Category Archives: comic books

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

Today’s Super Comics — Captain America Reborn #1-6 (2009-10)

Of course Captain America wasn’t staying dead. We already knew that outcome, but what matters is how they get there. And Captain America Reborn nails it, using Cap’s long history to remind us why he’s such a great character.

Steve Rogers has become unstuck in time. He’s being flung back and forth throughout his past, reliving World War II battles, Avengers battles, family moments, his time on ice, etc., and he has to follow the script in every situation. He has some ability to act, but the wrong action could wreck the timestream. It’s quite the elaborate trap.

In the present, Bucky Barnes, Sharon Carter, Falcon, and several Avengers navigate the dual threats of the Red Skull and Norman Osborn (the latter leading a government-sponsored team of villainous Avengers at this point) as they try to save their friend.

This miniseries sustains strong momentum throughout. Ed Brubaker’s script keeps everyone in character at all times, and Bryan Hitch’s art provides a grand sense of scale. It’s all epic without ever losing sight of the individual actors within.

The essence of Captain America is this: He always finds a way, no matter the odds stacked against him. And that’s what we see here.

This isn’t the end of Brubaker’s run on Captain America. However, my year of daily reviews has only twenty-some days left, so this seems like a good stopping point for this particular series. But it’s definitely been worth rereading.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Penciler: Bryan Hitch

Inker: Butch Guice

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; Captain America Reborn (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Uncanny X-Men #319 (1994)

Here’s an excellent example of a mid-‘90s X-Men comic, one of the sort that writer Scott Lobdell excelled at.

Uncanny X-Men #319 features three conversations, each featuring a pair of X-characters and each different in nature. And there’s little in the way of comic booky action.

The cover story is Angel (then Archangel) and Psylocke on a date. Meanwhile, Rogue accompanies Iceman on a visit home to his parents, where he clashes with his bigoted father. And on the astral plane, Professor X chats with someone who appears to be Magneto…or is he????

So these three vignettes entail, respectively, a soapy romance, a message of tolerance, and the setup for the next big storyline. All three are essential ingredients to X-Men comics, but each conversation does something a little different than usual.

The budding Angel/Psylocke romance is refreshingly free of drama at this point, just two teammates growing closer in an organic way. Iceman’s father isn’t building any Sentinels. His bigotry is borne of ignorance rather than evil villainy, and as with most bigoted people, it’s not so simple as labeling them wholly “good” or “evil.” Also, Iceman and Rogue had seldom been paired up before this issue, but they had a good enough rapport that the movies later picked up on what started here. And the usual Professor X/Magneto discussion acquires an interesting subtext here once the twist is revealed.

All good stuff.

Writer: Scott Lobdell

Artist: Steve Epting

Inkers: Dan Green and Tim Townsend

Publisher: Marvel Comics

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

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Green Arrow #11 (2017)

I’m pleased to report that the current Green Arrow series is proving to be consistently fun.

Issue #11 concludes a thriller set on an underwater trans-Pacific railway. Green Arrow, Black Canary, and John Diggle must protect a train full of dignitaries from a mercenary who’s been hired to disrupt upcoming peace talks.

Between Benjamin Percy’s fast-paced script and Juan Ferreyra’s kinetic art, the story is in constant motion. The action is well-staged, the characters are likable, and though the situation is treated as serious, the book never takes itself too seriously—an important balance to strike.

It’s not breaking any molds, but it’s solid, straightforward super-heroics full of great action set pieces.

Writer: Benjamin Percy

Artist: Juan Ferreyra

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Comixology; included in Green Arrow vol. 2: Island of Scars (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — X-Factor #39 (2009)

The best plot twists are the ones you didn’t see coming but, in hindsight, they should have been obvious.

X-Factor #39 executes exactly that. I don’t want to give this one away—really, if you haven’t already, you need to read Peter David’s phenomenal X-Factor run (both of them, actually). The series that began in 2005, which focuses on Jamie Madrox the Multiple Man leading a terrific ensemble cast, is the greatest X-Men spinoff series I’ve ever read. And I have read many.

I’ll give away the basic setup, though. A while earlier, Madrox had a one-night stand with two women at the same time (his power is he duplicates himself, so he can literally be at two places at once). One of those women got pregnant. Issue #39 is the delivery. And in comic books, childbirth is seldom without complications.

David foreshadows the ending superbly, and yet it still blew me away. Absolutely fantastic storytelling.

Writer: Peter David

Penciler: Valentine De Landro

Inker: Craig Yeung

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in X-Factor vol. 7: Time and a Half (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comics — JLA #62-64 (2002)

Truth becomes subjective in JLA #62-64, and the results are not good. Well, the story’s good, just not the Earth becoming flat or math not working.

Justice League stories require big, imaginative threats, and this qualifies, and it’s different from the usual fare of super-villains and hostile aliens. The enemy here is the loss of faith in objective reality, which in the DC Universe, naturally, will have sci-fi/fantasy repercussions.

Most important, the danger comes about in a character-based way, as Wonder Woman doubts her magical golden lasso when it offers up competing truths during a delicate situation, one with no tidy answers. Wonder Woman had recently lost her mother, and grief is clouding her judgment.

The issues serve up a worthwhile message: No one has infallible judgment, but truth is truth. We have to respect the truth, or else the moon will turn into cheese and people might die.

The More You Know.

Writer: Joe Kelly

Penciler: Doug Mahnke

Inker: Tom Nguyen

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in JLA: Golden Perfect (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Old Man Logan #8 (2016)

The first few issues were not a fluke—Old Man Logan is proving to be the most interesting Wolverine series in quite some time. That likely has something to do with its high-concept approach. This isn’t just the superfluous solo stories of Wolverine and his ever-fattening backstory; it’s about a time-displaced Logan trying to avoid his hellish future.

In issue #8, Young Teenage Jean Grey takes Old Man Logan on a tour of places where disaster had struck (will strike?) in the future, showing him how the present is perfectly fine. The increased age disparity creates a fresh dynamic between them. There’s (thankfully) no unrequited love or any sexual tension whatsoever, just lots of mutual respect and affection.

It’s a surprisingly uplifting issue, even with the flashbacks/forwards to the terrible future this Logan comes from. And that seems to be the issue’s message—bad times may very well be on the way, but maybe they’ll be more bearable with the right company.

Writer: Jeff Lemire

Artist: Andrea Sorrentino

Publisher: Marvel Comics

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

Appropriate For: ages 15 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Walking Dead #100 (2012)

I’ll admit that the TV show has burned me out on The Walking Dead. The show peaked with its superb pilot, and after many ups and down, I gave up after the seventh-season premiere.

The comic book series it’s based on, however, was far more consistent in quality for far longer. It held my attention for 24 trade paperbacks, and I wouldn’t say it ever got bad. I just needed a break from this particular post-apocalyptic world for a while. I might very well check back in at some point.

The book deserves recognition, though. It remains the greatest zombie-related story I’ve ever experienced, and it succeeds by focusing not on the zombies, but on the survivors.

The zombies—I mean walkers, or any euphemism other than zombies—the walkers quickly fade into set dressing, albeit lethal set dressing. People prove far more dangerous, especially without the civilizing influence of society. The zombie damage has already been done, and this is all about what comes after—that’s the true cleverness in writer Robert Kirkman’s concept. And Charlie Adlard’s black-and-white art sets the mood wonderfully. It’s the rare comic book that benefits from a lack of color.

The comic is a master class in tension. The characterization isn’t deep, but we come to care about several key players just enough that we don’t want to see them die…but we know most will, some sooner and some later. It’s just a matter of when.

The important thing about tension…you have to release it at exactly the right moments or it will start deflating on its own and lose all its potency. And that brings us to issue #100, which inspired the final episode of season six and the first episode of season seven. It’s Negan’s big introduction, and Lucille’s big introduction.

Many of the characters we most care about are lined up before Negan, like in the TV show, and we know he’s going to kill one. But whereas the TV show faded to black for the length of a hiatus right after Negan struck his unidentified victim (and had its viewers playing guessing games for months), the comic shows us who dies that very issue.

We get that release, but the death builds up new tension, because we know this is only the start of a new threat for the survivors. It’s not about the guessing games; it’s about the danger and the struggle to persevere in spite of that danger.

Writer: Robert Kirkman

Artist: Charlie Adlard

Publisher: Image Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in The Walking Dead vol. 17: Something to Fear (TPB)

Appropriate For: ADULTS ONLY

Today’s Super Comic — Aquaman #2 (1994)

How do you make Aquaman less of a joke?

Cut off his hand! That’ll make it much harder to laugh at him.

Writer Peter David did excellent work rehabilitating Aquaman’s character into a truly formidable, kingly figure, and one of his earlier steps was having Aquaman lose a hand in somewhat ironic fashion in Aquaman #2.

The issue itself is fairly standard stuff until the end, but it’s executed well. Aquaman and his friend Dolphin (a woman named Dolphin, not an actual dolphin, though he does have friends who are dolphins, too, of course…) are captured by an unhinged villain who wants to steal his powers. They get free, and Aquaman confronts the guy on land, near piranha-infested water.

Earlier in the issue, David clears up a misconception. Aquaman doesn’t control fish—he communicates with them. They’re independent creatures, so whether they obey him is another matter.

Aquaman is king of the seas, but that doesn’t mean his kingdom can’t hurt him. This issue’s development leaves him with a constant physical, visual reminder of his vulnerability…but also his toughness in becoming stronger after the loss.

I didn’t start reading this Aquaman series until later, but I’m guessing this had to be a genuinely shocking ending when it first came out, especially when it wasn’t immediately fixed the next issue…or in the next several years.

This isn’t the Superfriends’ Aquaman.

Writer: Peter David

Penciler: Marty Egeland

Inker: Brad Vancata

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up