Today’s Super Comics — Justice #1-12 (2005-07)

Classic super-heroic action gets a paint job in the miniseries Justice. It’s the Justice League of America vs. the Legion of Doom with painted art by Alex Ross, so you know it’s going to be a visual treat.

While there’s a lot to love, the art is the star here, as it lends suitable grandeur to some of the most recognizable superheroes and villains (and plenty of lesser-known ones). Story-wise, each character is true to his or her essence, and heroes and villains both get the attention they deserve. Plus, there’s no elaborate continuity bogging things down. If you haven’t read a DC comic in years, you can pick this up and your inner child will have a grand time.

And after you read, you can go back and admire the meticulous craftsmanship apparent in each panel.

Writer: Jim Krueger

Painter: Alex Ross

Penciler: Doug Braithwaite

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Justice volumes 1-3 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Action Comics #890 (2010)

After many decades of fighting Superman, Lex Luthor finally won a victory of sorts—he got to take over one of Superman’s series. Luthor became the protagonist of Action Comics as of issue #890, and for nearly a year he showed how a villain can carry a book.

The story begins in the aftermath of a big DC crossover, Blackest Night, which was primarily a Green Lantern event. During that story, Luthor got to wield an orange version of a power ring, which was fueled by avarice (whereas will fuels the green power rings). Having experienced such power, and feeling greedier than ever, Lex embarks on a quest to acquire any and all power rings.

It’s a solid approach from writer Paul Cornell. It’s an opportunity to view a classic villain in action when he’s not directly confronting superheroes, though he obviously still can’t succeed. The typical comic book makes us wonder how the hero will prevail over major obstacles, but this book takes the mirror image to that approach, making us wonder how exactly the villain will fail to achieve his aims. This first issue sets up Lex’s heightened greed as a major flaw, and we also see a lack of self-awareness, as Lex truly believes himself to be in the right.

Another nice (though creepy) touch is the inclusion of a Lois Lane robot. To ensure he has someone around who will challenge him and offer alternative perspectives, Lex keeps the company of a robot modeled after Lois. On one hand, it shows how highly he thinks of her, but on the other, more dominant hand…that’s an incredibly disrespectful thing to do. And it adds layers to Luthor’s character.

Every good villain should be able to function as a protagonist, and Luthor shows he’s up to that task here.

Writer: Paul Cornell

Artist: Pete Woods

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Superman: The Black Ring vol. 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Black Panther #8 (1999)

Flexibility with continuity can be a good thing when done right, especially when characters are appearing in stories over the course of multiple decades. What made sense in the 1960s may not make as much sense by late 1990s, such as a sovereign monarch choosing to join an American superhero team.

Black Panther #8, which features Avengers guest stars and flashbacks inspired by the classic 1968 Captain America #100, makes sense of T’Challa’s counterintuitive decision to leave his throne to gallivant as a superhero, and it does so by adding context and motivation that rightfully put the Black Panther’s monarchial role in the forefront. (I’m about to spoil it.)

So back in Captain America #100, Cap was so impressed by the Panther that he invited him to join the Avengers. T’Challa accepted, and thus began the Wakandan king’s American adventures. In the fast-paced, make-it-up-as-you-go style of 1960s Marvel Comics…sure, why not? But in 1999’s Black Panther #8, writer Christopher Priest considers that moment with the benefit of hindsight and takes a more modern approach.

The Avengers were relatively new at the time—an autonomous, unsupervised, unregulated group of powerful individuals claiming to have everyone’s best interests in mind. But Wakanda already had a history of unwanted and destructive foreign interference, so how could T’Challa be certain the Avengers wouldn’t pose a threat to his nation? And here he had an opportunity to infiltrate their ranks and take their measure firsthand. Thus, he joined the Avengers thinking first and foremost of his nation’s security.

Sometimes, retroactive tweaks to continuity (retcons) wind up convoluting the backstory or muddying things up, but this is an example of a retcon that enriches and deepens what came before while creating tension for present stories. The revelation is true to the character and therefore credible. Exactly how to do it right.

Writer: Christopher Priest

Pencilers: Joe Jusko and Amanda Connor

Inker: Jimmy Palmiotti

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Black Panther by Christopher Priest: The Complete Collection Vol. 1

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — X-Men #123 (1979)

Fun fact: Colleen Wing, whom you may have met in the new Iron Fist Netflix series, briefly dated Cyclops of the X-Men. Yep—Colleen Wing and Scott Summers. That was a thing for a few seconds a long time ago, during the first interval in which Scott believed Jean Grey was dead.

The Marvel Universe can be a small world indeed, as shown in X-Men #123, which begins as Spider-Man just happens to run into Scott and Colleen strolling along the streets of New York. If your characters are going to share a fictional universe, why not have fun with it? And these sorts of quick guest appearances helped develop the MU as a setting worth visiting—you never knew who you were going to run into (well, unless they announced it on the cover so they could boost sales).

So Spider-Man, Cyclops, and Colleen Wing walk into the panel (or swing in)…and a kidnapping sets the plot in motion. This issue begins a two-parter in which the villainous Arcade captures the X-Men and a few friends and traps them in Murder World (it’s like Disney World, but the attractions try to kill you).

It’s a fun premise that splits up the X-Men and throws them into various death traps. But surviving is only half the battle! They’ll then have to navigate this maze, find their way back to each other, and rescue their friends from a sociopath.

It’s good times. Another classic from the Claremont/Byrne era. (I dare you to find one bad issue from that run. Just one. Can’t do it, can you?)

Writer: Chris Claremont

Penciler/Co-Plotter: John Byrne

Inker: Terry Austin

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; The Essential X-Men vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Daredevil #82 (2006)

Then there was that time Daredevil went to jail…and it was kind of justified, actually.

Ed Brubaker took over as Daredevil’s writer beginning with #82, and he picked up right where predecessor Brian Michael Bendis left off. Bendis shook things up quite a bit over the previous few years by giving Daredevil a secret-identity crisis. Matt Murdock was outed as the Man Without Fear, but in the absence of definitive proof, he was able to get away with the reliable tactic of deny, deny, deny…until he couldn’t.

So Murdock’s behind bars in the same facility as the Kingpin and many others he’s put away throughout his career. Issue #82 begins with him in protective custody, as he is legally a blind man, but you get the feeling that’s not going to last long. Meanwhile, Daredevil is running around Hell’s Kitchen beating up bad guys. Wait, what?

It’s a gripping scenario, one that does something different with a character who had been around for over forty years at this point. As you’d expect from Brubaker, the writing is tense, intelligent, grounded, and better suited for older readers, and Michael Lark’s art is a natural fit, the gritty style setting exactly the right tone.

Daredevil as a prison show…and it works wonderfully.

Really, though—lawyer by day, vigilante by night? As much as I love the character, Murdock has broken the law numerous times over the years, so it’s fitting that his hubris earns him some comeuppance. It may have taken four decades to get here, but this was a Daredevil story that needed to happen. The events feel earned.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Artist: Michael Lark

Cover: Tommy Lee Edwards

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Daredevil by Ed Brubaker & Michael Lark Ultimate Collection – Book 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 15 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Runaways #5 (2005)

There’s certain rite of passage every young superhero must go through in the Marvel Universe: confronting Doctor Doom.

The Runaways have met a fellow super-powered teen, Victor Mancha, who might be destined to become evil and might be the son of a major super-villain. In #5 (vol. 2), they have to save Victor’s mother from one of those potential fathers, leading to a fun match between a bunch of relatively inexperienced teenagers and the Fantastic Four’s greatest enemy.

And then the book tops itself with a superb twist and, as usual, a great cliffhanger…so not even a Doctor Doom battle is the high point here.

It’s just a consistently fun series that has a blast playing in the Marvel Universe sandbox.

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Penciler: Adrian Alphona

Inker: Craig Yeung

Cover: Jo Chen

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Runaways vol. 4: True Believers (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — DC: The New Frontier #6 (2004)

DC: The New Frontier ends with a rousing action sequence and a JFK speech (the latter is where the series got its name from, after all). And it reminds you why you love superheroes in the first place.

Throughout the previous five issues, we’ve seen the hopes and fears of various characters, but in #6, when a powerful menace threatens the entire world, it’s time to set aside all personal issues and do what’s right. It’s superheroes in their purest form.

Flash and Green Lantern get the most attention here, as both learn to think bigger and push themselves further. Ultimately, the world is saved because two men, acting bravely and selflessly, perform feats they had never previously attempted. The time for angst and introspection has passed—it’s time to be adults and get the job done. And, ironically, they’re at their most adult when they act the most like childhood fantasy heroes. No reason maturity can’t be brightly colored.

I’m reminded of the Muppets. Yes, Muppets. When you’re a young child, the Muppets are hysterical. When you’re a teenager, it’s all, “Oh, I’m too old for that kid stuff.” Then as an adult, that becomes “You know what? I like the Muppets. They amuse me, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.”

And that’s basically what The New Frontier is saying, but with superheroes. It recaptures the fun of watching purely heroic characters saving the world, and it gives you permission to enjoy it without shame. And it encourages you to aspire to greater heights yourself.

Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in DC: The New Frontier Volume Two (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — DC: The New Frontier #5 (2004)

In the penultimate issue of DC: The New Frontier, a powerful threat makes itself known…and folks step up. Whereas the previous issue showed the fear holding everyone back, issue #5 shows characters moving forward, even in the face of the unknown. And things are beginning to look a lot more Silver Age—appropriately enough, as this miniseries is a reimagining of that era’s dawn.

Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern origin story gets a retelling here, and it drills deeper into Hal’s head than the original 1959 comic did. His joy shines through, especially with writer/artist Darwyn Cooke’s clean, classic style, and it’s pure fun watching him fly for the first time (without a plane, that is). But the scene fits thematically with the larger work—the ring provides a focal point for the bravery that was always there, even as Hal had been doubting himself.

The Green Lantern power ring becomes a metaphor. Push away the fear, and you can soar—you can perform all sorts of phenomenal feats.

Also of note, Superman gets his big hero moment, by way of showing inspirational leadership to the rest of the cast.

But the series is called DC: The New Frontier, not Superman: The New Frontier. So Supes can’t do it alone.

On to the final issue…

Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in DC: The New Frontier Volume Two (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — DC: The New Frontier #4 (2004)

Things tilt toward paranoia and fear in DC: The New Frontier #4. The government’s attempt to abduct the Flash sends the speedster into hiding. Wonder Woman has retired to Paradise Island. J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, decides to hitch a ride back to Mars. And Hal Jordan is scrubbed from that same Mars mission (though that’s against his will).

But amid the fear, acts of heroism shine through. J’onn J’onzz gets a great one, which leads to a turning point for a character who has spent the series concealing his true nature for fear of how he’ll be treated. And his fear is hardly baseless, given what happens to a black vigilante named John Henry who tries to strike back against the KKK. And John Henry’s tragic situation reminds us about the need to be better than we were.14

Darwyn Cooke’s story makes excellent use of DC’s shared universe. These characters aren’t just inhabiting the same world—they’re affecting each other within it. When Flash publicly calls it quits, J’onn makes up his mind about trying to return to Mars, and his means of departure is the mission Hal’s involved in.

Characters and situations connect in an organic way, a thematic way, but not a “Look how cool—it’s, like, all connected, man” way.

Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in DC: The New Frontier Volume Two (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Titans #6 (2016)

My DC: The New Frontier reviews will take a quick intermission, because I just picked up the trade paperback for the new Titans series and it was pure fun.

A large part of the appeal, at least in my case, is nostalgia. The first storyline, “The Return of Wally West,” reunites “my” Flash with the original Titans as they tussle with one of the first Flash villains I ever read, Abra Kadabra, a techno-magician from the distant future.

When DC rebooted with the New 52, Wally got lost in the shuffle (as did fellow Titan Donna Troy, the original Wonder Girl, who’s also back here, though her return happened in a previous story I haven’t read). Wally’s back now, and he gets a starring role in the new Titans series (featuring the original Teen Titans, but a bit beyond the “teen” part).

Wally must come to terms with the fact that the world isn’t quite how he remembers it, which is fitting, as it’s not quite the DC Universe I remember either. But some things remain constant, and one of those things is friendship, as Titans #6 makes clear. The bond between these former sidekicks remains as strong as ever, which the issue creatively shows using pre-established Flash lore.

I’m not sure if it would work as well for newer readers, but for older readers who grew up with these characters, it’s almost like checking in with old friends you haven’t seen in ages. Seeing this classic Titans lineup in action together just makes me happy, because I read their classic adventures when I was a young teenager. And I grew up reading about Wally West’s maturation into adulthood, so seeing him in action as a Flash and as the storyline’s leading character—even better.

Writer: Dan Abnett

Penciler: Brett Booth

Inker: Norm Rapmund

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Comixology; included in Titans vol. 1: The Return of Wally West (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up