Today’s Super Comic — Fantastic Four #258 (1983)

fantastic_four_vol_1_258Since I reviewed John Byrne’s portrait of Lex Luthor yesterday, it seems appropriate to bookend it by reviewing Byrne’s portrait of the Fantastic Four’s greatest enemy, Doctor Doom.

The FF don’t appear in Fantastic Four #258. This is Doom’s book, and he carries it so well 30you don’t even notice the absence of the title characters. While the issue sets the stage for the FF’s next threat, it spends ample time showing us a day in the life of Doctor Doom—how he rules over the country Latveria, sincerely believing himself to be a benevolent dictator to his people; how, in his own twisted way, he seems to genuinely care for his young ward Kristoff, even allowing the child to stand by his side as he tends to his monarchial duties; how constantly aware he is of people who plot against him; and how enraged he becomes if anyone or anything dares to question his supremacy.

Without ever explicitly telling us so, Byrne portrays Doom as a man who’s living in a constant state of fear. It never looks like fear, though—it looks like ego, suspicion, rage, and a desire to control or destroy all enemies. Doom has lots of power and resources, but no real human connections to draw strength from. And holding on to power, without support, takes considerable and constant effort. One slip-up, and it could all be gone—and he’d have nothing.

This issue shows us why Doom is the perfect foil to Marvel’s premier family (even if that family is taking the issue off).

Writer/Artist: John Byrne

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus Volume 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Superman #2 (1987)

superman_v-2_2Superman #2 sums up Lex Luthor perfectly. This was early in Superman’s late ‘80s reboot, so taking the time to clearly define the hero’s arch-nemesis was a wise move on writer/artist John Byrne’s part.

Luthor is the true protagonist of this particular issue, as he’s determined to learn the connection between Clark Kent and Superman. Along the way, we see him abuse and manipulate his employees, rip out Metallo’s kryptonite heart and not give a damn about any consequences, order the ransacking of the Kent farmhouse, torture Lana Lang (well, that’s off-panel, but we see the wounds), and enjoy a moment of triumph over the Man of Steel.

But then his fatal flaw slithers out on a brilliant last page, and his own arrogance robs him of what should have been a sweet victory. It’s a punchline that shows us the sharp contrast between Superman’s and Luthor’s respective worldviews.

With this issue, Byrne successfully modernized a classic villain.

Writer/Artist: John Byrne

Inker: Terry Austin

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Superman: The Man of Steel vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

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

all-new-x-men-7This may be the strongest issue thus far of the relaunched ­All-New X-Men (among what’s available on Marvel Unlimited).

Old-school villain the Toad has kidnapped young Cyclops with the intent of murdering him, in hopes of erasing the adult Cyclops’s misguided actions from the timeline. Toad doesn’t actually want to kill him, but he’s convinced himself that it must be done for the good of the world. So he gets really drunk to work himself up to the deed. The character has often come across as the stereotypical lackey, so this may be his most human portrayal yet—which makes him all the more monstrous the closer he gets to going through with it (Mark Bagley’s art deserves lots of credit on that front, too).

Dennis Hopeless’s script exploits the limitations of Cyclops’s power to superb dramatic effect, and the result is a riveting, tense issue that compels you to pick up the next one.

It does help to know at least the basics of what’s been going on in recent years’ X-books, though. Otherwise—excellent issue.

Writer: Dennis Hopeless

Penciler: Mark Bagley

Inker: Andrew Hennessy

Publisher: Marvel Comics

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

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Supergirl #1 (1996)

supergirl_vol_4_1Peter David’s terrific run on Supergirl wasn’t like any other Supergirl before or since. This Supergirl wasn’t Superman’s younger cousin from Krypton—only one Kryptonian allowed at this point in DC’s history. So instead, she was a, um, blob of alien proto-matter that fashioned itself as Supergirl. She also spent some time as Lex Luthor II’s girlfriend before coming to her senses.

As a blob of alien proto-matter, she didn’t have much of a life. So David gives her one in #1—someone else’s. Supergirl merges with a young woman she failed to save from an evil cult, acquiring all her memories as well as influences from her personality. The blob of alien proto-matter essentially solidifies into Linda Danvers, and Supergirl’s life is now hers and vice versa. Problem is, Linda might not have been a purely innocent victim.

Yeah, not the easiest version of Supergirl to market, but still a great run of comics nevertheless. You need to start with #1, though, which does an excellent job doling out just enough exposition to intrigue the reader as it introduces us to Supergirl’s new secret identity, leaving ample room to cover in future issues. A focus on mysticism and religion helps to distinguish Supergirl from Superman’s titles, and it truly is a unique incarnation of the character. She’s two people in a single body—one person good, and the other considerably less so.

It’s not what you’ll see on television this fall, but it’s a compelling Supergirl in its own right.

Writer: Peter David

Penciler: Gary Frank

Inker: Cam Smith

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Supergirl by Peter David vol. 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Daredevil #178 (1982)

daredevil_vol_1_178Later this week, Marvel’s presence on Netflix will grow with Luke Cage, and Iron Fist will follow sometime next year.

So let’s look back at that time Luke Cage and Iron Fist first met Marvel’s original Netflix vigilante—Daredevil—in Daredevil #178. (No Jessica Jones in the ‘80s, alas.)

This was right in the middle of Frank Miller’s character-redefining run on the title. Luke Cage and Iron Fist, then Heroes for Hire, guest-starred to provide some comic relief and facilitate secret-identity shenanigans. There’s no team-up in the usual sense, though the issue does—for a brief scene—uphold the merry Marvel tradition of having superheroes spar over a misunderstanding.

Daredevil is trying to protect a teenager who has evidence that can be used against the Kingpin. The Kingpin sends thugs after the kid—sends them right into the offices of Nelson & Murdock. Concerned for his blind partner’s safety, Foggy Nelson hires Cage and Iron Fist to bodyguard Matt, who still needs to protect the kid from further attempts…and, to do so, he must ditch his own protectors. It’s good farcical fun, and it fits seamlessly within the larger story arc.

While this issue isn’t one of the big standouts of the Miller era, it’s still a great entry in the run (though, honestly, I can’t think of a bad issue in the run). Miller juggles numerous moving parts and keeps the momentum strong throughout, ending on a cliffhanger that pulls you into the next issue.

So that’s how Daredevil met Luke Cage and Iron Fist. I suspect it will happen differently in the Defenders Netflix series. Just a hunch.

Writer/Penciler: Frank Miller

Inker: Klaus Janson

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Super-Soldier #1 (1996)

super-soldier-1You’d think having Marvel and DC characters duke it out over the course of a four-issue miniseries would be enough of a gimmick, but the publishers didn’t. In the middle of DC vs. Marvel, the companies’ respective characters fused together as the universes combined into Amalgam Comics.

So, if you were ever wondering, “Hey, what if Superman and Captain America merged into one character?” … well, writer Mark Waid and artist Dave Gibbons answered that twenty years ago in Super-Soldier #1.

A rocket crashes to Earth in the 1930s, but the alien infant within doesn’t survive. Scientists use its cellular samples to create a “Super-Soldier” formula, which they give to an ordinary recruit, granting him powers far beyond those of mortal men. Like Captain America, Super Soldier got trapped in ice before the end of World War II and spent decades frozen. When he awakens in the present, kryptonite radiation in the atmosphere continually weakens him, like it would Superman. He works for the Daily Planet with star reporter Sharon Carter, and his arch-nemesis is Lex Luthor, the Green Skull.

Basically, it’s professionally produced fanfiction. But it’s fun to visit this alternate reality for an issue, and everyone involved clearly enjoyed making the book and building its fake history. There’s even a letters page with imaginary longtime fans expressing their excitement about the new Super-Soldier series after its long hiatus.

Super-Soldier was one of 12 Amalgam one-shots, and Marvel and DC produced a second wave the following year. There’s no need to ever revisit the gimmick, but it worked because great effort and skill accompanied the high concept.

Writer: Mark Waid

Artist: Dave Gibbons

Publisher: DC Comics (on behalf of Amalgam Comics)

How to Read It: back issues; included in The Amalgam Age of Comics (The DC Comics Collection) (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Astonishing Ant-Man #6 (2016)

astonishing-ant-man-6In this issue—100% less Ant-Man! But that’s okay, because the focus shifts to his daughter Cassie Lang, the former superhero formerly known as Stature.

Issue #6 shows Cassie adjusting to a post-superhero life in which she’s no longer capable of growing to fifty feet tall whenever it’s convenient…and not adjusting very well. She’s so desperate to regain her powers, she’ll pretend to be interested in joining forces with the evil Power Broker and becoming a super-villain.

This issue is all recap and set-up, which could easily be a recipe for boredom, but writer Nick Spencer uses it as an opportunity to show us what’s going on in Cassie’s head while also instilling reasonable doubt about her aims going forward. And he rattles off the convoluted backstory efficiently and smoothly enough to not scare away newer readers. Yeah, the backstory is messy, but he gets it out of the way and uses only what’s necessary to provide context for what Cassie is going through here and now. The book remains sufficiently focused on the present even while planning ahead for future issues. It’s nicely balanced.

Another fine issue in a consistently entertaining series.

Writer: Nick Spencer

Artist: Annapaola Martello

Publisher: Marvel Comics

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

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Birds of Prey #13 (2000)

birds_of_prey_vol_1_13Comics have an unfortunate trend—a disproportionate number of crippling injuries happen to female characters. When Birds of Prey launched, it paired two characters who had been on the receiving end of that trend: Black Canary and the original Batgirl.

Barbara Gordon fell victim to a bullet to provide motivation for Batman and Commissioner Gordon, and she had been confined to a wheelchair since. Black Canary was brutally tortured to provide motivation for Green Arrow, and she lost her one superpower, her canary cry.

Really unfortunate. But none of this stopped them from being awesome in Birds of Prey.

In the earliest issues, they were the only two co-leads. Barbara had reinvented herself as Oracle, and she used her computer skills and intelligence to provide information to the superhero community. Black Canary served as Oracle’s field operative for highly dangerous covert missions, proving herself to be incredibly formidable even without her canary cry. The two balanced each other nicely—one was more rational and cerebral, and the other was more intuitive and idealistic, but both were highly likable leads.

Issue #13 shows how fun the series could be, and how writer Chuck Dixon made the right call in deciding this series shouldn’t be shy about inhabiting the DC Universe. When a mission goes awry, Canary and a certain party-crasher, the even more free-spirited Catwoman, end up stranded on the hellish alien world Apokolips—way out of either’s usual element. And back on Earth, Oracle and guest-star Powergirl try to piece together what the hell happened.

Great fast-paced action, great guest stars, great cliffhanger. It doesn’t excuse the unfortunate trend, but it fights against it.

Writer: Chuck Dixon

Pencilers: Greg Land and Patrick Zircher

Inker: Drew Geraci

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Batman #40 (2015)

batman_vol_2_40Batman was easily the best series of DC’s New 52 relaunch, and that’s due to superb writing and art by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, respectively. Not content to simply rehash what’s come before, they built on the Batman mythos, contributing new details and injecting fresh energy into this septuagenarian franchise.

Even though issue #40 concludes yet another climactic Batman vs. Joker storyline, it never feels like “yet another” clash between the classic foes. It’s entirely its own thing, and it’s the natural progression of events from the previous 39 issues. (The story is too recent that I don’t want to spoil anything.)

I wouldn’t call it definitive—Batman is a versatile enough character to defy “definitive”—but it is distinctive. It’s a Batman story as only Snyder and Capullo can tell it. They take this iconic character who has appeared in countless stories in practically every medium over the course of decades, and they make him their own…for the moment. And we can only hope that the next writers and artists to get their “turns” with the Dark Knight will be just as talented as these guys.

Writer: Scott Snyder

Penciler: Greg Capullo

Inker: Danny Miki

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Batman vol. 7: Endgame (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Avengers #275 (1987)

avengers_vol_1_275It’s the Wasp and Ant-Man as David…and the Absorbing Man and Titania as Goliath. Comic book battles are always more exciting when we’re rooting for the underdog, but there’s even more going on here than a pair of superheroes fighting outside their weight class.

Avengers #275 is part of the classic “Under Siege” storyline in which the Masters of Evil infiltrate Avengers Mansion and defeat Earth’s Mightiest Heroes one at a time. As of this issue, the last Avenger standing is the Wasp, and she’s feeling like a failure. After all, the team’s worst defeat has occurred under her watch as chairwoman, and now Hercules lies near-death in the hospital while everyone else is captured by the enemy. But she and guest-star Ant-Man (Scott Lang) are all that stand between two powerful villains and a hospital full of innocents. So she’ll have to put the pity aside and get the job done, redeeming herself and renewing hope for the team in the process.

The best part of knocking down the good guys is watching them get back up again.

Writer: Roger Stern

Penciler: John Buscema

Inker: Tom Palmer

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Avengers: Under Siege (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up