The Order (2002) by Kurt Busiek, Jo Duffy, Matt Haley, Ivan Reis, Dan Jurgens, Chris Batista and others: Marvel's Defenders never get enough love, though their most powerful four-person line-up (Hulk, Sub-mariner, Silver Surfer and Dr. Strange) is about as powerful as four-person supergroups get without creating a team with Galactus on it. Their long-term cast of secondary heroes (Valkyrie, Black Knight, Nighthawk, Hellcat, Gargoyle and a few others) isn't bad either -- I mean, any of those could probably at least take Hawkeye in a fight. Come to think of it, Hawkeye was in the Defenders for awhile.
In any case, this was the six-issue finish to the Defenders' short-lived, early 21st-century title. For reasons that are explained in the narrative, the Big Four go boopy and decide to force peace on Earth by almost any means necessary while the secondary Defenders try to figure out what's gone wrong with the big guns. It's quite a bit of fun, and it's nice to see the Defenders kicking everyone's ass, even if for dubious reasons. In many ways, this is The Last Defenders Story, as they wouldn't be treated seriously again and Marvel's current continuity makes it difficult to reunite the group. As such, it's a pretty good one -- indeed, better than most of those [Insert Hero Name Here]: The End miniseries Marvel's been doing for the last decade or so. Recommended.
JLA Classified: The Hypothetical Woman by Gail Simone, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Sean Phillips and Klaus Janson (2007): If someone ever gets a Justice League of America movie off the ground, they would be well-served to give this six-issue arc a read. In many ways, it's an ideal blueprint for a JLA movie. The heroes deal with both 'real-world' concerns (deposing a murderous dictator at the behest of the United Nations) and the super-heroic catastrophe that develops from that action. The dictator, granted asylum in China against the wishes of the JLA, comes up with a pretty good plan: he asks the various rogue states and dictatorships of the world to let him deploy their anti-super-hero weapons against the JLA. They'll have plausible deniability and possibly a world without super-heroes, and the dictator will get both revenge and power. And so they do, and he does, and hilarity ensues.
Simone does a great job of combining Silver-Age wonkiness (she comes up with a particularly interesting spin on Starro the Star-Conqueror, an early JLA foe who seems to be a giant, telepathic, alien starfish) and nods to the problems of imagining super-heroes within an at least nominally realistic world. Garcia-Lopez, one of DC's great artists of the 1970's and 1980's, is in fine form here -- he's one of the few super-hero artists other than Gil Kane whose art can justly be described as 'balletic.' Highly recommended.
Flash: Emergency Stop by Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Paul Ryan and John Nyberg (1997-98; coll. 2008): Morrison and Millar's relatively brief stint scripting the adventures of The Fastest Man Alive gets off with a bang, as the Flash battles...an evil super-costume called The Suit. It's perfectly in keeping with the Flash's Silver-Age adventures, which is sort of the point -- for several years in the 1990's, the Flash under Mark Waid and then Morrison and Millar was the lone bright spot in a super-hero comic-book industry descended into cynicism and ultra-violence. Actually, several characters discuss this very thing in one of the issues collected here. Oh, Morrison and Millar are cheeky monkeys! But they do give good Flash. Recommended.
BPRD Volume 1: Hollow Earth and Other Stories by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, Tom Sniegoski, Ryan Sook and others (1998-2002): Unless I'm missing something, the Golden Army of the Hellboy movie makes about a three-panel appearance herein prior to getting blowed up real good. And Hellboy's not around all that much, as he's left the BPRD (the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense) to go walkabout, leaving things in the able hands of Abe Sapien, Roger the Homunculus, Johann the gaseous spirit-guy voiced by Sean MacFarlane in Hellboy 2, and Liz once she gets rescued from her sabbatical gone pretty much awry. There's lots of great stuff involving underground civilizations and weird water terrors and other things. Recommended.
Irredeemable Volume 2 by Mark Waid and Peter Krause (2009): The Plutonian, the world's greatest superhero, has gone bananas. Millions are dead, both superheroes and supervillains are on the run, and no one has figured out yet what exactly happened to turn the Plutonian from a loveable, Superman-like champion of justice to a genocidal prankster who can hear people complaining about him pretty much anywhere on the planet...and act on that, if he feels like it. Great, great stuff. And why are there so many African-American superheroes with electrical powers? Highly recommended.
What if? Classic Volume 5 by Mark Gruenwald, Jo Duffy, Mike Fleisher, Mike Barr, Steven Grant, Roger Stern, Peter Gillis, Frank Miller, Alan Kupperberg, Ron Wilson and others (1981; collected 2008): The Frank Miller-illustrated 'What if Matt Murdock had become an agent of SHIELD?' is fun. Pretty much the rest of the book is depressing stuff, as the first run of 'What if?' had settled at this point into a rut of depressing alternatives to famous Marvel storylines and events. It was sorta like a preview of the late 1980's and early 1990's. What if Phoenix hadn't died? She destroys much of the universe. What if Korvac had remained alive? He destroys the entire universe. What if Wolverine killed the Hulk? Wolverine and Magneto end up dying as well. What if the Thing ran off in a hissy fit instead of staying with the Fantastic Four? Well, pretty much every superhero in the Marvel universe never gets his or her superpowers. You get the idea. It's quite a run of dismal results. Not recommended.