10 Comic Stories Every DC Fan Should Read

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Founded in 1934 (as National Allied Publications), DC Comics has been one of the most domineering powerhouses in the comic book industry for nearly an entire century. In this time, the company has introduced some of the biggest names in terms of superheroes, including the likes of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and many more.

Naturally, approaching stories from such a behemoth of a publisher can be quite intimidating, especially if you’re a new reader. Where do you begin? What stories should you read first? Which ones are absolutely essential?

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Thankfully, there are a handful of stories that many longtime readers will agree need to be checked off on your comic book bucket list, making it easy to curate a list of essentials. This list is by no means all-inclusive, but if you’re new to DC, this should definitely help point you in the right direction. So, without further ado, here are 10 comic stories every DC fan should read:

  1. The Sinestro Corps War

    Creative Team: Geoff Johns, Dave Gibbons, Peter J. Tomasi, Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, and Ethan Van Sciver

    The Sinestro Corps War is one of the stories held in the highest regards among Green Lantern fans for many reasons. For some, it’s the all-star creative team, with powerhouses like Geoff Johns, Dave Gibbons, Ethan Van Sciver, and more. For others, it’s the action-packed, space opera nature of the tale. However, perhaps the biggest contribution The Sinestro Corps War has made to the modern Green Lantern mythos is the introduction of yellow-ringed, fear-powered Sinestro Corps, themselves, which eventually leads to the corps of the five other colors of the emotional spectrum.

    In addition to the Sinestro Corps, the Green Lanterns also have their hands full with a slew of other iconic DC supervillains, including the likes of Parallax, Superboy-Prime, and the Anti-Monitor, just to name a few. Still, even with Crisis-level threats, The Sinestro Corps War still sees the Green Lanterns rise to the occasion when it matters the most, including the evolution of the Daxamite Green Lantern Sodam Yat, who becomes Ion and stands toe-to-toe with Superboy-Prime.

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  2. Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

    Creative Team: Alan Moore, Curt Swan, and George Pérez

    When DC decided to shake up their entire universe with Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC editor Julius Schwartz wanted to send the Man of Steel of the Silver Age out with a bang before the company rebooted all of their titles. To make sure the pre-Crisis Supes was given a proper farewell, Schwartz turned to writer Alan Moore, who sought to honor Superman’s long history while simultaneously closing the book on the Man of Steel’s mythology with Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

    For all intents and purposes, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? was, according to Moore, the last Superman story ever told. Although we know this isn’t truly the case, the story does serve as a prime example of how to close the long-time continuity of a comic book character. Taking place ten years after Superman’s last public sighting, Lois Lane recounts everything from Superman’s revelation of his secret identity to violent attacks by his most fearsome enemies to the deaths of those closest to him, and, of course, the end of his career as a caped crime-fighter.

  3. Batman: The Killing Joke

    Creative Team: Alan Moore, Brian Bolland, and John Higgins

    Batman: The Killing Joke is a unique entry on this list. Although it was published as a Batman story, The Killing Joke’s significance in the DC Universe has more to do with the portrayal of the Joker’s origin (or possible origin, if the Clown Prince of Crime is to be believed), and the groundwork that was laid for Barbara Gordon to assume the identity of Oracle for years to come.

    The story revolves around the Joker, who shoots and paralyzes Barbara Gordon in an attempt to prove that all it takes to push someone to complete madness is “one bad day.” As the story unfolds, flashback sequences reveal that “one bad day” was what tragically led to a failed comedian becoming the Joker, after the man lost his wife, his unborn son, and then fell into a vat of chemicals.

    Many of plot points throughout the story are left ambiguous since this one-shot was originally intended to be outside of main DC continuity. However, because of its popularity, it was soon adopted into canon, and Barbara Gordon remained paralyzed until DC rebooted all of their titles in 2011 with the launch of The New 52.

  4. Identity Crisis

    Creative Team: Brad Meltzer, Rags Morales, and Michael Blair

    While most entries on this list feature superheroes battling supervillains, Identity Crisis sees DC’s greatest heroes battling something much closer to home for readers: the human condition.

    After witnessing the death of the Elongated Man’s wife, Sue Dibny, it’s later revealed that in the past, Doctor Light had raped the Sue in the JLA Watchtower. When the JLA decides to use Zatanna’s magic to lobotomize the villain, Batman aggressively objects. Ultimately, the other members of the League decide their only course of action is to mind-wiped the Dark Knight, as well, to erase all memories of the event.

    This theme of distrust and betrayal pave the way for the eventual breakdown of relationships within the Justice League of America. Additionally, the story provides an incredibly deep look into the effects superheroism has on the lives of the men and women behind the masks, as well as their families – something that isn’t as heavily explored in nearly any other title.

  5. The Man of Steel

    Creative Team: John Byrne, Dick Giordano

    As discussed earlier, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? was the final story to feature the pre-Crisis Superman. The Man of Steel, on the other hand, was the Superman story that immediately followed Crisis, rebooting the Big Blue Boy Scout and retelling his entire origin story for a new generation of readers.

     The Man of Steel made a number of changes to the Golden and Silver Age iterations of Supes, as well. For starters, Superman’s career as Superboy was wiped from existence, and Kal-El was said to once again be the sole survivor of Krypton. Perhaps most notable, though, is that Superman’s powers were cut back significantly, making things like him flying through the sun to clean his cape a thing of the past.

    Overall, The Man of Steel significantly impacted Superman’s mythos for years to come. In fact, from 1986 until 2003, this story was considered to be the definitive Superman origin, right up until the publication of Superman: Birthright.

  6. JLA: Tower of Babel

    Creative Team: Mark Waid and Howard Porter

    JLA: Tower of Babel isn’t necessarily held in the same regard as some of the other titles on this list by DC purists. However, what makes this story so significant is that it provides a definitive answer to the question of why Batman is worthy of being on a team of super-powered Gods.

    The premise is simple – Batman has been keeping hidden records of the strengths and weaknesses of his allies, allowing him to create contingency plans to take each and every one of them down should they ever go rogue. However, those secret files fall into the wrong hands when they’re stolen by Ra’s al Ghul, who uses them to coordinate attacks on the entire JLA to prevent them from interfering with his latest attempt to reduce the global population.

    Ultimately, JLA: Tower of Babel provides excellent insight into the depths of Batman’s paranoia, and adds a compelling layer to the Dark Knight’s lore that you would expect to find in a Batman story rather than one featuring the entire JLA.

  7. DC: The New Frontier

    Creative Team: Darwyn Cooke

    DC: The New Frontier was published in 2004. Still, despite being a bit more recent than some of the other stories on this list, few will argue that from the moment it was released, The New Frontier became an instant classic.

    The story is set primarily in the 1950s, and it bridges the gap between the Golden and Silver Ages of comics, with Golden Age icons like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman meeting Silver Age mainstays like The Flash, Green Lantern, and Martian Manhunter. However, despite containing many elements of the Golden and Silver Ages, The New Frontier technically takes place outside of main DC continuity. Regardless, though, this story holds a special place in many readers’ hearts, and it’s one of the late, great Darwyn Cooke’s crowning achievements in the comic book industry.

  8. Batman: Year One

    Creative Team: Frank Miller, David Mazzucchelli, and Richmond Lewis

    Much like The Man of Steel rebooted Superman for the post-Crisis DC Universe, the same was done for the Caped Crusader with Batman: Year One.

    The story recounts Batman’s early crime-fighting career after he first returns to Gotham City upon completing his training, and is still considered by many to be the definitive Batman origin story. Additionally, Year One can be considered an origin story for Jim Gordon, who’s featured quite prominently in the narrative in his own right, having just transferred to the corrupt GCPD.

    Aside from establishing both Batman and Gordon’s separate roles in Gotham, Year One also slowly builds up the working relationship between the two, while simultaneously exploring their humanity. It’s really no wonder that Christopher Nolan borrowed so much from this story in Batman Begins.

  9. The Dark Knight Returns

    Creative Team: Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, and Lynn Varley

    When it comes to Batman stories, there’s no shortage of epic, action-packed tales to choose from. However, if you ask any longtime Batman fan for their number-one recommendation, nine times out of ten, they’re likely going to say The Dark Knight Returns.

    Set in a dystopian near-future, The Dark Knight Returns follows an aging Bruce Wayne as he comes out of retirement to once again don his cape and cowl in order to save the crime-ridden Gotham City from being terrorized by the violent Mutant Gang. The story also features a Superman who’s become a lapdog to the President of the United States, which ultimately leads to arguably the greatest battle between Batman and Superman of all-time.

    Aside from Batman: Year One, The Dark Knight Returns is by far Frank Miller’s greatest contribution to not just the history of the Caped Crusader, but to the history of DC Comics as a whole. Some may argue that the story is overrated, and in some ways, it may be. Still, it’s hard to argue that The Dark Knight Returns is the quintessential Batman story.

  10. Crisis on Infinite Earths

    Creative Team: Marv Wolfman and George Pérez

    Several times throughout this list, Crisis on Infinite Earths has been mentioned in passing. The reason for this is because, without a doubt, Crisis has had the biggest impact to date on the entire DC Universe as we know it.

    Prior to Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC’s stories were ripe with continuity problems, largely related to inconsistent character backstories. To fix this, DC introduced the concept of the multiverse, which would explain why the Superman of Earth-2 (the Golden Age Superman) was so different from the Superman of Earth-1 (the Silver Age Superman). However, writers took too many liberties with this concept, creating various parallel Earths as plot devices and making the DC Universe incredibly muddled and entirely unfriendly to new readers in the process.

    To try and clean up DC's convoluted continuity, Crisis on Infinite Earths wiped the entire multiverse concept out of existence (at least until it was revived years later in Infinite Crisis). It was an unprecedented move at the time, and the effects of Crisis reverberated throughout the entire DC Universe. In fact, nothing DC has published since has managed to match the scope and scale of the original Crisis, but that could change depending on how Rebirth continues to play out.

    What about you? Are there any other stories you think are essential for DC readers? Let us know in the comments section!