I recently published my ten favorite Marvel minis from the 1980s, and in that post I promised (threatened) to do the same for other publishers and other eras.
And here we are. Let’s do this.
10. Camelot 3000 (1982) (12 issues)
Mike Barr and Brian Bolland’s direct-market-only glossy love letter to Arthurian legend was the first ever DC max-series. It took place in the year 3000, when Arthur and his Knights are revived to combat Morgana LeFay in an epic that combined magic and Science Fiction. It’s a little dated on the reread, but it’s still a great story—and one of the first American works by Brian Bolland, who also came over to Eagle Comics for the first American launch of a Judge Dredd title.
9. The Phantom Zone (1981) (4 issues)
Steve Gerber writes a typically offbeat narrative, but this time it’s about America’s favorite hero. Gene Colan’s shadowy, moody art undercutting the typical bright blues and Christmasy reds of Superman. Villains who make people burst into flames. A Superman story that’s really a horror comic. Nuclear war. Questions of God, country, death, the soul…
Not your average light 1980s fodder by any stretch. In fact, this seems more like a wild, psychedelic 1970s book than a 1980s mini.
8. Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters (1987) (3 issues)
Full disclosure: I was a huge Mike Grell fan in the 1980s. I was one of those guys who read Warlord. Even got a letter printed in it. And I bought it almost exclusively for the art.
Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters was just three issues, 100% Grell, and still stands as a thing of beauty. It’s kind of a Green Arrow version of The Dark Knight: Oliver Queen is getting old, so on turning 43 he decides to get serious: He ditches the boxing glove arrows and instead using a single longbow to hunt a modern day Jack the Ripper through the streets of Seattle. It’s a gritty story, and one which involves GA killing a villain who had captured and tortured Black Canary (rape is never shown, but it seems implied). Yes, it’s part of the “darker is better” movement of the late 1980s that led to the overly serious (and generally crappy) comics of the 1990s, but this is truly one of the great ones—it even got an Eisner nod and led to DC’s hiring Grell to write an ongoing Green Arrow book for over a decade.
7. Ronin (1983) (6 issues)
What might be the most interesting part my top 10 DC mini list is that 30% of them didn’t take place in the DCU, but were published under the DC banner. Marvel did a little bit of this, but they were really behind the times—before Icon or Vertigo existed, DC led the charge in publishing what otherwise might been an independent, creator owned work that might have slipped past everyone and been lost to the ages.
I’ve written about Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s Ronin series before, and I don’t have anything new to say on it. You can read why I think it’s such an important miniseries here.
6. Tales of the New Teen Titans (1982) (4 issues)
The New Teen Titans was the result of an editorial mandate to get a teen book to compete with Marvel’s X-Men, and it ended up being just as good—if not better. Tales was the first “spin off.” Four done-in-ones tied together loosely by the narrative construct of a team camping trip, with the four least-known members telling their own version of their own origin stories: Cyborg, Starfire, Raven, and Changeling (now known as Beast Boy).
This was a miniseries with heart, and it existed outside of the main storyline in The New Teen Titans (so it could be read on its own as a mini). Positioning it as a standalone series meant it could focus on character—and character-driven books were not a “thing” in the 1980s. Nowadays, sure. But back then, it was a pretty fresh concept.
5. Man of Steel (1986) (6 issues)
I’ve already written about this book and John Byrne’s influential run that followed it, but in terms of being one of the best miniseries of the 1980s, I have this to say: Back in 1986, DC leveled its universe and tried to start fresh. Man of Steel was an attempt to reboot its flagship character, the first superhero of all time, and they stuck the landing. Unlike the New 52, which felt forced and rushed, John Byrne clearly loved the original Siegel and Schuster stories and kept the same heart and spirit, merely updating the story for a modern audience. Actually, I shouldn’t say “merely.” The changes he made were clear and purposeful—not random, or designed purely to generate a false sense of excitement. DC did similar things with Flash and Wonder Woman in 1986, but this is the one that has continued to affect how to tell Superman stories even now, thirty years later.