7. 813 points - Flash (Mark Waid) - 31 first place votes
issues #0, #62 - #129, #142 - #159, #162, along with assorted Annuals, 80-page giants, specials, etc
In all of comics, there is no writer better at boiling a superhero down to what makes them iconically cool, and then playing with that character in stories that are at once both fresh and classic, than Mark Waid. And nowhere is that more evident than on his first "big break" book, and arguably still his finest ongoing run, the Flash. Wally West may have cut his Teeth as THE Flash under Baron, and may have started his maturing process under Messner-Loebs, but it was Waid who turned the boy fully and finally into a man, and into a hero not just worthy of following his uncle Barry, but truly replacing him as the Fastest Man Alive.
In his 8-year run on the title, Waid first showed where Wally came from in Born to Run (a.k.a. Flash Year One), then went about maturing Wally as a man and as a hero, increasing his powers, giving him (and all speedsters) a touchstone and link through his greatest contribution to the Flash mythic the Speed Force, introducing him to new threats and new villains, expanding his base of friends with the introduction of Max Mercury and Impulse, and engaging and eventually wedding him to his lady-love Linda Park. Along the way he would race through time and space and the Speed Force itself to always return to his family; would fight Kobra, Major Disaster, Neron and the resurrected Rogues, new foe Cobalt Blue and the Thawne/Allen legacy all the way up to facing the Anti-Monitor, Replicant and Abra Kadabra; and overcome his own personal limitations to take his place as the one true Flash.
And in the heart of this run, Waid would tell arguably the greatest Flash story of all time, the Return of Barry Allen. in Return, just as Wally was finally feeling comfortable as his dead uncle's successor, Barry returned to first join, then turn on and get rid of his former kid sidekick, and all Wally's worst nightmares were realized. In the end, "Barry" was revealed to be Eobard Thawne, Barry's greatest enemy and the one man faster than Wally. The need to stop Thawne, avenge his friends who Thawne had felled, and protect the good name of his idol and mentor, forced Wally to push past a psychological block he had placed on his powers; to prevent himself from truly 'replacing' Barry, Wally had subconsciously limited his speed so that he could never become his mentor's equal, but Thawne's bragging that he would become the true Flash forced Wally past this block as he feared Thawne replacing Barry more than he feared himself doing so. Wally defeated Thawne, with a little help from a fitting source, and after this encounter, he was Barry Allen's equal in speed at last, and officially recognized as THE Flash by Jay, Max and most importantly himself.
Waid told many great stories in his run, including Terminal Velocity, Born to Run, Chain Lightning, Dead Heat, Race Against Time, and more, but Return is the pinnacle; it elevates this run beyond any other on this book and character, and should be read by any fan of the Flash, DC, or superheroes in general.
6. 866 points - JLA (Morrison) - 56 first place votes
# 1 - #41
OK, show of hands...how many of you out there followed ALL of the various Justice League books between the end of the Giffen/JMD JLI days and the beginning of the Morrison revamp? OK, now of the five of you with your hands up, how many of you actually enjoyed it? Uh-huh, that's what I thought. And it's that fact that led DC to the realization that something had to be done to streamline, revitalize, and reinvigorate DC's flagship team book.
Thus, the low sales of the various Justice League spin-off books by the mid-1990s prompted DC to revamp the League as a single on a single title. DC formed their new Justice League of America in the September 1996 limited series Justice League: A Midsummer's Nightmare by Mark Waid and Fabian Nicieza. Then, in January 1997, DC launched a new ongoing titled JLA, written by Grant Morrison with art by Howard Porter and inker John Dell. Morrison's run lasted until issue #41, with a few notable fill-ins along the way from the likes of Waid, Millar, and DeMatteis.
This series, in a "back-to-basics" approach, brought back (for the very first time in the then-current DC continuity) the Magnificent Seven, the team's original and most famous seven members (or their successors): Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Flash (Wally West), Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner), and Martian Manhunter. Morrison introduced a new headquarters, the Watchtower, based on the Moon, and introduced the idea of the JLA allegorically representing a pantheon of gods, with their different powers and personalities, later incorporating such characters as Oracle, Steel, Orion, Big Barda, and Plastic Man.
Since this new league included most of DC's most powerful heroes, Morrison gave the team new Earth-shattering threats to challenge them. Right out of the gates, this new JLA fought an invading army of White Martians, and Morrison never took his foot off the gas from there, moving to Prof. Ivo and T.O. Morrow's Tomorrow Woman, a horde of renegade angels, a more powerful Key, a new Injustice League (in Rock of Ages, an arc which, midstream and for no foreshadowed reason, switched to an Apokoliptian future-arc featuring a future JLA vs. Darkseid for the final time), new villain Prometheus armed with individualized take-down strategies for each superhero, Starro, various other cosmic threats, and the enraged spirit of the Earth itself. Morrison also masterfully made the stories almost always self-contained, with all chapters occurring within JLA itself and very rarely affecting events outside of that series, yet at the same time developments from each hero's own title (such as Wonder Woman's death, Wally's temporary replacement, No Man's Land, and Superman's new costume and electric based powers, which only Morrison ever made actually cool) were reflected in the League's stories.
All in all, Morrison did perhaps his finest mainstream job of mixing big ideas and still reining himself in, as every character got truly cool moments, actual characterization, and yet big ideas still flew fast and furious. Hell he made Aquaman and Superman Blue Electric Bugaloo cool, that should tell you all you need to know about this run. Almost universally loved by critics and fans alike, the book often led the sales charts, and even had staunch anti-Kool-Aid Brigade fans, yours truly included, standing and cheering in the midst of a comics era when there was precious little to do so about. It was a shot in the arm to DC and its premier team, and truly showed why they are the World's greatest super-heroes.
We have two more entries coming today. The next one will features #4 and #5, and then we will see the top three, which should be exciting. With five of the most popular books of all time left, what will be left out and what will make it?