Comic books usually come out monthly and though reading them from month to month gives us a really great saga of stories to look forward to, some of the best stories are those that can stand alone. The rules for this list aren’t too specific. If it’s generally sold as a trade paperback novel and well-known enough to make it onto this list then it counts. In no particular order, let’s get started.
Tony Stark, Reed Richards and the other smart people of the Marvel Universe send the Hulk away for his, (and everyone else’s well-being). They kidnap Bruce Banner, lock him in a rocket, and send him to a deserted planet. But things go wrong (as if they weren’t already), when Hulk breaks the navigation system in a rage and crash lands upon the planet Sakaar where he is forced to fight other aliens gladiator style. This is great because we see a side of Hulk that we don’t normally see and that is just the Hulk. Bruce doesn’t make many appearances because he is Hulk all the time. Never fear, he does talk and it’s actually an affecting comic. One for the shelves. This story line is also what half of the plot of Thor: Ragnarok was based on.
There is also a great What If…? short series based on this world, wherein Steve Rogers is a gladiator, with a pet T. Rex.
All Star Superman
Written by comic book legend Grant Morrison and analogous to the insane, All Star Batman and Robin, this story chronicles the last days of Superman. When he saves the first manned mission to the sun from a crash, he is exposed to so much solar energy that his powers are tripled, yet his body starts to deteriorate. These are the last days of Superman on the planet. This one is really affecting because Superman is no longer as “invincible” as he seems. You really get the feelings that he has for humanity, his friends and Lois Lane all in this great comic.
Adapted into Captain America: Civil War, this landmark event in the Marvel Universe shows what would happen if every superhero were divided on their stance. A tragic accident kills many innocent people and the government steps in to ensure it never happens again. They start to register superheroes in order to know who is good or bad, vigilante or executive. The main pioneers for each cause being Iron Man and Captain America. Mark Millar hits it out of the park with this stunning and shocking story that rocked the Marvel universe for years.
Set in a universe where superheros have more or less been outlawed unless registered with the United States Government (Not Captain America: Civil War). We follow the exploits of Rorschach, Nite Owl, Dr. Manhattan, The Comedian, Ozymandias, and the Silk Spectre. These “ordinary humans who have taken the extraordinary step of becoming costumed vigilantes”, (Cinefix), find out that somebody is killing off all the old Minutemen, (an old team of superheroes). They band together to find out who is killing the heroes and find a plan much bigger than they imagined. I didn’t really sell this comic very well but it’s truly one of the greatest. You know it’s good however when it has been critically acclaimed as the best graphic novel of all time and has not gone out of print since it’s release. The author, Alan Moore really did a fantastic job with this story and it is a very essential book. This had a movie adaptation from Zack Snyder, before he created the Worlds of DC.
The Dark Phoenix Saga
Acclaimed as one of the best X-Men story-lines of all time, this story follows Jean Grey becoming exposed to a radioactive solar flare which allows her to reach full potential as a telepath. When she arrives back on earth she has becoming an ultimate being of power, one that she tries to restrain. But when The Mastermind makes her think that she is actually “Lady Grey” of the Hellfire Club she believes she is evil and it is up to the X-Men to stop her, including the love of her life, Cyclops. The writer, Chris Claremont, presents a unique view of the X-Men’s relationship with Jean Grey and how hard it is on them for her to become the entity known as the Phoenix. Some of the X-Men: The Last Stand movie was based on this story, but the film coming out June 2019 is called Dark Phoenix.
The Killing Joke
Once again, Alan Moore brings something spectacular to the table. This harrowing Batman tale chronicles the events that led to the Joker becoming who he is now and the present day story of the Joker endlessly torturing Commissioner Gordon almost to the point of insanity. It’s a grave tale for the Batman family and even more chilling when we find out how the Joker came to be. All of Alan Moore’s work is excellent but this is a truly stellar work of art and narrative. You can watch the animated film now, but it is rated R.
Secret War (2005)
Not to be confused with Secret Wars, writer Brian Michael Bendis brought us the story line of Secret War. When a bunch of B-List supervillians are superpowered and under the orders of the country of Latveria, it’s up to the likes of Nick Fury, Captain America, Daredevil, Spider-Man, Luke Cage, Wolverine, and Black Widow to quietly overthrow Lucia Von Bardas, the cyborg leader of Latveria. World crises ensue and it’s up to the heroes to fix things.
Geoff Johns, major DC writer introduced Green Lantern as a major principal character in the sea of Justice Leaguers. In this story we see a new type of Lantern Corps arrive in the Universe, the Black Lanterns. These lanterns deal specifically with reanimating the dead and eating all life. Not only does this story deal with those problems but it explains the rest of the Lantern’s emotional spectrum from red to violet. It’s fun to see so many heroes all joining together especially in a cosmic adventure as good as this.
V For Vendetta
The third and last of Alan Moore’s comics on this list, V for Vendetta is an epic look at a dystopian England in 1997. The government has taken the joy and freedom from the people and it becomes a truly dismal and sad state. Until a mysterious anarchist named “V” starts a ruckus in the civilization and what happens results in a very good story that not only comic book fans can enjoy. It really shows that people should not be afraid to speak up and their government cannot keep them stifled. Adapted into film starring Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman.
Alex Ross teams up with Mark Waid to bring yet another incredible comic. The original Justice League gives up their mantles after a hero by the name of Magog enters the public eye, who is not afraid to kill. Once Magog battles the Parasite it leaves the entire mid-west of America devastated and damaging America’s food supply. Wonder Woman urges Superman to reform the Justice League in order to stop this. In these efforts there is a dichotomy between the league: Kill all those who oppose or reform the murderers. It’s a cool look at all the superheroes in their old age, fighting one last battle paralleling the book of Revelations and the End of the World.