Top 10 Comic Books of the 1990s

During the ’80s, no medium was more innovative and daring than comic books. Shedding the notion that they were exclusively for children, writers like Neil Gaimain, Frank Miller, and Alan Moore revolutionized the industry with titles such as Batman: Year OneThe Dark Knight ReturnsWatchmen, and Sandman. These books transcended the superhero genre and wound up appealing to fans with more sophisticated tastes. That decade of revolution simply couldn’t bleed over into the ’90s, however. Even though Miller, Moore, and Gaimain were still churning out great work during the ’90s, new trends started to overtake the industry. The superlative storytelling of the ’80s were replaced by flashy art and greedy publishers’ get-rich-quick schemes. The 1990’s was an era of tasteless, hyper-sexualized drawings and classic superheroes thrown haphazardly into mindless stories created purely for shock value was called the “Dark Ages” of comic books. But I not necessarily hate this era in comic books because we’ve had independent comics companies like Image comics that rose up against Marvel and DC to sell better than them to show finally have creative control instead of having no royalties and respect to the artists that has been around the industry for many generations. It’s too bad that they didn’t finish the job but there were plenty of great comic books that came out in the 1990’s and I’m here to show you that not everything from the 90’s were at all bad. Outside of the indie North American comics, there was also the rise of popularity for manga that was being translated into English. The rise of manga’s popularity is also responsible for the anime’s popularity outside of Japan. You can see that there were still artists and comic writers back then that were willing and able to make it a masterpiece and destroy the the norm back in the 90’s.

Honorable Mentions

Maximum Carnage

Believe it or not, this was my introduction to comic books and that was because I played the video game that’s based on this comic book saga. Part of putting this comic book in the list is based on nostalgia and my fandom of the symbiote mythos. I wished that I got into comics earlier because the Venom and Carnage popularity was going downhill from here. But I like to look at Maximum Carnage as the best part of the Spider-Man vs. symbiote showdown that has been going since the late 80s. Carnage was so powerful and deadly that it took Venom and Spider-Man to finally team up to face this psycho serial killer. But even worse, he had to team up with new villains such as Shriek, Doppleganger, Demo Goblin, and many more. This is too much to handle for our Spider-Man so he had to gather up his biggest allies Black Cat, Cloak & Dagger, Firestar, Captain America, Deathlok and … Venom (from enemy to ally) to save New York from turning it into a bloodbath.  But when he finds himself at odds with a number of his allies, who want to finish Carnage and his cronies once and for all, Spider-Man must decide whether to violate his personal code of honor to rid the world of pure evil. Stakes were very high in this story arc and it was just simply the best thing that Marvel has done throughout the 1990s.

Good-Bye Chunky Rice

For being his first work, Chunky Rice broke Craig Thompson is a big way. Released through Top Shelf, the allegorical tale deals mainly with an anthropomorphic turtle that’s taking his leave of a very special mouse. It sounds extraordinarily precious, and of course, there are some moments where it can be. However, it mostly a heart-tugging look at hard choices and the losses that we sometimes have to accept. Casting animals actually takes a little bit of the sting out.  As Chunky sails the ocean and Dandel drops love letters into bottles carried by the waves, not much happens to propel the narrative. Yet the artistic range displayed within the black-and-white drawings, as Thompson evokes the turbulence and majesty of the sea, shows a more sophisticated command of technique than he employs with his characters (who are almost Peanuts-like). Originally published in 1999, this reprint represents the debut of another promising artist within the Pantheon stable.

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 Number 10.  –  Solar: Man of the Atom

In the early 1990s, Doctor Solar, Turok, and Magnus, Robot Fighter were licensed by Valiant Comics, which planned to use the characters as part of editor Jim Shooter’s new superhero line. A number of changes were made to the character and his back-story. The new version (now known simply as Solar) was a physicist named Phil Seleski. Seleski was a fan of the Gold Key line, especially the adventures of Doctor Solar. One day, Seleski and his colleagues were testing a new type of fusion reactor. When an accidental breach threatened to obliterate the entire area, Seleski rushed to shut down the reactor. He succeeded, but he was exposed to lethal doses of radiation in the process. Amazingly, the exposure did not kill him. Instead, it gave him an ability to manipulate energy. Seleski tried to use his powers for the good of mankind. He became determined to destroy the world’s supply of nuclear weapons. The US government tried to stop him. Unfortunately, their efforts caused Seleski to lose control of his powers, which in turn caused Earth to fall into a giant black hole. Seleski was thrown several weeks back in time (or so he thought). The guilt over his role in destruction of his world caused him to split into two beings: Doctor Solar, who believed himself to be Seleski’s childhood hero; and Phil Seleski, who retained all the memories of the original. Seleski sought to prevent an accident that gave him powers from taking place. Jim Shooter used real science, and even explained complex ideas, to firmly ground his epic. But, the real genius of the book is its focus on one man, Phil Seleski, and his struggle to come to terms with waking up to find he has the power of a god. Barry Windsor-Smith provides his best work since the final issue of his Conan run, while Jim Shooter only had to wait six months to top this (but we’ll get to that).

Number 9.  –  Hellboy: The Corpse

Who would have thought that a supernatural investigator that looks like a devil but can’t shoot straight would spawn spin-offs, animated films, and big-budget Hollywood feature? Maybe Mike Mignola, but we’re pretty sure that the main thing he cared about was making one of the best damn comic books in anyone’s memory. Combing his wonderful dark artistry with a knack for character and smart integration of the world’s folklore, Mignola built a character universe that still thrives. And he did it in the ’90s. Anyone can talk shit about comics in the 90s, but Hellboy is always a blast to reach and his series is one of the best parts of comics in the 1990s. It’s almost like reading a classic comic book that dealt with super natural elements like EC Comics. Though all of Hellboy story arcs are all to be gathered into separate graphic novels/essentials, the best one in my mind is the Corpse. It tells the stoy of an Irish baby in 1959 who is kidnapped by fairies and Hellboy must return a corpse to its grave to return the child to her family. Seemingly a minor tale, continuity-wise, this story eventually became quite important (especially when the child grows up to become a major part of Hellboy lore).

Number 8.  –  Harbinger

Sometimes I blame myself for not getting into Valiant Comics sooner because if there was a big third or fourth in the comic book industry it hat to be Valiant Comics and Harbinger is the proof why it is. In the editorial, Valiant’s Editor in Chief, Jim Shooter, tells us that the book we hold in our hands is the most important since Avengers #1. 13 years later, I’m still not sure that he was wrong. When this book was first released it was a national sensation. Every kid worth his polybag and backing board just had to have one, and the resulting frenzy sent the book to the top of Wizard’s Top Ten Hottest Books List for a then-record four months. The book’s creative team reinvented the genre popularized by the X-Men. The good guys did unforgivable things, the bad guys were usually more right then the good guys, and best of all, they behaved like real people would — in the Valiant Universe, when you want to kill your enemy, you don’t challenge him to a stand-off at your base on the moon (this is actually a plot involving the X-Men), you send someone he trusts to shoot him in the back of the head. Things happen in Harbinger that would never happen in an X-Men books, but happen all the time in the movies and other arts, and definitely in real life. Most importantly, Harbinger was the book that sparked a revolution in comics that is now forgotten today.

Harbingers are these being that have special supernatural powers.Toyo Harada is the first Harbinger, and unlike subsequent Harbingers he was able to make his powers manifest at will, or activate the powers of others. Other Harbingers exhibit powers only rarely and this activation is always brought on by severe stress. There are other Harbingers out there but one that sticks out is a teenager named Pete Stanchek.  Harada is intrigued by Pete, who is the only other Harbinger to have triggered his own powers and who exhibits multiple abilities. Harada is no longer the only Omega Harbinger. Harada tries to persuade Pete to join the Harbinger Foundation and become Harada’s right hand man, but when Pete’s best friend, who had been vocal about his distrust for Harada, is murdered by the Foundation Pete realizes the truth. Pete, along with Kris (a high school cheerleader who Pete had first been unconsciously mentally controlling so that she would go out with him) become renegades. They decide to recruit Harbingers themselves, activate their abilities, and form an army capable of challenging Harada and go with war with each other!

Without Harbinger, Valiant wouldn’t have become the third largest publisher as quickly as it did. Without Harbinger, there wouldn’t have been an Ultraverse Universe or a CrossGen Universe. Without Harbinger, there wouldn’t have been a wake-up call for the rest of the industry to move away from gimmicks and hype, and back to quality storytelling.

Number 7.  –  Spawn

While Image was selling much more than Marvel and DC, Spawn was the height of the popularity in 90’s comics. The sad thing about Image comics when they were starting out is that the majority of them were more or less like team of heroes that rip-offs of the X-Men, which these artists came from. Todd McFarlane was the only one that truly gave a damn about making his own original character.  Spawn‘s inaugural issue was one of the top-selling comics in history, and unlike a number of other Image creations, has stood the test of time — the book just reached its 150th issue. But McFarlane did more than create a hit book with Spawn. MacFarlane has since added to his publishing wing by forming a major toy company built on the Spawn characters and a multimedia division that has produced a Spawn animated series and a movie. Often recognized as one of the most important characters created since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the Marvel icons. Spawn was a murdered CIA operative who makes a deal with the demon Malebolgia, returning to Earth as an immortal Hellspawn. During his resurrection he witness that his wife is married to his best friend and they have a child together that forever pains Spawn. At the same time, he began as a traditional vigilante hero, Spawn grew increasingly dark over time, slipping further into an anti-hero role as the theology-heavy storylines became increasingly twisted. The only thing that was lacking is there was too much waste of time for the character to get over his obsession of his wife in self doubt and finally move one to be who he’s famous for!

Number 6.  –  Maus 

Maus is the Schindler’s List of graphic novels/comic books. Autobiographies isn’t a new thing in comics, but Art Spiegelman’s story during the holocaust is the of the most important creations in sequential art! The first and only graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize, Maus is the powerful and emotional story of Art Spiegelman’s father, Vladek, a Holocaust survivor. Alternating between the past (Vladek’s imprisonment in a concentration camp, the death of his son Richieu, and his survivor’s guilt) and the present (Spiegelman’s interviews with his father, the often agonizing process of creation), Maus doesn’t just present the reader with the gritty talking points; it takes an active role in the conversation. The book uses postmodern techniques—most strikingly in its depiction of races of humans as different kinds of animals, with Jews as mice, Germans as cats and non-Jewish Poles as pigs. Maushas been described as memoir, biography, history, fiction, autobiography, or a mix of genres. A game-changing, genre-defining classic, Maus is more than a personal story of survival, “it also stands among the best works of Holocaust literature in any form”

Number 5.  –  Sandman

While we had Image comics-style and generic artwork flooding the comic book market, we still have Vertigo comics that actually gave us a huge alternative from action, flashy, and stupid stories into intelligent, complex, and deep storytelling. The one comic series that build Vertigo comics was Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. The comics series that, in many ways, started it all and remains a high point for Vertigo Comics and DC Entertainment as a whole, Sandman brought a level of intelligence, beauty and self-awareness to mainstream American comics that even Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing andWatchmen hadn’t quite managed, and its success was enough to allow Berger to convince the Powers The Be to greenlight Vertigo. But there’s something else that Sandman introduced to the US comic industry that has become so well-accepted as to be overlooked in recent days: Vertigo (and Berger) allowed the comic to finish when Neil Gaiman was finished with it. No new writer and new status quo, despite its immense success, Sandman brought a new understanding of the importance of the creator to company-owned comics, and a reminder that, sometimes, it’s best to get offstage while people are demanding more. (Perhaps something that Berger herself had in mind as she announced her stepping down, yesterday…)

Number 4.  –  Kingdom Come

DC comics has done a lot of crap in the 1990s, but there’s at least one masterpiece that they’ve created that was their take against Alan Moore’s Watchmen. The concept of Kingdom Come is inspired by creating a generation gap between the heroes of classic super hero mentality and generations leading before it (reminds me of old vs. modern comics). All of the events in the story were to make a parallel to the Book of Revelation. Kingdom Come was written by Mark Waid and its artwork done by Alex Ross who is known for his photo realism in his artwork, and this is no exception. It was published back in the 1996. The story is set many years in the future in the DC universe. A rift is created between the superheroes of old (The more “traditional” ones) and the newer heroes that have become reckless and irresponsible. The Events in the story are seen from the perspective of an elderly pastor named Norman McCay being reluctantly chosen by spiritual being known as The Spectre to be his anchor to humanity and with him view the upcoming events as an omnipresent form where no one can see or hear them. Superman had gone into seclusion in his fortress of solitude attending to his own makeshift farm. He no longer goes under his secret identity of Clark Kent after the Joker killed multiple staff members of the Daily Planet, one of them being Lois Lane. At first he refuses to reunite Justice League but later joining to help the superhero community, donning a somewhat new costume with the shield being red and black as suppose to his original red and yellow. Superman attempts to bring along Batman, who the public knows that he is Bruce Wayne. He now wears an exoskeleton to support his old and feeble body after years of being the Batman now had taken a physical toil on him. Batman uses robots he created in his image to patrol the streets of Gotham City turning into a city state. However Batman refuses Superman’s offer after not agreeing to his new agenda. The majority of heroes of the current generation have gotten out of line where they ether endanger civilians or war with one another, one example violently forcing away immigrants on their way to Elis Island. Superman puts together a new justice league to police the new vigilante problem. He places Wonder Woman as his second in command. He and his league imprison the rouge heroes in prison nicknamed the gulag in the ruins of what was Kansas. Superman claims this is for the sake of educating the prisoners to not be reckless heroes.Another divide is created between superhumans and mere mortals. The United Nations begin to lose faith in the Justice League’s Gulag and its attempt to reform rouge heroes. Lex Luthor and a couple members of Batman’s Rouges Gallery help create the Mankind Liberation Front. The Front sees that putting an end to the League’s actions by destroying them completely. I find this whole graphic novel as an example of old verses new when it comes to superheroes with a generational gap, for instances having Batman and Robin (Now known as Red Robin) become separated on the meta-human vigilante issue. This story is put together show how dangerous individuals or groups with too much power can be. With all the powers and abilities that a superhero may or may not have the greater power above all of that has to be making the difference between the right and wrong. One thing about comics is that not everything is set in stone and one can take as many creative liberties with characters and storylines as they want. In the novel they had Superman absorb so much solar rays over the years that he is immune to kryptonite and have a budding romance between Wonder Woman. I have to recommend this to any who is either a big fan of comics or an art buff.

Number 3.  –  Battle Angel Alita

This is the only Manga that made it in the list because it is some of the richest, deepest, and most detailed manga that has ever been created! Yukito Kishiro proved to be both one hell of an artist and a storyteller of modern times! The people and cyborgs of the Scrap Yard live beneath the flying city of Tiphares, whose inhabitants dump their junk in the Scrap Yard and rules above it’s inhabitants. One day doc Ido, a former Tipharean citizen, finds the intact head of young cyborg-girl in a vast pile of scrap. He takes her in and gives her a body and the name Alita. Alita then discovers since long forgotten fighting techniques hidden in her body and decides to become a hunter-warrior like Ido. But things gotten so much worse for the two as cyborg monsters and gangs tries to ruin the Scrap Yard only to have Alita try to make a difference, but manages to make things worse than they are. This Manga series spawned 9 volumes from 1990 – 1995 and it was one hell of a comic run! With those 9 volumes it depict life as it moves forward and also going very deep that nobody is clearly good or evil. There’s a huge cast of character that are all deep and developing effortlessly. Backed that up with some of the most fascinating science fiction world ever seen, you got yourself one hell of a tale! There are so much terminology with this fictional technology that the world of Alita is in and everything has a complexity to it that it makes a reader hooked to it. It gets so dense and relatable that anything that goes wrong with your favorite character can easily break your heart or something goes well can take your breath away! You’ll get the best character development, action sequences, best surprises, and best dialog ever printed! You owe it to yourself to read Battle Angel Alita! And by the of reading all 9 Volumes, it bring an appropriately bittersweet ending to the series, with a happy ending at last for our hero, and all looked to be well with the world.

Number 2.  –  Teenage Mutant
Ninja Turtles

It should go without saying that the Turtles started out as a comic book satire of Daredevil into a multimedia franchise! My favorite incarnation of the Turtles will always be Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s take on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles because it so well told and so unbelievably creative that it has been repeated and retold again & again in future incarnations of the Turtles. Sure the series did have a bunch of bumps in 80’s, but in 1990 – 1993 (Issues 28 – 62) has became some of the most captivating and engaging moments of the Ninja Turtles! Each time I go back to those old issues it make me wish that there Mirage Comics was a big comic book company like Marvel and DC because they were the best underground comics studio that I can think of! We were able to see the Turtles to be so deep and at their best when facing off The Shredder, the foot, and many other enemies that dared to face them. The City at War story arc has always been my favorite moments of Ninja Turtles and since then I have yet to see a better moment for our heroes from any series of the franchise! Towards the end of volume 1’s run, it left me speechless!

Nothing could ever be more awesome than volume 1 of Ninja Turtles. Though though other volumes of the Ninja Turtles comics have came out after Issue 62, they didn’t really have that engaging and gripping storytelling that the original volumes have. Volume 2 of Ninja Turtles was just illustrations instead of good storytelling which lead to the cancelation of the series. Volume 3, when Mirage sided with Image, had cool ideas but had ridiculous results like making Leo into cyborg, Donatello was absent, and Savage Dragon (Image comics character) became a recruiting ally to the turtles (lame). The only comic series that almost lived up to volume 1 of the Ninja Turtles was Volume 4 (until they got cancelled) and IDW’s run on Ninja Turtles that’s on-going today. But I still have a huge passion to the original story that was told from the original Turtles and I continue to get inspired from it the more I read them!

Number 1.  –  Bone

Bone is a true classic in any storytelling medium. Jeff Smith describes his colossal fantasy as a cross between Bugs Bunny and Lord of the Rings, but it ultimately stands as its own legacy. A whimsical, often-times hilarious journey that straddles action, adventure and comedy with natural finesse, Bone entertains from start to finish, young and old alike. The Bone comic series is a near perfect story that will leave readers not disappointed. I loved every moment that was put into each panel with Jeff Smith’s charming illustrations, engagingly fun dialogue and the story getting intense as the characters developed maturely in this epic tale. This was simply one of the best comic book/ graphic novel series that I ever read. It combines comedy and fantasy, taking some risks to make the story more suitable for a wider demographic. Bone officially became one of my inspirations in writing and drawing that made me write and draw more original stuff these days. I’m surprised that Bone never gotten its own feature film or TV series yet because it would have been so fascinating to see the Bone characters  in motion when traditional animations were common in animation studios back then. You can get the whole series of Bone in the Complete graphic novel and it is the highest recordation of a comic book to read!

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