The 30 Best DC Comics of All-Time, Ranked

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DC Comics

Though I was chomping at the bit to do a “Top 30 Marvel Comics” it turns out there was a great list to that effect in October. But there was no such list for the “Distinguished Competition” on the site, so here we go: these are my top 30 favorite DC comics.

As a note, these will include both regular DC superhero comics like Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, as well as several entries from their storied Vertigo imprint. When it gets down to the top ten, don’t be surprised to see significant overlap with our recent “50 Best Graphic Novels of All Time” list.

30. DMZ (2005)

DC Comics

Starting out with one of those imprints, DMZ both feels timeless in its depiction of a divided America and like a narrative and artistic time capsule from the Post-9/11 era of dystopian comics. The story follows a journalist trapped in Manhattan, now the eponymous DMZ between American factions, where the war-torn stories dominating the early 2000s news cycles take on a distinctly American flavor.

Buy now $7.98

29. Green Arrow: Longbow Hunters (1987)

DC Comics

It would be reductive but not inaccurate to call Longbow Hunters the Dark Knight Returns or Batman: Year One for Green Arrow. It’s a grittier depiction of the character, but with a painterly style that helps distinguish it from others in that genre. It’s stylish and is a solid introduction to those looking to get more into the psyche of Oliver Queen.

Buy now $6.62

28. Wonder Woman: Gods and Mortals (1987)

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George Perez’s defining run on Wonder Woman helped cement many of the qualities that are readily identified with the hero today. Gods and Mortals thrusts Wonder Woman into the midst of the drama of the gods and puts her role as a Daughter of Themyscira at the forefront of her journey into the modern world. 

Buy now $20.96

27. DC: The New Frontier (2004)

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DC Comics

New Frontier is Darwyn Cooke’s love letter to the Gold and Silver ages of comics, telling a story that interweaves the fictional evolution of the characters post WW2 with the real-world crises from McCarthyism to Jim Crow. It manages to both tell a story about a civil conflict within superheroes between the state-sanctioned ones and vigilantes working in the shadows while managing to never get too bogged down in grittiness and showcasing the best of these characters.

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26. Mister Miracle (2019)

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DC Comics

Tom King’s run on Batman is good, don’t get me wrong, but it’s his Mister Miracle that’s special. In a lot of ways, Mister Miracle feels like a follow-up to his equally personal and similarly color-scheme’d vision series. Here, New Gods hero Mister Miracle is struggling with his past traumas and his domestic life with his wife and fellow New Gods refugee Big Barda. Like with Vision, Tom King knows how to effectively funnel cosmic sci-fi into a personal family narrative.

Buy now $17.39

25. Court of Owls (2012)

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DC Comics

Scott Snyder is a master of gothic horror, and the Court of Owls villain introduced at the start of his New 52 run may be one of the more iconic entries to Batman’s rogue’s gallery in recent years. Here, a shadowy cabal of masked elites threatens one area Bruce always felt was his strength: his knowledge and understanding of Gotham City. How the mystery unfolds leaves a little to be desired, but all-in-all it’s a compelling Bruce Wayne story that introduces an instant-classic villain.

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24. Aquaman: The Trench (2013)

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DC Comics

Aquaman’s reputation as a joke hero has always been somewhat undeserved, and nowhere is that status better struck down than in Geoff Johns’ New 52 reboot. Here, Aquaman’s adventures open up an undersea world of court intrigue worthy of Game of Thrones and elements of Lovecraftian horror in the depths of the sea. It’s an exciting, compelling homecoming for the rebooted Arthur Curry.

Buy now $13.95

22. Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits (1991)

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This series doesn’t introduce John Constantine, that honor goes to a book later on this list, but it’s one of the stories that best illustrate the character by dragging him through some of his lowest moments. Here, the chain-smoking British exorcist faces his own mortality as he’s—understandably given the number of cigarettes he inhales—diagnosed with lung cancer. In this Garth Ennis story, Constantine’s life opens up more and readers get to know the man more even as his end seems nigh. It also shows Constantine at his best: dancing around and double-dealing cosmic forces and forever staying just barely one step ahead.

21. For the Man Who Has Everything (1985)

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DC Comics

In one of the best single-issue stories, a villain traps Superman in an artificial construct by giving him what he’s always dreamed of: a chance to experience life on his homeworld. It’s an interesting conceit that feels like a precursor to the later Elseworlds brand, and culminates with Superman having to give a heartbreaking farewell to a vision of everything he wanted. In just one issue, Alan Moore gets at the heart of the character in a way that few others accomplish.

Buy now $42.42

20. Batman: Year One (1987)

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While Year One’s portrayal of Batman and Jim Gordon’s relationship is rightly praised, one of the best aspects of the comic is the repositioning of Batman as “the guy who beats up street-level crooks” -- though don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of that -- to a vigilante willing to take on the wealthy and powerful that others won’t touch. It’s one thing when those are cartoonish businessmen like The Penguin, but Batman: Year One sends its hero after police commissioners and mayors, and gives new nuance to the character’s frequent clashes with authority figures throughout his mythos.

Buy now $10.29

19. Sinestro Corps War (2007)

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The Sinestro Corps War is epic. It marks one of the best occasions where the writers get to let loose and fully embrace the space opera side of the character. Green Lantern Hal Jordan goes toe-to-toe with former comrade turned nemesis Sinestro in an epic battle across the stars. The central conflict is great, but the splintering of the emotional spectrum into multiple Lantern corps was one of the best changes to the character’s mythology in years and helped give the event a lasting weight.

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18. Batman: Under the Hood (2005)

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The “twist” in Under the Hood is set up in the Hush storyline, but it’s how the mystery unfolds in Under the Hood that’s got the real staying power. A specter of Batman’s past comes back to haunt him and is picking off Gotham’s villains one by one. Like with Court of Owls, Under the Hood also introduces a villain into Batman’s rogues' gallery that became an instant classic. There’s a fair amount made in Batman media about his non-fatal code, but it’s a conflict explored at its best here.

Buy now $22.46

17. Superman: Red Son (2004)

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DC Comics

This Superman spin on the nature vs nurture debate looks at how the Man of Steel might have been a different hero with just a slight change in the trajectory of the Krypton escape vessel. Here, Superman grows up in Stalin’s Soviet Union, a fact that changes not just his life but ripples out into other heroes and villains across the DC universe. The 1950s Elseworlds versions of the various characters are all fun and interesting, but it’s the character study of Superman’s values that helps make the book so memorable.

Buy now $25

16. New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (1984)

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There’s a lot of good Teen Titans stories, but The Judas Contract is the best and most memorable of Marv Wolfman and George Pérez’s storied run. The Teen Titans are a close-knit team that’s torn apart when a new member is revealed to be a traitor. It was a popular book, but The Judas Contract really put the Teen Titans on the map.

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15. The Question: Zen and Violence (1987)

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It’s not uncommon for characters to get rebooted or reset in one way or another, especially at D.C., but it’s a rare pleasure to watch that happen on the page. In Dennis O'Neil’s run on the question, his own struggles with addiction play out in the noir-infused character. The eponymous hero is beaten nearly to death at the end of the first issue, and much of the rest of the first volume is the character slowly building himself back up from the ground but also questioning what it means to be an investigative hero and some hard questions about the use of violence to that end.

Note: sadly the only accessible version of this, at the time of writing, is as single issues on Comixology

Buy now $1.99

14. Y the Last Man (2003)

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DC Comics

Put the ill-fated recent TV show out of your mind, Y: The Last Man is an incredible (and complete) journey following the last man alive on the planet as the world struggles with all the Y-chromosome folks suddenly dropping dead. It’s an interesting premise with a very new order to the world, and as he’d later do with Saga, writer Brian K. Vaughan excels in exploring through that space with a small and very believable cast of characters.

Buy now $26.68

13. Fables (2002)

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DC Comics

Fables, the story of the interwoven lives of various fairy tale denizens living in a magical borough of New York, loses some steam as it goes on. But if it’s a story with some lows, it’s certainly worth reading for its highs. When writer Bill Willingham leans in on the noir or fantasy epic sides of the story, particularly with sections following grizzled sheriff Bigby Wolf, it’s a thrilling ride.

Buy now $12.99

12. Wonder Woman: Blood (2013)

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The New 52 relaunch had some misses for DC, but where it hit (like Court of Owls and Aquaman) it did so in a big way, and one of those who benefitted the most was Amazonian Diana Prince. Updating and truly living up to the mythological groundwork laid in Gods and Mortals, the New 52 reboot for Wonder Woman adds new wrinkles into her origin and modernizes the Greek pantheon into a compelling urban fantasy series that’s an easy recommendation for any fans of mythology, comics or otherwise.

Buy now $10.44

11. American Vampire (2010)

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DC Comics

One of the most fun aspects of American Vampire is how willing writer Scott Snyder is to throw out the traditional vampire lore. With various “strains” of vampirism, Snyder throws out the old rules about sunlight and silver in favor of new, wholly American takes on the myth. It’s a decade-hopping tale that starts with a young woman in the Golden Age of Hollywood abused and left for dead, but the story expands over time into a story of grudges and obsessions that span human lifetimes.

Buy now $10.20

10. Superman for All Seasons (1998)

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DC Comics

Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s The Long Halloween is widely beloved, but spoiler alert: you won’t find it on this list. For my money, the pair’s best work at DC Comics was Superman for All Seasons. It’s fairly simple as far as Superman stories go, but its strength is in tapping into the minds of the supporting cast closest to Clark Kent. Each of the stories offers a beautiful and well-written perspective on the hero with a masterful, Norman Rockwell-esque visual style that’s Tim Sale at his best. There’s rarely been a more heartfelt encapsulation of the Man of Steel, though there’s at least one better Superman story later on in this list.

Buy now $13.36

9. The Saga of Swamp Thing (1984)

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This won’t be Alan Moore’s last entry in the Top 10, and anyone who has read a “Best of DC” list will understand why. But before… that elephant in the room, Alan Moore breathed new life into the superhero horror character Swamp Thing. The whole run is great, but the first volume’s Ship of Theseus reinvention of the character is a bold and defining turn.

Buy now $14.19

8. Secret Six (2005)

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The recent love of embracing the silliness of Silver Age villains and humorous juxtaposition against over-the-top violence in media like the Harley Quinn show can, in some ways, be traced back to Gail Simone’s seminal Secret Six. It’s the story of a team of villains with some high body counts, but it’s impossible not to fall in love with the new takes on villains like Bane and Catman that help anchor this dysfunctional team. 

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7. Batman: The Black Mirror (2011)

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In arguably the best Batman comic of the last 20 years, Bruce Wayne is nowhere to be found. At a time when Bruce is missing in action, former Robin Dick Grayson steps up to the mantle. But Snyder makes the keen observation that if the villains of Bruce Wayne’s Batman are a reflection of his psyche, then Grayson’s rogue’s gallery would look very different. Black Mirror, impeccably illustrated by artists Jock and Francesco Francavilla, pits Grayson against villains that play with Batman as legacy and generational privilege.

Buy now on $14.99

6. Kingdom Come (1996)

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DC Comics

To understand what makes Kingdom Come so great, it’s important to have some awareness of what comics were like in the 90s. The anti-hero was all the rage, with the traditional heroes on the wane. Kingdom Come takes that on directly, with a story that poses the question of whether or not there’s still a place in modern comics for characters like Superman or Batman. In doing so, it tells one of the best Elseworlds stories and arguably the greatest Justice League story.

Buy now $25

5. The Sandman: Season of Mists (1990)

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Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series is set in some ways inside the D.C. universe, but make no mistake: this is very much a Neil Gaiman story. Preludes and Nocturnes is the launch of Gaiman’s series, but Season of Mists is where Gaiman’s ethereal mythology story truly starts to shine. When Lucifer abdicates his responsibilities in overseeing Hell, a power struggle ensues as various gods try to seize the reins.

Buy now $15.30

4. All-Star Superman (2005)

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Grant Morrison’s Superman is possibly the best depiction of the character as Clark Kent faces his own mortality. Morrison whole-heartedly embraces the full history of the character and paints a compelling portrait of what makes Superman an enduring figure. It’s hard to imagine a book that manages to deliver a fitting send-off to a character that’s been around since 1938, but Morrison manages it.

Buy now $23.78

3. Animal Man (1988)

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In what may be Grant Morrison’s best work, and possibly the best non-Batman story out of D.C., Animal Man is a mind-bending take on the then-neglected Silver Age hero not only breaks through the fourth wall but deconstructs it in many ways. Animal Man is a delightfully bizarre dive into life inside a world where world resets and real-world sales figures can mean life or death to living, breathing characters. However bizarre Morrison’s Animal Man gets, though, it’s steered through by Morrison’s full sincerity and compassion for his characters.

Buy now $21.49

2. Dark Knight Returns (1986)

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If Morrison faced the unenviable task of writing a “last Superman story”, Miller’s task of crafting a “final” Batman story (ignore that there’s a pair of pretty terrible sequels) feels nearly impossible. Miller not only succeeds but helped to redefine the character in ways that cast a long shadow even today. The story follows an elderly Bruce Wayne who emerges from retirement for a few nights to don the cape and cowl one last time in a mission to restore order to Gotham city. 

Buy now $17.79

1. Watchmen (1985)

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DC Comics

As we said in the “Best Graphic Novels” rundown: In all honesty, how could it have been anything else? There are countless blogs devoted to how overrated the comics are, and they’re all wrong. Nearly every issue in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ 12-issue deconstruction of the superhero genre is perfect and genius on some level — particularly The Watchmaker, in which we follow Doctor Manhattan’s non-linear perception of the world. Every issue, every panel, feels carefully crafted and composed.

Watchmen’s central mystery, who killed The Comedian, is a compelling hook for a story that dives headfirst into Cold War anxieties and meaningful questions about hero worship. There are few stories that can live up to the kind of reputation Watchmen has earned, but it does.

Buy now $12.74
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