The 5 Best Things to Happen in Superhero Comics in Recent Memory

The world of mainstream superhero comics is one that relies on a good deal of repetition and suspension of disbelief, in order to maintain a status quo, all without making it look that way. Yet, from time to time, there have been decisions made by those at Marvel and DC which actually did move things along, and open doors, behind which lay many undiscovered stories. As a result of that, superhero comics from Marvel and DC are, on the whole, very good, as antithetical as that may seem.

5) The New Avengers I owe a great deal to this book. The Avengers had gone a bit awry. Geoff Johns, before becoming the backbone of DC creative, followed Kurt Busiek, but didn’t stick around long enough to get a foothold. After that, there were dark times indeed, as Chuck Austen came along to muddy the waters, and leave things aimless. Then Brian Bendis stepped aboard to level all that came before, famously disassembling The Avengers. While this seemed a bit extreme, he was setting the stage for The New Avengers, a team that, on paper didn’t seem all that great. Sure Captain America was there, but Luke Cage, Spider-Man, and Wolverine didn’t seem right. As it turns out, that was exactly the ticket, and we got years of good comics out of the deal, and they’re still going on today. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Civil War was the team of rogue Avengers, lead by Captain America. Before The New Avengers started, I had written off superhero comics like this almost entirely. I didn’t believe they could be good again, and I was proven wrong. From these events, many others followed, including the Secret Invasion going on now, and whatever Dark Reign is going to end up being.

4) Apollo and Midnighter There have been a lot of half-assed attempts at gay characters, usually by people trying way too hard, or who have never actually met real gay people. There were many subversive things about Warren Ellis’ The Authority back in 1999. But, perhaps more original than anything was that the most powerhouse, scary, intimidating figures on the superteam were a same sex couple. What made this unique was that there weren’t an abundance of cutesy jokes about these characters being gay, but rather that they just were. They didn’t go back to their rooms after a battle and arrange flowers. There was not a more butch character than Midnighter. He was scary and intimidating, and the best thing about him was that there was no punchline. Apollo was the superman, and nearly invincible. The relationship between the men, as I read it, was mature, dedicated, and loving, exactly like any other relationship, and the whole thing just showed that it could be done, and it could be done respectfully. Things have certainly improved since these characters first appeared, the Rawhide Kid fiasco notwithstanding, but I don’t think it’s ever been done better. There are some who would say that social issues have no place in comics, but as for me, any time an artist wants to express an opinion about the world, they have the right to do so. The publisher and the audience will decide whether they want to listen, but the writer’s job is to express opinions about the world, through the lens of their story. For this, I applaud Warren Ellis.

3) Invincible and Omni-Man There have been, in the past, comics outside of Marvel and DC, which did superheroes as well as the big two companies. But I don’t know what they are. I think a major key to Marvel and DC’s success is the scope and depth of their respective universes, and most superhero stories outside of those confines felt insignificant by comparison. When Invincible started, it seemed, at first, to be just another young kid with superpowers finding his way. Then it happened. Watch out for your spoilers here, but his father, the mustachioed Superman of his world, Omni-Man, turned out to be the forward arm of an army determined to conquer earth. This lead to a great deal of family fighting, and is still providing rich story to this day, more than 40 issues later, including his inevitable return, as well as the conflict of having a beloved parent be something other than what you thought he was. (See also: Runaways) Also, from that, you’re seeing a birth of new universes over at Image, and who knows what they could become in the future. In the early 60’s, no one thought that tiny Marvel could rival the industry juggernaut that was DC/National Comics, but look what happened there.

2) Hal Jordan If ever there was a character who needed redeeming, it was Hal Jordan. Killed off by over-zealous editors looking to make a buck on special issues, DC squandered one of their best assets, having him return even more embarrassingly as The Spectre, the spirit of vengeance. Finally, Geoff Johns resurrected the true Green Lantern (sorry Alan Scott) and put our favorite cocky test pilot on the road to prominence once more. However, I’ll be the first to admit that it was a rocky start. Even Johns couldn’t seem to get a handle on who Hal was, and what he was about. So Johns, along with Ethan Van Sciver, broke him right, and basically restarted the Green Lantern’s whole world. His enemies were realigned in the Sinestro Corps, and his place in the Guardians and among Earth’s heroes is now solidified. By telling his origin again over this past year, Johns has reminded readers, and I think to an extent, himself, about just who Hal Jordan is, and now he’s ready to live in the modern world of comics, as a vital and relevant character. Hal’s come a long way in a short time. Thankfully, Johns looks like he’s about to do the same to the Flash. Because he needs it just as bad.

1) The Return of Bucky They said it couldn’t be done. This was of course, ridiculous, as in comics, literally anything can be done. But no one ever said it should be done, and that is the return of James Buchanan Barnes to the realm of the living. When I really think about it, there are so many ways this could have been done badly, and before it happened, I don’t think I could picture Ed Brubaker being the one to do it. In fact, I couldn’t even picture Ed Brubaker on Captain America. It just seemed so different than what I’d known him for previously. But then, slowly, artfully, he started telling, and is still telling, the story of Bucky, and readers ate it up with a spoon. Further, he went and made Bucky, one of the more lame facets of Marvel history, all respect to Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, really cool. He reinvented what Bucky, and now the Bucky of World War 2 was a wetworks expert, and you should have been afraid of him. The story of his being a Russian operative, bereft of his own mind, all through 60 years of cold war was fresh and exciting. And the effect his return had on our hero Steve Rogers was shocking, and it brought the best aspects of his character to the fore, which made his eventual shooting all the more painful. Again we’re seeing a story that’s lasting years, and will have repercussions for years more. But unlike the long lasting repercussions in Brubaker’s other book, Daredevil, I don’t want them to move along and be done with it. There hasn’t been another story in all this time, short of Starman, to cause me to buy it in successively improving formats, so my shelf sports the trade paperback collections as well as the very nice Captain America Omnibus. Should they find another, more impressive format, I’d likely buy that too.

The best stories are entirely unexpected, yet completely needed. When you look backwards, you wonder how comics could have continued without them. They raise the bar, and show later creators how to tell good stories, laying the foundations for the comics of the future, setting standards and proving that we can’t go back, and we must always go forward, as much as we might wish.



  1. This is a great list, Josh.  New Avengers, in particular, was a driving force in my return to comics after a long hiatus.  Even if my enthusiasm for the book has waned in recent months.  

    Bullet points on my own list:  The Minx line (may it rest in peace), Jason Aaron, Geoff Johns renovating much of the DCU, the death of Steve Rogers, Identity Crisis, Criminal and it’s exclusive back matter, the expansion of the Hellboy/BPRD universe with more artists and writers, X-Men moving to SF (I don’t read it yet, but the idea is fantastic), Buffy season 8 and Angel After the Fall, the apprenticeship method of big name creators co-writing with company newcomers (Brubaker and Fraction, Fraction and Remnder, Bendis and Hickman).  

  2. Also, digg this column, folks.  Because you know you dig it.

  3. Great list.  The only one I’m not 100% behind is #4, but only because the Authority never did anything for me.  I missed the boat on that one.  I’m sure it was pretty good though.

    I would have replaced it with The Ultimates/Ultimate Spider-Man both of which I think were a really cool reimagining of the Marvel Universe and went a long way to offering a new reader friendly portal into comics.  Granted only USM has kept up that high level, but it was a strong start.

  4. Very good list Josh, but if you dont mind I would like to add to it:

    6) The birth of Ifanboy, the greatest user-friendly comic book site ever invented.

    7) Civil War, Like it or not this has changed Marvel continuity for quite sometimes….Unless SI completely farts on this and changed the status quo back. Still…

    8) Hellboy, the most successful indie character ever?

    9) The birth of The Next Champion, yes if it wasnt for me I wouldnt be the Next Champion of….ifanboy? Eh, now you get the name Josh.

    10) Anything by Grant Morrison, just pick a title…any will do…

  5. Everything Josh writes makes me fall in love with comics all over again. Thanks!

  6. I considered Civil War, for the same reasons you state actually, but it was born out of New Avengers, so its inclusion is somewhat redundant.  From New Avengers sprung everything else, including Civil War.

    And thanks @WonderAli, that’s the point, so I’m glad it’s working.

    @Jazzlawyer – right when I was getting back into comics, The Authority was THE book everyone was talking about, and it affected so much that came after.  Because of that, the relevance of Apollo and Midnighter was heightened, and also because it was done so well.  This is coming from a guy who is not the biggest Warren Ellis fan in the world, although at one point, I was.

  7. I agree (believe it or not). New Avengers is basically what got me back into comics (though listening to your podcast certainly helped). The ongoing Bucky story is so much better than anyone would assume it could be. I hope they never bring back Steve.

  8. The New Avengers hook was an idea whose time had come. I was never an Avengers reader for long, regardless of the creative teams that would come and go, because I always found myself saying, "Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, huh? Triathalon and Jack of Hearts? And what exactly is a ‘War Bird’?"

    Isn’t it interesting that #2 and #1 move things forward by going backward, undoing the past? Undoing the Gordian knot that was Green Lantern, much less tipping the sacred cow that was Bucky, is the kind of thing that I wouldn’t do to win a large bet.

  9. I wish the New Avengers was allowed to be something other than a tie-in book.  I don’t get that sense of awe I get from JLA at its best (which is getting harder and harder to remember, but that’s another story). 

    I’ll always be a Raynor guy, and the retconning of Jordan’s misdeeds is a cop-out.  Still, the Sinetro Corps War was awesome and GL family of books is one the best things DC is putting out right now.

  10. Oh, and a big boo and his for neglecting to mention Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose.

  11. Of course I meant "boo and hiss".

  12. I think the rise of Marvel Knights was a really signficant and wonderful thing to do as well.  It brought a level of maturity in the writing and art to comics that were still floundering in the wake of the Image Boom and the Market Bust.  It was about pushing the mainstream books forward.  Without it, would we have the intense quality of Identity Crisis, Captain America, or Daredevil?  I don’t think so.

    I think Geoff Johns is also a "best thing to happen all by himself. 

  13. You forgot the ressurection of Ras Al Guhl crossover haha

  14. Here’s the thing about New Avengers as a tie-in book: having characters that matter worth a damn is a double-edged sword. All the characters that are strong enough to stand on their own– mighty enough, if you will– have their own books and their own lives happening outside the mansion. "Ooh," says an Avengers writer, "let’s have something really life-altering happen to Iron Ma- wait, Iron Man has his own book. Guess we better stock the team with Wonder Man and Captain WhoCares again and have it happen to them."

    Plus, if they really are the biggest team on the block, the stuff they do has to reverberate throughout the universe. Otherwise, welcome to the x-ghetto.

  15. Right now New Avengers is a must NOT read.  JLA in Morrison’s run did a great job of juggling all the crossovers like Blue Superman and that weird future Flash thing.

    Please don’t use Wonder Man’s name in vain again.  This is the guy who fought Red Ronin in a red jacket.  Now that’s what I call a super-friggin’-hero!

  16. Great list, but I’d have to disagree with making the return of Bucky number one. It’s only been, what, less than four years and three or four stories? I can’t disagree with the way it was done – it was and is brilliant – but I just don’t think it’s been long enough to ‘stick’. On the list, sure; number one, ehhhh.

  17. I love that you included Omni-man and Invincible.  That book really got me into indy comics and appreciate just how amazing they could be.  That book is totally making Image a force in the super hero biz.  Dynamo 5 is another bad ass Image super hero book and I totally wouldn’t be surprised to see them rolling out more super hero comics in the future.

    Its funny how each of the items on your list, most would have aruged in the beginning that they never should have happened! (With the exception of bringing back Hal, everyone knew that was a great idea from the start)  Proof that the business has to shake up the status quo in order to really get readers excited.  Great article sir!

  18. @:josh You should totally do a non-superhero/indie list to accompany this one. it’d be cool to see something a little less spandexy

  19. Agreed with Win

  20. Throughout my comics reading life, there have always been those characters who I thought DC and Marvel would never bring back.  Captain Marvel, Bucky, and Barry Allen.  We’ve in the past couple of years seen 2 of those guys come back, and the third (Captain Marvel) almost come back.  I’m curious of people’s opinion of whether or not there should ever be a sacred cow in the sense of deaths.  Is there ever a scenario in which an important character dies, that he should NEVER be brought back.  Captain Marvel, he died of cancer, in what was (I think) a pretty important story from a social conciousness point of view.  I wouldn’t want him to come back from that.  The idea of him works nicely as a Legacy.  Bucky sacrificed himself to save Captain America.  I would have left him dead, but I can hardly complain about the result of bringing him back.  Barry Allen though… I would say that, though I’m very willing to give it a try, bringing back Barry Allen seems like a bit of a travesty.  He sacrificed himself to save THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE.  Not a man.  Not a cat.  Not an old lady with a handbag.  THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE.  If ever there was a noble death, that deserved recognition, it’s Barry Allen.  I just think DC dropped the ball by not speaking of Barry in a more hushed, reverential tone when he came up in other stories.  He should have been worshipped as the greatest hero Earth had ever known.  And I think bringing him back sort of saps the strength of his sacrifice.  But hey, it’s Geoff Johns.  I’ll give it a try, and I bet anything I love it.

  21. It’s only when those characters become sacred cows that it makes the most sense to resurrect them, because no one is expecting it.

  22. Bendis in Avengers has been a bad choice for me. I don’t follow him anymore!

  23. Bringing Barry Allen back was only necessary because they really effed up Wally after Final Crisis. 

  24. Barry has also comes back a few times before.

  25. You know Gwen Stacy is coming back.  Isn’t there some kind of mysterious masked woman running around Spider-Man comics nowadays?


  26. I’d have put Walking Dead in the mix somewhere, given that it can in my experience serve as an excellent gate-way drug to people who don’t read comics – at the moment I’ve got the first 4 trades lent out to various friends, May be I can get them interested in Ultimates or 100 Bullets. Don’t want to scare them off with some hard-core Grant Morrison.

  27. @timbermunki – This was about superhero comics.  There will be another article more appropriate for the points you raise.

  28. Great column, Josh.

    I’m a bit confused as tp the fate of the Flash. Will the title see the reboot of the character and then carry on, or should we expect a new #1 soon? I could use a good new DC title tofurther help me out of my Marvel box (no pun intended).

  29. @TheNextChampion – You get five points subtracted.

  30. @timbermunki-By that same token, Fables is also a great gateway drug.  TWD and Fables have huge followings from people that read nothing else, just those trades.  It’s insane, and great!

  31. The Captain America Omnibus is the pride of my shelf.

  32. bucky for the win!!!

  33. new avengers got me reading comics again so that is #1 for me.

  34. The current Authority run (I’m only barely apologetic for picking it up, but Abnett and Lanning are good, so I did) has one of the most heartbreaking scenes I’ve ever seen in comics between Midnighter and Apollo. 

  35. Great Article!!!  I always look forward to Josh’s Article they are the best

  36. i agree, ultimate spiderman should be on this list. but then, it is recent memory so it can pass

  37. the new avengers brought me back as well.  I have to put ultimate spider-man in there.  But also, the whole trade boom.  I wouldn’t have been able to catch up on all these strories if not for trades.  So the trade boom is #1.  Also, walking dead is awesome. 

  38. Question… do you guys think that the Death of Captain Ameria arc has lived up to the first 25 issues of Cap that told that revolutionary Bucky story?

    I’m undecided

  39. i wouldn’t mind bucky doing something else story wise, if just for a little while. i like long thought out storylines, and maybe it’s just me, but it feels more of the same. but as much as i like bucky….i miss steve rogers. 🙁

  40. @SixGun – No, I don’t think they did.  The first 25 were very strong.

  41. I think they did when Kronas evicted all their homeowners and inflated the price of gas in America just to upheave America.  It was really ballsy of Bru nut I think he pulled it off and I think that was the big highlight of his run so far.

  42. Josh, the past tense of lead (as in ‘you can LEAD a horse to water’) is spelled "led". And you’re leaving a couple major things off the list.

    Movies – good or bad, the plethora of comic book movies being pumped out in the past few years have drawn in new readers and revitalized old material.

    Brian Wood – Local, DMZ, Northlanders, Demo – this guy has been on fire for awhile now and did a lot to bring readers into the indie comics realm.

    Creative Dream Teams – It’s been awhile (see: Stan and Jack) since a writer and artist have gelled together in a way such that the whole is far far greater than the parts. Ennis and Dillon, Bendis and Bagley, Brubaker/Rucka and Lark, Andy Diggle and Jock, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely (yes that’s a dream team: All-Star Superman, JLA: earth 2, New X-Men, WE3). I’m sure there are dozens more I could name. These teams are like the great comedy duos, or actor/director pairings in film, and they get me excited for books that I don’t know anything about besides the creators.

    $9.99 Trades – Dynamo 5 and Scalped are great books that might not be getting the attention that they are if not for the opportunity to pick up the first story arc for ten bucks and be completely caught up before the first ish of the next arc.

    Mark Millar – say what you will, this guy has turned the medium on its ear…

    Dynamite Entertainment continuing publication of The Boys – ‘Nuff Said

  43. Oh, and the triumphant return of Marvel’s cosmic heroes in a big, big way, can’t forget that (although I will gladly forget the Surfer’s stint in FF with Storm and Black Panther. Thank god for the annihilation, or we wouldn’t have Gaurdians of the Galaxy.

    Which brings me to my list of the 5 worst things to happen to comics in recent memory:

    Reginald Hudlin – Really? The guy that wrote House Party? Really?

    TV – Stop stealing our writers and stop teasing us with writers who aren’t going to stick around for significant runs and reliably scheduled titles!

     Jeph Loeb – I’m not going to say it, but we all know why his writing has fallen off the rails… and it has. Badly. I feel bad pointing that out, and I’m sure I sound like an asshole, but dude, seriously, stop writing comics.

    Rob Liefeld – He automatically gets a spot on any list that involves the worst of comics.

    And again, the Movies – while they have done great things for comics and lots of non-readers enjoy them, many of them misrepresent the medium and make the readers moan and turn us into skeptics.

  44. Yeah, I think I’m with you on that Conor

  45. @J4K3: I wasnt aware we get graded for our posts on this site.

    Does this count as a class for my College? 🙂