The GREATEST STORIES EVER!
By Michael Hutchison, with Rick Blackwell, Kurt Belcher and Chaim Mattis Keller
we even start off, I think I should make it clear that we're probably
in over our heads in even trying to address this subject! First off,
our staff is young enough that almost all Golden and Silver Age material
is too old and expensive for us to have read, so we won't be able to
include many older stories. Secondly, from an 80s- or 90s-centric standpoint,
most of the "old stuff" can't hold a candle to works such as Watchmen
or Kingdom Come. Although I'm sure there are a few readers out there
who consider us too wet-behind-the-ears in not considering My Greatest
Adventure #87 (the one where they fight the Nazi crab monster from
space) in this article.
Additionally, there are dozens of comics which are noteworthy without
being "great." Batman's first appearance in Detective #27 is
noteworthy, but the story itself isn't anything to write home about.
Ditto Action #1, which introduced Superman's origin but is all
about some thugs cutting in on Clark Kent at a dance.
However, Batman #1, the first appearance of the Joker, is a very
spooky story about the Joker mysteriously killing people without touching
them. It's a collector's item, but it's also a good story.
I guess all I'm
saying is, this column is limited to what we've read, so please be polite
when you write in and tell us about the stories we missed!
All reviews are
by Michael Hutchison, except where indicated. Louise Freeman Davis wrote
such an exceptional review of the best Teen Titans stories that they
filled an entire column; look for them in this month's "Classics Revisited."
"Crisis On Infinite Earths"
would almost think that this needs no explanation, but there are thirteen
year-olds now reading comics who were still inside their mom's womb when
Supergirl died! (Damn, I feel old!)
Crisis On Infinite
Earths should be separated into two facets, really. On one hand, it
was both the first and the greatest Crossover series of all time, with
every character short of Captain Carrot making an appearance before the
12 issues were over.
On the other hand,
it rewrote the well-established history of the DCU, leaving gaps and holes
and inaccuracies that still creep up from time to time. And it opened
the door for the rewrites of most of DC's major characters, which has
been both a good thing (Superman and Wonder Woman being two of the better
ones) and a bad thing (Hawkman, definitely), and I'm sure we all disagree
on which is which in many cases.
The story itself
is beyond reproach, with hundreds of heroes, villains and others all very
much in character. Crisis is breathtakingly illustrated by George Perez,
one of the few artists capable of visually conveying the sheer magnitude
of the threat to Earth.
With the retroactive
deletion of the original Supergirl
whose death was, at the time, a mind-shattering
blow to the fans who thought all death in comics was either temporary
or only happened to also-rans
the Crisis is remembered as the series
which killed off the Flash, the very character who had ushered in the
modern superhero era. What may not be remembered is that, at the time,
poor Barry Allen's sacrifice was far overshadowed by that of Supergirl
the previous month.
By the way, one
of the best Crisis tie-in stories I've ever read isn't even a DC comic!
Kurt Busiek's "astro City" had a story about an ordinary man who loses
somebody important to him when she's retroactively deleted from history
due to a major chronal event that no one remembers. While not referring
to the Crisis on Infinite Earths by name, it's certainly a good parallel
to Crisis and it displays a side of these major superhero conflagrations
that we're never shown: their effect on Mr. Average Guy.
was the first major crossover series which had major ramifications on
the DCU. It is unarguably the greatest and most influential, but it was
rather hard to follow as its plot wandered this way and that. However,
Invasion is my personal favorite, and it puts all other series since then
pretty mediocre, memorable more for launching the Giffen League and the
Suicide Squad than for its plot. Millenium was 13 years too early
and combined a thrilling Manhunters menace with a poor "next generation
of immortals" plotline. Armageddon: 2001 was a great idea for showing
"alternate futures" in the annuals, but it really fell apart with its
mess of a second issue. Zero Hour needs an entire column to explain
why it was pretty bad. Final Night was interesting. Genesis
featured our heroes gathered together to fight some vague concept that
cannot be illustrated; it also contradicted Invasion! (as well
as a lot of major theology, but that's another matter).
On top of the heap,
we have the thrilling, enjoyable Invasion! This is the way all
crossovers should be. Smart, action-packed, tightly-plotted
of all, a hell of a lot of FUN! Invasion! also gave us the metagene,
the semi-plausible explanation as to why a guy in a nuclear explosion
doesn't just die. (Of course, it doesn't explain why 1/7th of the population
of Nagasaki didn't become superheroes after the bomb was dropped; sometimes
I hate pointing out flawed premises.)
I should also point
out that the thing was 80 pages, no ads, for a few bucks. Not bad for
that much entertainment!
"Giffen's Legion of Super-Heroes"
Chaim Mattis Keller
happens to super-heroes when their careers are over? While there
are many opportunities to explore this question in the present-day
DC Universe, the theme was handled best in the setting of the DC
Universe's far future.
At the end
of the August 1989 issue of Legion of Super-Heroes, the Legionnaires
and several former Legionnaires, all in costume, declared victory
in the conflict known as the Magic Wars. Three months later, there
was nary a costume to be seen. Bit by bit, we Legion readers learned
what had happened in the intervening five years. We learned that
the former Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl and Lightning Lass are running
a plantation and helping to feed a starving universe. We learned
that the former Cosmic Boy and Shrinking Violet were drafted into
their planets' armies, and that both sacrificed much to do what
they believed was right. We learned that the former Sun Boy was
working for the government of Earth, blind to the fact that it was
no longer as benevolent as it was in the most recent issues of the
Legion comic, and that the former Polar Boy was rotting in prison
for protesting that lack of benevolence. We learned that you can
take the costume off the Legionnaire, but that doesn't make him
or her any less a hero.
thirty-six issues of this new Legion of Super-Heroes magazine, written
by Keith Giffen (and drawn by him, Al Gordon and Jason Pearson as
well as numerous guest artists) painted a brilliant picture on the
easel of the DC Universe's thirtieth century. In addition to seeing
what the ex-Legionnaires were like in a cosmos that had moved beyond
the Legion, it showed us what the entire cast of characters is like.
What do super-villains do when the heroes they once fought are no
longer active? Well, some rule worlds, some become hired guns
every character who had ever played a significant role in Legion
history could be seen, and, to those familiar with the characters'
history, their new appearances (with a few exceptions) were solidly
rooted in their established personalities. The writers tantalized
readers with glimpses of what had occurred in the missing five years,
and figuring out the full story behind a change in a character or
world became a fascinating guessing game. The writers' use of text
pages and a nine-panel standard page appearance, both elements taken
from the Watchmen series, gave the reader more story for his or
her comics dollar than any other book being published at the time.
The stories were peppered with references to obscure people, places
and events in Legion history that had old-time Legion fans constantly
checking their back-issue collection and had new readers (including
this writer) frantically scrambling to assemble one. And by the
thirty-sixth issue, the Legion, despite the difference in character
since its prior incarnation, held its head up high in triumph over
the alien Dominators who had subtly conquered Earth. Their spirit
To be sure,
that period of Legion history had its faults. A forced retcon in
the fourth and fifth issue caused a lot of confusion that may very
well have kept readership low. However, the creators managed to
make lemonade out of that lemon and they brought into existence
Laurel Gand, who has been one of the most popular Legionnaires since
her introduction. There were several controversial stories which
many readers felt violated an established character's history, but
even then, those stories managed to be mature and thought provoking.
And the art was often muddy, although it did accurately set the
tone for the series. Despite these problems, though, I consider
the first thirty-six issues of the 1989 Legion of Super-Heroes series
to be one of the Greatest DC Stories of All Time.
"The Dark Knight"
know, everyone calls it "The Dark Knight Returns" now
but before 1986,
Batman was usually referred to as "the Dark Knight Detective", hence the
originality of the title.
This book is certainly
dated, as Frank Miller couldn't resist commenting on such mid-1980s topics
as the Soviet Union and Ronald Reagan. Fortunately, David Letterman and
Dr. Ruth Westheimer are still alive and well. (Well, not in the book,
but in real life!)
This is one of the
few books that I don't feel needs a big review, since any comic fan worth
his salt has read it. All I can say is, this is one of the few books I
can read over and over and over again. (But only the graphic novel. I
wouldn't touch my originals. And luck of luck, my subscription sent me
TWO copies of issues one and two!)
Tied in with this
story is Miller's in-continuity revisions to Batman's origins with "Batman:
Year One", which was not only a great story but also the most imitated
title in DC history.
you're reading this and have no idea what Watchmen is, or you have
heard of it and offer some pale excuse like 'I've never had time
to read it!', then e-mail me so I can come over to your house and
I first read
Watchmen just a few years ago, and just to show that there are no
excuses, I found my copy in a bargain bookstore for a measly couple
of bucks. Like you poor fellows addressed above, I was only dimly
aware of the book, and had only heard cryptic comments on how it
had revolutionized comics, and regretted to hear that it had led
to the dark, grim and gritty phase that the medium is only now passing
like a painful kidney stone. Like those fools, I didn't know just
how really true those comments were – until I experienced the source
behind them for myself.
give you boring plot exposition that could keep us here well into
the next millennium, I'll focus on the purpose of the article, 'The
Greatest DC Stories Ever Told'. When it comes to writing an article
about Watchmen, it's much harder to decide what not to talk about.
We could probably explore the intricacies of an ongoing title like,
say, Witchblade, on one page – but to say everything there would
be to say about Watchmen would take a work even longer than the
mini-series itself. Much, much longer. Besides, those of you who've
read it know what I'm talking about, and those of you who don't
would only have the experience of reading the book fresh ruined
for you – something which, in my opinion, is more precious than
and Dave Gibbons structured the book as a finite, self-contained
exploration of a world where masked heroes are common, and show
us the mores and attitudes that would be present in a world like
that, both for the common man and the heroes themselves. All questions
raised in the story will be answered by the time the story's over.
By the end, all of the characters will have made some sort of realization
about their lives, their purposes and the world around them. Some
of them don't survive the journey, others feel no impact whatsoever.
use of parallel storytelling, with flashbacks falling alongside
the action of the present, or actions in two different locales taking
place together, not to mention the connections between the events,
and how their impacts will eventually be felt. Moore fully fleshes
out the characters in his story, and explores every aspect of those
characters, from the impotence of the mild-mannered Nite Owl, to
the mother-daughter conflict between the younger and older Silk
Spectres, and the vicious child murder that drove Rorschach over
that trip and that first reading, …I've been mystified.
the work that opened the doors for many of the innovative comics
we have today, and led to what acceptance comics have as an art
form today. Despite that, it has never really been as celebrated
and given the due that other great comics have gotten in its stead.
I realize Sandman was a masterpiece, and a groundbreaking book,
but would it have happened had it not been for Watchmen? I doubt
it. Batman: The Last Halloween was one of the ultimate Batman stories,
but if not for the innovation in the form of a mini-series that
was Watchmen, someone probably would've said, "Sorry, Jeph, the
idea's too wild."
about the acceptance from a comics-reading audience, what about
other mediums? How can this book be this good and not be considered
a classic of literature? Why isn't Watchmen hanging in an art gallery
all good questions, questions I can't answer. Maybe someday teachers
at big-name schools and elsewhere will look back and say, "Boy,
'Slaughter-House Five', 'Stranger in a Strange Land', 'Watchmen'
– did the Twentieth Century have some great pieces of literature,
or what?" I doubt it'll ever happen, and I'll doubt I'll ever understand
But we can dream, can't we?
a little something some of you might not know. Watchmen didn't appear
as Alan Moore originally wrote it. Watchmen was originally written
to include characters today known affectionately as 'the Charltons'.
These are characters that were originally created and published
under the Charlton Comics company, which later became defunct and
was bought out by DC, characters and all.
included Captain Atom, both Blue Beetles, Thunderbolt, Peacemaker,
Nightshade, the Question, and a host of others. Watchmen was written
to explore the characters mentioned above, just before the characters
were integrated with the characters that DC had made famous. To
make a long story short, DC had decided to use the characters in
their own universe, and ruled against Moore using them in his story.
Therefore, Moore created his own characters to replace the characters
he had wanted to work with.
Here's the rundown:
- Dr. Manhattan - Captain Atom
- Nite Owl - Blue Beetle
- Ozymandias - Thunderbolt
- Comedian - Peacemaker
- Silk Spectre - Nightshade
- Rorschach - The Question
Moore had been allowed to use the Charlton characters, at least
Watchmen would've been remembered, if nothing else, as the first
"The Killing Joke"
brilliant story that's even more effective with a little historical perspective!
The 1970s had featured a very tame "Joker" series, watering down the character
to a sad, slightly silly villain. His appearances were getting more and
more pathetic, as he really doesn't have any powers and that smiley-gas
was getting old. I know that calling the character a "laughingstock" isn't
really effective, given his clownish appearance, but he'd lost that deadly
edge. "The Dark Knight" helped to make the future Joker a menace
it was Alan Moore's turn to make the "real" Joker a villain to reckon
"The Killing Joke"
was a fascinating exploration of the Joker's possible past. It
shows how he became "The Red Hood", his confrontation with the Batman,
and the moment that drove him into madness. It also features a marvelous
moment where Batman makes a last-ditch attempt to reach out to the Joker
and appeal to his sanity.
But the hell with
that. We know why this story will always be remembered: the moment Joker
shot Barbara Gordon through the guts. Many decried it as exploitative,
but I think it's brilliant. The Joker doesn't need any powers or abilities;
with just a gun and a camera, the Joker was once again in the top spot
of Batman's enemies. He would always be remembered as the man who shot
and crippled Batgirl, and would never be taken for a joke again!
Makes his taking
a crowbar to Robin rather superfluous, doesn't it?
year is 1973. The comic is Detective # 443. The main character is
the Batman. The story is called Deathmask written by the
late Archie Goodwin and pencilled and inked by Jim Aparo. This duo
does a very nice job. However what I want to talk about is the 8
page back-up story also written by Archie Goodwin. This one's pencilled
and inked by Walt Simonson, long before he became a legend.
Jack Kirby and Paul Simon's Manhunter, this Manhunter
is Paul Kirk and as the first thing you read in this saga states
"He stalks the most dangerous game".
what Simon and Kirby started, Simonson and Goodwin establish an
elaborate background for Paul Kirk. Now he is both hunter and the
pursued by one of those dark and little-known agencies
called the Council, which he betrayed. He is armed with a healing
factor (think fountain of youth) and pursued by his brothers, all
clones. This tale is more James Bond-ish, despite the brightly colored
(although sleeker) ninja garb, of red, white and Blue and a touch
carries a gun. Interpol's red-haired Christine St. Clair pursues
him from one end of the globe to the other. She starts off her hunt
in the first of the 7 issues, The Himalayan Incident in Katmandu,
in which she is paying a Man named Haj for information. Haj tells
her tale that sets the fast pace and characterization that will
drive this series to it's Ultimate conclusion in Gotterdammerung.
In just 8 pages, Mr. Goodwin is able to show you just how clever
Paul Kirk is and still leave you mystified. Mr. Simonson does more
in 8 pages than most artists do in a book. . As the series progresses
he does multi-paneled pages that will leave your jaw dropped.
Not to spoil
any thing for anyone but let's say the final chapter is awesome!
With its 20-page conclusion, the appearance of the Batman, etc.,
it leaves you begging for more.
In 1974, the
final chapter, Gotterdamerung, won The Academy of Comic books award
for best story.
In 1984 DC
collected all 7 issue into a one shot simply called Manhunter
which sold for $2.50. This is one of the rare masterpieces you can
still find at less than cover price.
"Justice League: Breakdowns"
I'd recommend Giffen's entire Justice League run
every annual, every
tie-in, Justice League Europe, all of it
but Breakdowns was a heck of
a lot of fun. It's a bit of a meandering plot, but from the moment Guy
brutally beats up Blue Beetle, all the way to the wonderful moment that
the second-rate character Silver Sorceress sacrifices her life to stop
Dreamslayer, "Breakdowns" was a delight (and is sorely overlooked as a
series worth turning into a Trade Paperback).
And I just love
the fact that the title is a pun on Giffen's job (providing the plot and
"Justice League Quarterly #10"
only does Mark Waid turn in a great story about Booster Gold seeking revenge-before-the-fact
on the mob family whose descendents ruined his life
but he turns in
a classic little Seinfeld-ish story called "When Titans Date." It's just
one of my favorites that I had to include. GO BUY IT!
"The Golden Age"
Comics are for kids? Especially those long underwear-wearing types?
Well you're half-right. The other half is more mature themed stories
wrapped up in that 4 color look some of us look back upon with fond
memories. Case in point: The 4-issue prestige Elsewhere saga called
THE GOLDEN AGE. Written James (Starman) Robinson and beautifully
pencilled and inked by Paul (Leave it to Chance, X-Men) Smith and
atmospherically colored by Richard Ory.
Age takes you back to a time we look back upon as a simpler time.
The early 40's and using the title of the first chapter it begins
" With The world at peace". Paul Smith and Richard Ory
are brilliant here as they open this first part of the story in
beautiful mono-colored hues echoing the films of the day
Black and white. A home front kept clean by brightly colored men.
That is until August 6, 1945
THE BOMB. The end of the war and
the beginning of the end of the GOLDEN AGE.
Society of America members are now older, not necessarily wiser
and life hasn't been kind to all our old friends. In a way you could
say it was the worst of times. In fact that's about all you could
Yes the world
no longer at war is honoring its heroes. For one minor (super) hero
Tex Thompson a.k.a. Mr America it is a glorious homecoming. Parades
abound. Under orders from President Roosevelt Thompson poses as
an S.S. officer in Germany while striking from within as The Americommando.
too much away for those who have yet to read this saga. Let's say
all is not what it seems. James Robinson makes us peek beneath the
mask of these old friends and find out they're more than one-dimensional.
Paul Smith makes it all come to life. Yes, our heroes come together,
but not like in any adventure from their early days. Yes there is
a great villain revealed. Yes there are some happy endings and some
not so happy.
In the end
beyond being a good read that answers, "Whatever happened to?"
The Golden Age dares ask (as Howard Chaykin put it): "Are we
a country still trying to convince itself it was a land of innocent
Detective #572: "The Doomsday Book"
Comics' 50th Anniversary issue is a terrific read. I also like the fact
that someone remembered that Batman isn't the only character in Detective
Comics! Mike W. Barr pulls together a far-reaching plot as a descendent
of Dr. Moriarty, the enemy of the world's first true detective, plots
to kill the Queen of England. Batman and Robin are there to stop him,
but so are Slam Bradley (the star of Detective Comics #1),
Elongated Man (the very first character Barr wrote, back in 'tec #444)
a surprise appearance by a very old detective!
"The Man of Steel"
one's debatable. Many consider John Byrne a spawn of evil for undoing
the decades of Golden Age and Silver Age stories. Me, I think there was
more good than harm done by this rewrite of Superman's history. The Kents
are alive, there aren't hundreds of other Kryptonians wandering around,
Kryptonite is beyond priceless (and there's only one kind), his relationship
with Batman is tenuous, his powers have reasonable limits
and both Lois
Lane and Lana Lang are much more interesting than they were before.
Of course, a lot
of the discarded chaff has been brought back at the rate of a comic a
week over the last dozen years
and I still think it was reckless of
Byrne to remove Superman from JLA history
but the six comics that started
it all are rich and beautiful. No matter what's happened in his books
since, the "Man of Steel" gave Superman more depth than he'd had before.
Suicide Squad #10 "Up Against the Wall"
hears of a government agency which is putting criminals out on the streets
and he decides to investigate. A moody, atmospheric, well-paced tale that
is representative of the high quality found in the entire run of Suicide
Squad. (Once again, I'm tempted to run the whole series as "The Greatest"!)
Does anything need to be said about this one?
We think not.
Enjoy the nice artwork
by Bob Riley!
All characters are DC Comics
This column is © 1998 by Michael Hutchison and the authors listed above.
All artwork is © 1998 by their respective artists.