I should add "�so far" whenever I make this kind of list. And I intend to make this kind of list as many as possible for now on. Just because.This is actually an abandoned project, to make the Top 13 lists of all kind of things that interest me when the mood strikes. And for now, I'm in the mood for a list of best sci-fi comics.
I'm not really an avid reader of sci-fi genre. Jules Verne's stories off course were among my first resources of science fiction. But the one that really get to me for the first time in my life was Frankenstein by Marry Shelley. Yes, that classic is always treated as a horror story, and it does have the element of horror. But the horror, the fantastic situation, was derived from the fictional scientific findings of Dr. Frankenstein.
That is the basic principle of a sci-fi in my view: the (imagined) consequences of imagined sciences (that often also rooted in the "real" sciences). The consequences could be fantastic, or just an interesting but sober speculation of the impact of a scientific principle or technology. Either way, it's not, I think, the other way around: that the scientific derived from the fantastic.
You see, sci-fi (an endearing short for science fiction)now comes with many forms, elements, and traits. You could have a story with aliens, some exotic or silly planets in an unknown distant stars, near or far future, or superheroes, and call it a sci-fi. But is it?
Is Star Wars saga a sci-fi? Many people think so. But I think it's not. Rather, it's a "space opera" as they often say it. You see a lot of space ships, laser guns, robots, but do you really see science in it? Not much. The technological thingies in it are just props, a part of the setting of a fantasy story �The Hobbit-like drama that took place in space. Same goes to Leiji Matsumoto Galaxy Express 999 that I really loved since the first time I spot this great mangain a random used books stall in Jakarta (even though I couldn't understand the text at all because I couldn't read Japanese language).
Superhero stories in (mostly) American comics are mostly considered as a subgenre of sci-fi comics. But not all of superhero characters and stories have a science-based explanation on their origins. Wonder Woman, Dr. Strange, or Thor has mythical origins. Even Superman doesn't have a clearly defined scientific trait in his origin �he was just an alien from a destroyed planet that inexplicably physically similar with us.
Off course, there are superhero stories that have sci-fi quality in them. An ambitious sci-fi novelist, Tad Williams, wrote brilliant sci-fi elements in his Superman: The Next. But it's still basically a superhero stories, a fantasy, because the science derived from the fantastic premise of a superhero story. And Alan Moore's Watchmen, off course, has great sci-fi elements whenever Dr. Manhattan or Ozymandiazappear in the story. But Watchmen is also many things: a noir, a crime story, a social commentary, etc.
The same logic applied for many fantastic titles that I've read and loved and has some of obvious sci-fi elements. I choose not to include the likes of Grant Morrison's Invisibles, China Mieville'sDial H for Hero, or Jodorowsky'sIncalbecause although I really love those works, I think they fall into fantasy genre more than sci-fi.And I like many Flash Gordon stories, including the latest one from Jeff Parker and Evan "Doc" Shaner (what a fun funfun series!), but it's another space opera.
So, I make this list in a kind of "purist" way: I just want to include comics that fall into a rather "pure" sci-fi spirit, that is a love, or probably a kind of (sometimes mature and sometimes na�ve) faith, in science.Off course it will be subjective. But I can promise you that I will not be lazy about it.
Here it is, presented in a countdown mode: my list of best Sci-fi comics that I have read. So far.
13. Hard Boiled � Frank Miller & Geoff Darrow
This is the most sci-fi comic from Frank Miller, even in comparison with Martha Washington series, Big Guy and Rusty The Boy Robot and Ronin, his other futuristic stories.Because in Hard Boiled, Miller could actually managed to imagine a consequence of robot living as human.He always had a great noir sensibility and violence streaks in his writing. This comic also begins with a lengthy and highly detailed bloody mayhem highlighted greatly by Darrow's art. Many critics and readers considered Geoff Darrowwas the real star in this comic. ButMiller's writing gave a strong ground for Darrow's rich vision of a futuristic world on par with the full blown atmospheric future cities as imagined by Moebius in The Long Tomorrow or Ridley Scott in Blade Runner. The simple plot of Hard Boiled force us to focus on bodily horror aspect of a robot story. TheAssimov-like robot rebellion aspect is admittedly weak, but necessary to give meaning for a kiss in the end of this story about a robot that thinks he is just a normal guy working as a hardboiled tax collector.
12. The Wake � Scott Snyder & Sean Murphy
What is really admirable of this 10 part action-packed sci-fi is its scale. It spanned the whole human history, from far pre-historic time well into quite farfuture. But the story is centeredon two Archers: Dr. Lee Archer, a marine scientist and young mother in our current time, and Leeward Archer, a sea creatures hunter living in a flooded world of 200 years in the future. Snyder build a quick-paced scientific interpretation of ancient myth, and in the first five part of the story gives us a very effective Hitchcockian thriller cum 1950's-American-movie-monster-tribute. Snyder sprinkled the story with glimpses of historical war between humanand a really terrifying mysterious creature. Sean Murphy's art is deliciously appropriate for setting the creepy mood of deep-sea horror. But 200 years onward in the water world of Leeward, bright sun, big wild trees and blue scenery where the sea monsters are just fact of life, Murphy's art still deliver an unsettling feeling of doom throughout his panels and spreads. It is to both credits that we got a surprisingly inspiring end.
11. We3 � Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely
At first reading, I found this story rather simple and too action-oriented.Itstrays from my expectation for a Grant Morrison's story. I've grown very accustomed to his intricately complex plots and seductively far-out dialogues in his Animal Man, Doom Patrol and The Invisibles stories. I thought thatWe3 is Morrison just want to have fun. And oh what a fun read it is! A dog, a cat, and a rabbit turned into lethal cyborgs with enhanced brain capacity so that they could speak human (well, English) language, albeit a broken one. They were transformed for military purpose. But they manage to escape from military facility, become rogues, and considered as dangerous weapons on the loose. The art from Frank Quitely for this comics are something you wouldn't want to miss. His panels' arrangement is a feast. But upon several re-readings (yeah, I am slow), I get something from the deceptively plain story too. It's some kind of a morality play. It is actually a radical position in animal rights philosophy, a compressed version from the one that Morrison already explored in Animal Man series. Basically, We3 posed a story that says if the animals murderhumans, it's because the humans deserved it. But the story is also about more than that. It's about the consequences of playing God too. And as clich� as it seems, Morrison could still make a point about that.
10. The Private Eye � Brian K. Vaughn & Marco Martin
The premise is really smart. In a near-future world, people live without Internet due to catastrophic cloud-leaks that tears apart societies. A rampant violation of privacy leads to a paranoid society in guarding privacy matter. Sharing becomes a mortal sin. Everybody is obsessed in hiding his or her identity. Every body is wearing holographic mask and creating fake and fantastic persona in public. Journalist becomes a feared police-like institution. And private detectives, those whose profession are digging and sometimes exposing secrets, becomea criminal occupation. Patrick Immelman (a code name) is a Private Eye (and in this comic, "Paparazzi" is a synonym for "Private Eyes"). He stumbled to a web of mysterious plot. A war to bring back that old dangerous thing: the Internet. I think it's one of the best works from Brian K. Vaughan,and the cartoon-style art from Marco Martin makes a fine balance between movement and futuristic urban scenery.
9. Terminal City & Terminal City: Aerial Graffity � Dean Motter&Michael Lark
The first time Terminal City was published, in July 1996, some critics praised Lark's art as a "finding of the year". I agreed then, and still do. His lines are clear (yeah, "clear lines": a distinct aesthetic in European comics first developed by Herg�), his architectural sensibility is exquisite. It's a perfect combination with Dean Motter's story. Motter has always been an author of urban retro-future mythology, mostly known by his great creation, Mr. X. In Terminal City, Mottercreated a complete universe with a diverse cast of characters that each, down to the insignificant clumsy portal boy, carried the plot and sufficient background to the story. Their vision apparently was a Metropolis city (yeah, the one that Fritz Lang dreamt and realized in his famous movie) filled with mysterious schemes, secrets, and lonely hearts. Lark's art gave this vision credibility and gravity. The key is in the background. Lark drew them with full attention but never made it unintentionally distract our attention away from the main scenes. But if you pay attention to the background, you still got a full picture of a complete world. This is not purely a story about science or the imaginary effect of sciences though. Cosmo, a disgraced acrobatic-daredevil superstar in Terminal City, works as a high building windows cleaner. He witnessed a man with a suitcase chased and fell from height. The suitcase linked to a mysterious incident that brought Cosmo down in the past, the whole reason he was downgraded from a star to a low-life high buildings cleaner. And so, an old school mystery-thriller ensued. The retro-future setting is so alive: the social structure represented by city zoning, electric drugs, electromagnetic cars and monorails, grumpy front office robot, etc.Motter and Lark presented all that with cool "no-big-deal" attitude. That's why I put it on this list.
8. Orbiter � Warren Ellis & Colleen Doran
This is a love letter to space program. There is something slightly different in Ellis' writing for this graphic novel. At the end of the story, Ellis revealed what it is: it's personal. A pulp-fiction-like badass tone of his usual writing felt restrained. But we do have a high dose of scientific conversation. I feel that even those conversations have different tones than his usual witty scifi lingo. It's like a kid excitedly blurt out his fascinating findings in science. Ellis began this story with the crash-landing of Ventura, a space shuttle that disappeared ten years before and caused a total shut down of space program. A team of specialists rounded up to uncovered the mystery surrounding that return: How can the space shuttle survive ten years journey in space? Why is it covered with some kind of skin? And how come it has dust from Mars? But what was initially a promise of a thriller then developed into a sweet yearn for a revival of space program in real life. We could feel a sense of wonder in the last pages of Orbiter �actually, a glimpse of sense of wonder. Ellis cleverly, some would say irresponsibly, cut off the story just when everything about to get a proper closure. Instead, we have a jolt of what is felt as a new beginning �both for the characters and, strangely, for us. Welcome back, space.
7. Akira � Katsuhiro Otomo
The animation is a world entry to Otaku World. It is one of the cult classics in most of movie-buff's lists. I was reluctant to include Akira to this list because what I remember most of this epic cyberpunk is the psychicwar between its characters. But ESP (Extra Sensory Perception)sits in a corner of science history. There were studies on telekinesis, telepathy, mind power over matter. Some disputed it as pseudo-science. But there is still a whole body of explanation using scientific approach that concludes it as some unexplainable phenomena. Good enough for fiction writers apparently. Akirais built its epic scale on this ground. It never stirred from rational thinking, and never gave in to paranormal or magical explanation. It is instead exploiting the unexplainable to the point of blowing up Tokyo in nuclear-like explosion with ESP power, twice. And in between, we saw a political power play that evolved in six thick English issue from government conspiracy to tribal wars lead up to the emergence of Tokyo Empire. The story of Akira in comic version is longer and more complex then the anime version. Each is a visual fiesta.
6. The Filth � Grant Morrison & Chris Weston
Morrisonversefor me is the ultimate weird scifi fantasy. It's dense, cacophonic, and strangely seductive, at least for me. I don't know, probably I am kind of a sadomasochist and like to torture my self with all these obscure texts and images. The fact is I do like this head-trip masking as a maxi-series from Vertigo/DC Comics. The Filth tells a story began with a middle aged Greg Feely whose habit in his lonely life is making relationship with his old cat and jerking off to pornographic magazine. But he is actually Slade, a sleeper agent of The Hand, an organization of extra-dimential agents.The purpose of The Hand is to maintain a Status Q in reality. A rogue agent Spartacus Hughes has compromised Status Q. Slade, with the help of a Russian chimpanzee assassin must stop Hughes. Feel the headache yet? I do. But it is but a very small part of The Filth. Fractal realities ensued, gave ways for flying murderous giant sperms, a porn star that was actually an "anti-person", a bonsai planet containing artificial nano species,a gigantic cruise used as orgies hell for coup d'etat, etc. Technology assaulted the reality and the core identity of our filthy protagonist. All theseare realized fully with the solid art of Chris Weston & Gary Erskine. (Oh, and a bonus: great design of covers that is not at all like the covers of American comics.)I choose this over The Invisibles because although both are sharing the same weirdness overdose, The Filth is more focused on the speculation of technology and science.
5. Ghost in The Shell � MasamuneShirow
K?kakuKid?tai is the Japanese title of this masterpiece that literary means Mobile Armor Riot Police. Like Akira, this comics is not only great reading or popular but has cultural significant too. The story evolved into media franchise, spawning into several big screen anime and anime series that became cult classic for MTV Generation and after. But let's focus on the story. I treated the whole publications as one continuous graphic novel. Shirow wrote and drawn The Ghost in The Shell, Ghost in The Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface, and Ghost in The Shell 1.5: Human Error Processor. The saga begins with the story of Section 9 in fictional future city Niihama in 2039, which is lead by Chief Daisuke and Major Motoko. They investigatePuppeteer, a cyber terrorist that committed crimes by ghost hacking humans so they would do what the Puppeteer wants. Mokoto finds out that The Puppeteer actually is an Artificial Intelligent that could live inside robot. With this premise, Shirow use Ghost in The Shell saga as a vehicle for his thought on philosophy, design, architecture, and even some sociological issues. And occasionally show off his penchant for nude and sexually explicit scenes.
4. Phoenix: Resurrection � Osamu Tezuka
I've just read Phoenix fully and I consider revision for my Top Graphic Novels list. But to include a part of Tezuka's masterpiece in this list is something of a problem too. The whole body of Phoenix graphic novels series is essentially a metaphysical narrative. Phoenix itself is a mythical entity that actually inspired many classical texts on spirituality.Tezuka recreated this mythical figure into a mythical giant feminine bird that appears in all of the stories. Tezuka wrote a various settings and premises.But some parts of it have focus on scientific imagination. I like Futureand Space as scifi stories. But I choose Resurrection because, probably, I am a sucker for stories about identity problems and good visualization. The story takes place in 2482-3344 AD. A young man, Leon, dies because of an accident but brought back to life. But something changes. He could only see humans as distorted figures. He is isolated,until he sees a beautiful woman, Chihiro. The problem isthat Chihiro actually is a robot. So begins the long journey of forbidden love between human and robot that ends up a robot which once was a man conducting hara-kiri in the moon.
3. Valerian: Brooklyn Lines, Terminal Cosmos � Pierre Christin& Jean-Claude Mezieres
This series, I think, is one of the all times greatest sci-fi �comics or otherwise. The adventures of Valerian and Laureline, spatio-temporal agents (what a concept!), give us a very broad canvas for fantastic stories that span into all corners of galaxy�or at least, it feels like that. It's easy to see why: the writer (Christin) and the artist (Mezieres) have created a rich and nuanced universe throughout their Valerian corpus. Probably the fact that Christin was a scholar in sociology study had contributed to that richness. But the arts from Mezieresalso contributed a lot to the believable realization of the imaginary universe. You can pick any title from this series, and chances are you'll find a really satisfying sci-fi and space opera read. There is a solid ground why this series is, among other things, influential to the conception of Star Wars universe. I like the first title that I read, the Indonesian edition of The City of Shifting Water, that gave me a believable flooded and ruined New York City. Heroes of Equinox gave me a rather psychedelic and atmospheric space-myth as well as a very good use of paneling strategy to tell the story that I found quite freshcompare to a lot of mainstream European comics translated to Indonesian language during my youth. But for this list, I choose Brooklyn Lines, Terminal Cosmos. The first time I read it, the Indonesian edition of this masterpiece, I felt pleasantly surprise to see Valerian in a very lively 20th century large city setting. While at the "same time", Laureline has her adventure in faraway galaxy. Add to that mix is Albert, the 20th century Earth contact for Galaxity, a capital city of the future earth where both Valerian and Laureline initially came from. What really seduced me though was the mystery-detective narrative structure applied in this two-part story. That particular element won me over so I choose this for this list instead of the other masterpiece of Valerian saga, Valerian: The New Future Trilogy.
Note: French movie director Luc Besson already announced his plan to adapt this series into a feature movie and will begin the shooting this year.
2. Tintin: Destination Moon & Explorers to The Moon � Herg�
There is a famous anecdote about how Herg� had consulted to a respected space scientist for these double stories. Herg� had doubts about the existence of water in the moon, but the scientist insisted on it. So Herg� included scenes with ice in the moon. Well, it turned out that Herg� is right, and he regretted why didn't he insist there's no water in the moon. That is how serious it was for Herg� in writing this two parts adventure. In Destination Moon, Herg� practically was showing off his vast research on space and rocket science through quite many lengthy monologues on the subject. But to his credit, the story never fell into a bore. The love for science and space radiated from pages of these comics and infected readers all over the world. Well, at least it infected me and still is. Being a master of the medium, Herg� could seamlessly embedded the space adventure with political thriller, human drama about sacrifice and responsibility, and still managed to insert classic slapstick humors here and there. The arts in almost every panel are perfect. I feel that it never will be outdated, even with the slip about ice in the moon.
1. Pluto � Naoki Urasawa& Osamu Tezuka
The central question of this story is: can robot cry? Naoki Urasawa, already a somewhat national treasure in Japan because of his mangas, reinterprets one of the best story from Osamu Tezuka'sTetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy)series: The Greatest Robot on Earthstory arch. Naoki recreated it as a murder mystery about Gesicht, a robot detective (that looks very human) investigates a string of robots and humans death. I was excited when I read Pluto the first time in Indonesian edition. Every edition (published with a month interval) never failed me. The first time Atom appearedwas somehow touched me deeply: a boy, his face was hidden, stop walking and looking to something, a snail, and removed the snail so it can continue to move safely. Many famous characters from Tezuka universe also appearsuch as Black Jack and Robita (first appeared in Phoenix). The whole work is a tribute to Osamu Tezuka's works in its truest sense. Loves radiated throughout this story amid all the violent scenes and fearsome action of Pluto. So pardon me if I am sentimental and put this on the top of the list.