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Comic Books For People Who Don't Like Superheroes

Updated on May 14, 2017

Introduction

Some people find comic book superheroes, or comic books in general as nothing more than kid stuff. Something to outgrow and move past from. Others totally skipped the comic book phase altogether. The idea of characters with powers probably didn't pique their interest, or that they prefer books or novels that have adult themes. Stories in comic books are generally written to appeal to children. Its basically superheroes versus super villains. Good vs. Evil. Since the early days, superheroes have followed a strict moral code, even a dress code. These costumed characters are caricatured as bigger-than-life heroes, with a never ending supply of cheesy dialogues. But that changed with the publication of Watchmen (1986) by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons and The Dark Knight (1986) by Frank Miller and Klaus Jansen. These two comic books changed the way we look at superheroes, giving them moral ambiguity, personal conflicts, and a darker, jaded look at life. In other words, superheroes started acting like real people.

Frank Miller's The Dark Knight (1986) and Alan Moore's Watchmen (1986) changed the face of comics forever
Frank Miller's The Dark Knight (1986) and Alan Moore's Watchmen (1986) changed the face of comics forever

The Non-Superhero Comic Book

Watchmen and The Dark Knight pushed the medium of comic books to the standard of literature. Time Magazine even included Watchmen in their list of the 100 greatest novels of all time, side by side with such classics as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. Literature in comic book has advanced the medium to new heights. But while Watchmen is still about superheroes, there are comic book titles that don't engage in the superhero business, and tell stories that are as entertaining and likewise, as intelligent. These are called, aptly enough, as Non-Superhero Comic Books. DC Comics’ Vertigo line released titles with stories outside of their universe’s continuity such as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman about a brood of gods led by Morpheus and Bill Willingham’s Fables, dealing with fairy tale characters like Snow White and Jack Frost going into exile.

The rise of Image Comics

In the last six years, non-superhero comic books have increased in number thanks mainly to the success of Image Comics whose creator-owned titles like The Walking Dead, found a niche in the market that was once dominated by DC and Marvel Comics. Image Comics have become a part of a big-3 in comics. The Walking Dead is more popular than ever, and other Image titles are closely following suit as million copy sellers and as TV series.

If you have been reading comics before and would like to start reading again, or is a first-time reader, we recommend no less than the very best Image Comics has to offer.

The first printing of no.1 have long been sold out and fetches from $180 and up on eBay
The first printing of no.1 have long been sold out and fetches from $180 and up on eBay

SAGA

(Image Comics)
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Published: 2012-present

Romeo & Juliet in space. That's the logline of this soap opera in a galaxy far far away. The story of Alana of Landfall and Marko of Wreath, who meet and fall in love in the middle of an ongoing intergalactic war, had a mixed-race daughter and go on the run in space, hunted by armies, a vengeful race of robots and greedy bounty hunters. Saga is an epic tale with love at its core. It is among the best written and illustrated comic books to come in recent years, full of colorful, memorable characters, and funny and emotional scenes that transcends your average comic book story. It is currently the most critically-acclaimed, multi-awarded non-superhero comic book.

Marko and Alana are star-crossed lovers who crossed the line in Saga.
Marko and Alana are star-crossed lovers who crossed the line in Saga.

Brian K. Vaughan and Sci-fi. Born on July 17, 1976 in Cleveland, Ohio, Vaughan’s other works from Image Comics are We Stand on Guard, a violent action mini-series about a US armed invasion of Canada with art by Steve Skorce, and Paper Girls with art by Cliff Chiang, about 12-year old paper girls in 80s suburban America during an alien invasion. But, before Saga, Vaughan is best known for writing the award-winning Y: The Last Man for Vertigo Comics. It was drawn by artist Pia Guerra. The story centers on a man named Yorick, who, along with his pet monkey, were the only survivors of a mysterious worldwide occurrence that wiped out all male species, leaving a world run by females. The series, which ended after 60 issues, won for Vaughan the Best Writer award in 2005’s Eisner. His other work of note for Vertigo is Pride of Baghdad, a graphic novel about the war in Iraq as seen through the eyes of a lion and her cub. Illustrated by Niko Henrichon. Ex-Machina, which he collaborated with Tony Harris, Chris Sprouse, and John Paul Leon, is about an ex-superhero whose heroics during the September 11 terrorist attacks led him to the mayoralty of the city.

Prince Robor IV is another major character on a mission to save his family
Prince Robor IV is another major character on a mission to save his family

Saga Awards: 2013 Eisner Awards (Best New Series, Best Writer, Best Continuing Series), 2013 Hugo Awards (Best Graphic Story), 2013 Harvey Awards (Best Artist, Best Colourist, Best New Series, Best Continuing Series, Best Story), 2013 British Fantasy Awards (Best Multimedia Artist), 2014 Eisner Awards (Best Writer, Best Continuing Series) 2014 Harvey Awards (Best Artist, Best Cover Artist, Best Continuing Series, 2014 Joe Shuster Awards (Best Artist), 2015 Eisner Awards (Best Continuing Series, Best Penciller/Inker, 2015 Inkwell Awards (All-in-One Award, 2015 Harvey Awards (Best Art, Best Cover Artist, Best Continuing Series)

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Relive the days of fantasy role playing!  Rat Queens has that kind of vibe.
Relive the days of fantasy role playing! Rat Queens has that kind of vibe.

RAT QUEENS

(Image Comics)
Writer: Kurtis J. Wiebe
Artist: Roc Upchurch, Stjepan Sejic, Tess Fowler
Published: 2013-present

Follow the adventures and misadventures of the so-called Rat Queens, a group of disparate and rambunctious female adventure seekers as they party and go to slaughter: Betty, the hippie Halfling thief; Hannah, the Elven rockabilly sorceress; Violet, the hipster Dwarven warrior, and Dee, a Human atheist cleric. Described by writer Kurtis J. Weibe as Lord of the Rings meets Sex & the City, the story, set in a medieval fantasy world, has a modern twist to characterizations making it one of the funniest, lit-chick friendly comic books today.

Rat Queens has that snappy humor of a comic book strip and sword-slashing action of D&D.
Rat Queens has that snappy humor of a comic book strip and sword-slashing action of D&D.

Kurtis J. Weibe and D&D. Weibe, who hails from Vancouver, Canada, is a self-professed role-playing game master, which clearly shows how he develops the story arcs for Rat Queens. But it’s the dialogue that shines in the comic book, a lingo that’s obviously current, and runs adjacent to artist Roc Upchurch’s design for the characters which came from Wiebe’s initial descriptions are fashionably mod. All of these turn Rat Queens into a thoroughly enjoyable comic book series that brings back the best of Dungeons & Dragons into the platform. Wiebe also wrote the popular Peter Panzerfaust series with Tyler Jenkins and Kelly Fitzpatrick. Its about an American boy who leads a resistance comprised of orphaned French boys against the Nazis. His other writing credits are Grim Reaper, Intrepids, and Green Wake, all from Image Comics.

No need for dice rolls. Action comes courtesy of the story.
No need for dice rolls. Action comes courtesy of the story.

Rat Queens Awards/Nominations: 2014 Eisner Awards (nominated Best New Series), 2015 GLAAS Media Awards (Outstanding Comic Book), 2015 Hugo Awards (Best Graphic Story).

Wicked + the Divine covers are easily one of the most recognizable
Wicked + the Divine covers are easily one of the most recognizable

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE

(Image Comics)
Writer: Keiron Gillen
Artist: Jamie McKelvie
Published: 2014-present

The Wicked + the Divine was an instant hit when it was released and was the consensus comic book of the year by critics. The story: Every 90 years, twelve gods of known religions are reincarnated as pop stars and die after only two years. The cycle is unbroken since time immemorial. The aged god Ananke is tasked to choose the gods and shepherd them. In the latest cycle some of the gods are as follows: Amaterasu, Baal, Inanna, Lucifer, Minerva, The Morrigan, and Sakhmet. Other gods make their appearance as the story progresses, keeping the excitement up. Wicked + the Divine is the hippest comic book that will bask in its cult long after it is all over.

Lucifer is David Bowie inspired.
Lucifer is David Bowie inspired.

Keiron Gillen and music. No other comic book writer is more overtly influenced by music than Gillen. Particularly music fandom, one of the gleaming subject matter of The Wicked + the Divine, that human folly we call celebrity worship. It is then worth mentioning Gillen’s other, earlier work—Phonogram. A book about music and magic, albeit of lesser deities, Phonogram is his first major collaboration with Jamie McKelvie released in 2006, with a sequel in 2015. Born in 1975, the UK born Gillen’s keen understanding of music may be attributed to having experienced first-hand the era when music fandom was in full bloom. Also, Gillen is a gaming junkie. Before venturing into comic book writing, he was a video game/tech writer and reviewer in magazines such as PC Gamer, Games Developer, Amiga Power, The Guardian, Wired, Edge, Games Developer, and many others.

The god Baal's unapologetic display of power. And he kinda looks like Kanye.
The god Baal's unapologetic display of power. And he kinda looks like Kanye.

Wicked + Divine Awards/Nominations: 2014 British Comic Awards (Best Comic), 2015 Eisner Awards (nominated, Best New Series, Best Cover Artist, Best Coloring), 2015 Harvey Awards (Best Colorist for Matthew Wilson), 2015 Harvey Awards (nominated, Best New Series).

There is no humor in Lazarus. Its dead serious action-drama.
There is no humor in Lazarus. Its dead serious action-drama.

LAZARUS

(Image Comics)
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Michael Lark
Published: 2013-present

Rucka created a Dystopian future where Earth is controlled by "families" each with territories and industrial specialties (economics, medicine, technology, etc.). The main character is Forever Carlye, a "Lazarus"--combatant, warrior, army commander who must lead her family to war and victory. The series is filled with political intrigue, social issues and plenty of action. A mature, sophisticated grand opera.

Forever is a product of genetics, engineered to be a fighting machine.
Forever is a product of genetics, engineered to be a fighting machine.

Greg Rucka and Detective Fiction. Greg Rucka and detective stories are no strangers to each other. He was a successful novelist before writing for comics with his Atticus Kodiak and Queen & Country novels. It is no surprise that his first comic book would be a murder mystery. Whiteout, his award-winning mini-series with artist Steve Leiber, was published by Oni Press and is set in the icy cold Antarctic. It has been turned into a movie in 2009. Stumpton, is also a detective story from Oni Press and was illustrated by Matthew Southworth. His most recent work for Image Comics is Black Magick, which is the story of a female police detective who also moonlights as a witch. Rucka’s specialty is police procedurals which explains why most of his comic books start In Medias Res. Most of the above mentioned titles have been nominated which goes to show the quality of his work.

A Lazarus is the ultimate fighting machine and could take on a whole platoon if needed.
A Lazarus is the ultimate fighting machine and could take on a whole platoon if needed.

Lazarus Awards/Nominations: 2014 Eisner Awards (nominated, Best New Series.)

EAST OF WEST

(Image Comics)
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Nick Dragotta
Published: 2013-present

East of West is an ambitious retelling of the Apocalypse with the Four Horsemen, led by Death, come to fufilll the end of times scenario. Set in the backdrop of Western frontier America, an alternate history that saw the Civil War raged on into the future creating divided nations out to get each other. Hickman is a storyteller of unconventional epics, of dramas with Shakespearean tones, of things you wouldn't thought of in a thousand years. East of West has all the elements of a masterpiece Sci-fi Western.

Death comes in the form of a humorless Clint Eastwood-type savior-executioner
Death comes in the form of a humorless Clint Eastwood-type savior-executioner

Jonathan Hickman and the End of the World. Of late, the South Carolinian native has been writing about the fate of the world. Marvel Comics’ Secret Wars is the recent mega-event that aimed to collapse all of the alternate worlds in the Marvel universe into one. A recurring trend that happens around every 5 years or so, and not only in Marvel, but also in the DC Universe. These events are akin to Sim City where you build a city and destroy it when there is nothing left to do. And writing such sprawling events is a task that requires one to have an encyclopedic knowledge of characters and their history, and to tell the story with the skill of a Steven Spielberg. And for something of that magnitude, they call on Jonathan Hickman.

In Hickman’s non-superhero end of times story East of West, he shows his proficiency in re-writing history. Again, this entails massive research on the American Civil War and the Book of Revelation, which Hickman also was able to accomplish in his other end-of-the-world comic book entitled God is Dead from Avatar Press and co-created with Mike Costa. In it, gods of mythologies suddenly appear one after another to lay claim on Earth. From Zeus to Odin to Brahma to Yahweh. If you want to see gods fight it out WWE Survival style, then maybe this comic book is for you. The idea behind it is just mind-blowing.

Hickman’s other works from Image Comics include The Manhattan Projects, yet again, an alternate history, this time about World War II. It is illustrated by Nick Pitarra and is received well by critics and fans. Also, check out his collaborations with artist Ryan Bodenheim, Dying & the Dead, and Secret; Red with with Nick Pitarra, and The Black Monday Murders with Tomm Coker.

East of West Awards/Nominations: 2014 Eisner (nominated, Best Continuing Series, Best Writer).

If you like James Bond with a feminine twist, you won't be disappointed
If you like James Bond with a feminine twist, you won't be disappointed

VELVET

(Image Comics)
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Steve Epting
Colorist: Elizabeth Breitweizer
Published: 2013-present

The story revolves around Velvet Templeton, a CIA secretary who was once a top secret agent, framed for murder, goes on the lam across the world to clear her name. Velvet is a time machine to the 70s-80s Cold War era of spy thrillers. The locations, costumes, cars are so detailed you could almost smell the upholstery. That same feeling one gets in a movie like L.A. Confidential. The authenticity is in the air. The first-person narrative by Brubaker also lends to the comic book a pulp feel that thickens an already complicated plot. The thrills echo in every issue that you'll itch for each coming episode.

The female spy could probably kick James Bond's ass.
The female spy could probably kick James Bond's ass.
Comic book noir doesn't get any better than this.
Comic book noir doesn't get any better than this.

THE FADE OUT

(Image Comics)
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Published: 2014-present

Brubaker and Phillips are the comic book kings of noir. Brilliant enough to be compared to the likes of Raymond Chandler, James Cain and Walter Mosely. In The Fade Out, they give the lowdown on 40s Hollywood dirt as screenwriter Charlie Parrish gets tangled in a web of murder and deceit. Brubaker profiles every movie stereotypes that go Charlie's way: crazy moguls, starlets, goons, drunks and nut jobs. It's a tragic, love-lust, whodunnit thriller that turns Golden Hollywood inside out.

Big stars like Bogie often make cameos.
Big stars like Bogie often make cameos.

Ed Brubaker and Noir. No other writer has carved a name for himself in one particular genre than Ed Brubaker. The realm of crime thrillers is practically his. Born in November 17, 1966 in Betshseda, Maryland, Brubaker, unlike others, started his career in comics not writing about superheroes, but went directly to the Scene of the Crime, a detective story from Vertigo Comics released in 1999. It was illustrated by Michael Lark and inked by Sean Philips, the latter of whom he’s going to collaborate with in numerous projects, creating for both, the very best comic books of their careers.

Not everything about Hollywood is glitz and glamour, the underbelly stinks with ugly sights.
Not everything about Hollywood is glitz and glamour, the underbelly stinks with ugly sights.

If you’re a fan of hard-boiled detective fiction, look no further than the Starsky and Hutch of crime, Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips. The Fade Out is a bonafide classic. But, it is not the only comic book in their resume. Fatale, a maxi-series that Image Comics run from 2012-2014, is the ultimate femme fatale story. It’s the story of Josephine, a woman who is immortal and follows her turbulent life through the course of the century, leaving behind a trail of death and destruction. A quasi-horror tale with elements of HP Lovecraft. The team received multiple Eisner awards in 2013 including Best New Series, Best Writer, and Best Artist. Other notable works of the two are their long-running series from Icon Comics called Criminal. The series branches out to several story arcs, namely Coward, The Dead and the Dying, Bad Night, The Sinners, and The Last of the Innocent. Look for other Brubaker-Philips titles like Sleeper and Incognito. Also from Icon Comics.

The coloring is like cinematography.
The coloring is like cinematography.

Ed Brubaker’s collaboration with Steve Epting is also worthy of attention. Before Velvet, the two worked in Marvel Comics’ The Winter Soldier. The two were responsible for bringing back Captain America’s best friend Bucky into the Marvel continuity, with an edgy, noirish tone.

Velvet Awards/Nominations: 2015 Harvey Awards (nominated Best Colorist for Elizabeth Breitweiser). The Fade Out Awards/Nominations: 2015 Eisner Awards (nominated Best New Series)


ALEX + ADA

(Image Comics)
Writer: Jonathan Luna, Sarah Vaughn
Artist: Jonathan Luna
Published: 2013-2015

The story of a man who falls in love with a robot has already been written before, but in Alex + Ada, Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn give the story an emotional depth the kind that makes fantasies seem real. Like a dream that felt so real it leaves a certain taste. In the story, Alex, a young man still hurting from a break-up, is given a highly advanced female android by his mother as a, well, sort of a rebound. You know what mother's do. What started as master and servant thing blooms into a real relationship. And we get caught in the drama. The quiet moments, the pauses, panels that run in real-time, speak volumes. Alex + Ada is quite the experience.

Ada is a fully-functioning android capable of all kinds of human interaction, in many ways, even better than the real thing.
Ada is a fully-functioning android capable of all kinds of human interaction, in many ways, even better than the real thing.
Alex+Ada is often compared to the movie "Her."
Alex+Ada is often compared to the movie "Her."

Luna Brothers and Girls. Jonathan Luna is one half of a writer/artist team called the Luna Brothers, with the other being Joshua Luna. They were born in the United States and are of Filipino descent. Their comic books are very distinct both in storytelling and Jonathan Luna’s art—with shades of Manga and is not superhero-based, has that look that interestingly, unlike others in the medium. The presence of strong female characters populate their works as evidenced by such titles as Ultra, The Sword, and Girls from Image Comics. There is whole different world that the Luna Brothers have made for themselves, and with Alex+Ada, which Jonathan Luna created with Sarah Vaughn, their progeny of works, is unmistakably one-of-a-kind.

OUTCAST

(Image Comics)
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist: Paul Azaceta
Published: 2014-present

Kyle Barnes, a lonely and depressed man, discovers that he could exorcise demons out of the possessed. He is also being plagued by memories of his past, particularly of his mother, who might have been possessed by demons and that his ability is somehow connected. He teams up with the local priest, Reverend Anderson, who has since failed in his cause to save people from the devil. They become a formidable pair that the devil himself shows up to stir things up. From Robert Kirkman, the man behind The Walking Dead, this comic book horror series about demon possession is slow-moving but the intensity is permeating in each issue, the fear sticks on you like glue. Outcast is a new TV series from Cinemax and should follow in the success of The Walking Dead.

It gets chilling when things really get weird
It gets chilling when things really get weird

Official Trailer

Robert Kirkman and Horror. Before The Walking Dead, the sub-genre of zombies never needed revitalizing since year after year, we get a steady deluge of it in movies, TV, and books. Then, after Kirkman’s undead series became a phenomenon, particularly the TV show, we couldn’t imagine the zombie genre without it, considering that Kirkman had struggled to have it greenlit by Image. Only when he made up the plot that aliens had something to do with the epidemic, that Image gave it its blessing. Evidently, it had no need for that because The Walking Dead’s success rides on the strength of its character designs, something Kirkman is proficient at. And in which Outcast inherited. The story is well anchored in the characters of Kyle Barnes and the Reverend Anderson, and whether its going to be the heir apparent to TWD, is yet to be seen.

This atmospheric story will remind you of those eerie horror movies.
This atmospheric story will remind you of those eerie horror movies.

A QUICK GUIDE

Title
Writer/Artist
Year Published
Saga
Brian K. Vaughan/Fiona Staples
2012-present
Rat Queens
Kurtis J. Wiebe/Tess Fowler
2013-present
The Wicked + the Divine
Keiron Gillen/Jamie McKelvie
2014-present
Lazarus
Greg Ricka/Michael Lark
2013-present
East of West
Jonathan Hickman/Nick Dragotta
2013-present
Velvet
Ed Brubaker/Steve Epting
2013-present
Alex + Ada
Jonathan Luna/Sarah Vaughn
2013-1015
Outcast
Robert Kirkman/Paul Azaceta
2014-present

WHAT TO COLLECT

SAGA
Volume 1 (collects issues 1-6)
Volume 2 (collects issues 7-12)
Volume 3 (collects issues 13-18)
Volume 4 (collects issues 19-24)
Volume 5 (collects issues 25-30)
Volume 6 (collects issues 31-36)
Book 1 Deluxe Hardcover (collects issues 1-18)

RAT QUEENS
Volume One: Sass and Sorcery (collects issues 1-5)
Volume Two: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N’Rygoth (collects issues 6-10)
Volume Three: Demons (collects issues 11-15)
Deluxe Edition, Volume One: (collects issues 1-10)

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE
Volume 1: The Faust Act (collects issues 1-5)
Volume 2: Fandemonium (collects issues 6-11)
Volume 3: Commercial Suicide (collects issues 12-17)

LAZARUS
Volume 1: Family (collects issues 1-4)
Volume 2: Lift (collects issues 5-9)
Volume 3: Conclave (collects issues 10-15)
Volume 4: Poison (collects issues16-21)
The 1st Collection Deluxe Hardcover (collects issues 1-9)
The 2nd Collection Deluxe Hardcover (collects issues 10-21)

EAST OF WEST
Volume 1: The Promise (collects issues 1-5)
Volume 2: We Are All One (collects issues 6-10)
Volume 3: There Is No Us (collects issues 11-15)
Volume 4: Who Wants War? (collects issues 16-19)
Volume 5: All These Secrets (collects issues 1-5)
The Apocalypse: Year One (collects issues 1-15)

VELVET
Volume 1: Before the Living End (collects issues 1-5)
Volume 2: The Secret Lives of Dead Men (collects issues 6-10)
Volume 3: The Man Who Stole the World (collects issues 11-15)

ALEX+ADA
Volume 1 (collects issues 1-5)
Volume 2 (collects issues 6-10)
Volume 3 (collects issues 11-15)

OUTCAST
Volume 1: A Darkness Surrounds Him (collects issues 1-6)
Volume 2: A Vast and Unending Ruin (collects issues 7-12)
Volume 3: This Little Light (collects issues 13-18)

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