DC created the modern superhero comic, debuting foundational characters and teams like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Robin, the Justice Society, and so many more. For over eighty years, DC has been redefining what the superhero comic can be, as well as branching out to horror and indie style creator-owned works with the Vertigo imprint of the ’90s and 2000s.
For fans of DC, there’s an endless library of amazing series to choose from, but some comics stand out above all the rest. These are the books that every fan of comics should read, the books that changed the industry forever.
10 Watchmen Is The Most Important Superhero Comic Ever
At this point, it’s almost cliché to recommend Watchmen, by writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons. Generally considered the greatest superhero comic ever made, Watchmen changed the comic industry forever. It’s actually gotten hard to find someone who hasn’t read it, but that doesn’t change the fact that anyone who wants to truly understand DC needs to read it.
Moore and Gibbons changed everything with this book, injecting superheroes with pathos and complexity like never before. The story set a precedent for DC to take chances with the superhero medium, and one can even look at the kerfuffle over its ownership between Moore and DC as the origins of Vertigo’s creator-owned revolution.
9 Y: The Last Man Is Powerful Sci-Fi Brilliance
Y: The Last Man, by writer Brian K. Vaughan and artists Pia Guerra, Goran Sudzuka, and Paul Chadwick, was Vertigo’s biggest book of the 2000s. Taking place in a world where a virus killed everyone with a Y chromosome, it follows the adventures of Yorick and his capuchin monkey Ampersand, the last two biological males on Earth.
Vaughan and company created a masterful story over the book’s sixty-issue run. One of the most interesting parts is that Vaughan never concretely lets the reader know where the virus came from, even though it is in the book. Full of great characters and plots, it’s a grand jewel in the Vertigo crown.
8 Preacher Is A Profane Masterpiece
Vertigo put out some of the greatest comics of the ’90s, publishing creator-owned works that gave writers and artists a place to tell any story they wanted. Preacher, by writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon, is a perfect example of what made ’90s Vertigo so amazing. It’s a profane, blasphemous masterpiece, full of sex, violence, Americana, and everything in between.
Following Jesse Custer, a preacher possessed by the half angel/half demon force known as Genesis, his girlfriend Tulip, and his best friend, an Irish vampire named Cassidy, as they hunt down God, who left Heaven upon Genesis’s birth. Preacher takes readers from the gutter to the stars as it flips between hilarious and tear-jerking moments, creating an amazing comic reading experience.
7 100 Bullets Is A Crime Comic That’s More Than Meets The Eye
100 Bullets, by writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso, often gets forgotten in the pantheon of great Vertigo comics. This is completely unfair because it’s definitely one of the imprint’s most important books after its boom in the mid-90s. Azzarello and Risso created something very special with the book, subverting expectations in the best of ways.
The premise of the book is simple: Agent Graves approaches a person with a briefcase that contains one hundred untraceable bullets and lets them do what they want with them. What starts off as a crime comic begins pulling in more mysteries, creating an unforgettable story.
6 Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing Is Perfect Horror
Horror comics are some of the best-written comics in the industry, and the main reason for that is Alan Moore’s time writing Swamp Thing. Moore wrote Saga Of The Swamp Thing from issue #20-64, working with artists Steve Bissette, Jon Totleben, Rick Veitch, and more. Moore’s time on the book took what once a simple monster horror book and made it so much more.
Moore’s work on Saga Of The Swamp Thing held the genesis of not only everything he did afterward, but has influenced every horror comic that has come since. Moore is able to chill readers with fear while making their hearts soar over the relationship between Swamp Thing and Abby Arcane. It’s a masterful work that needs to be experienced by every reader.
5 Final Crisis Is The Smartest Crisis
DC’s Crisis events are the publisher’s biggest event stories, each one bringing something different to the table. Final Crisis, by writer Grant Morrison and artists J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco, and Doug Mahnke, is the smartest of the various Crisis events. Sold as “the day evil won,” it involves the heroes of the DC Multiverse fighting back against Darkseid’s ultimate invasion of reality, but that’s only the beginning.
Morrison and company present a Crisis unlike anything readers had seen before or since. Its narrative takes readers from the beginning of human history to its most desperate hour, and it gives readers a story like they never imagined before. Event books are a dime a dozen, but Final Crisis is something special.
4 Tom King’s Batman Is The Caped Crusader At His Finest
Batman was one of the few characters to come out of the New 52 unscathed, with Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman setting the bar very high. Luckily, writer Tom King was up to the task. Writing the Rebirth relaunch of Batman from issue #1 to #85 and working with artists David Finch, Mikel Janin, Mitch Gerads, Joelle Jones, John Romita Jr., and many more, King took Batman to new places.
King’s Batman dug into the psychology of Batman in ways few other writers have before. King and company created amazing Batman stories, with two overarching plot lines: Batman’s relationship with Catwoman and Bane’s plan to destroy him. It’s a brilliant run.
3 All-Star Superman Is The Greatest Superman Comic Ever
Superman has starred in some amazing epics, but none of them hold a candle to All-Star Superman. Written by Grant Morrison with art by Frank Quitely, it deals with a dying Superman, overdosed on solar radiation trying to stop one of Lex Luthor’s schemes, setting out to leave the world a better place than it was.
Morrison and Quitely tell a Superman story that borrows from every era of the character to tell the perfect Man of Steel tale. It has everything a reader could want from it, and its status as an out-of-continuity tale means that every fan can read it without reading any other Superman story. It belongs in the pantheon of the greatest comics of all time.
2 Crisis On Infinite Earths Is The Perfect Event Book
Crisis On Infinite Earths set the stage for every event comic that came after it. Written by Marv Wolfman with art by George Pèrez, it pitted the heroes of the DC Multiverse against the Anti-Monitor, a monster that had destroyed countless universes, in a battle that would change DC forever. It put a dividing line in DC history and created one of the publisher’s most fertile periods in its aftermath.
CoIE has everything an event book needs: a frightening villain, the best heroes, perfect action set pieces, big moments, and drastic changes to the status quo. These lasting changes made DC better than it had been in years. It’s the essence of everything great about DC in one twelve-issue package.
1 The Sandman Turned Comics Into Literature
Saying that The Sandman is the best-written comic ever isn’t at all a stretch. Writer Neil Gaiman, over seventy-five issues, one special, a hardcover, and a prequel miniseries, worked with the greatest comic artists of all time, among them Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg, Kelley Jones, P. Craig Russel, Michael Zulli, Jill Thompson, Shawn McManus, and so many more, to create a masterpiece.
The Sandman is an unmatched achievement in the medium. It has an overarching narrative that is second to none and has some of the best single-issue stories ever put to print. Gaiman and company took comics and made them into literature in a beautiful piece of storytelling.
NEXT: 10 Vertigo Imprint Series That Need An HBO Max Series