Which story arc best captures the essence of a given superhero or team?

The rules: each person may select one story arc for each superhero. Other contributors can disagree and nominate something else, and people can change their minds, but no picking three story arcs that each illustrate something different about the character.

Pick story arcs for as many heroes as you like. Any medium and any continuity is fine – Elseworlds, TV, whatever.

I’m not the world’s biggest comic geek, but some thoughts that occur to me:

Batman: I’m gonna have to go with Miller’s Dark Knight Returns. (That’s the name of the first one, right? 'Cause that’s the one.) No, it doesn’t capture Batman’s lighter side, but damn it nails his focus, his will, and the delicate line between heroism and fascism.

Reed Richards: John Byrne’s “Trial of Reed Richards” story, where the Shi’Ar put Richards on trial for saving Galactus’ life. Great story, although on second thought maybe it’s the ultimate Galactus story…

Your thoughts?

Daredevil: Born Again. Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s dark story captures everything essential about Daredevil - his dual life as an attorney, his former lovers, his Catholic upbringing, and his ability to keep going even after losing everything important to him. It highlights the Kingpin and Bullseye, his most enduring foes, and also Ben Urich, a key ally over the years. The art is beautiful, and it may be Marvel’s darkest and most dramatic story arc EVER.

Avengers: Under Siege. I believe Roger Stern wrote this arc in the mid-'80s, but I don’t remember the artist… John Buscema? Shame on me! Anyway, the Avengers are totally taken by surprise and trounced by Baron Zemo’s Masters of Evil (many of whom later become the Thunderbolts). Hercules is beaten within an inch of his life by Mister Hyde, and Jarvis the butler also lies near death. As the villains take over Avengers Mansion, Ant-Man, the Wasp, Doctor Druid, Black Knight, Captain Marvel (the black woman who now goes by Photon, not Mar-Vell), and Captain America rise up against unbeatable odds and stand their ground. I was never a big Avengers reader, but this story really showcases the characters and proves what heroes should be about. It ran from #273-280, I believe.

Funny, I’m much more of a DC guy, but tonight the Marvel examples are coming to me.

I’m going to disagree just a little on Batman and go with Year One instead. I don’t think DKR holds up very well and I have always felt that Miller’s deconstructionist take mangles a few of the important side characters beyond recognition. On the other hand, in Year One he keeps the focus firmly on Batman and Jim Gordon and captures the essence of both characters brilliantly.

The Flash: Possibly an unpopular choice, but I’m going to go with The Return of Barry Allen by Mark Waid. Originally published in 1993 in Flash #74-79 the story perfectly captures the character of Wally West as he finally steps out from Barry Allens shadow. As a bonus it also introduces Max Mercury.

I’m not a big fan of the Dark Knight Returns. I feel that Miller turned Batman into a right-wing nutjob. He made him act like some retired WWII general, who was uncompassionate and was the only person with the right answers. Almost as bad was Miller’s portrayal of Superman as a braindead goon henchman of the government. I don’t mind Miller’s version but I don’t feel that it’s a definiate representation of either hero. They don’t fit the characters as they were written in the past 50-plus years.

I nominate Batman:Year One to be the definative version of Batman. It’s more a story about Commissioner Gordan than Batman but the limited exposure of Batman made him more mysterious and a creature of the night. Not knowing more about him made him something to be feared. Batman seems much more human in this than he does in Dark Knight Returns.

Alan Moore’s two-parter - Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? best represents Superman to me. Written as an “imaginary story” in the style of 50’s DC comics, it proved what kind of hero Superman really was. Not just a boring character who could defeat anything that came in his way. This story is his real struggle to do the right thing. And you really feel the love and devotion he and his friends and family had for each other. One of my favorite books period.

The Authority: Outer Dark. The team known for taking on ever bigger, badder villains winds up fighting “god.” And winning.

Grendel: Devil by the Deed. The story of the tragic, almost mythic, relationship among Hunter Rose, the first Grendel; Argent, the tortured Wolf who serves as his adversary; and Stacey Palumbo, Grendel’s adopted daughter who is loved by them both. From the seething corruption underlying ever stratum of society, the uncomfortable relationships between men and women of vastly different ages, the seeting frustration of the brilliant Grendel faced with the mediocrity and boredom of every day society, and the tragic ending - all classic Grendel.

Zatanna: Everyday Magic. It’s light, fun, and full of magic in more than one meaning of the word. She’s smart, popular on the stage and even more powerful off of it. And, for once, one of the grrls gets the better of John Constantine. What more could one ask for?

Black Panther: The Client. Rich king from Wakanda fights crime in America out of a sense of honor and responsibility and some terrific one-liners. Plus, storytelling containing lots of classic Christopher Priest flashbacks.

Seconding Big Bad Voodoo Lou’s nomination of Born Again for Daredevil, and shocked that he hasn’t mentioned Sins of the Father for Starman. I’ll leave the latter for him to discuss…

I agree with you on Batman: Year One, but I believe Max Mercury was a reintroduction of Quicksilver, a Quality Comics character that dates back to the 1940s. He was in DC’s Who’s Who series in the 1980s.

I also agree with all of Selkie’s nominations.

I thank you, kind sir. Now that I read it, I wish I’d proofed it a little more closely on preview. :smack:

So please, spare the rest of the board my incomprehensible writing and tell them all about Sins of the Father!

Starman: Sins of the Father (#0-5) is all about the ultimate everyman hero, a guy whose father was one of the bright, shining lights of the Golden Age, the Justice Society… but he wants nothing to do with his family’s tradition, or the weirdness and danger it brings. But when his father’s old arch-enemy comes out of retirement, murders his brother (who recently assumed the mantle of Starman), and declares war on the Knight family and their home of Opal City, slacker/artist/junk dealer Jack Knight has to assume the mantle of reluctant hero, take up his father’s spare cosmic rod (a weapon made with pre-WW2 technology that draws power from the stars), and fulfill his destiny as his father’s son, the latest Starman in a long heroic tradition. The writing by James Robinson is amazing, and the art by Tony Harris and Wade Von Grawbadger only suggests how great they will become over the course of the series. It’s a beautiful story, and the beginning of my all-time favorite series.

Astro City: Confession The superheroes aren’t the real stars in this series… it’s the city. The fantastic, irreproachable, wonderous city imagined by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson, built up against the shadow of Mt. Kirby. I’ve read and own every Astro City story there is, including the one in the 9/11 benefit book – abd after careful consideration towards “Tarnished Angel,” “Life In The Big city” volume and the upcoming “Dark Ages” storyline – I settled on Confession. It captures the bigness and intimacy of Astro City perfectly while peresnting us with an unforgettable mentorship between The Confessor and Altar Boy. RUNNER-UP: “In Dreams,” the first Astro City story and just about the best damned Superman pastiche, ever.

Superman for All Seasons by Tim Sale and Jeph Loeb – I’d say this not only does a damn fine job of capturing Superman as he grows into his power in “Spring” “Summer” “Fall” and “Winter” – but also shows the fine, fine collaboration of Loeb/Sale. Plus it’s just damned good storytelling, a great series of non-convoluted, character-driven plot Loeb switches to a new narrator in each part, revealing insights into Superman’s character from the POV of Pa Kent, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor and Lana Lang. RUNNER-UP: Big Blue in KINGDOM COME, for the Alex Ross art alone, and an especially touching story by Mark Waid. Best with the 8-page epilogue in the theme restaurant.

Miracleman #14, #15 & 16 By Alan Moore and John Tontleben. Dear Dopers – where you there? Where you there in that horrible time in the 18 month gap before this story cliffhanger ending and before it resumed? Back then there was no internet for fans to log onto and bitch their woes – NO. We had to stew and wait in silence. In some ways I miss those days o relative ignorance; back then i could still be surprised. My dog-eared, often read copies of Miracleman will attest Plus art that enthralls, horrifies and edifies like you wouldn’t believe. Best line: “I’m sorry… they’d say I was going soft, wouldn’t they?” The visuals in that sequence gave me nightmares. RUNNER-UP: Nothing else in this series comes remotely close.

I’m going to respectfully disagree with the OP and NOT endorse the Dark Knight Returns as the quintessential Batman book in favor of another, far shorter and in its way far sweeter comic called Planetary: Night On Earth. One of Warren Ellis’ better one-shots with the added bonus of John Cassady art and a team-up with the triumverate investigators of Planetary. If you read it, you know why it’s on my list. If you haven’t, you’re in for a thrill. Enjoy. RUNNER-UP: DKR, or Batman: Year One – even though that’s really Jim Gordon’s story.

Black Panther- The Client is good – but Enemy of the State II far, far superior. It has all the chicanery and cunning in that volume, PLUS it positions the Black Panther where he needs to be in the Marvel Universe PLUS Iron Man versus The Black Panther PLUS consistent artwork. Sadly, you’d pretty much have to read EVERYTHING Priest wrote between “The Client” and EoTSII to “get” it – so maybe you should stick with “The Client.”

HELL YES. I still say Year One is more “iconic,” but Batman/Planetary is brilliant–by far the best of all the Planetary crossovers, and one of Ellis’ best works in years. For all the guy complains about superheroes, few write them better.

Voodoo: Yeah, YEAR ONE was more iconic. But it didn’t have “Bat-apologies.”

I’d go with Tarnished Angel as the most representative of the series, personally. While I loved Confessions, Tarnished Angel was a much better indication of what distinguishes it from other superhero comics, I think.

Amazing Spider-Man #248- “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man” The definition of who Peter is. It illustrates how, unlike Batman, for whom Bruce Wayne is the alter-ego, Spider-Man is Peter Parker

Marvels really captures the wonder and awe of having super powered beings flying around your town.

Tengu. Well, a story arc relentlessly told from the POV of a villain on parole would tend to do that. I went back and forth on it, but ultimately went with “Confessions” over “Tarnished Angel” because what’s unique about Astro City is the city; you see Astro City itself more from a newcomer’s POV; you get to see different neighborhoods and a taste of the vast superhero diversity that exists there, as well as the city’s history, moreso than in Tarnished Angel. Plus there are way more little touches that are just flat-out brilliant and funny that Tarnished Angel simply doesn’t have – like how Kenny freed himself from that hostage situation in a roomful of superheroes.

I’m going to have to reread Year One – I don’t think I’ve seen it in a good 10 years. But I have to say that Batman, to me, is slightly beyond human, the way he’s portrayed in Dark Knight Returns.

On the other hand, I agree that DKR entirely misses the boat on Superman. Interesting that something that so well captures one character can really strike out on capturing another.

Note on the topic: I’m not asking for the best story arc for a given character – the most representative arc may or may not also be the best, but it’s, you know, quintessential. Everyone so far seems to have gotten this, but I meant to mention this in the OP and wanted to throw it in early in the thread.

I’m trying to think of which Fantastic Four arc best captures them – I’d probably go with a Byrne arc, again, but I don’t know which one…

Huh. Nobody’s mentioned X-men yet. There’s probably gonna be a helluva lot of disagreement, but I’m going to nominate the Fatal Attractions storyline. It held the essence of the world that the X-men books take place in… full of racism, fear, and hatred, people willing to destroy, use, and suppress mutants; Magneto’s character, his connections with the Holocaust and racism in general; Xavier and his optimism put to the ultimate test, his compassion and idealism strained to the point where he does the unthinkable to his “best friend”; Wolverine and Jean’s story coming to a head; and the whole team dynamic, trying to solve a crisis, trying to protect people that would just as soon slit their throats. Collosus going with the Acolytes was pretty impressive, too.

How bout Fantastic Four 245 to ?, where The Invisible Girl becomes The Invisible Woman? :smiley: (And Malice in-between! :eek: )

I’d have to say that the quintessential Fantastic Four story, IMHO, has to be by Stan the man and Jack Kirby. It’s hard to pick out any one story arc in the 100 some issues that they did but if I have to pick just one, it has to be issues #48-50, the introduction of Galactus and the Silver Surfer. The Fantastic Four was always centered around the dysfunctional family aspects of the group members, but these three issues brought the cosmic elements that took the book into a whole new arena. It laid the groundwork for future Kirby work (namely the New Gods for DC) that explored grander themes than just super-heroes duking it out with some bad guy. It went into our relationship with the universe. Pretty heady stuff for a silly four-color comic book. It might not reach the artistic levels of Robert Crumb and the underground artists, but it’s pretty grand stuff.

It seems to me that I’m fairly old-school when it comes to discussing comics with you guys but I’ll do my best to keep up. :smiley:

My vote for the best representation of the X-Men from their many incarnations is the Dark Phoenix saga from Uncanny X-Men #135-137 by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. I really wanted to make it the Days of Future Past storyline from #141-142 but I feel the Dark Phoenix story arc represents the best of the X-Men for me. And that’s the bond between the characters. They really feel like a family in this story. The misfits that came together and made it through no matter what. There’s genuine sadness in this story and the ending was very shocking. At least it was when I read it many years ago.