There’s a crater-shaped hole in our pop culture lives since “Game of Thrones” concluded its explosive sixth season (read into this as you will). Although showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss recently assured fans that there will be two remaining — albeit shortened — seasons to wrap things up for the critically-acclaimed adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s respected fantasy series, at the moment, the next episode feels a Westeros winter away. With word coming directly from Benioff and Weiss that Season 7 production has been delayed, the wait could be even longer than anxious fans who felt the show’s absence moments after the Season 6 finale. Most likely, you’ve rewatched and/or reread the stories to death, so just what is a fan to do in these dire times?
Luckily, it goes without saying that comic books are no stranger to fantastical realms, magical characters and hypersexual overtones. To deal with any “GoT”-related withdrawal, CBR compiled a list of ten recent comic book titles to help provide your fix of mythic worlds, palace intrigue, lust and violence — you know, all the things that make “Game of Thrones” so addictive in the first place. While this list is by no means exhaustive, it does offer a number of current and recently concluded series that will more than satisfy your need for fantastic action and epic fantasy storytelling.
Combine two parts epic world building, one part sex, and a few dashes of Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” to taste, and you have yourself the beginnings of creators Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ ongoing space opera. Since its debut in 2012, “Saga” has inspired a devout following of fans while garnering multiple prestigious awards for its complex examination of gender roles, love, warfare and race. Sound familiar? Well, there’s a reason initial solicitations described the Image Comics series as “‘Star Wars’ meets ‘Game of Thrones.'” The series has earned multiple Eisner Awards and welcomed its fair share of controversy over the years, but fan enthusiasm and critical acclaim haven’t wanted. The collected Volume Six trade paperback arrived in late June, collecting issues #31-#36, with #37 expected August 31.
Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t include the original sword-and-sandal hero himself on the list. Robert E. Howard’s iconic conqueror has seen a number of iterations over the years, most recently in Dark Horse’s “Conan the Avenger,” which is as good as any place to get started reading about the Hyborean warrior’s trials and tribulations. Fred Van Lente’s run ended in April, but Dark Horse has already been prepping us for the next hack-and-slash series, “Conan the Slayer,” written by “The Sixth Gun” and “Uncanny X-Men’s” Cullen Bunn and “Swords of Sorrow” artist Sergio Savila, on sale July 13. This will undoubtedly be for anyone whose favorite “GoT” scenes include the brutal combat at Blackwater, Hardhome, and the Battle of the Bastards.
8. East of West
“Game of Thrones” fans looking for a bit more brutality and political intricacy would do well to brush up on Image Comics’ “East of West,” Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s apocalyptic science fiction series set in an alternate reality American West. “East of West” concerns Death’s travels across a dystopian nightmare world after quitting his day job as one of the Four Horsemen. Things get quite a bit more complex from there, involving cyber-mystic Native Americans, an End Times death cult comprised of various scheming heads of state, and a love affair with the descendant of Chairman Mao. It takes some serious concentration to keep track of everything, but after learning the royal lineages of Westeros, anything is possible, and Hickman’s numerous long form epics have proved they’re more than worth the investment.
7. Wonder Woman
It’s been a couple years since Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang finished up their exhaustive 35-issue run with Diana, leaving you with no excuse for not having read it yet. The author of “Luthor,” “Joker,” and current co-writer of “Dark Knight III: The Master Race” is often known for his controversial, dark takes on classic characters, but if anything, he and Chiang returned Wonder Woman to her roots during the otherwise hit-or-miss New 52 era. The three-year-long storyline is steeped in classic mythology, modern gender theory and enough ass-kicking to leave you wanting more. As luck would have it, Diana is returning to her mythological roots courtesy of veteran “Wonder Woman” writer Greg Rucka and artists Liam Sharp and Nicola Scott as part of DC’s Rebirth, and the first two issues DC Rebirth portend even more excellence to come.
6. Rat Queens
Although rays of sunlight occasionally break through in “Game of Thrones,” it’s often a pretty solemn scene across the Seven Kingdoms. “Rat Queens” from writer Kurtis J. Wiebe and artists Roc Upchurch, Stjepan Sejic and Tess Fowler is another R-rated fantasy yarn, but draws its explicitness mainly through its bawdy quartet of female adventurers, not always from dark uber-violence (although it has some of that, too). Wiebe’s well-regarded series is more lighthearted than most on the list, but that doesn’t detract from the engrossing mythical world and its inhabitants. “Rat Queens” is a love letter to places like King’s Landing, films like “Bridesmaids,” as well as late nights playing D&D with your friends.
5. Red Sonja
Author Robert E. Howard may be best known for creating Conan, but his mark on the worlds of gritty fantasy is so profound that he gets two characters on our list. The She-Devil with a Sword began her comic book career with Marvel’s loose adaptation of the character beginning 1975, and Red Sonja has enjoyed various incarnations in the ensuing decades. Where she really came into her own was during writer Gail Simone’s lengthy run at Dynamite Entertainment. The publisher rebooted the title in January with “A-Force” writer Marguerite Bennett and artist Aneke at the helm. Red Sonja could be a welcome change for fantasy fans who might be tiring of the incessant masculinity that tends to thread through most sword-and-sandals adventures.
4. The Goddamned
“The Goddamned” reads as if Mad Max and Conan the Barbarian got together and raised a weird, deformed son during the Biblical era of Noah (and honestly, we’d pay to read that comic, too). Writer Jason Aaron has explored problematic machismo before during his highly-regarded run on “Wolverine,” as well as “Scalped” and “Southern Bastards.” While Image Comics’ “The Goddamned” doesn’t examine these themes under as much scrutiny as his other titles, it does team him back up with “Scalped” artist R.M. Guera for a fun and violent romp alongside Cain as he fights back against Noah’s zealots during their construction of the Ark. Grotesque, action-packed, and incredibly sacrilegious, “The Goddamned” embodies all the guilty pleasures of “Game of Thrones” — and then some.
Unlike previous entries in this list, Skybound’s “Birthright” straddles the line between the realms of fantasy and reality, blurring the two in order to tell a story of familial loss, regret and the potential for redemption. Joshua Williamson already made a name for himself with “Nailbiter” and “Ghosted,” but “Birthright” stands on its own as a wholly innovative approach to the fantastical with art by Andrei Bressan. It’s hard to describe too much without giving it away, but fans of other HBO shows like “True Detective” should take particular note of this title for heavy emphasis on the lasting psychological effects of trauma. It’s not all gloom and doom, of course — “Birthright” is, first and foremost, an excellent high fantasy story, its foundations just so happen to be built upon very real problems that exist all around us.
2. Mouse Guard
Modeled after classic medieval history and fantasies like the “Redwall” series, “Mouse Guard” by writer/artist David Petersen is pretty much what it sounds like — stories concerning a brotherhood of anthropomorphic mice defending their realm during an equivalent of the Middle Ages. The fact that these mice tales — no pun intended — are nothing new is overshadowed by Peterson’s stunningly beautiful artwork and intricately designed world. While the stories can take dark turns, the beauty and simplicity of this Archaia series might be a nice break from all of “Game of Thrones'” grim violence and depravity. Add in some fantastic presentation in the book’s square format and you have something that looks and feels as special as the stories it tells. In addition to the main series, Archaia has also released two volumes of the Eisner Award-winning “Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard,” a star-studded anthology series featuring other creators putting their spin on Petersen’s world.
It’s hard to talk about fantasy and comics these days without one title coming up again and again. Bill Willingham’s long-running Vertigo series may have ended a year ago this month, but with 150 issues of biting, colorful spins on classic European fairy tales (and plenty of spinoffs), there’s more than enough to keep you occupied until “Game of Thrones” Season 7 finally premieres in 2017. Often centered on Bigby (of former “Big Bad Wolf” infamy), “Fables” charts the lives of classic children’s book characters as they try to make it in the Big Apple after being forced from their home by “The Adversary.” Like “Birthright,” “Fables” mixes the magical and the mundane to great effect, and is definitely worth a read for grown-up takes on bedtime stories. And while its award-winning, landmark series may have ended, Vertigo recently announced “Everafter: From the Pages of Fables,” a brand new spinoff series that picks up after the events of the series finale beginning this September.
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