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. (Disclosure: Amazon links are affiliate links.)
I originally posted my graphic novel rec lists in 2012-15, but they’re being refreshed and expanded in 2023-24 as I re-read most of the books to make sure I’m still enthusiastic about recommending them. However, please let me know via my contact form if you find something yikes in a book I recommend.
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.
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 and coaches him through missions. 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. When I first wrote this review, I had such a hard time figuring out what else I could say without spoilers, in a good way! I also love Zonjić’s art. It’s clean, crisp, and a perfect look for this noir conspiracy with a strong strain of the paranormal.
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.
The series Mind the Gap by Jim McCann; art by Rodin Esquejo with Adrian Alphona helping out; colors by Sonia Oback, Rodin Esquejo, Arif Prianto, and Beny Maulana; letters by David Lanphear (Amazon / Goodreads)
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 (16-17) came out that were promoted as the beginning of Act II. So it’s not a complete story, sadly, and never will be. I still recommend if it you can get a hold of those last two issues. I had to get them on Ebay.
G.I. Joe: COBRA – The Last Laugh 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 (Amazon / Goodreads)
You’re 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. Costa and Gage took the G.I. Joe universe and made it real and scary and dark. Chuckles is the codename for 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. In fact, it turns out Cobra isn’t just real, but planning to take over the world.
You can look for it all in the collected edition above, in multiple separate paperbacks (that’s how we have it), or possibly even single issues. I wish it were more easily available because it’s fantastic.
And that’s the list!