10 Mind-bending comic books that you should be reading

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Capes, tights and good vs evil. You look at comic books, and there’s a definite domination of the sales chart by traditional fictional material. You scratch beneath the surface of that medium however, and you’ll find some of the best damn stories ever drawn in a comic book. I’m talking stuff that will leave your head spinning, comic books with concepts that are far ahead of the curve and traditional understanding.

Here are ten comic books in particular, that’ll leave your brain twisted like a Möbius strip.

Planetary

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History is written by the winners, but what of the history that has remained hidden from humanity? Imagine if every piece of great fiction had its roots in a more fantastical truth, that a nefarious organisation had gone to great lengths to cover up in a selfish pursuit of knowledge. That’s where Planetary comes in, as an elite group of explorers of the unknown confronts not only hidden history but secrets within its own midst in a series that took years to tell its magnificent tale.

A saga of secrets from writer Warren Ellis and artist John Cassady, that explores ideas that we’re still trying to understand today.

Injection

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It’s not only humanity that’s evolving, but also its culture. How will the human species operate many years from now? That’s the problem that five specialists from various walks of life and disciplines band together to discover on behalf of the British government as they combine technology with magic to see what shape the world will take.

The only problem? An artificial intelligence that the group created breaks loose and begins using the various superstitions of the planet to play a dangerous game with its parents. Injection is utterly weird to the max, a typical trademark of writer Warren Ellis as you never know exactly what’s going on between the pages drawn by Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire.

Akira

Akira

You may have watched the landmark anime film, but Katushiro Otomo’s original and massive manga of Akira is nothing short of epic. While the film barely scratched the surface of Neo-Tokyo, Akira fleshed out a heady world of destruction and espers over the course of more than 2000 pages, creating an uncompromised glimpse at the future across hundreds of pages of spellbinding art.

There’s a level of precision in the art of Akira, that still stands tall against art produced today. Visually ahead of its time, it’s a bible of staggering detail that isn’t afraid to hit the reset button on its numerous intersecting plot threads.

Divinity

Divinity

You know what the problem is with creating gods? It’s that we always imagine them human limitations and attributes. Valiant’s Divinity series is an examination of what it means to attain godhood, and how a human mind would understand unlimited power. Playing off of biblical references, Divinity sees Cosmonaut Abram Adams achieve power beyond mortal ken, returning to an Earth that just isn’t ready for a new god to inhabit it.

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Matt Kindt’s script often finds Adams meditating on whether such power should ever be used in the first place as outside forces close in, while Trevor Hairsine’s art provides a stellar canvas for the divine to unfold on. Amidst multiple themes, Divinity also feels strangely optimistic in its approach, a far cry from many a comic book with similar themes on the shelf.

Divinity is a passionate examination of omnipotence, and its themes shine through the script and art.

East of West

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If ever there was a name that has become attached to truly mind-bending concepts within a comic book format, it’s Jonathan Hickman. Having plied his trade at Marvel with the Fantastic Four, Hickman really hit his stide outside of the house of ideas with projects such as East of West. Imagine the United States of America had never managed to end its Civil War, giving birth to various new nations vying for control.

With everyone from a Native American technocracy, an African American sovereign state and Texan speratists co-existing among others in an uneasy truce that is bound to break at any time, the end times are certainly coming as the four horseman of the apocalypse ride forth in a new heroic light towards the end times.

It’s a sci-fi western and political drama that is beautifully realised by the art of Nick Dragotta and colours from Frank Martin, that unfortunately proves that the only thing stronger than the human spirit, is our contempt for our fellow man when we’re faced with differences that we just cannot accept.

Ghost In The Shell

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How human are you, when you’ve replaced most of your original body with cutting edge technology. Is steel the new flesh? Does our spirit, or “ghost”, still exist when life is filtered through bionic augmentation? Ignore the recent feature film adaptation, buckle up and sit down for some heady reading that was clearly decades ahead of its time.

Masamune Shirow’s examination of what it truly means to be human in an age where technology has relentlessly progressed is a masterpiece of the 20th century, blending cyberpunk influences with philosophy and and gorgeously realised action sequences within its art as Major Motoko Kusanagi finds herself caught up in shadowy government conspiracies and the hunt for the truth of her origins.

While it’s best known as a monumental 1995 anime film, Ghost In The Shell’s original manga is still an accurate look at a dark future that awaits humanity as the convergence of technology grows ever closer.

The Manhattan Projects

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It’s Jonathan Hickman time again! This time, the writer has another question: What if the Manhattan Project that gave birth to the atomic bomb, also resulted in numerous other horrific breakthroughs in science? You’d get a series that combines the craziest of government bungling with a rogue cybernetic Franklin D. Roosevelt, Albert Einstein not having time for your nonsense as he descends into barbarism and Russia’s iconic comonaut dog Laika being the smartest organism in any room.

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Manhattan Projects runs wild with its alternative history, looking at real-life historical figures and then re-imagining them under the pens of Nick Pitarra and colourist Jordie Bellaire to darkly humorous effect.

Roche Limit

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Imagine if Prometheus managed to maintain its sense of discovery, without its cast of highly educated explorers making the most bone-headed of decisions. Now imagine that the entire film was shot under the lens of a techno film noir and you’d have Roche Limit, a series which once again ponders on the very nature of the soul.

It’s a mythical aspect that doesn’t just exist in writer Michael Moreci and artists Kyle Charles and Vic Malhotra’s universe, but happens to be unique to our species. There are no easy answers in Roche Limit, but what Moreci and co do reveal is still utterly satisfying if you’re patient enough to enjoy a ride which escalates towards its end.

Southern Cross

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When you look at space, you realise that the idea of travelling through the dark vacuum of a void that is designed to kill you a thousand different ways makes for a pretty horrific journey. Space is a horror house, multiple terrors waiting to be exploited and faced as Becky Cloonan and Andy Belanger did in Southern Cross. On the titular spaceship, a tale of terror unfolds as Alex Braith soon finds herself facing the unexplainable in a race for survival within her freighter while the cosmos tightens its unforgiving grip around her.

If you’re looking for a sci-fi horror that’ll leave you scratching bloody gashes into your head as you try to wrap your mind around this story, Southern Cross is more than ready to oblige. It’s a brown-pants thriller and then some.

Transmetropolitan

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The more things change, the more they stay the same. While Transmetropolitan paints a frightening picture of the future with dozens of ideas, there’s one constant amidst all the gonzo journalism that Spider Jerusalem injects into his eyeballs: The search for truth. In a future where even your dreams aren’t safe from adverts and temporary highs are available from a multitude of drugs, the age-old pursuit quality of greed and selfishness is still screwing people over long into the future.

Technology and copious amounts of drugs still can’t hide the truth however, as even the highest office in the land is no match for a man seeking to reveal every dirty secret of a disgusting world that is in need of a wake-up call. Written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Darick Robertson, Transmetropolitan still reads like a dire warning of the world that we live in today.

Last Updated: October 25, 2017

Darryn Bonthuys

Something wrong gentlemen? You come here prepared to read the words of a madman, and instead found a lunatic obsessed with comics, Batman and Raul Julia’s M Bison performance in the 1994 Street Fighter movie? Fine! Keep your bio! In fact, now might be a good time to pray to it!

  • Wikus Radyn

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the fact that Warren Ellis is on this list 3 times!

  • Original Heretic

    Transmet is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever read. And that’s taking both graphic novels and “normal” novels into consideration.

  • Daniel Hallinan

    Akira really IS absolutely amazing, and quickly reaches the point where it retroactively erodes the enjoyment of the film which only covers… the first 2 volumes of 6, I think? Plus, you know, drastically changing the storyline to allow for an easier film conclusion.

    I definitely recommend it.

    • Umar

      Yeah, there’s so much more to the story after Akira awakens, and it’s absolutely incredible, but this is one of those instances where, even though the movie created its own sort of ending, I still consider it a great piece of media and an essential watch.

      • Daniel Hallinan

        This is why I worded it the way I did. The film is fantastic (though it’s debatable whether its animation or content were what made it have such an impact), but having read the manga and watching again I was largely disappointed at how little it actually covered, and changing Akira to be dead felt like a cop-out.

        I do recommend the film based on the impact it had within both the film and anime genre, but I strongly feel the manga is a far better experience.

  • Skittle

    Honourable mention: The Red Wing by Hickman

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