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Mr. Robot: 13 Comics to Take the Edge Off Until Season 3

by  in Lists, Comic News, TV News Comment
Mr. Robot: 13 Comics to Take the Edge Off Until Season 3

“Mr. Robot” isn’t quite like anything else on television. The USA series is filled with dynamic direction, a mind-twisting narrative and commanding performances, led by Rami Malek’s Emmy-winning turn as the anarchist hacker Elliot Alderson. The series follows Elliot, the mysterious Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) and their hacker cell fsociety as they wage corporate warfare against the all-consuming mega-conglomerate E-Corp.

Over two seasons, series creator Sam Esmail has shepherded the show into a surprise cult hit and critical darling, garnering numerous awards and nominations. In the span of a single episode, the show can morph from a riveting tech thriller to a harrowing psychological drama that perpetually leaves viewers on unsteady footing.

RELATED: 10 Fantasy Comics to Hold You over Until Game of Thrones Returns

While Mr. Robot Season Three won’t be on screens until 2017, CBR has put together a list of comics and graphic novels that match the show’s moody tones and paranoid tendencies, and have even influenced the show’s unique voice. From stories built on questions about identity and narrative acrobatics to tales of corrupt institutions and the anarchic revolutionaries who would take them down, here are our picks, in no particular order, of the best stories to take the edge off until “Mr. Robot” returns.

13. Fight Club 2

fight-club-2-cameron-stewart

Chuck Palahniuk’sFight Club 2” is a divisive work by a divisive author. With art by Cameron Stewart, the book appears to continue the story of Tyler Durden, Marla and original novel’s narrator (now called Sebastian) before becoming something much more experimental. Released by Dark Horse Comics as 11 issues starting in 2015 and now collected into one graphic novel, this serves as Palahniuk’s most complete response to the success of his novel and David Fincher’s seminal 1999 film. In both the real and fictional worlds, this aggressively surprising book interrogates the cult surrounding Tyler Durden, spending as much effort tearing him down as it does pushing the story forward before ultimately becoming a treatise on the experience of art itself.

With numerous explicit references sprinkled throughout, “Mr. Robot” and “Fight Club” are linked together on a foundational level. Beyond the more spoiler-y connections, both series feature revolutions lead by charismatic anarchists. In echoes of the show’s second season, “Fight Club 2” lives in the movement after the revolution, grappling with the afterlife of a thought that grows out of control.

12. American Flagg

american-flagg-howard-chaykin

Once mentioned in the same breath as “Watchmen” and “Dark Knight Returns,” Howard Chaykin’s “American Flagg” has become an increasingly forgotten masterpiece. Revolutionary at the time and still impressive today, Chaykin’s retro depiction of a gritty future rises above the plethora of comic book dystopias on the sheer strength of its design alone. In a world where multinational governments and corporate conglomerates have united in the all-controlling monolith Plex, ex-TV star Reuben Flagg becomes a Plexus Ranger, an officer of the organization. The series follows Flagg as he begins to unravel and reveal the secrets of the giant, starting a revolution in the process. With a Paul Verhoeven-esque take on media and propaganda, “American Flagg” has, like “Mr. Robot,” become an eerily predictive work.

Originally published by First Comics in 1983, the series continued with a host of creators including Alan Moore, Steven Grant and J.M. DeMatties working on the title throughout the 1980s. After a surprisingly long time out of print, Chaykin’s initial run was collected in print fairly recently by both Image Comics and Titan Books and digitally by Dynamite Entertainment.

11. Planetary

planetary-john-cassaday

As one of several works explicitly referenced in “Mr. Robot,” Warren Ellis and John Cassaday’s “Planetary” is arguably the finest work of two of this century’s best comic creators. With superb colors by Laura Martin, “Planetary” reconfigures the scraps of 20th Century adventure stories into a well-thought-out mythology that serves as a commentary on fiction as a whole. The series stars Jakita Wagner, The Drummer, and Elijah Snow as “archaeologists of the impossible.” This Planetary group, working under the patronage of the mysterious Fourth Man, sets out to uncover the secrets that shaped the world.

With both series featuring instant classic twists, “Mr. Robot” is heavily indebted to “Planetary’s” tendency to turn on the shock reveals of the hidden histories of its own characters. Proudly informed by the world of pop culture that influenced their creators, both of these series brilliantly synthesize familiar ideas into thrilling new shapes. Originally published by Wildstorm starting in 1999, the series lasted for 27 issues and three specials. Collected in numerous forms over the years, the entire series and the specials were most recently collected in the “Planetary Omnibus” by DC Comics.

10. Revolver

revolver-matt-kindt

Much like “Mr. Robot,” Matt Kindt’s fever dream graphic novel “Revolver” takes place in a world that feels like it’s simultaneously imploding and continuing on with business as usual. The book follows Sam as he seems to drift between two worlds, his normal life and a darker world where epidemics and nuclear attacks have decimated society as we know it. Living the same day over twice, once in each world, Sam learns skills in one world and uses them in the other as he tries to solve the mystery of why all of this is happening to him.

While Kindt has gone on to do outstanding work for several comic publishers like Valiant and Dark Horse, this remains an excellent early work by a major talent. Originally released by Vertigo in 2010, this graphic novel is filled with the same questions about identity and narrative tricks that drive “Mr. Robot.” The sense of a fairly realistic oncoming apocalypse that seeps in the show’s later episodes informs “Revolver” as well, with the juxtaposition revealing the artificiality and delicacy of our own world.

9. The Nightly News

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Jonathan Hickman isn’t a comic book writer — he’s a plot cartographer. Written and drawn/designed by Hickman, “The Nightly News” introduced readers to Hickman’s intricate clockwork storytelling that would go on to reshape the Marvel Comics universe across his “Avengers” opus and 2015’s “Secret Wars.” While Hickman is mostly known for his complex work as a writer, his roles as designer and artist are central to fully appreciating this admittedly challenging series. Filled with as many charts and graphs as illustrations, this book truly is a reading experience like few others.

While a good deal of Hickman’s works would have something for the “Mr. Robot” viewer, this book makes an especially nice companion piece. It follows John Guyton as he becomes the Hand and rages against the mainstream media by murdering journalists and recruiting others to join his cause. What was once part of a merely jarring work now holds chilling parallels to reality, much like “Mr. Robot,” that may make some readers understandably wary. Originally released as a six-issue limited series in 2007, the series has been collected in one volume by Image Comics.

8. Global Frequency

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“Global Frequency” is a shot of sci-fi adrenaline straight to the heart. Over 12 issues, writer Warren Ellis works with a rotating roster of comic art heavyweights like Steve Dillon, Chris Sprouse and Gene Ha to craft standalone technology-driven thrillers about saving the world from its own secrets. The Global Frequency is a clandestine organization with 1001 members, each with a very particular set of skills. Led by Miranda Zero, the organization calls upon specialized members for each mission as it tries to clean up the dangers left in the wake of secret government experiments.

While the then-high-tech mobile phones Global Frequency agents use look charmingly outdated next to any new iPhone, the series remains a gripping high-stakes adventure. The defined roles within teams as they conduct secret are reminiscent the various sets of odd bedfellows “Mr. Robot” makes out of its characters. While the series has almost made the leap to television a few times over the years, the weaponized flashmob concept remains a remarkable story engine. With 12 issues originally published by Wildstorm starting in 2002, the series was recently released as one volume by Vertigo.

7. Who Is Jake Ellis?

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For fans aching for a different take on the titular Mr. Robot’s unique relationship with Elliot, the answer lies in a question. And that question is “Who is Jake Ellis?” Originally released in 2011, the series follows mercenary spy Jon Moore as he outwits his enemies with the help of Jake Ellis, a mysterious advisor only he can see. The true nature of Jake Ellis remains a mystery that will keep readers guessing until the end. Writer Nathan Edmondson and artist Tonci Zonjic fill the series with stylish Bourne-esque espionage action and gorgeously-rendered cinematic artwork that makes good use of the comic form’s unique advantages.

Image collected the first five-issue miniseries in one collected edition. A sequel miniseries, “Where Is Jake Ellis?” was released in 2012. A film adaptation, simply titled “Jake Ellis” is currently being developed by 20th Century Fox with “James White” director Josh Mond attached to direct.

6. Wizzywig: Portrait of a Serial Hacker

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Most comic book hackers usually serve as tech-support for Batman or some other superhero. “Wizzywig: Portrait of a Serial Hacker” is the far more accurate exception to that rule. Released in 2012 by Top Shelf Productions, Ed Piskor’s graphic novel chronicles the life of Kevin Phenicle as he steps into the world of hacking in the 1980s and grows into the infamous fugitive hacker Boingthump.

While Piskor has attained notoriety for his relentlessly researched, Eisner-Award winning “Hip Hop Family Tree” series, his same tireless attention to detail informs this work. Using a series of short vignettes that mix Phenicle’s life story with the legend that forms around his exploits, this book is a proud inheritor to the tradition of personal, idiosyncratic independent comics. Inspired by the stories of real hackers, this book is an obvious companion piece for fans of “Mr. Robot’s” realistic depiction of hacking. This is also perhaps the only book on the list of recommended reading for fans of “Halt and Catch Fire.” A large chunk of the book is available for free on Piskor’s website.

5. Marvel Boy

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In some ways, “Mr. Robot” is a show about children raging against an adult world at the same time their peers step into it. “Marvel Boy” is similarly defined by the arrogant rage of youth directed at a world-eating corporation. The series follows Noh-Varr, an extra-dimensional Kree alien, as he crash-lands on Earth and rages against Midas, the alien-crazed billionaire who shot him down, and Hexus, a malicious, sentient corporation. Writer Grant Morrison paints Noh-Varr as a kind of cultural terrorist who’ll bring about a finer world even if he has to destroy this one first, a destructive idea prevalent throughout “Mr. Robot.”

One of the few major Marvel works for both Morrison and artist J.G. Jones, this book was a six-issue miniseries in the industry-shifting Marvel Knights imprint. While Noh-Varr has become a fairly regular member of the Marvel Universe, even joining a few Avengers teams over the years, this series remains the distillation of the space punk interpretation of the character. Originally published in 2000, the first miniseries was collected in a single volume.

4. DMZ

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A big part of “Mr. Robot’s” appeal is its attention to detail, especially in its second season. As garbage bags pile up on the streets, ATM lines grow long and store shelves go bare, a sense of apocalyptic dread begins to crawl as New York starts to drown in the decay of a failing society. The societal collapse that begins in “Mr. Robot” could easily lead to the world of Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli’s “DMZ.”

In the wake of the Second American Civil War, New York has become a demilitarized zone between the United States and the Free States of America. The series follows journalist Matty Roth as he navigates the island of Manhattan under the new status quo, which is close to a zombie-free “The Walking Dead.” This is one of the most recent entries into the hall of fame of classic long-running Vertigo series like “Sandman” and “Preacher.” Originally released in 2006 by Vertigo, the series ran for over 70 issues and has been collected in 12 paperback collections and 5 deluxe hardcover collections.

3. Hard Boiled

hard-boiled-geoff-darrow

For a show called “Mr. Robot,” there’s a distinct lack of robots in the proceedings. That is very much not the case in Frank Miller and Geof Darrow’s robo sci-fi freak out “Hard Boiled.” The series opens on a robotic tax collector named Nixon in a future Los Angeles during a brutal firefight. Later, he wakes up as Carl Seitz, an insurance investigator and family man who has dreams and memories of being someone else. As the story progresses, Carl struggles to determine which of these worlds he belongs to, or if he’s something else altogether.

While the “Total Recall”-esque questions of the true nature of identity may appeal to “Mr. Robot” fans, the real star here is Darrow’s art. While “Mr. Robot” buries its characters in frames of long hallways and empty boardrooms, Darrow drowns his characters in a hyper-violent psychedelic “Where’s Waldo?” level of detail. Originally released as a three-issue miniseries in the early 1990s, the series has been collected in a tabloid-size volume by Dark Horse.

2. Sleeper

sleeper-sean-phillips

Before Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips became crime comic kingpins with books like “Criminal” and “Fatale,” the writer-artist duo honed their skills on the paranoid spy thriller “Sleeper.” Set in the now defunct Wildstorm Universe, “Sleeper followers Holden Carver, an undercover agent in the organization of the data-driven super-villain Tao. After his handler John Lynch goes comatose, Holden is left to fend for himself in a morally gray world of villainy and dastardly deeds.

Like “Mr. Robot,” “Sleeper” is packed with questions about complex morality that lead to shifting allegiances and sudden twists. This smart, gritty espionage tale takes the idea of a shared comic book universe into far more interesting than usual territory, casting Tao as an all-knowing force of nature and taking a close look at the dark underbelly of the super-villains’ world. Released in 2003, “Sleeper” is technically a continuation of Brubaker’s 2002 miniseries, “Point Blank,” with artist Colin Wilson. The two series of twelve issues that make up “Sleeper” still stand alone well, and were most recently released in a one-volume omnibus by Vertigo.

1. V for Vendetta

v-for-vendetta-david-lloyd

In “V for Vendetta,” Alan Moore and David Llyod unwittingly created the icon that would give face to a revolutionary movement. This series introduced the world to the famous Guy Fawkes mask, now synonymous with real-world hacking group Anonymous, and referenced by the “Mr. Robot” mask. With additional art by Tony Weare, the series follows the revolutionary V as he wages war against the totalitarian government that tortured him and indoctrinates Evey Hammond. Adapted into a feature film directed by James McTeigue in 2006, the series has become a classic of dystopian literature, shelved and taught alongside George Orwell and Aldous Huxley.

Colored with washed-out pastels by Lloyd, Steve Whitaker and Siobhan Dodds, the panel-packed pages give the series an intensely claustrophobic tone that makes the book worth a read, even if you’ve seen the film. Originally serialized in black-and-white in Britain’s “Warrior Magazine” starting in 1982, the book was completed and colorized as a 10-issue miniseries by DC Comics in 1988. Vertigo’s collected edition has become an essential work of modern comics, and increasingly, the modern world.

Keep an eye on CBR for the latest “Mr. Robot” Season Three news.

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