Oh my God, this is a lot of reviews

10-10-14

CAPTAIN MARVEL #5 (Marvel, 2014) – C+. This was a boring and confusing issue and it made me question my commitment to this series. At this point it had been at least two months since I’d read issue 4, and I had no idea what was going on in this issue. And there wasn’t a lot of humor either. Luckily this series would subsequently improve (I’m writing this after having read the next three issues).

CAPTAIN MARVEL #6 (Marvel, 2014) – B-. This was a reasonable conclusion to “Higher, Further, Faster, More” (I remembered the first word of that title as “Harder,” which gives a totally different impression). The problem is that it was not much of a story to begin with. It was too heavily tied to continuity, I didn’t care much for any of the characters besides Carol herself, and there were no particularly exciting plot twists. Again, though, luckily the next issue was better…

CAPTAIN MARVEL #7 (Marvel, 2014) – A-. This is much better just because it includes Rocket Raccoon and a cat, and it’s actually funny – starting with Tic preparing some bizarre tentacled thing for breakfast, and continuing with Rocket Raccoon and Chewie’s mutual enmity. The humor in this issue is sometimes too forced, but most of the time it works. And this time there is a bizarre twist ending, as the issue ends with the cat laying hundreds of eggs.

MIND MGMT #11 (Dark Horse, 2013) – B+. This is one of the more interesting issues of this series yet. I still don’t quite understand the story behind this comic, and I don’t think I will until I get around to buying the first hardcover. But this issue explores some fascinating questions related to perception and memory and illusion. The scene where Meru and Harry finally manage to see Shangri La is quite impressive. What is the connection between this comic’s theme of mind control and its use of materiality? That’s a question I’ll have to think about.

MIND MGMT #14 (Dark Horse, 2013) – B+. Not much to add here. This story appears to be about Meru’s early life and it includes some impressive depictions of Indian architecture.

THE DUMBEST IDEA EVER! FCBD #nn (Scholastic, 2014) – A-. I’ve been casually following Jimmy Gownley’s work for about a decade now – I think he was handing out free copies of Amelia Rules! at the first few Comic-Cons I attended. I think his depictions of childhood are very powerful and authentic, but the problem with his earlier work is that it was overproduced. For example, he’s a fantastic letterer, clearly heavily influenced in this area of his work by Dave Sim, but in the past he sometimes used weird lettering to an excessive degree. Worse, he tended to use way too much digital artwork, and it clashed with the cartoony, hand-drawn aesthetic of his pencil art. This particular comic is a preview of his new graphic novel for Scholastic, and it shows that his work has matured and that his excessive tendencies have been toned down. There’s still the same realistic depiction of adolescence, although the protagonist is male rather than female this time. The lettering is still brilliant, although again very similar to Dave Sim’s lettering. But the distracting computer artwork is mostly gone, and it’s much easier to concentrate on the story, which is very cute. I’m not going to run out and buy the full version of this book, because the story seems kind of boring compared to other Scholastic books like The Amulet and Cleopatra in Space, but I expect it to do quite well.

DARK HORSE PRESENTS #14 (Dark Horse, 1988) – A-. The Concrete story in this issue is touching and funny; in this story, Concrete visits his parents’ graves, then falls into an open grave and can’t get out. There’s also a Mr. Monster story which has no plot to speak of, but some nice art and lettering.

ABE SAPIEN: THE DROWNING #1 (Dark Horse, 2008) – B+. This is nothing particularly great but it’s a fine addition to my Hellboy collection. Jason Alexander’s artwork in this issue is extremely dark and scratchy; I usually don’t like this sort of art but it’s appropriate for this story. This miniseries involves Abe Sapien investigating a shipwreck which is haunted by some kind of monstrous squids or something, so the story requires a cold and chilly mood.

AVENGERS ACADEMY #12 (Marvel, 2011) – B+. This is not the best issue of the series because there’s a lot of plot and not a whole lot of characterization, although the issue does end with a very touching moment between Mettle and Hazmat. I really wasn’t excited to see Korvac and Carina again; I think the potential of these characters was mostly exhausted in the Korvac saga from Avengers #167-177.

MILK & CHEESE #7 (Slave Labor, 1997) – A. Like Groo, Milk & Cheese are one-joke characters, but that joke is a funny one. These characters are not capable of sustaining a long narrative – Evan himself admits this on page one – and so this issue consists of a series of two- to four-page stories. Some of those stories may have appeared elsewhere before; I distinctly remember having already read the one about the comic book store, possibly in an issue of Wizard. Dorkin’s humor in these stories is extremely brutal and offensive in a hilarious way, and his artwork and lettering are so dense that this comic probably took me about half an hour to read. I don’t think I could stand to read an entire volume of Milk & Cheese stories, but a single issue worth of them is just enough.

SERGIO ARAGONES FUNNIES #10 (Bongo, 2013) – A-. The autobiographical story in this issue, “My Second Peso,” is as delightful as usual, though it has a grim undertone because it’s about Sergio being exploited by older kids for his artistic ability. I almost wish this series would be devoted to autobiographical stories exclusively, because the other long story in the issue, “Titanic Tales,” is pretty dumb.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #56 (DC, 1994) – D+. Tom McCraw is the second worst Legion writer after Gerry Conway, and the brief Legion on the Run era was one of the low points of the franchise. The Legionnaires’ new codenames (Pulse, Virus, Wave, etc.) are silly and it’s hard to believe anyone in-universe would actually be fooled by their cover identities. And the story doesn’t make sense and wouldn’t be interesting even if it did.

BACCHUS #30 (Eddie Campbell, 1997) – A-. This issue includes chapters of two different Bacchus stories as well as an Alec/Danny Grey story. I don’t have much to say about the first two; I really like Bacchus but I find that the various chapters of his saga tend to blur together in my memory. The Danny Grey backup is interesting because it’s a detailed examination of a character who seems to have vanished from Eddie’s more recent autobiographical work.

TALES FROM THE CRYPT #12 (Gemstone, 1995) – A+. Incredible stuff here. Jack Davis’s “Bargain in Death!” is a story of anatomical murder which is more hilarious than horrible. Joe Orlando’s “Ants in Her Trance!” is also pretty funny, but the twist ending is surprisingly logical and clever; it’s about a hypnotist who gives his wife a post-hypnotic command to wake up when he says “snap out of it”… and then discovers that this works even when she’s dead. Graham Ingels’s “The Ventriloquist’s Ghost” is mostly just disgusting. The last story in the issue, “A Corny Story” by Jack Kamen, is less exciting and would have been more at home in Weird Science or Weird Fantasy. I really need to collect more of these Gemstone EC reprints – I’d eventually like to have all of them.

SERGIO ARAGONES FUNNIES #11 (Bongo, 2013) – “Bill’s King Kong” is one of Sergio’s best short stories yet. It’s extremely funny (it details an incident where Sergio created a giant King Kong head and put it in Bill Gaines’s window) and it also reveals the deep affection Sergio had for his old boss. Reading Sergio’s stories about Bill really makes me wish I’d gotten the chance to meet him. The other two stories in the issue are much less substantial. “The Ghoul’s Tale” has a cute twist ending and “One Day at a Time” is very reminiscent of the beginning of the first Toy Story movie – which is a spoiler but not much of one, because the twist to this story is really obvious.

MS. MARVEL #4 (Marvel, 1977) – B-. This issue suffers from a common problem with ‘70s Marvel comics: there’s a preponderance of plot over characterization, and the plot isn’t exciting. Carol spends the whole issue fighting two unmemorable villains, and only gets back to her normal life at the end. At least there’s some okay Jim Mooney artwork which reminds me of his classic version of Supergirl. Later in this series Claremont would get better at balancing plot and characterization.

SAVAGE DRAGON #197 (Image, 2014) – B. On my Facebook page, someone recently mentioned Erik Larsen as a prominent contemporary successor to Kirby, and I think that’s accurate. His comics don’t stand up to close literary analysis (not to say that this is necessarily true of Kirby) but they’re fun to read and full of energy, and the action sequences and character designs are fantastic. This issue is notable mostly because Malcolm finally scores a decisive win over Dart, possibly Erik’s most loathsome villain. The Vanguard backup story in this issue is awful; I almost wish Erik would run advertisements instead, because then I wouldn’t feel obligated to read them.

STRANGE TALES #154 (Marvel, 1966) – B+/A-. Both stories in this issue are beautifully drawn, but sometimes seem like rehashes of earlier material. The Dr. Strange story involves the new Supreme Hydra and Laura Brown, the daughter of the old one. Therefore it’s very reminiscent of the Supreme Hydra saga from the #130s of this series. Of course the main attraction of the story is Steranko’s artwork. I think that once Steranko started writing his own material, he was able to come up with more interesting plots that catered more to his artistic strengths. The backup story has some nice artwork by Mirthful Marie, but is hard to distinguish from other Dark Dimension stories involving Clea and Umar.

AVENGERS ACADEMY #6 (Marvel, 2011) – A-. This is one of the better issues of this series. Christos Gage’s major strength as a writer is the depth of his characterization, and this issue is a deep exploration into Reptil’s personality, which ends with him going to Jessica Jones for therapy. It also includes the startling revelation that Reptil and Finesse had a sexual relationship; I started reading the series later and I didn’t realize this at all.

DAREDEVIL #138 (Marvel, 1976) – C+/B-. This issue would have been excruciating to read if not for the surprise guest artist, John Byrne. At this point in its history, the Daredevil title was going nowhere. It was a title that had little reason to exist other than Gene Colan’s artwork, and he was long gone. If not for Frank Miller, I don’t think Daredevil would still be published today. For instance, this issue is a Ghost Rider team-up which is painful to read because of Johnny Blaze’s silly cowboy dialogue. (Example: “Don’t say it, Roxy. I know what’s in your heart, ‘cause it’s forcin’ mine tuh do somersaults, too.”) The plot is of no interest whatsoever, and it crosses over with Ghost Rider, a title I’ve never had any desire to collect. So again, the only thing that saves this issue is the John Byrne artwork. The inking isn’t great, but at least this artwork is effective, closer to his work on Iron Fist than X-Men.

MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #11 (Marvel, 1975) – B+. The guest star this issue is Luke Cage, and this comic is fun because Luke and Ben both have massive egos (at least where their combat skills are concerned) and they initially can’t stand each other. Their back-and-forth dialogue is much more exciting than the plot, although the latter does have some mild interest; this issue has a slightly touching ending which reminds me a little of Frankenstein.

ARCHIE #253 (Archie, 1976) – B-. In his scholarship on Archie, Bart Beaty has observed that classic Archie comics were basically interchangeable. There was no continuity and each issue was very similar to all the others. Therefore, Archie is a good example of a typical comic book, whereas most of the works that comics scholars study are extremely atypical. (This is just my recollection of what Bart said in his paper at CSSC; I’m sure I’m oversimplifying his argument.) In a way, this issue is a good example of that thesis, though there is some stuff here that is quite out of the ordinary. The second story, “Tarbland of the Grapes,” is very bizarre. It begins with the premise that Archie is Tarbland, king of the jungle, and Betty is his mate. There is no explanation of how this situation came about. In the story after this one, Archie manages to convince himself that Mr. Lodge has been eaten by a carnivorous plant. Weird.

ATOMIC ROBO: DEADLY ART OF SCIENCE #5 (Red 5, 2011) – B+. This is mostly an effective conclusion to my favorite Atomic Robo story so far, but the ending leaves me a bit unsatisfied. By the end of the story, Robo is on the road to being who/what he is in the present, but we never really find out what happens to Jack Tarot or Helen. Perhaps this story was intended to set up another Atomic Robo miniseries also set in the ‘30s.

HERO FOR HIRE #10 (Marvel, 1973) – A-. This issue has an extremely convoluted plot which ends on a cliffhanger, but it’s fun to read because of Steve Englehart’s lively and humorous writing. George Tuska’s style of artwork is really too old-fashioned for a story which is meant to be highly contemporary, but at least he tries. It’s bizarre seeing him draw things like bell bottoms and lava lamps in a thoroughly non-psychedelic style. I need to collect more of these early issues of Hero for Hire, especially #8 and #9.

SAGA #23 (Image, 2014) – B+/A-. This was the most frustrating issue of the series so far. As I read this issue I grew steadily furious at both Marko and Alana, because obviously Alana is on the wrong side of their marital dispute, but Marko’s act of throwing the groceries at her is unforgivable. And I was especially pissed at Izabel for, essentially, urging Alana to forgive her abusive husband. It’s just all so frustrating. But I guess I have to trust that BKV knows what he’s doing here. And to paraphrase what Michael Pullmann said on my Facebook wall, I don’t have to be able to forgive Marko in order to keep reading – I guess I can sympathize with him while acknowledging he did something awful. I don’t know. It’ll be a long wait for the next issue.

LUMBERJANES #6 (Boom!, 2014) – A+. This is at least my #2 favorite comic right now and is seriously challenging Saga for the #1 slot. This issue is not quite at the same stratospheric level as #5, but is still incredibly fun. I love how the capture-the-flag game is such serious business. Jen and the camp director’s conversation is rather touching, especially the line about how the girls don’t need Jen to punch a bear because they can do that themselves. I was a little confused by the main plot point involving Diane and Jo, but it is nice that Jo is finally receiving a spotlight, since I think she’s been the most neglected character so far. It’s kind of weird that Bubbles spent the entire first four issues in hat form, but suddenly decides to spend almost all his/her time in hat form, now that we know s/he’s alive.

SAVAGE DRAGON #198 (Image, 2014) – B+/A-. This is the best issue of Savage Dragon in quite a long time. I still think Maxine is kind of a stereotype, but at least she’s a female character I genuinely care about, something which is very rare in this series. Malcolm’s adventure in the underworld is exciting, and the two-page splash at the centerfold is Erik’s best illustration in recent memory. For the first time in a while, I’m actively looking forward to the next issue.

HELLBLAZER #44 (DC, 1991) – A+. I’ve wanted to read “Dangerous Habits” for a long time, but somehow it always eluded me. Having finally gotten around to it, I think it’s one of Ennis’s masterworks and one of the great DC comics of the ‘90s. This chapter is largely devoted to setting up for the incredible coup de theatre in the next issue, but about the first half of the issue involves Constantine saying goodbye to his friends, knowing that his last-ditch effort to save his life might not work. Therefore this issue acts as an effective and concise summary of Constantine’s character. The key moment here is the giant close-up of his face with the caption “I’m not ashamed.” I recently saw a comment on Scans_Daily complaining about Ennis’s tendency toward protagonists who are “Real Men,” and I definitely agree. Clearly a character like Jesse Custer is an embodiment of a certain rather outdated notion of masculinity, and this is one of my main objections to Preacher. Ennis’s version of Constantine is a very different model of masculinity; he’s a deeply flawed character, and his character flaws are of the kind that make him disgusting and difficult to fully identify with. And this makes him a far more interesting character than Jesse. We see a lot of that side of his character in this issue. The one point here that rubs me the wrong way is the scene on the page before the “I’m not ashamed” panel, where Constantine looks at the Houses of Parliament and thinks “All I ever wanted was for the world to be free of your kind.” I think he’s lying to himself here; his actions usually seem to result from far less altruistic motives.

PRINCESS UGG #4 (Oni, 2014) – A-. This issue feels like a conclusion to the first story arc of the series, but it also feels inconclusive, in a good way. I was surprised that Ulga does not succeed in taming Julifer’s unicorn. She does find another (hilarious) solution to the problem, but the message here seems to be that she’s not going to win Julifer’s loyalty all at once, and this seems more realistic than if she had succeeded. Ulga is emerging as a complex and multifaceted character with both appealing and unappealing qualities, and I think this sort of character is Ted Naifeh’s trademark. Both Courtney Crumrin and Princess Ugg are about girls who are somewhat prickly and difficult to love – they’re kind of anti-Disney princesses, and of course the whole point of Princess Ugg is to critique the Disney princess phenomenon.

HELLBLAZER #45 (DC, 1991) – A+. This is one of the best DC comics of the ‘90s. I already knew the outline of Constantine’s plan, in which he sells his soul to three different devils, long before I read this issue. But it’s exciting watching it play out. Ennis’s sense of pacing is brilliant, and he effectively convinces the reader that this is Constantine’s greatest victory, his greatest stroke of genius – although as we realize next issue, it’s also a victory that benefits no one but himself. Will Simpson’s draftsmanship is rather poor, but he does a nice job of distinguishing the three demon lords; one of them in particular changes shape in every panel in which it appears. The last panel – the full-page splash with Constantine giving the First of the Fallen the finger – is perhaps the greatest moment of Ennis’s career. It’s a Crowning Moment of Awesome which reminds me of the concluding pages of Daredevil #236 or Kingdom Come #3; it’s that same level of absolute magnificence. Garth Ennis and John Constantine have rarely been better.

CHEW #43 (Image, 2014) – A. It seems like it’s been forever since the last issue of Chew. Warrior Chicken Poyo didn’t really count. Olive is amazing in this issue, though the preview page at the end suggests that she may be headed for a rude awakening when she encounters the Vampire. Besides that I don’t have much to say about this issue. Layman and Guillory are extremely consistent, meaning that every issue of Chew is at the same level of quality, but no issue particularly stands out. I do think the novelty of this series is going to wear off eventually, and I hope that the Vampire story arc isn’t drawn out for too long. The cover gimmick in this issue was used previously for #34.

THAT’S BECAUSE YOU’RE A ROBOT #nn (Image, 2014) – A-. Before this issue, the only other Shaky Kane comic I’d read was the one issue of Doom Patrol he did, which was a parody of Kirby. And now that I look at my copy of that issue, I realize Shaky Kane only did the cover. So I’m not at all familiar with his work, which mostly seems to have been published in rather obscure venues. He’s a fantastic artist though. He reminds me most obviously of Geof Darrow, but his work is less insanely detailed and he makes heavier use of primary colors. Reading this comic is almost like reading a coloring book. David Quantick’s storytelling is completely absurd and nonsensical in a humorous way. Overall I liked this issue, and I’ll pick up the other one-shot by this team if I see a copy of it.

ODDLY NORMAL #1 (Image, 2014) – B-. I like the premise of this series, but there’s just not enough here. The story ends before it really gets going. This is partly due to Otis Frampton’s very spare style of artwork, with very few panels per page and very little detail in each panel. The preview artwork at the end looks fascinating, though, and it gives me higher expectations for future issues. In terms of the content, my main reaction is that Oddly’s parents are just awful; they’re too wrapped up in each other to notice that their daughter is miserable in school and has no friends.

DETECTIVE COMICS #597 (DC, 1989) – B+. The villain in this issue is a filmmaker, Milton Sladek, who produces live footage of people being beaten – like snuff films, except the victim survives – and then exhibits them privately to rich sadists. There is a strong element of social critique here, which is not surprising since this story is written by Alan Grant, of Judge Dredd fame. Grant suggests that Sladek himself is not the villain; rather, the real villains are his overprivileged rich customers, who are so jaded that they can only get off on watching less fortunate people get beaten. However, the story ends on a false note when Batman invites Sladek’s customers to visit one of his victims in the hospital, and the customers immediately realize the error of their ways and swear not to watch violence videos anymore. I didn’t buy this; if these people are heartless enough to watch the videos in the first place, why would they change their minds so quickly? I suspect that the editor may have required Grant to include this ending, and that this story would have ended differently if the main character was Judge Dredd instead of Batman.

CONCRETE: THINK LIKE A MOUNTAIN #2 (Dark Horse, 1996) – A+. Paul Chadwick is one of the most underrated creators in American comics. I think it may only be his use of science fiction elements that prevents him from being recognized as a genius on the level of more canonical creators like Clowes or Pekar or Los Bros. His stories are mature and complicated and serious, and his artwork is incredible, especially in color – this issue often reminded me of Moebius or something like that. Environmentalism is the key theme of his work, and “Think Like a Mountain” may be the one story where he confronts environmental issues more directly. In this story Concrete gets involved with a radical environmentalist group as an embedded reporter/documentarian. But it quickly becomes clear that they’re trying to recruit him for their cause, and that they’re not above using underhanded and deceptive tactics in order to do so. Chadwick depicts the magnitude of the environmental crisis facing the planet, but he avoids presenting environmentalists in an unambiguously positive light. This miniseries is probably one of the high points of his career.

TINY TITANS: RETURN TO THE TREEHOUSE #1 (DC, 2014) – B+. And now for something far less serious. This is more or less exactly the same as every other comic by Baltazar and Franco, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Highlights of this issue are a surprise unexplained Brainiac 5 appearance and a scene in which the Titans find Solomon Grundy asleep in a coffin.

THE SANDMAN #32 (DC, 1991) – A+. I think this was actually the only issue of Sandman that I hadn’t read. This was by accident; at Comic-Con many years ago I bought all the other issues of “A Game of You” except this one, and I never got around to reading this issue. I don’t have a complete Sandman collection, but I’ve read all the other issues I’m missing in reprinted form. Though actually, on looking at my database again, I think it’s also possible that I haven’t read issue 21 either. And it’s odd that I haven’t read this issue because I once received a very good student paper analyzing its first four pages, up to the point where Barbie wakes up. Anyway, this is an awesome comic. The contrast between the dream world and the waking world (which was what the student paper was primarily about) is extremely stark. Barbie’s fantasy world is fascinatingly bizarre; I feel like Martin Tenbones and the Cuckoo and the rest could have supported a comic book on their own. I kind of want to reread the rest of “A Game of You” now that I know how it starts; I always thought it was one of the weaker Sandman stories.

HELLBLAZER #46 (DC, 1991) – A. This is an excellent aftermath to the epic epicness of issue 45, though I did have problems with it. The issue begins with Constantine suffering from a sort of PTSD. It dawns on him that he’s just endangered the entire universe to save his own skin, and that he’s saved his own life but that his friend Matt is still doomed to die of the exact same disease. And he ends up feeling like a complete shit, which of course he is. At this point Garth Ennis introduces Kit, who initially seems like – I don’t want to use the obvious term that begins with M because it’s sexist and offensive. But she does seem like an excessively perfect and flawless character, and this makes her suspect because she’s Ennis’s new creation and he’s obviously trying very hard to sell her to the reader. This is less of a problem since I have read some later stories which reveal significant depths to her character; it’s just a little offputting. The issue ends with a very appropriate quotation from a Pogues song, “Rainy Night in Soho.” The Pogues are a significant intertext to this comic and it seems like Ennis’s version of Constantine is based to some extent on Shane MacGowan.

WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #237 (DC, 1976) – C+/B-. This is weaker than most World’s Finest issues of this era. It has a rather boring plot in which Superman and Batman try to stop an invasion of alien locusts. However, it does include a scene where Superman rides a giant bird with praying mantis legs, so that’s something.

DEADBEATS AND COMPANY #60 (Claypool, 2003) – D+. This is one of those comics I’ve had for many years without ever bothering to read it. In fact, I remember getting it for free at Comic-Con as part of a promotion, so it’s possible that I’ve had it for eleven years, ever since it came out. When I finally did get around to reading this comic, it was not worth the wait. This series has some mildly interesting soap opera elements, but it’s one of the most overwritten comics I’ve ever read; as a writer, Richard Howell may be even more verbose than Don McGregor. Each panel in this issue has so many word balloons and caption boxes that the pace of the story slows to a crawl. And Howell isn’t even a good prose stylist. His characters speak in clichéd dialogue that bears no resemblance to how real people talk. This series eventually switched to digital distribution because it fell below Diamond Comics’s minimum order numbers, and I’m not surprised because I can’t imagine who would have been buying it.

MORNING GLORIES #38 (Image, 2014) – C. I’m losing patience with this series because the story never makes any sense and it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. I’m still buying it but it regularly takes me several months to read each new issue. I still sort of like the characters, and I feel a certain amount of loyalty to the franchise, but I’m almost at the point where I can’t justify buying it anymore.

MANIFEST DESTINY #8 (Image, 2014) – B+. This is another series I’ve fallen behind on, but in this case it’s because of laziness and lack of time on my part, rather than lack of quality on the part of the comic. Like Chew, this series has fallen into a comfortable groove, and this issue offers us more of what I’ve come to expect from it: giant bizarre monsters, plausible-sounding 19th-century dialogue, and Sacagawea being awesome. I do wish that she wasn’t the only Native American character in the series. I’m curious about the people who live in this version of America, as well as the monsters.

MANIFEST DESTINY #9 (Image, 2014) – A-. Again more of the same. This issue heavily emphasizes the contrast between the more active Clark and the more contemplative Lewis (unless it’s the other way around, I have trouble telling them apart). The dynamic between Sacagawea and York is also fascinating. The scene at the end, with the fly bursting out of the guy’s chest like a xenomorph, is the most disgusting thing in this series so far.

HAROLD HEDD: HITLER’S COCAINE #1 (Kitchen Sink, 1984) – A+. Rand Holmes was an extremely talented Canadian underground cartoonist who went almost forgotten until fairly recently, when Fantagraphics published a retrospective volume about him. My dad has a small collection of underground comics, which he eventually gave to me when I was old enough for them, and it included Harold Hedd #2 from the ‘70s. That comic was an amazing discovery for me because of the way it combined Wally Wood’s art style with the underground sensibility. And also because of Holmes’s incredible sense of humor – I especially remember the opening scene where Harold Hedd can’t pee in the toilet because he has an erection, so he uses the sink instead. Then later I came across Harold Hedd: Hitler’s Cocaine #2, the second issue of the brief revival of this character from the ‘80s, and I thought that that was even better. So I finally got around to reading issue #1 and I continue to be impressed by Rand Holmes’s brilliant artwork and his comic genius. This story is a definite wish fulfillment fantasy, but Harold Hedd and his cousin Elmo are memorable characters, and Rand Holmes’s artwork is realistic while also being full of hilarious detail. It’s a real shame that Holmes produced such a small body of work – basically just four issues of Harold Hedd and a few stories scattered across various underground comics and Kitchen Sink anthologies. He deserves to be better known than he is.

FANTAGOR #3 (Last Gasp, 1972) – B/B+. After reading Harold Hedd, I wanted to read another underground comic. The most fascinating thing about Rich Corben’s artwork is his airbrush coloring, and unfortunately only one of his two stories in this issue is colored in that style. However, both those stories are quite well-written; they’re horror stories in the EC style, though slightly more X-rated, and they have a certain brutal and blackly humorous sensibility. I especially like the one that’s not colored in the airbrush style, which is called “Kittens for Christian.” It takes place in a postapocalyptic world where animals can grow to gigantic sizes. The protagonist is a 98-pound weakling who is commanded by Luther, a brutal bully, to bring back some cats for dinner. But he refuses to kill them, and ultimately the cats grow to giant size while remaining loyal to him. I haven’t read any Harlan Ellison, but this story is reminiscent of my ideas as to what Harlan Ellison’s stories are probably like, if that makes any sense.

MANIFEST DESTINY #10 (Image, 2014) – A-. With this issue I’m finally caught up. This current story is dragging on a bit too long – Lewis and Clark’s boat has now been stuck on the underwater arch for three whole issues, and it’s still not unstuck yet. But at least Lewis seems to have come up with a workable solution. This issue includes some fascinating interplay between Lewis and Mrs. Boniface. None of the characters in this comic are particularly deep, but the interactions between them are compelling.

UNCANNY X-MEN #119 (Marvel, 1978) – A-. This is an average Claremont and Byrne issue, which means it’s in the top 10% of all the superhero comics published in the ‘70s. Almost the entire issue is taken up with a battle between the X-Men and Moses Magnum, a forgettable villain who has only made a few subsequent appearances. But what makes this issue enjoyable is the scene at the end where the X-Men throw Sean a surprise birthday party – especially the part where Ororo kisses Kurt for no particular reason. This scene emphasizes the fact that although Claremont’s writing seems kind of embarrassing today, he was able to make the reader feel a genuine affection for his characters. There is another thing about this issue that seems very strange by modern standards. At the end of #113, Jean and Professor X were separated from the rest of the X-Men, and each half of the team believed the other half was dead. They continued to believe this until almost a year later when Scott and Hank ran into each other. But if Sean had ever given Moira MacTaggert a phone call (which he even contemplates doing in this issue), he would have discovered that Jean and Charles were still alive, and vice versa. I don’t know why he never bothered calling her, unless long-distance phone calls were prohibitively expensive then.

INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #18 (Marvel, 2009) – B+. I bought this at a library book sale while I was still living in Gainesville, but never got around to reading it, mostly because of the hideous library stickers on the cover. This is a late chapter of the “World’s Most Wanted” story arc, in which “Tony frantically makes his way across the globe to each of his hidden armories, using repulsor technology to delete the database that is his mind.” I don’t understand why Tony would do this instead of just, you know, killing himself, which he seems prepared to do anyway. And the story further suffers from the involvement of Norman Osborn. I almost want to institute a policy that any Marvel comic with Norman Osborn in it will receive an automatic deduction of 1/3 of a letter grade. I just hate this villain so much; he’s just pure evil with no appealing qualities, and he should still be dead. What I do like is Matt Fraction’s portrayal of Iron Man (as well as Pepper Potts for that matter). His version of Tony Stark is more or less the same as Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal, and is therefore inconsistent with how Tony has been written in the past, but I don’t mind because Fraction writes him with such charisma and humor. I also like Salvador Larroca’s art, though it’s a little too photorealistic for my tastes.

INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #23 (Marvel, 2010) – B+. I wrote so much about issue 19 that I’m just going to write a few sentences about this one. I don’t understand the story in this issue, but I love Matt Fraction’s portrayal of the Ghost, who he depicts as a spooky and disturbing character. Much of the issue takes place inside Tony’s mind, but the story ends before we learn much of anything about his psychology.

BATMAN #502 (DC, 1993) – C-. This issue was very lackluster. Since it’s a chapter of Knightquest: The Crusade, it stars Azrael rather than Bruce. Azrael was intentionally written as an unlikeable jerk, and it shows. I think I must have checked this issue out from the library when it came out, because it includes a letter from a fan with the coincidental name of Jason Peter Todd, and I know I’ve read that letter before, but I can’t remember anything about the story.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #340 (Marvel, 1990) – C+/B-. We continue with the theme of mediocre superhero comics from the early ‘90s. Half of this issue is devoted to a fight between Spider-Man and the Femme Fatales, four extremely lame villains who never appeared again after this story arc except as background characters. The other half is devoted to Peter worrying about the possibility that he might get killed and leave Aunt May bereaved. Because of this, Peter decides to subject himself to an experimental process, invented by a Dr. Turner, that might remove his powers. Despite supposedly being a genius, Peter apparently never considers the possibility that Dr. Turner might have ulterior motives. This was not one of Michelinie and Larsen’s better efforts.

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY #3 (Marvel, 1976) – B/B-. This is a ‘70s Kirby comic and so I can’t give it too low of a rating. But I still found it disappointing. I was hoping this would be an epic cosmic story in the same vein as the Fourth World, and it was, but only for one page, where the main character has a vision thanks to the monolith. The rest of the issue takes place in prehistoric times, and includes some good combat scenes but not a whole lot else.

GREEN LANTERN #114 (DC, 1979) – B-. I had to interrupt myself in the middle of reading this comic, because when I got about two pages in, I started to worry that another scholar might have anticipated my argument in the chapter I’m working on, and I had to run to my bookshelves and check. It turned out my worry was unfounded and I ended up getting some useful writing done, but it was a while before I got back to my comic book. However, I don’t think this comic would have been improved by being read at one sitting rather than two. The main source of dramatic tension in this story is that Hal uses his power ring to put an energy shield around a leaking oil tanker, but then he suffers a head injury and can’t recharge his ring before the shield disappears. And he also can’t tell anyone else about this situation. The plot hole here is that Green Arrow knows about the energy shield, and he presumably knows how Hal’s ring works, and yet he can’t figure out for himself that the energy shield is going to vanish. I suppose this is a case of plot-induced stupidity. Besides that, the story in this issue is okay but the art, by Alex Saviuk, is below average.

BATMAN ’66 #11 (DC, 2014) – A-. I quit collecting this comic because I wasn’t reading the issues I already had, and now I’m embarrassed about that, because this series is cleverly written and funny. This issue introduces the Batman ’66 version of Harley Quinn and also includes cameos by a bunch of villains who only apppeared on the TV show. Jonathan Case’s artwork is perfect for this story; he shows familiarity with the period, and his realistic style contrasts interestingly with the wackiness of the plots.

AVENGERS: THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE #7 (Marvel, 2011) – C-. This issue illustrates the problem with most crossover stories. It has an overly complicated plot and no characterization to speak of. Too many pages are wasted on giant fight scenes, and the issue includes too many giant crowd scenes and too many characters who don’t get to do anything. The things I usually like about Allan Heinberg’s writing were almost completely absent here. The only good thing about this comic is Jim Cheung’s artwork. Somehow I always pay particular attention to the way he draws Wiccan’s headband; I don’t know why but it seems like this detail is kind of a signature of his.

YUMMY FUR #24 (Vortex, 1991) – A. “The Little Man” is both funny and disturbing. It’s a wish-fulfillment fantasy which reminds me a lot of the pissing contest scene in Blankets. But the subtext is that 10-year-old Chester Brown was kind of a disgusting kid (apparently the part where he exposes himself in class really happened) and that his mother was suffering from some kind of severe depression. This story kind of demands rereading. This issue also includes an adaptation of a scene from the Gospels. I kind of love Chester’s depiction of Jesus as a frightening and imposing figure. We’re all used to thinking of Jesus as kind and gentle, but Chester emphasizes how scary he must have been to people who met him.

YOUNG AVENGERS #10 (Marvel, 2006) – B+/A-. After reading the bad Allan Heinberg comic reviewed above, I wanted to read a good one. Heinberg’s writing seems kind of simplistic in comparison with Kieron Gillen’s version of these characters, but he still does a good job of letting their personalities come through. This issue also introduces Speed, who is convincingly depicted as a dangerous creep who is probably in jail for a good reason. I already read this issue when I borrowed the trade paperback from a friend, but it’s worth having it in my collection.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #31 (IDW, 2014) – B+. I still don’t understand or care about the plot of this comic, and I still can’t tell any of the characters apart – they all have more or less the same personality. But this comic continues to be worth reading because of James Roberts’s amazing dialogue. I also liked this issue’s mystery novel-esque plot.

Now for this week’s comics, if I can stay awake long enough:

BATGIRL #35 (DC, 2014) – A-. The A is because this is the first time DC has ever seriously attempted to appeal to its target demographic. We might describe that demographic as the Tumblr generation: Internet-savvy fans who are predominantly female. Marvel has been doing a fantastic job of courting this audience, and DC finally seems to have caught up. This comic passes the Bechdel test easily and has an appealing and distinctive female protagonist – I especially like how Babs uses her training as an urban geographer to fight crime. Also the artwork and even the coloring are very appealing. Babs Tarr is an emerging star. The minus is because Stewart and Fletcher almost seem to be trying too hard to prove how cool they are, and this issue occasionally reads like an old person’s idea of what young people’s lives must be like. Also, I think it’s unfortuante that this issue involves some cross-title continuity with Birds of Prey, because it’s probably going to be read by a lot of people who don’t read any other DC title. Still, this issue shows that DC is finally starting to understand the need to appeal to nontraditional audiences.

ROCKET RACCOON #4 (Marvel, 2014) – B+/A-. I feel like this series has been just a bit underwhelming given Skottie Young’s incredible talent. This ought to be Marvel’s best title, but I would rank it behind Ms. Marvel and maybe even She-Hulk. Still, this comic is incredibly fun, it’s beautifully drawn, and it wraps up the first story arc in a satisfying way while also setting up the next story. I particularly like Skottie Young’s use of what TVTropes calls Unsound Effects, i.e. sound effects that describe the action rather than imitating its sound. For example, in this issue we have OUCH! and GUT! and SHUT ‘EM DOWN!

THOR #1 (Marvel, 2014) – B+. The disappointing thing about this issue is that the new female Thor only appears on two pages and we don’t learn anything about her at all. Another reviewer mentioned how this is probably a ploy to ensure that people will stay around for the next issue, and I’m sure that’s true. But this comic does offer a plausible reason why there’s a female Thor, even though we don’t know who she is yet. And Frigga has probably never been written better. Also, I’ve never seen Russell Dauterman’s art before but I really like it. I eagerly await the next issue. The Thor title has been fairly consistently good over the past decade, which is nice since it was almost unreadable for a decade before that.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #8 (Marvel, 2014) – A. This is the best issue since #1, mostly because of the cats. I mean, seriously, there are panels here with like twenty cats in them. That alone is worth an A-. And I almost forgot about the splash page with the tentacles and chestbursters coming out of Chewie’s mouth; that has to be one of the best panels of the year, especially considering Rocket’s reaction. For almost the first time since this series began, I was seriously excited to read this issue, and I was not disappointed. I can’t imagine how the next issue could possibly top this one, though.

USAGI YOJIMBO: SENSO #3 (Dark Horse, 2014) – A-. This issue doesn’t advance the story very much, and it would be a B+ if not for the heartbreaking and inspiring scene where Chizu sacrifices herself to destroy the tripod. “Even for a ninja there can be honor in death” is the best line of dialogue Stan has written in many years. Gen also dies heroically in this issue, but his death has far less impact. Other than that, though, I already get the point that Usagi and his allies are almost helpless against the Martians, and I think it’s time for the story to stop belaboring that point.

GROO VS. CONAN #3 (Dark Horse, 2014) – B+/A-. I was initially dissatisfied with this. As mentioned in my review of #2, Mark doesn’t understand Conan very well; he writes Conan as a prehistoric superhero, and he has Conan as the king of a small village, which is inconsistent with Conan’s established history. Also, as the issue went on I realized that the Mark/Sergio scenes were actually more interesting than the Groo/Conan scenes, and I didn’t understand what these two halves of the story had to do with each other. More accurately, I didn’t get why Mark and Sergio were in this comic. As the issue went on, I eventually figured out that the two stories are analogous to each other. Obviously the situation with the comic book store parallels the situation with the bakery, but what’s more interesting is that Mark and Sergio play the same roles in their story as Conan and Groo do in theirs. In short, Mark is Conan and Sergio is Groo, which somehow makes a lot of sense. Still, it feels like kind of a cheat that this comic is more about Mark and Sergio than it is about the two title characters, although Groo and Conan do finally get to fight each other in the end.

AVENGERS: THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE #5 (Marvel, 2011) – B+/A-. This issue is much better than #7, reviewed above, because there are far fewer characters and therefore there’s a stronger focus on the Young Avengers themselves. In this issue Cassie successfully uses time travel to bring her father back to life, and there’s also a heavy emphasis on the love triangle between her, Iron Lad and the Vision, even though the latter two appear to be the same character, in some sense I don’t understand. Cassie is kind of an awesome character – her innocence and youth are a nice contrast to Kate Bishop’s world-weariness – and I don’t quite understand why Heinberg decided to kill her off at the end of this miniseries.

HELLBLAZER #47 (DC, 1990) – A. This issue demonstrates one of Ennis’s great strengths: his ability to shift from humor to horror and back at the drop of a hat. In the first half of this issue, Constantine and Kit spend a night at the pub. This part of the story is kind of a paean to English drinking culture, something Ennis is presumably very familiar with. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the differences between American and European alcohol culture, since it’s come up in my class this semester, and this issue is kind of an elegant argument for the superiority of the latter. In the second half of the issue, though, some criminals destroy the bar and brutally murder its elderly proprietor, Laura. It’s a brutal and shocking moment, and it makes me want to run out and buy issue 48 (or order it from mycomicshop.com) so I can see Constantine take vengeance on the criminals. The problem with this plot, though, is that Laura knew there was trouble coming and didn’t bother to tell Constantine, who could have done something about it. Oh, also, the title of this issue is “The Pub Where I Was Born,” which is an unacknowledged quotation from the Pogues song “Sally MacLennane.” That makes at least four Pogues songs that play a major role in Ennis’s run on Hellblazer, along with “Rainy Night in Soho,” “Thousands are Sailing,” and “Rake at the Gates of Hell.” I’m sure there are others.

ASTRO CITY #16 (DC, 2014) – A+. To explain my review of this comic I have to describe my process of reading it. I was not impressed with this issue at first. I couldn’t tell where it was going, and it just seemed like a generic superhero story. I started to understand a bit more when I got to the birthday party scene and I remembered that this part of the issue was originally written as a Luthor/Superboy story. I could see how this scene on its own could have been an interesting exploration of Lex and Clark’s relationship. At the same time, I was afraid this was leading up to Simon’s suicide – that this was going to be a story about a teen who was bullied for being gay, with tragic consequences. But then I got to the end of the flashback section, where Starbright takes off “his” mask and turns out to be a black woman, and I was completely confused – especially since the next page revealed that Chet Markham was the original Starbright and that he died. So who was this woman? And then it hit me: the woman was Simon. Simon/Simone/Sally is a transgender character and what this story is really about is her transition from male to female. This is a shocking and eye-opening moment – it came as a complete surprise to me and yet made perfect logical and emotional sense. Overall I think this issue is probably the most powerful and sympathetic exploration of transgender themes in the history of superhero comics, and everyone who’s interested in such themes ought to read it.

SUPERMAN #375 (DC, 1982) – B. This is a fun comic, but man, Vartox is such a weird character, with his receding hairline and his bare chest. I don’t understand why Cary Bates and his colleagues were so obsessed with this character. His only memorable post-Crisis appearance is in Power Girl, where he’s depicted as a space-traveling lounge lizard, and I think this indicates the difficulty of taking him seriously. The Fabulous World of Krypton backup story, in which a dishonest scientist tries to steal Jor-El’s rocket, is more exciting than the main story because it has some nice Gil Kane artwork.

IMAGE EXPO PREVIEW BOOK 2: I IS FOR IMAGE (Image, 2014) – B+. This is exactly how a preview comic should be done. It presents substantial excerpts from a bunch of upcoming Image titles – rather than unlettered preview pages, which are totally useless – and it succeeds in making me excited about most of these titles. The two most impressive previews here are the ones for ODY-C and Tooth & Claw, and I was going to buy those anyway, but this issue also makes me curious about From Under Mountains and even Birthright. I’m especially excited about ODY-C, though. I love the idea of an all-female science fiction take on Homer.

TEEN DOG #2 (Boom!, 2014) – B+/A-. This is essentially the same as last issue; it’s a collection of short vignettes which are completely absurd in a funny way. What struck me as I read this story, though, was the resemblance to Scott Pilgrim of all things. There are a ton of video game references in this issue, including jaggy lettering. And Lawrence’s style of dialogue, with its heavy use of catch phrases, is kind of similar to O’Malley’s.

BATMAN ’66 #9 (DC, 2014) – B+/A-. This issue is inferior to #11, reviewed above, because of Craig Rousseau’s artwork, which is significantly worse than Jonathan Case’s. Rousseau’s art lacks the realism that makes Case’s artwork so effective. I did like the story, with the humorous interplay between Zelda and Haley. However, since Bruce’s date is named Kathy (i.e. Bat-Woman), I wonder why Dick’s date isn’t named Bette (i.e. Bat-Girl).

GEORGE PEREZ’S SIRENS #1 (Boom!, 2014) – B+. I’m going to file this under S for Sirens rather than G for George Perez. Gentleman George used to be my favorite artist. I’m not sure that’s true anymore, but I still love his work, and in this issue he gets to do one of the things he does best: draw sexy women. I think that’s basically the whole point of this series. The story is difficult to understand – it seems to be about some women from different historical eras who are all allies of a single time-traveling woman – but the real point of this comic is the artwork. I don’t think this series is going to win any awards, but I look forward to reading more of it.

FIRST ISSUE SPECIAL #6 (DC, 1975) – B-. “The Dingbats of Danger Street” was not one of Kirby’s better concepts. It’s really just a rehash of the Newsboy Legion and the Boy Commandos. There is nothing here that really grabs the reader’s imagination. It’s not even weird in a funny way, like Devil Dinosaur. Unsurprisingly this was Kirby’s only published story with these characters, though he did two more stories about them which have never been published.

MIRACLEMAN #11 (Marvel, 2014) – A+. Obviously this is an A+ comic, and I’m extremely glad that the copyright issues have been worked out and that I’m finally able to have it in my collection. I have the first ten issues of Miracleman, except #8 which was a reprint, but the later issues are prohibitively expensive. I wasn’t able to read them at all until I got to college and discovered that the special collections library had them. I don’t have much to say about the story, which I know pretty well already. Alan’s prose style is incredible, if somewhat purple at times, and John Totleben is an unacknowledged master of draftsmanship. Some of his architectural renderings in this and the next issue actually remind me of Philippe Druillet. My only complaint about this comic is that Marvel really didn’t need to include the original pencils for every single page. This material is only of interest to obsessive fans or scholars, and it could have been saved for some kind of special edition.

MIRACLEMAN #12 (Marvel, 2014) – A+. See above. I had mostly forgotten about the continuity with Avril Lear and Young Nastyman, so reading this part of the issue was a bit of a surprise. Another thing I realized when reading this issue is that Dicky Dauntless’s homosexuality actually makes a weird kind of sense, since he’s the analogue to Mary Marvel. Or maybe he’s supposed to be Captain Marvel Jr. and Kid Marvelman is supposed to be Mary Marvel, but I think the alternative arrangement makes more sense. On an unrelated matter, this issue and the previous issue also include some backup stories by Mick Anglo and his staff, and the one in this issue is notable for its highly racist depiction of Indians. This material might have been better left out of print.

INCREDIBLE HULK #272 (Marvel, 1982) – B+. I have mentioned before that I hate Bill Mantlo’s writing, but I’m beginning to suspect that this may be an irrational prejudice. His stuff is sometimes kind of funny in a weird way, like Bob Haney’s comics. And this issue is actually a significant moment in Bruce Banner’s character arc; I think it’s the first time Bruce ever turns into the Hulk while retaining his own personality. I think that’s all I want to say for now; for the first time since moving to this house, I have gotten all the way through my stack of comics waiting to be reviewed, and I need to go to bed now.

Reviews of about 36 comic books

9/29/14

AQUAMAN: SWORD OF ATLANTIS #41 (DC, 2006) – B/B+. I have trouble getting into this series because I honestly don’t understand its premise. Who is this new young Aquaman and what does he have to do with the preexisting version of Aquaman? However, to the extent that I understand this story, I do like it. Aquaman is one of my favorite DC heroes, and as an added bonus, this issue features Mera, one of my favorite DC heroines. This Aquaman series also effectively builds on the aquatic fantasy themes of Peter David’s Aquaman. Butch Guice’s artwork is very gloomy and dark, which is appropriate for the setting.

ACTION COMICS #839 (DC, 2006) – A-. Part six of “Up, Up and Away” is perhaps the climax of this story, because it involves a repowered Superman accepting his dual role as Superman and as Clark Kent. It ends up making the same point as the classic Mr. Xavier story in Superman #296-299 – Superman has to be both Superman and Clark Kent at once, and he can’t survive without either of them. I kind of think the story could have ended here, though, without the need for two extra installments. Renato Guedes’s artwork is excellent but perhaps relies too heavily on photo reference.

SHE-HULK #7 (Marvel, 2014) – A-. I don’t know where I would rank this series among current Marvel titles, but I love it. Charles Soule focuses on different aspects of Jen’s character compared to Dan Slott, and yet it seems like they’re both writing the same character. Also, Javier Pulido’s faces look weird, but his compositional skills are amazing. This issue is less focused on the law than previous issues, and it’s almost more about Hank Pym than Shulkie, but it offers an interesting new take on Hank, reminding the reader just how terrifying it would be to actually have shrinking powers. Also, in this issue Shulkie and Hellcat beat up a bunch of cats. This should be offensive since I’m a cat person, but I found it funny.

HOLLYWOOD SUPERSTARS #2 (Marvel/Epic, 1991) – A+. Mark Evanier likes to make fun of this series, but the truth is that it’s a forgotten masterpiece, and a spiritual sequel to one of the great ‘80s independent comics, Crossfire. Evanier is not just a hilarious writer, he also writes brilliant plots. This issue is a murder mystery whose solution is fairly obvious early on, but it’s exciting anyway because of Evanier’s sense of pacing. Dan Spiegle draws in a rather cartoony style, but he uses light and shadow so effectively that his images look three-dimensional anyway, and maybe the highlight of this issue is his visual storytelling. The issue begins with a wordless sequence in which a middle-aged man gets drunk at a bar because he’s been dumped by his girlfriend, and a woman lures her to his apartment and then murders him. The first page of this sequence is particularly incredible; there’s no dialogue but the man’s sense of despair is palpable. As an added bonus, this issue ends with a fascinating story about how Evanier almost got hired as a weatherman.

ACTION COMICS #299 (DC, 1963) – C-. The first story in this issue is insane – actually, so is the second story, but the first story is more obviously so. I can’t really summarize it except to say that it’s about a series of bizarre occurrences which all relate somehow to the letters LL. This story is by Jerry Siegel, who must have been pretty much washed up as a writer by this point. He had written “The Death of Superman” just two years before, and yet it seems that by 1963 he had lost his ability to write intelligibly. Jim Warren has said that at some point, he tried to give Jerry Siegel some work, but Siegel’s scripts were completely unpublishable and had to be rewritten by Archie Goodwin. (http://twomorrows.com/comicbookartist/articles/04warren.html) Based on Siegel’s story in this issue, I can believe that. The backup story is better only because it’s at least marginally coherent and it features Supergirl. However, this story is not devoid of stupid stuff either; the plot involves “Rax-Rol, a child prodigy who was Kandor’s top baby movie star.”

USAGI YOJIMBO #68 (Dark Horse, 2003) – A-. Part three of “Sumi-E” is a bit of a letdown after the first two parts, mostly because the main villain gets defeated on page five. But this is still a terrific Usagi story. Maybe the star of this issue is Jotaro, who gets a chance to be the hero for once, saving a bunch of other kids from the insane monster Neneki. Oh, and the other highlight of the issue is the scene where Usagi draws a giant Godzilla to fight the giant samurai that the villain drew. I love the premise of this story, with the magical sumi-e brushes that use children’s blood to draw objects into existence. And Stan is careful to make sure that the brush set is still around by the end of the story; I hope it will appear again someday.

AVENGERS ACADEMY #17 (Marvel, 2011) – B+/A-. I can’t remember why I decided to start reading my backlog of issues of Avengers Academy, but I’m glad I did. I generally prefer Marvel’s teen superhero comics to their adult superhero comics, perhaps because titles like Avengers Academy and Young Avengers and Runaways remind me of the Legion comics of my adolescence. Avengers Academy was not as well-crafted as either version of Young Avengers, and Christos Gage’s dialogue is sometimes wooden and unrealistic. But like Claremont, he has a real knack for making you care deeply about his characters – even Finesse, whose whole thing is that she doesn’t care about anyone. This specific issue is a little too heavily involved in the Fear Itself crossover, but it has some really nice character moments, in which the characters attempt to deal with the fact that some of them have killed people. I should also point out that I love the shirt Hazmat wears in this issue.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #296 (Marvel, 1988) – C. This issue has too much Doc Ock and not enough Spidey. Or rather, it focuses too much on Doc Ock’s insane obsession with Spidey, which is not one of the more interesting aspects of his character. Also, Alex Saviuk’s artwork in this issue is very boring. This is not one of David Michelinie’s better Spider-Man comics.

SCRATCH9: FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2014 nn (Hermes Press, 2014) – B-. This comic includes two Scratch9 stories, both of which are too short to really be interesting. I love the premise of a cat who can summon his ancestors from the past, but I think this premise could be executed better. As a cat comic, Scratch9 is not as exciting as, say, Cleopatra in Space. The story on the flip side of the comic is a preview of another series called Run & Amuk, which, again, is potentially funny but is not well executed, and it seems to assume that the reader is already familiar with its premise.

BLACK BEETLE #1 (Dark Horse, 2013) – B-. I’ve been wanting to read this for a while, but it’s somewhat disappointing because the story is not very interesting or original. Based on this issue, it seems like this series is a very standard noir superhero comic, and it’s written in a formulaic and boring style. In terms of the writing, it compares unfavorably to things like Sandman Mystery Theatre or Darwyn Cooke’s Spirit. And I don’t particularly like the noir genre anyway. Of course the attraction of this series is not the writing but the artwork, and Francesco Francavilla is one of the top artists currently working in American comic books. His compositions, his lettering and especially his use of color (particularly orange) are just incredible. Too bad about the story, though.

BATMAN: LI’L GOTHAM #7 (DC, 2013) – B+. This is an average issue of my favorite recent DC comic. It’s not the best issue of this series, but it does include some cute and/or awesome stuff, including a Pacific Rim-esque battle between a giant “Robin-Bot” and a giant squid. As usual, Dustin Nguyen’s artwork in this issue is adorable.

THE ADVENTURES OF LITTLE ARCHIE #38 (Archie, 1966) – A-. After I bought this at Comic-Con, I showed it to Jaime Hernandez and he said it was the last good issue of the series. It seems to have been Bob Bolling’s last issue of the title until the ‘80s, although the GCD is contradictory on this point; it says that Bolling also had a story in the following issue. Anyway, the Bolling story in this issue is “The Terrible Tornado Machine,” starring Mad Dr. Doom and Chester. I think I prefer Bolling’s pure adventure stories to his stories with these characters, but Doom and Chester are a pretty funny combination. This issue also includes two additional stories that look like Bolling’s work to me, but that are credited to Dexter Taylor by the GCD. Both of these are very exciting adventure stories; in particular, one of them involves a battle between Archie and a wolverine, although not the Marvel version.

LITTLE NEMO: RETURN TO SLUMBERLAND #1 (IDW, 2014) – A. The idea of reviving Little Nemo seems sacrilegious. But if anyone is qualified to do it, it’s Eric Shanower – his Oz adaptations show that he understands the early 20th-century sensibility. And his story shows understanding of and respect for Winsor McCay’s work. As with the original Little Nemo, the story here is mostly an excuse for the artwork, but it’s fairly effective anyway; I especially love the scenes with the quarreling wise men. And while the stuff that happens in the story is funny, it also has overtones of grim seriousness, as if we’re supposed to laugh but at the same time feel worried about what might happen to Nemo. Now as for the art, I didn’t particularly notice Gabriel Rodriguez’s artwork when I was reading Locke & Key, but in this series he emerges as a massive talent. Clearly he doesn’t have McCay’s incredible visual genius, and his artwork mostly seeks to imitate McCay’s style, but he does a great job of that. The two-page splash depicting Slumberland is breathtaking. His panels are full of fascinating detail, and his facial expressions are beautiful. He should at least be nominated for this year’s Eisner for Best Penciler/Inker. Overall this series is an effective tribute to one of the giants of American comics, and I think Winsor McCay would have approved of it.

BRAVEST WARRIORS #11 (Boom!, 2013) – B+. I still haven’t watched the YouTube series this comic was based on. But this comic is funny and well-drawn, and I enjoyed it enough that I added the latest issue of this series to my mycomicshop.com order. The two stories in this issue are funny in a sarcastic and self-referential way, and Mike Holmes’s artwork is very cute.

THE ELTINGVILLE CLUB #1 (Image, 2014) – A. I was initially skeptical about the idea of reviving this series because it seemed so tightly bound to a particular historical moment, the ‘90s and early 2000s. The Eltingville Club members are exaggerated examples of the stereotype of the comics fan as basement-dwelling nerd, and that stereotype is becoming increasingly less true as comics fandom becomes more diverse. But when I talked to Evan Dorkin at Comic-Con, I mentioned this to him, and he said that he thinks the stereotype represented by the Eltingville Club is still true. And unfortunately, a lot of recent incidents (like the Janelle Asselin thing) have shown that even as the comics industry and comics fandom become more diverse and welcoming spaces, our community still includes a bunch of misogynistic and racist assholes who still think comics should be an exclusively white and male preserve. And this comic demonstrates that. The most powerful scene in this issue is when a woman walks into a comic book store and asks for the new Saga trade, and all the men in the store start leering at her and taking pictures, and she literally runs out the door. Sadly this does not seem farfetched at all. Similarly, the comic book store owner in this issue is a complete monster who exploits his employees and who takes pride in having cheated an old lady out of her valuable collection – even though this man makes his living selling comic books that are all about altruism and heroism. And again, I have no trouble believing that such people actually exist. As usual with Evan Dorkin’s best work, this comic is ridiculously over the top, and yet it also reminds us of uncomfortable truths.

LOKI, AGENT OF ASGARD #6 (Marvel, 2014) – B. This is the worst of the Marvel titles I’m currently reading, though I’m enjoying it enough to continue reading it. I don’t have much to say about this issue except that I really hate Old Loki.

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS #2 (IDW, 2010) – B+. This comic is not as exciting now as it was when it came out, because now there’s Rat Queens, which is pretty much the same thing, but better. Still, John Rogers’s dialogue in this issue is terrific, and there are some very funny moments here, including the duel where the orc chooses to fight with a rock. I am not a huge fan of the Dungeons & Dragons universe; it seems like the most generic fantasy setting there is.

CRIME SUSPENSTORIES #12 (Gemstone, 1995) – B+. These stories all have rather predictable shock endings, but they’re funny and well-crafted. The best story in the issue is probably the first one, with its excruciatingly detailed description of an execution. This story also mentions the trusty system, which I’d never heard of before, but apparently it was a horribly unjust system of prison labor that still existed in the South at the time this issue was published.

SAVAGE DRAGON #196 (Image, 2014) – B. The best thing about this issue is the cover, which is a brilliant homage to Nick Cardy’s cover for Action Comics #425. The issue itself suffers from poor pacing and confusing storytelling, which are among Erik’s greater flaws, although his artwork is as stunning as ever. On the Facebook thread about modern imitators of Kirby (see my review of Ragnarok #1 above), at least one person mentioned Erik as a current artist working in an extremely Kirbyesque style, and his work shows a deep understanding of Kirby, despite being much more violent. Unusually for this series, the backup story, in which Neutron Bob’s elderly mother beats up a bunch of villains, is actually better than the main story.

JEZEBEL JADE #3 (Comico, 1988) – A-. Most of the stuff I said about Jezebel Jade #1 applies here as well. This issue has an absurdly complicated plot, involving a bunch of different villains and an ancient immortality serum, but the wild complications and plot twists are part of the fun. The frame story for this series is that Jonny and Hadji are reading it in Race’s old papers, and the creators remind us of this by including various silhouette images of Jonny and Hadji reading. These are both cute and funny; one of them shows Jonny trying to stab Hadji with a fork. As noted previously, Adam Kubert’s artwork in this series is extremely similar to his dad’s.

X-MEN #42 (Marvel, 1968) – C/C-. There was a reason why this series was cancelled. Prior to the arrival of Steranko and Adams, it was easily Marvel’s worst superhero title. Both the stories and the characters were severely lacking in interest. The big hook of this issue is the alleged death of Professor X, but given what a creep Professor X was in the ‘60s, it’s not clear why the reader should be sad about this death. And of course I know he later turned out to not actually be dead. This issue also includes a backup story which is a flashback to Scott Summers’s origin, but Scott’s history has been retconned so heavily that I wonder if this story is even still in continuity.

SANDMAN: OVERTURE #3 (DC, 2014) – A-. I still think this series is a cynical money grab – if Neil still had any Sandman stories that were worth telling, he would have told them back in the ‘90s. There’s some fascinating narrative material here (like the cat-Sandman thinking they should play with their enemy before killing it), but it all seems somehow lacking in conviction. Of course the real attraction here is J.H. Williams’s artwork. As I have said many times before, he is the best artist in commercial comics, and he continues to prove that here, with his stylistic versatility and his incredible page designs. In terms of the art, the best thing in this issue is the two-page splash with the bridge, which reminds me a bit of the Mobius strip page from Promethea.

STAR*REACH #1 (Star*Reach, 1974) – B+. The quality of the work in this series was highly uneven, and much of it seems embarrassing today. A lot of the creators seemed to just be using it as an excuse to write about sex and drug use and other stuff that wouldn’t get past the Code. For example, the Cody Starbuck story in this issue includes some oral sex for no particular reason. Still, this series is historically important both for launching the work of several important creators and for helping to pave the way for the ‘80s independent comics. The highlight of the issue is the aforementioned Cody Starbuck story, which suffers from very poor reproduction but is an excellent example of Chaykin’s work from this period. It would be nice if someone would do a collection of all Chaykin’s material featuring Ironwolf, Cody Starbuck, Monark Starstalker, Dominic Fortune and Scorpion, although this is probably impossible due to rights issues. As with Moorcock’s Eternal Champion, these characters (plus Reuben Flagg) are all the same character in different incarnations. Anyway, this issue also includes an early Walt Simonson story, which is very poorly written (by someone named Ed Hicks) but interestingly drawn. It lacks the polish of Walt’s Manhunter stories, which came out earlier, and I wonder if it’s actually a piece of pre-professional work. There are also a couple interconnected stories by Starlin, which have some good artwork but which suffer from the same problem that plagues most of Starlin’s work: the writing seems extremely deep and profound, but when you actually think about it, you realize he isn’t actually saying anything. In summary, this is not a great comic but it’s a very interesting one.

PROPHET #45 (Image, 2014) – A-. Well, this is certainly an issue of Prophet. There’s nothing to really distinguish this issue from any other issue of this series, but that’s not a bad thing. It looks like this title is going to end with the Earth War miniseries, and I’ll be kind of sorry to see it go .

(There was originally to be a review of Dungeons & Dragons #8 here, but after I wrote the review and went to file the comic, I discovered that it was a duplicate and I already had a copy of it. Therefore, that review has been deleted because these reviews are supposed to be about comic books I haven’t read before.)

Now finally we come to the new comics from two weeks ago:

LUMBERJANES #5 (IDW, 2014) – A+. I think this issue is the single best comic book of 2014 so far. This series is exactly what the comics industry needs right now: it’s an exuberantly fun and extremely well-crafted comic which appeals to all ages, and which also happens to have a diverse all-female cast and an all-female creative team. It even qualifies as a queer text because of the way it challenges standard gender roles. And I think the creators are fully aware that they’re doing something revolutionary here. The “HOLY bELL hOOKS!” panel is hilarious, but it also suggests that if the creators know who bell hooks is, they also understand the feminist implications of this comic. Maybe this was why when I posted that panel on Facebook, it got likes from people who are not comics readers. Oh, and it’s even funnier because when Jo says that, she’s reacting to the sudden appearance of a bunch of velociraptors with eyes on their chests. Returning to the actual issue, though, the “HOLY bELL hOOKS!” scene is only one of many amazing things in this issue. In particular, (spoiler warning) “How long has your hat been a live raccoon?” is probably the best line of dialogue of the year. And that moment came as a complete surprise to me, even though Molly says it should have been super obvious. (It does, however, explain the scene in an earlier issue where Molly risked her life for her hat.) It was really cool seeing the other girls in the camp; they seem like a very diverse group and it’s clear that a lot of thought went into their design, even though they’re just background characters. And the third best line in the issue is “I THOUGHT ADRENALINE WOULD TAKE OVER BUT IT DID NOT.” This is also a good example of this series’s unique dialogue style. Finally, I’m still wondering what a raccoon rodeo is, but I think maybe it’s funnier if I don’t know. In short, this is an incredible piece of work and everybody ought to be reading this series. My only complaint is that I’m still having trouble keeping the characters’ names straight; I think I have them down now, but until halfway through the issue I thought that April was named Grace. I wish the characters’ names would be mentioned more often.

MS. MARVEL #8 (Marvel, 2014) – A. This is the closest Marvel title to Lumberjanes, and that in itself is high praise. I actually thought Adrian Alphona’s artwork in this issue was a bit of a step down from Jacob Wyatt’s art in the last two issues, because Alphona’s draftsmanship has become very sloppy. But he still draws some gorgeous facial expressions and his art has an impressive level of detail. I also like the story in this issue a lot. Lockjaw is one of Kirby’s funniest creations, and he and Kamala are a hilarious combo. And probably the highlight of the issue is the classroom scene, with Kamala’s speech about “how can you write off a whole generation before it’s even had a chance to prove itself?” As a teacher, I honestly love it when students disagree with me in that way, and I think that the teacher in this scene is a disgrace to the profession.

GROO VS. CONAN #2 (Dark Horse, 2014) – A/A-. This was obviously always going to be an incredibly weird series, but it’s turning out to be weird in ways I didn’t expect. I’m surprised at how much this series is focusing on Mark and Sergio rather than the two title characters. Of course they’re both awesome people and I love reading about them, but the focus on them seems a little self-indulgent. The Groo-Conan material is awesome, though. I love how the contrast between Sergio and Tom’s art styles makes them seem like they’re from different universes. The portrayal of Conan in this series is a little odd; Mark is writing him as almost a superhero, when he should be more of an amoral mercenary. But I suppose this makes sense since it increases the contrast between him and Groo.

USAGI YOJIMBO: SENSO #2 (Dark Horse, 2014) – A/A+. Not a whole lot happens in this issue; it’s mostly devoted to establishing how powerful the Martians are. But it’s still a new Usagi Yojimbo story, which means it’s an extremely well-written and well-drawn piece of work. For me, though, the most memorable moment of this issue is the heartbreaking discovery that Tomoe is married to the loathsome Lord Horikawa. This is just the saddest thing ever, especially since Usagi seems to be justifiably bitter about it. I really, really hope this isn’t going to happen in the regular timeline of the series.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #23 (IDW, 2014) – A+. This issue is a wordless story told almost entirely with graphic word balloons (i.e. word balloons containing pictures instead of words). I love graphic word balloons and I think they’re extremely underused, so I was delighted to see a whole story that used them almost exclusively. And they make sense in this context, since the story focuses on the Mane Six’s pets, and the ponies themselves don’t appear until the very end. This story is also a good example of how the creators of the MLP comics are willing to experiment with the formal resources of the medium. This is something that distinguishes this series from most comics adapted from TV shows, because such comics often tend to be drawn and written in a very conventional style. The story in this comic is also exciting because it stars the pets, who tend to be extremely marginal characters in the show, and it shows that the pets, especially Angel, are just as heroic as their equine companions. And I have yet to mention the last panel, with the giant Opalescence using a mountain as a scratching post.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #4 (Image, 2014) – A. This issue features with one of the better shock endings in recent memory, in which we learn that the real protagonist of the series is not Earl Tubb but his biracial daughter. On the letters page, Jason Aaron writes that “I said lots of times that you wouldn’t really know what this book was about until we got to the end of issue #4,” but I missed where he said that, and the ending of this issue came as a complete shock to me. It also significantly changes my notion of what this series is about. In his review of issue 1, Jim Johnson wrote that “Aaron and Latour completely, and wisely, stay away from any racial topics, as their story isn’t about race or social issues.” I thought that this was a problematic statement because how can you tell a story about the South without discussing the issue of race? It’s the elephant in the room. But it turns out that Johnson was wrong and this actually is going to be a story explicitly about race (and gender); we just didn’t know it yet. I can’t wait to see where this goes next.

TEEN DOG #1 (Boom!, 2014) – A-. Compared to some of the comics I’ve just reviewed, this is a slight and inconsequential piece of work, but it’s funny. I assume Jake Lawrence has some connection with Adventure Time, because this comic has the same absurdist sense of humor as that series. (After writing that sentence, I looked up Jake Lawrence and discovered that he does not in fact have any connection with Adventure Time, other than having drawn the cover to Bravest Warriors #7.) Lawrence makes no attempt to explain why Teen Dog is a dog, and it’s funnier that way. As for the narrative, this issue is effectively a collection of one-page strips, which makes sense since it appears to be based on a webcomic, but it holds together effectively because the characters and the artwork are very compelling. I bought this issue on a whim and I’m glad I did.

ASTRO CITY #15 (DC, 2014) – B+/A-. This is a well-written and well-drawn story, but the conclusion to this two-parter is a little predictable. And Ellie and Vivi Viktor seem excessively similar to Dr. Gearbox’s daughter from the Beautie special. There’s no reason Kurt shouldn’t tell two different stories about female roboticists, especially since such characters are almost nonexistent in superhero comics, but I do wish he’d at least acknowledged that he’s used this theme before. Compared to the Winged Victory epic from a few months ago, this story arc was disappointing.

SCRATCH9: CAT TAILS #1 (Hermes Press, 2013) – C-. This comic has the same problem as the other Scratch9 comic reviewed above: the stories are too short. This issue consists of a series of very brief vignettes, none of which are long enough to have any narrative depth. Also, the story ends on the page after the staple. I won’t be buying any more issues of this series unless I see them for less than a dollar.

ROCKET RACCOON #3 (Marvel, 2014) – A/A-. Let me begin by saying that this issue includes a very annoying advertising insert. I just tore it out and threw it in the trash, and I really wish Marvel would stop stapling things into their comic books; it significantly impairs the reading experience. Anyway, this comic is a lot of fun. The “guppy warp” is a particular highlight, but there’s funny stuff on nearly every page. I do think that the impact of this comic might have been decreased because I read it late in the evening, after I’d already read a bunch of other funny comics. But Skottie Young is one of the top writer-artists in commercial comic books, and he’s doing some terrific work here.

MIND MGMT #22 (Dark Horse, 2014) – B+/A-. I’m reading this series because I’ve realized that I need to be writing about Matt Kindt in my book on comics and the future of the book. As I have said before, I have trouble understanding this series and I think its use of materiality is more interesting than its story. However, the plot of MIND MGMT Is finally starting to make sense to me, and I’m starting to see ways that the story and the physical properties of the comic intersect, which is the main point that interests me. I plan on returning to this issue sooner or later.

NOWHERE #1 (Drawn & Quarterly, 1996) – B+/A-. When this comic came out, Debbie Drechsler was a major emerging talent. But she seems to have abandoned comics after finishing Summer of Love, the graphic novel that was serialized starting in this issue. According to a 2008 interview, this was because she felt she had no further stories to tell. I feel like this is kind of a shame, though I shouldn’t say that because it was her own choice. As for this actual comic, when I read this story I felt like it was similar to Lynda Barry’s work but worse; however, that may have just been because I’d been reading Susan Kirtley’s book on Barry. This story is an interesting exploration of adolescence, with some beautiful and distinctive artwork and coloring. It does not work particularly well as a single issue – by the end of this issue it’s still not clear what this story is going to be about. This kind of story really does not benefit from being serialized in single issues, and maybe it’s a good thing that D&Q has almost entirely abandoned this publication model.

SHE-HULK #8 (Marvel, 2014) – A. This is another excellent issue. I have no idea why Captain America is suddenly 90 years old in this issue, but the story is mostly understandable anyway. Which illustrates a point I made on Facebook the other day: that I’m not really interested in cross-title continuity anymore. I’m currently reading a bunch of Marvel titles, and with the exception of Captain Marvel, none of them are heavily involved with the overall Marvel Universe, and all of them are understandable even to a reader who doesn’t read any other Marvel comics. And I think this is a good thing, because cross-title continuity too often functions as a straitjacket that prevents writers from telling the stories they want to tell. Practically every DC comic published since 1986 is evidence of this. The nice thing about a shared universe is that it allows for stories like the recent Ms. Marvel-Wolverine team-up, but that story made sense whether or not the reader was reading Wolverine’s comic, and that’s the way I think it ought to be. Anyway, back to this actual issue of She-Hulk. It was excellent. Charles Soule has a solid grasp of Captain America’s character. Somehow you don’t realize how old he actually is until you see him as a 90-year-old man. In this issue Soule also makes effective use of his practical knowledge of the law. And the shock ending is surprising and funny.

HERO CATS #1 (Action Lab, 2014) – B+. As a comic about superhero cats, this is far better than Scratch9. Though I don’t think either is as good as Monkeybrain’s short-lived Action Cats (not to be confused with Action Cat from Aw Yeah Comics). This issue introduces a diverse and interesting cast of cats, all of whom act reasonably close to the way real cats would, although I have trouble with the idea that cats would ever act in an altruistic manner. In this issue the creators don’t have time to do more than introduce us to the characters, but I’m intrigued enough that I want to keep reading this series.

Some reviews

9-6-13

These are the first reviews I’ve published since moving to Ohio. I still have another giant stack of comics to review, but I’ll just post these now.

GEN13/MONKEYMAN AND O’BRIEN #1 (Image, 1998) – B. This is fun, but it’s not as fun as Art’s other Monkeyman and O’Brien stories because half the issue is devoted to the Gen13 characters, who I don’t care about. The Gen13 characters are all shallow and generic. Rainmaker, in particular, is an offensive stereotype, an example of the Native American woman as an exoticized other. Also, this comic has too much plot. Most Monkeyman and O’Brien stories have extremely thin plots that are just excuses for the title characters to fight giant monsters, and I think that’s preferable. Despite its flaws, though, this is one of the only Gen13 comics that deserves a place in my collection.

MIND THE GAP #3 (Image, 2012) – C+/B-. This has a somewhat intriguing plot, but it doesn’t really make sense without having read the first two issues, and it didn’t grab me enough to make me want to read them. I like Rodin Esquejo’s art but I think he’s a better cover artist than an interior artist.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #260 (DC, 1980) – D+. Gerry Conway is easily the worst Legion writer. Other people have written worse individual Legion stories, but Gerry’s Legion just never managed to generate any kind of excitement. He also didn’t understand any of the characters except the most Marvelesque ones, Timber Wolf and Wildfire. For example, this issue, in which the Legionnaires try to solve a murder mystery at a carnival, contains almost nothing of any interest (except for the name “Jovian Attack Squid”). It also includes a weird scene where Princess Projectra pretends to be a fortuneteller, which makes me wonder why Conway decided to include her in this story instead of Dream Girl.

AZTEK THE ULTIMATE MAN #8 (DC, 1997) – C+/B-. I had trouble understanding this comic because it assumes too much knowledge of the previous issues. Morrison and Millar try to explain what’s been going on, but they don’t really succeed. Even if I had read the last seven issues, though, I don’t think I’d have enjoyed this comic significantly more. I don’t understand what its concept is, or what distinguishes it from any other superhero comic.

SUPERMAN PLUS #1 (DC, 1997) – B-. This is not a particularly memorable comic, but it’s a nice piece of nostalgia, because it guest-stars the Legionnaires who were trapped in the 20th century. The “Team 20” stories were some of the earliest Legion comics I read, back in junior high. While they may not have been among the better Legion comics, they were among the first comics I ever truly loved, and they acted as an escape valve during one of the most miserable periods of my life (7th through 9th grade). I have read many comics that were infinitely better, but few that aroused such strong feelings in me. So it was nice seeing Inferno and Gates and permanently intangible Tinya again. Sadly, I’ve resigned myself to the possibility that there may never be any new comics featuring any of these characters.

PROPHET #44 (Image, 2014) – B+/A-. I’ve been reading this series out of order, but it hardly seems to matter. The plot is the least important thing about Prophet; the things that make it interesting are the artwork, the worldbuilding, and the concept creation. I forget if I’ve said this before, but Prophet is an impressive example of science fiction in the strict sense, because it presents an utterly alien world and challenges the reader to wrap his/her mind around it. (Or maybe that’s fantasy, not science fiction, I’m not sure.)

B.P.R.D.: VAMPIRE #5 (Dark Horse, 2013) – B+. I think I’m going to have to read many more BPRD comics before I can even start to make sense of them. But these comics are sufficiently well-drawn and well-written that I feel like I want to read more of them and to understand their world better. This issue features art by both Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, and I’m kind of surprised to discover that they have different art styles and that I can tell them apart, even if I’m not sure which is which.

COURTNEY CRUMRIN #3 (Oni, 2012) – A-. I’ve started reading this series from the beginning in the nice-looking Dark Horse hardcovers, so this story makes a little more sense to me now than it did when this series is coming out, though I’m still missing a lot of information. This specific issue was very continuity-heavy and difficult to understand. But I look forward to reading it again after I’m caught up on all the continuity. Ted is an excellent storyteller who deserves more credit than he gets – I was sorry to see that Princess Ugg is only selling in the 3000-copy range, though I expect it’ll do better in collected form.

COURTNEY CRUMRIN #5 (Oni, 2012) – A-. See above. This issue is easier to understand because it’s mostly a flashback.

DETECTIVE COMICS #861 (DC, 2010) – B-. This comic is competently written and drawn, but in writing this review, I had to flip through it again to remind myself what it was about. The only thing about it that really stands out to me is the way it contrasts Batman and Batwoman’s methods. Jock is certainly not a bad artist, but he was no substitute for J.H. Williams; his art just serves the story rather than being interesting on its own. I don’t want to say that J.H. Williams’s artwork was the only attractive thing about this Detective Comics run, because Greg Rucka did tell some fascinating stories, but Rucka’s Batwoman stories are certainly far less memorable without him.

DETECTIVE COMICS #401 (DC, 1970) – C+/B-. The Batman story in this issue is mediocre. It’s heavily derivative of “The Most Dangerous Game” and it has a disappointing ending. The Batgirl/Robin story is slightly better only because it’s drawn by Gil Kane, and because it ends with some suggestions of romance between Dick and Babs.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #158 (DC, 1978) – B+. Gerry Conway is underrated as a Justice League writer. Like Englehart, although not as effectively, Gerry wrote the Justice Leaguers as distinctive characters with personalities – unlike Gardner Fox and the other classic Justice League writers, who were almost totally uninterested in characterization. Just flipping through this issue, for example, I notice a scene where Wonder Woman mentions that she had dinner with Barry and Iris, which is cute because it suggests that the Justice Leaguers have lives outside their costumed identities. The trouble with this issue is the plot, which is excessively convoluted and wastes too much time on an obscure character named Ultraa.

DEADPOOL #20 (Marvel, 1998) – B/B-. These Joe Kelly issues of Deadpool have been disappointing. There’s hardly any of the fourth-wall breaking I expected, and Kelly’s humor tends to be excessively obvious and unsubtle. At least this issue was funny; Deadpool and Batroc are an effective comedy duo.

GROO: DEATH AND TAXES #4 (Image, 2002) – 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 is the conclusion of a four-part miniseries in which Groo decides to stop killing people. Of course, in this issue, that decision backfires on him horribly, and he decides that from now on he’s only going to kill people when absolutely necessary. The trouble is that number one, as far as I can tell, Groo has not kept that resolution. Number two, this story ends in an unsatisfactory way. Much of the issue focuses on a tyrannical king who keeps declaring war on other countries for no reason, and at the end of the issue, he’s still on his throne and his people are still suffering. Other than that, though, this is an enjoyable Groo story.

WORLD’S FINEST #218 (DC, 1973) – B+/A-. Unusually for this period, this issue is just a regular Superman/Batman team-up story, instead of a Super-Sons story or a team-up between Superman and a different hero. It’s mostly forgettable, although it does end in a surprising and disturbing way. At the end of the story, the villain escapes from Batman and Superman and then dies, but Batman and Superman think that he’s alive and that “someday he’ll expose our failure to the entire world.” Creepy. But the real highlight of the issue is the Metamorpho backup story, which, despite boring artwork, is a terrific demonstration of Bob Haney’s bizarre sense of humor.

ACTION COMICS #756 (DC, 1997) – C-. This is a thoroughly generic Superman story. It takes place during the electric-costume era, but even Superman’s new powers and costume aren’t enough to create any excitement.

HITMAN #6 (DC, 1996) – A. This issue develops the characters of Tommy and Nat in effective ways, and includes some excellent dialogue, which is probably Garth’s greatest strength as a writer. I typically think of Hitman as Garth Ennis’s humor comic, but this issue is actually pretty grim, as it involves the death of Tommy’s closest friend.

TALES TO ASTONISH #94 (Marvel, 1967) – A-. The best thing about this issue is the artwork. The Sub-Mariner story is about a rebellion in a South American banana republic, which was perhaps Stan Lee’s single most overused premise. In JLA/Avengers, Kurt Busiek established that the Marvel Earth is bigger than the DC Earth, and part of the reason why is because Stan Lee created so many generic Latin American countries. However, Bill Everett’s artwork here is gorgeous, not quite at the same level of his Sub-Mariner stories from a few years later, but still wonderfully imaginative and beautifully rendered. The other notable thing about this story is that Dorma, who is usually a helpless hostage, actually gets to do some stuff. The Hulk story also includes some very effective art by Marie Severin, although Stan oddly chose to include the High Evolutionary and his New Men, who really demand a more Kirbyesque style of artwork.

HELLBLAZER #58 (DC, 1992) – B+/A-. There are some awesome moments in this story. In one scene, Constantine tricks some dude into snorting his dad’s ashes instead of cocaine. In another scene, Kit shows John an adorable drawing she made of him when he was asleep, and comments, “Goodbye, Mister Cool.” The plot of this issue is not as exciting, though, because it ultimately turns into a clichéd Jack the Ripper story – and Ennis’s take on Jack the Ripper looks pretty lame in comparison to From Hell, which was coming out at the same time. Also, William Simpson’s artwork, with the exception of the aforementioned cute drawing of sleeping Constantine, is very unattractive.

ATOMIC ROBO: DEADLY ART OF SCIENCE #4 (Red 5, 2011) – A-. I think this is my favorite Atomic Robo miniseries because it’s so adorable seeing Robo in a relationship. Unfortunately the writer adds an unpleasant element of creepiness by pointing out that Robo is chronologically just 8 years old. (Which is about the same as his mental age, come to think of it.)

UNCANNY X-MEN #542 (Marvel, 2011) – B-. This comic is a waste of Kieron Gillen’s talent. There are some nice character moments here, but in general this issue is so heavy on plot and continuity that Kieron never gets the chance to inject his personal touch. The other problem with this issue is that it’s drawn by Greg Land. At a couple points during this issue, I actually caught myself liking his artwork, and then felt ashamed of myself.

HEARTLAND #1 (DC, 1997) – A+. This is perhaps Ennis and Dillon’s greatest individual work. This one-shot special focuses on Constantine’s ex-girlfriend Kit and her family in Belfast, and initially seems like a plotless slice-of-life story. But as the comic goes on, we realize that Kit and her younger sister Bernadette have unresolvable disagreements that go all the way back to their childhood. And we also realize that their family’s problems are a microcosm of those of their city and their nation. Like Kit and Bernadette, Belfast’s Catholics and Protestants are unable to resolve their disagreements, because their disagreement has such deep roots and their basic worldviews are incompatible. In its emphasis on the tangled roots of family conflict, this story reminds me of Long Day’s Journey into Night. This story also functions as an effective introduction to the Belfast conflict for non-Irish readers, because Ennis puts us in the place of the character of Bernadette’s boyfriend, who comes from England and is as much an outsider to Belfast as the reader. A particularly effective moment is when he’s shocked at the fact that not only are there soldiers everywhere, but the local people have stopped noticing them. In addition to Garth’s storytelling, his dialogue is fantastic – largely because the characters speak his native dialect – and Dillon’s artwork, especially his facial expressions, have rarely been better. Ennis and Dillon are one of the great creative teams of their era, and this comic may be their masterpiece.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER 8 (IDW, 2014) – A+. One more review for tonight and then I’ll stop. This is another great MLP: FF comic because it explores the relationship between two characters who are rarely seen together. Applejack and Rarity are the two entrepreneurs among the Mane Six, but their approaches to business are radically different. This leads them into some hilarious conflicts as well as some adorable moments when they finally make up. Also, because this is a Cook/Price story, it’s full of sight gags and in-jokes. Seeing Equestria’s version of the East Coast is hilarious; I think my favorite part of this was the Mount Rushmore parody with the faces of the four princesses. I felt like Andy’s artwork in this issue was looser and less detailed than usual, but that may just have been my imagination.

MS. MARVEL #7 (Marvel, 2014) – A+. This is my favorite current Marvel comic; I think Hawkeye is objectively better but I don’t enjoy it as much. And this two-part Wolverine team-up is the highlight of the series so far. I actually prefer Jacob Wyatt’s art to Adrian Alphona’s. I like how he occasionally draws Kamala in a cartoony style, like in the first panel on page 3, and the splash page with the sewer cutaway is quite creative. This issue’s story had a nice blend of humor and darkness – I was surprised when Kamala actually had to kill the crocodile.

PRINCESS UGG #3 (Oni, 2014) – A. I am still in love with the overall concept of this series, and this issue effectively advances the plot while also providing some useful background material about Princess Ugg’s origin. In particular, it answers the question of why she wanted to go to this school where everyone hates her and her culture. Also, I like that Ulga is developing into a well-rounded character with both positive qualities and flaws. This issue suggests that her inability to get along with her roommate is partly her fault, even though her roommate is utterly insufferable. Maybe it’s just because I finished Susan Kirtley’s book on Lynda Barry today, but I feel like Naifeh’s depiction of teen girls is somewhat similar to Barry’s. Both authors depict teen girls who are forced to rely entirely on their own resources because no one else sympathizes with them.

ASTRO CITY #14 (DC, 2014) – A-. This wasn’t the best issue of this series, but the protagonist is an adorable old lady, and I love how she treats her killer robots like pets. However, it was obvious very early on that her ne’er-do-well nephew was renting out the robots to criminals. I’m glad that Kurt and Brent (and Graham) are finally able to maintain a regular schedule.

SEX CRIMINALS #7 (Image, 2014) – A-. I had to flip through this issue to remind myself what happened in it, but having done so, I remember that it was pretty impressive. Whereas the last couple issues have been relentlessly grim, in this issue Jon finally takes action against the Sex Police, and Susie confides in Rachel. I don’t think I’ve explicitly mentioned it before, but one of the notable things about this series is the use of fourth-wall breaking, in the form of direct address to the reader. Sometimes it happens in the middle of a scene, like on the second page of this issue, where Susie interrupts her conversation with Rachel to comment on what she just said. It’s a fascinating narrative technique, and when Jon and Susie do it, it’s almost like they’re going into The Quiet and taking the reader with them.

ALL-NEW MARVEL NOW! PREVIEWS 2 (Marvel, 2014) – F. This is not an actual comic book but a collection of unlettered previews, which are a terrible invention. The artwork on its own is unreadable without the lettering, and therefore these previews don’t provide the reader any useful information. If I’m going to read unlettered previews, I might as well also read manga in the original Japanese.

HOWTOONS: REIGNITION #1 (Image, 2014) – B+. I’ve been unimpressed by most of Fred Van Lente’s work since the end of Incredible Hercules. However, this is a cute comic. I like the two kid protagonists, although I’m a bit disappointed that they’re adoptive siblings, rather than products of an interracial relationship. And I love the idea of using comics as a means of instruction in how to make stuff. In addition to that, the instructions for making stuff are effectively integrated into the story. I wonder if this comic would be of interest to critical making scholars like Roger Whitson or Garnet Hertz.

THE FLASH #70 (DC, 1992) – B-. This issue comes from one of the best periods of Mark Waid’s run on the Flash – it comes right between “Born to Run” and “The Return of Barry Allen.” However, this story is too similar to Bill Messner-Loebs’s three-parter in #45-47, which included the same characters, Gorilla Grodd and Rex the Wonder Dog, and was published just three years before. Mark’s story adds the additional elements of Green Lantern and Gorilla City, but it still seems like a retread.

RESURRECTION MAN #1 (DC, 1997) – C+. This series seems to be somewhat well-remembered today, but this issue is not a good introduction to it. The premise appears to be that whenever the protagonist dies, he comes back to life with a new superpower. However, this issue’s story is told in a disjointed style which makes it difficult to understand what’s going on. Also, this issue includes a female character who gets fridged.

SAGA #22 (Image, 2014) – A-. This was a very difficult issue to read, because it includes a scene where Marko crosses the moral event horizon (cf. tvtropes.com) – he throws a bag of groceries at Alana, which qualifies as domestic abuse. I do feel that BKV has convincingly demonstrated why Marko would be motivated to do such a thing. But my natural instinct is to see this as an unforgivable act, and this is frustrating because I have such strong sympathy for Marko – especially since he was on the right side of his argument with Alana. I mean, saying another woman’s name in one’s sleep is not nearly as serious as using drugs in front of one’s child. But after this I find it hard to see how Alana and Marko can ever get back together, and I really hope that’s not the direction this series is going. I almost dread reading the next issue. On a lighter note, Prince Robot’s dad is an impressive sight.

SILVER SURFER #5 (Marvel, 2014) – B+/A-. This is my least favorite issue of the series so far, but it’s still a fun read, and the ending is very touching. This series effectively blends absurdity with profundity; the Surfer and Dawn are effective foils for each other. This series is one of the better Marvel comics right now – although I’d rank it below Rocket Raccoon, Hawkeye and Ms. Marvel – and it’s certainly the only good Silver Surfer solo comic since the original one.

TANGENT COMICS: GREEN LANTERN #1 (DC, 1997) – B+/A-. This is from the Tangent Comics fifth-week event, in which each issue starred a new character who was inspired by the name of an existing DC character. Thus, the Green Lantern in this issue is not any of the familiar GLs, but a mysterious woman who uses a green lantern to resurrect the spirits of the dead and give them closure. This issue is structured like a horror anthology, with three seemingly independent ghost stories, and at first it seems narratively unsatisfying. But as the story goes on, it turns out that the three stories are closely related. J.H. Williams’s artwork here is amazing. In particular, the third sub-story is drawn in a very different style than the first two, with an almost Clear Line-esque style of coloring. The difference between this story and the other two is evidence of Williams’s versatility, which might be the one thing that most defines him as an artist.

THE BATMAN ADVENTURES #3 (DC, 1992) – B+. Compared to the best issues of this series, this issue has a much simpler plot, and the storytelling is not as impressive. Still, this is a fun comic, involving a hilarious plot by the Joker – he kidnaps prominent people and beats them with a baseball bat on live TV. Of course the actual beating is not shown on-panel, this being a children’s comic, but it’s funny anyway.

MASTER OF KUNG FU #27 (Marvel, 1975) – C+. Not one of the better issues of this series. At this point, Doug Moench was still finding his voice, and this issue also suffers from being drawn by John Buscema rather than Paul Gulacy. The classic period of MOKF didn’t start until somewhere in the #30s (in particular, the issues from #38 to #50 are among the best Marvel comics of the ‘70s). None of the supporting characters – Leiko, Tarr, etc. – appear in this issue, and the plot involves Shang-Chi foiling an assassination attempt by Fu Manchu, which is just about the most generic possible plot for this series. Speaking of Fu Manchu, I think it’s just as well that Marvel lost the license to this character, because he’s a terrible racist stereotype who deserves to be forgotten. Though I do wonder if the original Fu Manchu novels have any positive qualities – I just posted a Facebook status asking this question.

DNAGENTS #16 (Eclipse, 1984) – B+. I really like this mostly forgotten ‘80s indie comic, but I haven’t read any issues of it lately because I have a nearly complete run, and I can’t remember which issues I’m missing. When I spotted this issue at the Ohio Valley Antique Mall, I initially passed this up before I checked my blog and realized I didn’t have it. The problem with DNAgents is that Mark Evanier is not a superhero writer and he didn’t really understand the conventions of the genre. Also, the series had a consistently grim tone, and ended with the deaths of all the characters, as well as Rainbow’s unborn child. Still, Mark is one of the best dialogue writers in the history of American comics, and all the main characters in this series are adorable, except Surge, who I can’t stand (oddly, he was the only one who got his own solo series). In terms of characterization, the highlight of the issue is the scene where Tank’s girlfriend Casey tries to seduce him and fails. The artwork in this issue is a mixed bag; there are five different credited artists, most of whom are pretty bad. It’s a pity that Mark has never revived this series.

SUPERBOY #7 (DC, 2011) – C+. This issue has some attractive painted artwork, but the story initially makes no sense, until it turns out that it’s a nightmare caused by a Black Mercy (or rather a close relative thereof). Even then, I don’t understand the continuity of this issue, and even if I did understand it, I wouldn’t care, because this issue was published just before the start of the New 52.

100TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #1 (Marvel, 2014) – B-. This is a cute story, but I don’t remember much about it. Partly this is because, by design, this comic tells an incomplete story. It begins in medias res and ends on a cliffhanger which will never be resolved, unless Marvel Comics still exists in 47 years and the creators involved are all somehow still alive. I bought this issue mostly because it includes Rocket, Groot, and Rocket’s three sidekicks, who are essentially alien versions of Huey, Dewey and Louie. Speaking of whom:

DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES #8 (Gladstone, 1988) – A+. “The Crocodile Collector” is a classic Don Rosa story, in which Donald and the nephews go on a quest for a rare crocodile and end up discovering the source of the Nile as well. The story is an informative lesson in geography, since the ducks’ quest leads them up the course of the Nile, from Egypt to Tanzania to Rwanda. (The latter is described as “just about the tiniest, most obscure country in Africa! Or the world for that matter! Sadly, about six years later that ceased to be true.) Rosa mostly seems to succeed in avoiding offensive African stereotypes; it looks like he did at least some research and tried to avoid making all the African countries look reasonably accurate. The climax of the story, where Donald and the nephews realize they’re standing on a heap of giant crocodiles, is an amazing moment. This issue also includes a ten-pager by Barks, which would be worth the price of the comic on its own. In this story, the nephews create a fake treasure map which Donald mistakes for a real one, and it leads him to the site of a V-2 missile test. Besides the obvious Cold War resonance, this issue is notable because of the unusually shaped panel in which the rocket descends onto the test site. I believe that my advisor Donald Ault has written about this specific panel in one of his essays on Barks, although I can’t recall where that essay appeared.

WHAT IF? #40 (Marvel, 1983) – B/B-. Unlike some of Peter B. Gillis’s other What If stories from this period, this is not a great story. The premise is that Baron Mordo becomes the Sorcerer Supreme instead of Dr. Strange. But then things turn out the way you’d expect, and at the end of the story, Dr. Strange is Sorcerer Supreme anyway. The saving grace of this issue is some very good artwork by Butch Guice, although it’s heavily based on Ditko’s Dr. Strange artwork.

TALES OF SUSPENSE #92 (Marvel, 1967) – A+. ToS is my favorite of Marvel’s three anthology titles (the other two being Tales to Astonish and Strange Tales). Neither of the stories in this issue is a classic, but both are excitingly written and beautifully drawn. The Iron Man story involves Tony intervening in Vietnam, which is a bit surprising since much of Marvel’s target audience at the time must have been fiercely antiwar; it seems like Marvel tried to maintain a neutral attitude to the war, and somehow they got away with it. The Cap story includes a poignant scene where Cap mourns his lack of a social life or a true secret identity. However, it’s most notable for a famous mistaken line of dialogue: “Only one of us is gonna walk out of here under his own steam – and it won’t be me!”

BATMAN #287 (DC, 1976) – B-. David V. Reed is a boring and old-fashioned writer; his Batman stories are significantly inferior to those of Robbins and Englehart and O’Neil. And while I love Ernie Chan’s inking on Conan, as a penciller he’s only average. The most memorable thing about this issue, though, is the last panel. At one point in the story, Bruce consults “a noted authority on numismatics, Professor Nola Roberts.” In the last panel, Bruce and Nola are at a picnic, with Bruce resting his head in Nola’s lap. She says, “But, Bruce, I brought all these lovely coin catalogues you wanted to see….” Bruce replies, “Later, Nola… much later.” DC would never let Bruce get away with that sort of thing nowadays.

BATMAN #244 (DC, 1972) – A+. In hindsight, Denny O’Neil’s writing is overwrought and histrionic. But “The Batman Lives Again” is still an absolute classic, one of the single best stories published by DC in the ‘70s. The climactic scene, where a shirtless Bruce tears open the door of Ra’s’s tent and shouts his name, is a Crowning Moment of Awesome; Bruce has never looked more frightening or more indomitable. At this point the ensuing battle is a foregone conclusion, and indeed Batman only needs one more panel to finish Ra’s for good (at least until he was reintroduced a few years later). Of course I’ve read this story before, but I’m proud to have the original version in my collection. This issue also includes a Robin backup story written by Elliot S! Maggin, which is actually kind of annoying. In this story Robin befriends a poor kid from a housing project, who resents Hudson University students for being rich and overprivileged. It seems like this story is heading toward a “check your privilege” moment, but it never quite gets there. At the end, Dick decides to help Hudson University set up a tutoring program for poor kids, but there’s no indication that he intends to do anything to make Hudson University cheaper.

CLANDESTINE #8 (Marvel, 1995) – B+. I think this was the only Alan Davis ClanDestine comic I hadn’t read, but unfortunately it’s not one of his better ClanDestine issues. This issue does not include Rory or Pandora, who are easily the best thing about this series. Instead, we get three brief and unsatisfying vignettes involving three of the older Destine men. At least there’s some spectacular artwork here, including a scene where Alan Davis gives us his take on the Dark Dimension and the Mindless Ones.

SHOWCASE #59 (DC, 1965) – A+. This is the third appearance of the Teen Titans and the second story in which they were identified as such. It is also a hilarious and gorgeously drawn story, a prime example of Haney and Cardy at their best. The story revolves around the Flips, a group of teenage musicians who are being framed for a series of thefts. They have this ridiculous act where they show off their skills with a motorcycle, a surfboard and a baton. Clearly, this was just an example of Haney trying to show he was hip and with-it even though he was almost 40, but it’s funny. The story is extremely convoluted, involving two different groups of people masquerading as the Flips, but again this is funny rather than annoying. And of course Nick Cardy’s art is incredible; his page layouts are dynamic, and in this story he gets the opportunity to draw two different cute teenage girls.

TALES OF THE BEANWORLD #10 (Eclipse, 1988) – A. I bought this at Comic-Con and asked Larry Marder to sign it, and he was kind enough to draw a little sketch on the cover. Beanworld is fascinating because it’s a reality which is completely unlike anything the reader is familiar with, and because it has its own bizarre but internally consistent set of rules. Larry calls it an “ecological fable” and says that “it’s not just a place, it’s a process.” Beanworld stories are less about narrative than about exploring the workings of the complex system that connects the Beans and the Hoi Polloi and Gran’ma Pa. I think this comic would actually be worth studying from an environmental theory perspective; it seems to have some affinity with the theories of people like Timothy Morton and Jane Bennett. Of course there also is a story here – this issue, for example, introduces the Pod’l-pool Cuties – but that story proceeds at a slow and leisurely pace. Larry’s artwork is perfectly suited to this comic, or vice versa; his art is extremely cartoony, but Beanworld is a world where everything is a cartoon.

USAGI YOJIMBO #70 (Dark Horse, 2003) – A. I actually bought this in 2004 to give to someone else as a gift, and it took me until now to find my own copy. This is one of many stories in which Usagi battles and defeats a gang of stupid crooks, but what makes it distinctive is the presence of Lone Goat and Kid. The emotional highlight of the issue is a scene where Jotaro and Gorogoro play together. This is one of the few times that Jotaro gets to interact with another child, and it’s adorable.

UNCANNY X-MEN #157 (Marvel, 1982) – B+. The Classic X-Men reprint of this issue was one of the first comics I ever owned, so I know it practically by heart. However, the original version of the issue was one of the few X-Men comics from this period that I didn’t have, so I needed to get it for the sake of completism. As an introduction to Claremont’s X-Men, this issue is okay, but the Deathbird/Brood two-parter was not one of his better stories from this period. There’s some good Dave Cockrum artwork here, but the only really memorable character moment is Kitty playing with the clothes-generating machine. The cover indicates that Phoenix is going to return in this issue, but that’s extremely deceptive – it’s actually Kitty in a Phoenix costume.

MARVEL ADVENTURES: FANTASTIC FOUR #0 (Marvel, 2005) – C+. This has some cute scenes in it, including a funny twist ending where it turns out that what Doom thought was a doomsday device is actually an iPod. However, in general this is a thoroughly generic Fantastic Four story, the kind of thing I’ve read dozens of times before. It would work effectively as an introduction to the characters for completely new readers, but it has little value for a more experienced audience.

RAGNAROK #1 (IDW, 2014) – A. Walt Simonson is one of the comic artists I admire the most; I think he’s the greatest living successor to Kirby. And in this series he returns to the character and the mythology that inspired his greatest work. So far this series is not as impressively written as his best Thor comics, although that’s an almost impossible standard. However, I really like Regin and I think it’s cool that she’s both an absolute badass and a devoted mother. And the artwork, oh my God. As I was writing this, I posted a Facebook status asking if Walt was “the greatest artist who works in a Kirbyesque style, other than Kirby himself,” and in response to a challenge from Corey Creekmur, I defined that as an artist who’s engaged in doing “strong misreadings” of Kirby, in Harold Bloom’s sense. And I think the answer to that question is yes. As Aaron King subsequently pointed out, Walt’s storytelling style is nothing like Kirby’s; however, his designs have an epic grandeur and majesty that is extremely Kirbyesque. And on top of that, he’s one of the great visual storytellers in American comics, in terms of his page layouts and compositions. So overall, I can’t wait for the next issue of this.

DETECTIVE COMICS #622 (DC, 1990) – A. Again, the second part of this three-parter was one of the first comic books I ever read (and it was pretty disturbing for an eight-year-old or however old I was at the time), but I never got around to reading the first part. The “Dark Genesis” three-parter is almost completely forgotten – I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone mention it, and it didn’t appear on CBR’s list of the top ten John Ostrander stories. This is too bad because it’s a very compelling piece of work which uses metafiction in interesting ways. In this story, a serial killer tries to frame Batman for a series of murders, at the same time that an unauthorized Batman comic book appears on the newsstands. Each issue of this story includes a substantial excerpt from this fictitious in-universe Batman comic book, which is brutal and disturbing and features a character that bears little resemblance to the Batman we know. This Batman is Lucifer himself, possessing a man named Simon Petrarch. The Batman comic segments are drawn, in a very creepy style, by Ostrander’s Grimjack collaborator Flint Henry, while the frame story is drawn by Mike McKone. Overall this story is an example of Ostrander at his best, and also an effective use of metafiction. Also, the covers for each issue are drawn by Dick Sprang, and were probably his last comic book work.

STARS AND S.T.R.I.P.E. #14 (DC, 2000) – B+. I’m sorry to say that this series is probably Geoff Johns’s greatest work. It’s not very substantial, and Courtney’s cuteness sometimes crosses the line into saccharine-ness. But at least this series has a non-sexualized female protagonist, is free of tragedy and horror, and is not continuity porn. That distinguishes it from almost all of Geoff Johns’s later work. This is the final issue of the series, which is unfortunate because it meant Geoff Johns was free to turn his attention elsewhere. As noted above, this story sometimes plays on the reader’s emotions excessively – like, there’s one scene where Courtney encounters her deadbeat dad, who is so much of an asshole that he’s almost beyond belief. But again, if this story is flawed, at least it’s flawed in a better way than most Geoff Johns comics.

JUSTICE LEAGUE EUROPE #15 (DC, 1990) – B-. This is the first part of “The Extremist Vector,” the conclusion of which was one of the first comics I ever read (this is becoming a familiar pattern by now). There is some funny dialogue in this issue, but unfortunately the script is by Gerard Jones rather than JM DeMatteis – who, incidentally, I finally got to meet at Wizard World Atlanta this summer. That was probably the highlight of an awful show. Anyway, this issue mostly focuses on the Extremists, a group of uninspired, boring villains. They only become interesting when you realize that they, like their enemies Silver Sorceress and Blue Jay, are based on Marvel characters, and that the point of this story is “what if the Marvel villains defeated the Avengers and killed everyone and conquered the world”? This point completely went over my head when I originally read Justice League Europe #18, over twenty years ago, and now I kind of want to reread it. But other than that, this is not one of the better ‘90s Justice League stories.

DIRTY PLOTTE #8 (Drawn & Quarterly, 1994) – B. There’s some gorgeous and disturbing artwork by Julie Doucet in this issue, but not a lot of actual storytelling. It seems like half her Dirty Plotte stories take place on the same street in Montreal. This issue also includes some work by other lesser artists, as well as one page by Henriette Valium, whose art is just ridiculously convoluted and detailed – he’s like an underground version of Geof Darrow. This page makes me want to seek out more of his work.

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.

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