14. 618 points - Hulk (Peter David) - 34 first place votes
#331-467 plus various annuals, minis, etc.
Thirty-four people with absolutely perfect taste thought this was the best run of all time, and they are totally right because it is in fact the greatest run of all time. Prepare for a ridiculously long entry, as this was my #1 pick and my favorite book ever.
Peter David is the definitive Hulk writer. This isn't an opinion, this isn't a debatable issue, this is just a fact. Like Claremont on the X-Men, his run lasted so long and had so much influence on the character that you just can't deny it. You may personally favor a different writer, but that doesn't change the fact that for the last 25 years, David is the most important Hulk writer. Working with just about every great artist around from George Perez to Dale Keown to Todd McFarlane to Sam Kieth, Gary Frank, Liam Sharp, Terry Dodson, Mike Deodato, and Adam Kubert among others, there really wasn't any major artist between 1987 and 1998 who worked for Marvel and didn't get a shot at the book. And as a result, it's one of the best looking runs of all time, but also one of the most varied artistically. While something like New Teen Titans was mostly by Perez, or something like Claremont's X-Men had four or five major eras defined by different artists, David's run can look wildly different from arc to arc, year to year, and at times issue to issue, with guys that are classic comic artists, guy that brought in the newer 90's look, and guys that had very unique styles like Sam Kieth.
As for the actual writing, well it was exceptional. Many famous stories that range from silly fun like Grey Hulk vs. Santa Claus to serious stories like the death of Betty Ross to time travel stories like Future Imperfect where Hulk travels to a potential future where he rules the world as the Maestro. The varied tones are a staple of this book, and one of its biggest strengths. Many runs tend to grow stale towards the end because it feels like a lot of the same thing over and over, but David's Hulk run never suffered that problem as a result of changing pace and style so often. The change in tones was something that made the changes in artists make sense, as David seemed to write the book to the strengths of the person drawing it.
Another strength of this run was the use of the supporting cast, especially Betty Ross and Doc Samson, Samson in particular had most of his best moments ever during this run, and was treated as one of the most important people in this run, especially early on. Being a psychiatrist was the main way he was used, as opposed to his strength and superhero abilities. David would go on to use Samson in his most famous issue of his 90's X-Factor run, but outside of his books Samson really hasn't had a huge impact on the Marvel U. The love between Bruce and Betty, and between Hulk and Betty, was also one of the most important themes of this run, from their relationship being strained by the Hulk to their marriage following the merging of the various Hulk personae to her death, Betty had a major impact. Meanwhile, there were many other big moments given too many other side characters from villains like Thunderbolt Ross, the Abomination, and The Leader to friends like Rick Jones and new characters like the Pantheon.
When David took over the Hulk books his first major story revolved around the Gray Hulk (a smarter, less savage Hulk) working in Las Vegas as a bouncer known as Mr. Fixit. The image of Hulk is a suit is to this day one of the funniest things ever. This personality came around from a merging of personalities done in the run previous to David coming on board and the green Hulk was gone "forever". As this story went along, the green version started popping out. This all culminated in a storyline that reached back to another previous story that dealt with Bruce being abused as a child. David added in that Bruce suffered from dissociative identity disorder long before the Hulk emerged. This storyline concluded in the famous Incredible Hulk #377 where Doc Samson helped merge all the personalities into one being, a new Hulk that had the cunning of the Gray Hulk, the strength of the savage Green Hulk, and the intelligence of Bruce Banner in the same body. Thanks to this new iteration, Hulk spoke perfectly, was in complete control of his changes, and no longer argued with himself.
This new merged Hulk went on to battle with a group called The Pantheon (recently seen again during Amadeus Cho's search for Hercules in the Prince of Power miniseries). After defeating their leader, Hulk takes over the group and uses them to stop various threats before meeting an evil future version of himself, the Maestro. This led into another of David's most famous stories, Future Imperfect. In this story, Hulk travels to a future world about 100 years from now where nuclear war has killed off most of humanity. The Maestro has taken over and is stronger than ever thanks to absorbing the leftover radiation from the war, but it also drove him just about totally insane. The rebels from this time, led by a very old Rick Jones, fight back and use a time machine originally built by Dr. Doom in the present day to bring the merged Hulk to their time in hopes of stopping his older self. This doesn't work out well though, as the Maestro is far too strong for even Hulk to defeat. In the end the time machine is used, and Hulk is able to force the Maestro into it long enough to send him back in time to the site where Hulk was originally created, seemingly killing the Maestro by having him get hit directly by the bomb that created the Hulk in the first place. This however proves to not be the case, as David returns to the Maestro in one of his last story arcs a few years later.
In that story, the Maestro is shown to have only been nearly killed and left in an emaciated state from the explosion. The Hulk's ability to locate his place of "birth" was actually him connecting to the spirit and weakened body of the Maestro (one of the powers David often used in this run was the fact that Hulk can see ghosts and other spiritual projections, such as Dr. Strange's astral form, although many writers ignore this). Over the years the Maestro had been slowly healing, and drained radiation from the Hulk each time he came there. Following the Heroes Return storyline, Hulk came by there with an overabundance of energy, and the Maestro was able to fully return to life. After a short battle, Hulk defeats the Maestro showing that his power is greater than it's ever been. Unfortunately, due to leaving the book over a dispute with editorial about the direction of the character from here on, this plot line was left unresolved and the Maestro being in the desert was kind of just ignored by everyone since then.
There's many other famous stories during this run, the focus was as much on "Hulk Smash" and random team ups as it was on the psychological turmoil that fuels the character. Other writers had dabbled in this, notably Bill Mantlo, but never to the same extent as David, and never for nearly as long. From a quality standpoint, a longevity standpoint, or any other metric, this is one of the best runs of all time on any book by any creator. This run is a big part of why the Hulk is one of my personal favorite characters, and probably #1. If you ever have the chance, you should certainly check it out.
David has returned to the character a few times since then, notably in 2002 with the brilliant Hulk: The End one shot with Dale Keown, dealing with Hulk outliving almost every other being on the planet, save some bugs that eat his flesh and reduce him to a skeleton each night, before he reforms each day. He also returned to the book for a 11 issue run before Pak took over to do Planet Hulk. This run included the return of Betty Ross, an opening arc on Monster Island dealing with Nightmare, a House of M tie in that found Hulk at peace in the Australian Outback living amongst the natives, and my personal favorite issue he ever wrote on either run, Incredible Hulk #82, a story in which Banner investigates a murder of an old friend with hauntingly beautiful art by Jae Lee. It's totally different from 90% of Hulk stories, but well worth checking out, and in many ways distills what is great about David's time on the character, focusing on relationships and what the Hulk is, rather than mindless action, but when the time for action comes, the Hulk is a being to be feared. It's a good place to start with David's take on the character as it's only 11 issues, but also a great epilogue to his run that ended years before.
13. 688 points - Flash (Johns) - 33 first place votes
#164 - #225 plus various minis and one shots
Thirty-three people thought this was the best book of all time! And it was also on my list, though not in the #1 spot.
That comic up there is the first comic I bought from DC after getting back into comics earlier that year. I was only buying Astonishing X-Men, but then I saw this cover, saw some villains I've always liked, saw the weird guy in the corner (Murmur, the only villain I didn't know, though I'd come to find out that wasn't the same Reverse Flash I thought it was), and figured I'd give it a look. What I found inside was Wally West leaving after a team up with the Teen Titans and then hanging out with his old friend Nightwing and reminiscing about the time they snuck into the Batcave, only to have Wally get scared nearly to death by Batman. Then at the end of the issue, a pissed off Grodd attacks. It's the middle of an arc (after erasing his secret ID from the minds of everyone, Wally is going around letting people know who he is and getting reacquainted with his colleagues), it's not in any way a complete story, and yet the writing, the art, and the joy of this book made me an instant fan. I immediately started following the series and picking up some of the older arcs from this run like Blitz. Thanks to tie-ins with events like Identity Crisis, I started picking up events. Then other books by Johns like JSA or Teen Titans. Then books featuring other characters I liked, then other writers, and so on, until it got to a point where I was actually buying more DC than Marvel. I still haven't read all the earliest stuff, but despite that it's one of my favorite runs of all time for getting me back into the DCU. So enough about me, let's look at the book.
Following on the heels of Waid's amazing run, or at least his brief return after the majority of his run, Geoff Johns did not have an enviable task. Waid had more or less defined how to write great Flash comics and more than that, he defined how to write great Wally West comics. But we'll get to Waid later on (yes chap, Waid beat Johns on the list, do a happy dance). So what could Johns do?
Well one thing, he had Wally marry longtime girlfriend Linda Park. Linda even ended up pregnant. And then there was the focus on the Rogues. As great as Waid's run was, there are large chunks without many of the traditional Rogues, and Johns went out of his way to focus on characters like Captain Cold, the new Mirror Master, Heatwave, Trickster, Weather Wizard, and Captain Boomerang.. In fact, one of the highlights of his run are the various issues focused solely on the histories and lives of the various Rogues. Johns spent a lot of time looking at what motivates the Rogues, how they are separate from the other Flash villains, how they are more organized than Batman's freaks, why they don't trust speedsters (even villainous ones), and why they are who they are. Other traditional villains like Abra Kadabra, Grodd, and whatnot got their share of attention as well.
As did a new villain, the guy on the cover up there in the yellow suit. Originally introduced as a supporting character, Hunter Zolomon was a criminal profiler working with the Flash and the cops of Keystone City. He became a friend of the Flash, and it was revealed his reasons for doing his job were related to his father being a serial killer that was captured when Hunter was a child, but not before killing Hunter's mom. Hunter also felt guilt over not reading a criminal properly, which led to his father-in-law getting killed. So it came as a surprise when Johns had him savagely attacked by Grodd a couple years after his introduction, during a prison break. The aftermath of that attack saw Hunter end up crippled, and feeling weak. He begged the Flash to save him, to go back in time with the Cosmic Treadmill and stop the beating before it happened. Wally, having learned many times the lessons of what could happen due to tampering with the time line, said he couldn't do it. So like all of us would have done, Hunter got on the treadmill himself and it promptly malfunctioned and exploded, which then caused even bigger issues. Hunter regained the ability to walk, but was tossed out of sync with time and ended up unable to interact with much of the world.
So, like any good villain, he blamed Flash for this. His reasoning was that because Wally never faced a villain that threatened him as much as the original Reverse Flash troubled Barry, Wally wasn't as good a hero and didn't know true loss, and wasn't willing to go the extra mile. So he decided he'd make Wally a better hero, by putting him through trials and tragedies unlike he'd ever faced before. This led to Hunter, now calling himself Zoom, hatched a plan that attacked not only Wally, but his pregnant wife and all the other speedsters that Wally associated with. With the help of his friends, he nearly defeated Zoom, but not before Zoom had caused Linda to have a miscarriage. In the end, Zoom ends up defeated and trapped in a time loop reliving the murder of his father-in-law over and over again, and Wally ends up traveling through time to a few moments before the battle to save Linda and the unborn babies (yeah, they turn out to be twins).
This wouldn't be the last of Zoom, but it would be the last of the Flash. Barry's old friend, Hal Jordan (who was currently The Spectre), gave Wally a chance to erase his secret ID from the world, so as to avoid similar tragedies going forward and to keep his family safe. This ended up also removing Wally's knowledge he was the Flash, and the next arc dealt with him regaining that info.
Later in the run, Zoom would return over and over, and the run culminated in a giant war between the splintered Rogues, with Wally and Zoom battling in the middle of it all.
Overall the run featured many great moments, many great stories, some big additions to the Flash family (both the babies literally joining the family, and the overall additions of characters like Zoom), and a revitalization of many of Flash's rogues, specifically the Rogues. After leaving the book, DC couldn't figure out what to do and it floundered as mentioned in the write-up about Peyer's run much earlier. Johns eventually returned to the Flash, although this was to bring Barry back to the land of the living and he is currently writing an ongoing with Barry as the main character. It's a good book, but not on the level of this run and Wally should not have been replaced by Barry.
12. 691 points - Fantastic Four (Byrne) - 27 first place votes
#232 - #293
Twenty-seven people thought this was the best book of all time!
That cover is the definition of awesome. I mean, seriously, look at it! I was going to go with an iconic cover that summed up some big plot line, but screw it, that cover makes me laugh. Anyways, on to the run.
So after doing a few smaller runs on various things, like Captain America, Byrne finally found something to replace his run on X-Men. He took over writing and drawing FF, and during his six years told stories that are still considered classics to this day.
One thing he did, was cut the team down to only three members with one leaving............forever! No one has ever done this again so far as I can tell. Byrne had the Thing leave the team (and go on to a solo series that he was also writing) and replaced him with She-Hulk, though this version made jokes, she was far from the fourth wall breaking character she would be under Byrne's pen in her solo series years later. Meanwhile, the Invisible Girl gained new assertiveness and became the Invisible Woman, as well as gaining new control of her powers and becoming the most powerful member of the team as a result. Also, to keep her in the book, the Thing's long time girlfriend Alicia Masters left him for Johnny Storm.
Bryne's thought process was to tell old school adventure stories with the team, making it a book that could be described as fun whenever possible. Beyond the ridiculous cover up top, the book featured wild adventures in space, crazy villains with equally crazy traps, and many other fun old school adventures. Of course this was somewhat tempered with other more serious issues like the destruction of the Baxter Building or the shocking miscarriage by Susan Storm. The balance of serious issues, classic adventure, and big ideas is why this run is considered a classic and one of the best runs the book has ever had, despite many big changes.
However, like all things with Byrne in the last 25 years, it ended poorly. He quit in the middle of an arc, he quit with a big dispute with editorial, and he was generally being a pissy, grumpy, old guy yet again, just like on Superman, She-Hulk, and pretty much everything else since the late 80's. But that doesn't take away from the greatness of this run or the fun to be had by these stories.
11. 711 points - Starman (Robinson) - 36 first place votes
#1 - #80 plus various minis, one shots, and whatnot
Thirty-six people think this is the best book ever written, and it's hard to say they are far off. I have a few issues left to read, about five, but I've finished with the big action finale and I can fully appreciate how amazing this book has been, and I'm sure the ending lives up to it.
This is a book about father's and sons. About legacies. About being a hero, not because of the costume or the name, but because of the choices you make, for the good or for the bad, and how it defines who we are. It's about a city filled with flawed people, some who want to see it burn and some who want to see it live forever. It's about the cost of being a hero, about sacrifice, about second chances, and above all it's about loyalty to family and friends. It is by far the best work of James Robinson's career, as it would be for just about any other writer.
The first images of the book are of the new Starman, the latest in a long line of heroes (all of whom will play a big role). As he sits upon the roof of a building, overlooking Opal City and musing on his life as a new hero, David Knight is on top of the world. Then a shot rips through the sky, and he falls, dead. Here one minute, gone the next, never to have nearly the impact he envisioned, never to save the world, never to do anything really. But that's far from the last time we see him, and his presence is in every issue of the book, his impact on his brother, on his father, and on the others that didn't even know him.
With the death of Starman, a long, long night begins. A massive crime wave comes through the city, destroying buildings, killing hundreds, and all focused on anything and everything that is related to Ted Knight, the original Starman and father of David. Ted himself is spared for most of this, forced to see his son die, his city burn, and eventually see his second son, a junk dealer that was embarrassed by his father and who avoided anything resembling hero work, die as well. Or at least, that was the plan. When a man with a gun attacks Jack Knight, he somehow survives and escapes the explosion that destroys his store. In the process he loses the cosmic belt that his father gave him for protection. The loss of this belt led to his enemy being able to fly.
Soon it's revealed that the villain behind this is The Mist, Ted Knight's old foe. He's losing his mind to old age and wants to have one last act of violence before he loses what memories he has left. He does this by using his son, the man who attacked Jack, to kill the sons of Ted Knight, as well as using various grunts to cause chaos elsewhere. His plan ends up foiled by Jack, with the help of the Shade, a long time villain who goes on to be one of the most important characters over the course of this run and who is defined by his love of Opal City. The Shade has no issues with death or violence or crime, as long as it's not in Opal. During the battles to save Opal, Jack gains a new cosmic rod and uses it to kill the Mist's son. He then vows never to do it again, just this one time to kill the man that killed his brother. And he mostly sticks to this rule, with a couple of notable challenges to this rule in some of the best stories of the entire run.
This arc, which takes place over the first story of the run, would go on to affect every other issue. The Mist's daughter becomes obsessed with living up to the legacy of her father and getting vengeance for her dead brother. Ted and Jack start to see each other in a different light. Jack agrees to become Starman, but on his terms. The heroic (with one exception) O' Dare family is introduced, The Shade's friendship with Jack, and his slow evolution into a hero. David's death leads to his spirit coming back to advise the various Starmen. The Mist's descent into dementia and his loss of his memory leads to one of the most touching moments in the book (when Jack pretends to be his son in order to return his medal for bravery from WWI during the Sand and Stars arc). And everything here ends up tying in to the final action arc, Grand Guignol.
There's so much more to the series, a team up with Hellboy, the heroic Solomon Grundy, Scalphunter, Culp, Oscar Wilde, the Shade's Journal, a trip to the stars, issues focused on the history of characters, the Ludlows, the carnival, Captain Marvel, the JSA, Stargirl, Etrigan, the Floronic Man, Batman's favorite Woody Allen movie, the death of heroes, a poster that's a portal to hell, a Hawaiian shirt that is a portal to Heaven, Adam Strange, the blue skinned Starman called Mik, the Starman of 1951, the traitorous Starman of the distant future that was the villain of DC One Million, two different Justice Leagues, time travel, a ghost pirate, Neron, the Infernal Dr Pip, and about a million other great things. If you've read the book, you know this. If you haven't, go pick up the six volume Omnibus collection right now. It's amazing, it's one of the best superhero stories you'll ever read, and it has a conclusion. Batman is still in books, he's been in thousands. Spider-Man has been in nearly as many. Even a character like Animal Man has been reinvented over and over, but Jack Knight has very rarely been used by anyone other than Robinson, has been in about 100 issues of anything ever, and his storyline comes to a definitive end at the end of this series. Jack is Robinson's creation, and he's very protective and DC has been very respectful. Jack may never show up in another comic ever again, but that would only make this book that much more special. It deserved a spot in the top 10, but #11 isn't too bad.