Reviews for April and May

Resuming on May 16. I’m about a month behind. This is because 1) I was swamped with work since it was the end of the semester, and 2) I’m running out of room in my boxes and have not yet been able to order more, so I’m reluctant to put any comics away.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #19 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Ryan North, (A) Erica Henderson. An excellent sort-of conclusion to the Melissa Morbeck three-parter. In monologuing, Melissa reveals that she was responsible for a lot of things, including the US Airways Flight 1549 crash and Squirrel Girl being in the same dorm as Chipmunk Hunk and Koi Boi. Then Doreen saves the day, but Melissa escapes. Meanwhile the bear and the chicken get married. Lots of other stuff happens that I can’t remember. It’s been about a month.

RAT QUEENS II #2 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Kurtis Wiebe, (A) Owen Gieni. This is a classic Rat Queens story, if a series that’s only about five years old can be said to have a classic style. The girls defeat the giant bird monster that ate Betty, then they go back to the bar and drink. It’s a fun, exuberant story, free of the excessive angst that characterized the last few issues of the previous series. There’s also a backup story by Patrick Rothfuss. While it’s kind of cool that they got a famous fantasy writer to do a guest story, he clearly has no comics experience and the story is pointless; it’s just a series of stories within stories, none of which ever ends.

UNSTOPPABLE WASP #4 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Jeremy Whitley, (A) Elsa Charretier. Another good one. Nadia beats up Titania and Poundcakes, who have come for Priya’s mother’s protection money. Then Nadia meets her old friend Ying, but Ying has been implanted with a bomb that will go off in 36 hours unless Nadia rejoins the Red Room. One of the highlights of this comic is Jarvis. I love his long-suffering but affectionate attitude toward Nadia. I think this may be my third favorite Marvel title now that we’ve lost Patsy Walker.

MOTOR CRUSH #5 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W/A) Babs Tarr, (W) Brenden Fletcher & Cameron Stewart. The conclusion to the first storyline. It turns out there’s some kind of giant pyramid thing that’s looking for Domino, and the Dark Rider is its representative. The pyramid thing returns and Dom takes a whole bunch of Crush to try to catch it, but instead catapults herself two years into the future, which reminds me of Max Mercury. Next issue is in August.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #28 (Image, 2017) – “They Fuck You Up,” (W) Kieron Gillen, (A) Jamie McKelvie. Lots of stuff happens this issue, most of which I don’t remember. Most notably, Sakhmet kills a lot of people, perhaps including Amaterasu, after learning the truth about Ananke.

GOTHAM ACADEMY: SECOND SEMESTER #8 (DC, 2017) – “Second Semester Finale,” (W) Brenden Fletcher, Becky Cloonan & Karl Kerschl, (A) Adam Archer & Michelle Sassyk. With so many creators involved, you would think this would be a case of too many cooks, but this series has always had a strong, unified vision. I assume Fletcher is the primary auteur behind it, but I could be wrong. This issue, I forget if we learn any new information about Olive’s family history, but Olive goes nuts and heads off to seek revenge on the descendants of Amity Arkham’s killers. Meanwhile, Pomeline and Colton are freed by Maps’s Clayface roommate. Oh, and I forgot to mention this series is ending after issue 12. I’m going to miss it, but it seems like this was a planned conclusion.

MY LITTLE PONY: LEGENDS OF MAGIC #1 (IDW, 2017) – untitled, (W) Jeremy Whitley, (A) Brenda Hickey. This new series includes stories of Equestria’s distant past history. This issue is about Celestia’s youth and how Starswirl convinced her to stop bullying Luna. It’s a fun one-shot story, but it does raise the uncomfortable question of who was ruling Equestria while Celestia and Luna were underage.

CHAMPIONS #6 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Mark Waid, (A) Humberto Ramos. In the first half of the issue, the Champions play paintball. This is a cute scene which is obviously inspired by the classic trope of the X-Men playing baseball. In the second half of the issue, we’re reintroduced to a group of villains called the Freelancers. This half of the issue is less successful because the Freelancers are just cartoonishly evil for the sake of being evil.

SILVER SURFER #10 (Marvel, 2017) – “Bound for Eternity,” (W) Dan Slott, (A) Mike Allred. Dawn and Norrin encounter Galactus, who has somehow turned into a bizarro-Galactus who creates planets instead of eating them. He sends Surfer and Dawn on a mission to obtain two objects from opposite ends of the universe, which they do, but then they have no power left to get back to each other. Desperate, Surfer prays to Eternity, who brings them back together. The splash page where Eternity reunites Surfer and Dawn together – by touching its fingers together – is one of the most powerful and creative moments in this series.

CHAMPIONS #7 (Marvel, 2017) – The Freelancers frame the Champions for a bunch of crimes. The Champions defeat the Freelancers and clear their names. But it turns out the Freelancers have gotten revenge by taking out a trademark on the Champions’ name and logo. I’m not an intellectual property lawyer, but I find this impossible to believe (even though I’m willing to believe in Terrigen mist and androids and radioactive spiders, yeah, I know). Can you really trademark something that’s been released into the public domain by its creator? I should point out that when I asked that question on Facebook, a couple people suggested that this story is a metatextual commentary on Marvel’s legal battles with Hero Games, who published a pen-and-paper RPG called Champions.

TWO GUN KID #84 (Marvel, 1966) – “Gunslammer!”, (W) Larry Lieber, (A) Dick Ayers. An obnoxious punk kid tries to establish a reputation by beating the Two-Gun Kid in a gunfight. This story is a competent but unexciting example of the Western genre. Marvel’s Western comics are far less interesting to me than their superhero comics.

DRIFTER #1 (Image, 2014) – “Personal Disaster is Imminent,” (W) Ivan Brandon, (A) Nic Klein. I bought this when it came out, but didn’t bother to read it until Black Cloud #1 came out, which motivated me to look into Ivan Brandon’s other work. This comic has brilliant art and coloring, but the story fails to grab me; it seems like an unoriginal blend of the SF and Western genres.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #15 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) David F. Walker, (A) Sanford Greene. The Alex Wilder story concludes with Luke, Danny and Señor Mágico joining forces to defeat some kind of demon. Then the series ends with Luke hugging Danny. Overall, this was a really good comic and it deserved more than 15 issues, although it will be replaced by a solo Luke Cage series (not to mention a solo Iron Fist series which I don’t plan to read).

STRANGE DAYS #2 (Eclipse, 1985) – three stories, (W) Peter Milligan, (A) Brendan McCarthy & Brett Ewins. Two stories drawn by McCarthy and one by Ewins. All this material is fascinating, if not always easy to follow, but I think my favorite is “Paradax!”, partly because of the protagonist’s costume – McCarthy could have been a great superhero costume designer.

SCORPIO ROSE #2 (Eclipse, 1983) – untitled, (W) Steve Englehart, (A) Marshall Rogers. As is typical of ‘80s Englehart, this comic has a convoluted plot with some rather disturbing sexual implications, and also features a guest appearance by Mantis. Here she’s called Lorelei, but she points out that she’s known by many names. Besides the unexpected surprise of the Mantis guest appearance, the best thing about this issue is the Marshall Rogers artwork. This issue includes a backup story, “Doctor Orient,” which has more excellent Marshall Rogers artwork, but a forgettable story by a writer I’ve never heard of, Frank Lauria.

HELLBOY IN HELL #5 (Dark Horse, 2013) – untitled, (W/A) Mike Mignola. Unlike some other recent Hellboy stories, this one makes sense on its own without knowledge of the ongoing storyline, and it feels like a classic Mignola work. In hell, Hellboy encounters a deserter from the Napoleonic wars who sold his soul to a demon. But the deserter can save himself by answering an impossible question: what meal will the demon serve him in hell? Hellboy gets the demon’s mother to trick the demon into answering the question, and the deserter’s soul is saved. This story has the atmosphere of deadpan weirdness that’s characteristic of Hellboy at its best.

HIP HOP FAMILY TREE #12 (Fantagraphics, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Ed Piskor. This final issue includes the origins of such “characters” as KRS-One, the Beastie Boys, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube. There’s going to be a fourth volume of the graphic novel series, but this is the last issue of the monthly comic book, which is unfortunate because I prefer the comic books to the graphic novels.

STRANGE TALES #164 (Marvel, 1968) – Dr. Strange in “Nightmare!”, (W) Jim Lawrence, (A) Dan Adkins; and Nick Fury in “Black Noon!”, (W/A) Jim Steranko. Obviously the highlight of this issue is the Fury story, which is part of the ongoing Yellow Claw epic. But the Dr. Strange story is not bad either. Dan Adkins is quite good at drawing bizarre otherworldly creatures, including a giant slug and a leather-winged bat demon.

JONESY #12 (BOOM!, 2017) – untitled, (W/A) Caitlin Rose Boyle, (W) Sam Humphries. The conclusion of a series that failed to reach its potential. The evil city commissioner tries to force Jonesy to pledge never to use her powers again, but Jonesy refuses. Then Jonesy concludes the series by telling readers to fall in love with themselves, which is cute. I wonder what Caitlin Rose Boyle will do next.

WONDER WOMAN #20 (DC, 2017) – “Godwatch, Part 3,” (W) Greg Rucka, (A) Bilquis Evely. My interest in this series is fading. There’s too much Veronica Cale and not enough Wonder Woman. This issue is the worst example of that yet. It has 20 pages, and Diana only appears on 7 of them. Ridiculous.

BLAKE & MORTIMER VOL. 1 (Cinebook, 2012, originally 1950) – “The Secret of the Swordfish, Part 1,” (W/A) Edgar Pierre Jacobs. The first album of probably the best Franco-Belgian adventure comic besides Tintin. I’ve read two other Blake et Mortimer albums, The Time Trap or The Yellow M, and this album is just as exciting and energetically drawn as those were. However, the tone is quite different. Instead of a globe-trotting adventure thriller, it’s a war story. With the aid of supervillain Olrik, the Tibetan empire conquers the entire world, and Blake and Mortimer have to reach the mysterious “Swordfish” in order to mount a counterattack. (What the Swordfish is will be explained in a later volume, I guess.) You can tell that this comic was written in the shadow of World War II; at the time, the idea of a dictatorial empire conquering the world would have seemed like a very credible threat. Overall, I really enjoyed this comic. Cinebook has done Anglophone readers a great service by translating so many classic BD albums, and I want to get as many of their publications as I can.

Week of April 21:

MS. MARVEL #17 (Marvel, 2017) – “Damage Per Second, Part 4,” (W) G. Willow Wilson, (A) Takeshi Miyazawa. The scene at the start of the issue, where everyone comforts Zoe after she’s been smeared on social media, is one of the emotional high points of this series. Well, I hesitate to say that because there are emotional high points in nearly every issue, but it’s a beautiful scene. After that scene, Kamala goes on to defeat Doc.X by getting all the players in World of Battlecraft to behave in a kind and altruistic way. The implicit message here is that Internet culture can be a force for good as well as evil – that the Internet can be a tool for encouraging kindness and community. And I think this is an encouraging message, in these dark days of the online alt-right.

SEX CRIMINALS #18 (Image, 2017) – “Totems,” (W) Matt Fraction, (A) Chip Zdarsky. This issue is part of a growing subgenre of comic books that include scenes that take place at fan conventions. In this issue, obviously, the scene in question takes place at a porn convention, where Jazmine St. Cocaine has a table. Meanwhile, Jon and Suzie’s relationship becomes strained when Jon buys lots of sex toys and asks Suzie to act out various fantasies. This is a good issue, but it feels like just a minor chapter in a longer storyline.

ASTRO CITY #43 (Image, 2017) – “My Dad,” (W) Kurt Busiek, (A) Brent Anderson. The Gentleman’s origin story is one of the most creative, unexpected Astro City stories ever. It took me a while to figure out what was going on, but once I got it, I was deilghted. The story is narrated by a little girl named Tillie who is raised by her single father, until he gets killed in a robbery. Except he’s not really dead, because whenever Tillie needs him, he comes back as the Gentleman. Gradually it becomes clear that Tillie’s dad really is dead, and that the Gentleman is Tillie herself – or more precisely, Tillie has the power to turn her image of the perfect father into a physical being. And as a side effect of doing so, she prevents herself from aging. It’s not clear what exactly is going on here, and yet it all makes perfect emotional sense.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #38 (IDW, 2017) – “Battle Royal!,” (W/A) Andy Price. The final issue of the series is also, I believe, the first pony comic both written and drawn by Andy Price. Appropriately, it’s about Andy’s two favorite characters, Celestia and Luna. Celestia and Luna decide to compete at the Sisterhooves Social, which requires them to take a potion to remove their powers so they don’t have an unfair advantage. Their competitive spirits flare, and hijinks ensue. Like every other pony comic drawn by Andy, this issue is hilarious and full of funny in-jokes. Andy turns out to be a good writer as well as a good artist.

GANGES #6 (Fantagraphics, 2017) – “The End” and other interrelated stories, (W/A) Kevin Huizenga. Kevin H. is one of my favorite current cartoonists, and I’ve even published two papers about him. However, I’ve only been following Ganges intermittently because it’s not always easy to find. I had some trouble understanding what went on in this issue; however, that was not because I’ve missed a few of the previous issues, but rather because this comic is just hard to follow. Kevin H.’s style is at its most experimental here, and he uses most if not all of the bizarre drawing techniques he developed in earlier issues. Overall, I get the sense that Ganges is one of Kevin’s major works, but I hope he publishes it in collected form, so that it will be easier to read and study the whole thing at once.

COADY AND THE CREEPIES #2 (BOOM!, 2017) – untitled, (W) Liz Prince, (A) Amanda Kirk. This is a significant improvement over the first issue, which was okay but not great. The band’s van breaks down in the desert, leading to all sorts of shenanigans and misadventures as well as relationship drama.

MONSTRESS #11 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Marjorie Liu, (A) Sana Takeda. I still feel reluctant to read this comic when it comes out, which is very unfair, because it’s more fun and easier to follow than I’ve given it credit for. This issue, Maika talks with the old Blood Fox dude, and he tells her that her mother gave birth to her as part of her (the mother’s) plot to control the Monstrum. This is not directly stated, but I guess Maika’s father must have been the last descendant of the Shaman-Empress, so I wonder where her father is, unless this was stated somewhere and I missed it. Anyway, after that, the Blood Fox demands that Maika free him, leading to a big fight that will be continued next issue.

TRUE STORY, SWEAR TO GOD #13 (Image, 2010) – “Jagged Lil’ Pill,” (W/A) Tom Beland. It’s been a long time since I read this comic, and returning to it now, I have mixed feelings about it. To put this rather bluntly, judged by the standards of autobiographical comics, Tom’s work has some severe limitations. He has a limited ability to think critically about himself, or to draw connections between his personal life and anything else. His prose style isn’t the best either. What makes this comic valuable, besides Tom’s compelling style of drawing, is the exuberance and passion with which he approaches his work. Even if his words aren’t the best words, you get the sense that he deeply cares about every word he writes and every line he draws.

THE MAXX #12 (Image, 1994) – untitled, (W) William Messner-Loebs, (A) Sam Kieth. I forget if I said this before, but this series was historically important because it was the first Image comic that had any kind of serious artistic aims. However, I didn’t understand what was going on in this issue, though I liked the art. I probably have to make an attempt to read this series in order.

DESCENDER #21 (Image, 2017) – “Orbital Mechanics 5 of 5,” (W) Jeff Lemire, (A) Dustin Nguyen. Lots of stuff happens this issue, but I’ve forgotten most of it. In particular, Telsa apparently gets killed, and Tim (the good one) and Andy each finally discover that the other is alive.

SUPER SONS #3 (DC, 2017) – “When I Grow Up…”, (W) Peter Tomasi, (A) Jorge Jimenez. Damian and Jon battle Kid Amazo and his robot doubles. This was another fun issue, but I barely remember anything about it now. In a couple months this may be the best ongoing DC title, which is kind of sad.

WEIRD WESTERN TALES #29 (DC, 1975) – “Breakout at Fort Charlotte,” (W) Michael Fleisher, (A) Noly Panaligan. Jonah is challenged by a teenage boy who believes his father was killed at Fort Charlotte during the war, thanks to Jonah’s betrayal. Most of the issue consists of a flashback explaining what happened at Fort Charlotte. It turns out Jonah really did surrender to a Union officer because he was opposed to slavery. However, although Jonah refused to reveal any information about his former comrades, the Union commander figured out that information anyway and blamed Jonah, and was also even more racist than Jonah’s former Confederate friends. In general this is a very good Civil War story, with nice art by a nearly forgotten Filipino artist. However, this story does engage in false equivalence by suggesting that Northerners and Southerners were equally racist. That may be true in some sense, but at least the Union wasn’t fighting to preserve slavery.

SPIDER-GWEN #18 (Marvel, 2017) – “Sitting in a Tree, Part 6,” (W) Jason Latour, (A) Robbi Rodriguez. Yet again, this issue is part of a crossover and is difficult to understand without also reading the Miles Morales title, which I don’t want to read because it’s written by Bendis. If this series was even a little bit worse than it is, I would have dropped it quite a while ago, because these constant crossovers have been a huge annoyance. The cool thing about this issue is that part of it takes place in an alternate reality where Gwen and Miles have gotten married and had kids. And meanwhile, Spider-Ham has gotten married, possibly to an actual pig, and has sired a litter of piglets. This kind of thing is why I’m still reading this comic.

DEPT. H #13 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W/A) Matt Kindt. I’ve forgotten most of what happens in this issue. There’s some sort of revelation about how all the undersea creatures are part of a group mind, and then it turns out that one of the characters will have to stay underwater. I wonder if this series is going to end after 24 issues, because that’s the number of increments on the depth gauge in the margin of each page.

DOCTOR STRANGE #18 (Marvel, 2017) – “The World’s Finest Super-Surgeons,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Chris Bachalo. Doctor Strange and Thor team up to save a bunch of people who Strange previously treated for brain tumors, and who are now possessed by Mister Misery. This issue is a fun team-up between two characters who Jason Aaron is currently writing.

DOCTOR STRANGE #19 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Power of Strange Compels You,” as above. Mister Misery has now possessed Wong, and Doc has to free him. This issue suggests some disturbing things about Strange and Wong’s relationship; it almost implies that Wong is Strange’s slave (I’m writing this review just after reading Alex Tizon’s article “My Family’s Slave”). However, the idea that Wong has no life outside Strange is a bit of a retcon, since Wong has had a couple notable romantic involvements. On the other hand, Wong’s romance with Sarah Wolfe was nipped in the bud because of his obligations to Strange, so I guess that proves that Wong really does have no life outside of working for Strange.

SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE #11 (DC, 1994) – “The Brute, Act Three,” (W) Matt Wagner, (A) R.G. Taylor. A rather horrifying story. The villain in this story arc is a rich man who runs an illegal bare-knuckle boxing operation. The co-protagonist is a homeless down-on-his luck boxer who gets roped into this scheme as a way of buying medicine for his sick little daughter. And at the end of the issue, we learn that the daughter was raped by another homeless man. This issue demonstrates the stark contrast between the idyllic lives of New York’s rich and the squalid, violent lives of its underclass.

ENIGMA #2 (DC, 1993) – “The Truth,” (W) Peter Milligan, (A) Duncan Fegredo. I believe I have this entire series, but I’ve only gotten to issue 2 so far. The problem with this comic is that it doesn’t make sense at all. It has something to do with a comic book superhero and a serial killer, but otherwise, I have no idea what’s even going on here. I think I need to read the entire series, then read it again.

FAT FREDDY’S COMICS AND STORIES #1 (Rip Off, 1983) – various stories, (W/A) Gilbert Shelton et al. This issue includes a bunch of stories, each drawn by a different artist and parodying a different style of comics. The artists include Shelton, Jack Jackson, Spain and S. Clay Wilson among others. The stories are parodies of EC horror, EC science fiction, Conan, war comics, romance comics, Superman, Howard the Duck, and the work of Robt. Williams (I think). Perhaps the most interesting thing in this issue is the SF story by Hal Robins. I’ve never heard of this artist before, but his draftsmanship is beautiful and distinctive. It appears that he’s better known as a voice actor than as a cartoonist. Fantagraphics or someone else should do a collection of his work.

SHADE THE CHANGING MAN #5 (DC, 1990) – “Hollywood Babble On,” (W) Peter Milligan, (A) Chris Bachalo. Some Hollywood types are making a movie, but every time they watch the film, it reveals the actors’ and the director’s darkest secrets. Shade and Kathy arrive in Hollywood to try and figure out what’s going on. This story is an interesting examination of American national hypocrisy, but it’s perhaps not as interesting as later issues that focus more on Shade and Kathy themselves.

ROYAL CITY #2 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W/A) Jeff Lemire. This issue is just a continuation of the plot from last issue. I’m starting to get really annoyed at most of the characters in the comic, in particular the mother, who is never satisfied with anything her children do. Patrick is perhaps the most sympathetic character, but only because he’s inflicting pain on himself rather than anyone else. But I guess the whole point of this series is that Richie’s early death tore his family apart, and each of the family members perceives Richie as personifying all the good qualities that the rest of the family lacks.

CAVE CARSON HAS A CYBERNETIC EYE #7 (DC, 2017) – “Have I Ever Told You the Story About When I Saved Superman?”, (W) Jon Rivera & Gerard Way, (A) Michael Avon Oeming. Superman appears and saves the day, but then it turned out that Superman’s appearance only happened in Cave’s head, and he’s back on the surface and the monster from underground is invading. This issue includes some extremely trippy and abstract pages that depict Cave’s visions.

GODSHAPER #1 (BOOM!, 2017) – untitled, (W) Simon Spurrier, (A) Jonas Goonface. Si Spurrier’s latest original series takes place in a world where everyone has a personal god, the power of each god being proportional to that of its person. The protagonist is a “godshaper” who has no god himself, or at least claims not to, but who has the power to enhance other people’s gods. Like Six-Gun Gorilla and The Spire, this comic has a fascinating premise, and the art is pretty good too, despite the artist’s ridiculous pen name. I want to read the second issue after I finish writing these reviews.

MANDRAKE THE MAGICIAN #3 (Dynamite, 2015) – untitled, (W) Roger Langridge, (A) Felipe Cunha. At this point in the overarching King universe, Ming has invaded Earth and has somehow caused advanced technology to stop working. And Mandrake and another character named Karma have to escape from prison and defeat Ming’s ally Princess Karma. I think. I don’t remember most of what happened here, but it was an exciting adventure story.

BACCHUS #2 (Eddie Campbell, 1995) – “King Bacchus” and other stories, (W/A) Eddie Campbell et al. In the first story in this issue, Bacchus and his friends take over a pub on an island and declare it an independent nation, and also a character obviously based on John Constantine shows up. There’s also a chapter of “Immortality Isn’t Forever,” in which the Eyeball Kid hijacks an airplane, while Bacchus explains Joe Theseus’s origin. I think I’ve read that story before somewhere.

SPACE USAGI #3 (Mirage, 1992) – “Death and Honor, Chapter 3,” (W/A) Stan Sakai. I usually don’t like Space Usagi as much as regular Usagi, but this issue was quite good. In the final chapter, Usagi kills the primary villain in combat, then (in a reversal of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace) discovers that the woman he thought was Princess Masayo is actually her handmaid, meaning he’s free to romance her. And her name turns out to be Tomoe. Sadly, it turns out this woman gets killed in one of the later miniseries, and Usagi’s eventual wife, depicted in Usagi Yojimbo: Senso #6, is another woman named Mariko.

ADVENTURE COMICS #452 (DC, 1977) – “Dark Destiny, Deadly Dreams,” (W) David Michelinie, (A) Jim Aparo. This is the issue where Aquababy dies, after Aquaman tries to save him and barely fails. You have to wonder what David Michelinie was thinking when he decided to kill off Aquababy. Not only was this a waste of a potentially good character, it also ruined Mera’s character permanently, since most subsequent writers have been unable to see her as anything but the mother of a dead son, and it made the Aquaman franchise significantly darker. This issue may be the point where Aquaman jumped the shark, at least until Peter David arrived in the ‘90s. This issue also has other problems. At the end, Aqualad refuses to sympathize with Aquaman because he’s butthurt that Aquaman tried to kill him in order to save Aquababy’s life. Also, the revelation that Black Manta is black is delivered in a slightly offensive way. I have to think that with even a couple more years of writing experience, David Michelinie would not have written this story, or at least he would have written it more tastefully.

HELLBLAZER #50 (DC, 1992) – “Remarkable Lives,” (W) Garth Ennis, (A) William Simpson. After reading a story about a fake John Constantine (see Bacchus #2 review above), I wanted to read about the real one. Besides the rather poor art, this issue is really good. Constantine spends the night in a graveyard, talking to the King of the Vampires. Their conversation is interspersed with splash pages depicting scenes from the King’s long life. The King demands that Constantine work for him, which Constantine of course refuses. Then the King challenges Constantine to name one way in which being a human is better than being a vampire, or else the King will cut his throat. Constantine replies “Why don’t we sit here together and watch the sun come up in an hour or so?”, which must be one of his best lines ever.

SUPERMAN’S GIRL FRIEND LOIS LANE #136 (DC, 1974) – “Wonder Woman: Mrs. Superman,” (W) Cary Bates, (A) John Rosenberger. Superman announces his engagement to Wonder Woman, then Lois stalks them both until she proves that they’re trying to trick her. This issue’s story is stupid and sexist, as is typical of this series, but at least the art is not bad, and Lois’s black colleague Melba is a somewhat interesting supporting character.

DAREDEVIL #59 (Marvel, 1969) – “The Torpedo Will Get You If You Don’t Watch Out!”, (W) Roy Thomas, (A) Gene Colan. As with most Daredevil comics from this period, the highlight of this issue is Gene the Dean’s incredible art, and the story is rather forgettable. In terms of the story, the most interesting thing about this issue is that it reintroduces Willie Lincoln, the blind veteran from issue 47 (“Brother, Take My Hand”). Willie Lincoln’s only appearance after this issue was in Daredevil #258, many years later.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #122 (DC, 1999) – “Legion of the Damned, Part One,” (W) Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, (A) Olivier Coipel. This Legion run was very popular, but my problem with it at the time was that DnA didn’t really “get” the Legion; for them, it was just another superhero comic. This issue is well-drawn and conveys a powerful sense of desperation, but it doesn’t feel like a Legion comic. Also, I’m annoyed with the scene where Chameleon breaks down and cries after his teammates are assimilated by the Blight. Maybe this is just my headcanon, but I prefer to believe that Legionnaires never give up, and that when faced with impossible odds, they just get angrier.

USAGI YOJIMBO #11 (Mirage, 1994) – “Daisho,” (W/A) Stan Sakai. This issue begins with a flashback depicting the origin story of Usagi’s swords. In this sequence, Stan gives us a seemingly accurate depiction of how Japanese swords are made. Then we’re reminded that Usagi’s swords have been stolen by some brigands. Usagi fails to recover them, and in his determination to hunt the brigands down, Usagi becomes so furious that he starts acting like a villain himself. The high point of the story is the moment when Usagi realizes that his anger has caused him to fall below his own moral standards.

Week of 4/28:

LUMBERJANES #37 (BOOM!, 2017) – “Let’s Be Prank,” (W) Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, (A) Ayme Sotuyo. I’ve been waiting for this one for a while, and it did not disappoint. The parents arrive for Parents’ Day, and both the campers and the counselors have to work overtime to prevent the parents from realizing that the camp is full of supernatural phenomena. The highlight of the issue for me is Mal’s mom, who is just as exuberant and energetic as her daughter is quiet and shy. I’m instantly in love with this character. And it’s also cute how she basically adopts Molly, whose own mother is nowhere to be seen. Ripley’s Teen Vogue-reading grandma is also pretty cool, though we knew about this character already. Molly’s mother is nowhere to be seen, And I’m curious about the other two raccoons who are suddenly hanging out with Bubbles; I suspect that Bubbles is participating in Parents’ Day and the other raccoons are its parents.

PATSY WALKER A.K.A. HELLCAT #17 (Marvel, 2017) – “The End of All Things,” (W) Kate Leth, (A) Brittney Williams. A sadly premature conclusion to an awesome series. This issue is a lot of fun, as usual, and it wraps up the series in a satisfying way, but I get the feeling that Kate and Brittney didn’t really want it to end when it did. I look forward to seeing what they both do next, but I’d have liked to see more of this series.

LADYCASTLE #3 (BOOM!, 2017) – “When Harpies Attack,” (W) Delilah S. Dawson, (A) Becca Farrow. This series is so fun and so well-executed that it really deserves to be more than a four-issue miniseries. As usual there are all kinds of fascinating things in this issue, starting with the parody of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air song. This issue, the castle hosts a tea party for a flock of harpies, who demand to be treated with impeccable politeness or else. Also, their prophecies always come true. The harpies are not only the highlight of the issue, but also easily my favorite harpies in any work of fiction. Besides that, while this series has a large ensemble cast, Gwyneff is the central character, at least this issue, and her character arc is fascinating. She’s a princess, but she’d much rather be a knight. I guess the lesson she learns this issue is that she can be both at once, or something like that.

HULK #5 (Marvel, 2017) – “Deconstructed Part Five,” (W) Mariko Tamaki, (A) Nico Leon. I complained that Hulk #4 was too decompressed and that it didn’t advance the plot at all, and Hulk #5 has the same problem, but to a greater degree. Nothing really happens this issue. This story could have been completed in four issues instead of six. I still love Mariko Tamaki’s writing, but it’s clear that she’s more comfortable writing graphic novels than monthly comic books.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #18 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Smartest There Is! Part Six: Full Moon,” (W) Brandon Montclare & Amy Reeder, (A) Natacha Bustos. Amy’s last issue represents a significant leap forward for Lunella’s character, as she realizes that “life is better when you need other people.” Also, all the characters from the previous issues of this storyline make guest appearances. Because of the sheer number of guest stars, this issue reminds me a bit of the Thanksgiving issue of Power Pack.

JEM: THE MISFITS #4 (IDW, 2017) – untitled, (W) Kelly Thompson, (A) Jenn St-Onge. This is the first comic I’ve ever read that deals seriously with the topic of adult illiteracy. I think we already knew that Roxy was illiterate, but this issue gives a plausible and tragic explanation of why: she had some sort of undiagnosed learning disability, then dropped out of school because of family problems and bullying. After the flashback, Jetta gives Roxy a pep talk and encourages Roxy to make another attempt to learn to read. In this issue Kelly Thompson does a great job of getting the reader to understand and sympathize with Roxy, despite the extreme stigma that attaches to adult literacy. This issue is comparable in quality to issue 2 (the one about Stormer and fat-shaming).

SUPERGIRL: BEING SUPER #3 (DC, 2017) – untitled, (W) Mariko Tamaki, (A) Joëlle Jones. This is another fantastic issue, though I’ve come to expect this series to be fantastic. The first memorable moment in this issue is the flashback where Kara’s maternal grandparents reject her because of her powers. Then Kara discovers that her gym teacher is performing experimens on a teenage male Kryptonian. However, this Kryptonian is named Tan-On, not Kal-El, and the reason why becomes clear when we learn that he wants to conquer Earth rather than become a superhero. And Kara decides to join him because she’s sick of being mistreated by humans. I look forward to seeing how this ends.

ALIENS: DEAD ORBIT #1 (Dark Horse, 2017) – untitled, (W/A) James Stokoe. I’m not especially interested in this franchise, but as usual, James Stokoe’s artwork is spectacular and it easily justifies the price of this issue.

MIGHTY THOR #18 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Asgard/Shi’ar War, Part Four: The Omega Kiss,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Russell Dauterman. I was wrong; the Ultimate Judgment is not the Mangog but the Phoenix, which makes a lot of sense. Thor recruits Quentin Quire, a character previously used by Jason Aaron, to deal with the threat. Overall this has been a really good story arc.

GROO: FRIENDS AND FOES #8 (Dark Horse, 2015) – “Pal and Drumm,” (W/A) Sergio Aragonés, (W) Mark Evanier. I stopped reading this comic because it was getting stale and unoriginal (I mean, even more stale and unoriginal than usual). I guess I just needed a break from it, because on returning to this series, I really liked it; this issue was a lot of fun. Pal and Drumm pretend to be the lost girl Kayli’s father so that they can claim her (nonexistent) fortune, while Kayli gets kidnapped and taken to an orphanage. However, Kayli takes advantage of her reputation in order to get al the children from the orphanage adopted. In particular, she baits Pal and Drumm into adopting a horrible little brat, Dorcas, as their daughter.

ROCKET RACCOON #5 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Matthew Rosenberg, (A) Jorge Coelho. Rocket frees the other aliens, defeats Kraven, and leaves Earth. This was a fun series. It really deserved more than five issues.

REAL SCIENCE ADVENTURES #1 (IDW, 2017) – “Raid on Marauder Island Part 1,” (W) Brian Clevinger, (A) Lo Baker, plus a backup story with art by Wook-Jin Clark. This spinoff title features the Flying She-Devils and the Sparrow, the guest stars from two of the best Atomic Robo miniseries. The artwork, especially in the first story, is worse than the art in the regular Atomic Robo series, but the writing is up to usual Atomic Robo standards.

GROO: FRIENDS AND FOES #10 (Dark Horse, 2015) – “Taranto,” (W/A) Sergio Aragonés, (W) Mark Evanier. Another good one. Taranto tries to kidnap Kayli for her fortune, but Kayli is saved by the parents of her pet baby dragon. Meanwhile, we start to see hints that Kayli’s father is the Minstrel.

HERO CATS #16 (Action Lab, 2017) – “Hero Cats of Skyworld, Part 1,” (W) Kyle Puttkammer, (A) Omaka Schultz. I guess the title of this series is just Hero Cats, not Hero Cats of Stellar City, because this issue’s cover says Hero Cats of Skyworld. We temporarily leave the usual cast behind, as Bandit and his robot friend (whose name I forget) find themselves on the Crow King’s world, which has its own superpowered cats. These new characters are all pretty intriguing, especially the cat who’s pursued by shadow cats that seem to represent his crippling depression.

GROO: FRIENDS AND FOES #11 (Dark Horse, 2015) – “The Minstrel,” as above. Kayli finally finds her father, the Minstrel, but he can’t prove he’s her father because they happen to be in a kingdom where the king has forbidden any kind of music. The local musicians try to circumvent the ban by teaching Groo to play music, since the king won’t dare to stop him, but the plan backfires and the Minstrel is thrown in prison while Groo apparently dies from poison. And that leads into:

GROO: FRIENDS AND FOES #12 (Dark Horse, 2016) – “Kayli,” as above. We finally learn the Minstrel’s origin story: he had a wife and daughter, i.e. Kayli, but he was drafted into a war and came back to find them gone, and now he wanders the world in search of them. While The Sage, Chakaal, Granny Groo and other characters save the day and reunite Kayli with her father, and they go off in search of Kayli’s mother, while Groo is restored to life. The cool thing about this story is how it turns the Minstrel from a one-dimensional comic relief character into a real character, with a personality and a past.

WONDER WOMAN #21 (DC, 2017) – “The Truth, Part Four,” (W) Greg Rucka, (A) Liam Sharp. This issue has much less Veronica Cale than #20, and it finally advances the plot, with Diana and Veronica getting to Themyscira or at least someplace close to it. However, since I know Greg is leaving this title, , I haven’t felt motivated to read the next two issues.

DENNIS THE MENACE #135 (Fawcett, 1974) – several uncredited stories. In this issue’s lead story, Dennis and his parents visit the Exploratorium in San Francisco, and there’s a beautiful silent page where Dennis dances in a room filled with strobe lights. This page reminds me a bit of that Calvin & Hobbes strip where Calvin and Hobbes dance to classical music. Of the other stories, the most memorable one is the one where Margaret comes over for dinner with Dennis, and proceeds to act as if she thinks Dennis and his family are beneath her.

Week of May 5. This week I was so busy with grading that I had almost no time to read comic books. I went to Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find for FCBD, and it was a lot of fun and I bought a bunch of stuff, but I have yet to read most of it.

PAPER GIRLS #14 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Brian K. Vaughan, (A) Cliff Chiang. As usual, lots and lots of stuff happens this issue, and it’s not completely clear how it all fits into the overall plot. The thing that most sticks out in my memory abut this issue is the disturbing revelation that Wari’s baby was “fathered” by all three of the caveman dudes. And then at the end of the issue, they steal the baby back from her. The two-page splash where Erin jumps across the chasm is spectacular, but I wish I could remember where she got those boots.

BRAVE CHEF BRIANNA #3 (BOOM!, 2017) – “Buffalo Chicken Tater Tot Casserole,” (W) Sam Sykes, (A) Selina Espiritu. Like Ladycastle, this series deserves more than a four-issue run. In this issue, Brianna’s awful older brother Hans arrives in town and opens a food truck right across the street from Brianna’s restaurant. Brianna challenges him to a cook-off in order to get him to leave town, and she wins, but only because he unknowingly admits to using flour and sugar. And then Hans reveals that Brianna was using flour and sugar too, so Madame Cron shuts Brianna’s restaurant down, and Brianna’s depression demons take hold of her again. I assume this is all going to be resolved next issue, but there are so many fascinating ideas here – especially Brianna’s family issues and the cultural conflict between monsters and humans – that I wish Sam Sykes had more space to explore them.

UNSTOPPABLE WASP #5 (Marvel, 2017) – “This Science Project is Life or Death!”, (W) Jeremy Whitley, (A) Elsa Charretier. This has become my most eagerly anticipated Marvel title besides Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl. This issue, Nadia and the members of GIRL work to solve Ying’s implanted bomb problem, with incidental help from Jarvis and Matt Murdock. Like Princeless: Raven, this issue has a large ensemble cast of young women, and their interactions are the best part of the issue. As stated in my review of issue 4, I also love Jarvis’s exasperated yet affectionate attitude toward the girls.

GOLDIE VANCE #12 (BOOM!, 2017) – untitled, (W) Hope Larson & Jackie Ball, (A) Noah Hayes. This is a satisfying conclusion to the Sugar Maple story, but I’m still annoyed that this series was cancelled. Oddly, there’s no indication in the issue itself that this is the last monthly issue, or that the series will be continuing in graphic novel form. I guess this series probably sells better in collected form anyway, and for people who only buy it in that format, the change won’t even be noticeable.

HAWKEYE #6 (Marvel, 2017) – “A Case, a Chase, a Shooting Ace,” (W) Kelly Thompson, (A) Michael Walsh. The conclusion to the Rebecca Brown/Dhalia Dorian story guest-starring Jessica Jones. Not bad at all, but not spectacular either.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #53 (IDW, 2017) – untitled, (W) James Asmus, (A) Tony Fleecs. The conclusion to the Shadow Lock story is kind of unimpressive. Too much stuff happens too quickly, and none of it has much impact. Andy Price could have made this an exciting story, but Tony Fleecs is not talented enough. I feel like either this story should have been four parts or more, or James Asmus should have tried something less ambitious for his debut story arc. On the bright side, it looks like next issue will be drawn by Jay Fosgitt.

NIGHTHAWK #1 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, (W) David F. Walker, (A) Ramon Villalobos. This was one of my purchases at FCBD. This series is brutally violent, but not purely for the sake of violence; it seems like David has a serious purpose in mind, though I’m not 100% sure what it is. The insane Dr. Nightshade is a fascinating sidekick.

PHONOGRAM #3 (Image, 2006) – “Faster,” (W) Kieron Gillen, (A) Jamie McKelvie. I missed this when it came out. Back in 2006, Tof Eklund recommended this series to me after this series had already come out. And I kind of can’t believe it’s been ten years since then. At that time, Kieron and Jamie were already very good, and Tof was prescient in spotting their talent. However, when I look at this comic now, what strikes me is how much better Jamie’s art is now than it was then. He drew some really good faces, but he hardly used any backgrounds, and his page layouts were much less creative than they are now.

FAITH #11 (Valiant, 2017) – “The Faithless, Part Two,” (W) Jody Houser, (A) Joe Eisma & Marguerite Sauvage. The members of the Faithless frame Faith for a whole bunch of crimes. As usual, the highlight of this issue is the villainous cat.

Week of May 12. I was again busy with grading this week, though I had a bit more time to read comics.

MS. MARVEL #18 (Marvel, 2017) – “Meanwhile in Wakanda,” (W) G. Willow Wilson, (A) Francesco Gaston. This is the first issue of the series in which Kamala doesn’t appear, except in a (surprisingly nonsexual) daydream of Bruno’s. Instead, this issue focuses on Bruno, who’s at school in Wakanda. Bruno has lost the use of his left side – I wish I could remember how this happened – and he’s also feeling homesick. And then his friend Kwezi coerces him into stealing vibranium from a government facility. And they get caught and have to be saved by T’Challa. But in an incredibly touching moment, it turns out Kwezi wanted the vibranium to make a prosthetic device for Bruno. Overall, this was a really good story, a powerful depiction of both disability and culture shock. I just hope Kamala and Bruno get back together soon.

FUTURE QUEST #12 (DC, 2017) – “Last Stand” (same title as last issue), (W) Jeff Parker, (A) Doc Shaner. The original creative team is reuinted as the heroes all team up to defeat Omnikron. The series ends very happily, but I’m sorry that it’s over. I hope that Jeff Parker or someone else will do more stories in this universe.

GOTHAM ACADEMY: SECOND SEMESTER #9 (DC, 2017) – “The Ballad of Olive Silverlock, Part One,” (W) Brenden Fletcher, Becky Cloonan & Karl Kerschl, (A) Adam Archer & Michelle Sassyk. Olive rampages around town hunting the descendants of Amity Arkham’s killers, including Two-Face and the Penguin, while the other kids try to solve the mystery of the Terrible Trio – a fox, a shark, and a raven. I don’t recall reading any stories with the Terrible Trio, but I believe they were a group of Golden Age villains, so these characters are a cute nod to old continuity.

TEX: PATAGONIA FCBD COLOR EDITION (Epicenter, 2017) – “Patagonia,” (W) Mauro Boselli, (A) Pasquale Frisenda. Tex is perhaps the most famous Italian comic besides Corto Maltese, but is almost unknown in America. I only know of one other English-language Tex comic, and even that one may have been created for the American market. So this FCBD issue is an exciting discovery. In this story, the cowboy Tex and his son Kit visit Argentina, where they join forces with a bunch of gauchos on a mission to negotiate with some Indians. Overall this is a really intriguing comic. The artwork in this story is fascinating; it reminds me of Hugo Pratt or Jordi Bernet, but is not nearly as stylized. The story is notable for its appearance of historical accuracy; it looks like the artist made a sincere effort to determine how gauchos looked, dressed and acted. The plot raises some deep questions about white-Indian relations, and Tex himself, from what we see of him, seems like much more than a generic cowboy; he’s more like Lieutenant Blueberry or Jonah Hex than the Lone Ranger. I don’t know when the full version of this book is coming out, but assuming it does come out, I plan on buying it. I hope this FCBD issue will make more people aware of the rich tradition of comics that Tex represents.

MANIFEST DESTINY #28 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Chris Dingess, (A) Matthew Roberts. This issue doesn’t really advance the plot at all, except that Lewis and Miss Boniface finally get the demon that’s brainwashing everyone to reveal itself.

SILVER SURFER #11 (Marvel, 2017) – “Zero-Sum Game,” (W) Dan Slott, (A) Mike Allred. One of the emotional high points of this run so far. Surfer and Dawn rush back to Earth to witness the birth of Dawn’s niece, but they get delayed because Warrior Zero keeps ambushing them, until Surfer finally gives up and defeats Warrior Zero by unleashing his full power. When Surfer and Dawn finally arrive, the baby has been born, but we shockingly discover that Dawn’s father seems to have died. The last page of this issue is a single panel with a giant black border, showing Dawn asking “Where’s Dad?” This may be an intentional homage to the last page of Fantastic Four #267, where Reed learns that Sue lost the baby. (Update: On Twitter, in response to my question, Dan Slott confirmed that it was an intentional reference.)

HILDA’S BACK FCBD (Nobrow, 2017) – “Hilda’s Back,” (W/A) Luke Pearson, plus “Garbage Night,” (W/A) Jen Lee. This comic has no indicia, so I’m just guessing as to what its official title is. I’ve resisted buying Luke Pearson’s Hilda books because they cost so much relative to the number of pages in them. I do have the one that was released in paperback, but I haven’t read it yet. So this FCBD issue was a useful introduction to Pearson’s work, which is amazing. His artwork is incredibly creative and colorful, and his storytelling is creative. The plot in this installment is that Hilda has been kidnapped by trolls and replaced by a changeling. I want to get the volume that this excerpt was taken from, so I can see what happens next. I just hope it comes out in paperback. I was much less impressed with the other story in this issue, an excerpt from Jen Lee’s forthcoming animal comic “Garbage Night.”

MY LITTLE PONY: LEGENDS OF MAGIC #2 (IDW, 2017) – untitled, (W) Jeremy Whitley, (A) Brenda Hickey. This issue is a bit odd because it’s the sequel to a story we’ve never been told. Its protagonist is Rockhoof, a character who seems to have been mentioned only once in the TV show (in “The Crystaling, Part 2” “Rockhoof’s Rapport” is one of the spells that Sunburst rejects using to reignite his friendship with Starlight Glimmer.) According to the intro to this issue, Rockhoof is most famous for digging a moat to save his village from a volcano, but this issue’s story starts after that, when Rockhoof has joined the local team of guardsmen. Now that he’s a hero, he stops training and spends his time partying instead, with disastrous results. The most interesting thing in this issue is the panel where Rockhoof participates in what is obviously supposed to be a drinking contest, except he’s eating oats instead of chugging beer.

ROCKET #1 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Blue River Score, Part 1: The Damsel,” (W) Al Ewing, (A) Adam Gorham. This new Rocket Raccoon series is very different in tone from the last one; it feels like a film noir story with science fiction trappings. Hanging out at a bar on an alien world, Rocket encounters an old girlfriend, Otta of Tarka’s World (named after Henry Williamson’s children’s book Tarka the Otter). She asks him to do her a favor, and he enlists the aid of some of the members of the Technet from Excalibur. I haven’t always been super-impressed with Al Ewing’s writing, but this issue is a lot of fun and I look forward to the next one.

DRAWN & QUARTERLY PRESENTS HOSTAGE FCBD (Drawn & Quarterly, 2017) – “Hostage,” (W/A) Guy Delisle, and “Poppies of Iraq,” (W) Brigitte Findakly, (A) Lewis Trondheim. Again, no title listed in the indicia. “Hostage” is about the kidnapping of Médecins Sans Frontières administrator Christopher André. It’s a brutal depiction of captivity, reminiscent of Joe Sacco’s “Moderate Pressure, Part 2.” “Poppies of Iraq” is a memoir of Brigitte Findakly’s childhood in Iraq. Her grim story contrasts uncomfortably with Trondheim’s cartoony art. After reading this comic, I finally read Trondheim’s Approximate Continuum Comics and was kind of delighted to realize that Brigitte Findakly is Trondheim’s wife, who is a major character in that book. Anyway, both the books excerpted in this FCBD issue look fantastic, and I look forward to reading them eventually.

BATMAN #20 (DC, 2013) – “Nowhere Man, Part 2 of 2,” (W) Scott Snyder, (A) Greg Capullo. I have read very little if any of Scott Snyder’s Batman. I need to read more of it, because it seems that he’s the most critically acclaimed Batman writer since Frank Miller. This issue is the second part of a story where Clayface tries to steal Batman’s identity. Bruce finds a clever way to defeat him, which would take too long to explain. This was a good story, but I get the sense that it’s not Snyder’s best.

BARNABY AND MR. O’MALLEY FCBD #1 (Fantagraphics, 2012, originally 1942-1943) – untitled, (W/A) Crockett Johnson. This is a valuable introduction to one of the great American comic strips, which was nearly unavailable until Phil Nel and Fantagraphics started publishing the entire run. Crockett Johnson’s lettering was very bizarre, but everything else about this comic strip is perfect. Johnson was a beautiful draftsman, he had perfect comic timing, and he came up with some amazing plots. This FCBD issue presents the first couple Barnaby strips as well as an extended storyline where Barnaby and his fairy godfather Mr. O’Malley explore a haunted house. The house turns out to be “haunted” by actual gangsters who are using it to store stolen coffee (which would have been a hot commodity in 1943, because of rationing). The issue ends just as the story is getting interesting, so now I really want to buy the Fantagraphics volume that contains the rest of this continuity.

BLACK CLOUD #2 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Jason Latour & Ivan Brandon, (A) Greg Hinkle. I didn’t understand this issue at all, and it hasn’t been that long since I read the previous issue. A recap at the start of the issue would really have helped. At this point I haven’t been impressed with either of the first two issues of this series and I’m on the verge of dropping it. Speaking of titles that I’m considering dropping…

AMERICA #3 (Marvel, 2017) – “Highway to the Danger Room,” (W) Gabby Rivera, (A) Joe Quinones & Stacey Lee. My comments about issue 2 apply to issue 3 as well. This comic is very important because of its representation of queer Latinos, but it also has some crippling problems. Besides the overly verbose dialogue, which I’ve already complained about at length, this issue has a scattershot plot that goes nowhere and changes directions repeatedly. It feels like Rivera has no coherent vision for the future of this comic. I really want to support this comic, but I also really want it to be better than it is.

MISFIT CITY #1 (BOOM!, 2017) – untitled, (W) Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith & Kurt Lustgarten, (A) Naomi Franquiz. I was hesitant to read this because it’s based on The Goonies, which I have not seen. But it’s understandable on its own, although I expect it contains a lot of references that went over my head. More importantly, this is another really good BOOM! Box debut. It’s about a bunch of girls living in a small Oregon town, who discover a map to a hidden treasure, only to learn that some nasty people are looking for the same treasure. It’s a trite plot, but as usual with BOOM! Box, the art and writing are really good, and it has a diverse cast of interesting female characters. So this is another high-quality BOOM! Box debut.

I HATE IMAGE FCBD #1 (Image, 2017) – “I Hate Image,” (W/A) Skottie Young. In this FCBD issue, Gert kills the casts of all the other Image titles, then kills the Image founders. So this is basically the same as a regular issue of I Hate Fairyland, except with more metatext. At the FCBD event at Heroes, the staff had to warn people that this comic is not suitable for kids, despite its appearance.

BLACK BOLT #1 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Saladin Ahmed, (A) Christian Ward. I ordered this because it’s written by Saladin Ahmed, and I loved his novel Throne of the Crescent Moon. But the real appeal of this issue is Christian Ward’s art. It’s a bit unfortunate that he probably can’t do this series and ODY-C at the same time, but this comic is almost as well-drawn as ODY-C. It’s full of creepy-looking machinery and ominous coloring. The story is not bad, but it doesn’t have much of anything in common with Throne of the Crescent Moon, and it’s a bit too dependent on events in other Inhumans titles. (Incidentally, I wish Marvel would get the X-Men license back so they could stop forcing us to read about Inhumans.) Still, I liked this comic.

CHAMPIONS #8 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Mark Waid, (A) Humberto Ramos. Kind of an unsatisfying conclusion to the Freelancers story. After some awkward sexual tension between Amadeus and Viv, the Champions respond to the Freelancers’ co-optation of their trademark by publicly calling for a boycott of all the Freelancers’ merchandise. That’s a bit of an anticlimax. I just noticed that on the letters page of this issue, Ryan W. complains that in issue #5, “our beloved heroes fall into the trap of writing off the people on the other side of a debate not as misguided but as downright evil.” This is a version of the “sympathy for Trump voters” argument, and it makes me want to tell Ryan W. that if anyone is downright evil, it’s him.

BIG BLACK KISS #1 (Vortex, 1989) – “Book One,” (W/A) Howard Chaykin. I bought this entire miniseries at the most recent DragonCon I attended, which must have been in 2014, but I never bothered to start reading it because each issue was very long – each of them is a compilation of three or four shorter-than-normal comic books. Black Kiss has a notorious reputation as a pornographic work, but it’s really not all that dirty by modern standards; it’s a lot tamer than Sex Criminals, for example. Beyond all the sex and T&A, this comic has an intricate and exciting plot, although that plot is tough to follow – it took me a while to figure out that there were two protagonists who looked nearly alike. The only issue with this plot is that the characters are all completely unsympathetic; none of them has even the deeply compromised moral integrity or patriotism of Reuben Flagg. Still, I would classify this as one of Chaykin’s major works, and I will get around to reading the rest of it soon.

TIME SHIFTERS FCBD #1 (Scholastic, 2017) – untitled, (W/A) Chris Grine. This is a preview of a new Scholastic graphic novel. I was not impressed by it. Chris Grine’s art is pretty good, but this comic appears to be just a generic wacky middle-grade adventure story, without the visual or narrative depth of Amulet or Cleopatra in Space.

BLACK PANTHER AND THE CREW #1 (Marvel, 2017) – “We Are the Streets, Part 1: Double Consciousness,” (W) Ta-Nehisi Coates, (A) Butch Guice. This is an interesting story about police brutality and Black Lives Matter, though it suffers from slow pacing and uninspired artwork. Of course the real story behind this comic is that it was cancelled after two issues. Predictably, websites like Breitbart are framing this comic’s cancellation as a rejection of diversity, and they’re also misreporting the story by making it seem like it was the main Black Panther title that was cancelled. Personally I think this comic was cancelled, not because there was no market for it, but because that market was already saturated. People who would be willing to buy one Black Panther title are not necessarily going to be willing to buy two of them, let alone three. Also, some readers probably fail to even realize that Black Panther and the Crew is a separate title from Black Panther. So while the cancellation of this title is unfortunate, it’s also not any kind of proof that Marvel’s diversity initiatives are doomed.

GODSHAPER #2 (BOOM!, 2017) – untitled, (W) Simon Spurrier, (A) Jonas Goonface. This was better than the first issue, and it was a ton of fun. Our protagonist, Ennay, encounters a fellow Godshaper named Clench. Clench is toting around a little orphan girl who he foists off onto Ennay, after having sex with him. Then Clench steals all of Ennay’s stuff, only to be captured by thugs who mistake him for Ennay. So basically, lots of stuff happens here and it’s all hilarious and fun. I love how Jonas Goonface draws the gods; he does a great job of visually distinguishing gods from people, and his gods all look strange and unique.

ELEANOR AND THE EGRET #1 (Aftershock, 2017) – “Feathers and Felonies,” (W) John Layman, (A) Sam Kieth. I had low expectations for this, and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The protagonist, Eleanor, is an art thief who somehow has a magical egret companion. Her nemesis is a bumbling detective who has a non-magical cat companion. This premise is already quite funny, but Sam Kieth elevates it to another level with his exquisite Art Deco-inspired artwork. I’m excited to read more of this.

BAD MACHINERY FCBD #1 (Oni, 2017) – “The Case of the Forked Road,” (W/A) John Allison. This has a very similar style of humor to that of Giant Days; indeed, it basically is Giant Days, except it takes place in a high school instead of a university. But it was a bit tedious to read because of my lack of familiarity with the characters and the premise. However, after reading this comic I am curious to learn the solution to the mystery. I have the pocket edition of the first Bad Machinery volume, but have not read it yet.

GIANT DAYS #26 (BOOM!, 2017) – untitled, (W) John Allison, (A) Max Sarin. This, on the other hand, is amazing. Dean gets engaged to a clearly unsuitable woman who he met in an online RPG, so the other characters conspire to stop the wedding. Reading this issue, I realized that just like Bad Machinery, Giant Days has two parallel groups of protagonists, three girls and three boys (Dean, Ed and McGraw). I just haven’t noticed the parallelism because the girls are so much more prominent.

SPIDER-GWEN #19 (Marvel, 2017) – “Predators, Part 1,” (W) Jason Latour, (A) Robbi Rodriguez. The plot of this series has gotten too convoluted to follow; at this point, it involves George Stacy, the Kingpin (Matt Murdock), the Lizard (Harry Osborn), and the Venom symbiote. What is clear is that Gwen, as usual, is under extreme pressure from all sides, especially because of her debt to the Kingpin. By the end of the issue, she’s in Madripoor looking for the Lizard, and Wolverine shows up on the last page.

BACCHUS COLOR SPECIAL #1 (Dark Horse, 1995) – untitled, (W) Eddie Campbell, (A) Teddy Kristiansen. The idea of Bacchus in color and drawn by someone other than Eddie is kind of strange, but in this case it works, because Teddy’s painted artwork is gorgeous. This issue, Bacchus visits Cadiz where he’s invited to a tasting of a wine he himself made 400 years ago, which supposedly has the power to grant wishes. It turns out the wine contains the spirit of Bacchus’s old girlfriend. It’s a touching story with an interesting moral: “Wishes are identical triplets; regrets are the legions of the damned.” An obscure reference in this issue is “Hugh Johnson’s remembering the other time he tasted a 400-year-old wine.” There really is a famous wine writer named Hugh Johnson, and he really did once taste a wine made in 1540.

Reviews for first half of April

I wrote these last month, but forgot to post them.

LUMBERJANES #36 (IDW, 2017) – “Might as Wheel” (part 3), (W) Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, (A) Carolyn Nowak. Allowing for the fact that I was sleepy when I read this, it was my least favorite issue in a while. The conclusion of the roller derby story arc was overly predictable, and the issue had a shortage of funny gags or emotional moments. But I’m eagerly anticipating the Parents’ Day story arc.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #17 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Smartest There Is! Part Five: X Equals,” (W) Brandon Montclare & Amy Reeder, (A) Natacha Bustos. I read this before March 31, when Marvel executive David Gabriel ignited a massive scandal by claiming that diversity was hurting Marvel’s sales. As I hope to demonstrate at greater length somewhere, one problem with Gabriel’s claim is that it ignores sales in venues other than the direct market. Marvel’s “diverse” titles may not be doing great in the direct market, but there is evidence that these titles are doing much better in bookstores and in digital formats – although it’s unfortunately hard to find information about sales in these forums. But Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur is the best example of how the direct market is not everything, not even for Marvel. Moon Girl regularly sells 10,000 copies or less in comic book stores, which are sub-cancellation numbers, but it sells extremely well in bookstores and at Scholastic book fairs. I would even suggest that despite its terrible direct market sales, Moon Girl is the second most important Marvel title after Ms. Marvel, because of its ability to attract new readers to the Marvel Universe.

I have already voiced some criticisms of this series, but it’s tremendously fun and cute, and Lunella is a fun and refreshingly flawed protagonist. And #17 is one of the better issues of the current story arc. It’s fun to see Lunella interact with multiple other superheroes, and to see her playing the Kitty Pryde role with Wolverine and Storm.

HULK #4 (Marvel, 2017) – “Deconstructed, Part Four,” (W) Mariko Tamaki, (A) Nico Leon. This issue suffers from poor pacing. Jen’s conversation with Maizie Brewn is a touching moment, but besides that, this issue doesn’t significantly advance the plot, nor does it tell us anything we didn’t already know. This could have been a four-issue storyline. Probably the high point of the issue is the giant woman who keeps breaking chairs.

JEM AND THE MISFITS #3 (IDW, 2017) – untitled, (W) Kelly Thompson & Sophie Campbell, (A) Jenn St.-Onge. This issue, we learn Blaze’s origin story (starting from when she was already living as a woman), and also Blaze announces she’s starting a side project, and Pizzazz is surprisingly fine with it. The emotional peak of the issue is when Blaze runs into her idol, Luna Dark. This issue was not nearly as powerful as the previous one, but that’s fine; I think two such devastating stories in a row might have been overkill.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #52 (IDW, 2017) – untitled, (W) James Asmus, (A) Tony Fleecs. Part two of the Shadow Lock story. Highlights of this issue include the “Ponybert” parody comic strip, and Pinkie Pie battling a Lovecraftian creature and winning. But overall this was a fairly average pony comic.

FUTURE QUEST #11 (DC, 2017) – “Last Stand,” (W) Jeff Parker, (A) Evan “Doc” Shaner. What it says on the tin. The entire team engages in an epic battle against Omnikron, with varying success. This was a really well-written example of an epic fight scene, and it reminds me a lot of the last issue of DC: The New Frontier. I’m sorry there’s just one issue left.

DESCENDER #20 (Image, 2017) – “Orbital Mechanics 4 of 5,” (W) Jeff Lemire, (A) Dustin Nguyen. Probably my favorite thing about this issue is the pink alien frog on page one, but that’s not to say that this was a bad issue. It advances the plot in a mostly unsurprising way, and introduces a new character, Mizerd, who reminds me of Yoda.

WONDER WOMAN #19 (DC, 2017) – “The Truth, Part Three,” (W) Greg Rucka, (A) Liam Sharp. The day I wrote this review, I learned that Greg was leaving Wonder Woman because its twice-monthly schedule was keeping him from working on other projects. It’s a shame, but I’m fine with his decision if it means we’ll get more Black Magick. I’m just sorry that Renae de Liz probably can’t be his replacement.

This issue, Diana recovers consciousness with Ferdinand’s help, and we get significantly less of Veronica Cale than usual, which is a good thing.

GREAT LAKES AVENGERS #6 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Zac Gorman, (A) Will Robson. I think this issue’s cover is based on the cover of Excalibur #4, which was itself a metatextual joke. This issue, most of the team fights Dr. Nod, while Doorman gets a new sidekick, an old dead man named Greg Garlick. The stories in this title are sometimes forgettable, but I enjoy its sarcastic tone.

WOLFF & BYRD, COUNSELORS OF THE MACABRE #19 (Exhibit A, 1998) – “Sonofawitch! Chapter Two,” (W/A) Batton Lash. This story is very hard to follow, especially given that I don’t remember what happened in part one, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s full of convoluted plot twists and relationship drama. It also raises some interesting questions about feminism. (One scene takes place at an event held by the Associates of Portia, based on the Friends of Lulu.) The funniest moment is when the opposing lawyer, Laura, says “I think it’s appaling that women’s rights have a lower priority than … than … ghosts and goblins at this firm!” and a goblin sitting on a nearby couch says “Hey!”

DOOM PATROL #5 (DC, 2017) – “Let’s Go Fast: Brick by Brick, Part 5,” (W) Gerard Way, (A) Nick Derington. Unfortunately this is likely to be the next to last issue because Gerard Way can’t keep a regular schedule. At least this is an exciting and fun and well-drawn comic, and an affectionate follow-up to Grant Morrison’s classic series. This issue, Casey’s parents get killed, and Crazy Jane finally shows up.

DEPT. H #9 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Matt Kindt. I got behind on this series because it was suffering from a lack of momentum. This current storyline seems to be focusing on one character each issue, kind of like the “Singularities” story arc in Descender. This issue focuses on Q, the quiet bald guy with all the tattoos.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #14 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) David F. Walker, (A) Sanford Greene. Another fun but unexciting issue of the Alex Wilder story arc. I hope the conclusion is more entertaining than the first three parts. The funniest thing in the issue is the chant “mamase mamasa mamakusa” (a reference to Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”).

DEPT. H #10 (Dark Horse, 2017) – untitled, (W/A) Matt Kindt. This issue is a spotlight on Roger, the old guy with no legs. It’s mostly about Hari and Mia and Raj and their tortured family life. Roger’s version of this story is that Hari was completely committed to his mission (I don’t think we know what that was yet) at the expense of his family life, to such an extent that he shouldn’t have started a family to begin with. But there are hints that Roger is not a reliable narrator and that Mia’s version of this story is different. Also, Roger seems to have been in love with Mia’s mother.

DEPT. H #11 – as above. The characters are almost ready to return to the surface, but Mia goes back for something, and has a flashback to another period in Hari’s life. In this period Hari and Roger had a third friend, Blake, who drowned trying to rescue another person. It’s not clear how this relates to anything else.

NO MERCY #14 (Image, 2017) – “17927 and Descending,” (W) Alex de Campi, (A) Carla Speed McNeil. This issue focuses on Anthony, perhaps the most sympathetic character in the series, although that may be because he can’t make himself sound stupid by talking. It’s an interesting example of the representation of deafness in comics, though it’s not as innovative as the Pizza Dog issue of Hawkeye. It’s also an interesting story about the urban/rural divide. Anthony is from a dying rural Pennsylvania town and is the only kid in his school who’s likely to amount to anything. For Anthony’s friends, Princeton is as far away as Mars.

LADY KILLER II #4 (Dark Horse, 2017) – untitled, (W/A) Joëlle Jones. Josie unwisely lets Irving live, then goes out and kills someone else, and then some as yet unidentified person breaks into Josie’s house. Compared to last issue, which was genuinely innovative, this issue is much more of a formulaic Lady Killer story.

THE FLINTSTONES #9 (DC, 2017) – “A Basket of Disposables,” (W) Mark Russell, (A) Steve Pugh. This issue is a really disturbing exploration of the bizarre implications of owning appliances that are alive. This topic has been covered before in this series, but never in this much detail. Fred throws away his old bowling ball, and the other appliances have to rescue it from a meat recycling facility. Ewwww. Meanwhile, Fred gets laid off because his boss finds other people who can do the job cheaper, but after the boss himself is subjected to a similar injustice, he has a change of heart and hires Fred back. This series is a fascinating and thoughtful piece of political satire, and unlike Prez, it’s not harmed by its lack of an ongoing plot.

SUPER POWERS #5 (DC, 2017) – untitled, (W/A) Art Baltazar, (W) Franco. Lots of stuff happens in this issue, but the most surprising thing is that the Unknown Superman reveals himself to be Prym-El’s future self, then takes Prym-El with him into the future. And Jor-El and Lara seem totally unconcerned that they’ve just lost their newborn son. This gives me the sense that Art and Franco aren’t paying much attention.

SUPERMAN #18 (DC, 2017) – “Superman Reborn, Part 1,” (W/A) Patrick Gleason, (W) Peter J. Tomasi. I couldn’t care less about the bigger continuity implications of this story, but the scene where Jon Kent disappears is quite well-done. Unlike most comics that are lead-ins to a giant crossover, this one is quite readable and has an emotional charge to it.

ZOT! #27 (Eclipse, 1989) – “Ring in the New, Part Two,” (W/A) Scott McCloud. This was one of only two issues of this series that I was missing. The good guys defeat the Blotch and Dr. Bellows, in a scene that ends with some experimental, abstract panels that remind me of the “non sequitur” page from Understanding Comics. Then Zot and Jenny decide to visit Jenny’s universe, but get stuck there. The nine subsequent issues, which took place on Earth, were the high point of this series. Overall, Scott was really good back in 1989, and I wish he’d go back to Zot! His recent work has been far less interesting; I didn’t even bother reading The Sculptor because it got such poor reviews.

DEPT. H #12 (Dark Horse, 2017) – as above. The characters head for the surface in two submarines, only to be prevented from surfacing because of fears that they may be carrying a plague. And now I’m finally caught up.

New comics received on March 31. At this point in the school year, I was (and still am) super exhausted and slammed with work, and I don’t have much time to read comics.

LADYCASTLE #2 (Boom!, 2017) – “That Pesky Werewolf Problem,” (W) Delilah S. Dawson, (A) Becca Farrow. This is not a Boom! Box title, but it easily could be. It reminds me most of Slam!, in that the content is mostly suitable for kids, but the style of writing is mature and adult. This issue might be even better than the first one. The plolt is that werewolves are attacking the castle, but the issue is full of allk kinds of gags and emotional moments. Just as one example, it begins with a parody (or maybe just a direct quotation) of “I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight” from Camelot. I am really enjoying this series. I wish it was longer than four issues, and I look forward to seeing more from this writer.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #24 (IDW, 2017) – “Truly Outrageous, Part One,” (W) Kelly Thompson, (A) Gisele Lagace. This issue is much better drawn compared to the previous storyline, and its plot is truly exciting. Shana rejoins the band as the bassist, and then all the major characters go to Hawaii on vacation. At the end of the issue, Jerrica reveals her secret identity to Rio, something which has apparently never happened before in this franchise’s history.

ANIMOSITY #6 (Aftershock, 2017) – “Wake Up,” (W) Marguerite Bennett, (A) Rafael De Latorre. This issue, it turns out that the villain is a giant bearded vulture, and it’s been harvesting other animals for food. I feel like this series’s premise is logically unsustainable and is likely to collapse under its own weight, but that hasn’t happened quite yet, and this issue was quite exciting and scary.

KAMANDI CHALLENGE #3 (DC, 2017) – “Bug in Your Ear,” (W) Jimmy Palmiotti, (A) Amanda Conner. Like DC Challenge from the ‘80s, this is a collaborative miniseries in which each issue has a different creative team. I didn’t read the first two issues, and I only bought this issue because of who drew it. The story is pointless and silly, but Amanda’s art is up to its usual level of quality. I just wish she could draw more than one comic book a year.

ROCKET RACCOON #4 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Matthew Rosenberg, (A) Jorge Coelho. Rocket escapes Kraven by crashing Kraven’s ship into the Statue of Liberty, but is caught and imprisoned in a refugee camp for aliens. He immediately builds a flamethrower and leads an escape attempt. This series has been really fun, and I’m sorry it’s being cancelled after just five issues. Some people have argued that Marvel’s poor sales are the result of their habit of constantly cancelling and restarting their titles. Rocket Raccoon is the best example of that. The upcoming Rocket series will be the fourth new ongoing series starring this character in as many years, and that doesn’t count the two Groot series.

UNWORTHY THOR #5 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Whisper,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Olivier Coipel. Odinson obviously chooses not to try to lift the other-dimensional hammer – I say obviously because it’s clear that his character arc was not going to end this way. Hela teams up with Thanos, forming a partnership that makes a lot of sense, and we learn that Nick Fury’s fateful words to Thor were “Gorr was right.” This revelation would have had a bigger impact if I’d known who Gorr was. I guess the point is that gods are just bad news in general. I think the highlight of this issue is Thori drinking some spilled beer and saying “This tastes better than murder!”

Resuming on May 1:

ETHER #4 (Dark Horse, 2017) – untitled, (W) Matt Kindt, (A) David Rubin. This issue introduces Boone’s wife Hazel, unless she already appeared before and I forgot. As with earlier issues, David Rubín’s art is more exciting than Matt Kindt’s story.

ETHER #5 (Dark Horse, 2017) – as above. An okay conclusion to a series that didn’t quite live up to its potential. Boone proves that Ubel murdered the Golden Blaze, and the series ends with a flashback to one of Boone’s earlier trips to the Aether. According to the last page, this is the end of volume one. If there is a volume two, I might as well get it, but more because of the art than the writing.

THOR #175 (Marvel, 1970) – “The Fall of Asgard!”, (W) Stan Lee, (A) Jack Kirby. Loki invades Asgard with the help of some giants and steals Odin’s Ring Imperial, thus making Loki the king of Asgard. The Ring Imperial was mentioned for the first time in this issue, and has only showed up a couple of times since. This issue is beautifully drawn, but it suffers from a flaw common to many issues of Lee and Kirby’s Thor, which is that it seems very similar to all the other issues of Lee and Kirby’s Thor. Like, how many different stories were there in which Loki conquered Asgard?

GROO THE WANDERER #1 (Marvel, 1985) – “The Song of Groo,” (W/A) Sergio Aragonés, (W) Mark Evanier. The first issue of the Epic run is only notable because begins with a page in which Sergio inroduces the series, and it’s the first appearance of the Minstrel. It also introduces the running joke in which the Minstrel tells an unflattering story about Groo, only to discover that Groo is in his audience. At this point Sergio’s artwork still looks kind of off-model.

DAREDEVIL #119 (Marvel, 1975) – “They’re Tearing Down Fogwell’s Gym!”, (W) Tony Isabella, (A) Bob Brown. This issue, like its writer and its artist, is competent but not spectacular. On a visit to the gym where his father trained, Matt fights a promising young boxer who’s been turned into the Crusher, a villain from Iron Man #6. Tony Isabella writes Matt as a flamboyant man with an obnoxious sense of humor, which, to be fair, was consistent with Matt’s characterization at the time. There’s a funny line where the owner of Fogwell’s gym says that his neighborhood is a home for people with “strange names… like Flanagan and Morgenstein and Rocco and Murdock. Only the names have changed – to Raverez and Ortez and the like.” Raverez and Ortez are pretty strange names, come to think of it.

BLACK #1 (BlackMask, 2017) – “Chapter One,” (W) Kwanza Osajyefo, (A) Tim Smith 3 & Jamal Igle. This is the series about a world where only black people have super powers. It’s a well-written and well-drawn comic, and I love the premise, but there’s not enough narrative content in this issue for me to evaluate this series fully. I definitely want to read more of it though.

BLACK HAMMER #4 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, (W) Jeff Lemire, (A) Dean Ormston. Abraham Slam invites Tammy Trueheart home for dinner, but Golden Gail deliberately tries to embarrass him and ruin the date. Like the previous issue of Black Hammer I read, this is very well done, but I’m not 100% sure what this comic’s ongoing plot is about or how this issue fits into it.

GREEN ARROW #57 (DC, 1992) – “…And Not a Drop to Drink,” (W) Mike Grell, (A) Rick Hoberg. I like this series a lot, and it’s strange that I haven’t read more issues of it lately. The highlight of this issue is the opening scene, where Ollie and Dinah see Singin’ in the Rain, then Ollie starts singing the title song out loud in public. The main plot involves a terrorist who’s trying to poison Seattle’s water supply with radioactive iodine.

WEIRD WESTERN TALES #64 (DC, 1980) – “With Friends Like These…”, (W) Gerry Conway, (A) Dick Ayers. Some former Confederate soldiers put Scalphunter on “trial” for killing a Confederate general. Bat Lash deliberately ensures Scalphunter’s conviction as part of his plot to set Scalphunter free, which he does with the aid of a bunch of prostitutes (obviously not identified as such). Bat Lash and Scalphunter are a good comic pairing because the latter has no sense of humor and the former is incapable of being serious.

DEADFACE: DOING THE ISLANDS WITH BACCHUS #2 (Dark Horse, 1991) – “The Book-Keeper from Atlantis” and other stories, (W/A) Eddie Campbell. This is a collection of interlinked short stories previously published in a number of venues, including Dark Horse Presents. I remembered reading at least one of these stories before, but others were new to me. The basic plot thread is that Bacchus and Simpson find themselves on a Greek island with a bunch of yuppies, and Bacchus entertains them with stories while also driving them into a bacchanalian frenzy. In general, this is some fantastic work. The highlight is probably the sequence with the refrain “red is the cup and deep is the wine,” but I also like the black-humorous story where Bacchus accidentally burns down the library of Atlantis.

SWEET TOOTH #22 (Vertigo, 2011) – “Endangered Species, Part Three,” (W/A) Jeff Lemire. Jeff’s artwork is great, but I don’t understand this comic’s story at all. I probably should read it in trade paperback format instead.

DIRTY PLOTTE #6 (Drawn & Quarterly, 1993) – “If I Was A Man” and other stories, (W/A) Julie Doucet. This issue contains a number of stories, most of which are about women becoming men. I suppose this is an interesting example of transgender representation in comics. What is perhaps most interesting about it is that the stories are all very polymorphously perverse and very joyful and exuberant – like, Julie seems really excited about the possibilities opened up by suddenly having a penis. Her artwork is brilliant as always, but extremely busy and complicated, which makes this comic difficult to read when I’m tired (as I always am in the month of April).

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #169 (DC, 1979) – “The Doomsday Decision,” (W) Gerry Conway, (A) Dick Dillin. A very forgettable and mediocre story. Ultraa sues the Justice League in the World Court of the United Nations for… something, I’m not sure what. And it turns out Ultraa’s lawyer is some kind of alien neutrino creature. Besides the fact that this story is very boring, the biggest problem with it is that the World Court does not hear lawsuits filed by individuals, only governments. (Of course it’s odd that I’m not willing to accept that an private individual could sue someone in the World Court, but I am willing to accept that alien neutrino creatures could exist.)

New comics received on March 7:

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #25 (IDW, 2017) – “Truly Outrageous, Part Two,” (W) Kelly Thompson, (A) Gisele Lagace. In the penultimate issue, Jem reveals her secret identity to Rio, and Rio really does not take it well. While Rio’s reaction is understandable, it also suggests that he and Jem are better off without each other, as Rio could certainly have been a more understanding boyfriend. There’s also a lot of other drama, including Kimber falling into a volcano. This issue’s depiction of Hawaiian food appears to be accurate.

BLACK CLOUD #1 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Jason Latour & Ivan Brandon, (A) Greg Hinkle. I was really tired when I read this comic (as I still am when writing these reviews), but I thought this comic was a bit disappointing. It appears to be about a homeless woman who lives either in some dystopian future world, or in contemporary America – it’s hard to tell the difference. And she has the power to project people into a fantasy world. I’m willing to stick with this comic to see where it’s going, but so far I’m not seeing much that’s exciting here.

PAPER GIRLS #13 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Brian K. Vaughan, (A) Cliff Chiang. I think the best thing about this story arc is the prehistoric Virgin Mary character. “Is having a baby the most awesome thing in the world?” “It is painful and terrifying.” This issue also explains the origin of the hockey stick that said DON’T TRUST OTHER ERIN. Though you would think Erin could have clarified *which* other Erin. As usual, this comic’s plot is extremely confusing, and judging by the visions of the future that appear at the end of the issue, it will get murkier before it gets clearer.

GOLDIE VANCE #11 (BOOM! Box, 2017) – untitled, (W) Hope Larson & Jackie Ball, (A) Noah Hayes. I’m saddened to hear that the next issue of this series will be the last. I’m glad that it will be continuing in trade paperback format, which seems a more natural format for a comic like this, anyway. And I certainly plan to buy the trade paperbacks, assuming they actually do come out. But I was hoping that this comic could beat the odds by remaining viable in comic book format, despite all the factors working against its success. (A kid-oriented detective comic with a queer black female protagonist is not the sort of thing that sells well in comic book stores.) I wonder if the cancellation of Goldie Vance is a sign that the split between the direct market and the digital/bookstore market is only going to get wider.

As for Goldie Vance #11 itself, it’s another really fun issue. I love the scene at the end where Goldie compares her family to the Maple family. Goldie’s parents may be divorced, but they love her, and Goldie knows it and is grateful.

BRAVE CHEF BRIANNA #2 (Boom!, 2017) – “Today’s Special: Bánh Xèo – Savory Vietnamese Crepes,” (W) Sam Sykes, (A) Selina Espiritu. Even better than last issue. Things in the restaurant are predictably chaotic, and Suzan thinks she’s a failure, but when a customer is mean to Susan, Brianna heroically defends her. Meanwhile, a certain Madame Cron visits the restaurant and is not happy that a human is invading Monster City. This comic is cute and funny but also explores serious issues like dysfunctional family relationships and cultural appropriation. I think Bleeding Cool is silly to suggest that Grace Ellis and Shae Beagle’s upcoming Moonstruck is some kind of clone or ripoff of Brave Chef Brianna. It seems clear to me that any similarities between these two comics are incidental – just like the similarities between Goldie Vance and Motor Crush, which are both about queer black girls who are interested in motorsports, but which are otherwise completely different comics.

KIM REAPER #1 (Oni, 2017) – untitled, (W/A) Sarah Graley. I’m glad I ordered this because it’s the sort of thing that could easily have fallen below my radar. The title character is a young woman who’s working as a “part-time Grim Reaper” to pay her way through college. And her first job gets botched thanks to another student who has a crush on her. Also, Kim’s first job is to harvest the soul of a cat. Which is one of about thirty cats owned by a long-haired shirtless fitness enthusiast. Basically this is a hilarious and cute comic, and I hope it gets a wide audience.

DONALD DUCK #252 (Gladstone, 1987) – “Trail of the Unicorn,” (W/A) Carl Barks. In this classic Barks story, Donald and Gladstone compete to bring back a unicorn from “Shangri-Lala” in the Himalayas for Scrooge’s private zoo. This is an amazing story. It reminds me of “Lost in the Andes” because of its stark mountain landscapes. It has some awesome moments, especially the panel where Donald says “I imagine unicorns are very timid animals!” while right behind him, we can see a unicorn that looks anything but timid. It’s curious that at the end of this story, Scrooge pays Donald two million dollars for saving the unicorn’s life, but in every other Barks story, Donald is completely broke. And we never again see the giant limousine in which Donald is riding in the last panel. Clearly Barks wasn’t worried about continuity.

HAWKEYE #5 (Marvel, 2017) – “Persons of Interest,” (W) Kelly Thompson, (A) Michael Walsh. Hawkeye teams up with Jessica Jones to track down a kidnapped girl. The issue begins and ends with an homage to Sunset Blvd. This is a pretty good issue, but I don’t remember much about it.

AMERICA #2 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Girls Wanna Be Her,” (W) Gabby Rivera, (A) Joe Quinones & Ming Doyle. I have such mixed feelings about this comic. It’s important because of its radically progressive politics and its queer Latina representation. But it also suffers from severe overwriting and an aimless, illogical plot. Gabby Rivera’s lack of comics experience is evident from the way she crams 15 to 20 words into each word balloon, thereby slowing the story down and detracting from the art. On the positive side, I did like the Lunella Lafayette sequence, and one could argue that Gabby writes Lunella better than Brandon and Amy do. But I feel like there must be writers out there who are politically progressive and queer and Latina, and who have experience writing for comics. I think if Marvel is interested in promoting diversity (which is unfortunately not 100% clear at the moment), they need to do it by hiring diverse writers who are already in the industry, rather than writers from other media who have no comics experience.

FAITH #10 (Valiant, 2017) – “The Faithless, Part One,” (W) Jody Houser, (A) Joe Eisma w/ Marguerite Sauvage. Four of Faith’s old enemies team up to get revenge on her. The clear highlight of the issue is Dark Star the telepathic cat. In the first panel, one security guard asks another why they need so much security for a cat. Obviously he’s not a cat person, or he would understand. Also, in general, Joe Eisma is really good at drawing cats – Dark Star looks and moves just like a real cat.

SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE #18 (DC, 1994) – “The Scorpion, Act Two,” (W) Matt Wagner & Steven T. Seagle, (A) Guy Davis. I don’t think I’ve read part one, although it may be somewhere in my unread boxes. The villain in this story is a Texan who murders people with a whip. As usual, in this issue Dian is at least as entertaining and as essential to the plot as Wesley.

GIANT DAYS #25 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, (W) John Allison, (A) Max Sarin. Over Christmas vacation, Susan goes home for a reunion with her separated parents and her six older sisters. Susan tries and fails to get her parents back together, but they get back together anyway when Susan’s other sister moves in with her new baby. Also, I guess Susan is Greek. I forget if we were supposed to know that. I just finished a draft of a review essay on the BOOM! Box line, and I had trouble explaining why Giant Days appeals to me or how it fits into the overall BOOM! Box aesthetic – though that doesn’t mean I don’t love Giant Days.

CHAMPIONS #5 (Marvel, 2017) – “Gwenpions,” (W) Mark Waid, (A) Humberto Ramos. I think I already mentioned how this series has the same creative team as Impulse in the ‘90s. I didn’t bother reading this comic because I’m getting sick of Gwenpool, but like most of the other issues of Champions, this is better than I expected. The Champions investigate a rural town where the Muslim community keep getting terrorized, with the connivance of the Joe Arpaio-esque sheriff. And then Gwenpool shows up and refuses to believe that the sheriff isn’t a supervillain in disguise. I really like Kamala’s speech about how authority structures can get corrupted all by themselves, without any supervillain’s help.

SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE #19 (DC, 1994) – “The Scorpion, Act Three,” as above. By the end of this issue, I had a pretty good idea of who the Scorpion was, and it turned out I was right. There is a funny scene where the other suspect, Buster Calhoun, turns out to be engaging in kinky sex with a prostitute, rather than killing someone with a whip. As usual, Dian plays a significant role in solving the mystery, while pretending to be just a brainless socialite. I like Dian a lot; indeed, half the fun of this comic is the interplay between the vivacious, aggressive Dian and the quiet milquetoast Wesley.

SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE #20 (DC, 1994) – as above. A slightly predictable but satisfying conclusion to the mystery. It’s too bad that the other female character in the story – the Scorpion’s female coworker – ends up getting killed.

HOUSE OF SECRETS #80 (DC, 1966) – Prince Ra-Man in “The Death of the Six-Sided Sun,” (W) Bob Haney, (A) Bernard Baily; and Eclipso in “The Giant Eclipso,” (W) Bob Haney, (A) Jack Sparling. This is the last issue of the original version of HoS; it was relaunched three years later as a horror series. Given this series’ title, I kind of assumed it was always a horror comic, but its original incarnation was as a science fiction/fantasy comic. Of the two features in this issue, Prince Ra-Man is a bad Doctor Strange ripoff – I didn’t realize this strip was based on Doctor Strange until I looked it up, but it’s obvious in retrospect. The Eclipso story is a bit better, and since Eclipso: The Darkness Within #1 was one of the first comic books I ever read, it’s exciting to see the original version of this character.

RICHIE RICH RICHES #29 (Harvey, 1977) – various uncredited stories. I believe this is the first Richie Rich comic in my collection, and boy, does it suck. It consists of a series of gag stories which are implausible, illogical and unfunny. It’s not even as good as other Harvey comics I’ve read, let alone Uncle Scrooge or Little Archie.

JUGHEAD #14 (Archie, 2017) – untitled, (W) Ryan North, (A) Derek Charm. This issue concludes the story arc about Reggie being king for a month. It’s good, but it’s mostly a series of gags, and it’s not my favorite Jughead comic. I think Chip Zdarsky’s Jughead was better than Ryan North’s Jughead.

THE FLINTSTONES #10 (DC, 2017) – “Buyer’s Remorse,” (W) Mark Russell, (A) Steve Pugh. This comic is getting a lot of positive critical response; it might be the 2017 version of Tom King’s Vision. This issue, Betty becomes an actress in a film by Werner Herzrock, a hilarious parody of Werner Herzog. Meanwhile, Clod finally starts to face some consequences from his defunding of the children’s hospital and his crusade against the lizard people. I don’t know if this comic was initially intended as a satire of Trump, but it certainly has become that.

My tentative Eisner votes

In general, while the Eisner judges did not nominate exactly the works I would have nominated (I would have nominated Ms. Marvel and Lumberjanes for at least something), this is a strong ballot as usual.

Best Short Story 

  • “Mostly Saturn,” by Michael DeForge, in Island Magazine #8 (Image)

I don’t think I read any of the others.

Best Single Issue/One-Shot

  • Beasts of Burden: What the Cat Dragged In, by Evan Dorkin, Sarah Dyer, and Jill Thompson (Dark Horse)

This was the only one I read.

Best Continuing Series

  • Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image)

Best Limited Series 

  • The Vision, by Tom King and Gabriel Walta (Marvel)

I’m a bit surprised this was considered a limited series.

Best New Series 

  • Faith, by Jody Houser, Pere Pérez, and Marguerite Sauvage (Valiant)

Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 8) – no vote

Best Publication for Kids (ages 9-12)

  • Ghosts, by Raina Telgemeier (Scholastic)
  • Hilda and the Stone Forest, by Luke Pearson (Flying Eye Books)
  • Rikki, adapted by Norm Harper and Matthew Foltz-Gray (Karate Petshop)
  • Science Comics: Dinosaurs, by MK Reed and Joe Flood (First Second)

Best Publication for Teens (ages 13-17)

  • The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, by Ryan North and Erica Henderson (Marvel)

Best Humor Publication

  • Jughead, by Chip Zdarsky, Ryan North, Erica Henderson, and Derek Charm (Archie)

Best Anthology

  • Island Magazine, edited by Brandon Graham and Emma Rios (Image)

Best Reality-Based Work

  • Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir, by Tom Hart (St. Martin’s)

This is the first category so far that I’ve had to seriously think about; March volume 3 is the other strong candidate.

Best Graphic Album—New

  • The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, by Sonny Liew (Pantheon)

I haven’t read this yet but it looks like the best.

Best Graphic Album—Reprint

  • Demon, by Jason Shiga (First Second)

Tough choice between this and Incomplete Works. I have both but have not finished reading either.

Best U.S. Edition of International Material

  • Moebius Library: The World of Edena, by Jean “Moebius” Giraud et al. (Dark Horse)

I’d almost rather not vote for this because it’s material that was already published in English, but the only other one I read was Wrinkles, and it wasn’t as good as The World of Edena.

Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia

  • Goodnight Punpun, vols. 1–4, by Inio Asano, translated by JN PRoductions (VIZ Media)

Best Archival Collection/Project—Strips (at least 20 years old)

  • Barnaby, vol. 3, by Crockett Johnson, edited by Philip Nel and Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics)

Best Archival Collection/Project—Comic Books (at least 20 Years Old)

  • The Complete Wimmen’s Comix, edited by Trina Robbins (Fantagraphics)

I can’t afford this, but it looks like the best of the five.

Best Writer

  • Brian K. Vaughan, Paper Girls, Saga, We Stand On Guard (Image)

Best Writer/Artist

  • Tom Hart, Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir (St. Martin’s)

Best Penciller/Inker or Penciller/Inker Team

  • Fiona Staples, Saga (Image)

Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (interior art)

  • Sana Takeda, Monstress (Image)

Admittedly I am erring on the side of voting for someone who might show up to accept her Eisner.

Best Cover Artist (for multiple covers)

  • Mike Del Mundo, Avengers, Carnage, Mosaic, The Vision (Marvel)

Best Coloring

  • Matt Wilson, Cry Havoc, Paper Girls, The Wicked + The Divine (Image); Black Widow, The Mighty Thor, Star-Lord (Marvel)

Best Lettering

  • Tom Gauld, Mooncop (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism 

Best Comics-Related Book

  • Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White, by Michael Tisserand (Harper)

Looking forward to reading this.

Best Academic/Scholarly Work 

  • Forging the Past: Set and the Art of Memory, by Daniel Marrone (University Press of Mississippi)

I’m just guessing because I haven’t read any of these.

Best Publication Design

  • The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, designed by Sonny Liew (Pantheon)

Best Webcomic

Best Digital Comic

What’s the difference between these categories?

Reviews for second half of March

3-25-17

New comics received on March 10:

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #18 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Ryan North, (A) Erica Henderson. Part two of the Melissa Morbeck story. Doreen realizes Melissa is evil (thanks to Nancy’s detective work), but it’s too late, because Melissa has the ability to control every non-squirrel animal in New York. Also, there’s an epilogue that continues the story of Alfredo and Chef Bear. This is a fun storyline, and Melissa is a much better villain than the dude who could split into smaller copies of himself.

MOTOR CRUSH #4 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W/A) Babs Tarr, (W) Brenden Fletcher & Cameron Stewart. We don’t really learn anything new this issue, but it becomes clear that things are coming to a head, and that there is some deep dark secret in Domino’s past. One thing that strikes me about this issue is that Domino’s dad is acting really dumb, probably because he’s afraid of something. Instead of being open with his daughter, he tries to scare her away from finding out the truth about herself, thereby ensuring that she’ll try even harder. Also, I like how Domino herself is a deeply flawed and imperfect protagonist.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #27 (Image, 2017) – “Phased,” (W) Kieron Gillen, (A) Jamie McKelvie. Lots of different things happen this issue, but it feels like this issue is just marking time until the next big event happens. Probably the highlight of the issue is the scene where Baphomet shows Persephone the ghosts of her family.

MY LITTLE PONY DEVIATIONS #1 (IDW, 2017) – untitled, (W) Katie Cook, (A) Agnes Garbowska. Katie’s first pony story in about a year is part of a series of “what if” one-shots. This particular issue asks the question: What if Prince Blueblood became Princess Celestia’s apprentice instead of Twilight Sparkle? The whole issue is basically a series of jokes revolving around Prince Blueblood’s snobbish and entitled attitude. Unlike Jeremy Whitley in MLP: Friends Forever #26, Katie makes no effort to redeem Prince Blueblood, but depicts him as having no positive qualities, and it’s funnier that way. One highlight of the issue is the parody version of the theme song.

ASTRO CITY #42 (DC, 2017) – “The Deep Blue Sea,” (W) Kurt Busiek, (A) Scott Clark. This is by far the worst-drawn issue of Astro City ever. Brent Anderson’s artwork on Astro City is usually unobtrusive and subservient to the art, but when I look at Scott Clark’s ugly poor-excuse-for-Jim-Lee art, I’m reminded of what a competent and professional artist Brent is. However, the story in this issue mostly redeems the art. “The Deep Blue Sea” resembles “Show ‘Em All” from v2 #10 because its protagonist is an old villain, but the focus of the story is very different. Mister Manta, an old enemy of Mermaid (a female version of Aquaman), has been living on a literal desert island for thirty years, planning his triumphant return to the world. But when he’s forced to interact with the outside world again, he realizes he’s totally out of touch with it, and he decides to return to his island for good. It’s a poignant story about old age and about how life happens while you’re making other plans, as John Lennon said.

GRASS KINGS #1 (Boom!, 2017) – “Welcome to the Grass Kingdom,” (W) Matt Kindt, (A) Tyler Jenkins. This issue begins with a flashback scene that perhaps reinforces some unfortunate Native American stereotypes, but this scene is incidental to the main story. This comic is really about a separatist community somewhere in the American Midwest. I was not super-impressed by this debut issue, but it’s an interesting premise, and I plan on continuing to read this series.

GOTHAM ACADEMY: SECOND SEMESTER #7 (DC, 2017) – “Second Semester, Part 6,” (W) Brenden Fletcher, Becky Cloonan & Karl Kerschl, (A) Adam Archer & Michelle Sassyk. The most important issue of this series since #1. The first shocking reveal is that Olive’s roommate Amy is invisible to everyone except her. I should maybe have expected this – it’s like the shock ending of The Sixth Sense in reverse – but it caught me totally by surprise. I’m sure if I look back at the last six issues, I’ll see that Amy never interacted with anyone but Olive. But that’s not all. Pomeline finds the Book of Gotham and discovers that Olive is really an Arkham, and Amy is the spirit of her ancestor, Amity Arkham. And the issue ends with Olive deciding to let her powers loose and burn the school down. This issue was an amazing coup de theatre; it feels like the whole series has been leading up to these revelations.

ROGAN GOSH (DC, 1994) – “Rogan Gosh: Star of the East,” (W) Peter Milligan, (A) Brendan McCarthy. This is probably Brendan McCarthy’s masterpiece. Like most Milligan-McCarthy collaborations, it’s a difficult work that makes little logical sense. It has multiple interlocking narratives each of which has different characters, though all the narratives revolve around an encounter between a young English man and a young Indian man. The story is deeply evocative and dense, but never goes anywhere in particular. But the artwork is stunning. McCarthy’s coloring, the most immediately appealing aspect of his work, is brilliant, but it’s combined with equally amazing draftsmanship and lettering, and he experiments with all sorts of different illustrative techniques. It feels like he really let himself loose on this comic, and delivered the absolute best work he was capable of. As the above summary indicates, the main theme of this comic is the encounter between England and India, and it’s guilty of a lot of Orientalism, though I do feel like the creators are not unaware of this. I do notice that the comic mentions the names of lots of Indian dishes, including the one the comic is named after, but they’re all the type of clichéd Indian dishes that you find in every generic Indian restaurant. And this is a symbol of how Peter Milligan’s depiction of India seems to be based on clichés rather than deep knowledge. But still, the art in this comic is so spectacular that it more than makes up for any possible flaws in the story.

WONDER WOMAN #18 (DC, 2017) – “Godwatch, Part 2,” (W) Greg Rucka, (A) Bilquis Evely. This comic isn’t bad, but it feels more like “Veronica Cale Comics #18” than Wonder Woman #18. More than half of its pages feature Veronica and not Diana, and of the pages where Diana does appear, two of them are a two-page splash. And I’m not nearly as fascinated by Veronica Cale as Greg Rucka is.

DOCTOR FATE #18 (DC, 2017) – untitled, (W) Paul Levitz, (A) Brendan McCarthy. Compared to Rogan Gosh, this is a minor Brendan McCarthy work. McCarthy’s coloring is the flashiest aspect of his work, but here his coloring is too obviously dependent on Photoshop, and the vividness of the coloring serves to disguise the boring, formulaic nature of the draftsmanship and storytelling. Also, the plot of this comic was of no interest to me.

SAVAGE DRAGON #142 (Image, 2017) – “Hunted,” (W/A) Erik Larsen. An okay issue. Previously, Savage Dragon killed a superhero named Solar Man in a clear case of justifiable homicide. This issue, Solar Man’s equally insane sidekick Mega Man tries to avenge his mentor’s death, but ends up electrocuting himself, much like Frank J. Grimes.

On March 12, I went to another local convention. The back issue selection wasn’t as good at this convention as at the one last August; also, I was exhausted because I had barely slept the night before, and I was worried about spending too much. I did buy a fair amount of stuff, though:

USAGI YOJIMBO COLOR SPECIAL #3 (Fantagraphics, 1992) – “Fox Fire,” (W/A) Stan Sakai. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a copy of this before. In this story, Usagi saves a fox from some hunters, then encounters a different fox who brainwashes him. Tomoe is the guest star. The theme of shapeshifting foxes was used again in the much later story “Kitsune Gari.” This issue also includes Nilson & Hermy and Space Usagi backup stories.

SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE #1 (DC, 1993) – “The Tarantula, Act One,” (W) Matt Wagner, (A) Guy Davis. A very strong introduction to one of the better DC comics of the ‘90s. It’s nice to finally get to witness Wesley and Dian’s first meeting.

FEAR #18 (Marvel, 1973) – “A Question of Survival!”, (W) Steve Gerber, (A) Val Mayerik. A powerful if somewhat heavy-handed story. Five people – a woman, a child and three men – survive a bus accident just outside the swamp. The three men include a hippie draft-dodger, a Vietnam vet, and a drunk business executive. The executive kills the other two, but is himself killed by the Man-Thing. This story is an excessively obvious allegory of the divisions in American society at the time. But at least Gerber writes the characters well enough that they seem like people as well as symbols.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #26 (Marvel, 1973) – “Betrayal!”, (W/A) Jim Starlin, (W) Mike Friedrich. My copy of this issue is in unimpressive condition, but at least it was cheap. This is the only issue I was missing from Starlin’s first Thanos story, and it’s also Thanos’s second full appearance. Thanos spends most of the issue behind the scenes as he manipulates Captain Marvel and the Thing into fighting each other for convoluted reasons, but at the end of the issue he makes a dramatic on-panel debut, and we get to see his classic costume for the first time (rather than the uglier costume he wore in Iron Man #55). Back in 1973, Starlin’s artwork was still new and original rather than cliched.

BEWARE THE CREEPER #3 (DC, 1968) – “The Isle of Fear,” (W) Denny O’Neil, (A) Steve Ditko. Oddly, Denny O’Neil is credited as “special consultant” while his pseudonym, Sergius O’Shaughnessy, is credited as “writer.” I wonder why. This issue has a forgettable plot involving a criminal called the Supreme One who runs a hideout for other criminals, but the artwork is spectacular. Ditko’s artwork was rarely as energetic or action-filled as in the late ‘60s.

THOR #168 (Marvel, 1969) – “Galactus Found!”, (W) Stan Lee, (A) Jack Kirby. Thor seeks Galactus for some reason I don’t quite understand, while on Earth, the Warriors Three encounter a villain called the Thermal Man. The Galactus half of the issue is a bit underwhelming , although it appears to be intended as a setup for Galactus’s origin story in the next issue. The Warriors Three scenes are the highlight of the issue, especially the scene where Volstagg keeps breaking Donald Blake’s furniture.

SILVER SURFER #9 (Marvel, 2017) – “Shadows in the City of Light,” (W) Dan Slott, (A) Mike Allred. This series has had some severe delays, though it’s worth the wait. This is the first issue since December. In this story, the Surfer and Dawn visit a planet where, as it turns out, almost all the people have exchanged their flesh for solid holograms. And a hologram version of Dawn is created and is forced to stay on the planet forever, which is kind of heartbreaking. I hope it’s not another three months before #10.

SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #76 (DC, 1964) – “Elastic Lad Jimmy and His Legion Romances,” (W) Jerry Siegel, (A) John Forte. Saturn Girl, Light Lass and Triplicate Girl all go on dates with Jimmy in order to make Lucy Lane jealous. This is a very silly and inconsequential Legion story, but it’s funny. Of the two other stories in the issue, “The Death March!” is awful but “The Goose with the Golden Eggs!” is also funny. Jimmy discovers a goose that lays golden eggs, but he can’t figure out how to make her do it on command, and when he does figure it out, he realizes that he’s unknowingly eaten her for dinner.

JONESY #11 (Boom!, 2017) – “Hey, Babies!”, (W/A) Caitlin Rose Boyle, (W) Sam Humphries. This is the next-to-last issue, which is a shame. This series was getting pretty good. This issue, we learn that Jonesy left Plymouth because she told everyone about her secret love powers, and now everyone there hates her.

GIANT DAYS #23 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, (W) John Allison, (A) Max Sarin. The girls have a housewarming party, which leads to a series of awkward moments because most of their former love interests show up. Also, Susan gets sick and coughs on the old guy next door, which explains why she thought she killed him (see review of #24 above).

UNCLE $CROOGE ADVENTURES #18 (Gladstone, 1989) – “That’s No Fable!”, (W/A) Carl Barks. This is a late Barks story, from 1960, but it’s not bad. Scrooge and the nephews discover Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth, but discover that it’s useless. (In order to lay claim to it, Scrooge would have to swim across a lagoon full of its water, at the risk of de-aging himself to death.) So this is an example of the genre of stories where Scrooge finds a fabulous treasure but can’t keep it. This story also has some funny gags, including one where a baby alligator bites Donald on the foot. I’m surprised it took Barks this long to get around to doing a Fountain of Youth story.

ANGEL AND THE APE #2 (DC, 1969) – “Most Fantastic Robbery in History!”, (W/A) Bob Oksner, (W) Sergio Aragonés. Like Anthro and Bat Lash, Angel and the Ape was a late ’60s DC comic that was innovative, well-written and well-drawn, but lasted less than eight issues. This issue is well-drawn and full of funny sight gags, though the plot is kind of dumb. Like Mister Miracle #6 a few years later, this issue includes a villain who’s obviously based on Stan Lee – although the intent is very different in each case, since Kirby was personally associated with Stan Lee while Oksner and Sergio were not. One notable feature of this series is Angel, who was perhaps DC’s most attractive female character at the time, besides Nick Cardy’s Wonder Girl and Mera.

GOTHAM ACADEMY: SECOND SEMESTER #4 (DC, 2016) – “The Carnival Midnight,” (W) Brenden Fletcher, (A) Jon Lam. This is the issue I didn’t get to read because DCBS sent me a misprinted copy. I finally did get a refund for that comic, and then at the convention, I found a correctly printed copy of it for less than the DCBS price. Conveniently, “The Carnival Midnight” is a fill-in story that is not necessary to follow the “Second Semester” storyline. It’s about a carnival that’s run by an old friend of the school’s headmaster. At the end, it turns out the old friend has kept himself alive by magic, and he ages rapidly and dies.

THE BACKSTAGERS #7 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, (W) James Tynion IV, (A) Rian Sygh. One of the missing boys from the ‘80s comes back and abducts one of the two prima donna actors, and the Backstagers have to team up to save the day. It’s a bit hard to care about this series when there’s just one issue left. I feel like it had a lot of potential, but never quite achieved its ambition of being the boy version of Lumberjanes.

IRON MAN #15 (Marvel, 1969) – “Said the Unicorn to the Ghost…!”, (W) Archie Goodwin, (A) George Tuska. The title is probably a reference to the spider and the fly, not the joker and the thief. I have never collected this series heavily, and I probably should, because Archie Goodwin’s Iron Man was quite good. It’s full of exciting action and relationship drama. This issue is mostly a series of fights between Iron Man, the Unicorn and the Red Ghost, though it has a surprising shock ending in which we learn that the Red Ghost cruelly tricked the Unicorn into helping him. According to Wikipedia, the run of issues right after this one (#17-23) is considered the best Iron Man story of the Silver Age, at least by IGN and CBR, and Archie must have been the best Iron Man writer between Stan Lee and David Michelinie. In his artwork for this issue, George Tuska was clearly trying to imitate Gene Colan’s style of storytelling, but he couldn’t imitate Gene’s draftsmanship.

NO MERCY #13 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Alex de Campi, (A) Carla Speed McNeil. Travis finds himself at a beach party with a bunch of vacationing college students from Britain. These kids all seemed like awful people, and when they turned up dead, I was shocked, but not particularly saddened. Then at the end of the issue, Gina runs into Travis on a plane back to America and gives him a good whack, which is no less than he deserves.

ROYAL CITY #1 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W/A) Jeff Lemire. It took me a while to get to this because it’s so long. This is Jeff Lemire’s latest major work. It takes place in a town – presumably in Canada though this is not stated – that’s trying to adjust to a changing economy, at the same time that its most prominent family works through a lot of drama. The shock ending to this comic was not a shock at all; I could see it coming from a mile off, once I realized that all the other family members perceived Richie as being a different age. Other than that, this was a well-done comic and it seems like a worthy successor to The Underwater Welder and Essex County.

WEREWOLF BY NIGHT #9 (Marvel, 1973) – “Terror Beneath the Earth!”, (W) Gerry Conway, (A) Tom Sutton. This issue’s story is silly and unmemorable, but the art is excellent. Tom Sutton was one of the best horror cartoonists of his time. Len and Glynis Wein make a cameo appearance on page two of this issue.

DENNIS THE MENACE #39 (Fawcett, 1959) – multiple stories, (W) Fred Toole, (A) Al Wiseman. This may be the oldest comic book I’ve reviewed since I started doing these reviews. I very rarely buy comics from earlier than the ‘60s. As usual with this series, this issue is funny, cute and beautifully drawn. The most notable story is the last one, which is the comic book debut of Dennis’s Italian-American friend Gina Gilotti. Gina is depicted as exotic and unusual by virtue of her Italian ancestry, which makes her a foil to the much more generic-seeming Margaret.

From March 17 to 19 I went to Portland for the Conference on College Composition and Communication. After the conference was over, I did a bit of comic book store tourism. First I went to Excalibur Comics, which had a really deep and well-organized back issue selection. It also seemed like an extremely well-run and welcoming store. Then I went to Cosmic Monkey Comics. That store also had a lot of back issues, but what really impressed me about it was its selection of trade paperbacks and graphic novels. I’m basically a professional comics fan, and I’ve rarely if ever seen a store with such an impressive selection of books, other than The Beguiling. I was worried about money at that point after having spent the whole weekend eating out, so I spent about $70 at the two stores combined, mostly on back issues and recent comics that I had missed when they came out. By the time I got home I had only managed to read one of the comics I bought:

SUPERMAN #11 (DC, 2016) – “In the Name of the Father: World’s Smallest, Part 2,” (W/A) Patrick Gleason, (W) Peter J. Tomasi. I didn’t get this when it came out, probably because I didn’t notice that this comic was coming out twice a month. In the conclusion to the Super Sons storyline, Jon and Damien fight like cats and dogs and fail to solve any of the problems their fathers set for them. They redeem themselves by saving their fathers from a (fake) threat, but at the end of the issue they’re fighting again. Overall, this was a hilarious and adorable comic, and “In the Name of the Father” is the best new Superman story I’ve read in years.

New comics received on Monday, March 20, after I returned from Portland:

MS. MARVEL #16 (Marvel, 2017) – “Damage Per Second, Part 3,” (W) G. Willow Wilson, (A) Takeshi Miyazawa. The Zoe/Nakia scenes are the emotional high point of the issue. “An evil sentient computer virus knows you’re gay and is going to send your secret love letters to Nakia to the entire school listserv!” is one of the best lines in the entire series. Zoe has become an unexpectedly complex character. People who only read the first trade paperback are going to get very inaccurate ideas about her. Also, I like the idea that Doc.X has learned evil behavior by observing how people act on the Internet.

SEX CRIMINALS #17 (Image, 2017) – “Part 2: Myrtle Spurge: Sexual Cop,” (W) Matt Fraction, (A) Chip Zdarsky. This issue is a spotlight on Myrtle a.k.a. Kegelface. One interesting thing we learn about her is that she constantly keeps herself at the brink of orgasm, but never goes all the way. As I have said before, this series is all about how reactionary forces in society seek to contain the subversive potential of sexuality. Sexual pleasure is dangerous and must therefore be contained or harnessed for productive purposes. Myrtle’s perpetual state of unfulfilled desire is an example of that. She reminds me of a quotation from Adorno and Horkheimer’s culture industry essay: “The culture industry perpetually cheats its consumers of what it perpetually promises. The promissory note which, with its plots and staging, it draws on pleasure is endlessly prolonged; the promise, which is actually all the spectacle consists of, is illusory: all it actually confirms is that the real point will never be reached, that the diner must be satisfied with the menu.” I kind of want to go further with this insight, but I don’t know enough psychoanalysis or queer theory. The other interesting thing about this issue is the new sex criminal. It was fun trying to figure out what his fetish was. Oh, and also this character’s origin story includes a classic example of a Freudian primal scene, and I think this is probably deliberate.

COADY AND THE CREEPIES #1 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, (W) Liz Prince, (A) Amanda Kirk. This series was described as being about the Lumberjanes’ favorite band. It’s not quite at Lumberjanes’s level of quality yet, but it’s not bad. At first I had no idea where this comic was going, but the spoiler – that one of the protagonists is a ghost – was a nice surprise, and it makes me excited to see what happens next.

PATSY WALKER A.K.A. HELLCAT #16 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Kate Leth, (A) Brittney Williams. Kate Leth said that she’s ending this series on her own terms, which I assume means that the series was cancelled for low sales, but her contract prevents her from saying so. At least Marvel let her finish her story. In this issue, Patsy finally makes up with Hedy and confronts her mental health problems. It seems like Patsy’s real issue is stress, which is not an unfamiliar complaint to me.

MANIFEST DESTINY #27 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Chris Dingess, (A) Matthew Roberts. All the protagonists, except Lewis and Miss Grenier, are driven insane by poisonous mist, causing them to perceive their allies as evil ghosts. This is an exciting issue, but it barely advances the plot.

THE MIGHTY THOR #17 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Asgard/Shi’ar War, Part Three: When the Stars Threw Down Their Spears,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Russell Dauterman. Note the Blake quotation in the title. While the Asgardians fight the Imperial Guard, Thor competes in a series of challenges against Sharra and K’ythri, who have an unfair advantage because they’re complete sociopaths who place no value on mortal lives. And then Sharra and K’ythri invoke the “ultimate judgment,” which, now that I look at the last panel again, is probably the Mangog.

SUPER SONS #2 (DC, 2017) – “When I Grow Up… Part Two: Lex and Friends,” (W) Peter J. Tomasi, (A) Jorge Jimenez. I can think of at least five professional cartoonists named Jimenez or Gimenez. This issue, Damian and Jon invade Lexcorp Tower for unclear reasons, and this leads to a lot of cute moments, but Damian’s behavior seems very erratic and inexplicable. Later in the issue, Jon is traumatized by seeing some corpses. So this comic is a lot of fun, but also has a darker side. Also, it turns out the mysterious Reggie kid is Kid Amazo, a character I’m not familiar with.

CAVE CARSON HAS A CYBERNETIC EYE #6 (DC, 2017) – “Plan B,” (W) Jon Rivera & Gerard Way, (A) Michael Avon Oeming. This is the best Young Animal title now that Doom Patrol’s cancellation has just been announced. (It’s supposed to be a temporary cancellation but I expect it will be permanent.) This issue, the bad guys succeed in awakening some kind of Lovecraftian underground monster, and Cave is apparently killed.

ISLAND #12 (Image, 2016) – (W/A) various. I’m sorry this series was cancelled, but to be honest, it usually took me a few months to get around to reading each issue. And that’s partly because of long and tedious stories like Fil Barlow’s “Zooniverse, Chapter 2.” At this point, I can see why Fil Barlow was an influence on Brandon Graham – Zooniverse is full of weird aliens and incomprehensible plots, just like Brandon’s Prophet. But that doesn’t mean I’m a fan of Zooniverse; I think it’s worse-written and worse-drawn than Prophet. The next two stories in this issue are even worse. Lando’s “Island” suffers from unclear storytelling and poor production values, including bad lettering and one blatant typo (“Your just making trouble for us”). Alex Smith and Annie Mok’s “Avia” looks even less professional. The other two short pieces in the issue are only marginally better.

FUTURE QUEST #9 (DC, 2017) – “The Cavalry!”, (W) Jeff Parker, (A) Ron Randall. I missed this issue when it came out, but bought it in Portland. The main event this issue is that the kids get the Frankenstein Jr robot to work, and there are lots of funny interactions between Jonny, Hadji and the other kids. Also, the Herculoids finally appear.

ODY-C #12 (Image, 2017) – “The Fall of the House of Atreus 2. Gamem, Part Two, or, Comedy Tonight,” (W) Matt Fraction, (A) Christian Ward. This just came out, but I somehow failed to order it. This issue continues the retelling of the House of Atreus story, covering the events of Aeschylus’s Agamemnon. Like issue 11, it suffers from a lack of innovation relative to the source text, but Christian Ward’s art is amazing as usual. Every page this issue is a splash page.

TITS & CLITS #5 (Last Gasp, 1979) – (W/A) Joyce Farmer and others. This is now the second most obscene-sounding comic in my collection, behind only Giant-Size Man-Thing. I got my copy at Excalibur Comics; it’s badly water-damaged, but only cost a dollar. I want to collect more of this series, and more underground comics in general. This particular issue includes a bunch of stories of widely varying quality, though most of them are at least interesting if not well-executed. The highlight of the issue is Joyce Farmer’s “Slice of Life,” a three-pager about a childhood encounter with homophobia.

I HATE FAIRYLAND #11 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W/A) Skottie Young. This story reminds me a lot of All About Eve. At the annual Dungeon Festexpocon, Gertrude meets her idol, Gwag the Barbarian, and then encounters another younger fan, Maddie, who idolizes Gertrude as much as Gertrude idolizes Gwag. Not surprisingly, Gertrude kills Maddie in the end.

HEAD LOPPER #5 (Image, 2017) – “Head Lopper and the Crimson Tower, Part 1,” (W/A) Andrew MacLean. We continue with the theme of Image comics that have been on hiatus for a while. In the new storyline, Head Lopper and Agatha, along with a bunch of other heroes, enter the perilous Crimson Tower to compete for the right to replace the tower’s current master. The POV characters are Bik, a young boy from the plantlike People of the Fonga Leaf, and Zhannia Kota, a woman warrior. (In this series, POV characters are necessary because Head Lopper is so stoic and emotionless.) Like the previous Head Lopper epic, this is an excellent adventure story and I look forward to the next installment.

Nong’s Khao Man Gai (Portland, OR)

Another post about food.

I was in Portland last week for CCCC (Conference on College Composition and Communication). I arrived at lunchtime on Friday and had lunch at Nong’s Khao Man Gai.

This restaurant specializes in one particular dish: khao man gai, the Thai version of Hainanese chicken rice, a popular dish all over Southeast Asia. “Gai” means chicken and “khao man” apparently means greasy rice, i.e. rice cooked in the liquid from the chicken (thanks in part to Titcha Kedsri Ho for this explanation). Nong’s’s version looks like this:

IMG_1641.jpg

It’s really just boiled chicken over rice, and it’s about as simple as it sounds. What made this an unforgettable meal was the sauce, which is in the bowl in the center in that picture. It was sort of a transcendent version of the salad dressing they serve at Japanese restaurants. It was spicy, tangy and sweet at once and had an amazing complexity of flavor. It was addictive. The flavor of the sauce was so overwhelming that it was hard to pay proper attention to the flavor of the chicken and rice, though the chicken was perfectly cooked and the rice was also quite good. However, the broth (in the larger bowl) had an intense chicken flavor and its blandness was an effective complement to the stronger flavor of the sauce.

I would eat here all the time if I lived in Portland. I’m sorry I only got to visit once.

Reviews for first half of March

3-10-17

HAWKEYE #2 (Marvel, 2013) – “Vagabond Code,” (W) Matt Fraction, (A) David Aja. A brilliant issue of the best Marvel comic of the decade, though not as good as some of the later issues. The plot is that Clint and Kate stop the Circus of Crime from robbing a bunch of other criminals; the Tracksuits and the people fom the apartment building do not appear. One fun moment is the scene where a bunch of villains, like the Owl and Tombstone and Madame Masque, are introduced and are instantly recognizable despite not being named.

SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #141 (DC, 1971) – “Will the Real Don Rickles Panic?!?”, (W/A) Jack Kirby. Don Rickles may be the only person involved with the creation of this issue who’s still alive. This issue has the famous slogan “Don’t Ask! Just Buy It!” on the cover, which suggests, correctly, that this comic makes little rational sense but is worth reading anyway. It has a convoluted plot in which Morgan Edge tries to kill Jimmy and Goody Rickels (note the different spelling) with “pyro-granulate,” while the Guardian has to fight Intergang troops to find the antidote. Meanwhile, there’s a separate subplot where Clark Kent encounters Lightray. And for some reason the real Don Rickles shows up at the Galaxy TV offices and everyone lines up to be insulted by him. This may have been one of Kirby’s funnier comics; it combines humor and superheroic action effectively, and it never seems like it’s trying too hard to be funny.

KING: PRINCE VALIANT #3 (Dynamite, 2015) – untitled, (W) Nate Cosby & Ben McCool, (A) Ron Salas. I bought this during a period when I was ordering an excessive number of comics from DCBS (well, even more excessive than now). I read it now because it’s in the same continuity as Flash Gordon: King’s Cross. This comic is not amazing but at least it’s funny. I’ve read lots of comics edited by Nate Cosby, but I think this is the first comic I’ve read that was written by him. His writing style is similar to that of Jeff Parker.

TOWER OF SHADOWS #1 (Marvel, 1969) – “At the Stroke of Midnight!”, (W/A) Jim Steranko, plus other material. The cover story in this issue is the famous “Steranko horror story,” which includes some of his best page layouts. His use of tiny narrow panels reminds me of Krigstein. And of course his draftsmanship is amazing. This story is very poorly written – it’s a bottom-drawer EC knock-off – but you almost don’t notice this because the art is so spectacular. Of the less memorable stories in the issue, “A Time to Die!” has some very good John Buscema art, and “From Beyond the Brink!” is by an actual EC artist, Johnny Craig. It’s kind of odd that the mascot of Tower of Shadows was a gravedigger; one normally associates gravediggers with holes in the ground, not towers in the sky.

TREASURE CHEST #21.10 (Geo. A. Pflaum, 1966) – (W/A) various. This series is an interesting historical curiosity, but was rarely any good. I wonder if anyone has a complete collection of this series; I suspect that assembling such a collection would be extremely difficult and also pointless. The first story in this issue is about the North American Martyrs. Unsurprisingly given its origin (in a comic produced for distribution at Catholic schools), this story lionizes the North American Martyrs and ignores the fact that their martyrdom was part of a bigger history of genocide and colonialism. This issue also includes two adventure stories drawn by Fran Matera and Frank Borth. Neither of these stories is well-written but they’re both entertainingly drawn. The splash page of the Fran Matera story, depicting a giant whirlpool into which a car has fallen, is the high point of the issue.

SHAZAM! #14 (DC, 1974) – “The Evil Return of the Monster Society,” (W) Denny O’Neil, (A) Kurt Schaffenberger, plus reprints. These 100-page giants are annoying to read because, first, they contain a bunch of reprint stories of dubious quality (although in this issue the reprints were better than the new material). Second, they’re perfect-bound, and both the front and back covers have a tendency to come loose. In this particular issue, all the stories are about books in some way. The new story in this issue is drawn by a classic Captain Marvel artist, Kurt Schaffenberger, but the writing is just bad; it tries way too hard to be funny and fails. Of the reprints, easily the best is “Mr. Tawny’s Fight for Fame” by Otto Binder and C.C. Beck, in which Mr. Tawky Tawny gets tired of laboring in obscurity on a scholarly book and tries to win fame some other way. Most of the other reprint stories are way too farfetched and implausible. For example, in “The Word Wrecker!” by Binder and Schaffenberger, King Kull tries to destroy civilization by destroying every book everywhere, and somehow he almost succeeds even though his methods are ludicrous.

New comics received on Tuesday, February 28. They should have arrived on Saturday, February 25, but the FedEx driver arrived before the leasing office was open, so he didn’t even try to deliver the package that day, and I guess FedEx doesn’t do residential deliveries on Mondays. I was not happy about this.

ASTRO CITY #41 (DC, 2017) – “The Sky’s the Limit,” (W) Kurt Busiek, (A) Brent Anderson. For the 100th issue of Astro City, Kurt finally reveals the origin of the Astro-Naut, the city’s namesake. This is not the best Astro City story; it lacks any surprising twist or any new perspective on superhero tropes. It’s just the history of the Astro-Naut, told by his civilian best friend (a Jimmy Olsen analogue since the Astro-Naut gives him a signal device). It is, however, a deeply emotional and honest story. It shows devotion to the Astro-Naut’s ideals of exploration and adventure and courage. It effectively sums up the first twenty years of the greatest superhero comic since Watchmen.

SLAM! #4 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, (W) Pamela Ribon, (A) Veronica Fish. I have to think of something more intelligent to say about this comic, because I’m supposed to write about it in an article. Also, I keep forgetting the main characters’ names, so let me write them down here: Jem = Knockout and Maisie = Ithinka Can. Anyway, this issue, the bout between the Pushy Riots and Meteor Fights finally happens. Jem seriously injures Maisie but then takes her to the hospital, potentially healing their rift. The injury scene is a powerful emotional climax to the first four issues. Perhaps the funniest thing in the issue is how Jem’s mother is initially shocked at the idea of roller derby, but then really gets into it.

HULK #3 (Marvel, 2017) – “Deconstructed, Part Three,” (W) Mariko Tamaki, (A) Nico Leon. The funniest thing this issue is the lizard dude complaining about being made to wear a hairnet, but the best thing this issue is the Patsy Walker scene, which is genuinely touching. And this scene makes it clear that Jen sees Maise Brewn as a surrogate for herself. Other than that, this issue doesn’t advance the plot a whole lot. I do think that Mariko Tamaki’s inexperience with monthly comics is showing, because each of the three issues so far has ended rather abruptly with no cliffhanger.

MONSTRESS #10 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Marjorie Liu, (A) Sana Takeda. Maika, Kippa and Ren make it to the Isle of Bones where, after a bunch of encounters with weird creatures, they encounter a wolf dude who knew Maika’s mother. This was another good issue, but I don’t have much to say about it.

FUTURE QUEST #10 (DC, 2017) – “The Gathering Storm,” (W) Jeff Parker, (A) Ron Randall. Again, this was a fun comic but not significantly different from any previous issue. I really like Gloop and Gleep though. As the title promises, this issue begins to set up for the conclusion to the series. I wish we would get Doc Shaner or Steve Rude on artwork again.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #16 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Smartest There Is! Part Four: Science Fiction,” (W) Brandon Montclare & Amy Reeder, (A) Natacha Bustos. I think Moon Girl may be better written in Unstoppable Wasp than in her own title. But her encounter with Dr. Strange is fun anyway. Tiny Devil Dinosaur is the cutest thing in this entire series so far.

WONDER WOMAN #17 (DC, 2017) – “The Truth, Part Two,” (W) Greg Rucka, (A) Liam Sharp. Diana has a conversation with a snake, then apparently becomes sane again. Ferdinand saves Steve and Etta from being killed by Veronica’s troops. An average issue.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #51 (IDW, 2017) – untitled, (W) James Asmus, (A) Tony Fleecs. James Asmus’s debut issue introduces a new character named Shadow Lock who can steal magic from books. I forget whether I’ve read anything by this writer before, but he shows a solid understanding of the characters. As you can see, I don’t have much to say about this week’s comics, and I’m trying to get through them quickly before I go to bed.

JUGHEAD #13 (Archie, 2017) – “The Reggies,” (W) Ryan North, (A) Derek Charm. The Reggies’ first performance is not only terrible, it becomes a worldwide viral sensation. This is another charming and cute story, and it almost makes me feel sympathy for the worst Archie character, Reggie. (Well, I guess Hiram Lodge is worse.)

AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER – NORTH AND SOUTH #1 (Dark Horse, 2016) – “North and South, Part One,” (W) Gene Luen Yang, (A) Gurihiru. These miniseries are starting to become formulaic. The formula is that Team Avatar arrives in a new location that’s embroiled in a political conflict resulting from the Fire Nation war. Things get steadily worse until open battle breaks out, but then the kids resolve everything. It’s an effective formula, though, and these comics are so enjoyable that their repetitiveness is not a fatal flaw. I just wish they were published in a format that was easier to store.* Anyway, this time around, Sokka and Katara go home to the South Pole, where some entrepreneurs from the Northern Water Tribe are trying to modernize the tribe’s lifestyle, but a bunch of traditionalists want to keep things the way they were. Also, Hakoda is having an affair with one of the entrepreneurs. Aang does not appear in this volume.

* As a footnote to that, I just now discovered that almost all my other Avatar volumes are missing. I must have left them behind somehow when I moved. And if so, the reason is because they weren’t stored on my bookshelves or in my comic book boxes. They occupy this weird niche where they’re too small to store in longboxes, but there are so many of them that I don’t want to put them all on a bookshelf. And as a result they get lost. This format was a terrible idea.

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #112 (DC, 1974) – “The Impossible Escape,” (W) Bob Haney, (A) Jim Aparo, plus reprints. Another 100-pager. The new story has some brilliant artwork, but only an average plot. It’s a Batman/Mr. Miracle team-up in which they battle an alien who’s posing as the Egyptian pharaoh Atun. The reprinted stories in the issue are worse. The best of the three is an Aquaman/Hawkman team-up in which the villain is a bizarre-looking giant flying frog. The Silent Knight story is insultingly stupid – it includes a scene where the protagonist engages in a swordfight in full armor, underwater. The Batman/Green Lantern story suffers because the villain, the Time Commander, has such ill-defined powers that he seems to be able to do anything at all.

GREAT LAKES AVENGERS #5 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Zac Gorman, (A) Will Robson. This issue’s cover is a funny tribute to Incredible Hulk #345, with Big Bertha replacing the Hulk. I don’t remember much about the story, but at least it has a funny and sarcastic sense of humor, which is the main reason I’m buying this series.

SPIDER-GWEN #17 (Marvel, 2017) – “Sittin’ in a Tree, Part 4,” (W) Jason Latour, (A) Robbi Rodriguez. Yet another crossover issue that doesn’t make sense on its own. I’m not ready to drop this series yet, but if I ever do stop reading it, the excessive amount of crossovers will be the reason why. At least this issue includes a cameo appearance by Ms. Marvel.

I have lots more comics to review, but I’ll stop here for now.

3-14-17

Starting again the following day. New comics received on March 3:

RAT QUEENS #1 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Kurtis Wiebe, (A) Owen Gieni. There’s something of a cloud surrounding this issue. Some of this comic’s original fans have abandoned it because of the questionable circumstances surrounding Tess Fowler’s firing, and also because of the possibility that Roc Upchurch may be benefitting financially from it. I personally am okay with supporting this comic, but I see why other people might not be. Also, this issue was confusing to me because it doesn’t fit with the series’ continuity. Hannah is suddenly back with the team again despite having quit at the end of the previous volume, and there’s no explanation of how the team got back to Palisade. I guess this was deliberate, because this issue is a soft reboot that ignores some of the continuity from the last series. I just wish we’d been told this explicitly.

If we set all of that aside, this was probably the best issue of Rat Queens since #6. With this issue, the series regains the momentum that it lost as a result of the constant delays and creative changes. It’s fun, happy and irreverent, just like Rat Queens should be. The Cat Kings are just what you’d expect from a gender-swapped version of the Rat Queens, and I especially love the little mushroom dude. Overall, this issue makes me optimistic about the future of this series, as long as Kurtis can maintain this level of quality. Also, I want to hear more about this sex cult that Betty’s mother belongs to.

PAPER GIRLS #12 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Brian K. Vaughan, (A) Cliff Chiang. As usual, I enjoyed this issue, but I still have no idea what this series is about or how I would summarize it. This issue, we learn that the cavegirl teen mom is some sort of reverse Virgin Mary – she has to steal stuff from three evil wise men – and Kaje gets her first period.

GOLDIE VANCE #10 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, (W) Hope Larson & Jackie Ball, (A) Noah Hayes. Another fun issue. Goldie joins Sugar Maple’s pit crew, then discovers that another driver, Lazlo, sabotaged his own car to lose on purpose, but there’s also a second unknown person trying to sabotage Sugar Maple’s car. I do think this comic has suffered from the lack of Brittney Williams artwork.

AMERICA #1 (Marvel, 2017) – “Pa’ Fuera, Pa’ la Calle,” (W) Gabby Rivera, (A) Joe Quinones. I really wanted to love this comic, but I have problems with it. Gabby Rivera’s heart is in the right place, she writes with great passion, and I obviously agree with her politics. However, she also clearly lacks experience writing comics. She puts too much text in each panel, and her text often fails to read smoothly as dialogue. She makes her political points with a total lack of subtlety. Also, this comic has pacing problems. As Ray Goldfield pointed out on Facebook, the Sotomayor University scene comes out of nowhere and is not well integrated with the first half of the issue. I’m going to keep supporting this comic for now, but I hope it gets better.

BRAVE CHEF BRIANNA #1 (Boom!, 2017) – “Welcome to Monster City,” (W) Sam Sykes, (A) Selina Espiritu. This comic was also a bit disappointing, but not as much as America, and its ambitions are lower. I love the premise of this comic: the protagonist is the youngest child and only girl in a family of chefs, and she has to set up her own restaurant, but the only place where she can afford the real estate is Monster City. And the creators do a good job of conveying Brianna’s complex emotions and her weird family dynamics. This series obviously reminds me of Space Battle Lunchtime, but Brianna is a much deeper character than Peony. My disappointment is mostly because I feel like Monster City could have been even weirder and more monstrous, although we’ve only seen a little piece of it so far.

DEADFACE: EARTH, WATER, AIR, AND FIRE #2 (Dark Horse, 1992) – “Veil of Tears,” (W/A) Eddie Campbell. As a preamble to many of the reviews that follow, I decided to add homemade dividers to my comic collection (using Jason Gibson’s instructions at http://www.jasonlgibson.com/2014/04/how-to-make-cheap-homemade-comic-dividers/). Filing comics was getting really annoying because it was hard to figured out where anything was, and I thought dividers would help. Adding dividers also made it possible to alphabetize my comics according to creator or publisher instead of by title. For example, I now have a divider that’s labeled CAMPBELL, EDDIE, which is alphabetized under C, and behind that divider are Bacchus, Deadface, The Dance of Lifey Death, Graffiti Kitchen, etc. Anyway, this reorganization effort also made me feel motivated to read some of my old unread comics, so as to be able to file them in my new categories.

This particular issue is from a miniseries published by Dark Horse prior to the launch of the ongoing Bacchus series. It takes place in Sicily, where Bacchus and Joe Theseus get enlisted on opposite sides of a mob war. It’s a fun comic and its story is much easier to follow compared to some of Eddie’s later work.

MY LITTLE PONY ANNUAL 2017 (IDW, 2017) – “Guardians of Harmony,” (W/A) various. This issue includes vignettes by all the regular pony artists, all of them arranged around the theme of a changeling invasion. So either this story takes place before “To Where and Back Again,” or the evil changelings in this issue are a new brood that Queen Chrysalis created after the original changelings stopped being evil. As usual, the strongest work in this issue is by Jeremy Whitley, Andy Price and Jay Fosgitt, but all the stories are reasonably good, and they come together at the end in a satisfying way. My only problem with this issue is the very abrupt ending.

AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER – NORTH AND SOUTH #2 (Dark Horse, 2017) – as above. Aang and Toph arrive for the big South Pole carnival, which becomes the scene of a massive terrorist attack by the traditionalist faction. And it turns out that the entrepreneurs from the North Pole really are trying to extract the South Pole’s resources. Despite the issue of repetitiveness that I raised earlier, this is a fun comic and I look forward to part three.

UNSTOPPABLE WASP #3 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Jeremy Whitley, (A) Elsa Charretier. As noted above, I think Lunella Lafayette is written better in this comic than in her own title. Another fun part of this series is that Nadia and Jarvis are excellent foils for each other. I especially love the “new phone who dis” bit. Lashayla Smith is yet another awesome new character, who again represents a type of character (a black female geek) that is very rarely seen in any kind of media. The last scene in this issue is also extremely well written, but much less happy. Nadia seems to have made Priya’s life worse, not better, with her intervention. The moment just before Nadia walks in, when Priya’s “friends” are committing one racist microaggression after another, is powerful because it’s so realistic.

HAWKEYE #4 (Marvel, 2017) – “Bye, Bye, Katie,” (W) Kelly Thompson, (A) Leonardo Romero. This mostly concludes the first storyline. It’s not a surprising conclusion, but it is quite well-written and well-drawn. I love that Kate literally saves the day with the power of love and anti-fascism.

DESCENDER #19 (Image, 2017) – “Orbital Mechanics 3 of 5,” (W) Jeff Lemire, (A) Dustin Nguyen. Driller admits to having caused Andy’s mother’s death, then jumps out of the ship. Meanwhile, lots of other stuff happens. This was a fun issue but had nothing comparable to the shocking cliffhanger from #18.

THE OLD GUARD #1 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Greg Rucka, (A) Leandro Fernandez. This new Greg Rucka series is about a group of immortal soldiers. This issue’s story is reasonably interesting, but I wish Greg would keep working on Black Magick instead of starting another new series – although I guess Nicola Scott is otherwise occupied at the moment. Anyway, the real value of this comic is in Leandro Fernandez’s artwork. I liked Leandro’s art in Queen & Country, but the artwork here is on another level. Leandro’s new style resembles that of his countryman Eduardo Risso, but also has its own unique elements, and Leandro’s action sequences may be better than Eduardo Risso’s. Also, the coloring in this issue is amazing. If Leandro Fernandez keeps up this level of artistic quality, he will be an Eisner candidate.

GIANT DAYS #24 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, (W) John Allison, (A) Max Sarin. For some odd reason I received #24 one week and #23 the next week. This issue, Susan gets horribly sick, and her dad comes to take care of her. And then he stays, because it turns out his wife threw him out. Also, the old guy from next door dies, and Susan worries that it was because she gave him her cold. One cool thing about this series is how it addresses serious topics, like divorce and illness and death, in a humorous way.

KING: MANDRAKE THE MAGICIAN #1 (Dynamite, 2015) – untitled, (W) Roger Langridge, (A) Jeremy Treece. Like the Prince Valiant comic reviewed above, this issue is part of the same continuity as Flash Gordon: King’s Cross. At this point in continuity, Earth no longer has modern technology because of something Ming did. Mandrake holds a charity show where he encounters an African magician named Karma, and then they both fight an old enemy of Mandrake’s named Acheron. This was a reasonably fun comic, but not Langridge’s best work, and it doesn’t make me highly excited to read the rest of this miniseries.

MEGATON MAN #2 (Kitchen Sink, 1985) – “Leavings and Beginnings!”, (W/A) Don Simpson. I haven’t read as much Don Simpson as I ought to have. In this issue’s main plot, Megaton Man tries to join the Metropolis Quartet (i.e. the FF). This part of the issue is mostly a silly superhero parody. What is far more interesting is the subplot, in which Stella Starlight (i.e. Sue Richards) leaves the MQ and starts a new life on her own with Pamela Jointly (i.e. Lois Lane). This part of the issue has some fairly deep characterization. The funniest joke in the issue occurs when Megaton Man tries on a new all-black costume, and one of the MQ members addresses the reader and says “Isn’t that an insult to your intelligence?” This issue came out shortly after Spider-Man’s black costume was introduced.

ATOMIC ROBO AND THE FLYING SHE-DEVILS OF THE PACIFIC #4 (Red 5, 2012) – untitled, (W) Brian Clevinger, (A) Scott Wegener. At this point in the storyline, Robo has been captured by Imperial Japanese troops who are trying to destroy America with an earthquake bomb. The Flying She-Devils rescue him, setting the stage for an epic confrontation next issue. This is one of the better Atomic Robo miniseries.

THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG #4 (Dark Horse, 2000) – “The First Murder,” (W/A) P. Craig Russell. In his version of Wagner’s Ring, PCR provides a sterling example of how to adapt works from other media into comics form. This issue includes an epilogue in which PCR discusses his philosophy of adaptation and the strategies he uses to avoid making the adaptation an exact copy of the original. For example, he explains how he succeeded in creating a comics equivalent of Wagner’s leitmotifs.

WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN #36 (Marvel, 2013) – “Battle for the Atom, Part 5,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Giuseppe Camuncoli. I bought this when it came out, but never bothered to read it because it was a crossover issue. As I expected, this issue is impossible to understand outside the context of the Battle for the Atom crossover, and it mostly lacks the humor and characterization that made me a fan of Jason Aaron’s X-Men.

SNARKED! #11 (Boom!, 2012) – “Fit the Eleventh: Smiles and Soap,” (W/A) Roger Langridge. The protagonists encounter the missing Baker, then finally confront the Snark in its cave. The high point of this issue is the Walrus’s struggle with his conscience. Earlier, he told the Bellman that the Baker was still alive, but had been thrown forward in time by the Snark/Boojum. This issue, the Walrus finally gets up the courage to tell the Bellman that this story was a lie, only to discover that it was true. One of the fascinating things about this series is the Walrus’s character arc: he starts out as a heartless criminal, but Scarlet helps him develop a conscience.

SNARKED! #12 (Boom!, 2012) – “Fit the Twelfth: For the Snark Was a Boojum, You See,” as above. Roger Langridge’s masterpiece ends on a somewhat anticlimactic and bittersweet note. The Walrus saves Scarlet from being eaten by the Snark, but at the cost of being transported twenty years into the future. Twenty years later, Scarlet is the queen and Rusty is about to get married, but Scarlet is now convinced that the Walrus never existed and was just her childhood imaginary friend (never mind that a lot of other people saw the Walrus too). Scarlet never sees the Walrus again, though she does receive proof that he exists, and the Walrus and the Carpenter head off for another adventure. Overall, Snarked! may have been the best kids’ comic book of the decade, though it has a lot of competition. Unfortunately there seems to be little possibility of a sequel.

PROPHET: EARTH WAR #2 (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W) Brandon Graham & Simon Roy, (A) Ron Ackins. As usual, this issue makes no sense to me, but it’s strange and evocative and well-drawn. This issue includes a backup story drawn by Aaron Conley from Sabertooth Swordsman.

MORLOCK 2001 #2 (Atlas/Seaboard, 1975) – “Morlock Must Be Destroyed!”, (W) Michael Fleisher, (A) Al Milgrom. This issue is curiously similar to Incredible Hulk #189, which was released just a few months later. In both issues, a monstrous protagonist encounters a little blind girl. However, this issue has a very different conclusion from Hulk #189; it ends with the protagonist killing the girl by accident. So this was a pretty depressing and bleak comic. The story in this issue was never resolved; issue 3 had a new creative team and a new cast of characters, and there was no issue 4.

ATOMIC ROBO AND THE FLYING SHE-DEVILS OF THE PACIFIC #3 (Red 5, 2012) – as above. Another good issue, but there weren’t a lot of surprises here, since I had already read issue 4.

SUPERGIRL: BEING SUPER #2 (DC, 2017) – “Chapter Two: Hold On!”, (W) Mariko Tamaki, (A) Joëlle Jones. This might be the best current DC comic. This issue is just so, so sad. Supergirl shockingly fails to save her friend Jen from an earthquake, and the rest of the issue is devoted to Kara’s attempt to deal with her shattering grief and guilt. Mariko Tamaki depicts Kara’s emotions with amazing power and verisimilitude. Besides Lynda Barry, Mariko Tamaki is probably the best writer of comics about teenage girls, and her understanding of how teen girls think is brilliantly displayed in this issue. Joëlle Jones’s artwork takes a back seat to the writing, but effectively complements it.

FLESH & BONES #4 (Fantagraphics, 1986) – untitled, (W) Jan Strnad, (A) Dennis Fujitake. The final Dalgoda story is a bittersweet but satisfying conclusion to the series. Dal makes it back to Canida and lives happily ever after with his girlfriend, but has to say goodbye to his human friends. This issue also includes a chapter of Alan Moore and Steve Parkhouse’s Bojeffries Saga. This story has an amazing scene where a cop investigates a disturbance in a restaurant and sees that a black man and a werewolf are involved – and he immediately arrests the black man. After reading this story, I felt motivated to read the complete Bojeffries Saga volume, and each of the chapters is even funnier in context.

DARK HORSE PRESENTS #6 (Dark Horse, 1986) – “Little Pushes,” (W/A) Paul Chadwick, plus other material. The Concrete story in this issue is the first one I ever read, since it was included in Fantagraphics’s Best Comics of the Decade, Vol. 2 (1990). It’s the one that ends with Concrete doing a cannonball into a swimming pool. This story’s inclusion in that Best Comics volume is justified. It insightfully depicts Concrete’s sense of bewilderment at finding himself at a Hollywood party. And it includes some brilliant moments, like Concrete eating a clock radio, or the line “A man without a you-know-what is so refreshing!” The other interesting story in this issue is a chapter of John Workman’s “Roma.” Workman’s artwork has the same general appearance as his lettering, and it reminds me more of Italian or Spanish than American comics. This story’s plot also has a European influence in that it seems heavily influenced by Barbarella.

PIRATE CORP$ #3 (Slave Labor, 1989) – “All Lost in the Supermarket!”, (W/A) Evan Dorkin. Pirate Corp$, later retitled Hectic Planet, was Evan’s first creator-owned series. It appears to be set in some kind of dystopian future. In this issue, protagonists Halby and Blue visit a giant labyrinthine supermarket and are trapped there for days. The artwork in this issue is so busy and hyperdetailed that it’s often cumbersome, but as usual with Evan, the humor is hilarious and brutal.

SON OF MUTANT WORLD #1 (Fantagor, 1990) – “Son of Mutant World,” (W) Jan Strnad, (A) Richard Corben, plus backup stories. In this issue’s first story, Dimento, the protagonist of the original Mutant World series, is killed, and his daughter Dimentia heads off on her own with her pet bear. Then some hillbillies try to kill and eat the bear, until it saves their lives. The second story, “Targets,” is a tale of adultery and mistaken identity with fatal consequences, written and drawn by Bruce Jones. Finally, “The Small World of Lewis Stillman,” a postapocalyptic story about murderous children, is reprinted from an issue of Alien Worlds. All of these are reasonably good horror stories in the Warren Comics style.

USAGI YOJIMBO #8 (Fantagraphics, 1988) – “A Mother’s Love,” (W/A) Stan Sakai. A tragic story in which Usagi encounters a sweet old lady whose son has grown up to be a brutal monster. This story’s conclusion is so emotionally shattering that it almost feels manipulative; it’s less subtle than some of Stan’s later work. In general, the backup stories in the Fantagraphics Usagi series were awful, but the backup story in this issue is better than most. It’s about Stonehenge and how it’s been ruined by commercialism, and it’s written and drawn by Groo colorist Tom Luth.

HUP #1 (Last Gasp, 1987) – various stories, (W/A) Robert Crumb. The best story in this issue is “My Troubles with Women, Part II,” a brutally honest and gorgeously drawn examination of Crumb’s hang-ups about women. This story displays a lot of misogyny on Crumb’s part, and I think some readers would find it intolerable, but at least Crumb lays his prejudices bare and does not make excuses for them. In other words, Crumb is a disturbing creep, but he knows and admits it, which partially redeems him. This issue includes some other stories, including one where Mr. Natural reappears in Flakey Foont’s life after Flakey had him institutionalized. I really need to read more Crumb; I don’t know his work nearly as well as I should.

HOUSE OF SECRETS #85 (DC, 1970) – various (W/A). The writing in this issue is mostly pretty bad, but some of the art is interesting. “Second Chance” features the unusual combination of Neal Adams inks over Gil Kane pencils. This issue also includes a two-pager by Ralph Reese, drawn in a style indistinguishable from that of Wally Wood, which has some interesting metatextual elements. It includes one panel where a character pulls a word balloon out of a drawer.

THE TRUE LIVES OF THE FABULOUS KILLJOYS #5 (Dark Horse, 2013) – “Waking the Destroya!”, (W) Gerard Way & Shaun Simon, (A) Becky Cloonan. This comic’s story made no sense to me at all, and I was only mildly impressed by the art.

SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR #1 (Dark Horse, 1993) – untitled, (W/A) Frank Miller. I’ve never read Sin City before because, for fairly obvious reasons, I have a deep distaste for Frank Miller. I think the most recent Frank Miller comic I’ve read in its entirety is Daredevil: The Man Without Fear, which ended in 1994. So I was surprised that this issue of Sin City was not only readable but even good. It’s full of typical Miller clichés, but the artwork is beautiful and also represents a stylistic departure; every page is drawn in pure black and white, with no grays or screentones or cross-hatching. Maybe Sin City was Miller’s last great work before he went totally nuts. I need to read more of it.

HELLBOY WINTER SPECIAL #2 (Dark Horse, 2017) – various stories, (W) Mike Mignola et al, (A) various. The only really interesting story in this annual is “God Rest Ye Merry,” in which Hellboy battles a crazy Santa Claus and encounters an unnamed character who looks just like the Phantom Stranger. I honestly thought that this story was an unannounced Dark Horse/DC crossover, but it turns out that the Phantom Stranger-esque character is a new Mignolaverse character named the Visitor.

FAITH #9 (Valiant, 2017) – untitled, (W) Jody Houser, (A) Kate Niemczyk & Marguerite Sauvage. One of the best issues of Faith yet. Faith’s company hires a new employee, forcing Faith’s coworkers have to jump through all sorts of hoops to protect her secret identity. Then it turns out the new employee is a spy sent to steal Faith’s secrets, and the coworkers have to save the day. This story ends up as a touching demonstration of Faith’s bond with her friends. I also love the first page, which consists of three parallel sequences showing Faith’s coworkers getting ready for work. Mimi kisses her girlfriend goodbye, Jay kisses his girlfriend goodbye, and then Paige gives a goodbye kiss to an incredibly glum-looking cat.

ROCKET RACCOON #3 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Matthew Rosenberg, (A) Jorge Coelho. This is already the fourth Rocket Raccoon or Groot “ongoing” series in as many years, and it’s going to end after two more issues (hence why “ongoing” is in quotation marks). I think this is unfortunate, because Matthew Rosenberg’s version of Rocket is one of the best yet. This Rocket Raccoon doesn’t just look like an animal, he acts like one. I love the opening scene where Rocket chews his way out of Kraven’s sack. And then the rest of the issue is an exciting and funny chase sequence.

IT GIRL AND THE ATOMICS #6 (Image, 2013) – “His Space Holiday,” (W) Jamie S. Rich, (A) Chynna Clugston-Flores. This Madman spinoff is not nearly as good as the parent title. Atomics member Mr. Gum offers to help some poor, starving aliens, but it turns out the aliens are evil, so he just leaves, having made the situation worse instead of better. Mr. Gum’s behavior in this issue is boorish and irresponsible, and he doesn’t face any consequences for it. Also, Jamie S. Rich’s writing is underwhelming, although Chynna Clugston-Major is fairly good at drawing aliens.

REVIVAL #47 (Image, 2017) – “This is the End,” (W) Tim Seeley, (A) Mike Norton. A solid conclusion to the series. Em sacrifices her life so that her baby can be born and the revivers’ souls can move on. The Amish ninja lady and General Cale kill each other. The series ends two years later with Lester Majak’s death. There’s also an epilogue that seems to be a hook for a sequel, though I don’t remember who Nithiya is. As this series went on, the thing that initially attracted me to it – the rural Wisconsin setting – became steadily less important, but the plot and characterization were good enough that I stayed with the series to the end, and I’m glad I did. Now I just need to collect the issues I’m missing, so that I can read the whole thing in order.

FLASH GORDON: KING’S CROSS #5 (Dynamite, 2017) – untitled, (W) Jeff Parker, (W/A) Jesse Hamm. The heroes save the day by teleporting Ming and his forces to Mars. So the world is safe for now, but I assume there’s going to be another series set in this universe. Overall, I liked this miniseries a lot. Jeff Parker is one of the best storytellers in the current comics industry, and I wish he would be given some higher-profile assignments.

Stopping here for now.

Restaurant blog post #1: Zoewee’s (Charlotte, NC)

I’m going to try something new. I have a longstanding interest in “ethnic” food, specifically Asian, African and Latin American food, so I might as well use this blog to write about some of the restaurants I’ve visited.

Last week I had lunch at Zoewee’s, a Liberian restaurant in NoDa about halfway between downtown and University City. I’ve been very curious about West African food ever since reading Things Fall Apart in high school, but have rarely gotten the chance to try it. Ethiopian food is easy to find in major American cities, but other African cuisines are far less so.* Liberian food seems particularly obscure, even though there is a fairly large Liberian-American community. The best source on Liberian cuisine I’ve found is this series of blog posts by some missionaries in Liberia.

So anyway, to my surprise, there are two Liberian restaurants right next door to each other in NoDa. I had already ordered delivery from one of them, Zanzibar Café, but I wasn’t that impressed; I found the food to be too spicy, even though I have a high spice tolerance by white American standards. So I decided to try the other.

Zoewee’s is in a small strip mall next to several other African businesses, and has almost no decoration besides a mask hanging on the wall behind the cash register. It was somewhat difficult to get the attention of the staff when I came in (another patron had to knock on the door to the employee area), but other than that the service was fine. I was tempted to order fufu, since I’ve always wondered what that tastes like, but instead I ordered potato greens in red palm oil, which appear to be their specialty. It looked like this:

Screen Shot 2017-03-11 at 8.24.12 PM.png

Not pictured is the giant plate of white rice that accompanied it.

Overall I was very impressed. It tasted nothing like potatoes. It had a consistency similar to Indian saag, and a flavor profile that didn’t resemble anything else in particular. I assume the active ingredient is the palm oil, which is unfortunately very high in saturated fat; otherwise this dish seems quite healthy. The meat was extremely tender and there was a good amount of it. Unlike the dish I ordered from Zanzibar, this one was not spicy at all. However, it was accompanied by a container of some kind of hot pepper relish (visible at the upper right of the photo), and this was so spicy I could barely eat it. The rice seemed unusually large and fluffy and was a good accompaniment to the entree.

I ate this by putting portions of it on top of the rice. I ate with a fork at first, but switched to a spoon after watching another customer. There was easily enough left over for dinner that night.

Overall, I was highly impressed and would definitely go back. The menu is somewhat limited but includes other dishes like fried fish and jollof rice and the aforementioned fufu, and they have weekly specials.

* As one of my Facebook friends suggested when I pointed this out, this may be due to culinary racism. For some reason, Ethiopian restaurants are “trendy,” whereas Caribbean and West African restaurants seem to appeal more to African and African-American diners, and therefore don’t get reviewed in general-interest publications or on Yelp. (Zoewee’s currently has 14 Yelp reviews, while the other nearby Liberian restaurant, Zanzibar Café, has only 5.)