This week, a well handled issue that treads on a familiar ground but avoids most of the pitfalls, a shout out to one of the best current series, and a retrospective on one of my top five all time favorite series!
Ultimate Spider-Man #23
First, I love the cover. It’s an homage to a classic Spider-Man page, and is well suited to the issue content.
Last issue, our Ultimate Spider-Man, Miles Morales, suffered a horrible tragedy. I’ve read some valid criticism on why can’t any super-heroes do their thing without losing a parent or loved one, and it is a cliché, but it’s done. What’s left is, how does our hero deal with it?
And in this case – reasonably poorly. Miles puts the suit away and goes back to his normal life, despite his best friend and S.H.I.E.L.D. encouraging him otherwise. He’s got a girlfriend now, he’s helping his dad out, and generally being greatly responsible in a small way. I really like it that he didn’t just shake it off, and a year in the life of a kid is a long time.
Also really nice is that the art reflects that year. Miles has grown a lot, having that year where he goes from mostly kid to mostly teen, gaining height and a stronger frame. He also is a lot more comfortable with his Spider powers, even as he’s not using them so actively.
Of course he’s going to get sucked back in – we can’t sell Ultimate High School Boy comics, after all. But it was a nice breather that showed a lot of character, and sets up Chapter 2 of Miles life, whatever that will be.
I haven’t brought up Fables before, but it’s been the crown jewel of DC’s adults-oriented Vertigo line for quite some time. Not many series have had a single writer at the helm for 129 issues, and despite the original epic storyline being long over, it’s still a compelling, fresh read.
This is the title that a lot of comics people were talking about when Once Upon a Time and Grimm were first announced. It has more in common with the former, but it’s its own thing, and IMO better than either of the Fairy Tales Meet the Real World tv shows. The fairy tale characters, who call themselves ‘Fables’, are completely aware of who they are, and are more powerful than the mundanes, particularly the more beloved ones like Snow White, The Big Bad Wolf, Cinderella, Prince Charming, Aladdin, Dorothy Gale, and many other public domain works.
This particular issue isn’t the best jumping on point – either go back to #1 (recommended! It starts plenty strong) or, for this arc, it starts at #125 and concludes here. This is a Snow White story, and as one of the primary Fables, she’s a strong, independent woman. (Despite a lot of fairy tales having some huge gender problems due to the times they were written, Bill Willingham brings a decidedly feminist viewpoint to the work, which I appreciate.) But she’s got a past, and one more element catches up to her.
Or check out #130 next month, which should be the start of something new! This title is on the short list for long-running, never disappointing, and anyone who likes Grimm or Once Upon a Time, this is right up your alley.
This is not related to the 80s movie of a similar name. Instead, this comic is about the superhero Starman, aka Jack Knight, inheritor of a legacy going back to the golden age of DC Comics. It’s also one of the best mainstream comics ever printed, and a highlight of the late 90s, post-crash era. DC published a fair number of ‘experimental’ super-hero comics around this time, and most of them have faded into obscurity, but Starman is deservedly the breakout hit.
Jack is not a typical superhero. His father was the original Starman, member of the Justice Society of America (long before Superman and Batman were doing their thing.) His older brother, David, is set to take on the mantle, leaving Jack to do what he loves, which is collect kitsch. He runs an antique shop, and loves pop culture. If it were set now, he’d be hipster material, but he really was a hipster before it was cool.
And then David gets killed, and Jack gets thrust into the world of Super-Heroes and Big Villains and the rich tapestry of Opal City. The key thing is, Jack may be counterculture, but he’s not disaffected at all. He loves his quirky stuff, he loves his city, and he loves his family. This is what drives him. And what makes it work.
This is a comic where the villains may have running banter on what’s the best Steven Sondheim musical (which, obviously is Sunday in the Park). You’ll meet an Irish cop family who’ve been in the city for generations, with occasional tales from the past that involve them. (These are usually great issues!) There’s a prominent gay supporting character years before this was common, loves and villains (sometimes one and the same), and a sense of history about it. And above all, the best supporting character is the Shade, a B-Villain that James Robinson totally reinvents for the series. A victorian era villain with immortality and darkness powers, the Shade considers Opal City his home, and keeps his business affairs elsewhere. He’s exquisitely written, and proves to be an unlikely ally on many occasions.
If you’re ever wondering if superhero comics can ever rise above their genre, this is Exhibit A. It’s a masterpiece, and available in a collected omnibus or digitally on comixology. Issue #0 (which is the first issue, it debuted during DC’s stunt zero-issue month) is only 99 cents, give it a try!