Who doesn’t love a good comic book? Comic books allow us to step inside fictional worlds and truly immerse ourselves in their spectacle. Because of these incredible creations, we can view heroes such as Superman as genuinely real characters and suddenly, the stories can take on new meaning.
Since 1934, DC Comics have produced some of the most incredible works of science fiction that you’re likely to read. The publications writers have been responsible for thousands and thousands of iterations of some of the most famous characters of all-time. In this article, we will be looking at the history of DC Comics and highlight the 5 Best DC Comics Stories of All-Time.
5. Kingdom Come
If you’re heading into this story with the idea it’ll be a stock standard Superman edition, you’ve got another thing coming. Kingdom Come presents an alternate version of Superman’s universe. The story is significantly darker in tone and presents a world where everything Superman loves is ripped away.
10 years prior to the events of the story, The Joker floods the offices of the Daily Planet with a lethal toxin. Everyone inside is killed, with the exception of Lois Lane, who manages to find a gas mask. Lois attempts to take down the Joker, but fails in her attempt and is murdered by the Clown Prince of Crime. Before his trial can proceed, the Joker is killed by Magog. Magog is celebrated as a hero by the public. Superman struggles to deal with the public embracing a murderer as a hero and retreats the fortress of solitude. It is here that he would spend the next decade.
During an attempt to capture Parasite, Magog and his new team of heroes kill Captain Atom, which causes the irradiation of the state of Kansas.
Wonder Woman convinces Superman to return to action. He once again forms the Justice League with many past heroes (Flash, Green Lantern, Red Robin, Dick Grayson and Hawkman). They build a new prison and attempt to capture many of the violent heroes who have risen up in Superman’s absence.
A huge battle breaks out between the Justice League, Magog’s team & a team headed by Batman & Lex Luthor’s Mankind Liberation Front. Captain Marvel is part of the MLF, but only under the mind-control of Lex Luthor.
A nuclear strike is ordered against the Superheroes by the United Nations. They manage to stop 2 of the nuclear warheads, but can’t stop the third. Superman attempts to stop the warhead from detonating, but Captain Marvel, having freed himself from the mind-control, sacrifices himself for Superman. Many heroes (and villains) are killed in the destruction.
When the dust settled, Superman decides to return to Kansas and fix the damage caused to the state. He and Wonder Woman begin a romantic relationship which results in the two expecting a child.
4. Batman: The Killing Joke
Batman: The Killing Joke is an unparalleled Batman & Joker story. Many critics believe it’s the quintessential Joker story and one of the best Batman stories ever told. I must say, I definitely agree with both of those statements. Published to a graphic novel in 1988, Batman: The Killing Joke was also adapted as an animated film in 2016, being the first Batman film to be given an R rating. However, the animated adaptation was not as universally well-received as the original graphic novel.
An unnamed engineer, who would go on to become the Joker, quits the safety of his job at a chemical plant to become a stand up comedian. The plan fails miserably and the man is now desperate to support his wife, who is pregnant with their first child. To make ends meet, he agrees to guide two criminals through the chemical plant so they can rob the playing card company next door.
During the planning process, the man is informed by the police that his wife and unborn child have died. Grief stricken, he attempts to back out of the deal, but the criminals force him to continue.
During the robbery, the criminals force him to wear the infamous Red Hood mask in order to implicate him as the ringleader. A shootout occurs between security personnel and the criminals are killed. The man is confronted by Batman as he investigates the situation. Desperate to get away, the man jumps into a vat of chemicals, and is swept through the pipes to the outside. He finds himself to be permanently disfigured. His skin is pale white, hair is green and lips and ruby red. His injures, compounded with the tragic loss of his family, drives the man to insanity. He becomes the Joker.
We head to the present day, where Batman heads to Arkham to attempt to end he and the Joker’s long feud. He finds that Joker has escaped. Meanwhile, Joker shoots Barbara Gordon in the stomach and kidnaps her Father, Jim. The bullet paralyses Barbara.
Commissioner Gordon is taken to an abandoned amusement park where he is beaten up and caged by the henchmen. The Joker chains Gordon to a ride and forces him to view explicit photos of his daughter, which the Joker had taken after she was injured.
Batman struggles to locate the Commissioner, until Joker sends him an invitation. Batman finds Gordon who, although traumatised and scared, remains true to his moral code. He insists that Batman takes him down the right way.
Joker attempts to persuade Batman that nothing and nobody in this life are worth fighting for and that it’s all just a bad joke. Batman eventually finds and subdues the Joker. He offers a chance to stop their feud, a chance to ensure that it doesn’t result in somebody’s death. Joker declines, stating it is “far too late for that”. He recounts an old joke about two prisoners which causes Batman to smile and then chuckle.
3. Crisis on Infinite Earths
Crisis on Infinite Earths was first released as a 12-issue series that ran from April 1985 to March 1986. Since its original printing, the concept has been revisited in various ways. Most notably, it was the centerpiece for a 5 show CW super crossover event in 2019/20. Crisis came about as writer, Marv Wolfman, felt the expansive DC Multiverse was far too confusing for the average reader. The series’ aim was to simplify the DC comics stories down into one unified Universe.
There is a cosmic being known as “the Monitor”. The Monitor takes responsibility for cataloguing the Multiverse and understanding major events. He has a direct counterpart in the “Anti-Monitor”. The Anti-Monitor comes from a universe comprised of antimatter and he seeks to destroy the Multiverse and become the sole ruler of all realities.
The Monitor begins recruiting both heroes and villains from across the Multiverse. His hopes to set up 5 towers and merge the Multiverse into one to make it stronger. However, the Monitor is murder by Harbinger, who is now under the control of one of the Anti-Monitor’s demons.
The Monitor’s death created enough energy to form a protective energy field around 2 of the remaining 5 Earths. Eventually, all 5 Earth’s are engulfed by the protective limbo as Harbinger begins recruiting heroes to begin an assault on the Anti-Monitor. Alexander Luthor Jr uses his power to open a portal between the Earth limbo and the Antimatter Universe which allows the heroes to destroy a converter that would destroy the 5 remaining Earth’s. Injured, the Anti-Monitor retreats as Supergirl is killed in the battle.
While the Anti-Monitor recovers and plans new attacks, Brainiac takes advantage of the lull to recruit other villains in an attempt to take over the Multiverse. He murders Earth-Two’s, Alexei Luthor, and recruits Earth-One’s, Lex Luthor.
Meanwhile, the Anti-Monitor forms a new body and tries to break through the Earth’s protection with an antimatter cannon. During the attack, The Flash is killed. The Anti-Monitor, furious at the thwarted attempts, draws in the energy of millions of Universes and threatens to travel through time and stop the first Multiverse expansion. Spectre warns the heroes & villains of his plans and they travel backwards in time & space. The heroes travel back to stop the Anti-Monitor, while the villains travel to Oa to attempt to stop Krona from creating the tech that would allow the Anti-Monitor to succeed. The villains fail and Krona continues developing the technology.
The Anti-Monitor waits for Alex Luthor to reopen the portal, but Spectre creates an energy overload which shatters time and space. This causes the 5 Earth’s to merge into a single shared Universe. The superheroes return to the present.
The Anti-Monitor readies for one final attack on Earth Prime as he transport the world to his Antimatter Universe. This results in a battle to the death with Earth-2’s, Kal-L, Alexander Luthor of Earth 3, Superboy of Earth Prime & Darkseid. The Anti-Matter crashes into a star and is killed by Earth-2’s, Superman. As the remaining heroes are the only ones who remember the previous Multiverse, Alexander Luthor sends them to all to a pocket “paradise” dimension.
Flashpoint was a 2011 comic book crossover event. Similar to the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline, Flashpoint was responsible for a shifting focus for DC comics. The events of Flashpoint changed the DC’s story arc, which would ultimately turn into DC’s, The New 52. Flashpoint was written by Geoff Johns and pencilled by Andy Kubert. In 2013, the animated film Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox was released and was a direct adaptation of the 2011 comic book event.
Barry Allen wakes up and discovers that everything has changed. He is no longer the Flash and his powers are gone. Barry’s mother, Nora, is still alive, while his father, Henry, died several years earlier. Captain Cold is Central City‘s greatest hero, the Justice League was never established, and even Superman is seemingly nonexistent.
Batman and Cyborg have a conference with a group of heroes. They discuss how Wonder Woman and Aquaman, who are engaged in a lethal feud, are seemingly tearing apart Europe. The battle has caused enormous death and the heroes fear that America may be next. The heroes struggle to agree and the meeting is abruptly ended.
Meanwhile, Barry heads to the Batcave, but is attacked by Batman. After a brief, heated discussion, it’s revealed that Batman is Thomas Wayne. In this new timeline, Bruce was the one murder, while Martha, driven to insanity, became the Joker.
Barry attempts to explain his situation to Batman. As he recounts his past, he realises that his memories are beginning to merge with this new timeline, meaning he isn’t in a parallel World, he’s in a new reality. Barry attempts to recreate the accident that provided him with his powers.
In London, Steve Trevor attempts to extract Lois Lane, who is working as intelligence. Wonder Woman attacks Trevor, forcing him to reveal information with her Lasso of Truth. Cyborg is stripped of his position by the President for allegedly allowing a traitor to steal information.
Barry once again attempts to restore his powers and health. He concludes that the Reverse Flash is responsible for altering history. He learns that Superman’s ship crashed on Government property and that he is detained under a secret Government project. Flash, Batman & Cyborg find a pale and visibly weak, Superman. After freeing him, and a subsequent fight with armed guards, a frightened Superman flies off.
The President announces that the US would enter the Atlantean-Amazon war. Flash, Batman, Cyborg & Element Woman find the Marvel Family. Batman asks Billy to use his lightning to prevent Flash’s memories from changing.
There is an air assault on England. It fails due to the Amazonians use of invisible planes. Hal Jordan, who never became Green Lantern, is the first casualty. A giant tidal wave threatens New Themyscira. Flash pleads with Batman to join the war, stating that the World will destroy itself if they fail in stopping Thawne. The group heads to New Themyscira. They are joined by Enchantress. When they arrive, Aquaman and Wonder Woman are fighting 1-on-1.
The Marvel Family transform into Captain Thunder, also transforming Tawky Tawny. Captain Thunder attacks Wonder Woman and appears to be winning until Enchantress reveals herself as the Amazon spy in the Resistance and uses her magic to restore the Marvel Family to their mortal forms. Billy Batson is killed, causing a massive explosion that cripples the opposing forces.
Thawne appears in front of Flash. Thawne explains that Barry caused this altered reality by saving his Mother. Barry pulled the entire Speed Force into himself to stop Thawne, transforming the timeline by shattering the history of his allies. Thawne resets Barry’s internal vibrations, enabling him to remember this. Thawne explains that Barry’s actions transformed him into a living paradox. He no longer requires Barry to exist. Thawne continues to taunt Barry with this knowledge until Batman kills him with an Amazonian sword.
The fight continues, as Superman arrives and begins helping his new friends. He lands hard enough and crushes Enchantress under his feet. Batman urges Barry to reset to timeline and undo so much pain. Cyborg detects seismic activity capable of destroying the World. Massive waves start to approach. Now knowing the point of divergence, the Flash restores the timeline. As he begins to leave, a dying Thomas thanks him for what he’s done. He gives Barry a letter addressed to Bruce. Barry bids his mother a tearful goodbye.
As he’s travelling through the speed force, backwards in time, Barry merges with his earlier self during the attempt to stop Thawne. Barry realizes he can see three different timelines. A mysterious hooded figure tells him that the world was split into three to weaken them for an impending threat, and must now be reunited to combat it. The DC, Vertigo, and Wildstorm universes are then merged. Unbeknownst to Barry and the hooded figure (later revealed as, Pandora), the mentioned threat intervened and removed 10 years of history from DC characters, which created instead a brand new DC Universe. Barry again wakes and realises he has retained all of his past memories. Barry remembers Thomas’ letter and gives it to Bruce, who is still Batman in this timeline. Bruce, deeply touched by his father’s sacrifice to ensure his son’s life, cries and expresses his gratitude to Barry.
1. The Dark Knight Returns
The Dark Knight Returns is a 4-issue comic series, written by Frank Miller. The series originally had unique names for each issue, but in the years since, these have been condensed into 1 bigger story and simply titled, The Dark Knight Returns. The story follows an older Bruce Wayne, who is a decade into retirement. When chaos begins to once again reign over Gotham City, the 55 year old returns to the cowl. He faces fierce backlash from the Government and the Gotham PD.
The Dark Knight Returns is set in a world where Bruce Wayne, following the death of Jason Todd, has given up his work as Batman. Because of Batman’s absence, crime is once again rampant in Gotham City. Particularly with a new hyper-violent gang of street criminals, known as The Mutants.
Bruce Wayne returns to his role of Batman to bring an end to the increasing crime. During his first outing, Batman stops an assault on two young girls, Carrie Kelley and Michelle. Batman learns that Harvey Dent is behind several of these thwarted crimes. Batman informs Commissioner Gordon that Dent could be planning something much bigger. Dent holds the city to ransom with a bomb. Batman, after defeating Dent and his men, realises he is now engulfed by his Two-Face persona.
Carrie Kelley, inspired by Batman’s actions, purchases a Robin costumes. She searches for Batman, determined to help him fight crime. She follows him to the city dump where he engages in a fight with The Mutants and their leader. Batman easily disposes of The Mutants, but thanks to his years of inactivity is seriously injured at the hands of the ring leader. Kelley creates a diversion allowing both of them to escape.
Bruce decides to keep Kelley as a sidekick, despite Alfred warning him otherwise.
Batman engages the Mutant Leader in a sewage run off pipe. The mud compensates for Batman’s reduced speed, allowing Batman to brutally defeat the Mutant Leader in front of his admirers. Seeing Batman so brutally take down their boss, the Mutants rename themselves the Sons of the Batman.
Superman is deployed by the President to talk to Batman and encourage him to step away. He is later deployed to Corto Maltese where he fights Soviet forces in a battle which could bring about the beginning of World War III.
Gordon steps down as Commissioner. Gotham’s new Commissioner, Ellen Yindel, issues a statement declaring Batman a wanted criminal. Batman’s return encourages the Joker to return from Catatonia. The Joker manipulates his way onto a talk show, where he murders everyone with gas. Batman, Robin and Selina Kyle track him to a country fair. Batman defeats the Joker in a fierce and bloody battle. Joker kills himself by breaking his own neck in order to incriminate Batman for murder. Batman escapes the City-wide manhunt.
Superman nearly dies diffusing a Soviet Nuclear Warhead. He regains strength by syphoning the sun’s energy from the Earth. The US is plunged into chaos by an EMP. Batman turns the Sons of the Batman into a non-lethal vigilante gang. He uses them to subdue looters and ensure the flow of supplies. Gotham becomes the safest city in the country. The Government, embarrassed by Batman’s success, force Superman to take him down. Batman and Superman agree on a final confrontation at Crime Alley.
Superman attempts to reason with Batman, but Batman, wearing high powered armour, goes on the offensive. He uses his tech and advanced fighting skills to level Superman. Superman weakens Batman’s armour. An assist from Oliver Queen allows Batman to shoot a kryptonite-tipped arrow into Superman’s face, momentarily destroying his strength. Batman states that he could’ve killed him, but chose to warn Clark about ever getting in his way again. Batman has a sudden heart attack, and seems to die.
Meanwhile, Alfred destroys the Batcave & Wayne Manor, before dying of a stroke. After Bruce’s funeral, it’s revealed that he is still alive. Superman winks at the new Robin after hearing Bruce’s heartbeat resume.
Bruce leads Robin, Oliver Queen and the Sons of the Batman into the caverns and prepares to continue fighting crime in Gotham.