Today’s Super Comic — Daredevil #26 (2001)

Speaking of “decompressed” comics … the quintessential example when the trend first got going was Daredevil by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev, beginning with issue #26 of the Marvel Knights series.

As a whole, the run is fantastic. It shook up Daredevil’s status quo, and it stands apart as a distinctive era for the character, an era that built on what came before rather than rehashing the classics. Bendis’s snappy dialogue lent an engrossing new voice to the franchise, and Maleev’s gritty, sketchy style suited the world of Hell’s Kitchen perfectly.

But this is also a series that benefits from binge reading and suffers from a pace of 22 pages per month. Since the run is long since finished and compiled into collections, the latter no longer matters, though.

Issue #26 kicks off with a monologue that leads into an attention-grabbing inciting incident. The book cuts to Matt Murdock in court, which serves as a Daredevil primer—if you’ve never read a DD comic, the character’s essential components are covered here, not in any depth, but you get a foundation. And then disaster, during which Bendis foreshadows a major upcoming development without telegraphing it.

And that’s basically the first issue of the run. It takes about two seconds to read (even with monologues), but just enough happens, some basic exposition is knocked out of the way, we see Daredevil’s hyper-senses in action … and it’s all the start of something great.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Alex Maleev

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Daredevil by Brian Michael Bendis Omnibus vol. 1 (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Captain America #33 (2008)

In the past 15+ years or so, comics have embraced longer-form storytelling. Stories are still divided into chapters of 20-22 pages, but there’s been a greater focus on the overarching narratives that build over the course of years. The old rule of “every comic is someone’s first, so make it accessible” is less of a concern (recap pages try to compensate for that, though), and you’re best off starting with #1 or the first issue of a new creative team (which partially explains why companies keep rebooting books back to new issue ones). Television has undergone a similar evolution during the same time.

A common complaint when the “decompressed storytelling” trend first emerged was that you’d sometimes read an issue where it felt like almost nothing happened. The story would read great in trade paperback, but the month-to-month pace suffered…in some cases. Not in the case of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run, which demonstrates the creative benefits of the slow build.

(Some spoilers ahead.)

Brubaker began reintroducing Bucky Barnes back in #1, took his time developing the character, and killed Captain America in #25. And yet, it’s not until #33 that Bucky is even ready to entertain the notion of succeeding his old partner.

By this point, clear motivations are established for everyone involved. The idea comes posthumously from Cap himself, communicated in a letter he arranged to have delivered to Tony Stark upon his death. He asked Stark to save Bucky from himself and to make sure the legacy of Captain America continues. Stark, wracked with guilt about how the whole Civil War debacle went down, feels especially obligated to comply, and he sees only one way to fulfill both objectives—have Bucky become the new Cap. Bucky, out of loyalty and respect, is not going to let anyone else take the job, and he has much to atone for. And Black Widow, who first met Bucky as the brainwashed Winter Soldier, knows he’s not ready to carry the burden, but out of respect and affection for both Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers, she’s there to help.

The full saga is basically like a novel with dynamically laid out artwork. And so far, it’s every bit as amazing as I remember.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Penciler: Steve Epting

Inker: Butch Guice

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Captain America: The Death of Captain America vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Infinity Gauntlet #4 (1991)

Four issues into a six-issue miniseries, the good guys are due for a major setback.

I think everyone dying qualifies.

In an effort to woo Mistress Death, Thanos has already vanquished half the population of the entire universe using the power of the assembled Infinity Gauntlet. He’s achieved godhood, and now he wants love.

In #4, a band of surviving superheroes mounts a major offensive against Thanos while his captive half-brother, former Avenger Starfox, narrates from the sidelines. Mephisto, who’s basically Marvel’s version of the Devil, convinces Thanos to dampen his omniscience to give the heroes a sporting chance—in doing so, Thanos would display courage in battle and could thereby impress Mistress Death, Mephisto reasons.

So the heroes have a minuscule chance of victory against a supremely powerful villain, but they fight anyway. And they fall—and die—one by one, until Captain America is the last man standing against the mad god. Cap has his big hero moment staring down an opponent he has almost no chance of defeating.

It’s an absolutely classic Captain America scene that says a great deal about his character. While Thanos is pretending to be brave to impress someone, Cap is legitimately displaying supreme courage with no ally left to witness it as far as he knows.

And he dies. The good guys fail. And there are two issues left!

As a whole, The Infinity Gauntlet is cosmic-scale comic book storytelling at its finest. A universe in peril, life-and-death struggles, a twisted version of courtship—quite a bit going on here, all of it entertaining.

Writer: Jim Starlin

Artists: Ron Lim and George Perez

Cover: George Perez

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in The Infinity Gauntlet (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Black Widow #6 (2016)

Back in the ‘60s, Black Widow was introduced as an enemy for Iron Man. So it’s fitting that Black Widow #6 puts them at odds once again, as we (and Tony Stark) learn that she once targeted someone very important to him back in her less scrupulous days.

The issue rejects the usual “heroes fight over a misunderstanding” pattern and instead offers twists that are in character for both Natasha and Tony. And it’s not the usual sort of “misunderstanding” in play here—the Widow’s guilty. But there’s more going on than just one painful revelation.

So the story’s great, and I also continue to enjoy writer/artist Chris Samnee’s visuals. He captures exactly the right tone, and the facial expressions bring the scenes to life.

At this point, I think it’s safe to declare this the Black Widow’s strongest solo series to date.

Writers: Chris Samnee and Mark Waid

Artist: Chris Samnee

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Black Widow vol. 1: SHIELD’s Most Wanted (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Iron Man #30 (2000)

So there was that time Y2K caused Iron Man’s armor to become sentient.

Okay, it more like the combination of Tony Stark’s carelessness, his overconfidence, and Y2K. But still. Y2K—enemy of Iron Man!

And it was a great storyline, probably the first great Iron Man story I ever read, almost a decade before the movies revitalized the character. “The Mask in the Iron Man” reaches its conclusion in #30, pitting an armor-less Stark against his own technology come alive. But it’s come alive without any ethics or morality.

The armor brings Stark to a deserted island and gives him a choice—they’ll either join forces or the armor will kill him. When the armor, desperate to be recognized as a true Avenger, flies off to respond to a distress call, Stark must rely on his natural ingenuity and resourcefulness to survive on an island that has not a single machine for him to work with. And we’re reminded why the main appeal of the Iron Man series has always been Tony Stark himself rather than any suit of armor.

Easily the best thing to come out of that whole Y2K scare.

Writer: Joe Quesada

Penciler: Sean Chen

Inker: Rob Hunter

Cover: Joe Quesada

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Iron Man: The Mask in the Iron Man (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Detective Comics #934-940 (2016)

Hey, look—the original numbering is back. Welcome back, triple-digit numbers.

The numbering is old, but the direction is new. Detective Comics becomes a team book beginning with issue #934, with Batman and Batwoman as co-leads. They gather the next generation of Gotham-based crimefighters, seeking to train them to face an oncoming threat.

The recruits are all familiar faces (though I’m more familiar with their pre–New 52 versions): Tim Drake, here as Red Robin instead of just Robin (not sure what the distinction is, other than the very first Robin of olde-timey continuity grew up into Red Robin, but in-story, the “Red” seems a random addition); Cassandra Cain, Orphan (she was the second Batgirl in previous continuity); Stephanie Brown, Spoiler (the third Batgirl in previous continuity); and, quite randomly, a reformed Clayface (it feels like that old Sesame Street game—one of these things just doesn’t belong here; but I like the idea of Batman wanting to help an old foe turn his life around).

It’s a good team, and they face a compelling antagonist. The U.S. military (or at least one rogue contingent within) has decided to duplicate Batman’s techniques, methods, and equipment to create an army of Batmen. If one Batman can accomplish so much good in Gotham, how much good could many Batmen accomplish in military situations across the globe?

I don’t usually care for casting the military as villains, but this turns out to be an exception. There aren’t any mustache-twirling villains here. They have legitimate concerns about national security, and trying to learn from Batman is certainly not a bad idea, but they go way too far, to the point of endangering the innocents they want to protect. To make things more interesting, the colonel in charge of this operation is Batwoman’s father and Batman’s uncle, adding personal dimensions to the conflict.

The team nature of the book humanizes Batman a bit, giving him more opportunities than usual to display genuine emotion—especially after what happens in #940. I’ll be back for the second volume.

This might be the strongest DC Rebirth trade I’ve read yet, and they’ve all been good (so far, though I probably just jinxed it…sorry about that).

Writer: James Tynion IV

Artists: Eddy Barrows and Alvaro Martinez

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Batman: Detective Comics vol. 1: Rise of the Batmen (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Starman #80 (2001)

And that’s the end of James Robinson’s Starman. (Spoilers ahead.)

The series wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was ambitious and distinctive. And it told a complete beginning, middle, and end. This could have been a series of novels as well as comics.

The Jack Knight on the final page of #80 is a much more mature individual than we met back in #0. The biggest indication of maturity is his decision to leave superheroics behind so he can be a father to his children. He passes his cosmic rod on to a worthy successor—Courtney Whitmore, the JSA’s junior member, formerly the Star-Spangled Kid and now Stargirl. (However, while she’s an established JSA character, it would have been nice for her to have more of a role in this series, given that she ends being the official successor to the Starman legacy. But like I said, for all its strengths, it wasn’t a perfect series.)

So in hindsight, it seems the series wasn’t so much about Jack Knight growing into his superhero role—it was about him more generally becoming the man he needed to be. He’s gained a new appreciation and respect for the family he had previously kept at arm’s length, and now he prioritizes his new family. He’s been on quite a journey, and he’s older and wiser for it.

The series is quite an accomplishment—and one I’m glad I finally got around to reading.

Writer: James Robinson

Artist: Peter Snejbjerg

Cover: Tony Harris and Andrew Robinson

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Starman Omnibus vol. 6 (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Starman #72 (2000)

This late in the series, I can’t really review without spoilers, so consider this your warning if you intend to read this series for the first time.

Okay, then in that case…

We get a major development in Starman #72 as the original Starman (Ted Knight) dies a heroic death saving Opal City from his longtime foe, the Mist. His ending is fitting, and it ties back nicely to this series’ first storyline.

What’s most impressive is how before the start of this series, Ted Knight was a nonentity, just another old member of the Justice Society of America. Writer James Robinson built him up into an adventurous scientist, the sort of superhero who lights the darkness rather than casts darkness, one who has retained his heroic edge well into old age even as he’s turned over his Starman identity to his son Jack. In previous issues, flashbacks have colored in his backstory, and he no longer feels like just a part of a lineup. Rather, he’s an integral part of DC’s Golden Age.

In another other important development, Jack Knight meets his infant son. So he becomes a father and loses his father in a single issue. It’s thematically on-the-nose, but appropriate.

Writer: James Robinson

Artist: Peter Snejbjerg

Cover: Andrew Robinson

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Starman Omnibus vol. 6 (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Nightwing #8 (2016)

Bruce Wayne plays the damsel in distress in Nightwing #8, in which we learn some backstory about Dick Grayson’s family as Nightwing confronts his own personal Severus Snape.

It makes perfect sense to mine the Grayson family history for story possibilities. After all, they were nomadic circus performers. There’s bound to be some interesting backstory there. In hindsight, I’m surprised more writers haven’t exploited it.

Raptor, a vigilante who knew Mary Grayson before she was Mary Grayson, captures Bruce and puts him in a death trap for “ruining” Dick with his life of wealth and privilege, and Dick learns new details about his late mother while trying to save his second father. And, without getting into specifics, I appreciate that writer Tim Seeley opts to present Raptor more as a Snape figure than a Darth Vader figure, because the latter would have been far more clichéd and far less compelling at this point.

But as written, Raptor has strong, interesting motivation that makes him a welcome antagonist for Nightwing. He’s the sort of father figure Dick could have had if Batman hadn’t stepped in, and his present intrusion into their lives underscores how Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson have been saving each other’s souls as well as their lives since their partnership began all those years ago.

Another winner for DC Rebirth. It’s been one heck of a second wind for the company.

Writer: Tim Seeley

Artist: Javier Fernandez

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Nightwing vol. 1: Better Than Batman (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comics — X-Men #188-193 (2006)

And now—Rogue’s turn to head an X-Men squad! X-Men #188-193 sets up her unconventional team with her as their unconventional leader, and it was a promising start that regrettably didn’t last long. But during that short span of time, writer Mike Carey and artist Chris Bachalo did some of their best X-work.

Mutants were facing extinction (kind of like now, but this was another time they were facing extinction), so another, long-dormant race of super-powered people arises to supplant both mutants and humans. But that’s not really the interesting part. As is often the case with the X-Men, it’s all about interesting characters bouncing off each other.

Carey handles Rogue’s characterization well. She’s matured quite a bit since desperation first drove her to the X-Men years ago…and since Mystique brought her into the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants before that. Rogue is presented here as a creative thinker who’s comfortable with moral ambiguity, leading to assemble a team that mixes X-Men stalwarts like Iceman and Cannonball with potentially reformed enemies like Mystique and at least one definitely not reformed enemy like Sabretooth.

It’s a natural evolution for the character, and Rogue can certainly carry the top spot. Plus, Carey injects just the right amount of humor throughout to keep things fun. A solid X-book all around.

Writer: Mike Carey

Penciler: Chris Bachalo

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in X-Men: Supernovas (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up