved art style is a perfect match for the subdued personalities of 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 own android).
A couple of my friends observed that Alex’s affect and behavior at the beginning of this series strongly suggest depression, and I’m inclined to agree, though I think it’s situational rather than biological/ongoing. Watching him come out of his shell because he needs to protect Ada makes my heart all melty.
Alex + Ada is complete either in four small volumes, or one large collected edition.
Diversity note: Jonathan Luna is Filipino-American.
Gorgeously illustrated space opera about robots and the legacy of past decisions. Dr. Quon, formerly a stylish and famous robotics genius but now a down-and-out academic, is grabbed by the government 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.
Nguyen’s painting style lends soft edges and humanity to a futuristic setting and multiple robot characters. His art enriches the story at every turn. Even the paneling changes depending on which characters are interacting. And if there’s 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.
Descender is so much about how the past influences the present. Lemire is adept at mixing both with clarity, and without slowing down the forward momentum of the story. Even in the second volume which is almost completely character backstory, you can feel how necessary it is to understand where these people came from. The different robots have very different personalities, as do the various humans and aliens. And in the middle, is Tim, who clearly sees them all as just different kinds of people, bridging any gap between biological and machine sentience.
Four volumes into this ongoing series, I’m just as engrossed with Descender as I was after the first volume. Recommended because space opera, cute little robot boy and his robot dog, and a badass space marine type gal with blue skin and something to prove.
Diversity notes: (1) One imagines Dr. Quon is of Asian heritage, though I’m not sure it ever specifies in the text. (2) Nguyen is Asian-American.
And that’s the list of my favorite science fiction comics and graphic novels (so far)! 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!