Basically, I'll list, in no particular order, ten stories I think are essential for any reader to understand what is going on in the major areas of the DC Universe. This should serve as a great primer for new readers and a bit of a checklist for anyone that's been following for the last five to ten years.
Please note, these are not all "Must Read" stories and I honestly don't even recommend every story on the list, but I do concede that they were major storylines that are responsible for drastic or wide sweeping changes in the DC Universe. Whether it's the resurrection of the cosmic stable or the return of the Multiverse, if it affected books and storylines over a long period of time or changed the way we viewed characters, it made this list.
Hit the jump to find out all you need to know to understand the current state of the DC universe!
I didn't expect to have something so old on a list for current events, but the original crisis has been the source for all things DC over the past several years and is a major factor in Infinite Crisis, what, with Superboy Prime, Alexander Luthor and so on returning, the rebirth of the Multiverse and even the upcoming return of Barry Allen.
Furthermore, many of today's characters and stories are drawing heavily on Silver Age continuity that culminated with CoIE, primarily seen in Batman and Superman.
While DC tried to make Infinite Crisis readable for people that didn't read the original Crisis, it makes a huge difference in your enjoyment and understanding of Infinite Crisis if you've read this and with this title and its continuity being referenced more and more every day, this old timer gets dusted off and used as an essential story to understanding the current DC universe.
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If I had to pick a point where DC went wrong over the past few years, it would be this event. It brought about broad, sweeping changes to just about every part of the DC universe and, in general, darkened and, in some cases, ruined many characters.
Most noteworthy would have to be the numerous retcons, including Zatanna and several other JLA members forming a league within the league and mindwiping numerous villains that had posed threats or learned their identities and even Batman when he found out what they were up to.
However, despite its numerous flaws, retcons and outright disregard for continuity, this event brought about changes that are felt to this day, including distrust between characters, some of which have been patched up, but not forgotten, Dr Light's transformation into a credible threat, Calculator becoming the villain's version of Oracle, Tim Drake's father being killed and subsequent adoption by Batman, the Atom fleeing into the Palmerverse and, later, throughout the Multiverse and many others.
If you read any DC books, this event probably changed them in one way or another.
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The second of the new trilogy of Crisis's from DC, the others being Identity and Final Crisis, Infinite Crisis is probably the Civil War of DC's universe in that it changed everything, from origins to the re-introduction of Silver Age stories to continuity to numerous deaths.
While there were numerous tie-ins and a long countdown period leading up to Infinite Crisis, the main series should be all that's really required to see the mass changes brought about by this event.
The most significant development from this event would have to be the return of Superboy Prime, a character with limitless Silver Age Superman level strength and abilities. He and Alexander Luthor were the main villains of Infinite Crisis and Prime went onto join the Sinestro Corps, where he helped "kill" the Anti-Monitor, and was later found in the pages of Countdown, where he killed Monarch and destroyed the Earth-51 universe.
This event also lead directly into 52 and, by the end of the event, heralded a change in DC's heroes back to friendlier, less dark versions of themselves that had been plaguing titles since Identity Crisis and, sometimes, longer.
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Aside from heralding the return of the weekly comic format, 52 was also an experiment in storytelling that brought many of DC's more under utilized characters to the forefront and marked the return of the Multiverse, which had been wiped out back during Crisis on Infinite Earths.
While the return of the Multiverse was universe altering, other key plot points from this event include Black Adam's starting of WWIII and loss of his powers, the death of the Question and subsequent replacement my Renee Montoya, the introduction of Batwoman, the death of Ralph Dibney and so on.
52 redefined the way we look at dozens of characters, altered the very fabric of the DC universe and made many sweeping changes to status quos and that earns its place on this list.
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ONE YEAR LATER
Following the events of Infinite Crisis and, timeline wise, taking place after 52, One Year Later brought about numerous status quo changes. Jumping forward in time one full year, OYL was supposed to provide a jumping on point for all of the DC titles and heralded several new titles as well.
From Catwoman having a baby to Bart Allen taking over as the Flash, which lead to his death, to Wonder Woman taking on a new, all too human, secret identity, OYL's effects are still felt to this day. Many have been retconned away or forgotten, but this pseudo event makes the list for the ones that managed to stick.
This is one of two events on this list that only deserve to be Wikipedia'd and forgotten and should never be purchased. It's only reason for being on this list is for how it changed the Amazons and Wonder Woman's status quo to this day as well as becoming a major plot point for Countdown.
With an attack on America, the deaths of countless citizens, the reveal that Athena was actually Granny Goodness and her subsequent dispersal of all the Amazons, forcing them to forget their place as Amazons and live as humans makes this event noteworthy enough to be on the list.
SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY
While originally seen as an out of continuity wild ride through the mind of Grant Morrison, Seven Soldiers has become a major factor with the release of Morrison's Final Crisis, which is referencing this event quite heavily for its depiction of the New Gods and FC will even feature several of the other non-New God characters seen in Seven Soldiers.
If being a lead in to a "crisis" isn't enough reason to be on this list, nothing is.
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SINESTRO CORPS WAR
Despite how incredible the Sinestro Corps War was, it didn't overly affect the DC universe or many characters, which made it difficult for me to decide if it deserved a place on this list or not. It's obvious you would need it to understand Green Lantern, but this list is for the DCU as a whole, not individual characters.
In the end, I decided to include it because of the impact it had on Green Lantern, Superman Prime's "death" after punting the Anti-Monitor into space and shunting off into Countdown, where he went on to kill Monarch and wipe out Earth-51's universe, and the upcoming, and more than likely, universe-wide Blackest Night event, which should see the resurrection of many of DC's dead characters as Black Lanterns.
I'm reaching a little to find the overall significance of this event, but I think, in the end, it deserves its spot.
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Like Amazons Attack, this event should never be read or mentioned again, but should be read up on through Wikipedia and the like for several changes, such as the death of the Flash (technically, it happened in Flash's title), the exploration of the Multiverse, the death of Monarch and Superman Prime (he gets better or so I'm told), the corruption of Mary Marvel, the deaths of the New Gods (they get better, too) and the rounding up of villains and shipping off to a prison planet in Salvation Run.
While most everything that happens in Countdown seems to have been swept under the rug and forgotten, especially in light of what happens in Final Crisis, there are still many storylines and plots that are reflected in current books that people should be made aware of. Just don't read the actual books to find out about it. You'll thank me later.
Lastly, we have Final Crisis, the "final" crisis for the DC universe (I'll believe that when I see it). The New Gods have been reborn as their Seven Soldiers iterations and Darkseid, and all the villains, are supposed to "win" in this event.
We've already seen Martian Manhunter killed, we know the Legion of 3 Worlds tie-in will see only one Legion of Super-Heroes survive, Barry Allen, the long dead Flash from the original Crisis on Infinite Earths, has returned to the land of the living and other major events are supposed to include Batman's death in Batman RIP and the Rogues taking revenge on the Flash, to name a few.