Top 10 Dystopian Comic Series
Dystopia: A society characterized by human misery as squalor, oppression, human disease and overcrowding. Such an uplifting, sunshiny place. Ok, not really, but this setting does make for some damn good comic book story telling. I find comics whose story lines are set in dystopian futures to be particularly intriguing and unnerving. All of us suspect that one of these stories could be close to a realistic future; the fact that we just don't know what the future actually holds for us makes that suspicion all the more uncomfortable. This group of comics challenges us to imagine the bleak, empty place that could be home one day and to live in that place for a bit. It's often lonely, violent and dark. But, there are rays of light in the form of beautiful human relationships, humor and discovery of new worlds.
I'm sure there will be comic book series that you feel should've been included here, as you nerds have a habit of immediately pointing out the flaws in these sort of lists. I invite you to add your own favorites in the comments below and tell me why you feel your choices should be on the list. But be nice or I'll send a large, stab-happy robotic anger machine to avenge my hurt feelings. Please note these comics are in no particular order of favoritism.
Y: The Last Man (Brian K. Vaughan & Pia Guerra) This is the story of one man and one monkey left on earth, after a mysterious illness quickly dispatched with all other mammals with the Y chromosome. As Yorick sets out on a desperate journey to track down his globe trotting fiancee, he encounters the women of the world, all coping with 'no man's land' in unique ways. Some strive to use their talents and skills to solve the mystery of the man-killing disease, some would prefer to complete the job by eliminating every trace of man. This story has love, deceit, science, family strife, astronauts and a ninja. The question here is not only can the world survive without men, but would we want it to?
The Walking Dead (Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, Rus Wooton, Cliff Rathburn) I'm sure I don't need to say much about this series, unless you've been living under a mound of rotting zombies for the past 2 years. Zombie apocalypse, people show their true nature, survival is brutal. This is the old tale of the real threat being the survivors, as humans have a habit of turning on each other in times of desperation. As much as this is an old tale that's been told many times before, I can't ignore the long-running quality, impact on fans and scary predictions of human implosion it so elegantly portrays.
Tokyo Ghost (Rick Remender, Sean Murphy) This is L.A. in 2090, the world is broken and people are slaves to technology. They are injecting drugs to connect faster, wearing screens over their eyes 24/7, and gangs are in control of the best technology on the market. Debbie Decay and Led Dent are "constables," enforcers for an entertainment giant. They are wrapped up in a beautiful, tragic codependent relationship that rests on Dent's technology addiction and Debbie's inability to stop enabling him. There's action, brutal violence, desperation and love. This series hits so close to home, as we all know those phones don't leave our palms for long. Watching Dent slowly disappear inside the internet and Debbie cling to him by a thread while they both fight to survive and to escape the prison of their world is heartbreaking and exhilarating all at once.
Empty Zone (Jason Shawn Alexander) Set in the slums of Pittsburgh in 2119, Corinne White is full of microscopic implants that allow her to transfer sensitive data, has military enhancements that give her an extra tough exterior and combat training. She's scraping by in life doing dirty jobs for shifty characters. Unfortunately, her past is as full of darkness as her body is full of upgrades. She is slammed face first in to a confrontation with a squad she fought with years ago, which is terrifying considering she's the only surviving member. This is a bleak-as-hell story of a world we all pray never develops; unchecked gang violence, corrupt government factions, mutations and cybernetic modifications the norm. All of this is startling and thick as black marshmallow under Alexander's hand, but the real story here is the haunting of Corinne White. I find this series incredibly absorbing and terrifying, both in words and art.
Descender (Jeff Lemire, Dustin Nguyen) This is a space adventure and family drama. It's an examination of humanity's reliance on and lack of respect for technology. A young boy has lost his family and finds himself hunted by several characters with different, not so clear, intentions. This boy happens to be an android in a new world where robotics have been banned and destroyed. We know this story, too. Humanity needs technology and creates robotics to make life better, robotics misbehave and scare their human masters, humans destroy technology in fear. Jeff Lemire injects incredible heart in to everything he creates and Descender is every bit a story with a heart of gold (and metal) that inflicts guilt on the reader for a future we'll no doubt be ashamed of.
Low (Rick Remender, Greg Tocchini) Once the planet is destroyed by the a serious sun tantrum, humanity is forced to retreat to the depths of the oceans. This is billions of years into our future and even the animal life is barely recognizable anymore. In a city called Salus, one family is tasked with the burden of protecting the inhabitants from pirates and deadly creatures lurking outside it's gates. When the family is faced with what seems insurmountable tragedy, loss and violence, Stel Caine struggles to hold on to her faith, with the hope that it will one day bring her family back together. The underwater world painted by Tocchini is breathtaking and brilliant, just bursting with fluid texture. Remender builds a story that is equal parts terrifying and inspiring. The women of this story blow me away with their strength, even after the most brutal attempts to break them down. This dystopia is a gorgeous landscape filled with nefarious inhabitants out to destroy all hope and spirit in the future.
East of West (Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta) This one is so complex that I'm not going to try too hard to get it right in a paragraph, but trust me when I say that it's worth the work you'll need to put in to grasp it. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, powerful nations united with a wobbly truce after centuries of warfare, a prophecy that declares the end of times and spurs a group of followers and "Chosen" to make some terrible choices. These are all the many characters that make up this dystopia of blended technology and old world ideals. This series is about politics, love, betrayal, the end of the world and some seriously weird fashion. Between the beautifully clean artwork and heavily layered story, I can absolutely see myself re-reading this one a few times, to make sure I haven't missed anything.
Transmetropolitan (Warren Ellis, Darick Roberston) You had to know that I'd have this on the list, right? This series has everything you'd want in a dystopian sci-fi tale: Dirty slums, corrupt politicians, weird biological mutations, technology in every breath and cell, drugs, gross humor and a two-faced cat. It's a hard hitting criticism of the future of America bent on a path of hyper- sexualized self destruction. If you haven't read this series yet, now is a great time to because the realization that something written in 1997 could be such a glaringly accurate depiction of our current political environment will punch you in gut. I love this series to my core for it's unflinching fuck-all attitude, crude sense of reality humor and undercurrent of passion for human rights that even a rancid old beast like Spider Jerusalem is loyal to.
Sweet Tooth (Jeff Lemire) Oh, Sweet Tooth. That heart I mentioned earlier that Lemire plumps his stories with is the absolute center of this series. This was my first experience with Lemire and I haven't questioned his ability to tear my heart out since. In this dystopian future, children are being born as animal/human hybrids. There are, of course, fanatics and lunatics out there who seek to "cleanse" the world of these beings. There are those who believe these children to be the source of an illness destroying humanity. There are those who had some part in bringing hybrids into the world and can't deny they are our children to protect. This story is not one of technology or politics, but a pure tale of human greed and fear that will leave you feeling bruised, but grateful for the experience.
Lazarus (Greg Rucka, Michael Lark, Santiago Arcas) Forever Carlyle is the family Lazarus, which means her sole reason for existing is protecting her family and their possessions. This future is all about wealth, not politics. The more you own, the more power you possess and you have to fight every day to hold on to it all. Forever is seemingly an unbeatable force of bad assery who is literally willing to die for her job. She is no soulless machine, however, and as her feelings and moral questions become harder to ignore, so does the corruption within her own family. This series is quite simply a gorgeously drawn and lovingly crafted story of dystopian survival and family dysfunction at its best.
Honorable Mention: Channel Zero (Brian Wood, Becky Cloonan) This series is less of a criticism of humankind's mistakes and consequences as it is a blistering butt-paddling of media, most notably the comics industry. The entirely unique use of graphic design paired with a super smart story makes this series one that will never stop being relevant. The vision of this future wasn't as appealing to me as others, which is why it's not on my top 10 list. However, the intense intelligence and creativity of Channel Zero makes it a series I cannot ignore either.