~Posted by Daniel S.
Science fiction and graphic novels go together like a cape and a mask. You may not have considered it before, but the superhero genre really is just another version of sci-fi. Think about all the sci-fi concepts that pop up in your favorite comics: Radiation turns an ordinary man into a rampaging Hulk. A chemical explosion (plus lightning) grants The Flash his power of super-speed. Superman is the last survivor of an alien civilization. And it’s been this way from the start: Thirties Sunday newspaper comic strip heroes like Flash Gordon and Dan Dare were directly inspired by early pulp sci-fi. As comics matured into the form we call graphic novels, they also absorbed a more sophisticated understanding of science, and became more daring in their speculation of future technology. Here are some of my favorite graphic novel collections that blend super-heroics with super-science:
One of my favorite graphic novels of any genre is the excellent sci-fi/superhero/police procedural mashup Top 10 by comic titan Alan Moore. The mega-city of Neopolis is a place where almost every resident has super powers; so naturally it needs a police force made up of the toughest superheroes around. Every panel is crammed with details, elaborate in-jokes, and homages to almost every type of sci-fi entertainment.
The Manhattan Projects is a bonkers alternate history of postwar America, where fringe science runs amok. Enrico Fermi is a disguised alien conqueror, Robert Oppenheimer is a cannibal with a seriously fractured personality, and Albert (aka Albrecht) Einstein is a gun-toting, dimension-hopping adventurer. This odd think-tank almost destroys the world as often as it inadvertently saves it. The tagline for the series is an understatement: “Science Bad”.
In Echo by Terry Moore, a woman becomes accidentally bonded to a liquid metal battle suit, giving her strange powers while attracting powerful enemies. The series begins well-grounded in speculative science, but does ultimately detour into the metaphysical. However, the strong, expressive artwork and realistic characters make this a rewarding read.
In the terrific series Ex Machina, Mitchell Hundred is a civil engineer who is altered by contact with alien technology. He gains the power to speak to and control machinery of all sorts, and he uses this ability to become the world’s only superhero: The Great Machine. His exploits also lead to him getting elected mayor of New York City, where he must balance politics against his desire to play the hero.
Cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky spent years attempting to create a film version of the sci-fi classic Dune (this story is recounted in the excellent documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune). Refusing to abandon his efforts, he reworked some of the themes and imagery from that doomed project into The Incal , a graphic novel with acclaimed French comic artist Moebius. It’s a sprawling, weird, and often really confusing space opera that deserves to be considered a classic of both sci-fi and comics.