Today’s Super Comic — Green Arrow #11 (2017)

I’m pleased to report that the current Green Arrow series is proving to be consistently fun.

Issue #11 concludes a thriller set on an underwater trans-Pacific railway. Green Arrow, Black Canary, and John Diggle must protect a train full of dignitaries from a mercenary who’s been hired to disrupt upcoming peace talks.

Between Benjamin Percy’s fast-paced script and Juan Ferreyra’s kinetic art, the story is in constant motion. The action is well-staged, the characters are likable, and though the situation is treated as serious, the book never takes itself too seriously—an important balance to strike.

It’s not breaking any molds, but it’s solid, straightforward super-heroics full of great action set pieces.

Writer: Benjamin Percy

Artist: Juan Ferreyra

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Comixology; included in Green Arrow vol. 2: Island of Scars (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 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 — Birds of Prey #56 (2003)

The second era of Birds of Prey began in #56, when writer Gail Simone kicked off a long and consistently entertaining run on the title.

It starts with the previous status quo. Oracle (the original Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, currently confined to a wheelchair) uses her extensive computer prowess to do good around the world, and Black Canary is her field agent and best friend. But this time, they’re operating in their homebase of Gotham to take down a CEO who’s planning on stealing his employees’ retirement funds. The plan is simply to scare him straight, but this would be a rather boring comic if everything went according to plan—and it’s certainly not that.

Simone hints at a new recruit for the team, one who will bring a fresh and interesting dynamic to the book.

This is just the start, and it’s a good one indeed, full of humor, ethical dilemmas, and cliffhangers.

Writer: Gail Simone

Penciler: Ed Benes

Inker: Alex Lei

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Birds of Prey vol. 1: Of Like Minds (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Batgirl: Year One #1 (2003)

Batgirl: Year One is a fantastic miniseries from beginning to end…but I only had time to reread the first issue, so we’ll focus on that.

There have been a few different Batgirls over the years, but this book focuses on the original, Barbara Gordon, as she’s just starting out.

The issue jumps around in time a bit, kicking off with Barbara in her first outing as Batgirl against D-list costumed criminal Killer Moth, in a sort of “How did we get here?” set-up. Then we rewind to not long before that, where we’re reintroduced to Barbara as a young woman who wants to be a cop. Unfortunately, her father rejects her ambition outright, and being as he’s the police commissioner and all, he kind of has some say in the matter.

But Barbara isn’t one to let others tell her what to do with her life. So she hatches a plan to reach out to her hero. And no, it’s not Batman—it’s the Black Canary, in a nice nod to their future friendship in Birds of Prey.

Barbara makes a compelling protagonist and an excellent role model for younger readers. She’s intelligent, resourceful, brave, determined, and willing to put in the hard work. And, for the most part, she’s so positive. No angst-ridden darkness to be found here.

Writers: Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon

Penciler: Marcos Martin

Inker: Alvaro Lopez

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Batgirl: Year One (TPB)

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 Comics — Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85-86 (1971)

green_lantern_vol_2_85DC Comics brought Green Lantern down to Earth in the early 1970s. GL partnered with Green Arrow, initially playing the role of Hal’s conscience, and the duo fought the most fearsome super-villain of all time—social problems!

Few mad scientists or bug-eyed monsters were in the mix during Green Lantern/Green Arrow, but the green guys instead tackled issues ranging from racism to pollution, as well as drugs in #85 and 86. It was a DC series different from any that had come before, one much more grounded than the usual imaginative sci-fi fare the publisher specialized in during those days. And for a little over a year, it worked because of the other team-up the title featured—writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Neal Adams, two of the best in the business at the time, who excelled with down-to-earth takes on superheroes.

These comics aren’t subtle—they’re downright preachy at times—but they’ve got good messages for kids and adults alike. The drug storyline is not only a warning to stay away from drugs, but also a warning that the person you least expect can become hooked on them. In this case, Green Arrow’s former sidekick, Speedy, reveals he’s been using, and with the help of Black Canary, he strives to kick the habit. And this forces Green Arrow to confront the possibility that he may have failed in his most important duty—being the boy’s guardian.

Before this series, DC superheroes had seldom seemed so fallible or human.

Writer: Dennis O’Neil

Artist: Neal Adams

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Green Lantern/Green Arrow vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 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