Tag Archives: Superman

Today’s Super Comic — Action Comics #775 (2001)

At last, here we are. May 17, 2016, I started writing one quick, positive comic book review a day, with the goal of doing so for a full year. It was part writing exercise (get the words down fast and move on), part analytical exercise (if a book works, why does it work?), and an opportunity to focus on the positive and thank the writers and artists who have given me countless hours of enjoyment over the course of many years.

So let’s finish with one of the best single-issue Superman stories ever written. Action Comics #775 shows us why Superman will never go out of style and should never go out of style.

A new team of powerful superhumans appears. They call themselves the Elite, and to get the job done, they’ll kill the bad guys and any innocent bystanders who happen to be within range, so long as the larger threat is eliminated, permanently.

Superman’s not having that. As the public begins to wonder if maybe there’s some validity to the Elite’s approach, Superman realizes it’s up to him to show the world there’s a better way.

What makes Superman cool isn’t his powers; it’s how he uses them. He doesn’t force his will on others or try to seize more power for himself, and he leads by example, with physical force being the last resort. He always operates within clearly set parameters. It would be too easy for him to cross any number of lines, so he doesn’t. Most others would give into the temptation, but he’s strong enough to control himself.

In this issue, he’s not only trying to stop the Elite from killing people, but he’s also standing up for ideals—and he’s standing up to people who are seemingly more powerful than even he is.

“Dreams save us. Dreams lift us up and transform us. And on my soul, I swear… until my dream of a world where dignity, honor and justice becomes the reality we all share — I’ll never stop fighting. Ever.”

Ladies and gentlemen—Superman! There’s a reason he’s the greatest superhero ever created. He’s a role model for kids and adults alike, and he demonstrates values that should never go out of style, no matter how times change.

Writer: Joe Kelly

Penciler: Doug Mahnke and Lee Bermejo

Cover: Tim Bradstreet

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — DC Comics Presents Annual #2 (1983)

No Superwoman has ever really taken off. There have been several, and DC currently has a Superwoman title starring Lois Lane and/or Lana Lang (I haven’t been keeping up with it). The ’80s had its own Superwoman, though, and she debuted in DC Comics Presents Annual #2.

This Superwoman didn’t last long. She never even made it out of the decade, as far as I’m aware, but her introduction is solid. The issue came out at a time when comics straddled old-school and modern sensibilities. Residual Silver Age goofiness lingered, but the overall tone was growing up. The result was books like this one. It packs in plenty of imagination and excitement while putting a stronger focus on character and plotting, and it never tries to be “adult” in any immature, “edgy” way.

Writer Elliot S. Maggin reintroduces us to a character who first appeared in his 1981 Superman novel, Superman: Miracle Monday. In her comics debut, Kristin Wells, a 29th century history professor, travels back in time to uncover the secret identity of Superwoman, the last 20th century superhero whose true name remains unknown. She catches up with her old friend Superman, who’s never met any Superwoman. A powerful alien menace strikes, and no Superwoman comes to Superman’s aid. So who on Earth could she possibly be? I wonder.

It’s light, a little silly, and very fast-paced, but it’s also charming and engaging throughout, making fun use of assorted sci-fi and comic book tropes. If anything, though, it works too well as a complete story. The protagonist’s arc reaches a strong conclusion. She solves her mystery, grows, and returns home with a new perspective. While she’s perfectly likable, there’s nothing to launch us into subsequent stories about her.

But as a single-issue story, it’s an excellent example of early ’80s DC upping its game.

Writer: Elliot S. Maggin

Penciler: Keith Pollard

Inker: Mike DeCarlo

Cover: Gil Kane

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Superman For All Seasons #1-4 (1998)

Less is often more. Superman For All Seasons, a four-issue miniseries by frequent collaborators Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, distills Superman into his key elements and zeroes in on his most super quality—he can do almost anything, but he chooses to help people.

The book is set in Superman’s early days, and as the title suggests, it’s structured around the four seasons. A different character narrates each issue: Jonathan Kent, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, and Lana Lang.

Pa Kent talks about a young man who was raised right and wants to do right. Lois talks about a dashing man who’s too good to be true, and yet he is that good. Luthor talks about a rival for the affection of Metropolis, a lonely man who can’t save everyone no matter how good his intentions are. And Lana talks about Clark Kent, the kind boy she grew up with who’s still there inside that costume.

Together, the issues form a nice arc, guiding us from Clark’s initial desire to use his abilities to help the world, to his initial successes, to his first real defeat, to his acceptance that though he can’t do everything, he can still do everything he can do.

Superman has definitive origin details, but he doesn’t have a definitive origin story. Nothing about Krypton informs who Clark Kent is as a person. No traumatic event motivates him to become Superman. By virtue of his upbringing, he’s intrinsically motivated to do good.

What’s interesting, then, is how he grows into the role and his responsibilities, how he adjusts to the burden that he has freely chosen, how he sticks with it despite any setbacks. That’s what Superman For All Seasons examines, and that’s why it succeeds in instilling a sense of grandeur on nearly every page. To understand the super, you have to understand the man.

In issue #4, two pages are devoted to a single panel of Superman flying over Smallville and looking down as the town is flooding. The only words on the page are Superman saying, “All right, Lana. I’ll make things safe.” It’s a perfect summation of who Superman is.

Writer: Jeph Loeb

Artist: Tim Sale

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Superman For All Seasons (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 (1985)

An editorial decree killed Supergirl, but that didn’t stop her from going out in a heroic blaze of glory.

Crisis on Infinite Earths was DC’s first huge crossover series. It pulled together not only every DC character, but also characters inherited from defunct companies such as Fawcett and Charlton. The series’ real-world purpose was to obliterate all these other universes so DC Comics could move forward with a modern, streamlined continuity in a single universe.

And, by the way, Superman needed to be the only surviving Kryptonian in that new continuity. But no one said Supergirl needed to quietly fade away. (Spoilers ahead, of course.)

In Crisis #7, a multi-universal group of powerful superheroes wages a last-ditch campaign against the forces of the even more powerful Anti-Monitor. (“The Anti-Monitor” may not sound like a formidable threat, but he did already destroy all but five universes. I suppose that follows the rule of “show; don’t tell.”) The first part of the issue focuses on lots of cosmic exposition, which I found much more interesting as a kid, but there’s a nice parable within about the danger of excessive pride—it can destroy entire universes! You’ve been warned, kids.

The real heart of the issue is when the focus shifts to Supergirl. It’s unfortunate that she spends the first half in the background, but that’s mega-crossovers for you. When she leaps into action, though, the issue suddenly becomes great.

Naturally, Superman is the first to reach the Anti-Monitor. Everyone expects him to be their best chance of taking down the villain and saving the remaining universes.

But Superman fails. He gets beat, and beat bad.

So Supergirl steps in and steps up. She’s thinking entirely selflessly. She wants to save her only living relative, not only because she cares about him but also because of what he means to the world. Mind you, she’s spent her entire time on Earth living in his shadow, so she’s assuming she could never possibly measure up to his example.

But she does. She clobbers the Anti-Monitor, destroys his machines, saves those universes for the time being…and then she makes a mistake, but for the right reasons. While she’s got the Anti-Monitor on the ropes, she turns away to urge someone else to get to safety, and the Anti-Monitor exploits the moment to fire the fatal shot. She dies exactly as a hero should—putting others first and herself last.

DC would eventually introduce another Supergirl (as I’ve covered before), and then reintroduce a version closer to the original. But in this continuity, this was the definitive ending for this version of the character. This Kara never came back from the dead.

But in her final moments, Supergirl was better than Superman.

Writer: Marv Wolfman

Penciler: George Perez

Inkers: Dick Giordano and Jerry Ordway

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Crisis on Infinite Earths (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Adventures of Superman #525 (1995)

Not every superhero needs a secret identity, but Superman absolutely does, as he’s reminded in The Adventures of Superman #525.

Superman’s identity was compromised in the previous storyline, prompting him to wonder if it’s time to retire Clark Kent for the safety of his friends and family. Fortunately, Lois Lane talks some sense into him, showing him how he’d have no real life he’s Superman all the time.

It’s nothing deep or profound, but it’s a charming issue as written by Karl Kesel, who often brought a nice sense of humor to his Superman issues and does so here (Lois’s encounter with the law makes for an entertaining comedic beat).

When DC rebooted Superman in the mid-80s, one of the most important revisions was reversing the Superman/Clark Kent dynamic. In the old days, Clark was the disguise for Superman. Since 1986, Superman has been the disguise for Clark Kent. It was a brilliant decision that enriched the character tremendously, and it’s reaffirmed in this issue.

Writer: Karl Kesel

Penciler: Stuart Immonen

Inker: Jose Marzan

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Adventures of Superman #517 (1994)

I should’ve posted this one on April Fools’ Day. Well, I’m writing it on April 1, so…good enough.

Someone played a cruel practical joke on Superman not long after he returned from the dead. In “Dead Again!”, a Superman corpse is discovered, leading to speculation about whether the living Superman is the real deal. After all, four imposters sprang up after Superman died, so the public’s skepticism is understandable. Fool me once, shame one you; fool me five times, you think I’m nuts or something?

Even Superman himself can’t be entirely sure. If it’s possible for him to come back from the dead, then it’s also possible he could be a clone or some other fabrication, even one with all the right memories. And as a journalist, he’s trained not to take anything at face value. The genetically identical corpse could well be a hoax, but he also has no proof it’s not. For all his strength, he’s not invulnerable to mind games.

So The Adventures of Superman #517 shows us Superman working through his existential crisis, and it also highlights the strengths of the Super-books’ structure at the time.

There were four Superman titles, but they functioned together as a single, nearly weekly series. Though each title had its designated creative team, they’d share the same stories, passing them down the line in a pre-planned round-robin fashion. It was almost like how television series are handled, but with the line editor serving as the showrunner.

While you had to read all four series to get the complete story, each individual issue provided a satisfying read with its own mini-story within the larger framework. In AOS #517, Superman works through his doubts while tackling an admittedly generic villain, though he remains rattled by the mysterious fake corpse. Superman overcomes some obstacle, but the tension still builds—and the next chapter hits the stands usually just one week later.

The structure gave the stories room to breathe and facilitated many solid Superman stories for readers young and old.

Writer: Karl Kesel

Penciler: Barry Kitson

Inker: Ray McCarthy

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

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