Curated: Uncommitted DC

This list is meant to appeal to casual fans, curious fans, or fans who just want a good tale, but do not want to get bogged down in continuity or have to wait for the next collection to see what happens. This is stuff you could easily gift for new fans, or use as an introduction to a new character for yourself.

Batman: White Knight

What you need to know: You do not have been reading any of the current titles. This is an alternate take on the Batman, one that often feels a bit like a video game in its pacing. There are sequels to this that are currently ongoing, but Batman: White Knight stands incredibly well on its own. This series feels familiar and fresh in equal measure.

Collects: Batman: White Knight 1-8

Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands

The first of a few year one/origin style tales on this list. This one is a bit unique in that the original creator has come back to do a modern retelling of his creation’s origin. It is fresh, both in story and in visuals as we follow the adventures of Jefferson Pierce, who is not exactly seen as a hero in the vein of Superman, Wonder Woman or others. Extremely satisfying storytelling.

Collects: Black Lightning Cold Dead Hands 1-6

JLA/JSA: Virtue & Vice Graphic Novel

Throughout the Silver Age and early Bronze Age, there was a tradition of yearly crossovers featuring the JLA/JSA. Now that both teams reside on the same earth, that tradition has largely been dropped. JLA/JSA Virtue & Vice takes a modern approach, giving us a big graphic novel with some fantastic storytelling. And then there are quiet moments featuring Superman and Alan Scott, the Golden Age Green Lantern that bookend this tale; comic book perfection.

Martian Manhunter: Identity TPB

Like Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands, this a modern retelling of a classic character. This time the Martian Manhunter’s takes the spotlight with an origin tale possessing incredible depth and nuance, both narratively and visually. Truly one of the best stories DC has put out in recent readers, and it certainly leaves the reader wanting more, and wondering why they do not get more of these self-contained stories.

Collects: Martian Manhunter (Vol. 4) 1-12

Mister Miracle TPB

This one has been raved about by all corners of the internet, so if you are one of the few that has not read this recent epic, you should really just bow to peer pressure. In many ways, this series comes the closest to the original heart Jack Kirby’s, with some incredible modern flourishes.

Collects: Mister Miracle (Vol. 4)

Robin: Year One

Often referred to in other reviews and even on another Curated List (Dick Grayson by Chuck Dixon), but that is the instantly accessibility of this four issue Year One tale. Chuck Dixon, Scott Beatty ad Javier Pulido have easily created on the best Dick Grayson as Robin stories you will ever read. When reviewers refer to art pieces that are love letters to previous interpretations, this easily fits that mould.

Collects: Robin: Year One 1-4

Superman Unchained

Scott Snyder’s take on the Man of Steel, with Jim Lee along for the pictures. This blockbuster is surprisingly contained to just nine issues, including back up features. Even people who are not fans of Superman need to check this one out; it is well worth the read. Action packed, big storytelling and high-octane adventure.

Collects: Superman Unchained 1-9

Curated: 90s Superboy

Growing up as a young comic book collector in the mid 1990s, there were few people to talk to about comics. This was just as the internet was becoming public, but still quite a ways off before I would gain access to it in 1998. Out of a group of peers, there were three or four other known people who read comic books, but the majority opted for the likes of Spider-Man, the X-Men and Spawn; arguably far more popular to a then pre-teen than this editorialists favourite, Superman. Superman, despite the sales spike caused by the “Death of Superman” storyline, was decidedly uncool, which in a way made the character all the more special. A close friend took to liking Superboy as an alternative to Superman, and started collecting that title. This was in late 1994 or early 1995, so the Post-Crisis Superboy was still only a couple years old at this point, one driven home by the fact he still had no other name than Superboy!

Co-creators Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett were the stewards of this new Superboy for the first three or so years, giving us a number of characters, concepts and storylines that continue to be favourites to this day. This curated list, honours that, and mostly focuses on the first Kesel/Grummett run from 1993-1996. Some decent concepts came after that, and some questionable characterizations, but for anyone wanting to see this character in his original interpretation, these stories do it:

Adventures of Superman (Volume 1) 501

The first appearance of the Post-Crisis Superboy. Clone of the recently deceased Superman, he is one of four mysterious pretenders that have appeared in Metropolis. This single issue within the “Reign of the Supermen” storyline from 1993 nearly acts as a backdoor pilot to what the Kid’s first series would be. The majority of the elements, from Tana Moon, Roxy and Rex Leech and even the introduction of a new Krypto, would be established in this funny, fast paced, yet still thoughtful single issue.

Superboy: Trouble in Paradise TPB

This collection from a couple years ago collects roughly the first year of Superboy’s solo series under Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett. The majority of characters Superboy would interact with throughout their run are introduced, including King Shark, for fans of that particular character. The majority of the collection is done by Tom Grummett, but the odd fill-in still manages to fit-in with the overall youthful tone of the book. This is Superboy just his first steps out as an independent being, and that’s eventually going to have ramifications on him and those around him.

Superboy/Robin: World’s Finest Three

This two issue prestigious format mini-series is one that slips under the radar of most comic book fans, yet should not be overlooked. Co-written between Karl Kesel and Chuck Dixon, this story features the first meeting and team-up between Superboy and the third Robin, Tim Drake. Comic book fans have for years, taken for granted the friendship that developed between the Boy of Steel and the Boy Wonder, but it was one that did not occur in either of their solo series.

Facing off against Metallo and Poison Ivy, it is your typical superhero crossover fair, but still enjoyable, and even if the story does not grab you, the Tom Grummett artwork will surely make up for it!

Superboy (Volume 4) Annual 2 (November 1995)

Superboy (Volume 4) 0 gave early glimpses into Superboy’s origin back in 1994 (and is collected in Superboy: Trouble in Paradise TPB), but it is this 1995 “Year One” branded annual that gives readers more detail into the first days of Superboy’s existence. Readers finally learn of the human donor to Superboy’s creation (only to later be retconned in an unforgivable way by another writer), Cadmus is revealed to be operating after being presumed destroyed, and this half origin/half birthday tale gives the reader some rather poignant moments of a teenager already unsure of his place in the world, facing new revelations about his identity.

While Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett would return to the title a second time a few years later, their wackier take during their follow-up was not embraced by the entire fandom, and they left shortly after; closing out a lot characters and arcs that they had first developed in the process. Subsequent writers would not do the character particular justice, and by the end of the 2000s the Superboy most of us had been introduced was mostly gone; a complicated set of retcons and mischaracterization ultimately resulted in the character really losing its shine. There is hope that this list might remind the reader of a time when the Metropolis Kid took on the legacy of Superboy, and made it something truly unique.

Curated: (Some of the) Best Of 00s DC

The early 2000s saw a majority of the DC’s major characters go through a creative renaissance, a rebirth, if you will. This happened to coincide with the second time in my life that I gave up comic books. One did not cause the other. In fact, I’m now trying to track down a lot of material some twenty years after the fact. You see, in the early 2000s, university demanded much of my time and money. Comic books were the first luxury to go.

As a result, I’m reading a lot of new material for the first time, two decades on. This was stuff I would have loved to enjoy when it first came out, but better late than never. This list looks at some of the best from this decade. Don’t expect the likes of All-Star Superman or Batman: Hush on this list. You know me; I like to dig a bit deeper with Curated.

Batgirl: Year One

I adore the concept of Batgirl. I adore Barbara Gordon in any identity, but the majority of Batgirl stories at this time, were ones that had already been published in the Silver Age. Few modern Batgirl storylines exists prior to the New52 reboot, yet when DC published a Batgirl story during these decades, they truly rewarded the reader for their patience. Batgirl: Year One is the benchmark for future writers.

Collects: Batgirl: Year One 1-9

Batman: New Gotham Volume One

Batman was experiencing big event fatigue by the end of the 1990s. Or at least he should have been just as exhausted as his fanbase that just experienced a decade that opened with a new Robin, continued into the Knightfall Trilogy, a plague, an earthquake, being declared a no man’s land that included a year of near anarchy in a city that already doesn’t really understand the concepts of law and/or order to begin with. And this all happened within 2-3 years of Bruce’s life, according to then published timelines.

The Batman franchise as a result took a slightly slower pace at the turn of the millennia. Greg Rucka was put in charge of Detective Comics, and with a highly stylized new look by Shawn Martinbrough gave us stories that largely eschewed the psychopaths in favour of more personal, intimate stories; more police procedural, more crime boss and gangs, less guest stars from a certain asylum. This ranks as one of my favourite Batman collections.

Collects: Detective Comics (Vol. 1) 742-753

Green Arrow by Kevin Smith

Green Arrow is a niche character, and one that is often considered a carbon copy of Batman. While some of these criticisms may have been true in the Golden and Silver Age of comics, there’s a very different Oliver Queen that ran around in the 1970s to 2010s. There have been many memorable runs for this character, but for me, the respect and reverence that Kevin Smith shows makes this a modern classic.

Contains: Green Arrow (Vol. 3) 1-15

Robin: Year One

Yes, I have raved about this book already. Yes, it is already on the Curated: Dick Grayson by Chuck Dixon list, and no I don’t care. I’m going to recommend it again. And I recommend it, because it dovetails beautifully with the Batgirl: Year One collection, but you’re going to just have to find out for yourselves!

Contains: Robin: Year One 1-4

Superman: The City of Tomorrow Volume One

If you haven’t noticed a pattern by now, DC franchises entered a period of either going back to basics as with Batgirl and others on this list, or did a soft reboot button as with Batman or Green Arrow. Superman, much like Batman, fell into both camps convenient, with an infusion of new talent such as Joe Kelly, Doug Mahnke, Ed McGuinness, Mark Schultz and more. As a result, we got big action Superman but with some of the strongest characterizations not seen in some time. It appears DC is eager to get this material back into stores after a long period of being out of print. This first collection is well worth spending an afternoon over.

Contains: Action Comics (Vol 1.) 760-763, Adventures of Superman (Vol. 1) 573-576, Superman (Vol. 2) 151-154, Superman: Man of Steel (Vol. 1) 95-98 & Superman: Y2K

Wonder Woman by Greg Rucka Book One

Diana of Themyscira can be a difficult character for me to invest in. Don’t get me wrong; she is a brilliant character, but I have found few creative teams that have made me really lover her narrative. John Byrne mostly succeeded at this with his run, as did Phil Jimenez. George Perez was just okay to me, and sadly Messner-Loebs run was by my estimation… a hot mess. As a long time fan of Rucka both in comics and in his novels, I had high hopes for this run. If anyone would understand her and write her, strangely a man like Greg Rucka could.

This collection has conflict, edginess, and doses of great humour in the right places. A new role for Diana gives us brilliant new dimensions to her character. Not just a hardcore feminist icon anymore, politics have become more varied and more nuanced in the modern age. This is the first book of a run that would define an already iconic character.

Contains: Wonder Woman (Vol. 2) 195-205 & Wonder Woman: Hiketeia

Curated: (Some of the) Best Of 90s DC

As children of the 1980s, many of us likely became fans either through the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, or perhaps Michael Keaton’s Batman. Those were the days when there was not a dozen comic book related movies hitting theatres each year. For many of us, comic book reading started in the early 1990s. Superman was killed, Batman had his back broken and Marvel was doing some equally big things over in their sandbox with Spider-Man and the X-Men.

Personal nostalgia is rooted in the 1990s, specifically in DC Comics during the 1990s. Yes, it was definitely not the write time for any of us to be entering the comic book fandom. This was the decade that saw some epic highs and lows. This decade is perhaps the most derided, criticized and lambasted decades of comic book history. It also was the best of times, too.

This was the decade that gave us a mega crossover once a year, yearly themed annuals and its fair share of great storylines. There were great concepts and some ideas that really were just too bonkers to only work in comics. Everyone who reads comics are familiar with Batman: The Long Halloween, The Sandman and Animal Man. Those are entrenched in our psyche because they really are that good. They belong on other lists. Instead, let’s look at five overlooked/underrated storylines of the 1990s definitely worth your time.

Superman: The Trial of Superman

This is about to receive a reissue with a new collection out by the end of this year. In terms of Superman storylines, this is one of the more inventive and cohesive storylines of the decade. While the premise does stretch credibility a little, but this is comics and that requires a certain suspension of disbelief in order to work in the first place. Once you get past it, you’ll see this storyline has a considerably meatier plot than “The Death of Superman”, is just as action packed and features many of the same characters as the more famous storyline.

Flash by Mark Waid Book Four

Mark Waid’s run on Flash during the 1990s is a cornerstone of the successes that the comic book company had during that decade. Waid wrote some incredible things in the 1990s, but nothing quite like his run on The Flash. DC has been collecting this run, and book four, which contains the “Terminal Velocity” story is perhaps one of the best Flash stories of the modern era, and a pinnacle of Waid’s run. Most writers after writing the same character for forty issues would be ready to throw in the towel and move onto other projects… with Flash, Mark Waid was just getting started.

Batman: Contagion

“Contagion”, and its follow-up “Legacy”, are often overlooked because they happen… right between two year long mega storylines we know as the “Knightfall Trilogy” and “No Man’s Land”. As a result, these two, particularly “Contagion”, do not nearly get the praise that they deserve. For two relatively self contained storylines (two to three months vice year long), each have their merits, but “Contagion” is the one you definitely want to track down. Warning: if you are looking for a storyline that showcases a plethora of Batman’s rogues gallery, this is not the collection or recommendation for you.

Green Lantern: Emerald Knights

Being a Green Lantern fan in the 1990s meant reading issues starring Kyle Rayner as Green Lantern. Many ignore this decade of stories for a lot of reasons. The stories are not always great, or even average, and the fandom was toxic towards the creators to the point that it has left a dark stain on the books ever since.

There are bright moments in this run. Ron Marz and Darryl Banks really did do their best to work with editorial edicts and a fanbase that were unwilling to give anything a chance after Marz was forced to make Hal Jordan go insane (see: editorial edicts). The first couple years of Kyle Rayner are really up and down in quality (Green Lantern (Vol. 3) 50-69), but the series gets its legs by the time time issue 75 hits the stands and continues on that way for a few years. Of these stories, Green Lantern: Emerald Knights is the highlight. Kyle Rayner teams up with Hal Jordan, and it’s a seven issue arc that brilliant feels like a passing of the torch between the two characters. The fandom would not accept the torch passing, but this book is still very much worth a read, and perhaps the most under the radar Green Lantern stories out there.

JLA: Rock of Ages

Rounding out this list a Grant Morrison storyline from this critically acclaimed run on JLA. While many would now criticize this storyline as reading like a proto-Final Crisis, this tells the story in a more contained and enjoyable way. It’s six issues that pack a lot of action and wonderment into its materials. Others would argue that “New World Order” order is better, but that feels more like a movie experience, whereas “Rock of Ages” feels more epic, if you can excuse the hyperbole. Extra kudos also should go to Morrison who had to write this particular storyline at a time when Superman was electric and Wonder Woman was dead. Oh, the 90s….

Curated: Dick Grayson By Chuck Dixon

If you were a fan of Batman in the 1990s, you read many stories by Chuck Dixon. At one point in time or another he was writing 1/3 of the Batman related titles that were published, including other titles for DC and for many, he is considered one of three definitive voices for the Dark Knight for the 1990s (Alan Grant and Doug Moench winding out that incredible triumvirate of writers).

As great of a Batman writer as he was, his true gift was his ability to turn second tier characters, forgot ideas and literal scraps left by other writers into engaging stories, titles and characters… often all occupying the same space at the same time. His run on the first Robin series is definitive Tim Drake, he created Stephanie Brown/Spoiler, and boosted Oracle’s profile while giving her a leadership role in the Birds of Prey franchise. For me though, his crowning achievement is the work he did with Dick Grayson aka Nightwing.

This little Curated: Dick Grayson by Chuck Dixon is my recommendations for anyone looking to get into this character and really enjoy some incredible stories featuring this rich character!

Robin: Year One

This four issue co-written by Chuck Dixon & Scott Beatty with Javier Pulido on pencilling duties is nothing short of beautiful. It captures an often referenced period in the Dick Grayson’s time as Robin in greater detail. Robin is faced with his own challenges as a solo hero as well as sidekick to the Caped Crusader. The ending of this mini-series dovetails beautifully with Batgirl: Year One, sharing a pivotal scene between the two books.

Nightwing: Bludhaven

The world’s first superhero side-kick finally gets his own series after some 60 years playing second fiddle, and it’s this groundbreaking series by Chuck Dixon and artist Scott McDaniel take the the former Boy Wonder to the utterly corrupt whaling/industrial town of Bludhaven to fight crime and discover himself (sounds just like the angsty Gen-X fueled 90s). Chuck Dixon spends a lot of time on developing Dick Grayson/Nightwing as a complex, nuanced character trapped between his desires to be his own man, and also his acknowledgement that he will always live in someone’s shadow. This collection gives you the first miniseries as well as the first eight issues of that solo series in Bludhaven.

NIghtwing: Year One

Re-united on the Nightwing title in the middle 00s for a six-issue retrospective, Chuck Dixon and Scott McDaniel give us a detailed look at Dick Grayson’s transitional year from losing the mantle of Robin to striking out on his own, with quite a few surprising guest-stars on the way. This is honestly, my all-time favourite Nightwing storyline, and it’s recently been collected again!

Nightwing: The Target (optional)

Before Dixon and McDaniel reunited on the title, they did a mini-reunion in the early 00s with Nightwing: the Target. It’s more of a Dick Grayson than Nightwing tale, the story itself is fairly boilerplate, but if you can find a cheap copy, it’s a pleasant albeit quick read, or…

Nightwing (Vol. 1) 25 (1998)

… save up a few extra bucks and look for this single issue Nightwing/Tim Drake as Robin team-up. It has an inventive main plot device that enables Scott McDaniel to truly cut-loose with the art, but enabled Dixon room to really breathe life into a special brotherly bond that these two characters at one time possessed. This is probably my single favourite issue of Nightwing written.

And that, gives you an incredible weekend of reading!