Here are the next ten storylines on the countdown, as voted on by you, the readers!! Here is the master list of all storylines featured so far.
Okay, as usual, the votes are more bundled together at the bottom of the list and things open up as we go along. Eventually the results will be five a day, except today (also they’ll be in smaller groups as we get to the very end)! Note, there may be some spoilers ahead! You are forewarned!
NOTE: All of these storyline posts will be image intensive, so I’ll be spreading them over multiple pages.
30. “Brief Lives” by Neil Gaiman, Jill Thompson, Vince Locke and Dick Giordano (Sandman #41-49) – 283 points (7 first place votes)
In Brief Lives, Morpheus (Dream of the Endless) is at a bit of a crossroads in his life. He has just had a bad break-up with the witch Thessaily and he (and his Dream Kingdom) is feeling the ill effects. Into this strange point in his life comes his sister, Delirium of the Endless (the Endless are a group of brothers and sisters who embody powerful aspects of the universe – the others are Destiny, Death, Desire, Despair and Destruction). Delirium wishes to track down their brother, Destruction, who disappeared 300 years ago. Perhaps touched by his sister’s frustrations, perhaps just looking for something to occupy his time, Dream agrees to go on this journey.
The pair then travel through the waking world in a series of interesting adventures while the people who know Destruction coincidentally seem to end up dead (or IS it a coincidence?). Here’s a fascinating sequence where Dream and Delirium fly on an airplane…
The storyline is filled with great little vignettes like that. Gaiman had a remarkable run of excellent storylines on Sandman, didn’t he?
In the end, they do, in fact, discover their brother but they are surprised to learn what he has planned for his life. Their exchange with their brother leads to a dramatic change in Dream’s life, as he decides to try to undo something he felt was a mistake in his life (the not-quite-death of his son, Orpheus, whose story was told in the brilliant Sandman Special soon before this storyline was released).
Jill Thompson was the perfect choice for the more down-to-Earth tales of tragedy and change that make up Brief Lives. She can bring empathy to anyone.
29. “Deus ex Machina” by Grant Morrison, Chas Truog, Doug Hazlewood, Mark Farmer and a few other artists (Animal Man #18-26) – 295 points (8 first place votes)
Grant Morrison concluded his run on Animal Man with this amazing final story arc, where Morrison plays with the very fabric of reality as Animal Man discovers his nature as a fictional character while tripping in the desert…
How awesome is that?
The story goes even further than that as Animal Man’s life becomes a living hell and Morrison acknowledges the way that an author’s life can affect what happens to the characters on the page. The whole thing is a bit of a meditation on the proliferation of grim and gritty comics during this time period. With his life in ruins, Animal Man finds himself on a journey to comic book limbo, where he meets the various characters “erased” by the Crisis on Infinite Earths.
This all leads to Animal Man meeting none other than Grant Morrison himself, as the two talk about life and comic books and Morrison leaves the book with a touching gift for Buddy Baker.
This storyline holds up well to this day (especially the final meeting between Morrison and Animal Man), but at the time, when meta-fictional narratives were relatively rare, this was a really groundbreaking work.
28. “Runaways Volume 1” by Brian K. Vaughan, Adrian Alphona, Craig Yeung, Takeshi Miyazawa and David Nebold (Runaways #1-18) – 298 points (3 first place votes)
Along with penciler Adrian Alphona, inkers David Newbold and Craig Yeung and colorist Christina Strain, Brian K. Vaughan introduced a fascinating group of young heroes. The heroes of the Runaways are all the sons and daughters of a group of Los Angeles-based super criminals known as the Pride (their kids don’t know this, of course). The parents get together once a year (ostensibly for a charity event) and when they do, their kids awkwardly hang out with each other. This year, though, they discover their parents murdering an innocent girl as part of a yearly sacrifice to some ancient gods. The kids go on the run (hence Runaways), each taking with them some aspect of their parents’ abilities (for one, futuristic technology, for another, alien abilities, for another, mutant powers, for another, magic powers and for another, a sharp tactical mind). They decided to band together to take their parents down and perhaps do a little good as well along the way. Here we see them choose their new names…
Vaughan is masterful at developing interesting personalities very quickly and by the end of the series, we have grown to know and love these characters. Oh wait, did I say “know,” well, that turns out to be a bit of a stretch as the final storyline reveals that one of the Runaways is not all together, well, non-evil.
The final conflict is brutally bittersweet.
27. “Under Siege” by Roger Stern, John Buscema and Tom Palmer (Avengers #270-277) – 300 points (7 first place votes)
This story was a brilliant example of sub-plots simmering to the point of boiling over in an explosive succession of issues. For a number of issues, Baron Zemo was secretly putting together a team of super-villains specifically designed to defeat the Avengers. Studying and planning, Zemo eventually put together such a large and powerful team of villains that his Masters of Evil were able to basically just bumrush the Avengers Mansion and take it over (taking advantage of another simmering sub-plot, Hercules’ distaste for being led by the Winsome Wasp – he did not like the idea of warriors like himself, Captain America and Black Knight taking orders from a woman). After beating Hercules within an inch of his life, they spent the next few days torturing their captive Avengers, including destroying all of Captain America’s belongings in front of him (including the only picture he had of his mother) and then making Captain America and Black Knight watch as they brutalized Jarvis, the Avengers’ faithful butler.
You have to love first how hardcore Cap is in the face of adversity (“I’ll remember this.” Chilling!) and then how disgusted Cap and Black Knight look at Jarvis being attacked. Such amazing facial expressions from artists John Buscema and Tom Palmer.
This being the Avengers, though, they were able to make a comeback, with Wasp, the only Avenger to evade capture, putting together a makeshift team of heroes to save the captive Avengers (who were doing their best to free themselves). This likely remembered as writer Roger Stern’s masterpiece. And, of course, the aformentioned John Buscema and Tom Palmer did a wonderful job themselves.
26. “Who is the Fourth Man?” by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday (Planetary #1-12) – 305 points (8 first place votes)
Planetary is about a group of (this is what is on the cover of the first issue) “archaeologists of the impossible.”
Essentially, Planetary explores unexplained phenomena and, if there is any practical use to mankind out of said phenomena, they extract it.
The Planetary team consists of the super-strong Jakita Wagner, the “plugged-in” Drummer and the century-old Elijah Snow. The team is funded by the mysterious “Fourth Man.”
The first “season” of Planetary ends with the discovery of just WHO the Fourth Man is and how that revelation changes the game plan of the title for the rest of the series.
Each issue of Planetary explores the concept of “what if all popular culture characters existed, in some form or another, in the Wildstorm Universe?”
So each issue, Ellis and Cassaday examine a different notable pop culture figure, almost always with analogues for the characters who are not yet in the public domain (Doc Brass, for instance, instead of Doc Savage).
As the series goes by, we learn that there is a group out there with an entirely different focus than the Planetary folks – this group, known as The Four (based on the Fantastic Four, naturally), wants all of the “super-science” of the world to themselves – they don’t want the rest of the world to have any access to these wonders.
That, and the identity of the Fourth Man, are the key points of plot development over the first 12 issues of Planetary.
Here we see Elijah Snow in battle with a member of The Four…
Cassaday, for his part, draws in a slightly different style for practically every issue, so as to perfectly meet the needs of the pop culture character being referenced in that issue. It’s quite brilliant work on his part, as is the whole series by Ellis. These first twelve issues were impeccably planned out by Ellis, all rising to the striking revelation of the Fourth Man in the final issue of the “season,” as the Fourth Man makes his presence known in a remarkable fashion.
25. “The New Frontier” by Darwyn Cooke (DC: The New Frontier #1-6) – 307 points (10 first place votes)
New Frontier was Darwyn Cooke’s love letter to the Silver Age of the DC Universe.
The set-up of the series was to present the formation of the Silver Age in the context of the actual late 1950s/early 1960s.
So Cooke highlights the days of McCarthyism, and applies that to the world of superheroes, painting a bleak picture for heroes.
Probably the two main characters in New Frontier are J’onn J’onnz and Hal Jordan, as Cooke shows each of their journeys to superherodom from start to finish.
The rest of the series is populated with essentially a who’s who of DC characters, all drawn wonderfully by Cooke.
The book is more or less a collection of set pieces (a Losers story here, a Superman story there, a Hal Jordan here, a Flash story there) all leading up to the point where an alien invasion forces all the heroes to band together. The key is that at this point in the DC Universe, Superman is such a major force that he has been relied on to do pretty much everything. So when the big bad guy knocks Superman out, all of the “little” guys, the DC Silver Age characters Cooke has so much affection for (and rightfully so) have to step up and save the day for themselves. This leads to one of the most epic slow walks in comic book history…
Cooke had been working in animation for years and while he had done comic book work before this series, this was his most significant introduction to the comic book world and wow, what an intro!
24. “Batman R.I.P.” by Grant Morrison, Tony Daniel and Sandu Florea (Batman #676-681) – 329 points (12 first place votes)
Batman R.I.P. is the conclusion of Grant Morrison’s initial Batman run, and it basically is as straightforward of a “Good” versus “Evil” story as there is out there (which is particularly interesting seeing as how it came out concurrent with another major Good vs. Evil story, Final Crisis).
Batman has been fighting against the criminal organization the Black Glove, but by the beginning of Batman RIP, the Black Glove has struck at Batman through various methods, some physical but mostly psychological, all designed to destroy Batman’s virtue.
Then Batman essentially goes insane, becoming a twisted form of himself…but is that REALLY what’s going on?
Morrison teases the reader with the question – could anyone go through the events that Batman has gone through over the last 60 plus years and NOT go insane?
So that lends some dramatic tension to Batman’s seeming insanity.
But really, R.I.P. is basically a love letter to Morrison’s view of Batman as “Batgod,” as when the bad guys think that they have broken Batman mentally and physically…well, they forgot one thing…
The whole story turns on its head when you realize just HOW prepared Batman is. I love that the story even forces you to go back nearly twenty issues and see exactly when Batman figured out one part of the plan. It’s all there in the story (even if Andy Kubert did not exactly make it evident).
23. “Civil War” by Mark Millar, Steve McNiven and Dexter Vines (Civil War #1-7) – 384 points (5 first place votes)
Mark Millar, Steve McNiven and Dexter Vines reshaped the Marvel Universe for years with this storyline that pitted Captain America against Iron Man over the idea of whether superheroes should be forced to register with the government (and thereby trusting the government with their secret identities). Captain America leads a group of heroes who want nothing to do with registration while Iron Man leads the heroes who are willing to comply with the government’s request. Eventually, Iron Man and his Avengers end up having to hunt down Captain America and his Secret Avengers and, well, things do not go very well, especially when Cap and his crew try to turn the tables and break into the prison where Iron Man had been holding captured un-registered heroes.
This series massively shook up the Marvel Universe as a whole but especially the Avengers, who ended up splintered into two teams, an officially sanctioned one and a rogue one.
22. “The Sinestro Corps War” by Geoff Johns, Dave Gibbons, Peter Tomasi, Ivan Reis, Ethan Van Sciver, Patrick Gleason plus a whole lot of other pencilers and inkers (Green Lantern Sinestro Corps Special #1, Green Lantern Vol. 4 #21-25, Green Lantern Corps #14-19) – 386 points (7 first place votes)
This epic crossover brought to fruition a number of ideas first introduced during Green Lantern Rebirth (the storyline where Geoff Johns returned Hal Jordan to life and the Green Lantern Corps to existence). Sinestro had returned during that storyline and in this story, he returns to vex the Green Lanterns with his OWN Corps – the Sinestro Corps! The idea of a Corps of yellow-ring wielding villains (chosen because they possess the ability to instill great fear in others) was an amazing high concept and this storyline opened with perhaps one of the most over-the-top thrilling debut issue you’ll see in superhero crossovers.
Kyle Rayner had temporarily been the host of “Ion,” the entity that essentially powered the Green Lanterns. In the debut issue of the story, Sinestro not only removed Ion from Kyle, but substituted Parallax, the YELLOW entity (that Johns had introduced in Green Lantern Rebirth)…
What a stunning sequence. What a way to start a crossover!
The story continues with a number of battles until it concludes in a free for all for the planet Earth. Johns ends the story with a powerful message about standing up to fear.
21. “The Age of Apocalypse” by Scott Lobdell, Mark Waid, Fabian Nicieza, Andy Kubert, Joe Madureira, Steve Epting, Roger Cruz and a pile of other artists and writers (X-Men: Alpha #1, Amazing X-Men #1-4, Astonishing X-Men #1-4, X-Men: Omega #1 plus a bunch of tie-ins) – 389 points (12 first place votes)
In this alternate universe storyline, Charles Xavier’s crazed yet powerful son, Legion, went back in time to kill Magneto, figuring that he’d put a stop to the Magneto/Professor X feud before it ever started. A group of X-Men went back in time to stop him, including the X-Men’s resident time-traveler, Bishop. They fail to stop Legion but young Charles Xavier DOES stop Legion, but only by sacrificing himself to save Magneto. This, as you might imagine, throws the whole timeline out of whack. First of all, no Xavier. Second of all, Magneto now has to vow to take up Xavier’s dream for himself. Third, and perhaps most importantly, this big mutant battle years before mutants were supposed to be up and around at this level woke up Apocalypse earlier than the world was ready for. So Apocalypse proceeds to pretty much take over the world, as no superheroes were yet around to stop him. Magneto, for his part, puts together a ragtag group of mutants known as the X-Men (I think Xavier can cut the BS about the team being named after their X-tra powers when it turns out it is named after him even with him dead) to fight against Apocalypse. Sott Lobdell, Mark Waid, Fabian Nicieza, Andy Kubert, Joe Madureira, Steve Epting, Roger Cruz and a pile of other artists and writers show the adventures of the X-Men as well as every other X-related character, with the titles of each book being changed for four months (X-Factor became Factor-X, X-Men became Amazing X-Men, Excalibur became X-Calibre, X-Force naturally became…Gambit and the X-Ternals?! Okay, not all changes made sense). Bishop, being out of time already, retained his memory of the changes and he eventually helped the X-Men to get him back in time to put right what once went wrong. This was a tremendously fun and very well-coordinated crossover and the idea of actually stopping all of the books for four months (and then return them to normal) was a shocking move at the time, especially because most of the books ended on some dramatic cliffhanger before the timeline shifted (Wolverine had just popped a third claw into Sabretooth’s brain, Rogue had just kissed that slimy Gambit, etc.)
Magneto even gets to see his world end with his wife and child (after first taking care of some much-delayed business)…