Marvel and DC (along with many other smaller or independent publishers) put out hundreds of different comic books issues and collected editions each year. There’s so many titles on the market, that unless readers make the effort to research what’s coming out, many of them would be completely lost. Often, individual characters like Spiderman even have multiples series starring them being released simultaneously. Today, I thought I’d ask myself: “If I could only read one book or series starring each of my favourite characters, what would I choose?” And so today I present to you, ‘12 Essential Superhero Comic Books‘or ‘The only books you’ll ever need.‘All these books are avaible in some form in collected print editions or digitally over on Comixology.co.uk.
Starting in no particular order…
Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
13 Issues – First Published 1996-1997
The first and still the best Batman story I’ve ever read. The story takes place in Batman’s early years and features the rise and fall of district attorney Harvey Dent and his relationship with Batman and Commissioner Gordon as they take on the Corleone crime family. A deftly crafted murder mystery story taking place over a year-long time period, The Long Halloween incorporates nearly every facet of Batman lore, including the best of his expansive rogues’ gallery. Though it may not have as much cultural significance as Frank Miller’s work on the character, The Long Halloween is Batman and co. at what they do best, trying to make Gotham City a better place, even if the road is paved with dark deeds along the way. The Long Halloween has been published in its entirety as a single paperback edition.
All Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
12 Issues – First Published 2005-2008
An alternate world story about Superman having to come to grips with his own mortality, All-Star Superman is a masterwork in stirring, emotional storytelling, while still having a mythic level sense of scale and significance in the world. Morrison and Quitely may be one of the most in-tune author/artist pairings to ever grace the pages of a comic book and every possible ounce of quality is eked out these pages. A fitting tribute to the world’s original superhero. All Star Superman has been collected in its entirety as a single paperback edition.
Aquaman: The Trench, The Others and Throne of Atlantis by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis
20 Issues – First Published 2011-2013
Johns and Reis wipe away every possible doubt that Aquaman is a dull, uninteresting character in this seminal 17 (technically 20) issue run (though it runs across multiple books, each book is a part of the ongoing story with the writer and artist remaining the same). As the gorgeously rendered and fantastically badass heir to the throne of Atlantis, Arthur Curry (Aquaman) has to contend with political machinations, assassination plots and an undiscovered race of deadly sea creatures that threaten both his worlds in the ocean and on land. If you ever had any interest in seeing the true nature of Aquaman, then this run is a must read. Geoff John’s run on Aquaman has been collected in three short paperback editions.
Iron Man: Extremis by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov
6 Issues – First Published 2005-2006
Artist Adi Granov usually only sticks to illustrating covers for other series, but his brief, 6 issue stint into doing all the art for this story makes it worth reading on that single fact alone. But not only that, Extremis is arguably the quintessential 21st century Iron Man story, telling you pretty much everything you ever needed to know about the titular genius billionaire playboy philanthropist. When terrorists manage to get hold of an experimental bio-weapon that turns normal men into flaming death machines, Tony Stark must find a way to stop them, while also considering the place of the weapons he’s built in the name of world peace. Extremis has been collected in its entirety as a single paperback edition.
Planet Hulk by Greg Pack, Carlo Pagulayan and Aaron Lopresti
16 Issues – First Published 2006-2007
Bruce Banner and the Hulk have both appeared in thousands of stories over the past 54 years since he debuted, not just in his own series, but in the pages of the many Avengers titles along with many other series. This 16 issue story arc, is the best of them all. Bar none. With a group of other heroes having finally decided he’s too much of a threat to remain on Earth, the Hulk is tricked into being fired into deep space. However, through a series of events he winds up stranded on a world with a tyrannical ruler and is forced to fight in the arena as a gladiator. A legendary tale of titans on both an epic and incredibly personal scale, Planet Hulk is the cosmic odyssey of a man and a beast who learns that there is more to himself than just anger and hate. Planet Hulk has been published in its entirety as a single paperback edition.
Inhumans by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee
12 Issues – First Published 1998-1999
The Inhumans have been appearing in the pages of Fantastic Four since the mid-60s, but larger audiences finally started to take notice with this gorgeous miniseries published in the late 90s. Taking place shortly after the Inhumans have revealed themselves to the world, this focuses on the efforts of their self-willed mute king, Black Bolt, and the rest of the royal family, to keep the people of the city of Attilan safe from threats both inside and outside their walls. This series serves not only as a great story in its own right, but is a fascinating exploration of the culture and power structure of the Inhuman race, and is essential for any fan not just of comics but science fiction in general. Inhumans has been collected in its entirety as a single hardback edition.
Hawkeye by Matt Fraction and David Aja
22 Issues – First Published 2012-2014
Adopting a dog, being the landlord of an apartment building, causing trouble with the Russian mob. Just a day in the life of Clint Barton, long time Avenger and the world’s greatest marksman. And with his headstrong protégé Kate Bishop along for the ride, what could possibly go wrong next in Hawkeye’s anything-but-average time off from flying robots and falling cities. Fraction and Aja bring Hawkeye down to earth in a seemingly endless number of creative, sharp, hilarious and endearing ways. Famous for having an issue written primarily in sign language, one from the perspective of Clint’s canine companion and even an animal themed Christmas TV special, Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye is the funniest, most lovable, most heartfelt comic to come out in years. Hawkeye has been collected in four short paperback editions, two oversized hardback editions, and a single hardback omnibus edition.
Ultimate Spiderman by Brian Michael Bendis
200+ Issues – First Published 2000-2015
The Ultimate Universe was a project Marvel began in 2000, intended to introduce new readers with a fresh start, a new universe running alongside the regular Marvel Comics universe, but without 40 years of convoluted continuity. Ultimate Spiderman was the premiere title of this initiative. Featuring a teenage Peter Parker, this series retold many old stories with new energy and fresh, modern art, while also introducing many new story elements such as Kitty Pryde (one of my favourite characters in all of comics) as Peter’s love interest and Miles Morales as the black Spiderman. The most easy-to-enjoy Spiderman series since the character’s beginnings, Ultimate Spiderman is one of the big reasons both me, and a whole generation of readers fell in love with comics. Ultimate Spiderman has been collected in over thirty short paperback editions as well as several longer paperback editions and partially in a long out-of-print hardback omnibus edition.
The Ultimates by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch
26 Issues – First Published 2002-2007
What Bendis did for Spiderman, author Mark Millar and artist Bryan Hitch did for the Avengers, with their Ultimate Universe counterpart, ‘The Ultimates’. Edgier, bigger and bolder than any other superhero book being released at the time, it featured a line-up consisting of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye and several other key players, with a Sam Jackson looking Nick Fury behind the wheel. This book served as the key inspiration for Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and is blockbuster comic writing at its absolute best. It’s perhaps the most entertaining comic I’ve ever read, if you can buy into its ridiculousness. Note: listening to the music of Tool while reading may induce seizures due to the sheer widescreen awesomeness coming into your eyes and ears. Caution is advised. I’ve also ceremoniously dubbed ‘Vicarious’ as the main theme of this book. The Ultimates has been collected in four short paperback editions and two larger paperback editions as ‘The Ultimates’ and ‘The Ultimates 2’, and as a single long out-of-print hardback omnibus edition.
New X-Men by Grant Morrison
42 Issues – First Published 2001-2004
Beginning just after the mutants first hit it big at the box office, Morrison redefined the landscape of Marvel’s X-Men titles by turning the Xavier Institute into a proper educational academy, establishing the Weapon X program as including more than just Wolverine, bringing secondary mutations into the fold, and most notably of all, the killing over 15 million mutants within the first story arc. Mature, weird, wonderful, and utterly enthralling are all words I’d use to describe this epic 42 issue narrative, which sets the stage for practically every post 2000s X-Men story, including the glorious Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday, which immediately follows on from this book. It’s up for contention whether New X-Men is the best run on the franchise ever written, but in every manner possible, it’s got my vote. New X-Men is collected in either seven short paperback editions, three larger paperback editions and in a single hardback omnibus edition that will be reprinted in November 2016.
29 Issues – First Published 2006-2007
2006 saw the release of Civil War, the big event that set the comic’s world on fire with its insane popularity. However, while Civil War was flying off store shelves, a talented group of writers and artists at Marvel where quietly revamping and reintroducing the Cosmic line-up. Hero’s like Nova and the Silver Surfer, joined by former villains like Drax, Gamora, Super-Skrull and Ronan the Accuser, all came together to combat the universal threat that was Annihilus, whose insect drones spewed across the cosmos from the Negative zone. Throw the mad titan Thanos, the enigmatic Peter Quill and the world eater Galactus himself into the mix, and you have a science fiction epic worthy of the gods. Presented as a group of concurrently occurring miniseries before the big finale event, Annihilation set the stage for writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s beloved tenure as the lead authors of Marvel’s Cosmic comics for the next 5 years. All in all, Annihilation was and still is considered to be one of if not the best event comics in Marvel’s history. Annihilation has been collected in three paperback and hardback collections and as a long out-of-print hardback omnibus edition.
Green Lantern: The Sinestro Corps War by Geoff Johns
11 Issues – First Published 2007-2008
I admit I may have been cheating a little, since the last few entries have been longer stories on titles by the same author, but believe me, they’re worth everything they ask of you. This final entry though, is worth even more. From 2004 to 2013, Geoff Johns changed practically everything readers thought they knew about Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps. The ring wielding space cops found new worlds to save, new challenges to overcome, and of course, new foes to battle, with Geoff John’s writing have a true sense of mythic proportions. The inarguable high point of this journey was the Sinestro Corps War, as Jordan’s long-time nemesis Sinestro formed his own army of fear to do battle with the might of the Green Lanterns. A story of loss, hope, horror and redemption, this is superhero comics at their most spectacular. John’s entire run on Green Lantern is collected in three hardback omnibus editions, with the first containing the beginning of his work up until the end of the Sinestro Corps War. I personally recommend starting from Green Lantern: Rebirth, the miniseries that opens the first omnibus, and Johns first work on the character.