Comic books and graphic novels have left one heck of a legacy over the years.
Tales of superheroes and supervillians may have been ten cent curiosities in the 1940s, but nowadays, the comic book industry has made its way into every facet of pop culture. At least seven comic book movies are slated to be released by the end 2016 alone, and the production of comic book related collectibles is going stronger than ever. That said, this booming industry could have turned out differently were it not for a few key works, and those who haven’t experienced these seminal classics could be missing out on some high quality entertainment.
Action Comics #1
Here it is, the one that started them all. Action Comics #1 not only gave us Superman, but the foundation of the entire superhero genre as we know it.
As the holy grail of collectible comic books, the legacy of Action Comics #1 will live on forever.
The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead may not have invented the zombie genre, but it sure did play a big role in popularizing it.
Not only was The Walking Dead a critically acclaimed break from the conventional tales of superheroes, it also achieved mass multimedia success. Both AMC’s The Walking Dead TV series and Telltale Games’ episodic The Walking Dead: The Game won numerous awards in their respective fields, with The Walking Dead: The Game earning over 90 Game of the Year awards. The Walking Dead proved that you didn’t need a well known superhero to transcend the world of comics.
Based on the experiences of author Art Spiegelman’s father, Maus is a powerful, enduring tale of the holocaust during World War II. By depicting the Jews as mice and the Nazi regime as cats, Spiegelman paints an allegorical picture that strikes deep into the core of its reader.
As the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize, Maus proved that comics are just as capable of artistic expression as music and movies. It is not uncommon for academics to study Maus as they would other memoires about the holocaust.
By 1989, great change was happening to the world of comics. Fans were getting older and smarter, and comics were getting dark and sophisticated. This trend culminated with The Sandman, Neil Gaiman’s breakthrough series.
Not only did The Sandman prove to be just as intellectual as any other high fiction, it also paved the way for subsequent comics intended for older audiences.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
If you became a fan of Batman at any point during the past three decades, you likely owe some thanks to Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.
By presenting an adult take on the established Batman storyline, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns was proof that a classic icon could have renewed appeal with the aid of clever writing and smart art direction. The tone of The Dark Knight Returns is reported to have been a major influence for Christopher Nolan’s wildly successful The Dark Knight trilogy.
If you’ve watched the Watchmen, then you probably saw this one coming from a mile away.
Published the same year as Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen offered the medium the shot in the arm it desperately needed: a deconstruction of the superhero story. By casting ordinary people as extraordinary heroes and villains, Watchmen took the focus off the superpowers and placed it on the people inside the costumes. Add in a dash of political unrest and a heavy dose of psychological turmoil, and you have a story that still resonates deeply with the anxieties of modern day readers.
Counter-cultural critics would cite Watchmen as being overrated since its 1986 debut, but even those who aren’t fans can’t deny the impact this series had on the industry. Just as readers grow and mature with age, so too did Watchmen show the evolutionary power of the world of comics.