Tag Archives: DC Comics

Today’s Super Comic — Watchmen #9 (1987)

Watchmen is undeniably an artistic achievement. With complex plotting and depth of characterization, it’s a novel in comic book form, likely the first comic book series to fit that description.

Though an admirable work, it’s not all that enjoyable. Produced toward the end of the Cold War, and set in an alternate version of it, the book can be pretty bleak at times. (Spoilers ahead…you’ve been warned…) The climax involves the world’s smartest man tricking the world into behaving itself, so that doesn’t exactly put forth an optimistic view of humanity.

However, issue #9 uses that darkness to show how miraculous each human life inherently is. The chapter reaches an oddly uplifting ending, despite the dark revelation that precedes it.

In television terms, the issue is almost like a “bottle episode,” if the bottle can be all of Mars and if flashbacks are allowed. Written by Alan Moore, the entire issue is a conversation between the god-like Dr. Manhattan and all-too-human Silk Spectre (Laurie Juspeczyk), in which the latter must convince the former that humanity is worth saving. Dr. Manhattan is doubtful, finding the complex Martian environment infinitely more fascinating and majestic than people.

But as Laurie reaches an uncomfortable epiphany about who her father is, and as she wonders if her life is some cruel joke, Dr. Manhattan has his own epiphany:

“Thermo-dynamic miracles…events with odds so astronomical they’re effectively impossible, like oxygen spontaneously becoming gold. I long to observe such a thing.

“And yet, in each human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless generations against the odds of your ancestors being alive; meeting; siring this precise son; that exact daughter…

“…until your mother loves a man she has every reason to hate, and of that union, of the thousand million children competing for fertilization, it was you, only you, that emerged.

“To distill so specific a form from that chaos of improbability, like turning air to gold.

“That is the crowning unlikelihood.

“The thermodynamic miracle.”

Watchmen is detailed and layered enough that you’ll notice something different every time you read it. But that passage jumped out at me the first time I read the book, at 16 or so, and it continues to hold up as the high point of the series. Amid pervasive hopelessness, it’s a thing of beauty.

Writer: Alan Moore

Artist: Dave Gibbons

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Watchmen (TPB)

Appropriate For: ADULTS ONLY

Today’s Super Comics — JLA #43-46 (2000)

In which it’s confirmed that the Justice League’s most dangerous member is…Batman.

Mark Waid took over the writing on JLA with #43, and he kicked off with a superb four-part storyline that pitted the team against Ra’s al Ghul at his smartest. Ra’s, with his focus on reducing the global population in order to “save” the planet, is a great choice for a JLA foe, and his scheme here is a clever one—broadcasting a signal that interferes with the brain’s ability to comprehend the written word and, later, the spoken word. Rid humanity of language, and the resulting disasters will thin out the population in no time.

He knows beforehand the JLA will oppose him, and he’s not overly familiar with most of the members, except for Batman. And he’s well aware of Batman’s weaknesses.

The plot gets going right away when Bruce Wayne discovers his parents’ coffins have been stolen, which is a perfect way to keep Batman distracted for a while. Then Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter Talia and his men proceed to enact Batman’s emergency protocols against each member of the JLA, one at a time. Turns out Batman has maintained files on how to non-lethally incapacitate his teammates, such as dosing Aquaman with a fear toxin to make him terrified of water and making the Martian Manhunter flammable. Secretive soul that he is, Batman has neglected to ever mention this project to any of his teammates who have placed their trust in him.

That’s the true brilliance of Waid’s story—the main obstacle to thwarting a global threat is a protagonist’s own fatal flaw. It’s a great way to keep character at the center of the story without interfering with the stars’ respective solo series.

And didn’t I just recently say that Batman was a jerk during this time? See?

Writer: Mark Waid

Pencilers: Howard Porter and Steve Scott

Inkers: Drew Geraci and Mark Propst

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Detective Comics #745 (2000)

The various Batman titles found renewed focus and creativity after the lengthy “No Man’s Land” arc (and during it, as I covered a few days ago). The different series had basically melded into a weekly book during that saga, but each one reclaimed a distinct identity afterward.

Detective Comics, naturally, focused on Batman as a master detective—an important facet of the character that’s much harder to pull off than the standard super-heroic action/adventure, and therefore much more rewarding when it’s pulled off well. And writer Greg Rucka pulled it off brilliantly, aided by excellent artist Shawn Martinbrough and an interesting coloring scheme.

During this period, the creators opted to forgo the full range of colors and cast the book in black, white, shades of gray, shades of red, and various flesh tones. It was a clever decision that gave the book a unique visual identity, and it served the somewhat noir-ish tone (Bat-noir?). The reds pop off the page, making every appearance of blood all the more striking and every scarlet sky just eerie enough.

The story is solid and well thought out. Issue #745 is in the middle of the first storyline, and Gotham City has recently reopened for business—including criminal business, of course. We meet a new villain, Whisper A’Daire, who’s making moves among the city’s most and least respectable residents. She’s somehow associated with Ra’s al Ghul, and for some reason part of her skin has scales. And she’s already arranged to have people killed. So basically, the world’s greatest detective has work to do.

Writing and art joined forces to create a memorable era for Batman and Detective Comics, one that struck a mature tone while keeping everything PG-13.

Writer: Greg Rucka

Pencilers: Shawn Martinbrough and John Watkiss

Inker: Steve Mitchell

Cover: Dave Johnson

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Action Comics #866 (2008)

Superman’s greatest enemy is no doubt Lex Luthor. But his second greatest enemy is easily Braniac (even if the movies have failed to make use of him thus far).

Braniac receives a modern reintroduction in Action Comics #866, which begins what might just be his strongest story arc to date. Writer Geoff Johns amps up Braniac’s creepiness and alien nature while retaining his classic shtick of miniaturizing cities, bottling them up, and maintaining a collection of perfectly preserved samples of alien civilizations. Here, he actually comes across as a frightening, dangerous figure (maybe a bit too frightening for younger children) and definitely a worthy foe for the Man of Steel.

Even as the story modernizes elements of the Superman mythos, it pays homage to the past. Artist Gary Frank’s rendition of Superman/Clark Kent resembles Christopher Reeve more than a little, and this first part spends some time with the classic Daily Planet staff, with Clark playing his role as the guileless nice guy without any over-the-top bumbling around.

It’s a strong part one, and yet it all gets better from here on out.

Writer: Geoff Johns

Penciler: Gary Frank

Inker: Jon Sibal

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Superman: Braniac (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #125 (2000)

The Batman books attempted an ambitious storyline that wrecked the status quo and crossed over every Bat-title for a year. On the whole, the result was successful.

Prior to “No Man’s Land,” an earthquake had practically destroyed Gotham City, and the U.S. government decided to condemn the city and isolate it from the rest of the country. People had a window of time to evacuate, and those who stayed behind would be stuck in a lawless land.

You have to suspend quite a bit of disbelief for the premise, but once you get past that, it’s a great set-up for a year of Batman stories unlike any other. The villains carve out their respective territories to lord over, while the remnants of the Gotham City Police Department, no longer with any legal authority, try to impose order and protect the innocents left behind, with Jim Gordon serving more in a general role than a police commissioner role. And Batman is initially AWOL for reasons known only to him.

Throughout the long arc, resentment and tensions build between Batman and Gordon, and they come to a head in Legends of the Dark Knight #125, which is basically just a conversation between the two.

It’s an excellent conversation, one that was years in the making, with Gordon finally calling Batman out for acting like a jerk—treating him like a subordinate, leaving him in the dark about major events, and frequently walking out on him in mid-sentence. It was long overdue, and Batman’s response is meaningful…as is Gordon’s response to that response.

Batman may be the title character, but for this storyline, Gordon provides the emotional core and serves as the most compelling protagonist. A good man who has dedicated his life to upholding the law finds himself in a lawless situation and must make difficult, ethically murky choices along the way. That’s great stuff right there.

And yeah, Batman really was a jerk at this point in his history.

By the way, the “No Man’s Land” novelization by Greg Rucka is also excellent. There’s more than enough going on here to fill a novel.

Writer: Greg Rucka

Penciler: Rick Burchett

Inker: James Hodgkins

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Batman: No Man’s Land vol. 4 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Tales of the Teen Titans #42-44, Annual #3 (1984)

The Teen Titans never achieved the tremendous levels of popularity the X-Men enjoyed for many years, but for a period in the early ‘80s, the quality of stories and characterization was pretty damn close.

The classic Marv Wolfman/George Perez run on The New Teen Titans reached its creative climax with a storyline called “The Judas Contract” (which has an animated adaptation coming out soon). At this point, the title had been renamed Tales of the Teen Titans and a new New Teen Titans series was about to come out. If this were a television series, the storyline would feel like a satisfying season finale, one that ties up lots of threads that have been laid since the series’ earliest installments while continuing to flesh out characters.

One of the Titans is a traitor, which was revealed to the reader shortly before these issues. And this traitor has been working with Slade Wilson, alias Deathstroke the Terminator. Wilson’s son had taken out a contract with the villainous organization HIVE to capture the Titans, dead or alive, though he died in the process. Now, Wilson feels honor-bound to fulfill it, and it’s clearly taking a toll on him.

Nevertheless, with the aid of a psychotic teenager, he captures the Titans one by one—except for Dick Grayson, who had recently relinquished his Robin role.

Watch Robin grow up into Nightwing. Watch all the Titans reel from a member’s cold-hearted betrayal. Watch them cautiously accept a new member. Watch Slade Wilson acquire far more depth than the typical comic book super-villain. And generally admire the amazing execution of the whole thing.

Don’t start with this storyline, though. Begin with The New Teen Titans #1, consider “The Judas Contract” the pinnacle, and maybe read a little bit further. And, aside from the occasional aspect that’s a little dated (or a lot), you’ll enjoy one of the all-time great superhero team series. (Especially if you already like the X-Men.) (Not meant to be an endorsement the Teen Titans Go cartoon, which was purely for the kiddies and dreadful for adults.)

Writer: Marv Wolfman

Penciler: George Perez

Inker: Dick Giordano

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Detective Comics #934-940 (2016)

Hey, look—the original numbering is back. Welcome back, triple-digit numbers.

The numbering is old, but the direction is new. Detective Comics becomes a team book beginning with issue #934, with Batman and Batwoman as co-leads. They gather the next generation of Gotham-based crimefighters, seeking to train them to face an oncoming threat.

The recruits are all familiar faces (though I’m more familiar with their pre–New 52 versions): Tim Drake, here as Red Robin instead of just Robin (not sure what the distinction is, other than the very first Robin of olde-timey continuity grew up into Red Robin, but in-story, the “Red” seems a random addition); Cassandra Cain, Orphan (she was the second Batgirl in previous continuity); Stephanie Brown, Spoiler (the third Batgirl in previous continuity); and, quite randomly, a reformed Clayface (it feels like that old Sesame Street game—one of these things just doesn’t belong here; but I like the idea of Batman wanting to help an old foe turn his life around).

It’s a good team, and they face a compelling antagonist. The U.S. military (or at least one rogue contingent within) has decided to duplicate Batman’s techniques, methods, and equipment to create an army of Batmen. If one Batman can accomplish so much good in Gotham, how much good could many Batmen accomplish in military situations across the globe?

I don’t usually care for casting the military as villains, but this turns out to be an exception. There aren’t any mustache-twirling villains here. They have legitimate concerns about national security, and trying to learn from Batman is certainly not a bad idea, but they go way too far, to the point of endangering the innocents they want to protect. To make things more interesting, the colonel in charge of this operation is Batwoman’s father and Batman’s uncle, adding personal dimensions to the conflict.

The team nature of the book humanizes Batman a bit, giving him more opportunities than usual to display genuine emotion—especially after what happens in #940. I’ll be back for the second volume.

This might be the strongest DC Rebirth trade I’ve read yet, and they’ve all been good (so far, though I probably just jinxed it…sorry about that).

Writer: James Tynion IV

Artists: Eddy Barrows and Alvaro Martinez

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Batman: Detective Comics vol. 1: Rise of the Batmen (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Starman #80 (2001)

And that’s the end of James Robinson’s Starman. (Spoilers ahead.)

The series wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was ambitious and distinctive. And it told a complete beginning, middle, and end. This could have been a series of novels as well as comics.

The Jack Knight on the final page of #80 is a much more mature individual than we met back in #0. The biggest indication of maturity is his decision to leave superheroics behind so he can be a father to his children. He passes his cosmic rod on to a worthy successor—Courtney Whitmore, the JSA’s junior member, formerly the Star-Spangled Kid and now Stargirl. (However, while she’s an established JSA character, it would have been nice for her to have more of a role in this series, given that she ends being the official successor to the Starman legacy. But like I said, for all its strengths, it wasn’t a perfect series.)

So in hindsight, it seems the series wasn’t so much about Jack Knight growing into his superhero role—it was about him more generally becoming the man he needed to be. He’s gained a new appreciation and respect for the family he had previously kept at arm’s length, and now he prioritizes his new family. He’s been on quite a journey, and he’s older and wiser for it.

The series is quite an accomplishment—and one I’m glad I finally got around to reading.

Writer: James Robinson

Artist: Peter Snejbjerg

Cover: Tony Harris and Andrew Robinson

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Starman Omnibus vol. 6 (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Starman #72 (2000)

This late in the series, I can’t really review without spoilers, so consider this your warning if you intend to read this series for the first time.

Okay, then in that case…

We get a major development in Starman #72 as the original Starman (Ted Knight) dies a heroic death saving Opal City from his longtime foe, the Mist. His ending is fitting, and it ties back nicely to this series’ first storyline.

What’s most impressive is how before the start of this series, Ted Knight was a nonentity, just another old member of the Justice Society of America. Writer James Robinson built him up into an adventurous scientist, the sort of superhero who lights the darkness rather than casts darkness, one who has retained his heroic edge well into old age even as he’s turned over his Starman identity to his son Jack. In previous issues, flashbacks have colored in his backstory, and he no longer feels like just a part of a lineup. Rather, he’s an integral part of DC’s Golden Age.

In another other important development, Jack Knight meets his infant son. So he becomes a father and loses his father in a single issue. It’s thematically on-the-nose, but appropriate.

Writer: James Robinson

Artist: Peter Snejbjerg

Cover: Andrew Robinson

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Starman Omnibus vol. 6 (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Nightwing #8 (2016)

Bruce Wayne plays the damsel in distress in Nightwing #8, in which we learn some backstory about Dick Grayson’s family as Nightwing confronts his own personal Severus Snape.

It makes perfect sense to mine the Grayson family history for story possibilities. After all, they were nomadic circus performers. There’s bound to be some interesting backstory there. In hindsight, I’m surprised more writers haven’t exploited it.

Raptor, a vigilante who knew Mary Grayson before she was Mary Grayson, captures Bruce and puts him in a death trap for “ruining” Dick with his life of wealth and privilege, and Dick learns new details about his late mother while trying to save his second father. And, without getting into specifics, I appreciate that writer Tim Seeley opts to present Raptor more as a Snape figure than a Darth Vader figure, because the latter would have been far more clichéd and far less compelling at this point.

But as written, Raptor has strong, interesting motivation that makes him a welcome antagonist for Nightwing. He’s the sort of father figure Dick could have had if Batman hadn’t stepped in, and his present intrusion into their lives underscores how Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson have been saving each other’s souls as well as their lives since their partnership began all those years ago.

Another winner for DC Rebirth. It’s been one heck of a second wind for the company.

Writer: Tim Seeley

Artist: Javier Fernandez

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Nightwing vol. 1: Better Than Batman (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up