The problem isn't a lack of quality books in the 90's. There were clear highlights, most of which have already been listed.
The problem is that the worst of the decade was so monumentally bad, especially during the early 90's boom when Marvel and DC were more concerned with quantity over quality. For every great book, there were 3 or 4 books like Extreme Justice, Fantastic Force or Youngblood. Bad girl comics became a craze, substituting good storytelling and art for fanboy pandering. Bad event comics like Zero Hour and Genesis were another fad and gave rise to the idea that character deaths in these events were necessary to make the books "relevant" and give them "impact. Gimmick covers became the norm. Awfully written character deaths like Emerald Twilight were designed to create sales spikes.
But the underlying problem was that Marvel and DC didn't care about long term planning or maintaining the quality of their books. They saw the money coming in and looked for new ways to cash in, whether it was through gimmick covers, awful events, character deaths or flooding the market with sub-standard product.
The quality books were a small oasis in a desert of crap.
I only need one word to justify the 90s as being one of the best decades in comics:
I grew up with books like Wonder Woman, JLA, X-Men, Spider-Man, and Gen 13 in the 90s and love them for it!
I love 90's DC because of all of their great series but also hate it for all the terrible trends that they were forced to follow, at least they were'nt as bad as Marvel I guess.
By the way, Conner Kent/Kon-El, Bart Allen and Kyle Rayner were walking 90's stereotypes when they were first created and only started to become interesting once that they were getting away of that awful decade.
Comic Books are fun, Comic Book fans not so much.
The Reign is also well received because kept readers guessing as to the outcome and had a much stronger, more defined story than the first act. It was about how Superman inspired three different people to take up his legacy, which in turn brought out some of the best characters in DC history. The mystery and the anticipation were worth the wait, so much so that you could hear the score for the first four Superman films in your head. Especially the main theme during the last ten pages of Superman #82.
Oh the lovely 90's.
The biggest books I remember reading in the 90's were:
- All the X-Books (X-Men was huge in the 90's)
- Spawn (he was big too)
- Batman (Knightfall)
- Superman (Death / Return)
- Green Lantern (Emerald Twilight to Zero Hour)
- Daredevil (Tree of Knowledge)
I'm not really against Kyle. I've enjoyed him a lot over the years. But I really hated how often DC tried to basically take their classic heroes, try to prove to readers how lame and outdated they were just to promote the "young, hip" heroes. I always felt Marvel handled that stuff better. For example, James Rhodes was Iron Man when I started reading the IM comic, and to this day, I actually prefer Rhodes as a character. However, Marvel never felt the need to get rid of Stark permanently and constantly try to beat you over the head with how much more cool and hip Rhodey was. No, they gave Rhodey his own identity and kept Tony Stark as Iron Man. I'd rather Rhodey be War Machine in his own costume and series than just having him using Tony's name and wearing his clothes, you know?
That's why I'm not a big fan of legacy characters. And yes, I realize Hal is technically a legacy character, but he's so unique from Alan and managed to coexist with him, so it doesn't bother me.
ALso, as others have said, there was a push in the 90s towards meeting the speculative market. Companies increased production and gimmicks (variant covers, holographic covers, etc) to sell to a growing market. Same thing happened with collectors cards, Barbie dolls, and Beane Babies. Non collectors found out old stuff was worth some $ and kept buying multiple issues, all perfectly sealed and pristine. Too much supply + not enough demand killed the market. It was all quantity and little quality...