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Top Five DC Comics Annual Themes

Top Five Month (check here to see an archive of all the top five lists featured so far) continues with a look at the top annual themes for DC Comics. From 1991-2001, DC’s Annuals all had an overall theme. Here are the top five…

Enjoy!

HONORABLE MENTIONS

JLApe

This year was just the members of the JLA’s Annuals telling a story about, well, apes and the Justice League (a big plot point was various characters being turned into apes)

Legend of a Dead Earth

This was an odd theme where each story had to be set in a future where the Earth is dead. There were some good stories, but overall the concept was a bit narrow for a company-wide story.

Ghosts

Like JLApe, this was just done with the Annuals of the members of the JLA (the only characters who got Annuals this year), with the concept being each character dealing with the ghost of some dead character tied to them.

Our Worlds At War

These weren’t CALLED Annuals, but they were. Some of these were good because the individual titles had a lot of freedom to do what they wanted, so long as it sort of tied in with the Our Worlds At War crossover.

Planet DC

Like Bloodlines, this introduced new characters, only with the added shtick of the new characters being set in different countries other than the United States.

Bloodlines

Same concept as Planet DC, only it probably had a better relative ratio of good annuals to bad (mostly all of the characters in Planet DC and Bloodlines were not so great)

5. Pulp Heroes

This was a good theme because it gave the individual titles a lot of freedom to do their individual stories. Although some of them were a stretch – like Pulp versions of Electric Superman, ya know?

4. Eclipso: The Darkness Within

Keith Giffen and Robert Loren Fleming told a pretty complete tale with a lot of especially notable stories in the midst of the crossover, like the Superman Annuals in particular.

3. Armageddon 2001

The framing story was decent, but what made these annuals pop was the freedom each book had to tell stories of possible futures. A lot of creators used this opportunity to tell some really strong stories.

2. Elseworlds

Letting everyone tell Elseworlds was a good idea, even if it did stretch the concept a bit thin.

1. Year One

This one was the best concept because it was broad (it applied to all titles) and it led to a lot of interesting stories.

That’s the list! Agree? Disagree? Let me know!

36 Comments

The Pulp Heroes Hitman and Starman Annuals were both really strong. They both had the benefit of being part of the regular series narrative.

I would have ranked Armageddon higher. I really liked the premise and the execution of a lot of those stories. The issue where Superman becomes president is superb. Beyond that, I wholeheartedly agree with your top five.

DC really put out a lot of good stories with the themed annuals. I’d switch Year One and Elseworlds in the order, though; I do love Elseworlds and some of these were awesome. I particularly liked the two-parter that ran through Superboy and one of the Superman annuals.

On that annual cover announcing the introduction of Boggart, Batman looks like he’s doing the Adam West Batusi

I thought Pulp Heroes was going to be #1. what wasn’t strong in that? Western Impulse was great. Hitman and Starman were great. The GL Annual with the John Carter theme is what inspired me to go out and read all the John Carter books as a teenager. That’s one of my favorite comics ever. The Supergirl/Brainiac 5 Romance one is really good. It’s better then Eclipso at least.

The Beast Of Yucca Flats

September 24, 2010 at 9:53 am

Count me in as another fan of the ‘Pulp Heroes’ theme.

I hated the overall theme to annuals thing. I missed annuals being extra long one off stories featuring the characters and the regular characters, or big extra sized conclusions to arcs. But if we had to have them, I think the Year One ones were the best.

I like you how you stuck with Batman annuals for your images. Gives a more coherent picture.

That Bloodlines annual doesn’t look remotely like a Batman book, does it?

I loved the Armageddon 2001, Year One and L.O.A.D.E. atmospheres for the annuals because they truly
allowed the creators to go nuts while still staying true to the characters…

Bloodlines and Eclipso were like a roller coaster of consistency for every strong book you got one that seemed like the writers couldn’t be bothered…

The Ape and Pulp heroes books I skipped most of actually….

And while they weren’t “annuals” per say.. I always considered the DC One Million stunt like annuals…

Hey! Bloodlines gave us Hitman!

And Gunfire and Argus and Anima and Bloodpack, I guess.

Nevermind.

Were “Sins of Youth” annuals? I’d rank them close to DC One Million.

I never read the Planet DC annuals.

The Elseworlds Adventures of Superman/Superboy Annuals is one of my favorite comic stories of all time! It’s probably somewhat cliche now (and probably was then too) but I was young and it was one of the first stories of retired heroes coming out of retirement to fight back a powerful menace. And heroes died! I don’t know, I have fond memories. I should reread those to see if they hold up.

And Bloodlines is definitely on my own personal top five. I have an irrational love of Bloodlines.

I enjoyed the fact that the “Pulp Heroes” annuals allowed DC to pay homage to Superman and Batman’s pulp forefathers. On the cover of the Superman Annual, Supes is wearing Doc Savage’s torn shirt and riding pants over his costume, and Doc and his assistants have a cameo inside. The Batman Annual cover is inspired by the Shadow, especially Jim Steranko’s covers for the 1970s paperback reprints. The later reprints usually featured the Shadow protecting a beautiful, scantily-clad woman from some threat.

I do love the Justice League International Armageddon 2001 annual, they take the premise and have a very humorous take on it.

No DC 1,000,000?

No DC 1,000,000?

That wasn’t the Annual theme that year. The Annual theme that year was, I believe, Ghosts.

In some cases, the Year One annuals were a bit, um, silly, since the character in question was still, you know, in Year One at the time. (The Ray, in particular.)

These things tend to be very poorly collected. (I think that the JSA Our Worlds at War is the only recent Johns comic to not have found its way into some reprint somewhere, for example…)

Also, I cry foul over the omission of Children’s Crusade. (Which, again, includes to only piece of Reiber’s Books of Magic that never made it into Trade form, as well as the a big honking chunk of Gaiman-penned material that has never been reprinte…)

Of these, I’ve only read a bunch of the Elseworlds annuals, plus a some of the Death Earths and a few Armageddon 2001 annuals, so I can’t comment on the list – but I’m a big Elseworlds fan, so I agree with the high ranking. I just thought this was a good place to heap some praise on the Detective Armageddon 2001 annual – from the awesome cover to the last page, that is a damn good annual.

I was a fan of the Elseworlds and Pulp Fiction themes.

Armageddon 2001 would be tops for me. Even with the lame end every one of the annuals was a treat to read.

Second would be Elseworlds and a distant thirs would be Year One.

I can just imagine “Ballistic” shouting dramatically “I AM A GENERIC 1990s SUPERHERO!”

Out of the ones here, I liked Armageddon 2001 the best, but that’s probably because the JLA, Flash, Superman, Action Comics, and Batman Annuals all stand out as strong efforts (even if the the Superman annual borrowed from DKR heavily).

I still want to know whatever happened to Paradox. Can we have a top 5 characters who make one appearance and disappear forever list?

Then Eclipso and Gorilla Warfare (the JLApe annuals), though in Gorilla Warfare, the first and last issues were the strongest. Ghosts was decent as well…I guess I actually like the larger storylines better than the one offs, but now everything is interconnected so much that those stories are sort of moot.

I never even HEARD of the Pulp Heroes ones, are they reprinted anywhere? Hell, are ANY of these reprinted anywhere? (And I’d rather not hear about back issues being cheap, my area has nothing like that, and I’d rather not have to hunt everything down online).

I doubt any of these were ever reprinted, but they can be found for two bits at any yard sale. Literally, any one.

“I still want to know whatever happened to Paradox. Can we have a top 5 characters who make one appearance and disappear forever list?”

Oh yes, please. Top 5 Pretty Awesome DC Comics Characters who Made One Appearance and Disappeared Forever”.

DC’s answer to Marvel’s “The Sentry”, aka ‘Moon Maiden”, both of whom were just retreads of Triumph – time-lost hero ret-conned back into history, needs some modern loving. I think she was a one-panel non-speaking background character in JLA/Avengers, but that doesn’t count.

I loved the dead Earth Robin story. In it Batman an Robin (the future versions) are passengers in a generational spaceship that is off-course. This Robin eventually fixes the problem but ends up getting executed.

funkygreenjerusalem

September 24, 2010 at 10:48 pm

I miss annuals, and especially the themed ones.

Elseworlds would be numb er one on my list – that hit when I was a youngster just getting into comics, and I found it very exciting.

re: Bill Reed, I do believe that I have picked up some of these at yard sales, for 2 bits. So Bill’s not lying.

I have the 2 issues of Eclipso the Darkness Within, but don’t think I have any of the annuals.

I like the JLA Elseworlds one, it’s got a main story by Dan Vado that’s quite good, and the back up has Evan Dorkin art.

My fave though, is the JLE Armageddon 2001 Annual. It’s a great story of the team getting time lost, apparently picking up on some threads from the regular series, and the art is by a bunch of different people (Giffen does Metamorpho meeting Hex, Curt Swan does a Legion bit, etc). Plus, Elongated Man with some Ty Templeton art, so check it out Bill.

The Green Lantern Pulp Heroes is one of my favourite comic books ever! None of the others from that range were quite as good although I have not read the Hitman one.

I’d prob say Year One winning overall is fair

Paradox hasn’t returned, but his hourglass turned up in a 23rd Century museum of time-travel gadgetry in Mark Waid’s Flash, where it was used by Flashes Wally West and John Fox to defeat the villainous Chronos and a fascist robot police squad called “Speed Metal.”

That Planet DC has one of my pet hates – labelling the entire island of Britain as “England.” That’s like using “California” to refer to the U.S.A.

Um, am I missing it, where did Paradox first appear? I can’t tell which annual you guys are talking about. (and Paradox is too big a term to search for well) (or else I’m dum)

Armageddon 2001 should be #1 here. There were some great annuals there. Especially the L.E.G.I.O.N. one.

I’d put Elseworlds second and Legends from a Dead Earth third.

Some of them really were rubbish though. Ghosts, Bloodlines, Planet DC – all terrible!

Paradox was in the Armageddon 2001 Flash annual. Presented as a major villain in future-era Flash’s ‘rogue’s gallery’ (But not an actual Rogue; one of the bigger-than-the-rogues types like Zoom or Abra or Grodd.). But he never got to have a proper, real-time intro…

James is spot on about the Planet DC cover, especially as the N and D are in Scotland.

The Pulp Heroes JLA Annual with Martian Manhunter was really good. The ending is actually pretty messed up and heartbreaking. One of my favorites as a teenager.

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