Ode To Mattel's 6" Total Heroes

Mattel 6 Inch Hal Jordan

As a parent, toy collecting is bittersweet. The detailed, grown-up toys geared toward collectors look fantastic, but you live your life in constant fear that your kid will ever somehow touch them and they'll immediately shatter.

It's also tiring to repeatedly account for the pointlessness of owning toys you can't play with to children, in whom such a concept seems to introduce a kind of existential despair.

Enter Mattel's DC Total Heroes line, which are inexpensive and as tough as barn nails. I finally have a Hal Jordan that I can play with and include my kids. Even my 18-month-old can play with it, and she's an actual monster awaiting trial for war crimes against toys.

It can be a little difficult to track down any women. It's fairly difficult to find a Wonder Woman. This situation makes it kind of annoying to play with my 3 girls.

Marvel's figures seem to dominate just about every toy aisle, with a great variety and generally better selection across age ranges, so it was nice for me to be able to find these charming-looking, durable toys to play out Brightest Day with my nerdlets.

Curated Comics Lists

One of the most consistent challenges facing newcomers to comics is the very frustrating way the books are organized.

There are so many comics, and that's awesome, but it's a real challenge to wade through. It's especially hard if you don't know what you don't know.

ComicBrain is specifically designed to organize comics and help you find them. To that end, I'm introducing new weekly curated lists.

Top Picks

This list contains the hottest comics coming out this week. It's for titles in a series that has received critical acclaim, or from beloved creators. (It also contains releases I'm highly anticipating regardless of their reviews or buzz)

If you're an existing fan, it's a great list to scan before you head out to the shop to check if you're missing anything you've been waiting for.

Inclusive Comics

The comic book publishers are as a whole moving toward greater diversity. It's a (sometimes over) active topic of conversation, but it's undeniable that progress has been made.

Today, comic books are more race, gender, and LGBT inclusive than ever, and we're still making progress. This list is a hand-picked selection of issues that, while not perfect, is at least more likely to help you see that comics aren't just muscular hyper-masculine white guys anymore. (but there are plenty of muscular hyper-masculine white guys if that's your thing)

Great Places to Start

The starters list is a collection of comics and graphic novels that are a good place to jump on.

These comics are either the beginning of a new story arc, the first issue in a series, or the first collected volume in a series.

If you're looking to start reading something new (or if you're new to comics in general), this is a great list of titles dropping this week that you might want to get your hands on.

Buying Printed Comics Online

In mainstream comics purchasing, there are two popular choices. You either visit a comic shop and pick up a real printed book, or you purchase digitally and read on a tablet.

There’s a third option that doesn’t get enough attention: you can order printed comics online and have them delivered to your door.

Digital comics are great. They’ve got a lot of people back into comics. In fact, I do the bulk of my reading digitally. But for special titles, I like to treat myself to a physical copy of the book that smells like real paper and ink.

Comic shops are great, but not everyone lives near a shop, or maybe your local shop doesn’t quite have the variety you look for. Maybe you like to shop for comics at your own pace, without having to put shoes on.

The comic shop experience can be a little intimidating to new fans. They aren’t designed for the casual shopper. From the outside, it’s easy to see it as a kind of nerd fortress, with its own terms and rituals that are unwelcoming to newcomers.

For these people, the online comic book shop was invented. At awesome shops like Things From Another World, you can browse comics, graphic novels, and toys at your own pace. You pick what you want, and they’ll lovingly package it up and send it to your door.

They’ve even got a huge selection of variant covers (many more than I’ve seen in any local shop), and you can pay a small fee to have your comics put in protective bags with supportive backs for long-term storage!

It’s much more welcoming to the casual comic fan than the traditional approaches. I find that by blending digital purchases and physical online orders, I’ve got at a best-of-both-worlds solution.

Give Licensed Comics a Try

Licensed comics are the continuation of your favorite characters and stories in comic book form. For fans, they’re an excellent way to keep a universe alive that might not have the budget or popularity to make it as a modern television series or movie.

It’s a great way to follow along with new adventures from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, X-Files, Transformers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hellraiser, and many others.

However, since licensed titles are a little under-appreciated on the mainstream review sites, they can go unnoticed even to big fans of the original creations.

For instance, Buffy fans are a notoriously dedicated bunch, but I frequently meet fans who don’t know that Dark Horse has been publishing very high quality Buffy comics with the involvement of Mr Whedon himself.

Speaking of rabid fans, the X-Files Season 10 series from IDW (impressively written by Joe Harris) is another example of a licensed comic with broad appeal that I know many fans are aware of.

John Carpenter worked with Boom! Studios for an amazing 12 issue run of Big Trouble in Little China.

IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series is another great example of a beloved characters continuing on today in licensed form.

I think the mainstream comic fan inattention to licensed titles has to do with their nature. The audience is (or is assumed to be) sort of baked in. If you are an X-Files fan, you will enjoy the X-Files comic, so I don’t think the review sites spend as much time discussing them.

However, the power of these titles is that the market for these books expands beyond people who are current comic book fans, and actually includes groups who might currently not even read them. Comics are just not on their radar. These titles might get a new fan into a shop or shopping online for comics that would otherwise never engage the market.

But first, they have to know the comics exist.

Few things would stop a Buffy, Star Trek, or X-Files fan from following continued stories of their favorite characters, but not knowing that the stories are out there waiting for them is a non-starter.

We’ve got to do a better job of evangelizing these books outside our online comics echo chamber. If you know a fan, let them know their stories are alive and waiting for them.

If you are a fan, check out the licensed titles from Dark Horse, IDW, and Boom! to see if maybe you’ve missed something great.

Getting Started Reading Comics

Reading comic books is a very rewarding hobby, but it’s also a little intimidating to get started. There are so many of them (with more coming every week) that picking a point and saying “start here” becomes a pretty daunting task.

Hopefully this handy guide helps you get started!

The Basics

New comics are released every Wednesday. This is referred to as National Comic Book Day (#NCBD)

The single issues released weekly are usually numbered. Don’t let this number freak you out, though. Comics Publishers are constantly hungry for new readership, so issue 200 might just be a great jumping-on point.

They’re usually released in print, which means you get a physical copy of the comic, and digital, which means you can read it on a tablet, phone, or computer. The choice of which to buy really is just a question of what fits your life better, there’s nothing inherently better about either one.

Personally, I like to purchase most everything digital, and then I order print copies of the comics that I’m really looking forward to.

Creative Teams

Comics are made by a team of people. Really cool, talented people. They work together to write, draw, ink, color, and letter the final product. All of them are really important to the polish of the resulting book you get to hold in your hands.

One of the reasons I built ComicBrain was so that I could easily view comics organized by the artistic talent, because that’s a much more reliable way to find great comics than shopping by publisher. I don’t recommend any creators in this guide, because it’s a pretty personal decision, and I’d hate to direct anyone to a creator that wasn’t to their taste.


A comic book story is usually arranged into a 3-4 issue arc. You can look for “new arc!” on the cover to indicate that an issue kicks off the beginning of a new story.


In addition to single issues, publishers produce trade paperbacks that collect back issues. These are usually organized into volumes.

The issues in a trade paperback often comprise a self-contained arc, and there are comic book fans who pretty much only read trades. This is a perfectly acceptable way to read comics, provided you’re willing to lag behind in the story. The release of the trades is usually months behind the release of the single issues.

Trades are less expensive and have a tougher binding, so if you’re trying to catch up on a series, don’t buy individual issues. Instead, pick up the trades and save yourself some cash.


The publisher of a comic book tells you a lot about the type book it is. Typically, they own the rights to the characters published in their work.

Increasingly, though, the creators themselves own the rights to the works produced in the comics. In this instance, the comic is said to be creator-owned. Most notably, works produced by Image Comics are creator owned.


The superhero publishers publish a lot of comics that are all more or less in the same “universe”. This means that, in general, the stuff that Superman does happens in the same world that the stuff that Batman does. Batman and Superman can go and talk to one another, because they are in the same universe.

DC is the home of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, and a ton of others. They publish ongoing weekly series featuring all of these heroes, plus a ton of others and crossovers.

Marvel is where you’ll find the other side of the American pantheon. Hulk, Iron Man, X-Men, Captain America, Wolverine, etc.

Hulk can’t really talk to Batman, because they are in different universes.

There is also the really impressive Valiant universe. It’s a newer superhero universe that was rebooted a few years ago. It’s still approachable to read every comic in the Valiant universe

There are some titles (like Harley Quinn at DC) that are specifically designed to cater to new readers, but the best approach here for any title is just to dig in. If you like Batman (and who doesn’t?), just start reading Batman.

Publishers really, really want you to start reading their comics. They do not want to intimidate you with a ton of backstory or references to older arcs. If there is a reference you don’t catch, it’s probably not important to the story. If it really bothers you, there is probably an older trade paperback still being published that contains the story in question.


Image Comics is the 800 lb. gorilla of creator-owned comics. They’re the publisher of The Walking Dead, Spawn, and a lot of other titles, all the property of their creators.

These comics tend to touch on stories, social issues, and concepts that DC or Marvel might consider too risky or niche.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, publishing content that the big publishers won’t publish has made Image into a big publisher.

If you’re looking for something outside conventional superhero comics, there is a very high chance that Image publishes what you’re looking for.

Dark Horse

Dark Horse publishes a mixture of creator-owned and licensed comics. A licensed comic means that the characters are licensed from another property. For instance, Buffy The Vampire Slayer is a licensed comic published by Dark Horse.

Their creator-owned work tends to feature darker, adult-themed stories. They are also the publisher of Mike Mignola’s amazing Hellboy comics and universe.

Boom! Studios

Boom! also publishes a mix of original and licensed titles.

Notably, Boom! is associated with licensed works from Clive Barker and John Carpenter, so you can follow along continued stories in the Hellraiser, Escape from New York, and Nightbreed universes.


IDW is the licensed comic powerhouse. Their titles include Star Trek, X-Files, Millennium, Planet of the Apes, Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and G.I. Joe.

These are polished ongoing stories from beloved properties, often with input or even participation from the original creators. If you are a fan of these titles, you owe it to yourself to check out the licensed titles from IDW.

Jump In

More important than any tip, the best advice I can give is to dive in. Find something that catches your eye, and read it! Publishers are extremely hungry for new readers, and they’re trying every new type of story they can think of to bring you in. The comic book world is not a closed community of nerds, it’s an open community of nerds! Everyone is welcome, and we can’t wait to hear what you have to say about it.

Also, check out this list of great beginner comics shipping this week to get you started.

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