Tom King has rapidly become one of the best comic book writers in the medium. After a heralded career as a post-9/11 CIA counter terrorism officer, King entered the realm of comic book superheroes with his debut novel, A Once Crowded Sky.
The novel got the attention of comic book publishers, and King was off to the races from 2014 onwards, writing critically acclaimed series for DC Comics, Marvel, and Vertigo.
Whether you’re coming to King through Sheriff of Babylon, his expertly told account of the war in Iraq, or his DC Rebirth relaunch of Batman, you’ll find a number of great comics to enjoy below.
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5/14/21- Updates by Amartya Acharya
Tom King Comics
King’s debut novel is a gripping fiction structured very much like a complete shared comic book universe. Indebted in equal measure to works like Watchmen and the DC and Marvel comics universes, I highly recommend branching outside the traditional realm of sequential art to read A Once Crowded Sky!
The over-sized Vertigo special Time Warp is one of the rarer inclusions in the King comics bibliography. The writing credits for the anthology one-shot are stunning, with stories by Damon Lindelof, Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt, and of course, Tom King!
Collects: Sheriff Of Babylon #1 To #12
Sheriff of Babylon, the Vertigo title from King and artist Mitch Gerads, forms one third of what has become known as the King-Trilogy – a series of twelve issue miniseries that ran from 2015 to 2016. Alongside Omega Men (DC Universe) and Vision (Marvel), these combined thirty-six issues cemented King’s status as one of the brightest voices in comics.
Babylon is undoubtedly the most personal of the trilogy, telling the story of an American officer on base in Iraq following the start of America’s war in 2003.
I currently have Sheriff of Babylon ranked as my 81st favorite comic of all time!
Collects: Vertigo Quarterly CMYK
“Black Death in America” is an Eisner nominated “Best short story” by Tom King and John Paul Leon, detailing the heroic exploits and troubled return home of an African-American soldier during WWI.
King’s economy of storytelling in only eight pages is on full display, with every page jumping the reader forward a year or more to encapsulate a full life lived. King’s dialogue is also accompanied by captioned quotations, taken verbatim from the soldier’s own retelling of his heroic actions. King will return to this stylized storytelling somewhat frequently, with captions telling one story, and dialogue and art progressing a related but divided narrative on the page.
Collects: Vision #1 To #12
Tom King’s only work for Marvel Comics is, unsurprisingly, one of the best Marvel series of the decade. Combined with Gabriel Hernandez-Walla at the peak of his powers, Vision transforms a potential Avengers-also-ran into a captivatingly rendered portrayal of the Vision’s attempt to create a suburban American family life.
Vision ranked in the top 2 of my favorite Marvel Comics of 2016, and is currently listed as my 44th favorite comic of all time!
The DC Comics Universe of Tom King
Collects: Teen Titans Annual #1 (New 52)
Not to be confused with the Teen Titans Annual #1 from earlier in the New 52, which kicked off the crossover “The Culling.”
Collects: Nightwing #30
The final issue of Nightwing’s New 52 ongoing is a prelude for Grayson. Note that this comic follows in the wake of the New 52’s Forever Evil event. Those interested in the full context of the event can get caught up with Comic Book Herald’s New 52 reading order. Otherwise, Grayson does some effective onboarding.
Collects: Grayson #1-4, Grayson: Future’s End 1#, and A King-Written Grayson Story From Secret Origins #8
Credit where it’s due, Grayson is a writer-partnership with Tom King and Tim Seely, primarily featuring artwork by Mikel Janin. Taking Dick Grayson out of the familiar Nightwing mantle and placing him within the context of a superspy organization does wonders for the character. Grayson fast becomes one of my favorite New 52 comics, and frankly my favorite take on Dick Grayson since Grant Morrison’s work in Batman & Robin.
Collects: Grayson #5-8 And Grayson Annual #1
Collects: Grayson Sneak Peek, Grayson #9-12 And Grayson Annual #2
Collects: Grayson #13-16 And Robin War #1-2
Grayson gets embroiled in the Robin War crossover event. King actually writes the “Robin War” event issues, making it of particular interest to follow in detail.
Collects: Grayson #17-20, Grayson Annual #3
Collects: Omega Men #1 To #12
King’s work on resuscitating Omega Men with Barnaby Bagenda is astonishing, and simultaneously the best DC Comic prior to DC Rebirth and the best Kyle Rayner comic since late 90’s JLA.
I currently have Omega Men as my 54th favorite comic of all time, although every time I think about the series I want to re-read and move higher on the list.
Collects: Justice League: The Darkseid War – Green Lantern One-Shot
Collects: Batman: Rebirth #1 (Co-Written By Former Bat-Scribe Scott Snyder) And Batman #1-15
Entering DC Rebirth, Tom King gets the keys to DC’s biggest seller, the one and only Batman. There are moments of brilliance early in King’s run, and seeds for payoffs that will occur later, but for me Batman is King’s most uneven work to date.
It’s likely that a lot of this stems both from pressures of the character – fans have a lot more expectation of how Batman should sound and act, and that takes time to perfect – as well as the every-two-weeks publication schedule. Simply put, that’s a grueling pace of storytelling, and King keeps up admirably in the first year of DC Rebirth.
Collects: Batman Rebirth #16-32 And Batman Annual #1
Batman Annual #1 includes the eisner nominated short story “Good Dog,” by King and David Finch.
Collects: Batman/Elmer Fudd Special (2017-) #1
Unbelievably good crossover weirdness from King and Lee Weeks. I would never in a million years have expected a Batman and Elmer Fudd team-up to rank among my favorite comics of 2017, yet here we are. If Noir-Fudd sounds like the most amazing thing ever to you, do yourself a favor and check out this comic!
Collects: Holiday Special ’17
In many ways, the appeal of Tom King as a storyteller is epitomized best through his short stories or one-shots. King is a master at finding unique angles other writers simply don’t approach – in sports parlance, he doesn’t take any plays off.
His incredible 8-page Sgt. Rock story with Francesco Francavilla is a case in point. In the middle of an otherwise uneven DC Holiday Special, King and Francavilla craft a story of an American-Jewish soldier holding a Nazi prisoner at gunpoint in the middle of nowhere. The American soldier is wounded, and has only days to live. Following a trick King pulled in his Vertigo special “Black Death in America,” each page turn signifies the passage of a day – one day without reinforcement, and one day closer to inevitably succumbing to his wounds.
Sgt. Rock barely appears in the comic, but it’s a fantastic Sgt. Rock comic nonetheless.
Collects: The Kamandi Challenge #1-12
King wins the Kamandi Challenge, teaming with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles legend Kevin Eastman in Kamandi Challenge #9.
Kamandi Challenge #9 feels like nothing else in the sequence, and that’s no shot at the wonderfully engaging storytelling of some of DC’s finest like Marguerite Bennett and Dan Abnett.
I’d argue the full Kamandi Challenge is a fun ride worth your time, but the King and Eastman issue can be read as a one-shot as well.
Collects: Swamp Thing Winter Special #1 (2018)
King and Jason Fabok pen a 40 page Swamp Thing story, both heartbreaking and instantly iconic. If it wasn’t for the poignancy permeating so much of King’s work, Swamp Thing Winter Special #1 might actually stand out as the saddest entry in the catalog. Beautifully, it’s also tacitly hopeful.
Collects: Mister Miracle #1 To #12
Speaking of unbelievably good, Tom King and Mitch Gerads work on Mister Miracle is some of the best superhero comic book storytelling I’ve ever read.
In this landmark issue celebrating 1000 issues of the Man of Steel, King has a 5 page story with Clay Mann on art duties, where he follows a Superman coming to an abandoned Earth 4 billion years from now, slowly being sucked into the orbit of a dying sun. In these 5 pages King shows a Superman who is visiting his parents’ grave for the final time, an ode to his own immortality, as well as his own view of death. It is a moving and existential ode which could only be explored through the character of Superman, and while the verbose nature of the dialogue feels tiring, it is still very touching and heartfelt.
Collects Batman #33 – 44 and Annual #2
King’s landmark exploration of Batman continues with the stories in this collection. First a visit to an ex with his current fiancé causes awkwardness to a level only possible between Batman and Catwoman. The next story covers a double date between Bruce and Selina along with Lois and Clark. Frequently cited as one of the best stories of King’s run, this two-parter is unique because it focuses on the friendship between Clark Kent (Superman) and Bruce, while also exploring a growing friendship between Lois Lane and Selina Kyle, and it is as funny, sweet and also irresistibly compelling.
Also in this collection is a story focusing on an adventure with Batman and Wonder Woman, and while it is an interesting one, King’s voice for Diana is easily one of the weakest aspects of his run. Also in this collection is story of a young admirer of Bruce Wayne – Mattie, who is forced to relive the worst tragedy of Bruce’s life; Bruce’s investigation into the murder of Mattie’s parents forces him to confront a cracked mirror version of himself.
While varied, King’s overall thesis on Batman slowly starts to take shape, as his exploration on Batman takes him through stories both varied in tone as well as genre.
Collects Batman #45 – 57 and a story from DC Nation #0
Easily the most controversial aspects of King’s Batman run, amidst a slew of controversial moments, it starts with a story of Booster Gold gifting a gift to Batman on his birthday, which leads to disastrous consequences. This arc, called “The Gift”, leads to the controversial “Heroes in Crisis” event. Then the story leads to the wedding of Batman and Catwoman, with a dose of the Joker in between, seen for the first time in the present timeline. The Cold Days arc, leading to the fallout of the Wedding, has one of the best Batman – Mr. Freeze stories in the vein of 12 Angry Men, where King surprisingly also explores religion. Then the book closes again with one of the most controversial moments of King’s run impacting Nightwing. King in this volume also explores storytelling conventions, utilizing the help of Bill Willingham of Fables fame to tell a story using a children’s book format. While not the strongest parts of his run, this book easily marks the turning point of his Batman run.
Collects Heroes in Crisis #1 – 9
A whodunit murder mystery set in Sanctuary, an ultra-secret hospital for superheroes dealing with PTSD, where many patients wind up dead and the two prime suspects are two well known operators of the DC universe – Booster Gold and Harley Quinn. Now its up to the trinity to investigate this tragedy, in the face of overwhelming opposition.
This book marks the end of the hopeful nature of DC Rebirth initiative. While the book has its heart in the right place, in exploring PTSD in a superhero landscape, it reeks of editorial mandate and character assassination of beloved and important characters of DC rebirth. The art by Clay Mann is next-level, and one of the main reasons to read this book.
Collects Batman #58 – 60, Batman Annual #3 and Batman – Secret Files #1
The penguin comes to Batman and claims that Bane is running the asylum from within, with the help of another shadowy figure. But if Bane is catatonic and locked away in Arkham Asylum, how could he be running things?
Tom King’s Penguin is an interesting figure – a Shakespeare quoting villain mixed with the ridiculousness of Penguin from the 1966 Batman TV series, The Tyrant Wing is notable in slowly revealing that King’s Batman run is a homage, as well as a quasi-sequel to the 90s blockbuster event Knightfall, for better or worse. But King’s characterization of Bane is still on point at this moment of his run, which is a shame when another villain comes in and completely upstages the show.
Collects Batman #61 – 63 and #66 – 69
This is easily the most risky part of this run. Each issue comprises of Batman going through moments which blurs the line between dream and reality – from chasing Professor Pyg, to chasing a masked criminal who never stops, to saving the city with his masked partner Catwoman, nothing is what it seems, and it feels as if he is trapped in a never-ending cycle of madness. The art is varied yet phenomenal, from the psychedelic acid trip art of Mitch Gerards, to the noir tinged feel of Jorge Fornes, to the comedic and colorful tone of Amanda Conner, each story is an exploration of Batman’s psyche as well as breaking down of Batman to the essentials, and that makes this trade both essential in reading, as well as skippable if you are reading for the plot.
Collects Batman #70 – 74 and Batman – Secret Files #2
The true mastermind behind Batman’s woes is finally revealed, and Bruce’s allies don’t believe him and even after battling Bane, nothing seems out of the ordinary.
King here pushes Bruce and Batman to the absolute bottom, alone with no help from his allies, but also the difference in the philosophy of loving someone and giving up being Batman, and while that exploration is fascinating, the arc overall doesn’t completely coalesce even as King tries to tie together many threads of his run.
Collects Batman #75 – 85
Gotham is a changed animal – Joker and Riddler are the police officers on the beat, Hugo Strange is the commissioner, the city has a new Batman, one who favors guns and killing, and the new Robin is a super-strong female heroine.
When the villains take over Gotham it seems all hope is lost. Damian Wayne tries to rescue Alfred, but fails disastrously. And Bruce Wayne, the Batman is broken, and only Selina Kyle, his one true love can stitch him back together to rescue his city.
Even as King’s run was cut short, the endgame of this run is still an ambitious one, albeit exceedingly sudden, with a time jump that sidesteps explanation. There are plot points which honestly make no sense, like Bruce and Selina going on vacation for at least 30 % of the story, but then there is the artwork which is absolutely phenomenal, from Mikel Janin, Tony Daniel, and even John Romita Jr. delivering some explosive pages. However overall King wraps up his run a little too cleanly or neatly to be of satisfaction, and this proves that King is good in writing a finite issue of stories and not a longer run.
Collects Superman – Up in the Sky #1 – 6
A young girl Alice is captured by aliens, and the only one who can rescue her is Superman, who goes on an intergalactic adventure, facing off against a variety of colorful opponents, all the while battling an interesting philosophical dilemma – by devoting his time to saving one person, is he doing the right thing, or is he putting the Earth at risk by not being there?
Using the conceit of the twelve labors of Hercules, but reconstituted for Superman, King explores the basic tenet of heroism, and the aspirational quality of Superman. The art by Andy Kubert is bold, dynamic, and works in sync with the philosophical word balloons which King uses to explore the character makeup of the strongest being in the DC universe. While sometimes being overly serious in tone, Superman – Up in the Sky definitely ranks as one of the seminal Superman stories.
Collects Strange Adventures #1 – 12
Going back to his roots in the miniseries format, Tom King tells the story of Adam Strange, the classic sci-fi adventurer born on Earth and hero of the distant planet Rann, and famous throughout the galaxy for his honor and bravery. Adam and his wife Alanna have returned to Earth to retire, but his past decisions in the battle with Rann against the alien invaders Pykkts continue to haunt him, and when evidence produced starts to seed doubt amongst the people of Earth whether Adam Strange is truly a hero, it will take an investigation by Mister Terrific, the third smartest man on the planet, to finally clear his name.
King with his Mister Miracle collaborator Mitch Gerards and superstar artist Evan “Doc” Shaner craft a story which is compelling, and intriguing, peeling off layers from both the overarching mystery as well as the psyche of Adam Strange. Strange Adventures also stealth works a Mister Terrific book, giving the character a rich a spotlight he hasn’t received in years. The art as usual is terrific, Gerards scratchier pencils showcasing the down-beat noir-ish mood of the present timeline, while Shaner’s cleaner lines and colors accentuating a pulpier past; and it is fascinating when Shaner’s art slowly starts mirroring Gerards, as King slowly peels back the truth of the war and of its hero.
Collects Rorschach #1 – 12
35 years after Ozymandias dropped an intergalactic squid on New York killing millions of people, destroying the trust of heroes by the public, one figure becomes a divisive cultural movement. So when that cultural movement appears in the flesh, trench coat and mask on, as an assassin trying to kill a candidate running against President Redford, what does it mean? Who is the man and why is he dressed this way? It is up to one detective to find out, and it will take him down a rabbit hole of conspiracies involving drugs, aliens, visions and comic books.
King with collaborator Jorge Fornes crafts a moody noir piece which reads and looks like a paperback novel, with yellowed off pages. This is also King’s most political work yet, as he explores how media as well as voices of certain oratorical skills and charisma can bend or disillusion the world to take steps which they ordinarily wouldn’t. It also becomes King’s loving tribute to comics as a medium like his first novel “A Once Crowded Sky” was. While sequel-izing Watchmen still feels like cash grab, Rorschach comes out smelling far better than traditional cash grab and becomes something unique and different and yes, divisive.
Batman – Catwoman is King returning to his run of Batman and exploring the rocky saga of the romance between Batman and Catwoman across three timelines. Superstar artist Mikel Janin has the unenviable job of ensuring that readers keep up with the time jumps as the story introduces threads all over the place. This run also introduces the Phantasm in the mainstream continuity.