Tag Archives: Superman

Today’s Super Comic — Superman #76 (1993)

superman_v-2_76The Death of Superman storyline was a missed opportunity. Ample media coverage got tons of people interested, people who didn’t normally read comics. The whole world was watching. This was DC Comics’ chance to prove that comics could be more than musclebound men punching each other to death.

And how did they choose to kill of Superman? By having him and a monster punch each other until they both fell. Ugh.

But when it came to the events after the death, the Superman creative teams knew exactly what they were doing. They understood the real meat of the story wasn’t the death itself, but other characters’ reactions to a world that no longer had Superman in it. The Funeral for a Friend arc, followed by Reign of the Supermen, defined Superman through his absence, demonstrating just how irreplaceable and inspirational the character can be. And this was during a time when characters like the Punisher and Spawn were gaining in popularity, so taking time to reflect on what makes the original superhero super was indeed warranted. (It still is.)

Superman #76 occurs in the middle of the funeral storyline, shortly after the funeral itself. The Justice League honors Superman’s memory by carrying on one of his Christmas traditions—reading letters written to Superman seeking his aid, and helping as many of these people as they can, even though not a single plea involves pounding a super-villain into submission.

Meanwhile, the only civilians who know Superman’s identity—the Kents, Lois Lane, and Lana Lang—share their grief and discuss whether to reveal Clark’s secret. Jimmy Olsen bonds with a teenager who was saved by Superman during that final battle and is experiencing survivor’s guilt. Attention-seekers try to capitalize on the national mourning. And nefarious scoundrels steal Superman’s body (had to be something comic booky in there).

It’s a shame most people stopped reading after Superman and Doomsday punched each other out.

Writer/Penciler: Dan Jurgens

Inker: Brett Breeding

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in World Without a Superman (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Superman: Secret Identity #1-4 (2004)

superman-secret-identity-1“Real-world” takes on superheroes come with substantial risk—extracting all the wonder and escapist fun right out of the story. But when done properly, as in Superman: Secret Identity, the opposite occurs, and it’s like we’re reading about a flying man for the first time…because in the world of this story, it’s unprecedented.

The miniseries takes place in a world just like ours, one in which Superman is nothing more than a fictional character. The protagonist has the misfortune of being named Clark Kent, and boy, does he never hear the end of it. Then one night, for no apparent reason, he suddenly has all of Superman’s powers. Now…what to do with them?

Writer Kurt Busiek is a master of grounded superhero stories that feel all the more magical because of their earthy roots. Similarly, artist Stuart Immonen displays a rough-hewn style that looks relatively “normal” and down-to-earth, which only serves to heighten the grandeur when Clark takes to the sky or performs some other extraordinary feat.

The story feels like it’s occurring in our world, and its characters look and sound like people who would fit right in with life as we know it. There’s just one super-powered person added to it.

Writer: Kurt Busiek

Artist: Stuart Immonen

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Superman: Secret Identity (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Kingdom Come #4 (1996)

kingdom_come_4Kingdom Come arrives at a perfect conclusion.

The Superman in this miniseries has been one who’s lost his way. He still wants to do the right thing, but his previously impeccable judgment is impaired. This is the issue to address how he let that happen and how to right the course…but only after he reaches his breaking point, brought upon in part by his own incredible sense of responsibility.

Wonder Woman, too, has strayed, and her arc comes to a head in an excellent confrontation with Batman. And Captain Marvel is extremely well cast as the one character who is both superhuman and human.

The two-page spread early in the book showcases Alex Ross’s amazing artistic talents. He crams so many characters on the battlefield, with every bit player and background actor engaged in a specific action against a specific opponent. Throughout the book, each page is a phenomenal work of art.

Writer Mark Waid clearly understands superheroes’ two most important roles—to fight always for life, and to inspire. Unless they do those two things, they’re not truly superheroes. This series is ultimately all about superheroes becoming heroic again, and while I’ve never ranked my favorite comics, Kingdom Come would easily fall in the top ten. Probably top five.

Writer: Mark Waid

Artist: Alex Ross

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Kingdom Come (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Kingdom Come #3 (1996)

kingdom_come_3In the third issue of Kingdom Come, Superman doesn’t want to adjust to a changing world, but Captain Marvel couldn’t adjust. Superman strives to maintain peace, but Wonder Woman is prepared for war, if necessary.

The inclusion of Captain Marvel (Shazam) is an excellent choice. He truly is DC’s most innocent superhero. He’s a child who can transform into a super-powered adult, but he’s still a child at heart. But this miniseries is set in the future, and Billy Batson is all grown up…and the manner in which he’s grown up reflects the world around him. He simply doesn’t fit in this darker age, leading him into Lex Luthor’s thrall. His cheesy smile has never been creepier.

The conflict between Superman’s idealism and Wonder Woman’s pragmatism is especially well-handled, and it’s all the more interesting because it’s a conflict between two people who respect each other a great deal.

Tensions escalate throughout the issue. We get some relief as Batman has his Awesome Batman Moment. But this is all about putting all the chess pieces in place for the climactic battle, and it features many excellent moments along the way, including this fantastic quote from Superman to Batman:

“The deliberate taking of human—even super-human—life goes against every belief I have—and that you have. That’s the one thing we’ve always had in common. It’s what made us what we are.”

I will savor re-reading the final issue.

Writer: Mark Waid

Artist: Alex Ross

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Kingdom Come (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Kingdom Come #2 (1996)

kingdom_come_2Another issue that’s just as good, if not better than I remember.

This is the “gathering of forces” issue. Superman rebuilds the Justice League. Batman and a few other non-powered ex-Leaguers make their own appeal to the younger generation. Lex Luthor and a cabal of old villains are up to something. And the antiheroes continue to do whatever they damn well please…but with significantly tougher opposition now.

The key to the issue’s success is the focus on varying worldviews. Superman and Batman’s argument, which involves not a single punch or blast of heat vision, is far more compelling than anything seen in the Batman v Superman movie. Wonder Woman, who’s serving as Superman’s right hand, also sees things differently than the Man of Steel due to her experience as a warrior.

And then there’s Magog, the “superhero” who precipitated Superman’s retirement. Magog took it upon himself to kill, rather than apprehend, the Joker; Superman wouldn’t stand for such a blatant disregard for the law and human decency, so he took Magog to court. And Metropolis and its citizens sided overwhelmingly with Magog. He was the future, and Superman was the past.

But “new” doesn’t always equal “right,” and as we saw in #1, Magog’s carelessness resulted in the deaths of a million innocents. And his genuine remorse in this issue adds just enough depth to his character.

“They chose the man who would kill over the man who wouldn’t,” Magog says, “and now they’re dead.”

As I suggested yesterday, this is one of the greatest Superman stories ever told.

Writer: Mark Waid

Artist: Alex Ross

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Kingdom Come (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Kingdom Come #1 (1996)

kingdom-come-1I haven’t read Kingdom Come in many years, so I figured it was time to see how well it holds up.

Exceptionally well, judging from the first issue. Mark Waid wrote it and Alex Ross painted it, so that was a pretty safe bet.

It’s set in the DC Universe’s possible future, in which the younger generation is running amok without understanding the true meaning of super-heroism. The Justice League generation is all either retired or focused solely on their respective home turfs. And we view it all through the eyes of an ordinary preacher, whom the Spectre has recruited as his human anchor.

This is, first and foremost, a Superman story, and one of the great Superman stories. In this world, Superman has been gone for ten years, and the void is tremendous. We see the importance of his ideals in their absence. It feels especially relevant these days, since Superman has been largely missing from his own movies—well, the last two have had a grim fellow who looks like him, but that’s about it.

This Superman isn’t exactly a happy sort either. He’s a Superman who’s lost his way and needs to get himself—and the world—back on track. As contradictory as it sounds, he’s out of character in a way that demonstrates a superb understanding of his character. At this point, how he got there and how he recovers isn’t fully apparent.

And I have to praise Ross’s art, of course. The level of detail is phenomenal—far beyond the capabilities of mere mortal comics. (That’s no slight against any other artist. It’s the benefits of the painted medium combined with Ross’s mastery of his craft.) So much care has gone into countless character designs and set designs—look at all the Easter eggs in the Planet Krypton diner, or the tiny skull in the Spectre’s eye, and how Superman’s presence instantly evokes a sense of grandeur.

I’m going to take this series one issue at a time, one day at a time. It’s worth the attention.

Writer: Mark Waid

Artist: Alex Ross

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Kingdom Come (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Superman #2 (1987)

superman_v-2_2Superman #2 sums up Lex Luthor perfectly. This was early in Superman’s late ‘80s reboot, so taking the time to clearly define the hero’s arch-nemesis was a wise move on writer/artist John Byrne’s part.

Luthor is the true protagonist of this particular issue, as he’s determined to learn the connection between Clark Kent and Superman. Along the way, we see him abuse and manipulate his employees, rip out Metallo’s kryptonite heart and not give a damn about any consequences, order the ransacking of the Kent farmhouse, torture Lana Lang (well, that’s off-panel, but we see the wounds), and enjoy a moment of triumph over the Man of Steel.

But then his fatal flaw slithers out on a brilliant last page, and his own arrogance robs him of what should have been a sweet victory. It’s a punchline that shows us the sharp contrast between Superman’s and Luthor’s respective worldviews.

With this issue, Byrne successfully modernized a classic villain.

Writer/Artist: John Byrne

Inker: Terry Austin

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Superman: The Man of Steel vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Super-Soldier #1 (1996)

super-soldier-1You’d think having Marvel and DC characters duke it out over the course of a four-issue miniseries would be enough of a gimmick, but the publishers didn’t. In the middle of DC vs. Marvel, the companies’ respective characters fused together as the universes combined into Amalgam Comics.

So, if you were ever wondering, “Hey, what if Superman and Captain America merged into one character?” … well, writer Mark Waid and artist Dave Gibbons answered that twenty years ago in Super-Soldier #1.

A rocket crashes to Earth in the 1930s, but the alien infant within doesn’t survive. Scientists use its cellular samples to create a “Super-Soldier” formula, which they give to an ordinary recruit, granting him powers far beyond those of mortal men. Like Captain America, Super Soldier got trapped in ice before the end of World War II and spent decades frozen. When he awakens in the present, kryptonite radiation in the atmosphere continually weakens him, like it would Superman. He works for the Daily Planet with star reporter Sharon Carter, and his arch-nemesis is Lex Luthor, the Green Skull.

Basically, it’s professionally produced fanfiction. But it’s fun to visit this alternate reality for an issue, and everyone involved clearly enjoyed making the book and building its fake history. There’s even a letters page with imaginary longtime fans expressing their excitement about the new Super-Soldier series after its long hiatus.

Super-Soldier was one of 12 Amalgam one-shots, and Marvel and DC produced a second wave the following year. There’s no need to ever revisit the gimmick, but it worked because great effort and skill accompanied the high concept.

Writer: Mark Waid

Artist: Dave Gibbons

Publisher: DC Comics (on behalf of Amalgam Comics)

How to Read It: back issues; included in The Amalgam Age of Comics (The DC Comics Collection) (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Superman #415 (1986)

Superman 415Supergirl died a while back, and since DC’s continuity rebooted shortly thereafter, that original version of her technically stayed dead.

But Superman #415 gave her a nice little epilogue, revealing a “happily ever after” she had experienced (for at least a short while). The issue also allows Superman some time to mourn his cousin when he meets the alien husband he never knew she had.

Admittedly, Superman was in need of a reboot at the time. Things were getting kind of stale by this point, but writer Cary Bates and legendary Superman artist Curt Swan were in top form with this issue, paying proper respect to a great character DC decided it needed to sacrifice so Superman could truly be the last of his kind.

Fortunately, DC wised up years later and realized its fictional universe needed the Last Daughter of Krypton, too.

Writer: Cary Bates

Penciler: Curt Swan

Inker: Al Williamson

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Adventures of Superman #476 (1991)

Adventures_of_Superman_476Early ‘90s Superman comics probably won’t go down as among the all-time greats, but they sure are reliably fun.

The Adventures of Superman #476 kicks off a time-traveling epic called “Time and Time Again.” Superman has just recently revealed his secret identity to Lois Lane (they’re engaged at this point), and as they’re adjusting to this new dynamic in their relationship, special guest star Booster Gold literally drops out of the sky. Time for both Supes and Lois to get to work.

In trying to help out his colleague, Superman winds up flung through time, and his first stop brings him to additional guest stars who are always nice to see.

Time-travel is a useful device for pulling Superman out of his usual element, and it allows him to embark on an archetypal “hero must find his way home” story, which generally is a bit harder to facilitate with a flying, super-fast protagonist.

A good time for Superman fans young and old.

Writer/Penciler: Dan Jurgens

Inker: Brett Breeding

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Superman: Time and Time Again (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up