Reviews for week of 8-12-15

Now that I’m getting new comic books every week, I’m going to try to post these reviews on a weekly basis.

CASANOVA: ACEDIA #3 (Image, 2015) – It’s been so long since I read the last issue of this series (about four months) that I don’t remember the plot at all, and on top of that, the plot of this series doesn’t make logical sense. Also, I’ve decided that I like Gabriel Ba much better than Fabio Moon, although I still have trouble remembering which is which. So overall this was not a highly impressive comic.

THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #8 (Marvel, 2015) – A satisfying conclusion to this series, which is thankfully going to be relaunched in a couple months and is not cancelled. The funniest moments in the issue were Loki’s cat head, and Nancy bringing Bluetooth to Asgard.

ODY-C #6 (Image, 2015) – This is a weird issue. Matt points out in the letter column that it’s based on a lot of inspirations, ranging from Romulus and Remus to the Jataka Tales to the Arabian Nights, and it has more in common with some of those other texts than with the Odyssey. This story is very evocative of a lot of things, but I’m not sure what it all adds up to. I don’t know of any myth where Helen doesn’t make it back to Sparta with Menelaus; this seems to be Matt’s own invention.

Another thought I had when I was reading this issue is that it’s a side story, whose function is to enrich our knowledge of the storyworld rather than to advance the plot. As far as I know, the original precedent for this sort of story is Jack Kirby’s “The Pact.”

STARFIRE #3 (DC, 2015) – Amanda and Jimmy’s version of Koriand’r is rather different from Marv Wolfman’s version – obvious differences include that this Koriand’r has straight hair and doesn’t use contractions. Yet I feel that Amanda and Jimmy understand the essence of this character in a way that no other writer does besides Marv Wolfman himself. Kory’s key character traits are her emotional intensity and her naiveté, and both of those character traits have been displayed very prominently in this series. As a result, this comic is adorable. The surprise this issue is the guest appearance by one of Amanda and Jimmy’s pet characters, Atlee.

GOTHAM ACADEMY #9 (DC, 2015) – This is no longer the best DC title, but it’s still fun. I hardly remember anything about this issue, though, except that I’m finally starting to understand what happened to Olive’s mother. Oh, also, Olive seems eerily similar to Antimony from Gunnerkrigg Court in that they both have a dead mother who had some kind of fire-related powers.

SECRET WARS: BATTLEWORLD #4 (Marvel, 2015) – I looked at this and couldn’t remember why I ordered it, until I opened it and saw the James Stokoe artwork. The James Stokoe story in this issue takes place in a world resembling ancient Egypt and stars the Silver Surfer and the Juggernaut. The plot here is rather flimsy but the art, as usual with Stokoe, is mind-blowing. His visual imagination is incredible. The backup story, by Peter David, is pointless.

HOWARD THE DUCK #5 (Marvel, 2015) – Another hilarious issue. Chip Zdarsky is becoming one of the funniest writers in the industry, and this issue also includes a surprisingly tender scene, Howard’s reconciliation with Tara. Though I still wonder what the hell happened to Bev. I love all the fake footnotes.

HARLEY QUINN #18 (DC, 2015) – This was fun, but I barely remember anything about it except that it involves Captain Strong. I think I was falling asleep when I read this comic. This series is a definite guilty pleasure.

DC COMICS BOMBSHELLS #1 (DC, 2015) – Another comic I can’t remember very well, though I enjoyed it. It seems quite historically accurate, although one of my Facebook friends was complaining that the timeframe seems to be off.

LONG DISTANCE #3 (Image, 2015) – This issue answers my major complaint about this series, which was that there was no real conflict. At the end of the issue, Lee loses her guarantee of a postdoc for next year. This is a very realistic and disturbing scenario that hits close to home for me as a non-TT academic, though I assume it’s all going to work out fine – that Dr. Navi Gownde is going to offer her a job. But then maybe she’ll end up on the other side of the country, which is another common occurrence in academia. More generally, Thom is just such an amazing dialogue writer and he draws such beautiful facial expressions. As I wrote on Facebook, “I didn’t like Thom Zahler’s Long Distance at first, but now I’m obsessed with it. His characterization is so good.”

PRINCELESS: BE YOURSELF #2 (Action Lab, 2015) – Both the plotlines in this issue are very funny. The best joke in the issue is the massacre/masquerade confusion, but the horse thing is cute too. When Adrienne asks Delores Grunkmore if a lot of people use goblin guides, I wonder if that’s an intentional Magic: The Gathering reference. My main gripe about this comic is that the lettering is ugly.

PROVIDENCE #2 (Avatar, 2015) – This issue is more obviously fantastic/SFinal than last issue, and it appears to be a direct reference to Lovecraft’s story “The Horror at Red Hook.” The connections to Alan’s other work are also more obvious – the Kurdish Yazidi man obviously makes me remember King Peacock from Top Ten. The diary entries at the end of the comic are very cumbersome to read because of the illegible font.

EMPIRE: UPRISING #4 (IDW, 2015) – I think I’m getting fed up with this series. Every issue is just a bunch of pointless blood and gore, with no substantial plot progression. In 2003, this sort of thing was original enough to be interesting, but not anymore. I think the next issue of this series will be my last.

LAZARUS #12 (Image, 2014) – And here’s another series that I’m going to stop ordering. This issue typifies the problem with this series: it’s just a lot of internal Family politics that I don’t care about, with no significant worldbuilding or development of Forever’s character.

LAZARUS #13 (Image, 2014) – See above. The poker game is kind of a funny scene, but whatever.

THUNDERBOLTS #12 (Marvel, 1998) – I was reluctant to read this because it’s double-sized, and that also meant I couldn’t read any of the later issues of Thunderbolts in my to-be-read boxes. I finally managed to get through it. I’ve never liked Thunderbolts as much as Kurt’s other major works, and I think it’s because I have little affection for the characters. I guess I like Songbird and Jolt but otherwise my favorite Thunderbolt, oddly, is Zemo, with his unrepentant evil. And this issue is a somewhat formulaic superhero story, though it becomes genuinely exciting toward the end.

OMEGA THE UNKNOWN #2 (Marvel, 2008) – I read this because I was in the middle of reading The Wrenchies, and I realized that this series also has Farel Dalrymple artwork. Farel is clearly a major talent, but his artwork here is less impressive than in The Wrenches or It Will All Hurt. In particular, his coloring is much more flat, without three-dimensional modeling of volume. Reading this issue, I had the sense that he was phoning it in – that he was not doing the best work he was capable of. As for the story, it makes even less sense than that of the original Omega.

LAZARUS #14 (Image, 2015) – This is the best issue of the series since #4, and it partly redeems this series. Forever finally gets to talk to Jonah about his text message, and starts to realize that the things she’s been told about herself and her world are not the complete truth. The silent pages with Forever watching Jonah swim away, and then watching her hand injuries heal, are quite powerful. The problem is that I feel that the previous ten issues did nothing to advance Forever’s character arc – there was no reason this scene couldn’t have happened right after issue 4. What I want is for Forever to realize that the society she lives in is deeply unjust, and to start working to change it, and it seems like that’s not going to happen for a long time.

GODZILLA: THE HALF-CENTURY WAR #1 (IDW, 2012) – More absolutely gorgeous artwork by James Stokoe, one of the leading draftspeople in comics right now. What impresses me about this issue is the sense of scale he creates. Godzilla seems just toweringly huge – and in a way he even looks more realistic than the people in the comic. With his style, Stokoe is clearly not capable of doing a monthly series, but it seems like he’s managed to build a career out of doing miniseries and one-shots, which is reassuring.

LAZARUS #15 (Image, 2015) – With this issue, we’re back to boring stuff I don’t care about. Michael Lark is the leading artist of action scenes in the current comics industry, and this issue’s epic swordfight between Forever and Sonya is an impressive piece of work. Even then, it wasn’t enough to get me emotionally invested in this comic, because I didn’t care about the stakes involved.

THE ELTINGVILLE CLUB #2 (Dark Horse, 2015) – This story takes place ten years after the previous issue, as the four Eltingville Club members reunite at Comic-Con. Evan uses Comic-Con as an opportunity to make fun of many of the problems affecting the current comics industry, including rampant sexism. Bill’s angry rant about Jerry’s girlfriend is kind of the perfect expression of the Gamergate mentality. This issue also includes Evan’s typical over-the-top cathartic mayhem, as the Eltingville Club causes a riot which leads to the end of Comic-Con. This feels like it could be the last Eltingville Club story. If so, it’s an appropriate sendoff.

PHONOGRAM: THE IMMATERIAL GIRL #1 (Image, 2015) – As explained earlier, I don’t like this comic nearly as much as other Gillen/McKelvie works because I have no interest in the subject matter. I get what Kieron is saying about how music is magic, but I feel that way very rarely myself. This is probably a matter of personal preference: I like media that don’t have a strict temporality attached. I prefer reading and playing video games because I can set the pace myself (though obviously that’s not always true in the latter case). Anyway, I am still going to keep reading this comic because it’s Kieron and Jamie.

HELLBLAZER #48 (DC, 1991) – This is the sequel to “The Pub Where I Was Born” (I remember that title because it’s a Pogues lyric), in which Constantine’s favorite bar is blown up by mobsters. In this issue, Constantine pursues the people responsible, but it turns out that they’re already being pursued by the vengeful ghosts of the murdered bar owner and her previously deceased husband, and Constantine has to get the ghosts to calm down. It’s a violent but also a very touching story. The weak link here is Mike Hoffman’s artwork. His storytelling is fine, but his draftsmanship is so loose and sketchy that it reminds me of Frank Stack – not that I have anything against Frank Stack, his style of art just doesn’t seem appropriate for this comic.

SILK #5 (Marvel, 2015) – Again, I liked this comic but I can hardly remember anything about it now. Probably the best thing in the issue is the scene where Peter and Silk are talking, and in the background the dragon villain dude is escaping, and Peter is like “That is why I don’t team up with bad guys.”

LOKI: AGENT OF ASGARD #9 (Marvel, 2015) – Like Lazarus, this is a series that I’ve been buying but not reading. Its initial momentum was killed off by excessive involvement in crossovers. This issue is a good example of that. It’s a crossover with Axis, a story which I know nothing about. It seems like the idea here is that in Axis, all the villains turn good and all the heroes turn evil. This does lead to an exciting scene where Loki picks up Thor’s hammer because he’s become worthy to wield it. But at the end of the issue, the good/evil switch is reversed due to events occurring in some other comic, and Thor and Loki both forget that Thor lifted Loki’s hammer. So effectively the events of the issue never happened. After this, I had little interest in reading issue 10, though I suppose I’ll get to it soon.

SUICIDE SQUAD #22 (DC, 1988) – This is the one where Amanda orders the Squad to stop Rick Flag from killing Senator Cray, and Deadshot obeys her order – by killing Cray himself. I already knew about this plot twist secondhand, but it was fun to see it actually happen on-panel. Besides that, this issue, like every other issue of Suicide Squad, is full of exciting action and effective characterization. The one thing that bugged me about this issue is the black-haired character wearing a black shirt and sunglasses. This person is never identified and has no lines of dialogue, and I’m mystified as to who he might be.

MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #90 (Marvel, 1982) – This issue is certainly not a classic, but it’s fun anyway. Spider-Man and the Thing run into each other at a Renaissance Fair, where, by coincidence, an inept magician has accidentally spoken an incarnation that summons a giant green monster. This leads to some ineffective fight scenes but also some funny dialogue, especially in the last panel where Spidey wonders what to do with the defeated monster, and Ben suggests the Central Park zoo might like a donation. This story is by Jan Strnad, a highly underrated writer, and Alan Kupperberg, who sadly just passed away.

HELLBLAZER #78 (DC, 1994) – As I’ve probably said here before, this series, not Preacher, is Garth Ennis’s greatest work (that I know of). This is part one of his last Hellblazer story, “Rake at the Gates of Hell” – another title taken from a Pogues song. It’s not clear at this point where this story is going, but it does seem to involve two themes of Ennis’s Hellblazer – John’s deal with the First of the Fallen, and the British National Party. This story has an overwhelming theme of despair, as John realizes that he’s doing awful things to his friends but he can’t help it. Steve Dillon’s artwork is terrific; I think he and Ennis are better together than either of them is alone.

LAZARUS #16 (Image, 2015) – This issue is a side story that focuses on the nun who appeared in the Lift storyline. It would have been a better side story if not for all the unreadable text and the numerous pages that are wasted on infodumps. This story didn’t do much to expand my knowledge of the world of Lazarus, besides telling me that this world is a horrible living hell, which I knew already.

Reviews for 8-14-15

I apologize to myself for getting behind. I received my new comics two days before I went on vacation, and I didn’t have time to write reviews of them. Then after I got back, I didn’t feel like writing reviews.

SECRET WARS JOURNAL #1 (Marvel, 2015) – I could have skipped ordering this comic. There are two stories here, and the second one is just bad, a boring piece of generic horror. The first story is the one that interested me because it stars Kate Bishop, but the writer, Prudence Shen, does not do a good job with her characterization, and the story is too short to develop any momentum.

AVENGERS ACADEMY #8 (Marvel, 2011) – When published this was one of Marvel’s best titles, but the quality of Marvel’s output has increased so much in the intervening years that if this comic were published now, it wouldn’t even be in the top five. The trouble with this story is the excessiveness. The kids discover that the Hood savagely beat Tigra and got away scot-free, so they get revenge by beating him up and posting the video to the Internet. I suppose it’s plausible that a bunch of stupid teenagers would overreact in this way, but it decreases my respect for all the parties involved. And what makes it worse is that Tigra overreacts just as badly by expelling all the kids from the team. I mean, I guess this sort of histrionic behavior is not uncommon in superhero comics, but I’ve come to expect even Marvel to behave more realistically.

SUPERMAN #192 (DC, 1967) – Like many DC comics of this era, “Clark Kent’s Super-Brat!” is blatantly stupid and shows little respect for the reader’s intelligence. The whole story is basically a big joke where Clark Kent Jr. embarrasses his father with his much higher intelligence (I’m reminded a little bit of Winter in Miracleman). One of the central plot points of the story is that Clark loses his memory and forgets he was ever Superman. This creates a gaping plot hole, because other people, including Batman and Supergirl, do know his secret identity, and they could have told him he was Superman. Instead of coming up with a way to fix the plot, the writer, Otto Binder, has Batman and Supergirl directly address the reader and say that they can’t tell Clark his own secret identity because that would ruin the story. This is essentially an admission that the writer not only failed to write a logical plot, but didn’t even bother to try.

Now we come to the new comics from the week of July 20.

HAWKEYE #22 (Marvel, 2015) – It was a long time coming (I reviewed the previous issue in March, and the one before that in December), but this issue is an appropriate conclusion to the best Marvel comic of the decade. Nothing happens here that’s incredibly surprising, but this issue wraps up all the loose plot threads in a satisfying way, and there are even some callbacks to the sign language imagery from issue 19. The closing scene, with Hawkeye and Kate practicing archery, has a powerful sense of finality and resolution, and I don’t quite know why. I congratulate Matt, David, and their collaborators on producing a classic piece of work which has helped to raise the standards for the superhero genre.

LUMBERJANES #16 (Boom!, 2015) – It’s been a long time since I got a new issue of Lumberjanes and it wasn’t the first comic I read. Hawkeye #22 was one of the few things that could have taken priority over Lumberjanes. I don’t know what’s up with this issue’s cover; it seems to have been intended for the next story arc, with the mermaids, instead of the current one. As for the actual issue, I find that I don’t remember much about it. This is partly because I read it a while ago and I’ve read a ton of other stuff in the meantime, but it’s also because there’s not much in this issue that’s particularly memorable. We finally get to see what the Grootslang actually is, and we get an intriguing flashback to what the camp was like when the Bear Woman ran it, but besides that, this issue is just a continuation of the Rosie storyline.

ASTRO CITY #25 (DC, 2015) – The new Hummingbird is the cutest Astro City character since Astra, so I was excited about this spotlight on her, and it turned out to be another fantastic Astro City story. For most of the story, Amanda really does seem like the luckiest girl in the world – she not only has superpowers but also a wonderful mother and supportive friends. As a side note, I like how the elder Hummingbird decides to raise her child by herself rather than go live in her boyfriend’s dimension. This is an unusually positive portrayal of single motherhood. Then the story takes a much darker twist, as Amanda learns that she’s suffering from a curse that’s gradually transforming her into an actual hummingbird. But Amanda refuses to give up her powers in order to stop the curse, because her upbringing has taught her that “I won’t give up on who I am and what I do… out of fear of what might happen if I lose.” It’s a moment of genuine heroism and it shows how Amanda’s mother has made her who she is. Like Iron Man #128, this issue ends with Amanda vowing that she’s going to win, and I believe it.

Also, one of Greymalkin’s cats is Grumpy Cat.

USAGI YOJIMBO #147 (Dark Horse, 2015) – Until reading the letters page of this issue, I didn’t realize that this story was the first time Kitsune and Chizu had met. If that was the point of “The Thief and the Kunoichi,” then the story succeeded at what it was trying to do; Stan did an effective job of exploiting the dramatic potential created by the personality conflict between these characters. The ending of the story is rather surprising, as Kitsune ends up in possession of the treaty, which she’s going to sell to an ally of Lord Hikiji. Though I guess this doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things because the treaty is just a McGuffin. The kiss scene at the end is hilarious.

MIND MGMT #35 (Dark Horse, 2015) – This is the last issue, but the series isn’t over yet because New MGMT #1 is still forthcoming. One of the last parts of my current book that I still need to write is the section on Mind MGMT, and I think I might wait to write it until the week after next when New MGMT comes out, because I think I need to read the last few issues in a couple sittings – I feel like I’ve missed quite a lot. The key plot point in this issue is that the animal girl, whose name I forgot, reappears and saves the day. This feels a bit like a deus ex machina, but I think Matt has provided sufficient justification for why it happened now and not sooner. It’s also worth noting that in this issue, the illustrations at the bottom of the page border are back.

SILVER SURFER #13 (Marvel, 2015) – The first half of this issue is an affectionate tribute to the first 12 issues of the series. I loved seeing Plorp and the Perfect Planet again, and “it’s actually space-French” is one of the funniest lines in the entire series. The second half of the issue is weird and forgettable, although the last page, where the entire landscape turns out to be the face of the Shaper of Worlds, is a cool trick.

PREZ #2 (DC, 2015) – I enjoyed this comic but now I can’t remember much about it, besides the exaggeratedly childish behavior of the state representatives. I’m surprised that Prez’s dad is already dead; I assumed that her motivation was going to be paying for his health care. I did love the line about how there was no hope for him because he was an adjunct professor – I think this may have been the first reference to the adjunct crisis in any comic book.

POWER UP! #1 (Boom!, 2015) – This was a fun comic but, like other recent Boom! comics, it was too short. I barely had time to get to know any of the characters before the issue ended. I do love the premise of this series and I look forward to learning more about the characters, though the fact that there are only five issues left is troubling.

EMPIRE: UPRISING #3 (IDW, 2015) – This is just like every other issue of Empire. None of the characters are sympathetic at all, there’s lots of gratuitious violence and sex, and the whole series seems like a guilty pleasure on the part of the creators. At least it’s not as bad as Savage Dragon.

HARLEY QUINN & POWER GIRL #2 (DC, 2015) – I liked this better than the first issue, but I hardly remember anything about it. Probably the highlight of the issue is that one of Vartox’s ex-girlfriends is a boy.

ALL-NEW HAWKEYE #1 (Marvel, 2015) – I was waiting to read this until Hawkeye #22 came out. This issue was a promising start to the series, though the second issue did not fulfill that promise, as we will see. The only concern here is that both the artwork (in the present-day sections) and the characterization are very close to Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye. There is no way that Jeff Lemire and Ramón Pérez are going to be able to reach the level of quality of their predecessors, so it might have been better for them to go off in an entirely different direction, like Matt Fraction and Mike Allred did when they replaced Jonathan Hickman on FF.

SUICIDE SQUAD #19 (DC, 1988) – This is a “Personal Files” story that follows Amanda Waller over the course of a typical day. As usual with this series, this is a high-quality comic but there’s nothing that particularly distinguishes it from any other issue. This story does offer some interesting insights into Amanda’s character.

I’m going to try to get through the next four reviews very quickly, because I was exhausted when I read these comics and I hardly remember anything about them.

BLACK CANARY #2 (DC, 2015) – Another fairly good issue, but not as exciting as issue 1 because the novelty of the artwork has worn off. I wonder who Dinah’s ex-husband Kurt is – I assumed when she mentioned her ex-husband, she was referring to Ollie.

WEIRDWORLD #2 (Marvel, 2015) – Again, I enjoyed this issue but not as much as the previous one. The reappearance of Crystar is a cool idea, though I’m not familiar with that character at all.

REVIVAL #31 (Image, 2015) – I keep thinking of this series as “The Revival,” but that’s wrong – The Revival was a one-shot by James Sturm. In this issue, Dana and Em finally catch up with Blaine Abel, and we get some further ambiguous hints as to what’s going on with the ghosts. I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of May Tao’s funeral.

INVINCIBLE #121 (Image, 2015) – My reaction to this issue was that Robert Kirkman is trolling his readers. Rather than explain this again, I will quote what I said on Facebook: “Kirkman has spent about 30 issues convincing us that Robot/Rex is the most horrible, loathsome villain ever. And now he does this storyline where Robot takes over the world and creates a utopia. It’s like he’s saying, fine, you hate Robot, well, now he’s won and there’s nothing you can do about it, ha ha.” I don’t even think it’s plausible that Robot is doing such a good job of running the world. Kirkman doesn’t provide us with any examples of things that Robot is doing right, nor does he explain how exactly Robot has fixed all of humanity’s problems. It’s like he’s just decreed by authorial fiat that Robot has turned the world into a utopia, and the reader is expected to believe this without any proof. Overall this makes me as the reader very angry. Also, we now know that this series is going to be rebooted and that Mark will return to the start of the series but with his memory intact. This feels like an admission of failure to me – it’s as though Kirkman is admitting that the story has reached a dead end. I’m going to continue reading this comic but I’m not enjoying it nearly as much as I used to.

Now we get to some comics that I can remember more clearly because I read them after returning from Canada.

IT WILL ALL HURT #2 (Study Group Comics, 2015) – As with the first issue, this is a beautifully drawn and attractively packaged comic, but I still have no idea where this story is going or what it’s even about. It’s starting to come together a little bit, but I remain mystified as to who the characters are and what they’re doing. Maybe this will become clearer if I read The Wrenchies first. I was going to start reading it but other books got in the way.

THE ISLAND #1 (Image, 2015) – I love the idea of this comic – it’s an attractive anthology of original work by good creators, it’s a nice-looking package, and it even fits inside a longbox. However, the quality of the actual comics is uneven. I was initially annoyed by the Emma Rios story because I thought the dialogue was terrible and the plot made no sense. As I continued to read, I eventually figured out that the characters were participants in some sort of full-body transplant program, but I wish that had been clearer from the start. Confusing plotting appears to be a hallmark of Emma Rios comics. The clear highlights of the issue are the two Brandon Graham stories. Brandon may be my favorite current artist in American comic books, and it’s exciting to see new work from him again, although 30 pages of his artwork are a lot to take in at one sitting. The plot of Multiple Warheads is going nowhere, but that’s fine; Brandon’s comics are more about worldbuilding and sight gags than about plot. The Ludroe story suffers by comparison to the other material in the issue because the artwork is much looser, the story takes much less time to read, and the lettering is ugly. Brandon’s two-pager at the end is maybe the best thing in the issue; it’s not really a full-fledged work of poetics, more like a series of statements about his creative process, but it’s interesting anyway. I especially like his point about deliberately trying to show that there are other stories going on in the world of the story, besides the main plot. Fictional works often create the impression that the entire world revolves around the protagonist, and Brandon tries to avoid that. In the next panel, he mentions that “you can approach a comic with clarity of the setting as one of the main goals,” which maybe explains why his comics, as I just mentioned, are more about worldbuilding than plot. I’m just sorry that the next issue of this anthology isn’t going to have any more work by Brandon.

LONG DISTANCE #1 (IDW, 2015) – I was frustrated by this comic on my first read, but I found that I kept thinking about it and remembering it fondly. This comic is a romantic comedy, a genre that I don’t enjoy, and it’s also about two very privileged people (well, the female protagonist is a postdoc, but her lack of job security is not treated as a major issue). Both of these things were also true of Love & Capes, but I enjoyed that comic anyway for other reasons, including the superhero angle and the four-panel structure. In this comic, though, there are no superheroes, just romantic comedy. As a result, it was hard to ignore the fact that the whole story was a lot of #firstworldproblems – the biggest problem Carter and Lee have is that one of them lives in Chicago and the other lives in Columbus, and they can’t see each other as often as they like. Though as I write this, I realize this is not an uncommon problem for people in my field – I know at least two different academics who had to live on the other side of the country from their spouses for job-related reasons.

But as I mentioned, despite all of the above, I kept thinking about this comic after I read it. I think this is because Thom is so good at what he does. His characters are funny and endearing, he writes brilliant dialogue, and his artwork is appealing. As an exploration of a realistic relationship, this comic is not comparable to Sex Criminals and I’m not sure it’s even comparable to True Story, Swear to God, but it’s funny and heartwarming, and that’s all it’s trying to be. So this comic passes one of the two tests of literary criticism – it succeeds at what it’s trying to do. I’m not so sure if it passes the second test, which is whether the thing it’s trying to do is worthwhile.

Now for the new comics from the week of August 3.

SEX CRIMINALS #11 – This is the first new issue since February, and it feels almost disappointingly short considering how long I’ve waited for it – well, I was doing other things in the meantime, but you know what I mean. Though I forgot about the extra page after the letter column, which contains the shocking revelation that the doctor’s lover is a member of the Sex Police. Which I forget if we knew that already or not. The other surprising development this issue is that Jon and Suzie fail to recruit Jazmine St. Cocaine. But I think the highlight this issue is Douglas D. Douglas, with his adorable combination of innocence and anime fetishism. The scene where Matt explains why Chip can’t draw the interior of the Asian food mart is the funniest thing in this comic. The gimmick of this issue is that it was shipped inside a wrapper, and you had to open the wrapper in order to discover whether your copy was “secretly a sketch variant.” Mine was not, of course. I wish the wrapper had been designed to be resealable, because it’s well-designed and has text on it, and I don’t want to just throw it out, but what else can I do with it?

MS. MARVEL #17 (Marvel, 2015) – It’s been a while since I’ve been truly impressed by an issue of Ms. Marvel, but I was truly impressed by this issue. And that’s not just because of the cover, which is probably my favorite cover of 2015 – it’s adorable and it perfectly depicts Kamala’s adoration for Carol. Beyond that, Kamala’s meeting with Carol is a pivotal moment in this series, and it’s everything it should be. Just like when she met Wolverine, Kamala acts like the starstruck fangirl she is, but she also behaves in a way that’s worthy of Carol. Offhand I can’t remember another comic book that depicted the relationship between a teenage superheroine and her female mentor in such an effective way, and I hope Carol will show up in this series again after this story arc is over.

KAPTARA #4 (Image, 2015) – This was the worst issue yet and it was a significant drop in quality from the last three. Half the issue is devoted to a flashback involving Dartor’s last visit to the Hexamen, and while this sequence is funny, it could have been covered in significantly fewer pages. The rest of the issue moves the plot along effectively, but lacks Chip Zdarsky’s characteristic humor. Probably the best thing about the issue is Kagan McLeod’s art, especially the establishing shot of the Hive.

GROOT #3 (Marvel, 2015) – Easily the best issue yet. Groot’s team-up with the Surfer and Dawn is extremely fun because these characters are so different, yet they get along so well. The funniest thing in the issue is Dawn’s use of the term “Surferizing” to describe the Surfer’s endless monologues, but there’s a lot of other fun stuff here, and Brian Kesinger’s art is excellent – his scary aliens and his cute aliens are appropriately cute and scary, and he draws a very attractive Dawn. It occurs to me that Groot is kind of like Gerber’s Man-Thing because he’s a protagonist who can’t talk intelligibly, but unlike Man-Thing, Groot is not an unthinking, animalistic monster – he has thoughts and motivations, he’s just not good at expressing them.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #13 (Image, 2015) – “Commercial Suicide” doesn’t do much to advance the plot, but it’s a powerful and very timely story about a woman who’s driven to suicide by Internet harassment. The two-page spread of misogynistic Twitter comments is effective because it’s so believable; if anything, it’s probably less harsh than the stuff people really do say on Twitter. I applaud Kieron for being willing to take on the problem of Internet hate speech in such a direct way, although I suppose this issue is open to criticism because Tara chooses to kill herself rather than respond to her harassers in a more proactive way. (Though she was going to die anyway.) Tula Lotay’s artwork in this issue is not bad, but she’s no substitute for Jamie McKelvie.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #5 (IDW, 2015) – Another fun issue. I like this series enough that I’m going to keep reading it even after Sophie Campbell leaves – or is she just going on hiatus? I’m not sure. Even though Sophie’s artwork is the main attraction of the comic for me, Kelly Thompson’s characterization and dialogue are really good. The most memorable thing in this issue for me is probably the giant Sunset Shimmer plush toy, but all the carnival scenes are excellent.

LONG DISTANCE #2 (IDW, 2015) – See above. Until I reread the comic, I didn’t realize that all the Chicago scenes are brown and all the Columbus scenes are green. The “I don’t want you to come in” scene made me wonder if Thom was being overly puritanical, but the end of the issue removes that impression.

BATGIRL #42 (DC, 2015) – Babs Tarr has become the primary attraction of this comic. It’s surprising that she had essentially no comics experience prior to this series, because she’s already developed a distinctive and unique style of both drawing and page design. The story in this issue, though, is rather forgettable. I still think that Batgirl’s relationship with Gordon is similar to Spider-Gwen’s relationship with Captain Stacy, but less interesting.

WE STAND ON GUARD #2 (Image, 2015) – Steve Skroce’s artwork in this issue is fairly impressive, especially his drawings of giant machines. But in terms of the story, this comic is failing to generate the same level of excitement in Saga. The primary emphasis of this issue is on the awfulness of the U.S. military. The part of the issue devoted to the American soldiers are both disturbing and plausible, especially the scene with the invasion of the old couple’s house. But I still haven’t been given much reason to care about the protagonist.

GIANT DAYS #5 (Boom!, 2015) – Like other issues of this series, this is a hilarious depiction of college life. I guess this comic is a romantic comedy, just like Long Distance, but the emphasis is more on the comedy than the romantic. I don’t have much else to say about this issue specifically.

LAZARUS #6 (Image, 2014) – I’m more than a year behind on this series, and I finally decided to get caught up on it. On Facebook, I explained that I stopped reading this comic “because it’s relentlessly grim and depressing, with no humor or hope. That’s not what I look for in my entertainment.” This series takes place in a completely dystopian world where an ultra-rich oligarchy oppresses everyone else and there’s no hope of anything getting any better. I get enough of that in the news. I enjoy Greg Rucka’s writing, but I prefer his stories set in the present day.

LAZARUS #7 (Image, 2014) – More of the same. In this issue, Joe and Casey and their family have a moment of peace and tenderness, suggesting that some hope remains even in this downtrodden world where 99.9% of the people are horribly oppressed. And then one of the kids gets shot and killed, because that’s the sort of thing that happens in this comic. I don’t mind when characters die, but this scene felt emotionally manipulative.

DETECTIVE COMICS #756 (DC, 2001) – I read a different Greg Rucka comic in order to get the bad taste out of my mouth. This is a crossover story in which Superman and Batman team up to steal President Luthor’s Kryptonite ring. The interactions between Batman, Superman and Lois in this issue are very well-written, but the problem with this story is the artwork. Coy Turnbull (now Koi Turnbull) is one of the worst artists I’ve ever seen on a DC comic. He draws his characters in the most ridiculous and outlandish poses, and he has no sense of subtlety. He’s even worse than Shawn Martinborough, which is a difficult feat. It’s also worth noting that this issue has the same striking two-color scheme as the Shawn Martinborough issues though actually it’s a three-color scheme, because the Kryptonite is green but everything else in the issue is gray or red. Apparently this coloring was Greg’s idea.

SAVAGE DRAGON #205 (Image, 2015) – Let me quote myself again: “[Savage Dragon has] always been in very poor taste, but lately it reads like the work of a dirty old man fantasizing about what he wishes his teenage sex life had been like.” In this issue, Erik reveals that Malcolm is not just a sex machine, he’s also a super-stud, because he’s succeeded in knocking up all three of his girlfriends. Maxine’s reaction to learning of her pregnancy is especially annoying: she’s completely happy about it, despite the fact that 1) she’s still in high school and 2) she knows that having a baby with Malcolm’s powers could kill her. I suppose this sort of reaction isn’t completely implausible, but it feels like the reaction of a character in a porn film, rather than a real person. This underscores how Maxine is essentially just a fantasized sex object rather than an actual character. The rest of the issue makes up for this a little bit. Angel has an abortion, and although Erik only devotes one page to this, he depicts it in a sensitive way. And we find out that Tierra was never pregnant at all, so the reports of Malcolm’s super-fertility may have been exaggerated. Still, this is a very frustrating comic. I’ve had it up to here with Erik and I think #207 might be my last issue.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #19 (IDW, 2015) – This story does exactly what MLP: FF is supposed to do: it brings together two characters (or three in this case) who don’t interact much, and bounces them off each other. This time around, Rarity goes into partnership with Mr. and Mrs. Cake. These two characters are not an obvious pairing since the Cakes are part of Pinkie Pie’s supporting cast, but Christina Rice comes up with a plausible reason why they should interact with each other: they both make things for weddings. So they go into business as partners, and of course Rarity proceeds to run the business into the ground thanks to her excessive ambition and her inability to take advice. This story ultimately reveals more about the Cakes than about Rarity; we already know Rarity has megalomaniac tendencies, but we didn’t know that the Cakes have fantastic organizational skills thanks to being parents of twins. Christina Rice and Brenda Hickey are not among the more prominent pony creators, but they did a great job with this comic.

THE SPIRE #2 (Boom!, 2015) – The problem with this issue is that I had trouble remembering what this series was supposed to be about. Even though issue 1 came out just last month, this comic has a very complicated setting with lots of specialized terminology. A recap on the inside front cover would have been very useful. I also suspect this comic might read better in collected form. All of the above was also a problem with Six-Gun Gorilla. Otherwise, this was another quality piece of work, though there’s nothing that significantly distinguishes it from the previous issue.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #10 (Image, 2015) – I’m getting annoyed at how long it’s been since we were introduced to Earl Tubb’s daughter. She’s supposed to be the protagonist of the series, but it’s been ten issues now and we hardly know anything about her. Besides that, this was another good issue. Ezekiel is a very simplistic character who seems to be motivated entirely by rage at his own powerlessness. But that alone makes him interesting, because he seems like a perfect example of a certain type of white American masculinity. The other main character in this issue is the preacher, who turns out to be a surprisingly admirable character, a Christian who actually follows the teachings of Christ. The funniest scene in the issue is the page where everyone knows more about football coaching than Ezekiel does. This issue also includes Jason Latour’s essay on the Confederate flag, but unfortunately this essay is typeset in a font that’s very cumbersome to read.

PHONOGRAM: THE SINGLES CLUB #7 (Image, 2010) – I read some of this series when it came out, but I stopped buying it before this issue, which I bought last summer. I never liked Phonogram as much as Gillen and McKelvie’s other stuff, because I have no interest in the subject matter – I’m a fairly unmusical person and I don’t especially like Britpop. Still, the first story in this issue is cool because it’s experimental – it’s a nearly silent story, with some radical page layouts that remind me of some of the stuff that Jamie did in Young Avengers. This issue also contains a backup story, but I hardly remember anything about it at all.

LAZARUS #8 (Image, 2014) – See above. This issue was so grim and dark that after reading it, I felt I had to wash my brain out by reading some fun comics.

AQUAMAN #16 (DC, 1964) – The main draw of this issue is the stunning Nick Cardy artwork. The things I love most about his art are his page layouts and his beautiful women, but he was also extremely good at drawing action sequences. However, the plot of this issue is forgettable and the characterization is almost absent – Mera gets jealous of Aquaman because she thinks he’s fallen in love with an alien woman, but then she forgives him after the alien leaves Earth. It turns out this story was written by Jack Miller rather than Bob Haney, which may explain the lack of narrative complexity.

AVENGERS #75 (Marvel, 1970) – I’ve read this before as a Marvel Super Action reprint, but I don’t remember it well. This issue is the first appearance of Arkon, who currently stars in Weirdworld; in this story he invades Earth in order to trigger a massive nuclear explosion that will provide power to his homeworld. Arkon himself is not a particularly deep character yet, but otherwise, the characterization in this issue is vastly superior to that in Aquaman #16. Reading one of these issues after the other results in a powerful demonstration that Marvel’s superior characterization was perhaps their biggest advantage over DC in the Silver Age. This issue also has some spectacular art, from the period when John Buscema was allowed to draw like himself rather than like Kirby. Also, Tom Palmer is perhaps my favorite inker, and this issue is a good demonstration of why.

LAZARUS #9 (Image, 2014) – One of the surprises in this issue is that Forever chooses to let her instructor live, instead of killing her, as seemed inevitable. But this would have been a more powerful moment if I’d been given more reason to care about these characters. Also, let me quote myself yet again:

“Reading Lazarus (which I still don’t like), I realize it’s in part an exploration of what happens when capitalism fails but no alternative system replaces it. Most of the people in the world are unemployed “waste” because they don’t perform any useful function for the Families. The Families have no need for these people and don’t feel any social responsibility to provide them with subsistence, so the Waste are literally waste product.

I know people have predicted that this is going to happen or has happened in the real world — that in the globalized economy, there will be insufficient jobs to go around, and it will be necessary to find an alternative system for supporting people. But in Lazarus, no such system has been created because there’s no government to create it.”

LAZARUS #10 (Image, 2014) – This issue reintroduces Jonah, who hadn’t appeared since #4, and it shows us the territory of the Hock family. The trouble is, I don’t care about any of this stuff. The two principal characters in this issue, Jonah and Jakob Hock, are both horrible monsters, just like all the members of the Families except Forever herself. And it’s difficult for me to get involved in a story when I hate all the characters and wish they would die. I suppose it is mildly amusing to see Jonah get his comeuppance.

LAZARUS #11 (Image, 2014) – In this issue Forever finally starts investigating the e-mail that claimed she wasn’t really a Carlyle. But she received that e-mail in issue 4, and I think this is the first we’ve heard of it since. As of issue 4, I was expecting that Forever would gradually start questioning her own identity and upbringing, and that she would realize that she was the pawn of an oppressive dictatorship. If that’s where her character arc is going, though, then it’s getting there very slowly, and the last five or six issues were effectively wasted in that they did nothing to advance Forever’s character arc. As for the main plot of this storyline, involving the conclave between the families, I don’t care about it at all.

ALL-NEW HAWKEYE #2 (Marvel, 2015) – Disappointing. Ramón Pérez’s art continues to be very effective, but this story seemed like it was over too quickly. I do like how Jeff Lemire is setting up a parallelism between Hawkeye’s own upbringing and that of the three mutant kids.

CASTLE WAITING #6 (Fantagraphics, 2007) – I already have the hardcover book that contains this issue, and I read it mostly because I was curious as to whether it read differently in single-issue form. The answer is yes, and specifically, this series is less effective in single-issue than in book form. The artwork in this issue is reproduced too large, with the result that it loses the ultraprecise feel of the artwork in the collection. And this issue includes no extras of any kind, not even a letters page. As for the story, I can’t really evaluate it without having read the previous five issues, though I generally like this series a lot.

8HOUSE: ARCLIGHT #2 (Image, 2015) – I didn’t realize at first that this comic was written by Brandon rather than Marian Churchland. As I probably said before, this issue is very similar to an issue of Prophet in that the plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but the setting is fascinating and deeply alien. It’s annoying to have to keep decoding the alien runes, although they’re a lot easier to read than Doopspeak. It doesn’t say who drew the gorgeous two-page spread at the end of the issue; I guessed Ulises Farinas but I was wrong, it was Xurxo G. Penalta, who I have not heard of before.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #43 (IDW, 2015) – This was probably my favorite issue yet because I actually understood it. The plot is deeply bizarre and convoluted but it’s explained in a way that makes sense. Basically, Swerve goes insane due to an injury and creates a holographic projection of an alternate Earth that’s based on sitcoms, and the other Autobots have to visit this Earth to rescue him. The hilarious part is that this alternate Earth operates by sitcom logic – e.g. the characters never go to work and they constantly get involved in bizarre situations – and there are all kinds of other funny jokes. Overall this is one of the best examples I’ve seen of James Roberts’s incredible sense of humor.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #32 (IDW, 2015) – This, however, did not impress me. In this issue, Ponyville is invaded by evil apples who quickly conquer the entire town and set up a dictatorship. This franchise generally has a very low level of realism, but even then, the idea of sentient warlike apples is impossible to take seriously, and it’s not even all that funny. Also, I’m not convinced that the apples could have taken over the entire town in one night. This story feels like an experiment that didn’t succeed.

Somewhat late reviews

WOMANTHOLOGY: SPACE #4 (IDW, 2013) – I’m sorry to say that this was not a high-quality comic book. Each of the three stories in it is so short that there’s no room to develop the characters or the setting, so they’re all unsatisfying and they all try to cover too much territory. Also, some of the stories are amateurishly written or drawn or both, and the third story even commits the cardinal sin of using Comic Sans to letter an actual comic book.

SAGA #30 (Image, 2015) – So many things happened this issue that it was difficult to process them all. Marko and Alana are back together, Gwendolyn is alive, The Will is awake, but The Brand and the kidnapper robot dude are dead and Hazel is at some sort of preschool on some other planet. It’s going to take a while for all of that to sink in. This entire series is basically one giant shock after another, and this is its greatest strength but can also be a flaw, when it delivers too many shocks for the reader to absorb without enough time to absorb them.

RUNAWAYS #2 (Marvel, 2015) – I spent most of this issue wondering where Molly was, and I wasn’t quite as impressed with the other characters. Jubilee, in particular, initially seems like something of a trite stock character. But the plot twist – that the kids in the Battleworld school are being forced to fight against and kill their fellow students – makes me interested in this series for reasons beyond just Molly. And this discovery leads the students to run away, hence the title of the series, which initially did not make sense. The previous issue was almost plotless, but this issue reveals that there is in fact a coherent and exciting plot to this series. One of the best things about BKV’s Runaways was the atmosphere of constant tension; it felt like the characters were constantly on the brink of death or discovery. And I expect that this series will have the same constant level of tension. Good thing that Molly is there for some comic relief.

STARFIRE #2 (DC, 2015) – This was another extremely entertaining issue, but the main problem was that there was too little Starfire. Too much of the issue was spent on scenes involving Stella and her brother and next issue’s villain. But still, this was an exciting and funny story involving a threat which is sadly quite realistic (hurricanes in Key West). I like Kory’s visual thought balloons, especially the one where she literally gives Stella a hand. Kory and Sol are obviously going to become an item.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #7 (Marvel, 2015) – I really hope this series won’t be cancelled after Secret Wars. It wasn’t on the initial list of 45 titles, but supposedly there are more titles that will be announced later, and we can only hope Squirrel Girl will be one of them. It’ll be a shame if this series gets cancelled because each issue so far has been incredible, and this one is no exception. (ADDENDUM: This was obviously written before the new USG series was announced.) I didn’t realize Girl Squirrel was Ratatoskr, but it makes perfect sense (though this is obviously not the same Ratatoskr who appeared in Thor and the Warriors Four). I have previously praised Ryan North for coming up with realistic ways for Squirrel Girl to defeat more powerful opponents, rather than just having the fight take place off-panel. In this issue he violates that principle by having Squirrel Girl defeat the Avengers singlehandedly in a fight that happens off-panel, but it’s no big fine if this happens just once. Incredibly, all of the information about databases at the beginning of the issue is correct. Someone told me at Heroes Con that Ryan North is a computer scientist and he’s very careful about making sure that his comics portray computer science accurately.

8HOUSE: ARCLIGHT #1 (Image, 2015) – I believe this is the first comic I’ve read that has Marian Churchland artwork. She’s not bad at all – I think she may be better than Brandon’s other major collaborator, Simon Roy. And Simon Roy comes to mind here because this series reminds me very much of Prophet, only it has a somewhat clearer storyline and takes place in a less bizarre world. Which is kind of a good thing. This comic has Brandon Graham’s trademark weirdness and bizarre creatures, but it’s not impossible to understand. I’m excited about this series.

THE SPIRE #1 (Boom!, 2015) – This is another effective debut, by the same team responsible for Six-Gun Gorilla. Simon Spurrier’s artwork in this issue reminds me very much of Miyazaki. I try to avoid comparing things to Miyazaki, but in this case the similarities are obvious – like, Jeff Stokely’s linework is very similar to Miyazaki’s linework in Nausicaa, and the little girl at the beginning of the issue looks just like a Miyazaki character. It’s not entirely clear yet where this new series is going, but its setting is fascinating: a giant tower-city in the desert, inhabited both by humans and by “skews.”

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #12 (Image, 2015) – This issue does not clear up any of the mysteries created by last issue’s abrupt shock ending, except by confirming that Laura is dead. Much of the issue is taken up with a fight scene involving Morrigan and Baphomet. I was rather surprised to see that Kate Brown is the guest artist for this issue. Apparently she also did Young Avengers #6, but I don’t remember that issue at all now. Rereading my review of that issue, I see that I complained about how it didn’t have Jamie McKelvie artwork, and similarly, Kate Brown’s artwork in this issue of TWTD is not a replacement for McKelvie’s artwork. During the fight scene, her art even becomes difficult to follow. I guess next issue there’ll be another guest artist, who I hope will be better.

CHEW #50 (Image, 2015) – This is a somewhat disappointing conclusion to the overly long Collector storyline. Considering how much work Layman and Guillory have been doing to build up the Collector as the ultimate villain, it seems disappointing that Tony beats him as easily as he does, even if Tony is only able to do this because he ate Poyo. Maybe the high point of the issue is Tony saying that Poyo tastes angry. I also don’t understand why Olive gives Tony the chocolate knife to kill the Collector with, and the last page of the issue makes no sense – it looks like Amelia Mintz is dead, but why?

ARCHIE #1 (Archie, 2015) – I’m feeling kind of disgruntled with Mark Waid at the moment, so it’s surprising that I enjoyed this issue as much as I did. Mark mostly avoids overwriting or excessive seriousness and just focuses on writing realistic-sounding dialogue, which has always been his greatest strength. But the real draw of this issue is Fiona Staples’s artwork. Fiona is probably the preeminent artist in mainstream comics right now, and her facial expressions and page layouts and backgrounds are amazing. Her characters look realistic in a way that Archie characters never do, while also looking cartoonish. This issue is an impressive package and it suggests that this comic might succeed at making Archie relevant again. The reprint from Pep Comics in this issue is bizarre – it’s a great example of what TVTropes calls Early Installment Weirdness.

PROVIDENCE #1 (Avatar, 2015) – This is a weird comic book. From the title, I expected it to have something to do with Providence and HP Lovecraft, and indeed the inside covers have an old map of Providence – which, by the way, made me very nostalgic for college, though Brown University doesn’t seem to appear on the map at all. Anyway, though, neither Lovecraft nor Providence is present in this issue. The story revolves around Robert Black, an aspiring novelist who’s concealing both his homosexuality and his Jewishness. Over the course of the story, he visits an old Spanish doctor who’s invented some sort of immortality treatment, and discovers that his lover has committed suicide using an “exit chamber” – it wasn’t until this point that I realized that this story was taking place in a mildly science-fictional version of New York, with some steampunk technology. After reading this issue I have no idea where this series is going, but I’m curious to find out.

SILK #4 (Marvel, 2015) – After reading this issue, I felt like I’d missed something. And looking at my master list of comics reviewed, I find that I indeed forgot to read issue 3. This is an okay comic book, with a funny scene in which Silk and Johnny go on a date, but it’s not as good as issue 1 or 2.

7-11-15

WE STAND ON GUARD #1 (Image, 2015) – I have a serious case of Canada envy – I almost feel like I’m a Canadian at heart because I’m from Minnesota. So this story, about a war between the U.S. and Canada, certainly struck a chord with me. It’s cute that a Tim Horton’s sign is prominently displayed on page one. But as a debut issue, this is less impressive than Saga #1. I don’t know where this story is going or what to expect next. I am curious about what happened to the protagonist’s big brother.

NO MERCY #4 (Image, 2015) – As I read this issue, I realize that I have a visceral hatred for Chad and I deeply want him to die. I can’t remember a more loathsome character in any recent comic book, although he does remind me of Ike in Morning Glories. And besides that, I don’t much care if any of the characters live, except Charlene and the mute kid. These characters seem designed to represent all the worst aspects of today’s younger generation. I seriously don’t know how they’re all going to survive and I kind of don’t care. If it’s not clear from the above, this is an extremely bleak comic book, though I like it anyway.

GRONK: A MONSTER’S STORY #1 (Action Lab, 2015) – I’m counting this as a comic book, not a graphic novel, because it’s pretty short and the title isn’t listed on the spine. I wrote earlier that I don’t like Gronk as much as MLP because it’s too cutesy-wootsy, and I think that’s kind of unfair. Gronk is absolutely adorable of course, but it has just enough sardonic humor and weirdness that it’s not overwhelmingly saccharine. Also, Katie’s jokes are really good and her comic timing is excellent. The Thanksgiving cartoon (where the dog eats the entire turkey in the third panel) is a good example of this. The bonus strips by artists like Mike Maihack and Jay Fosgitt are a nice addition.

GOTHAM ACADEMY #8 (DC, 2015) – So apparently Olive’s mother had some sort of fire powers, and she somehow died over the summer, and now Olive has inherited those powers… come to think of it, that sounds exactly like Gunnerkrigg Court. More to the point, I don’t understand what’s going on with Olive’s mother and I really never have. It feels as though there was some comic before this one that I was supposed to have read. Maybe it’ll make more sense if I read the entire series all at once. Other than that, this issue’s story is fairly exciting and Trevor is a cool new character. But my enthusiasm for this series is decreasing. When this series began, it was the only good DC comic besides Batgirl, but now it has a lot more competition and it no longer seems so much better than DC’s other titles.

GROOT #2 (Marvel, 2015) – I would like to write this review in Grootspeak, but that joke is only funny once. Groot’s origin story in this issue is heartbreaking; it’s the story of a well-intentioned creature who’s unjustly feared. I feel like some of the material here is retconned, but who cares. At the beginning of the issue, the writer and artist use a brilliant means of representing what Groot is trying to say: they include pictures inside the letters of the phrase I AM GROOT. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before and it’s a great way to convey what Groot means without expanding his vocabulary. In general I’m a lot more excited about this series than I was about Rocket Raccoon, at least near the end of that series. I look forward to Groot’s team-up with the Silver Surfer and Dawn next issue.

ALL-STAR SECTION EIGHT #1 (DC, 2015) – This issue had way too much gross-out humor for my tastes, and I did not enjoy it. I forget if I said this before, but Garth Ennis isn’t good when he’s overly serious (Preacher) and he’s also not good when he’s not serious enough (Hitman), and Hellblazer is my favorite work of his because it usually avoids either of these extremes. This issue, however, is way too far toward the funny end of the spectrum. It’s a series of bad jokes with no compelling plot. The only thing I liked about it were the homages to old Batman artists.

PISCES #1 (Image, 2015) – This is very different from Rat Queens, though Kurtis Wiebe’s dialogue style is still recognizable. However, this issue is extremely confusing. I guess I sort of figured out that the soldier in the Vietnam sequence is the son of the man from the sequence before that, but other than that, the chronological order of this comic is difficult to understand, and it’s not clear what it’s supposed to be about. I’m glad I waited to read this issue until after issue 2 came out, because otherwise I would have been even more mystified.

PISCES #2 (Image, 2015) – Here it starts to become somewhat clearer. Both the father and the son are veterans, and they’re both suffering from PTSD – an uncommon topic for comic books, though it was the subject of an excellent Doonesbury storyline. What’s not clear yet is how the outer space sequences relate to the father and son’s story. But this is an interesting piece of work and I need to get to issue 3 soon.

THOR #8 (Marvel, 2015) – Probably I didn’t bother reading this when it came out because I already knew the spoiler. But even though I already knew who Thor was, the revelation of her identity was still quite effective, since I didn’t realize her use of her powers was killing her. I hope this plotline will be picked up again after Secret Wars. As usual, Russell Dauterman’s artwork in this issue is phenomenal.

IT WILL ALL HURT #1 (Study Group, 2015) – This is my first Farel Dalrymple comic. I’ve had The Wrenchies on my shelf since last year but have yet to read it. This is a somewhat difficult comic, given the weirdness of the world, the number of characters, and the lack of obvious connections between any of their stories. But I enjoyed it. Farel Dalrymple’s art style is truly unique – it’s a blend between two and three dimensions. The linework is highly visible but he also uses subtle gradations of color to create a realistic rendering of light and shadow. This comic is also a beautiful artifact. It’s printed on matte rather than glossy paper (I think that’s the right term) but it’s a higher quality of paper than newsprint, so it feels like a high-end version of an old comic book.

CAPTURE CREATURES #4 (Boom!, 2015) – I still like this book enough to keep buying it, but it’s not one of the better current Boom! titles. Maybe it’s because it’s been a while since I read the first three issues, but I can’t remember much about the characters and the plot. And I think the Pokemon creatures could be even cuter. The fight scene in this issue is pretty enjoyable at least.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #18 (IDW, 2015) – Jay Fosgitt may be the second best pony artist after Andy Price. He certainly has a distinctive and recognizable style. This is a pretty basic Rainbow Dash-Fluttershy story and it doesn’t tell us much about their relationship that we didn’t already know, but it’s adorable, and it makes good use of the classic high school reunion plot. This story should have been called “One Time, At Flight Camp.”

7-19-15

WONDER WOMAN #44 (DC, 1990) – This is the second part of what was at least a two-part story about the Silver Swan. I didn’t understand what was going on here, and I’ve forgotten most of the earlier Silver Swan stories from this series, so this was not my favorite Pérez Wonder Woman story. Still, this issue has a powerful message about abusive relationships and about accepting what you look like – the villain of the issue is able to manipulate the Silver Swan by playing on her disgust at her ugly appearance. The artwork this issue is by Chris Marrinan, who is a rather mediocre artist, but here he does a good job of imitating George Pérez – the splash page in this issue looks like something out of a Pérez Avengers issue.

MARVEL ADVENTURES: THE AVENGERS #22 (Marvel, 2008) – Marc Sumerak was the worst Marvel Adventures writer (unless there’s a worse one I’m forgetting) and this is not even one of his better efforts. The guest-star and villain this issue are Black Panther and Sabretooth, neither of whom I particularly care for, and this issue also emphasizes Black Panther and Storm’s romance, which is something else I don’t like. And there are no truly original ideas in this story.

STRANGE SPORTS STORIES #2 (DC, 2015) – The best story this issue is “The Patchwork Palooka,” about a sailor/boxer who fights a Frankenstein monster made of all his past opponents. This story reminds me of both Popeye and The Goon, in a good way. I’ve never heard of the creators, Mark Finn and John Lucas. The second best story is the one by Ron Wimberly. I hated his artwork in She-Hulk, but this story is more appropriate to his style. The Tim Fish story is overly predictable; I saw the shock ending coming from a mile away. And then there’s the piece by Lee Loughridge and Nick Dragotta, which doesn’t deserve to be called a story because it has no plot and is completely incoherent. The editor should not have allowed it to see print in this form.

ATOMIC ROBO/BODIE TROLL/HAUNTED FCBD 2014 (Red 5, 2014) – The Atomic Robo story this issue is the one where Robo battles a giant rock monster who turns out to be defending its eggs. It’s as adorable as any Atomic Robo story; the only annoying thing was that I couldn’t tell that the “action mycologist” character was supposed to be female. There really is a giant underground mine fire under Centralia, Pennsylvania. The Bodie Troll story was drawn in an overly busy and complicated style which made it cumbersome to read, though it’s cute, and I’m surprised to realize that the creator of this series is Jay Fosgitt, my second favorite pony artist. The Haunted story is a boring piece of generic horror.

PISCES #3 (Image, 2015) – I just got a DCBS notification saying that issues 4 and 5 of this series were cancelled. I assume that means they’re delayed and will be resolicited later; it would be a shame if this issue was the last. This series continues to explore the theme of PTSD and difficulty reintegrating into civilian life, as the protagonist tries to socialize and completely fails. Also, the overall plot of this series is starting to become clearer: Dillon is being recruited by NASA, which sort of explains all the scenes that take place in outer space. This series is evidence that Kurtis Wiebe is not a one-trick pony: Rat Queens is a highly successful comedic work, but Wiebe can also write in a more serious mode.

INVINCIBLE UNIVERSE #2 (Image, 2013) – Unlike Invincible, this is no more than a generic superhero comic. Most of the issue is taken up by a fight between the Global Guardians and a villain who can control a dragon with his brain. The subplot is that Cecil Steadman feels guilty about all of his assistants who have gotten killed. This title never even came close to the quality of its parent series.

SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE #14 (DC, 1994) – The problem with this series is that I can never manage to read the issues in order. I have issue 13 but it must have been years since I read it. And I never have the time to go back and read each storyline in the correct order. This is probably why I haven’t made any effort to complete my run of this title. Still, this is one of the best DC comics of its period. It’s incredibly well-researched and Wesley Dodds and Dian Belmont are both unique and fascinating characters. This issue, which is part two of “The Vamp,” is interesting because of its portrayal of lesbianism in ‘40s New York.

DAREDEVIL #16 (Marvel, 2015) – Taken at face value, this issue suggests that Matt is going to kill off his Matt Murdock identity in exchange for Foggy and Kirsten’s safety. If this happens, it will be a severe anticlimax and will close off all sorts of interesting narrative possibilities that future writers could have used. On top of that, the “death” of Matt Murdock is not even an original idea; it already happened in Daredevil #325. I hope that Mark Waid has something up his sleeve and that Matt is going to find a way to save the day without sacrificing his secret identity, but on the other hand, he is notoriously bad at writing satisfying endings, so I don’t know. I’m just tired of all these depressing stories where horrible things happen to Matt Murdock. Mark Waid is my favorite Daredevil writer since Frank Miller, but his run on Daredevil is not ending well. The one thing I did like about this issue is that the Kingpin has an entire gallery of paintings that depict Daredevil being killed.

DETECTIVE COMICS #775 (DC, 2002) –In this issue, Batman searches for Bruce Wayne’s former bodyguard Sasha Bordeaux, who has become an agent of Checkmate. This story assumes that the reader is familiar with the other stories where Sasha Bordeaux appeared, and I’m not. Still, the scene where Bruce reunites with Sasha is an effective piece of characterization. Greg Rucka’s writing is highly underrated. This issue also has a backup story but I don’t remember anything about it.

SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE #8 (DC, 1993) – See previous comments about this series. This one is part four of “The Face.” I didn’t like it quite as much as the previous SMT issue I reviewed, but it is an interesting depiction of Chinese-Americans in the WWII era. Notably, this issue is written by Matt Wagner alone rather than Wagner and Seagle.

SPEED FORCE #1 (DC, 1997) – This 64-page special was probably a tie-in to some crossover or other. It contains five stories each of which features a different Flash, but other than that they have little in common, and none of them is especially good. In particular, the John Byrne story reminds me that John was never that good a writer to begin with, and he got worse as he got older. The best story is probably the one about Max Mercury, which shows some evidence of historical research and has some cute Easter eggs, including a toy factory run by someone named Schott.

INDESTRUCTIBLE HULK #8 (Marvel, 2013) – The only reason I bought this issue is because it guest-stars Thor and is drawn by Walt Simonson. Uncle Walt’s artwork in this issue is truly incredible and epic, showing that he hasn’t lost anything since the 1980s. Chris Eliopoulos even does a good job of imitating John Workman’s lettering style. As for the story, I didn’t know what was going on and I didn’t care. There’s a character in this issue who’s dying of Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, which Wikipedia describes as “incurable and invariably fatal,” and Bruce tries to convince her to have faith that she can be magically cured. This attitude seems rather offensive to people who actually have incurable diseases.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #42 (IDW, 2015) – This is another funny and exciting issue, and having read it, I’m finally caught up on this series. In this story, we learn that the creatures who were killing Thunderclash are “personality ticks” that feed off positive character traits. And when Rodimus and Megatron show up, the creatures die of a charisma overdose, which is hilarious. I can’t even guess where this series is going next.

SHADE THE CHANGING MAN #7 (DC, 1991) – In this story, a convict laborer is forced to bury the body of a homeless man who died in anonymity. He goes insane and, thanks to the American Scream, whatever that is, he causes New York to be covered in garbage. The logic is that the trash, like the man he buried, is a waste product of capitalist culture, a thing that’s discarded and consigned to anonymity. Shade manages to save the day by entering the dead man’s mind and learning his name. This is a pretty powerful story, although there are some panels where the coloring makes the artwork impossible to parse.

SUICIDE SQUAD #26 (DC, 1989) – This is the sequel to the story where Deadshot stops Rick Flag from killing a senator by killing the senator himself. Oddly, I don’t believe I’ve read that story, but I know about it thanks to having read about it on TVTropes.com. There’s a lot of interesting stuff in this issue, including a flashback to an adventure involving the original Suicide Squad and the Haunted Tank. But the centerpiece of the issue is Rick Flag’s suicide mission in Qurac, which leads to his death. He was resurrected many years later, but I’m going to ignore that because this issue is such an effective send-off for his character. While I haven’t read every story in which he appears, my sense is that he was essentially a failure, and in this story he gets to succeed in his final mission, sacrificing his life to destroy a Nazi nuclear warhead. What makes this even more poignant is that Rick Flag’s story is narrated in a letter he writes to Nightshade, who was in love with him. Somehow this story didn’t have a huge effect on me as I read it, but as I write this review, I realize it’s one of the best Suicide Squad issues I’ve read.

THE ROCKETEER/THE SPIRIT: PULP FRICTION #1 (IDW, 2013) – This is an excellent homage to two great comics. Mark Waid has a deep understanding of both these characters and their supporting casts, and he comes up with a plausible reason why they should meet. Besides the main characters, Ellen and Bettie are an excellent duo. Paul Smith’s art in this issue is not as good as I would have expected – I think his style may not be appropriate for this kind of adventure story. My other nitpicky problem with this issue is that the title page has some seriously ugly lettering, which is a big deal considering that The Spirit was famous for its title pages.

JOHN LAW DETECTIVE #1 (Kitchen Sink, 1983) – This is a collection of three stories that were intended to be published in a 1948 comic book, but were instead reworked into Spirit stories. This comic was the first time any of these stories saw print in their initial form. It includes an excellent essay by Cat Yronwode explaining the origin of these stories and the changes that were made when they were retooled to feature the Spirit rather than John Law. The first of the stories is what later became the original Sand Saref story. I can’t remember if I’ve read the Spirit version of this story, but Cat Yronwode says the John Law version is better, and I believe her. This version is a very powerful piece of work, and it reminds me a lot of Alan Moore and Rick Veitch’s Greyshirt, although obviously Greyshirt was inspired by Eisner and not vice versa. There’s also the original version of “The Strange Ghastly Affair of the Half-Dead Mr. Lox,” a clever ghost story. The third story isn’t as good, but it has a powerful message about kids who idolize gangsters. Overall, I’m proud to have this comic in my collection because it’s a unique piece of work by a master cartoonist at the peak of his career.

ROCKET RACCOON #11 (Marvel, 2015) – I didn’t read this issue sooner because I’d lost my enthusiasm for the series – as I’ve mentioned before, it got much less exciting when Skottie Young stopped doing the art. But this issue is a nice sendoff. Rocket finally finds the Book of Halfworld, but decides that he doesn’t care what it says because he’s happy being who he is, and the series ends as it began, with Rocket in jail. The implication here is that Rocket’s character hasn’t evolved at all over the past 11 issues, and that’s not a bad thing.

THE HUMANS #4 (Image, 2015) – A disturbing and bloody, but exciting, story, involving a cage match between sub-sentient humans. This comic is disgusting and has no admirable characters, but it does a great job of reviving the underground comics sensibility. I met one of the creators of this comic at Heroes Con and he mentioned that S. Clay Wilson was a major influence. I’m not familiar with Wilson, but this comic reminds me heavily of Spain’s stories about biker gangs.

BLACK PANTHER #42 (Marvel, 2002) – This may be the only Black Panther comic in my collection, not counting Jungle Action. (ADDENDUM: Not true, I have two Kirby Black Panthers at least.) I’m not a fan of this character, but my main exposure to him is from Don McGregor’s work, and I’ve grown to hate McGregor’s writing. But I get the impression that Priest was the best Black Panther writer, and I’d like to collect more of this run. This issue has an incomprehensible plot but some excellent dialogue, and Sal Velluto’s artwork includes some cute homages to Kirby.

A-FORCE #2 (Marvel, 2015) – This series is not living up to its potential. It’s hampered by being too heavily linked to Secret Wars. But worse, the writers still aren’t providing enough background information to enable readers to understand the plot. The main thing I liked about this issue is the unidentified new character; she doesn’t speak but her body language is just adorable.

STRANGE FRUIT #1 (Boom!, 2015) – After reading J.A. Michelinie’s devastating review of this comic, I felt ashamed of having bought it. I resolved that I was going to read it myself and make my own judgment, and now that I’ve read it, I absolutely agree with Michelinie. This is a tone-deaf, embarrassing piece of work that shows a lack of understanding of the issues it tries to confront. My biggest problem with this comic is not even the Confederate flag thing, but the way that Waid and Jones present a prettified, sanitized version of white people in the Jim Crow era. In this comic, there are racist white people but also anti-racist white people; whenever a white person says something racist, another white person immediately objects. I’m afraid that this is wishful thinking. It seems more likely to me that in Missouri in 1927 the real divide was probably between vicious white racists and slightly more benevolent white racists. Waid and Jones seem to want their ancestors to have been better than they were. But a more serious problem here is that this isn’t Waid and Jones’s story to tell. To them, this story is just entertainment. Their ancestors never suffered personally from Jim Crow – in fact, their ancestors were on the other side. They have no personal stake in this story. That does not disqualify them from telling this story, but like J.A. Michelinie says in her follow-up article, it does mean that they were under an ethical obligation to tell this story in a responsible way. That means they should have done more research, they should have thought harder about the potential impact of this story, and they should have been willing to face their subject matter in a more honest way. I’m not going to say that white people should not write about racism – given that white people currently dominate the comics industry, that would be equivalent to saying that no one should write about racism. But if white people are going to address issues like this, they need to take more care than Waid and Jones did.

OPTIC NERVE #14 (Fantagraphics, 2015) – I enjoyed this much less than the previous two issues, and my initial reaction was that it was another example of Tomine’s relentlessly negative attitude. The scene where the girl loses her stutter while performing before an audience is beautiful – it’s a heartwarming scene, and yet totally plausible. So of course at that point the story turns into an awful tragedy. The girl’s father turns into a raging asshole, her mother dies of breast cancer, and the story ends with no clear conclusion. Looking at it again, I may have misread the ending. But my reaction was, why does the girl have to have both a terrible father and a dead mother? Wouldn’t one or the other have been enough angst and grief for just one story? Does Tomine have to make everything as bleak as possible? The bleakness of the story seems less gratuitous if you see the mother instead of the daughter as the central figure; in that case, the story is less about the girl’s efforts to overcome her shyness than about the girl and the father’s struggle to cope with the loss of the mother. But that reading was not evident to me at first. The second story in this issue is much more enjoyable and reminds me of Tomine’s early work; it’s also drawn in an unusually loose and crude style.

NONPLAYER #2 (Image, 2015) – This is another spectacularly gorgeous comic book, and a strong piece of storytelling. Nate Simpson may be the most talented draftsperson in comics right now. And this issue clarifies the somewhat sketchy plot of the previous issue; it looks like the plot of this series revolves around self-aware artificial intelligences. I also love all the easter eggs. Just on the first page and the inside front cover, I see a Chog, Yotsuba, Bender, Tintin and Snowy’s submarine, the robot from Laputa, and I’m sure there are lots more I missed. My problem with this comic is the publication model. I’m as attached to the comic book form as anybody else, but I don’t see the point of a comic book that comes out once every four years. I feel like if these first two issues had been published as a single European-style album, they would have gotten a larger audience and there would have been less pressure to publish each issue on schedule, and the art could also have been reproduced at a larger size. My sense is that in this case, the artist’s commitment to the comic book format is harming the viability of his work.

SANDMAN #3 (DC, 1975) – This issue has a Kirby cover, but Kirby only drew the first issue of this series. This issue is by Mike Fleischer and Ernie Chan. That’s a bit disappointing, but this comic is almost as gloriously bizarre as if Kirby had written it. The villain in the story is a brain in a jar who commands an army of zombie gorillas, and then grows to giant size and drains the power from the city of Manhattan. There’s an unintentionally hilarious scene where a little girl dreams that gorillas with clubs are climbing through the window of her father’s den, and her father tells her to go to sleep, and then when he opens the door of his den, a gorilla whacks him on the head with a club. (https://instagram.com/p/5Q7-K5vwOo/?taken-by=aaronkashtan) Neil Gaiman’s homage to this series in A Doll’s House does not do it justice. As someone else said about Fleischer once, this comic is bugf***.

DETECTIVE COMICS #742 (DC, 2000) – This is Greg Rucka’s first issue of this series. It takes place in the immediate aftermath of No Man’s Land, as Commissioner Gordon mourns the loss of his wife and attempts to kill the criminal responsible. It’s a somewhat trite story but it explores themes that come up throughout Rucka’s work on this and other series. It’s grittily realistic, it focuses more on the GCPD than on Batman himself, and it has very effective characterization. It’s just too bad that they let Shawn Martinborough draw this comic.

FLASH GORDON #4 (Dynamite, 2014) – I said that Swords of Sorrow #1 was the only Dynamite comic I was ever going to buy, but I was wrong. It turns out that this Flash Gordon series is the first work of Evan “Doc” Shaner, who is one of my favorite recent discoveries. Other than Chris Samnee, he may be the best young artist who works in the tradition of Alex Toth. And this comic is an impressive example of his work; the drawing and the page layouts are gorgeous. Flash Gordon has a very distinguished heritage and Doc Shaner is certainly not the best artist to draw this character, but he’s at least not an embarrassment compared to Alex Toth or Al Williamson or Mac Raboy. I also like the writing in this comic. Jeff Parker gives Flash, Dale and Zarko much more personality than they normally have.

STUMPTOWN #3 (Oni, 2014) – I kind of lost interest in this comic after the first issue, but it’s an effective crime comic. I do have some trouble believing that Portland has a thriving organized crime scene or a network of rival football hooligan firms, but this comic has the stark realism and deep characterization that are Rucka’s trademarks. Like John Ostrander, Greg Rucka is such a consistently good writer that it’s easy to forget how good he is.

MADMAN ATOMIC COMICS #17 (Image, 2009) – I didn’t like this comic. All that happens in this issue is that Madman and his bandmates travel to the moon and perform for some aliens. There’s no other plot at all. Also, this comic only contains 18 pages of story, followed by an extensive pinup section. Flash Gordon #4 is also just 18 pages, but each of the pages is more substantial.

COSPLAYERS #2 (Fantagraphics, 2014) – I did not much like the first issue of this series, but this one is better. It’s a fairly deep and revealing investigation of the cosplay culture, and unlike the first issue, it doesn’t seem openly dismissive of that culture. And the characters are plausible and realistic, with the exception of Baxter the manga critic, who is such a complete loser that he’s clearly not meant to be taken seriously.

JUDGE DREDD: MEGA-CITY TWO #5 (IDW, 2014) – It’s too bad that I read this issue shortly after Nonplayer #2, because I kept comparing Ulises Farinas to Nate Simpson, and that’s not really fair because they have such dissimilar styles. Farinas is closer to Brandon Graham than Simpson; his style is much more cartoony and bizarre. And his art on this issue is very impressive. Probably the best part is the sideways cutaway diagram of an enormous automated megatrain. It’s also too bad that the story makes little sense to me.

SHOWA: A HISTORY OF JAPAN FCBD (Drawn & Quarterly, 2014) – This comic was not meant to be read in such a small dose. The excerpt included here includes a wide variety of material – Mizuki’s personal recollections of army life coupled with historical information about the war – and these different narratives never come together into a single whole. And the story ends at an arbitrary point. I’m not sure I have the intestinal fortitude to read this entire book, but I do think Mizuki’s firsthand perspective on the war from the Japanese side is fascinating.

Next round of reviews

7-4-15

SWAMP THING #22 (DC, 1984) – “Swamped” was one of three Alan Moore Swamp Things I was missing, along with #24 and, unfortunately, #37. I hadn’t bothered to look for these issues because I already have the black-and-white Essential Vertigo reprints of all of them. But this series is just so much better in color. Tatjana Wood’s coloring is essential to the look of Steve and John’s artwork, and color symbolism plays a major role in the story of this comic. I can’t imagine reading “Rite of Spring,” in particular, in black and white. So it was nice to revisit this issue as it’s intended to be seen. In this issue, Swampy has gone into a trance after discovering that he’s a plant rather than the real Alec Holland, and Abby, Matt, and Woodrue are looking for him. Swampy’s dream is a masterful piece of poetic prose – I still remember the line about “plain Aryan worms” – and the non-dream part of the issue is also full of great moments, including the scene with Abby vomiting when Woodrue mentions eating Swampy, and Woodrue’s line about “steak sobbing.”

AVENGERS #74 (Marvel, 1970) – This issue’s main asset is some gorgeous Buscema-Palmer artwork. Tom Palmer is tied with Terry Austin as my favorite inker ever. The trouble with this issue is the message about race relations, which was cliched and mildly offensive even in 1970. The villains in the story are the racist Sons of the Serpent, but at the end it turns out that Montague Hale, the black radical leader of the opposition to the Sons of the Serpent, is secretly allied with them, and they’re both trying to start a race war. This is offensive for the same reason as Daisy Fitzroy’s portrayal in Bioshock Infinite is offensive. It suggests that black people are just as responsible for poor race relations as white people are, and that America would be a more harmonious place if both sides would just get along. As should go without saying, this sort of attitude is just a way of shifting the blame for racism onto the victim. And unfortunately it’s still a popular attitude 45 years after this comic was published.

MIRACLEMAN #16 (Marvel, 2015, originally Eclipse, 1989) – When I first read this issue, it impressed me even more than #15. At that point I had already read the Golden Age trade paperback, collecting the first part of Neil Gaiman’s run. I was kind of amazed to find that in just this one issue, Alan Moore establishes all of the premises that Neil would later explore in great detail – the subterranean colony with a bunch of resurrected Andy Warhols, the miracle-baby breeding program, etc. In just 32 pages, Alan and John create an entire fascinating and deep world, and yet they also drop hints that this world is not what it seems. Especially in Miracleman’s final conversation with Liz, there are hints that Miracleman and his colleagues are suffering from colossal naïveté and that the utopia they’ve created is fragile, or that it wasn’t worth the price that was paid for it. With its incredibly epic scope and its delicate balance of utopia with dystopia, this issue is a perfect conclusion to Alan Moore’s first great work, and it offers an ideal starting point for Neil Gaiman’s version of the franchise. I’m glad it’s back in print.

LITTLE ARCHIE GIANT #18 (Archie, 1961) – Confusingly, this is the same series as Adventures of Little Archie and regular Little Archie. The main story in this issue introduces Abercrombie and Stitch, and was the first story in this series that included science fiction elements. I’ve already read that story in the 2004 Adventures of Little Archie trade paperback, but this issue also includes some other Bob Bolling stories, including one in which Archie saves Veronica’s cat from falling down a waterfall. Bolling was particularly good at depicting nature and animals.

HARLEY QUINN #16 (DC, 2015) – I bought this at Heroes Con. I don’t know if I just forgot to order it, or if I bought #15 in a comic book store and then started ordering the series with #17. Anyway, this is the one where Harley recruits her Gang of Harleys, and it’s another hilarious comic. (I use the word hilarious too often but I can’t think of another word that menas the same thing.) The tryout scene is even funnier than a typical Legion of Super-Heroes tryout – all the characters are unique and interesting. I especially like the woman with five children, and the pregnant woman who came just because she thought there was cheese, and the one random dude. I feel kind of guilty for enjoying this comic, and I get the impression that it’s not fashionable to like either Harley Quinn or Conner and Palmiotti’s writing, but oh well.

UNCLE SCROOGE #236 (Gladstone, 1989) – The Barks story in this issue is “Boat Buster,” a ten-pager from 1961. It’s funny and well-drawn, but Barks’s ten-pagers are just too short; I prefer his longer works. Of the two non-Barks stories in this issue, the better one involves Donald trying to get rich by selling stolen copper roof tiles.

JONNY QUEST #28 (Comico, 1988) – This issue takes place in a “sleepy little Western town called Rio Diablo,” where Race takes Johnny and Hadji for a vacation. The joke in the issue is that the plot is heavily based on classic Western clichés, and Race and Johnny and Hadji are highly aware of this because they’re Genre Savvy (as TVTropes calls it), and they comment constantly on how everything that happens to them is based on clichés from Western films. I’m not a particular fan of either the Western genre or this sort of meta-humor, and this was not my favorite issue of Jonny Quest.

X-MEN ARCHIVES FEATURING CAPTAIN BRITAIN #3 (Marvel, 1995) – This is a reprint of the Moore/Davis Captain Britan stories from The Daredevils #2 through #5. At this point, Alan Moore had just taken over the series from the previous writer, Dave Thorpe, and was just starting to establish his own take on the series. The stories in this issue include some important moments, such as Brian’s reunion with Betsy, the reintroduction of Slaymaster, and the first appearance of the Special Executive. But these stories are just laying the groundwork for the later classic stories involving Jim Jaspers and the Fury.

Now for the new comics from two weeks ago – I need to write these reviews in a more timely fashion.

LUMBERJANES #15 (Boom!, 2015) – Another solid issue of the second best comic book in America. The most interesting thing about this issue to me is the dynamic between Jo, April and Barney. Jo seems to be extremely jealous of April’s friendship with Barney, but it’s not clear whether this is a love triangle or just a Fluttershy-Discord-Tree Hugger sort of thing. The other subplot involves Abigail, who is perhaps the best villain in the series. The big Lumberjanes news this month, of course, is that this will be Noelle Stevenson’s last storyline. I am very sad to see her go, but I hear good things about her replacement, Kat Leyh (not the same as Kate Leth) and I think this series is bigger than any one creator.

KAPTARA #3 (Image, 2015) – I hate writing these reviews two weeks after the fact; it’s hard to recover my intital impressions after reading the comics, or even to remember what they were about. This issue was funny, but there was nothing in it that stood out to me as much as the Mr. Help scene from last issue. It took me a surprisingly long time to realize that the Glomps were based on the Smurfs.

ASTRO CITY #24 (DC, 2015) – My initial prediction was wrong: Sticks doesn’t leave town, he stays in Astro City and forms a band of other superheroes. I love this idea and I can’t believe it hasn’t been done before, unless Amazing Joy-Buzzards counts. Of Sticks’s band-mates, I think my favorite is the woman who doesn’t play keyboards, she is keyboards. More generally, the idea behind this story is that not everyone who has superpowers is cut out for the superhero lifestyle. This is the sort of idea that can only be explored in a comic like Astro City. Because of the constraints of serial publication, traditional superhero comics are required to focus on superheroes and not on people who have superpowers but choose to do other things.

USAGI YOJIMBO #146 (Dark Horse, 2015) – This is a fairly average story, although an average Usagi Yojimbo story is still better than almnost anything else. Easily the best thing in this issue is Kitsune, with her kleptomania and her admission that she’s making things up as she goes along.

MS. MARVEL #16 (Marvel, 2015) – This was a good comic book, but it’s completely vanished from my memory now. Just to remind myself what actually happens in this issue: Kamala eats a bunch of hot dogs, then goes home and has an encounter with Kamran, then goes to school where she meets Carol for the first time. I expect the next issue will be more memorable than this one – it certainly has one of the best covers of 2015.

RUNAWAYS #1 (Marvel, 2015) – At first, I was not enjoying this issue and I could barely even tell it was a Noelle Stevenson comic. And then, everything changed when Molly Hayes attacked. Molly is the best thing about this issue by far – she has unlimited power and energy but no restraint whatever. She’s like Pinkie Pie or Impulse with superstrength. She obviously reminds me of Riley from Lumberjanes, yet is clearly a very different character. It’s just too bad that the other characters in this comic aren’t anywhere near as interesting. Noelle is going to have to do some more work to make me care about them. This was also a problem with early issues of Lumberjanes, where Riley and April tended to steal the spotlight from their quieter teammates.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #9 (Image, 2015) – This is maybe Image’s third best current series after Saga and Sex Criminals, although I’m sure there’s another one I’m forgetting. I was disappointed to see that this issue is a one-shot story and that we still don’t get to meet Earl Tubb’s daughter – I hope we’re finally going to get to her next issue. But this was an effective single-issue story, something which is extremely rare these days. The sheriff’s story is rather heartbreaking, although this story doesn’t quite qualify as a tragedy because he is not responsible for his downfall, Coach Boss is. I wish I hadn’t accidentally looked at the last page before reading the story.

MIND MGMT #34 (Image, 2015) – This issue is mostly just a series of fight scenes. I have no idea what’s going on with the dog, although the ad on the back cover offers a clue.

PREZ #1 (DC, 2015) – Besides Starfire, this was the new DC title I was most excited about, and so far it’s living up to its promise. This is an effective piece of satire in that all the ideas in it are exaggerated, but only a little bit, and you can easily imagine them actually coming into existence. Good examples of this are the Taco Drone and the reality show where the guy has to shoot himself. This story is an obvious dystopia, but a dystopia which doesn’t seem particularly far away. And the way in which Prez becomes president is also surprisingly plausible: she becomes the subject of a viral video and then people vote for her as a joke. Prez’s sudden popularity is integrated into the story in a very subtle way; the messages about how her viral video is trending are mostly integrated into the background of the panels. The writer and artist are good at telling multiple parts of the story at the same time. I look forward to reading more of this, and I think it’s going to be both a fun read and an interesting commentary on American democracy in 2015. Ben Caldwell’s art is not as radically experimental as it was in his Wonder Woman story in Wednesday Comics, but it’s still good.

REVIVAL #30 (Image, 2015) – This issue deals with the fallout from last issue’s terrorist attack, and the big revelation this time is that May Tao is dead. This is unfortunate because I think she was literally the only Hmong character in the history of American comic books. (After writing that sentence I Googled it and found that this is not true, there was a Hmong character in Scalped, but he was a mobster.) I was initially a bit skeptical about the accuracy of Seeley and Norton’s depiction of May’s funeral. But I just read Kao Kalia Yang’s The Latehomecomer, which includes an extended description of a Hmong funeral, and the statement that May’s funeral is a “welcome home party” seems very much in line with the description in Yang’s book. That line also makes me suspect that May will be returning as a reviver, and it would be fascinating if Seeley chose to write about the intersection between Hmong religion and the supernatural phenomena in this comic. Besides that, I don’t have much else to say about this issue.

FANTASTIC FOUR #51 (Marvel, 1966) – This was my most exciting purchase at Heroes Con. I only paid $5 for it and the copy is in completely readable condition. This issue is the best comic book ever published by Marvel, with the possible exception of Amazing Spider-Man #33. I’ve read “This Man… This Monster!” many times and I know some parts of it by heart, but it still rewards rereading. It’s the perfect combination of Kirby’s artwork and Stan’s narrative style, and I’m glad I own a copy.

ADVENTURE COMICS #360 (DC, 1967) – “The Legion Chain Gang” was one of the few Shooter Legion issues I was missing, and I wasn’t actively looking for it because I already have Superboy #238, which reprints this story. But I feel I have to also own the real thing, for the sake of completism. And this issue is worth revisiting. The original Universo story is almost as epic as Levitz’s “Universo Project,” and it’s unusual in that the protagonists are mostly the less powerful Legionnaires, and they all get at least something useful to do.

SHADE THE CHANGING MAN #10 (DC, 1991) – I have a lot of these old issues of Shade and I finally got around to reading some of them. Without having read the first nine issues recently, it’s hard to understand exactly what’s going on here, but it seems that there’s some sort of madness wave infecting America, and Shade and Kathy are being forced to travel around the country to fight it. In this issue, they investigate a Wisconsin town that’s started persecuting anyone who’s not “normal” according to a very narrow definition. It’s a fairly impressive piece of work, especially the ending, which reveals that the chief persecutor was traumatized by the sight of his father using some kind of bizarre masturbation machine.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #4 (IDW, 2015) – I’m sorry to see that the most recently solicited issue of this series does not have Sophie Campbell artwork. But this series is fun enough that I’m willing to continue reading it if and when Sophie leaves. There’s nothing much that’s new about this issue compared to the previous three, but it’s still an enjoyable comic with an impressively diverse cast.

BATGIRL #41 (DC, 2015) – It was inevitable that this issue would be overshadowed by the massive controversy that developed around its variant cover. But even then, this issue is just boring. It feels like Stewart and Fletcher were at a loss for what to do next after finishing their big epic. The scene with Babs and Gordon is kind of painful because it’s so reminiscent of Spider-Gwen, yet so much worse written.

HOWARD THE DUCK #4 (Marvel, 2015) – At Heroes Con, I met both Zdarsky and Quinones, and I told one of them (I think it was Joe) that I thought Steve Gerber would have approved of this comic. It doesn’t have the satirical elements of Gerber’s HTD, but it has the same absurdist style of humor. And Chip Zdarsky’s Howard, like Gerber’s Howard, is basically a straight man: he’s normal, despite being a duck, it’s just that everything around him is absurd. The humor in this issue was pretty funny. It took me a minute to get the “Objectivist Realms of Deet-Ko” joke, and I like the idea of the Abundant Glove, which is like a mediocre Infinity Gauntlet – I’m reminded of the McSweeney’s article about the Church of the Pretty Good God. Also, this issue includes Katie Cook’s first work for Marvel, though it’s not her best work.

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #86 (DC, 1969) – This Batman/Deadman team-up is a classic, and my copy is in surprisingly good condition. I don’t remember much about the story – it’s about Deadman trying to kill Batman because he’s been poisoned or something – but Neal’s artwork is incredible.

VALIANT NEXT 2015 PREVIEW (Valiant, 2015) – Just a bunch of boring previews.

PRINCELESS BOOK FOUR: BE YOURSELF #1 (Action Lab, 2015) – This issue includes a number of plotlines that don’t intersect until the end, and introduces a variety of characters who didn’t appear in the previous Princeless series. So I had trouble figuring out what was going on here, though I enjoyed the parts of the issue that I did understand, especially the killer squirrel.

SHADE THE CHANGING MAN #11 (DC, 1991) – This issue’s villain is a serial killer who only murders women with names starting with K. It eventually becomes clear that the killer is Troy Grenzer, a recurring villain. I know I’ve read at least one previous issue of Shade with this character, and I know he has some complicated history with Kathy, but I can’t remember anything else about him. Anyway, this is good stuff.

DAREDEVIL #24 (Marvel, 1967) – Like many early issues of Daredevil, this one has gorgeous Gene Colan artwork but a forgettable plot. This issue guest-stars Ka-Zar, who, at this point, was completely indistinguishable from Tarzan. Ka-Zar had little identity of his own until the Bruce Jones/Brent Anderson series in the ‘80s. At the end of the issue, Karen accidentally discovers Matt’s secret identity, which leads to the whole Mike Murdock thing.

INVINCIBLE #43 (Image, 2007) – This was the only issue of Invincible I can find at Heroes Con. I’m running out of Invincible back issues that are within my price range. A lot of interesting stuff happens in this issue, though none of it is of earth-shaking importance. Mark realizes he doesn’t want to be in college, the Immortal and Al the Alien meet and almost fight, Mark starts to realize that his father’s books are clues to how to beat the Viltrumites, etc. The most interesting thing in this issue was Mark asking his mother why he should go to college. As a college professor, I tend to reflexively believe that everyone should attend college no matter what, but Mark makes a convincing case for why he doesn’t need it. And his inability to concentrate on his schoolwork is very realistic. While in college, Peter Parker had various academic difficulties, but he always seemed to enough time to fight villains and make a living as a photographer and maintain a full course load. Having had many students who are athletes or who work full time, I know how implausible this is.

FANTASTIC FOUR #333 (Marvel, 1989) – This is the last issue by Englehart writing as John Harkness. It’s best remembered for the fourth-wall-breaking scene at the end, where Franklin visits “John Harkness” in his home and asks him to write a comic explaining the bizarre events of recent issues. And Harkness replies “I’ll try, but it might take a better man than me to straighten out this mess.” Certainly “mess” is the right word for it – the rest of the issue is a giant three-way fight scene between the Frightful Four and two versions of the Fantastic Four. All of Englehart’s FF run was very strange but this was perhaps his strangest issue, and you get the feeling that the editors just weren’t paying attention or didn’t care what he wrote.

THE FICTION #1 (Boom!, 2015) – I bought this because of the artwork by David Rubín, who is apparently the top young talent in Spanish comics, and who known to me because of The Rise of Aurora West. David Rubín’s artwork is exciting but maybe not good enough to carry this comic book all on its own, which is a problem because the story is not particularly good. It’s about three people who get together to rescue their childhood friend who was eaten by a book. That sounds like an awesome premise, but there are already lots of stories exploring this sort of blurring between reality and fiction – The Unwritten and Jonathan Carroll’s The Land of Laughs both come to mind immediately, as well as Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, which I haven’t read yet. And so far, The Fiction isn’t treading any territory that those stories haven’t already explored.

BLACK CANARY #1 (DC, 2015) – Another exciting post-New 52 debut issue. The most impressive thing about this comic is Annie Wu’s artwork, which is a massive departure from the typical DC house style. This comic looks more like a punk rock magazine than a comic book. The linework is intentionally crude and blurry and there’s heavy use of screentones and flat colors. The creatures that attack the concert are awesome – they look like what I’ve always imagined grues as looking like. The writing is not at the same level of the artwork, but it’s readable, and I’m especially intrigued by the new character Ditto.

MANIFEST DESTINY #15 (Image, 2015) – I don’t understand the scene at the start of the issue. Why were all those men hanged – what did they do? Are they the same men who started the fight with Lewis? Does this scene take place before or after the rest of the issue? Other than that, this is another interesting story. Dawhog is an extremely funny character, and I certainly did not expect to learn that he could talk or that he belonged to an advanced civilization of other talking birds. And that of course is the coolest thing about this series – it puts the reader in the same position as Lewis and Clark, exploring a completely unfamiliar continent with no idea what to expect from it.

POWER PACK #2 (Marvel, 2000) – I talked to June Brigman briefly at Heroes Con and mentioned that I had just bought the last three issues of this miniseries, and she said that she’d never seen it. Neither have most people, I’d expect, because it was not promoted very well. And it seems to be largely forgotten today, which is no surprise because it’s not very good. The stories are just rehashes of old Simonson-Brigman material, and some of the scenes in this story could have come from a bad ABC After-School Special (is that redundant?). Even the art is below Colleen Doran’s usual standards. The later revival by Marc Sumerak and Gurihiru was an improvement on this one in every way. I do think Marvel ought to do

DETECTIVE COMICS #744 (DC, 2000) – See the review of #745 below, which I wrote before I wrote this review (I decided it would be better to go in reverse order and start with the comics I had the clearest memory of). All the comments on that issue apply to this issue as well.

XENOZOIC TALES #1 (Kitchen Sink, 1987) – This issue is an effective introduction to the complex and unique world of this series, and each of the three stories in it is fairly enjoyable. The best moment is in the first story, with the shock revelation that Jack Tenrec’s friend Hermes is a giant dinosaur. But Mark Schultz’s artwork at this point in his career was not nearly as good as it would later become.

USAGI YOJIMBO #7 (Fantagraphics, 1988) – I have almost a complete collection of the Dark Horse Usagi, and it’s time to start collecting the Fantagraphics series more heavily. The Usagi story in this issue, “The Tower,” is both weird and cute. Usagi climbs a tower to rescue a tokage that’s gotten stuck up there, and a local bully tries to trap him by cutting down the ladder to the tower, and slapstick comedy results. It’s quite funny. This issue also includes a backup story by Phil Yeh, which is most notable for its excessively ornate and barely readable lettering.

PLANETARY #2 (Wildstorm, 1999) – I am not a big Warren Ellis fan, but I really ought to try to assemble a full run of this series (and Transmetropolitan). As I remember, every issue of Planetary is a pastiche on a different genre, and in this issue the genre of choice is kaiju films. The most notable thing about this issue is a series of panels showing the giant corpses of dead kaiju. If there’s one thing John Cassaday is good at, it’s making things look absolutely huge.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #155 (Marvel, 1976) – I spoiled the joke in this issue by reading the last panel before I read the rest of the comic. It’s not that funny of a joke, though. This issue is a locked-room murder mystery that reads like a fill-in: there’s very little characterization or plot advancement. And it’s unfortunately drawn by Sal Buscema and not the regular artist at the time, Ross Andru.

YOUNG JUSTICE #31 (DC, 2001) – This is perhaps one of the best issues of the entire series because it’s a perfectly executed silent story. In Impulse’s solo series, Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos established that Bart thinks in pictures instead of words because of the speed at which his mind works. In this issue, PAD and Todd Nauck exploit the comic potential of that idea. All the dialogue in the issue – except for the title, “Quiet!” – is pictorial, whether it’s in word balloons or thought balloons, and the entire story is silent. And the plot of the issue is a series of funny excuses for why Bart has to be quiet – for example, because he’s at a librarian’s convention, or because he’s hanging out with mimes or Trappist monks. This issue is an impressive feat of storytelling.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #41 (IDW, 2015) – At this point I’m almost caught up with this series. This issue is about an old Autobot general who’s about to die under mysterious circumstances (long story) and who has left some disturbing messages behind. This issue is up to James Roberts and Alex Milne’s usual level of quality, but it also exemplifies my biggest problem with this series, which is the weight of the continuity behind it. I haven’t been a Transformers fan since elementary school and it’s hard for me to figure out just who all these characters are or what their history is, and the assumption is that the reader will have all this information already. Maybe this is how new Legion readers feel.

GIANT DAYS #4 (Boom!, 2015) – This is the one where Daisy gets high on pills, and the next morning her grandmother visits unexpectedly and her friends have to disguise the fact that she’s been taking drugs. I suppose this is a huge cliché but it’s executed in a funny way. Daisy’s confusion about her sexual identity is rather poignant.

STRANGE TALES #148 (Marvel, 1966) – My copy of this issue is barely holding itself together and needs to be replaced soon. The Nick Fury story in this issue is a continuation of the AIM/THEM plot, while the Dr. Strange story is the origin of Kaluu. Neither of these is particularly impressive. This was a fallow period for Strange Tales because Ditko had just left and Steranko had yet to arrive.

GROO THE WANDERER #5 (Pacific, 1983) – A very early and crude Groo story. Sergio’s artwork in this issue looks more like his ‘70s artwork from Plop! than like his modern style. The premise is also not well developed. In this issue Groo is a normal idiot rather than a cosmic, earth-shattering idiot – he’s stupid, but he’s capable of rational thought and he’s aware of his surroundings. This issue is notable as the first appearance of Ahax and the first story in which Groo sinks one of Ahax’s ships.

CHEW #30 (Image, 2012) – Chew is starting to become like Groo, in that it has the same joke every issue and it seems to go on forever. Except Chew can’t literally go on forever because it has continuity. This issue is memorable because it starts out with Toni and Paneer’s wedding, but then we learn that this is a fantasy scene that’s not going to happen. Instead, Toni has been kidnapped by the Collector, who cuts off three of her limbs and then kills her. John Layman says on the letters page that this was a hard issue to write, and no wonder.

IMAGE FIRSTS: SAVAGE DRAGON #1 (Image, 2013) – It’s not clear from the cover, but this is the first issue of the 1992 miniseries, not the current ongoing series. The very first Savage Dragon story is bloody, ultraviolent, and full of gratuitous T&A, which means it’s like every other Savage Dragon story, except not as well executed. At this point in his career Erik was clearly more heavily influenced by Jim Lee than by Kirby or Simonson.

HARLEY QUINN AND POWER GIRL #1 (DC, 2015) – Compared to the issue of Harley Quinn reviewed above, this issue has too much gross-out humor for my taste. I look forward to seeing Vartox again, though. The issue where Conner and Palmiotti reintroduced him was one of the highlights of their previous Power Girl run.

GROO THE WANDERER #56 (Marvel, 1989) – If nothing else, this is a better Groo story than the last one I reviewed. In “The Minstrel’s Tale,” the Minstrel tells a funny story about Groo’s disastrous errors, but it turns out that the people in the story are the same as the people to whom he’s telling the story, and they don’t find it funny at all. As a result, the Minstrel is thrown in jail, where he continues telling the story to his cellmates, and they don’t think it’s funny either, because it turns out the story is making fun of them too. Finally the Minstrel is brought before the local king, and, well, at this point the pattern is pretty obvious. Unusually, Groo himself does not appear in this issue except in flashbacks.

AVENGERS #78 (Marvel, 1970) – This is one of the few issues from this period that I hadn’t read. However, it’s almost entirely a Black Panther solo story, and I’m not a big Black Panther fan. This story does do some interesting stuff with the Black Panther and Monica Lynne’s relationship.

DETECTIVE COMICS #747 (DC, 2000) – This Renee Montoya solo story is far better than the two other Greg Rucka Detective Comics issues reviewed in the present blog post – it’s almost a classic, even. The story follows Renee through her 28th birthday, which is not a happy one. Her parents harass her about being single, she doesn’t like her new partner Crispus, and she’s so busy she has no time to investigate who’s been sending her flowers. But Commissioner Gordon remembers her birthday and gives her the day off, which is adorable. It turns out that Two-Face, of all people, is responsible for the flowers – I don’t know the continuity here – and Batman sends Renee a thank-you note for giving Harvey some peace. This is a lovely and deeply relatable story (I’ve had birthdays like this myself) and it lays some groundwork for Greg Rucka’s later work with this character. Also, guest penciller William Rosado is much better than Shawn Martinborough. Sadly the backup story in this issue is just horrible.

ROCKETEER: CARGO OF DOOM #1 (IDW, 2012) – I would have read this comic sooner if I’d realized that it was a Waid/Samnee collaboration. Chris Samnee is one of the premier artists in commercial comics right now. Reading this issue made me realize that he’s really quite similar to Alex Toth – there are panels here where his depictions of shadow and foliage are very reminiscent of Toth’s work. As far as the story, Mark has a very deep understanding of Cliff and Betty and their torrid love affair, and Peavey’s niece Sally is an adorable new character. I need to find the rest of this miniseries.

THORS #1 (Marvel, 2015) – This story takes place in an entire town full of Thors, including Beta Ray Bill, Throg, and Groot-Thor. I have no idea what the hell is going on here, but this issue is worth it just for Groot saying “I AM THOR!” and Throg saying he’s a forensics frog, not a miracle worker. I’m glad to see some new work from Chris Sprouse, but his style of art seems completely unsuitable to the film-noir tone of this comic.

THE REVIVAL #2 (Image, 2012) – I bought this at Mega Comics in Gainesville because there was hardly anything else there that I wanted. This very early issue is mostly an introduction to the world of the series, but it contains some information I didn’t know, including the fact that Dana’s dad is disappointed in her because she got pregnant with Cooper while in high school.

FLASH GORDON #2 (Marvel, 1995) – This late work by Al Williamson is unbelievably beautiful. In fact, it’s almost too beautiful – the lush richness of the landscapes and poses makes the story difficult to follow. Compared to Al’s previous Flash Gordon revival, the film adaptation from the ‘70s, I think the artwork in this miniseries is slightly worse – which tells you how good that ‘70s film adaptation was. But this miniseries is written by Mark Schultz and therefore has a much better story. Al Williamson was truly one of the greatest artists of American comics, and other than Mark Schultz, there’s almost no one left today who draws like him.

THE 47 RONIN #2 and #3 (Dark Horse, 2013) – This was another miniseries that I bought when it came out, but I only read the first issue. Probably the reason I didn’t get any further was because first, I was unimpressed by Mike Richardson’s writing in the first issue, and second, I unconsciously resented the fact that Stan was working on this instead of Usagi. And probably the reason I returned to it now was because I had been talking to my independent study student about Usagi Yojimbo, and I didn’t have any other Stan Sakai comics to read. To my surprise, this series is much better than I gave it credit for. Mike Richardson’s dialogue is serviceable, and Stan’s retelling of this classic Japanese tale is perfect. He effectively recreates what Edo-period Japan must have looked like, and his facial expressions are amazing, especially considering that he hardly ever draws human faces. Oishi Kuranosuke emerges as the true hero of the story, a loyal servant who sacrifices his own honor for the sake of that of his master, and Kira is as craven and despicable a villain as any of Usagi’s enemies. Even the minor characters, like the ronin who’s about to get married, are depicted with depth and sensitivity.

INVINCIBLE UNIVERSE #4 (Image, 2013) – This comic is kind of awful. Most of this issue is a gory, bloody bloodbath in which Best Tiger murders all his teammates one by one. On the next-to-last page, we learn that this was all happening in his imagination. But that does not take the bad taste out of the reader’s mouth. It feels to me as though this comic was just an excuse to show all kinds of unnecessary violence. Excessive violence is also a problem with Invincible, of course, but in that comic the violence is usually justified by the plot.

THE 47 RONIN #4 and #5 (Dark Horse, 2015) – See above.

MAN-THING #5 (Marvel, 1974) – This is one of only a couple Gerber Man-Things that I hadn’t read. “Night of the Laughing Dead” is kind of similar to “Song-Cry of the Living Dead Man” (to the point that I thought they were the same story at first) – they’re both about a man who goes nuts because of the callous heartlessness of corporate America, although in this case the man also ends up killing himself. This sort of thing was one of Gerber’s favorite topics – it also comes up in “The Kid’s Night Out” from Giant-Size Man-Thing #4, and Paul Same from Howard the Duck is also this type of character. I’d have to read this story again in order to have more to say about it, but it’s an impressive work by the best comic book writer of the ‘70s, and it also has some excellent Mike Ploog artwork.

SHADE THE CHANGING MAN #12 (DC, 1991) – I guess the point of this series was to explore the bizarre implications of a man who can change bodies, and this issue certainly accomplishes that. In this story, Shade and Kathy make love while Troy Grenzer goes to commit another murder, but then Shade and the reader simultaneously realize with horror that Shade and Troy have switched bodies – “Troy” was actually Shade, and it was Troy having sex with Kathy. Which is both a shocking surprise, and raises some tough questions about rape and consent. Based on these three issues I get the feeling that Shade is a deeply conflicted and timid character – he’s unable to act on his desire for Kathy, for example – and Troy Grenzer exploits his Hamlet-esque lack of resolve in order to abuse him and Kathy. I have some more issues of this Shade series and I look forward to reading them.

THE INFERNAL MAN-THING #1 (Marvel, 2012) – I bought this entire miniseries when it came out, but never got around to reading it. This miniseries was drawn by Kevin Nowlan from scripts that were unpublished at the time of Gerber’s death. Kevin’s art is gorgeous, but I feel that it’s too realistic for this series; I much prefer Mike Ploog’s Man-Thing. The story is a sequel to Man-Thing #12, “Song-Cry of the Living Dead Man,” which is helpfully reprinted at the end of the issue. Between that story and this one, Brian Lazarus has become a normal person again, gotten married, and become employed as a screenwriter, only to go nuts again when he loses his job because of corporate mismanagement. I found this part a little implausible, given what I know about the precarity of the screenwriting industry, but it’s clear that Brian’s story is intended to be autobiographical. Like Gerber, he can’t get work because he’s “too old and too pricey” and “there are too many younger, cheaper writers out there,” and he can’t realize his creative visions or even keep a roof over his family’s head. Reading this with the knowledge that it’s Gerber’s last completed work is kind of heartbreaking. I need to read the next two issues soon.

SUPERGIRL #2 (DC, 1996) – I very much enjoyed the previous issue of this series that I read, but this one just makes no sense. There’s no attempt to catch the reader up on what happened last issue, which is a fatal flaw in a #2 issue. All I can figure out is that Supergirl is inhabiting the body of Linda Danvers, who was sacrificed in some kind of Satanic ritual, and the ritual was intended to summon a giant demon cat who’s being pursued by giant demon dogs. I need to get issue 1 and then read this issue again.

GROO THE WANDERER #118 and #119 (Marvel, 1994) – I’ll review these together because they’re a two-part storyline, “The Day of the Pig.” The titular pig is Vano, a thirtysomething basement-dweller who realizes he can make money by telling rich people that they shouldn’t feel bad about poverty. The resemblance between Vano and Rush Limbaugh is blatantly obvious, and this is one of Groo’s more direct commentaries on real-world politics. The second half of the story introduces a society of socialists who live underground because they’re sick of the selfishness of the people on the surface. At the end of the story, the underground people realize that by refusing to engage with the surface world, they’re acting just as badly as the surface people. Meanwhile, Vano becomes king and realizes he doesn’t want the responsibility. Overall this is a satisfying story and an effective piece of satire.

LITTLE ARCHIE #148 (Archie, 1979) – It is very hard to figure out which late issues of Little Archie have Bob Bolling artwork. And the ones that do have Bolling artwork are tough to find. This one does have a Bob Bolling story, though, and it’s a good one. In “What Are Friends For?”, Little Archie tells Betty that she can’t be his friend because she’s a girl, but then he loses his dad’s expensive fishing rod and she helps him find it. Archie is forced to admit that Betty is his best friend ever, but the end of the story suggests that he hasn’t fully learned his lesson, because he asks her not to tell the other kids that they’re friends. This story is a cute piece of work with a subtle message about childhood sexism. It also includes some excellent depictions of nature, as well as a funny cameo appearance by Granny Sage, a character who Bolling had used in one previous story. Everything else in this issue is forgettable, though after reading the first story, I wondered who was dumping all those tin cans in the woods. Also, I know nothing at all about fishing, so during and after reading this comic, I must have spent about 30 minutes reading about fishing on Wikipedia.

DETECTIVE COMICS #745 (DC, 2000) – This is part three of “Evolution,” part two of which I reviewed earlier. This story has an interesting experimental color scheme where the only color is red. This would have worked a lot better if the art had been any good. Shawn Martinborough is just not a good artist; his draftsmanship is crude and ugly and unrealistic, in the negative sense. And the story is far from Greg Rucka’s best – it’s a tired old plot about a gang war and an experimental drug. There’s even a scene where Batman crashes through a skylight. I feel like I’ve seen that exact scene many times before, although I may be thinking specifically of Batman #416. The best thing about this issue is the black-and-white cover by Dave Johnson, which must be one of his most striking pieces of work.

SUGAR & SPIKE #92 (DC, 1970) – I got this issue at Heroes Con, and I read it today (July 6) because I’d just seen the news about Keith Giffen’s Sugar & Spike revival, which sounds just execrable. I know I shouldn’t dismiss a comic before reading it, but number one, I have problems with Keith Giffen that are outside the scope of this review. And number two, the premise has absolutely nothing to do with Sugar & Spike. Instead of being babies, they’re grown-up secret agents. In that case, I don’t see the point of even calling it Sugar & Spike.

Anyway, the two long stories in this issue are the one with the lawnmower, and the one where Sugar unplugs the air conditioner so their parents will take them to the beach. The lawnmower story confused me because I’ve never used a lawnmower with a starter rope, and I had to use Google to figure out what that was. On Facebook, Mordechai Luchins described Spike as a “brat” and I see what he meant, although “brat” may not be the proper term. The typical pattern in this series is that Sugar convinces Spike to participate in some hairbrained scheme, and Spike ends up suffering for it. Sugar is always the dominant partner in their relationship. It’s a Bugs Bunny-Daffy Duck dynamic.

First two batches of Heroes-Con reviews

6-23-15

I’m going to try to write these reviews as soon as possible after I read the comics reviewed. (Later note: I did not succeed.) Most of these comics were purchased at Heroes Con.

RAT QUEENS #9 (Image, 2015) – I somehow missed this issue when it came out, probably because it was solicited before I started using Discount Comic Book Service, but published after. At Heroes Con, I looked for this issue at practically every booth that was selling current comics, and I finally managed to find it. Rat Queens #9 is an enjoyable issue and a good start to Stjepan Sejic’s run, though the best line in it – “Demon babies are fun to play with” – was included in the preview. And after so many months, I can barely remember who Sawyer even is. It was nice to see Betty again, though. This series lost a lot of momentum due to lateness, which was partly caused by unfortunate events that will go unmentioned here, but hopefully it’s back on track now.

ADVENTURE COMICS #375 (DC, 1968) – “The King of the Legion!” is one of the few gaps in Shooter’s Legion. It’s the first part of a two-parter in which Bouncing Boy wins a competition to select the mightiest Legionnaire. Obviously there are some shenanigans involved here, but it’s been so long since I read #376 that I can’t remember why Bouncing Boy won or how this story ends. This issue is far from Shooter’s best Legion comic, especially considering the boring Win Mortimer artwork. Still, this was a fun read. It’s annoyingly sexist, in that most of the girl Legionnaires don’t even enter the competition – even Supergirl, who is explicitly stated to be the only girl with any chance of winning – and they spend most of the issue worrying about their respective boyfriends. And there’s a disturbing amount of fat-shaming directed at Bouncing Boy. But at least this issue has characterization. It’s full of fun character interactions, which means it’s a step above most DC comics of the time. For that matter, it’s a step above most DC comics published 47 years later.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #81 (Marvel, 1970) – I must have read this issue years ago in one of the Essential volumes, but I couldn’t remember anything about it. This issue introduces the Kangaroo, a pretty idiotic villain – he’s just a big musclebound thug who can jump high. The interesting part, as with many classic Spider-Man stories, is the characterization. Aunt May is suffering from a heart condition and Peter is feeling typically worried about her health, but Aunt May is being so overprotective that she forces Peter to stay in bed even though he’s not sick. To get away from her, Peter has to climb out the window and leave a web dummy in his bed, and when May discovers it, she almost dies of shock. This issue is perhaps one of the more screwed-up moments in Peter and May’s relationship.

MISTER MIRACLE #6 (DC, 1972) – This is one of the two issues of Kirby’s Mister Miracle that I was missing, the other being #1. This issue introduces Funky Flashman and Houseroy, Kirby’s caricatures of Stan Lee and Roy Thomas. Jack’s depiction of Stan and Roy is extremely brutal. Funky Flashman lives on a literal abandoned slave plantation, and Houseroy is his submissive servant. I’m not a huge fan of Stan myself, and yet I think this depiction of him is almost too cruel. The part of this issue involving Mr. Miracle and Barda is amazing, and this issue even includes the page where Barda takes a bath, which I believe was written by Mark Evanier. It’s been so long since I read an unfamiliar New Gods comic, I’d forgotten how good they are. This issue also includes a Newsboy Legion backup story, which is kind of weird in that it includes Simon and Kirby as characters.

GUARDIANS TEAM-UP #5 (Marvel, 2015) – I should have ordered this when it came out, but I didn’t. In this issue Rocket Raccoon teams up with the Pet Avengers and they fight the Pets of Evil Masters, a funnier name than Pet Masters of Evil. I absolutely loved the Pet Avengers miniseries, even if they weren’t as well-written as some of Marvel’s more recent humor titles, and I love seeing these characters again. The “dogs playing cards” splash page is a moment of brilliance, and in general Gustavo Duarte’s artwork is adorable. The one thing I didn’t like about this issue is that some of the dialogue is clumsily written.

STRANGE TALES #146 (Marvel, 1966) – This copy appeared to be in great condition, but the cover came unattached as I was reading it, which was highly distracting and made it hard for me to concentrate. In the first story in this issue, SHIELD battles THEM, who, as will probably be revealed next issue, are the military wing of AIM. This story surprised me because I hadn’t realized that AIM was initially introduced as a legitimate organization. The Dr. Strange story is much more important, though I was in the middle of reading this story when the cover fell off. “The End – At Last!” is the conclusion of Ditko’s Dr. Strange, one of the great runs in Marvel Comics history, and it features Dormammu’s epic battle with Eternity. I saw one of the splash pages from this issue in Les Daniels’s Marvel coffee table book, but I’ve never read the actual story until now, and it’s an impressive piece of work with gorgeous artwork. This story also reveals Clea’s name for the first time.

AVENGERS #110 (Marvel, 1973) – This issue has eluded me until now because it’s an X-Men appearance. This issue is somewhat clumsily written and shows evidence that Englehart was still getting his feet wet as a writer. And this story predates Giant-Size X-Men #1, so the X-Men were still rather boring and poorly developed. Amusingly, the Avengers don’t recognize Professor X at first because they’ve only met him once, at Reed and Sue’s wedding. As usual for Englehart, the high point of this issue is the characterization. When Quicksilver announces his engagement to Crystal, Wanda tells him about her own relationship with Vision. Pietro is furious, and demands, as the head of the family, that Wanda stop dating an android. Pietro’s hostility toward Vizh was a common theme in several later Englehart comics. Steve saw Quicksilver as essentially a villain, and would have turned him into a villain for real if not for editorial interference (see goo.gl/CLOUmZ). The other notable piece of continuity in this issue is that it introduces Magneto’s mind-control helmet.

UNCANNY X-MEN #139 (Marvel, 1980) – This was the only Claremont/Byrne X-Men I was able to find at Heroes Con. At this point I have about half of this run but I’m missing #129, #141, and #142, which I expect will be nigh impossible to find for my usual price range of $6 or under. I know this issue practically by heart, though it was fun to revisit. It’s full of adorable moments, including Kurt offering Logan a beer instead of lemonade, and Kitty meeting Stevie Hunter for the first time.

HERO FOR HIRE #8 (Marvel, 1973) – This is the first part of the two-parter with Dr. Doom. The following issue is the one with the line “Where’s my money, honey?” I looked for that issue at Heroes Con but couldn’t find a copy that was in my price range. This issue is still pretty awesome, though. Luke’s interactions with Dr. Doom and his underlings are hilarious. There’s one slightly disturbing line where Doom says that he has no black subjects because Latveria is in Europe – this reminded me of the arguments people use to justify the absence of black people in Game of Thrones. But Doom does go on to mention that no one ever emigrates to Latveria, which is perhaps the funniest line in the issue. I feel obliged to point out that this comic is an extreme example of blaxploitation, perhaps even more so than most Luke Cage comics.

YOUNG JUSTICE #30 (DC, 2001) – I’m closing in on a complete run of DC’s best teen superhero comic since New Teen Titans. In this story, the kids return from New Genesis and then Spoiler and Secret get in a fight over Robin. Because this comic guest-stars Spoiler, it brought back unpleasant memories of Chuck Dixon’s Robin. I say unpleasant because I used to like that comic so much that I used “Tim Drake” as a screen name, but my memory of it has been tarnished by my personal distaste for Dixon. It’s hard to think about that comic without seeing Dixon’s right-wing beliefs everywhere in it. Besides that, this issue is pretty good, and like most issues of YJ, it passes the Bechdel test easily.

BATMAN #316 (DC, 1979) – On the Classic Comics Forum, shaxper recommended this issue, calling it a “really solid Batman/Robin team-up.” Crazy Quilt is an extremely stupid villain, but somehow Len Wein depicts him as a legitimate menace. The Batman/Robin interactions in this issue are very cute, reminding me of the similar scenes in Detective Comics #474. The one thing in this issue that surprises me is Bruce telling Dick that someday Wayne Enterprises will be his; I can’t really imagine Dick as a businessman or a millionaire playboy.

UNCLE SCROOGE #261 (Disney, 1991) – This was the only Don Rosa comic I could find at Heroes Con. I’m still looking for Uncle Scrooge #292, which is the only chapter of Life & Times that I’m missing. It seems like practically all post-1986 duck comics are harder to find than Gold Key duck comics, which is no doubt because of low print runs. However, I also feel like last Heroes Con, everybody had all sorts of Gladstone comics, and this year no one had any. But anyway, “Return to Xanadu” is an unannounced sequel. Scrooge and the nephews go looking for the Xanadu described in Coleridge’s poem, and they discover that Xanadu is really Tralla La. Unfortunately I spoiled this for myself by reading ahead, but the moment where one nephew says “welcome back to Xanadu” and another nephew says “welcome back to Tralla La” is still pretty cool. The first part of the story is one of Rosa’s typical exciting adventures, and in the second part, the ducks reach Xanadu and settle into an idyllic existence. It occurred to me when reading this part of the story that Tralla La is obviously based on Shangri La. But their blissful life is interrupted when they discover they’ve made a horrible mistake which may have doomed Tralla La for good. Unfortunately the story ends at this point – it’s 30 pages but the last 13 pages are in the next issue, which will probably be nearly impossible to find. I wish Disney had just printed the entire story in one issue.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #164 (DC, 1979) – As I’ve written before, Gerry Conway’s JLA was not nearly as good as Steve Englehart’s JLA, but Conway was still much better at characterization than any of the JLA writers before Englehart. His two favorite characters seem to have been Zatanna and Red Tornado, both of whom play a major role here. This was part of a multipart storyline exploring Zatanna’s origin, and Zatanna meets her mother Sindella for the first time in this issue. Reddy is the narrator, and there’s one poignant scene where he wonders if he’ll ever see his friends again, and then there are three silent panels. Otherwise, though, this issue was kind of forgettable.

IRON MAN #242 (Marvel, 1989) – Somehow I finally felt motivated to read this and this comic, which I’ve had for about four years. I don’t know why I didn’t read them before because I’m a big fan of both of Michelinie’s runs on Iron Man, and I consider him the best Shellhead writer by far. This issue is annoying because the villain is the Mandarin, an offensive yellow peril stereotype. This comic does include one positively depicted Chinese character, Soo Lin (from issue 130), but otherwise it’s full of Orientalist stereotypes. Otherwise, this is a fairly exciting story, which ends on a massive cliffhanger as Kathy Dare shoots and apparently kills Tony.

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #105 (DC, 1973) – This is an average issue from Haney and Aparo’s best period on this series. It’s mostly notable because the guest star is the mod version of Wonder Woman. The story is kind of annoying because it relies on all sorts of Hispanic stereotypes. The plot is about expatriates from San Sebastian, which appears to be based on Cuba, and a major plot point is that young women from San Sebastian are unwilling to be seen in public without a duenna.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #7 (Image, 2015) – I allowed myself to fall behind on this series because I was not particularly interested in Euless Boss’s backstory, and I wanted to learn more about Earl Tubb’s biracial daughter. But at Heroes Con I went to the Southern Bastards panel, partly because I was tired and needed to get off the floor, partly because I wanted to see Jason Aaron and Jason Latour and the line at their table was always way too long. Listening to the panel revived my interest in the comic, so today I read the last two issues. Issue 7 is pretty compelling. During the panel, someone mentioned that this story makes the reader sympathize with Euless Boss despite knowing that he’s a horrible villain and a murderer, and I agree that this story effectively explains his motivation. The scene where we discover that Euless didn’t get any college scholarship offers because his coach badmouthed him is particularly powerful and surprising.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #8 (Image, 2015) – This issue begins with Coach Boss killing his own father. Olis Boss clearly deserved it, and I was even wishing he would die after issue 7, yet this scene was still quite shocking. Since I don’t have much else to say about this issue, I will also mention that in the letter column of issue 7, a reader makes the obvious point that Big is a classic example of a Magic Negro. Jason Aaron’s response to this is not entirely satisfying, though it does indicate that he’s aware of the stereotype and is not using it in a naïve way. I asked a question about race at the Southern Bastards panel, and I later had a brief conversation with Jason Latour about this topic, and I do expect that race is going to be a significant topic in this comic even if it hasn’t been explicitly discussed yet.

IRON MAN #244 (Marvel, 1989) – Tony survives the shooting, obviously, but is confined to a wheelchair. The first half of this issue is interesting for its realistic and sensitive depiction of disability. Tony has trouble doing everyday things, he feels powerless, and everyone treats him like “an animal in a zoo.” This portrayal of disability is unusually deep for its time, and you get the sense that David Michelinie based it on knowledge of real disabled people. The second half of the issue is a flashback to Tony’s relationship with Joanna Nivena, who helped convince him to become a superhero after his heart injury. This part of the story is an obvious retcon: Joanna had never been mentioned before, and only appeared once after (in Kurt Busiek’s Iron Age). I suspect this whole sequence may have originated as an inventory story. Still, it’s very sweet, and it serves its purpose of motivating Tony to build a new Iron Man armor that allows him to walk. In general, this is a satisfying Iron Man story. It also includes an unintentionally hilarious line where one of Tony’s fellow hospital patients asks him to change the channel because “life’s tough enough without having to stomach that Downey character” – though this could refer to Morton Downey Jr. and not Robert. (Addendum: I asked David Michelinie about this on Facebook and he confirmed that he meant Morton, not Robert.)

WONDER WOMAN #277 (DC, 1981) – This was one of a couple Paul Levitz Huntress stories I didn’t have. The trouble with these Huntress stories is that they came packaged with Wonder Woman stories which were execrably bad. This issue’s Wonder Woman story includes Kobra’s origin, which is a litany of cliches about India. Kobra’s headquarters is in the Temple of Kali in Delhi (because of course there’s just one temple in Delhi dedicated to Kali), and you get the impression that this is because Gerry Conway didn’t know of any other Hindu deities or any other cities in India. And Kobra’s origin story is told to Diana by an old black woman who herself is a huge stereotype. However, this issue is completely redeemed by the Huntress backup story. Helena Wayne was one of DC’s great female characters of the ‘70s and ‘80s; she was a confident, assertive, and even frightening, yet she had realistic fears and insecurities. This story is about her reaction to Harry Sims’s accidental discovery of her secret identity. Helena and Harry were an adorable couple and it was very frustrating when Geoff Johns decided to break them up in JSA Annual #1.

WEIRD SCIENCE #4 (Russ Cochran, 1993) – I have to make more of an effort to collect these Russ Cochran EC reprints. I eventually want to have all of them. The highlight of this issue is probably “The Radioactive Child,” which has some beautiful Kurtzman artwork, though the story is not great. Al Feldstein’s “Panic!” is a funny take-off on Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds broadcast, where the aliens turn out to be real. I wonder if this story is the first appearance of the phrase “spa fon.” Graham Ingels’s “House in Time” has an interesting SF premise: a house where going through the front door sends you back in time 500,000 years, but going through the back door sends you forward in time the same amount. I had to spend a few minutes trying to figure out how this worked. Jack Kamen’s “Gargantua” is about a man who can’t stop growing. The most memorable thing about it is the calculations of the amount of food that the man needs at each of his various sizes.

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ALIEN WORLDS #2 (Pacific, 1983) – This issue includes “Aurora,” one of Dave Stevens’s few non-Rocketeer works – in fact, it might be the only comic story he did that wasn’t Rocketeer. It was drawn in 1977 for Sanrio and was intended for the Japanese market. Dave says in his introductory note that it’s heavily influenced by Moebius, but I couldn’t really tell. It was drawn for a smaller page size than the standard American one, so at the top of each page there’s a banner showing Aurora and Unk’s faces. It’s sort of a crude piece of work compared with his later masterpieces, and the story is rather trite, but it’s still recognizable as Stevens, and it’s an exciting glimpse of an early period in this important artist’s career. This issue also includes a wordless story by Ken Steacy, which is nearly incomprehensible. The last story in the issue is both written and drawn by Bruce Jones, and is clearly a pastiche of EC’s Weird Science, but is not as good.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #38 (DC, 1965) – “Crisis on Earth-A, Part 2” has a convoluted plot which is very difficult to understand without having read Part 1. The most memorable part of this issue is the evil Johnny Thunder’s attempts to outsmart the Thunderbolt into doing his evil bidding, and vice versa.

THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE #1 (DC, 1993) – I didn’t realize that this was written by Neil Gaiman, or I would probably have gotten it sooner. This is the first of two bookends for a crossover story, and it focuses on Rowland and Paine’s investigation of the disappearances of a series of children. This is not Neil’s absolutely best work, but Rowland and Paine are entertaining, with their good intentions and their humorous ineptitude. And the story is a fairly interesting investigation of the theme of childhood, which comes up a lot in Neil’s work. I need to get the second issue of this.

MIRACLEMAN #14 (Marvel, 2015, originally Eclipse, 1988) – This issue goes through a lot of major plot points very quickly, as setup for the two epic issues to follow. One impressive thing about this comic is how Alan was able to establish such a deep and rich web of continuity in so little space. Some of the major characters, like Winter and the Qys, appear on just a few pages each and yet they still seem like major characters. There’s a ton of fantastic stuff in this issue, but easily the most shocking scene is where Johnny Bates changes into Kid Miracleman to save himself from rape – and then goes and murders the nurse who was nice to him. Annoyingly, in Marvel’s version, all of Bates’s dialogue on that page is missing for some reason, although it’s visible in the reproduction of John Totleben’s pencils. Speaking of John Totleben, the biggest revelation of rereading Miracleman in this form is what a spectacular artist he was – he deserves to be remembered as one of the great artistic geniuses of the ‘80s. Without him, neither the glory of Olympus nor the horror of Bates’s massacre would have been nearly as impressive.

MIRACLEMAN #15 (Marvel, 2015, originally Eclipse, 1988) – And now we come to perhaps the most shocking and brutal comic book ever published, a comic that used to be my biggest collecting Holy Grail. (After I finally got to read it, I gave up on ever owning a copy, and now I’m satisfied with just owning this reprint.) This issue underwhelmed me a bit when I first read it, just because it couldn’t possibly have matched the way I imagined it, but on rereading it, I’m amazed by its power and horror. I think Johnny Bates is the scariest comic book villain ever – he’s effectively the devil incarnate, especially the way John Totleben draws him. And could there be anything as horrific as the two-page spread at the end? Or as poignant as the scene where Miracleman is forced to kill the human Johnny? This is not an easy comic to read, but every fan of English-language comics should read it.

Pre-Heroes Con reviews

I don’t know how many comics I’ve reviewed here, but it’s more than 105.

JONNY QUEST #17 (Comico, 1987) – First a brief account of the circumstances in which I bought this comic. I visited my parents in Minneapolis for a couple days between Wiscon and Computers & Writing (more on Wiscon below) and I finally convinced them to go with me to Fasika in St. Paul to try Ethiopian food. It turns out that Fasika is right next to Midway Books, which I visited once while in high school, and I remembered that their basement was full of cheap boxes. So after dinner, which was amazing, I ran over to Midway Books just before it closed. The cheap boxes are still there, though they’re not quite as amazing as I remembered – I didn’t see a whole lot that I didn’t already have, and this Jonny Quest was easily the most exciting comic in the lot. I also have some issues with the owner, though I won’t go into that here. But revisiting the store was still a fun experience.

As for the actual comic, I absolutely love Bill Loebs’s Jonny Quest – I’ll go into that more later – but this issue was too bizarre for me. The plot is that Benton Quest’s “friend” Stuart Gold tricks him into participating in an experiment which has something to do with creating a life-size Transformer, and then lots of things happen that are so weird I couldn’t explain them if I tried. This issue doesn’t have any of the serious social commentary that appears in the other issues of this series which I discuss below

INCREDIBLE HULK #217 (Marvel, 1977) – After Wiscon was over, I visited Capital City Comics. Let me repeat what I said about this place on Facebook: “Just went to Capital City Comics in Madison, the namesake of the former distribution company of that name. It’s been around since 1975, and the owner, Bruce Ayers, had some interesting stories about the early days of the direct market. Unfortunately they have such a huge and cluttered back issue inventory that if you want anything, Bruce has to send his employees into the back to look for it — the back issue rooms are not open to the public. And that wasn’t possible today because the employees had the day off. I ended up just buying some 50-cent comics, but it was worth the trip. Bruce told me to send him my want list in advance if I’m in Madison again, and I will plan on doing that.”

This was one of those 50-cent comics. The issue before this one was the first old Hulk comic I ever read, and I still remember it fondly. In this issue, the Hulk encounters some circus freaks who turn out to be refugees from the Circus of Crime. He falls in love with one of them, who turns out to be a mermaid, but then has to return her to the sea. Overall this is an average and forgettable piece of work, though it was fun to read. I have not read a lot of old Marvel comics lately, and as will become apparent, I’ve consciously tried to correct that.

GROO THE WANDERER #116 (Marvel, 1994) – Only one of the dealers at Wiscon had any comic books, but he had some late issues of Groo at cover price. These are very hard to find and I bought them all. I was thrilled to discover that this one is the wordless issue, because I knew there was a wordless issue of Groo, but I could never figure out which one it was. In the strip on the inside front cover, Mark and Stan both quit in a huff because they’re sick of Sergio’s egotism, leaving Sergio to fend for himself. The credits say “Without the lettering of Stan Sakai / Without whatever Mark Evanier does.” Sergio’s wordless story is a hilarious piece of slapstick in which Groo encounters some men who are building a bridge and some other men who are besieging a castle, and mayhem ensues. This issue is funny as a one-off, but even though Sergio is a master of wordless comics, I think Groo benefits from whatever it is that Mark does.

SAVAGE DRAGON #17 (Image, 1995) – This issue was released in a censored version, with Dragon on the cover, and an uncensored version, with Rapture and She-Dragon on the cover. In the uncensored version, page 4 shows Dragon and Rapture having sex in the shower. In the censored version, this page is completely redrawn, and part of Rapture’s anatomy on page 5 is blacked out. Erik did this because some stores had been refusing to sell the comic to kids. I mention this because I unknowingly bought both versions of this comic at the same time – I didn’t realize they were the same issue because I only looked at the cover, not the issue number. Besides that, the other notable event in this issue is that Dragon foils a plot against him by newspaper publisher R. Richard Richards, who is based on, well, you know. Erik’s style has not changed a whole lot in the twenty years since this comic was published, and that’s both a good and a bad thing.

GROO THE WANDERER #117 (Marvel, 1994) – This story introduces Macha, who is kind of the opposite of Chakaal: she’s a fat, unsightly warrior woman who falls in love with Groo, but he has no interest in her. (And her dog has a similar relationship with Rufferto.) Groo escapes from her by pretending to be a coward so she’ll lose respect for him. The fat jokes in this issue is a bit annoying.

When I got back home, I found the following comics waiting for me:

LUMBERJANES #14 (Boom!, 2015) – I was a bit disappointed to learn that this issue wasn’t going to be another flashback story, but it turned out to be another good issue of the best all-ages comic on the market, almost as good as #13. I no longer have the sense that the writers are at a loss for where to go next. This issue is full of fantastic moments, including April’s perfectly timed quotation from Frozen, and the reappearance of the Scouting Lads. I even like how Barney thinks that being a Lumberjane sounds pretty cool, and April is fine with that. It’s weird how in the context of this series, Barney’s interest in exploring the wilderness, rather than staying inside knitting and making cookies, actually seems like a violation of traditional gender roles. This scene even answers the nagging question of where all the kittens went. This issue also introduces Abigail, an intriguing and disturbing new villain. My one complaint is that Ripley’s size seems to fluctuate wildly, and in some panels she’s unrealistically small.

USAGI YOJIMBO #145 (Dark Horse, 2015) – The greatest storyteller in American comics returns to his ongoing series, which has been on hiatus for more than three years. This issue is up to Stan’s usual extremely high standards of craftsmanship, and I liked it better than most issues of Senso. But it does seem like a fairly standard Usagi-Kitsune story, and it was pretty obvious that the mysterious ninja was Chizu. I’m less excited about next issue than about the upcoming story where Usagi meets his first European.

CONVERGENCE: SHAZAM #2 (DC, 2015) – The first half of this issue reads more like a Gotham by Gaslight story than a Shazam story. Which is another frustrating thing about this poorly conceived Convergence event – I bought this issue because I wanted to read about Shazam, not Steampunk Batman. As a result, this issue is not as good as the last one, though it gets better near the end when Mr. Mind and Mary and Freddy show up. I would happily read an ongoing Shazam Family series by this creative team. Doc Shaner is the best DC artist since Babs Tarr (I know that’s damning with faint praise).

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #3 (IDW, 2015) – More proof that Sophie Campbell is the best artist in the industry at drawing women. Jerrica and Rio and Kimber and Stormer are both cute couples. I love the scene with the kid trying to ride Rio’s motorcycle. The letter column includes an unintentionally hilarious letter complaining that Jem was perfect how it was and didn’t need to be changed.

After reading the first few comics from the current week, I realized I had hardly read any old Marvel or DC comics lately, and I was feeling nostalgic. So I read the following:

FANTASTIC FOUR #216 (Marvel, 1980) – The story in this issue, written by Marv Wolfman and Bill Mantlo, is pretty dumb. Blastaar teams up with a scientist who’s evolved himself into a super-post-human bald big-headed creature, they defeat the entire FF, but Franklin saves the day with his deus ex machina powers. The lettering in the second half of the issue is hideous. The main draw of the issue is the guest (?) art by John Byrne. His artwork is hampered by poor inking from Pablo Marcos, but it’s still recognizable as Byrne. In this issue’s letter column, Carol Strickland complains that Sue Storm is an outdated character and a sexist stereotype, and the editor replies: “[M]aybe Sue does not have a ‘liberated woman’ lurking underneath struggling to get out… Maybe it is a genuine personality function of hers to be non-aggressive, maternalistic, and those ‘traditional’ feminine traits… Do all women in comics have to be ‘liberated’? Can we or should we show alternatives?” Misogyny in superhero comics is not a new problem.

FLASH #255 (DC, 1977) – Cary Bates was a Silver Age DC writer in the pejorative sense, in that he didn’t care much about characterization or artistry, and his stories were purely based on plot. Therefore, the Flash was the perfect title for him because Barry and Iris never had much personality to begin with (hence why I have no interest in recent revivals of Barry as the Flash). However, this issue is not one of his better Flash efforts. It’s so complicated and confusing that I just couldn’t remember anything about it. The plot has something to do with the Mirror Master and Mazdan, but beyond that, I would be unable to summarize it.

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #127 (DC, 1976) – In “Dead Man’s Quadrangle,” Batman and Wildcat team up to stop an illegal-alien-smuggling operation. The quadrangle of the title is obviously based on the Bermuda Triangle, which was in the news at the time – Charles Berlitz’s bestselling book of that title had been published two years before. The story ends with a rather disturbing scene. In defeating the primary villain, Batman and Wildcat get some help from the undocumented immigrants who the villain was transporting. At the end, one of the immigrants says that “to stop them, we were glad to give up our chance to live in America” and Batman replies “We thank you and your friends, Emilio! Maybe someday you can enter the U.S. legally!” This seems rather ungrateful – he could have said that he would use his influence to try to lobby for better immigration laws, so that people like Emilio wouldn’t have to risk their lives to enter the U.S. legally. The writer, Bob Haney, was clearly not interested in thinking critically about immigration policy. As usual, the high point of this issue is Jim Aparo’s artwork – I think the mid-‘70s were his best period.

GREEN ARROW #55 (DC, 1991) – Ollie only appears on the last two pages of this issue. The bulk of the issue is told from the perspective of a cop named Jim Cameron, who spends his entire career pursuing a serial killer named Harold Gilbert. Finally, Gilbert is executed for a murder that he didn’t commit, while the person who really did commit that murder goes free and kills again, and Cameron is left to deal with his guilt. It’s a fairly powerful piece of work.

IRON MAN #60 (Marvel, 1973) – I haven’t read a whole lot of pre-Michelinie Iron Man. I know my friend Kurt Mitchell is a fan of George Tuska’s Iron Man, but I’ve never particularly gotten into it. I remember enjoying this issue, in which Iron Man battles the Masked Marauder, but in retrospect, I can’t remember much about it except that it includes some relationship drama between Tony, Happy and Pepper.

INVINCIBLE #120 (Image, 2015) – At the bottom of this issue’s cover, it says “You didn’t think we’d focus on Mark and Eve raising Terra every issue, did you?” I wish they would, because the Mark-Eve-Terra scenes in this issue are adorable, especially the two-page splash of Terra in her crib. Mark seems really young to be a father but he’s doing a great job of it so far. On the other hand, I really could have done without seeing Thragg wearing Battle Beast’s skin. I expect that Mark is about to have a giant war with Thragg and his half-insect children, and I’m not looking forward to it. Neither am I looking forward to next issue, which will be set on Earth.

A-FORCE #1 (Marvel, 2015) – Most of the publicity for this issue has focused on Jill Lepore’s poorly argued and misinformed article about its cover. I think the cover is fine; unfortunately, the actual issue is not fine. It relies too much on plot elements from Secret Wars that are not sufficiently explained, and the reader isn’t given enough reason to care about Miss America and Nico, who are the main characters in this story. G. Willow Wilson is the most important writer at Marvel right now, but this issue does not represent her best work.

KAPTARA #2 (Image, 2015) – He-Man was one of my favorite cartoons when I was little, so this issue is giving me a lot of nostalgic memories. Chip Zdarsky hilariously reveals the queerness that was always lurking beneath the surface of He-Man and similar cartoons. I love how Kaptara is full of men who walk around dressed in only a loincloth for no reason. And I don’t know who’s funnier, Mr. Help or the Motivational Orb. Chip Zdarsky’s writing shows some signs of inexperience, but this is one of the top debuts of the year.

THOR #250 (Marvel, 1976) – The period between Kirby and Simonson was a dark age for this series. This issue, in which Mangog disguises himself as Odin and tries to destroy Asgard by drawing the Odinsword, is just a retread of old Kirby material. The main attraction of the issue is the John Buscema artwork.

UNCANNY X-MEN #128 (Marvel, 1979) – I’ve read “The Action of the Tiger” several times before, but it’s a classic that’s worth revisiting. The first time I read this story, I think what struck out to me the most was Storm’s reluctance to kill the bees that Proteus spontaneously generates and uses against her. On reading this story again, I only notice a couple new things. First, Ororo and Peter have a cute big brother/big sister relationship which is mostly forgotten after Kitty becomes the primary object of Ororo’s maternal feelings. Second, Proteus has the same powers as Discord.

SAVAGE DRAGON #150 (Image, 2009) – This is a 100-page special, but most of those pages are either reprints or bad filler material, and even the Dragon story isn’t much good. The Thor story in this issue has some hideous Liefeldian artwork, and the Vanguard and Powerhouse stories are thoroughly boring. One of the reprints is the origin story of the Lev Gleason Daredevil, but this story is so racist that it should have remained out of print. The Aboriginal Australians in the story are depicted as typical illiterate savages, bearing no resemblance to actual Aboriginal people. This story ought to have been consigned to oblivion. The issue ends with a reprint of Savage Dragon #0, which I already have.

SUPERMAN #346 (DC, 1980) – “Superman’s Streak of Bad Luck” is a typically weird and bizarre Bronze Age Superman story. The streak of bad luck mentioned in the title is caused by Amos Fortune, who uses a phony game show as a plot to steal money from celebrities. The story ends with a moment of massive Superdickery: Clark uses his powers to beat Lois to a scoop, as revenge for some comments she made about TV reporters earlier in the issue.

EMPIRE: UPRISING #2 (Image, 2015) – I almost forgot this was an Image comic, not a DC comic. For such a short-lived comic, Empire has had a bunch of publishers – three in all, including Gorilla. This is an okay comic but it suffers from an excess of what I would call “Mark Waid syndrome,” meaning an excessive emphasis on one-liners, catchphrases and shock value at the expense of fundamentally sound storytelling. Barry Kitson is still a brilliant artist, though.

MIND MGMT #33 (Image, 2015) – Three issues left. This one, again, is mostly setup for Meru’s epic confrontation with the Eraser. But Meru’s reunion with her foster parents is really cute. And the relevance of Salvador Dali’s Triple Indemnity film is starting to become clear. Oddly, this issue doesn’t have any Mind MGMT Guide excerpts along the page edges, and there’s no explanation for why not.

CHEW #49 (Image, 2015) – As mentioned before, this series is tough to review because all the issues are the same. It’s like Groo in that way, if Groo had a single ongoing storyline. The clear highlight of the issue is the revelation that Tony has to eat Poyo, although I still don’t understand what that’s going to do. I have high expectations for issue 50. It’s pretty cool that the covers of Chew #37, #39 and #50 all fit together in multiple combinations.

ROCKET SALVAGE #5 (Boom!, 2015) – A thoroughly satisfying conclusion to an excellent miniseries. The ending is a bit predictable and leaves little room for a sequel, but whatever. I was terrified that one of the protagonists was going to get killed, and I’m glad that Yehudi Mercado didn’t take that route. It’s nice that Beta finally gets some appreciation after having been depicted as a useless moron for most of the series.

NONPLAYER #1 (Image, 2015, originally 2011) – This is probably the best-drawn comic book of the past decade. The level of detail in Nate Simpson’s artwork is amazing – he draws the individual leaves on trees and the individual hairs in a monster’s fur. That’s not quite literally true but it almost is. And he makes brilliant use of digital color. The trouble is that this style of artwork is not sustainable. When you draw like this, you end up putting out two issues in four years. In her essay “The Cover to Nonplayer #2 and how to make money as an artist,” Heidi MacDonald quotes Nate Simpson’s explanation of why it took him three and a half years to draw Nonplayer #2, and says that there is no appropriate business model that will support his work habits. She writes: “His passion project will remain that—and something that others can enjoy when it comes out. For many creators, comics will never be a full time job—but as an industry we need to make sure that there’s still a business model that makes it possible for those who CAN work full time to be able to get a job that pays a living wage.” I agree, but I also think it would be more appropriate for Simpson to do a series of Molly Danger-style albums than a pamphlet-size comic book. The comic book form was designed for artists who can make a monthly or bimonthly schedule – it was never supposed to be something that came out every year or two. It is true, though, that there really should be a way for artists to make money doing this style of artwork. (On another note, the story in this comic is potentially fascinating, but it’s difficult to evaluate because we get so little of it in this issue.)

DAREDEVIL #128 (Marvel, 1975) – This Marv Wolfman/Bob Brown collaboration is boring and poorly drawn. All that happens in it is that Daredevil fights Death-Stalker and a new villain whose name is not given. The cover calls him “the most startling character in the annals of Marveldom” but I would have to disagree. It was because of this issue that I wrote on Facebook “I wonder how Daredevil escaped being cancelled in the ’70s. After Gene Colan left and before Frank Miller arrived, there was no good reason why anyone should have bought it.” Some people corrected me by pointing out that there were some good Daredevil stories between Colan and Miller. This issue, however, is not one of them.

ACTION COMICS #415 (DC, 1972) – The Superman story in this issue has some nice art by my favorite Superman art team, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson. The plot, though, is really weird. It eventually turns out to be a reversal of Frankenstein, in which a hideous green-skinned alien builds a normal-looking human, who then turns against him. Until I noticed the Frankenstein connection, the story made no sense to me. Unsurprisingly the Metamorpho backup story is much better written. After Simon Stagg closes down a coal mine that’s become unprofitable, one of the laid-off miners intentionally traps himself in the mine as a publicity stunt to raise money for his dying child, and Metamorpho has to rescue him. Metamorpho succeeds, but Stagg makes the miner pay the cost of the rescue effort, leaving him even poorer than before – what a heartless jerk! So Metamorpho saves the day by stealing the money that Stagg keeps hidden in his mattress and giving it to the miner. This story is both hilariously wacky and emotionally moving, and it’s a good example of why I love Bob Haney’s writing (sometimes).

THOR #270 (Marvel, 1978) – This is from the first and much less famous of Walt Simonson’s two periods as Thor artist. I wouldn’t be able to identify the artist of this issue as Simonson if I hadn’t already known it was him. Partly because of inappropriate inking by Tony DeZuniga, there is little here that looks like Simonson, besides some very well-drawn spaceships. I also hardly remember anything about the plot of this issue, except that the villains are Blastaar and a computer system called F.A.U.S.T.

OH, KILLSTRIKE #1 (Boom!, 2015) – I did not like this issue and I’m glad that I don’t seem to have ordered any of the subsequent issues of this miniseries. First, the main character of this comic is an overgrown man-child who’s not ready for parenthood. I guess this is kind of the point – this comic is obviously supposed to be a coming-of-age story – but the writer, Max Bemis, offers me no reason to feel emotionally invested in this character. Second, this comic is a satire of early ‘90s Image comics, and that’s like shooting fish in a barrel. I don’t see the point of making fun of a style of comics that’s no longer popular and that was already widely mocked even when it was popular. Maybe this comic is going somewhere interesting, but I don’t have the patience to wait for it to get there.

CONCRETE #1 (Dark Horse, 1987) – Paul Chadwick is one of the most underrated cartoonists in America. He draws beautifully and he’s extremely smart and intellectually curious, and he also probably deserves some credit for the fact that Dark Horse exists today – I’ve read some of the early issues of DHP and Paul was the only good artist at the company back then. This issue is notable for being Concrete’s first appearance in his own series and for introducing the third of the series’ major characters, Larry Munro. The scene where we first meet Larry is kind of implausibly written (he’s going on a date when he coincidentally runs into a big dumb jock who he owes money to, and his date goes off with the jock instead), but the rest of the issue, in which Concrete rescues some trapped mine workers, is closer to Paul Chadwick’s usual level of realism. The subtext in this issue is that Concrete is becoming seriously uncomfortable with his celebrity status.

HOUSE OF FUN #1 (Dark Horse, 2012) – This was going to be Dork #11 until Evan Dorkin decided to change the title. It’s indistinguishable from a typical issue of Dork except that it includes Milk and Cheese in addition to the Eltingville Club, the Murder Family, and a bunch of short strips. There’s nothing particularly innovative about this issue compared to Evan’s earlier work, but it’s funny and brutally honest.

FANTASTIC FOUR #346 (Marvel, 1990) – I think that either I read this issue a long time ago when I checked it out from the library, or I have a Spanish edition of it, or both. But when I (re)read it, I hardly remembered anything about it, except that it involved the FF being trapped on an. In general this issue is an excellent piece of work and it gives Simonson the opportunity to draw dinosaurs, which he doesn’t get to do very often. The weak link in the issue is Sharon Ventura, easily the worst character to have used the name Ms. Marvel. There is one embarrassing scene where she says that she “never liked being a woman in a man’s world,” so becoming a she-Thing was “like being reborn.” But when she met Ben Grimm, she “learned that there are other ways to be reborn. The sharing ways between a man and a woman.” Blecch.

BATMAN #446 (DC, 1990) – This issue is not especially memorable and the artwork is far from Jim Aparo’s best. The plot here is that the NKVDemon (not the same character as the KGBeast) is trying to assassinate a bunch of politicians at a hockey game between the Soviet Union and the U.S. I guess it was still the Soviet Union at the time this story was written. The main thing I remember about this story is wondering how the NKVDemon was able to disguise himself as a hockey player, and compete in a hockey game, without any of the other players noticing.

FANTASTIC FOUR #330 (Marvel, 1989) – This is one of the issues written by Steve Englehart under the pseudonym John Harkness. According to Google, the reason why was because he was angry at being ordered to reintroduce Reed and Sue into the series. Even for Englehart, this issue is a convoluted mess that makes no sense at all. My initial assumption was that he didn’t particularly care about the quality of this story since he was about to quit, but in a blog post (goo.gl/vUv7SR), Jef Willemsen provides a more interesting explanation. What’s going on in this issue is that Aron, the rogue Watcher (who has an awesome name, if somewhat deficient in A’s) is monitoring the FF’s dreams, and their dreams are condensed versions of the stories that Englehart would have told if he hadn’t quit the series. This one, for example, is an alternate reality where the FF talk and act like they did in the ‘60s. I kind of want to read this issue again with that knowledge in mind.

FANTASTIC FOUR #331 (Marvel, 1989) – This one is Mr. Fantastic’s dream sequence, in which his new Turino-XL computer turns out to be Ultron-XI (note the anagram). This is much better than last issue since it makes sense on its own. This story is also a sequel to Ultron’s appearances in Englehart’s West Coast Avengers. And I think this reveals one of the tragedies of Englehart’s career. Each of his series is extensively linked by continuity elements to all of his other series, and I think this is because his real ambition was to tell a giant, years-long cosmic epic, with Mantis at its center. Fragments of that story appear in Avengers and West Coast Avengers and Fantastic Four and even Justice League, but the working conditions of the ‘70s and ‘80s comics industry made it impossible for him to tell that story in the way he wanted to.

BATMAN #229 (DC, 1971) – This issue’s first story is below the standards of most Batman comics from this period. In this story, Batman battles a cult of “Futurians” who have ESP, or claim to. It’s not very exciting and there’s no real point to it. Very unusually, the Robin story, in which Dick defeats a corrupt politician, is better than the Batman story. Mike Friedrich, who wrote this story, is not that great of a writer, but he’s better than Robert Kanigher on a bad day.

AQUAMAN #61 (DC, 1978) – The clear highlight of this issue is seeing Don Newton draw both Aquaman and Batman at once. The plot is not particularly interesting; it features Kobra, one of DC’s most boring and generic villains. And none of Aquaman’s supporting cast members appear in the issue.

WHAT IF? #1 (Marvel, 1977) – “What If Spider-Man Joined the Fantastic Four?” is a reasonably good beginning to a series which was always interesting and sometimes excellent. The problem with this story is that it follows the plot of Fantastic Four #13 and #14 very closely, to the point where it often seems like just a slavish adaptation of earlier stories. But at least it doesn’t read like a plot summary, which was the problem with many later issues of What If. In the end, Sue decides to leave the FF and stay with Namor because Spider-Man’s inclusion in the group has left her feeling like a fifth wheel. This ending surprised me at first, but I do think it follows logically from the rest of the story.

TALES TO ASTONISH #81 (Marvel, 1966) – I liked the Sub-Mariner story in this issue a lot. It has some excellent Gene Colan art, and it powerfully depicts Namor’s jealous rage when Dorma leaves him for Warlord Krang. The Hulk story is not quite as good. It introduces Boomerang, who has the most hideous costume this side of Paste Pot Pete, and who doesn’t use boomerangs nearly as much as his name implies. But this story does have some nice Bill Everett artwork over Kirby layouts.

ADVENTURE COMICS #318 (DC, 1964) – “The Mutiny of the Legionnaires!” is a weird story – well, every Legion story is weird in one way or another, so I guess it would be more accurate to say that this story is weird in an ineffective way. After going on five consecutive missions with no break, Sun Boy goes crazy and starts acting like an oppressive tyrant to his teammates, leading to the mutiny mentioned in the story. After Sun Boy is cured, the Legion constitution is amended so that “no Legionnaire shall go on more than five successive space-missions without a rest-period, to prevent space-fatigue.” I’m pretty sure this rule was never mentioned again. At this early period, there was no characterization and no real difference between one Legionnaire and another, and much of the continuity of the series didn’t exist yet – the Legionnaires even use gravity belts instead of flight rings. I usually hate the Golden Age reprints that appear in the back of ‘60s DC comics, but the one in this issue is interesting because it introduces Fuzzy, the Krypto Mouse. I had assumed that Art Baltazar and Franco created Fuzzy, so I was delighted to discover that he was a preexisting character, and his first appearance (and I assume his only appearance until Superman Family Adventures) is hilarious.

GREEN LANTERN #123 (DC, 1979) – Denny O’Neil’s writing has not aged well, unlike that of some of his contemporaries (e.g. Gerber and Englehart and even Haney), but I still generally like his Green Lantern. This is the first issue of the revived series that just has the Green Lantern logo on the cover, instead of Green Lantern/Green Arrow. That explains the scene where Hal seemingly dissolves his partnership with Ollie in a very rude way. Other than that, this story is not particularly exciting. Joe Staton’s artwork is rather pedestrian, and the story, in which Hal saves Guy Gardner from Sinestro, never manages to create much excitement.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #15 (Marvel, 2015) – This is the last issue of KSDC’s run, at least for now, though I assume the series will be restarted after Secret Wars. This issue is a touching tribute to Tracy Burke, and it seems to have been inspired by the death of one of KSDC’s relatives. I feel like maybe KSDC’s greatest strength as a writer is her skill at self-promotion – she believes very strongly in herself and her writing reflects that.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #30 (IDW, 2015) – In this untitled story by Christina Rice and Agnes Garbowska, Twilight Sparkle goes out of town, and instantly everything goes to hell in a handbasket. Due to a dispute over whether Rarity’s store or Applejack’s barn was the first building in town, half the town takes sides against the other half. This is really a rather powerful and suspenseful story, because Rice and Garbowska succeed in making the reader feel that the Mane Six have taken sides against each other and that their friendships might be ruined for good. Of course it’s all going to be cleared up next issue.

SANDMAN: OVERTURE #5 (DC, 2015) – J.H. Williams III is still the best artist in the industry. He draws in a million different styles, and even if he’d stuck to just one of those styles, he would have been a great artist. And the plot of this series is still going nowhere. I think I preferred last issue, when Hope was still alive. On Facebook, Charles Hatfield suggested that the motivation for this series was just that Neil wanted to work with J.H. Williams, and that at least is a reasonable explanation for it.

WEIRD SCIENCE #9 (Gemstone, 1994, originally 1951) – The best story in this issue is “The Gray Cloud of Death,” a very gloomy and grim piece of SF with gorgeous artwork by Wally Wood. Jack Oleck’s “The Martian Monster” would have been more suitable for Crime SuspenStories if not for the shock ending, in which the monster of the title turns out to be real. The second Wally Wood story, “The Invaders,” is even more beautiful than the first, but not as well written. The final story, “The Slave of Evil,” is an intriguing and well-plotted story about a man who doesn’t realize he’s a robot. This story is drawn by George Olesen, who I’d never heard of before, but Wikipedia tells me that he worked on the Phantom comic strip for four decades. This may have been his only art job for EC.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #16 (IDW, 2015) – This issue stars the two most loathsome, despicable villains in the MLP franchise, a pair of characters who are worse than Queen Chrysalis and Lord Tirek combined. I refer, of course, to Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon. I was kind of nervous about reading this issue because I was afraid that it would force me to sympathize with these two ponies and that I would have to stop hating them. Luckily the writer, Jeremy Whitley, avoids that. He allows us to empathize with them a little bit, by showing us that they’re not happy despite their vast wealth, but he doesn’t exonerate them. By the end of this story, I understand why Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon are the way they are, and I still hate them.

TOMORROW STORIES SPECIAL #2 (America’s Best Comics, 2006) – I believe this was the only Alan Moore ABC comic that I didn’t have, although only half of it is written by Alan. The issue begins with Alan and Rick Veitch’s “The Lethal Luck of the Magister Ludi,” a pastiche of the Gardner Fox/Mike Sekowsky Justice League. It’s fairly entertaining but it’s not even close to Alan’s best work, or even his best superhero parody. Surprisingly the highlight of the issue is the Little Margie in Misty Magic Land episode by Steve Moore and Eric Shanower. This story is an effective tribute to Little Nemo and is full of funny inside jokes and tributes. At one point, Margie meets a character who’s obviously supposed to be Nemo, who says that his father has a submarine. And I was like, well, why does Nemo’s father have a submarine… oh, right. This is just a really touching and funny story. Next is a Jonni Future story by Steve Moore, which is okay, but Jonni and John’s romance is very creepy. Last is a First American story by Alan and Jim Baikie. The First American is tied with Splash Brannigan as the worst Tomorrow Stories feature, and this story is too silly and disgusting to be effective as gross-out humor.

ARCANA ANNUAL #1 (DC, 1994) – This was the prequel to the Books of Magic ongoing series. It introduces a number of characters who will reappear in that series, including Tim’s father Tamlin and his friend Marya. Her part of this issue is more interesting than Tim’s part – it turns out that Marya was born in Imperial Russia and the tsarina forced her to enter ballet school at a young age. It’s not clear exactly which tsarina it was, but based on brief Google research, it may have been Anna, who established the first Russian school of ballet in the 18th century. It’s too bad that this issue is also part of the Children’s Crusade crossover, so it doesn’t tell a complete story, despite being more than 50 pages.

KULL THE DESTROYER #12 (Marvel, 1974) – I’ve always liked Kull much less than Conan. Kull is just a boring character, probably because he lacks either a sense of humor or a sex drive. My pet theory is that he doesn’t have much interest in women because he and Brule are lovers. This issue is written by Steve Englehart, which came as a surprise to me, but it’s very similar to the earlier issues by Roy Thomas. Like just about every other issue of Kull, this issue is about Kull trying to defeat a plot to overthrow him. You have to wonder why Kull even bothered being king of Valusia when his subjects all hated him, and he himself didn’t seem to enjoy being king very much. This issue does have some very nice art by Mike Ploog.

KULL THE DESTROYER #13 (Marvel, 1974) – This issue continues the plotline from #12 and it’s basically more of the same. It lends some support to my Kull-and-Brule theory, because it includes a scene where a woman tells Kulll that “you have shown me only kindness – when my heart wants so much more!” To which Kull replies by complaining that women are always ruled by their hearts. Again the Mike Ploog artwork is the highlight of the issue.

MEZZ: GALACTIC TOUR #1 (Dark Horse, 1994) – This is a one-shot starring some of the minor characters from Nexus. It’s really just a minor curiosity which has limited appeal even to a dedicated Nexus fan like me. There’s not much of a plot here – it turns out that the story revolves around yet another conflict between Vooper and Honest Crocus – and we don’t learn much about Mezz or his bandmates that we didn’t already know.

I notice that these reviews have mostly been pretty negative. It’s because number one, I read most of these comics a week or two ago, and number two, most of them are comics that I bought a long time ago and didn’t read, so I was coming into them with low expectations.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #37 (IDW, 2015) – This issue continues the story where the Lost Light Autobots go back in time to stop Brainstorm from murdering Optimus Prime. In this issue they visit Cybertron during the “Clampdown,” which I don’t really understand. After reading a bunch of issues of this series in order, I’m finally starting to understand the plot, though I still have trouble telling the characters apart. But it’s becoming clear that James Roberts is a skilled storyteller and not just a brilliant dialogue writer.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #38 (IDW, 2015) – This concludes the Brainstorm story arc. In this issue James Roberts presents the characters with an interesting moral dilemma, as the Autobots manage to convince Brainstorm not to kill Megatron (who turns out to be his real target), but Rewind kills him anyway. Though Megatron doesn’t actually die, because of parallel universes or something. I still don’t quite understand this comic, but I enjoy the parts of it that I do understand.

SWORDS OF SORROW #1 (Dynamite, 2015) – This is probably the only Dynamite comic I’m ever going to buy. I love the idea of a story where all the female pulp heroes team up, and this is a reasonably fun comic, but it’s mostly just setup.

MS. TREE #40 (Renegade, 1987) – This is from the period when only half of each issue was new material, and the other half was reprints of Pete Morisi’s Johnny Dynamite. Max and Terry explained why they had to do this, but I don’t think their explanation was persuasive. Surprisingly the Johnny Dynamite story is more memorable than the Ms. Tree story, in which Michael avenges her father’s murder. The Johnny Dynamite story was written by Ken Fitch, who I’ve never heard of, but he had an impressive command of the hard-boiled detective aesthetic. This is not a genre I particularly like, but reading this story, I see why Max Collins enjoys this series and chose to reprint it.

UNCLE SCROOGE ADVENTURES #20 (Gladstone, 1990) – My copy of this issue is signed by Don Rosa. The issue begins with Barks’s 1959 story “The Paul Bunyan Machine,” an implausible and silly piece of work in which Scrooge hides his money in a forest, but the Beagle Boys use the machine of the title to try to steal it. This story strongly suggests that the Money Bin contains all of Scrooge’s money, and is difficult to reconcile with Don Rosa’s later stories which state that it just contains the money Scrooge feels nostalgic about. Next up is Don Rosa’s “On a Silver Platter,” which is much better. Like “The Universal Solvent” or “Forget It!,” this story takes a weird idea – a silver platter that acts as a portal between Duckburg and Magica de Spell’s hut – and exploits it for as much comic potential as possible. It’s amazing how many bizarre implications follow from such a simple premise. There’s also a Gutenberghaus story in which a foreign prince presents Scrooge with a pet goat who requires extremely expensive care. This is funny but forgettable. The issue ends with a ten-pager by Barks, which is unusual in that it ends with Scrooge losing money instead of making money.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #39 (IDW, 2015) – In this issue, we step away from the Lost Light characters for a bit and focus on the Decepticon Justice Division. As expected, these characters are awful, sadistic monsters, and yet they talk in the same dialogue style as all the other characters, and this helps us see them as human (or at least as human as a giant transforming robot can get). Nickel is an especially disturbing character because she seems so small and vulnerable, and yet she’s part of this awful organization. It’s impressive how James Roberts almost makes us sympathize with these characters who we’ve spent the last several issues learning to hate.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #242 (Marvel, 1991) – This is one of the few issues of Roy Thomas’s second Conan run that I hadn’t read. I even assumed that I had read it and that this copy was a duplicate, but I was wrong. “The Sorcerer and the She-Devil” is a deliberate homage to Roy’s earlier Conan run, as it guest-stars Red Sonja and the villain turns out to be Zukala. The plot is that Red Sonja somehow gets engaged to marry some wimpy jerk (who, again, is really Zukala), and this obviously causes the constant sexual tension between Conan and Sonja to flare up. This story is a lot of fun.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #40 (IDW, 2015) – This issue focuses on Ratchet. It begins with a scene where Ratchet makes three failed attempts to do something, but it’s not clear what he was trying to do. Then we observe the day-to-day events on the Lost Light through Ratchet’s eyes. At the end, Ratchet leaves the Lost Light, with the caption “First successful attempt at saying goodbye properly.” It’s a touching moment, and this issue is an effective example of a day-in-the-life issue.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #123 (Marvel, 1982) – A while ago Kurt Mitchell called J.M. DeMatteis and Kerry Gammill’s MTU stories to my attention. He was correct in recommending them, because these stories are very narratively complex and sophisticated and they often have rather deep messages. This Spider-Man-Daredevil team-up is not their best work on the series, mostly because it contains an implausible plot twist. The plot is that Daredevil is representing a mob hitman, “Peepers” who’s decided to turn state’s evidence because he’s terminally ill, but he and Spider-Man have to protect Peepers from being assassinated by the super-villain Solarr. The implausible twist is that as soon as Peepers is in danger, he takes a sick child hostage so he can escape from Solarr. This is inconsistent with what we’ve been told about his character up to this point. And then at the end of the story, Peepers goes insane because of guilt, which is an unsatisfying and surprisingly bleak ending. (P.S.: It turns out I already had this comic in my collection and had read it, so I will let this review stand, but I will not include it on my master list of comics reviewed, or on my official count of the comics I’ve read.)

JONNY QUEST #25 (Comico, 1988) – This is the second issue starring Bandit (unless there’s another one I haven’t read), and it’s almost as good as the first one, which I reviewed in 2011. (See goo.gl/IRUIHn.) This time, Bandit gets lost while trying to catch a squirrel and ends up as the companion of a mentally ill homeless woman. Unfortunately it turns out that the local homeless people are being stalked by a serial killer, who was himself released from a mental hospital. This story is explicitly a critique of deinstitutionalization. At one point Race says to a policeman that “It seems like folks like that were further along before people tried to reform things by closing the institutions,” and the policeman agrees and says “There was a lot of talking about reform, but it was really about saving money. They just dumped people out in the street, and let us deal with the problem.” However, this story is more than just a sermon about mental health care, because it’s presented to us through the eyes of Jonny and Bandit, and Bill Loebs is incredibly good at writing from an animal’s perspective.

On a side note, this issue includes hints that Benton Quest is going to marry Kathy Martin. I think that character was a beard, introduced to dispel the rumor that Benton and Race were a couple. Also, this issue’s letter column includes letters from two of the greatest critics of American comics, Charles Hatfield and T.M. Maple.

UNCLE SCROOGE ADVENTURES #28 (Gladstone, 1994) – “Land Beneath the Ground” is a bizarre and implausible piece of work, but it’s a classic. The idea that earthquakes are caused by subterranean bowtie-wearing rock people is utterly preposterous, but in a funny way. And this story includes some incredible depictions of creepy subterranean caves. The backup story, Romano Scarpa’s “The Man from Oola-Oola,” is funny but also has some potentially racist implications, since it’s about a man from an uncontacted tribe who’s completely covered in hair. Scarpa may be my third favorite duck artist, but he’s a very distant third.

TINY TITANS: RETURN TO THE TREEHOUSE #4 (DC, 2014) – This is exactly the same as every other Tiny Titans comic.

DAREDEVIL #0.1 (Marvel, 2014) – I did not enjoy this comic. Let’s start with the beginning. Matt Murdock chases a man through the Milwaukee airport, then when the man jumps through the wall of the airport, Matt jumps out after him, in full view of several policemen. In doing so, he abandons Kirsten McDuffie, who arrived at the airport with him. At the end of the issue when Matt returns to the airport, no mention is made of his bizarre behavior the last time he was there, and Kirsten doesn’t seem to mind that he completely abandoned her. The actual plot of this issue involves the Super-Adaptoid, but it’s not especially interesting. Another problem here is the art. This issue was originally published digitally on the Marvel Infinite Comics platform, and it was clearly designed for the screen rather than the page. Each page divides neatly into two vertical halves of the same shape as a computer screen, and there’s never any attempt to take advantage of the vertical dimension of the page.

JONNY QUEST #21 (Comico, 1988) – Another amazing issue, with gorgeous artwork by Dan Spiegle (who, as of this writing, is one of the oldest living American cartoonists). In “Here There Be Dragons,” Race Bannon encounters Uncle Ez, his abusive former foster guardian, and is forced to confront the trauma of child abuse. Like issue #21 above, this is another story that deals in a serious and sensitive way with a real-world problem. It’s especially impressive because of its realistic portrayal of gaslighting – all of the people from Race’s hometown think Uncle Ez was a perfectly nice guy, and no one seems willing to believe his story about being abused.

HOLLYWOOD SUPERSTARS #4 (Marvel, 1991) – Mark liked to make fun of this series, saying that no one ever bought it, but it’s one of his and Dan Spiegle’s greatest works. It’s a continuation of Crossfire, but without the superheroic trappings. This issue is the second part of a three-part story in which Jerry, Leo and Melody investigate a corrupt stunt coordinator. Melody is a bit of an annoying character because of her damsel-in-distress personality, but this story is a powerful depiction of unfair Hollywood labor practices, and I assume Mark based it on personal knowledge. And Dan Spiegle’s artwork is incredible as ever.

HOLLYWOOD SUPERSTARS #5 (Marvel, 1991) – This concludes the above story. It includes a surprising yet plausible scene in which the corrupt stunt coordinator gets off scot-free because he got all his employees to sign release forms. And at the end, Leo says that he has a friend who writes comic books, and he’ll “tell him the story and he could change the names and write it up for one of his books.” The obvious implication here is that this storyline is based on real events, but I can’t find any reference to anything similar happening in real life.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #92 (Marvel, 1971) – This is the one where Spidey and Iceman team up to defeat Bullit’s campaign for district attorney. I’ve read this story at least twice before, although it was fun to revisit. One thing I noticed on rereading is that Spidey behaves like a serious jerk toward Gwen – he deliberately kidnaps and terrorizes her just so she won’t realize he’s really Peter.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #20 (Marvel, 1974) – This issue includes Stegron the Dinosaur Man, one of Marvel’s most hilarious and awesome villains, so it’s a lot of fun. There’s one amazing two-page splash showing Stegron leading a herd of dinosaurs down Broadway in broad daylight. Still, I think Len Wein could have done even more to exploit the comic potential of this villain, and I wish the art had been by Gil Kane instead of Sal Buscema.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #377 (Marvel, 1993) – By this point the series had clearly jumped the shark. The villains this issue are Cardiac, Styx and Stone, none of whom are among David Michelinie’s better creations. Too much of the issue is wasted on scenes involving these dumb characters that no one cares about. Peter Parker’s fake parents also appear in the issue, and the scenes where Peter interacts with them are kind of embarrassing, because they insist on treating him like a child – though I guess that’s a realistic way for parents to behave toward their adult children.

WEIRD SUSPENSE #1 (Atlas/Seaboard, 1975) – Like most Atlas/Seaboard comics, this is pretty stupid, and it’s difficult to care what happens in it because I know that it’s going to be cancelled within three issues at most. This issue does have some very effective horror artwork by Pat Boyette.

And now the new comics from last week:

SAGA #29 (Image, 2015) – I knew something awful was going to happen in this issue because of other people’s Facebook posts. I was terrified that either Marco, Alana or Hazel was going to die, and I’m relieved that that didn’t happen, but what does in fact happen in this issue is almost as bad. The Will’s death is one of the most shocking moments in a series that’s full of shocking moments. I await next issue with a mixture of excitement and apprehension.

Also, this is one of two comics I read last week in which a noncreature orally pleasures itself.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #6 (Marvel, 2015) – I think this was better than Saga. Besides Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl is currently the best Marvel comic – just imagine how weird that statement would have sounded a few years ago. There’s so much incredible stuff in this comic that I can’t remember it all, but I love all the new characters introduced in this issue – Hippo the Hippo, Girl Squirrel, Koi Boi and Chipmunk Hunk. I like the subtle continuity nods, like the headline “Astronomers: That nut planet we discovered last month isn’t there anymore, weird.” And I hope there really is a character called Cat Brat.

STARFIRE #1 (DC, 2015) – This is the best (and perhaps the only good) Starfire story not written by Marv Wolfman. There are some cosmetic differences between this Kori and the Kory I know, including the spelling of her nickname. But Amanda and Jimmy have a perfect understanding of Kory’s character. Their Kory is deeply emotional and uninhibited and unfamiliar with life on Earth, just like she should be. I especially love the scene where Kory cries when she learns that Stella’s grandmother died. This seems like exactly the kind of thing Kory would do, although I assume she’s also crying over the death of her own parents, which she just mentioned to Stella. I wish Amanda was drawing this comic herself, and I hate those hideous bottom-of-page Twix ads, but I’m really excited about this series.

AUTUMNLANDS: TOOTH AND CLAW #6 (Image, 2015) – I’m not enjoying this series nearly as much as Astro City. This issue is disturbing because it encourages us to side with the wizards against the bison, who are clearly the injured parties. Seven-Scars has been consistently depicted as a dangerous, frightening villain, but he hasn’t done anything wrong except negotiate in bad faith, and I can’t blame him for that considering he has no reason to trust the wizards. I really think Dunstan is working for the wrong side. And it sure would be nice if he got to take a more active role in the story. It’s a little surprising when the other wizards show up at the end – I kind of assumed that all the floating cities had collapsed, not just Dunstan’s city.

GOTHAM ACADEMY #7 (DC, 2015) – Another charming issue of the best current DC title. It’s disappointing that Damian is expelled from the school at the end, because he and Maps are an adorable duo; I think they may be my favorite recent DC characters. And this issue is narrated by Maps instead of Olive, which makes it even more fun. Maybe the funniest moment in the issue is where Maps imagines herself marrying Damian’s grapple gun. I’m not familiar with Mingjue Helen Chen but she’s almost as good as Karl Kerschl.

BLUBBER #1 (Fantagraphics, 2015) – I did not like this at all. It reads like Beto’s attempt to imitate Michel DeForge, and I don’t particularly enjoy Michel DeForge’s work to begin with, even if I appreciate its artistry. This issue was just disgusting and disturbing, though I suppose that’s the point. I appreciate that Beto is trying to challenge himself creatively but I wish he was doing something more entertaining. This is the other comic I read last week in which a nonhuman creature orally pleasures itself.

HELP US! GREAT WARRIOR #4 (Boom, 2015) – As usual, this issue contains a lot of epic moments of awesomeness, but very little story. I enjoy this comic, but I’m not convinced that it’s worth the cover price.

I AM GROOT #1 (I Am Groot, 2015) – I am Groot? I am Groot. I am Groot? I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot! I am Groot! I am Groot. I AM GROOT! I am Groot! I am Groot. I AM GROOT! I am Groot. I am Groot? I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I AM GROOT! I am Groot! I am Groot. I AM GROOT!

(Translation: GROOT #1 (Marvel, 2015) – It’s not clear why they had to replace Rocket Raccoon with this series, because this is just as much of a Rocket Raccoon comic as a Groot comic. This is fun, though. Jeff Loveness is almost as entertaining of a writer as Skottie Young. I especially love the scene where Rocket and Groot steal Superboy’s rocket. Not to mention the space tree sharks and the ineffective Skrull spies. I look forward to the next issue.)

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #10 (Image, 2015) – The dominant mood in this issue is of anticlimax, as Laura discovers that she’s not the twelfth god. But it’s hard to remember how I felt when I read this issue, because issue 11 has overshadowed it in my memory.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #11 (Image, 2015) – This issue ends with a massive shock which is then followed by another that’s even more massive. Ananke turns Laura into the thirteenth god, Persephone, and then promptly murders her and her family. I don’t think we were given any reason to expect this outcome, and I have no idea where the series is going to go form here. It feels as though Kieron and Jamie are being unfair to their readers. I eagerly await issue 12 so I can find out what the hell just happened.

SILVER SURFER #12 (Marvel, 2015) – There was no way this issue could top issue 11, but it’s still pretty good. In this issue, we learn that the adaptive planet from last issue is alive, and that it’s not nearly as perfect as it seems. Slott and Allred set this up fairly well; on page ten, for example, you can clearly see a giant face in the mountains in the background. This issue also effectively advances the arc of Surfer and Dawn’s relationship. By the end of this issue I feel that it makes sense for them to be a couple, and I was not convinced of that before.

SPIDER-GWEN #5 (Marvel, 2015) – This is one of the top Marvel titles at the moment, and it’s frustrating that it has to be cancelled because of Secret Wars. I assume this series will be coming back in some form, because this issue does not read like a final issue – it ends on a cliffhanger. I love Latour and Rodriguez’s version of the Black Cat, which appears to have been heavily influenced by Bandette. But clearly the funniest moment in the issue is Betty wearing a cat instead of a winter hat. Someone on my Facebook page suggested that this could be an homage to King City, but it’s funny even if it’s not.

DAREDEVIL #7 (Marvel, 2014) – At this point I finally decided to get caught up on this series, which I have been buying but not reading. Most of this issue is just okay, but the last scene, where Matt asks his mother why she left him, is one of the most powerful moments in any recent Marvel comic. Because the answer is postpartum depression, which is something that’s never even been mentioned in any other comic book I can think of. It’s impressive enough that this comic even acknowledges the existence of this phenomenon, but Mark Waid and Javier Rodriguez do more than that. They make us sympathize with Maggie, both because of the depression itself and because of her inability to understand what was happening to her. Because of this scene alone, Daredevil #7 is a classic.

DAREDEVIL #8 (Marvel, 2014) – This is part one of a two-parter involving the Purple Man and his illegitimate children. I haven’t read most of the recent stories involving the Purple Man, but he’s a truly loathsome villain, and his kids are just as creepy. Chris Samnee’s artwork on this issue is incredible; I think he’s currently the leading artist at Marvel. This issue also introduces Kirsten McDuffie’s father and stepmother, though we don’t learn much about them yet.

SAVAGE DRAGON #204 (Image, 2015) – In this issue we learn that Malcolm managed to get not only Tierra but also Angel pregnant. Malcolm reacts to this news in a way that does him no credit; he shows little sympathy to either woman, besides worrying that the pregnancy is going to be fatal to them, and he even doubts that the babies are his. This series has been even more tasteless than usual lately, and I’m feeling guilty about continuing to read it.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #31 (IDW, 2015) – This is a satisfying resolution to the Ponyville Days story, though nothing that happens in it is especially surprising. Twilight manages to heal the rift between the two factions of Ponyvile, and the Ponyville Days event proceeds as scheduled. Probably the best moment in the issue is the two-page spread where Twilight convinces 18 different characters to help with the festival, including Gummy and Angel.

UNCLE SCROOGE ADVENTURES #15 (Gladstone, 1989) – “Micro-Ducks from Outer Space” is a very late Barks story. It’s not one of his best, but it’s cute. The micro-ducks of the title are adorable, and Donald’s infatuation with Princess Teentsy Teen is funny. This is another story that surprisingly ends with Scrooge failing to take advantage of an opportunity to make money.

WEIRDWORLD #1 (Marvel, 2015) – I’m disappointed that this series isn’t about Tyndall, Velanna and Mud-Butt, but I like it anyway. It’s got dragons and ogres and undersea apes and one of the best maps in any comic in recent memory – Aaron King must have loved it. Mike Del Mundo’s artwork doesn’t resemble that of any other Marvel artist I can think of, and it effectively creates a fantastic atmosphere.

NO MERCY #2 (Image, 2015) – An alternative title for this series would be “Overprivileged White Kids Get in a Predicament That Their Money Can’t Get Them Out Of.” Maybe the most interesting thing about this series is the conflict between the protagonists’ sheltered upbringing and the horrific situation they find themselves in. The key moment in this issue is when Travis throws some dust on the fire to make “crazy colors,” and the fire goes out, allowing the coyotes to attack. He just seems to have no understanding of the possibility that his actions might have negative consequences for other people. I think the reason I waited a month to read this comic is because it’s rather grim and disturbing, but it’s good.

NO MERCY #3 (Image, 2015) – Besides the stuff I mentioned above, the most interesting thing about this issue is Chad, the abusive brother. He is a truly horrific character and I was genuinely disappointed when Charlene’s attempt to kill him did not succeed. This issue ends on an exciting cliffhanger, and I look forward to the next one.

GIANT DAYS #3 (Boom!, 2015) – It’s kind of cool how this series and No Mercy are both about college kids, and yet they’re so radically different in tone, art style, and everything else. Unlike the first two issues, this one has a somewhat serious plot, in which the protagonists get harassed over social media by some of the local frat boys (or the English equivalent). So there are some serious ideas here, but they’re handled in a very funny and lighthearted way.

18 more reviews to go. I apologize to myself (and anyone else who may be reading) for the low quality of these reviews, but I need to finish them before I leave for Heroes Con.

DAREDEVIL #9 (Marvel, 2015) – This is part two of the Purple Kids three-parter. Mark and Chris achieve the impressive feat of simultaneously making us fear the Purple Kids and sympathize with them. They are clearly the victims here, since their father created them in order to further his criminal enterprises, but they’re also textbook examples of the Creepy Child trope.

DAREDEVIL #10 (Marvel, 2015) – An excellent conclusion to the Purple Kids story. In this issue Matt finally figures out the obvious way to defeat the kids (by separating them from each other so their powers don’t work) and he saves the day, but we also get the sense that they’ve done lasting psychic damage to him, by forcing him to relive his own childhood trauma. The next-to-last page, where Matt crawls into bed, is very touching. I stopped reading this series because I was honestly getting kind of sick of Mark Waid’s writing (see the review of Empire above), but it really is one of the best recent superhero titles.

DAREDEVIL #11 and #12 (Marvel, 2015) – I’ll review these together. In this two-parter, Matt is hired by a character called the Stuntmaster, who is angry that his secret identity has been stolen by a much younger man. It turns out that this is all a scam: the two Stuntmasters are working together, and their stunts are being performed by helpless kidnap victims who get killed in the process. (This story has some uncanny similarities with the Hollywood Superstars story discussed above.) The most significant long-term result of this story is that Matt finally uses the L word with Kirsten – not “lesbians,” the other one.

CONVERGENCE: SUPERBOY AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #2 (DC, 2015) – This is an insultingly bad Legion comic. It spends way too much time on the Atomic Knights, who no one cares about; in the first five pages, there are a total of three lines of dialogue spoken by Legionnaires other than Superboy. None of the Legionnaires in the story get any characterization at all, except Ayla, who behaves wildly out of character – her romance between Superboy has no precedent in any previous Legion comic. Stuart Moore doesn’t seem to understand or care about the Legionnaires’ personalities, and this makes him an unsuitable Legion writer. This comic isn’t completely terrible, and the scene on the last page would be cute if not for the problem of Ayla being out of character. But a Legion comic that’s not completely terrible is not enough to satisfy me. The Legion is DC’s single best intellectual property, and there are people in the comics industry today who are capable of doing truly incredible Legion comics, and I think DC is throwing money away by neglecting this franchise.

HARLEY QUINN #17 (DC, 2015) – Another Conner/Palmiotti comic. I don’t think this writing team gets enough credit – they may not be the most polished or literary writers in the industry, but their stuff is always funny and exciting. This issue is not only the debut of the Gang of Harleys, it also reintroduces Captain Strong, the DC version of Popeye. It’s extremely fun. But it’s too bad about those stupid half-page ads.

CREATURES ON THE LOOSE #22 (Marvel, 1973) – This is the first of a run of stories starring Lin Carter’s Thongor of Lost Lemuria, a character who is barely distinguishable from Conan. This story could easily have been turned into a Conan story with only a few name changes. This issue does have a beautiful Steranko cover and some fairly good art by Val Mayerik, and it’s one of the few Marvel comics written by the SF author George Alec Effinger. I need to look out for issues 28 and 29 of this series, which were written by Steve Gerber.

GREEN LANTERN #38 (DC, 1993) – I distinctly remember checking this issue out of the library shortly after it was published. There are moments in it that I still remember, like Hal reporting that Barry used the phrase “a cup of java.” But other than its nostalgia value, this comic is not great. Reading this issue, I understand why DC felt they had to kill off Hal and replace him with a character that was more appealing to younger readers, because he acts like an old man. The conflict in this issue is that Carol wants to marry Hal so they can have kids, and Hal doesn’t want to settle down. Also, the main plot of this issue is difficult to understand if you’re not intimately familiar with issue 75 of the previous Green Lantern series. The plot depends heavily on Ergono and U-minds, and there’s no explanation of what these are.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #17 (IDW, 2015) – Suffering from overwork, Twilight Sparkle uses magic to project herself into Big Mac’s mind so that she can see how he manages his extreme workload. Like most of Ted Anderson’s pony comics, this issue is not particularly deep or memorable, though it’s funny. It doesn’t tell us much about either Twilight or Big Mac that we didn’t already know.

DAREDEVIL #13 (Marvel, 2015) – This issue is the prelude to a storyline involving the Shroud and the Owl, but the most important thing about it is the way it advances Matt and Kirsten’s character arc. After having told Karen he loves her, Matt is wracked with guilt because of what always happens to Daredevil’s girlfriends, and then Kirsten promptly gets kidnapped by a villain. It turns out that the villain is targeting Kirsten because she was responsible for putting him in prison, and not because he’s trying to hurt Matt, and Kirsten’s reaction to this discovery is kind of weird and implausible: she’s happy that she now has her own archenemy. I did not like this ending, and in retrospect, it seems like a preview of the problems that developed in the two following issues.

MIRACLEMAN #13 (Marvel, 2014, originally Eclipse, 1987) – I’ve read this issue before, but not for a long time, and on the first reading, I didn’t quite understand all the continuity with the Qys and the Warpsmiths. So this issue was worth rereading, and I of course am extremely pleased that I finally get to own my own copy of it. I don’t see why Marvel felt it was necessary to pad the length of each issue by reproducing every page of John Totleben’s original art, even though John Totleben is an amazing artist who’s never gotten the credit he deserves.

DAREDEVIL #14 (Marvel, 2015) – This issue is a significant step down in quality. Matt dresses up in a ridiculous new costume, and meanwhile, we learn that Kirsten’s dad is rich enough to rent Giants Stadium for batting practice. I guess we already knew he was extremely rich, but at the point where he has that much money to throw around, I not only find it difficult to sympathize with him, I also start to lose sympathy for his daughter. Also, it’s disturbing to see Matt trying to profit from his fame.

FANTASTIC FOUR #645 (Marvel, 2015) – I never had any interest in James Robinson’s FF; I think he’s completely finished as a writer. He’s gone through perhaps the steepest decline of any comic book writer in recent memory. I bought this issue mostly because of the last story, where Reed and Val share some father-daughter time. This story is adorable, but I’m not sure it justifies the issue’s $5.99 price tag. In one of the other stories, Louise Simonson gets the chance to write Franklin Richards again. This story is cute, but it continues the trend of depicting Franklin as much less mature than his younger sister. The other stories in the issue are pretty forgettable.

AQUAMAN #46 (DC, 1969) – This issue is a climactic moment in the Search for Mera story arc, as Arthur and Mera are finally reunited. Most of this issue is a flashback detailing what Mera was doing while Arthur was searching for her, so it’s effectively a Mera solo story. It’s very unusual for a ‘60s DC comic in that it has a proactive female protagonist who can take care of herself and who even gets to fight and defeat men with her fists. This issue demonstrates that Mera was one of the premier DC characters of her era. It also has some excellent Jim Aparo artwork. He was at the peak of his career at this point, and he does some fascinating things with page layouts.

TALES TO ASTONISH #84 (Marvel, 1966) – The Namor story in this issue has some fairly good art by Gene Colan, though not much of a plot. Very unusually, the art for the Hulk story is credited to “almost the whole blamed Bullpen.” According to the GCD, this included Bill Everett, Jack Kirby, Jerry Grandenetti, and who knows who else. The two stories are loosely linked in that Namor and the Hulk find themselves in the same movie theater at the same time, but they don’t interact in any way. Overall this was a fun comic but also kind of forgettable.

DAREDEVIL #15 (Marvel, 2015) – With this issue the series jumps the shark. It turns out that the Owl has been filming Matt for the entire series, and he releases all the video at once, including footage of Matt’s consultations with his clients and his intimate encounters with Kirsten. I find it rather implausible that the Owl would do this when it deprives him of any leverage over Matt, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that now Matt’s life is completely ruined, and I’ve read that story before, at least twice. And then the end of this issue reintroduces the Kingpin, perhaps Daredevil’s most cliched and overused villain. I’m glad that Mark and Chris’s run is about to end because they’ve written themselves into a corner; there’s nowhere they can go from here. This issue’s plot is trite and overly reliant on shock value, and it’s cruel of Mark to treat his protagonist in this way.

DETECTIVE COMICS #618 (DC, 1990) – This is part one of the story in which Tim Drake’s mother is killed by the Obeah Man, and it may be the first story I’ve read in which Tim’s mother appears at all – she was a rather short-lived character. This issue effectively advances Tim’s character arc, showing us that he’s an ambitious and talented but well-intentioned young man. The disturbing part is the scene at the end where Batman learns that Tim’s parents have disappeared, and instead of doing anything to comfort Tim, he turns his attention to something else. It’s a good example of Batdickery.

POPE HATS #4 (AdHouse, 2015) – I loved the previous issue of Ethan Rilly’s solo series, and this one is almost equally good, though I’m disappointed that it doesn’t continue the ongoing story about the lawyer. (I’m also sad that it’s not in the same format as the last issue, so I can’t store it in my normal boxes.) Ethan Rilly is a prodigious talent – he’s clearly influenced by Seth but he has a style all his own. The stories in this issue are weird because none of them really go anywhere; they all end inconclusively, and I think this is on purpose. These stories intentionally frustrate the desire for narrative closure. Easily the best story in the issue is “The Nest,” about an aging couple who are utterly unequipped to deal with their daughter’s severe mental health problems. Both the daughter and the parents are portrayed in a sensitive and plausible way, and this story deals with the topic of mental illness at a sophisticated level. I think it deserves an Eisner nomination.

SUPERBOY #79 (DC, 1960) – The first two stories in this issue are stupid in an annoying way. In the second story, for example, Pa Kent (then known as Dad Kent) discovers that one of his ancestors was a notorious pirate, and everyone else in town ridicules him for it. Superboy saves the day by proving that the ancestor in question was really a spy working for George Washington, but the real problem is that the people of Smallville were willing to turn on one of their fellow citizens just because they thought his ancestor was a criminal. This story does not make me feel very positively about the citizens of Smallville. The third story, “Life on Krypton,” is also stupid, but in a funny way; it’s a pretty cute depiction of the El family’s life just before Krypton exploded.

JONNY QUEST #20 (Comico, 1988) – I’m not sure if this is part of an ongoing story or not; it makes sense on its own, but it starts in media res. Most of the issue takes place in “Ostrander’s Bar and Grill,” and I assume the bartender is supposed to be John Ostrander himself. The story revolves around an encounter between Benton Quest and a 24th-century descendant of Race Bannon. Benton and Roger Bannon get along so well as to support my theory that Benton and Race are a couple. This issue’s plot makes clever use of time travel.

Squirrel Girl paper from Wiscon

This is the paper about Squirrel Girl that I gave at Wiscon last weekend. It was a lot of fun to write and to present.

I Don’t Need Luck, I Eat Nuts: Squirrel Girl and Female Comics Fandom

 

Aaron Kashtan

Miami University (OH)

 

URL for slide show: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1vhXp2hqzE-Bk0l6h38wDBWhgkAp_IksibkBjtdZxWYE/edit#slide=id.g512980f83_0_213

 

SLIDE 1 Let me begin by asking you, who is the most powerful superhero in the Marvel Universe? If you say the Hulk or Thor or the Silver Surfer, you are wrong. The answer is Squirrel Girl. SLIDE 2 She has defeated villains like Dr. Doom and Thanos with nothing but her bare hands. She has never lost a battle and she probably never will, because she’s awesome. SLIDE 3 Now this character probably sounds like a joke to you, and she is, but she also has serious things to tell us about superhero comics and their audiences. Previously, Squirrel Girl was a character intended as a satire on the superhero genre, and she was only funny to existing fans of superhero comic books, who were largely straight white men. But in her new series, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, she’s turned into more of an affectionate joke that can be shared both by existing fans and by new readers, and for that reason, she’s become a central part of Marvel’s recent efforts to expand the reach of the superhero genre.

So the context for this paper is that until very recently, superhero comics have been a primarily male-dominated genre. As I argued in a recent article on the Hooded Utilitarian blog, the comics industry, as a whole, has recently made major strides toward diversification, specifically in terms of appealing to women as well as younger readers and to readers of color. Right now six of the top ten books on the New York Times bestseller list for Paperback Graphic Books had at least one female creator, and last week it was nine out of ten. SLIDE 4 Graphic novels like Persepolis and Fun Home are staples on university syllabi. The one exception to this trend has been superhero comics. Marvel and DC comics still tend to be created mostly by and for men, and the comic book store continues to be a primarily male environment. SLIDE 5 However, at this situation is changing. Marvel, and increasingly also DC, have sought to reach out to new audiences, including female readers and people who got into comic books through the Internet, and those categories overlap. And Squirrel Girl is interesting as an example of these shifts in the target audience for the superhero genre.

To explain this, I need to describe Squirrel Girl’s past history. Squirrel Girl is Doreen Green, a teenage girl who has buck teeth and a bushy tail and the ability to speak to and command squirrels. She was created in 1991 by Will Murray, who is famous mostly this reason, and Steve Ditko, the co-creator of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange. She first appeared in a 1991 story where she teams up with Iron Man and unsuccessfully asks to be his sidekick, and then she battles Dr. Doom and wins defeats him by summoning a horde of squirrels to attack him. SLIDE 6 And the title of this presentation comes from what Squirrel Girl says when Iron Man wishes her luck. SLIDE 7

If this story looks and sounds kind of stupid, then it is. And in 1991, it blatantly contradicted the dominant tone of Marvel comics. At the time, Marvel’s core audiences were teenage boys and older men who had been reading Marvel comics their entire lives. These audiences wanted superhero comics to be serious. Due to the influence of Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns in the ‘80s, superhero comics in the ‘90s tried to be grim, dark and violent. SLIDE 8 Marvel’s biggest-selling characters at the time were murderous vigilantes like Ghost Rider and Punisher. SLIDE 9 Also, Marvel’s creators as well as their readers were obsessed with internal consistency. When you bought a Marvel comics, there was an implicit warranty that it fit into the same universe as every other Marvel comic and that it didn’t violate continuity or misrepresent the characters. Marvel comics were supposed to be Serious Business. Therefore, the Squirrel Girl story stood out like a sore thumb because it was silly and because it contradicted the established character of Dr. Doom – he was supposed to be this terrible villain and yet he was defeated by a buck-toothed 14-year-old girl and a horde of rodents. It was an embarrassing scene that both Marvel creators and fans would prefer to forget – kind of like the story where the Thing and the Human Torch wear Beatles wigs, SLIDE 10 or the story with a villain who erases people. SLIDE 11 These stories were published in the ‘60s when Marvel took itself less seriously and had a broader target audience. By 1991, Marvel’s audience was defined in such a way as to exclude the sort of readers who would have thought Squirrel Girl was funny. And this is probably why she did not make another significant appearance for the next fourteen years. She was buried, like so many acorns.

But comic book writers have as good a memory for old characters as squirrels have for buried nuts, and so in 2005, Dan Slott revived Squirrel Girl for his miniseries Great Lakes Avengers. SLIDE 12 Now briefly, Great Lakes Avengers was a piece of self-parody on Marvel’s part. The Great Lakes Avengers were a group of joke characters who were created by John Byrne in 1989, and Dan Slott used them to make fun of the negative tendencies of post-‘80s superhero comics, including excessive violence and obsession with continuity. For a couple reasons, Squirrel Girl fit perfectly into this effort. First, her lighthearted, wholesome attitude allows her to make fun of the excessive violence and grimness of the comics of the period. And in this sense she acts as a mouthpiece for the author. This series breaks the fourth wall, so Squirrel Girl is aware she’s in a comic book. SLIDE 13 And she does things like complain about the unrealistic portrayal of women in superhero comics or the excessive level of violence. For example, in issue 3, Squirrel Girl looks at a comic book and says “Oh my, this poor lady! I think all her internal organs got squeezed up into her chest.” In the next issue, when her squirrel sidekick Monkey Joe is brutally killed, Squirrel Girl says “Don’t you get it? This is a comic book and comic books are supposed to be fun.” And she continues: “Who would do that and put it in a comic book? Who’d want to read about somebody dying like that?” SLIDE 14 Oh, and also it turns out Monkey Joe was killed by someone walking on his brain, which is a specific reference to a contemporary DC comic called Infinite Crisis where the Elongated Man’s wife is killed in the same way, and this is so subtle that even I didn’t get it. SLIDE 15 Now the humor here depends on the reader’s knowledge that excessive violence and sexist portrayals of women were endemic to superhero comics at the time. In other words, these jokes are only funny to you if you already read superhero comics and you are also annoyed at their graphic violence or their depictions of women with impossible proportions. The implied audience here is people who grew up reading superhero comics and who are annoyed at the direction the genre is taken.

Now Dan Slott also uses Squirrel Girl to tell another kind of joke that also appeals primarily to existing fans of superhero comics. Half the fun of superhero comics is their narrative consistency. The Marvel and DC Universes are giant shared universes where events in one title influence events in other titles, and that means maintaining consistency across the universe is important. Part of that is maintaining the relative power of characters. The other half of the fun of superhero comics is debating which character is the most powerful and which character could beat which other character up. So Dan Slott makes fun of that by exaggerating Squirrel Girl’s ability to defeat much more powerful villains, which was first demonstrated when she beat up Dr. Doom. In the GLXmas Holiday Special Squirrel Girl single-handedly defeats Thanos, off-panel, and Uatu the Watcher confirms that this is the real Thanos and not a clone or a Life Model Decoy. SLIDE 16 The joke here is that Thanos is one of the most powerful villains in the Marvel Universe, and not only did he just get beaten by a teenage girl and her pet rodents, but the fact that this happened is an official part of Marvel Universe continuity. So Dan Slott is using Squirrel Girl to make a mockery of the narrative logic of the Marvel Universe, and again, this joke is only funny to people who already understand that narrative logic.

So to summarize, when Squirrel Girl was created, she had no target audience at all. When she was reintroduced, her target audience was existing fans of Marvel comics. Now the current Unbeatable Squirrel Girl series marks a new direction for the character because its target audience is people who aren’t already fans of superhero comics, specifically including women and/or people who discovered comics through the Internet. Because of that, Squirrel Girl demonstrates how Marvel is transforming the superhero genre by broadening its appeal.

Now in the first place, Squirrel Girl is notable for its appeal to Internet fandom. All the previous Squirrel Girl comics were created by people who had worked primarily in superhero comics. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is written by Ryan North, who comes from a very different comics tradition; his other best-known works are his webcomic Dinosaur Comics and his Choose Your Own Adventure version of Hamlet. SLIDE 17 I don’t know as much about the artist, Erica Henderson, but her official biography states that she’s worked primarily in video game illustration and on non-superhero comics like Atomic Robo and Adventure Time. Now Unbeatable Squirrel Girl reflects the creators’ interests in digital and Internet culture. At the bottom of every page of every issue there’s a hidden message in barely readable text, which is essentially the same as the alt text in webcomics. The comic contains other references to Internet and video game culture. The cover of issue 4 is a deliberate homage to Marvel vs Capcom, SLIDE 18 and the actual issue begins with a fake Tumblr feed. The creators even manipulate the currently common practice of distributing preview pages from upcoming comic books over the Internet. In the preview of issue 4, there’s one page showing Squirrel Girl sitting on top of Galactus’s prone body and saying “Well, gosh, that wasn’t so hard after all!” SLIDE 19 And then the two pages after that are the letter column. Now when this issue was previewed on sites like comicbookresources.com, the preview included just these three pages. Customarily the letter column appears at the end of a comic book, so if you read the preview, you would think that this page here is the last page and the comic book ends with Squirrel Girl beating Galactus. But actually the preview pages are the first three pages in the comic, so the comic begins with Squirrel Girl beating Galactus and the rest of the comic comes after the letters page. I’ll pass around the comic book so you can see what I mean. The point is, this joke is only funny if you first read the preview of the comic book on the Internet, and then read the actual comic book.

So in order to get all these jokes, you have to be familiar with video games and Internet culture and other digital phenomena, and you also have to be reading comic books digitally, whereas in the previous Squirrel Girl comics, the humor basically just assumed knowledge of other comic books. That means the implied reader of this comic is someone who’s very media-savvy. And the protagonists of the comic are highly media-savvy themselves. You may have noticed that when Squirrel Girl was sitting on top of Galactus, she was taking a selfie. The other major character in the series, Squirrel Girl’s roommate Nancy, is a fanfiction writer who writes stories where her cat becomes Cat-Thor, Cat-God of Cat-Thunder. SLIDE 20 So Squirrel Girl is one of several recent Marvel titles that have included extended references to digital culture. And this is significant because in the past, Marvel was completely out of touch with the Internet; a notorious example of this is the scene in Civil War: Frontline where an interviewer asks Captain America if he has a Myspace page. SLIDE 21 But with titles like Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Marvel is reaching out to people who discovered comics not by visiting comic book stores but through Internet spaces like Scans_Daily and Tumblr, and this opens up the comic to new and diverse groups of fans. In this context it’s also relevant that in terms of the artwork, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl has much more in common with cartoons like Adventure Time than with typical superhero comics, and this means Squirrel Girl is more appealing to new readers than to people who are used to the typical Marvel house style. On comicbookresources.com, when the first issue was previewed, people complained about the artwork precisely because it didn’t look like a standard Marvel comic, but that’s the whole point. By using this style of artwork, Erica Henderson is able to attract fans of intellectual properties like Adventure Time that have much larger audiences than comic books.

But the other way that Unbeatable Squirrel Girl tries to attract a new audience is because it takes the character seriously, and again, this makes it a major departure from past Squirrel Girl comics. Under previous writers, Squirrel Girl’s unbeatability was a joke. Dan Slott decided to emphasize Squirrel Girl’s ability to defeat villains like Modok and Thanos because he wanted to make a mockery of the Marvel Universe – he was basically saying, look, fans, you think these villains are so powerful and awful, well, it turns out they can be beaten by a bucktoothed teenage girl with idiotic powers. And Squirrel Girl didn’t win these battles legitimately, she won because of authorial fiat, that is to say, she won because the writer said so. When Squirrel Girl defeats Thanos, it happens entirely off-panel and there’s no explanation of how she did it. By contrast, in Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Squirrel Girl wins because she deserves to win. She may just be a squirrel, but as she reminds us repeatedly, squirrels are pretty savage creatures, especially in large numbers. SLIDE 22 But on top of that, even though Squirrel Girl could just beat people up, she thinks it’s more important to make peace with them. In issue 1, she gets rid of Kraven the Hunter by convincing him to go hunt undersea monsters instead of Spider-Man. In issue 4, she quote-unquote “defeats” Galactus, the most powerful entity in the Marvel Universe, by convincing him that instead of eating Earth, he should go eat another planet that’s covered with delicious nuts. So this version of Squirrel Girl is a truly formidable character and she’s unbeatable because she uses her brains and her emotional intelligence as well as her squirrel powers. And she’s also depicted as a committed and responsible and intellectually curious person. She decides to study computer science in college instead of squirrels, because she already knows everything about squirrels and she doesn’t just want to be Squirrel Girl, she also wants to be Ensuring Consistency Across Distributed Database Systems Girl. She’s also comfortable with her body, despite not having the sort of physique that’s become stereotypical in superhero comics. Maybe the most widely shared panel of issue 1 on social media was this one, in which Squirrel Girl disguises her secret identity by stuffing her tail into her pants, so she “appear[s] to have a conspicuously large and conspicuously awesome butt.” SLIDE 23 As Kelly Thompson writes, “Squirrel Girl is also not drawn to look “traditionally beautiful” … her body shape, height, and even her haircut are totally atypical for “pretty” and idealized comic book heroines. It’s actually kind of amazing that the book gets away with it and I love everyone involved all the more for just going for it.” So I would argue that in all these ways, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a subversively feminist superhero title in the sense that it takes what was previously a joke character and turns her into a genuine role model, an example of positive female representation that a broad range of readers can identify with.

But in a larger sense, the reason Unbeatable Squirrel Girl expands the scope of the superhero genre because it unabashedly accepts the silliness of the superhero genre. Because even though this comic takes Squirrel Girl seriously, this is still a humor title. It features things like a giant human-sized squirrel colony punching people. Now Great Lakes Avengers is also a humor title, but its humor is fundamentally negative. It emphasizes the embarrassing nature of the superhero genre and it makes the reader feel ashamed of reading it. This is a common theme in parodies of comic book fandom, although there are others, like Evan Dorkin’s Eltingville Club, that are far harsher. SLIDE 24 The difference with Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is that it accepts the fundamental silliness and implausibility of the superhero genre and suggests that this is a good thing and that reading superhero comics is not something anyone should be ashamed of. And this is important because it shatters the prejudice that superhero comics are only for basement-dwelling nerds. Ultimately the message of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is that a girl with squirrel powers is neither more nor less silly than a man who dresses up as a bat, and that the one is just as valid as the other.

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