Tag Archives: DC Comics

Today’s Super Comics — Superman For All Seasons #1-4 (1998)

Less is often more. Superman For All Seasons, a four-issue miniseries by frequent collaborators Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, distills Superman into his key elements and zeroes in on his most super quality—he can do almost anything, but he chooses to help people.

The book is set in Superman’s early days, and as the title suggests, it’s structured around the four seasons. A different character narrates each issue: Jonathan Kent, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, and Lana Lang.

Pa Kent talks about a young man who was raised right and wants to do right. Lois talks about a dashing man who’s too good to be true, and yet he is that good. Luthor talks about a rival for the affection of Metropolis, a lonely man who can’t save everyone no matter how good his intentions are. And Lana talks about Clark Kent, the kind boy she grew up with who’s still there inside that costume.

Together, the issues form a nice arc, guiding us from Clark’s initial desire to use his abilities to help the world, to his initial successes, to his first real defeat, to his acceptance that though he can’t do everything, he can still do everything he can do.

Superman has definitive origin details, but he doesn’t have a definitive origin story. Nothing about Krypton informs who Clark Kent is as a person. No traumatic event motivates him to become Superman. By virtue of his upbringing, he’s intrinsically motivated to do good.

What’s interesting, then, is how he grows into the role and his responsibilities, how he adjusts to the burden that he has freely chosen, how he sticks with it despite any setbacks. That’s what Superman For All Seasons examines, and that’s why it succeeds in instilling a sense of grandeur on nearly every page. To understand the super, you have to understand the man.

In issue #4, two pages are devoted to a single panel of Superman flying over Smallville and looking down as the town is flooding. The only words on the page are Superman saying, “All right, Lana. I’ll make things safe.” It’s a perfect summation of who Superman is.

Writer: Jeph Loeb

Artist: Tim Sale

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Superman For All Seasons (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Countdown to Infinite Crisis (2005)

Three people have called themselves the Blue Beetle. The only one I ever followed was the middle guy, Ted Kord. He was in the Justice League when I first started reading comics, but he faded into the background of DC’s ensemble shortly thereafter, occasionally popping up for guest appearances (he showed up in Birds of Prey a bit).

He was just an athletic rich scientist with gadgets, a poor man’s Batman with a personality more like Spider-Man’s. He knew full well he was second-string, if not altogether redundant around other superheroes.

His final story was his best. DC kicked off multiple crossovers with Countdown to Infinite Crisis, a 100-page comic that sold for a dollar (I approve of such marketing techniques).

This prologue functions as a strong story in its own right. Someone’s been messing with Ted’s company, and his investigation leads him to uncover something far bigger. As he pieces this puzzle together, he gradually exhausts the patience of the superhero community, who want to humor the nice guy but have larger problems to deal with. But this second-stringer learns something they’ve all overlooked…and, being a second-stringer, he never gets the chance to tell them.

The Blue Beetle doesn’t die saving the world or any individual person within. But he gets to die with integrity. Given the sincere offer to join a plot against metahumans, and with a gun to his head, Ted declines. No threat to his life will compel him to turn on his friends, no matter how little they think of him sometimes. And he dies as he lived—underestimated.

If you’re going to kill a character to raise the stakes, you have to remember that the character is a character, not cannon fodder. The Blue Beetle’s own agency and motivation lead him to his death, so we care when it happens. It’s not just “The Death of the Blue Beetle!”—it’s a great underdog story.

Writers: Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, Judd Winick

Artists: Rags Morales, Jesus Saiz, Ivan Reis, Phil Jimenez, Ed Benes

Cover: Jim Lee and Alex Ross

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 (1985)

Funny little coincidence: Thirty years before Supergirl and Flash starred in television shows on back-to-back nights, DC killed them off in back-to-back issues of Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Okay, maybe not funny. But either way, it’s Barry Allen’s turn to die in issue #8.

This Flash had been around for twenty-nine years at this point, and he had hit a creative low point with a protracted trial storyline that ended his series. So Barry died, sacrificing himself so that the Flash franchise could grow and evolve. Or, in story, sacrificing himself to save the universe.

Flash had been a captive of the Anti-Monitor for most of the miniseries thus far, and the villain’s henchman, the Psycho Pirate, tortured him with emotion-manipulating powers, continuing the trend of this being a low point for the Scarlet Speedster.

But this is the character who kicked off the Silver Age superhero resurgence in 1956, so he deserves one last chance to be amazing—and he gets it. Using his brains as much as his speed, and with only a whimpering lame villain to assist him, he sows confusion among the Anti-Monitor’s minions, allowing him to slip inside the main weapon. After a quick assessment, he knows what he needs to do—and what it will do to him. And he acts anyway. “More than my life is at stake,” he says as he starts running.

He dies running. He dies thinking. He dies alone, without any expectation that anyone would ever learn about his sacrifice.

There’s that old saying that the true test of character is what you do when no one’s looking. When no one was looking, Barry Allen sacrificed his life to save everyone else’s.

Like with Supergirl’s death, Flash’s death stayed true to the character, encapsulating what made him great and giving him a fitting send-off.

Kid Flash, Wally West, would take over, and his series would function as one long coming-of-age story—the former sidekick striving to live up to his hero’s example, this example. Wally’s series, which will always be a sentimental favorite of mine, worked so well that Barry was able to stay dead for longer than twenty years. By comic book standards, that’s a lengthy stint in the afterlife.

Barry hit rock-bottom, caught a last-minute second wind, and went out in top form.

Writer: Marv Wolfman

Penciler: George Perez

Inker: Jerry Ordway

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Crisis on Infinite Earths (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 (1985)

An editorial decree killed Supergirl, but that didn’t stop her from going out in a heroic blaze of glory.

Crisis on Infinite Earths was DC’s first huge crossover series. It pulled together not only every DC character, but also characters inherited from defunct companies such as Fawcett and Charlton. The series’ real-world purpose was to obliterate all these other universes so DC Comics could move forward with a modern, streamlined continuity in a single universe.

And, by the way, Superman needed to be the only surviving Kryptonian in that new continuity. But no one said Supergirl needed to quietly fade away. (Spoilers ahead, of course.)

In Crisis #7, a multi-universal group of powerful superheroes wages a last-ditch campaign against the forces of the even more powerful Anti-Monitor. (“The Anti-Monitor” may not sound like a formidable threat, but he did already destroy all but five universes. I suppose that follows the rule of “show; don’t tell.”) The first part of the issue focuses on lots of cosmic exposition, which I found much more interesting as a kid, but there’s a nice parable within about the danger of excessive pride—it can destroy entire universes! You’ve been warned, kids.

The real heart of the issue is when the focus shifts to Supergirl. It’s unfortunate that she spends the first half in the background, but that’s mega-crossovers for you. When she leaps into action, though, the issue suddenly becomes great.

Naturally, Superman is the first to reach the Anti-Monitor. Everyone expects him to be their best chance of taking down the villain and saving the remaining universes.

But Superman fails. He gets beat, and beat bad.

So Supergirl steps in and steps up. She’s thinking entirely selflessly. She wants to save her only living relative, not only because she cares about him but also because of what he means to the world. Mind you, she’s spent her entire time on Earth living in his shadow, so she’s assuming she could never possibly measure up to his example.

But she does. She clobbers the Anti-Monitor, destroys his machines, saves those universes for the time being…and then she makes a mistake, but for the right reasons. While she’s got the Anti-Monitor on the ropes, she turns away to urge someone else to get to safety, and the Anti-Monitor exploits the moment to fire the fatal shot. She dies exactly as a hero should—putting others first and herself last.

DC would eventually introduce another Supergirl (as I’ve covered before), and then reintroduce a version closer to the original. But in this continuity, this was the definitive ending for this version of the character. This Kara never came back from the dead.

But in her final moments, Supergirl was better than Superman.

Writer: Marv Wolfman

Penciler: George Perez

Inkers: Dick Giordano and Jerry Ordway

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Crisis on Infinite Earths (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Green Arrow #11 (2017)

I’m pleased to report that the current Green Arrow series is proving to be consistently fun.

Issue #11 concludes a thriller set on an underwater trans-Pacific railway. Green Arrow, Black Canary, and John Diggle must protect a train full of dignitaries from a mercenary who’s been hired to disrupt upcoming peace talks.

Between Benjamin Percy’s fast-paced script and Juan Ferreyra’s kinetic art, the story is in constant motion. The action is well-staged, the characters are likable, and though the situation is treated as serious, the book never takes itself too seriously—an important balance to strike.

It’s not breaking any molds, but it’s solid, straightforward super-heroics full of great action set pieces.

Writer: Benjamin Percy

Artist: Juan Ferreyra

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Comixology; included in Green Arrow vol. 2: Island of Scars (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comics — JLA #62-64 (2002)

Truth becomes subjective in JLA #62-64, and the results are not good. Well, the story’s good, just not the Earth becoming flat or math not working.

Justice League stories require big, imaginative threats, and this qualifies, and it’s different from the usual fare of super-villains and hostile aliens. The enemy here is the loss of faith in objective reality, which in the DC Universe, naturally, will have sci-fi/fantasy repercussions.

Most important, the danger comes about in a character-based way, as Wonder Woman doubts her magical golden lasso when it offers up competing truths during a delicate situation, one with no tidy answers. Wonder Woman had recently lost her mother, and grief is clouding her judgment.

The issues serve up a worthwhile message: No one has infallible judgment, but truth is truth. We have to respect the truth, or else the moon will turn into cheese and people might die.

The More You Know.

Writer: Joe Kelly

Penciler: Doug Mahnke

Inker: Tom Nguyen

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in JLA: Golden Perfect (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

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 — 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