Avenging The Fantastic, Part 13: The Black Widow Goes Solo (Briefly)!

Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Books Read

Fantastic Four #94-104; Avengers #73-83; Captain America #121-133, Captain America and the Falcon #134; Iron Man #21-32; Incredible Hulk #125-134; Thor #172-181; Amazing Adventures (starring Black Widow) #1-4; years: 1970-71

The Revolving Door of Avengers Mansion

Yellowjacket and Wasp are out so Hank Pym can do science for the government, but Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch are back, thus filling the Avengers’ quota of unhealthy relationships. And then the Vision abruptly leaves shortly later…and returns almost immediately.

Iron_Man_Vol_1_21The Best of This Bunch – Iron Man #21-22

Archie Goodwin’s solid run on Iron Man continues with a tale of Tony Stark trying to quit his superhero life…and realizing he can’t. The story features tropes that have become too commonplace these days—a replacement for the hero, a replacement for an old villain, and the death of a romantic interest. But these tropes were fresher in 1970 and, in this particular instance, well-handled.

Iron-willed boxer and all-around decent guy Eddie March makes for a likeable potential Iron Man, though he has a medical condition of his own that cuts his super-heroic career short. Surprisingly, he survives the tale, but Janice Cord’s death comes out of nowhere.

Janice had been portrayed as a potential girlfriend for Tony Stark for the past twenty issues or so. Now, after an experimental medical procedure leaves Tony Stark’s heart healthy enough for daily life but not necessarily superhero life, he decides to pursue a normal relationship and pass the Iron Man armor onto a worthy successor. Continue reading

Today’s Super Comics — Green Lantern: Rebirth #1-6 (2004-05)

Green Lantern Rebirth 1Hal Jordan’s character became a bit of a disaster for several years’ worth of comics. (Though the Green Lantern movie remains the greatest tragedy to befall the character.)

To recap, his hometown was destroyed, he went crazy and beat up his Green Lantern colleagues so he could go yell at the Guardians, the Guardians let him absorb the power of the central GL power battery, Hal became Parallax and nearly destroyed the universe in a company-wide crossover, he languished in the background for a while as a pseudo-villain, he died saving the world in another company-wide crossover, and in yet another company-wide crossover, he became the new Spectre.

And that’s where his character was at when the Green Lantern: Rebirth miniseries rolled around. Hal Jordan, the manifestation of God’s wrath!

Yeah, he needed a rebirth. (But the movie remains worse than all of that.)

Fortunately, writer Geoff Johns came along to untangle this mess and restore Hal as the Earth’s preeminent Green Lantern. Quite a chore indeed, but Johns and artist Ethan Van Scriver succeed in making this deck-clearing exercise incredibly entertaining. Not only do they set the stage for a great run of Green Lantern comics to follow, but they never get farsighted along the way—they make sure the journey of these six issues is a fun ride from start to finish.

This miniseries restores Hal Jordan to greatness and reminds us why the character is great.

Writer: Geoff Johns

Penciler: Ethan Van Scriver

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Green Lantern: Rebirth (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Uncanny X-Men #297 (1993)

Uncanny_X-Men_Vol_1_297Some of Scott Lobdell’s best X-Men comics were the issues that excluded fisticuffs and super-villains altogether, and Uncanny X-Men #297 is a superb example. Twenty-two pages of human interaction (well, mutant interaction) featuring three pairs: Beast and Archangel (for our entertainment), Rogue and Gambit (to fill the soap opera quota), and Prof. X and Jubilee (to provide the heart of the issue).

The issue serves as the epilogue to X-Cutioner’s Song, the big noisy crossover event that consumed most of the X-titles for the previous few months, so the X-Men were due for some quiet time. In that crossover, Xavier was critically wounded in an assassination attempt, but his recovery grants him a temporary side-effect. For a little while, at least, he gets to walk again.

Granted, poor Xavier has been in and out of a wheelchair so many times over the years, it’s kind of cruel. That’s due to the habit of comics to revert to the most familiar status quo after a while, but this particular story works great because both the reader and Xavier know it’s temporary from the start. He gets to enjoy the use of his legs for an evening or so, and then it will be back to his chair for probably the rest of his life. Very bittersweet.

So how does he spend this precious time? He spends it with Jubilee, whom he has the least in common with and hardly even knows at this point. Jubilee joined when Xavier was off-planet with his space wife (yeah, that was a thing), and he hasn’t been back for all that long by this issue. They bond over roller-blading, and it is fantastic. Jubilee was created to be the Robin to Wolverine’s Batman, but it turns out the character works best as a youthful foil to the very adult and disciplined Charles Xavier, allowing us to see a different side of him.

Wonderful issue, and the ending is rather touching.

Writer: Scott Lobdell

Penciler: Brandon Peterson

Inker: Dan Panosian

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Marvel Unlimited

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Booster Gold #6 (1986)

Booster_Gold_6I’ve always had a soft spot for Booster Gold. And if you’re not a regular comic reader, you’re probably asking, “Booster who? What?”

Booster Gold debuted in the mid-80s, and creator/writer/artist Dan Jurgens immediately distinguished him from the rest of DC’s superhero lineup. While most superheroes save the day for altruistic reasons or to avenge loved ones, Booster is pretty much in it for his own glory at first. He wants to be rich, famous, and adored. His path to doing so just happens to be crimefighting, but he’s totally comfortable marketing his likeness as any popular athlete would.

Jurgens could easily have misfired with this. (Well, the series lasted all of two years, so perhaps it was a misfire anyway. But the character was a creative success, and Booster has continued to play a role in the DC Universe ever since.) Booster could have come across as overly selfish and unlikeable—and at times he absolutely does—but beneath all the product endorsements and preoccupation with image, he’s a guy who truly wants to be the best superhero he can be.

As we learn in #6, his origin issue, Booster’s past is not one to be proud of. He starts from a very low point, and he’s determined to become something better.

To drive home just how un-heroic Booster initially appears, the big man himself, Superman, shows up and heaps considerable judgment upon the titular showboat. The two make for excellent foils.

Some heroes are born great, and others have to work hard at it. The latter is often the more interesting approach, and that’s what makes Booster Gold a somewhat hidden gem among DC’s cast.

Writer/Penciler: Dan Jurgens

Inker: Mike De Carlo

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Catwoman #12 (2002)

Catwoman 12Catwoman has had quite a few solo series over the years, but none was better than Ed Brubaker’s noir take on the character, particularly in the first two years when the late, great Darwyn Cooke set the artistic tone.

Cooke’s clean, energetic style freed poor Selina from the over-objectification she’s often subjected to. This series was never about cheesecake—it was about a unique woman, one comfortable in morally gray areas, trying to do her part to improve her neighborhood. Cameron Stewart soon took over the art, and he admirably continued the general look and feel that Cooke established.

Issue #12 kicks off what’s arguably the pinnacle of the run. It’s a relatively quiet issue that spends quality time with the supporting cast, which Brubaker did an excellent job of fleshing out. That effort went a long way toward making Catwoman feel like the center of her own world rather than an extension of Batman’s.

And when faces from the past return to Selina’s life, we can trust that Brubaker and Stewart will be sending us on a thrilling ride. And yes—the next several issues fulfill that promise.

Catwoman at her best, no Batman necessary.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Artist: Cameron Stewart

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Catwoman vol. 2: No Easy Way Down (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — 52 #42 (2007)

52 week 42Catch-up post!

After decades as a C-list comic relief superhero, the Elongated Man finally has his moment.

And that’s basically what the weekly 52 series was all about. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were absent for a year of DC’s continuity, allowing other characters time in the spotlight, such as Booster Gold, Renee Montoya, Animal Man, and others, even strechy guy Ralph Dibny. Different storylines featured different characters, showcasing various aspects of the DC Universe throughout the course of the year. The 52-issue series was quite an achievement in rapidly produced serialized storytelling (even if it did lead to the company’s obsession with the number 52), giving us lots of fantastic issues along the way.

While most issues made room for multiple storylines, issue #42 is almost entirely given to the climax of Ralph’s arc. And it’s a tremendous payoff that demonstrates why the Justice League kept the silly stretchy around for so many years, as a grief-stricken Elongated Man is able to employ his considerable detective skills to outwit a particularly powerful opponent.

Very nice to see a perennial C-lister get to shine, and to see an underdog triumph.

But don’t start with this issue—read the whole series.

Writers: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, George Rucka, Mark Waid

Layouts: Keith Giffen

Artist: Darick Robertson

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; 52 vol. 4 (TPB)

Appropriate For: 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — All-Star Superman #3 (2006)

2352256-all_star_superman__2005__03I have to admit that Grant Morrison’s writing sometimes gets a little too weird for my tastes, but with All-Star Superman, he picked precisely the correct amount of weirdness to bring to the table.

The series is set in its own continuity, already well into this Superman’s career…toward the end of it, actually. This Superman is dying from issue #1, and he makes sure his remaining time counts.

In #3, Superman allows his one true love to spend a day in his world. As a birthday present, Lois Lane receives all his powers for a full 24 hours. The events are deliberately ridiculous, complete with additional super-powered suitors determined to impress Lois, but an underlying melancholy balances out the goofiness due to Superman knowing he has little time left. Plus, Frank Quitely’s depictions of Superman and Lois flying together and sharing a kiss on the moon are nothing short of romantic.

It’s a charming episode within a great series. This is the “Death of Superman” arc we should have gotten in the early ‘90s. It may not be an in-continuity Superman, but this interpretation is definitely true to the spirit of the character.

Writer: Grant Morrison

Penciler: Frank Quitely

Inker: Jamie Grant

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; All-Star Superman (TPB)

Appropriate For: 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Fray #1 (2001)

Fray 1Catch-up post!

Adaptations are tricky. I’ve read some fun Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics, but no matter how talented an artist is, he or she will never be able to capture the full breadth of an actor’s mannerisms. Something always feels like it’s missing.

But with the miniseries Fray, Joss Whedon sidesteps the adaptation problem by creating something entirely new within the Buffy universe…just set many years in the future. It’s a spinoff where the only element that carries over is the concept of a vampire slayer, but everything else is different, fresh, and ideally suited for the comic book medium.

Melaka Fray is no Buffy clone. She’s got her own distinct personality and motivations in a distinct setting with a distinct supporting cast. Not a piece of source-material baggage to be found. But like Buffy, she comes across as an engaging, flawed heroine right from the start.

And, thanks to a solid script by Whedon and great layouts by Karl Moline, the result is a fantastic read—whether you’ve ever watched an episode of Buffy or not. The first issue succeeds in setting the stage for a compelling story, particularly because it does so without burdening the reader with an onslaught of exposition.

If you read one Buffy-related comic, this should be it.

Writer: Joss Whedon

Penciler: Karl Moline

Inker: Andy Owens

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Fray (TPB)

Appropriate For: 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Fantastic Four #25 (1964)

Fantastic Four 25A classic slugfest, and the greatest Thing vs. Hulk battle ever put to four colors as the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby collaboration really begins to hit its stride.

The Hulk is rampaging. The Human Torch and the Invisible Girl don’t have the raw strength to hold their own against him. Mr. Fantastic is out of commission with a mysterious flu. The Avengers haven’t arrived on the scene yet. That leaves the Thing as the only person in the city with any prayer of taking down the Hulk. As strong as the Thing is, though, he’s seriously out of his weight class here.

But that doesn’t stop him from giving the Hulk everything he’s got.

It’s the superhero as the underdog, a tale of perseverance (something I’m always a sucker for). Back when superheroes seldom lost, this issue showed how there are multiple ways for the good guy to “win.”

Writer: Stan Lee

Artist: Jack Kirby

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; Essential Fantastic Four vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: 8 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Daredevil #13 (2015)

Daredevil 13And we’re back! Sorry for the absence, but the internet has been restored and all is well! Now to catch up!

Interesting thing about Daredevil…the character works great in dark and gritty stories AND light and fun superheroic tales. That’s one versatile crimefighter there.

After a long period of dark—perhaps too long and too dark in the end—Mark Waid took over the writing reins and returned a sense of fun to the title (relaunched with a new #1…and then another #1 because I guess that sells better). Daredevil with Waid at the helm is the sort of book that just puts a smile on your face, and I’m finally getting around to catching up on the tail-end of his great run.

In #13 (the second #13), Matt Murdock grapples with an unusual predicament—he might actually be happy with his new girlfriend, Kirsten. But no amount of happiness will ever interfere with his ingrained sense of overprotectiveness, much to Kirsten’s annoyance.

This is a nice little issue that tells a complete story while serving the larger series arc, and I enjoyed how Waid plays around with expectations.

So yep, the fun continues. I’m totally fine with a happy Daredevil for a while.

Writer: Mark Waid

Artist: Chris Samnee

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; Daredevil vol. 3: The Daredevil You Know (TPB)

Appropriate For: 12 and up