In honor of Free Comic Book Day, I give you (in no particular order) my top five comic books:
1) Y: The Last Man
When a mysterious and horrible plague wipes out every other male mammal on earth, escape artist, wisecracking smart ass Yorrick Brown and his pet monkey Ampersand (also a bearer of the now near extinct Y chromosome) find themselves as the last men alive, and on a quest to save womankind from extinction. Protected by the ultra secret, ultra deadly government agent named only Agent 355, meticulously studied by the leading authority on human cloning left alive and pursued by the maniacal Amazons (women who believe that Mother Nature eradicated all males as the next step in evolution, and cut one of their breasts off to show their dedication) he fights, loves, and searches his way to the truth about what has really happened to man. It has some of the most entertaining characters I've seen in a comic book, and a conclusion that gives new meaning to Shakespeare's "Alas, poor Yorrick.". Length: 60 issues.
2) The Walking Dead
After being shot, and put into a coma Sheriff Rick Grimes wakes up to an empty, destroyed hospital and a world overtaken by undead zombie hordes. He sets out to search for his family, not knowing whether they will be alive or undead. Eventually he hooks up with a small band of survivors and becomes their at times official, and other times unofficial, leader. Writer Robert Kirkman is delightfully unafraid to kill off his main characters, so that as it stands now only a few of the original cast remain among the living. Rick leads his people through the most unimaginable circumstances - including a crazed power drunk man who leads a large community of survivors into total savagery and calls himself the General, untold numbers of flesh eating zombies, and even some living cannibals. There is some incredible character growth as well as degradation, as you would expect of people who survived the end of the world and had to kill tons of people and do plenty of other horrible things to do it. Length: Ongoing (currently 84 issues).
3) Batman: Year One
Written by genius comic veteran Frank Miller, this is the best, and seminal story of Batman's origins. This story arc chronicles a young and inexperienced Batman's first days wearing the cowl. We're introduced to characters like members of the Falcone crime family and Catwoman. But the real highlight for me is the supremely badass Jim Gordon and of course, the Dark Knight himself. Length: Four issues.
4) The Dark Knight Returns
The opposite end of the spectrum from Year One, this classic and incredible book (also written by Frank Miller) features a Batman who is over half a century old. Having faked his own death, and disappearing for quite a few years, the aging vigilante decides it is once again time to revive his fearsome alter ego. He takes on mutant foes half his age, confronts his oldest and maybe deadliest enemy, the Joker, and even lays the smack down on government stooge Superman. Batman is a monster, even as a senior citizen. Length: Four issues.
5) Calvin & Hobbes
Not really a comic book, but a comic strip. Follow the fantastic and imaginative adventures of a hyper intelligent and very devious six year old boy named Calvin and his stuffed tiger Hobbes. He imagines himself as everything from a T-Rex to a superhero named Stupendous Man to the intrepid space explorer, Spaceman Spiff. He builds monstrous snow horrors and invents his own sport, Calvinball, which only has one real rule: you can never play with the same rule twice. One of the best things about this comic is that Bill Watterson didn't drag it on for a thousand years, but instead ended it while he was ahead. Length: 1985-1996.