In the words of Batman, a beloved character within the DC Universe, you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the superhero comic fanatic… that’s the correct phrasing, right?
Graphic novel enthusiasts have flocked to comic book stores since DC Comics Inc.’s revelatory creation in 1934. The fanbase has grown so strong that longtime fans are growing their collection of DC comic books and DC subscription box collectibles. They’re in pursuit of fastidious character plots, heroic leaders, chilling supervillains, and of course, justice.
But which DC comic storylines have stood the test of time?
From Retro to Modern—Top DC Comic Storylines
The fictional DC Universe has brought us the likes of Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, more contemporary imaginings of the salacious Suicide Squad, and the tenacious Teen Titans. But no matter who sits at the zenith of your most beloved plot, there’s no doubt DC Comics has brought fans some of the most electrifying storylines of steadfast champions, unswerving guardians, and resilient defenders.
Join us as we explore the best DC comic storylines, including:
- Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
- Superman: Birthright
- Aquaman: The Trench
- Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia
- Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps War
1. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
Debuted in 1986, “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” entrenches its readers in Batman’s decisive final scene.
The four-issue comic book miniseries, which was written and illustrated by Frank Miller, commences with a now aged and reclusive Bruce Wayne. In this series, Batman has retired. It’s been ten years since the death of his second Robin, Jason Todd, who died at the hands of Gotham’s most notorious villain, The Joker.
In a decision that confronts both his identity and call of duty, Batman is abruptly called back to the crime that still plagues Gotham City when a violent gang by the name “The Mutants” appears in the alley where Batman’s parents were murdered.
After acquiring a new Robin—a girl by the name of Carrie Kelley—Batman moves into the future while continually confronting the past in the form of prior foes like Harvey Dent, The Joker, and even Superman.
What it’s Most Known For
The miniseries is one of both internal reclamation and person redemption.
Not only does Frank Miller explore the evolution of Batman, but of storytelling itself, interweaving the past and future into an action-packed storyline that has inspired readers for decades, creating a legacy with impact.
2. Superman: Birthright
The twelve-issue superhero comic series, written by Mark Wald and illustrated by Leinil Francis Yu and Gerry Alanguilan, is regarded as one of the best DC storylines for its modernized retelling of the caped crusader’s thrilling origin story. Initially created with the intention of introducing a non-canon saga, the storytelling was soon adopted as canon, replacing John Byrne’s “The Man of Steel.” Superman comics depicted the home planet of Clark Kent as a cold and heartless society.
This series of Superman comics begins as the infant, Kal-El (Superman), is loaded into a pod and shot into space moments before the destruction of the planet Krypton. A loaded time-lapse then transports the reader to present-day West Africa, where we become witness to the violent conflict between two warring clans—of which Clark Kent, a burgeoning reporter, is covering.
Kent quickly adopts the role of protector, shielding a human rights activist from an assassination attempt while still maintaining some secrecy and keeping his superpowers unnoticed.
Inevitably, the superhero is met by a disconcerting medley of death and betrayal, and he eventually heads home to Smallville, where he’s determined to learn more about his alien heritage. This sequence catapults the superhero into a world of framed disguises, criminal enterprises, and the lovely Lois Lane.
It’s then that readers are introduced to Kent’s arrogant arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor, the head of LexCorp. LexCorp serves as a front for Luthor’s lawless affairs. Among Luthor’s musings is Superman, who he’s convinced is not of earthly origin.
With his reputation at stake, Superman attempts to uncover the past, only to be thrown into a vicious battle of alien invasions.
When Luthor discovers Superman’s vulnerability, Kryptonite, the question becomes: Who will prevail?
What it’s Most Known For
The Birthright rendition is acclaimed for its bold reimagining of one of the world’s most popular superheroes. The society of Krypton was remodeled to value the principles of hope and peace, represented by the letter “S,” which Superman later adopts as his emblem and personal motivator.
3. Aquaman: The Trench
Often compared to Namor, when it comes to Marvel vs. DC Comics, is Aquaman. Deemed one of the best Aquaman depictions of modern times, “Aquaman: The Trench” is the first story arc of Aquaman’s New 52 relaunch. New 52 is where DC Comics introduced the publication of 52 new series in 2011, each with revamped first issues.
The story itself, which was written by Geoff Johns and illustrated by Ivan Reis, offers a chilling aquatic tale that may earn its own place in the DC Comics cinematic universe.
Now battling a carnivorous race known as the Trench within the watery underworld, Aquaman fights to save Boston’s civilian population—the very faction that ridiculed his powers at the onset of the novel.
Following a hunch that the aquatic race dragged civilian captives to their underwater lair, Aquaman enlists the help of Stephen Shin, the marine biologist who previously taught and betrayed the Protector of the Deep.
When Aquaman finally descends into the watery depths of the Marianas Trench, he discovers the Trench’s elusive underground civilization, only to be confronted by an unlikely circumstance and an urgent moral imperative.
What it’s Most Known For
The first installment of the New 52 dives deep into the identity of the New 52 Aquaman, solidifying his role as a protector—an identity that percolates through the storylines to come.
Furthermore, the illustrations are especially vivid—conjuring up strange and usual images of sharp-toothed leviathans—and combined with unsettling storytelling components that leave the comic’s readers swimming in a watery nightmare.
4. Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia
The graphic novel, written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by J.G. Jones, is a Greek tragedy.
After participating in an ancient ritual called The Hiketeia, Wonder Woman becomes eternally honor-bound to protect and care for a woman by the name of Danielle Wellys.
When Wonder Woman discovers Danielle has killed the villains who murdered her sister, however, she finds herself entangled in a battle against Batman, who is looking for the young woman.
Weary of her ability to break the oath without instigating the rage of the ritual’s vengeful keepers, the Erinyes, Wonder Woman is left to deliberate between breaking the sacred agreement or betraying justice.
What it’s Most Known For
The story, which was released in 2002, was well-received by longstanding comic fans and critics alike and is often referred to as “the best Wonder Woman story” in all of DC Comics history.
In this novel, Rucka himself chooses to explore how the Lady of Justice is perceived rather than delve into her mental psyche—a task he deemed “murderous.” This method pervaded into future installments, in which Wonder Woman’s reputation is continually examined and evolving.
Specifically, Rucka is primarily praised for his sharp characterization of Wonder Woman as an actual person in place of an idealized caricature of womanhood, in which he portrays the superhero as a sincere, thoughtful, and even humorous sovereign.
5. Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps War
Greatly praised amongst the comic book community, Green Lantern’s installment of the Sinestro Corps War is a comic book crossover written by Geoff Johns and Dave Gibbons. Its titian aesthetic is the work of illustrators Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, and Ethan Van Sciver.
As the second part of a trilogy, the eleven-part Sinestro Corps saga begins at the threshold of an interstellar war fought between the Green Lanterns of Earth and the Sinestro Corps, an army led by Sinestro—a former Green Lantern who seeks to entrench the universe in fear.
Armed with yellow power rings, the villains of the interstellar army initiate a full assault against the Green Lanterns, freeing both Superman-Prime and Cyborg Superman from imprisonment for their own biddings.
When fellow Green Lantern Kyle Rayner is taken captive, his comrades attempt to free him from Sinestro clutches only to become entrapped themselves. In a thrilling, fast-paced narrative, the forces of good and evil oscillate between triumph and defeat until the interstellar battleground transitions to Earth’s terrestrial soil.
When the team of Green Lanterns learns of an ancient prophecy, they are confronted by the reality of “The Blackest Night” and the birth of five more universal corps.
What it’s Most Known For
After its introduction, the saga was commended widely for both its storyline and illustrations, achieving a nomination for the 2008 Eisner Award for Best Penciler/Inker Team. The storyline itself provoked multiple reprintings, as well.
Culturally, the storyline made waves, establishing its spot as a model for crossovers for stories to come.
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From each of these stories, we can derive the importance of duty, the persistence of moral integrity, and the temptation of fate—intergalactic prophecies, anyone?
Now it’s your turn to suit up, with CultureFly.
Hollywood Reporter. The Potential of an 'Aquaman' Cinematic Universe. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/trench-is-aquaman-getting-a-cinematic-universe-1185426
CBR. BOSTON: One-On-One - Dan DiDio & Greg Rucka. https://www.cbr.com/boston-one-on-one-dan-didio-greg-rucka/
Newsarama. NYCC '08 Floor Buzz: Ethan Van Sciver. http://forum.newsarama.com/showthread.php?t=154830