The existence of John Wick is strong evidence that the universe is good. The continuation of the revenge-thriller starring Keanu Reeves into a trilogy this week, with the possibility of more installments to come, is about as close as we will come to proof. This franchise managed to smash the stranglehold of superhero movies and remakes, promising a pure shot of film-based adrenaline every few years. The biggest struggle after the release of John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum this week will be figuring out what to do in the meanwhile as a new script is written and Reeves heads out to film another Bill and Ted adventure.
Don’t fear though. The revenge genre might never have felt more glorious than it does right now, but many of its best stories ever told have been unfolding in a much smaller medium across the decades: comics. As much as we love John Wick, these classics and modern hits in comics have been delivering some of the most compelling, violent, and exhilarating revenge stories ever told. So don’t fear after you leave the theater. Instead, head to your local comic book store for another dose of top-notch genre greatness.
Written by Kazuo Koike
Art by Goseki Kojima
There’s no sense in being coy; Lone Wolf and Cub is the GOAT when it comes to revenge comics. This sprawling historical epic follows Ogami Ittō, the shōgun’s executioner who loses everything due to betrayal and takes his son on a quest to avenge his wife and their family name. Each volume of the series builds upon the story’s larger purpose while exploring feudal Japan with bloodshed around every corner. While its overall size might be daunting, each new tale sucks readers in with dark characters, twisted plots, and lots of deadly devices. Lone Wolf and Cub isn’t just one of the best revenge comics ever produced, it’s one of the best comics ever produced. Period.
Created by Darwyn Cooke
Darwyn Cooke has been gone for three years, but his incredible output of work remains as relevant as ever. While many know Cooke for his superhero stories, his adaptations of Richard Stark’s crime novels are every bit as good. The Hunter is the very first in a total of four that Cooke produced, and it’s a story steeped in bloody revenge as Parker hunts down the man who double-crossed him after a heist, taking his loot and girl. Parker isn’t a typical hero and doesn’t mind doing dirty work, making this a viscerally thrilling ride to vengeance that doesn’t resemble justice.
Created by Michel Fiffe
COPRA began as an homage to the classic Suicide Squad series written by John Ostrander and Kim Yale, but its creator, Michel Fiffe, has always defined it as a revenge comic first and a superhero comic second. That’s because this series uses technology and powers as a means to an end, and that end is always bloody. It is a character study devoted to people who have been hurt terribly and refuse to walk quietly away from the world that did it. With a massive assemblage of characters, the series continues to tour around the world (and some other worlds) while following each individual arc to its own terrifying conclusion in an idiosyncratic fashion.
Created by Frank Miller
The very first installment in Sin City may still be the best. Frank Miller’s introduction of his absurdly hard-boiled world followed a narrative that was as to the point as all of the dialogue around it. A man loses a woman and kills everyone who might have hurt her. It’s a straightforward revenge plot bound up in Miller’s grimy, detailed illustrations that make every new infliction of pain stand out. It’s dark and ugly and utterly irresistible, barreling forward to an ending that’s still perfectly bittersweet, even almost 30 years after it was released.
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Jason Latour
This series might have fallen far off schedule, but its opening story remains an absolute stunner and the following issues maintain the promise (if not the timeliness). It’s a rugged tale steeped in southern lore as one man with a big stick tries to make a change. What begins as a singular story of revenge becomes a generational one as old grudges are passed along, leading inevitably to new violence. As the cast of characters continues to expand, the possible outcomes only grow deadlier. It would make you want to look away if every bit of deep-fried violence wasn’t so perfectly depicted by Jason Latour.
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso
The premise for 100 Bullets remains one of the truly perfect things to emerge from Vertigo Comics over 25 years. A man gives you a case with a handgun, 100 bullets, proof of who wronged you, and immunity for any crimes committed with that same case. It’s simplicity is a beautiful recipe for stories of heartache and destruction as individuals from across the United States struggle with how they should respond to being hurt. The series captures dozens of incredible stories of revenge, slowly building a much larger conspiracy, but never forgetting the dark promise at its core.
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips
Not all of the stories in Brubaker and Phillips’ anthology series focus on revenge, but it’s a common theme given the hard-boiled nature of their stories. “Coward” is a perfect example as the story’s final act centers on righting wrongs that cannot be righted. As the incredibly flawed characters in Criminal lose their fortunes and loved ones, revenge is often one of the few motives they have left and they rarely hesitate in taking it. Criminal is back on a monthly schedule and promises lots of great new revenge comics to accompany an already sizable collection.
Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Goran Parlov, Leandro Fernandez, and others
Talking about revenge in comics without mentioning Frank Castle would be an oversight to say the very least. He’s one of the most popular characters at Marvel Comics whose entire career is based on avenging the loss of his family. No Punisher series has better captured the terrible violence and cost of revenge than the MAX line written by Garth Ennis. In this extensive run, Frank is shown to be a hollow man driven solely by hatred, as much a force of nature as a human being. Stories like “The Slavers” allow readers to enjoy a good revenge tale without ever coming to admire the monster who slaughters those who would harm the innocent.