2010 sees the 75th anniversary of DC Comics, which launched in February 1935 with the first issue of New Fun. Since then, it's gone on to publish some of the greatest comics ever. Here're seventy-five you really should've read already.
The Superman Chronicles Vol. 1
What is it? The first appearances of the world's first superhero.
Why you should read it: When it comes to historical importance, the origins of an entire genre seems like a kind of big deal, especially when that genre goes on to take over popular culture in all its forms.
The Batman Chronicles Vol. 1
What is it? The first appearances of DC's most popular character.
Why you should read it: Because they're the first appearances of Batman. Weren't you paying attention to what I said above? Also: Hello, historical significance, not to mention the chance to see how the original version of the character differs from his current incarnation(s).
All-Star Comics Archives Vol. 1
What is it? The first superhero team-ups ever published.
Why you should read it: To get a good idea about what superhero comics of the period were like, to see the first super-team in action (Or, sitting around a table telling each other stories, as the case may be), and for the "Oh, old-fashioned people!" amusement value of Wonder Woman being relegated to secretary because she's a woman.
The Spirit Archives Vol. 13
What is it? A collection of the classic newspaper strip that stretched the medium on a weekly basis by taking in influences from movies, pulp prose and anywhere creator Will Eisner could find them.
Why you should read it: Because even now, there's little with the verve and humanity of Eisner's Spirit when it's working well, and the 13th volume in particular features some classic material, including the first appearance of P'Gell, the strip's ultimate femme fatale.
The MAD Archives Vol. 1
What is it? The first six issues of the humor magazine, back when Harvey Kurtzman was running the show and it was more anarchic and wholly unlikely to rely on lazy celeb humor.
Why you should read it: To see how far the mighty have fallen, and because these're some of the greatest humor comics ever made.
Showcase Presents: Strange Adventures Vol. 1
What is it? More than 500 pages of classic 1950s pulp sci-fi anthology.
Why you should read it: In part for the historic value of seeing what comics did between periods of superhero dominance (Not to mention the historic value of seeing creators deal with atomic age paranoia), but also for the crazy plot twists and B-movie presentation that take on a new kitsch quality in this day and age.
Showcase Presents: Bat Lash
What is it? Western adventure from an era when the wild west was still enough for America.
Why you should read it: Never mind Jonah Hex, Bat Lash was a more interesting hero; more a lover than a fighter - although he was pretty good at the latter, when needed, and this strip showed off some interesting attempts to play with the genre conventions without breaking them.
Showcase Presents: Sgt. Rock Vol. 1
What is it? The first appearances of DC's premiere war hero.
Why you should read it: Rock remains one of the strips that transcended its genre, and here's where it all began, complete with some of the finest art to grace any comic, courtesy of Joe Kubert, Russ Heath and other greats.
Showcase Presents: The Flash Vol. 1
What is it? The start of the superhero revival that's kept the genre on top of the industry ever since, as well as one of the first franchise reboots, although that's not how those things were thought of at the time.
Why you should read it: To see the style and substance that made a genre live again... and also how old ideas were made contemporary back in those days (When in doubt, add entirely made-up science!).
Showcase Presents: Justice League of America Vol. 1
What is it? A large slab of the first Justice League stories ever told.
Why you should read it: For the innocence and inventiveness of Gardner Fox's writing and the underrated blocky brilliance of Mike Sekowsky's artwork, as much as the chance to see the comic that directly led to the creation of the Fantastic Four and the entire Marvel Universe.
Showcase Presents: The Doom Patrol Vol. 1
What is it? "The World's Strangest Heroes!" according to the series' own cover. While the rest of DC's superheroes were fine, upstanding and clean members of society, the DP seemed like a dysfunctional family of freaks.
Why you should read it: The weirdness of DC's pulp SF mixed with superheroics, Doom Patrol was a series curiously out of step with everything else that the company was publishing at the time, and also years ahead of itself.
Showcase Presents: House of Mystery Vol. 1
What is it? A comic book horror version of The Twilight Zone, complete with spooky host.
Why you should read it: While lacking the amount of dark humor as the classic EC horror comics of the '50s, DC's 1960s updating of their horror anthology still has enough spark to overcome the perils of censorship and Comic Code Authority-friendly chills.
Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Vol. 1
What is it? The beginning of Wonder Woman's "women's lib" makeover, which saw her stripped of her superpowers, dressing in mod outfits and fighting crime and finding adventure in a particularly skewed take on the Swinging '60s.
Why you should read it: Somewhere between kitsch guilty pleasure and interestingly different take on the Wonder Woman idea, these stories are a historical oddity that've aged surprisingly well, in an admittedly Austen Powers way.
Green Lantern/Green Arrow Vol. 1
What is it? The beginning of superhero comics' attempts to become socially relevant, starring a space cop and a former millionaire traveling America to find the true heart of the country... and themselves. No, really.
Why you should read it: Overly-earnest politics aside, there's a lot to enjoy in these stories, especially the birth of this particular color-coordinated buddy team and Neal Adams' still-impressive artwork.
Showcase Presents: Teen Titans Vol. 2
What is it? The second black and white collection of the premiere teen sidekick team as they decide to ditch the superhero outfits and join a cult. But a nice, helpful, cult. Oh, and there's some stuff about space, and race, as well.
Why you should read it: By the time the issues collected in this book were being created, it's clear that the people behind the series were looking for a new direction as its audience began to get older and demand more from their superheroes. Reading all the issues in one sitting, though, you see them trying multiple different directions one after another, which makes for an unusual but fascinating look back at a comic industry in flux and uncertain of itself.
Jack Kirby's Fourth World Vol. 2
What is it? The second collection of Marvel creator Kirby's attempt to start a new mythology of New Gods at the former competition by creating three brand-new series and overhauling Superman's sidekick into something much more interesting.
Why you should read it: Kirby's comics revitalized the superhero genre at Marvel, and by the time he was creating these issues for DC, he was at his peak - Each issue crackles with new ideas and grand themes, with the art leaping off the page. The series didn't last long enough, but what we did see was amazing.
The Legion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga
What is it? Arguably the most popular Legion storyline of all time, written by future DC publisher and president Paul Levitz: Superteens in the 30th Century have to deal with the return of an evil god, as well as some familar faces to longtime comic fans.
Why you should read it: One of the first shortform story arcs in superhero comics, "Great Darkness Saga" is also where the Legion started to really live up to its potential, mixing fanboy Easter Eggs, soap opera and a scale that other superhero comics couldn't compete with (Planets invade other planets!).
The New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract
What is it? The most famous storyline from the comic that showed fans in the 1980s that DC could be just as daring and innovative as Marvel.
Why you should read it: With double-crosses, big fight sequences and some classic superhero soap opera angst, this feels as much more like a Marvel comic from the 1970s than anything else, but it's a great example of what the cutting edge of comics looked like at the beginning of the decade that would change everything.
Saga of The Swamp Thing Vol. 1
What is it? Alan Moore's first American work, and the one that led to Watchmen as well as a couple of really bad movies of its own.
Why you should read it: Because it's a genuinely groundbreaking (No pun intended, etc.) work that still stands up to today's standards, and a chance to read early Alan Moore before he started to worship an imaginary deity and fall out with everyone. Plus, it's a masterclass in how to reinvent what seemed like a tired old idea and make it something new and unexpected.
Showcase Presents: Ambush Bug
What is it? An almost-complete collection of the series that poked fun at comic fans, comic culture, DC Comics and itself.
Why you should read it: Keith Giffen and Robert Loren Fleming managed to find the right mix of snark and affection for their antennaed creation, making the evisceration of their own publisher all the sweeter, in multiple ways. The latter, Ambush Bug Nothing Special, at the end of the collection is especially fun.
Crisis On Infinite Earths
What is it? "Worlds will live! Worlds will die! And the DC Universe will never be the same!" DC celebrated its 50th birthday by changing all their rules, killing characters, rebooting other ones and it all centered around this epic series full of cosmic drama and fanservice.
Why you should read it: Probably still the benchmark for superhero crossovers, Crisis is a rare example of a series that actually delivered on its promise that nothing would be the same again, as well as a textbook example of superhero comics straining to become more complex while still having each character introduced by name in dialogue for the benefit of the reader.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
What is it? Frank Miller's first recreation of Batman, this time as a cranky old man who's mad as hell and isn't going to take it anymore.
Why you should read it: Because, two decades later, this mix of social satire, gritty superheroics and angry optimism still thrills as much as it gets misinterpreted.
What is it? Oh, come on. You know exactly what it is. There was even this small film made of it last year, maybe you heard something about that?
Why you should read it: Love it or hate it, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons changed superheroes forever with this complex, formally-experimental, dense work. And even if you don't care about superheroes, anyone with an interest in comics will find themselves appreciating the execution of the story. A masterpiece, if an overrated one.
Batman: Year One
What is it? Frank Miller's second recreation of Batman (This time with David Mazzuchelli), this time as a cranky young man who's not necessarily the best at what he does yet.
Why you should read it: To my mind, superior to The Dark Knight, Year One remakes Batman into the noir hero fitting against a corrupt city - and winning - that he's always meant to be successfully for the first time. With sparse writing and amazing artwork, Batman may never have been better than he is here.
Superman: Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow
What is it? Alan Moore's send-off to the Superman of his youth, complete with all the goofier trappings of more innocent times, illustrated by the classic Superman artist, Curt Swan.
Why you should read it: Literally the end of an era, Moore and Swan got to provide an imaginary ending to Superman's Never Ending Battle prior to the character's 1986 reboot that celebrated his past with only a slight hint of pessimism and bitterness. As a plus, the new Whatever Happened collection also includes Moore's other Superman stories, which are well worth reading as well.
Batman: The Killing Joke
What is it? The archetypal Batman Vs. Joker story, by Moore and Brian Bolland.
Why you should read it: It's the book that launched a thousand ships, if "ships" were code for "psychological explanations for the duality between Batman and his most famous foe." But even if you don't like the armchair psychology, how can you deny that artwork?
The History Of The DC Universe
What is it? Having destroyed and recreated the DC Universe in Crisis, creators Marv Wolfman and George Perez tried to pull it all together in this look back (and forward) at how everything happened in the revised timeline.
Why you should read it: An odd curio, this piece of continuity repair was already outdated as soon as it was published, but it demonstrates that there was, at one point, a plan behind the rewriting of history, even if that plan - like the cylons' - was quickly abandoned by reality.
Batman: A Death In The Family
What is it? The Joker kills Robin - Or does he? You decide, with the help of a well-made phone call!
Why you should read it: The in-questionable-taste phone-in stunt that killed off Batman's partner may not be of the highest quality, storywise, but for historical value alone, this is one of the more important books in the DC library. Never forget. Brave soldier.
Justice League International Vol. 1
What is it? A reaction to the grimness of Watchmen and the comics it influenced, creators Keith Giffen, JM DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire took over DC's premiere superteam and turned it into a sitcom... and it worked.
Why you should read it: The first issues of the series are less comedically-broad than it became later, but that's to its benefit; eager to please and dripping with flop sweat, this is classic JLI at its best before success made them lazy.
Animal Man Vol. 3: Deus Ex Machina
What is it? The final volume in a run that took an obscure, forgotten superhero and made him into one of the most human characters at the company.
Why you should read it: Maybe unrecognized as such as the time, Grant Morrison's first American series is the greatest reaction to Watchmen-inspired doom-and-gloom, celebrating the less-than-serious characters lost in the rush to claim maturity and bringing a humanity and kindness to writing that was already trending towards the cruel.
The Sandman: Fables and Reflections
What is it? A collection of short stories from the run of Neil Gaiman's famous Sandman series.
Why you should read it: Taking the baton of fantasy storytelling champion from Moore, Gaiman's Sandman brought even greater respectability to comics (and DC in particular); this anthology of shorts is probably the best taster of what to expect, as well as a great showcase for the many artists involved.
V For Vendetta
What is it? A particularly British take on revolution and politics, both personal and party, in Alan Moore and David Lloyd's 1980s future dystopia.
Why you should read it: Rescued from the canceled pages of British anthology Warrior, V lacks the reputation and impact of Watchmen, Swamp Thing or even Killing Joke, but it's better than any of them; quieter, more subtle and warmer, with characters more flawed and human.
Why I Hate Saturn
What is it? A tale of life in the big city, love and sisters who think they're from another planet.
Why you should read it: Kyle Baker's second graphic novel (following the equally wonderful The Cowboy Wally Show) is that rare thing: A comic for adults that doesn't feel self-conscious about that fact. It's also another rare thing: A genuinely hilarious comedy comic.
What is it? One of the first real "What if there were superheroes in the real world?" comics, as well as one of the first superhero comics to not apologize for, or hide, its gay characters.
Why you should read it: Peter Milligan and Duncan Fegredo's early-'90s series was rescued by DC from a failed Disney comics line, and placed at the center of their Vertigo launch, deservedly. Smart, funny and surprisingly touching, it's an underrated classic.
Static Shock: Rebirth Of The Cool
What is it? A collection of the first issues of later-to-be-a-Saturday-morning-cartoon Static (along with a more recent revival of the character) from Milestone Media.
Why you should read it: Ignore all the talk of Milestone's racial diversity - as worthy as it may be - and focus on the stories, because Static (co-created by Dwayne McDuffie, who'd later find some fame on the Justice League cartoon) and the other Milestone books were some of the best superhero series of the early-to-mid 1990s, bringing energy to the genre in a way that hadn't been seen in years. Static, an update on the Spider-Man formula, was one of the best of the line.
Batman: Mad Love And Other Stories
What is it? A collection of comics from Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, the men behind the awesome 1990s Batman: The Animated Series.
Why you should read it: As fun as their cartoon counterparts, these stories also showed off some impressive comic storytelling chops, especially from Timm's dynamic artwork.
What is it? Scott McCloud's guide to the medium, how it works, and its potential.
Why you should read it: Another book rescued from a defunct publisher by DC, McCloud's textbook explains the medium so well that it should pretty much be required reading for anyone who's interested in comics in the slightest.
The Invisibles Vol. 1: Say You Want A Revolution
What is it? The beginning of Grant Morrison's series about revolution, anarchy, freedom and the 1990s. Later ripped off shamelessly by The Matrix.
Why you should read it: Because it's the starting point for one of the more ambitious (and, at times, successful in fulfilling that ambition) series of the last couple of decades, one that captured a pre-millennial zeitgeist in more ways than even its creators realized. Other volumes may contain more impressive work - the final chapter still feels like one of the most science-fictional comics ever made - but this is where it all began.
Starman Omnibus Vol. 1
What is it? Bucking the trend for gritted-teeth, shoulder pads and heroes that kill, James Robinson and Tony Harris' mid-90s superhero series offered a quieter, more reflective take on the genre at a time when it needed one.
Why you should read it: One of those series that feels like it never quite got the attention is was due at the time, Starman may be the Velvet Underground of comics; you can feel its influence in Geoff Johns', Brian Michael Bendis' and others' writing today.
Preacher Vol. 1
What is it? The beginning of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's blasphemous tale of religion and America. Oh, and vampires, as well. And guys with faces that look like assholes, literally. I think that about covers it.
Why you should read it: This was where Ennis and Dillon, both former 2000AD creators, managed to bring all their influences together and created what's still the closest thing in tone to 2000AD in American comics: Simultaneously funny, heartbreaking and sacreligious, it's a love letter to times and places that never really existed, and faith in things other than God. Plus, of course, there's all the ridiculous toilet humor.
Stuck Rubber Baby
What is it? Devoid of supernatural or superhuman elements, Howard Cuse's story of civil rights, homosexuality and bigotry is nonetheless more compelling than a hundred Crises on Infinite Earths.
Why you should read it: Simply because it's that good.
Kurt Busiek's Astro City: Life In The Big City
What is it? Busiek went from Marvels' man-on-the-street look at well-known superheroes to creating his own heroes, men, street and world in this still-ongoing series as much about the superhero genre itself as its characters.
Why you should read it: At once filled with a nostalgia and entirely its own thing, Astro City shows Busiek's skills as a writer off to a degree that even high-profile gigs like Avengers and Trinity can't, allowing him a freedom to tell whatever stories he wants, ably assisted by artist Brent Anderson and cover artist/designer Alex Ross. Life In The Big City, the first volume, is as good a place to start as any.
What is it? An apocalyptic end to DC's superheroic debauchery, set in a future populated with older versions of the familiar heroes, plus new characters full of Easter Eggs for longtime fans.
Why you should read it: Whether you're looking for meta-textual commentary on the state of 1990s comics, injokes about DC continuity and characters (or, in one case, the Monkees) or just a straight-forward tale about the potential end of the world being well told, Alex Ross and Mark Waid's uber-epic delivers.
Road To Perdition
What is it? Depression-era crime drama, courtesy of writer Max Allen Collins and Richard Piers Rayner. Later adapted into a Tom Hanks movie version.
Why you should read it: A more sober take on the manga Lone Wolf and Cub, Perdition's crime comic do-over is, like Stuck Rubber Baby above, a reminder not only of what comics can offer outside of the superhero and SF genres, but also of DC's support of less obvious moneyspinners.
Transmetropolitan: Back On The Street
What is it? Warren Ellis' American breakthrough, an SF series that mixes Hunter S. Thompson, William Gibson and a healthy dislike of any and all politicians. Also, the thing that introduced the term "filthy assistant" to the world. Thanks for that. No, really.
Why you should read it: Part-pastiche of familiar elements, part-distillation of Ellis' personality into pure comic form (with more-than-able assistance from artist Darick Robertson), the 60-issue series builds to something that's much more than the sum of its parts. On the unlikely chance that you haven't already read this, Back On The Street - the first collection - is the place to start.
JLA: Rock Of Ages
What is it? The time-traveling, alternate-reality heart of Grant Morrison's over-the-top version of the Justice League of America.
Why you should read it: The story where the madness of his Invisibles infected his grand-scale take on DC's #1 superteam, Rock of Ages takes two separate large ideas - "What if there was an evil version of the Justice League?" and "What if the bad guys won, and took over the Earth?" - and pushed them together in a different way than you'd expect, linked by a McGuffin with unlimited powers and some time travel. Brimming over with ideas and invention, superhero comics have rarely been better - and Morrison's JLA never was.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 1
What is it? Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill take the ultimate literary game of What If and make it work as a story.
Why you should read it: Crossing over genres and characters from various public domain stories, what makes LOEG work is that it doesn't always go for the obvious idea, but what makes the first volume work in a way that later volumes didn't is that it doesn't always go for the "Oh, look how smart we are" idea, either. An impressive, but accessible, intelligent story about stories.
Absolute Promethea Vol. 1
What is it? The first year of Alan Moore and JH Williams III's celebration of female power in fiction and comic books, in oversized hardcover format.
Why you should read it: What may, in other hands, have been a Wonder Woman rip-off becomes something much more involving and deep as concepts of magic and gender are explored through the prism of superhero comics. Even if Moore starts to become self-indulgent at times throughout this volume, Williams' stunning art keeps the reader's interest (especially in the larger format) and brings a necessary heart and gravity to the story.
The Golden Age
What is it? An alternate history look at McCarthyism, nuclear paranoia and a country so afraid of itself, it forgets not to demonize those who seek to protect it.
Why you should read it: Starman creator James Robinson brings a stoicness and seriousness to the last days of the WWII-era Justice Society, as well as some fun for alternate history buffs to chew on. Paul Smith's artwork is also suitably strong.
The Absolute Authority Vol. 1
What is it? The complete run of Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch's tenure on the increasingly-stakes-raising superhero team to end all superhero teams.
Why you should read it: Arguably the most influential superhero comic - at least in terms of comics that Marvel have taken their cues from over the last decade - in recent memory, Authority is what happened when Ellis and Hitch decided to take the superhero genre as far as they could.
What is it? Paul Pope's (much-discussed-by-me-here) SF story of life and love and art in a post-Philip K. Dick, post-John Cassavetes future.
Why you should read it: Fully-realized and heartfelt, Pope's story avoids SF cliche while seeming more involving and future-facing than most around him.
Absolute Planetary Vol. 1
What is it? The first half of Warren Ellis and John Cassaday's genre-exploration mystery series, excavating genres and ideas lain dormant for too long.
Why you should read it: The home to an optimism that occasionally gets hidden in Ellis' other work, Planetary shines with a love of stories and ideas, even if you chose to ignore the metatext and just read it as a straight adventure mystery. Plus, Cassaday's art (with colors by Laura Martin) is amazing.
What is it? Keeping with Ellis, the first half of his tragically short run on Vertigo's flagship title and character, John Constantine.
Why you should read it: Every writer writes a slightly different version of the long-running magical bastard, and Ellis offers up a melancholy, poetic take, haunted by past decisions and the people missing from his life. Just as important, though, the sense of place that he brought to the title made it feel more grounded and real than ever.
Sleeper: Season 1
What is it? Donnie Brasco gone darker, with added superpowers and hopelessness.
Why you should read it: A classic of noir nihilism, Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips' first collaboration set the bar high for everything that followed (Criminal, Incognito) and remains one of the best, and most satisfying, superhero series of the last decade.
Wildcats Version 3.0: Brand Building
What is it? The onetime premiere 1990s superteam tries to save the world by going corporate and selling salvation to everyone.
Why you should read it: Joe Casey and Dustin Nguyen's ballsy corporate rebranding may not have been for everyone - It clearly wasn't, as the series was canceled two years in - but it was smart and stylish, and a new take on some very old ideas. Considering the backroom politics that Marvel's Dark Reign sold itself on for the last year, it may also have been just a few years ahead of its time.
Gotham Central Vol. 2: Jokers and Madmen
What is it? Batman's world turned into a police procedural, as Gotham's police department take center stage during a Joker-led attack on the city.
Why you should read it: All of Gotham Central is highly recommended, as writers Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker brought a tightness and personality to the mix of crime fiction and superheroics (with some great art from Michael Lark and others), but the stories in this volume are particularly strong, and contain more than a few hints that they may have influenced The Dark Knight movie.
100 Bullets Vol. 1: First Shot, Last Call
What is it? Crime noir that spins from high concept to wide-reaching criminal conspiracy.
Why you should read it: The series that brought a new edge to crime comics - and, in the process, proved that there was a market for books like this again - started with a simple idea (What would you do if a stranger offered you the chance for revenge, with no strings attached?) and grew from there into something impressively labyrinthine. Brian Azzarello's scripting is taut and fast, but the star is really Eduardo Risso's art.
Y: The Last Man Vol. 1: Unmanned
What is it? The End Of The World As We Know It, as all males die for mysterious reasons with the exception of one man and his monkey, leaving them alone in a world trying to rebuild itself.
Why you should read it: Containing new spins on old ideas throughout its run, Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra's post-apocalyptic road movie was smart enough and pulp enough to win over fans throughout its five-plus year run, including Lost's writing staff, who hired Vaughan midway through the series.
What is it? A particularly skewed take on many SF ideas, from parallel universes, miniature Earths, and giant alien sperm that becomes a treatise on the value of the discarded and corrupt.
Why you should read it: A bizarre story that looks beyond shock value to try and redeem ideas others leave behind, Grant Morrison and Chris Weston's Filth may make you feel uneasy along the way, but that's partially the point.
Ex Machina Deluxe Edition Vol. 1
What is it? The West Wing meets Watchmen, to use a high concept analogy.
Why you should read it: Brian K. Vaughan's second high profile DC creation (with Starman artist Tony Harris) mixes pop (culture) and politics with its hero, a former superhero turned New York City mayor. But it's the character interaction - and political naivete of its hero - that makes this series worthwhile.
Fables Deluxe Edition Vol. 1
What is it? What happened after the Happily Ever Afters at the end of all your childhood fairy tales, once everyone involved has grown up a bit.
Why you should read it: Funny, smart and only cynical in the right places, Bill Willingham takes what may not be an original idea and makes the best of it, coming up with unexpected combinations of characters, modern takes on old concepts and managing to make it all seem as effortless and fun as the original fairy tales themselves. If you sign up for the whole series, there's a lot to be said for the evolution of artist Mark Buckingham into a mix of Jack Kirby and Mike Mignola, too.
What is it? Almost a decade before Marvel did the same thing to much acclaim with Strange Tales, some of indie comics' biggest names offer up their take on DC's most well-known superheroes.
Why you should read it: Most respectful than you might expect, some of the stories in this anthology seem to display greater understanding of the characters than their regular counterparts. Also, Kyle Baker's Letitia Lerner, Superman's Babysitter may be the greatest cartoon never made.
Human Target: Chance Meetings
What is it? Reviving an old, forgotten 1970s creation (Now, of course, a Fox TV show, but that wasn't the case back then), this is a tense psychodrama where there's no guarantee that anyone is who they seem to be - or think they are, either.
Why you should read it: Peter Milligan's subtle writing is matched by Edvin Biukovic and Javier Pulido's art, giving this pulp thriller an energy and grit that the TV version, as fun as it is, is completely lacking so far.
What is it? Cyborg pets versus the world. Really, that's all you should need to know, other than the fact that your heart will be broken by the end of it, or else you are made of stone.
Why you should read it: The Incredible Journey with added SF may not sound like a classic, but somewhere along the way, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's short series about three animals escaping from a military lab became a masterpiece. Whether it's the writing that manages to give each animal personality without seeming gimmicky (Stink Boss, indeed) or Quitely's breathtaking storytelling and design, this is a book that's the definition of "Better Than It Has Any Right To Be."
DC: The New Frontier
What is it? A retelling of the origins of the Silver Age DC Universe, set in the time period during which the stories were originally published.
Why you should read it: Amazingly stylish, Darwyn Cooke's visuals for the book would make it worthwhile even if the story wasn't as good as it is (In this case, "good" can be defined as "Large scale yet intimate, thrilling, and full of optimism and drama"); if there was such a thing as Mad Men for comics, it'd be this.
Green Lantern: Rebirth
What is it? The return from death of Silver Age Green Lantern Hal Jordan, accompanied by all manner of guest-stars (And the beginning of the story that led to the current Blackest Night mega-event).
Why you should read it: Even if you're not interested in Lanterns of Green or any other color, Rebirth has historic value as the beginning of the current era of mainstream DC superheroes; written by Geoff Johns, now DC Entertainment CEO, this series set the tone that has since spread across the entire DC Universe line.
Seven Soldiers of Victory Vol. 1
What is it? A massive 30-part storyline that both connects and runs independently of all of its individual moving parts, revamping forgotten characters, creating new ones and revitalizing genres along the way.
Why you should read it: As much formalist exercise as story (stories), the Seven Soldiers banner linked eight different series (One for each Soldier, plus a Seven Soldiers two-parter to bring it all together) and multiple storylines that overlapped, crossed over and colored each other to varying degrees. An amazing example of writing from Grant Morrison, backed with equally impressive art from an army of artists including Cameron Stewart, Doug Mahnke and others.
52 Vol. 1
What is it? DC's year-long weekly series that tried to lay the ground rules for how things worked in their rebooted universe.
Why you should read it: For something with no big-name stars and the stated aim to show how politics, religion, magic and other such areas worked in the New DC Universe, 52 could've ended up the most insular, fanservicey comic ever made. That it was, instead, easy-to-understand and exciting-to-follow speaks to the skills of its four-man writing team (Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid and Grant Morrison) and the strength of its core concepts.
Wonder Woman: Who is Wonder Woman?
What is it? The latest attempt to reposition Wonder Woman as something that new readers could enjoy, by recalling the Lynda Carter-era for the first time in decades, and adding some Alias-style spy chic.
Why you should read it: Gail Simone's current WW run may be quantifiably better in terms of quality, but there's something endearing about the way in which it was set up by Allan Heinberg and Terry Dodson's gleeful return of all the classic superheroic elements to the character, including secret identity (and twirling-to-change-outfits!), supervillains and excitable action scenes. It's an oddity for WW, if only to see the character being approached without the warrior gravity that's become her trademark over the last few decades, but it's also an undeniable pleasure... if a bit of a guilty one.
The Winter Men
What is it? The superhero concept is translated to Russia for a political comedic drama that is almost David Simon-esque.
Why you should read it: Brett Lewis' story finds a grim humor in its subject matter unusual for comics, while John Paul Leon's art matches it in blocky brilliance. For a genre so old and, it seems at times, played out, this is something that feels new and worthwhile.
Doctor 13: Architecture and Mortality
What is it? Self-commenting metatext about the nature of continuity reboots and the growing seriousness of comic books wrapped up in a story about a man who may be the ultimate skeptic.
Why you should read it: Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang's under-the-radar series (It ran as a second strip in Tales of The Unexpected but gained a fanbase online, leading to its collection) may have its tongue firmly placed in its cheek, but there's something charming nonetheless about seeing forgotten characters like I... Vampire and Genius Jones proclaim their worth to the audience while begging to appear in future comics.
All Star Superman
What is it? I'll go ahead and say it: Probably the only Superman comic you'll ever need.
Why you should read it: Didn't you read that part about it being the only Superman comic you'll ever need? Okay, I'll go on: Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's 12-issue tour of Superman mythology touches on all the core ideas, and introduces new ones along the way, managing to distill everything important about the character, his supporting cast and the appeal of the whole thing into less than 400 pages of material. Recapping his origin story in eight words is only the start of their genius.
What is it? From the short-lived Minx line, a story about a teenage girl who loses a leg from a shark attack while surfing.
Why you should read it: Although deemed unsuccessful by the powers that be, the Minx line offered an alternative to manga for teen girls into comics, and Water Baby may have been one of the strongest of the line, pulling few punches in terms of content and refusing to speak down to its audience.
Bayou Vol. 1
What is it? Magical realist fantasy, set in a depression-era town south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Why you should read it: The first product of DC's online comics line Zuda, Bayou is a sensitive (At times, too much; the censorship of the word "nigger" is oddly intrusive while reading; either use the word or don't - "n*****" is doing neither) series that mixes pop-culture influences like Pogo and Song Of The South into a racially-charged story that plays like Alice In Wonderland in reverse. Unlike anything else DC publish, Bayou's success speaks, perhaps, to the audience who want to read comics but don't trek to the store every Wednesday for that week's new releases.
What is it? The latest Big Event comic, wherein death itself is redefined, and the birthplace of all life is identified once and for all.
Why you should read it: Perhaps cheating by including it here - The collected edition isn't available until June - but no other selection would more clearly display the state of DC Comics today: Coming from grand ideas and reaching for an epic scale, but filled with moments of smaller, more relatable drama to demonstrate that - hey! - these characters are human, too, Blackest Night successfully straddles the divide between the soap opera popularized by Marvel's superheroes that's become the bread-and-butter of comics fans for decades and the big ideas that made DC's reputation in the 1950s (and even before) - But is that something that other comics can continue to do?