Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday
Astonishing X-Men

Awesome Fact: The 2009 series of What If? includes a special one-shot comic exploring two alternatives to events which have occurred in the Astonishing X-Men series.

The theme this month was (and is) “Crime and Punishment”. It’s very easy to get distracted by the visual trappings of that theme however – cops and robbers, detectives, judges, prisons – and miss what it actually means. Joss Whedon’s 25-issue launch run on Astonishing X-Men has none of those trappings, yet each of its four stories is very much about the punishment of crimes.

An artificial intelligence called Danger punishes the X-Men for years of unwitting crimes against her. Cyclops punishes Professor Xavier for knowing about those crimes and doing nothing. Cyclops himself is punished horribly for a selfish choice he made in childhood. And all of this is bookended by a story that seems to be about aliens punishing the mutants (and later the whole Earth) for potentially destroying their planet – but is actually about the aliens themselves being punished for the crimes of their stagnant and violent society.

Probably the most interesting example, for me, is Emma Frost. The whole third story is focused on her betrayal of the team. Yet, even though it’s the other X-Men who suffer, it’s not them who are being punished – it’s her. More to the point, she is punishing herself for what she perceives as her crimes. Partly this is survivor’s guilt but, underlying that, this is Emma (an ex-villain) punishing herself for ever believing she could be a good person.

There’s no enforcement of specific laws in these stories, but in their own way they all deal with crimes and punishments, even when the crimes are imaginary or the punishments are wildly disproportionate. The series ends, inevitably, with one character suffering the ultimate punishment for the crime of being happy. Because, as any Joss Whedon fan knows, that’s the biggest crime any of his characters can commit.

Matthew Hurd

Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale

Awesome Fact: The Long Halloween was one of three noted comics that influenced the 2005 feature film Batman Begins and its sequels, the others being Batman: The Man Who Falls and Batman: Year One.

When thinking of a crime comic to recommend, it seems natural that something involving Batman would be the obvious choice. He is, after all, “the World’s Greatest Detective”. After that comes the tougher job of narrowing it down to an actual story, rather than just a character. For me, the choice is obvious though. It’s Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s The Long Halloween.

Set as a rough sequel to Frank Miller’s Year One, The Long Halloween tells three separate stories: the fall of Gotham’s organised crime; the rise of the “freaks”(Batman’s Rogues Gallery); and, most importantly, the fall of Harvey Dent. All three stories are framed by the murders of “Holiday”, a killer who strikes on national holidays and leave a kitsch ornament to represent the date at each scene.

As good as the murder mystery is in The Long Halloween – and it’s good, full of red herrings and plot twists to keep you guessing right up until the end, and even then, you’ll never see it coming – it’s the characters and their relationships that really lift it up to its giddy heights of brilliance. The Long Halloween, like a lot of Loeb’s other work, is at its heart a detailed and complicated character study that carefully examines the friendship and similarities between Batman, Gordon and Dent and then shows how the choices each one makes pushes them apart and throws them down completely different paths, with utterly disastrous results.

The fall of Harvey Dent, which takes up a huge chunk of the narrative, is masterfully done, showing how a decent man can be so consumed by his desire to do good, that it can ultimately destroy him. In Loeb’s hands, Two-Face becomes a true tragic villain, sympathetic and wronged, and the final shot of him, sitting in a cell at Arkham Asylum, straightjacketed, whispering his wife’s name, is heart-breaking.

The Long Halloween is full of complex writing and gorgeous artwork, and its long-lasting influence cannot be ignored. As the biggest inspiration to Nolan’s The Dark Knight, it is still as relevant today as it was when it was first published.

David Hurd

Gotham Central by Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka and Michael Lark

Awesome Fact: The supporting cast was mainly pulled from the large roster of the Gotham City Police Department and some characters were subjects of their own story arcs. Long-time supporting characters of Batman, James Gordon and Harvey Bullock, also made recurring appearances.

I know we’ve got a glut of super hero recommendations this month, and I’m not stepping too far away from them, but I wanted to recommend the Gotham Central comic book series. It ran for 40 issues between 2003 and 2006 and really is worth your time, though buying digital editions is currently the easiest way of reading it.

Originally written by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka, with art by Michael Lark, GC wasn’t about masked vigilantes keeping the streets of Gotham safe, it was about the officers and detectives working in GCPD’s Major Crimes Unit working to protect the citizens of Gotham. It was like Chicago P.D., but with the odd supervillain being chased down, and was very much about the relationships between the people on the force and the effects their work had on their family life.

Gotham Central is worth a read if you want a comic that has a world filled with super heroes, but those heroes only have small bit parts.

Emily King

Spider-Man Election Day by John Romita Jr.,
Barry Kitson and Zeb Guggenheim

Awesome Fact: Obama has also appeared in several other comics including Thunderbolts #128-129, Army of Darkness: Ash Saves Obama, Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters and Archie #616-#617

Just to note this was the first Spider-man Graphic Novel I bought so I don’t know entirely what’s happened before this.

Spider-man has always been my favorite character having the ability of a Spider, webbing up criminals climbing up walls and swinging around the building of New York city and let’s not forget his habit at cracking jokes at the bad guys. But never would I have thought for Spider-man to actually be accused of Murder.

The story arc starts off with some news presenters talking about the election in New York (cover inspired by the election of US President Barack Obama) and they talk about one of the candidates for Mayor of New York who is starting a campaign to track down a murderer who seems to be leaving a Spider-tracer on the victims person, so Spider-man is made the prime suspect, we then shift over to Spider-man who is being accused as a serial killer and begins an escape away from the NYPD, he get’s shot in the arm and arrested later whilst stopping a goblin like villain called Menace.

However during this event we also find a friend of Peter Park Carlie Cooper a CSI get her hands on a device made by a colleague and tracks the tracers to the apartment, where she finds a huge bag filled with spider-tracers which soon leads to a major conflict with one of her friends.

Spider-man now tied up and in prison awaiting trial get’s his masked saved by district attorney Matt Murdock (fellow crime fighter Daredevil) who prevents the removal of his mask (thanks to a law that was put in during the Civil War arc) and explains to spidey that’s its best to go to court to prove his innocence (you’ll find a rather fun trial featured in one of the extra stories that is featured near the end of the book).

And to top things off Harry Osborne finds a out a shocking dark truth about someone very close to him.

Matthew King

Sherlock Bones by Yuma Ando and Yuki Sato

Awesome Fact: Sherdog frequently forgets he is a dog, and continues to try and act like a normal human despite his physical appearance. He even uses a pipe.

I’ve never read a manga before and I have to say that I was slightly reluctant to. I didn’t know if I liked the art style too much and I was wary of the gratuitous breast shots. I picked up Sherlock Bones for the Stan Lee Excelsior Awards and I was pleasantly surprised.

Sherlock Holmes is reincarnated as a dog. The premise may seem silly, but it works in a hilarious and cutesy way. It takes place at a school and one of the kids apparently commits suicide. Sherlock has another idea and goes through some clever moments to make a fun, mysterious story that has its own element of surprise to keep you hooked. It’s not hugely gritty but it does cover dark themes and deals with the horrors of bullying well.

Lucy Cokes

Which are your favourite graphic novels about crime and punishment? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.