Today’s Super Comic — Mockingbird #5 (2016)

Zombies. A super-powered Mockingbird (sort of). Back-up in the form of the Miles Morales Spider-Man and Howard the Duck.

Yep, it’s a fun time indeed in Mockingbird #5. You really can’t go wrong with zombies overrunning a SHIELD medical facility. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before (or maybe it has—I can’t read everything, alas).

Writer Chelsea Cain has developed a distinct voice for this series, keeping both the humor and the stakes high throughout. She also brings an unconventional plotting style. Each of the first five issues can stand on its own as a self-contained story (well, maybe less so with #1 and #5), and they can ostensibly be reread in any order while still building the same larger narrative. I haven’t tried the latter, but the idea is certainly intriguing. Nothing wrong with a good structural experiment, especially since it’s all entertaining regardless.

I’m up for more.

Writer: Chelsea Cain

Penciler: Ibrahim Moustafa

Cover: Joelle Jones and Rachelle Rosenberg

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Mockingbird vol. 1: I Can Explain (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — X-Men #98 (1976)

Allow me to pinpoint the issue where Chris Claremont’s legendary X-Men run started getting great:

X-Men #98. The preceding issues show lots of promise, but here’s where the momentum and excitement begin to kick in.

It opens as many great X-Men stories do—with the team enjoying some downtime, just trying to live their lives, until the world’s fear and hatred get in their way. In this case, that fear and hatred manifest in the form of the robotic, mutant-hunting Sentinels.

(Coincidentally, one of the strongest ‘60s X-Men stories was the Sentinels’ debut, and here their return coincides with the book’s tremendous increase in quality. Makes sense, then, that the ‘90s cartoon used them in the pilot episode.)

The Sentinels capture Jean Grey, Wolverine, and Banshee, who then must fight their way through bigots and robots. They’ve been abducted to a facility at an unknown location, and when they learn exactly where they are…yeah, that’s going to pose some new challenges.

Part of the X-Men’s success has involved mixing and matching great characters and watching them play off each other. This issue gives an early example of that by pulling together three X-Men who had hardly ever functioned as a team, and certainly not with just the three of them.

It’s especially interesting to read this early-draft version of Wolverine. He’s acquired quite the convoluted backstory over the years, but none of that’s known at this point. He’s basically an irritable mystery man, and the script hints that there’s more to his past than we may suspect. It’s even suggested he might not be a mutant, and Cyclops questions whether he’ll work out as an X-Man. Both of those proved to be absolutely wrong, but one thing that did take hold—we get some of the earliest signs of Wolverine’s burgeoning crush on Jean.

The X-Men are definitely in their formative years here. The best is yet to come, but this issue offers up a great start.

Writer: Chris Claremont

Penciler: Dave Cockrum

Inker: Sam Grainger

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Essential X-Men vol. 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Green Arrow #1-5 (2016)

The DC Universe Rebirth trade paperbacks are starting to come out, so I’m finally digging into some. I’ve heard good things about the new Green Arrow, so that seemed like a good place to start. And it was.

The first storyline breaks Oliver Queen down by ridding him of the wealth that had defined him, and it builds him back up by replacing that wealth with meaningful relationships.

A particularly welcome addition to the cast is Black Canary. The Green Arrow/Black Canary team has a lot of history, which unfortunately was erased during the New 52 reboot. They’re starting fresh here, and while that removes the weight of history from their interactions, their chemistry remains intact. The pairing seems just as natural as before.

Viewers of the Arrow television series would expect Oliver to have a younger sister, and he does, but it’s not Thea Queen. She’s Emiko, daughter of Robert Queen and Shado. Shado’s in a purely antagonistic role here, testing Emiko’s loyalties. The character definitely has some potential.

John Diggle, a TV show creation (if I recall correctly), has been fully integrated into the comics. (No Felicity, though.)

It’s a solid supporting cast that fills various voids in Green Arrow’s life…but the book makes sure he doesn’t get too comfortable, of course.

I still prefer the old continuity, but for at least this series, the current status quo is acceptable—thanks to the quality of these first five issues.

Writer: Benjamin Percy

Artists: Otto Schmidt and Juan Ferreyra

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Comixology; included in Green Arrow vol. 1: The Death & Life of Oliver Queen (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Spider-Man #6 (2016)

Even with a Civil War II tie-in, Spider-Man remains strong. It always helps to have a Jessica Jones guest appearance.

However, Jessica is ultimately a small part of issue #6. Iron Man swoops in and steals a chunk of page-time with his current moral conundrum. I’ve read only the first three issues of Civil War II on Marvel Unlimited, so I’m reserving overall judgment, but it’s at least stronger than the original (many like the original story, but I’m not a fan; the movie’s great, though). Basically, there’s an Inhuman who can see the future. Captain Marvel wants to use the young man’s powers to preemptively avert disaster, but Iron Man foresees a slippery slope in going after criminals before they strike. It’s a solid sci-fi premise.

So Iron Man poses his conundrum to young Miles, and Miles, in turn, poses it to his father. The latter interaction is what helps this tie-in be successful, as it facilitates a nice father-son moment. Miles’s family life grounds the series in a relatable, human foundation…even when his grandmother does things like hiring a private investigator to find out if he’s on drugs.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Nico Leon

Publisher: Marvel Comics

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

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Captain America #27 (2007)

The title character may be dead, but Captain America #27 features lots of great escalation.

Everyone is still mourning Captain America in their own way. Tony Stark is taking it rather hard, on account of the guilt he feels regarding the “Civil War” debacle. Sharon Carter has quit SHIELD. Bucky Barnes decides to gather Cap’s equipment. The Falcon tries to find Bucky. And so on.

The Black Widow enters the story, and we learn there’s a bit of backstory between her and Bucky. Makes sense, as both were used and manipulated by the Russian government.

The issue begins with Stark’s public proclamation that no one else will take over as Captain America—Steve Rogers was one of a kind and the decision is final. So that’s crying out to be boldly defied.

Bucky has a nice moment at a Captain America memorial, talking to an old woman who says Cap saved her father during a particular battle in World War II. Bucky knows the statement to be factually incorrect, but he chooses not to spoil her father’s memory. It’s a nice little touch that makes him a bit more likable. And that’s kind of important, given the role he’ll be playing as the story unfolds.

Captain America’s death may look like a big event comic, but it’s actually a terrific character-driven story.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Penciler: Steve Epting

Inker: Mike Perkins

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Captain America: The Death of Captain America vol. 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (2005)

The Legion of Super-Heroes is one of those franchises I sampled a few times but just couldn’t get into. It probably had to do with the incredibly large cast—there were so many colorful characters, but no real focal point to latch onto (in the random issues I read, anyway). I could never find my way in. Until the 2005 reboot, that is.

The top-notch talent of writer Mark Waid and artist Barry Kitson gave us a 31st century for the 21st. In this version of the future, Earth is a utopia…and the youth are bored out of their minds. The rebellious young Legionnaires crave independence and seek to recapture the spirit of the heroic age from the distant past (our present). In the case of issue #1, that means everything from stopping a malfunctioning giant robot to aiding rebel forces on a war-torn alien planet.

The Legion isn’t just a superhero team; it’s a community and a way of life for these young people. And that community angle allows the book to turn its abundant cast into a strength.

The series takes its time introducing the cast and allows different characters to come into focus in different issues. The first issue has a bit more work to do, and we see several Legionnaires in action, but two characters in particular provide focal points.

The Invisible Kid is the new recruit who allows us to see the Legion through fresh eyes—a standard but effective issue-one strategy. More interesting is the leader, Cosmic Boy, who’s trying to play nice with the United Planets council, in defiance of his own individualistic streak. It’s a superb inner conflict that sets the tone for the series.

So yes, that one time I got into the Legion of Super-Heroes…it started right here.

Writer: Mark Waid

Penciler: Barry Kitson

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; included in Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 1: Teenage Revolution (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Starman #48 (1998)

It’s Starman…in spaaaaaaace!!!!

Had to happen eventually, and it happens at the right stage in Jack Knight’s development as a superhero. He’s become increasingly comfortable in the role, so now it’s time to take things to the next level with his first outer space voyage.

He ventures out with a clear mission: He’s searching for one of the previous Starmen, Will Payton (the early ‘90s incarnation of the brand, presumed dead until this point). Turns out, Jack is dating Payton’s sister, Sadie, and she’s not convinced Will is actually dead. So she asks him to find her brother, and how can he say no?

But he also enjoys the opportunity, even if space travel does get a little tedious after the initial excitement. Fortunately, there’s a strange blue planet to land on, a planet where things are not as they seem. It’s all very Star Trek.

Accompanying Jack on this voyage is another Starman predecessor, an alien named Mikaal, as well as a hologram version of his father, the original Starman, Ted Knight. So the “Starman family” feel carries on even into the depths of space. Forty-eight issues in, and to its credit, the book remains focused on that generational theme.

This particular storyline, though, is just kicking off. And it’s off to a great start indeed.

Story: James Robinson and David Goyer

Writer: James Robinson

Penciler: Steve Yeowell

Inker: Keith Champagne

Cover: Tony Harris

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Starman Omnibus vol. 5 (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Black Widow #5 (2016)

The current Black Widow remains a quality action series five issues in.

Momentum continues to build. The tension escalates. The stakes feel higher with every issue. And it’s all done in exactly the right tone, and with the right ambiguity, for its title character. I’m genuinely curious to see how this wraps up.

Yet another reminder that there really should be a solo Black Widow movie by now. But at least we have this excellent comic.

Writers: Chris Samnee and Mark Waid

Artist: Chris Samnee

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Black Widow vol. 1: SHIELD’s Most Wanted (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Nova #16 (2014)

I’m still reading Nova for the first time, and the series continues to serve up textbook YA fun with each issue.

Issue #16 wraps up a storyline that showcases how the young new Nova (Sam Alexander) is trying to be responsible, even as he keeps making mistakes. But the important thing is that he goes to great lengths to fix those mistakes.

This particular space-based adventure brings him into contact with Beta Ray Bill, an alien who’s worthy of wielding Thor’s hammer (that goes back to an old Thor storyline I haven’t read). Bill provides guidance and serves as a role model to Sam, and they’re not so busy saving the day that they can’t enjoy the overall experience.

And just as everything seems to be resolved, a new problem arises on the final page, one that no amount of super-powers can fix.

So far, Nova is a brightly colored book with a positive tone. Even though life is never easy for its protagonist, the series remains upbeat. A great option for YA readers.

Writer: Gerry Duggan

Penciler: David Baldeon

Inker: Terry Pallot

Cover: Paco Medina

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Nova vol. 3: Nova Corpse (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Starman #44 (1998)

Starman would occasionally take a detour into the past, in a recurring feature labeled “Times Past.” These stories would foreshadow upcoming storylines, fill in details about Opal City’s history, or show us the original Starman (Ted Knight) in action in his prime. It was a great idea for world-building, and it placed the weight of history behind the current Starman (Jack Knight).

Issue #44 takes us back to 1944, when Ted Knight protected Opal, but he’s more of a supporting character this time. This issue reintroduces us to the Phantom Lady, one of the earliest female superheroes, and it establishes her as the cousin of Ted. We also learn she was the one who became a superhero first, and she helped inspire him to do the same. That’s a nice reversal of how things usually go in comics.

The Phantom Lady (Sandra Knight) makes a good first impression here. Not only is she tough and skilled, but she also comes across as a happy hero who genuinely enjoys the work. She makes a welcome addition to the Starman family.

Writer: James Robinson

Penciler: Mike Mayhew

Inker: Wade Von Grawbadger

Cover: Tony Harris

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Starman Omnibus vol. 4 (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up