’90s superhero comics have an infamous reputation, but truth be told, there’s a lot to love. Throughout the decade, DC published a number of all-time great series, including Mark Waid, Greg Larocque and Mike Wieringo on Flash, Grant Morrison and Howard Porter on JLA, and James Robinson and Tony Harris on Starman. If your memories of DC in the ’90s are strangely rosy images of Bane breaking the Bat or “DC One Million”, well, we can’t blame you. Nostalgia aside, for every brilliant story there are more than a handful of train wrecks among DC’s events and crossovers.
The ’90s found DC looking to manage the state of their expanding universe after the reset of 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. This lead to a variety of experimentation in crossovers, continuity reworkings and legacy character transitions, including the “end” of Superman, Batman and Green Lantern as we knew them. Without a doubt, there are some big, fun, bold ideas in the mix, but the below events and major crossovers simply didn’t pan out. Some are extremely relevant to comic book continuity even today whereas others aren’t. Either way, these are the 15 worst DC storylines of the ’90s and it’s about time somebody called them out!
15. SUPERMAN: BEHOLD THE MILLENNIUM GIANTS
If there’s one thing DC Comics readers demanded in the ’90s, it was Superman in a fly-as-heck blue containment suit and inexplicable new electrical powers. In fact, the best thing about the “Millennium Giants” saga — which ran through all Superman titles and tied in to series like Aquaman and Challengers of the Unknown — is that Lois Lane was so tired of Superman’s multi-colored phase that she booked it from Metropolis to Mexico City.
At the end of the day, the “Millennium Giants” saga feels like it should be the culmination of years of Superman stories beginning with “The Death of Superman,” but instead it just leads to a lot of bickering between Red and Blue Superman (completely diverged at this point) and throwaway Giant villains. Even the Asgardian foes the Frost Giants have more potential as villainous leads of an event than the Millennium Giants.
14. ZERO HOUR
Oh Zero Hour. DC’s 1994 oft-overlooked “Crisis in Time” perpetually gets the short end of the stick compared to its crisis brethren. Although it doesn’t receive the same attention of Crisis on Infinite Earths, Infinite Crisis or Final Crisis, Dan Jurgens and Jerry Ordway’s Zero Hour: A Crisis in Time strives toward similar universe altering implications, attempting to reboot DC continuity a mere nine years after Crisis on Infinite Earths.
In an era of “nothing will ever be the same again!” events where nothing actually changes, Zero Hour certainly deserves some credit for long lasting impact, particularly to Green Lantern Hal Jordan and the Justice Society of America. Unfortunately, the timey-wimey machinations of Extant are little more than editorial in-house clean-up, cleaning up confusing elements of DC continuity (see also: Hawkmen) and launching some genuinely exciting “zero month” issues.
13. WONDER WOMAN: WAR OF THE GODS
“War of the Gods” is an unfortunate slog of a crossover event, somehow dragging George Perez’s otherwise excellent run on Wonder Woman into a plot about Amazons caught between the Greek and Roman pantheon. There are undeniably cool moments throughout “War of The Gods” — Wonder Woman dropkicking Captain Marvel is right up there at the top — but making it all the way through this crossover is a herculean feat.
Without a doubt, Wonder Woman deserved better for her big ’90s event. Whereas the other two members of DC’s Trinity would go on to own the decade with “Knightfall”, and “Death and Return of Superman”, Wonder Woman’s “War of the Gods” left her susceptible to a mere controversial thong-costume. We would say “War of the Gods” is well worth the read if you’re already 30-plus issues into the excellent Perez run, but for everyone else, it’s a confusing mess.
12. JLAPE: GORILLA WARFARE
This one’s pretty straight forward. “Gorilla Warfare” ran through all DC annuals related to the Justice League, meaning that for one glorious/absurd moment in 1999, the heroes of the DC Universe were mere apes. The plot reads like an animated Justice League Unlimited throwaway episode, with Gorilla Grodd and the apes of Gorilla City using their technology to — of course — turn humans into monkeys.
The best thing that can be said about “Gorilla Warfare” is that it’s completely inconsequential, although that’s hardly a rave review. If you’ve ever wanted to see the Martian Manhunter communicate with intelligent apes and trick Gorilla Grodd into being perceived as an “average ape,” this is the comic event for you. For everyone else, keep on walking toward any other Justice League comics.
11. ARMAGEDDON 2001
Remember that time 2001 seemed like the distant future? Us neither, but that’s context of 1991’s DC mega-event, with individual character annuals exploring what the future of the DCU would like like in the new millennium (flying cars and sentient avocados for all). To preserve that future, the DC heroes would have to work with the time-traveling Waverider to prevent the evil future tyrant Monarch from slaying the lot of them.
Armageddon 2001 is also memorable for rapidly rewriting the big reveal — that Captain Atom would become the evil Monarch in the future — because the plot point leaked! So instead of Captain Atom as the future big bad of the DCU (which is actually fairly compelling), Monarch’s true identity became… Hawk. From Hawk and Dove. Excuse us while we stifle a yawn.
10. SUPERMAN: FALL OF METROPOLIS
The five part crossover running through Superman and Action Comics begins with the “Battle for Metropolis,” all building up to a double-sized Action Comics #700. A mysterious “clone plague” hits the shining city, impacting Superboy, the Newsboy Legion and… Lex Luthor. Since the public believed this Lex to the son of the original Lex Luthor — and not the original Lex Luthor inside a cloned body — Lex blames Project Cadmus, and all sorts of explosions ensue.
The biggest takeaways from “Fall of Metropolis” are effectively undone within the space of a few years. Lois Lane outs Lex as a criminal, and Superman quite dramatically fights Lex to the death. That’s right, the sickly cloned Luthor finally dies, with no one at Project Cadmus or S.T.A.R. Labs able to concoct a cure. Given that this “death” lasted all of 45 seconds, we’ll forgive you for not remembering.
9. BATMAN: KNIGHTQUEST
Otherwise known as the post-“Knightfall” era of Batman, with Bruce Wayne beaten and broken by Bane, and a psychotic Jean Paul Valley (Azrael) roaming Gotham as the city’s violent protector. You can actually see DC editorial’s desperation to keep up with increasingly popular Image Comics, revamping Batman into a psychotic (well, more psychotic) force of nature with claw gauntlets that have web-shooter grapple firing capabilities. With more spikes on his costume and terse interior monologues questioning if he’s man or machine, what could possibly go wrong with Az-Bats?
As it stands, “Knightquest” is an absolute dud, a mere placeholder between the breaking of the one true Bat (and Bat-family) and Bruce Wayne’s triumphant return. Azrael simply punches below his weight for most of the 25-plus issues, taking on such villainous luminaries as the anachronistic western-obsessed Rag and Tad.
8. FINAL NIGHT
It’s genuinely charming how seriously DC’s Final Night attempts to answer the age old scientific curiosity, “How long would the Earth survive without the sun?” — in the DC Universe, the answer is five days. The coming of the Sun-Eater sends Earth and neighboring planets into an impending frozen apocalypse. Lex Luthor and the Justice League desperately search for solutions, amidst the likes of Etrigan the Demon pulling perhaps his greatest joke: Offering humans heat (from Hell) for their souls.
In the end, Final Night is a redemption tour for Hal Jordan, the former Green Lantern possessed by the Parallax entity, as he uses his powers to sacrifice himself reigniting the sun. There really isn’t much to like about Final Night aside from the ending, which does effectively conclude the Hal/Parallax saga and sets the stage years later for Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver’s Green Lantern: Rebirth.
7. ECLIPSO: THE DARKNESS WITHIN
1991’s “Eclipso: The Darkness Within” ran through 21 separate DC annuals, with Eclipso taking over superhumans across the universe including the old blue boy scout himself. Since Eclipso can inhabit others when they experience feelings of rage and revenge, he finds a way to permeate the Earth with black “Heart of Darkness” diamonds which encourage anger. You know, from his moon base, like any proper villain.
Given that the first issue of The Darkness Within includes a boy at an arcade quite literally vomiting up a rage-monster that beats up Superman, it’s not surprising that much of “The Darkness Within” improves as it goes. “The Darkness Within” sets up Eclipso as one of the greatest threats in the DC Universe, but we haven’t much from the villain since his moment in the dark spotlight.
6. THE FOURTH WORLD: GENESIS
For a story involving Darkseid and essentially the entire DC Universe, there sure aren’t a lot of people talking about Genesis as recommended reading these days, and that’s for good reason. John Byrne and Ron Wagner’s Genesis begins with the heroes of the DCU suddenly losing their superpowers, with Earth suddenly beset by an alien armada of the forces of Apokolips.
The high potential beginning quickly devolves into a wildly disjointed event, and a whole lot of comic book science fiction about “Godwaves” from the rambling lips of Highfather. Despite cosmic implications and the near destruction of the Fourth World source, approximately nothing happens, and the DC heroes do virtually nothing to prevent Darkseid from capturing the “Godwave.” Easily one of the most forgettable, passable DC events of all-time.
5. BATMAN: CONTAGION
“Contagion” runs across a slew of Batman titles starting in 1996 — Batman, Robin, Catwoman, Azrael, Nightwing, etc. — but its remains the forgettable “not quite No Man’s Land” of Batman’s ’90s history. The release of a deadly “apocalypse virus” makes its way to Gotham City, sending the Bat-family and the Gotham P.D. into a state of emergency. The clear intent of “Contagion” is to give Batman a villain he can’t punch, as every issue of the massive crossover repeats ad nausem with lines like “How can you fight an invisible enemy!”
Given that “Cataclysm” and “No Man’s Land” would put Gotham through a far more intense and memorable city-wide epidemic shortly after, “Contagion’s” lack of progress really stands out. Mostly, “Contagion” is an excuse to draw an unending number of skull-panel layouts and to set up the training wheels for a real challenge to Batman and Gotham City.
4. THE WAY OF THE WARRIOR
Good luck trying to out-extreme the ’90s revamp of Guy Gardner, aka the hot-headed Green Lantern, aka Warrior. As a Green Lantern, Guy has always struggled to surpass either John Stewart, Hal Jordan, or Kyle Rayner, so naturally the solution was to give him guns (and swords) for arms and reveal latent alien DNA that could be triggered by drinking “warrior water.”
If that wasn’t enough, “The Way of the Warrior” crossover — which ran through Hawkman, Justice League America and Guy Gardner: Warrior — made sure to include the raddest of ’90s DC creations in Lobo! It’s hard to fault too much of this nonsensical voyage, which is simply a product of the era. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that while we generally associate Guy with the Green Lantern Corps, it wouldn’t be until 2005’s Green Lantern: Rebirth that he actually returned to the team.
3. DC BLOODLINES
You may remember the more recent 2016 relaunch of the Bloodlines moniker from J.T. Krul and V Ken Marion, but this is in reference to DC’s 1993 mega crossover event. Hot on the heels of “Knightfall” and “Death of Superman”, DC Comics sought to keep their tremendous success rolling with “Bloodlines”, an event running through one-shots and annuals that would introduce new characters to the DC Universe every issue.
It’s a cool idea, but of all the new characters introduced in “Bloodlines”, really only Hitman stands out from the bunch, continuing from his debut in The Demon to headline a fantastic solo series by Garth Ennis and John McCrea. Although we can lament forever that Razorsharp and the Psyba-Rats never found a post-“Bloodlines” footing in the DCU, it won’t change the failed crossovers largely negligent impact.
2. EXTREME JUSTICE
If there’s one thing ’90s comics were always destined to deliver, it was an edgier version of the Justice League. Following in the wake of “Justice League: Breakdowns” and the dissolution of Justice League International and Justice League: Europe, the launch of Extreme Justice shoved 100-megawatts of “kewl” in comic book readers’ stunned faces.
The best thing about Extreme Justice is definitely its absurd confidence that it could take Booster Gold and the Wonder Twins — some of the most jovial heroes in the DC Universe — and make them awesome, ’90s style. Aside from the obvious era-influenced style, Extreme Justice is also notable for Captain Atom’s horrible command decisions, leading the team to invade Biayla (again) and murder civilian cyborgs (thinking they were robots). The failings of Extreme Justice led to the cancellation of all DC “Justice” titles in 1996, before the Morrison and Porter relaunch in JLA.
1. DEATH OF SUPERMAN
While the fallout was fascinatingly weird, and the impact was enormous, “The Death of Superman” is one of the more immensely dumb plots in ’90s DC Comics. The Night King from Game of Thrones comes across like the most nuanced character in history compared to this version of Doomsday, who barrels around wordlessly seeking out bony fist fights wherever he can get them.
It’s not the Superman’s heroism is necessarily misplaced, and the idea of sacrificing his own life (while taking another?) to prevent disaster is absolutely something Superman would do. But don’t we think the Man of Steel, with all his intelligence and connections, could have come up with something a little better than “I better punch this bony, violent monster to his death?”
Did you like any of these DC stories from the ’90s? Let us know in the comments!
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