The new DC Universe app is more than just a source for DC-themed movies and TV shows. It’s also a gateway into DC’s massive comic book library. DC Universe subscribers have access to a modest (but growing) library of both modern titles and classic comics.
Even with the relatively limited selection available at the moment, there are some real gems in the current lineup. Here are ten DC series we recommend everyone check out as they dive into the new app.
DC Universe Rebirth
You might have heard of something called DC Rebirth, which is the name of an ambitious 2016 relaunch where most ongoing DC titles were relaunched with fresh jumping-on points. However, Rebirth was about more than just new #1 issues. It was also geared towards bringing back some of the characters and elements that had been lost with 2011’s New 52 reboot. In other words, the goal with Rebirth was to appeal to lapsed DC fans as much as newcomers.
That process began in this one-shot issue from writer Geoff Johns and artists Phil Jimenez, Ethan Van Sciver and Gary Frank. They paint a very emotionally charged picture of a long-lost DC hero trying to make their way back home. Along the way, this issue drops some of the most shocking plot twists in recent memory. If you want a good primer for the DCU as it exists currently, this is the ideal starting point.
This issue set the stage for all sorts of new series in 2016, including new ongoing books for Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. Unfortunately, while DC Universe has the first issues of most of those books, there isn’t much beyond that yet.
What to read: DC Universe Rebirth #1
Year One Books
DC’s various Year One-branded comics tend to be excellent gateways for the characters in question. As the name suggests, each book chronicles a hero’s first year on the job and generally their origin story as well.
Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One was the first of these books and remains the gold standard. It explores Bruce Wayne’s return to Gotham, his first clashes with Catwoman and the mob and his painful journey from lone vigilante to costumed superhero.
There’s also Robin: Year One and Batgirl: Year One from writer Chuck Dixon and artists Javier Pulido (Robin) and Marcos Martin (Batgirl). In terms of subject matter, these two books are similar to Batman: Year One, though stylistically they’re more lighthearted and adventurous. In particular, Batgirl: Year One is widely regarded as one of the best Batgirl stories ever published.
Finally, there’s Green Arrow: Year One from Andy Diggle and Jock. Not only does this book provide the definitive account of Oliver Queen’s journey from lazy playboy to hardened survivor, it served as one of the primary source of inspiration for the TV series Arrow.
What to read: Batman (1940) #404-407, Robin: Year One #1-4, Batgirl: Year One #1-9, Green Arrow: Year One #1-6
Few writers have done as much to shape the course of DC Comics as Geoff Johns. Johns may not have had nearly as lengthy a stint on Action Comics as he did books like Green Lantern or The Flash, but he and artist Gary Frank did manage to craft one of the best modern Superman stories before they left.
Johns and Frank’s final Action Comics story is called “Brainiac,” pitting the Man of Steel against his super-intelligent nemesis. The twist here is that Superman is finally meeting the one, true Brainiac, not the myriad clones and impostors that had cropped up before. “Brainiac” wound up having a significant impact on the Superman franchise, though most of its effects have been rendered moot by the New 52 reboot. More importantly, it’s a very dramatic, well-executed and emotionally charged tale. It also cements Gary Frank as a Superman legend, in part because his Man of Steel is so clearly modeled on the late, great Christopher Reeve.
What to read: Action Comics (1938) #866-870
The Dark Knight Returns
The Dark Knight Returns may be the app’s most obvious must-read comic for anyone not familiar with DC’s publishing lineup. Widely regarded as one of the greatest Batman stories ever told, it’s a book that has a profound influence on 30 years’ worth of Batman comics and various movie spinoffs.
The Dark Knight returns is also one of the most famous “Elseworlds” stories, as it takes place in an alternate universe where a middle-aged Bruce Wayne resumes his war on crime in Cold war-era Gotham City. The result is every bit as dark and starkly rendered as you’d expect from writer/artist Frank Miller.
What to read: The Dark Knight Returns #1-4
Catwoman by Brubaker
Even at this nascent stage, the DCU app features a solid sampling of Catwoman material. But for anyone who wants to skip straight to the best stuff, seek out the first 9 issues of the 2001 Catwoman comic. This material covers the early part of writer Ed Brubaker’s run on the series. While Brubaker may be best known these days for Marvel books like Captain America and creator-owned fare like Criminal, his Catwoman run is a reminder that he made quite a mark at DC prior to those books.
As of right now, the DCU app includes the first nine issues of the series. Obviously, we’d love to see more added, but at least this includes the four-issue story he did with the late, great Darwyn Cooke called “Anodyne.” Those four issues really set the tone for Catwoman’s solo adventures in the 21st Century, as well as establishing a distinctive look for the character that lasted all the way until her 2018 solo comic.
What to read: Catwoman (2001) #1-9
Doom Patrol by Morrison & Case
Spend much time digging into DC’s comic book back catalog and you’re sure to hear the name “Grant Morrison” pop up. Morrison is responsible for some of the most groundbreaking, mind-bending DC stories of the past 30 years, from All-Star Superman to The Invisibles to his lengthy Batman run. Sadly, little of that material is available on the app at the moment, but at least readers can check out one of his earliest DC hits, Doom Patrol.
Essentially, Doom Patrol is DC’s answer to the X-Men, showcasing a team of bizarre misfits too strange to be a part of the Justice League. The team had already existed in one form or another for several decades before Morrison and artist Richard Case took over the book, but their surreal, intelligent approach to the characters truly made the book stand out in way it hadn’t before. With the Doom Patrol about to star in their own streaming series on DC Universe, now would be the perfect time to do some background reading.
What to read: Doom Patrol (1987) #19-24
If you crave a dose of political intrigue in your superhero comics, Checkmate may just fit the bill. This series from writer Greg Rucka and artists like Jesus Saiz focuses on the complex and sometimes twisted relationships between heroes and the governments who oversee them. The idea being that Checkmate is a UN-backed organization made up of equal parts politicians and metahuman heroes. Every high-ranking members corresponds to a piece on a chess board – Amanda Waller is White Queen, Fire is Black Knight, Mister Terrific is White Bishop, and so forth.
It’s a premise that plays directly to Rucka and Saiz’s storytelling strengths. The series is also a great showcase for Sasha Bordeaux, an underappreciated character who previously served as Bruce Wayne’s bodyguard before moving up in the DCU.
What to read: Checkmate (2006) #1-31
Starman by Robinson & Harris
One of the best things about the DC Universe is the way that heroes establish legacies. When one hero grows old or passes away, the mantle gets passed down to their successor. Few books have explored the generational side of the DCU or the pressures that result as well as James Robinson and Tony Harris’ Starman. This series stars Jack Knight, son of Golden Age Starman Ted Knight and a man who’d rather tinker in his antique shop rather than put on a costume and defend Opal City. The series also hinges heavily on Shade, a former villain who finds a new calling as Jack’s mentor.
The ’90s have a reputation for being a pretty lousy time for superhero comics. But while crossovers and chromium covers may have ruled the day, Starman served (and still serves) as a shining example of what’s possible when creators sit down to tell a great story that builds on the history of a shared superhero universe.
What to read: Starman (1994) #0-38
Suicide Squad by Ostrander
Frankly, if you’re just judging by the quality of the 2016 movie, you might not understand what all the fuss is about when it comes to the Suicide Squad. To truly get the appeal of this ragtag team of disposable villains, you have to go back to the 1987 series written by John Ostrander. Ostrander’s run really defined this team for the modern DC era, re-imagining the Squad as a group of incarcerated super-criminals given an offer by Amanda Waller – serve on Task Force X and get your sentence reduced, assuming you survive long enough.
Many didn’t. That’s part of the appeal of the series. Not only does it feature an eclectic cast of heroes, villains and morally gray players, you can never be certain that every member will return home alive. So if the idea of a superhero comic that’s equal parts Mission: Impossible and The Dirty Dozen sounds appealing, this one is definitely worth a try.
What to read: Suicide Squad (1987) #1-25
Saga of the Swamp Thing
Back before he was known as the mind behind all-time classics like Watchmen and V for Vendetta, Alan Moore cut his teeth on Saga of the Swamp Thing. His run with artist Stephen Bissette is still regarded as the finest in the history of the franchise, as well as being one of the best comics DC published in the ’80s.
Moore and Bissette kicked off their run by fundamentally changing the nature of Swamp Thing. He wasn’t a human scientist transformed into a hulking monster after a lab accident. He was a monster who only believed he used to be a man. That one change set the stage for everything to follow, as the creators radically overhauled the character’s mythology and crafted an intelligent and often terrifying horror comic. As with several books on this list, the DCU app doesn’t have the full run available yet, but what’s there is absolutely worth reading.
Swamp Thing is also due for his own DC Universe series in the near future. It’s a safe bet that series will be drawing heavily from this comic.
What to read: Saga of the Swamp Thing #21-37