With the unprecedented success of films such as The Dark Night and Iron Man this summer, it isn’t surprising to find a resurgence of popularity in the culture of comic books. Of particular importance to UVU students is the news that this fall the English department is offering Themes in Literature: The Graphic Novel — no doubt a pleasant surprise to many.

Apparently, even institutions of higher education are coming around to the fact that the comic book medium can be as rich and deep as cinema and, at times, reach creative heights that force even its staunchest critics to call it literature.

But how exactly does the inquisitive comic book newcomer go about picking out their first graphic novel? You want to learn more about this Joker character, but there are thousands of comics to pick from, and it can be a daunting task. Where do you start?

Never fear, dear reader. Itemized below is a small list of must read essentials in the world of graphic novels. As a favor to you, nearly all these titles are available at the local Barnes and Noble or Borders, helping you avoid a need for that awkward first trip to the comic book store.

Batman: The Killing Joke — If you, like most of the world, loved The Dark Knight, then this is a great graphic novel to start with. Arguably the best Joker story ever told, it is dark, violent, scary and brilliant. The best part? It requires very little knowledge of the characters or their history. If you’ve seen the movie, you already know enough to enjoy this comic.

The Ultimates, Volume 1 and 2 — A couple of years ago, Marvel Comics finally reached the brilliant conclusion that not everyone has been reading comic books for fifty years. In order to cater to a new generation of comic book fans they launched the Ultimate Universe, an entirely new saga populated with updated versions of classic characters. The Ultimates was one of the flagship titles, and it featured some of Marvels biggest characters. Captain America, the Hulk, Iron Man and Thor all make a debut in this book that reads, more than anything, like a summer blockbuster with brains. Again, no prior knowledge of the characters or their world is required and, as such, this piece comes highly recommended for comic book newbies.

Criminal — If superheroes are not your thing, then check out Ed Brubaker’s excellent crime saga Criminal. The story follows less than likable characters doing less than likeable things, yet you cannot seem to put it down. If you enjoyed The Departed or Sopranos then give this one a try.

Astonishing X-Men — Written by Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Serenity, among other things, this is the X-Men at their most accessible. Joss crafts a widescreen, action-packed tale that is filled with high stakes and brilliant one-liners. Not only is it tons of fun, but the artwork is some of the industry’s best.

Watchmen — Ask any comic book fan to list their favorite graphic novels and chances are this book will end up somewhere near the top. Watchmen is not only startling and complex, it also plays with its readers’ emotions in a way most filmmakers and novelists only dream of. It is probably fair to call it the Citizen Kane of graphic novels.