The Top 10 Kick-Ass Comic Books (That Ain't For Kids)

November 30, 2009

Ask the average person on the street about comics, and they'll probably think of Superman or Spider-Man. To the public at large, comics books are still something that kids (and adults who live in their parents' basements) read. But, in the famous words of Queen Elizabeth II, "that's bulls**t, dude."

Source: Vertigo

From at least the late sixties, cool, adult-oriented comics have been published right along side Archie and Green Lantern. Right now in your local comic shop, there are tons of books full of all the great action, illicit sex, and horrific gore we all know and love. Here are 10 of the ball-grabbingest comics out there.

By Geoff Shakespeare


10. Preacher

Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's schlock masterpiece Preacher follows the exploits of a nasty, drunken priest, his mob hitwoman ex-girlfriend, and an Irish vampire junkie. The main character, The Reverend Jesse Custer, becomes the unwilling host of Genesis, an unholy byproduct of a one night stand between a horny demon and a hornier angel. On the plus side, Genesis gives Jesse the "Voice of God," the ability to make anyone do exactly what he says. On the negative side, it also puts him right in the sights of an unstoppable killer, his psychotic hillbilly family, a shadowy organization called the Grail, and almost every violent maniac in America, including the Man upstairs himself.

A blood-soaked love letter to the movies of John Wayne (whose ghost occasionally shows up to give Custer advice) and a  giant "up yours" to all things religious, Preacher tackles a lot of weighty issues, but its never afraid to get its hands dirty. Really dirty. Like, filthy dirty. Over the course of 66 issues, Ennis and Dillon explore every dark corner of the American landscape and psyche and end up creating a perfect gumbo of guns, god, and girls. What more could you ask for?


9. League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen


Source: ABC/Wildstorm/DC Comics

Forget the crappy Sean Connery movie (he has) and go straight to the source. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is one of comic book genius Alan Moore's most accessible, fun books. Like his other work, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is full of dense allusions and packed with references plain and obscure, but the central story moves like an action movie so it never gets bogged down. The story follows a group of famous fictional characters (Alan Quartermain, Dracula victim Mina Harker, The Invisible Man, Captain Nemo, and Dr. Jekyll's nasty alter ego Mr. Hide) as they fight a mysterious threat in a steampunked Victorian London.

The characters are all familiar, but Moore peels back the endless layers of English underwear to show all the nasty secrets the original stories couldn't. The book is full of dark villains and darker heroes, impossible machines, and sinister plots- all viewed through the sketchy lines and insane colors of a madman. Every page is packed with images out of Queen Victoria's worst nightmares. Moore spends a lot of the later series investigating the far-flung corners of his fictional universes, but the first two volumes are must-owns for anyone who loves their historical revision served up full of piss and vinegar.


8. Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol


Source: DC Comics/Vertigo

These days, Grant Morrison is mostly known as the guy who killed Batman (and you thought it was The Riddler), but before he 86'ed the Caped Crusader, Morrison cut his teeth ripping apart another, less popular DC Comics franchise, The Doom Patrol. After an unsuccessful Eighties relaunch that fizzled out after only 18 issues and had none of the weirdness of the original, DC handed over the book to Morrison with almost total creative freedom. The result was without a doubt the weirdest superhero comic ever published by one of two major comics companies. Morrison started big by killing off almost all the new team (save fan favorite Robotman), and replacing them with some of strangest heroes ever seen. New Members include the original Negative Man morphed into Rebis, a hermaphrodite who mated with himself, and Crazy Jane, a girl with multiple personalities who each had their own superpower. Oh, and there was also a sentient gay street that could teleport to any city in the world, and a little girl with psychic powers and a monkey face. That was all in the first issue.

Morrison went on to explore his deepest, weirdest obsessions with time, alternate universes, the end of the world, fictional realities, and psychedelic imagery. This is what a comic book by Salvador Dali would've looked like.


7. The Boys


Source: Dynamite Entertainment

In most superhero stories, the guys and gals in capes are pure, noble, upstanding citizens who devote their lives to fighting crime with no thought of reward or glory. They live in universes where good and evil are clearly drawn and good always comes out on top. Unfortunately, anyone over the age of 11 knows that the real world is a lot more complicated and people rarely do anything if there isn't something in it for them. Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson's ongoing monthly series The Boys explores what would happen if you had a world full of superpowered individuals who were just as lazy and corrupt as the rest of us. Their "heroes" - all modeled on popular characters like Superman and Captain America- are drug-addicted, power hungry sex freaks who use their powers not for the good of the world, but for the good of their wallets and groins. To the world at large, they're just like any other superheroes, but behind the scenes they're controlled by an all powerful corporation that tolerates their excesses as long as they sell t-shirts and lunch boxes.

The only thing that stands in their way is a ragtag group of black leather trenchcoat-wearing badasses who call themselves The Boys. Lead by the sadistic Butcher, Mother's Milk, The Frenchman, The Female, and Wee Hughie use intimidation, blackmail, torture, and murder to keep the supers in check. With his characteristic wit and gore, Ennis and Robertson blast away the power fantasies behind the superhero myth and reminds us that in the real world, the good guys sometimes wear black.


6. Transmetropolitan


Source: Helix/Vertigo

When people think of kick-ass fictional heroes, they usually think of cops, soldiers, and other assorted tough guys who get to carry guns. Newspaper columnists, on the other hand, are rarely thought of being able to kick anything bigger than a split infinitive. Except for gonzo journalists like Hunter S. Thompson, members of the fifth estate are a pretty meek bunch. But in Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson's tripped out sci-fi epic Transmetropolitan, journalist Spider Jerusalem is the only hope for a futuristic society on the verge of utter collapse. Forced back into the sprawling futuristic city from his mountain retreat, Jerusalem takes on the fatcats who would enslave us all armed only with a black suit, his computer, and every single recreational drug ever invented. Oh, and a gun that can cause uncontrollable, explosive diarrhea.

Navigating through a city where people can turn into beings of pure energy, fast food restaurants sell buckets of fried eyeballs, and the number one kids show is about a porno called Sex Puppets. Spider and his two assistants try their hardest to rattle the populace from their techno-addled slumber. In the best satirical tradition, Transmetropolitan explores issues of truth, freedom, and the power of the written word in a bizarre world that, for all its weirdness, is almost identical to our own. It may sound a little heavy, but don't worry, there's plenty of sex and violence to help the medicine go down.


5. The Punisher  


Source: Marvel Comics

Garth Ennis again? By now you may be asking what exactly Garth Ennis has on us and where you can watch the video online, but it ain't like that! We swear! He just happens to be responsible for a lot of great comics. And his version of The Punisher is no exception. Released under Marvel's Max Adult imprint, this series stripped away all the superhero trappings of Marvel's biggest ass-kicker (well, they kept the skull logo) and turned him into the coolest mass-murdering son of a bitch to ever appear in four colors.

Free from the spandex and morality of the regular Marvel Universe, this Punisher isn't afraid to bring the pain to evil-doers everywhere. Packing an arsenal just slightly smaller than the Columbian Army's, he spends every issue filling punks, mobsters, and assorted lowlifes chock full of lead. But this Punisher doesn't save his vengeance for the scum of New York. He also battles terrorists, psychotic mercenaries, and human traffickers across the globe. In Ennis' hands. The Punisher erases bad guys in the bloodiest ways imaginable. A ballet of bullets, blood, and fire, The Punisher belongs in any action fan's comic book collection.


4. Hellblazer


Source: Vertigo/DC Comics/Titan Books

Another great comic that resulted in a less than well-received film adaptation (which is just a nice way of saying the movie version sucked) Hellblazer is one of DC Comics longest-running horror series. It mostly takes place in a contemporary London exactly like the real one. Everyone drinks too much, they have bad teeth, and they spell tire with a "y." The only difference is that in Hellblazer's London, there are ghosts, demons, and monsters to go along with the fish and chips and weird money.

At the center of it all is the wisecracking, adrenaline junkie, chain-smoking, hard-drinking magician and conman John Constantine. Skulking around in a filthy trenchcoat, Constantine investigates occult weirdness and generally falls into the middle of every horrible thing imaginable, whether it's demons hell-bent on destruction or small-time hoods terrorizing the streets. Besides a little bit of magic, the only power he has is his incredible luck. He's always just where he needs to be and always meets just the right person to help him out of a jam. The only problem is his good fortune causes everyone he knows to usually end up dead. Like any great anti-hero, he dusts himself off and takes on the next bastard who needs sorting. At well over 200 issues, it can be intimidating to jump into the story, but there are tons of trade paperbacks and collections that make perfect reading for the next time you're drunk, alone, and feel like hell.


3. The Walking Dead


Source: Image Comics

What's the only thing better than a gore-filled, thrill-ride zombie movie? How about a gore-filled, thrill-ride zombie movie that never ends? That's the concept behind Robert Kirkman's comic book epic, The Walking Dead. Kirkman takes a lifetime of zombie movies and cooks them down to the essentials: a world overrun by flesh-eating zombies, a handful of survivors, and death around every corner.

The comic follows small-town sheriff Rick Grimes as he wakes from a coma to find the dead aren't staying dead anymore. He meets up with his family and gets down to the serious business of not being some shambling ghoul's lunch. But like any great zombie tale, he soon learns that the living are just as dangerous as the undead. The ongoing story follows an ever-changing group of survivors as they travel the ruins of America searching for a safe place. But Kirkman's too sadistic for that. An issue almost never goes by without someone getting shot, stabbed, or eaten. The series is still going now (Kirkman has said he plans on keeping it alive -- or undead -- for a long time) so there's no excuse for not getting your monthly dose of rotten corpses! Frequently scary and always a lot of fun, The Walking Dead is a great example of what monthly comics can do great -- create an unforgettable long form story month after month. Mmm. That's good eatin'!


2. Jonah Hex


Source: DC Comics

One of DC Comics most popular Western characters, Jonah Hex has been kicking cowboy ass all over the Old West since the early Seventies. A hard-nosed avenging angel in the Clint Eastwood mode, Hex has always been known for two things: his hideously scarred face and his deadly pistols. In classic comics Weird Western Tales, and Jonah Hex, Hex delivered frontier justice according to his own bloody set of rules.

Hex went out of fashion during the '90s, but he returned in 2004 for an ongoing series also called Jonah Hex. Under the hands of series writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, the character takes badassitude to a whole other level. In stories that span the character's life and usually finish in one issue, Jonah Hex chases bounties and settles scores with a sense of justice that is as vicious as it is absolute. Free from the restrictions that mainstream comics faced in the old days, Gray and Palmiotti present an Old West where everyone has a gun, and they love using them. One of the series greatest strengths is it's rigid, three-act structure. Reading an issue is like watching an episode of a great old Western TV show. Except with a lot more blood, and a way more wicked sense of humor.


1. Akira


Source: Kodansha

While mainstream American comics have long been dominated by kid-friendly superheroes, across the Pacific in Japan, comics have always been just as much for adults as the little ones. During the time where American books couldn't show a crime without it explicitly being punished, Japanese manga was exploring mature themes with healthy doses of sex and violence. There are literally millions of manga, but none have captured the attention of the West like Katsuhiro Otomo's 80's nihilistic mindf*** masterpiece Akira.

The incredible film version helped kick off interest in Japanese anime, won widespread critical acclaim, and was instrumental in helping a generation of stoners trip serious balls. While the movie is undoubtedly great, the comic that it was based on remains one the best balls out sci-fi action stories ever published on cheap newsprint. Sprawling hundreds of pages and filled with a cast of thousands, Akira is an epic in the grand tradition. Its complex, multi-layered tale moves from the darkest Tokyo alleyways to the most austere halls of power in a hyperviolent symphony of love, revolution, psychic power, and destruction. Fast-paced, brilliantly imaginative and frequently full of genuine emotion, Akira proves that comics can achieve heights of artistic expression just as well as any other medium.

Seriously, though. It f***ing owns, dude.