Batman, Superman, and the X-Men

Mutants and Mongul

The first week of March, 2014, saw the release of several books from the Batman, Superman, and X-Men family of comics titles, some of the most successful lines published by DC and Marvel. All three of these families have quite a few issues published every month, sometimes as many as two dozen! When a company like DC or Marvel is putting out so many stories starring the same characters by different writers and artists, it can be difficult to determine exactly which issues stand out in terms of quality. This week, though, some of the best examples of Batman, Superman, and X-Men comics include the following books:

Batman-Superman Annual no. 1

World's Finest Against Mongul

This special issue of Batman-Superman is a follow-up to the story in issues no. 5-7 of the current volume, wherein Batman and Superman fought and defeated the invading warlord Mongul. The outcome of that battle is the current incarceration of Mongul in the Phantom Zone at the beginning of this annual. The issue jumps right into deep issues, since Batman calls into question the ethics of imprisoning anyone, even a terroristic space monster, without a trial. But the point becomes moot when Mongul's own son, Jochi, arrives on planet Earth, ready to battle the warriors who stopped his father.

However, Jochi does not intend to just battle Batman and Superman. He also demands that our two heroes involve representatives from the Bat-family and Super-clan (for lack of better names). Superman quite sensibly brings Supergirl and Steel, and Batman invites the Red Hood and Batgirl, and soon the six heroes travel to Jochi's floating orbital station, also known as Warworld. From there, things get violent.

Of course, a lot of the violence is a good excuse for artist Kenneth Rocafort to draw a succession of detailed, gnarly alien creatures inhabiting a futuristic space station, and that is never a bad thing. Rocafort shares artistic duties on this issue with Jae Lee, who lends his brush to the beginning of the book, and Philip Tan, who draws the final chapter in the book. Structurally, Batman-Superman Annual no. 1 is split into three acts, and the choice of artists in each act is good. However, if only one artist was able to do it, our preference would be for Rocafort.

This annual also follows in the tradition of such classics as Superman Annual no. 11, which featured another intense tale of Mongul's manipulation of The Last Son of Krypton and The Dark Knight. It remains to be seen whether Batman-Superman Annual no. 1 will be remembered as a classic in the same vein years later, but for right now, it is a superb done-in-one adventure featuring a large cast of Batman and Superman supporting characters. Also, check out the following video review of the issue for a closer look at the plot, as well as some previews of the art on display in this annual.

Adventures of Superman Issue No. 45

A Digital Release

Adventures of Superman is currently published as a digital-first title, which means there is currently no print version. If you want to read it, you'll need to buy the digital version from a site like Comixology. On the plus side, digital-first titles are optimized to be read on a typical monitor with the 16:9 aspect ratio, so you see the entire page without having to scroll up and down. It's a little bit like a regular comic book turned 90 degrees.

This issue specifically is the third part of a three-part tale. Luckily, another advantage of digital-first titles versus print titles is that digital comics never go out of print. It is just as easy today to buy all three issues of this story as it would be on the day they came out. These are cheaper than print comics, too, so all three issues cost less than three bucks, total.

Anyway, in issue no. 45, Superman is up against some aliens (noticing a pattern this week?), but he has some help in fighting them, in the form of a Kryptonian robot that looks a lot like the Iron Giant. This is a simple well-told story from writer Ron Marz, who uses the classic versions of Superman, Jimmy Olsen, and Lois Lane to good effect.

This issue features art by Evan "Doc" Shaner, who uses very clean linework for a style that is almost nostalgically reminiscent of work you might associate with 1950s sci-fi adventures. It complements the story well, and the whole package should be especially appealing for younger readers who want a good, understandable Superman comic.

Uncanny X-Men Issue No. 18

Cyclops in Danger

Turning our attentions over to Marvel, let's look at the latest issue of Uncanny X-men, issue no. 18. This issue continues the adventures of fugitive Cyclops and his misfit band of not-so-merry mutants. This crew of X-Men returns from a demoralizing mission to their secret base, only to discover that half their members are missing.

The audiences knows where they are, of course. Those X-Men are up in space, hanging out with the Guardians of the Galaxy. But Cyclops and his team are confused by their disappearance.

Readers may also suffer from a bit of confusion in reading this issue, too, as the narrative unfolds in a much more impressionistic style than your typical issue of Uncanny X-Men. This is in large part due to the layout choices made by artist Marco Rudy, who incorporates a lot of design elements and elaborate rendering to craft beautiful pages of comic art that leave the reader feeling disoriented, perhaps echoing the situation felt by the characters themselves. Rudy also reuses famous panels by artists like Olivier Coipel and Paul Smith for flashbacks in the issue, and although the differences between these panels and Rudy's own work is stark, it makes for an interesting counterbalance of compositional elements. So while this might not be your typical issues of Uncanny X-Men, it is so well-drawn that you definitely do not want to miss out on it!