Tag Archives: DC Comics

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 — 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 — DC: The New Frontier #6 (2004)

DC: The New Frontier ends with a rousing action sequence and a JFK speech (the latter is where the series got its name from, after all). And it reminds you why you love superheroes in the first place.

Throughout the previous five issues, we’ve seen the hopes and fears of various characters, but in #6, when a powerful menace threatens the entire world, it’s time to set aside all personal issues and do what’s right. It’s superheroes in their purest form.

Flash and Green Lantern get the most attention here, as both learn to think bigger and push themselves further. Ultimately, the world is saved because two men, acting bravely and selflessly, perform feats they had never previously attempted. The time for angst and introspection has passed—it’s time to be adults and get the job done. And, ironically, they’re at their most adult when they act the most like childhood fantasy heroes. No reason maturity can’t be brightly colored.

I’m reminded of the Muppets. Yes, Muppets. When you’re a young child, the Muppets are hysterical. When you’re a teenager, it’s all, “Oh, I’m too old for that kid stuff.” Then as an adult, that becomes “You know what? I like the Muppets. They amuse me, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.”

And that’s basically what The New Frontier is saying, but with superheroes. It recaptures the fun of watching purely heroic characters saving the world, and it gives you permission to enjoy it without shame. And it encourages you to aspire to greater heights yourself.

Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in DC: The New Frontier Volume Two (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — DC: The New Frontier #5 (2004)

In the penultimate issue of DC: The New Frontier, a powerful threat makes itself known…and folks step up. Whereas the previous issue showed the fear holding everyone back, issue #5 shows characters moving forward, even in the face of the unknown. And things are beginning to look a lot more Silver Age—appropriately enough, as this miniseries is a reimagining of that era’s dawn.

Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern origin story gets a retelling here, and it drills deeper into Hal’s head than the original 1959 comic did. His joy shines through, especially with writer/artist Darwyn Cooke’s clean, classic style, and it’s pure fun watching him fly for the first time (without a plane, that is). But the scene fits thematically with the larger work—the ring provides a focal point for the bravery that was always there, even as Hal had been doubting himself.

The Green Lantern power ring becomes a metaphor. Push away the fear, and you can soar—you can perform all sorts of phenomenal feats.

Also of note, Superman gets his big hero moment, by way of showing inspirational leadership to the rest of the cast.

But the series is called DC: The New Frontier, not Superman: The New Frontier. So Supes can’t do it alone.

On to the final issue…

Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in DC: The New Frontier Volume Two (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — DC: The New Frontier #4 (2004)

Things tilt toward paranoia and fear in DC: The New Frontier #4. The government’s attempt to abduct the Flash sends the speedster into hiding. Wonder Woman has retired to Paradise Island. J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, decides to hitch a ride back to Mars. And Hal Jordan is scrubbed from that same Mars mission (though that’s against his will).

But amid the fear, acts of heroism shine through. J’onn J’onzz gets a great one, which leads to a turning point for a character who has spent the series concealing his true nature for fear of how he’ll be treated. And his fear is hardly baseless, given what happens to a black vigilante named John Henry who tries to strike back against the KKK. And John Henry’s tragic situation reminds us about the need to be better than we were.14

Darwyn Cooke’s story makes excellent use of DC’s shared universe. These characters aren’t just inhabiting the same world—they’re affecting each other within it. When Flash publicly calls it quits, J’onn makes up his mind about trying to return to Mars, and his means of departure is the mission Hal’s involved in.

Characters and situations connect in an organic way, a thematic way, but not a “Look how cool—it’s, like, all connected, man” way.

Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in DC: The New Frontier Volume Two (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Titans #6 (2016)

My DC: The New Frontier reviews will take a quick intermission, because I just picked up the trade paperback for the new Titans series and it was pure fun.

A large part of the appeal, at least in my case, is nostalgia. The first storyline, “The Return of Wally West,” reunites “my” Flash with the original Titans as they tussle with one of the first Flash villains I ever read, Abra Kadabra, a techno-magician from the distant future.

When DC rebooted with the New 52, Wally got lost in the shuffle (as did fellow Titan Donna Troy, the original Wonder Girl, who’s also back here, though her return happened in a previous story I haven’t read). Wally’s back now, and he gets a starring role in the new Titans series (featuring the original Teen Titans, but a bit beyond the “teen” part).

Wally must come to terms with the fact that the world isn’t quite how he remembers it, which is fitting, as it’s not quite the DC Universe I remember either. But some things remain constant, and one of those things is friendship, as Titans #6 makes clear. The bond between these former sidekicks remains as strong as ever, which the issue creatively shows using pre-established Flash lore.

I’m not sure if it would work as well for newer readers, but for older readers who grew up with these characters, it’s almost like checking in with old friends you haven’t seen in ages. Seeing this classic Titans lineup in action together just makes me happy, because I read their classic adventures when I was a young teenager. And I grew up reading about Wally West’s maturation into adulthood, so seeing him in action as a Flash and as the storyline’s leading character—even better.

Writer: Dan Abnett

Penciler: Brett Booth

Inker: Norm Rapmund

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Comixology; included in Titans vol. 1: The Return of Wally West (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — DC: The New Frontier #3 (2004)

DC: The New Frontier puts the Martian Manhunter to excellent use—in my opinion, his best ever, which the book accomplishes by going back to the character’s core concept.

There’s a lot going on in issue #3, including perhaps too much exposition, and we check in with quite a few characters. The standout moments involve J’onn J’onzz as he continues adapting to his new life on a new world, among people he fears would fear him if they knew what he truly was.

A newsreel of the newly formed Challengers of the Unknown plants the seed of an idea—perhaps the good J’onn can do isn’t limited to his work as police detective John Jones. But then an encounter with a distrustful Batman, who knows his weakness, reminds him of everything he has to fear.

Though the Martian’s presence on Earth isn’t public knowledge, the U.S. government is aware that the alien is out there somewhere, prompting a mission to Mars to determine whether the planet is a threat. That mission, still in the works, has recruited Col. Rick Flagg of the so-called Suicide Squad and Hal Jordan—two men both psychologically scarred by previous wartime experiences.

And that’s the true brilliance of the story, which can appear rather episodic at first glance—it explores the balance between fear and courage, and paranoia and aspiration. The various threads all tie into that central theme somehow. The theme is perfect for the superhero genre, and it especially fits the characters of J’onn J’onzz and Hal Jordan—the former because of his “stranger in a strange land” status, and the latter because of his reputation for fearlessness that’s always begged the question of what’s motivating that bravery.

Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in DC: The New Frontier Volume One (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up