Often pulls from series that are overall variable in quality (such as due to changes in creative team) or series that are just beginning to get established. Warren Ellis crops up rather a lot.
It's worth checking out other story arcs of Astro City, but this first volume of character and city introduction pieces is a beautifully illustrated and satisfying feel-good take on classic tropes. From the blurb: "The city's leading super hero tries to be everywhere at once, and berates himself for every wasted second as he longs for just a moment of his own. A small-time hood learns a hero's secret identity and tries to figure out how to profit from the knowledge. A beat reporter gets some advice from his editor on his first day on the job. A young woman tries to balance the demands of her family with her own hopes and desires."
Family-friendly modern origin for the first Batgirl, Barbara Gordon. Highly stylised and very likeable art, plus a plot involving a Batman and Robin team who aren't particularly gritty and act like role-models rather than holier-than-thou jerks. Quite refreshing if you grew up during the 80s or 90s, during which most titles tended to be "anti-hero" this or "dark vengeance" that.
Not sure I like DC's trend of only putting a few into some trade paperbacks, but three of them are excellent standalone stories: The Fan Club sees Huntress bringing her teaching skills to bear to prevent a chemical bomb from exploding, Nerds of Prey pits Oracle against Calculator at a tech convention, and in The Warrior Wake of Zinda Blake Lady Blackhawk's observance of the life of Big Barda gets gatecrashed by hired goons and she not-entirely-reasonably turns upside down the life of a Metropolis cabbie.
It's debatable how well this concept works as a long series, but the first story arc brilliantly puts across the concept: a cibopathic detective (he gets psychic impressions from eating things) in a world in which others also have taste-related superpowers, and illegal trafficking in chicken meat is one of the most pressing issues of the world they occupy. Cartoony art prevents it becoming too grim or gory.
Early art by Chris Bachalo and a life-affirming script from Neil Gaiman combine to make this probably the best spin-off story from Sandman. Several generations of kids have now grown up mimicking the Death look, often without knowing about the series. Apparently a film, which has been mooted since the 90s, is still a possibility. It's a light plot: Death walks as a mortal for one day each century to better understand her charges, dragging along a teenager who's tired of life with a bit of adventure along the way.
Very definitely not for kids. Warren Ellis comes up with a standalone series dealing with the concept of ex-spies with rather unusual abilities put out to grass. This is by no means a cheerful book, and a lot of it's the author rummaging around in his brain for striking images to shock the reader. But then, that's nothing different to the schtick of most horror movies — it's just on a printed page instead.
Warren Ellis sets out to provide cheap, dense 16-page comics with self-contained stories, and this is a collection of the results. With beautiful painted-style art provided by Ben Templesmith, this crime drama introduces Detective Richard Fell to Snowtown — a hole in which the police are more concerned with trying to stay alive than police. Despite this, there are a few grins in-between Ellis holding a mirror up to some of the worse excesses mankind has to offer. The good guy doesn't always win, but pulls off a decent batting average.
This collection was released in 1996 by Boxtree and is long out of print. Second-hand copies do turn up frequently though, and it's worth looking for — hailing from a time when Chris Bachalo drew very sharp, clean art and with some touching moments between the then-new group of young mutants. Unfortunately the book was then put on hold for an 'event' series and never recovered the same quality, but this is good stuff.
I haven't found time to dig into the rest of this series, which I should, but this TPB is a fun standalone story in which the Ghostbusters go missing and it's up to Janine (and Kylie, who you may remember from the surprisingly good if badly animated Extreme Ghostbusters, and other second-stringers) to step up to the plate in their absence.
Now collected in one nice trade paperback, Global Frequency is an Ellis ideas book taking the form of a series of one-shot stories, in which the science concepts are still fun ten years on. Specialists from all walks of life are called in by the GF agency to prevent unusual disasters and terrorist plots. A second go at doing a TV version is currently in the works at the time of writing.
Warren Ellis does Justice League of America. This isn't an essential read or part of a comics "event" — which is a big part of why I like it. It's both a perfect introduction to the JLA and a reminder that DC characters can not just be archetypes. Notable for making Superman feel rather realistic instead of being a collection of soundbytes, treating Lois Lane as a character in her own right, and bringing a bit of awe back to a cast that often seems routine. Highly recommended.
Nicely illustrated science fiction. A UN weapons inspector a hundred years into the future investigate recent discoveries on Jupiter — specifically, a dig on the moon Europa that's uncovered a frozen race of alien life. Slightly limited re-read value, but essentially a self-contained story that comes across as a big-budget widescreen film, in the vein of adaptations of Philip K. Dick or Arthur C. Clarke.
Music and magic. This first series focuses heavily on Britpop, so it's most of interest to people who were alive and paying some kind of attention to UK music in the 90s. Essentially, magician David Kohl tries to save both himself and his patron Britannia from a threat he only comes to appreciate as the story goes on. If this seems pretentious, it is a bit — unashamedly aimed at lovers of comics that aren't about superheroes and who like bands such as Kenickie. If that includes you, you might really, really enjoy this. Also check out Phonogram: The Singles Club.
In the last few years there's been a trend for DC/Vertigo comics to reprint in nice editions stuff they acquired when they took over Wildstorm. As well as classics such as Planetary in hardcover you can also get Ellis The Authority and this; Sleeper is noir with double agents and rather fucked up post-human superpowers. Despite being over 700 pages, the binding of the book's thankfully pretty robust.
A romance comic. Come back, it's got lesbian bondage as well. It's not really outright porn, though. Stjepan and Linda Sejic have created a very likeable and fairly realistic cast of characters. And you know it has a happily ever after type ending going in. Good on Top Cow Productions for stepping up to the plate to publish this for a wider audience, and not having an issue with material continuing to be posted at http://shiniez.deviantart.com/
It looks like DC are reprinting Alan Moore's Top Ten in a single volume very shortly at time of writing, which is good news. By now the trope of a city of science heroes and superpowered beings has been explored by a few authors, but the motley crew of Neopolis's 10th Precinct police force are an interesting lot. The Forty-Niners spin-off prequel is also well worth a look, although later sequels are a mixed bag.