This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on June 12, 2015.
Orange Is The New Black returns to Netflix today for its third season. Even two years past its debut, the series seems like a surprising success based on the premise: A comedy set in a women’s prison centering on Piper Chapman, one unlucky yuppie. Yet Jenji Kohan’s sophomore effort as a showrunner (she also created Weeds) has stunned audiences with its subversive blend of laughs and character-driven drama. The show features an incredible ensemble cast that has only continued to evolve and expand over the past two seasons. Whatever the third season has in store, it’s bound to be good.
However, it’s important to take a break from Netflix’s binge watching format. There’s no way that 13 hours of non-stop television can be good for anyone’s brain. So why not head outside and enjoy some time in the sun with a good comic instead? Inspired by the return of Orange Is The New Black, here’s a list of five fantastic comics set in prisons. They couldn’t be more different in style, tone, and genre, but they’ll make for good company when you hit pause on Netflix this weekend.
1. Suicide Squad (vol. 1)
Written by John Ostrander and Kim Yale
Art by Luke McDonnell and Geof Isherwood
It would be criminally inappropriate to construct an incarceration-themed list of comics and not include the first volume of Suicide Squad. This is not only the best Suicide Squad series ever created, but one of the best series ever published by DC Comics. It’s still a titan amongst superhero comics – scratch that, no modifier is needed – all comics, and has gone on to inspire some of the best new writers and artists of the modern era. It also has a surprising amount in common withOrange Is The New Black.
The premises are vastly different, but what makes these stories tick is very similar. Suicide Squad, on its surface, is about a group of imprisoned supervillains given black ops missions to secure their release. The heart of the series is about a diverse cast of fully-formed characters who drive a wide-range of exciting, heart breaking, and often funny stories. It is a long-form narrative told exceedingly well in such a way that almost anyone can become invested in the story and truly love these fictional inmates. It’s an all-time great that has earned the title of a comics classic.
2. Bitch Planet
Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art by Valentine DeLandro
If Suicide Squad seems like a no-brainer for this list, then I’m not sure how to describe the obviousness of including Bitch Planet. This is a series that has grown on me considerably since its first issue. It takes place in a dystopian future where the patriarchy has grown so powerful that women can be sent to a prison planet for simply being “non-compliant”. There, on Bitch Planet, some of these fierce women are looking to win a televised contest and seize some power back from their captors.
It’s another comic defined by its rich cast of protagonists. Bitch Planet #3, the best issue of the series to date, focuses purely on the backstory of Penny Rolle. She’s beautifully realized in both text and art, further enriching the sci-fi, exploitation narrative. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine DeLandro have a lot to say, and the response to their ideas has been stunning. Fans have already begun to collect Non-Compliant tattoos. The best part is that it only appears to be getting better as it continues.
Written and Drawn by Zander Cannon
Kaijumax is another series that combines strange genre tropes with a keen political sensibility. Zander Cannon’s newest comic takes place on an island where the enormous monsters known as kaiju are imprisoned for simply being enormous monsters. His soft, warm style presents a very inviting facade and makes bombastic action sequences and wild character designs easily palatable. However, the story also serves as a parable about the corruption within and harm caused by the American prison-industrial complex.
It’s that same fusion of drama and comedy that makes Orange Is The New Black so subversive as well. Cannon is smart enough to balance telling a great story and mirroring intense, real world issues. It’s a tightrope act, but he walks it very well. The result is a refreshing comic that can be described as a lot of contradictory things, but works by simply being itself.
4. Daredevil, “The Devil, Inside and Out”
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Michael Lark
Daredevil may be Marvel Comics’ hottest superhero right now, but he’s no stranger to the inside of a jail cell. At the end of Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s esteemed run on the series, they left Matthew Murdock shot and under arrest with his identity exposed to the world. Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark picked up the pieces starting in prison. Considering the number of bad guys (super powered and otherwise) that Daredevil has put away, this story was very, very tense.
Both Brubaker and Lark are masters of crime fiction though (they also created Gotham Central along with Greg Rucka), and turned this jailhouse story into another classic Daredevil yarn. If you’re looking to check out more on this superhero after having seen his Netflix adaptation, this is a great place to start. It’s full of familiar characters and runs DD through the ringer at a relentless pace.
5. Criminal Special Edition
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips
It’s tough to talk about crime and punishment in comics without including Mr. Brubaker more than once. He’s mastered the genre and continues to put out some of the best comics around with his collaborator Sean Phillips. One of those comics is Criminal, and its most recent installment took place in prison. Criminal Special Edition keeps an eye on Teeg Lawless who has to survive a few weeks in lockup with a price on his head.
Like every story in this series, it reads just fine without a drop of context and comes with a unique twist. Here that twist comes in the form of Teeg’s barbarian comic book, which mirrors his own vicious path through the prison. If you’re looking for a darker prison story than Orange Is The New Black, one where the only comedy is black, then this will be right up your alley.
Bonus: Suicide Squad (vol. 1)
This may seem like a joke, but I’m including Suicide Squad again as a bonus only because it would have been strange to have it fill every slot on the list. It’s really that good. Ostrander and his team of creators helped create a DC Universe where characters like Amanda Waller and Oracle could not only exist, but thrive. They placed these powerful women in the driver’s seat and delivered 66 issues of greatness.
So when you take a break from Orange Is The New Black this weekend, consider checking out all of these series from your local comic shop or Comixology, but I’d recommend starting right here.
Are you excited for the new season of Orange Is The New Black? And what other incarceration-centric comics would you recommend while taking a break this weekend?