Tag Archives: Superman

Today’s Super Comic — The Adventures of Superman #445 (1988)

One of the many things the Man of Steel movie got wrong was having Superman kill the bad guy, feel bad for a whole half a second, and then happily move on with his life.

In a late ‘80s storyline, Superman was left with no recourse but to execute three Kryptonian criminals who had destroyed an alternate Earth in a pocket dimension. His actions were justifiable—these powerful criminals would have no doubt turned their attention to the real Earth, they already had a track record of success in their genocidal pursuits, and there was literally no one else left in that other universe to mete out punishment. Still, while he did what he had to do, he knows he failed to be Superman in that moment.

The Adventures of Superman #445 is right after that storyline, and we see Superman appropriately wracked with guilt. There’s no tidy resolution yet—he’s got a long soul-searching journey into space still ahead of him before he comes to terms with his actions. For now, Braniac provides a distraction, though the battle shows how even a Man of Steel can fray.

I wouldn’t want a guilt-ridden Superman as the status quo, but the storyline showed us a different side of him while reinforcing one of his essential characteristics—his deep respect for all life.

Also, #445 shows how the Superman comics of this era made great use of the supporting cast. Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, and Cat Grant all are all involved in various plots and subplots (primarily Jimmy and Cat in this issue), and their presence keeps Superman tethered to humanity, which is also essential.

Writer/Penciler: Jerry Ordway

Inker: Dennis Janke

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Action Comics #890 (2010)

After many decades of fighting Superman, Lex Luthor finally won a victory of sorts—he got to take over one of Superman’s series. Luthor became the protagonist of Action Comics as of issue #890, and for nearly a year he showed how a villain can carry a book.

The story begins in the aftermath of a big DC crossover, Blackest Night, which was primarily a Green Lantern event. During that story, Luthor got to wield an orange version of a power ring, which was fueled by avarice (whereas will fuels the green power rings). Having experienced such power, and feeling greedier than ever, Lex embarks on a quest to acquire any and all power rings.

It’s a solid approach from writer Paul Cornell. It’s an opportunity to view a classic villain in action when he’s not directly confronting superheroes, though he obviously still can’t succeed. The typical comic book makes us wonder how the hero will prevail over major obstacles, but this book takes the mirror image to that approach, making us wonder how exactly the villain will fail to achieve his aims. This first issue sets up Lex’s heightened greed as a major flaw, and we also see a lack of self-awareness, as Lex truly believes himself to be in the right.

Another nice (though creepy) touch is the inclusion of a Lois Lane robot. To ensure he has someone around who will challenge him and offer alternative perspectives, Lex keeps the company of a robot modeled after Lois. On one hand, it shows how highly he thinks of her, but on the other, more dominant hand…that’s an incredibly disrespectful thing to do. And it adds layers to Luthor’s character.

Every good villain should be able to function as a protagonist, and Luthor shows he’s up to that task here.

Writer: Paul Cornell

Artist: Pete Woods

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Superman: The Black Ring vol. 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — DC: The New Frontier #5 (2004)

In the penultimate issue of DC: The New Frontier, a powerful threat makes itself known…and folks step up. Whereas the previous issue showed the fear holding everyone back, issue #5 shows characters moving forward, even in the face of the unknown. And things are beginning to look a lot more Silver Age—appropriately enough, as this miniseries is a reimagining of that era’s dawn.

Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern origin story gets a retelling here, and it drills deeper into Hal’s head than the original 1959 comic did. His joy shines through, especially with writer/artist Darwyn Cooke’s clean, classic style, and it’s pure fun watching him fly for the first time (without a plane, that is). But the scene fits thematically with the larger work—the ring provides a focal point for the bravery that was always there, even as Hal had been doubting himself.

The Green Lantern power ring becomes a metaphor. Push away the fear, and you can soar—you can perform all sorts of phenomenal feats.

Also of note, Superman gets his big hero moment, by way of showing inspirational leadership to the rest of the cast.

But the series is called DC: The New Frontier, not Superman: The New Frontier. So Supes can’t do it alone.

On to the final issue…

Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in DC: The New Frontier Volume Two (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — DC: The New Frontier #2 (2004)

The second issue of DC: The New Frontier continues setting the mood in this 1950s reimagining of the DC Universe, and it’s an opportunity to admire Darwyn Cooke’s art as being among the greatest of his generation. His work synthesizes various classic elements into something that feels familiar but also new, fresh, and exciting.

Superman looks like he flew out of a 1940s Max Fleischer cartoon. Batman wears the original Bob Kane design, rendered by way of a Bruce Timm Batman: The Animated Series influence. Wonder Woman lacks a quintessential cartoon version, which allows Cooke to put more of his own stamp on her design. In an inspired touch, he makes her a true Amazon, taller than even Superman.

The Flash is a kinetic figure with a large head to denote his scientific intellect. J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, appears unsettling and creepy but without any malice in his native form, and his human form, Detective John Jones, is the archetypal movie detective.

The events are fairly episodic at this point, but they tie together thematically, all pointing toward changing times. The Martian Manhunter, ripped away from Mars, is trying to fit into a new world. Superman and Wonder Woman verbally spar over newfound ideological differences, not unlike how they did in Kingdom Come. Batman begins to realize that his appearance is frightening to more than just criminals. The Flash is still adjusting to his new powers and new super-heroic lifestyle.

And Hal Jordan, our ostensible protagonist, has difficulty readjusting to civilian life after the Korean War, and his guilt over killing an enemy soldier drives him to take the sort of fearless risks that will soon get him noticed by a certain intergalactic police corps, one with an affinity for emerald jewelry.

If you’re a DC fan, this series is a love letter to all your favorite characters (including many I haven’t mentioned here), and the early Cold War setting grounds it with substance.

Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in DC: The New Frontier Volume One (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Action Comics #866 (2008)

Superman’s greatest enemy is no doubt Lex Luthor. But his second greatest enemy is easily Braniac (even if the movies have failed to make use of him thus far).

Braniac receives a modern reintroduction in Action Comics #866, which begins what might just be his strongest story arc to date. Writer Geoff Johns amps up Braniac’s creepiness and alien nature while retaining his classic shtick of miniaturizing cities, bottling them up, and maintaining a collection of perfectly preserved samples of alien civilizations. Here, he actually comes across as a frightening, dangerous figure (maybe a bit too frightening for younger children) and definitely a worthy foe for the Man of Steel.

Even as the story modernizes elements of the Superman mythos, it pays homage to the past. Artist Gary Frank’s rendition of Superman/Clark Kent resembles Christopher Reeve more than a little, and this first part spends some time with the classic Daily Planet staff, with Clark playing his role as the guileless nice guy without any over-the-top bumbling around.

It’s a strong part one, and yet it all gets better from here on out.

Writer: Geoff Johns

Penciler: Gary Frank

Inker: Jon Sibal

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Superman: Braniac (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Solo #1 (2004)

Anthology series are a tough sell. It’s much easier to get invested in ongoing sagas than short stories (and comic book short stories are super-short). I’m plenty guilty of overlooking them, even knowing full well the gems that may be hidden within.

But I actually did pick up one anthology book when it was new—the first issue of DC Comics’ Solo. The series was designed to spotlight the talents of renowned comics artists, and each issue “starred” a single such artist. Tim Sale headlined issue #1, joined by writers Darwyn Cooke, Diana Schutz, Jeph Loeb, and Brian Azzarello (and Sale did some of the writing himself).

The issue’s stories span genres, from superhero to noir to ordinary slice-of-life, but they’re all love stories in their own way. Catwoman takes Batman on a “date” by having him chase her across Gotham, though she’s actually chasing him. Supergirl recalls her first love. Martha Kent narrates a story about Clark trying to be a good person on his prom night. A hitman remembers a dead lover and his current loneliness. And so on.

Throughout the book, Sale demonstrates the range of his talents, bringing kinetic energy to Catwoman and Batman’s “dance” across the city, innocence and sadness to Supergirl, quiet grandeur to a young Clark Kent, pervasive bleakness to a hitman, and more.

“Solo” may be a misnomer, given all the talent helping out. Name aside, though, it’s a solid anthology that allows you to appreciate not only the storytelling possibilities of the artist, but of the comic book medium in general.

Of course, foolish me, I never picked up another issue, and DC cancelled it after #12. (Clearly it’s all my fault…or DC’s for setting the price tag at $4.95. Probably the latter.)

Writers: Darwyn Cooke, Diana Schutz, Jeph Loeb, and Brian Azzarello

Artist: Tim Sale

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Solo: The Deluxe Edition (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Superman #423 & Action Comics #583 (1986)

There’s no such thing as a final Superman story.

But Superman #423 and Action Comics #584 pretended there was, and it’s a fitting conclusion to the never-ending battle.

DC Comics was saying good-bye to its Silver Age continuity and rebooting Superman for the modern era, but they gave the old-school Man of Steel one last hurrah in a two-parter called “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” The story featured top talent that bridged the gap between eras: writer Alan Moore, who had been bringing a new maturity to the medium, and classic Superman artist Curt Swan.

A sense of foreboding permeates these issues. Old foes are returning more dangerous than ever, with former pests turning into killers while the worst of the worst are waiting in the wings. An unknown menace is striking at Superman through his friends, so he gathers them in the Fortress of Solitude—Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Lana Lang, and Perry White and wife Alice…the whole classic gang. Even Krypto the Super-Dog returns after a long absence.

In the story’s most touching scene, Superman unexpectedly comes face-to-face with his dead cousin. The Legion of Superheroes visits from the 30th century (which Superman and Supergirl were frequent visitors to), and they bring along a very young, very optimistic Supergirl who has no idea how short her life is going to be. It’s both sad and ominous in just a few pages.

But where the book achieves perfection is in the climax. At what point does Superman stop being Superman?

The answer presented here is exactly right.

Writer: Alan Moore

Penciler: Curt Swan

Inkers: George Perez and Kurt Schaffenberger

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Supergirl #75-80 (2002-03)

At last we reach the end of Peter David’s excellent Supergirl series, and the final storyline takes everything in a totally different direction. I suppose that’s what impending cancellation will do.

The original Supergirl, Kara Zor-El, appears, and she’s ripped right out of her 1959 debut. Instead of her rocket bringing her to meet the Silver Age Superman, she instead arrives in the then-current DC Universe and meets its Supergirl, Linda Danvers.

David initially writes Kara exactly as a 1950s comic book character, utterly naïve in the modern world and totally ignorant about science. He mines Silver Age goofiness for plenty of laughs, giving us everything from Kara’s futile attempt to physically push the entire planet Earth out of the path of a meteor, to pink kryptonite having a peculiar effect on an old-school Superman.

But the story takes a serious turn as it brings us toward the series’ conclusion. By this point, DC Comics was relaxing its “No Kryptonians but Superman” rule that had been in place since the late ‘80s, so they were getting ready to bring Kara back into continuity one way or another. That meant it was time to dispose of Linda, one way or another.

I won’t spoil exactly how David writes her out, but I will give him credit for not going with the obvious.

These final last six issues are easily among the series’ best. The story delves into the nature of heroism in a compelling way, and there’s no better topic for a book starring Supergirl—any or multiple versions of her.

Writer: Peter David

Penciler: Ed Benes

Inker: Alex Lei

Cover: Rob Haynes

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Supergirl: Many Happy Returns (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Superman #165 (2001)

superman_v-2_165All I remembered about Superman #165 was that it involved Superman visiting his JLA teammates one or two at a time and giving them amusing little gifts. Tube socks to the Flash. Jewelry polish to Green Lantern. So I was thinking, oh, yeah, that’s a cute one.

I totally forgot about the substance of it.

This takes place shortly after Lex Luthor was elected president of the United States in the DC Universe, and Superman has been struggling to come to terms with the results. How could the American people cast their votes for a man as despicable as Luthor? And what, if anything, should Superman do about it?

Talking with friends and listening to their diverse viewpoints helps Superman come to some sort of peace. He’s still not happy about it, and he’ll remain vigilant about what Luthor does in office. But as Wonder Woman says, “If you let this turn into an obsession, then Luthor has already defeated you.”

So he decides not to let this consume him. His life will go on. He’ll enjoy Lois’s company in a weekend getaway in the bottle city of Kandor. He’ll continue to fight the good fight for truth and justice, and somehow or another, the American way will prevail in the end.

It’s a nice little “quiet” issue, and it takes an excellent direction for a Christmas special. Sometimes you just need to spend time with your friends and loved ones to get some perspective. The world’s problems won’t go away, but they’ll seem more manageable.

The issue features several guest artists—a different one for each of Superman’s visits with his teammates. Normally, the drastically different styles would be jarring, but it suits the structure of this particular issue rather well and adds to that whole “holiday special” feel.

Writer: Jeph Loeb

Artists: Various

Cover: Ed McGuinness

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; included in Superman: President Lex (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Superman Annual #11 (1985)

superman_annual_vol_1_11Since we’ve entered the holiday shopping season, how about a classic comic that’s basically about giving a gift? And Superman Annual #11, “For the Man Who Has Everything,” is a gift, one given to us by the team behind Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

It’s Superman’s birthday, so Wonder Woman, Batman, and the then-new Robin (Jason Todd) visit him at the Fortress of Solitude, all bearing thoughtful presents. But what do you get the man who has everything? The villainous alien Mongul has the perfect gift for him—a life of contentment, which happens to be all imaginary.

A symbiotic plant called the Black Mercy traps Superman in his own head, where he’s living a perfectly normal life on a Krypton that never exploded. He has a wife and two children, and the weight of the world isn’t constantly on his shoulders. It all feels so real and satisfying.

But outside that fantasy, Mongul begins his quest for world domination by taking on Wonder Woman and the Caped Crusaders. To save his friends, and the world, Superman must abandon the peaceful life he always wanted, rejecting a loving family in favor of his Fortress of Solitude.

When you have a character as powerful as Superman, especially this old-school version, you’ve got to be creative to hurt him and even more creative to make him work for his victory. And trapping him in happiness, and requiring his own strength of will to erode the façade, is perfect.

The comic is so good that Justice League Unlimited adapted it into an animated episode. The comic does some things better, and the cartoon does other things better, but really, just check out both.

Writer: Alan Moore

Artist: Dave Gibbons

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up