There’s so much to check out with DC Universe that it can be overwhelming…especially for comic book readers. That’s doubly the case for readers unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the DCU. To help you out, I’ve put together a little Essential DC Universe reading guide.
This list isn’t comprehensive for a few reasons. I only included books that had at least 10 consecutive issues or major jumps in the collection. That left out a book like Nightwing as it jumps from #1-12 to #101 to 106 and then #147 to 153.
The Flash #191-200 is a great read, but is on the tail end of Geoff John’s incredible run on the title. That’s definitely one that should be there in total. The 82 issues of Batman are like a greatest hits, but are all over the place. A 10-issue span covers Death in the Family, A Lonely Place of Dying, Knightfall and the reveal of The Red Hood.
It’s also a little surprising that some of the major DC events like 52, Crisis on Infinite Earths, Identity Crisis, Final Crisis and Flashpoint only have the first few issues instead of the complete arc. In the future it’d be great for someone to curate the big events and major tie-in issues under collections.
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For example, The Death of Superman, World Without a Superman and Reign of the Supermen event is scattered throughout Action Comics, Superman and Superman: Man of Steel. It’d be nice for for stories like that and the various Batman Family events to be under one central hub.
If you don’t want to get completely overwhelmed, my highest recommendation goes to the first six issues of Justice League International. Those might be the best entry point to DC Comics as it happily embraces the diverse personalities that make up that magical universe with humor, charm and action. For now, let’s take a look at the Essential DC Universe reading guide.
Peter David had the somewhat unenviable task of making Aquaman cool or at least able to sustain a title back in 1994. David went on to establish what’s considered the defining Aquaman run with traits like the bearded look still used today. This is easily one of the better DCU values as David takes Aquaman from a punchline to a cool warrior king complete with hook hand and less flashy outfit.
Batman and his allies come together on an extended quest to clear Commissioner Gordon of a crime he did not commit, which leads them on a vast conspiracy dating back to Batman and Robin’s earliest adventures. Scott Snyder, Tim Seeley, James Tynion IV, Ray Fawkes and Kyle Higgins collaborate with Jason Fabok, Dustin Nguyen, Alvaro Martine, Christian Duce, Ronan Cliquet on this epic sprawling story.
It’s been well established that Batman doesn’t always get along well with others. Taking his ball and ditching the Justice League, Batman forms a new team with a motley crew of heroes including Black Lightning, Katana, Geo Force and Metamorpho. As The Outsiders this team deals with more grounded threats than the usual world and universe threatening opponents the Justice League faced. Featuring great art by Jim Aparo and Alan Davis with sharp writing from Mike W. Barr, this was a run that will be a hidden gem for DCU readers.
Somewhere along the way Booster Gold evolved from a thrill seeker looking to make something of himself in the 80s into a buffoon. Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz saw Booster more as a character as a more well-rounded character with a deeper backstory that led to a series of poor choices. This 12-issue series featured Booster as a time guardian with good intentions that never quite worked out. While it might not be the easiest read for those unfamiliar with DC history it’s still a very engaging and compelling take on a relatable hero.
Kevin Smith has been a longtime comics fan and he made his first foray into writing DC Comics with the outstanding Quiver arc. This is a great jumping on series for fans as Oliver Queen is back from the dead and reassessing his life with his loved ones and friends as he tries to figure out his place in the world. Smith proved to be far more than a quick bit of stunt writer casting for DC as he turned out a story that easily still holds up today.
Before DC Comics started getting way too serious, Bart Allen was having a blast as the attention challenged speedster Impulse. With fellow speedster Max Mercury as his mentor, Bart dealt with regular life and super villains with the same degree of carefree joy and boundless imagination. Impulse was one of my favorite reads back in that era as it was just a lot of fun and Humberto Ramos’ art style was a perfect fit for Mark Waid’s brilliant writing. That duo handles the first 28 issues, which is well worth checking out if you like your comics more lighthearted.
Geoff Johns continued exploring legacy with the past and the future with this revamped Justice Society title, which added new members and new threats. Basically it was everything readers loved about the original series with new characters and fresh team dynamics including the arrival of the Kingdom Come Superman. Few writers could do epic action and character building as well as Johns and this series featured some of his strongest and most ambitious work for DC.
Tim Drake quickly became a fan favorite as he became the third Robin, but he stepped out on his own to track down the presumed dead Bruce Wayne while Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne held down the fort in Gotham. Red Robin was a really fun series that saw Tim become somewhat of a superhero Indiana Jones meets MacGyver. It was a tremendous read that evolved Tim as his own man and away from the Batman shadow even further.
If your only experience with the concept is the movie this will provide a totally different take on super villains taking on dangerous assignments to reduce their sentences. Writer John Ostrander and artist Luke McDonnell show the grimy side of keeping the world safe with characters that aren’t so upstanding working alongside heroes like Rick Flag, Bronze Tiger and Nightshade. This book felt ahead of its time in the late 80s and still holds up today.
[The New Teen Titans (1980) #1-20 and New Teen Titans (1984) #1-12]
Not surprisingly with a Titans series prominently featured on the platform, DC Universe has a slew of Teen Titans series. Marv Wolfman and George Perez took over the title and reinvigorated it with new characters and villains. The result was a series that rivaled the X-Men in its 80s popularity. The Teen Titans never got a cartoon to immortalize it to wider audiences, but the Wolfman/Perez run was easily one of the greatest in DC history. Literally the only downside is the initial DCU offerings are only the first 12 issues of the 1980 and 1984 runs. That doesn’t stretch into The Judas Contract, one of the best comic arcs ever.
Writer Devin Grayson and artist Mark Buckingham had an enjoyable run featuring Nightwing, Arsenal, Donna Troy, Cyborg and the other classic Titans with the team experiencing new challenges like parenthood, marriage and relationships.
Geoff Johns later took over the reins of the book looking to recapture the Wolfman/Perez magic and established his own memorable run in 2003. His series focused on Connor Kent, Bart Allen, Tim Drake, Cassie Sandsmark joining vets Changeling, Cyborg, Starfire and Raven. This 20 issue run featured a Johns’ trademark of legacy as the four younger heroes sought to achieve the status of their predecessors while the older members tried to put them on the right path.
Photo Credit: DC Comics