With that said, I’ve sat down and, after careful consideration, picked my top 10 Peter David stories. Bear in mind this list is purely, 100% subjective based on what has struck me over the years and pertinent first and foremost to my tastes. But worry not. As a man of impeccable tastes, I’m certain this list is as near definitive as definitive can get.
10) Aquaman: Time and Tide
Over the years, there’ve been more attempts at making Aquaman cool than anyone can readily count, but I've always been of the opinion Peter David did it to the greatest effect, and it all started with this series. Sure, most remember the David-penned series that came after this one featuring a hook-handed, long haired and scruffy bearded Arthur Curry (which, make no mistake, was fantastic under David) but this is the series that got the ball rolling. David deftly shows that when it comes to the king of Atlantis, it ain’t all talking to fish and that life was hard for this man of two worlds. If (fine, when) you hear someone mock Aquaman, point them to this series.
This one took everyone by surprise back when it was first published. It was a book about a D-list character, surrounded by other D-list characters. Hell, Wizard Magazine had just run a feature openly mocking one of them. Peter David took these misfits and shoved them into a noir-style book. Sure, he was playing with characters from his beloved and cut-much-too-short the X-Factor run, but hardboiled, detective noir? With also-ran X-Men characters? Really? Yeah, really. And it worked. Like, really, really well. Madrox was a good detective story and thrust, Jamie “Multiple Man” Madrox into the fore of the X-Universe arguably for the first time in his history. Madrox was successful enough that a new X-Factor series centered around Multiple Man was launched from it that is not only the best, most non-X X-book, but consistently one of the best comics Marvel publishes month-to-month.
8) Spider-Man: The Death of Jean DeWolff
Heroes on opposing side of an issue is nothing new to comics, nor is moral ambiguity is nothing new to comics, but The Death of Jean DeWolff handles both with maturity and balance. This tale is notable as the titular character, Captain Jean DeWolff isn’t killed in the hail of battle by a supervillain or the like, but rather by a sociopath in her sleep. What follows is Spider-Man and Daredevil teaming up, and not so much their heroic mettle being put to the test but rather their morals and values.
7) The Last Avengers Story
In the future, The Avengers are… mostly old, out of shape and retired. Sure, we learn that some of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes met bad ends in battle over the years, but for the most part, this is the story of men and women on the cusp of old age, their triumphs and defeats long behind them, being called back into action by one of their oldest adversaries for one last epic battle. Not only that, but the Hank Pym/Ultron relationship actually arrives at its logical conclusion and it's pretty damn fulfilling. This was one of those “final showdown” books that was less shock and awe and more personal.
6) Supergirl: Many Happy Returns
While it does help to be up on pre-crisis DC and post-crisis DC, it’s not essential to enjoy this fantastic arc. The pre-crisis Supergirl is pulled from her timeline into the then current DC timeline, meeting the new Supergirl. The duo couldn’t be more different, what the new Supergirl being quite modern and properly angsty, and the original Supergirl being appropriately Silver Agey innocent. Like other Peter David stories, the premise shouldn’t have worked, but he pulled it off and he pulled it off well. Funny, poignant and tragic, this is Peter David at the top of his game.
5) X-Factor 87
Peter David is that rare writer that has perfectly mastered dramatic whiplash and X-Factor 87 highlights that ability perfectly. The team is ordered to go through psychological evaluations, and hilarity ensues to be sure (Polaris’ new costume is a fantastic dig at 90’s design aesthetics), but we also get keen insight for established characters we never really got before. For example, we learn why Quicksilver is a dick, why Strong Guy is always cracking bad jokes, and why Multiple Man is an attention whore.
4) Captain Marvel 31
Peter David’s criminally underrated Captain Marvel run (both of them) is a perfect showcase of what he’s capable of as a writer. It’s got drama, humor, beautiful triumphs and despairing tragedy. This particular issue exemplifies what made this series so special, as it comes at the end of a big, cosmic time travel arc yet serves as a look at Rick Jones’s wife, Marlo (a character David himself created years before in The Incredible Hulk). This is the small, personal story of an ordinary woman who consistently finds herself in extremely extraordinary circumstances, right smack in the middle of a giant cosmic epic.
3) The Hulk: The End
Another look at a terrible future, this entry is notable for perfectly capturing the loneliness that is the existence of both The Hulk and Bruce Banner. Everyone and everything is gone, save an ancient, decrepit Bruce Banner who just wants to die but isn’t allowed to thanks to his monstrous alter ego. The climax is both what you’d expect and at the same time offers up a nice, bitter twist.
2) Fallen Angel
Most of Peter David’s writing is peppered with a fairly decent amount of light-heartedness, if not outright humor, before he turns things around and whallops your heartstrings. Not so much with Fallen Angel. This creator-owned series is about as dark as David gets, but it’s not depressing and dour. It’s just… well, it’s just good. To tell too much of the premise is to give away much of the good stuff, suffice to say that nothing is as it seems in the city of Bete Noir, including time. Part super hero tale, part old school pulp story, all unique and constantly engaging.
1) Incredible Hulk 466
This was the first time a comic ever made me cry. Sure, I'd seen heartbreak in comics before, but nothing this intensely personal and painful. This is the penultimate issue of David’s legendary run on The Incredible Hulk and it’s not a happy ending. After Banner’s wife Betty becomes terminally ill thanks to what seems to be continued exposure to the radioactive Hulk, the oft-put upon scientist pulls out all the stops trying to save her. And near the end, it seems he may have succeeded. Only, he doesn’t succeed. Betty dies in pain despite Bruce doing everything in his power to stave it off. Add a narration that offers up passages from Betty's autobiography and you’re left with one of the most truly emotionally crushing moments in comics.