Brian K. Vaughan is easily one of the most celebrated comic book authors of all time. With titles like Paper Girls, Y: the Last Man, and Saga especially, the author has a number of solid works under his belt. However, Vaughan’s excellent storytelling isn’t the only thing that readers like about him. In virtually all of his works, Vaughan digs deep into many real-world themes, often using his characters and stories to look at society, or whatever other issues he feels like addressing.
Even though these heavy themes are common in his works though, Vaughan still manages to tell a great story in the process. To celebrate how truly talented he is, here is our list of the 10 most brilliant Brian K. Vaughan comics that prove he’s a genius.
One of the author’s more popular series is Runaways. Published under Marvel Comics, the series follows a group of young superpowered teens whose parents happen to be some of the worst supervillains in the universe. Not only did the comic series itself receive great praise, but it was popular enough to be adapted for live action several years later.
Centered around a teenaged cast, Vaughan successfully managed to capture not only a youthful voice but also distinct ones for each individual character. While the series itself isn’t full of the same deep and meaningful themes that are common in his other books, the fact that Vaughan can write these characters in this manner still proves his brilliance as a writer.
Hardcore Batman fans are familiar with the character Matches Malone. Serving as the criminal persona for Bruce Wayne, Matches’ reputation makes him one of the deadliest gang members in Gotham. Over the years, Bruce has used this alter ego as a means of gathering intel, infiltrating gangs, and so on.
Until Brian K. Vaughan came along though, no one knew exactly how Matches got his reputation in the first place. While this was a question many didn’t realize they needed to be answered, Vaughan does a truly fantastic job of working the backstory into the Batman mythos. Though it is not the best Batman story ever told, there is still a lot to appreciate about the story.
8 Swamp Thing
Many Swamp Thing fans were critical of Vaughan’s approach to the character. When the writer took over the title, he actually chose to focus more on Tefé Holland, Swamp Thing’s daughter. Most of the complaints were suggesting that the title character felt like a supporting character in his own series. However, Vaughan still chose to incorporate a lot of elements from older Swamp Thing stories.
In focusing on Tefé, Vaughan called back to certain pieces of Alan Moore’s run on the character and even Jamie Delano’s Hellblazer series. While it is understandable that a lack of Alec Holland would have some fans upset, Vaughan showed a great understanding of the character and his history in this series. Not only did he pull from obscure elements of the source material, but he was able to modernize them in an interesting way as well.
7 The Private Eye
Unlike the other series on this list, The Private Eye was published exclusively as a webcomic. Set in the not-so-far future, after “the cloud burst” everyone’s personal information has since become public knowledge. As a result of the massive leak, the internet is no longer a thing and people mask their true identities in public by wearing masks.
As the mystery of the series begins to unfold, readers are once again forced to take a look at modern society. Furthermore, seeing a future without the internet is a very unique and intriguing concept. For those who don’t mind reading electronic books, this is definitely one series that is worth checking out.
6 Pride of Baghdad
Published under DC’s Vertigo imprint, Pride of Baghdad is one of the author’s lesser-known stories. Based on a true story as well, Pride of Baghdad is easily one of the more politically-heavy stories that Vaughan has to offer.
When the U.S. invaded Baghdad in 2003, four lions managed to escape from a zoo there. Vaughan’s story follows these animals as they share a newfound freedom. However, as the animals come to wander the streets of Baghdad, each of them comes to possess a different view on the Iraq war. Similarly to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Pride of Baghdad does a fantastic job of using animals to draw out notes in human politics and practices. Though it is arguably not the author’s best story, Vaughan’s brilliance still shines through.
5 We Stand On Guard
Though We Stand On Guard isn’t the author’s most widely known work, it’s still a fantastically written story, full of brilliance and all sorts of themes. Set in a future in which the United States begins to invade Canada, We Stand On Guard follows a small band of Canadian heroes as they fight to defend their home.
Not only does the series feature great art from Steve Skroce, but it also features a lot of great political commentary. With the book releasing during 2015, Vaughan definitely hits on a lot of relevant points. Even without the commentary and other themes though, We Stand On Guard is still a great read. However, its brilliance comes from the parallels that Vaughan draws to today’s society.
4 Paper Girls
The recently-concluded Paper Girls was one of the highest-rated Image titles in recent years. Though it is often described as a “female Stranger Things,” there are still plenty of things that set the story apart and make it great in its own way.
With a much heavier sci-fi element than the Netflix series, Paper Girls builds a fantastic world involving monsters and time travel. Furthermore, Vaughan proves once again that he can still capture youthful voices, as almost every cast member is very believable. With great art from Cliff Chang as well, Paper Girls is easily one of the author’s most brilliant series.
3 Ex Machina
Ex Machina is centered around Mitchell Hundred, a character formerly known as the hero, The Great Machine. With tech-based superpowers, the hero has put aside his costume with hopes of becoming Mayor of New York City. Thanks to Mitchell’s actions on 9/11 however, he proves to be a very popular candidate.
What makes Ex Machina so great is that it is a truly fantastic representation of a post 9/11 society. With all new attitudes towards art, politics, and good and evil, Mitchell’s journey in both the past and the present raise a lot of good questions about how attitudes have since shifted. While Ex Machina isn’t the author’s most popular series, it is easily one of the best that he has yet to put out.
2 Y: The Last Man
After everything on the planet with a Y chromosome suddenly drops dead, Yorick Brown and his pet monkey, Ampersand, find themselves as the only males left alive on the planet. Suddenly thrust into the apocalypse, the duo must do what they can to survive in a world filled with just women.
While the premise is certainly very interesting, Y: The Last Man does a lot to look at and analyze various gender roles. Seeing how some women react to the event is very interesting and provides an interesting look at the role they play in modern society. Likewise, the absence of men in this story also successfully draws attention to their roles. While the book also does a great job of letting readers form their own opinions, it is easily one of the most brilliant things Vaughan has yet to write.
Saga is brilliant not only in the way that it is written, but in its themes as well. Following a family who is caught in a never ending war, Saga somehow manages to combine elements of virtually every genre imaginable. With a perfect balance of sci-fi, fantasy, western, horror, thriller, adventure, etc, Saga is wonderfully weird with a little something for everyone to enjoy.
Going beyond the structure of the story though, Saga is packed full of various themes that are anti-war, in support of family and kindness, against racism, and many more. Because of this, it is really easy to see why a story like this could fall apart, simply because it is too packed. However, Brian K. Vaughan somehow found a way to make everything work within the wonderful world he has created. Because of the brilliant nature of Saga alone, it is easy to see why the series has received such high praise.
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