Monthly Archives: February 2017

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

Today’s Super Comic — All-New, All-Different Avengers #13 (2016)

This was an interesting way to tie into the Civil War II crossover. The larger storyline centers on a debate about using precognitive powers to prevent crime and disasters before they happen. All-New, All-Different Avengers #13 spins that off into a time-travel tangent.

The issue stars only one Avenger, the Vision, and the script reads like it could’ve been part of his solo series, putting us firmly in the artificial man’s logical brain as he works through a moral conundrum.

One of the Avengers’ greatest enemies, Kang, comes from the future. Whenever he strikes, he has the advantage of history on his side, thereby imperiling not only the Avengers, but also the entire world and future generations. So, Vision wonders, why not use time-travel against the time-traveler? Why not locate Kang as a baby and remove a tyrant from history? What’s one innocent life vs. millions?

The dilemma isn’t original by any means, but it’s a reliable one and it suits the Vision’s character. And it’s not resolved in this issue, so I’ll be curious to see how it plays out.

Writer: Mark Waid

Artist: Adam Kubert

Cover: Alex Ross

Publisher: Marvel Comics

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

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Green Lanterns #1-6 (2016)

Another winner for DC Rebirth. This new Green Lantern title truly is new—its Green Lanterns plural, and it stars a pair of rookies, Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz, who are forced to work together to protect the Earth while primary GL Hal Jordan is off in deep space.

It’s basically the superhero equivalent of The Odd Couple, and there’s a reason such pairings work so well from the entertainment standpoint. Forget about opposites attracting—what they really do is emphasize each other’s strengths and flaws. As the book explicitly states (unnecessarily), Simon is all impulse and Jessica is all anxiety.

A hotheaded superhero is nothing new, but one who’s fighting to overcome crippling anxiety is a lot less common. It gives her a compelling internal struggle, as she must prove to herself that she’s worthy of being a Green Lantern. It also ties in neatly with the basic premise—Green Lanterns are chosen based on their ability to overcome great fear, and Jessica is actively trying to put her tremendous fear behind her. Both characters are strong protagonists, but she injects a new kind of energy into the GL universe.

I’m glad DC books are becoming enjoyable again. My wallet is less glad.

Writer: Sam Humphries

Artists: Robson Rocha & various

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Green Lanterns vol. 1: Rage Planet (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comics — The Flash #1-8 (2016)

DC Rebirth is two for two so far. Green Arrow recently won me over, and now The Flash has, too.

The series is more fun than it’s been in years, and the characterization of Barry Allen is spot-on. He’s a positive superhero who enjoys what he does, and his biggest source of angst is that he can’t be in two places at once, thereby limiting the good he can do. He’s a total good-guy square who prefers justice over vengeance, and that’s exactly right for the character.

He also gets to try out a new role in the series’ opening storyline—teacher. Dozens of Central City residents mysteriously acquire super-speed, and the Flash is best suited to show them the ropes of life in the fast lane.

Of course, one of these new speedsters takes a villainous turn, which initially seems repetitive. Whether the Flash has been Barry Allen or Wally West, the franchise has already had an abundance of super-fast villains. But this new one, Godspeed, distinguishes himself by having a personal connection to Barry and a belief that he’s doing the right thing. While a purely evil, mustache-twirling villain can be bring a campy sort of fun to the proceedings, it’s always the not-evil antagonists who are the most interesting. Good people are capable of doing bad things, too.

The book also gets it right with the supporting cast, namely a new Kid Flash who’s sort of like the old Kid Flash, an Iris West who’s a friend first and romantic interest second, and a new romantic interest who also happens to have super-speed.

I’ve missed enjoying new Flash comics.

Writer: Joshua Williamson

Artists: Carmine Di Giandomenico & various

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in The Flash vol. 1: Lightning Strikes Twice (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Spirit #2 (2007)

Will Eisner was a true pioneer of the comic book medium, and his series The Spirit pushed the boundaries of comic book storytelling, adding to the possibilities of what a panel (or page of panels) can do.

Sadly, I don’t own any Eisner books. I’ve read some, thanks to the local library system, and I remember being impressed. But since I have no examples at the ready for review purposes, I’ll go with the next best thing…

DC Comics acquired the rights to the Spirit at some point and launched a new series written and drawn by the great Darwyn Cooke, perhaps the most fitting successor to carry on the character. Cooke really captured the, er … (dammit, the perils of quickly writing a review a day…) captured the spirit of an Eisner book (I’m hanging my head in shame).

Basically, the Spirit is a masked vigilante crimefighter who operates with the cooperation of the police commissioner (and dates his daughter). He used to be a detective, until he was killed (or maybe “killed” – I don’t recall the exact origin), and he came back as the anonymous Spirit. The stories range from lighthearted action to darker noir.

In #2 of Cooke’s series, we see a mix of that range, a sort of “lighter side of noir.” Recurring femme fatale P’Gell strikes again, with her usual modus operandi of marrying wealthy men and then killing them and stealing their fortunes. Cooke adds details to her backstory, giving her a bit more depth with a first marriage that was legit but ended tragically.

There’s plenty of humor along the way, though. For example, the Spirit poses as a blind man to gain entry into a shindig…and then the guards, while beating him up, call him out on that very not-PC act.

The most direct tribute to Eisner each issue appears in the opening splash panel, a two-page spread featuring an inventive layout with some symbolism. In the case of #2, we see a large image of P’Gell lounging across the pages, dangling a tiny Spirit toy. It says much about her in a primarily visual manner.

So, sorry I don’t have an actual Eisner Spirit comic to share, but the Cooke Spirit comics are worth a look, too.

(And just pretend the movie doesn’t exist. What movie? Exactly.)

Writer/Penciler: Darwyn Cooke

Inker: J. Bone

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; included in The Spirit, Vol. 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Solo #1 (2004)

Anthology series are a tough sell. It’s much easier to get invested in ongoing sagas than short stories (and comic book short stories are super-short). I’m plenty guilty of overlooking them, even knowing full well the gems that may be hidden within.

But I actually did pick up one anthology book when it was new—the first issue of DC Comics’ Solo. The series was designed to spotlight the talents of renowned comics artists, and each issue “starred” a single such artist. Tim Sale headlined issue #1, joined by writers Darwyn Cooke, Diana Schutz, Jeph Loeb, and Brian Azzarello (and Sale did some of the writing himself).

The issue’s stories span genres, from superhero to noir to ordinary slice-of-life, but they’re all love stories in their own way. Catwoman takes Batman on a “date” by having him chase her across Gotham, though she’s actually chasing him. Supergirl recalls her first love. Martha Kent narrates a story about Clark trying to be a good person on his prom night. A hitman remembers a dead lover and his current loneliness. And so on.

Throughout the book, Sale demonstrates the range of his talents, bringing kinetic energy to Catwoman and Batman’s “dance” across the city, innocence and sadness to Supergirl, quiet grandeur to a young Clark Kent, pervasive bleakness to a hitman, and more.

“Solo” may be a misnomer, given all the talent helping out. Name aside, though, it’s a solid anthology that allows you to appreciate not only the storytelling possibilities of the artist, but of the comic book medium in general.

Of course, foolish me, I never picked up another issue, and DC cancelled it after #12. (Clearly it’s all my fault…or DC’s for setting the price tag at $4.95. Probably the latter.)

Writers: Darwyn Cooke, Diana Schutz, Jeph Loeb, and Brian Azzarello

Artist: Tim Sale

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Solo: The Deluxe Edition (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Starman #65 (2000)

Stephen King isn’t the only writer to trap a bunch of people under a dome. James Robinson did it several years earlier in Starman…although this impenetrable dome is pitch black rather than transparent.

The Shade has seemingly reverted to his old evil ways, imperiling everyone within Opal City. Several other villains are working for him, and other superheroes are also trapped within the city. The Elongated Man gets a nice scene that emphasizes the two most important aspects of his character—his detective skills and his loving relationship with his wife Sue.

The story’s most important superhero, obviously, is the current Starman, Jack Knight. From the beginning, the series has made it clear how tremendously important Opal City is to Jack, and now he must fight overwhelming odds to save it…against someone he thought was a friend.

Robinson has set quite a few pieces into place, and the stakes are escalating nicely as we head toward the series’ final year.

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 Comics — Superman #423 & Action Comics #583 (1986)

There’s no such thing as a final Superman story.

But Superman #423 and Action Comics #584 pretended there was, and it’s a fitting conclusion to the never-ending battle.

DC Comics was saying good-bye to its Silver Age continuity and rebooting Superman for the modern era, but they gave the old-school Man of Steel one last hurrah in a two-parter called “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” The story featured top talent that bridged the gap between eras: writer Alan Moore, who had been bringing a new maturity to the medium, and classic Superman artist Curt Swan.

A sense of foreboding permeates these issues. Old foes are returning more dangerous than ever, with former pests turning into killers while the worst of the worst are waiting in the wings. An unknown menace is striking at Superman through his friends, so he gathers them in the Fortress of Solitude—Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Lana Lang, and Perry White and wife Alice…the whole classic gang. Even Krypto the Super-Dog returns after a long absence.

In the story’s most touching scene, Superman unexpectedly comes face-to-face with his dead cousin. The Legion of Superheroes visits from the 30th century (which Superman and Supergirl were frequent visitors to), and they bring along a very young, very optimistic Supergirl who has no idea how short her life is going to be. It’s both sad and ominous in just a few pages.

But where the book achieves perfection is in the climax. At what point does Superman stop being Superman?

The answer presented here is exactly right.

Writer: Alan Moore

Penciler: Curt Swan

Inkers: George Perez and Kurt Schaffenberger

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up