I’ve always been a team guy. Ever since my childhood love of the Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans, I’ve been drawn to superhero teams. But lately, my interests have become decidedly solitary. More and more, I’m following solo stars.
It’s not like I’ve been averse to solo heroes in the past. I’ve always had a solo star or two on my radar, whether it was Spider-Man in the ‘80s, Starman in the ‘90s or Captain America and Green Lantern in the ‘00s. Yet I’ve noticed that over the past couple of months, solo series have commanded a bigger and bigger place on my pull list
It all started with Daredevil. I actually ignored the latest Daredevil series when it started. It debuted at the same time as DC’s New 52 and that took most of my attention at the time. Plus, I’d never collected Daredevil before. Oh, I owned a few scattered issues- mostly when ol’ Hornhead played host to one of my favorite teams like the New Mutants or Avengers- but I’d never been much of a Daredevil fan. Even a great creative team of Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin couldn’t convince me to buy the newest number one.
Then I started to hear the whispers. “This new Daredevil is really good.” Then the buzz started to build. “This is Mark Waid’s best work since Fantastic Four.” Then I’d see the interesting covers on the wall month after month. I finally broke down and bought Daredevil 9- where Daredevil appears to be rowing across the river Styx. I loved it. I absolutely loved it. I made the rounds of every comic book store in town and managed to pick up the first 8 issues before the week was out. I haven’t missed an issue since.
I admire the art. Artists Rivera, Martin and Samnee have come up with inventive ways to visualize Daredevil’s powers. They share a minimalist style that has made Daredevil one of the most distinctive-looking books on the stand. And, oh yes, this is some of Mark Waid’s best work in years. He’s drawn from classic literature and mythology to give an incredible richness to Daredevil’s adventures. He’s given Matt Murdoch a surprising sense of humor, while also creating real tensions between Matt and his friends. And he’s written some of the most intriguing fight scenes in comics. Today’s Daredevil is truly great.
In a way, Winter Soldier came next. James “Bucky” Barnes had been the star of Captain America for several years. Then, with Steve Rogers’ return, Bucky reverted to co-star status. But last year, Bucky finally got a solo series of his own. I had been a big fan of Bucky’s tenure as Captain America and was happy to follow him into his own title.
It’s almost hard to call it a superhero series, though. It’s more of a spy comic. It’s full of intrigue, double-crosses and personal vendettas. It also co-stars the Black Widow- though she’s spent most of the last arc as a brainwashed foe for the Winter Soldier.
This past summer, Marvel launched a couple more solo series. Gambit, the long-time X-Man, was given a solo series by James Asmus and Clay Mann. Hawkeye, the long-time Avenger, was given a solo series by the former Immortal Iron Fist creative team of Matt Fraction and David Aja. That was a wonderful series (though I collected it in trade after it was finished) and I had high hopes for the new Hawkeye. I wasn’t disappointed. Hawkeye has been fast-paced, energetic and surprisingly fun. His sometime sidekick Kate Bishop has been a welcome foil- especially in the way she takes the whole superhero thing more seriously than Clint.
My enthusiasm for Gambit was a little more tempered going in. This would be Asmus’ first new series as a writer and I didn’t know what to expect. I have been pleasantly and suitably impressed. Asmus apparently understands that Gambit is a noble rogue- in the grand tradition of Robin Hood and Han Solo. Yes, he’s a thief and a scoundrel but he’s not as selfish as he pretends- kind of like a smuggler who joined the Rebel Alliance for the cash. Asmus has Gambit walking a wonderful tightrope- stealing from the unjust rich while occasionally running afoul of the villains who hire him.
Most recently, I’ve been able to add Thor to my stable of interesting solo stars. I’ve followed Thor on and off over the years. I have a special fondness for the Walt Simonson years (the Thor of my youth) and the Dan Jurgens series (with John Romita Jr. and then Andy Kubert on art). But Jason Aaron is doing something completely different.
Jason Aaron’s Thor takes place in three different time periods. The first is about 1500 years ago. Thor is a young, brash hero in a world that is still mysterious and unconnected when he discovers that someone is killing off the gods of other pantheons on Earth. The second period is now. Thor is the experienced, confident Avenger but he’s experiencing an unwelcome sense of déjà vu as he discovers that someone is killing off the gods of other worlds. The third era is in the far-off future. Thor is the only one left. He’s old and lonely and the god-killer has finally come for him. The movement between the three time periods has been fascinating. I have no idea how any of the stories will be resolved. Well played, Mr. Aaron.
The one connection between these series- other than that they follow solo stars- is that they mostly eschew the usual glitz of superhero comics. Winter Soldier is a spy story. Gambit is a heist book. Thor is a cosmic fantasy epic. Hawkeye is more like a Western gunslinger than a superhero (Clint rarely appears in costume as these are his adventures when he’s not being an Avenger). Surprisingly, Daredevil has the most superhero feel of these books, complete with an ongoing subplot concerning his secret identity. I typically don’t mind superhero tropes (there’s a reason I’ve collected comics this long) yet by skipping out on the capes and costumes, these solo stars have carved out their own unique niches.
For the first time in my long history of collecting comics, my preference for team comics has been eclipsed by my interest in strong solo series.