Today’s Super Comic — The Astonishing Ant-Man #6 (2016)

astonishing-ant-man-6In this issue—100% less Ant-Man! But that’s okay, because the focus shifts to his daughter Cassie Lang, the former superhero formerly known as Stature.

Issue #6 shows Cassie adjusting to a post-superhero life in which she’s no longer capable of growing to fifty feet tall whenever it’s convenient…and not adjusting very well. She’s so desperate to regain her powers, she’ll pretend to be interested in joining forces with the evil Power Broker and becoming a super-villain.

This issue is all recap and set-up, which could easily be a recipe for boredom, but writer Nick Spencer uses it as an opportunity to show us what’s going on in Cassie’s head while also instilling reasonable doubt about her aims going forward. And he rattles off the convoluted backstory efficiently and smoothly enough to not scare away newer readers. Yeah, the backstory is messy, but he gets it out of the way and uses only what’s necessary to provide context for what Cassie is going through here and now. The book remains sufficiently focused on the present even while planning ahead for future issues. It’s nicely balanced.

Another fine issue in a consistently entertaining series.

Writer: Nick Spencer

Artist: Annapaola Martello

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Birds of Prey #13 (2000)

birds_of_prey_vol_1_13Comics have an unfortunate trend—a disproportionate number of crippling injuries happen to female characters. When Birds of Prey launched, it paired two characters who had been on the receiving end of that trend: Black Canary and the original Batgirl.

Barbara Gordon fell victim to a bullet to provide motivation for Batman and Commissioner Gordon, and she had been confined to a wheelchair since. Black Canary was brutally tortured to provide motivation for Green Arrow, and she lost her one superpower, her canary cry.

Really unfortunate. But none of this stopped them from being awesome in Birds of Prey.

In the earliest issues, they were the only two co-leads. Barbara had reinvented herself as Oracle, and she used her computer skills and intelligence to provide information to the superhero community. Black Canary served as Oracle’s field operative for highly dangerous covert missions, proving herself to be incredibly formidable even without her canary cry. The two balanced each other nicely—one was more rational and cerebral, and the other was more intuitive and idealistic, but both were highly likable leads.

Issue #13 shows how fun the series could be, and how writer Chuck Dixon made the right call in deciding this series shouldn’t be shy about inhabiting the DC Universe. When a mission goes awry, Canary and a certain party-crasher, the even more free-spirited Catwoman, end up stranded on the hellish alien world Apokolips—way out of either’s usual element. And back on Earth, Oracle and guest-star Powergirl try to piece together what the hell happened.

Great fast-paced action, great guest stars, great cliffhanger. It doesn’t excuse the unfortunate trend, but it fights against it.

Writer: Chuck Dixon

Pencilers: Greg Land and Patrick Zircher

Inker: Drew Geraci

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Batman #40 (2015)

batman_vol_2_40Batman was easily the best series of DC’s New 52 relaunch, and that’s due to superb writing and art by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, respectively. Not content to simply rehash what’s come before, they built on the Batman mythos, contributing new details and injecting fresh energy into this septuagenarian franchise.

Even though issue #40 concludes yet another climactic Batman vs. Joker storyline, it never feels like “yet another” clash between the classic foes. It’s entirely its own thing, and it’s the natural progression of events from the previous 39 issues. (The story is too recent that I don’t want to spoil anything.)

I wouldn’t call it definitive—Batman is a versatile enough character to defy “definitive”—but it is distinctive. It’s a Batman story as only Snyder and Capullo can tell it. They take this iconic character who has appeared in countless stories in practically every medium over the course of decades, and they make him their own…for the moment. And we can only hope that the next writers and artists to get their “turns” with the Dark Knight will be just as talented as these guys.

Writer: Scott Snyder

Penciler: Greg Capullo

Inker: Danny Miki

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Batman vol. 7: Endgame (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Avengers #275 (1987)

avengers_vol_1_275It’s the Wasp and Ant-Man as David…and the Absorbing Man and Titania as Goliath. Comic book battles are always more exciting when we’re rooting for the underdog, but there’s even more going on here than a pair of superheroes fighting outside their weight class.

Avengers #275 is part of the classic “Under Siege” storyline in which the Masters of Evil infiltrate Avengers Mansion and defeat Earth’s Mightiest Heroes one at a time. As of this issue, the last Avenger standing is the Wasp, and she’s feeling like a failure. After all, the team’s worst defeat has occurred under her watch as chairwoman, and now Hercules lies near-death in the hospital while everyone else is captured by the enemy. But she and guest-star Ant-Man (Scott Lang) are all that stand between two powerful villains and a hospital full of innocents. So she’ll have to put the pity aside and get the job done, redeeming herself and renewing hope for the team in the process.

The best part of knocking down the good guys is watching them get back up again.

Writer: Roger Stern

Penciler: John Buscema

Inker: Tom Palmer

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Avengers: Under Siege (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The New Teen Titans #38 (1984)

new_teen_titans_vol_1_38Wonder Girl’s secret origin—inattention to detail.

The character was originally intended to be a younger version of Wonder Woman, just as the original Superboy was the Man of Steel when he was a lad. But when DC Comics banded its teen sidekicks together as the Teen Titans, they forgot and included Wonder Girl in the mix, creating a comic book paradox and a character without a past.

This also created an opportunity for an excellent story—an opportunity writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez seized in The New Teen Titans #38. Dick Grayson, in his final outing as Robin the Boy Wonder, puts his detective skills to use helping one of his oldest friends learn about her past, and he and Donna Troy (Wonder Girl) piece the clues together one at a time.

Wolfman and Perez wisely omit two things from this story: super-villains and shocking revelations of any paranormal nature. Instead, they focus on Donna’s strictly human origins (while leaving the door open for other possibilities down the line), and this approach allows them to craft a superb short story about how family doesn’t necessarily mean blood, as one friend helps another uncover details about the people who cared for her in her earliest years.

I still say this was DC’s best series in the early ‘80s.

Writer: Marv Wolfman

Penciler: George Perez

Inker: Romeo Tanghal

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Wolverine #1-4 (1982)

wolverine_vol_1_1Wolverine has starred in many, many solo stories over the years, but his first miniseries remains the best.

A good rule for a spin-off is to place one familiar character in an unfamiliar setting with unfamiliar characters. That’s basically what we get here (though Wolverine’s girlfriend, Mariko, was already introduced in Uncanny X-Men). The result is something that feels like a true Wolverine story, not an X-Men story starring only Wolverine.

Wolverine’s internal tension drives the story as much as external forces do, as his bestial impulses conflict with his desire become a man worthy of Mariko’s love. And actual character growth occurs—not something comics were known for at the time.

The miniseries features some of Chris Claremont’s strongest writing and some of Frank Miller’s strongest art. The two bring out the best in each other as they show Wolverine striving to be his best—and stumbling quite a bit along the way.

And only forward momentum carries the series—no convoluted backstory cluttering things up. You can enjoy this book without ever having touched an X-Men comic.

Writer: Chris Claremont

Artist: Frank Miller

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; Wolverine (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85-86 (1971)

green_lantern_vol_2_85DC Comics brought Green Lantern down to Earth in the early 1970s. GL partnered with Green Arrow, initially playing the role of Hal’s conscience, and the duo fought the most fearsome super-villain of all time—social problems!

Few mad scientists or bug-eyed monsters were in the mix during Green Lantern/Green Arrow, but the green guys instead tackled issues ranging from racism to pollution, as well as drugs in #85 and 86. It was a DC series different from any that had come before, one much more grounded than the usual imaginative sci-fi fare the publisher specialized in during those days. And for a little over a year, it worked because of the other team-up the title featured—writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Neal Adams, two of the best in the business at the time, who excelled with down-to-earth takes on superheroes.

These comics aren’t subtle—they’re downright preachy at times—but they’ve got good messages for kids and adults alike. The drug storyline is not only a warning to stay away from drugs, but also a warning that the person you least expect can become hooked on them. In this case, Green Arrow’s former sidekick, Speedy, reveals he’s been using, and with the help of Black Canary, he strives to kick the habit. And this forces Green Arrow to confront the possibility that he may have failed in his most important duty—being the boy’s guardian.

Before this series, DC superheroes had seldom seemed so fallible or human.

Writer: Dennis O’Neil

Artist: Neal Adams

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Green Lantern/Green Arrow vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Vision #5 (2016)

vision-5Never underestimate the importance of a story being told in exactly the correct medium. And The Vision, a series that takes the Avengers’ longtime android member and turns him into the patriarch of his own android family, can only be properly told as a comic book.

Sequential comic book art can most effectively convey how eerie and alien this family is, and the excellent artwork of Gabriel Hernandez Walta does just that. The Visions appear cold and stiff, almost wooden, but still very much alive. In a live-action movie, the characters might look silly or cartoonish, whereas in comic book art they exist on the same plane as the rest their environment. No need to add or polish them during post-production.

Animation? Maybe, but animation wouldn’t be able to match writer Tom King’s effective use of caption narration. Issue #5 juxtaposes an officer interrogating Vision and a list of the 37 times the Vision has saved the world—something that would be extraordinarily difficult to pull off on the screen or in a novel.

This comic is something different and special, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.

Writer: Tom King

Artist: Gabriel Hernandez Walta

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in The Vision vol. 1: Little Worse Than a Man (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Justice League of America #171 (1979)

justice_league_of_america_vol_1_171I always loved the “satellite era” of the Justice League of America, particularly when I was first discovering comics as a kid in the early ‘90s. Those late ‘70s/early ‘80s JLA books were always a treat to find in the quarter bins.

Justice League of America #171 is a good example. It begins with a joint meeting of the JLA and Justice Society of America (visiting all the way from the parallel world of Earth-2), and it ends by kicking off a locked-room murder mystery aboard the satellite HQ.

It’s harder to recommend for adults (other than for nostalgic reasons), but it shows what makes these classic JLA stories great for kids. These superheroes are adults and consummate professionals, and they respect and trust each other enough to freely share their secret identities. After the meeting, writer Gerry Conway takes time to show the two teams simply enjoying each other’s company, like a bunch of firefighters hanging out in the fire hall between calls, having forged close bonds in the course of their dangerous work. But when disaster strikes, they drop everything and leap into action.

If you’ve got kids interested in superheroes, show them old Justice League of America books from circa 1980. You’ll be giving them terrific role models.

Writer: Gerry Conway

Artists: Dick Dillan and Frank McLaughlin

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 8 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Uncanny X-Men #183 (1984)

uncanny-x-men-183One of the nice things about comics—if a character acts like a total jerk, someone like the Juggernaut comes along to beat him senseless.

Uncanny X-Men #183 expertly blends soap opera and comic book sensibilities into a memorable outing. Colossus breaks Kitty Pryde’s heart (though seriously, that was a creepy relationship—he was 19 and she was 14…creepy), so Wolverine takes him out to a bar to chat man-to-man (with Nightcrawler tagging along/chaperoning). And by sheer random happenstance, the Juggernaut is there and Colossus bumps into him. Barfight ensues.

A nice touch on writer Chris Claremont’s part is having Wolverine decide to keep himself and Nightcrawler out of the battle—let Colossus endure the punishment he deserves for his heartlessness and maybe learn a lesson in the process.

It’s a classic issue, and the sort the X-Men excel at. Not every battle is about good vs. evil.

Writer: Chris Claremont

Artist: John Romita, Jr.

Inker: Dan Green

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Essential X-Men vol. 5 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up