I recently lamented that fewer super-hero comic books are appropriate for YA audiences these days. The older I get, the more I want the classic super-heroes to remain available for current and future generations of 10-year-old boys and girls. Kids need role models, and even fictional ones can bring tremendous value.
To help out you parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and teachers, I’ve compiled a list of good super-hero graphic novels that I feel are appropriate for ages 10 and up. This list is merely a sampling, a relative handful. Some might be out of print, but you can probably track them down at comic shops and shows. I also encourage you to do your own research. There are lots more out there.
Here we go:
Batman: Strange Apparitions: Some of these stories were adapted into Batman: The Animated Series episodes (which also holds up wonderfully). There are a lot of great interpretations of Batman out there, in print and in film, but this is the type of Batman I prefer. He’s heroic, smart, strong, and not crazy. This Batman is capable of warmth and healthy relationships while still being driven and utterly devoted to his mission. His adventures here can be enjoyed by adults and children alike. These issues came out in the 70s, but they don’t feel dated.
Superman: Up, Up, and Away: This is how you do Superman. The book uses the simple gimmick of taking away his powers for a whole year so that when he finally returns, Superman feels special and grand — as he should. Skip this year’s movie and read this book instead. It’s a shame there aren’t more Superman books that are this good.
Superman: Panic in the Sky: Admittedly, I haven’t read this one in many years, but when I was nine, this was amazing. It brings together a whole bunch of DC Comics characters in one epic adventure. It’s no work of literary art, but it’s a fun time.
Flash: The Return of Barry Allen: Barry Allen was the previous Flash who had died saving the universe, and the former Kid Flash has grown up and since carried on his uncle’s heroic work…and then Barry Allen “comes back.” I originally read these issues back when they were new and I was nine, not long after I started reading comics in the first place. This storyline probably made the difference between comics being a passing fad and something I’d still be reading twenty years later. This isn’t some basic good vs. evil struggle. It’s about the balance between idolizing your hero and becoming your own person, about the importance of protecting a legacy, and about how it feels when your role model doesn’t live up to your expectations. With these issues, I learned that comic books could be so much stronger than Saturday morning cartoons.
The Essential X-Men vol. 1 & 2: These are the comics that made the X-Men such a phenomenal hit. The stories move along at a brisk, energetic pace while developing melodramatic soap opera subplots. Colorful, flawed, diverse characters grow over the course of dozens of issues worth of exciting adventures. Plus, the X-Men series has the wonderful theme that you shouldn’t judge others for being different.
Robin: Year One and Batgirl: Year One: Two excellent miniseries about young heroes who are just starting out. Fun and action-packed with strong characterization. Both are written and drawn in a similar style, so they’re great to read together.
Daredevil by Mark Waid vol. 1: There aren’t many new books that are safe for kids, but this Daredevil is excellent swashbuckling fun, great for middle schoolers and adults. It’s something of a reboot after a prolonged grim-and-gritty era, and it’s nice to see the sunnier side of Daredevil for a change.
Early 80s Justice League of America: I don’t think there’s a single collection of these out yet, but when I first started reading comics in the early 90s, I visited a flea market and found some JLA comics dated about ten years earlier and I loved them. They’re all about heroes being heroic and working together to save the day. You can find individual issues at comic shops and conventions, and you’ll probably pay less per issue than you would on new comics.
Those are just some books off the top of my head. I know I’ve missed lots of great ones. Feel free to mention them in the comments.