Tag Archives: Marvel

Today’s Super Comic — Ultimate Spider-Man #13 (2001)

Yesterday I discussed when main-continuity Aunt May discovered Peter Parker’s secret identity. Now let’s turn our attention to the Ultimate continuity, when Peter told Mary Jane.

This is basically the inverse of yesterday’s revelatory issue. Ultimate Spider-Man #13 was very early in this Spider-Man’s career, so no secret-identity tensions have been building up over the course of years. Peter and MJ are teenagers who have been friends for a long time, and Peter proactively reveals his secret because he doesn’t want to lie to her (and, being a teenage guy, he no doubt wants to impress his closest female friend).

But like yesterday’s issue, this entire comic is a conversation. The action and adventure take a break, allowing us to zero in on the characters—which will help us care about them more when the action/adventure commences again.

Comics aren’t supposed to feature talking heads, but this one works remarkably well because of Brian Michael Bendis’s writing and Mark Bagley’s art. The page layouts are key here. The panels are used to punctuate each beat of the conversation, allowing everything to flow smoothly and organically. The reader gets an excellent sense of the pacing and timing of everything that’s being said. And Bendis knows when the keep quiet and let Bagley show the characters’ reactions so that even with the focus on dialogue, it remains a visual experience.

It’s a rather happy issue (and funny in places), providing a nice break from the angst, and it deepens the bond between two main characters. It also does what every teen superhero book should—it captures that wonderful anticipation of exciting new possibilities.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Penciler: Mark Bagley

Inker: Art Thibert

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Ultimate Spider-Man vol. 2: Learning Curve (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Amazing Spider-Man #38 (2002)

In the category of “long-overdue conversations” …

Aunt May discovers that her nephew Peter is Spider-Man—which means he’s been lying to her for years. It’s the sort of thing that requires setting aside some time to chat…perhaps an entire issue to chat.

The Amazing Spider-Man #38 (or #479, since the cover plays it both ways) features no super-heroic action whatsoever. It’s just Peter and May talking. Between all the history behind the conversation and how well J. Michael Straczynski writes it, it’s engaging throughout, full of emotion rather than melodrama. Both characters have been holding secrets in, and the release is scary, relieving, and scary all over again.

A nice touch is how much credit the story gives Aunt May. She had often been portrayed as elderly and frail, but here Straczynski gives the impression she’s a remarkably resilient old lady, and she would have to be to single-handedly raise a teenager after her husband’s murder and in the face of repeated health problems and financial troubles.

The issue doesn’t reach any tidy resolution. There’s no happily ever after—there’s just moving forward.

Straczynski had a memorable run on Spider-Man a few over fifteen years ago, and this was the best thing he did with the book. It needed to happen (though I’m pretty sure it was retconned along with Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage, alas).

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski

Penciler: John Romita Jr.

Inker: Scott Hanna

Cover: Kaare Andrews

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in The Amazing Spider-Man vol. 2: Revelations (TPB)

Today’s Super Comic — Runaways #12 (2006)

In which Wolverine gets punched out by an 11-year-old girl. And that pretty much sums up how fun this Runaways storyline is.

Issue #12 concludes a four-parter that brought the West Coast teens to New York City. Cloak & Dagger, Marvel’s original teenage runaways, need help. Cloak has been framed for attacking and hospitalizing Dagger, and the Avengers (I mean New Avengers) are after him for questioning. The Runaways (though they don’t actually call themselves that) pursue the actual assailant in a new-to-them setting.

Here, the Marvel Universe serves as a playground for the reader, but the book never neglects its main characters. Writer Brian K. Vaughan continues to deepen and flesh out each character while teasing future plots, building something new within an existing framework. He already did the hardest part by successfully introducing an entirely new cast of characters into the MU and getting readers interested. By this point, creative momentum is working in the book’s favor.

And it’s a joy to read.

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Penciler: Adrian Alphona

Inker: Craig Yeung

Cover: James Jean

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Runaways vol. 5: Escape to New York (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Captain America #48 (2009)

In order for the reader to care about the plot, the characters need to care about the plot. Yeah, that’s a pretty basic observation, but it’s an essential ingredient. And Captain America #48 provides an excellent example of how it works.

An unscrupulous scientist seeks to eradicate about 35 percent of the world’s population—for the good of the planet, of course. To achieve this, he’s used the remains of the original Human Torch to create a virus, one that renders its victims combustible. (Marvel’s first Human Torch was an android who debuted in Marvel Comics #1 in 1939; no relation to the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch.)

That’s all a good start. It raises the stakes by putting the fate of the world in the balance. But that alone would be too big and too impersonal. We’ve seen the fate of the world imperiled time after time in comics. We need a personal connection.

In this case, Bucky Barnes fought alongside the Human Torch in World War II. They were colleagues and friends, and those were happier times for Bucky, before he was forced to become the Winter Soldier. Bucky already lost Steve Rogers not long ago, and now another friend’s memory and body are being disrespected. Bucky is fighting not only to save the world, but also to preserve the honor of a man he respected more than just about anyone (other than Captain America, of course).

Joining Bucky in this mission are Namor the Sub-Mariner (another WWII ally) and the Black Widow (his current girlfriend). They represent his past and present, and they both have their own personal reasons for getting involved.

Not that anyone should need a personal motivation for saving the world, but it makes for a much more interesting story.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Pencilers: Butch Guice, Luke Ross, Steve Epting

Inkers: Butch Guice, Steve Epting

Cover: Steve Epting

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Captain America: The Man With No Face (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Ultimate Spider-Man #5 (2001)

I’ve heard people complain that origin stories are boring. That’s a misleading statement, though. How characters gain their powers generally isn’t all that interesting. Why they decide to use those powers to help others…that’s the interesting part. That’s when the characters are at their most dynamic.

Peter Parker getting bitten by a radioactive spider is a utilitarian plot device. At best, it qualifies as an attention-getting inciting incident. But Peter deciding not to stop a thief, and that thief then murders his uncle, thereby supplying Spider-Man with motivation for all future stories? That’s the compelling part.

When Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original story ran in Amazing Fantasy #15 back in 1962, it packed a surprising amount of depth for an eight-or-so-page comic story. In 2000-01, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley expanded it to six issues for the inaugural storyline of Ultimate Spider-Man, which gave us a modern teenage Spidey free from any continuity baggage (until the Ultimate line amassed its own messy continuity, that is, but Spider-Man had the only series that remained strong throughout).

The story deserved this expanded retelling. The extra length allows us to spend more time on each significant moment, and issue #5 depicts the defining night of young Peter’s life. He’s just learned his Uncle Ben was murdered, but his recently acquired powers allow him to at least apprehend the killer.

Bendis and Bagley take us from Peter’s anger, to his shock at recognizing the killer, to his anger at himself, to his guilt, to his understanding of what his uncle was always trying to teach him, and ultimately to a heartrending final page. Peter wasn’t Spider-Man in the first four issues; he is by the end of this one. The creators utilize the extra space to such superb effect, it makes it all the more impressive that Lee and Ditko nailed the story in so few pages all those years ago.

Whether told in eight pages or more than a hundred, Spider-Man’s origin story holds up as among the greatest—not because of any sci-fi spider bites, but because he learned a life-changing lesson through tragic failure.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Penciler: Mark Bagley

Inker: Art Thibert

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Ultimate Spider-Man vol. 1: Power and Responsibility (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

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