Tag Archives: Marvel

Today’s Super Comic — Iron Man #1 (1998)

Every so often, a long-running comic book series just needs to get back to the basics…and Iron Man definitely needed that by the late ’90s.

Marvel killed Iron Man a few years earlier and replaced him with a teenage version of himself from an alternate timeline. Then that teen version died along with the rest of the Avengers in the “Onslaught” crossover, leading to the Heroes Reborn stunt in which popular Image Comics creators reimagined and relaunched the Fantastic Four, Avengers, Captain America, and Iron Man in a separate, new continuity. Then a year later, after that had run its course, those characters were restored to the proper Marvel Universe and relaunched with new first issues.

Seemed like as good a time as any to have the real Tony Stark return. The details are sketchy as to why and how the adult Stark returned rather than the teen version…and I’m okay with that. Why dig the hole any deeper? The creative team had an opening to efficiently get back on track, and they seized it in the relaunched Iron Man #1.

Of course, Tony Stark can’t just waltz back from the dead and reclaim his company as if he hadn’t been killed and replaced by his younger self for a while. A competitor had bought out Stark Enterprises, so the big question for the first issue is…will Tony try to reclaim his company? Or will he start something new?

The script by Kurt Busiek gets at the heart of the character. Tony Stark is always trying to build both himself and the world around him into something better. Here, he needs to figure out how best to do it.

Oh, and an unseen old foe wants to kill him. Got to have that physical peril thrown in there, too.

A fine restart all around, and a much-needed one at the time.

Writer: Kurt Busiek

Penciler: Sean Chen

Inker: Eric Cannon

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Uncanny X-Men #201 (1986)

Many superheroes have lost their powers in various storylines, and that includes many X-Men. Usually, it’s presented as an obstacle interfering with an immediate goal, and it’s a solid trope—it shows the hero is more than his or her powers. But the best examples of the trope have also used it to further develop characters, to provide consequences beyond the immediate short story.

Storm lost her powers for a few years’ worth of X-Men comics. She took the bullet for Rogue and then had to figure out how to reinvent herself without the abilities that had defined her for so long. More than most X-Men, her powers affect her personality; in earlier days, she would often repress her emotions because of how her feelings affected the weather around her. She was already beginning to loosen up before this event (see the mohawk), but this pushed her further into new territory.

By Uncanny X-Men #201, she was ready to return to the X-Men, despite the continued absence of her powers. Meanwhile, new father Cyclops isn’t quite ready to leave the team. He obviously should leave to concentrate on his young family, but Professor Xavier’s recent departure and Magneto’s recent arrival as the New Mutants’ new headmaster give him an excuse to try to cling.

But Storm knows Cyclops is in no shape to lead the team at the moment, so she challenges him to a Danger Room duel, with the stakes being leadership of the X-Men. And she prevails, demonstrating the better wisdom, temperament, and physical fitness for the job, even without the aid of powers, and she reminds us why she’s perhaps the X-Men’s most formidable leader.

Storm’s power loss did prove her skills beyond controlling the weather, but it also humanized her. She could no longer be the aloof goddess of her earlier appearances, and her disconnection from the weather put her more in tune with the people around her. And when her powers inevitably did return, those lessons remained in effect.

The X-Men’s success isn’t hard to figure out. The characters grew over time, and their growth kept things interesting and fresh. The Storm and Cyclops facing off in issue #201 aren’t exactly the same people who first met ten years earlier in Giant-Size X-Men #1, but they’re10 consistent with everything that’s come before.

Writer: Chris Claremont

Penciler: Rick Leonardi

Inker: Whilce Portacio

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Essential X-Men Vol. 6 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Fantastic Four #67-70, 500 (2003)

Doctor Doom finally figures out how to one-up Reed Richards in Fantastic Four #67-70 and 500. And yes, those numbers are correct. Marvel likes to have it both ways with numbering—reboot for a new #1 to designate a jumping-on point, then revert to the original numbering for anniversary issues.

Anyway, there’s one subject area where Reed is in over his head. He can’t comprehend magic. The world’s smartest man is an idiot when it comes to sorcery. But Doom understands the fundamentals, and as the son of a gypsy, it’s an established part of his heritage. So in his ongoing quest to humble Mr. Fantastic, Doom rejects science in favor of magic and strikes at the Fantastic Four through their children.

There are no higher stakes than imperiled children. Not even saving the whole world or universe reaches that level, because the scale is too grand to remain relatable. But your kids are in trouble? We can all understand that terror.

The script by Mark Waid nails the characterization of both Doom and Reed, particularly how arrogant they can both be. The storyline shows how they’re perfect antagonists for each other. They reflect each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and their conflict has always been personal. Appropriately for an anniversary issue, there’s history here, and the feud escalates to the next level.

Marvel has published many superb Fantastic Four stories over the decades, and this is in the top tier. And it begs the question—why isn’t Marvel currently publishing Fantastic Four comics?

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 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Avengers #144 (1976)

A former romance comic protagonist becomes a superhero in Avengers #144. Or she gets the super-powered costume, at least.

The Avengers, with tagalong Patsy Walker, had been captured by the Squadron Supreme (Marvel’s stand-ins for the Justice League, but evil). This issue sees them trying to escape the Brand Corporation complex—and being a fictional corporation, you can safely assume it’s up to no good.

The fun comes from the interplay between the characters, with the highlight being the casual camaraderie between Captain America and Iron Man. But the big development arrives when longtime superhero fan Patsy gets a chance to become one herself, despite the objections of her protectors. It’s a wish-fulfillment moment free of angst or melodrama, and it introduces an upbeat heroine to the Marvel Universe. You know right away that Hellcat will add something fresh to the mix. (And yes, Patsy is the comics version of the character we saw in Jessica Jones on Netflix.)

Meanwhile, other Avengers wrap up a storyline set in the Wild West. All sorts of craziness can peacefully coexist in Marvel Comics.

The issue is an excellent reminder about how innocently fun comics can be.

Writer: Steve Englehart

Penciler: George Perez

Inker: Mike Esposito

Cover: Gil Kane

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Essential Avengers vol. 7 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 8 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Incredible Hulk #271 (1982)

My year of daily positive comic book reviews is almost up! The final ten reviews begin here! (Not top ten; the randomness continues.)

In the comics, the original Guardians of the Galaxy had an entirely different lineup from the movie cast, and the film’s characters all had separate comic book introductions. Rocket Racoon debuted in The Incredible Hulk, in an issue that’s so delightfully ridiculous.

Hulk finds himself transported to an alien world, where he’s greeted by a talking racoon and walrus. The racoon totes a laser gun, and the caption introduces him as “Rocket Racoon, guardian of the Keystone Quadrant” (still working his way up to guarding a whole galaxy).

And if his name reminds you of a certain Beatles song, that’s apparently by design. The issue title, after all, is “Now Somewhere in the Black Holes of Sirius Major There Lived a Young Boy Name of…Rocket Raccoon!” Plus, the plot entails a Gideon’s Bible, and Rocket has to save his girlfriend Lylla.

In addition to the Beatles references, we’ve got killer clowns, deadly rabbits, and Keystone Quadrant Kops. The main villain is a mole.

The issue shows how comics work wonderfully as a vehicle for unbridled imagination. Sure, this isn’t sophisticated literature, but consider it from the perspective of a kid reading it in 1982. It’s creative fuel for a young reader. In retrospect, the issue reminds us that not all comics need to grow up. Providing goofy fun for kids is always a worthy cause.

By the way, contrary to his cinematic counterpart, here Rocket self-identifies as a racoon.

Writer: Bill Mantlo

Penciler: Sal Buscema

Inker: Jim Novak

Cover: Al Milgrom

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 8 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Amazing Spider-Man #229-230 (1982)

Spider-Man is best as the underdog. Against the unstoppable Juggernaut, yeah, he’s very much the underdog.

In The Amazing Spider-Man #229, Juggernaut pursues the psychic Madame Web, and only Spider-Man is available to come to her aid. But he’s totally ineffectual against an invulnerable opponent who’s as strong as the Hulk. He seeks help from other superheroes, but they’re all out of reach (conveniently for the story, inconveniently for Spidey). It’s all on him. He tries. He fails.

But for Spidey, failure is motivation. Someone was counting on him, and he let her down. That hits hard, especially given his previous failures in life. So he picks himself back up and resolves to capture the Juggernaut, no matter the personal cost, and issue #230 shows Spidey giving it all he’s got until he prevails.

It’s a great structure for a two-parter. The hero fails, regroups, and perseveres, because like hell he’s failing again.

A textbook example of a superb superhero story.

Writer: Roger Stern

Penciler: John Romita Jr.

Inker: Jim Mooney

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Black Widow #6 (2014)

I had somehow overlooked the previous Black Widow series, which ran for twenty issues from 2014 to 2015. Rectifying that now.

The focus is on what Natasha does when she’s not being an Avenger. She chooses to use her time and skills to atone for her past. The book is primarily a spy thriller, and it keeps the character of its protagonist at the forefront.

Writer Nathan Edmonson portrays Natasha as someone who is most comfortable gathering intelligence and would rather not engage anyone directly—but if she needs to, she’ll jump into the fray. Issue #6 observes how lonely a spy’s life is, how difficult it is to let anyone in.

It’s a compelling take on the Black Widow. Her motivation is strong. Her flaws and strengths affect her actions. And there’s plenty of excitement along the way, as well as ongoing plot threads that build and make each issue stronger than the previous.

There’s even a fun little cameo in #6 that ties into the issue’s theme of loneliness. Very well done.

Writer: Nathan Edmonson

Artist: Phil Noto

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Black Widow vol. 1: Finely Woven Thread (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Ms. Marvel #20 (2007)

I’ve been rereading writer Brian Reed’s Ms. Marvel and enjoying the gradual redevelopment of Carol Danvers from failed superhero to A-lister. Issue #20 concludes a three-part storyline that pits her against a villain who’s a very appropriate antagonist when you consider the character’s troubled fictional history (spoilers ahead).

Even before Rogue absorbed her memories and powers, Ms. Marvel’s career went off the rails in an ill-advised Avengers storyline. Following a supernatural pregnancy (and what good ever follows a supernatural pregnancy in comics?), Carol left to live in another dimension with her…son who was also his own father and therefore her lover too? Was that it? I had to check, and regrettably, I’m not wrong. Ugh.

So, back then, Carol was mind-controlled in mega-creepy fashion. Therefore, in #20, when she thwarts another creepy mind-control plot, this one by perennial Fantastic Four foe the Puppet Master, her decision to let the Puppet Master kill himself feels entirely justified. Not heroic, but in character for Carol at this point. (That Avengers storyline is never mentioned here, and that’s probably for the best, but knowing the history adds subtext to the story.)

Importantly, she’s conflicted about her decision, albeit after the fact. It shows how she’s still getting herself back on track, but also that she’s capable of the self-reflection and growth needed to get there.

Writer: Brian Reed

Penciler: Greg Tocchini

Inker: Roland Paris

Cover: Greg Horn

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Ms. Marvel vol. 4: Monster Smash (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Astonishing Ant-Man #13 (2016)

The Astonishing Ant-Man reaches a satisfying conclusion in issue #13.

Since it’s recent and it’s the final issue, I don’t want to give much away. Just know that the father/daughter relationship remains at the heart of the series through the end. The book isn’t so much about the adventures of Scott Lang as it’s about Scott’s efforts to be the man his daughter Cassie deserves.

There’s a clear arc throughout these thirteen issues, and it’s a complete story that allows for further stories to follow. It’s also about something far more relatable than superhero action, and it never forgets to have fun along the way. Scott and Cassie both commit mistakes and grow a little, making them engaging co-protagonists.

Nick Spencer wrote a winner here.

Also, very obliging of its Marvel Unlimited release schedule to roughly coincide with my year of daily reviews. I didn’t include every issue, for the sake of variety and because I didn’t have anything new to say with some, but the entire series is an enjoyable read.

Writer: Nick Spencer

Artists: Brent Schoonover and Roman Rosanas

Cover: Julian Totino Tedesco

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in The Astonishing Ant-Man vol. 3: The Trial of Ant-Man (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Daredevil #175 (1981)

Daredevil #175 opens with what appears to be a spelling error. The title is written as “Gantlet” rather than the more common “Gauntlet,” but according to Grammarist, the former used to be the preferred spelling in certain uses. They’re not perfect synonyms, but there is overlap. If Marvel did accidentally omit the “u,” they got lucky.

Elektra faces off against a gauntlet (gantlet?) of Hand ninjas and their master assassin to stop their organization from hunting her. Daredevil backs her up, despite her protests, despite the absence of his radar sense, and despite the fact that he’s supposed to be in court. (He really took Foggy for granted in those days. Poor guy.)

Frank Miller showcases the greatest strengths of his art here. Everything is constantly moving, and the characters are expressive. He balances exceptional choreography and expressive characters throughout the book.

The ambiguous relationship between Daredevil and Elektra provides the substance. On the surface, Elektra is a cold-blooded assassin who’s concerned only about herself. Daredevil can’t help but still care. But maybe Elektra still cares, too? Is the woman he loved still in there somewhere? Or is she as lost as an outdated spelling style?

Ah! Maybe the title isn’t an error, but a symbol! Yeah, that’s it. Sure.

Fantastic issue either way, though.

Writer/Penciler: Frank Miller

Inker: Klaus Janson

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up