Today’s Super Comic — All-New, All-Different Avengers #6 (2016)

All-New-All-Different-Avengers-6-coverLeave it to the ever-reliable Mark Waid to craft a new Avengers series that feels both classic and fresh. A large part of this book’s success is due to the exceptionally well-balanced roster—three adults, three teenagers, and one android.

All the superhero names are pretty well established, but except for Iron Man and Vision, none are the original incarnations (though the Vision isn’t exactly like his original self, so really just Iron Man). We’ve got the former Falcon as the new Captain America, the new female Thor (I won’t spoil her identity since it was a secret not too long ago), the new teenaged Ms. Marvel, the Miles Morales Spider-Man imported from the Ultimate line, and a teenaged Nova (I haven’t read much Nova, but I’m pretty sure this kid isn’t the original).

This issue wraps up the first story arc, revealing a worthy villain for the new team and providing the sort of large-scale action the Avengers have always thrived in. The specific plot isn’t too noteworthy, but it serves as just the right vehicle to showcase the new team. Most important, the characters never get lost in the shuffle. Everyone has a distinct personality that shines through. The relationships between the members create a wonderful team dynamic. And each Avenger is first and foremost a hero. Plus, at no point does anything ever get oppressively serious.

This Avengers series definitely earns the name, and it’s a specific assemblage I want to continue to see working together. I knew I could trust Waid to get it right.

Writer: Mark Waid

Artist: Mahmud Asrar

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; included in All-New, All-Different Avengers vol. 1: The Magnificent Seven (TPB); Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — DC Universe: Rebirth #1 (2016)

DC RebirthThis book made me happy.

Is it a literary masterpiece? No. It’s downright expository. It merely sets the stage. It is certainly not a jumping-on point. But as someone who was left cold by most of DC’s New 52, this book gives me hope that DC Comics is about to become properly super-heroic again.

I don’t want to give any specifics away, as the ending reveals something I hadn’t even considered as a possibility before I started reading. I was already spoiled on who the main viewpoint character is, but all I’ll say on that is…yes, and about time, DC. One of my favorite characters. You don’t realize how much you’d miss something until it’s taken away from you for several years.

I also don’t want to get into bashing the New 52 since the mission statement for my review-a-day series is to stay positive, so I’ll just look toward the future of DC. Judging from this book, that future looks brighter, more hopeful, and more heroic.

Within all that, DC needs to remember one important ingredient—keep it accessible and appropriate for younger readers. Nothing wrong with adults enjoying superheroes (obviously), but kids need a Superman and Wonder Woman they can look up to (among other great characters). Heck, it’s not just an important ingredient, but the most important. The older I get, the more firmly I believe that.

Writer: Geoff Johns

Artists: Ethan Van Sciver, Ivan Reis, Gary Frank, Phil Jimenez, and more!

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: new issue (but it may be sold out in many places), Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic: Aquaman #46 (1998)

Aquaman46How talented a writer is Peter David? He made Aquaman into a formidable, compelling character. Under David’s watch, Aquaman never felt like a joke, even though his series retained plenty of humor. (You can always count on Peter David to bring a strong sense of humor to his books.) Aquaman is king of the seas—ruler of the majority of the planet—and these storylines never forgot that.

This issue, #46, marked the end of David’s run on Aquaman, and it’s a solid finale to the best string of issues Talks-To-Fish-Man ever had. For the final story, Aquaman partakes in a classic trope—going to Hades. He does so to rescue his enemy Poseidon, whose son Triton is causing troubles in Aquaman’s home Poseidonis.

But getting to Hades…yes, Aquaman allows Triton to kill him in the off-chance he will wind up in Hades, and will be able to return, because that’s the only way to save his kingdom. Pretty bold move for a character typically ridiculed as a useless Fish Whisperer.

David’s Aquaman was a king first and a superhero a distant second. And the character benefited tremendously from that approach. You wouldn’t want to mess with this Aquaman.

Writer: Peter David

Penciler: J. Calafiore

Inkers: Peter Palmiotti, Mark McKenna

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up


Today’s Super Comic: Ms. Marvel #17 (2015)

MSMARVEL17I continue to catch up on Ms. Marvel, and it continues to be a total delight. Not even getting caught up in a company-wide crossover can throw it off track. Rather, this Secret Wars tie-in allows Ms. Marvel the opportunity to team up with her idol, Captain Marvel.

Kamala’s initial reaction to meeting her own personal hero after a really rough day is priceless, and their interaction throughout the issue is handled wonderfully. Her youthful enthusiasm is infectious, and Carol Danvers’ patience with her young fan and encouragement of a promising young hero helps set a great, kind-hearted tone for the story.

Writer G. Willow Wilson gets this teenage superhero series exactly right. It’s funny, full of heart, and with a protagonist who tries to do the right thing no matter how difficult that is. If you want a superhero book that will put a smile on your face, check Ms. Marvel out.

“For a while, I just felt kind of weird and gross.”

“And now?”

“Now I feel weird and awesome!”

Writer: G. Willow Wilson

Artist: Adrian Alphona

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; included in Ms. Marvel vol. 4: Last Days (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up


Today’s Super Comic: X-Men: Omega (1995)

X-Men_Omega_Vol_1_1_WraparoundApocalypse is bursting onto the big screen this weekend, so now seems like a swell time for a quick look back at the greatest—and most ambitious—Apocalypse storyline…The Age of Apocalypse.

The X-Men’s world (and history) was drastically altered thanks to the time-traveling antics of Prof. Xavier’s son. For four months, the usual stable of X-Men titles gave way to alternate-reality versions. In this X-world, Xavier died before he could found the X-Men, but Magneto did form the team to fight for peace and tolerance in honor of his fallen friend. One wee problem, though—Apocalypse rules the world in a decidedly not-friendly way.

X-Men: Omega is the grand finale, and it demonstrates what a superb accomplishment this storyline is. Part of the nature of the comic book beast is they always need to be setting up the next storyline. Definitive endings are the minority, unless a series is cancelled, but even then the characters can live on in guest appearances or revivals.

But The Age of Apocalypse occupied the less common position. This alternate reality needed to give way to the proper Marvel Universe sooner or later, thus allowing the saga to achieve a proper conclusion. This freedom from the normal confines of continuity bolstered the creativity of an already exceptional team of writers and artists. There have been attempts at revisiting this timeline, but honestly I’ve never felt the need to check those out because this original storyline stands on its own in such a satisfying way.

Also, Apocalypse may be the title character and formidable threat, but he’s not what makes the story interesting. More than anyone else, that distinction goes to Magneto—he’s never been a better man than in this dystopian world. But he’s still no Xavier.

It was definitely nice to return to the “real” X-Men after four months, but this storyline continues to hold up as a big crossover event that was properly executed.

Writers: Scott Lobdell, Mark Waid

Penciler: Roger Cruz

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; included in X-Men: Age of Apocalypse vol. 3: Omega (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic: Astonishing X-Men #14 (2006)

AXM 14Joss Whedon deconstructs Cyclops, and it’s about as brilliant as you would expect.

Before he took on Earth’s Mightiest Film Franchise, Whedon wrote a love letter to classic X-Men comics over the course of 25 issues of Atonishing X-Men, in which he was paired with superb artist John Cassaday. They presented no bold new interpretation of the X-Men. Rather, they told solid X-Men stories focusing on several popular characters, and they did so with exceptional skill, polish, and humor.

Every issue features Whedon’s snappy dialogue and Cassaday’s detailed, cinematic art. But #14 also features great insight into Cyclops’s character. The Avengers have Captain America. The Fantastic Four have Mr. Fantastic. And the X-Men have…Cyclops? What makes him so special?

The issue plays to Whedon’s strengths…namely, one couple having a substantial conversation while another couple…well, they’re not conversing much, but they provide the comedy to balance out the Cyclops storyline.

And Cassaday isn’t just a great artist — he also excels at staging the action via his page layouts, like a good director. The book’s funniest moment lands because of Cassaday’s “direction” … and also because Whedon knows when to step aside and let the pictures tell the story.

It’s the X-Men done right.

Writer: Joss Whedon

Artist: John Cassaday

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Astonishing X-Men vol. 3: Torn (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 15 and up


Today’s Super Comic: Hawkeye #22 (2015)

Hawkeye22I was blown away when I read the first trade paperback of this Hawkeye series. Now that I’ve read the final issue at long last, I can officially say that, yes, they keep the quality high right up until the finish line.

If you’re wondering how Hawkeye can possibly carry his own series, the answer is “with phenomenal, innovative execution.” Also, having two Hawkeyes helps. Clint Barton is the Hawkeye moviegoers will recognize, but there’s also Kate Bishop, who became the second Hawkeye while Clint was dead for a little while several years ago. Both are likeable, relatable characters who are far from perfect but keep pushing on until they get the job done. And the interplay between the two never fails to entertain.

The series focuses on the trouble Hawkeye and Hawkeye get into when they’re not with the Avengers or embroiled in any sort of big operatic superhero action. That’s a simple but very smart approach. The book gets to play within a wonderful fictional landscape, but it’s free from ever getting tangled up in the big events of the broader Marvel Universe, leaving it accessible to casual readers.

Great writing by Matt Fraction. Great art by David Aja that capitalizes on the storytelling possibilities the comic book format offers. Great sense of humor. An overall great time from start to finish.

Of course, this issue is the end, so don’t start here. This is merely confirmation that the series never suffered a creative slump. So go back to #1 and read every issue. Hawkeye is an achievement that should inspire all of us creative sorts to aim a little higher.

Writer: Matt Fraction

Artist: David Aja

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; included in Hawkeye vol. 4: Rio Bravo (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 15 and up

Today’s Super Comic: Flash #91 (1994)

Flash_v.2_91I’ve been a Flash fan since I was nine years old. Mark Waid’s stories in the early to mid-1990s greatly contributed to hooking me on comics for life.

So, in honor of tonight’s season finale of the CW’s often-fun Flash television series, let’s look at one of the many excellent issues from Waid’s run on the title. (People like to announce whether they intend their puns or not. I’ll let it remain a mystery for the ages.)

A recurring plot on the TV show this season has involved the Flash trying to increase his speed. In Flash #91, we see what happens when he succeeds in achieving a major boost.

This Flash isn’t Barry Allen, though. This is Wally West. I’m not spoiling anything because it was the status quo for many years, but Barry died long before this and his nephew (related through his wife Iris) graduated from being Kid Flash to the Flash. And at first, Wally was a far cry from the heroism of Barry Allen. Wally was a self-centered jerk early in post-sidekick tenure, but Waid’s stories focused on his gradual maturation.

Because of events from recent issues, Wally is determined to save everyone. No one can die because he was busy saving someone else. But when faced with the dilemma of needing to prioritize who to rescue, he employs Johnny Quick’s speed formula to enhance his powers…and winds up stuck at near-lightspeed, in a city that’s basically frozen to him.

Can the fastest man alive be everywhere at once? Really, can any of us do everything we feel we need to do? It’s a simple but surprisingly mature dilemma for the Flash, and Waid addresses it without resorting to any cynicism whatsoever. Whether you’re an adult or a kid, this is a fantastic short story that builds on what came before and tees up future plotlines.

Writer: Mark Waid

Penciler: Mike Wieringo

Inker: Joe Marzan Jr.

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic: Doctor Strange #2 (2015)

DoctorStrange2I’ve never been much of a Doctor Strange fan. I’ve liked him as an occasional guest star throughout the Marvel Universe, but I’ve never gotten into his solo series.

But this latest attempt at series has me interested so far. (And by “so far,” I mean the two issues that are available on Marvel Unlimited as of this writing.)

The second issue takes us on a tour through Doctor Strange’s highly dangerous home/headquarters, the Sanctum Sanctorum, which allows artist Chris Bachalo a chance to shine. Bachalo has always specialized in unconventional layouts, in which the panels seamlessly bleed into each other and strange creatures run amok wherever they please, so he’s a natural fit for the Sorcerer Supreme’s weird magical world. Here, he gives each surreal room in the Sanctum Sanctorum its own brand of crazy, resulting in a comic that never lacks for visual appeal.

Writer Jason Aaron’s take on the character seems to be that Doctor Strange is New York’s weirdest doctor, in that he’s the guy who treats supernatural maladies that afflict ordinary people. (How this compares to previous writers’ takes on the character, I haven’t read enough to say.) His “patient” in this issue is a librarian from the Bronx who has creepy mouths growing on the top of her head. Not the sort of thing a conventional hospital can treat.

This issue is mostly just laying a foundation for future stories, but I’m curious to read more. And that’s a sign of a successfully executed comic.

Writer: Jason Aaron

Penciler: Chris Bachalo

Inker: Tim Townsend, Al Vey, and Mark Irwin

Publisher: Marvel

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; included in Doctor Strange Vol. 1: The Way of the Weird (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comics: Detective Comics #475-476 (1978)

Detective475Writer Steve Englehart and artist Marshall Rogers had a superb and all-too-brief run of Batman stories in Detective Comics in the late 1970s, climaxing in this two-part Joker tale. It’s so good, Batman: The Animated Series adapted it pretty faithfully years later.

The Joker wants to copyright fish. He poisons them so that they all have permanently grinning faces, thus sharing his likeness. So he feels his copyright claim is a perfectly reasonable proposition, and until he gets his cut of every fish sale nationwide, he’ll kill one person at a time. Each execution is publicly announced, with plenty of forewarning for Batman and the police to take measures to protect the innocent…provided they can predict how their brilliantly insane nemesis will strike.

And then there’s the ongoing subplot of Bruce Wayne’s new love interest, Silver St. Cloud—an excellent match for him and someone too smart to be fooled by a mask.

There are a lot of great interpretations of Batman out there, in print and in film, but this is the type of Batman I prefer. He’s heroic, intelligent, strong, and not crazy. This Batman is capable of warmth and healthy relationships, while still being driven and utterly devoted to his mission.

The depiction of the Joker is also spot-on. He’s frightening in his unpredictability, but with an underlying method to his madness that can be fathomed only by himself.

There are no cheap shocks here, just strong storytelling skills, great characters, and an inventive story.

Writer: Steve Englehart

Penciler: Marshall Rogers

Inker: Terry Austin

Publisher: DC

How to Read Them: back issues; included in Batman: Strange Apparitions (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up