Tag Archives: Marvel

Today’s Super Comic — Daredevil #26 (2001)

Speaking of “decompressed” comics … the quintessential example when the trend first got going was Daredevil by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev, beginning with issue #26 of the Marvel Knights series.

As a whole, the run is fantastic. It shook up Daredevil’s status quo, and it stands apart as a distinctive era for the character, an era that built on what came before rather than rehashing the classics. Bendis’s snappy dialogue lent an engrossing new voice to the franchise, and Maleev’s gritty, sketchy style suited the world of Hell’s Kitchen perfectly.

But this is also a series that benefits from binge reading and suffers from a pace of 22 pages per month. Since the run is long since finished and compiled into collections, the latter no longer matters, though.

Issue #26 kicks off with a monologue that leads into an attention-grabbing inciting incident. The book cuts to Matt Murdock in court, which serves as a Daredevil primer—if you’ve never read a DD comic, the character’s essential components are covered here, not in any depth, but you get a foundation. And then disaster, during which Bendis foreshadows a major upcoming development without telegraphing it.

And that’s basically the first issue of the run. It takes about two seconds to read (even with monologues), but just enough happens, some basic exposition is knocked out of the way, we see Daredevil’s hyper-senses in action … and it’s all the start of something great.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Alex Maleev

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Daredevil by Brian Michael Bendis Omnibus vol. 1 (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Captain America #33 (2008)

In the past 15+ years or so, comics have embraced longer-form storytelling. Stories are still divided into chapters of 20-22 pages, but there’s been a greater focus on the overarching narratives that build over the course of years. The old rule of “every comic is someone’s first, so make it accessible” is less of a concern (recap pages try to compensate for that, though), and you’re best off starting with #1 or the first issue of a new creative team (which partially explains why companies keep rebooting books back to new issue ones). Television has undergone a similar evolution during the same time.

A common complaint when the “decompressed storytelling” trend first emerged was that you’d sometimes read an issue where it felt like almost nothing happened. The story would read great in trade paperback, but the month-to-month pace suffered…in some cases. Not in the case of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run, which demonstrates the creative benefits of the slow build.

(Some spoilers ahead.)

Brubaker began reintroducing Bucky Barnes back in #1, took his time developing the character, and killed Captain America in #25. And yet, it’s not until #33 that Bucky is even ready to entertain the notion of succeeding his old partner.

By this point, clear motivations are established for everyone involved. The idea comes posthumously from Cap himself, communicated in a letter he arranged to have delivered to Tony Stark upon his death. He asked Stark to save Bucky from himself and to make sure the legacy of Captain America continues. Stark, wracked with guilt about how the whole Civil War debacle went down, feels especially obligated to comply, and he sees only one way to fulfill both objectives—have Bucky become the new Cap. Bucky, out of loyalty and respect, is not going to let anyone else take the job, and he has much to atone for. And Black Widow, who first met Bucky as the brainwashed Winter Soldier, knows he’s not ready to carry the burden, but out of respect and affection for both Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers, she’s there to help.

The full saga is basically like a novel with dynamically laid out artwork. And so far, it’s every bit as amazing as I remember.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Penciler: Steve Epting

Inker: Butch Guice

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Captain America: The Death of Captain America vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Infinity Gauntlet #4 (1991)

Four issues into a six-issue miniseries, the good guys are due for a major setback.

I think everyone dying qualifies.

In an effort to woo Mistress Death, Thanos has already vanquished half the population of the entire universe using the power of the assembled Infinity Gauntlet. He’s achieved godhood, and now he wants love.

In #4, a band of surviving superheroes mounts a major offensive against Thanos while his captive half-brother, former Avenger Starfox, narrates from the sidelines. Mephisto, who’s basically Marvel’s version of the Devil, convinces Thanos to dampen his omniscience to give the heroes a sporting chance—in doing so, Thanos would display courage in battle and could thereby impress Mistress Death, Mephisto reasons.

So the heroes have a minuscule chance of victory against a supremely powerful villain, but they fight anyway. And they fall—and die—one by one, until Captain America is the last man standing against the mad god. Cap has his big hero moment staring down an opponent he has almost no chance of defeating.

It’s an absolutely classic Captain America scene that says a great deal about his character. While Thanos is pretending to be brave to impress someone, Cap is legitimately displaying supreme courage with no ally left to witness it as far as he knows.

And he dies. The good guys fail. And there are two issues left!

As a whole, The Infinity Gauntlet is cosmic-scale comic book storytelling at its finest. A universe in peril, life-and-death struggles, a twisted version of courtship—quite a bit going on here, all of it entertaining.

Writer: Jim Starlin

Artists: Ron Lim and George Perez

Cover: George Perez

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in The Infinity Gauntlet (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Black Widow #6 (2016)

Back in the ‘60s, Black Widow was introduced as an enemy for Iron Man. So it’s fitting that Black Widow #6 puts them at odds once again, as we (and Tony Stark) learn that she once targeted someone very important to him back in her less scrupulous days.

The issue rejects the usual “heroes fight over a misunderstanding” pattern and instead offers twists that are in character for both Natasha and Tony. And it’s not the usual sort of “misunderstanding” in play here—the Widow’s guilty. But there’s more going on than just one painful revelation.

So the story’s great, and I also continue to enjoy writer/artist Chris Samnee’s visuals. He captures exactly the right tone, and the facial expressions bring the scenes to life.

At this point, I think it’s safe to declare this the Black Widow’s strongest solo series to date.

Writers: Chris Samnee and Mark Waid

Artist: Chris Samnee

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Black Widow vol. 1: SHIELD’s Most Wanted (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Iron Man #30 (2000)

So there was that time Y2K caused Iron Man’s armor to become sentient.

Okay, it more like the combination of Tony Stark’s carelessness, his overconfidence, and Y2K. But still. Y2K—enemy of Iron Man!

And it was a great storyline, probably the first great Iron Man story I ever read, almost a decade before the movies revitalized the character. “The Mask in the Iron Man” reaches its conclusion in #30, pitting an armor-less Stark against his own technology come alive. But it’s come alive without any ethics or morality.

The armor brings Stark to a deserted island and gives him a choice—they’ll either join forces or the armor will kill him. When the armor, desperate to be recognized as a true Avenger, flies off to respond to a distress call, Stark must rely on his natural ingenuity and resourcefulness to survive on an island that has not a single machine for him to work with. And we’re reminded why the main appeal of the Iron Man series has always been Tony Stark himself rather than any suit of armor.

Easily the best thing to come out of that whole Y2K scare.

Writer: Joe Quesada

Penciler: Sean Chen

Inker: Rob Hunter

Cover: Joe Quesada

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Iron Man: The Mask in the Iron Man (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comics — X-Men #188-193 (2006)

And now—Rogue’s turn to head an X-Men squad! X-Men #188-193 sets up her unconventional team with her as their unconventional leader, and it was a promising start that regrettably didn’t last long. But during that short span of time, writer Mike Carey and artist Chris Bachalo did some of their best X-work.

Mutants were facing extinction (kind of like now, but this was another time they were facing extinction), so another, long-dormant race of super-powered people arises to supplant both mutants and humans. But that’s not really the interesting part. As is often the case with the X-Men, it’s all about interesting characters bouncing off each other.

Carey handles Rogue’s characterization well. She’s matured quite a bit since desperation first drove her to the X-Men years ago…and since Mystique brought her into the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants before that. Rogue is presented here as a creative thinker who’s comfortable with moral ambiguity, leading to assemble a team that mixes X-Men stalwarts like Iceman and Cannonball with potentially reformed enemies like Mystique and at least one definitely not reformed enemy like Sabretooth.

It’s a natural evolution for the character, and Rogue can certainly carry the top spot. Plus, Carey injects just the right amount of humor throughout to keep things fun. A solid X-book all around.

Writer: Mike Carey

Penciler: Chris Bachalo

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in X-Men: Supernovas (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — All-New, All-Different Avengers #13 (2016)

This was an interesting way to tie into the Civil War II crossover. The larger storyline centers on a debate about using precognitive powers to prevent crime and disasters before they happen. All-New, All-Different Avengers #13 spins that off into a time-travel tangent.

The issue stars only one Avenger, the Vision, and the script reads like it could’ve been part of his solo series, putting us firmly in the artificial man’s logical brain as he works through a moral conundrum.

One of the Avengers’ greatest enemies, Kang, comes from the future. Whenever he strikes, he has the advantage of history on his side, thereby imperiling not only the Avengers, but also the entire world and future generations. So, Vision wonders, why not use time-travel against the time-traveler? Why not locate Kang as a baby and remove a tyrant from history? What’s one innocent life vs. millions?

The dilemma isn’t original by any means, but it’s a reliable one and it suits the Vision’s character. And it’s not resolved in this issue, so I’ll be curious to see how it plays out.

Writer: Mark Waid

Artist: Adam Kubert

Cover: Alex Ross

Publisher: Marvel Comics

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

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Thor #337 (1983)

Writer/Artist Walt Simonson had a legendary run on Thor…and I confess I’ve read only a couple random issues of it. I know! Shame on me! And I call myself a Marvel fan!

To be honest, I’ve always liked Thor more as the Avengers’ tank than as a solo character, so I’m not well-versed in his series. But since I’ve been correcting some of my oversights lately, I figured I’d take a look at the first Simonson issue, Thor #337, in Marvel Unlimited.

And yeah, this is a strong start—definitely makes the case that I’ve been missing out.

The high concept is wonderful: What if someone else was worthy of wielding Thor’s hammer?

The cover gives it away. Yes, there is another. An alien, in fact. An alien named Bill—Beta Ray Bill, that is.

Simonson is just as strong on the art as he is on the story. He brings a dynamic style that’s in the vein of Thor’s original artist, the late great Jack Kirby, but there’s no mimicry here. Simonson achieves his own distinctive flair. (“Beta Ray Bill” is a pretty Kirby-esque name, too, come to think of it.)

The cliffhanger works great, too, leaving Thor in genuine peril, his fate uncertain. (Well, as uncertain as a title character’s fate can be, I suppose.)

I may have to check out some more.

Writer/Artist: Walter Simonson

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Thor by Walter Simonson Volume 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Runaways #1 (2005)

Runaways’ second series begins on a fun note, with the kids taking on the Wrecking Crew in Los Angeles. It’s an entertaining way to show off what each Runaway can do—those who are still with us after the conclusion of the previous series, that is.

This issue #1 isn’t a fresh start—it builds on what came before, and it shows how those actions have consequences. (Spoiler ahead for the first series, but it’s a pretty obvious one…)

When the kids defeated their parents in the last series, they inadvertently created a power vacuum in the L.A. area. And now super-villains are descending on this formerly forbidden target. However, our protagonists aren’t focused on fighting crime. Their main concern is helping out the kids of super-villains, which gives them a unique motivation among Marvel’s many super-teams.

Separately, we also meet a support group for former teen superheroes, which pulls together various underutilized young characters who range from C-list to Z-list. (Remember the good-guy version of the Green Goblin? Even I had totally forgotten that one.) It’s a clever idea, and teens trying to put their superhero days behind them complements the main characters’ desire to put any influence of their super-villain parents behind them.

And lest the issue conclude without a suitable cliffhanger, we end with an ominous portent from the future. Got to have one of those every once in a while.

All in all, a solid start to the second series and an excellent continuation for one of the best Marvel properties created in the 21st century.

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 — The Immortal Iron Fist #6 (2007)

If you want to check out Iron Fist before the upcoming Netflix series, try out the series written by Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction. It was critically acclaimed when it came out, but for some reason or another (i.e., monetary limitations preventing me from reading everything), I never got around to trying it out.

Until now, that is. Comixology digitally gave away the first trade paperback for free recently. So of course I read it. And yes, it is quite good.

Issue #6 wraps up the first storyline and leads into the next. This is where the action ramps up, with welcome assists from Luke Cage, Misty Knight, and Colleen Wing (Netflix viewers have already met the first two, and I’m assuming we’ll meet Colleen soon, too). Additionally—and this gets to the meat of the story—a previous Iron Fist fights alongside current Iron Fist Danny Rand (yes, I somehow never got into the most prominent superhero who shares my first name…so psychoanalyze whatever that means).

Superhero comics tend to handle themes of legacy and lineage rather well, and a martial artist superhero is a particularly good fit for such subject matter. After all, martial arts involve the passing of specialized knowledge down through the generations.

This is a more serious take on Iron Fist than when what we see in the current, more lighthearted Power Man and Iron Fist series. But both books are solid—which one you enjoy more may well depend on your mood at the time.

In any case, The Immortal Iron Fist makes me all the more optimistic about the Netflix series.

And fun fact: Apparently, Carrie-Anne Moss’s character in Jessica Jones, Jeri Hogarth, was originally the male Jeryn Hogarth, who ran Danny Rand’s company in the comics. I did not know that.

Writers: Ed Brubaker & Matt Fraction

Artist: David Aja

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in The Immortal Iron Fist vol. 1: The Last Iron Fist Story (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up