Superman wouldn’t be Superman if he didn’t voluntarily choose to set boundaries for his own behavior. And, to varying extents, he’s been doing that since 1938. Here’s my latest YouTube video:
My exploration of YouTube continues. Now let’s look at Iron Man and The Count of Monte Cristo…
Sometimes, it’s good to try something new. So I taught myself the basics of video editing and created a YouTube video. I know it’s not perfect, but the learning process is always ongoing.
For now, though, you can watch me pontificate about the enduring appeal of Spider-Man’s origin story.
At long last, round two! We looked at the top ten stories from the Marvel (Comics) Universe’s first five years a few months ago, so let’s move on to the second five years.
In that previous five-year span, everything was fresh, exciting, and unlike anything previously seen in comic books. The freewheeling creativity resulted in a wide range of quality, but certainly plenty of enduring ideas and memorable stories. In this second increment, the Marvel creators have settled into a more comfortable rhythm, achieving a more consistent level of quality. It won’t be every modern reader’s cup of tea, but the era definitely has its share of classics. Here’s ten of them:
The police arrest an injured Spider-Man…right before the prisoners revolt. Spidey has to use his wits to navigate the situation—and save the life of his girlfriend’s father, Capt. Stacy. It’s a fun adventure that offers a different type of threat than usual, while ongoing subplots continue to simmer in the background. The issue helps strengthen the growing bond between Spider-Man and Capt. Stacy, giving Peter a much-needed friend and mentor, one who instinctively knows Spider-Man can’t be all that bad. Continue reading
Presenting, just for fun, Marvel Comics’ ten best stories from 1961-1965!
Why only a five-year period? For proper apples-to-apples comparisons, firstly. The comics medium has changed quite a bit over the years, so it’s hardly fair to compare, say, ten-year-old comics to fifty-year-old comics. Plus, the shorter period is more manageable and allows me to highlight more great books over time—sometimes complete storylines, sometimes standout single issues, whatever is merited. (I’ll get to later periods…eventually. And note that these are grouped by release date, not cover date.)
So we begin at the dawn of the Marvel Universe. True, many books from this era don’t hold up particularly well, not to the adult reader. They are dated indeed. But in the foundation of each series are strong, enduring concepts and flawed but heroic characters that people of varied backgrounds can relate to. Plus, the old comics offer plenty of charm with their fast-paced displays of free-flowing imagination. Looking back on these early issues, it’s not hard to see why the characters have survived the decades.
(Spoilers ahead, but these came out over five decades ago, so…)
Let’s get to it. As Stan Lee would say, Face Front, True Believers! Make Mine Marvel! Excelsior! ’Nuff Said!
Wait. Not ’Nuff Said yet. We need the list…
The superhero genre has a simple but effective formula: The hero almost loses to the villain but ultimately prevails, often improving him or herself along the way. Doctor Octopus’s debut shows an early example of that formula in action, back when flawed superheroes were still a fresh idea. As the book opens, Spider-Man is feeling supremely confident in his crimefighting abilities, and he’s itching for a challenge.
And he gets one, and he gets clobbered, leading Peter to wonder if he’s even cut out for this superhero lifestyle after all. So he’s got a choice: quit, or try again but do it better this time.
Peter Parker is still growing into his role at this stage, and that’s part of what made this series so novel—the superhero was actually growing as a person.
And we haven’t seen the last of Spider-Man on this list. The Amazing Spider-Man was easily Marvel’s strongest series of this era. Continue reading
At last, here we are. May 17, 2016, I started writing one quick, positive comic book review a day, with the goal of doing so for a full year. It was part writing exercise (get the words down fast and move on), part analytical exercise (if a book works, why does it work?), and an opportunity to focus on the positive and thank the writers and artists who have given me countless hours of enjoyment over the course of many years.
So let’s finish with one of the best single-issue Superman stories ever written. Action Comics #775 shows us why Superman will never go out of style and should never go out of style.
A new team of powerful superhumans appears. They call themselves the Elite, and to get the job done, they’ll kill the bad guys and any innocent bystanders who happen to be within range, so long as the larger threat is eliminated, permanently.
Superman’s not having that. As the public begins to wonder if maybe there’s some validity to the Elite’s approach, Superman realizes it’s up to him to show the world there’s a better way.
What makes Superman cool isn’t his powers; it’s how he uses them. He doesn’t force his will on others or try to seize more power for himself, and he leads by example, with physical force being the last resort. He always operates within clearly set parameters. It would be too easy for him to cross any number of lines, so he doesn’t. Most others would give into the temptation, but he’s strong enough to control himself.
In this issue, he’s not only trying to stop the Elite from killing people, but he’s also standing up for ideals—and he’s standing up to people who are seemingly more powerful than even he is.
“Dreams save us. Dreams lift us up and transform us. And on my soul, I swear… until my dream of a world where dignity, honor and justice becomes the reality we all share — I’ll never stop fighting. Ever.”
Ladies and gentlemen—Superman! There’s a reason he’s the greatest superhero ever created. He’s a role model for kids and adults alike, and he demonstrates values that should never go out of style, no matter how times change.
Writer: Joe Kelly
Penciler: Doug Mahnke and Lee Bermejo
Cover: Tim Bradstreet
Publisher: DC Comics
How to Read It: back issues; Comixology
Appropriate For: ages 12 and up
When Wonder Woman relaunched for DC Rebirth, writer Greg Rucka utilized the even-numbered issues to retell her early days. The second issue (or part one) introduces us to a young Diana who’s curious about what lies beyond the shores of Themyscira. Scenes of her life in paradise alternate with scenes of Steve Trevor’s life in the United States, and if you know anything about Wonder Woman’s origin story, you can guess where part one ends.
Rucka isn’t reinventing the characters or the story. He’s modernizing them and selecting from the best of what came before. It’s Wonder Woman’s latest draft, and it’s a superb one.
That’s an advantage of the comics medium—when you continue these characters in periodical format decade after decade, you have plenty of opportunities to refine and improve them. And yes, mistakes will be made and things will inevitably go astray here and there, but that’s what reboots are for. When you learn from previous mistakes and successes, you’re much more likely to get an excellent book like this.
This “Year One” arc for Wonder Woman is all about discovery. She’s discovering a new world. A new world is discovering her. And she’s discovering more about herself. The characterization is spot-on—she’s joyful, compassionate, fierce, heroic, and even a little fearful of this new world she’s entered.
Given how recent the book is (the trade just came out), I don’t want to delve into any greater detail, but know this—this is Wonder Woman done right. If you enjoy the movie when it comes out but never read a Wonder Woman comic, then read this one. If you don’t enjoy the movie, read it anyway.
Writer: Greg Rucka
Penciler: Nicola Scott
Cover: Scott & Fajardo Jr.
Publisher: DC Comics
How to Read It: recent back issues; Comixology; included in Wonder Woman vol. 2: Year One (TPB)
Appropriate For: ages 12 and up
Superhero comics certainly offer plenty of escapist fun for readers. But in the stories, particularly in the old-school comics of many years ago, the kid sidekicks were the ones who got to live the escapism…and the young readers could simply plug themselves into the role and imagine themselves battling crime alongside the older hero.
The Flash acquired his own sidekick early on—Kid Flash, who was actually Wally West, the nephew of Flash’s girlfriend Iris West. After Barry and Iris both died, Wally grew up and took on the Flash mantle, and he became a better developed character than Barry Allen ever was at that point.
When writer Mark Waid began his superb run on the title in issue #62, he started at the beginning, by flashing back to Kid Flash’s origins. In a four-part story, we meet 10-year-old Wally West, who’s spent his life in a small town with cold, distant parents and little to look forward to…until one summer when his super-cool aunt Iris invites him to spend a few months with her in Central City. Wally would choose his aunt over his parents any day, but he’s especially excited because Central City is the home of his hero—the Flash!
It starts as pure wish-fulfillment. Not only does Wally get to meet his hero, but a freak accident grants him the same powers. He enjoys the best summer of his life, with the problems of home too far away to matter.
But his escape will have to end eventually, and he’ll have some growing up to do.
It’s the quintessential sidekick story—wish granted, everything seems wonderful, but problems haven’t really gone away, have they?
An excellent start from Waid, and the best was yet to come. As I’ve mentioned before, this series played a huge role in hooking me on comics when I was a kid. It holds up remarkably well. Kid-me had good taste.
Writer: Mark Waid
Penciler: Greg LaRocque
Inker: Jose Marzan Jr.
Publisher: DC Comics
How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in The Flash by Mark Waid Book One (TPB)
Appropriate For: ages 9 and up
Marvel killed Iron Man a few years earlier and replaced him with a teenage version of himself from an alternate timeline. Then that teen version died along with the rest of the Avengers in the “Onslaught” crossover, leading to the Heroes Reborn stunt in which popular Image Comics creators reimagined and relaunched the Fantastic Four, Avengers, Captain America, and Iron Man in a separate, new continuity. Then a year later, after that had run its course, those characters were restored to the proper Marvel Universe and relaunched with new first issues.
Seemed like as good a time as any to have the real Tony Stark return. The details are sketchy as to why and how the adult Stark returned rather than the teen version…and I’m okay with that. Why dig the hole any deeper? The creative team had an opening to efficiently get back on track, and they seized it in the relaunched Iron Man #1.
Of course, Tony Stark can’t just waltz back from the dead and reclaim his company as if he hadn’t been killed and replaced by his younger self for a while. A competitor had bought out Stark Enterprises, so the big question for the first issue is…will Tony try to reclaim his company? Or will he start something new?
The script by Kurt Busiek gets at the heart of the character. Tony Stark is always trying to build both himself and the world around him into something better. Here, he needs to figure out how best to do it.
Oh, and an unseen old foe wants to kill him. Got to have that physical peril thrown in there, too.
A fine restart all around, and a much-needed one at the time.
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Penciler: Sean Chen
Inker: Eric Cannon
Publisher: Marvel Comics
How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology
Appropriate For: ages 11 and up
The Golden Age has a reputation as being Watchmen-lite, but I have to disagree. The two miniseries share some surface similarities. They both examine old-school mystery men through a more adult lens, and Cold War paranoia factors into the plots. But whereas Watchmen deconstructed the genre, The Golden Age also reconstructs it.
After World War II, the members of the Justice Society of America, as well as most other masked heroes, go their separate ways to lead normal lives, with varying degrees of success. Writer James Robinson puts the focus squarely on the people behind the masks, fleshing out characters who had received little development previously.
It’s a large cast, mixing recognizable characters such as the original Green Lantern and Hawkman with obscure ones such as Captain Triumph and the Tarantula. Prominent roles also go to Johnny Quick, Liberty Belle, Hourman, Starman, the original Atom, Robotman, Johnny Thunder…and so many more. In all cases, the miniseries humanizes them and makes each character its own. This isn’t some company-wide crossover with a million guest stars shoehorned in; rather, it’s a complete story that designs each character to serve the larger arc.
The former Mr. America turns to politics, becoming a senator and spearheading a new program of government-backed superheroes with open identities. The new age requires a new type of hero, one without masks or secrets, and answerable to his country. But, of course, the people claiming to have no secrets are the ones with the most to hide.
The climactic action pulls the superheroes and mystery men of yesteryear out of their retirements or semi-retirements. They leap into action, functioning as individuals but showing no regard for their individual well-being.
And the action is incredibly well-choreographed, with lots of characters having specific, important beats to play out. Artist Paul Smith draws it all fluidly, incorporating the best elements of 1940s comic book art—particularly the rough-hewn, innocent purity of amazing super-feats—and tempering it with modern layouts and expressive faces.
The story breaks down these classic characters, but then builds them back up into heroes, showing how they’ll always be needed, no matter how times change. It strips away their innocence, reveals their flaws, and makes their heroic actions all the more meaningful.
Writer: James Robinson
Artist: Paul Smith
Publisher: DC Comics
How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; JSA: The Golden Age (TPB)
Appropriate For: ages 15 and up