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 four of my favorites – hopefully you find something new and exciting to read here, or feel free to leave me suggestions in the comments, because I’m always looking for more. (Update: Republishing this post because I’ve added more books!)
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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I. Am. In. Love. I read the first two volumes of this manga today, and it’s 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. Can’t wait for the next volume.
Content warning: they seem to live in an oppressive political regime with secret police, interrogators, etc.
Rucka has a well-earned reputation for writing strong female leads well. Queen and Country’s Tara Chace may be my favorite. Tara is a secret agent for the British Ministry of Intelligence. Her section takes the dirty jobs, and they’re good at what they do. Through the ten volume series, we get to know Tara and her colleagues in both their office, waiting for missions, and in the field. We see the fallout of their jobs on their mental health and personal lives. We see death and the saving of lives. The political intrigue their bosses are drawn into is just as much part of the missions as the field work. It’s captivating.
A couple of warnings, though these aren’t meant to detract from my wholehearted recommendation of the series: (1) Leandro Fernandez drew Tara in volume 3 as a bombshell, a total mismatch for her character. I even like Fernandez but it was clearly a big mess. No idea how it was allowed to happen. From what I’ve seen, I wasn’t the only one to notice. So hold your nose and get through it, that mistake doesn’t happen again. (2) I am not a big fan of what I call “poignant pregnancies” in fiction (thrown in just to tearjerk), and there is one here for a female character. I guess with a ten volume series, there’s a high chance something I don’t like will sneak in, and that’s the one here.
The “definitive edition” reissues may be definitive, but they’re also printed on smaller size pages than the original comics and some of the fonts are really difficult to read. So if you can find the older edition collections, it’s worth it to save eyestrain.
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 this book 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.
I never had a chance to review this, but I thought it was a super-intriguing start to a series. However this volume collects the only issues that exist, 1-6, and looking back I can kinda see how maybe it was intended to be finite. I need to re-read it with that perspective in mind – but in the meantime, I recommend you give it a shot if this sounds interesting:
“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.”
Zero (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) By Ales Kot. Art by Michael Walsh, Tradd Moore, Mateus Santolouco, Morgan Jeske, Will Tempest, Vanesa R. Del Rey, Matt Taylor, Jorge Coelho, Tonči Zonjić, Michael Gaydos, Ricardo Lopez Ortiz, Adam Gorham, Alberto Ponticelli, and Marek Oleksicki. All colors by Jordie Bellaire. Letters by Clayton Cowles.
Edward Zero is a spy and assassin for a mysterious agency that raised him from a young age to follow orders. He had a life and a purpose, even love. And then it all started to go wrong. What happens when he stops following orders?
Each issue of this comic has a different artist, and the overall story is told in a non-linear format, so it’s not an easy read. I actually read the second volume twice in order to understand it. The second time, I made myself a timeline of events in order and that helped a lot. It was well worth it, though. When I felt everything come together, I got chills. I feel like the storytelling style suits the multi-layered world that Zero operates in, and the truths he must unravel. I highly recommend reading the first three collected editions if you’re the kind of person who enjoys puzzles and semi-breaking your own brain to put them together.
Unfortunately, I felt like the fourth volume spun way out in a direction I didn’t care for, to the point where we didn’t even keep it in our home library. We live as though the third volume was the end of the series, with leaves us with ambiguity about what happened and a suspicion it was not good. And that’s fine with us, because we love the first three volumes so much that we’ll be re-reading them.
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, don’t read this either. I’d characterize it as bleak but extremely satisfying spy heist/double-cross fiction.
Secret is complete in one volume.
Diversity note: Wooton is disabled.
That concludes today’s roundup of comics about spies and secret agents 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.