Category Archives: comic books

Superheroes Must Aspire

I rewatch Superman: The Movie at least once every few years. I don’t expect to ever give Man of Steel or Batman v. Superman a second viewing.

Not one of those three movies is perfect, not even the 1978 classic. Did we really need Lois Lane’s aerial poetry slam? Or a Superman who could turn back time, thereby achieving a feat that Cher could only sing about? Of course not, but those are forgivable blemishes when we consider Christopher Reeve’s pitch-perfect portrayal of the first and greatest superhero.

Christopher Reeve’s Superman gave us an ideal to aspire to. Sure, we can never be him, but we can put others first, help people to whatever extent we’re able, conduct ourselves with dignity and maturity, and generally strive to be the best person we can be.

Compare that with the more recent movie Superman, a terrifying, joyless, godlike figure whose parents encourage him to put his own needs first. (The course correction in Justice League is too little, too late.) That Superman is nothing to aspire toward.

Superheroes should never terrify the innocent. In some cases, the responsibility can terrify the superheroes, but they work through any fears and rise up to the challenges before them.

The one recent DC movie that got it right, Wonder Woman, also isn’t perfect, but Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is a heroic, aspirational character who does what’s right, even when others assume there’s no hope of success. That’s the most important aspect.

The Marvel movies give us superheroes who are more flawed, but they’re still striving to be better. The first Iron Man movie shows Tony Stark rebuilding himself into a better man, literally and figuratively. Thor must prove himself worthy of his power. Ant-Man needs to get his life back on track so he can be a better father. Spider-Man screws up, but he takes responsibility for his mistakes and makes things right.

The powers have a wish-fulfillment appeal, but they also serve as a metaphor for improvement, for becoming something more than we are. And a strong moral foundation is necessary to use those skills properly and in a way that benefits other people. The focus isn’t on feeling superior to other people—it’s about being superior to who you were yesterday.

There are right ways and wrong ways to develop. The villains are the generally the ones who have stumbled down the wrong path.

So how does a superhero develop? A superhero should be a great role model, but how does that superhero become a great role model? After all, nobody is perfect. We all remember the mistakes we’ve made. Who are we to set an example for others?

The development of a superhero is what The Flying Woman (and, ultimately, the entire TERRIFIC series) is all about, and it represents maturation of any sort, whether someone is trying develop into the best teacher for their students, the best parent for their children, the best professional at the top of their chosen field, or generally just the most responsible and productive adult they can be while striving to make their part of the world a better place.

Superheroes aspire. They can make mistakes, experience setbacks, and struggle to find the correct path, but they work to better themselves so they can better the world.

Find The Flying Woman on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBooks. For a chance to win a Kindle copy, enter the giveaway on Goodreads by December 19.

Daredevil and Perseverance

I encountered some technical difficulties while making this video, but I persevered.

See what great lessons we learn from superheroes?

The best ’60s Marvel battles featured the superhero as the underdog. The classic Daredevil #7 (1965) features a lopsided fight between Daredevil and Namor the Sub-Mariner, in which DD showcases one of his greatest attributes — perseverance. 

The Avengers and the Cycle of Hatred

In my latest video, I examine Avengers #113 from 1973, written by Steve Englehart and drawn by Bob Brown. The comic uses the Vision and Scarlet Witch’s relationship as a metaphor for anyone who might be different, and it tells a strong story in the process.

(And this time, I tried out the pure voice-over approach. Still fine-tuning to see what works best. The learning process continues!)

Marvel’s Top Ten Stories: 1966-1970

At long last, round two! We looked at the top ten stories from the Marvel (Comics) Universe’s first five years a few months ago, so let’s move on to the second five years.

In that previous five-year span, everything was fresh, exciting, and unlike anything previously seen in comic books. The freewheeling creativity resulted in a wide range of quality, but certainly plenty of enduring ideas and memorable stories. In this second increment, the Marvel creators have settled into a more comfortable rhythm, achieving a more consistent level of quality. It won’t be every modern reader’s cup of tea, but the era definitely has its share of classics. Here’s ten of them:

10) The Amazing Spider-Man #65 (by Stan Lee and John Romita)

The police arrest an injured Spider-Man…right before the prisoners revolt. Spidey has to use his wits to navigate the situation—and save the life of his girlfriend’s father, Capt. Stacy. It’s a fun adventure that offers a different type of threat than usual, while ongoing subplots continue to simmer in the background. The issue helps strengthen the growing bond between Spider-Man and Capt. Stacy, giving Peter a much-needed friend and mentor, one who instinctively knows Spider-Man can’t be all that bad. Continue reading

Marvel’s Top Ten Stories: 1961-1965

Presenting, just for fun, Marvel Comics’ ten best stories from 1961-1965!

Why only a five-year period? For proper apples-to-apples comparisons, firstly. The comics medium has changed quite a bit over the years, so it’s hardly fair to compare, say, ten-year-old comics to fifty-year-old comics. Plus, the shorter period is more manageable and allows me to highlight more great books over time—sometimes complete storylines, sometimes standout single issues, whatever is merited. (I’ll get to later periods…eventually. And note that these are grouped by release date, not cover date.)

So we begin at the dawn of the Marvel Universe. True, many books from this era don’t hold up particularly well, not to the adult reader. They are dated indeed. But in the foundation of each series are strong, enduring concepts and flawed but heroic characters that people of varied backgrounds can relate to. Plus, the old comics offer plenty of charm with their fast-paced displays of free-flowing imagination. Looking back on these early issues, it’s not hard to see why the characters have survived the decades.

(Spoilers ahead, but these came out over five decades ago, so…)

Let’s get to it. As Stan Lee would say, Face Front, True Believers! Make Mine Marvel! Excelsior! ’Nuff Said!

Wait. Not ’Nuff Said yet. We need the list…

10) The Amazing Spider-Man #3 (by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko)

The superhero genre has a simple but effective formula: The hero almost loses to the villain but ultimately prevails, often improving him or herself along the way. Doctor Octopus’s debut shows an early example of that formula in action, back when flawed superheroes were still a fresh idea. As the book opens, Spider-Man is feeling supremely confident in his crimefighting abilities, and he’s itching for a challenge.

And he gets one, and he gets clobbered, leading Peter to wonder if he’s even cut out for this superhero lifestyle after all. So he’s got a choice: quit, or try again but do it better this time.

Peter Parker is still growing into his role at this stage, and that’s part of what made this series so novel—the superhero was actually growing as a person.

And we haven’t seen the last of Spider-Man on this list. The Amazing Spider-Man was easily Marvel’s strongest series of this era. Continue reading

Today’s Super Comic — Action Comics #775 (2001)

At last, here we are. May 17, 2016, I started writing one quick, positive comic book review a day, with the goal of doing so for a full year. It was part writing exercise (get the words down fast and move on), part analytical exercise (if a book works, why does it work?), and an opportunity to focus on the positive and thank the writers and artists who have given me countless hours of enjoyment over the course of many years.

So let’s finish with one of the best single-issue Superman stories ever written. Action Comics #775 shows us why Superman will never go out of style and should never go out of style.

A new team of powerful superhumans appears. They call themselves the Elite, and to get the job done, they’ll kill the bad guys and any innocent bystanders who happen to be within range, so long as the larger threat is eliminated, permanently.

Superman’s not having that. As the public begins to wonder if maybe there’s some validity to the Elite’s approach, Superman realizes it’s up to him to show the world there’s a better way.

What makes Superman cool isn’t his powers; it’s how he uses them. He doesn’t force his will on others or try to seize more power for himself, and he leads by example, with physical force being the last resort. He always operates within clearly set parameters. It would be too easy for him to cross any number of lines, so he doesn’t. Most others would give into the temptation, but he’s strong enough to control himself.

In this issue, he’s not only trying to stop the Elite from killing people, but he’s also standing up for ideals—and he’s standing up to people who are seemingly more powerful than even he is.

“Dreams save us. Dreams lift us up and transform us. And on my soul, I swear… until my dream of a world where dignity, honor and justice becomes the reality we all share — I’ll never stop fighting. Ever.”

Ladies and gentlemen—Superman! There’s a reason he’s the greatest superhero ever created. He’s a role model for kids and adults alike, and he demonstrates values that should never go out of style, no matter how times change.

Writer: Joe Kelly

Penciler: Doug Mahnke and Lee Bermejo

Cover: Tim Bradstreet

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up