Armageddon 2001 #1 (DC)
From May 1991:
DC tends to be obsessed with superheroes from the future (Booster Gold, Legion of Super-Heroes) who are obsessed with superheroes of the present. Waverider is no exception. Armageddon 2001 was Waverider's big story. It was all about one of the icons of today turning into tomorrow's tyrant (sort of like Harvey Dent's line in The Dark Knight: "You either die the hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain"). They say the original plan was for Captain Atom (the basis for Alan Moore's Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen) to be revealed as Monarch (something that ended up being done in the pages of Extreme Justice anyway), but instead (because it was always going to be someone obscure) it turned out to be Hawk, as in Hawk & Dove. Hawk/Monarch eventually became Extant, who was the other villain in Zero Hour. Still, like I said this was much more about Waverider. The whole event was basically a crossover in the 1991 annuals (a yearly bonus issue that used to be a staple and has been staging a sporadic comeback). Like the "Night of Owls" or "Death of the Family" or "Wrath of the First Lantern" crossovers recent fans might be familiar with, these annuals basically featured the same story with slight variations each issue, making it all the more relevant to care about Waverider himself, which is why this issue recounts his poignant origin, the Kingdom Come of its time.
Heroes & Legends (Marvel)
From October 1996:
The whole point of this jam issue is to commemorate the 1965 wedding of Reed & Sue Richards. Although I suspect the real reason this was released was because of Superman: The Wedding Album released at the same time, featuring the long-awaited marriage ceremony between Lois Lane and Clark Kent, which featuring a similar jam session. Every conceivable Marvel hero appears to make the Fantastic Four event pull off with as much incident as possible, just as DC's heroes gathered in Metropolis to give Superman peace of mind and a honeymoon. I got this one because the cover was so vague I had no idea what was inside. I just hoped it was interesting. Another notable appearance in this issue is Phil Sheldon, the reporter who served as the guide in Marvels.
Icon #16 (Milestone)
From August 1994:
Milestone was the DC imprint filled with black superheroes, and Icon was its Superman. In 1994 there was a crossover between the Milestone line and the Superman family called "World's Collide" (and that's...pretty much the whole story). This issue was part of that. The writer was the late Dwayne McDuffie, while the artist was M.D. Bright, who previously worked on Green Lantern. I'd previously had a copy in my collection of a Superboy installment featuring the Boy of Steel's encounter with Icon's ally Rocket. I guess Superboy could make a memorable encounter with any young female hero (his relationship with the Supergirl of that era was the highlight of any month it happened). Here Superman and Icon are deathly dull and the story around them the epitome of paper thin crisis. If DC wanted people to care about Milestone, this wasn't the way to go. Milestone is better known today for Static, the teen hero who later starred in the Static Shock animated series and was briefly a part of the New 52 relaunch (and perhaps in hindsight it was a bad call to have artist Scott McDaniel figure out how to be a writer at the same time in the title).
Infinite Crisis #1 (DC)
From December 2005:
Obviously I read the complete Infinite Crisis as it was released. I even made the rare decision to buy multiple covers of each issue. The sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths was an epic examination of generations and perspective. The classic line from this issue is Batman speaking to Superman: "But they need to be inspired. And let's face it, 'Superman'...the last time you inspired anyone was when you were dead." The truly memorable thing about Infinite Crisis, though, as that it truly did focus on Superman and Batman, as well as Wonder Woman. Yes, there were thousands of other characters at play, but the Big Three were the focus. They weren't the focus of Crisis on Infinite Earths. In fact, they were rarely the focus of these crossover events. Geoff Johns can sometimes be described as a fanboy by his detractors. In this instance maybe it indeed took a fanboy to finally do an event centered on the three central figures of the DC landscape. It sounds so obvious to do that, but it's one of those things that are so obvious that no one had really thought of actually doing it before. So here's what it looks like, and it's glorious.
The Invisibles #21 (Vertigo)
From June 1996:
This counts as the second issue I've ever read of Grant Morrison's Vertigo opus. Technically I've read the entire first collection of stories, but individually just the first and now this one, and it really figures. The Invisibles is about discovering the scary truths hiding just beneath the surface of the mainstream, and our guide for the journey is initiate figure Dane. This issue catches up with him as he's trying to process it by revisiting his regular, mundane life of friends and family from the time before he got to look behind the curtain. Part of the real charm of reading individual issues from the series is having a look at the letters columns. Back in yon olden days, this was the window into the fan community behind a series. In these Internet days, everyone thinks they're experts (or just cynical) about everything, and so they don't tend to know or talk about anything in particular except in snide, condescending remarks that mean nothing. Letters columns were like monthly Wikipedia entries, talking about events and the significance of those events from individual issues. The best creators used these columns as their personal forum, not only as an open dialogue but a way to express their personalities outside of the stories that were their first impression. Today it's a mark of distinction to include them against the new standard; Brian Michael Bendis and Brian K. Vaughan are perhaps the best practitioners of this new underground vibe. I mention all this because Morrison was one of the creators in those days who absolutely made the most of it, and sometimes he used it to craft a dangerous version of himself I contend may or may not have been true. These days it's not as much fun as I once thought to reread old letters columns, but Invisibles is probably as reliable a forum as you'll find in that regard.
Justice League America #88 (DC)
From May 1994:
One of the best creative teams I've ever read in comics was Dan Vado and Marc Campos. They briefly collaborated in the pages of Justice League America and Extreme Justice. Fans will know the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire era and to a lesser extent the Jurgens era (mostly thanks to "Doomsday"), but the sheer awkward humanity reached a crescendo in the aftermath of all that as Booster Gold struggled to recover from losing his original costume, which was really about losing all faith in the superhero community. Booster and pal Blue Beetle were previously the very incarnation of the carefree spirit, two of the goofiest bastards ever. In a lot of ways, the forgotten Justice League crossover event "Judgment Day" was the culmination of the Vado/Campos era. This was the event where beloved neophyte Ice was temporarily killed off (she and Fire...yes, Fire & Ice...were another signature element of this era). It was also the culmination of the Bloodwynd mystery. Bloodwynd was a mysterious (hence the mystery) new member created in the Jurgens era. Some fans will always be convinced that Bloodwynd was finally revealed to be an alternate persona for Martian Manhunter, but that's a stupid misunderstanding. Bloodwynd was awesome. By the way, Grant Morrison takes Bloodwynd for a joke of a typical '90s character, and possibly he has the Vado/Campos era in mind (Campos might be said to resemble the typical Image style, but in a DC context he was pretty unique). If you ever wanted conclusive proof that I'm not a slave to all things Morrison, know that we differ on the subject of Bloodwynd (although the character apparently appears in Morrison's upcoming Multiversity, which will mark his first appearance in...two decades?). "Judgment Day" in some ways was kind of the story that finally forced everyone to face the elephant in the room. Was he worth all the mystery the team put up with all those years? I still hope he makes a triumphant return.
JLA: Our Worlds At War #1 (DC)
From September 2001:
Our Worlds At War was the signature crossover event of 2001, but if it remains notable at all today it's because of the eerie parallels with a far more significant event from that year. The parallels went so far as several issues of Superman comics being released soon after 9/11 with still more hauntingly relevant images. This issue is from Jeph Loeb and features the complete text of Franklin Roosevelt's address to Americans following "the date which will live in infamy," interspersed as captions through the story. Seems pretty heavy, but Loeb is also quick to put Superman at the front of the story (making this the precursor to Infinite Crisis). This was a time when DC was paranoid about the Man of Steel's continuing relevance, so it tried to make him as edgy as possible. Goading him into an all-out state of war seemed to be the best way.
JLA Secret Files & Origins 2004 (DC)
From November 2004:
Speaking of making Superman edgy, the other notable story from the period involving this instinct was the saga of Manchester Black as depicted in Action Comics #775. When DC realized that the story could probably continue, Black's sister Vera helped found the Justice League Elite, which as you might guess was the Justice League but more...edgy. Actually, there were only two bona fide League-worthy members, Green Arrow and The Flash. The Secret Files specials were a favorite of mine, primers that included profiles and short adventures (and sometimes handy timelines). This one put the JLElite in the spotlight, plus a few other notable upcoming stories, including the then-forthcoming return of Grant Morrison's Ultramarine Corps in the pages of JLA Classified.
JSA #49, 51, 70 (DC)
From August & October 2003, April 2005:
Geoff Johns did a lot of notable material before I caught up with him, and his long work with JSA lasted until the Justice Society of America reboot that I actually did read (notable for the "Thy Kingdom Come" arc that heavily featured an in-continuity Magog from the original Kingdom Come). His JSA was the first time I read unabashedly good things about what he was doing, fun stories that involved a return to prominence for Hawkman and the emerging menace of the complicated Black Adam. The first two issues are part of the "Prince of Darkness" arc that might have been the culmination of anyone else's run. It featured Mordru and focused on elements like Dr. Fate (one of the coolest and most versatile designs for any superhero; check out the Helmet of Fate event for a primer) and Eclipso. Mordru's name doesn't resonate no matter where you look (except King Arthur lore), but in a lot of ways this whole story was like Geoff preparing for Infinite Crisis, where Mordru would be the prototype Superboy-Prime. I got the latter issue because it because the modern and Golden Age Mr. Terrific on the cover. Mr. Terrific was my favorite member of Geoff's Society (although he was an unfortunate victim of the New 52 launch, he did finally receive his first ongoing series...for a few issues). The issue itself doesn't really feature him so much as include him. The best inclusion is Walker Gabriel, star of another short-lived series, Chronos (which demands a complete reprint collection). The villain this time is Degaton, another villain best known to Society aficianados.
The Possessed #4 (Cliffhanger!)
From December 2003:
This was the period in the career of Geoff Johns where he was pretty much doing whatever he wanted. He was working on The Flash and JSA at DC, Avengers at Marvel, and side projects like this, which was basically his Image work (Cliffhanger! was an imprint of WildStorm, which was at one time a founding imprint at Image). Actually, The Possessed reads a lot like Robert Kirkman's later The Walking Dead, although there's a little more emphasis on the bogeymen around which the regular human characters are trying survive. Like Olympus, Geoff co-wrote this with Kris Grimminger. These days it's superheroes superheroes superheroes (with the odd Vertigo anthology tale), but the existence of material like this is like a promise that one day he'll try something different again. We'll see.