Monthly Archives: April 2017

Today’s Super Comic — Black Widow #6 (2014)

I had somehow overlooked the previous Black Widow series, which ran for twenty issues from 2014 to 2015. Rectifying that now.

The focus is on what Natasha does when she’s not being an Avenger. She chooses to use her time and skills to atone for her past. The book is primarily a spy thriller, and it keeps the character of its protagonist at the forefront.

Writer Nathan Edmonson portrays Natasha as someone who is most comfortable gathering intelligence and would rather not engage anyone directly—but if she needs to, she’ll jump into the fray. Issue #6 observes how lonely a spy’s life is, how difficult it is to let anyone in.

It’s a compelling take on the Black Widow. Her motivation is strong. Her flaws and strengths affect her actions. And there’s plenty of excitement along the way, as well as ongoing plot threads that build and make each issue stronger than the previous.

There’s even a fun little cameo in #6 that ties into the issue’s theme of loneliness. Very well done.

Writer: Nathan Edmonson

Artist: Phil Noto

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Black Widow vol. 1: Finely Woven Thread (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Ms. Marvel #20 (2007)

I’ve been rereading writer Brian Reed’s Ms. Marvel and enjoying the gradual redevelopment of Carol Danvers from failed superhero to A-lister. Issue #20 concludes a three-part storyline that pits her against a villain who’s a very appropriate antagonist when you consider the character’s troubled fictional history (spoilers ahead).

Even before Rogue absorbed her memories and powers, Ms. Marvel’s career went off the rails in an ill-advised Avengers storyline. Following a supernatural pregnancy (and what good ever follows a supernatural pregnancy in comics?), Carol left to live in another dimension with her…son who was also his own father and therefore her lover too? Was that it? I had to check, and regrettably, I’m not wrong. Ugh.

So, back then, Carol was mind-controlled in mega-creepy fashion. Therefore, in #20, when she thwarts another creepy mind-control plot, this one by perennial Fantastic Four foe the Puppet Master, her decision to let the Puppet Master kill himself feels entirely justified. Not heroic, but in character for Carol at this point. (That Avengers storyline is never mentioned here, and that’s probably for the best, but knowing the history adds subtext to the story.)

Importantly, she’s conflicted about her decision, albeit after the fact. It shows how she’s still getting herself back on track, but also that she’s capable of the self-reflection and growth needed to get there.

Writer: Brian Reed

Penciler: Greg Tocchini

Inker: Roland Paris

Cover: Greg Horn

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Ms. Marvel vol. 4: Monster Smash (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Teen Titans #1 (2003)

The best Titans series in nearly twenty years succeeded by opening up its roster to the next generation and establishing a solid premise.

The successful 1980 New Teen Titans relaunch clearly inspired the 2003 Teen Titans relaunch. The lineups look similar enough to suggest a connection. Cyborg, Starfire, Changeling, and Raven are back, but this time they’re mentoring the next generation—Robin (Tim Drake), Wonder Girl (Cassie Sandsmark), Kid Flash (Bart Allen), and Superboy (Connor Kent). With the exception of Superboy, it’s basically the 1980 Teen Titans with some younger faces.

This Teen Titans team is structured as a weekend activity for the teenage superheroes, a chance to spend time with their closest friends instead of being cooped up in their respective hometowns, being forced to hide who and what they really are. Of course, even as a weekend extracurricular, trouble will find the Titans.

The first issue opens with a strong focus on character, particularly with regards to the four teenagers. The former members of Young Justice are still reeling from recent events, in which a founding Titan died. This issue, and the opening storyline, is about bringing the band back together and graduating them to the next level. They’re technically kids, but not for much longer. It’s time to start growing up, and the best way to do that is among friends, including older friends who have been in their position before.

It’s a strong start, and the book remained strong for years. It’s easily the second-best Titans series ever.

Writer: Geoff Johns

Penciler: Mike McKone

Inker: Marlo Alquiza

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Teen Titans vol. 1: A Kid’s Game (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Superman For All Seasons #1-4 (1998)

Less is often more. Superman For All Seasons, a four-issue miniseries by frequent collaborators Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, distills Superman into his key elements and zeroes in on his most super quality—he can do almost anything, but he chooses to help people.

The book is set in Superman’s early days, and as the title suggests, it’s structured around the four seasons. A different character narrates each issue: Jonathan Kent, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, and Lana Lang.

Pa Kent talks about a young man who was raised right and wants to do right. Lois talks about a dashing man who’s too good to be true, and yet he is that good. Luthor talks about a rival for the affection of Metropolis, a lonely man who can’t save everyone no matter how good his intentions are. And Lana talks about Clark Kent, the kind boy she grew up with who’s still there inside that costume.

Together, the issues form a nice arc, guiding us from Clark’s initial desire to use his abilities to help the world, to his initial successes, to his first real defeat, to his acceptance that though he can’t do everything, he can still do everything he can do.

Superman has definitive origin details, but he doesn’t have a definitive origin story. Nothing about Krypton informs who Clark Kent is as a person. No traumatic event motivates him to become Superman. By virtue of his upbringing, he’s intrinsically motivated to do good.

What’s interesting, then, is how he grows into the role and his responsibilities, how he adjusts to the burden that he has freely chosen, how he sticks with it despite any setbacks. That’s what Superman For All Seasons examines, and that’s why it succeeds in instilling a sense of grandeur on nearly every page. To understand the super, you have to understand the man.

In issue #4, two pages are devoted to a single panel of Superman flying over Smallville and looking down as the town is flooding. The only words on the page are Superman saying, “All right, Lana. I’ll make things safe.” It’s a perfect summation of who Superman is.

Writer: Jeph Loeb

Artist: Tim Sale

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Superman For All Seasons (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Astonishing Ant-Man #13 (2016)

The Astonishing Ant-Man reaches a satisfying conclusion in issue #13.

Since it’s recent and it’s the final issue, I don’t want to give much away. Just know that the father/daughter relationship remains at the heart of the series through the end. The book isn’t so much about the adventures of Scott Lang as it’s about Scott’s efforts to be the man his daughter Cassie deserves.

There’s a clear arc throughout these thirteen issues, and it’s a complete story that allows for further stories to follow. It’s also about something far more relatable than superhero action, and it never forgets to have fun along the way. Scott and Cassie both commit mistakes and grow a little, making them engaging co-protagonists.

Nick Spencer wrote a winner here.

Also, very obliging of its Marvel Unlimited release schedule to roughly coincide with my year of daily reviews. I didn’t include every issue, for the sake of variety and because I didn’t have anything new to say with some, but the entire series is an enjoyable read.

Writer: Nick Spencer

Artists: Brent Schoonover and Roman Rosanas

Cover: Julian Totino Tedesco

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in The Astonishing Ant-Man vol. 3: The Trial of Ant-Man (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Rising Stars #1 (1999)

I think Rising Stars was the first time I strayed from my DC/Marvel comfort zone. I lost track of the series before its conclusion, but I remember the early issues were strong.

The first issue provides an intriguing set-up. A mysterious flash of light affects every child in utero within a certain radius, granting 113 classmates various powers. And later in life, everything will go wrong.

Writer J. Michael Straczynski developed a superhero story that was intended to reach a definitive conclusion. No never-ending battle here. It was going somewhere specific from issue #1. That alone immediately distinguished it from most other comics.

In another nice touch, all super-powered people in this world knew each other from childhood. They have that lifelong connection, which would never work with the Justice League or Avengers. As issue #1 makes clear, these kids would go in all different directions as they grow up, but they share a starting point.

We don’t get a strong sense of the individual characters yet in issue #1, but it’s got me curious enough to want to find out. I can’t vouch for whether the series stuck the landing, but it starts off as an engaging science fiction story. These 113 people are unlike any who came before…now what are they going to do with their lives?

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski

Penciler: Keu Cha

Inker: Jason Gorder

Publisher: Top Cow Productions

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Rising Stars vol. 1: Born in Fire (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 15 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Daredevil #175 (1981)

Daredevil #175 opens with what appears to be a spelling error. The title is written as “Gantlet” rather than the more common “Gauntlet,” but according to Grammarist, the former used to be the preferred spelling in certain uses. They’re not perfect synonyms, but there is overlap. If Marvel did accidentally omit the “u,” they got lucky.

Elektra faces off against a gauntlet (gantlet?) of Hand ninjas and their master assassin to stop their organization from hunting her. Daredevil backs her up, despite her protests, despite the absence of his radar sense, and despite the fact that he’s supposed to be in court. (He really took Foggy for granted in those days. Poor guy.)

Frank Miller showcases the greatest strengths of his art here. Everything is constantly moving, and the characters are expressive. He balances exceptional choreography and expressive characters throughout the book.

The ambiguous relationship between Daredevil and Elektra provides the substance. On the surface, Elektra is a cold-blooded assassin who’s concerned only about herself. Daredevil can’t help but still care. But maybe Elektra still cares, too? Is the woman he loved still in there somewhere? Or is she as lost as an outdated spelling style?

Ah! Maybe the title isn’t an error, but a symbol! Yeah, that’s it. Sure.

Fantastic issue either way, though.

Writer/Penciler: Frank Miller

Inker: Klaus Janson

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Countdown to Infinite Crisis (2005)

Three people have called themselves the Blue Beetle. The only one I ever followed was the middle guy, Ted Kord. He was in the Justice League when I first started reading comics, but he faded into the background of DC’s ensemble shortly thereafter, occasionally popping up for guest appearances (he showed up in Birds of Prey a bit).

He was just an athletic rich scientist with gadgets, a poor man’s Batman with a personality more like Spider-Man’s. He knew full well he was second-string, if not altogether redundant around other superheroes.

His final story was his best. DC kicked off multiple crossovers with Countdown to Infinite Crisis, a 100-page comic that sold for a dollar (I approve of such marketing techniques).

This prologue functions as a strong story in its own right. Someone’s been messing with Ted’s company, and his investigation leads him to uncover something far bigger. As he pieces this puzzle together, he gradually exhausts the patience of the superhero community, who want to humor the nice guy but have larger problems to deal with. But this second-stringer learns something they’ve all overlooked…and, being a second-stringer, he never gets the chance to tell them.

The Blue Beetle doesn’t die saving the world or any individual person within. But he gets to die with integrity. Given the sincere offer to join a plot against metahumans, and with a gun to his head, Ted declines. No threat to his life will compel him to turn on his friends, no matter how little they think of him sometimes. And he dies as he lived—underestimated.

If you’re going to kill a character to raise the stakes, you have to remember that the character is a character, not cannon fodder. The Blue Beetle’s own agency and motivation lead him to his death, so we care when it happens. It’s not just “The Death of the Blue Beetle!”—it’s a great underdog story.

Writers: Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, Judd Winick

Artists: Rags Morales, Jesus Saiz, Ivan Reis, Phil Jimenez, Ed Benes

Cover: Jim Lee and Alex Ross

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 (1985)

Funny little coincidence: Thirty years before Supergirl and Flash starred in television shows on back-to-back nights, DC killed them off in back-to-back issues of Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Okay, maybe not funny. But either way, it’s Barry Allen’s turn to die in issue #8.

This Flash had been around for twenty-nine years at this point, and he had hit a creative low point with a protracted trial storyline that ended his series. So Barry died, sacrificing himself so that the Flash franchise could grow and evolve. Or, in story, sacrificing himself to save the universe.

Flash had been a captive of the Anti-Monitor for most of the miniseries thus far, and the villain’s henchman, the Psycho Pirate, tortured him with emotion-manipulating powers, continuing the trend of this being a low point for the Scarlet Speedster.

But this is the character who kicked off the Silver Age superhero resurgence in 1956, so he deserves one last chance to be amazing—and he gets it. Using his brains as much as his speed, and with only a whimpering lame villain to assist him, he sows confusion among the Anti-Monitor’s minions, allowing him to slip inside the main weapon. After a quick assessment, he knows what he needs to do—and what it will do to him. And he acts anyway. “More than my life is at stake,” he says as he starts running.

He dies running. He dies thinking. He dies alone, without any expectation that anyone would ever learn about his sacrifice.

There’s that old saying that the true test of character is what you do when no one’s looking. When no one was looking, Barry Allen sacrificed his life to save everyone else’s.

Like with Supergirl’s death, Flash’s death stayed true to the character, encapsulating what made him great and giving him a fitting send-off.

Kid Flash, Wally West, would take over, and his series would function as one long coming-of-age story—the former sidekick striving to live up to his hero’s example, this example. Wally’s series, which will always be a sentimental favorite of mine, worked so well that Barry was able to stay dead for longer than twenty years. By comic book standards, that’s a lengthy stint in the afterlife.

Barry hit rock-bottom, caught a last-minute second wind, and went out in top form.

Writer: Marv Wolfman

Penciler: George Perez

Inker: Jerry Ordway

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Crisis on Infinite Earths (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 (1985)

An editorial decree killed Supergirl, but that didn’t stop her from going out in a heroic blaze of glory.

Crisis on Infinite Earths was DC’s first huge crossover series. It pulled together not only every DC character, but also characters inherited from defunct companies such as Fawcett and Charlton. The series’ real-world purpose was to obliterate all these other universes so DC Comics could move forward with a modern, streamlined continuity in a single universe.

And, by the way, Superman needed to be the only surviving Kryptonian in that new continuity. But no one said Supergirl needed to quietly fade away. (Spoilers ahead, of course.)

In Crisis #7, a multi-universal group of powerful superheroes wages a last-ditch campaign against the forces of the even more powerful Anti-Monitor. (“The Anti-Monitor” may not sound like a formidable threat, but he did already destroy all but five universes. I suppose that follows the rule of “show; don’t tell.”) The first part of the issue focuses on lots of cosmic exposition, which I found much more interesting as a kid, but there’s a nice parable within about the danger of excessive pride—it can destroy entire universes! You’ve been warned, kids.

The real heart of the issue is when the focus shifts to Supergirl. It’s unfortunate that she spends the first half in the background, but that’s mega-crossovers for you. When she leaps into action, though, the issue suddenly becomes great.

Naturally, Superman is the first to reach the Anti-Monitor. Everyone expects him to be their best chance of taking down the villain and saving the remaining universes.

But Superman fails. He gets beat, and beat bad.

So Supergirl steps in and steps up. She’s thinking entirely selflessly. She wants to save her only living relative, not only because she cares about him but also because of what he means to the world. Mind you, she’s spent her entire time on Earth living in his shadow, so she’s assuming she could never possibly measure up to his example.

But she does. She clobbers the Anti-Monitor, destroys his machines, saves those universes for the time being…and then she makes a mistake, but for the right reasons. While she’s got the Anti-Monitor on the ropes, she turns away to urge someone else to get to safety, and the Anti-Monitor exploits the moment to fire the fatal shot. She dies exactly as a hero should—putting others first and herself last.

DC would eventually introduce another Supergirl (as I’ve covered before), and then reintroduce a version closer to the original. But in this continuity, this was the definitive ending for this version of the character. This Kara never came back from the dead.

But in her final moments, Supergirl was better than Superman.

Writer: Marv Wolfman

Penciler: George Perez

Inkers: Dick Giordano and Jerry Ordway

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Crisis on Infinite Earths (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up