When I started blogging about comics, I made a list of my favorites to help organize things, and a LOT of crime and heist books ended up on that piece of paper. I hadn’t thought of myself as a crime-story loving gal, but the evidence is right there on my bookshelves! Here’s a collection of my favorites (so far!) and I hope you find something fascinating to dig into. (Disclosure: Amazon links are affiliate links.)
Any book on this list I loved at the time I read it, whether I had a chance to write a review or not. Obviously a re-read years later might reveal a problematic aspect I didn’t pick up on back then. Please let me know via my contact form if you find something yikes in a book I recommend.
Forget your preconceptions about Shaft. This book is a masterful gritty crime drama, and wildly underappreciated! John Shaft went to Vietnam to avoid a prison sentence. Back home from the war, he meets a girl. Unfortunately, his girl knows someone who’s in a lot of trouble, and that trouble comes knocking on their door. It’s a story about revenge, and about what can motivate someone to to live on the “wrong” side of the law. Walker’s Shaft, based on the novels by Tidyman, is a cunning opponent whose uses his emotions as fuel. The gangsters and corrupt cops he’s up against don’t stand a chance. Evely and Miwa create a strong sense of time and place for this origin story, from the cars and fashion to the vintage coloring.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this limited series, and I was blown away by what I got. The followup volume, Shaft: Imitation of Life (Amazon / Goodreads), was just as fantastic. Dietrich Smith illustrated that one, with colors by Alex Guimarães. Content warnings for this volume: anti-gay slurs, interrupted attempted sexual assault of drugged and kidnapped victims.
This is a very satisfying prequel to one of my fave graphic novels of all times, Incognegro, but they’re both standalone stories.
“When a black writer is found dead at a scandalous interracial party in 1920s’ New York, Harlem’s cub reporter Zane Pinchback is the only one determined to solve the murder. Zane must go ‘Incognegro’ for the first time, using his light appearance to pass as a white man to find the true killer. With a cryptic manuscript as his only clue, and a mysterious and beautiful woman as the murder’s only witness, Zane finds himself on the hunt through the dark and dangerous streets of ‘roaring twenties’ Harlem in search for justice. In a time when looks could kill… Zane’s skin is the only thing keeping him alive.”
The gay noir pro wrestling comic I never knew I needed, but fell in love with anyway. Retired wrestler Dan Knossos, who was known as The Minotaur, flies back from Japan to the U.S. when he gets a call that his ex-boyfriend is in trouble. Teddy, an addict, is in hock to some very bad dudes for lots of cash. Dan’s long-ago guilt for abandoning Teddy to try for success in pro wrestling won’t let him walk away from a situation in which there are no good solutions. His personal story trying to save Teddy is interwoven with various other characters in the pro wrestling industry, a grueling field made up of intense travel, Hollywood-level institutional apathy towards anyone who isn’t a star, and naive young people with big dreams. It’s equal parts crime comic and entertainment industry critique, and every minute I was pretty sure everyone in it was doomed, because noir.
The series is now complete in three volumes, with a conclusion that seemed very right to me.
“It’s the most dangerous heist ever attempted. Four desperate criminals are going all in on a once-in-a-lifetime chance to steal millions in art and turn their miserable lives around. The catch? They have to pull it off under the nose of a one thousand-ton Kaiju.
And a giant monster might just be the least of their problems.”
This isn’t going to change your life, and I thought it could have been a wee bit more heist-y. But as a giant monster fan and a heist fan, I found it perfectly enjoyable and I loved the art style.
There’s supposed to be a second volume, but as of July 2023, it seems to have been delayed or disappeared, possibly to the publisher’s financial difficulties.
I’ve read this twice now, and still adore it. Maggy herself is so snarky, so grey-area with morality, but I can’t help but enjoy her and root for her (or at least her well-being) even when she’s all about Bad Decision Theater. This small-crime kinda-detective drama would make a fantastic independent film or miniseries.
“After two years of unemployment, Maggy Garrisson lands a secretarial job. Too bad her new boss is the shady, chaotic Anthony Wight: private detective and alcoholic. But a job is a job, and Maggy could use the cash. Five days into her new role, Wight is beaten to a pulp and Maggy is tasked with returning his wallet. With this seemingly innocuous request, Maggy enters a sinister underworld of corrupt cops, crooked businessmen, and career criminals. There’s a lot to investigate, from the disappearance of a family album to the theft of gold teeth from bodies at the crematorium. But for someone with the energy, ingenuity, and enterprising spirit of Maggy Garrison, puzzles are there to be solved — especially if there’s money to be made in the process.”
DANG I was impressed with this! When I saw it was about the aftermath of “a historic heist — 52 simultaneous robberies at the same time, in the same city” I was in, but I guess I didn’t read the rest of the blurb because I wasn’t at all ready for the emotional depth, mother-son bond, and the wallop of a family secret at the end. Really good stuff, very human amidst all the crime, violence, and bad decisions.
“After taking part in a historic heist — 52 simultaneous robberies at the same time, in the same city — May and Eugene are now on the run not only from the law and double-crossed former accomplices, but also their violent past. What makes these criminals so surprising is that they are a young mother and her preteen son. Bastard traces the deadly escape of May and Eugene as they crisscross the United States, encountering mysterious truckers, ambitious bandits, and senior citizens living off the grid in the Southwest. The duo race to get to their stolen cash and simply survive as masterful flashbacks clue us into how they got into this deadly situation in the first place.”
Quiet, character-driven manga drama series about a former samurai with intense social anxiety being drawn into a life of crime / found family led by a charismatic man with a mysterious past. I enjoyed this series even more upon re-reading, because knowing the events freed me up to pay even more attention to the subtleties of emotion and connection/disconnection between the characters.
“Masterless samurai Akitsu Masanosuke is a skilled and loyal swordsman, but his naïve, diffident nature has more than once caused him to be let go by the lords who employ him. Hungry and desperate, he agrees to become a bodyguard for Yaichi, the charismatic leader of a group calling itself ‘Five Leaves.’ Although disturbed by the gang’s sinister activities, Masa begins to suspect that Yaichi’s motivations are not what they seem. And despite his misgivings, the deeper he’s drawn into the world of the Five Leaves, the more he finds himself fascinated by these devious, mysterious outlaws.”
Boyd Linney is a bounty hunter. A ten year old bounty hunter. He comes from a family of criminals, and he aims to put them away. At first it seems like a funny comic, and it is, but there are also deep layers of emotion here. Especially in brief flashbacks to Boyd’s younger childhood, where it’s clear he was abused and neglected. I don’t usually go out of my way for Western settings, either in books or movies, but this is such a profound, moving, bittersweet little book and I’m glad I took a chance.
Ah, the pleasures of a heist comic in which 2/3 of the thieves have no freakin’ clue what they’re doing! I had such a good time reading this. The art is crisp and clean, the characters are well-rounded, and Case keeps every single plot-related ball in the air with ease until he starts throwing them precisely where they should go.
Set in Depression-era NYC at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, The New Deal is the story of two coworkers. Frank is a white bellhop with a gambling debt he can’t pay. Theresa is an African-American maid with a passion for acting which is – shall we say – going unfulfilled in the roles available to her in that time and place. Her treatment by the rich white patrons of the Waldorf Astoria isn’t any better. (And to complicate matters further, Frank has a crush on Theresa. Because she’s great.)
A new guest and a series of mysterious thefts at the hotel pull both main characters into an even more complicated mess… and that’s where I’ll leave you to read it for yourself. Enjoy!
What happens when four middle-school age kids figure out that one of their dads is being recruited back to a life of crime for a bank heist? Nothing good. I was blown away by this graphic novel, which starts funny and ends up heartbreaking, though we do get a little hopeful closure for some characters in the epilogue. A crystal clear demonstration of the consequences of immature decision making – and I don’t mean immature as an insult, I mean it as a descriptor. I really appreciated how the creative team didn’t give anyone an easy out from the reality of what goes down. Loved it the first time, re-read it again recently and enjoyed it just as much.
This time travel manga is so good I practically couldn’t put it down until I got to the end of the series.
“Twenty-nine-year-old Satoru Fujinuma is floundering through life. Amid his daily drudgery, he finds himself in the grip of an incredible, inexplicable, and uncontrollable phenomenon that rewinds time, a condition that seems to only make his drab life worse. But then, one day, everything changes. A terrible incident forever changes Satoru’s life as he knows it…and with it, comes a ‘Revival’ that sends Satoru eighteen years into the past!
In the body of his boyhood self, Satoru encounters sights he never imagined he would see again–the smile of his mother, alive and well, his old friends, and Kayo Hinazuki, the girl who was kidnapped and murdered when he was a boy the first time around. To return to the present and prevent the tragedy that brought him back to his childhood in the first place, Satoru begins plotting a way to change Hinazuki’s fate…But up against the clock and a faceless evil, does eleven-year-old Satoru even stand a chance?”
I’m not smart enough to write an in-depth review of this graphic novel. I’ll probably need to read it a couple more times before I can even describe it well. It’s not an easy book to read. The cast is complicated, and the story moves between different timelines. The topic is also difficult: interpersonal violence, from childhood bullying to sexual assault and murder.
So why am I recommending it? Because even if you’re not completely following the events, Asano creates such a feeling of dread with both the human and supernatural elements of the story. It’s dark, but not hopeless, and the events aren’t just horrible for the sake of horrible. It’s extremely well-written by someone who’s clearly very smart, and it makes you want to figure out all the interlocking puzzles. Asano’s art particularly shines with details, such as the irises of someone’s eyes as they stare. He also mixes dialogue and narration well, devoting some panels entirely to narration instead of crowding the art – and the pacing of the story is stronger as a result.
So go ahead and read it, and then I’ll buy you lunch so you can explain it to me. Deal?
I never thought I’d want to read a comic so heavy on the horror, but comics is all about broadening my genre horizons. Buckaroo, Oregon, is infamous for the sixteen serial killers that have grown up in the town. An FBI agent who was investigating has disappeared, and his friend NSA agent Nicholas Finch is trying to find him. Finch gets help from Buckaroo’s Sheriff Sharon Crane… without telling her he’s suspended from his job. Suspicion focuses on “The Nailbiter” a.k.a. Edward Warren, one of the serial killers, who lives in Buckaroo after somehow being acquitted for his crimes. Which yes, he totally did commit. After dating Sheriff Crane when they were in high school.
Here’s the big question our main characters are led to confront: why does Buckaroo raise so many serial killers? What’s going on beneath the town? The characters’ search for the answer sucked me in with strong characters, mystery, and beautiful coloring. The series climax maybe got a little speechifying for me, but it was more than made up for by the very-very end scene which was pitch perfect.
Nailbiter is complete in six paperback collections, or you can opt for various hardcovers/compendiums that collect the story in fewer volumes. Note: There is a second “season” of Nailbiter as well that starts with volume 7, but it didn’t click for me.
“You can say this about the life of Stanley Dance: he did it his way. Unfortunately, his way never took getting old into account. Now, the former boxer is on his last legs, looking for redemption… but he’ll settle for going down swinging. Roll the dice with superstar artist Dan Panosian as he creates a bold and breathtaking vision of Las Vegas, where everything old can become new, and superstition influences just how the chips fall.”
Gambling, boxing, nightclubs, double-crosses, all kinds of shenanigans and over-the-top-characters. I was expecting noir and gritty, but this is actually more madcap and ridiculous. I had a good time reading it.
We Can Never Go Home by Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon, art by Josh Hood and Brian Level, colors by Amanda Scurti and Tyler Boss, ;etters by Jim Campbell and David C. Hopkins (Amazon / Goodreads)
Violent, not at all hopeful, but extremely compelling. Teenagers with superpowers doing the teenage angst version of Bad Decision Theater, on the run because of their powers and tangling themselves up with crime. Why did I love this? Did I just get into the inevitability of disaster? I don’t usually go for such messy characters, especially young men who are as fucked up and manipulative as the male main character here, but Duncan’s desperate, broken behavior made me want to wrap him in a blanket and send him to therapy so he could stop self-destructing and taking other people with him.
The female half of the duo, former popular kid Madison, was the one I rooted for, even knowing there was probably no way to save her situation. I was pleasantly surprised with how okay I could be with her fate, and that’s all I’ll say about that. If you’re looking for a reality-based take on what would happen to the teenage mutants Xavier didn’t find and bring to his school, this is your book. I’ve read it twice and liked it even better the second time around.
“Easton Newburn is a private detective without loyalties, investigating conflicts between rival crime factions. With his assistant Emily, Newburn follows murderers, arsonists, and corrupt officials–while trying to stay out of their crosshairs.”
Criminals doing crime, backstabbing and secrets, all that fun stuff. After reading and enjoying this, I actually read a review on Goodreads that explains how this story makes almost zero sense in so many ways. I agreed 100% with that reviewer’s explanation and yet it has not affected my enjoyment of the book one bit. I’m looking forward to the second book!
Hope you found something new to read and enjoy!