More late reviews

Again, I wrote these reviews last month or the month before, but never got around to posting them.

7-21-14

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: GALAXY’S MOST WANTED #1 (2014) – C+/B-. This is a very slight and forgettable piece of work, though it has Rocket Raccoon and Groot in it, so at least it’s fun. The writer is Will Corona-Pilgrim, who I’ve never heard of. This issue also includes a reprint of Thor #314, which is kind of touching because it involves a reunion between Drax and Moondragon, but it also reminds me how awful Thor was before Simonson took it over.

HIP HOP FAMILY TREE TWO-IN-ONE nn (2014) – A+. I taught Hip Hop Family Tree vol. 1 earlier this semester and I’m writing about it for an upcoming article, so obviously I love it. Ed Piskor’s design sense is incredible and he does a great job of making me care about a topic in which I previously had little interest. This issue is a great example of Ed’s sense of design in that it’s designed to look like a ‘70s Marvel comic (complete with Bullpen Bulletins page), and it’s also full of what appear to be scribbled notes. On the last page, for example, the word “HOMESTEAD” is written across the lower right-hand corner with a red marker, and you can see the imprint of the marker on the other side of the page. This is all done with digital trickery, of course, but it still looks really cool. I just wish this comic was printed on newsprint instead of glossy paper. I don’t have much to say about the actual content because most of it is stuff that I’ve already read in the collected edition.

DOCTOR SOLAR, MAN OF THE ATOM #26 (Gold Key, 1969) – B-. This is surprisingly convoluted for a ‘60s non-Marvel superhero comic. It involves two alternate dimensions and multiple versions of each of the characters. None of the characters are particularly well-developed or original, and the artwork is boring, but the plot twists are interesting enough to retain my attention. One thing that surprised me about this comic is that Dr. Solar was actually the hero’s real name, and Man of the Atom was his secret identity; only the Valiant version of the character was named Phil Seleski.

JONNY QUEST #4 (Comico, 1986) – A+. Another flawless issue of the great forgotten comic of the ‘80s. Bill Messner-Loebs’s storytelling ability is very underrated; he has a knack for telling a complicated story with lots of moving parts, but in such a way that the reader never gets confused or overwhelmed. This particular issue has at least two different plotlines running at once, one involving the mob and another involving a dinosaur, but they both come together in a satisfying way. The artist for this story is Tom Yeates, who is also highly underrated. I think he maybe gets a bad rap because he’s not nearly as good as, say, Bernie Wrightson or Mark Schultz, but that doesn’t make him a bad artist.

VENGEANCE SQUAD #5 (Modern Comics, 1977; originally Charlton, 1995) – C+. The first story in this issue is terrible. It’s a boring James Bond parody with lazy artwork by Pete Morisi. The saving grace of this issue is the Mike Mauser story by Cuti and Staton. This story is a fairly typical Cuti/Staton collaboration, which means it’s pretty funny, though not as funny as some of their later work with this character.

MS. TREE #4 (Eclipse, 1983) – B+. I am a big fan of Ms. Tree even though I don’t normally like detective fiction. Ms. Tree might be the most brutal female vigilante in the history of American comics, and Max Collins’s writing is gripping and realistic. Terry Beatty’s artwork is not exciting but it’s good enough to get Collins’s ideas across. This particular issue is the first one published under the title Ms. Tree (as opposed to Ms. Tree’s Thrilling Detective Stories) and it’s the story where Ms. Tree’s late husband’s first wife gets killed and she gets custody of his son. This comic features Leroy lettering, which I normally hate, but somehow it seems appropriate in this context.

TALES TO ASTONISH #69 (Marvel, 1965) – B. These old Ant-Man/Wasp stories are frustrating because the Wasp is typically a helpless hostage whose primary role is to be rescued by Hank. Also, as with issue 55, reviewed above, this issue’s villain is the Human Top. The writer, Al Hartley, tries to present the Human Top as this devious criminal mastermind, but he just seems like a joke to me, and his plots seem to succeed mostly because Hank has a serious case of plot-induced stupidity. Bob Powell’s artwork on this issue is excellent, though; he does a nice job of conveying Giant-Man’s majestic size. The Hulk backup story is much more effectively written and drawn, though it seems like kind of a generic Hulk/Leader story. Reading this story, I wondered why Thunderbolt Ross never had a heart attack, considering his age and his constant temper tantrums.

DEFENDERS ANNUAL #1 (Marvel, 1976) – B. This issue is kind of disappointing. Like every Gerber Defenders story, it’s deliberately silly and nonsensical, but I had trouble identifying what exactly he was making fun of, or why I should care. It’s been a while since I read any other issues of Gerber’s Defenders, so maybe I’ve forgotten how to read this series properly. I do think it’s a shame that Gerber never got to be the regular writer on Incredible Hulk, because I love the way he writes the Hulk.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #1 (Image, 2014) – A-. This is essentially the third volume of Phonogram, although as the letter column explains, it’s not called that because it takes place in a different and incompatible universe. I think I actually like it better than Phonogram, though, because Phonogram is difficult to understand without some knowledge of Britpop, and I have very little interest in that kind of music. The Wicked + The Damned is technically about music, but it doesn’t reference any particular kind of music. Instead, this series is about the connection between celebrity culture and mysticism. It has some of the same concerns as “Manchester Gods,” which may have been the high point of Kieron Gillen’s run on Journey into Mystery. I’m excited to read more of this series.

CARTOZIA TALES #2 (Cartozia Press, 2013) – B-. Isaac Cates gave this to me for free at the Dartmouth comics conference earlier this year. This series is produced according to some kind of Oulipian constraint, but the nature of the constraint only becomes clear after you read more than one issue (more on this below). In isolation, this comic is just a collection of chapters of ongoing stories, none of which have any obvious connection to each other. These stories are drawn in a wide variety of styles, and they include some intriguing ideas – for example, enchanted bear masks, an upside-down town, and my favorite, “a Muchness, a creature large enough to use a spruce tree as a toothbrush.” But it’s hard to see what all this adds up to.

FANTASTIC FOUR #58 (Marvel, 1967) – A+. The period from the #40s to the #60s of FF was the absolute peak of the superhero genre. This issue is the second part of the Doom/Silver Surfer story, which may have been better written than the original Galactus story, because of its greater sense of focus. The Galactus story began halfway through #48 and ended halfway through #50, and was interspersed with a lot of other material, while this issue is entirely devoted to Dr. Doom. The impressive thing about this story is the utter hopelessness of the FF’s flight; Stan and Jack succeed in making Doom seem like a terrifying and unstoppable threat. And Jack’s artwork here is some of the best of his career; his fight scenes are stunningly powerful, and the first two panels, with Doom appearing in a bolt of lightning, are unforgettable.

CARTOZIA TALES #3 (Cartozia Press, 2014) – B/B+. With this issue the idea behind this series becomes clearer. If I understand correctly, Cartozia Tales has nine different creative teams and nine different ongoing series, but in each issue, the creative teams trade off series. After writing that sentence, I did a little research and discovered that I’m wrong. There are seven regular creators, and each issue also has two guest artists. The stories all take place in a world whose map is divided into nine sectors, and each issue, each of the artists is randomly assigned a sector of the map. Hence the term Cartozia. I approve of this because it’s an interesting experiment in collaboration and constrained writing, although the shifts in creative teams are very disorienting. I like the worldbuilding in this comic, though I have trouble making enough sense of the stories to really get into them.

SIMPSONS COMICS #16 (Bongo, 1996) – D+. This comic is pointless: it doesn’t reveal anything new or interesting about the characters, it doesn’t have any kind of serious message, and it’s not particularly funny. In other words, it’s very similar to most recent episodes of the TV show.

FANTASTIC FOUR #297 (Marvel, 1986) – C-. This issue has some cute character moments, but the main plot, involving two alien races, is uninteresting, and the subplot, involving the Ben-Johnny-Alicia love triangle, is annoying. I know that Johnny and Alicia’s romance was not Roger Stern’s idea, but he certainly could have done a better job of making it palatable to the reader.

LUMBERJANES #4 (Boom!, 2014) – A+. I think this is currently my third favorite comic after Saga and Sex Criminals. When I heard that issue 4 would introduce some male characters, I was kind of apprehensive; I sort of wanted this series to remain a female-only space. But the boys in this issue are actually awesome, because they’re just as gender-transgressive as the girls: they’re clean and polite and they like to bake cookies. And the clear implication is that there’s nothing wrong with this. Indeed, when the boys’ camp director accuses them of being unmanly, nobody else agrees with him. The camp director was the one weak link in this issue, in fact, because his existence suggests that in the world of Lumberjanes, traditional gender stereotypes still exist. I’d have preferred to believe that Lumberjanes takes place in a world where such stereotypes don’t exist, or where standard gender roles are completely reversed. Besides all of that, the plot of this series is still very exciting, and it’s a charming moment when Jen and her campers resolve their differences.

MS. MARVEL #6 (Marvel, 2014) – A+. Team-ups between Wolverine and a teenage superheroine are obviously incredibly clichéd, but Kamala Khan is such a fascinating character that this issue is more than just a retread of Wolverine: First Class or whatever. This may be the first story in which Wolverine teams up with a fangirl of his. Kamala’s familiarity with Internet culture and fan culture is one of the things I love about her. I remember it was kind of shocking when Hathor turned into a lolcat in Prince of Power #3, because up to that point, I don’t think superhero comics had ever referenced Internet memes at all. But in this issue, Kamala Khan not only says “embiggen” repeatedly, she describes Wolverine as “Wow. Such athletic. Very claws. So amaze.” It’s a sign that G. Willow Wilson is actually aware of what’s currently popular among young people. Another highlight of this issue is the Sheikh Abdullah scene, which is easily the most positive depiction of a Muslim clergyman that I’ve ever seen in a work of American popular culture. Also, it’s kind of cool that the Inventor is a Thomas Edison clone with a cockatiel’s head.

RAT QUEENS #7 (Image, 2014) – B+. This was my least favorite issue yet, mostly because of the lack of Betty – though the one scene involving her is pretty hilarious. Besides that, the overall tone of this issue is very dark, with less black humor than in previous issues, and several pages are wasted on combat scenes with no dialogue. But this is still one of the comics I’m most excited about, and I hope I get to meet Upchurch and Wiebe so I can tell them how much I love their work. I’m sure that a lot of the jokes in this series are going over my head because I’m not a D&D player, and I still love it. After looking back at issue 6, I realize that Betty is hallucinating because she ate the mushroom dude; I totally missed that on the first reading.

SILVER SURFER #4 (Marvel, 2014) – B+. The main flaw with this issue is that the Guardians of the Galaxy guest appearance is completely unnecessary. I mostly don’t mind Marvel’s relentless marketing of Rocket Raccoon because I love the character so much, but the GOTG appearance in this issue is too much of an obvious sales gimmick. Besides that, this is another quality issue. It’s strange how this issue takes place on Earth, in a very ordinary setting, and yet it’s almost as bizarre as the previous three issues.

PRINCESS UGG #2 (Oni, 2014) – A. An effective follow-up to last issue. Despite the silly title and the cartoony art, this comic is much more serious than it appears, because it’s all about racism and cultural insensitivity. (Similar things could be said about many of Ted Naifeh’s other works; his comics all look like they’re supposed to be funny, but actually have dark and disturbing undertones.) For me, the most poignant moment of this issue is when we discover that Ulga can’t write her own name, because she comes from an oral culture – and yet for the same reason, she remembers more history than her classmates do. It’s obvious that Ted has done his research here.

SUPERMAN #360 (DC, 1981) – B-. The first story is an entertaining but forgettable Superman story, with fantastic art by Curt Swan. There is little to distinguish this story from any of the hundreds of other Curt Swan-drawn Superman stories of this period, but at least it’s fun. Unfortunately the backup story, by Bob Rozakis and Alex Saviuk, is complete crap.

USAGI YOJIMBO #33 (Fantagraphics, 1992) – A+. “Broken Ritual”, is perhaps one of the best single issues of the Fantagraphics run. It might be the spookiest ghost story Stan has ever written. It’s also one of his only stories that involves seppuku. Stan’s artwork is brilliant – especially in the flashback sequences, which are drawn in a notably different style – and by this point in the Fantagraphics series, his style is barely distinguishable from what it is now.

JSA: THE LIBERTY FILE #2 (DC, 2000) – C+. The only redeeming quality of this comic is Tony Harris’s artwork. The story is terrible; it’s convoluted and full of clichés – for example, Mr. Terrific’s girlfriend gets killed just after he’s proposed to her – and the reader has no reason to care about any of the characters. Tony Harris is an excellent artist but he shouldn’t be allowed to write comics.

SUPERMAN’S GIRL FRIEND LOIS LANE #122 (DC, 1972) – C. Like many early-‘70s Lois Lane comics, this one is seriously bizarre and kind of offensive. It pays lip service to feminism while not actually being feminist at all – Lois and Rose/Thorn use feminist buzzwords, but they rely on Superman to solve all their problems for them. Robert Kanigher, who wrote this story, clearly had a rather shallow understanding of feminism. The first backup story, a reprint from 1962, is even worse. Of the three stories in this issue, the one that presents Lois in the most positive light is the last one, which is a reprint from 1944. In this story, Lois succeeds in breaking up a crime ring with no assistance from Superman at all. I think I’ve read somewhere that the Golden Age Lois Lane was a very powerful and compelling character, and that DC consciously decided to tone her down and make her more of a sexist stereotype. This issue is a good example of that process at work.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #21 (IDW, 2014) – B+. This is a reasonably good issue, but it has an overly convoluted plot, and it’s not nearly as fun as recent episodes of the TV show. I wonder how Trixie manages to make a living as a stage magician, given that she lives in a world where there’s real magic.

SUPERMAN FAMILY #173 (DC, 1975) – C-. All the stories in this issue were kind of bad. The highlight of the issue is the charming Golden Age-esque Kurt Schaffenberger artwork on the first story, which is the only one that’s not a reprint. However, this story has a hopelessly confusing plot.

BATGIRL SPECIAL #1 (DC, 1988) – C-. I was initially tempted to give this issue an F, but it’s not offensively bad; it’s just mediocre and seriously flawed. The first big problem is that it starts in media res, without effectively explaining what’s been going on, and the writer, Barbara Randall, assumes the reader is familiar with several obscure previous stories. For example, one of the major characters in this issue is Batgirl’s friend Marcie. This character only appeared once before, in Secret Origins #20 (also written by Randall), and yet there is never any explanation of who she is. The second problem with this issue is the new villain, Slash, who is a serial killer who preys on rapists. She ought to be at least a somewhat sympathetic character, but Randall depicts her as an evil, bloodthirsty sadist, which removes whatever moral ambiguity she might have had. Of course the crippling problem with this comic is that it was created solely for the purpose of writing Barbara Gordon out of the DC universe, thus paving the way for The Killing Joke, a comic we would all have been better off without.

8-7-2014

MARTIN LUTHER KING AND THE MONTGOMERY STORY #nn (it’s complicated) – A+. This is a modern reprint of a comic book published as propaganda for the Montgomery bus boycott. It was reprinted to coincide with the release of volume one of March. The art and writing are unspectacular but accomplish their purpose effectively, and in any event, this comic deserves an A+ for historical importance and for inspiring John Lewis to create March. The most memorable moment here is the panel where a man tells MLK “First thing I want you to know is that Coretta and the baby are all right” and then tells him that his house has been bombed.

USAGI YOJIMBO COLOR SPECIAL #5 (Dark Horse, 2014) – A+. This is the first new Usagi comic book since 2012, which would be cause for rejoicing, except that it would be better if Stan didn’t have to work and could devote all his time to caring for his wife. What a pity that such an awful series of personal hardships has happened to such a talented and generous man. Anyway, this issue collects stories oriignally published in Dark Horse Presents or its online version, including several very short pieces as well as a longer two-part story. Besides Sergio, Stan is probably the greatest creator working in comic books right now (I specifically mean comic books, not other types of comics) and all this work is fantastic. The two-page Jotaro story is especially hilarious, and The Artist is a powerful meditation on the artist’s devotion to his craft. It can even be read as a parable of Stan’s personal situation – somehow he still manages to devote his full effort to his art despite all the horrible things that are happening around him. However, I do feel that based solely on the artwork shown on panel, it’s hard to tell why Yoshi-sensei’s art is such a dangerous departure from tradition. I assume the other artist mentioned in this story, Shigehiro, is named after Hiroshige.

GROO VS. CONAN #1 (Dark Horse, 2014) – 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. Of course this issue also features Conan, though I was actually disappointed that Conan only appears on a few pages and doesn’t get to meet Groo yet; I assume we’ll see more of him in subsequent issues. The scenes with Mark and Sergio are funny, but I do feel they act as somewhat of a distraction from what should be the main event, the encounter between Groo and Conan.

GROO THE WANDERER #45 (Marve, 1988) – 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 most notable thing about this issue is its resemblance to the Garfield episode “Don’t Move,” also written by Evanier. In this episode, Garfield leaves Odie for a minute and tells him not to move from a spot marked with an X. Odie then has a series of adventures which carry him all around town, but ultimately ends up standing right next to the X, and Garfield is angry that he moved. In this story the exact same thing happens to Rufferto, although the punchline is different.

BATMAN #231 (DC, 1971) – B-. The Ten-Eyed Man is perhaps the most ridiculous Batman villiain ever, and it’s a tribute to Frank Robbins’s writing skill that he actually succeeds in making this absurd character seem kind of scary. As a result, the Batman story in this issue is not significantly worse than other Batman stories from this period, although it’s not great either. As usual, though, the Robin back-up story is kind of stupid. Notably, it ends with Robin going on a date, and the caption says that the birds’ songs are “ringing announcements of the life-giving warmth ahead.” That sounds like a reference to something non-Code-approved.

X-MEN #131 (Marvel, 1980) – A+. This is the third appearance of my favorite Marvel character, Kitty Pryde, and she steals the show in this issue, saving the X-Men from Emma Frost’s captivity and then having an awkwardly cute encounter with Peter. Of course I know this issue very well, having read it before in reprinted form, but I’m still glad I own the original version now.

SUPERMAN FAMILY ADVENTURES #12 (DC, 2013) – A-. This was probably the best Superman comic since All-Star Superman, which is kind of sad in a way. The resolution to the series is a bit anticlimactic – it includes an intervention by the Tiny Titans, who seem to belong to a different and less serious universe than the Superman Family Adventures characters, despite being drawn in exactly the same style. The ending, in which Lois reveals that she knows Superman’s secret identity, is heartwarming, although it wraps up all the loose ends so completely as to leave little room for a possible sequel.

INCREDIBLE HULK #170 (Marvel, 1973) – B+. This is not one of the best Hulk comics of this era, but it includes some memorable interactions between Hulk and Betty. At this point in time Betty was essentially a helpless damsel in distress, but Hulk’s protective attitude toward her, despite her fear of him, is quite touching. Also, this issue has some nice artwork by the extremely underrated Herb Trimpe.

UNCLE SCROOGE #281 (Gladstone, 1993) – A-. This was the first issue of the second Gladstone run, and it has a lovely Don Rosa cover. The issue gets an A because of the first story, a ten-pager by Barks, in which Scrooge tests his nephews to see which of them is worthy of inheriting his fortune. Basically it’s the same setup as the Biblical parable of the talents: Scrooge gives each of them some money in order to see what they do with it. Unsurprisingly, Huey, Dewey and Louie play the role of the good and faithful servant; they invest their money wisely and end up as Scrooge’s sole heirs. Meanwhile, Gladstone, like the bad servant in the Bible, hides his money away, but Donald does even worse; he not only loses the money but gets into debt. I assume the Biblical allusion was intentional, although the story is funny even if the reader doesn’t pick up on it. I also suspect this story may be the reason why Bruce Hamilton’s company was called Another Rainbow.

The reason this issue only gets an A- is because of the backup material, which reminds me why Carl Barks was called “The” Good Duck Artist, implying that there was only one.

BONE SOURCEBOOK #1 (Image, 1995) – D. This was published when Bone moved to Image from Cartoon Books, and was intended to introduce new readers to the series. It includes little if any information that can’t be found elsewhere.

LIFE WITH ARCHIE #36 (Archie, 2014) – B+. Archie’s death is a shameless publicity stunt, but at least this issue is well-executed. Paul Kupperberg used to be a below-average writer but he handles this story with great skill and tactfulness. The impressive thing about this issue is that it fits seamlessly into both of the two mutually exclusive ongoing storylines, the one where Archie marries Betty and the one where he marries Veronica. The creators accomplish this by never showing Archie’s wife’s face. However, the unintentional side effect of this is to emphasize how indistinguishable Betty is from Veronica.

DALGODA #8 (Fantagraphics, 1986) – A-. This is one of two issues I was missing from this underrated and nearly forgotten classic. Dalgoda is one of the best ‘80s science fiction comics, right up there with Nexus and Alien Worlds. Jan Strnad’s writing is tender and funny, and Dennis Fujitake’s artwork is attractive, though heavily derivative of Moebius. This issue, the last of Dalgoda’s solo series, ends with the heroic death of Dal’s friend Posey. It’s been so long since I read any other issues of Dalgoda that I’ve forgotten who this character is, but his death is a powerfully written scene anyway. This issue also includes a Bojeffries Saga backup story which is quite funny.

HAWKWORLD #16 (DC, 1991) – B+. The selling point of this issue is that it includes a fight between Hawkwoman and Wonder Woman, perhaps DC’s two best female protagonists at the time. The actual fight only occupies a couple pages but is very well written. Shayera and Diana have almost exactly opposite personalities, and this results in a lot of dramatic tension, as they initially hate each other but then become fast friends. This is another highly underrated series.

TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED #1 (DC, 2006) – C. My previous reviews of this series also apply to this issue. The first story is complete crap; it’s full of gratuitous blood and gore, and it depicts the Spectre as worse than the criminals he punishes. The backup story is hilarious and nostalgic and beautifully drawn. I almost always prefer buying back issues rather than trade paperbacks, but in the case of this series, I would have been better off getting the Dr. Thirteen: Architecture and Morality trade.

YOUNG JUSTICE #43 (DC, 2002) – A+. The problem with Peter David’s serious stories (e.g. Incredible Hulk #388 and 429) is lack of subtlety. In these stories PAD hits the reader over the head with the point they’re trying to make, and treats his characters as plot devices rather than people. In this issue PAD masterfully avoids making any of these errors. The topic he addresses here is discrimination against Muslims and other Asians following 9/11. The parents of a girl in Traya’s school are killed in a suicide bombing in Bialya (i.e. Iraq), and when it turns out that Traya is also from Bialya, her classmates start bullying her. PAD handles this issue with extreme delicacy and subtlety; for example, he subtly suggests that post-11 Islamophobia is comparable to Japanese internment, but leaves the reader to figure out why. There is a lot of emotion bubbling beneath the surface of this story – in particular, the cover is heartbreaking – but the story never becomes histrionic or overwrought. In summary, this is one of PAD’s best single issues of Young Justice, and when compared to the Hulk stories mentioned above, this issue suggests that his writing has improved over time.

DAGAR THE INVINCIBLE #14 (Gold Key, 1976) – B-. The most interesting thing about this issue is that it’s far more violent than a typical Gold Key comic. When Dagar goes to the realm of the dead to rescue Graylin, he has to fight several of his dead former enemies, and he ends up killing some of them again. The other cool thing here is that this issue explains why vampires are afraid of crosses even in a world where Christianity doesn’t exist. Other than that, this is only an average Dagar story.

AVENGERS #24 (Marvel, 1965) – A-. The most exciting thing about this issue is its portrayal of Kang. This character is typically depicted as a loathsome villain, but this issue reminds us that he’s also a master strategist and a charismatic leader. Kang is forced to fight alongside the Avengers when three of his generals try to overthrow him, and he quickly reveals himself to be more than a match for them (i.e. the generals). It’s too bad that later Kang stories didn’t emphasize this aspect ofh is character more heavily.

HELLBLAZER #43 (DC, 1991) – A+. I’ve wanted to read “Dangerous Habits” for years, but this is the first time I’ve come across an issue of it. This issue. is fantastic because it emphasizes both the good and bad side of Constantine’s character. Dying of lung cancer and knowing that he’s going to go to hell, Constantine tries to get help from an angel, who tells him that both his illness and his impending damnation are completely his own fault. But rather than crushing his spirit, this encounter makes Constantine realize he has to solve his problems himself rather than rely on anyone else, and he comes up with a brilliant solution (which is not described in this issue, though I already know what it is). I really want to read the issues on either side of this one.

BATMAN: LI’L GOTHAM #4 (DC, 2013) – A-. Besides Astro City, this is the best DC comic of the last two years. Dustin Nguyen’s artwork is adorable, and the stories, while silly, are also very clever. I wish this series hadn’t ended at issue 12, and I think DC would be better off if all their comics were done in the same style as this series.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #33 (DC, 1992) – C-. I read this because I had a dream about the Legion (I do that sometimes) and it made me want to read any Legion comic at all. At this point I’ve given up hope that DC will ever publish a Legion comic again, and even if they did, I wouldn’t read it. I’ve mostly gotten over my anger at DC for their horrible treatment of Legion fans, and I’ve found other things to be a fan of. But still, the Legion was my primary fandom for a big chunk of my life, and it helped me get through some tough times, and I really wish DC would treat this franchise with the respect it deserves. Anyway, it’s too bad that this is hardly a Legion comic at all. It’s basically continuity porn, in that the purpose of the issue is to explain, via a complicated retcon, why the Legion doesn’t admit members with device-based superpowers. And this is a typical problem with Tom and Mary Bierbaum’s Legion: they got into comics through fandom, and they spent too much time turning their personal fan theories into official continuity. This issue does have some good points: part of it is drawn by Chris Sprouse, and it includes some scenes with the SW6 Legionnaires, who were far more interesting than the adult Legionnaires of the time.

SHE-HULK #6 (Marvel, 2014) – B-. I still can’t stand Ron Wimberly’s art. It might be effective for a different type of story, but it’s not effective in a superhero comic. Other than that, I like this story, but I’m not happy with the anticlimactic ending, in which Jen decides to give up investigating the Blue File. Annoyingly, I forgot to get issue 7 on Wednesday; I could have sworn I added it to my stack, but when I got home it wasn’t there.

AQUAMAN #40 (DC, 1968) – B-. This was Jim Aparo’s first DC story. His artwork at this point was okay, but not nearly at the same level as his artwork from a year or two later. The story, by Steve Skeates, is somewhat disappointing. Mera gets kidnapped by an unknown party, and Aquaman goes off to search for her, but when he thinks he’s found her, it turns out he’s actually found another woman who coincidentally looks just like her. Besides being implausible, the problem with this story is that it fails to accomplish anything; at the end of the issue, Aquaman is no closer to finding Mera than before.

RED CIRCLE SORCERY #7 (Archie, 1974) – B+. The stories in this issue are all pretty silly, but they’re worth reading anyway because of the grim, atmospheric artwork. The best-drawn story in the issue is the first of the two by Vicente Alcazar; his heavy spotting of blacks reminds me of Alex Toth. I’m glad that Archie is reviving the Red Circle Sorcery/Chilling Adventures in Sorcery brand.

SWAMP THING #80 (DC, winter 1988) – A-. Rick Veitch’s Swamp Thing is yet another underrated comic from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. I suppose it’s been forgotten because it’s basically the same as Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, only with less creativity. This issue, for example, is very similar to the story in the #50s of this series where Swampy gets teleported into space by Lex Luthor. Here essentially the same thing happens again, though the level of urgency is greater because of Abby’s pregnancy.

GROO THE WANDERER #31 (Marvel, 1987) – 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. This specific issue is a very standard example of the Groo formula: Groo somehow has acquired some money, and Pal and Drumm try to trick him out of it by getting him to make bad investments in weapons. Of course this leads to all sorts of hilarious mayhem.

CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND MI13 #12 (Marvel, 2009) – A-. This series got very positive publicity when it was coming out, and I bought some issues of it, but I was not a huge fan. Reading it again, I like it a lot and I’m sorry that I’m not more familiar with Paul Cornell’s work (because I don’t watch Doctor Who). This issue is written like a British television drama but it also makes effective use of continuity from Tomb of Dracula.

JEZEBEL JADE #1 (Comico, 1988) – A. I had no idea this miniseries existed until I came across two issues of it at Heroes Con. It’s a Jonny Quest spinoff but it’s very similar in tone to the Jonny Quest ongoing series. There is a much greater level of violence than would have been possible on the Jonny Quest TV show, and yet this comic still has a basic wholesomeness and lightness about it. The artwork is by a young Andy Kubert, whose style at this point in his career was very similar to that of his father. Although this miniseries is mostly forgotten today, it was nominated for an Eisner in 1989, and I think the nomination was deserved.

ACTION COMICS #569 (DC, 1985) – C+. The first story in this issue is awful. Sometime prior to this story, Superman broke up with Lois and started dating Lana instead, and this story is partly about Superman and Lois’s attempt to resolve their differences. The trouble is that at least at this stage of his career, Paul Kupperberg was very bad at characterization and dialogue writing, and the scenes between Superman and Lois are embarrassingly bad. The backup story is not very good either, but it’s amusing because it’s a piece of character assassination. In this story, some aliens are looking for a person to play Superman in a movie, and they end up choosing a man named Michael Betker, who is depicted as an ugly weakling who sneezes constantly. It turned out that Michael Betker was a real person and that Michael Wolff, who wrote this story, had some kind of grudge against him. So in the letter column of Action Comics #587, DC had to issue an official apology for their portrayal of Betker. Unsurprisingly, Michael Wolff only wrote one story for DC after this one.

ATOMIC ROBO PRESENTS REAL SCIENCE ADVENTURES #7 (Red 5, 2013) – D-. This is actually worse than the earlier issues of this series. Although this is billed as an Atomic Robo comic, Robo doesn’t appear in it; instead, this issue is about a past adventure of Tesla and Westinghouse. Nothing really interesting happens in the story, there are no laugh-out-loud funny moments, and the story ends one page after the staple. The rest of the issue consists of a preview of another Red 5 comic, which looks awful.

UNCLE SCROOGE #237 (Gladstone, 1989) – A+. “Riches, Riches Everywhere!” is a classic Barks story, which expresses one of the central themes of Barks’s Uncle Scrooge stories: that there are some things more important than money. When Scrooge and Donald get lost in the Australian desert, Scrooge tries to use his prospecting talents to dig for water, but all he manages to find is gold, diamonds, oil, and so on. The irony here is just amazing – Scrooge finds all sorts of extremely valuable natural resources, but none of them are of any use to him at all. I realized as I was writing this that the title is a reference to “water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.” This story also includes a nice piece of misdirection. Early on, we’re introduced to two characters who appear to be crooks intent on stealing any valuables Scrooge finds, but it turns out that they’re actually friendly people who are following Scrooge and the nephews in case they get into any trouble. I initially thought this was ridiculous, but on reading the story again, I realized that there was no actual evidence that the two characters were criminals; I just assumed that they were. Overall this is a fantastic piece of storytelling. The backup story in this issue is terrible, but oh well.

YOUNG ALLIES 70TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL #1 (Marvel, 2009) – A-/B+. I bought this comic years ago, before I came to Atlanta, but I never read it because it includes some unappealing Golden Age reprints. The lead story in this issue is a funny and sad piece of work by Roger Stern and Paolo Rivera, in which Bucky encounters the two surviving members of the Young Allies from World War II, both of whom are at death’s door. I initially assumed that the Young Allies were newly created characters and that they were supposed to be an homage to the Newsboy Legion, but no, it turns out that they’re actual Golden Age characters. Even though I’d never heard of them before, Stern and Rivera do an effective job of making me feel sorry about their deaths. Unfortunately the Golden Age reprints included in this comic are pretty bad, especially because the black member of the Young Allies is a racist caricature.

THE FLASH #164 (DC, 2000) – C-. In this bleak and depressing story, which Wally somehow finds himself in an alternate world where his powers don’t work and no one recognizes him. Like much of Geoff Johns’s work, this comic is not fun at all, which makes me wonder what the point of it is.

DETECTIVE COMICS #525 (DC, 1983) – B-. This is interesting mostly because it’s an early appearance of Jason Todd, who used to be kind of a cute kid before everyone got sick of him. Other than that, the Batman story is disappointing. Batman loses a fight with Killer Croc, and as Bruce Wayne, he says some very hurtful and boorish things to Vicki Vale. This story does not present Batman in a positive light. The art is by Dan Jurgens, who was a poor substitute for Don Newton.

USAGI YOJIMBO #7 (Dark Horse, 1996) – A. This issue introduces Nakamura Koji, one of a very few characters (along with Ino and Katsuichi) who is capable of defeating Usagi in a fair fight. At the end of the issue, Usagi fights Koji and gets his ass kicked, which is very surprising to see. This story also sets up the Duel at Kitanoji storyline, which was not resolved until six years later. The only problem with this issue is the rather excessive violence; in just 24 pages, Usagi and Koji kill almost 20 people.

TEEN TITANS #30 (DC, 1970) – B+. Nick Cardy’s artwork in this issue is amazing, especially since Aquagirl makes a guest appearance. I don’t think anyone in the history of comic books has ever drawn teenage girls better than Nick did. This issue doesn’t have much of a plot, but it does end with a dramatic scene in which Aqualad struggles to get himself and Tula back into the water before their oxygen runs out.

SERGIO ARAGONES FUNNIES #12 (Bongo, 2014) – A+. This is another brilliant piece of work from the greatest artist currently working in American comic books. The centerpiece of this issue is an autobiographical story about Sergio’s encounters with Toshiro Mifune. Reading this story reminds me what a wonderful man Sergio is; he knows how fortunate he is to have had the life he’s had, and he feels deeply grateful for every bit of it. This story powerfully conveys the depth of Sergio’s respect for Toshiro Mifune and the pleasure he takes in remembering their brief meetings. I’ve always been in awe of Sergio, ever since I met him at Comic-Con in 2002, and this issue reminds me of why.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #1, 2 and 3 (Image, 2014) – A. I bought all three of these when they came out, but didn’t read them. I forget what motivated me to read them now, but I’m glad I did. I’ve been living in the South for eight years, though never in the type of small town where this story takes place, and I find that this comic powerfully captures the absurdity of this part of the country. My favorite moment is the scene where Dusty Tutwiler describes Birmingham as “the big city,” but this story is full of all kinds of other things that seem very true to even my limited experience of the South, including sweet tea and obsession with football. Also, Jason Latour’s artwork is fantastic, particularly his coloring and his use of mixed media. I look forward eagerly to the next issue.

DEADPOOL #10 (Marvel, 2009) – B+. The dialogue in this issue is hilarious, and I’m coming to realize that the dialogue is the primary selling point of any Deadpool story. The only problem with this issue is that it guest-stars Norman Osborn, a character who I can’t stand and who in my opinion should still be dead.

INVINCIBLE #67 (Image, 2009) – A-. This is a good issue from an exciting period of this series. It includes some fun scenes in which Nolan and Allen try to acquire various weapons to use against the Viltrumites. But the high point of the issue is the running joke where Norman, who is staying at Allen’s place, is driven nuts by Allen and his girlfriend’s loud sex.

GROO THE WANDERER #71 (Marvel, 1990) – 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. This issue focuses on Evanier’s fictional surrogate, Weaver. Having just written what he thought was a serious book about Groo, Weaver is horrified to discover that everyone thinks the book is a joke, until he realizes he can make a fortune by writing humorous books about Groo. Of course this leads to all kinds of hysterical consequences, but this story is also interesting as a reflection on the nature of authorship. This story does make me wonder whether or not the printing press exists in Groo’s universe; apparently it does, but I’m not entirely sure. In the opening scene, a person is reading aloud from Weaver’s book in a tavern, which seems like something that would happen in an oral society. The disturbing part of this issue is Weaver’s sidekick Scribe (a.k.a. Stan Sakai), who never speaks and who follows Weaver everywhere without hesitation, even when Weaver literally jumps off a bridge.

HELLBOY 20TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Dark Horse, 2014) – A-. Nothing here is as perfect as “Pancakes,” but all the stories in this free giveaway issue are at least reasonably good. On an artistic level, this issue is fantastic, with artwork by Cameron Stewart, Bob Sikoryak and Fábio Moon as well as Mignola himself. Besides the Bob Sikoryak parodies, the best story in the issue is the first one, “The Coffin Man,” but it ends very abruptly.

SUGAR & SPIKE #78 (DC, 1968) – A+. This is probably the best American comic book that’s not currently available in an affordable reprinted edition. It is also very difficult to find the original issues. I’ve had this series on my want list since it appeared on the Comics Journal’s Top 100 list in about 1999, and I currently have just seven issues of it, most of which were purchased at major conventions. I think this series is great both because of the humor, including the running joke about babies being smarter than adults, and because it’s a brilliantly written adventure comic. In this issue, for example, some criminals steal Bernie the Brain’s “electronic hypnotizer” and use it to hypnotize the entire adult population into buying worthless empty boxes, and only Sugar, Spike and Bernie can save the day. This series is obviously the inspiration for Rugrats, but unlike Rugrats it’s actually good. DC really ought to reprint the whole thing in black and white, like Dark Horse did with Little Lulu.

ROCKET RACCOON #2 (Marvel, 2014) – A+. More amazing stuff. This series is more humor-oriented than the movie, but Rocket and Groot’s characters are basically the same. Besides the characterization, Skottie Young’s artwork is the main selling point of this series. The double-page splash with the maze was a particular high point, although I had trouble figuring out the order to read this page in. The Xemnu the Titan guest appearance was a nice touch.

USAGI YOJIMBO: SENSO #1 (Dark Horse, 2014) – A+. Again, I wish Stan could afford to take care of his wife rather than having to work, but it’s amazing that he’s able to put out work of such high caliber, despite having higher priorities. This issue is mostly a lengthy battle scene, but it offers a lot of insight into the characters involved. A particularly impressive moment is Usagi rushing off heedlessly to help Jotaro; Usagi is usually so well-mannered and polite that I forget how angry he can get when provoked. It’s kind of cool seeing the final confrontation between Usagi and Lord Hikiji, because I don’t think that the regular series is ever going to reach that point.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #7 (IDW, 2014) – B+. This issue was pretty cute. Even though I think Pinkie Pie is best pony, the star of this issue was actually Luna. Her arrogance and irritability are really cute somehow. I’m reminded of the scene in a recent issue of the regular issue where Luna orders tea by shouting “SERVANT! TEA!” This issue achieves the purpose of MLP: Friends Forever: to bring together characters who usually don’t interact.

SAGA #21 (Image, 2014) – A+. I’m contractually obliged to give every issue of Saga a grade of A+, but these last few issues have been kind of slow. There are too many plot threads going on and we’re not seeing enough of the protagonists. I have to admit that I thought the “I had a big accent” scene was the most disgusting thing in the issue, far more so than the panel with the guy getting his spine ripped out.

HAWKEYE #19 (Marvel, 2014) – A+ I guess. I had great difficulty following what was going on in this issue, although according to the Bleeding Cool review, that’s sort of the point. I didn’t think this issue was as immediately impressive as the Pizza Dog issue, but I give Fraction and Aja credit for doing something experimental. I think this issue will require multiple readings in order to unlock its secrets.

AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE #6 (Archie, 2014) – A. This is actually one of the most powerfully Lovecraftian comics I’ve ever read. It seems very close to the tone of Lovecraft’s original stories. The only thing that keeps this comic from being completely horrific is that it stars Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and even then, this issue is much less funny than earlier issues of this series. I was also impressed by the Chilling Adventures with Sabrina backup story, and I plan on reading that series too (once I figure out how to get comics in Oxford, Ohio).

CHEW: WARRIOR CHICKEN POYO #1 (Image, 2014) – A-. This issue was as well-written and well-drawn as a typical issue of Chew, but I’m getting kind of sick of this running joke with Poyo, and I would rather have read a regular issue of Chew than this one-shot.

FANTASTIC FOUR #44 (Marvel, 1966) – A+. This is the first appearance of Gorgon, the first member of the Inhumans to be introduced other than Medusa. Therefore, it marks the beginning of the greatest run of issues in the history of superhero comics. Over this and the following 20 issues, Lee and Kirby gave us the first Inhumans story, the Galactus saga, the debut of the Black Panther, “This Man… This Monster,” and the Doom/Surfer four-parter. It was an unparalleled series of great moments. This issue is mostly a series of fight scenes, but it effectively leads into the great stories to come.

SAVAGE DRAGON #82 (Image, 2000) – B. This issue is a very quick read and is pretty light on content, but it’s a pretty effective pastiche of ‘70s Kirby. Clearly the highlight of the issue is the bug-riders, who appear to be based on the Hairies from Jimmy Olsen.

USAGI YOJIMBO #41 (Dark Horse, 2000) – A-. This is an early chapter of Grasscutter II, and mostly consists of setup, plus a flashback to Sanshobo and Ikeda’s past. It’s a fun read, but Grasscutter II didn’t have the same epic scope as its sequel.

ATOMIC ROBO: THE SAVAGE SWORD OF DR. DINOSAUR #4 and #5 (Red 5, 2014) – B+. The main attraction in both these issues is Dr. Dinosaur, whose dialogue is just wonderfully bizarre. The subplot with the scientist who thinks he’s fallen in love with a rock-girl is also cute. I like the setup for the next miniseries, but somehow when new Atomic Robo comics come out, I’m never aware of it. I think my (former) local store just doesn’t shelve them in a visible place.

AVENGERS #169 (Marvel, 1977) – D-. This fill-in issue is terrible, especially considering that it came right at the start of the classic Korvac Saga. The premise (involving a dying rich man who tries to blow up the world) is boring, and Marv Wolfman and Sal Buscema fail to do anything exciting with it. The story also includes some glaring errors. It’s not clear how the Avengers learned the location of the first three bombs, or even that there were four bombs. And when Iron Man goes to Peru, he encounters Indians who look suspiciously like Mayas, who live thousands of miles further north.

MARVEL ADVENTURES: SUPER-HEROES #18 (Marvel, 2011) – C+/B-. The story in this issue is just average; the problem is that it’s an unannounced reprint of Marvel Adventures: Iron Man #7. At this point Marvel clearly no longer cared about the two Marvel Adventures series (possibly due to the departure of Nate Cosby a year earlier) and they were both cancelled six issues later. It’s a shame because at their peak, the Marvel Adventures line was possibly the best thing Marvel was publishing.

RESET #2 (Dark Horse, 2012) – B+. This Peter Bagge miniseries is enjoyable for the same reasons as Hate: hilarious dialogue and wildly exaggerated cartoonish artwork. Still, I wonder if Peter Bagge is suffering from creative stagnation, because this issue has different subject matter from Hate but is written and drawn in the exact same style. I feel like Bagge’s style has changed very little over the past twenty years or so.

COMIC BOOK COMICS #5 (Evil Twin, 2011) – C+. The history in this comic is interesting, and it includes some facts I wasn’t aware of. The problem with this issue is that Ryan Dunlavey’s artwork never does anything more than illustrate Fred Van Lente’s text. If you extracted all the text from this comic and published it as a prose essay, that essay would make perfect sense on its own, even without the artwork. That means that this issue does not make effective use of the medium of comics. It’s a surprise that Fred Van Lente would make this mistake, given his experience writing for comics; I wonder if instead of writing an actual script, he just wrote the essay and then gave it to Ryan Dunlavey to illustrate.

B.P.R.D.: 1947 #2 (Dark Horse, 2009) – B. I don’t really understand these BPRD stories because I’m reading them out of order, but I did enjoy this issue because of Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba’s brilliant artwork. I kind of assumed that they both had the same style, but it turns out I can actually tell them apart, though I wasn’t sure which was which until I read another comic book that was drawn by Fábio Moon alone.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #21 (Marvel, 2001) – B. This is a primarily humorous story; one of the villains is Grendel’s mother, but at the end of the story, she becomes a professional wrestler. This issue is funny, but after reading it I could barely remember anything about it.

INVINCIBLE #113 (Image, 2014) – B+. Praise be to ceiling cat, I can finally read this comic again. I skipped issue 112 because of the extreme violence, and I decided that if either Eve or the baby died in this issue, I would be done with this series for good. But this issue actually restores some of the idealism that made Invincible a compelling superhero comic in the first place. Eve gives birth safely, and the issue ends with Eve telling Mark to go save the world, and Mark replying “Yes, mam.” For the first time since somewhere around issue 100, I actually feel proud of Mark and I feel like he’s capable of winning in the end. Another nice touch in the issue is that Mark’s rape by the female Viltrumite is actually acknowledged; we see that Mark is scared of her and that he flinches when Eve touches him. Based on the previous two issues, it seems like this extremely disturbing scene was just going to be ignored. This series is still potentially on the chopping block for me, but Kirkman is at least starting to redeem himself after the mess he made of issues 110 to 112.

FUTURE SHOCK #nn (Image, 2006) – C+. The only good stories in this free preview issue are the ones with Invincible and Savage Dragon, and both of those are too short to be truly interesting. The Tom Scioli story is well-drawn, but it’s so similar to Kirby that it lacks any originality.

DARK HORSE PRESENTS #80 (Dark Horse, 1993) – B+. I bought this issue for the Monkeyman and O’Brien story, which is a lot of fun, with excellent artwork and clever references to Spider-Man and Gamera. Art Adams’s artwork looks much better in color, though. This issue also includes a chapter of Hermes vs. the Eyeball Kid, which I do not consider one of Eddie Campbell’s best works, and a third story which is not worth mentioning.

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.

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