All April long, we'll be highlighting the wonderful world of comics, from interviews with creators and a look at the way the industry works to deep dives with our favorite characters, storylines and controversies. Stay tuned for more throughout the month, and let us know what you think in the comments or on Twitter @blastr!
In a hurry and need a lift? Comic books have always provided inspired solutions to common problems.
Perhaps the most entertaining aspect of superhero stories is seeing those larger-than-life figures struggling with the same menial tasks as us puny humans, then, in an act of pure wish fulfillment, overcoming these obstacles in impossible or laughable ways. One particular obsession in comics is getting places fast. Some lucky characters can simply soar to their immediate destinations on their own, and there are a thousand tricked-out automobiles famous for just this sort of super-swift travel.
So, for those poor souls without their own wings or wheels, who must rely on less traditional forms of mobility, here's a collection of 18 distinctive modes of transportation to get hard-working superheroes from point to point. From Mera's Dolphin Chariot and Johnny Blaze's Hell Cycle to Saga's Treehouse Rocketship and Moon Knight's Mooncopter, climb aboard these awesome rides and never worry about getting stuck behind a school bus.
When Barbara Gordon was introduced to fans of the Batman TV series in 1967, she tore straight through the opening theme atop her memorable mecha-steed. Batgirl was meant as a hipper, sassier counterpart to Adam West's straight-laced Bruce Wayne, and the custom Yamaha bike, bright purple and decked out in batwings, reflected that. When Barbara made the jump to comics in Detective Comics #359 that same year, she brought her wheels along for the ride, and during her entire career as Batgirl, that cycle remained a crucial part of her youthful, daredevil image. More nimble than the Batmobile, this sweet bike will beat that Gotham City traffic in style.
The Green Goblin roared into his first battle with Spider-Man in 1964 riding a rocket-powered broomstick to match his monstrous mask and jack-o-lantern bombs, but by his second appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man #17, he ditched the witch shtick for a more intimidating, and frankly much cooler, bat-shaped glider. It has since become not just the Goblin's most recognizable tool, but a notable fixture of the Marvel Universe, itself, having been adopted by every incarnation of Green Goblin and Hobgoblin. Even Frank Castle, the Punisher, once confiscated this handy device, and after welding a giant skull onto the front, used it to take his war on crime from the streets to the skies.
Named for Merlin's Owl from Disney's The Sword in the Stone, Nite Owl's amphibious airship appears in the second issue of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' 1986 masterpiece, Watchmen, but we don't witness its full potential for all terrain transportation until its iconic rise from beneath the bay in Issue 10. It's a scene taken full advantage of by the marketing team for the Watchmen movie, as the bulbous ship emerges perfectly in synch with the music just as we're being plunged into the film's fantastic world. Throughout the story of Watchmen, we're given only glimpses of what Archimedes, or Archie for short, is truly capable of. Ideal for suppressing mass riots or staging daring prison breaks, it's also equipped with a killer flame thrower. But it's the fully-stocked kitchen and giant, fish-bowl windows that make Archie the chosen spot for Nite Owl and Silk Spectre to consummate their costumed team-up.
DC Comics: Bombshells is a digital first series inspired by the company's popular line of pin-up statues. The book tracks an alternate history of World War II in which the DC heroines exist without being derivative of their male counterparts. To clarify, Batwoman exists instead of Batman, not because of him. This gives series writer Marguerite Bennett an opportunity to subtly redesign characters and concepts throughout the story. Where, traditionally, you would see Aquaman charge into battle aboard a shark or a giant seahorse, this world gives us Mera, second born princess of Atlantis, and her decidedly more regal mammalian shuttle. Mera arrives at the top of the fourth chapter of the online series (second print issue), aboard a chariot led by two rows of armored dolphins. Wonder Woman, who rides a giant eagle into battle against German warplanes in her introduction, uses Mera's getaway sleigh to spring Steve Trevor from imprisonment on Themyscira and charge directly into battle against the Axis forces, at which point, Mera surrounds Gren, Lund, and the rest of her dolphins in floating bubbles of water so that they can proceed to be uncompromisingly adorable amidst the horrors of war.
The first time we see subspace, 40 pages into the first volume in the six-book Scott Pilgrim series, we're not aware of what we're seeing. It's just Scott's weird dreams that always seem to involve the roller skating delivery girl Ramona Flowers. During their first actual conversation, Ramona starts to drop hints that something more is going on. Throughout the series, we learn a lot, but never everything, about subspace. What we do know is that special doors marked with a star all lead to each other by allowing you to travel through the mindscape. Subspace travel is dangerous, as the mind is a delicate and vulnerable place, but if you can master it you'll be able to store all your stuff in a tiny bag, come face to face with your subconscious, and, of course, get from A to B in no time.
The Ultima Thule is Grant Morrison's self-referential meta-fiction at its absolute strangest and most rewarding. Initially appearing in Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #1, a side story in Morrison's 2008 multi-epic finale, this inter-dimensional ship is named after a medieval term meaning "borders of the known world," and modeled after the title submersible from the Beatles' animated movie, Yellow Submarine. The vehicle's origin at the hands of the Moniters only begins its complex and difficult-to-follow history, but whether you understand it or not, it's totally worth it when you see a version of Superman based on Barack Obama drive a ship made of frozen music by plucking its strings and vibrating into another reality.
First appearing in Avengers #48, Aragorn was born a regular horse and named after the character from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings before being genetically altered to have wings by Dr. Dane Whitman, the second character to take on the mantle of The Black Knight. Before traveling to the twelfth century, Whitman asked Brunnhilde to look after Aragorn. This is one of those convoluted comic book origins for which makes more sense to leave it unspoken. For instance, if you were to pick up a random comic with Valkyrie in it and you had no prior knowledge of her or the Black Knight, you'd probably just assume Asgardians sometimes ride Pegai. Nope, you'd be wrong. Well, you'd be right that the plural of Pegasus is Pegasi, but as for the presumed origins of Aragorn, the far more complicated truth involves genetic engineering, fantasy book fandom, and time travel. Flying horses are awesome, and this one has been to every corner of the Marvel Universe, has an eighteen foot wingspan, and can support the weight of any musclebound, armor-clad goddess.
This Avengers and SHIELD flagship is a perfect example of a purely comic-book invention. Originally conceived by brilliant futurist and king of comics Jack Kirby as the headquarters of Nick Fury in 1965's Strange Tales #135, it was the predecessor of a suspiciously similar airborne aircraft carrier that would appear two short years later in the late-'60s TV series Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. Since then, the Kirby creation has been co-opted by countless works of sci-fi, including memorable moments in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Doctor Who. Part fascist dream, part World's Fair wonderment, the helicarrier is like a brainchild of writer Tom Clancy and cartoonist Bruce McCall. It's a shockingly charming manifestation of military overspending and it comes with the added bonus of bringing skydiving into your daily commute.
Artist Mike Ploog lit readers' minds on fire in 1972 when he did the same to a skull-headed Evel Knievel analog in his illustrations for Marvel Spotlight #5, the first appearance of Gary Friedrich's ghastly creation, Ghost Rider. In the four decades since Johnny Blaze fired up the original Hell Cycle, at least three other riders have ravaged the road in their own versions of this asphalt-tearing, wall-scaling stunt bike from Satan. This flame-spouting mount is not limited to the aesthetic of a Judas Priest album cover; in fact, it doesn't even necessarily have to be a bike. In 2014, writer Felipe Smith gave us a new Ghost Rider, Robbie Reyes, who rode a menacing all black muscle car with the approximate appearance of a Dodge Charger. Two years prior, in the movie Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Nic Cage as Johnny Blaze takes control of a mechanical crane, immediately imbuing it with hellish flair. Not to be outdone, Smith returned in 2015 with Ghost Racers. The series saw dozens of Ghost Riders forced into a Death Race 2000-esque match up which included a flaming T-Rex skeleton standing on a fighter jet.
For a large part of DC Comics' history, war comics were staples of the spin rack. One of the wildest ideas to come out of these combat books was The Haunted Tank. Now, that title is a bit of deception, because the tank, itself, is never truly haunted. In fact, there are three tanks used throughout the run of the original story, which started in G.I. Combat #87 and ran for 26 years. It's Lieutenant Jeb Stuart, who commands the tank, that is truly haunted. The spirit of Alexander the Great charges Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart, for whom Jeb is named, to watch over the lieutenant and his men. After decorating the original tank with a Confederate flag, the crew earns the respect of General Stuart, whom only Jeb can see or hear. At first, his men all think he's insane, but they eventually see that, no matter what over-the-top scraps they get into, the General's ghost basically makes them indestructible. So, with the confidence that only comic commandos can claim, they take a Dukes of Hazzard style leap into an ongoing battle against Nazis, demons, and Nazi demons.
When I was in the third grade, I picked up Jules Verne's classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea at the annual book fair. Six film adaptations and one loosely-inspired anime series tried hard to articulate what Verne had planted in my mind's eye, but none of them got nearly as close as Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's 1999 love letter to Victorian lit, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The Nautilus is similar in many regards to the helicarrier but, rather than ruling the sky, it's built to explore the unclaimed depths below. And O'Neill's take on the design (infinitely superior to the film adaptation's attempt at an undersea Titanic) finally delivered on the two-word promise that inspired my younger self to pick up the novel in the first place: "Sea monster."
Moon Knight's crescent-shaped helicopter/jet hybrid appeared alongside the character in his first solo outing, Moon Knight #1, November 1980, five years after the character premiered in an issue of Werewolf by Night. The Moon Knight series has relaunched at #1 seven more times since then, including the release of Jeff Lemire and Greg Smallwood's new series just this month, and each run has wildly reinvented the character, with the Mooncopter going through just as many permutations as its pilot. Originally, it was a crescent on the edge of a circular set of helicopter blades, creating a pretty convincing illusion, at least when it wasn't being flown in broad daylight. More recent versions of the vehicle have appeared more jet-like, with a cockpit protruding from the center. And before you say, "that's no moon," consider this: Moon Knight is often described as Marvel's Batman, what with his billionaire background and Moonerangs.
Another Marvel contribution by King Kirby, this character and his ride-a-long buddy Moon-Boy made their first appearances during Jack's late-'70s return to the publisher in Devil Dinosaur #1. The giant red Tyrannosaurus with eyes that burn with actual flames makes Devil Dinosaur terrifying to the ape-like population of Dinosaur World. Ironically, with all the warring tribes, labyrinthine jungles, and ferocious predators, Devil Dinosaur's back is probably the safest place to be. And he's proven just as effective for stomping through the streets of New York, as evidenced when he was accidentally summoned by Howard the Duck, resulting in a blisteringly awesome firefight with Ghost Rider, or in the newest iteration of the character, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, in which he and his newest back-straddling ally smash through schools, museums, and a bunch of other places that are visually satisfying to see get wrecked by a dinosaur.
Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples' Saga has one of the all-time greatest opening scenes in comics. "This is how an idea becomes real." These are the first words we see. They are spoken by our narrator, Hazel, as she is born. New parents Alana and Marko are immediately set upon by alien forces from either side of a war they've both abandoned. After surviving the wholesale slaughter by pure dumb luck, they are given a map to the fabled Rocketship Forest, where they find one last tree, ready for ignition. We soon learn that you don't really steer one of these rockets so much as you merely give it suggestions as to where it might lay down its roots. This treehouse naturally grows its own beds, washing facilities and kitchen. Personally, I'm a big fan of moss, so I'm all over it.
Fables imagines a war waged across the many worlds of fairy tales and other literary standards, forcing the public domain protagonists of the story into our world. Virtually immortal refugees in colonial America, they fortify their stronghold until they are ready to take the fight to their former conquerors by means both modern and magical. After Cinderella forges a political alliance with the giants of the cloud kingdom in issues 50 and 51, the soldiers of Fabletown are able to grow magic beanstalks overnight, and from the clouds above, drop down into any of the innumerable worlds below. Not only does this provide an enormous strategic advantage, it also essentially erases the borders between us and any fictional realm you can imagine.
Public Relations was one of the boldest new titles when it launched last year from publisher Devils Due/1First Comics. The series follows main character Dan Clover, employee at a public relations company, as he sets out on a quest to meet his estranged father, King of Sardonia, the world's poorest and least educated nation, but also the only country with magic. It's Sex Criminals meets Harry Potter when Dan finds himself part of a much larger world than he ever thought possible. In this nation of mediocrity, Dan finally rises to the occasion and starts his own PR firm! It's a short lived victory as the narcoleptic pilot crashes the Dragon Plane into neighboring Calumnia, where the stoned king has sworn death to Sardonians. So, Dan rides on a commercial dragon flight! The series is full of pop culture mash-ups and magical MacGuffins to complement its soaring dragon with coach seating.
Spider-Man famously arrived in 1962's Amazing Fantasy #15, bringing all his spectacularly unique abilities along with him. It'd be cool to have Peter Parker's agility and the effect I look forward to the most in the movies, the thing I feel myself doing when I go on carnival rides, is swinging from web. And unlike all of your friendly neighborhood hero's biological endowments, I actually could wear a pair of Pete's web shooters...if they existed. They're so cool, in fact, that, though they may be limited to fiction, they're no longer limited to Peter Parker. Kaine Parker, Miles Morales, Gwen Stacy and Cindy Moon have all followed in the original Spider-Man's footsteps by making their chosen method of transportation every building, bridge, and borough in New York City.
If stealth and speed are your primary concerns, then you can't beat a classic. Wonder Woman's invisible jet premiered in Sensation Comics #1, while character creator William Moulton Marston was still writing Princess Diana's adventures, which meant heavy feminist connotations. The invisibility represents how women were able to silently enter the workforce during the Depression and WWII, and it being an airplane is in reference to the types of mechanical and industrial labor roles women needed to assume to keep the war effort going. It also underlies Wonder Woman's nature as a figurehead promoting peace while prepared for war. It can travel at supersonic speeds without making a sound and its most useful function is the ability to park wherever you feel like.