Reviews for 12-1-14

TRANSMETROPOLITAN #49 (DC, 2001) – B-. I read the first trade paperback of Transmet long ago, but never returned to it. Transmet is one of many Vertigo series from the 1990s and 2000s that I’m passively collecting – that is, I buy individual issues when I see them for less than a dollar. The trouble is that many of these series were not meant to be read on an issue-by-issue basis. This issue, for example, seems extremely lacking in narrative content, and doesn’t really make sense to a reader unfamiliar with the previous 48 issues. All I can tell for sure is that it has something to do with the aftermath of an election. The only thing that makes it interesting is the character of Spider Jerusalem, who, it now occurs to me, is effectively the same character as Uncle Duke from Doonesbury, since they were both based on the same man.

KEVIN KELLER #5 (Archie, 2012) – C+. I should not have paid full price for this. It’s an entertaining, but thoroughly pedestrian and forgettable, story in which Kevin Keller has car trouble and ends up using a bike instead. Kevin Keller bothers me because he seems to be a completely perfect character, without any distinguishing flaws.

WHAT IF? #41 (Marvel, 1983) – C-. “What If the Sub-Mariner Had Saved Atlantis from Its Destiny” is by the undistinguished creative team of Alan Zelenetz and Marc Silvestri. Marvel’s version of Atlantis is far less interesting than DC’s version: quality stories with Namor as the protagonist (rather than the guest-star or villain) are very rare, and most of them take place on the surface. So as the reader I didn’t have any reason to care about any of the characters or settings in this story, other than Namor himself. And to make things worse, the conclusion of the story reveals that the people of Atlantis are a bunch of jerks who don’t deserve a ruler like Namor, so I have even less reason to care what happens to them.

SUB-MARINER #36 (Marvel, 1971) – B+. This is a much better Namor story. Written by Roy Thomas, it depicts Namor’s wedding to Dorma, and ends with the revelation that the bride is not Dorma but Namor’s old enemy Llyra. The art is by Sal Buscema and Bernie Wrightson, whose styles did not really suit each other; the draftsmanship looks more like the latter than the former. Dorma was never a very exciting character and it’s hard to imagine that she and Namor would have been happy together, but the issue does create an effective mood of pomp and circumstance, and the inevitable complications and plot twists that happen to delay the wedding are fairly exciting.

L.E.G.I.O.N. ’89 #8 (DC, 1989) – B+/A-. This was one of the better non-Vertigo DCU comics at the time and was far better than the regular Legion title. It deserves more credit for its intelligent writing and its diverse cast of interesting characters. The star of this issue is Lydda Mallor – the distant ancestor of one of my favorite Legionnaires, Shadow Lass – and it ends with the revelation that in order to join the L.E.G.I.O.N., she had to abandon her newborn daughter. But there’s lots of other neat stuff here, particularly the scene where Strata explains that she’s just experienced gendering, the process in which Dryadians’ adolescent skin falls off and they learn what gender they are. This leads to the memorable line “Congratulations, I’m a girl!” Some cute gender politics here.

METAMORPHO #11 (DC, 1967) – A+. Besides maybe Metal Men, which I’m not too familiar with, this was the most Marvelesque DC comic of the silver age. Metamorpho was like the Thing or the Hulk in that he was a hideous freak and was constantly worried that his girlfriend didn’t love him. However, Metamorpho also never took itself as seriously as any Marvel comics did – the fact that one of the major characters was an unfrozen caveman is evidence of that. As another example, this issue has a rather silly plot involving some scientific terrorists who disguise themselves as aliens. It may not make sense but it’s fun, which is all that really matters. It’s too bad that this series was drawn by a boring artist, Sal Trapani; imagine what Ditko or Wood could have done with this material.

POWER PACK #1 (Marvel, 2000) – C+/B-. This is the first issue of the 2000 Power Pack miniseries, the only series featuring these characters that I haven’t read. It has some reasonably cute writing and artwork, and the creators, Shon Bury and Colleen Doran, are clearly familiar with the original series, since the plot revolves around the Snarks and Kymellians. But as I read this issue, I just kept thinking that this wasn’t my Power Pack. Also, I have never much liked Colleen Doran’s art. Her characters are so cute that they cross the line between cute and horrible.

FLASH GORDON #1 (Marvel, 1995) – A+. The A+ is entirely for the artwork – the story doesn’t really matter. This was the last major work of Al Williamson, one of the greatest draftsmen in the history of the comics medium. His mastery of anatomy and visual storytelling and his graphic creativity are evident in every panel. My only minor quibble is that all his cities look pretty similar. Reading this issue, I realized that the American comic book industry is really not designed to produce work of this level of visual richness. Probably the reason Al Williamson spent most of his late career as an inker was because he couldn’t make a living doing pencil work that satisfied his own standards. It’s not possible to draw with this level of craftsmanship and still maintain a monthly schedule. And this is partly because American cartoonists have to produce something like 264 pages a year (12 times 22) — whereas European cartoonists might only do a single 48-page album a year, which allows them to really pull out all the stops on each individual page. I do think, though, that this might be changing, as I suggested in my review of James Stokoe’s Godzilla.

UNCANNY X-MEN #111 (Marvel, 1978) – B+/A-. As with all the Claremont/Byrne X-Men issues I’ve reviewed for this blog, I know this issue quite well but it’s nice to revisit it. This is the one where Mesmero mind-controls the X-Men and forces them to work in a circus. Notable points about this issue are that 1) Claremont didn’t use Hank McCoy very often, so it’s nice to see an entire issue with him as the star, and 2) this issue provides some disturbing hints as to what Mesmero was doing with Jean while he had her under mind control.

TARZAN #242 (DC,1975) – A-. I don’t know why I haven’t been reading more of these Kubert Tarzans, because they’re awesome. This issue has Joe Kubert layouts with finishes by Franc Reyes. This is an effective combination because you get Joe’s masterful storytelling sensibility plus very tight and detailed pencils. On Rima the Jungle Girl, Joe collaborated with Nestor Redondo in a similar way, and the result was one of the best-drawn comic books of the ’70s. The possible weak link in this issue is the story, in which Tarzan rescues a Maya girl who’s about to be sacrificed. The issue is full of suggestions that the Maya are some sort of ancient and forgotten culture, and I kept thinking, well, that’s not true, there are millions of Mayas living in Mexico and Central America today. However, it turns out that these particular Mayas are a society that developed in isolation after their ancestors were shipwrecked. And the story at least gestures toward cultural relativism, because it turns out that the girl’s own father was responsible for sacrificing her, and that she feels guilty for not having performed her religious duty.

CRITTERS #11 (Fantagraphics, 1987) – B+. The Usagi story in this issue, “Homecoming, Part 2,” is drawn in a rather crude style but already shows evidence of Stan’s command of storytelling and pathos. In this story, Usagi and Kenichi save Jotaro from some crooks, then Usagi and Mariko have an emotional reunion. The reader isn’t supposed to know yet that Usagi is Jotaro’s father, but Usagi and Mariko’s obvious suppressed feelings for each other are poignant — especially in the silent sequence that ends the story, where they stare at their souvenirs of each other. The rest of the material in this issue is pretty bad, although there’s one story which is drawn by Ron Wilber in a somewhat unusual Moebius-influenced style.

INCREDIBLE HULK #112 (Marvel, 1968) – B-. The story here is not memorable. The premise is that the Hulk leads a rebellion against a villain called the Galaxy Master, and there’s also a female character who reminds me a bit of Jarella — in fact, this whole story seems like a prototype for Jarella’s first appearance. What makes this issue exciting is Herb Trimpe’s artwork. Herb was forced to spend most of his career working in a boring house style, but early on, he used an innovative style of page layout that was reminiscent of Neal Adams or BWS, but different from either. And he could draw pretty well — there’s one panel in this issue where the Galaxy Master turns himself into a really cool-looking creature with gray skin, hammers for hands, and a single giant eye.

THE FOX #1 (Archie, 2013) – C+. This was a deliberate throwback to earlier styles of superhero comics, so I might have expected to like it, but I didn’t. The main problem here is that the reader is already assumed to be familiar with the Fox and his supporting cast, and I’m not — I’ve read some of the ’80s issues of Blue Ribbon Comics that revived this character, but they were not particularly well written and I don’t remember them. The story begins in media res with no explanation of what’s going on or who the villain is, and even the recap page at the end of the comic doesn’t really help. As a result, nothing about this issue’s story really stuck in my memory. I had to flip through it to remind myself what it was about (photography, I think).

THE BOOKS OF MAGIC #3 (DC, 1994) – B+. I don’t remember much about this one either, and I’ve always found this series rather difficult — it’s full of weird plots that don’t make a whole lot of sense. I feel like I would need to reread it from the beginning to make sense of it. But I really like John Ney Rieber’s dialogue and characterization, and in this issue he makes the reader seriously afraid for Tim, who is being pursued by a manticore through some sort of magical school. Tim is a truly adorable kid — he’s like Harry Potter, but quieter.

HITMAN #48 – A-. This issue is very late in the run, so there’s a lot of continuity I’ve missed out on, but it still more or less makes sense (unlike Transmet #49, reviewed above). The focus this issue is on Noonan’s pub, which, here as elsewhere in Ennis’s work, is depicted as a welcoming center of community and friendship. Offhand I can’t think of any writer who loves British pub culture as much as Garth does. In this story, Noonan’s is under siege by a bunch of mobsters, and there’s a very inspiring moment where the bartender, who is Tommy Monaghan’s surrogate father, chooses to stand and fight rather than surrender Tommy. Also, it’s kind of cool that the bartender is Baytor, a horrible-looking demon thing (he previously appeared in The Demon and his name is a double entendre). Again, I don’t know why I’m not reading more of this series because it was really good.

MS. TREE #19 (Renegade, 1985) – B+. I’ve only read a couple issues of Ms. Tree in the period that I’ve been doing this blog, which is odd because I really like it, even though I typically have no interest in the hard-boiled detective genre. Ms. Tree might be the best example of how I’m willing to read anything as long as it’s in comics form. In this particular issue, Dan Green tries to kill Dominic Muerta in a fit of rage, and then Dominic Muerta does get killed, but Dan swears he didn’t do it. It’s a terrific setup and it makes me want to reread my copy of issue 20, since I don’t remember that issue at all.

YUMMY FUR #23 (Vortex, 1990) – A. I think I’ve read “The Playboy” before, but it was so long ago that I’d completely forgotten about it. Chester Brown’s autobiographical work is similar to that of his friend Joe Matt, but somehow he manages to make the reader feel sorry with him, whereas Joe Matt’s work has the exact opposite effect. This story suggests that Chester has a deeply unhealthy attitude toward sex, but that this is because of his repressive upbringing and his undiagnosed psychological issues, and that he’s not just an asshole. As a footnote, this issue suggests an explanation for the woods porn phenomenon described in the Sex Criminals letter column.

INCREDIBLE HULK #118 (Marvel, 1969) – A-. This is a better Hulk comic than the one reviewed above. It’s just your average Hulk/Namor fight — I can’t remember much of anything about the plot, i.e. the excuse for why they’re fighting — but Herb Trimpe’s art is spectacular. Most of the Marvel artists at this time tended to use horizontal page layouts, but Herb takes advantage of the vertical dimension of the page, using panels that span the entire height of each page. He does other neat tricks with page layout too, and his style of draftsmanship reminds me of early BWS. If Herb hadn’t been forced to waste his talent, he could have been one of the greats of the industry.

THE FLASH #66 (DC, 1992) – B-. This must have been one of Mark Waid’s crummier single issues of the Flash. It’s a team-up with Aquaman, except for almost the whole issue Aquaman is controlled by the Marine Marauder, a thoroughly boring villain. The only thing I like about this issue is that it contributes slightly to the development of Wally and Linda’s relationship.

REVIVAL #21 (Image, 2014) – A-. Another good issue. Part of this story takes place in Manhattan, and the thing I remember best about the issue is Dana’s shock at the sheer size of New York. This scene emphasizes the cultural difference between rural and urban America. There’s other good stuff here as well; in particular, the old Native American character is really cool.

STRANGE TALES #131 (Marvel, 1965) – B+. The Thing/Torch story in this issue is stupid in a fun way, or vice versa. The villain is the Mad Thinker, who is one of my favorite minor Marvel villains, but his plan in this issue is pretty ridiculous: he tries to kill the Thing and Torch with a giant robotized bouncing ball. Obviously it doesn’t work. In the Dr. Strange story, the artwork is far from Ditko’s best. The story takes place entirely in Hong Kong, where Dr. Strange is trying to escape from Baron Mordo, so there are few opportunities for Steve to draw bizarre otherworldly stuff. Also, this story seems a little bit Orientalist somehow.

OCCULT FILES OF DR. SPEKTOR #15 – A. This is one of the better issues of this series. “The Brain of Xorkon” is very similar to the Doctor Sun saga in Tomb of Dracula — Xorkon’s plans for Baron Tibor, the Dracula-esque vampire who guest-stars in this issue, are very similar to Doctor Sun’s plans for Dracula. Still, this story is more than just a rip-off because the characters of Dr. Spektor, Lakota and Baron Tibor are distinctive and interesting. Unlike Marv and Gene’s Dracula, Baron Tibor is a fully sympathetic character, and his death at the end of the issue feels tragic.

MS. TREE #32 (Renegade, 1986) – B+. This is the first part of a story called “Runaway II” — I guess there was a previous “Runaway” story in issues 16 and 17, which I don’t have. It’s about the murder of a woman who moved to Hollywood in hopes of stardom, and it doesn’t have quite the same level of dramatic tension as the Dominic Muerta story reviewed above, although it’s not actively bad. The letter column includes some angry responses to a homophobic letter by David Malcolm Porta.

DEMON KNIGHTS #2 (DC, 2011) – B+. This was one of the only good New 52 comics, but it’s only good, not great. The characters are all highly distinctive and interesting, and there are some funny scenes where they interact with villagers. The villagers appear to be Goths living in post-Roman Britain, which is kind of weird and unique. Still, there’s not a lot in this issue that really sticks out in my mind.

HOWTOONS: REIGNITION #2 (Image, 2014) – B. The plot of this comic isn’t all that exciting, but I like the two child protagonists, and I love the effective integration of DIY instructions into the narrative. The page design and typography are also impressive. Unlike Fred Van Lente’s collaborations with Ryan Dunlavey, Howtoons feels like a comic, not a heavily illustrated prose text. I feel like this comic might be relevant to people with an interest in critical making, and I feel kind of guilty for reading this comic without trying to make any of the projects it describes.

SUGAR & SPIKE #64 (DC, 1966) – A. This one is actually similar to Howtoons in a way, because while it can most easily be read as a silly nonsensical romp, it can also be read as a story about Sugar and Spike’s attempts to scientifically explore their world and learn more about it. In this story, Sugar and Spike win a trip on a cruise ship for themselves and their parents, but they think that the ocean is a giant front lawn and that it’s been flooded by a leaky faucet. And in the process of trying to find the leaking faucet and turn it off, they accidentally break up an international spy ring. The cool part is that they never realize that their theory about the ocean is wrong, and their naïveté enables them to successfully defeat the spy ring, while the adults in the story are completely ignorant of its existence.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #5 (Image, 2014) – B-. This issue is a letdown because Earl Tubb’s daughter, introduced at the end of issue 4, does not appear. Instead, the issue focuses entirely on Coach Boss; we start with a flashback to his high school days, then we watch him attend Earl Tubb’s funeral. This issue is a well-crafted piece of work, but Earl’s daughter is clearly going to be the protagonist of this series, and I want to know more about her already.

CATWOMAN #14 (DC, 2003) – A+. Truly impressive work. Just prior to this issue, Catwoman’s community center in the East End was burned down. In this issue she seeks to punish the parties who destroyed it, while also working through her grief over its loss. Brubaker and Stewart do a fantastic job of conveying Catwoman’s devastation over the ruin of a project she felt deeply passionate about. The artwork in this issue is incredible — Cameron Stewart is one of the best visual storytellers of his generation, as proved by his layouts over Babs Tarr’s pencils in the current Batgirl series. And his minimalistic style of draftsmanship reminds me a bit of Alex Toth.

SIX-GUN GORILLA #2 (Boom!, 2013) – A-. This issue has a nice blend of hilarity and horror. The science-fiction milieu of this series is not meant to be taken entirely seriously, what with the tumblesquids and the giant troop-transporting turtles. But this comic is also deeply dystopian. The people of this future Earth are so jaded that their only entertainment is vicariously experiencing the deaths of suicidal soldiers, while the people who are caught up in the war are forced to turn to prostitution to support themselves. So this story is bleak but in a hilarious way. Also, the eponymous six-gun gorilla is just an incredible character.

EDGE OF SPIDER-VERSE #2 (Marvel, 2014) – A. This was one of the most critically acclaimed comic books of 2014, but I missed it when it came out, and by the time I realized I needed to read it, was sold out of it. I couldn’t get my hands on a copy until I visited the Comic Book College in Minneapolis last week. I don’t know if it completely lived up to the hype, but Robbi Rodriguez’s artwork is fantastic and Spider-Gwen is a terrific character. She’s really not all that dissimilar from Peter — her origin is essentially the same, except that it’s Peter who dies instead of Uncle Ben, and she has the same style of dialogue. But somehow just the simple act of changing Spider-Man’s gender has revolutionary implications; we’re really not used to seeing a female character exhibit the sort of behavior we expect from Spider-Man. Overall I enjoyed this and I can’t wait for the Spider-Gwen ongoing series.

SEA BEAR AND GRIZZLY SHARK #1 (Image, 2010) – B+. I saw this in the store when it came out, but declined to buy it, and I have regretted that decision ever since because this comic is impossible to find. I was shocked to discover that the Comic Book College actually had a copy. Given that I’ve been waiting to read this comic for four years, it’s perhaps inevitable that it was a bit disappointing — the best thing about it is the title (with the tagline “They Got Mixed Up!”). This comic is a one-shot including two separate stories, one each by Kirkman collaborators Ryan Ottley and Jason Howard. The unifying premise is that both stories take place in a world where all the land and sea animals switched places except for a bear and a shark, but this is never mentioned in the stories themselves. The Sea Bear story is a series of massive exaggerated fight scenes involving a robot, a dude with swords for arms, and the title sea bear. The Grizzly Shark story takes itself even less seriously, and is mostly an excuse for gratuitous blood and gore. While this comic was less fun than it could have been, it was still a lot of fun, and I’m glad to finally have it in my collection.

JLA/HITMAN #1 (DC, 2007) – B+/A-. I had no idea this comic existed until I found it in a 50-cent box at (again) the Comic Book College. This was published in 2007, six years after the Hitman ongoing series ended. At this point Tommy Monaghan seems to have been dead, and the story is told as a flashback. As expected, it’s a hilarious piece of work, with lots of jokes at the expense of Kyle Rayner and the other Bloodlines characters. It also has a strangely nostalgic feel, though, as if it’s looking back to a bygone period when DC was able to publish comics as fun and irreverent as the original Hitman series. The only weak link in this issue is Garth’s somewhat sexist portrayal of Wonder Woman. (Though there’s a hilarious scene where Tommy realizes his X-ray vision powers have stopped working, and he’s looking at Wonder Woman as he says this.)

COPPERHEAD #3 (Image, 2014) – B+. I initially declined to buy this due to a lack of confidence in Jay Faerber’s writing, but I love the idea of an outer-space Western whose protagonist is a single mom. And this issue did not disappoint. Clara Bronson is an exciting charcter, and the artwork and writing are not half bad either. This series does show some heavy Saga influence, what with all the weird-looking aliens with animal heads.

SAUCER COUNTRY #1 (DC, 2012) – B/B+. This is one of the few recent Vertigo series that’s of any interest to me. Although the plot is a bit difficult to follow, it seems to be about a Latina presidential candidate who thinks that Earth is being invaded by aliens. While the artwork and writing are both high-quality, somehow this story, like most of Paul Cornell’s writing, failed to really grab me, and I’m not in a huge hurry to read the other unread issues of Saucer Country that I have. Also, I have problems with the scene where the Harvard folklore professor gets fired because of a publication where he expresses belief in aliens. This scene reads like a poorly informed caricature of academic politics.

DC COMICS PRESENTS #71 (DC, 1984) – B+. This is only the second regular issue of DCCP that I’ve reviewed for this blog. This Superman/Bizarro team-up was published in 1984, which was probably the last time that DC could publish this sort of story without ironic intent. It’s written in an unapologetically Silver Age-influenced style and has a plot that could have appeared in a Superman comic from twenty years before. Bizarro #1 creates a Bizarro-Amazo robot that gives ordinary people superpowers (whereas the real Amazo steals powers from superpowered people), and Bizarro-Amazo travels to Earth-1, where he starts handing out powers to Perry, Jimmy, etc. There’s nothing particualrly deep or thought-provoking here, but it’s incredibly fun. This story was written by E. Nelson Bridwell, who died three years later. Perhaps it’s just as well that he didn’t live to see a time when DC felt ashamed of publishing comics like this.

LUMBERJANES #8 (Image, 2014) – A+. This is the best conclusion to a story arc in recent memory. It wraps up everything from the first eight issues in a deeply satisfying way, and is full of amazing moments:

    Mal kissing Molly
    Riley giving everyone a kitten
    Bubbles getting a funny hat (which is odd since Bubbles isa funny hat
    The camp director finally remembering Jen’s name
    Zeus manifesting as a cow, in a reference to the myth of Europa

Overall, this is just such a satisfying resolution to the first eight issues of the series. In fact it’s so satisfying that it’s hard to see where this comic is going to go next, although I’m sure that the creative team will think of something.

As sort of a sidenote, I feel kind of guilty for writing this review when all my friends are posting on Facebook about the horrible miscarriage of justice in the Eric Garner case. But I think that stories like this really do have the potential to promote positive change, at least in some small degree. Comics like Lumberjanes fill a gaping hole in an industry that has historically been the exclusive preserve of straight white men, and they help to promote a more positive vision of race, gender and sexuality than we usually get from children’s media. I’m glad that the sort of progressive worldview we see in comics like Lumberjanes is becoming more common in the comics industry. I just wish that such worldviews were more prevalent in American society as a whole.

ODY-C #1 (Image, 2014) – A+. I tend to think of Grant Morrison as the modern heir to Kirby, but with this comic, Matt Fraction (and Christian Ward) may have usurped that mantle. This comic has the epic scope and explosive creativity of Kirby’s Fourth World, while also having a distinctive sense of humor and a progressive take on gender politics. I love the worldbuilding in this comic — it takes place in an outer space empire full of bizarre and unexplained technology, where almost everyone is female. It’s almost as creative as the setting of Prophet. The level of craftsmanship in this comic is also extremely impressive. The comic begins with an eight-page splash, something I have never seen before, although Bryan Hitch previously did it in Ultimates. Matt Fraction’s prose style in this comic is very different from his usual style; it’s almost like poetry, though I don’t think it scans. And Christian Ward’s artwork is unlike anything I’ve seen recently — it’s like a hybrid between pencils and painting. In summary, this is going to be an amazing series.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #25 (IDW, 2014) – A-. I can’t believe this series is already up to issue 25. A new Cook-Price issue is always cause for celebration, although this one is about Applejack, my least favorite of the Mane Six. (Primarily this is because Applejack seems to have no significant flaws, although “Somepony to Watch Over Me” changes that a little bit.) In a recent CBR interview, Katie said: “If we treated the “My Little Pony” books like Fluttershy’s fluffy bunny tea-party, they would sell abysmally. Yes, it would be a comic that you could give to any little girl, but you can’t give it to boys because they’re not going to enjoy it as much. We treat the Pony books as comedies, epic adventures, and things like that. And that’s what keeps the kids reading it. And keeps adults reading it.” That was essentially the same philosophy Carl Barks had — he wrote for kids, but he didn’t write down to them, he wrote intelligent stories that adults wouldn’t be completely ashamed to read either. That’s why Katie and Andy’s pony stories are so successful among both audiences. Anyway, this issue. I’m not a particular fan of either Applejack or the Western genre, but as usual, this story is hilarious and is full of brilliant characterization and inside jokes. I’ll be looking forward to the next issue, though I’m more excited about their upcoming story set in the Everfree Forest.

ODDLY NORMAL #3 (Image, 2014) – B-. I missed issue 2 somehow. With this issue, this series is starting to live up to its potential. Otis Frampton is showing some impressive visual creativity. However, I feel that this comic overly derivative of Ghibli — the schoolbug is really cool, but it’s the same basic idea as a catbus. And I still think the story ends too quickly; most of the pages seem to have four panels or fewer.

PRINCESS UGG #5 (Oni, 2014) – A+. Sex has been mostly absent from Ted Naifeh’s earlier work, given the ages of his protagonists, but in this issue it takes center stage. And as a result, Julifer is revealed as a thoroughly awful character — I was starting to feel some sympathy for her, but now I kind of can’t stand her. Also, in this story Ted continues to resist easy solutions; it’s clear that Ulga is not going to have an easy time resolving her identity crisis. I suspect that people are likely to see this series as a complete joke, but it’s one of the best comics on the market right now, and it deserves a wider audience.

CAPTURE CREATURES #1 (Boom!, 2014) – B/B+. This Pokémon parody is drawn in a somewhat similar style to Teen Dog or Bee & Puppycat, but the writing is marginally more serious — unlike in either of those series, there’s a continuing plot here. While I did not grow up with Pokémon, Frank Gibson’s writing and Becky Dreistadt’s artwork are so endearing that I want to keep on reading this series. It’s not going to be an award contender, but it’s fun.

ASTRO CITY #17 (DC, 2014) – A-. This is maybe the simplest story yet in this run of Astro City. The plot is kind of convoluted, but at heart it’s a very basic story about tragic mistakes and forgiveness, and it has a lot of concentrated emotional power. Krigari is an innovative take on Thanos or Darkseid because he comes from a microverse, but keeps getting bigger and bigger. And I love the notion of Red Cake Day, although I think Kurt could have made this concept even funnier.

DONALD DUCK #268 (Gladstone, 1988) – B+. The centerpiece of this issue is a ten-pager by Barks in which Donald appears on a radio quiz show. This was an idea Barks used at least three times, most notably in “Voodoo Hoodoo,” which, in hindsight, is kind of a terrible story. Anyway, this story starts out hilariously with Donald cramming all sorts of obscure trivia, but it gradually becomes incoherent, as the quiz show hosts resort to asking him unanswerable questions so he doesn’t win. Surprisingly, the two Gutenberghaus stories in this issue are quite funny — I usually don’t like these European duck stories, but in this case they’re comparable in quality to the Barks story in the issue.

SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE #49 (DC, 1997) – A. This was one of the best DC comics of the ’90s. It was an accurate and historically sensitive depiction of the ’30s, and it featured two fascinating and very different protagonists, Wesley Dodds and Dian Belmont. The only reason I haven’t read more of it is because it followed a strict structure of four-issue story arcs, so it’s difficult to read in back issue format, because none of the issues stands alone. This particular issue is part one of “The Scarlet Ghost,” which has some significant metafictional elements; it’s about a gang war over control of the emerging comic book industry, which is just starting to replace the pulps. Another plot thread is that Dian is apparently pregnant and neither she nor Wes has any idea. This was a fun read, and I need to start collecting this series more actively.

LAZARUS #5 (Image, 2013) – C+. I am almost a year behind on this series. I was initially very enthusiastic about it, but I stopped reading it because it was so bleak and depressing — almost as much so as Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl. I really don’t want to read a story that seems so disturbingly plausible. I mean, a few powerful families already control so much of the world as it is; it’s not that big of a leap to imagine a world where that control is enshrined in law. And this issue does not do anything to alleviate the relentlessly bleak tone of the series. The thing I like best about it is Michael Lark’s artwork — he might be the single best artist in the industry in terms of drawing hand-to-hand combat.

SUPERMAN #254 (DC, 1972) – B/B-. The lead story in this issue is pretty dumb. It seems to have been written to match the cover, which shows Superman bequeathing his powers to a boy named Billy Anders (apparently no relation to Kory Anders). This issue is only memorable because of the Private Life of Clark Kent backup, “The Baby Who Walked Through Walls,” which is one of the few Superman stories drawn by Neal Adams. This story is adorable and funny, if rather pointless. The baby in this story is based on Neal’s daughter, according to a comment on this blog post. I also wonder if this story is an unannounced tribute to Sugar & Spike, since it includes two babies, a blond-haired girl and a dark-haired boy, who speak in unintelligible strings of consonants.

AIR #1 (DC, 2008) – A-. This is an early work of G. Willow Wilson, and it already shows her vigorous style of storytelling and her interest in literature and Islamic culture. The issue begins with a scene where two characters are falling out of the sky and one of them says “Aren’t you glad this isn’t a Salman Rushdie novel?” There aren’t many comic book writers who would have thought of that joke. In fact, Willow might be the only writer in the contemporary comics industry whose work is influenced in any way by Indian and/or Islamic literature. (Recall how in Ms. Marvel #1 she quoted Amir Khusrow, a writer I had never previously heard of.) But that’s actually incidental to the story, which is a very fast-paced thriller involving air travel and competing terrorist organizations. Apparently some reviewers had trouble following this issue, and so did I initially, but it ultimately makes sense. I want to read more of this series and I’m kind of sad that it was cancelled after two years because of poor sales, although Willow has gone on to bigger and better things.

ACTION COMICS #840 (DC, 2006) – B+. This is a fairly effective conclusion to “Up, Up and Away.” In this issue, Superman decisively defeats Luthor (who subsequently escapes from prison, of course) and works on readjusting to his newly returned powers. It’s pretty entertaining, especially the concluding sequence where Superman defeats a mad scientist who’s created a giant single-celled “Kryptococcus,” then interacts with his adoring fans. The only annoying part is Superman’s speech to Luthor during the battle; it seems like he’s gloating, rubbing in the fact that Lex has lost and is always going to lose.

SENSATION COMICS FEATURING WONDER WOMAN #4 (DC, 2015) – B+/A-. As I just said on Facebook, this issue is evidence of the tremendous potential of Wonder Woman, which is currently being squandered by David and Meredith Finch. They should cancel the main Wonder Woman title and just rename this series to Wonder Woman. The highlight of the issue is the second part of a two-part Wonder Woman team-up by Gilbert Hernandez. It’s weird reading a DC story written in Beto’s distinctive and somewhat artificial style of dialogue, but this is a very energetic and exciting piece of work. Beto does a great job of visually and verbally distinguishing between Diana, Kara, and Mary Marvel, who shows up at the end. And given his interest in drawing large and powerful women, he’s well suited to the task of drawing Wonder Woman. I was less excited about hte second story, “Attack of the 500-Foot Wonder Woman” by Rob Williams and Tom Lyle, but it turned out to be surprisingly good. It reads like a Silver Age Justice League story, except for the gender-bending moment at the end: Diana takes Byth to Paradise Island, and Byth says that he can’t set foot on the island because he’s not a female, and Diana says, “Yes, and I thought you were a changeling?” I just edited my DCBS order to add the latest issue of Batman ’66, which is also written by Williams. The third story, a WW/Deadman team-up by Neil Kleid and Dean Haspiel, is not as memorable, but I like how Diana doesn’t initially believe that Deadman is who he claims to be. Overall, this is an impressive package, and I wish DC was publishing more good comics like this and less of the other kind.

WONDER WOMAN #18 (DC, 2013) – C+/B-. Some of my Facebook friends were unhappy at the news that the upcoming Wonder Woman movie is going to use her New 52 origin, and I sympathize. The New 52 WW may be an interesting comic in its own right, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s not Wonder Woman, it’s an original intellectual property that happens to have the same title. And even when I look at it in that way, this issue is not all that great. The plot is difficult to understand, since none of the characters are clearly identified, and it’s a fill-in issue, so there’s no Cliff Chiang artwork until the last couple pages. Also, Brian Azzarello’s version of Orion is completely unfaithful to Kirby’s version. This series has its good points, but it also illustrates why the New 52 universe just doesn’t feel like the DC Universe to me.

Still more reviews I forgot to post


FEARLESS DEFENDERS #9 (Marvel, 2013) – A. This was the first issue of this series I bought. Going into this issue I had some doubts about its gender politics, because the concept of an all-female superhero team is highly progressive for Marvel, but also very easy to screw up. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this issue rarely if ever engages in titillation or sexism, and that Cullen Bunn genuinely tries to present gender issues in a progressive way. Maybe he even tries too hard, as it seems like he was kind of setting up a strawman by depicting various male heroes as having a very overprotective attitude toward the female protagonists, though many the characters in question (Hercules, obviously, but also even Dr. Strange) have been depicted in the past as having a sexist attitude toward their female allies. Overall, I think this series has both a great premise and effective execution, and now that it’s been cancelled I feel guilty for not supporting it. I have no idea why it was cancelled, but I would assume it was more because of lack of publicity than because the concept was not appealing. For example, I don’t remember seeing any scans from this issue on scans_daily, and it seems like that communtiy would have loved this series.

QUANTUM & WOODY #32 (Acclaim, 1999) – A. This was not actually the 32nd issue; the series went on hiatus after #17, and then when it started up again, the first issue they published was the one that would have come out that month, if not for the hiatus. (Issues 18 to 21 were published subsequently, but the issues from 22 to 30 never materialized.) Priest and Bright take full advantage of the comic potential created by the fact that the reader comes into this issue having missed over a year’s worth of stories. #32 is full of references to other stories that hadn’t been published yet, and in some cases never would be, and it’s full of surprises: on the splash page we learn that “yep, Woody’s a black girl”, and later we discover that the original Woody is now some sort of supervillain. Continuing with the joke, the letters page is full of fake letters that reference other nonexistent stories. All this would have been more effective if I had been caught up with the first 17 issues of the series, but it’s a good example of Quantum & Woody’s characteristic humor, and the issue is also full of the series’s typical jokes.

THE BATMAN ADVENTURES #19 (DC, 1994) – A-. I’m adding the minus because of a couple nitpicky points. First, as I mentioned on Facebook, there’s one scene in this issue that takes place at the “Gotham Board of Psychiatry Annual Convention,” and there are no women present at all. I have firsthand evidence that women psychiatrist do exist, such as my mother, and surely there is at least one of them in Gotham. Second, at the end of the story, it’s not clear to me how Batman manages to get close enough to the Scarecrow to unmask him. Besides that, this is a typically impressive issue of the best Batman comic of the ‘90s. Mike Parobeck was the absolute master of the animated superhero style, but what impresses me about his art is the anatomy and composition; his ability to create dramatic action sequences with a minimum of linework is reminiscent of Alex Toth or Steve Rude (it turns out I’ve made this comparison before). And Kelley Puckett’s storytelling ability is impressive ; he leaves out information that most writers would include, e.g. the identity and origin of the mad scientist who built Scarecrow’s fear device, and yet his stories always make perfect sense and offer a satisfying resolution.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS #2 (IDW, 2013) – B. This is not at the level of the best T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents material (i.e. the original series and the ‘80s Deluxe Comics revival), though it’s entirely readable and it respects the spirit of the original series. This issue reintroduces most of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad and ends with the revelation that Kitten Kane is the Iron Maiden’s sister. As I write this review, though, I realize that there wasn’t a whole lot in this issue that stuck in my mind, and I’m not sure whether my T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents fandom is strong enough to sustain my interest in this series.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #542 (Marvel, 2007) – D-. This would be an F except that the issue reviewed below is worse. In this issue Peter confronts the Kingpin, who he blames for mortally wounding Aunt May, and proceeds to beat him senseless and to publicly humiliate him. In my opinion, the coldblooded and sadistic way in which he punishes the Kingpin is completely out of character. Even if the Kingpin deserved this treatment, I don’t believe Peter is capable of slapping a defenseless man in the face ten times, or threatening to pour webbing down someone’s throat. Peter might engage in such behavior while in a fit of rage, but here JMS makes it clear that Peter knows what he’s doing and has accepted responsibility for it. (Compare ASM #154, where Peter nearly beats a criminal to death, but stops as soon as he realizes what he’s doing.) That is not the Spider-Man I know.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #545 (Marvel, 2008) – F. This is the final chapter of One More Day, and if it’s not the worst Spider-Man comic of all time, it’s certainly a close runner-up.

SWAMP THING #4 (DC, 2012) – B+. Surprisingly good for a New 52 DC comic. I have never heard of Marco Ruby, but his full-page compositions in this issue are quite impressive, reminding me a little of classic Swamp Thing pages by Bissette or Veitch. Or even J.H. Williams, though Ruby’s art is not at the same level of complexity. There’s one particularly funny page that’s a grim parody of Norman Rockwell’s lunch counter painting, and another one that graphically depicts Abby and Alec as avatars of the Rot and the Grim: they’re sleeping next to each other in a field, but the area around Abby is totally barren, while the area around Alec is covered with flowers and butterflies. The story here is not as interesting as the art, but Scott Snyder effectively creates a sense of menace. This issue was not good enough to make me want to break my DC boycott and read more of this series, but I would buy it if I found it cheap.

MARVEL ADVENTURES: SUPER-HEROES #12 (Marvel, 2011) – C-. This series went into a steep decline just before its cancellation; the top talent (e.g. Paul Tobin) disappeared and I think some of the last issues were even reprints. This story, for example, is not actively bad, but it’s a very simplistic story about a fight between the Hulk and the Abomination, lacking the narrative depth or originality that made Marvel Adventures exciting. The lettering in this issue is in an unusually large font size.

ALTERNATIVE COMICS #2 (Alternative Comics, 2004) – B-. This FCBD issue was published by Jeff Mason, a frequent sponsor of the UF Comics Conference. It contains work by a lot of artists who would later become big names, including Gabrielle Bell, Brandon Graham, and Josh Neufeld, as well as already-established stars like Harvey Pekar and James Kochalka. Unfortunately almost all the stories are two- or three-pagers and so none of them are especially deep. For example, the Brandon Graham story is just a two-page slice-of-life vignette, though it’s intriguing because the subject matter is much more realistic than his later work. Maybe the best material here is the somewhat longer preview of Nick Bertozzi’s The Salon, which makes me want to read some of his work.

HELLBLAZER #229 (DC, 2007) – B+/A-. This late Hellblazer story by Mike Carey and John Paul Leon is surprisingly entertaining. The story is structured like a series of fetch quests in a video game: person A asks Constantine to obtain an item from person B, but person B refuses to give up the item unless Constantine gets something else from person C, and so on. Specifically, this reminds me of the trading sequences in Ocarina of Time and other Zelda games. The trick in this issue, though, is that all the people who want stuff from Constantine turn out to be connected in some way, and Mike Carey resolves the story in a way that explains who they all are and why they want what they do. It’s an impressive demonstration of narrative skill, though I don’t like John Paul Leon’s art much.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2011 (SPIDER-MAN) #1 (Marvel, 2011) – C+/B-. This issue offers a complete and fairly satisfying story, which is appropriate in an FCBD comic, but that story is kind of boring and is distinguished only by some witty dialogue. I predicted the twist ending (in which Spidey defeats Mandrill using perfume) long before it happened. Humberto Ramos’s style has changed so much since Impulse that I wouldn’t have guessed it was him if I didn’t know.

ADVENTURE COMICS #430 (DC, 1973) – B/B-. I really like Black Orchid as a character, and Sheldon Mayer writes effective dialogue, but this story failed to connect with me. Mayer does a good job of keeping Black Orchid’s identity mysterious, repeatedly refuting the reader’s and the characters’ guesses as to who she is. Other than that, though, there’s not much substance here, and Tony DeZuñiga’s artwork is kind of sloppy; several panels are notably lacking in backgrounds. The Adventurers’ Club backup story is also a very slight piece of work. In the letter column, the editor suggests that this series was being replaced by a new feature (i.e. The Spectre) because no one liked it, and I’m not surprised.

JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #647 (Marvel, 2013) – B+. Another series with a female protagonist that was unfortunately cancelled despite its fairly high level of quality. The success of Young Avengers proves that Marvel has the ability to attract female readers; I wonder what they can do to retain those audiences after that series ends. The main plot of this issue is that Sif has a severe anger management problem and is beating people up for no reason. I don’t find this especially exciting, but there is a lot of cute stuff here, particularly the scenes involving Volstagg and his family. I would actually much rather read Journey into Mystery Starring the Volstagg Family than Journey into Mystery Starring Sif. I admit I stopped reading this series because I didn’t think it was all that great, and I was surprised to see it on CBR’s Top 100 list; again, I think Marvel didn’t promote this series as effectively as they could have.

BATMAN: LI’L GOTHAM #2 (DC, 2013) – A+. I’m actually considering violating my DC boycott to buy this series. Obviously the writing and artwork in this issue are adorable, but unlike say Tiny Titans, this comic also almost works as a regular Batman comic. The two stories in this issue are less seriously intended than those in Batman Adventures, and the second story is just a comic romp, but the first story, which focuses on Mr. Freeze, has some serious emotions behind it. If this story were drawn in a less cute style, you might not be able to tell it was an all-ages Batman comic. If all of DC’s comics were as charming and well-written as this, the company would not be in such bad shape and I wouldn’t be boycotting their products.

ELRIC #2 (Pacific, 1983) – B+. If there was a World Comics Hall of Fame, Michael Moorcock would deserve to be included in it because of his influence on creators ranging from Alan Moore to P. Craig Russell to Philippe Druillet. This comic is a very literal adaptation of early chapters of Elric of Melniboné, which is why it doesn’t score higher than a B; I find that excessive literalism is a problem with many of Roy Thomas’s adapted stories. However, PCR and Michael T. Gilbert do an impressive job of translating Moorcock’s words into visual form. Maybe one reason Moorcock’s work has such influence on comics is that his prose tends to be quite visual – for example, the first Elric novel begins “It is the color of a bleached skull, his flesh…” And PCR is the perfect artist to tap the visual potential of Moorcock’s words.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2012 (AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON POINT ONE) #0.1C-. This would be a D or an F if not for Bryan Hitch’s powerful and majestic artwork. I still can’t stand Bendis’s prose style, and I don’t see the point of this Age of Ultron storyline; after “Ultron Unlimited,” why should anyone else even bother writing another Ultron story? QU

THE MAGIC FLUTE #1 (Eclipse, 1990) – A. After reading Elric #2, I finally felt motivated to read this PCR opera adaptation that I’ve had for years. In Elric #2, PCR was already fairly close to his mature style, but by the time of the Magic Flute he had reached the peak of his career. In this issue he not only draws beautiful architecture, which is what I usually think of when I think of his art, he also shows mastery of facial expressions and visual acting. His characters clearly reveal their emotions through actions and body language, even when their eyes are depicted as single dots. PCR also effectively solves the problem of representing music in visual form; the sound of the flute is represented as long wavy lines that vaguely resemble musical notes, while the sound of Papageno’s bells looks like bubbles. Reading this was a lot of fun and it makes me want to both finish the series and actually listen to the entire opera.

SUPERBOY #60 (DC, 1999) – A. This series was at its best when Kesel and Grummett were directly adapting Kirby’s concepts and characters. They truly understood the spirit of Kirby’s early ‘70s creations, and they integrated this material into stories that made logical sense, which was something Kirby himself had trouble doing. I’m not saying this material is in any way equal to Kirby’s original work, but it’s an effective adaptation. For example, the highlight of this issue is some scenes involving the Hairies, characters who only appeared very briefly in Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen. Kesel and Grummett correctly depict them as hippies with improbable technological skill, which is a hilarious combination, and I love their alliterative dialogue. Kesel also does a surprisingly good job of writing Batman.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #53 (DC, 1967) – C+/B-. I like the ideas behind these Silver Age DC comics, but the execution is often lacking. Too much of this issue is wasted on a boring fight between the JLA and a bunch of American folklore characters. I suppose the editors thought the readers wanted to see superheroes doing super-deeds, but that on its own is not enough to sustain an entertaining story. After the fight is over, the story does develop some more narrative complexity. And Hawkgirl, an unusually proactive and powerful female character for that time, ends up saving the day and even gets to beat some men up. But this story does not fulfill its potential for a progressive representation of gender, because Hawkgirl inexplicably doesn’t get invited to join the JLA, and the story ends with Green Arrow saying “If I could find a girl like you, Hawkgirl, I’d get married myself” – which is kind of offensive not just because of the word “girl,” but because it implies that her identity is inseparable from her marriage.

QUANTUM & WOODY #6 (Acclaim, 1997) – B+/A-. This was a substandard issue because there was too much plot and not enough humor. Some of the jokes were quite good, e.g. the sequence that cross-cuts between Quantum, who gets up at 5 AM to exercise and recite philosophy to himself, and Woody, who is lying naked in bed. However, the whole business with David Warrant would be more interesting if I could remember who this character was.

STARMAN #67 (DC, 2000) – A-. Part 7 of Grand Guignol. This one ends on a more positive note than earlier issues, and offers hints that the end of this rather long storyline is in sight. Jack is joyfully reunited with Sadie, and Bobo, who was supposed to have been dead, turns out to be alive. But the omnipresent darkness of this story is stil there: Ted Knight is shown to be suffering from the injuries that would kill him a few issues later, and Culp is depicted as an overly heartless and loathsome villain. I don’t recall if I’ve mentioned Peter Snejbjerg’s art before; I think it’s unfair to compare his work to that of Tony Harris, so I will just say that he drew some very silly facial expressions.

PROPHET #32 (Image, 2013) – B+. I’m ashamed to say that I’m about a year behind on this series. My difficulty reading it is attributable to the confusing storyline, but it occurs to me that story is really not the point of this series. Brandon Graham cares more about depicting bizarre people and places than about plot. King City is more of a series of travelogues and character sketches than an epic saga, even though it does have a flimsy underlying plot, and this series is the same. This issue is actually credited to Simon Roy, not Brandon Graham, but it has the same positive qualities as Graham’s work on this series: it’s full of creatures that are incredibly bizarre but also sometimes adorable (I love the panel where Brother John Ka strokes her pet fly under the chin). And there actually sort of is a plot here, involving John Ka’s attempts to protect the feral humans, so although this is a fill-in issue, it’s not a bad one. Simon Roy’s art seems rather crude at times.

THE FLASH #310 (DC, 1982) – B-. The Flash story here is not great, but it’s readable. As usual for Cary Bates, the plot is highly complex (or convoluted) and presents a sufficiently intriguing mystery to make me wonder what happens next. Colonel Computron is a good example of the public image of computers in the early ‘80s, as s/he can do basically anything at all but is rather clunky-looking. Carmine Infantino’s art here is less bad than it usually was in his later career, though there is one panel where Luna Nurblin, who is presumably the secret identity of Colonel Computron, is depicted in an extremely unflattering light. I suppose at the time it was rare for DC to depict a female character who’s not a statuesque beauty (and sadly it’s still rare), but Infantino makes her look disgustingly fat and invites the reader to laugh at her. There is also a Dr. Fate backup story by Martin Pasko, Steve Gerber and Keith Giffen. I don’t know what the division of labor was between Pasko and Gerber, but the story includes some Gerberesque touches, e.g. a supernatural entity that manifests as a farmer with overalls and a shotgun. And Inza Nelson is effectively portrayed as a bored and lonely housewife who is tired of sacrificing her own career for her husband’s. This must have been one of Gerber’s last works for either of the Big Two prior to Destroyer Duck. I ought to collect the other issues of Flash that included this backup series.

More reviews I forgot to post


HALO JONES #4 (Fleetway/Quality, 1987) – A. Three more Halo Jones stories this issue. The first and most memorable one focuses on Halo’s dog Toby. The second story is about a person of indeterminate gender who is so lacking in personality that no one can remember her. The ending to this story is predictable (Halo hears the person’s story, then immediately forgets about hir), but funny. I suppose it would be funny if I claimed I forgot this story as soon as I was done reading it, but that joke wouldn’t make sense out of context. The third story is a setup for future events. Again, this is all excellent but I wish the entire issue had consisted of Halo Jones material; it seems obvious that the filler material was added in order to stretch this series to 12 issues. As with the previous issue, the filler stories have some good art – by Barry Kitson and Ian Gibson – but they’re not at the level of Halo Jones.

THE INCREDIBLES #13 (Boom!, 2010) – B-. I followed this series when it came out, but somehow I missed this issue; maybe I stopped buying it when Landry Walker replaced Mark Waid as the writer. Turning The Incredibles into a comic book seems almost redundant; as a movie, it was unique in that it blended the superhero genre with Pixar animation, but as a comic book, it’s no different from any other comic book on the stands. Still, this comic had a Silver Age and all-ages sensibility that is quite rare in current superhero comics, and I love the characters so much that I jumped at the chance to read new stories about them. This specific issue, though, is not the best; it’s an intermediate chapter of a longer story and it doesn’t do much to advance the plot. And there are too many distracting references to the Rise of the Underminer video game. Easily the best part of the issue is where Dash comes home and finds a note from Bob saying that his mother and sister have been abducted by giant evil plants, and he has to babysit Jack-Jack. And Dash’s reaction is “I gotta babysit? No way!”

DAREDEVIL #3 (Marvel, 2014) – A-. At this point my favorite thing about this series is Chris Samnee’s art. I’m not enjoying the writing as much as I had been, because something about it is starting to annoy me. Maybe the problem is that the dialogue and plots are sometimes histrionic and overwritten. In particular, I loved the scene at the beginning where the Owl meets his informant in the woods, but I would have liked it better if the Owl hadn’t killed the informant for no real reason, just to demonstrate how evil he is; this is a serious cliché.

BACCHUS #41 (Eddie Campbell Comics, 1999) – A-. Despite its title, this was an anthology series that contained a wide range of Eddie Campbell material. The most interesting thing in this issue is a short story about Alan Moore’s new house. There are also a few other one-pagers, plus a long chapter of the Hermes vs. the Eyeball Kid saga, which I have never especially liked; it seems like little more than Eddie’s homage to Kirby. Still, any material by Eddie is worth reading. It’s too bad this issue also contains some non-Campbell stories which are pretty much unreadable.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #349 (Marvel, 1991) – B+. This was one of the first comic books I ever read. I bought it again because my existing copy, which came from a library, is falling apart. This issue is the first part of a two-parter involving the Black Fox and Dr. Doom, and it’s not one of David Michelinie’s best Spider-Man stories, but at least it is a quality Spider-Man story, unlike most of the next 100 or so issues of this series. The artwork is by Erik Larsen, and is fairly effective, though he was clearly imitating McFarlane.

TEEN TITANS #33 (DC, 2006) – D-. I hated this issue. Almost the entire issue is a conversation between Nightwing and Superboy, and all they talk about is how Superboy has no confidence, and how he thinks his Titans team sucks in comparison to Nightwing’s New Teen Titans. This would be fine if they didn’t spend the entire issue talking in circles about this same topic. Ultimately the result is that the reader becomes sick of Superboy’s whining. Also, to the extent that this issue has any kind of plot, it doesn’t make sense unless the reader has also been reading Infinite Crisis. I’m not going to buy any more back issues of Geoff Johns’s Titans; I thought I would like it better now that I’ve read PAD’s Young Justice, but I was wrong.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #3 (Marvel, 2000) – B+. This, on the other hand, was a fun comic, and it benefits from familiarity with PAD’s Hulk, since Marlo is a guest-star. The story is mostly just a long fight scene involving Genis, the Hulk and Wendigo, but it’s entertaining because of PAD’s dialogue and the interactions between Genis, Rick and Marlo.

WILDC.A.T.S #34 (Image, 1997) – A+. This is the best Alan Moore WildC.A.T.s that I‘ve read; it’s a brilliantly plotted single-issue story which makes effective use of surprise and misdirection. The story begins with a funeral, where an unidentified member of the WildC.A.T.s team is being buried; then there’s a flashback to the events leading up to the funeral, and then we cut back to the funeral again, and so on for the rest of the issue. At the end of each flashback scene, we think we know who’s being buried, but in the next funeral scene we find out we’re wrong. For example, one flashback ends with Maul appearing to have drowned, and then on the next page he arrives at the funeral late. And this pattern goes on throughout the issue, until we discover that the dead character is Tao, the villain of the current ongoing storyline. The way that Tao ends up getting killed is also very clever. Few writers other than Alan could have created such a virtuoso display of narrative trickery. The artwork, by Mat Broome, is just okay, but at least it’s not actively bad, unlike some of the other artwork on this series.

NEW MUTANTS #34 (Marvel, 2012) – B+. This is a fairly forgettable series but I actually enjoyed this issue. Abnett and Lanning show a good understanding of the New Mutants characters, especially Warlock, who is as wacky as ever. I’d buy more issues of this series if I found them for less than a dollar.

WEREWOLF BY NIGHT #42 (Marvel, 1977) – B+. Another mediocre-looking comic book that turned out to be surprisingly good. This issue is a team-up between Werwolf by Night and Iron Man, which is a stupid premise, but the story doesn’t take itself too seriously. Along with Master of Kung Fu, Werewolf by Night was one of the few series where Doug Moench’s trademark overwrought, wordy style of writing actually worked.

SEX #4 (Image, 2013) – C-. On its merits this is not that bad of a comic; Piotr Kowalski’s art is actually interesting. The main reason it annoys me is because of Joe Casey’s smug, arrogant essays at the end. His public persona annoys me enough to drive me away from his comics.

MISTER MIRACLE #3 (DC, 1971) – A+. This is a very basic and elemental Mr. Miracle story, but that’s what makes it fun. In this issue, Dr. Bedlam challenges Scott Free to a duel, and Scott accepts (oddly, since he’s putting his life at stake, it’s not clear what he has to gain if he wins). The challenge requires Scott to escape from the top floor of a building, but the catch is that all the people in the building have been driven nuts by Bedlam’s paranoia vapor. So basically half the issue involves Scott escaping from a mob of paranoid lunatics. It’s a lot of fun and it reminds me of the Zot! story “Getting to 99.” I just wish the issue didn’t end on a cliffhanger.

STORMWATCH #49 (Image, 1997) – A-. This is a type of comic I don’t usually like – an ultraviolent grim-and-gritty deconstructionist superhero story – but it’s a fairly good example of that genre. Like Squadron Supreme, this is a story in which superheroes take over the world, but they do it in a much more brutal and violent fashion and they themselves are much less sympathetic. I think the reason this works better than similar efforts, such as The Ultimates, is because number one, Warren Ellis is a quality writer who understands hwo to use violence as a storytelling device rather than for shock value. And number two, I don’t have any emotional attachments to the characters, so I’m okay with the cruel things that Ellis does to them.

SUB-MARINER #8 (Marvel, 1969) – B-. This is only an average issue, but it’s fun in the way that Silver Age Marvel comics typically are, and it includes some fairly good artwork by Marie Severin. I think this issue is the first appearance of the Serpent Crown, under that name rather than as the Helmet of Power. Lady Dorma, who is generally a damsel-in-distress, has a surprisingly prominent role in this issue.

SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT #1 (Eclipse, 1985) – C-. This series reprinted old pre-Code stories from Standard Comics. Most of the stories in this issue are very pedestrian, with thoroughly predictable endings, though one of them, “Doom in the Depths,” is notable because of the sheer amount of narrative content it includes. It’s only six or seven pages but it crams in enough plot for an entire novel, albeit at the expense of narrative logic or characterization. The quality of the artwork varies widely. There is one story with excellent art by Alex Toth, and another with interesting art by Jack Katz, who I only know from The First Kingdom. Overall, reading this issue makes me realize how much better EC comics were in comparison to other horror comics of the time.

SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT #3 (Eclipse, 1985) – A+. I award this comic an A+ on the basis of just one story: “The Crushed Gardenia,” which is one of Alex Toth’s greatest works. This story is a bravura display of minimalist artwork and effective storytelling, and even the lettering is gorgeous. The plot is exactly the sort of thing that Wertham hated; it involves a criminal who has a serious anger management problem and kills people for no good reason, and though he comes to a bad end, the reader still ultimately sympathizes with him more than with his victims. The other four stories in the issue are not nearly as exciting, though one of them has some nice art by Mort Meskin.

ADVENTURE COMICS #440 (DC, 1975) – A+. This is the last of Fleischer and Aparo’s classic Spectre stories. It begins with a classic example of what TVTropes calls Retirony: Jim Corrigan has changed back into a normal human being and is about to marry Gwen, but on the eve of his wedding, he is shot dead by criminals, and comes back to life as the Spectre. Of course he takes a horrible vengeance on his killers, but his dreams of a normal life are over. Like most of this run of Spectre stories, this story is grim and horrific to the point where it occasionally crosses the line into campiness; a particular example of this is the scene where Gwen opens her door and finds Jim’s corpse. This issue also includes a backup story which is drawn by Mike Grell from an unpublished script by Joe Samachson; sadly, this story is really dumb.

WEIRD SCIENCE #2 (Russ Cochran, 1992) – B-. None of the four stories in this EC reprint are classics, although most of them are at least interesting. The two best are the time travel story by Kurtzman, and the Wally Wood story about a mind-controlling alien. The opening story, “The Flying Saucer Invasion” by Al Feldstein, is unusual because of its very obvious satire of the U.S. government.

MANHUNTER #38 (DC, 2009) – B+. This is a fairly satisfying final issue of a series that was always interesting, though never great. This volume of Manhunter was a product of a brief period in the late ‘00s when DC actually made significant efforts to increase the diversity of their roster of superheroes. Kate Spencer is a rare example of a superhero who’s also a single mother working full-time. This issue is set in the future and takes place at her son’s graduation. It would make more sense if I was more familiar with the characters, but it’s still a very sweet story.

MARVEL KNIGHTS 4 #11 (Marvel, 2004) – D+/C-. This is a completely generic Fantastic Four story. There is little or nothing to distinguish it from any other recent FF comic. This series was an inauspicious start to Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa’s career.

JSA: THE LIBERTY FILE #1 (DC, 2000) – B-/C+ and most of that is for the artwork. I am a fan of Tony Harris, but I just don’t feel that this story (an Elseworlds set during World War II) is suited to his talents. My favorite thing about his art is his depictions of architecture, and there is almost none of that here. Besides that, this story is not interesting or well-written. The plot is confusing and I had no interest in the characters. Probably the trouble is that Tony Harris co-wrote this himself and he’s not a very good writer.

DEMON KNIGHTS #0 (DC, 2012) – A-. Despite being set in the New 52 universe, this Demon origin story would actually work in just about any version of the DCU. It plausibly explains how Etrigan ended up trapped in Jason Blood’s body, and Paul Cornell’s witty dialogue makes it fun to read. I especially liked how different types of demons are distinguished based on the kind of prose and/or poetry they speak, though this idea may not be original to Cornell.

JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #626 (Marvel, 2013) – A. This was the last issue of this run that I hadn’t read. Like every issue of Kieron Gillen’s JIM, this comic is extremely well-plotted and well-dialogued; I think Kieron may be the best prose stylist in commercial comics at the moment. Dougie Braithwaite draws some excellent facial expressions although I don’t like the painted style of his artwork.

IMAGE FIRSTS: ZERO #1 (Image, 2014) – B+. This comic belongs to a genre, spy fiction, that I usually don’t like, and includes a lot of graphic violence, which I also don’t like. What makes it worthy of a B+ is Michael Walsh’s artwork. I had never heard of this artist before, but his art has a very European clear-line sensibility, much like the art of Michael Lark or Chris Samnee. His storytelling is clear and uncomplicated, and his page layouts are effective, making excellent use of white space. I’d be willing to read more of this comic just for the sake of the art.

Repost of an old reviews post I accidentally deleted

MANIFEST DESTINY #1 (DC, 2013) – A-. This is a good start to the series, though it’s not as cool as it would subsequently become, since there’s no Sacagawea yet. The fascinating thing about this series is that it recaptures the sense of America as a vast, unknown frontier. Because we as the readers don’t know anything yet about this version of America, we are essentially in the same position as Lewis and Clark, exploring this giant uncharted expanse of land that could contain literally anything. Another cool thing about this issue is that it focuses on the internal divisions in Lewis and Clark’s party, which includes both soldiers and pardoned criminals, who, as the end of this issue reveals, are still just as rotten as ever. It’s too bad this comic didn’t get nominated for an Eisner for Best New Series.

BATMAN #514 (DC, 1995) – B-. I’ve been aggressively buying Batman back issues because my Batman collection is a lot smaller than my Superman collection. Superman comics from the ‘70s are easy to find in cheap boxes, while Batman comics from the same period almost never show up there, possibly due to smaller print runs. And this is even true for more recent eras of Batman. Anyway, this issue is a fairly average Batman comic with the exception that the protagonist is not Batman but Dick Grayson. Doug Moench does an okay job of depicting Dick as unsure of his role as Batman and as unwilling to replace his mentor. It’s too bad that the writer, Doug Moench, wastes a number of pages on the plot, which is only interesting insofar as it gives Dick an excuse to fill the role of Batman.

FANTASTIC FOUR #229 (Marvel, 1981) – D-. I think Doug Moench was the worst FF writer ever. He wrote bad dialogue, his plots were uninteresting, and he was temperamentally unsuited to writing a classic superhero title. He was more suited to stuff like MOKF. This issue is a good example of why Moench failed as an FF writer. It introduces a boring new villain with a black hole gimmick, but somehow he manages to defeat the FF, who are so demoralized by this that they’re literally ready to lie down and die. And then the story continues into another issue, despite not being exciting enough for even one issue. No wonder John Byrne’s run on this title was seen as such a breath of fresh air.

PRINCELESS #3 (Action Lab, 2013) – B+/A-. My main problems with this series are that (1) the writing is a little amateurish and (2) the political intent of the story is so obvious that the characters sometimes seem secondary to it. This issue goes some distance toward resolving those problems, though. It introduces an exciting new character, Bedelia Smith the girl smith, who is a female engineer or artificer – a character type which is very rare in any kind of fiction and almost nonexistent in medieval fantasy stories. And her interactions with Princess Adrienne are pretty funny. I’m also starting to like Adrienne herself more. I want to keep going with this series.

BATMAN: LI’L GOTHAM #5 (DC, 2013) – A. This is as funny and cute as every other issue of the series. I think my favorite thing about this comic is Damian; he’s such an adorable little scoundrel. The first story is especially poignant because it focuses on Mr. Freeze, and draws out the ways in which he’s more of a tragic figure than an actual villain.

COURTNEY CRUMRIN #9 (Oni, 2013) – A-. I accidentally read this after #10 and I’m not sure how these two issues fit together in terms of plot. But this is a high-quality piece of work; it includes some fantastic artwork and it highlights the father-daughter relationship between Courtney and Uncle Al. I ought to reread this entire series in the proper order.

POWERPUFF GIRLS #2 (IDW, 2013) – B. This is not at the same level of quality as the MLP comic, but it’s funny and it seems very much in the spirit of the original cartoons. The lettering here is especially effective. I’m not sure which of the two credited letterers is responsible for the sound effects, but they add significantly to the visual appeal of each page. I like this issue enough that I’m willing to buy more of this series.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #28 (Marvel, 1974) – A-. The guest-star in this Conway/Mooney story is Hercules, one of my favorite second-tier Marvel heroes. This issue focuses less on his fun-loving nature than on his discomfort with the modern world, but he is an effective foil for Spider-Man. The issue ends with one of the silliest moments in any Marvel comic, in which Herc single-handedly pulls Manhattan Island back into place. This was so implausible, even by Marvel standards, that it seems to have been retconned shortly afterward. However, Hercules is almost the only Marvel character who you could almost imagine doing such a thing. At the same time, the issue itself admits the ridiculousness of this feat of strength, since it ends with a city commissioner yelling at Herc about the damage he did to the bridges and tunnels. This scene is ultimately funny rather than insulting to the reader’s intelligence. This story is also part of an ongoing unofficial crossover involving some mysterious villains known as They Who Wield Power. These characters were mentioned in a number of mid-‘70s Marvel comics written by Wein and Conway, but never actually appeared. I don’t know what Len had in mind with this storyline, but it was eventually resolved by Roger Stern in some Hulk comics that I haven’t read.

MS. MARVEL #3 (Marvel, 2014) – A+. On one level, this is just another classic teen superhero comic in the mold of early Spider-Man, Static, or Blue Beetle. The difference is that this sort of story almost always involves a male hero, of whatever ethnicity. One of the awesome things that G. Willow Wilson has done is that she’s proved that the classic superhero narrative works just as well with a female protagonist of color as with a white male protagonist. She is demonstrating that superheroes are for everyone, not just for white men, contrary to what some DC fans seem to think. In terms of positive depictions of female characters, another thing that struck me about this comic is the panel where Kamala gets caught by the lacrosse team, and all the girls on the team have notably different body types. They’re all quite stylized in appearance (e.g. one of them has an absurdly long neck) but they’re all stylized in different ways. This sort of diversity of female body types is something you never see in most superhero comics – look at the much-debated Teen Titans #1 cover for proof of this. And speaking of the art, Adrian Alphona is emerging as a star with this title. I don’t remember that his style was particularly distinctive or unusual when he was drawing Runaways, but it certainly is now. And he reminds me of Rob Guillory in the way he inserts cute messages into nearly every panel. Overall, this is the one Marvel comic that most excites me right now, and it’s a top candidate for next year’s Eisner for Best New Series.

ASTRO CITY #11 (DC, 2014) – A+. This is much lighter and less socially relevant than the epic that concluded last issue, but it’s hilarious, and reminds me that Kurt has a great sense of humor. This story is about Raitha McCann, the secretary to the Silver Adept, Astro City’s version of Dr. Strange and Zatanna. And it’s worth mentioning that this story focuses on the relationship between two female characters, one of whom is black and the other possibly Asian. The plot is just that the Silver Adept is impossibly overscheduled, but the problems that Raitha encounters in trying to manage her schedule are hilarious. The scene where three mystical beings show up unexpectedly is worth rereading just for the deadpan humor with which these bizarre characters are depicted. Of course, the highlight of the entire issue is the surprise appearance of the Tranquility Frog at the end. On Facebook, I told Kurt that I thought I deserved a Tranquility Frog for having read Astro City continuously since 1996, but he said there were only 6 of them in al of reality, and I was going to have to do more to earn one. ☹

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #4 (IDW, 2014) – A. This was tremendously fun. The quality of the non-Cook/Price issues of MLP is substantially increasing. Twilight Sparkle and Shining Armor initially seemed like an odd choice of a pairing for this series, which is supposed to focus on characters who don’t interact frequently. But it turns out that these two characters have had very few scenes together despite being siblings, so it makes sense. This issue gives us some insight into their childhood, and the scenes with little Twylie and Shining Armor are adorable (I’m almost jealous that my own relationship with my younger sisters was not nearly as good). And the main story gives them a chance to have another adventure together. There is also a lot of other cute stuff here, especially the Mario and Luigi ponies and the blind librarian Lexicon (though Anderson and Mebberson missed a chance to make the obvious analogy to Jorge Luis Borges).

CAPTAIN MARVEL #2 (Marvel, 2014) – A+. This issue is unfortunately missing Lieutenant Trouble, but it guest-stars Rocket Raccoon and Groot, which is perhaps even better. In fact, half of the fun of the issue comes from Rocket Raccoon’s antagonistic relationship with the cat that Carol is toting around for some reason I can’t recall. David Lopez’s artwork is effectively suited to this sort of story; he does an especially good job of depicting both human and animal facial expressions. I was very glad to see the recent story about how organized Carol Corps fandom is becoming a big thing, and I think this is at least partly because of the high quality of Carol’s comic. KSDC has single-handedly turned Carol into Marvel’s flagship female character.

RAT QUEENS #3 (Image, 2013) – A+. Unfortunately this comic is up against Sex Criminals on the Eisner ballot for Best New Series. In any other year, I would vote for it in an instant (and I think I do actually get to vote). Something I haven’t noticed before is the distinctiveness of the characters in this series. Betty is easily my favorite, because she’s so adorable and yet so unpredictable and dangerous. But the others all have equally unique personalities, even though they fulfill the very traditional D&D roles of fighter, thief, cleric and mage. I especially liked the reference to Violet having shaved her beard off.

MANIFEST DESTINY #6 (Image, 2014) – A. Another solid issue. Sacagawea again gets the chance to be utterly awesome, though there is no mention of her pregnancy. Besides that and the giant Venus flytrap, the other cool thing about this issue is that it reveals the difference in Lewis and Clark’s personalities. Their dreams while under the plant’s influence reveal that Lewis is a sensual lush, while Clark appears to be deeply troubled by his history of warfare against Indians. I’m curious to see what happens next. As a minor point, in the letters page, Mike from New Jersey complains that Lewis’s dialogue is not historically accurate, but I think it’s much closer to historical accuracy than is normal for comics set in earlier periods.

AMAZING X-MEN #6 (Marvel, 2014) – B+. I stopped reading Wolverine and the X-Men because I was buying it without reading it, and because the story seemed to have moved away from the characters I was most interested in. I bought this issue because Nightcrawler is among my favorite X-Men and I’ve been seeing good reviews of this series. This issue was enjoyably written, with Jason Aaron’s trademark humor. I didn’t even realize that the art was by Cameron Stewart until halfway through the comic, which perhaps suggests that the distinctive qualities of his art are being obscured by digital overproduction, but it’s still pretty good art. I will continue reading this series.

FANTASTIC FOUR #62 (Marvel, 1967) – A+. This part of the Lee/Kirby run is the absolute pinnacle of the superhero genre. From the #40s to the #60s, Stan and Jack were firing on all cylinders. They introduced a massive number of memorable characters and concepts, and they were both at the peak of their artistic talents. In this particular issue, page 8, a splash page where Reed is drifting to his seemingly inevitable death in the Negative Zone, is particularly striking because it’s possibly the best capsule summary of everything this series is about. Reed says “What a pity it is that it all must end so soon – before I have a chance to unravel the myriad mysteries of this strange, uncanny universe! But there will be others – those who come after me – and they will unlock the secrets of this cosmos – one buy one – for the mind of man is the greatest key in the world – the key which may one day unlock the door to immortality!” Except maybe for the part about immortality, that is the Fantastic Four in a nutshell. And this issue shows us a lot of the “myriad mysteries of this strange, uncanny universe.” For example, it introduces Blastaar, one of the better minor FF villains. And the Inhumans, who were then quite new characters, each get a chance to show off their talents. This issue also includes a two-page splash with a photocollage and some touching scenes where Johnny and Crystal are reunited, while Ben gripes about how love is just a lot of mush. Overall, this issue has everything you could ask for in a superhero comic.

SAVAGE DRAGON #194 (Image, 2014) – B. I had some pretty negative things to say about the last couple issues, but this one is an improvement. The best thing about Erik’s artwork is its evocation of Kirby, and this issue includes some awesome Kirbyesque stuff, including an amazing splash page depicting the Demonoid army. The story is getting slightly better. I’m concerned that Erik is depicting Malcolm’s black friends in a stereotypical way, but at least he’s trying to include multiple black characters. And the story ends with Malcolm making the difficult decision to kill a villain, which suggests that his character arc is at least going somewhere. Unfortunately, the backup story with Ricochet and Barbaric is horribly written. Every line of dialogue in the story is a cliché. I’d rather have a bunch of blank pages than some of the amateurish backup stories Erik has chosen to publish in this comic.

THREE #3, 4 and #5 (Image, 2013) – A for all. My primary problem with this series is that the characterization seemed to be secondary to Kieron’s political project of critiquing Frank Miller’s depiction of Sparta. I think that is still true, but at least in these issues, Terpander, Klaros and Damar all emerge as distinctive, individualized characters. I want them to escape to Messene, I mourn Terpander and Klaros’s tragic fate, and I’m comforted when Damar manages to escape and continue their legacy. Kieron and Ryan Kelly also succeed at creating an evocative depiction of ancient Greece. After I finished issue 5, I kept spontaneously recalling the way the people and characters of Sparta looked, because Kieron and Ryan’s portrayal of ancient Sparta was so immersive. The fascinating interviews with Professor Stephen Hodkinson at the end of each issue are evidence that Kieron was not just trying to prove a political point with this series, he and Ryan were also doing their best to produce a historically plausible recreation of ancient times. And while they graphically depict Sparta as a horrible, dysfunctional slave society, they also suggest that it had its positive aspects. For example, in the scene where Nestos’s mother disowns him, I’m impressed both by her poise and confidence, and by the fact that a woman managed to achieve such wealth and power in such sexist times. Three was worthy of an Eisner nomination for Best Limited Series, and I’m surprised it didn’t get one.

MORNING GLORIES #35, 36 and 37 (Image, 2013-2014) – B+ for all. I haven’t been able to follow the plot of this series since about issue 12. Now it’s so convoluted and confusing that Matthew Meylikhov’s annotations are essential to figure out what’s going on. These issues are all still quite readable, and each of them ends with an appropriately shocking cliffhanger, but I do wonder where this story is going and how much longer it will take to get there.

AMERICAN VAMPIRE #4 (Vertigo, 2010) – C+/B-. Both stories in this issue are part four of their respective storylines, and neither story makes any effort to explain what’s been going on, so I was completely unable to follow the plot. Scott Snyder’s story seemed much better written than Stephen King’s.

THUNDERBOLTS #11 (Marvel, 1998) – B+. I would classify this series as one of Kurt Busiek’s second-tier works, as opposed to things like Astro City and Superman: Secret Identity, which are clearly much more personal and deeply felt. I remember that a long time ago, Kurt said something to the effect that his chronic health problems prevented him from writing Astro City but that he was still able to write Avengers and Thunderbolts. The most interesting thing about Thunderbolts is the characterization of the former Masters of Evil, who start out as villains pretending to be heroes and gradually evolve into the real thing. This issue does a good job of advancing that narrative arc, although it sometimes takes itself too seriously, and Kurt’s dialogue here is not his best.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #603 (Marvel, 2010) – C+. I was initially very impressed by Brubaker’s Cap, but eventually I got bored with it; the plots seemed repetitive and uninteresting, and I never especially cared about Bucky Barnes as a character. Reading this issue, I never felt particularly excited. The one thing I did like about this issue was Butch Guice’s artwork, which includes at least one deliberate homage to Steranko.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #23 (Marvel, 1972) – B-. Mike Friedrich’s writing was always awkward and histrionic, and Wayne Boring’s artwork lives up to his surname (I did not make up that pun). The thing I do like about this story is its depiction of the evolving relationship between Mar-Vell and Rick, which is almost a love triangle since the third party is Rick’s girlfriend Lou Ann. This story also appears to be the first appearance of the Nega-Bands.

CRITTERS #7 (Fantagraphics, 1987) – A-. The primary attraction in this comic is the early Usagi story, which introduces Ino the blind swordspig and depicts how he gets his prosthetic nose. However, the other stories in this issue are more than just filler. First, there is a story by the Danish Disney artist Freddy Milton, featuring his original character Gnuff. This is surprisingly funny and well-plotted, although it’s drawn in a very Barksian style and Gnuff is barely distingushable from Donald Duck. There is also a four-pager by Sam Kieth, which is almost devoid of plot but impressively drawn.

GROO THE WANDERER #21 (Epic, 1986) – B-. In this issue, Groo acts stupid, fails spectacularly at everything he tries to achieve, and causes a series of horrible disasters, despite having good intentions. The issue is brilliantly drawn by Sergio Aragonés and is enlivened by Mark Evanier’s witty dialogue. Also, the issue begins with a poem and ends with a moral, and includes a cleverly hidden message. Oh wait, I just described every issue of Groo ever. This issue is rather pointless and scattershot, even by Groo standards. It introduces Arba, Dakarba and Grativo, but is more a series of gags than an actual story. Some of these gags are quite funny – especially when Arba and Dakarba create a bunch of duplicates of Groo, and then someone says “as any fool can plainly see,” and all the Groos respond “WE CAN PLAINLY SEE THAT!”

DAREDEVIL #1.50 (Marvel, 2014) – A. The Waid-Rodriguez story that takes up most of this issue is genuinely powerful. It’s well-plotted and attractively drawn, and it gives you a sense of what Marvel comics might be like if the characters were actually allowed to age. Mark Waid suggests some fascinating parallels between Matt’s relationship with his father and with his son; it’s especially satisfying when the story ends with Matt’s son saving him from being hit by a truck. It’s cute how the mother of Matt’s son is never identified, like the mothers of Batman Jr and Superman Jr in Bob Haney’s Super-Sons stories. I’m almost sorry this story has such a neat and conclusive resolution, because I’d like to see future stories set in this universe. The other two stories are much less interesting, but the Kesel/Palmer story is a rather touching tribute to Gene Colan.

PROPHET #36, 39 and 40 (Image, 2013) – A- for all. I almost feel like I’m not missing much by reading this series sporadically, because the plot is much less important than the worldbuilding. The fascinating thing about Prophet is how Brandon Graham and his collaborators create a universe which is completely bizarre, unlike anything I would ever have imagined, but which is internally consistent and has a strange sort of logic. Prophet reminds me a bit of European science fiction comics like the work of Moebius and Druillet. I also like how Brandon Graham now includes his drawn scripts at the end of each issue.

DAREDEVIL #27 (Marvel, 1967) – A-. This issue is hilarious, but the humor is mostly unintentional, because Mike Murdock was probably the silliest plot device Stan Lee ever came up with. It strains suspension of disbelief to accept that Karen and Foggy were actually fooled into thinking Matt and Mike weren’t the same person. The primary appeal of this comic is Gene Colan’s artwork. Stilt-Man is obviously a ludicrous villain, but the nature of his powers gave Colan an excuse to create some bizarre vertically formatted pages.

IDW COMING ATTRACTIONS #1 (IDW, 2009) – C+. The only thing here that’s of any interest is an eight-page preview of Darwyn Cooke’s Parker. This is not a complete story but it includes some gorgeous artwork, with lush coloring and lettering. The rest of the issue is full of one- or two-page previews, as well as a reprint of part of a Rocketeer story that I already have in its original form.

USAGI YOJIMBO #40 (Dark Horse, 2000) – A+. Grasscutter II did not exactly live up to the original, but it was still an impressive Usagi epic. One fascinating thing about the first Grasscutter story was how it integrated Usagi and his supporting cast into a larger context of Edo period politics (as well as ancient Japanese myth). The scene where Usagi finds Grasscutter, and then has to decide what to do with it, is perhaps the closest he ever comes to changing the history of his nation. In issue 40, which is the first part of Grasscutter II, Stan reminds us that the sword is still a political hot potato, and that the future of Japan rests on whether Usagi and his allies are able to deliver it to safekeeping. This issue is an effective setup to a major Usagi storyline.

I KILL GIANTS #6 (Image, 2008) – A-. I’ve wanted to read this series for a while. Not having read the first five issues, I didn’t quite understand what was going on, but the story creates a powerful sense of tension, Ken Niimura’s art and storytelling is fantastic. The bunny-eared protagonist has a distinctive and bizarre appearance, and the monster that she fights is massive and frightening in appearance, reminding me a lot of the bosses in Shadow of the Colossus.

PEEP SHOW #1 (Drawn & Quarterly, 1992) – no rating. I found this comic deeply troubling. Joe Matt is a very talented cartoonist, but he depicts himself in such an unfavorable light that he completely loses the reader’s sympathy. This comic creates the impression that Joe is a sex-addicted, misogynistic, lazy troglodyte, not to mention a domestic abuser – he shows himself giving his girlfriend a black eye, and if this really happened, then I find it utterly unforgivable and I can’t understand why anyone in the comics community is willing to associate with him. (You also have to wonder why Seth and Chester Brown would be friends with such an awful man.) The question then becomes why he would create such an unflattering picture of himself, and I suppose the answer is because he’s trying to tell the unvarnished truth, but I don’t know if that’s a good enough excuse. Another disturbing thing about this comic is its depiction of women. Joe’s girlfriend Trish is a far more sympathetic character than Joe himself, and is invariably on the right side of their arguments. Yet it sometimes seems like the reader is expected to side with Joe just because he’s the author and the protagonist. And the way he objectifies Frankie, the girl he’s obsessed with, is also a little creepy. She’s not drawn in a tasteless way, and yet it seems like Joe only sees her as a sex object and not as a person. I think that Joe the protagonist (as opposed to Joe the author) is aware of this problem, but maybe not aware enough. Overall I would say that this is a deeply intriguing comic, but also a problematic one.

NAUGHTY BITS #17 (Fantagraphics, 1995) – A+. Roberta Gregory is an extremely underrated creator. According to Google Scholar, there’s only been one paper published about her since 2010, which is surprising because her work seems highly relevant to discussions of feminism, sexuality and LGBT identity in comics. Bitchy Bitch herself is a fascinating character. I don’t think she’s intended to be an autobiographical portrait of Roberta herself – this is emphasized by the panels where she and Roberta appear together. And she has obvious and massive flaws that prevent the reader from fully sympathizing with or admiring her; she’s prejudiced, dishonest, selfish, and irritable. But I still kind of love her just because of the strength of her personality. Roberta’s stories are riotously funny, but the humor sort of disguises the fact that they’re also extremely deep explorations of sex and gender in American society. For example, this issue, which is part three of “Bitchy’s College Daze,” is interesting because of its ambivalence. Bitchy is eager to go off to college and escape her hidebound conservative parents, and yet the second-wave feminist ideas she encounters at college are too radical for her. As a reader, I condemn her for her homophobia and her anti-feminism, but I also sort of sympathize because of where she’s coming from. The other cool thing about this comic is Roberta’s art, which is often wildly exaggerated and cartoony; again, this is not just useful for humor value, it also helps tone down the seriousness of the content of the stories.

Old reviews I never posted

When compiling my master list of all the comics reviewed for my blog, I realized I had never posted the following reviews I wrote last October:


LAZARUS #4 (Image, 2013) – The best new series of 2013 (so far) finishes its opening arc, as Forever survives Johanna and Jonah’s assassination attempt, but Johanna manipulates her into believing Jonah was solely responsible. This series is becoming a damning condemnation of corporate capitalism and the concentration of economic power into private hands. Throughout this series, we’ve seen that the Family system benefits no one at all except the very few at the top – there is not even a pretense that prosperity will “trickle down.” And the people at the top are completely undeserving of their incredible degree of privilege. Johanna and Jonah have virtually all the power in the world, but all they care about is getting even more. They have far less humanity than Forever, who is barely human at all. (I’m reminded of Jack in Bioshock, which incidentally is referenced in this issue’s letter column, but to say why would be a spoiler.) But since this is a work of fiction and not real life, I remain hopeful that Forever will realize how thoroughly she’s been manipulated, and that she will be a force for positive change. Grade: A+

SANDMAN #39 (DC, 1992) – I read this issue long ago in trade paperback form but it’s mostly vanished from my memory. “Soft Places” is not Gaiman’s best story from Fables & Reflections (I much prefer “Three Septembers and a January,” the one about Emperor Norton), but it’s reasonably good. There is a guest appearance by Fiddler’s Green, one of the best characters in the series, and some bizarre time paradoxes. John Watkiss is not a great draftsman but his artwork is effectively suited to the story. The fact that this story is about Marco Polo makes it reminiscent of Calvino’s Invisible Cities. In fact, at one point Rustichello says that Marco Polo “went out to all the cities in his [Kublai Khan’s] empire and came home and described them to him,” which makes me wonder whether Gaiman specifically had Invisible Cities in mind when writing this story. Grade: A-

YOUNG JUSTICE #6 (DC, 2011) – This is the best issue of this Young Justice series that I’ve read. Possibly as an homage to a classic issue of the original Young Justice, this issue depicts the characters camping out and sharing their origin stories. Art Baltazar and Franco effectively capture each of the characters’ personalities, especially that of Miss Martian, an awesome character who never got nearly enough exposure in the regular DCU. (Which is a misnomer – the DCAU is much better than the regular DCU and it really ought to be the primary DC universe.) A weird piece of information here is that Miss Martian has twenty-nine siblings; how does that work? Grade: A

Addendum to open letter

I applaud Kurtis J. Wiebe for his swift and forthright decision to remove Roc Upchurch from Rat Queens. I will continue to read this series with a clear conscience, and I hope this decision will set a precedent showing that our community does not tolerate domestic abuse.

Open letter to Eric Stephenson

I just sent the following letter to Eric Stephenson:

Dear Mr. Stephenson,

As a comics fan and scholar who regularly teaches Image comics in college courses, I would like to urge you in the strongest possible terms to condemn Roc Upchurch’s recent alleged spousal abuse and to disavow any further association with him. In your public statements as the publisher of America’s leading independent comic book company, you have come out powerfully against misogyny and in favor of greater inclusion of women in the comics industry. I hope that you will act in accordance with these positions by publicly disassociating yourself from a man who beat his wife, and tried to excuse having done so on the grounds that he was angry with her. I will be posting this letter to my Facebook page.

Best wishes,

Aaron Kashtan, Ph.D.

I will be happy to retract this letter if it turns out that the allegations against Roc Upchurch are false, but I feel that it’s my responsibility, as a comics fan who enjoys male privilege, to speak out against this sort of behavior.

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