Want to make me happy? Give me a story with a secret cabal of evildoers, behind the scenes machinations, and a determined resistance fighting against seemingly overwhelming odds. Throw in some superheroes or magic powers, or not! I’m happy either way. So here are my favorite conspiracy-centric graphic novels for you to peruse. If you like secrets and cover-ups in fiction as much as I do, I hope you find something new and interesting to read 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!
- Amazon links are affiliate links.
- Any questions, corrections, recommendations? Let me know via my contact form.
Dominic Weaver has a gift. He can absorb anyone’s memories and skills by touching their skin, and use those skills until the transfer wears off. So of course he makes his living as a pro gambler and con man. When he gets himself in over his head gambling in Singapore, a mysterious woman named Maggie Ford shows up to bail him out. On behalf of her boss, who she says she’d rather be working for than running from. But what would a gal who can heal from almost any injury be so afraid of? By the end of the first book, I was like OH MY GOD WHAT IS GOING ON?!?! In the second book, I found out, and it was eminently satisfying. The noir-style art is gorgeous. Maggie kicks ass. I couldn’t ask for more.
Uncanny is collected in two paperback volumes. The second is sometimes referred to as Uncanny Season Two.
Dr. Laura Regan, one of the world’s top experts in infectious diseases, is framed for the murder of her research partner right after discovering a public health threat. She’s joined in hiding by an FBI agent, a Secret Service agent, and a bureaucrat who’ve all discovered pieces of the puzzle themselves: someone has deliberately unleashed the contagion. It’s suspenseful, basically a spy story with no James Bond character, and it would make such a gripping movie. The art style varies from abstract to detailed, from black and white to greyscale to various types of coloring, and there are a few photographs worked in, such as buildings. It’s like a complex collage. Someone could write a paper on the varying uses of color alone, I’m sure. If you like political conspiracies and watching competing groups investigating each other while a time bomb ticks, this may be your jam.
The Homeland Directive is complete in one volume.
Jon Moore is former spy on the run, now working as a mercenary. He has an edge many in his profession don’t. That edge is Jake Ellis, a ghost, or possibly a hallucination, who appears only to Jon. Things are going passably well until some very scary people start chasing them, and it becomes crucial to find out what the government did to Jon four years ago – and who Jake really is. I have such a hard time figuring out what else I can tell you without spoilers! SO I’ll just say that I love Zonjić’s art. It’s clean, crisp, and a perfect look for this noir conspiracy with a strong strain of the paranormal.
Sadly, and I hate to say this, the second and final volume was a more ho-hum straightforward spy chase book. I was glad to get some answers, but I didn’t have a particularly fun time reading it. YMMV.
Someone tried to kill a U.S. special forces squad. Specifically, the C.I.A., covering up some wrongdoing. Now the squad is on a mission to get their lives back no matter what the cost.
You always have to be careful with books whose heroes are in the U.S. military and similar, because the U.S. has done some really bad shit in the world with its armed forces and spy agencies. So first thing is to remember that these guys probably aren’t innocent either. But this book is firmly on the side of the powerless, and I don’t just mean this team. I also appreciated seeing two men of color on this team, neither of whom are stereotypes, and Aisha herself who is an extremely complex and strong woman of color. If you’ve seen the movie, you should read this as a followup. Aisha is so much cooler in the comics. I liked her in the movie, but just sayin’.
The Losers was published in five paperback collections, then again in two Omnibus paperback editions. Be careful if shopping, as the listings are hella messy on Amazon.
Elle was attacked on a subway platform days ago, and now she’s in a coma. Maybe. Maybe she was attacked? She can’t quite remember now. Her mind is in some kind of dream world while her body is trapped in a hospital bed. Her parents and her brother and some of the doctors know more than they’re telling, and her best friend and boyfriend are getting suspicious. Then Elle wakes up in someone else’s body and things get even more complicated. Intrigue, betrayal, threats, secrets, lies, it’s all here. This book has multiple women of color with speaking roles, multiple strong female characters, and multiple queer folks. Some people even speak languages other than English! It’s almost like it happens in the real world?! Seriously, though, great cast, suspenseful writing, and the art is gorgeous.
Three paperback collections were published, and then 2 more issues came out that were promoted as the beginning of Act II. So it’s not a complete story, sadly, though based on a few tweets I haven’t yet given up hope that it will be continued and completed someday.
Seven teenagers, all accepted to a prestigious prep school. Where the staff brainwashes your parents into not remembering you and not taking your calls, or worse. Where they try to drown you and your classmates to establish their authority. Where there is something deeply horrible going on, even beyond this behavior. Where the only way out is to figure out what kind of war is happening and fight. If you can figure out what side you’re supposed to be on. Nothing is what it seems. You can’t trust anyone, either as a character or as a reader! Spencer does an amazing job of undoing everything you think you know, as soon as you figure it out, and I have NO IDEA what is going to happen with this series.
So far there have been ten paperback collections which cover all 50 issues out thus far, described as the first two seasons of the series. Three volumes are out in the Deluxe Edition collections. It’s supposedly planned for 100 issues, but a new issue hasn’t come out since July 2016, so we shall see what happens.
G.I. Joe: COBRA – The Last Laugh (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) By Mike Costa and Christos Gage. Art by Antonio Fuso. Colors by Chris Chuckry and Lovern Kindzierski. Letters by Chris Mowry, Robbie Robbins, and Neil Uyetake.
You are probably thinking “Skye, REALLY? G.I. Joe?!” I know! It took several months for two separate people to talk me into trying this out. Y’all, it is SO GOOD. Starting with what is known as “The Chuckles Saga,” collected as The Last Laugh linked above, Costa and Gage took the G.I. Joe universe and made it real and scary and dark. Chuckles is a Joe agent sent undercover into COBRA, a mysterious organization which in this universe the Joes don’t fully understand yet, and some don’t even believe exists. Short version: the mission does NOT go well.
The fallout goes on for books and books and books, with the Joes basically getting broken down, beaten down, their organization demolished and under threat from an enemy no one saw coming and which threatens the world’s governments. Here’s what you read after The Last Laugh, to do it right – and I’ve put the work into this because IDW does NOT make it easy to follow the thread forward:
G.I. Joe: COBRA Serpent’s Coil (Amazon / Goodreads), which happens at the same time as The Last Laugh. It scared the hell out of me. (By Costa and Gage, art by Sergio Carrera and J.K. Woodward, colors by Peter Dawes & Kindzierski, letters by Mowry & Robbins & Uyetaka.)
G.I. JOE: Cobra Civil War Compendium (Amazon / Goodreads) collects Mike Costa’s Cobra with Chuck Dixon’s G.I. Joe and a Snake Eyes miniseries. They all interweave to tell the Cobra Civil War story, and this book puts them in proper reading order. We read all that in various smaller books and it was a huge pain in the ass to get them in order. So the collected edition is worth it. The “I’ll never be a Joe” sequences from various characters who don’t quite fit the mold are poignant, and a forerunner of Costa’s work after this big event. I don’t think Dixon’s stories were as strong as Costa’s but that could be personal preference as Costa tends towards dark and creepy while Dixon is more traditional. (So many pencillers, inkers, colorists, and letterers here that I’m not going to list them all, sorry guys.)
And then onto my most favorite part, after the Joe organization has been stripped down to the ground, with the team I love more than almost any other team in comics. They’re those not-quite-fitting-in Joes who are locked in a fight with COBRA’s evil. Sometimes even fighting their own hearts and pasts. The books are:
- G.I. JOE: Cobra – Son of the Snake (Amazon / Goodreads)
- G.I. JOE: Cobra – Oktober Guard (Amazon / Goodreads)
- G.I. JOE: The Cobra Files Volume 1 (Amazon / Goodreads)
- G.I. JOE: The Cobra Files Volume 2 (Amazon / Goodreads)
(Writing by Costa, art by Fuso and Werther Dell’edera, some inks by Elimio Lecce, colors by Arianna Florean, letters by Uyetake and Lee.)
I bought a COBRA logo t-shirt because of Costa’s writing in these four books. I’m not kidding. His female characters, especially, are amazingly complex. Following all of Costa’s heroic characters as they struggle to grow, to become or remain themselves, and all the challenges they face… and it’s all in a freakin’ G.I. Joe comic book. The conniving, manipulative villain in this series is absolutely chilling. And I could not even describe how amazing the art is, because it’s so good I have no words. It just gets better and more distinctive as time goes on.
Content warning: there are undoubtedly some missteps. One I can think of is a short scene in Zimbabwe a little too reminiscent of the Resident Evil 5 trailer’s racism (but it’s not heroes shooting the victims.)
Okay I can be done talking about G.I. Joe now. Maybe.
The Invisibles (Amazon / Goodreads) Grant Morrison writing, and lots of artists over the years, starting with Steve Yeowell, Jill Thompson, and Dennis Cramer with colors by Daniel Vozzo and letters by Clem Robins.
The Invisibles is the story of a foul-mouth Liverpool kid named Dane who’s recruited to a centuries-old secret society that fights the invading extradimensional Archons who control much of modern society, with a goal of stamping out humanity’s growth by imposing conformity. We’re told Dane will become a god later. But first, after he tries to burn down his school, he’s contacted and put through a magical hazing / awakening process to prepare him to fight the Archons as part of a resistance cell.
Some of the art in various books looks a little dated now, and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. Content warnings for probably all topics for which anyone has ever used trigger warnings – including the incredibly clumsy handling of some of those diverse team characters! Especially Lord Fanny, the transgender Brazilian witch. The Invisibles is a stunningly clear example there of how problematic and awesome can be completely intermixed, and thus any given reader can react in any direction.
BUT this was one of the earliest comics to win my heart because of its raucous energy, multi-layered conspiracy, diverse team, blend of magic and science fiction, and general strangeness, and my love of it is strong even with its various flaws.
The Invisibles was published (and reprinted multiple times with occasional different covers) in seven paperback collections, and also in four Deluxe Editions, and I think there’s also a giant Omnibus edition but it’s probably too heavy to read comfortably.
That concludes today’s roundup of comics about conspiracies that I love and recommend!