We’re in a pretty good period for science fiction across mediums, but comic books are experiencing a surge in narrative quality. If you want to expand beyond just the realm of Star Wars films and explore more worlds, consider picking up a few issues of some of the best sci-fi comics on the shelves.
Darth Vader - Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larroca
Darth Vader always looked badass, but the prequel Star Wars films sort of undermined my conception of him. He’s still menacing, sure, but for all of his force chokes and lightsaber battles against his close friends and family, he never struck me as anyone who really went on adventures and solved problems. That’s what makes Marvel’s Darth Vader comic feel so novel. It gives us the Darth Vader we always suspected was behind the mask, one we never really saw in on film.
Bitch Planet - Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro
Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro is crazy. It follows a group of women imprisoned on a distant planet, derisively labeled as “non-compliants”. This isn’t Orange is the New Black, though. Bitch Planet is a hardcore throwback to the sexploitaition films of the ‘70s, using influences from the best grindhouse fiction since then. There’s a lot here to love for genre fans and the humor and astounding lyricism of the story and character backgrounds will have you wanting more.
Paper Girls - Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson
Paper Girls is a Twilight Zone meets Spielberg kind of a story, where a group of young paper girls come across an alien conspiracy in their 1980s, suburban neighborhood. The cast of spunky youths will be instantly recognizable to anyone who is a fan of coming-of-age movies, but Brian K. Vaughan’s pop sensibilities really bring home the story as something wholly original. Space ninjas, and a conspiracy involving Apple Computers? Paper Girls is a must-read.
Descender - Jeff Lemire, Dustin Nguyen
Descender is a gorgeously illustrated space opus by Jeff Lemire and artist Dustin Nguyen. The comic begins 10 years after a giant robot destroys a planetary civilization, in a world where machines have been outlawed by a (human) governing body. Tim-21, a child robot designed to keep human children company, suddenly reboots and begins an adventure. While the story is both melancholy and action-packed, it’s the art that deserves some special mention. Descender is one of the most beautiful illustrated books running, with its subdued palette and distinctive, sketched look.
Saga - Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples
Saga has been running for a long time and it’s still one of the best books to read — if you’re not already. Following a family of star-crossed lovers in the backdrop of an interplanetary war, Saga is a true space opera. The scale of this universe and its inhabitants continuously grows in size and wonder as new settings and characters are introduced and quickly become beloved by readers. Seriously, read Saga.
ODY-C - Matt Fraction, Christian Ward
ODY-C by Matt Fraction and Christian Ward is a book that feels like it needs to be studied like an academic text. It’s a complex, gender-bent retelling of The Odyssey by Greek playwright Homer. Through trippy, drugged-out visuals and splattered colors, the story follows Odyssia as she navigates her way through the universe against vengeful gods and mythical creatures. All of these characters are, of course, redesigned as gloriously out-there space creatures.
Southern Cross - Becky Cloonan, Andy Belanger, Lee Loughridge
Southern Cross is kind of like Murder On the Orient Express set on a giant space tanker which travels to the moon of Titan. Alex Braith is on her way to the frozen moon used as an oil drilling site to find out what happened to her sister who died there. In order to get there she needs to board the Southern Cross, a large oil tanker used by the drilling corporation to transport oil, crew, and passengers who need to make the journey to and from Earth. It’s a terrifying mystery with each new issue revealing more and more about the mysterious circumstances surrounding the crew and Alex’s sister.
Low - Rick Remender, Greg Tocchini
The ocean is terrifying and an alien ocean is even more so. That’s the lesson garnered from Low, which details a civilization that lives completely in the depths of the ocean. While the world building ramps up over the first couple issues, Greg Tocchini’s artwork in the series is the real reason this sci-fi story should at least be checked out. Underwater spaces never looked so beautiful, or as otherworldly than they do in Low.
Drifter, East of West - Ivan Brandon, Nic Klein (Drifter), Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta (East of West)
I’m gonna pair Drifter and East of West together only because they are both sci-fi westerns— and a lot of the praise I have is for both of them. While East of West has been running longer, its ambitions are also much grander, painting a divided America in an alternate future. Different factions and a huge cast of characters makes East of West far bigger in scale than Drifter. However, for those looking for a faster-paced, bloodier affair, Drifter will definitely scratch that itch.