Today’s Super Comic — The New Teen Titans #20 (1982)

New_Teen_Titans_Vol_1_20DC Comics’ best series in the early ‘80s was The New Teen Titans.

The Teen Titans debuted in 1964 as a way of teaming up the various teenage sidekicks, allowing them to shine outside their mentors’ shadows. Their series was cancelled twice in the ‘70s, and then they received the X-Men treatment.

Writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez reinvigorated the Titans franchise when they created The New Teen Titans, bringing together three old-school Titans from the classic sidekick mold (Robin, Kid Flash, and Wonder Girl), a reworked Doom Patrol kid (Beast Boy, now Changeling), and three new characters (Raven, Starfire, and Cyborg). Like the X-Men, much of the series’ fun came from the interactions of its diverse cast of well-developed, interesting characters, each coming from a unique background. And the superhero action was pretty great, too.

Issue #20 serves as a good introduction to everyone. Ironically, the story is told from the point of view of perhaps the blandest character in the lineup, the one with the most straightforward, least interesting backstory—Kid Flash (Wally West, several years before he became the Flash for a long time). Wally is a reasonably well-adjusted 19-year-old who comes from a good home and has had the opportunity to be his hero’s sidekick. Not a fountain of angst there, just some basic indecision about what path to take in life and the standard-issue romantic confusion involving a teammate who once controlled his mind.

Wally writes a letter to his parents, and that frames the entire issue. In it, he details the Titans’ encounter with a young villain who is desperately trying to win his father’s love, and along the way we see how Wally is growing up a bit, realizing that whatever problems he has, other people, whether friends or foes, have it worse.

It’s an excellent lesson in empathy, and merely one of many great Titans issues from the Wolfman/Perez era.

Writer: Marv Wolfman

Penciler: George Perez

Inker: Romeo Tanghal

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; The New Teen Titans vol. 3 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Princess Leia #1 (2015)

Princess Leia 1I’m about to spoil something from the original Star Wars movie, so if you’re one of the five people who have never seen it…well, I suppose at this point you’re probably committed to never seeing it, so congratulations on your nonconformity.

Anyway, Princess Leia witnessed the obliteration of her entire home planet. (This was back in the day when children’s movies featured genocide, apparently.) Most everyone she ever knew, including her adoptive parents, died. And yet the movie ends with smiles.

So how does Princess Leia grieve? Does she grieve? The answer can be found in the Princess Leia miniseries Marvel Comics published last year. The first issues begins with the movie’s final scene, and it acknowledges that we never really see Leia mourn her tremendous loss. The movie shows her comforting Luke after Obi-wan died, but again…whole planet.

The miniseries gives us a Leia who prefers to take action rather than “collapse in grief, as everyone seems to wish[.]” So with a new ally and in defiance of expectations, she sets out “to find, gather and protect every last surviving son and daughter of Alderaan,” as she puts it.

It’s a great premise for a Princess Leia comic, one successfully executed by the creative team, making for a nice supplement to the original trilogy.

Writer: Mark Waid

Penciler: Terry Dodson

Inker: Rachel Dodson

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; Star Wars: Princess Leia (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Astonishing Ant-Man #4 (2016)

Astonishing Ant-Man 4As far as superheroes go, Scott Lang isn’t much of a role model. But he’s not a bad guy either. It’s a difficult balance to pull off in comics, but writer Nick Spencer handles it exceptionally well in The Astonishing Ant-Man. Scott isn’t a total jerk. He’s not unhinged. He just possesses faulty judgment and keeps trying to do better.

Things get a bit more serious in issue #4, but ridiculousness will forever be inescapable so long as your protagonist is Ant-Man. The humor remains strong, but Scott’s strained relationship with his daughter provides a solid foundation for the comic booky antics to stand on. Scott’s recent tendency has been to literally shrink away from Cassie, supposedly for her own good or something, and here we see how well that works out for him.

I also have to compliment artist Roman Rosanas. He’s got a good, clean style and knows how to effectively convey the hero’s sometimes-diminished stature. For example, Ant-Man spends a portion of this issue hiding on the shoulder of his ex-girlfriend, Darla. By using wide but short panels and fitting only the lower half of Darla’s face within, Rosanas succeeds in making her appear relatively gigantic and Ant-Man actually tiny without having to resort to any splash panels (which would cost a lot more of the book’s limited space). That’s good, efficient layout work right there.

Ant-Man isn’t a superhero to emulate, but he’s fun to read about.

Writer: Nick Spencer

Artist: Roman Rosanas

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; The Astonishing Ant-Man vol. 1: Everybody Loves Team-Ups (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Captain Marvel #14 (2013)

Captain_Marvel_Vol_7_14Yesterday, I noted that the Captain Marvel storyline “The Enemy Within” got off to an excellent start, and I today I confirm that the finale delivers an excellent ending. If you’re looking for great super-heroics, I found it for you. You’re welcome.

This is a relatively recent storyline that shouldn’t be too hard to track down, so I won’t spoil any of the specifics. But it features Captain Marvel behaving exactly as a superhero should, further establishing her as one of Marvel’s best characters. In recent years, Carol Danvers has become the Superman of the Marvel Universe, and the role suits her just fine.

Oh, and the Avengers are in this issue, too. They tend not to magically disappear during their teammates’ solo adventures as often as they do in the movies.

Speaking of movies…I’m completely on board with the recent casting news of Brie Larson as Captain Marvel. We’ve still got a long wait ahead for that film, so tide yourself over with the comics for now. And while this is a great story, start at the beginning of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run on the character for the optimal reading experience (that would be the #1 that came out in 2012, not the #1 that came out in 2014, nor the #1 that came out in 2016…geez, Marvel, you have a numbering problem).

Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick

Artists: Scott Hepburn and Geraldo Sandoval

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; Avengers: The Enemy Within (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Avengers: The Enemy Within #1 (2013)

Avengers_The_Enemy_Within_Vol_1_1The title says “Avengers,” but it’s primarily a Captain Marvel story…and, based on this part, quite a good one. The storyline, which I’m reading for the first time, continues in Avengers Assemble and Captain Marvel, and the first part certainly motivates me to keep reading.

This one-shot establishes a compelling situation—Carol is suffering from a brain lesion that’s at risk of growing every time she uses her powers, particularly when she flies. But there’s always work for Captain Marvel to do, whether it’s searching for a lost elderly woman or battling super-villains, and Carol isn’t one to sit idle.

I love how Kelly Sue DeConnick writes Captain Marvel. Carol’s a bona fide hero without ever ceasing to be a human being. I particularly enjoy Captain Marvel’s banter with Spider-Woman. DeConnick has a great ear for dialogue, and it goes a long way toward making the two sound like genuine longtime friends.

Now I want to go back and catch up on the issues I missed.

Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick

Artist: Scott Hepburn

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; Avengers: The Enemy Within (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comics — JLA: Year One #1-12 (1998)

JLA_Year_One_1I loved this miniseries when it first came out, and it still holds up excellently. Written by Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn, JLA: Year One chronicles the formative days of the Justice League of America, when five novice superheroes—each destined for greatness—were learning how to be a team.

The Justice League tends to fall into a certain trap from time to time, one laid not by any super-villain but by its stars’ respective ongoing titles. Any major developments in Superman’s life, for example, should ideally happen in Superman’s solo books, and the Justice League title merely gets to borrow him at whatever his current status quo is. Nothing wrong with that necessarily; there is plenty of fun to be had in seeing DC’s greatest characters teaming-up and interacting in character as they save the world. Many a thrilling JLA story has followed the blockbuster format to superb effect.

But JLA: Year One enjoys the best of both worlds. It stars five great DC characters—the Flash (Barry Allen), Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Black Canary, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter. They’re all portrayed perfectly in character, but the series takes place in the past, minimizing the need to coordinate and share with other books. Sure, they can’t contradict their present-day counterparts, and you know none of them are going to die (because some are scheduled to die later), but they have no competing contemporary versions—hardly even in back issues either, thanks to DC’s mid-‘80s continuity reboot.

Thus, the characters are free to drive the story, and over the course of a year we get to watch them grow and develop as heroes. The big world-shaking events are still there, of course, but the characters come first. And they are terrific, classic characters indeed.

If this had been an ongoing series, I would’ve kept reading it.

Writers: Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn

Artist: Barry Kitson

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; JLA: Year One (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — X-Men #137 (1980)

X-Men_Vol_1_137“The Dark Phoenix Saga” gets a lot of attention for two main reasons—it killed a major character at a time when that was seldom done, and it’s pretty darn good. This story climaxes in a death that feels organic and earned, not the result of an editor’s desire to shock readers. It’s the tragic consequence of an X-Man being unable to control her growing power, and it’s a death driven by character.

The extra-sized issue #137 is a great read throughout, with the X-Men fighting the Shi’ar’s Imperial Guard for Jean Grey’s life. This subverts the usual superheroic operating mode, in that the X-Men aren’t fighting to save the world—they’re fighting to save a loved one who actually is the real threat, thereby creating more shades of gray than typically seen in a comic book battle royale.

Though Jean Grey is the central figure, Chris Claremont and John Byrne neglect none of the other X-Men, giving each a turn in the spotlight and plenty to do. It’s an exceptionally well-crafted battle scene bolstered by the emotional stakes, with each X-Man motivated by their love of their friend.

It’s so well done that it’s easy to forget that the Imperial Guard was created as Marvel’s analogues for DC Comics’ Legion of Superheroes. This battle is basically the closest thing to an X-Men vs. Legion fight (even though the Imperial Guard begins to diverge into its own identity at this point).

In any case, this book deserves its status as a classic. No question.

Writer: Chris Claremont

Penciler/Co-Plotter: John Byrne

Inker: Terry Austin

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga (TPB); The Essential X-Men vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Robin #56 (1998)

Robin_56_coverAmong Chuck Dixon’s many Batman-related accomplishments in the 1990s was turning Robin the Boy Wonder into a viable solo character. Technically, he did this with two Robins if you count Nightwing. But he did it first with the then-current Robin, Tim Drake.

Robin #56 is a typically solid example from the middle of Dixon’s long run on the title. Yesterday, I raved about Ms. Marvel as a stellar example of a teen superhero book, and many of the same compliments hold true for 1990s Robin stories.

Tim’s heart is torn between two girls—his girlfriend Ari from his civilian life, and the Spoiler, whom Robin has been spending more crimefighting time with lately. Meanwhile, the Spoiler’s criminal father, the Cluemaster, is up to something (cue ominous music).

This Robin was such a great role model for kids. He was smart and resourceful, and though he’d make mistakes, he would always try to do the right thing (such as insisting that Spoiler pay for the soda she takes from the convenience store they save). Plus, Dixon took the time to develop Tim’s personal life, giving him school friends who had nothing to do with Batman’s world. For a Bat-character, Tim Drake was downright well-adjusted.

And the Spoiler was an excellent supporting character (a creation of Dixon’s, if I’m not mistaken; he at least wrote her debut). If you enjoyed her brief stint as Batgirl, as I did, these were her formative years.

Track down the back issues and grab them for your kids (or yourself!).

Writer: Chuck Dixon

Artists: Staz Johnson and Stan Woch

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Ms. Marvel #3 (2016)

Ms Marvel 3Renumbering hasn’t derailed the new Ms. Marvel’s quality. Writer G. Willow Wilson continues to demonstrate a superb grasp of what makes a great teen superhero book, and the result is a fun time for readers young and old.

Issue #3 raises the stakes by imperiling Kamala’s best friend through brainwashing, leading her to turn to an unexpected ally to help save him as well as the rest of Jersey City from an insidious plot. Wilson puts the focus on friendship without sacrificing any super-heroic excitement, and the approach works wonderfully. Not all of the individual pieces are wholly original, such as the teen soap opera elements or a superhero’s public perception problems, but they’re assembled expertly and at precisely the correct pace to create a consistently engaging read.

Best of all, Ms. Marvel provides an excellent role model for kids, one delightfully free of cynicism.

Writer: G. Willow Wilson

Artist: Takeshi Miyazawa

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Ms. Marvel vol. 5: Super Famous (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Green Lantern/Superman: Legend of the Green Flame (2000)

Green_Lantern_Superman_Legend_of_the_Green_FlameNeil Gaiman wrote a Superman and Green Lantern story, and it almost never saw the light of day.

The story behind “Legend of the Green Flame” is almost as interesting as the story itself. Actually, no, that’s not true. The story includes Superman in Hell, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) driven by the loneliness of losing most of the GL Corps, and the bond shared by two old colleagues and friends. It’s a great short story in that distinctive Neil Gaiman way.

And a continuity snafu killed it for years.

In the late 1980s, DC Comics converted Action Comics to Action Comics Weekly, an anthology book with separate features starring Superman, Green Lantern, the Blackhawks, Phantom Stranger, and others. The company soon realized the book wasn’t working, so editor Mark Waid tapped rising star Neil Gaiman to write a grand finale bringing all the Action Weekly characters into a single book-length tale (with a focus on the two big stars, of course).

And Gaiman did. But he hadn’t reckoned with the continuity monster. This wasn’t long after DC rebooted its continuity in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths, and not everyone was on the same page regarding what the new canon was. Gaimain’s script hinged on Superman and GL being old friends who knew each other’s secret identities, but DC editors had decided to put the “secret” back in Superman’s identity. Only the Kents, Lana Lang, and Batman were allowed to know. And yes, the script would have lost some heft if Superman and GL were mere casual acquaintances.

So the script was banished to limbo, and upon its rediscovery, DC realized it could just publish the story as an out-of-continuity prestige format book. After all, a great story isn’t worth killing because of a continuity glitch.

So track it down and read it, because it’s Neil Gaiman writing Superman and Green Lantern and doing a superb job of it in limited space.

Writer: Neil Gaiman

Artists: Various

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: no individual issues, it’s just Green Lantern/Superman: Legend of the Green Flame

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up