- DC Comics’ stories are often reimagined and rebooted to cater to modern audiences while still staying true to the core ideas of the characters.
- The Earth One series offers fresh takes on iconic designs of DC characters, allowing artists to bring their unique aesthetic to the table.
- Many of DC’s stories reinterpret the origins and storylines of well-known characters, bringing new depth and complexity to their narratives.
DC Comics‘ broad stable of characters across over 80 years of publishing makes its stories ripe for reboots and new imaginings. Though many such stories rethink old ideas to work in a modern, real-world setting, some hew closer to the core Golden Age tone, while changing the storytelling techniques for new audiences.
DC’s thrice rebooted and frequently fluctuating continuity also allows for authors to rework characters in the context of DC’s mainstoryline, in addition to the publisher’s regular stand-alone miniseries. These fresh takes offer the opportunity for artists to put their unique aesthetic stamp on iconic designs by drawing from the past.
10 Green Lantern: Earth One (2018)
By Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko
Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko rethink a Green Lantern influenced by the aesthetics and content of ’70s science fiction films like Alien. The Hal Jordan here is an ex-pilot forced to work the grueling job of deep space mining, where he stumbles upon a dead alien and a Green Lantern ring. Using the ring to defend himself from an attacking Manhunter robot, Hal is transported into deep space where he learns about the last remnants of the Green Lantern Corps, locked in a generations-long battle with the Manhunters. The book rethinks Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern story with a distrustful and not particularly brave Hal swept up into interstellar conflict.
9 The Wild Storm (2017)
By Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt
The Wild Storm attempts to modernize and streamline the sprawling WildStorm comics continuity of the ’90s and 2000s, originally created by Image founder Jim Lee. It combines stories previously spread across multiple books and loses the superhero aesthetics and pretense. However, it keeps the core concepts of spy organizations in conflict, corporate espionage, aliens, and the action-packed fight scenes of Lee’s original work. Jon Davis-Hunt does a slick job of modernizing the fight scenes in particular, shifting panel density to control time and pacing and using clean, detailed pencils to show carefully choreographed figures shoot, punch, and slice their way through enemy combatants.
8 “Zero Year” From Batman (2013)
By Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo
“Zero Year” is the Batman origin of the 2010s, eschewing the classic detective of Frank Miller’s “Year One” and instead leaning into a science fiction, techno ninja, high adventure Batman for this retelling. The story refreshes Batman’s oft-forgotten first supervillain, Doctor Death, as a tragic horror monster, reworks the story of the Red Hood as a gang with connections to corporate corruption, and features an iconic Riddler arc that influenced Matt Reeves’ The Batman. With career-best artwork by Greg Capullo and striking neon coloring by FCO Plascencia, the story also claims a spot among the most beautiful Batman books of all time.
7 Action Comics (2011)
By Grant Morrison
Grant Morrison’s run on Action Comics returns to Clark Kent’s first year as Superman, combining all of Superman’s history into one tale. Morrison’s story not only achieves this through its choice of characters but thematically, beginning with a jeans-wearing Superman who protects regular working-class folks from corporations, just like Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s original champion of the people, and ending with the science fiction, sun-god hero who was killed and born again. Ripe for meta-textual analysis, the story also features all-time great Superman moments, from taking a running leap into outer space off a ramp before he can fly to saving Krypto from the Phantom Zone.
6 “Elegy” From Detective Comics (2009)
By Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III
Though she first appeared in the weekly 52 series, Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III’s run in Detective Comics was the first to explore the origins of the post-crisis Kate Kane, Batwoman. The story rethinks Kate as a relative of the Waynes and West Point dropout, kicked out because of her sexuality as a gay woman. After spiraling into a drunk mess, she’s inspired to try and fight for justice after being saved by Batman. With her army general father putting her through rigorous training and serving as her advisor, Kate stumbles onto a hidden family secret tied up with Gotham’s criminal underworld.
5 Twilight (1990)
By Howard Chaykin and José Luis García-López
Twilight brings DC’s Silver Age science fiction characters into one space opera, as competing forces in an imperialistic galactic empire attempt to find a rumored race of aliens who hold the secret to immortality and even the power of godhood. Howard Chaykin infuses the colorful science fiction adventurers with the realism of petty personal vendettas, political competition, racism, sex, trauma, and violence. José Luis García-Lopez is liberated from his usual work as a superhero penciler, allowed to display everything from sprawling futuristic space stations to psychedelic cosmic magic and a mastery of human expression and body language. It is easily the artist’s best work, complimented by Chaykin’s dynamic layouts.
4 Hawkworld (1989)
By Timothy Truman
Timothy Truman takes both writer and artist duties in a book that takes a look at the life of Thanagarian Katar Hol before he arrives on Earth. The story takes its cues from Gardner Fox and Joe Kubert’s 1961 origin for Katar as a cop on the scientifically advanced planet of Thanagar. Inspired by Thanagar’s mythic heroes, Katar, son of a wealthy scientist responsible for the Thanagarian’s wing technology, throws himself into the life of a police officer, only to find that the wealthy world of his origin only exists because of the exploitation and policing of a poor underclass largely composed of aliens from worlds the Thanagarian Empire has conquered.
3 The Power of Shazam! (1995)
By Jerry Ordway
Jerry Ordway revamped the Billy Batson Captain Marvel with the 1994 graphic novel The Power of Shazam!, which then spun off into an ongoing series starring the character. The story combines multiple elements of Captain Marvel history into one story and reintroduces the supporting cast of the Marvel family into the DCU. The series hews close to the original Fawcett Comics origin of Billy as written by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck in its humorous tone and sense of adventure but pairs this with modern character writing and serialized story elements. The original graphic novel also explores the more mythological side of Shazam, emphasized aesthetically by Ordway’s beautiful painted pages.
2 “Year One” From Batman (1987)
By Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli
A genre-defining work for superheroes and the defining story for Batman, “Year One” sees the birth of Batman, the urban vigilante detective. Writer Frank Miller leans into grounding Gotham City in a reality without superpowers or sci-fi gadgets, drawing from American crime movies for its story and exploring the inner lives of Bruce Wayne and James Gordon through literary-inspired captioning. Husband and wife artist and colorist team David Mazzucchelli and Richmond Lewis delve into the shadows, with clean, retro silhouettes and expressive if restrained palettes of blues and reds. Mazzucchelli’s pencils are a tour de force of body language and expressive in both their grit and simplicity.
1 Watchmen (1986)
By Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Watchmen took inspiration from the Charlton superheroes of the late ’60s and ’70s who were acquired by DC Comics in the ’80s, using figures like the Question and Blue Beetle as archetype launch pads. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons then created an all-new cast, populating a world that imagined the social and political impact of a superhero community. Thematically drawing from Moore’s work on Miracleman which similarly rethinks a superhero with a realist writing philosophy, Watchmen also attempts to expand the medium of comics formally, posing, as Moore put it, a call to action for writers and artists to explore the storytelling potential of such comics.
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