This May DC released a free guide in magazine-like format, about the size of a small prestige graphic novel itself, containing a list of “essential graphic novels” and also a “chronology” for new readers. It’s not a bad idea considering what a difficult time new readers, or those who have left for awhile, can have finding jumping on points.
BATMAN: The Dark Knight Returns
THE SANDMAN: Volume 1, Preludes and Nocturnes
BATMAN: Year One
V FOR VENDETTA
SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING: Book One
FABLES: Volume 1, Legends in Exile
BATMAN: The Killing Joke (the Deluxe Edition)
Y: THE LAST MAN, Volume 1, Unmanned
ALL STAR SUPERMAN
BATMAN: The Long Halloween
THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: Volume 1
BATMAN: Earth One
GREEN LANTERN: Rebirth
AMERICAN VAMPIRE: Volume 1
JLA: Volume 1
THE FLASH: Rebirth
SUPERMAN: Earth One, Volume 1
PLANETARY: Volume 1, All over the World and Other Stories
If you managed to pick up the free guide already, you’re probably skipping over that list, but on the off chance you haven’t seen it yet, it’s worth scanning through. Obviously, the list isn’t in alphabetical, chronological, or character-based order, so it must form some kind of chosen ranking system, though putting too much emphasis on the order might be a mistake.
But the number of BATMAN titles is a little surprising. He’s been one of the most appealing characters in DC history, particularly once films started being made, and is more or less the de facto symbol of DC more than Superman these days, but are that many Batman titles really so essential? Many of them are by prominent writers and artists and have justly gained critical praise, which does seem to justify plenty of Batman in the list. But when you consider how many graphic novels have been released by DC, it seems like there might have been a little more room for diversity.
Vertigo gets its own separate list of “top” series, versus individual graphic novels later on in the catalogue, too, and they are:
Y: THE LAST MAN
To be fair, other titles are listed as Vertigo graphic novels that readers might be interested in, but these three series receive their own break-down into volumes and are also rounded off by a spotlight and listing of the works of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison for Vertigo.
There’s room to argue that more Vertigo titles should have made it into the Top 25 overall due to the critical attention and wide readership they enjoy even over long periods of time, stocking the shelves of libraries and being added to high-school and college level reading lists, whereas collections of big DC crossover events rarely reach that cultural status. It would be unfair to knock superhero titles out of the Top 25 simply because they are superhero graphic novels, but should be judged on their own merit. There’s little doubt that ALL STAR SUPERMAN is a classic in its own right and deserves to be given attention, but it really comes down to how we judge the word “essential”.
Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress.