Tag Archives: Marv Wolfman

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 — 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 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 Comic — Spider-Woman #1 (1978)

Spider-Woman is not in any way a Spider-Man rip-off. Marvel basically took the idea of a spider-powered superhero, spun it around, and shot it off on a tangent, resulting in few similarities beyond wall-crawling and the word “spider” in the name.

But among those few similarities…Jessica Drew, like Peter Parker, does not start off heroically at all. We meet her as she’s contemplating robbing a food store because money is so tight. She doesn’t go through with it, of course, but she’s clearly not thinking about the greater good.

And while people tended to distrust Spider-Man, particularly in those early issues, they’re utterly repulsed by Spider-Woman, even when she’s in her civilian identity. It has nothing to do with angry newspaper editorials, though. With her, it’s chemical. Despite that she’s a beautiful woman, they instinctively distrust her, feel she’s odd. The spider-blood coursing through her veins sets off their alarm bells, and they don’t know why. They don’t like spiders; they don’t like her.

It’s an interesting approach, and one very much in the mighty Marvel tradition of hard-luck heroes. It’s also appropriate—back in the 1960s, Marvel’s publisher initially rejected the idea of Spider-Man because he believed people found spiders far too repulsive to want to read about a spider-based character.

Spider-Woman is not yet a full-fledged superhero by the end of #1, but the seeds are planted. There’s clearly a good person within trying to find her way out. Definitely more dramatically interesting than having a ready-made hero.

Writer: Marv Wolfman

Penciler: Carmine Infantino

Inker: Tony Dezuniga

Cover: Joe Sinnott

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Essential Spider-Woman vol. 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The New Teen Titans #38 (1984)

new_teen_titans_vol_1_38Wonder Girl’s secret origin—inattention to detail.

The character was originally intended to be a younger version of Wonder Woman, just as the original Superboy was the Man of Steel when he was a lad. But when DC Comics banded its teen sidekicks together as the Teen Titans, they forgot and included Wonder Girl in the mix, creating a comic book paradox and a character without a past.

This also created an opportunity for an excellent story—an opportunity writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez seized in The New Teen Titans #38. Dick Grayson, in his final outing as Robin the Boy Wonder, puts his detective skills to use helping one of his oldest friends learn about her past, and he and Donna Troy (Wonder Girl) piece the clues together one at a time.

Wolfman and Perez wisely omit two things from this story: super-villains and shocking revelations of any paranormal nature. Instead, they focus on Donna’s strictly human origins (while leaving the door open for other possibilities down the line), and this approach allows them to craft a superb short story about how family doesn’t necessarily mean blood, as one friend helps another uncover details about the people who cared for her in her earliest years.

I still say this was DC’s best series in the early ‘80s.

Writer: Marv Wolfman

Penciler: George Perez

Inker: Romeo Tanghal

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The New Teen Titans #20 (1982)

New_Teen_Titans_Vol_1_20DC Comics’ best series in the early ‘80s was The New Teen Titans.

The Teen Titans debuted in 1964 as a way of teaming up the various teenage sidekicks, allowing them to shine outside their mentors’ shadows. Their series was cancelled twice in the ‘70s, and then they received the X-Men treatment.

Writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez reinvigorated the Titans franchise when they created The New Teen Titans, bringing together three old-school Titans from the classic sidekick mold (Robin, Kid Flash, and Wonder Girl), a reworked Doom Patrol kid (Beast Boy, now Changeling), and three new characters (Raven, Starfire, and Cyborg). Like the X-Men, much of the series’ fun came from the interactions of its diverse cast of well-developed, interesting characters, each coming from a unique background. And the superhero action was pretty great, too.

Issue #20 serves as a good introduction to everyone. Ironically, the story is told from the point of view of perhaps the blandest character in the lineup, the one with the most straightforward, least interesting backstory—Kid Flash (Wally West, several years before he became the Flash for a long time). Wally is a reasonably well-adjusted 19-year-old who comes from a good home and has had the opportunity to be his hero’s sidekick. Not a fountain of angst there, just some basic indecision about what path to take in life and the standard-issue romantic confusion involving a teammate who once controlled his mind.

Wally writes a letter to his parents, and that frames the entire issue. In it, he details the Titans’ encounter with a young villain who is desperately trying to win his father’s love, and along the way we see how Wally is growing up a bit, realizing that whatever problems he has, other people, whether friends or foes, have it worse.

It’s an excellent lesson in empathy, and merely one of many great Titans issues from the Wolfman/Perez era.

Writer: Marv Wolfman

Penciler: George Perez

Inker: Romeo Tanghal

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; The New Teen Titans vol. 3 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up