The Comic Vine staff has put our noggins together to collect and codify the all-time greatest moments in superhero comics.
We make no pretense at any academic objectivity here - - these aren't supposed to be the most "important" to the history of the medium. These are simply the times where we've been so wrapped up in a story that we literally had to say "Wow!" when we turned the page. These are the most-memorable pages or panels for readers like you (as decided by our highly-discriminating reckoning.)
These are the top fifty greatest moments in comics...
We’re counting down moments #40-31 today. Catch up on moments #50-41 here.
40. Lex Luthor doesn’t believe Clark Kent is Superman in SUPERMAN #2
Admittedly, there are many conceits in superheroics that we just have to suspend our disbelief about and go along with. One of the most famous ones, obviously, is how Superman can maintain a secret identity with just a pair of glasses and a change in how he parts his hair. Still, if you know anything about human nature, you’ll know how big personalities quite often defy obvious logic, so it was a rather brilliant stroke on John Byrne’s part to let Lex Luthor learn this particular secret so early on in his rivalry with Supes (well, in his retcon, at least) and then dismiss it because the notion doesn’t fit into his twisted world view that the powerful would exert their power at all times. He has a super-advanced, super-expensive computer deduce an answer, and then still dismisses it. What an ego!
39. Death rejects Thanos in THE INFINITY GAUNTLET #1
Not even all the power in the universe can convince a girl to like you if she just isn’t interested. The fact is, Thanos’ overriding motivation in one of Marvel’s most epic crossovers - - his reason for murdering half the universe and picking a fight with its entire celestial pantheon - - isn’t too far off from a little kid popping wheelies outside the playground to impress his crush. THE INFINITY GAUNTLET put superheroes in touch with their mythological underpinnings like few other arc have, so it's very fitting that it start off like the Trojan War. Whether it's a prince stealing another dude’s wife, or a "Mad Titan" gaining omnipotent power just to impress a girl... it all comes down to same hormonal drama.
SCHISM might have been something like the X-Men’s own CIVIL WAR, but the key difference is, while Cap and Iron Man hadn’t really been at odds for most of their professional relationship, we all knew that a full-out fight between Cyke and Wolvie had been brewing for decades. So it was truly cathartic to watch these two titans of mutankind finally come to blows over a major disagreement about the appropriateness of teen soldiers (something fundamental to the notion of the team, actually.) More importantly, this wasn’t a fight that ended with these two guys just hugging and agreeing to disagree. It’s led to a major drawing of party lines in the mutant population.
37. The return of Hal Jordan in GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH #1
Resurrections are rather common in this arena, but few have had as substantial significance as this, a comeback that's ushered Green Lantern into an era of startling new popularity. Not only did this return retcon Parallax into a parasite that made all the past controversies of EMERALD NIGHT and ZERO HOUR go down a lot easier, it also “uncorked a genie’s bottle” by adding a whole spectrum of new facets to DC's cosmology by introducing, among many things, an entire pantheon of emotional entities. Suffice it to say, this return offered more - - worlds of possibilities, even - - than just the simple pleasure of seeing one of your old favorites again.
36. Superman carries Cap’s shield and Thor’s hammer in JLA/AVENGERS #4
In a lot of ways, seeing comics’ greatest superheroes cooperate (in what's likely their last crossover, ever) was even more exciting than watching them fight each other. While we saw Supes and Thor finally settle the question of “Who would win?” earlier in the mini, this actually proved to be the more memorable moment, precisely because it happens on account of these other legends willingly lending their signature weapons to the Man of Steel to allow him to defeat the never-greater threat of Krona. They were taking one for the team! That's heroism. For a series with "versus" in its title, who'd have thought that seeing the opposing parties get along like this would be the stand-out scene?
35. Animal Man meets Grant Morrison in ANIMAL MAN #26
It goes without saying that a significant portion of Grant Morrison’s body of work's concerned with him blurring the lines between superheroic fiction and flesh-and-blood reality. And it follows that the first major instance of such meta-fictional madness is still the most striking. Over the course of a long arc, Buddy Baker saw his personal life steadily torn down in a fashion that was seeming to put him on track for an attitude change that so many other heroes took in the “grim ‘n gritty” era of superheroics. All along, we were teased about some mysterious, seemingly-omniscient figure pulling the strings of this tragedy, only to find out at the very end that this villain was… the writer himself.
The gutters between panels have never felt safe again.
34. Batman and the Joker share a laugh in THE KILLLING JOKE
Ambiguity isn’t something you find that often in these tales of capes, tights and fisticuffs. Generally, what you see is what you get. When Batgirl gets shot, for instance, it's not exactly open to interpretation. Thus, a sequence like this is pretty remarkable for how it works on a number of equally-valid levels. Is Bats leaning on Mr. J for support during this gut laugh, acknowledging that they’re both equally crazy after this terrible ordeal at the carnival? Or is he actually strangling him because he’s realized there’s no stopping this maniac from murdering, maiming and otherwise corrupting innocent people if he's allowed to live past this night? The multiple choice option is what makes this ending truly chilling.
33. Hyperion causes a North Pole earthquake in SUPREME POWER #18
Didn’t anybody learn anything from that Jim Croce song? You don’t tug on Superman’s cape… and you definitely don’t try to threaten Hyperion with anything. The conclusion of this darker reinterpretation of the Squadron Supreme saw Mark Milton doing something that Clark Kent likely would’ve done if the government ever pushed him too far. Hyperion had already been sour on Uncle Sam after learning that he’d been lied to for his whole life. When he was told to be behave, lest his alien identity be revealed to the public, he did what you’d expect any nigh-omnipotent superhuman to do. He smashed down into the North Pole and caused a 10.5 quake that sent a very clear message to America… “BACK OFF!”
32. Hulk rips Wolverine in half in ULTIMATE WOLVERINE VS. HULK #1
Sure, superheroics have gotten more and more sophisticated… but we shouldn’t ever lose sight of just how fundamentally cool the less-than-sophisticated moments can be. Case in point - - Hulk ripping the Wolverine in two like an adamantium party popper. Does that make sense when Wolvie’s got an unbreakable skeleton? Maybe not, but who cares? Even if stories in the Ultimate universe did “count” like they do in the regular MU, we’d hate if continuity ever got so stuffy as to block something as undeniably rad as this. Admit it, you've wanted to see something like this ever since Logan and Dr. Banner first crossed paths in the Canadian wilderness, however long ago.
31. The fate of all superheroes is revealed in WANTED #2
Mark Millar notably got his earliest inspiration for this anarchic series during his childhood, when his older brother tricked him into thinking superheroes had actually once existed, but had disappeared after a war with supervillains. Showing what would happen if the Secret Society of Supervillains ever got serious and competent about taking care of all these do-gooders, this series showed us a chilling vision of world where the bad guys have won and forced the good guys to waste away in living hells of forgotten mediocrity. It's a notion more unsettling than that whole rant about what the Killer's face looks like while he's getting away with certain supervillainous un-pleasantries.