Tom King has distinguished himself over the past decade as one of the finest literary minds in the comic book world, creating stories for DC, Marvel, and Vertigo that have quickly garnered the attention of fans and critics alike. His work is characterized by a concern for philosophy, theology, the social impact of violence, and the ethical implications of war (both human and superheroic).

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King is known for his use of uniform and very standard panel layouts (most often the nine panel grid), his extensive use of captions and quotes from various sources in comics, academia, and literature, and his title cards of signature: often taking the form of simple black panels naturally sandwiched in the grid. His maxi-series, short stories, and ongoing series have earned him numerous Eisner Award nominations and awards, but among his many acclaimed works, there are a few that truly distinguish his place among contemporary comics.

7 Swamp Thing: The Talk of the Saints

Swamp Thing carrying an unconscious body in the middle of a snowstorm.

Marking one of King’s only collaborations with popular DC artist Jason Fabok, The talk of the saints is a warm tribute to Swamp Thing co-creators Len Wein and Berni Wrightson, re-exploring the debate that has been at the character’s heart for decades: what makes a monster? The story is as slow and methodical as its protagonist’s speech, with several multi-page sequences of faint natural progressions unfolding like watching a time lapse of a flower bud unfolding.

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King’s penchant for philosophizing shines through in a dimmer way than in some of his other works, but is nonetheless quite explicit when considering whether actions or nature make a monster, and what it means to take responsibility for that.

6 The unjust judge

Comic panel showing Batman without a mask talking to a dying priest

A contribution to DC’s resurgence of the Batman: black and white anthology, The unjust judge tells the story of Batman who tried and failed to save a priest trapped inside a burning church on the brink of collapse. King opens the story in classic style with a wonderful caption, this time from the King James Bible, placed over Mitch Gerad’s heartbreaking and sparking images of the collapsing church steeple, consumed by flames.

This pattern of theologically sourced material printed on brutally poignant and harsh imagery continues throughout the short story, first in the form of the priest singing a hymn, and finally in an explanation of the parable that began the text. Gerad’s inking and shading elevates black and white compositions to the heights of rarely seen comic book art and offers the seriousness and dignity needed to support King’s intoxicating text, a combination that places this work of short fiction among some of the best.

5 Heroes in crisis

Tom King's Heroes in Crisis cover showing members of the DC universe with grim expressions

After experiencing a panic attack and subsequent hospitalization in 2016, followed by the death on the same day of his grandmother who raised him, Tom King decided to seek the care of a therapeutic counselor. Inspired by the process and what had happened, King conceptualized a story that would allow superheroes to address the long-term mental health ramifications of continually being exposed to horrific violence and traumatic incidents.

In this way “El Santuario” and Heroes in crisis was born, a book that not only provided King a platform to explore these often unexplored territories of superhero psychology, but also a space to commemorate his grandmother through graphic tributes and graceful, quiet moments of remembrance by the heroes (chief of these being Wally West’s poetry recital in a field of flowers in the opening of issue 7). Although besieged by the opinions and interference of DC superiors, Heroes in crisis manages to deliver a massive crossover event that remains as incredibly intimate as any of King’s lower-profile work – revealing poignant, heartbreaking and poetic moments of vulnerability with many characters who, perhaps, have never been allowed to be before.

4 Strange adventures

Adam Strange holding a missile and denying his guilt.

In collaboration with his longtime partner, Mitch Gerads, and recruiting renowned artist Evan Shaner, King elaborates a story told in parallel, alternating between apocryphal visions of an alien war previously fought by the main character on the planet Rann and the present Strange ground investigation. for his conduct in that war. As a spiritual successor to his tremendously successful Mr miracle, Strange adventures depicts King returning to tilled soil that has previously yielded astonishing harvests (namely multiple Eisner Awards), reimagining a classic Silver Age character in a 12-issue maxiseries and transposing his narrative to contemporary socio-political themes.

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Significantly less nervous and experimental than its predecessor, Strange adventures shows a King who has already proven his worth in the world of the avant-garde, now telling an overwhelming saga in a more traditional narrative format and in accordance with highly cinematic principles.

3 The vision

The vision follows the lives of Vision and his synthetic wife and children, trying to settle down and live a seemingly normal human life, a goal to achieve this that is constantly beset by tragedies caused by the metaphysical friction of created and artificial beings desperately trying to adopt the idiosyncrasies of human psychology.

One of King’s most verbose titles, The vision at times he borders on the self-indulgent with his lengthy academic dialogues, but nonetheless creates a dazzling view of the human condition refracted through the unfamiliar lens of an android philosophy.

two The Sheriff of Babylon

A group of soldiers standing together.

One of the only projects owned by King and his first collaboration with quintessential draftsman / inker / colorist Mitch Gerads, The Sheriff of Babylon follows former cop, current military contractor Christopher Henry, on a quest to uncover the parties responsible for the murder of one of his recruits. Based largely on King’s own experiences in Iraq with the CIA, Babylon distills a personal and terrifying image of military life in Bagdhad during the early 21st century, brought to life by Gerads’ heartbreaking and beautifully stylized works of art.

Sheriff of Babylon Significantly it also features some of King’s early experiments with quasi-diegetic inserts, taking the form of intermittent darkened panels with “Bang”. written on them, a device that would find maximum fulfillment in the iconic “Darkseid is”. panels of Mr miracle.

1 Mr miracle

Mr miracle is one of the most ambitious comics of the last decades, not only because of its scope, but because of daring to revisit, repurpose and revise the masterpiece of comic legend Jack Kirby.New gods–And use it as the basis for a deconstructionist comics masterclass. Drawing inspiration from the strongly theologically inspired tales originally told by Kirby in the mid-1970s after his departure from Marvel comics and his collaborator Stan Lee amid unfriendly circumstances, Mr miracle honors and exceeds the legacy of its source material by taking on the mantle of philosophical concerns that Kirby first hinted at and placing them center stage.

Tom King and Mitch Gerads set the gold standard for the medium in this book, employing an innovative and unheard of amalgamation of comic book stylistic and structural devices alongside brilliant content: non-diegetic inserts, parallel narratives, reuse of direct quotes from the comics. Kirby’s originals, the cartoon, the exposition of Descartian metaphysics, the graphic overlays / distortions used as motifs, etc.

Directing a harsh and critical look at sensitive and important issues such as media culture, suicide, modern parenting, mental health, the proper disposition of the comic book industry, the nature of God, and the role of fiction in fiction. society, Mr miracle It represents the best that comics can be and the crown jewel of King’s laurel-laden career. Hailed as an “all-time classic in the making”, Mr miracle will undoubtedly go down in comic history along with such imposing works as Watchmen, The Sandman, Preacher, Y The Dark Knight Returns as one of the best examples of comic book literature ever produced.

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