My Top 11 ongoing 1990s ‘super-hero’ titles with Shazam, Batman, X-Men, Stormwatch & more

In my previous “Top 11″ feature I focused on my fave ongoing super-hero titles at DC Comics in the 1980s because at that time, I pretty much just read DC. In the 1990s, I expanded more into Marvel and Independents. So, the below are my fave 1990s ongoing super-hero titles across the comics industry.

1. Power of Shazam (DC)Jerry Ordway remains one of my fave creators. From his amazing 1980s art on Infinity Inc., to his work on the Superman franchise, to his seminal work as writer and occasional artist on the Power of Shazam! Peter Krause, currently artist on Mark Waid’s Irredeemable (Boom Studios), was the artist for most of this series. After a false start in the 1980s with a Shazam: A New Beginning mini-series, the 1990s and Jerry Ordway revamped the Captain Marvel mythos in the Power of Shazam graphic novel. The ongoing series followed that and added interesting new elements, but always faithful to the tone and spirit of the characters’ Fawcett origins.

2. Deathstroke: The Terminator (DC) – Marv Wolfman as writer, Steve Irwin on pencils, and Mike Zeck on covers really helped a book about Deathstroke as an international mercenary… not villain. There was a lot of emotion, depth and humanity in this book with plenty of globe-trotting, bonding with business partner Wintergreen, and some cool moments with characters ranging from a new female Vigilante, Batman, the Teen Titans and more. A thrill ride!

3. Next Men (Dark Horse) – I fell in love with John Byrne’s work when he rebooted Superman in the 1980s. I also then learned about, and picked up, several of his old Uncanny X-Men work. I decided to try his Next Men on the strength of his past work. And, I wasn’t disappointed. An evil scientist, a corrupt Senator, a hidden project to grow super-humans. While their bodies were experimented on, their minds were in a perfect shared virtual world. A pretty cool narrative that kicks into high gear when they escape their confinement and hobble through their initial reactions in the real world. Their powers are not all pluses, there are minuses as well. These really appeared to tell the story of what if super-heroes were “real”. I loved that. BTW, the series is back from IDW in December! Check it out.

4. Eternal Warrior(s) (Valiant / Acclaim) Gilad Anni-Padda , our titular character, is from a family of immortals with strength and stamina. A great feature of the books was the mix of period pieces where we see Gilad and his brothers in the past plus their contemporary adventures. A very smart and well written historical and modern series with understated art that helps advance the story. One of my fave series that I can reread over and over. Acclaim’s Eternal Warriors quarterly series was probably the best of Acclaim’s relaunches of the Valiant Comics properties. It featured all of Gilad’s family not just a solo lead like the Valiant series.

5. Robin (DC) – It was just amazing to see Robin, Tim Drake, breakout into his own ongoing series. It started with some great mini-series that set a tone of globe-trotting with complex and entertaining new villains. King Snake, a blind Caucasian brick house of a martial artist was a great foe. Writer Chuck Dixon and Artist Tom Lyle gave readers a new hero in his own right to care about as he came out from under Batman’s shadow in their mini-series. Tom Grummet joined Dixon on the ongoing series and then others followed him on art chores. For folks that really enjoyed those early years, the current Red Robin series featuring Tim Drake has captured that old magic thanks to writers Chris Yost and now Fabian Nicieza.

6. Superman/Action Comics/Adventure Comics/Man of Steel (DC) – The Death of Superman, a World without Superman, and Superman’s return. Wow. Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson, and Roger Stern primarily wrote this with John Bogdanove, Tom Grummett, Jackson Guice, and Dan Jurgens primarily on art. This remains a classic arc that really captivated new and older fans in the early part of the 1990s. Another story that lends itself to rereads so many years later. At the same time, we started enjoying the adventures of Lois and Clark on TV and a wedding on TV and comics soon followed. The early 1990s (after a fun reboot in the 1980s) continued to be a great period to be a Superman fan.

7. New Mutants/X-Force/Uncanny X-Men/X-Men/X-Factor (Marvel) – The early 1990s were a renaissance for the X-books. Rob Liefeld was my gateway into Marvel’s x-verse. I enjoyed his art on the Hawk and Dove mini-series for DC in the 1980s. He then worked on New Mutants for Marvel, created Cable, Deadpool & others, and morphed the book into X-Force. At the same time Mark Silvestri, Jim Lee, & Whilce Portacio had their time with the X-Men with writer Chris Claremont. Plus we had a new kind of X-Factor with Peter David, Larry Stroman and others telling stories of a quirky team that made Madrox a household name in fandom. It was also during this time that my 2 favourite X-Men debuted in Uncanny X-Men, namely Gambit and Bishop, and while initially great they were mishandled when they reached the new millennium and continue to be lesser characters in 2010. 🙁

8. Bloodshot (Valiant/Acclaim) – Mafia up and comer and real bad apple Angelo Mortalli is betrayed by his mob family and joins witness protection. However, his luck continues as he is also betrayed by the FBI and is used in a scientific experiment that puts microscopic machines called nanites in his body. The tech gives him some super powers, but also leaves him initially unaware of his past, plus chalk pale with a big red dot on his chest. It was a gritty book with solid story telling and serviceable art. The book felt fresh and new to me with a tone that I was enjoying at the time.

9. Detective Comics / Batman (DC) – I had no immediate recollection of who was writing these titles in the early 1990s (I googled and realized it was Alan Grant), but what I do remember is that Norm Breyfogle was THE Batman artist of this period (even though classic Batman artist Jim Aparo was still working on the caped crusader in some form during this period too). Norm started in Detective Comics in 1989 and his second arc was the Mudpack arc, which brought all of DC’s Clayfaces together. This remains an all-time fave of mine. However, he also worked on many other memorable Batman tales and moved from Detective to Batman in the early 1990s. Not sure what happened to Norm and DC, but Norm hasn’t had much if any DC (and Marvel for that matter) work after his stint in the 1990s. A shame though because he was such a distinct artistic influence on Batman. HIS Batman is THE Batman for me.

10. Stormwatch (Image/Wildstorm) It is surprising that out of all the books Image launched in their first few years, it wasn’t one of the biggies I was drawn too, but Stormwatch with Jim Lee as co-writer and NOT interior artist. He was joined by Brandon Choi on stories and Scott Clark and Trevor Scott on art. It was a capable creative team. In its original incarnation it was a team of United Nations sponsored heroes with international super-hero membership. I loved the global perspective and the fun and fresh new faces of this book those early issues. Even though art felt like cloned Jim Lee art, the stories were engaging and fun.

11. BONUS – Starman (DC) – This is probably the best book produced in the 1990s, but doesn’t make the #1 spot because I got into the book in the last few years (although I had those Power of Shazam / Starman cross-over issues). Those that made the Top 10 portion of this list were books I actually read at the time whether for their full run or for an extended commitment. I have to say, DC’s Starman Omnibus collections are amazing with the final collection due out in January 2011. James Robinson did some amazing work on this series and Tony Harris’ initial issues were amazing. The series also had ties to JSA which was a plus for me since I am huge fan of those characters. There was a humanity and realness to these stories as well as an action-packed fun quality. Opal, where the stories primarily took place, became its own compelling character in the series. A satisfying read with A LOT of reread potential.

Note I – Sandman Mystery Theatre (Vertigo/DC) – I loved this series, but it didn’t make the list because it was a mature readers’ book from Vertigo. That said, Wesley Dodds and Dian Belmont made a great team and the period piece was fun with a capital F. The stylized art of Guy Davis and solid storytelling of Matt Wagner makes this also a great series, available in trade paperbacks, to reread even today. Most of the issues have been collected with only a few more to reach store shelves over the next few years.

Note II – JSA (DC) – The JSA started in 1999, but since most of its run was in 2000s you’ll see this on my Top 11 of the 2000s feature in the near future.

Honourable Mentions – There were several short-lived series from DC that I read in the 1990s (or encountered recently) that were unique, well written and drawn, but didn’t find a large audience. Those include Chain Gang War, Chase, Hourman, Eclipso, and Chronos. In addition, for those that read Malibu’s Ultraverse, before being gobbled up by Marvel and dust-binned, some shout-outs MUST go out to Firearm, Solitaire and Prime (this last one drawn initially by Norm Breyfogle).

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