Unforgettable1 of 12We're fast approaching the one year anniversary of DC's "Rebirth," the company's latest relaunch which placed an emphasis on bringing elements of DC's history that haven't been seen in a long time back to the forefront.
A lot of what's come back are elements from the Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths DC Universe, including that era's Superman, the original Wally West, and more.
With a more "classic" DCU coming into focus every month, we're counting down some of DC's best parts of the Post-Crisis continuity.
BIRDS OF PREY DEBUTS (AND STICKS AROUND)2 of 12When Birds of Prey debuted in 1999, it represented something important: the fact that a DC comic book could star a cast of entirely female characters with none of them being Wonder Woman and survive. And not only survive, but thrive through an enduring run that's included creators like Chuck Dixon, Gail Simone, and Tony Bedard.
At the front of Birds of Prey's ensemble for most of its run was Barbara Gordon, the former (and now future) Batgirl who had become paralyzed due to a gunshot from the Joker and reinvented herself as Oracle, fighting crime through intelligence rather than brute force.
Birds of Prey even inspired a short-lived TV drama on the WB, and while the show didn't take off with fans or critics, it was a testament to the appeal of a relatively new series - something that's not easy in an industry traditionally heavily reliant on characters and concepts from the Golden and Silver Age.
Birds of Prey went back to basics with "Rebirth," bringing Barbara Gordon (now as Batgirl), the Huntress, and Black Canary back together as a team.
SHHHHH3 of 12It was a concept Jeph Loeb was, and really most fans were, familiar with. Put Batman on a collision course with a gauntlet of his enemies, and see just how he comes out the other side. When the writer teamed up with Jim Lee to try this out one more time, though, they hit something really special. While using very human relationships as the driving focus of the story, they also showed that you don't need superpowers to be a superhero.
Loeb and Lee's story of "Hush," the long-lost friend of Bruce Wayne back to exact revenge, didn't just revive the idea of Batman as a full-on superhero. It made the Riddler cool again, it made Killer Croc seem more of a true monster, and of course (retroactively) it wound up being the first reappearance of the fallen Robin, Jason Todd. Creating a new villain for this story as the mastermind behind it all was bold, and showed fans that the Joker wasn't the only one who could truly go toe-to-toe with the Batman.
Hush wound up in the hands of Paul Dini, who made his own saga with the character, and has shown up in video games; he even has his own legacy character in the "Beyond" universe. But the original 12-issue story simply said "Let's give Batman a mystery to solve and a whole bunch of bad guys to punch" and showed how great that concept can still be.
"Hush" wasn't the only long-form, Jeph Loeb-written Batman mystery that had a major impact: Along with the striking style of illustrator Tim Sale, he crafted Batman: The Long Halloween and Batman: Dark Victory, which not only captivated fans and critics alike, but heavily inspired Christopher Nolan's Batman movie trilogy.
THE SPEED FORCE4 of 12Dear Mark Waid,
Thank you for the Speed Force. Now, we know that some people don't mind when speedsters are just folks who can run fast, but adding a sense of mysticism to the world opened things up in incredible ways.
There was the fantasy of it, the eternity and finality acting against and with each other. There was high science fiction with the time jumps of Max Mercury and the Black Racer and devices used to enhance, steal, or channel the energy. There was the beautiful romance to it, with people gone but always there, and the anchor of love keeping a hero from joining before his time.
The Speed Force didn't just explain the speedsters of the DC Universe, it enhanced them, lifted them into a higher state, and gave them a reason to run. It did those things both in the story, for the characters, and in the minds of the readers.
The Speed Force remains a major part of the Flash mythos, a cornerstone since it was introduced.
SANDMAN AND THE AGE OF VERTIGO5 of 12Though today most of Vertigo's books are creator-co-owned titles set in their own distinct worlds, when Sandman began, not only was it within DC's main publishing line (Vertigo didn't exist until several years later), it was set firmly in DC continuity. As was Shade the Changing Man, Swamp Thing, Hellblazer and Animal Man.
These books helped to introduce some of the most acclaimed writers in comic books to this day - like Neil Gaiman, Brian K. Vaughan, Alan Moore, and Grant Morrison - and made people look at superhero comic books in a brand new way. Sandman and its ilk led to the launch of the Vertigo imprint in 1993, which has led to multiple genre-defying stories from Y the Last Man to Transmetropolitan to Fables to Preacher, all outside of DC Universe continuity, but still some of the most important comic books of the recent era.
Though some mainstays of the Vertigo line such as John Constantine and Swamp Thing have made it back into the mainstream DCU, the recently launched Young Animal line carries on the Vertigo tradition of reinventing DC heroes with more mature and experimental themes.
TIM DRAKE RISES6 of 12Sure, Dick Grayson struck out on his own as Nightwing, and Jason Todd was a little rebellious; but Tim Drake was the first time that a character not only truly chose to become Robin, but proved they could hold their own amongst Batman and company with no help.
After discovering that Bruce Wayne was Batman (plus the identities of his ward Dick Grayson), Tim Drake decided that Batman just plain couldn't operate correctly without a Robin. His journey to become Robin involved revealing his knowledge, openly defying Bruce's orders, and even stealing a costume. He was instrumental in saving the day, and Batman accepted him into the fold.
Tim quickly became a focal point of the entire DC Universe. With his friends Bart "Impulse" Allen and Conner "Superboy" Kent, he led the next generation of heroes when the adults told them they couldn't fight on their own. He lost both of those friends, and his girlfriend Stephanie (who herself would be a rebellious Robin very briefly), and his father in a short span of time, but still came back. And when it appeared to everyone in the universe that Bruce Wayne had died, it was Tim that believed in him and let him come back.
Tim Drake made a hell of a Robin, but his contribution to the DC Universe was more in showing how a character can be allowed to grow while still retaining plenty of potential.
LEGACY7 of 12Ah, the legacy characters. Many of these characters have popped up in other entries of our countdown, and really, the concept of "legacy" is one that goes back to the Silver Age of DC Comics. But it was in the post-Crisis DC Universe that they were allowed to not just grow into their own, but often actually take over for their mentors.
Connor Hawke, Oliver Queen's estranged son, became the Green Arrow. Wally West, nephew (by marriage) of Barry Allen, became the Flash. Kyle Rayner became the Green Lantern. Heck, even Dick Grayson got to become the Batman a couple of times, and for a while, Donna Troy was the Wonder Woman.
Recent years have retconned many of these legacy heroes back into their earlier identities – and some of them were even wiped from existence for a time. But when “Rebirth” hit last year, the histories and realities of some of these characters were restored, most notably that of the original Wally West.
STARTING OFF STRONG8 of 12In the period following Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC definitely delivered on the promise of reinventing their top franchises, producing some of their most celebrated takes on their roster of heroes. John Byrne gave Superman a modern makeover in the Man of Steel miniseries, Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli redefined the Caped Crusader's origin in Batman: Year One, Crisis artist George Perez relaunched Wonder Woman, and J.M. DeMatteis, Keith Giffen and Kevin Maguire blended comedy with action in their influential Justice League run - a book that's so beloved it keeps coming back in one form or another.
”Rebirth” has followed in the same footsteps, aiming to rebuild the most iconic versions of DC’s heroes, with the return of the post-Crisis Superman, the return of Wally West, and numerous other smaller touches that harken back to DC’s best years.
IDENTITY CRISIS9 of 12Wait, didn't this make our "not so best of" list? It did, but such is the "eye of the beholder" and all that. Identity Crisis was an example of a technical achievement that, as stated before, would polarize those who read it.
The main problem most people have with this series was in the content, which was very button-pushing to be sure. However, this book was also a great mystery that tied the then larger-than-life or even god-like heroes of the DC Universe to something that often escaped them: their humanity, their mortality, their frailty. It told the story of the human condition in superheroic situations, and how fast passion and love can spin out of control.
Identity Crisis sure seems to be a love or hate (or sometimes a bit of both) for most fans, but it was a beautiful book, with a well-constructed story. Did some of the scenes horrify? Of course, but then, they were supposed to. No, this isn't a book that can be given to an eleven year-old who wants to read about Batman from the cartoons, but it was never meant to be. Its grounding of DC's superheroes, while simultaneously allowing them to do massive superheroic battle (come on, how bad ass was Deathstroke there?) will keep this story on the minds of comics fans for ages.
As for whether this one made it into the "Rebirth" era, the answer to that is pretty clearly "no," but there were some aspects of the story that may still ring throughout the DC Universe.
HAL JORDAN IS REBORN10 of 12Hal Jordan went through a lot in the '90s. He went crazy, killed a lot of his fellow Green Lanterns and the Guardians, became a supervillain called Parallax and tried to rewrite history. Then he reformed his image a bit by re-igniting the sun during The Final Night and becoming the Spectre, but was still far from the Lantern that fans knew for decades.
Along came Geoff Johns, and the aptly named Green Lantern: Rebirth. At the end of the six-issue series, illustrated by Ethan Van Sciver, not only was Jordan back as a Green Lantern, so were the Guardians of the Universe, Sinestro, Kilowog and plenty of other familiar elements of the GL mythos.
Johns didn't stop there, embarking on a Green Lantern run that continues today into The New 52. The writer added elements like the emotional spectrum, which introduced Red Lanterns, Larfleeze, the Indigo Tribe and much more to the DCU. The Green Lantern "line" now supports four books, which are often some of the most popular at the publisher, and Johns rose to the position of chief creative officer of DC Entertainment. And no matter what you thought of the final product, the success of Rebirth helped get the Green Lantern movie made, no small feat in and of itself.
Several years later, Johns and Van Sciver reunited to give Barry Allen a similar treatment in Flash: Rebirth - a tradition Johns later carried on with the entire DC Universe, using the "Rebirth" title for the company's latest relaunch.
MORRISON GATHERS THE BIG 711 of 12The year was 1997 and the comic book industry still hadn't stopped the bleeding from the speculator crash of the early 90's. In fact, '97 was the low-point for Marvel and for the industry, with the industry giant declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in late December 1996.
Then along came JLA, an ongoing series follow-up to Mark Waid and Fabian Nicieza's Justice League: A Midsummer's Nightmare 1996 limited series.
Long story short, Grant Morrison's JLA was simply f***in' cool at a time when comic books were in dire need of something f***in' cool. That it sold tons didn't hurt either.
Tossing aside the pretension that you can't have good "character development" in a team book starring superstars with their own solo series, Morrison's "Big 7" line-up succeeded because of the distinct personality lines he drew between the icons. Never had and never has a writer had so much fun with what makes the grouping so unique, rather than trying to reconcile it.
Morrison's JLA Batman was DC's most badass Batman in any title at the time, despite being utterly out of his Gotham City element and in the middle of the Scottish writer's often grandiose, sci-fi influenced story arcs.
Nearly every subsequent Justice League relaunch has followed Morrison’s formula, focusing on an “all-killer, no-filler” line-up for the team. And though some of the faces have changed – namely adding Cyborg to the so-called “Big 7” – the principle remains the same, carrying over even to the upcoming film version of the venerable team.
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