Category Archives: Today’s Super Comic

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

Today’s Super Comic — Marvels #1 (1994)

Marvels depicts the dawn of the Marvel Universe from the perspective of ordinary people, particularly one ordinary photographer, Phil Sheldon. The world is changing in unexpected ways, making everything seem both scary and grand.

The painted art of Alex Ross adds the necessary sense of realism, as much as “realism” can apply to things like a combustible android and amphibious man.

The first issue focuses on Marvel Comics’ Golden Age, beginning with its earliest characters—the Human Torch and Namor the Sub-Mariner. Both initially appear as frightening figures, not heroes, especially when the two battle each over New York City, leaving all sorts of destruction in their wake (fun fact: the first comics crossover was a battle between the Torch and Namor in 1940). Captain America’s debut, however, causes far less concern and far more excitement.

All the while, plain normal Phil has to figure out what place a regular man has in this strange new world.

When you’ve been reading superhero comics year after year, you can easily start taking the concepts for granted—yeah, of course a person can fly, why not? But Marvels offers a fresh perspective, allowing everything to seem new and exciting again. Read all four issues.

Writer: Kurt Busiek

Artist: Alex Ross

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Marvels (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Marvel Graphic Novel #4 (1982)

Back in 1982, Marvel launched a majority-female team whose members were all of different ethnicities, and as far as I’m aware, there was no special fanfare or controversy surrounding the diversity. The big deal was that this was a spinoff of the super-popular X-Men. Also, it was good and the characters were interesting. That’s what readers cared about.

Professor Xavier and Moira McTaggart assemble a new class of teenage mutants in Marvel Graphic Novel #4. It’s your standard team-gathering issue—we meet the New Mutants one at a time in their respective situations, and a shared threat gradually pulls them all together. We see that each one has much to learn, but also strong potential.

Writer Chris Claremont makes sure we get to know these new characters as people first, not as superhero personas. By the end of the graphic novel, we’re still thinking of them primarily as Xi’an Coy Manh, Samuel Guthrie, Danielle Moonstar, Roberto da Costa, and Rahne Sinclair, not Karma, Cannonball, Mirage, Sunspot, and Wolfsbane. I can’t even remember if they all acquired their codenames in this first appearance or in New Mutants #1, which goes to show how this was more YA fantasy/sci-fi than straight-up superheroes (though they qualify as both super and heroic). The main idea was a group of young people learning to cope with a dangerous world, not necessarily save it.

The X-Men were superheroes. The New Mutants were students who sometimes had to be heroic. If you’re going to do a spinoff, such distinctions are important.

Writer: Chris Claremont

Artist: Bob McLeod

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in New Mutants Classic Vol. 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Ms. Marvel #10 (2007)

The Ms. Marvel series from ten years ago is largely about Carol Danvers striving to become one of Earth’s greatest superheroes. But to be her best self, she must first confront her own worst self—and do so in very comic booky ways, of course.

In #10, a Carol Danvers from a different reality has come to murder the X-Men’s Rogue. Bit of history: In Rogue’s first appearance way back when, she was a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and attacked Ms. Marvel, permanently absorbing all her powers and memories. Carol hung out with the X-Men for a while as Professor Xavier helped reassemble her memories, but she felt like a stranger in her own head. After she evolved into Binary and the X-Men took Rogue in, Carol ran away from Earth with the Starjammers (and returned at some point, obviously, though I’m not sure when).

So apparently in every reality, Rogue has ruined Carol’s life in this same way, so this alternate Carol (calling herself Warbird, which was the main Carol’s name during her alcoholic period), having failed to save her own world from obliteration, is on a mission to kill every reality’s Rogue and every Carol who has forgiven and befriended Rogue.

Yes, very comic booky. But in a good way. The situation forces the real Carol to question whether she has indeed forgiven Rogue, and it tempts her to run away again. And she has to make a decision to be a better person than she was all those years ago.

Comic booky shenanigans, when executed properly, can indeed lead to character growth.

Writer: Brian Reed

Penciler: Mike Wieringo

Inker: Wade Von Grawbadger

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Ms. Marvel vol. 2: Civil War (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Adventures of Superman #525 (1995)

Not every superhero needs a secret identity, but Superman absolutely does, as he’s reminded in The Adventures of Superman #525.

Superman’s identity was compromised in the previous storyline, prompting him to wonder if it’s time to retire Clark Kent for the safety of his friends and family. Fortunately, Lois Lane talks some sense into him, showing him how he’d have no real life he’s Superman all the time.

It’s nothing deep or profound, but it’s a charming issue as written by Karl Kesel, who often brought a nice sense of humor to his Superman issues and does so here (Lois’s encounter with the law makes for an entertaining comedic beat).

When DC rebooted Superman in the mid-80s, one of the most important revisions was reversing the Superman/Clark Kent dynamic. In the old days, Clark was the disguise for Superman. Since 1986, Superman has been the disguise for Clark Kent. It was a brilliant decision that enriched the character tremendously, and it’s reaffirmed in this issue.

Writer: Karl Kesel

Penciler: Stuart Immonen

Inker: Jose Marzan

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — JLA: Earth 2 (2000)

Writer Grant Morrison offers an interesting spin on the parallel-universe concept in the JLA: Earth 2 graphic novel. If the Justice League are destined to prevail in the one reality, then they’re destined to fail in the opposite reality.

The book revisits classic concepts from DC’s Silver Age continuity, but it takes a more modern, less child-friendly approach. In the old continuity, Earth 3 hosted an evil version of the Justice League, called the Crime Syndicate of America, who were opposed by a heroic version of Lex Luthor, who went by Alexander. DC had done away with alternate Earths at this point, but Morrison resurrected the basic concept for this standalone graphic novel—and he added some philosophical dilemmas to it.

Alexander Luthor recruits the JLA to save his world from the oppressive rule of the Crime Syndicate of Amerika, but will that world allow its nature to be overturned?

The concept makes for engaging science fiction, especially with Frank Quitely’s cinematic art providing a big-budget feel.

The characters are all static; no one has an arc to speak of. But what’s important is that they’re acting in character. This book is about the big ideas and the big JLA-scale action, and in that, it succeeds wonderfully.

Writer: Grant Morrison

Artist: Frank Quitely

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: Comixology; JLA: Earth 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Robin #127 (2004)

There have been quite a few Robins, and it hasn’t entirely been a boys club.

Stephanie Brown, previously the amateur vigilante Spoiler, got a brief turn as Batman’s sidekick. In Robin #127, we see her relishing the role. Meanwhile, her predecessor Tim Drake adjusts to a post-Robin life…and the fact that his ex-girlfriend is now the new Robin.

Since this was Tim’s series, we could safely assume he’d be back in the sidekick saddle before too long, but the role-shifting made for an interesting change of pace, and one that didn’t drag on for long at all. (Stephanie would go on to have a far more successful stint as Batgirl…at least until a continuity reboot interfered.)

Comics have been replacing familiar characters with different versions for a while now, since long before 2004. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. This worked because it was intended as a temporary change and it provided opportunities for two established, main characters to grow and learn.

Plus, some superhero roles have greater replaceability than others, and teenage sidekick roles tend to be at the higher end of that scale. Teenagers are still growing up and figuring themselves out, and a superhero persona can often provide a cocoon in which that discovery takes place. Adult superheroes, however, have more or less cemented personalities. Batman is only Bruce Wayne, but Robin works just as well whether he’s Dick Grayson or Tim Drake…and Stephanie Brown had potential, too. And they work because each one is likeable as an individual character, not by virtue of being “Batman’s sidekick.”

Writer: Bill Willingham

Artist: Damion Scott

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Old Man Logan #3 (2016)

And in the category of “totally unnecessary, but damn, it really kind of works” …

The future Wolverine from the acclaimed “Old Man Logan” storyline inexplicably time-travels to the present, and he sees this as his chance to save the world from the horrible future he’s live through.

One of the problems (not a problem?) with popular entertainment is that successful characters and stories don’t get the luxury of stopping while they’re ahead. They’ll be milked for all they’re worth, especially when a related movie is coming out within the next year. The original “Old Man Logan” was perfectly satisfying on its own merits; no need for anything further.

However, if they must…

Three issues in, and I’m enjoying the series. Logan has a strong motive—he wants to redeem himself as well as save the world. How he arrived in the present remains a mystery. And the book is making superb use of guest stars.

In issue #3, Logan meets the other Hawkeye, Kate Bishop, whose youthful energy provides an entertaining foil for the old man who’s lost everything. Their conversation as they’re running across rooftops is particularly fun…and maybe foreshadows plot developments, too.

I’d rather have the proper Wolverine, of course, but I’m on board with this. Fortunately, several more issues are already on Marvel Unlimited.

Writer: Jeff Lemire

Artist: Andrea Sorrentino

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Old Man Logan vol. 1: Berzerker (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 15 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Ultimate Spider-Man #13 (2001)

Yesterday I discussed when main-continuity Aunt May discovered Peter Parker’s secret identity. Now let’s turn our attention to the Ultimate continuity, when Peter told Mary Jane.

This is basically the inverse of yesterday’s revelatory issue. Ultimate Spider-Man #13 was very early in this Spider-Man’s career, so no secret-identity tensions have been building up over the course of years. Peter and MJ are teenagers who have been friends for a long time, and Peter proactively reveals his secret because he doesn’t want to lie to her (and, being a teenage guy, he no doubt wants to impress his closest female friend).

But like yesterday’s issue, this entire comic is a conversation. The action and adventure take a break, allowing us to zero in on the characters—which will help us care about them more when the action/adventure commences again.

Comics aren’t supposed to feature talking heads, but this one works remarkably well because of Brian Michael Bendis’s writing and Mark Bagley’s art. The page layouts are key here. The panels are used to punctuate each beat of the conversation, allowing everything to flow smoothly and organically. The reader gets an excellent sense of the pacing and timing of everything that’s being said. And Bendis knows when the keep quiet and let Bagley show the characters’ reactions so that even with the focus on dialogue, it remains a visual experience.

It’s a rather happy issue (and funny in places), providing a nice break from the angst, and it deepens the bond between two main characters. It also does what every teen superhero book should—it captures that wonderful anticipation of exciting new possibilities.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Penciler: Mark Bagley

Inker: Art Thibert

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Ultimate Spider-Man vol. 2: Learning Curve (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up