Today’s Super Comics — Doctor Strange: The Oath #1-5 (2006-07)

doctor_strange_the_oath_vol_1_1If you’ve never read a Doctor Strange comic, the best place to start is the miniseries The Oath by writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Marcos Martin.

Doctor Strange’s origins inform the story, and the titular oath is not of the magical variety. His selfish, arrogant past haunts him, both externally and internally, as he discovers an elixir that could cure cancer worldwide. It’s a perfect premise for the character, and the execution is spot-on.

The Night Nurse co-stars, and as a fellow medical professional, she’s a natural fit and a good viewpoint character to introduce us to Doctor Strange’s world. (By the way, the Night Nurse is the inspiration for Rosario Dawson’s Claire, who appears in every Marvel Netflix series. And kind of funny in hindsight—Strange and the Night Nurse keep referring to each other as “Sherlock” and “Watson.”)

The third leg of our team of protagonists is Strange’s manservant, Wong, and the tremendous respect between him and Strange guides much of the story.

So if you watch the new movie next weekend and want to dive into the comics, I recommend beginning here.

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Penciler: Marcos Martin

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Doctor Strange: The Oath (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Runaways #18 (2004)

runaways_vol_1_18With #18, the Runaways’ initial storyline reaches its resolution…and the new status quo is established for the next series. Again, I have to admire how impressive this series is and how it contributes something new to the Marvel Universe.

And really, the series could have ended here and felt totally complete, but why let perfectly good characters go to waste? In just eighteen issues, these characters are as well-developed as some who have been around for many years.

A specific mission drove them throughout the first seventeen issues—stopping their parents—and writer Brian K. Vaughan kept the tension high the entire time, in part by introducing a mystery around one Runaway potentially being a mole and leveraging the parents’ lack of trustworthiness. But here we catch our breath and realize, yeah, let’s keep following these kids.

Well worth your time to read.

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Penciler: Adrian Alphona

Inker: Craig Yeung

Cover: Jo Chen

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Runaways vol. 3: The Good Die Young (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Batman: The Long Halloween #1-13 (1996-97)

batman_the_long_halloween_1Seems to be an appropriate time of year for Batman: The Long Halloween, though anytime near a major holiday would work. This Batman story is, as the title implies, long in scope, spanning a full year early in the Dark Knight’s career. A serial killer is targeting gangsters, but only on the holidays, giving Batman a mystery to haunt him for a full 365 days.

It’s a busy year in which we see many of our favorite Bat-villains, including quite a bit of Harvey Dent as he transitions into Two-Face. Early on, Harvey, Batman, and Commissioner Gordon make a vow to bring down the crime lord Carmine Falcone, a.k.a. the Roman—perhaps with bending some rules, but never breaking any, Gordon insists. You can spot the DNA of the excellent Dark Knight movie in that and other moments throughout. In Gotham City, doing the right thing takes a toll—but it still needs to be done.

Certain writer/artist teams seem to bring out the best in each other, and the quintessential example is frequent collaborators Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, the writer and artist here. Sale’s panels are big, uncluttered, and consistently a little rough, which suits Batman’s world rather well, and Loeb writes a lean, efficient script that covers up a minimum of the artwork. Interestingly, the story has plenty of room to breathe over thirteen issues, but it still feels stripped down to its essential components.

And another plus—the story requires Batman to be a detective. That facet of him tends to get overlooked sometimes, particularly in other mediums.

The miniseries deserves its status as a classic. I wouldn’t call it the best Batman story or anything like that, but it certainly is something special.

Writer: Jeph Loeb

Artist: Tim Sale

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Batman: The Long Halloween (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Omega Men #12 (2016)

omega_men12You have to admire a comic that aims high.

I finished reading Tom King and Barnaby Bagenda’s Omega Men, and I remain impressed. The series tackles complex themes about war, freedom, and heroism, and it crafts compelling characters. While there’s always room for a sequel, #12 brings the book to a satisfying conclusion. If these twelve issues were the only Omega Men comics there ever were, it would feel complete.

That’s not a criticism of any previous iterations of the comic (which, again, I’ve barely even sampled). DC and Marvel both have many lesser-known properties that have ample potential but simply never caught on, for whatever reason, leaving them ripe for talented creators to come in, take some risks, and produce something special that only they can produce. In that way, The Omega Men reminds me of the Battlestar Galactica reboot from the previous decade.

The book also features the best use of Kyle Rayner in a long time. He was introduced as a replacement Green Lantern when Hal Jordan went crazy and dismantled the entire GL Corps. But after Hal made his shocking but inevitable return and the GL Corps became whole, Kyle languished in the background of the DC Universe as a superfluous Lantern. Here, however, he feels purposeful again, and his established backstory informs his actions. He’s the only Green Lantern ever chosen at random, rather than due to worthiness, and he’s always had much to prove.

So yes, I highly recommend the whole series. (But it’s not for kids.)

Writer: Tom King

Artist: Barnaby Bagenda

Cover: Trevor Hutchison

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Comixology; included in The Omega Men: The End Is Here (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 16 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Omega Men #3 (2015)

omega-men-3I never bothered much with the Omega Men, outside the rare guest appearance that barely made an impression one way or the other. Being set in a region of space that not even the Green Lantern Corps was allowed to enter, they had little opportunity to become an integral part of the DC Universe.

But then I stumbled across the trade paperback of the Omega Men’s latest incarnation. The art by Barnaby Bagenda made it look like something special and different, and I saw the writer was Tom King, who’s been doing phenomenal work on The Vision. So I took a chance. I’m not finished yet, but so far my impulse buy is justified.

Admittedly, it took me a couple of issues to get into it, but everything clicked as of #3. We meet Princess Kalista as the Omega Men kidnap her and lock her up with their other captive, Kyle Rayner, the former Green Lantern who’s now apparently the White Lantern (whatever that means…I can’t keep up with everything).

So yeah, these Omega Men don’t act the least bit heroic. At this point, I’d consider them terrorists, and I’m eagerly waiting for Kyle to reclaim his lost power ring and pummel them senseless. But it’s also clear that not everything is as it seems. Kyle’s the only character in this book that I “know”—he’s my entry point into this star system, the only one I trust to do the right thing (even if I don’t know the difference between a Green Lantern and a White one). Everyone and everything else is a slowly unraveling mystery.

And Bagenda deserves all the extra credit for his skill with a nine-panel grid. His staging of the kidnapping is fantastic—I just wanted to slow down and admire the choreography.

Now to see if the quality continues. I’m optimistic.

Writer: Tom King

Artist: Barnaby Bagenda

Cover: Trevor Hutchison

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Comixology; included in The Omega Men: The End Is Here (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 15 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Invincible Iron Man #11 (2016)

invincible_iron_man_vol_2_11This sure is a consistently entertaining series. I worry that Civil War II might have derailed it (I haven’t read that far yet), but it makes it through the second story arc with the quality intact.

In #11, Rhodey and the Avengers track down the missing-in-action Tony Stark, who’s gone undercover to investigate a new threat. Meanwhile, the task of saving Stark’s company from its own board falls to one Mary Jane Watson. And a teenage girl tests out the Iron Man–like suit of armored tech she built in her dorm room.

A lot going on, all of it fun, and enough remains unresolved to make a compelling case for reading #12.

It’s no secret that the aforementioned teenage girl, Riri Williams, will be taking over the book as Iron Maiden (while Doctor Doom becomes the Infamous Iron Man). Tony Stark is pretty inimitable as Iron Man, so I’m wary of replacements. But Riri, if approached as a new character rather than “the new Iron Man,” does show potential. A genius teenager who literally builds her own powers is prime comic book material. So I’ll keep an open mind.

In any case, Invincible Iron Man has been a thoroughly enjoyable read through this point.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Mike Deodato

Cover: Mike Deodato and Rain Beredo

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Comixology; included in Invincible Iron Man vol. 2: The War Machines (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — All-New, All-Different Avengers #12 (2016)

all-new-all-different-avengers-12-coverAll-New, All-Different Avengers might just be the best team book currently on the market. The superheroics are solid, and the roster has great chemistry. Except for Iron Man and Vision, none of these characters is the first-generation version of the brand, but each one feels legit.

Issue #12, written by Mark Waid, showcases inventive action, as the team battles a powerful threat in the Negative Zone—but, due to Marvel physics, only one Avenger can be in the Negative Zone at a time, thereby requiring a tag-team strategy.

Meanwhile, the new Wasp bonds with the original, and I’m pleased to see the book forgo any petty squabbling or contrived tension between the two. While Janet Van Dyne will likely always be the best Wasp, this new version shows tremendous promise. She’s eager, she’s sincerely interested in doing the right thing, and the Avengers’ world is new and exciting to her. She has to potential to serve as a fresh viewpoint into the well-established Marvel Universe. Best of all, she’s not a replacement.

This series was well worth springing for the trade.

Writer: Mark Waid

Artist: Mahmud Asrar

Cover: Alex Ross

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Comixology; included in All-New, All-Different Avengers vol. 2: Family Business (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Wonder Woman #14 (2008)

wonder_woman_vol_3_14Not every writer “gets” Wonder Woman, but Gail Simone absolutely does, as demonstrated in her excellent run that began with 2008’s Wonder Woman #14.

Here, Wonder Woman is both a warrior and a diplomat. She’s very human, but also somewhat alien to our culture. And she bridges the gap between classical mythology and DC’s modern pantheon.

An early scene captures her perfectly. Intelligent super-apes attack her, and she initially enjoys the skirmish but ultimately talks her way to a peaceful resolution. Later, her interior monologue comments on American office culture from her unique perspective: “It is a strange culture that outlaws the hug. On the other hand…there is cake. And that excuses much.”

Also, the issue sets up a confrontation with Nazis. And yeah, sure, they’re never going to be sympathetic or complex antagonists. Still, watching good people clobber Nazis is one of superhero comics’ earliest pastimes…and it never gets old.

I have no idea if the upcoming Wonder Woman movie will be amazing or will disappoint like other recent DC movies…but either way, we will always have Gail Simone’s exceptional storylines to re-read.

Writer: Gail Simone

Penciler: Terry Dodson

Inker: Rachel Dodson

Cover: Terry & Rachel Dodson

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Wonder Woman: The Circle (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Justice League of America #11 (2007)

justice-league-of-america-11There’s one more CW show to acknowledge—the animated Vixen on CW Seed. Solo Vixen comics are few and far between, but she’s spent some time with the Justice League, including during writer Brad Meltzer’s 2006 relaunch of the title.

Issue #11 is a nice “bottle episode” focusing on just Vixen and Arsenal (hey, remember him from Arrow?) as they’re trapped under a demolished building…and under water. They’ve just saved a bunch of people from a super-villain, and now they have to save themselves.

It’s a great short story about hanging on long enough to figure out a solution to a seemingly insurmountable problem. And the painted art by Gene Ha adds a slightly dream-like quality that suits both characters’ disorientation.

The story ties into an ongoing plot about Vixen’s malfunctioning powers, but it mostly stands on its own as a superb example of a done-in-one comic.

Writer: Brad Meltzer

Artist: Gene Ha

Cover: Michael Turner

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Justice League of America vol. 2: The Lightning Saga (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Justice Society of America #1 (2007)

justice-society-of-america-1Over the past few days, I’ve reviewed Supergirl, Flash, and Green Arrow comics (see what I did there, CW viewers?). That would put Legends of Tomorrow next…except that’s not actually a comic book. But its characters come from many different comics, providing plenty of options.

Since the Justice Society guest-starred the other night, let’s go with that. Plus, the 2007 relaunch is so over-populated, the cast also includes characters viewers have watched on Flash and Arrow.

Written by Geoff Johns, the series finds the perfect role for DC’s original super-team. The world needs better heroes, and the veterans of the JSA are best-qualified to train them. It’s a nice, aspirational mission.

The original Flash (Jay Garrick), original Green Lantern (Alan Scott), and Wildcat are the elder statesmen of the bunch, and the rest of the ensemble are all related to classic characters in some way or another. Hourman, Stargirl, Obsidian, and Dr. Mid-Nite, whom we just saw on television, are there…as are numerous others.

The first issue introduces or reintroduces us to folks. It’s the standard team-gathering issue, and not even in full—that cover includes characters who aren’t in this part. However, the large cast is a strength. This is a series about family, both in blood and in bond.

But while this family is coming together, a lone costumed hero is losing his family in a series of grisly murders. Johns weaves this dark plot between more optimistic scenes of the JSA recruiting new members, establishing a compelling tonal balance. We’re rooting for the brightness, but there’s plenty of darkness to overcome.

Writer: Geoff Johns

Penciler: Dale Eaglesham

Inker: Art Thibert

Cover: Alex Ross and Dale Eaglesham

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Justice Society of America vol. 1: The Next Age (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up