Comics Creators

Definitive Runs


Spilling out of the FF thread, I wondered how many characters have had their definitive run - the series of books that so defined the character and storylines that were so perfect that the property might never reach the same heights ever again, and instead books that come after will continually refer to this run. Books that ended up being the peak for the characters. Drop the mike books.

Examples might be Frank Miller’s Daredevil, or Byrne and Clairemont X Men, or Simonson Thor or Ditko Spiderman. There was before these books, then after, but they’ll define the character forevermore.

Feel free to share if you can think of any examples, and also if you think there’s any characters left in either Marvel or DC that haven’t had definitive runs. I’ll start with my choices:

Thanos - The Infinity Gauntlet. I don’t think he’s ever going to escape that story and really there’s not much point in doing anything more with him. Marvel might be wise to just retire him.

Punisher - Garth Ennis run. He so elevated the character, so defined him and captured his voice, both in comical settings and in deadly serious books, that I think they should just retire him now.

Adam Warlock - Perez and Magnus. He should have stayed dead after this book. It was so perfectly trippy and for the character that everything since refers to it and feels incredibly inferior.

Character I don’t think have had definitive runs (or anything close): Inhumans, Ghost Rider, Martian Manhunter.


Priest Black Panther
John Byrne Alpha Flight


Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee’s Inhumans

Paul Jenkins and Mark Buckingham had a fantastic run on Peter Parker: Spider-Man in the early 2000s.


Ennis Punisher is my favorite and Big Pun is my #1


I see Matt Fraction, David Aja, & co’s work on Hawkeye being the way forward for that character. They had a similar impact on Iron Fist but that was more a distillation of what had come before with the character, whereas Fraction came up with–at least as far as I’m aware–a pretty new take for Hawkeye. The “Joe Schmoe” superhero.


I think that might be a bit unfair - they introduced quite a lot of new elements to the mythos, especially with the legacy aspects. I think the Brubaker/Fraction run stands as a definitive one.

For other characters:

Daredevil is lucky enough to have Miller and Bendis - both I think have defined the character, although Bendis obviously built on Miller to an extent.

Fantastic Four and Spider-Man are probably never going to get better than their initial runs with Lee and Kirby/Ditko.

Batman has Dark Knight Returns, and although there have been lots and lots of other great Batman stories, I think this will be the defining one that continues to be cited for decades.

Similarly, I can’t see All-Star Superman being topped. For DC characters it seems that these out-of-continuity stories help give creators a bit more freedom and wider scope than the in-continuity stuff.

Wolverine has the Claremont/Miller mini. With Inhumans I think Jenkins/Lee will take some topping.

For the Avengers, Ultimates will always be my go-to book, but I do wonder whether there’s still room for a definitive version of the regular MU Avengers.

Same for the JLA too really. There have been some great runs (Morrison springs to mind) and one-off projects like Justice, but I’m not sure there’s any one run that people can point to as really defining the team.

Has the Flash ever had a definitive run? How about Green Lantern? I don’t know enough about them to know for sure.

What about the Hulk? Peter David’s run?

I also think there are loads of second- or third-tier characters that are ripe for exploration and could all produce classic runs in future if people find the right take. The Question, Luke Cage, the Atom, Captain Marvel (Carol)… it feels like all sorts of characters like this are waiting for someone to hit upon the perfect formula. There’s still a lot of untapped potential in these properties.


I meant that Fraction and Brubaker didn’t radically alter Danny in the way that Miller altered Daredevil and Batman. I wasn’t making a statement as to whether or not their run is the definitive run for Iron Fist.

With Hawkeye, I don’t think he was ever portrayed as that much of a schlub prior to Fraction/Aja’s run, and their take is really all about that: a superhero who doesn’t have much going for him apart from that he tries really hard (and can shoot an arrow). He’s not particularly smart, he’s not much of a leader, he lives in filth, he’s kind of a dick–these are the things the run focuses on even when he’s saving the day and that I think is a pretty radical shift on how Hawkeye was portrayed before.


Ah, ok, I see what you’re saying. I guess sometimes a defining run involves presenting a bold new vision for a character, and sometimes it’s about refining elements of what has already come before.


Which version of Ennis’s Punisher? The Marvel Knights run with Steve Dillon (mostly) on art or the darker MAX one?


I don’t think Ennis’ Punisher Max run will ever be topped.


I’m inclined to agree @Todd. As much as I love Welcome Back Frank from Ennis and Dillon the rest of the Marvel Knights run is mostly on the miss side of the hit or miss scale due to it being too silly (the return of The Russian with giant boobs being one of many such moments). It’s no great surprise that this run is forgotten about and out of print / not collected. That said, I do love how the Punisher / Wolverine confrontation plays out in that run:

And of course there’s the the steamroller too!


The Marvel Knights run was a fun series.

I think my favorite story from the Max run has to “The Slavers”. That was just a brilliantly harrowing story.


Yeah, there’s some truely harrowing stuff in that volume. I do love the Mother Russia story too for it’s very ‘action movie’ sequences whilst sticking to some pretty dark themes.


The one shots were also great.


Sorry, but I reject the premise. Are there runs we look back on as peaks? Sure and we will always encourage people to go to those books.

But while Lee/Kirby was a classic run, if they had stopped there we wouldn’t have had Byrne. Somewhere out there is some kid whose got a fresh take on Adam Warlock, something we all missed, and it would be a shame if Marvel retired the character before she could unleash her new vision.


Priest & Bright Quantum and Woody

Marvel Era - Groo the Wanderer. (Every other grouping of Groo has not reached the stride the team had at Marvel)



For the Flash, I expect that Mark Waid’s run (with Brian Augustyn and various artists) is probably the definitive modern take on the character. Everything that has been done since has built on that (with the introduction of the mythology of the Speed force, the intro line “My name is Wally West. I’m the fastest man alive” for every issue and the way he built up a little supporting cast of speedsters). Geoff Johns could claim credit too, but I think that Waid should beat him by a nose.

Geoff Johns probably gets the nod for definitive run on Green Lantern, although I can’t say that I was a huge fan.


I think Johns’ run on the Flash may be called the definitive, just ahead of Waid’s. Johns did a whole lot to develop the Rogues.


if you are going for runs that were world building, you would have to go with Johns’ GL because he created all the different types of rings that they are currently using.