Today’s Super Comics — Star Wars #1-6 (2015)

Star_Wars_Marvel_2015_1Of course it’s not the movies, but the first six issues of Marvel’s current Star Wars series are the next best thing.

Set between the original movie and The Empire Strikes Back, the comic presents classic characters in their prime. Everyone “sounds” exactly as they should, and Jason Aaron’s scripts also manage to make the events feel exciting and consequential without contradicting the established continuity—not an easy task when the main story has already been told.

Artist John Cassaday excels at drawing relatively realistic figures, as well as cinematic panels, making him the perfect choice to draw this initial storyline. The characters look like their respective actors (or costumes) as much as we can reasonably expect.

It’s essential reading for any diehard Star Wars fan, and it will help tide you over until the next movie.

Writer: Jason Aaron

Artist: John Cassaday

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; Star Wars vol. 1: Skywalker Strikes (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Fantastic Four #267 (1984)

Fantastic_Four_Vol_1_267Not all comics have happy endings, and this one’s is absolutely tragic.

Fantastic Four #267 doesn’t initially seem like it will go that way. Sue is suffering from complications in her pregnancy, but Reed and friends have identified a potential solution, and a very comic booky solution at that. The leading expert on the radiation that afflicts Sue and their unborn child is none other than psychotic felon Doctor Octopus, of course, so Reed must appeal to the villain’s better nature and recruit his aid.

Naturally, a fight breaks out, and it’s a great one. The images of Mr. Fantastic’s elastic limbs fending off Doc Ock’s lengthy mechanical appendages are visually spectacular, but this isn’t a normal battle. Reed isn’t fighting to save the world or a bunch of strangers—he’s fighting to save his family. For the aloof scientist, the stakes have never been so personal. All he has to do is reason with this one unstable man, they’ll put their gifted brains to work solving the problem, and everything will turn out okay, right?


Excuse me…got something in my eye…

Writer/Artist: John Byrne

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Detective Comics #833-834 (2007)

Detective_Comics_833Batman: The Animated Series holds up as the greatest Batman adaptation yet, so when the cartoon’s top writer, Paul Dini, took over Detective Comics for a while, readers knew the series was in excellent hands.

One of Dini’s many contributions to the cartoon was introducing Zatanna into Batman’s backstory as an old girlfriend from when her father, Zatara, was teaching Bruce to be an escape artist. Dini pulls a similar trick on a smaller scale in #833 and 834, showing us a brief moment when Zatanna and Bruce met as children not long after the Waynes’ murder. They should’ve been friends, but life took them in vastly different directions until they both joined the Justice League…where a betrayal of trust pulled them even further apart.

But when a former employee of Zatanna’s dies during another magician’s show, Batman calls her in to help bring the killer to justice. And the story plays out in classic Batman manner, with detective work, a deathtrap, and a surprise reveal. Dini has a knack for both these characters, and their differences always make for an excellent pairing.

Maybe they’re not as close as they should’ve been, but their shared history and mutual desire to work past an old wound add depth to an excellent two-parter.

Writer: Paul Dini

Penciler: Don Kramer

Inker: Wayne Faucher

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Batman: Death and the City (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — She-Hulk #4 (2004)

She-Hulk 4Marvel Comics made a wise decision many years ago—if they were going to launch female counterparts of preexisting male superheroes, these new characters needed to be distinct in personality, style, and tone.

They certainly got it right with She-Hulk. She may be Bruce Banner’s cousin and capable of turning big, green, and strong, but the similarities end there. She retains her intellect as She-Hulk but becomes much more free-spirited and fun-loving. She’s proven capable of working splendidly with the superhero community, joining the ranks of both the Avengers and the Fantastic Four at various times. Her solo series have often adopted humorous tones, even smashing the fourth wall for a bit back in the ‘80s. And she’s a well-respected lawyer.

When She-Hulk relaunched in 2004, writer Dan Slott fused many of She-Hulk’s best elements into a highly entertaining series that focused on superhuman law. An excellent fit for the character, and great premise with endless possibilities for humorous stories.

Issue #4 is particularly amusing and features a story that had needed to happen for many years—Spider-Man sues J. Jonah Jameson for libel. Of course, this isn’t Spider-Man’s book, so you know there won’t be any major status quo shift. Nevertheless, the resolution is pure Spider-Man…after the book spends time poking fun at many years’ worth of Spidey stories (the Daily Bugle staff has lots of ties to super-villains, doesn’t it?).

And though Spidey’s guest appearance does threaten to steal this particular issue, She-Hulk doesn’t get lost in her own book, as she shows off her superb professional skills…even while fighting the Scorpion.

Pure fun from start to finish.

Writer: Dan Slott

Penciler: Juan Bobillo

Inker: Marcelo Sosa

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in She-Hulk vol. 1: Single Green Female (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Nightwing #25 (1998)

Nightwing_Vol_2_25Nightwing and Robin have a nice conversation. But they converse while blindfolded atop a moving train—intentionally. This is how Batman’s boys bond. (For the few of you who might not know, Nightwing is the original Robin, Dick Grayson, all grown up, and this Robin is Tim Drake, the third to carry the name.)

Nightwing #25 is a charming issue that’s not directly part of any larger arc, but it’s possible only because of many years’ worth of accumulated stories. We already know Dick and Tim as Batman’s sidekicks, and we know them as the stars of their own solo series (both of which were launched by the writer of this issue, the always reliable Chuck Dixon). So now it’s fun to just watch these two hang out.

Of course, a “talking heads” issue doesn’t play to the medium’s strengths. They need to be doing something as they chat, and it needs to be visually interesting. So blindfolded on a moving train it is. The gimmick feels exactly like something Batman’s proteges would do for a workout, and Scott McDaniel’s dynamic artwork sells it. Between McDaniel’s fluid layouts and Dixon’s crisp, in-character dialogue, this “talking heads” issue moves.

The entire Dixon/McDaniel run on Nightwing is fun stuff, by the way.

Writer: Chuck Dixon

Penciler: Scott McDaniel

Inker: Karl Story

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Nightwing vol. 3: False Starts (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Extraordinary X-Men #7 (2016)

Extraordinary X-Men 7Once upon a time, this comic’s title might have been X-Traordinary X-Men. Thank goodness we’re not in that time. Well, maybe.

Quite honestly, I haven’t been sure about this series so far. Marvel has decided to make mutants an endangered species for the second time in a decade—I guess that’s what the X-Men get for not being part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But I am sure that Jeff Lemire is a solid writer who knows what he’s doing, and I like the cast he’s using here. So I’ve stuck it out, and issue #7 affirms that decision.

Jean Grey and Storm take an Inception-like journey through Nightcrawler’s mind to figure out what’s traumatized him. Meanwhile, Magik shows a wizard who’s boss. It’s all interesting stuff that teases potentially more interesting stuff.

And artist Victor Ibanez properly exploits the mental landscape for compelling visuals. I particularly enjoyed the upside-down pirate ship.

So yes, I liked it and I’m still on board with this series. But if Marvel would kindly remember that the X-Men work best when they’re fighting intolerance, not extinction, I’d appreciate it.

Writer: Jeff Lemire

Artist: Victor Ibanez

Publisher: Marvel Comics

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

Appropriate For: ages 13 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

Today’s Super Comic — Runaways #1 (2003)

Runaways 1So Runaways is about to become a Hulu series. I’m okay with that.

With so many well-established and well-loved Marvel superheroes already in circulation by the 1970s, introducing a new property in 2003 could not have been easy, but writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Adrian Alphona succeeded with a concept that pays its respects to all the various segments of the Marvel Universe.

Six youths from vastly different backgrounds discover their parents are secretly a cabal of super-villains, so they, well, run away and attempt to thwart their evil plans, learning about their own various abilities as they do so. Mutants, magic, (mad) science, outer space, and more are represented. One’s a sorceress, for example, while another has an alien heritage. It’s a fantastic premise that could work well in multiple mediums.

The first issue does an efficient job introducing the bare-bones basics of these six families, which is a pretty daunting task for one regular-sized comic. But Vaughan gets it right. All showing, no chunks of boring exposition, and we get just enough information to think, okay, I could maybe consider following the adventures of these kids. And then the final pages give us the big reveal and a compelling cliffhanger, and we simply must read #2. Exactly what a first issue needs to do.

Now I want to reread the whole series.

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Penciler: Adrian Alphona

Inker: David Newbold

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Runaways vol. 1: Pride & Joy (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Silver Surfer #2 (2016)

Silver Surfer 2This series keeps reminding me of Doctor Who.

There’s of course the focus on the alien protagonist’s human companion. And in #2, the current companion, Dawn Greenwood, meets the Silver Surfer’s original human companion, Alicia Masters, which calls to mind the “School Reunion” episode of modern Doctor Who. We also see a restless Surfer passing time on Earth when he would rather be out exploring, kind of like DW’s “Power of Three” or, to a lesser extent, “The Lodger.” And then there’s the Surfer attempting to visit his old allies, the Fantastic Four and Avengers, only to find both parties have moved while he’s been away far too long, which basically feels like the TARDIS screwing up the Doctor’s arrival time.

It’s a good fit for the Surfer, and it’s never anywhere close to a blatant copy. Writer Dan Slott maintains a distinctive fun, lighthearted tone that makes for an enjoyable read, and Mike Allred’s clean, dynamic art is always a treat.

And the issue ends with an effective cliffhanger. I guess I’ll be back for more.

Writer: Dan Slott

Artist: Mike Allred

Publisher: Marvel Comics

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

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Doom Patrol #87 (1964)

Doom_Patrol_Vol_1_87Not many 1960s comics hold up well by today’s standards, which is to be expected. Comics were intended as disposable entertainment for children, nothing more. There are some exceptions, a handful of titles that retain a distinctive goofy charm if you approach them with the right mindset. Most of these are Marvel books, but DC had at least one that stands out among its old-school stable of conventional, stalwart superheroes—the Doom Patrol.

The Doom Patrol was a band of heroic freaks who fought evil freaks. (And they still are and still do. DC keeps bringing them back in various permutations, but they never quite catch on for the long term.) The original lineup consisted of Robotman, a man whose brain was trapped in a robotic body; Negative Man, a radioactive man forced to hide under special bandages but who could unleash a “negative form” for a minute at a time; and Elasti-Girl, a size-changing former movie star…who retained her movie star looks at any size. (Okay, so Elasti-Girl wasn’t any more freakish than any other superhero, although she did have to put up with a lot of “Look! A giant girl! Have you ever seen a girl so huge? Look at that enormous girl!” That had to get old.) And they were assembled by a Professor X–like scientist they called the Chief.

Along the way, they acquired a collection of odd, cartoony enemies, such as a brain that had a talking gorilla for an assistant, and the adventures were pretty wild. Though, yeah, you read a few and you get the point. But you have to admire the imagination on display.

The story that most perfectly captures the series’ offbeat tone is actually a back-up tale in #87. The Chief sends Robotman to a booby-trapped island to catch an escaped killer. As Robotman makes his way through the gauntlet, he literally loses pieces of himself until—just like a certain Monty Python knight—he’s just a head and torso. But unlike that knight, even half a Robotman proves pretty formidable.

It’s a great little short story that feels nothing like a typical ‘60s DC book.

I’d love to see a modern Doom Patrol that realizes the concept’s full potential. (And of course, I certainly wouldn’t mind doing it myself. I stand at the ready, DC!)

Writer: Arnold Drake

Artist: Bruno Premiani

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; included in Showcase Presents: The Doom Patrol vol. 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up