Dangerous missions! Conspiracies and betrayals! Fast cars! Deadly weapons! Spy comics have an infinite budget for special effects and different locations, so they’re possibly even better than spy movies. Here are my favorites. (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.
The series Spy x Family by Tatsuya Endo, translated by Casey Loe (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads)
Eight volumes into this series and I am still loving it. Spy x Family is this perfect mix of a totally absurd plot with very real feelings in characters who aren’t used to having them. The setup: A spy adopts a child as part of a mission and doesn’t realize she’s a telepath, and enters a marriage of convenience with a woman who wants to reassure her brother she won’t be single forever – except she’s secretly a contract killer. I can barely follow the politics of the fictional country where they live, but it doesn’t matter, because the important aspect is how three people who’ve never really had anybody deal with having someone. Everyone in my household adores this series and tries hard to be patient waiting for their turn to read the newest volume.
Content warning: The characters seem to live in an oppressive political regime with secret police, interrogators, etc.
Super Sikh, created by Eileen Kaur Alden and Supreet Singh Manchanda, art by Amit Tayal, adapted by Adrian Reynolds and Eileen Kaur Alden (Amazon / Goodreads)
“Meet Deep Singh. He loves Elvis and hates the Taliban. By day he works at a tech company and lives with his parents. But that’s just a front. For Deep Singh is really a top secret agent for the United Nations, fighting terrorism all around the world. But right now, he really needs a vacation. And there’s only one place to go…Graceland!”
This. book. is. so. much. fun. Don’t take it too seriously, just enjoy the ride.
The series Velvet by Ed Brubaker, art by Steve Epting, colors by Bettie Breitweiser, letters by Chris Eliopoulos (Amazon / Goodreads)
When one of the world’s top secret agents is killed, the evidence points to… a secretary? Velvet Templeton may be a secretary now, but we’re about to find out that she was much more than that. And possibly still is.
I waited and waited for the first book of this series to come out, collecting the first five issues of the comic, and it was worth the wait! It’s full of secrets and lies, manipulation and action, and a badass female main character who isn’t 22 years old. Brubaker and Epting knocked it out of the park, and Breitweiser’s colors are perfection (as always). I’m astonished at how much backstory and voiceover narration the first book managed to load up, without once slowing down or overwhelming the main plot. It does a great job of being the first act of a longer story, getting all the chess pieces on the board, with that cool sophistication you want from a spy thriller. The second and third were equally as satisfying, and I was 100% happy with the end of the series. We should have more books like this. And if this doesn’t get picked up as a movie or a mini-series, there’s something wrong with the world.
There’s also a hardcover deluxe edition that collects the entire series.
The Dead Hand by Kyle Higgins, art by Stephen Mooney, colors by Jordie Bellaire, letters by Clayton Cowles (Amazon / Goodreads)
“Carter Carlson was a highly decorated operative during the Cold War. But in the fall of 1991, as the Soviet Union collapsed, Carter discovered a secret that not only changed his life… but also altered the course of history. Now, as the mysterious ‘Dead Hand’ threatens to end the world once again, the only thing standing in its way is the relationship between four old spies, a secret town, and a special little boy.”
The paperback I bought, collecting single issues 1-6, is numbered as book 1 of a series. No more was ever produced, but when I re-read it knowing that, it felt like a complete story to me? Not sure what the creators had intended. So I think it’s fine to simply ignore that “1” on the spine and read this as a satisfying standalone that collects the whole story.
Secret by Jonathan Hickman, art by Ryan Bodenheim, colors by Michael Garland, and letters by Rus Wooton (Amazon / Goodreads)
Secret is the collision of corporate espionage, private security firms, and the legacy of Cold War misdeeds. There’s not a lot to the plot compared to some of Hickman’s other work, but wow, here’s a bunch of people you really don’t want to piss off. It’s a violent book about ex-soldier spies going up against each other after the death of one of their number reveals a secret that someone should have really kept better. The alternating black/white/grey with monochromatic color elements and panels is extremely striking, but if you’re squeamish about blood, don’t read this. And if you want any of your characters to be good people, probably don’t read this either. I’d characterize it as bleak but extremely satisfying spy heist/double-cross fiction.
And that’s the list!