Today’s Super Comic — JSA #53 (2003)

As the first super-team, the Justice Society of America’s role within the DC Universe has often been teaching heroes how to be better heroes. But wisdom often comes from mistakes, and the old guard has made their share in their younger days.

In JSA #53, an old mistake comes back to haunt founding JSA member Wildcat. With this being a comic, the haunting is literal.

The new Crimson Avenger attacks Wildcat, seeking to avenge someone he allegedly framed for a crime many years ago, and her supernatural bullets are capable of hurting even Power Girl. Both badly wounded, Wildcat and Power Girl struggle to survive against a relentless force of vengeance.

The tension remains high throughout, and Wildcat’s old mistake is legally black-and-white but morally gray, creating a conundrum for said force of vengeance. But he definitely overstepped back then. It adds to his character and shows how even the most experienced among us are always still learning.

Writer: Geoff Johns

Penciler: Don Kramer

Inker: Keith Champagne

Cover: Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in JSA vol. 7: Princes of Darkness

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Teen Titans #1 (2003)

The best Titans series in nearly twenty years succeeded by opening up its roster to the next generation and establishing a solid premise.

The successful 1980 New Teen Titans relaunch clearly inspired the 2003 Teen Titans relaunch. The lineups look similar enough to suggest a connection. Cyborg, Starfire, Changeling, and Raven are back, but this time they’re mentoring the next generation—Robin (Tim Drake), Wonder Girl (Cassie Sandsmark), Kid Flash (Bart Allen), and Superboy (Connor Kent). With the exception of Superboy, it’s basically the 1980 Teen Titans with some younger faces.

This Teen Titans team is structured as a weekend activity for the teenage superheroes, a chance to spend time with their closest friends instead of being cooped up in their respective hometowns, being forced to hide who and what they really are. Of course, even as a weekend extracurricular, trouble will find the Titans.

The first issue opens with a strong focus on character, particularly with regards to the four teenagers. The former members of Young Justice are still reeling from recent events, in which a founding Titan died. This issue, and the opening storyline, is about bringing the band back together and graduating them to the next level. They’re technically kids, but not for much longer. It’s time to start growing up, and the best way to do that is among friends, including older friends who have been in their position before.

It’s a strong start, and the book remained strong for years. It’s easily the second-best Titans series ever.

Writer: Geoff Johns

Penciler: Mike McKone

Inker: Marlo Alquiza

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Teen Titans vol. 1: A Kid’s Game (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Action Comics #866 (2008)

Superman’s greatest enemy is no doubt Lex Luthor. But his second greatest enemy is easily Braniac (even if the movies have failed to make use of him thus far).

Braniac receives a modern reintroduction in Action Comics #866, which begins what might just be his strongest story arc to date. Writer Geoff Johns amps up Braniac’s creepiness and alien nature while retaining his classic shtick of miniaturizing cities, bottling them up, and maintaining a collection of perfectly preserved samples of alien civilizations. Here, he actually comes across as a frightening, dangerous figure (maybe a bit too frightening for younger children) and definitely a worthy foe for the Man of Steel.

Even as the story modernizes elements of the Superman mythos, it pays homage to the past. Artist Gary Frank’s rendition of Superman/Clark Kent resembles Christopher Reeve more than a little, and this first part spends some time with the classic Daily Planet staff, with Clark playing his role as the guileless nice guy without any over-the-top bumbling around.

It’s a strong part one, and yet it all gets better from here on out.

Writer: Geoff Johns

Penciler: Gary Frank

Inker: Jon Sibal

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Superman: Braniac (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Flashpoint #1-5 (2011)

flashpoint_vol_2_1The Flash broke the DC Universe. He messed with the timeline, resulting in the New 52, which I am not a fan of, barring a handful of notable exceptions. It’s unfortunate. But the storyline in which he ruined everything was pretty great.

Flash (Barry Allen) interferes with time for a noble, human reason—he wants to save his mother, who was murdered many years ago by a time-traveling Reverse Flash (kind of like in the TV series). So Barry has a strong justification for his actions, but he nevertheless creates an alternate timeline in need of serious repair. The most compelling reason: A feud between these non-heroic versions of Wonder Woman and Aquaman is putting the whole world on the brink of war.

Flashpoint’s standout alternate version of a character is Batman, who isn’t Bruce Wayne here—he’s Bruce’s father, Thomas Wayne. In this world, Bruce and his mother Martha were murdered by a mugger, and Thomas was the sole survivor. So when Barry comes along speaking of a better world in which Bruce survives, Thomas has powerful motivation to help him out, crazy as he sounds. What parent wouldn’t want to trade places with their child in that situation?

Yesterday, I mentioned how Zero Hour lacked a central protagonist. DC seemed to have learned its lesson seventeen years later. Flash anchors the series and guides us through. He’s the only one from “our” world and therefore the only one who can ultimately set things right (not that he nails the target perfectly, but that’s irrelevant to judging this series on its own merits).

As someone who grew up with the Wally West Flash, this is one of the better Barry Allen stories I’ve read.

Writer: Geoff Johns

Penciler: Andy Kubert

Inker: Sandra Hope

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Flashpoint (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Booster Gold #1 (2007)

booster-gold-1Booster Gold resembles the CW’s Legends of Tomorrow closer than any book I can think of. It’s a time-travel series in which Rip Hunter guides his carefully selected superhero through DC’s history so they can repair damage to the timeline.

But this series has something the television show has lacked so far—a compelling character hook.

Booster Gold has always been a superhero who craved celebrity status. He performed good deeds first for the glory, and later he grew into the role. But even Booster at his most mature and heroic still wants to be admired and appreciated. And that makes him perfect for this book’s premise.

In order to stealthily save the timestream, Rip informs him, Booster needs to “go down in history as an ineffectual and incompetent fraud when in reality [he’ll] be the greatest hero history has never known.”

So, for the sake of the world as we know it, an egotistical superhero needs to sacrifice not only his present-day reputation, but also his own historical record for all time. That is a fantastic premise, and a guest appearance by the Justice League shows us just how painful this is to Booster. But he tries to do the right thing anyway.

This is a wonderful example of teaming up the right story with the right character.

Writers: Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz

Penciler: Dan Jurgens

Inker: Norm Rapmund

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Booster Gold vol. 1: 52 Pick-Up (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 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

Today’s Super Comic — The Flash #182 (2002)

flash_v-2_182Let’s continue the super-villain streak, shall we?

One of writer Geoff Johns’s big contributions during his tenure on The Flash was taking the time to flesh out each of the Rogues. Previously, most of Flash’s recurring enemies had been little more than recognizable nonentities. Their gimmicks would pose interesting obstacles for a speedster to overcome, but that was about it.

Johns devoted the occasional issue to one Rogue at a time, and #182 starred Captain Cold, who has since become rather prominent in DC’s television universe. The issue nicely balances expositional backstory with a modern-day plot that has personal stakes for the character. It’s also a Flash-free plot.

While we learn about Lenny Snart’s miserable childhood, in which the only two people he truly cared for were his grandfather and little sister, we watch the present-day Captain Cold on a revenge mission. There had been a cheap Captain Cold knockoff running around in earlier issues, another nonentity named Chillblaine. But Cold’s revenge isn’t about the guy copying his gimmick. No—this guy killed his sister, so Snart must avenge her.

Cold’s focus on a loved one humanizes him, and by the end of the issue, we view him as something more than Flash’s parka-wearing Mr. Freeze copycat.

Writer: Geoff Johns

Penciler: Scott Kolins

Inker: Dan Panosian

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in The Flash by Geoff Johns Book 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comics — The Flash #201-206 (2003-04)

flash-201Nothing wrong with a change of pace once in a while, and that’s exactly what this Flash storyline is.

This Flash (Wally West) hadn’t kept his identity a secret since he took over his uncle’s mantle, but following tragic events in the previous storyline, a powerful being magically erased everyone’s knowledge of the Flash’s true name…including Wally’s. This sets the stage for a story of rediscovery (it’s almost Flash meets Hook, but far less upbeat).

The tone is darker than that of most Flash stories, and so is the color palette. Though the Flash is typically one of DC’s sunnier superheroes, Wally now works the overnight shift as a mechanic for the Keystone Police, thereby minimizing his exposure to daylight. Meanwhile, a new villain starts killing cops and framing Captain Cold for the murders. Alberto Dose’s art, particularly at the beginning, is pretty bleak and might make readers think they grabbed a Vertigo book by mistake.

Definitely not a typical Flash story—and I would never want this to be—but it works because it provides a sharp contrast to our usual expectations of a Flash story. And when that bright red streak starts cutting through the darkness, we remember why we love the character.

Writer: Geoff Johns

Artist: Alberto Dose

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Flash: Ignition (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — JSA #69 (2005)

JSA_Vol_1_69What a great concept for a team-up—the Justice Society of America and…the Justice Society of America!

The storyline by Geoff Johns takes advantage of DC Comics’ long history by having the current-generation JSA members travel back in time to 1951 to meet their first-generation counterparts…right as they’re disbanding. They’ll all have to work together to prevent a villain from wrecking the timeline, like villains tend to do. (Oh, and Rip Hunter is the one who gathers the present-day team and sends them back in time, which naturally reminded me of the TV show DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.)

Issue #69 is the second part of the story, but the first with the modern team navigating the ‘50s. In classic team-book fashion, they split up and individually track down their counterparts, thereby putting each JSA member in a different scenario. Stargirl meets the original Starman in a mental hospital. The era’s horrible segregation laws interfere with Mr. Terrific’s pursuit of his predecessor. Sand finds not only Sandman, but also himself at a uniquely terrible point in his long life. And so on.

Good stuff indeed. The generational approach suits DC’s original super-team.

And the cover features painted art by Alex Ross, so there’s that, too. Alex Ross is always a plus.

Writer: Geoff Johns

Penciler: Don Kramer

Inker: Keith Champagne

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in JSA vol. 10: Black Vengeance (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Green Lantern: Rebirth #1-6 (2004-05)

Green Lantern Rebirth 1Hal Jordan’s character became a bit of a disaster for several years’ worth of comics. (Though the Green Lantern movie remains the greatest tragedy to befall the character.)

To recap, his hometown was destroyed, he went crazy and beat up his Green Lantern colleagues so he could go yell at the Guardians, the Guardians let him absorb the power of the central GL power battery, Hal became Parallax and nearly destroyed the universe in a company-wide crossover, he languished in the background for a while as a pseudo-villain, he died saving the world in another company-wide crossover, and in yet another company-wide crossover, he became the new Spectre.

And that’s where his character was at when the Green Lantern: Rebirth miniseries rolled around. Hal Jordan, the manifestation of God’s wrath!

Yeah, he needed a rebirth. (But the movie remains worse than all of that.)

Fortunately, writer Geoff Johns came along to untangle this mess and restore Hal as the Earth’s preeminent Green Lantern. Quite a chore indeed, but Johns and artist Ethan Van Scriver succeed in making this deck-clearing exercise incredibly entertaining. Not only do they set the stage for a great run of Green Lantern comics to follow, but they never get farsighted along the way—they make sure the journey of these six issues is a fun ride from start to finish.

This miniseries restores Hal Jordan to greatness and reminds us why the character is great.

Writer: Geoff Johns

Penciler: Ethan Van Scriver

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Green Lantern: Rebirth (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up