Books: John Lewis Graphic Novel Leads List Of Comics For The Culture

By Zack Quaintance (@comicsbookcase)

This month the world lost United States Rep. John Lewis and over the weekend he was sent off grandly by his home state and constant battleground, Alabama.

Described in the headline of his New York Times’ obituary as a “Towering Figure of the Civil Rights Era,” Lewis was a true American hero, and his legacy and contributions to American society can’t be overstated. Lewis was also a pioneer in another area.

In 2013, Lewis choose to use the comics and graphic novel medium to publish an innovative memoir about his work in the Civil Rights movement, releasing the first in what would be a three-book series. That August March: Book One –co-written by Lewis and Andrew Aydin, with artwork by Nate Powell — garnered much praise and would eventually become the first graphic novel to receive a “Special Recognition” bust in 2014 from the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award.

With Book Two’s release in January 2015 and Book Three in August 2016, March was established as one of the best graphic novel series of the past decade. Yet, March does not stand on its own, it’s actually part of a recent boom of comics from work from Black creators — diverse work that spans from memoirs like March to “Big Two” superhero sagas to original concepts. 

In the list below you’ll find a small sampling of some of the best comics in recent years from Black creators.

  • Bitter Root
    • Writers: David F. Walker & Chuck Brown
    • Artist: Sanford Greene
    • Publisher: Image Comics

In the 1920s, the Harlem Renaissance is in full swing, and only the Sangerye Family can save New York — and the world — from the supernatural forces threatening to destroy humanity. But the once-great family of monster hunters has been torn apart by tragedies and conflicting moral codes. The Sangerye Family must heal the wounds of the past and move beyond their differences… or sit back and watch a force of unimaginable evil ravage the human race.

Why It’s Cool: Bitter Root fearlessly hits in so many timely directions. Set during the Harlem Renaissance, it’s a familial story about generational monster hunters, demons, and manifestations of hate.

  • Black Panther / Captain America
    • Writer: Ta-Nehisi Coates
    • Artists: Various
    • Publisher: Marvel Comics

A bold new direction for the Black Panther! For years, T’Challa has fought off invaders from his homeland, protecting Wakanda from everything from meddling governments to long-lost gods. Now, he will discover that Wakanda is much bigger than he ever dreamed…across the vast Multiverse lies an empire founded in T’Challa’s name. Readers caught a glimpse of it in MARVEL LEGACY #1. Now find out the truth behind the Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda!

Why It’s Cool: Once Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Ta-Nehisi Coates got his feet under him in the comics medium, he ended up telling a truly wild and cosmic Black Panther tale with some of the best Afro-futurist artwork to appear in any medium in recent years. Meanwhile, with his work on Captain America, Coates re-envisions Marvel’s patriotic icon as a someone who is misunderstood and repentant, trying to do what’s right for himself and for his country in the midst of powerful forces who want to manipulate the public against him.

  • BTTM FDRS
    • Writer: Ezra Claytan Daniels
    • Artist: Ben Passmore
    • Publisher: Fantagraphics

When a pair of bohemians descend upon a neglected working-class neighborhood in search of cheap rent, they soon discover something sinister lurking behind the walls of their new home. BTTM FDRS (pronounced “bottomfeeders”) offers a vision of horror that is gross and gory in all the right ways. Funny, scary, and thought provoking, it confronts the monstrous forces that are displacing cultures in urban neighborhoods today.

Why It’s Cool: An original graphic novel that emerged last year, BTTM FDRS by Ezra Claytan Daniels and Ben Passmore is a must-read comic, as it approaches issues related to housing, privilege, and gentrification through a lens that lands somewhere between body and techno horror.

  • Deathstroke
    • Writer: Christopher Priest
    • Artists: Various
    • Publisher: DC Comics

Deathstroke’s latest contract takes him to a war-torn African country, where he finds himself caught in the middle of a disintegrating alliance between a ruthless dictator and a deadly super-villain. With an entire nation at stake, Slade Wilson must choose between fulfilling his contract and saving an old friend.  

Why It’s Cool: I loved this run, start to finish. So much so that I actually did a deep dive into some of its themes a little past halfway through on my website. It’s a great, really smart comic that sees pioneering Black comic writer Christopher Priest expertly-wielding his ample intellect and talent. Now that it’s over, it’s easy to say that this is the definitive Deathstroke run, and perhaps no writer in all of comics can do arrogant bad dudes as well as Priest.

  • Excellence
    • Writer: Brandon Thomas
    • Artist: Khary Randolph
    • Publisher: Image Comics

Spencer Dales was born into a world of magic. His father belongs to the Aegis, a secret society of Black magicians ordered by their unseen masters to better the lives of others-those with greater potential-but never themselves. Now it’s time for Spencer to follow in his father’s footsteps, but all he sees is a broken system in need of someone with the wand and the will to change it. But in this fight for a better future, who will stand beside him?  

Why It’s Cool: Excellence is a great-looking comic from writer Brandon Thomas and artist Khary Randolph. It’s about a secret society of black magicians who use their powers to help others but never themselves. There’s a great plot here about power structures, with a father-son emotional core.

  • Ironheart
    • Writer: Eve Ewing
    • Artist: Luciano Vecchio
    • Publisher: Marvel Comics

Riri Williams steps boldly out of Tony Stark’s shadow to forge her own future! When one of Spider-Man’s old foes holds a group of world leaders hostage, Ironheart must step up her game. But she’s thrown for a loop when an old acquaintance from Chicago re-enters her life! Caught between her need for independence and her obligations at M.I.T., Ironheart needs to make some tough decisions!

Luckily, Riri has a will of steel, a heart of iron and a new A.I. on her side! Unluckily, the search for a kidnapped friend will send her stumbling into an ancient power — and it’s deadly! Plus: When Miles Morales goes missing, who better to search for him than his fellow Champion, Riri — who he’s never actually gotten along with that well! 

Why It’s Cool: For a fun and really pretty teen superhero comic, I don’t think there’s been a better choice of late than Ironheart. Writer, and much-heralded Chicago native, Eve Ewing really took to the medium, and the art team of Luciano Vecchio, Geoffo, and Matt Milla, did work so clean and precise that it basically shines.

  • Nighthawk
    • Writer: David Walker
    • Artist: Ramon Villalobos
    • Publisher: Marvel Comics

The Squadron Supreme‘s Nighthawk is Chicago’s dark protector, dispensing decisive justice to those who truly deserve it. But someone even more brutal is targeting the city’s shadiest power brokers in a series of grisly murders. As the bodies pile up, Nighthawk must decide whether to hunt this psycho — or leave him to it! And as racial tension grips the city, Nighthawk faces another choice: defend his new home, or watch it burn.

With white supremacists on one side and cops out to get him on the other, he’s bitten off more than he can chew — and that’s before he becomes the new obsession of the elusive serial killer the Revelator! Nighthawk’s in for a bloody, life-or-death fight that will define him. Can he save Chicago as a hero? Or does the city require a villain?

Why It’s Cool: Nighthawk is another must-read comic by writer David F. Walker, who works here with artist Ramon Villalobos and colorist Tamra Bonvillain. It feels especially timely at the moment with its story of police malfeasance and the spider-web of civic ills related to who benefits and why. Not for the faint.

  • Power Man and Iron Fist
    • Writer: David Walker
    • Artist: Sanford Greene
    • Publisher: Marvel Comics

The best buddy team in comics, reunited at last! Luke Cage and Danny Rand, the Heroes for Hire turned Avengers, are going back to street-level basics — and there’s a mystery to solve that will draw in crime lords, hired goons and old friends! But which of the three pose the most trouble?

The Big Apple may end up poisoned by magic unless Luke and Danny can put a stop to whoever is wielding the mystical Supersoul Stone! Business starts to boom, with a flurry of big-hitting, kung-fu-fighting action. But when a second Civil War splits the Marvel Universe down the middle, will Power Man and Iron Fist be on the same side, or will a fine bromance end? Luke brings the power, Danny brings the fists — you bring the snacks!

Why It’s Cool: Before Bitter Root, David Walker and Sanford Greene also did Powerman and Iron Fist, a blast of a book that, like Nighthawk, was cancelled too soon. Lee Loughridge did colors on this run, and I think the art just fits the characters so well, as did Walker’s snappy scripting.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and a freelance writer by night/weekend, he Tweets compulsively about comics as Comics Bookcase.

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