Leaving Proof returns with a post-apocalyptic comics reading list—picks include a beloved work from animation legend Hayao Miyazaki and an Eisner Award-winning publication from Vertigo Comics.
Reading and reviewing Andrew MacLean’s Apocalyptigirl: An Aria for the End Times last week put me in the mood to contemplate post-apocalyptic comics and post-apocalyptic fiction, in general.
I’m not entirely sure that “post-apocalyptic” is an independent genre in and of itself, although I’m certain that compelling arguments for the case exist. My reading experience, however, is that “post-apocalyptic” is really more of a setting or a “secondary genre,” subordinate to a primary category like science-fiction, fantasy, horror, or military fiction. Because of this, post-apocalyptic fiction can and does feature a diverse array of elements.
The trigger for the collapse of society as we know it can range from disease, pollution, rogue artificial intelligence, nuclear annihilation, zombies, ecological disaster, conventional warfare, economic destabilization, alien invasion, super-powered villains, capricious deities, intelligent apes, a meteor strike, a particularly bad solar storm, and just about anything else a writer can imagine.
Many post-apocalyptic comics have an anarcho-primitivist bent, suggesting that a world where man can return to following some interpretation of “natural law” can be a good thing, although the best of these comics avoid such reductive themes. Ultimately though, all that really matters for a comic to be categorized as post-apocalyptic is that mankind’s struggle to survive in a world reshaped by an extinction-level cataclysm plays an important role in the story’s theme, plot, and character development.
Below, I’ve listed some of my favorite post-apocalyptic comics. As with my previous articles recommending comics in certain genres or sharing particular elements, I don’t make the claim that these are the best of the category, although many of them are well-received by the comics community at large. Rather, these are comics that I’ve found to be especially interesting, well-executed, or even challenging to my own sensibilities.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki (VIZ Media, seven paperback volumes)
Publisher’s description: In a long-ago war, humankind set off a devastating ecological disaster. Thriving industrial societies disappeared. The earth is slowly submerging beneath the expanding Sea of Corruption, an enormous toxic forest that creates mutant insects and releases a miasma of poisonous spores into the air. At the periphery of the sea, tiny kingdoms are scattered on tiny parcels of land. Here lies the Valley of the Wind, a kingdom of barely 500 citizens; a nation given fragile protection from the decaying sea’s poisons by the ocean breezes; and home to Nausicaä. Nausicaä, a gentle but strong-willed young princess, has an empathic bond with the giant Ohmu insects, who open their hearts to her. In her quest to create peace among empires fighting over the world’s remaining precious natural resources, will Nausicaä be able to interpret the Ohmus’ urgent warning about the southern forest? And what of the war which rages all around her?
Lazarus by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark (Image Comics, ongoing series with 17 issues published to date)
Publisher’s description: In a dystopian near-future, government is a quaint concept, resources are coveted, and possession is 100% of the law. A handful of Families rule, jealously guarding what they have and exploiting the Waste who struggle to survive in their domains. Forever Carlyle defends her family’s holdings through deception and force as their protector, their Lazarus. Shot dead defending the family home, Forever’s day goes downhill from there…
AKIRA by Katsuhiro Otomo (Kodansha Comics, six volumes; previously published by Dark Horse Manga)
Publisher’s description: Welcome to Neo-Tokyo, built on the ashes of a Tokyo annihilated by a blast of unknown origin that triggered World War III. The lives of two streetwise teenage friends, Tetsuo and Kaneda, change forever when paranormal abilities begin to waken in Tetsuo, making him a target for a shadowy agency that will stop at nothing to prevent another catastrophe like the one that leveled Tokyo. At the core of the agency’s motivation is a raw, all-consuming fear of an unthinkable, monstrous power known only as Akira.
Wasteland by Antony Johnston, Christopher Mitten, and others (Oni Press, 60 issues, also available as ten paperback volumes)
Author’s description: A century ago, a disaster known only as the Big Wet destroyed society as we know it. Half the world is now covered by poisonous, rising oceans. What dry land remains is a broken, infertile world of hard ground and harder living. Into this world steps Michael, a scavenger who roams the wasteland, trading what he can salvage from the ruins. But Michael’s latest find will change his life for ever—a machine that talks in a forgotten language, supposedly giving directions to the fabled land of A-Ree-Yass-I, where mankind’s downfall began.
Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, and others (DC/Vertigo, 60 issues, also available as ten paperback volumes)
Publisher’s description: [T]his is the saga of Yorick Brown—the only human survivor of a planet-wide plague that instantly kills every mammal possessing a Y chromosome. Accompanied by a mysterious government agent, a brilliant young geneticist and his pet monkey, Ampersand, Yorick travels the world in search of his lost love and the answer to why he’s the last man on earth.
Biomega by Tsutomu Nihei (VIZ Media, six paperback volumes)
Publisher’s description: Zoichi Kanoe plunges into the depths of 9JO–an island city in the middle of the Pacific Ocean–in search of Eon Green, a girl with the power to transmute the N5S virus. He’s not the only one looking for her, though… Agents of the Public Health Service’s Compulsory Execution Unit are also in hot pursuit. Zoichi and his transhuman allies have no time to waste; the countdown to the zombie apocalypse has begun!
Also worth the time and effort to seek out:
- Borderline by Carlos Trillo and Eduardo Risso
- Just a Pilgrim by Garth Ennis and Carlos Ezquerra
- The Legend of Mother Sarah by Katsuhiro Otomo and Takumi Nagayasu
- The Massive by Brian Wood, Kristian Donaldson, Garry Brown, and others
- Nth Man: The Ultimate Ninja by Larry Hama and Ron Wagner
- Scout by Timothy Truman
- The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard
- Zero Killer by Arvid Nelson and Matt Camp.