Late reviews

7-8-14

I wrote these reviews a while ago but forgot to post them.

ROCKET RACCOON #1 (Marvel, 2014) – A+. I AM GROOT! Translation:

This comic combines a fantastic character (well, two great characters if Groot counts) with an artist who is perfectly suited to draw that character. It’s as though Rocket Raccoon and Skottie Young seem to have been made for each other. Skottie has an incredible ability to draw characters and scenes which are plausible and hilariously goofy at the same time, and therefore Rocket Raccoon is a perfect outlet for his talent. This comic sort of exemplifies the difference between Marvel and DC, in that it makes no attempt at “realism” or “seriousness”; it’s just supposed to be fun, and it is. After Ms. Marvel and Lumberjanes, this is the third great debut of 2014.

SAGA #20 (Image, 2014) – A. This issue is enjoyable but it doesn’t advance the story very much, except by getting rid of Princess Robot. The tensions in Marko and Alana’s relationship are starting to become clear, and because of that, this issue is rather depressing. I enjoyed it, but unlike most recent issues of Saga, it wasn’t the best comic of the week.

SEX CRIMINALS #6 (Image, 2014) – A+. This is the grimmest issue of Sex Criminals so far, though it does suggest that the story is going to take a turn for the better, because Jon is finally tired of being jerked around by the Sex Police. This issue also gives us a much better understanding of Jon’s character than we’ve had before. This issue’s revelations about Jon’s psychiatric history make him seem like a much more deep and conflicted character than previously. I do sympathize with the letter writer who accused Fraction of repeating the “dominant narrative” about medication having a deadening effect. I kind of ignored this when it was mentioned in issue 5, but it’s much more difficult to ignore here.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #6 (IDW, 2014) – B+. This was a fairly insubstantial story, but a fun one. As two of the most egotistical and arrogant characters in the series, Rainbow Dash and Trixie are a very effective pairing. This issue also accomplishes the difficult feat of making the reader sympathize with Trixie to some extent. Still, this issue did not have the depth or density of a typical issue by Katie and Andy.

CHEW #42 (Image, 2014) – A+. Incredible stuff. The cyborg animals are an exciting addition to the universe of this series. I also loved the Quacken, an obvious reference to Scrooge and his nephews. The Vampire story has receded into the background for now, which is fine with me.

SAVAGE DRAGON #195 (Image, 2014) – B-. This is not a great issue, but it’s an improvement over the last few issues of this series. In comparison to recent issues of Invincible, the violence in Savage Dragon seems much more tolerable, since Savage Dragon has always used extreme violence for humor value. It’s nice to see Maxine back, although she’s a bit of a Chinese stereotype.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #20 (IDW, 2014) – A+. Oddly, I started reading this on the train back from the comic book store, and then forgot to finish it. This issue is a satisfying conclusion to Katie and Andy’s latest epic. One nice thing that it does is to suggest some depth to Celestia’s character. I think I like her better as a flawed human (or rather equine) being with a tragic past, as opposed to a perfect, unapproachable goddess, as she essentially was in at least the first couple TV seasons. As I have frequently mentioned here, one of Katie and Andy’s greatest skills is the narrative density of their work. This issue, as usual, is full of fascinating gags and Easter eggs. The Tom Baker version of Time-Turner is hilarious, and Pinkie Pie’s line “This is a humor comic!” is definitely going to be mentioned in my essay on transmedia storytelling in MLP.

BATMAN #313 (DC, 1979) – C+. This Two-Face story is pretty forgettable. There’s nothing especially interesting about the main plot of the issue. The scene with Lucius Fox and his son is suspiciously reminiscent of the scenes with Joe and Randy Robertson in the #60s of Amazing Spider-Man. The only part I did like was Bruce’s date with Selina, but even then, it’s disturbing that he knows her secret identity but she doesn’t know his.

ADVENTURE COMICS #426 (DC, 1973) – B. As discussed in my review of #425, this issue was from a very brief period when Adventure Comics was devoted to adventure stories, with no main character. The average quality of the issue is much lower than that of #425, mostly due to the Vigilante story, which is a formulaic piece of work by the thoroughly average creative team of Bates and Sekowsky. However, the Adventurers’ Club and Captain Fear stories have some very nice artwork by Jim Aparo and Alex Niño. In particular, Aparo was at his artistic peak around this time.

USAGI YOJIMBO #25 (Dark Horse, 1998) – A+. This issue is a retelling of the folk tale of Momotaro, which is framed as a story that Usagi tells to some children from an orphanage. I had heard of Momotaro but didn’t know the details of his story, so this issue was very informative – which I think is intentional; many Usagi stories double as introductory lessons to various aspects of Japanese culture. The frame narrative also demonstrates Usagi’s essential good nature and his wonderful rapport with children. He gives his dessert to a hungry child, then buys another one for himself, but then another equally hungry child shows up, so Usagi buys another dessert, and so on. The story also provides some surprising insight into another character, Stray Dog, who turns out to have been personally funding the orphanage.

SCOOBY-DOO! TEAM-UP #5 (DC, 2014) – B+. The sad thing is that this is probably the best and most kid-friendly superhero comic DC published this month. Not that there’s anything wrong with this issue. It’s funny and lighthearted, and it depicts a Wonder Woman who is truly heroic and inspirational. Sholly Fisch has a certain talent for writing kid-oriented superhero stories that take themselves seriously but still make the reader laugh. It’s just too bad that a story like this is appearing in a random issue of Scooby-Doo Team-Up rather than in Wonder Woman’s own title, which is completely inappropriate for children.

MS. MARVEL #5 (Marvel, 2014) – A. The novelty of this series is wearing off a little, but it continues to be Marvel’s most important current comic. Kamala Khan is an important heroine because as a Muslim girl, she belongs to one of the most invisible and oppressed minority groups in America, and therefore she faces extreme barriers to becoming a superhero, and yet she tries anyway. She reminds me of Jamie Reyes in that sense. And also she’s just so adorable and has such good intentions. The scene where she confronts her father is kind of a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming.

AKIKO #5 (Sirius, 1996) – B. This is a very entertaining comic; the characters are all fascinating, and the dialogue, especially the exchanges between Spuckler and Beeba, is hilarious. And maybe Mark Crilley’s greatest strength is his ability to make up names. In this issue we’re introduced to the Sleeslup worms, whose name has echoes of slippery, slimy and sleazy. The glaring problem with this comic is the background art. Crilley’s characters are rendered with great detail, but his backgrounds are usually just computer-generated greytones. The result is that you have these very well-drawn characters just floating in the middle of nowhere – rather than inhabiting a convincing and immersive world, like in Bone, which is the first comic that comes to mind as a comparison. Maybe that helps explain why Akiko has mostly been forgotten today.

VILLAINS UNITED #3 (DC, 2005) – A-. This seems to be one of Gail Simone’s best-liked works. Like so many recent DC comics, it’s brutally violent – in particular, it involves a good deal of torture – although the violence is somewhat excused by the fact that all the characters involved are villains. What really makes this story exciting, though, is that all the characters have unique and well-developed personalities, and Gail does a great job of playing them off each other.

HERO FOR HIRE #7 (Marvel, 1973) – B+/A-. This comic is clearly a relic of the ‘70s, not only because of the blaxploitation but also because of the scene with a deranged Vietnam vet. Despite being somewhat dated, though, it’s a lot of fun; Steve Englehart’s writing is very entertaining, and Billy Graham’s artwork is serviceable if not great. The story is an homage to A Christmas Carol, but the parallels to that story are never excessively obvious or distracting, unlike in similar comics such as Teen Titans #13.

SUICIDE SQUAD #64 (DC, 1992) – B. This is a well-written action-adventure story, but only half of it is about the Suicide Squad. The other half is devoted to a bunch of new villains who probably never appeared again after this series. The cover is a close-up of Deadshot’s face, but he doesn’t play as prominent a role in the story as I had hoped.

HAWKEYE #18 (Marvel, 2014) – B+/A-. I was delighted to realize that the Philip Marlowe character is actually Harold H. Harold from Tomb of Dracula. Sadly he dies in this issue, which is the latest in a series of rather depressing Kate Bishop stories. All the recent Kate Bishop issues have been fairly well-written, but I’m getting tired of seeing Kate suffer constant humiliation and defeat, especially when Young Avengers depicted her as a much more confident and successful character.

HAWKWORLD #15 (DC, 1991) – A-. Although the Hawkworld ongoing series is less well remembered than the miniseries that preceded it, I think it’s a hidden treasure. Graham Nolan is a somewhat underrated talent, and Ostrander’s characterization of both Katar and Shayera was fascinating. He depicted them both as strong, forceful personalities that often clashed with each other. And much like Wolff & Byrd, two other characters created around the same time, Ostrander’s Katar and Shayera are friends and partners but not lovers; they have a collegial relationship but they both have other romantic interests. This sort of relationship between characters of opposite gender is still very unusual. This particular issue is a War of the Gods tie-in, but I actually didn’t realize that until the very end, because the gods involved are Thanagarian gods, and their appearance makes perfect sense in the context of Hawkworld. This issue is an effective demonstration of how to write a story that fits into a company-wide crossover while still advancing the narrative of its own series.

SPAWN/WILDC.A.T.S #1 (Image, 1996) – C-. This is one of the worst Alan Moore comics I’ve ever read, though I suppose I shouldn’t have expected much from it. The plot is exactly the same as that of Days of Future Past, and the dialogue is below Alan’s usual level. And the artwork is by an untalented Jim Lee clone. This comic is only worth owning for the sake of completism.

SILVER SURFER #3 (Marvel, 2014) – A-. I usually hate this character, but Slott and Allred have made me excited about him. The plot and dialogue in this issue are perfectly suited to Allred’s artistic talents. Like Allred’s artwork, Slott’s story is hilarious and cartoony, but also heroic in a Silver Age-esque way. Dawn Greenwood initially seemed like a pointless character, but with this issue we finally begin to see why she matters. Of course the highlight of the story is the renaming of the Surfer’s board as “Toomie”.

DEADPOOL #9 (Marvel, 1997) – B+. This issue is enjoyable for the same reasons as the other Deadpool comic reviewed above. Joe Kelly’s dialogue is hilarious and his stories create an enjoyable tension between humor and graphic violence. I didn’t notice any significant fourth-wall-breaking in this story.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #4 (Marvel, 2014) – B+/A-. I’m not all that invested in the main plot of this issue, especially since it assumes knowledge of a crossover story that I didn’t read. The main things that make this comic appealing are KSDC’s characterization and David Lopez’s artwork. I especially loved the panel where Jackie’s hair “shakes hands” with Carol’s hair.

MARVEL PREMIERE #7 (Marvel, 1973) – B-. Gardner Fox was actually a surprisingly appropriate writer for Dr. Strange because of his thorough grounding in the weird fiction of REH and Lovecraft. Names like Dagoth and Shuma-Gorath remind you of those authors, even if the plot of this comic is not reminiscent of REH or Lovecraft in any substantial way. This comic is also notable as a very early work of P. Craig Russell. His artwork was pretty generic at this point, but there are a couple panels here where you can see his skill at drawing architecture. The first line of this issue is “What is it that disturbs you, Stephen?”, which must be where PCR got the title for his 1997 remake of Dr. Strange Annual #1.

THE FLASH #238 (DC, 1975) – B-. I enjoy Cary Bates’s Flash stories, and I think that the Flash, with its traditional focus on plot at the expense of characterization, was the ideal title for him. But I have to admit that most of his Flash comics were just average, even before the endless Trial of Barry Allen saga. The Flash story in this issue is forgettable; it involves a villain who somehow has the ability to switch places with other people. This story also depicts Iris in a somewhat unflattering light. I get the feeling that Cary Bates killed Iris off because he just didn’t like her. In fact I may actually have read that somewhere. This issue also includes a Green Lantern backup story, which is also no better than average, though it is significant because it introduces Hal’s cute alien sidekick Itty.

THE FLASH #203 (DC, 1973) – B+. This is the story in which we learn that Iris Allen was born in the 30th century. The weird part is that it’s clearly not the same 30th century that the Legion of Super-Heroes comes from. In this 30th century, there was a nuclear war in 2945, and by 2970, everyone lives in giant sealed towers and water is severely rationed. The weird part is that the writer, Robert Kanigher, makes no attempt to resolve the contradiction between this story and the Legion, nor does he even admit that this contradiction exists. This seems kind of insulting to the reader’s intelligence – it’s as though the reader isn’t supposed to realize that the Legion and the Flash exist in the same universe. Of course in 1973 DC was still publishing Super Sons stories, so clearly continuity was much less valued then than it is now, and that wasn’t such a bad thing. As for the actual story in this issue, it’s just okay; the best thing about it is Murphy Anderson’s beautiful inks over Irv Novick’s pencils.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #30 (IDW, 2014) – B+. Again the main attraction of this issue is James Roberts’s dialogue. I said before that Kieron Gillen is the best prose stylist in mainstream comics at the moment, but James Roberts is also a contender for that title. The highlight of the issue is the scene where Rodimus Prime discovers the corpse of his future self, and then suggests cutting his arm off to ensure that that particular future won’t happen. I still find it impossible to tell the characters in this comic apart. There’s a roll call right before the first page of the story, but it only lists nine characters, and there are many more than nine Transformers in this issue.

SMALL FAVORS #7 (Eros, 2003) – B+/A-. Colleen Coover’s pornographic work is actually fairly similar to her mainstream work (e.g. Bandette and X-Men: First Class) in that it’s all about happy people. I think Colleen really likes to draw people who are happy. And in Small Favors, that means people who have sex without serious consequences or drama. Which is why Small Favors is pornography in the strict sense – because it depicts sex as a purely enjoyable phenomenon, ignoring the emotional baggage associated with it. (In this sense Small Favors contrasts with something like Omaha the Cat Dancer.) The result is a comic which is extremely fun, but sometimes becomes boring due to the lack of serious conflict.

WONDER WOMAN #198 (DC, 1972) – B/B-. This is a reprint of issues #183 and #184, both written and drawn by Mike Sekowsky. In issue #183, Ares invades Paradise Island. This issue is very unusual for pre-Crisis Wonder Woman because it passes the Bechdel test with flying colors, and it depicts the Amazons as brave, heroic warriors, refusing to surrender even against overwhelming odds. In that sense, this might be the most exciting story I’ve read from this era of Wonder Woman, although Sekowsky’s writing and artwork are rather crude. Unfortunately, in #184, Sekowsky has Diana go and recruit various legendary heroes, like Siegfried and Lancelot, to hold off the invasion. The obvious disturbing implication here is that the Amazons can’t save themselves without male assistance. What makes things even worse is that Diana loses to Siegfried in single combat, and on two different occasions in these two stories, the caption boxes describe Diana as a girl. Overall #184 squanders the feminist potential created by #183. This issue is edited by Dorothy Woolfolk, whose rules seem to have been different from those of other DC editors at the time; specifically, this issue includes a lot of sentences that end with periods instead of exclamation marks.

GREEN LANTERN #103 (DC, 1978) – C+. This comic is pretty silly. The worst part of it is a scene where Green Arrow jumps into space without a spacesuit and survives. According to the writer, you can survive under those conditions for ten seconds, and this appears to be true, but it still seems wildly implausible that Ollie could take such an extreme risk without suffering any harm. Besides that, this comic has little else of any interest. I think that by this point in the ‘70s, Denny O’Neil’s writing style was already becoming obsolete.

STRAY BULLETS #6 (El Capitan, 1995) – B+/A-. I haven’t read this series before, and I assumed it was just another crime comic, but I enjoyed this issue more than I expected to. This issue is more a science fiction story than a crime story. It takes place in the 31st century, which is barely distinguishable from the 20th century, and stars a master criminal named Amy Racecar. Over the course of the story, Amy Racecar proves that God doesn’t exist and then causes an apocalyptic nuclear war. And yet somehow this comic is quite funny. The horrible events in the story are played for humor instead of pathos, and it works. David Lapham’s style of draftsmanship is quite distinctive – it reminds me of Carla Speed McNeil, but not quite – and for some reason I actually like the fact that nearly every page in the issue uses a 2×4 grid.

COSPLAYERS #1 (Fantagraphics, 2014) – B-. I don’t know when was the last time Fantagraphics published a standard-format comic book. This issue is notable for that reason alone. Other than that, I didn’t like it at all. I haven’t read any of Dash Shaw’s work before, but this issue fails to demonstrate why he’s one of America’s most celebrated young cartoonists. It’s very similar to Ghost World in that it focuses on two sarcastic teenage girlfriends, but Dash Shaw’s artwork is much worse than Clowes’s. In particular, Shaw’s artwork has a serious lack of emotional subtlety – his characters’ faces look flat and expressionless. Partly because of this, the story in this issue seemed dispassionate and lifeless, and I didn’t feel any connection to the characters. Maybe this was on purpose, but if so, I don’t understand what the purpose was. Finally, although this comic is called Cosplayers, I don’t feel that it told me anything about the cosplayer lifestyle that I didn’t already know. Again, perhaps that wasn’t the point, but in that case, what was the point?

The World Cup of Comics

Imagine if the World Cup were a competition between comic book artists, rather than football players. The competition format would be exactly the same as the actual 2014 World Cup, with the same 32 countries, eight preliminary groups, and an elimination bracket consisting of 16 teams. The only difference would be that the nations would compete by drawing comics rather than playing football. I don’t know how exactly this competition would work — maybe all the cartoonists would draw a comic on the same theme, and then their comics would be evaluated by a panel of critics and editors.

In the following post I begin by suggesting possible starting lineups for each of the 11 World Cup nations. I assume cartoonists could represent any country to which they have significant connections; therefore, I have Sergio Aragonés representing Mexico and Eddie Campbell representing Australia. These lists mostly consist exclusively of artists, but in a couple of cases I have chosen writers (Christos Gage, Marguerite Abouet) due to difficulty identifying qualified artists. Also, these lists are works in progress. For some of the nations (e.g. Honduras, Ghana, Ecuador) I haven’t been able to identify 11 notable cartoonists. Finally, this should be obvious, but cartoonists are only eligible if alive.

After that, I go on to suggest who, in my opinion, would win each of the group stage games, and who would go on to win each of the elimination rounds and the tournament as a whole.

If you disagree with my starting lineups or with my picks for who would win any of the games, then I would welcome your comments.

GROUP A

BRAZIL
Fábio Moon
Gabriel Ba
Ivan Reis
Laerte
Lourenço Mutarelli
Luiz Gê
Marcello Quintanilha
Mauricio de Sousa ©
Mike Deodato Jr
Rafael Albuquerque
Roger Cruz

MEXICO
Sergio Aragonés
Bachan
Edgar Clement
Óscar González Loyo
Leopoldo Jasso
Jis
José Ladrönn
Luis Fernando
Rius ©
Humberto Ramos
Trino

CAMEROON
Bibi Benzo
Brice Bingono ©
Chrisany
Biyong Djehuty
Edimo
Joëlle Esso
Erik Juszezak
B.G. Laubé
Simon-Pierre Mbumbo
Maya Mihindou
Achille Nzoda

CROATIA
Helena Klakocar
Igor Kordey
Darko Macan
Goran Parlov
Frano Petrusa
Jules Radilovic ©
Esad Ribic
Stjepan Sejic
Goran Sudzuka
Danijel Zezelj
Tonci Zonjic

GROUP B

NETHERLANDS
Daan Jippes
Erik Kriek
Jan Kruis
Henk Kuijpers
Peter Pontiac
Tobias Schalken
Eric Schreurs
Joost Swarte ©
Stefan van Dinther
Jean-Marc van Tol
Willem

CHILE
Carlos Badilla
Karla Diaz
Guillo
Hervi
Alejandro Jodorowsky ©
Diego Jourdan
Kobal
Pedro Peirano
Gabriel Rodriguez
Rodrigo Salinas
Marcela Trujillo

SPAIN
Jordi Bernet
Carlos Giménez ©
Juanjo Guarnido
Francisco Ibáñez
Javier Mariscal
Max
Ana Miralles
Miguelanxo Prado
Paco Roca
David Rubin
Daniel Torres

AUSTRALIA
Eddie Campbell ©
Gary Chaloner
Trudy Cooper
Pat Grant
Michael Leunig
Pete Mullins
Bruce Mutard
Nicola Scott
Shaun Tan
Ben Templesmith
Ashley Wood

GROUP C

COLOMBIA
Jorge Aguirre
Giovanni Castro
Ernesto Franco ©
Carlos Garzón
Jorge Peña
Quiló
Daniel Rabanal
Bernardo Rincón
José Sanabria
Fabián Tuñon Benzo
Viktor Velásquez

GREECE
Arkas
Apostolos Doxiadis ©
Christos Gage
Yannis Ginosatis
George Kambadais
Vasilis Lolos
Giannis Milonogiannis
Alecos Papadatos
Dimitris Papaioannou
Georges Pop
Alexios Tjoyas

IVORY COAST
Marguerite Abouet ©
Désiré Atsain
Gilbert G. Groud
Patrick Jusseaume
Benjamin Kouadio
Lacombe
Marc N’Guessan
Jess Sah Bi
Kan Souflée
Faustin Titi
Lassane Zohoré

JAPAN
Moyoco Anno
Kosuke Fujishima
Moto Hagio
Hajime Isayama
Masashi Kishimoto
Takeshi Obata
Eiichiro Oda
Akira Toriyama ©
Naoki Urasawa
Ai Yazawa
Fumi Yoshinaga

GROUP D

COSTA RICA
Arcadio Esquivel
Francisco Munguía ©
Andrés Ramirez
Iván Ramirez
Rodicab
Carlos Salazar
Oscar Sierra

URUGUAY
Enrique Ardito
Diego Barreto
Léo Beker
Enrique Breccia ©
Patricia Breccia
Ignacio Calero

ITALY
Andrea Bruno
Manuele Fior
Francesca Ghermandi
Vittorio Giardino
Gipi
Igort
Milo Manara
Lorenzo Mattotti ©
Stefano Ricci
Davide Toffolo
Vanna Vinci

ENGLAND
Nick Abadzis
Brian Bolland
Alan Davis
Hunt Emerson
Paul Grist
Jamie Hewlett
Kevin O’Neill
Warren Pleece
Frank Quitely
Posy Simmonds
Bryan Talbot ©

GROUP E

FRANCE
Baru
Blutch
Claire Bretécher
Florence Cestac
David B.
Daniel Goossens
Emmanuel Guibert
Régis Loisel
Joann Sfar
Jacques Tardi ©
Lewis Trondheim

SWITZERLAND
Alex Baladi
Daniel Ceppi
Cosey
Derib
Ibn Al Rabin
Thomas Ott
Frederik Peeters ©
Nadia Raviscioni
Tom Tirabosco
Pierre Wazem
Zep

ECUADOR
Alvaro Alemán
Ivan Valero ©

HONDURAS
Dario Banegas ©
Allan McDonald

GROUP F

ARGENTINA
Horacio Altuna
Juan Giménez
Jorge González
Pablo Holmberg
Liniers
Maitena
José Muñoz ©
Carlos Nine
Ariel Olivetti
Quino
Eduardo Risso

NIGERIA
Tayo Fatunla ©
Kola Fayemi
Siku

BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
Denis Fejzic
Adi Granov
Dragan Rokvic
Ervin Rustemagic ©
Miljenko Tunjic

IRAN
Parsua Bashi
Parviz Eghbali
Marjane Satrapi ©
Amir Soltani
Amin Tavakoli

GROUP G

GERMANY
Andreas
Arne Bellstorf
Martin tom Dieck
Anke Feuchtenberger
Jens Harder
Reinhold Kleist
Isabel Kreitz
Ralf König ©
Walter Moers
Matthias Schultheiss
Gerhard Seyfried

UNITED STATES
Lynda Barry
Alison Bechdel
Gilbert Hernandez
Jaime Hernandez
David Mazzucchelli
Ed Piskor
Nate Powell
Stan Sakai
Art Spiegelman
Chris Ware ©
Gene Luen Yang

PORTUGAL
Filipe Abranches ©
Cyril Pedrosa

GHANA
Akosua ©

GROUP H

BELGIUM
Dominique Goblet
Brecht Evens
Hermann
Willy Linthout
Olivier Schrauwen
François Schuiten ©
Jean-Philippe Stassen
David Vandermeulen
Judith Vanistendael
Marc Wasterlain
Yslaire

ALGERIA
Mahmoud Benameur
Farid Boudjellal
Kaci
Slim ©

RUSSIA
Vera Brosgol
Sergei Kapranov
Alexei Lukyanchikov
Nikolai Maslov ©
Vladimir Sakov
Pavel Sukhikh
Roman Surzhenko

SOUTH KOREA
Ancco
Byun Byung-Jun
Doha
Kim Dong-Hwa ©
Lee Hyun-Se
Lee Jong-Hui
Marley
Oh Se-Young
Park Kun-Woong
Yang Young-Soon
Yun Mi-Kyung

GROUP STAGE RESULTS

GROUP A
Brazil def Cameroon
Croatia def Mexico
Brazil ties Croatia
Mexico def Cameroon
Mexico def Brazil
Croatia def Cameroon

Croatia 2-1-1 = 7
Mexico 2-0-1 = 6
Brazil 1-1-1 = 4
Cameroon 0-0-3 = 0

GROUP B
Netherlands def Chile
Spain def Australia
Netherlands def Australia
Spain def Chile
Spain def Netherlands
Australia def Chile

Spain 3-0-0 = 9
Netherlands 2-0-1 = 6
Australia 1-0-2 = 3
Chile 0-0-3 = 0

GROUP C
Colombia ties Greece
Japan def Côte d’Ivoire
Côte d’Ivoire def Colombia
Japan def Greece
Côte d’Ivoire def Greece
Japan def Colombia

Japan 3-0-0 = 9
Côte d’Ivoire 2-0-1 = 6
Colombia 0-1-2 = 1
Greece 0-1-2 = 1

GROUP D
Uruguay def Costa Rica
Italy def England
Italy def Costa Rica
England def Uruguay
Italy def Uruguay
England def Costa Rica

Italy 3-0-0 = 9
England 2-1-0 = 6
Uruguay 1-0-2 = 3
Costa Rica 0-0-3 = 0

GROUP E
France def Switzerland
Ecuador def Honduras
France def Ecuador
Switzerland def Honduras
France def Honduras
Switzerland def Ecuador

France 3-0-0 = 9
Switzerland 2-1-0 = 6
Ecuador 1-0-2 = 3
Honduras 0-0-3 = 0

GROUP F
Argentina def Nigeria
Iran def Bosnia & Herzegovina
Argentina def Iran
Nigeria ties Bosnia & Herzegovina
Argentina def Bosnia & Herzegovina
Iran def Nigeria

Argentina 3-0-0 = 9
Iran 2-0-1 = 6
Bosnia & Herzegovina 0-1-02= 1
Nigeria 0-1-2 = 1

GROUP G
United States def Germany
Portugal def Ghana
United States def Ghana
Germany def Portugal
United States def Portugal
Germany def Ghana

United States 3-0-0 = 9
Germany 2-1-0 = 6
Portugal 1-0-0 = 3
Ghana 0-0-3 = 0

GROUP H
Belgium def Algeria
South Korea def Russia
Belgium def South Korea
Algeria ties Russia
Belgium def Russia
South Korea def Algeria

Belgium 3-0-0 = 9
South Korea 2-1-0 = 6
Russia 0-1-2 = 1
Algeria 0-1-2 = 1

ELIMINATION BRACKET
A1. Croatia
B2. Netherlands

C1. Japan
D2. England

E1. France
F2. Iran

G1. United States
H2. South Korea

B1. Spain
A2. Mexico

D1. Italy
C2. Côte d’Ivoire

F1. Argentina
E2. Switzerland

H1. Belgium
G2. Germany

ROUND OF 16
Netherlands def Croatia
Japan def England
France def Iran
United States def South Korea
Spain def Mexico
Italy def Côte d’Ivoire
Argentina def Switzerland
Belgium def Germany

ROUND OF 8
Japan def Netherlands
France def United States
Italy def Spain
Belgium def Argentina

SEMIFINALS
Japan def France
Belgium def Italy

FINALS: Japan def Belgium

Reviews, post-Heroes Con edition

6-29-14

Most of the comics reviewed here were purchased at Heroes Con.

GROO THE WANDERER #48 (Marvel, 1989) – B+/A-. 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. The gimmick in this issue is that Groo gets sick of being justifiably hated and feared by everyone he meets, so he goes looking for a place where no one has heard of him. The highlight for me, though, was the scene at the end, which is a clever reversal of the running gag where Groo’s presence on a ship invariably causes it to sink. Here, some unscrupulous merchants try to take advantage of this by putting Groo aboard a ship that they want to sink, so of course what happens instead is that the ship reaches its destination safely. Many years ago I was at a Comic-Con panel where Mark described this scene in vague terms, but I didn’t know which issue it happened in, so it was a delight to spontaneously discover the issue with this scene.

UNCLE SCROOGE #293 (Gemstone, 1995) – A+. This was one of my most exciting finds at Heroes Con, and I think I only paid a dollar for it. “The Billionaire of Dismal Downs” is part 9 of Life & Times, beginning after Scrooge makes his fortune and ending when he decides to move to Duckburg rather than remaining in Scotland. This story is a bit disturbing in its blatant use of Scottish stereotypes, but other than that, it’s everything I would have expected. As Don Rosa points out in his commentary, this is perhaps the first Disney comic in which a character dies; I suppose the reason he got away with it is because Scrooge’s father’s death is depicted in such a powerful and tasteful way. This issue also includes a Junior Woodchucks story by Barks, which holds up surprisingly well in comparison to the Life & Times story.

UNCANNY X-MEN #122 (Marvel, 1979) – A-. One of the main things I was looking for at Heroes Con was old Claremont/Byrne X-Men, and I ended up buying about five of them. This one is a rather average issue. It’s a sort of day-in-the-life story consisting of several unrelated vignettes, including one rather overwrought scene where Storm visits her childhood home and finds that it’s become a heroin den. Still, even an average Claremont and Byrne X-Men issue is a classic.

IMAGINE AGENTS #1 (Boom!, 2013) – B+. This series has a very funny and original premise and I’m sorry that I didn’t buy it when it came out. The premise is that children’s imaginary friends (or “figments”) are actually real, but children lose the ability to see them after reaching the age of eight, and there’s a division of special agents who are responsible for dealing with abandoned imaginary friends. The plot is less interesting than the figments, who range from Furdlegurr, a giant teddy bear, to Jupert, a dinosaur with a cowboy hat and antlers. This series has notable similarities to things like Monsters, Inc. and Oni’s Sketch Monsters. I want to read more of it.

ADVENTURE COMICS #343 (DC, 1966) – B. Like most Edmond Hamilton Legion stories, “The Evil Hand of the Luck Lords” is kind of stupid, but in a funny way. The eponymous villains have the power to cause the Legionnaires to suffer from bad luck, so the first half of the story depicts Legionnaires having all kinds of freak accidents, which is kind of hilarious. It’s too bad that the resolution is kind of unsatisfying – the Legionnaires get the Super-Pets to defeat the Luck Lords because, for unclear reasons, the Luck Lords’ powers don’t work on animals. This issue ends with a reprint of the story where Pete Ross discovers Superboy’s secret identity. This story is stupid in an unfunny way, and also kind of creepy because of the obvious homoerotic subtext.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #70 (Marvel, 1969) – A. This issue is from one of Lee and Romita’s most productive periods. It has everything that makes for a great Spider-Man story, including relationship drama, witty dialogue, and gorgeously drawn action sequences. A notable moment in this issue is the resolution to the ongoing plotline involving a student riot. The lesson here is that both sides were equally wrong – the students because they mistrusted the administration, and the dean because he “thought students should be seen and not heard.” This is kind of emblematic of the way that ‘60s Marvel comics often seemed sympathetic to radical politics but were really quite moderate.

BAT LASH #5 (DC, 1969) – A+. I thought I had a complete run of this series, but while at Heroes Con, I discovered I was wrong, and the next day I was able to find an affordable copy of the issue I was missing. Like every other issue of this series, Bat Lash #5 is a classic, but what distinguishes it from the others is that the villain is Sergio Aragones himself – the character in question is named after Sergio and looks just like him. The Sergio character is depicted as a Mexican version of Bat Lash; they both have the same personality and they both simultaneously come up with the same hare-brained schemes. It’s pretty hilarious and it suggests that Bat Lash himself was originally an autobiographical character. Also like the rest of this series, this issue also features some of the best art of Nick Cardy’s career. I feel guilty for having missed the Nick Cardy tribute panel at Heroes Con, but it must have been a very bittersweet experience. The few times I met him, I thought he was a perfect gentleman, and I envy those who had the opportunity to know him well.

THE BOOKS OF MAGIC #1 (DC, 1994) – B. This is an enjoyable but somewhat confusing start to the series. I think Tim Hunter is an adorable character, but John Ney Rieber’s writing tends to be somewhat lacking in explanation, and I feel I would have to read this series continuously from the start in order to really understand what’s going on and who all the characters are. I do like the revelation that Tim’s dad is Tam Lin (who I initially confused with Thomas the Rhymer).

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #1 HUNDRED PENNY PRESS (IDW, 2013) – B+/A-. I haven’t bought a Transformers comic since I was about eight years old. Transformers and G.I. Joe were the first comics I ever collected, but I gave them up because I felt (at age eleven!) that I was too old for them, and I’ve never gone back to them. I don’t even keep my Transformers and G.I. Joe comics with the rest of my collection; they’re in the closet in my old bedroom at my parents’ house. I bought this issue because I saw it in a dollar box and I’ve been hearing great things about James Roberts’s writing. I was not disappointed; James Roberts writes some brilliant dialogue, and he has a knack for writing a story that laughs at itself without descending into deliberate campiness. Nick Roche’s artwork is also quite appealing. This comic is targeted at existing fans, and I was only familiar with a few of the characters and had difficulty understanding what was going on in the story, but Roberts’s dialogue is so good that I didn’t care. I’m never going to be a hardcore Transformers fan again, but I want to continue reading this series, even though I still feel a little ashamed of myself for liking it. Which is weird since I’m not ashamed of watching My Little Pony.

DEADPOOL #6 (Marvel, 1997) – B+. At some point during Heroes Con, I realized that Deadpool is an extremely popular character who I know very little about – and that I really need to learn about Deadpool because of his history of breaking the fourth wall, which is relevant to my interests. So I spent about half an hour searching the convention floor for old Joe Kelly Deadpools, and I quickly realized that they were a lot more expensive than other X-Men comics from the same era. Eventually I was able to get four of them for about $4 each, which seemed like a bargain since most of the other dealers had the same issues priced at $6 or more. This is the first of those four, and it’s very funny. I had this idea that Joe Kelly was just another bad ‘90s Marvel writer, but that’s not fair to him; if this Deadpool story is any indication, he has an excellent sense of humor, and while I still haven’t finished reading I Kill Giants, it seems like a serious and thought-provoking piece of work. The only instance of fourth-wall-breaking in this issue is on the cover, where the Comics Code Authority logo is enclosed in a word balloon. The humor comes from Deadpool’s dialogue, the bizarre situations he gets himself into, and the contrast between his carefree personality and his profession as an assassin. (Which reminds me of Scud the Disposable Assassin, come to think of it.) Ed McGuinness is an artist I’ve never paid attention to because he seemed like just your average fan-favorite, but his artwork in this issue is appealing enough.

NEXUS: SPACE OPERA #3/4 (Rude Dude Productions, 2009) – F. I never found a copy of this issue when it came out. Even if I could have bought it, I might not have, because Baron’s political views are repulsive to me and I don’t want to support him. But at Heroes Con I found it in a dollar box (which I believe was the same one that had the Transformers and Imagine Agents issues reviewed above). This issue has the same gorgeous Steve Rude artwork and idiosyncratic Mike Baron dialogue that made Nexus one of the best mainstream comics of the ‘80s and ‘90s.

However, Baron’s story has some seriously disturbing implications. I’ve always believed that Baron’s Nexus stories were more politically complex and nuanced than his personal politics, but as of “Space Opera,” that is no longer the case. In this story, the Elvonics, a violent religious cult, engage in a holy war against the galaxy, and Nexus is forced to fight to keep them out of Ylum. It’s just not possible to read this story without mentally translating “Elvonites” to “Muslims” – and I think the comparison would be obvious to me even if I hadn’t read Baron’s articles where he complains about the threat of Islamofascism. In this context, some of the writing in this issue is just appallingly hateful. Kreed’s son says “I learned to hate [Elvonics] in the Web. I was born hating them.” A caption near the start of the issue reads “For years Ylum had an open door policy. Come one, come all! There are those who have no intention of assimilating, who think they can take over the planet and remake it in their image through strength of numbers.” And the reader is expected to agree with these statements. Even if you pretend for a minute that Elvonics aren’t supposed to be a stand-in for Muslims, this rhetoric is still deeply offensive because it suggests that Elvonics are all equally bad and deserve to be killed. (And indeed, this is true throughout the series; I don’t think Baron has ever depicted a single Elvonic character in a positive light.) This story is a display of deeply intolerant thinking, and it almost makes me ashamed for loving this series.

This issue also has problems with plot and characterization, although these problems pale in comparison to its anti-Islamic rhetoric. The plot with the Elvonic jihad is resolved far too quickly and conclusively, leaving little room for future stories. Sundra is basically devoid of characterization, and Jill, who was never a well-developed character to begin with, gets killed for no particular reason. I will admit that it’s satisfying to see Ursula finally get what’s coming to her.

UNCANNY X-MEN #127 (Marvel, 1979) – A+. This issue is from the beginning of Claremont and Byrne’s greatest period. From about #126 forward, almost every issue (with the notable exception of #138) is a classic. It’s been many years since I read the Classic X-Men reprint of this issue, and I remembered it mostly for the rather silly scene in which Cyclops tricks the other X-Men into fighting him. Even that, though, is extremely well drawn. It’s the equivalent of the gorgeous Danger Room sequences that appeared elsewhere in Byrne’s run. Besides that, this issue is memorable because of Proteus, a seriously frightening villain, and because of the psychological drama between him and his parents. The first time I read this issue, I missed the truly disturbing implication that Proteus is the product of spousal rape.

GREEN LANTERN #50 (DC, 1967) – B-. I feel like the first story in this issue was the product of Gardner Fox’s attempt to use a Marvel-esque style of characterization, and it doesn’t entirely work, because characterization was not something he was good at. In this story, Hal is on the rebound from being dumped by Carol Ferris, and he has also come to believe that “as Green Lantern has become more famous, I’ve suffered!” He resolves to deal with both problems by romancing a girl named Joan, who’s never met Green Lantern, and by relying on his fists instead of his power ring. Subsequently, Hal, as Green Lantern, fights some Nazis – I’m not going to attempt to summarize why, because it’s too complicated – and manages to defeat them without using his ring, but he then discovers that Joan admires Green Lantern, so he leaves her without saying goodbye. I guess this is supposed to be poignant, but instead it gives me the impression that Hal is an arrogant, inconsiderate womanizer and that he’s ashamed of being Green Lantern. That’s what I meant when I said that characterization wasn’t one of Gardner Fox’s strengths, because he’s not capable of making the reader sympathize with Hal’s behavior. At least this story is interesting, though; the backup story is a standard and boring piece of science fiction. It is notable in the context of the first story because it guest-stars an alien Green Lantern who is happily married.

ADVENTURE COMICS #425 (DC, 1973) – A+. This is the first issue since #381 without Supergirl as the featured character. At this point, the series briefly turned into an anthology title before the Spectre became the main character with #431. This issue contains some excellent and diverse material and is a great start to the new era of the title. The first story, “The Wings of Jealous Gods,” is a forgotten masterpiece by Alex Toth; the plot is pretty dumb, but the artwork and lettering are gorgeous. After a silly two-pager by Frank Redondo, we continue with “Death Rides with Evlig,” written and drawn by Gil Kane. This story is excessively heavy-handed, but it’s interesting because it at least attempts to be original, and in its use of fantasy tropes it reminds me a little bit of Blackmark. The issue ends with the first Captain Fear story, drawn by Alex Niño. The draftsmanship on this story is gorgeous, though some of the panels are reproduced way too large, and the story is intriguing because it depicts Spanish colonizers as villains and Captain Fear, a Carib Indian, as the hero. Overall this issue offers a lot of bang for your buck.

SUPERMAN #162 (DC, 1963) – A+. I have to give this issue an A+ because “The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue” is one of the most memorable Superman stories, despite or even because of its disturbing implications. The premise of this story is that Superman splits into two beings, each of which is vastly more intelligent than the original, and the two Supermans go on to make the world a utopia. One of their signature achievements is that they create an anti-evil ray which removes all crime and evil from the universe. I first read this story in high school (in the Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told volume) and even then I thought the anti-evil ray was rather creepy; it’s no different from the behavior modification device in Squadron Supreme. But Leo Dorfman’s story depicts the anti-evil ray as an entirely positive development, and steadfastly ignores the fact that it’s also an anti-free-will ray. And I think this is deliberate, because this is an intentionally utopian story; it takes place in a world that’s free of the grimmer aspects of real life. And 1963 was perhaps the last time it was possible to publish such a story without satirical intent.

BATMAN #183 (DC, 1966) – B-. According to the GCD, this was the first in a series of campy stories based on the TV show – which confuses me, because I thought the TV show was based on the preexisting campy style of the Batman comics. Oh well. This issue has a classic cover which was reused for DC Comics Presents: Batman #1 in 2004; it’s the one where Batman says “Not tonight, kid! I’m staying in the Batcave to watch myself on television!” Perhaps inevitably, the story to which this cover refers does not live up to the cover; the explanation for why Batman is behaving in this way is because he’s an impostor. The other story in this issue is an early Poison Ivy appearance, but it’s surprising because other than her costume, Poison Ivy does not have a botanical theme; her gimmick is just that she tries to seduce Batman.

IMAGE FIRSTS: I KILL GIANTS #1 (Image, 2010) – A-. I enjoyed issue 6 of this series, but didn’t really understand what it was supposed to be about. This issue makes things much clearer. I Kill Giants initially looks like some sort of heroic fantasy comic, but turns out to be a very poignant story about an autistic little girl whose teachers and caregivers completely fail to understand her. Barbara Thorson is a not entirely likeable character because of her singleminded focus on her giant-killing fantasies, but the people around her clearly don’t understand her intelligence. Again, I want to read the rest of this series, though I may wait until I find issues 2 through 5 before continuing with issue 7, which I already have. The artist of this series, JM Ken Niimura, is rather unique in that his style seems equally based on Japanese and Spanish comics traditions.

MARVELMAN FAMILY’S FINEST #1 (Marvel, 2010) – C+/B-. This issue reprints five ‘50s Marvelman stories written by Mick Anglo and drawn by various artists. These stories are all very crude, with no color and some of the worst lettering I’ve ever seen, and their debt to Captain Marvel is really obvious. Still, these comics have a lot of frenetic energy, and this makes them easily readable. The most interesting of the five stories is “Marvelman and the Giant Marrow,” not only because it’s the silliest of the lot (it involves an invasion by the “King of the Vegetables”) but also because it repeatedly uses the word “marrow,” which for some reason is the British word for squash. Two of the stories are drawn by Don Lawrence, one of the greatest British cartoonists; these stories are clearly at a higher standard than the other three, but because of the rather poor reproduction of the artwork, I don’t think they provide a complete representation of Lawrence’s artistic ability.

MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER #2 (Gold Key, 1963) – B+. This is the oldest issue of Magnus in my collection, but it’s not the best. At this point Russ Manning (probably along with co-writers Freiwald and Schaefer) was still creating the Magnus formula, and this story is a pretty basic example of that formula: a villain uses robots in an attempt to take over North Am, and Magnus defeats the villain, with minimal assistance from Leeja and Senator Clane. Of course what makes this story spectacular is Russ Manning’s artistic genius. His action scenes are the highlight of the issue. Unfortunately most of the antagonists in this issue are robots that look like humans, so the story does not give Manning many opportunities to draw bizarre slick machinery, which was his other great strength.

UNCANNY X-MEN #158 (Marvel, 1982) – A-. At one point during Heroes Con I checked ComicBookDB and found that X-Men #157 and #158 were the only issues I was missing between #143 and #203. (It later turned out I was wrong; there are two other issues I’m missing but ComicBookDB indicates that I have them. Oh well.) I was easily able to find #157 the next day, but #158 was more elusive because it’s the first appearance of Rogue in an X-Men story. I eventually managed to find a copy for $5. This issue is actually more of a Carol Danvers story than an X-Men story; the X-Men play a major role, but the story is really about Carol’s attempt to transition to her new Binary identity and to cope with the loss of her memories. Carol was clearly one of Claremont’s personal favorite characters and his deep affection for her is clear in his writing.

TALES TO ASTONISH #55 (Marvel, 1964) – C+/B-. Old Ant-Man/Wasp stories are very strange to read because they predate the most significant developments in Hank Pym’s character. At the time, Hank had no apparent mental health problems, he hadn’t created Ultron yet, and he hadn’t married Jan, to say nothing of becoming a spousal abuser. His nickname was actually “Happy Hank.” (Jan, however, was basically the same character then as now.) The stories in this issue are good examples of the Ant-Man/Wasp formula, with some fairly humorous moments, but they’re nothing particularly special. The villain of the first story is The Human Top, later the Whirlwind, who is made to seem like a far more threatening villain than he logically should be.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #27 (DC, 1964) – C+. “The ‘I’ Who Defeated the Justice League” is not one of Gardner Fox’s better stories. The plot is convoluted and nonsensical; it involves a villain who has somehow managed to drain the “success factor” that allows the JLA to succeed in their cases. Fox does not explain the mechanism that the villain uses to do this, which is kind of odd since, as a science fiction writer, he should have been concerned with making his stories appear plausible. And then there’s some business about a corresponding “robber-force” which didn’t make sense at all. The only thing I did like about this story was that it also includes Amazo.

UNCANNY X-MEN #132 (Marvel, 1980) – A+. This issue, the first part of the Dark Phoenix Saga proper, ends with one of the most iconic panels in the history of Marvel comics: the one where Wolverine emerges from a sewer and says “Okay, suckers, you’ve taken your best shot! Now it’s my turn!” Besides that, this story also substantially advances the Black Queen/Hellfire Club plotline, and it includes some of John Byrne’s best art. I’ve read this issue many times before, but it’s still worth reading again.

AVENGERS #49 (Marvel, 1968) – A-. The main attraction of this issue is John Buscema’s majestic artwork. The story, however, is not one of Roy Thomas’s best. There are two major plotlines, one in which Hercules fights Typhon and another in which Magneto recruits Pietro and Wanda to rejoin the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Because these plotlines both focus on individual Avengers rather than the team as a whole, this issue doesn’t feel quite like an Avengers story.

STRANGE ADVENTURES #207 (DC, 1967) – A-. Reading Jean-Paul Gabilliet’s Of Comics and Men reminded me how much Neal Adams changed the history of American commercial comics. The draftsmanship in this issue, and especially the creative page layouts, are fairly ordinary-looking now, but only because Adams’s style of drawing and page design have become standard throughout the industry. In 1967, the artwork in this comic was radically innovative. The story in this comic isn’t quite at the same level as the artwork, though it’s a good example of the Deadman formula (Deadman looks for The Hook, discovers a criminal who might be him, and it’s not him).

WILDC.A.T.S #33 (Image, 1997) – A-. This story was somewhat lacking in suspense for me because I recently read issue 34, but it was worth reading anyway. Alan Moore’s WildC.A.T.s was certainly not one of his greatest works, but it was a solid superhero comic and it was far better than most comic books of its time. The main attractions of the issue are Alan’s witty dialogue and the villain, Tao, who is terrifying in a way that seems unique to Alan.

SPACE USAGI #1 (Mirage, 1992) – B+/A-. This is a good Usagi story, which effectively demonstrates Stan’s mastery of comics storytelling. The only trouble with it is that it doesn’t do anything interesting with the space milieu. The science-fictional elements in this story are purely cosmetic; if this story had been set in feudal Japan, instead of the distant future, the plot would have been exactly the same. I believe that future Space Usagi stories did more interesting things with the futuristic setting, although I can’t remember how exactly.

DEADSHOT #1 (DC, 1988) – A-. Floyd Lawton is one of the most complex and intriguing of the many great characters from Ostrander’s Suicide Squad. This miniseries provides a detailed examination of his background and his psychology. The only trouble with this issue is Deadshot’s psychologist’s behavior; she does things, including allowing her client to kiss her, which would have gotten her penalized by the medical board in real life.

BATMAN #214 (DC, 1969) – C-. This issue really should get an F because of its sexism, which was ridiculous even in 1969, but it’s so over the top that it’s funny rather than offensive. The premise of this story is that some villains try to distract Batman from fighting crime by starting a propaganda campaign encouraging him to get married. Of course (because the women of Gotham are apparently robots who automatically do what advertisers tell them to do), it works, and Batman can’t go anywhere without being mobbed by hordes of screaming females. Oh, and then one of the villains, Cleo, tries to trick Batman into marrying her, but she falls in love with him for real (five pages after meeting him) and promptly gets killed saving his life. There is also a gratuitous Batgirl appearance. I know that Frank Robbins, the writer of this story, was already a fairly old man in 1969, and I suppose he wasn’t very sympathetic to the women’s movement, but I still prefer to believe that this story was a joke and that he wasn’t actually as much of a sexist as this story implies.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #27 (IDW, 2014) – A-. The review of the previous Transformers comic also applies to this one. I still don’t understand the story and I can’t tell most of the characters apart, but I enjoyed the comic anyway because of the dialogue. I may actually start reading this series on a monthly basis.

ECLIPSE MONTHLY #1 (Eclipse, 1983) – B+. The material in this anthology comic is of very uneven quality. The Rio story by Doug Wildey is full of lush, glorious art and beautiful coloring, and is almost enough to justify giving this issue an A+ all on its own, but some of the other stories in the issue are bad enough that they drag the average quality of the comic down. The other good story in the issue is an installment of Marshall Rogers’s “Cap’n Quick and a Foozle.” This series may have been the last of Rogers’s very few major works; it’s hilariously weird and it shows the same graphic creativity and unique page layouts as his Batman work. There’s also a Static story by Ditko, which I thought was a reprint from Charlton Action #11, but actually it was the other way around (that issue was published in 1985 and it must have been one of the last new Charlton comics). This story is a typical example of Ditko’s late work because of its rigid, inflexible Objectivist philosophy and its monosyllabic names. Static is a very visually appealing character, though; I love the unexplained lines of black Kirby crackle that extend out of his costume. Now for the bad part. This issue also includes a Masked Man story by B.C. Boyer, who must have been a personal friend of Dean Mullaney or something, because the quality of his work doesn’t justify its inclusion in this comic. And then there’s the Sax Rohmer adaptation by Trina Robbins, which is disgustingly racist; it includes lines like “He who watches a Chinaman watches an illusionist.” Nostalgia is not a sufficient justification for reviving the work of Sax Rohmer; this work was a product of a more racist era and it deserves to be forgotten.

G.I. COMBAT #198 (DC, 1977) – C+. I used to buy back issues of DC’s Big Five titles whenever I came across them, but I’ve really never been a fan of war comics as a genre. With the exception of things like Glanzman’s U.S.S. Stevens stories, I find it hard to distinguish one DC war comic from another. The complete lack of female characters is also a turn-off for me. This issue includes some good artwork by Sam Glanzman and E.R. Cruz (who was the first Filipino artist I ever encountered, in Conan the Barbarian #261), but both the stories are forgettable.

FANTASTIC FOUR #194 (Marvel, 1978) – D-. This is an awful Fantastic Four story. Reed, Sue and Johnny hardly appear at all, and the issue focuses almost entirely on Diablo and Darkoth, a character of no interest at all. Both the writing and the artwork are entirely generic. After this, even Marv Wolfman’s FF was an improvement, to say nothing of Byrne’s FF.

POPE HATS #3 (AdHouse, 2012) – A. I bought this at TCAF because Ethan Rilly’s artwork looked nice; it reminds me of both Kevin Huizenga and Michel Rabagliati. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the writing is at least equal to the artwork in quality. The protagonist of this issue is Franny, a clerk at a large corporate law firm who suffers from insomnia. Ethan Rilly must have had experience working in this sort of environment, because his depiction of it is horrible but entirely plausible. He effectively conveys the cutthroat nature of the office politics, the psychological strain it puts on employees, and the tyrannical power of senior partners. Reading this comic almost makes me feel justified in my decision to go into academia rather than getting a “real” job, if this is what corporate work environments are like. This issue costs $6.95 but offers a complex and rich narrative experience; it’s become extremely rare for alternative comics of this level of quality to be released as comic books rather than graphic novels. I hope I can find the other two issues of this series, and I look forward to more work from Ethan Rilly, who is a serious talent.

CHARLTON BULLSEYE #2 (Charlton, 1981) – B-. This issue opens with two funny animal stories which are complete drivel; they’re barely publishable even by Charlton’s low standards. The issue is redeemed by the last story, which suprrisingly turns out to be the first comic book appearance of Neil the Horse (this series started out as a Canadian newspaper strip). At this point Arn Saba’s style was already fully developed, and this story is a gentle and deilghtful assortment of gags and silly dialogue. It even includes a musical interlude. Someone really ought to reprint all the Neil the Horse material, because this series is a hidden treasure.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #138 (Marvel, 1974) – B+. The least exciting thing about this issue is the new villain, Mindworm, who has some notable similarities to Brain-Child from Avengers #86. The fun part of this issue is all the drama involving Peter’s personal life: Peter gets evicted from his Manhattan apartment and has to move in with Flash Thompson of all people. A glaring apparent error in this issue is that Peter’s landlord shows up at his door, tears up his lease and tells Peter to be out tomorrow morning. This is certainly illegal now and I assume it was equally illegal in 1972; a landlord cannot evict someone without giving them notice.

MIDNIGHT TALES #2 (Charlton, 1972) – B. This is an above average Charlton comic, with nice artwork by Wayne Howard, Joe Staton and Tom Sutton, and funny writing by Nicola Cuti. The Joe Staton story involves a woman who marries a hideously ugly man and then tries to murder him. At Heroes Con, I mentioned this story to Joe and he didn’t remember anything about it.

DARK HORSE PRESENTS ANNUAL 1999 (Dark Horse, 1999) – A+. The theme of this annual is “stories of your favorite characters before they became your favorite characters.” It contains some filler material (the Xena, Ghost and Star Wars stories), but the other stuff in the issue is good enough to justify an A+ rating. Easily the highlight is the two-page Hellboy story “Pancakes,” which has gone viral on the Internet, and with good reason. It’s not only hilarious and adorable, it also displays perfect comic timing and narrative economy. Next is an Usagi Yojimbo story in which a young Usagi and Tomoe meet for the first time. This story is also extremely cute, but it also suggests that Usagi and Tomoe are destined to be together in the end. Next is a Groo story. In this story, Groo (as a child) acts stupid, fails spectacularly at everything he tries to achieve, and causes a series of horrible disasters, despite having good intentions. The story is brilliantly drawn by Sergio Aragonés and is enlivened by Mark Evanier’s witty dialogue. Also, the story begins with a poem and ends with a moral, and includes a cleverly hidden message. Oh wait, I just described every Groo story ever. This story does have a pretty serious message about the evils of child labor, though. Finally, the issue includes a Concrete story, or rather a proto-Concrete story since it takes place in Ron Lithgow’s use. This story is beautifully drawn but the plot is kind of disappointing. It’s about the unexplained death of another kid who Ron Lithgow knew for just one day, but perhaps inevitably, this character is not sufficiently well-developed for his death to have any real effect on the reader.

AVENGERS #29 (Marvel, 1966) – B+. I think this is the second oldest Avengers comic in my collection. This is a good early Avengers story with a bunch of exciting character drama, mostly revolving around Hawkeye’s quest for the Black Widow and Hank’s inability to shrink below ten feet. This feels a lot more like an Avengers comic than #49, reviewed above. Of course the artwork, by Don Heck, is not nearly as good.

HALO JONES #5 (Fleetway/Quality, 1987) – D. This issue gets a D for false advertising, because the Halo Jones story, while excellent, is only ten pages and ends long before the staple in the middle of the comic book. The rest of the issue is taken up with filler material, including an average Psi-Judge Anderson story and a “Dash Decent” story which is completely unreadable. It’s a litany of absurdist humor and bad puns. This reprint series is really not an adequate way to read Halo Jones, both because of the low-quality reproduction and because of all the filler stories.

RATED FREE FOR EVERYONE nn (Oni, 2013) – A-. This FCBD comic includes stories by Joey Weiser and Chris Schweizer. I was previously not familiar with either of their work, even though I got to know Chris when he lived in Atlanta and I also often see Joey at conventions. I was impressed by both their stories in this issue, though maybe I was predisposed to like them. Joey Weiser’s Merman story is cute and appealingly drawn, though clearly intended for a very young audience. Chris’s Crogan story is surprisingly dense and complex. It takes place during the Revolutionary War and involves an encounter between Crogan (apparently this is a family of related characters rather than a single character), his racist commanding officer, and a brigade of black soldiers. The story portrays issues of race in a very forthright way, openly admitting that the American victory in the Revolutionary War was bad for America’s black population. This is a good example of a young adult comic in that it confronts readers with serious issues in an entertaining way. I ought to pick up the first Crogan volume the next time I see Chris at a convention.

BATMAN FAMILY #1 (DC, 1975) – B-. This issue only contains one original story, which is a Batgirl/Robin team-up. Dick is presented in the story as a massive sexist, and Babs tries to change his mind about her by kissing him, which is really not an improvement because it just rewards him for being a jerk. I like both of the characters involved in this story (though as a huge Dick/Kory shipper, I can’t endorse this story’s pairing of Dick and Babs), but Dick could have been written in a more appealing way. The rest of this issue consists of reprints, including a silly Golden Age Alfred story, a boring ‘60s Batman story, and ”Challenge of the Man-Bat” from Detective Comics #400. The last of these is probably better than all the other stories in the issue combined. It’s a powerful introduction to a fascinating Batman villain, especially the last scene, where Kirk is horrified when he realizes Batman thinks he’s wearing a disguise.

AWESOME ADVENTURES #1 (Awesome, 1999) – C+. This is easily the worst-edited professionally published comic I’ve ever seen. It deserves a B- for the story but I’m dropping it to a C+ because of the editing. Here is a verbatim quotation from the inside front cover: “Awesome adventures is tm and copywrite Awesome entertainment. any similarities to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.” On the cover Steve Skroce’s name is spelled Scroce. Elsewhere in the issue, both “Moore” and “Awesome” are spelled without the final E. None of this affects the actual story but it all suggests a shocking lack of professionalism. The story itself, according to Tim Callahan, was intended for Youngblood #3, but was never finished and ends on a never-resolved cliffhanger. It’s a rather minor Alan Moore work in which the members of Youngblood search the lairs of various old villains for a McGuffin. The first 13 pages have some fairly good George Perez-esque art by Steve Skroce, but the last five pages are drawn by some random hacks. This issue is only worth owning for the Alan Moore completist (though I admit I am one).

ANYTHING GOES! #2 (Fantagraphics, 1986) – A+. This issue was published as a benefit for the Comics Journal because of Michael Fleischer’s “bugfuck” lawsuit, and is most notable as the place where Alan Moore and Don Simpson’s “Pictopia” was originally published. I’ve read this story several times before but it’s nice to finally own it. I wouldn’t put this story on my personal list of the top 100 American comics, as the Comics Journal did, but it is one of Alan’s greatest short works. It’s a poignant piece of work that evokes nostalgia for an earlier era of comics and despair at the grim-and-gritty future of the medium. Though it is ironic that Alan himself, at the time, was engaged in creating Watchmen, which was as responsible as anything else for the darkening of comics in the ‘80s, even if he didn’t intend Rorschach to be taken seriously. The next best thing in this issue is an early Locas story by Jaime Hernandez. There is also a two-pager by Sam Kieth which must have been one of his earliest works, but already reveals his mature style and is quite reminiscent of The Maxx. The other material in this comic is not worth mentioning.

SELF-LOATHING COMICS #1 (Fantagraphics, 1995) – A+. I really ought to read more Crumb. I‘ve always found his work deeply disturbing, and I still do, but I’m also fascinated by his unique art style and the raw and unflinching analysis he applies to himself. The Crumb story in this issue is a simple account of a typical morning in his life in France, but it has major psychological depth – though it also contains some rather disturbing and unflattering content, including hints of pedophilia. The flip side of the issue is an Aline Kominsky-Crumb story. As she herself acknowledges, her work is notoriously rather crude compared to Bob’s, but she is a fascinating character with a unique artistic voice – literally; I kind of love her accent.

BIG APPLE COMIX #1 (Big Apple Productions, 1975) – A-. This is a fascinating curiosity: an underground comic published by Flo Steinberg with the collaboration of mainstream creators like Wood, O’Neil and Williamson. The stories in this issue are more or less unified around the theme of New York, and how it was a horrible cesspool at the time but the creators loved it anyway. Going approximately in order, the first story is rather silly but has some gorgeous art by Marie Severin. Next is a rare story with both writing and art by Archie Goodwin; he was not a great draftsman, but I’ve always felt that one reason he was such an excellent comics writer was because he understood page design in the same way that an artist would. The story itself is about peep shows, and like other stories in the issue, it produces a serious feeling of cognitive dissonance, because it’s by a creator I usually associate with stories that are safe for work. It’s just strange reading an Archie Goodwin story that includes the phrase “the sleezy peep show has gone beyond your run-of-the-mill sucking and fucking.” Anyway. The next two stories are the best in the issue. First there’s a Wally Wood story which is an absurdist erotic parody of his classic “My World”; it has no plot to speak of, but the artwork is amazing. Next is a three-pager by Al Williamson, which ends with a panel in which Al says “Would you believe this 3 pager took me 17 months to draw?”, and I believe it. Besides maybe Lou Fine or Dave Stevens or Frazetta, Al Williamson was probably the greatest draftsman in the history of comic books. Every panel in this story is absolutely perfect. The other material in this issue is not quite at the same level, and the Adams/Hama story, “Over and Under,” is borderline racist – actually I’m not sure “borderline” is accurate. The issue ends with a wordless story by Herb Trimpe, which sort of suggests what he could have achieved if he hadn’t been forced to spend his career imitating other artists.

SHAOLIN COWBOY #2 (Dark Horse, 2013) – F. I know there are people who love this comic, but I think it’s a bad joke. It’s literally just 33 pages of a dude slicing zombies apart with chainsaws. As usual with Darrow, the artwork is obsessively detailed, but it doesn’t matter because he spends the entire comic drawing slightly different variations on the exact same panel. I suppose I can make some plausible guesses as to what he was trying to accomplish here, but I think it’s insulting to ask readers to pay $3.99 for a comic which is completely devoid of narrative content.

The first round of reviews for 2014-2015

6-11-14

This review project is now in its second year.

JONAH HEX #52 (DC, 1981) – A-. This issue has a hilarious and disturbing cover (a baby reaching out for a scorpion) and the mood of the story is a similar combination of humor and horror. The main theme of the story is that Jonah Hex is a loathsome man and a terrible husband and father; he lets his baby get bitten by a scorpion, then slaps his wife when he complains about it, and then leaves them both to go hunt down some criminals who have kidnapped his young friend Petey, even though his wife threatens to leave him and take the baby if he does so. These events are really quite tragic – the underlying message here is that Hex is so obsessed with maintaining his honor that he doesn’t care if it costs him his family. However, Mike Fleischer’s writing is so funny and so over-the-top that the reader ends up laughing at Hex rather than sympathizing with him. I felt a bit ashamed of myself for finding this story funny, since it involves spousal abuse, but again, the reader is not asked to sympathize with Hex or forgive him for doing this. The issue also includes a Bat Lash backup story by Len Wein and Dan Spiegle, which is very much in the spirit of the classic Bat Lash series.

SUPERBOY #172 (DC, 1971) – C. This is the first issue of Superboy that includes a Legion backup story. However, that story is a very boring one; it has one of the most overused plots in Legion history (Garth and Ayla vs. Lightning Lord) and it’s not particularly well written or well drawn. The lead story, in which Superboy battles Yango the Super-Ape (not to be confused with Yango of the Hairies, or Titano the Super-Ape), is only a little bit better.

WILDC.A.T.S #32 (Image, 1997) – B-. You remember when I said that Ryan Benjamin might be the worst artist Alan Moore has ever worked with? Well, some of the artwork in this issue is even worse. There are three credited artists (Mat Broome, Pat Lee and Jim Lee), and I can’t determine who did which pages, but on at least some pages, the artist completely ignores storytelling, composition and anatomy in order to draw stuff that looks cool. This is exactly the sort of artwork that gave Image Comics a bad reputation in the ‘90s, and it detracts from the story, which is composed mostly of a long fight scene. Even Alan Moore’s writing is not quite enough to save this comic, because it’s mostly a long fight scene, so the only thing that makes this comic interesting is the witty dialogue that accompanies the fighting. However, there is a pretty shocking plot twist at the end.

HALO JONES #2 (Fleetway/Quality, 1987) – A. After reading a bad Alan Moore comic book, I read a good one. This comic is a very low-quality reprint of the original 2000 AD stories – the artwork is reproduced at an excessively small size, and a lot of fine detail is missing. But it’s still possible to appreciate the story, which is a classic and a major early work of Alan Moore. It’s been a long time since I read the first issue of this series, so it took me a while to remember what’s going on, but the story is a powerful exploration of the theme of escape. Halo Jones, like so many real people both in 1980s Britain and in America today, is trapped in generational poverty; she lives in the Hoop, a floating island where all the poor people are kept so that the rich can ignore them. She manages to escape the Hoop by getting a job aboard a spaceship, but has to leave her best friend Rodice behind. This is very powerful stuff, especially the ending of this issue, where Halo leaves Earth while Rodice stays behind, making empty promises that she’ll follow Halo on the next ship. Yet Halo Jones is also one of Alan’s funnier works, though much of the humor is of the black variety. Ian Gibson’s artwork is highly impressive, reminding me of Kevin O’Neill, even if it’s difficult to appreciate the subtleties of his drawing at such a small size.

HALO JONES #3 (Fleetway/Quality, 1987) – A-. This one gets a lower grade because only half the issue is actually composed of Halo Jones material. The other half consists of two unrelated 2000 AD stories, which include some good artwork by Gibson and Mike McMahon, but are not nearly as well-written as Halo Jones.

THE STEEL CLAW #1 (Fleetway/Quality, 1986) – A+. This is another reprint of a classic British comic. Originally published in 1962, The Steel Claw is one of Paul Gravett’s “1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die.” It is a classic of Spanish as well as British comics, since the artist, Jesús Blasco, is one of the greatest Spanish cartoonists. The title character, Lewis Randell, is a terrorist who has the power to turn invisible, except for his prosthetic steel hand, whenever he charges himself with electricity. This is a very simple premise but it has a ton of narrative potential, and the writer, Ken Bulmer, succeeds in making Randall a threatening and scary villain. Blasco’s artwork is very impressive; his spotting of blacks reminds me a lot of Caniff, who was one of his major influences. This comic definitely deserves its classic status and I want to either hunt down the rest of the Quality reprints, or get the hardcover collection that came out in 2006.

AVENGERS WEST COAST #80 (Marvel, 1992) – D+. This was a waste of Roy Thomas’s talent. This issue is an installment in a pointless and forgettable crossover (Operation Galactic Storm) and it’s hampered by excessive continuity baggage. There is so much plot in this issue that there is no room for characterization, and most of the characters are pretty lousy anyway, especially Living Lightning, who is a blatant Hispanic stereotype. Also, Dave Ross’s artwork is not good.

MARVEL PREMIERE #8 (Marvel, 1973) – B-. It is really weird reading a Marvel story by Gardner Fox, one of the writers most closely identified with DC. Fox was a poor fit for Marvel comics because of his lack of interest in characterization. However, during his brief Marvel career he wrote mainly horror and fantasy stories, which makes sense since he was a fantasy novelist and his DC stories often had a strong fantasy element (I’m thinking for example of Abnegazar, Rath and Ghast). And this specific issue displays a strong Lovecraft and REH influence; even the villain, Shuma-Gorath, has a name that originally appeared in an REH story. However, the Lovecraftian themes are little more than window dressing; the actual story is a generic piece of superhero material. Not much happens in this issue except that Strange defeats some monsters by poorly explained methods. Jim Starlin’s artwork in this issue is surprisingly impressive.

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #40 (Marvel, 1980) – C-. This issue has a potentially strong premise – Spider-Man gets infected by the Lizard’s serum and turns into a Spider-Lizard – but the writer, Bill Mantlo, does nothing original or exciting with that premise. The issue ends with a scene in which Spidey is trapped underwater and has to pry open a barred window to escape. When he succeeds in doing so, he says “I did it! We’re free!” I’m not sure whether this is an affectionate homage to Spider-Man #33, or just a rip-off.

LUMBERJANES #3 (Boom!, 2014) – A+. With this issue, Lumberjanes is becoming less of a realistic summer-camp comedy and more of a fantasy comic which happens to be set at summer camp. The very first scene of the series included three-eyed animals, so it was obvious from the start that this story wasn’t taking place in the real world. But I still didn’t expect that there would be an entire issue set in an underground booby-trapped dungeon with talking statues. Not that I have any objection to that sort of thing; it’s just surprising. In temrs of the actual merits, Lumberjanes continues to be a fantastic all-ages comic, on the same level as The Amulet or Katie and Andy’s My Little Pony. None of the challenges that the Lumberjanes face in the dungeon are especially original, but the comic is a thrill to read because of what these challenges reveal about the characters. The creators have come up with an amazing ensemble cast; Riley and April continue to steal the show, but the quieter characters also have some cute scenes in this issue, and I’m starting to suspect that Mal and Molly are or will be a couple. I still have no idea where the overall plot of the series is going, but there are carvings of three-eyed creatures in the dungeon, so clearly this issue is relevant to the plot in some way that is not yet clear.

PRINCESS UGG #1 (Oni, 2014) – A+. I very much enjoyed Courtney Crumrin but I didn’t get into it until the end of its run, so I appreciate the opportunity to follow Ted Naifeh’s latest project from the start. Deconstructionist fairy tales are becoming almost as common as deconstructionist superhero comics, and Princess Ugg isn’t even the only recent comic with this theme. However, Ted Naifeh’s original and hilarious intervention is to mash up Disney princesses with Conan the Barbarian. The other awesome thing about Naifeh’s work is his deadpan humor. This issue includes a scene where a princess falls off her palanquin into a pile of mammoth dung, and yet I almost forget to laugh because this story takes itself so seriously, or pretends to. But Princess Ugg is also more than just a humor comic. Despite the hilariousness of her situation, Ulga is not a joke character; she is a confident young woman who is comfortable with who she is, but she also has a deep curiosity about the world and a desire to expand her intellectual horizons. Even in a comics industry which is full of fascinating female protagonists, Ulga stands out. I eagerly await issue 2.

MANIFEST DESTINY #7 (Image, 2014) – A-. This issue doesn’t have enough Sacagawea, but it’s still fun. Easily the highlight of the issue is the amazing reveal on the second page. On page one, we see three small panels of a ladybug plodding along the ground; in the third panel, the ladybug suddenly has some sort of rope harness around its back. Then we turn the page and discover that the ladybug is the size of a grown man – we can tell because Sacagawea and Charbonneau are capturing it in a giant net. We only assumed it was the normal size because there was nothing to compare it to. This sort of reversal of scale would be difficult to pull off in any medium other than comics.

SHE-HULK #5 (Marvel, 2014) – B+/A-. As far as the plot goes, this issue is mostly setup; we don’t learn anything about the Blue File except that people go crazy when it’s mentioned. But this issue does include some cute character interactions. I especially like the notion that Tigra has a giant jungle gym/kitty tree outside her house. The thing I don’t like about this issue is Ron Wimberly’s artwork. I suppose his weird perspective and his extremely crude drawing are deliberate stylistic choices, but I don’t understand what the appeal of this art style is supposed to be.

ASTRO CITY #13 (DC, 2013) – A. This is a fascinating and difficult issue. The story takes place on a single day, but is not presented in chronological order, so initially it appears as if the various characters in the story have nothing to do with each other. As you read more, though, the connections start to become clear, and you realize that the story is about love, and about how modern urban citizens are prevented from being with their loved ones because of the excessive demands on their time and energy. The line about the cold bed and the note on the fridge is especially poignant. The cool part about the structure of this story is that it keeps you guessing; I initially thought that the (unnamed) dude with the beard and glasses was the bank teller’s boyfriend, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was wrong and that he was actually Zvi’s boyfriend. Also, the Dancing Master has kind of a silly name but I love this character anyway. His dialogue is bizarre and full of nonsensical references (and it’s set in a gorgeous old-fashioned typeface), and every time he appears he’s drawn in a different style, which is never the same style as that of the surrounding artwork. All this makes him seem like a truly otherworldly and incomprehensible character. In retrospect, I think this may have been the best single issue of the current series.

ALL-NEW DOOP #1 (Marvel, 2014) – B-/C+. This issue tries to make some kind of a statement about marginality – we are told that Doop is a marginal character, and this somehow gives him the power to slip through panel borders. This sort of metatextual self-reference is, in my opinion, one of the most fascinating effects that comics can use, so I should have loved this comic. But I didn’t because I had no idea what was going on. The story appears to be taking place concurrently with the Battle for the Atom crossover, but the writer (Peter Milligan) doesn’t bother to explain the plot of that crossover, so the parts of the story that don’t directly involve Doop are impossible to understand. Another annoying thing about this issue is the Doopspeak. Even though I’ve been reading Doop comics for over a decade, I still need to use a Doop translator to read his dialogue. I don’t mind having to do this once or twice an issue, but it becomes extremely annoying when Doopspeak appears on almost every page.

STRANGE TALES #134 (Marvel, 1965) – A+. The Thing/Torch story in this issue is pretty stupid. The villain of this story is Kang, and his plan is to travel back in time to Camelot and usurp the throne of England from King Arthur, so that he can change the past and ensure that the Fantastic Four will never be born. Of course there is a glaring plot hole here: if Kang changes the past in this way, then won’t that prevent Kang himself from being born? Kang repeatedly brags about his advanced futuristic technology, so it’s pretty obvious that he was born after King Arthur, meaning that anything he did to the past would affect him as much as the FF. Another bizarre thing about this story is that Kang thinks the Fantastic Four are his enemies, yet as far as I can tell, this is the first story in which Kang ever met the FF (ignoring the later retcon that Kang was the same person as Rama-Tut). I wonder if Stan just forgot which heroes were associated with which villains.

Of course the main draw of this issue is the Dr. Strange story, which is a masterpiece from probably the greatest era of Ditko’s career. The scenes taking place in New York are beautifully atmospheric and moody, while the scenes set in the Dark Dimension are mind-blowingly bizarre. This story also prominently involves the Mindless Ones, who are among Ditko’s most visually striking creations. This story is an obvious classic and I regret that I don’t have as much to say about it as about the Thing/Torch story.

The last round of reviews for 2013-2014

6-6-14

I started this review project on June 5, 2013, so this project has now reached its one-year anniversary, and I have now reviewed a full year’s worth of comic books.

DEADPOOL #18 (Marvel, 2010) – C-. I’m very interested in this series because of its metatextual aspects, but this issue was just not good. It was a generic superhero story with fairly good artwork (by Paco Medina) but an uninteresting plot and bad dialogue. I think the Deadpool issues I need to be reading are the ones by Joe Kelly.

ATOMIC ROBO PRESENTS REAL SCIENCE ADVENTURES #6 (Red 5, 2012) – D+/C-. Most of the stories in this issue are so short that they never get the chance to build any narrative momentum, and they end abruptly and unsatisfyingly. This spin-off did not live up to its parent series.

SEX #2 (Image, 2013) – C-. I bought the first few issues of this series because it looked like a quality production. I was intrigued by the lettering and graphic design, and the title of the series led me to expect that it would be a forthright and honest treatment of sexual matters. I never got around to reading it, and subsequently, I read some of the pompous, arrogant things Joe Casey has said online – for example, he claimed that he’d figured out what made Spider-Man tick, and that because of this he could write a better Spider-Man story than anyone else. Comments like this made me lose confidence in him as a writer; if he was really as great a writer as he claims to be, then he wouldn’t have to butter himself up so much. When I finally did read Sex, I was not impressed. This issue’s plot is completely incomprehensible; there is a list of characters at the beginning, but it leaves many characters out, and the story jumps from one plotline to another without showing how any of the plots are connected. It took me a while to even understand that the protagonist was supposed to be a retired superhero. Probably the story would only have been a little clearer if I’d read the first issue, because according to one review that I read, Sex #1 was equally difficult to understand. The other problem is the sex part. If this story is trying to say anything controversial or intelligent about sex, then it escaped me; it seems like the title Sex and the (sparse) sex scenes are included just as a cheap sales device. This comic does have excellent production values – it has a two-page title illustration which is reminiscent of the title pages of Mister X, and I really like the font used for the lettering. And Piotr Kowalski’s artwork is interesting because of its stylistic similarity to BD; he started his career in the European industry. However, the use of different-colored highlights instead of bold text is very distracting.

Oh, one more thing. Joe Casey’s essay at the end of the comic is just infuriating and made me lose most of my remaining respect for him. In response to a letter that very matter-of-factly mentions the appearance of a vagina in Sex #1, Casey writes: “I don’t know this guy at all. Never heard of him. But from that passage alone I’m going to let shit get real here: Do not fear the vagina, W. Allison. Embrace it […] It’s finally time to get yourself out of those XXL Superman Underoos once and for all, slip into some boxer-briefs and Talk. To. A. Woman.” (He does helpfully add “Unless you’re gay.”) With statements like this, Casey reveals himself as pompous, egotistical, and willing to make unjustified assumptions about other people. And besides, his prose style drives me crazy.

SEX #2 (Image, 2013) – D+/C-. This issue has the same problems as last issue, but gets a lower grade because of the concluding scene in which a woman masturbates with a vibrator. The problem with this scene is not its content, but rather the fact that it has nothing to do with the story and seems to have been inserted just for shock value or to titillate the reader. (And if Joe 72) – Casey thinks that masturbation is something shocking and unexpected, then he needs to get out more.) Again, this scene also reveals a larger problem, which is that Sex isn’t trying to say anything serious or original about sex; it’s just using sex scenes as a source of cheap thrills. When you compare Sex to another similarly titled series that came out around the same time, Sex Criminals, you realize just how little Sex accomplishes.

SUPERBOY #181 (DC, 1972) – B-. It’s too bad that this issue doesn’t have a new Legion story, but all three stories in this issue are intriguing in one way or another. In the first story, a person claiming to be Jules Verne arrives in Smallville via a time machine. Of course it turns out to be a hoax, but the story shows great fondness and affection for Verne and his works. The artist for this story, Bob Brown, has become a classic example of an old-fashioned and boring artist, but Murphy Anderson’s inking is excellent, and the story begins with a really cool double-page splash. Next comes a reprint of the story in which Insect Queen becomes an honorary Legionnaire. Like many pre-Shooter Legion stories, “The Six-Legged Legionnaire” is pretty silly, but at least it has some nice Curt Swan artwork; I especially like how Curt used vertically formatted panels to make Colossal Boy look majestic. The backup story, “Super-Marriage or Super-Flop,” is ridiculously sexist and racist even for 1972. And I’m not even going to try to explain the premise because it doesn’t make any sense. The notable thing about this story, though, is that it’s a rare Superman story written by Frank Robbins.

DETECTIVE COMICS #473 (DC, 1977) – A+. I’ve read “The Malay Penguin” before, but not for a long time. This is a perfect story by the perfect Batman creative team. Englehart and Rogers’s Batman was a dark, brooding figure of mystery but also a human being; his commitment to his mission didn’t prevent him from loving Silver St. Cloud or kidding around with Robin. No other writer has balanced the tragic and comic sides of Batman’s character more effectively than Englehart did. In 1977, Marshall Rogers was the top artist at DC; his storytelling is as impressive now as it was at the time. In terms of this specific issue, “The Malay Penguin” is only 17 pages, and yet Englehart and Rogers succeed in delivering a satisfying story which is fully self-contained while also advancing the ongoing Hugo Strange/Rupert Thorne plotline. I especially love the twist ending, where it turns out that the Penguin didn’t pass up the chance to steal the Malay Penguin, because he already stole it before it arrived in Gotham.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #191 (DC, 1981) – B+. Zatanna was obviously Gerry Conway’s pet character in this series, and she plays a significant role in this issue, in which her powers are reduced by half. I assume this was done for practical reasons, so she wouldn’t be another Superman. The main plot involves the Key and Amazo, who is a fairly sympathetic villain in that all he wants is to sleep, and he hates anyone else who wakes him up as much as he hates the JLA. Overall this is not a classic Justice League comic but it’s not a bad one either.

IRON MAN #249 (Marvel, 1989) – A. This and the following issue are a spiritual sequel to the Dr. Doom story from exactly 100 issues before. David Michelinie writes an excellent Dr. Doom; his version of Doom is nasty, arrogant, and scary. Doom’s best moment in this issue is when he tells Tony that he had four Renoir paintings, but destroyed one of them because it displeased him. Doom and Iron Man are effective as adversaries because they both have such strong personalities, and both of Michelinie’s Doom stories are classics.

ACTION COMICS #587 (DC, 1987) – B+. Like most of John’s Action Comics stories, this Superman/Demon team-up is a very basic and almost generic superhero story whose primary draw is the artwork. This Superman/Demon team-up is from the very end of John Byrne’s good years. At this point his artwork was already starting to degenerate, but he could still draw some impressive action sequences and machinery. The annoying thing about this issue is that it includes a scene where Superman travels back in time to the 12th century, and succeeds in making himself understood to the local people by saying “thee” and “thou”. Obviously John did no research at all, or he would have learned that Middle English is much farther from contemporary Engilsh than that.

A curious footnote about this issue is that the letter column includes a statement apologizing for the unauthorized use of Mr. Michael Betker as a character in Action Comics #569. I will quote Jim MacQuarrie’s explanation:

“As far as I can tell, Michael Betker is/was a big comic collector, convention organizer/promoter and authority on all things Superman. This story was written by one Michael J. Wolff, who used Betker’s name for a character in the story; he supposedly claimed that it was intended as a birthday present for Betker. Betker was portrayed in the story as a weak and snivelling runt, and it turned out that Wolff was a former employee of Betker and had recently been let go. He argued persuasively that this was personal and intentionally derogatory.”

ROCKET GIRL #5 (Image, 2014) – A-. This is the best issue yet and it wraps up the opening story arc in a satisfying way. Dayoung Johannsson is really starting to impress me. As a teenage heroine of color, she’s comparable to Kamala Khan. The scene where the local people protect her from the cops is heartwarming, and the panel where she’s dressed in mismatched clothing is adorable. It’s not clear where the story is going to go from here, with Dayoung trapped in the present and Annie fired from her job, but I’m curious to find out. The relationship between Dayoung and Annie almost reminds me of the relationship between James-Michael, Amber and Ruth in Omega the Unknown.

BATMAN & ROBIN ADVENTURES #9 (DC, 1996) – A. I’m not very familiar with the creative team of this issue, Ty Templeton and Brandon Kruse, but this issue is a very strong example of the Batman Adventures aesthetic. Batman does not appear in this issue, which instead focuses on a fight between Batgirl and Talia. The creators show an excellent understanding of both the primary characters. As expected, Talia beats the stuffing out of Babs in single combat, but Babs saves the day because of her smarts and determination. and what’s especially powerful is Batgirl’s refusal to give up, despite facing overwhelmingly superior opposition. Meanwhile, Talia fails at her mission (to kidnap a scientist named Siddiq el Fazil, an obvious reference to Star Trek actor Siddiq el Fadil) because she’s arrogant and underestimates her opponent.

SECRET ORIGINS #27 (DC, 1988) – D+. This is advertised as the origin of Zatanna and Zatara, but it’s really the origin of Dr. Mist. Zatanna spends the entire issue in suspended animation while Dr. Mist tells her his origin story, which eventually explains her origin and her father’s. Furthermore, that origin story is the worst kind of continuity porn; it engages in massive retconning of DC Universe history seemingly for no purpose other than showing that Dr. Mist is responsible for everything magical in the DC Universe. The reader is left with the impression that Zatanna and Zatara have no agency of their own and are merely pawns in the struggle between Dr. Mist and Felix Faust. This issue contributes nothing to the reader’s understanding of either character, and is best ignored. There is some interesting artwork here by Tom Artis, who reminds me a bit of early Mignola.

Explanation of the grading scale in my comics reviews

A: This is an excellent comic book which I am proud to have in my collection.

B: This comic book is readable and enjoyable, but has flaws that prevent it from being truly excellent.

C: This comic book is average and unmemorable, without either strong positive or negative qualities.

D: While this comic book is better than nothing, it has few redeeming qualities.

F: It would have been better if this comic book had never been published. I would have enjoyed myself more if, instead of reading this comic book, I had stared at the wall for the same amount of time.

Lots more reviews

5-31-14

When I posted my last set of reviews, I had read 982 comic books since I started this list on June 5th of last year, and I needed to read 18 more comic books in order to reach 1000 for the year. I have now comfortably exceeded that total.

QUANTUM & WOODY #1 (Acclaim, 1997) – A. I’ve read this before in TPB form, but not for a while. This first issue is a terrific introduction to the world’s worst superhero team. Clearly the main draw of this series is the hilarious relationship between the straight man Eric and the comic foil Woody, and we get a lot of that here. This issue has a very complex narrative structure, with events occuring out of order, but Priest is able to use this to show connections between temporally distant events – like when one panel shows Eric and Woody meeting at Eric’s dad’s funeral, and then there’s a two-page splash showing them at a future moment, striking their wrists together and activating their powers. The disturbing part is that Woody is shockingly racist (e.g. he accuses Eric of “chucking his spear”) and the comic doesn’t always seem to condemn him strongly enough for it. If this comic had been written by a white writer, it would have been seriously offensive.

PROPHET #41 (Image, 2013) – B. It’s hard to review the individual issues of this series because they’re all very similar: they all have gorgeous artwork, evocative but incoherent stories, and disappointing backup material. This one was no exception.

FANTASTIC FOUR #15 (Marvel, 2014) – C-/D+. This one was pretty bad. I couldn’t follow the story, and when I could follow it, I didn’t care. It was just a series of fights between two alternate-dimensional Fantastic Fours and Doom the Annihilating Conqueror. This issue didn’t even include Franklin and Valeria, who, in this FF series, were typically more interesting to read about than the adult FF members. Probably the trouble is that Karl Kesel was filling in for Matt Fraction at this point.

FANTASTIC FOUR #16 (Marvel, 2014) – C+/B-. This was an improvement on the previous issue because it included a short epilogue segment with artwork by Mike Allred, although some of those pages also appear in FF #16.

THE IRON AGE #2 (Marvel, 1998) – B+. Like Untold Tales of Spider-Man, this is a new Iron Man story that fits precisely into Silver Age continuity; also, unusually, it’s narrated from Happy Hogan’s perspective. This story doesn’t add anything to Iron Man’s mythos, besides explaining the origin of Roxxon Oil, but it’s a good example of Kurt Busiek’s ability to imitate the Silver Age Marvel aesthetic. Patrick Zircher’s artwork is adequate though not great. I would buy the other issue of this miniseries if I saw it for a dollar or less.

WONDER WOMAN #56 (DC, 1991) – A. I have said before that I think George Pérez is the best Wonder Woman writer. This issue demonstrates why. For reasons that are not clearly explained (though Dr. Psycho is somehow involved), Diana and her fellow Amazons are under suspicion of murder, and this acts as a catalyst which drives the people of Boston to start expressing their latent hostility toward Amazons. It is very powerful to watch Diana face sexist opposition from all sides, without wavering in her determination to help her sisters. Another highlight of the issue is Ed Indelicato, the police detective who Pérez introduced in “Who Killed Myndi Mayer”; his steadfast faith in Diana, even against the opposition of his superiors, is inspiring. The only trouble with this issue is that Joe Phillips’s guest artwork is pretty boring.

WONDER WOMAN #57 (DC, 1991) – A+. Luckily, Jill Thompson returns as the regular artist for this issue. In this story, the situation deteriorates even further; having previously cooperated with the police investigation, Diana finally reaches her breaking point when a male policeman tries to handcuff her, and flies off to deal with the situation her own way. It’s a powerful moment, and also demonstrates how deeply Diana is feared and mistrusted by the men around her, other than Ed Indelicato, because she refuses to accept their authority. The themes of the recent Winged Victory story in Astro City are also lurking beneath the surface of this story. The reason George is the best Wonder Woman writer is because he truly understood the character’s revolutionary potential and treated her as more than just a female Superman; hardly any other writer has had his intuitive grasp of the character.

ATOMIC ROBO PRESENTS REAL SCIENCE ADVENTURES #4 (Red 5, 2012) – D. This anthology series is significantly below Atomic Robo’s typical level of quality. Of the five stories in this issue, the only good one is the one where Atomic Robo meets Bruce Lee. The others range from forgettable to unreadable. The first story in the issue, “To Kill a Sparrow,” has no obvious connection to Atomic Robo at all.

ATOMIC ROBO PRESENTS REAL SCIENCE ADVENTURES #3 (Red 5, 2012) – B-. (Yes, I read these two issues out of order.) This one is significantly better because of the second story, “Tesla’s Electric Sky Schooner.” It begins in media res, during a battle between the titular airship and some other ship, and I don’t think the story ever explains the reason for the fight or identifies who the bad guys are; it’s funnier that way, though. And it guest-stars a series of colorful characters from the 19th century, all of whom are real people, including Winfield Scott Lovecraft, H.P.’s father. There’s also another chapter of the Bruce Lee story, plus another one-shot story that has a rather incoherent narrative but excellent coloring.

PROPHET #42 (Image, 2014) – A-. This is better than the last issue of Prophet I read. It begins with a flashback describing the origin of Hiyonhoiagn, one of Brandon Graham and Simon Roy’s many bizarre and compelling alien creations. There is also another sequence which takes place in an alien maze and is beautifully illustrated by Roy. The artwork and storytelling in this issue are almost up to the standard of Graham’s work as writer/artist.

SEAGUY: THE SLAVES OF MICKEY EYE #2 (Vertigo, 2009) – B-. In retrospect, I think Seaguy was the beginning of Grant Morrison’s descent into incomprehensibility, but at the time it was an entertaining piece of absurdist-surrealist adventure, which was also surprisingly poignant at times. This second miniseries is more of the same, although there is some funny new stuff, like ½-an-Animal-on-a-Stick and dinosaur skeletons made of animal parts. Somehow Cameron Stewart’s artwork here is not as exciting as on Catwoman.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #61 (DC, 1968) – C+. This is a confusing and implausible story, especially by the standards of Gardner Fox, who usually at least tried to come up with scientific-sounding explanations for everything. In this story, Green Arrow announces he’s leaving the Justice League because he’s facing an unspecified danger, and then all the other Justice Leaguers independently decide to disguise themselves as him so they can save him from whatever the danger is. (That is, all of them except Wonder Woman, who puts on a Green Arrow costume but decides it’s too revealing and she can’t get away with it; this is easily the best thing in the issue.) And then each JLAer battles a different villain, loses, and mysteriously switches identities with the villain. And then things get even more complicated, if that’s even possible. It turns out Dr. Destiny caused all this stuff to happen with his materioptikon, whose capabilities are so ambigious and poorly defined that it can essentially do whatever the writer wants. Overall this story is very unconvincing.

USAGI YOJIMBO #16 (Fantagraphics, 1989) – B+. Part IV of “The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy” is not as thrilling as previous chapters, since neither Usagi nor Tomoe is in any imminent danger. Also, the major source of tension in the previous chapters was whether Usagi or Tomoe could survive long enough to let Lord Noriyuki know about the conspiracy, but in this issue Usagi just tells Shingen to send Lord Noriyuki a messenger, which is kind of anticlimactic. The centerpiece of the issue is a duel between Gen and Ino, the latter of whom is perhaps the greatest swordman in the Usagi universe. Ino was written out of the series many years before I started reading it, so it’s pretty cool to see him in his prime.

SOULSEARCHERS AND COMPANY #59 (Claypool, 2002) – D. I got this for free at Comic-Con many years ago, but never bothered to read it. Soulsearchers is a creator-owned work of Peter David, and is written in much the same humorous style as Young Justice, but unlike YJ, this comic is never anything more than a series of bad puns. It doesn’t succeed in making the reader care about any of the characters. Perhaps this issue would have had a greater impact on me if I had been reading the series long enough to become familiar with the characters, but none of them seems to have any significant depth.

FCBD AND BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER/THE GUILD: BEACH’D #nn (Dark Horse, 2012) – C+. This is an okay comic book; Felicia Day’s writing in the Guild story is very witty and it’s clear that she has a lot of talent. However, this is a terrible FCBD comic because it assumes the reader is already familiar with its characters and settings. Therefore, if the reader is not a fan of Buffy or the Guild, this comic makes no sense. I had to read almost the entire Guild story before I realized that the characters were members of an MMORPG guild. To me, an FCBD comic should not cater exclusively to existing fans of its series but should also try to attract new readers, and that means it has to be accessible, which this comic is not.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #19 (IDW, 2014) – A. So much amazing stuff here. It’s a little disappointing that this issue is mostly a flashback and doesn’t show us very much of the alternate universe (I’m especially curious about the alternate Mane Six). But the depiction of Celestia and Sombra’s romance is touching, and they are an adorable couple. Andy Price continues to be one of the top artists in commercial comics; he reminds me a bit of Don Rosa because of the amount of detail packed into each of his panels. The thing in this issue that’s most relevant to my interests, though, is the panel where Pinkie Pie and Twilight Sparkle argue about continuity, especially Pinkie Pie’s line “Our world doesn’t even make sense! Why should this one? Who needs continuity?” That’s probably going to make it into my MLP book chapter.

MS. MARVEL #4 (Marvel, 2014) – A-. This was my least favorite issue so far. I think that was less because of the merits than because I read it when I was exhausted, but this issue seemed to have less narrative content than the first three; the business with the robbery took up about half the issue. Still, Kamala continues to be the most important character in current Marvel comics. She’s so awkwardly cute (“adorkable” in TVTropes terms) and yet she has such a strong desire to be a hero. Reading the #YesAllWomen hashtag has reminded me of how important it is to have characters like her in comic books.

CHEW/REVIVAL #1 (Image, 2014) – A. On reading this comic, I had not read any Revival (now I have, see below) and the Revival half of this comic was a good introduction to that franchise. It took me a while to understand the premise, and I’m still not sure I quite get what a “reviver” is, but I really like the story’s Midwestern setting, and the writing and the artwork are both quite high in quality. The especially weird thing about this story was seeing Tony Chu drawn in a realistic style. I’m used to seeing him depicted as a cartoony character, so this story almost gave me a glimpse of what he might look like in real life. Meanwhile, the Chew story is just a typical Chew story, which is a good thing. The last page is especially hilarious. I like how Layman and Guillory lampshade the fact that the two stories contradict each other (each story claims to depict the first meeting between the characters involved). I don’t think they really need to agree with each other; it seems obvious that these two series don’t share the same continuity.

UNCANNY X-MEN #265 (Marvel, 1990) – B-. This issue is from what was possibly the worst period of Claremont’s original run, when the X-Men were all separated and each of them was having solo adventures. At this point the tone of the series became really bleak and the stories and characters were often truly bizarre; for example, the villains this issue are Nanny and the Orphan Maker, perhaps Claremont’s silliest creations. Claremont does create an effective sense of tension with his focus on Storm, reduced to childhood and with no memories of her time with the X-Men, but I don’t know why he thought this story was worth telling to begin with.

INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #17 (Marvel, 2009) – B/B-. Matt Fraction is probably the best Iron Man writer since David Michelinie, but his stories somehow fail to connect with me on an emotional level. This is partly because I just don’t like Iron Man as much as other Marvel titles, and partly because of the excessive focus on Norman Osborn, a villain I truly loathe (in my personal headcanon, he never came back from the dead). Perhaps my favorite thing about this Iron Man run is Pepper Potts becoming Rescue, but she plays no significant role in this issue. Salvador Larroca’s artwork in this issue is excellent; I’ve always liked his art ever since the ‘90s, and I think he should be more of a superstar than he is.

UNCANNY X-MEN #227 (Marvel, 1988) – C+. This is a landmark issue; it’s the one where the X-Men die fighting the Adversary and are resurrected, but with the entire world still believing them dead. However, the importance of this issue is not matched by its quality. The Adversary is not an effective villain, because he’s so far above the X-Men’s power level that they require divine intervention in order to defeat him. And the whole Roma/Forge/Adversary storyline is just confusing and irrelevant to any of the central themes of the X-Men series. The only really effective moment in this issue is when Kitty learns about the X-Men’s deaths on TV, but that reveals an additional flaw in this story: Claremont never gives a convincing explanation for why the X-Men refused to tell their loved ones that they were still alive. In this issue, he even has Dazzler say that it’s unfair and cruel to let their families believe they’re dead, and then the other X-Men reply that it’s necessry to do so in order to protect their loved ones, but I don’t really understand why this is the case. So this ends up being another instance in which the X-Men act like assholes for no good reason (see also Cyclops leaving his wife and child).

REVIVAL #8 (Image, 2013) – A-. I already had this, but I didn’t feel motivated to read it until I read Chew/Revival. I grew up in the Upper Midwest, and although Minneapolis is very different from rural Wisconsin, the setting of this comic still seemed familiar to me. Seeley and Norton do a nice job of depicting the Midwestern landscape and culture. I even like how some of the characters have Swedish names (in Minnesota, names like Gunderson and Larson and Olson are as ubiquitous as Smith and Jones). I can’t quite follow the story, but Dana Cypress is an exciting protagonist.

IRON FIST #3 (Marvel, 1976) – B-. This issue would have been much better if not for Frank Chiaramonte’s lifeless inking, which destroys all the fine detail of Byrne’s pencils. This results in generic-looking artwork which is barely recognizable as Byrne. And this detracts from the story, which is actually quite gripping. This issue reveals for the first time that Misty Knight has a bionic arm. Also, in this issue Danny tries to save a little girl, but she dies on the operating table; this is a surprisingly bleak moment in a ‘70s comic book.

WILDC.A.T.S #24 (Image, 1995) – A-. Ryan Benjamin, who illustrates the first half of this comic, must be one of the worst artists Alan Moore ever worked with (besides Rob Liefeld, of course). His draftsmanship is okay but his storytelling is awful. There’s one two-page splash where Maul describes a city as looking like something out of Blake or Piranesi, but you can’t tell because the entire left-hand page is covered up by Maul’s back, and there’s only enough room to show one or two buildings. It’s a testament to the quality of Alan’s prose that this issue is still very enjoyable despite such awful artwork. The depiction of Maul’s people, the enslaved original inhabitants of Khera, is fascinating. The second half of the issue, which takes place on Earth, is drawn by a better artist, but the story is not quite as interesting.

SEVEN SOLDIERS: KLARION #3 (DC, 2005) – A-. Frazer Irving, the artist of this series, is a major talent. What especially impresses me about his work is the sensitive and evocative digital coloring. His artwork creates an eerie atmosphere which is appropriate to the unsettling, uncanny tone of Grant Morrison’s story. As for the story, Klarion is a unique and fascinating protagonist, and Melmoth is a very creepy villain.

L.E.G.I.O.N. ’90 #20 (DC, 1990) – A-. This series was better than the regular Legion title of its time, mostly because of the depth of characterization. This series had a large and diverse ensemble cast which, unusually for its time, included a large number of female characters (Strata, Stealth, Phase, Lyrissa Mallor, Marij’n), and Alan Grant’s writing conveyed the sense that these characters genuinely liked and supported each other despite their different backgrounds. And this, for me, is the most important theme of the Legion of Super-Heroes, so L.E.G.I.O.N. was actually a better Legion title than the main one. I also like how the characters all distrusted their leader, Vril Dox, and were not shy about letting him know it. The artist in this issue is Jim Fern, whose storytelling is solid although his draftsmanship is boring. This issue also features some nice work by Gaspar Saladino, the best letterer in the history of American comics.

METAMORPHO #7 (DC, 1966) – B+/A-. This is perhaps the quintessential Bob Haney comic because of its glorious and unapologetic weirdness. This issue has a bizarre and convoluted plot which is impossible to summarize except by saying that it involves geologists and volcanoes somehow, but it’s not really supposed to make sense. Unfortunately, Sal Trapani’s artwork is not weird enough to capture the craziness of Haney’s plotting. Besides the insane storytelling, the other main draw of this series is the fascinating dynamic between Rex, Stagg, Sapphire and Java.

DOCTOR STRANGE #166 (Marvel, 1967) – A+. The Doctor Strange story in this issue hardly seems like a Doctor Strange story at all. The villains, a scientist named Yandroth and his pet robot, seem like more appropriate opponents for Iron Man or the Avengers. Because the story has no magical elements, it could have had any other Marvel superhero as the protagonist. Therefore, the A+ rating is exclusively for the Steranko story, which is one of the best art jobs of his short career. I especially love the page that’s formatted like a maze, but every page of this story is full of dynamic storytelling, improbable machinery, and thrilling action. At this point in his career Steranko was the leading artist in superhero comics other than Kirby, although that didn’t last long.

NEW MUTANTS #50 (Marvel, 1987) – B. One of the things I like about Claremont’s work is the raw, unfettered emotion, but this issue almost has too much of that. For example, this issue contains three different scenes where one of the New Mutants tearfully hugs Professor Xavier, and two different scenes in which a New Mutant tells Xavier that he’s his/her real father. (And one of the New Mutants in question is Magik, who already has a father.) It’s almost creepy. The story in this issue is epic but also excessively convoluted, involving both Magus and S’ym. One cute thing about this issue was the number of references to other comics. Besides S’ym, who’s based on Cerebus, there’s also a character named Haggard who owns a bar called M’nden’s, obviously in reference to Grimjack (John Gaunt) and Munden’s Bar, and the patrons in the bar include Nexus and the Micronauts.

PROPHET #42 (Image, 2014) – D+/C-. This is probably the worst issue of the series so far. I’m not familiar with Ron Wimberly’s work, but this issue is not a good introduction to it; his artwork is so loose and crude that it seems more worthy of a coloring book than a comic book. I suppose he made a deliberate aesthetic choice to draw this way, but it doesn’t work for me.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #75 (DC, 1969) – C+/B-. The best thing about this issue is the cover, which shows Black Canary standing over some defeated JLAers and gloating. This issue is also historically important as the first appearance of the Canary Cry, and possibly the beginning of Ollie and Dinah’s romance. However, the story is just a series of fights between the JLA and duplicates representing their dark sides. The plot is narrated by Ollie and Dinah, but Mike Friedrich doesn’t do a great job of exploring their characters, although characterization was not his strong suit (really, he didn’t have a strong suit). As mentioned above, the issue ends by tentatively suggesting that Ollie and Dinah may be about to fall in love, but their relationship would be developed by other writers in other series.

X-MEN #108 (Marvel, 1977) – A+. This is the first issue of Claremont and Byrne’s X-Men and the conclusion to the M’Krann Crystal story. I’ve read this issue before when it was reprinted in X-Men Classic, but that version was substantially different, since it incorporated new panels and altered the panel structure of the original story in order to accommodate them. This issue is an effective introduction to Claremont and Byrne’s run; it includes both exciting revelations (like Jean discovering Corsair is Scott’s dad) and humor (for example, the two guardians of the M’Krann Crystal are named after Mutt and Jeff). It ends with Phoenix’s greatest triumph, as she draws upon the life force of all her fellow X-Men to prevent the crystal from destroying the universe. She does this by creating a pattern “shaped like the mystic tree of life, with Xavier its lofty crown and Colossus its base”; obviously Claremont was thinking of the Kabbalah here, but I imagine that most readers at the time would have had no idea what he was talking about. But that is just a minor nitpick.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #99 (Marvel, 1971) – A. This issue is a brief lull between the Green Goblin storyline that concluded in #98 and the six arms storyline that begins in #100. It’s perhaps the ultimate example of “who says we never give Spidey a happy ending.” Peter spends the entire issue unsuccessfully trying to make some money so he can take Gwen out to a nice dinner, but on the last page, he discovers that he doesn’t need the money because Gwen had planned for them to spend a romantic evening at home. There’s all kinds of other fun stuff in this issue, like Spidey appearing on a TV talk show and using it as an opportunity to complain about unfair treatment of prisoners. This was one of the last good comics Stan Lee ever wrote, but at this point in his career he still had a lot of talent left.

AVENGERS #35 (Marvel, 1966) – B+. This is only an average Avengers comic, with boring art by Don Heck, but it’s still a good example of Roy Thomas’s skill with plot and characterization. The Living Laser is a fairly silly villain, and the plot involves his attempt to take over a Latin American banana republic, which was probably already a cliché at the time. However, Roy manages to make this silly plot fairly exciting, and there is some nice banter between the three male Avengers. It’s unfortunate, though, that Jan spends the entire issue as a hostage. Oh, and I forgot to mention that this issue includes a character named Lucy Barton who appears to be no relation to Hawkeye. According to Kurt Mitchell, Roy had not yet revealed that Barton is also Hawkeye’s last name, but it’s surprising that he never went back and explained that Hawkeye and Lucy were related somehow.

DETECTIVE COMICS #407 (DC, 1971) – A+. “Marriage: Impossible,” one of the few Neal Adams Batman stories I hadn’t read, is a classic. It stars Man-Bat, who is a fascinating villain because of his moral ambiguity – his love for his wife Francine (and later their daughter) constantly clashes with his obsession with bats, and he is often as much a hero as a villain. Francine is an equally compelling character. This story is a good example of the complexity of Kirk and Francine’s characters. Kirk’s goal is just to marry Francine and live happily ever after, but he wants her to take his serum and become a bat first, as a proof of her love for him. And he emotionally blackmails her into agreeing, which is the only actual villainous thing he does in this story. In exchange, Batman almost becomes the villain of the story, since his goal is to make Kirk and Francine change back into humans, even if they’re perfectly happy being bats. It’s almost as if Batman is trying to force Kirk and Francine to conform to his standards of beauty and humanity (at one point he observes that Francine loves Kirk “enough to sacrifice her human beauty to become his animal mate”). I don’t know if this moral ambiguity is intentional or if Frank Robbins just assumed the readers would sympathize with Batman, but whatever. Neal Adams’s artwork in this story is incredible, especially the shocking splash page where Batman pulls off Francine’s human mask to reveal that she’s become a woman-bat. This issue also includes a Batgirl backup story which is just average.

X-MEN #123 (Marvel, 1979) – A+. This is another story by Claremont, Byrne and Austin, probably the greatest Marvel creative team other than Lee, Kirby and Sinnott. This particular issue is not one of their best, since it features Arcade, a fundamentally boring villain – every Arcade story is the same no matter what characters are involved. At least Arcade imprisons each of the X-Men separately, which means Claremont has an opportunity to shine a spotlight on each of them in turn. And even Claremont and Byrne’s lesser stories are still worthy of an A+.

AVENGERS #134 (Marvel, 1975) – B+/A-. This is one of the few Englehart Avengers issues I didn’t already have, and it gives me a complete run from #120 to #178. This issue is about as convoluted as Marvel comics get; Englehart is comparable to Thomas, Robinson or Busiek in his desire to make all the continuity pieces fit together, even if they weren’t meant to. Most of the story consists of a series of flashbacks retelling the origin of Mantis (or rather, the Priests of Pama) and the Vision/Human Torch. Unfortunately, while this material is interesting, there is so much of it that little room is left over for characterization, which is Englehart’s real strength.

VANGUARD ILLUSTRATED #1 (Pacific, 1983) – B+/A-. I didn’t know this comic existed until I came across it in a $1 or $2 box at Wizard World Atlanta (see, that show was good for something at least). This comic comes from the very earliest generation of direct market comics, but all three of the stories in it have a sensibility that reminds me of Star*Reach, from the previous generation of independent comics. The first story has some fairly good art by the chronically underrated Tom Yeates, but is written by David Campiti, who never amounted to anything, and you can see why. The story has two different premises (a man who’s been genetically engineered to be irresistible to women, and a living planet) which have nothing to do with each other, and it’s vaguely sexist to boot. This story may have been an unacknowledged inspiration for “Mogo Doesn’t Socialize,” but that story was much better written. The other two stories are far more exciting. The second one, “Encyclopedias,” is a Mike Baron-Steve Rude collaboration that apparently predates Nexus, though it was published afterward. The story is just kind of silly, involving encyclopedia salesmen in a post-apocalyptic universe, but the artwork offers a glimpse into the earliest stages of the Dude’s career; his work is rather crude but his style is still recognizable. The last story is the first U.S. work of Peter Milligan and Brendan McCarthy. The artwork here is fascinating, especially in terms of the coloring and the high level of detail. McCarthy is an artist I’m eager to learn more about. Overall, this issue was an exciting discovery.

REVIVAL #16 (Image, 2014) – B+. This issue is comparable to the last issue of Revival that I read, but gets a lower rating because the story is harder to follow. One cool thing in this issue is the scene where Dana falls through a glass door and ends up with shards of glass stuck in her back. This is something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before; in most comic books, people can crash through panes of glass and walk away completely unscathed.

DETECTIVE COMICS #427 (DC, 1972) – A. This issue starts with another Man-Bat story, “Man-Bat Over Vegas,” which was deemed worthy of inclusion in the Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told TPB. I have that book, but have not read it in years, so this story was almost new to me. Possibly the reason it was included there is because of the plot twist, where it turns out that the titular Man-Bat is actually Francine, not Kirk. Unlike in “Marriage: Impossible,” this story does not depict Kirk as the villain, but the writer/artist, Frank Robbins (who also wrote “Marriage: Impossible”), implies that Francine’s transformation into a bat is the result of Kirk’s past foolish behavior. Robbins’s draftsmanship is, to put it kindly, an acquired taste which I have yet to acquire, but his storytelling is excellent. He deserves to be remembered for more than just the ugliness of his linework. This issue also includes a Jason Bard backup story, which is certainly not worthy of inclusion in any kind of Greatest Stories Ever Told collection. Notably, at one point there’s a footnote asking whether the reader noticed the clue hidden in page 3, panel 3, but there’s no clue there that I can see; either I’m missing it or the artist left it out.

LEGION LOST #4 (DC, 2000) – B. I have an ambivalent relationship to Abnett and Lanning’s Legion. They were clearly much better than the previous writing team, and their stories are often regarded as classics. They were also very good at using science fiction tropes. However, they tended to write the Legion as if it were a Marvel comic – I don’t know quite what I mean by that, but there is a certain light-hearted, optimistic sensibility that the best Legion stories have in common, and I felt that this sensibility was often missing in DnA’s Legion. I also didn’t like their excessive focus on the three founders and Brainy, and I hated what they did with Phantom Girl. This issue is a good example of their take on the Legion. It’s sort of a day-in-the-life story, depicting the Legionnaires’ typical activities as they try to get themselves back home, and it gives up brief glimpses of each of the characters individually, which is a tough thing to do when writing a series with such a large cast. The trouble is that the artist for this issue, Pascal Alixe, is an even worse draftsman than Frank Robbins; his art is just full of unnecessary linework. The other weird thing is that in this issue Saturn Girl and Phantom Girl talk to each other, and yet it’s later going to be revealed that Phantom Girl isn’t actually there, Imra is just making everyone believe she’s present. I don’t know what’s going on here.

LEGION WORLDS #4 (DC, 2001) – A. This is much better, although it’s about as bleak and grim as a Legion story can get. The featured characters here are Star Boy, Dreamer, and XS, who is easily my favorite post-Levitz Legionnaire. This issue gives her lots of opportunities to display her spunkiness and hyperactivity. The story is very very depressing – it takes place on Xanthu, where the Legionnaires are fighting a hopeless battle against Robotican invasion forces, and Thom and Jenni ultimately have to sacrifice their lives (or so it appears) so the few survivors can evacuate. Still, it ends on a positive note, as the Roboticans suffer their first major defeat. I never took any notice of Duncan Rouleau’s artwork before, but his art on this story is amazing, and suggests that he could have become a comics superstar if he hadn’t devoted himself to animation instead. This issue also includes a Dreamer solo story, which is perhaps even grimmer than the main story, but does significantly advance her character arc, by showing how she stopped being the ditzy airhead she used to be in this continuity.

BEE AND PUPPYCAT #1 (Boom!, 2014) – C-. I bought this comic mostly because the name “PuppyCat” kept running through my head. I liked the artwork and the lettering, but the story took about five minutes to read and had no substance at all. I won’t be coming back for issue 2.

GLORY #27 (Image, 2012) – A-. I think this was the only issue of this Glory series that I was missing. I loved this series because of Ross Campbell’s artwork, especially his ability to draw both (A) a wide range of realistic female body types and (B) a vast menagerie of fascinating and horrible creatures. This issue provides ample examples of both. It consists of a huge fight scene between Glory and her friends and an army of monsters, all of which are horrifying and completely unique. The plot is a bit of a weak point. It turns out at the end that the monsters are trying to protect Riley from Glory, not kill Riley. But if that’s the case, then they didn’t need to kill Fabrice, although his death is a poignant moment.

WONDER WOMAN #62 (DC, 1992) – A. This is Perez’s last issue and it’s a satisfying finale to his era of Wonder Woman. It touches base with each of the series’ many supporting characters, and gives some of them at least a temporary happy ending, but also suggests lots of storytelling options for the next writer. The story proper ends with Vanessa’s graduation ceremony, which is a very touching moment. Perez’s farewell letter to the fans is incorporated into the last page of the story.

UNCANNY X-MEN #1 (Marvel, 2012) – C+/B-. This is just an average X-Men story, not a great one. Its primary characters are Cyclops, perhaps my least favorite Marvel character, and Mr. Sinister, a villain I’ve never liked. I have the second issue of this series but I’m not in any hurry to read it.

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