Regardless of your feelings about the DC Extended Universe, they have a whole bunch of proposed movies coming up that they’re committed to making. And everyone likes to do those Ten Comics to Read Before You See X Movie lists (I'll probably do a few myself). But I wanted to do something slightly different. I just wanted to give you some stories to read that are good. These aren't designed to get you ready for the movies, or to give you a crash course on the characters. These are just some good-ass stories that you should read. In general.
10. Movie – Justice League
Comic – Justice League: Year One
Justice League: Year One is a retelling of the JLA's first year of existence, when it was formed without Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman.
So the new team – composed of Green Lantern, Flash, Martian Manhunter, Black Canary, and Aquaman – deals with various threats and challenges. It’s also a book that is driven firmly by characters. It contains my favorite depiction of Aquaman ever in any form. Also Barry Allen at his typical Waid best.
Martian Manhunter also comes out incredibly, which is shocking, since I never really liked the character before this story. Black Canary is also a scene stealer with a very clearly defined character. Green Lantern's pretty great too. The cameos in this one are also phenomenal. Doom patrol? For reals?
Seriously, though, this is the best single story to introduce people to the JLA. It's great and tense and funny. Read this one, and not the New 52 League. This is where you wanna start.
9. Movie – Suicide Squad 2
Comic – Suicide Squad: Trial by Fire
Although you wouldn't necessarily know it from watching the movie, Suicide Squad is one of the best DC Comics of the ’80s.
It’s tense and exciting and cool as hell. The book is about a government task force of supervillains deployed on political missions with no expectation of survival. If they get caught, they're on their own. And if they try to run off, the explosive armband attached to each supervillain will detonate, leaving the wearer to bleed out in the dirt.
The team is constantly changing and cycling, throwing regulars like Deadshot and Captain Boomerang in with one-off special operatives like Chronos and Penguin. In the first collected trade, the team goes off on a series of special operations, including a dangerous one to the Soviet Union and one against a dude calling himself William Hell. William"¦Hell…THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER.
If the Suicide Squad film had included a dude named William Hell, I would have had a 100 percent better time at that movie.
8. Movie – Flashpoint
Comic – Flash: Born to Run
Look, I love Barry Allen, but if you want a Flash with the best comic book stories to his name, you want Wally West.
But I'm not gonna just tell you to pick up any old Wally West story. How about one that connects the two? Serving as a makeshift Flash Year One, Mark Waid's Born to Run shows us Wally's origin and his time as Kid Flash.
And, of course, the formation of his relationship with Barry Allen. An incredible story that shows why Barry was so great and how that greatness impacts Wally's destiny. Although it isn't collected on its own, you can find the arc collected in The Flash by Mark Waid Book 1, along with a couple of other great stories. Barry has always been better as a symbol than as a character, and this is the best example of that.
If you want some Barry Allen: perfect human comics, these are them.
7. Movie – Deadshot
Comic – Deadshot: Beginnings
Yes, DC has said that they're making a Deadshot movie. Whether they do or not remains to be seen, but it gives me an excuse to recommend this four-issue miniseries from the height of the Suicide Squad comic book.
The mini, written and drawn by the same creative team as the main book (Ostrander, Yale, McDonnell), is obscenely dark and bleak. If you think I only recommend fun and cheery things, let this set you straight. This one is not for the faint of heart. It follows Deadshot as he tries to get his son back from a kidnapper and goes AWOL from the Squad. His psychiatrist goes after him to find the origins of his violent demeanor.
This one is pretty much Taken with a supervillain, and it goes to darker places than any Hollywood movie usually does.
But if you're looking for a great Deadshot story that delves straight to the heart of the character, this is arguably the best one to read.
6. Movie – Green Lantern Corps
Comic – Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn
There are many Green Lantern origins out there, but this is among the most solid.
My personal favorite is New Frontier, but since that isn't solely focused on Hal Jordan, here's something else for you. Emerald Dawn was the late ’80s/early ’90s attempt to retell Hal's origins, and it does it beautifully.
The book follows Hal from the death of his father, up through his training as a pilot, and into his Green Lantern Origin. He also has to face off with Legion, a monstrous hive-mind robotic enemy who I really wish DC would use again. His visual design is awesome. Hal trains with Tomar-Re and Kilowog, and becomes the Green Lantern the world needs.
It's a great origin story that's self-contained and doesn't need anything else to enjoy. There is a sequel, Emerald Dawn 2, if you want it, that features extremely ’90s-hair Sinestro, which is almost worth the admission price on its own.
5. Movie – Batgirl
Comic – Batgirl: Year One
Batgirl: Year One is my favorite Barbara Gordon comic book of all time.
It's also one of my favorite Batman-adjacent comics of all time. A lot of that is due to the bone-shatteringly beautiful Marcos Martin art. And to the copious Killer Moth usage in this thing. There's some Firefly too, and it's rad.
But this book solidifies Barbara as a unique character, separate from Robin and Batman. Batman trained to be Batman into adulthood and all over the world. Robin was taught by the greatest fighter and detective of all time. But Babs? Batgirl taught herself, and went out into the night to go fight crime however she could. She did it without a safety net. She made her own gear and costume.
Maybe the best issue in the miniseries is Number Four, Cave Dwellers, in which Batman and Robin bring Batgirl into the fold to meet her. Seeing the Dark Knight and Boy Wonder from an outsider’s perspective is a great concept, and it's carried over excellently.
4. Movie – SHAZAM!
Comic – Convergence: SHAZAM!
Shazam! may be the DCEU film for which I have the greatest expectations.
It's such a great premise that it would be hard to make it not fun. It's that Tom Hanks movie Big, but with superpowers. Billy Batson is a young orphan boy gifted with the ability to turn into a big strapping superhero named either Captain Marvel or Shazam, depending on the version of the character, by use of a magic word. That word: SHAZAM!
This two-part story comes from the DC Convergence event, in which various alternate realities were mashed together and told to fight. This two-parter by Jeff Parker and Evan “Doc” Shaner is fun, exciting, and so, so beautiful. I want a page of Doc Shaner art so bad. I would do terrible things for one. And his Shazam art is spectacular.
The square-jawed heroism on display is rad, and seeing the Marvel Family take on the Gotham by Gaslight universe is a neat crossover. There are a ton of great Shazam stories out there, but this one is just super fun.
3. Movie – Justice League Dark
Comics – Swamp-Thing: The Anatomy Lesson
Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits
If Justice League Dark actually happens, you should not prepare by buying Justice League Dark comics. They're fine, you can go ahead and read them, but they are miles from being the best comics featuring those characters.
Here's a nice double shot of great comic booking. First off, Swamp-Thing #21, Alan Moore's first big story with the character. The story, The Anatomy Lesson, completely changed the nature (PUN!) of Swamp-Thing as a character. It's deep and introspective, and really kicked off Moore's run on the character in earnest.
In addition, check out Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits for the best John Constantine story of all time. In it, John gets lung cancer from all his smoking, and has to work his way out of it in typical Constantinian manner (e.g., being a straight-up jerk to devils until he cons his way into life). It's beautiful, and you should read the heck out of it.
2. Movie – Man of Steel 2
Comic – Any ’90s Superman
Oh, right, we're not supposed to know about this one. Because Superman's dead. Dead for real. Honestly, ten bucks says you didn't even remember Superman died in BvS. We’re probably getting a Man of Steel 2 (I thought BvS WAS Man of Steel 2, but whatever), which will hopefully be directed by Matthew Vaughn.
So, what to read in reference to Superman? Look, just grab some ’90s Superman. That stuff is so much fun. The Electric Blue era? All of the Intergang Fourth World stuff? The Death and Return? It's all so much fun.
And since there were four titles – Superman, Adventures of Superman, Action Comics, and Superman: The Man of Steel – there are plenty of comics to choose from. All of the Conduit stuff is fun, and the Atomic Skull stuff…Just buy a bunch from the Dollar Bin at your local comic shop.
They should be pretty cheap.
1. Movie – The Batman
Comic – Batman: Dark Knight, Dark City
I mean, I could have recommended Batman Year One. Or Court of Owls, or whatever. But look, get down on the level with me. I'm gonna break something to you real quick: None of those stories involve the Riddler, or a bat demon, or both. This one does.
Dark Knight, Dark City is about The Riddler going on a psychotic spree of baby kidnapping to lead Batman on an insane chase with seemingly no end that turns into a bizarre ritual. Also it may or may not imply that Thomas Jefferson was a devil worshipper and that a demon manipulated events in Gotham specifically to create Batman. You should really read this one.
It's only three issues long, so take an afternoon and give it your time. You won't be disappointed. It's the kind of Batman story that no one will put on their Ten Batman Stories you NEED to Read (Number 4 will surprise you) lists or whatever, but it's one you should read.
And there you go! A bunch of neato recommendations. Read some of them. They’re all good; I can personally vouch for them. And I am 100 percent trustworthy.