The best reviews ever

These aren’t really the best reviews ever, I just think if I say so, more people will read this post. The following reviews are for comics I received on September 25.

ASTRO CITY #27 (DC, 2015) – Not my favorite issue. American Chibi’s origin is very cute, and the chibi Honor Guard members are very kawaii. Joe Infurnari is better at the anime style than Brent Anderson probably would have been, making him a good choice for a guest artist (or alternately, this story was a good choice for the issue where he was the guest artist). And also, the villains, besides He Who Lies Buried, are pretty cool. But the story was not very compelling.

RUNAWAYS #4 (Marvel, 2015) – One of the happiest comic books I’ve read this year. Given that this is Runaways, I was expecting that one of the main characters would get killed. And I was right, but it was Bucky, so whatever. At the end of the series, all the characters are still alive, and the two couples (Amadeus and Delphine, and Jubilee and Sanna) are together. The Jubilee/Sanna scenes are the clear highlight of the issue. I was initially skeptical about that comic, but it’s one of the best things that’s come out of Secret Wars. I hope that it gets revived as an ongoing series, or that Marvel gives Noelle Stevenson some other work, because she’s clearly one of the top writers in the industry.

HARLEY QUINN & POWER GIRL #4 (DC, 2015) – Otherwise known as “Guilty Pleasure Comics #4.” This comic book is just a long series of fight scenes, bad jokes, and sexual innuendoes, but it’s funny, and that’s all it’s trying to be. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t realize Vartox was based on Zardoz until someone told me. The giant caticore thing is pretty cute.

PRINCELESS: BE YOURSELF #4 (Action Lab, 2015) – I still don’t like this series as much as Raven: The Pirate Princess, and oddly, the lettering is one big reason why not. It’s ugly and the font is too large. It makes the entire comic look unprofessional. Other than that, this is an effective conclusion to the series, though the pacing was too fast and there were a lot of weird plot twists. I look forward to volume four.

POWER UP! #3 (Dark Horse, 2015) – This is probably the best issue yet; it’s exciting and it seems much less compressed than the previous two issues. I didn’t realize until now that the pet shop woman doesn’t have any powers herself; she’s just the custodian of the goldfish. The two apathetic teenagers are funny.

BATGIRL #44 (DC, 2015) – This issue is missing Babs Tarr, who is usually the best thing about this series, but Bengal is a reasonably good replacement, and appropriately named considering that this story is about tigers. I actually can’t recall whether last issue was drawn by Tarr or Bengal. The conclusion to the Velvet Tiger two-parter is reasonably satisfying.

SECRET WARS #0 (Marvel, 2015) – In the first story in this FCBD issue, Valeria and the Future Foundation discuss their plan to save the world. This story isn’t anything great, but it’s nice to see the Future Foundation again; I miss these characters. The backup story, a crossover between the Marvel Universe and Attack on Titan, is forgettable.

DRAWN ONWARD #1 (Retrofit/Big Planet, 2015) – I’d like to write a palindromic review of this comic, but I do not have the talent. Like much of Matt Madden’s work, this one-shot is an Oulipian experiment; in this case, the entire comic is a palindrome where the first half mirrors the second half. The similarity to Watchmen #5 is obvious, but in this case the story is built entirely around the palindromic constraint; it’s about the growth and decay of a relationship. And the two characters’ roles reverse from the first half of the story to the second half. Overall this is an impressive piece of work that effectively combines experimentation with storytelling, and I won’t be surprised if it picks up an Eisner nomination. The only disappointing part is that because the next-to-last panel says to “read back through what you just read,” I thought the story would make sense if read backwards, and as far as I can tell, it doesn’t.

TYSON HESSE’S DIESEL #1 (Boom!, 2015) – For some reason I didn’t order issue 2 of this, and it won’t come out in time for me to get it at NYCC. I guess based on the solicitation, I must have thought it looked unimpressive. But this debut issue turns out to be quite interesting. It’s a steampunk story that takes place on a floating island whose inhabitants don’t know that there’s land beneath the clouds, which is pretty cool. The main character is a serious brat, and I assume that her character arc will involve her becoming more mature.

At this point I realized I had every issue of Shutter except #5, so I went back and read Shutter #1 and #2, allowing me to read:

SHUTTER #3 (Image, 2014) – This issue introduces Shaw the assassin and Harrington the skeleton butler. It also establishes that Alain is a transgender character, althoug this fact slipped my mind. Alain Vian is the name of the brother of the noted French author Boris Vian; I assume Joe Keatinge knows this, though I don’t see what the joke is. In general, this issue is primarily setup for future stories.

SHUTTER #4 (Image, 2014) – This issue begins with an explanation of why Harrington is a living corpse. This scene might be the first time in the series that we meet the Prospero characters. Subsequently, we meet the General for the first time, and Christopher is introduced on the last page. At this point I was finally starting to understand what was going on in this series, and I was enjoying it much more than I had when I was reading the issues out of order. This is definitely a series that would read better in collected form.

A-FORCE #3 (Marvel, 2015) – This series has been a huge disappointment considering the caliber of talent involved. This issue has too little characterization and too much plot, and the plot is not interesting. Again, the only thing I like about it is the mysterious starfield girl.

THE SPIRE #3 (Boom!, 2015) – I hope they do a sequel to this series called PROUD STANDS THE SPIRE, because that would be an awesome title. I previously wrote that this series reminds me of Miyazaki, and I’ve seen other people make that comparison but without necessarily explaining why. The specific reason is because Spurrier’s linework resembles Miyazaki’s linework in Nausicaa, and also, his designs, especially the costumes of the desert people, look very much like some of the designs in Nausicaa. As for the story, it’s fairly exciting, although it’s sometimes difficult to remember what happened in previous issues.

HELLBOY IN HELL #8 (Dark Horse, 2015) – I have not followed Hellboy regularly in a long time, so I didn’t quite know what was going on in this issue, although Mignola does provide some useful background information. The reason I bought it is because it’s a by-now-rare example of a Hellboy story drawn by Mignola. Mike is one of the most influential artists of his generation – he’s a master of mood and atmosphere, and he achieves such powerful effects with such economy of linework. It’s a pity that he doesn’t draw more comics.

WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #196 (DC, 1970) – It’s sobering to realize that all the people credited on page one of this comic book are now dead (Bob Haney, Curt Swan, George Roussos, Mort Weisinger, E. Nelson Bridwell and Carmine Infantino). “The Kryptonite Express” is a blatantly idiotic story, even allowing for the fact that Haney wrote it. After a deadly fall of Kryptonite meteors, the U.S. government decides to send a train around the country to collect all the Kryptonite. And Superman is stupid enough to ride on the train himself, instead of staying at home in a lead-lined room until it’s safe for him to come out. And then Clark Kent also has to ride the train, so Superman has to change identities repeatedly, and also Jimmy Olsen and Robin are on the train but it turns out they’ve been replaced by spies. It’s a story that just does not stand up to logical scrutiny.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #246 (Marvel, 1980) – This is not a bad issue, though it was completely overshadowed by the following issue, which was the beginning of probably the greatest run in the history of this series. In this issue, Peter B. Gillis reintroduces A Guy Named Joe, one of the more obscure villains from the first 38 issues of Spider-Man, and this results in a rather touching story about disability and poverty. There’s also some nice art by Jerry Bingham, who was very talented but never fulfilled his promise.

WEIRDWORLD #4 (Marvel, 2015) – The art in this series continues to be more interesting than the writing. Arkon is a very flat character; he’s just like Conan but less interesting. Still, I love the idea of a forest full of Man-Things, and I was delighted to learn that the Queen of the Man-Things is Jennifer Kale, a mostly forgotten Steve Gerber creation. I plan to keep reading this series when it’s rebooted.

TARZAN #153 (Gold Key, 1965) – This was one of the last issues drawn by Jesse Marsh, who died the following year. I know there are lots of people who love Jesse Marsh, but to me his artwork just looks crude and basic. I do get the impression that his artwork was better in the ‘40s than in the ‘60s. What’s much more exciting to me is that this issue includes a Brothers of the Spear backup story with artwork by Russ Manning. In this story, Dan-el goes off on a mission to kill some lions, and tells his wife Tavane to stay home because “this is man’s work,” but she follows him anyway and saves his life, which is rather progressive for 1965.

MIGHTY SAMSON #16 (Gold Key, 1968) – Apparently I have two issues of this series, but either I haven’t read the other one, or I completely forgot about it. This is a post-apocalyptic science fiction series which reminds me a lot of Kamandi, except without the animals, or more specifically Hercules Unbound. In this issue, which is by Otto Binder and Jack Sparling, the title character defends a teenage girl and her father from some primitive “gnarly men” who live in the ruins of New York. It’s a fairly average comic; I think it’s worse than Hercules Unbound, let alone Kamandi. The primary appeal of this series is that Frank Thorne drew some of the earlier issues. I hadn’t realized that Otto Binder was still writing comics or even still alive in 1968 – it turns out he died in 1974.

GREEN LANTERN #130 (DC, 1980) – This issue is guest-written by Bob Rozakis, a seriously terrible writer. The only story of his that I like is the Bat-Mite backup from Detective Comics #482, and even that story isn’t that great. This issue is a typical example of his work. The best thing about it is the revelation that Sonar’s homeland of Modora is no bigger than a city block, although I think some earlier writer probably came up with that idea. A more interesting thing about this issue is the backup story, which introduces Arkkis Chummuck, and ends with the disturbing but funny revelation that he ate the previous Green Lantern from his sector. This appears to have been the first Tales of the Green Lantern Corps backup, although TGLC didn’t become a regular feature until later.

ATOMIC ROBO: THE KNIGHTS OF THE GOLDEN CIRCLE #1 (Red 5, 2014) – Somehow I failed to collect this series when it came out. The premise of this miniseries is that Robo has been sent back in time to the Old West, I assume because of whatever Dr. Dinosaur did at the end of the previous volume. This should be a fantastic premise, but it’s really not; this issue is basically just a litany of Wild West cliches, with few genuinely funny moments.

SHUTTER #6 (Image, 2014) – Prior to reading this issue I read issue 5 on my Kindle, but I’m not reviewing it here, because these reviews are only for comic books that I have read in print form and that will be stored in my boxes. I realize that’s an arbitrary distinction, but whatever. In Shutter #6, Kate and Christopher spend the whole issue running from Shaw, and Christopher shoots Shaw’s henchman in the chest with a shotgun, which is one of the more disturbing moments in the series. And then Kate and Christopher are attacked by a giant antlered dragon with a skull head. It was at this point that I started to see why Tof Eklund compared this series to Saga. Both Shutter and Saga take place in a world full of bizarre and unexplained phenomena belonging to multiple literary genres, and both of them rely heavily on shock value – like, every issue of each series contains at least one massively shocking moment.

At this point I went back and read Shutter #7 through #11, all previously reviewed.

SHUTTER #12 (Image, 2015) – This issue explains Prospero’s origin: they’re a cabal of secret manipulators who are collectively responsible for everything that’s ever happened in human history. And then they ask Kate to join them and she refuses, and they erase her from history, which is depicted in a fascinating way. In a series of five panels, Kate turns from a fully colored drawing to a black-and-white sketch to a pencil sketch and then to a thumbnail, reversing the creative process. She wakes up in Venice, with no memory but determined to kick some ass. This issue is an excellent conclusion to the first story arc.

SHUTTER #13 (Image, 2015) – This issue begins the second story arc, and introduces two new characters: Madam Huckleberry (who we haven’t seen much of yet) and Kate’s twin brother The Leopard. At this point, I was really starting to get into this series, but I didn’t have the energy to read any more of it.

And here are reviews for comics I read starting on October 2. This was a rather light week.

REVIVAL #33 (Image, 2015) – Dana does not appear in this issue, which focuses on Martha’s life at the Farm. It also introduces some new characters: an interracial lesbian couple with a young son. It’s a bit of a letdown from the extreme tension of the last few issues. I found myself thinking that if Janae is having trouble writing about food, she should interview some of the local Hmong people about their food practices. I probably had this thought because I just used a chapter of Kao Kalia Yang’s book in my food studies class.

ZODIAC STARFORCE #2 (Dark Horse, 2015) – This was probably better than the previous issue. I’m having trouble distinguishing between the characters or keeping them straight, but Kevin Panetta writes some good teenage dialogue. Kim, the one with hair over her eyes, is easily my favorite character in this series.

ARCHIE #3 (Archie, 2015) – This was an excellent issue, though I was so exhausted and busy on Saturday that I wasn’t able to enjoy it much. This issue breaks with tradition by depicting Veronica as a truly awful character with no redeeming qualities. It occurs to me that Betty and Veronica are kind of similar to Applejack and Rarity respectively, except that Rarity is a far more positive character.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS OUTRAGEOUS ANNUAL #1 (IDW, 2015) – Maybe the most exciting comic of the week. Some cute and funny writing from Kelly Thompson, and some entertaining film parodies. This issue provides some useful insight into Aja and Shana, who have been overshadowed by Jerrica and Stormer. My one complaint is that the “Jem Wolf” segment could have been funnier; there could have been more wolf jokes.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #45 (IDW, 2015) – The highlight of this issue is the first page, which depicts a bunch of panels from previous issues of Transformers: Scavengers, a comic that never existed. The nonexistent comics summarized depicted here include one about a planet that turns speech into song, and another one about a two-dimensional world. In comparison to that, the rest of the issue is a bit disappointing. It focuses on some Decepticons who are hiding from the DJD, and the Lost Light crew does not appear.

FROM UNDER MOUNTAINS #1 (Image, 2015) – This debut issue is very disappointing. It’s a boring and unoriginal high fantasy story with crude-looking artwork. After reading this, I chose not to order issue 3.

SHUTTER #14 (Image, 2015) – One cool thing about this series is Leila del Duca’s ability to imitate lots of other kinds of comics, and this issue is a good example: it starts with a two-page spread drawn in a manga style. Later in the issue, Kate and Leopard meet their grandfather Nero, and we learn that there are seven total Kristopher siblings, including three we haven’t met. One of the backup stories is a one-pager by John Workman which appears to be an homage to Jeff Jones.

SHUTTER #15 (Image, 2015) – This issue begins with Kate and Nero’s acid trip, which includes one page that depicts Leila del Duca drawing Shutter. Then we’re reintroduced to some of the characters we haven’t seen in this story arc, including Christopher, Shaw, and Alain. At this point I’m finally caught up on this series, and while I don’t agree that it’s the third best comic on the market, I see why my friend Tof Eklund loves it. I’m looking forward to #16.

SANDMAN: OVERTURE #6 (DC, 2015) – Otherwise known as “Cynical Cash Grab Comics #6.” I suppose that’s unkind, but I still feel that Neil could have used his time more productively than by returning to Sandman yet again. However, JHW3’s artwork this issue was as stunning as ever. I continue to be amazed by his ability to draw in many different styles and even to blend multiple types of artwork in a single page – an example of this is page 3, which includes random Kirby machinery, realistic drawings of Sandman and Hope, and lots of other stuff. It was lovely to see Delirium again, though I don’t think I’d like piggables either. I don’t understand who Glory is – I assume he’s based on a real person, but I don’t know who. (Surprisingly no one has produced annotations to this series yet.) One of the best moments in the entire series is Glory’s line “But perhaps her name will be there for you, when you need it most.” I love this because it explains the reappearance of the line “I am Hope” in an earlier issue, and it adds an extra layer of depth to Sandman #4. It’s pretty cool that the main story ends with an actual panel from issue 1. In the epilogue, when Desire has the idea of getting Dream to kill a family member who’s also a vortex, she must be referring to Rose Walker.

SAVAGE DRAGON #207 (Image, 2015) – I have put up with a lot of crap over the last few issues of this series, but this issue is the last straw – it begins with a scene of Angel and Mr. Glum having sex, and then there’s another such scene later in the issue. Mr. Glum was Angel’s pet when she was a little girl, and I think this might even be the same Angel who appeared in the early #100s of this series. (I’m not quite sure of this because I don’t think anyone, even Erik himself, understands the relationships between the parallel worlds in this series.) On top of that, this story depicts both Angel and Mr. Glum as horrible mass murders and tyrants. This comic has always relied on shock value and deliberate excess, but Erik has lost all sense of restraint or good taste. I’ve had enough. I’ve already ordered the next two issues, but #209 will be my last issue of Savage Dragon.

SANDMAN #18 (DC, 1990) – “A Dream of a Thousand Cats” is one of the best issues of the series, mostly because cats. There are some lines in this story that grate on me when I read them again, like the cat’s description of her lover. But in general, this story is a fascinating exploration of the difference between what we think of cats and what they think of themselves. I suspect Kij Johnson had this comic book in mind when she was writing Fudoki.

ATOMIC ROBO: THE GHOST OF STATION X #2 (Red 5, 2011) – I just read the trade paperback that contains this issue, so I’m counting this as a comic book that I’ve “read.” The original issue includes a couple of pinups that aren’t in the TPB.

INVINCIBLE #27 (Image, 2005) – This issue continues the story with Nolan and the insect planet, but what’s almost more interesting is the scene on Earth, with the other superheroes battling a villain called Omnipotus. One of the cool things about Invincible was its large supporting cast, which included a lot of weird and nontraditional superheroes. It’s too bad that Kirkman decided to have Robot kill about half of these characters.

ACTION COMICS #370 (DC, 1968) – This is a surprisingly fun issue (and also my copy is in unusually good condition). “100 Years… Lost, Strayed or Stolen!” is a story that takes place during baby Clark’s flight from Krypton to Earth. According to this story, Kal-El landed on another planet where he grew up, got married, had a son, and then was deaged back to a baby. This is impossible to accept at face value and is probably best forgotten, but it’s unexpectedly poignant – it reminds me of the Star Trek episode “The Inner Light” (which I don’t think I’ve actually seen, come to think of it). The backup story has some very cute art by Kurt Schaffenberger, but a ridiculous plot: Supergirl falls in love with a man who turns out to be a complete heel, but feels obligated to marry him anyway because she already accepted his proposal. The unanswered question is why Supergirl agreed to marry this obviously horrible man in the first place.

And now, for the first time in several months, I have no unread comic books that still need to be reviewed.

Comics Evangelism: Strategies for Encouraging Students to Love Comics

This is my MPCA/ACA paper: “Comics Evangelism: Strategies for Encouraging Students to Love Comics.” The accompanying Google Drive presentation is here:

I’m grateful to the conference staff for willing to accommodate my rescheduling request. I was supposed to give this paper on Friday but that time was unworkable for me because of my teaching

So this paper is called “Comics Evangelism” and it’s about how to get students to love comics, especially if they don’t come from the demographics that the American comics industry has historically targeted. To explain my personal stake in this, I’m a visiting assistant professor in rhetoric and composition at Miami University, and I previously taught at Georgia Tech and I received my Ph.D. from the University of Florida. One of the primary reasons I became an academic in the first place is because I have a lifelong passion for comics and I always wanted to read and write about comics as a profession. Since getting my Ph.D., I’ve taught primarily composition, ENG 111 and 112, and I’ve used comics in nearly every course I’ve taught. I’ve worked with widely varying student populations. And I’ve found that all these student populations have vastly different ideas and expectations about comics, and approaches to teaching comics need to differ accordingly.

So the challenge I face when working with these different student populations is how to get them to share my love of comics. These students are never going to love my topic as much as I do, except in a very few cases, but I want them to at least understand why I love comics so much and to see why comics are relevant to their future academic and professional lives. Surprisingly, this is basically the same challenge faced by a professor who tries to teach Shakespeare or Milton or Cervantes or whatever. There is a common perception that comics are an easier subject to teach compared to more traditional forms of literature, because comics are fun and because students naturally gravitate to them, but this is only partially true; among some students there is a surprising amount of resistance to comics. This is partly because of apathy and also partly because of cultural prejudices that say that comics are for social misfits. SLIDE Also, again surprisingly, some students believe that in English class you’re supposed to be reading things like The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird and Ulysses, and they feel disappointed when they learn that they’re going to be reading comics instead. So getting students to love comics is a harder task than you might expect. So this presentation is a description of how I’ve tried to adapt my comics pedagogy, not always successfully, to overcome students’ resistance to comics and to encourage them to love comics. It’s going to be based mostly on anecdotal evidence, but hopefully it will be useful to others who are in the same position. And in this presentation I’m basically taking it as a given that you want to teach comics, and I’m not going to discuss why you might want to do this – the question I’m asking is, assuming you do want to teach comics, what’s the best way to get the students excited. And I realize that this may not necessarily be a safe assumption because this panel is mostly about television and so it’s possible that some of you are not interested in comics, but if you want to know why teaching comics is a good idea in the first place, I’d be happy to talk about that afterward or in the Q&A.

And I’m going to proceed by discussing various different types of students and how you can adapt your pedagogy in order to reach them. I can’t say that I’ve always implemented these recommendations successfully myself, so this paper is partly a description of what I should be doing rather than what I actually do.

Now in a class focused on comics, perhaps the easiest group of students to work with is what we might call the comic geeks, the students who already know everything about comics. This type of student might already read comics outside of class and might have signed up for your class specifically because it’s about comics. At Georgia Tech I had a lot of students like this; at Miami, significantly fewer. Now with these students, you don’t need to worry about encouraging them to love comics, because they already do. The first thing to keep in mind is that even if students already have a deep knowledge of certain types of comics, that knowledge is often limited. Students who are already comics fans are much more likely to have read Captain America or Thor or The Walking Dead than Fun Home or Persepolis or Maus, which are the kinds of texts that are usually taught in comics courses at the university level. With students who already think they know about comics, your job is to expose them to other kinds of comics and to expand their knowledge of the field. The other important consideration is to not allow these students to dominate the discussion and to make sure that the other students know what they’re talking about. Don’t let the class become a dialogue between you and that one student. Like, if one student starts talking about the new female Thor, you need to ask them to tell the rest of the class what they’re talking about.

Now there are other students who don’t specifically read comics but who are interested in other areas of what we might call geek culture, such as video games, anime, and science fiction. And at Georgia Tech, students like these represented the bulk of my domestic students. Again, these students tend to be fairly easy to reach because they’re already predisposed to be interested in comics, and they often are glad that they get to read comics for English class because they could have been reading something much less interesting. At Georgia Tech, obviously, most of the students are going into STEM professions and English may not have been their best subject in high school.

But when I moved from Georgia Tech to Miami, I encountered a very different student population in which most of my students had no knowledge of or interest in comics at all. At Miami, I encountered many students who had no particular interest in geek culture and who had literally never read a comic in their lives – at least they didn’t think they had, and I’ll explain that point in a minute. Many of these students have internalized the prejudice that all comics are superhero comics SLIDE and that all comics fans are like the Comic Book Guy SLIDE. Also, these students are often skeptical about the notion of studying comics in English class. ENG 112 at Miami is called Composition and Literature, and when these students hear “literature” they think of books that consist entirely of words with no pictures and that you read because they’re good for you, not because they’re fun. I assume that’s because this is the view of literature that their high school teachers have drilled into them – and also they’ve been told that you need to read Shakespeare and Hawthorne and Wordsworth as preparation for college English courses. As a result, these students are often surprised by the idea of an English class that focuses on comics rather than traditional literature, and they don’t necessarily believe that comics can be educational. Last semester I asked my students what they thought about using comics as a teaching tool in elementary school or high school, and some of them said that they didn’t think this was appropriate because English class is where you read things like Shakespeare and Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

So the first and most obvious way to deal with this belief is to explain the pedagogical rationale for why you’re using comics, and this is something I haven’t always done effectively. It’s useful to say, like, we’re using comics because of what they teach us about multimodal communication, or because comics help us interrogate the concept of literature and expand our understanding of what literature means, which is the way I’ve been trying to frame it this semester. But another important move to make is to realize that most students already do read comics, they just don’t realize it. If you ask a random domestic Miami student what his or her favorite comic is, the most likely answer will not be a comic book like Superman or Batman or Watchmen SLIDE, but a comic strip like Calvin & Hobbes or Peanuts or Fox Trot. It’s just that students don’t always identify comic strips and comic books as the same thing – they don’t realize that Calvin & Hobbes is a comic book in the same way as Superman is. Also, they believe that comic strips like Calvin & Hobbes are only for kids, even though empirically this is not true. And I think this is a common cultural prejudice. In Raina Telgemeier’s autobiographical YA comic Sisters, she includes a scene where she at fourteen years old is talking to her cousins Josh and Jeremy, and she says she likes comics, and Josh asks “Yeah? Like Batman, Hulk, X-Men?” and Raina says, “I like Calvin and Hobbes, For Better or for Worse, Fox Trot” and Josh replies “Pssh. Those aren’t real comics.” So her cousin believes that only superhero comics like Batman and Hulk are “real” comic books, and comic strips like Fox Trot or For Better or for Worse are fake comic books, they’re just for girls. And many people have internalized this mentality, which is an example of a fairly widespread mentality which says that only the types of popular culture that appeal to men are truly valid. This is the same logic that says that chick lit and chick flicks are not “real” literature or “real” films. SLIDE I think this perception is going to change because currently young adult comics are extremely popular, and in a few years, many students will have grown up reading the work of Raina Telgemeier and Kazu Kibuishi and Cece Bell. And even superhero comics are becoming much more diverse, as I’ve talked about elsewhere. But for now, there is still this prejudice that “comics” only means superhero comics which are only for boys. So the important thing to do here is make students realize that they already read and enjoy comics, and that the comics they already read are just as valid as what they think of when they think of comics. And that the analytical skills they already have from reading Calvin & Hobbes or Garfield can be applied to longer examples of comics. Similarly, lots of students read webcomics like xkcd or Cyanide & Happiness SLIDE, or websites like The Oatmeal or Hyperbole and a Half that blur the lines between comics and other kinds of texts. SLIDE I would guess that far more students read webcomics than printed comics, and even if they don’t intentionally seek out webcomics, it’s basically impossible to avoid seeing webcomics on social media. And again, these students need to realize that those are just as valid examples of comics as anything else.

A related issue is with international students – this semester I’m teaching a significant number of international students all of whom are from China. Now these students also have preconceptions about comics, but those preconceptions are completely different from those of domestic students. My knowledge about the comics scene in Mainland China is rather limited, and so I don’t know what specifically these students are likely to think of first when they hear the word “comics.” But in a Hooded Utilitarian blog post, Nadim Damluji writes that “besides […] a few rare exceptions, there aren’t any contemporary Chinese artists producing comics. However, this doesn’t mean that Chinese people aren’t avidly consuming comics on their iPhones and knock off iPhones alike. You see, the comics that are popular in China aren’t made in China, they’re translated Japanese imports.” And I have the impression that that’s true of my Chinese students – that the comics they’re likely to be familiar with are things like Naruto and One Piece and Attack on Titan. SLIDE There is a substantial comics industry in Hong Kong and I have no idea if my Chinese students are familiar with those kinds of comics.

Now here again it’s important to have some basic familiarity with and openness to manga, because the prejudice I mentioned earlier, about comic strips not being “real” comics, applies to manga as well. Among American comics fans and even journalists and some scholars, there is a widespread lack of knowledge about and/or resistance to manga. As Shea Hennum points out in an article called “What Our Failure to Cover Attack on Titan Says about the Comics Industry,” “Book after book continues to regularly dwarf the sales of Marvel and DC output … but their success is overlooked. Regardless of how many units are sold, Marvel and DC are mainstream and everything else is “other.”” And manga is perhaps the most common victim of this sort of othering. The antidote to this mentality is just to realize, and to reassure students, that comics are a global phenomenon and that North American and East Asian comics are two different versions of the same thing, and that as with comic strips, students can apply the analytical skills they’ve learned from reading manga to reading American comics. It’s important to have an expansive view of comics and to communicate that view to your students.

And another part of that is to have a basic knowledge of comics on a global level. Here’s an example of why that’s important. In class the other day, one of my students mentioned that he wanted to write his paper about a comic book called “Clump Hair” and I Googled that phrase and couldn’t find anything, but then he told me that it was about an orphan growing up in Shanghai in the ‘30s, and I Googled that phrase and realized he was referring to Sanmao, a very famous Chinese comic by Zhang Leping. SLIDE This comic has never been translated into English but I’ve heard of it because I’ve read about Chinese comics. So just doing some basic research can help you understand what your international students are talking about and can also help you build a rapport with them.

So again, I haven’t always implemented all these recommendations successfully in my own classes, but I think the basic recommendation here is that you need to be open-minded about comics yourself in order to be able to share that open-mindedness with your students. And next semester I will try to adopt this approach when I teach a section of ENG 122, Popular Literature, with the topic of Graphic Novels and Comic Books, and I’m excited to see how well that works out.

Reviews for 9-18-15



This next round of reviews is for the comics I received on September 18. This was my second shipment of comics that week. Unfortunately, as usual I was half asleep when reading these comics, and I was also suffering from extreme fatigue-induced anxiety, so these reviews will be very short.

LUMBERJANES #18 (Boom!, 2015) – This is Kat Leyh’s first issue as writer. I don’t notice any major drop in quality – I get the impression that Kat Leyh understands and respects this franchise, and that she’s a good choice of replacement. The story is reasonably exciting, though a bit of a letdown compared with the epic that just concluded. I wonder if we’re ever going to get to see a critter carouse, or if the Lumberjanes are going to keep missing them.

SEX CRIMINALS #12 (Image, 2015) – This was the most bizarre, disturbing and mind-warping issue of the entire series, and that’s saying a lot. The giant penis bear thing… wow. That thing is nightmare-inducing. The pacing of this issue is kind of weird, in that the lecture by Ana Kincaid is effectively just a long Author Filibuster that has no connection to the story, although the things Kincaid says are very true.

USAGI YOJIMBO #148 (Dark Horse, 2015) – Not a great Usagi story. Effectively just a series of fight scenes with only a mildly surprising plot twist at the end. I expect better than this from Stan.

RAT QUEENS #12 (Image, 2015) – Finally an issue that focuses on Betty, although we don’t learn as much about her as I’d like to know. The scene with Violet throwing the knife out the window is laugh-out-loud funny, but it was unfortunately spoiled in the preview. I’m glad that this series has recovered from its overly long hiatus and is finally being published regularly again.

MANIFEST DESTINY #17 (Image, 2015) – Collins and Sacagawea’s paired origin stories are both quite touching. Collins’s deprived childhood seems very realistic for this period. It looks like this is the second to last issue of the Vameter storyline; I wonder where we’re going next.

PRINCELESS: RAVEN: THE PIRATE PRINCESS #3 (Action Lab, 2015) – Maybe the highlight of the issue is the guest appearance by G. Willow Wilson, Kelly Sue DeConnick, and Marjorie Liu. I recognized the last two instantly, but not the third. Raven’s encounter with Ximena is a very powerful scene; it’s clear that these two characters have strong feelings for each other, but also that Ximena has a major unresolved grudge against Raven. If Jeremy keeps writing this well, he’ll be a candidate for the Eisner for Best Writer.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #34 (IDW, 2015) – Jeremy Whitley’s other comic book this week is a collaboration with Andy Price. I almost want to call Andy the Good Pony Artist. Comparing him to Barks is probably blasphemous, and he’s not the only good pony artist, but he’s head and shoulders above the others. This issue is pretty exciting. It was billed as the major epic pony story for this year, and it certainly is that. The splash page where the changelings explode out of the Super Speedy Lemonade Squeezy 6000 is the highlight of the issue; it’s an impressive “oh shit” moment.PREZ #4 (DC, 2015) – This is still the best DC comic, although the pacing of this issue is weird; it just ends abruptly in midscene. Until this issue I didn’t understand what was going on with the drone program. The random drone killings of civilians are another example of an eerily plausible extrapolation from things the U.S. government actually does. I just hope that Prez is able to effect some sort of positive change, although I don’t know how she can do that with the time that’s available in the two remaining issues.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #7 (IDW, 2015) – Emma Vieceli’s first issue as artist. Sophie Campbell is irreplaceable, but Vieceli is a surprisingly adequate substitute; she’s very good at facial expressions. In terms of story, this issue is basically just an introduction to the second major story arc.

INVINCIBLE #123 (Image, 2015) – There’s a very cute scene at the start of this issue where Mark and Terra have a daddy-daughter day, but other than that, this issue is just setup for the Reboot storyline. According to the letters page, that story is going to last three issues. I hope after it’s over, this series finally stops spinning its wheels and starts going somewhere.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #309 (Marvel, 1988) – “Styx and Stone” is the conclusion of the story involving Jonathan Caesar. This character is truly creepy and disgusting, but it’s nice that Mary Jane gets to play an active role in defeating him, rather than having to be rescued by Peter. The two title characters are not among Michelinie’s better creations.

FANTASTIC FOUR #202 – This is a boring, generic story in which the FF team up with Iron Man to battle Quasimodo. The only good thing about it is the John Buscema artwork.

FANTASTIC FOUR #146 – This is from a period when the series was suffering from poor creative teams, boring and overly convoluted plots, and too many guest stars. This issue is no exception, as the team consists of the Thing, Torch and Medusa, with no Reed or Sue. That sort of thing never works for very long. The plot this issue is weird and poorly explained, involving a villain called Ternak and a team of abominable snowmen.

TARZAN #159 (Gold Key, 1966) – This early Gaylord DuBois/Russ Manning story is an adaptation of “The Jewels of Opar.” Manning’s artwork is as incredible as always; his La is a stunning beauty and his Tarzan is a perfect physical specimen. What strikes me about the story is its extremely abbreviated nature; Gaylord DuBois skips over large chunks of the novel in just a few captions. There’s one very funny panel where La professes her love for Tarzan and he unceremoniously rejects her; I posted this on my Instagram feed.

KA-ZAR #18 (Marvel, 1976) – An unexpectedly good comic. I have low expectations for Ka-Zar comics from this era, but this one has art by Val Mayerik, who was close to becoming a superstar but somehow never made it. His artwork here reminds me of that of Mike Ploog or a young P. Craig Russell. I don’t remember much about the story, but it’s a fairly effective piece of sword and sorcery mixed with SF.

ODY-C #7 (Image, 2015) – This is even weirder than last issue. As the letter column notes, this He solo story is not based directly on Greek myth but is a composite of myths from lots of different cultures, including the Arabian Nights. It’s a daring experiment, though I’m not sure how well it works. Christian Ward’s art is as spectacular as usual, especially the page that’s composed of two interlocking spirals.

HARLEY QUINN #20 (DC, 2015) – In this issue, Harley goes to Las Vegas to look for the girl she was sent to locate at the end of last issue. This is a typical example of the Harley Quinn formula, but that formula is an enjoyable one. Some commenters on scans_daily were surprised by the scene where Harley murders the baggage claim attendant, but while this scene is disgusting and shocking, it’s also entirely in character for her.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #170 (Marvel, 1977) – An average issue by the underrated team of Len Wein and Ross Andru. The artwork is better than the writing. The villain this issue is Doctor Faustus, a very silly character, and because Peter is mind-controlled for almost the whole issue, there’s not a lot of characterization or soap opera.

ADVENTURE COMICS #325 (DC, 1964) – After reading Raymond McDaniel’s poetry collection Special Powers and Abilities, which is about the Legion of Super-Heroes, I wanted to read some actual Legion comics. “Lex Luthor Meets the Super-Hero Legion!” is not one of the best early Legion stories, but at least it’s better than most Weisinger-edited comics from the early ‘60s. Like many of Edmond Hamilton’s Legion stories, it’s full of random unexplained weirdness, like a panel that shows Chameleon Boy and Proty II shaking hands with their parallel-universe counterparts. The backup story, “The Day Superboy Was a Coward,” is worse than no story at all.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #27 (DC, 1992) – In this issue the Legion battles B.I.O.N., which is not very well explained, but it appears to be some sort of robot that has all their powers. This story is reasonably exciting, but as is often the case with v4, it just doesn’t feel particularly like a Legion comic. As usual the best scenes in the issue are the ones with the SW6 Legionnaires.

BLACK CANARY #4 (DC, 2015) – Surprisingly this was my favorite issue since #1. I like Pia Guerra’s guest artwork better than Annie Wu’s art. Annie’s unique art style lost its novelty after one issue. And it’s been so long since Y: The Last Man that I forgot what a solid artist Pia Guerra is. I had mostly lost my enthusiasm for this series, but this issue makes me excited about it again.

PHONOGRAM: THE IMMATERIAL GIRL #2 (Image, 2015) – Usually the musical references in this series go completely over my head, but I recognized two of the musical videos referenced in this issue: a-ha’s “Take On Me” and Madonna’s “Material Girl.” As a result this issue was more fun than the previous one. Jamie McKelvie’s artwork this issue is very impressive, especially the character who blends into the panel borders.

HELP US! GREAT WARRIOR #5 (Boom!, 2015) – I read this issue out of order because I didn’t realize that I was two issues behind on it, not one issue. This issue was no better than any of the others.

ALL-STAR SECTION EIGHT #2 (DC, 2015) – This is the worst new comic I’ve read this year. It’s a disgusting, tasteless, plotless piece of crap, and it’s even offensive to Muslims because of Six-Pack’s phone call to Homeland Security. Garth Ennis clearly wrote this just for the paycheck, and he should be ashamed of himself. The one thing about this issue that I did like is the scene where Green Lantern is fighting a helmeted dinosaur in the background.

ALL-STAR SECTION EIGHT #3 (DC, 2015) – This issue is at the same level of quality as the previous issue.

THOR #331 (Marvel, 1983) – “Holy War” is a poorly drawn and boringly written story in which Thor battles a forgettable new villain called the Crusader. After Roy Thomas left and before Walt Simonson arrived, Thor was in seriously dire straits.

DAREDEVIL #106 (Marvel, 1973) – Gerber’s Daredevil is not one of his better works, but this issue is fairly enjoyable. The plot is weird and complicated, and not in a good way, but the romantic tension between Daredevil, Black Widow and Moondragon is cute. This series must be one of the few Steve Gerber comics from the ‘70s that I don’t have a complete run of.

JEZEBEL JADE #2 (Comico, 1988) – This Jonny Quest spinoff miniseries is a hidden gem. I’ve already discussed it in my reviews of issues 1 and 3 elsewhere on this blog, but what strikes me about this issue is Andy Kubert’s excellent storytelling. His art in this issue shows great promise, which I don’t think he ever fulfilled. I think he’s spent so much of his career working on big Marvel and DC projects that it’s hindered his artistic development.

Reviews for 9-12-15 and 9-14-15

These next reviews are for comics I bought at the Cincy Comic Con on September 12. In terms of the dealers’ room, this was by far the worst comics convention I’ve ever attended – it was even worse than Wizard World Atlanta last year. There were literally just three dealers that had anything I wanted, and the dealers’ room occupied less than a quarter of the floor space. This experience really drives home to me the fact that comics conventions are no longer places to buy and sell and trade comics (although Cincy Comic Con did have an impressive guest list of comics artists). This convention, at least, seems to have been intended as a multi-fandom event that catered largely to people with no actual interest in comics, which is odd since it was advertised to me as the more comics-focused alternative to Cincinnati Comic Expo. But honestly, there was so little of anything at this convention that I don’t see why anyone would even want to go to it. At least half the floor space was an artist’s alley full of amateur artists I’d never heard of, and there were very few panels. I ended up leaving after lunch because I’d run out of stuff to do. I certainly won’t plan on attending this con next year, and in the future, before I go to any convention, I’m going to carefully examine the panel schedule and the list of exhibitors as well as the guest list. I can no longer assume that every comic book convention is automatically worth attending, and I feel kind of sad about that. I am glad that comic conventions are becoming more welcoming to a broad public, but that also means that some comic conventions just have no clear sense of their identity anymore.

Also, I am suspending the “best thing in the issue” feature.

AVENGERS #104 – This is Roy Thomas’s last issue and also the conclusion of a storyline in which the Avengers battle Number Two and his Sentinels. This story is a sequel to X-Men #57-59, but is not nearly as enjoyable as that story, thanks to the convoluted and implausible plot and the fact that the artwork is by the fake Neal Adams (i.e. Rich Buckler) instead of the real one. Number Two’s Sentinels are very different from all later incarnations of the Sentinels in that they’re self-aware and self-motivated, and they’re focused on destroying all mutants by blowing up the sun, rather than killing mutants individually. They hardly seem like Sentinels at all, really. Also, this issue is mostly devoid of characterization, which is typically my favorite thing about the Avengers as opposed to the Justice League. Overall this issue ends Roy Thomas’s Avengers run with a whimper rather than a bang.

INVINCIBLE #25 (Image, 2005) – One of the few exciting purchases I made at the convention was Invincible #25, 27 and 29 for $2 each. I have almost every issue of Invincible from #30 up, but it’s becoming hard to find any earlier issues that are within my price range. This series has significantly lost its way (see my review of the latest issue below), but as of this issue, it was still genuinely exciting and new, and was expanding the boundaries of the superhero genre in interesting ways. In this issue, Mark is contacted by an insect alien disguised as Science Dog, who lures him into a meeting with his father. There are also a bunch of backup stories.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #143 (Marvel, 1975) – This issue includes the classic scene where MJ kisses Peter goodbye at the airport, after saying “I call you Tiger because you’re not.” This is a classic scene – Brian Cronin recently voted it the second best moment involving these two characters, after the last page of isue 123 – and it’s also an epic moment of adorableness. Other than that, this is just an average issue of a very good Spider-Man run. The new villain this issue is the Cyclone, a very silly character whose death at the hands of the Scourge of the Underworld was mourned by no one. But that one scene is worth the price of the entire issue.

POWER GIRL #3 (DC, 2009) – This was the only Amanda Conner issue of Power Girl I was missing. Amanda is the best pure superhero artist in the industry – besides her incredible anatomy and action scenes, she also includes all sorts of fun Easter eggs in each panel. It’s like she devotes maximum effort to every single drawing. I’m excited that she’ll be drawing the new Harley Quinn spinoff as well as writing it. This is not her best issue of Power Girl; it doesn’t have anything as classic as the Ikea scene in a later issue, and the Ultra-Humanite is not my favorite villain. But even then, Amanda’s artwork is incredible.

BATMAN ADVENTURES #24 (DC, 1994) – The problem with this issue is that it reproduces all the Japanese stereotypes that were common at the time – it’s about a ninja who tries to kill Batman to redeem her family honor. Besides that, this is a good issue of the defining Batman comic of the ‘90s. Mike Parobeck’s artwork and Kelley Puckett’s writing are as brilliant as usual. Maybe the most striking moment in this issue is Alfred sarcastically telling Bruce “Admitting to one’s insanity is the first step on the road to recovery.” This scene makes me realize that very many aspects in the current Batman franchise – including Bruce and Alfred’s relationship – can be traced directly back to this comic and the TV series it was based on.

WONDER WOMAN #271 (DC, 1980) – This is the last issue with a Huntress backup story that I was missing. Gerry Conway’s Wonder Woman stories from this era were just dreadful; they were devoid of any interest at all. The Wonder Woman story in this particular issue is yet another rehash of her origin, and identifies itself as such. In contrast, the Huntress backup story is a treasure. I’ve lost interest in Paul Levitz’s writing, but in 1980 he was DC’s top writer, largely because of his ability to write female characters. In his hands, Helena Wayne is a three-dimensional, fully realized character, and her dark, grim attitude distinguishes her from her colleague Power Girl. I also think this issue might be the first appearance of DA Harry Sims, though I’m not sure. This is not the most exciting Huntress story – it has a rather inconsequential plot about art theft – but it’s a good introduction to perhaps DC’s best backup feature of the ‘80s.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #306 (Marvel, 1988) – The most exciting bargain I made at Cincy Comic Con was that I got a bunch of Michelinie/McFarlane Spider-Man issues for just a few dollars each. I have no interest in anything else McFarlane has done, but this particular run of issues was the last time that the original volume of Spider-Man was truly great. McFarlane’s rendition of Spider-Man was truly original, and Michelinie’s writing was at its best. And this run tends to be inordinately expensive, especially the issues with Venom. This issue is the one whose cover is an homage to Action Comics #1. The main plot of the issue is rather silly, involving a parody villain called Humbug, but there are a lot of interesting subplots, including Jonathan Caesar’s attempt to steal Mary Jane from Peter.

WEST COAST AVENGERS #11 (Marvel, 1986) – This is one of Englehart’s lesser works, but I’m willing to read it because I’ve read almost all of his greater works. This issue has an overly complicated plot that I barely remember, and unusually, it includes an appearance by three villains from Master of Kung Fu (Zaran, Shockwave and Razor-Fist). It does have some nice characterization of Hawkeye and Mockingbird, whose marriage was still happy at the time.

SILVER SURFER #4 (Marvel, 1987) – This is the only Marvel comic by Englehart that I haven’t read at all, and it may be his last notable work, though based on this issue, it’s only an okay comic. I picked up several issues of it at Heroes Con, but this is the first one that I’ve gotten around to reading. This issue guest-stars Mantis, a character who appears in almost all of Englehart’s comics, including Justice League. His fascination with Mantis is puzzling to me, given that she was a stereotype and had an annoying speech pattern and was not a particularly deep character – I get the feeling that he only liked her because he created her. Since the Surfer himself is also a rather boring character, he and Mantis are not an effective combination. The artwork for this issue is by Marshall Rogers, but at this point he was just a pale shadow of the artist he’d been in the ‘70s.

ADVENTURE COMICS #444 (DC, 1976) – A fairly good Aquaman story by Paul Levitz and Jim Aparo. Returning to Atlantis, Aquaman discovers he’s been dethroned by a usurper, and he and Mera have to defeat both the usurper and Ocean Master. Not an especially innovative story, but good dialogue and brilliant art.

HAWK AND DOVE #5 (DC, 1969) – The high points of this issue are Gil Kane’s exciting action scenes, and the interplay between Hawk and Dove, whose personalities complement each other perfectly. That, of course, is the main attraction of this series. The frustrating thing about the plot is that the villain, Sam Hodgins, is a childhood friend of Hawk and Dove’s father, and Judge Hall is absolutely convinced that Hodgins is innocent of the crimes he’s been accused of. Yet it turns out that Hodgins is guilty, and we never learn what caused such him to become a criminal.

SUICIDE SQUAD #61 (DC, 1992) – This is part three of the story about the Atom and the president of Qurac, and the plot is difficult to understand without having read the first two parts. Otherwise this is as good as any issue of Suicide Squad.

BATMAN FAMILY #19 (DC, 1978) – This issue includes two good stories and three bad ones. It begins with a Batman story with great art by Michael Golden and average writing by Denny O’Neil. Golden only did a few Batman stories around this time, but his work was very high quality; he was probably an even better Batman artist than Don Newton. Then there are a Batgirl and a Robin story, both by the totally undistinguished creative team of Bob Rozakis and Juan Ortiz, and a Man-Bat story by Rozakis and Danny Bulanadi. But it’s almost worth the effort of slogging through this awful material because the issue ends with a Huntress backup by Levitz and Staton. I didn’t initially realize this, but Huntress appeared in this series prior to moving over to Wonder Woman about a year later. This specific story is about arson in South Gotham, and was probably influenced by the epidemic of arson that was occurring in the South Bronx at the time.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES ANNUAL #2 (DC, 1991) – This is only barely a Legion story; it focuses almost entirely on explaining how Valor seeded the galaxy. This is the type of story that has to be published for continuity reasons, but that isn’t especially interesting to read. Some of the retcons in this issue are difficult to accept, including the idea that Valor was sent into the Phantom Zone by Glorith. It was necessary for Valor to replace Superboy in the Legion’s history because of John Byrne’s short-sighted and ultimately disastrous decision to get rid of Superboy. However, Giffen and the Bierbaums never managed to convince me that Valor and Laurel Gand were adequate substitutes for Superboy and Supergirl in any way. The only good part of this issue is the end where Valor finally gets rescued from the Phantom Zone and joins the Legion, because Matter-Eater Lad gets to say “Stay back or I’ll… I’ll eat something.” Incidentally, I spoke with Chris Sprouse at Cincy Comic Con (as mentioned in the review of Thors #3 above) and he told me that the regular Legion series had a much darker tone than Legionnaires because of Giffen’s involvement.

DETECTIVE COMICS #437 (DC, 1973) – Both of the two stories in this issue are classics. The issue begins with Archie Goodwin and Jim Aparo’s “Deathmark,” which was reprinted in The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told. I first read this story a long time ago, and I remembered it as just an average Batman story, though page two – an entirely silent 8-panel page where Batman singlehandedly defeats three burglars – has always stuck out in my memory. Reading “Deathmark” again, I realize that while it’s a fairly low-key story, it’s also a nearly perfect piece of work; it does everything right. It’s only 12 pages and yet it sets up an intriguing mystery and resolves that mystery in a satisfying way, while also developing the character of Bruce Wayne. This story demonstrates that Archie Goodwin was one of the most competent writers in comics history, and it’s also some of Jim Aparo’s greatest work, especially that second page. The backup story in the issue is “The Himalayan Incident,” which is of great historical importance because it’s the first Goodwin-Simonson Manhunter story. I don’t know if this series has aged well, but at the time it was groundbreaking for its use of a visual language derived from manga (at least that’s what an old friend of mine – fly on the wall, I think – used to say). Either of these stories on its own would have been enough to make this issue memorable, but the fact that it contains both of them means that it’s among the most distinguished DC comics of the ‘70s.

Those were all the comics I managed to read before Monday, when my new comics shipment arrived. I expected to get it on Saturday because of the holiday, but it was late.

MS. MARVEL #18 (Marvel, 2015) – What I remember best about this issue is Aamir’s speech to Kamran in defense of Kamala: “If you think … that I’ll blame her for whatever happened between you, while you sashay off into the sunset because you’re a guy and nothing is ever your fault – well, my brother, you are incorrect.” As well as Kamala’s surprise at discovering that Aamir doesn’t hate her. This is a very powerful moment and it makes me ashamed of not being a better big brother to my own sisters. Of course Kamala’s interactions with Carol are incredibly cute, and I look forward to seeing the outcome of Kamala’s discovery that her mother knows her secret identity. Overall, this is another great issue of the best and most important current Marvel or DC comic.

STARFIRE #4 (DC, 2015) – Earlier this month, Donovan Grant wrote an article on The Hooded Utilitarian arguing that Conner and Palmiotti were overemphasizing Starfire’s stupidity. ( I’ve been loving this series so far, but I agree that this is a valid critique. Kory is not stupid – quite the opposite, her alien background gives her a unique perspective that some of her teammates lack. The classic example of this is in New Teen Titans #33 where she’s the only Titan who realizes that Trident is three different people. In the current series, her naivete, especially about sexual matters, is starting to overwhelm the rest of her character – the “Orange Crush” page, where she completely fails to notice Sol’s crush on her, is a blatant example of this. Otherwise, this is still a very funny and entertaining comic.

POWER UP! #2 (Boom!, 2015) – Like some other Boom! Box titles, this is a lot of fun but it delivers a rather small amount of storytelling for the price. Here it’s issue 2 already and we’ve barely gotten to know the characters. But I love the concept of this series. Particular highlights of this issue include the goldfish becoming a tiny laser whale, and Kevin’s gender-inappropriate armor.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #20 (IDW, 2015) – Yet another enjoyable story by Jeremy Whitley, who has been on fire lately. Luna’s exploration of Discord’s dreams is just as humorously bizarre and disturbing as you would expect. The most surprising thing in the issue is Discord’s line “I’m supposed to be meeting Fluttershy and the kids at the school.” This occurs in the context of a dream, but it’s still surprising because Fluttershy and Discord’s relationship has previously been depicted as totally platonic, although the romantic subtext is obvious.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #14 (Image, 2015) – I need to read this again because I feel like I missed the point. If not for Silver Surfer #11, this would easily be the most formally innovative comic book of the year; it’s an entire issue made up of panels from other comic books, including another series entirely, Sex Criminals. The point of this is to make us see the previous 13 issues in a new light, now that we understand that Ananke is the real villain of the story. The trouble is that I couldn’t remember where most of the panels came from, so most of the references went over my head. I didn’t even realize that some of the panels came from Sex Criminals until I read this information in a review. I kind of want to reread the entire series and then read this comic again and identify the source of each panel.

ATOMIC ROBO: THE RING OF FIRE #1 (IDW, 2015) – The first IDW issue of Atomic Robo is a bit of a letdown because Robo himself doesn’t appear in it, except as a disembodied head. Also, it takes place in the present. So it’s missing two of the best things about the series – its use of alternate history, and Robo’s lovable personality. Otherwise, this issue is a good example of Clevinger and Wegener’s style of humor. I’m glad that IDW picked up this series and I’m excited to read more of it.

LONG DISTANCE #4 (IDW, 2015) – Like the previous three issues, this one is funny and endearing, but in a surprisingly bittersweet way, and the ending is disturbingly realistic. Carter and Lee almost get a chance to live together, but then life happens, and they’re forced to live apart again. And at the end of the issue, which is set some years in the future, we discover that this situation keeps repeating itself – to the point that “we stopped trying to live any one place. Now we live everywhere… We don’t have a long-distance relationship anymore. We have a long-distance life.” This is disturbing because of how plausible this situation is. I know at least two academics who are or have been forced to live apart from their spouses on a semi-permanent basis. It’s as though in late capitalism, no one can have a permanent home anymore because work has become delocalized, and every relationship is long distance. This is a very important and depressing insight, which is not what I would have expected from Thom Zahler.

GOTHAM ACADEMY #10 (DC, 2015) – The surprise this issue was the revelation that Olive’s mother is named Calamity. The other kids act as if this is not new information, but I don’t remember having heard that name before. Possibly it was revealed in an issue of Arkham Manor, which I don’t read. In general, this was a fun story, though I may have been too tired to fully appreciate it. The ham actor Simon Trent is laughably over the top, and the revelation that Katherine is actually Clayface is pretty cool. I don’t think we were told which Clayface she is, but I assume she’s Basil Karlo, who was a professional actor.

BATMAN #472 (DC, 1991) – This Alan Grant/Norm Breyfogle collaboration is part one of “Idiot Root,” in which Batman visits Rio de Janeiro and investigates a series of murders. It’s a fairly exciting story, though it has some disgusting scenes involving the Queen of Hearts’s collection of human hearts, and I assume that it relies to some extent on stereotypes about Brazil.

HELP US! GREAT WARRIOR #6 (Boom!, 2015) – The conclusion to a disappointing series. I was very excited about this comic, but ultimately it never delivered enough story per issue to justify the $3.99 price tag. It would have worked better as a webcomic.

BITCH PLANET #5 (Image, 2015) – I’m glad to see another issue of this series. It’s not my personal favorite, and I have no plans of getting an NC tattoo. But it is a good comic with an extremely important political message. What I find especially striking about this issue is the scene with the old Japanese dude who wants to go to Bitch Planet just to see his daughter. It suggests that at some level, the men in this society have not completely lost sight of their humanity. It’s also interesting that in the sports scene, the female referee (who reminds me of Dolores Umbridge) is complicit in enforcing the rules unfairly to the benefit of the male team.

HARLEY QUINN ROAD TRIP SPECIAL #1 (DC, 2015) – This is a sleazy, exploitative, piece of work, an obvious attempt to appeal to the lower instincts. But I’m fine with that in small doses, especially since a female creator is involved. And besides, this is an incredibly fun comic. There are too many cute and funny scenes here for me to even remember them all, though Catwoman’s various interactions with cats are probably the most memorable. And the scenes detailing Harley’s grief over her uncle are unusually poignant. I only feel a little bit guilty for enjoying this comic.

NEW GODS #7 (DC, 1972) – “The Pact” has always been my favorite Fourth World story, and I don’t think I’ve ever read it in color before. I previously owned it only in the black-and-white TPB version from 1997. Like I mentioned in my review of ODY-C #6, this issue was important. It set a precedent that in a long-running comic (or a comic that’s meant to be long-running) with a serial narrative, it’s okay to do an occasional issue that doesn’t advance the main plot, such as a flashback or a side story. This issue is a distant predecessor to things like the Fables and Reflections issues of Sandman, or the issue of Preacher that explains the origin of Jesse’s lighter. On top of that, “The Pact” is just an incredibly epic and dramatic piece of work. The page where Izaya screams “IF I AM IZAYA THE INHERITOR — WHAT IS MY INHERITANCE!?”, and then the hand writes THE SOURCE on the wall, is the most powerful moment of the entire Fourth World saga. It somehow seems to encapsulate all of Kirby’s grandeur and power in just one towering moment. After that the rest of the story is almost a letdown, but Izaya/Highfather’s first encounter with Orion, who embodies the savage lifestyle that Izaya rejected, is a satisfying conclusion. This issue also contains some other material, including a Manhunter backup that’s pretty stupid – I think Manhunter would be forgotten today if Goodwin and Simonson hadn’t revived him.

HEAD LOPPER #1 (Image, 2015) – This is a very long comic – about 90 pages – but reads very quickly because of Andrew MacLean’s minimalistic art. This artist is an impressive storyteller. Unlike many cartoonists today, he relies on a solid sense of storytelling rather than on spectacular draftsmanship. The silent page where Head Lopper kills the giant wolf is a good example of this. On Facebook, I complained that MacLean was excessively influenced by Mignola – this is especially clear on the pages with Lulach and the old hag. But Pol Rua pointed out that there are other influences at work in his art (specifically Jeff Smith, Paul Grist and Linda Medley). In terms of the writing, this comic is intentionally kind of silly and overblown, but it has an intriguing plot, and the witch’s severed head provides some excellent comic relief.

SHUTTER #11 (Image, 2015) – Another comic I have to come back to later, after I get around to reading the entire series in order. I do like how this issue begins with a funny homage to Little Nemo.

SUPERMAN #223 (DC, 1970) – “Half a Hero” is a complicated, confusing and implausible story full of stupid plot twists. To that extent, it’s similar to many other Silver Age Superman stories. (To me, the Bronze Age of Superman doesn’t begin until “Superman Breaks Loose” in issue 233.) At the beginning of the story, three teenage superheroines called the Galactons try to recruit Superman as the first male member of their club. The parallels between this story and Adventure Comics #247 are so obvious that the writer even points them out, by reminding us that Superman used to be a member of the Legion. But then it turns out that the Galactons are really Kandorians, and they’re playing a trick on him because… honestly, I don’t understand why… and then they vanish from the story after page 18, never to be seen again. Overall, this comic is only memorable because of how strange it is.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #148 (Marvel, 1972) – This issue is by the unexciting creative team of Gary Friedrich and Sal Buscema, and it consists of a formulaic and boring story in which the Red Skull unleashes the Fifth Sleeper to destroy Las Vegas. Also, in this issue Cap and the Falcon team up with the Kingpin, who is written in a way that’s strikingly inconsistent with his later appearances.

BATMAN #463 (DC, 1991) – This story takes place in the Southwest and involves Native Americans, and I’m sorry to say that it shows an embarrassing degree of ignorance of Native American culture. I’m hardly an expert on this topic, but even I know that a Navajo holy man should not be praying to “Manitou” (that word only exists in Algonquian languages, which are completely unrelated to Navajo). The problems don’t stop there. In an article at Blue Corn Comics (, Rob Schmidt points out a lot of other problems with this comic. This issue is a clear case of what TVTropes calls “Did Not Do The Research,” and it’s a discredit to its writer.

Reviews for 9-4-15


These reviews are for comics I read starting on September 4. As usual, I read these comics on Friday when I was exhausted from a week of teaching, and my memory of some of them is not entirely clear. This time around I’m going to do “best thing in the issue” instead of “best moment in the issue.”

SILVER SURFER #14 (Marvel, 2015) – This was my most anticipated comic of the week, but it turned out to be disappointing. There was too much plot and not enough humor, and the Surfer/Dawn scenes were kind of sappy. Also, this comic is hampered by being too closely tied to Secret Wars. Best thing of the issue: the page with all the inset panels of weird-looking aliens.

DC COMICS BOMBSHELLS #2 (DC, 2015) – This issue is divided into three segments with three different artists. Easily my favorite segment is the first, which introduces the Bombshell version of one of the best DC superheroines, Mera. I don’t have much interest in the Supergirl/Stargirl story, and the Poison Ivy/Zatanna story just seems like a boring pastiche of Cabaret. I didn’t realize until just now that this section was drawn by Ted Naifeh. One nice thing about this series is that it has some quality talent, which is becoming somewhat rare at DC.

GROOT #4 (Marvel, 2015) – Groot heads for Eris’s ship to rescue Rocket, and acquires some companions: a robot gas station attendant, three incompetent Skrulls, and Numinus, the incarnation of wonder. I was surprised to see this last character because her only previous appearance was in a bad Power Pack story. In that story, she was based on Whoopi Goldberg, but Brian Kesinger’s version of her doesn’t look like Whoopi Goldberg at all. Anyway, the scenes with all these characters are alternately funny and touching, which is the dominant mood of this series. And the issue ends with a brilliant homage to X-Men #132. This was one of the better comics of the week. Best moment of the issue: there are several, but I think my favorite is the Mantron’s monologue about how his sole function is to pump fuel, but he dreams of greater things.

PLUTONA #1 (Image, 2015) – Jeff Lemire’s second current Image series is off to a good start. The premise of this series is that a bunch of high school kids discover the corpse of a superheroine, but that doesn’t happen until the end of this issue, so the real focus is on the interactions between the kids. Jeff Lemire does an amazing job of writing teenage dialogue; a particular highlight is the awkward conversation between the two girls about the jacket. You get the impression that he has either made close observations of kids in their early teens, or has a strong memory of being that age himself. The artwork helps add to the realism of the character interactions because Emi Lenox is very good with facial expressions. I look forward to reading more of this. Best moment of the issue: the surprising revelation that Plutona is a single mother who works as a waitress.

WE STAND ON GUARD #3 (Image, 2015) – When someone asked about this series the other day, I said that I was enjoying it but it wasn’t Saga. As of this issue, that’s still mostly accurate. I still like the premise and the Canadian setting, and BKv writes some witty dialogue, but this series is not generating the same level of excitement as Saga. The main feeling that this issue inspired in me was utter revulsion at the horrible tactics the American military commander was using. Best moment of the issue: there really wasn’t one, but I like the old hobo on the train.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #6 (IDW, 2015) – This is Sophie Campbell’s last issue for now, but thankfully she’s returning with issue 11, as revealed in the letter column. This story offers a satisfying conclusion to the initial story arc: Jem and the Holograms get expelled from the Battle of the Bands because of the food fight, but they do a show anyway, which is a massive success. I’m glad that I can’t hear the music in this comic because the lyrics are kind of stupid, but the creators make effective use of lettering and coloring and other cues to suggest what the music sounds like. Best moment of the issue: Aja hitting Kimber with a pillow.

TOIL AND TROUBLE #1 (Boom/Archaia, 2015) – This was originally called The Third Witch and that title appeared on my DCBS order form. I don’t know why it was changed. I’ve never heard of any of the creators of this comic, and I get the sense that none of them have much experience. But the premise of the comic is fascinating – a retelling of Macbeth from the witches’ perspective – and the creators know the play inside and out. Best thing in the issue: Harpier’s crab form is really cute.

PROVIDENCE #3 (Avatar, 2015) – As I already mentioned, the worst thing about this series is the text entries at the end. They’re a chore to read because they’re too long and they’re lettered in an illegible font. I wouldn’t mind if they were removed entirely. This issue’s story is based on Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” and is funny and creepily disturbing at once. In terms of its mood, it reminds me of some of Alan’s earlier work, but I can’t think what exactly – maybe Jack B. Quick. Best thing in the issue: the name “Negathlia-Lou.”

DAREDEVIL #17 (Marvel, 2015) – In his long career, Mark Waid has gone through both good and bad periods, and I think he’s currently in the middle of a bad period. I’ve gotten so annoyed with Empire: Uprising that I didn’t order the most recent issue, and if Daredevil hadn’t been about to end, I would have stopped ordering it too. This story demonstrates many of the worst aspects of Mark’s writing: it’s histrionic and theatrical and it’s full of implausible plot twists. Best thing in the issue: Julia Carpenter reminding Shroud that she’s not a hostage.

DAREDEVIL #18 (Marvel, 2015) – This is the last issue of what was easily the best run of Daredevil comics since “Born Again.” However, as the previous review suggests, it’s not a satisfying conclusion to the Waid/Samnee era. I wish that this run had ended four issues earlier. In this story, Matt defeats the Kingpin and rather implausibly gets his normal life back. But he doesn’t really seem to have learned anything from his assholish behavior over the past few issues, and he doesn’t suffer any lasting consequences, except that he loses his law license (for about the third time). So this isn’t even an ending, just a return to the status quo. Throughout his career, Mark’s major flaw has been his inability to write effective endings, and this issue suggests that he has yet to overcome this flaw. Best thing in the issue: Chris Samnee’s art.

PRINCELESS: RAVEN: THE PIRATE PRINCESS #1 (Action Lab, 2015) – This spinoff is perhaps even better than the series it’s based on. Reading this issue and the next issue, I realized that Jeremy Whitley has quietly become one of the best dialogue writers in the industry. His writing is witty and cute and he has a good handle on how people actually talk. And somehow Raven is a more intriguing character in this series than in her previous appearance in Princeless. As a minor but important point, this issue has much better lettering than the regular Princeless series does. Best thing in the issue: “MY CABBAGES!” This is just a quick one-panel homage but it makes me think that if Gene Luen Yang ever stops writing Avatar comics, Jeremy would be a good replacement for him.

PRINCELESS: RAVEN: THE PIRATE PRINCESS #2 (Action Lab, 2015) – Unexpectedly, this was the best comic of the week. The new characters, Sunshine and Cookie’s bratty daughter Jayla, are distinctive and intriguing; one of Jeremy’s strengths as a writer is his ability to create a wide and diverse range of female characters. But the clear highlight of the issue is the recruitment scene. This parody of Internet misogyny is perfect because it’s so spot-on – every one of the rejected crewmen says things that I could imagine people saying on Twitter, or that I’ve actually heard people say. And the best thing in the issue is the dude who says “not all men” and then complains about misandry. I suppose Jeremy might face some hostile criticism for this scene, but really, anyone who objects to it will just be proving its point. I am very excited for the next issue of this series.

SILK #7 (Marvel, 2015) – I liked this issue, but I’m just not feeling highly excited about this series. The problem may be Robbie Thompson’s overly compressed writing style. This issue has a compelling (and deliberately frustrating) narrative structure in which Silk learns where her brother is, but keeps getting sidetracked from reaching him. It’s disappointing, though, that the Pokemon dude has to rescue her from being trapped under a pile of rubble – it would have been far more appropriate if she had lifted the rubble off herself, like in Amazing Spider-Man #33. Best thing in the issue: Cindy Moon going to a psychiatrist. This is something that Marvel characters do very rarely unless the psychiatrist is Doc Samson.

CAPTAIN MARVEL AND THE CAROL CORPS #1 (Marvel, 2015) – I have the first three issues of this, but I didn’t bother reading them because the premise seems kind of boring. This issue was okay, but I still haven’t felt motiated to read the next two. What I do like about this issue is that the central plot point is Carol’s desire to “see what’s on the other side of the sky.” Kelly Sue has said “Everything about Carol wants to go up. Chin up, head up, heart up, up, up, up,” and that’s exactly why she’s driven to ignore her superiors’ orders and find out what’s outside her world. Best thing in the issue: Lieutenant Trouble as Thor.

THORS #3 (Marvel, 2015) – My favorite thing about this series is the extreme contrast between the film noir aesthetic, on the one hand, and the characters and the artist involved, on the other hand. Thor is not a character you would typically associate with gritty, realistic police procedural fiction, and Chris Sprouse has spent much of his career drawing very bright and optimistic superhero comics like Legionnaires, Supreme and Tom Strong. So there’s a basic incongruity here, which is the central joke of the comic. Although I should say that I talked to Chris Sprouse at Cincy Comic Con last weekend (a terrible convention, but more on that later), and he said that he hadn’t been consciously trying for this incongruous effect; he was deliberately trying to draw much darker than he usually does. So maybe the effect that I’m describing here is unintentional, but I like it anyway. Best thing in the issue: Throg, Frog of Thunder, riding on the shoulder of Thrr, Dog of Thunder.

UNCANNY X-MEN #213 (Marvel, 1987) – Somehow I haven’t read this issue before, probably because it tends to be rather expensive and I’ve stopped buying X-Men Classics reprints. This issue concludes the Mutant Massacre story arc as Sabretooth invades the mansion and is defeated by Wolverine and Psylocke, who is subsequently inducted into the X-Men. Alan Davis’s artwork in this issue is brilliant, but , I kept comparing this issue unfavorably to X-Men #143. In both these issues, a new X-Man is trapped in the mansion together with a horrible, bloodthirsty villain, and has to push her wits and her powers to the limit in order to survive. However, in #143, Kitty saves herself from the N’Garai demon with no help from anyone else, while in #213, Psylocke gets saved by Wolverine and Storm. Her achievement is far less impressive, and as a result, this issue is less of a classic. Best thing in the issue: either the splash page or the cute photograph of Betsy and the New Mutants. In this scene Betsy mentions that Doug Ramsey is in love with her, but I don’t know if Claremont ever did anything with that subplot.

SHUTTER #2 (Image, 2014) – Tof Eklund told me that this was his third favorite comic after Saga and Lumberjanes. So far I haven’t been equally impressed by it, although the idea behind it is fascinating – it takes place in a world filled with every fantastic and science-fictional concept ever. Probably the trouble is that I’ve been reading it out of order. As of Cincy Comic Con, I now have every issue of Shutter except #5, and I think I need to go back and read the entire series in order. Best thing in the issue: the gorilla doctor.

SHUTTER #8 (Image, 2015) – The best thing in this issue is the “Alarmcat Funnies” sequence, a series of comic strip parodies that collectively explain Alarmcat’s origin. After that point, the issue becomes much harder to understand. Kat meets a bunch of siblings she didn’t know she had, and one of them, Kalliyan, demands Kate’s help in finding her (Kate’s) mother.

SHUTTER #9 (Image, 2015) – Like the previous issue, this one begins with a flashback that’s not about Kate. This one takes place in 1889 and involves some characters named Jean-Paul, Magali and Prospero. I don’t understand what’s going on here, though I guess Magali is Kate’s mother. Then Kate and Kalliyan embark on their expedition. Best thing in the issue: Kate and Christopher’s pinky promise.

JONAH HEX #14 (DC, 2007) – Jordi Bernet’s artwork on this issue is incredible. It’s maybe a little too visually similar to Pratt or Toth, who Bernet replaced on Torpedo, but Bernet is a master storyteller. Unfortunately the writing in this issue is not at the same level as the art. Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray’s story is a series of tired old Western clichés, and their dialogue is equally uninspired.

ANT-MAN #5 (Marvel, 2015) – This is the last issue of this volume, and I don’t plan on reading the rebooted version of this series. Like earlier issues, this one has funny dialogue and excellent artwork by Ramon Rosanas, but is fatally flawed because of its treatment of Cassie. Scott defeats Darren Cross and saves Cassie, but subsequently decides to get out of her life because she’s better off without him. Besides the obvious fact that absenting yourself from your child’s life is the definition of bad parenting, the other problem here is that Scott doesn’t bother consulting Cassie herself about this. It seems like she ought to have some say in whether her father is in her life or not. On top of that, Cassie spends almost the entire issue unconscious and has no lines of dialogue. Nick Spencer denies her any agency of her own. Best thing in the issue: the artwork.

SHUTTER #10 (Image, 2015) – In this issue, Kate and Kalliyan go through the portal and get trapped in some weird dreamworld, and a lot of weird stuff happens that I don’t understand. I need to reread this issue after reading the previous nine issues in the correct order. Also, there’s a Tiger Lawyer backup story which is not as funny as you would expect. Best thing in the issue: the revelation that the entire landscape is Harold Rathborn’s face.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #44 (IDW, 2015) – This is as funny as every other issue of the series, but also surprisingly poignant. In this issue, the Lost Light crew visits the homeworld of the Necrobot, the Transformers version of the Black Racer, because Rewind wants to find out whether Dominus Ambus is dead or not. I don’t understand who Dominus Ambus is, but it’s touching to watch Rewind struggle over whether he wants to know if Dominus Ambus is alive. The other powerful moment (and the best thing in the issue) is the last page, which depicts a giant field of flowers, each representing a person killed by Megatron.

CASANOVA: ACEDIA #4 (Image, 2015) – Akim Athabadze’s origin story is very powerful, and also very timely because it’s reminiscent of the current refugee crisis in Europe. Also, it’s nice that this entire issue is drawn by Gabriel Bá. The trouble is that I can’t remember who Akim Athabadze is, and so I don’t understand what this story has to do with Casanova Quinn. This series would probably read better as a trade paperback.

8HOUSE: KIEM #3 (Image, 2015) – Xurxo G. Penalta’s artwork in this issue is jaw-dropping. He is a supernaturally gifted draftsman and he has an amazing visual imagination. His cities and alien beings look otherworldly but also believable and internally consistent. As far as I can tell, this is Penalta’s first full-length story, but it demonstrates that he has the potential to become a superstar. As usual with Brandon Graham comics, the story is intriguing and weird but is less important than the art, and I have no idea what Kiem has to do with Arclight. Best thing in the issue: the two-page splash depicting the city of Eurthum (this image also appeared in the previous issue and I initially thought it was by Nate Simpson).

GODZILLA IN HELL #1 (IDW, 2015) – Another beautiful work by the preeminent draftsman in the current comics industry, James Stokoe. This comic has no text, so there’s nothing to distract from Stokoe’s draftsmanship and storytelling. And also there are no humans, and thus no human faces, which are Stokoe’s weak point. The level of graphic creativity here is incredibly high; the best example of this (and the best thing in the issue) is the demon that Godzilla fights, which is completely covered with teeth. I am kind of glad that Stokoe isn’t more prolific because his comics take quite a long time to read.

SUICIDE SQUAD #62 (DC, 1992) – I accidentally read this after #61, which was also in my to-be-read boxes and will be reviewed in the next post. This is the conclusion to a three-parter involving the president of Qurac and Adam Cray, the second Atom. As usual with this series, there is a lot of exciting action and strong characterization in this issue, but I didn’t understand the plot. Best thing in the issue: Aquaman demonstrating that he’s actually useful.

JONNY QUEST #8 (Comico, 1987) – This is a weird one. “The Curse of X-7” consists of a series of scenes set at increasingly remote points in the future – 2016, 2027, etc. In each of these scenes, an increasingly older Jonny Quest combats a menacing assassin named X-7. In the end it turns out that the entire story is a hallucination that Jonny is having, because he and the other characters are being smothered by the fumes of an experimental insecticide called X-7. It’s an impressive narrative trick, although I think I’ve been scarred for life by the image of an adult Haji wearing nothing but a loincloth. Best thing in the issue: it includes a pinup which is the first published work of Joe Matt. On the inside front cover, it says that Joe Matt “hopes to someday write and illustrate his own comic.” Whoever wrote that probably would not have predicted what kind of comic Joe Matt would later write and draw.

FANTASTIC FOUR #186 (Marvel, 1977) – “Enter Salem’s Seven!” introduces the supervillain team of that name, and also reveals that Nicholas Scratch is Agatha Harkness’s son. It’s a rather formulaic and boring story, and in terms of the artwork, it’s not as impressive as George Pérez’s other work from the ‘70s. At this point, though, I’m excited to read even a subpar George Pérez story if it’s one that I haven’t read before. Best thing in the issue: the Impossible Man watching Casablanca.

SUPERBOY #176 (DC, 1971) – “The Invisible Intruder” introduces Superboy’s foster sister Kathy, a little girl who becomes superintelligent thanks to alien technology. It’s a pretty stupid story, but not as stupid as other Superman comics from this era, and Murphy Anderson’s inking is good enough to make even Bob Brown’s boring artwork seem exciting. The main attraction of the issue for me is the Legion backup, which focuses on Invisible Kid and Chemical King, two characters who were used very rarely and would be killed off within a few years. Showing true teamwork, they use their powers collaboratively to defeat a criminal who’s found a way to copy Lyle’s powers. This story is probably the source for Robert Loren Fleming and Chris Sprouse’s classic “The Unique Properties of Condo Arlik” from Secret Origins #47. Best thing in the issue: the last panel, where Lyle shakes hands with Condo and calls him “my pal.”

MIDNIGHT TALES #9 (Charlton, 1974) – This obscure Charlton comic is a hidden gem. It begins with a frame story in which a lovestruck college student is talking to her professor about her term paper, which is about the sorceress Tanya. This leads to three different stories about Tanya’s life, which are illustrated by three of Charlton’s top artists at the time: Tom Sutton, Wayne Howard and Joe Staton. The entire issue is written by Nicola Cuti and displays his typical awkward but cute and heartfelt style of humor. Best thing in the issue: the end of the first story, where a five-year-old Tanya tries to summon a giant panther demon, but only succeeds in summoning a cat with wings.

CASPER SPACE SHIP #5 (Harvey, 1973) – I usually don’t even bother buying old Harvey comics because there are so many of them and they’re all so similar, so building a complete Harvey collection is both impossible and pointless. I do pick them up sometimes, though. The main story in this issue is “Old Whiskers the Wizard,” which is reasonably well-plotted and has a cute (though predictable) plot twist involving time travel. This comic is readable, but it’s nothing special.

Comics reviews for the last week of August


LUMBERJANES #17 (IDW, 2015) – This is a very important issue on several levels. First, it’s the last issue by Noelle Stevenson. This series is a team effort with no single dominant auteur figure, but if there was one creator who was more responsible for its success than the others, it was Noelle. I expect that Kat Leyh will be an effective replacement, but it will be tough for her to fill Noelle’s shoes. The other important thing about this issue is the conversation between Jo and Barney at the end. I initially read this scene as just a strong hint that Jo was transgender, but in a Comics Alliance article, Charlotte Finn makes a convincing case that this scene is not just a hint but an explicit confirmation. Transgender representation is not an issue in which I have a personal investment, but in principle, it’s a good thing that transgender readers of this series have a character to identify with. This scene also explains a lot about Jo, who was previously the most enigmatic character in this series. Best moment of the issue: the Jo/Barney scene.

NEW MGMT #1 (Image, 2015) – This was a very quick read – I was able to read the whole thing while taking a five-minute walk – but it offers a satisfying conclusion to one of my favorite ongoing series of the decade. This story takes place an unspecified amount of time after Meru defeats the Eraser, and reveals that Meru has recreated MIND MGMT as an organization with a positive social purpose, which is organized around groups of exactly two agents. But the ending reveals that the Eraser is still alive, so there’s potential for a sequel (NEWER MGMT I guess) at some point. As expected, Kindt does some impressive things here with formatting and publication design. Best moment of the issue: the words “This is your field guide” appearing on Meru’s head, in the same font used for the field guide. This indicates Meru has taken over the field guide and made it part of herself, and I’ll have to think more about the implications of that.

ZODIAC STARFORCE #1 (Dark Horse, 2015) – I never watched Sailor Moon as a kid, but I had to order this comic because the idea behind it is awesome. However, the execution is maybe a little disappointing. The characters don’t particularly interest me, and the story seems rather generic. I feel like the creators could be doing more with the idea of grown-up magical girls. Best moment of the issue: nothing comes to mind, but I like Kim’s hair.

PREZ #3 (DC, 2015) – This continues to be a very effective piece of satire, and it’s probably the best comic DC is publishing at the moment. Pretty much everything in this comic seems like a completely plausible extrapolation from what’s going on in America right now, whether it’s the open-carry advocates at the president’s inaugural address, or the warehouse worker being timed on his bathroom break and then fired, or the vapid debate over the predatory pork act. This is effective satire because it’s funny in an uncomfortable way. Best moment of the issue: the barely-disguised version of Zizek lecturing his little daughter on Marxist readings of the smurfs.

HARLEY QUINN #19 (DC, 2015) – I was barely awake when I read this comic – I read it on the Friday afternoon of the first week of class, after an extremely long day – and I don’t remember much about it. Like most recent Harley Quinn comics, it was funny but insubstantial. Best moment of the issue: the scene with the quintuplets’ mother.

PRINCELESS: BE YOURSELF #3 (Action Lab, 2015) – Another comic I barely remember. I didn’t like it nearly as much as Raven: The Pirate Princess, which I will review later. Best moment of the issue: Angoisse’s creepy public display of affection with her creepy boyfriend.

BATGIRL #43 (DC, 2015) – A significant improvement over the last couple issues. The idea of people being killed by targeted tiger attacks is horrible yet strangely funny, and Babs Tarr is very good at drawing giant kitties. Also, this issue has some surprising narrative density. I don’t know if it’s because of the number of panels per page or what, but this issue seems to offer much more story per issue than an average Marvel or DC comic. Best moment of the issue: every scene involving the tigers.

SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #136 (DC, 1971) – I think I read this on Kirby’s birthday. This entire run is obviously an incredible classic. One of the first Superman comics I ever read was Jerry Ordway’s Superman #41, which mentions many of the concepts from Kirby’s early Jimmy Olsen run – Project Cadmus, the Zoomway, Habitat, Mokkari and Simyan, etc. Even then I thought there was something compelling and strange about all these names and ideas, and this issue and the issues around it are the original source for many of them. I still don’t think any later writer has fully explored the potential of all the ideas Kirby came up with in these few issues. This story is also interesting for its depiction of cloning, which must have been a fairly new idea at the time. It’s weird how all the characters in the story are completely okay with the idea that they’ve been cloned without their knowledge. Best moment of the issue: the map showing Habitat, the Zoomway, and the Project. Surprisingly this doesn’t seem to have appeared on Aaron King’s Comic Cartography blog. Also the letter column response saying that Al Plastino had to redraw the Jimmy Olsen and Superman faces in earlier issues because Kirby just wasn’t sufficiently familiar with the characters.

DESCENDER #5 (Image, 2015) – This is another excellent issue, but I have little to say about this series that I haven’t already said. Best moment of the issue: the shocking splash page with Dr. Quon getting his hand cut off.

BATMAN: LI’L GOTHAM #6 (DC, 2013) – After reading one Dustin Nguyen comic, I felt motivated to read another one. I’ve probably said this before, but it’s impressive that he has the range and versatility to do two comics that are as radically different in tone as Li’l Gotham and Descender. Also, the fact that I associate him with Li’l Gotham makes Descender even more poignant, because of the visual resemblance between Tim the robot and Damien. The first story in this issue guest-stars Colin Wilkes, a character I’ve never heard of before; it seems he was co-created by Dustin in Detective Comics. The end of the story suggests that Colin is actually Damian’s twin brother. In the second story, Babs and Commissioner Gordon go out for a Father’s Day dinner and get seated next to Ra’s al Ghul and Talia, and hilarity ensues. Best moment of the issue: “The service here is to die.” “I believe you meant to say, it’s ‘to die for.’” “No, I was correct the first time.”

DETECTIVE COMICS #431 (DC, 1973) – The early ‘70s was a very good period for Batman, but “This Murder Has Been Censored” is a boring, formulaic whodunit story, with equally boring art by Irv Novick. The Jason Bard backup story is only marginally better. Best moment of the issue: there was none.

NEW GODS #2 (DC, 1971) – I’ve always been puzzled as to why this issue’s story title: “O’ Deadly Darkseid,” contains an apostrophe. This issue is of course another classic work by Kirby, but I also feel that New Gods is the most unfocused of the Fourth World titles. The story goes all over the place, and there are a bunch of minor characters in this issue who never end up doing anything important. Best moment of the issue: the splash pages depicting characters from other Fourth World series.

YOUNG JUSTICE #49 (DC, 2002) – I’m trying to write these reviews quickly because I don’t remember most of these comics very well and I don’t have a whole lot to say about them. This issue is part two of “AWOL,” in which Empress seeks revenge for the death of her father. Most of the issue consists of a series of weird dreams that Empress has. Best moment of the issue: the metatextual conversation in which Ray, Superboy and Impulse complain about their comics being cancelled.

BACCHUS #46 (Top Shelf, 1999) – Bacchus does not appear in this issue. It begins with some short one-page vignettes, then there’s a Joe Theseus/Eyeball Kid story and some unimpressive backup stories by artists other than Eddie Campbell. Best moment of the issue: the one-page story about Anne removing a leaf from the cat’s butt.

THOR ANNUAL #1 (Marvel, 2015) – The first story in this annual is by Jason Aaron and Tim Truman, and takes place far in the future when Thor has succeeded to Odin’s throne. It’s fun but kind of forgettable, and the art is not Tim Truman’s best. Unsurprisingly the best story in the annual is the one by Noelle Stevenson and Marguerite Sauvage, in which the new Thor “proves herself” to the Warriors Three. The best moment in this story and in the issue is the scene where Thor obtains a lock of the Elf Queen’s hair by just asking her for it. The CM Punk story was the focus of most of the hype for this issue, but it’s probably the worst of the three, and the artwork by Rob Guillory is better than the writing.

CASTLE WAITING #9 (Fantagraphics, 2007) – Another issue that I read as part of the hardcover volume (see the review of Castle Waiting #8 in the previous post). Besides the cover art, there is nothing in this comic book that’s not also in the hardcover. Best moment of the issue: the shock ending where Simon falls out the fake door.

STRANGE DAYS #1 (Eclipse, 1984) – This is an anthology of three longer stories and two one-pagers by Peter Milligan, Brendan McCarthy and Brett Ewins. I assumed all this work had been previously published in the UK, but it looks like I was wrong and it was all created specifically for this comic. Maybe the best of the stories is the first one, “Freakwave,” which makes no logical sense at all, but has a powerfully evocative, surrealist logic to it. All this material is quite good, though, and I will be looking for the other two issues of this series. Brendan McCarthy’s draftsmanship is reminiscent of that of Alan Davis or even Dave Stevens, but his methods are far more radical – he uses a lot of photographs and mixed media, especially in the first story – and he’s a brilliant colorist. Best moment of the issue: the line “Doughnuts of syrup melt from my eyes / all the king’s biscuits and all the king’s pies” stands out to me somehow.

RAGNAROK #5 (IDW, 2015) – This series does not have the humor or the narrative depth of Simonson’s Thor, but the artwork is incredible, and the story is exciting. In this issue, Thor visits Mimir’s well and plucks his eye out in exchange for advice on what to do next. Best moment of the issue: the vision scenes, which appear to be reproduced directly from pencils.

RAGNAROK #6 (IDW, 2015) – Thor finally makes it to Asgard and defeats a giant fire demon. Also, Drifa and Regn show up again. Best moment of the issue: Thor’s funeral for Sif and his children, who don’t exist in the Marvel universe.

DESCENDER #6 (Image, 2015) – Another good issue, but again, nothing about it particularly stands out to me, nor can I think of a particularly memorable moment from it.

THORS #2 (Marvel, 2015) – More thoughts on this series later. The artwork in this issue strongly reminds me of Simonson for some reason, especially the two-page splash with the Thors fighting the Hulks. Thrr, the werewolf/dog Thor, is an awesome new character and I hope to see more of him. Best moment of the issue: “Thrr, go get him boy!” “RAWF RAWF RAWF!”

ELFQUEST #21 (Marvel, 1987) – After reading this issue, I think that Elfquest itself is a fine comic; the premise is not irreparably flawed. The problem with Elfquest: The Final Quest is just that Wendy and Richard have declined in quality over time. When it began, Elfquest was an exciting, well-written and well-drawn comic with interesting characters. This issue has a very convoluted plot that I don’t quite understand, but it does provide a clear and understandable summary of Wolfrider history, including the revelation that Wolfriders are not immortal because of crossbreeding with wolves. And Cutter didn’t know this because Wolfriders never die of old age. Best moment of the issue: Cutter learning that his wife concealed the fact that she’s immortal and he’s not, and being okay with this.

DETECTIVE COMICS #514 (DC, 1982) – I generally like these Detective Comics issues with Don Newton artwork, but this one was kind of dumb. While chasing after Maxie Zeus, Batman encounters Haven, a giant bearded dude who lives in the wilderness, avoiding human contact, and cares for wild animals. I guess this makes him sort of a male version of Fluttershy. Also like Fluttershy, Haven flies into a rage when Maxie Zeus’s henchmen kill one of his animals, and this leads to his death, because he was too good for this world. The main problem with this story, I think, is Haven’s ridiculous appearance; he looks like a younger version of Santa Claus, dressed in a lumberjack’s outfit. The Batgirl backup story, by Cary Burkett and José Delbo, is even worse. Best moment of the issue: the panel where Haven is holding a raccoon and preventing it from catching a nearby bird.

KAMANDI #36 (DC, 1975) – This is one of the last issues that Kirby wrote and drew, and it shows some signs of fatigue; the artwork is not quite as amazing as in earlier issues. Also, for some reason the sentences for the first two-thirds of the issue end in periods instead of question marks, which is very odd for a Kirby comic. But the plot is inventive and funny. In this issue Pyra takes Kamandi and Doctor Canus to a hotel inhabited by crocodiles, tigers and humans, all of whom are trying to evict each other. Kamandi has to battle the wolves for possession of the second floor, and he wins by spraying the wolves with sewer water, forcing them to wash it off in the swimming pool, where the crocodiles attack and defeat them. This is the best moment of the issue.

GRIMJACK #17 (First, 1985) – This is the first Grimjack comic I’ve read in a long time, but it’s the conclusion to a multipart storyline involving Dancer’s conspiracy to take over the Cynosure city council. As a result, the plot is somewhat difficult to understand and lacks the impact it would have had if I had read issue 16 recently. In the Munden’s Bar backup story, which is drawn by Barry Crain, Bob the Lizard saves the city from a sentient sludge monster. This story includes all kinds of Easter eggs, including appearances by the Three Stooges, Space Ghost, Nexus and Badger. Best moment of the issue: the scene where Goddess displays her full power. “I am daughter to the storm, birthed by the sea… so you better think twice ‘fore messing with me!” This character is obviously extremely powerful but was usually depicted as just Blacjac’s girlfriend. We also learn in this scene that she’s the daughter of Shango and Olokun, two deities in the real-world Yoruba religion.

SAVAGE DRAGON #206 (Image, 2015) – I’ve ordered the next three issues of this series, but I think I’m done with it after that. This comic has jumped the shark. This issue doesn’t have any of the disturbing sexual implications of the last few issues, but on the other hand, it’s just not very good. About half the issue is an unnecessary fight scene, and much of the other half is navel-gazing metatextual commentary. The first page, where Malcolm and Maxine are complaining that Oscar’s is going to close, should have been a blog entry instead of a page of the actual comic book. Also, the backup story is awful and the artwork is a series of blatant swipes from Jim Starlin.

Reviews for the last two weeks of August


Let’s try something new. Every review this week (or at least most of them) will include my pick of the best moment in the issue.

ASTRO CITY #26 (DC, 2015) – This was a sweet tribute to Kurt’s first Astro City story, but I didn’t think it was nearly as deep or complex as other recent Astro City stories. And the ending was kind of abrupt. Best moment of the issue: the incidental reference to the Sledgehamsters. I kind of hope we actually get to see the Sledgehamsters someday, but maybe it’s funnier if we don’t.

RAT QUEENS #11 (Image, 2015) – After having been effectively ignored for quite a long time, Betty, my favorite Rat Queen, is the star of this issue. The plot has more to do with Hannah and her father, but the cliffhanger scene suggests that we’re finally going to find out more about Betty and her past. This is also Tess Fowler’s first issue as artist, and so far I like her better than Stjepan Sejic. Best moment of the issue: Dee tucking Betty into bed.

RUNAWAYS #3 (Marvel, 2015) – This series has only one character in common with the original Runaways, though it’s the best character. Yet the series clearly deserves to be called Runaways because it has exactly the same vibe as the original series. It’s about a bunch of kids who are hiding from the authorities, who are constantly in mortal danger, and whose goal is to make up for their bad upbringing. Amadeus Cho’s line “It’s not his fault he was programmed to be bad. So were we” expresses the essential idea behind this franchise. This series has been really good so far and I hope it continues after Secret Wars in some form. Best moment of the issue: Val getting all excited about her missing tooth.

MANIFEST DESTINY #16 (Image, 2015) – This issue starts to unravel the central mysteries of the series, as we get hints that the arches are portals to another world. Meanwhile, we also get some even more obscure hints about what’s going on with Sacagawea. I’m excited about the next issue, but also very nervous that that brave kid (not Sacagawea, the one who climbs the arch) is going to get killed. Best moment of the issue: “Good fortune to you!” “But you will most likely die!” “Yes! Most likely!”

SECRET WARS: SECRET LOVE #1 (Marvel, 2015) – This is probably the best Marvel comic book of 2015. The roster of talent in this issue is truly impressive – Katie Cook, Felipe Smith, Jeremy Whitley, Michel Fiffe, etc. Of the five stories in the issue, all of them are at least reasonably good. The Michel Fiffe story has some gorgeous art, though I think his art looks worse on glossy paper. The Katie Cook story is as adorable as usual and is full of visual puns. The Squirrel Girl and Ms. Marvel stories are not quite as good, though at least they’re funny. But the gem of the issue is Jeremy Whitley and Gurihiru’s story about Iron Fist and Misty Knight. I’ve never particularly cared for either of these characters, but this story is a tender, sweet, and realistic portrayal of an interracial marriage – maybe the best such portrayal in any Marvel comic. I obviously can’t verify this from personal experience because I’m not married, but this story feels like an authentic portrayal of what marriage and parenthood are like. And the “black people makeup” line and the hair braiding scene suggest that Jeremy is not making stuff up or relying on stereotypes, but is instead drawing upon his own experience of being married to a black woman. There is already some talk of expanding this story into an ongoing series, and I really hope that will happen. Best moment of the issue: Bantu knots.

WEIRDWORLD #3 (Marvel, 2015) – After three issues, I think this series is more impressive in terms of artwork than writing. Arkon is a very flat character and the storytelling in this series is overly decompressed, so the real excitement in this comic comes from Mike del Mundo’s artwork. However, I do think the Forest of the Man-Things is an awesome idea and I’m curious to see more of it. Best moment of the issue: the map.

ARCHIE #2 (Archie, 2015) – Mark Waid has been in a slump lately (see reviews of Daredevil in later posts) but this issue was funny and entertaining, and Fiona’s artwork is as brilliant as usual. I don’t remember Archie ever having been such a klutz before. You’d almost think he was a descendant of Groo, except I can’t imagine Groo ever reproducing. Best moment of the issue: the Rube Goldbergian way in which Archie causes the house to collapse.

REVIVAL #32 (Image, 2015) – This issue focuses on the sibling rivalry between Dana and Em, and also provides some effective insight into Dana’s rebellious past. The final reconciliation between the two sisters is surprisingly effective. Best moment of the issue: the “you’re all I’ve got” moment.

DESCENDER #2 (Image, 2015) – I forgot to order this when it came out, but it was either reprinted or offered again, so now I can get caught up on this series. As a general comment to this and the other issues I will be reviewing below, this is a very exciting series. I haven’t liked everything I’ve read by Jeff Lemire, and this comic is somewhat lacking in depth, but at least it has no dramatic flaws. I assume the main character’s appearance and age are a deliberate homage to Astro Boy, and his creator reminds me of Dr. Tenma. The best thing about this comic is Dustin Nguyen’s artwork. It’s impressive that he has the versatility to move to this project from Batman: Li’l Gotham, and he reminds me of José Luis García López because of his ability to draw anything at all and make it look plausible. Best moment in this issue: Trinket Tocket and His Tin Rocket.

INVINCIBLE #122 (Image, 2015) – A boring and forgettable issue in which nothing important happens. Maybe the reason for the upcoming reboot is that Kirkman can’t think of any interesting stories about Mark and Eve raising Terra. The problem, as is well known, is that stories about parents raising young children tend to be rather boring except to other parents, hence the prevalence of Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome. Best moment of the issue: the shapeshifting beggar.

CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND THE MIGHTY DEFENDERS #1 (Marvel, 2015) – I don’t think Al Ewing is a particularly exciting writer. This comic is worth reading just for the Faiza Hussain appearance, and it has some interesting premises, including a world that’s a Marvel version of Mega-City One. but the writing is excessively basic, with few memorable moments or lines. Alan Davis’s artwork in this issue is good, but I’ve read so many of his comics that an ordinary Alan Davis comic is no longer impressive to me. Best moment of the issue: Prowler not knowing what spider-sense is.

GIANT-SIZE LITTLE MARVEL: AvX #1 (Marvel, 2015) – This is the exact same thing as the A-Babies vs. X-Babies one-shot, and it’s composed entirely of gags with no overarching narrative. But it’s funny and beautifully drawn, which is all I was really expecting. The two twins at the end are an obvious metatextual reference to the custody battle between Marvel and Fox over Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Best moment in the issue: Magik giving a fist-bump to Bob the Limbo demon.

THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ #7 (Marvel, 2009) – This was the work that established Skottie Young’s reputation. I’ve reviewed other issues of these Oz miniseries before, so I don’t have anything new to say about this one. Best moment of the issue: the “bran-new brains” line. L. Frank Baum was responsible for this, not Shanower or Young, but I still think it’s an awesome pun.

SUPERBOY AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #248 (DC, 1979) – This was one of the only issues of this series I hadn’t read, but unfortunately it’s by the worst Legion writer ever. Gerry Conway had little understanding of what made the Legion unique; his characters were interchangeable except for Wildfire, who I can’t stand; and his plots ranged from boring to ridiculous. This issue falls into the boring category. While cleaning up the wreckage left by Earthwar, the Legionnaires fight a giant swamp monster who knocks Shadow Lass unconscious, and that’s it. Best moment in this issue: there really isn’t any, but Brainiac 5’s indifferent reaction to Shady’s injury is actually a clue that he’s going insane. This is a lead-in to the Omega two-parter in #250 and #251.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #33 (IDW, 2015) – I didn’t love this issue, but I liked it better than the last one. The apple menace is still impossible to take seriously, but Twilight’s solution for dealing with it is creative and funny. And there are some cute moments, including Spike describing the giant apple creature as strangely handsome. The problem with this story is that the apples are depicted as sentient creatures, albeit evil ones, and the ponies kill a bunch of them by draining their juice. The writer, Thom Zahler, neither acknowledges that the Mane Six are committing homicide (or fructicide, I guess) nor attempts to justify it. Best moment of the issue: the names AppleDrac, Twilight Sparkling, Drinkie Pie, Nosfurarity, and Rainbow Bite. I wonder if the last of those is an intentional reference to Roller Girl.

HOWARD THE HUMAN #1 (Marvel, 2015) – This one-shot is very similar to Thors, which I’ll discuss later, in that the humor comes from the complete tonal contrast between the genre of the plot and the characters involved. This is a hard-boiled detective story where all the characters are funny animals, except Howard himself – that’s the other joke. If this were an ongoing series, I would get tired of it very quickly, but since it’s just a one-shot, it’s very funny. Similarly, I don’t much like Jim Mahfood’s style of artwork, but I’m fine with it at this length. Best moment of the issue: the ending where Howard takes Pete hostage so he can have the egg.

GROO: FRIENDS AND FOES #5 (Dark Horse, 2015) – So far I’ve found this series to be much less impressive than other relatively recent Groo comics, which is why I’ve allowed myself to get four issues behind. This issue is an okay Groo story, though. The humor comes mostly from Groo’s resemblance to Grooella, which allows her to disguise herself as him. Best moment in the issue: Grooella having a man severely beaten because he points out that she looks like Groo.

GIANT DAYS #6 (Boom!, 2015) – This morning I saw an undergrad student with a mustache and I was like, hey, it’s that guy from Giant Days. Though otherwise they didn’t look anything alike. The plot of this issue is that the girls go to Northampton over winter vacation (surprisingly I don’t remember any Alan Moore references) and the usual hijinks ensue. As with many Boom! Box titles, every issue of this series is basically the same as every other, but that’s not exactly a problem. Best moment of the issue: “You hugged me so hard that I’m now pregnant.”

DESCENDER #3 (Image, 2015) – See the review of issue 2 above. The only thing I forgot to mention there is that the “dog”’s name, Bandit, is probably a Jonny Quest reference. In this issue, Tim has a dream about some undead zombie robots, which is odd because robots can’t dream. As of issue 6, this plot thread has not been mentioned again. Best moment of the issue: Bandit’s use of smileys as facial expressions.

FANTASTIC FOUR #357 (Marvel, 1991) – The problem with DeFalco’s FF is that it was a complete ripoff of Lee and Kirby’s FF. This expressed itself in multiple ways. First, DeFalco’s dialogue was awful. He wrote in the same style as Stan Lee but was worse at it, and that style of dialogue was no longer fashionable anyway. Second, DeFalco was unwilling to make any lasting changes – every change he introduced, like turning Franklin into a teenager and killing off Reed, was later reversed – and he also reversed the changes to the status quo introduced by earlier writers. This issue is a good example of that, as it ends with the shocking revelation that Alicia Masters Storm is a Skrull, which means her marriage to Johnny was a sham. On top of that, this issue has a glaring plot hole. When Ben discovers that Alicia is an impostor, he doesn’t tell Johnny this. Instead he rushes into the room and yells “I’M GONNA KILL YER WOMAN!” Understandably, Johnny assumes that this means Ben is being possessed by the Puppet Master, and a big fight ensues. I suppose this is reasonable behavior for Ben, but clearly the only reason Ben behaves in this way is so that a gratuitous fight scene can be introduced and the revelation of Alicia’s identity can be delayed until the end of the issue. Best moment of the issue: the cute scene with Franklin wearing footie pajamas and carrying a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles doll.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #24 (Marvel, 1974) – I was reading this while watching the Hugo ceremony online (I think that’s what it was) and so I was distracted at the time, but even if I’d been able to give this comic my full attention, I would not have enjoyed it. The guest star is Brother Voodoo, an embarrassing joke of a character, and the plot is as formulaic as you can get. Also, the artwork, by Jim Mooney, is boring. Best moment of the issue: the splash page with Spidey drawing glasses and a mustache on a billboard of J. Jonah Jameson.

CASTLE WAITING #8 (Fantagraphics, 2007) – This only sort of counts as a comic book I’ve read. I acquired it at Comic-Con the year before last, but never read it, and then I read the hardcover volume that contains this issue, so I decided to remove this issue from my to-be-read boxes. There is no real reason to own both this comic book and the hardcover volume, other than completism: the comic book contains no material that’s not in the hardcover, besides the cover art and two ugly sketch pages. Also, Linda Medley’s art looks better at the smaller size. Best moment of the issue: Sir Chess being tricked into holding the baby.

IT WILL ALL HURT #3 (Study Group, 2013) – I read The Wrenchies after reading issue 2. I hoped that reading The Wrenchies would help me understand this series better, but it did not. I think that this comic just fundamentally does not make logical sense and does not have a coherent plot. That is not necessarily a crippling flaw, because this comic is beautifully drawn, and it at least seems to be exploring some of the same questions about childhood that are addressed in The Wrenchies. Best moment of the issue: Honestly I can’t remember. I like the visual appearance of the little robot dude.

HARLEY QUINN AND POWER GIRL #3 (DC, 2015) – I suppose I enjoyed this issue when I read it, but it’s mostly vanished from my memory now. I’ve described the regular Harley Quinn series as a guilty pleasure before, and that also applies to this miniseries. Best moment of the issue: I guess Vartox’s Freudian explanation that he wears his costume because of childhood insecurities and a tumultuous relationship with his mother.

BLACK CANARY #3 (DC, 2015) – This is another comic that I completely forgot about after reading it. The main thing I’m enjoying about this series is Annie Wu’s art, and even that’s starting to lose its novelty. I don’t much care about the plot. It’s weird that Dinah’s ex-husband is named Kurt Lance instead of Larry Lance. Best moment of the issue: the enigmatic reference to Pomeline.

DESCENDER #4 (Image, 2015) – This is a seriously excellent comic, but I’ve already explained why. Best moment of the issue: all of Driller’s dialogue.

ANT-MAN #4 (Marvel, 2015) – I lost interest in this series because of Nick Spencer’s insulting treatment of Cassie Lang. This issue is a case in point: she spends the entire story unconscious, being used as an unwilling organ donor, and her dad has to rescue her. Other than that, this is a fairly good superhero comic, and I really like Ramon Rosanas’s artwork. It has a crisp, almost Clear Line sensibility. Best moment of the issue: the person who mistakes Ant-Man for an exterminator and asks if he does raccoons.

BATGIRL ANNUAL #3 (DC, 2015) – It took me a while to understand what was going on here, but it gradually became clear that this annual was a series of crossovers between Batgirl and other characters from the Batman family. The annual is a single story, but it consists of four segments, each of which is drawn by a different guest artist and has a different guest-star. The Grayson section takes up over half of the annual. It was kind of annoying to me because I’m not a Babs/Dick shipper and I have little interest in Dick in the absence of Kory, but at least it was well drawn. Similarly, I would have cared more about the Spoiler section if I had had more fond memories of that character. The Batwoman section is better, and the Gotham Academy section is the clear highlight of the issue, especially due to the artwork by Mingjue Helen Chen (I assumed it was Karl Kerschl until I checked). Overall this issue is an enjoyable package of material, although the plot threads that link the four segments together are very flimsy. Best moment of the issue: all the scenes involving Maps, especially the last page where she decides to start a superhero club. I want to see a Maps Mizoguchi/Molly Hayes crossover.

SILK #6 (Marvel, 2015) – Yet another comic I don’t remember much about, except that it was probably a very quick read. I enjoy Silk but it doesn’t have the same substance to it as other current Marvel titles (e.g. Ms. Marvel and, though it feels odd to say this, Squirrel Girl). Best moment of the issue: the caption “the end of the world, probably.”

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