Today’s Super Comic — The Adventures of Superman #517 (1994)

I should’ve posted this one on April Fools’ Day. Well, I’m writing it on April 1, so…good enough.

Someone played a cruel practical joke on Superman not long after he returned from the dead. In “Dead Again!”, a Superman corpse is discovered, leading to speculation about whether the living Superman is the real deal. After all, four imposters sprang up after Superman died, so the public’s skepticism is understandable. Fool me once, shame one you; fool me five times, you think I’m nuts or something?

Even Superman himself can’t be entirely sure. If it’s possible for him to come back from the dead, then it’s also possible he could be a clone or some other fabrication, even one with all the right memories. And as a journalist, he’s trained not to take anything at face value. The genetically identical corpse could well be a hoax, but he also has no proof it’s not. For all his strength, he’s not invulnerable to mind games.

So The Adventures of Superman #517 shows us Superman working through his existential crisis, and it also highlights the strengths of the Super-books’ structure at the time.

There were four Superman titles, but they functioned together as a single, nearly weekly series. Though each title had its designated creative team, they’d share the same stories, passing them down the line in a pre-planned round-robin fashion. It was almost like how television series are handled, but with the line editor serving as the showrunner.

While you had to read all four series to get the complete story, each individual issue provided a satisfying read with its own mini-story within the larger framework. In AOS #517, Superman works through his doubts while tackling an admittedly generic villain, though he remains rattled by the mysterious fake corpse. Superman overcomes some obstacle, but the tension still builds—and the next chapter hits the stands usually just one week later.

The structure gave the stories room to breathe and facilitated many solid Superman stories for readers young and old.

Writer: Karl Kesel

Penciler: Barry Kitson

Inker: Ray McCarthy

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 9 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 Comics — JLA: Year One #1-12 (1998)

JLA_Year_One_1I loved this miniseries when it first came out, and it still holds up excellently. Written by Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn, JLA: Year One chronicles the formative days of the Justice League of America, when five novice superheroes—each destined for greatness—were learning how to be a team.

The Justice League tends to fall into a certain trap from time to time, one laid not by any super-villain but by its stars’ respective ongoing titles. Any major developments in Superman’s life, for example, should ideally happen in Superman’s solo books, and the Justice League title merely gets to borrow him at whatever his current status quo is. Nothing wrong with that necessarily; there is plenty of fun to be had in seeing DC’s greatest characters teaming-up and interacting in character as they save the world. Many a thrilling JLA story has followed the blockbuster format to superb effect.

But JLA: Year One enjoys the best of both worlds. It stars five great DC characters—the Flash (Barry Allen), Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Black Canary, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter. They’re all portrayed perfectly in character, but the series takes place in the past, minimizing the need to coordinate and share with other books. Sure, they can’t contradict their present-day counterparts, and you know none of them are going to die (because some are scheduled to die later), but they have no competing contemporary versions—hardly even in back issues either, thanks to DC’s mid-‘80s continuity reboot.

Thus, the characters are free to drive the story, and over the course of a year we get to watch them grow and develop as heroes. The big world-shaking events are still there, of course, but the characters come first. And they are terrific, classic characters indeed.

If this had been an ongoing series, I would’ve kept reading it.

Writers: Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn

Artist: Barry Kitson

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; JLA: Year One (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up