Best Comics Not About Superheroes

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Netflix’s popular “Sweet Tooth” series revealed the kinds of worlds available to those willing to look beyond superheroes and see what else comic books have to offer. There’s more to be found than good-guy-versus-bad-guy slugfests, even inside the seemingly narrow field of post-apocalyptic settings and stories. Take a look at the list below and discover all-new ways that the world could end, on the big scale as well as the small, without even one superhero showing up to save the day.

 

‘Something Is Killing the Children Vol. 1’

The title of James Tynion IV and Werther Dell’Edera’s hit series paints an evocative picture, but it’s only part of what’s actually going on in the comic. Yes, something is killing the children in the small town of Archer’s Peak, but what that something actually is — and who has taken an interest in stopping those deaths from happening — is not exactly what you’d expect, transforming this horror story into something that feels as if it’s the next generation of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” or “Scream,” if only either one actually managed the feat of genuinely being creepy. 

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Lazarus: One

Leaning heavily into the fears of a generation, the future imagined in Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s dystopian series is one in which corporations rule the Earth, under the guise of “families,” creating something that’s part feudal rule, and part industrialization on a grand scale. Into this are inserted Lazaruses — genetically modified soldiers created to serve the interests of each of the 16 ruling families on the planet. If this sounds like a recipe for disaster to you, you’re right — and the result is something that reads like “Game of Thrones” by way of “Blade Runner” and Occupy Wall Street, with political intrigue and hard science fiction all on the menu. 

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‘Fran of the Floods’

A genuine oddity from the 1970s recently rediscovered and republished, “Fran of the Floods” is a surprisingly grim tale of environmental collapse from the pages of the otherwise respectable and unthreatening “Jinty comic in the UK. As if it wasn’t bad enough for poor teenage Fran to lose her home town when Britain is flooded as the result of a freak storm, she also loses her family… and all her friends… and then the new friends she makes on her journey to try and find if her sister has somehow survived the storms. Alan Davidson and Phil Gascoine are the men responsible for such tragedy being visited upon the poor girl, but you’re the reader who’ll enjoy every bit of it. You monster.

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‘The Hard Tomorrow’

Eleanor Davis’ graphic novel about Hannah, a home-health worker and her relationships with her husband and best friend is at once bracing and breathtakingly kind. Set against the political unrest of the last few years in the U.S., it’s a book that asks difficult questions and doesn’t settle for easy answers; it’s also a book that will win your heart as you follow Hannah through her attempts to have a baby in an era when the future was becoming increasingly difficult to imagine. For those wanting more of the father/son relationship at the heart of the show’s opening, this is where to look.

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‘Lumberjanes Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy’

Maybe it’s the can-do spirit of Gus that appealed to you throughout that first “Sweet Tooth” season. If that’s the case, then Boom! Studios’ “Lumberjanes” — a series that almost defines the term “plucky” in how gung-ho it is about the value of both friendship and bravery in the face of adversity — is a must-read. Created by the team of Shannon Watters, Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke Allen, “Lumberjanes is the story of five teenagers at a summer camp for “Hardcore Lady Types” where weird things happen regularly… not that anything can really challenge the bond of friendship between the five. Funny, uplifting, and (of course) bad ass. 

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‘Die Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker’

An attempt to return to the nostalgic pastime of role playing games goes very, very wrong in this twist on the fantasy genre from “Wicked the the Divine“ writer Kieron Gillen and artist Stephanie Hans. Imagine “Tron,” but with Dungeons & Dragons, and you basically understand the premise of the series, but Gillen and Hans are both smart enough to infect the whole enterprise with some horror tropes to keep the reader (and the characters themselves) off-balance. After all, it wouldn’t be a good game if there wasn’t the chance of being killed by members of your own party, would it…?

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‘Y: The Last Man Compendium One’

Almost everything that writer Brian K. Vaughan has written in the last decade or so could land on a list of recommended reading, whether it’s the social media gumshoe tale “The Private Eye,” the epic science fiction family drama of “Saga,” or the retro time-travel romp that is “Paper Girls. It’s his collaboration with Pia Guerra, “Y: The Last Man,” that hews most closely to “Sweet Tooth,” set after a mysterious pandemic has destroyed males in every species, the series follows the two last males alive, a boy and his pet monkey, as they try and find out what happened, and whether humanity can survive without men. Dig in now before the FX TV adaptation starring Diane Lane, Amber Tamblyn and Ben Schnetzer airs on September 13th. 

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‘Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites’

This isn’t an “Incredible Journey”-style heartwarming tale of everyday pets, the neighborhood cats and dogs in Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson’s tale are the only thing standing between us and supernatural threats to our very existence, whether it’s spooky magicians, scary zombies, or just an outbreak of plague frogs. To make things more exciting, it manages to deal with the topic with no small amount of humor, as might be expected from former “Space Ghost Coast-to-Coast” writer Dorkin. 

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Kamandi by Jack Kirby Omnibus

If the hope at the heart of the Netflix show is what floats your boat, or if you just happen to really love the talking animal people appeal of the hybrids, then “Kamandi” could just be your perfect comic. Created by the artist behind Captain America, the X-Men, the Avengers, and most of Marvel’s most famous characters, it’s a series that starts from a very basic place: What if a kid was let loose in Planet of the Apes, but it’s not just apes that can talk, but all animals? The resulting series — a cult hit in the mid 1970s that’s since been recognized for the classic it is — is at times dazzling, hilarious, thrilling, and utterly ridiculous, but it’s never dull. 

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The Walking Dead: Compendium One

Perhaps the most well-known post-apocalyptic comic book in recent years (if not ever), Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s “The Walking Dead” has become the benchmark against which to measure almost all other dystopian comic book realities — and not just because it lasted long enough to explore the breakdown of society from multiple different angles… and because it managed to do that while also including zombies and the imminent threat of dehumanization on an entirely different level. Think of it as a horror two-for-one deal.

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Sweet Tooth Compendium

For those familiar with the comic book series, Netflix’s “Sweet Tooth” likely came as a surprise; creator Jeff Lemire has spoken about how the two are quite different in terms of tone and atmosphere, to the point that the two almost seem like entirely different takes on the same basic characters and concept. The comic book is more classically post-apocalyptic, with the pessimism and darkness that suggests, making it ideal for those who are fascinated by the hybrids and the world that led to them, but feel convinced that there’s more to the story than it appears — as well as those who want to know how Gus’s story ends. 

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