DC Comics has always been one of the frontrunners when it comes to superhero comics, being the birthplace of characters such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and many more. And over the last few years, the company has released some of the most groundbreaking and talked about events and storylines that shook things up and changed the way we looked at these characters. Here’s the list of the top ten storylines and events of DC Comics that may be the greatest the company has put out and may be required reading for any comic book fan.
10) The New 52: In 2011, DC Comics announced what had to be their boldest move yet. Following the reality-altering storyline “Flashpoint” – in which the Flash had to restore reality after waking in a world where his mother was alive, but other events were completely twisted because of it – the company was going to completely reboot not only the DC Universe, but also their titles. Every book under the DC banner was restarted with all new #1 issues, even long-running titles such as Action Comics and Detective Comics. The result was a new, modern DC Universe, with characters being redesigned in all new, realistic-looking costumes, some getting all new origins and living in a world where costumed heroes were relatively new and not really trusted by the public.
“The New 52″ has met with mixed reviews with fans and critics. On one hand, it has provided some incredible storylines, such as the recent Batman tale, “The Court of Owls”, and an action-packed origin story in the new Justice League title. On the other hand, it has received criticism for its lack of female creators and exploitive treatment of female characters such as Voodoo, Catwoman and Starfire. Even the return of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl has met some criticism, the character recovering from her crippling injuries in Batman: The Killing Joke (it was now a “temporary injury”) to return to action. Still, the books are selling, and with upcoming storylines such the return of the Joker in his most twisted incarnation yet, it looks like the New 52 is showing no signs of slowing down.
9) The New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (1984, Tales of the Teen Titans #42-44, Teen Titans Annual #3):Terra was a member of the Teen Titans, and good friends with them all, in particular Changeling (Beast Boy at the time). But what none of them knew was that, from the start, Terra was a spy, working with their enemy, Deathstroke the Terminator. After gathering the information to capture them, the two made their move and Terra’s true nature was revealed to her shocked teammates. But new member Jericho (Deathstroke’s own son) used his powers to possess his father and make it look like he’d betrayed Terra, the unstable girl went mad and died in an attempt to destroy all her enemies. Despite it all, Terra was given a memorial in Titans Tower, but the events still hit the team hard.
Terra’s betrayal was a shock to both her teammates in the Teen Titans and to readers. When she first appeared, she was a cute and loveable girl who was a good friend and possible love interest for Garfield Logan, aka Changeling. But when it was revealed that she was not only working for Deathstroke, but also having an affair with him, readers were no doubt surprised. Especially after seeing the seemingly “good girl” smoking cigarettes and dressed like a slut! The storyline remains possibly notable of the Teen Titan books, especially since it was here that Dick Grayson made his debut as Nightwing.
8) Jack Kirby’s Fourth World (1970-1973): After leaving Marvel Comics, legendary artist Jack Kirby turned to rival DC Comics with an idea for a series of books featuring new characters that told a single storyline through a metaseries of interconnected books. Introduced in the pages of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, the “Fourth World” continued in the new titles The Forever People, Mister Miracle and The New Gods and told the story of the battle of good and evil as represented by the planets New Genesis and Apokolips. It introduced Darkseid, the evil lord of Apokolips who sought the Anti-Life Equation that would give him control over all life, as well as Orion, his son raised on New Genesis who now opposed him, the ultimate escape artist Mister Miracle, the adventuring youngsters the Forever People and more. After the books were cancelled, the characters were integrated into the DC Universe, with Darkseid soon becoming one of its greatest and most notable villains.
Jack Kirby created the “Fourth World” as a way of dealing with the breakdown of the newsstand as a distribution system for comics, envisioning a finite series that could be serialized and collected in a single tome after its conclusion. While it didn’t seem to go as well as he imagined, he still did what he was best known for: creating memorable characters that became mainstays in the DC Universe. Though the Fourth World was brought to an end during the Death of the New Gods mini-series and Final Crisis, the characters were brought back for the “New 52″ reboot, with Darkseid and his minions playing a major role in the rise of the superheroes.
7) Identity Crisis (2004): When Sue Dibny, the wife of the Elongated Man, was brutally murdered in their apartment, it hit the heroes of the DC Universe hard. Not only did they have to scramble to find the killer, but they also had to worry for and protect their own loved ones, who could also be targets. But the hunt for the culprit would reveal a dark secret from the past of the Justice League, one that showed how far they would be willing to go to protect their secrets.
Written by mystery writer Brad Meltzer, Identity Crisis was an engaging storyline that shocked and divided fans with its content, particularly how it explained the reason why certain villains (such as Dr. Light) acted during much of their appearances. But it stuck to its main focus, that being the importance of a secret identity for a superhero and how it not only allowed for them to have private lives, but also protect the ones they cared about from villains who wouldn’t hesitate to strike at them as a means of revenge.
6) 52 (2006-2007): After the events of Infinite Crisis, DC jumped ahead “One Year Later” to continue their titles. But what happened during that missing year? 52 answered that question, a year-long event in which issues were released weekly. And a lot happened during that year. Booster Gold, while dealing with his waning popularity and the appearance of new hero Supernova, tries to figure out why history seems changed and what his connection to it is. Ralph Dibny encounters a cult that wants to revive his dead wife as a test to do the same for the fallen Superboy, then seems to go on a journey with the helmet of Dr. Fate. Lex Luthor launches his “Everyman Project”, which gives superpowers to average citizens and causes a wave of wannabe heroes. Black Adam finds his own “family” in the form of Isis and her brother Osiris, but soon loses it all thanks to the machinations of the government and goes on a rampage. Fallen Gotham City detective Renee Montoya teams with the Question and Batwoman to stop Intergang and its new religion of crime based on the Crime Bible, then goes on a quest with the dying Question. It all leads to a number of major battles and the revelation of the restoration of DC’s multiverse, consisting of 52 parallel worlds.
52 was impressive on many levels. It was the equivalent of a TV series such as Lost, sporting many writers such as Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka and Mark Waid to tell multiple storylines, and artist Keith Giffen providing layouts for the other artists to follow. But its boldest move was its weekly publishing format, something that is rarely ever done in comics (the last time DC had done so was the short-lived anthology Action Comics Weekly in 1988 to 1989). The company did it again with the follow-up, Countdown to Final Crisis, but 52 was still a rather bold and revolutionary series.
5) Kingdom Come (1996): In this four-issue mini-series written by Mark Waid and painted by Alex Ross, the traditional heroes have more or less retired, allowing for a new generation of heroes who are violently aggressive in their battles against criminals. When the Midwest is destroyed in a nuclear explosion during one such battle, Superman comes of retirement to lead the more “traditional” heroes to rein in the new breed, while the “Human Liberation Front”, lead by Lex Luthor, has their own plans to deal with the heroes. All the while, the events are observed by minister Norman McCay, who is joined by the Spectre and has foreseen a possible apocalyptic battle between superheroes.
This “Elseworlds” tale has been noted not only for its engaging storyline, but also (and mainly) for its art. Alex Ross’ photo-realistic art showed a future for the DC universe that was visually striking, but also presented old characters in new ways as well as a number of new characters who were memorable, no matter how brief they appeared. Not to mention all the little nods to various pop culture Ross threw in for good measure. It all makes Kingdom Come one of DC’s most popular stories, even now after more than a decade after its release.
4) Batman: A Death in the Family (Batman #426-429, 1988-1989): Jason Todd, the second Robin, was impatient and aggressive, and not a fan favorite. After walking through his old neighborhood and finding some of his father’s old things, he and Bruce Wayne embark on a quest to find his mother. They find her in Ethiopia, but also find the Joker on his latest scheme, who then beats Jason with a crowbar and finishes him off with a bomb. Batman could do nothing but watch as he suffered his first major casualty in his war on crime, and would head down a dark path until the arrival of the third Robin, Tim Drake.
A Death in the Family not only was a way to have an impact on Batman, but also for a way for fans to really make their voice heard in the days before the internet. When the story was being done, DC gave readers the opportunity to decide Jason Todd’s fate, allowing for a vote via 800 number over the phone. Given Jason’s unpopularity, it was probably no surprise that it was a landslide vote for him to die. And while the character was recently revived thanks to the events of Infinite Crisis, this remains one of the most popular storylines of Batman’s history.
3) Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986): In a dystopian near-future, Bruce Wayne has been retired as Batman for nearly a decade, and crime has once again run amok in Gotham City. Events soon force Wayne to become Batman once again, joined by a new Robin, a young girl named Carrie Kelley, to take down both new foes such as the gang known as the Mutants, and his old nemesis the Joker for one last battle. But with superheroes forced out of existence by the government and the new Gotham Police not wanting Batman’s help, it all leads to a showdown with the only superhero still active: the now government serving Superman.
Up until this mini-series, most people’s vision of Batman was that of the light-hearted ‘60s TV show starring Adam West. Frank Miller, who wrote and illustrated the story, changed all that, returning Batman properly to his darker roots and even ushering in the “grim and gritty” era of the late ‘80s and ‘90s. And its pretty much a given that it was thanks to this story that we were given the hit Tim Burton film, as well as paved the way for Miller to write the hit “Batman: Year One” storyline that modernized the Dark Knight’s origins and early years following the reality-altering Crisis on Infinite Earths.
2) Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985-1986): The Multiverse was in trouble. The evil Anti-Monitor threatened to destroy it all, opposed by his heroic counterpart, the Monitor and the heroes of the DC Universe. The plan was to merge the surviving Earths into a single world that would be protected from the anti-matter that had already destroyed others. During the battle, many heroes would fall, including the Flash (Barry Allen) and Supergirl, and in the end, a new, single Earth came into being with a new history that was completely different than before.
Written by MarvWolfman and illustrated by George Perez, the 12-issue series is said to be the first major “crossover” series that spanned the entire DC Universe, leading to similar events in the following years by both DC and Marvel. It was also an attempt by DC to clean up its universe, which suffered from continuity errors such as changes to Superman’s powers and history and characters having conflicting origins. While the multiverse helped fix things somewhat (the “Golden Age” characters existed on Earth-2, as opposed to Earth-1, the home of the “Silver Age” ones), it still led to even more confusion. Crisis changed all that, becoming DC’s first attempt and modernizing its universe and making it more reader-friendly, something it would do again with similar events such as “Zero Hour”, Infinite Crisis and the recent “New 52″.
1) The Death of Superman (1992): The unthinkable happened. A monstrous new villain called “Doomsday” had appeared, tearing his way through America and destroying anything in its path. Even the combined efforts of the Justice League couldn’t stop this new foe. It all came down to an intense battle with Superman that would not only lay waste to Metropolis, but also cost the life of the Man of Steel, who had no choice but to fight to the bitter end to stop Doomsday. As the world mourned, four individuals would appear to lay claim to being Superman reborn (including a teenage clone and a sinister cyborg) before the real Superman would truly rise from the dead to stop a plan to destroy Earth.
DC Comics did the unthinkable when it announced that they would kill off the most well-known and beloved superhero of all time. And it would be a new character that would do the deed, adding insult to injury for his more familiar foes such as Lex Luthor and Brainiac. Superman #75, with both its regular cover featuring the hero’s tattered cape and the special black polybagged edition with black armband and other goodies, would sell out quickly. It would also pave the way for DC to shake up some of its other major characters, such as Batman in Knightfall and Hal Jordan’s fall from grace to become the villainous Parallax in the pages of Green Lantern.