So Sayeth the Odinson: The Odinson’s Top 10 Must Read Comics from 1990s

Greetings from the Odinson,

 

The Odinson has a real love/hate relationship with the 1990s era of comic books.

 

The 80s produced signature character defining runs that took the medium to new heights of legitimacy and popularity – Walt Simonson’s Thor, Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, Wolfman/Perez’s New Teen Titans, etc.  Cohesive continuity and Big Events like Secret Wars, The Mutant Massacre, and Millennium brought comic book universes together and affected them in a way rarely seen before or since.  Watershed moments like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, for good and bad, completely changed the landscape of four color storytelling.  Chris Claremont’s X-Men were bonafide rock stars and primed to take the world by storm in all forms of media.  And, the decade culminated with the summer blockbuster and pop culture phenomenon Tim Burton’s Batman: The Movie.

 

Coming out of the 1980s, what by any barometer was a second Golden Age, the 90s had all the momentum in the world, and then the bottom fell out.  Heroes died, were cloned, turned evil, and got dark.  Oversaturation, gimmick covers and tie-ins, subpar product, and a ravenous speculative market almost bankrupted the business.

 

But, it was not all bad.  In fact, far from it. For all its faults the 1990s was still able to produce some really good product that holds up to this day and even influences the future of our beloved medium.  For all the jeers the Odinson aims at the decade of Big Pecks and Bigger Guns, there was actually some truly great work being done.

 

These are the stories, events, and Watershed moments from the 1990s every comics fan must experience.

 

The Odinson’s Top 10 Must Read Comics from 1990s

 

10 – Heroes Return – By time the mid-90s rolled around, Marvel’s flagship characters the Fantastic Four and the Avengers were no longer the company’s flagship characters.  They suffered in the shadow of juggernaut titles like X-Men and Spider-Man and instead of raising them up and showing why these heroes are premiere characters Marvel opted to reshape them to mirror the times – gritty, angsty, pouchy – they were “reborn.”  Now, I’m not going to say Heroes Reborn was 100% bad, but it, without a doubt, was one of the lowest points in Marvel History.  However, it did lead to one of the most successful, satisfying, and reinvigorating launches in comics since DC’s Post-Crisis continuity.  It led to Heroes Return.  Heroes Return Captain America by Mark Waid, Ron Garney and Andy Kubert, Mighty Thor by Dan Jurgens and John Romita, Jr., and Avengers by Kurt Busiek and George Perez are three of the finest runs by creative teams in the history of the medium.

 

9 – WildCATs – What could possibly be cooler than a renegade band of outlaw heroes that desperately struggle to stop an invading shape-shifting alien horde from conquering the world right out from under the unsuspecting noses of the human race?  Artist Jim Lee, white hot off his stellar run on X-Men, with his partners in crime Brandon Choi, Scott Williams, Chris Claremont, Alan Moore and others, created a world with a lush history that dates back thousands of years with mind-blowing action, character-driven melodrama, delicious subplots, and inhabited by mutants, aliens, cyborgs, and monsters.  WildCATs #1-50 is one of the most wholly satisfying, entertaining, fast-paced sci-fi action/adventures of the decade.  The WildCATs of the 90s were so good that to this day, many attempts have been made to recreate the magic, but very few have even come close.

 

8 – Spawn – Take the broody sensibilities of the Dark Knight, the gothic noir settings of the Man without Fear, and the supernatural horror of the Spirit of Vengeance, add a pinch of Law & Order and a pinch of the pathos from a Shakespearian play, and throw it all into a blender and you end up with a super tasty cocktail created by a wickedly talented artist that has the career drive of Gordon Gecko.

 

What could possibly go wrong when you make a deal with the devil, right?  How about everything!

 

After making such a macabre deal, Al Simmons, a former assassin for the CIA suddenly finds himself empowered with the powers of a demigod and caught in the middle of the war between Heaven and Hell.  But what sets this particular tale apart from others of its kind are all the colorful and wonderful characters Todd McFarlane has populated his world with.  Families, friends, police detectives, mob bosses, government spooks, demons, angels, monsters, cyborgs, and the homeless are all rendered so beautifully, as written and drawn, that each and every one of them could support their own classic story.

 

There is a reason Spawn is the longest running comic series in the history of Image Comics, and it’s a good reason.

 

7 – The Death of Superman/The Breaking of Batman – Love them or hate them, these two tales will always be tied to each other because they happened in the same company in the same year and they involved THE biggest comic book icons in history.  Though the death of a super hero or the complete overhaul of their mythos is pretty common place in our current times, these two seminal tales, though not the first, were definitely the most impactful of their kind, arguably even to this day.

 

In the wake of The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke, Tim Burton’s Batman, and Batman: The Animated Series, the Caped Crusader was riding a crest of popularity rarely seen before nor since, so for DC to humble, so utterly defeat, and replace their most popular icon at this moment in time took some real guts.  And, to say that the death of the Man of Tomorrow was a big deal would be an enormous understatement.  All around the world, from a three-year-old to your grandmother, everybody knows who Superman is and for him to be killed off was absolutely unthinkable, and Primetime news worthy.

 

From Bane to Azrael, Steel to Cyborg Superman, to even Hal Jordan’s decent into madness and ultimately becoming the Parallax, and much more, these are two seminal stories and iconic moments in time that must be experienced by all true comic fans, and they happened in the 90s.

 

6 – Age of Apocalypse – It is not the first story of its kind and Odin knows it surely won’t be the last, but, hands down, AoA is absolutely one of the boldest, inventive, and well executed alternate reality tales to date.  You have to remember, this is way before House of M and Flashpoint, and even predates Heroes Reborn, so for a company, especially one struggling as mightily as Marvel was at the time, to take their flagship franchise, arguably the flagship franchise of the industry, not just Marvel, stop shipping all the titles for that franchise for a 4-5 month period and completely overhaul and reinvent their X-characters and the world they live in and tell a grand epic on par with Lord of the Rings with a few 1-shots and a handful of miniseries with brand new titles is one the boldest and most innovative moves in the history of comic books.

 

And, it worked!

 

Much like many of the comics and tales on this list, to this day, Age of Apocalypse has been imitated many, many times, even by the same company, but the magic this tale captured in a bottle has never been duplicated.

 

5 – Hellboy – Featuring a very Ben Grimm working class hero archetype, the dark, foreboding, humorous, and thought-provoking world Mike Mignola has created with Hellboy is still one of the most entertaining reads month in and month out in comics to this day.  It’s full of monsters, witches, Nazis, demons, Lovecraftian horror, mystery, laughs, and a protagonist that possesses a giant right hand with which to pound some sense into the things that go bump in the night.  Even in a genre that has Kolchak, Buffy, Charmed, Supernatural, and more, Mike Mignola’s Hellboy stands out.

 

NOTE: Here’s a funny anecdote.  Around 1990-1991, I attended a comic con in Dallas and met two comic heroes for the very first time, Jim Lee and Mike Mignola.  Lee very kindly signed my cousin’s Punisher War Journal #1.  Then, I went over and talked with Mike Mignola and he was super cool and nice and even offered to show me these sketches for a brand new character he was developing.  Well, being a brash teenaged Odinson I completely dismissed the sketches he was showing and said, “That’s great, now please sign my Wolverine: The Jungle Adventure.”  It’s funny because those sketches Mr. Mignola was trying to share with me were very early renderings of the character that would one day become Hellboy.  It would be many years later before I would look back on that moment and truly appreciate it.

 

4 – Marvel vs. DC – It’s the story that finally settled countless debates that have happened in comic book stores, by the spinner racks at the corner store, on the playground, and in the school lunch room since the very beginning of the Marvel/DC rivalry – Who would win between…?  Though the Odinson doesn’t agree with all the outcomes (Namor beats Aquaman seven days a week, and I will go to my grave knowing Captain America drops Batman), the fans spoke and their votes counted.  Though the story was a little lacking in the narrative department (something fully made up for in the JLA/Avengers crossover that followed seven years later) and titanic tussles between icons like Superman and Hulk could never truly be decided in just a couple of panels, the fans voted and the result was one truly entertaining and special moment in Comics History.

 

3 – Preacher – Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, a gun-toting ex-girlfriend, a hard-drinking Irish vampire, and a disillusioned preacher that possesses the literal Word of God go on a road trip to find the Almighty.  There is absolutely nothing the Odinson can say about this tale of love, loss, angels, demons, serial killers, and a clandestine organization hell-bent on taking over the world that could possibly prepare you for what this story has in store.  Writer Garth Ennis, artist Steve Dillon, and cover artist Glenn Fabry created one of the most unusual, shocking, over the top, challenging, wickedly funning, and entertaining pieces of literature ever to grace the four color medium.  Preacher is truly a unique comic book experience.

 

2 –Kingdom Come – When it comes to alternate timelines and parallel dimensions, and multiverse building, it is safe to say the 90s was the decade of Elseworlds, DC’s answer to Marvel’s very popular What If…? series.  Amongst a sea of possibilities that includes a Golden Age reimagined, a Gotham by Gaslight, and a Vampire Batman, one Elseworlds tale rose up and stood above them all.  Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ masterpiece goes to great lengths to illustrate the dangers of the harder edge and more violent style of heroism that was quite prominent in the 90s and to juxtapose that style against the more positive and inspiring heroics spawned in the Golden and Silver Ages and shows what kind of Molotov cocktail the world could be if these two opposing styles every collided.

 

The painted artwork by Alex Ross is so beautiful and inspiring and the character-study by Mark Waid is not only entertaining but satisfying.  This is a powerful piece of literature that the comic book industry and fans are, and should be, proud of.

 

 

1 – Rock of Ages – Whenever anybody ask the Odinson what are the best Justice League stories they should read, without hesitation, this masterpiece is the very first story I mention.  Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s 1990s run on JLA is one of the true benchmarks in the history of this medium.  Their stories were always innovative, pulse-pounding, and above all else, entertaining, and right in the midst of it was this 6-part magnum opus.

 

Lex Luthor assembles a team of the Justice League’s deadliest foes, has a band of chaos-driven evil Justice League doppelgangers at his beck and call, and the villains have the reality-altering power of the Philosopher’s Stone in their possession, and all this is just in JLA #10, the first chapter of a 6-part epic.  What follows is a mind-blowing romp through time and space that involves the New Gods, alternate realities, galactic titans, and the most fantastic final stand of heroes vs. Darkseid that has never and will never be topped.

 

Rock of Ages is not just the finest Justice League tale ever told, it is one of the best comic book tales ever told.

 

Charles Dickens once said about another tumultuous period in time, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….”

 

That, my friends, pretty much sums up how the Odinson feels about the 1990s era in Comics History.

 

This is Odinson bidding thee farewell

About Odinson

I am a lifelong comics fan and pop culture enthusiast. Comic books, novels, games, television, movies, I love it all. From fantasy to science fiction, drama to comedy, as long as the writing and execution are interesting, I love it, and I want to talk about it.

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