Take a look back at a decade that went from boom to bust. A time when people were paying insane amounts of money on comics for issues just because it marked an important period but failing to realize just how many of those same comics would be printed, making their insanely valuable collections worth pennies on the dollar. Some cry out for a return to the style of the 90’s where pinup style art was all the rage and grungy dark renderings capture the mood of the counterculture of the day. Other complain it was a period of weak writing, storytelling, and flashy distractions for a vapid fanbase. Which type are you? Let’s take a look at the comics that made the list.
Hellboy defines the 90s aesthetic of retreading familiar ground in unfamiliar ways by taking the old pre-CCA tales of witchcraft and demons and making one huge twist, the Investigator is the Monster. The first arc features the titular character coming to terms with his dark origins and rejecting them in favor of his new roots. Summoned to Earth by Nazi occultists and freed by the Allied Forces, Hellboy is molded into a B.P.R.D. agent dedicated to protecting the world and halting the forces of evil.
#19 MAXIMUM CARNAGE
Maximum Carnage perfectly exemplified the early 90s Spidey aesthetic of flash before substance that later became typical of early Image books, which doesn’t explain why I love it. This ultimate 14-part story features an epic battle in Spidey and Venom vs Carnage in a no holds barred fight to the finish.
#18 PUNISHER: WAR JOURNAL
Though beginning it’s run in November of 1988, the series ran for seven years concluding in 1995 and was massively popular with mid 90’s readers across the spectrum. In War Journal, the series chronicles the vigilante Frank Castle, known as the Punisher throughout a number of epic story arcs including “An Eye For An Eye”, “Firepower Among The Ruins”, “The Sicilian Saga”, “The Kamchatkan Konspiracy”, “Pariah!” and “Last Entry” which were confined within the series itself and other arcs such as “Acts of Vengeance”, “Dead Man’s Hand” and “Suicide Run” which were part of larger Marvel events and the finale, “Countdown.”
#17 BATMAN: KNIGHTFALL
Knightfall is Chuck Dixon and Doug Moench genre-altering tale of a man pushed beyond his limits and the villain who would break him. As much as it is a tale of 2 titans it’s a tale of Jean-Paul Valleys descent into madness and Bruce Wayne’s rebirth as the Batman of the 90s. Batman: Knightfall is perhaps the most iconic Batman story of all time. It introduced Bane, one of Batman’s greatest enemies, and took a major risk by being soundly defeated and having his back broken upon his failure.
#16 LADY DEATH
Created in 1991 by writer Brian Pulido, Lady Death was originally a teenaged girl named Hope who is deceived by demons and trades her mortality for eternal life in Hell. Upon her arrival, she is enslaved. To ensure her survival she turns to the darkness within herself and begins a transformation into Lady Death. In the end, she fights back and leads a rebellion that topples the mighty Lord of Darkness himself. Over the past decade, more than 15 million Lady Death comics have been sold worldwide and has been one of the most successful comics outside of the wheelhouse of the big two, Marvel and DC.
#15 SIN CITY
Written by the legendary author Frank Miller, Sin City defined the gritty 90’s alternative trend having been described as Neo Noir with modern contemporary elements that amplified the darkness of the decade. Black and white are the sole colors most of the time, with exception of red, yellow, blue, and pink, of which limited used is made in some stories to draw attention to particular characters. The series was eventually adapted into a less than successful film with the iconic pole dancing Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis, Elijah Wood, and a variety of other stars.
Hellblazer was a series that began shortly before the 90s actually began, but the dark occult detective is one of the few characters that seemed to benefit from the dark and gritty tone comics had adopted at this point. The series has jumped from imprints a couple times but still retained its popularity with it’s most recent run ending in 2018. You know you’ve made it when a comic is adapted to film and stars action staple, Keanu Reeves. The book held wide acclaim. The film reviews were mixed.
Another hot artist for the period was nonother than the infamous Rob Liefeld. After his stint on the New Mutants which ended at issue #100, Liefeld decided to revamp the book and it’s staple characters and concepts by creating a host of new characters and stories. Though Liefeld’s run on X-Force was short-lived, at the time it was the second highest selling comic book in history. Oh yeah, and this guy Deadpool was in it constantly…
#12 THE INFINITY GAUNTLET
Today it’s unnecessary for the most part to elaborate on the significance of Marvel’s original Infinity Gauntlet storyline which served as the source material for the theatrical behemoth, Infinity War which is one of the top grossing superhero films of all time. Movies aside, the original 6 issue chronical was so successful Marvel launched in quick succession the post series The Infinity War and The Infinity Crusade. Even though Marvel employed the same maneuvers with having nearly every title in publication included with a tie-in story, the subsequent two never met the high acclaim or sales figures of the original. The story follows Thanos, the mad Titan who falls in love with the Cosmic force known as the Mistress of Death. Rebuffed, Thanos is even more fixated and to win her attention uses the omnipotent weapon, the Infinity Gauntlet to wipe out half of the population throughout creation itself, prompting an epic battle with an alliance of Earth’s strongest heroes.
#11 KINGDOM COME
Kingdom Come was Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ magnum opus arc about a superhuman world gone mad and the attempt of the old world to maintain control at all costs. In an Elseworld Miniseries which prominent superheroes abandon their roles and forsake their goodwill with the populace at large until ultimately reforming the JL to face off in an all hell breaks loose battle with the vigilantes who had taken their place. The standalone story had a massive impact on the entire DC Line for a number of years after.
You really can’t talk about the 90’s without mentioning the name Jim Lee somewhere in the conversation. Lee took himself and his brand and joined a collective of artists and writers to form Image comics in which his own independent studio “Wildstorm” published a number of titles in one cohesive universe. Chief among them was the WildCATS which introduced the world to what Jim Lee would do with total freedom. The result was lauded by readers as and was so successful that DC Comics decided to buy the imprint during and acquisition in 1998. Damn that art was good!
#9 RISE OF THE MIDNIGHT SONS
Rise of the Midnight Sons was a crossover that brought the 90s Dark overtones to its benefit, featuring characters like Blade, Ghost Rider, and Mobius, all of whom seem ideally suited for the mid-90s. Most of the series spinning out was canceled within a year, but what a year it was!
Perhaps you see that Preacher is now a show on AMC and think “Oh, this must be very popular now.” No, my friends; Preacher is AGGRESSIVELY of its time and was a hugely popular DC offering. (It really helped make Vertigo into the big deal that it became for a long time.)
Spawn is the 90s personified tale of a CIA Soldier turned Hellspawn. Battling heaven, hell, and earth on his own. After 20 years, the series remains strong if slightly less 90s. Created by Todd McFarlane, the character first appeared in Spawn #1 in May 1992, it is one of the few series originating from the Image brand that has remained in publication still to this day.
Though introduced in 1989, the real significance of Sandman’s vaunted success occurred throughout most of the 1990’s. Having only written a few short stories at the time, no one knew just how massively successful Neil Gaiman was destined to become. Sandman is a collection of stories following Dream, the Sandman throughout a trove of stories that blended the elements of horror and mature fantasy in a manner rarely if ever seen before.
#5 THE NEW WARRIORS
All they wanted was change the world. And so, they did. The New Warriors were the “Heroes for the 90’s,” filling the vacuum of teen-oriented books in Marvel’s catalog at the time. Making their debut in The Mighty Thor #412 against nonother than the Unstoppable Juggernaut, The New Warriors written by Fabian Nicieza and art by Mark Bagley featured Kid Nova, Namorita, Speedball, Firestar, Marvel Boy, and Night Thrasher, all of which, with the sole exception of Night Thrasher, were all characters that at one time had their own solo series or were supporting characters in other titles but were for the most part unused. The Warriors burst into the scene and appeared in frequent crossover cameos with X-Force, X-Factor, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man. Throughout its initial 75 issue run, the roster expanded to include Silhouette Darkhawk, Dagger, Powerpax, Rage, Turbo, Timeslip, and the Scarlet Spider. Though there have been 5 total volumes and numerous new characters and angles, subsequent relaunches never truly recaptured the initial magic of the 1st series. Though the series features numerous storylines, their greatest impact in recent years was the Stanford Terrorist Attack, the catalyst for sparking the Superhuman Registration Act during the first Civil War storyline. If you have never heard or read a New Warriors comic and love the 90’s, this is an essential must-read series.
It’s the gauntlet that launched a franchise and established Top Cow as a major player in the American comic book industry. Ms. Pezzini may have been scantily clad while fighting crime and supernatural menaces, but her legacy and impact have been anything but. Witchblade spawned an universe-full of characters and a compelling mythology that is as fun to read about now as then.
#3 GEN 13
Gen13 follows the story of the adventures/misadventures of 5 scientifically “gene activated” teenage misfits as they come to terms with their powers all the while avoiding the machinations of sinister government agencies. It was first published in 1998 and set in Jim Lee’s Wildstorm Universe and published by Image Comics. The very successful first twenty issues would be co-written by Brandon Choi and drawn by none other than cover artist extraordinaire J.Scott Campbell.
#2 DEATH OF SUPERMAN
Between 1992 and 1993, “The Death of Superman” took the nation by storm. The “event of a lifetime” received national news attention and transcended fandom, spilling out into the masses. Comprised of three parts (“Doomsday!”, “Funeral for a Friend”, and “Reign of the Supermen”), this epic sees Superman face the greatest threat he’s ever encountered– a mindless creature bent on destruction named Doomsday. After Doomsday makes short work on the Justice League, the Man of Steel becomes the only hope to stop the creature, and the ensuing battle is one for the ages, finally ending with both combatants laying lifeless in the ruins of Metropolis. Although the next two chapters would pave the way towards bringing Superman back to life, the visceral impact of Superman’s death still resonates with fans today. Just this year, a 2nd animated feature depicting the events of this arc was released. Where were YOU when Superman died?
In October 1991 spinning out of the popularity of its Uncanny title, Marvel launched a second ongoing X-men title. Adjectiveless X-Men would deliver an uber powerful roster of beautifully drawn supermodel, colored spandex clad mutant men and woman on the globe and star-spanning adventures and would be key in cementing the X-men as Marvel’s lead comic title for several years to come. It truly ushered in the era of splash page glory and would catapult artists like Jim Lee and Andy Kubert past the title of mere comic book artists into the rarified stratosphere of superstardom.
There you have it folks! Tell us what you think in the comments below!
Top 20 Comic Books that Defined the 90’s
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