Today’s Super Comic — Peter Parker: Spider-Man #20 (2000)

For Spider-Man more than most superheroes, the man behind the mask is far more important than the colorful crimefighting persona. That was a huge part of his original appeal, which was pretty novel back in the ‘60s—Peter Parker was, at his core, a regular guy with regular problems who just happened to be a superhero, and a highly imperfect one at that.

When writer Paul Jenkins took over Peter Parker: Spider-Man, he did an excellent job focusing on Peter’s humanity. It’s especially evident in his first issue, #20, in which Peter, despondent over a recent loss, visits his Uncle Ben’s grave for some soul-searching.

Nothing is funny anymore, Peter feels, and he reflects on his childhood growing up with his aunt and uncle, particularly how he and Ben would repeatedly prank each other, constantly trying to make the other laugh.

The flashbacks fill in details about this important relationship in his life. After all, it was his uncle’s avoidable murder that motivated Peter to use his powers to help others. Not only is it nice to deepen the relationship, but it also shows us how Peter developed his distinctive sense of humor. Great character work throughout.

There’s no super-villain plot here, but there’s plenty of emotion. And it all comes to an uplifting ending.

Writer: Paul Jenkins

Penciler: Mark Buckingham

Inker: Dan Green

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; included in Peter Parker: Spider-Man: A Day in the Life (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Death: The High Cost of Living #1-3 (1993)

death_the_high_cost_of_living_vol_1_1Neil Gaiman does Death Takes a Holiday in his distinctive Neil Gaimany way.

Death, or Didi, is an off-kilter teenaged girl who gets to be mortal one day a century. She befriends a depressed young guy with the unfortunate name of Sexton. A very old madwoman seeks Death’s help in finding her heart. And a blind, creepy guy wants Death’s sigil.

And by the end, it’s all remarkably uplifting.

“It always ends. That’s what gives it value.”

Though this is a Sandman spinoff, Death: The High Cost of Living stands entirely on its own. I can’t say for certain, but it might even be more effective without prior knowledge. There’s almost nothing in these three issues that’s blatantly supernatural. The fantasy elements exist entirely on the periphery, which you hardly even realize until after the fact because everything feels so magical. If you read just this story, you might almost believe that Didi is merely a troubled girl who has retreated into the delusion that she’s Death.

An excellent read from the early days of DC’s Vertigo imprint.

Writer: Neil Gaiman

Artists: Chris Bachalo and Mark Buckingham

Cover: Dave McKean

Publisher: DC Comics (Vertigo)

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Death: The High Cost of Living (TPB)

Appropriate For: ADULTS ONLY