Today’s Super Comic — Marvels #1 (1994)

Marvels depicts the dawn of the Marvel Universe from the perspective of ordinary people, particularly one ordinary photographer, Phil Sheldon. The world is changing in unexpected ways, making everything seem both scary and grand.

The painted art of Alex Ross adds the necessary sense of realism, as much as “realism” can apply to things like a combustible android and amphibious man.

The first issue focuses on Marvel Comics’ Golden Age, beginning with its earliest characters—the Human Torch and Namor the Sub-Mariner. Both initially appear as frightening figures, not heroes, especially when the two battle each over New York City, leaving all sorts of destruction in their wake (fun fact: the first comics crossover was a battle between the Torch and Namor in 1940). Captain America’s debut, however, causes far less concern and far more excitement.

All the while, plain normal Phil has to figure out what place a regular man has in this strange new world.

When you’ve been reading superhero comics year after year, you can easily start taking the concepts for granted—yeah, of course a person can fly, why not? But Marvels offers a fresh perspective, allowing everything to seem new and exciting again. Read all four issues.

Writer: Kurt Busiek

Artist: Alex Ross

Publisher: Marvel Comics

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

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Captain America #48 (2009)

In order for the reader to care about the plot, the characters need to care about the plot. Yeah, that’s a pretty basic observation, but it’s an essential ingredient. And Captain America #48 provides an excellent example of how it works.

An unscrupulous scientist seeks to eradicate about 35 percent of the world’s population—for the good of the planet, of course. To achieve this, he’s used the remains of the original Human Torch to create a virus, one that renders its victims combustible. (Marvel’s first Human Torch was an android who debuted in Marvel Comics #1 in 1939; no relation to the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch.)

That’s all a good start. It raises the stakes by putting the fate of the world in the balance. But that alone would be too big and too impersonal. We’ve seen the fate of the world imperiled time after time in comics. We need a personal connection.

In this case, Bucky Barnes fought alongside the Human Torch in World War II. They were colleagues and friends, and those were happier times for Bucky, before he was forced to become the Winter Soldier. Bucky already lost Steve Rogers not long ago, and now another friend’s memory and body are being disrespected. Bucky is fighting not only to save the world, but also to preserve the honor of a man he respected more than just about anyone (other than Captain America, of course).

Joining Bucky in this mission are Namor the Sub-Mariner (another WWII ally) and the Black Widow (his current girlfriend). They represent his past and present, and they both have their own personal reasons for getting involved.

Not that anyone should need a personal motivation for saving the world, but it makes for a much more interesting story.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Pencilers: Butch Guice, Luke Ross, Steve Epting

Inkers: Butch Guice, Steve Epting

Cover: Steve Epting

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Captain America: The Man With No Face (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty #11 (1999)

Captain_America_Sentinel_of_Liberty_Vol_1_11Sometimes a completely goofy book hits the spot.

Sentinel of Liberty was Captain America’s answer to Batman’s Legends of the Dark Knight, an opportunity to tell out-of-order tales from various points throughout Cap’s long career. Unlike Batman’s book, Cap’s didn’t last long, but it featured entertaining stories by Mark Waid and various artists.

The silliest entry in the series was by far #11, which takes us back to an equally silly (if less intentionally so) Silver Age story. Back in 1963, before Cap was revived in the then-modern era, Marvel tested him out by having a Captain America imposter face off against the Human Torch in Strange Tales #114. And let’s just say, that’s not a comic that will appear in this series of positive reviews.

Sentinel of Liberty #11 has fun with the Silver Age story. Lots of fun. The issue is framed around the present-day Human Torch recounting the “classic” adventure to a disbelieving Cap (who of course was still on ice as it was all going down…there’s a visual representation in case you had forgotten). The Torch is treated as an unreliable narrator, though he’s amusingly accurate in his recollections, right down to his girlfriend calling for someone to “send some new linoleum over right away,” the Torch getting trapped in an asbestos-lined van, and the expensive lengths to which the Cap imposter goes to rob banks.

Not every comic needs to strive to be The Best Ever. It’s perfectly okay to merely deliver unpretentious, good-natured fun. And this one does so with excellent cheer.

Writer: Mark Waid

Pencilers: Walter McDaniel and Anthony Williams

Inkers: Whitney McFarland and Andy Lanning

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up