Since the dawn of comics, storylines and characters have always reflected the current state of affairs. While we are mostly familiar with mainstream superheroes and comic books, there is a treasure trove of independent series that is begging to be discovered. Independent comics have more creative freedom to tell stories with characters that are more risque than DC or Marvel books. By creating new worlds, multilayered characters and limitless storylines, these series serve as a perfect platform for controversial social commentary.
The following list is full of independent comics that are currently pushing boundaries, addressing current affairs and engrossing readers with every panel. While most of the comics listed have a direct connection to what’s going on in the world we live in, some purely provide a much-needed escape from reality that we all need sometimes. Either way, they all have one thing in common – they demand to be read!
15. GENERATION ZERO
“Generation Zero” is a current ongoing series from Valiant written by Fred Van Lente and penciled Francis Portela. The series follows a zany group of teenage psychic super soldiers who broke free from project Rising Sun (from the Harbinger Series) who are fighting against injustice in the world. The teens are bound to protecting each other from their common enemies and fighting tooth and nail for the rights of other kids by way of solidarity. “Generation Zero” uses their extraordinary powers to right all the wrongs for a generation that seemingly has no future. The team takes requests, too.
If you’re into worthy causes and anarchist kids, “Generation Zero” is a thrilling must-read. Readers get a feel for what it’s like to be part of a team made up of kids whose sole purpose is to fight for the rights of other kids. “If you have a problem… If your parents won’t help… And if your cause is worthy… Log onto network #ZERO… because Generation Zero is listening.”
14. MOTHER RUSSIA
“Mother Russia” from Alterna Comics is written and illustrated by Jeff McComsey and began with a Kickstarter campaign. “Mother Russia” follows one kick-ass female character during World War II who is a former KGB agent and a force to be reckoned with. Svetlana dons a sniper rifle and armed with years of assassin training, she has more than enough to make even her worst Nazi enemies scared.
In the series, zombies have over-run Stalingrad, but this isn’t your run of the mill zombie tale. In fact, it’s rather historically accurate and layered with relatable human emotion. Svetlana Gorshkov’s only goal is to save the human race no matter what side of the war they are on while battling hordes of the undead. If you’re a history buff with a penchant for zombie warfare, pick up “Mother Russia.” The creators use realistic accounts and accurate details of World War II to tell a unique tale of strength and survival. Oh, there is also a rare entity that Svetlana will die to protect – a healthy, smiling baby boy.
13. BLACK HAMMER
“Black Hammer” from Dark Horse Comics is written by Jeff Lemire and illustrated by Dean Ormston. The main storyline is the first of its kind to venture into unknown territory, addressing what happens to superheroes after “the big crossover event.” While the book digs deep into family dynamics, dysfunction and emotions, it’s a paradoxical look at the world of rejected superheroes. At its core, it tells the story of five superheroes who have been erased from their comic book universe after a big event. They wake up on a small farm in a small town with no idea how they got there and desperate to find their way home.
The book is a metaphor for family… and everyone has a bit of crazy in their family. Adding superheroes and their powers makes it fun, silly read. “Black Hammer” tackles the superhero genre from a perspective we haven’t seen before, answering the debatable question of exactly how a superhero’s life is affected when their comic book world has crumbled. It’s a novel idea for a series that hits hard for anyone who feels lost in their current surroundings, which happens to be a lot of people at the moment.
The “March” trilogy from Top Shelf (written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell) is a must-read for anyone and everyone living in today’s society who want to know more about American history and the ongoing fight for human rights. The black-and-white graphic novel focuses on the historical events of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, told through the perspective of civil rights leader and U.S. Congressman, John Lewis.
The story is rooted in the experiences of Lewis who was (and still is) very active and outspoken during the struggle for basic human rights. He brings a new generation of readers along for a bumpy ride they are most likely unfamiliar with because they weren’t alive yet. For anyone interested in a historical yet deeply personal and emotional account of racial tension in America, pick up a copy of “March.” Former President Bill Clinton had this to say about “March”, “…he brings a whole new generation with him across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, from a past of clenched fists into a future of outstretched hands.”
“Wytches” from Image Comics is written by Scott Snyder and illustrated by Jock. The book itself redefines mainstream lore of Wicca and takes the reader on a creepy journey back to the days of dark, gritty and gruesome Witchcraft. The engrossing storyline follows a family after they have moved to a new town. The idea that Snyder is addressing the fears inside all of us in “Wytches” is what makes the series so terrifying in the first place.
In an interview with CBR, writer Scott Snyder explained how the story reflects real-world fears, saying, “The story is deeply about a child who suffers from anxiety, and parents who would do anything to protect her from the world. It’s also personal in a way in that the monsters prey on the most desperate aspects of human nature — your child is suffering, they’ll do something to help you, but you have to do something awful. The story tackles realistic fears between parents and children in situations that are so dark that the characters have no choice but to be heroes.
10. CURSE WORDS
“Curse Words” is a new ongoing series from Image Comics created by Charles Soule and artist Ryan Browne. This rather ridiculous comic follows a dimensionally displaced wizard who is kind of a jerk. At first, his ultimate plan is to destroy the world with his own special brand of magic, but instead he decides to save it. Wizord takes his hog for a ride around town and realizes NYC is a wonderous place that is in desperate need of a “good wizard.”
The series is just plain good fun, a lifter of spirits, if you will. The misfit cast of characters includes the quirky Wizord and his talking Koala pal named Margaret as they adventure around The Big Apple in complete comedic chaos. It’s a bright and colorful book full of magic, naughty words, and a far-out story. “Curse Words” is a must-read for anyone looking for a goofy means of escape from the stresses of everyday life.
“Monstress” a high-fantasy adventure series from Image Comics written by Marjorie Liu and illustrated by Sana Takeda that explores what it means for women to be “Monstress.” The series is set against a brutal landscape in Asia circa 1900, where large, powerful monsters walk the earth just a short distance away from the human race. In an interview with CBR, Liu explained a bit more about the strong female characters who are fighting to make a place for themselves, saying, “In every woman’s life there’s a moment when we have to make a choice — to fight, stand up for ourselves, take up space, use our voices, demand respect — or, not. So when I write ‘Monstress’ — and Maika, Kippa, Tuya, all the women in this book, good or evil — I’m telling a story about every moment a woman says, ‘Enough.'”
Maika is such a relatable female character that we recommend every woman pick up a copy of “Monstress.” Not only is she dealing with internal monsters that live inside of all of us, but she is trying to find her own place in a beautiful yet brutal world among other women, both good and evil.
8. DEADLY CLASS
“Deadly Class” from Image Comics is written by Rick Remender and illustrated by Wes Craig, and follows a group of outcast teens in the punk rock era of the ’80s who are sent to Kings Dominion High School (the most brutal school on Earth) to learn how to become assassins. The kids that don’t really fit in well with others band together and create an unbreakable bond while fighting against the system and literally trying to survive the school’s curriculum.
The series captures the feelings and situations we’ve all had being teenagers and a bit of extra violence. Before it launched, Remender explained to CBR that this is a very personal story for him, rooted in his own experiences as a teenage outcast. At Kings Dominion High for the Deadly Arts, every single day is an exercise in survival with high stakes. Because there is a little bit of anarchy and fleeting rebellion in all of us, “Deadly Class” is a must-read, especially during a time when so many are resisting against the government, just like Marcus.
7. BLACK MAGICK
“Black Magick” is a supernatural crime series from Image Comics written by famed creator Greg Rucka and illustrated by Nicola Scott. The supernatural, gritty thriller follows Rowan Black, a robbery-homicide detective, who also happens to be the latest in a long line of witches. Drawn into an investigation that resurfaces her ancient ties to Witchcraft, Rowan is left no choice but to use her powers to save humanity. “Black Magick” showcases a female lead as a strong, capable woman with a murky past, but who ultimately uses her gifts for do-gooding.
For years, Rowan has struggled to keep a balance between her two lives, but those lines become blurred when she is forced to use her Witchcraft to save the future of humanity. She quickly learns that the fictional town of Portsmouth is a an over-sized witches cauldron, jam-packed with black magic, evil spells and occult mystery. “Black Magick” addresses the struggles of maintaining balance in our lives, something every reader can relate to.
“Faith” is a newer ongoing series from Valiant Entertainment by Jody Houser, Pere Perez and Marguerite Sauvage, that follows one of the most hopeful superheroines we’ve ever met as robots, aliens, monsters and celebrities attack her city. Faith Herbert first appeared in Valiant comics in 1992 and unfortunately was the butt of all fat jokes. However, her comeback in 2016 (the first time a woman has written the character) celebrates body positivity and women who challenge gender norms.
Faith is not your usual superhero. In fact, she doesn’t even look like someone that is capable of saving the world, which is why her story is so important. The series proves that superheroes don’t have to be dark, cynical and perfect-looking in order to save the world. Faith is a relatable plus-sized character who is a ray of sunshine and optimism. “Faith” is a must-read because it’s such an inspiring story of hope, something we are all grasping for. With all of the negativity in the real world, it’s rather refreshing to take a moment to engross yourself in such a positive comic book.
5. YOUNG TERRORISTS
“Young Terrorists” is an anti-political thriller from Black Mask Studios written by Matteo Pizzolo and illustrated by Amancay Nahuelpan. It follows the daughter of an assassinated globalist kingpin who breaks out of an internment camp and leads her fellow escaped prisoners in an anarchist battle against an elitist conspiracy of shadow governments, megabanks and military juntas.
Young Terrorists continues the legacy of “DMZ” and “The Invisibles” as it manically rips the scab off life under the new world order and revels in the pus underneath. The main character Sera and the rest of the escaped prisoners dedicate their lives to taking down the dehumanizing practices that the government has put in place. Along the way, we meet oppressed characters and learn about the horrors of a world not too different from our own. The sci-fi thriller series captures the true rage, injustice and emotions behind a rebellion on every panel and provides a brutal and sometimes violent social commentary on the current state of affairs. If any of the independent comics on this list are crossing the line, it’s “Young Terrorists,” as the series fearlessly attacks politics in a completely savage way.
4. LOOSE ENDS
“Loose Ends,” from writer Jason Latour, artist Chris Brunner and colorist Rico Renzi, was first published over 10 years ago, but sadly never completed. The 4-book Southern crime romance miniseries is currently being republished by Image Comics and will include an updated ending to the story. In a sense, it’s a brand new comic about a down on his luck soldier, Sonny Gibson, who has just returned home from the war in Afghanistan with a bad case of post traumatic stress disorder. The series follows Sonny down a winding trail through Tobacco Road, into the war-torn streets of Baghdad, and the bright lights and bloody gutters of South Florida.
Talking to CBR, Latour explained how “Loose Ends” is still relevant: “It’s a fun road trip genre crime comic, but also a meditation of sorts on what it was like to come of age in an era where George Bush was at his height, we were at war in the Middle East, almost no one had ever heard of Barack Obama, and Trump was just a dumb TV host.” You should read “Loose Ends” for many reasons as it tackles the idea of never-ending war in the Middle East with an intertwining coming-of-age love story.
3. THE OLD GUARD
“The Old Guard” from Image Comics is a new ongoing series by writer Greg Rucka and artist Leandro Fernández that explores immortality and being forced to be a soldier during every single war that ever took place. The story itself comes from a very personal place; Rucka recently explained that the idea was inspired by his father’s passing. Trapped in an immortality without explanation, Andromache of Scythia — “Andy” — and her comrades ply their trade for those who can find and afford their services. But in the 21st century, immortality is a hard secret to keep, and when you live long enough, you learn that there are many fates worse than death.
The series travels through time, giving readers a taste of many different wars that occurred throughout history. All of these very different wars have one thing in common: the same immortal soldiers are fighting the battles. With “The Old Guard,” art definitely imitates life as U.S troops are currently fighting a never-ending war in the Middle East. Make sure to pick up a copy, because this series is a game-changer.
2. LOVE IS LOVE
“Love is Love” is a special one-shot anthology comic curated by writer Marc Andreyko in which all proceeds benefit the victims of the horrific attack at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. The book celebrates love of all kinds and between all types of people, while supporting the LGBTQ community. It’s an important piece of comic book history to have. The book is full of short stories and artwork from both queer and non-queer creators in a moving tribute. CBR writer MaryKate Jasper explained in her review, “The best part about “Love is Love” was the overwhelming sense that there are a lot of us queer folk in the world. And yeah, some of us are a little tasteless, or silly, or overwrought, but we’re not going anywhere.”
Not only will you be supporting a worthy cause, but reading “Love is Love” puts you in the middle of the struggle in the LGBTQ community that is currently being scrutinized and terrorized. If you aren’t familiar with the community, this anthology comic will open up your eyes and teach you a thing or two.
1. THE DREGS
“The Dregs” from Black Mask Studios is a new ongoing series from writers Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson, and artist Eric Zawadzki. The story might be a bit too dark or violent for some, but it addresses serious economic and social hardship in quite a clever way; that is, through the lens of homelessness. The book is named after the homeless population of a gentrified city restricted to six square blocks called The Dregs. When people start disappearing, a drug-addled homeless man obsessed with detective fiction becomes addicted to solving the mystery. Equal parts Raymond Chandler and Don Quixote, “The Dregs” is set in a thriving metropolis that literally cannibalizes the homeless.
Speaking to CBR, Thompson explained his hopes for the series, saying, “The Dregs” is really our attempt to deconstruct the noir genre and use the familiar tropes to tell a really different type of detective story.” The current economic state of America has forced many citizens into homelessness, so much so that good people without a place to call home are suffering on our very own streets. No matter how shocking “The Dregs” might be, the series points a finger at socioeconomic problems in America making it a must-read.
What are some of your favorite indie books right now, either on our list or outside of it? Let us know in the comments!