Legacy Heroes: Out with the Old, in with the New?

Everyone has his/her favorite comic book superhero. Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man are only a few of the countless characters which have captured the wonder and imagination of millions of fans. Each of these heroes are recognizable by their alter egos, from Peter Parker to Clark Kent. Yet, not all heroes hold the same secret identity forever. Every now and then, the person behind the mask changes, such as the mantle of the Flash shifting from Barry Allen to Wally West. Many refer to new characters taking up certain mantles as “legacy characters”. Changing the character behind a title massively shifts the status quo, sometimes in a much needed manner. Comic books that have gone stale from repetitive storylines are given some fresh material to tell new stories. Over the years, the concept of legacy characters has undergone massive changes. Different types of legacy characters exist, from grown-up sidekicks inheriting their mentors’ identities to brand new characters created to add a sense of diversity to a title. Each type of legacy hero comes with its benefits and drawbacks, both of which highlight the consequences of change within superhero comics.

Passing the torch

Legacy heroes’ tenure in superhero comics vary widely, mainly depending upon each character’s popularity. Some legacy heroes only last for a short story arc, as the creative team intends for the comic to return to the status quo. For example, when Dr. Octopus took over Peter Parker’s body to become “the Superior Spider-Man”, writer Dan Slott knew that the change was only temporary. Soon enough, Slott returned Parker’s mind to his rightful body. Other legacy characters last for a significant period of comic book history, forming a significant fanbase along the way. Such characters include Bucky Barnes as Captain America, or Dick Grayson in the role of Batman. Both characters lasted for several years in their respective titles, amassing an impressive portfolio of well-told stories. Finally, there are legacy heroes who last in their titles for decades, becoming the definitive versions of the character to many readers. Wally West, for example, was the only Flash after Barry Allen died, from 1985 to 2009. Countless adventures of Wally’s were chronicled, as readers grew to become more invested in Wally than they ever were with Barry. The tenures of legacy characters ultimately depend on several factors, such as popularity, editorial mandate, and creative vision. Over time, however, it has become more difficult for legacy characters to retain their titles for very long. There are various types of legacy characters, each of which exhibits benefits and drawbacks that contribute to characters’ staying power.

You are to me, Wally. You are to me…

The first type of legacy hero is the sidekick-turned hero. This type of hero is exemplified by a well-known sidekick who grows up to inherit his/her mentor’s mantle. Once again, Dick Grayson (formerly Robin) becoming Batman or Wally West (formerly Kid Flash) becoming the Flash both serve as excellent examples of sidekick legacy characters. Giving a former sidekick their mentor’s title provides the reader with a familiar face, as well as a sense of continuity within the comic. Readers are able to connect to this former sidekick’s struggle, trying to live up to the example of a friend or family member. In this sense, longtime fans are not thrown off by a random character being forced into their favorite hero’s shoes. On the contrary, existing characters are given a chance to grow up, developing into fully-fledged heroes. Seeing this change within previous allies or sidekicks makes the reader feel as if the comic is moving forward with time. Of course, there is always the risk that sidekicks who become legacy heroes will lose their own identities. For example, Dick Grayson had settled into the role of Nightwing for a long time before inheriting the Batman mantle. Seeing Nightwing give up his own, distinct identity for someone else’s title can be fairly disappointing for some fans. On the other hand, Wally West had not developed much past being Kid Flash before becoming the new Flash. Providing Wally the title of the Flash gave him room to grow and develop as a character, watching him live up to the standards that Barry Allen set. Sidekicks tend to work best as legacy heroes when it benefits their own character development.

Carrying the Bat-mantle

Sometimes, a brand new character is brought in to inherit a hero’s title. A bold move such as this one can be fairly controversial, especially since the writers have to put extra work into developing a likeable character. Then again, introducing a new character can create a great starting point for new readers. Brand new characters give comics a clean slate, where anyone can begin reading a title. Kyle Rayner, for example, became Green Lantern after Hal Jordan, having no relation to his predecessor whatsoever. Yet Rayner’s adventures are quite accessible, and very fun for anyone who is just getting into Green Lantern comics. New characters such as Rayner have an opportunity to connect with readers. There is something relatable about the “everyman” character who is just as new to their own crazy world as the reader is. Indeed, given the right characterization, new characters appeal to plenty of new readers, and even old ones who continue reading after “their” version of the character is gone. Kyle Rayner is my favorite Green Lantern, simply because he has such a fun and relatable personality. Furthermore, handing a heroic title off to a new character broadens the concept from one hero to an overarching mantle. Giving new characters a chance to make a title their own expands the ways in which readers see this title. For example, Green Lantern could be Hal Jordan, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner, or even Guy Gardner. Each varying personality expands the Green Lantern mythos into something larger than just one person. New characters ultimately broaden the horizon for superhero titles.

Green Lantern’s light renewed

Recently, a new type of legacy character has emerged: the “diversity character”. Creating more characters of color, female characters, LGBTQ characters, and characters of different religious perspectives, is crucial in today’s comic books. At a time when the U.S. is growing more diverse, superhero comics should at least make an effort to reflect the world in which we live. A black Spider-Man stands for the “everyman” qualities of the character now more than ever. Yet diversity characters maintain a controversial place within parts of the comic book fanbase. The central debate around characters such as Miles Morales (Spider-Man), Jane Foster (Thor), Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel), and several others asks: is diversity included in comics for the sake of good storytelling, or just for the sake of diversity itself? As an Egyptian and a Muslim, I personally find this question to be an important one. Characters should not simply be created to be “diversity characters”. Rather, diverse new characters should be able to connect to readers through their characterization, and their stories should be just as exciting as any other superheroes. Given well-written storylines and characterization, there is a large market for diversity in legacy heroes. More diverse legacy heroes make for a more relevant heroes who reflect modern society.

Reflecting the world around us

Each type of legacy hero usually succeeds a hero who has died, stepping into their shoes. In some cases, however, legacy heroes can coexist with their predecessors. Peter Parker and Miles Morales can both be Spider-Man, Jay Garrick can run alongside Wally West as the Flash, and even Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson can simultaneously act as Batman. Coexistence offers great storytelling opportunities, as creative teams can explore a relationship between legacy heroes and their predecessors. Seeing the various Green Lanterns fight alongside each other goes a long way in showcasing the characters’ contrasting personalities. Additionally, readers are given more freedom to choose their favorite version of a hero. If someone isn’t a huge Peter Parker fan, he/she can read the adventures of Miles Morales, or vice versa. Just as creating new characters allows for a wider understanding of a title, allowing the old and the new to coexist broadens the world around certain mantles. A whole family of individuals is created through this coexistence, such as the Bat-Family, the Spider-Verse, the Flash Family, and many others. One caveat to coexistence is competing popularity between characters. When Barry Allen returned as the Flash, Wally West literally vanished from existence in the DC Universe. To a lesser extent, Miles Morales continues to struggle for popularity while Peter Parker is still around. Despite the potential storytelling possibilities, coexistence of legacy characters with their predecessors risks one character being overshadowed by another.

Fighting for popularity

Ultimately, the struggle of legacy characters boils down to the old vs. the new. Specifically, should older characters, with more history, or newer characters, with untapped potential, hold iconic titles such as Spider-Man or Green Lantern? The answer is not a clear cut decision between the old or the new. Some long-dead characters have simply lost their relevance. Mar-Vell, the original Captain Marvel, died back in 1982. When Carol Danvers, formerly Ms. Marvel, finally took his mantle in 2012, it was about time. Indeed, the most interesting Captain Marvel story during Mar-Vell’s tenure was his own death, while Carol Danvers has decades of adventures as both an Avenger and Ms. Marvel under her belt. In other cases, however, the original simply can’t be beaten. Bruce Wayne will always be Batman. Some fun stories can come out of others in the role, like Dick Grayson. Still, Bruce Wayne and Batman remain intertwined, as Wayne’s never-ending crusade originates from his childhood trauma and his obsession with justice. Both old and new characters have the potential for great storylines. It is the quality of the storylines which holds priority, regardless of who is behind the hero’s mask.

Mar-Vell who?

Legacy characters hold a huge significance within superhero comics. Ultimately, legacy heroes represent change. When characters inherit the mantle of iconic heroes, these characters develop, they age and mature, and signify the passage of time in the world at large. Furthermore, passing the torch between characters elevates heroes into legends and titles to be upheld with honor. Most importantly, passing titles on to new characters creates a new age of heroes for a new generation of readers. While some titles may be timelessly bound to certain characters, others have room to move between new characters. One generation’s Flash may be Barry Allen, while the next generation’s may be Wally West. Over the course of the following weeks, I will be comparing different characters who have held the same mantle. Examining the various legacy characters and their predecessors, I hope to answer, on a case by case basis, the age old question: stick with the old or go with the new? Who should hold these iconic titles for a new generation?

Gotta bridge that generational gap

That’s all for this week! Be sure to check in every week for a new entry in the legacy character spotlight! If you like this blog, feel free to follow on Twitter @book_column and share with your friends!

Weekly Recommendation: Wolverine by Chris Claremont & Frank Miller

Of all the X-Men, Wolverine is by far the most popular, and for good reason. There’s something so appealing about the rebellious loose cannon of any team. Another big part of the Canadian mutant’s appeal is the air of mystery about him. For the longest time, the X-Men didn’t even know that Wolverine’s name was Logan. Wolverine is largely a man of action, leaving his thoughts and inner machinations a mystery to both his teammates and the reader. Naturally, on the occasion that readers do get a glimpse into Logan’s head, the results are fascinating. The mystery around Wolverine begins to unravel, as the reader learns what kind of a man Logan is. There is a tormented soul underneath that adamantium skeleton, after decades of torture and mind-control. Yet, despite Wolverine’s rather tortured life, he is a man of honor and decency. No matter the difficulty, Wolverine is constantly striving to be better in the face of adversity.

The ol canucklehead

No writer has captured the nuance of Wolverine’s characterization quite like Chris Claremont. During his sixteen year run on Uncanny X-Men, Claremont defined Wolverine as a character. No other tale has better exemplified the titular character’s solo adventures than Claremont and artist Frank Miller’s 1982 mini-series, Wolverine. Claremont & Miller’s mini-series is the basis for every Wolverine story, being the first to feature the character in his own series. Wolverine is quite self-contained, lasting only four issues, and telling one tightly-plotted narrative. Throughout the mini-series, Claremont & Miller craft many iconic moments for Logan. The beginning of the story even introduces Logan’s catch-phrase, “I’m the best there is at what I do. But what I do best isn’t very nice”. Signature dialogue and moments such as this one illustrate why Wolverine stands out among the other X-Men.

The best there is

Wolverine himself is clearly given full focus, especially examining his unique mindset. Throughout the narrative, Wolverine is portrayed similarly to a protagonist in film noir. Narration boxes fill the page with Logan’s inner monologue, as our hero stoically observes the world around him. Claremont uses Wolverine’s thoughts to give the reader a morally gray, jaded hero, with much life experience. When confronted with a pair of guard dogs, Logan thinks, “I got no stomach for guttin’ animals. People though– that’s another matter”. Despite Wolverine’s calm, observant narration, an inner layer of ferocity resides within the mutant hero. This unhinged feral state emerges on occasion, revealing a side of Logan that he wishes to remain hidden. After brutally slaying a group of ninjas, Wolverine thinks to himself, “I lost control. I feel sick. I feel great”. The internal conflict with which Logan grapples throughout the story adds a layer of complexity to the character, depicting a hero at odds with his own nature. At the end of the day, Wolverine is a noble warrior, who fights for what he believes. Logan spends the entire narrative attempting to rescue the woman he loves, Mariko Yashida, from her criminal father. This pursuit of honor gives Wolverine a mission that compels him to move past his own animal urges.

He’s losing it…

The conflict between Logan’s animalistic side and his humanity takes center stage in this story. Wolverine is constantly being torn between his sense of what’s right and his base, animal instincts. At times, Logan gives in to his more primitive nature. One scene shows Logan choosing to get drunk with the seductive assassin Yukio rather than help his friend, the government agent Asano Kimura. Claremont excellently captures the appeal of relinquishing control, demonstrating Logan’s temptation to give in to his instincts. Yet, the guilt of losing control is shown as an immediate consequence to Logan’s behavior. When Logan slaughters a group of assassins in front of Mariko, he thinks, “It’s a side of myself I never wanted her to see”. Scenes such as this raise an overarching question of honor throughout the narrative. Wolverine constantly struggles to be honorable and do what is right, despite his baser urges. Logan must prove that he is worthy of Mariko’s love. Moreover, Wolverine must prove that he is worthy of his own humanity. The struggle to be an honorable man culminates in Wolverine’s ultimate journey of self-acceptance. In order to save Mariko and take down her father, Wolverine has to accept who he is and grow from this self-acceptance. In a key moment of reflection, Logan realizes, “An animal knows what it is, and accepts it. A man may know what he is– but he questions. He dreams. He strives. Changes. Grows”. In spite of his own failures and mistakes, Wolverine strives to be better, to be an honorable man for Mariko. Ultimately, Logan’s struggle between man and beast makes him a more compelling hero.

An honorable hunter

As far as villains go, Shingen Yashida is a formidable foil for Wolverine. Shingen opposes Logan under the guise of an established “tradition” of the Yashida clan. When Logan initially faces Shingen, the villain claims, “Our family is as old as the emperor’s, with a legitimate claim to the throne”. Shingen’s outward sophistication contrasts Logan’s animalistic exterior, as Shingen claims, “You are not worthy of a true sword”. Yet underneath this veil of superiority, Shingen hides his own depraved behavior. Forcing his daughter Mariko to marry another man, heading a criminal empire, and brutally killing any who get in his way, Shingen reveals his nature as a true monster. Shingen also has allies in the Hand, a mysterious ninja cult who he hires to kill Wolverine. The Hand add in an exciting, dynamic new element to the mix. The danger and intrigue of the Hand accentuates the power at Shingen’s disposal. Action scenes of Wolverine fighting ninjas are also always welcome.

Wolverine vs ninjas. Nuff said.

Logan’s supporting cast consists mainly of the women in his life. On the one hand, there is Mariko Yashida, the woman whom Logan has come to rescue. Mariko embodies everything for which Logan strives. She is pure, decent, and she sees the man underneath Wolverine’s gruff exterior. In Logan’s words, “Mariko makes me want to change, to grow– to temper the berserker in me”. Logan strives to rescue Mariko from her father because he strives to be a better man. On the other hand, Logan is lured onto the wild side by Yukio. A shady assassin with a seductive lure, Yukio represents the temptation for Logan to release his inner animal. As Logan observes, “By nature, we’re both scrappers. We like it. An’ when the need arises, we can kill. Yukio wants me the way I am”. Yet Yukio walks a tightrope of morality. Initially hired to kill Wolverine by Shingen, Yukio’s feelings for Logan leave her conflicted. The dangerous path which Yukio walks acts as a cautionary tale for Logan, should he ever let his base instincts take over. Of course, not all of Logan’s supporting cast are love interests. Asano Kimura, a Japanese secret service agent, acts as a contact for Logan throughout the story. Asano gives readers a small look into Logan’s world outside of the X-Men. The reader is left to wonder how Logan even came to know a member of the secret service, and how many other mysterious contacts Logan has. Questions such as these maintain a curiosity around Wolverine’s life, showcasing the mystery that make Logan so appealing.

A little walk on the wild side…

Frank Miller’s artwork is phenomenal throughout the 1980s, and this story is no exception. Particularly during action scenes, Miller’s sense of pacing is perfect. Each panel illustrates a well-choreographed sequence, almost like a dance. Every individual movement carries a weight to it, as Miller builds suspense and tension around major fight scenes. Miller also has a beautiful sense of design when it comes to the setting of urban Japan. Shadows and alleyways are brought to the forefront, giving readers a dirty, noir-esque feel of Tokyo. Miller combines the dirtier aspects of Tokyo with bright neon lights for contrast, making the city feel real. Scenes in the Yashida household feel very traditional, as Miller renders old-fashioned Japanese houses expertly. The panel work is another stand-out feature. Miller uses panels like a camera, zooming in and out as the need arises. Miller’s close-ups give a great view of emotion, while zooming out provides a great sense of perspective.

Like a ballet of death

As much as I love Claremont & Miller’s work on Wolverine, there are certainly aspects of the series which might not work for everyone. Claremont is well known for his narration, and for the most part, narration boxes really adds to Logan’s character. Yet some narration boxes can be very exposition-heavy, providing needless background to recap the previous issue or facts about Wolverine. Exposition such as this can feel a bit heavy and dated. The ending, while amazing, sort of leaves off on a cliffhanger, which has to be picked back up in Claremont’s X-Men run. While I love everything about Claremont’s X-Men, tying the ending of Wolverine into such a lengthy run breaks into the self-contained nature of the story. I also personally would have liked more of a fleshed-out supporting cast in this story. Characters like Asano certainly add much to Logan’s character, but I think adding in one or two more characters that were not love interests would round out the cast more. Still, a large appeal of Wolverine is his nature as a loner, so maybe it’s for the best that his supporting cast stay limited.

Sheesh, Logan, we get it already…

It’s always exciting when a stand-out member of a superhero team gets his/her own solo title. Back in 1982, I can only imagine how excited readers must have been to see Wolveine in his own series. What makes this solo outing so special, however, is how little the reader usually got into Logan’s head beforehand. Given more focus, Wolverine is fully fleshed out in his titular mini-series. A mission as simple as Logan rescuing the woman he loves allows Claremont & Miller to delve into Wolverine’s character. The badass, strong-but-silent man of action finally has room to think, to feel, and to struggle. Logan is an honorable warrior, a samurai who fights for a just cause. Yet he still struggles with his own nature, fighting to be a better man. Logan’s internal conflict in this story sets the stage for future development, by Claremont and many other writers to come. More importantly, Claremont & Miller’s original take on Wolverine set the stage for nearly every Wolverine story afterwards. Exploring the Wolverine on his own for the first time, Claremont & Miller show that there is more to the ol’ canucklehead than meets the eye.

Fighting ninjas and animal urges simultaneously

Thanks for reading! If you happen to read/like this story, here are a few other Wolverine recommendations:

  • Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont
  • Wolverine & Kitty Pryde by Chris Claremont & Al Milgrom
  • Wolverine by Chris Claremont & John Buscema
  • Weapon X by Barry Windsor-Smith
  • Wolverine: Enemy of the State/Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr.
  • Wolverine by Jason Aaron
  • Wolverine & the X-Men by Jason Aaron

Weekly Recommendation: Nightwing: A Knight in Blüdhaven

Dick Grayson is my favorite DC Comics character. The guy has been through a lot since his time as the original Robin. Grayson has led the Teen Titans, become a secret agent, and even taken the mantle of Batman once or twice. My personal favorite identity for Grayson, however, is his superhero persona of Nightwing. Grayson’s time as Nightwing represents a boy growing into a man. Nightwing is his own hero, showcasing Grayson’s transformation from a sidekick to a fully-fledged superhero. When Grayson becomes Nightwing, he does things a little differently than Batman. Nightwing doesn’t use fear tactics or gadgetry like his mentor. Grayson plays more to his own strengths, including his acrobatic skills, improvised fighting style, and optimistic outlook. Overall, Dick Grayson is simply a fun character. There is no emotional baggage or moodiness with Grayson. As Nightwing, Dick Grayson is a kind, charismatic, and funny superhero.

Robin, out of the nest

Writer Chuck Dixon and artist Scott McDaniel conceptualize Nightwing perfectly in the first eight issues of the title. Dixon effectively works with a clean slate, being the first writer to handle an ongoing Nightwing series. This blank canvas makes the series very accessible to new readers, as Dixon recaps a lot of the history leading up to Grayson’s time as Nightwing. Furthermore, Dixon establishes a regular setting for Nightwing, including a new city, new villains, and a new supporting cast. Even longtime readers will be able to appreciate the lengths that Dixon goes to set up Grayson’s world in this initial storyline. A Knight in Blüdhaven is an excellent representation of the rest of Dixon’s work on Nightwing: a fun, yet gritty street-level superhero story. Much like the character of Nightwing, A Knight in Blüdhaven is the perfect balance between darkness and light.

Out with the old…

Grayson himself is quite the balanced character. As Nightwing, Grayson is a lot more mature than in his younger days as Robin. Nightwing is a more experienced crime-fighter, who knows his way around the criminal underworld. When interrogating a mob lawyer, Grayson says, “I’m surprised you don’t hiss when you talk”. On the other hand, Grayson maintains a charming, jovial nature, holding onto his colorful childhood as the Boy Wonder. During one fight scene, Nightwing kicks a thug into a car door, quipping, “Whoops. Bad ding there, fella”. The reader is also able to connect with Grayson, as he finds his way around his new city of Blüdhaven for the first time. The dangers and corruption that come with the city are just as surprising for Grayson as they are for the reader, making for a more relatable protagonist.

Having fun on the job…

A Knight in Blüdhaven focuses largely on Grayson’s place in the world. Moving from Gotham to Blüdhaven, Grayson carves out his own territory as a superhero. Much like a son moving out of his father’s house, Grayson moves to Blüdhaven to prove that he can stand on his own two feet. Blüdhaven, as a city, makes for quite the challenge. Nearly all of Blüdhaven’s police officers and government officials are corrupt, the city is filled with gang violence, and none of the citizens have any hope that things will improve. The chaos and apathy of Blüdhaven present an uphill battle which challenges Grayson’s optimistic nature. Indeed, at the end of the first few issues, Grayson states, “This place is hopelessly lost to corruption and injustice and violence. I’m going to like it here”. The confidence and satisfaction with which Grayson delivers this line serves as only one example of the character’s eagerness to face the challenges of Blüdhaven.

No place like home…

Blüdhaven not only serves as a new home for Nightwing, but it also acts as a villain in and of itself. The streets of Blüdhaven run rampant with several violent gangs, such as the False Facers and the Loners. While these destructive adversaries provide some exciting action sequences throughout the storyline, the real corruption of Blüdhaven begins from the top down. A mysterious adversary lurks in the shadows, amidst corrupt officials, manipulating the smaller events around Grayson. The mystery of this hidden enemy generates plenty of intrigue and suspense, as Nightwing must locate the source of Blüdhaven’s criminal underworld. Along the way, several colorful villains appear, such as Reynard, the head of the False Face gang, and the assassin Lady Vic. The bleakness of corruption within Blüdhaven is nicely complemented by the flamboyant nature of these costumed villains. Lawyers, politicians, and police officers all stand in the way of justice, even as costumed adversaries physically oppose Grayson.

Not exactly a warm welcome…

Of course, Grayson is not without his fair share of supporting characters. The Blüdhaven police department boasts a few fascinating figures, such as Chief Redhorn. Redhorn, another corrupt city official, does his best to preserve the Blüdhaven status quo, a goal which often clashes with Nightwing’s idealism. The real compelling member of Blüdhaven PD, however, is Inspector Dudley Soames. Soames keeps the reader guessing, shifting allegiances to whichever side serves him the best. In one moment, Soames is told to execute Nightwing, when in the next moment, Soames lets Grayson go. An issue later, Soames will be cavorting with criminals, while giving Nightwing valuable intel. Soames’ ambiguous nature exemplifies the strange, chaotic essence of Blüdhaven itself. Grayson is also supported by members of the Bat-Family, particularly Tim Drake, the third Robin. Drake is shown as the little brother that Grayson never had, as they bond during key moments of the story. Grayson’s role as a big brother makes the Bat-Family feel more like a family. One key brotherly moment between Grayson and Drake is when the two share sandwiches on a stakeout. During this scene, the two Robins have a heart to heart about their respective roles in the Bat-Family, bringing them closer together. The bond between Grayson and Drake places Nightwing in a mentorship role, accentuating his transformation into an fully-formed superhero.

Just whose side is he on, anyway?

Scott McDaniel’s artwork complements Dixon’s writing quite well. McDaniel’s art captures the most important aspect of Grayson: his acrobatics. Many panels boast images of Grayson hopping around the city of Blüdhaven, showcasing the different flips and jumps with grace and fluidity. The pure chaos that takes place during action sequences is also brought to life by McDaniel’s pencils. Images of bullets flying, glass shattering, and cars veering off the road are given a great sense of speed and urgency. McDaniel also manipulates the panels on the page quite well. Action scenes showcase panels of varying sizes and shapes, haphazardly throwing the action all over the page. Specific panels are enlarged or drawn across the larger page to indicate their importance quite well.

No wonder, he grew up in a circus!

There are certain aspects of A Knight in Blüdhaven which might repel readers, however. Blüdhaven’s corruption can seem a bit excessive at times, as Dixon repeatedly reminds the reader of how hopeless the city seems. While the seemingly irredeemable nature of Blüdhaven is quite important for the overall setting and narrative, it would be nice to see at least a few redeeming qualities. Even Gotham has people like Commissioner Gordon to remind readers that the city is not beyond saving. McDaniel’s artwork may also be an acquired taste for some. While the action scenes are wonderfully rendered, the quieter scenes of dialogue can be off-putting. Faces, specifically, can be a bit odd to look at, with more pointed features and bulging veins in certain characters’ heads. Personally, I love McDaniel’s artwork, so I take no issue with any of his illustrations. Some, however, might not be used to his style. For those continuing Dixon’s run, it can also become a bit bogged down by numerous crossovers and connections to other Batman-related titles. The connection to the larger Bat-Family can be frustrating for new readers with less background on Batman continuity. A Knight in Blüdhaven, however, has minimal interference from the outside Batman mythos, so continuity should not be an issue.

Because nothing good ever happens in Blüdhaven…

Dick Grayson is a wonderfully diverse character, with eighty years of rich history. While Grayson has been known by many names, Nightwing will always be my favorite. Grayson’s arrival in Blüdhaven is a true milestone for the character that should not be missed. Nightwing is given the chance to test his bright, optimistic outlook against seemingly hopeless odds, and this excites him. Grayson, while enduring so much darkness, manages to stay in the light. Just because Nightwing isn’t a boy wonder anymore, this doesn’t mean he has to become Batman. Grayson stays true to who he is, developing into a mature, well-adjusted crimefighter. The growth of Dick Grayson from teenage sidekick into adult superhero solidifies his place as my favorite DC Comics character.

What a guy

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this story, here are some other Dick Grayson recommendations:

  • Robin: Year One by Chuck Dixon & Javier Pulido
  • the New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman & George Perez
  • Nightwing: Year One by Chuck Dixon & Scott McDaniel
  • Batman: the Black Mirror by Scott Snyder
  • Nightwing by Kyle Higgins
  • Grayson by Tom King & Tim Seeley
  • Nightwing by Tim Seeley

That’s all for this week! If you liked this post, feel free to share and follow the blog on Twitter @book_column. Check back in next time for another weekly recommendation!

Weekly Recommendation: Daredevil by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev

Daredevil is a character with a lot of baggage. Matt Murdock suffers many tragedies, including being blinded as a child, losing his father to the mob, and constantly losing people he loves. Enduring so much pain is part of what makes Murdock relatable. Like any of us, Daredevil experiences the many hardships of life. The trait that makes Daredevil so compelling, however, is his resilience. Murdock not only manages to survive his personal trials, but he thrives. Daredevil continues to fight injustice as both a lawyer by day and a hardened vigilante at night. Within the comic book industry, Daredevil is a character full of rich history. Throughout the years, many great writers and artists have left their mark on the character. The diverse set of styles from so many different creative teams makes Daredevil one of the most consistently well-written titles in comics. Daredevil’s many exciting tales have produced a broad portfolio of comics from which readers can enjoy.

The Man Without Fear

One creative team which manages to capture the history of Daredevil, while still adding something new to the mix, is that of writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev. Bendis puts Murdock through the ringer. Without spoiling anything, Murdock faces challenges that are unprecedented for superheroes in general, let alone his horn-headed alter ego. Through exciting new challenges, Bendis allows Murdock to do what he does best: fight back. As a result, many new developments take place, which give Daredevil the chance to move forward. More importantly, Bendis manages to incorporate the history of Daredevil into his run, creating a holistic experience for new readers. Iconic friends, villains, love interests, and storylines are referenced, showing Bendis’ understanding of Daredevil. Bendis crafts a gritty, street level crime drama that provides a well-rounded Daredevil experience.

A guardian devil

Matt Murdock himself is depicted in a very human light. Even in the beginning of Bendis’ run, Murdock grieves over the loss of Karen Page, Murdock’s great love. Bendis uses the loss of Karen as the straw that broke the camel’s back. The toll of repeatedly losing loved ones releases Daredevil’s pent-up anger. Small-time villains like the Owl take the brunt of Murdock’s rage, as Murdock proclaims “I can almost promise you…this is going to hurt”. Dardevil’s anger manifests itself in a very self-destructive manner as well. Murdock isolates himself from others, taking on threats much too large to handle on his own. It becomes quite apparent that Daredevil is overwhelmed when he takes on an entire army of Yakuza, barely surviving. Despite all of his flaws, Murdock remains quite endearing. Dardevil’s mission is simply to protect the people of his neighborhood, either in the courtroom or on the streets. The dual roles of Matt Murdock and Daredevil reveal a man who fully dedicates himself to justice. Murdock can represent fellow vigilante White Tiger in court, while going after his client’s potential assassins as Daredevil.

Just a regular day at the office…

Bendis complicates the lives of Matt Murdock and Daredevil throughout his run. Many complications arise from the consequences of media sensationalism. Every move that Daredevil makes in this run is under intense media scrutiny, leaving little room for error. The feelings of exposure heighten the tension around Bendis’ narrative. Murdock spends so much time trying to defend his image as Daredevil that his own private life is neglected. All of Murdock’s loved ones suffer from this neglect. For example, Foggy Nelson has to run Nelson & Murdock, the lawyers’ shared practice, on his own. Bendis also deals with the frustration that comes with Murdock’s life of loss and turmoil. At a certain point, Murdock has had enough. Daredevil’s frustration culminates in beatdowns of villains such as Bullseye and the Kingpin, claiming Hell’s Kitchen as his own personal territory. Exploring Murdock’s attempts at progress, Bendis also examines Matt’s self-isolation. Daredevil isolates himself from his loved ones by devoting himself obsessively to cleaning up Hell’s Kitchen. Moreover, Daredevil isolates himself from other heroes, who become concerned for the vigilante’s mental stability. When Daredevil finally asks for help after being ambushed by Yakuza members, he benefits greatly. Help from others allows Murdock to take down the Yakuza, and more importantly, attend more to the people he loves, such as love interest Milla Donovan.

One man army

Classic villains are brought into Bendis’ run, such as the Owl, Bullseye, Typhoid Mary, and many others. The villains from Daredevil’s history serve to emphasize the pain inflicted upon the character through the years. Fighting Bullseye, all Daredevil can think about is the number of loved ones which the assassin has taken from him. Bendis most importantly explores the history of Daredevil and Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime. The Kingpin’s journey parallels Murdock’s. The Kingpin is blinded, nearly killed, returns to New York, gets beaten down, and ultimately returns again. The rollercoaster of events which the Kingpin endures makes him the other side of Murdock’s coin. Additionally, Bendis makes it abundantly clear just how sick Murdock is of the Kingpin. Before a brutal fight, Daredevil says, “I’m sick of outwitting you. No more games. No more chessboard of life. Now I think I’m just going to beat the $%#@ out of you!!” Bendis uses Murdock’s history with Kingpin to convey the frustration behind their encounters, enhancing the tension between the two.

Deadliest enemies

The supporting cast of this run is quite diverse. Characters include mainstays such as Foggy Nelson, Matt’s law partner and best friend. Foggy is more than just the funny, good-guy best friend. During important moments in the story, Foggy is willing to call Matt out for his reckless behavior. For example, Foggy forces Matt to confront his grief over Karen’s death. Foggy’s good sense provides a nice foil for Murdock’s self-destructive behavior. Other street level heroes play a prominent role in Bendis’ run, such as Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Spider-Man. The heroes are depicted as a sort of community, supporting each other in times of need. When Matt goes too far in Hell’s Kitchen, for example, he is confronted by a group of heroes who are concerned for his mental stability. The support provided by the heroic community challenges Matt’s isolationist attitude, forcing him to finally ask others for help. Bendis explores many of Matt’s love interests as well. Past loves such as Elektra and Black Widow make occasional appearances, reminding the reader of Daredevil’s lengthy history. Additionally, these femme fatales serve as a reminder that Murdock’s relationships never end well, adding additional layers to Murdock’s character. Karen Page is another constant reminder of Matt’s tragic love life, which compounds his struggles as Daredevil. Despite this tragic history, Bendis brings Matt into a new relationship with Milla Donovan, a blind housing agent. Introducing Milla moves Matt’s story forward, while at the same time emphasizing his unsavory history with women. When Bullseye attacks Milla, Murdock frantically rushes to her rescue, remembering the tragic fate that has befallen his previous loves.

Great opening line

Maleev’s artwork is absolutely gorgeous. There is a very abstract style to Maleev’s pencils which adds to the gritty, noir-esque feeling of the comic. Maleev’s splash pages wonderfully capture some iconic moments throughout the run, from key battle scenes to raw emotional moments. The artwork also works well with Bendis’ use of Daredevil’s history. One story arc features flashbacks to Daredevil’s early days, which Maleev captures perfectly. The flashbacks transform the comic into a vintage, 1960s-style comic book. Furthermore, every Daredevil story has to depict Murdock’s radar sense in some form, and Maleev goes above and beyond. Maleev’s abstract style meshes well with Murdock’s view of the world.

Eat your heart out, Avengers

Bendis & Maleev do a wonderful job on Daredevil, but this run is not without its faults. For one thing, the ending is quite inconclusive (depending on your perspective). Ending the run on a cliffhanger, Bendis removes some of the satisfaction that comes with concluding such an epic saga. To gain a sense of finality Bendis’ concluding story arc, readers have to continue on to the next creative team. Of course, this is not the worst thing in the world, as Ed Brubaker & Michael Lark’s run is also fantastic. Going into Bendis’ run can also be a bit challenging, as certain aspects of Daredevil feel like they should be known beforehand. For example, the constant references to Karen Page and her death can be confusing for those who have never read Daredevil before. The run is still quite accessible for new readers, but certain details can be jarring at first. Additionally, some smaller story arcs in the run do not land quite as well as the others. Specifically, the trial of the White Tiger does not do much to move the overall narrative forward. This story arc is not bad, but, especially without Maleev’s art, it does not feel consistent with the rest of the run.

New readers: “Who?”

Daredevil is a character that endures many hardships. The struggles of Matt Murdock are those with which many can connect: loss, grief, anger, and isolation. It is Murdock’s ability to come back from his trials that makes him a compelling character. As a vigilante and an attorney, Daredevil fights against the forces that would bring him down. Bendis & Maleev exemplify Matt Murdock’s trials throughout their run on Daredevil by integrating the history of the character with new stories. Bendis & Maleev continue Daredevil’s trials, with all of the ups and downs, adding to the lore. The respect for history and a desire to move forward elevates Bendis & Maleev’s run as one of the definitive Daredevil sagas.

And these are just the covers!

If you liked Daredevil by Bendis & Maleev, here are some other recommendations:

  • Daredevil by Frank Miller
  • Daredevil by Ed Brubaker & Michael Lark
  • Daredevil by Mark Waid
  • Daredevil by Chip Zdarsky
  • Daredevil: Yellow by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale

That’s all for this week. Thank’s for reading! Feel free to follow the blog on Twitter @book_column and share with your friends! See ya next week!

Weekly Recommendation: Green Arrow: Quiver

Green Arrow is a wildly underrated comic book character. Amidst DC cornerstones such as Superman and Batman, it can be difficult to compete. Oliver Queen has no superpowers and he’s largely seen as either “bow and arrow guy” or “rip-off Batman” (thank CW’s Arrow for that specific interpretation of the character). What makes Green Arrow so compelling, however, is his personality. Ollie Queen is a loud-mouthed, hot-headed, swashbuckling hero who speaks his mind and thinks with his heart. Additionally, Green Arrow is very politically and socially conscious of the world around him, standing up for the “little guy”. Armed with only his bow and a quiver full of fun trick arrows, Green Arrow stands against injustice on all levels. Most importantly, Ollie is a very flawed character. He makes mistakes like anyone else, and the consequences often come back to haunt Ollie and his loved ones. Yet Ollie keeps moving forward, trying to be a better person despite past mistakes.

The Emerald Archer

Quiver, by writer Kevin Smith and artist Phil Hester is a great example of the flawed, yet well-intentioned nature of Green Arrow. Smith tackles the challenge of resurrecting Ollie, who had been dead for years at this point. In bringing Green Arrow back to life, Smith provides a perfect jumping-on point for both new and old readers alike. Not only does Smith take the Emerald Archer back to basics as a socially conscious hero, he also provides plenty of backstory on Green Arrow lore. Supporting characters, previous stories, and Ollie as a character are all given sufficient explanation for anyone who is new to Green Arrow. Quiver also acts as a springboard for future Green Arrow stories, such as Smith’s Sounds of Violence and other great, 21st century takes on the character.

Green Arrow Reborn

From Ollie’s return as Green Arrow, the reader can tell that Smith simply gets the character. Ollie Queen re-emerges true to form: loud-mouthed and hot-headed as ever. Smith also provides several small moments of social justice, a trademark for the character. Of course, the mystery around Ollie’s return lingers throughout the narrative, as characters in the story and the reader are left wondering: how did Green Arrow come back from the dead? Moreover, Ollie returns in a strange form, as a version of himself from many years in the past. With no memory of recent events, Green Arrow must confront the mistakes that he has made over the years. Smith does an excellent job in presenting a closer look at Queen, a man who merely wishes to return to simpler times. The sentiment of nostalgia creates an immediate connection between Ollie and the reader, making a man who shoots boxing-glove arrows into a relatable human.

Can’t beat the classics

Returning Ollie to his past self also exemplifies a key theme of Quiver: returning to your roots. The whole narrative which Smith crafts displays Green Arrow in his old element: taking on corrupt men in power, teaming up with the Justice League, and reuniting with old flame Black Canary. All of the elements which make up the classic Green Arrow mythos are present through Ollie’s return to form. Conversely, Smith explores the hollow nature of this return as well. The very title, Quiver, expresses an emptiness. Ollie may have checked off all of his character boxes, but he is still missing essential bits of history. At first, the time which Ollie is missing seems to represent the worst of his life. It is the missing years, however, which complete Ollie as an individual. In simply embodying the best parts of himself, Ollie is not a whole person. Ollie’s return is also felt throughout the DC Universe, including his own supporting cast, the Justice League, and even characters such as Etrigan the Demon. Including a wide variety of characters in this story illustrates the sheer impact that one person can have on a whole world of larger-than-life characters. Even characters known as “bow and arrow guy” can make a world of difference to others.

Same old Ollie

Villains in Quiver are not very flashy and overt. Much of the conflict surrounding the narrative is the mystery of Ollie’s return. The biggest question, asking why Ollie is only a part of himself, acts as the central tension of Quiver. The lack of overt villains emphasizes the real enemy of the story: Oliver Queen himself. Throughout the story, Ollie must not only accept the life which he has lived, but in doing so, he must learn to live with his mistakes. Ollie struggles to witness his life experiences, including the loved ones he has lost and the loved ones he has hurt. Confronting his life holistically, Ollie must accept all of the flaws and consequences that come with being whole. Only through accepting the nasty realities of the past can Ollie move on with his new life. Of course, there is still room for smaller villains to show up here and there, such as Ollie and Aquaman fighting Black Manta. Several instances of fighting pimps, corrupt politicians, and drug lords also allow for some fun, light-hearted fight scenes .

Taking on corruption

Green Arrow’s supporting cast shines in Quiver. Characters such as Black Canary, Arsenal, and Ollie’s son, Connor, all show the impact which Queen has had on those closest to him. Furthermore, the perspectives of Ollie’s friends and loved ones give the reader a better sense of who the Emerald Archer really was before his death. Black Canary shows a love for Ollie, despite all of the highs and lows of their relationship. Arsenal muses on the lessons which his mentor taught him. Connor Hawke expresses regret about never truly knowing his father, despite taking up his mantle as Green Arrow. All of these relationships round out both the good and the bad that come with Ollie’s life. Additionally, new supporting characters are introduced, providing fresh blood to Ollie’s new life. Former prostitute Mia Dearden is inspired by Green Arrow, who saves her life near the beginning of the story. Mia embodies the “little guy” for whom Ollie stands, displaying Green Arrow’s significance on those he saves. Mia aspires to become Ollie’s new sidekick, which is indicative of the change which Ollie has inspired within this young woman. Major DC relationships are also highlighted well, including Green Arrow’s connection to fellow Justice League members Green Lantern, Batman, Aquaman, and many others. Each of these relationships is given a distinct quality, indicating the unique impact which Green Arrow has on each member of the DC Universe.

Father and son

Phil Hester’s artwork is a perfect match for Smith’s writing. Hester is able to capture comedic moments perfectly, from physical gags such as the fire-extinguisher arrow, to long pauses during awkward conversations. There is a certain levity to Hester’s pencils which make Quiver such a fun read. Hester provides a great sense of movement in both action scenes and character interactions, making for some fun, fast-paced scenes. Despite the light-hearted moments of Quiver, Hester is also able to visually capture important moments in the story. Several double page spreads are used perfectly to highlight moments of awe and wonder. Furthermore, personal character moments are given appropriate attention, such as Green Arrow’s initial return, or the reunion between Green Arrow and Black Canary. A certain monumental yet tender nature is conveyed through these emotional scenes. I would also be remiss if I did not mention Matt Wagner’s gorgeous covers. Painted covers such as these are like classical portraits of comic book characters. Each cover gives off a traditional vision of beauty and elegance.

Green firefighter

As fantastic as Quiver is, it is not without flaws. At times, Smith is very wordy in his use of dialogue. The excessive use of dialogue takes up much of the page, distracting from Hester’s artwork. While much of Smith’s dialogue can be funny and charming, at certain points the artwork can accomplish more than enough on its own. Along similar lines, the narrative can become pretty exposition-heavy, especially once Ollie’s resurrection is finally explained. Of course, given the nature of a resurrection story, some exposition is necessary. For new readers, the elaborate nature of concepts such as resurrection can be somewhat jarring. I would advise to simply endure the comic book logic, as the story moves along soon enough. Some of the DC characters also are not voiced very accurately, such as Batman, who can come off as a little too colloquial in his speech. Wonder Woman is also given an odd moment, greeting Ollie by passionately kissing him. Smith may not fully have a handle on the outer DC Universe, but this is still a Green Arrow story, so much of this can be largely ignored. Speaking of Green Arrow, there is a good amount of Green Arrow lore that I would have liked to have seen. Villains such as Merlyn or Count Vertigo would have added a great deal to the essential Green Arrow package which Smith constructs. Adding in iconic villains would give new readers a more complete conception of Green Arrow’s world.

True, but not the best Bat-voice

Overall, Quiver is a fantastic starting point for Green Arrow. Smith and Hester do an amazing job at capturing Oliver Queen and his world. Ollie is a loudmouth, a hothead, and a very vocal social activist. Yet all of Ollie’s loveable qualities still come with his flaws. Ollie can be impulsive, childish, and stubborn, making mistakes that impact everyone around him. What Quiver exemplifies most of all, however, is Ollie’s willingness to confront his mistakes and try to be better. Whether Ollie is trying to be a better father, mentor, lover, or friend, he ultimately reconciles the good with the bad. From there, Green Arrow can move forward and be the swashbuckling hero who fights injustice at all levels.

A new lease on life

In case you enjoyed Quiver, here are a few more recommended Green Arrow stories:

  • Green Arrow: Sounds of Violence by Kevin Smith & Phil Hester
  • Green Arrow: the Archer’s Quest by Brad Meltzer & Phil Hester
  • Green Arrow: Year One by Andy Diggle & Jock
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow by Dennis O’Neil & Neal Adams
  • Green Arrow: the Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell
  • Green Arrow by Jeff Lemire & Andrea Sorrentino
  • Green Arrow: Rebirth by Benjamin Percy

That’s it for this week! Thanks for reading! Feel free to share and follow this blog on Twitter @book_column.

Weekly Recommendation: Fantastic Four by Mark Waid & Mike Wieringo

It is quite saddening to see the Fantastic Four fall so low on the ladder of beloved superheroes in popular culture. The movies have been abysmal, to say the least, leaving few outside of the comic book fanbase to truly know or care about these characters. What truly makes this lack of appreciation so disheartening is that the Fantastic Four are, essentially, what made the Marvel Universe as we know it today. The characterization of four unique personalities began the common trend of Marvel’s well-known focus on character above all else. The dynamic within the cast created a family, with all of the ups and downs that come between members of any family. Giving each member of the Fantastic Four a distinct voice provided plenty of opportunities for fun character moments, as well as a personal attachment to each character and their relationships within the team. Focusing on character is only the starting point for the Fantastic Four, as their adventures are also filled with exploration and discovery. Great Fantastic Four comics involve travel into other dimensions, interactions with alien races, discovery of new scientific concepts, and much more. Combining these key concepts of character and exploration, the Fantastic Four is simply fun. There is humor, action, mind-bending sci-fi, and plenty of heart to go around. In a time where Marvel is known for its wacky ideas and focus on character, the Fantastic Four deserve greater recognition.

A truly fantastic four

For proof of the Fantastic Four’s inherent charm, one must look no further than the short but sweet run by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo. This run is great as a starting point for how self-contained it is, lasting merely 36 issues, with no crossovers or special annual issues. Very minimal background knowledge is required for this run, making it quite accessible to newer readers. While I personally consider the original run by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to be a favorite, Waid and Wieringo’s run is the perfect entry point for a more modern audience. While this run does indeed bring the Fantastic Four into the 21st century, it also maintains the spark of the Lee/Kirby days. This is accomplished through an intense focus on the Fantastic Four as a family. The team bickers, they experience hardships and even a few traumatic moments, but they persevere through their love for each other. Waid excels at characterization, providing excellent voices for each member of the team, as well as some heartfelt character moments.

Typical family road trip…

Waid’s knack for characterization shines through in the way he captures the distinct qualities of each member of the FF. Mr. Fantastic, the leader of the group, is at his most likeable here. While Dr. Reed Richards has always been a genius whose ideas and curiosity propel the team’s adventures forward, Waid provides more of a paternal angle to the character. At the end of the day, Reed’s greatest strength isn’t his stretching ability or even his intellect, but it is his family. Reed can make mistakes, often to the detriment of others, but everything he does is to take care of this family which he has built. Oftentimes in this run, Reed must accept his limitations and rely more on his family, embracing them as the force that truly keeps him going.

Father/son bonding

Susan Storm, the Invisible Woman, by contrast, is portrayed in a maternal light. Sue not only looks after her children Franklin and Valeria, but she is also the one who looks after the rest of the team. When Reed is caught up in his own head, Sue calls him out. When Johnny, Sue’s brother, is being irresponsible, Sue reels him in. When The Thing is thinking with his fists instead of his brain, Sue is the voice of reason. All of these examples serve to highlight Sue’s role within this run as the glue that holds the team together.

Protecting her children

Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, is given much depth in this run as well. It would be easy to write off the Torch as the simple shallow party boy, or the immature younger brother to Sue. While Johnny does have many of these moments in the run, often for comedic effect, this is not all the Torch has to offer. Waid provides some surprising moments of responsibility for Johnny, such as being put in charge of the FF’s finances or incidentally becoming a herald of Galactus. In these moments, Johnny is given the opportunity to grow up, similarly to other teenage superheroes such as Spider-Man.

What a hothead

Last, but certainly not least, comes Ben Grimm, the Thing. To be honest, ever since the days of Lee/Kirby, the Thing has been the most consistently well-written character of the four. Ben is the rock (literally) of the group, being there whenever anyone needs him. The Thing never gives up, no matter the odds, he is the everyman who constantly makes sarcastic quips, and can surprisingly be the voice of reason on occasion. Waid brings all of these qualities to the table and more in his run. From giving a rather poignant speech on depression to willingly sacrificing himself for the safety of the FF, Ben is provided his fair share of the spotlight in Waid’s run.

Just about clobberin time

All of Waid’s detailed characterization serves the greater theme of family. For better or worse, the FF are truly a family in Waid’s run. The team goes through it all, from living equations to a devastating attack by Doctor Doom, and even losing one of their own. Through the use of smaller, character focused stories, however, Waid demonstrates how the bond between the members of the FF pushes them forwards. Waid shows the team recovering from Doctor Doom’s attack, living out regular days in their headquarters, the Baxter Building, and even venturing out into heaven to recover their lost member. In venturing to heaven, the FF essentially journey into the unknown. This journey emphasizes another key theme in Waid’s FF: adventure. Waid presents the FF as explorers first, and superheroes second. The FF’s adventures are seen as ones of discovery, paving the road for a brighter future. Dedication to adventure is combined with a shared family bond to demonstrate the core ideas behind the FF.

Fun family fighting

The villains and challenges within Waid’s run accentuate these ideas. Threats such as living equations, unstable molecules, alien invaders, and giant cockroaches are all a few examples of some of the dangers that come from discovery and science. More importantly, however, these threats are dealt with in a creative, scientific manner. The resolution to these challenges illustrates a focus less on superheroics and more on the FF as adventurous scientists. These challenges are all also portrayed in a fun, light-hearted manner, which shows off Waid’s fun characterization of the FF in the face of discovery. This characterization shines the brightest, however, when the FF are put through the ringer by Doctor Doom. Doom tests the FF in body, mind, and especially spirit. Waid uses Doom to put the FF through a crucible which not only shows the challenges that come with family, but how a family can come together through challenging times. Only through darker times, brought on by someone like Doom, can the light of this family shine through.

Doom and gloom

Perfectly complementing the bright, fun nature of the FF is the art by the late Mike Wieringo. The cartoonish appearances of the characters works well with Waid’s characterization of a wacky, dysfunctional family who just happen to have superpowers. Tonally, the optimistic nature of these stories shows through Wieringo’s pencils, along with a clear nostalgia for Kirby’s original artwork on the title. The sci-fi concepts present throughout FF history are also given a fantastical look as well. Alien beings, different planets, and even other dimensions are given bombastic, exciting looks under Wieringo’s pencil.

Truly fantastic

Overall, Waid & Wieringo do an excellent job covering the FF in their run. There is, however, some room for improvement. The artwork, for example, could have benefited from greater consistency, as Wieringo does not illustrate the entire run. Artists such as Mark Buckingham, Howard Porter, and Paco Medina still do good work filling in for Wieringo. Yet the combination of Waid & Wieringo is where the run truly shines, and anything else does not quite live up to this duo. The supporting cast of the FF could have been included more as well. Characters such as the Silver Surfer, the Black Panther, the Inhumans, and the Sub-Mariner would have been a treat to see during this run. While Spider-Man does have a great two-part team-up with the Human Torch, it would have been nice if this run had included more from the greater Marvel Universe. Furthermore, a longer run in general would have allowed for more appearances from the FF’s extended family. In focusing simply on the main cast of the FF, however, there is much more room for character development in Waid’s run.

Spider-sense tingling…

The Fantastic Four deserve more public recognition. They are considered Marvel’s first family for good reason. Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo show what makes the FF great throughout their run, through brilliant characterization, astonishing visuals, and a fun, optimistic tone. This optimism endures, despite the many challenges thrown towards the FF. Waid writes the FF as a family, whose bond propels them through the ups and downs of their lives. Furthermore, this bond unites the FF in their exciting mission of discovery, venturing into the unknown. Combining distinct characterization with epic sci-fi ideas, the Fantastic Four is a classic Marvel title which paved the way for the current generation of superhero tales. Waid & Wieringo’s run distills the great qualities of this title down to its core, a testament to Lee/Kirby’s fantastic creations.

Moving into the future

Thanks for reading! If you enjoy Waid/Wieringo’s take on the Fantastic Four, here are some other classic FF runs:

  • Fantastic Four by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
  • Fantastic Four by John Byrne
  • Fantastic Four by Walter Simonson
  • Fantastic Four/FF by Jonathan Hickman
  • FF by Matt Fraction & Mike Allred
  • Marvel Two-In-One by Chip Zdarsky

That’s all for this week! Check back next time for another weekly recommendation, and be sure to follow the blog on Twitter @book_column!

Weekly Recommendation: DC: the New Frontier

It’s no secret that DC has recently suffered from a poor public image. From failed cinematic ventures such as Zack Snyder’s Batman v. Superman and Justice League, to the overall lack of presence compared to Marvel Studios’ cinematic universe, DC is often dismissed as the inferior comic book publisher. Yet there is so much quality content to love within the DC Universe. The heroes are bright, optimistic symbols of hope. Characters such as Superman, Batman, and the Flash are all the classic, archetypal heroes. Each hero represents a potential within each of us. Superman is the simple decency for which we all strive, Batman is a self-made man, the Flash runs at speeds which are the envy of athletes, and Green Lantern idealizes the ability to overcome fear through sheer force of will. As opposed to Marvel’s more flawed, humanized characters, DC characters represent ideals which inspire us to be better than we are.

A universe of hope

The late, great Darwyn Cooke’s DC: the New Frontier embodies these ideals through a nostalgic yet historically authentic narrative. Taking place during the early days of the Cold War, the New Frontier provides a historical look at the origin of classic DC characters such as Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, the Flash, and many others. For new readers, this is the perfect opportunity to witness the colorful, bright nature of DC which is so often lacking in other media. In framing the narrative within its original historical context, Cooke demonstrates the impact of DC’s heroes, not just within the story, but in the real world when they were initially published. Just as Green Lantern and the Flash pave the way for a new frontier in the story, so do they provide a hopeful escape from the harsh realities of the world.

Looking out to the new frontier

The protagonists of this story are also those in desperate need of this hopeful escape. For example, Hal Jordan, an airforce pilot who will one day become Green Lantern, is a dreamer. From the beginning of the narrative he expresses a desire to see the stars as an astronaut. Although Jordan has experienced the harsh cruelties of the Korean War, he remains hopeful in this dream, which is finally realized when he is chosen to become a Green Lantern. Jordan’s heroic journey is not only inspirational to the reader, but it also rewards the character’s own desire to be more than he already is.

Shoot for the stars…

J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, goes through a parallel journey. Arriving on Earth from his home planet of Mars, J’onn goes through an immigrant’s narrative. Much of J’onn’s story is focused on his struggle to find his place within this promising yet strange new world. Like many immigrants, J’onn experiences several instances of hatred and mistrust, but he also finds small pieces of goodness in this world. J’onn’s friendship with King Faraday, a federal agent, gives him a glimpse of how good this new world can be. J’onn finds a role on Earth through friendship and heroism, an idea which can resonate with many immigrants.

Making new friends

Finally, Barry Allen becomes the Flash in his own small character arc. Barry is much like the reader: a comic book fan who could only dream of gaining super powers. When he does, Barry is living his dream as the Flash for a while. When social issues such as McCarthyism wear him down, however, Barry becomes disillusioned, quitting his role as the Flash. This disillusionment is reflective of many Americans’ shattered optimism at the time. It is only at the end of the story, when Barry decides to become the Flash again and save the world, that he rises above his shattered belief in the world. Barry’s return to heroism illustrates the optimistic nature of the New Frontier through perseverance in the face of societal hardships.

Fastest man alive

All of these protagonists lie between the end of one era and the beginning of a new one. Throughout the narrative, the ending of the original World War II era of heroism serves as a source of tension. McCarthyism has dominated the political sphere, as superheroes have been forced into retirement. Any who attempt to perform super-heroic duties, such as the Flash, are hunted down and captured by the federal government. Superman works for the government, Batman remains in the shadows, and Wonder Woman has returned to her home on Paradise Island. Over the course of the story, however, a new dawn of heroes approaches. Slowly but surely, heroes such as the Flash, Green Lantern, Black Canary, the Challengers of the Unknown, and many more begin to emerge. While society shows much resistance to these new heroes at first, it is when these heroes come together at the climax of the story that people see how much the world needs a new age of heroism. The emergence of this new era demonstrates a promise that no matter how dark things may seem, there is always the promise of a brighter tomorrow.

Coming together

The villains of the New Frontier help to emphasize this new era of heroism. These alien beings are known as the Centre, a mysterious force which is deep hidden throughout time and space. Our heroes gradually unfold the mystery of the Centre over the course of the story, in spite of the adverse social conditions of the world around them. The government, for example, continues to outlaw superheroes, hunting down these bold, colorful characters. Historical villains such as the KKK also play a role, challenging the heroes’ faith in society. In a way, the outside world is an antagonist in its own right, acting as a spiteful obstacle that must be overcome in order to ascend into the new age. It is only when the new heroes look past their social and political differences that they come together to face the alien threat of the Centre.

No more supers

Cooke does an excellent job incorporating the whole DC Universe into the narrative as well. DC’s trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are each given appropriate attention within the story, serving as constant figures within the heroic community. While these three are constants within the universe, they still cannot save the world on their own. For this reason, Cooke shows how the main trio of DC act as a guiding force for the new age of heroes. This new age is comprised of many heroes who appear in cameos across the story. The Challengers of the Unknown, Green Arrow, Adam Strange, the Blackhawks, Task Force X, and several other DC characters are included in the New Frontier, illustrating Cooke’s attention to detail and love for the DC Universe. While much of US history is shown in this story, Cooke also makes a point to fit much of DC history into the New Frontier as well. The origin of many of these heroes is reworked to fit the storyline while remaining faithful to the original comics. Small changes in characters such as Batman are on display as well, showcasing his transformation from a dark noir character to a more family friendly caped crusader with a teenage sidekick.

The changing times

Cooke’s artwork is probably 90% of what truly makes this story shine. The aesthetic is a very old-fashioned, nostalgic look. The people look straight out of an old 1940s Superman cartoon, and the heroes are given a bold, larger-than-life stature. The giant splash pages throughout provide a great emphasis on key moments in the story, along with being simply beautiful in their own right. Just one page of Cooke’s art is the material that people use on posters and other DC merchandise, so reading a full graphic novel of this artwork is jaw-dropping. Action scenes are fluid and vivid in detail, emphasizing the elegance of the fights over their brutality. The mundane, historic material is contrasted by the bold, bombastic superheroic parts of the story, as Cooke is able to easily traverse between worlds. In both realms, Cooke gives everything a sense of importance. The large, wide panels leave much room for the grand scenery of every page. Much of the story is told through these massive, cinematic panels which project a feeling of awe onto the reader, invoking classic artists such as Jack Kirby.

Simply beautiful

Through his bombastic artwork and nostalgia for the simpler days of heroism, Darwyn Cooke captures everything great about DC Comics. The New Frontier is a story that uses the historical ambiguity of the Cold War to highlight the necessity of good old-fashioned superheroes. In the midst of McCarthyism, racism, nationalism, and all of the other “isms” in society, there is something comforting about men and women who can create giant green constructs and run faster than the speed of light. A certain element of escapism comes with these bold, colorful characters. In both the narrative and in real life, DC heroes become a source of hope that human beings can be better than we thought possible. It is this sense of awe and wonder which is missing from the contemporary perception of DC. The New Frontier reminds readers not only of the simplicity that makes DC characters so great, but how inspirational these heroes can be for us all.

The dawn of a new age

Thanks for reading! If you happen to enjoy DC: the New Frontier, here are some other DC recommendations:

  • JLA by Grant Morrison
  • Justice League of America by Gardner Fox & Mike Sekowsky
  • Crisis on Infinite Earths by Marv Wolfman & George Perez
  • the New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman & George Perez
  • the New Gods by Jack Kirby

That’s all for this week! Check back in next week for another weekly recommendation, and be sure to follow the blog on Twitter @book_column for more updates!

Weekly Recommendation: Planet Hulk

There is so much to love about the Hulk. The very idea of a giant green monster who grows stronger as his rage increases is every kid’s power fantasy. Put simply, the Hulk is the strongest one there is, which makes for smashing entertainment (pun fully intended). Even with adults, the Hulk embodies the anger inside of us all. This anger can be ugly, but it can also be quite cathartic. For instance, when timid scientist Bruce Banner finally gives in to his repressed rage. What truly makes the Hulk appealing for me, however, is how misunderstood he is. The Hulk, deep down, is a hero. He’s more than just the uncontrollable gorilla portrayed in the Avengers movies. There is a purpose to the Hulk’s anger, one that drives him to save others and stop the bad guys. The Green Goliath uses his anger constructively, directing it towards those who really need smashing.

The Green Gladiator

Greg Pak’s Planet Hulk is a classic showcase of everything that makes the Hulk special. For new readers, this story is very easily accessible. All anyone has to know going in is the basic premise of the Hulk: a green rage monster manifested from gamma radiation and a scientist with serious anger issues. From there, Pak lays out a widely appealing narrative, where the Hulk has been sent out into space so that he will no longer threaten humanity. This scenario strands him on Sakaar, an alien planet where he is forced into slavery as a gladiator (fans of Thor: Ragnarok will love this). This Gladiator-esque storyline is a great vehicle to show the Hulk in a more heroic light, leading the rebellion against Sakaar’s corrupt rulers. Planet Hulk is also a sci-fi wonderland for readers, depicting many different alien races and structures on Sakaar.

Enter the arena

What truly distinguishes Planet Hulk’s version of the Hulk from previous iterations is how competent he is. Gone is the child-like “Hulk smash” persona, replaced by a more articulate and clever version of the character. The Hulk is still a very distinct personality from Bruce Banner. In fact, Banner is gone for most of the story, leaving much room for the Hulk to develop for a change. Pak gives the Hulk a rough, harsh exterior, hardened from years of persecution by humankind. Despite his tough outer shell, this Hulk largely remains a hero in this narrative, driving an uprising on Sakaar to free the oppressed. It is the Hulk’s actions, through awe-inspiring feats of strength, which demonstrate his heroism. There is a kind heart underneath those gamma-irradiated muscles, which shines through in small moments throughout the story. Throughout the narrative, the Hulk is also seen as the “Sakaarson”, a prophecized figure who has been foretold to be the destroyer or the savior of Sakaar. The duality of this role gives some complexity to the Hulk’s character. Is he meant simply to be the destroyer? Is the Hulk meant to be a savior? Quite possibly, is he meant to be both?

The Green Scar triumphant

The Hulk’s heroism reflects a key theme of this story: responding to persecution. For years, the Hulk has felt persecuted on Earth, an idea compounded by his exile into space and subsequent enslavement on Sakaar. As mentioned earlier, the Hulk is understandably jaded and enraged by these feelings of persecution, uttering the phrase: “Never stop making them pay”. However, this anger towards his persecutors does not stop the Hulk from achieving a greater, nobler purpose. Indeed, the Hulk uses this anger for more than just smashing. The “Green Scar” creates a rebellion, a family, and finally, a kingdom, from the corrupt wasteland of Sakaar. This story also calls into question the true nature of being a monster. In his trials, the Hulk takes on the elite of Sakaar, who perform truly horrific acts upon their people. While veiling their acts in sophistication, rulers such as the Red King slowly reveal a sinister purpose in their actions. This directly contrasts the Hulk’s monstrous appearance and demeanor, which in fact conceal a more heroic heart.

Who’s the real monster here?

The Red King is a formidable villain, serving as a perfect foil for this Hulk. On the surface, the Red King is all-powerful, ruling a whole kingdom and presiding over gladiator matches in his name. However, without this kingdom, the king has no true power. The Hulk, on the other hand, shows formidable, raw strength, which scares the Red King. The Red King’s feelings of terror and inferiority reflect much of the rationale behind the Hulk’s persecution on Earth, leading to a climactic confrontation between the Hulk and his persecutor. Sakaar itself is a chaotic mess of a planet, providing no mercy. From the start, the Hulk is captured by slave-traders and sold into the arena. This rotten society is the perfect environment in which the Hulk can vent his rage and serve justice. The gladiator arena is also a highly entertaining setting, featuring many bombastic fights. These matches highlight not only the Hulk’s raw power, but also his surprising levels of cunning and leadership skills, fighting alongside other slaves in the arena.

Red vs. green

These fellow gladiators become like a family to the Hulk, calling themselves the Warbound. This diverse set of alien warriors is made up of individuals who feel just as persecuted as the Hulk. Society deems them all as monsters, isolating them and featuring them as freaks for entertainment. Additionally, each member of the Warbound is given a distinct personality trait and backstory, providing quite the colorful supporting cast for the Hulk. Most importantly, the Warbound represents a family. The Hulk has found a group with whom he can be himself, who he can fight alongside. Also introduced is the Hulk’s main love interest of the story, Caiera. Serving as a bodyguard for the Red King, Caiera acts as a rough-edged counter to the Hulk’s gruff exterior. Over time, however, the two of them grow to see each other’s softer side, growing from rivalry, to respect, to friendship, to love.

The Warbound

The artwork in Planet Hulk cannot be ignored. Carlo Pagulayan and Aaron Lopresti serve as powerful architects for the planet of Sakaar. These artists provide a broken-down, dystopian aesthetic, along with an alien twist. It is the dilapidated design of Sakaar which also brings out the rare spots of beauty on this planet. When the Hulk and his Warbound create new life on Sakaar, it is truly a glorious sight to behold. The artists also do an excellent job giving the readers brutal, smash-worthy fight scenes. In the arena, each movement is fluid and choreographed, at least until the Hulk loses control. At this point, the artists really display the sheer strength and rage within the Green Goliath. The Hulk’s feats of strength are provided ample space on the page as well, making him look all the more powerful and unstoppable. The battle armor that the Hulk wears for most of the story is also very well designed, giving him the look of a true warrior.

World fixer?

Planet Hulk is a true Hulk story. Greg Pak gives the readers time with a competent, heroic version of the Hulk which is rarely seen. The jolly green giant definitely has his rough edges, remaining angry as ever. However, it is the use of this rage which speaks volumes about the character. The Hulk does not simply destroy for the sake of destruction. He is not some mindless machine. Rather, the Hulk chooses to rise up against those who oppress him and others around him. In doing so, the Hulk creates a family, falls in love, and ultimately creates something new with his strength. Most importantly, the Hulk uses his anger to become the best version of himself. After all the anger, smashing, and destruction, the Hulk emerges as a champion. Underneath the jaded, bitter attitude lies a noble, misunderstood soul.

What a cute couple

Thanks for reading! If you liked Planet Hulk, here are a few other Hulk recommendations:

  • World War Hulk by Greg Pak & John Romita Jr.
  • The Incredible Hulk by Peter David
  • The Incredible Hulk: Return of the Monster by Bruce Jones & John Romita Jr.
  • Hulk: Gray by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale
  • The Incredible Hulks by Greg Pak
  • The Immortal Hulk by Al Ewing & Joe Bennett

That’s all for this week! Check back in next time for another weekly recommendation! Feel free to follow the blog on Twitter @book_column and share with your friends!

Weekly Recommendation: Green Lantern: Rebirth

Green Lantern has always held fundamental appeal for comic book fans. The idea of a ring that allows the wearer to create anything he/she imagines holds limitless potential on its own. This superpower is every kid’s dream, something that countless children imagined on the playground. Add on the different galaxies and alien races that Green Lanterns encounter, and you’ve got a sci-fi wonderland to explore. Underlying the bombastic sci-fi concepts lies the theme of Green Lantern: willpower. The Green Lantern ring chooses the user based on his/her will to overcome great fear. Willpower is an important quality in every superhero, and Green Lantern emphasizes this more than any superhero comic. Green Lantern inspires the ability to use your willpower to face and overcome your fears.

In brightest day, in blackest night…

For this reason, I would recommend starting with Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver’s Green Lantern: Rebirth. This is the perfect starting place for anyone unfamiliar with the Green Lantern lore, as Johns essentially relaunches the entire Green Lantern line of comics by resurrecting the classic Green Lantern Hal Jordan. From here, Johns begins an epic nine-year run on the Green Lantern title, which becomes the gold standard for Green Lantern comics. During this run, Johns introduces many characters and concepts within the Green Lantern mythos who have come to be staples of the Green Lantern title. Green Lantern: Rebirth is a clean slate which launches this expansive new take on Green Lantern.

Back in business

This story centers around Hal Jordan, the first human to become part of the Green Lantern Corps. Jordan’s background is given much attention in this story, depicting him as a sort of fallen angel. While he used to be considered the greatest Green Lantern of all, Jordan’s previous crimes and descent into madness ultimately led to his demise. This fallen angel depiction gives Jordan a relatable nature, as he simply wants to redeem himself. Johns also provides Jordan with several endearing qualities such as his strong will and fearless nature, which make him such a great Green Lantern. Jordan is also shown to be quite unique among the Green Lantern Corps, questioning authority in order to do what he believes is right, no matter what. Funnily enough, these endearing qualities of fearlessness and confidence are shown to be the very qualities that led to his downfall in the first place, as he became overconfident and allowed the fear entity Parallax to secretly take control of his mind. The contradiction of Jordan’s greatest traits being his fatal flaws make for a conflicted, nuanced hero.

Hal “Highball” Jordan

Jordan’s characteristics ultimately contribute to the overarching themes of the story. Redemption is a key idea throughout, as Jordan must come back from his own personal downfall in order to once again become a Green Lantern. Much of this redemption comes through the core tenets of being a Green Lantern: willpower and the ability to overcome great fear. The main villain of the story, the fear entity known as Parallax, returns in order to prey on the fear of all Green Lanterns. Only Jordan, no longer a Green Lantern, can save his fellow Lanterns by coming back from the dead and facing the fear entity. In order to truly conquer Parallax, Jordan cannot be overconfident as he was before. Jordan, along with his fellow Green Lanterns, must overcome fear by remembering fear. The Green Lanterns must then persevere through willpower in the face of their own fears.

Facing your fears

As a villain, Parallax highlights much of what it means to be a Green Lantern. Physically embodying fear, Parallax is representative of everything that cannot truly be beaten once and for all. Fear cannot be defeated, but it must be acknowledged and overcome through sheer force of will. Johns intelligently makes Parallax the source of an impurity within all Green Lantern rings, as Parallax has been trapped within the Green Lanterns’ central power battery for years. In hiding within the source of the Green Lanterns’ power, Parallax truly embodies fear, as it must be overcome through each use of a Green Lantern’s power ring. A more tangible villain of this story is Sinestro, another fallen Green Lantern. Sinestro acts as a dark mirror to Hal Jordan, as they have both fallen from grace. While Sinestro chooses to embrace and instill fear, however, Jordan chooses to overcome fear. The arrogant, vengeful nature of Sinestro clashes with the heroic, strong-willed nature of Hal Jordan.

Embodiment of fear

Of course, Hal Jordan is not the only Green Lantern featured in this story. Kyle Rayner begins this series as the last remaining Green Lantern, as the rest of the corps had previously died out. Rayner is endearingly depicted as a torch-bearer for the Green Lantern Corps, who has kept the light going when no one else could. He also is the one to discover Parallax at the beginning of the narrative, moving the story forward. John Stewart is also featured well, as the strategically-minded Green Lantern who acts as the voice of reason. Guy Gardner is the last human Green Lantern, depicted as a belligerent, smart-mouthed lantern with no filter. Johns gives each of these lanterns the proper attention and respect, illustrating the variety of personalities within the Green Lantern Corps. Johns also provides a look at the wider DC Universe, emphasizing the impact that the Green Lantern Corps has on the Justice League and Justice Society. In particular, Jordan’s relationship with Batman and Green Arrow demonstrates the broader significance that he has within the larger universe.

Green Lanterns united

Johns does not pull off everything perfectly, however. For one thing, this is very clearly a Hal Jordan story. Johns’ writing shows a preference for the classic Green Lantern, which tends to take the spotlight away from other lanterns such as Kyle Rayner or John Stewart. This does not harm the overall story, but for fans of other Green Lanterns, this can be hard to swallow. Fortunately, Dave Gibbons, Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason pay appropriate attention to lanterns such as Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner in their highly acclaimed Green Lantern Corps series. Additionally, Johns writes Batman in a way that tends to misconstrue the Dark Knight as an uptight control freak. Much of this seems to be for the purpose of creating conflict between Batman and Hal Jordan, but it comes off as forced at times. Fortunately, this is not a Batman story, so the issue does not harm things too much. Finally, the story begins by wrapping up a few loose ends continuity-wise, which can be a bit jarring for new readers. The best course would be to just stick it out, as Johns does an excellent job giving background to the characters and their world over the course of the story.

Pretty big mis-characterization

Ethan Van Sciver’s artwork is something to behold as well. Van Sciver excels when it comes to the bright, imaginative constructs and alien beings which characterize Green Lantern. The action scenes are also fast-paced, over-the-top, and explosive. While the artwork truly shines with big, glowing, sci-fi concepts, Van Sciver also is quite adept at the quieter, more human scenes. For example, when Jordan returns to his old air force base, meeting with his old love Carol Ferris. Personal moments such as these are given a much more muted, calm look, which contributes to the feeling behind the scene.

Green Lanterns’ light

Green Lantern: Rebirth is an excellent starting point for Green Lantern, embodying everything wonderful about the title. In order to redeem himself and save his friends, Hal Jordan has to face his fears once more, overcoming them through sheer willpower. Jordan and the other lanterns must face down the embodiment of fear, representing a battle which everyone must fight several times in his/her life. Additionally, Rebirth includes all of the imaginative constructs and alien beings which have come to be part of Green Lantern’s appeal. From this point, Johns begins a glorious run on Green Lantern which returns the title to its former glory. Johns goes on to introduce the entire emotional spectrum, including hope, love, compassion, rage, and avarice. This first battle between willpower and fear is only the beginning of a larger epic which redefined Green Lantern.

The emotional spectrum

If you enjoy Rebirth, here’s a few other Green Lantern recommendations:

  • Green Lantern by John Broome and Gil Kane
  • The Sinestro Corps War by Geoff Johns, Dave Gibbons, Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, and Ethan Van Sciver
  • Blackest Night by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis
  • Green Lantern: Secret Origin by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis
  • Green Lantern Corps by Dave Gibbons, Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason

That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading! If you like this blog, feel free to share with your friends, and follow on Twitter at @book_column. Check back next week for more weekly recommendations!

Weekly Recommendation: Astonishing X-Men

X-Men films generally miss the mark on what makes the X-Men such a compelling superhero team. As mutants, people who are hated and feared for being different, the X-Men each represent a sense of alienation in society. Many minority groups can relate to this idea of marginalization, from religious affiliations to sexual orientations. The X-Men represent the idea of rising above discrimination, choosing to be better by protecting a world that hates and fears them. They choose to be who they want to be, rather than who people think they are. What makes the X-Men special, however, is in the bond which they all share in this common feeling of isolation. These extraordinary individuals come together to become a family. It is the dynamic within this family which is so compelling, as the differences within the group truly shine, along with their differences from other groups. Despite individual differences, the X-Men act as a group that loves and accepts each other for who they are.

Astonishing

Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men captures all of these great aspects in a fun, modern approach to Marvel’s mutants. Anyone familiar with Whedon’s work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Firefly knows that he excels when it comes to strange, sci-fi concepts. Whedon is also an expert at writing group dynamics, giving unique and humorous voices to each character. This 24 issue run is also the perfect jumping-on point for new readers. Not only does this run modernize the X-Men, but it streamlines the roster to 6 central characters (along with one new recruit). This gives the reader a chance to get to know the X-Men individually. This run is also a modernized tribute to the “classic” years of the X-Men, when Chris Claremont defined the team. For those who do not have time to read that excellent 16 year run, however, Whedon’s run encapsulates the spirit of the Claremont years pefectly (although I cannot speak highly enough of Claremont’s work).

Pretty good read

On an individual level, each X-Man is provided with distinctly appealing traits. Cyclops, the X-Men’s leader, has truly come into his own in this run. He is more than just the obedient, bland, Boy Scout archetype which the movies label him. Whedon’s Cyclops is an experienced, visionary, strategic leader of the team, moving them forward into a new era. Cyclops steps out of Professor Xavier’s shadow to become a true leader of mutantkind. Beast, another founding X-Man, is the classic genius on the team. More than that, he is optimistic, charming, and sympathetic. Despite his rather beastly appearance, Hank McCoy still retains much of his humanity, endearing him to the reader.

Scott Summers, everyone

Of course, like in any X-Men team, Wolverine must be included, and he is a real treat. Used in sparing doses, Wolverine is a no-nonsense man of action, with some genuinely funny moments. As the story goes on, Logan is even shown to have some surprising moments of heart, mentoring young recruit Armor as a new X-Man. Classic X-Man Colossus returns as well, embodying the simplicity of a Russian farmboy who was plucked into the wild world of mutantkind. Colossus continues to be the endearing, loyal muscle of the group, signifying someone who has found family with the X-Men.

Classic fastball special

New characters such as Emma Frost are included as well. Frost, a reformed villain, is given a biting wit, showing a lingering flair of nastiness in her attitude. Although Frost is seemingly holding on to her villainous attitude, Whedon still gives small glimpses into her desire to be better. New recruit Armor stands in for the audience, struggling to navigate her way around the world of the X-Men. Despite her struggles, Armor is given heroic moments to shine, demonstrating the true power of becoming an X-Man. The real star of the show, however, is Kitty Pryde. An X-Man since she was 13, Pryde is all grown up in this run, and fully formed. Whedon nails the smart, witty, and tough-as-nails personality of Kitty Pryde, and the reader can tell how much he enjoys writing the character. Pryde is the glue that holds this whole run together, exemplifying the strength and compassion behind being an X-Man.

Bad-ass

It is the idea of what it means to be an X-Man which drives this whole run. From the beginning, Whedon speaks through Cyclops, clarifying that the X-Men are “a team. A superhero team”. This involves all of the bright, colorful, flashy costumes that come with the title. It is the colorful, heroic aspects of the X-Men which shine in this run, something the films are sorely lacking. For the first time in years, the X-Men return to these colorful costumes, re-establishing themselves as a force for good in the eyes of the public. The overarching theme of publicity calls back to the main idea of the X-Men: protecting a world that hates and fears them. Whedon has the X-Men brightly showing the world who they truly are, rather than the monsters which society sees them as.

Superheroes wear costumes

In the spirit of larger-than-life superheroics, the X-Men tackle some of their biggest threats yet. Ord, an alien from the planet Breakworld, comes to Earth, as a prime example of the very things from which the X-Men protect humanity. In one issue, the X-Men are even shown fighting the Mole Man and his monsters alongside the Fantastic Four. This small moment in the run reintegrates the X-Men as heroes within the larger Marvel Universe. On a more personal level, the X-Men must also contend with their own Danger Room turning against them. This threat illuminates the darker history of Professor Xavier, forcing the team to question the idealized notion of their founder. The Hellfire Club, a longstanding villainous organization, also make their move, attacking the X-Men psychologically. This attack allows Whedon to display each of the X-Men’s worst fears, giving a greater insight into each individual character (Wolverine’s fear is hilarious). The most serious threat, however, comes in the form of a mutant “cure” presented to the public. This stirs debate not only within society, but within the X-Men themselves. As a result, Whedon highlights the true struggles of being a mutant in society, seen as a disease to be cured. The X-Men, as a result, must rise above this label and show the world how mutants are no disease, but extraordinary forces for good.

There’s a guy you don’t wanna mess with…

Like any great team book, Astonishing X-Men has some phenomenal character interactions. Whedon presents classic relationships such as Cyclops and Wolverine’s rivalry/begrudging respect, Kitty and Colossus’ star-crossed romance, the surrogate father/daughter dynamic of Wolverine and Kitty Pryde, and Cyclops and Beast’s longtime friendship from the original X-Men. Additionally, Whedon creates new dynamics within the team, especially with the addition of Emma Frost and Armor. Cyclops and Emma are depicted as a mature couple who must also work together as co-headmasters of Xavier’s school, Kitty and Emma have a sharp, bitter antagonism from Emma’s villainous days, and Wolverine even gains a new role as a mentor for new recruit Armor. As stated before, Whedon is an expert at characterization and group dynamics, elements which are at the core of the X-Men’s appeal. The different personalities make for an exciting team which is already so different from most of society.

Ouch

John Cassaday’s artwork cannot go without praise. The vibrant, 3D imagery in each panel nearly pops off of the page. Cassaday is also given the hefty task of modernizing the classic X-Men costumes, which he accomplishes in great style. Each of the X-Men are given the heroic, colorful look befitting the themes of Whedon’s run. Cassaday also excels at fast-paced, cinematic action scenes, where the illustrations truly speak for themselves. Furthermore, the range of scenes from the horror-esque to the over-the-top sci-fi, truly demonstrate how varied Cassaday’s talent is.

Beautiful

Whedon and Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men is everything the X-Men should be. They stand as a group of extraordinary individuals, protecting a world that hates and fears them. The colorful costumes and bold heroics exemplify the true nature of the X-Men as a group who rises above how society would label them. Additionally, the X-Men are a family. Each member brings something different to the table, as each individual is unique. These distinct personalities exemplify a true family, not only alleviating the loneliness and isolation of the world at large, but coming together and becoming more than what you could on your own.

Again, astonishing

If you happen to enjoy Astonishing X-Men, here’s a few more X-recommendations:

  • The Dark Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont and John Byrne
  • Days of Future Past by Chris Claremont and John Byrne
  • X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont
  • Honestly, all of Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont
  • New X-Men by Grant Morrison
  • Wolverine and the X-Men by Jason Aaron

That’s all for this week! Thanks for reading! If you like this blog, be sure to share with your friends, and check back next week for the latest recommendation!