Category Archives: Today’s Super Comic

Today’s Super Comic — The Adventures of Superman #445 (1988)

One of the many things the Man of Steel movie got wrong was having Superman kill the bad guy, feel bad for a whole half a second, and then happily move on with his life.

In a late ‘80s storyline, Superman was left with no recourse but to execute three Kryptonian criminals who had destroyed an alternate Earth in a pocket dimension. His actions were justifiable—these powerful criminals would have no doubt turned their attention to the real Earth, they already had a track record of success in their genocidal pursuits, and there was literally no one else left in that other universe to mete out punishment. Still, while he did what he had to do, he knows he failed to be Superman in that moment.

The Adventures of Superman #445 is right after that storyline, and we see Superman appropriately wracked with guilt. There’s no tidy resolution yet—he’s got a long soul-searching journey into space still ahead of him before he comes to terms with his actions. For now, Braniac provides a distraction, though the battle shows how even a Man of Steel can fray.

I wouldn’t want a guilt-ridden Superman as the status quo, but the storyline showed us a different side of him while reinforcing one of his essential characteristics—his deep respect for all life.

Also, #445 shows how the Superman comics of this era made great use of the supporting cast. Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, and Cat Grant all are all involved in various plots and subplots (primarily Jimmy and Cat in this issue), and their presence keeps Superman tethered to humanity, which is also essential.

Writer/Penciler: Jerry Ordway

Inker: Dennis Janke

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Batman #329 (1980)

Batman: The Animated Series got many things right (pretty much everything, come to think of it), but the series’ most important strength was its characterization of Batman and his various foes. The Batman we saw in that cartoon most closely resembles the Batman of the 1970s and early 1980s, before some writers felt the need to justify his crimefighting lifestyle by making him seem borderline insane or just plain rude. Batman can be driven without being a jerk.

Batman #329 is a good example, in which we see Batman going above and beyond to not merely apprehend Two-Face, but also to try to save his soul. Batman remembers his friendship with Harvey Dent, and he believes there’s still a good man trapped beneath those scars, a good man who just needs help getting free.

Which brings us to another facet the animates series got right—some of Batman’s villains have villains of their own. Another person’s criminal actions push them off the deep end into villainy. Evil deeds beget evil deeds. This doesn’t let the villains off the hook for their crimes, but their own victimization creates sympathy and opens the door for possible rehabilitation down the line, if only they’d get out of their own way.

Two-Face falls into this category. As a crusading district attorney, he ended up a casualty in the war against crime, scarred both physically and mentally by one of the criminals he was trying to put behind bars.

That’s always added extra depth to the best Batman vs. Two-Face conflicts, and in #329 we see Batman allowing himself to be captured in a courtroom and held at the point of a gun so he can try to remind Two-Face of who he used to be. Dent’s ex-wife Gilda joins the effort, forcing Two-Face to choose between her and his coin—the sort of binary choice Two-Face would normally love, but one where his coin will be of no help.

This issue was not among those adapted by the animated series (as far as I recall), but it feels like it would have fit right in. It certainly captures the spirit of a heroic Batman who wants to save everyone, including his enemies.

Writer: Marv Wolfman

Artists: Irv Novick and Frank McLaughlin

Cover: Jim Aparo

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — New X-Men #117 (2001)

Apparently, the first X-Men movie reminded Marvel that Xavier was supposed to be running a school for gifted youngsters, not merely sheltering a team of superheroes trapped in an infinite loop of melodramatic soap operas. Granted, the soap opera approach served the X-Men extraordinarily well at times, resulting in some of the greatest superhero comics ever printed.

But by 2001, yeah, it was time for something different. So along came writer Grant Morrison with a fresh tone and fresh energy. X-Men became ­New X-Men, and it earned that adjective, by gosh and by golly.

Issue #117 is early in the run, though not too early for a major status-quo shift to already have taken place. The world now knows Xavier and his students are mutants, and if you know anything about the X-Men, you know how positively thrilled folks are upon hearing the news.

It’s a great development, though. The X-Men have been a metaphor for persecuted minorities since day one, but being able to easily pretend they’re not mutants doesn’t do the metaphor justice.

Also welcome is the fact that the school is actually a school for more than five people. Xavier’s mansion has extras in the background. The X-Men have expanded from a family into a community, and the main characters have actual jobs—teaching these kids.

Those main characters are also changing. The Beast gets the most focus in this issue. His mutation has evolved, or perhaps devolved. Instead of being a blue, furry man-ape, he’s now a blue, furry man-feline. It’s quite an adjustment, and there’s a lot of pain behind his jolly demeanor.

Meanwhile, Jean Grey is feeling increasingly detached from her husband Cyclops, who seems to be drawing the attention of Emma Frost, the formerly villainous White Queen, so Jean starts flirting with Wolverine, who we all know has been in love with her since the good old days. Yeah, you can’t totally extract the soap opera element from the X-Men. It’s infused in its DNA.

But there’s more going on, and none of it feels like a rehash of your favorite childhood X-stories. It’s exactly what the X-Men needed at the time. (Well, they didn’t need to trade their colorful superhero costumes for lots of black…or maybe Hollywood said they did need to.)

Writer: Grant Morrison

Penciler: Ethan Van Sciver

Inker: Prentiss Rollins

Cover: Frank Quitely

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in New X-Men by Grant Morrison vol. 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Wonder Woman #601 (2010)

This may have been one of the shortest-lived reboots ever, but it was certainly interesting. Writer J. Michael Straczynski reinterpreted Wonder Woman by stripping her of her past and setting her on a quest to rediscover herself and her heritage.

Paradise Island has apparently been destroyed, and the survivors have fled in various directions. It’s up to Diana to find and protect them. But as of Wonder Woman #601 (the story’s first full part), she’s hardly a hero—she’s a vengeful woman on a mission. We get some foreshadowing of her inner Wonder Woman potential, but growth and change are required to get her back to that point. With this, Straczynski has turned a decades-old character into a dynamic character. It’s quite a feat.

Oh, and she gets pants. That was long overdue (and also short-lived, alas).

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski

Penciler: Don Kramer

Inker: Michael Babinski

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Wonder Woman: Odyssey vol. 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Justice #1-12 (2005-07)

Classic super-heroic action gets a paint job in the miniseries Justice. It’s the Justice League of America vs. the Legion of Doom with painted art by Alex Ross, so you know it’s going to be a visual treat.

While there’s a lot to love, the art is the star here, as it lends suitable grandeur to some of the most recognizable superheroes and villains (and plenty of lesser-known ones). Story-wise, each character is true to his or her essence, and heroes and villains both get the attention they deserve. Plus, there’s no elaborate continuity bogging things down. If you haven’t read a DC comic in years, you can pick this up and your inner child will have a grand time.

And after you read, you can go back and admire the meticulous craftsmanship apparent in each panel.

Writer: Jim Krueger

Painter: Alex Ross

Penciler: Doug Braithwaite

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Justice volumes 1-3 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Action Comics #890 (2010)

After many decades of fighting Superman, Lex Luthor finally won a victory of sorts—he got to take over one of Superman’s series. Luthor became the protagonist of Action Comics as of issue #890, and for nearly a year he showed how a villain can carry a book.

The story begins in the aftermath of a big DC crossover, Blackest Night, which was primarily a Green Lantern event. During that story, Luthor got to wield an orange version of a power ring, which was fueled by avarice (whereas will fuels the green power rings). Having experienced such power, and feeling greedier than ever, Lex embarks on a quest to acquire any and all power rings.

It’s a solid approach from writer Paul Cornell. It’s an opportunity to view a classic villain in action when he’s not directly confronting superheroes, though he obviously still can’t succeed. The typical comic book makes us wonder how the hero will prevail over major obstacles, but this book takes the mirror image to that approach, making us wonder how exactly the villain will fail to achieve his aims. This first issue sets up Lex’s heightened greed as a major flaw, and we also see a lack of self-awareness, as Lex truly believes himself to be in the right.

Another nice (though creepy) touch is the inclusion of a Lois Lane robot. To ensure he has someone around who will challenge him and offer alternative perspectives, Lex keeps the company of a robot modeled after Lois. On one hand, it shows how highly he thinks of her, but on the other, more dominant hand…that’s an incredibly disrespectful thing to do. And it adds layers to Luthor’s character.

Every good villain should be able to function as a protagonist, and Luthor shows he’s up to that task here.

Writer: Paul Cornell

Artist: Pete Woods

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Superman: The Black Ring vol. 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Black Panther #8 (1999)

Flexibility with continuity can be a good thing when done right, especially when characters are appearing in stories over the course of multiple decades. What made sense in the 1960s may not make as much sense by late 1990s, such as a sovereign monarch choosing to join an American superhero team.

Black Panther #8, which features Avengers guest stars and flashbacks inspired by the classic 1968 Captain America #100, makes sense of T’Challa’s counterintuitive decision to leave his throne to gallivant as a superhero, and it does so by adding context and motivation that rightfully put the Black Panther’s monarchial role in the forefront. (I’m about to spoil it.)

So back in Captain America #100, Cap was so impressed by the Panther that he invited him to join the Avengers. T’Challa accepted, and thus began the Wakandan king’s American adventures. In the fast-paced, make-it-up-as-you-go style of 1960s Marvel Comics…sure, why not? But in 1999’s Black Panther #8, writer Christopher Priest considers that moment with the benefit of hindsight and takes a more modern approach.

The Avengers were relatively new at the time—an autonomous, unsupervised, unregulated group of powerful individuals claiming to have everyone’s best interests in mind. But Wakanda already had a history of unwanted and destructive foreign interference, so how could T’Challa be certain the Avengers wouldn’t pose a threat to his nation? And here he had an opportunity to infiltrate their ranks and take their measure firsthand. Thus, he joined the Avengers thinking first and foremost of his nation’s security.

Sometimes, retroactive tweaks to continuity (retcons) wind up convoluting the backstory or muddying things up, but this is an example of a retcon that enriches and deepens what came before while creating tension for present stories. The revelation is true to the character and therefore credible. Exactly how to do it right.

Writer: Christopher Priest

Pencilers: Joe Jusko and Amanda Connor

Inker: Jimmy Palmiotti

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Black Panther by Christopher Priest: The Complete Collection Vol. 1

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — X-Men #123 (1979)

Fun fact: Colleen Wing, whom you may have met in the new Iron Fist Netflix series, briefly dated Cyclops of the X-Men. Yep—Colleen Wing and Scott Summers. That was a thing for a few seconds a long time ago, during the first interval in which Scott believed Jean Grey was dead.

The Marvel Universe can be a small world indeed, as shown in X-Men #123, which begins as Spider-Man just happens to run into Scott and Colleen strolling along the streets of New York. If your characters are going to share a fictional universe, why not have fun with it? And these sorts of quick guest appearances helped develop the MU as a setting worth visiting—you never knew who you were going to run into (well, unless they announced it on the cover so they could boost sales).

So Spider-Man, Cyclops, and Colleen Wing walk into the panel (or swing in)…and a kidnapping sets the plot in motion. This issue begins a two-parter in which the villainous Arcade captures the X-Men and a few friends and traps them in Murder World (it’s like Disney World, but the attractions try to kill you).

It’s a fun premise that splits up the X-Men and throws them into various death traps. But surviving is only half the battle! They’ll then have to navigate this maze, find their way back to each other, and rescue their friends from a sociopath.

It’s good times. Another classic from the Claremont/Byrne era. (I dare you to find one bad issue from that run. Just one. Can’t do it, can you?)

Writer: Chris Claremont

Penciler/Co-Plotter: John Byrne

Inker: Terry Austin

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; The Essential X-Men vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Daredevil #82 (2006)

Then there was that time Daredevil went to jail…and it was kind of justified, actually.

Ed Brubaker took over as Daredevil’s writer beginning with #82, and he picked up right where predecessor Brian Michael Bendis left off. Bendis shook things up quite a bit over the previous few years by giving Daredevil a secret-identity crisis. Matt Murdock was outed as the Man Without Fear, but in the absence of definitive proof, he was able to get away with the reliable tactic of deny, deny, deny…until he couldn’t.

So Murdock’s behind bars in the same facility as the Kingpin and many others he’s put away throughout his career. Issue #82 begins with him in protective custody, as he is legally a blind man, but you get the feeling that’s not going to last long. Meanwhile, Daredevil is running around Hell’s Kitchen beating up bad guys. Wait, what?

It’s a gripping scenario, one that does something different with a character who had been around for over forty years at this point. As you’d expect from Brubaker, the writing is tense, intelligent, grounded, and better suited for older readers, and Michael Lark’s art is a natural fit, the gritty style setting exactly the right tone.

Daredevil as a prison show…and it works wonderfully.

Really, though—lawyer by day, vigilante by night? As much as I love the character, Murdock has broken the law numerous times over the years, so it’s fitting that his hubris earns him some comeuppance. It may have taken four decades to get here, but this was a Daredevil story that needed to happen. The events feel earned.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Artist: Michael Lark

Cover: Tommy Lee Edwards

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Daredevil by Ed Brubaker & Michael Lark Ultimate Collection – Book 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 15 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Runaways #5 (2005)

There’s certain rite of passage every young superhero must go through in the Marvel Universe: confronting Doctor Doom.

The Runaways have met a fellow super-powered teen, Victor Mancha, who might be destined to become evil and might be the son of a major super-villain. In #5 (vol. 2), they have to save Victor’s mother from one of those potential fathers, leading to a fun match between a bunch of relatively inexperienced teenagers and the Fantastic Four’s greatest enemy.

And then the book tops itself with a superb twist and, as usual, a great cliffhanger…so not even a Doctor Doom battle is the high point here.

It’s just a consistently fun series that has a blast playing in the Marvel Universe sandbox.

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Penciler: Adrian Alphona

Inker: Craig Yeung

Cover: Jo Chen

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Runaways vol. 4: True Believers (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up