Reviews for February

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NEW GODS #5 (DC, 1971) – “Spawn,” [W/A] Jack Kirby. This is Kirby at his most Kirbyesque, Kirby at his most epic and awesome and yet also human. This issue begins with the unforgettable scene where Metron visits the Source Wall and sees the Promethean Giants. Then the very next scene shows Orion’s human friends wondering where he’s gone. This contrast between cosmic and human scales is essential. Besides Dan Turpin, none of the human characters in New Gods are especially important; however, they act as surrogates for the reader, allowing us a lens through which to understand Orion’s cosmic adventures on our own human level. That’s especially crucial in this series because Orion is a difficult character to relate to or sympathize with. This issue’s main plot is about Orion’s battle with the Deep Six, and then there’s a rather long Manhunter reprint, which is the reason why I didn’t read this issue sooner. There’s also a short backup feature that introduces Fastbak.

SUICIDE SQUAD #3 (DC, 1987) –“Jailbreak,” [W] John Ostrander, [A] Luke McDonnell. This title began as a spinoff of Legends, and this issue picks up a dangling plot thread from that crossover. Darkseid sends the Female Furies to rescue Glorious Godfrey, a major villain in Legends, from Belle Reeve prison. That leads to a big fight scene, and at the end, Bernadeth intentionally abandons Lashina on Earth. She later becomes the Squad member Duchess. In this issue Ostrander shows an excellent understanding of the Fourth World characters. I like the moment where Bernadeth criticizes Darkseid’s decision to send the Furies, and Darkseid is silent for several panels and then says “It’s what I want.”

New comics received on February 7:

CAPTAIN GINGER SEASON TWO #1 (Ahoy, 2020) – “Dogworld Chapter One,” [W] Stuart Moore, [A] June Brigman. I’m very glad that this series is back. In this issue the cats continue to be their lovely, awful selves, but they also encounter a bunch of stupid dogs, as well as the aliens that wiped out the Feeders (i.e. humans). I’m not sure where this story arc is going, but I’m excited to find out.

THE MAGNIFICENT MS. MARVEL #12 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Minkyu Jung. Kamala has to choose between saving her dad and saving her enemy Josh, and of course she makes the heroic and dumb choice: she chooses Josh. Bruno asks her why she’s nt saving her dad first, and she says, “That’s just… not how it works.” As a result, Abba survives but is permanently disabled. This is very similar to Miles Morales’s choice to save Uncle Aaron from the consequences of his own misdeeds, rather than witness his sister’s birth. I wish that once in a while Saladin would allow his characters to do the selfish thing. Also in this issue, Kamala and Bruno decide to leave their relationship undefined.

MILES MORALES: SPIDER-MAN #15 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Javier Garrón. Miles saves the school from a horde of Green Goblins, and in return, his principal agrees not to reveal his secret identity. This conclusion is predictable and slightly anticlimactic, but it’s executed well. Javier Garrón’s art in this issue is excellent.

SPIDER-MAN & VENOM: DOUBLE TROUBLE #4 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Mariko Tamaki, [A] GuriHiru. Spidey and Venom manage to switch their minds back with the squirrel and cat occupying their bodies, and everything ends happily. This series was a very quick, light read, but it was tremendous fun. I didn’t know that Mariko Tamaki could be this funny. GuriHiru are surprisingly good at drawing animals. I especially love the scene where Venom tries to summon some cats, and they all ignore him. And the antics of the squirrel and cat in Spidey and Venom’s bodies are hilarious.

MANIFEST DESTINY #41 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Chris Dingess, [A] Matthew Roberts. Lewis and Clark finally come clean to Magdalene about the Spanish ghost dude. It turns out they were able to communicate about him through their diaries, even though they couldn’t speak about him. The plot with the rabbit women is put on the backburner for most of the issue, and Lewis and Clark ultimately decide not to go back for the crewmen who went to the rabbit village.

CROWDED #11 (Image, 2020) – “Anxious Type,” [W] Christopher Sebela, [A] Ro Stein & Ted Brandt. Charlie and Vita hole up in a commune located in an abandoned missile silo. Of course it turns out thhe commune is stockpiling weapons for some reason, and at the end of the issue they lock Charlie and Vita inside their room. This issue includes more excellent scenes between the two protagonists. Crowded is Chris Sebela’s best work yet, by far. I’m just sorry that the last story arc won’t be available in single-issue form.

GIDEON FALLS #21 (Image, 2020) – “The Pentoculus Part 5 of 5: The Eater of All Things,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Andrea Sorrentino. The two groups of protagonists confront the Black Barn, and the issue ends with some weird fourth-wall-breaking page layouts in which the comic book seems to collapse into itself. I don’t quite understand what happens in this issue, but it’s exciting.

ISOLA #10 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Brenden Fletcher, [W/A] Karl Kerschl, [A] Msassyk. Rook has a dream where Olwyn is human again. But it turns out that “Olwyn” is actually the evil witch from the last few issues, and the real Olwyn shows up and defeats her. Unfortunately, Rook also learns that her mother was killed on Olwyn’s orders. I’m glad this series is continuing to come out, albeit rather sporadically.

USAGI YOJIMBO #8 (IDW, 2020) – “Tatami Part 1 of 2,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. “Tatami” is the latest in a long line of Usagi stories that focus on elements of Japanese traditional culture – in this case, tatami mats. The issue begins with a detailed description of how tatami mats are made. Of course, there’s also a plot. A caravan carrying tatami mats is attacked by Neko ninja, and Usagi and Chizu join the caravan as guards. The ninja are in the employ of Lord Hikiji, and the caravan seems to be carrying something more than just flooring.

BIRTHRIGHT #41 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. Most of this issue is a flashback to the origin of the main villain, Lore. At the end, we find that Mikey has captured the three witches, who originally turned Lore from a human boy into a demono lord. This series has two story arcs remaining.

On February 8, I went to my fourth Charlotte Mini-Con. It was held in the downtown Westin, in the same room where they hold the Drink & Draw at Heroes Con. The Westin is a far better venue than the Grady Cole Convention Center, where the last three Mini-Cons were held; the Grady Cole is a decaying old hockey rink in an inconvenient part of town. However, that particular room at the Westin was far too small. There wasn’t enough space for vendors, and people were constantly having to push past each other.

At the con I had lunch with Andy Kunka, and I also saw Craig Yoe and a bunch of other people. Craig Fischer was apparently there, but I somehow didn’t see him, despite the aforementioned small size of the venue. Some of the comics I bought were:

THE ADVENTUROUS UNCLE SCROOGE MCDUCK #2 (Gladstone, 1998) – “A Little Something Special,” [W/A] Don Rosa. It’s been a while since I read an unfamiliar Don Rosa story, and I’d forgotten what an incredible genius he is. In this story, the city of Duckburg stages a celebration to honor the 50th anniversary of Scrooge’s arrival, but all three of Barks’s recurring villains – Magica DeSpell, Flintheart Glomgold, and the Beagle Boys – team up to spoil the party. Even by Rosa’s usual high standards, this story has an extremely clever and intricate plot, and it’s full of brilliiant visual and narrative moments. For example, near the end of the story, Blackheart Beagle almost escapes. But on Gladstone’s suggestion, the mayor offers a reward for his capture, and Gladstone immediately captures him by a stroke of luck. The interactions between the villains are also brilliant. When the Beagle Boys succeed in stealing Scrooge’s fortune, Magica’s plans are frustrated because Scrooge is now no longer the world’s richest duck, so his Number One Dime is powerless. A key theme of the story is desire. The three villains are able to team up because they all want different things from Scrooge: Magica wants the dime, the Beagle Boys want his money, and Glomgold wants to be richer than him. Meanwhile, the city of Duckburg stages a competition to give Scrooge something he wants and doesn’t already have. It turns out, of course, that the answer is a kiss from Glittering Goldie.

THOR #152 (Marvel, 1968) – “The Dilemma of Dr. Blake!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Jack Kirby. Thor battles the Destroyer, while elsewhere Balder battles Ulik. This issue has some amazing fight sceenes, but not much plot or characterization. There’s also an Inhumans backup story in which Triton visits New York. This story is inked by Joe Sinnott, while the main story is inked by one whose name will not be mentioned.

TEEN TITANS #2 (DC, 1966) – “The Million-Year-Old Teenager,” [W] Bob Haney, [A] Nick Cardy. In the town of Smedleyville, the Titans help a reanimated caveboy defeat his old enemy and get together with his girlfriend. The caveboy in this issue is named Garn, not to be confused with Gnarrk, who was a separate character. Perhaps Bob Haney created Gnarrk because he forgot he’d already craeted Garn. Bob Haney’s art in this issue is good, but far from his best.

GLORY #0 (Awesome, 1999) – “Glory and the Gate of Tears,” [W] Alan Moore, [A] Brandon Peterson. Glory grapples with her newfound mortality. This comic is interesting, but only contains ten pages of actual story, making its $2.50 cover price an insult. The rest of the issue consists of sketches and previews. Because Awesome went out of business, no other issues of this volume of Glory ever appeared. However, two more issues of Alan Moore’s Glory were later published by Avatar.

MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER #8 (Gold Key, 1964) – “Havoc at Weather Control,” [W/A] Russ Manning. This was one of the only original Magnus stories I hadn’t read. While Magnus and Leeja are celebrating a festival, an evil robot sabotages North Am’s weather control system. To defeat it, Magnus has to team up with a gang of kids called the Outsiders, who show up again in a few later stories. As always, Manning’s artwork in this issue is phenomenal. His robots look slick and realistic, and his anatomy and action sequences are dynamic and thrilling.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #133 (Marvel, 1974) – “The Molten Man Breaks Out!”, [W] Gerry Conway, [A] Ross Andru. Spidey battles the Molten Man and meets Liz Allan, who hadn’t appeared since the ‘60s. This issue is a good example of Conway and Andru’s Spider-Man. Conway gives Peter, Liz and MJ some nice characterization, and the Molten Man is an effective villain because he doesn’t have bad intentions; he’s just terrified of his own impending doom.

MUKTUK WOLFSBREATH, HARD-BOILED SHAMAN #3 (Vertigo, 1998) – “Mommy’s Girl Part 3: Hi, Mom!”, [W] Terry LaBan, [A] Steve Parkhouse. Muktuk defeats the femme fatale Nusqua and saves the day. This series was not perfectly executed – its central mystery and its villain are a bit boring. But I forgive that because the series’ premise is so original and entertaining. I wish there had been more than three issues.

AVENGERS #67 (Marvel, 1969) – “We Stand at… Armageddon!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Barry Windsor-Smith. This issue has impressive art by BWS in his Kirby-imitator phase. However, this second Ultron story feels like a rehash of the first one. The Vision gets a lot of panel time, but he spends most of the issue complaining, and the rest of the issue consists mostly of fight scenes.

THIRTEEN GOING ON EIGHTEEN #23 (Dell, 1967) – “For an Opener,” [W/A] John Stanley. Another demonstration of John Stanley’s comedic genius. I think the best story in this issue is the first one, where Val and Billy are unable to have both a bottle and a bottle opener at the same time. There’s another story where Judy dreams she’s on the phone with King Arthur, and one where Judy goes to a party in a truly absurd costume.

TANTALIZING STORIES #4 (Tundra, 1993) – multiple stories, [W/A] Jim Woodring, Mark Martin & Gerald Jablonski. In this issue Woodring and Martin switch characters, with Martin drawing Frank while Woodring draws Montgomery Wart. Each cartoonist does a good job of imitating the other’s style, and I couldn’t even tell at first that the Frank story was not by Woodring. But both stories feel kind of unoriginal, and I would have preferred if the artists had stuck to their own characters. This issue also includes some of Jablonski’s absurdist Farmer Ned stories, drawn in a style that reminds me of Drew Friedman.

COPRA #5 (Image, 2020) – “Tender Living,” [W/A] Michel Fiffe. The team fights some supervillains who are empowered by Ochizon. Meanwhile, Sonia tries to recruit some more allies. Michel Fiffe’s art this issue is really impressive; his cosmic New Gods-based stories seem to inspire him to higher levels of visual imagination. Here is a useful website that matches Copra characters to their Marvel and DC counterparts: http://en.wikibedia.ru/wiki/Draft:COPRA_analogues

DAREDEVIL #76 (Marvel, 1971) – “Deathmarch of El Condor!”,  [W] Gerry Conway, [A] Gene Colan. Matt Murdock gets involved in a civil war in the fictional country of Delvadia. Gene Colan’s action sequences in this issue are excellent, and he draws some very realistic machinery. However, this issue’s plot is trite and full of stereotypes, and there’s no Black Widow, who was the best thing about Conway’s Daredevil run.

CAPTAIN ACTION #2 (DC, 1969) – “The Battle Begins!”, [W] Jim Shooter, [A] Gil Kane. The villain Krellik steals some of the coins that give Captain Action and Action Boy their powers, but the heroes use other coins to defeat the villains. The artwork in this issue is amazing. Kane is inked by Wally Wood, and Kane’s compositions plus Woody’s linework are a perfect combination. I don’t remember the detailed history behind this comic, but it only lasted five issues, and no creator worked on all five of them. With #3, Gil Kane took over as writer, and the tone of the series shifted significantly. Still, Captain Action was one of the finest DC comics of the late ‘60s, and it shouldn’t be so hard to find. IDW announced at Comic-Con last year that they would be reprinting the entire series, but there’s still no date for it.

IRON FIST #2 (Marvel, 1975) – “Valley of the Damned!”, [W] Chris Claremont, [A] John Byrne. This issue is mostly a flashback in which Danny Rand’s sister, Miranda, tries to flee K’un Lun with her lover, but they both get killed by some plant monsters. The plant creatures are called H’ylithri, a name which sounds a lot like the Shi’ar deity K’ythri. It was news to me that Danny even had a sister; she only ever made a few other appearances. Iron Fist is my least favorite Claremont-Byrne collaboration, and a particular problem in this issue is Frank Chiaramonte’s lazy inking, which obliterates all of Byrne’s fine linework.

YUMMY FUR #32 (Drawn & Quarterly, 1994) – “Matthew 11:2-12:45, 14:2-14:12,” [W/A] Chester Brown. The final issue of Yummy Fur is devoted entirely to a chapter of Brown’s adaptation of the New Testament. Part of the issue depicts the death of John the Baptist. It’s hard for me to read any version of this story without thinking of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé. In the rest of the story, Brown depicts Jesus as a terrifying, uncompromising figure. His Jesus is radically different from Mark Russell and Richard Pace’s kind, gentle Jesus. It’s too bad this adaptation was never finished. Brown apparently cancelled Yummy Fur because the name was no longer appropriate, and he wanted to devote his energies to Underwater, though that series was never finished either.

SUICIDE SQUAD #34 (DC, 1989) – “Armagetto,” [W] John Ostrander & Kim Yale, [A] John K. Snyder III. I love the cover of this issue, which shows Amanda Waller and Granny Goodness fighting. It’s a battle of DC’s two greatest old battleaxes. In this issue, Lashina has shanghaied most of the Squad to Apokolips in order to help her recapture leadership of the Female Furies from Bernadeth (whose betrayal was shown in #3, reviewed above). The Squad are facing the fight of their lives, but they rise up to the challenge. Meanwhile, Bronze Tiger tries to organize a relief mission, despite being officially forbidden to recruit any felons. The Apokolips storyline was one of the most exciting moments of this series.

CONAN: BATTLE FOR THE SERPENT CROWN #1 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Luke Ross. In modern-day Las Vegas, Conan teams up with a thief named Nyla. The idea of Conan in the 20th/21st century is not new, but this story is better executed than most of the previous stories with this premise. Nyla is an exciting new character, and I like her interactions with Conan. I just wish Saladin had explained how Conan got to the 21st century. I assume this is a result of events in some other comic that I’m not reading.

BATMAN #225 (DC, 1970) – “Wanted for Murder-One, the Batman,” [W] Denny O’Neil, [A] Irv Novick. Batman is accused of murdering Jonah Jory, a talk-show host who was notorious for his rudeness. It turns out that Jory killed himself and framed Batman for it. Denny invites the reader to solve the mystery before Batman does. I failed to do so, though I did notice the key clue. Probably the biggest clue that it was a suicide is that there are no other likely suspects – except Arthur Reeves, and it can’t be him because he appears in later issues. This issue also includes a backup story about illegal street racing.

FANTASTIC FOUR #70 (Marvel, 1967) – “When Fall the Mighty,” [W] Stan Lee, [A] Jack Kirby. This issue is from just after Lee and Kirby’s greatest period (the #40s to the #60s), but their FF is still the greatest superhero comic ever created. This issue, the three male FF members fight the Mad Thinker and his androids. This plot is nothing special, but Kirby and Sinnott’s artwork is beyond incredible. The main problem with this issue is the sexist treatment of Sue, whose pregnancy makes her even more useless than usual. In contrast, Saturn Girl fought the Legion of Super-Villains while nearly at full term with twins.

CRIMINAL #2 (Icon, 2006) – “Coward Part Two,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. It’s weird to read such an early Criminal story now that I’m almost caught up on the series. This issue, Tommy Patterson executes a clever plot to steal a shipment of diamonds from a police evidence van. But his co-conspirators betray him even before the heist is over, and then he discovers that what he’s stolen was not diamonds but drugs.

TALES TO ASTONISH #85 (Marvel, 1966) – “—And One Shall Die,” [W] Stan Lee, [A] Gene Colan, and “The Missile and the Monster!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] John Buscema. In the Namor story, Namor battles the first Number One of the Secret Empire, whose goal is to win worldwide fame. In an ironic twist, Number One blows himself up, and his body is burned beyond recognition. Unusually for this series, the Sub-Mariner story leads directly into the Hulk story. As a result of Number One’s failed plots, the Hulk finds himself in New York, and he has to save the city from a missile launched by a Soviet spy. This is a pretty fun issue.

THE MAN WHO F#&%ED UP TIME #1 (AfterShock, 2020) – “The Here and Now,” [W] John Layman, [A] Karl Mostert. Our protagonist is Sean Bennett, a young scientist working on a time travel project, who is subjected to possibly racist abuse from his lab partner. Sean’s future self visits him and tells him to go back in time, so he does, but he accidentally creates a dystopian reality where everyone dresses like Abe Lincoln. I really like time travel stories, and so far this series looks like a fun example of that genre.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #3 (Marvel, 2014) – untitled, [W] Dan Slott, [A] Humberto Ramos. This issue takes place right after the end of the Superior Spider-Man saga. The Black Cat seeks revenge on Spider-Man, not realizing that he’s not the same Spider-Man who incurred her hatred. Meanwhile, Peter tries to reintegrate himself into his old life. This is yet another super-fun issue.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #69 (DC, 1969) – “A Matter of Menace!”, [W] Denny O’Neil, [A] Dick Dillin. Wonder Woman quits the JLA because she’s lost her powers, and then a villain named Head Master frames Green Arrow for murder. Perhaps because of its new young writer, this issue feels more energetic than a typical ‘60s JLA issue, but it’s still kind of  forgettable. Dick Dillin’s Wonder Woman is cute.

BIRTHRIGHT #10 (Image, 2015) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. Wendy is shocked to discover that she’s about to be a grandmother. There’s another flashback to Mikey’s childhood, and Mikey defeats some kind of creature called a Diviner. This issue is the end of the second story arc.

ARCHIE: THE MARRIED LIFE 10TH ANNIVERSARY #6 (Archie, 2020) – “Happily Ever After?”, [W] Michael Uslan, [A] Dan Parent. Both stories end with Dilton taking Archie, Betty and Veronica for a ride in a Back-to-the-Future-esque flying car. Overall, this was a disappointing series with just one really memorable moment (“I wish I had spent more time at work!”).

THE LEGION #7 (DC, 2002) – “Terror Incognita 2: Fear of Change,” [W] Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, [A] Olivier Coipel. The Legion fights Ra’s al Ghul and his Hypertaxis plot. I believe I bought issue 8 when it came out, and it impressed me enough that I started reading the Legion again after having given it up for a couple years. This issue is genuinely quite exciting and has a high-stakes, tense plot. However, as usual with these writers, it also includes insufficient characterization, and it feels too dark and grim to be a Legion story.

WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES #178 (Dell, 1955) – untitled, [W/A] Carl Barks. Suffering from insomnia, Donald decides to move to a quieter house. But he only succeeds in starting a noisemaking arms race with his new neighbors. It only ends when an elderly neighbor blows a giant alpenhorn, causing Donald to go deaf. This story is a typically hilarious Barks ten-pager. The only other notable thing in the issue is a Mickey Mouse story by Fallberg and Murry, taking place in Mexico. Of course, the Mexican characters in the story are all extreme stereotypes.

THE DREAMING #18 (DC, 2020) – “The Crown, Part Four,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Marguerite Sauvage. Dora is dying and the Dreaming is in a state of collapse. Cain, Matthew and Rose Walker try to save the day, with some assistance from an off-panel Desire. I wonder if there’s some legal reason why Desire isn’t fully shown. Dora discovers that Morpheus hid his ruby inside her, and it may be the key to saving the Dreaming. I didn’t like this series much at first, but now I love it, and I’m sorry Si Spurrier is leaving after #20. Marguerite Sauvage’s art didn’t impress me as much in this issue as in #17, but I still love her work.

LOIS LANE #8 (DC, 2020) – “Enemy of the People Part Eight,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Mike Perkins. A skull-masked assassin tries to kill Lois and Renee. This is just an average issue, and the scene where Superman is swarmed by admirers is kind of annoying. I kind of feel like there’s been too much Superman in this series. The whole point of the series is (or should be) to depict Lois as a hero in her own right, who doesn’t need to use Superman as a crutch. But Rucka has been continuously undercutting her independence, perhaps not on purpose.

INCREDIBLE HULK #167 (Marvel, 1973) – “To Destroy the Monster!”, [A] Steve Englehart, [A] Herb Trimpe. Betty learns that her new husband Glenn Talbot is dead (though he wasn’t, yet) and suffers a psychotic break. This leads into her debut as the Harpy in the next issue. Meanwhile, the Hulk battles MODOK in a giant robot body. This is a pretty good issue from one of the best Hulk creative teams prior to Peter David. There’s a funny moment in this issue where someone (Jim Wilson) greets the Hulk, and the Hulk complains that he was happier alone. https://www.instagram.com/p/B8cK-pJBcPV/

ADLER #1 (Titan, 2020) – untitled, [W] Lavie Tidhar, [A] Paul McCaffrey. I think this is the first comic by the World Fantasy Award-winning novelist Lavie Tidhar, and I bought it because of him. This series is named after Irene Adler, but it’s really more of a League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen; it co-stars Estella Havisham, Jane Eyre, and J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla. Steampunk pastiches like this are a dime a dozen now, and Theodora Goss has even used a premise similar to this one in her Athena Club series. But Tidhar seems to have done a lot of research, and he succeeds in creating a sense of historical plausibility. And Paul McCaffrey’s artwork is very good. I need to remember to order the rest of this series.

MONEY SHOT #4 (Vault, 2020) – untitled, [W] Tim Seeley & Sarah Beattie, [A] Rebekah Isaacs. I regret that I didn’t order issues 1 and 2, because I had trouble following what was going on in this issue. At least it seems pretty entertaining, though there’s not a whole lot of sex in it.

DOLLAR COMICS: BATMAN #386 (DC, 2020) – “Black Mask: Losing Face,” [W] Doug Moench, [A] Tom Mandrake. A reprint of Black Mask’s first appearance. Moench writes Black Mask as an anti-Batman: a rich boy whose parents don’t die, and who grows up without a clear sense of who he is. Eventually, Roman Sionis kills his parents himself and becomes a supervillain. The theme of masks and the faces they conceal is emphasized very heavily; Black Mask is the heir to a cosmetics company, and his hobby is collecting ritual masks. It seems like later writers have de-emphasized Black Mask’s obsession with masks and have made him into more of a typical crime boss, although I haven’t read many other stories with this character.

BIRTHRIGHT #20 (Image, 2016) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. Mikey and his family’s encounter with Enoch ends in a battle with a dragon. Sameal kills Enoch to save Aaron, but Mikey is kidnapped by one of the other remaining wizards, Kylen. Meanwhile, Mastema reveals that Lore is her father. Nothing about this issue particularly stands out.

SUPERBOY #171 (DC, 1971) – “Dark Strangler of the Seas!”, [W] Frank Robbins, [A] Bob Brown. Superboy and Aquaboy, the teenage version of Aquaman, team up to fight some polluters. This story is one of the few times Aquaman’s Aquaboy phase was ever mentioned. Aquaboy has a girlfriend named Marita who looks a lot like Mera. This character never appeared anywhere else, and I’m guessing that she was initially supposed to be Mera, but that someone remembered at the last minute that Aquaman didn’t meet Mera until they were both adults.

LOGAN’S RUN 2 (Marvel, 1977) – “Cathedral Kill,” [W] David Kraft, [A] George Pérez. This series is only interesting because of George Pérez’s artwork, but his art is very good. Logan’s Run’s mixture of SF and action sequences makes it a good fit for his talents. The inker is Klaus Janson, whose style clashes with Pérez’s, but at least Janson doesn’t ruin Pérez’s pencils.

BARBIE #45 (Marvel, 1994) – “Melissa’s Dress Mess,” [W] Barbara Slate, [A] Win Mortimer. This issue’s main story includes a long sequence set in a fantasy version of ancient Rome, so it’s somewhat similar to Barbara Slate’s Sweet Sixteen. Unfortunately, Win Mortimer was a very boring artist. He was in his seventies at the time, and died four years later. This issue includes a letter from an eight-year-old girl complaining that she can’t find Barbie comics at comic book stores. https://www.instagram.com/p/B8czi6xhkS9/This is exactly the problem that has historically plagued girls’ comic books – not a lack of potential readers, but a lack of effective marketing and distribution.

DEVIL DINOSAUR #4 (Marvel, 1978) – “Object from the Sky,” [W/A] Jack Kirby. Devil and Moon-Boy encounter some really cool-looking aliens. This issue includes some excellent individual pages and some exciting fight scenes, but Devil Dinosaur was never as exciting as Kirby’s other ’70s comics. One problem with it was the lack of characters who could actually talk.

KING JUNGLE JIM #1 (Dynamite, 2015) – untitled, [W] Paul Tobin, [A] Sandy Jarrell. Lille Devrille, a woman from Arboria, leads an expedition to find the legendary Jungle Jim and enlist his aid against Ming. Dynamite’s King Features comics were all really fun, and this one is no exception.

New comics received on February 12:

ALIENATED #1 (Boom!, 2020) – “Three Kids Named Sam Go Walking in the Woods,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Chris Wildgoose. We are introduced to three high school kids, all named Sam. Samuel is an online troll, Samantha is being slut-shamed due to an unwanted pregnancy, and Samir is a victim of racism. All three are being bullied by a little bastard named Leon. While walking in the woods, they encounter an alien creature that melds their mines. It also kills Leon, and good riddance. This is a fascinating first issue, a good start to yet another exciting Si Spurrier comic. I didn’t even get that it was a pastiche of E.T. until I read some reviews of it.

THE DOLLHOUSE FAMILY #4 (DC, 2020) – “Come Up,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter Gross. Alice survives the bombing but loses a leg, and her daughter loses a hand. Alice’s daughter makes a deal with the dollhouse to get her mother’s leg back. This series is still really good, but I still don’t understand why Alice has to suffer so much. The dollhouse seems to be targeting her even though she didn’t do anything wrong – besides killing her father, and she should have gotten a medal for that.

ASCENDER #9 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dustin Nguyen. This issue begins  with a flashback to Mother’s origin. As a child, she was the hated, abused servant to a coven of witches, while her older red-haired sister was the witches’ cherished protégé. Mother finally murdered her sister and took over the senior witches’ power for herself. But back in the present, Sister comes back to life and overpowers Mother. This issue reminds me of the fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red.

RONIN ISLAND #10 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] Greg Pak, [A] Giannis Milonogiannis. After some more fighting, Kenichi and Hana finally get back to the island, but some captured shogunate soldiers escape back to the mainland to warn the shogun. This issue finally gives us some reason to hope, but this series is still very grim.

GREEN LANTERN SEASON TWO #1 (DC, 2020) – “Young Guardians,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Liam Sharp. An intergalactic law enforcement convention is held on Oa, and we meet some more bizarre new characters. Hal is sent to Maltus to recruit some new Guardians, with the aid of a candidate GL, Ryk, who’s a sentient rock crystal. On Maltus, Hal and Ryk have to rescue Mother Juna from some evil gorillas so she can create the new Guardians. Mother Juna is a clever throwback to old continuity. I believe her only previous appearance was in GL #81, the story that introduced the planet Maltus. (That story was about overpopulation, and the name Maltus is a reference to Thomas Malthus.)

IMMORTAL HULK #31 (Marvel, 2020) – “Remember?”, [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett & Javier Rodriguez. In a flashback sequence drawn by Rodriguez, Dr. Charlene McGowan remembers encountering Daredevil while working for the Kingpin. Back in the present, Xemnu, the Marvel villain who sheds the most, manipulates everyone’s memories to make them think he (Xemnu) is and always was the Hulk. There’s a historical in-joke here because Xemnu was originally called the Hulk before Bruce Banner was created; see the Bruce Banner review below. At the end of the issue, the original flashback is repeated, but with Xemnu replacing Daredevil. This whole storyline is very clever.

X-MEN #6 (Marvel, 2020) – “The Oracle,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Matteo Buffagni. Mystique accepts a mission to infiltrate a space station called the Orchis Forge, which is manufacturing Sentinels. In exchange, Xavier promises to resurrect Destiny, but he reneges on that promise in order to keep Mystique under his thumb, and Mystique is not happy. The emotional high point of this issue is Mystique shouting “I want my wife back!” Claremont always intended Mystique and Destiny to be a couple, but in his time, their relationship couldn’t be explicitly mentioned on-panel. Now they are an official couple, and X-Men #6 is the first time their marriage has been revealed.

THE TERRIFICS #25 (DC, 2020) – “The Adventures You Choose,” [W] Gene Luen Yang, [A] Dan Mora. This is a choose-your-own-adventure story. It’s not as innovative as the CYOA issues of Squirrel Girl or Adventure Time, let alone Meanwhile, but it’s fun. It has a couple gamelike elements. You need to use information from a dead-end narrative branch in order to choose between four identical door knockers (although I chose the right one by accident). Later on, you need to do a side quest in order to learn the crow people’s language, which is necessary to finish the issue. On Twitter, Yang confirmed that the name Lord Shiga in this issue is a reference to Jason Shiga. I’m kind of surprised that The Terrifics has lasted 25 issues, but it’s a genuinely fun series.

POWERS IN ACTION #4 (Action Lab, 2020) – “Suplexian Supremacy,” [W/A] Art Baltazar. Suplex fights some villains from his home planet. This series is the same as any of Art Baltazar’s other comics, and it offers nothing I haven’t seen before. This issue will be my last.

DRAGONFLY & DRAGONFLYMAN #4 (Ahoy, 2020) – untitled, [W] Tom Peyer, [A] Peter Krause. Dragonflyman has been hypnotized and can’t fight, so he creates a device that allows Stinger to control him like a video game character. Meanwhile, the other Stinger discovers that Dragonfly implanted a tracking device in his wrist, and at the end of the issue, Dragonfly discovers him trying to dig it out with a scalpel. This page is a deliberate homage to Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85.

BLACKWOOD: THE MOURNING AFTER #1 (Dark Horse, 2020) – untitled, [W] Evan Dorkin, [A] Veronica Fish & Andy Fish. In today’s comics market, you never know whether an innovative series like Blackwood will survive or not, and I’m glad it’s gotten a second miniseries. This issue, the Blackwood faculty deals with the aftermath of Dean Ogden’s death. Meanwhile, the students decide to use the well to resurrect their dead classmate Dennis. This series has some very detailed and spooky art, and it effectively blends humor with horror.

CATWOMAN #20 (DC, 2020) – “No Guts No Glory,” [W] Joëlle Jones, [A] Fernando Blanco. A party at the Creel mansion is invaded by zombies. Meanwhile, Catwoman suffers from despair, but her cats motivate her to regain her confidence and confront Raina Creel one last time. Catwoman’s cats have had some great moments in this series, though not as many as I’d have liked.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #18 (DC, 2020) – “Heart of Glass,” [W] Nalo Hopkinson & Dan Watters, [A] Domo Stanton. Poquita makes a new friend who is transgender and disabled. Erzulie tries to reassemble the Corinthian, but discovers a piece missing, which explains where Poquita’s cat friend came from. People throughout the world have visions of Erzulie’s ship. I like this series a lot, but its plot tends to ramble and not really go anywhere, though this may be intentional.

GUTT GHOST #1 (Scout, 2020) – untitled, [W/A] Enzo Garza. I ordered this because the art looked interesting. The protagonist, Gute, is a ghost who can manipulate his own entrails. Garza draws Gute really well; he (Garza) shows a talent for body hororor that reminds me of Michael DeForge. However, this comic has a flimsy plot, and Garza has a limited ability to draw things other than intestines. Many of his panels lack backgrounds. This artist is promising, but he needs to develop his craft more.

GHOSTED IN L.A. #8 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] Sina Grace, [A] Siobhan Keenan. Daphne lets Agi possess her body for a ritual that will allow Shirley’s spirit to move on. It’s not clear whether the ritual works or not. Agi-possessing-Daphne gets some cute scenes. This series is entertaining and insightful, but rather slow-paced. This is the end of the second story arc. I hope that there will be a third, and that it will be published in comic book form.

ARCHIE 1955 #5 (Archie, 2020) – “Real Gone, Baby!”, [W] Brian Augustyn & Mark Waid, [A] Ray-Anthony Height & Rick Burchett. Archie refuses to re-sign his contract with Hiram Lodge, and he and Veronica walk off into the sunset. Archie joins Big Earl’s band. This is a satisfying ending, and I like how Archie actually chooses between Betty and Veronica for once. Overall, Archie 1955 was significantly better than Archie 1941. I wonder if there’s going to be an Arcihe 1966 or whatever.

IRON MAN 2020 #2 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Dan Slott & Christos Gage, [A] Pete Woods. Tony launches a robot uprising, but Arno Stark stays one step ahead of him and foils his plans. Iron Man 2020, the nominal hero of this series, is actually the villain, and the reader’s sympathies are firmly with Tony. Early in this issue there are some really cute scenes depicting the start of the robot revolution. Awesome Android rescues an experimental robot (built by “Brevoort Dynamics”), and Quasimodo and Herbie save some crash test dummies who are sick of repeatedly getting killed.

TARTARUS #1 (Image, 2020) – “As Above/So Below,” [W] Johnnie Christmas, [A] Jack T. Cole. In this issue’s first sequence, a badass rebel woman named Surka tries to escape from a space prison, but is killed. 17 years later, Surka’s daughter Tilde, a cadet in a military academy, discovers her parentage and is thrust into the same conflict that killed her mother. This is a really fun and exciting debut issue, though it’s very long. Jack T. Cole is unlucky in that he shares his name with a much better known comic book artist (hence why he uses his middle initial), but his art is very striking, and his visual imagination is impressive. Johnnie Christmas also wrote Firebug, which I read when it appeared in Island, but I don’t remember it well.

QUEEN & COUNTRY #30 (Oni, 2006) – “Red Panda Part 1,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Chris Samnee. Tara is still not recovered from her previous mission, but Paul sends her and Nick to Iraq to perform an assassination. There are hints that Tara is pregnant with Tom’s posthumous child, and this was indeed the case, as revealed in the prose novels that take place after the comics. Chris Samnee was just starting his career in 2006, and his art is unimpressive compared to his later work; it just looks like generic black and white art. His mature style didn’t develop until around 2011.

FANTASTIC FOUR #88 (Marvel, 1969) – “A House There Was!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Jack Kirby. This issue has an adorable splash page showing Alicia cradling the newborn, still unnamed Franklin. The rest of the story also indirectly revolves around Franklin, as Reed and Sue are looking for a new home for their family, and the house they choose turns out to be a trap created by the Mole Man. There’s some breathtaking artwork in this issue: https://www.instagram.com/p/B8pxUKOBSUS/

BATMAN #177 (DC, 1965) – “Two Batmen Too Many!”, [W] Bill Finger, [A] Sheldon Moldoff. Batman catches some crooks by having Atom and Elongated Men disguise themselves as two additional Batmen. There’s also a backup story about art theft. This story is most notable for containing a tacked-on, unconvincing romance. ’60s Batman comics are generally not very good; however, they’re very hard to find, compared to ‘60s Superman comics, and I’m glad I have this one.

TALES TO ASTONISH #70 (Marvel, 1965) – “The Start of the Quest!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Gene Colan (as Adam Austin), and “To Live Again!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Jack Kirby. Starting with this issue Sub-Mariner replaced Giant-Man as one of TTA’s two features. In the Sub-Mariner story, Krang takes over Atlantis, and Namor goes on a quest to find the lost trident of Neptune in order to prove his right to the throne. This story isn’t great, and it’s inked by the worst inker in comics history. The Hulk story is better. The Hulk is trapped in Hulk form but with Banner’s mind, and he has to fight a giant android sent by the Leader (who is depicted with a normal-sized head). According to the GCD, this is the first story in which the Hulk says “the madder I get, the stronger I get.”

NAILBITER #19 (Image, 2016) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Mike Henderson. A horror/thriller series about a bunch of serial killers who all come from the town of Buckaroo, Oregon. This series lacks the strong theme of “family” that characterizes Birthright, and Mike Henderson is a much less impressive artist than Andrei Bressan. I don’t plan to collect any more of this series.

SUPERBOY #194 (DC, 1973) – “The Super-Merman of the Sea!”, [W] Leo Dorfman, [A] Bob Brown. Superboy is turned into a merman by an Atlantean scientist. He teams up with the scientist’s niece Yorell, who kind of looks like Mera, and gets his legs back. This story has some cute art, but is rather boring. Superboy #194 was the second to last issue that didn’t include a Legion story. Starting with #197, the Legion got equal billing on the covers, and they gradually took the series over entirely. This was a positive development bcause the Legion stories were far more exciting than the Superboy solo stories.

New comics received on February 20:

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #4 (DC, 2020) – untitled, [W] Brian Michael Bendis, [A] Ryan Sook & Mikel Janín. This issue is better than the first three issues put together, and it singlehandedly restores my interest in the series. We get a partial retelling of the Legion’s origin, and as a result, we finally get to see the characters (specifically, Luornu, Ayla and the three founders) as people rather than anonymous voices in a crowd. I especially like the Winath sequence. In this continuity, Garth and Ayla come from a large family with two mothers and six other children, and they’re sharply divided about the wisdom of joining the UP’s youth delegation. Braal and Titan are also interestingly different from earlier versions of the same planets. I hope Bendis can maintain this level of characterization and worldbuilding in forthcoming issues. However, I still don’t care about the whole trident business.

LUMBERJANES #71 (Boom!, 2020) – “Forestry is the Best Policy Part 3,” [W] Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, [A] Kanesha Bryant & Julia Madrigal. The girls defeat the evil rhizome monster. In a flashback, we learn how the original Lumberjane ran away from home, disguised herself as a male lumberjack, and then discovered that her mother’s campsite was about to be clearcut. I love the explanation of why the camp was originally located in the woods: “If they [the girl campers] could keep their hair neat and dresses pristine in such awful conditions, they could do so anywhere!” Another nice touch is the sasquatch with a monocle and top hat.

RUNAWAYS #30 (Marvel, 2020) – “Cannon Fodder Part VI,” [W] Rainbow Rowell, [A] Andres Genolet. Gert discovers that Doc Justice is going to get all her teammates killed on purpose. Despite resistance from Matthew, Gert rushes off to save the day. Doc Justice is the creepiest villain of Rainbow’s run; he pretends to be a hero, but his “heroism” masks a total lack of concern for his young friends’ lives.

FANTASTIC FOUR #19 (Marvel, 2020) – “Four Gone Conclusion,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Sean Izaakse. The situation on Spire is resolved peacefully, and Sky comes back to Earth with the FF. Back on Earth, the kids are having a wild party with Lunella and Devil, and the Mole Man’s monsters are attacking Wyatt Wingfoot’s tribe’s reservation. This issue is mostly just a bridge between the last storyline and the next one.

MIDDLEWEST #15 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Skottie Young, [A] Jorge Corona. The relief mission is stopped at a river where the bridge has been washed out by a flood. Maggie uses magic to revive the old “river master” from his coma so he can help them get across. Meanwhile, Abel begins to execute his escape plan. The most striking thing in this issue is the two-page conversation between Maggie and Mick. It shouldn’t work because it’s two pages of nothing but dialogue, yet somehow it does work.

SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #8 (DC, 2020) – “Eminent Domain!” etc., [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Steve Lieber. This series is getting a little tedious, but it’s still the best current DC comic, besides Dial H for Hero. This issue is a bunch of random vignettes. The first sequence shows us the four replacement Jimmys (a reference to Reign of the Supermen), and later in the issue Jimmy is reunited with his alien wife.

UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY #4 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Charles Soule & Scott Snyder, [A] Giuseppe Camuncoli & Daniele Orlandini. Daniel steals the key and runs off with Charlotte. The rest of the team escapes from the Destiny Man’s fortress and pursues Daniel. We learn that all of the team members are there because someone named “aurora” requested them by name. As usual, the art in this issue is amazing. I really didn’t expect that Daniel would betray his teammates. I’m kind of disappointed in him.

NEW MUTANTS #7 (Marvel, 2020) – “Spoilers,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Rod Reis. The New Mutants succeed in resolving the Shi’ar civil war, and Xandra is restored to the throne. Until I looked it up, I totally forgot that Xandra was from Mr. & Mrs. X. Most of this issue is narrated by Bobby, and Hickman perfectly captures his boastful personality. This issue has some great metatextual moments: Bobby and Dani argue over what happened in which issue, and later, the reader is invited to use dice to simulate a fight scene.

BANG! #1 (Dark Horse, 2020) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] Wilfredo Torres. Thomas Cord, a secret agent, is sent to recover a manuscript from a reclusive writer named Philip Verve. But Verve reveals to Cord that he’s not the only Thomas Cord; he’s just one of many incarnations of the same character. This series continues the metatextual, metaleptic themes of much of Kindt’s other work. Thomas Cord is an obvious reference to James Bond, and the novel The 18 Stigmata of Philip Verve references Philip K. Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, although Verve has appeared in some of Kindt’s other comics.

AQUAMAN #57 (DC, 2020) – “Amnesty, Finale: Xebel’s Daughter,” [W] Kelly SueDeCononick, [A] Robson Rocha. Aquaman takes Mera back to Atlantis, where she gives birth prematurely to a baby girl, then falls into a coma. Meanwhile, Arthur discovers a chaotic and unsettled situation in Atlantis. I’m not sure where the storyline is going from here, but Arthur’s first sight of his daughter is a heartwarming moment.

ON THE STUMP #1 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Chuck Brown, [A] Prenzy. I was hesitant to order this because I disliked Chuck Brown’s previous solo work, The Quiet Kind. So far this series is a bit more interesting. Its premise is funny: it’s set in a future America where senators get bills passed by beating each other up in MMA matches. However, this comic also includes some very gruesome and exaggerated violence. I’m going to keep reading it for now, but I’m not sold on it yet.

BITTER ROOT #6 (Image, 2020) – “Rage & Redemption Part One,”  [W] David Walker & Chuck Brown, [A] Sanford Greene. This is one of the most important comic books currently being published, and I’m glad it’s back. This issue includes a lot of fight scenes, but the best moment is the inter-ethnic summit between the head Sangerye and his Chinese, Punjabi and Irish counterparts. This issue includes an essay by a scholar named Reynaldo Anderson, who I don’t know.

FAMILY TREE #4 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Phil Hester. The biggest emotion this comic arouses in me is hatred of the old grandpa dude. He’s such an insufferable know-it-all, especially toward his daughter-in-law. I hope he dies. This issue, the apartment where the main characters are staying is invaded by a bunch of goons, and the grandpa holds them off so the mother and daughters can escape. So far I’m not liking Family Tree nearly as much as Jeff’s other series, but it’s still worth reading.

SKULLDIGGER AND SKELETON BOY #3 (Dark Horse, 2020) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Tonci Zonjic. Skeleton Boy intervenes in Skulldigger’s fight with Grimjim. Skulldigger reveals that Grimjim is his father. This issue includes some very well-drawn action sequences, but otherwise it’s rather forgettable.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #15 (Marvel, 2020) – “The Last Avenger Part Four,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Lee Garbett. Carol beats the Hulk, and then Captain America surrenders to her without a fight, which is a nice moment. But Vox Supreme defeats and captures Carol anyway. This whole storyline has felt very contrived and annoying. Kelly seems to have systematically closed off every loophole that could allow Carol to not fight the Avengers, just so Carol can be the bad guy. And Vox Supreme’s smugness is driving me nuts. Also, Kelly still has yet to truly define who Carol is. This series has been consistently disappointing, and I’m actually considering giving up on it.

ARCHIE #711 (Archie, 2020) – “Archie and Katy Keene Part 2,” [W] Kevin Panetta & Mariko Tamaki, [A] Laura Braga. This issue has no real plot and is mostly an excuse to show off Laura Braga’s fashion designs for Katy and the other girls. Laura Braga does some excellent fashion art, but this issue’s lack of plot makes it somewhat tedious to read.

ATLANTIS ATTACKS #2 (Marvel, 2020) – “Tactics and Trust,” [W] Greg Pak, [A] Ario Anindito & Robert Gill. This series should have been called “Agents of Atlas: Atlantis Attacks”; if it had been called that, I’d have bought the first issue. And it is an Agents of Atlas comic in all but name. In this issue, the new and old Atlas squads team up against Namor. On Ario Anindito, see https://www.thejakartapost.com/life/2017/11/06/finding-indonesia-in-marvel-universe.html. He’s one of a number of Indonesians who have been working for the Big 2. Most of them have been under fans’ radar, with the unfortunate exception of Ardian Syaf.

GHOST-SPIDER #7 (Marvel, 2020) – “Into the Unknown,” [W] Seanan McGuire, [A] Ig Guara. We get some more information about the Earth-GS Sue and Johnny and their awful mother. Gwen has some low-key encounters with criminals. This series is very slow-paced and lighthearted, but that’s why I like it.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES #103 (IDW, 2020) – untitled, [W/A] Sophie Campbell. April and Donatello make their way inside the walled-off city, where some baby mutanimals are causing a lot of havoc. I don’t understand the plot of this comic, but Sophie Campbell arouses a genuine sense of emotion. When Donatello is sad, the reader feels sad too. And Campbell is a truly masterful artist. She’s as good at drawing animals as she is at drawing diverse human bodies.

VALKYRIE #8 (Marvel, 2020) – “At the End of All Things Part 1,” [W] Jason Aaron & Torunn Grønbekk, [A] Cafu. Jane and Thor fight an invasion of demons. This is a very formulaic and forgettable issue. It makes me wonder how much Jason Aaron is actually contributing to the series, and it makes me suspect that the things I liked about issues #1-#7 were mostly due to Al Ewing.

PLUNGE #1 (DC, 2020) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Stuart Immonen. A sunken ship called the Derleth floats back to the surface after an earthquake, and it’s full of some kind of monsters. This is an effective piece of Lovecraftian horror, and it demonstrates significant knowledge about marine biology and maritime professions. The fictional island where the ship sank is Sinnikik Ungayagagta. According to Google, that phrase is Aleut for “to disturb the mind.”

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES #32 (IDW, 2014) – “Northampton Part 4,” [W] Tom Waltz et al, [A] Sophie Campbell. This issue is a marked contrast to #103 because it has very little story or characterization. It’s mostly a fight between the Turtles and the mutant bird Koya, who also appears in #103. There’s also a subplot with April’s family, but their characterization is much shallower than in #103. Sophie Campbell’s art is good, but it’s overshadoowed by the poor writing. The comparison between #32 and #103 demonstrates that Sophie Campbell is a great writer as well as a great artist.

DAREDEVIL #39 (Marvel, 1968) – “The Exterminator and the Super-Powered Unholy Three,” [W] Stan Lee, [A] Gene Colan. Daredevil fights the Unholy Three (Ape-Man, Cat-Man and Bird-Man) and their boss the Organizer, who ‘s built a time travel device. Also, Matt and Foggy go on a double date with Karen and Debbie. This issue has a very effective plot, but only average writing.

THE OLD GUARD: FORCE MULTIPLIED #3 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Leandro Fernandez. The soldiers get in some more fights, and the authorities try to figure out what they’ve been up to. Two things remain true about this series. First, I can’t follow the plot. I can’t tell the characters’ personalities apart, and I can’t remember which name corresponds to which character. Second, Leandro Fernandez is a stunning artist who deserves an Eisner nomination.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #16 (Image, 2013) – “Schism,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Nick Pitarra. While the scientists are imprisoned, Oppenheimer tortures Leslie Groves. In a flashback, we see how Einstein and Feynman captured an alien creature, and then back in the present, the creature is freed from captivity. I bought this issue at Charlotte Mini-Con so that I could read #17 and #18, which I already had.

THE LOW, LOW WOODS #3 (DC, 2020) – “The Fruiting Body,” [W] Carmen Maria Machado, [A] Dani. Vee visits the local witch, then she makes out with her girlfriend, whose mother has a giant hole in her middle. This series has a very oppressive, disturbing mood, but its plot is meandering and not making much progress, though I think that’s also characteristic of Machado’s stories. One scene in this issue takes place in Hungry Daughters State Park, a reference to Machado’s story “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers.”

SERA AND THE ROYAL STARS #6 (Vault, 2020) – untitled, [W] Jon Tsuei, [A] Audrey Mok. Sera goes back to Parsa to rescue her family. The other gods visit the Pleiades, who are depicted as seven naked women with varying body types. The page that introduces the Pleiades is the high point of the issue. The best things about this series are Audrey Mok’s costume designs, and the complicated mythology that’s being built up around the stars.

100 BULLETS #16 (Vertigo, 2000) – “Hang Up on the Hang Low,” [W] Brian Azzarello, [A] Eduardo Risso. Like every Risso comic, this issue has excellent artwork, but its plot centers on some black criminals who are depicted in a rather stereotypical way. In my opinion, Brian Azzarello was never a very good writer. 100 Bullets was his biggest success by far,  and on that series he benefitted from collaborating with a world-class artist.

BROTHERS OF THE SPEAR #10 (Gold Key, 1975) – “The Raiders’ Roost,” [W] Gaylord Du Bois, [A] Dan Spiegle. I haven’t read a Dan Spiegle comic in a while, and it’s nice seeing his art again. This issue, Dan-el and Natongo have to rescue some women who were kidnapped by buffalo-riding raiders. This issue is competently written, but kind of boring.

TRANSHUMAN #3 (Image, 2008) – “Business is War,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] J.M. Ringuet. This early work of Hickman is one of his worst comics. It has too much text, and the text carries the entire story. The artwork is almost all just talking heads. The only exception is a page that shows a monkey raping a man. I’m not even sure what this series is about.

SANDMAN MIDNIGHT THEATRE #1 (Vertigo, 1995) – “Sandman Midnight Theatre,” [W] Neil Gaiman & Matt Wagner, [A] Teddy Kristiansen. This was perhaps my best find at Charlotte Mini-Con, although it took me a while to read it because it’s rather long. In this crossover between DC’s two Sandman titles, Dian Belmont has gone to London to get away from Wesley Dodds. But Wesley goes there too, not to follow her but to investigate his father’s friend’s suicide. Meanwhile, a super-thief called the Cannon is committing a spree of crimes. The Cannon is based on Leslie Charteris’s The Saint, and his name puns on his secret identity as a canon, i.e. a clergyman. Wesley, Dian and the Cannon are all invited to a party at Roderick Burgess’s mansion Fawney Rig, where Morpheus is being held captive, and they alll find themselves prowling around the mansion at night. The centerpiece of the story is the page where Wesley meets Morpheus for the first and only time. Wesley can’t help Morpheus escape and doesn’t understand who he is. But when the murderer escapes, Morpheus uses his limited powers to help Wesley out by giving the villain an incapacitating nightmare – or at least that’s my interpretation of the ending. Sandman Midnight Theatre is an excellent comic and an integral part of Sandman Mystery Theatre’s storyline. Sadly, it’s hard to find even in reprint form. (While looking for reprints of this issue, I learned that Neil wrote Swamp Thing Annual #5. I will have to look for that.)

EDGAR ALLAN POE’S SNIFTER OF TERROR SEASON TWO #5 (Ahoy, 2020) – “The Man That Was Used Up,” [W/A] Rick Geary, and “Berenice,” [W] Alisa Kwitney, [A] Mauricet. Rick Geary is a perfect artist for this series because his work blends horror and humor, and because of his expert knowledge of the 19th century. “The Man That Was Used Up” is a very clever story about (then-)modern technology and its disembodying effects, and its art is beautifully weird. “Berenice” is not nearly as impressive, but its conclusion involves the vagina dentata motif, which I don’t think was in the original story.

HEIST #4 (Vault, 2020) – untitled, [W] Paul Tobin, [A] Arjuna Susini. Glane Breld executes his plot to steal the deeds to the planet. I still think Arjuna Susini’s artwork is inappropriate for this type of story, but there are some striking images in this issue, like the giant bearded six-armed creature in a top hat. Also, one character tells another character a story about a house-sized cat.

WONDER TWINS #12 (DC, 2020) – “Astrisk*,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Stephen Byrne. The Wonder Twins win a final victory over Cell Phone Sylvia and some other villains, and the Justice League decides to create a new organization staffed by them and Filo and Polly Math. This is a surprisingly happy conclusion to a series that was rather depressing at times. Overall, Wonder Twins was excellent, though there are other Mark Russell comics that I liked better.

ADVENTURE FINDERS: THE EDGE OF EMPIRE #5 (Action Lab, 2020) – “The Bones of Argodor,” [W/A] Rod Espinosa. The main character falls into an underground tomb and fights a giant snake. But then the entire traveling party gets captured by some bandits. This is the last issue of the current volume. I like this series, but I don’t know if I like it eough to follow it in a format other than single issues.

THE HIDING PLACE (Fleming H. Revell, 1973) – “The Hiding Place,” [W/A] Al Hartley. This Spire Christian Comic is an adaptation of Corrie ten Boom’s narrative about hiding Jews during the Holocaust. As a comic it’s just average; the art is okay, but there’s too much text. However, this comic is rather offensive. Corrie ten Boom’s story uses the Holocaust as an excuse to preach the word of God. In her view, she survived because of divine favor, and if she hadn’t survived, she would have been better off in heaven. This view of the Holocaust trivializes the actual human suffering of its victims. Near the end of the story, we learn that ten Boom was released from a concentration camp due to a clerical error, and all the other women her age were killed. Are we supposed to think that God liked ten Boom better than all the women who died? Or that they’re better off dead because now they’re in heaven? Also, Ten Boom and Hartley show no interest in the central theological problem of the Holocaust: the question of why a loving God would have let it happen. She implies that her faith in God was never shaken at all by her suffering. It’s probably unfair to compare The Hiding Place to Maus, but even a comparison to the much older story “Master Race” reveals what an insubstantial work The Hiding Place is. A weird moment in this story is when the young Corrie asks her father what “sexsin” means, and her father refuses to answer. All the Google hits for “sexsin” are references to this scene. It appears to be a mistranslation from the Dutch.

DETECTIVE COMICS #698 (DC, 1996) – “The Tomb,” [W] Chuck Dixon, [A] Graham Nolan. Batman has to rescue some villains who are being held captive by Lock-Up. This is an okay comic, but both its creators are conservative Comicsgate supporters and are on my boycott list, or would be if I made one. Graham Nolan’s politics are a shame because he’s a talented artist. This comic includs a scene where Lock-Up attacks some black criminals. As I read this comic, I realized that black and Latinx people rarely appeared in ‘80s and ‘90s Batman comics except as criminals. When I was reading these comics as a kid, I’d been socialized to not notice this kind of subtle racism, but it would be obvious to a black or Latinx reader.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #17 (Image, 2014) – “What We Made,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Nick Pitarra. In a flashback, we see more of Einstein and Feynman’s encounter with the alien hunter. In the present, the alien rampages through the project and kills a bunch of people, two of whom are based on John Layman and Rob Guillory. (See https://www.instagram.com/p/B87zB9zBMmo/. The clue was the FDA badges.) Humorously, the alien talks like a hippie.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #18 (Image, 2014) – “Assassination,” as above. General Westmoreland kills the alien. The scientists escape their cell. Someone shoots Oppenheimer in the head. This was the last issue of the regular series that I bought, though I do still have a couple unread issues of the sequel miniseries, The Sun Beyond the Stars. Overall, I should have stopped collecting this series after I stopped reading it. It’s just not that great.

THE MAXX #5 (Image, 1993) – untitled, [W/A] Sam Kieth, [W] William Messner-Loebs. The Maxx has a dream in which he’s inside a children’s cartoon. This sequence is written entirely in Dr. Seuss-style verse, with correct meter, and it’s drawn in a style that’s very different from how Sam normally draws. This sequence is very impressive, and it demonstrates how much better Sam’s comics get when he works with a dialogue writer.

TRUE BELIEVERS: KIRBY 100TH – GROOT #1 (Marvel, 2017) – “I Challenged… Groot! The Monster from Planet X!” and “I Was a Slave of the Living Hulk!”, [W] Stan Lee & Larry Lieber, [A] Jack Kirby. This reprints the first appearances of Groot and Xemnu, from Tales to Astonish #13 and Journey into Mystery #62. These are both very typical pre-superhero Marvel stories. The original version of Groot has little in common with the character depicted in the Guardians of the Galaxy film. However, Al Ewing’s version of Xemnu is very consistent with the character’s original depiction. The first Xemnu story depicts his hypnosis powers, which are vitally important in the current Immortal Hulk storyline.

New comics received on February 26:

AMETHYST #1 (DC, 2020) – “Amethyst in Gemworld,” [W/A] Amy Reeder. I’m excited about this series because I love the original Amethyst, and I even have a forthcoming essay about it. Amy Reeder’s Amethyst suffers from some awkward dialogue, just like Moon Girl did. But her Amethyst feels like a realistic 16-year-old girl, and her plot is exciting. Amethyst returns to Gemworld for her sweet sixteen party, but she discovers that her realm is deserted, and no one remembers her except her flying horse. Unlike Christy Marx’s earlier revival – which was Amethyst in name only – Reeder’s series is a direct sequel to Mishkin and Cohn’s original. It picks up sometime after their run ended, ignoring the dreadful miniseries by Keith Giffen. However, this Gemworld is subtly different; for example, the people in the Turquoise realm all have four arms. Overall, this is a promising debut, and I hope it will bring DC some new, younger readers.

DIAL H FOR HERO #12 (DC, 2020) – “Dial F for Finale!”, [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Joe Quinones. Miguel and Summer save the day by dialing H for hope, and they live happily ever after. This issue includes a lot of different homages, including Krazy Kat, Popeye, Howard the Duck, and Elfquest. Overall, this was an incredible series. The homages were extremely clever, and they were perfectly integrated into the narrative. I’m sorry this is the last issue.

INVISIBLE KINGDOM #10 (Image, 2020) – “Edge of Everything Part Five,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Christian Ward. Vess and Grix kiss. The other Lux captain betrays Grix to the company, and things are looking grim, but at the last minute, a new group of Nones shows up and tells Grix that they want to start a revolution. The other captain’s betrayal is a really depressing moment; it seems for a moment that no one cares about the truth, and that Grix’s efforts are pointless. The ending feels like a bit of a deus ex machina, but I’m sure the other Nones have their own hidden agenda.

SEX CRIMINALS #27 (Image, 2020) – “Before It’s Too Late,” [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Chip Zdarsky. This issue is mostly plot, but somehow it makes a lot more sense than last issue did. The opening scene with Jon and Suzie in bed is beautiful. I still don’t know why Jon was in prison at the end of last issue. As with last issue, I was exhausted when I read this, and I couldn’t be bothered to read the entire letter column.

FINGER GUNS #1 (Vault, 2020) – untitled, [W] Justin Richards, [A] Val Halvorson. This new Vault series is about two teenagers, Wes and Sadie, who discover that they can make people angry by doing the finger-gun gesture at them. Wes’s parents are perpetually absent, and Sadie’s father is abusive. I really like this comic’s premise and characters, and Val Halvorson’s art is appealingly simple. This looks like yet another exciting Vault comic.

X-MEN #7 (Marvel, 2020) – “Lifedeath,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Leinil Francis Yu. It takes some nerve to reuse the title of a classic X-Men story, but the title makes sense in this context. This issue, Melody Guthrie participates in the first “Crucible.” This means that she fights Apocalypse, loses, and is killed, so she can be revived with her mutant powers restored – since she was one of the mutants who lost her powers during House of M. Throughout the issue, various characters grapple with the moral implications of killing and reviving mutants in this way. I like how every issue of this series has felt very different from the others.

BASKETFUL OF HEADS #5 (DC, 2020) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Leomacs. The villain in this issue, Hank, is the most insufferable, smug, overprivileged little bastard ever. I couldn’t wait for June to cut his head off, and I was very disappointed that he was still alive at the end of the issue. Also, this issue Hank explains the plot of the entire series, or at least the non-supernatural part of the plot. The McGuffins are a Senate seat and a bunch of drug money.

FAR SECTOR #4 (DC, 2020) – untitled, [W] N.K. Jemisin, [A] Jamal Campbell. Jo tries to resolve the riots, while the aliens plot against her. We also learn that she has super-limited powers and that her ring takes days to recharge. This is perhaps the best issue yet, and it feels very similar to Jemisin’s other work. I love the moment when she declares that firing on an unarmed crowd is “not peace.” It reminds me of the “no voting on who gets to be people” moment in The Obelisk Gate.

FOLKLORDS #4 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] Matt Smith. There are only a few issues left, since this series hasn’t been upgraded to an ongoing. So in this issue Ansel and the troll girl finally get to the library. There are some good moments in this issue, like the “Librarynth” and the librarians shouting “Sshh!”, but I still feel that this series hasn’t lived up to its potential.

HEATHEN #9 (Vault, 2020) – untitled, [W] Natasha Alterici, [A] Ashley Woods. I just this moment realized that Natasha Alterici didn’t draw this issue herself, though Ashley Woods’s style resembles hers. Maybe that’s why this was the least impressive issue yet. The protagonist is captured by two trolls, a father and son, but she convinces them to let her into Odin’s palace so she can free their wife and mother.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #87 (IDW, 2020) – untitled, [W] Ted Anderson, [A] Tony Fleecs. This series has been spinning its wheels lately, and I’m impatient for the start of the Season Ten stories. However, this issue is better than the last few. Big Mac and Applejack enter the “Draytona Breach” race, where Big Mac has to compete against his old rival Silver Streak. Meanwhile, a thief named Sacks Roamer is using the race as a cover to steal the Mangalese Drake. (The puns here are too obvious to explain.) This storyline will continue into next issue. A cute new idea this issue is that Spike is able to “interpret” for Big Mac by reading his facial expressions.

VAGRANT QUEEN: A PLANET CALLED DOOM #2 (Vault, 2020) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Jason Smith. Elida languishes in prison, while her deceitful old partner, whose name I forget, is also in dire straits. Not much happens this issue. Jason Smith’s art still isn’t great, but I noticed it less than usual.

ICE CREAM MAN #18 (Image, 2020) – “Watch as It All Recedes,” [W] W. Maxwell Prince, [A] Martín Morazzo. A dying old man steadily loses his memories, while his adult children struggle with his impending loss. The ice cream man is only mentioned once or twice. This issue was touching and sad, and very different in tone from the other two I’ve read. I need to look for some back issues of this series.

STAR #2 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Javier Pina & Filipe Andrade. Wanda and Star fight some alien creatures. There’s a subplot with some characters I don’t recognize, but at the end, we learn that they’re the Black Order in human form. This series is kind of boring so far, and I probably should have skipped it, but I might as well finish it now that I’ve started it.

MONSTRESS #26 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Marjorie Liu, [A] Sana Takeda. This series continues to be very hard to follow. I feel like only a very dedicated fan could understand the overall plot. But the central conflict is still that Maika has to control her compulsion to eat people. This issue takes place in the besieged city of Ravenna, where civic order has broken down, and there are hordes of refugees demanding entry. In a powerful scene, Maika is forced to kill a bunch of people in order to resolve the refugee crisis and restore morale. And as the reader, I feel like she did exactly the right thing.

DYING IS EASY #3 (IDW, 2020) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Martin Simmonds. This is Joe Hill’s worst series yet, and it’s a complete waste of Martin Simmonds’s talents. This issue begins with a car chase, even though Simmonds is not particularly good at drawing action scenes. What he is good at is static visual arrangements, like fashion designs or psychedelic dream visions, fashion design, bizarre page layouts, etc. But this series gives him no opportunity to do what he’s good at. The striking “Meet Your Match!” billboard in this issue is an example of what he can do, but this comic should have had much more of that kind of art.

JOHN CONSTANTINE, HELLBLAZER #4 (Image, 2020) – “Scrubbing Up, Part One,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Matías Bergara. This issue reunites Simon Spurrier with one of his best artistic collaborators. Bergara’s art looks scratchier and less slick in this issue than in Coda, but it’s still beautiful. The poop demon is a particular highlight. This issue, Constantine meets a new sidekick, Tommy, a New Age hipster with a man-bun who performs magic using puns. Together they investigate a mystery at the Tower of London. This storyline continues the series’ theme of the toxic influence of British nationalism. In a funny reference to From Hell, Tommy discovers a hidden network of magical sites all over London. Constantine guesses that they’re in the shape of a pentagram, but instead they’re arranged in a much more obscene shape.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: DAILY BUGLE #2 (Marvel, 2020) – “The Hanging Judge Part 2,” [W] Mat Johnson, [A] Mack Chater & Francesco Mobili. Peter Parker and Chloe Robertson investigate the mystery webbing. This issue is pretty good, but it feels more like a standard Spider-Man comic than like Incognegro. At one point in this issue, Ben Urich takes a taxi all over New York to investigate some addresses. I wonder if he could have just used Google Earth instead.

KILLADELPHIA #4 (Image, 2020) – “Sins of the Father Part IV,” [W] Rodney Barnes, [A] Jason Shawn Alexander. More of the same stuff as last issue. I’m leaning toward giving up on this series. The relationship between James Sangster Sr and Jr is fascinating, but the mąin plot about Vampire John Adams is stupid, and this series is concentrating more on the latter than the former.

TOMORROW #1 (Dark Horse, 2020) – “Going Viral,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Jesús Hervás. The world is struck by a pandemic that kills all adults but leaves children untouched, and that seems to be spread by communications media. There are several POV characters, but the most memorable one is Oscar, a young virtuoso cellist who seems to be autistic and psychologically dependent on his twin sister. There’s also a plot about a cyber security expert, who discovers the virus, and his two young children. This is a very exciting first issue, and it’s much more straightforward and less confusing than most Peter Milligan comics.

FLASH #123 (DC, 1961/2020) – “Flash of Two Worlds!”, [W] Gardner Fox, [A] Carmine Infantino. This is the most important issue of the 1959-1985 Flash series, and one of the most important of all DC comics. It introduces Earth-2, thus paving the way for the DC multiverse, and it reintroduces the Golden Age characters into the Silver Age DCU. The scene where Barry Allen first meets Jay Garrick is pretty epic. After that, though, the rest of the issue is a letdown. It’s just a lengthy battle of wits between the two Flashes and three Golden Age villains.

DETECTIVE COMICS #632 (DC, 1991) – “The Golem of Gotham Part Two,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Jim Aparo. Batman battles a golem created by an old rabbi who survived the Holocaust. Then Batman saves the rabbi from some white nationalist thugs, before coercing him into deactivating the golem. My review of issue 631 was rather lukewarm (https://ogresfeathers.wordpress.com/2017/06/08/reviews-for-may-and-early-june/#tec631), but in comparison with The Hiding Place, ‘Tec #632 looks much better. It shows understanding of how the Holocaust is a generational trauma that continues to terrorize its victims, even fifty years later. And it doesn’t just affect those who directly experienced it. When Batman bullies the rabbi into erasing the golem’s forehead, he reflects that he’s doing to him what the Nazis did.

PROTECTOR #2 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Simon Roy & Daniel Bensen, [A] Artyom Trakhanov. The protagonist, whose name I can’t remember, causes a lot of havoc with her new robot friend. She also tells a garbled version of the story of Jesus. The writing in this comic is kind of average, but I like the worldbuilding, and the artwork is often stunning.

KIDZ #2 (Ablaze, 2020) – untitled, [W] Aurelien Ducoudray, [A] Jocelyn Jordet. The kids explore some abandoned houses and have a pool party. This series is not particularly interesting or original, and I’m going to stop ordering it.

DARK HORSE PRESENTS #22 (Dark Horse, 1988) – “Goodwill Ambassador,” [W/A] Paul Chadwick, plus other stories. This issue begins with a very cute Concrete story. It’s told from the perspective of a little Tibetan or Nepali boy, Kirkyap, whose village is preparing for a visit by Concrete. Kirkyap is terrified at his first sight of Concrete, but changes his mind, and Concrete carries him to the next village. Paul Chadwick writes very effectively from the perspective of a child, and as usual, his art is fantastic. This issue also includes a one-pager by Rick Geary, as well as Trekker and Duckman stories, and an illustrated prose story about cloning.

HITMAN #19 (DC, 1997) – “Ace of Killers, Part Five,” [W] Garth Ennis, [A] John McCrea. I frankly hate this series, and I’m only reading this issue because I’ve owned it for years. Like every issue of Hitman, this issue is full of brutal violence and vulgar black humor.

DETECTIVE COMICS #865 (DC, 2010) – “Beneath the Mask Part Two: Face Off!”, [W] David Hine, [A] Jeremy Haun. This issue mostly focuses on two villains I’m not familiar with, Jeremiah Arkham (aka Black Mask II) and Alyce Sinner. It’s hard to understand out of contxt, and it doesn’t seem espceially interesting. At least this issue also has a Question/Huntress backup story written by Greg Rucka.

BATMAN #501 (DC, 1993) – “Code Name: Mekros,” [W] Doug Moench, [A] Mike Manley. This issue includes a scene where some mobsters are eating in an Italian restaurant, with red-and-white checkered tablecloths. Not surprisingly, some other mobsters barge into the restaurant and assassinate them. This issue also contains some scenes where Jean-Paul Valley acts like a complete jerk. I read once that the Batman writers intentionally made Azrael unlikable, but that they made him even more unlikable than they had meant to.

MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #17 (Marvel, 1976) – “This City – Afire!”, [W] Bill Mantlo, [A] Sal Buscema. Spidey and the Thing team up to fight the Basilisk. This story was part of a crossover that continued into Marvel Team-Up. This issue is very boring and formulaic, and offers the reader little motivation to read the second half of the crossover.

DAREDEVIL #199 (Marvel, 1983) – “Daughter of a Dark Wind,” [W] Denny O’Neil, [A] William Johnson. This storyline is most notable for introducing Yuriko Oyama, the future Lady Deathstrike. This issue is set in Japan, and was probably an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Frank Miller’s Japanese-themed stories. However, O’Neil and Johnson are no substitute for Miller. Daredevil was William Johnson’s highest-profile assignment by far, and he seems to have vanished from the industry after about 1988. I can’t find any biographical information about him.

NEW GODS #11 (DC, 1972) – “Darkseid and Sons!”, [W/A] Jack Kirby. The last issue of New Gods is a bit of an anticlimax. I get the sense that Kirby was required to wrap up his storyline  very quickly. Still, this issue include some epic fight scenes between Orion and Kalibak. There’s no explicit acknowledgement in the issue that the series was cancelled, thuogh there are references to Kirby’s upcoming series Kamandi and The Demon.

WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES #142 (Dell, 1952) – untitled, [W/A] Carl Barks, plus other stories. In this issue’s new Barks ten-pager, Donald makes the nephews spend their summer vacation with him on a houseboat, so that they won’t be able to get in any trouble. Of course, the nephews find every possible way to cause havoc and mayhem, and the story ends with Donald going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. This story is hilarious and its plot is perfectly crafted. Nearly every element that Barks introducse into the story (e.g. the fish, the water barrel and the gasoline) ultimately plays a pivotal role in the plot. This issue also includes a Li’l Bad Wolf story that guest-stars Goofy, as well as a Mickey Mouse adventure story. The latter story provides an example of the old stereotype that all cops were Irish. https://www.instagram.com/p/B9M3G3FBBfA/

SUPERBOY #132 (DC, 1966) – “Krypto’s Cat Crook Caper!”, [W] Otto Binder, [A] George Papp. In this issue’s lead story, Krypto and the Space Canine Patrol Agency battle some criminal cats. The SCPA is an awesome example of Silver Age weirdness, but this story tries too hard to be funny. The backup story is “The Youth Who Was Braver Than Superboy!” by Dorfman and Swan. Here, Superboy meets a new, even more powerful super-teen named Supremo. In an unexpectedly poignant ending, Supremo dies of a terminal illness, and we learn that his scientist uncle faked his superpowers so he could die a hero. This ending reminds me of the classic “Be Wonder Woman… and Die!” from Wonder Woman #286.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #119 (Marvel, 1969) – “Now Falls the Skull!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Gene Colan. Captain America and the Falcon battle the Red Skull, who has acquired a Cosmic Cube for the second time. They defeat the Skull thanks to some unintentional help from Modok. I already have this issue, but my existing copy is coverless. Gene Colan’s artwork here is really good.

BATMAN #219 (DC, 1970) – “Death Casts the Deciding Vote!”, [W] Frank Robbins, [A] Irv Novick. In this issue’s main story, Batman accompanies an elderly senator on a plane trip to Washington, but the plane is hijacked by crooks. This story is well-crafted but unspectacular. However, the backup story, Mike Friedrich and Neal Adams’s “The Silent Night of the Batman,” is a minor classic. On Christmas, Batman decides to sing Christmas carols instead of fighting crime. Somehow, this causes the spirit of Christmas to spread over Gotham. In a silent sequence, we watch as some young thieves return their stolen goods, a would-be murderer throws away his gun, and a young army widow is saved from suicide when her husband turns up alive. In each case, an image or representation of Batman is somehow responsible for stopping the tragedy (for instance, the thieves return a stolen Christmas present when they see that it’s a Batman toy). This story is rather syrupy, but it demonstrates Neal’s mastery of visual storytelling.

TOR #6 (DC,1976) – various stories, [W/A] Joe Kubert. The stories in this issue are all reprints from the ‘50s. Compared to Kubert’s later work, they have more detailed linework, but less dynamic visual storytelling. Also, Tor is a rather boring character because of his lack of a supporting cast, other than his pet monkey.

HELLBLAZER #39 (DC, 1990) – “The Hanged Man,” [W] Jamie Delano, [A] Steve Pugh. Constantine spends the first half of this issue whining about nothing much. In the second half, he has a mystical vision and discovers that he has an unborn twin brother, the Golden Boy, who he strangled in the womb. This sequence includes some striking artwork. During the vision, Constantine dreams that he’s entering a cave through a narrow entrance. This is an obvious piece of vaginal symbolism, and it reminds me of a similar scene in Robertson Davies’s The Manticore.

BATMAN #414 (DC, 1987) – “Victims!”, [W] Jim Starlin, [A] Jim Aparo. While investigating a series of murders of young women, Batman meets a feisty young social worker named Kate Babcock. Kate is a compelling character, but annoyingly, she only survives for a few pages before she becomes the serial killer’s next victim. Batman tracks down a man he believes to be the killer, but while he’s doing that, another woman is killed. This issue is actually not too bad. I thought it was going to be very straightforward and formulaic, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Batman guessed wrong as to who the killer was. However, Kate’s fridging is very frustrating.

ACTION COMICS #527 (DC, 1982) – “Sorcery Over Stonehenge,” [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Curt Swan. This issue introduces two new magical-themed villains, Lord Satanis and his wife Syrene. I’m guessing Marv created these characters in order to give Superman some enemies who could exploit his vulnerability to magic. Lord Satanis is more or less the same character as the post-Crisis Lord Satanus, but the two versions of the character have little in common besides being magical. Syrene’s post-Crisis counterpart is Satanus’s sister Blaze. “Sorcery Over Stonehenge” is an average story, but it suffers from Satanis’s poorly defined powers; he can basically do anything he wants. There’s also a backup story by Rozakis and Saviuk in which Air-Wave teams up with Aquaman. Air-Wave was a boring character, and I think Bob Rozakis was the only writer who used him.

DARK HORSE PRESENTS #16 (Dark Horse, 1988) – “A Sky of Heads: With a Whimper,” [W/A] Paul Chadwick, plus other stories. This issue’s Chadwick story has a double framing sequence: Concrete and Larry watch a TV show, and in the show, a disembodied head tells some other heads a story. The story is about an Olympic runner who whimpers a lot. This is not one of Chadwick’s better stories, and the framing sequences are a waste of space. There were two other “Sky of Heads” stories, in DHP #18 and Concrete: Strange Armor #6. The second story in this issue is the third installment of Gary Martin’s superhero parody Captain Crusader. It’s also the last installment, as the inept protagonist is shot dead at the end. Last, there’s a story by Gary Davis about Native Americans hunting buffalo. This story has some very attractive Moebius-inspired art. Davis was a regular contributor to DHP, and he published one solo comic, Warworld. I should look for more of his work.

DETECTIVE COMICS #637 (DC, 1991) – “Control Freak,” [W] Louise Simonson, [A] Jim Fern. Batman battles a mind-controlled kid who’s able to bring video game characters and objects to life. This issue is really dumb. It’s based on conventional stereotypes about video games, rather than actual knowledge. And the story is wildy inconsistent as to how real the video game entities are, or what they can and can’t do. I like Weezie’s writing, but this story makes her weaknesses evident.

ANIMAL MAN #24 (DC, 2013) – “Hollywood Babylon Part 1 of 2,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Rafael Albuquerque. Brother Blood becomes the new avatar of the Red and holds the Academy Awards hostage. This series never recovred from the loss of Travel Foreman, and this issue is well-written and well-drawn, but not particularly memorable.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #15 (Marvel, 1969) – “That Zo Might Live… A Galaxy Must Die!”, [W] Gary Friedrich, [A] Tom Sutton. The first half of this issue is a psychedelic, Steranko-esque dream sequence in which Mar-Vell is shown a series of visions by a god named Zo. (I was going to say Starlinesque, but this was before Starlin’s career began.) Tom Sutton was pretty good at this kind of art, and this sequence is rather striking. The second half of the issue, in which Zo sends Mar-Vell on a mission to Hala, is more conventional. As Brian Cronin explains, the character of Zo was created by Arnold Drake and then fleshed out by Friedrich, but the next writer, Archie Goodwin, retconned him into nonexistence. https://www.cbr.com/captain-mar-vell-god-zo/

FANTASTIC FOUR #128 (Marvel, 1972) – “Death in a Dark and Lonely Place!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] John Buscema. The Thing goes to Subterranea to find a cure for Alicia’s blindness, but he gets involved in a three-way power struggle between the Mole Man, Kala and Tyrannus. Roy’s FF suffers from being a follow-up to the best run of superhero comics ever, but it’s still pretty good in its own right. I especially like the poignant conclusion, where Ben realizes that he’s better off than the Mole Man because he’s not alone.

Last comic in the stack:

SHOWCASE #85 (DC, 1969) – “I Don’t Belong Here… I Don’t Belong There!”, [W/A] Joe Kubert. This issue introduces Firehair, a young white man raised by Blackfoot Indians, who is tormented by being too white for the Indians and too Indian for the whites. Kubert’s artwork here is much more accomplished and exciting than in Tor #6. The issue is full of thrilling action scenes and dynamic page compositions. At times this story shows a tendency to conflate different Native American nations: the Blackfoot are wrongly depicted with a totem pole, and one page has border designs based on Navajo art. However, the Blackfoot are consistently shown as far more honorable and courageous, while the white people in the story are all murderous brutes. As a result the reader sympathizes with the Indians. Firehair appeared twice more in Showcase and then starred in a backup feature in Hawk, Son of Tomahawk.

First review mega-post of 2020

REVIEWS OF EVERY COMIC I READ IN 2020

This project is now in its eighth year (2013-2020).

WHITEOUT #2 (Oni, 1998) – untitled, [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Steve Lieber. This is Rucka’s first work and Lieber’s first work other than Hawkman, but it’s already very accomplished and original. It’s an exciting murder mystery which makes convincing use of its Antarctic setting. However, it is difficult to remember who the characters are, since I read issue 1 a while ago. Notable moments include the description of how cold Antarctica really is, and the scene where a character has two fingers amputated due to frostbite.

THOR #296 (Marvel, 1980) – “From Valhalla – a Valkyrie!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Keith Pollard. This issue adapts Wagner’s Die Walküre, with Thor starring as Siegmund. Roy Thomas’s adaptation of Wagner’s Ring was not particularly successful; it was unexciting and overly literal. It also killed the momentum of his ongoing Celestials story. Also, in this issue Thor (or someone identical to him) commits incest off-panel. Roy was required to include Siegmund and Sieglinde’s incestuous releationship, because it’s in Wagner’s Ring, but he could have done a better job of selling it to the reader. https://www.instagram.com/p/B6xC1X8BRN2/

BLACK PANTHER #13 (Marvel, 1999) – “The End Part 1,” [W] Christopher Priest, [A] Sal Velluto. Lots of different things happen in this issue, but it’s difficult to see how they all relate to each other. Overly complicated plotting is sort of Priest’s trademark. A significant moment in this issue is when Queen Divine Justice is invited to join the Dora Milajé. It’s hard to tell whether this character is intended as a serious depiction of a young “woke” black woman, or as a parody.

ACTION COMICS #390 (DC, 1970) – “The Self-Destruct Superman,” [W] Cary Bates, [A] Curt Swan. In this issue’s Superman story, Superman is pursued by a machine called the SEM, which he designed as a means of killing himself if he ever went rogue. But he can’t remember how to turn the SEM off. This story is not awful, but it’s formulaic and boring. The real attraction of this issue is a Legion backup story by E. Nelson Bridwell and Win Mortimer, in which the Legion Espionage Squad tries to overthrow a dictatorial government. However, this story too is rather forgettable.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #73 (Marvel, 1981) – “Wraith, Color or Creed,” [W] Mary Jo Duffy, [A] Greg La Rocque. A silver-armored robot is running around New York murdering people for no apparent reason. The twist is that the robot is Rom the Spaceknight, and the “people” he’s “murdering” are Dire Wraiths, but Luke and Danny don’t know that. There’s also some other fun stuff in this issue. For example, Colleen Wing starts a relationship with Bob Diamond, since her last boyfriend, Scott Summers, broke up with her as soon as “his old girlfriend crooked her little finger.” As Brian Cronin explains (https://www.cbr.com/x-men-cyclops-jean-grey-colleen-wing-love-triangle/), the behind-the-scenes explanation for this is that Chris Claremont was going to use Colleen as a supporting character in X-Men, but when Jo Duffy took over Power Man & Iron Fist, she asked for Colleen back.

THE LEGION #1 (DC, 2001) – “No Place Like Home,” [W] Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, [A] Olivier Coipel. The lost Legionnaires return from exile to find Earth very different than when they left it. DnA’s Legion always rubbed me the wrong way because it was so tonally different from other Legion comics, and it sometimes didn’t feel like the Legion at all. However, it was far better than no Legion at all, or the poor excuse for the Legion that we have now, and this first issue is a very exciting start to the series. I especially like the last scene, where Saturn Girl wakes up from a trance to shout a warning, and then the Legionnaires’ vehicle explodes.

HELLBLAZER #6 (DC, 1988) – “Extreme Prejudice,” [W] Jamie Delano, [A] John Ridgway. Constantine sleeps with Zed for the first time. Meanwhile, the demon Nergal creates a racist murdering monster by combining the bodies of four young Nazi skinheads. Hilariously, Constantine defeats the monster by observing that the monster has one arm with a Chelsea tattoo, and another arm with an Arsenal tattoo. ”What do you do on Saturdays, lads?” (It was earlier mentioned that the skinheads hate each other on Saturdays, because two of them support Chelsea and the other two support Arsenal; the rest of the week, they’re united by their mutual hate of people of color. Oh, also this issue reveals that Ray Monde has HIV. I wonder if he was DC’s first HIV-positive character. Overall, this is one of Jamie Delano’s better issues of Hellblazer, and I’m enjoying his work more than I used to.

SUPERMAN #247 (DC, 1972) – “Must There Be a Superman?”, [W] Elliot S! Maggin, [A] Curt Swan. This is the first Superman story by Elliot S! Maggin, my favorite Superman writer. It was also one of only two ‘70s stories included in the 1972 edition of The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told (the other was Forever People #1). According to Wikipedia, its plot was suggested by a very young Jeph Loeb. The main theme of this story is that Superman’s paternalistic actions are interfering with human development. In 2020, this story’s politics seem somewhat conservative and Reagan-esque. It also includes an uncomfortable scene where some exploited Mexican laborers demand that Superman help them against a corrupt boss, and he refuses. Still, this is a very important story; it was one of the first Superman comics since the ‘30s that considered Superman’s political implications. This issue also includes the first Private Life of Clark Kent backup story, as well as a reprint from 1966.

LEGION WORLDS #3 (DC, 2001) – “You Are Here: Braal,” [W] Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, [A] Paul Rivoche. This issue’s main story stars Dyrk Magz, aka Magno, the most redundant Legionnaire ever. He was inducted into the Legion when Cosmic Boy was stuck in the 20th century, and when Cos got back, he lost his powers and left the team. This story depicts Drykk’s time in the Science Police, and it has a rather nostalgic tone. It also introduces the Bouncing Boy spaceship, and there are cameo appearances by Cos and several other Legionnaires. There’s also a backup story starring Winema Wazzo.

GHOSTS #18 (DC, 1973) – “Graveyard of Vengeance,” [W] unknown, [A] Alfredo Alcala, plus other stories. This issue starts with a spectacular page by Alcala, depicting a sailboat in a storm. The rest of this story’s pages are almost as beautiful. However, this story is not well-written, and it includes some questionable depictions of Lenape Indians. Next comes a formulaic haunted house story drawn by Abe Ocampo. The third story is drawn by Frank Redondo and stars an Austrian man named Alois who is terrified of his son, an aspiring artist. The twist ending – that the son is Adolf Hitler – is blatantly obvious from the first panel. The issue ends with a three-pager, drawn by Gerry Talaoc, which is only interesting because there’s a cat in it.

JOHN CARTER, WARLORD OF MARS #11 (Marvel, 1978) – “The Story of… Dejah Thoris,” [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Dave Cockrum. This issue has a beautiful splash page (reproduced at https://www.cbr.com/mystique-accidental-creation-dave-cockrum-chris-claremont/), but other than that, it’s a good example of how not to adapt prose fiction into comics. The entire issue is a flashback that summarizes the events of A Princess of Mars. Wolfman and Cockrum’s adaptation includes way too much text and adds little or nothing to the original novel. For a reader who has read the novel, as I have, finishing this issue is a boring chore.

GIRLS’ LOVE STORIES #153 (DC, 1970) – “For Love or Money,” [W] Jack Oleck, [A] Ric Estrada, plus other stories. Perhaps the best thing about this issue is the Dick Giordano cover. In this issue’s main story, a woman has to decide between two boyfriends. When she suffers severe facial injuries in a car accident, she tests her boyfriends by asking which of them will still love her even if her plastic surgery is unsuccessful. I like the art in this story, but the plot is problematic. The next story is even worse. Let me quote my Facebook post about it:

“A girl wants an engagement ring that costs $200 (in 1970). Her boyfriend can’t afford it, but she keeps nagging him about it. He skips meals to afford the ring, but when he does give her the ring, it’s not the one she asked for. She gets mad at him for buying a cheap substitute dumps him, and returns the ring for a refund. But when she gets the refund, she tearfully begs him to take her back, and he does… because it turns out that the ring he bought cost $400. Lessons from this story: 1) It’s okay for a woman to demand more from a man than he can afford, because girls like pretty things (that’s a quotation). 2) It’s okay to buy an engagement ring that’s not the one that was agreed upon. 3) Love can be measured in money.”

The next story is about a girl who gets karmically punished for cheating. The last story is an interesting narrative experiment because it depicts a love triangle twice, from the perspectives of both the girls involved.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #14 (Image, 2014) – “Upward Bound,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Nick Pitarra. On President Kennedy’s orders, General Westmoreland stages a hostile takeover of the Manhattan Project. As a result, Laika is stranded in space. This issue is not bad but not great either.

The first new shipment of the year, received on January 3, was rather unimpressive:

MILES MORALES: SPIDER-MAN #14 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Ray-Anthony Height, Zé Carlos & Belén Ortega. Miles learns to change diapers, fights some villains, and then discovers that his racist asshole of a principal has found a notebook that reveals his secret identity. I can’t wait to see how this cliffhanger is resolved.

SPIDER-MAN & VENOM: DOUBLE TROUBLE #3 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Mariko Tamaki, [A] GuriHiru. Instead of returning to their own bodies, Spidey and Venom are transformed into a cat and a squirrel. This issue, like the last two, is a very quick read, but it’s extremely fun. If I was turned into a cat or a squirrel, I wouldn’t mind at all, as long as I had a normal human lifespan and could still read and write.

X-MEN #4 (Marvel, 2020) – “Global Economics,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Leinil Francis Yu. This comic was inked by Gerry Alanguilan, who unfortunately just died. This issue, Professor X, Magneto and Apocalypse go to the World Economic Forum for a negotiation with various ambassadors, while behind the scenes, the younger X-Men defeat a bunch of mercenaries who the ambassadors have brought as an insurance policy. There are some great action scenes in this issue, and Hickman also does a great job of writing very strange characters like Gorgon and Apocalypse. Their strangeness and brutality contrasts humorously with the very civilized, formal tone of the diplomatic meeting.

THE DREAMING #17 (DC, 2020) – “The Crown, Part Three,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Bilquis Evely. Abel tries to kill Wan and fails, while Lucien tries to kill himself and succeeds. Death makes a brief cameo appearance on the last page. This is a good issue, though not as spectacular as #16.

COPRA #4 (Image, 2020) – “Explain the Explain,” [W/A] Michel Fiffe. Amanda Waller* talks Deadshot* out of killing her, and then the Suicide Squad* gets together for a debriefing. The last page depicts a character who looks a lot like Orion. The artwork in this issue is amazing, but I have consistent difficulty following this series’ plot. I want to go back and reread the first two collections, and then read the next two.

* = Not their actual names of course

ARCHIE: THE MARRIED LIFE – 10TH ANNIVERSARY #5 (Archie, 2020) – “Election Night-Mare!” and “A Friend in Need!”, [W] Michael Uslan, [A] Dan Parent. In the first universe, Archie is appointed to Lodge’s board of directors. In the other universe, which is more interesting, Archie makes the right decision and refuses to sign the recording contract. I’m going to finish reading the series, but I’m not loving it. As I’ve complained before, its serious storylines are not compatible with Dan Parent’s art style.

THE TERRIFICS #23 (DC, 2020) – “The One Where Bizarro Screws Up Time Part One,” [W] Gene Luen Yang, [A] Sergio Davila. The Terrifics get turned into children and imprisoned in a time loop, but Mr. Terrific figures out how to break it by using the power of love. This issue is not bad, but this Terribles storyline has gone on too long, and I’m sick of reading Bizarro dialogue.

EVERYTHING #5 (Dark Horse, 2020) – “C’mon, Get Happy,” [W] Christopher Cantwell, [A] I.N.J. Culbard. The CEO of the Everything corporation comes to town, and one of the main characters is shot. I guess this comic is finally starting to develop a coherent plot, but it took a while, and I still can’t remember any of the main characters’ names. I still might read the second volume.

KILLADELPHIA #2 (Image, 2020) – “Sins of the Father Part II: Death, My Sweet Savior,” [W] Rodney Barnes, [A] Jason Shawn Alexander. A major letdown after an impressive first issue. Now that the main character’s father is alive again, the series turns into a conventional, cliched vampire story. And for some reason the leader of the vampires is John Adams, a decision that makes no sense because Adams was associated with Boston and not Philadelphia. This issue does include some discussion of racial issues, but it’s not well integrated into the story. If this series continues to resemble this issue, its potential will be wasted.

LOIS LANE #7 (DC, 2020) – “Enemy of the People, Part Seven,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Mike Perkins. This issue we get back to the main story after last issue’s pointless interruption. Although Lois Lane #7 does begin with a scene that references Leviathan. I don’t know who or what that is, and I don’t care. The main plot this issue is that Superman saves Lois from being assassinated, and then Renee gets mad at Lois for not being transparent about her and Superman’s relationship. Also, Mr. Bones shows up, I think.

HARLEY QUINN #69 (DC, 2020) – “The Fast and the Foodious,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Sami Basri. Another hilarious done-in-one story by Russell, in the same vein as his breakfast-cereal story from Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Terror. The Hambezzler (i.e. the Hamburglar) is released from prison and moves in with Harley. But his old pals (Ronald McDonald, Grimace, etc.) want revenge on him for embezzling from their company and getting them fired. So Harley has to figure out who really embezzled the money. As usual with Russell, this story is extremely funny and is also a sensitive critique of capitalism. The real culprits in this story ar named Mitch and Murray, a reference to Glengarry Glen Ross – another text that makes fun of runaway capitalism.

TRUE BELIEVERS: THE CRIMINALLY INSANE – BULLSEYE #1 (Marvel, 2020) – “Watch Out for Bullseye He Never Misses!”, [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Bob Brown. Wolfman and Brown were a lousy creative team, and this issue is interesting purely for historical reasons. Though it is kind of cool how Bullseye kills people by throwing paper airplanes at them. In a subplot, Matt and Foggy agree to represent some slum-dwellers against their predatory owners, Glenn Industries. Matt and Foggy fail to make the obvious deduction that Glenn Industries is owned by Heather Glenn’s dad, until Heather says so. Bullseye’s original origin involved Vietnam; I wonder if this was retconned later.

HAUNT OF FEAR #13 (Russ Cochran, 1952/1995) – various stories, [E] Al Feldstein. “For the Love of Death!” stars Morton Macawber, whose only joy in life is attending funerals. He decides to attend his “own” funeral by stealing the corpse and hiding in the coffin. Unfortunately, it turns out the corpse was scheduled to be cremated immediately after the service. Graham Ingels’s ability to draw ghoulish, gruesome faces was rarely used to better effect than in this story. Johnny Craig’s “Fed Up!” is another intentionally gross story. A circus performer marries her manager, but he bankrupts her with his compulsive overeating, so she tricks him into killing himself by swallowing a sword. Jack Kamen’s “Minor Error” is about some kids who think their mean old neighbor is a vampire, but after they kill him, they realize the real vampire is his little son. The twist ending of this story was pretty obvious. Jack Davis’s “Wolf Bait!” is an adaptation of an old story about wolves pursuing a bridal party. I assume that either “Wolf Bait!” was inspired by the similar story in Cather’s My Ántonia, or they both came from a common source. The twist in “Wolf Bait!” is that the reader isn’t told which member of the party gets thrown to the wolves, but is instead asked to make their own choice as to who was sacrificed.

DARKLON THE MYSTIC #1 (Pacific, 1983) – “Darklon the Mystic!”, [W/A] Jim Starlin. This one-shot is a compilation of a series of stories Starlin published in Eerie. These stories were not meant to be seen in color, and Pacific’s recoloring job is rather poor. However, Darklon is still kind of fascinating. The main character is a space warrior whose main enemy is his father, so this story, like The Death of Captain Marvel, was a way for Starlin to work out his complex felings about his father. It also includes some impressive art and character designs (despite the bad recoloring) and a complex narrative structure. It’s one of Starlin’s best works other than his original Warlock saga, and someone should reprint it in the original black and white.

THE RING OF THE NIBELUNGS VOL. 4 #1 (Dark Horse, 2001) – “The Rope of Fate,” [W/A] P. Craig Russell. As one would expect, PCR’s adaptation of Wagner’s Ring is head and shoulders above that of Roy Thomas and Keith Pollard. Craig Russell retells Wagner’s story in a clear and accessible way while also capturing the passion behind it. The highlight of this issue is the opening scene with the Norns winding the thread of fate. As backup material, this issue includes a three-page PCR story from 1984, done in colored pencil,. I don’t know if this story was ever published anywhere else.

CURSE WORDS #9 (Image, 2017) – “Explosiontown Part Four,” [W] Charles Soule, [A] Ryan Browne. Ruby Stitch starts learning English. Back in the Hole World, Botchko and Violet agree that Violet will forfeit their upcoming match to decide Wizord’s next opponent, but Violet reneges on the deal and kills Botchko. I still haven’t gotten to issue 10.

WONDER WOMAN #317 (DC, 1984) – “Amazons!”, [W] Dan Mishkin, [A] Don Heck. Dan Mishkin’s experience writing Wonder Woman was what qualified him to write Amethyst. However, while this issue isn’t bad, it’s lacking in excitement or originality. This issue’s Huntress backup, by Joey Cavalieri, is terrible, especially by comparison to Paul Levitz’s version of this character.

SHADE THE CHANGING MAN #4 (DC, 1978) – “To Rescue My Destroyer,” [W/A] Steve Ditko, [W] Michael Fleisher. This issue has a very complicated plot and some mind-expanding artwork. Michael Fleisher is a better dialogue writer than Ditko himself, and he helps to smooth out the rough edges of Ditko’s art. The comic that’s closest to my personal conception of “Ditko-esque-ness” is Charlton Action Featuring Static, but Shade is a close second. To me, Ditko’s work is defined by a constant sense of manic energy, and you certainly get that in Ditko’s Shade.

STUMPTOWN #4 (Oni, 2010) – untitled, [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Matthew Southworth. This issue’s story has much higher stakes than a typical Stumptown story; it ends with Dex almost getting murdered. Most of the later Stumptown stories are quieter and more personal, and maybe at this point Rucka hadn’t clearly defined the mood of the series. This issue is still enjoyable though.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #256 (Marvel, 1984) – “Introducing… Puma!”, [W] Tom DeFalco, [A] Ron Frenz. This is part of the alien costume saga, which is DeFalco’s only real claim to fame as a Spider-Man writer. Like his Thor and Fantastic Four, DeFalco’s Spider-Man is a good imitation of Stan Lee’s version of the character, but it lacks anything truly new and creative. Also, the new villain in this issue, the Puma, is a Native American stereotype.

LEGIONNAIRES #80 (DC, 2000) – “Legion of the Damned, Part Four: Damned for All Eternity!”, [W] Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, [A] Olivier Coipel. Most of this issue is a fight between the Legion and the Blight. This issue ends happily, but I already know that this happy ending is deceptive, because Legion Lost is coming next. As I hinted at in my review of The Legion #1, DnA and Coipel’s Legion had a very dark tone, and it often felt more like a conventional superhero comic than a Legion comic.

INHUMANS #6 (Marvel, 1976) – “A King of Ruins (The Long Silence After a Loud Scream),” [W] Doug Moench, [A] Gil Kane. I bought this mistakenly thinking it was by George Pérez, though Gil Kane is a good substitute. However, throughout this issue, Moench ruins Kane’s dynamic and effective storytelling with his compulsive overwriting. Also, this issue is yet another battle between the Inhumans and Maximus’s minions, and it must have felt trite even when it came out.

FRANKENSTEIN #12 (Marvel, 1974) – “A Cold and Lasting Tomb!”, [W] Doug Moench, [A] Val Mayerik. Moench’s writing isn’t nearly as excessive here as in Inhumans #6. Frankenstein was among Marvel’s less successful ‘70s horror titles, but this issue isn’t bad. There’s a funny moment at the end where a college professor is lecturing on the impossibility of human brain transplants, and Frankenstein’s monster walks by outside.

SILVER AGE: GREEN LANTERN #1 (DC, 2000) – “Alone… Against Injustice!”, [W] Kurt Busiek, [A] Brent Anderson. This obscure fifth-week crossover issue is actually quite good. Kurt and Brent perfectly imitate the narrative style and visual appearance of an old Justice League comic, including the lettering and the half-page ads. This issue is part of some dumb crossover, but Kurt avoids confusing the reader too much.

TOMB OF DRACULA #7 (Marvel, 1973) – “Night of the Death Stalkers!”, [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Gene Colan. This is the first issue written by Wolfman, and thus it represents the debut of Marvel’s greatest creative team of the ‘70s. It’s also the first appearance of Quincy and Edith Harker. Besides the beautiful splash page with Dracula gazing at London in the snow, the most memorable scene in this issue is the ending, where the vampire hunters are menaced by a bunch of creepy mind-controlled children.

On the second weekend of January, I went to Seattle for the MLA convention. One of the highlights of MLA was the social event I helped to organize at the Fantagraphics store. While there, I bought a bunch of comics, including:

TANTALIZING STORIES #2 (Tundra, 1993) – multiple stories, [W/A] Jim Woodring and Mark Martin. This issue begins with a new Frank story in which Frank acquires Pupshaw (or Pushpaw, not sure which is which) as a pet. Then Pupshaw (?) eats Manhog when he tries to rob Frank. There’s also a Chip and Monk story by Woodring, and a color Frank strip on the back cover. The rest of the issue is a Walt Kelly-esque Christmas story by Martin. It doesn’t hold a candle to the Woodring material in the issue, but at least it’s interesting.

STRANGEHAVEN #13 (Abiogenesis, 2001) – “An Open Mind,” [W/A] Gary Spencer Millidge. The stakes in the plot get higher, as a woman named Beverly apparently commits suicide, and her husband Peter is executed by the KKK-esque Knights of the Golden Light. Strangehaven is a tough comic to find, but it’s fascinating, and I hope I can track down the 15 or so issues I’m missing.

New comics arrived on Wednesday, January 15:

DIAL H FOR HERO #10 (DC, 2020) – “Miguel and Summer Travel the Multiverse,” [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Joe Quinones. This issue starts with an homage to Little Nemo. Later in the issue there’s an Al Jaffee-esque fold-in page, and the issue ends with an homage to Reign of the Supermen. The main plot is that Miguel and Summer encounter a bunch of heroes who are mashups of multiple different DC characters, so it’s like the Amalgam comics but with only one universe involved. Joe Quinones deserves an Eisner nomination for his virtuosic artwork on this series.

THE MAGNIFICENT MS. MARVEL #11 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Minkyu Jung. By far the high point of this issue is the scene where Kamala shapeshifts her face because she’s lost her mask. Otherwise, Kamala spends most of the issue trying to save Mr. Hyde from her own evil costume, even though she has far more important things to do, and Hyde doesn’t deserve to be saved. This issue wasn’t really necessary; it barely advances the plot at all. The whole issue feels like an unnecessary delay before we reach the end of the storyline.

GIDEON FALLS #20 (Image, 2020) – “The Pentoculus Part 4 of 5: Drink the Dark Water,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Andrea Sorrentino. Father Fred and Angela are pursued by a giant cockroach, then they reach the Village at the Center where they meet an older version of Angela. Danny and his allies prepare to confront the Black Barn. This is a good issue, but it offers nothing especially surprising.

THE DOLLHOUSE FAMILY #3 (DC, 2020) – “Be Weightless,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter Gross. As a result of a one-night stand, Alice becomes a single mother to a little girl. The dollhouse starts pursuing Alice’s daughter. When that doesn’t work, it convinces a madman to target Alice in a suicide bombing. Alice has already gone through an unimaginable amount of trauma, and we’re just on issue 3 of 6. Hasn’t this poor woman suffered enough already? Meanwhile, back in 1847, Joseph tries to track down the origin of the “bright metal.”

RONIN ISLAND #9 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] Greg Pak, [A] Giannis Milonogiannis. In a flashback, Elder Jin tells Hana that the island will always be her home. But in the present, Hana and Kenichi get back to the island, but the same Elder Jin repels them with threats of violence. So they have to go back to the mainland and fight the shogun. This issue offers more evidence that Ronin Island is Greg Pak’s bleakest and grimmest work yet. All the characters, except maybe the two protagonists, seem to have selfish motivations. Few of them seem to care about other people.

IMMORTAL HULK #29 (Marvel, 2020) – “Eat or Be Eaten,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. Dario Agger deploys a bunch of giant monsters against Phoenix, Arizonal. One of them attacks the building where Jackie is working. This issue is a pretty quick read, but Joe Bennett draws some really gruesome monsters and is very effective at body horror. The monsters are named after Ray Harryhausen, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury and Willis O’Brien (the animator for King Kong).

ASCENDER #8 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dustin Nguyen. This issue advances the plot significantly, after a couple of issues that were mostly flashbacks. The first scene this issue introduces Kanto the vampire hunter, who seems to be a new character. Then Mother confronts Andy and Effie in person, but is distracted by a rebel attack. Back on the ship, Milla overhears Telsa and Helda planning to get rid of her.

DRAGONFLY & DRAGONFLYMAN #3 (Ahoy, 2020) – untitled, [W] Tom Peyer, [A] Peter Krause. Dragonflyman reintroduces his robot partner, Lady Dragonflyman, and a flashback shows us who she is. Meanwhile, Dragonfly and his Stinger continue arguing. This series has been fun, but it feels kind of like fanservice. I would have preferred a sequel to The Wrong Earth, rather than a prequel.

NEW MUTANTS #5 (Marvel, 2020) – “Endangered Birds,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Rod Reis. Half the issues of this series are written by Hickman, and they star the classic New Mutants characters. As for the other half of the issues, see my review of #6 below. This issue, the team has to protect Deathbird from being assassinated by the Imperial Guard. Hickman is faithful to the spirit of the classic series, while also acknowledging how much older the characters have gotten. This issue is narrated by Sunspot, perhaps the most unsympathetic New Mutant, and Hickman shows a good understanding of his persnoality. I like the scene where Illyana asks the three aliens if they want to make out.

STAR #1 (Marvel, 2020) – “Birth of a Dragon Part One,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Javier Pina with Filipe Andrade. Star visits the “Pop-Up Bar with No Name” (heh) and fights Titania. Then she encounters Loki, and then Jessica Jones. Kelly Thompson’s Captain Marvel has been consistently disappointing, and I don’t think it deserves a sequel. But this issue is not bad, and it feels connected to Kelly’s distinctive corner of the Marvel Universe.

Another DCBS shipment arrived the very next day, January 16:

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #3 (DC, 2020) – untitled, [W] Brian Michael Bendis, [A] Ryan Sook & Travis Moore. I hate everything about this comic except Ryan Sook’s artwork and costume designs. I can’t think of a Legion series that’s as badly written as this one. I’m only buying it because I want it to keep going until Bendis gets tired of it, and is replaced by a competent writer. Specifically, this issue has a total lack of plot; the only thing that happens is that Jon brings Damian into the 31st century, and the Legion makes Jon send him back. Other than that, Bendis seems to have no plan in mind, and no idea of where this story is going. This issue is also totally devoid of characterization. We learn that Cosmic Boy and Shadow Lass (two characters who historically barely interacted at all) are a couple, but there’s no reason why we should care, since neither of them has any personality at all. Though I do like the term “loveball.” Ryan Sook has designed the most diverse and visually interesting Legion ever, but his character designs are going to waste because of Bendis’s inept writing. Bendis needs to quit and turn this series over to someone who actually cares.

RUNAWAYS #28 (Marvel, 2020) – “Cannon Fodder, Part IV,” [W] Rainbow Rowell, [A] Andrés Genolet. Back when I was a preteen, I fell in love with the Legion because it had a cast of distinctive young protagonists who, despite their extreme differences from one another, became closer to each other than their own family. At the time, I didn’t know of any other comic like that. This was also why I got angry and depressed whenever the Legion was cancelled or when it declined in quality. The good news is, I no longer depend on the Legion the way I once did, because now there are lots of other comics that give me what the Legion used to. For example, Runaways is literally all about “found family” – a term that even appears in issue 29. In #28, Gert continues to suffer internally as a result of her exclusion from missions. And her situation gets even worse when she discovers that Old Lace is now bonded to Chase, rather than her. Andrés Genolet’s art in this series has been really good. He’s a satisfactory replacement for Kris Anka, and that’s saying a lot.

SECOND COMING #6 (Ahoy, 2020) – “The Temptations,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Richard Pace. Sunstar and Sheila get married, but while they’re on their honeymoon, Satan tempts Jesus one last time. Satan forces Jesus to abandon his philosophy of nonviolence and kill him. God and Jesus agree that they’ve both failed, and as a parting gift, God enables Sheila to get pregnant. Hopefully there will be a second season soon. Second Coming is probably Mark Russell’s best work yet. Besides being hilarious, it’s one of the best treatments of religion in comics form; it cuts through all the cruft and shows the true radicalism of Jesus’s message. Russell is not trying to proselytize, but he makes a much better case for Christianity than most actual evangelists do. I love the panel where God tells Abraham to cut off a piece of his [redacted].

RUNAWAYS #29 (Marvel, 2020) – “Cannon Fodder Pt V,” as above. I’m not sure why I got two issues of Runaways in one week. This issue, it becomes obvious that Doc Justice has some disturbing ulterior motives. In particular, Gert learns that most of Doc Justice’s former team members have ended up dead. It’s also implied that Matthew is Doc Justice’s son. The high point of this issue is the two consecutive double-page splashes. On the first one, the Runaways are istting at the dinner table having fun, and the second one is almost identical, except that Gert imagines that the ghosts of all the dead J-Kids are gathered around the table.

SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #7 (DC, 2020) – “Places Other!”, [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Steve Lieber. As usual, this issue is so full of content and so disjointed that it’s impoossible to summarize. Jimmy’s sister Janie plays a major role in this issue, and there are some flashbacks to their childhood, drawn in a style that resembles Peanuts or Sugar & Spike. There’s also a scene where Jimmy talks with a psychiatrist about his five different personalities. I kind of wish this series were over already so that I could read it again and make more sense of it.

UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY #3 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Scott Snyder & Charles Soule, [A] Giuseppe Camuncoli. The featured character this issue is Ace Kenyatta, the leading expert on America. In a flashback, he devises an experiment where he uses a coin to measure the rate of time in America versus the rest of the world. That coin becomes central to the present-day storyline, where the explorers infiltrate the Destiny Man’s palace. The worldbuilding in this comic is brilliant, and Giuseppe Camuncoli’s art and Matt Wilson’s coloring are stunning. I’m not so sure about the plot or the characters, though.

SKULLDIGGER & SKELETON BOY #2 (Dark Horse, 2020) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Tonci Zonjic. Skulldigger trains his new Skeleton Boy, and there’s another plot about a politician named Tex Reed who used to be a superhero. This issue isn’t as memorable as the last one. Tonci Zonjic is one of a large number of excellent artists from Croatia. Speaking very broadly, Croatian artists tend to draw in a similar style to Italian artists.

ARCHIE #710 (Archie, 2020) – “Archie and Katy Keene Part 1,” [W] Mariko Tamaki & Kevin Panetta, [A] Laura Braga. I can read this series again now that Nick Spencer is gone. This issue, Katy Keene shows up in Riverdale and causes a big commotion. Katy Keene’s comics are most notable for their fashion designs, and Laura Braga does a good job of depicting Katy’s clothing.

STEEPLE #5 (Dark Horse, 2020) – untitled, [W/A] John Allison. Thanks to a cursed vacuum cleaner, Billie quits her job. This gives the sea monsters free rein to invade the city, but the Satanists drive them off. This was a really fun series, and it deserved more than five issues. It was certainly much better than By Night. John Allison’s next series has already been solicited, but I forget what it’s called.

VALKYRIE: JANE FOSTER #7 (Marvel, 2020) – “Strange Aeons Part 2,” [W] Al Ewing & Jason Aaron, [A] Pere Pérez. Jane defeats the Death of Death and prevents the world from becoming a Cancerverse. This issue is good, but not super-memorable. The letters page includes a guide to Yorkshire English, which is what Mr. Horse speaks.

TREES: THREE FATES #5 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Jason Howard. The protagonist uncovers her boss Nina’s conspiracy, and then she leaves town. This miniseries was a disappointment. It was such a quick read that there was no time to feel invested in the characters. Also, this series was just a conventional small-town crime drama with some mild SF elements. The eponymous trees had barely any impact on the plot.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #85 (IDW, 2020) – untitled, [W] Mary Kenney, [A] Casey W. Coller. Applejack and Apple Bloom get trapped in a giant spiderweb. To keep Apple Bloom from getting scared, Applejack tells a story about how she overcame her childhood fear of water. This was a very formulaic and forgettable issue.

BATTLEPUG #5 (Image, 2020) – “War on Christmas Part V,” [W/A] Mike Norton. After an epic battle with a giant chimera monster, the Kinmundian and Battlepug are sucked into a dimnsional vortex. This is the last issue for now; the format for the next story arc has not been determined. Battlepug was originally published in book format only, so it won’t be too big a deal if it becomes TPB-only again. The highlight of this issue is the double-page splash where the Kinmundian summons a giant penguin-narwhal-seal hybrid creature.

GHOST-SPIDER #6 (Marvel, 2020) – “Party People,” [W] Seanan McGuire, [A] Ig Guara & Rosi Kämpe. We’re introduced to the Earth-GS versions of Sue and Johnny Storm. Gwen and her bandmates attend concerts by various alternate-dimensional versions of Panic! At the Disco. (I barely follow pop music and I still got this joke.) Gwen saves a bunch of hostages from criminals. This is a very low-stakes, light-hearted series, but that’s why I like it.

ARCHIE 1955 #4 (Archie, 2020) – “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On!”, [W] Brian Augustyn & Mark Waid, [A] Derek Charm. Archie’s career continues to take off, but his success is hollow, as his music consumes his entire life and costs him his relationships. After a talk with an annoyingly cute little girl, Archie decides to give up show biz and run off with Veronica. I like this series a lot more than Archie 1941.

DYING IS EASY #2 (IDW, 2020) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Martin Simmonds. This issue’s cover is an homage to the classic film Safety Last! This issue has the same problem as #1; it’s just a standard crime drama, and it gives Martin Simmonds no opportunity to exercise his talents. There’s no reason why this needs to be a comic book instead of a prose novel. The only reason I haven’t dropped it already is because of Simmonds’s art, and as just noted, his art is crippled by Hill’s writing. I’m giving this one more issue.

PRETTY VIOLENT #6 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W/A] Derek Hunter, [W] Jason Young. Another issue full of ridiculous violence and carnage. The first story arc ends with Gamma Rae being accepted as a member of the superhero team. I find this series quite hard to follow, and I wish there was a recap in each issue. It’s fun, though, and Derek Hunter draws some great body horror.

THE LOW, LOW WOODS #2 (DC, 2020) – “Heaven on Earth,” [W] Carmen Maria Machado, [A] Dani. It’s hard to tell where the plot of this series is going, but the worldbuilding is fantastic, and the two protagonists feel powerful and authentic. Between the first two issues I read Machado’s excellent short story collection Her Body and Other Parties. She is a super-talented writer, and so far she’s adapting well to comics. I like Dani’s art a lot; she (I believe she’s female) draws a lot like Emma Rios, but her art lacks whatever it is about Emma Rios’s art that annoys me.

GHOSTED IN L.A. #7 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] Sina Grace, [A] Siobhan Keenan. I like this series a lot, but I barely remember this issue. I must have been tired when I read it. The issue ends with Shirley (the black female ghost) deciding that it’s time to move on.

CATWOMAN #19 (DC, 2020) – “Dust, Sweat, and Blood,” [W] Joëlle Jones, [A] Geraldo Borges et al. Selina helps repel the zombies attacking her store, but her boyfriend (?) Carlos chews her out for being selfish. Joëlle Jones will be leaving this series soon. Her Catwoman was enjoyable, but I won’t miss it that much.

INCREDIBLE HULK #180 FACSIMILE EDITION (Marvel, 2020) – “And the Wind Howls… Wendigo!”, [W] Len Wein, [A] Herb Trimpe. This issue is extremely expensive because it includes Wolverine’s first cameo appearance, so it’s nice to be able to own it in something close to its original form. However, Hulk #180 is not an especially memorable issue. I’ve already read the 1986 Incredible Hulk and Wolverine one-shot that reprints both Hulk #180 and #181, and despite that, I couldn’t remember anything about Hulk #180.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #17 (DC, 2020) – “In the Desert on a Horse with No Name,” [W] Nalo Hopkinson & Dan Watters, [A] Domo Stanton. Erzulie investigates the House of Watchers, meanwhile, we realize that Poquita’s cat-thing is actually the Corinthian. We’re also introduced to Aesop, who, in this version, is an ancient Ethiopian. This is an okay issue.

DETECTIVE COMICS #359 FACSIMILE EDITION (DC, 1966/2020) – “The Million-Dollar Debut of Batgirl!”, [W] Gardner Fox, [A] Carmine Infantino. Batgirl’s first appearance is an exciting story and is not quite as sexist as I feared. Barbara Gordon is an immediately captivating and vivacious character. Gardner Fox gives her a bunch of silly names like “the Dominoed Dare-Doll,” but he did that with every character he wrote. This issue also includes an Elongated Man backup story.

NAUGHTY BITS #7 (Fantagraphics, 1992) – “Hippie Bitch Got Knocked Up,” [W/A] Roberta Gregory. This may be the greatest pro-choice comic ever published. Teenage Midge doesn’t dare tell her horrible, authoritarian parents that she’s pregnant, and Roe v Wade hasn’t happened yet. So her only option is to scrape up enough money for a potentially lethal illegal abortion. The issue ends with Midge stepping nervously into a back-alley abortion clinic. This comic is a brutal depiction of what life was like for women before 1973 – and of what life will be like for women, if Republicans have their way. A visual highlight of the issue is the two-page sequence at the beginning where Midge imagines her hypothetical baby literally sucking her dry.

IRON MAN 2020 #1 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Dan Slott & Christos Gage, [A] Pete Woods. Tony Stark is dead, and his awful adoptive brother Arno Stark has taken over his company. I have never followed Iron Man regularly, except for a very brief period when Kurt Busiek was writing it. As I’ve explained before, I think Iron Man is the worst major Marvel title. However, I love Dan Slott’s writing, and this debut issue is fun enough that I’m going to keep reading this series. A highlight of the issue is the scene with the secret robot bar. Pete Woods’s artwork has improved greatly since he was drawing Robin in the early 2000s.

LUBA’S COMICS AND STORIES #1 (Fantagraphics, 2000) – “Fritz and Petra in Memories of Sweet Youth,” [W/A] Gilbert Hernandez. I bought most of the issues of this series when they came out, but not this one. In this issue’s main story, Fritz and Petra spend all night dragging Luba around an art exhibit, and there are a bunch of flashbacks. At the end, Fritz and Petra realize that Luba can’t understand anything they’ve said to her, because they’ve been speaking English. There’s also a Venus backup story. Beto’s constant Fritz/Petra/Venus stories are rather tedious, and I don’t like any of them as much as I like the Palomar characters. This issue is enjoyable, though.

MILES MORALES: THE END #1 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Damion Scott. This is the worst-drawn Marvel comic in recent memory. Damion Scott’s bodies and facial expressions are extremely distorted, and it’s often difficult to figure out what’s going on in his panel compositions. I suppose his style could work well on some other kind of comic, but it’s not appropriate for this one. Saladin’s story is effectively ruined by Scott’s artwork, and it’s not that great a story to begin with; it’s an anticlimactic conclusion to Miles’s life. I’m especially sad that Miles never marries or has children.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #15 (Image, 2013) – “Infinite Oppenheimers,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Ryan Browne. Another chapter of the war in Oppenheimer’s mind between Joseph and Robert Oppenheimer. I really don’t care about this story arc at all; the entire Manhattan Projects series is lacking in interest, and the Oppenheimer business is perhaps the least interesting part of it. One of the incidental characters in this issue semes to be based on the superhero husband dude from God Hates Astronauts.

TRUE BELIEVERS: THE CRIMINALLY INSANE – MASTERS OF EVIL #1 (Marvel, 2020) – “Meet the Masters of Evil!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Jack Kirby. In this reprint of Avengers #6, Baron Zemo comes back from the dead and hires a bunch of other supervillains to take revenge on Captain America and the Avengers. This is a very early Avengers story, and it’s rather tedious and overwritten. I think the highlight of the issue is the panel at the beginning with the sloth-monkey creature. https://www.instagram.com/p/B7e9QqihBXX/

ANIMOSITY: THE RISE #2 (AfterShock, 2017) – “Red Letter,” [W] Marguerite Bennett, [A] Juan Doe. Wintermute tries to figure out how to prevent a famine if none of the animals can eat each other. Animosity has a lot of crippling problems, and one of the biggest of these is the question of food. If every animal suddenly became sentient, there is no plausible way that they could all survive without any of them eating the others. In The Rise and Evolution, Bennett tries to confront this problem directly, but that only makes the reader more aware that it’s an intractable problem. See https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2330809002?book_show_action=true for a review that elaborates on this point. Juan Doe’s artwork in this issue is very similar to his art in Strayed, and it represents the main redeeming quality of this comic.

MARVEL ADVENTURES: FANTASTIC FOUR #15 (Marvel, 2006) – “Its Name Was Terminus from Outer Space!”, [W] Justin Gray, [A] Juan Santacruz. The alien conqueror Terminus invades Earth. The FF defeat him using some experimental iceworms that were introduced at the start of the issue. This is a well-plotted and entertaining single-issue story, but Marvel Adventures: FF was never as good as other Marvel Adventures titles. Terminus seems like an unnecessary character; he’s just a bargain-basement version of Galactus or Annihilus.

ALL-TIME COMICS: ZEROSIS DEATHSCAPE #6 (All-Time Comics, 2020) – “Deathscape,” [W] Josh Bayer & Josh Simmons, [A] Trevor von Eeden. This issue has no guest artist, so it’s just a conventional superhero story with minimal indie-comics elements. Overall, I’m glad we’re done with this series because the novelty has worn off. I just read Simmons’s graphic novel Black River and had mixed feelings about it.

GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS #5 (Image, 2015) – “A Star is Born,” [W/A] Ryan Browne. As usual this issue is full of pointless mayhem and weirdness. I sort of get the appeal of this comic, but it becomes tiresome very quickly. I think my favorite thing about it is the “sound” effects like ACCUSE! and HANDS OFF! Ryan Browne is a gifted artist, but he’s better off working with a writer other than himself, as Curse Words demonstrates.

HELLBLAZER #36 (DC, 1990) – “The Undiscover’d Country,” [W] Jamie Delano, [A] Sean Phillips. A woman named Mercury reads the tarot for Constantine, and we get a flashforward to his old age in a steril, dystopian future. I’m not sure what the point of this issue was.

MARVEL PREMIERE #11 (Marvel, 1973) – “Homecoming!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Steve Ditko. A Dreaded Deadline Doom reprint of two early Dr. Strange stories from Strange Tales. I’ve read one of these stories before, and the other is fairly unimpressive. Thee issue has a new framing sequence by Englehart and Brunner.

BATMAN #443 (DC, 1990) – “The Coming of Crimesmith,” [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Jim Aparo. Batman encounters a criminal mastermind named Crimesmith. The most notable thing in this issue is the page where Tim Drake begs Bruce to take him on patrol. I remembered this scene as being longer than it was; it’s just one page and part of another. Batman’s guilt over Jason’s death and his ambivalence about taking on a new partner were the most important themes in the series at the time. The Crimesmith plot is much less interesting than that.

GRAVEYARD SHIFT #1 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W] Jay Faerber, [A] Fran Bueno. To quote the author’s note, this series is about “a cop whose girlfriend becomes a vampire and together they must try to find a cure.” I guess that’s not a terrible premise, but Faerber and Bueno fail to do anything exciting with it.

SCOOBY-DOO TEAM-UP #7 (DC, 2015) – “Scooby-Doo, When Are You?”, [W] Sholly Fisch, [A] Scott Jeralds. The Scooby Gang are teleported to the Flintstones’ time. They meet the Flintstone and Rubble families and solve a mystery, and at the end, the Great Gazoo sends them forward in time to meet the Jetsons. I’m not a big Flintstones fan, but this issue is funny and entertaining.

DEADPOOL: THE GAUNTLET #1 (Marvel, 2014) – untitled, [W] Gerry Duggan & Brian Posehn, [A] Reilly Brown. Deadpool fights Dracula in a story that was originally published online. I hate Deadpool, and this issue did nothing to change my opinion.

JOURNEY: WARDRUMS #1 (Fantagraphics, 1987) – “Ants and Fleas,” [W/A] William Messner-Loebs. While bathing in a lake, Wolverine MacAlistaire is attacked by beavers, yes, I said beavers, and drops his knife. He finds the knife again after diving into the lake for five days, but we’re told that he would have spent a month if necessary. This scene emphasizes Wolverine’s determination, and also shows how in the wilderness, a simple thing like a knife is of incalculable value. After recovering the knife, Wolverine encounters a dying Indian warrior and learns that Tecumseh’s war is about to start. This series was supposed to be the epic conclusion to Wolverine MacAlistaire’s saga, but only one more issuee was ever published, which is a real shame.

KNUCKLES THE MALEVOLENT NUN #1 (Fantagraphics, 1991) – multiple linked stories, [W] Cornelius Stone, [A] Roger Langridge. Satan tries to tempt the namesake evil nun. Even at the very start of his career, Roger Langridge was an incredible cartoonist. His draftsmanship and lettering in this comic are impeccable; it seems as though he never went through an awkward early phase. His visual storytelling here is also excellent, and each page is full of sight gags and hidden messages. The strip on the back cover is a cute Krazy Kat parody.

SUPER RABBIT #7 (I.W. Enterprises, 1958) – “Scare at the Shore” and other stories, [W/A] unknown. The history behind this comic is more interesting than the comics themselves. In the late ‘50s, Israel Waldman (perhaps best known as the co-founder of Skywald) bought a bunch of printing plates and/or original art from recently defunct comics publishers. He believed, or allowed himself to believe, that he also owned the copyright to this material, so he republished some of it under his own name. I guess he ran out of material by 1964, when the company went out of business. It’s obvious that Super Rabbit #7 started out as a Marvel comic, because the splash page shows the protagonist reading an issue of Captain America. As for its actual content, this comic includes a series of professionally executed but formulaic funny animal stories. Unlike so many other Golden Age Marvel characters, Super Rabbit has never shown up in the modern Marvel universe. According to Wikipedia, there was a plan to revive the character in 1977, but it didn’t happen.

WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES #517 (Gladstone, 1987) – “The Great Survival Jest,” [W/A] Carl Barks, plus other stories. The nephews decide to test their mettle by staying outdoors for a week. Donald tries to sabotage their plans, but only succeeds in making himself sick. This story introduces the Chickadees, the female version of the Junior Woodchucks, though it turns out Donald was just making them up. This issue also includes a stupid Brer Rabbit story, a short Gyro Gearloose story by Barks, and a Mickey Mouse story by Fallberg and Murry. In the latter, Goofy and Pete are both trying to win a contest by collecting cereal box tops.

JUST MARRIED #99 (Charlton, 1973) – “His Way Will Be My Way?”, [W] Joe Gill, [A] A. Martinez, plus other stories. In this issue’s first story, a newlywed woman thinks her husband is some kind of crook, but it turns out he’s really an investigator for an insurance company. It would be nice if he had told hre that before the wedding. The cover story is much more interesting. It’s about newlyweds Eileen, an Irish Catholic woman, and David, a Jewish-American man. They both feel disturbed about their religious incompatibility, so in a classic Gift of the Magi plot, they each decide to convert to the other’s religion. This story isn’t exactly good, but it’s an interesting exploration of interfaith marriage. It’s part of an ongoing storyline, and I’d like to read the other parts. When we see inside David’s parents’ house, there’s nothing about it that looks Jewish. I can’t find any information on who A. Martinez was, but I assume was from Argentina or Spain, and he seems to have had no knowledge of what a Jewish home looks like.

VAULT OF HORROR #10 (EC, 1951/1995) – various stories, [E] Al Feldstein. Johnny Craig’s “One Last Fling!” stars a circus knife thrower and his wife. The wife becomes a vampire, and the husband can’t stop her from drinking blood, so he has to kill her as part of his act. This was not one of EC’s best vampire stories. “That’s a ‘Croc’!” is one of just four EC stories by Howard Larsen. It’s about a zookeeper who kidnaps people and feeds them to alligators. In Jack Kamen’s “Child’s Play” is about an old curmudgeon, Collins, who hates the kids in his neighborhood. When his wife stops him from beating one of the kids, he murders her, and the kids take their revenge by dressing up as ghosts and scaring him to death. Jack Kamen is not one of the best-liked EC artists, but his art in this story is excellent, especially the splash panel where Collins’s dead, staring eyes are framed by the kids’ shocked faces. Finally, in Jack Davis’s “Trapped!”, a hobo jumps off a train and finds himself in an area inhabited only by one old man. The hobo kills the old man, but the land takes its revenge by killing the hobo.

New comics received on Wednesday, January 22:

LUMBERJANES #70 (Boom!, 2020) – “Forestry is the Best Policy,” [W] Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, [A] Kanesha C. Bryant & Julia Madrigal. There are indications in this issue, and in the solicitations for the next story arc, that the summer might be ending soon. I want this series to last forever, but the sad truth is that summer always does end; that’s kind of the point. If Lumberjanes ends, at least it had a great run. Who would have thought that a kid-oriented comic book with an interracial, exclusively female cast could last this long? Besides, I’m sure Boom! can find ways to continue the franchise. This issue, the Roanokes are attacked by a rhizome (how Deleuzian) and are rescued by Abigail. Meanwhile, we get a bit more of the original Lumberjane’s story, and we learn that the first Lumberjane was the daughter of the founder of the camp.

ONCE AND FUTURE #6 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Dan Mora. This is simply the best comic on the stands right now, or at least the most exciting. It’s thrilling and beautifully drawn, and it perfectly combines Arthurian mythology with contemporary politics. It deserves a bunch of Eisner nominations. This issue begins with a great line from Duncan: “Gran, if you didn’t want a hero, you shouldn’t have raised one.” Then Gran turns the tables on Arthur by telling him that his queen is sleeping with Sir Lancelot. This is a perfect example of both Gillen’s knowledge of Arthurian romance, and also the interaction between multiple stories, which is a central theme of the series. Arthur doesn’t know about Guinevere and Lancelot’s romance because he’s a pre-romance version of Arthur, from a story where Lancelot doesn’t exist yet. At the end of the issue, Duncan kills the Questing Beast, and a mysterious Merlin recruits Duncan’s mom as his new Nimue. I hope issue 7 comes soon.

FANTASTIC FOUR #18 (Marvel, 2020) – “Worldbreakers,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Paco Medina et al. The situation on Spyre deteriorates even further, and Reed has to get the FF, the Unparalleled and the monsters to work together to save lives. The Overseer is apparently killed and his eye destroyed. But afterward, the Unparalleled claim that the FF really are as bad as the prophecy claimed, since they’ve destroyed Spire’s society. This was perhaps the most underwhelming issue of the current story, though it’s not bad.

FAR SECTOR #3 (DC, 2020) – untitled, [W] N.K. Jemisin, [A] Jamal Campbell. Jo Mullein tries to stop a riot, but the government murders the rioters anyway. We’re also introduced to Jo’s AI assistant, hilariously named #ICanHasEarthStuff01. Far Sector’s worldbuilding, characterization and artwork are incredible, and it is definitely a super-important work. Its plot is hard to follow, though.

MIDDLEWEST #14 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Skottie Young, [A] Jorge Corona. Abel saves a farm worker from burning to death. Abel’s supervisor Junie explains how she ended up on a farm – basically, homophobia, sexual assault, and awful parents. Nicholas Raider offers Abel a full-time non-slave-labor job, and Abel takes it so he can help the other slaves escape. The entire issue takes place on the farm, so we don’t get to see the circus characters.

FOLKLORDS #3 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] Matt Smith. Adrienne Resha has written some negative reviews of this comic (https://womenwriteaboutcomics.com/2020/01/folklords-2-review/), and I find her opinions persuasive. Even setting aside issues of representation and race, Folklords is weirdly paced; it’s hard to see how the plot threads introduced in issue 1 can be resolved in just two more issues. For example, this issue spends a lot of time on the backstory of the Gretel character, and it’s not clear why this information is relevant. I really liked issue 1 and I want this series to succeed, but issues 2 and 3 are uneven.

BASKETFUL OF HEADS #4 (DC, 2020) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Leomacs. June * decapitates the truck driver dude and puts his head in her basket, further justifying the comic’s title. She finally makes it to the police department, where the chief’s young son Hank gives her a cell to rest in. But in a by-now familiar pattern, he shows up at her cell later, apparently intent on raping her. I assume next issue is going to begin with Hank becoming the third head in June’s basket. * God danm it, I hate it when I can’t remember the name of a comic’s protagonist, and I can’t find it easily.

MANIFEST DESTINY #40 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Chris Dingess, [A] Matthew Roberts. Lewis and Clark negotiate with the all-female tribe, and at night, some of the dumber and hornier corps members go back to the tribe’s village to “negotiate” further. During the resulting orgy, we discover that the tribeswomen are actually carnivorous anthropomorphic rabbits. This is a classic Manifest Destiny story – it’s gruesome and weird in a super-funny way.

FAMILY TREE #3 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Phil Hester. The little girl, Meg, has a dream where she and her father are inside a giant tree. When she wakes up, her family is in Manhattan’s Chinatown, negotiating with an old botanist named Loretta. It’s clear by now that the protagonists’ family is the victim of a generational curse, which I guess explains how this series is different from Farmhand. I still think Farmhand is better.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #86 (IDW, 2020) – untitled, [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Kate Sherron. Pinkie Pie’s shy sister Marble comes to Ponyville to ask for help planning a party. This issue is not bad, and it’s nice to get to knw Marble Pie better. However, this is not Jeremy’s most memorable pony story, and the series has kind of been spinning its wheels lately. Most of the recent issues have just been one-offs; I can’t recall the last story that was more than one issue. I look forward to the “Season 10” stories.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #14 (Marvel, 2020) – “The Last Avenger Part Three,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Lee Garbett. Carol fights Black Panther and then She-Hulk. “The Last Avenger” is better than previous storylines, but this series is still suffering from a lack of direction. Carol doesn’t have a clearly defined personality beyond being Marvel’s primary white female suprehero, and Kelly has failed to define her more precisely than that. Also, Vox Supreme is a really annoying villain. He somehow acts surprised and offended when Carol refuses to meekly go along with his plot.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #1 (Marvel, 2020) – “Then It’s Us,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Juann Cabal. In the absence of the Nova Corps, the Guardians are forced to singlehandedly defeat some rogue Greek gods. Al Ewing’s take on the Guardians is not bad, but it lacks the excitement and originality of his Immortal Hulk, or the humor of his Rocket Raccoon. Also, I hate that Groot can speak normal English now. I would have been willing to read more of this series, but I neglected to order issue 2, and maybe that’s just as well.

THE OLD GUARD: FORCE MULTIPLIED #2 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Leandro Fernandez. This is still hard to follow, but the artwork is still absolutely gorgeous. Greg Rucka’s characters are interesting, but his story is almost just an excuse for Leandro Fernandez’s stunning linework, page compositions and action sequences. I’ve probably said this before, but Fernandez is as good as his countryman Eduardo Risso.

WONDER WOMAN #750 (DC, 2020) – “The Wild Hunt Finale,” [W] Steve Orlando, [A] Jesus Merino, plus many other stories. Like most giant anniversary issues, WW #750 is a mixed bag. By far the high point of the issue is Gail Simone and Colleen Doran’s story that reintroduces Star-Blossom, a little black girl superheroine with flower powers. Star-Blossom is just an incredible character, and her interactions with Diana are adorable. I need to track down the 2016 one-shot where she first appeared. The next best thing in the issue is the revised origin story by Kami Garcia and Phil Hester. I still miss Renae De Liz’s Legend of Wonder Woman, but this story is an acceptable substitute. Mariko Tamaki’s interview story is also good, if predictable, and she would be a great Wonder Woman writer. The opening story by Orlando and Merino has excellent art, but the plot didn’t grab me. The low point of the issue is Vita Ayala and Amancay Nahuelpan’s “Always.” Julia and Vanessa Kapatelis are my favorite Wonder Woman supporting characters ever, but the villainess in Always has nothing in common with George Pérez’s spunky, lovable Vanessa, other than her name. I would rather have seen Vanessa killed off than turned into a tormented villain. Also, Marguerite Bennett’s DC Comics Bombshells story reminds me of why I quit reading that series.

JOHN CONSTANTINE, HELLBLAZER #3 (DC, 2020) – “A Green and Pleasant Land, Part Three,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Aaron Campbell. Constantine succeeds in defeating the Blake-inspired murderer. If I’m reading it correctly, this story depicts Blake in a very negative light. Spurrier turns Blake’s “Jerusalem” into a metaphor for English nationalist chauvinism. That seems rather unfair to Blake, who was perhaps the most progressive and socially conscious of the Romantic poets. I’m curious what my Blakean scholar friends, especially Roger Whitson, would think of this comic. Still, this was a fun story arc and a good start to Spurrier’s run.

ETHER: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF VIOLET BELL #5 (Dark Horse, 2020) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] David Rubín. In a deliberate homage to Doyle’s “The Final Problem,” Bode sacrifices himself to kill Ubel. Violet Bell is left pregnant with Bode’s posthumous child. This ending would have had more of an impact if I could remember who Violet Bell is and how she became Boone’s lover. This series (like Folklords) never quite lived up to the potential of its premise, but David Rubín’s art was consistently incredible.

ARCHIE VS. PREDATOR II #5 (Archie, 2020) – “Escape Velocity,” [W] Alex de Campi, [A] Robert Hack. After a lot more carnage and mayhem, Betty and Veronica end up in an alternate-universe New York with the Predator/Archie character. This miniseries was really confusing because it was full of multiple versions of the same characters, and I never quite understood what exactly was going on. The dialogue and artwork were quite good, though.

WONDER TWINS #11 (DC, 2020) – “The Rise and Fall of Colonel 86,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Stephen Byrne. Colonel 86 causes all sorts of havoc, but Zan, Jayna and Polly succeed in defeating him. Like most Mark Russell comics, this issue has a political message. Colonel 86 “refuses to acknowledge that the world has changed.” Its supporters think “that the world was at its best when they were at theirs.” And people didn’t really love Colonel 86, “they loved the monster he allowed them to be.” Yes, this is about Trump.

WELLINGTON #2 (IDW, 2020) – untitled, [W] Aaron Mahnke & Delilah S. Dawson, [A] Piotr Kowalski. This is an okay horror comic, but it’s no better than a random issue of Hellboy, and it doesn’t feel historically accurate. I’ll probably order issue 5, but only because I already ordered the first four. I expect better from Delilah Dawson.

TRUE BELIEVERS: THE CRIMINALLY INSANE – PURPLE MAN #1 (Marvel, 2020) – “Menaced by the Mystery of Killgrave, the Unbelievable Purple Man!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Joe Orlando. That title is better than the actual story. Along with X-Men, Daredevil was the worst of the early Marvel Universe titles, except when Wally Wood was drawing it. Matt Murdock had no personality beyond being blind and a lawyer, and his supporting characters were lifeless. Also, Joe Orlando was much more suited to horror and SF than superheroes. The Purple Man is a creepy villain, but he didn’t become a major character until 40 years after his creation, when Bendis reintroduced him in Alias.

HEIST #3 (Vault, 2020) – untitled, [W] Paul Tobin, [A] Arjuna Susini. This is a fun issue. I especially ike the scene where the real Glane Breld just walks into the villains’ headquarters and steals their supplies, and they all let him do it because they think he’s an impostor. The problem with this series is that Arjuna Susini’s art is not appropriate to Tobin’s story. Susini draws in a realist, highly detailed style that resembles that of Neal Adams or Alfredo Alcala, and his art doesn’t look fun or lighthearted at all. This comic would be more effective with a less serious-looking style of art.

EDGAR ALLAN POE’S SNIFTER OF TERROR SEASON TWO #4 (Ahoy, 2020) – “The Black Cat,” [W] Bryce Ingman, [A] Greg Scott, plus other stories. This issue’s first story is based on Poe’s “The Black Cat,” which I have not read, but I think reading a Wikipedia summary was sufficient to allow me to get the joke. The gimmick of Ingman and Scott’s retelling is that the cat is replaced by an artificially intelligent car, probably in homage to Knight Rider. I’ve never heard of either of these creators before, but this story is very clever, and it makes me want to read more of their work. Dean Motter’s retelling of “The Gold-Bug” is frankly mediocre, and it leaves out the code-breaking that, for me, is the most interesting part of Poe’s story. Motter replaces the black valet of the original story with an artificial intelligence, which is an interesting decision.

ARCHIE’S PALS AND GALS #213 (Archie, 1990) – “Reggie in Pound for Pound,” [W] Rich Margopoulos, [A] Stan Goldberg, plus other stories. I read this in about one minute, and I forgot about it in less time than that.

KIDZ #1 (Ablaze, 2020) – untitled, [W] Aurélien Ducoudray, [A] Jocelyn Joret. I ordered this because it’s a translation of a French comic. Kidz is a postapocalyptic zombie story in which all the adults have died, so the protagonists are children. The art is good, but less detailed compared to other French commercial comics, and the story is readable but not amazing. I might as well keep reading this series for now.

THE BEEF #2 (Image, 2018) – “America’s Sweetheart,” [W] Richard Starkings, [A] Shaky Kane. The main draw of this series is Shaky Kane’s artwork, which resembles Kirby artwork taken to an absurd extreme. However, Richard Starkings’s story is also much more interesting than I expected. It’s a fairly serious exploration of undocumented immigration and agricultural labor issues, although there’s a limit to how serious a comic can be when its protagonist is a giant hunk of raw meat. I need to finish reading this miniseries.

DENNIS THE MENACE AND HIS FRIENDS SERIES #19 (Fawcett, 1973) – “A Full House” and other stories, [W/A] uncredited. A series of (probably) reprinted stories, all of them focusing on Dennis and his dog Ruff. The best thing in the issue is the page with the dogs that resemble their owners (https://www.instagram.com/p/B7xCJomB-iC/). Dennis the Menace comic books are all very similar to each other, but they’re also all very well-done.

STORMWATCH #46 (Image, 1997) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Tom Raney. Two different groups of Stormwatch members hang out together to learn more about each other. Meanwhile, the Weatherman lets Rose Tattoo out of prison, and there’s some foreshadowing of the upcoming “Change or Die” story. Warren Ellis’s Stormwatch was his first truly major work, and it still holds up well.

IRREDEEMABLE #11 (Boom!, 2010) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Diego Barreto & Peter Krause. In the first half of this issue, the villain Bette Noir conspires against the Plutonian with the alien Gilgamos. The second half is much more interesting. It introduces Anita and Loren Daniels, the Plutonian’s human foster parents. After adopting him, they unexpectedly had a biological child, but the Plutonian held the baby too hard, making him mentally disabled for life. After that, the Daniels returned the Plutonian to the orphanage and spent the rest of their lives in total silence, so Plutonian couldn’t hear them talk with his super-hearing. Of course in this issue he finds them anyway. This issue is a good demonstration of the central point of this series: an evil Superman would be terrifying.

SUPERMAN #14 (DC, 2017) – “Multiplicity Part 1,” [W] Peter Tomasi & Patrick Gleason, [A] Ivan Reis. This series jumped the shark almost as soon as I started reading it. The reason I was interested in this comic was because of Clark and Jon’s relationship, but Jon mostly disappeared after issue 11, and instead the series became mired in a bunch of pointless crossovers. “Multiplicity” is an multipart epic in which some monsters are hunting down Supermen across multiple realities. It’s not very interesting and it lacks any significant characterization or creativity.

THE UNWRITTEN #36 (Vertigo, 2012) – “The Wave,” [W] Mike Carey & Peter Gross. I don’t remember who the Tinker is, but this issue he meets Pauly Bruckner, and they try to evade the oncoming wave that’s destroying all the fictional universes. There’s a cameo appearance the three sons that Pauly fathered with the Quark Maiden. Pauly finally gets turned back into a human just as the wave arrives. This is an interesting issue and can be understood without much knowledge of the main storyline.

MANTRA #18 (Malibu, 1995) – “Should Auld Acquaintance…!”, [W] Mike W. Barr, [A] Scott Lee. The gimmick of this series was that it starred an immortal warrior, Lukasz, who got reincarnated in the body of a woman, Eden. This issue, Lukasz finally has his own body back, and he celebrates by sleeping with Eden. Somehow she instantly becomes nine months pregnant and gives birth to Lukasz’s archenemy, Necromantra. This issue is a lot like Avengers #200, and like that issue, Mantra #18 is rather sexist; the writer shows little interest in exploring Eden’s feelings about her bizarre pregnancy.

NEXT MEN #10 (Dark Horse, 1992) – “Parallel Interlude,” [W/A] John Byrne. A young member of the Next Men tracks down his biological mother, an alcoholic who abuses her other child. I hate most of John Byrne’s post-1986 work, and this issue shows some of his typical misogyny, but at least it’s readable and well-drawn.

THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG VOL. 4 #2 (Dark Horse, 2001) – “Blood for Blood,” [W/A] P. Craig Russell. PCR’s adaptation of Wagner’s Ring is one of his finest works. This issue, an amnesiac Siegfried sets off to bring back Brunhilde as Gunther’s wife. Meanwhile, Brunhilde’s fellow Valkyrie, Valtraute, tells her how Voton is about to burn down Valhalla. Valtraute’s story is depicted with artwork that seems to be reproduced directly from pencils. Valtraute begs Brunhilde to give her the ring so that the world can be restored, but Brunhilde refuses because the ring symbolizes Siegfried’s love. This is an ironic reversal of how Alberich renounced love when he stole the Rhinegold. Even more ironically, Siegfried then shows up disguised as Gunther and forces Brunhilde to surrender the ring. The scene where Siegfried/Gunther takes the ring is powerfully depicted as a symbolic rape, although Siegfried scrupulously avoids sleeping with Brunhilde. This series is fascinating and it makes me want to listen to or watch the Ring cycle for myself, even if Wagner was an awful man.

UNCLE SCROOGE #234 (Gladstone, 1989) – “The Money Stairs,” [W/A] Carl Barks, plus other stories. In a ten-pager, Donald competes with Scrooge to see who can climb a mountain faster. Disappointingly, the story has an “it was all a dream” ending. That sort of copout is not worthy of Barks. He must not have been able to think of a more plausible ending. There are also two European stories, including one where Scrooge converts his money into a million-dollar bill. A similar plot device appeared in Mark Twain’s story “The Million Pound Bank Note” and the Simpsons episode “The Trouble with Trillions,” but I don’t know if any of these three texts were directly related to each other.

BATWOMAN #3 (DC, 2012) – “Hydrology 3: Gaining Steam,” [W/A] J.H. Williams III, [W] Haden Blackman. This issue offers further evidence that J.H. Williams III was the finest comic book artist of his generation. I’ve run out of ways to praise his breathtaking page layouts, draftsmanship and coloring (though Dave Stewart is responsible for the latter). Every page of this comic is a unique and original composition. However, the actual story of “Hydrology” is rather boring, and Williams and Blackman’s Kate Kane is an unsympathetic character. This issue, she insults her sidekick Bette Kane until Bette slaps her. She also stands up Maggie Sawyer on a date, and when she finally does see Maggie, she doessn’t even apologize; instead, she demands that Maggie give her emotional support.

THE MAXX #14 (IDW, 2014) – untitled, [W/A] Sam Kieth, [W] William Messner-Loebs. The Maxx dreams that he’s being chased by a giant talking horse that looks like himself. He awkwardly wakes up in Sarah’s arms, and then a very pregnant Julie walks in. Sam Kieth’s art in this issue is amazing; he is a totally unique artist. The Maxx may be his best work simply because it’s a collaboration with a writer who’s better than Sam himself. As Four Women demonstrates, Sam’s writing ability is not equal to his artistic ability.

MORLOCK 2001 #1 (Atlas/Seaboard, 1975) – “The Coming of Morlock!”, [W] Michael Fleisher, [A] Al Milgrom. Sort of a mashup of Man-Thing, Warlock, and 1984. In a dystopian Orwellian future, a scientist creates an artificial human being just before being murdered by the Thought Police (they’re actually called that). The artificial man, Morlock, has the power to kill people by turning them into plants, so the government uses him as an executioner. But by the end of the issue, he realizes what he’s doing is wrong. He also discovers that he can turn himself into a giant plant monster, so he decides to use his powers to overthrow the government. This comic is highly derivative of various other comics, but it’s interesting, and if it had lasted longer, it could have been quite good. The main problem is Al Milgrom’s boring art.

DAREDEVIL #149 (Marvel, 1977) – “Catspaw!”, [W] Jim Shooter, [A] Carmine Infantino. Matt fights a boring villain, Smasher, and yells at Foggy for no reason. Also, he refuses to defend Heather Glenn’s father in court (correctly, since it would be a conflict of interest for both Matt and Daredevil), and Heather responds by complaining to her teddy bear. Heather is probably my least favorite superhero girlfriend ever. This issue includes an unfortunate panel sequence in which Matt and Foggy seem to have magically switched places between panels (https://www.instagram.com/p/B771Nu7BARc/).

New comics received on January 30:

CRIMINAL #12 (Image, 2020) – “Cruel Summer Part Eight: Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. If Dan killed Teeg Lawless, then why were we told in the very first issue that Tommy Patterson killed him? Well, because Dan actually shot Teeg with rock salt at the end of last issue. I didn’t understand why when I read the comic, but now I get it: Ricky tipped Dan off to where Teeg and Jane were, and in exchange, he told Dan not to kill Teeg. Anyway, Dan kidnaps Jane, thinking he’s “saving” her, but she crashes their car into a truck, killing them both. Afterward, Teeg is crushed by grief, and when Ricky reveals that he was responsible for Jane’s death, Teeg grabs his own son by the throat. To save Ricky, Leo has to kill Teeg, and his father takes the rap for it. So in the end, half the characters are dead, and the other half have their lives ruined forever. That’s the end of this truly amazing series. I look forward to seeing what Brubaker and Phillips do next, though I was not impressed by this issue’s preview of Jacob Phillips’s upcoming series.

DIAL H FOR HERO #11 (DC, 2020) “Dear Dad,” [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Joe Quinones. I think the opening sequence in this issue is based on Fun Home, though it’s hard to tell. In the issue there’s an obvious Chris Ware homage, and I think the Lolo Kick You scene is based on the style of Rumiko Takahashi. The main plot element in this issue is that Miguel collects all four dials and splits into a good and a bad half, and then Mr. Thunderbolt turns the entire multiverse into a dial. This has been an amazing series, and I’m sorry there’s just one issue left.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #12 (Marvel, 2020) – “The Life & Death of Conan Part 12: The Power in the Blood,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Mahmud Asrar. With the help of his son Conan II, Conan defeats the two evil children and saves the world. This conclusion leads into Jason Aaron’s upcoming King Conan series. Jason is the third great writer of Conan comics, after Roy Thomas and Kurt Busiek, and I’m glad his Conan run is continuing. I just wish that the next writer on the main Conan series was someone other than Jim Zub.

SEX CRIMINALS #26 (Image, 2020) – “The End: Part One,” [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Chip Zdarsky. I was very tired and depressed when I read this, and I wasn’t able to give it the attention it deserves. It’s an amazing piece of work, of course. It shows us that Jon and Suzie are back together, and it ends on a nice cliffhanger when we discover that Jon is calling Suzie from jail. I love the extra page that was inserted so the number of pages would be even. However, it is difficult to follow what’s going on, especially given the long hiatus. Fraction’s explanation for the hiatus is surprising: he realized he’d stopped caring about the plot, and he decided to take a break until he started to care again. I feel guilty for not reading the entire letters page, but I usually don’t read it anyway.

INVISIBLE KINGDOM #9 (Image, 2020) – “Edge of Everything, Part 4,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Christian Ward. Grix and her crew succeed in getting back to their own ship, but then Grix nearly ruins everything by going back to the other ship to rescue Vess. As the issue ends, Grix is stranded in space, and Vess is trying to save her, because it turns out that when Vess goes into estrus, she gains superpowers. This is such a thrilling issue that I made a sort of “whew” sound when I finished it. Invisible Kingdom is one of the best comics on the market right now.

MONSTRESS #25 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [A] Marjorie Liu, [A] Sana Takeda. This is an excellent and very important series, but while reading this issue, I kept wanting it to be over. It was a tedious read because its plot has become impossible to follow. I never quite understood Monstress’s plot in the first place, and it’s gotten more confusing with each issue. I’ve long since lost track of how many factions there are or which characters belong to which faction. However, the characterization in this issue is extremely good. I especially like the scenes with Kippa.

FARMHAND #13 (Image, 2020) – “The Wiz,” [W/A] Rob Guillory. I taught the first Farmhand storyline in my comics class last week, and the students really seemed to like it. And by teaching it, I realized lots of things about it that I had missed before. This issue, Ezekiel and Andrea go to see Wally, a former coworker of Jed and Monica Thorne, but then they all get attacked by plant-people disguised as missionaries. Back in Freetown, Mikhail turns into a plant zombie himself.

SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN #5 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] James Tynion, [A] Werther Dell’Edera. Erica kills the monster, despite Tommy’s interference, but it turns out the monster has already reproduced. This is an excellent horror comic. What especially makes it effective is Dell’Edera’s depictions of the monster. He gives us a broad sense of what it looks like, but he leaves enough of its appearance unspecified that it becomes truly scary.

X-MEN #5 (Marvel, 2020) – “Into the Vault,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] R.B. Silva. A villain named Serafina is hiding in a vault where time flows at a different rate, and Synch, Darwin and X-23 (who humorously insists on being called Wolverine) have to go in and get her. I don’t understand what the Vault is or who Serafina is, but I like how each issue of this series has felt completely different from the last.

IMMORTAL HULK #30 (Marvel, 2020) – “Cometh the Hour,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. The Hulk and his sidekicks battle the monsters that are destroying Phoenix. After the Hulk and his allies have exhausted themselves and inadvertently made themselves look evil, Xemnu appears to save the day, just as planned. This was an entertaining issue.

NEW MUTANTS #6 (Marvel, 2020) – “Not as Hoped,” [W] Ed Brisson, [A] Flaviano. This issue’s title is ironic because I bought it mistakenly thinking it was written by Hickman. In future, I will be more careful about checking credits, because this issue is terrible. In the last installment of this storyline, a team of New Mutants went to recruit Beak and Angel to the new team, only for Beak and Angel’s house to be invaded by drug dealers. The villains in this issue are offensive racist caricatures. Also, at the end of the issue, the main villain murders Beak’s parents in cold blood, then kills himself so Beak can’t take revenge. To make things even worse, one of the New Mutants then mindwipes Beak and makes him believe his parents died years ago. Bek and Angel have suffered more than enough already; Grant Morrison already went too far when he made them teenage parents of six children. In this issue Ed Brisson subjects them to even more unnecessary trauma. It would have been better if these characters had never appeared again. Overall, this issue is an offensive piece of crap, and I am very unlikely to ever buy another comic written by Ed Brisson.

ICE CREAM MAN #17 (Image, 2020) – “Cape Fear,” [W] W. Maxwell Prince, [A] Martín Morazzo. The Ice Cream Man in this issue is a thinly disguised Superman parody. He invites Parker Paige (i.e. Lois Lane) to his fortress of solitude, but their date quickly becomes horrifying; for example, he tries to get Lois to eat some sentient cute creatures. Parker thankfully blacks out after that, and the issue ends with a parody of Batman’s origin. This issue has nothing in common with the previous issue of Ice Cream Man that I read, other than its extremely disturbing tone. Now I’m even more curious to read more of this series. Hannibal Tabu wrote a negative review of this series on Bleeding Cool, but I don’t think he understood what it was trying to do.

VAGRANT QUEEN: A PLANET CALLED DOOM #1 (Vault, 2020) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Jason Smith. This is Mags’s first new creator-owned comic in a while. As this series opens, Elida is living a quiet life with her new girlfriend Florence, but then a giant white-costumed dude shows up and kidnaps Elida. He takes her to a planet where she is apparently worshipped as a god. This is an intriguing setup, but I still hate Jason Smith’s art.

THE UNBELIEVABLE GWENPOOL #9 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, [W] Christopher Hastings, [A] GuriHiru. There’s some fun, wacky stuff in this issue, including a cameo appearance by the elderly version of Squirrel Girl. The problem is that Christopher Hastings is just not a grat writer. His dialogue is grating, his jokes are unfunny, and his characterization is unconvincing. I should have quit buying this series much sooner than I did.

REAL SCIENCE ADVENTURES #3 (IDW, 2017) – “The Flying She-Devils: Raid on Marauder Island Part 3,” [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Lo Baker. I don’t remember how we got to this point, but as this issue begins, the Flying She-Devils are flying over the Pacific Ocean in a plane that’s rapidly running out of fuel. And they’re being chased by a sky pirate named Mad Jack. This issue is very suspenseful and exciting, but Lo Baker’s art is not as skillful as Scott Wegener’s, although the coloring in this issue is good. There’s also a backup story about the Sparrow.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2017 (SECRET EMPIRE) #1 (Marvel, 2017) – “Secret Empire,” [W] Nick Spencer, [A] Andrea Sorrentino. This issue’s first story has some excellent page layouts, but Secret Empire is an insulting and terrible story, and I hate Nick Spencer’s writing. There’s also a Spider-Man backup story. I hated this story at first, but that was partly because I thought that it too was written by Nick Spencer; it was actually by Chip Zdarsky. But even though my initial opinion of this story was unfairly prejudiced, I still don’t like it.

DOCTOR STRANGE #21 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, [W] Dennis Hopeless, [A] Niko Henrichon. I ordered this by mistake because I didn’t realize Jason Aaron’s run was over. This comic is not unreadable, but it’s gross – in the opening scene, Doc has to fight a sentient blob of stomach acid. And Hopeless doesn’t generate nearly as much excitement as Aaron did. His “run” only lasted three more issues.

THE AUTHORITY #16 (Wildstorm, 2000) – “The Nativity Four of Four,” [W] Mark Millar, [A] Frank Quitely. This is less bad than it could have been, but it’s not good. Millar’s tasteless, offensive writing kills whatever pleasure I could have gotten out of Frank Quitely’s art.

DRAGON BALL SUPER 2017 FCBD EDITION (Viz, 2017) – untitled, [W] Akira Toriyama, [A] Toyotarou. I read this because I was too tired to read anything that would have required more mental effort. This FCBD comic contains a preview of a new Dragon Ball manga. It makes no sense at all to a reader who hasn’t kept up with the series (I’ve only read the first three volumes). There’s also a Boruto: Naruto Next Generations installment, which is equally impenetrable. Both these stories were poor choices for a comic designed to attract new readers.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2017 (GUARDIANS OF THE GALXY) #1 (Marvel, 2017) – “Smash & Grab,” [W] Gerry Duggan, [A] Aaron Kuder. Gerry Duggan is a boring writer, and his Guardians of the Galaxy story didn’t grab me, although I enjoyed the art. The second half of this issue consists of a Defenders story by Bendis. It’s more of his usual crap.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES #102 (IDW, 2020) – untitled, [W/A] Sophie Campbell. It’s probably been 25 years since I last bought a TMNT comic, but I bought this one because it’s by Sophie Campbell. This issue’s plot revolves around creatures called Mutanimals, and as a new reader, I wasn’t able to follow what’s going on. But Sophie Campbell’s art and visual storytelling are brilliant. She has an unparalleled ability to draw compelling facial expressions, and to create conovincing characters with various body types. The scene where three of the Turtles are sitting silently around the breakfast table is very powerful, even though I didn’t know what they were so sad about. I’m going to keep following this series.

THE TERRIFICS #24 (DC, 2020) – “The One Where Bizarro Screws Up Time Finale,” [W] Gene Luen Yang, [A] Sergio Davila. The Noosphere intervenes to save the day. The Terribles get stuck at the end of time, except Boyzarro, who remains with the Terrifics. Mrs. Terrific gets super-angel powers, and there’s a fourth-wall-breaking moment where she “borrows” a page from the comic we’re reading. Gene Luen Yang’s comics always seem to have weird plots with lots of metalepsis and complicated narrative structure, and this one is no exception. I still have rather mixed feelings about this series, but I like it enough to stick with it.

PROTECTOR #1 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Simon Roy & Daniel Bensen, [A] Artyom Trakhanov. This new series feels like a Brandon Graham comic, which is natural since Graham launched Roy’s career. It has a weird SF plot and focuses more on worldbuilding thn storytelling. Protector takes place in a post-apocalyptic, post-climate-change America, characterized by conflicts between tribes such as Hudsoni, Anglos and Yanquis. The racial politics of this comic are open to critique; I think it’s unfortunate that the villains all seem to be Asian. But I like the art and the worldbuilding. Highlights include the “gosherd” (goose-herd) and the placename Süssem-Ri, which took me a while to decode as Sault Ste. Marie.

GREEN LANTERN: BLACKSTARS #3 (DC, 2020) – “The Heart of Emptiness,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Xermanico. A confusing and complicated conclusion to a difficult storyline. Hal reveals that the last three issues have been taking place in a parallel universe, so the real DCU is safe from Belzebeth and her Blackstars. Hal returns to Earth and leaves Belzebeth on the parallel Earth. This sets up the upcoming second season. I don’t understand why Belzebeth’s chest is glowing at the end. Xermanico’s art is not as creative or weird as Liam Sharpe’s.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: DAILY BUGLE #1 (Marvel, 2020) – “The Hanging Judge Part 1 of 5,” [W] Mat Johnson, [A] Mack Chater & Francesco Mobili. Mat Johnson’s first Marvel comic is an ensemble-cast series about the Daily Bugle staff. The most interesting character in the series is Robbie Robertson’s niece Chloe, who joins the Bugle staff and is sent to investigate some mysterious Spider-Man webs. The pacing of this story is a little odd, but this comic displays Johnson’s usual humor, and I’m excited to read more of it.

CAPTAIN MARVEL: THE END #1 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Carmen Carnero. In the year 2051, Carol thinks all the people of Earth have died, but she discovers that Earth still has a small population, including many young superheroes. After defeating a giant monster, Carol sacrifices her life to reignite the sun. This issue isn’t bad, and I especially like all the grown-up kid superheroes and the descendants of superhero couples. But Kelly’s version of Carol is still fundamentally lacking in personality, especially compared to Kelly’s other characters.

KILLADELPHIA #3 (Image, 2020) – “Sins of the Father Part 3,” [W] Rodney Barnes, [A] Jason Shawn Alexander. This issue is primarily a retelling of Vampire John Adams’s origin. Rodney Barnes mistakenly claims that John Quincy Adams was elected President twice, and this makes me doubt all the other historical information Barnes provides. This issue is not terrible, but it’s a rather straightforward horror comic, and it seems to lack depth. I want Killadelphia to be another Farmhand or Bitter Root, but it’s not there yet.

KOSHCHEI THE DEATHLESS #3 (Dark Horse, 2018) – untitled, [W] Mike Mignola, [A] Ben Stenbeck. Besides The Visitor, this is the best Hellboyverse comic I’ve read lately, mostly due to its moody and convincing depiction of premodern Russia. Most of this issue is a retelling of the Russian villain Koshchei’s origin story, and Ben Stenbeck seems to have done significant research on medieval Russian clothing and architecture, so the story has a strong sense of verisimilitude.

REAL SCIENCE ADVENTURES #4 (IDW, 2017) – “Raid on Marauder Island Part 4,” as above. The Flying She-Devils’ predicament gets even worse. As a last resort, the lead She-Devil summons all the other pirates who have a grudge against Mad Jack, asking them to help the She-Devils out. This issue is very similar to #3.

SUPERMAN #30 (DC, 2017) – “A Moment Longer Part 2: Hopes and Fears,” [W] Keith Champagne, [A] Ed Benes et al. Another dumb crossover story, in which Superman fights Sinestro and Parallax. The only reedeming moment in this issue is a scene where Superman imagines his worst fears, which include Lois getting cancer, and Jon being bullied.

CURSE WORDS #10 (Image, 2017) – “Explosiontown Part Five,” [W] Charles Soule, [A] Ryan Browne. Wizord defeats Violet, but while he’s distracted, the government kidnaps Margaret. There’s a hilarious moment where Margaret tries to deny that she’s a magical talking platypus creature. Meanwhile, Sizzajee and Jacques Zacques team up. I’ve noticed that this series includes a lot of jagged diagonal panel borders (see https://retconpunchdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/wizord-beach.jpg for an example). I don’t know if this is just a stylistic trademark of Ryan’s, or if there’s some other explanation for it.

THE HOLLOWS #4 (IDW, 2013) – untitled, [W] Chris Ryall, [A] Sam Kieth. The conclusion to some kind of science-fictional story. I didn’t understand the plot of this issue, but the artwork is quite good. Some of Sam’s art in this issue looks like it was reproduced from colored pencils or something.

CURSE WORDS HOLIDAY SPECIAL #1 (Image, 2017) – untitled, [W] Charles Soule & Ryan Browne, [A] Mike Norton. A flashback story in which Sizzajee’s children team up for a “Meatmeet,” in which they compete to hunt down a magically created beast. This is a fun and lighthearted story, even though (or because) it includes some very gruesome moments. It’s not that essential to the plot, but it is cool to see how a different artist interprets the Hole World and its characters.

CURSE WORDS #12 (Image, 2018) – “The Hole Damned World Part 2,” [W] Charles Soule, [A] Ryan Browne. I didn’t order issue 11, but it must have been very eventful. At the beginning of this issue, Wizord is in the middle of a fight with Ruby Stitch, and he also mistakenly thinks that he’s destroyed the entire Hole World. Wizord and Ruby’s “fight” soon turns into a sexual encounter. Meanwhile, Margaret is engaged in a standoff with the humans who’ve kidnapped her. One thing I noticed while reading this issue is the role that color plays in the story. Each of the wizards has a distinctive color for their magic, and the colors let us see which wizard is doing what.

TEEN TITANS GO #19 (DC, 2017) – “Precog Sniffin’”, [W] Paul Morrissey & Heather Nuhfer, [A] Marcelo DiChiara. The first “story” in this issue is a plotless non-story about nothing. The backup story at least has a plot, albeit a dumb one: Beast Boy tries to heal his sick pet herring and is declared the king of a tribe of Vikings. I don’t like Teen Titans Go very much, and I actively hate its version of Starfire.

SCOOBY APOCALYPSE #8 (DC, 2017) – “The Doctor Will Kill You Now!”, [W] Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis, [A] Dale Eaglesham & Ron Wagner. I ordered this because it was part of a package deal with some other Hanna-Barbera comics. I don’t know what to make of it. It’s a semi-serious take on Scooby-Doo, drawn in a realistic style. Giffen and DeMatteis’s storytelling is reasonably good. But unlike, say, Afterlife with Archie, or Mark Russell’s Hanna-Barbera comics, or Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids, Scooby Apocalypse doesn’t seem ironic at all. It takes itself completely seriously, despite its unserious subject matter. As a result, it doesn’t work for me.

INCORRUPTIBLE #4 (Boom!, 2010) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Jean Diaz. Max Damage fights another villain named Amberjack. This is a very early issue and it’s not as deep or complex as later issues, though it’s fun.

THE MAXX MAXXIMIZED #13 (IDW, 2014) – untitled, [W/A] Sam Kieth, [W] William Messner-Loebs. This issue is mostly about Sarah’s elderly grandfather, who keeps trying to escape his nursing home, thinking he’s boarding a spaceship. As usual, Sam Kieth’s draftsmanship and page layouts are stunning. I’m not sure what precisely are the differences between this reprint and the original Image publication.

RUMBLE #1 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W] John Arcudi, [A] James Harren. A fantasy comic in which a young man somehow acquires a magic sword, but a bunch of villains are trying to take it for themselves. I bought this when it came out, but didn’t read it. If I had read it, I wouldn’t have ordered issue 2. Rumble #1 has impressive art, but its dialogue is stupid, and I don’t care about its protagonist or its plot.

CATWOMAN #39 (DC, 2015) – “Better than He Does Himself,” [W] Genevieve Valentine, [A] Garry Brown. A boring, visually unappealing talkfest, in which Catwoman gets involved in an intrigue between crime families. Genevieve Valentine tries to give her story a literary air by including quotations from Cesare Borgia, but there’s very little of any interest in this comic.

GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS #6 (Image, 2015) – “Cosmic Apocalypse,” [W/A] Ryan Browne. More of Browne’s usual unfunny nonsense. This issue includes none of the diagonal panel borders I remarked in my review of Curse Words #10, so I guess they’re not part of Browne’s natural style.

CURSE WORDS #13 (Image, 2018) – “The Hole Damned World Part Three,” [W] Charles Soule, [A] Ryan Browne. Sizzajee tells Jacques a biased version of the Hole World’s history. Margaret befriends one of the magicians who are holding her captive. Wizord and Ruby Stitch realize they can’t find Margaret, so Ruby Stitch decides to terrorize New York’s people by making it rain blood. Thus we come to the last issue of Curse Words that I ordered:

CURSE WORDS #14 (Image, 2018) – “The Hole Damned World Part Four,” [W] Charles Soule, [A] Ryan Browne. Ruby Stitch’s rain of blood drains her powers. Margaret comes up with an escape plan. On the last page, Platinum Johnny shows up with his pregnant girlfriend. After finishing this issue, I wished I had continued ordering this comic, even though I stopped reading it after issue 2. It lasted until issue 25, and I hope I can find the remaining issues at some convention or other. Curse Words is a genuinely entertaining comic, with a unique and compelling plot.

MISTER X VOL. 2 #10 (Vortex, 1990) – “Dedicated User,” [W] Jeffrey Morgan, [A] Disraeli. Jeffrey Morgan is best known as a music journalist. This series is his only significant comics credit, though he was a well-known letterhack. Mr. X vol. 2 #10 has pretty good artwork and dialogue, although it includes some excessively gruesome scenes. However, by this point, Mr. X had drifted very far from Dean Motter and Paul Rivoche’s original concept. The name Dean Motter doesn’t seem to appear anywhere on this comic.

THE BEEF #3 (Image, 2018) – “Tainted Love Part Three: Red, White & Blue,” [W] Richard Starkings, [A] Shaky Kane. This issue is another gruesome exploration of the beef industry’s inhumane practices, and also of the connection between beef and American masculinity. However, Richard Starkings’s captions are overwritten, and they get in the way of Starkings’s art. I feel that Shaky Kane’s minimalist art style demands equally minimalist writing, as in That’s Because You’re a Robot and Captain Dinosaur.

ANIMOSITY: EVOLUTION #5 (AfterShock, 2018) – “Lex Animata: Part 3,” [W] Marguerite Bennett, [A] Eric Gapstur. In addition to all the usual problems with Animosity, this issue suffers from lazy art. There’s one two-page splash where the image is just a close-up of a tiger’s eyes, and the tiger gives a speech that requires 19 separate word balloons. Also, as I read this comic, I realized that the “villains” in this series are just trying to feed themselves the only way they know how, i.e. by eating other animals. The “heroine,” Wintermute, has imposed an artificial form of government that doesn’t work for anyone. Wintermute is only the hero because the writer says so.

DARE #2 (Fantagraphics, 1992) – two stories, [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Rian Hughes. Dan Dare travels to the north of England, where he witnesses the squalor and human misery caused by the government he supports. Rian Hughes’s art in this series is incredible. He is perhaps the best Clear Line artist in Anglophone comics. He must have read lots more Clear Line comics than were ever available in English. It is a bit odd that Rian Hughes is using such a slick, utopian, futuristic style to depict a future that turns out to be the opposite of a utopia. But I guess that irony is deliberate.

SEA OF THIEVES #4 (Titan, 2018) – untitled, [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Rhoald Marcellius. I was expecting to dislike this, but I enjoyed it because of Jeremy’s witty dialogue and characterization. Even though this comic is just a video game tie-in, Jeremy writes it with as much energy as if it were Princeless. This issue is a fun, low-stakes pirate adventure with some queer content. The female co-protagonist falls in love with another girl who apparently dies, but the love interest turns up alive at the end.

BLOODSHOT: SALVATION #10 (Valiant, 2018) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Doug Braithwaite. In the future, Bloodshot fights an ankylosaurus. In the present, Bloodshot’s daughter Jessie uses the Internet to become superintelligent, but she causes such a drain on the Internet that it reveals her location to her enemies. The Jessie sequences in this issue are powerful and emotional, but the Bloodshot scenes are boring, and Braithwaite’s art is stiff and verly derivative of Kubert.

MISTER X VOL. 1 #12 (Vortex, 1988) – “Nightclubs and Daydreams,” [W] Dean Motter, [A] Seth. I didn’t understand this comic’s plot, but Seth’s art is really good. There’s one page where some people are sitting in a bar discussing Mister X, and below them, you can see Mr. X himself, sitting among a bunch of pipes and furnaces. The second half of the issue includes a dream squence illustrated entirely in black and white. This issue is worth reading to see how Seth developed his craft.

THE MAXX MAXIMIZED #15 (IDW, 2015) – as above. Maxx and Sarah react to Julie’s surprise pregnancy. Meanwhile, some character I don’t recognize is in jail for some reason, and Mr. Gone is his cellmate. This issue includes some interesting if potentially offensive discussions of slut-shaming.

Last reviews of 2019

Last reviews of the year:

SUICIDE SQUAD #38 (DC, 1990) – “Caging the Tiger!”, [W] John Ostrander & Bob Greenberger, [A] Luke McDonnell. This is mostly a Bronze Tiger solo story. Benjamin Turner is called on the carpet by Sarge Steel and other government officials, and they more or less harass him until he runs out of the room screaming. Their treatment of him is clearly racist, though this isn’t acknowledged. Also, Jewelee discovers she’s pregnant. Her baby did get born but was never given a name. This issue maintains the series’ usual level of quality even though Ostrander didn’t write the script; I wonder why not.

CAMELOT 3000 #4 (DC, 1983) – “Assault on New Camelot!”, [W] Mike W. Barr, [A] Brian Bolland. King Arthur is introduced to the public and meets his new Knights of the Round Table. This comic is really not all that good, especially not now that we have Once & Future to compare it to. As I complained before, Bolland’s art is below his usual standard, and Barr knew only the most basic facts about Arthurian legend.

THE SPECTRE #3 (DC, 1993) – “Crimes and Punishments,” [W] John Ostrander, [A] Tom Mandrake. The Spectre deals with some crooks by turning into rats. In a flashback, we see Jim Corrigan’s new origin: he was a corrupt cop who was murdered by the mob. This is a reasonably good issue, but Ostrander’s Spectre was far more brutal and less subtle than his Suicide Squad, although that was deliberate.

REVIVAL #14 (Image, 2013) – untitled, [W] Tim Seeley, [A] Mike Norton. Em tries to take Jordan, the creepy little reviver girl, back home after a playdate. But Jordan is more interested in reuniting with her disembodied soul-thing, and Em has to keep her alive, or at least undead. This is a pretty good issue. Jordan is one of the more disturbing characters in the series.

LEGIONNAIRES #78 (DC, 1999) – “Emissary,” [W] Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, [A] Jeffrey Moy. This is Jeff Moy’s final issue. He and the “Archie Legion” era are synonymous with each other; he defined the visual style of this era of the Legion, and in turn, the Legion defined his career. However, his lighthearted style was not a good fit for DnA’s grimmer take on the franchise. This issue, a team of Legionnaires embarks on a mission that they wouldn’t return from, at least not until many years later. Also, Garth proposes to Imra, but they never got married; Garth died and was revived, and by then, the series was about to be rebooted again. On the last two pages of this issue, the stargate network collapses, and the art duties are taken over by Olivier Coipel, the definitive artist of the Legion’s next era.

HARDWARE #24 (Milestone, 1995) – “New World Disorder,” [W] Otis Wesley Clay & Denton Fixx Jr, [A] Humberto Ramos. Hardware fights a villain called Indigo, who turns out to be a little boy, and the boy’s legs get blown off in an explosion. This issue is okay, but Hardware is one of the less exciting Milestone titles.

NEIL THE HORSE COMICS AND STORIES #1 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1983) – multiple stories, [W/A] Katherine Collins. A mixed bag of material, including what appear to be reprints of newspaper strips. In the first story, Neil and Soapy use suction-cup shoes to run around on rooftops, and they cause a lot of havoc. Then there’s a four-pager, “Neil the Horse Goes to Hell,” which reminds me of a Fleischer Brothers cartoon. Collins’s art on this story is incredibly detailed. There’s also an illustrated prose story in which Neil, Poupée and Soapy visit colonial Quebec.

WHAT IF…? #5 (Marvel, 1989) – “What If Wonder Man Had Not Died?” and “What If the Vision Had Destroyed the Avengers?”, [W/A] Jim Valentino. This issue’s point of divergence is that in Avengers #9, Simon Williams survives his battle with the Avengers. He goes on to marry Wanda, despite Pietro’s extreme jealousy. But as an unintended consequence, Ultron can’t use Simon’s brain waves to create the Vision, so the Vision is completely evil, and the Avengers’ first encounter with Ultron and the Vision turns out much worse. After a riff on the “Journey to the Center of the Android” scene from Avengers #93, Ultron kills Simon, and Hank Pym has to save him by implanting his brain waves into the Vision’s body. So as often happens in these What If? stories, the status quo of the mainline Marvel Universe is restored at the end. This issue is okay, although What If? volume 2 was rarely any better than okay.

DETECTIVE COMICS #848 (DC, 2008) – “Batman, R.I.P.: Heart of Dusk,” [W] Paul Dini, [A] Dustin Nguyen. Catwoman fights Hush, and meanwhile, Batman fights a young boy who Hush and Scarecrow have turned into a monster. This issue is too heavy on continuity and is not as entertaining as Dini and Nguyen’s better Batman stories.

SEAGUY: SLAVES OF MICKEY EYE #3 (Vertigo, 2009) – “Burn, Mickey, Burn!”, [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Cameron Stewart. A suitably bizarre and un-summarizable conclusion to Grant’s weirdest series.

I read 2,262 comics in 2019. That is by far my highest total ever. The reasons for this were because: 1) I deliberately tried to read every new comic I got, and I mostly succeeded. The only major exceptions were Infinity 8 and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Captain America. 2) I tried to make a dent in my massive backlog of unread comics. Again, I succeeded, though I keep buying new comics, so my stack of unread comics rarely gets any smaller. I expect that I will scale back my comics reading in 2020, though I still expect to read a ton of comics.

December reviews

12-23-19

DESPERADOES #1 (Image, 1997) – untitled, [W] Jeff Marriotte, [A] John Cassaday. This is probably John Cassaday’s first major work. His art here is more detailed and less epic and widescreen than in Planetary or Astonishing X-Men, but you can still tell it’s him. As for the story, Desperadoes is a Western comic with some supernatural elements. It’s not great, but it’s not terrible either. I’d buy more issues of this but only if they were cheap.

CHEW #26 (Image, 2012) – “Space Cakes,” [W] John Layman, [A] Rob Guillory. Chow Chu enlists Toni’s aid to prevent a rival chef from destroying some priceless paintings in an insurance fraud scheme. The paintings are all food-themed, of course, and they’re the visual highlight of the issue. In the end it turns out that the insurance fraud scheme was a lie, and Chow was really trying to recover a recipe book that the other chef stole. Also, Toni has an affair with Paneer that ends abruptly when she bites him. Tony Chu spends the whole issue in a coma.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #12 (Image, 2013) – “The Fermi Paradox,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Nick Pitarra. At the end of last issue, Harry Daghlian revealed that Fermi was an alien. This issue, the alien Fermi goes on a rampage and makes a failed attempt to to take over the project. We also get a flashback to Fermi’s past history, and we revisit a scene in an earlier issue where the Manhattan Projects team encountered an alien government; however, this time the scene is narrated from the aliens’ perspective. I had no idea what was going on in this scene until I went back and read the previous issue. At the end, Einstein kills “Fermi” with a chainsaw. Sadly, this ends the only genuine friendship in the series (that of Fermi and Daghlian).

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #13 (Image, 2013) – “Piece by Piece,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Nick Pitarra. This issue advances a number of subplots about the cast’s various missions. Notably, Laika goes on a long-term space mission, leaving Gagarin heartbroken. Nothing else about this issue particularly stands out to me.

STORMWATCH #44 (DC, 1997) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Tom Raney. This issue narrates Jenny Sparks’s entire century-spanning life. It consists of a series of segments taking place in different decades, and each segment is written and drawn in the style of a different old comic.  Thus, over the course of the issue Tom Raney imitates Joe Shuster, Will Eisner, Crumb, Kirby, and Gibbons. He doesn’t quite have the versatility to pull off all these imitations perfectly, but it’s a clever experiment anyway. The best segment is probably the one that’s based on Watchmen, and the issue’s cover is also an homage to Watchmen’s cover designs.

SUICIDE SQUAD #47 (DC, 1990) – “Choice of Dooms,” [W] John Ostrander & Kim Yale, [A] Geof Isherwood. This completes the story where Kobra tries to take over Israel using the Dybbuk computer. As usual, it’s action-packed and thrilling and full of fascinating and distinctive characters. The confusing part is that there are two similar-looking characters named Ravan and Rambam, and at first I thought they were the same character. Rambam is an effective depiction of a superhero who’s motivated by his Jewish faith. Like some of Ostrander’s other characters from Suicide Squad, Ramban later appeared in Spectre.

KNIGHT AND SQUIRE #3 (DC, 2011) – “For Six,” [W] Paul Cornell, [A] Jimmy Broxton. A scientist uses cloning technology to resurrect King Richard III. Modern portrayals of Richard III (e.g. Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time) tend to treat him sympathetically, but Cornell bucks this trend by depicting a Richard III who’s just as evil as Shakespeare’s version. Also, he speaks in correct iambic pentameter. Richard goes on to resurrect a bunch of other English kings, including Charles I, who carries around his severed head. Knight and Squire almost take a back seat to Richard, though they ultimately do defeat him. This was a really fun issue.

COLDER: THE BAD SEED #2 (Dark Horse, 2014) – untitled, [W] Paul Tobin, [A] Juan Ferreyra. A very creepy horror story about a villain, Swivel, who seems to be made entirely of fingers. The protagonist of this series is a detective named Declan, but this issue focuses mostly on Swivel. Most of Paul Tobin’s other works are lighthearted adventure stories, but Colder shows that he also has the ability to write in a grimmer and more serious mode. Juan Ferreyra’s painted art reminds me of Jill Thompson’s art in Beasts of Burden.

SINERGY #1 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W/A] Michael Avon Oeming, [W] Taki Soma. A teenage girl loses her virginity and gains the ability to see the monsters that are everywhere around her. Despite how that sounds, Synergy is a superhero comic and not a horror comic. It has an okay premise, but I never much liked Oeming’s art, and his story doesn’t grab me enough to make me want to read more.

ABE SAPIEN: THE HAUNTED BOY #1 (Dark Horse, 2009) – “The Haunted Boy,” [W] Mike Mignola & John Arcudi, [A] Patric Reynolds. Two boys fall through the ice while skating on a pond. One boy dies, and the other is severely traumatized, so his mother calls Abe Sapien to talk to him. Abe discovers that the surviving boy is actually dead and possessed by a demon. This is one of the better Hellboyverse comics I’ve read lately; it’s a brutal tale about an unimaginable trauma.

ANGELA: ASGARD’S ASSASSIN #4 (Marvel, 2015) – untitled, [W] Kieron Gillen & Marguerite Bennet, [A] Phil Jimenez & Stephanie Hans. Angela and the Guardians of the Galaxy fight the Disir. In a flashback, Angela confronts her friend Sera. This issue has some good dialogue – I especially like the way Kieron depicts Marvel’s heaven as terrifying. The angels sing a version of “Scarborough Fair” about villages of fire and harps of bone. But otherwise, this comic isn’t up to the quality of Gillen’s other Thor stories.

ZERO #4 (Image, 2013) – “Vision Impairment,” [W] Ales Kot, [A] Morgan Jeske. This comic has reasonably effective art, but I couldn’t follow its story. It’s some kind of a secret agent thriller, but otherwise I don’t understand what its premise is.

CONAN: ROAD OF KINGS #8 (Dark Horse, 2011) – “The Horrors Beneath the Stones,” [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Mike Hawthorne. In the midst of a palace conspiracy, Conan has to return a noblewoman’s little daughter to her mother. It’s a lot of fun to see Conan interacting with a little girl. His interactions with Albiona remind me of Wolverine’s relationship with Katie Power. Roy’s only other character who had a similar relationship with Conan was Tara of Hanumar, though she was a lot older.

ANIMOSITY #12 (AfterShock, 2018) – “Wasp’s Nest,” [W] Marguerite Bennett, [A] Rafael De Latorre. In this chapter of the hive storyline, Jesse goes inside the hive and sees the society the wasps have built. As I’ve written in other reviews, the wasp storyline was the only time the series lived up to its potential and fully explored the implications of its premise. The bees are almost the only animals in the series who actually act like sentient animals, rather than humans in animal bodies.

CATALYST PRIME: ASTONISHER #5 (Lion Forge, 2018) – “The Solution to Everything,” [W] Alex de Campi, [A] Pop Mhan & Al Barrionuevo. I’ve never been able to follow the plot of this series, but it has some excellent dialogue. Alex de Campi is a very underrated writer who has not been treated well by the industry.

ANIMOSITY: EVOLUTION #4 (AfterShock, 2018) – “Lex Animata: Part 2,” [W] Marguerite Bennett, [A] Eric Gapstur. This is a more typical Animosity comic. The driving force behind its plot is that the animals in the city have all agreed to stop eating meat, and this has resulted in a massive shortage of arable land. Here again we see that Marguerite Bennett was afraid to explore the full implications of her premise. Some animals simply have to eat meat to survive. Therefore, if all the animals became sentient, it would lead to some difficult questions about which animals’ lives should be valued above others. But Bennett tries to dodge those questions by looking for a way to feed all the animals on a vegetarian diet.

New comics received on November 30:

LUMBERJANES #68 (Boom!, 2019) – “It’s a Myth-tery Part 4,” [W] Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, [A] Kanesha C. Bryant. Marigold defeats Freya by growing huge and sitting on her. Then “Freya” reveals that she is in fact Irpa, a minor goddess, and she has to rescue the cats that pull Freya’s chariot. The Lumberjanes and Freya save the day, Diane and April agree on a truce, and Hes and Diane enter into a nonsexual relationship. Diane is the series’ first asexual character, which makes sense because the mythological Artemis was a lifelong virgin.

CRIMINAL #10 (Image, 2019) – “Cruel Summer Part Six: Two Ways to Hell,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. This has become one of my favorite series. In the first half of this issue, Dan Farraday continues looking for Teeg and Jane but gets nowhere. In the second half, Teeg and Jane tell Ricky that they’re living town and he has to live with Leo. Understandably feeling that his dad is abandoning him for a new floozy, Ricky picks a fight with Teeg and loses. Then he wanders over to Teeg’s old house, and who should he meet there but Dan. This storyline is heading toward an epic conclusion.

ASCENDER #7 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dustin Nguyen. This issue is mostly a flashback showing us what Telsa has been doing for the past decade. Notably, it shows how Telsa and her first mate Helda became lovers. It doesn’t advance the present-day plotline.

INVISIBLE KINGDOM #7 (Image, 2019) – “Edge of Everything Part Two,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Christian Ward. Grix and Vess’s ship has been boarded by some evil pirates. The pirate captain, Turo, claims that he’s gone into piracy because he’s sick of being exploited by Lux and the Renunciation, but he’s still an asshole. Meanwhlie, Vess is going through some kind of weird biological thing that she won’t talk about. The issue ends on another cliffhanger when the pirate ship encounters a crippled Lux ship. Christian Ward’s coloring in this issue is incredible, as usual, but I’m also impressed by his storytelling, specifically the page where Vess and Turo walk down a stairway.

SECOND COMING #5 (Ahoy, 2019) – “Sympathy for the Devil,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Richard Pace. God and Satan have a heart-to-heart talk. A Central Asian dictator invites Sunstar to adopt a child from his country, but it turns out to be a trap. Jesus teaches some new disciples. I love the way this series depicts God and Jesus.  Mark Russell’s Jesus feels genuinely close to the Jesus of the Gospels, rather than the sanitized and deradicalized Jesus of official Christianity. Maybe that’s why this series is controversial. As usual, this issue is full of great lines: “I’m going to call you a mole, you a rat, and you a mole-rat.”

BASKETFUL OF HEADS #2 (DC, 2019) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Leomacs. The criminals cut off the boy’s finger and kidnap him. The girlfriend hides until they leave, but it turns out one  of them stayed behind, and he goes after the girl with a gun. Just as all the lights on the island go out, the girl cuts the convict’s head off with an axe, which is a deeply cathartic moment because he’s a smug asshole. But then things get really weird, because his severed head survives and continues to talk. The girl has to carry the head around in a basket, justifying the title of the series, while searching for help. So far this is the best Black Label title besides The Dollhouse Family.

IRONHEART #12 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Eve Ewing, [A] Luciano Vecchio. Riri falls in the well and has a flashback to before her own birth. She learns that her father was kidnapped and used as a guinea pig for medical experiments, hence his current powers. Riri escapes the well and saves her friends from the temple. Ironheart was the best new Marvel comic of the year (though technically it started last year) and I want to teach it the next time I teach a course on superhero comics. I’m just sorry it only lasted twelve issues, though her new title, Outlawed, has already been announced.

JOHN CONSTANTINE, HELLBLAZER #1 (DC, 2019) – “A Green and Pleasant Land, Part One,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Aaron Campbell. Constantine meets a new potential love interest, a Scottish bouncer named Nat, as well as Barry the Traffic, a man whose last encounter with Constantine left him horribly disfigured. Then John is kidnapped by a tattooed wizard. Blake’s “Jerusalem” is quoted several times near the end of the issue. This issue is entertaining, and I love Nat’s Scottish-accented dialogue. But it’s also a confusing comic. When I read issue 2, I couldn’t remember what happened in #1, and as a result I was extremely confusde. More on that when I get to my review of issue 2.

GHOST-SPIDER #4 (Marvel, 2019) – “Pretend to Be Nice,” [W] Seanan McGuire, [A] Takeshi Miyazawa. Gwen resolves a hostage standoff, and meanwhile the Jackal conspires with Man-Wolf and travels to Gwen’s Earth. This issue, like the previous three, is quite slow-paced and low-intensity, but I don’t mind that. And I really like Seanan’s dialogue and characterization. The main problem is that I can’t keep track of which characters are from which Earth.

KILLADELPHIA #1 (Image, 2019) – “Sins of the Father Part 1: A Call to Arms,” [W] Rodney Barnes, [A] Jason Shawn Alexander. In Philadelphia, policeman James Sangster Sr is murdered by zombies. His son, also a policeman, comes up from Baltimore for the funeral but gets dragged into investigating the murder. At the end of the issue, the son exhumes the father and finds that he’s still alive as a zombie. This is a difficult read because it’s not narrated in chronological order, and also because I kept confusing James Sr with James Jr. But it’s worth the effort. It’s a gripping crime/horror story which is also an investigation of race and of father-son relationships. Jason Shawn Alexander’s moody, realistic artwork is reminiscent of Alex Maleev, and is perfect for this series.

BLACK PANTHER #18 (Marvel, 2019) – “Two Thousand Seasons,” [W] Ta-Nehisi Coates, [A] Brian Stelfreeze. Most of this issue consists of conversations between T’Challa and Storm. This story has been moving at a snail’s pace, and it’s still only three-quarters done. I’ve already decided to give up on this comic.

MY LITTLE PONY HOLIDAY SPECIAL 2019 – “Holiday Hassle,” [W] James Asmus, [A] Andy Price. I love this issue’s cover, where Pinkie Pie is singing way too loud, and Applejack, Rainbow Dash and Rarity are visibly annoyed. In this issue’s main story, Rarity has three equally important commitments for Hearth’s Warming Eve, and she drags Spike along to all three of them. Andy’s artwork on this story is incredible as usual, but the plot is nothing we haven’t seen many times before. There’s also a four-page backup story starring the Young Six.

TOMMY GUN WIZARDS #4 (Dark Horse, 2019) – I don’t care what this comic’s official title is, it’s Tommy Gun Wizards to me. This issue, Ness confronts Capone in a floating castle above Chicago, while down in the sewers, the other Untouchables help the toad get back to its home dimension. We’re not told what happened to Ness’s wife and son, but I assume they’re fine. I hope there’s a sequel to this miniseries, since it leaves some loose ends unresolved.

VALKYRIE: JANE FOSTER #5 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Sacred and the Profane Conclusion,” [W] Al Ewing & Jason Aaron, [A] Cafu. With some help from her friends, Jane saves the day by taking the Grim Reaper to Valkyrie, since he’s already dead and considers himself a hero. This has been a pretty fun series so far. I think my favorite thing about it is Mr. Horse.

FANTASTIC FOUR: NEGATIVE ZONE #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Ethical Dilemmas in Modern Science,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Stefano Caselli. The FF travel to the Negative Zone to check on one of Reed’s old experiments, a civilization of bacteria that have become sentient. Mike Carey is fundamentally a horror writer, and “Ethical Dilemmas” feels like a horror story, not a Fantastic Four story. Reed effectively commits genocide by getting Blastaar to destroy the bacterial civilization, and he doesn’t seem sorry about it at all. Also, Reed shows no sense of responsibility toward these beings that he’s literally created. It’s best to just consider this story as not being in continuity. Ryan North’s backup story about the Fantastix, the replacement FF from the beginning of the current series, is much better. It reminds me of the Great Lakes Avengers or the Legion of Substitute Heroes.

FANTASTIC FOUR: GRAND DESIGN #2 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Tom Scioli. This issue follows the published FF comics fairly closely until near the end of Kirby’s run. But after that, things go completely nuts. Franklin is heavily implied to be Namor’s child, not Reed’s. Events from later comics (e.g. FF #200 and #262 and Secret Wars) start happening, but much too early and in the wrong order. There’s a scene where a bunch of Wakandans combine into a Voltron robot and fight Galactus; obviously, this didn’t happen in any previous comic. Then we skip over about two decades in a single panel, and Ben and Johnny’s grown children team up with Johnny and Crystal’s kids to defend the Baxter Building from Galactus. Finally, the now-adult Franklin is killed but goes back in time and becomes a minor character from Fantastic Four #5. This part of the issue is a frantic explsion of creativity. It takes inspiration from lots of different FF comics, but it puts these puzzle pieces together into a very different pattern, as compared to the published comics. Scioli’s FF, like his Go-Bots or his GI Joe and Transformers, is bizarre and manic and feels like something written by a hyperactive child – and that’s a good thing.

THE TERRIFICS #22 (DC, 2019) – “If Me Could Turn Back Time Part Three,” [W] Gene Luen Yang, [A] Stephen Segovia. The Terribles invade the planet Bgztl and steal some Phantom Zone crystals, allowing them to create a time loop. Meanwhile, the Terrifics get turned into little kids. This issue has a lot of funny dialogue, but there’s nothing especially notable about it.

INVISIBLE WOMAN #5 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Mattia De Iulis. Sue saves the day, but Aidan gets killed, which is no big deal since he was barely a character at all. As I previously observed, the problem with this series is that Sue’s personality has been defined by her relationships to her male friends and relatives, so it’s not clear what an Invisible Woman solo story should be like. Mark had an opportunity to develop Sue’s character further, but he instead chose to write a Black Widow story with Sue as the  protagonist.

BATMAN: CREATURE OF THE NIGHT #4 (DC, 2019) – “Dark Knight,” [W] Kurt Busiek, [A] John Paul Leon. This miniseries took two whole years to finish, meaning it was published at an even slower rate than the “Tarnished Angel” storyline in Astro City. This issue, Bruce finally realizes that there is no conspiracy against him, and that Batman is just the projection of his childhood fears and anxieties. (Batman may also be Bruce’s unborn twin brother, but I forget if this was mentionede in the story or just in Kurt’s author’s note.) Also, Bruce spends the entire issue acting like a whiny, entitled manbaby, to the point where as the reader, I was actively rooting against him. Whereas Superman: Secret Identity was a story about growing up, Batman: Creature of the Night is about the superhero as a metaphor for white male fragility. Bruce retreats into Batman in order to avoid having to grow up and care about other people and realize it’s not all about him.

ETHER: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF VIOLET BELL #3 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] David Rubín. Boone revives the Lucky God he killed, then he and Glum go looking for the assassin, but they’re attacked by some giant furballs on stilts. The highlight of this issue is the scene with the labyrinth full of random weird stuff.

WILD’S END #6 (Boom!, 2015) – “Five Against the Light,” [W] Dan Abnett, [A] I.N.J. Culbard. The protagonists fight a Martian tripod and destroy it, but on the last page, we see that there are a lot more Martian ships on the way. The impact of this ending is lessened because I’ve already read the sequel miniseries. Despite that, I really like Wild’s End. It’s a clever mashup of Wind in the Willows and War of the Worlds (maybe this premise was inspired by alliteration), and it feels very historically accurate.

THOR, GOD OF THUNDER #14 (Marvel, 2013) – “The Accursed Part Two: The League of Realms,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Ron Garney. To deal with Malekith, Thor joins the League of Realms, a group of heroes from each of the Nine Worlds. Most of its other members make their first appearance in this issue, including Screwbeard and Sir Ivory Honeyshot. One of the fun things about Jason Aaron’s Thor was the way he expanded Thor’s universe and depicted more of the Nine Realms besides just Asgard.

DETECTIVE COMICS #629 (DC, 1991) – “The Hungry Grass,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Jim Aparo. People all over Gotham are getting killed in bizarre ways, and a villain named Hungry is forcing everyone to follow various bizarre instructions if they don’t want to be killed. Batman discoves that Hungry is using a magical grass from Ireland that carries a curse: anyone who walks on the grass reenacts a violent occurrence that previously happened on the same spot. The hungry grass seems to be a genuine piece of Irish mythology, but Milligan puts his own spin on it. In his version, the grass was originally cursed by a witch who starved to death during the Irish potato famine. This story is very complicated, but it’s a clever and sophisticated use of Irish myth and history.

SUICIDE RISK #3 (Boom!, 2013) – untitled, [W] Mike Carey, [A] Elena Casagrande. In this story a superhero (?) tries to track down two supervillains, one who has mind control powers and another who previously killed her own children. This issue is forgettable, and I still don’t understand what the premise of this series is.

ALL-NEW X-FACTOR #14 (Marvel, 2014) – “Girls’ day out. Sounds terrific,” [W] Peter David, [A] Pop Mhan. Scarlet Witch invites Polaris on a day out, since they’re sisters (at least they were at the time, though this was later retconned) but they have no relationship with each other. They go to a Renaissance fair, where they save a woman from being burned at the stake by her jealous boyfriend. This was a fairly entertaining issue. It is a bit odd that Wanda and Lorna have each been around since the ‘60s but have never interacted at all.

AW YEAH COMICS! ACTION CAT & ADVENTURE BUG #4 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, [W/A] Art Baltazar, [W] Franco. Action Cat fights a giant lobster creature called Marquaid. If you’ve read one issue of this series, you’ve read them all.

CURSE WORDS #4 (Image, 2017) – untitled, [W] Charles Soule, [A] Ryan Browne. The mayor of New York complains to Wizord about the damage he’s done to the city, but Wizord ignores him. Wizord and Margaret head off to Hollywood, the first of the places of power (or POPs) where Wizord can restore his powers. Wizord gets some magic back by visiting a magic club, but on the way back he has to use all his power to stop a tsunami, leaving him vulnerable to an attack by his fellow magician Ruby. I stopped reading this series almost immediately because I just couldn’t get into it, though I kept buying it. However, Curse Words is a unique and funny comic, and while I don’t much like Ryan Browne’s writing (see below), his bizarre art style is very effective when he’s working with Charles Soule, who is able to rein in Brown’s excesses.

ALL-TIME COMICS: CRIME DESTROYER #2 (Fantagraphics, 2017) – “Inside the Zero!”, [W] Josh Bayer, [A] Benjamin Marra. Crime Destroyer is a black superhero who kills his enemies, and he also has a signal on the police station roof, so he’s sort of a combination of Punisher, Luke Cage and Batman. Benjamin Marra’s art in this issue is excellent; he uses the standard draftsmanship and layouts of ‘80s and ‘90s comics, while also conveying a punkish indie comics sensibility. However, it’s difficult to tell whether we’re this comic is serious or not. It seems to be intended as a parody of ‘90s comics, but you also get the feeling that Josh Bayer doesn’t quite realize it’s a parody and is trying to tell these stories with serious intent. This issue includes a page of Al Milgrom’s reviews of reecent indie comics. Again, it kind of feels like the editors are making fun of Al by displaying his limited understanding of avant-garde comics.

CURSE WORDS #5 (Image, 2017) – as above. Wizord’s plane crash-lands in Las Vegas, which is another place of power, so he’s able to win his fight with Ruby. In the midst of the fight, we get the shocking revelation that Margaret is Wizord and Ruby’s daughter, though none of the three seems to realize it. Also, a replica of the Eiffel Tower gets hit by a stray magic bolt and comes to life. That’s the sort of thing that happens in Curse Words.

SPACE RIDERS: GALAXY OF BRUTALITY #1 (Black Mask, 2017) – “Chaos in the Cosmos,” [W] Fabian Rangel, [A] Alexis Ziritt. A Starlinesque cosmic epic about some outer space bikers whose dialogue includes a lot of Spanish. This comic’s plot is reasonably interesting, but Alexis Zirtt’s artwork is a revelation. His art sort of resembles that of Jim Starlin, but filtered through a radical punk/DIY aesthetic. His pages almost look like posters rather than comics pages, with giant areas of solid color. It’s hard to describe this art more precisely because I can’t think what else it compares to, but it’s fascinating, and I want to see more from this artist.

ARCLIGHT #3 (Image, 2016) – untitled, [W] Brandon Graham, [A] Marian Churchland. This is very similar to Brandon Graham’s Prophet, except it has no apparent plot or premise. Brandon Graham had elaborate plans for the 8House/Arclight universe, but only a few issues of either series were never published, and based on those issues we can only guess at what 8House was supposed to be.

SPACE RIDERS: GALAXY OF BRUTALITY #2 (Black Mask, 2017) – “The Last Transmission of Margarita Peligro,” as above. In this issue the lead Space Rider, Captain Peligro, discovers what happened to his mother. This issue is heavily Kirbyesque as well as Starlinesque; it introduces an “Omega Structure” at the edge of the cosmos. Alexis Ziritt’s artwork here is perhaps even more radical than issue 1. I wish I had ordered the other two issues of this miniseries. And I guess there are also two other Space Riders miniseries besides this one.

ALL-TIME COMICS: BULLWHIP #1 (Fantagraphics, 2017) – “Web of Oblivion!”, [W] Josh Bayer, [A] Benjamin Marra. Bullwhip, a supposedly feminist superheroine, battles the Misogynist and the Time Vampire. This issue is quite similar to Crime Destroyer #2.

CURSE WORDS #6 (Image, 2017) – “Explosiontown Part One,” [W] Charles Soule, [A] Ryan Browne. On the Hole World, the alternate dimension where all the main characters come from, Sizzajee stages a contest to decide who will go after Wizord next. Meanwhile, Ruby Stitch starts a new life on Earth. By this point I was starting to enjoy this series quite a bit.

CURSE WORDS #7 (Image, 2017) – “Explosiontown Part Two,” [W] Charles Soule, [A] Ryan Browne. A stereotypical Frenchman named Jacques Zacque tries to assassinate Wizord, but Wizord turns him into a chair. Also, the government tries to kill Wizord with nuclear bombs, but it doesn’t work. Back in the Hole World, Violet is selected as Wizord’s next opponent. This issue was kind of inconsequential.

SILK #9 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, [W] Robbie Thompson, [A] Stacey Lee. The key moment of this issue is when Silk and Black Cat get locked in an elevator for an hour, forcing them to have a heart-to-heart talk. But Robbie Thompson never manages to make me care much about either character, and as usual with Silk, this issue’s plot is pointless.

HELLBLAZER #61 (DC, 1993) – “She’s Buying a Stairway to Heaven,” [W] Garth Ennis, [A] William Simpson. This issue has my favorite Glenn Fabry cover, the one where Constantine is leaning in a doorway holding a bloody scalpel. I saw this cover as a kid, when this issue first came out, and was fascinated, but I never read the actual issue until now. This issue, Constantine performs a ritual that renders Chantinelle immune to detection by hell, but in return he demands a favor from her. I think the highlight of this issue is the scene where Chantinelle sits on a bench and contemplates her mixed feelings about being exiled from hell.

KA-ZAR #5 (Marvel, 1997) – “Life in the Big City,” [W] Mark Waid, [A] Adam Kubert. The main theme of Waid’s Ka-Zar run was that Kevin Plunder was a man-child struggling to grow up and accept his adult responsibility. His conflicts between childhood and adulthood were represented by his divided loyalties between America and the Savage Land. This issue, Ka-Zar fights the Rhino in the middle of a crowded museum gala, and he also comes to the unpleasant realization that his son is named after Shanna’s old crush, Matt Murdock.

MERCURY HEAT #11 (Avatar, 2016) – untitled, [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Nahuel Lopez. Luiza fights a bunch of zombies, who are referred to as Crossed, so I guess this comic takes place in the same universe as that series. This issue has some good dialogue and exciting action scenes. However, it has ugly art and low production values, like all Avatar comics, and it doesn’t feel nearly as serious or substantial as Kieron Gillen’s other titles.

CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND THE MIGHTY DEFENDERS #2 (Marvel, 2015) – “…And Mine is a Faith in My Fellow Man,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Alan Davis. Faiza Hussain makes peace between her city and Maria Hill’s. This issue is okay, but it’s hard to care about it. It was part of a crossover, and it stars a bunch of alternate-reality versions of Marvel characters, none of whom are likely to appear again.

GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS #9 (Image, 2015) – “Cosmic Apocalypse,” [W/A] Ryan Browne. A giant anthropomorphic hippo fights King Tiger-Eating-a-Cheeseburger. This issue is full of wacky stuff, but none of it is as funny as Browne thinks it is.

CURSE WORDS #8 (Image, 2017) – “Explosiontown Part Three,” [W] Charles Soule, [A] Ryan Browne. Wizord meets the President, and it doesn’t go well. I think this President may be the same one from Letter 44. Ruby Stitch begins her new life on Earth. There are some more intrigues in the Hole World. This issue feels as if it’s just filling space. I haven’t gotten to #9 yet.

AXEL PRESSBUTTON #2 (Eclipse, 1984) – “Wanted for Mass Murder” and “Oasis,” [W] Steve Moore, [A] Steve Dillon. This issue starts with two Laser Eraser and Pressbutton stories reprinted from Warrior. The most notable thing in them is a bet that ends with the winner killing the loser. More importantly, this issue also includes the Alan Moore-Garry Leach Warpsmith story “Cold War, Cold Warrior,” whose first American publication was here and not in the Miracleman series. It’s not Alan’s best short story, but it’s essential for a completist like me. The main point of this story is that the Black Warpsmiths are evil and ruthless.

THE LAW OF DREDD #22 (Fleetway/Quality, 1990) – “The Apocalypse War Part 3,” [W] John Wagner, [A] Carlos Ezquerra. This issue reprints several chapters of “The Apocalypse War,” one of the most acclaimed Judge Dredd stories. This story is about a war between Mega-City One and East-Meg One, i.e. the Soviet Union. What impresses me about this and other 2000 AD stories is its brutality. It includes no sex or graphic violence, but it’s a grim, unromantic depiction of war. By the end of this issue, most of the soldiers who Dredd commanded at the start of the issue have been killed. One of them sacrifices himself by jumping off a highway bridge, so that he can cut some lower bridges as he’s falling. The story arc ends with East-Meg One being nuked into oblivion, so things would get even worse. Wally the Wobot offers a bit of much-needed comic relief.

EDGE OF CHAOS #3 (Pacific, 1984) – untitled, [W/A] Gray Morrow. This early creator-owned comic, a blend of SF and fantasy, includes some very appealing art. However, Gray Morrow writes way too much text, and as a result his story never gets any momentum. It’s also not the most original story; it’s about a mortal man named Eric Cleese who goes back in time and becomes Hercules.

B.P.R.D. HELL ON EARTH: RUSSIA #4 (Dark Horse, 2011) – “Russia,”  [W] Mike Mignola & John Arcudi, [A] Tyler Crook. A BPRD agent and some Russian soldiers descend into a mine, where they fight some zombies and a giant Lovecraftian monster. These BPRD comics are all very similar. I wonder how much Mignola is actually involved with them; none of his co-written comics seem as witty or as creepy as his solo-authored work.

HELLBLAZER #11 (DC, 1988) – “Newcastle: A Taste of Things to Come,” [W] Jamie Delano, [A] Richard Pears Rayner & Mark Buckingham. John Constantine’s Newcastle incident was alluded to as early as his first appearance, but this issue finally explains what happened to him in Newcastle. In a flashback, we see how a young Constantine tries to get rid of a demon by summoning a worse demon to eat it. This is as bad an idea as it sounds. Constantine can’t control the demon he summons. As a result, a little girl, Astra, is killed and condemned to hell, Constantine goes insane, and all his friends who participated in the ritual are cursed, causing them to later suffer untimely deaths. “Newcastle” fills in an essential piece of Constantine’s backstory, showing us the central trauma of his life.

BATMAN #659 (DC, 2007) – “Grotesk, Part 1,” [W] John Ostrander, [A] Tom Mandrake. The creative team from The Spectre reunites for a story about a grossly deformed monster who goes around murdering criminals. Tom Mandrake’s art in this issue is very similar to his art on The Spectre, especially the splash page where a man burns to death.

LOVE FIGHTS #5 (Oni, 2003) – untitled, [W/A] Andi Watson. This series’ protagonist is a comic book artist, and in this issue he discovers that his new inker is Donnie Vincent, the worst inker in the industry. This is too much of an inside joke for my tastes, and besides, the person who Donnie Vincent is based on was long dead by 2003, so this joke was flogging a dead horse. Other than that, this comic is a well-drawn but unmemorable piece of romantic comedy.

STARSLAYER #13 (First, 1984) – “Tamara Stands Alone!”, [W] John Ostrander, [A] Lenin Delsol. The lead story in this issue is not great. Lenin Delsol was a mediocre draftsman, and he had a weird habit of drawing characters with half their bodies beyond the panel border. And John Ostrander seemed to have little interest in writing Starslayer. As usual, the Grimjack story in this issue is much better. It includes a scene where Grimjack visits the strangest place in all of Cynosure: suburbia. “I try to stay out of suburbia.”

PRETTY DEADLY #8 (Image, 2016) – untitled, [W] Kelly Sue DeConnick, [A] Emma Rios. I just don’t like this series at all. I’ve never understood its plot, and Emma Rios’s linework and Kelly Sue DeConnick’s dialogue both grate on me. I know there are people who genuinely like this series, and I don’t understand why.

MIRROR #2 (Image, 2016) – untitled, [W] Emma Rios, [A] Hwei Lim. This is only the second issue and I was completely unable to follow it. This is partly because Lim’s faces are drawn with an extreme lack of detail, and so I was unable to tell the characters apart. I shouldn’t have bought this comic.

My next shipment arrived on December 10. I was exhausted from grading that day, and I didn’t feel like reading anything.

MAGNIFICENT MS. MARVEL #10 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Minkyu Jung. Kamala defeats Mr. Hyde, but her suit takes over and tries to kill him, and it turns out to be a sentient being called Stormranger. Also, Bruno and Aamir have a conversation about Kamala. This issue is mostly setup for the climax of the current storyline.

MANIFEST DESTINY #39 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Chris Dingess, [A] Matthew Roberts. The first and third pages of this issue are narrated in parallel fashion by both Lewis and Clark, each of whom gives his own account of an encounter with a two-headed monster. Sadly, this parallel narration stops there and doesn’t continue for the whole issue. Subsequently, Lewis flirts with Mrs. Boniface, the crew discovers a new arch that’s covered with fur, and at the end of the issue they discover a tribe of warrior women.

SPIDER-MAN & VENOM: DOUBLE TROUBLE #2 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Mariko Tamaki, [A] GuriHiru. Venom, in Spider-Man’s body, participates in an obstacle course game show, and various other funny stuff happens. This series is a very simple and quick read and has no relationship to continuity, but it’s extremely well-executed – much more so than Marvel Action: Spider-Man. I wish Marvel would publish more comics like this (and not outsource them to IDW).

USAGI YOJIMBO #7 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “The Swords of the Higashi,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. Usagi, Gen and Stray Dog kill some bandits and recover some swords that the bandits stole from the Higashi clan. They head off to return the swords to their owner, but they leave one of the bandits alive, and he comes back with more men. After they kill those men, the same bandit survives and comes back with even more men, and so on until Usagi, Gen and Stray Dog are thoroughly exhausted. It’s not clear how the bandit keeps recruiting so many more henchmen, but I guess that’s the joke. When Higashi and his friends finally reach the Higashi fortress, they discover that the swords in their possession are fake, and the real swords were already returned – by a certain “girl who does what she can to get by.” This is an extremely clever and funny story, a good example of Stan’s skill at writing single-issue stories.

DIE #10 (Image, 2019) – “The X-Card,” [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Stephanie Hans. Ash becomes the patron of all the Dictators in the world, and then she binds her former lover Zamorna to her and forces him to make her his queen. Zamorna describes himself as a “ravisher of seventeen-year-old girls, created by a teenage girl,” which has echoes of both Byron and Mary Shelley. By the end of the issue, Ash has set herself up as the evil queen of Angria. Die is one of the best current comic books from any publisher, but it’s also very dense and difficult, which is why it’s never the first comic I read.

THE DREAMING #16 (DC, 2019) – “The Crown, Part Two,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Marguerite Sauvage. This is perhaps the best issue of the series (besides #10), for two reasons. First, it explains what’s going on. Wan is an artificial intelligence created by the techbro Perry Keter in order to “rewrite what’s in people’s heads.” Of course, Wan turned out to be far more effective than its creator wanted, and Perry Keter died before he could turn it off. Also, Cain is inside the Wan architecture now and is, ironically, protecting Wan  from being killed. The second reason this is a great issue is Marguerite Sauvage’s art. Her charming, lyrical style of art and coloring is a surprisingly good fit for the terrible events of this issue. I love Sauvage’s art, and I wish there were more of it. She’s never been the regular artist on any comic book, and most of the time she only draws part of an issue, rather than the whole thing.

X-MEN #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “Growth Mindset,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Leinil Francis Yu. The X-Men battle Hordeculture, a supervillain team consisting of four old ladies. They seem like a joke at first, but prove to be very dangerous opponents. Because I didn’t read House of X/Powers of X, I don’t fully understand what’s going on in this series, but it’s the most exciting X-Men comic since Grant Morrison left.

EVERYTHING #4 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Praxis and Allies,” [W] Christopher Cantwell, [A] I.N.J. Culbard. By the end of this issue it’s clear that the Everything store is a front for some kind of bizarre cult, and it’s driving all the people in town crazy. Everything does a good job of creating a creepy and ominous mood. The problem is that Everything’s story lacks structure; every issue is just a bunch of isolated scenes with no apparent relationship to each other. Also, none of the characters have any distinguishing qualities at all. Everything is interesting, but it’s  a disappointing follow-up to She Could Fly.

THOR: THE WORTHY #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Beyond the Fields We Know,” [W] Walt Simonson, [A] Mike Hawthorne. The main reason to buy this is that it includes a new Thor story written by Walt Simonson, though he didn’t draw it. However, this story is only average. It’s an in-betweenquel, happening somewhere around Thor #339, in which Thor and Sif fight a rock troll. The next story is by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz and looks exactly like one of their old Thor comics; however, their Thor run was never very good in the first place, and is not worth revisiting. The issue ends with a story by Kathryn Immonen and Tom Reilly in which the Jane Foster Thor teams up with Sif. It’s an okay story, but overall this issue is skippable.

RAGNAROK: THE BREAKING OF HELHEIM #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “In the Soul Mines of Helheim…,” [W/A] Walt Simonson. Freyr sends Elli, the personification of old age, against Thor, but Thor cleverly defeats her by stuffing a dried apple of Idunn in her mouth. After learning that his wife is already dead, Hagen heroically sacrifices himself to defeat Freyr. Thor’s next stop is Helheim itself. Ragnarok is much grimmer and less funny than Simonson’s classic Thor run (even with Ratatoskr as comic relief), but with Ragnarok Simonson is challenging himself and trying something new, and that’s valuable.

LOIS LANE #6 (DC, 2019) – “Enemy of the People Part Six,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Mike Perkins. This issue doesn’t advance the plot of the miniseries at all, because it’s an Event Leviathan crossover. That’s right, an issue of a miniseries that’s part of a crossover. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before,  and it’s a slap in the face to people who are only reading Lois Lane and not the other Superman titles. I don’t care about Event Leviathan, I care about the story Greg Rucka is telling about Lois Lane, and this issue is an unnecessary interruption to that story. A further reason why this issue pissed me off is that it’s about Sam Lane’s funeral. Every story I’ve ever read about Sam Lane has portrayed him as a complete asshole, so I’m glad he’s dead, and it’s annoying to read a story full of people crying crocodile tears over him.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ AND THE FRESHMAN FORCE: SQUAD SPECIAL #1 (Devil’s Due, 2019) – various stories, [E] Josh Blaylock. Devil’s Due’s previous AOC comic was really good, but this follow-up issue is frankly awful. It’s full of shoddy, amateurish work, including one story by Blaylock himself that consists almost entirely of caption boxes. After reading this, I will be hesitant to buy any other comics from Devil’s Due.

GREEN LANTERN: BLACKSTARS #2 (DC, 2019) – “A Hole in the Sky,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Xermanico. This issue begins with a rather tense conversation between Hal and Superman. Then it’s time for Hal and Belzebeth’s wedding, and we finally get Belzebeth’s backstory: she’s the daughter of Starbreaker, and she comes from a race of cosmic vampires who eventually evolve into Sun-Eaters. The Sun-Eater/Starbreaker connection is a brilliant use of old continuity. Then Controller Mu ascends to godhood, and Hal starts implementing his secret plan. Oh, also I finally get that Hal became a Blackstar because he wished on the Miracle Machine and changed all of reality. Like most of Grant’s work, his Green Lantern run is extremely dense, but it’s also a lot of fun.

ARCHIE VS. PREDATOR II #4 (Archie, 2019) – “Dance of Death,” [W] Alex de Campi, [A] Robert Hack. I barely remember this because I was exhausted when I read it. There’s a whole lot more carnage, and Betty and Veronica summon the devil to help them.

GHOSTED IN L.A. #6 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Sina Grace, [A] Siobhan Keenan. Another one I don’t remember well. Kristi tracks down Daphne and drags her out to do a bunch of touristy stuff. Kristi becomes suspicious when Daphne won’t take her to the mansion, and Daphne blows up at Kristi, calling her suffocating. Honestly I can sympathize with both of them, because Daphne was refusing to just tell the truth about the ghosts, but Kristi really is pretty suffocating.

COPRA #3 (Image, 2019) – “Ticking Teeth,” [W/A] Michel Fiffe. The Copra team defeats the villains, but the villains have already set a self-destruct timer, and Zoë is forced to kill her ex-lover Castillo. A notable feature of this issue is a timer that keeps counting down in the corners of the panels. The art in this issue is excellent, but I can never keep this series’ story straight in my mind.

ADVENTURE FINDERS: THE EDGE OF EMPIRE #4 (Action Lab, 2019) – “The Green Shroud,” [W/A] Rod Espinosa. The good guys manage to get across the bridge and then destroy it to prevent pursuit, but afterward they find themselves in a forest full of dinosaurs. This is quite an exciting issue.

After this point I was done with grading, so I had a bit more mental energy to devote to reading:

THOR, GOD OF THUNDER #21 (Marvel, 2014) – “God, Inc.,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Esad Ribic. In the future, Thor battles Galactus. In the present, Thor returns to Broxton, Oklahoma and finds that Dario Agger has purchased the entire town, just to piss him off. Esad Ribic’s art is growing on me. I especially like his sound effects.

ATOMIC ROBO AND THE REVENGE OF THE VAMPIRE DIMENSION #4 (Red 5, 2010) – “Why Dr. Dinosaur Hates Atomic Robo,” [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Scott Wegener. The story of Robo’s first encounter with Dr. Dinosaur, easily the best character in the series. Everything Dr. Dinosaur says and does is hilarious, and he and Robo are a great comic duo. I especially like when Robo points out how Dr. Dinosaur’s existence is scientifically implausible (and then Dr. Dinosaur goes after him with a chainsaw).

BLACK PANTHER AND THE CREW #2 (Marvel, 2017) – “We Are the Streets,” [W] Ta-Nehisi Coates & Yona Harvey, [A] Butch Guice & Mack Chater. I disliked the first issue of this series, but I liked this one much more. It opens with a flashback to the 1955 Bandung Conference, a real historical event, and then in the present, Storm and Misty Knight investigate some crime in Harlem. The death of the activist Ezra Keith forces Storm to confront her feelings of disconnection from her African-American heritage. Storm’s Harlem upbringing has been explored before, (e.g. in X-Men #122), but rarely with this level of depth.

TRANSFORMERS VS. G.I. JOE: THE MOVIE ADAPTATION #nn (IDW, 2017) – untitled, [W/A] Tom Scioli. This is possibly unique in comic book history because it’s an “adaptation” of a movie that doesn’t exist. It’s Tom Scioli’s adaptation of the film version of his own Transformers vs. G.I. Joe miniseries. Like most comics adaptations of films, it reads like a condensed plot summary, but it’s full of weird ideas and radical page layouts. I especially like all the bonus features, which are written as if the movie really existed.

ALL-TIME COMICS: BLIND JUSTICE #2 (Fantagraphics, 2018) – “The View from Knife Pierce Mountain,” [W] Josh Bayer, [A] Noah Van Sciver. This is the best issue of All-Time Comics I’ve read because it’s an extra-length story fully illustrated by Noah Van Sciver. The combination of Van Sciver pencils with Al Milgrom inks is weird, but it works. Also, Josh Bayer’s story is genuinely suspenseful. The closing scene is especially brutal. Blind Justice pursues a murderer to the top of a mountain, but the murderer defeats him and smashes his hands; however, Blind Justice gets up, follows the villain, and traps him into hanging himself.

ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN #6 (Image, 2017) – “Where the rain don’t fall,” [W/A] Kyle Starks. Jackson has an epic fight with some henchmen on top of a moving train. He finally gets defeated by a female opponent, since his power is that no one man can defeat him in combat. But then his opponent makes the mistake of standing on railroad tracks during a thunderstorm. Meanwhile, Satan tries to track Jackson down. I still need to read the last two issues of this series.

AIR #20 (Vertigo, 2010) – “A History of the Future Part II,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] M.K. Perker. The protagonist investigates the crashed plane of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, which has somehow appeared in Washington state, and then she goes back in time and meets Saint-Exupéry himself. Air is Willow’s least successful and most uncharacteristic work, but I’m still interested in reading the rest of it. This issue includes an echo of Ms. Marvel: an old Indian or Pakistani lady who calls the protagonist “beti.”

MISTER X #7 (Vortex, 1986) – “The Secret,” [W] Dean Motter, [A] Seth. The head of Friedkin Pharmaceuticals is having some mysterious nightmares, and he browbeats Mister X into finding out why. The best thing about this issue is Seth’s depictions of Radiant City’s art deco architecture and signage. However, Seth is not temperamentally suited to drawing an adventure comic; his major works are stories in which barely anything happens.

ALL-NEW ATOM #14 (DC, 2007) – “Hunt for Ray Palmer Part Three: Heavens to Betsy,” [W] Gail Simone, [A] Mike Norton. Ryan Choi, Donna Troy, Jason Todd and the Monitor travel into a microworld to look for Ray Palmer. On the way, they encounter a bunch of other dead heroes and villains. This is a reasonably good superhero comic, but it’s nothing special.

THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO #2 (Topps, 1994) – “It Crawls!”, [W] Joe R. Lansdale, [A] Tim Truman. Lone Ranger and Tonto encounter some obsessed fans, and then they get hired  to find a stolen Aztec mummy. But the mummy has come to life and has its own agenda. This isn’t as funny as Jonah Hex: Two-Gun Mojo, but it’s entertaining. As Truman explains in the letters page, he consciously tried to make Tonto an actual charactre and not just a stereotype, though I’m not sure he succeeds as well as Mark Russell did in his own Lone Ranger series.

HELLBLAZER #85 (Vertigo, 1995) – “Warped Notions Pt. 1: The Delicate Power of Terror,” [W] Eddie Campbell, [A] Sean Phillips. Constantine meets the ghost of Sir Francis Dashwood, the founder of the historical Hellfire Club, and they head to Philadelphia to avert a mystical apocalypse. On the way to America, they encounter reenactments of a number of urban legends, like the one about drugs being smuggled in dead babies. Eddie Campbell’s Hellblazer displays the same gentle, sardonic humor as his creator-owned work. There’s some disgusting stuff in this comic, but it’s presented in a humorous way. For example, one of Sir Francis’s companions is a giant anthropomorphic cat named Murnarr who enjoys snacking on dead humans’ bones.

DETECTIVE COMICS #586 (DC, 1988) – “Rat Trap,” [W] John Wagner & Alan Grant, [A] Norm Breyfogle. Batman defeats the Ratcatcher and frees his surviving victim. The Ratcatcher is a very creepy villain, and Wagner, Grant and Breyfogle’s storytelling is exciting and moody.

LUCIFER #27 (Vertigo, 2000) – “Purgatorio 3 of 3,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter Gross & Ryan Kelly. The conclusion of Lucifer’s battle with the Basanos, a personification of the Tarot deck. It includes a rare on-panel appearance by the DCU version of God. I mostly couldn’t understand what was going on in this issue.

On December 15, I celebrated the end of the semester by going to the Charlotte Comic Con. Here are some of the comics I bought there:

CRIMINAL #6 (Marvel, 2007) – “Lawless Part One,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. In a flashforward, Tracy Lawless is introduced to us as he’s murdering a man and throwing his body into a passing garbage truck. We then move back in time a bit and see Teeg being  released from prison only to discover that his younger brother Ricky has been murdered.  Teeg decides to investigate by joining Ricky’s old gang, only he has to create a vacancy in that gang first, which explains why he murdered the man in the first scene. Tracy is a fascinating character; he’s as much of a criminal as his father or his brother, but he seems to have a basic sense of integrity that neither of them has.

JONNY QUEST #5 (Comico, 1986) – “Jade Incorporated,” [W] William Messner-Loebs [A] Mitch Schauer. This issue has an incredible cover by Dave Stevens. In “Jade Incorporated,” Jonny and Hadji team up with Jezebel Jade in a wacky adventure which is inspired by The Maltese Falcon. This story is extremely entertaining, and I love how Jonny and Hadji manage to hold their own against adults like Jezebel and Dr. Zin. Because this story takes place in Hong Kong, it includes some annoying stereotypes, although the most stereotypical character turns out to be a secret agent in disguise.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #145 (Marvel, 1975) – “Gwen Stacy is alive… and, Well?!”, [W] Gerry Conway, [A] Ross Andru. Peter meets the Gwen Stacy clone and reacts violently, even shoving her down. He tries to distract himself by fighting the Scorpion. This is an excellent Spider-Man comic, with solid characterization and action sequences. I’m not sure what happened to this Gwen Stacy clone; her history has been completely retconned at least twice.

SHOCK SUSPENSTORIES #12 (EC, 1953/1995) – four stories, [E] Al Feldstein. The standout story in this issue is “The Monkey,” a very realistic depiction of a teenager’s descent into heroin addiction. It ends with the protagonist murdering his own father, which is a typical EC ending, but otherwise it feels more plausible than other EC storise. In Jack Kamen’s “Deadline,” an alcoholic journalist tries to quit drinking in order to win the love of a woman, but he ends up murdering the woman, who turns out to be cheating on him. In “The Kidnapper” by Reed Crandall, a newborn baby is kidnapped, plunging the baby’s mother into despair. The father decides to kidnap a different baby from a wealthy suburban couple, but he’s caught and murdered by a mob. Of course it turns out the baby he kidnapped was his own son, who was sold to a rich infertile couple. In Wally Wood’s “Fall Guy,” a criminal steals some money and hides it in a safe deposit box under an assumed name. He serves some prison time for the theft, but when he gets out, he can’t remember the name he used to rent the safe deposit box. In desperation, he jumps off a building with a neon sign that reads BAR AND GRILL / BEER ON TAP, and as he’s falling, he knocks some of the letters off the sign. Ironically, in doing so he reveals the name he couldn’t remember: BRAD GILBERT. It’s an implausible but brilliant ending.

CHEW #24 (Image, 2012) – “Major League Chew Part 4 of 5,” [W] John Layman, [A] Rob Guillory. Mason Savoy recruits Olive Chu to hunt down Hershel Brown, a “xocoscalpere” who can make weapons out of chocolate. Hershel Brown gets killed and Olive takes a bit out of his arm and gains his ability. It’s revealed that Olive has the same powers as the Vampire. As always, this issue is thrilling and funny and is full of gags; the opening scene takes place at a butter sculpting competition, from which Hershel is disqualified because he used chocolate instead of butter. (Though he points out that there’s butter in chocolate!)

ATOMIC ROBO #5 (Red 5, 2008) – “Unearthed,” [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Scott Wegener. An early battle between Robo and his archenemy Helsingard. It’s good, but it lacks the humor and excitement of later Atomic Robo comics. This issue includes a backup story by Christian Ward, who was already a brilliant artist and colorist by 2008.

ATOMIC CITY TALES #2 (Kitchen Sink, 1996) –untitled, [W/A] Jay Stephens. This is much better than #1 of the self-published series, which I read earlier this year. It consists of two parallel stories, one where Jay Stephens (the author’s avatar) is attending Doc Phantom’s party, and another where the superhero Big Bang is looking for Jay. The Big Bang story is on the top tier of each page, and the Jay story is on the middle and bottom tiers. As stated on the inside front cover, the reader can read the two stories at the same time or one after the other. Besides this narrative gimmick, the issue is full of bizarre characters and snappy dialogue. Jay Stephens’s style is heavily based on that of Mike Allred, but his draftsmanship is excellent.

CAMELOT 3000 #1 (DC, 1982) – “The Past and Future King!”, [W] Mike W. Barr, [A] Brian Bolland. DC’s first “maxi-series” was a science fiction story in which King Arthur returns in the far future to prevent an alien invasion. Camelot 3000 is historically important, but it hasn’t held up well, especially not now that we have Once and Future. Mike Barr was an okay writer, but he had a tendency toward histrionics, and his knowledge of Arthurian legend is very shallow compared to that of Kieron Gillen. In Once and Future, Gillen is able to play with Arthurian legend in clever and unexpected ways (like when he reveals that Duncan is Sir Percival), but Barr only knows the basic facts of the Arthurian narrative. Brian Bolland’s artwork in this miniseries is simply not up to its usual standard. I think that this series forced him to produce much more work than he was used to, and he wasn’t able to ink it himself. Camelot 3000 did get better later on when Barr introduced a queer romance subplot, but it doesn’t live up to the hype.

THE AUTHORITY #11 (Wildstorm, 2000) – “Outer Dark Three of Four,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Bryan Hitch. The Engineer merges with the Authority’s carrier in a last-ditch attempt to kill God. Warren Ellis’s Authority was really a fairly conventional superhero comic, though with more than the usual dose of science fiction. The scene with Apollo and Engineer on the moon is especially notable for the sense of wonder it creates. It was Mark Millar who turned Authority into something truly unprecedented, though not in a good way.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #687 (Marvel, 2012) – “Ends of the Earth Part Six: Everyone Dies,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Stefano Caselli. Spider-Man, Silver Sable and the Avengers invade the dying Dr. Octopus’s base. Spidey barely manages to defeat Doc Ock, in a scene that calls Spider-Man #33 to mind, but the Rhino apparently kills Silver Sable. This story leads directly into Dying Wish and Superior Spider-Man. A funny moment in this story is when Doc Ock mind-controls Thor, and then Thor drops Mjolnir, because Doc Ock isn’t worthy to hold it.

JUNKWAFFEL #3 (Print Mint, 1972) – “The Masked Lizard” and other stories, [W/A] Vaughn Bodē. Vaughn Bodē was one of the most influential underground cartoonists, though he published a very small body of work before dying of autoerotic asphyxiation. This issue includes some “Masked Lizard” strips that previously appeared in a college publication, several original short stories, and an illustrated prose story that first appeared in the East Village Other. Based on the evidence of this issue, Bodē was not a great storyteller – none of the stories have much of a plot. He was influential because of his talent for composition and his draftsmanship, especially his sexy women. I want to read more Bodē, but it’s a pity that his body of work is scattered among a bunch of different overlapping out-of-print publications. I don’t know why Fantagraphics hasn’t published a complete collection of his work.

LOCKE & KEY: ALPHA #2 (IDW, 2013) – “Part 2: The End,” [W] Joe Hill, [A] Gabriel Rodriguez. The last issue of the main storyline begins with Bode’s funeral, but then Tyler finds out a way to use the keys to revive Bode. This issue underscores how Tyler is an impressive character and a good example of tender masculinity. He experiences a ton of trauma throughout the series, but always maintains his sense of responsibility. The issue even ends with a scene where Tyler and his father’s ghost hug each other and cry.

BIRTHRIGHT #13 (Image, 2016) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. Mikey fights Sameal, who he doesn’t realize is his grandfather. Meanwhile, we learn that Kylen is an agent of Lore. This is a good issue but not especially noteworthy.

PIRATE CORPS #1 (Eternity, 1987) – “I Hate This Job!”, [W/A] Evan Dorkin. When I found this comic in a cheap box, I thought at first that it was a different comic with the same title as Evan Dorkin’s Pirate Corps, because the art didn’t look like Dorkin’s art at all. But no, it’s just a very early work. I think it’s Evan’s first solo work. Even at the very start of his career, Evan was quite funny, and Pirate Corps #1 is an exciting piece of SF adventure. However, as mentioned in a different review (https://www.zompist.com/bob20.html), this comic suffers from a lack of worldbuilding or characterization. I bought a few more issues of Pirate Corps at the convention, but I haven’t gotten to them yet.

BATTLEAXES #1 (Vertigo, 2000) – “Medereus No More,” [W] Terry LaBan, [A] Alex Horley. Another impressive work by the highly underrated Terry LaBan. The tagline of Battleaxes is “When men were men and women killed them.” It’s about a group of women warriors (and one druidess) who are exiled from their village and become mercenaries. This issue, they save an innocent young couple from some Tenguts (i.e. Mongols), and then they join the army of the corrupt, crumbling Birzenian (i.e. Byzantine) Empire. Battleaxes is something of a wish-fulfillment fantasy, but it’s well-intentioned, and it’s very entertaining and raucously funny. It’s kind of a prototype of Rat Queens.

SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #4 (Marvel, 2013) – “The Aggressive Approach,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Giuseppe Camuncoli. Spidey/Doc Ock defeats a bunch of supervillains and invents a bunch of stuff, but his coworkers start to get suspicious of him. Meanwhile, the psychopathic supervillain Massacre escapes from prison, kills the longtime supporting character Ashley Kafka, and holds a diner full of people hostage. Then the clerk pushes the silent alarm, and Massacre kills him and everyone else in the diner, saying, “I didn’t kill anyone. That man did. He broke the rules.” I was very relieved to learn that Spidey kills Massacre in the issue after this one, because he’s an utterly disgusting villain.

QUANTUM & WOODY #4 (Acclaim, 1997) – “Noogie,” [W] Christopher Priest, [A] M.D. Bright. I have the trade paperback that includes this issue, but I read it a long time ago and I don’t remember it well. The notorious gimmick of this issue is that every instance of the N-word is replaced with “noogie.” Disturbingly, one of the characters who uses that word is Woody, and he says a bunch of other racist stuff too. Priest is deliberately trying to make the reader uncomfortable, and he succeeds. There’s a lot of other funny stuff in this issue, such as Woody driving Eric crazy with his guitar playing.

CRIMINAL: THE SINNERS #3 (Icon, 2009) – “The Sinners Part Three,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. On Sebastian Hyde’s orders, Tracy Lawless investigates a murder spree. He also sleeps with Hyde’s wife, though Hyde suspects Tracy is sleeping with his daughter. I love how the more Criminal comics I read, the more I deepen my understanding of its universe. I start to see how Tracy and Sebastian are connected to all the other characters. Since the stories in Criminal are told out of chronological order, it doesn’t matter so much that I’m not reading them in the order in which they were published. Even then, I still get that sense of understanding the world more with every issue I read.

INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #31 (Marvel, 2010) – “Stark Resilient Part 7: Sabot,” [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Salvador Larroca. Tony bets his company’s reputation on the new car they’re developing. But the first publication of the car is sabotaged by Justine and Sasha Hammer, the daughter and granddaughter of Justin. This is a really exciting issue, and Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca are my favorite recent Iron Man creative team, but that’s not saying much. Iron Man is easily the worst of the long-running Marvel titles. The only time it was truly great was during David Michelinie’s two runs. The reason may be that Tony Stark is an unsympathetic protagonist.

ATOMIC ROBO: SHADOW FROM BEYOND TIME #4 (Red 5, 2009) – “The Crawling Chaos,” [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Scott Wegener. One of the best issues of any Atomic Robo series. In the ‘70s, Atomic Robo teams up with Carl Sagan to deal with the next manifestation of a time-traveling Lovecraftian monster. Sagan’s interactions with Robo are extremely funny; there’s a running gag where almost everything Sagan says is an aphorism about the mystery and wonder of science. This issue is full of other amazing moments. On page one, while Robo is on the phone, a gorilla walks by wearing a space helmet. Robo’s assistant walks out, notices it, and runs after it. These events are never referenced in the dialogue. Later, Robo invents a fifth cardinal direction called “zorth.” This issue also includes the frequently reproduced sequence where Robo starts reading a physics textbook, gets bored, and reads a Conan comic book instead. I think I might include this sequence on my syllabus for next semester.

TRINITY #27 (DC, 2008) – “Time to Suit Up,” [W] Kurt Busiek, [A] Mark Bagley. Thanks to some villain or other, the universe has been retconned into an unrecognizable state – kind of like in Legion of Super-Heroes v4 #5. I didn’t understand much of this story, but it’s weird to see Mark Bagley drawing DC characters instead of Marvel characters. There’s also a backup story that stars some new superheroes called the Dreambound.

On December 18, I received a huge comics shipment:

FANTASTIC FOUR #17 (Marvel, 2019) – “Point of Origin Part Four: Secret Agenda,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Luciano Vecchio et al. A flashback reveals how Scrum and the other monsters were created. Scrum turns out to be the father of one of the Unparalleled. The main plotlines continue: Johnny is still obsessed with Sky, and Ben leads the monsters of Freak Alley on an invasion of Lowtown. At the end of the issue, Reed reveals that it was the Overseer who “weaponized” the cosmic storm that affected the FF’s rocket, thus creating the Fantastic Four. This was another great issue of an excellent FF run. Dan Slott evokes the spirit of past FF stories, while also adding things that haven’t been done before.

FAR SECTOR #2 (DC, 2019) – untitled, [W] N.K. Jemisin, [A] Jamal Campbell. This comic is an impressive piece of worldbuilding. The City Enduring is a complex, distinctive society populated by very different types of people – a good example of this is the giant open-air atrium built by people who can fly. And Sojourner Mullein is an equally complex and unique protagonist. In this issue we see that she’s fun-loving and has strong sexual desires, but that she’s also anxious about her newfound responsibility. N.K. Jemisin’s writing in this series is formidable, as much as in her prose works. Also, Jamal Campbell is an excellent artist and he succeeds at translating Jemisin’s worldbuilding into visual terms.

GIDEON FALLS #19 (Image, 2019) – “The Pentoculus: Part 3 of 5 – Alone in the Dark,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Andrea Sorrentino. The various characters continue their quest. The Ploughmen turn out to be a group of cranks who meet in a public library. A madman murders a bunch of people in a diner. The latter scene is something of a cliché. Probably all the other examples of it were inspired by Sandman #6.

UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY #2 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Scott Snyder & Charles Soule,  [A] Giuseppe Camuncoli. Uncle Sam explains that America is a bunch of different areas arranged in a spiral fashion, each separated by locked gates. To make progress, the team needs to recover the key to the next gate from the Destiny Man. So this sereies has a video-game-esque narrative structure. In flashbacks, we see that both the Zone and the Alliance have tried to bribe Daniel Graves –ironically, they each gave him a bottle of his favorite bourbon, claiming that it was the only surviving bottle. But at the end of the issue we see that Daniel is actually loyal to the Destiny Man, or at least he says so. This series has been really interesting so far, and Giuseppe Camuncoli’s art is gorgeous.

DRAGONFLY & DRAGONFLYMAN #2 (Ahoy, 2019) – untitled, [W] Tom Peyer, [A] Peter Krause. The Earth-Omega Stinger leaves town in an unsuccessful attempt to escape his mentor, while the Earth-Alpha Stinger finds that his mentor keeps ignoring him. This is an entertaining series, but I kind of wish it had been a direct sequel to The Wrong Earth.

MILES MORALES: SPIDER-MAN #13 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Javier Garrón et al. The conclusion to the current storyline is a bit anticlimactic. Miles escorts Uncle Aaron across town safely and makes it back to the hotel, where he discovers that the birth went fine and he now has a baby sister. Miles ultimately doesn’t face any consequences for choosing to be with his uncle, whose problems are his own fault, rather than his parents. However, the closing page, with Miles’s parents cuddling the new baby, is beautiful and heartwarming.

B.B. FREE #2 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Gabby Rivera, [A] Royal Dunlap. b.b. seeks refuge with Chulita’s parents, who are much more loving than her own father. There’s a beautiful scene where b.b. gets into bed with Chulita because she can’t sleep. In the morning, b.b. and Chulita prepare for their road trip. This issue maintains the high quality level of issue 1. So far, this series has been everything America was not.

SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN #4 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] James Tynion IV, [A] Werther Dell’Edera. This issue starts with a funny scene where Erica buys a chainsaw at “House” Depot. I just wonder why the clerk was willing to sell it to her when she obviously wanted it for violent purposes. Later on, Erica tells James that the monsters are creatures that only children can see, because of their undeveloped brains. The trope of “monsters only visible to children” has a long history. In my dissertation, I mentioned Goethe’s “Der Erlkönig” as an early example, and the definitive modern version of this trope is Monsters, Inc. But Tynion’s version is much darker than Monsters, Inc., in that his monsters don’t just scare children, but eat them. At the end of the issue, Erica finds the monster’s stash of corpses and confronts both the monster itself, and a human who mistakes Erica for the murderer.

THE DOLLHOUSE FAMILY #2 (DC, 2019) – “Be Weighed,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter Gross. Alice’s murder of her father is a cathartic moment, but it only makes things even worse. Alice develops selective mutism and can’t confess to the murder. Her mother confesses to it instead and is sent to prison, where she herself is murdered by another inmate. Meanwhile, Alice is sent to an orphanage, where a girl named Jenny bullies her heartlessly. The dollhouse continues trying to tempt Alice to live in it, and at the end of the issue it apparently eats Jenny. A flashback reveals the origin of Cordwainer (like Cordwainer Smith?), the father of the dollhouse family. This is easily the best Black Label title, and it’s one of Mike Carey’s darkest works. I kept wondering what Alice and her mother did to deserve so many awful traumas. A nice touch is when in the flashback sequence, the Irish maid sees a rat and says “Oh, will you now? A fecking rat, is it? A rat? Mallacht dé ort!” That sounds like very authentic Irish dialogue. The latter phrase means “God’s curse on you.”

DYING IS EASY #1 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Martin Simmonds. This series’ protagonist, Syd Homes, is a stand-up comedian who used to be a policeman. (So this is a comic about a comic.) His fellow comedian Carl Dixon has been stealing Syd’s jokes, so Syd beats Carl up. The following morning, Carl turns up dead, and Syd is the prime suspect. This is an interesting story, but it’s not an effective use of the comics medium. Its story is almost entirely carried by the dialogue – which is entirely natural, since it’s about people who make a living telling jokes. Martin Simmonds is a super-talented draftsman, but in this issue, all he gets to do is illustrate a bunch of conversations. So far, Joe Hill is not making the best use of his talents. I’m going to keep reading this comic, but I hope it gets more visually exciting.

CRIMINAL #1 (Icon, 2008) – “Second Chance in Hell,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. This issue focuses on Jake Brown, a black professional boxer who’s also Sebastian Hyde’s best friend and hired muscle. At the Undertow, Jake sees a woman named Danica, and in flashback we learn that both Jake and Sebastian were in love with her, but Sebastian got her pregnant and forced her to have an abortion (as is revealed in #3 of this series). Jake sleeps with Danica, but the next morning she’s found dead, and Sebastian’s been robbed of $50,000. Furious, Jake slaps Sebastian in public, and Sebastian retaliates by having his thugs inflict career-ending injuries on Jake. This issue is a tragic story of racist violence, but also an important part of Criminal’s big picture. After reading this issue I finally understand why Danica’s story, told in #3, is relevant to Criminal’s main storyline. Until now it just seemed like an unrelated side story.

STEEPLE #4 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] John Allison. I felt reluctant to read this, because the outcome of the British election is making me want to forget that England exists. However, Brexit is not John Allison’s fault, and Steeple #4 is another really good issue. Billie unthinkingly volunteers for a national witchcraft festival, and finds herself enjoying it despite herself. This issue doesn’t have a strong overarching plot, but it has lots of funny scenes and sight gags.

SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #25 (Marvel, 2019) – “Darkest Hours,” [W] Dan Slott & Christos Gage, [A] Humberto Ramos. The Superior Venom battles the Avengers, and lots of other stuff happens too. This issue has a plot as complicated and intricate as any Spider-Man story by Stan Lee or Roger Stern, and it has great dialogue too. For example, there’s a scene where an injured criminal sees the Goblin Knight and says “Please… need… hospital,” and the Goblin Knight kills him, saying, “There! Now you don’t need a hospital anymore.” On the same page, the Goblin Knight identifies himself to Roderick Kingsley as “your old whipping boy, Phil Urich.” This scene illustrates one of Dan Slott’s key skills as a writer: he’s a master of continuity. He knows everything about the Marvel universe, and this allows him to remix old pieces of continuity in interesting new ways. For example, besides Phil Urich, this issue prominently features another forgotten old character, Cardiac. Objectively speaking, it may not be a good thing that Slott has such deep knowledge of continuity, but it certainly makes his stories more entertaining for a longtime fan like me.

TREES: THREE FATES #4 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Jason Howard. The protagonist has a vision of her old lover. Then she finds the bodies of the people who were killed last issue. Her partner tries to kill her for some reason, but she kills him instead. This comic would be easier to follow if the characters were fleshed out more. I don’t really know who Klara is or what motivates her. This is partly because each issue of Trees is so short; Jason Howard’s comics tend to be extremely quick reads. Also, the namesake trees are barley present in this issue at all. So far, Trees: Three Fates has been a disappointment. I’m not even sure what the three fates are.

IMMORTAL HULK #28 (Marvel, 2019) – “The New World,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Tom Reilly & Matías Bergara. This issue is a powerful critique of Trumpism, without, of course, saying the name Trump. Half the issue is narrated by a middle-aged Roxxon security guard who has an extremely authoritarian personality. His own daughter has joined the Hulk-inspired Teen Brigade protests, and he can’t and won’t understand her. He believes that he’s the “good guys” and that everyone else is corrupted by the “deep state,” and he can only explain his daughter’s rebellion by saying that the devil has corrupted her. When his daughter joins in a protest against his own facility, he tries to shoot her, telling himself that he feels threatened. Luckily the Hulk shows up in time to save the daughter’s life. But this sequence paints a depressing picture of a man who would sooner murder his own daughter than confront his prejudices. People like him are why it’s pointless to try to persuade Trump voters. The other half of the issue deals with Dario Agger’s attempts to co-opt the Hulk’s revolution by creating his own Hulk. The issue ends with Agger meeting Xemnu, Marvel’s fuzziest villain.

VALKYRIE: JANE FOSTER #6 (Marvel, 2019) – “Strange Aeons Part 1,” [W] Al Ewing & Jason Aaron, [A] Pere Pérez. A dead man wakes up and tells Valkyrie that Death itself is dying. Valkyrie recruits a medical team to investigate, consisting of Faiza Hussain, Cardiac, Night Nurse and Manikin. They travel into the underworld, where they meet the Death of Death. Also, Dr. Gillespie, the creepy morgue doctor, reveals that he knows Jane’s secret identity. Dr. Strange makes a cameo appearance. This is another fun issue. I like the idea that Night Nurse’s own nurse must be called Day Doctor.

SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN #12 (Marvel, 2019) – “Conan the Searcher,” [W] Frank Tieri, [A] Andrea Di Vito. I bought this by mistake, thinking it was the third part of the story arc by Roy Thomas and John Buscema. Instead, it’s a generic by-the-numbers Conan story that includes nothing new or creative. Frank Tieri also fails to get Conan’s personality right.

IGNITED #5 (Humanoids, 2019) – “Doxxed Part 1: Rebel, Rebel,” [W] Mark Waid & Kwanza Osajyefo, [A] Phil Briones. I guess there’s some interesting political content in this issue, but Ignited is now five issues old, and I can’t remember the name of a single one of its characters. It suffers from a severe lack of characterization. I haven’t been impressed by any of Kwanza Osajyefo’s comics, and I think that Mark Waid is at his worst when he’s writing overtly political stories (with the possible exception of LSH v5). This will be my last issue of Ignited.

THE AUTHORITY #15 (Wildstorm, 2000) – “The Nativity Three of Four,” [W] Mark Millar, [A] Frank Quitely. I bought several issues of Millar’s Authority at the convention, because they have Frank Quitely artwork. The art in this issue is good; I particuarly like how one panel depicts a bar called Deighan’s, in reference to Quitely’s actual last name. However, the pleasure derived from this comic’s art is barely worth the pain caused by having to suffer through Mark Millar’s story. Mark’s stories are extremely tasteless; they aim primarily for shock value, and they lack any subtlety or any genuine emotion. Every line of dialogue in this issue is a histrionic exaggeration. For example, Apollo says “I’m going [to] snap every bone in that clown’s body and shove his friend’s mace so far he’s going to need eight years physiotherapy and a good proctologist to walk again,” and Midnighter replies, “God, I just love you to bits sometimes.” At times Millar is even actively offensive. On the page before the one I just quoted, Midnighter says “I never realized how racist I was until I started sharing my home with forty thousand refugees,” then asks when “these people” will get political asylum.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #13 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Last Avenger Part Two,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Lee Garbett. This series has been a big disappointment so far, partly due to its lack of a supporting cast or a clear premise. And this issue starts out as more of the same; the first half of the issue is a long fight scene between Carol and Tony Stark. But then Carol wins the fight and stashes the unconscious Tony inside Singularity, and suddenly Captain Marvel #13 becomes the best issue of the series. We learn that Carol has been visiting some refugee camps for Kree aliens – an obvious reference to ICE detention camps. But a villain named Vox Supreme has threatened to blow up all the camps unless Carol kills all the Avengers. Carol decides to hide the actual Avengers inside Singularity, her former A-Force teammate, and to kill a bunch of clones instead. I’m delighted to see Singularity again; with her appearance, this series becomes part of Kelly Thompson’s distinctive corner of the Marvel Universe. But moreover, with this issue the series finally acquires a sense of purpose, and we finally see what Carol cares about and why. Too bad it took so long to get to this point.

DOOM PATROL: WEIGHT OF THE WORLDS #6 (DC, 2019) – “Digital Justin,” [W] Gerard Way & Jeremy Lambert, [A] Omar Francia. Perhaps the strangest issue of a very strange series. The Doom Patrol enters a virtual universe called the “Bozumatrix,” where they have to defeat a virus that manifests as a bicycling frog delivering baguettes. The Bozumatrix is depicted in a deliberately obsolete style of computer-generated art; it looks like something from the ‘80s or ‘90s. Meanwhile, Cliff Steele turns into a planet. It’s too bad that this series only has one issue left.

BATTLEPUG #4 (Image, 2019) – “War on Christmas Part IV,” [W/A] Mike Norton. The Last Kinmundian is trapped in a cave with a furry creature called Juan Diego (i.e. Wendigo), but his friends arrive and help him escape. The Queen of the Northland Elves opens a dimensional gate and summons a giant cyborg chimera, and it steals the dog. This is a fun issue, but there’s not much difference between one issue of Battlepug and another.

WONDER TWINS #10 (DC, 2019) – “Internments,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Stephen Byrne. Lex Luthor is trapped on his own spaceship, and his exploited, underpaid interns refuse to help him. Zan, Jayna and Polly use this as an opportunity to kidnap Luthor and steal his spaceship, so they can free Philo Math from the Phantom Zone. Meanwhile, Colonel 86 is causing havoc on earth. Notable things in this issue include the brutal critique of corporate internships, and later, Polly’s speech about hope. It’s funny how Zan tricks Luthor by disguising himself as Gorilla Grodd.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #16 (DC, 2019) – “The Fire in Your Eyes,” [W] Nalo Hopkinson & Dan Watters, [A] Domo Stanton. Someone is trying to help Erzulie’s worshippers, but keeps doing it badly and leaving broken glass behind. A consultation with Papa Midnite reveals that the House of Watchers is somehow causing this. Meanwhile, Pokie’s “parents” continue to abuse her, while her cat gets bigger and bigger (and broken glass starts growing from its fur). Pokie runs away from home and discovers a prison for refugees, which her “parents” were operating – and maybe that explains why they think they can abuse and exploit her with impunity. This story is interesting, though it remains to be seen how Pokie’s story relates to Erzulie’s.

ETHER: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF VIOLET BELL #4 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] David Rubín. The assassin explains its origin, which is linked to the Rabid Cannibal Cabal (a very funny idea) and Lord Ubel. Grandor, a character from the previous miniseries, shows up and kills the assassin. On the last page, we see that Grandor has already found Violet Bell and that she’s been following him. I wish I could remember who Violet is. When she sees Boone, they hug each other, implying that they’re already acquainted.

DOCTOR MIRAGE #5 (Valiant, 2019) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Nick Robles. Shan is forced to accept that her husband really is dead, and that she has to go on without him. This is a powerful and unexpected conclusion; I expected Hwen would come back to life at the end. Overall, this miniseries is good as anything else Mags has written lately, especially due to Nick Robles’s art and Jordie Bellaire’s psychedelic coloring. I wonder what else she’s going to do next, besides the next Vagrant Queen miniseries.

ARCHIE 1955 #3 (Archie, 2019) – “If You See a Rocket Ship on Its Way to Mars, It’ll Be Me!”, [W] Brian Augustyn & Mark Waid, [A] Ray-Anthony Height. Archie’s reputation continues to grow, while Betty is heartbroken because he seems to have forgotten her. Archie meets Kid Diamond, a stand-in for Little Richard. A boy punches Archie because he thinks Archie is responsible for his girlfriend leaving him. This issue has some good scenes, but is kind of a filler issue.

SERA AND THE ROYAL STARS #5 (AfterShock, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jon Tsuei, [A] Aubrey Mok. This comic’s plot is getting difficult to follow, partly because I missed an issue. This issue has two parallel plotlines taking place in the underworld and the real world. Eventually Sera manages to escape from the underworld and gets back to her companions, but then she decides to leave them behind so she can save her family. Vault has been publishing a lot of great comics lately. I think I’ve ordered six different Vault comics from the latest Previews.

THE BOYS #1 (Dynamite, 2019) – “The Name of the Game Part One,” [W] Garth Ennis, [A] Darick Robertson. This was a $1 reprint. The Boys is a good example of why I hate most of Garth Ennis’s work other than Hellblazer. It’s a tasteless, disgusting superhero parody – kind of like Brat Pack (or Marshal Law as my friend Pól Rua suggested), but less original. Early this issue, a man named Hughie is holding his girlfriend’s hands, staring at her lovingly. Then  a superhero throws a supervillain into them, and Hughie is left holding his girlfriend’s severed hands, while the rest of her body is gone. The superhero expresses no remorse at all. After experiencing this brutal piece of emotional manipulation, I have no desire to read any more of this series.

BIRTHRIGHT #18 (Image, 2016) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. Brennan apparently defeats the Nevermind, allowing Mikey to lead the resistance against Lore’s oncoming invasion. A nice moment in this issue is when Brennan tells Aaron that he knows Mikey is Aaron’s favorite, and Aaron refuses to admit it.

On December 21, I got another large comics shipment, even though I hadn’t finished reading all the comics from the previous shipment:

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #2 (DC, 2019) – untitled, [W] Brian Michael Bendis, [A] Ryan Sook. Sadly this is just not good. It has a boring, pointless plot about the Legion discovering Aquaman’s trident. And not only do the Legionnaires have no individual personalities, they don’t even have names. There’s one character (the girl with purple skin and a white costume) who I can’t identify, even though she has numerous lines of dialogue. Bendis writes the Legionnaires as just an anonymous crowd of generic characters. Ryan Sook’s artwork is excellent, but otherwise, this issue does nothing for me except remind me how much I miss Paul Levitz and Mark Waid and Jim Shooter. They were able to give each of the 20-plus Legionnaires a distinctive personality and voice. With Bendis, it’s just Superboy and a host of interchangeable supporting characters. I hope Bendis gets tired of this series soon, so that he can be replaced by someone who actually cares – Mark Russell, for example. But I fear that the series will be cancelled long before that happens.

LUMBERJANES #69 (Boom!, 2019) – “Forestry is the Best Policy Part 1,” [W] Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh,[A] Kanesha C. Bryant & Julia Madrigal. I love Lumberjanes for much the same reasons that I love the Legion. Like the Legion at its best, Lumberjanes has a cast of distinctive and admirable characters whose strength comes not from their similarity, but from their differences. In this issue’s present-day sequence, the Roanokes help Rosie cut down a diseased tree. Meanwhile, Molly reads from an old diary she found, dating back to the time of Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet herself. A flashback sequence, by a different artist, shows us the story Molly is reading. According to solicitations, this story arc is going to reveal the history of the first Lumberjane. I’m excited by this because I want to learn more about the Lumberjanes’ world. I’m especially curious what life is like outside the camp.

ONCE & FUTURE #5 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Dan Mora. Duncan’s grandma shoots herself so that she can serve as a replacement Fisher King. To save her, Duncan beats up Galahad and recovers the Grail, but it vanishes when he gets to the real world. As a last-ditch measure he heads to Bath and asks the Lady in the Lake to give him Excalibur, with its wound-healing scabbard. Again this issue benefits from Gillen’s deep knowledge of Arthurian mythology. Duncan’s question “Whom does the Grail serve?” comes straight from Chrétien de Troyes’s Perceval, the Story of the Grail. Once & Future is probably the best new series of the year.

SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #6 (DC, 2019) – “Prisoner 24601…B!”, [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Steve Lieber. We’re introduced to Nathan Guy, who was trying to assassinate Jimmy, and Princess Jix, Jimmy’s alien wife. Later, Batman forces Jimmy to leave Gotham and changes his name to Jimphony. This issue is rather difficult, and I feel I would understand it better if I could read it all at once. There’s a scene that’s shown at least twice in this issue in which Jimmy and Metamorpho run in front of an ambulance. I think we must have seen this before from Jimmy’s perspective, but I can’t remember where we saw it.

FOLKLORDS #2 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] Matt Smith. Archer the elf tells Ansel his origin, but with some significant omissions which are revealed in the images. Ansel meets a troll, who kisses him for some reason, and then a girl whose brother fell victim to the “weeping wood killer.” At the end of the issue, Ansel himself falls victim to the same killer. This issue is interesting, but not as jampacked as #1. Matt Smith’s art here is heavily indebted to Mignola.

MIDDLEWEST #13 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Skottie Young, [A] Jorge Corona. A flashback shows us the story of how Ansel’s parents’ marriage collapsed. Ansel starts working as a slave on the ethol farm. Maggie tries to enlist her coworkers to raid the ethol farm and free the slaves. They all refuse at first, but the next morning they change their minds. This issue reveals that ethol production is extremely labor-intensive. I wonder if every ethol farm uses child slave labor, or if there are other ethol farms that are more ethical.

INVISIBLE KINGDOM #8 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Edge of Everything Part Three,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Christian Ward. This issue mostly advances last issue’s plotlines in predictable ways. The three ships all have their own conflicting agendas; Grix tries to ally with the other Lux ship against the pirates, but the crew of the Lux ship has already been told that Grix is a thief. Meanwhile, Vess is clearly going through some kind of alien estrus because she has a crush on Grix, but she can’t say so because of her religious vows.

FAMILY TREE #2 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Phil Hester. In a flashback sequence, we’re introduced to Loretta’s father, Judd, and her brother, Darcy, who’s been turned into a tree. In the present, Judd returns and insists that Loretta and her kids come with him. Judd acts like an insufferable know-it-all, claiming that Loretta has to go with him or die, but Loretta distrusts him for unexplained reasons. On the last page, we see that Judd’s prosthetic hand is actually Darcy. This series is interesting, but I’m not sure yet what it’s about.

FARMHAND #12 (Image, 2019) – “The Earth Diver,” [W/A] Rob Guillory. A crawfish farm worker is killed by mutant crawfish, and his employer thinks Jeb is to blame. Zeke goes to investigate and is almost killed by a giant vaginal plant. Meanwhile, we get a lot of information about the recent past of the town and the rivalries between the local people. This issue is a return to this series’s normal status quo after #11, which was much more serious than usual.

SKULLDIGGER & SKELETON BOY #1 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Tonci Zonjic. Skulldigger is the Black Hammer version of Batman or the Punisher: a brutal vigilante who adopts children left orphaned by crime. This issue, a young boy’s parents are murdered by a criminal. Skulldigger kills the criminals and adopts the boy as his new sidekick. We’re also introduced to a police detective who was Skulldigger’s previous sidekick, but she claims to have killed him, which is odd because he’s still alive. This is the only current Black Hammer title, and no others have been announced yet. I hope this miniseries isn’t the end of the franchise. Tonci Zonjic’s art in this issue is amazing.

STRAYED #5 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Carlos Giffoni, [A]  Juan Doe. This issue consists of a long philosophical monologue, coupled with images of Premier Peely and his soldiers being defeated by a coalition of aliens. But it ends with Lou and Kiara apparnetly dying, and the last page seems to show Kiraa’s ghost holding Lou’s ghost. I don’t quite understand what happened in this issue, but it’s a powerful and lyrical piece of work. I hope there’s a sequel to this miniseries.

FUTURE FOUNDATION #5 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Alti Firmansyah. The main event this issue is that Rikki and Julie Power become a couple. And then the series ends without really resolving the Molecule Man plotline. This was a fun series, but it never got a chance to reach its potential. The fact that Jeremy’s titles kepe getting cancelled is a good argument for why the direct market sucks.

WELLINGTON #1 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Aaron Mahnke & Delilah Dawson, [A] Piotr Kowalski. This comic is a spinoff of Mahnke’s history podcast, Lore, but I’m reading it because it’s written by Delilah Dawson. Wellington is a Mignola-esque story in which the Duke of Wellington encounters a supernatural threat. This comic is reasonably entertaining and feels quite historically well-informed. Wellington is an odd choice of protagonist, since he was an arch-conservative. Wellington’s clothing looks a little too modern.

BASKETFUL OF HEADS #3 (DC, 2019) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Leomacs. June and her pet head start heading (heh) for safety. The head claims that June’s boyfriend Liam stole a lot of money from a corpse. June is picked up by a driver, but we soon realize that he’s allied with the criminals. This series is an intriguing blend of horror and humor. I really like Leomacs’s art.

AQUAMAN #55 (DC, 2019) – “Amnesty, Part 6: Man vs. Machine,” [W] Kelly Sue DeConnick, [A] Robson Rocha. An issue-long fight scene involving Black Manta’s robot and the giant sea monster. Black Manta’s robot blows up, but the issue ends with Mera collapsing unconscious. This issue was a fairly satisfying climax to the storyline.

JOHN CONSTANTINE, HELLBLAZER #2 (DC, 2019) – “A Green and Pleasant Land, Part Two,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Aaron Campbell. This issue was rather confusing because I couldn’t remember much about the previous issue. I was especially confused by Constantine’s question “What rhymes with ‘looks like a scrotum’”? I thought at first that the answer to that question was significant, but I guess it’s just a silly joke referencing Billy the Traffic’s facial appearance and the fact that Blake was a poet. Anyway, this issue continues the plot with the criminal magician, but also includes a lot of references to Blake. There’s also a scene where a Sikh policeman threatens to castrate Constantine with his kirpan.

CATWOMAN #18 (DC, 2019) – “Zatanna, Mistress of Magic,” [W/A] Jöelle Jones, [A] Fernando Blanco. An entertaining team-up story in which Catwoman and Zatanna defeat a bunch of goons without using their whip or their magic, respectively. Back in Villa Hermosa, Catwoman’s store is attacked by a bunch of other thugs.

AGENTS OF ATLAS #5 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Portal City of Pan Part 5,” [W] Greg Pak, [A] Nico Leon. The Agents of Atlas discover that Pan’s teleportation technology is powered by a dragon that Mike Nguyen is holding captive. And if they free the dragon, the city will be destroyed, and the Madripoorean refugees will be doomed. Before our heroes can decide what to do, Namor attacks the city riding a different dragon. This story is continued in Atlantis Attacks #1, which I didn’t order because I didn’t know it was a tie-in to this series. I don’t know why Agents of Atlas isn’t an ongoing. It’s a fun series and a great example of Asian representation.

MONEY SHOT #3 (Vault, 2019) – untitled, [W] Tim Seeley & Sarah Beattie, [A] Rebekah Isaacs. I ordered this because I saw someone praise this series on Twitter, and also its premise sounds interesting. Money Shot is about, more or less, some scientists who are producing space pornography in order to fund their research. This issue’s main plot is about the scientists’ attempt to discover a secret orgasm-powered source of renewable energy, but there are also some flashbacks in which the scientists have sex in various combinations. I don’t quite understand this series yet, but it’s funny and well-drawn and not as exploitative as it looks. I’m going to keep ordering it.

PRETTY VIOLENT #5 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Derek Hunter, [W] Jason Young. Gamma Rae defeats a villain named Kill Count and brings him to Brodie’s birthday party as a gift, only to learn that Brodie already has a girlfriend. This series’s plot is getting more intricate, though also more difficult to follow. It’s still kind of a one-joke comic, but the joke is still funny.

KING THOR #4 (Marvel, 2019) – “What is the Spirit of Thunder?”, [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Esad Ribic. Thor finally defeats Gorr, and Loki sacrifices himself to reignite the sun. Here the story is interrupted by several flashback sequences drawn by different artists. Some of these sequences are farewells to various characters, like Shadrak and Jane Foster, while the other sequences are glimpses of other futures or pasts. Finally, Thor bids his granddaughters farewell and becomes the animating force of the universe, and the story ends by answering the question in its title: “The spirit of thunder is to be heard.” Congratulations to Jason Aaron on the conclusion of the greatest run on Thor since Simonson left.

THE LOW, LOW WOODS #1 (DC, 2019) – “Bottomless,” [W] Carmen Maria Machado, [A] Dani. This new series stars two girls, Eldora and Octavia (El and Vee), who live in a coal mining town. As if the coal mining weren’t bad enough, the town is built over an underground fire, and El and Vee’s families can’t afford to leave. And there’s some kind of woman-deer hybrid lurking in the woods.  This comic’s premise isn’t entirely clear yet, but it’s an affecting, evocative story about generational poverty and female friendship (or same-sex desire maybe), and it’s also very creepy. I have Carmen Maria Machado’s short story collection The Low, Low Woods, and it’s on my stack of books to read soon.

THE OLD GUARD: FORCE MULTIPLIED #1 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Leandro Fernández. This isn’t my favorite of Rucka’s works, but I’m glad it’s back. Leandro Fernández’s art is at least as stunning here as in the first miniseries. This issue’s second and third pages are a two-page splash where the Old Guard fights a huge army of barbarians, at least twenty of whom are fully drawn. In addition, Fernandez uses lots of dynamic page layouts and camera angles. This issue is mostly action sequences with little plot, but it seems to be about the Old Guard’s attempt to destroy a human trafficking ring.

KLAUS: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JOE CHRISTMAS #1 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Dan Mora. This is Grant’s finest single comic book in many years. It consists entirely of sideways two-page splashes with no dialogue, so it barely even qualifies as a comic, but it’s certainly a very effective visual narrative. Each double-page spread in this issue illustrates a moment from a different year in the life of Joe Christmas, a child who Klaus found abandoned as a newborn on Christmas. The pages are in reverse chronological order, so the reader has to piece together the events of Joe’s life. For example, in 1966, Joe has an elderly one-eyed cat, but we don’t learn how the cat lost the eye until 1945. There are also some things we can’t work out. Most notably, Joe’s wife is pregnant in 1975, but in the previous (chronologically later) pages, there’s no indication that they have a child, and we can’t know what happened to the baby. We’re also not shown what happened to Joe’s adoptive parents. The images themselves are extremely clever; Joe meets the Beatles and battles a giant flying Christmas pudding, and his cat grows to giant size. And the images contain some subtle clues. Like, in 1936, Joe’s parents have a Christmas tree and a present, but their house is empty except for a table and chairs, and there’s nothing on the table but a slice of cake and three cups of coffee. That’s because it’s the middle of the Depression. I feel like I could figure out even more about this comic with more reading, but overall it’s a touching story about a man who lives a tragedy-filled but ultimately meaningful life. Appropriately, it ends with Klaus finding the newborn Joe in a basket labeled “Please take care of him.”

BLACK PANTHER #19 (Marvel, 2020) – “Wakanda Unbound,” [W] Ta-Nehisi Coates, [A] Ryan Bodenheim. This issue advances the plot a little bit, but it’s still boring. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s stories are written with a consistently quiet, subdued tone. There’s no contrast between exciting moments of high tension, on one hand, and quieter moments, on the other. That makes his stories tedious to read. Also, “The Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda” is already longer than “The Kang Dynasty,” which was my benchmark for a very longstory arc, and it’s still only three-quarters done. This is my last issue of this series.

GHOST-SPIDER #5 (Marvel, 2019) – “Blood and Bone,” [W] Seanan McGuire, [A] Takeshi Miyazawa & Ig Guara. The two Jackals team up and kidnap Gwen, but Mary Jane saves her through the magic of location tracking. MJ is still pissed at Gwen for constantly missing practice. This is another issue in which not a whole lot happens, but I don’t mind because I really like Seanan’s dialogue.

HISTORY OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE #6 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Javier Rodriguez. This issue covers everything up to 2019, then chronicles what little we know about the Marvel Universe’s future. It ends with Franklin using Galactus as the spark for the next universe, and then there’s a two-page splash with hundreds of characters. It may be the most crowded crowd scene ever drawn by any artist other than George Pérez. At the end of this series, I felt a sense of nostalgia as I thought of the vast scope of continuity that the series had covered. It was like I was saying farewell to the entire Marvel universe, although of course that’s not really the case. This issue includes a number of appendices as well as the usual notes.

EDGAR ALLAN POE’S SNIFTER OF TERROR SEASON TWO #3 (Ahoy, 2019) – “The Pit and the Pendulum,” [W] Paul Constant, [A] Alan Robinson, and “The Raven,” [W/A] Linda Medley. This issue’s first story is a modern adaptation of “The Pit and the Pendulum” in which the protagonist is a secret agent. It’s rather grim and depressing. The protagonist manages to escape and kill his tormentor, only to be sent to Gitmo without a trial. “The Raven” is a much lighter story in which a raven visits a talent agency and gets an assignment to appear in Poe’s poem. Linda Medley seems to be working on Castle Waiting volume 3, but not very quickly.

DOOM 2099 #1 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Marcio Castiello. I don’t  understand what happened before this comic, but it begins with Dr. Doom waking up in the Ravage, an ungoverned wasteland. He makes his way to the castle of another man who claims to be Dr. Doom. But on arriving there, Doom discovers that he’s not Doom at all, he’s Reed Richards. This issue is a bit hard to understand, but it shows an understanding of Doom’s character, and the twist ending completely surprised me.

INCORRUPTIBLE #8 (Boom!, 2010) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Horacio Domingues. Last issue ended with Max Damage falling asleep during a fight with white supremacists. This issue, Max’s new sidekick, Jailbait, saves his life, and he goes on to defeat the white supremacists and deposit them in a neighborhood full of angry Asian-Americans. Incorruptible is a bit uneven, but it’s enjoyable enough that I want to collect more of it.

HEIST #2 (Vault, 2019) – untitled, [W] Paul Tobin, [A] Arjuna Susini. Glane Breld assembles his crew, including a shapeshifter who makes him think she’s about to assassinate him. This is an entertaining series, but not one of the better comics on the market; it was the second to last comic I read from the December 18 shipment.

ESKIMO KISSES #1 (Scout, 2019) – untitled, [W] Randy Stone & Christopher Sebela, [A] Henry Ponciano. This is the first Scout comic I’ve paid full price for. It has a garish giant logo on the back cover. The first word in this comic’s title is considered offensive in Canada and Greenland, though apparently not in Alaska. Sebela and Stone’s decision to use that word is debatable, though they do show awareness of its literal meaning (eater of flesh). Eskimo Kisses is a zombie story taking place in Resolute Bay, Nunavut in the high Arctic. It’s mostly a conventional zombie story, but the twist is that one of the survivors is an Inuit woman whose parents were relocated to Resolute from Quebec. This actually happened: the Canadian government really did relocate some Inuit families to the High Arctic in order to claim sovereignty over the area, and they failed to provide those families with the support that was promised. Other than that, though, Eskimo Kisses is kind of pointless; the protagonists, a pregnant woman and her cop husband, are both killed at the end.

TRUE BELIEVERS: ANNIHILATION – SUPER-SKRULL #1 (Marvel, 1967/2019) – “The Scourge of the Super-Skrull!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Jack Kirby. This reprints Thor #142, in which Thor battles the Super-Skrull. It has some amazing Kirby artwork, but almost its entire story is devoted to a single extended fight scene. There’s also a backup story where the Warriors Three fight Mogul of the Mystic Mountain.

HARLEY QUINN: VILLAIN OF THE YEAR #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Harley Quinn’s Villain of the Year!”, [W] Mark Russell, [A] Mike Norton. This story takes place at the Doomies, the annual awards for villains. According to the title page, the awards were voted on by fans, but I don’t know where the voting was done. An unsuccessful villain named the Flamingo tries to sabotage the awards show, but Harley Quinn outsmarts him by giving him a fake Villain of the Year award, then capturing him when he comes up to accept it. This is much less deep or political than most of Russell’s work, but it’s funny. A lot of the jokes in this issue must have gone over my head because I’m not familiar with the villains involved, though I did get the reference to the “Lex Luthor stole forty cakes” meme. My favorite thing in the issue is the panel where Cheetah is eating a rat, the Penguin is eating fish, and Gorilla Grodd is eating fruit.

ZAP COMIX #3 (Print Mint, 1969) – various stories, [E] R. Crumb et al. This issue is in flipbook format. A nice feature is that the story at the centerfold, by Victor Moscoso, can be read either upside-down or right-side up. This issue includes multiple short stories by R. Crumb, Victor Moscoso and Rick Griffin, all of which are visually stunning. There’s also a jam story, and a hilarious Wonder Wart-Hog story by Gilbert Shelton. Unfortunately this issue also includes a lot of work by S. Clay Wilson, my least favorite underground artist. His art is ugly and disgusting, although at least none of his stories in this issue are as offensive as the one in Weirdo #19.

INCOGNITO #2 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. Like Brubaker and Phillips’s early collaboration Sleeper, Incognito is about superheroes. The protagonist of this issue is a superhero, Zack Overkill, who’s in a witness protection program, but he insists on engaging in superhero activities anyway. Then his civilian friend figures out his secret identity and blackmails him into helping rob a bank. I have several other issues of Incognito, but have not read them yet. While in the witness protection program, Zack Overkill works as a file clerk in a hospital. As Brubaker explains in his author’s note, this is a deliberate reference to Harvey Pekar, because when a superhero has to hide, he hides in an underground comic. Brubaker also claims that Incognito #2 includes a cameo appearance by Jughead, but I didn’t notice it.

HEPCATS #0 (Antarctic, 1996) – untitled, [W/A] Martin Wagner. A very boring and mundane story about some college students. For unexplained reasons it also includes a four-page illustrated story by a third-grader. Martin Wagner seems to have been an insufferable jerk, and on the evidence of this issue, he wasn’t much of a cartoonist either. It’s worth noting that Martin Wagner, Gilbert Shelton and Jack Jackson all attended the University of Texas.

GLOBAL FREQUENCY #1 (Wildstorm, 2000) – “Bombhead,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Garry Leach. The Global Frequency is an international network of experts who are linked by phone. This issue, they collaborate to stop the city of San Francisco from being destroyed by a Soviet-era nuclear bomb. This issue is exciting, and it’s also an early fictional example of the phenomenon known as “collective intelligence” or “the wisdom of crowds,” in which digital technology allows multiple people together to be smarter than any one person alone. I’ve read one other issue of this series, but I can’t remember anything about it.

QUANTUM & WOODY #17 (Acclaim, 1998) – “Magnum Force, The Final Round: Hate,” [W/A] M.D. Bright. I didn’t even notice until now that Priest didn’t write this issue. In the final issue of this volume, Quantum and Woody defeat Magnum only to discover that they’ve been cancelled, along with the entire Acclaim line. Unlike the vast majority of comics companies that go out of business, Valiant/Acclaim did return eventually, as did Quantum and Woody.

THE DREAMING #1 (DC, 1996) – “The Goldie Factor Part One,” [W] Terry LaBan, [A] Peter Snejbjerg. Cain has killed Abel yet again, and Abel’s pet baby gargoyle, Goldie, is sick of it. Goldie leaves home and goes off on his own, forcing Cain and Abel to team up to look for him. They discover that a man with no arms or legs has been looking for Goldie. Their mother Eve claims that this same man ruined her life forever. Meanwhile, that same man has already found Goldie. Clearly the armless, legless man is the biblical Serpent. Cain and Abel’s relationship is typically used for comic relief, but this issue makes it clear that Cain is abusing Abel. Goldie’s spirited defense of Abel, despite her tiny size, is heroic.

DC COMICS PRESENTS #19 (DC, 1980) – “Who Haunts This House?”, [W] Denny O’Neil, [A]  Joe Staton. This Superman/Batgirl team-up is a boring, pointless haunted house story. The most notable thing about it is the major supporting character, Mr. Gurk, who has a really annoying stereotypical-hick accent.

YOUNG LUST #6 (Last Gasp, 1980) – various stories, [E] Bill Griffith & Jay Kinney. Young Lust #6 and #8 were magazine-sized, while all the other issues were comic book size. Young Lust #6 is an incredible collection of talent, with contributors such as Griffith, Kim Deitch, Spain, Melinda Gebbie, Phoebe Gloeckner, Gary Panter, and Michael McMillan. Most of the stories are about sex, but other than that they’re all very different. A highlight of the issue is Spain’s semi-autobiographical “My True Story,” though it shows him in an unflattering light. Gloeckner’s “Mary the Minor” is a very disturbing story about a teenage runaway. Panter’s adaptation of Tom DeHaven’s “Freaks’ Amour” is his only story that I’ve read lately. It’s drawn in a surprisingly Kirbyesque style, and seems less radical or punkish than is usual for him. Greg Irons is another important artist I’m not familiar with; his “Monkey Lust” has some really impressive draftsmanship. Melinda Gebbie’s “My Three Swans” has even better art; see the review of Fresca Zizis below. There are even stories by M.K. Brown, a National Lampoon artist, and Mary Wilshire, who was better known for her mainstream comics.

WILD’S END #2 (Boom!, 2014) – “Hide and Seek,” [W] Dan Abnett, [A] I.N.J. Culbard. Clive, Peter, Gilbert and young Alph find that Alph’s aunt has been killed in a fire. They head out of town to look for Fawkes, but on the way they encounter Susan Peardew, a reclusive novelist, confronting a Martian robot. They lock the robot in a shed, but Alph tries to avenge his aunt by shooting the robot. Instead it kills Gilbert, which explains why he doesn’t appear in any later issues. The backup feature reveals that Susan is suffering from writer’s block and that she’s working as a ghost writer for her ex-husband, as revealed in the next miniseries. I’m curious to see how this story ends, so I just ordered the third TPB volume, which was never published in single-issue form.

BUCKY O’HARE #4 (Continuity, 1991) – untitled, [W] Larry Hama, [A] Michael Golden. This series may be Michael Golden’s masterpiece. His draftsmanship is beautiful, and his panel structures are dynamic and unconventional, showing a significant manga influence. This issue includes several parallel storylines. The duck and the kid attack a Toad mothership, while Bucky and his other companions try to negotiate with some anthropomorphic creatures in togas. There was only one issue after this one.

CHAMBER OF DARKNESS #3 (Marvel, 1970) – “The Warlock Tree!”, [W] Gerry Conway, [A] Barry Windsor-Smith, plus other stories. This issue’s first story is not BWS’s best work – it looks similar to early issues of Conan – but it does have some nice draftsmanship and storytelling. Its story, about a tree that curses people who carve their names in it, is pretty stupid. Surprisingly the highlight of this issue is Denny O’Neil and Tom Palmer’s adaptation of Poe’s “The Telltale Heart.” There are probably other comics adaptations of this story that are better written; O’Neil and Palmer don’t quite succeed in conveying the protagonist’s anxiety when the police show up. But Palmer’s pencils are a revelation. His style is similar to that of Neal Adams, but also distinctive. He’s very good at creating an eerie mood, and his pencils are very detailed. He could have been a star penciler if he hadn’t devoted himself to inking. The last story, “Something Lurks on Shadow Mountain!”, includes some beautiful John Buscema art. His best period was the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, when he was able to draw like himself rather than imitatiang other artists.

FRESCA ZIZIS #nn (Last Gasp, 1977) – “In Debasement” and other stories, [W/A] Melinda Gebbie. Although Melinda Gebbie is best known as Alan Moore’s collaborator and wife, she was an incredible artist in her own right. She was probably the most talented of all the female underground artists, at least in terms of her drawing. Fresca Zizis is her only solo-authored comic book. It was banned in Britain for obscenity, and no wonder, because the first story includes a graphic scene of castration. But Gebbie’s draftspersonship in this issue is stunning. She uses an almost pontillist style of shading, her linework is really clear and crisp, and she draws in a number of different styles. The stories in this issue are very short and have minimal and barely coherent plots (except the last one, an adaptation of the myth of Tiamat). But who cares when the artwork is so gorgeous. Someone needs to publish a collection of all of Gebbie’s solo work. Also, I need to get around to reading Lost Girls.

WEIRD WESTERN TALES #31 (DC, 1975) – “Gunfight at Wolverine,” [W] Michael Fleisher, [A] George Moliterni. Jonah Hex meets Dave, an old army buddy who is now married with a child, and who coughs a lot. We eventually learn that Dave is dying of tuberculosis, and to provide for his wife and family, he’s sold tickets to a duel to the death between himself and Hx. But Hex refuses to fight Dave, and Dave’s own wife is forced to kill him to save him from becoming a murderer. This issue includes one unfortunate scene where a former Union soldier tells Hex that the Confederates were cowards, and Hex throws him in a trough of water. Other than that, this is a fun issue. George (Jorge) Moliterni was from Argentina and was probably not related to Claude Moliterni, the French comics writer and co-founder of the Angouleme festival.

VAULT OF HORROR #9 (EC, 1951/1994) – four stories, [E] Al Feldstein. In Johnny Craig’s “About Face,” a female lion tamer is horribly mauled by a panther. Her chauffeur falls in love with her anyway, or claims to, and gets her to give him a power of attorney over her. Then he runs off to Florida with her money. In revenge, she casts a spell that transfers her facial disfigurement to him. The concluding panel, showing his deformed face, is truly hideous. Jack Davis’s “The Reluctant Vampire” is about a vampire who gets a job at a blood bank so he won’t have to kill people. Of course, things go wrong, and the vampire is caught and staked. The “vegetarian vampire,” as TV Tropes calls it, is a very common trope; a famous example is Hannibal King in Tomb of Dracula. Jack Kamen’s “Grandma’s Ghost” is about a little girl whose aunt and uncle murder her grandmother for the inheritance. They try to kill the girl too, for the same reason, but the grandmother’s ghost manipulates the girl into causing the aunt and uncle’s deaths instead. Graham Ingels’s “Revenge is the Nuts” has some really gruesome art, but a fairly disappointing story, about a cruel insane asylum keeper who gets killed by his patients.

TWO-FISTED TALES #9 (EC, 1951/1994) – four linked stories, [W] Harvey Kurtzman, [A] various. This is the only EC comic I’ve read that tells a single story in four parts, rather than four unrelated stories. I don’t know if it’s the only such EC comic, or if there are others. Specifically, all the stories in this issue are about the Battle of Changjin (or Chosin) Reservoir, which happened the year before the comic was published and became one of the most famous episodes in Marine Corps history. In the first story, “The Trap!” by Severin, some soldiers assault a Korean position, but their sergeant insists on advancing slower than the men would like. And he’s right, because he soon learns that his army has been cut off, and they have to retreat to the port of Hungnam. The other three stories depict various stages of the retreat. Jack Davis’s “Hagaru-Ri” is about an American pilot who kills a Chinese soldier in a strafing raid. It’s a bit like “The Corpse on the Imjin” in the way it insists on the common humanity of “our” soldiers and “their” soldiers. Severin and Elder’s “Link-Up!” shows some common soldiers who are facing an enemy assualt. There’s a slightly ironic ending where one of the soldiers can’t wait to go home, but when he’s wounded and has to be evacuated, he wants to keep fighting. Wally Wood’s “Hungnam!” shows the evacuation of the city of Hungnam, focusing on a little dog who gets killed when the city is bombed to cover the Marines’ retreat. Overall, this issue is an impressive depiction of the human cost of the Korean War.

ANGEL LOVE #8 (DC, 1987) – “I Know It’s You, Mary Beth,” [W/A] Barbara Slate with John Wm. Lopez. Angel keeps trying to prove that Maureen McMeal is her long-lost sister Mary Beth, but she only succeds in pissing Mary Beth off. By modern standards, based on the way Angel behaves in this issue, she would be considered a peak example of an entitled white woman. She harasses Mary Beth/Maureen despite being repeatedly told to leave her alone. Maureen would be justified in getting a restraining order against Angel. Also, Angel is wrong to think that Mary Beth is obligated to donate bone marrow to their mother. Finally, Angel possibly ruins her black friend Everett’s relationship by interrupting yet another of his evenings with his girlfriend. Taken at face value, however, this issue is entertaining and funny. Alas, it was also the last issue of Angel Love, though the Mary Beth story arc was completed in the one-shot special. See my forthcoming essay in the anthology The Other ‘80s for more discussion of Angel Love.

TRANSFORMERS #57 (Marvel, 1989) – “The Resurrection Gambit!”, [W] Simon Furman, [A] José Delbo. In space, Megatron kidnaps Ratchet and forces him to perform surgery on Starscream. Back on Earth, Optimus Prime fights Scorponok. This issue isn’t as complex or epic as some of the later Transformers issues that I read as a kid.

On December 27, I received a very small shipment consisting of just two comics:

CRIMINAL #11 (Marvel, 2019) – “Cruel Summer Part Seven: The Last Score,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. Teeg and Jane succeed in stealing the proceeds of a wrestling match, although Teeg can tell that someone tipped the guards off. Teeg returns home in a euphoric mood, only for Dan Farraday to come through the window and shoot him with a shotgun. We don’t know yet if Teeg is dead or not. Curiously, it was stated in the very first issue of Criminal that Tommy Patterson killed Teeg. But I guess we don’t know whether he really did it, or whether he was framed.

INCOMING #1 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Al Ewing et al, [A] various. A bunch of different heroes try to solve a locked-room murder mystery where the only clue is the word “2FACED” and a series of numbers. This issue acts as a preview of a large number of upcoming Marvel titles. It’s not bad, but it’s overly long and kind of tedious.

And with that, I have read every new comic I received in 2019, besides a few trivial exceptions (mostly Infinity 8 and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Captain America).

STORMWATCH #48 (Image, 1997) – “Change or Die Part 1,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Tom Raney. The High, a Superman knock-off, organizes a group of superheroes who want to remake the world as they see fit. The High’s allies are obviously based on various other superheroes (Dr. Strange, Wonder Woman, the Shadow) and their plan resembles that of the Squadron Supreme in the Gruenwald miniseries. In the next two issues, Stormwatch defeats the Changers, but they end up adopting a lot of the Changers’ ideas. Now that I’ve read this, I really need to reread #49 and #50, because they didn’t make sense the first time.

CRIMINAL #10 (Icon, 2007) – “Lawless Part Five,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. Tracy leads Ricky’s former crew on a perfectly planned heist, except he already called the police in advance, and they all get caught. Tracy escapes with Ricky’s ex-lover Mallory. She confesses that she herself murdered Ricky because he was beating her. Tracy has mercy on Mallory and lets her go, but she’s recaptured on the orders of Sebastian Hyde, who drafts Tracy into his service. This issue is a satisfying conclusion to the story arc. I had really been wondering who killed Ricky.

Reviews for five weeks

11-14-2019

I’m writing this on November 14, the day after Tom Spurgeon’s death. Tom was a friend of mine, and he was my ideal of what a comics critic should be. He read everything, and did so with great sympathy and generosity, and he cultivated personal friendships with hundreds of creators. I honestly often envied him. It’s sad to think that I’ll never again see him at a convention or academic conference.

A few more comics from the week of October 18:

STATIC #39 (DC, 1996) – “Half a Pint Will Do It,” [W] J.C. Ching, [A] Jeff Moore. Static fights a mad scientist named Dr. Kilgore who’s been using Static’s donated blood to give himself superpowers. Static also learns that his best friend Frieda is anorexic. This issue is okay, but forgettable.

KÀ BY CIRQUE DU SOLEIL #2 (Marvel, 2014) – untitled, [W] Bryan L. Glass, [A] Wellington Alves. This free promotional comic is an adaptation of a Cirque du Soleil stage show. Unlike some of the other promotional comics I’ve read recently, Kà #2 is actually mildly interesting. The Kà stage show was vaguely based on Chinese and Egyptian cultural references, but because of its lack of a specific, well-defined cultural background, it feels universal. However, while Kà #2 isn’t terrible, interesting enough that I’d want to pay actual money for the rest of the series.

KINGS WATCH #1 (Dynamite, 2013) – untitled, [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Marc Laming. I believe this was the first comic set in Dynamite’s King Features shared universe. So it introduces Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician, the Phantom, and Lothar, and there’s a subplot in which an evil magician summons the demons of Mongo. This issue includes an entertaining fight scene between Lothar, Phantom and a giant dinosaur. But Jeff Parker’s most impressive achievement in the issue is to make Lothar an interesting and non-racist character, despite his origins as a colonialist stereotype.

STRAY BULLETS #29 (El Capitán, 2003) – “The Notebook,” [W/A] David Lapham. This issue begins with a three-page excerpt from a creepy, disturbing story about “Ronecles” and the “Bitch Queen.” We soon learn that this is from the notebook of Ron, a creepy murderer who kidnapped Virginia Applejack. Ron is already dead by this point, but Virginia was kidnapped again by an even worse character named Monster, and the rest of the issue depicts the police’s efforts to capture Monster and rescue his victims. This issue is a bit hard to follow, especially without prior knowledge of the Ron/Monster plotline, but it’s a great example of David Lapham’s gripping, brutal style.

SCARAB #3 (Vertigo, 1994) – “Moveable Feasts,” [W] John Smith, [A] Scot Eaton. John Smith is less famous than his contemporaries like Moore, Morrison or even Milligan, but he’s a unique and interesting writer. According to Wikipedia, Scarab started out as his proposal for a Dr. Fate series, but was deemed too radical and was changed to a miniseries starring a new character. In this issue, Scarab visits a town where all the women are mysteriously pregnant and almost all the men are gone. Scarab reminds me of Enigma because they’re both Vertigo superhero miniseries from almost the exact same time period, and so far I don’t like Scarab as much as Enigma, but I’d be willing to read more Scarab.

THE WAKE #3 (Vertigo, 2013) – “The Disaster,” [W] Scott Snyder, [A] Sean Murphy. The undersea base is invaded by some kind of fish monsters. These monsters communicate at the same frequency as the “52 whale,” a whale that sings at the frequency of 52 Hz. This creature really exists, and Snyder’s description of it is accurate. The Wake’s main appeal is Sean Murphy’s artwork, specifically his brilliant page layouts and his detailed depictions of machinery and undersea creatures. Unfortunately, Murphy’s faces are much less detailed or expressive than the other things he draws. If he could draw better faces, he’d be the perfect cartoonist.

AXE COP: THE AMERICAN CHOPPERS #2 (Dark Horse, 2014) – “The American Choppers, Chapter Two,” [W] Malachi Nicolle, [A] Ethan Nicolle. Axe Cop and his friends battle a horde of evil axes. There were moments in this issue that were mildly funny, and you can sort of see Malachi’s storytelling getting more sophisticated as he gets older. However, I still think this entire series is exploitative and unethical, and its gimmick (that an adult illustrates a kid’s stories) is only funny the first time.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #8 (Image, 2013) – “They Rule,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Nick Pitarra. This issue consists of two simultaneous fight scenes, one taking place in Star City and another on a space station. My problem with Manhattan Projects is that first, it’s poorly paced; it’s one shocking moment after another, with no time for the reader to absorb the shocks. But second and more importantly, it has no sympathetic characters. Every character in the series, even Albert Einstein, has selfish motivations and/or is too bizarre and superhuman to sympathize with. As a result, I have no reason to care what happens to any of them.

THE KENTS #7 (DC, 1998) – “Brother Against Brother Part 3,” [W] John Ostrander, [A] Tim Truman. I located my copies of the remaining issues of this series, and so I was able to finish reading it. In The Kents #7, Jeb meets his illegitimate son, then he meets Jesse James and participates in a massacre of unarmed Union troops. Meanwhile, Joshua saves Mary Glenowen from being raped by Jim Lane, and then meets a famous young actor named John Wilkes Booth.

On October 26, I went to the Heroes Pop Swap event. It ended up being disappointing. The last two times I went, there was one vendor who had a bunch of underground and alternative comics, but he wasn’t there this year. I ended up buying just a few things, most notably a collection of comics by Rian Hughes. The following two comics were among my purchases:

SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #17 (Marvel, 2013) – “Let’s Do the Time Warp Again,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Ryan Stegman. Spider-Man 2099 goes back in time to prevent his ancestor, Tiberius Stone, from being killed. Back in the present, Liz Allan’s chemical company – which will become Alchemax – buys out Peter Parker’s company and installs the very same Tiberius Stone as Peter’s boss. The issue ends with Spider-Man 2099 meeting the Superior Spider-Man. This is another excellent Dan Slott Spider-Man comic, and I really like how he writes Miguel O’Hara; he clearly knows that character’s original series very well.

FATIMA: THE BLOOD SPINNERS #3 (Dark Horse, 2012) – untitled, [W/A] Gilbert Hernandez. This was one of a few different miniseries that Beto published at Dark Horse. It’s a science fiction/horror adventure story with a female protagonist. It has the same sort of body horror as Blubber, but with an actual plot. Fatima is exciting and well-drawn, and it’s essential for a Hernandez Brothers completist, but it’s not Beto’s best work.

Some new comics were waiting for me when I got home:

LUMBERJANES #67 (Boom!, 2019) – “It’s a Myth-tery Part 3,” [W] Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, [A] Kanesha C. Bryant. Diane summons some cute dogs to track down Freya, and this leads to an epic confrontation between the two goddesses, which will be resolved next issue. Also, we get some background on Emily from the Zodiac cabin: she gets teased at school because her parents run an alien-themed restaurant, so she wants to prove that aliens really exist. When Diane shoots an arrow through Freya’s cape, Mackenzie says “Nice shot!” and Diane replies “Eh, I was aiming for her leg.” That may be a reference to a famous exchange from The Magnificent Seven: “That’s the greatest shot I’ve ever seen!” “The worst. I was aiming for the horse.”

SECOND COMING #4 (Ahoy, 2019) – “Jailbreak,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Richard Pace with Leonard Kirk. Jesus gets thrown in jail, where he reads the New Testament and is shocked to discover how his message has been distorted. Meanwhile, Sunstar and some other superheroes try to break Jesus out of jail, but it turns out to be unnecessary because Jesus gets released into their custody anyway. Here as elsewhere in this series, Jesus is presented as a truly compassionate man: the key line of the issue is when he says “To love those who offer you nothing in return is the only truly divine power you have.” In the letter column, a reader makes a good point when he says that Second Coming’s portrayal of God the father is extremely unflattering. However, this may be deliberate; God’s indifference and harshness are a powerful contrast to Jesus’s kindness. And the whole point of Jesus’s message, according to the New Testament, was to soften the cruel inflexibility of Moses’s laws.

DIAL H FOR HERO #8 (DC, 2019) – “The Many Transformations of Robby Reed,” [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Paulina Ganucheau & Joe Quinones. This issue is a brilliant experiment that reminds me of Watchmen #5 or Silver Surfer #11. It has two parallel stories, each drawn by a different artist. Robby Reed’s origin story, drawn by Paulina Ganucheau, is on the left-hand pages and reads front-to-back, while Mr. Thunderbolt’s origin story, drawn by Joe Quinones, is on the right-hand pages and is printed in reverse order. The idea is that you’re supposed to read the left-hand pages first until you get to the end, then read the right-hand pages backwards until you get back to the beginning. The trick is that adjacent pages also parallel each other; for example, pages 5 and 18 are next to each other, and they both end with two panels showing Robby and Mr. Thunderbolt (respectively) crying. And on pages 11 and 12, which are adjacent both physically and in narrative order, Robby/The Operator and Mr. Thunderbolt reach out their hands to each other across the page break. This issue is a spectacular use of the comic book format, and it wouldn’t work nearly as well in any other form. The only problem is that because of some unfortunate ad placement, page 14 is on the left when it should be on the right.

CRIMINAL #9 (Image, 2019) – “Restless Eyes,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. This issue is narrated by Leo, who, as Brubaker notes at the end, has not starred in a story since #5 of the original series. Leo and Ricky make a brilliant plan to rob a video arcade, but Ricky almost ruins everything through his hotheadedness. This issue creates a fascinating contrast between Ricky’s impulsivity and Leo’s meticulous planning.

IMMORTAL HULK #25 (Marvel, 2019) – “Breaker of Worlds,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Germán García. In a total departure from the rest of the series, Immortal Hulk #25 takes place in the far future and is narrated by a nonhumanoid, nonbinary alien named Par%l. In a search for life anywhere else in the universe, Par%l and hir spouses encounter theBreaker of Worlds, i.e. the Hulk, and it doesn’t end well for them. With the last of hir energy, Par%l sends a “tiding-fly” back in time, where it’s recovered by the Leader. This is a fascinating and unique issue. I’ve never paid attention to Germán García’s art before, but he succeeds at making Par%l and her world look utterly alien. The most memorable line in the issue is “Par%l has never seen a face before.”

MIDDLEWEST #12 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Skottie Young, [A] Jorge Corona. Fox goes back to the carnival to report that Abel and Bobby have been kidnapped. Abel and Bobby discover that they’ve been enslaved so they can work on Nicolas Raider’s ethol farms. Abel’s dad discovers that his son’s been abducted. This is a good issue, but it’s mostly just setup. Memorable moments in the issue include the first sight of the ethol farms, and Abel’s dad making an ass of himself while searching for his son.

ASCENDER #6 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dustin Nguyen. Another exciting issue. Andy is saved from drowning, only to be carted off as food for vampires. Mila and Telsa have a heart-to-heart talk. Mother realizes Mila’s importance and goes looking for her in person. At the end of the issue, Andy arrives at the vampire camp, where one of the vampires is none other than his “dead” wife Effie.

SERA AND THE ROYAL STARS #4 (Vault, 2019) -untitled, [W] Jon Tsuei, [A] Audrey Mok. I must have forgotten to order issue 3. In #4, Sera is traveling in the land of the dead with three of the four Royal Stars. They meet a council of underworld gods from various mythologies, including Osiris and Isis. Then the villains, Rastaban and Eltanin, show up, and Sera and the Bull have to flee together. Sera and the Royal Stars has some good dialogue and costume designs, but is otherwise a fairly average fantasy comc; however, as I’ve noted before, its use of Iranian mythology makes it fascinating.

FEARLESS #4 (Marvel, 2019) – “Campfire Song Part 4,” [W] Seanan McGuire, [A] Claire Roe, plus other stories. The heroes clean up after the alien invasion, and the camp session ends with a marshmallow roast. “Campfire Song” was a really sweet and subtle story, and it shows that Seanan McGuire has some real potential as a comics writer. Her writing somehow feels deeply human. There’s also a backup story starring Namorita, by Tini Howard and Rosi Kämpe. This story is most notable for some adorable seals. There’s another backup story by Trina Robbins and Marguerite Sauvage, which is less a story than an informational feature about Marvel’s female Golden Age creators. In general, Fearless was much more successful than previous “girl”-centered Marvel series, like Marvel Divas or Her-oes.

MILES MORALES: SPIDER-MAN #11 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Zé Carlos & Ig Guara. At school, Miles has an uncomfortable encounter with Barbara, and then his racist dean puts him on academic probation. But Miles doesn’t have time to worry about that because he’s too busy hutning down some drug dealers. While doing so, he gets a text that the baby is coming early and there are complications. And then on the last page, he discovers that Uncle Aaron is hunting the same drug dealers. Oof. Poor Miles. The best moment of this issue is when one of the drug dealers speaks to another one in Spanish, and Miles says “Thanks for the lead,” then adds “¿No sabías que Spider-Man habla español?”

PRETTY VIOLENT #3 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Derek Hunter, [W] Jason Young. Gamma Rae teams up with another superhero to fight an underground monster, but she realizes that the monster is just trying to stop its food from being stolen, so she kills the other superhero instead. Then after some more unpleasant encounters with her new teammates, Gamma Rae returns home, where she finds that her brother Sludge has just captured and probably killed the underground creature she previously saved. This is a fun issue, but this series is already becoming rather repetitive. While writing this review, I spilled coffee on my stack of comic books. LLuckily only the top three comics were damaged.

WONDER WOMAN #81 (DC, 2019) – “Loveless Finale,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Tom Derenick. Atlantides becomes the new god(dess) of love, allowing them to empower Diana to defeat Cheetah. However, Diana and Steve still break up. Diana takes Cheetah to Themyscira and imprisons her, but in prison, Cheetah meets some other villains who I don’t recognize. That’s the end of Willow’s run. She was an excellent Wonder Woman writer, but I still feel that her Wonder Woman run could have been even better than it was. Even though she wrote more than 20 issues, her run wasn’t long enough. I’m not planning to continue reading this series after she leaves. I liked Steve Orlando’s Wonder Woman, but I’m not super excited about it.

SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #13 (Marvel, 2013) – “No Escape Part Three: The Slayers & the Slain,” [W] Dan Slott & Christos Gage, [A] Giuseppe Camuncoli. Spidey/Doc Ock and a bunch of other people are trapped on the Raft with Alistair Smythe, Scorpion, Vulture and Boomerang. Spidey saves the hostages, but just when everything seems safe, Smythe shows up again and tries to transfer his mind into Spidey’s body. Of course, what he doesn’t know is that Doc Ock already did that. The issue ends with Mayor JJJ giving control of the Raft to Spidey so that he can turn it into Spider-Island II. This was another fun and cleverly plotted issue.

SHIPWRECK #1 (Aftershock, 2016) – “Augur,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Phil Hester. I had never heard of this series until I found this comic at Heroes Pop Swap. Shipwreck is about an astronaut who survives the crash of his spacecraft, only to discover that no one remembers his mission ever existed. He visits a restaurant where he meets a man who somehow knows about the mission, as well as a woman who’s cooking human flesh for some reason. This issue is an intriguing setup, but so far there’s not much to distinguish Shipwreck from any of Warren Ellis’s many other miniseries. I do like the combination of his writing with Phil Hester’s creepy art.

HELLBLAZER #60 (DC, 1992) – “Guys and Dolls Part Two: Nativity Infernal,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] William Simpson. Just before Christmas, John Constantine meets two young expectant parents, who turn out to be an angel and a demoness. While the demoness is giving birth, Constantine protects her and her boyfriend from being caught by demons. But he doesn’t realize that they’ve pissed off both heaven and hell, and that heaven’s vengeance is even worse. The demoness survives the birth, but the angel is killed, and the baby’s fate is left unrevealed. This issue used to be a target for speculation because it was considered the first appearance of Genesis from Preacher. However, Preacher is not set in the DC Universe, so the baby in this issue should be considered a prototype for Genesis, and not the same character.

DOCTOR MIRAGE #3 (Valiant, 2019) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Nick Robles. Shan Fong and Grace head into the underworld, which is illustrated with some really trippy art and coloring. Then a giant snake stabs Shan Fong with its tail. It’s weird that I’m suddenly down to just one Mags Visaggio comic a month (since I’m not reading Strangelands anymore).

IMMORTAL HULK DIRECTOR’S CUT #6 (Marvel, 2019) – “Action/Reaction,” [W] Holly Black, [A] Lee Garbett. Reginald Fortean continues to track the Hulk and his associates, and meanwhile, Captain Marvel organizes a new team of Hulkbusters. This is perhaps the least impressive of the first six issues, especially due to the lack of Joe Bennett art. However, one cool thing about this series is how Al Ewing seems to have taken into account every previous piece of Hulk continuity. This issue even includes a reference to Skaar, a character who seems to have nothing to do with this version of the Hulk.

GHOST-SPIDER #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “Dog Days Are Over,” [W] Seanan McGuire, [A] Takeshi Miyazawa. Gwen does some typical superhero stuff, and meanwhile Professor Guarinus (Warren) gives Benji a serum that turns her into a werewolf, but it wears off before anything fun happens. This is a rather low-intensity issue, but it’s full of good dialogue, and it just feels interesting even when not much is going on. Overall, I like Seanan McGuire’s writing. I had already read her novel Feed (published under another name) before I read any of her comics, and I want to read the sequel, Deadline, sometime soon.

THE TERRIFICS #21 (DC, 2019) – “If Me Could Turn Back Time Part 2,” [W] Gene Luen Yang, [A] Stephen Segovia. The Terrifics travel back to the ‘80s, where they pilot Voltron robots and fight a giant monster. Then they visit a disco and fight some Rocket Reds. This series isn’t anything great, but it’s fun enough that I’m willing to continue reading it.

MARVEL ACTION: SPIDER-MAN #10 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Delilah S. Dawson, [A] Davide Tinto. Amusingly, this issue’s artist and colorist are named Tinto and Pinto. This issue, the three Spider-people fight the Lizard and Venom. This series has never been very exciting, and #10 will be my last issue of it.

LITTLE BIRD #4 (Image, 2019) – “The Fight for Elder’s Hope Chapter Four,” [W] Darcy van Poelgeest, [A] Ian Bertram. I was surprised to see this on my DCBS shipping list. I forgot to order it when it was first solicited, but then it was solicited again, and I did order it that time. The main event of this issue is that Little Bird confronts her previously unknown brother. As throughout the series, Ian Bertram’s artwork in #4 is brilliant, but this comic would have had much more impact if I’d read it before #5.

ARCHIE VS. PREDATOR II #3 (Archie, 2019) – “A Kiss Before Dying,” [W] Alex de Campi, [A] Robert Hack. The Predators invade the high school dance, but the second version of Veronica sacrifices herself to save everyone else. There’s a truly disturbing panel where Veronica has a brilliant smile on her face even though her body is being torn apart by bullets. Robert Hack’s realistic, creepy artwork makes this series far scarier and darker than the previous Archie vs. Predator. The issue ends with Betty and Veronica making out in the shower, and probably satisfying lots of readers’ fantasies.

VALKYRIE: JANE FOSTER #4 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Sacred and the Profane Part IV,” [W] Al Ewing & Jason Aaron, [A] Cafu. I guess this is an ongoing series, or as ongoing as any Marvel series is anymore. This issue, Mephisto hires the Grim Reaper to replace Jane Foster as the new Valkyrie. This is still possible since Jane hasn’t taken anyone to Valhalla yet, so she’s not officially a Valkyrie. Meanwhile, Jane’s roommate is unhappy to be sharing her apartment with a horse, but they put that discussion on hold to attend a lecture by Annabelle Riggs – who, by coincidence, previously served as the Valkyrie in the Fearless Defenders series. The lecture is interrupted when Annabelle accidentally summons Kaecilius, Adria and Demonicus, three inept villains who last appeared in Doctor Strange #56 in 1982. I was kind of delighted when I realized where I’d seen these characters before.

TOMMY GUN WIZARDS #3 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Christian Ward, [A] Sami Kivelä. This series has been given a new title for its final issue, and no one knows what was wrong with its original title, but screw that. To me it’s always going to be Tommy Gun Wizards. It joins Tooth & Claw, Collider, and Hi Fi Fight Club in the club of comic books that were retitled midway through their run. Anyway, this issue the Untouchables have another battle with the mob, and meanwhile Elliot Ness’s home is invaded by wizards. Luckily it turns out that Elliot’s wife is capable of magically defending herself. Sami Kivelä’s artwork in this series is almost as impressive as if it were drawn by Christian Ward himself, and this may be because Christian Ward is responsible for the coloring.

AGENTS OF ATLAS #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Portal City of Pan Part 3,” [W] Greg Pak, [A] Nico Leon. Luna Snow and Amadeus Cho are not happy at how their kiss has been monetized and broadcast worldwide. And they’re also unhappy that Isaac has been let into their headquarters. But at least they succeed in getting Mike Nguyen to admit the Madripoorean refugees. At the end of the issue, we discover that Isaac and the new Giant-Man are a potential couple. With so many other interesting comic books coming out, this series is kind of getting lost in the shuffle, but it’s quite good.

KING THOR #2 (Marvel, 2019) – “Gorr and the Last of the Gods,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Esad Ribic. King Thor is trying to create a new universe, but first he has to defeat Gorr, and it’s not going well. This comic isn’t bad, but as I already stated in my review of #1, I’ve never much liked Jason Aaron’s future Thor stories. I think the coolest thing in this issue is the giant space shark named Death Mouth, although I guess this character already existed.

BRASS SUN #1 (2000 AD, 2014) – untitled, [W] Ian Edginton, [A] I.N.J. Culbard. An exciting discovery from Heroes Pop Swap. Brass Sun is a comic-book-sized version of a story that was previously published in 2000 AD. It takes place on a clockwork-powered planet which is slowly running out of energy, causing an ice age. However, the planet’s tyrannical rulers are unwilling to admit this (note the analogy to climate change). The protagonist, Wren, is the granddaughter of a scientist who is arrested for spreading the truth about the loss of power. Wren escapes and finds herself outside her planet, which, as she discovers, is just one of the globes on a giant solar-system-sized orrery. The premise of Brass Sun is fascinating, and INJ Culbard’s artwork creates a powerful sense of wonder. I hope I can find more issues of this series.

DOCTOR STRANGE AND THE SORCERERS SUPREME #1 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Robbie Thompson, [A] Javier Rodriguez. This miniseries begins with a flashback in which Merlin imprisons an evil creature behind a giant door. Then in the present, Merlin summons Dr. Strange to join him and fight alongside a bunch of other Sorcerers Supreme against the same evil creature, or something allied to it. This series’ story is just average, but Javier Rodriguez’s artwork is incredible. Besides being an excellent visual storyteller, he also draws some great Ditkoesque and Lovecraftian creatures. And there’s one beautiful two-page spread that shows Doc and Merlin traveling through the “backroads of time,” walking past various other versions of themselves.

UNCANNY X-MEN #239 (Marvel, 1988) – “Vanities,” [W] Chris Claremont, [A] Marc Silvestri. This issue is a prelude to Inferno, and it’s full of weird stuff. Most of the issue is narrated by Mr. Sinister as he thinks about how to manipulate the X-Men. One notable occurrence in this issue is that Storm discovers Jean Grey has come back to life. It’s surprising that Storm didn’t discover this until at least three years (real time) after it happened. I guess she was busy with other things, but I wonder if there was some behind-the-scenes reason why Jean couldn’t appear or be mentioned in the pages of Uncanny X-Men. Later in the issue, Havok and Maddy Pryor sleep together for perhaps the only time.

THE KENTS #8 (DC, 1998) – “Brother Against Brother Conclusion,” [W] John Ostrander, [A] Tim Truman. In a rather cathartic scene, Mary Glenowen beats Jim Lane with a whip. Wild Bill Hickok encounters Jonah Hex and narrowly escapes being shot by him. Nathaniel Kent tracks down Jim Lane, but finds that Mary has left for parts unknown. Meanwhile, Jeb’s pal Bill Anderson is killed, and Jeb has to go into hiding. The war ends, but Nathaniel is still looking both for Mary and for Joshua Freeman’s father. The Jonah Hex scene in this issue is interesting, but feels tacked on. As repeatedly discussed in this series’ letter columns, The Kents’ DC Universe connections are not truly necessary to its plot, but the editors were afraid that no one would buy it without those connections.

THE KENTS #9 (DC, 1998) – “To the Stars by Hard Ways, Part 1,” [W] John Ostrander, [A] Tom Mandrake. For the last four issues, Tim Truman is replaced as artist by Ostrander’s second greatest collaborator, Tom Mandrake. In #9, Nathaniel finds the Delaware Indian village where Mary is living, but she hides from him. Nathaniel then witnesses Bill Hickok’s famous duel with Dave Tutt, and saves Hickok from an ambush. Meanwhile, Jeb joins the infamous James-Younger gang. At the end of the issue, Nathaniel Kent confronts Jim Lane again and refuses to be baited into killing him. Lane then kills himself, as he did in real life. It’s a nice coincidence that the historical Kansas politician Jim Lane has the same last name as Lois Lane, though it would have been better if he were named Lang, since Lois Lane didn’t grow up in Smallville.

MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER #13 (Gold Key, 1966) – “The Evil Ark of Doctor Noel,” [W] Herb Kastle, [A] Russ Manning with Mike Royer. I’ve already read this because it was reprinted in Vintage Magnus Robot Fighter #3, which I have. However, that comic has some ugly recoloring, and it doesn’t include the Captain Johner and the Aliens backup feature from the original issue. In Magnus #13, the anti-robot crusader Dr. Noel kidnaps Leeja and a bunch of people and puts them on a spaceship, intending to take them to another planet and create a robot-free society. Of course, Magnus foils this plan and rescues Leeja. Manning’s artwork in this issue, as always, is incredible; he had a superhuman ability to draw realistic machinery and thrilling physical action sequences. Herb Kastle’s story expresses what must have been a very real anxiety about whether automation was compatible with human society. Dr. Noel wants to get rid of all robots, while Magnus, despite being a professional robot fighter, still believes that people and robots can learn to live together. (Neither of them seem to care what the robots think.) The weak link in this issue is Leeja, who acts like a useless hostage and can’t even help Magnus save her.

ELFQUEST: SHARDS #7 (WaRP, 1995) – “Heart,” [W] Wendy& Richard Pini, [A] Brandon McKinney. This issue’s plot is really complicated, but the main event is that the human Shuna tries to organize a revolt against the tyrannical Grohmul Djun, with the aid of the elves Strongbow, Krim and Skot. A surprising moment in this issue is when Krim and Skot both agree that they’ve lived too long and they don’t mind if they get killed on this mission. Since the elves almost all look very young, it’s easy to forget how old some of them are.

MIND THE GAP #2 (Image, 2012) – “Intimate Strangers Part 2: Two Nobodies,” [W] Jim McCann, [A] Rodin Esquejo. I didn’t quite understand this comic’s plot, but it seems to be about near-death experiences; the main character has the power to see ghosts, or something. The most notable thing about this issue is that it has full interior art by Rodin Esquejo, who is better known (at least to me) as the cover artist for Morning Glories. Reading this issue, I see why he’s mostly a cover artist. He draws beautiful faces, but his panel-to-panel continuity could be better.

HELLBOY: DARKNESS CALLS #6 (Dark Horse, 2007) – untitled, [W] Mike Mignola, [A] Duncan Fegredo. This issue is #32 in internal numbering. It has an incomprehensible plot involving Koshchei, the Dagda, etc. The letters page includes some interesting discussion of Fegredo’s art. Apparently some people were opposed to the main Hellboy series being drawn by anyone besides Mike, and he was also accused of being a Mignola clone. In a letter column response, Scott Allie points out that Fegredo had been using this style longer than Mignola had. However, for my part, I think Fegredo’s artwork is less interesting in this series than in Enigma. It kind of does feel like he’s imitating Mignola, rather than drawing in his natural style.

ATOMIC ROBO: DOGS OF WAR #4 (Red 5, 2008) – “Nemesis,” [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Scott Wegener. Robo teams up with Sparrow to fight Helsingard and a bunch of Nazi zombies. The main appeal of this issue is the many funny interactions between Robo and Sparrow.

CONAN THE CIMMERIAN #22 (Dark Horse, 2010) – “The Island: Iron Shadows in the Moon, Part 1,” [W] Tim Truman, [A] Paul Lee & Tomas Giorello. Having just escaped the massacre of the Kozaks, Conan rescues a slave woman named Olivia, and they discover an island full of weird statues. Meanwhile, some Red Brotherhood pirates are headed for the same island. Tim Truman wrote Conan in a style based heavily on that of REH himself, and perhaps because of this, I think his Conan stories are less interesting than those of Roy Thomas, Kurt Busiek or Jason Aaron.

My next shipment arrived on October 31:

GIANT DAYS: AS TIME GOES BY #1 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] John Allison, [A] Max Sarin. A few months after graduation, Daisy and Susan are still meeting regularly, but Esther never shows up because her time is monopolized by her two emotion-vampire coworkers. Daisy and Susan succeed in freeing Esther from her coworkers’ grip and reminding her what she really wants. Besides being the best humor comic of the decade, Giant Days was a deeply authentic depiction of college life – especially when it was being unrealistic on purpose, like in this issue’s climactic scene where the two coworkers clone themselves. It’s fitting that the final issue of Giant Days is about the letdown and the hollowness that you feel when the college years end. I’m going to miss this series.

RUNAWAYS #26 (Marvel, 2019) – “Cannon Fodder II,” [W] Rainbow Rowell, [A] Andres Genolet. The Runaways move into Doc Justice’s mansion, and Victor becomes the new Kid Justice. Doc Justice and Matthew are fun new characters, but I suspect Doc Justice has some kind of dark secret. The highlight of the issue is the closing scene where the cat brings Gib a mouse, and then Old Lace brings Gib a dead cat.

STAR PIG #4 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Delilah S. Dawson, [A] Francesco Gaston. Vess manages to defeat Echozar the squid dude, but then to free herself, she has to guess his favorite song. Which, amusingly, turns out to be “Octopus’s Garden.” Vess and Theo escape, and Theo thinks he’s receiving a call from his home planet. That’s the end of the series. It ends in a way that clearly points toward a sequel, and I hope we get one.

INVISIBLE KINGDOM #6 (Image, 2019) – “Edge of Everything Part One,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Christian Ward. The ship lands on Vess’s planet (not the same Vess from Star Pig), but they have to leave at once because Vess’s family is on the outs with her. Then the ship is boarded by a pirate, and the issue ends with the pirate holding Grix hostage. The most interesting thing about this issue is the revelation that Vess’s species has four genders: right, left, up and down. I wonder how that works.

FANTASTIC FOUR: GRAND DESIGN #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Four Astronauts Walk into a Rocket,” [W/A] Tom Scioli. Tom Scioli is the perfect artist for this series because he started out as a Kirby imitator (see my review of Image Firsts: Gødland #1), but his style has evolved into something unique to him. So in drawing the Fantastic Four, he’s returning to the material he started from, but he’s approaching that material through the lens of his new style. FF: Grand Design #1 is different from X-Men: Grand Design because it’s a retelling of stories that were all done by a single writer-artist team. Therefore, Scioli doesn’t have to knit all these stories into a single coherent narrative, like Piskor did, because they already are one. Instead, what’s interesting about FF: Grand Design is the way Scioli interprets Lee and Kirby’s original comics. One notable thing about Scioli’s version of the FF is that he depicts Reed Richards as a rather creepy and dangerous character. Reed already was kind of a creep in the original stories, but that may have been unintentional.

BASKETFUL OF HEADS #1 (DC, 2019) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Leomacs. A psychological horror story taking place on Brody Island, Maine, starring a young cop in training and his girlfriend. This first issue has no explicit supernatural elements, except the unexplained opening scene with the titular basketful of talking heads. So far this is a scary and exciting comic, and it has some definite Stephen King influences, including the Maine setting and the Shawshank Prison. Leomacs is an Italian artist who previously worked for Bonelli, and I can see some Italian features in his style.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #10 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Children of the Great Red Doom,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Mahmud Asrar. This issue explains the origin of the creepy kids who have been following Conan around for the entire series. A horrible old witch is trying to revive the demon Razazel, but for that she needs the blood of the world’s greatest adventurer. She becomes pregnant by a less great adventurer, who she subsequently kills, and gives birth to twin children, Razza and Zazella. When the kids are older, Conan nearly kills their mother, and then the kids follow him around until he’s old and his blood is as strong as possible. Finally, the kids succeed in killing Conan, or so it seems. Disturbingly, this issue almost makes me sympathize with Razza and Zazella: they were raised by an insane murderess, so they don’t understand that their actions are wrong.

SANDMAN UNIVERSE PRESENTS HELLBLAZER #1 (DC, 2019) – “The Best Version of You,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Marcio Takara. At some point in the near future, John Constantine watches helplessly as an evil grown-up Tim Hunter terrorizes the world. As he’s about to die, Constantine is approached by his own future self, who offers to save the day in exchange for Constantine’s soul. Constantine is forced to agree, and then he wakes up in a mental hospital. He gets out and finds himself in the dystopian London of 2019. I’m not sure where this story is going, but it’s interesting, and it feels like a classic Hellblazer comic. Si Spurrier seems to have an ability to inspire his artists to surpass themselves. Marcio Takara has never impressed me before, but in this issue his depictions of magical battles are breathtaking.

IRONHEART #11 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Eve Ewing, [A] Luciano Vecchio. This issue starts with a flashback to Riri’s childhood, when she was first told that her father was dead. This flashback scene is the high point of the issue. Little Riri reminds me a bit of Lunella Lafayette, but she’s not the same character at all. Then we pick up from the end of #10, with Riri watching her father’s conversation with the other Ten Rings. Riri and her allies fight the Ten Rings and lose, but Riri reveals herself to her father.

MY LITTLE PONY: FEATS OF FRIENDSHIP #2 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ian Flynn, [A] Tony Fleecs. Swift Foot continues to sabotage the Young Six’s efforts. This issue is pretty much a rehash of last issue. The best part is the bridge-building contest where each team is given only some of the necessary materials to build the bridge, and they’re supposed to team up and share materials. But they don’t figure that out because of Swift Foot’s meddling.

JOKER: KILLER SMILE #1 (DC, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Andrea Sorrentino. This prestige-format miniseries has a similar plot to Watchmen #6, the issue with the psychiatrist, except the client is the Joker instead of Rorschach. And it quickly becomes clear that the Joker has evil intentions toward the psychiatrist and his family. This issue has some gorgeous art. There are few if any of the radical page layouts Sorrentino uses in Gideon Falls, but he alternates between drawing in a coarse style and a much slicker, more colorful style. There’s even one sequence that’s drawn to look like a children’s book. The main problem with this comic is that I’m sick of the Joker. I think this character’s storytelling potential has been exhausted. There are only so many different stories you can tell about an insane lunatic who murders people for no reason. Also, it’s obvious that the psychiatrist’s wife and child are going to get killed, and I would just as soon not read about that.

ARCHIE 1955 #2 (Archie, 2019) – “Don’t Stop the Bop!”, [W] Brian Augustyn & Mark Waid, [A] Tom Grummett & Rick Burchett. Archie’s first record is a hit, but Chuck Clayton is pissed at him for stealing his sound from a black musician. At Chuck’s behest, Archie apologizes to Big Earl and promises to pay any musician whose songs he uses. At first I was annoyed at this because it seemed overly simplistic, and also it was an example of how black people are always expected to forgive white people. But as it turns out, Mark and Brian anticipated that objection. When Hiram Lodge gives Archie a recording contract, he insists on a clause that enforces his promise to Big Earl, but Hiram tells his lawyer to write that clause in such a way that it’s unenforceable. So Archie 1955 is more complicated than it looks at first. It delves into rock music’s roots in exploitation – of black musicians by white musicians, and of ignorant young artists by record companies.

ETHER: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF VIOLET BELL #3 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] David Rubín. Boone fights a combat sarcophagus. Then Boone and Glum (the ape dude) get aboard a pirate ship and sail through a sea of hallucinations to the island of the Seven Lucky Gods. That plot summary sounds awesome, but this issue is fairly mundane compared to other issues of Ether. Again, the best part of this series is David Rubín’s art, with its brilliant linework and its visual creativity.

INVISIBLE WOMAN #4 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Mattia De Iulis. Sue tries to complete a spy mission to save some hostage children, but Maria Hill shows up and prevents her from retrieving the McGuffin. Despite some good artwork, this issue was tedious to read, and I can’t remember much about it. As I mentioned in my review of #2, because Sue, unlike the male members of the FF, is defined by her relationships to others, it’s not clear what an Invisible Woman solo story should look like. However, I don’t think it should look like this, because this Invisible Woman miniseries feels like any generic spy story with a female protagonist.

TEST #5 (Vault, 2019) – untitled, [W] Christopher Sebela, [A] Jen Hickman. I can’t describe what happens in this issue, except that Aleph Null is either stuck in a time loop, or he’s the latest in a series of other incarnations of himself. This series never made much sense to begin with, and each issue has been more opaque than the last. It feels like it has an important statement about identity or gender or something, but that message went straight over my head.

WARLORD OF MARS ATTACKS #5 (Dynamite, 2019) – “The Future of Worlds,” [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Dean Kotz. Edgar Norman is really dead, but John Carter’s Martians defeat the evil Martians and turn them into productive citizens, and everyone lives happily ever after. This was a fun miniseries. It’s also the last Dynamite comic I’ll be reading for the foreseeable future.

BLACK PANTHER #17 (Marvel, 2019) – “Two Thousand Seasons,” [W] Ta-Nehisi Coates, [A] Daniel Acuña. Another issue with lots of talk, but little action or characterization. It’s strange that such a dialogue-heavy comic is lacking in characterization, but the characters mostly talk about plot-related and philosophical topics, in a way that reveals little about their personalities. I’ve decided I’ve had enough of this series. Its stories just go on and on indefinitely and never arrive anywhere. I’ve already ordered #18 and #19, but after that, I’m done.

SCOOBY-DOO TEAM-UP #24 (DC, 2017) – “Out of This World,” [W] Sholly Fisch, [A] Dario Brizuela. The Scooby Gang team up with the Martian Manhunter and other alien superheroes (e.g. Starfire, Ultra the Multi-Alien and Mikaal Tomas) to protect them from the “Persons in Plaid,” i.e. Men in Black. This is a funny comic with an exciting and highly economical plot. I have a bunch of other issues of this series, and I should get around to reading them.

TOTALLY AWESOME HULK #19 (Marvel, 2017) – “Weapons of Mutant Destruction Prelude,” [W] Greg Pak, [A] Robert Gil. Like TNC’s Black Panther, this series started out with a lot of hype, but gradually lost steam. This issue is part of some kind of crossover with Wolverine and Old Man Logan, and I don’t remember much about it at all.

LITTLE ARCHIE #165 (Archie, 1981) – “Here Comes the Jugarchie Mobile,” [W/A] Dexter Taylor. I bought this mistakenly thinking it had a Bob Bolling story. It does not, and as usual, Dexter Taylor is an inadequate replacement. Also, one of the stories in this issue includes some offensive Native American stereotypes, although it does end with Mr. Lodge helping the Native Americans recover their land.

THE KENTS #10 (DC, 1998) – “To the Stars by Hard Ways Part Two,” [W] John Ostrander, [A] Tom Mandrake. Jeb continues to make an ass of himself. Nathaniel Kent reunites Joshua Freeman with his father. Mary Glenowen and her people are forcibly relocated to Indian Territory. Nathaniel joins Custer’s cavalry and fights alongside Brian Savage, aka Scalphunter, but quits in disgust after the Washita Massacre. Much of this issue is devoted to summaries of post-Civil War history.

THE KENTS #11 (DC, 1998) – “To the Stars by Hard Ways Part Three,” as above. Jeb has some more adventures with other awful people, including John Welsey Hardin, and passes up a chance to murder Nathaniel in cold blood. With Scalphunter’s help, Nathaniel finally finds Mary Glenowen, and she agrees to marry him. One of my favorite moments in the series occurs when Mary tells Nathaniel that she’s so ignorant of her own culture, she thought the Delaware were one of the five Iroquois tribes – as she wrongly stated in issue 4. I think it’s very possible that this was not a deliberate error. Maybe Ostrander himself thought the Delaware were a member of the Iroquois Confederacy, and later discovered this was wrong. If so, he did a great job of turning a mistake into an opportunity for character development. Anyway, the issue ends with Nathaniel, now an expectant father, taking a job as the sheriff of a town called… Smallville.

THE KENTS #12 (DC, 1998) – “To the Stars by Hard Ways Finale,” as above. Several years after #11, Nathaniel and Mary have two children, who only appear in a couple panels; one of these must be the ancestor of Jonathan Kent. John Wesley Hardin murders Tobias Freeman. Jeb and his son, Taylor Beaumont, start their own gang, but when they plan a raid on the Smallville bank, Jeb realizes he can no longer control his son. He secretly warns Nathaniel about the raid in advance, and in the resulting gunfight, Taylor kills his own father, and Joshua Freeman kills Taylor. The series ends by describing the fates of some of the characters who really existed. Overall, this was an excellent series, perhaps DC’s best comic in the Western genre since the ‘70s. It would have been even better without all the DC Universe references, and its constant infodumps about Civil War history were sometimes tedious. However, in general, Ostrander, Truman and Mandrake succeeded in synthesizing actual Kansas history with a compelling story and well-realized characters. And I forgot to mention that Ostrander’s dialogue sounds like real 19th-century dialogue; his characters use words and speech patterns that seem historically authentic. It’s too bad this series never led to anything more. On the letters pages of the last few issues, there were suggestions that more Kents comics were forthcoming, but that proved to not be the case.

THE WEIRD WORLD OF JACK STAFF #6 (Image, 2011) – untitled, [W/A] Paul Grist. This issue has a complicated time-travel plot that revolves around something called the Mask of Destiny. As with #12 of the Dancing Elephant series, this issue’s story is told out of chronological order, making it even harder to follow than it already was. As usual, Grist’s storytelling and page layouts are excellent.

JON SABLE, FREELANCE #14 (First, 1984) – “The Wall,” [W/A] Mike Grell. This must be the oldest issue of Jon Sable that I hadn’t read already. It’s much better drawn than some of the late issues that I’ve read recently. It reminds me that at its peak, Jon Sable was a really fun series, and was certainly Grell’s masterpiece. In “The Wall,” Sable is approached by Misha Yurkovich, a Russian ballet dancer who has recently defected. Yurkovich hires Sable to help him rescue his wife, who is currently performing in East Berlin. Yurkovich must have been based on Mikhail Baryshnikov, although Baryshnikov was not married when he defected. Sable and Yurkovich manage to cross the Berlin Wall and get into the Berlin State Opera, but due to bad luck, Yurkovich has to perform alongside his wife in “Swan Lake’” before they can escape. The ballet sequence is the high point of the issue; it’s suspenseful and emotional at once, and it shows Grell’s skill with anatomy.

STATIC #12 (DC/Milestone, 1994) – “Getting Out,” [W] Kurt Busiek, [A] Neil Vokes. I wonder if this is the only Milestone comic by an all-white creative team (edit: besides Xombi). (Kurt also wrote Icon #11, but it was drawn by Ron Wilson.) This issue isn’t terrible, but it’s effectively a Spider-Man story with Static substituted for Spider-Man. It doesn’t have the gritty realism or the distinctive characterization and dialogue of other issues of Static.

SUPERMAN #25 (DC, 2017) – “Fade to Black Chapter 6: Black Dawn,” [W] Peter Tomasi, [W/A] Patrick Gleason, [A] Doug Mahnke. Yet another issue that makes utterly no sense if you haven’t read the entire storyline in order. I guess I could get Superman #21-23 and then read the entire series at one sitting, but I don’t think it’s worth bothering. At least there are some cute moments in this issue; it sort of concludes the ongoing plotline about Jon’s friendship with Kathy Brennan, and there’s a funny cow-tipping scene at the end.

SAVAGE DRAGON #151 (Image, 2009) – “Shark Attack,” [W/A] Erik Larsen. Malcolm and Angel fight Mako and bicker a lot. This isn’t a standout issue, but it’s fun. I might start reading Savage Dragon again with #250, although I will be quick to drop it again if there’s any more exploitative sexual content.

THOR, GOD OF THUNDER #12 (Marvel, 2013) – “Once Upon a Time in Midgard,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Nic Klein. After a mission, Thor returns to Midgard and hangs out with a bunch of old friends. The centerpiece of the issue is the scene where Thor learns that Jane Foster has breast cancer. But this issue is full of great moments. Thor goes on a date with Roz Solomon and provides a last meal to a prisoner who’s about to be executed. And in a single two-page sequence, we see Thor feeding Brazilian orphans, talking with an old lama, scaring off Westboro Baptist Church protesters, and doing lots more stuff. This issue is very emotionally affecting, and it’s a good capsule summary of who Jason Aaron’s Thor is.

SUICIDE RISK #7 (Boom!, 2013) – untitled, [W] Mike Carey, [A] Elena Casagrande. Compared to #5, the only other issue of Suicide Risk that I’ve read, this issue is much more of a conventional superhero comic. Except that in the central scene of this issue, the “heroes” take over the city of Merida by simply murdering anyone who violates their curfew. This is a disturbing scene, but it also reminds me of lots of other superhero comics, e.g. The Authority or Squadron Supreme. I’m not sure what’s unique about this series. However, I’m becoming a Mike Carey completist – I just read his novel The Girl with All the Gifts – and I will plan on collecting more Suicide Risk.

WILD’S END: THE ENEMY WITHIN #1 (Boom!, 2015) – “Who Goes There?”, [W] Dan Abnett, [A] I.N.J. Culbard. I thought I’d already read this, but I actually read issue 1 of the first Wild’s End miniseries. The Enemy Within #1 introduces two new characters, the science fiction writers Runciman and Cornfelt, and establishes the setup for the rest of the series. Annoyingly, this issue ends with four pages of text in a faux-handwriting font that’s difficult to read. Other than that, this is a solid issue. I bought a lot of comics in 2015 that I shouldn’t have, but I don’t regret buying this miniseries, even though it took me four years to actually finish it.

CRITTERS #3 (Fantagraphics, 1986) – “Horse Thief,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. Usagi rescues a horse from some bandits, but while trying to sell the horse, he runs into the person the bandits stole it from. Hijinks ensue. At the end, Usagi gives the horse to the two husband-and-wife woodcutters – I wonder if this issue is their first appearance. In this story Usagi acts more like a trickster than a noble samurai, and he does things that are more characteristic of Gen. Stan obviously hadn’t quite figured out who Usagi was yet. This issue also includes Gnuff and Birthright stories. I don’t understand how Birthright was even publishable. It had some interesting themes, I guess, but Steven Gallacci’s art is so crude that I can’t tell his characters from each other.

POWER PACK #4 (Marvel, 2000) – “Ascension,” [W] Shon Bury, [A] Colleen Doran. This isn’t the worst Power Pack comic ever, but it’s close. It’s just a mediocre superhero story with none of the spirit of the classic Power Pack stories. At least Colleen Doran draws realistic-looking children, although in my opinion, her characters tend to be excessively cute.

Y: THE LAST MAN #42 (Vertigo, 2006) – “1,000 Typewriters,” [W] Brian K. Vaughan, [A] Goran Sudzuka. The first half of this issue is a flashback to Ampersand’s origin story. Then there’s another flashback where Yorick tracks down his old lab partner Kevin, thinking that Kevin might share Yorick’s immunity to the plague. But it turns out Kevin died and was eaten by his cats, a fate which probably awaits me as well. The rest of the issue is a bunch of plot that I don’t understand.

WOLVERINE #17 (Marvel, 1989) – “Basics!”, [W] Archie Goodwin, [A] John Byrne. Since I started these reviews in 2013, this is the first comic I’ve read whose title was just “Wolverine.” This issue seems to lack a central theme, although most of it takes place in Madripoor, and its plot focuses on the villains Geist and Roughhouse. For some reason this issue includes a four-page sequence where Daredevil fights a man named Hammer Cody. This scene has nothing to do with Wolverine, and I can only assume that it started out as inventory material.

THE UNWRITTEN #51 (Vertigo, 2013) – “The Unwritten Fables Part 2: The Rescue,” [W] Mike Carey & Bill Willingham, [A] Peter Gross & Mark Buckingham. Although I can’t stand Bill Willingham, I have to admit that a crossover between Fables and The Unwritten is a logical and clever idea, and this issue is well-executed. The main plot is that Tommy Taylor and his two friends have to rescue the kidnapped Bigby Wolf. Bill Willingham really is a talented writer; it’s a pity that his politics and public persona are so toxic.

EAST OF WEST #10 (Image, 2014) – “A Sea of Bones,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Nick Dragotta. This comic’s plot makes no sense, but it has some interesting characters and settings, and Nick Dragotta’s art is quietly effective. I’d be much more interested in reading more of this series, as opposed to The Manhattan Projects.

ELFQUEST: HIDDEN YEARS #9 (WaRP, 1993) – “The Enemy’s Face,” [W] Wendy Pini & Sarah Byam, [A] Paul Abrams. This issue is Rayek’s origin story. It narrates his birth, Leetah’s birth, and the origin of his hopeless passion for her. It helps the reader understand how Rayek got so screwed up, which is important because Rayek is the primary antagonist of the series, and his obsession with Leetah and then Winnowill is one of the central driving forces of Elfquest’s plot. Rayek’s obsession with Leetah seems even creepier, and quasi-incestuous,when you discover that he babysat her in her infancy.

INJECTION #3 (Image, 2015) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Declan Shalvey. Several different characters investigate a plague of spriggans and other mythological creatures. I guess the premise of this series is that something called the Injection is causing fictional and phenomena to become real. I don’t understand how all the plots and concepts in this issue are connected, but Warren’s writing is sophisticated and intriguing. Declan Shalvey makes the spriggan look really cool, and there’s an impressive two-page sequence in which this creature explodes.

VERTIGO VÉRITÉ: THE UNSEEN HAND #1 (Vertigo, 1996) – “The Party’s Over,” [W] Terry LaBan, [A] Ed Hillyer (as Ilya). Mike is an ordinary student of economics. On his deathbed, Mike’s supposed father confesses that Mike’s real father was an economist named Conrad Dank, a member of a secret banking cabal. This cabal actually controls the entire world economy, and they created the myth of the “invisible hand” to conceal their existence. Now that Mike knows this, he has to save himself from being assassinated so that he can reveal the truth. This comic’s premise (the banking cabal thing) sounds like a sophisticated critique of capitalism, but it also has echoes of the Q conspiracy theory or the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. And in its second half, the comic degenerates into a bunch of silly action sequences. Still, I would buy the other three issues of this miniseries if I came across them.

THE VISITOR: HOW & WHY HE STAYED #4 (Dark Horse, 2017) – untitled, [W] Mike Mignola & Chris Roberson, [A] Paul Grist. I’m mostly interested in this comic because of Paul Grist’s beautifully economical art. But this issue also has a very poignant story. It focuses on the Visitor’s relationship with his wife or girlfriend, Ruby, who suffers from dementia and then dies. Since the Visitor is an alien with a long lifespan, he has to watch Ruby’s slow decline while being in perfect health himself. Ruby is black, while the Visitor is an alien who can pass as white, and Mignola and Roberson make a reasonable effort to address the racial aspects of their relationship.

THE FURTHER FATTENING ADVENTURES OF PUDGE, GIRL BLIMP #2 (Star*Reach, 1975) – various segments, [W/A] Lee Marrs. Pudge runs out of money, so she has to take a series of disastrous jobs. The most memorable one is at a co-op store in Berkeley, where her bosses are all “groovy and mellow,” but she gets paid $20 a week and doesn’t get breaks. Reminds me of working at Whole Foods. And then the store goes out of business before her second shift. Meanwhile, Pudge’s attempts to lose her virginity are equally futile, though she does hit it off with a man who, inconveniently, is a cop. This comic has an epic scope, with 48 pages of cluttered panels (hence why it took me so long to read it), and it feels like an authentic depiction of life in San Francisco in the hippie era. Pudge is a lovable character. Overall, Pudge, Girl Blimp is probably my favorite feminist underground comic, and it’s a shame that it only lasted three issues. Lee Marrs is an underappreciated genius. Pudge, Girl Blimp is currently in print again, but in a print-on-demand edition. It would be nice if some other publisher, ideally Fantagraphics, would make this work available to a wider audience.

TARZAN #137 (Gold Key, 1963) – “Where Time Stood Still,” [W] Gaylord Du Bois, [A] Jesse Marsh. Tarzan visits a city of ancient Egyptians, and helps the local princess escape with her lower-class boyfriend. This story makes an attempt at historical accuracy, and Du Bois comes up with a plausible reason why these Egyptians have kept their traditional culture for thousands of years. I’ve never quite warmed to Jesse Marsh’s art, but his visual storytelling in this issue is effective. In the second story, Boy teams up with a Tuareg boy against some criminals. There’s also a short Brothers of the Spear story with art by Russ Manning.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #94 (Marvel, 1980) – “Darkness, Darkness…,” [W] Steven Grant, [A] Mike Zeck. Spider-Man and the Shroud fight Dansen Macabre. This villain later appeared in Avengers West Coast #78, one of the first comic books I ever owned. The Shroud and Dansen Macabre are priests of Kali and Shiva respectively, and this comic includes a lot of misinformation about Hindu religious beliefs, although it’s not as bad as Thor #301 (the one where Thor fights Shiva and wins). Other than that, this issue is forgettable.

SPIDER-MAN 2099 #5 (Marvel, 2014) – untitled, [W] Peter David, [A] Rick Leonardi. This issue begins with a monologue by Lyla, Miguel O’Hara’s annoying holographic assistant. But besides that, there’s little in this issue that reminds me of the classic Spider-Man 2099 series. It’s mostly just a confusing and pointless installment of Edge of Spider-Verse.

ABE SAPIEN #13 (Dark Horse, 2014) – “The Healer,” [W] Mike Mignola & Scott Allie, [A] Sebastián Fiumara. Yet another Hellboyverse comic that makes no sense if you aren’t reading the other Hellboyverse comics. The cover says “starting point for new readers,” but that’s a lie. The writers make no attempt to ease new readers into the story. There’s also a backup story starring the BPRD, with art by Guy Davis.

MANHUNTER #12 (DC, 2005) – “Manhunted Part 3: Masks Upon Masks,” [W] Marc Andreyko, [A] Javier Pina. Chase and Josiah Power try to solve the murder of Kirk DePaul, the Paul Kirk clone from Power Company. The prime suspect is another former Manhunter, Mark Shaw. Meanwhile, Ramsey’s dad has a tense encounter with Ramsey’s grandfather on the other side.

UNCANNY X-MEN #531 (Marvel, 2011) – “Quarantine Part Two,” [W] Matt Fraction & Kieron Gillen, [A] Greg Land. In this story, the mutants on Utopia island are under quarantine due to a deadly flu virus. The main villain of the issue is Sebastian Shaw. This story is okay, but not nearly as impressive as you would expect from these writers.

New comics received on November 9:

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #1 (DC, 2019) – “The Legion of Super-Heroes!,” [W] Brian Michael Bendis, [A] Ryan Sook. The Legion is my favorite comic book series ever, but my joy at its return is tempered by my frustration that the new Legion title is written by Bendis. The good news is that first, the Legion is the one comic where Bendis’s writing style is an actual asset. In a series with 30 main characters, the only way to give them all sufficient exposure is to include a ton of simultaneous dialogue. Second, Ryan Sook’s Legion designs are spectacular. I recently had an uncomfortable conversation that made me realize just how white the old Legion was, even though it had some token POC and alien characters. This series corrects that problem, presenting a Legion where every Legionnaire looks diverse and unique. The new versions of Triplicate Girl and Blok are especially stunning. The big problem is that so far, most of the Legionnaires have no individual personalities. I can’t even tell who some of them are. Bendis introduces the “Frichtman tags” (named after Matt Fraction) that give each character’s name and powers, but he doesn’t use them consistently. I hope Bendis is able to provide more character development for all of the Legionnaires, not just the prominent ones like Saturn Girl, Brainiac 5 and Ultra Boy. Annoyingly, the next issue is going to be two weeks late.

THE MAGNIFICENT MS. MARVEL #9 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Minkyu Jung. This issue is a powerful depiction of the psychological toll of a family member’s illness. Just as Ammi is saying “I almost feel like things can get back to normal,” Abu collapses, and the next panel cuts to Kamala sitting in a chair at the hospital with her head down. Kamala turns to Bruno for comfort, and near the end of the issue, they kiss. Meanwhile, Mr. Hyde invades the hospital for some reason, and Dr. Strange and Iron Man have a possible cure for Abu’s condition. In my opinion, Saladin Ahmed has been writing this series brilliantly. It feels like he really understands Kamala Khan, and has a coherent plan for how to move her character forward.

FANTASTIC FOUR #16 (Marvel, 2019) – “Point of Origin Part Three: Fantastic Planet,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Sean Izaakse. Thankfully this issue has no dialogue that needs to be translated. The Overseer tells Reed and Sue that in order to meet the threat of the Fantastic Four, he used cosmic radiation on his own people. That produced the Unparalleled, i.e. the superheroes, but also a bunch of awful monsters. Meanwhile, Ben fights those very same monsters, and then convinces him to join him against the Overseer and the Unparallelled. At the same time, Johnny finds himself falling for Sky, his promised soulmate. “Point of Origin” has been an extremely fun story so far.

DRAGONFLY & DRAGONFLYMAN #1 (Ahoy, 2019) – untitled, [W] Tom Peyer, [A] Peter Krause. The sequel to The Wrong Earth is actually a prequel, so it takes place before the two Dragonflies got switched. This issue has two parallel storylines in which we see how the two Dragonflies approach similar problems very differently. It also focuses on the Dragonflies’ relationships with their respective sidekicks. Dragonflyman and his Stinger have a supportive relationship, but the other Stinger, who IIRC dies before The Wrong Earth begins, feels constantly abused and underappreciated by Dragonfly. The high point of this issue is when Dragonflyman uses a judo hold to defeat a boxing kangaroo.

UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY #1 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Charles Soule & Scott Snyder, [A] Giuseppe Camuncoli. Sometime in the fairly near future, the human race is at risk of extinction from a deadly plague. A team of adventurers is assembled to look for a cure to the plague in the only place where such a cure might exist: a mysterious country that’s cut itself off from the outside world. That country is the United States of America. This is a brilliant setup; like Manifest Destiny, Undiscovered Country is based on the idea that America is a huge, unknown country where literally anything might exist. I’ve had mixed feelings about both Soule and Spencer’s work in the past, but in this issue they succeed in exploiting the potential of their premise. Giuseppe Camuncoli’s art is perhaps the best of his career. I especially like the bandits who ride around the desert in cars pulled by various giant animals.

MILES MORALES: SPIDER-MAN #12 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Javier Garrón. As if Miles doesn’t have enough to worry about already, he has to stop the Prowler, aka Uncle Aaron, from committing an assassination. Then they both have to fight Man-Mountain Marko, and next issue, they’re both going to have to get from Upper Manhattan to Red Hook while being chased by a giant horde of villains. This is an exciting setup, but in the middle of all this fighting, Miles seems to have forgotten that his mother is about to give birth. I think Miles would be completely justified in leaving Uncle Aaron behind to fend for himself. And this premise raises some larger questions, which will hopefully be addressed in issue 13: Why is Miles required to bail out Uncle Aaron from yet another mess that he got himself into? Shouldn’t Miles be more worried about himself and his mother, who hasn’t done anything wrong? What should a Spider-Man do when faced with multiple conflicting “great responsibilities” at once?

MANIFEST DESTINY #38 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Chris Dingess, [A] Matthew Roberts. Lewis and Clark try to come up with a way to feed the orphaned giant baby mole rats, but Collins solves the problem the easy way by killing the babies himself. This experience awakens Sacagawea to her own failure as a mother, and she starts taking better care of her baby. Meanwhile, the Spanish ghost continues to sow dissent. I’m glad this series is back.

DIE #9 (Image, 2019) – “Self-Insert,” [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Stephanie Hans. The imprisoned party members meet their jailor, who turns out to be Charlotte Brontë, and she explains the origin of Angria. I noticed the references to the Brontës in earlier issues, but this issue develops those references in great detail. It includes a lengthy account of the Brontës’ youth and their invention of the fictional realms of Glass Town, Angria and Gondol (usually spelled Gondal). I’m not quite sure how all this relates to Die’s overall plot, but it’s definitely relevant to the series’ themes. A key point of Die, and of Kieron’s work in general, is that storytelling is dangerous: when you tell a story, it has the power to get away from you and evolve in ways you don’t expect. The Brontë siblings’ storytelling experiment is an example of that, as is the role-playing game that sparked this series’ plot. This issue should be essential reading for anyone interested in the contemporary legacy of the Brontës. It also makes me want to read the Brontë juvenilia.

B.B. FREE #1 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Gabby Rivera, [A] Royal Dunlap. I hated Gabby Rivera’s previous comic, America. It was well-intentioned, but its plot was completely incoherent. Therefore, I was nervous about this series, but so far b.b. free is a tremendous improvement over America. It takes place in the flooded islands of Gainesville, Florida in 2232. The main character, b.b., runs a pirate radio station while trying to decide what to do when she turns 15 and becomes independent. Unfortunately, her domineering father refuses to let her leave the swamp for the outside world. This comic has a unique and fascinating setting, an interesting protagonist, and a compelling plot, most of which America lacked. I especially love how the artwork and coloring help to emulate the wet, sticky atmosphere of north Florida. The color scheme of this comic is unusual but effective because it’s dominated by yellow. I look forward to seeing wheret his seriesgoes.

IMMORTAL HULK #26 (Marvel, 2019) – “Status Quo Ante,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. Bruce announces Shadow Base’s existence to the world, then he and Amadeus Cho have a conversation in a diner over some clam chowder. The chef turns out to be Namor. Then we learn that Bruce’s broadcast ended with a declaration of war on the corporations responsible for climate change. And Dario Agger, the minotaur CEO of Roxxon, is not happy about that. This is another excellent issue that suggests intriguing new directions for the plot. I especially like the clever reveal of Namor. I was sorry to hear about Joe Bennett’s tragic loss of his child.

HEIST #1 (Vault, 2019) – “Or How to Steal a Planet,” [W] Paul Tobin, [A] Arjuna Susini. Paul Tobin is an excellent and underrated writer, so I was excited to see that he had a new original series. Heist is a science fiction comic in which the entire civilized universe was owned by the evil Dignity Corporation, except for the eponymous planet, Heist. That is, until fifteen years ago, when the protagonist, Glane Breld, betrayed Heist to the Dignity Corporation. Now Glane Breld is back on Heist, and he wants to steal the planet back. This comic isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s fun so far, and I want to read more of it. Arjuna Susini’s art reminds me of that of Neal Adams.

SPIDER-MAN & VENOM: DOUBLE TROUBLE #1 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Mariko Tamaki, [A] GuriHiru. This is about as simple a Spider-Man comic as you can get. It’s a very quick read, and its plot is so streamlined that Spider-Man doesn’t even have a secret identity; he just wears his costume all the time. Oh, and Venom is his roommate. Despite all that, this is a really fun comic, and the creators seem to have enjoyed themselves producing it. It includes multiple different versions of the Spider-Man theme song, as well as a two-page spread that’s formatted like a board game.

EVERYTHING #3 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “See Everything as a Dream,” [W] Christopher Cantwell, [A] I.N.J. Culbard. This series is almost as difficult as Test. It has a total lack of recognizable characters: every scene focuses on a different character, and none of them seems to be the protagonist. And I still don’t get what this series is about, except that all its plotlines focus in some way on the Everything shopping mall. The writer seems more interested in creating an eerie, oppressive mood than telling a story. I’m going to keep reading this comic for now, but I wish it would start going somewhere.

GREEN LANTERN: BLACKSTARS #1 (DC, 2019) – “Under the Sun at Midnight,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Xermanico. Now a member of the Blackstars, Hal meets some demons from Ysmault and leads an assault on Warworld. This issue is exciting, but not as clever or unique as the best issues of the previous volume. I’ve come to associate this series with Liam Sharp’s art, so his sudden absence is jarring.

WONDER TWINS #9 (DC, 2019) – “AfterMath,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Stephen Byrne. In order to help get Philo Math out of the Phantom Zone, Zan and Jayna have to reveal the black mark on their family’s history: their grandfather was responsible for exiling thousands of people to that same Phantom Zone. Meanwhile, the Scrambler makes another attempt at executing the Great Scramble, but instead he wakes up an evil AI that Philo Math created in the ‘80s. This is kind of a low-key issue, but next issue should be much more epic.

COPRA #2 (Image, 2019) – “Escape from A.R.M.,” [W/A] Michel Fiffe. This issue is mostly a long fight between the Copra members and the A.R.M. villains. Michel’s art is more exciting than it was last issue; besides his amazing graphic techniques, he’s also very good at drawing action sequences. Gracie, whose body is just a solid black mass with white highlights, is especially striking.

BERSERKER UNBOUND #4 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Mike Deodato Jr. The Mongrel King and the old homeless man defeat the invaders from the past, then they return through the portal to the Mongrel King’s time period. This series was a severe disappointment and a big step down in quality from all of Jeff’s other recent work. It seems to have been intended as a showcase for Mike Deodato Jr’s art, but I don’t think his art is all that great to begin with.

THE DREAMING #15 (DC, 2019) – “The Crown, Part One,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Bilquis Evely. This issue follows Matthew as he visits the other inhabitants of the Dreaming, surveying their views on the new Lord of Dreams. It soon becomes clear that Wan is destroying everything that made the Dreaming worthwile. A particularly poignant moment is when Wan digitizes Lucien’s library and gets rid of all the books. This scene helps demonstrate why I think the “bookless library” is a stupid idea.

LOIS LANE #5 (DC, 2019) –“Enemyof the People Part Five,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Mike Perkins. This issue is mostly plot. I must have been pretty tired when I read it, and it didn’t particularly impress me. Given the amount of panel time that Renee Montoya occupies, this series should have been called Lois Lane and the Question. One thing that does stand out about this issue is the opening scene, where Lois is on a plane, and her asshole seatmate claims that journalists just make stuff up. This scene is an effective response to Trump supporters’ constant assaults on journalism.

MARVEL ACTION: BLACK PANTHER #5 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Vita Ayala, [A] Arianna Florean. Shuri accuses a traditional healer of being a quack. In response, the old lady curses her, and Shuri has to go on a quest to break the curse. This could easily have been a My Little Pony comic, with Twilight Sparkle and Zecora instead of Shuri and the old lady, except that comic would have been more fun. The only thing I like about this issue is the last page, with T’Challa and Shuri throwing water balloons at each other.

NO ONE LEFT TO FIGHT #5 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Aubrey Sitterson, [A] Fico Ossio. After a giant issue-long fight scene, Vâle defeats Bruton, but suffers life-threatening injuries. The miniseries ends on a cliffhanger, with a note telling the reader to ask for more No One Left to Fight. That’s very annoying; I wish Aubrey Sitterson had ended this series in a more satisfying way. Given the current state of the market, I’ll be surprised if there is a second volume of No One Left to Fight. (And even if there is, it might not be published in comic book format. I’m still annoyed that the second volume of Spell on Wheels was made trade paperback-only.)

DOOM PATROL: WEIGHT OF THE WORLDS #5 (DC, 2019) – “Ask Doom Patrol!”, [W/A] Becky Cloonan, [W] Michael Conrad. This issue introduces a new character, a kid who uses Doom Patrol comics for bibliomancy – i.e. he makes decisions by opening a Doom Patrol comic to a random page. While doing so, he accidentally falls inside a Doom Patrol comic, where he meets Robotman and Dorothy Spinner. Despite not being written by Gerard Way, this issue is faithful to the spirit of Gerard Way’s Doom Patrol. It’s also a clever piece of metafiction, and it has excellent art. It’s too bad that such a creative and entertaining series is getting cancelled, but I think its chronic lateness is partly to blame.

BATMAN #444 (DC, 1990) – “Crimesmith and Punishment,” [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Jim Aparo. Batman encounters a new villain called the Crimesmith, who is actually Bruce Wayne’s new employee Jeffrey Fraser. This issue is entertaining and has some nice Jim Aparo art, but it’s not especially memorable.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #9 (Image, 2013) – “Brave New World,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Nick Pitarra. The scientists assassinate Harry Truman and the other members of his secret cabal that rules the world. John F. Kennedy becomes the new president (which is odd, since he was not Eisenhower’s VP) and gives the “we choose to go to the moon” speech. This issue is full of bizarre plot twists and new characters, but none of them have any impact, because the protagonists are all totally unsympathetic and I don’t care what happens to them. This is the same problem as with God Hates Astronauts.

HELLBLAZER #3 (DC, 1987) – “Going For It,” [W] Jamie Delano, [A] John Ridgway. On the eve of a British election, a demon-run company called Mammon Investments is getting rich by swindling people out of their souls. John Constantine saves the day by telling the CEO of Mammon that Labor is going to win the election, and that as a result the value of British souls is going to drop. This prediction actually does cause the soul market to collapse, and Mammon is closed down, saving the day. However, the Conservatives still win the election. I’m not sure I’ve summarized this plot correctly, but it made sense while I was reading it. This is perhaps the best Jamie Delano Hellblazer I’ve read, because it’s a straightforward and powerful satire of the unrestrained greed of Thatcher’s Britain.

DETECTIVE COMICS #633 (DC, 1991) – “Identity Crisis,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Tom Mandrake. Bruce Wayne wakes up one morning in the middle of the Gotham River. On his return to Wayne Manor, he can’t find the Batcave, and Alfred and Tim Drake don’t believe he’s Batman. Also, there’s another Batman running around Gotham, and it’s not him. At the end of the issue, we learn that the “Bruce Wayne” we’ve just been reading about is not Batman. He’s a young psychic called the Synaptic Kid, and in trying to discover Batman’s secret identity, he drove himself crazy and became a mental vegetable. This is an effective twist ending, although it’s not a new one. This trope, where the character we thought was the protagonist turns out to be an impostor, was also used in the Deep Space Nine episode “Whispers,” and, long before that, in Philip K. Dick’s short story “Impostor.” In fact, TVTropes has an entire page of examples of this plot, which they call Tomato in the Mirror.

ELFQUEST: HIDDEN YEARS #1 (WaRP, 1992)- “Wolfwood,” [W/A] Wendy Pini, [W] Richard Pini. Strongbow goes on a dangerous quest to rescue his wolf-friend, who was expelled from the pack. “Wolfwood”’s plot is effective but very simple; however, its art is perhaps the best of Wendy’s career. Wendy’s coloring in this issue is so lush that her art looks painted rather than drawn, and her storytelling is clear and powerful. According to the inside front cover, Wendy was trying to do something new this issue, and she succeeded.

FBP #6 (Vertigo, 2014) – “There’s Something About Rosa Part One of Two,” [W] Simon Oliver, [A] Robbi Rodriguez. Two FBP agents visit an apartment building where time is passing at a different rate than outside. The premise of this issue is funny, and I love the general idea of an agency that enforces the laws of physics. However, this comic’s plot is not suited to Robbi Rodriguez’s strengths. He’s really good at drawing action sequences, but this comic mostly consists of static scenes of dialogue.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #10 (Image, 2013) –“Finite Oppenheimers,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Ryan Browne. Speaking of God Hates Astronauts… Robert Oppenheimer is killed and eaten by his evil twin Joseph, but he wakes up inside his own mind, and starts making his way out. This comic has some striking artwork, and it makes effective use of coloring for narrative purposes: anything red is Joseph, and anything blue is Robert. But other than that, this is yet another issue that doesn’t grab me.

HELLBLAZER #4 (DC, 1988) – “Waiting for the Man,” [W] Jamie Delano, [A] John Ridgway. This issue introduces John Constantine’s niece Gemma Masters, who appears sporadically throughout the series. When we meet her, Gemma’s parents have joined a bizarre pyramid-scheme cult. Feeling lonely, Gemma runs away and is kidnapped by someone even worse, a kidnapper who “marries” little girls and then murders them. John rescues her with the aid of a new love interest, Zed. In the past I’ve thought that Jamie Delano’s Hellblazer was confusing and inconsistent with later depictions of Constantine. However, Hellblazer #4 is entertaining, straightforward, and scary.

ACTION COMICS #541 (DC, 1983) – “Once Again — Superman,” [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Gil Kane. Superman fights Lord Satanis, who has stolen half his powers. Meanwhile, Lois Lane and Lana Lang are competing for Clark Kent’s affections. This issue has some excellent action sequences, as one would expect from Gil Kane, but otherwise it’s just average.

HELLBLAZER #188 (DC, 2003) – “Bred in the Bone 2 of 2,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Doug Alexander Gregory. Gemma appears again in this issue; in fact, the entire issue is about her, and John only appears on the last page. The plot of “Bred in the Bone” doesn’t make sense if you haven’t read part one, but the premise seems to be that Gemma is trapped on an island with a bunch of demons. D. Alexander Gregory’s artwork is heavily based on that of Mike Mignola.

LASER ERASER AND PRESSBUTTON #5 (Eclipse, 1986) – “The Gates of Hell,” [W] Steve Moore (as Pedro Henry), [A] Mike Collins. Eclipse’s first Axel Pressbutton series consisted of reprinted material that had appeared in Warrior, but the stories in Laser Eraser and Pressbutton are original. Although Steve Moore’s career might seem like just a footnote to that of Alan Moore’s, Steve Moore was a notable writer himself, and “The Gates of Hell” is a fairly clever piece of SF. The most memorable thing about the characters is that they’re shagging each other in their spare time, and they’re very outspoken about it. This issue also includes a backup story about some barbarians, by Steve Moore and Cam Kennedy.

SUICIDE SQUAD #46 (DC, 1990) – “Choice of Evils,” [W] John Ostrander & Kim Yale, [A] Luke McDonnell. Kobra is plotting to take over the world from his prison cell in Jerusalem. The third Atom, Adam Cray, infiltrates Kobra’s prison to find out what’s going on. He learns that Kobra’s plot is to corrupt Dybbuk, the Israeli government’s new artificial intelligence, and convince it to destroy the Dome of the Rock so that the third Temple can be built. There are also a bunch of subplots involving other Suicide Squad members. As usual, this issue is full of fascinating characters, and it shows understanding of Israeli culture and Middle Eastern politics. I don’t know if John Ostrander is Jewish himself, or if Kim Yale was, but their depictions of Jewish people feel authentic.

OUTLAW NATION #1 (Vertigo, 2000) – “The End,” [W] Jamie Delano, [A] Goran Sudzuka. A difficult and complicated debut issue. This issue’s first few pages are about an American soldier and a deaf, mentally disabled Vietnamese woman, living alone in the jungle. Then we’re introduced to a white American ATF agent, Sonny, who suffers from PTSD after being involved in a siege on a paramilitary compound, and his pregnant Vietnamese-American girlfriend. It seems like Sonny must be the son of the soldier at the start of the issue, but other than that, it’s not clear how the two stories are related. There’s also some business about stories that become real. This series is an ambitious attempt to engage with the long-term effects of the Vietnam war, but it may be too ambitious; its story doesn’t hold together. Goran Sudzuka’s artwork is really good. It has the same distinctively Croatian style that one finds in the work of Edvin Biukovic.

THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGERS #1 (Oni, 2013) – “The Purloined Leader Part 1 of 2,” [W] Chris Roberson, [A] Scott Kowalchuk. A superhero/spy story set in the early 1960s. It reminds me of the original Secret Six, except with some added superhero and SF elements. Its plot isn’t especially groundbreaking or surprising, but Scott Kowalchuk’s art is a pleasant surprise. His storytelling is very clear, and he’s good at spotting blacks. His art reminds me of Chris Samnee’s. It seems like he only worked in comic books briefly, and is now doing a webcomic called Lucha Liberty.

THE MIGHTY THOR #12 (Marvel, 2012) – “The Mighty Tanarus 5: The Return,” [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Giuseppe Camuncoli. This issue is mostly a bunch of fight scenes, though there’s a touching moment at the end where Bill and Kelda are reunited in Valhalla. Giuseppe Camuncoli’s art in this issue is much worse than in Undiscovered Country #1, mostly because he only did the breakdowns. The finishes are by Klaus Janson, whose style is not a match for Camuncoli’s.

THE UNWRITTEN #46 (Vertigo, 2013) – “The Corpse Harvest Reiteration Part 2,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter Gross. Savoy investigates a series of bizarre murders, for which a child named Jason Ponticello is somehow responsible. A ghost named Miri explains that the murders are the result of a canker, like in issue 11. This issue is much more horror-tinged than is usual for The Unwritten. It’s about vampires and zombies, and its art and coloring are very grim and bloody.

New comics received on November 15, my birthday:

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #50 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ryan North, [A] Derek Charm. Squirrel Girl’s biggest friend, Galactus, shows up and saves the day, and then Doreen and her friends prepare to start a new chapter in their lives. And thus ends one of the two best Marvel comics of the decade (along with Ms. Marvel). Even if Ryan North’s prose style sometimes rubbed me the wrong way, Squirrel Girl was an incredible series, and it was also important. It showed that kids are still willing to buy Marvel comics, and that a comic book can be appropriate for kids while also being intelligent. Ryan never underestimated his readers’ intelligence, and he used his stories to explain difficult scientific concepts in an engaging way. I’m sorry this series is over, but I think (hope) it will have a lasting impact on the industry.

FAR SECTOR #1 (DC, 2019) – untitled, [W] N.K. Jemisin, [A] Jamal Campbell. I was really excited about this because it‘s the comics debut of the best SFF writer in America. It doesn’t disappoint. I fell in love with NK Jemisin’s novels because first, they constantly feel tense and exciting. There’s always a sense that things could explode at a moment’s notice. Second, they take place in worlds which are truly bizarre, but which also mimic the social problems of the real world. Jemisin’s work is not explicitly about real-world racial issues, but race is always a subtext lurking behind her plots. All of that is also true of Far Sector. It takes place on a world with three different races that have achieved an uneasy coexistence by getting rid of their emotions. Now an inexperienced Green Lantern has to solve a series of murders that threaten to upset that precarious balance. The City Enduring is a weird place; the characters have names like “@Blaze-of-Glory” or “Lumir of the Cliffs, By the Wavering Dark.”And Mullein is an interesting new protagonist. I’m not familiar with Jamal Campbell, but he does a fantastic job of bringing the City Enduring to life. The one moment that stands out to me from this issue is when Mullein calls someone a “siddity ass,” because I’ve honestly never heard this word before; it seems to be exclusive to African-American English. But Jemisin trusts her readers to be willing to look it up or figure it out from context, if they don’t know what it means.

RUNAWAYS #27 (Marvel, 2019) – “Canon Fodder Pt. III,” [W] Rainbow Rowell, [A] Andres Genolet. The Runaways become the new J-Team and go off on their first mission. But the mission is too dangerous for a girlGert, so she has to stay home, and she’s not happy about it. The best thing in this issue is Gert’s disappointment at not being able to fight, but I also love all the jokes about superhero costumes.

FAMILY TREE #1 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Phil Hester. A postapocalyptic story in which the apocalypse is caused by plants growing out of people’s bodies. The main characters are a single mother and her two children. This is an exciting debut issue, and Phil Hester’s eerie Mignola-esque artwork is appropriate for Lemire’s story. However, this series’ premise is quite similar to that of Farmhand.

FOLKLORDS #1 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] Matt Smith. Ansel lives in a fairy-tale village where every teenager has to go on a quest as a rite of passage. As his quest, Ansel wants to look for the Folklords, who know the way to the real world, i.e. the world I live in. But before Ansel can announce his quest, the mysterious Librarians cancel all quests for the year, and Ansel and their troll friend have to run off and look for the Folklords on their own. This is a fascinating setup that makes clever use of fairy tale tropes, and I’m excited to read more of this series.

USAGI YOJIMBO #6 (IDW, 2019) – “Adachi,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. A heavily expanded and revised version of the first Usagi story, “The Goblin of Adachigahara.” This story includes the fullest depiction of Lord Mifune’s death at the battle of Adachigahara, which was the pivotal event in Usagi’s life. Its twist ending is predictable to a reader who’s familiar with Stan’s plotting. It would have been nice if this issue had included the original version of “The Goblin of Adachigahara,” so that the reader could see how Stan’s style had evolved over the 35 years between the two versions.

RONIN ISLAND #8 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Greg Pak, [A] Giannis Milonogiannis. Kenichi and Hana have finally agreed to team up to protect the island, but that doesn’t make their task any easier, because now the zombie plague is going airborne. This has been a really dark and grim series, and just when I thought the trajectory of the plot was changing, things are getting even worse. However, it does look like this storyline is headed for some kind of climax.

GIDEON FALLS #18 (Image, 2019) – “The Pentoculus Part 2: All of His Kingdoms,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Andrea Sorrentino. This is perhaps the clearest and least confusing issue yet. We finally learn why Danny thinks his name is Norton Sinclair, and also it turns out that his dad didn’t really commit murder, which is a relief. Meanwhile, the bishop tells Father Fred that he needs to reach the “center” of Gideon Falls, along with four fellow travelers: the doctor, the soldier, the prophet and the farmer. The doctor is Angela Xiu, of course, and I wonder if the other three are Danny, Clara and their dad. The issue ends with Danny’s dad saying that it’s time to gather the ploughmen, who may or may not be the same as the five travelers.

FUTURE FOUNDATION #4 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Alti Firmansyah. It’s hard to feel any enthusiasm for this series when it’s already been cancelled. Jeremy is a fantastic and important writer, but the direct market has shown a frustrating unwillingness to embrace his work. His recent career is an example of why we need a better system for selling comics. This issue includes some more cute Phyllis moments, and also we finally get to see Vil and Wu. And it’s funny when Tong plays football with the piece of the Molecule Man.

THE DOLLHOUSE FAMILY #1 (DC, 2019) – “One by One Go Down,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter Gross. The creative team of The Unwritten reunites for a series that reminds me a lot of Locke & Key. Little Alice and her parents move into a house that includes a giant, super-detailed dollhouse. As she grows older, she uses the dollhouse as a refuge from her brutal, abusive father. The dolls in the dollhouse turn out to be alive, and they shrink Alice down so she can enter the dollhouse. Inside, she goes through a mysterious door, and a voice offers to save her mother from her father, if she agrees to stay in the dollhouse permanently. The issue ends with Alice whacking her dad on the head with a hammer, which is no less than he deserves, and I hope he dies. The Dollhouse Family #1 is a very creepy piece of horror fiction, and I’m intrigued to read more of it.

BLACK HAMMER/JUSTICE LEAGUE: HAMMER OF JUSTICE #5 (DC/Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Michael Walsh. Golden Gail agrees to go back to the farm, and the Justice Leaguers and Black Hammer heroes have Thanksgiving dinner together before parting. Colonel Weird ends up trapped in the Para-Zone, while Mr. Mxyzptlk is unleashed into the Black Hammer universe. I’m disappointed that the series didn’t end with Mxy being forced to say his name backwards. I hope this isn’t the end of the Black Hammer saga; I thought the ending of Age of Doom was disappointing, and I think there are lots more stories Jeff can tell with these characters and their world.

SEA OF STARS #5 (Image, 2019) – “Lost in the Wild Heavens,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Stephen Green. Gil and Kaden are finally reunited, just as Dalla is about to sacrifice Kaden. She has a change of heart at the last minute, but the Zzaztek priest gets Kaden to manifest his war club, then steals it and uses it to summon a giant whale. I assume this is the same creature from issue 1. This storyline is headed for an exciting finish.

GINSENG ROOTS #2 (Uncivilized, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Craig Thompson. Craig and his siblings go home to Wisconsin to visit their parents. This creates a rare opportunity for an autobiographical cartoonist to revisit his own past work and examine its impact on the people depicted in it. I was a bit surprised to learn that Craig is still in contact with his parents, because in Blankets, he depicted them as awful, intolerant bigots. I’m also surprised that they’ve been willing to forgive himfor the way he presented them. But an even bigger surprise is that Craig has a sister who doesn’t appear in Blankets at all. How does it change our reading of Blankets if we know that Craig excluded his sister from it, while prominently featuring his brother? Ginseng Roots #2 also includes a section where Craig talks to a ginseng farmer about the ginseng market. This section is interesting, but an unstated elephant in the room here is that the farmer, as well as Craig’s parents, probably voted for Trump and are planning to do so again.

X-MEN #2 (Marvel, 2020) – “The Other Island,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Leinil Francis Yu. Jonathan Hickman’s X-Men has been getting so much hype that I decided to see if the hype is justified. This issue includes a lot of Hickman’s typical incomprehensible obfuscation, but the main plot is interesting and funny: Krakoa, the X-Men’s sentient island, falls in love with another island called Arakko. Like most of Hickman’s comics, this issue is full of elaborate title pages and infographics. I assume Hickman must be taking some role in designing these pages. His design sense is one of his most striking qualities as an artist.

TREES: THREE FATES #3 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Jason Howard. A man named Oleg gets shot and hides out in a garage. I had trouble following this issue, even though it’s a very quick read, and I wish the trees would play a more prominent role in the series’ plot. So far this comic is mostly a crime drama, and the trees have served as mere window dressing.

GHOSTED IN L.A. #5 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Sina Grace, [A] Siobhan Keenan. Daphne’s best friend comes to LA to look for her. Ronnie and Bernard the ghost become a potential couple. Daphne tries to help Zola ease into her afterlife. In the basement, Zola discovers a mysterious door that she can’t phase through. This is a pretty low-key issue.

EDGAR ALLAN POE’S SNIFTER OF TERROR #2 (Ahoy, 2019) – “The Conqueror Worm,” [W] Tom Peyer, [A] Greg Scott, and “The Leprechaun King,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Peter Snejbjerg. The first story in this issue, about a scientist who turns himself into a worm, is forgettable. But the second story is hilarious. “The Leprechaun King” stars the leprechaun from the Lucky Charms commercials, and it’s full of cereal-related characters and puns. It’s been years since I watched breakfast cereal commercials, and I’m sure I missed a lot of the references in this story, but I loved the references I did get.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #84 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Christina Rice, [A] Toni Kuusisto. For a School of Friendship assignment, the changeling, Ocellus, decides to do an interpretive dance where she changes into many different historical figures. This project proves to be far too ambitious, and Twilight has to tell Ocellus to be kinder to herself. This is something that I myself often struggle with, but other than that, this issue was just standard MLP material.

BATTLEPUG #3 (Image, 2019) – “War on Christmas Part III,” [W/A] Mike Norton. “Mrs. Claus” fights the Last Kinmundian and stabs him with a candy cane. Meanwhile, the other characters defeat the herd of pastel punk ponies and force the ponies to transport them north. This was a funny issue, especially the scenes with the ponies (one of whom is named Dankmeme), but it was somewhat forgettable.

FOR REAL #1 (Uncivilized, 2019) – “The Oven,” [W/A] James Romberger. An elderly Jack Kirby goes for an MRI. While doing so, he remembers an incident during the war when he hid inside an oven to escape from pursuing Nazis, and barely escaped being discovered and killed. “The Oven” is a sophisticated, lyrical examination of how Kirby’s life intersected with his art. There’s also an essay in which Romberger explains how this story was inspired by Kirby’s war comics. I’ve interacted with James Romberger online and on the Comix-Scholars list, and I don’t always agree with his opinions on comics, but he did a great job on this issue. I also appreciate that it was published in the moribund single-issue format.

HISTORY OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE #5 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Javier Rodriguez. This issue covers everything from Thunderbolts #1 to Age of Ultron, so about 1997 to 2013. Like the last issue, this issue is mostly just summaries of old stories, with nothing new except the Franklin/Galactus scenes. During the period covered in this issue, Marvel was publishing a new giant universe-spanning crossover every few months. Just in this issue we have summaries of Heroes Reborn, Avengers Disassembled, House of M, Civil War, World War Hulk, Annihilation, Secret Invasion, Siege, Messiah Complex, AvX, and Age of Ultron. There’s no way to make all these stories feel like they belong to a single overarching narrative, and Mark doesn’t really try.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #15 (DC, 2019) – “The Doors of His Face,” [W] Nalo Hopkinson, [A] Dan Watters. This issue left me wondering if I’d missed an issue, because it doesn’t continue the story of Djuna and her firebreathing chicken. Instead, the first half of this issue is about the Corinthian’s discovery of the House of Watchers. In the second half, a little girl is enslaved and forced to work at a food truck for no pay, and Erzulie possesses the girl’s cat. John Constantine also makes a cameo appearance. Poquita’s story is very painful, and, sadly, very plausible, but this series has suffered from a certain lack of direction since the Ananse story ended.

WONDER WOMAN #82 (DC, 2019) – “The Wild Hunt Part 1,” [W] Steve Orlando, [A] Kieran McKeown. I only ordered this because I didn’t realize it wasn’t written by Willow. This issue isn’t bad, but I barely remember anything about it at all. Steve Orlando has already had his chance to write Wonder Woman, and although he did a good job, I wish DC would give someone else a chance.

SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN #11 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Alan Davis. I think this is the only time these two great creators have collaborated. This issue is a pretty typical Conan story that could easily have appeared in Roy’s original 1970s run, but it shows that Roy hasn’t lost any of his writing skill.

AGENTS OF ATLAS #4 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Portal City of Pan Part 4,” [W] Greg Pak, [A] Nico Leon & Pop Mhan. This issue continues most of the plots from last issue, without adding much that’s new, except that we learn that Jimmy Woo is in league with Mike Nguyen. This series is really cute and offers some great examples of Asian and Asian-American representation, and I wish it would be upgraded to an ongoing series. I guess these characters are going to appear in Atlantis Attacks, but I only just learned that by searching for “Agents of Atlas” on Twitter.

CATWOMAN #17 (DC, 2019) – “The Hard Option,” [W/A] Joëlle Jones. Selina is on her way back to Gotham, but Lex Luthor appears and tells her that Raina Creel is trying to find a Lazarus Pit. So Selina decides to track her down, with the help of Zatanna, who appears on the last couple pages. This is a pretty fun. I like how Joëlle Jones writes Selina as being like a cat herself. For example, early in the issue she says “Once I catch my prey, I always lose interest.”

DOCTOR MIRAGE #4 (Valiant, 2019) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Nick Robles. Shan and Grace continue their adventure in the underworld. I must have been tired when I read this comic, because I barely remember anything about it.

ALL-TIME COMICS: ZEROSIS DEATHSCAPE #5 (All-Time Comics, 2019) – “The End of Forever,” [W] Josh Bayer & Josh Simmons, [A] Trevor von Eeden. This issue’s main story is entirely by von Eeden, and it’s a bit too close to the ‘70s superhero comics it’s based on. There’s also a backup story by Jeff Test. I haven’t heard of this artist before, but his art is extremely cluttered and busy, in a good way. All-Time Comics is another good example of the “Panter meets Liefeld” school of comics, although in this case it’s more Adams than Liefeld.

TOMB OF DRACULA #10 FACSIMILE EDITION (Marvel, 2019) – “His Name is… Blade!”, [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Gene Colan. Yay, another facsimile edition of a comic whose original edition is beyond my price range. This issue is Blade’s first appearance, but he wasn’t a particularly well-defined character yet; I don’t think there’s any reference to his vendetta against Deacon Frost. The story is a fairly conventional one in which Blade fights Dracula aboard a ship. The series’ usual protagonists, Frank Drake and Rachel Van Helsing, don’t appear in this issue.

STUMPTOWN #1 (Oni, 2012) – “The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Matthew Southworth. The “baby” in the title is not a human, but a valuable guitar owned  by the lead guitarist of the band Tailhook. The guitar has been stolen, and the guitarist hires Dex Parios to find it. This is a really fun issue that shows nontrivial knowledge of Portland’s music scene. Stumptown is probably the most fun comic Greg Rucka has written. Also, I love Tailhook as a band name.

THE CAPE #2 (IDW, 2011) – untitled, [W] Jason Ciaramella, [A] Zach Howard. Eric threatens to kill his mother and his much more successful brother. The Cape might be the single worst comic of the entire decade; it’s an offensive, brutal piece of torture porn. I can’t quite explain how this works, but somehow Ciaramella and Howard encourage the reader to identify with and root for Eric, even though he’s an immature manbaby and a murderer. Somehow, when a character in a comic wears a cape and appears in almost every panel, the reader ends up sympathizing with him even if he doesn’t deserve it. And I get the sense that Ciaramella wants us to sympathize with Howard; he wants us to see him as the good guy. And that’s actively harmful.

QUEEN & COUNTRY #29 (Oni, 2006) – “Red Panda Prologue,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Chris Samnee. I read most of Queen & Country when it came out, so I don’t know why I didn’t have this issue already. I think by this point in the series, I was getting kind of bored with it. However, now that I haven’t read Queen & Country in a while, I can appreciate it more. In “Red Panda,” Tara Chace is going through rehab after a mission that left her completely shattered and that led to her lover Tom Wallace’s death. However, Tara’s boss Paul is pushing for her to return to work long before she’s ready. All of Greg Rucka’s major works have female protagonists, but his characters are more than just incarnations of a single woman. For example, Tara Chace is an obsessive workaholic who is deeply screwed up and has no interests outside her job. Dex Parios is also deeply screwed up, but she’s caring in a way that Tara isn’t, and her job is just a small part of her life.

ALL-TIME COMICS: ATLAS #1 (Fantagraphics, 2017) – “Solitary Confinement!”, [W] Josh Bayer, [A] Benjamin Marra. Atlas is a Superman-esque character whose only weakness is fear. In this issue he battles a giant colony of spiders. Benjamin Marra’s artwork in this issue resembles that of Sal Buscema or any other generic Big Two artist. Compared to contemporaries like Ed Piskor or Michel Fiffe, he’s much closer to the indie than the mainstream end of the spectrum. His work feels more like a brutal parody of superhero comics than an affectionate tribute. I just read his graphic novel Terror Assaulter: OMWOT, and it was really weird and disturbing.

JONAH HEX: TWO-GUN MOJO #1 (Vertigo, 1993) – “Slow Go Smith,” [W] Joe R. Lansdale, [A] Tim Truman. I read one previous issue of Lansdale and Truman’s Jonah Hex, and I was only mildly impressed, but this issue is a far better introduction. Two-Gun Mojo begins as Jonah is about to be hanged by some bandits. An old gunman named Slow Go Smith appears and saves him, and Jonah and Smith kill the bandits and go to collect the bounty on them. When they try to collect the bounty on the bandits, they encounter a series of odd situations, and the issue ends with Slow Go apparently being killed by zombies. This issue is incredibly fun because of Joe Lansdale’s raucous, black humor. Lansdale’s Jonah Hex is set in a wacky, blackly humorous world reminiscent of Sam Peckinpah or Cormac McCarthy. In this story, things constantly go wrong, in the most ridiculous way possible. The inking in this issue is by Sam Glanzman, and this results in an artwork that’s a curious but effective combination of Glanzman and Truman.

HOWTOONS: REIGNITION #4 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W] Fred Van Lente, [A] Tom Fowler. An exciting adventure story that also includes instructions for various craft projects, such as a potato battery. This comic is fun and attractively designed, and it’s far better than some of Van Lente’s  other solo work. I don’t know why it wasn’t more successful.

NEXTWAVE: AGENTS OF H.A.T.E. #9 (Marvel, 2006) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Stuart Immonen. A team of silly joke superheroes fight several different teams of even sillier joke villians. This issue includes various parodies of other comics. For example, on the last page, Elsa Bloodstone asks “Do you think this letter on my chest [the euro symbol] stands for America?” – a reference toCaptain America’s infamous “Do you think this A stands for France?” Nextwave got a lot of hype when it came out, but I don’t think it’s my kind of humor. It’s too sarcastic and lacking in heart.

ACTION COMICS #760 (DC, 1999) – “…Never-Ending Battle…”, [W] Joe Kelly, [A] Germán García. If I didn’t know that this comic had the same artist as Immortal Hulk #25, I wouldn’t have guessed. This issue, Superman fights a villain named La Encantadora who’s been distributing Kryptonite to other villains. It’s an entertaining but lightweight story. This issue includes a scene set in the Spanish city of Gijón, which I suspect is where García is from.

SUPERMAN #31 (DC, 2017) – “Breaking Point Part One,” [W] James Bonny, [A] Tyler Kirkham. This is better than #32, but it’s still a pointless story full of trite dialogue. (“Is he a monster? Or a man with a conscience? Or maybe something in between?”) This writer was not ready for such a high-profile assignment as this.

New comics received last Thursday, October 21:

ONCE AND FUTURE #4 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kieron Gillen & Dan Mora. This is the best comics adaptation of Arthurian mythology, except for Prince Valiant. It’s such an intelligent and well-researched use of the Arthurian mythos, and it connects Arthurian narratives to contemporary society. Lots of medievalists have been sounding the alarm recently about how medievalist discourse is used to justify white supremacy, and this comic is very relevant to that conversation. It’s also a good example of Kieron Gillen’s central theme: that stories are both powerful and dangerous, because they shape how we see the world. The key moment in this issue is when we learn which knight Duncan is: Percival. That makes perfect sense and is also a brilliant use of Arthurian myth, because Percival is the well-intentioned but naïve knight. In this issue we also meet the Fisher King, who turns out to be Bridgette’s husband, but he shoots himself so he can’t  lead Duncan to the Grail.

DIAL H FOR HERO #9 (DC, 2019) – “Hustle Buddies,” [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Joe Quinones. I went OH MY GOD when I reached page three of this issue. On this page and later in the issue, Quinones does a perfect imitation of Chris Ware. Unlike the other places in this  series where he imitates another artist, there’s no narrative explanation for why he’s drawing like Chris Ware – it doesn’t happen because a character uses one of the dials. But oh well. The rest of the issue is rather conventional, but there are pages laterin the issue where Quinones imitates Alex Toth’s Hanna-Barbera cartoons, and then the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics.

SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #5 (DC, 2019) – “Fun, Sexy, Cool Date Night!”, [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Steve Lieber. There is so much fantastic stuff in this issue that it’s hard to know where to start. Batman plays a prominent role in the first half of this issue, and Matt Fraction viciously satirizes Batman’s grim, humorless attitude. I’ve already seen people sharing the sequence where Batman docks Alfred’s pay by the amount that Alfred paid other people to laugh at Bruce Wayne’s jokes. According to Steve Lieber on Twitter, I was the first person to notice that the giant penny on that page says LIEBERTY instead of Liberty.

SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN #3 (Boom!, 2019) – “The Angel of Archer’s Peak Part Three,” [W] James Tynion IV, [A] Werther Dell’Edera. Erica is hauled in by the cops on suspicion of being the murderer, but she manages to convince them that she’s not. Erica may be the best thing about this series; she’s just so weird and offputting. And her interplay with James is interesting. So far this comic is a fun piece of horror.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #11 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Life & Death of Conan Part Eleven: By Crom,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Mahmud Asrar. Conan dies and goes to the afterlife, where he’s a child again in his Cimmerian village. Unhappy with this, he climbs the nearby mountain until he’s confronted by the god Crom himself. I always visualized Crom as an old white-bearded man; that’s what he looked like in King Conan #8, which I think  is his only on-panel appearance in a Roy Thomas story. But in Conan #11, Crom is a giant rock monster. His encounter with Conan is pretty much what you’d expect: they can’t stand each other, and when Crom tells Conan to go back to his afterlife, Conan fights Crom until Crom gets pissed enough to return him to life. But like the jerk we know he is, Crom adds a poison pill: he curses Conan, saying that Conan will become a pale shadow of himself, and that he’ll wish he’d stayed dead. This is another great issue of a great Conan run. I’m sorry that he’s leaving the series after this issue; the new writer is Jim Zub, and I don’t expect him to be nearly as good.

CROWDED #10 (Image, 2019) – “If We’re Still Alive,” [W] Christopher Sebela, [A] Ro Stein & Ted Brandt. Charlie and Vita have a lot of sex, and then they arrive in Arizona, which is supposed to be safe because it’s off-limits to everyone. Meanwhile, Circe’s origin story is delivered through a series of pages formatted like social media posts. These pages are a great example of a narrative technique which is perhaps unique to comics, where the images offer an ironic commentary on the text. For example, Circe writes that s he  emancipated herself from her parents, but the panel shows her parents’ car driving off a cliff. There’s no common name for this technique, but it’s exemplified by the panel in Understanding Comics where the caption “After college I pursued a career in high finance,” and the image shows some burglars  cracking a safe. In general, Crowded is an extremely fun series, and I hope it’s winning Christopher Sebela’s work a bigger audience.

OUTER DARKNESS #12 (Image, 2019) – “Castrophany of Hate Pt. 12: Grand Theft Starship,” [W] John Layman, [A] Afu Chan. Rigg’s plan to steal his own ship goes awry at once when he discovers that Elox, Prakash, Hydzek and Sister Magdalena are still aboard. Meanwhile, Prakash’s dad puts Satalis in command of his own ship and sends him to recapture the Charon. I had assumed that Rigg was acting on Admiral Prakash’s orders when he stole the ship, but I guess not. Overall, this series is like one of the Star Trek movies with the original crew, except all the crew members are evil, and things constantly go wrong. The best moment in this issue is when Elox says his species doesn’t have fun.

STEEPLE #3 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Not in My Backyard,” [W/A] John Allison. This issue doesn’t continue the plot thread about the priest fighting sea monsters. Instead, this issue is about an evangelical church’s plot to build a wind farm and use it to trigger the Rapture. This issue reminds me somehow of the monorail episode of the Simpsons. Like Giant Days, it has a lot of intersecting plots that all come together at the end, and it’s full of funny moments. For example, there’s a reference to the controversy between the Cornwall and Devon styles of preparing cream tea.

FARMHAND #11 (Image, 2019) – “Rootwork,” [W/A] Rob Guillory. The main event of this issue is that a very old woman tells Jedidiah the history of Freetown. This history is deeply intertwined with racial politics, because Freetown started out as a post-Civil War settlement of freed blacks, but its founder was murdered by the KKK. Racism is a figurative blight on Freetown, which is now expressing itself as the corruption that’s plaguing everyone who got Jedidiah’s artificial body parts. Up until this issue, Farmhand has rarely if ever engaged with the topic of racism, and I was fine with that; not every story about black people needs to also be about racial struggle. But in #11, Guillory confronts the issue of racism explicitly, and shows how the fantasy/horror premise of this series is also a metaphor for race. With this issue, Guillory shows that while he’s a brilliant humor artist, humor is not the only thing he can do.

THE IMMORTAL HULK #27 (Marvel, 2019) – “This is the Day,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. The Hulk invades the Roxxon headquarters. Dario Agger has anticipated this and has assembled a team of BERSERKER units: people as powerful as the Hulk, but without gamma-related powers. But the Hulk makes short work of them. This issue wasn’t as impressive as the last two; it’s mostly a lot of fight scenes.

ARCHIE: THE MARRIED LIFE 10TH ANNIVERSARY #4 (Archie, 2019) – two stories, [W] Michael Uslan, [A] Dan Parent. Both Archies’ marriages start to crumble thanks to career issues and interference from various third parties. In the second story, it’s implied that Dilton Doiley is aware of the existence of both realities, and that he’s intentionally trying to break up both Archies’ marriages. Something that struck me about this issue is the subtlety of Dan Parent’s facial expressions. You wouldn’t think that faces drawn in such a cartoony style could be so expressive, but for example, on the last panel of page one, the look on Betty’s face is perfect. At the end of the second story, Archie is browbeaten into signing a recording contract without consulting a lawyer first. That’s an awful idea. It’s obvious that the record executive is just trying to intimidate Archie into signing away his rights. Archie has more power in this transaction than he realizes, because he has something the recording company wants. If Archie does ever consult a lawyer, he’ll be able to claim that the contract is invalid because it was signed under duress.

MARVEL ACTION: BLACK PANTHER #6 (Marvel, 2019) –  untitled, [W] Vita Ayala, [A] Arianna Florean. T’Challa and Shuri fight some crooks who are trying to disrupt a peace summit. This issue includes two different lines of dialogue that come straight from the movie (“colonizer” and “is this your king”), and it’s just not particularly interesting. The Marvel Action comics are not nearly as creative or complex as the Marvel Adventures comics; they don’t provide much that’s not available elsewhere. After this, the only other Marvel Action comic I plan to read is the Avengers story that Katie Cook will be writing.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #12 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Last Avenger Part One,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Lee Garbett. Carol fights Thor, cuts his head off, and delivers it to a villain named Vox Supreme, who tells her that she now has to kill five other Avengers in sixteen hours. This is an interesting setup, but this entire issue consists of a long fight scene, and there are very few panels on each page. As a result, this issue is an excessively quick read. This series still lacks a coherent theme; Kelly hasn’t defined who her Captain Marvel is, or how her take on this character is different from anyone else’s.

STRAYED #4 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Bull in the Heather,” [W] Carlos Giffoni, [A] Juan Doe. Lou and Kiara try to stop Premier Peely’s plot by interrupting his broadcast to the empire. But Kiara’s boss, Robert, shows up and shoots her. The villains in this series are such hateful, smug, lying bastards, and that makes Kiara and Lou’s pure, loving relationship seem even more precious. Reading this comic made me want to hug my own cat.

LOCKE & KEY: DOG DAYS #1 (IDW, 2019) – “Nailed It” and “Dog Days,” [W] Joe Hill, [A] Gabriel Rodriguez. Not worth the cover price. This issue’s first story is about three boys, one of whom is actually a dog. It’s cute and funny, but not that great. For some reason, each page consists of a strip of four vertical panels, with wide margins on either side. In the second story, an older Tyler Locke builds a giant key and uses it to raise the house from the ground. The two-page splash where Tyler turns the key, causing the house to rotate out of the ground, is the best thing in the issue. But despite that, this comic feels like just an afterthought, not a necessary coda to the Locke & Key saga.

BIG QUESTIONS #13 (Drawn & Quarterly, 2019) – “A House That Floats,” [W/A] Anders  Nilsen. I loved Nilsen’s Tongues #1 (and I’m supposed to have received Tongues #2 back in May, but I’m not sure where it is). However, Big Questions #13 is baffling to me. It’s about a bunch of talking birds who investigate a crashed plane, and then one of them talks to a snake. Nilsen’s draftsmanship is beautiful, and Big Questions #13 is a very handsome artifact, with jacket flaps on the inside covers. However, I have no idea what’s going on in this comic’s story, and I can’t tell any of the birds apart.

AQUAMAN #54 (DC, 2019) – “Amnesty, Part 5: Lessons Learned,” [W] Kelly Sue DeConnick, [A] Robson Rocha & Jesús Merino. In a series of flashbacks, we learn about Black Manta’s tortured past, and we also realize that Black Manta is Aqualad’s dad. Though maybe I was already supposed to know this. Then Mera summons a giant sea monster to fight Black  Manta’s giant robot. This is a fun issue, and “Amnesty” has been a much better storyline than “Unspoken Water.”

MY LITTLE PONY: FEATS OF FRIENDSHIP #3 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ian Flynn, [A]  Tony Fleecs. A flashback reveals that Swift Foot is the princess of Thrace, the home of the fourth tribe of ponies: the ones who rejected friendship. But of course the Young Six manage to solve their own friendship problems, which shows Swift Foot that friendship really is  worth it. The issue ends on a cliffhanger, with Swift Foot returning to Thrace in order to either convince her people of the value of friendship, or fight them on behalf of Equestria. I assume she’ll be coming back in the main MLP title.

SPIDER-VERSE #2 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Spectacular Spider-Ma’am,” [W] Ryan North, [A] Pere Pérez. This story is set in a universe where Aunt May is Spider-Man, and Uncle Ben is still alive. Their reality is invaded by evil versions of themselves, but they manage to save the day  through the power of love – as well as by creative scientific thinking. Just like in Squirrel Girl, the scientific speculation in this issue is very clever, and I love the page with many different spider-people simultaneously shooting webs at the same place. And Ryan’s depiction of the Parkers’ love for each other is very touching.

IMAGE FIRSTS: ICE CREAM MAN #1 (Image, 2019) – “Raspberry Surprise,” [W] W. Maxwell Prince, [A] Martín Morazzo. Its title notwithstanding, this is a horror comic. A little boy is living alone because his parents have been killed by a venomous spider. The boy goes wandering in the woods, where he’s attacked by an ice cream man turned into a werewolf. Luckily, the spider bites the werewolf, saving the boy. I don’t quite understand what this comic is about, but I’m curious to learn more. Based on some of the reviews I’ve just read while writing this review, I might actually start ordering this series. The art is by the same artist who did She Could Fly.

KING THOR #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “A Storm of Prayers,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Esad Ribić. I liked this issue a lot more than the last two. Thor’s fight with Gorr is going badly, but his granddaughters show up to save him, with a bunch of weird gods in tow. These include “the Meat Mother, the Goddess of Gristle” and a choir of gods who fight Gorr by singing at him. But just when the tide seems to be turning, Gorr consumes the entire universe, and now to save everything, Thor has to kill everything.

PRETTY VIOLENT #4 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Derek Hunter, [W] Jason Young. Gamma Rae makes a deal with her brother where he gives her inside information on all his fellow villains’ weaknesses. This enables Gamma Rae to defeat the villains and earn Misty Meadows’s respect. But then Gamma Rae’s brother calls in his end of the deal, sending a villain against her who knows her weakness. This was another fun issue, with much less gratuitous violence than usual, but I occasionally had trouble following Derek Hunter’s visual storytelling. On page 9, especially, I was confused as to what was going on.

GREEN LANTERN #85 FACSIMILE EDITION (DC, 1971/2019) – “Snowbirds Don’t Fly,” [W] Denny O’Neil, [A] Neal Adams. This is one of the most important Big Two comics of the ‘70s, the issue that reveals that Speedy is a drug addict. It still holds up really well today. Neal Adams’s art looks as modern and dynamic today as it did almost fifty years ago. Besides the big reveal at the end, the high point of this issue is the nearly silent sequence where Ollie is shot with an arrow, but no one is willing to help him. Two bystanders ignore him, a phone booth is out of service, a taxi won’t stop for him, etc. Sadly, the only dated thing about this scene is the phone booth. This issue also includes a backup story reprinted from Green Lantern #11.

EVE STRANGER #4 (IDW, 2019) – “In the Midnight Hour,” [W] David Barnett, [A] Philip Bond. As with Future Foundation, it’s hard to care about this comic when I know that it’s the second-to-last Black Crown comic. Almost all the Black Crown comics were excellent, but according to what I heard, the line was cancelled because it was too expensive. That’s a real shame, and I hope that any projects that were being developed for Black Crown can be published elsewhere. In Eve Stranger #4, Eve is hired to kill a baby girl who will grow up to be a dictator, but instead she finds a better solution: she kills the baby’s abusive dad.

CANTO #6 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] David M. Booher, [A] Drew Zucker. Canto confronts the Shrouded Man and discovers that his people’s hearts no longer exist, but he realizes that they don’t need hearts to feel emotions. Sadly, Canto returns home and discovers that his girlfriend is already dead. This comic would have had more impact if I hadn’t missed issues 2 and 3, but Canto is still quite a powerful story. According to the inside back cover, there will be a sequel next year.

JONAH HEX: TWO-GUN MOJO #2 (Vertigo, 1993) – “Invitation to a Hanging,” [W] Joe R. Lansdale, [A] Tim Truman. The “zombies” from last issue turn out to be outlaws using corpses as cover, but they manage to kill Slow Go Smith anyway. Jonah is wrongly convicted of the murder and sentenced to be hanged, for the second time in as many issues. But the Native American woman who he helped out last issue returns and saves him, though at the cost of her own life. The townspeople form a posse, led by an old lady in a bonnet, and ride off after Jonah. This is another great issue. I have issues #4 and #5 of this miniseries, but not #3. I will have to look for it.

DEMON KNIGHTS #3 (DC, 2012) – “First Sacrifices,” [W] Paul Cornell, [A] Diógenes Neves. This series takes place in medieval times, and stars Etrigan, Madame Xanadu, Shining Knight (Sir Ystin), Vandal Savage, Exoristos the Amazon, and other characters. This issue, all the protagonists are trapped in a besieged town. Exoristos convinces a little girl to leave town and seek help, but she is tragically captured and killed. That summary sounds a bit boring, but this is an excellent issue. It’s a thrilling fantasy narrative with a bunch of distinctive and interesting characters.

AMERICAN LEGENDS #1 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W] Bill Schwartz & Zachary Schwartz, [A] Studio Hive. A sort of Americanized version of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, in which Jean Lafitte, Davy Crockett and Sally Ann Thunder team up to save the Lewis and Clark expedition. This is a potentially non-terrible premise, but the writers seem to have done no research at all, and their characters talk in 21st-century English. And their treatment of racial and political issues is as deep as a puddle. American Legends covers some of the same historical territory as Manifest Destiny, but is so much simpler and shallower that to compare the two is an insult to Manifest Destiny. Also, American Legends’s art is done in a painterly style, but the coloring is so dark that it’s impossible to tell the characters apart. Overall, this comic is embarrassing.

DETECTIVE COMICS #683 (DC, 1995) – “Odds Against,” [W] Chuck Dixon, [A] Graham Nolan. I just noticed that this comic’s title comes from a Dick Francis novel. This issue is from the period after the Azrael epic, when DC temporarily avoided doing any big crossovers. This issue, the Penguin teams up with the Actuary, a villain who calculates probabilities and likelihoods. The Actuary has the brilliant idea of staging a robbery in daylight, when Batman is never around. As much as I detest Chuck Dixon, he could write very readable Batman stories. Graham Nolan’s art in this issue resembles that of his mentor Joe Kubert, especially the Penguin’s face on page 7.

TEEN TITANS #7 (DC, 2004) – “Wednesday,” [W] Geoff Johns, [A] Tom Grummett. I read this series when it was first coming out, but I quickly gave up on it because Johns wasn’t focusing enough on the adult Titans, especially Starfire. Johns’s Titans was much more of a sequel to Young Justice than to the Wolfman/Perez Titans, and I didn’t get into Young Justice until much later. However, the biggest problem with Johns’s Titans is not that it focuses on the wrong characters, but that it’s unfun. Johns has no sense of humor, and he fails to make the reader feel affection for his characters. “Wednesday” is mostly a day-in-the-life issue, in which the major plot event is that Deathstroke is reunited with his daughter Rose.

KA-ZAR #15 (Marvel, 1998) – “Jungle Book,” [W] Christopher Priest, [A] Kenny Martinez. in New York, Ka-Zar has been temporarily blinded while saving a girl named Jameka. Back in the Savage Land, Shanna is  encountering resistance to her leadership from the natives. I bought this issue mistakenly thinking it was written by Mark Waid, but Christopher Priest’s Ka-Zar turns out to also be quite good. He writes excellent dialogue, and  Ka-Zar and Jameka are an interesting pair. The problem with this issue is that Kenny Martinez’s artwork is hideous. Ka-Zar seems to be the last monthly comic he ever did, and no wonder. He does have a minor claim to fame because he co-created Everett K. Ross. In fact, Priest’s entire Ka-Zar run is probably worth reading as a prologue to his Black Panther.

SUPERMAN #399 (DC, 1984) – “The Man Who Saw Superman Die!”, [W] Paul Kupperberg, [A] Eduardo Barreto. Edmond Hamilton, aka Colonel Future, has a precognitive vision of Sueprman being shot. He comes up with a bizarre plan to stop the vision from coming true, but it turns out that the Superman in the vision was himself, dressed in a Superman costume. This story’s plot makes no sense; I have no idea why Colonel Future’s plot required him to set of a nuclear meltdown. The backup story, by Joey Cavalieri and Curt Swan, is marginally better. The difference in quality between Superman #399 and #400 is colossal; Superman #399 is just mediocre, but #400 featured probably the greatest collection of talent ever assembled in a single comic book.

DEMON KNIGHTS #6 (DC, 2012) – “The Balance,” [W] Paul Cornell, [A] Diógenes Neves. This was easy to understand even though I haven’t read #4 or #5. By this point, Vandal Savage has defected to the enemy, and the siege is getting desperate. And Madame Xanadu is about to die if she can’t absorb someone’s lifeforce. This issue is exciting and intense, and its characters are fascinating. Besides Lemire and Foreman’s Animal Man, Demon Knights may have been the best of the New 52 launch titles. I need to collect more of it.

THE QUESTION: THE DEATHS OF VIC SAGE #1 (DC, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Denys Cowan. This is in a prestige format similar to that of Batman: Killer Smile. Denys Cowan’s artwork is fairly conventional, and does not benefit from this comic’s larger size. However, Jeff Lemire takes advantage of this comic’s length to tell an epic story. His Vic Sage is a tribute to Ditko’s original version of the character, and has the same black-and-white morality. However, as the story goes on, Vic discovers that his understanding of the world and of his own identity is incomplete. In its depiction of not knowing who or where you are, this series is reminiscent of Gideon Falls. I plan to read the rest of this miniseries.

U.S.AVENGERS #7 (Marvel, 2017) – “Wake Up the Kraken, Unleash the Heat,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Paco Medina. This isn’t as innovative as other issues of the series, but it’s still good. To save Enigma and Squirrel Girl from being blown up, Iron Patriot phases them through the planet, and they wind up in Paris. There they fight some AIM agents, and Squirrel Girl gets to shout “Je suis la fille écureuille!”

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #11 (Image, 2013) – “Building,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Nick Pitarra. I was expecting to dislike this as much as I disliked #6 through #10, but in fact I enjoyed it, mostly because it moves the series’ timeline forward and takes us beyond the Manhattan Project’s actual history. A few years after #10, humans have colonized the moon and are on their way to the other planets. I’m curious to see how the series’ universe develops further and continues to diverge from the real world. This issue also focuses on the friendship  between Enrico Fermi, an alien, and Harry Daghlian, an irradiated skeleton in a suit. Their scenes together represent the first time I’ve felt real sympathy for any of the characters in the series. Harry Daghlian was a real Manhattan Project scientist who was killed by an accidental nuclear reaction, although his death didn’t happen in the way that’s depicted in this issue.

Whew! Finally done for now.

Reviews for most of October

New comics received on October 8:

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES: MILLENNIUM #2 (DC, 2019) – untitled, [W] Brian Michael Bendis, [A] various. Again, this issue is disappointing because it’s barely a Legion comic; it’s more of a tour of the DC Universe’s future. In this issue Rose & Thorn travels through a bunch more future eras of the DCU, meeting Omac and visiting the Space Museum. The Legion does appear on one two-page spread at the end, and they look fascinating. Here Bendis’s habit of extreme overwriting is actually an advantage because it means that a lot of different Legionnaires get their own dialogue. Still, I’m getting impatient to read a real Legion comic.

RUNAWAYS #25 (Marvel, 2019) – “Canon Fodder Pt. 1,” [W] Rainbow Rowell, [A] Andres Genolet. Now that Squirrel Girl is ending and G. Willow Wilson has left Ms. Marvel, Runaways is my favorite Marvel title. This issue, Nico and Karolina meet Doc Justice, an old enemy of the Pride who has somehow never been mentioned before. And it looks like the Runaways have to accept his offer to work with them, because their home is being destroyed by construction. This issue includes some cute cat moments.

FANTASTIC FOUR #15 (Marvel, 2019) – “Point of Origin, Part Two: The Invasion,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Paco Medina. In a cute gimmick, this issue is narrated from the perspective of the Unparalleled, an alien superhero team whose planet is being “invaded” by the Fantastic Four. Therefore, most of the Fantastic Four’s dialogue in the issue is written in illegible symbols. It’s easy, but tedious, to translate these symbols into English, and so this issue took forever to read. The most notable thing about the Unparallelled’s planet is that all its inhabitants are assigned a future spouse at puberty, and one of the Unparalleled thinks that Johnny Storm is her intended. I’m curious to see where this plotline goes.

MARVEL COMICS #1001 (Marvel, 2019) – numerous stories, [W] Al Ewing et al, [A] various. This is basically a collection of all the extra material that couldn’t be included in Marvel Comics #1000. As with Marvel Comics #1000, the vignettes in #1000 are a mixed bag. Some of them are brilliant, like Marc Sumerak’s return to the Fantastic Four, or Amanda Conner’s Tigra story. Others, like Will Murray and Derek Charm’s Squirrel Girl story, are pretty bad. Notably, this issue includes a story about Kamala Khan, which addresses one of the major complaints about Marvel Comics #1000.

SEA OF STARS #4 (Image, 2019) – “Lost in the Wild Heavens,” [W] Jason Aaron & Dennis Hallum, [A] Stephen Green. Kadyn meets an alien woman named Dalla the Despised who thinks he’s her people’s messiah, Quasarro. It turns out the alien artifact that Kadyn touched, back in issue 1, was Quasarro’s war club. Meanwhile, Gil is pursued by some alien hunters who belong to the same race as Dalla. So the overall plot of this series is finally becoming clear.

STAR PIG #3 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Delilah Dawson, [A] Francesco Gaston. I just saw Delilah Dawson and her collaborator Kevin Hearne at an event at Park Road Books in Charlotte. They mostly talked about their novels, but I asked her a question about how she writes differently for comics and for prose. I also bought a copy of her first novel with Kevin Hearne, Kill the Farm Boy. In Star Pig #3, Vess meets a cute alien boy, Theo, whose people’s culture is based on Earth popular culture. But it looks like Theo is some kind of carnivorous monster in disguise. This issue includes a lot of cute moments, such as a scene where Vess tries on a bunch of funny costumes (this reminds me of the clothes-generator sequence in X-Men #157).

MANIFEST DESTINY #37 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Chris Dingess, [A] Matthew Roberts. This series has been on hiatus for so long that I was afraid it was cancelled. But I saw Matthew Roberts at Heroes Con and he assured me it was coming back, and I’m glad that he was telling the truth. This issue, the Corps of Discovery has survived a harsh winter and Pryor’s attempted rebellion, but as spring begins, they encounter a giant underground mammalian worm. Also, Sacagawea’s baby is adorable, but Sacagawea is showing a notable lack of interest in motherhood.

FUTURE FOUNDATION #3 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Will Robson & Paco Diaz. Rikki Barnes’s origin is explained, and we learn that she previously appeared in Jeremy’s Exiles series. The FF escape from the alien planet, but they’re not out of trouble yet, and one of the prisoners they rescued is actually Lyja the Lazerfist. It’s a bit hard to care about this series when it’s ending in just two more issues.

LOIS LANE #4 (DC, 2019) – “Enemy of the People Part 4,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Mike Perkins. This issue begins with a really cute scene with Lois and Jon. Given how last issue ended, I expected this encounter to be much more awkward than it was. It’s nice that Lois and Jon are so comfortable with each other. Jon also tells Lois that he’s been invited to join the Legion. The rest of the issue mostly focuses on the subplots with the Question and the Russian spies.

BIRTHRIGHT #40 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. Little Mikey has an unproductive discussion with Mastema. The five wizards try to recreate the spell separating Earth from Terrenos, but it fails. Samael stabs Mastema, and monsters from Terrenos start pouring into Earth. This series has about 10 issues left, and is heading towards an epic conclusion.

DIE #8 (Image, 2019) – “Legacy Heroes,” [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Stephanie Hans. We’re back in Angria. Ash explains how she has an 18-year-old son. Matt goes to meet some other knights representing other emotions. At the end, Isabelle shows up in Angria – but without Chuck. This issue was rather low-key, compared to the previous few issues.

IMMORTAL HULK #24 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Steel Throne,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. The Hulk finally defeats Reginald Fortean and somehow absorbs Fortean’s personality into himself. The Hulk becomes the new commander of Fortean’s base. In two scenes at the beginning and end of the issue, we see that the Hulk will be the last survivor of this universe, like how Galactus was the last survivor of the previous universe. Oh, also, the second to last survivor will be Mr. Immortal. That’s both silly and entirely logical.

NO ONE LEFT TO FIGHT #4 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Aubrey Sitterson, [A] Fico Ossio. Vale, Timor and Krysta finally reach the home of their old friends Quon and Kaya. More relationship drama ensues. At the end of the issue, Hierophant shows up and resurrects Bruton, the ultimate villain. Just one issue left in this very entertaining series.

BERSERKER UNBOUND #3 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Mike Deodato Jr. Some other homeless dudes try to steal the old man’s stuff, but the Mongrel King drives them off. Then the Mongrel King’s old enemies show up. This whole miniseries has been awful; it’s far below Jeff’s usual standards. I think the problem is that Mike Deodato draws very few panels per page, so there’s not enough room in each issue for any real plot or characterization.

GREEN LANTERN #12 (DC, 2019) – “Return of the Qwa-Man,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Liam Sharp. Hal battles the Qwa-Man, his own antimatter counterpart, who is executing the plan of Controller Mu. Hal almost gets killed, but is saved at the last minute by his fellow Blackstars. The Blackstars tell Hal that he’s the final component in the doomsday device they’ve been creating throughout the series, which they call the Miracle Machine. This leads into the next miniseries, Blackstars. Grant Morrison’s Green Lantern has been amazing, and he may even be the best Green Lantern writer since Steve Englehart.

POWERS IN ACTION #3 (Action Lab, 2019) – “The Dusk of Vortexial Time!”, [W/A] Art Baltazar. Just a generic kid-oriented superhero comic. I guess that makes sense because Art created all these characters when he himself was a kid.

EVERYTHING #2 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “The Evil That Never Arrived,” [W] Christopher Cantwell, [A] I.N.J. Culbard. Another difficult and confusing issue, partly because it has no main character; in fact, none of the characters are memorable at all. The plot seems to be that the mall is causing people to go insane and die, and the Mr. Bear dolls from the toy store are somehow responsible.

MARVEL ACTION: BLACK PANTHER #3 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kyle Baker, [A] Juan Samu. T’Challa and his friends defeat the evil businessman’s plot to take over Wakanda. The businessman is revealed as King Cadaver, a villain created by Don McGregor and Billy Graham. This story was okay, but it was neither a great Black Panther comic nor a great Kyle Baker comic.

ABSOLUTE CARNAGE: IMMORTAL HULK #1 (Marvel, 2 019) – untitled, [W] Al Ewing, [A] Filipe Andrade. Bruce Banner wakes up with no memory of where he’s been, and discovers that the Hulk has manipulated him into tracking down the stolen corpse of Thunderbolt Ross. Also, Hulk gets infected with the Venom symbiote. This issue is much better than Absolute Carnage: Miles Morales, and is worth reading even though I have no interest in the Absolute Carnage crossover. This issue’s narrative strategy is very effective: when Bruce wakes up, he doesn’t know what’s going on, any more than the reader does, and the reader and Bruce discover the situation together.

THE DREAMING #14 (DC, 2019) – “Shevirat, the Shattering,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Matías Bergara. This issue reunites Spurrier with his brilliant artistic collaborator from Coda. After a one-issue interlude, we’re back to the main storyline, as Dora plays a game with a demon in order to learn some answers about her origin. The twist is that Dora is really playing two demons at once, and using each of their moves against the other. As a reward for winning, Dora learns that the man who “broke her” is a certain Hyperion Keter, who is now on his deathbed.

CANTO #5 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] David M. Booher, [A] Drew Zucker. Canto and his friends battle three flying women. This sequence was hard to follow because I didn’t realize there were three of them and not one. Then Canto confronts the Shrouded Man. I don’t understand this issue’s plot, and I wish I’d read issues 2 and 3.

COPRA #1 (Image, 2019) – “End of Complications,” [W/A] Michel Fiffe. This issue is the major-publisher debut of a long-running self-published comic. Copra is an homage to John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad, but it’s drawn in a radically experimental style, with scratchy artwork, weird page layouts, and innovative drawing techniques. It’s the leading example of a contemporary school of comics that’s influenced by both ‘90s mainstream comics and alternative comics – by both Rob Liefeld and Gary Panter, so to speak. Other representatives of this school include Ed Piskor, Tom Scioli, Charles Forsman, and Ben Marra. I’ve read the first two Copra trade paperbacks, and I have the next two, but I don’t remember much about the plot. Luckily, this issue is pretty accessible, and it includes biographies of the main characters and plot summaries of all the self-published issues. Michel Fiffe’s artwork in this issue is not as radical as in early issues of Copra, but it’s more interesting than his artwork in GI Joe or Bloodstrike Brutalists. Part of the fun in this series is identifying which Marvel and DC characters the members of Copra are based on.

ALL-TIME COMICS: ZEROSIS DEATHSCAPE #4 (All Time, 2019) – “To Annihilate the Future!”, [W] Josh Bayer & Josh Simmons, [A] Julia Gfrörrer & Trevor von Eeden. As with last issue, this issue’s first nine pages are much more interesting than pages 10 to 32. In this issue, Julia Gfrörer, whose work I haven’t seen before, draws a sequence in which a superheroine battles a villain called the Misogynist. In the rest of the issue, Trevor von Eeden’s work reminds me of Neal Adams’s late-period work for Continuity Comics.

Older comics:

WHERE IS JAKE ELLIS? #4 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W] Nathan Edmondson, [A] Tonci Zonjic. This is the first Jake Ellis comic I’ve read, and it was a poor place to start; its plot makes no sense out of context. Tonci Zonjic’s art is good, but not good enough to carry the whole plot by itself. I bought the TPB of the previous miniseries, Who Is Jake Ellis, but I never read it. And now I’m disinclined to read it because I’ve learned that Nathan Edmondson is a sexual predator.

ENIGMA #5 (Vertigo, 1993) – “Lizards and Ghosts,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Duncan Fegredo. The Interior League and Envelope Girl continue to murder people. Titus Bird and Michael Smith go to Arizona to investigate. It becomes clear that all the Enigma’s villains have something to do with lizards. This is another good issue, but it doesn’t contain any major revelations or plot twists.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #5 (Marvel, 2018) – “Winter in America: Part V,” [W] Ta-Nehisi Coates, [A] Leinil Francis Yu. Cap fights the Taskmaster, and there’s also another plot involving Selene and Aleksander Lukin. TNC’s Captain America was really boring, and I wish I had stopped ordering it much sooner t hani did.

SUICIDE SQUAD #30 (DC, 1989) – “Endgame,” [W] John Ostrander & Kim Yale, [A] John K. Snyder. This is part ten of “The Janus Directive,” a crossover in which Suicide Squad and Checkmate teamed up against Kobra. This issue, the president orders a nuclear strike against Kobra’s base, but Captain Atom prevents it. Also, Lois Lane gets hit with a pie. This is a thrilling and well-written comic, which still makes sense even without having read parts 1 through 9. However, it’s a bit ironic that Copra has far better art than the actual Suicide Squad comic ever had.

COMET #2 (Archie, 1983) – untitled, [W] Bill Dubay, [A] Carmine Infantino. A ponderous and confusing comic, which makes a noble attempt to use the superhero genre to address the issue of child abuse, but ultimately collapses under its own weight. The plot is tough to follow because there are a ton of characters who aren’t adequately introduced to the reader, including two different Comets. Also, at the end of the issue, the Comet is shamed for not forgiving his abusive father before the latter dies. That’s a bad message to send. Children of abusers should not be forced to forgive their parents. This issue is inked by Alex Niño, whose style was a poor match for Infantino’s, though Infantino himself wasn’t much good by this point in his career.

CROSSING MIDNIGHT #1 (Vertigo, 2006) – “The Shrine Part 1 of 3,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Jim Fern. This was an ongoing series, though it only lasted 19 issues. This first issue introduces Kai and Toshi, two Japanese teenagers whose grandmother is an atomic bomb survivor. As they grow up, Kai and Toshi discover that they have some strange abilities, and ultimately they learn that this is because, before their birth, they were dedicated as offerings to a rather nasty kami. Crossing Midnight is a comic about Japan by a non-Japanese writer, but unlike David Mack in Kabuki (see previous post), it feels like Mike Carey has genuinely done his research. For example, at one point in the issue we see Toshi reading Pink, a classic manga that hadn’t been published in English at the time. Jim Fern’s art in this issue is the best of his career, though he’s had a mediocre career.

SWEET SIXTEEN #5 (Marvel, 1991) – “What Can I Get a Princess?” and other vignettes, [W/A] Barbara Slate. More stories that follow the typical Sweet XVI formula. One of these stories is mildly progressive because it shows a girl beating some sexist boys at sports. I briefly talked about this series with Barbara Slate when I interviewed her, and I hope to write about it in more detail elsewhere.

ENIGMA #6 (DC, 1993) – “The End of the World,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Duncan Fegredo. This issue we finally start to understand Enigma’s origin: as a child, he fell into a well and couldn’t get out, and sustained himself by eating lizards. The issue ends with the pivotal moment of the entire series, when Enigma helps Michael realize that he’s gay, and that his angry reaction to Titus Bird in #3 was the result of his own internalized homophobia. This is a powerful moment. At the time, it may have been the most realistic and sensitive coming-out scene that had yet been portrayed in a commercial comic book. It’s still an impressive scene now, when depictions of LGBTQ people in comics are far more common. The letter column includes editor Art Young’s comments on the allegedly homophobic scene in #3. I wonder if I might write about Enigma for that upcoming roundtable on paratexts in comics. I want to contribute to that, but no topic has come to mind yet.

THE WALKING DEAD #163 (Image, 2017) – “Conquered,” [W] Robert Kirkman, [A] Charlie Adlard. Rick Grimes’s city gets attacked by a huge horde of zombies. This is an exciting issue. However, it was published as a special 25-cent issue for new readers, but it’s not as accessible as it could have been. It doesn’t include a plot summary or profiles of the characters, and I had trouble recognizing any of the characters, even Rick.

THE CAPE: GREATEST HITS #1 (IDW, 2018) – untitled, [W] Jason Ciaramella, [A] Zach Howard. This is an adaptation of a short story by Joe Hill. The protagonist, Eric, is a lazy, childish ne’er-do-well who sponges off his girlfriend until she can’t stand him anymore. After moving back into his mother’s basement, Eric discovers a magic flying cape, which he uses to murder his girlfriend. This comic somehow got an Eisner nomination, but it shouldn’t have, because it’s a mean-spirited, offensive piece of crap. I have read so many posts on r/relationships by women complaining about boyfriends like Eric, and in every case, the correct advice is that the woman should just dump the boyfriend. The Cape #1 makes it abundantly clear that Eric is an emotionally stunted manchild and that the girlfriend was right to dump him. But because The Cape #1 follows the visual conventions of superhero comics, the reader is encouraged to identify with Eric and to see his girlfriend as an object to be desired and possessed. Also, Eric is the narrator, which further biases the reader in his favor. As a result, this comic manipulates readers into sympathizing with Eric when they should despise him. Maybe you’re supposed to read this comic and feel ashamed of yourself for identifying with Eric, but if that’s the point, I think readers are likely to miss the point and instead just see Eric as the hero.

IMMORTAL IRON FIST #4 (Marvel, 2007) – “The Last Iron Fist Story Part 4,” [W] Ed Brubaker & Matt Fraction, [A] David Aja w/ Travel Foreman & Derek Fridolfs. Danny Rand fights alongside the previous Iron Fist, Orson Randall, and there’s also a subplot about Davos the Steel Serpent. This is an exciting issue that feels kind of like an actual wuxia film or novel. Pages 9 and 10 of this issue are drawn by a different artist (Derek Fridolfs, I assume) whose style contrasts oddly with that of the rest of the issue.

REVIVAL #6 (Image, 2013) – untitled, [W] Tim Seeley, [A] Mike Norton. Dana investigates a murder, and there are a bunch of other subplots. The two most notable things in this issue are the scene where Cooper is playing with his toys, and the scene where May Tao talks with an old Hmong woman (in English, oddly).

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #370 (Marvel, 1992) – “Life Stings! Invasion of the Spider-Slayers, Part 3,” [W] David Michelinie, [A] Mark Bagley. Another bad issue of a bad storyline, although at least it’s drawn by a real Spider-Man artist, unlike #366. At least Richard and Mary Parker only appear on a couple pages; most of the issue is devoted to a fight between Spidey, Black Cat and Scorpion. Michelinie wrote Richard and Mary as a pair of aloof, anxious old busybodies, and I doubt if any readers liked them very much. There’s a backup story written by JM DeMatteis in which Aunt May visits Uncle Ben’s grave. This story is a little too syrupy, but it’s better than the main story.

ELEPHANTMEN #8 (Image, 2007) – “Moxa Cautery!”, [W] Richard Starkings, [A] Moritat. This is a gangster story with animal protagonists – so it’s like Blacksad, but with much worse art. There’s also a flip book story starring protagonist Hip Flask’s pet frog, as well as a lot of ancillary materials that are only of interest to hardcore fans. According to Wikipedia, Hip Flask was created to appear in Starkings’s ads for Comicraft, and somehow ended up getting his own comic.

FOUR WOMEN #2 (Image, 2002) – untitled, [W/A] Sam Kieth. Four women driving alone at night are assaulted by a bunch of men who try to break into their car. The artwork in this comic is fairly interesting. However, it’s obvious that Four Women #1 was written by a man. As I observed in my review of issue 1, Four Women feels like a man’s idea of how women talk to other women. This issue is even worse, because Sam Kieth is trying to imagine how women react to being threatened by men, and it doesn’t seem like he has any knowledge of this. He’s just extrapolating from how men would react in an analogous situation. According to Wikipedia, in the rest of the series, the situation escalates even further; one of the women gets raped, and another of them, who is narrating the series, blames herself for it. I guess Sam Kieth deserves credit for being willing to engage with the topic of rape, but he’s just not a good enough writer to be able to tackle a story like this.

B.P.R.D.: THE DEAD REMEMBERED #3 (Dark Horse, 2011) – untitled, [W] Mike Mignola & Scott Allie, [A] Karl Moline. A young Liz Sherman confronts the ghosts of some of the victims of the Salem witch trials. Like most Mignolaverse comics not solely written by Mignola, this issue is okay, but it’s nothing great.

MANHUNTER #27 (DC, 2007) – “Unleashed, Part Two: Chains of Evidence,” [W] Marc Andreyko, [A] Javier Pina & Fernando Blanco. Kate Spencer defends Wonder Woman before a grand jury, there’s a subplot about the Order of Saint Dumas, and the supposedly dead Ted Kord shows up alive. The courtroom sequence in this issue feels very realistic, so much so that it made me think Marc Andreyko was an actual lawyer, although as far as I can tell, he is not.

ENIGMA #7 (Vertigo, 1993) – “Sex in Arizona,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Duncan Fegredo. Michael Smith has sex with the Enigma, and then they try to cure Victoria Yes, who was turned into Envelope Girl. But they’re interrupted by Enigma’s mother, a monstrous hunchback. Enigma’s origin is also revealed in detail, and the issue ends with an impressive splash page depicting the moment where Enigma climbs out of the well and sees the sky for the first time.

HELLBLAZER #113 (Vertigo, 1997) – “You’re Just a…,” [W] Paul Jenkins, [A] Sean Phillips. This issue gets off to a promising start, as John talks with Bran the Blessed, a character from Welsh mythology. But after that, the story descends into incoherence.

POWER & GLORY #2 (Malibu, 1994) – untitled, [W/A] Howard Chaykin. The government creates a new superhero, Allan Powell, but he turns out to be a distasteful, incompetent jerk who hates being touched. So his handler, Michael Gorski, has to do all the actual superhero stuff. I have little interest in Chaykin’s current work, because it’s problematic for a lot of reasons that I don’t want to go into. This issue has some problems too; for example, it includes a scene which would be considered transphobic today, in which a transvestite uses a urinal next to a man. Still, Power & Glory is interesting, and it may have been Chaykin’s last truly major work.

QUANTUM & WOODY #0 (Valiant, 2014) – “Get Your Goat” and other vignettes, [W] James Asmus, [A] Tom Fowler. This is billed as “Quantum & Woody: Goat” on the cover. It depicts the origin of Quantum and Woody’s goat, and its doomed romance with Dolly the cloned sheep. It’s written in the same style as the classic Q&W series, with a bunch of vignettes in non-chronological order. However, James Asmus is not nearly as funny a writer as Priest.

JOE KUBERT PRESENTS #4 (DC, 2013) – The Redeemer in “The Golden Warrior,” [W/A] Joe Kubert, plus two other stories. This issue’s first story introduces The Redeemer, a character who has multiple lives in various eras. It was drawn in 1983 but never published. It’s okay, but it’s indistinguishable from any other Kubert comic, and it takes too much of a both-sides attitude toward the Civil War. This issue also includes an Angel and Ape story by Brian Buniak, which is not well written but has amazing art. This artist deserves to be better known. There’s also a USS Stevens story by Sam Glanzman, but it’s extremely text-heavy and doesn’t have much of a plot.

FLASH #32 (DC, 1989) – “Welcome to Keystone City,” [W] William Messner-Loebs, [A] Greg LaRocque. Wally, Piper and Mason move to the impoverished Keystone City. There they encounter two villains named Sloe and Steddy (heh) who have kidnapped Piper’s family. This issue is okay, but not nearly as good as an average issue by Mark Waid.

GLADSTONE’S SCHOOL FOR WORLD CONQUERORS #4 (Image, 2011) – untitled, [W] Mark Andrew Smith, [A] Armand Villavert. This comic has excellent art and some cute character moments, but it’s mostly a long fight scene whose context is unclear.

STATIC #26 (Milestone, 1995) – “Two Tickets to Paradise,” [W] Ivan Velez Jr, [A] Wilfred. This is part of the “Long Hot Summer” crossover. The premise of this crossover a giant state-of-the-art theme park opens in the middle of Dakota’s black neighborhood, whose inhabitants are mostly unable to pay to get into the park. The racial implications of this are obvious; there’s a literal giant wall separating Utopia Park from the housing projects and condemned buildings surrounding it. This issue also has some nice character moments, including a scene with Virgil and his girlfriend Daisy. I need to read more Milestone comics.

BOX OFFICE POISON #15 (Antarctic, 1999) – multiple vignettes, [W/A] Alex Robinson. Last issue ended on a cliffhanger when Sherman’s girlfriend Dorothy asked to move in with him. This issue, Sherman says no, and Dorothy is not happy. Then Sherman goes to work at a bookstore, encountering rude customers and a mean new boss, and then he runs into his deadbeat asshole of a father. The issue ends with a cathartic moment in which Sherman tells his dad off. I really enjoyed this issue. Like Martin Wagner, Alex Robinson is heavily influenced by Dave Sim, but he has a distinctive style of art, and he shows a solid understanding of both male and female characters. I really need to read more Box Office Poison. I started reading the collected edition on my Kindle, but never finished it, and I hate reading comics on screens anyway. I should probably just try to collect all the single issues of it. Alex Robinson is an excellent cartoonist, and it’s unfortunate how his work doesn’t seem to have much of an audience at the moment.

ENIGMA #8 (Vertigo, 1993) – “Queer,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Duncan Fegredo. This issue wraps up all the loose ends, and reveals that Enigma created all of the villains. The series concludes on a cliffhanger as Enigma, Michael and Titus confront Enigma’s mother. And then we learn that the narrator of the series was one of the lizards from Enigma’s well. Like all of Peter Milligan’s comics, Enigma is quite difficult to follow, but it’s one of the most satisfying and artistically successful things he’s done. It deserves to be more widely read.

Thanks to “severe staffing issues” at DCBS, I again received two comics shipments in one week. The first one arrived on Wednesday, October 16:

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #49 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ryan North, [A] Derek Charm. The “penNUTimate issue” consists of a long fight scene, complete with a “chance-of-winning-the-big-fight-scene-o-meter” that swings back and forth between bad guys, good guys and “anyone’s guess.” Just as Doreen and her friends are getting stomped, there’s a heartwarming plot twist when the cavalry arrives, consisting of all the former villains that Doreen turned into friends. Except then Doreen has to throw herself on top of a bomb. Just one more issue to go in this incredible series.

THESE SAVAGE SHORES #5 (Vault, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ram V, [A] Sumit Kumar. Bishan and Kori travel to England and defeat the evil vampire, but Kori is a vampire herself now, so their romance is ruined. The twist ending of this issue made a lot more sense after I Googled “Andhana” and discovered that he was a demon who created new copies of himself whenever his blood touched the ground. This is another example of Ram V’s trust in his readers: this comic requires some knowledge of Indian culture and history, and Ram trusts his readers to acquire that knowledge. Ram has deservedly gotten some higher-profile assignments as a result of this miniseries, but Sumit Kumar should also be praised for his thrilling fight scenes and realistic, moody settings.

MAGNIFICENT MS. MARVEL #8 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Joey Vazquez. Kamala defeats Josh, Becky and “Uncle Brett,” whose funny gimmick is that he’s a supervillain who looks and talks just like a techbro. The message of this story is that “growth is usually a good thing … but growth can be something else – something terrible.”

USAGI YOJIMBO #5 (IDW, 2019) – “The Hero, Part Two,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. Because of Japanese patriarchy, Lady Mura’s dad is forced to return her to her jealous, abusive husband, who promptly has her killed. This outcome was foreshadowed at the start of the issue, when Usagi wishes the hero and heroine of Mura’s novel could have lived happily ever after, and she says, “That is not our tradition… in our stories the hero never gets the girl at the end.” (See Ivan Morris’s The Nobility of Failure.) Lady Mura has her revenge from beyond the grave, when her husband discovers that she’s more famous than he is, and kills himself in shame. “The Hero” is a heartbreaking tale of a woman killed by her society’s sexism, and it shows that Stan is still the finest storyteller in American comics.

OUTER DARKNESS #11 (Image, 2019) – “Castrophany of Hate Pt. 11: Shore Leave,” [W] John Layman, [A] Afu Chan. Rigg is on the verge of killing Satalis when the ship arrives at its station. Over Prakash’s objections, Rigg treats his crew to a liquor-fueled orgy with alien sex priests. Prakash’s dad orders Rigg to recover the spirit of a dead leader of the Dryx, the race with which the humans are at war. Rigg knocks out Dryx’s dad and returns to his ship, where his crew are being massacred by the alien sex priests. Rigg obviously has some kind of bizarre and devious plan, and I can’t wait to find out what it is.

BLACK HAMMER/JUSTICE LEAGUE: HAMMER OF JUSTICE #4 (DC/Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Michael Walsh. Mr. Mxyzptlk is revealed as the villain behind it all, and he tells the heroes that they can only return to their worlds if they all agree to – including Golden Gail, who’s just been restored to her normal age. This has been a reasonably good miniseries.

WONDER WOMAN #80 (DC, 2019) – “Loveless Part 4,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Jesús Merino & Tom Derenick. Diana is about to defeat Cheetah, but discovers that Veronica Cale betrayed her, and the beaker that was supposed to defeat Cheetah only made her more powerful. So Diana is screwed. With so few issues left in Willow’s run, I’d have appreciated more of a focus on her supporting cast; I’m not in love with either Veronica or Cheetah.

RONIN ISLAND #7 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Greg Pak, [A] Giannis Milogiannis. In a series of flashbacks, we see the younger Hana and Kenichi learning to work as a team to defend the island. In the present, Hana finally gives up on Sato and stabs him. I keep remembering her line “I gave you so many chances.” Then Hana and Kenichi finally decide to start working together. This series has been extremely grim, with the situation worsening each issue. But in #7, it finally seems like Hana and Kenichi understand what they should be doing.

BATTLEPUG #2 (Image, 2019) – “War on Christmas Part II,” [W/A] Mike Norton. The Kinmundian meets the queen of the Northland Elves, i.e. Mrs. Claus. Meanwhile, the other characters encounter an old dude who says “scribbly” and “scrabbly” after every sentence, and then a herd of mean pastel-colored ponies. I don’t quite understand this series’ style of humor yet, but I like it so far.

WONDER TWINS #8 (DC, 2019) – “Reunions,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Mike Norton. How did he manage to draw two comic books in one month? Anyway, this issue is the principal’s high school reunion, and while there he has to confront the librarian, who used to be his girlfriend. They don’t get back together, but their reunion is a sweet moment. Also, Polly Math breaks out of prison, and Zan tells her that he has a plan to get her father back.

GINSENG ROOTS #1 (Uncivilized, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Craig Thompson. I have mixed feelings about Craig Thompson. I used to love Blankets, but I haven’t read it in years, and I don’t think it holds up well. It’s a very young man’s book, and its gender politics are rather simplistic. I still haven’t read Habibi or Space Dumplins. Someone suggested to me recently that his best book was actually Carnet de Voyage, and that may be true. Luckily, Ginseng Roots is more like Carnet de Voyage than like Blankets. It’s a slow-paced, muted meditation on Craig’s youth, when he worked on a ginseng farm. It reveals that Craig still has the best linework of any American cartoonist; his draftsmanship is just heart-achingly beautiful. In this issue he draws upon Chinese visual culture, e.g. ink painting and calligraphy, but he does it in a way that feels respectful rather than appropriative. Ginseng Roots suggests that Craig is continuing to evolve as an artist. For selfish reasons, I’m also glad he published it in the comic book format, although I wish it had been the standard comic book size, so it would have fit in my boxes.

CATWOMAN #16 (DC, 2019) – “Year of the Villain…?”, [W/A] Joëlle Jones. I’m surprised Joëlle Jones is back; I had thought Ram V was the new permanent writer. And it’s an especially pleasant surprise that she drew this issue as well as writing it. In this issue Selina visits a children’s party to look for Raina Creel. There’s also a silent backup story in which Selina uses the Lazarus Pit to revive herself. I don’t understand why she was dying in the first place, but I love how her cat saves her, not by doing anything but by shaming her into getting up and saving herself.

EDGAR ALLAN POE’S SNIFTER OF TERROR SEASON TWO #2 (Ahoy, 2019) – “The Tell-Tale Black Cask of Usher,” [W/A] Dean Motter. The first volume of this series was the only Ahoy title I didn’t read. As its title indicates, this issue is a humorous mashup of a bunch of different Poe stories. It’s cleverly written and funny, and shows evidence of historical research, but Dean Motter’s art style is too slick and polished for me.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #14 (DC, 2019) – “Wicked Burn, Part 2,” [W] Nalo Hopkinson & Dan Watters, [A] Matthew Dow Smith. Djuna’s marriage gets worse, and the firebreathing chicken gets more aggressive. Damballah reappears at the end. There wasn’t much in this issue that wasn’t already in issue 13, but I do like this comic’s dialogue. It includes some Caribbean English words (like “rahtid”) that I had to look up.

COLLAPSER #4 (DC, 2019) – “Manic,” [W] Mikey Way & Shaun Simon. This comic has some excellent art, like the splash panel on page 3. But Collapser is just another standard superhero comic, with no truly new ideas, and I hate its protagonist. I didn’t order issue 5.

ABSOLUTE CARNAGE: MILES MORALES #3 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Federico Vicentini. A complete waste of Saladin’s talents. The only interesting thing in this issue is the scene where Miles saves the shopkeeper and is offered a free pair of sneakers. Otherwise, this comic is so generic that anybody could have written it.

IMMORTAL HULK DIRECTOR’S CUT #5 (Marvel, 2019) – “In Every Mirror,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. Sasquatch is possessed by the spirit of Bruce Banner’s dad. Hulk defeats him, but somehow removes Walter’s ability to turn into Sasquatch. Hulk looks into a mirror and sees his dad’s face. Something weird is going on here. I don’t understand how the Hulk absorbed his father’s personality, but it must have been the same way that he absorbed Reginald Fortean in issue 24. I almost wish Immortal Hulk Director’s Cut was continuing after this issue, because I’m still missing issues #7 and #9-15.

GHOSTED IN L.A. #4 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Sina Grace, [A] Siobhan Keenan. In a flashback, we see that Maurice was a toxic asshole all his life, until he thankfully died from a fall. After death, he continues to be a toxic asshole, forcing the other ghosts to exorcise him to protect Daphne. Then the ghost of the just-deceased rock star Zola Tesla appears in the mansion. A nice moment in this issue is when the ghosts tell Daphne to put flowers on a grave, and she also puts a stone on the grave, as is the Jewish custom. I hadn’t even realized Daphne was Jewish.

DOOM PATROL: WEIGHT OF THE WORLDS #4 (DC, 2019) – “Whatever Happened to Destiny Beach?”, [W] Gerard Way & Jeremy Lambert, [A] Nick Pitarra. This series appears to have been cancelled. That’s too bad, but its chronic lateness may be partly to blame. This issue, Flex Mentallo wins a bizarre fitness competition and is exiled into space. Meanwhile, Cliff Steele becomes Cliff Fixit. Nick Pitarra’s artwork in this issue is extremely hyper-detailed. Despite having had several artists, this version of Doom Patrol has had a very consistent graphic style thanks to Tamara Bonvillain’s coloring.

DEADPOOL VS. X-FORCE #1 (Marvel, 2014) – untitled, [W] Duane Swierczynski, [A] Pepe Larraz. Deadpool goes back in time to the American Revolution for some reason, and X-Force follows him. This issue takes place before New Mutants #98, though this is not made clear until the info page at the end. I ordered this because it was just 70 cents, and I’m glad I didn’t pay any more for it.

The next shipment arrived on Friday, October 18:

ONCE & FUTURE #3 (Boom!, 2019) – “The King is Undead,” [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Dan Mora. This issue consists msotly of action sequences, but there are some really fun interactions between Duncan, his grandmother and his girlfriend. In this issue Kieron continues to demonstrate the depth of his knowledge. The name “Clarent” for the sword in the stone seems to be authentic, and the grandmother is correct that Galahad gradually replaced Percival as the hero of the Grail quest. I don’t know if any of my medievalist friends are reading this comic, but they should be.

SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN #2 (Boom!, 2019) – “The Angel of Archer’s Peak Part Two, [W] James Tynion, [A] Werther Dell’Edera. The weird monster hunter girl continues to investigate, and we learn that her stuffed octopus toy is actually alive. We’re also introduced to Tommy, the brother of one of the victims. There’s also a reference to how millennials are killing Applebee’s. I read this comic while I was exhausted after returning from work, but I liked it.

STEEPLE #2 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] John Allison. Billie tries to befriend some delinquent teens, and also tries to make peace between the reverend and the sea monsters. Again, I was falling asleep while I read this comic, so I don’t remember it well, but it was pretty good.

SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #4 (DC, 2019) – “The Crazy Board of Irresponsible Blogger Timmy Olsen,” [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Steve Lieber. Jimmy disguises himself as Timmy, a YouTube prankster. Jimmy shows Lois his cork board, which contains his evidence that Luthor is conspiring to take control of all the data in Metropolis, and that Luthor is trying to kill Jimmy because he knows about this plan. There are a lot of great moments in this issue (like Jimmy’s reference to “Ocean’s Razor,” and this series continues to be fascinating.

GIDEON FALLS #17 (Image, 2019) – “The Pentoculus: Part 1 of 5 ‘Forever and Ever,’” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Andrea Sorrentino. Danny/Norton and Father Fred have now switched places. Father Fred meets the bishop, who’s constructed some kind of bizarre dimensional transport machine. Meanwhile, Danny/Norton’s father has a bizarre vision which is depicted on solid black backgrounds with red lineworks, and then he wakes up and kills someone with a knife and fork. That description notwithstanding, his is actually not the weirdest issue of Gideon Falls.

TREES: THREE FATES #2 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Jason Howard. Sergeant Klara continues to investigate the murder, and while visiting the tree, she sees her ex-boyfriend Sasha. Then there’s a flashback to a conversation they had eleven years ago. This issue is a really quick read.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #83 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Thom Zahler, [A] Kate Sherron. Twilight and Spike investigate the theft of the racing turtle Silver Blaze. This whole issue is a parody of the Sherlock Holmes story “The Adventure of Silver Blaze,” and it’s full of Holmesian puns, including some that I probably missed. For example, the police detective is Leigh Strade (Lestrade) of Trotland Yard. The climactic turtle race is as funny as one would expect.

AQUAMAN #53 (DC, 2019) – “Amnesty, Part 4:StrangeBeasts,” [W] Kelly Sue DeConnick, [A] Robson Rocha & Eduardo Paniccia. Aquaman confronts Tristan Maurer. Mera, now visibly pregnant, heads to Amnesty Bay to track down the ship that invadedAtlantis. Arthur and Mera barely get to confront each other before they’re interrupted by Black Manta’s attack. The same symbol appears on the last pages of this issue and Catwoman #16. This symbol must have something to do with the Year of the Villain crossover.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #11 (Marvel, 2019) – “Falling Star Conclusion,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Carmen Carnero. Star almost kicks Carol’s ass, but Hazmat arrives to save the day, and then Carol beats Star by pulling out her syphon… I think. I don’t quite understand what Carol did. The fight is televised nationwide, restoring Carol’s reputation. This was perhaps Kelly’s best issue yet, thanks to the high stakes of the fight and the very real sense that Carol could lose. I especially love the scene where the little girl jumps between Carol and Star. By knocking the girl down, Star demonstrates how far she’s gone off the deep end.

HISTORY OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE #4 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Javier Rodriguez. This issue covers everything from X-Men #101 to Onslaught. That’s 20-plus years of stories summarized in a single comic book. There’s no way to synthesize so many different comics into a single overarching narrative, and Mark doesn’t really try. Also, as far as I could tell, there was no new information in this issue. As a result, although Javier Rodriguez’s artwork is as brilliant as ever, HOTMU #4 was tedious to read.

ARCHIE: THE MARRIED LIFE 10TH ANNIVERSARY #3 (Archie, 2019) – “The Only Thing Constant is Change!” and “New York, New York – A Hell of a Town!”, [W] Michael Uslan, [A] Dan Parent. In the first story, Veronica is coerced into taking over her father’s company. In the second story, Archie is offered his big break in the music business, but only if he spends the whole year on the road. The problem with both these stories is that they try to have realistic plots about adult characters, but they’re drawn in the Archie house style, and this combination doesn’t work for me. When Archie and Veronica talk about work and marriage counseling, but they’re drawn like the teenage Archie and Veronica, it’s hard to take them seriously. NY Times comics journalist George Gene Gustines appears in this issue.

REVENGER HALLOWEEN SPECIAL 2019 #1 (Floating World, 2019) – “Mala Carne,” [W/A] Charles Forsman. Revenger is not to be confused with Slasher. I’ve read one previous issue of Revenger, but I don’t remember much about it. Revenger appears to be some kind of monster hunter. In this issue she encounters a little girl who’s been turned into a vampire, and the girl accompanies her while she kills a bunch of other vampires. “Mala Carne” is a pretty standard adventure comic, but it’s drawn in an alternative-comics style – see my review of Copra #1 above – and it’s very exciting. I wish more alternative cartoonists would publish their work in the comic book format.

MARVEL ACTION: BLACK PANTHER #4 (Marvel, 2019) – “King for a Day,” [W] Vita Ayala, [A] Arianna Florean. T’Challa exchanges places with one of his subjects, a vibranium worker, and uncovers corruption in the vibranium industry. This comic depicts Wakanda as too much of a utopia (something which Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Black Panther has avoided) and has too little conflict. Also, T’Challa’s behavior is stupid. He realizes his boss is corrupt, but tries to expose the corruption immediately, thus exposing himself to danger. It would have been much smarter to expose the corruption after he was back in his palace.

STRAYED #3 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Oblivia,” [W] Carlos Giffoni, [A] Juan Doe. Lou the cat meets the creator of the flowers and learns what they are, but on returning to his body, he falls into a coma. Meanwhile, we see more of Premier Peely’s plot for universal domination. As hinted on the letters page, this whole story is an allegory about colonialism. The alien in this issue can understand Lou, so Lou gets a few lines of dialogue. I would rather Lou didn’t talk, but at least he talks like a cat. The artwork and coloring in this issue are gorgeous, though at times, like on page one, it’s hard to figure out what I’m looking at.

SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN #10 (Marvel, 2019) – “Dark Cavern, Dark Crystal,” [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Alan Davis. Roy Thomas is the greatest Conan comics writer, and this issue shows that he still writes Conan as well as ever. This issue, two Corinthians hire Conan to lead them through the lands of the Afghulis in search of a treasure. While on the trip, Conan tries to make himself the chief of the Afghulis, but they decide to hang him from a tree instead. The high point of this issue takes place at the start, right after Conan has killed a man in a bar fight. The two Corinthians come into the bar and approach Conan, mistaking him for someone named Guptar. Conan points to the corpse of the man he just killed and says “That’s Guptar.”

ADVENTURE FINDERS: THE EDGE OF EMPIRE #3 (Action Lab, 2019) – “The Tireless Pursuit – No Rest for the Harried,” [W/A] Rod Espinosa. Some soldiers try to save Clari and her companions from the enemy Verbolgs. But the soldiers’ leader gets killed, and his second-in-command decides to retreat, leaving Clari alone in enemy territory with a few exhausted soldiers and a bunch of nuns and small children. This is the best Rod Espinosa comic I’ve read yet. It creates a real sense of the terror and exhaustion of warfare. I still think Rod’s backgrounds are too obviously computer-generated.

THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU #2 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ted Adams, [A] Gabriel Rodriguez. On Facebook, I recently wrote: “When adapting a prose novel or story into a comic, the single biggest mistake you can make is to keep too much of the original text.” I had this specific comic in mind when I wrote that. In adapting The Island of Dr. Moreau,Ted Adams retains way too much of H.G. Wells’s text, resulting in a very slow-paced comic with no sense of narrative momentum. Also, Wells’s prose style doesn’t match Rodriguez’s art style. Ellie looks like a 21st-century woman, but she speaks in Victorian English. On top of that, Rodriguez’s storytelling is very unclear, and I was never quite able to follow the plot of the novel. Overall, this is an awful comic. While Gabriel Rodriguez’s draftsmanship is as amazing as it always is, his time would have been better spent working on something else.

TRUE BELIEVERS: UNCANNY X-MEN – JUBILEE #1 (Marvel, 2019) –“Ladies’ Night,” [W] Chris Claremont, [A] Marc Silvestri. This reprints Uncanny X-Men #244, one of the only late Claremont issues that I don’t have. This issue is most notable as the first appearance of Jubilee, but there are a few other notable things about it. First, it only includes the female X-Men, while issue #245 only included the male X-Men. Both issues were parodies: #245 was a parody of DC’s Invasion, and #244 includes a group of villains named M-Squad who are obviously based on the Ghostbusters. One of the M-Squad members even says that they left New York and changed jobs. The individual M-Squad members are all based on science fiction writers who were Claremont’s fellow contributors to the Wild Cards anthology series. One of the M-Squad is based on George R.R. Martin, already a veteran SF writer but not yet an international celebrity. Besides all that, this is a really fun issue, but it’s about as ‘90s as you can get. The whole issue takes place in a mall, and it’s full of cheesecake imagery and made-up ‘90s slang.

THE DARK TOWER: THE DRAWING OF THE THREE/REVENGE SAMPLER #1 (Marvel, 2014) – two untitled stories. This free flipbook comic includes previews of two upcoming Marvel graphic novels. Half of the issue is a preview of an adaptation of Stephen King’s The Drawing of the Three, but it’s an unlettered preview, so it made no sense at all. The other is a preview of something called Revenge, but I couldn’t understand this preview either, even though it did include dialogue.

ALL-NEW BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #7 (DC, 2011) – “Shadows & Light,” [W] Sholly Fisch, [A] Rick Burchett. Batman teams up with a distrustful Alan Scott and ends up convincing Alan of his good intentions. This issue is a quick and reasonably fun read.

KING KONG #1 (Fantagraphics, 1991) – untitled, [W/A] Don Simpson. I think I bought this comic because of its gorgeous Dave Stevens cover, but it’s a good comic in its own right. Although I don’t remember much about the original King Kong movie, I get the sense that Don Simpson’s adaptation adds a lot to the movie. I feel like he explores the personalities and motivations of the characters more deeply than the original film did. He also draws some really expressive faces. This comic includes some mildly offensive depictions of indigenous people, but King Kong is an inherently racist text anyway.

ELFQUEST: SHARDS #14 (WaRP, 1996) – “Reunion,” [W/A] Wendy Pini, [W] Richard Pini. This is a black-and-white comic, but a previous owner seems to have colored in some of the pages with colored pencils. “Reunion” would have been an exciting comic if I had been able to follow the story. Its plot involves Winnowill and Grohmul Djun and the Palace and the Scroll of Colors and a lot of other stuff. I’ve never been able to understand the large-scale structure of Elfquest’s plot, and I’m not sure it’s worth trying.

CRITTERS #16 (Fantagraphics, 1987) – “Return of the Wizard,” [W/A] Stan Sakai, plus two other stories. This issue begins with a Nilson and Hermy story in which a wizard tries to kill the two heroes, but Nilson kills him instead. This story is funny, but it’s far from Stan’s best. Most of the issue is devoted to Freddy Milton’s “For the Love of Gnellie, Part 2,” in which Gnuff’s wife Gnellie encounters an old lover. This story is touching and is also extremely Barksian; it’s no surprise that Milton was a longtime Disney artist. The issue ends with a chapter of Steven A. Gallacci’s “Birthright,” a comic I severely dislike because of its minimal artwork and ugly lettering.

BALTIMORE: THE INQUISITOR #nn (Dark Horse, 2013) – “The Inquisitor,” [W] Mike Mignola & Christopher Golden, [A] Ben Steinbeck. During World War I, a judge interviews a prisoner and tells the prisoner his backstory. Just like most Hellboyverse comics, Baltimore: The Inquisitor is stylistically similar to the main Hellboy title, but is not nearly as good. Ben Steinbeck’s style is about as close as you can get to Mignola’s style without being Mignola.

DOOM PATROL/SUICIDE SQUAD SPECIAL #1 (DC, 1988) – “Red Pawn,” [W] John Ostrander & Paul Kupperberg, [A] Erik Larsen. This issue is important in terms of continuity because it includes the deaths of the Thinker, the Weasel, Mr. 104 and Psi. Otherwise, this comic is pure crap. It consists of a single long fight scene in which Doom Patrol tries to rescue Hawk from Nicaragua, while the Suicide Squad tries to kill him. The fight sequences are boring, and there’s no characterization to speak of. This issue is a Suicide Squad comic in name only; the only regular Suicide Squad character in it is Rick Flag, and his teammates are four throwaway characters who all get killed, as noted above. Also, this comic’s politics are very simplistic, and its depiction of Nicaraguans is offensive. There’s one page where a Nicaraguan soldier tells Hawk “Es halcón estación… hawk season!” and then Hawk calls him “taco brain.” Estación means station, not season, and tacos are not a major staple food in Nicaragua (see https://jezebel.com/fox-news-host-is-pretty-sure-nicaraguan-co-host-grew-u-1441110911for another example of the same mistake).

FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #33 (Marvel, 2012) – “Through a Dark Glass Paradoxically,” [W/A] Alan Davis. This is the first part of a three-part crossover story starring Alan Davis’s ClanDestine. I bought all three parts when they came out, but never read any of them until now. In this annual, Reed and Sue are on vacation with the kids, and Ben and Johnny are lying unconscious in front of the TV. Then Reed’s interdimensional alarm goes off, and Ben and Johnny are drawn into a time-traveling adventure with Vincent, one of the Destine siblings. Alan’s artwork in this issue is excellent, but the timeline of this issue was very hard to follow, and I didn’t quite understand what w as giong on with Vincent until I read the other two annuals.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #73 (Marvel, 1978) – “A Fluttering of Wings Most Foul!”, [W] Gary Friedrich, [A] Kerry Gammill. This must have been one of Gary Friedrich’s last comics for Marvel. Besides that, there’s not much else about it that’s notable. It’s a formulaic team-up story in which Daredevil and Spider-Man fight the Owl.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #6 (Image, 2012) – “Star City,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Nick Pitarra. I have a large number of unread issues of this series. This issue is a spotlight on Helmut Gröttrup, who, in real life, was an engineer who worked under Wernher von Braun in Nazi Germany, and then under Sergei Koralev in Soviet Russia. In Manhattan Projects’s alternate universe, his history is essentially similar, except that his bosses are working on bizarre science fiction projects, and one of them is a disembodied brain. Whether working for the Nazis or the Soviets, Gröttrup is an abject slave. Manhattan Projects is an interesting series, but it’s never really excited me, which is why I have so many unread issues of it.

ROCKETEER ADVENTURES VOL. 2 #2 (IDW , 2012) – three stories, [E] Scott Dunbier. The most interesting story in this issue is the first one, which has a minimal plot, but excellent artwork and lettering by Colin Wilson. This artist is from New Zealand but has mostly worked for the British and French markets. Next is a story by Paul Dini and Bill Morrison in which a jealous Cliff spies on Betty as she’s making a movie. This story is slight but funny. In the last story, by Walt Simonson and John Paul Leon, Cliff meets Judy Garland.

DAREDEVIL ANNUAL #1 (Marvel, 2012) – “A Tourist in Hell,” [W/A] Alan Davis. Daredevil encounters Kay, aka Cuckoo, another of the Destine children. Vincent’s spirit possesses the Plastoid, a robot that previously appeared in Daredevil #49, and Matt and Kay team up to fight it. This issue is much easier to understand than FF Annual #33, but it’s not Alan’s best work.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #7 (Image, 2012) – “Above and Beyond,” as above. The Soviet characters hold a secret summit with the American characters in order to collaborate on something, I don’t know what. I didn’t quite understand this issue, and I would have a hard time explaining what this series is about.

WOLVERINE ANNUAL #1 (Marvel, 2012) – “The Greater Evil,” [W/A] Alan Davis. The last of the three annuals is the best because it guest-stars Rory and Pandora, the two youngest Destine children. The emotional heart of the ClanDestine saga is Rory and Pandora’s relationships with each other and with their much older siblings. This issue, Rory, Pandora and the rest of the family team up to battle a spirit that might or might not be Vincent. I think this issue is the last ClanDestine story published to date, and it’s a reasonable conclusion to the saga.

CRIMINAL #8 (Icon, 2007) – “Lawless Part Three,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. Tracy Lawless sleeps with a fellow criminal, Mallory, while continuing to secretly investigate his brother Ricky’s murder. This is a good issue, but it doesn’t advance the plot significantly. On the letters page, Brubaker recommends a novel I’ve never heard of, The Name of the Game is Death by Dan Marlowe.

DEN #4 (Fantagor, 1988) – “The King of Air and Darkness,” [W] Simon Revelstroke, [A] Richard Corben. Den fights an aerial battle with a villain named Scon. Corben is an unexpectedly good aviation artist. There’s also a backup story, “Encounter at War,” which was originally published in 1972.

Three weeks of reviews

My next DCBS shipment was severely delayed for some reason, and as a result I received two shipments on consecutive days. The following comics arrived on Friday, September 20:

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #48 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ryan North, [A] Derek Charm. This is billed as “the antepeNUTimate issue.” Too much happens in this issue to summarize it all, but it’s a thrilling issue with lots of twists and turns. I’m going to miss Squirrel Girl when it’s gone. I’m relieved to learn that Mew survived the destruction of the apartment.

ISOLA #9 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Brenden Fletcher, [W/A] Karl Kerschl, [A] Msassyk. The witch hypnotizes Rook into falling in love with her, but Olwyn exposes the witch’s evil and frees the children she turned into animals. It’s a cathartic moment when the kids thank Olwyn for saving them. As always, the artwork in this issue is spectacular.

WONDER WOMAN #78 (DC, 2019) – “Loveless Part 2,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Romulo Fajardo. With Aphrodite dead, the entire world becomes awful, or more awful than it was already. Dinah enlists Veronica Cale to reverse engineer the Godslayer sword. The high point of this issue is when Etta Candy points out that with Aphrodite dead, people have stopped going to work. Diana: “You mean they loved their jobs?” Etta: “No, they hate their jobs, but they loved their families. So they put up with their jobs.” I’m probably not going to keep reading this series after Willow leaves. The next writer, Steve Orlando, is good, but not as good as Willow.

BLACK HAMMER/JUSTICE LEAGUE: HAMMER OF JUSTICE #3 (DC/Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Michael Walsh. The Black Hammer and Justice League worlds start bleeding into each other. Zatanna helps Golden Gail transform into her elderly self. This series has been fun, but not quite as good as the primary Black Hammer series.

OUTER DARKNESS #10 (Image, 2019) – “Castrophany of Hate Part 10: Hate Blossoms,” [W] John Layman, [A] Afu Chan. Thanks to some “hate blossoms,” the Outer Darkness crew members are trapped in a series of visions in which they all murder each other. By chance, the cat discovers the hate blossoms, and in a truly epic moment, it destroys them by knocking a lantern off a table and starting a fire. Therefore, an alternative title for this issue is “The One Where the Cat Saves the Day by Doing What Cats Do.”

DIAL H FOR HERO #6 (DC, 2019) – “Anyone Can Be a Hero,” [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Joe Quinones. Mr. Thunderbolt turns all the people of Metropolis into superheroes, causing widespread mayhem, but Miguel and Summer save the day. This issue has some of the most spectacular artwork in the entire series. Just in the first few pages, there are visual references to the Simpsons (or Futurama maybe), Scott Pilgrim, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Squirrel Girl, Captain Harlock (?), Major Bummer (?), Dark Knight Returns, Xenozoic Tales, Rocketeer, and lots of other stuff I couldn’t identify. There’s also an extended sequence where Quinones imitates the style of Daniel Clowes, including his coloring. I love this series, and I think it deserves an Eisner nomination for best artist.

GOGOR #5 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Ken Garing. While reading this issue, I saw a Bleeding Cool story that said that the individual issues of Princeless vol. 9 had been cancelled. That made me feel very pessimistic about the future of the direct market. Then I started thinking, well, at least the direct market can still produce a series as bizarre and creative as Gogor. But then I got to the end of Gogor #5 and learned that it was the last issue, thanks to poor sales. That made me even more depressed. I mean, I know the comics medium is going to be fine. I just like to buy stuff in single issues, and I’m afraid that fewer and fewer comics will appear in that format. At least Gogor #5 is a good issue. I especially like the sequence where Armano uses a spider to create a key. The issue ends with a short comic strip in which Ken Garing ruminates about the cancellation of the series. In this strip he depicts a bookshelf with several volumes of Corben’s Den, confirming my realization that Corben is his primary influence.

PRETTY VIOLENT #1 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Derek Hunter, [W] Jason Young. This is sort of a superhero version of I Hate Fairyland. It’s a superhero comic drawn in a cartoony style (reminiscent of Andrew MacLean’s style), but it’s deliberately ultraviolent and offensive. The protagonist is a novice “superheroine” who fails to save anyone, and instead kills lots of people in horrifying ways. At the end, we learn that she comes from a family of supervillans. Again like I Hate Fairyland, Pretty Violent is kind of a silly one-joke comic, but it’s a funny joke so far.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #10 (Marvel, 2019) – “Falling Star Part 3,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Carmen Carnero. Carol discovers that her old enemy, Dr. Minerva, exposed her Kree heritage and is now channeling her power into Star. Carol manages to cut off Star from her power, but instead Star begins draining energy from all the other local people. I still have yet to be truly impressed by Kelly’s Captain Marvel. This was an okay issue, but it wasn’t nearly as good as most of Kelly’s other work.

TREES: THREE FATES #1 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Jason Howard. This issue begins with a vignette where two lovers are fighting, and then one of them gets crushed by one of the giant alien trees. Eleven years later, the same woman, Klara Voronova, investigates a murder occurring below the same tree. Trees is a rare comics example of the SF trope known as “Big Dumb Objects.” But so far, this series is less about the trees themselves than about how they impact the lives of individual people.

Some more comics arrived on Saturday, September 21:

SECOND COMING #3 (Ahoy, 2019) – “You Can’t Go Home Again,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Richard Pace. Jesus and Sunstar rescue a young supervillain (I like the scene where Sunstar bullies him into studying something other than film theory). Then Sunstar goes to look for his missing grandmother, while Jesus learns how badly people have distorted his teachings. This is another brilliant issue. I think the best line in it is “I asked James to spread my word. I asked Peter to spread my word. I never even asked Paul to spread the jelly!” This reminds me of the scene in James Morrow’s Only Begotten Daughter where Jesus is shocked to learn that his religion has become popular among gentiles.

ONCE AND FUTURE #2 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Dan Mora. The neofascists perform a ritual to resurrect King Arthur, and he starts recruiting Knights of the Round Table. A key moment in this issue is when Arthur kills some of the fascists because they’re not Britons but Anglo-Saxons (a term which has caused immense controversy in medieval studies). This issue wasn’t quite as surprising or as dense as issue 1, but Once and Future is an extremely promising series. Kieron Gillen is building a complex and varied body of work, and he may be the best writer in mainstream comics right now.

THE MAGNIFICENT MS. MARVEL #7 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Joey Vazquez. Kamala, Nakia and Zoe go on a road trip, only to encounter Josh, Becky and their army of zombies. I think the high point of this issue is the scene where Kamala and Nakia feel nervous sitting in an empty restaurant. Meanwhile, the subplot about Kamala’s dad’s illness continues, and Kamala’s baby nephew makes a cameo appearance.

STEEPLE #1 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] John Allison. In John Allison’s follow-up to Giant Days, a young woman travels to a remote Cornish village to take up a job as a curate. But it turns out that the local priest spends every night battling a mysterious creature with a giant eye for a head. So far this series is much more promising than By Night, thanks largely to its eerie, disturbing rural setting. I’m also glad that John Allison is drawing it himself.

BLACK HAMMER: AGE OF DOOM #12 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dean Ormston. All the heroes except Lucy go back to the farm. Gail, Abraham and Barbalien get to be with their lovers. The series ends happily ever after. This ending is a huge anticlimax, so much so that I hardly believe it even is the ending. I was hoping for an epic confrontation with Anti-God. I know there’s more Black Hammer material coming, and I can only hope that this series will get a more satisfying ending.

MIDDLEWEST #11 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Skottie Young, [A] Jorge Corona. Abel and Fox head into a city. Abel gets pissed at Fox for no reason and runs off, and he’s kidnapped by a human trafficker, who turns out to have also kidnapped Bobby. The key moment in this issue is when Fox tells Abel that he’s behaving like his father – which is a central theme of this series, that victims of abuse become abusers themselves.

HISTORY OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE #3 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Javier Rodriguez. This issue covers the ‘60s and ‘70s, from Fantastic Four #1 to X-Men #101. It’s mostly a summary of old stories; the only new information I noticed was Franklin’s conversation with Galactus. As with the previous two issues, Javier Rodriguez’s artwork is brilliant, and Mark’s depth of research is impressive.

SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #3 (DC, 2019) – “Desperadoes Under the Leaves!” and other vignettes, [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Steve Lieber. Again, this issue consists of a bunch of vignettes in no apparent order. The comic acknowledges its own unconventional story structure: there’s a caption t hat says “Like, in what actual order do these scenes occur? Keep reading, for there is a method to our madness!” This makes me very curious to find out what is going on, and what this series is about. This issue introduces a possibly new character named Doctor Mantel, whose black hole technology may or may not be central to the plot.

STRAYED #2 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Chapter Two: Systemisch,” [W] Carlos Giffoni, [A] Juan Doe. You can tell this comic is good because it’s endorsed by Nnedi Okorafor’s cat. This issue, we learn that the protagonist’s masters want to find more flowers so they can make themselves gods, never mind the cost to billions of innocent aliens. This series is heartbreaking because of the contrast between Kiara and Lou’s mutual love, on the one hand, and their bosses’ horrible inhumanity, on the other hand.

GRUMBLE #10 (Albatross, 2019) – untitled, [W] Rafer Roberts, [A] Mike Norton. Eddie and Tala retrieve the McGuffin from inside Jimmy, but Tala is shot, and Eddie has to use Arachne’s Fang to save her instead of restoring himself. Eddie reveals that he’s Tala’s father, although I think this was already spoiled somewhere. Tala and Eddie, who’s still a dog, head off to Memphis to find Tala’s mother. On its own this would be a satisfying conclusion to the series, but there’s a second volume coming next year.

MILES MORALES: SPIDER-MAN # 10 (Marvel, 2019) – “Celebration,” [W] Saladin Ahmed & Javier Garrón. It’s Miles’s birthday, although he’s still traumatized from his encounter with the Assessor. Miles has to miss his own birthday party to fight some villains, one of whom turns out to be an alternative (and white) version of Miles himself. The bakery where Miles gets his birthday cake is called “Aricebo”; this must be a misspelling of Arecibo. There’s a backup story explaining the origin of Starling, Vulture’s granddaughter and protegee. This story is unusual because it depicts Adrian Toomes as a positive role model.

RONIN ISLAND #6 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Greg Pak, [A] Giannis Milonogiannis. Some brigands try to torture Kenichi into revealing the location of the island, but Kenichi recruits them to help him kill the shogun. Meanwhile, Hana watches the shogun continue to act like a real jerk. This series is full of fascinating black-and-gray morality and moral dilemmas, as I’ve observed before. But it’s also far grimmer and more depressing than Mech Cadet Yu, even though both titles seem to be aimed at the same audience.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #82 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kate Sherron, [A] Toni Kuusisto. Rarity is forced to take care of Cerberus because none of the other ponies are willing to. This issue is okay, but its plot is rather contrived. I’m glad to learn that the pony comics are going to continue after the show ends.

IRONHEART #10 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Enemy Within…,” [W] Eve Ewing, [A] Luciano Vecchio. Like Nnedi Okorafor’s Shuri, Ironheart passes the “black female Bechdel test” with flying colors. This issue includes four named black female characters, each of whom is quite different from the others. Riri, Shuri and Silhouette’s conversation during the plane trip underscores how much their backgrounds and personalities differ from each other, despite the adorable nickname Shuriri. My other favorite moment in this issue is when Riri’s friend asks her if they have jollof rice in Wakanda.

AQUAMAN #52 (DC, 2019) – “Amnesty, Part 3: Giants and Monsters,” [W] Kelly Sue DeConnick, [A] Robson Rocha. Aquaman and his friends fight a giant dragon thing. Tristan Maurer shows up at the end of the issue. Mera and Vulko do not appear. This was a pretty forgettable issue.

WONDER TWINS #7 (DC, 2019) – “Trials and Twinulations,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Stephen Byrne. A meteor is about to destroy the earth, and Superman and the rest of the Justice League don’t seem to care. Also, we’re introduced to a very lonely superhero/villain named Repulso, who has to live in isolation because of his horrible smell. This issue was good, but not as memorable as the Scrambler storyline.

SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH #5 (Archie, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Veronica Fish. Sabrina defeats the villain, who turns out to be Professor Sampson. Unfortunately, the cat gets shrunk back to normal size. Sabrina decides to postpone choosing between her two love interests. According to the last page, there’s going to be a sequel to this series in 2020, though Archie does not have a good track record with publishing Sabrina comics on time.

VALKYRIE: JANE FOSTER #3 (DC, 2019) – “The Sacred and the Profane Part III,” [W] Jason Aaron & Al Ewing, [A] Cafu et al. I guess “Jane Foster”is part of this comic’s official title. Heimdall has been killed by Bullseye. Jane takes him on a tour of the Marvel Universe’s afterlives, including Heven, Hades and “the Far Shore” (possibly a Le Guin reference). Each afterlife sequence is drawn by a different artist. The best of them is the Far Shore sequence, by the super-underrated Frazer Irving. Also, Jane learns that her horse talks – with a Northern English accent, to be precise – and the Grim Reaper appears at the end.

HASHTAG: DANGER #5 (Ahoy, 2019) – “The Cry of Night is – Sudden Death!”, [W] Tom Peyer, [A] Chris Giarrusso. The baby yeti’s mother finally shows up, and then we see how Sugar Rae turns into a supervillain, as predicted in an earlier issue. I think that’s the end of this series. Hashtag: Danger was funny, but I think it was my least favorite Ahoy title yet. This issue’s letters page includes an exciting list of upcoming Ahoy titles.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #13 (Vertigo, 2019) – “Wicked Burn, Part 1,” [W] Nalo Hopkinson & Dan Watters, [A] Matthew Dow Smith. This issue has a really cute cover: Erzulie’s neighbor is surprised to see Erzulie’s pet, a giant rooster creature, picking up the morning paper. The interior story focuses on the same neighbor, whose name is Djuna, like Djuna Barnes. As if Djuna’s abusive boyfriend wasn’t making her suffer enough, she opens her fridge to discover a mysterious egg that hatches into a firebreathing chicken monster. This story is an interesting change of pace from the Anansi epic.

YEAR OF THE VILLAIN: THE RIDDLER #1 (DC, 2019) – “Thanks for Nothing,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Scott Godlewski. The gimmick behind Year of the Villain is that Luthor gives gifts to all the villains, like Neron did in Underworld Unleashed. But in YOTV: Riddler, Luthor gives the Riddler nothing, just some advice. As a result, the Riddler realizes that his career is going nowhere, and he quits. Mark Russell has become the industry’s best writer of single-issue stories, but this one was a bit anticlimactic. It doesn’t quite feel like a Riddler story. The funniest moment in the issue is when the tiger ruins the “lady or the tiger” challenge by roaring from behind its door.

KING THOR #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Twilight of the Thunder God,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Esad Ribic. Jason Aaron’s farewell to Thor is set in the far future, when Loki is trying to destroy the universe. This issue includes several characters from earlier in Jason’s run: Thor’s three granddaughters; Shadrak, god of various alliterative things; and Gorr the God-Butcher. The future Thor storylines have never been my favorite part of Jason’s Thor, and Esad Ribic isn’t my favorite artist, but this series is worth reading anyway.

BABYTEETH #16 (AfterShock, 2019) – “Revelations,” [W] Donny Cates, [A] Garry Brown. This issue takes place five years after #15. In a flashback, we see that Satan tried to kidnap the baby, but Marty prevented him. Then Olivia dies, and then Sadie, Clark and Simon return to Earth, which has been taken over by demons. And Sadie’s mom shows up again. I’m losing interest in this series. This issue is full of exciting plot twists, but none of them have any real impact, although Marty’s reappearance was a nice moment.

ARCHIE: THE MARRIED LIFE – 10TH ANNIVERSARY #2 (Archie, 2019) – “Twists & Turns,” [W] Michael Uslan, [A] Dan Parent. Lots of stuff happens in this issue’s Archie Marries Veronica story, but the main event is that Hiram Lodge dies. Hilariously, his last words are “If only I had spent more time at work.” The Archie & Betty story is full of relationship drama, but has nothing as funny as Hiram’s last words. I don’t love either of the individual storylines in this comic; they both suffer from shallow characterization and overly compressed plotting. However, the contrasts between Archie’s two possible futures make this series interesting.

GHOSTED IN L.A. #3 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Sina Grace, [A] Siobhan Keenan. This issue starts with a flashback to an argument between two gay men in 1980. One of these men became one of the ghosts of the mansion, and given the timeframe, I can guess how he died. The rest of the issue focuses on Daphne’s relationship with Ronnie, who turns out to be gay. Also, one of the other ghosts is getting really pissed at Daphne’s interference with the mansion’s life.

CATWOMAN #15 (DC, 2019) – “Hermosa Heat Part Two,” [W] Ram V, [A] Mirka Andolfo. Catwoman fights Lock-Up, then interrupts a dinner where the villains are eating ortolan. I believe Ram V’s description of how ortolans are cooked and eaten is accurate. Otherwise I barely remember anything about this issue.

ARCHIE ’55 #1 (Archie, 2019) – “…Whatever Became of Archie Andrews?”, [W] Brian Augustyn & Mark Waid, [A] Tom Grummett. A Facebook friend of mine was making fun of this comic the other day, but I don’t think he’s familiar with the idea behind it. In this sequel to Archie 1941, Archie is a budding rock-and-roll star, which comes as a shock to his friends and his parents. A notable scene in this issue is when Archie’s black friend takes him to a black nightclub to listen to Big Earl Dixon, possibly based on Little Richard or Louis Jordan. This scene raises some uncomfortable questions about racism and cultural appropriation, but it’s also an accurate portrayal of how the rock-and-roll sound developed.

COLLAPSER #3 (DC, 2019) – “Black Holes and Revelations,” [W] Mikey Way & Shaun Simon, [A] Ilias Kyriazis. This comic has pretty good art, but its storyline is overly complicated and confusing. And the writers give us no reason to care what happens to Liam James, who is a rather annoying protagonist. I have stopped ordering this series.

TEST #4 (Vault, 2019) – untitled, [W] Christopher Sebela, [A] Jen Hickman. Test gets stranger with every issue. Every time I think I understand what it’s about, I’m proven wrong. I think Test is an important series, and I’m going to keep reading it, but I can’t say I’m enjoying it.

INVISIBLE WOMAN #3 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Mattia De Iulis. Sue tracks down Aidan Tintreach’s wife, who turns out to be another secret agent. Then she infiltrates an expensive celebrity event in Rome. This series is not Mark’s best work, but it’s entertaining, and it provides lots of interesting insights into Sue’s character.

IMMORTAL HULK DIRECTOR’S CUT #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “Point of View,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett et al. This is probably the most unique issue of the series. It’s a Marvel version of Rashomon, in which the Hulk’s latest rampage is narrated from the viewpoint of four different characters. The four characters’ narratives are drawn by four different artists, including Paul Hornschemeier, Marguerite Sauvage, Leonardo Romero, and Garry Brown. I recently posted a negative review of Hornschemeier’s latest comic, but his and Sauvage’s styles are a powerful contrast to Bennett, Romero and Brown’s more conventional superhero artwork. Thanks to these contrasting styles, this comic is a collage of different types of art, representing different people’s ways of seeing the world.

ARCHIE VS. PREDATOR II #2 (Archie, 2019) – “Pleased to Meet Me,” [W] Alex de Campi, [A] Robert Hack. A bunch of Predators invade a Halloween dance. This series has a very different feel than the previous Archie vs. Predator, thanks to Robert Hack’s gritty, realistic-looking art. It results in the same kind of incongruous effect as in Afterlife with Archie, although with a subtle difference, since Archie vs. Predator II is funnier than Afterlife with Archie. The Predator-Archie’s dialogue is impossible to understand because he speaks in emojis.

ADVENTURE FINDERS: THE EDGE OF EMPIRE #2 (Action Lab, 2019) – “The Wounded Beast,” [W/A] Rod Espinosa. The attack on the wagon continues. Rod Espinosa’s style of storytelling is entertaining, but I still don’t quite get what this series is about, or who is fighting who and why.

CANTO #4 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] David M. Booher, [A] Drew Zucker. I forgot to order issues 2 and 3 of this series, and I may have missed my chance to get them, because Canto seems to have become a target for speculators. In #4, Canto and his companions arrive at the City of Dis, where they have to negotiate their way past the monsters guarding the gate. Then once they’re inside, they have to fight some Furies. Not having read issues 2 and 3, I wasn’t quite sure what was going on in this issue.

IGNITED #4 (Humanoids, 2019) – “Triggered Part 4,” [W] Mark Waid & Kwanza Osajyefo, [A] Phil Briones. More of the same thing as in the first three issues. I think the themes of this series are very important, but the plot is monotonous, and I can’t remember anything about any of the characters. I’m at the point of giving up on it.

THE KENTS #5 (DC, 1997) – “Brother vs. Brother Part 1,” [W] John Ostrander, [A] Tim Truman. Nathaniel’s black friends are kidnapped by slavers, though Nathaniel rescues their son and also survives being shot. The Civil War begins, and inevitably, Nathaniel and Jeb find themselves on opposite sides of the same battle. By now, Nathaniel and Mary Glenowen are an official couple.

THE KENTS #6 (DC, 1997) – “Brother vs. Brother Part 2,” [W] John Ostrander, [A] Tim Truman. Nate finds his enslaved friend Sarah, just in time to watch her die. Riding with Quantrill’s gang, Jeb invades Lawrence, Kansas and massacres a lot of people. Like most of the events in this series,the Lawrence massacre really happened. On the letters page, the editor basically admits that The Kents’ connection to Superman is tenuous, but “without tying into a known entity such as Superman, the market, as it is, would probably be unkind to a historical Western.” I think I have the other six issues of this maxi-series, but I’m not sure where in my boxes they are.

GROO THE WANDERER #114 (Marvel, 1994) – “The Birds of Vultura! Part One of Two,” [W/A] Sergio Aragones, [W] Mark Evanier. Groo visits a town where everyone is starving, because their crops are being stolen by raiders who ride giant vultures. Groo then meets the raiders and joins them, without, of course, realizing that they’re the ones who are raiding the town. The raiders take Groo to their mountaintop lair, but Groo falls off the mountain to his apparent death. I believe I have issue 115, but I can’t remember how Groo saves himself. At one point in this issue, Groo asks “Me? Fly through the air like the bird or the bee or the bull?” Later Groo fights a man who boasts of having killed his parents. Groo defeats the man, but decides to spare him because he’s an orphan. This gag is based on an old joke which has been used as a definition of chutzpah.

SUPERMAN #24 (DC, 2017) – “Black Dawn Chapter 5,” [W] Patrick Gleason & Peter Tomasi, [A] Doug Mahnke. Yet another issue that makes no sense at all if you haven’t been reading the other Superman titles. I really should have quit ordering this series.

CHAMPIONS #9 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Humberto Ramos. I dropped this series because of the previous issue’s offensive line of dialogue about Japanese internment. However, by that point I had already ordered issue 9. Champions #9 introduces Red Locust, an indigenous superheroine from San Diego, and there’s also a scene where the characters watch the Avatar episode with the “secret tunnel under the mountain” song. This issue isn’t as bad as #8, though it’s not great.

New comics received on Thursday, September 26:

LUMBERJANES #66 (Boom!, 2019) – “It’s a Myth-Tery Part 2,” [W] Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, [A] Kanesha C. Bryant. The Lumberjanes are all fascinated with Freya, except Diane, who finds her suspicious. Meanwhile, the other group of Lumberjanes discuss Hes’s crush on Diane while looking for crop circles. At the end of the issue, Freya steals Marigold the giant cat. This was a really fun issue. The only problem is that it’s hard to tell which Lumberjanes are in which group, perhaps because the author doesn’t draw backgrounds.

DIAL H FOR HERO #7 (DC, 2019) – “The New Heroes of Metropolis!”, [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Joe Quinones et al. After the visual explosion of issue 6, this issue was disappointing at first because most of it is not drawn by Joe Quinones. However, it’s still an effective artistic experiment, just in a different way. This issue consists of four vignettes, each drawn by a different artist, about ordinary Metropolis citizens who get turned into superheroes. The best of these sequences are the ones by Erica Henderson and by Stacey Lee, an aritst I’m not familiar with. All four of the new heroes find it difficult to act in a heroic way, but they’re all inspired by a mysterious heroine named Guardian Angel. In Stacey Lee’s sequence, we learn that Guardian Angel is a dog turned into a human. This is a funny twist, and it turns the entire story into a witty comment on the nature of heroism.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #47 (Marvel, 2019) – “Ms. Fantastic Part Two of Two,” [W] Brandon Montclare, [A] Alitha E. Martinez. Lunella finishes her contest with Mr. Fantastic, and the series ends. The letters page makes it explicit that the series is cancelled, not just on hiatus. I always had problems with how Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur was written, but it wasn’t intended for me. It was intended for readers Lunella’s age, and it seems to have been a huge success among those readers – yet that success didn’t save it from cancellation, because its sales were not coming from the direct market. The success of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur really ought to have made Marvel rethink its entire approach to selling comics, but I’m not sure if they understand or care why it did so well.

CRIMINAL #8 (Image, 2019) – “Cruel Summer Part Four: On the Edge of No Escape,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. This issue is narrated from Jane’s perspective. She follows Ricky and discovers that he’s gone off to assassinate some junkie, so she takes pity on him and kills the junkie on his behalf. On the letters page, Brubaker states that if you don’t understand why this man was killed, the clues are in this issue and the previous one. I went back and reread #7, and it seems clear that the junkie raped Ricky while he was in juvenile detention. Also in this issue, Jane learns that a man has been looking for her, but she doesn’t pay attention, even though this information seems important. I wonder if the man was Dan the detective.

WONDER WOMAN #79 (DC, 2019) – “Loveless Part 3,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Scot Eaton. Atlantiades meets Maggie again. Veronica Cale engineers a countermeasure to the Godslayer sword, and Diana uses it to defeat Cheetah. Steve and Diana break up. This is a pretty depressing issue.

FEARLESS #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “Campfire Song Part 3,” [W] Seanan McGuire, [A] Claire Roe. Katie’s science project summons a bunch of toad aliens. Kamala realizes that the camp director caused this to happen on purpose. I’m enjoying this storyline a lot. In the first backup story, by Zoe Quinn, Patsy Walker gets a new sidekick who’s a cat demon. There’s also a short backup story about Jubilee, but this story is forgettable and it ignores all the recent changes to Jubilee’s character.

WHITE TREES #2 (Image, 2019) – “I Raised Him,” [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Kris Anka. The heroes discover that it was their own king who kidnapped their children. They rescue the kids and defeat the king, but at the cost of Krylos’s life. Despite being only two issues, White Trees was an excellent miniseries with very strong characterization and worldbuilding, as well as beautiful art. It’s a powerful portrayal of parent-child relationships and queer identity. I hope there will be more comics set in this world.

BRONZE AGE BOOGIE #6 (Ahoy, 2019) – “(It’s Fun to Serve in the) YMCA,” [W] Stuart Moore, [A] Alberto Ponticelli. YMCA in this context means Young Monkeys’ Chronal Authority. This issue, the good guys win after a big fight, and we discover that the Shang-Chi character is gay. At the end of the issue, a time traveler named Rake Lovelost summons the heroes to help him out in the 69th century. Hopefully there will be another miniseries so that this cliffhanger can be resolved. The back matter in this issue includes a crossword puzzle, which I actually finished.

WARLORD OF MARS ATTACKS #4 (Dynamite, 2019) – “Back to Barsoom,” [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Dean Kotz. John Carter and his companions return to Barsoom, where John and Dejah Thoris are reuinted. At the end of the issue, Dr. Norman is shot by a Martian. Just one issue left.

GHOST SPIDER #2 (Marvel, 2019) –“Candy Store,” [W] Seanan McGuire, [A] Takeshi Miyazawa. Gwen makes a new friend who turns out to be spying on her on behalf of Miles Warren. Meanwhile, on Gwen’s Earth, Man-Wolf is released from prison. This issue is not bad, but not particularly memorable either.

PRETTY VIOLENT #2 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Derek Hunter, [A] Jason Young. Rae’s supervillain siblings make fun of her attempts at heroism, and then she unknowingly saves the city from her brother and sister’s plot. This is another fun issue. Despite this series’ deliberately offensive plot and artwork, Rae is an interesting and sympathetic character.

ETHER: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF VIOLET BELL 1 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] David Rubín. Boone’s wife and daughter are dead, and his old enemy Ubel has taken over the Ether. Boone returns to action to solve the kidnapping of the faerie princess Violet Bell. David Rubín’s art in this issue is amazing, especially in the opening montage about the Seven Lucky Gods (who are lucky only because they survived and the eighth one didn’t). I’m looking forward to the rest of this miniseries.

ABSOLUTE CARNAGE: MILES MORALES #2 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Federico Vicentini. This is slightly better than issue 1, and it gives us some interesting insights into the psychology of Venom symbiotes. However, this series is still not nearly as good as the main Miles Morales title.

BLACK PANTHER #16 (Marvel, 2019) – “Two Thousand Seasons” part four, [W] Ta-Nehisi Coates, [A] Daniel Acuña. This issue is mostly a series of conversations. At the end, Changamire, Tetu and Zenzi show up again. TNC’s Black Panther has always been kind of boring, and “The Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda” has gone on way too long.

DOCTOR MIRAGE #2 (Valiant, 2019) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Nick Robles. In a flashback, Dr. Mirage and her dead husband investigate the cult of Isis. In the present, Grace takes Dr. Mirage into some kind of hallucinogenic world. I think the best thing about this comic is the coloring. This and Strangelands seem to be Mags’s only current titles. Marilyn Manor has been cancelled, and Sex Death Revolution seems to have been totally forgotten.

THE AVANT-GUARDS #8 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Carly Usdin, [A] Noah Hayes. This issue’s featured character is Tiffany, the occult Goth girl. We learn this issue that Tiffany’s interest in occultism is ironic because her father is a famous astronaut. Also, the Avant-Guards win their playoff game, but there may not be any funding to keep their league around for another season. In a case of art imitating life, Avant-Guards #9 has been cancelled, and issues 11 and 12 haven’t been solicited yet. Avant-Guards #8 does not indicate that it’s the last issue, and the story ends on a cliffhanger, but I can’t find any information on whether or how the series will be completed.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #6 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Clint McElroy, [A] Ig Guara. Kamala and Carol fight both the Kree Starforce and Wastrel. The Kree sentence Walter to community service, and they part with Kamala and Carol on good terms. This series had a promising start, but Eve Ewing left after three issues, and Clint McElroy wasn’t nearly as good. I’m not sorry this title was cancelled.

TOMMY GUN WIZARDS #2 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Christian Ward, [A] Sami Kivelä. Eliot’s fight with the mob continues, and we learn that Lick is made from the secretions of a giant alien toad. This is a really exciting issue with some nice worldbuilding. I’m glad to learn that Christian Ward is a solid writer as well as a brilliant artist.

RAGNAROK: THE BREAKING OF HELHEIM #2 (IDW, 2019) – “Through the Gates of Helheim…,” [W/A] Walt Simonson. Thor arrives at Helheim, which is now ruled by Freyr, though apparently not the Asgardian god of that name. Freyr throws Thor into his soul mines, where he meets Hagen, the leader of Freyr’s slaves. This issue’s letter column discusses Ratatoskr’s resurrection and Thor’s lack of a lower jaw.

THE TERRIFICS #20 (DC, 2019) – “If We Could Turn Back Time,” [W] Gene Luen Yang, [A] Stephen Segovia & Brent Peeples. The Bizarros decide to go back in time to obtain Superman’s Phantom Zone crystal, and the Terrifics have to follow them. This is a fun issue, and I’m enjoying this series enough to keep reading it, even though Gene Luen Yang is a worse superhero writer than Jeff Lemire.

ACTION COMICS #646 (DC, 1989) – “Burial Ground,” [W] Roger Stern, [W/A] Keith Giffen. Superman goes to Antarctica to dispose of the Eradicator (the device, not the person). While there he fights a giant alien worm. This issue is drawn and co-plotted by Keith Giffen, so it looks a lot like an issue of the early v4 Legion. Like that series, Action #646 includes some very lazy artwork; there’s a two-page sequence where every drawing of Superman is a solid black silhouette.

IMMORTAL HULK DIRECTOR’S CUT #4 (Marvel, 2019) – “Time of Death,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. Walter Langkowski tells Jackie his origin story, then he and Jackie go looking for the Hulk. But before they find him, Walter is apparently stabbed to death while trying to break up a bar fight. Immortal Hulk #4 isn’t experimental like #3 was, but it’s good anyway.

Most of the following comics were purchased many years ago, in 2014 or earlier:

IMPULSE #58 (DC, 2000) – “Flashing Before My Eyes,” [W] Todd DeZago, [A] Jamal Igle & Grey. I read this series when it was first coming out, but I dropped it after Mark Waid left. I later bought a couple of the later issues from cheap boxes. This issue is a Max Mercury solo story that includes a flashback to his Wild West days. There’s also a backup story, drawn by Ethan van Sciver, that’s a homage to/ripoff of Calvin & Hobbes.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #368 (Marvel, 1992) – “On Razored Wings: Invasion of the Spider-Slayers Part One,” [W] David Michelinie, [A] Mark Bagley. Spidey battles a Spider-Slayer, and there are a few scenes with Peter and his parents. There’s also a backup story written by JM DeMatteis, in which JJJ asks Peter for an exclusive interview with the parents, and Peter uncharacteristically gets furious and attacks his boss. The latter part of David Michelinie’s Spider-Man run was really not that great, mostly because it was bogged down by stuff like the Clone Saga and the Richard and Mary Parker story. I grew up reading these comics, but they haven’t necessarily aged well.

MAGNUS ROBOT FIGHTER #3 (Dynamite, 2014) – “Leeja Clane, Human Hunter,” [W] Fred van Lente, [A] Cory Smith. Mostly a fight scene between Leeja and Magnus. This issue begins with a song that includes lines like “Strong female human protagonist! Her aggressiveness does not compromise her femininity! Her subjectivity and sexuality exist independent of the male gaze!” However, these claims are contradicted by the way Leeja is drawn in the actual comic, and it feels like Van Lente is making fun of the language of feminism, rather than quoting it with sincere intent.

JON SABLE, FREELANCE #42 (First, 1986) – “Appointment with a Lady,” [W/A] Mike Grell. This feels like a much earlier issue of Jon Sable because the drawings are fully rendered. Grell doesn’t use the ugly, lazy style that he used in most late issues of this series. This issue, Sable encounters Rachel, the Israeli secret agent from earlier in the series, and they end up having to work together to defeat a terrorist bomber.

INCORRUPTIBLE #19 (Boom!, 2011) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Marcio Takara. I hadn’t realized I owned so many issues of this series. This issue, Max Damage recruits an old enemy of his, Whelan, to serve as the governor of Coalville. But then some other villain tears Whelan’s heart out. This issue also includes a character named Safeword who can make people freeze in place by yelling ”Stop!”

THE STARDUST KID #3 (Image, 2005) – “Another World, “ [W] J.M. DeMatteis, [A] Mike Ploog. This series was a follow-up to DeMatteis and Ploog’s Abadazad, which was left incomplete when CrossGen went out of business. It’s about four human kids and their adventures with fairies. The Stardust Kid includes some of the finest art of Mike Ploog’s career. It’s f ull of enchanting and weird depictions of fairies, witches, trolls, giant bugs, mushrooms, etc. However, the power of Ploog’s art is diminished because every page is full of unnecessary captions. For example, there’s one gorgeous splash page that has 13 different caption boxes. Most of the captions in this comic are just purple prose. They could have been deleted without losing any essential information, and I wish they had been cut.

GREEN ARROW #54 (DC, 2005) – “Heading into the Light Part One: His Name is My Name Too,” [W] Judd Winick, [A] Tom Fowler. Ollie, Black Lightning, and the good Dr. Light battle the evil Dr. Light. This was a rather pointless issue.

ATOMIC ROBO PRESENTS REAL SCIENCE ADVENTURES #10 (Red 5, 2013) – untitled, [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Erich Owen. I lost interest in this series because it was worse than the main Atomic Robo series. However, this issue is still very funny and entertaining, especially by comparison to the previous few comics I read. In this issue’s main story, Harry Houdini, Nikola Tesla and some other characters disguise themselves as firefighters in order to steal an earthquake device. In the backup story, Atomic Robo battles the Yonkers Devil. I think I might already have read this story somewhere else, but I’m not sure.

BATMAN #509 (DC, 1994) – “KnightsEnd Part 1: Spirit of the Bat,” [W] Doug Moench, [A] Mike Manley. Recovering from having his back broken by Bane, Bruce Wayne goes to Lady Shiva for martial arts training. This comic is kind of similar to Master of Kung Fu in its fantastical portrayal of martial arts. However, by the ‘90s, Doug Moench’s depictions of kung fu and Chinese culture were getting rather dated.

THUNDERBOLTS #17 (Marvel, 1998) – “Matters of Gravity,” [W] Kurt Busiek, [A] Mark Bagley. The Thunderbolts and Great Lakes Avengers fight Graviton. Moonstone gets Graviton to go away by pointing out that he doesn’t know what he wants in life. This is an astute observation on Busiek’s part: Graviton is one of the most powerful villains in the Marvel Universe, but he never achieves anything because he has no clear goals. Meanwhile, Baron Zemo fights the new Citizen V.

DOKTOR SLEEPLESS #8 (Avatar, 2008) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Ivan Rodriguez. I first met Steven Shaviro at a conference where he gave a paper about this comic. As an Avatar comic, Doktor Sleepless has crummy art and production values. But it also has an interesting story, about a mad scientist who wants to destroy the world so Lovecraftian Old Ones can’t destroy it first. I’d read more of this series, but there are other Warren Ellis comics that interest me more.

THE WEIRD WORLD OF JACK STAFF #2 (Image, 2010) – untitled, [W/A] Paul Grist. According to Wikipedia, this series was renamed because it was about Jack Staff’s supporting cast as much as Jack Staff himself. This issue consists of multiple vignettes taking place at different points in time, all revolving around a villain who’s a flaming skeleton.

CRIMINAL #7 (Icon, 2007) – “Lawless Part Two,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. Tracy Lawless helps rescue a man named Simon from prison so that Simon can help with an even bigger heist. There are also some flashbacks to Tracy’s past, and an appearance by Leo Patterson, who was the best friend of Leo’s brother Ricky. It’s too bad I’ve been reading Criminal out of order, because this issue gives me some important information about the Lawless family that I’d been unaware of. I’m not sure I even realized that Tracy and Ricky Lawless were different characters.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #87 (Marvel, 1979) – “The Razor’s Edge!”, [W] Steven Grant, [A] Gene Colan. A villain named Hellrazor impersonates Black Panther in order to frame him for kidnapping a man who defrauded the Wakandan government. This is a pretty mediocre issue, and Colan’s art is not his best. Hellrazor’s only other appearance was in Captain America #319, where he was killed by Scourge.

THE FLASH #9 (DC, 1987) – “The Chunk,” [W] Mike Baron, [A] Jackson Guice. This issue introduces Chunk, one of the signature characters from Baron and Messner-Loebs’s Flash runs. Also, Wally’s mother treats his girlfriend Tina very rudely. Mike Baron’s Flash was truly weird. It hardly seemed like a superhero comic at all, partly because Baron wrote Wally as a selfish, hedonistic jerk. According to https://www.cbr.com/flash-supporting-cast-william-messner-loebs-mark-waid/, Mark Waid didn’t use any of Loebs’s supporting characters, like Chunk and Mary West, because Loebs was planning to use them himself in Wonder Woman. That still doesn’t explain why Wally’s mother almost never appeared in Mark Waid’s Flash, even after Loebs was no longer writing Wonder Woman. I can only include that Mark decided to ignore Wally’s mom’s existence because she was a horrible old shrew.

THE FLASH #173 (DC, 2001) – “Blood Will Run… Part 4: Uneasy Idol,” [W] Geoff Johns, [A] Scott Kolins. Wally defeats Cicada, but all of Cicada’s followers get killed. Also, Wally and Linda’s house is destroyed. In an epilogue, we encounter a baby that we’re made to think is Wally’s son, although it was later revealed that he wasn’t the father. This is a competently written and exciting issue, but it suffers from a certain lack of humor or fun.

TEEN TITANS #42 (DC, 2007) – “Devil-May-Care,” [W] Geoff Johns, [A] Peter Snejbjerg. A spotlight on Kid Devil, who is not a new character but was introduced in Gary Cohn and Dan Mishkin’s Blue Devil run. It turns out that Kid Devil (Eddie)’s life was going nowhere, so he bargained with Neron for superpowers. The catch was that if Eddie lost his trust in his old mentor Blue Devil before he reached the age of 20, his soul would be forfeit to Neron. As soon as Eddie makes the deal, Neron tells him that Daniel was responsible for the death of Eddie’s beloved aunt. So what does Eddie go and do? He asks Daniel whether Neron’s claim is true, and Daniel admits it is true. Eddie then says “I don’t trust you,” ensuring his own damnation. I really don’t like this ending because number one, Eddie was an idiot to take Neron’s deal in the first place. In the second place, if he did take the deal, then he was even more of an idiot to ask Daniel that question before he turned 20. But the biggest problem with this story is that it demonstrates Geoff Johns’s habit of torturing his characters for no reason. It’s not bad enough that Eddie was an orphan or that his beloved aunt died. No, Geoff Johns wasn’t satisfied until he’d found a way for Eddie to condemn himself to hell.

THE FLASH #8 (DC, 1987) – “Purple Haze,” [W] Mike Baron, [A] Jackson Guice. In a Millennium crossover, Wally battles the Soviet speedster teams, Blue Trinity and Red Trinity, and then he discovers that his father is a Manhunter. Also, Wally’s dad claims that his mother was drowned, but she sadly turns out to be alive. The problem with this issue is Wally’s nonchalance. In this issue Wally learns that his father is an evil alien agent and that his mother is dead (though the latter proves false), but he never reacts with the shock or grief that an ordinary person would have shown. I should note that Wally’s dad has always been depicted as an awful man, so it was no loss when he was written out of the series. A possible in-universe reason why Wally’s parents rarely appeared in Mark’s Flash run is that Wally never liked his parents anyway, so he decided to go low-contact with them.

BATMAN INCORPORATED #6 (DC, 2011) – “Nyktomorph,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Chris Burnham. Bruce Wayne creates an international army of Batmen, who have multiple simultaneous adventures. Early in the issue, Bruce uses some Batman robots to defeat a gang of crooks wearing emoticon masks. Those masks are the best thing in this issue, but it’s an excellent issue overall, largely because of Chris Burnham’s art. He may be the next best thing to Frank Quitely.

THE INTREPID ESCAPEGOAT/THE STUFF OF LEGEND FCBD (Th3rd World, 2011) – “The Princess and the Pyramid,” [W/A] Brian Smith. A competent but mediocre kids’ comic, in which an anthropomorphic goat thief has an adventure in an Egyptian pyramid. The flip side of this issue is a Stuff of Legend story, but it’s more of a plot summary than an actual story.

SEAGUY: THE SLAVES OF MICKEY EYE #2 (Vertigo, 2009) – “Viva El Macho,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Cameron Stewart. Seaguy has a vision in which he’s a “bull-dresser” – a matador who puts clothes on the bulls instead of killing them – and also he has a pregnant Spanish girlfriend. Also, lots of other weird stuff happens. Seaguy is probably Grant’s most surrealist comic, and he’s written a lot of surrealist comics.

SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP #15 (Marvel, 1978) – “The Invaders!”, [W] Larry Lieber, [A] Wally Wood. A reprint of the Dr. Doom stories from Astonishing Tales #4 and #5, both of which I already own.

ACTION COMICS #459 (DC, 1976) – “Superman’s Big Crack-Up!”, [W] Elliot S! Maggin, [A] Curt Swan. I met Elliot S! Maggin at Comic-Con. It’s too bad he’s no longer working in comics, although I doubt his writing would be as innovative now as it was in the ‘70s. This issue concludes Superman’s battle with the TV-themed villain Blackrock. I don’t know if Elliot had started writing for TV when this comic was published, but he at least creates the impression that he has expert knowledge of the TV business, and Blackrock’s dialogue is full of TV puns. There’s also a Private Life of Clark Kent story in which Clark rescues a boxer who has a habit of writing poetry. I assume this was a reference to Muhammad Ali and his rhymes. One of the minor characters in this story is named Taine – perhaps he was an ancestor of Bouncing Boy.

SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE #42 (DC, 1996) – “The Phantom of the Fair Two,” [W] Matt Wagner & Steven T. Seagle, [A] Guy Davis. I still have a lot of unread issues of this series. This issue, Wes and Dian investigate a murder at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Notably, Wesley Dodds himself first appeared in a promotional comic published to commemorate this same World’s Fair. This issue includes a couple scenes set in a gay bar.

ARCHER & ARMSTRONG #7 (Valiant, 1992) – untitled, [W] Barry Windsor-Smith, [A] Art Nichols. Archer and Armstrong visit a French chateau that turns out to be a front for some kind of criminal organization. The lack of BWS artwork makes this issue much less interesting than other issues of this series. Art Nichols does his best to draw like BWS, but he’s no BWS.

AVENGERS #294 (Marvel, 1988) – “If Wishes Were Horses…”, [W] Walt Simonson, [A] John Buscema. There’s a funny scene in this issue where Dr. Druid has a vision of himself as an Adam Strange-esque superhero. Later in the issue, Monica Rambeau nearly dies from expending too much energy in last issue’s fight against Marrina, and Dr. Druid hypnotizes the other Avengers into electing him leader. Walt Simonson’s Avengers represents the point where the series jumped the shark. It never returned to its former level of quality until Kurt Busiek’s run. This is not entirely Walt’s fault; I get the impression that he was forced to use bad characters like Dr. Druid and Gilgamesh.

NIGHT FORCE #12 (DC, 1982) – “Mark of the Beast, Chapter 2: …Greater than the Sum!”, [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Gene Colan. Baron Winters and Vanessa van Helsing travel back in time to 1934 and fight a giant eight-headed lion. Then back in the present, Winters has to save Vanessa and her husband Jack Gold from some other peril. This series is a spiritual sequel to Tomb of Dracula, and Vanessa and Jack remind me a lot of Rachel and Frank. I’ve been feeling rather negative about Marv Wolfman’s work lately, but I ought to complete my collection of Night Force.

IMPULSE #76 (DC, 2001) – “Missing You,” [W] Todd DeZago, [A] Carlo Barberi. Bart is depressed after losing his best friend, Carol, under circumstances the writer doesn’t explain. Max takes Bart to see Dr. Morlo to cure his depression. Then Bart has an adventure with his old frenemy White Lightning. This issue was much better than #58, reviewed above. It had a lot of genuine emotion.

HELLBLAZER #8 (DC, 1988) – “Intensive Care,” [W] Jamie Delano, [A] John Ridgway. John Constantine is immobilized in a hospital bed, but a demon comes and frees him in order to enlist his aid, possibly to defeat the fundamentalist Christian cult that’s depicted at the start of the issue. Jamie Delano’s Hellblazer, like Mike Baron’s Flash, is very strange; it hardly feels like a Hellblazer comic, mostly because John himself rarely seems to be at the center of the plot. Delano’s version of John seems like more of a bystander than a facilitator of events. I get the sense that at this point in John’s history, his character hadn’t been clearly defined.

OMEGA THE UNKNOWN #7 (Marvel, 1977) – “Blockbuster!”, [W] Scott Edelman, [A] Jim Mooney. The original Omega the Unknown series only lasted ten issues, and two of those were fill-ins. According to a comment at http://www.supermegamonkey.net/chronocomic/entries/omega_the_unknown_110.shtml, Jim Shooter spontaneously asked Scott Edelman and Roger Stern to write these two issues because Gerber was chronically late. Scott Edelman’s issue of Omega is consistent with Gerber’s version of the series, but it’s not nearly as good as any of Gerber’s issues. Omega #7 consists mostly of a fight between the Omega android and a villain named Blockbuster.

STAR-SPANGLED WAR STORIES #170 (DC, 1973) – “Legends Don’t Die!”, [W] Archie Goodwin, [A] Jack Sparling. In this issue’s first story, the Unknown Soldier impersonates a kidnapped Marine officer, thus giving his men the morale they need to capture a Japanese-held island. This story is reasonably good, but the backup story, “UFM,” is more interesting because it’s Walt Simonson’s second published comic (after Weird War Tales #10). Even at the start of his career, Walt was already brilliant. His panel structures in “UFM” are radically experimental, and he draws some gorgeous machinery and architecture. In the letter column, Archie points out that he had trouble spotting Walt’s signature even after he knew what panel it was in. Of course, this was before everyone knew that Walt’s signature is a dinosaur.

KABUKI: CIRCLE OF BLOOD #1 (Caliber, 1995) – “For Her,” [W/A] David Mack. I think the only previous David Mack comic I’ve read was his run on Daredevil, back in the 2000s. Kabuki is a much more conventional comic than David Mack’s Daredevil, withline-drawn rather than painted art, but it’s still really weird. Mack’s panel structures are bizarre – some pages have no panel borders, others have tons of panels, and there are large blocks of text everywhere. Kabuki’s story is set in Japan, but its actual plot is not made clear, and nothing really happens in this issue. It’s hard to tell whether this is a groundbreaking and innovative comic, or a piece of amateurish nonsense. A more serious complaint about this comic is that it’s cultural appropriation. David Mack is not Japanese, and as a reader, I get the impression that his knowledge of Japan is rather shallow.

ASTRO CITY #3 (Image, 1995) – “A Little Knowledge,” [W] Kurt Busiek, [A] Brent Anderson. A common criminal accidentally learns Jack-in-the-Box’s secret identity, but it does him no good. He becomes paranoid that his knowledge will get him killed, and eventually leaves Astro City for Alaska. I read this issue in trade paperback form a long time ago, but it’s still good. It’s one of the grimmest issues of the whole series.

SWEET TOOTH #24 (Vertigo, 2011) – “Endangered Species: Part Five,” [W/A] Jeff Lemire. Gus and Tommy are reunited, but only after Gus has been shot. While Tommy tries to save him, Gus has a series of horrific and beautifully drawn nightmares. This issue is a quick read, but it’s good.

PLANETARY #4 (WildStorm, 1999) – “Strange Harbours,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] John Cassaday. Planetary is excavating an alien “shiftship” that travels between dimensions. Chasing a thief, a man named James Wilder jumps onto the shiftship and is transported to another dimension. As a result he gains superpowers. According to Wikipedia, James Wilder is based on Captain Marvel, although the link between the two characters is pretty tenuous. The best thing about this issue is John Cassaday’s spectacular depictions of alien technology.

ONCE UPON A TIME: SHADOW OF THE QUEEN/AVENGERS: ENDLESS WARTIME FREE PREVIEW (Marvel, 2013) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Mike McKone. A free preview of two upcoming Marvel comics. One of them is a tie-in to the TV show Once Upon a Time and is totally forgettable. The other comic, Avengers: Endless Wartime, is billed as Marvel’s first original graphic novel, which is a blatant lie. However, the preview story is actually good, and I think I’ve seen excerpts of it on Scans_Daily or some other website. It shows the Avengers going through their morning routine and interacting with Jarvis. A cute moment is when Jarvis convinces Cap to let him make the coffee, even though Cap can do it himself.

ENIGMA #3 (DC, 1993) – “The Good Boy,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Duncan Fegredo. I have this entire series, but I read the first two issues and didn’t understand them at all. Surprisingly, the third issue makes a lot of sense on its own. This issue, Michael Smith goes to look for the writer of Enigma, the comic book that comforted him when he was orphaned as a child. Enigma the comic is reminiscent of Steve Ditko’s Shade, but Titus Bird is no Steve Ditko; he’s a gay man who wrote Enigma while under the influence of various substances. Late in the issue, Michael reacts violently when Titus assumes he’s gay. As explained in a later letter column, this scene is not evidence of the writer’s homophobia; rather, Michael himself is in denial of his own homosexuality. This issue also introduces a new villain, Envelope Girl. Duncan Fegredo’s art in Enigma is fascinating; he’s like a muddier version of Chris Bachalo. Also, Enigma is a brilliant design. Peter Milligan’s comics have included a lot of great costume designs, some of which Brendan McCarthy was responsible for.

BATWOMAN #11 (DC, 2012) – “To Drown the World Part Six,” [W] J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman, [A] Trevor McCarthy. Another pretty boring issue. The only interesting moment is when Maggie Sawyer tells Kate Kane about her daughter. Unlike Christian Ward, J.H. Williams III was not remotely as good at writing as he is at art.

ENIGMA #4 (DC, 1993) – “And Then What?”, [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Duncan Fegredo. Michael Smith and Titus Bird return to Michael’s hometown of Pacific, where the Interior League and Envelope Girl are committing massacres. There’s one page in this issue that’s supposed to be from the ‘70s Enigma comic. Also, Michael breaks up with his girlfriend Sandra. This is another interesting issue, but it doesn’t advance the plot very much.

REFLECTIONS #13 (Icon, 2009) – various non-comics material, [W/A] David Mack. This is not a comic but a collection of David Mack’s sketches and paintings, including a couple that he did as a child. I have mixed feelings about this issue. On one hand, David Mack is a brilliant painter. On the other hand, he’s not brilliant enough that I would actually want to pay $5.99 (the cover price of this issue) for a collection of his outtakes and works-in-progress. Reflections is only of interest to hardcore Mack fans. I’m surprised that there were enough such fans that Marvel was willing to publish multiple issues worth of Reflections.

IMPRACTICAL JOKERS TRUTV EDITION 2013 (DC, 2013) – “The Secret Origins oftruTV’s Impractical Jokers,” [W] Doug Wagner, [A] Adam Archer. A stupid free preview comic about a stupid reality TV show.

SAVAGE DRAGON #39 (Image, 1997) – untitled, [W/A] Erik Larsen. Dragon has been expelled from the police force, and at the end of the issue he’s replaced by She-Dragon. Meanwhile, Dragon fights Dung, Chaos and Control. The latter two villains have a really cool gimmick: Chaos is a giant rampaging monster, and Control, well, controls Chaos by putting his eyes on Chaos’s horns.

THE FOX #5 (Archie, 2014) – “Freak Magnet Part 5,” [W] J.M. DeMatteis, [A] Dean Haspiel. Mark Waid’s Fox was not that great, but JM DeMatteis’s Fox is actively bad. This issue, the Fox is forced to collaborate with other WWII-era superheroes from Britain, Germany and Japan. This demonstrates that the world’s problems could be solved if people from different countries would love each other. That’s a trite but well-intentioned message; however, it’s extremely offensive to suggest that an American should collaborate with a Nazi and a Japanese imperialist. DeMatteis himself realized this, and at the end of the issue he reveals that the German superhero, Master Race, was unaware of the Holocaust. That doesn’t solve the problem, because it’s hard to believe that a person who fought for the Nazi party and called himself “Master Race” would have been unaware of his own government’s atrocities.

XOMBI #3 (DC, 2011) – “The Ninth Stronghold Part Three: Exit Strategies,” [W] John Rozum, [A] Frazer Irving. I thought I remembered reading that John Rozum disavowed this series, but I may have been thinking of his New 52 Static series. However, John Rozum did say that Xombi was cancelled before it was even available to preorder. (https://www.bleedingcool.com/2013/09/13/john-rozum-talks-milestone/) That’s a pity because Rozum and Irving are both very talented, and it’s also unfortunate that Rozum has rarely been able to achieve his potential as a writer. This issue, Xombi battles a lion-headed creature called Maranatha.

JON SABLE, FREELANCE #37 (First, 1986) – “Ivory Apes & Peacocks,” [W/A] Mike Grell. This issue has the ugly, unfinished style of art that I complained about in my review of #42 above. By this point in the series, Grell was incapable of maintaining his standard of artistic quality, and he should have hired someone else to draw Jon Sable for him. In this issue, Jon and Myke go on a safari for some reason I didn’t get, and Jon gets mauled by a leopard.

INCORRUPTIBLE #7 (Boom!, 2010) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Horacio Domingues. Jailbait is injured after last issue, so Annie takes her costume and becomes the new Jailbait. Meanwhile, Max Damage fights some anti-immigrant punks, but falls asleep, thus losing his powers. I don’t know if I have any further unread issues of Incorruptible.

B.P.R.D.: HELL ON EARTH – MONSTERS #2 (Dark Horse, 2011) – “Monsters, Part 2,” [W] Mike Mignola & John Arcudi, [A] Tyler Crook. Liz Sherman fights some kind of cult in a trailer park. This issue wasn’t terrible, but I couldn’t follow its plot.

ELFQUEST: BLOOD OF TEN CHIEFS #12 (WaRP, 1994) – “Coyote,” [W] Terry Collins, [A] Mat Nastos, Jen Marrus & Barry Blair. A flashback story about a former Wolfrider chief who liked to trick humans. At the end of the issue, he meets his counterpart, a human who likes to trick elves. This is a silly comic, and it includes some of Barry Blair’s typical creepy, quasi-pornographic art.