Last month, I highlighted some of the best movies currently available on Hoopla, a free streaming platform that works with your library account (if your library is a Hoopla partner). In addition to movies, Hoopla also has an impressive catalog of comics and graphic novels, with titles from Marvel and DC as well as Image, Dark Horse, and BOOM! Studios (to name but a few publishers). And again, all you need to read them is a valid library card.
For this list, I opted to stay away from many of the more obvious picks (e.g., Hellboy, Sin City, Watchmen), and instead, focus mainly on what might be more unknown titles and hidden gems. Note: Like most streaming services, Hoopla’s catalog changes as titles are added and removed. This list is current as of March 14, 2023.
As the name implies, All Star Superman was Grant Morrison’s attempt at creating a “timeless” Superman story, one that really boils down, to its essence, everything that’s beloved about the Man of Steel. Here, Superman is stricken with a mysterious ailment that leaves him with one year left to live. Determined to do as much good around the world as possible before he passes, Superman sets out on a quest filled with impossible tasks that leads to fateful encounters with Lois Lane and Lex Luthor. All Star Superman is considered one of the best Superman stories of all time, or as one critic put it, “a loving and affectionate celebration of everything that Superman stands for.”
Mike Mignola is best known for his Hellboy comics. But among his other creations is Screw-On Head, a secret agent working for Abraham Lincoln who possesses the ability to swap his head between different robotic bodies. Said ability comes in handy when Screw-On Head must battle an evil occultist named Emperor Zombie who’s seeking to — what else? — rule the world. In 2006, the Sci-Fi channel produced an animated Screw-On Head pilot featuring the voices of David Hyde Pierce, Paul Giamatti, Patton Oswalt, and Molly Shannon.
Scott Snyder’s 2011 – 2016 run on Batman is arguably one of the best takes on the Caped Crusader in recent history, and is filled with memorable storylines including police commissioner Jim Gordon picking up Batman’s mantle after the hero’s apparent death and a new confrontation with arch-enemy Joker. But my favorite storyline is the “Court of Owls” saga, which finds Batman matching wits (and fists) with a secret society that’s been running Gotham City from the shadows since its founding. And in doing so, he uncovers shocking revelations about his own family while setting in motion events that will have repercussions for the entire DC universe.
Jeff Lemire’s haunting series works as both a celebration and subversion of classic superhero teams like the Justice League. After saving Spiral City from the Anti-God, a group of superheroes find themselves trapped in the seemingly idyllic rural town of Rockwood. Some of the heroes see this as a reward for their exploits, a chance to settle down and start new lives. Others see it as a prison at best, and at worst, a personal hell. Lemire’s series moves slowly at times, but the mysteries at its core — Where is Rockwood? Can they escape? And what, exactly, happened to their leader, the titular Black Hammer? — are engaging. Since the original Black Hammer series’ publication, Lemire and his collaborators have created numerous spin-off titles that expand the series’ world and stories.
Grant McKay is a brilliant scientist who’s developed technology that allows humanity to travel to parallel universes. He’s also a raging narcissist who’s sacrificed everything in the pursuit of his genius. When sabotage propels McKay and his family throughout the Eververse, he must battle his own ego in order to save his family — and possibly the whole of reality. Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera’s Black Science is a rip-roaring pulp sci-fi series filled with ambitious storytelling, vibrant artwork, and surprisingly philosophical implications, all of it leading to a trippy finale that might just fry your brain (read my review).
When a young woman’s family is slaughtered by a deadly new school of swordsmen, her only hope for revenge is a disgraced samurai named Manji who’s been cursed with immortality until he atones for his own bloody past by killing 1,000 evil men. Hiroaki Samura’s manga is arguably one of the most popular manga titles of all time, and once you see his vivid and striking artwork — which often depicts Manji slicing up his foes with an array of bizarre weaponry — it’s easy to understand why. Since its publication, Blade of the Immortal has inspired two anime series and a live-action film directed by none other than Takashi Miike (Audition, The Bird People in China, Ichi the Killer, Zebraman).
In 2015, Berkeley Breathed revived his beloved Bloom Country comic strip, featuring the exploits of Opus the Penguin, Bill the Cat, Steve Dallas, and other assorted characters as they try (and fail) to make sense of the world. Originally released on Breathed’s Facebook page, IDW Publishing has collected all of the new Bloom County strips. On a personal note, Bloom County — along with Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side — was absolutely fundamental to shaping my own sense of humor back in high school. So if it seems skewed to you, blame Opus and Bill.
It would be too easy to draw comparisons between Neil Gaiman’s Books of Magic and the Harry Potter novels. After all, both series are about a bespectacled young boy who discovers that he possesses vast magical potential and that he’s the promised one who will vanquish great evil. But The Books of Magic is a good deal stranger and more bizarre, with young Timothy Hunter taken on a whirlwind journey through the magical side of the DC universe, and meeting a host of powerful individuals including Doctor Fate, Zatana, The Spectre, Doctor Occult, and of course, the wily John Constantine.
Dr. Michael Ong is a brilliant scientist specializing in the paranormal whose latest assignment finds him returning, begrudgingly, to his rural hometown. But this boring job gets upended when the ghost of an evil mad scientist comes looking for the authentic Shroud of Turin and Ong finds himself bonded with an alien symbiote. Creature Tech is a delightful sci-fi tale that ought to appeal to fans of Hellboy, filled with bizarre creatures, demonic hellcats, kung fu aliens, and even some spiritual insights as Dr. Ong must confront the theological implications of his latest discoveries.
We all know that Darth Vader is one of the most iconic characters, good or bad, in all of pop culture. So what else needs to be said about him? Plenty, as Charles Soule and Giuseppe Camuncoli’s Darth Vader series reveals. Picking up after the events of Revenge of the Sith, Darth Vader chronicles the Sith Lord’s early days, as he seeks to rise in power while struggling with his relationship with Emperor Palpatine. Darth Vader is filled with stunning imagery and storytelling, and more than a few bad-ass Vader moments that really solidify his villain status.
James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds’ series is a descent into conspiracy theories of all shapes and sizes, as a mild-mannered government agent discovers the horrifying truth behind how the world works — and the government’s efforts to keep it from taking over humanity. Oh, and it’s all connected to a dark secret from his past. If you grew up during the ’80s “Satanic Panic” like I did, or are a sucker for shows like The X-Files, then The Department of Truth is must-read material. I reviewed the first volume back in 2021, and there are certain scenes that have stuck with me ever since.
Descender is set in the distant future where robots are persecuted and hunted down. But when a young android boy awakens in a deserted colony, he sets in motion an epic conflict that has potential ramifications for both organic and mechanical life. Descender caused quite a buzz when it was debuted in 2015, thanks to both Lemire’s storyline (with its space battles, bounty hunters, and robotic mythology) and Nguyen’s vibrant watercolor artwork. In 2019, Lemire and Nguyen began work on a sequel to Descender titled, appropriately enough, Ascender.
Jeff Lemire has established himself as one of modern comics’ most productive authors thanks to acclaimed series like Black Hammer, Descender, Sweet Tooth, and Gideon Falls. The latter is Lemire’s take on cosmic horror, as various individuals find their lives inexorably drawn to the Black Barn and the otherworldly horrors that it contains. Andrea Sorrentino’s artwork adds the appropriately haunting visuals to Lemire’s storyline. Gideon Falls won a 2019 Eisner Award for “Best New Series.”
Serving as a prequel to the popular video game, Injustice is based on a simple, startling premise: after the Joker tricks him into killing Lois Lane and destroying Metropolis, Superman decides to rule the world with an iron fist, and it’s up to Batman to stop him. Although its premise might seem kind of ridiculous, the resulting comic is an entertaining epic that touches on virtually every corner of the DC universe, and finds Superman and Batman’s respective forces resorting to increasingly desperate tactics in their battle against each other.
What if the world’s great superhero suddenly becomes its greatest supervillain? Although it shares some similarities with the aforementioned Injustice, Irredeemable is very much its own series. It boasts a complex mythology that reaches to the very edges of time and space as well as absolutely brutal battles between godlike beings. And it introduces a colorful cast of characters, from the all-powerful Plutonian and the two-thousand-year-old Gilgamos to the super-genius Qubit and the demonic Orian.
Superman, Batman, and the rest of the Justice League deal with all kinds of threats, but when it comes to magic, they’re out of their depth. Which is where the Justice League Dark comes in. Led by John Constantine and featuring a who’s who of DC mystics (e.g., Madame Xanadu, Zatanna, Deadman), the JLD takes on the supernatural foes that threaten to rend the world apart. However, the JLD is not without challenges of their own, from personal traumas and conflicts to the simple fact that they often employ the same dangerous forces that they fight against.
Every year, alien robots arrive on Earth where they bond with young pilots in order to fight against a vicious alien race called the Sharg. Stanford Yu seems like the unlikeliest choice for a pilot until he’s inexplicably chosen. But what seems like a great honor turns into something else entirely when the Sharg attack and Yu and his friends see battle firsthand. Greg Pak’s Mech Cadet Yu is an action-packed delight filled with memorable characters and gorgeous artwork courtesy of Takeshi Miyazawa.
As the costumed hero Mister Miracle, Scott Free has become the world’s greatest escape artist, capable of breaking free from any trap. But Free’s traumatic past — including a torturous childhood on the planet Apokolips — is taking its toll on his mind and pushing him to even deadlier extremes. Which isn’t the wisest thing to do given that he and his wife Big Barda are starting a family and his adoptive father Darkseid constantly has invasion and conquest on his mind. One of 2019’s most acclaimed titles, Mister Miracle is a mind-bending journey into the life of a superhero who can’t die, but who continually courts death nevertheless.
True crime writer Meru Marlow has become obsessed with uncovering the truth behind an airline flight in which all of the passengers developed amnesia. But when she digs a little too deeply, she falls into a secret world of psychic spies, agents, and assassins where nobody is who (or what) they seem and reality itself can’t be trusted. Written and drawn by Matt Kindt, Mind Mgmt was a New York Times bestseller and appeared on numerous “Best of” lists in the early 2010s. A feature film adaptation is currently in the works and in 2021, a Mind Mgmt board game was released.
Radiant City was designed to be a utopia, but instead, its citizens are being driven insane by the city’s very architecture. Mister X claims to be the city’s architect and vows to find a solution, but doing so may drive him mad as well. Although it was plagued with delays and production issues throughout its run, Mister X’s distinctive visuals and elaborate design — all influenced by films like Metropolis, Alphaville, and The Maltese Falcon — garnered considerable acclaim in the alternative comics scene and would later influence movies like Brazil and Dark City.
Young Kamala Khan’s life is already complicated enough as a Muslim high school student. But when she’s suddenly given super powers (e.g., the ability to stretch her limbs), Khan’s life gets even crazier as she tries to juggle high school, super heroics, family, and even romance. G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel is an absolute delight of a series, adroitly balancing superhero action with loads of humor and heart. The comic series was adapted into a live-action series that debuted on Disney+ last summer to considerable acclaim.
Grant Morrison goes full “cosmic horror” in this 2015 series about a nameless occultist who’s hired by a secretive billionaire to help prevent an errant asteroid from striking the Earth. Naturally, the mission quickly get weirder, darker, and creepier, with Morrison weaving in Mayan mythology, Enochian magic, and Lovecraftian terror. Meanwhile, Chris Burnham creates some truly nightmarish imagery to match the maddening storyline. Definitely not for the squeamish, Nameless takes H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmicism to its logical — and nightmarish — end.
I’ve previously raved about Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s noir series set in ’80s Los Angeles. Ethan Reckless is a burned out hippie and revolutionary who also happens to be a former undercover agent. And he uses his special and unorthodox skills to help those in need, which brings him into contact with drug dealers, corrupt tycoons, skinheads, and other undesirables. There’s a definite sense of nostalgia in Reckless’ pages, but it’s of the hard-boiled and underground kind. Some might find the series too dark and cynical, but the rest of you are in for a treat.
I’m not sure what else can be said about Neil Gaiman’s Sandman that hasn’t been said already. Filled with imaginative storytelling that draws from myth, religion, fairy tales, and classic literature, and packed with gorgeous and evocative artwork from a bevy of talented artists, The Sandman is widely considered one of the greatest comic series of all time. When the series begins, Morpheus, Lord of Dreams, has just escaped from an occult prison where he was held captive for decades. As he sets out to rebuild his otherworldly kingdom, Morpheus must contend with past sins and mistakes while trying to better understand how his imprisonment has affected his view of humanity.
Nobody asked for a grimdark reboot of Scooby-Doo that puts Scoob, Shaggy, and the rest of the Mystery, Inc. gang in the middle of a horrific zombie apocalypse. We got one anyway, though, and you know what? Scooby Apocalypse works surprisingly well. Seeing a hipster Shaggy take on mutated monsters or Scoob as a military-trained attack dog takes a little getting used to, but the series works because there’s nothing tongue-in-cheek about it. Rather, the revolving cast of writers and artists are completely committed to the bit and play everything straight, with solid results.
Arguably the strangest Silver Surfer title to date, due in large part to Tradd Moore’s psychedelic artwork, Silver Surfer: Black finds the former herald of Galactus transported to the dawn of the universe and forced to battle a dark god. Given the Surfer’s inherently melancholy, existential, and deeply brooding nature, his storylines are often philosophical (albeit in a melodramatic, angst-ridden fashion). Donny Cates really ups the ante here, though, as Norrin Radd struggles to maintain hope even when confronted by a truly nihilistic foe (read my review).
Archer’s Peak is a quiet little town with a dark secret: its children are disappearing. The few survivors tell of horrific creatures that only they can see. Nobody seems capable — or willing — to do anything. Until Erica Slaughter arrives in town, that is. But even as she starts saving the children, her own dark secrets might end up exacting a heavy toll. Something is Killing the Children won the 2022 Eisner Award for “Best Continuing Series.” It’s also being adapted into a Netflix original TV series by the folks behind Dark.
Once upon a time, Duke McQueen saved the universe. But that was forty years ago. Now he’s back on Earth, retired, and all alone, and nobody will believe his stories. But when he receives a call for help from an alien world, he’s given one last opportunity to become a hero again. With its retro-futuristic spaceships and rayguns, Starlight is clearly a celebration of Golden Age science-fiction (e.g., Flash Gordon). But it’s also a heartfelt rumination on aging, nostalgia, and moving on. Back in 2021, it was announced that Starlight would be turned into a feature film directed by Joe Cornish (Lockwood & Co., Attack the Block).
When a famous detective and his faithful sidekick are hired to solve a grisly murder involving a member of royalty, their case quickly spirals out of control to include seditious revolutionaries seeking to oust the otherworldly beings who have taken over humanity. Put simply, A Study in Emerald is Neil Gaiman meets Sherlock Holmes meets H.P. Lovecraft. What more could you want? Originally published in the 2003 anthology Shadows Over Baker Street, A Study in Emerald won the 2004 Hugo Award for “Best Short Story.” Dark Horse’s comic adaptation was published in 2018.
Released as part of Marvel’s “All-New, All-Different” relaunch (which came in the aftermath of 2015’s epic Secret Wars crossover event), Vision asks a simple question — What would happen if an android built his own family and moved to the suburbs? — and takes it in some truly intriguing, and horrifying, directions. Facing discrimination and distrust from his family’s new neighbors, the threat of old enemies, and even the suspicions of former allies, Vision’s desire for an idyllic family life may be over before it’s even begun.
With its convoluted “grimdark” lore about superhuman warriors battling chaos gods, evil cultists, and bizarre aliens in the distant future, Warhammer 40,000 has been experiencing a surge of popularity in recent years. But if you know nothing about the Emperor of Mankind and his Adeptus Astartes, then Warhammer 40,000: Marneus Calgar is a good place to start. Filled with the sort of ultraviolence that’s only found in Warhammer 40,000, the series explores the origins of one of the Imperium’s greatest heroes and chronicles his epic battle against an evil cult that threatens his homeworld.
When is a spy comic not a spy comic? When it’s Aleš Kot’s Zero. Zero begins with the exploits of elite super-spy Edward Zero, who eventually turns against his handlers at the Agency who brainwashed him as a child and turned him into a deadly agent. And then it gets bizarre. Real bizarre. Ultimately a philosophical — and extremely trippy — exploration of what drives mankind to violence, I’m not sure that Zero holds up all the way through. Still, I admire Kot’s sense of ambition, as well as his choice to work with different artists to give each issue its own unique vibe.