Must Have: Dungeons & Dragons

Introduction

Dungeons & Dragons (or D&D) is a game powered by imagination. It allows a group of friends
to enter a fantasy world controlled by a Dungeon Master and interact with this world through
characters born from imagination. They fight monsters, save villages, and make life-changing
(or life-ending) choices based on dice rolls. Any fantasy archetype is available for players, from
the stalwart fighter to the cunning rogue, from a monk who throws hands to a wizard who throws
fireballs. Those who grew up playing D&D currently have a lot to celebrate as their hobby has
now firmly entrenched itself into the cultural zeitgeist, thanks to YouTube shows like Critical
Role that demonstrates how the game is played and how much fun it is to play with friends. The
game’s popularity means that media like graphic novels are bound to be influenced by the game
and its fantasy world.

Critical Role: The Chronicles of Exandria The Mighty Nein.

Critical Role

Season two of Critical Role features a whole new group of adventurers calling themselves the Mighty Nein, which are featured in Critical Role: The Chronicles of Exandria The Mighty Nein. This group includes a human wizard and goblin rogue who partnered together to perform cons as well as a tiefling cleric with a devilish appearance and a half-orc warlock who serves an ancient sea creature. They travel the high seas smiting sea monsters and avoiding death. Their individual stories are divided up into different books like Critical Role: Origins–Mollymauk Tealeaf written by Jody Houser and Critical Role: Origins–Jester Lavorre written by Sam Maggs.

Appeals to

Older teens/adults who are fans of Critical Role and D&D

Content Notes

Here is the link for the first book:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_Role_(campaign_one)

Critical Role: Vox Machina Origins Library Edition: Series I & II Collection

Matthew Colville

Olivia Samson

A name that is quite synonymous with D&D is “Critical Role.” This YouTube series went from a group of voice actors showing off their D&D game to becoming a phenomenon that has spawned books based on the group’s characters and the world they inhabit. Season 1 of the series features the adventuring group Vox Machina, who even have their own animated show on Amazon Prime. Graphic novels retelling their adventures include Critical Role: Vox Machina Origins Library Edition: Series I & II Collection. This group runs the gamut of archetypes and characters familiar to anyone who’s played D&D, from a massive ax-wielding barbarian to a promiscuous gnome bard. This unlikely group of heroes must save their world from eldritch gods and terrifying dragons.

Appeals to

Older teens and adults who are fans of Critical Role and D&D

Delicious in Dungeon

Ryoko Kui

Those who like low-stakes, low-stress fantasy adventures while also loving food, should get a taste of Delicious in Dungeon, Vol. 1, a manga written and illustrated by Ryōko Ku. In this world, the fantasy monsters are not only dangerous, but they’re delicious if prepared the right way. Laios and his company are having a tough dungeon crawl. A member of their party has been captured and they are running low on provisions. Luckily, there are plenty of monsters that turn out quite edible. Mixing the fun of D&D and cooking, Delicious in Dungeon is a light-hearted but stomach-filling adventure.

Appeals to

Teen readers who love cooking, manga, and D&D (not necessarily in that order)

Content Notes

Translator's name is Taylor Engel

Creator Identities:

Japanese |

DIE

Kieron Gillen

Stephanie Hans

Die by Kieron Gillen, author of The Wicked + The Divine series, is a more serious dark fantasy story for adults. The story follows seven friends who many years ago played a magical roleplaying game and barely escaped it with their lives. Now that they are adults who are barely surviving their mundane jobs and distant children. Soon, they are all once again pulled into that world and must defeat it once and for all. There are some unique reimaginings of D&D tropes, such as a paladin/knight who uses sadness to power up his attacks and a cleric who bargains with various gods rather than just worship one, and the fantasy world is a combination of science and sorcery. It’s also interesting to see these former friends with their cynical adult sensibilities coming to terms with their very real effects on this world.

Appeals to

For adult fans of D&D but who might not be fans of adulting.

Main Character Identities:

Gender Nonconforming |

Dungeon Critters

Natalie Reiss

However, there are plenty of D&D-like stories that have a lot of fun with their tropes, even taking them into unsuspecting and adorable places. A great adventure for middle-grade readers, Natalie Riess and Sara Goetter’s Dungeon Critters finds a squad of anthropomorphic animal adventurers fighting fantastic monsters with swords, magic, and heart. These critters follow all the archetypes of wizard, rogue, and barbarian, but they are quick with the one-liners and they even proclaim that the true magic is friendship. Plus, the simple animation style helps add to the childlike appeal of this book, making it perfect for middle-grade readers wanting to dip a toe into the sometimes intimidating world of D&D.

Appeals to

Middle graders who are interested in D&D and any fans of cute animated critters.

Creator Identities:

Lesbian |

Main Character Identities:

Gender Nonconforming |

Dungeons & Dragons: Evil At Baldur's Gate

Jim Zub

Apart from Critical Role, Wizards of the Coasts (the owners of D&D) have licensed the game to publisher IDW for stories that tell different types of fantasy worlds. One of the most popular worlds is the Forgotten Realms, which was featured in the movie Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves and features a great deal of high fantasy. Dungeons & Dragons: Evil at Baldur’s Gate, written by Jim Zub, takes place in that world which has a group of adventurers trying to navigate a port town full of intrigue and monsters. Like many stories that have an ensemble cast of eclectic characters, there is one standout for their comedic relief: the physically powerful yet eternally naive ranger Minsc. Whether it’s his earnest yet confusing proclamations or his conversations with his hamster Boo (who he claims is a space hamster), Minsch’s antics are a great reminder of D&D games where the participants come together to battle monsters and have fun.

Appeals to

Younger teens who love D&D (and possible space hamsters)

Must Have: Shazam

Introduction

When young orphan Billy Batson says the magic word, a bolt of magical lightning comes from the sky and transforms Billy into Shazam, the World’s Mightiest Mortal, an adult-looking, Superman-like hero that has at his disposal abilities like the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, etc. Billy Batson/Shazam looks like he’s cut from the same archetype as Superman, but his purview is the magical threats within the DC universe. He is also perhaps the most misunderstood. Though he has been portrayed as old-fashioned and hopelessly naive, even his nemesis Dr. Sivana refers to him as “The Big Red Cheese,” this is because he is a child in an adult body, which happens to be a popular power fantasy among children who have very little autonomy. Approaching the world with a childlike earnestness, Shazam also operates in a world where magic is real and dangerous, meaning there are plenty of opportunities for fantastical whimsy that’s perfect for kids of all ages. Librarians with fantasy fans and superhero readers will find plenty to love about the World’s Mightiest Mortal (or the Big Red Cheese).

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!: Family Affair

Mike Kunkel

At least a spiritual successor to Jeff Smith’s take on Shazam, this all-ages comic doubles down on the whimsical fantasy, thanks mostly to the artwork and the subject matter. Billy is still an adult when transformed, while Mary transforms into the same girl whose superspeed reflects her own boundless energy. Even antihero Black Adam is portrayed as a boy Billy’s age until he discovers the secret word and then becomes his archenemy.

Appeals to

Librarians (and readers) looking for an all-ages book, fans of sibling dynamics.

Shazam and the Seven Magic Lands

Geoff Johns

Dale Eaglesham

A continuation of Geoff Johns’s story, this book finds Shazam and his foster siblings fighting crime while keeping their superheroic activities a secret. Then the kids discover a train car that takes them to the aforementioned magical lands where they encounter everything from talking tigers to tin men. This also leaves their world at the mercy of villains like Dr. Sivana and Mr. Mind. Johns both creates a fun story with high stakes and expands the Shazam universe.

Appeals to

Fans of the movie and of Geoff Johns’s take on Shazam.

Shazam: A Celebration of 75 Years

Bill Parker

C. C. Beck

One jam-packed book that introduces every era of Shazam, from his days at Fawcett to his current movie starring Zach Levi. A collection of some of his best-known stories, this volume has everyone from the Shazam/Marvel family to antihero Black Adam. And at a price point of about $35 dollars (depending on where your library buys graphic novels), it won’t break the budget.

Appeals to

Those who want an overall introduction to Captain Marvel/Shazam, librarians who want to save money.

Shazam!: Origins

Geoff Johns

Gary Frank

The origin story that inspired the movie. Writer Geoff Johns, responsible for most of the current DC Universe, imagines Billy Batson as a brash teenager who still has a good heart, which is why he’s chosen to be the wizard Shazam’s champion. Of course, as he discovers his powers, he also uses the fact that he looks like an adult to buy beer while also doing good deeds. This story also introduces a different kind of Shazam family, featuring sidekick Freddy Freeman and older sister/voice of reason Mary Marvel.

Appeals to

Teens who love magic and protagonists who aren’t squeaky clean.

Content Notes

Appears in the final part of Shazam!: A Celebration of 75 Years. Also reprinted as Shazam!: Vol. 1 (The New 52).

Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil

Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith, writer of Bone, offers a retelling of Billy Batson becoming the champion of magic. This series is notable because it presents Billy Batson and Shazam as two distinct personalities who switch places when one utters the magic word. It also offers some charming dynamics between Billy and Shazam, as well as Billy and his younger superpowered sister Mary, while also offering some retro thrills that might remind readers of rollicking adventure comics like The Adventures of Tin-Tin and The Rocketeer.

Appeals to

Kids (and adults) who like adventure comics, superhero comics, and Jeff Smith

Content Notes

Issue #2 is contained in Shazam!: A Celebration of 75 Years

Superman/Shazam!: First Thunder

Judd Winick

Joshua Middleton

Judd Winick, writer of Batman: Under the Red Hood and Hilo, tells the story of the first meeting between the World’s Mightiest Mortal and the Man of Steel. This book features the oft-repeated ritual of two heroes bonding over battling giant monsters and maniacal supervillains, but Winick, who also wrote the powerful biographical book Pedro and Me, knows how to give the reader an emotional gut punch that makes the meeting between these two heroes all the more sincere.

Appeals to

Fans of Superman, Shazam, and of comic team-ups in general. Fans of emotional depth in superhero stories.

These titles showcase Shazam’s appeal across different age groups while also keeping the basics of the character intact. Readers might see a lot of themselves in Billy Batson, and they should feel the tiniest bit of electricity when he says his magic word.