Tag Archives: Superman

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

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