11 Fascinating Graphic Novels About Detectives

Though I often have big issues with police procedurals around racism, due process etc., something about the puzzle-solving is addicting. So it’s no surprise that when I started reading comics, detective series grabbed me. Here are my favorites so far, a mix of private investigators and police officers. Hope you find something new and fascinating to read!

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.

Signals by Nika (Read on Tapas / Amazon (paperback) / Goodreads)

I really enjoyed this graphic novel about a bi psychic private investigator, having gotten both books from a Kickstarter in PDF form a ways back. Book 2 isn’t out in print yet, and sadly you can’t (yet?) buy it digitally, but at least the webcomic is still up. It’s a lot of fun, and I’ll be exploring Nika’s other work ASAP now that I’ve finished this.

(I’m using the blurb from Kickstarter here, because when Dark Horse put this out for wide distribution, they didn’t bother to actually craft a blurb and instead used the very short one from the webcomic.)

“A mysterious new drug…
A woman in search of her friend…
…and a telepath about to discover she’s out of her depth.

When a new client calls on rookie detective Mel Song to find her missing friend, the case promises to be a simple one. After all, Mel has something most other people don’t: the ability to read minds. But there is something sinister brewing within New York City’s criminal world, and it poses a threat the likes of which Mel has never encountered before.

For the first time, Mel may no longer be the only telepath in town.”

Past Lies: An Amy Devlin Mystery (Amazon / Kindle / Goodreads) By Christina Weir and Nunzio DeFilippis, with art by Christopher Mitten.

Nunzio and DeFillippis are a writing team we often enjoy, and the Amy Devlin series delivers. Amy graduated from college and kind of accidentally set up her P.I. practice without a license. Oops. It’s not going so well.

When she finally gets a client, though, it’s a bizarre one. A young actor believes he’s the reincarnation of Trevor Schalk, a millionaire who was murdered in 1982. The murder was never solved. The cop who didn’t solve it isn’t happy to see Amy during her preliminary investigation, but she can tell he’s hiding something, so she takes the case. Unluckily for Amy, there are still a lot of people who want to conceal the truth about what happened that night.

It’s a fast-paced, interesting mystery that calls for both smarts and compassion. I enjoyed it so much that we bought the next two books, though it was hard to adjust to the change in artists each time. If you’re looking for a classic detective story with plenty of twists and turns, give this trilogy a shot.

Watson and Holmes: A Study In Black (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) Created by Brandon Perlow and Paul Mendoza, written by Karl Bollers. Illustrated by Rick Leonardi and Larry Strongman. Colors by Paul Mendoza, GuruEFX, Archie Van Buren, and Jay David Ramos. Letters by Taylor Esposito, Nicole McDonnell, Wilson Ramos Jr., and Dave Lanphear.

This modern take on Sherlock Holmes operates out of Harlem, New York City. He’s an eccentric private investigator who shows up an an inner-city emergency clinic asking questions about a kid brought in unconscious. Watson is an ex-military medical intern at that clinic. When the kid’s toxicology screen shows exactly what Holmes told him it would, Watson wants to know how Holmes knew. And he gets pulled into an investigation that quickly becomes dangerous.

This blew my mind. All the familiar Sherlock Holmes elements are there, but remixed and made fresh. Watson is a sympathetic protagonist, and Holmes is a delicious enigma. Both artists and all the colorists work together well, creating a tense atmosphere as the case unfolds. I didn’t much care for the second volume, but this first book is one of our favorite reads.

Master Keaton (Amazon / Goodreads) Co-created and with art by Naoki Urasawa, story by Hokusei Katsushika and Takashi Nagasaki. Translation and English adaptation by Pookie Rolf, lettering by Steve Dutro.

Taichi Hiraga-Keaton wants to be an archaeologist. Since that hasn’t worked out full time, he takes side jobs as an insurance investigator on suspicious cases. He seems like a gentle, affable fellow, and he is. But he’s also a former member of the British Army’s SAS special forces. The Master Keaton series tells various tales about his cases, adventures, and family stories about his relationships with his teenage daughter and elderly father.

What I love about this series is that while Taichi is smart, skilled, and deadly, there is absolutely no machismo about him. He’s refreshingly different from the stereotypical action hero. And he’s so nerdy and passionate about archaeology! You just want to make him a cup of tea (his mom’s British, after all) and help him brush up his cover letter applying for another teaching position.

After a good number of volumes in this long series (12 volumes total), I felt like it lost its focus on the combination I liked, which is Taichi’s investigative brain + action + occasional bits of his family life. YMMV, and it’s definitely worth reading at least the first handful of books.

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The Fuse (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) By Antony Johnston, illustrated by Justin Greenwood, with colors by Shari Shankhamma and letters by Ed Brisson.

I didn’t like the first page of this book. A homeless-appearing black man who says “ain’t” a lot is killed. It felt like a tired trope. But I usually love Antony Johnston’s writing, so I stuck with it. I’m glad I did, because this is a damn good book. Ralph Dietrich, a 28 year old black homicide detective from Germany, transfers to the orbiting space station known as The Fuse. His partner, an older Russian white woman named Klem Ristovych, isn’t about to give this new kid any unearned credit. Especially when he starts by assuming she’s a civilian. Awkward!

This is a solid police procedural, set in space, with a touch of larger conspiracy to make my heart sing. Greenwood’s people are angular, dynamic, and interesting, especially when they’re grumpy. The cast is diverse, reflecting what our future in space will actually look like. If you enjoy following detectives around as they patch together clues and solve a case, this is for you. Four volumes in and I’m still loving its consistent quality. The Fuse is an ongoing series.

Copperhead (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) By Jay Faerber, with art by Scott Godlewski, colors by Ron Riley, and letters by Thomas Mauer.

Clara Bronson moves to the planet Jasper to take over as Sheriff of Coppertown, because she and her son Zeke needed a fresh start. That’s what she says. But she doesn’t say much about herself. Not that her deputy, Budroxifinicus, would listen. He’s too bitter about getting passed over for the job. Seems humans aren’t ready for one of his species to be in a position of power. There are many different species on post-war Jasper, and peaceful co-existence isn’t exactly universal.

To be honest, Sheriff Bronson wasn’t my favorite character in this series up front. I’m usually a sucker for strong women, but she was too closed off, and kind of a jerk. My real interest was in Budroxifinicus. He’s a good detective, a good cop, and I was curious about how he ended up in this job. (And how long he’s put up with Bronson.) Everyone in this book has a past and I suspected at some point, they were going to collide. Should be interesting, I thought.

I was right. By the third book, yep, there was much collision, and it HAS been quite interesting. I’d also warmed up to Clara a lot in the second book as we were given more insight into her life. I’m a fan of this ongoing series!

Stumptown (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) By Greg Rucka, with art by Matthew Southworth. Colors by Southworth, Lee Loughridge, and Rico Renzi.

You can’t help but root for the underdog, right? Dex Parios is a (bisexual gal) private investigator who’s perpetually low on cash. Her relationship with local police is slightly strained. Her younger brother and roommate Ansel, who has Down’s Syndrome, is way more popular than she is… probably because unlike his big sister, he doesn’t have an attitude and a chip on his shoulder. In this first volume, Dex runs up a debt she can’t pay at a casino and the owner gives her a job: find a missing granddaughter. Sounds straightforward, except too many people don’t want said granddaughter to be found. And they’re willing to mess Dex up to keep her out of it.

IMHO, Rucka writes female characters very well. And the first volume of Stumptown is full of double-crossing, threats, secrets, lies, and everything else that makes up a good P.I. story. I liked the second volume even better. The third revolves around a pro sport I know nothing about, and Rucka brings on a new artist, so it didn’t click for me as much, but the fourth was back to the Stumptown I know and love. I’m always glad to see the next volume of this series announced.

Whiteout (Amazon/Kindle / Goodreads) By Greg Rucka, with art by Steve Lieber.

U.S. Deputy Marshal Carrie Stetko is stationed at McMurdo Station in Antartica, as far as humanly possible from her past. There’s a murder just before many people stationed in Antarctica will return to their homes off the continent, meaning Carrie has a limited time to solve the case.

British secret agent Lily Sharpe enters the picture because the murderer took something from the ice, and she wants to know what it was. Mayhem ensues as Stetko and Sharpe track an unknown murderer through the ice. If you’ve seen the movie, don’t hold it against the book. Rucka’s two-volume comic book is far superior, not least because there are two female main characters. (Yep, it’s true, they swapped Lily for a man in the movie. Eyeroll.) This book does an amazing job showing Carrie’s emotional damage and isolation, the PTSD she carries from an assignment gone horribly wrong. But it gives you just enough that you can hope for a happier future for her. Really suspenseful and enjoyable.

Friday (Amazon / Goodreads) By Ed Brubaker, illustrated by Marcos Martín, colors by Munsta Vicente.

“A young adult detective hero finally grows up […]

Friday Fitzhugh spent her childhood solving crimes and digging up occult secrets with her best friend Lancelot Jones, the smartest boy in the world. But that was the past, now she’s in college, starting a new life on her own. Except when Friday comes home for the holidays, she’s immediately pulled back into Lance’s orbit and finds that something very strange and dangerous is happening in their little New England town…

This is literally the Christmas vacation from Hell and neither of them may survive to see the New Year.”

Gotham Central (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) By Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka. Art initially by Michael Lark, then by Brian Hurtt, Stefano Gaudiano, Greg Scott, Jason Alexander, Kano, and Steve Lieber. Colors by Noelle Giddings, Matt Hollingsworth, and Lee Loughridge. Letters by Willie Schubert.

Gotham Central is the human side of the Batman universe. It’s four volumes (in hardcover), each focusing on one set of partners in the Gotham City Police Department’s Major Crimes Unit (MCU). These are the cops who deal with regular crime happening every day, and who too often get drawn into the chaos created by the “costumes.”

I fell in love with this series because of the top-notch writing and art. The cases these detectives work are interesting, but the stories Brubaker and Rucka tell are as much about the officers themselves as the cases. There are some truly heartbreaking moments in these books. Both writers make you care deeply about the characters they’re creating. I also appreciated the diversity of the cast. (Bigots in the department call the MCU the “affirmative action” department because many of its detectives are not straight white men.) And finally, both the writers and the artists do a great job maintaining that “am I dreaming?” feeling that you or I would have if we ran into a costumed villain from a movie. For the MCU officers, that’s normal, and yet it doesn’t ever feel normal.

Alias (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) By Brian Michael Bendis, with primary art by Michael Gaydos and additional art by Bill Sienkiewicz, David Mack, Mark Bagley, and Rodney Ramos. Colors by Matt Hollingsworth and letters by Richard Starkings, Comicraft’s Wes Abbott, Oscar Gongora, and Jason Levine.

Alias is one of my most beloved comics. The series originally ran in 2001-2003, and it’s been collected and reprinted twice now, I think? As you may generally know if you’ve watched the Netflix adaptation, Jessica Jones is a former superhero turned private detective who drinks too much, sleeps with guys she probably shouldn’t, and in general doesn’t have her act together. She’s good at her job, though, and in the comics she’s a very smart kind of compassionate, so you’re always rooting for her. Except when she lets her mouth run away with her.

The Alias comics series was Jessica’s debut, and it’s about Jessica moving through this phase of her life and into something new. Amazing to watch it happen. This ran under the MAX line from Marvel, so there are plenty of adult situations and much profanity. Jessica is also drunk during some of her sexual encounters, and the guys she’s with are not, which makes my skin crawl. So fair warning on that front, it’s messy. There are people who hate this series because it’s depressing, and I can see their point, but sometimes you have to see where someone starts before you can appreciate where they end up.

That concludes today’s roundup of comics about cops and detectives that I love and recommend!