Today’s Super Comic — Nightwing #25 (1998)

Nightwing_Vol_2_25Nightwing and Robin have a nice conversation. But they converse while blindfolded atop a moving train—intentionally. This is how Batman’s boys bond. (For the few of you who might not know, Nightwing is the original Robin, Dick Grayson, all grown up, and this Robin is Tim Drake, the third to carry the name.)

Nightwing #25 is a charming issue that’s not directly part of any larger arc, but it’s possible only because of many years’ worth of accumulated stories. We already know Dick and Tim as Batman’s sidekicks, and we know them as the stars of their own solo series (both of which were launched by the writer of this issue, the always reliable Chuck Dixon). So now it’s fun to just watch these two hang out.

Of course, a “talking heads” issue doesn’t play to the medium’s strengths. They need to be doing something as they chat, and it needs to be visually interesting. So blindfolded on a moving train it is. The gimmick feels exactly like something Batman’s proteges would do for a workout, and Scott McDaniel’s dynamic artwork sells it. Between McDaniel’s fluid layouts and Dixon’s crisp, in-character dialogue, this “talking heads” issue moves.

The entire Dixon/McDaniel run on Nightwing is fun stuff, by the way.

Writer: Chuck Dixon

Penciler: Scott McDaniel

Inker: Karl Story

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Nightwing vol. 3: False Starts (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Extraordinary X-Men #7 (2016)

Extraordinary X-Men 7Once upon a time, this comic’s title might have been X-Traordinary X-Men. Thank goodness we’re not in that time. Well, maybe.

Quite honestly, I haven’t been sure about this series so far. Marvel has decided to make mutants an endangered species for the second time in a decade—I guess that’s what the X-Men get for not being part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But I am sure that Jeff Lemire is a solid writer who knows what he’s doing, and I like the cast he’s using here. So I’ve stuck it out, and issue #7 affirms that decision.

Jean Grey and Storm take an Inception-like journey through Nightcrawler’s mind to figure out what’s traumatized him. Meanwhile, Magik shows a wizard who’s boss. It’s all interesting stuff that teases potentially more interesting stuff.

And artist Victor Ibanez properly exploits the mental landscape for compelling visuals. I particularly enjoyed the upside-down pirate ship.

So yes, I liked it and I’m still on board with this series. But if Marvel would kindly remember that the X-Men work best when they’re fighting intolerance, not extinction, I’d appreciate it.

Writer: Jeff Lemire

Artist: Victor Ibanez

Publisher: Marvel Comics

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

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Adventures of Superman #476 (1991)

Adventures_of_Superman_476Early ‘90s Superman comics probably won’t go down as among the all-time greats, but they sure are reliably fun.

The Adventures of Superman #476 kicks off a time-traveling epic called “Time and Time Again.” Superman has just recently revealed his secret identity to Lois Lane (they’re engaged at this point), and as they’re adjusting to this new dynamic in their relationship, special guest star Booster Gold literally drops out of the sky. Time for both Supes and Lois to get to work.

In trying to help out his colleague, Superman winds up flung through time, and his first stop brings him to additional guest stars who are always nice to see.

Time-travel is a useful device for pulling Superman out of his usual element, and it allows him to embark on an archetypal “hero must find his way home” story, which generally is a bit harder to facilitate with a flying, super-fast protagonist.

A good time for Superman fans young and old.

Writer/Penciler: Dan Jurgens

Inker: Brett Breeding

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Superman: Time and Time Again (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Runaways #1 (2003)

Runaways 1So Runaways is about to become a Hulu series. I’m okay with that.

With so many well-established and well-loved Marvel superheroes already in circulation by the 1970s, introducing a new property in 2003 could not have been easy, but writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Adrian Alphona succeeded with a concept that pays its respects to all the various segments of the Marvel Universe.

Six youths from vastly different backgrounds discover their parents are secretly a cabal of super-villains, so they, well, run away and attempt to thwart their evil plans, learning about their own various abilities as they do so. Mutants, magic, (mad) science, outer space, and more are represented. One’s a sorceress, for example, while another has an alien heritage. It’s a fantastic premise that could work well in multiple mediums.

The first issue does an efficient job introducing the bare-bones basics of these six families, which is a pretty daunting task for one regular-sized comic. But Vaughan gets it right. All showing, no chunks of boring exposition, and we get just enough information to think, okay, I could maybe consider following the adventures of these kids. And then the final pages give us the big reveal and a compelling cliffhanger, and we simply must read #2. Exactly what a first issue needs to do.

Now I want to reread the whole series.

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Penciler: Adrian Alphona

Inker: David Newbold

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Runaways vol. 1: Pride & Joy (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Silver Surfer #2 (2016)

Silver Surfer 2This series keeps reminding me of Doctor Who.

There’s of course the focus on the alien protagonist’s human companion. And in #2, the current companion, Dawn Greenwood, meets the Silver Surfer’s original human companion, Alicia Masters, which calls to mind the “School Reunion” episode of modern Doctor Who. We also see a restless Surfer passing time on Earth when he would rather be out exploring, kind of like DW’s “Power of Three” or, to a lesser extent, “The Lodger.” And then there’s the Surfer attempting to visit his old allies, the Fantastic Four and Avengers, only to find both parties have moved while he’s been away far too long, which basically feels like the TARDIS screwing up the Doctor’s arrival time.

It’s a good fit for the Surfer, and it’s never anywhere close to a blatant copy. Writer Dan Slott maintains a distinctive fun, lighthearted tone that makes for an enjoyable read, and Mike Allred’s clean, dynamic art is always a treat.

And the issue ends with an effective cliffhanger. I guess I’ll be back for more.

Writer: Dan Slott

Artist: Mike Allred

Publisher: Marvel Comics

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

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Doom Patrol #87 (1964)

Doom_Patrol_Vol_1_87Not many 1960s comics hold up well by today’s standards, which is to be expected. Comics were intended as disposable entertainment for children, nothing more. There are some exceptions, a handful of titles that retain a distinctive goofy charm if you approach them with the right mindset. Most of these are Marvel books, but DC had at least one that stands out among its old-school stable of conventional, stalwart superheroes—the Doom Patrol.

The Doom Patrol was a band of heroic freaks who fought evil freaks. (And they still are and still do. DC keeps bringing them back in various permutations, but they never quite catch on for the long term.) The original lineup consisted of Robotman, a man whose brain was trapped in a robotic body; Negative Man, a radioactive man forced to hide under special bandages but who could unleash a “negative form” for a minute at a time; and Elasti-Girl, a size-changing former movie star…who retained her movie star looks at any size. (Okay, so Elasti-Girl wasn’t any more freakish than any other superhero, although she did have to put up with a lot of “Look! A giant girl! Have you ever seen a girl so huge? Look at that enormous girl!” That had to get old.) And they were assembled by a Professor X–like scientist they called the Chief.

Along the way, they acquired a collection of odd, cartoony enemies, such as a brain that had a talking gorilla for an assistant, and the adventures were pretty wild. Though, yeah, you read a few and you get the point. But you have to admire the imagination on display.

The story that most perfectly captures the series’ offbeat tone is actually a back-up tale in #87. The Chief sends Robotman to a booby-trapped island to catch an escaped killer. As Robotman makes his way through the gauntlet, he literally loses pieces of himself until—just like a certain Monty Python knight—he’s just a head and torso. But unlike that knight, even half a Robotman proves pretty formidable.

It’s a great little short story that feels nothing like a typical ‘60s DC book.

I’d love to see a modern Doom Patrol that realizes the concept’s full potential. (And of course, I certainly wouldn’t mind doing it myself. I stand at the ready, DC!)

Writer: Arnold Drake

Artist: Bruno Premiani

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; included in Showcase Presents: The Doom Patrol vol. 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

A “Terrific” task indeed

I’m still working on Terrific, my superhero novel and first true novel (as opposed to series of novellas and novelettes). I’ve already written it twice, and now version three is under way. The first version wound up being an ongoing comic book series in novel form. The second version wound up being a movie in novel form. Now to write a novel in novel form.

Technically, I started this project in January 2015, right as I published Earths in Space vol. 2, but it also dates back to college, 2003 specifically, when I wrote a play called Super! It was workshopped at William & Mary and also appeared in a small Chicago theater a few years later. The main theme was escapism—adulthood is hard, so how do we hide from it? Into what can we disappear, and how unhealthy is that disappearance?

An old postcard for the play. Dates are 2008.

An old postcard for the play. Dates are 2008.

It was partially a superhero deconstruction, though I wrote a sequel that was more of a superhero reconstruction (also workshopped at W&M, though never professionally staged—probably for the best). I re-envisioned that reconstruction in a television pilot I wrote. Called Selfless, it was a set a year after the end of the play, using it as backstory but obviously needing to stand on its own. It was basically about a young woman who felt compelled to keep helping other people rather than do the hard work of sorting out her own life, but helping others winds up helping her, too.

I had fun mapping out a season of episodes that told individual stories that built on each other (kind of like Earths in Space and RIP). But it would’ve been a hard sell, and I realized building a television career wasn’t the right path for me. So I set the superheroes aside and put my comic book sensibilities to work in Earths in Space’s sci-fi adventures. Continue reading

Today’s Super Comic — The Amazing Spider-Man #262 (1985)

Amazing_Spider-Man_Vol_1_262Well, of all the darn luck. Spidey’s just going about his usual routine of switching back to his civilian clothes in an airport closet, and in walks the most unethical photographer ever…with his camera ready. And of course the guy slips away because Spider-Man prioritizes helping people in need over catching the man who’s carrying negatives of Peter Parker’s face.

It’s a great Spider-Man scenario, and it plays out in a single issue. I’m not sure why the cover calls this a “Special Issue,” but it’s good stuff throughout, featuring a consistently in-character Spider-Man who needs to figure out how far he’s willing to go to preserve his secret identity.

With a solid script and pencils by Bob Layton, The Amazing Spider-Man #262 is classic ‘80s Spidey done right. And the cover is a nice change of pace, too.

Writer/Artist: Bob Layton

Publisher: Marvel Comics

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

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Great Zombies in History #1 (2011)

Great Zombies 1Full disclosure—I’m a little biased with this one. My uncle, Joe Sergi, contributed to this project, but he didn’t write anything in this particular issue. In any case, it’s Great Zombies in History. The concept is objectively great.

The zombie subgenre isn’t the most versatile one. Slothful, rotting, cannibalistic dead people pose a credible threat only in large and growing numbers. They’re apocalypse fodder, basically. So they’ve appeared most frequently in end-of-civilization scenarios. How to shake things up? Go back in time. Pepper them throughout history.

It’s a superb premise for an anthology book. It allows up-and-coming creators a chance to show their skills in the historical setting of their choice, and readers get a variety of short stories that are historically accurate except for the inclusion of zombies. It’s like you get to travel in the TARDIS, but it’s fixated on zombies for some weird reason.

Premise aside, is the execution fun? Of course.

The first issue features three stories, and they inject zombies into Feudal Japan, the Battle of Thermopylae, and Jack the Ripper, respectively. Each writer/artist team latches onto the zombie concept in their own unique way, so you never know quite what you’re going to get as you turn the pages…other than zombies and history, of course.

The original issues were independently produced, but McFarland published the trade paperback collection. It’s well worth tracking down for a fresh take on rotting animated corpses. But again, I’m biased, so you’ll just have to check it out for yourself.

Writers: Eric Drumm, Rob Anderson, Joshua Osborne

Artists: Leandro Panganiban, DaFu Yu, Randy Valiente

Publisher: Elevator Pitch Press (TPB publisher: McFarland)

How to Read It: back issues; included in Great Zombies in History (TPB)

Appropriate For: ADULTS ONLY

Today’s Super Comics — Age of Ultron #1-10 (2013)

Age_of_Ultron_Vol_1_1I finally got around to reading the miniseries from which the last Avengers movie took its name, and yeah, other than the title and threat of Ultron, not much in the way of similarities.

Age of Ultron the comic begins as a post-apocalyptic tale featuring several Marvel superheroes striving to do whatever they can for a world that’s already ended. And it shifts gears into a time-travel adventure starring the odd-couple pairing of Wolverine and the Invisible Woman (a brilliant pairing, as they’re total opposites in so many ways—shame there wasn’t more time to spend with them). And it somehow winds up being a story about the importance of one deeply flawed man—Ultron’s creator, Hank Pym.

And even with the time-travel shenanigans and the inevitable reset to undo the apocalypse, events have consequences for the present-day Marvel Universe.

It’s not the movie, but it does feel like a big-budget superhero film in comic book form, with lots of favorite characters (and alternate versions of such) each getting time to shine. Nowhere near perfect, like the movie, but it’s lots of fun regardless, also like the movie. (So maybe there are more similarities.)

Different artists contributed over the course of the series, but the differences in their styles feel appropriate, never jarring. Bryan Hitch sets the tone in the first half—the man draws a great apocalypse. And, of course, Brian Michael Bendis wrote the entire series, and at this point I’m convinced he’s a comic book savant.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artists: Bryan Hitch, Brandon Peterson, Carlos Pacheco

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; Age of Ultron (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up