As you’re all well aware, I spend a lot of time on Comic Book Herald talking about Marvel Comics. It’s my first love, and I won’t sit here and pretend that when the great Marvel vs. DC brouhaha of 2016 breaks out I won’t be on the side of the (arch)Angels. Nonetheless, I love my share of DC stories and this leads us to this week’s doozy of a question from the comments of my DC Reading Order guide:
If you had to pick ONE for each:
1) what is your favorite Superman story arc?
2) what is your favorite Batman story arc?
3) what is your single favorite DC story arc?
Now, if we’re simply talking the best Batman story, I’d point you all in the direction of The Dark Knight Returns and go spend time with my family. Or I could sit here and nitpick the semantics and talk about comics for another hour. No-brainer.
Since the question specifically asks for my favorite stories from each, I’ll note up front that these picks will be a little different than an objective “best of” list. And since I spend so much time recommending new comics for new readers on Comic Book Herald, my picks will also lean in that direction. Ready? Let’s go.
My Favorite Batman Story For New Readers
As I said a moment ago, the obvious choices for best Batman stories are Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli’s Year One and The Dark Knight Returns. Both absolutely flawless Batman stories, and two of the greatest graphic novels of all-time.
Nonetheless, if this is your first Batman story, or you’re relatively new to reading Batman comics, these stories don’t make great starting points. This is ironic for Year One since it is literally Batman’s origins, but the fact of the matter is that both graphic novels capture Batman at atypical points in his comic book crime-fighting career. He’s either very young and just learning the ropes, or he’s at the end of his rope and making one last stand. These angles are what make these such great graphic novels but they’re also why they aren’t my favorite Batman books to recommend. They’re fascinating variations of Batman, but they aren’t pure Batman. They don’t necessarily tell you if you’re going to want to read more Batman comics because there are almost no other Batman comics like them.
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That’s why Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s “The Long Halloween” is my favorite Batman story. It’s a 13 issue ongoing mystery with Batman and his villains fully formed and installed in Gotham. In addition to highlighting his skill as a detective, “The Long Halloween” also highlights Bruce Wayne the man behind the cowl (Batman’s alter ego – not the other way around).
“The Long Halloween” catches some criticism for its “villain of the week” mentality, in which new Batman villains are paraded around each issue. The potential trap here is Loeb and Sale saying “Look everyone it’s the Joker! You love the Joker!” and not really delivering anything meaningful beyond that. Personally I reject this view of “The Long Halloween,” and am unashamedly a fan of Loeb and Sale rolling out the likes of Penguin, Mad Hatter, and Solomon Grundy (yes!) for my reading pleasure. Simply put, it’s a blast to see this many Batman characters intertwined in a single mystery, which is part of the reason the Batman: Arkham video games are so much fun.
If the “Long Halloween” hits for you, it also has the upside of a sequel with another 13 issues in Loeb and Sale’s “Dark Victory.” There are plenty of great Batman stories, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s New 52 “The Court of Owls” among them, but my favorite is “The Long Halloween.”
My Favorite Superman Story For New Readers
Superman catches a lot of flak for being “boring,” but there’s really no shortage of fun Superman comics. Choosing a favorite is actually very difficult. Even something as wacky and Bizarro (not literally) as Tom Taylor’s recent “Injustice” is a completely fascinating take on Superman finally taking over Earth as its benevolent Dr. Doom tyrant. Or, Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen’s “Secret Identity” isn’t technically even a Superman comic, and yet the four issue miniseries is one of the most affecting, enjoyable takes on the Man of Steel in all of DC. And if you got to read only a single Superman issue, that would undoubtedly have to be Alan Moore’s classic “For the Man Who Has Everything.”
Yet the fact of the matter is that one book wins the favorite Superman story competition by a landslide: All-Star Superman.
The only hesitation I have in selecting All-Star Superman is the concern that Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s brilliant 12 issue Superman story is too “in the weeds” for a new reader. The first time I read All-Star Superman I was not as well versed in DC lore, and I found this out-of-canon Superman story intriguing yet confusing. Jimmy Olsen… wears fun coats?
Nonetheless, selecting anything else would be crazy. When I returned to the Absolute All-Star Superman a few years later, I couldn’t put it down. This is a bright, shining love letter to Superman and his greatness, and the greatness he represents as the heroic ideal. Morrison and Quitely take on everything we love about Superman, pulling in Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Jimmy Olsen, Bizzaro, and Kryptonite and making them all fresh and exciting for a new audience and era.
So if you’ve ever said to yourself Superman is boring, give All-Star Superman a shot.
Favorite DC Universe Story For New Readers
I could spend a lifetime trying to figure out the answer to this one, both in terms of narrowing down DC stories I’ve already enjoyed and reading new favorites. If we expand the question to include Vertigo titles like Watchmen or Sandman the choice would be easy (read Watchmen; like right now), but considering those “DC Universe” is a big stretch.
The list of titles I would consider here off-hand looks something like this, and again, this is based on a completely non-complete consumption of all things DCU:
Green Lantern / Green Arrow: Hard-Travelin’ Heroes
The Legion of Superheroes: Great Darkness Saga
Even with all those options, my choice right this very moment is Grant Morrison’s lengthy run on JLA (Justice League of America). I’ve finally gotten around to enjoying JLA this year, and it’s pretty astonishing just how good these issues are. Morrison’s imagination vibrates with life, breathing new thrilling story after new thrilling story into the pages of all your favorite DC Universe heroes.
There are plenty of late 90’s specific comic book references that might be mildly confusing to the modern passer-by. Superman wears a completely baller (and dare I say SUPERIOR) electric blue costume, Wonder Woman disappears for months, and Aquaman is handless as HECK. Nonetheless, the story arcs in these pages are gold, and drive the same kind of thrilling Justice League excitement we’d see a few years later in the Justice League Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited.
There you have it. My favorite Batman, Superman, and DC Universe stories. What do you think? Great picks? Dead wrong? Way too Morrison heavy? Do what feels right to you in the comments.
After reading Dark Knight Returns (per your suggestion – thank you! it was excellent), I decided to also jump into Superman with “Superman: Doomed” and currently about halfway through. Good so far – kinda like a mashup of Superman and the Hulk.
Glad you enjoyed Dark Knight Returns!
I haven’t checked out Superman: Doomed yet, I’ll have to add it to the (immense) list 🙂
I’m not too engulfed in the DC Universe myself yet (come on DC. when will you finally offer something like Marvel Unlimited?) but from the Batman stuff I definitely wholeheartedly agree. The Long Halloween + Dark Victory is a fantastic starting point and the art style also perfectly fits Batman like a glove. I’d especially recommend the art for those older readers who grew up on the Animated Series.
I haven’t read any Superman comics (I’m afraid I’m guilty of the “he’s boring anyway” prejudice) but I’ve played the game Injustice and watched the animated movie for All-Star Superman and both were entertaining.
A lot from these lists seems to be older material, what’s your take on DC’s New 52 reboot? I gathered that the Snyder penned new Batman is awesome, but other than that I haven’t heard definite things yet. I read some New 52 Wonder Woman, but while it had nice art is really didn’t blow my mind content wise.
New 52 Wonder Woman was one of the DC books I stuck with the longest. As you mention, I really enjoyed Cliff Chiang’s style and particularly his interpretations of Greek mythology. I thought Azzarello’s story as a whole was a unique way of tackling Wonder Woman (a perpetually challenging book), essentially placing the focus on Zeus and the Greek gods instead of Diana herself. I think the series hits a nice stride issues 6 through 10, so if you’re not feeling it by the second volume, it probably won’t do it for you.
Otherwise, I liked a fair amount of New 52 launches, all of which proceeded to fade after a few story arcs. Geoff John and Ivan Reis’s Aquaman was pretty impressively good. I also read all of Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man, although that really dropped off for me down the stretch. Swamp Thing was very good with Synder writing, and even stayed relatively interesting through a muddled crossover with Animal Man. And if you’re looking for an under the radar book, I really liked Dial H for Hero before it was abruptly cancelled.