ICFA presentation

As is customary, I am posting the text of my ICFA presentation here, so I can read it off my phone while running my presentation from my laptop.

This paper is going to compare and evaluate Marvel and DC’s efforts to market superhero comics to female readers through references to Internet culture. And this is not part of a larger project yet, I have too many other things to finish before I can get around to writing about this, but it’s sort of a summary of my recent thinking on issues of gender in superhero comics. Out of necessity this is going to be a brief summary of a complicated knot of issues, and the controversies discussed in this paper are still ongoing as I’m reading it, so it does not even claim to be a definitive summary of the issues. Also, a possible alternative title would have been Vocal Minorities, and I don’t have time to explain that reference, but you can look it up.
So over just the last couple years the comic book marketplace has shifted seismically. Comics used to be seen as this medium for kids and maladjusted adults, except that actual kids no longer read comics, so the comics audience was basically people like me who had been reading comics forever. That is no longer the case. Since sometime around 2012, comics for kids have gone from being completely nonexistent to being a huge segment of the industry. Image Comics, which used to publish the worst kind of superhero material, now sees women as its largest target demographic. And the graphic novel is a genre that attracts wide and diverse audiences, as suggested by Roz Chast’s recent National Book Award for a book about dealing with elderly parents. The one genre of comics that continues to lag behind the rest of the industry in terms of its appeal to female fans is superhero comics, traditionally the dominant genre and still known as mainstream comics. At the comic book store, superheroes are still the dominant genre, and there’s still this stereotype that comic book stores are man caves, as depicted in the scene from The Big Bang Theory where some girls walk into a comic book store and all the men turn around and stare at them. SLIDE And this is primarily the fault of Marvel and DC, which have spent the past thirty to forty years catering almost exclusively to male readers, and more recently to adult male readers in particular.
And yet female superhero fandom is a thing that exists. It’s largely a phenomenon specific to female-dominated Internet social spaces like Tumblr and formerly LiveJournal. For example, the Internet community Scans_Daily was founded in 2003 and still exists today. SLIDE As the name indicates, Scans_Daily primarily shares scans of pages from superhero comics, and it has a mostly female user base. And there is a large superhero presence on Tumblr, as indicated by sites like DC Women Kicking Ass. SLIDE So evidence suggests that there are women who read Marvel and DC comics and who enjoy Marvel and DC’s characters, despite these companies’ lack of support or even active discouragement of female fans.
Now what’s happened over the past couple years is that Marvel and subsequently DC have started to notice this, and have started to publish comics specifically designed to appeal to Internet female fandom. Titles marketed toward female readers have been a major part of Marvel’s recent output. Examples of this trend include Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye, Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Ms Marvel, and more recently G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. SLIDE Now why exactly this trend began is not clear to me and is somewhat beyond the scope of this paper, but a friend suggested that it may have begun with Loki’s unexpected popularity in the first Thor movie, and I think that’s reasonable. Marvel has been heavily pushing the character of Loki lately – a character who, incidentally, has always been a transgressor of standard gender roles – and last year’s Loki, Agent of Asgard #1 included images of Loki that were explicitly designed to titillate female readers. SLIDE This sort of beefcake imagery was previously unheard of in American commercial comics. And similarly, Kieron Gillen’s Young Avengers, which was published from 2013 to 2014, features a wide variety of attractive male characters drawn in a beefcake style, and the first issue begins with Kate Bishop, the female Hawkeye, having a one-night stand with a quote, beautiful alien boy, which shows a level of female sexual agency which is rare in American superhero comics. SLIDE
So in a July 2013 Onion AV Club article, Oliver Sava described Young Avengers as “Tumblr bait.” He observed: “Search for “Young Avengers” on Tumblr and you’ll find a massive number of posts dedicated to Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s Marvel Now! series. … Every new issue of Young Avengers provides plenty of fresh fanbait ready to be shared across social media platforms. … After half a year of issues, the creative team has seen enough Tumblr posts and tweets to know what fans want to see, and the book has become part superhero story, part confluence of memes.” End quote. So this comic was specifically designed to appeal to posters on Tumblr, which tends to be a female-dominated social media space. Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie and their editors were aware of sites like Scans_Daily, and they wanted to appeal to that clientele.
Now another way this series tries to cultivate a female Internet-savvy audience is through its active incorporation of visual tropes derived from the Internet. And this is where this topic intersects with my current research into connections between comics and digital culture. As Oliver Sava also points out, every issue of Young Avengers, starting with issue 2, begins with a recap page that’s designed to look like a Tumblr feed. SLIDE
Now just for some historical context, this was not the first time Marvel incorporated Internet visual culture into their comics. The earliest example of this that I personally remember was in Prince of Power #3 from 2010. In this issue, Thor and Amadeus Cho are visiting the Egyptian underworld when they encounter Sekhmet, the Egyptian goddess of destruction, who manifests as a ferocious lioness. But Amadeus overcomes her by transforming her into Hathor, the goddess of love, who manifests as a lolcat. And she speaks in lolspeak and the Impact typeface which is associated with lolcat memes is used for her speech balloons. So for me, reading this, it was a big deal because this was the first time I remember Marvel or DC referencing Internet meme culture. SLIDE Earlier references to the Internet were cringe-inducing, like the scene in Civil War: Frontline where Captain America is criticized for not watching NASCAR or having a Myspace page. SLIDE Marvel and DC comics have historically been produced by and for people who have been involved with comics for their entire lives and who are completely out of touch with But the lolcat scene indicated to me that the writers, Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak, had been paying attention to contemporary internet culture, that they not only knew what lolcats were but were even capable of using the lolcat meme in a creative and appropriate way.
So Young Avengers does the same thing, but on an even greater scale. As just mentioned, issue 2 begins with a recap page which is designed to look like a Tumblr feed. SLIDE Just like with actual Tumblr, there are icons on the left representing the people who are supposedly sharing each of these stories, and each of these icons represents an existing Marvel character, including J Jonah Jameson and Dr. Doom. And each of the “posts” comes with hashtags. Every other issue of the series had a similar recap page, except issue 6 which was a standalone story. And this emphasis on Internet culture also appears in other recent Marvel titles. For example, the new Pakistani-American Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan, writes Internet fan fiction about superheroes. When she meets Wolverine, she tells him that “my Wolverine-and-Storm-in-space fanfic was the third most upvoted story on Freaking Awesome last month!” SLIDE And Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is also worth discussing in this context but I’m going to save that for my Wiscon paper.
So Marvel has been actively attempting to attract female readers, and a legitimate question here is whether they’re doing this with serious intent or whether it’s just a cynical move to appeal to a particular target demographic. I think it’s probably a little of both. However, it seems to have worked. Titles like Ms Marvel and Hawkeye have been among Marvel’s top sellers, especially in digital form, which makes sense given that when buying comics digitally you can avoid the frequently sexist and unwelcoming atmosphere of the comic book store. Conversely, since the debut of the New 52 in 2012, an event in which DC relaunched their entire line, DC seems to have been actively trying to turn away female readers. The New 52 was billed as an attempt to attract new readers but whether it was even a serious attempt in the first place is doubtful. A survey in early 2012 revealed that DC’s readership was something like 93% male, which was likely due to the company’s lack of female creators and its overly sexualized portrayals of female characters. SLIDE
So sometime in 2014, DC’s executives gradually realized that the company was shooting itself in the foot by ignoring female readers, and they’ve tried to address this by releasing a number of new titles specifically targeted toward women, including Gotham Academy and Harley Quinn. SLIDE The flagship title of this initiative is Batgirl by Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr, which is not strictly speaking a new series, but an existing series with a new creative team. And Batgirl is interesting in this context because it incorporates digital culture into its plot, to a greater extent than in any previous mainstream comic I can think of. The plot of the first issue by the new creative team revolves around a villain called Riot Black who has a computer brain and who steals Batgirl’s laptop and downloads its data into his mind so he can blackmail her. And Batgirl defeats him by tricking him into looking at a QR code which contains a virus that contaminates his mind. In her secret identity, Batgirl is an urban geographer whose research focuses on an algorithm for social mapping, which I’m not clear what that is, but essentially Batgirl is a super-hacker. She fights crime not only through her physical abilities but also through her command of computer technology. And the visual style of the comic reflects that. SLIDE As media studies scholar Will Brooker points out in an interview on multiversitycomics.com, one of the key visual devices in Batgirl is the incorporation of text messages, e-mails and social media feeds into the space of the panel. “Sometimes text messaging replaces a speech balloon, sometimes a caption, sometimes a whole frame … It also conveys the idea that our lives are made up of these various windows and panels. As we look from the world to our phone, we are in a sense living within this framework, like living in a comic book almost in its combination of words and images.” Brooker comments on how this is a weird blending of analog and digital, and the ultimate example of this is that the QR code in issue 35 is actually a real working QR code that leads to a page on DC comics’s site. SLIDE So Batgirl is an interesting example of a phenomenon I’ve been discussing in other work, which is the increasing cross-contamination or mutual influence of comics and digital media. An overarching theme of my current book project is that comics are currently doing a better job than print literature of hybridizing print and digital media, and Batgirl is sort of an example of that.
Now as an example of a comic that appeals to female readers through the use of references to Internet culture, Batgirl is, in my opinion, less successful than Young Avengers. One reason is because Batgirl’s incorporation of Internet culture sometimes seems overly forced; it’s like Fletcher and Stewart don’t really understand what it’s like to be a young Internet-savvy urban female intellectual, they’re just giving us their perception of what it might be like to be such a person. In my review of Batgirl #38 on my blog, I wrote “I’m starting to feel like Cameron and Brenden don’t really believe in the premise of this series. Somehow it feels like they’re just going through the motions of writing about a social-media- and tech-savvy female superhero, and their hearts aren’t really in it.” The other problem is that both the writers and the editors have been guilty of major miscalculations that reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of their target audience. Batgirl #37 features a villain who impersonates Batgirl in order to ruin her reputation. The issue ends with the revelation that the Batgirl impersonator is actually a man. This scene was widely viewed as transphobic. Jessica Lachenal (LASHENEL) at The Mary Sue.com wrote that “this presentation of the character paints an awful picture of drag queens, trans women, and non-binary people alike. It props up the trope of the “crazy, unstable drag queen / trans woman.” SLIDE And Stewart, Tarr and Fletcher were forced to issue a public apology. But this controversy pales in comparison to what happened with Rafael Albuquerque’s variant cover for Batgirl #41. SLIDE I’m not going to show that cover, you can easily look it up yourself if you want, but the cover is a reference to Batman: The Killing Joke, in which Batgirl is shot and paralyzed and sexually assaulted by the Joker, and the cover depicts Batgirl as a passive and helpless victim. And this cover was widely criticized for being totally inappropriate given the series’s emphasis on female empowerment, so DC’s decision to publish this cover was a major miscalculation, and after a protest campaign on Twitter, DC withdrew the cover at the request of the artist who drew it. And then a bunch of idiots got angry that DC withdrew the cover due to pressure from feminists, and hey started a counter-protest campaign aimed at getting DC to reinstate the cover, and Adam Baldwin supported this campaign, and it’s turned into a huge mess which is still currently ongoing as I write this. So Batgirl is not only about social media but has become a social media controversy itself. And again, this story is currently developing and to discuss it in depth would require another paper.
If there is anything we can conclude from all this, it is, first, girls and women love superheroes and want to read superhero comics despite the genre’s legacy of misogyny, and second, one way that comic book companies can capture this audience is by acknowledging the existence of Internet female fandom and showing an understanding of this constituency. At the same time, efforts to increase the inclusivity of superhero comics tend to provoke negative reactions among the straight white men who have historically dominated superhero fandom. But I think in general the superhero comics genre has made significant progress in the years since Green Lantern’s girlfriend was stuffed into a refrigerator, and female Internet fandom is a major reason why.

Reviews, now with extra WB Yeats

KANE #11 (Dancing Elephant, 1997) – B. This issue focuses on a notorious and unsavory criminal named Rico Costas. The story here is only average and is difficult to understand for a new reader of the series. What makes this comic interesting is Paul Grist’s highly effective artwork, which is sort of like a British version of ligne claire. He’s also an excellent letterer.

SAGA #25 (Image, 2015) – A+. When I taught Saga at the beginning of this semester, my students noticed that it relies heavily on gross-out moments and shocking twists (whereas the next comic we read, Ms. Marvel, is more low-key). And the dragon piss scene in this issue is a notable example of both. It’s one of the most gloriously disgusting scenes in the entire series. The other notable moment this issue was Hazel saying that she’s not going to see her father again for years – because come on, Brian, why do you have to twist our heartstrings like that. I hope this means that one of them is giong to go temporarily blind, because I don’t want to believe they’re really not going to see each other. But overall, this was another good issue of the best comic book of the 2010s.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #2 (Marvel, 2015) – A+. Issue 1 of this series was such an epic of epic epicness (not my phrase) that issue 2 was inevitably going to be a letdown, but it was still an extremely brilliant piece of work. I just submitted an abstract for a paper about Squirrel Girl for Wiscon, and I want to save my observations on this issue for that paper, so suffice it to say that this is an incredible comic and an important part of Marvel’s outreach to female readers. Pretty much every single panel of this issue is brilliant, but maybe the one thing that sticks out the most in my mind is the two tables labeled Social Justice Club and Social Injustice Club, with their occupants glaring at each other.

HELP US! GREAT WARRIOR #1 (Boom!, 2015) – A+. This is the third comic I’m reading that carries the Boom! Box logo, after Lumberjanes and Teen Dog, and all three are among the best titles on the market. Help Us! Great Warrior is a hilarious and effectively-drawn satire of the fantasy genre, and it reminds me of Squirrel Girl in that it has a protagonist who’s absolutely awesome despite looking kind of stupid. I especially like how there’s no attempt to explain just what Great Warrior is or how she got to be that way; she’s just a little green blob with arms and legs, and that’s okay. Madeleine Flores’s sense of humor is unique in that it relies heavily on complete non sequiturs.

MS. MARVEL #11 (Marvel, 2015) – A-. This is a fairly satisfying conclusion to Generation Why, but it’s a little too predictable and workmanlike. And there’s too much Ms. Marvel in this issue and not enough Kamala. I do like this issue’s emphasis on teamwork and on not trying to be completely self-sufficient. I think the next couple issues will be more exciting than this one was.

ASTRO CITY #20 (DC, 2015) – A+. Kurt recently said somewhere that when he started Astro City, there was no other comic book like it, and since then the rest of the industry has caught up to him, so he’s had to find new ways of surprising people. This issue is an example of a story that could never be told in the Marvel or DC universes because it’s about superheroes getting old, which superheroes in a shared universe can never do. In particular, this issue features a premise I don’t think I’ve ever seen before: it’s about a superhero who is facing retirement and is reflecting on the choices she’s made. As I read this issue, I kept remembering Yeats’s lines from “The Choice”:

The intellect of man is forced to choose
Perfection of the life, or of the work,

And if it take the second must refuse

A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.

Quarrel clearly chose the second rather than the first, and her obsessive commitment to training and self-improvement meant that she couldn’t have a family or a healthy relationship with a man who wasn’t a complete asshole. The scene where she breaks up with MPH because she doesn’t feel worthy of him is kind of heartbreaking. And Quarrel was fine with that choice at the time she made it, but looking back on her life from near the end of her career, she wonders if it was correct. I found this powerfully moving because I’ve made the same decision – I’ve made a lot of sacrifices for the sake of my career, and right now I’m okay with that, but who knows if I’ll feel the same way in 20 or 30 years.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #12 (Marvel, 2015) – B/B+. This issue is closer to the first six issues of this series than to the five issues after that, and that’s not a good thing. There’s too much action here and not enough humor or characterization. I don’t much care about the Haffensye or whatever the plot of this issue is supposed to be. Easily the best moment in the issue is the two-page spread with the giant alien ship, but it was hard to get an effective sense of the ship’s scale. I think Dave Cockrum did a better version of this scene in X-Men #156.

MIND MGMT #30 (Dark Horse, 2015) – A. Having read this issue, I am finally caught up on this series, which makes me feel kind of proud. This issue reveals the backstory of the series’s primary villain, Julianne Verve, a.k.a. the Eraser, and it surprisingly suggests that she’s as much of a victim as anyone. The real villains are the faceless bureaucrats and politicians who keep funding MIND MGMT and allowing it to ruin people’s lives. This issue is also unique in that there’s no Field Guide; the coloring on each page extends all the way to the edges. The editor makes some interesting comments about this on the letters page.

PRINCELESS: PIRATE PRINCESS #1 (Action Lab, 2015) – A-. I love the idea behind this comic, but I’ve criticized it in the past for amateurism and low production values. This issue is somewhat better in those departments, though there is at least one storytelling error: Adrienne asks the prince if she can save the princess, and he says “by all means, sir knight, please do,” and then two pages later, Adrienne and the prince are inexplicably fighting. Other than that, this is a cute story with three distinctive and enjoyable protagonists, and I imagine it would be a great comic to give to a 7-year-old girl (see http://geekdad.com/2015/02/12-comics-7-year-old-girl/).

UNCANNY X-MEN #244 (Marvel, 1989) – C-. I don’t know if this is the worst issue of Claremont’s original run, but it’s pretty close. “Men!” is a silly and unsubtle parody of DC’s Invasion event, full of unfunny jokes and overly obvious parody characters. but the worst thing about it is the guest artwork, which is by none other than Rob Liefeld. It’s become somewhat trite to criticize Rob’s art; his complete artistic ineptitude is so well known that to criticize him is to flog a dead horse. As a result, we sometimes forget that he really is a horrible artist. This issue is full of bad anatomy, missing backgrounds, and general bad draftsmanship. Beyond that, it’s not clear what this issue is making fun of. It obviously can’t be a parody of the general concept of intercompany crossovers, because at this point, Claremont had just finished writing such a crossover himself.

AVENGERS: THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE #2 (Marvel, 2010) – B+. This issue focuses heavily on Magneto and his relationship with Tommy and Billy. In a recent article (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/02/08/comic-books-have-never-had-that-inclusive-of-a-canvas.html), Noah Berlatsky pointed out that the standard comparison between Magneto and Malcolm X is offensive, given that Magneto is a mass murderer. Whereas Claremont typically acknowledged the fact that Magneto is a killer and a seriously scary and imposing figure, many other writers have ignored this aspect of the character and have tried to write him as a good person who’s just misguided, and that seems to be what happens in this issue. Heinberg writes Magneto as if he were a nice old grandfatherly dude who’s hated by the Avengers and X-Men for no good reason. Besides that, this issue is pretty good. Heinberg is very good at characterization, although his characterization tends to be expressed in isolated lines of dialogue rather than entire scenes. And Jim Cheung is an excellent superhero artist.

ANT-MAN #2 (Marvel, 2015) – B+. This is not one of the best Marvel titles at the moment, but it’s enjoyable enough to make me want to continue reading this title. The thing that sticks in my mind most about this comic is the Grizzly’s line “I love being muscle!” However, while I’m thrilled that Cassie’s alive again, it’s odd that this comic doesn’t acknowledge that Cassie is a superhero with a secret identity. It would be kind of fun if Scott and Cassie were a father-and-daughter superhero team.

FEATHERS #2 (Boom!, 2015) – A-. The minus is because this issue doesn’t significantly advance the plot; it’s just a whole issue of Bianca and Feathers getting to know each other. Besides that, I’m still enjoying this series a lot. Both of the protagonists are adorable and captivating characters, and I like Jorge Corona’s semi-Mignola-esque art. The name Bianca Chappelle means White Chapel, which I guess is an allusion to the area of London that this comic’s setting seems to be based on.

THOR #4 (Marvel, 2015) – A-. I was not satisfied with the last issue of this series, but I may have been in a bad mood when I read it. I enjoyed this issue significantly more. Russell Dauterman is an amazing artist, and my only problem with him is that his panels are sometimes so detailed that I can’t parse them. Previous issues have portrayed the original Thor as a raging asshole, but this issue somewhat restores my sympathy for him. I love the line about whether superheroes hug each other.

THOR #5 (Marvel, 2015) – A+. This issue gets an A+ for one reason: the scene where the Absorbing Man complains that feminists are ruining everything by making him address a woman as Thor. I applaud Jason Aaron for treating this stupid argument with the contempt that it deserves. Incidentally, this seems a good place to point out that Jason Aaron is a great advocate of gender equality in superhero comics, and that terrible, slanderous Breitbart article about female Thor is proof that what he’s doing is working, because it’s making the right people angry. Besides that, this was another enjoyable issue, but it suffered significantly from the (I hope) guest artwork by Jorge Molina. The problem here is not the artwork itself so much as the coloring, which is so relentlessly dark that it’s hard to tell what’s even going on.

LADY KILLER #2 (Dark Horse, 2015) – A-. It’s possible that my opinion of this series has been unfairly influenced by Jamie S. Rich’s self-promotion on Facebook. However, I really am enjoying this comic. Joelle Jones’s artwork brilliantly captures the visual sensibility of the ‘50s; this comic reminds me of L.A. Noire in its historical accuracy. And of course I love the premise: this series is about a woman trying to have a professional career in an age of ubiquitous sexism, which is a fairly common setup, but her profession happens to be that of assassin.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #24 (IDW, 2014) – B-. This is okay but not great. In this story, Discord takes Fluttershy and the Cutie Mark Crusaders on a trip through time, and the story contains so many Doctor Who references that it’s kind of annoying. The comic actually acknowledges this: when Discord opens the door of his time machine (which is smaller on the inside), Dr. Hooves walks out, and Discord says “There are too many references in this bit already. There’s no room for you!” As another small nitpick, the giant dragon-sized butterfly could have been better drawn.

AMERICAN SPLENDOR: UNSUNG HERO #1 (Dark Horse, 2002) – A-. This is a departure from the standard American Splendor formula because it’s not about Harvey; it’s a story told by Harvey’s coworker about his experiences in the Vietnam War. This is not a genre of story I particularly enjoy – I’ve had Guibert’s Alan’s War for years and still haven’t read it – but it’s interesting. This story reveals some fascinating things about the experience of black soldiers in Vietnam. However, there is way too much text in this comic. Most panels include at least three lines worth of captions, with some containing significantly more, and David Collier’s lettering, while fairly attractive, is hard to read. I suppose excessive text is a common problem in Harvey’s comics, but it’s particularly annoying here.

SUICIDE SQUAD #27 (DC, 1989) – B+. This issue is confusing because it’s part of a crossover with Checkmate, a comic I have no interest in. It has a convoluted plot involving a conflict between the Squad and several other rogue government organizations. The strength of this issue, as usual, is the characterization; the guest stars here are Punch and Jewelee, who are written as overgrown children, and Dr. Light, who is written as an ineffective, cowardly wimp. However, Dr. Light is also involved in a truly disturbing scene in which he kills an opponent who is a child, and then brags about it. Looking this up, I find that he reacts this way because he has a phobia about being beaten by kid superheroes, but this wasn’t clear to me from reading the issue, and I ended up feeling that the story failed to condemn Dr. Light’s actions as strongly as it should have.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #16 (DC, 1991) – B-. This issue is mostly focused on the Khund war, and includes a rather harrowing scene where the Khunds invade the UP military academy, which is staffed by Chuck and Luornu. The odd thing about this issue is that it gives the impression that the UP is in a state of perpetual war, which was not evident from earlier issues. This is an example of how this series’ plot sometimes moves too fast and how it sometimes tries to cover more narrative territory than it has the time or space for.

VISION AND THE SCARLET WITCH #11 (Marvel, 1986) – B+/A-. This is the last issue of this miniseries that I hadn’t read. It’s a cute and heartwarming story and it was one of Steve Englehart’s last major works. Each issue of this miniseries covers one month, and this one takes place in April and is appropriately titled “A Taxing Time,” and contains numerous references to tax season. This issue guest-stars Spider-Man and the Toad, and Englehart takes the opportunity to explain why (or at least acknowledge that) the Toad’s portrayal in this series is wildly inconsistent with his portrayal in Spider-Man #266. Reading between the lines, you get the impression that Steve must have been pretty angry at Peter David over that issue. Anyway, the issue ends rather disturbingly when the Toad, who had developed an insane obsession with Wanda, sees her in her eight-months-pregnant state and is completely disgusted. To his credit, Steve writes this scene in such a way as to make us sympathize with Wanda and despise the Toad’s pregnancy-phobia; his disgust at her pregnant appearance demonstrates that he never really cared about her at all, only about his romanticized image of her. And then Wanda goes on to singlehandedly kick his ass, which is pretty cool.

DAREDEVIL #36 (Marvel, 1967) – A-. The story here is not great – it features the Trapster, perhaps Marvel’s silliest villain, and it ends with a surprise Dr. Doom guest appearance which is not set up in any way. But this comic deserves an A- for the artwork. It’s been a while since I last read a Gene Colan comic and I forgot what a master he truly was. Besides his phenomenal draftsmanship, his dynamic page layouts and his ability to draw sequences are almost unparalleled.

INCREDIBLE HULK #206 (Marvel, 1976) – B+. This is the issue after the death of Jarella, which was a terrible waste of a character with incredible potential. Jarella is barely even mentioned in this issue; her death just serves to motivate the plot, in which the Hulk rampages across Manhattan searching for Dr. Strange, who he thinks has the ability to bring Jarella back. The most memorable thing about this issue is a brief scene where a bum gives the Hulk a drink from his flask, and the Hulk spits it out, thinking he’s been poisoned.

SHAOLIN COWBOY #3 (Dark Horse, 2013) – F. I rarely give the grade of F, but this comic deserves it. Comics are a medium for telling stories. This comic does not tell a story; it’s just a series of nearly identical pictures of Shaolin Cowboy killing zombies. I honestly don’t understand why Geof Darrow even tries to do comics instead of fine art, because his style is not suited to comics. His artwork is so hyperdetailed that it can’t really be read, it can only be looked at.

WONDER WOMAN #215 (DC, 1975) – D+/C-. This story brought my frustration with Cary Bates’s writing to a boiling point. It made me realize that Cary was just not that good of a writer, except on the Flash. He was terrible at characterization and I get the impression that he was ashamed of having to write comic books for a living. This issue involves a war between Themyscira and Atlantis, which should be an effective premise, but Cary’s boring writing sucks all the life out of it.

MYSTIC FUNNIES #2 (Fantagraphics 2007, originally Last Gasp 1997) – B+. I’m only giving this a B+ because while the artwork is gorgeous, the story is just standard Crumb material and does not offer anything I haven’t seen before. It’s about a moronic nebbishy dude who’s obsessed with a full-figured long-legged women, which seems like a summary of about half of Crumb’s body of work.

DETECTIVE COMICS #436 (DC, 1973) – B-. The Batman story in this issue is a fairly pedestrian whodunit, with equally boring art by Bob Brown. The writing in this story is not up to Frank Robbins’s typical standards. The Elongated Man backup story is significantly better. Elliot S! Maggin and Dick Giordano do some cool stuff with Ralph Dibny’s powers. But maybe my favorite thing about this story is that it begins with Sue getting kidnapped by criminals, and yet she’s not worried at all, because she has total confidence that Ralph will save her within the hour.

SENSATION COMICS FEATURING WONDER WOMAN #6 (DC, 2015) – C+. The first story in this issue is a serious misfire because of the artwork. In the first place, Drew Johnson’s art just isn’t very good, but more importantly, this story is full of gratuitous T&A and Escher Girls poses. This shows a complete lack of sensitivity to the target audience. I thought this series was supposed to be a Wonder Woman comic that young girls could enjoy, and this artwork is not appropriate for that audience. The only redeeming feature of the art is that Johnson draws a very cute version of Diana as a child. The backup story, which is a teamup with Big Barda, is a lot better, but I wish it had been longer because I’d have liked to see more interaction between Diana and Barda.

INVINCIBLE #116 (Image, 2015) – B+. Let me quote my own Facebook post: “Robert Kirkman is no longer even close to being the best writer in comics. The reason he’s still relevant is because of his skill at writing about moral ambiguity. Invincible #116 is a good example of that and it almost justifies the Rex storyline, which killed my enthusiasm for the series.” The moral ambiguity here is that Rex has succeeded in conquering Earth, and he’s turned the planet into a utopia, but Mark knows he can’t live with himself if he leaves Rex in charge – so instead he decides to leave Earth entirely. Kirkman does a very effective job of making the reader understand why Mark makes this decision. The part of this issue that doesn’t ring true is Mark and Eve’s dinner with Eve’s parents. Eve’s father is such a boorish asshole that I have trouble believing in him.

DETECTIVE COMICS #480 (DC, 1978) – B+. This issue showcases two brilliant and underrated artists: Don Newton and Murphy Anderson. Neither story in this issue is particularly memorable, although the first issue is a somewhat touching portrayal of a misunderstood misfit who gets turned into a living weapon against Batman. But the artwork in both stories is gorgeous.

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #76 (DC, 1968) – B-/C+. The best thing about this issue is the Neal Adams cover. The first story guest-stars Plastic Man, who, as usual, is wildly mishandled. He’s written as a comic relief character, which is precisely wrong; as written by Jack Cole, Plastic Man was a serious stiff-upper-lipped straight man, and it was the world around him that was bizarre and hilarious. The most interesting thing about this story is that it includes a villain, the Molder, who can manipulate plastic, and it’s an interesting example of popular views of plastic in the late ‘60s. As depicted in this story, plastic is an omnipotent super-material that can do anything at all, but there’s also something eerie about it. This issue also includes a backup story which is just execrably stupid. And it introduces a new villain, Mr. 50-50, who is so similar to Two-Face that I wonder why they didn’t just use Two-Face instead.

DAREDEVIL #20 (Marvel, 1966) – A+. This deserves an A+ just because it’s Gene Colan’s first issue. The credits box says that he “offered to pinch-hit” for John Romita this issue, but Romita never returned to the title, and Gene ended up drawing all but three of the next 80 issues. This issue is beautifully drawn and it proves that Gene Colan and Matt Murdock were made for each other. The plot is a bit anticlimactic, though. The Owl kidnaps Matt Murdock and forces to participate in a rigged trial, in which Matt has to “defend” the judge who sentenced the Owl to prison. I expected this to be a Marvel version of “The Devil and Daniel Webster” – in other words, I expected that Matt would defend his client so effectively as to persuade the jury of criminals to let him off. But that doesn’t happen; instead, Matt takes the first opportunity to leave the room and change into Daredevil, then returns and beats everyone up. What a pity.

CASANOVA: ACEDIA #1 (Image, 2015) – A-. An effective continuation of this excellent series. I don’t remember much about the previous volume of Casanova, but this issue is perfectly readable anyway, since it begins with Casanova suffering from amnesia, so the reader doesn’t need to know any more than he does. Matt’s writing is fairly effective, but the real highlight of this issue is Fábio Moon and Gabriel Ba’s artwork. I think they’re both among the top artists in the industry. Each of them is a gifted storyteller with a unique style of draftsmanship. I think I’m actually more excited for the next issue because of the artwork than because of the story.

GROO: FRIENDS AND FOES #1 (Dark Horse, 2015) – B-. In this issue, Groo acts stupid, fails spectacularly at everything he tries to achieve, and causes a series of horrible disasters, despite having good intentions. The issue is brilliantly drawn by Sergio Aragonés and is enlivened by Mark Evanier’s witty dialogue. Also, the issue begins with a poem and ends with a moral, and includes a cleverly hidden message. Oh wait, I just described every issue of Groo ever. The gimmick in this issue is that Groo gets sick of being justifiably hated and feared by everyone he meets, so he goes looking for a place where no one has heard of him. The highlight for me, though, was the scene at the end, which is a clever reversal of the running gag where Groo’s presence on a ship invariably causes it to sink. Here, an unscrupulous ship captain tries to take advantage of this by putting Groo aboard a ship that they want to sink, so of course what happens instead is that the ship reaches its destination safely. If that sounds familiar, it’s because this exact same plot was used in Groo the Wanderer #48. Probably Mark and Sergio just forgot that they’d used this idea before, since Groo #48 was published in 1989. But I read that issue last year and I remember it clearly, and I was disappointed that this current issue had an unoriginal plot.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #139 (Marvel, 1974) – A-. This is an excellent example of the work of Gerry Conway and Ross Andru, a somewhat underrated creative team. This issue is the first appearance of both the Grizzly and Mrs. Muggins, Peter’s bad-tempered superintendent. It includes some hilarious scenes, including one in which Spider-Man saves JJJ from falling out a window, and then comments that neither of them will ever forgive him. But perhaps the most shocking thing about this issue is that apparently in 1974 it was possible to rent an apartment in Chelsea for $110 a month.

BATGIRL #38 (DC, 2015) – B/B-. I continue to be extremely impressed by Babs Tarr’s artwork, but I’m not as impressed by the writing in this series. I’m starting to feel like Cameron and Brenden don’t really believe in the premise of this series. Somehow it feels like they’re just going through the motions of writing about a social-media- and tech-savvy female superhero, and their hearts aren’t really in it. In terms of its outreach to female readers, this series seems less effective to me than its counterparts at Marvel.

AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE #7 (Archie, 2015) – A/A+. For a brief period this was the third best comic on the stands, after Saga and Sex Criminals, but there’s been such a long gap between issues that I almost forgot the series existed. This issue is a nice reminder. Because of the premise of this series, Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa is able to investigate aspects of the characters that are off-limits in a regular Archie comic, and this issue includes some fascinating and disturbing revelations about Betty and Cheryl Blossom. And Francesco Francavilla is one of the top artists in the industry – I know I just said that about Fábio Moon and Gabriel Ba, but it’s true about Francesco too. Also, this issue includes a reprinted story with art by Doug Wildey.

CHILLING ADVENTURES IN SORCERY #4 (Archie, 1973) – B+/A-. None of the stories in this issue is a masterpiece, but they’re all pretty fun. The highlight is the opening story, written and drawn by Vicente Alcazar, in which Satan tempts a suicidal man into killing a dictator. There’s also “A Thousand Pounds of Clay” by Don Glut and Alcazar, which I already reviewed when it was reprinted in a recent issue of Afterlife with Archie (or Sabrina, I forget which). Surprisingly the worst story in the issue is the one by Gray Morrow, because it contains way too much text; I’ve heard before that Gray Morrow wasn’t the best storyteller, and this story is evidence of that.

Some of the worst reviews I’ve ever written

When I wrote these reviews, I was exhausted and I was just trying to finish reviewing my current stack of comics before I received another DCBS shipment. You have been warned.

MIND MGMT #27 (Dark Horse, 2014) – A. This issue provides some fascinating background on the history of MIND MGMT and the relationship between Sir Francis and Leopold Lojka. The Case File segment, “The Politician,” is extremely chilling.

LUMBERJANES #10 (Boom!, 2015) – B/B-. Easily the highlight of this issue is Riley playing cards with Bubbles and then dancing with him. (Or her? Has Bubbles’s gender ever been specified?) The rest of the issue is somewhat disappointing, though. This series was originally supposed to last just eight issues, and I get the impression that Noelle and Shannon weren’t entirely sure what to do next after they finished the original storyline. There’s just not as much plot here as usual, although of course Mal and Molly are the cutest couple ever; I think they’re my favorite couple in any comic book right now. Also, Carolyn Nowak is a less impressive artist than Grace Ellis. I’m still looking forward to issue 11.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #27 (IDW, 2015) – A-. More impressive work from Katie and Andy. Besides “Over a Barrel,” this is the first MLP story I can remember with an explicitly environmentalist theme, and I think this story is going to be better than “Over a Barrel.” Well-to-Do is a brilliant choice of name.

SEX CRIMINALS #10 (Image, 2015) – A+. Probably the best comic of the week. Rachelle and Robert are a cute beta couple. I love the idea of an entire bookstore that specializes in porn, and also that scene makes me nostalgic for when I lived near a Barnes & Noble. Also, instead of “Alone Together,” this story should have been called “The L-Word.”

BITCH PLANET #2 (Image, 2015) – A-. This was a pretty quick read, but it offers some fascinating background information on the dystopian society to which we were introduced in issue 1. The scene where they try to make Kam feel guilty for “killing” Marian Collins is horrifying.

ABIGAIL AND THE SNOWMAN #2 (Boom!, 2015) – A-. I still don’t like this as much as Snarked, but it’s a lot of fun. I actually sympathize more with the father, who is out of a job and desperate for cash, than with the daughter.

PRINCESS UGG #7 (Oni, 2015) – A+. Maybe the second best comic of the week. The queen is a formidable character – despite being vastly older than Ulga and coming from a totally different culture, she shows more understanding of Ulga than anyone else in the stories did. I remember Ted saying that the other princesses, besides Julifer, were just background characters and were not important individually, but it’s interesting how the other princesses are starting to take Ulga’s side and are losing their sympathy for Julifer. The “young and bonny fighter” song is heartbreaking.

GROO VS. CONAN #4 (Dark Horse, 2014) – B+. When this came out, I didn’t read it immediately because I was somewhat unimpressed by the last three issues. Mark and Sergio are as funny as ever, but I remain convinced that Mark doesn’t understand Conan. He treats Conan like a generic superhero. I haven’t gotten around to Groo: Friends and Foes #1 yet.

MIND MGMT #28 (Dark Horse, 2014) – A-. With this issue Meru starts to take control of the storyline. One of the pleasures of reading the entire series at once is seeing Meru transform from an idle, unproductive one-hit wonder of a writer into a confident and nearly omnipotent badass. Tana the fortuneteller is also a pretty cool character.

MIND MGMT #29 (Dark Horse, 2014) – A-. In this issue Meru and the Eraser finally confront each other, but the fight is inconclusive. Meru is about to lose before Dusty’s army arrives and saves her. Still, there is a clear sense that this series is building up to an epic conclusion.

GOTHAM ACADEMY #4 (DC, 2015) – B+/A-. This is still the best current DC comic, by far. However, I am having some difficulty following the plot; I think this comic would read better in trade paperback form. Maps Mizoguchi continues to absolutely steal the show.

ROCKET RACCOON #7 (Marvel, 2015) – B+. I hope Skottie Young will return soon as the regular artist, but Filipe Andrade is almost as fun. This story accomplishes the improbable feat of making the reader genuinely worried about Groot’s fate. Groot is basically invincible, so Skottie has to bend over backwards in order to come up with something that can threaten his life, and the nature of the threat is somewhat contrived. Still, Rocket’s concern about Groot reveals another side of his character that we haven’t seen much of yet. As a side note, I’m playing the second Ratchet & Clank game right now, and Ratchet and Rocket are surprisingly similar characters.

CONAN/RED SONJA #1 (Dark Horse, 2015) – B+. I haven’t been following either Gail’s Red Sonja or the current incarnation of Conan, and I can’t recall why I bought this exactly, but I like it. This is no “Song of Red Sonja,” but it’s an effective alternate version of Conan and Sonja’s first meeting, though there’s a curious lack of sexual attraction between the two. I was a bit surprised that this story is essentially complete in one issue, but it looks like future issues will take place later in Conan and Sonja’s lives.

MARVEL ADVENTURES: AVENGERS #37 (Marvel, 2009) – A-. A solid effort from Paul Tobin. In this story, the Puppet Master transports two of Captain America’s Invaders teammates, Golden Girl and Miss America, into the future, and some heartbreaking confusion results as they encounter the present-day Captain America and don’t realize that he’s not the Cap they know. At the end of the story, Cap is faced with an agonizing decision as to whether to go back into the past with them or to remain in the present, but curiously, Wolverine makes the decision for him. In the hands of another writer, this could have been a very sad story, but Paul handles it with his usual humor and lightheartedness. There’s also an amazing inside joke: a restaurant called Paste Pot’s Pizza.

SECRET ORIGINS #39 (DC, 1989) – A-. This issue stars Man-Bat and Animal Man. The Man-Bat story has excellent art by Kevin Nowlan but is purely a retelling of Detective Comics #400 and subsequent issues. The Animal Man story is a hidden gem because it’s written by Grant Morrison. I assume it must have been included in the reprints of Grant’s Animal Man run, but I’d never read it before. In terms of actual quality, this issue is not up to the level of Grant’s other work on this character, especially because part of it is just a redrawn version of the original Animal Man story from Showcase or whatever, but it’s just cool reading a new Animal Man story by Grant. This story introduces a point which is explained later in the regular Animal Man series: that Buddy Baker’s continuity is bizarrely screwed up.

ANIMAL MAN #13 (DC, 2012) – B-. This was the best of the original New 52 titles, but that was mostly because of Travel Foreman’s artwork, and when he departed, the series went downhill rapidly. I kept buying it for a while, but eventually I stopped reading it, and shortly afterward I stopped buying it – Cliff’s death was the last straw. On finally reading the last three issues I bought, I find that the plot is just not exciting enough to sustain my attention. Maxine and Socks are much more interesting characters than Buddy himself, yet they only get about three pages in each issue.

ANIMAL MAN #14 (DC, 2013) – B-/C+. More of the same. In this second chapter of Rotworld, Buddy teams up with Black Orchid, Beast Boy and Steel. This is such a random assortment of characters that I wonder if it’s an homage to the old Forgotten Heroes.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #22 (DC, 1991) – B-/C+. The best thing about this issue is the one-page excerpt from Shadow Lass’s diary. “The Quiet Darkness” is a weird story. It’s supposed to be a “thematic sequel” to “The Great Darkness Saga,” but it has nowhere near the epic scope of that story; instead, it has a tired and exhausted atmosphere. Too much space in this issue is devoted to non-Legionnaire characters Aria and Lori (whose connection to Glorith and Lori Morning is unclear). This is annoying; when I read a Legion comic, I want to read about the Legion.

FANTASTIC FOUR #414 (Marvel, 1996) – C-. As Samuel Johnson is reported to have said, whatever is original in this issue is not good, and whatever is good in it is not original.

ROCKET SALVAGE #2 (Boom!, 2015) – A-. This is a very entertaining series, and compared to Imagine Agents, it’s a much better showcase for Bachan’s unique and exciting style of art. The surprising revelation here is not that Zeta is a clone – I thought we were already supposed to know that – but that she’s some sort of ultimate doomsday weapon. I’m excited to see where this goes.

ANIMAL MAN #15 (DC, 2013) – C-/D+. This one is pretty heavy on the blood and gore, especially compared to previous issues. And Steve Pugh is not nearly as good at drawing blood and gore as Travel Foreman was. Other than that, this comic is mostly pointless.

AUTUMNLANDS: TOOTH & CLAW #3 (Image, 2015) – B+. It’s a bit disappointing that the Great Champion is just your average badass soldier dude. His confrontation with the blacksmith was a dramatic moment, but I’ve seen this sort of thing before. I do like this Goodfoot character. Perhaps the best moment in the issue was when I realized that the wizards were using giant cockroaches as transportation.

ANGELA: ASGARD’S ASSASSIN #2 (Marvel, 2015) – B. This is not at the same level as Kieron’s other recent work. Some of the dialogue here is excellent, but Angela does not seem like a particularly deep or complex character.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #7 (Image, 2015) – A. A much better Kieron Gillen comic. In recent years there have been a few comic books set at fan conventions, but this one might be the best. Perhaps the highlight of the issue is the giant map of the convention.

S.H.I.E.L.D. #2 (Marvel, 2015) – B. I only bought this because of the Kamala Khan guest appearance. It’s fairly entertaining, but I don’t like it enough to want to continue reading this series.

FEATHERS #1 (Boom!, 2015) – A. Yet another excellent series from Boom. This story is set in a city resembling Victorian London, and stars two children, one a pampered child of privilege and the other an orphan covered with feathers. I really like the writing and artwork here, though the color imagery has slightly disturbing implications.

AVENGERS: NO MORE BULLYING #1 (Marvel, 2015) – B+. The stories in this issue are all a bit heavy-handed, but they could have been worse. The Guardians of the Galaxy story was easily the best.

TERRIBLE LIZARD #3 (Oni, 2015) – B. There’s not a whole lot of plot here, and it’s not surprising that this series is only going to last two more issues if I recall correctly, because it would be hard to drag it out any longer. It’s fun, though.

First reviews of 2015

SUPER FRIENDS #8 (DC, 2008) – C. A thoroughly average and forgettable story in which the Justice League fights Scarecrow. Only redeemed by some cute scenes involving trick-or-treaters dressed as the Leaguers. Sholly Fisch is a fun writer but his stories lack the sophistication of things like Paul Tobin’s Marvel Adventures work, and are only appropriate for the youngest readers.

SECRET ORIGINS #37 (DC, 1989) – B+. At dinner with Aaron King and Diana Green, Aaron gave this to me, along with two other Legion comics that I already had, so I gave them to Diana. I was excited to read this because it’s a Legion story I didn’t even know existed: the secret origin of the Legion of Substitute Heroes. Like every other Subs story, it’s very silly but in an intelligent way. I never thought much of Ty Templeton as a writer, but he has an impressive sense of humor. Maybe my favorite bit is Estimate Lad, a rejected applicant who can accurately calculate the number of anything. The Dr. Light backup story is much less interesting. The main point of this story is that Dr. Light is pathetic and useless, which I knew already.

HELLBOY: BUSTER OAKLEY GETS HIS WISH #1 (Dark Horse, 2011) – B-. This one-shot is a fairly silly story about cow-abducting aliens, but the deliberate stupidity of the story is in stark contrast to the grim gloominess of Kevin Nowlan’s art, and the disparity between the tone of the story and the tone of the artwork is pretty cool. Kevin Nowlan is a fairly similar artist to Mignola and their styles work well together. Still, I usually feel that Hellboy stories don’t live up to their potential, and this issue is no exception.

UNCLE SCROOGE #290 (Gladstone/Marvel, 1990) – A-. This was one of the two issues of Life & Times that I was missing. At this point I only need #292, which is the one where Scrooge strikes it rich, and therefore the key turning point in the story. If anyone is actually reading this and has a spare copy of that issue, I’d be happy to trade a bunch of other stuff for it. Anyway, it hardly needs to be said that this story is a classic, full of witty dialogue, beautiful artwork, and sight gags. Two major problems, though. Number one, this issue takes place in South Africa and is concerned with Scrooge’s first encounter with Flintheart Glomgold (one of the most brilliantly named characters in comics history). This is a period of his life that Barks rarely mentioned, so there are almost no Barksian references in the story. And number two, this comic book takes place in Africa, so it seems odd that there are no African people in the story! (Or black anthropomorphic animals, I guess.) It’s all animals and white settlers, except for one line of dialogue where Glomgold falsely claims to have been abducted by warriors with spears. Obviously this is a Disney comic, so Rosa can hardly be blamed for not mentioning apartheid or the Zulu wars or whatever, but he could have at least acknowledged that there were ethnically African people living in Africa in 1887. So this story left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

YOUNG JUSTICE #40 (DC, 2002) – B/B-. Like Incredible Hulk #435, this issue is written entirely in verse and is a parody of a classic poem, which in this case is “The Night Before Christmas.” The plot here is that Santa Claus is killed saving the earth from an invading Khund, and Young Justice has to finish his job. The visual gimmick is that the story is narrated entirely in text boxes at the top of the page, and as the issue goes on, the text boxes get bigger and bigger until they crush the characters. I have several issues with this concept. First, the issue is just one big running joke which leaves no room for characterization, and characterization is one of the major strengths of this title. And number two, the lettering in this issue is hideous. The font is ugly and the line breaks are misplaced, leaving all kinds of ugly blank space. And this is a serious problem considering that literally half of this comic consists of text boxes.

SAVAGE DRAGON #199 (Image, 2014) – A. Walt Simonson’s influence on Erik Larsen has rarely been more evident than in this issue, which consists entirely of two-page splashes, in an apparent attempt to outdo Thor #380. As Erik says on the letters page, he’s wanted to do this for a while, but the trouble was coming up with an appropriate subject. I think he succeeded. This issue, much like Thor #380, is a giant epic fight scene, in which an army of superheroes battles a horde of subterranean demons. This is a story that benefits from a gigantic canvas. There’s even a surprising amount of characterization here, since the giant pages allow for a lot of dialogue boxes. Overall this is one of the better recent issues of Savage Dragon, and it’s a story worthy of Uncle Walt.

SENSATION COMICS FEATURING WONDER WOMAN #3 (DC, 2014) – B. This is an uneven package. The first story, by Sean E. Williams and Marguerite Sauvage, is just awful because it’s an insincere attempt at a progressive, feminist story. It includes a bunch of standard feminist tropes (income inequality, sexual harassment, etc.), but I never get the sense that Williams actually believes in the feminist message of this story; I feel that he’s just going through the motions of writing a feminist comic. Possibly the reason I feel this way is that the dialogue is extremely wooden. Marguerite Sauvage’s art on this story is excellent, though. The second story, by Ollie Masters and Amy Mebberson, is kind of silly, but at least it’s better than the first story. It’s weird seeing Amy Mebberson drawing people instead of ponies. The real attraction of this issue is the third story, by Gilbert Hernandez. I already reviewed the second half of this two-parter, but the first half is equally good. There is a slightly parodistic and silly tone to this story, as with much of Beto’s recent work, but he draws a fantastic Wonder Woman and Supergirl and he writes brilliant dialogue. And I think his work is even more genuinely feminist than Williams, even though, or perhaps because, it’s more subtle about its feminist intentions. I wish DC would hire him to expand this story into a miniseries or a graphic novel, because he’s capable of producing the best Wonder Woman comic ever.

DETECTIVE COMICS #833 (DC, 2007) – B+/A-. Given that this is a Paul Dini story guest-starring Zatanna, I found it a little disappointing, although the best scene from this issue is all over the Internet and I’ve already seen it before. I’m referring to the flashback sequence where Bruce and Zatanna meet as children, and Zatanna plays a magic trick on Bruce without saying a word. It’s an adorable and touching scene, and this issue deserves an A- just on the basis of those two pages. The rest of the issue isn’t at the same level, though it is interesting to see how Bruce and Zatanna’s relationship has evolved due to the effects of age and Zatanna’s actions during Identity Crisis (I would rather pretend that that comic doesn’t exist, but it is significant to the characterization in this issue).

FANTASTIC FOUR #334 (Marvel, 1989) – B+/A-. Speaking of Walt Simonson, he was probably the fifth best FF writer after Lee, Byrne and Hickman – I realize that sounds kind of unimpressive, but he was a very good FF writer. This is the first issue he wrote, though it’s drawn by Rich Buckler. This issue is an Acts of Vengeance crossover, so the plot involves a series of invasions of the Baxter Building by villains the FF have never seen before. It’s kind of a funny commentary on how each superhero or super-team has its own exclusive set of villains. But most of the issue is devoted to character interaction, which makes it a lot of fun. There’s also a short cameo appearance by Thor, and it’s always nice to see Thor drawn by Simonson. Too bad about the Buckler artwork though.

GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS #1 (Image, 2014) – B+. This series, written and drawn by Ryan Browne, is like Chew, only more so. It’s full of the most absurd gross-out humor imaginable. It makes no attempt at logic or plausibility; the plot is dictated entirely by the demands of humor and awesomeness. This series is definitely a guilty pleasure – it also doesn’t make any attempt at serious artistry, although Browne’s humor is slightly more intelligent than it seems. For me it’s a guilty pleasure in the sense that I feel guilty for not getting more pleasure out of it than I did. I don’t think this is the sort of humor that appeals to me. I do feel a certain sense of investment in what happens to Browne’s bizarre cast of characters, though, and I read the next four issues of this series very quickly after reading this one, so I guess I’m enjoying it.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #18 (DC, 1991) – B-. This is an unusually hopeful story by v4 standards. The plot is that the Dark Circle tries to take over the planet Orando, but Mon-El and Shadow Lass stop them, and everything turns out okay afterwards. This is a much happier resolution than the Giffen/Bierbaum Legion usually offers, and it seems somehow too happy. Also, Mon-El is so powerful that there’s really not much suspense here; he essentially defeats the Dark Circle by brute force, and they can’t do anything to stop him. It’s nice seeing Mon and Shady again, though, as well as Jeckie, who makes one of her few v4 appearances in this issue.

SNARKED #1 (Boom!, 2011) – A+. When I was placing my latest mycomicshop.com order, I was surprised to discover that I was missing issues 1 and 2 of this series, because I thought I’d read them already. In fact I only read issues 0 and 3, but the storyline of the following issues made perfect sense to me anyway, because Roger Langridge’s storytelling is so clear. Anyway, this issue is a perfect introduction to the best children’s comic book of the decade. Roger Langridge is one of the most gifted storytellers in comics today; he’s as good as Don Rosa or Jeff Smith. Just to select one of the many wonderful things about this issue, when he introduces us to the three corrupt advisors who are trying to steal the throne, he effectively convinces us in just one page that they’re horrible people who don’t have Princess Scarlett’s best interests at heart.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #33 (IDW, 2014) – B+. I think my difficulty understanding the plot of this series is entirely due to the fact that I started reading it about two years in. I don’t think the plot is all that confusing really. However, the real issue I have with this series is that I can’t tell any of the characters apart, either by their appearance or by their speech patterns. Besides that, though, James Roberts’s dialogue in this issue is as witty as ever, and the plot is exciting. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a comic that made more intelligent use of quantum mechanics.

GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS #2 (Image, 2014) – B+. This is one of thos series where individual issues are difficult to review because they’re all basically the same. This issue has the same brand of outrageously bizarre humor as issue 1, reviewed above. One notable thing about this issue is that it contains a parody Hostess Fruit Pie ad, which begins an ongoing story that’s continued in other similar ads in later issues.

CHEW #44 (Image, 2014) – B+/A-. Perhaps the most brutal issue yet. In this issue, most of the main characters, besides Tony and Amelia, attempt to ambush the Vampire in his castle. They fail miserably due to the unexpected absence of Poyo, and they all get either seriously injured or killed. Given the usually lighthearted tone of this series, this sort of thing is painful to read. There are a lot of humorous moments in this issue, of course, and I especially like the opening sequence with Mantou Tang, which includes a bunch of subtle Chinese food puns. For example, the battlefield of “Gongboa Jiding” appears to be an error for Gongbao Jiding, i.e. Kung Pao chicken. Zhandou Wei is more difficult to interpret, but apparently Zhandou means “fighting bean” and there’s a popular Chinese song with that title.

TERRIBLE LIZARD #2 (Oni, 2014) – B. This is not currently one of the top titles on the market, but it’s fun; I mean, how can I resist a comic book about a teenage girl with a pet dinosaur? This series is superficially similar to Super Dinosaur, but Jess’s relationship with Wrex is completely different from Derek’s relationship with SD. Instead of a superpowered best friend, Wrex is basically an enormous dog, which is why this comic is so cute. But there’s also a constant sense of tension in this issue, because the adults are afraid of the dinosaur and seem determined to kill it. I doubt this comic is going to win any Eisners, but I look forward to reading more of it.

CHEW #45 (Image, 2014) – B+. This issue continues the relentlessly grim tone from last issue, although again, there are all kinds of humorous moments (e.g. the Kool-Aid Man murder case). As of this issue, we don’t know whether any of the casualties from last issue are going to survive; Applebee seems unlikely to, although John Layman claimed in an interview that he was going to be alive at the end of the series. And the issue ends with Savoy killing Poyo for no apparent reason. I’m sorry that there are only about 15 issues of this series left now.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #19 (DC, 1991) – B+. This is one of the bleakest Legion comics ever. It deals with the aftermath of the destruction of the moon in Adventures of Superman #478. This leads to massive devastation on Earth, as well as the execution of a Dominator plot to blow up all of Earth’s powerspheres. Maybe the most heartbreaking part here is the heroic death of Circadia Senius, who remains at his post so that he can replace the moon with an orbiter, and gets vaporized by a meteor impact as a result. This is all very emotionally affecting, but it gives me a powerful sense of despair, because the whole point of the Legion is that they’re supposed to stop this kind of thing from happening. And I feel like this story resorts to excessive cruelty in order to tug on the reader’s heartstrings. I mean, did they need to kill off an adorable and harmless character like Circadia Senius? Meanwhile, the subplot of this issue is just as depressing. Jo Nah time-travels to ancient Egypt where he encounters a woman who looks just like Tinya, and they fall in love and she gets pregnant, but it turns out she’s not real, it’s just a trick by a Lord of Chaos. Hadn’t Jo suffered enough at this point as a result of Tinya’s death? As affecting as this issue was, I think I’d rather read some happier Legion stories.

THE SHADE #1 (DC, 1997) – B. This Starman spinoff is set in the early Victorian period and features some beautiful and historically accurate artwork by Gene Ha. The story is less interesting than the artwork, though. It’s about the Shade’s first encounter with a family of aristocratic murderers, who become his lifelong enemies; they’re kind of the opposite of the O’Dare family. This story is okay, but it doesn’t add very much to our knowledge of the Starman universe.

VILLAINS UNITED #1 (DC, 2005) – B+. This is mostly setup for future issues, but it’s an effective introduction to the new Secret Six. I think that this series and its sequels are Gail’s best work, with the possible exception of Wonder Woman.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #20 (DC, 1991) – B+. Not quite as bleak or depressing as the last issue. The title of this issue is “Venado Bay” and it includes a flashback to the battle of that name, but that’s only a small part of the issue, which is sort of a “day in the life” story. (Incidentally, the Venado Bay flashback is kind of odd because it shows Cosmic Boy as a common soldier; given his experience leading the Legion, you would think they would have made him an officer.) This issue gives us glimpses of most of the main cast and includes a couple heartwarming moments, including a cute scene between Vi and Ayla, and the announcement of the birth of Garth and Imra’s second set of twins.

ADVENTURE COMICS #335 (DC, 1965) – A-. In a way, this issue has a completely different tone from v4. At the same time, the Bierbaums were mostly influenced by this run of Legion stories, not by Levitz’s Legion, and one of the heartbreaking things about the Bierbaums’ Legion is the way they contrast the optimistic, lighthearted tone of the ‘60s Legion with the bleakness of the post-Five Year Gap universe. Anyway, I can’t give this issue an A+ because it’s worse than the next couple years of Legion comics, but it’s still fun. This issue introduces Starfinger, who, despite his ridiculous appearance, is a nasty piece of work. It includes no real characterization – that would come later when Shooter took over as writer – but this is almost made up for by the fact that it stars Matter-Eater Lad. Unfortunately this issue also includes a reprinted Superboy story which is just awful.

GOOD GIRLS #1 (Fantagraphics, 1987) – A-. Carol Lay is an artist I’m not familiar with, and this comic is a good introduction to her excellent and bizarre work, which combines a sort of ‘50s sensibility with absurd subject matter. Two of the three stories in this issue are about Ms. Lonelyhearts, an advice columnist who keeps getting into trouble by getting personally involved with the people who write to her. These stories are funny, but a bit confusing; like, the second Ms. Lonelyhearts story implies that her colleagues are playing a prank on her, but I’m not clear on what the prank is. The third and best story is sort of a cross between Tarzan and a ‘50s romance comic; it’s about Irene van der Kamp, an heiress who’s raised by an African tribe that practices “face-shaping,” and ends up with a hideously bizarre appearance. This story is visually compelling because of Irene’s scarred, duck-shaped face, but it’s also very bleak; the plot is that Irene falls in love with a blind lawyer (probably based on Matt Murdock) who she thinks is the only man who can love her, but when he feels her face, he abandons her. So this story is a (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) satire of Western cultural biases about beauty. I want to read more of this comic.

GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS #3 (Image, 2014) – B+. More of the same. People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like, as Abraham Lincoln is falsely reported to have said.

SIX-GUN GORILLA #4 (Boom!, 2013) – A-. This issue can’t be reviewed other than in the context of the entire series, so I’ll talk more about it below.

STARMAN #68 (DC, 2000) – B+. This installment of Grand Guignol contains two flashback stories, one about the history of Opal, the other about the Shade’s encounter with the Holmes-esque detective Hamilton Drew. Both stories effectively flesh out the world of Opal City, but are not particularly exciting. Some of the lettering in this issue is very difficult to read.

SIX-GUN GORILLA #5 and #6 (Boom!, 2013) – A. These issues offer a very satisfying resolution to the miniseries, which is appropriate since it turns out that the whole miniseries is about storytelling and about the desire for satisfactory conclusions. I’m just working this out as I write, but I think the point here is that the government and the rebels were deliberately keeping the war going because it satisfied people’s desire for narrative absorption. However, the war was “the kind of story that never… evolves and never… ends” – it kept going on forever but never went anywhere. And the war ends when the protagonist realizes that people want not only an exciting story, but also a story that goes somewhere and has a satisfying conclusion. I guess there’s an implicit commentary here on the never-ending narratives of superhero comics. So this comic is not just an exciting romp, it also has a deeper meaning. I enjoyed it very much.

JUDGE DREDD: MEGA-CITY TWO #3 (IDW, 2014) – A-. I don’t really care about the story here; the real attraction is Ulises Farinas’s spectacular artwork. Ulises has gained a lot of notoriety through his outspoken social media posts, and this has maybe tended to make people forget what a brilliant artist he is. His work is a sort of cross between Brandon Graham and Geof Darrow (who he namechecks at one point); it has both an obsessive level of detail and an anarchic, graffiti-like sensibility. Also, his use of color is gorgeous. He’s a rising superstar and he deserves to be working on higher-profile projects than this miniseries, which seems to have fallen under people’s radar.

SILVER SURFER #7 (Marvel, 2014) – A+. This issue deserves a slightly lower grade but I’m elevating it to an A+ because of the guest appearance by the Ding-A-Ling Family, perhaps the most bizarre characters to ever appear in a Hostess ad. This scene is the perfect example of this series’s deadpan style of humor; the Surfer and Dawn constantly encounter weird and inexplicable phenomena, but they act as if these phenomena are normal. Besides that, perhaps the best thing about this issue is the revelation that Toomie is sentient and can “talk” via reflections on its surface. I’m not convinced by the ending, though; I haven’t really seen any signs of romantic interest between Surfy and Dawn, and I prefer to believe that when Dawn asks if they’re going out, she’s either saying that with tongue in cheek, or she’s asking because she genuinely isn’t sure. As a final note, people have complained that this comic is overly derivative of Doctor Who, but this doesn’t bother me; I’m not very familiar with Doctor Who and I wouldn’t have noticed the similarity if it hadn’t been pointed out to me.

IMAGINE AGENTS #2 (Boom!, 2013) – B-. This comic really wasn’t bad or anything, I just read it when I was too tired to properly appreciate it. I still think it has an amazing premise, although I’m not convinced that Bachan is the right artist for it. This comic might have been more enjoyable if it was drawn by an artist who specialized in depicting bizarre imaginary phenomena, e.g. Skottie Young.

GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS #4 (Image, 2014) – B+. More of the same.

THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #1 (Marvel, 2015) – A+. This is probably my favorite single comic book since Lumberjanes #5. Every panel and every line of dialogue in this issue is a sheer delight. I can’t even identify particularly brilliant panels or lines of dialogue because they’re all brilliant, although it seems like the thing in this issue that’s resonated with people the most is the “conspicuously large and conspicuously awesome butt” line. My personal favorite is either the line about Tippy Toe’s family living alone in trees, or the panel with Tippy Toe clinging to Doreen’s face. I also love the little annotations below the panels; they’re the print equivalent of the alt text in webcomics (which is a phenomenon I probably need to write about somewhere). In a more general sense, this issue is important because it establishes Squirrel Girl as more than just a running joke. With Dan Slott’s version of the character, the running joke was that she was consistently able to beat the most powerful villains even though her powers were ridiculously weak. But this issue reminds us that her powers are not weak – she has the “speed and strength of the most savage beasts imaginable” – and she’s also a relentlessly upbeat and funny character and a good role model. I honestly think that this series is going to turn her into a major Marvel character, and that it’s going to be one of Marvel’s best comics, comparable in quality to Ms. Marvel. As a final point, some people on CBR criticized Erica Henderson’s artwork as not appropriate to a superhero comic; I think this speaks to the narrowness of these people’s tastes, because her artwork is amazing.

ODY-C #2 (Image, 2015) – A. This is a strong follow-up to Image’s best debut issue of 2014. There’s nothing here that’s as impressive as the eight-page foldout from #1, but Matt Fraction’s storytelling and Christian Ward’s artwork continue to be amazing. The Lotus-Eaters is one of the less exciting episodes of the Odyssey; however, Matt and Christian find a fairly effective approach to it, and I like how they connect it to the overarching mythology of the world. I hate to say it, though, but the one thing in this comic that stands out to me the most is the first page, because I’m disturbed by the thing between Zeus’s legs; I can’t tell if it’s a penis or what.

USAGI YOJIMBO: SENSO #6 (Dark Horse, 2015) – A-. In general I haven’t enjoyed this story as much as previous Usagi epics. This issue is a satisfying but somewhat predictable conclusion – there’s an epic battle between the last tripod and Usagi Gundam, and then Usagi dies heroically. Usagi’s death is tragic but not really surprising. The only logical way for his story to end is with a heroic sacrifice, and he isn’t going to reveal the secret of Jotaro’s parentage unless he’s on his deathbed. I did like the unexpected epilogue, though, where it reveals that the entire miniseries is a story told by Space Usagi. And it’s cute that Space Usagi has achieved wedded bliss and legitimate parenthood with Mariko, so his story is going to have a happier ending than his ancestor’s.

RAT QUEENS SPECIAL #1 (Image, 2015) – B-. While it’s nice to see this series again after a long hiatus, this issue still doesn’t really satisfy my desire for more Rat Queens. Braga is an interesting character, especially because she’s a rare positive portrayal of either an orc or a transgender character, but I felt this story was lacking in substance – there just wasn’t enough of a narrative here. Tess Fowler’s artwork is interestingly different from the work of the previous artist, who I will leave unmentioned, but I wish her backgrounds were more detailed. And I still really miss the Rat Queens, especially Betty. At this point it’s been more than half a year since the last issue that featured all four of the main characters, and I’m getting impatient.

ABIGAIL AND THE SNOWMAN #1 (Image, 2015) – A. This is the latest major work by Roger Langridge, who is, other than Stan Sakai and Sergio Aragones, the best writer/artist currently working in American comic books. This comic doesn’t immediately grab me the way Snarked! did, but it has an adorable premise. It’s based on the trope of creatures that can only be seen by children, which appears everywhere from Goethe’s “Der Erlkönig” to Dragon Quest V to Monsters, Inc. But it looks like Langridge is going to take this trope seriously and explore its implications – like, the villains in this issue (a pair of Thompson-and-Thomson-esque bunglers) have glasses that allow them to see invisible creatures. As I said, I’m not as much in love with this as with Snarked!, but it’ll be interesting to see where it’s going.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #11 (Marvel, 2015) – B+. I’m writing this about two weeks after reading this comic, and I had some difficulty remembering what happened in this issue. In general, this was a funny and cute comic, though I didn’t quite understand initially what was going on with the Santa dude. I’m disappointed that Lieutenant Trouble appears on the cover but not in the issue; I almost get the impression that this cover was designed for a different story. David Lopez is a seriously underrated artist.

ASTRO CITY #19 (DC, 2015) – A+. This is still the best Green Arrow/Black Canary story in twenty years, but Quarrel is emerging as a distinctly different character from Black Canary. Her impoverished rural background and her combative attitude make her unique. Kurt has said before that Quarrel is his favorite Astro City character, and I can see why; she’s honestly pretty awesome, and I wish we’d gotten to see more of her already. (Crackerjack, by contrast, is like Hawkeye or Green Arrow, only much more so.) Overall this was a very satisfying issue.

BOOM BOX 2014 MIX TAPE (Boom!, 2014) – B. I bought this mostly because of the Lumberjanes story, which is too short, though absolutely adorable. The other material in this magazine-sized comic is a mixed bag. My favorite is the Help Us! Great Warrior story, which makes me excited for that ongoing series, but some of the other stuff here, particularly the Munchkin story, is much less interesting. I don’t know if this was worth it even at a discount from the $9.99 cover price.

SAVAGE DRAGON #201 (Image, 2015) – B+. This issue is mostly focused on the love hexagon between Malcolm, Maxine, Angel, Frank, Tierra and Daredevil. Erik’s depiction of teenage relationships is not especially deep or realistic, but then neither is anything else in this comic, and the relationship drama is at least entertaining. Erik has been on kind of a roll lately, although I really wish he would he would stop publishing those awful Vanguard backup stories.

THOR #3 (Marvel, 2015) – B-. This series is really no better than a typical Marvel superhero comic, and the hook that drew me into it – the female Thor – is proving to be insufficient to retain my interest. After three issues there is still no sign that the the identity of the new Thor is going to be revealed anytime soon, and I’m losing my patience with the lack of a resolution to this mystery. I’m almost ready to give up on this series.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #277 (DC, 1981) – C+. This was part of an overly long and drawn-out story in which Ultra Boy “died” and was replaced by Reflecto. With this issue Roy Thomas took over from Gerry Conway as the dialogue writer, but this did not lead to a significant improvement in the quality of the writing. The plot is still excessively bland and boring, and the writers don’t do enough to distinguish the characters from each other. Also, Jimmy Janes is a thoroughly forgettable artist; the George Pérez cover is far more attractive than the interior art. At least this is a Legion comic, though.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #14 (DC, 1991) – A-. The V4 Legion tended to be excessively grim and depressing, but Giffen and the Bierbaums also understood the fundamental humor and silliness of the premise, and occasionally they did stories like this one, in which Matter-Eater Lad battles Evillo. This story is essentially a series of big jokes, but it also depicts Tenzil as a sort of Plastic Man character, a man who’s himself serious and stiff-upper-lipped even though weird stuff tends to happen around him. The best line in the issue is “I’m a Legionnaire. When trouble strikes, we put on costumes.”

SILVER SURFER #8 (Marvel, 2015) – B+/A-. Another delightful issue, though also a depressing one. However, my major… uh, issue with this issue is Dawn’s surprise at learning that the Surfer was the herald of Galactus. I mean, is that not public knowledge? Though honestly, this series is so light-hearted that I’d forgotten it myself. But I guess this issue does raise the question of to what extent Norrin is personally culpable for Galactus’s actions. And this is a question Marvel comics tend to dance around. In the ‘80s, John Byrne even tried to justify Galactus, and in my opinion he completely failed. So it will be interesting if this series tries to directly confront the question of Norrin’s responsibility for genocide.

SUICIDE SQUAD #65 (DC, 1992) – B+. This is the next to last issue, though it’s hard to tell other than by reading the letters page. The most resonant moment in this issue is when Amanda says she wants to defeat Guedhe, a South American dictator, because she started the Squad with idealistic goals, though she’s never come close to fulfilling those goals. Otherwise this is neither better nor worse than a typical Suicide Squad issue.

RAGNAROK #2 (IDW, 2014) – B+. I flipped to the end of this comic and saw that the dark elf protagonist from #1 gets killed, and that dampened my enthusiasm for reading it, because I liked that character a lot. However, I suppose her death is reasonably justifiable in terms of the narrative, and it’s handled fairly tastefully; there is no suggestion of fringing. I really started to get into this comic with Thor’s line “I like courage”; I don’t know why this line resonated with me so much, but it somehow reads like a line Snorri Sturluson could have written, and it helped me start to see the links between this comic and Simonson’s Thor. The artwork in this issue, of course, is fantastic.

RAGNAROK #3 (IDW, 2014) – A-. This issue makes me excited about the series again. It’s clearly based on the original mythological Thor – his children Magni, Modi and Thrud are mentioned, for example – and it seems like an accurate representation of the original Eddaic source material in the same way as Simonson’s Thor was. And again, the artwork is spectacular.

YUMMY FUR #17 (Vortex, 1989) – B+. The main story in this issue is a chapter of Ed the Happy Clown, and I honestly have no idea what’s going on here, except that it seems to involve vampires. Aaron King was kind enough to give me a copy of Brian Evenson’s book about Ed the Happy Clown, but I have yet to read it. As with many of these old Yummy Fur issues, the real treat is the Jesus backup story. Chester Brown does a brilliant job of presenting an unsanitized, unvarnished Jesus.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #65 (Marvel, 1976) – B+. The artwork and dialogue in this issue are brilliant but the plot is just average. It’s an adaptation of an REH non-Conan story, “The Thunder Rider,” with a villain named Tezcatlipoca. I suppose the implication is that this character was the inspiration for the mythological Tezcatlipoca, but this is never clearly stated. The plot is not particularly exciting and acts mostly as a distraction from the ongoing Bêlit saga.

ISIS #1 (DC, 1976) – C-. This issue is notable only because it has a female protagonist, which was unusual at the time, and because it includes some effective inking by Wally Wood (or his assistants). I think Isis must have been either a direct Wonder Woman knockoff or an attempt to capitalize on the same Women’s Lib craze that resulted in the Wonder Woman TV series. Either way, the story is just completely stupid and forgettable.

SUICIDE SQUAD #21 (DC, 1988) – A-. This issue unfortunately includes a “Bonus Book” feature starring Bronze Tiger. I say unfortunately because this feature is written by Larry Ganem, and if that name sounds unfamiliar, that’s probably because he’s a terrible writer. This story is an incoherent mess of cliches and Asian stereotypes, and it interrupts the flow of the main story, which is excellent. The real strength of Suicide Squad is its large cast of utterly distinct and unique characters. Even if most of them are deeply flawed and screwed-up people, they’re all entertaining to read about. Besides that, the plot of this issue is exciting; it involves a senator’s attempts to blackmail the Squad into assassinating a rival.

SUICIDE SQUAD #5 (DC, 1987) – B+. This isn’t quite as good as the above issue, but it’s still excellent. The highlight of this issue is the Penguin, who is effectively depicted as a pompous, vain little man.

MIND MGMT #0 (Dark Horse, 2012) – N/A. At this point I started reading through my collection of MIND MGMT as part of my research for the book chapter I’m currently writing. I’ve been reading scattered issues of MIND MGMT, and I haven’t really been able to get into it because I didn’t understand the backstory. However, on reading the first hardcover collection, I really started to get it, and you will see that each of the issues reviewed below will receive a significantly higher score than the issues I’ve reviewed earlier. I didn’t actually “read” issue 0 because it consists of material that’s also included in the first collection, so I’m not giving it a grade.

MIND MGMT #7 (Dark Horse, 2013) – A-. This issue introduces the Ad Man and his assassination letters. It also includes a story that plays out at the bottom of the page, where the hypothetical MIND MGMT agents reading the field report might not be able to see it. I read this and each subsequent issue along with Drew Bradley’s “Minding Mind MGMT” column at Multiversity Comics, which is absolutely essential for a full understanding of the series; without this column I would have missed half of what’s going on here.

MIND MGMT #9 (Dark Horse, 2013) – A-. This issue focuses primarily on Dusty. There is a brilliant sequence at the end that consists of groups of square and round panels, separated by thick black lines. It turns out that each group of panels is a letter of morse code, and together they spell out DON’T TRUST LYME – or they almost do, because Matt made a few minor mistakes here. This is an example of the sort of thing I’d never have noticed without Drew Bradley’s annotations.

MIND MGMT #10 (Dark Horse, 2013) – B+. This is the one where Meru and Harry recruit Duncan by using random methods to defeat his precognitive powers. Not the most memorable issue of the series.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #13 (IDW, 2015) – A-. Jeremy Whitley is getting really good at this series; this is one of his better efforts and it’s comparable to Katie and Andy’s work. The featured characters in this issue are Babs Seed and Rarity, and the basic conflict is that Rarity tries to get Babs to enjoy the things Rarity likes, not realizing that Babs has her own interests. The delightful surprise is when we discover what Babs does like: roller derby. I actually kind of want to show this issue to my friends who are roller derby fans, like Marsha Bryant.

UNCLE SCROOGE #228 (Gladstone, 1988) – B-. The Barks story in this issue, “Chugwagon Derby,” is funny but insubstantial. The punchline of the story – that the goal of the race was to lose, not win – is apparently based on an actual practical joke that used to be practiced at county fairs. The European stories in this issue are effectively just filler material.

LADY KILLER #1 (Dark Horse, 2015) – B+. A funny and well-crafted first issue. Joëlle Jones’s artwork takes a bit of getting used to, but she draws some gorgeous facial expressions. And the premise of this series is brilliant – it’s an effective satire of ‘50s sexism and intolerance.

MIND MGMT #15 (Dark Horse, 2013) – A-. This issue is told from Harry Lyme’s perspective, covering the period from the Zanzibar disaster to his initial encounter with Meru. The somewhat shocking revelation here is that Meru visited Harry seven times and he wiped her memory each time. An interesting footnote here is about the guy from earlier in the series who told Meru that Guangzhou was the name of a small village. Guangzhou is, of course, the name of one of the largest cities in China, and Matt Kindt was apparently accused of stupidity and even racism for not knowing that. In this issue, though, we discover that the misidentification of Guangzhou was actually done on purpose.

MIND MGMT #18 (Dark Horse, 2013) – A+. This may be the strongest single issue of the series. It focuses on Meru’s attempt to recruit Ella, the girl who talks to animals. Much of the issue is designed like a Richard Scarry book, with lower-case labels identifying all the characters and objects; this is alternately adorable and creepy. The issue ends with Meru giving up on recruiting Ella and leaving her alone with her animal friends, and this is a very satisfying resolution, especially in such a grim and depressing comic. Matt Kindt said on Twitter that his daughter asked if he could read this issue, and so he was forced to make it age-appropriate.

MIND MGMT #19 (Dark Horse, 2013) – A-. This issue introduces the magician, whose name I can’t remember offhand. Trying to recruit her, Meru and Lyme instead end up ruining her entire life, which makes the reader wonder whether they’re really on the right side. The brilliant visual device in this issue is that some of the panels look as if they’re torn scraps of paper overlaid on top of the actual page. This is an effective visual metaphor for the way that the magician imposes her illusions on her audience.

DEADSHOT #2 (DC, 1988) – B+/A-. This miniseries focuses on perhaps the most complex and conflicted character in Suicide Squad. The writing is up to Ostrander (and Yale)’s usual level of quality, though Luke McDonnell’s artwork is looser than usual.

MIND MGMT #23 (Dark Horse, 2013) – A-. This is the one where Bill gets killed, which is rather heartbreaking – Bill was perhaps the most inoffensive and well-intentioned character in the series. The visual gimmick this time around is that the last page is an Al Jaffee-style fold-in.

MIND MGMT #24 (Dark Horse, 2014) – B+. This issue is intended as a jumping-on point for new readers. Like #15, it’s narrated by Harry Lyme, and it summarizes much of the plot of the first 23 issues. There wasn’t a whole lot of new information here, nor were there any memorable visual or formatting tricks.

BATGIRL #37 (DC, 2015) – C+. This issue has become notorious for the transphobic implications of its ending. To their credit, Cameron, Brenden and Babs publicly apologized for the offensive nature of this story, which is more than most DC creators would have done. Still, this issue was a severe miscalculation and it killed the momentum this series had been building. I didn’t even get around to reading this issue until #38 had already come out, because I was expecting to hate it, and I wonder how many other readers aren’t going to bother coming back for future issues. It may seem a bit hypocritical to say all of this when other DC creators have done much worse things without making any attempt to apologize, but Batgirl is supposed to be the good DC title – it’s supposed to be DC’s attempt to lure back the readers that their other comics have driven away. And that means it has to be held to higher standards than a regular DC title.

Beyond the whole transphobia thing, this comic is becoming annoying because its characters are all fairly well-off, tech-savvy urbanites, and they don’t show much awareness of how privileged they are compared to most people their age. I’m starting to get the impression that Batgirl is a caricature of the lives of contemporary twentysomethings, rather than an attempt at an accurate portrayal.

MIND MGMT #25 (Dark Horse, 2014) – B+. This issue resumes the story after things went to hell and back in #22 and #23 (#21 and #22, along with some earlier issues, are not reviewed here because I read them on my Kindle). This story gives us some effective insights into Meru’s character, but it didn’t wow me as much as some of the earlier issues did.

MIND MGMT #26 (Dark Horse, 2014) – A-. In this issue, Meru meets Sir Francis, the original Immortal, and learns about MIND MGMT’s origin. The fascinating visual gimmick here is that the “Field Guide” segments explain what the Field Guide is and where it came from, and near the end of the issue, the blue Field Guide text leaves the margin of the page and penetrates the live area of the image. I need to think more about the implications of that.

Comics Studies Is Not a Busman’s Holiday

Several years ago, I was at a conference on comics where one of the other presenters was a senior faculty member whose specialty was in something else. He told me he was there on a “busman’s holiday” — that is, he was presenting at the conference as a break from his real academic work. The term “busman’s holiday” means a vacation in which one does the same thing that one does while at work (the reference is to a hypothetical bus driver who goes on vacation by taking a long drive).

This is an unfortunately common phenomenon. Thanks to its association with childhood and popular culture, comics has the reputation of being a “fun” area of study. Clearly it’s true that comics are a lot of fun to read and that comics studies is an entertaining area of study. But that doesn’t mean that comics, as an area of study, or comics studies, as a field, do not deserve to be taken seriously. Nor does it mean that comics are “easier ”texts to analyze than literary texts.

So I just want to point out one thing: Comics studies is not a busman’s holiday. Going to a conference on comics studies is not a vacation from your “real” work. Comics studies is an academic discipline, albeit a young and emerging one, and it has an established body of scholarship. Faculty from other fields who dip into comics studies need to apply the same degree of academic rigor to their work on comics as to their “real” field.

And I have frequently seen the opposite phenomenon. I’m obviously not calling out anyone in particular, but I’ve heard numerous conference papers about comics that were simply sympathetic close readings ofthe texts involved, and that failed to offer any non-obvious insights. I’ve heard other conference papers on comics where it was clear that the presenter did not do any research, and was just speaking on the basis of his or her personal impressions about the comics medium or the comics industry.

I’m sure that this same sort of thing happens in other fields– I mean, I’m sure we’ve all heard all sorts of bad conference papers – but I think that the phenomenon I describe here is particularly common in comics studies. And in an article on Charlie Hebdo, my colleague Mark McKinney suggests a possible reason why: “Commentators have probably felt free to string together arguments quickly about the meanings of Charlie Hebdo‘s work because the cartoons that have been circulating appear to be transparently, universally readable.” There is a common uninterrogated notion that comics and cartoons are “easier” texts than prose literature or film, because the meaning of a cartoon is simple and obvious – you understand a cartoon automatically, without having to think aboutit.

This mentality is why people condemn Charlie Hebdo as racist on the basis of the cartoon showing the Boko Haram victims as pregnant welfare queens, without looking into Charlie Hebdo’s history of anti-racist advocacy. I’m not saying here that Charlie Hebdo is not racist, only that judgments about Charlie Hebdo’s racism can be usefully nuanced by an awareness of the history behind these cartoons. (EDIT: Seehttp://berghahnbooks.com/blog/charlie-hebdo-european-comic-art for a further explanation of this point.) This mentality – the belief that comics studies is easy– is also why people teach Maus, Persepolis or Fun Home in literature classes on the basis that these texts are “easier” or more “fun” than literary texts on the same subjects. Again, I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing to do. Comics can certainly be an accessible way of introducing more visually oriented students to difficult topics – I obviously believe that or else I wouldn’t include comics in every course I teach. The error here is in believing that comics like Maus, Persepolis and Fun Home are easier to analyze or understand than prose-based Holocaust memoirs, LGBT autobiographies, etc., simply because they include pictures. In fact, comics’ inclusion of images creates additional interpretive difficulties that don’t exist with prose literature. A useful explanation of this point is Charles Hatfield’s chapter “The Otherness of Comics Reading” in Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature. And close analysis reveals that even the simplest and most seemingly transparent comics in fact use the formal resources of the comics medium in non-obvious ways. The classic demonstration of this point is Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik’s “How to Read Nancy,” which shows the depth of meaning present inNancy, the simplest and most banal of all comic strips.

So the first point I want to make here is that if you approach comics as a nonexpert in the field, you should not assume comics are “easy,” because they are not. You should apply the same level of interpretive rigor to comics as you would to prose texts or films. I don’t want to discourage people from studying or teaching comics – quite the opposite. I merely want to suggest that people should approach comics with the proper degree of respect for their difficulty, and that people who study or teach comics for the first time should develop a basic understanding of best practices for doing so. If you’re just getting into comics studies, I (and, I’m sure, other comics scholars as well) will be happy to help you figure out where to start.

And this leads to a larger point: the fact that comics are not easy is why comics studies matters. As the Charlie Hebdo massacre demonstrates, comics make people angry – they seem to have a way of bypassing the interpretive faculty and exerting an immediate effect on our primal emotions. In this and other ways, comics seem not to need interpretation. But as I’ve argued above, comics are as deep and as much in need of interpretation as any other genre of texts, and that is why we need comics studies, especially at a time when comics have suddenly taken on vast international importance. Comics studies is not a vacation from your “real” work; it’s as real as anything else.

Last reviews of 2014

TEEN DOG #3 (Boom!, 2014) – B+. This is one of those comics where every issue is effectively the same as every other, making it kind of pointless to review issues individually. This issue has a heavy focus on sports, but it ends with kind of a cute (in fact overly saccharine) meditationon how “I’ll always remember that day we played ball in the empty lot.” I like that one of the main characters in this comic is a female football player, even though I generally disapprove of the sport of American football.

(THE AUTUMNLANDS:) TOOTH AND CLAW #1 (Image, 2014) – A-. This issue was printed under the title “Tooth and Claw,” but with issue 2 the title changed to “The Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw” for copyright reasons, and future reprints of issue 1 will carry that title. I’d gotten used to thinking of it as Tooth and Claw, but I may have to start thinking of it as Autumnlands. That title sounds stupid to me, but Kurt seems to have adopted it. Anyway. I hesitated to read this when it came out because early reviews, as well as Kurt’s own posts about it, emphasized its grim, gritty, violent nature. There is a lot of that, but what sticks out to me most about this comic is the depth of its worldbuilding and the brilliance of its character design. Benjamin Dewey, whose work I have not seen before, is as much the star of this show as Kurt is. Of all Kurt’s previous works (besides The Wizard’s Tale, which I haven’t read), this reminds me most of Arrowsmith, both because of the milieu and because of the quality of the artwork and the worldbuilding. This is a very promising series.

100TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL: THE AVENGERS 1 (Marvel, 2014) – A-. The story here is only mildly intriguing. It’s interesting more for its glimpses of the future of the Marvel universe than for its actual content. That’s not the point of this comic, though – the point of this comic is James Stokoe’s artwork. He may be the best draftsman currently working in American comic books, though as I have noted before, his style is not really suited for monthly comics, and this is just a one-shot. I think the most memorable single image here is the skyscraper version of Iron Man, but this issue is full of gorgeous designs. I have his graphic novel Orc Stain, but have been reluctant to read it because it’s going to take me forever.

WONDER WOMAN #17 (DC, 2013) – D+/C-. The only thing that makes this comic interesting to me is Cliff Chiang’s artwork, and he’s absent this issue. I really have little interest in the story of this series. My primary objection to Azzarello’s Wonder Woman is that it’s false advertising – it claims to be Wonder Woman but has nothing to do with any other version of the character. But even on its own merits, Azzarello’s story is less interesting to me than other revivals of Greek mythology (e.g. Perez’s Wonder Woman or Age of Bronze). This material has been rehashed so many times already and Azzarello adds little to it that’s original.

SEX CRIMINALS #9 (Image, 2014) – A+. This is such an important comic, and I’m heavily tempted to teach it next semester instead of Saga, although I’m kind of worried about the awkwardness it would create – it would either work brilliantly or not at all. The main purpose of this issue is to introduce a new character, Jasmine St. Cocaine/Ana Kincaid, a stripper turned Ivy League professor. The notion of a positive portrayal of a stripper is not new in comics – it was the entire premise of Omaha the Cat Dancer, a personal favorite of mine. Whereas in Omaha the sex industry tended to be portrayed in a positive light, this issue is closer to standard stereotypes about sex work. But I think this is consistent with Sex Criminals’s generalized critique of our society’s hang-ups about sex. The point is not to criticize strippers or strip clubs, but to criticize a society in which strip clubs are the only permitted outlet for certain types of desires. There is lots of other fantastic stuff here, including the obvious parody of The Wicked + The Divine. The only thing that rang false is that Ana Kincaid is a professor of horology, which, in real life, is not an academic field; the term “horology” means the craft of clock design. Also, I notice how professors in popular culture are always tenured professors at Ivy League schools, when in real life, such people are the 1% of the academic profession.

BITCH PLANET #1 (Image, 2014) – A. This comic made a lot more sense to me after I read the included essay by Danielle Henderson. KSDC’s lack of clarity may be her primary fault as a writer; it was certainly what ruined Pretty Deadly for me. Thanks to Henderson’s explanation, though, this story makes perfect sense and it’s a powerful critique of misogyny in American society, making it exactly the kind of comic we need right now. It makes a simple but focused and passionate argument that our society’s gender norms are a tool of oppression. There has also been some discussion of this issue’s alleged protagonist shift. I don’t know that KSDC ever explicitly claimed that Marian Collins was the protagonist, but she certainly knew readers would make the automatic assumption that the white woman was the main character. By focusing primarily on Marian and how she got to Bitch Planet, she encourages that assumption only to subsequently frustrate it. And by doing that, she makes this story about race as well as gender – she forces us to realize why we (or at least I) automatically misjudged who the protagonist was. It’s a nice trick. This is going to be a very important comic, perhaps as much so as Sex Criminals.

GOTHAM ACADEMY #3 (DC, 2014) – A-. I think the lustre of this series may be wearing off a bit, but it remains the best DC comic of the New 52 era. So far, the plot involving Millie Jane Cobblepot has been less interesting than the characterization, but the plot is actually getting kind of exciting. It’s a standard haunted-house mystery but it’s executed effectively. Maps Mizoguchi, of course, continues to steal the show. I’d kind of like to see a Gotham Academy/Lumberjanes crossover.

ROCKET RACCOON #6 (Marvel, 2014) – B+. This is a B+ because I had trouble remembering anything about it two weeks later, unlike the previous issue of this series, which was unforgettable. It’s too bad that Jake Parker has replaced Skottie Young as the artist, but it’s not that big of a shift; Parker has the same sort of sensibility, and his work has the same combination of cuteness and bizarreness that I love about Skottie’s art. The main appeal of this issue is that it guest-stars Cosmo, the forgotten third member of the Rocket-Groot partnership. Cosmo is sort of a one-joke character and I don’t think he would be able to sustain more than one story. But it was nice seeing him again, and the twist ending to this issue is hilarious, reminding us that despite his great intelligence, Cosmo is still a dog. The actual plot, with the giant Transformer-esque robots, is also cute, but it’s no coincidence that Brute rhymes with Groot because they’re effectively the same character.

ASTRO CITY #18 (DC, 2014) – A. This is the best Green Arrow/Black Canary story in the last 20 years. Seriously, that’s exactly what it is. Just as the Starbright story was an expansion of an unpublished Superboy story, this issue could have been published as an Elseworlds story about Ollie and Dinah with minor changes to the plot. The only difference, although it is a big one, is that Quarrel is the daughter of a villain rather than a heroine. However, this issue does give us something that DC comics, by their very nature, never can: it depicts superheroes getting old. The whole point here is that Crackerjack and Quarrel are pushing fifty, their bodies are starting to break down from all the punishment they’ve taken, and Quarrel is wondering what’s next. Kurt has done one previous Astro City story about a superhero approaching retirement, in issues 11 and 12 of the first ongoing series, but in that story, Jack-in-the-Box was a man in his physical prime who retired due to impending fatherhood. The circumstances in this story are completely different, and I wonder if the difference here reflects Kurt’s age at the time of each story. Either way, it’ll be fascinating to see where he goes with this. Also, I may have been overemphasizing Quarrel’s similarity to Black Canary above, because she’s a distincive and intriguing character in her own right. She’s one of Kurt’s favorite Astro City characters if I recall correctly, and it’s nice to finally get to see inside her head.

PRINCESS UGG #6 (Oni, 2014) – A-. This is the most underrated comic book of 2014. No one seems to be reading it, and everyone should be. I expect it to do extremely well as a collected edition, though. In this issue, Ulga gets to be an awesome kick-ass action girl, but we also see that she’s starting to learn from her experiences. Her speech about civilization proves that she realizes the importance of trusting other people for a change. Meanwhile, Julifer continues to be a truly execrable character. I had been expecting that she would be redeemed somehow, but now I’m not sure that’s possible.

LITTLE NEMO: RETURN TO SLUMBERLAND #2 (IDW, 2014) – A+. I hesitated to read this because the art is just too good – I was afraid it would take me forever to read it because I would feel obliged to scrutinize every little detail in each of Gabriel Rodriguez’s panels. And that did happen, sort of, but it was worth reading anyway. This issue is not only beautifully drawn but also brilliantly written. Eric Shanower strikes a perfect balance between comedy and deadpan-ness, if that’s a word. The bizarre stuff that happens in Slumberland is impossible to take seriously, and yet the characters do take it seriously. There is no suggestion that this is all a joke, and in that way, this comic is very faithful to the sensibility of the original strip. In terms of what actually happens this issue, we meet Flip, who is as much of a con man as ever, and we get to see the Slumberland gardens. Maybe the highlight of the issue is the panel where the Princess shows Nemo her prize specimen of a hiplunitatrim specrobulosis.

THE AUTUMNLANDS: TOOTH AND CLAW #2 (Image, 2014) – A-. The big revelation this issue was not a surprise to me; it was pretty obvious that the Great Champion must be more than just another animal. His appearance does suggest that there is more going on in this world than we are privy to. On an unrelated point, it seems like we’re expected to sympathize with Gharta and the dog protagonist, since we’re seeing the story through their eyes. Conversely, the buffalo people are portrayed as violent, dangerous savages. And yet we know that the wizards are cruel tyrants who are oppressing the buffalo people, and our sympathies really ought to be with the latter. I assume Kurt is doing this for a reason, but it’s kind of weird.

ANGELA: ASGARD’S ASSASSIN #1 (Marvel, 2015) – C+. There was nothing here that really stuck out to me. I don’t think Angela is a particularly exciting character, and this issue did nothing to arouse my interest in her. I’m going to stay with this series because I have faith in Kieron Gillen’s writing, but I expected better.

AVENGERS ACADEMY #10 (Marvel, 2011) – B+. Like many issues of this series, this issue is heartbreaking. The primary focus here is on Hazmat and Veil, perhaps the most sympathetic characters in the series. (Somehow I always think of the characters in this series by their codenames – I don’t even know their real first names.) Thanks to a visit from Leech, Hazmat gets to take off her containment suit and visit her family, but they react with shock rather than happiness, and it’s easy to understand why. Meanwhile, Veil gets the idea that she needs to do something awesome in order to avoid being expelled, so she goes and tries to resurrect Janet van Dyne, with a predictable lack of succss. Perhaps the main theme in this issue is teenagers doing stupid things despite good intentions – in fact, that might be the main theme of this entire series.

DONALD DUCK #274 (Gladstone, 1989) – B+. The first story in this issue is a Barks ten-pager unimaginatively titled “The Swimming Pool.” This story confirms something that’s implied by a number of other Barks stories: that the ordinary citizens of Duckburg are a bunch of selfish, entitled jerks. When Donald buys a beautiful new swimming pool, he never gets to use it because his neighbors monopolize it. And then when some kids get injured while using it, their parents demand that Donald shut the pool down unless he hires a lifeguard. Seriously, what chutzpah. This issue also includes a Gutenberghaus story about water skiing, which is surprisingly good, and a series of daily strips by Bob Karp and Al Taliaferro. The latter is formatted to look like a continuing story, but it’s really just a series of gags.

HAWKEYE #20 (Marvel, 2014) – A+. Somehow I forgot to read this when it came out. In this issue Kate gets her ass kicked repeatedly, which is not really anything new, but at least she manages to accomplish something – she figures out what her dad’s been up to, and decides to do something about him. I can’t wait to see what happens to her next. Matt Fraction’s dialogue in this issue is as fantastic as usual.

SAVAGE DRAGON #200 (Image, 2014) – A. With this issue, Erik reaches a milestone previously only achieved by Cerebus, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this series ultimately reaches a higher issue number than Cerebus did. Erik has managed to retain his interest in this series for over twenty years, largely by constantly changing things and experimenting with new ideas, and I expect this process will continue. With regard to the issue itself, this issue features perhaps the single most shocking scene in the entire run of this series, and that’s saying a lot. Malcolm’s threesome with Angel and Maxine is rather disturbing given that he and Angel were raised as siblings, and it’s also an unabashed male power fantasy. Then again, that’s nothing new considering that this entire series is an unabashed male power fantasy, and the scene is handled in a funny and reasonably tasteful way. Besides all that, there’s a ton of other good stuff in this issue. I don’t always approve of Erik’s tendency to include backup material by lesser artists, but he had a hand in most of the stories here, and collectively, they do an effective job of arousing nostalgia for earlier periods of this series. It was surprisingly touching to see the alternate Angel and the child version of Malcolm again. The only weak link here is the Vanguard story, which is typical crap.

ALL-STAR COMICS #67 (DC, 1977) – B+. I’ve generally been disappointed in this series because it’s worse than Paul Levitz’s Huntress backups in Wonder Woman, but it’s still better than most DC comics from this period. Power Girl is appropriately named; she was DC’s most physically powerful and energetic superhero at the time, and in this issue she gets the opportunity to kick some ass. I don’t care as much about the other characters, but there is a somewhat interesting plot here, in which the JSA are targeted by police commissioner Bruce Wayne.

AVENGERS ACADEMY #11 (Marvel, 2011) – C+/B-. This is mostly setup for the Korvac story arc that concludes (or continues, I forget which) in the next issue. There’s too much Michael and Carina here, and not enough Avengers Academy. I still think these characters should have been laid to rest after the original Korvac Saga. The idea of the kid Avengers getting put into adult bodies is not that exciting either –this series sometimes put too much emphasis on the future of these characters at the expense of their present.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #5 (Marvel, 2012) – A-. I’m upgrading this from a B+ now that I know a little bit more about the history that this story is based on. It took me a few pages to figure out what was going on here, but eventually it became clear that this story takes place while Carol is traveling back in time to the ‘50s or ‘60s, and involves Helen Cobb, the fictional jet pilot from earlier issues. It turns out Helen Cobb is based on (among others) Jerrie Cobb, a real aspiring astronaut who was denied entry to the Apollo program due to institutionalized sexism. Kelly’s use of this piece of history is very appropriate to the themes of this series. This story is generally quite effective, with some nice Emma Rios artwork, and the moment where Helen learns of the cancellation of her space program is even more effective now that I know it’s based on something that really happened.

DETECTIVE COMICS #852 (DC, 2009) – B/B+. This issue almost makes me care about Hush, who I consider perhaps the worst Batman villain ever. In this issue, Hush attempts suicide but is saved by people who mistake him for Bruce Wayne, and he realizes that his resemblance to Bruce can be exploited. But of course this scheme only works for a little while, until he meets people who actually know Bruce. It’s a well-plotted story and, as mentioned, it shows that this awful creation of an awful writer is not totally devoid of potential. This issue also leads in to Batman #685, which I reviewed on this blog last year.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #22 (IDW, 2014) – B-. This is not a spectacular pony story, but it presents a satisfying and logical conclusion to the jewel theft mystery. And of course there’s a moral here about how people deserve the chance for redemption – which explains why this story guest-stars Babs Seed as well as Trixie. I’m glad to see that the claims about Ted Anderson’s firing appear to have been false; he’s certainly not the best MLP writer, but he didn’t deserve to get fired over absolutely nothing.

LITTLE NEMO IN SLUMBERLAND #3 (IDW, 2014) – A+. This is one of the most visually impressive single issues of 2014 because of the range of visual influences it integrates. In this issue, Nemo and Flip explore the Tesselated Tower, which starts out as an obvious homage to M.C. Escher. But then they enter an oddly symmetrical room, and the next six pages are an extended variation on Gustave Verbeek’s Upside Downs. In each of these three two-page spreads, the right-hand page is the same as the left-hand page but upside down, and as with Verbeek’s comics, the story is designed to make sense when read in either direction. After that, Nemo and Flip pass through a room where the rules of perspective stop applying, and then they go through a mousehole into a mushroom patch full of creatures obviously inspired by Dr. Seuss. So Gabriel Rodriguez draws upon four of the great popular artists of the 20th century, the fourth being McCay himself, in the space of one issue. It’s an impressive tour de force, and Eric deserves equal credit for creating a narrative framework in which this sort of thing makes sense (to the extent that anything in Slumberland makes sense).

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #12 (IDW, 2014) – C+. I was looking forward to this issue because Pinkie Pie is my favorite pony, but for me, this story crossed the line between cute and horrifying. The Phenomnomenons sellers are perhaps even creepier than Willy Wonka. And I’m fascinated by Pinkie Pie’s ability to break the laws of physics and the boundaries of genre, but in this issue, she does this to an excessive extent. This sort of thing is better in moderation – which I guess means this issue itself demonstrates its own message (since the story is all about Pinkie trying to eat in moderation), but I don’t know if this was necessarily intentional on Kesel and Hickey’s part.

SAVAGE DRAGON #92 (Image, 2001) – C-. This issue took about five minutes to read because it was just a series of fight scenes, with very little narrative content. This issue is from the “Savage World” period, when Erik was engaging in a very conscious homage to Kirby, but this particular issue is more like an early Image comic. There’s very little narrative content here.

IMAGE FIRSTS: SHUTTER #1 (Image, 2014) – B+. I ordered this on Tof Eklund’s recommendation. He said it was his third favorite comic right now after Saga and Lumberjanes, which are also my top two. I’m not prepared to rate it that highly, but it is an intriguing comic. It takes place in a fascinating alternate universe filled with all sorts of bizarre creatures and phenomena – I’m seeing some resemblance to Saga here, though the visual aesthetic is not the same. I want to read more of this series, and I’m glad that Joe Keatinge is continuing to fulfill the potential he demonstrated as the writer of Glory.

DETECTIVE COMICS #351 (DC, 1966) – B-. The Batman story in this issue is kind of dumb. It has a complicated plot in which Bruce and Dick conspire to hide their secret identities from Aunt Harriet after she discovers the Batcave entrance, while at the same time, the Cluemaster, who makes his debut in this issue, is also trying to unmask Batman and Robin. The Cluemaster is more interesting in his role as Spoiler’s father than in his own right, and this issue fails to effectively distinguish him from the Riddler. The Elongated Man backup story is much better. Both these stories are drawn by Carmine Infantino, but in the Batman story, I could hardly detect his style at all, while the Elongated Man story is full of his trademark bizarre page compositions.

INVINCIBLE #31 (Image, 2006) – A-. This is a rather low-key issue, but that in itself is nice compared to current issues of the series, which have proceeded at such a breakneck pace that the reader never gets a chance to pause for breath. As indicated by the cover, the main focus in this issue is on the love triangle between Mark, Eve and Amber. But there’s also some other cool stuff here, including a cute scene with baby Oliver and Mark’s mom, and a battle in which Mark defeats a mind-controlling villain by dropping a giant rock on him from above.

WHAT IF? #17 (Marvel, 1979) – F. Marvel should not have allowed this issue out the door. It consists of three separate stories on the theme of “What If Ghost Rider, Spider-Woman and Captain Marvel Were Villains?” However, each of these stories is very closely based on a specific old story (respectively, Marvel Spotlight #5, Marvel Spotlight #32, and Marvel Super-Heroes #12 and #13). None of the stories makes any sense at all unless the reader is intimately familiar with the story it’s based on. I have not read any of these previous stories, so I had no idea what was going on in any of the three stories in this issue, and the writer, Steven Grant, failed to provide enough background information to make any of them understandable. For example, in the Spider-Woman story, Jessica Drew is referred to as “Arachne” and she doesn’t seem to know that her name is Jessica Drew. I have no idea why not. So this issue is a flagrant violation of the “every comic is someone’s first comic” principle. And even if I had understood any of these stories, I wouldn’t have enjoyed them because they’re neither well-written nor well-drawn.

MARVEL SUPER-HEROES #15 (Marvel, 1968) – B+. I bought this at Dragon*Con in 2012, but never got around to reading it because my copy is in bad condition, and because it contains some reprints that looked pretty bad to me. This issue starts off with a new Goodwin/Colan story starring Medusa. This story is quite effective; it displays both Medusa’s power and her emotional depth. Of the reprints, the best are a Black Knight story by the forgotten genius Joe Maneely, and a Bill Everett story about Namor’s childhood. At this point, however, the issue takes a downturn with a Black Marvel reprint which is not only very poorly crafted, but also full of racist depictions of Native Americans. Finally, there’s a ‘50s Captain America reprint which includes some nice John Romita artwork, but also has a very disturbing tone of anti-Communist propaganda. Like, there’s a scene where a mind-controlled Cap says, among other things, that the Russians aren’t so bad, and the implication is that he would never say such a thing if he was in his right mind.

THOR #144 (Marvel, 1967) – A+. This is a rare case where the Thor story is better than the Tales of Asgard story. In the former, Thor and Odin battle the three Enchanters, Forsung, Brona, and Magnir. These are not particularly effective or exciting villains, but the action scenes in this issue are so powerful and impressive that I don’t care about the intrinsic boringness of the villains. I need to start collecting Kirby’s Thor more heavily.

USAGI YOJIMBO: SENSO #4 (Dark Horse, 2014) – B+/A-. I didn’t read this immediately because I honestly felt like the series was getting boring; it was just one fight with Martians after another. And this issue kind of follows that pattern, though not quite – half of it is devoted to a very touching conversation between Usagi and Tomoe. But I’m still kind of looking forward to the end of this series, because I’d rather be reading more issues of the regular Usagi title.

USAGI YOJIMBO: SENSO #5 (Dark Horse, 2014) – A-. This issue is memorable mostly because of the last page, which came as a complete shock to me, but which makes perfect sense in context. In a way, this whole series is an homage to one type of Japanese popular culture, the kaiju film. So it makes sense that the series is going to conclude with an homage to a different Japanese popular culture trope, the giant robotic battlesuit. I am a little confused by the phrase “Usagi Gundam” because I thought that Gundam was a specific franchise, not a generic term for mobile battlesuits.

POWER COMPANY #15 (DC, 2003) – B+/A-. This was the only issue of this series that I hadn’t read, but it’s a major departure from the rest of the series. This issue is a dePaul solo story which guest-stars Batman. We’re initially led to think that Batman is trying to stop dePaul from assassinating an African politician, but it turns out that he’s really trying to trick Batman into helping him save the politician’s kidnapped granddaughter. The obvious question arises as to why dePaul didn’t just tell Batman what was going on, but Kurt provides a sort of adequate explanation for this. The real attraction of this issue, though, is the artwork. It’s a significant departure from Tom Grummett’s usual style, and it may be one of the strongest artistic performances of his career. This issue is a deliberate homage to Goodwin and Simonson’s Manhunter, both because of the character involved and because of the manga-influenced, dark, gritty visual style. The names Goodwin and Simonson even appear on a building at the start of the issue. Grummett turns out to be surprisingly good at drawing in this style.

HELLBOY AND THE B.P.R.D.: 1952 #1 (Dark Horse, 2014) – C+/B-. I was interested in this because it seems like a good jumping-on point for Hellboy, but I didn’t like it that much. Hellboy himself is a fascinating character, but I have little interest in this miniseries’ plot, and the art is obviously not as good as if Mignola were drawing it himself. These Hellboyverse stories have never lived up to my expectations. I don’t know if I want to bother with the next issue of this miniseries.

GIVE ME LIBERTY #3 (Dark Horse, 1990) – A-. This is the first Frank Miller comic I’ve read in years. I obviously have no patience for his recent work and would not want to give him any of my disposable income, but the early 1990s were perhaps the last period when he was still capable of producing original and readable work (with the caveat that I’ve never read Sin City and I don’t really want to). This comic is difficult to evaluate without having read the previous two issues, but it seems quite powerful. It has a deeply grim, dystopian atmosphere which is somehow even creepier thanks to Dave Gibbons’s bright, colorful art. Martha herself spends most of the issue in a mind-controlled state, but she seems like a deeply intriguing protagonist, of a type that was very uncommon at the time. I’m not exactly looking forward to reading the rest of this series, given its grim tone, but I suspect it is going to get a bit more upbeat – it seems like this is a comic about reviving the American dream, much like Judge Dredd: America, which will be reviewed below.

SUPERBOY #50 (DC, 1998) – B+. The main effect this comic had on me was to make me want to read more Kamandi. It’s a very faithful and literal adaptation of Kirby’s original, only with Superboy plus a less bizarre prose style.But Kesel and Grummett are perhaps the best creators in the industry at imitating Kirby’s late style.

ADVENTURE COMICS #323 (DC, 1964) – B. This is “The Eight Impossible Missions,” an early Legion story that I’ve heard of but have never read. As with most early Legion stories, this story is bizarre, random, and silly, but I wouldn’t rank it alongside the better pre-Shooter Legion stories like “The Legionnaire Who Killed” or “The Super-Sacrifice of the Legionnaires.” Those stories have an emotional resonance that is absent from this one.

SHUTTER #7 (Image, 2014) – B+. The most impressive thing here is Leila del Duca’s art. In this issue, the protagonist battles a giant skull-headed dragon that’s just shockingly huge and bizarre. However, the story is a bit difficult to follow without having read the previous issues. This is certainly not the third best current ongoing series in my opinion, though it’s not bad.

LUMBERJANES #9 (Boom!, 2014) – B+/A-. This series was originally supposed to end with issue 8, and I assume this issue was thrown together pretty quickly while they were working on the next ongoing story. It’s quite insubstantial in comparison with each of the last few issues – it’s just a series of little vignettes that don’t amount to much. Easily the best moment in this series is Riley’s story, which reveals that despite her confidence and fearlessness, there is one thing that worries her: being alone. Maybe my biggest issue with this series, though, is that besides Riley, the characters tend to blur together. Jo and Molly, in particular, are hard to tell apart.

MS. MARVEL #10 (Marvel, 2015) – A+. Besides Hawkeye, this is easily the best current title from either of the Big Two. This issue is powerful and inspiring, and it makes me proud of Kamala Khan in the same way I used to be proud of the Legion. She is just such an amazing heroine, not just because of her courage but also because of her positive outlook. Her speech at the beginning of the issue is a passionate defense of her generation, and I think it’s also an effective response to a popular narrative that characterizes today’s teenagers as apathetic brats (of course, this is hardly a new narrative). And this issue even has Lockjaw in it too. I think it’s the best comic book of the current two-week period.

MANIFEST DESTINY #12 (Image, 2014) – A-. I was a bit disappointed in this issue because I was hoping for a more sustained depiction of the Native Americans of this alternate reality. The scenes with the Otoe people only takes up about half the issue, though there’s nothing particularly wrong with the other half. However, these scenes are pretty interesting, and it seems like Dingess and Roberts made a genuine effort to depict Otoe people in a historically sensitive way. The other fascinating thing here is the flashback to Lewis’s past. I suppose I should be a little disturbed that Lewis’s bisexuality is treated as a bit of a joke, but he has seemed like kind of a queer character, in a broad sense, throughout this series. And the revelation that he’s a bisexual swinger just intensifies this aspect of his character. Apparently there is some historical basis for this scene; Lewis is often thought to have been gay because he never married.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #26 (IDW, 2014) – A-. This is still not my favorite Cook/Price MLP story, and I’m much more excited about next issue’s Everfree Forest story. And while this issue is a satisfying conclusion to the Western two-parter, I feel like the Mane Six’s actions in this story are a bit too deceptive and underhanded. But the level of craftsmanship is still very high, and Katie and Andy remain the top creative team in all-ages comics.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #10 (Marvel, 2015) – A+. This is perhaps the best issue of this series yet. It focuses on Carol’s supporting cast rather than Carol herself, but reveals how Carol’s influence has made her friends stronger. Carol’s friends save the day without her help, but they couldn’t have done it if Carol hadn’t inspired them. My favorite scene here was the one with Lieutenant Trouble, but the whole issue was fun. The other especially awesome thing here is the scene where the rats escape the panel borders. David Lopez draws some adorable rats.

MULTIVERSITY: THUNDERWORLD #1 (Marvel, 2015) – A+. This is the best Grant Morrison comic I’ve read in years. His career has gone into a steep decline, but this comic shows that he’s still got it. He understands the appeal of the original Binder-Beck Captain Marvel stories – their wholesome, positive humor – and he recaptures their aesthetic beautifully. Cameron Stewart’s artwork is perfect for this story; it has the same bright, primary-colored sensibility of C.C. Beck’s art. I wish they would fire Grant from all his other assignments and make him write Captain Marvel exclusively.

CAPTURE CREATURES #2 (Boom!, 2014) – B+. Boom! is currently producing the best original all-ages comics in the industry, not that they have much competition (I said “original” to exclude IDW). This series is not on the same level as Lumberjanes, and it has a certain lack of density; it took me just a few minutes to read this issue. But the writing and artwork are adorable and endearing, and Becky Dreistadt’s visual creativity is impressive. The various capture creatures in this issue all look intriguingly different. I certainly plan to continue reading this series.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #6 (Image, 2014) – A. This may be the fourth best monthly comic right now after Saga, Lumberjanes and Sex Criminals. This issue gives us a deeper insight into Laura’s character than we’ve had before – in earlier issues, she was overshadowed by Lucifer and other flashier characters. I actually care about her now, especially after the imaginary scene with her mother. I’m getting exhausted and I can’t think of anything else intelligent to say, so let’s just move on.

SHE-HULK #11 (Marvel, 2015) – B+. There’s not enough plot here. I’m concerned about whether Charles Soule can resolve all the outstanding plot threads in just one more issue. At this point, we still have no idea why people who investigate the Blue File are being targeted, and the revelation that “it was Nightwatch all along” doesn’t clarify anything. This issue is mostly a long fight scene, though that fight scene is very well-executed. I do wish that Jen had done a better job of responding to Titania’s criticisms of the legal profession. She could have said, well, no, lawyers aren’t just takers, they also defend people’s rights, and civil society couldn’t function without them.

Q2: THE RETURN OF QUANTUM AND WOODY #1 (Valiant, 2014) – C+/B-. This issue is confusing on several levels. Number one, the plot is seriously lacking in clarity. it takes place many years after the original Q&W series, and it’s clear that since the end of that series, a lot of stuff has happened that the reader doesn’t know about. There are all kinds of new characters who aren’t given a proper introduction. Number two, this issue seems radically different in tone from the original series – it’s rather dark and grim and hardly funny at all. I don’t know what Christopher Priest is up to here.

Q2: THE RETURN OF QUANTUM AND WOODY #2 (Valiant, 2014) – C+. This issue clarifies things a little bit, but not enough. Also, the business with the intersexed kid is really weird and I think it could have been handled more tastefully. I suspect Priest is rather rusty after having been out of the industry for about ten years.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #3 (DC, 1990) – B/B+. I was just saying on Facebook that I don’t think I’ll ever be as passionate a fan of anything else as I was of the Legion. For a big chunk of my adolescence and my adult life, the Legion was my favorite comic by far; it was the first comic I’d read every week and I’d feel like a trip to the comic store was incomplete without it. I cared more about the Legionnaires The Legion even informed my general worldview, making me seek out large and diverse groups of friends and colleagues. So imagine my frustration when DC unceremoniously cancelled my favorite comic, not once but twice. Not only that, they’ve made no attempt to exploit its incredible potential for transmedia storytelling or for attracting non-traditional audiences. It seemed like kids were enjoying the Legion cartoon, and yet they cancelled it after two seasons and never did anything with it. For the sort of things I love about the Legion – large and diverse casts, friendship, excitement, optimism – I have to look to other franchises, like Avatar: The Last Airbender and My Little Pony.

The point of all this is to help explain my reaction to this comic. Back when the Legion was still regularly published, I hated v4 because it seemed like a betrayal of the Legion’s optimistic, utopian outlook. It’s the grimmest Legion comic ever, by far. As an example of that, in this issue Blok, the kindest, most well-intentioned Legionnaire of all, is murdered by Roxxas, and his corpse is mailed to Garth Ranzz along with a mocking letter. But there’s still an element of optimism to this story – the overarching story arc here is that the reformed Legion is trying to restore hope to a devastated galaxy. And at this point, even a grim, depressing Legion comic is better than none at all. The co-writers of this comic, Tom and Mary Bierbaum, certainly have their faults – they’re fans at heart and this series is really just an extended work of fan fiction. But at least they understand and sympathize with the basic idea of the franchise (though I don’t know if this is true of their other co-writer, Keith Giffen), and this cannot be said of anyone at DC today.

KING-SIZE SPIDER-MAN SUMMER SPECIAL #1 (Marvel, 2008) – A-. I bought this because it includes two stories by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover. The first of these is not a Spider-Man story at all; it stars five Marvel heroines along with Mary Jane and Millie the Model. This is an incredibly fun piece of work which could easily have appeared in the Girl Comics miniseries, but is probably better than anything in that series. Like all of Paul and Colleen’s work, it has a deeply fun, silly, happy sensibility, and while none of the characters get much screen time, they’re all clearly distinguished from each other. And of course this story is just full of hilarious dialogue and adorable art. Colleen is widely recognized as an incredible talent, but I think Paul might be the most underrated writer in the industry. The other material in this issue is much worse. The other Tobin/Coover story is a silly two-pager. Then there’s a Spider-Man/Falcon team-up by Giffen and Rick Burchett, which probably originated as an inventory story, and the last story is by Chris Giarrusso, who I can’t stand.

ROCKET SALVAGE #1 (Archaia, 2014) – A-. Boom is publishing so many fascinating comics that I really can’t keep up with them all, but this comic is worth continuing with. The story (about a former racing driver who is now raising two clone children) is original and compelling, but the real attraction here is Bachan’s artwork. This artist is from Mexico but now works in the U.S. market due to the collapse of the Mexican domestic industry. I wish he were better at drawing aliens, but his color work is amazing (I should also credit Jeremy Lawson for that) and his crowd scenes and compositions are impressive. I’m looking forward to more of this.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #13 (DC, 1991) – B+. This issue has a much more upbeat tone than #3, reviewed above. At this point, the galaxy is still in an absolute shambles, but “the Legion is officially back,” and there’s a sense that things are getting better. (As the rest of this volume demonstrated, there was little reason for such optimism, but oh well.) There are also some fantastic individual scenes here, including the interactions between Kent Shakespeare and little Ivy, and Rokk’s reconciliation with Vi.

SAVAGE DRAGON #5 (Image, 1993) – C. At this very early point, Erik was more influenced by McFarlane than by Kirby, and he was still finding his voice. This issue is mostly just plot and fight scenes; the only truly exciting thing here is the introduction of the members of Freak Force.

TEEN DOG #4 (Boom, 2014) – B+. This is the Halloween issue. Otherwise, it’s much like every other issue. I previously compared this series to Scott Pilgrim, and another reason this comparison is valid is because of its somewhat nostalgic tone. For example, in this issue Teen Dog and Mariella go to a video arcade and play ‘80s games. This series is very much influenced by the Internet aesthetic, but it seems to be taking place in a pre-Internet age.

THEY’RE NOT LIKE US #1 (Image, 2014) – B/B-. I love Simon Gane’s artwork in this issue. He uses a Clear Line style of coloring, but his linework is very shaky and constantly interrupted. The artist he reminds me of the most is Gabrielle Bell, who is an unusual influence for a superhero cartoonist. Sadly, the story is not up to the level of the artwork. I feel like I’ve read this story before, when it was called X-Men. The only twist here is that the character who we think is Professor X turns out to actually be Magneto. I might give this comic a couple more issues to see if it gets any more exciting.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #124 (DC, 2000) – B-. “Widening Rifts, Part One” is pretty depressing. It’s a series of vignettes in which the Legion attempt to help Earth recover from the Blight, while Earth is ungrateful for their help and blames them for causing the Blight in the first place. This is not the sort of mood that I look for in a Legion comic. Abnett and Lanning are widely acclaimed for their work on the Legion, but I never felt like they really understood the franchise – they wrote it as if it were just another superhero comic.

WHITE COMANCHE #1 (Last Gasp, 1977) – A+. This is a captivating work by Jaxon, the great historian of underground comics. It’s a somewhat fictionalized account of the life of Cynthia Ann Parker, the mother of the great Comanche chief Quanah. Jaxon seems to have done a lot of research, and his visual and textual depictions of the Comanche people are striking – he especially emphasizes the warriors’ buffalo horn headdresses, which seem to have been unique to the Comanche. But this isn’t just a dry historical account. Jaxon makes the Comanches relatable to the reader by having them speak modern idiomatic English, just like Kage Baker does with the Chumash people in Sky Coyote. The other thing he emphasizes is the brutality of the frontier wars. The thing that sticks out to me the most about Jaxon’s work is his horrific depictions of violence, and there is a lot of that sort of thing here. I want to read more of his historical works if I can find them, and I’m also excited to see how his account of Comanche history compares to S.C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon, which I own but have not read yet.

AVENGERS #32 (Marvel, 1966) – A-. As with most Avengers stories, the main source of excitement here is the characterization. Prior to this issue, Hank has gotten permanently stuck in giant-size form, and this makes him predictably angsty and bitter, causing Cap to provoke a fight with him to cheer him up. This issue also introduces Bill Foster, later known as Black Goliath and Giant-Man. When he first appears on panel, the fact that he’s black is not even mentioned, and this initially seemed like a positive development – at the time, it would have been very unusual to introduce a black character without making a big deal out of his racial identity. So I was a little disappointed when his blackness turned out to be mandated by the plot, because it leads to his kidnapping by the Sons of the Serpent.

SWAMP THING #85 (DC, 1989) – B-. Having just received my copy of Jon B. Cooke’s Swampmen book, I wanted to read some Swamp Thing comics. But this is not really a Swamp Thing comic, despite the title. It’s part of Rick Veitch’s unfinished time travel storyline, and it takes place in the Wild West and guest-stars seemingly all of DC’s Western heroes. Swampy himself is imprisoned for most of the issue and only plays a limited role. There are some funny moments here involving Bat Lash, but other than that, this story is excessively convoluted and difficult.

JUDGE DREDD: AMERICA #1 (Fleetway/Quality, 1993) – A. “America” is considered one of the best Judge Dredd stories and an effective introduction to the character. This makes it appealing to me since I’m not familiar with Dredd at all. This first half of the story didn’t absolutely overwhelm me, but America Jara is an amazing character – the only problem with her is that her role as the living embodiment of the American Dream tends to overshadow her individual personality. And the story and artwork clearly demonstrate the oppressive, fascist nature of Mega-City One. Apparently this was a departure from the usual tone of the series; typically Judge Dredd stories were told from Dredd’s perspective, but this story presents him and the other Judges as the villains.

JUDGE DREDD: AMERICA #2 (Fleetway/Quality, 1993) – A+. This concluding chapter of “America” is maybe one of the best comics I’ve read this year. America’s death scene, in which she struggles toward the Statue of Liberty while holding an American flag, is a spectacular coup de theatre. It’s as powerful as any panel I’ve seen in a comic recently. As expected, the conclusion of the story is horribly depressing – America Jara dies and her democracy movement is brutally stamped out. But the story ends on a surprisingly positive note, as America’s creepy stalker friend Benny Beeny has his mind transplanted into her body (this sort of disturbing thing is standard in Dredd comics) and realizes that “you’ve got to keep fighting. You’ve got to keep looking for America.”

SWAMP THING #24 (DC, 1976) – This issue (along with the previous issue) is notable mostly for having the single ugliest logo in comic book history. It’s a horrendous eyesore with poor letter design and poor kerning, and it completely fails to suggest swamps or monsters. Surprisingly this logo was designed by John Workman, who should have known better. Anyway, the issue itself isn’t up to classic Swamp Thing standards, but it’s fun. The lack of Nestor Redondo artwork is disappointing, but Ernie Chua and Fred Carrillo are an unexpectedly effective combination. Gerry Conway’s plot is kind of silly, but he writes some cute dialogue between Alec and his new love interest Ruth. It turns out this was the last issue of the series, although this is not mentioned in the issue itself; perhaps it was cancelled because people were going blind from looking at the logo. (It was not cancelled due to the DC Implosion; that happened two years later.)

SUPERBOY #205 (DC, 1974) – B+. The Legion story in this issue is an early piece of work by Mike Grell. Its most memorable moment is when Superboy flies in through Lana’s window and says he’s here to give her a birthday present. It’s surprising that the Comics Code allowed that line to see print, though of course the birthday present turns out to be something benign. Other than that, this story is reasonably exciting and well-drawn, but a weird thing about it is the absence of Phantom Girl, even though Ultra Boy is one of the featured characters. Oh, also the plot involves a villain who wants to kidnap super-heroes for breeding purposes, which is a little disturbing. This issue also includes an old bad Superboy story from 1961, as well as reprints of Adventure Comics #350 and #351. (I already read Adventure Comics #350 a few days ago, but have not reviewed it here because after reading it, I discovered I already had a copy of it.) “The Outcast Super-Heroes” is a classic; it’s not written by Shooter and it lacks the teen angst and characterization that are typical of his work, but it’s laugh-out-loud funny. This is the one where Star Boy and Dream Girl rejoin the Legion under the cover identities of Sir Prize and Miss Terious. It might also be the only story that Ferro Lad appeared in between his introduction and his death.

JOURNEY: WARDRUMS #2 (Fantagraphics, 1990) – B+. Journey is a highly underrated work; it’s probably the best work of historical fiction in ‘80s comics, not that it has much competition. Bill Loebs depicted the American frontier with historical accuracy (or at least it seemed that way), excitement and humor. Much of Journey’s plot revolved around the War of 1812 and Tecumseh’s rebellion, and this issue takes place during Tecumseh’s siege of Fort Detroit. Tecumseh himself is a major character in the story. Wolverine MacAlistaire himself is largely absent; he spends the issue looking for some friends who turn out to have been either killed or displaced by the fighting. Unfortunately the cliffhanger at the end of this issue was never resolved; there were supposed to be six issues of this miniseries, but the other four were never published.

Reviews for 12-1-14

TRANSMETROPOLITAN #49 (DC, 2001) – B-. I read the first trade paperback of Transmet long ago, but never returned to it. Transmet is one of many Vertigo series from the 1990s and 2000s that I’m passively collecting – that is, I buy individual issues when I see them for less than a dollar. The trouble is that many of these series were not meant to be read on an issue-by-issue basis. This issue, for example, seems extremely lacking in narrative content, and doesn’t really make sense to a reader unfamiliar with the previous 48 issues. All I can tell for sure is that it has something to do with the aftermath of an election. The only thing that makes it interesting is the character of Spider Jerusalem, who, it now occurs to me, is effectively the same character as Uncle Duke from Doonesbury, since they were both based on the same man.

KEVIN KELLER #5 (Archie, 2012) – C+. I should not have paid full price for this. It’s an entertaining, but thoroughly pedestrian and forgettable, story in which Kevin Keller has car trouble and ends up using a bike instead. Kevin Keller bothers me because he seems to be a completely perfect character, without any distinguishing flaws.

WHAT IF? #41 (Marvel, 1983) – C-. “What If the Sub-Mariner Had Saved Atlantis from Its Destiny” is by the undistinguished creative team of Alan Zelenetz and Marc Silvestri. Marvel’s version of Atlantis is far less interesting than DC’s version: quality stories with Namor as the protagonist (rather than the guest-star or villain) are very rare, and most of them take place on the surface. So as the reader I didn’t have any reason to care about any of the characters or settings in this story, other than Namor himself. And to make things worse, the conclusion of the story reveals that the people of Atlantis are a bunch of jerks who don’t deserve a ruler like Namor, so I have even less reason to care what happens to them.

SUB-MARINER #36 (Marvel, 1971) – B+. This is a much better Namor story. Written by Roy Thomas, it depicts Namor’s wedding to Dorma, and ends with the revelation that the bride is not Dorma but Namor’s old enemy Llyra. The art is by Sal Buscema and Bernie Wrightson, whose styles did not really suit each other; the draftsmanship looks more like the latter than the former. Dorma was never a very exciting character and it’s hard to imagine that she and Namor would have been happy together, but the issue does create an effective mood of pomp and circumstance, and the inevitable complications and plot twists that happen to delay the wedding are fairly exciting.

L.E.G.I.O.N. ’89 #8 (DC, 1989) – B+/A-. This was one of the better non-Vertigo DCU comics at the time and was far better than the regular Legion title. It deserves more credit for its intelligent writing and its diverse cast of interesting characters. The star of this issue is Lydda Mallor – the distant ancestor of one of my favorite Legionnaires, Shadow Lass – and it ends with the revelation that in order to join the L.E.G.I.O.N., she had to abandon her newborn daughter. But there’s lots of other neat stuff here, particularly the scene where Strata explains that she’s just experienced gendering, the process in which Dryadians’ adolescent skin falls off and they learn what gender they are. This leads to the memorable line “Congratulations, I’m a girl!” Some cute gender politics here.

METAMORPHO #11 (DC, 1967) – A+. Besides maybe Metal Men, which I’m not too familiar with, this was the most Marvelesque DC comic of the silver age. Metamorpho was like the Thing or the Hulk in that he was a hideous freak and was constantly worried that his girlfriend didn’t love him. However, Metamorpho also never took itself as seriously as any Marvel comics did – the fact that one of the major characters was an unfrozen caveman is evidence of that. As another example, this issue has a rather silly plot involving some scientific terrorists who disguise themselves as aliens. It may not make sense but it’s fun, which is all that really matters. It’s too bad that this series was drawn by a boring artist, Sal Trapani; imagine what Ditko or Wood could have done with this material.

POWER PACK #1 (Marvel, 2000) – C+/B-. This is the first issue of the 2000 Power Pack miniseries, the only series featuring these characters that I haven’t read. It has some reasonably cute writing and artwork, and the creators, Shon Bury and Colleen Doran, are clearly familiar with the original series, since the plot revolves around the Snarks and Kymellians. But as I read this issue, I just kept thinking that this wasn’t my Power Pack. Also, I have never much liked Colleen Doran’s art. Her characters are so cute that they cross the line between cute and horrible.

FLASH GORDON #1 (Marvel, 1995) – A+. The A+ is entirely for the artwork – the story doesn’t really matter. This was the last major work of Al Williamson, one of the greatest draftsmen in the history of the comics medium. His mastery of anatomy and visual storytelling and his graphic creativity are evident in every panel. My only minor quibble is that all his cities look pretty similar. Reading this issue, I realized that the American comic book industry is really not designed to produce work of this level of visual richness. Probably the reason Al Williamson spent most of his late career as an inker was because he couldn’t make a living doing pencil work that satisfied his own standards. It’s not possible to draw with this level of craftsmanship and still maintain a monthly schedule. And this is partly because American cartoonists have to produce something like 264 pages a year (12 times 22) — whereas European cartoonists might only do a single 48-page album a year, which allows them to really pull out all the stops on each individual page. I do think, though, that this might be changing, as I suggested in my review of James Stokoe’s Godzilla.

UNCANNY X-MEN #111 (Marvel, 1978) – B+/A-. As with all the Claremont/Byrne X-Men issues I’ve reviewed for this blog, I know this issue quite well but it’s nice to revisit it. This is the one where Mesmero mind-controls the X-Men and forces them to work in a circus. Notable points about this issue are that 1) Claremont didn’t use Hank McCoy very often, so it’s nice to see an entire issue with him as the star, and 2) this issue provides some disturbing hints as to what Mesmero was doing with Jean while he had her under mind control.

TARZAN #242 (DC,1975) – A-. I don’t know why I haven’t been reading more of these Kubert Tarzans, because they’re awesome. This issue has Joe Kubert layouts with finishes by Franc Reyes. This is an effective combination because you get Joe’s masterful storytelling sensibility plus very tight and detailed pencils. On Rima the Jungle Girl, Joe collaborated with Nestor Redondo in a similar way, and the result was one of the best-drawn comic books of the ’70s. The possible weak link in this issue is the story, in which Tarzan rescues a Maya girl who’s about to be sacrificed. The issue is full of suggestions that the Maya are some sort of ancient and forgotten culture, and I kept thinking, well, that’s not true, there are millions of Mayas living in Mexico and Central America today. However, it turns out that these particular Mayas are a society that developed in isolation after their ancestors were shipwrecked. And the story at least gestures toward cultural relativism, because it turns out that the girl’s own father was responsible for sacrificing her, and that she feels guilty for not having performed her religious duty.

CRITTERS #11 (Fantagraphics, 1987) – B+. The Usagi story in this issue, “Homecoming, Part 2,” is drawn in a rather crude style but already shows evidence of Stan’s command of storytelling and pathos. In this story, Usagi and Kenichi save Jotaro from some crooks, then Usagi and Mariko have an emotional reunion. The reader isn’t supposed to know yet that Usagi is Jotaro’s father, but Usagi and Mariko’s obvious suppressed feelings for each other are poignant — especially in the silent sequence that ends the story, where they stare at their souvenirs of each other. The rest of the material in this issue is pretty bad, although there’s one story which is drawn by Ron Wilber in a somewhat unusual Moebius-influenced style.

INCREDIBLE HULK #112 (Marvel, 1968) – B-. The story here is not memorable. The premise is that the Hulk leads a rebellion against a villain called the Galaxy Master, and there’s also a female character who reminds me a bit of Jarella — in fact, this whole story seems like a prototype for Jarella’s first appearance. What makes this issue exciting is Herb Trimpe’s artwork. Herb was forced to spend most of his career working in a boring house style, but early on, he used an innovative style of page layout that was reminiscent of Neal Adams or BWS, but different from either. And he could draw pretty well — there’s one panel in this issue where the Galaxy Master turns himself into a really cool-looking creature with gray skin, hammers for hands, and a single giant eye.

THE FOX #1 (Archie, 2013) – C+. This was a deliberate throwback to earlier styles of superhero comics, so I might have expected to like it, but I didn’t. The main problem here is that the reader is already assumed to be familiar with the Fox and his supporting cast, and I’m not — I’ve read some of the ’80s issues of Blue Ribbon Comics that revived this character, but they were not particularly well written and I don’t remember them. The story begins in media res with no explanation of what’s going on or who the villain is, and even the recap page at the end of the comic doesn’t really help. As a result, nothing about this issue’s story really stuck in my memory. I had to flip through it to remind myself what it was about (photography, I think).

THE BOOKS OF MAGIC #3 (DC, 1994) – B+. I don’t remember much about this one either, and I’ve always found this series rather difficult — it’s full of weird plots that don’t make a whole lot of sense. I feel like I would need to reread it from the beginning to make sense of it. But I really like John Ney Rieber’s dialogue and characterization, and in this issue he makes the reader seriously afraid for Tim, who is being pursued by a manticore through some sort of magical school. Tim is a truly adorable kid — he’s like Harry Potter, but quieter.

HITMAN #48 – A-. This issue is very late in the run, so there’s a lot of continuity I’ve missed out on, but it still more or less makes sense (unlike Transmet #49, reviewed above). The focus this issue is on Noonan’s pub, which, here as elsewhere in Ennis’s work, is depicted as a welcoming center of community and friendship. Offhand I can’t think of any writer who loves British pub culture as much as Garth does. In this story, Noonan’s is under siege by a bunch of mobsters, and there’s a very inspiring moment where the bartender, who is Tommy Monaghan’s surrogate father, chooses to stand and fight rather than surrender Tommy. Also, it’s kind of cool that the bartender is Baytor, a horrible-looking demon thing (he previously appeared in The Demon and his name is a double entendre). Again, I don’t know why I’m not reading more of this series because it was really good.

MS. TREE #19 (Renegade, 1985) – B+. I’ve only read a couple issues of Ms. Tree in the period that I’ve been doing this blog, which is odd because I really like it, even though I typically have no interest in the hard-boiled detective genre. Ms. Tree might be the best example of how I’m willing to read anything as long as it’s in comics form. In this particular issue, Dan Green tries to kill Dominic Muerta in a fit of rage, and then Dominic Muerta does get killed, but Dan swears he didn’t do it. It’s a terrific setup and it makes me want to reread my copy of issue 20, since I don’t remember that issue at all.

YUMMY FUR #23 (Vortex, 1990) – A. I think I’ve read “The Playboy” before, but it was so long ago that I’d completely forgotten about it. Chester Brown’s autobiographical work is similar to that of his friend Joe Matt, but somehow he manages to make the reader feel sorry with him, whereas Joe Matt’s work has the exact opposite effect. This story suggests that Chester has a deeply unhealthy attitude toward sex, but that this is because of his repressive upbringing and his undiagnosed psychological issues, and that he’s not just an asshole. As a footnote, this issue suggests an explanation for the woods porn phenomenon described in the Sex Criminals letter column.

INCREDIBLE HULK #118 (Marvel, 1969) – A-. This is a better Hulk comic than the one reviewed above. It’s just your average Hulk/Namor fight — I can’t remember much of anything about the plot, i.e. the excuse for why they’re fighting — but Herb Trimpe’s art is spectacular. Most of the Marvel artists at this time tended to use horizontal page layouts, but Herb takes advantage of the vertical dimension of the page, using panels that span the entire height of each page. He does other neat tricks with page layout too, and his style of draftsmanship reminds me of early BWS. If Herb hadn’t been forced to waste his talent, he could have been one of the greats of the industry.

THE FLASH #66 (DC, 1992) – B-. This must have been one of Mark Waid’s crummier single issues of the Flash. It’s a team-up with Aquaman, except for almost the whole issue Aquaman is controlled by the Marine Marauder, a thoroughly boring villain. The only thing I like about this issue is that it contributes slightly to the development of Wally and Linda’s relationship.

REVIVAL #21 (Image, 2014) – A-. Another good issue. Part of this story takes place in Manhattan, and the thing I remember best about the issue is Dana’s shock at the sheer size of New York. This scene emphasizes the cultural difference between rural and urban America. There’s other good stuff here as well; in particular, the old Native American character is really cool.

STRANGE TALES #131 (Marvel, 1965) – B+. The Thing/Torch story in this issue is stupid in a fun way, or vice versa. The villain is the Mad Thinker, who is one of my favorite minor Marvel villains, but his plan in this issue is pretty ridiculous: he tries to kill the Thing and Torch with a giant robotized bouncing ball. Obviously it doesn’t work. In the Dr. Strange story, the artwork is far from Ditko’s best. The story takes place entirely in Hong Kong, where Dr. Strange is trying to escape from Baron Mordo, so there are few opportunities for Steve to draw bizarre otherworldly stuff. Also, this story seems a little bit Orientalist somehow.

OCCULT FILES OF DR. SPEKTOR #15 – A. This is one of the better issues of this series. “The Brain of Xorkon” is very similar to the Doctor Sun saga in Tomb of Dracula — Xorkon’s plans for Baron Tibor, the Dracula-esque vampire who guest-stars in this issue, are very similar to Doctor Sun’s plans for Dracula. Still, this story is more than just a rip-off because the characters of Dr. Spektor, Lakota and Baron Tibor are distinctive and interesting. Unlike Marv and Gene’s Dracula, Baron Tibor is a fully sympathetic character, and his death at the end of the issue feels tragic.

MS. TREE #32 (Renegade, 1986) – B+. This is the first part of a story called “Runaway II” — I guess there was a previous “Runaway” story in issues 16 and 17, which I don’t have. It’s about the murder of a woman who moved to Hollywood in hopes of stardom, and it doesn’t have quite the same level of dramatic tension as the Dominic Muerta story reviewed above, although it’s not actively bad. The letter column includes some angry responses to a homophobic letter by David Malcolm Porta.

DEMON KNIGHTS #2 (DC, 2011) – B+. This was one of the only good New 52 comics, but it’s only good, not great. The characters are all highly distinctive and interesting, and there are some funny scenes where they interact with villagers. The villagers appear to be Goths living in post-Roman Britain, which is kind of weird and unique. Still, there’s not a lot in this issue that really sticks out in my mind.

HOWTOONS: REIGNITION #2 (Image, 2014) – B. The plot of this comic isn’t all that exciting, but I like the two child protagonists, and I love the effective integration of DIY instructions into the narrative. The page design and typography are also impressive. Unlike Fred Van Lente’s collaborations with Ryan Dunlavey, Howtoons feels like a comic, not a heavily illustrated prose text. I feel like this comic might be relevant to people with an interest in critical making, and I feel kind of guilty for reading this comic without trying to make any of the projects it describes.

SUGAR & SPIKE #64 (DC, 1966) – A. This one is actually similar to Howtoons in a way, because while it can most easily be read as a silly nonsensical romp, it can also be read as a story about Sugar and Spike’s attempts to scientifically explore their world and learn more about it. In this story, Sugar and Spike win a trip on a cruise ship for themselves and their parents, but they think that the ocean is a giant front lawn and that it’s been flooded by a leaky faucet. And in the process of trying to find the leaking faucet and turn it off, they accidentally break up an international spy ring. The cool part is that they never realize that their theory about the ocean is wrong, and their naïveté enables them to successfully defeat the spy ring, while the adults in the story are completely ignorant of its existence.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #5 (Image, 2014) – B-. This issue is a letdown because Earl Tubb’s daughter, introduced at the end of issue 4, does not appear. Instead, the issue focuses entirely on Coach Boss; we start with a flashback to his high school days, then we watch him attend Earl Tubb’s funeral. This issue is a well-crafted piece of work, but Earl’s daughter is clearly going to be the protagonist of this series, and I want to know more about her already.

CATWOMAN #14 (DC, 2003) – A+. Truly impressive work. Just prior to this issue, Catwoman’s community center in the East End was burned down. In this issue she seeks to punish the parties who destroyed it, while also working through her grief over its loss. Brubaker and Stewart do a fantastic job of conveying Catwoman’s devastation over the ruin of a project she felt deeply passionate about. The artwork in this issue is incredible — Cameron Stewart is one of the best visual storytellers of his generation, as proved by his layouts over Babs Tarr’s pencils in the current Batgirl series. And his minimalistic style of draftsmanship reminds me a bit of Alex Toth.

SIX-GUN GORILLA #2 (Boom!, 2013) – A-. This issue has a nice blend of hilarity and horror. The science-fiction milieu of this series is not meant to be taken entirely seriously, what with the tumblesquids and the giant troop-transporting turtles. But this comic is also deeply dystopian. The people of this future Earth are so jaded that their only entertainment is vicariously experiencing the deaths of suicidal soldiers, while the people who are caught up in the war are forced to turn to prostitution to support themselves. So this story is bleak but in a hilarious way. Also, the eponymous six-gun gorilla is just an incredible character.

EDGE OF SPIDER-VERSE #2 (Marvel, 2014) – A. This was one of the most critically acclaimed comic books of 2014, but I missed it when it came out, and by the time I realized I needed to read it, mycomicshop.com was sold out of it. I couldn’t get my hands on a copy until I visited the Comic Book College in Minneapolis last week. I don’t know if it completely lived up to the hype, but Robbi Rodriguez’s artwork is fantastic and Spider-Gwen is a terrific character. She’s really not all that dissimilar from Peter — her origin is essentially the same, except that it’s Peter who dies instead of Uncle Ben, and she has the same style of dialogue. But somehow just the simple act of changing Spider-Man’s gender has revolutionary implications; we’re really not used to seeing a female character exhibit the sort of behavior we expect from Spider-Man. Overall I enjoyed this and I can’t wait for the Spider-Gwen ongoing series.

SEA BEAR AND GRIZZLY SHARK #1 (Image, 2010) – B+. I saw this in the store when it came out, but declined to buy it, and I have regretted that decision ever since because this comic is impossible to find. I was shocked to discover that the Comic Book College actually had a copy. Given that I’ve been waiting to read this comic for four years, it’s perhaps inevitable that it was a bit disappointing — the best thing about it is the title (with the tagline “They Got Mixed Up!”). This comic is a one-shot including two separate stories, one each by Kirkman collaborators Ryan Ottley and Jason Howard. The unifying premise is that both stories take place in a world where all the land and sea animals switched places except for a bear and a shark, but this is never mentioned in the stories themselves. The Sea Bear story is a series of massive exaggerated fight scenes involving a robot, a dude with swords for arms, and the title sea bear. The Grizzly Shark story takes itself even less seriously, and is mostly an excuse for gratuitous blood and gore. While this comic was less fun than it could have been, it was still a lot of fun, and I’m glad to finally have it in my collection.

JLA/HITMAN #1 (DC, 2007) – B+/A-. I had no idea this comic existed until I found it in a 50-cent box at (again) the Comic Book College. This was published in 2007, six years after the Hitman ongoing series ended. At this point Tommy Monaghan seems to have been dead, and the story is told as a flashback. As expected, it’s a hilarious piece of work, with lots of jokes at the expense of Kyle Rayner and the other Bloodlines characters. It also has a strangely nostalgic feel, though, as if it’s looking back to a bygone period when DC was able to publish comics as fun and irreverent as the original Hitman series. The only weak link in this issue is Garth’s somewhat sexist portrayal of Wonder Woman. (Though there’s a hilarious scene where Tommy realizes his X-ray vision powers have stopped working, and he’s looking at Wonder Woman as he says this.)

COPPERHEAD #3 (Image, 2014) – B+. I initially declined to buy this due to a lack of confidence in Jay Faerber’s writing, but I love the idea of an outer-space Western whose protagonist is a single mom. And this issue did not disappoint. Clara Bronson is an exciting charcter, and the artwork and writing are not half bad either. This series does show some heavy Saga influence, what with all the weird-looking aliens with animal heads.

SAUCER COUNTRY #1 (DC, 2012) – B/B+. This is one of the few recent Vertigo series that’s of any interest to me. Although the plot is a bit difficult to follow, it seems to be about a Latina presidential candidate who thinks that Earth is being invaded by aliens. While the artwork and writing are both high-quality, somehow this story, like most of Paul Cornell’s writing, failed to really grab me, and I’m not in a huge hurry to read the other unread issues of Saucer Country that I have. Also, I have problems with the scene where the Harvard folklore professor gets fired because of a publication where he expresses belief in aliens. This scene reads like a poorly informed caricature of academic politics.

DC COMICS PRESENTS #71 (DC, 1984) – B+. This is only the second regular issue of DCCP that I’ve reviewed for this blog. This Superman/Bizarro team-up was published in 1984, which was probably the last time that DC could publish this sort of story without ironic intent. It’s written in an unapologetically Silver Age-influenced style and has a plot that could have appeared in a Superman comic from twenty years before. Bizarro #1 creates a Bizarro-Amazo robot that gives ordinary people superpowers (whereas the real Amazo steals powers from superpowered people), and Bizarro-Amazo travels to Earth-1, where he starts handing out powers to Perry, Jimmy, etc. There’s nothing particualrly deep or thought-provoking here, but it’s incredibly fun. This story was written by E. Nelson Bridwell, who died three years later. Perhaps it’s just as well that he didn’t live to see a time when DC felt ashamed of publishing comics like this.

LUMBERJANES #8 (Image, 2014) – A+. This is the best conclusion to a story arc in recent memory. It wraps up everything from the first eight issues in a deeply satisfying way, and is full of amazing moments:

    Mal kissing Molly
    Riley giving everyone a kitten
    Bubbles getting a funny hat (which is odd since Bubbles isa funny hat
    The camp director finally remembering Jen’s name
    Zeus manifesting as a cow, in a reference to the myth of Europa

Overall, this is just such a satisfying resolution to the first eight issues of the series. In fact it’s so satisfying that it’s hard to see where this comic is going to go next, although I’m sure that the creative team will think of something.

As sort of a sidenote, I feel kind of guilty for writing this review when all my friends are posting on Facebook about the horrible miscarriage of justice in the Eric Garner case. But I think that stories like this really do have the potential to promote positive change, at least in some small degree. Comics like Lumberjanes fill a gaping hole in an industry that has historically been the exclusive preserve of straight white men, and they help to promote a more positive vision of race, gender and sexuality than we usually get from children’s media. I’m glad that the sort of progressive worldview we see in comics like Lumberjanes is becoming more common in the comics industry. I just wish that such worldviews were more prevalent in American society as a whole.

ODY-C #1 (Image, 2014) – A+. I tend to think of Grant Morrison as the modern heir to Kirby, but with this comic, Matt Fraction (and Christian Ward) may have usurped that mantle. This comic has the epic scope and explosive creativity of Kirby’s Fourth World, while also having a distinctive sense of humor and a progressive take on gender politics. I love the worldbuilding in this comic — it takes place in an outer space empire full of bizarre and unexplained technology, where almost everyone is female. It’s almost as creative as the setting of Prophet. The level of craftsmanship in this comic is also extremely impressive. The comic begins with an eight-page splash, something I have never seen before, although Bryan Hitch previously did it in Ultimates. Matt Fraction’s prose style in this comic is very different from his usual style; it’s almost like poetry, though I don’t think it scans. And Christian Ward’s artwork is unlike anything I’ve seen recently — it’s like a hybrid between pencils and painting. In summary, this is going to be an amazing series.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #25 (IDW, 2014) – A-. I can’t believe this series is already up to issue 25. A new Cook-Price issue is always cause for celebration, although this one is about Applejack, my least favorite of the Mane Six. (Primarily this is because Applejack seems to have no significant flaws, although “Somepony to Watch Over Me” changes that a little bit.) In a recent CBR interview, Katie said: “If we treated the “My Little Pony” books like Fluttershy’s fluffy bunny tea-party, they would sell abysmally. Yes, it would be a comic that you could give to any little girl, but you can’t give it to boys because they’re not going to enjoy it as much. We treat the Pony books as comedies, epic adventures, and things like that. And that’s what keeps the kids reading it. And keeps adults reading it.” That was essentially the same philosophy Carl Barks had — he wrote for kids, but he didn’t write down to them, he wrote intelligent stories that adults wouldn’t be completely ashamed to read either. That’s why Katie and Andy’s pony stories are so successful among both audiences. Anyway, this issue. I’m not a particular fan of either Applejack or the Western genre, but as usual, this story is hilarious and is full of brilliant characterization and inside jokes. I’ll be looking forward to the next issue, though I’m more excited about their upcoming story set in the Everfree Forest.

ODDLY NORMAL #3 (Image, 2014) – B-. I missed issue 2 somehow. With this issue, this series is starting to live up to its potential. Otis Frampton is showing some impressive visual creativity. However, I feel that this comic overly derivative of Ghibli — the schoolbug is really cool, but it’s the same basic idea as a catbus. And I still think the story ends too quickly; most of the pages seem to have four panels or fewer.

PRINCESS UGG #5 (Oni, 2014) – A+. Sex has been mostly absent from Ted Naifeh’s earlier work, given the ages of his protagonists, but in this issue it takes center stage. And as a result, Julifer is revealed as a thoroughly awful character — I was starting to feel some sympathy for her, but now I kind of can’t stand her. Also, in this story Ted continues to resist easy solutions; it’s clear that Ulga is not going to have an easy time resolving her identity crisis. I suspect that people are likely to see this series as a complete joke, but it’s one of the best comics on the market right now, and it deserves a wider audience.

CAPTURE CREATURES #1 (Boom!, 2014) – B/B+. This Pokémon parody is drawn in a somewhat similar style to Teen Dog or Bee & Puppycat, but the writing is marginally more serious — unlike in either of those series, there’s a continuing plot here. While I did not grow up with Pokémon, Frank Gibson’s writing and Becky Dreistadt’s artwork are so endearing that I want to keep on reading this series. It’s not going to be an award contender, but it’s fun.

ASTRO CITY #17 (DC, 2014) – A-. This is maybe the simplest story yet in this run of Astro City. The plot is kind of convoluted, but at heart it’s a very basic story about tragic mistakes and forgiveness, and it has a lot of concentrated emotional power. Krigari is an innovative take on Thanos or Darkseid because he comes from a microverse, but keeps getting bigger and bigger. And I love the notion of Red Cake Day, although I think Kurt could have made this concept even funnier.

DONALD DUCK #268 (Gladstone, 1988) – B+. The centerpiece of this issue is a ten-pager by Barks in which Donald appears on a radio quiz show. This was an idea Barks used at least three times, most notably in “Voodoo Hoodoo,” which, in hindsight, is kind of a terrible story. Anyway, this story starts out hilariously with Donald cramming all sorts of obscure trivia, but it gradually becomes incoherent, as the quiz show hosts resort to asking him unanswerable questions so he doesn’t win. Surprisingly, the two Gutenberghaus stories in this issue are quite funny — I usually don’t like these European duck stories, but in this case they’re comparable in quality to the Barks story in the issue.

SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE #49 (DC, 1997) – A. This was one of the best DC comics of the ’90s. It was an accurate and historically sensitive depiction of the ’30s, and it featured two fascinating and very different protagonists, Wesley Dodds and Dian Belmont. The only reason I haven’t read more of it is because it followed a strict structure of four-issue story arcs, so it’s difficult to read in back issue format, because none of the issues stands alone. This particular issue is part one of “The Scarlet Ghost,” which has some significant metafictional elements; it’s about a gang war over control of the emerging comic book industry, which is just starting to replace the pulps. Another plot thread is that Dian is apparently pregnant and neither she nor Wes has any idea. This was a fun read, and I need to start collecting this series more actively.

LAZARUS #5 (Image, 2013) – C+. I am almost a year behind on this series. I was initially very enthusiastic about it, but I stopped reading it because it was so bleak and depressing — almost as much so as Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl. I really don’t want to read a story that seems so disturbingly plausible. I mean, a few powerful families already control so much of the world as it is; it’s not that big of a leap to imagine a world where that control is enshrined in law. And this issue does not do anything to alleviate the relentlessly bleak tone of the series. The thing I like best about it is Michael Lark’s artwork — he might be the single best artist in the industry in terms of drawing hand-to-hand combat.

SUPERMAN #254 (DC, 1972) – B/B-. The lead story in this issue is pretty dumb. It seems to have been written to match the cover, which shows Superman bequeathing his powers to a boy named Billy Anders (apparently no relation to Kory Anders). This issue is only memorable because of the Private Life of Clark Kent backup, “The Baby Who Walked Through Walls,” which is one of the few Superman stories drawn by Neal Adams. This story is adorable and funny, if rather pointless. The baby in this story is based on Neal’s daughter, according to a comment on this blog post. I also wonder if this story is an unannounced tribute to Sugar & Spike, since it includes two babies, a blond-haired girl and a dark-haired boy, who speak in unintelligible strings of consonants.

AIR #1 (DC, 2008) – A-. This is an early work of G. Willow Wilson, and it already shows her vigorous style of storytelling and her interest in literature and Islamic culture. The issue begins with a scene where two characters are falling out of the sky and one of them says “Aren’t you glad this isn’t a Salman Rushdie novel?” There aren’t many comic book writers who would have thought of that joke. In fact, Willow might be the only writer in the contemporary comics industry whose work is influenced in any way by Indian and/or Islamic literature. (Recall how in Ms. Marvel #1 she quoted Amir Khusrow, a writer I had never previously heard of.) But that’s actually incidental to the story, which is a very fast-paced thriller involving air travel and competing terrorist organizations. Apparently some reviewers had trouble following this issue, and so did I initially, but it ultimately makes sense. I want to read more of this series and I’m kind of sad that it was cancelled after two years because of poor sales, although Willow has gone on to bigger and better things.

ACTION COMICS #840 (DC, 2006) – B+. This is a fairly effective conclusion to “Up, Up and Away.” In this issue, Superman decisively defeats Luthor (who subsequently escapes from prison, of course) and works on readjusting to his newly returned powers. It’s pretty entertaining, especially the concluding sequence where Superman defeats a mad scientist who’s created a giant single-celled “Kryptococcus,” then interacts with his adoring fans. The only annoying part is Superman’s speech to Luthor during the battle; it seems like he’s gloating, rubbing in the fact that Lex has lost and is always going to lose.

SENSATION COMICS FEATURING WONDER WOMAN #4 (DC, 2015) – B+/A-. As I just said on Facebook, this issue is evidence of the tremendous potential of Wonder Woman, which is currently being squandered by David and Meredith Finch. They should cancel the main Wonder Woman title and just rename this series to Wonder Woman. The highlight of the issue is the second part of a two-part Wonder Woman team-up by Gilbert Hernandez. It’s weird reading a DC story written in Beto’s distinctive and somewhat artificial style of dialogue, but this is a very energetic and exciting piece of work. Beto does a great job of visually and verbally distinguishing between Diana, Kara, and Mary Marvel, who shows up at the end. And given his interest in drawing large and powerful women, he’s well suited to the task of drawing Wonder Woman. I was less excited about hte second story, “Attack of the 500-Foot Wonder Woman” by Rob Williams and Tom Lyle, but it turned out to be surprisingly good. It reads like a Silver Age Justice League story, except for the gender-bending moment at the end: Diana takes Byth to Paradise Island, and Byth says that he can’t set foot on the island because he’s not a female, and Diana says, “Yes, and I thought you were a changeling?” I just edited my DCBS order to add the latest issue of Batman ’66, which is also written by Williams. The third story, a WW/Deadman team-up by Neil Kleid and Dean Haspiel, is not as memorable, but I like how Diana doesn’t initially believe that Deadman is who he claims to be. Overall, this is an impressive package, and I wish DC was publishing more good comics like this and less of the other kind.

WONDER WOMAN #18 (DC, 2013) – C+/B-. Some of my Facebook friends were unhappy at the news that the upcoming Wonder Woman movie is going to use her New 52 origin, and I sympathize. The New 52 WW may be an interesting comic in its own right, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s not Wonder Woman, it’s an original intellectual property that happens to have the same title. And even when I look at it in that way, this issue is not all that great. The plot is difficult to understand, since none of the characters are clearly identified, and it’s a fill-in issue, so there’s no Cliff Chiang artwork until the last couple pages. Also, Brian Azzarello’s version of Orion is completely unfaithful to Kirby’s version. This series has its good points, but it also illustrates why the New 52 universe just doesn’t feel like the DC Universe to me.

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