Monthly Archives: November 2016

Today’s Super Comic — Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight #16 (2008)

buffy-season-eight-16All Buffy comic books will pale in comparison to the TV show—my favorite show of all time. But that doesn’t mean the comics can’t be fun in their own right.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight continues where the TV show left off, and it continues with storylines and plot elements that would have looked stupidly ridiculous on live-action television, such as a giant Dawn early in the series and a flying Buffy later on. This is Buffy without the budgetary restrictions, but it works just fine in comic book form because the characters all sound like themselves and act true to form under the guidance of series creator Joss Whedon. And artist Karl Moline does a superb job translating the actors into cartoons.

One of the stronger storylines begins in #16, and it benefits from reintroducing us to characters and a setting created specifically for comic books.

Buffy time-travels to the future and meets Fray, who was the protagonist of Whedon’s spinoff miniseries of the same name. With this being only part one, we just get a taste of how these two leading ladies will interact, and it’s already spot-on.

This series isn’t an essential continuation of the TV show, but it scratches the itch for us diehard fans. (Though I still haven’t gotten around to reading Season Nine. One of these days.)

Writer: Joss Whedon

Penciler: Karl Moline

Inker: Andy Owens

Cover: Jo Chen

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Buffy the Vampire Slayer vol. 4: Time of Your Life (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Marvel Adventures: The Avengers #13 (2007)

marvel-adventures-avengers-13I’m always happy to see when the major comic book publishers remember that children might want to read comics, too. About a decade ago, Marvel launched its all-ages Marvel Adventures line with that thought in mind. These stories were set outside Marvel’s main (and increasingly convoluted) continuity. They were simpler, cleaner, and more accessible to anyone of any age picking up any random issue.

These Avengers were some of the company’s most recognizable characters—Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Hulk, and even Storm and Wolverine from the X-Men. And they stuck closely to their original molds. No major reinterpretations here, just faithful adherence to each character’s core essence. With one big exception.

In Marvel Adventures, Janet Van Dyne did not become the incredible shrinking Wasp. She instead grew into the role of Giant-Girl, which was a very smart decision on Marvel’s part.

Issue #13 reveals Giant-Girl’s origin, and does so with good humor and nice inversions of classic tropes. No dark past or death of a loved one motivates Janet to help others. Rather, the fact that helping others is the right thing to do motivates her. And when Dr. Henry Pym presents her with size-changing technology and suggests shrinking to insect-size, she discovers a more practical application.

So we’ve got a great role model in a story that’s good, clean fun. There’s not much for adults, but it’s a comic you can give your kids without reservation.

Writer: Jeff Parker

Penciler: Leonard Kirk

Inker: Terry Pallot

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; included in Marvel Adventures: The Avengers vol. 4: The Dream Team (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 7 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Plastic Man #8-9 (2004)

plastic_man_vol_4_8Plastic Man is an utterly ridiculous character. Any comic about him should be likewise. And that’s exactly what cartoonist Kyle Baker delivered in his Plastic Man series.

I call Baker a cartoonist rather than writer/artist because this book is pure cartoon, full of farce, visual gags, a total lack of realism, and in the case of #8 and #9, some amusing commentary on comic book continuity.

Specifically, Plastic Man’s ex-wife and illegitimate son show up—and Plas has no recollection of them. But they were indeed part of established continuity. See, for a few years before this, Plastic Man chiefly served as the comic-relief character in JLA, but along came an ill-advised plotline that cast him in the role of a deadbeat dad (even good series seldom bat a thousand). So Baker addresses it here with wacky time-travel shenanigans…and poking lots of fun:

“I risk my life daily for the good of humanity, I’ve battled armies of space aliens to save the earth! Are you telling me I wouldn’t take care of my own child if I had one? That doesn’t make any sense!”

“I don’t know, Dad. I think it makes you complex.”

“Only if by complex you mean ‘multiple personality disorder.’”

Naturally, this all leads to Plastic Man and his associates trying to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.

Utterly ridiculous…in exactly the right way.

Cartoonist: Kyle Baker

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Plastic Man vol. 2: Rubber Bandits (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Doctor Strange #1 (1974)

doctor-strange-1Doctor Strange the movie was excellent, but admittedly I haven’t read much of his solo comic book adventures. Thanks to the magic of Marvel Unlimited, I can rectify that.

Marvel has attempted a Doctor Strange series multiple times since the character debuted in the ‘60s, and perhaps the longest-running series was the one that began in 1974. Steve Englehart wrote the earliest issues, and his presence is always a good sign—he was one of the strongest comic writers in the ‘70s, and his work on Doctor Strange #1 is every bit as solid as I expected. I’m less familiar with artist Frank Brunner, but his fluid style, with lots a wispy lines and dark undercurrents, captures exactly the right feel for Marvel’s premier sorcerer.

Englehart wisely avoids rehashing the origin story that’s already been told. Instead, the series kicks off with an assassination attempt on Doctor Strange in his own home, the capture of his apprentice/girlfriend Clea, and his absorption into a mystical orb, where he meets a twisted version of literature’s most famous caterpillar.

It’s all an intriguing start, and I might need to keep reading.

Writer: Steve Englehart

Artist: Frank Brunner

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; Essential Doctor Strange vol. 3 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Superman: Secret Identity #1-4 (2004)

superman-secret-identity-1“Real-world” takes on superheroes come with substantial risk—extracting all the wonder and escapist fun right out of the story. But when done properly, as in Superman: Secret Identity, the opposite occurs, and it’s like we’re reading about a flying man for the first time…because in the world of this story, it’s unprecedented.

The miniseries takes place in a world just like ours, one in which Superman is nothing more than a fictional character. The protagonist has the misfortune of being named Clark Kent, and boy, does he never hear the end of it. Then one night, for no apparent reason, he suddenly has all of Superman’s powers. Now…what to do with them?

Writer Kurt Busiek is a master of grounded superhero stories that feel all the more magical because of their earthy roots. Similarly, artist Stuart Immonen displays a rough-hewn style that looks relatively “normal” and down-to-earth, which only serves to heighten the grandeur when Clark takes to the sky or performs some other extraordinary feat.

The story feels like it’s occurring in our world, and its characters look and sound like people who would fit right in with life as we know it. There’s just one super-powered person added to it.

Writer: Kurt Busiek

Artist: Stuart Immonen

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Superman: Secret Identity (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Damage Control #1 (1989)

damage-control-vol-1-1-1989It’s good not to take yourself too seriously, and Marvel certainly doesn’t in Damage Control, the miniseries that answers the question, “Hey, who cleans up after those big epic super-battles?”

That would be Damage Control, of course. They’re basically like a Public Works crew coming in after a severe storm to clear debris and get the roads back in working order—only it’s a private company, they come in after the Avengers and the like save the day, they have a lost-and-found full of rather distinctive items, and every so often one of their employees randomly acquires super-powers.

In the first issue, the Avengers and Spider-Man topple a skyscraper-sized robot in NYC, and now its inert body is just sprawled out across the city, lying atop and between buildings and impeding the flow of traffic. So Damage Control must figure out how to get rid of it. And poor Spider-Man is trapped in the robot’s head, so they’ve also got to figure out how to get him free. Just a day in the life…if you live in Marvel’s New York.

The writer/co-creator is the late, great Dwayne McDuffie, who went on to write for the excellent Justice League cartoon, so I’m not surprised that this is good fun.

Excellent concept, highly amusing execution.

Writer: Dwayne McDuffie

Penciler: Ernie Colon

Inker: Bob Wiacek

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Damage Control: The Complete Collection (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Vision #7 (2016)

vision-7The Vision takes a break from the present by delving into his past—specifically, his romance with the Scarlet Witch.

Their history is long, convoluted, and messy (it includes imaginary children, for example). But writer Tom King condenses it into the most relevant points, showing us the general shape of the relationship’s rise and fall through a handful of meaningful moments, including some directly inspired by past Avengers comics (including one I reviewed over the summer).

But this comic isn’t rehashing the past for nostalgic reasons; the past informs the present. The life Vision strove for with the Scarlet Witch is pretty much what he’s trying to accomplish with his current artificial family. Things didn’t work out with Wanda, so Vision’s analytical mind learned from the experience and attempted to correct the variables that proved unworkable.

And it all comes together in a final page that’s either incredibly creepy or kind of touching. I’m leaning toward creepy, and I’ll definitely keep reading.

Writer: Tom King

Penciler: Michael Walsh

Cover: Michael Del Mundo

Publisher: Marvel Comics

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

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Supergirl #23 (1998)

supergirl_vol_4_23As I continued reading through Peter David’s Supergirl series, I came across an issue that’s probably not universally adored.

David has never been shy about tackling controversial topics from time to time, and he does so in Supergirl #23, which makes the case that freedom of speech applies even to abhorrent speech.

A college has scheduled a speaker who holds blatantly racist views and justifies them through his academic research, so the students protest and demand the event be cancelled. Even special superhero guest star Steel shows up and endorses the students’ position, proclaiming in practically the same breath that he believes in the First Amendment but feels it is not absolute.

So Supergirl has to make a decision, and whatever she does, it’s going to be incredibly uncomfortable for her.

It’s tough to pull off a comic that tackles delicate subjects, but David succeeds by putting good people on both sides of the speech issue while making it clear no one supports the bigoted views (other than the one bigot himself). Plus, action and character development help minimize the preaching.

The comic entertains and makes you think a bit. Always a winning combination. And you don’t even have to agree with David’s stance on speech—you’re free to express your own position on the matter.

Writer: Peter David

Penciler: Leonard Kirk

Inker: Robin Riggs

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Gotham Central #6 (2003)

gotham_central_vol_1_6I’m not a fan of police procedurals. But a police procedural set in Batman’s world? That breaks up the formula nicely.

Gotham Central focuses on the Gotham City Police Department’s Major Crimes Unit, during a time when Commissioner Gordon had retired. This GCPD isn’t necessarily Batman’s friend. Nevertheless, these ordinary but highly competent officers share his mission of stopping crime, especially the most colorful, eccentric crime that frequently plagues Gotham.

Writers Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka juggle a sizable cast over the 40-issue run of this consistently excellent series, and several come into sharp focus, particularly Detective Renee Montoya, the protagonist of the second storyline, “Half a Life.”

Rucka takes the writing helm for this arc, which begins in #6, and he clearly sets up Montoya’s status quo in this first part—her relationship with her parents, her typical interactions with her co-workers, her skill at her job, and her impending legal troubles. Then he blows it up on the last page, when a very private part of her life is unexpectedly made public. And this sets into motion what may well be the strongest storyline of the series…which is saying a lot.

Michael Lark brings exactly the right artistic style to the book. It’s down to earth, and not one character possesses a cartoonish physique. People look like people, and each face is distinct.

Gotham Central is a comic for adults…even those of us who lack any interest in cop shows.

Writer: Greg Rucka

Artist: Michael Lark

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Gotham Central vol. 2: Half a Life (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 15 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Green Lantern #101-106 & Green Arrow #136 (1998)

green_lantern_vol_3_101Nearly fifteen years before X-Men brought its Silver Age versions into the much darker present, Green Lantern did the same. But not for an ongoing series, just a mere seven issues.

Following the events of the anniversary issue team-up in Green Lantern #100, a young Hal Jordan finds himself stranded ten years into his future, which was DC’s present. He learns his home city has been destroyed, he’s destined to become a villain and eventually die, and some fellow JLA teammates are dead. Kind of a lot to take in.

It’s a fascinating situation to put a superhero in. And it’s far more compelling to bring a character from the past to the present, rather than from the present to a possible future. The past and present are already established and fleshed out over years’ worth of stories, whereas we’re less familiar with a newly introduced future scenario that might never come to pass anyway.

The real treat, though, particularly when I read it in 1998, was seeing Hal Jordan back in action as a heroic Green Lantern at a time when he was out of the picture. I would’ve been okay with him sticking around longer. This storyline could have lasted a full year without feeling forced, and it would have given us more time to see Hal reconnect more with old friends and deal with more modern threats (this was shortly before the trend of decompressed storytelling in comics).

We at least get a nice little team-up with the then-current Green Arrow (Connor Hawke, as Oliver Queen was also dead then), as well as a battle between young Hal and older, well-intentioned villainous Hal (calling himself Parallax).

Though I would have enjoyed more, these seven issues remain a fun time on their own.

Writer: Ron Marz (Green Arrow issue: Chuck Dixon)

Pencilers: Jeff Johnson, Scott Eaton, Paul Pelletier (GA issue: Dougie Braithwaite)

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Green Lantern: Emerald Knights (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up