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My Top Twenty: Favorite Comic Series by Decade

I tried to pick my three favorite comics from each decade. To make it more interesting, I avoided picking the same series in multiple decades. For example, Batman is my favorite character by far, but there's only one Batman entry on the list because I had to pick the time I liked him best. Check it out!

List items

  • 30s-50s Gold Medal

    I was not a tremendous fan of Superman's series in the late 90s and early 00s, so I was surprised when I found his early appearances extremely entertaining. At the very beginning, Superman is portrayed as a proactive, almost bully-like champion of the little guy. One story I recall is Superman trapping a corrupt mine owner and his friends in a cave-in to show him how he was putting his workers at risk. It is interesting to see Siegel and Shuster's vision for the character before he evolved into the boy scout we know today.

    Another thing I like about Superman in this time period is the depth of the mythology surrounding him. We start off with just Superman, the lone survivor of the planet Krypton, but during this time period we also introduce Lex Luthor, Mxyzptlk, Bizarro, the bottle city of Kandor, Superman robots, Kryptonite, Supergirl, Krypto and the Legion of Super-Heroes. Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Superboy also get their own series and expand the world of Superman even further. The fifties are filled with wacky plotlines often involving apes (e.g. Titano) and aliens (e.g. Brainiac). Whenever I read a 50s story where Batman is trying to solve a mystery and it turns out to be an alien, I feel cheated. When the villain of a Superman story turns out to be an alien or something similarly ridiculous, it just feels natural since Superman is a wacky alien himself.

  • 30s-50s Silver Medal

    Once I strayed from Batman and Superman, a lot of the Golden Age stuff I read sort of runs together. The villains are all generic gangsters or mad scientists with names like Louie the Knife and Blinky Norton. The heroes have unique powers, but usually prefer to just punch the bad guys until they give up... even magic heroes like Spectre and Dr. Fate! Alan Scott as Green Lantern is probably my favorite Golden Age hero besides Superman and Batman. His ring doesn't seem as powerful as Hal Jordan's, and his weakness of wood shows up a lot more often, but he manages to get by. Memorable villains such as Vandal Savage, Solomon Grundy, Icicle and Sportsmaster are introduced while Doiby Dickles provides comic relief (mostly by speaking with an accent, which apparently provided a lot more humor 70 years ago than it does today).

  • 30s-50s Bronze Medal

    All-Star Comics deserves a spot at the top for introducing the very first superhero team: the Justice Society of America. It started off as just featuring solo tales of characters from other anthology books: 4 books each contributing 2 characters. Later, they tied it together so that all the stories related to the same case, and then finally they cut it down to just one story featuring the entire team. One thing that's cool about this is just how structured it was. They had a contest to see which character would get his own book. When Flash won, he "graduated" to All-Flash and Johnny Thunder joined the team so they would still have two heroes from Flash Comics on the team. The same thing happened later with Green Lantern and Dr. Mid-Nite. Also, members who seem really important in today's JSA like Wildcat and Mr. Teriffic were only ever in a couple issues. When you read about the old team today, it just seems like it was just one big happy family with 15 or so of them running around, so its interesting to see how the team was actually built.

  • 60s Gold Medal

    Speaking as someone who had never read a Marvel comic until a year or two ago, I can give this unbiased opinion: Stan Lee is a genius. Okay, that might be overstating it, but he did introduce a lot of things to comics. One of the biggest is the hero with personal problems. This brings us out of the cookie cutter superheroes of the 50s and starts to give characters personalities so that each was a little different (they were all seemingly involved in love triangles, oh well..). He also was good at adding a lot of humor to the books that was actually funny, not just in a "silly old comic book dialogue way". Add in the extremely large and strong supporting cast of Spider-Man and you've got a heck of a book. I was also a fan of the numerous cross-overs with other titles and subplots that develop over the course of several issues.

  • 60s Silver Medal

    Although they had one or two appearances in the 50s, the 60s was really the decade where they flourished. The Legion is one of my favorite team books and I like all of the various incarnations (e.g. reboot, threeboot, etc), but the original remains my favorite. Living in the distant future, the Legion exist in a universe of their own, loosely connected to the rest of DC by having Superboy as a member. One of the things that I like about the Legion is that individually they are not as powerful as most other heroes. Members like Matter-Eater Lad, Bouncing Boy and Phantom Girl probably wouldn't want to take on heavy hitters like Darkseid by themselves, but working as a team, they are unstoppable. Since they are in the future, in space and have a cast of about 30 characters, the stories can be drastically different from week to week and cover whatever they want from social issues, to character development, to just plain old Silver Age silliness.

  • 60s Bronze Medal

    Gardner Fox's second big superhero team book, the Justice League stands in my mind as the DEFINITIVE superhero team. Although I like the Legion because they are smaller characters in their own little corner of the DC universe, its hard to resist a title that has the big guns all in one place. Some of the stories can be corny, but its also filled with classic moments that are referenced time and time again in later comics, including the famous annual JLA-JSA team-ups now collected in the "Crisis on Multiple Earths" trades.

  • 70s Gold Medal

    The seventies is probably my least favorite period in comic history. Most of what I've read from this time is either trying too hard to emulate the Silver Age and seeming stale or trying too hard to relate to a younger audience. I think Green Lantern/Green Arrow is a rare exception where the book does a very good job of relating to real issues of the time. Stories about race, prejudice and drug abuse shake things up and the famous O'Neil/Adams combo change Green Arrow from a generic superhero to a unique character

  • 70s Silver Medal

    Besides "relevant comics", another major feature of the Bronze Age was non-superhero comics (war, western, horror, etc.) My favorite among these was Jonah Hex. Michael Fleisher wrote over 90 issues of what I consider to be the definitive version of the character (although I've grown to enjoy the modern version).

  • 70s Bronze Medal

    Another exciting thing happening at DC in the 70s was Jack Kirby's transition from Marvel to DC and the coming of the Fourth World. I think Mr. Miracle is my favorite Fourth World book because he's kind of like the Batman of the New Gods. He's not out there brawling like Orion, but he uses his wits and gadgets to get himself out of tricky situations. He also lives on Earth unlike the visiting Orion and Forever People so it helps to keep it a little grounded.

  • 80s Gold Medal

    There's a lot I like about this book. One of the most obvious is the high stakes. From the first issue you know that anyone on the team could die on any mission. This along with the long history of comic villains to choose from allows an ever-changing cast of characters with personalities and motivations that extend beyond the average superhero book. I like how they bring in weird characters like Shade the Changing Man, Bronze Tiger and make them interesting and cool. It also does a good job mixing the dark themes with humor from time to time.

  • 80s Gold Medal

    I originally had "Batman and the Outsiders" in this slot (which I still really enjoy), but after reading New Teen Titans, I had to make the switch. A combination of existing characters who were not being used well (Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, Beast Boy, etc.) and brand-new characters (Starfire, Cyborg, Raven, etc.), this teen team book laid the groundwork for the Outsiders, Infinity Inc and many others.

    Every character in the book had their own unique relationships, villains, subplots and motivations. The series is filled with incredible art, teen angst mixed with humor and classic moments and stories that are still referenced in today's comics. (Not to mention introducing Deathstroke, and changing Dick Grayson from Robin to Nightwing)

  • 80s Silver Medal

    For someone like me who loves diving into the continuity of comics, this series was delightful. I love how it spotlighted very old or very minor characters from the Golden Age of comics like Liberty Belle, Johnny Quick and the first Robotman and built them into likable characters. It also introduced new characters such as Amazing Man and the second Firebrand. It was filled with references to Golden Age stories including a couple from All Star Comics that I recognized. Although it centered around a main cast, it included all sorts of DC heroes. After Crisis on Infinite Earths, they introduced "retcons" by removing Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and others from the roster. I liked Infinity Inc a lot too, but only had enough room for one Roy Thomas book on the list :-(

  • 80s Silver Medal

    This series is a good example of how the mood of comics changed in the 80s. Written by Dennis O'Neil (who already made it on this list), the main character spends as much time dealing with mental or spiritual issues as physical. His primary motivation is curiosity and finding the answers to questions, no matter where the search takes him. It is often dark, serious and thought-provoking, but somehow still manages to be a lot of fun.

  • 80s Bronze Medal

    After an uninterrupted run of about 25 years, JLI shook up the status quo by replacing the "big guns" of the traditional Justice League with the less serious, minor characters of the JLI. (Actually it replaced Justice League Detroit, but work with me here). Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire were an unlikely combination that ended up clicking and shaping Justice League comics for the next ten years. This series has something for everyone: old forgotten characters (Fire, Ice), new characters (Booster, Dr. Light) old favorites (Batman, J'onn), serious threats mixed with stories about nothing, humor mixed with tragedy (but mostly humor).

  • 90s Gold Medal

    Batman is my favorite comic character and the 90s include my favorite Batman stories. The fact that this is when I started reading comics probably has something to do with it... Stories like Knightfall and No Man's Land and writers like Doug Moench, Alan Grant and Chuck Dixon definitely make this the best book of the decade. Add in the various Bat-related books of this decade like Robin, Nightwing, Azrael and Batman Adventures and it becomes unstoppable!

  • 90s Silver Medal

    For a long time, I only read Batman books. This series introduced me to the justice league and characters I had never heard of before like Martian Manhunter. If you look at it from a wider perspective, it cleaned up the mess that was created at the end of the JLI era. I love JLI and it made this list, but in the mid-ninties, the books were pretty terrible. Morrison came in and returned the team to its roots: the big seven. Mixing old-time villains like Ivo, T.O. Morrow and Amazo with new characters like Prometheus and the General was cool. This was the era of Wally, Kyle and Connor and I really got to know these characters and decided to seek them out in their own books. I liked Mark Waid's run on this book as well, but then it started to go downhill...

  • 90s Bronze Medal

    One of the biggest things happening in the 90s in comics was the creation of Image. Out of the six original studios, I probably like Jim Lee's wildstorm the most overall, but my favorite single title is Eric Larsen's Savage Dragon. I started reading this after I had caught up on Invincible and saw that a lot of the stuff I like about Kirkman's books happened in Dragon first. Dragon builds out an entire universe of characters, but usually restricts itself to one book so that its not diluted. The stakes are always high and ANY character could get killed off at a moment's notice. Every issue ends in a semi-cliffhanger. There are numerous sub-plots that run over lots of issues. The main character is very relatable and rejects a lot of comic book stereotypes. Best of all, the creator of the comic writes and draws every single issue which gives a lot of continuity and stability to the comic.

  • 00s Gold Medal

    Y: The Last Man is possibly my favorite comic of all time, issue for issue. The main character is just a regular joe that you can relate to, but finds himself in an extraordinary situation. Being the only man on Earth seems like it would be fun, but it turns out people are trying to kill you all the time! One thing I like about this series a lot is that it seems like the author knows where the story is going from the very first issue. An epic journey around the world that has danger, laughs, romance, mystery and tragedy.

  • 00s Silver Medal

    Zombie apocalypses have always been a fascinating subject for me. A lot of people that don't understand think that people just read the book for the violence, but that's not really the draw for me. It's the survival aspect. Essentially: what would you do to survive when society crumbles and all of the old rules fly out the window? Where do you go? Who do you trust? Do you give into despair or figure out a way to make a new kind of life? The zombies are really just part of the environment, a force of nature that the survivors struggle against to survive. The high death rate in the book keeps the stakes high, but also allows new characters with new stories to step into the spotlight and prevent the book from getting stale.

  • 00s Bronze Medal

    One of the first books to introduce me to Geoff Johns. As Johns often does in his books, this book makes you feel like the DC books really are sharing a universe with a shared history. I like the sense of continuity with the old Society, but also the fact that new characters are introduced like Stargirl and the new Mr. Terrific. Handled improperly, this could end up being a carbon copy of JLA, but I think the writers did a good job giving it a unique feel.