I love comic books. I love what they do and I love how they do it. Comic books really are only limited by the talent and the imagination of their creators. We’re here to celebrate those comics that have pushed the boundaries of story, blending and breaking genres as they see fit and still managing to challenge and excite both children and adults along the way. There is just something special about stories that we can enjoy with children and where both sides can be entertained without feeling talked down to.
For this list I’m taking into account significance over the years as well as today, so while stuff like Adventure Time has cool adventure comics, it hasn’t been around long enough to have the same impact as the comics on this list.
Let’s get to it!
5. Doctor Who
I can sense some of you about to call foul on me for putting a TV property comic in the ranks of the greats, but the Doctor has enough serious comic book cred to fill a TARDIS. Be it a strip, full book, or a expanded section of a larger magazine, our favorite Time Lord has been having illustrated adventures since shortly after he first graced the small screen. The comics are one of the big things that kept the Doctor alive after the classic series got the axe. While he may have suffered a long gap between runs as a TV staple, the Doctor never stopped running on the printed page.
As to the stories themselves, c’mon, it’s Doctor Who. Only limited by the imagination and abilities of the writers and artists cooking this stuff up the Doctor and go places and do things that would blow a major motion picture budget from page to page. New companions, new enemies, and a whole bunch of fun, if you’ve got the dime, Doctor Who comics are worth your time.
4. The Adventures of Tintin
While Tintin may not be as popular as he once was and never was the force in the US that he was elsewhere in the world, Hergé’s intrepid Belgian reporter has had a lasting effect upon millions and millions since he hit he scene in 1929 even if they’ve never heard his name. Some of the biggest names in entertainment are fans of the the comic and have drawn inspiration from it over the years. Tintin fans include the likes of Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Joe Cornish, Edgar Wright, and Steven Moffat, all of which collaborated to make the 2011 film The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.
For anybody not up on the deal here, Tintin is a young investigative reporter with a nasty habit of getting in over his head. He, along with his faithful dog Snowy and his often less than sober pal, Captain Haddock get caught up in all kinds of crazy escapades including spies, thugs, crimelords, and perhaps an ancient and/or secret treasure or two. Tintin has been everywhere from lost cities to the moon.
For over 80 years now The Adventures of Tintin has been delighting comic fans around the world, if you haven’t given this one a shot you owe it to yourself to fix that right away.
3. Calvin And Hobbes
Sometimes the biggest adventures don’t happen in exotic locales across all time and space, sometimes tall that is needed is one boy, his stuffed tiger, and a healthy imagination.
Some might argue that Calvin and Hobbes isn’t adventure comic, but I couldn’t disagree more. It doesn’t have the sweeping long form epics that the rest of the entries on this list do, but one of the greatest tricks to this series is that it made almost anything and everything INTO an adventure. In any given strip Calvin could go to space, morph into a dinosaur, or be on the run detention giving mutants. True, it might have been all in his head, but to the audience and to children like Calvin, fantasy and reality are just as real and important as each other.
Like with the rest of the comics on this list, Calvin and Hobbes mixed the fantastic with the mundane. Bill Watterson’s masterpiece is required reading in my book, hop to if haven’t already.
2. The Fantastic Four
Speaking of the Fantastic, let’s talk about these guys. Brought to us by the combined genius of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, when Fantastic Four hit stands back in the 1960s it not only gave us one of the greatest super hero teams of all time, but it was also the birth of the Marvel Renaissance. I remember hearing an interview once, I don’t remember who it was being interviewed (it might have been Stan Lee) but what they said has stuck with me to this day. They said that what made Fantastic Four “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine” was it was the one Superhero book where nothing was out of bounds. It was the one book that could go anywhere and do anything and I couldn’t agree more. Be it be it sci-fi, western, supernatural, romance, horror, or any other genre under the sun, you can bet someone has written some great Fantastic Four stories if you take the time to look.
The most important element of the FF isn’t their powers or where Reed’s devices allow them to travel, it is the fact that they are a family. This opens so many more unique storytelling choices and options and some of the Fantastic Four’s greatest stuff isn’t them fighting some monsters or exploring some new dimension but the joy of seeing these characters bounce off each other while relaxing in the Baxter Building.
At the heart of any good FF story is wild adventure with a side of fun and there are so many eras and runs to choose from. Find one that works for you and dive on in.
1. Donald Duck/Uncle Scrooge
The undisputed King of the Hill. Take everything I’ve said about all these comics and you can find that they apply here. The combination of the fantastic and the the mundane, the epic story-lines, the ability to go anywhere and do anything, the ability to bend or break genres when they see fit, and even the family element, it is all to be found in Disney’s Duck comics.
The best thing about these comics is that they can be enjoyed on a surface level as simple fun stories or take a deeper look and find all kinds of clever meanings and social commentary. I was recently reading a Don Rosa tale by the name of Incident at McDuck Tower which is a story about Donald Duck being a window washer who falls off a building and the hi-jinks that ensue as he tries to save himself. Within those hi-jinks for anybody who cares to look is commentary on workplace safety, male and female relationships at the workplace, suicide prevention, the health insurance industry, and private security vs the police. Again, this all in a story where a cartoon duck falls off a building!
The works of Carl Barks, Don Rosa, and others are a treasure in their own right, proving with the correct writers and artists behind them there is nothing these ducks can’t do.
Love my list? Hate my list? Let’s hear your comments and recommendations in the comments below. The happiness of giving a child something to read is one thing, but the joy of being able to enjoy reading something together is another thing entirely.