Comic books are usually ongoing stories with no true conclusion, but these tales gave readers the catharsis that comes with a perfect ending.
No successful story is complete without an equally successful and satisfying conclusion. The stories told in the medium of comics – from Marvel, DC or any other company – are episodic in nature, so few comics have a defined ending in mind when they begin publication. There are exceptions, but comic books are very much a medium driven by an eternal second act.
Whether a comic book series or storyline leaves the reader with a sense of finality is one of the finest marks of its quality. By the continuous nature of comic book storytelling, the reader always wants more, but it's immensely satisfying when the reader can take a breath and know that the story is complete.
This article contains spoilers for multiple stories
"The Dark Phoenix Saga" remains a watershed moment in the X-Men's history more than 40 years after its original publication and remains one of Marvel's greatest stories of the '80s. The growing tension as Jean Grey developed the powers of the Phoenix and slowly became a menacing force with the potential for universal destruction is one of the best science fiction stories ever told in a comic book.
With so many epic confrontations and such enormous stakes, it's almost unbelievable that the story's climax can live up to its build. Having survived a last-ditch assault from the X-Men, led by her lover Cyclops, Jean sacrifices herself. As Uatu the Watcher narrates, "Jean Grey could have lived to become a god. But it was more important to her that she die a human."
The final issue of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's seminal Watchmen concludes with an extended dénouement. When Rorschach resolves to tell the press the truth about the new global utopia built on Ozymandias's lie to keep the global nuclear powers at bay, Doctor Manhattan intervenes and obliterates Rorschach. In the end, Ozymandias himself is uncertain of whether he's done the right thing.
Rorschach had sent detailed notes on what he and Nite Owl had discovered about Ozymandias to the press, which the book leaves ambiguous whether it will be known to the public. Despite leaving so many questions unanswered, there is a satisfying comfort in Doctor Manhattan's final words to Ozymandias before departing for a new plane of existence: "Nothing ever ends."
Beneath the explosive action native to the comics art form, the first volume of Ultimate Spider-Man was the most basic story of Spider-Man and Peter Parker ever told. Spidey's story is one of an ordinary boy with extraordinary abilities navigating a complicated world. Nowhere is this more evident than in Peter's finale in the Ultimate Universe, The Death Of Spider-Man.
The one-shot begins with Captain America allowing Peter to train with the Ultimates. It ends with the final showdown between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin. Spidey manages to defeat the Goblin but suffers fatal injuries. Peter dies happy, knowing that he saved MJ and May, and that he finally made up for the death of his beloved Uncle Ben.
The Infinity Gauntlet was a landmark miniseries for Marvel Comics during the '90s. An epic with the universe at stake, writer Jim Starlin placed the Infinity Gauntlet on the fist of Thanos, granting him godlike powers to take on the entirety of the Marvel Universe. After the battle, which sees Thanos wipe out half the universe, Adam Warlock nullifies the gauntlet.
Starlin ends his story, though, not with a bang, but with quiet reflection. After the battle, Warlock visits Thanos on a secluded planet where the Titan has taken up life as a farmer, no longer seeking universal power. Of course, Thanos's hunger is never truly satisfied, but for the purposes of The Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos left aspirations of universal conquest behind.
Y: The Last Man was Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra's epic about a world where Yorick Brown is the last man on Earth. The series covers the gradual unraveling of the events leading to a near-mass extinction event on the planet, leading to woman inheriting the earth. In the comic's final issue, Vaughn flashes forward 60 years, where Yorick reflects on his friendships, loves and losses, and life in general.
Committed to an asylum in France, Yorick has a conversation with his younger self, assuring him that old age may not be fun, but the journey to get there is worth all the hardships entailed. It's a poetic note to a largely poetic series, and Yorick's words of comfort to himself speak volumes to a satisfied reader.
Flashpoint remains one of the most divisive comic events of all time. The inciting incident for the New 52, it chronicled an alternate universe created by the Flash's attempt to change history by preventing his mother's murder. In the end, Barry Allen races to set the universe right again. When he arrives in the "restored" universe of the New 52, he relates the story of his ordeal to Batman.
In the Flashpoint timeline, Barry interacted with Thomas Wayne, who became that universe's Batman. In the one moment that, in the eyes of fans, redeemed the bulky and unwieldy event, Bruce Wayne is able to read a letter from his father. It's a beautiful ending to the old DCU and a heartwarming kickoff to the New 52.
Frank Miller's redefining DC Comics epic, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns famously tells the story of an aging Batman coming out of retirement. Knowing he's pushing himself past his limits by battling old foes, new nemesis, and going toe-to-toe with Superman, Batman repeatedly assures himself that "this would be a good death." In the end, after faking his death, Bruce Wayne resolves to continue his war on crime from the shadows.
Batman has a new group of followers, including a trusted right hand in the new Robin, Carrie Kelley. As he goes over plans in the Batcave and thinks of his long war on crime, Bruce delivers a final, poetic note. Bruce decides that this new adventure "will be a good life. Good enough."
No comic book helmed by Garth Ennis could have anything other than an epic conclusion. This is definitely the case with the final issue of Preacher. In the conclusion to the "Alamo" story arc, Jessie Custer, Tulip, and the vampiric Cassidy have had their final stand in their quest to return an absentee God to Heaven and restore some semblance of balance to a world in chaos by directionless angels, ambitious demons and murderous Saints.
Given the violent nature of the comic book, Preacher offers a refreshing – and surprising – finish, as all of our heroes survive their epic, Biblical ordeal. After a long pilgrimage that took them from one end of America to the other, the good guys win, the bad guys lose and our heroes literally ride off into the sunset.
Neil Gaiman's Sandman is the quintessential DC Vertigo comic book. It didn't follow a traditional narrative for a comic book, and even for "edgier" material published by the imprint, it wasn't overly dark or violent. The overarching story of Dream, an immortal entity and one of the Endless, was esoteric and thought-provoking. Its reach pontificated on questions of morality and philosophy while its grasp was grounded in the elegant and simplistic.
The final issue of Sandman, "The Tempest," sees Morpheus – one of Dream's incarnations – extract a debt from William Shakespeare: the writing of the titular play. As "The Tempest" was Shakespeare's final play, it's fitting that Sandman would close with its inception. Another story of big ideas, magic and humble longings.
In a 12-issue love letter to the Silver Age of DC, writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman is the perfect adventure of the Man of Steel. The comic's final issue is also the perfect ending for the Man of Tomorrow. In a final act of heroism, Superman flies into the sun and seemingly perishes saving the world.
While the world mourns Superman's loss, All-Star Superman ends with the Last Son of Krypton in the heart of Earth's yellow star, keeping the damaged sun running. It's a reminder that even after his final flight, Superman will continue to fight the never-ending battle.
NEXT: 10 Secrets That Ruined Everything For Superman
A comics enthusiast, lifelong Trekkie, movie buff, and pro wrestling aficionado, Jason Jarman has written for TheHDRoom.com and ElectricBento.com.