About thirty years ago comic books were transformed into graphic novels. Although still officially for kids, the more adult story lines, underscored with cynicism and more realistic violence, became chic for adults to read and collect.
At this same time the books began to be priced out of reach of 10 year-old boys, who used to scan the comic book racks with a handful of change. These graphic novels of the late 1980s and beyond produced a lot of good work, probably most famously Frank Miller’s The Dark Night Returns and Alan Moore’s The Watchmen both released in 1986.
These books set comic books on a new path most are still following today and in turn they have influenced the movies based on them. Whether you prefer brightly colored tights or dark and gritty body armor there are plenty of cool comics to enjoy.
Batman was, is and will forever be the archetypal comic book vigilante. He has endured many revisions in comics, cartoons, television and movies, but he remains one of the coolest superheroes ever. From his debut in Detective Comics #1 in 1937 he has prowled Gotham’s rooftops striking fear in criminals of all stripes.
The cool thing about Batman is is lack of any powers except burning determination. With an array of high-tech gadgets ranging from the Batmobile to the Batarang he exploits his money and brains to fight evil. He’s used the murder of his parents to craft a frightening bat persona that as recognized around the world as Superman himself.
Batman continues to be one of D.C’s most popular properties and is likely to be for the foreseeable future.
14. G.I. Joe
G.I. Joe is mostly known today as a film franchise, but back in the 1980s Marvel launched a comic book based on a classic toy. For many kids the G.I. Joe series was pure gold, combining elements of military adventure and superhero like soldiers fighting the forces of evil.
In the long tradition of comics, the Joes fought a diabolical organization called Cobra with led by a mysterious villain. The Joe unit was filled with colorful characters with even more colorful names such as Rock n’ Roll, Scarlett and Snake Eyes.
For many young readers Snake Eyes was the coolest Joe of all: a silent warrior dressed all in black who doesn’t speak and wears a mask to cover horrible disfigurement. It might sound corny today, but the the Joes were real American heroes.
13. Nick Fury
Nick Fury began his Marvel Comics career as a soldier in Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandoes in 1963. A tough no nonsense warrior who defines alpha male even among his super hero compatriots.
After World War II, Fury became involved with the ultra-secret government agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D. where he uses his skills to get the most out of the motley crew of heroes like Captain America and Iron Man as members of the Avengers.
Not blessed with any super powers himself, he uses pure grit and toughness to earn the respect and loyalty of his team. Fury deserves more recognition as a cool character in his own right, but will likely continue to be overshadowed by the more colorful Avengers.
12. Sgt. Rock
Sgt. Rock was the tough as nails leader of Easy Company during World War II. He fought Nazis to the death, but never lost his humanity or his overwhelming desire to protect his men. If this all sounds a little grim, well it was. It was, for a comic book, an honest look at war. Sgt. Rock’s fate in the comics is a bit complicated.
At one point he seemed to have been killed, but the character made a return. There is no doubt the comic was violent, but it never went over the top with bloodshed or gore, but more importantly it never got cynical.
Sgt. Rock and his men were heroes fighting an evil regime that deserved to be destroyed. In our age of moral relativism this is a message many people today could stand to hear.
11. Rom the Space Knight
G.I. Joe isn’t the only toy that became a comic book. Rom the Space Knight was a cool Hasbro action figure before it became a cool Marvel comic in 1979 and ran until 1986. After a dormant period the robot returned to comics in 2016. Rom is an ancient Cyborg from the planet Galador.
He and his fellow space knights have battled ferocious enemies known as Dire Wraiths. Eventually Rom makes his way to Earth where he continues his fight against his mortal enemies the Wraiths.
This is all good stuff, but somehow it was never quite as popular as it should have been. G.I. Joe got their movies and the Transformers got theirs, but Rom hasn’t gotten a movie – it seems like there is still a little room in the ever expanding Marvel cinematic universe.
The smiley face logo is a repeated motif in the Watchmen comic book published in 1985. So much so that for many the once cheerful symbol has come to be associated with mayhem. This comic was hailed for its visual style as well as its dark, complex story.
Although, in retrospect, it may have been overrated we cannot deny its grittiness mixed with irony and humor is a winning combination that influenced comics ever since. Characters like Rorschach and Night Owl defy conventional superhero conventions, but turn out to be no less heroic than their more illustrious counterparts.
Batman (at least the modern version) would be pretty much at home with the the watchmen, but what would Superman think of them?
9. The Unknown Soldier
The Unknown Soldier is an interesting comic book because people like mysterious characters. We don’t know his name or what he looks like, but we know he hates the Nazis that he fights with all his might. This character exists in the same D.C. universe as Sgt. Rock, and I’m pretty sure they had at least one cross over issue. But this soldier is more complex than the straight ahead heroism of Rock. This soldiers fights in the shadows, in the margins against other shadowy agents using subterfuge and cunning as much as brute force. Although he is usually placed in the World War II era, the above image shows that he has also been associated with the Vietnam War era.
“Star Wars meets Game of Thrones” is a pretty tall order but apparently that’s the way the creator of Saga pitched their video for an epic comic book series. Brian Vaughn and Fiona Staples produced a gripping series complete with violence, sex and parenting issues.
Most fans focus on the interesting characters, complex stories and exciting visuals, but Saga has not been without its critics. It has faced a backlash for its sexual content that some consider to be over the top considering it is a comic book.
However, for good or bad, its been about two decades since comic books/graphic novels have been primarily marketed at children. Regardless of its critics this series has established itself as an effective piece of art and a cool comic book.
7. Strange Tales
Dr. Strange was only one of the characters introduced by the Marvel Comics anthology series Strange Tales. In the 1950s and 1960s anthology comics used to be much more common.
This series offered readers horror, science fiction, spy and military stories. Strange Tales strangely enough, introduced characters like Dr. Strange, the human torch and Nick Fury who all went on to have their own comic series.
In 2009 and 2010 Marvel published editions called Strange Tales Max that brought together writes and artists from across the spectrum who created collections of strange tales to delight a new generation of comic book fans.
6. Star Wars
Marvel launched its Star Wars comic book saga with a film adaptation of the 1977 Star Wars. It was two giant books that allowed readers to experience Star Wars on big, colorful pages of awesomeness.
Later there were comic adaptations of the other movies, but fans enjoyed the monthly series that pursued other story lines and characters as well as the familiar ones from the movies. One of the cool things about comics is that you can get away with things in the books that you can’t get away with in other mediums.
Marvel’s Star Wars comics featured a character that was a bipedal green rabbit. Try getting away with that today, but in Marvel’s Star Wars comic book universe no one batted an eye. That’s pretty cool.
5. The Defenders
In the Marvel universe the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy have been sucking up all the oxygen, but in the comic book world a slightly lesser known group – the Defenders has always been a popular choice. Its membership changed frequently, but certainly one of its most famous members was the Incredible Hulk.
Because he’s the Hulk having him around wasn’t always a blessing, but when the chips were down – Hulk smashed! Maybe it was partly Hulk’s fault they couldn’t stay together long.
According to canon, the team members were too independent to be part of a team for long – they were regarded as the “non-team.” Doctor Strange, another original member, didn’t have much in common with the green giant. Regardless, the Defenders remain popular and even got a show on Netflix.
The famous Cimmerian warrior, Conan the Barbarian, began life as a character in Robert Howard’s stories published in Weird Tales in the 1930s. Marvel started publishing a Conan comic in 1970 and the Mego Toy company even made an action figure version of him to go along with the multitude of superhero figures.
Since 2003 Dark Horse Comics has published the title, but no matter the source, Conan has remained a cool character. He doesn’t give a damn about anything except getting loot and hot chicks and killing demons who get in his way. As if all this isn’t cool enough Conan had a crossover with D.C. featuring one of the coolest women in comics: Wonder Woman.
Many of us think of the personification of death as a ghoul in a black cloak swinging a sythe. But others imagine death to be a hot chick who’s actually a nice person too. Who says comics aren’t adolescent male wish fulfillment? Death appeared in a comic book called Sandman in 1989.
The character of death has been described as affable and unassuming – definitely not the traditional descriptions of the Grim Reaper we’re used to. According creator Neil Gaiman has said that Death’s look was inspired a friend of his named Cinamon “Sin” Hadley who dressed in goth style.
Death made several appearances in other comics even in an AIDS awareness and safe sex pamphlet where she demonstrates how to put a condom on a banana. What’s cooler than that?
2. The Sensational She-Hulk
The Sensational She-Hulk was created in 1980 by a man comic book fans may have heard of: Stan Lee. He also created the Incredible Hulk and countless other Marvel heroes, but She-Hulk is pretty unique.
Smart and sassy lawyer by day, Jennifer Walters regularly becomes a green rage monster to fight the forces of evil. It doesn’t hurt that she is hot in both incarnations and probably more so as the green rage monster.
Unlike Bruce Banner, Walters seems to have adopted a much cooler attitude about the the whole hulking out thing. She is able to have a little fun with it in ways Banner never did. Beauty, brains, a sense of humor and rippling green muscles? Who could ask for more?
Superman is numero uno in the comic book universe. He was the first real superhero and still the most powerful. The man of steel is all but immortal with the help of our yellow sun except for, of course, kryptonite.
Superman represents truth, justice and the American way even though our culture no longer seems comfortable with that brand of confidence. The only knock against Superman is that his impervious nature makes him somewhat boring when compared with Batman or other mortal heroes as they wrestle with villains on rooftops.
He doesn’t worry with mortality. Superman is almost a god who doesn’t deal with most of the normal trials and tribulations of life on Earth. These are legitimate points, but the truth is we all wish we could be Superman don’t we? That’s pretty cool.