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DC Comics: Where to Start and Essential Reading

Updated: Jan 25


As a diehard DC Comics fan I figured why not write something up about all the amazing stories and series published by DC both past and present. As someone who loves both DC and Marvel, it's weird to me when someone hates on either company. Yes both publishers have had their ups and downs over the years, but we should be rooting for both of them. Not only does it create a healthier industry but it ensures that all the characters we love will continue to be published for years to come.

Now this may sound like I only care about the "Big Two", that couldn't be further from the truth. I love everything about comics including all of the Indie publishers, Image, Dark Horse, BOOM!, IDW, Dynamite, Vault, Valiant, you name it. But this article is for all of the comic fans that either don't care for DC or are strictly indie (I'm talking to you Gen). This is to help guide you to some of the most celebrated runs in DC's long history all the way up to the monthlies currently being published. Hope you enjoy. If you ever have any questions, feel free to drop me a line in the contact section or comment section below.

WHERE TO START

With DC Comics being around for over 80 years it can be quite daunting when trying to figure out what books to try out first. Also, maybe you just never had any interest in Superhero books. The series I'm going to talk about in this section are strictly for beginners or you guys that may not fully be into the superhero genre.

BATMAN: YEAR ONE

Now this is an absolute classic. It perfectly encapsulates this decades old character and distills him down to his core. Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli crafted a story that still holds up over 30 years later. They stripped away all the "fantastic" elements of the character and gave us a psychological noir thriller. The story focuses on the Dark Knight in his first year as he squares off against the mob. It also shows the beginning of his relationship with Commissioner Gordon, showing why they have one of the strongest bonds in comic book history.

This is not only one of the best Batman comics, but one of the greatest comic books of all time.

GREEN ARROW: THE LONGBOW HUNTERS

This story written/illustrated by Mike Grell completely transformed the way people looked at Green Arrow. Taking a character that had otherwise grown stale, Grell stripped the character down of all of his gimmicky Silver Age qualities and gave us a more realistic and gritty take. It is one of the most violent Green Arrow stories and actually goes so far as showing him kill his targets. He's not going after colorful villains in this tale, he faces off against serial killers, the CIA, and a mysterious assassin named Shado. He's depicted more as a hunter than a superhero.

This is one of the best reboots in the history of comics and is one the best stories in DC's long history.

THE NEW FRONTIER

This was the magnum opus of the late Darwyn Cooke, one of the greatest storytellers this world has ever seen. This was a love story to the comics of the 30's and 40's and details the birth of the Silver Age. It encompasses everything that is special about DC Comics. A story both lighthearted and sophisticated at the same time. It shows the heroes of the DCU overcoming their differences and joining together to defeat a common foe. Cooke evoke a sense of nostalgia that transports you back in time. This is perhaps one of the most new reader friendly books while at the same time full of stuff for old fans to enjoy. If there's one book on this list you read, this should be it.

SUPERMAN FOR ALL SEASONS

If you're looking for a simple Superman story, without all of the baggage of 80 plus years of storytelling, than this is the book for you. It's both iconic and nostalgic at the same time. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale humanize the Man of Steel in a way that hasn't been matched. This story warms your heart both verbally and visually. When anyone asks me about a perfect Superman story, this is the first book I recommend. It touches on many different times in Superman's life and each issue is told through the eyes of the supporting characters. This should be the benchmark for all great Superman stories.

BATMAN: HUSH

This is easily one of the most accessible Batman stories you could pick up. You need only have a basic knowledge of the character to jump onboard. Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee take the Dark Knight on a roller coaster through his Rouges Gallery as he tries to solve a mystery of who Hush is. Along the way his romance with Catwoman takes center stage as he reveals his identity to her. This is not only well written, but this is perhaps Jim Lee's best work. For me, this is in the top 5 Batman stories of all time. It has everything you could want, including a fight between Batman and Superman. With the animated adaptation coming out, make sure you read the story that inspired it first.

FLASH: REBIRTH

First off Flash is my favorite character in comics, and while this isn't my favorite Flash story, it's probably the best place to start for new readers. The story is great, but I'll always pick Wally over Barry. But at the same time I'm aware that most people, because of the show, are more familiar with Barry Allen than Wally West. This is the FLASH REBIRTH from 2009, where Geoff Johns, returned Barry back to the land of the living after having been dead for years. Johns touches on every single character of the Flash family and updates Barry's origin for a new generation. I'll admit I wasn't a fan of Barry until this story, but Johns made me a fan. This is the perfect entry point in the world of the Scarlet Speedster.

GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH

Just like FLASH REBIRTH, this book brought back another beloved character, Hal Jordan. This book preceded FLASH REBIRTH by 4 years and is considered one of the greatest Green Lantern stories of all time. Geoff Johns brought Hal Jordan back from the dead and began one of the most epic sagas in comic books, with this initial mini-series. He explained why Hal had turned evil and brought the entire Green Lantern mythos back to the forefront of the DCU.

MISTER MIRACLE

This is a series that needs no introduction. From the first issue of the series, it was clear this wasn't going to be your typical superhero story. What we got from Tom King and Mitch Gerads was one of the most compelling, thought provoking and unique comics in the history of the medium. They threw away the usual superhero tropes and brought us a flawed hero that was suffering, and at times unsure of himself. This book is an example of what a comic book can and should be.

ESSENTIAL READING

This next section is dedicated to, what I consider, some of the best runs at DC. These are a great place to start if you want to binge read some great stories starring some of the greatest superheroes by some of the best creators in comics. While they're are many great runs, these are some of my favorite.

GREEN LANTERN BY GEOFF JOHNS

This is widely considered one of the greatest runs in comic books. What Geoff Johns did during his time on Green Lantern is unprecedented. He not only brought the character to the forefront of DC but he added so much to the mythos that it's almost impossible to imagine a world where this stuff doesn't exist. From the new characters he introduced, to the full range of the emotional spectrum where he created all the other lantern bearers, to the embodiments of each emotion (Parallax, etc.), Geoff Johns brought a level of excitement to the character that hasn't been matched since.

Here are some key arcs of the series:

SECRET ORIGIN

SINESTRO CORPS WAR

BLACKEST NIGHT

WAR OF THE GREEN LANTERNS

FLASH BY MARK WAID

This is the series that got me into comics. FLASH #82 by Waid and Wieringo kicked off my love of comics that has been going on for 27 years. This book is also the reason Flash is my favorite character, but more importantly Wally West. This book starring Wally took him from a guy who was cocky yet also unsure of himself and catapulted him to one of the strongest heroes in the DCU. Waid also added tons of characters (Linda Park, Impulse, Max Mercury, Savitar, etc.) and ideas that are till being used today. The biggest one is the Speed Force. He gave a reason for why and where all speedsters get their speed.

While most fans are more familiar with Barry, it's Wally that will always be MY Flash, and It's all thanks to the awesome writing of Mark Waid.

Here are some key arcs of the series:

BORN TO RUN

RETURN OF BARRY ALLEN

TERMINAL VELOCITY

DEAD HEAT

CHAIN LIGHTNING

BATMAN BY SCOTT SNYDER AND GREG CAPULLO

The greatest thing to come out of the "New52" books, was BATMAN by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. For years they crafted some of the most interesting and insanely illustrated Batman stories, the likes of which had never been done. From their first story, "Court of Owls", you knew this was going to be a special book. From there they continued to deliver hit after hit. From "Zero Year" (a year long story that had a young, pre-Batman, Bruce Wayne fight the Riddler eventually donning the cowl) to "Superheavy" where Jim Gordon became the new Batman. This book was filled with big ideas and cemented Snyder and Capullo as one of the greatest Batman teams of all time.

Here are some key arcs of the series:

COURT OF OWLS

DEATH IN THE FAMILY

ZERO YEAR

ENDGAME

SUPERHEAVY

TEEN TITANS BY MARV WOLFMAN AND GEORGE PEREZ

This was THE book of the 80's. Wolfman and Perez made this one of the highest selling books of the decade. They turned an otherwise mediocre title into one of the best team books in the history of DC. Not only did the team up some of the classic sidekicks, Robin (Dick Grayson), Kid Flash (Wally West), and Wonder Girl (Donna Troy) but they introduced new characters Raven, Cyborg, and Starfire. While also bringing in Beast Boy over from Doom Patrol. Raven, Cyborg, and Starfire instantly became fan favorites and are still some of the most popular characters in comics.

It was a book built on the relationships between these characters, that made the book special. Dealing with personal issue as well as fighting crime. This is the book that all Teen Titans creators site as being the legacy the strive to live up to.

Here are some key arcs of the series:

THE BIRTH OF THE TITANS

THE JUDAS CONTRACT

THE TERROR OF TRIGON

WHO IS DONNA TROY?

JLA BY GRANT MORRISON

When Grant brought the JLA book back, he gathered the best team ever assembled. He brought big and crazy ideas, introduced new characters and made this one of DC's flagship titles. If there is one Justice League book I can't recommend enough, it's this one. He graduated the new guys, Kyle Rayner and Wally West to the big leagues, while also adding people like Plastic Man and Steel.

Possible one of the most defining moments of this series, was when Batman took down Prometheus, who was basically an evil version of Batman that had skills implanted into his brain. This run is what made me a Grant Morrison fan and I have been ever since.

Here are some key arcs of the series:

NEW WORLD ORDER

AMERICAN DREAMS

ROCK OF AGES

WORLD WAR III

SUPERMAN BY PETER TOMASI AND PATRICK GLEASON

Tomasi and Gleason brought me back into the fold with this series. I hadn't been reading the Superman books for some time, but when I heard they were relaunching I knew I had to check it out. They brought a whole new dynamic to the book that had never been done in a Superman book before, a story of a father and son.

Watching the relationship between Clark and Jon was something that made this book standout from every Superman book before. It was both heartwarming and funny throughout the run. Watching the friendship between Jon and Damian that started in this book was also one of the best things about this book.

Here are some key arcs of the series:

SON OF SUPERMAN

TRIAL OF THE SUPER SONS

MULTIPLICITY

HOPES AND FEARS

HARLEY QUINN BY JIMMY PALMIOTTI AND AMANDA CONNOR

This book came at a time where Harley's popularity was at an all time high, this book only pushed it further. Palmiotti and Connor, along with a great team of artists, delivered a fresh take on this beloved character. Full of humor and hijinks, and a stuffed beaver to boot (trust me you'll laugh once you read the book) this was one of the most enjoyable books to read every month.

They also developed more of the relationship between Poison Ivy and Harley which I've always been a fan of personally. Sam Humphries is current chronicling Harley's book, but you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn't read this run first. Plus it's a got a riff on Deadpool that can't be missed.

Here are some key arcs of the series:

HOT IN THE CITY

KISS KISS BANG STAB

A CALL TO ARMS

CURRENT SERIES

BATMAN BY TOM KING

How could someone follow the fantastic run that Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo did? Well Tom King did, and he's doing an insanely good job. Some people have their issues with it, but I for one thinks it's one of the best Batman runs in the character's long history. This is definitely a book that lives up to the hype. Not to mention the relationship between Catwoman and Batman that has been a central part of the series.

THE FLASH BY WILLIAMSON

You guys know I love The Flash, well guess what? So does Joshua Williamson. He makes his love for the entire Flash mythos apparent with every passing story arc. As a fan of many of the same Flash stories as me, it's been an awesome sight watching Joshua bring back characters and introducing new concepts since he took over the book. This is the best THE FLASH has been in years.

SUPERMAN BY BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS

Bendis on Superman. I never thought I would see the day, then it happened and it's been a match made in heaven form day one. Having read Superman comics for over 20 years, I can honestly say that his might be the most fun I've had reading the Superman line of books since I was a kid. Don't listen to the hate thrown Bendis' way, take it from me, these are some of the best Superman stories of the last 20+ years.

JUSTICE LEAGUE BY SCOTT SNYDER & James Tynion IV

Not since Morrison, has a Justice League book been this insanely good. Having followed up DARK KNIGHTS METAL with NO JUSTICE, it segued into one of the most thrilling Justice League books in years. Snyder and Tynion have brought BIG ideas and universe shaking stories. With "Justice/Doom War" set to take place later this month, it's the perfect time to catch up.

GREEN LANTERN BY GRANT MORRISON AND LIAM SHARP

Morrison and Sharp have created one of the most magnificent comics I've ever had the privilege of reading. I will be so sad when they finish their run. This book has been a psychedelic rollercoaster of madness and is one of my favorite books from DC right now.

FURTHER READING

These are just a few more of the classic/great stories in DC's library. I stuck strictly to the main DC books, excluding Vertigo and other imprints.

THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS

ALL-STAR SUPERMAN

DARK KNIGHTS METAL

JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL

BATMAN AND ROBIN BY TOMASI & GLEASON

FLASH BY GEOFF JOHNS

AQUAMAN BY GEOFF JOHNS

WONDER WOMAN BY GREG RUCKA

THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN

BATMAN: THE LONG HALLOWEEN

GOTHAM CENTRAL

GREEN ARROW BY JEFF LEMIRE

WONDER WOMAN BY GEORGE PEREZ

YOUNG JUSTICE (1998)

THE QUESTION BY DENNIS O'NEIL AND DENYS COWAN

IN CONCLUSION

DC has such a rich and diverse collection of books and there are stories for everyone. Don't let there long history and insane catalog of books scare you. Jump into this amazing world and enjoy.

#DCComics

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