Every so often there’s a sale on at digital comic distributors Comixology that makes it impossible to pass up the opportunity of nabbing a few old favourites cheaply, or crossing off some classics from your ever-growing comic book wish list. While the debate will no doubt forever rage on over the pros and cons that physical and digital editions have over each other, there is no debating that the ease of access that services like Comixology has provided to its enormous library means there’s very little excuse to not have read some of the essentials in any avid reader’s collection.
Currently promoting reductions of up to 83% on titles in the Vertigo line until Monday 13 August means there’s an opportunity to snap up a bargain on a whole host of fantastic comics. Just like with our Image comics essentials list, we’re going to pluck out some of those works of literary genius that are must-reads for comic book fans on offer in the sale. Starting with…
5. Preacher: Book One (£3.99
No more faffing about trying to work out the best order to read the trade paper back volumes of Eisner Award winning writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon’s Preacher any more! Book One collects the first straight 12 issues from the original run and would be a bargain at twice the price. The series is illustrated by Steve Dillon and features some of the most grotesque, crass and outrageous scenes ever committed to print. From characters called Arseface and the inbred messiah, to the depraved meat-obsessed slaughterhouse owner and the Nazi S&M fetishists, there just isn’t anything else quite like Preacher in print.
And now, thanks to Sam Catlin, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen’s adaptation for AMC, there perhaps isn’t anything else quite like Preacher on TV either. The main protagonist is former criminal-turned-preacher Jessie Custer, who winds up with the ability to command the word of God (aka Genesis) after He goes AWOL. He’s joined on his misadventures to kick God’s arse with girlfriend and ex-partner-in-crime Tulip and Irish vampire Cassidy. From issue to issue, page to page, even panel to panel, it seems somehow incredible that not only was this unholy epic even conceived of, but also was somehow published – and turned out to be pretty phenomenal to boot. An absolute essential in any comic fan’s collection.
4. Hellblazer Vol. 5: Dangerous Habits (£3.99
If you’re going to pick up any volume of Hellblazer, then the aforementioned Garth Ennis’ stint writing on Vertigo’s longest running series – covering 300 issues from 1988 to 2013 – would not be a bad place to start. At this point in the story, streetwise occultist John Constantine has contracted lung cancer and makes a deal with the Devil. If you’re feeling flush, pick up the entire series and marvel at just how much better Hellblazer is than the Keanu Reeves-starring movie Constantine, based on the character – and in particular this story arc. If you only have £4 to spare, then Dangerous Habits would be money well spent on a deeply personal and pivotal story in the character’s development.
3. Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book One (£3.99
And if you’ve just found yourself scratching your head asking “who the Hell is John Constantine?” then you are in luck! Alan Moore’s breathtakingly stunning series is where Constantine was first introduced. But more than that, this is the story of man, nature, life, death, beginnings, ends, love, loss, grief, mourning, and just about anything and everything one associates with Alan Moore at his peak. Equal parts tragedy and horror to philosophical and inspiring, the politically charged Swamp Thing is outstanding. Don’t be put off by the fact that ‘book one’ begins with issue #20 – it’s not important. Don’t worry about it. Forget there was even a Swamp Thing before Alan Moore took on the character. Honestly. Ignore it.
2. V for Vendetta (£3.99
Such variety of delights I’m pointing out to you here with two comics written by Garth Ennis, and two written by Northampton’s Alan Moore. Alas, I can only apologise that the likes of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth and Brian K Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man haven’t made the cut (which probably gives away what is coming up as top spot on this list). There was a mixed reception for the movie adaptation of Moore’s vision of a masked vigilante standing against the authoritarian leaders of a fascist state-controlled England – as has been the reception for the majority of adaptations of Moore’s work. But the original black and white comics possess a maturity in both storytelling and scope that the film simply could not capture through no fault of the filmmakers, but purely through the medium itself being restricted compared to the ambition that the comic was allowed.
Its bleak, grim and haunting qualities are essential for portraying the desperately sad situation the UK could have fallen into had the Orwellian vision for the 1980s been realised. A hint of of Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon can be felt in the politically motivated torture and the harrowing pages that follow, while the tale of the anonymous V’s stance is not so much triumphant as necessary. V for Vendetta is not just an essential read for comic book fans, but is arguably a story that most people could benefit from reading at least once in their lifetime, such is its power.
1. Animal Man Vol. 1 (£3.99
It’s fine, I understand. Be sceptical. It is exactly what you think it is: a story about a mid-tier superhero called Buddy Baker who borrows the “powers” of animals “as a result of being in proximity to an exploding extraterrestrial spaceship”. Go on, laugh it up. Yes, it is lame, isn’t it? But do you know what? Grant Morrison’s mind-bending meta series is absolutely outstanding in its complexity and ambition; not only because attempting a series about a man who eventually learns he is a comicbook character and begins to interact on the page with Grant Morrison as he’s writing the story – see? Complex – is absolutely bonkers, but because it somehow lands an intelligent, enormously entertaining and heart-wrenching story too. And that’s before even considering artists Doug Hazlewood and Chaz Truog’s contribution.
The late 80s through the early 90s was a golden era for Vertigo and on any other day, this list could be reversed and that would be absolutely fine, but there is something extraordinary about Animal Man. Too goofy to be seen as a real contender to the likes of Batman and Superman in his early days during the 1960s, the Glaswegian author really found exactly what it is about Animal Man that makes him interesting and just ran with it. It may seem like hyperbole to say that Animal Man is the magnum opus of somebody who has written All-Star Superman, Batman RIP, New X-Men and myriad titles with 2000AD and on the Vertigo line, but man, if any series in this sale deserves the hype, then it is the story of an animal activist, his family, and his surreal adventures.