THE 50 GREATEST COMIC BOOKS IN RECORDED HISTORY
Updated: Dec 1, 2020
Of the thousands of ingeniously written and wonderfully illustrated comic books that line the shelves, the following 50 are unequivocally the best in recorded history. If there's something on this list you haven't read, grab a glass of milk and a handful of Oreo cookies (preferably double-stuffed) and experience all the excitement for yourself.
PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #8, YR 1977
"And only ONE shall survive!"
This is serious. Either Spider-Man or this vampire dude is gonna bite the big one.
With nervous anticipation I sprawled out across our shag carpeting and inched open the cover. Page after page, I soaked in each panel, painstakingly reading every word bubble as best as my five-year-old vocabulary could muster, only to discover, hey, wait a second...
THEY BOTH SURVIVE!
What a sham. I was outraged! I was infuriated! And I was hooked. With a buck in change, I set out for the comic book shop for another fix.
FANTASTIC FOUR #184, YR 1977
Before there was The Terminator, there was The Eliminator and, despite his colorful armor, he was something to be feared.
From a hidden rooftop, he aimed his finger-cannons at The Human Torch and "ZAK!" reduced him to a wisp of smoke. And then, without a hint of mercy, bellowed, "Target one... ELIMINATED!"
Eliminated?! The Human Torch is dead?! THIS CAN'T BE HAPPENING!!
Yeah, no. It wasn't. Once again, I was bamboozled, however; for a solid twenty pages I was flabbergasted at the idea of a superhero actually dying in a comic book.
WHERE MONSTERS DWELL #26, YR 1974
What happens when an escaped convict tries to evade the cops by volunteering to strap into a technological super suit? Why, he becomes METALLO - an indestructible wrecking machine with a thirst for crime!
This comic has it all: atomic rockets, fist fights with octopuses, and a cerebral twist that will melt your childhood brain.
Legendary writer Stan Lee and master artisan Jack Kirby join forces to bring this story to life. Together, they conjure comic book magic as they weave a wonderfully dark Twilight Zone episode built for troublesome little boys.
SUPERNATURAL THRILLERS FEATURING THE LIVING MUMMY #9, YR 1974
Who doesn't wanna see a mummy fight to survive in a trap-laden tomb??
I spotted this comic at the bottom of a box marked “5 Cents.” I was six and the shop was a marvelous mess, with comics piled to the ceiling and a thick fog of cigarette smoke that blanketed the room. My mom stood diligently with her back against the window as I counted out five pennies and placed them on the counter. WAP! A fist came down on the coins with such force, I bit through my Tootsie Pop. The shopkeeper leaned closer, his yellow teeth glistening as he grumbled, “That comic is cursed." I almost peed right there on the spot, when, with a wink, the old man's scowl curled into a grin and he added, “Good choice.”
SAMURAI JACK #13, YR 2014
Sometimes it’s the little things.
Battered and hopeless, Samurai Jack wanders into a convenient store to snag a space-burrito when he brushes against a robot sporting spiky shoulder pads.
The two exchange apologies and are about to carry on their day, when…
The robot’s sensors analyze Jack’s blood and recognize him as a wanted fugitive! From there, chaos ensues, but it’s that tiny, clever moment that perfectly captures the spirit of the original TV show, forged by animator/filmmaker/and all around creative guru Genndy Tartakovsky.
WORLD'S FINEST COMICS #185, YR 1969
Our two favorite do-gooders find themselves on the planet Garenvol, "Where the gambling fever flares hotter than a volcano." Umm... okay.
Egged on by two sultry babes, Batman and Superman race into "The Maze of Sudden Death" where they each grab rifles and actually shoot at one another! Think you've seen everything? Prepare yourself for utter madness as Superman finds two grenades, pulls the pins and chucks them at the Caped Crusader!!
This was my first experience with the wildly, weird clash of champions that became an ongoing theme for the World's Finest Comics.
ALIEN LEGION #5, YR 1988
His name was Jugger Grimrod and if you got in his way, you’d regret it. He was a no-nonsense grunt in the Alien Legion: a military unit comprised of unsung misfits, not unlike the ones you'd find at the Star Wars cantina. Creators Carl Potts, Alan Zelenetz & Frank Cirocco developed this team of lovable alien outcasts and flung them into a raging intergalactic war. The end result is a surprisingly unique read that will leave you wanting more.
Last I heard, the studios were wrestling over the screenplay with the hopes of turning this into a rip-roaring cinematic franchise. If and when that happens, I'll be the first in line opening night.
BLACK PANTHER #1, YR 2005
As a kid, I thought Black Panther was lame. I couldn’t get past the costume, which made him look like a wannabe Batman. But that all changed in 2005 when the cosmic powers of Reginald Hudlin and John Romita teamed up to reinvent the character with a remarkable blend of smarts and style.
The crowning achievement of this issue happens toward the end, when a room full of government brass argue over how to infiltrate the Black Panther's territory. Ordinarily, this scene would feel cliché. But not here. Nope. Instead, we learn about Captain America's attempt to enter this sacred land, which ends all too awesomely for words.
TARZAN #239, YR 1975
This comic delivers like the old reruns never could. Tarzan finds himself in an unrelenting contest pitted against his buddy N’Gamu. The scene on the cover doesn't exactly play out as shown, but the set up for it is stellar.
Writer and artist Joe Kubert bangs the drums of doom with every panel, raising the tension and delivering pulse-pounding suspense. However, with every Tarzan adventure, whenever things get too dicey, Tarzan shouts his lyrical howl and calls on the animals to rescue him.
QUIT YOUR SCREAMING, JUNGLE DUDE, AND FIGHT YOUR OWN BATTLES! Such a tame ending to an otherwise epic comic.
GREEN LANTERN #69, YR 1969
I was browsing junk at a garage sale when I heard someone whisper, "Buy this stack for a dollar." I spun around to see what I assumed was an old lady beneath a straw hat that completely concealed her face. "Buy this stack for a dollar!" she hissed again, this time louder - and she wasn't so much asking as she was insisting. I handed her four quarters and carted off a huge stack of comics.
An hour later, I was in my basement, thumbing through my new stash, when I peeked inside this comic. Goosebumps shot up my spine at the sight of this thing without her human mask and, from somewhere in the darkness, I swear I heard the unsettling laughter of the old witch who sold me this ghastly tale.
MARVEL PREMIERE FEATURING SATANA #27, YR 1975
Before the days of J.Scott Campbell and the spellbinding vixens of Danger Girl, there was Satana and she was every six-year-old’s dream. This woman was foxy. Period. End of story. She roamed the night in her stylish leotard and devil-horned-hairdo, ready to bring the pain. One kiss from her and you melted into a squishy pile of flesh. And to make matters worse, she’d rob you of your immortal soul. But that wasn’t her signature move. No…
She had the power to summon the Basilisk – an unholy demon that lived inside her!!
Boom. Drop the mic.
THE TOMB OF DRACULA #64, YR 1978
Dracula vs Satan?! OH MY STARS! LET THE CARNAGE BEGIN!
Thirty minutes later...
WHY ARE THEY STILL TALKING?! Holy hell, no wonder Satan is stuck in the underworld, he won't stop blabbing! For 30 pages all Satan does is talk. It's not until the very end that he casts Dracula out of Hell, unharmed.
Or so we think...
Satan has dealt the ultimate blow and thieved the Lord of the Vampires of his most revered weapon: his fangs!! Add roaring applause here.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #160, YR 1976
Let the haters hate. This comic is a gem! Ever since the toy masters at the Mego Corporation engineered the Spider-Car, I've been a fan of spider-vehicles.
And Mego wasn’t the only toymaker inspiring hours of playtime. Corgi, Fleetwood, Hamway, Imperial, and Gordy were making superhero toys that were so bizarre, they had to be played with. The Hulk had his own revolver, Superman wore a parachute, and Batman came with a bright, blue hatchet for all his camping escapades. Keeping with that same tone, this sensational comic brings us the Spider-Mobile, but don’t be fooled! While it may look like a cute, wall-crawling dune buggy, it’s really a bug-squashing, web-slinging, force of destruction!
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #539, YR 2007
Aunt May's been shot! She's bleeding out and it doesn't look good. What's Peter Parker's reaction? TO GO FREAKIN' TILT!!
Without stopping to slip into his Spidey-threads, he grabs a jeep and hurls it at the gunman. Then he slings Aunt May over his shoulder and races her to the ER. With her fate uncertain, Peter sets out for revenge. Dressed like a guy who just strolled off a golf course, he starts pummeling everyone in his path. Gone are the days of fun quips and teenage banter. Pete is a raging madman!
On the last page, he dons a black outfit and vows to find the men responsible, only he won't be turning them over to the cops. Oh, snap. Spidey's gone rogue!!
BATMAN #237, YR 1971
This comic starts off fun, with a parade of chubby nerds dressed in DC & Marvel attire. From there, the bodies start piling up and things go dark. Super dark. We're talking WWII-Concentration-Camp-dark, with dialogue that threatened to cripple my prepubescent frontal lobe. "I saw the Butcher empty his pistol into their bodies... I heard him laugh as the blood poured onto the filth of the camp." JEEZ!
I'm not a big fan of depressing comic books. For me, it's all about escapism; however, this one had a message and it stayed with you - all thanks to the comic book Dream Team of Dennis O'Neil, Bernie Wrightson, Neal Adams, and Dick Giordano.
ZOMBIES VS ROBOTS VS AMAZONS #1, YR 1990
How do you raise the stakes in a war between brain-thirsty zombies and gun-wielding robots?
You add Amazons!
Ashley Wood and Chris Ryall deliver raw artistic brilliance in striking toasty hues. This comic is a frenetic masterpiece that bleeds off the page. It's brutal yet fun and fiercely imaginative. Blood, bullets and booty consume every corner - so this one ain't for the kiddies, but grownup eyes can feast on all the exhilarating goodness.
DC SPECIAL SERIES #27, YR 1981
The Dark Knight, the Green Giant, and the Clown Prince... NEED I SAY MORE?!
Nay, I think not.
THE UNEXPECTED #214, YR 1981
How is it possible that a comic I've NEVER READ has made its way onto my list of all time greats?!
Simple. The cover says it all.
I came across this as a kid - pulled it out of a barber shop magazine rack. The bulk of the comic was nowhere to be seen. It was just the cover, consumed in creases and missing all four corners, but it sent my imagination soaring.
Someday, I hope to dig through the right box, at the right shop and find this elusive issue. Sure, I could jump on e-bay and ship it to my door, but where’s the fun in that??
BOBA FETT ENEMY OF THE EMPIRE #4, YR 1999
While the artwork is a bit cartoonish, the match up of Vader vs. Fett is pure, unadulterated coolness. And what’s even better is that they’re fighting over a box containing a severed, living head!
I won’t ruin the outcome, but the ending is superbly crafted. The best part of the issue is when the head predicts Vader’s future with two possible outcomes – both of which rock the casbah.
CAPTAIN AMERICA #360, YR 1989
I was sixteen when this comic made its way into my life. I had a full slate of schoolwork, football practice, a part-time job and a budding romance with a striking brunette who lived on Harmony Lane - but every summer, I'd squeeze in some time to jump into the deep and battle a great white.
It was an inflatable shark, of course, and my knife was plastic, but I'd wrestle that man-eating raft for hours on end.
This comic sends me back to a time and place where I last remember being a kid and playing without a care in the world. In the immortal words of Charles Foster Kane, "Rosebud."
THE INCREDIBLE HULK #340, YR 1988
According to legend, artist Todd McFarlane was sculpted out of unicorn meat and dragon scales. He slayed the Kraken by age twelve, seduced Yvonne Craig before he got his first pimple, and invented the holy grail of 70's party cuisine: Cheese Whiz. Oh, and he single-handedly re-envisioned Marvel's iconic lineup before heading off to lead an artistic revolution and form the comic book publishing juggernaut that is Image Comics.
Read this bad boy for yourself and taste the McFarlane magic.
STRANGE ADVENTURES #205, YR 1967
Boston Brand was a high-flying circus performer. He wore a spooky getup, dressed in some rather flamboyant red spandex, and was murdered in mid performance!
Thanks to the otherworldly powers of Rama Kushna, Boston can now walk the earth as a ghost and inhabit other bodies to seek out his murderer.
The story, written by Arnold Drake, oozes awesome sauce. In just a few pages, the murder mystery is off and running. Carmine Infantino handles the art, in what I can only describe as vintage DC at its best - with detailed backgrounds swirling in bright, saturated colors.
G.I.JOE #21, YR 1984
The marketing madmen behind the G.I.Joe comic books were in lockstep with the toy line. And it worked. After I drank in each comic, I was compelled to hop on my Schwinn and seek out the latest action figure. I can’t tell you how many hours my crack team of three-inch heroes found themselves dangling from a string inside the bottomless chasm that was my laundry chute.
This issue broke new ground by mirroring the speech pattern of the most beloved infantryman on the force.
Wait... what?? But Snake Eyes doesn't talk!
JOKER'S ASYLUM PENGUIN #1, YR 2008
Typically, my lips pucker into a disgruntled Kermit-the-Frog-face every time the plot of a comic book steers down a disturbing path, with a few exceptions. This is one of them.
You can't help but feel for Oswald Cobblepot as a litany of heartbreaks transform him into the criminal Bat-villain we’ve all come to loathe. It’s gut-wrenching and masterfully executed.
The subject matter is too gruesome for the wee little ones, but it belongs on every adult’s must read list.
STAR WARS #56, YR 1982
Who doesn’t love this conflict? It’s Lando pitted against his trusted compadre, the half-man, half-robot known as Lobot.
What could’ve caused this rift? Who will be victorious? And why in blazes is Lobot wearing purple?!
Nothing could make this more mind-numbing…
Except for the bomb that goes off in the belly of the platform that sends Cloud City pitching to its side!!
With this issue, David Michelinie and Walter Simonson have crafted a sliver of Star Wars magnificence that will entertain the galaxy for ages to come.
DAREDEVIL #7, YR 1999
Kevin Smith is a modern-day Shakespeare wrapped in a wool trench coat. In the battle between screenwriting gladiators, he’s one of the best in the arena, on par with Tarantino, only, he’s equipped with a sillier cudgel - and he brings all that fun, fury and flippancy to the world of comics.
Here, Smith takes Daredevil on a self-reflexive scrum with the sphere-headed miscreant Mysterio. Blazing new ground, Smith paints a backstory of Mysterio’s love for movie magic, with references to Jaws, Star Wars and The Terminator. The story is worth its weight in SModcasts and the illustration by Joe Quesada is a sight you won't soon forget.
MONSTER ZOO, YR 2008
Zany, brainy and full of heart – that’s Monster Zoo. Author and artist Doug TenNapel shapes a black & white world that is brimming with endearing characters and outlandish creatures.
The story plays out like a cinematic experience that combines the childhood innocence of a Spielberg classic with the madcap freak-fest akin to Guillermo del Toro. Once you read this comic, you'll be left asking the obvious...
Why hasn’t this become a movie yet??
DC SPECIAL SERIES #26, YR 1981
You think the Batcave is awesome? Ha! Brace yourself for the Fortress of freakin’ Solitude!
This comic is overflowing with cool ideas and wonderful surprises, including a super-shower that rains fire onto Kal-El to purge his perfect hair of any "fatal space dust." He's got the Titanic hanging from the ceiling, a zoo with gigantic insects, and a humongous diary that he scribbles in when he feels like writing in Kryptonese.
Yup, the Man of Steel keeps a diary.
MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS WEAPON X #77, YR 1991
You hear scientists chat among themselves from the safety of their lab as they watch their creation fend off a pack of wolves. SNIKT - the claws come out and blood cakes the snow.
With the flip of a switch, they shut him off, like you would a blender, and leave him among the freshly slain. The next morning, the experiments continue.
CONAN THE BARBARIAN #41, YR 1974
Gil Kane, John Buscema, and Roy Thomas have created some amazing Conan adventures. Every so often, they would catch you off balance and remind you how barbaric this barbarian could be.
In this issue, upon realizing that the hottie he’s been snuggling with is some sort of spore, designed to lure men to their death, Conan pounces. “For minutes, there is no sound, save for the relentless hacking of Conan’s great broadsword, rising and falling… again and again and yet again. At length he stops when his sword-arm is weary and when the unmoving, lifeless, bloodless mass at his feet no longer even resembles anything human.”
By Crom, that’s messed up!!!
WATCHMEN #6, YR 1986
The Watchmen is shocking, to say the least. It was a first of its kind, elevating author Alan Moore to rockstar status.
As a kid, I was a bit confused by the Black Freighter sub-plot and distracted by all the blue body parts, but I could sense an importance to the story.
And what Batman fan doesn’t love Rorschach?! Moore’s reimagining of the Dark Knight as an emotionally damaged, cutthroat detective is spot on.
WARLOCK 5 #1, YR 1986
This comic answers the age-old question with a resounding YES, you can mix all your action figures into one sandbox and get in some quality playtime. That’s what Gordon Derry and Dennis Beauvais did, combining knights, robots, witches, dragons, and punk rockers in a battle that transcends time and space.
While I’m usually not one for black & white comics, the visuals are both exquisite and gnarly - the perfect combination for any teenage boy.
THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN VOL 2 #1, YR 2002
From the second you open the cover you’re transported to a world with flying carpets and alien stallions. This comic kicks off the sequel to the original series with a glorious vengeance, pitting John Carter of Mars against those fiendish baddies from H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. The artwork is phenomenal and the dialogue, well… most of the dialogue is in an alien language!
Brilliant stuff; however, the rest of the series sinks into some seriously unsavory story arcs. But if there’s one thing I appreciate, it’s Alan Moore’s willingness to create unpredictable characters that don’t prescribe to the superhero stereotype.
BATMAN DARK VICTORY #10, YR 1999
Here we get a disgruntled Dick Grayson matched with a pistol-waving Jim Gordon, all drawn and colored by two of the best in the biz.
If you haven’t seen this series, get your hands on it. There’s an amazing use of darkness throughout – so much so it’s as though artist Tim Sale started with a black canvas.
Y THE LAST MAN #15, YEAR 2003
This comic was an unexpected punch to the throat.
Comic book colorist, Photoshop champion, and super pal Ian Hannin forced this series on me. I sneered at the artwork – too simple for my tastes. But after coaxing me with a turkey & broccoli breakfast wrap, I agreed to give it a go. And damn… this entire series will knock you on your ass.
It’s hard to pick a favorite issue with so many great (and not to mention twisted) story lines, but this one freakin’ delivers.
CONAN #0, YR 2003
The name Conan holds serious weight among us Robert E. Howard fans. So when I peeled open the cover of Cary Nord’s interpretation of the legendary barbarian, let’s just say, I was expecting a quick thumb-through.
Man, oh man, was I wrong. The fanciest of adjectives can’t begin to describe Cary’s epic visual style. To put it simply...
Frazetta would be proud.
THE DARK HORSE BOOK OF WITCHCRAFT, YR 2004
When I walked out of the office of Mike Richardson, the founder of Dark Horse Comics, I was set to direct and star in a horror film I wrote. Before I left the building, I was led to a room full of comics and told, “Take as many as you want.” As I perused the selection, an assistant handed me this book and exclaimed, “You’ll love this!” Now, truth be told, the way this goat is mackin’ on this old hag... that's not my scene. However, I generously accepted it.
Later that night, I gave it a read and was treated to my first taste of Mike Mignola, with a one-shot titled "The Troll Witch." Weeks later, my movie deal fell through, but that meeting introduced me to the world of Hellboy and the work of a comic book king.
MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE STARRING THE THING #91, YR 1982
Batman vs the Thing?! THIS IS GONNA BE THE GREATEST BATTLE IN THE HISTORY OF - eighteen bucks?? Eighteen American dollars for one comic?! All I could do was stare at it in awe as it lay beneath a glass countertop, sealed in plastic.
But I saved up. I had to rake a trillion leaves, but I threw down eighteen large and got to unseal this extraordinary match-up. Only to discover…
THAT SHADOW AIN’T BATMAN’S!
So why is this comic on the list? Because the art is remarkable. Not to mention, the shocking, bat-$#!% crazy last panel that left my jaw on the floor.
STAR WARS #71, YR 1983
Kids these days… all soft and spoiled with their Movies On Demand and Apple-TV. For us old-timers, when the curtain came down on The Empire Strikes Back, Han was still frozen in carbonite.
WTF?! THE MOVIE’S OVER?! No… that’s not true! THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE!!
Yup, at the age of seven I had to come to terms with the fact that there would be a three year wait before I could find out what happened to the galaxy’s greatest smuggler. THREE BLASTED YEARS!!!!
This comic answers that question.
Or does it?? I can’t ruin it!!
THE PUNISHER #94, YR 1987
Weeks before the theatrical release of Pulp Fiction, there was "The Punisher: No Rules." It starred Frank Castle, a no-nonsense vigilante who was hot on the trail of a scumbag named Grisholm.
His pursuit leads across rooftops and into the dark corners of the city. An uncalculated tackle sends them both through a plate glass window and into a very bad place. In order to survive, they reluctantly join forces, much like Butch Coolidge and Marsellus Wallace, only minus the Gimp.
The creators of this comic don't pull any punches. You've been warned.
KINGDOM COME #1, YR 1996
Alex Ross is an alien from another planet. He’d have to be in order to justify these breakthrough ideas and masterful paintings. I mean, zoiks… the Fortress of Solitude has a holographic thingy to allow it to appear as though it’s somewhere in the wheat fields of Smallville?!
Hot damn, that’s original stuff.
In an industry patterned by conformity, Alex Ross and partner Mark Waid serve as a real inspiration to color outside of the lines.
BATMAN VERSUS PREDATOR #3, YR 1992
This is no ordinary comic. We're talking Batman V Predator - an unfathomable match up of historic proportions.
By the third and final issue the planet would never be the same, with a mask-less Batman hunting the hunter with a baseball bat.
One specific panel is burned into the back of my skull. It features the Dark Knight crouched like a threatening tiger, his fists poised and ready. Once you see it, take another look at the GRAYSON poster and I think you'll see the resemblance.
BATMAN YEAR ONE #406, YR 1987
Batman in his prime versus the Gotham City Police Department... 'NUFF SAID.
David Mazzucchelli rewrites the rule book on comic book design with illustrations worthy of their own museum gallery. Working in tandem, Frank Miller blindsides the reader with one walloping thought bubble after another.
A must read.
BATGIRL YEAR ONE #4, YR 2003
Such vivid colors harmonized with such fluid movement, and Batman with some of his most intimidating dialogue to date - this comic is exquisite.
The character of Batgirl, as penned by authors Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon, is the embodiment of a strong protagonist. She's smart, driven, and in over her head - but that won't stop her.
This series is so jam-packed with snappy one-liners and brilliant layouts that it practically flickers off the page like a well edited film. If the suits at Warner Brothers ever decide to make a Batgirl movie, this needs to be it.