Tag Archives: DC Comics

Today’s Super Comic — The Adventures of Superman #517 (1994)

I should’ve posted this one on April Fools’ Day. Well, I’m writing it on April 1, so…good enough.

Someone played a cruel practical joke on Superman not long after he returned from the dead. In “Dead Again!”, a Superman corpse is discovered, leading to speculation about whether the living Superman is the real deal. After all, four imposters sprang up after Superman died, so the public’s skepticism is understandable. Fool me once, shame one you; fool me five times, you think I’m nuts or something?

Even Superman himself can’t be entirely sure. If it’s possible for him to come back from the dead, then it’s also possible he could be a clone or some other fabrication, even one with all the right memories. And as a journalist, he’s trained not to take anything at face value. The genetically identical corpse could well be a hoax, but he also has no proof it’s not. For all his strength, he’s not invulnerable to mind games.

So The Adventures of Superman #517 shows us Superman working through his existential crisis, and it also highlights the strengths of the Super-books’ structure at the time.

There were four Superman titles, but they functioned together as a single, nearly weekly series. Though each title had its designated creative team, they’d share the same stories, passing them down the line in a pre-planned round-robin fashion. It was almost like how television series are handled, but with the line editor serving as the showrunner.

While you had to read all four series to get the complete story, each individual issue provided a satisfying read with its own mini-story within the larger framework. In AOS #517, Superman works through his doubts while tackling an admittedly generic villain, though he remains rattled by the mysterious fake corpse. Superman overcomes some obstacle, but the tension still builds—and the next chapter hits the stands usually just one week later.

The structure gave the stories room to breathe and facilitated many solid Superman stories for readers young and old.

Writer: Karl Kesel

Penciler: Barry Kitson

Inker: Ray McCarthy

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Sandman Mystery Theatre #20 (1994)

Comics have a different kind of “will they/won’t they?” – will the hero’s significant other learn his/her secret identity?

In Sandman Mystery Theatre, that scenario is performed by Wesley Dodds (the Sandman) and Dian Belmont. It’s a fitting venue for secret-identity tension, since it is a mystery series and all, but what’s especially great is that it’s two-sided. Wesley is grappling with whether to tell her, but Dian is piecing together clues on her own. Both characters demonstrate independent agency.

Of course, that’s an ongoing subplot that gains momentum in #20. The main plot, naturally, involves a murderer the Sandman must defeat. But the relationship between the two main characters is the series’ true selling point in the issues I’ve read. A masked mystery man isn’t enough—we need to know the man behind the mask. And a love interest isn’t enough either—we need to get to know her as her own person, too.

So apparently, if you take 1930s pulp mystery and inject a strong dosage of characterization, you get something incredibly compelling. What a shocker.

Writers: Matt Wagner and Steven T. Seagle

Artist: Guy Davis

Cover: Gavin Wilson and Richard Bruning

Publisher: DC Comics (Vertigo)

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Sandman Mystery Theatre (Book 4): The Scorpion (TPB)

Appropriate For: ADULTS ONLY

Today’s Super Comics — Sandman #41-49 (1992-93)

Ironically, the most linear Sandman story arc is the one that co-stars Delirium. It’s also my favorite.

Among his many strokes of brilliance in Sandman, writer Neil Gaiman not only created a personification of dreams, but he also gave that character a family in grand mythological fashion. The Endless comprises seven siblings: Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair, and Delirium (formerly Delight). Each has a distinct, vibrant personality, and the interplay between them is always fascinating.

The family dynamic comes into play in “Brief Lives” in issues #41-49, in which Delirium recruits Dream to search for long-lost Destruction. It’s a classic quest plot starring two totally opposite personalities. But a simpler structure doesn’t mean less depth—each issue remains intelligent, thought-provoking, and entertaining.

If you haven’t read Sandman in its entirety yet…why not? Your only excuse is if you’re under 18. In that case, yeah, wait a bit.

Writer: Neil Gaiman

Penciler: Jill Thompson

Inkers: Vince Locke and Dick Giordano

Cover: Dave McKean

Publisher: DC Comics (Vertigo)

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Sandman vol. 7: Brief Lives (TPB)

Appropriate For: ADULTS ONLY

Today’s Super Comic — Wonder Woman #10 (2007)

Yesterday, I discussed a time Superman resorted to killing the villains and then had to work through his guilt. Now it’s Wonder Woman’s turn.

Leading into the 2006 DC crossover Infinite Crisis, Wonder Woman snapped the neck of an unscrupulous man with mind-control powers, a man who proved himself capable of controlling no less than Superman himself. She saw no alternative; others, particularly Superman and Batman, disagreed. Given her Amazonian heritage, killing a relentless threat seemed a viable option. Though she felt justified, she took a break from her Wonder Woman role for a year and was only just getting back into it when novelist Jodi Picoult began her five-issue stint on the title.

Picoult’s brief but solid run concluded in Wonder Woman #10, which pits Diana against her mother Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. The Amazons are waging war against Washington, D.C., and Diana’s refusal to side with them disappoints her mother greatly.

Mother issues have been a part of the Wonder Woman mythos since early on. After all, one of the staples of her origin involves Diana disobeying her mother’s wishes to compete in a tournament to journey to man’s world. Putting Diana and Hippolyta on opposite sides of a major conflict, and having them fail to live up to each other’s expectations, feels inevitable and earned. And in viewing her mother in a new light, Wonder Woman is also able to view her own past actions through a new lens—particularly her execution of a villain.

I haven’t read the storyline this leads into, “Amazons Attack,” though I recall it being critically panned. Nevertheless, the set-up works wonderfully as a conclusion to the previous arc, and it allows Wonder Woman to discover a bit more about who exactly she’s supposed to be.

Writer: Jodi Picoult

Artist: Paco Diaz

Cover: Terry and Rachel Dodson

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Wonder Woman: Love and Murder (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

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