Tag Archives: Marvel

Today’s Super Comic — New X-Men #117 (2001)

Apparently, the first X-Men movie reminded Marvel that Xavier was supposed to be running a school for gifted youngsters, not merely sheltering a team of superheroes trapped in an infinite loop of melodramatic soap operas. Granted, the soap opera approach served the X-Men extraordinarily well at times, resulting in some of the greatest superhero comics ever printed.

But by 2001, yeah, it was time for something different. So along came writer Grant Morrison with a fresh tone and fresh energy. X-Men became ­New X-Men, and it earned that adjective, by gosh and by golly.

Issue #117 is early in the run, though not too early for a major status-quo shift to already have taken place. The world now knows Xavier and his students are mutants, and if you know anything about the X-Men, you know how positively thrilled folks are upon hearing the news.

It’s a great development, though. The X-Men have been a metaphor for persecuted minorities since day one, but being able to easily pretend they’re not mutants doesn’t do the metaphor justice.

Also welcome is the fact that the school is actually a school for more than five people. Xavier’s mansion has extras in the background. The X-Men have expanded from a family into a community, and the main characters have actual jobs—teaching these kids.

Those main characters are also changing. The Beast gets the most focus in this issue. His mutation has evolved, or perhaps devolved. Instead of being a blue, furry man-ape, he’s now a blue, furry man-feline. It’s quite an adjustment, and there’s a lot of pain behind his jolly demeanor.

Meanwhile, Jean Grey is feeling increasingly detached from her husband Cyclops, who seems to be drawing the attention of Emma Frost, the formerly villainous White Queen, so Jean starts flirting with Wolverine, who we all know has been in love with her since the good old days. Yeah, you can’t totally extract the soap opera element from the X-Men. It’s infused in its DNA.

But there’s more going on, and none of it feels like a rehash of your favorite childhood X-stories. It’s exactly what the X-Men needed at the time. (Well, they didn’t need to trade their colorful superhero costumes for lots of black…or maybe Hollywood said they did need to.)

Writer: Grant Morrison

Penciler: Ethan Van Sciver

Inker: Prentiss Rollins

Cover: Frank Quitely

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in New X-Men by Grant Morrison vol. 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Black Panther #8 (1999)

Flexibility with continuity can be a good thing when done right, especially when characters are appearing in stories over the course of multiple decades. What made sense in the 1960s may not make as much sense by late 1990s, such as a sovereign monarch choosing to join an American superhero team.

Black Panther #8, which features Avengers guest stars and flashbacks inspired by the classic 1968 Captain America #100, makes sense of T’Challa’s counterintuitive decision to leave his throne to gallivant as a superhero, and it does so by adding context and motivation that rightfully put the Black Panther’s monarchial role in the forefront. (I’m about to spoil it.)

So back in Captain America #100, Cap was so impressed by the Panther that he invited him to join the Avengers. T’Challa accepted, and thus began the Wakandan king’s American adventures. In the fast-paced, make-it-up-as-you-go style of 1960s Marvel Comics…sure, why not? But in 1999’s Black Panther #8, writer Christopher Priest considers that moment with the benefit of hindsight and takes a more modern approach.

The Avengers were relatively new at the time—an autonomous, unsupervised, unregulated group of powerful individuals claiming to have everyone’s best interests in mind. But Wakanda already had a history of unwanted and destructive foreign interference, so how could T’Challa be certain the Avengers wouldn’t pose a threat to his nation? And here he had an opportunity to infiltrate their ranks and take their measure firsthand. Thus, he joined the Avengers thinking first and foremost of his nation’s security.

Sometimes, retroactive tweaks to continuity (retcons) wind up convoluting the backstory or muddying things up, but this is an example of a retcon that enriches and deepens what came before while creating tension for present stories. The revelation is true to the character and therefore credible. Exactly how to do it right.

Writer: Christopher Priest

Pencilers: Joe Jusko and Amanda Connor

Inker: Jimmy Palmiotti

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Black Panther by Christopher Priest: The Complete Collection Vol. 1

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Daredevil #82 (2006)

Then there was that time Daredevil went to jail…and it was kind of justified, actually.

Ed Brubaker took over as Daredevil’s writer beginning with #82, and he picked up right where predecessor Brian Michael Bendis left off. Bendis shook things up quite a bit over the previous few years by giving Daredevil a secret-identity crisis. Matt Murdock was outed as the Man Without Fear, but in the absence of definitive proof, he was able to get away with the reliable tactic of deny, deny, deny…until he couldn’t.

So Murdock’s behind bars in the same facility as the Kingpin and many others he’s put away throughout his career. Issue #82 begins with him in protective custody, as he is legally a blind man, but you get the feeling that’s not going to last long. Meanwhile, Daredevil is running around Hell’s Kitchen beating up bad guys. Wait, what?

It’s a gripping scenario, one that does something different with a character who had been around for over forty years at this point. As you’d expect from Brubaker, the writing is tense, intelligent, grounded, and better suited for older readers, and Michael Lark’s art is a natural fit, the gritty style setting exactly the right tone.

Daredevil as a prison show…and it works wonderfully.

Really, though—lawyer by day, vigilante by night? As much as I love the character, Murdock has broken the law numerous times over the years, so it’s fitting that his hubris earns him some comeuppance. It may have taken four decades to get here, but this was a Daredevil story that needed to happen. The events feel earned.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Artist: Michael Lark

Cover: Tommy Lee Edwards

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Daredevil by Ed Brubaker & Michael Lark Ultimate Collection – Book 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 15 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Runaways #5 (2005)

There’s certain rite of passage every young superhero must go through in the Marvel Universe: confronting Doctor Doom.

The Runaways have met a fellow super-powered teen, Victor Mancha, who might be destined to become evil and might be the son of a major super-villain. In #5 (vol. 2), they have to save Victor’s mother from one of those potential fathers, leading to a fun match between a bunch of relatively inexperienced teenagers and the Fantastic Four’s greatest enemy.

And then the book tops itself with a superb twist and, as usual, a great cliffhanger…so not even a Doctor Doom battle is the high point here.

It’s just a consistently fun series that has a blast playing in the Marvel Universe sandbox.

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Penciler: Adrian Alphona

Inker: Craig Yeung

Cover: Jo Chen

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Runaways vol. 4: True Believers (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Captain America #37 (2008)

Dayyy-umm, what an excellent series this is.

Yes, I know—that was the height on intellectual literary criticism. I’m a bit pressed for time.

Captain America #37 begins the third trade paperback collection of the “Death of Captain America” arc, so we’re back to some rising action. The Falcon expresses his skepticism about the new Captain America to Tony Stark and the new Cap himself, Bucky Barnes, and these scenes are especially interesting in hindsight considering that Falcon (Sam Wilson) is the current Captain America substitute.

But the scenes are strong in their own right, adding tension and casting doubt as to whether Bucky can succeed as Captain America. As another former partner of the original Cap, Falcon is certainly qualified to have an opinion.

Falcon isn’t the only doubter—we get a nice little Hawkeye appearance, too, giving the new Cap a hard time, kind of like how he often gave the old Cap a hard time back in the day.

And if that all isn’t enough reason to keep reading, the cliffhanger involving Sharon Carter will do the trick.

Dayyy-umm indeed.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Artist: Steve Epting

Cover: Jackson Guice

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Captain America: The Death of Captain America vol. 3 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Black Panther #1 (1998)

I’ve been meaning to read this series for years. About time I got around to it.

Black Panther was one of the four series that launched the Marvel Knights imprint (the most famous of the bunch being Daredevil). Written by Christopher Priest, this series would go on to receive considerable acclaim, telling some of the greatest, or at least most distinctive, Black Panther stories ever, according to critics. It’s too soon for me to verify that claim, but issue #1 gets off to a compelling start.

We learn about the Black Panther, King T’Challa of Wakanda, through the eyes of an ordinary State Department employee. This guy, Everett Ross, is tasked with accompanying T’Challa during the latter’s visit to the United States to investigate a scandal involving one of his charities. Ross describes his Panther-related misadventures to his boss, but he does so out of sequential order—a fun narrative trick that tells us early on this isn’t going to be your typical comic book series.

Ross’s immaturity, as well as his general state of being in over his head, makes him a great foil for the stoic, dignified Black Panther, even though they so far have little direct interaction on the page. Ross not only contributes a sense of humor to the book, but his shortcomings help enhance T’Challa’s regal stature. A guy who basically belongs in a sitcom is our viewpoint character into the life of king who happens to also be an Avenger. It’s an inspired approach.

And the focus on Black Panther’s role as a foreign monarch is exactly right. That’s what sets him apart from his fellow Avengers and gives him a unique point of view and source of motivation.

I’ll have to continue reading.

Writer: Christopher Priest

Artist: Mark Texeira

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Black Panther by Christopher Priest: The Complete Collection Vol. 1

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Fantastic Four #64 (2003)

Love and mathematics save the day in Fantastic Four #64, and that’s basically the Fantastic Four in a nutshell.

One of the reasons why Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo’s Fantastic Four run works so wonderfully is because they focus on the FF as a family, and they do so without skimping on the imaginative action/adventure. Other super-teams might be like a family, but the FF legitimately are one.

And in this issue, the family dynamic plays into the plot. Reed and Sue’s young son Franklin accidentally creates a sentient mathematical expression while fiddling with his father’s advanced computer because he was trying to make himself smarter so his parents would love him more. The sentient expression wants to use Reed to create a balanced equation, so it attempts to “subtract” everything and everyone from his life until they are equals.

Math is not for the faint of heart.

Yes, it can be a little goofy, but it’s also genuinely heartfelt and relatable. That’s the balance a great Fantastic Four story strikes (and one none of the movies managed).

Writer: Mark Waid

Penciler: Mike Wieringo

Inker: Karl Kesel

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Fantastic Four by Waid & Wieringo Ultimate Collection, Book 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — X-Men #133 (1980)

I just saw Logan, and it was amazing—a bit of a downer in some ways, but a fantastic, character-driven movie. So let’s look back at a much more upbeat comic from when creators were just beginning to realize Wolverine’s potential.

X-Men #133 is in the middle of the Dark Phoenix Saga, one of the all-time great comic storylines. The previous issue ended with the Hellfire Club capturing the X-Men after having seduced Jean Grey to the dark side. There was one X-Man they didn’t capture, though—one they assumed they managed to kill by sending him plummeting down through several floors and into the sewer. Silly villains.

But of course they didn’t kill Wolverine. They just made him mad, and in #133, the X-Man’s lone wolf has to fight his way through innumerable minions, without any scrupulous teammates to hold him back. It’s the sort of thing the comics medium conveys very well—awesome character being awesome as he tries to save his teammates.

And meanwhile, old-school villain Mastermind continues his mind games against the X-Men, particularly Cyclops and the brainwashed Phoenix. The whole issue is great, but it’s really Wolverine’s time to shine. He’s still largely a blank slate at this point in the character’s history, but a strong foundation is being laid.

So watch the excellent movie, and then look back at the character’s formative years that made that excellent movie possible.

Writer: Chris Claremont

Penciler/Co-Plotter: John Byrne

Inker: Terry Austin

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga (TPB); The Essential X-Men vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Wolverine #72 (2009)

Well, that took a turn. (Spoilers ahead.)

Wolverine #72 is the second-to-last part of “Old Man Logan,” with the final part printed in Wolverine: Old Man Logan Giant-Sized Special #1. But I think the story should have ended in #72. (The final part is mostly an ultra-violent bloodbath, and frankly a disgusting one at parts, though it does have an excellent final scene.)

The storyline centered on Logan on a cross-country odyssey with Hawkeye, with the former refusing to unsheathe his claws the entire time despite the many dangerous situations they encounter. Having been tricked into murdering the X-Men fifty years earlier, Logan has vowed never to harm another soul. But his young family needs money to avoid the wrath of the Hulks, so he agrees to help the mostly blind Hawkeye drive across what used to be America.

Things don’t go well, but he never once pops his claws. Even as he battles President Red Skull to the death, he uses the weapons of other, long-dead superheroes to do it. He’s still no longer Wolverine as far as he’s concerned—he just wants to get home to his family.

He indeed gets home with the money he had worked so hard for. But too late. The Hulks got bored and killed his family. And out come the claws.

That would’ve been a perfect ending. You know exactly what happens next: old-fashioned berserker Wolverine on a revenge mission, killing those who killed his family. It’s a foregone conclusion, so story-wise, there’s no need to show it. Those final few pages of #72 say everything about the character—no matter how much pain Logan endures, he always “heals.” Wolverine suffers, but he survives and fights for those he loves.

But even with the final part, it’s still an excellent Wolverine story (but NOT for children). It’s a big story that gets at the heart of character by showing him at his most defeated and building him back up.

There’s no way the movie can follow the plot exactly, but it can capture the spirit of it. I remain optimistic.

Writer: Mark Millar

Penciler: Steve McNiven

Inker: Dexter Vines

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Wolverine: Old Man Logan (TPB)

Appropriate For: ADULTS ONLY

Today’s Super Comic — Wolverine #66 (2008)

I never read “Old Man Logan.” Considering how the storyline is critically acclaimed and the inspiration for the new Wolverine movie that comes out this week, I better get to it.

So far, I’ve just read the first part, in Wolverine #66, and why did I overlook this for so long? Set in a future Marvel Universe in which the good guys lost, Logan is trying to put his superhero days behind him and focus on his family. Yes, the former Wolverine is in a family way, with a wife and two kids. And he’s got no fight left in him, which is a highly unusual—and therefore interesting—state for this character to be in.

I’m surprised this was printed in the regular Wolverine series rather than as a separate miniseries. It certainly feels distinctive enough to stand on its own, especially with the big-name talent behind it (writer Mark Millar and artist Steve McNiven).

This story is building its own world with its own rules, using the Marvel Universe we know merely as a starting point. The inclusion of an old, blind Hawkeye and the grandchildren of the Hulk suggests this story will be playing in a rather large sandbox.

After reading the first part, I want to know what exactly happened and what will happen to make Wolvie get his groove back. I’m assuming that will be the case, anyway … it will be really depressing if it’s not. On to part two, then…

Writer: Mark Millar

Penciler: Steve McNiven

Inker: Dexter Vines

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Wolverine: Old Man Logan (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 15 and up