Today’s Super Comic — Superman #165 (2001)

superman_v-2_165All I remembered about Superman #165 was that it involved Superman visiting his JLA teammates one or two at a time and giving them amusing little gifts. Tube socks to the Flash. Jewelry polish to Green Lantern. So I was thinking, oh, yeah, that’s a cute one.

I totally forgot about the substance of it.

This takes place shortly after Lex Luthor was elected president of the United States in the DC Universe, and Superman has been struggling to come to terms with the results. How could the American people cast their votes for a man as despicable as Luthor? And what, if anything, should Superman do about it?

Talking with friends and listening to their diverse viewpoints helps Superman come to some sort of peace. He’s still not happy about it, and he’ll remain vigilant about what Luthor does in office. But as Wonder Woman says, “If you let this turn into an obsession, then Luthor has already defeated you.”

So he decides not to let this consume him. His life will go on. He’ll enjoy Lois’s company in a weekend getaway in the bottle city of Kandor. He’ll continue to fight the good fight for truth and justice, and somehow or another, the American way will prevail in the end.

It’s a nice little “quiet” issue, and it takes an excellent direction for a Christmas special. Sometimes you just need to spend time with your friends and loved ones to get some perspective. The world’s problems won’t go away, but they’ll seem more manageable.

The issue features several guest artists—a different one for each of Superman’s visits with his teammates. Normally, the drastically different styles would be jarring, but it suits the structure of this particular issue rather well and adds to that whole “holiday special” feel.

Writer: Jeph Loeb

Artists: Various

Cover: Ed McGuinness

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; included in Superman: President Lex (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #1 (1984)

marvel_super_heroes_secret_wars_vol_1_1This is one that works much better with kids. When I first read Secret Wars as a middle schooler, I thought it was among the coolest things ever. When I reread the miniseries as an adult, I was far less impressed, but it’s not without its charms.

The concept is simple. An infinitely powerful entity called the Beyonder summons a bunch of superheroes and a bunch of super-villains to a distant galaxy and plops them onto a bizarre patchwork planet. He tells both sides they must slay their enemies, and all they desire will be theirs.

The appeal, then, is also simple. It’s like playing with all your favorite toys at once. You get to watch the Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and Hulk all interact over the course of 12 issues as they face some of their more well-known foes. It’s like Battle Royale or The Hunger Games, but with superheroes and far less bloodshed.

Writer Jim Shooter made some good choices with the set-up that’s outlined in #1. He has the Beyonder group Magneto among the heroes, because in Magneto’s mind he is a hero to his fellow mutants. Doctor Doom quickly asserts himself as the chief antagonist, putting himself above the mandated fray to embark on his own personal quest for power. And the world-devouring Galactus, who has often been portrayed as a force of nature above personal conflicts, is present among the villains as a powerful wild card.

Marvel also made a good call during the original execution of this miniseries in 1984. The participating characters ended an issue of their respective regular series by entering a mysterious portal. Then Secret Wars #1 came out. Then in the next issue of those regular series, the characters return to Earth, and some changes have occurred, big and small. For example, Spider-Man has a nifty black costume made of an alien material, and She-Hulk has replaced the Thing in the Fantastic Four. So what exactly happened between issues? Read the rest of Secret Wars to find out! I was too young to read in 1984, but I imagine it sparked a fun How did we get here? type of curiosity.

So, yeah, it’s basically just a fun wild ride for kids, but I absolutely ate it up when I was the right age. Marvel team-ups are often great, and this is a super-sized mega team-up.

Writer: Jim Shooter

Penciler: Mike Zeck

Inker: John Beatty

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Secret Wars (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 8 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Saga of the Swamp Thing #24 (1984)

saga-of-the-swamp-thing-24One of the earlier comics aimed primarily at adults was The Saga of the Swamp Thing, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Stephen Bissette. And it was a highly successful experiment.

Swamp Thing was never a superhero. He exists in the realm of fantasy horror, not fantasy action/adventure. To underscore the distinction, the Justice League of America guest-stars in #24…and they have no idea what to make of the situation.

The Floronic Man, previously a joke of a villain, has marshalled the world’s plants to increase the global oxygen supply by 10 percent, which isn’t going to do humanity any favors. It’s the environment’s revenge for years of manmade affronts. But how do superheroes fight plants?

They can’t. But Swamp Thing knows the language and understands what’s really going on.

Moore portrays the Justice League as seasoned pros who are simply out of their element in this particular case. Even with all they’ve seen, there’s still a bit that eludes them. And within one of those gaps of experience, the Swamp Thing has things under control. This might have been the first time the JLA was shown through a truly adult lens (which shouldn’t be the case all the time, nor even most of the time, but it’s a refreshing change of pace).

Bissette’s art also exudes maturity. His style is a perfect fit for the series, and the final-page splash panel is nothing short of iconic.

I’ll admit, Swamp Thing has never been a personal favorite of mine, but this series is so extraordinarily well done and important to the maturation of the medium that I have to give it the respect it deserves.

Writer: Alan Moore

Penciler: Stephen Bissette

Inker: John Totleben

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Saga of the Swamp Thing vol. 1 (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 16 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Supergirl #51 (2000)

supergirl_vol_4_51Supergirl tries to find herself, literally. Previous events have split apart Linda Danvers and Supergirl, who had basically merged into the same person when this series began. The world believes Supergirl to be dead, and Linda is left with a portion of her powers as well as Supergirl’s overall good influence on her.

Linda believes Supergirl is still out there somewhere, and she’s been tasked with following a “Chaos Stream” to find her. Unfortunately for her, the only individual who can track the Chaos Stream is a depowered former demon named Buzz—the guy who convinced Linda to join a deadly cult right before she became Supergirl. So these two nemeses are forced to tolerate each other on their cross-country quest. It’s almost like a fantasy version of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Issue #51 sets up the new status quo with a trip to Metropolis. The humor remains as strong as ever, and Linda’s struggles to adjust to her lower power levels provide an excellent source of comedy. She’s basically set at Superman’s original 1938 levels (leap an eighth of a mile, faster than a train, no actual flying, etc.), and she hastily pulls together a new costume that matches the animated version of the character that was in circulation at the time.

The series has evolved into something different than it was in #1, but it all feels like a natural progression. This is certainly a title that never got stale.

Writer: Peter David

Penciler: Leonard Kirk

Inker: Robin Riggs

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — X-Factor #13 (1986)

x-factor_vol_1_13Comics have been playing the nostalgia card for a long time. The first X-Men spinoff series to reunite the original five members was the original X-Factor in the mid-80s. It was fun from the start, as it’s always enjoyable to see these five X-Men together, but the initial premise had some major problems.

Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, Angel, and the recently resurrected Jean Grey (then Marvel Girl for the last time) were posing as specially trained humans who hunted mutants. Their marketing was anti-mutant to the point of contributing to the public’s fears, but of course, instead of “capturing” their targets, they were actually saving and training them. Still, not the most well-thought-out plan.

And then there was the fact that at this time, Cyclops was creepily married to a woman who looked exactly like dead former lover, and he had a son with this woman, but when he learns his dead former lover is no longer dead, he skips out on his wife and kid to join a team with her. Scott has never been more of a jerk, and that’s saying something.

But soon, to save the book from itself, the wife-and-husband creative team of writer Louise Simonson and artist Walter Simonson took over the title, and they began to rectify these foundational problems. By issue #13, characters are already getting some comeuppance for their bad judgment.

Millionaire Warren Worthington III, who is publicly known to be the winged mutant Angel, has been outed as the financial benefactor of the mutant-hunting organization, which raises some questions. And Cyclops finally returns home to his wife and child…only to find them missing, with hardly a trace they ever even existed, while the evil giant robot Master Mold is on a warpath toward him. (Not really enough comeuppance for Cyclops.)

There’s also the whole Scott/Jean/Warren romantic triangle thing going on. You know it’s not the ‘60s anymore, because the triangle has an extramarital element this time around. (So maybe it’s a square?)

It’s the X-Men at their most ridiculously soap operatic, but damn if it isn’t fun.

Writer: Louise Simonson

Artist: Walter Simonson

Inker: Dan Green

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; included in Essential X-Factor vol. 1 (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Starman #12 (1995)

starman_vol_2_12Starman has been a hard series to put down. It evolves with every issue, building on itself almost like a novel. Previous events are never forgotten—they enrich later issues.

Issue #12 opens by addressing a major event in an early issue, when the new Starman killed a bad guy but promised himself he would never kill again. Well, that’s certainly a nice sentiment after the fact, but he still killed a guy and the law has to do its thing. The judge clears Jack of any wrongdoing, and it’s nice to see that Jack’s legal innocence doesn’t entirely clear his conscience. It’s a great weight off, though, and the high point of a day that ends up with him trying to escape a new super-villain without his cosmic staff or any clothes.

The new villain plays nicely into the book’s generational theme, giving us the daughter of Golden Age villain the Mist vs. the son of the Golden Age superhero Starman.

Writer James Robinson employs an interesting technique in this series every now and then, one that wouldn’t normally work in monthly comics. In narrative captions, he flat-out tells us what will happen in Jack’s future. In this issue, we learn Jack will have a daughter years later, he’ll receive a gift from his dead brother, and he’ll visit outer space. Without any specific details, these tidbits tease future stories without really spoiling anything, and they give the sense that Robinson has an exciting grand plan mapped out. And I believe him.

Hmm…sleep, or keep reading…?

Writer: James Robinson

Artist: Tony Harris

Inker: Wade Von Grawbadger

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Starman Omnibus vol. 1 (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Uncle Scrooge #275 (1993)

uncle-scrooge-275If you, like me, were a child of the ‘80s, you probably enjoyed the cartoon Ducktales in between rounds of Nintendo. The show was actually based on a classic comic book series by legendary cartoonist Carl Barks. Yes—Scrooge McDuck and many other denizens of Duckburg are natives to the comic book medium.

I’ve never collected Uncle Scrooge comics, but I have randomly acquired a couple of issues. One, Uncle Scrooge #275, is dated 1993, but it reprints Christmas-themed Barks stories from the 1950s and 1960s.

The first story is a clever ode to capitalism. Through an escalating chain reaction of events, Scrooge’s greed ends up benefitting his grandnephews, Donald Duck, and the entire town, spurring the economy into action. Lest any young readers get the wrong idea, though, the one person who ultimately doesn’t benefit from Scrooge’s greed is Scrooge himself.

The second story involves mistaken-identity hijinks, as Donald and Scrooge pretend to be each other for different reasons. And the comic also includes a couple of one-page stories that could have been Sunday newspaper comic strips (for all I know, maybe they were at some point).

It’s all classic, well-crafted cartooning from one of the greats, and it’s good clean Disney fun for kids. For adults, it’s mostly a nostalgic curiosity or an interesting bit of pop-culture history.

Now I want to listen to the Ducktales theme song.

Writer/Artist: Carl Barks

Cover: Jim Franzen and Dave Hunt

Publisher: Disney

How to Read It: back issues (and there are all kinds of Carl Barks collections out there)

Appropriate For: ages 7 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The New Avengers #11 (2016)

new-avengers-11-2015Well, this certainly has some twists to it.

This is still recent, so I won’t give anything away. But I’m not sure where it’s going exactly, and it’s a delightful change of pace.

Writer Al Ewing makes great use of Sunspot (Roberto Da Costa), a character we’ve been half-expecting to grow up into a super-villain since he was a teenager in the original New Mutants. Now he’s the Supreme Leader of A.I.M.—formerly the villainous Advanced Ideas Mechanics, now the ostensibly heroic Avengers Ideas Mechanics. Ambiguity suits him.

Roberto’s got some big plan in store for the world, and it’s been fun watching the pieces slowly unfold. The endgame is probably benevolent, possibly not.

I’m genuinely curious to see where this is going. And issue #11’s final page only has me more curious.

The book’s got a good sense of humor, too. It sometimes leans a little immature, but that also suits Sunspot…and it’s better than a comic taking itself too seriously, in any case.

Writer: Al Ewing

Artist: Gerardo Sandoval

Publisher: Marvel Comics

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

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Supergirl #50 (2000)

supergirl_vol_4_50A 50-issue saga reaches its climax as Supergirl saves Heaven and, in turn, everyone on Earth.

Writer Peter David pulls together various threads that have built up over the course of the series, and the result is suitably epic. Taking in the full scope, it’s impressive work. This could almost be a series finale, but it establishes a new status quo that promises ample entertainment going forward (or for the next 30 issues until it gets cancelled).

David absolutely succeeds in distinguishing Supergirl from Superman and giving her room to breathe as her own character (characters, technically). If anything, he goes too far in that direction, to the point where this story would have worked almost as well if he had created an entirely new super-heroine for it.

In any case, this has certainly been a memorable and unique Supergirl, and an engaging read from the start with consistently solid artwork.

And now for something completely different next issue!

Writer: Peter David

Penciler: Leonard Kirk

Inker: Robin Riggs

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Starman #4 (1995)

starman_vol_2_4Jack Knight has agreed to serve as Starman on an as-needed basis, but he’s really kind of hoping the need never arises. For now, he’s just trying to rebuild his collectibles store…but he learns that, as his father says, when you’re a superhero, “the weirdness finds you. Like it or not.”

Issue #4 shows us a single weird night for Jack as he’s working to restore a sense of normalcy. He receives an unexpected visit from the immortal Shade, a former villain who now just wants Opal City to remain a tranquil place. And an old rich guy sends a henchman to find a particular magic shirt that has wound up on Jack’s collection, and to retrieve it by any means necessary.

James Robinson’s writing is in top form here, as he continues to steer everything away from conventional black-and-white superheroics. With each issue, he reinvents the preexisting Shade into a character that might as well be his own creation, and one who operates under a unique morality that he’s developed throughout the course of his lengthy life. Also, Jack’s confrontation with the henchman reaches an amusing resolution that’s free of fisticuffs and perfectly in character for this new Starman.

The art by Tony Harris is equally engaging. Harris gives Opal City enough meticulous detail to make it feel like a place rather than a mere location name, and his splash panel of Shade’s entrance is memorable.

Fantastic stuff all around.

Writer: James Robinson

Artist: Tony Harris

Inker: Wade Von Grawbadger

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Starman Omnibus vol. 1 (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up