As children of the 1980s, many of us likely became fans either through the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, or perhaps Michael Keaton’s Batman. Those were the days when there was not a dozen comic book related movies hitting theatres each year. For many of us, comic book reading started in the early 1990s. Superman was killed, Batman had his back broken and Marvel was doing some equally big things over in their sandbox with Spider-Man and the X-Men.
Personal nostalgia is rooted in the 1990s, specifically in DC Comics during the 1990s. Yes, it was definitely not the write time for any of us to be entering the comic book fandom. This was the decade that saw some epic highs and lows. This decade is perhaps the most derided, criticized and lambasted decades of comic book history. It also was the best of times, too.
This was the decade that gave us a mega crossover once a year, yearly themed annuals and its fair share of great storylines. There were great concepts and some ideas that really were just too bonkers to only work in comics. Everyone who reads comics are familiar with Batman: The Long Halloween, The Sandman and Animal Man. Those are entrenched in our psyche because they really are that good. They belong on other lists. Instead, let’s look at five overlooked/underrated storylines of the 1990s definitely worth your time.
Superman: The Trial of Superman
This is about to receive a reissue with a new collection out by the end of this year. In terms of Superman storylines, this is one of the more inventive and cohesive storylines of the decade. While the premise does stretch credibility a little, but this is comics and that requires a certain suspension of disbelief in order to work in the first place. Once you get past it, you’ll see this storyline has a considerably meatier plot than “The Death of Superman”, is just as action packed and features many of the same characters as the more famous storyline.
Flash by Mark Waid Book Four
Mark Waid’s run on Flash during the 1990s is a cornerstone of the successes that the comic book company had during that decade. Waid wrote some incredible things in the 1990s, but nothing quite like his run on The Flash. DC has been collecting this run, and book four, which contains the “Terminal Velocity” story is perhaps one of the best Flash stories of the modern era, and a pinnacle of Waid’s run. Most writers after writing the same character for forty issues would be ready to throw in the towel and move onto other projects… with Flash, Mark Waid was just getting started.
“Contagion”, and its follow-up “Legacy”, are often overlooked because they happen… right between two year long mega storylines we know as the “Knightfall Trilogy” and “No Man’s Land”. As a result, these two, particularly “Contagion”, do not nearly get the praise that they deserve. For two relatively self contained storylines (two to three months vice year long), each have their merits, but “Contagion” is the one you definitely want to track down. Warning: if you are looking for a storyline that showcases a plethora of Batman’s rogues gallery, this is not the collection or recommendation for you.
Green Lantern: Emerald Knights
Being a Green Lantern fan in the 1990s meant reading issues starring Kyle Rayner as Green Lantern. Many ignore this decade of stories for a lot of reasons. The stories are not always great, or even average, and the fandom was toxic towards the creators to the point that it has left a dark stain on the books ever since.
There are bright moments in this run. Ron Marz and Darryl Banks really did do their best to work with editorial edicts and a fanbase that were unwilling to give anything a chance after Marz was forced to make Hal Jordan go insane (see: editorial edicts). The first couple years of Kyle Rayner are really up and down in quality (Green Lantern (Vol. 3) 50-69), but the series gets its legs by the time time issue 75 hits the stands and continues on that way for a few years. Of these stories, Green Lantern: Emerald Knights is the highlight. Kyle Rayner teams up with Hal Jordan, and it’s a seven issue arc that brilliant feels like a passing of the torch between the two characters. The fandom would not accept the torch passing, but this book is still very much worth a read, and perhaps the most under the radar Green Lantern stories out there.
JLA: Rock of Ages
Rounding out this list a Grant Morrison storyline from this critically acclaimed run on JLA. While many would now criticize this storyline as reading like a proto-Final Crisis, this tells the story in a more contained and enjoyable way. It’s six issues that pack a lot of action and wonderment into its materials. Others would argue that “New World Order” order is better, but that feels more like a movie experience, whereas “Rock of Ages” feels more epic, if you can excuse the hyperbole. Extra kudos also should go to Morrison who had to write this particular storyline at a time when Superman was electric and Wonder Woman was dead. Oh, the 90s….