Today’s Super Comics — Fantastic Four #67-70, 500 (2003)

Doctor Doom finally figures out how to one-up Reed Richards in Fantastic Four #67-70 and 500. And yes, those numbers are correct. Marvel likes to have it both ways with numbering—reboot for a new #1 to designate a jumping-on point, then revert to the original numbering for anniversary issues.

Anyway, there’s one subject area where Reed is in over his head. He can’t comprehend magic. The world’s smartest man is an idiot when it comes to sorcery. But Doom understands the fundamentals, and as the son of a gypsy, it’s an established part of his heritage. So in his ongoing quest to humble Mr. Fantastic, Doom rejects science in favor of magic and strikes at the Fantastic Four through their children.

There are no higher stakes than imperiled children. Not even saving the whole world or universe reaches that level, because the scale is too grand to remain relatable. But your kids are in trouble? We can all understand that terror.

The script by Mark Waid nails the characterization of both Doom and Reed, particularly how arrogant they can both be. The storyline shows how they’re perfect antagonists for each other. They reflect each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and their conflict has always been personal. Appropriately for an anniversary issue, there’s history here, and the feud escalates to the next level.

Marvel has published many superb Fantastic Four stories over the decades, and this is in the top tier. And it begs the question—why isn’t Marvel currently publishing Fantastic Four comics?

Writer: Mark Waid

Penciler: Mike Wieringo

Inker: Karl Kesel

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Fantastic Four by Waid & Wieringo Ultimate Collection, Book 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Avengers #144 (1976)

A former romance comic protagonist becomes a superhero in Avengers #144. Or she gets the super-powered costume, at least.

The Avengers, with tagalong Patsy Walker, had been captured by the Squadron Supreme (Marvel’s stand-ins for the Justice League, but evil). This issue sees them trying to escape the Brand Corporation complex—and being a fictional corporation, you can safely assume it’s up to no good.

The fun comes from the interplay between the characters, with the highlight being the casual camaraderie between Captain America and Iron Man. But the big development arrives when longtime superhero fan Patsy gets a chance to become one herself, despite the objections of her protectors. It’s a wish-fulfillment moment free of angst or melodrama, and it introduces an upbeat heroine to the Marvel Universe. You know right away that Hellcat will add something fresh to the mix. (And yes, Patsy is the comics version of the character we saw in Jessica Jones on Netflix.)

Meanwhile, other Avengers wrap up a storyline set in the Wild West. All sorts of craziness can peacefully coexist in Marvel Comics.

The issue is an excellent reminder about how innocently fun comics can be.

Writer: Steve Englehart

Penciler: George Perez

Inker: Mike Esposito

Cover: Gil Kane

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Essential Avengers vol. 7 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 8 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Incredible Hulk #271 (1982)

My year of daily positive comic book reviews is almost up! The final ten reviews begin here! (Not top ten; the randomness continues.)

In the comics, the original Guardians of the Galaxy had an entirely different lineup from the movie cast, and the film’s characters all had separate comic book introductions. Rocket Racoon debuted in The Incredible Hulk, in an issue that’s so delightfully ridiculous.

Hulk finds himself transported to an alien world, where he’s greeted by a talking racoon and walrus. The racoon totes a laser gun, and the caption introduces him as “Rocket Racoon, guardian of the Keystone Quadrant” (still working his way up to guarding a whole galaxy).

And if his name reminds you of a certain Beatles song, that’s apparently by design. The issue title, after all, is “Now Somewhere in the Black Holes of Sirius Major There Lived a Young Boy Name of…Rocket Raccoon!” Plus, the plot entails a Gideon’s Bible, and Rocket has to save his girlfriend Lylla.

In addition to the Beatles references, we’ve got killer clowns, deadly rabbits, and Keystone Quadrant Kops. The main villain is a mole.

The issue shows how comics work wonderfully as a vehicle for unbridled imagination. Sure, this isn’t sophisticated literature, but consider it from the perspective of a kid reading it in 1982. It’s creative fuel for a young reader. In retrospect, the issue reminds us that not all comics need to grow up. Providing goofy fun for kids is always a worthy cause.

By the way, contrary to his cinematic counterpart, here Rocket self-identifies as a racoon.

Writer: Bill Mantlo

Penciler: Sal Buscema

Inker: Jim Novak

Cover: Al Milgrom

Publisher: Marvel Comics

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

Appropriate For: ages 8 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Amazing Spider-Man #229-230 (1982)

Spider-Man is best as the underdog. Against the unstoppable Juggernaut, yeah, he’s very much the underdog.

In The Amazing Spider-Man #229, Juggernaut pursues the psychic Madame Web, and only Spider-Man is available to come to her aid. But he’s totally ineffectual against an invulnerable opponent who’s as strong as the Hulk. He seeks help from other superheroes, but they’re all out of reach (conveniently for the story, inconveniently for Spidey). It’s all on him. He tries. He fails.

But for Spidey, failure is motivation. Someone was counting on him, and he let her down. That hits hard, especially given his previous failures in life. So he picks himself back up and resolves to capture the Juggernaut, no matter the personal cost, and issue #230 shows Spidey giving it all he’s got until he prevails.

It’s a great structure for a two-parter. The hero fails, regroups, and perseveres, because like hell he’s failing again.

A textbook example of a superb superhero story.

Writer: Roger Stern

Penciler: John Romita Jr.

Inker: Jim Mooney

Publisher: Marvel Comics

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

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Black Widow #6 (2014)

I had somehow overlooked the previous Black Widow series, which ran for twenty issues from 2014 to 2015. Rectifying that now.

The focus is on what Natasha does when she’s not being an Avenger. She chooses to use her time and skills to atone for her past. The book is primarily a spy thriller, and it keeps the character of its protagonist at the forefront.

Writer Nathan Edmonson portrays Natasha as someone who is most comfortable gathering intelligence and would rather not engage anyone directly—but if she needs to, she’ll jump into the fray. Issue #6 observes how lonely a spy’s life is, how difficult it is to let anyone in.

It’s a compelling take on the Black Widow. Her motivation is strong. Her flaws and strengths affect her actions. And there’s plenty of excitement along the way, as well as ongoing plot threads that build and make each issue stronger than the previous.

There’s even a fun little cameo in #6 that ties into the issue’s theme of loneliness. Very well done.

Writer: Nathan Edmonson

Artist: Phil Noto

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Black Widow vol. 1: Finely Woven Thread (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Ms. Marvel #20 (2007)

I’ve been rereading writer Brian Reed’s Ms. Marvel and enjoying the gradual redevelopment of Carol Danvers from failed superhero to A-lister. Issue #20 concludes a three-part storyline that pits her against a villain who’s a very appropriate antagonist when you consider the character’s troubled fictional history (spoilers ahead).

Even before Rogue absorbed her memories and powers, Ms. Marvel’s career went off the rails in an ill-advised Avengers storyline. Following a supernatural pregnancy (and what good ever follows a supernatural pregnancy in comics?), Carol left to live in another dimension with her…son who was also his own father and therefore her lover too? Was that it? I had to check, and regrettably, I’m not wrong. Ugh.

So, back then, Carol was mind-controlled in mega-creepy fashion. Therefore, in #20, when she thwarts another creepy mind-control plot, this one by perennial Fantastic Four foe the Puppet Master, her decision to let the Puppet Master kill himself feels entirely justified. Not heroic, but in character for Carol at this point. (That Avengers storyline is never mentioned here, and that’s probably for the best, but knowing the history adds subtext to the story.)

Importantly, she’s conflicted about her decision, albeit after the fact. It shows how she’s still getting herself back on track, but also that she’s capable of the self-reflection and growth needed to get there.

Writer: Brian Reed

Penciler: Greg Tocchini

Inker: Roland Paris

Cover: Greg Horn

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Ms. Marvel vol. 4: Monster Smash (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Astonishing Ant-Man #13 (2016)

The Astonishing Ant-Man reaches a satisfying conclusion in issue #13.

Since it’s recent and it’s the final issue, I don’t want to give much away. Just know that the father/daughter relationship remains at the heart of the series through the end. The book isn’t so much about the adventures of Scott Lang as it’s about Scott’s efforts to be the man his daughter Cassie deserves.

There’s a clear arc throughout these thirteen issues, and it’s a complete story that allows for further stories to follow. It’s also about something far more relatable than superhero action, and it never forgets to have fun along the way. Scott and Cassie both commit mistakes and grow a little, making them engaging co-protagonists.

Nick Spencer wrote a winner here.

Also, very obliging of its Marvel Unlimited release schedule to roughly coincide with my year of daily reviews. I didn’t include every issue, for the sake of variety and because I didn’t have anything new to say with some, but the entire series is an enjoyable read.

Writer: Nick Spencer

Artists: Brent Schoonover and Roman Rosanas

Cover: Julian Totino Tedesco

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in The Astonishing Ant-Man vol. 3: The Trial of Ant-Man (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Daredevil #175 (1981)

Daredevil #175 opens with what appears to be a spelling error. The title is written as “Gantlet” rather than the more common “Gauntlet,” but according to Grammarist, the former used to be the preferred spelling in certain uses. They’re not perfect synonyms, but there is overlap. If Marvel did accidentally omit the “u,” they got lucky.

Elektra faces off against a gauntlet (gantlet?) of Hand ninjas and their master assassin to stop their organization from hunting her. Daredevil backs her up, despite her protests, despite the absence of his radar sense, and despite the fact that he’s supposed to be in court. (He really took Foggy for granted in those days. Poor guy.)

Frank Miller showcases the greatest strengths of his art here. Everything is constantly moving, and the characters are expressive. He balances exceptional choreography and expressive characters throughout the book.

The ambiguous relationship between Daredevil and Elektra provides the substance. On the surface, Elektra is a cold-blooded assassin who’s concerned only about herself. Daredevil can’t help but still care. But maybe Elektra still cares, too? Is the woman he loved still in there somewhere? Or is she as lost as an outdated spelling style?

Ah! Maybe the title isn’t an error, but a symbol! Yeah, that’s it. Sure.

Fantastic issue either way, though.

Writer/Penciler: Frank Miller

Inker: Klaus Janson

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Captain America Reborn #1-6 (2009-10)

Of course Captain America wasn’t staying dead. We already knew that outcome, but what matters is how they get there. And Captain America Reborn nails it, using Cap’s long history to remind us why he’s such a great character.

Steve Rogers has become unstuck in time. He’s being flung back and forth throughout his past, reliving World War II battles, Avengers battles, family moments, his time on ice, etc., and he has to follow the script in every situation. He has some ability to act, but the wrong action could wreck the timestream. It’s quite the elaborate trap.

In the present, Bucky Barnes, Sharon Carter, Falcon, and several Avengers navigate the dual threats of the Red Skull and Norman Osborn (the latter leading a government-sponsored team of villainous Avengers at this point) as they try to save their friend.

This miniseries sustains strong momentum throughout. Ed Brubaker’s script keeps everyone in character at all times, and Bryan Hitch’s art provides a grand sense of scale. It’s all epic without ever losing sight of the individual actors within.

The essence of Captain America is this: He always finds a way, no matter the odds stacked against him. And that’s what we see here.

This isn’t the end of Brubaker’s run on Captain America. However, my year of daily reviews has only twenty-some days left, so this seems like a good stopping point for this particular series. But it’s definitely been worth rereading.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Penciler: Bryan Hitch

Inker: Butch Guice

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; Captain America Reborn (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Uncanny X-Men #319 (1994)

Here’s an excellent example of a mid-‘90s X-Men comic, one of the sort that writer Scott Lobdell excelled at.

Uncanny X-Men #319 features three conversations, each featuring a pair of X-characters and each different in nature. And there’s little in the way of comic booky action.

The cover story is Angel (then Archangel) and Psylocke on a date. Meanwhile, Rogue accompanies Iceman on a visit home to his parents, where he clashes with his bigoted father. And on the astral plane, Professor X chats with someone who appears to be Magneto…or is he????

So these three vignettes entail, respectively, a soapy romance, a message of tolerance, and the setup for the next big storyline. All three are essential ingredients to X-Men comics, but each conversation does something a little different than usual.

The budding Angel/Psylocke romance is refreshingly free of drama at this point, just two teammates growing closer in an organic way. Iceman’s father isn’t building any Sentinels. His bigotry is borne of ignorance rather than evil villainy, and as with most bigoted people, it’s not so simple as labeling them wholly “good” or “evil.” Also, Iceman and Rogue had seldom been paired up before this issue, but they had a good enough rapport that the movies later picked up on what started here. And the usual Professor X/Magneto discussion acquires an interesting subtext here once the twist is revealed.

All good stuff.

Writer: Scott Lobdell

Artist: Steve Epting

Inkers: Dan Green and Tim Townsend

Publisher: Marvel Comics

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

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up