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Grumpy Old Fan | The Alternative Thirty

DC Universe: The Stories Of Alan Moore

[A quick note before we go too much farther: I started writing this post before DC’s big announcement about its September-and-beyond plans. In fact, I wanted this particular post to be about something other than Flashpoint and/or line-wide reboots — so depending on your perspective, I picked exactly the right week, or exactly the wrong week, to draw that line. In any case, it’s probably not hard to tell, from the past few weeks’ worth of posts, where I stand on current events.

[So there you go. On with the business at hand.]

Since it’s pretty much summer, and time to think about catching up on reading, let’s revisit DC’s list of “30 Essential Graphic Novels” — “best-selling titles that you must read[, ]whether you are just beginning to discover graphic novels or you are an established fan looking to expand your collection.”

The list is almost four years old, and has had a few minor updates. (Pride Of Baghdad replaced The Quitter, and Crayon Shinchan replaced Sword Of The Dark Ones.) For the most part, though, it’s the same compilation — heavy on the Batman and the Jeph Loeb, a decent amount of Alan Moore (but no Swamp Thing), a couple of Sandman books and Hellblazer, but no Wonder Woman, no Joe Kubert, and no Jack Kirby. While there are at least a couple of representatives from each of DC’s imprints, there aren’t many hints at the real scope of DC’s diverse publishing history.

Now, I understand that everyone could come up with his or her own unique list. Mine won’t be entirely satisfactory, and neither will yours. I have tried to be wide-ranging (although I have focused more on the DCU books), but to a certain extent I am more interested in exploring the lower tiers of DC’s collections. Everybody knows Batman, Alan Moore and Frank Miller; not everyone knows Jack Knight, Gail Simone, or Grant Morrison.

Another couple of caveats — I didn’t include any book that was already on DC’s list, not because I think my list is better from top to bottom, but again in order to be more diverse. Also, I think all these books are still in print, or at least available at reasonable prices.

Accordingly, in rough chronological order, here’s my alternative thirty….

* * *

We begin in the Golden Age, and I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say these stories changed comics forever. The first books in the Superman Chronicles and Batman Chronicles series are worth your time not just for their historical significance, but also because they show how the characters have changed over the decades. While Superman went through some significant upgrades, especially in the Silver Age, to me it’s also instructive to see how quickly Batman went from “grim urban avenger” to joking father-figure. Similarly, the first (and so far, the only) Wonder Woman Chronicles sets out right from the start the vision that William Moulton Marston had for his creation. It’s not so heavy on the kink as it would be, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting.

Jumping to the Silver Age, one has to include the first Flash Chronicles. Truthfully, there aren’t a lot of “pure” Silver Age books on my list, because I’m not sure you need a lot if you just want an overview. Gardner Fox’s stories and Carmine Infantino’s pencils influenced quite a few of DC’s subsequent revamps, such that books like Green Lantern and Justice League of America tended to look and sound the same. Not that they’re not enjoyable on their own merits; just that Flash gets the nod for being first.

Another perspective on the Silver Age comes from Showcase Presents The Legion of Super-Heroes Volume 1, reprinting the venerable team’s formative years. This does have a bit more of the “Silver Age Crazy” fans talk about, because I’m pretty sure it contains at least one Legion of Super-Pets story. More to the point, it comes from the editorial office of Mort Weisinger, the man who exploded the Superman mythology in the ‘50s and ‘60s. I wanted to include at least one LSH book on the list, and I almost went with The Great Darkness Saga, but for our purposes the early stories are better.

DC history involves more than superheroes, so my list includes three Showcase Presents books which get into war comics and Westerns. Bob Kanigher and Joe Kubert are synonymous with DC’s war books, so naturally I include Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock Vol. 1 and Showcase Presents Enemy Ace. Frank Rock and Hans von Hammer are very different characters, but both series show how their senses of honor and duty are tested by the rigors of war. Showcase Presents Jonah Hex also gives us a sort of anti-hero, more ethical and moral by comparison by the lawless world around him.

Moving into the 1970s, I wanted to include the Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, but their color collections are out of print. My reluctant substitute is Green Lantern: The Greatest Stories Ever Told, mostly because it includes the introduction of GL John Stewart from GL vol. 2 #87. That’s a highlight of the O’Neil/Adams run, although it’s not as preachy as some of the others. All of the O’Neil/Adams stories are available in black-and-white in Showcase Presents GL Vol. 5.

It should go without saying that the Fourth World needs some representation on any best-of-DC list, and readers who want an introduction have a couple of options. The two-volume paperback series Jimmy Olsen Adventures By Jack Kirby can be had for a reasonable amount, but it only reprints Kirby’s (still mind-bending) run on Jimmy Olsen. For the full New Gods experience, I’d go all-in with the first Jack Kirby Omnibus.

As with Green Lantern/Green Arrow, I’d wanted to include the seminal Steve Englehart/Marshall Rogers run on Detective Comics from 1977-78, but that collection (Batman: Strange Apparitions) is out of print. In its stead, I’d recommend the first Batman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told paperback, which includes O’Neil and Adams’ classic “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge.” Either that or you could wait for the big Marshall Rogers hardcover, coming in a few months.

We leave the ‘70s with Crisis On Multiple Earths Vol. 4, reprinting the Justice League/Justice Society team-ups from 1975, 1976, and 1977. The first story is an odd duck involving a couple of DC writers from Earth-Prime, but the other two are more straightforward “third-party” adventures, first with the Marvel Family and other ex-Fawcett characters, and then with the Legion of Super-Heroes. The Legion story is one of my favorites, if that helps at all.

The 1980s bring us two absolute musts, both from Alan Moore: Saga of the Swamp Thing Vol. 1, and DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore. As with Jack Kirby, it’s hard to overstate Moore’s contributions to DC’s superhero line, to say nothing of Swamp Thing’s role laying the groundwork for Vertigo. The DCU book also includes “For The Man Who Has Everything,” “Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?” and The Killing Joke, Moore’s most noteworthy Superman and Batman stories.

DC relaunched several superhero titles in the late ‘80s, many of which proved pretty influential. Chief among these was the George Pérez revamp of Wonder Woman, the first collection of which (Gods and Mortals) tells a nice, fairly self-contained, origin story. I also recommend the first volumes of Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, and Kevin Maguire’s Justice League International, John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell’s Suicide Squad (Trial By Fire), and Grant Morrison and Richard Case’s Doom Patrol (Crawling From The Wreckage).

The ‘90s saw more experimentation from DC, although some of it was under different imprints. Static Shock: Rebirth of the Cool (by Robert L. Washington, Dwayne McDuffie, and John Paul Leon) collects the first arc of 1993’s Static, along with 2001’s four-issue Rebirth of the Cool miniseries. From WildStorm I picked the first Astro City collection, Life In The Big City. Regular DC wasn’t too bad either, represented here by Starman Omnibus Vol. 1 (James Robinson and Tony Harris), Hitman: A Rage In Arkham (Garth Ennis and John McCrea), and JLA: One Million (Grant Morrison, Val Semeiks, et al.).

Finally, the last decade has had its share of good collections. I picked JLA/Avengers, Darwyn Cooke’s first Spirit collection, the biting satire Dr. 13: Architecture & Mortality, Jeff Smith’s Shazam!: The Monster Society Of Evil, the first Madame Xanadu collection (Disenchanted), the gorgeous Batwoman: Elegy, and Secret Six: Unhinged (first collection from the current series).

* * *

Now, those aren’t all “graphic novels” in the strictest sense — many are just collections of individual issues, or samplers of decades-old series. To me, though, it seems a little disingenuous to frame a product as a graphic novel when DC is still so heavily invested in weekly comics sales.

Naturally, there are a number of series I wanted to include, but which for various reasons didn’t make the cut. These include the first Joshua Dysart/Alberto Ponticelli Unknown Soldier collection (Haunted House) and the first Planetary collection (All Over The World), both excellent intros to extra-good series which ended up in the “others receiving votes” category. I tried to stay away from hardcovers, so as to keep things affordable (thus, no Wednesday Comics), but clearly missed that goal. I really wanted to include at least one New Teen Titans book, but I think you need to start from the beginning in order to appreciate the impact of stories like “The Judas Contract” and “Who Is Donna Troy?” Sadly, those early issues have only been reprinted in the out-of-print New Teen Titans Archives vol. 1. (They’ll be reprinted in the forthcoming NTT Omnibus, but that was too pricey for me.) At least read the Terra Incognito paperback before you crack open Judas Contract, to get an idea of what regular readers went through.

Again, I’m sure there are significant omissions, but overall I think it’s a good start. The Justice League comes out pretty well, with four books; and Batman and Wonder Woman get two apiece. Superman gets three, but only if you count the Legion book and the Jack Kirby book. (Part of that is because Superman: Birthright and All Star Superman are both on DC’s list.)  Besides the Greatest Green Lantern Stories book, there are a few Green Lantern Corps stories in the Alan Moore DCU book.  Bob Kanigher and Joe Kubert get two books, as do Moore, Grant Morrison, and George Pérez. Still, it shows a nice range of styles and storytelling formats, and I think it would serve both a DC newcomer and a lifer pretty well.

Of course, by this time next year we’ll all be looking at 52 collections of the first six issues of those coming-in-September titles, and then I’ll have to pick thirty of those….

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Clip and save —  the Grumpy Old Fan “Alternative Thirty,” in alphabetical order:

Astro City: Life In The Big City
Batman Chronicles
vol. 1
Batman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told
vol. 1
Batwoman: Elegy
DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore
Doom Patrol: Crawling From The Wreckage
Dr. 13: Architecture & Mortality
Crisis On Multiple Earths
vol. 4
Flash Chronicles
vol. 1
Green Lantern: The Greatest Stories Ever Told
Hitman: A Rage In Arkham
JLA/Avengers
JLA: One Million
Justice League International
vol. 1
Jack Kirby Omnibus
vol. 1
Madame Xanadu: Disenchanted
Saga of the Swamp Thing
vol. 1
Secret Six: Unhinged
Shazam!: The Monster Society Of Evil
(Jeff Smith)
Showcase Presents Enemy Ace
Showcase Presents Jonah Hex
vol. 1
Showcase Presents The Legion of Super-Heroes
vol. 1
Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock
vol. 1
The Spirit
vol. 1 (Darwyn Cooke)
Starman Omnibus vol. 1
Static Shock: Rebirth of the Cool
Suicide Squad: Trial By Fire
Superman Chronicles
vol. 1
Wonder Woman Chronicles vol. 1
Wonder Woman: Gods and Mortals


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Comments

17 Comments

Not a bad selection.

I’m still hoping that they finally do Vol.6 and 7 of Crisis on Multiple Earths, and vol. 3 and 4 (unless they need a 5) for Crisis on Multiple Earths: The Team-Ups. And I’m also surprised that since they did Superman/Batman in the 40’s/50’s/60’s/70’s/80’s collections, they have yet to do one’s for the 90’s, or ones for Wonder Woman.

Agreed, Acer – I especially would like to see the JLA/JSA/All-Star Squadron team-up collected (I have the ASS–oops–issues, but not the JLA ones).

There has never been a better time to re-read Moore’s Swamp Thing run.
http://www.tinyurl.com/readswampthing

Mark D. White,

I imagine that the only ones left to collect are the following:
-For vol 6=
Justice League of America #195-197 (“Targets on Two Worlds”, “Countdown to Crisis”, and “Crisis in Limbo”)
The entire “Crisis on Earth-Prime” (which you mentioned earlier)
Justice League of America #219-220 (“Crisis in the Thunderbolt Dimension” and “The Doppleganger Gambit”

-For vol 7 (which would be the final volume, and the thinnest)=
Justice League of America #231-232 (“Family Crisis”)
Infinity Inc. #19 (“Last Crisis on Earth-Two”) and Justice League of America #244-245 (“The Final Crisis” and “The Long Road Home”). Come to think of it, this would be the first time (since the Saga of the Swamp Thing Vol. 4 tpb) that any Crisis On Infinite Earths tie-ins have ever been collected.

For the “Crisis On Multiple Earths: The Team-Ups” future volumes, they’d need to collect the following issues (I’m listing them in alphabetical order just because, so you may want to consult the DC Wiki):
-Adventure Comics #460
-The Brave and the Bold #72, 75, 116, 156, 180, 182, 184, 199, and 200
-DC Comics Presents #23, 29, 33-34, 47, 49, 56, 62, 87, 90, 94, Annual #1 and 3
-Secret Society of Super-Villains #13-14
-Wonder Woman #291-293

Love it, much better and more diverse than the standard “read this from DC” that’s often littered with far too much Batman and Superman.

No Kirby = Anti-Life

reading the DC historical artifacts is not worth the trouble, they are definitely not something I would recommend to anyone looking to get into comics , as they are beyond antiquated, and only interesting for historians. Anything before 1986 should not be on any must read list.

+40 Teenage Werewolf

June 5, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Yes the DC ‘historical artifacts’ can be a little disappointing, but they still have a quirky appeal. The Golden Age Starman and Sandman archives are worth checking out. The original artists were really trying to copy the likes of Milton Caniff. Jonah Hex has been around for a long time. But the cynical take never lets up. I found Bat Lash, which has now been collected, a better written series with both tragedy and humor. Created by Nick Cardy and Sergio Aragones an over looked classic. Only went about six issues, but back then all the great ones had short runs: Steranko only seemed to last that long on any of the full length stories he made. I’ve found most of these at my local library, so if you want to review them before purchase, get your card out.

nice list actully have a few including the alan moore one some of the batman stuff. i also wish dc would do more reprinting of wonder womans early stuff and also George Perezes run on her. not to mention the suicide squad is long over due for either another omnibus chronicles or even an absolute edtion .but mostly its full run reprinted.

Life in the Big City was done while Wildstorm was still with Image, though.

We must have very different tastes, as I own over 300 Graphic Novels, and the only one from your list I have is JLA: One Million. That said, a new reader could learn quite a bit about their favorite characters from your list.

Your list of the most recent decade is absolutely spot-on.

The Batwoman HC is what inspired me to build a comic collection I could display outside of long boxes. Same for Darwyn Cooke and Cliff Chiang’s work.

To your list of the last decade, I might add a trade from:

Rucka and Brubaker’s Gotham Central
Milligan’s Human Target
Diggle’s Losers (or even Adam Strange!)
Gray and Palmiotti’s Jonah Hex
Johns’ JSA and the Sinestro Corps War
Waid and Perez on Brave and the Bold

Is it too soon to induct Daytipper and The Unwritten?

Rick, it is never too soon to induct Daytripper.
Daytripper is the pinnacle of comics mastery and I have recommended it to so many friends and have let so many others borrow it. Any comic that can have you re-examine your life through careful contemplation rather than shock value is deserving of any top whatever list.

Luca Frontino

June 6, 2011 at 12:51 am

“Kingdom Come” cannot stand off of any list, not because of the story but for the amount of homages, hints, easter eggs and best characters depictions that makes it the greatest of any DC book ever.

Daytripper is treacle pap when compared to the masterworks of Harvey Pekar, Josh Cotter, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, and Gilbert Hernandez.

Seriously, Ghost World changed my life.

Brian Wiggett

June 6, 2011 at 7:59 am

Of course all lists have failures of omission, but I’m fairly surprised that Morrison’s The Invisibles wasn’t included in any of the above discussions. It’s a difficult read, but I believe it’s far more worthy than a few of the other choices made (read: Jeph Loeb).

Glad to see Dr. Thirteen on the list. Loved that book. I need more of that!

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