You know the game. You’re stranded on a deserted island and you can only bring 10 of a certain item to keep you occupied for the rest of your miserable lonely life. I’ve given some thought as too what are the 10 most essential comic book stories for me, the ones I would be willing to read over and over until I die. After much thought and deliberation I have compiled the following list. Since some of these stories are ones I read as single issues rather than collected editions, I often include entire runs or long story arcs that span several collected editions as one book. Some might call foul, but unlike books or movies the dividing line in comic book stories is very subjective. It goes without saying that I would recommend these books to anyone and as such I’ll include links to the books on amazon. These are the first 5 stories I would pick, in no particular order, with the second half coming soon.
- Planetary by Warren Ellis and John Cassidy (Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3, Vol. 4)-This series is nothing short of a comic book masterpiece. This is the story of Planetary, a secret society whose purpose is discovering the secret history of the world. The team consists of super-woman Jakita Wagner, the technopathic Drummer, and the enigmatic Elijah Snow. All under the command of the mysterious Fourth Man, the team gets wrapped up in a conspiracy of epic proportions. The team encounters many parodies and homages to tropes and characters of the comic book world, including but not limited to the Justice League, the Hulk, Doc Savage, John Constantine, and the Fantastic Four. It’s an incredible monument to pulp fiction (not the movie), comicdom, and literature in general. At 26 issues collected into 4 paperbacks, the story is self-contained and complete with a satisfying conclusion. This is my Watchmen.
- Final Crisis by Grant Morrison-This story was a bit controversial at the time of its publication. Many complained because of the unorthodox attempts a nonlinear storytelling, due to the heavy use of time distortion as a plot point, extremely compressed plotting, and a cavalcade of obscure characters. This is not a book for the new comic reader. But once the time is taken to pour over this book and take in all it has to offer, I believe it is easy to see why this book is so good. I’m a huge fan of metatextual stories, and this is a literal story of stories. Final Crisis is a distillation of comic book magic, good vs. evil on the grandest of scales told across time, across universes, across the page. It’s a mystery, it’s a love story, it’s an action adventure epic, it’s a gem.
- Sinestro Corps War by Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi-Every great writer has that one story that sends them to the top and that fans compare all their later work to. For Geoff Johns, that book is Sinestro Corps War. A crossover between the Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps series, SCW tells the story of Sinestro’s creation of his own Yellow Lantern Corps, and their systematic war against the GLC. Not just tied to the GL mythos, Johns throw the entire DCU into the mix, with heavy hitters such as Superboy Prime and the Anti-Monitor playing crucial roles. SCW is a story that doesn’t let up, with exhilarating action, tension, and high stakes. This is THE book that made me fall in love with comic books. This story also set the stage for one of the most hyped stories in recent memory, which leads me to…
- Blackest Night by Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi (Blackest Night, Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps)-The hype behind this book was outrageous, and the spectacular Sinestro Corps War is a pretty high standard to live up to, let alone pass. The concept is simple, black rings have appeared and are resurrecting the dead to form a zombie Black Lantern Corps and it’s up to the Green Lantern Corps and the heroes of Earth to stop them. For many this story doesn’t quite stand up to SCW, but its an epic in its own right with great art, great action, and great character moments. In my mind the essential Blackest Night story is told in the main Blackest Night series and the Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps issues. Rather than collected the issues chronologically as in SCW, DC published 3 separate collections by series. Because of this, reading the story in its collected form isn’t as smooth as it was in single issue form. This story features stakes just as high as those seen in SCW, on an even grander scale.
- Legion of Super Heroes Trilogy by Geoff Johns (Lightning Saga, Superman and the LoSH, Legion of 3 Worlds)-Ok, I’ll admit this one is a bit of a stretch. This “trilogy” is made up of three unrelated comic book story arcs that when put together create a full story. The total issue count is only 16 issues so I don’t have a problem counting it all as one story. The first book, the Lightning Saga, was a crossover between Brad Meltzer’s Justice League of America and Geoff Johns’ Justice Society of America. The story dealt with the mysterious return of a small group of the Legion of Super Heroes, a team large team of super powered teenagers from the 31st century. The story ends with a mysterious plot thread that is picked up later. The next book, Superman and the Legion of Super Heroes, took place in Johns’ run on Action Comics. The story dealt with Superman being called to the future by the Legion to save them from the Justice League of the future led by the Xenophobic Earth Man. The book featured fantastic art by the incredible Gary Frank, a frequent John’s collaborator. Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds, was a Final Crisis tie-in in name only, having little to do with that story. Instead, Johns used this as the climax of plot threads he had laid down in several of his books including Green Lantern, Infinite Crisis, and Justice Society of America. This story deals with three Legions from different Earths in the multiverse fighting against the Time Trapper. There were a ton of twists and surprises along the way and the story also continues Johns’ Superboy Prime saga from Infinite Crisis and SCW. The book featured art by the legendary George Perez. This saga is unique because while it is spread between seemingly unrelated books, it was overseen by the imagination of single creator who directed an over arching story.