Monthly Archives: June 2016

Technical Difficulties

I just moved into a new home, and Comcast has been…let’s say…challenging.

This means I have no household internet access until Friday evening (or so I’m told), so I’ll have to suspend my daily positive comic book reviews until then. But I will post extra reviews to make up for these lost days so that at least my average remains one review a day for a full year.

Comcast…grrrrrr…

After all this, I will certainly need that daily dose of positivity.

In the meantime, if you’re just tuning in, please catch up on the previous month’s worth of reviews of great comics (or catch up on reading the books themselves!).

Today’s Super Comic — Uncanny X-Men #173 (1983)

Uncanny_X-Men_Vol_1_173Even though it came out the year I was born, this is the issue that got me hooked on X-Men comics, and I hadn’t even realized what a pivotal issue it was.

The 1990s cartoon had already reeled me in, but the first couple of early ‘90s X-Men comics I tried left me cold. Then I came across this issue reprinted in ­X-Men Classic, and it did the trick.

Most of the focus is on Wolverine and Rogue while the rest of the team is incapacitated. Though Rogue had officially joined the team a couple of issues earlier (while Wolverine was away in his own miniseries), the others didn’t readily accept her, on account of the fact that as a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants she had drained the memories and powers out of their friend Carol Danvers (the original Ms. Marvel and current Captain Marvel). Understandable.

But here, Rogue has the opportunity to do something heroic for possibly the first time in her life, for the one person who was treating her with kindness. And the moment Wolverine shows he accepts her as an X-Man should look familiar to anyone who’s seen the first X-Men movie.

Chris Claremont has written many years’ worth of X-Men comics, but this storyline ranks among his best writing. And he’s aided by the clean, dynamic pencil work of Paul Smith.

An X-Men classic indeed.

Writer: Chris Claremont

Artist: Paul Smith

Inker: Bob Wiacek

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; Essential X-Men vol. 4 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Alias #1-28 (2001-04)

alias 1Yeah, I’ll just go ahead and declare the entire Alias series as fantastic. And for non-comic readers, this has nothing to do with the Jennifer Garner television show, but it is the source material for the also-excellent Jessica Jones series on Netflix.

With Jessica Jones, writer Brian Michael Bendis has created one of the most fascinating Marvel characters of all time. Jessica gets more character development in 28 issues than many characters receive over the course of decades.

And while the series would be riveting as just a character study, the plots are great, too. The comic is actually more episodic than the Netflix series while still retaining a strong overall arc. It shows private investigator Jessica Jones working unconventional cases in the dark corners of the Marvel Universe as she tries to distance herself from her traumatic superhero past.

Michael Gaydos’s gritty art style creates the perfect atmosphere for the stories, and for the flashbacks to Jessica’s “Jewel” days, we get another perfect artistic fit—Mark Bagley, bringing a cleaner, brighter style that suits the more innocent days.

The first issue has the distinction of being the first Marvel comic book to employ the F-word, something the Netflix series didn’t even do. I point that out as a warning – THIS BOOK IS NOT FOR CHILDREN. I repeat, do not let your kids anywhere near this one. Dark stuff takes place in these issues.

Not one issue missteps, though. Bendis and Gaydos (and Bagley) demonstrate superb tonal agility throughout, and they deserve credit for an extraordinarily difficult achievement—they created something new and fresh within a decades-old fictional universe.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artists: Michael Gaydos, with flashbacks by Mark Bagley

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Alias and Jessica Jones: Alias trade paperbacks

Appropriate For: ADULTS ONLY!

Today’s Super Comics — The Avengers #19-22 (1999)

Avengers_19_1999I enjoyed the Avengers: Age of Ultron film a great deal, but with all due respect, these four issues by Kurt Busiek and George Perez comprise the greatest Ultron story ever produced.

The Avengers are best when the stakes are huge and personal, and that’s what we get in the “Ultron Unlimited” arc. Ultron is taking another shot at his usual goal of replacing organic life with robotic life. But this time includes some twists. He actually does destroy an entire small country as his opening salvo, which gives tremendous gravity to the proceedings. And he kidnaps his “family” so that he can use their brainwaves to generate unique personalities to animate the robotic life he wants to take over the world.

So…that “family.” Stay with me here… Hank “Ant-Man/Giant Man” Pym created Ultron, so Ultron perceives Pym as his father and the Wasp as his mother. Ultron in turn created the Vision, a “son,” and he based his brain patterns on the then-late, since-resurrected Wonder Man, so Vision and Wonder Man are kind of like brothers. But Wonder Man also has a biological brother—the villainous Grim Reaper. And at some point along the way, the Vision married and later divorced the Scarlet Witch, adding her to this twisted family tree as well.

Only in comic books. Or soap operas. Maybe Game of Thrones.

But roughly 35 years of continuity build-up pays off with these four issues of epic, character-driven action. This story is well worth tracking down.

Writer: Kurt Busiek

Penciler: George Perez

Inker: Al Vey

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; Avengers: Ultron Unlimited (TPB); Avengers Assemble Vol. 2 (TPB, by Busiek)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #25 (1991)

TMNT 25 ArchieTo be honest, I haven’t read this one in at least twenty years, but I will forever be fond of this issue. This was the first comic book I ever read, and it succeeded in hooking me at the age of eight.

At that point, I think I still watched the classic Ninja Turtles cartoon, but my interest in that wouldn’t last much longer. My grandmother gave me this comic among several other treats, and thus I discovered a different and more exciting take on my favorite cartoon characters.

Saturday morning cartoons always had to revert to the status quo after half an hour, or at least by the end of a two-parter. But in this comic book series, the plots and characters could evolve issue by issue without a reset button in sight. Sure, nothing drastic could happen—they weren’t going to kill any of the Turtles or have Splinter turn evil—but April could begin ninja training, they could face foes other than Shredder, and…well, I’m drawing a blank on the specifics.

Twenty-plus years is plenty of time to forget the details, but I remember how it made me feel as a child. I had a whole new world to explore, and I could return to it month after month.

I can’t promise this holds up as a great read or would be worth an adult’s time, but it definitely worked its magic on this kid back in the day.

Writers: Ryan Brown and Dean Clarrain

Penciler: Chris Allan

Inker: Rod Ollerenshaw

Publisher: Archie Comics

How to Read It: back issues

Appropriate For: ages 7 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Flash #102 (1995)

Flash_v.2_102Flash #102 may be just two super-powered dudes fighting each other for an issue, but once in a while, when done right, that kind of thing can provide plenty of good dumb fun. And this is absolutely done right.

The rationale for this extended fight scene is to showcase the Flash’s enhanced powers following the events of the previous storyline. So he’s pitted against Mongul, a powerful alien in Superman’s weight class. That’s an excellent choice on writer Mark Waid’s part, as it allows the Flash to play the underdog while showing just how far he’s come in his development as a superhero.

This kind of all-out action presents an opportunity for the artist to shine, and penciler Oscar Jimenez rises to the occasion with appropriately kinetic panels that keep the brisk story moving along at just the right speed.

It’s not deep stuff, but it sure is fun.

Writer: Mark Waid

Artist: Oscar Jimenez

Inker: Jose Marzan Jr.

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Ultimate Spider-Man Annual #1 (2005)

Ultimate_Spider-Man_Annual_Vol_1_1Spider-Man works best as a teenager. Sure, great stories about an adult Spider-Man are possible and do exist, but the awkward teenage years are a perfect match for the character.

The Marvel Universe Spider-Man had entered his twenties long ago, however, so how could they tell teenage Spidey stories that weren’t flashbacks?

The answer was the Ultimate imprint, which featured rebooted versions of popular characters in a new shared continuity. The line as a whole was a bit of a mixed bag, but Brian Michael Bendis’s take on Spider-Man perfectly captured the spirit of the character while modernizing all the classic elements. And he capitalized on story opportunities that weren’t possible in the established Marvel Universe—such as Spidey and the X-Men’s Kitty Pryde becoming great friends and a potential couple.

And that’s the main idea of this annual—two teenagers trying to connect despite and because of their unconventional situations. Charm abounds. It’s the sort of comic that just puts a smile on your face.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Mark Brooks

Inkers: Jaime Mendoza and Scott Hanna

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; Ultimate Spider-Man vol. 15: Silver Sable (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Madrox #1-5 (2004-05)

Madrox_Vol_1_1Before 2004, if Marvel were to put out a miniseries focused on Madrox the Multiple Man, my first thought would not have been, “Yes, I must buy that!” But Peter David excels at finding approaches to often-overlooked characters that make them incredibly interesting.

Jamie Madrox, longtime bit player among the numerous X-Men titles, can create a seemingly endless number of duplicates of himself. So you could use him as a one-man army, or perhaps kill off one of his duplicates to demonstrate a villain’s power. But David went with a more imaginative take.

If a man can create independent, sentient copies of himself, then those copies can go off and pursue paths the original man would otherwise never have time for, all those “roads not taken.” Those duplicates can then reintegrate with the original, who can benefit from their memories and experiences. Madrox isn’t just the Multiple Man—he’s the multiple-choice man who can almost always select “all of the above.” And of course, “all” doesn’t necessarily mean only good choices.

In this storyline, Madrox is trying his hand at being a private eye, and one who’s as noir as he can manage. He’s not exactly a hardboiled kind fellow, so opportunities for humor abound.

Beginning with this miniseries, David turned Madrox into one of Marvel’s most fascinating characters, mutant or otherwise. This story served as the pilot for a new X-Factor ongoing series, which maintained the superb quality for years. Fantastic stuff.

Writer: Peter David

Artist: Pablo Raimondi

Inker: Drew Hennessy

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; Madrox: Multiple Choice (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Zatanna #1 (2010)

Zatanna 1Zatanna is a fantastic character, and so far, no writer has demonstrated a better handle on what makes her great than Paul Dini.

It’s a shame that Dini’s ongoing Zatanna series didn’t last long, but what exists remains an enjoyable read. In this first issue, he not only begins establishing a supporting cast for her, but he also contrasts her against the dark, disturbing world of magic. She’s the lighthearted professional stage magician giving magic a friendly face, but she also serves as a formidable protector against supernatural threats. She takes her work seriously, but she’s not overly serious as she completes that work.

That’s exactly the right approach. Dark and brooding does not suit Zatanna. She’s the ray of light in the darkness, not the darkness itself.

Given her occupation as an entertainer, Zatanna should be one of the most charismatic and fun superheroes around. Whenever Dini writes her, she often is.

Writer: Paul Dini

Artist: Stephane Roux

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Zatanna: Mistress of Magic (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Astonishing Ant-Man #2 (2015)

Astonishing Ant-Man 2This is shaping up to be a fun series. Ant-Man working private security! (Or trying to.) It’s not exactly a straight superhero book, but it takes full advantage of playing in a world of superheroes and villains. And “playing” is definitely the right word—and definitely the right approach for a character like the Scott Lang Ant-Man. (If someone could pull off a dramatic take on Ant-Man, I’d be pretty darn impressed. Alas, he’s not exactly Marvel’s answer to Hamlet.)

The book is saddled with convoluted continuity as backstory, but writer Nick Spencer uses what he inherited to fuel entertaining story possibilities. The second issue draws on Ant-Man’s time leading the substitute Fantastic Four that served while the real FF were playing Doctor Who not too long ago. He had gotten involved with a teammate, “Ms. Thing” Darla Deering, and the way it ended was not Scott’s finest moment. That history leads to a compelling dynamic for this series.

The Astonishing Ant-Man features a character who is very human and capable of screwing up in huge ways, but he keeps plugging along and trying his best. And once in a while, he might even succeed.

You know, he did beat up Doctor Doom that time.

Writer: Nick Spencer

Artist: Roman Rosanas

Publishers: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; Astonishing Ant-Man vol.1: Everybody Loves Team-Ups (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up