Last reviews of 2019

Last reviews of the year:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December reviews

12-23-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New comics received on November 30:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On December 18, I received a huge comics shipment:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviews for five weeks

11-14-2019

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

A few more comics from the week of October 18:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My next shipment arrived on October 31:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New comics received on November 9:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New comics received on November 15, my birthday:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New comics received last Thursday, October 21:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whew! Finally done for now.

Reviews for most of October

New comics received on October 8:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GREEN LANTERN #12 (DC, 2019) – “Return of the Qwa-Man,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Liam Sharp. Hal battles the Qwa-Man, his own antimatter counterpart, who is executing the plan of Controller Mu. Hal almost gets killed, but is saved at the last minute by his fellow Blackstars. The Blackstars tell Hal that he’s the final component in the doomsday device they’ve been creating throughout the series, which they call the Miracle Machine. This leads into the next miniseries, Blackstars. Grant Morrison’s Green Lantern has been amazing, and he may even be the best Green Lantern writer since Steve Englehart.

POWERS IN ACTION #3 (Action Lab, 2019) – “The Dusk of Vortexial Time!”, [W/A] Art Baltazar. Just a generic kid-oriented superhero comic. I guess that makes sense because Art created all these characters when he himself was a kid.

EVERYTHING #2 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “The Evil That Never Arrived,” [W] Christopher Cantwell, [A] I.N.J. Culbard. Another difficult and confusing issue, partly because it has no main character; in fact, none of the characters are memorable at all. The plot seems to be that the mall is causing people to go insane and die, and the Mr. Bear dolls from the toy store are somehow responsible.

MARVEL ACTION: BLACK PANTHER #3 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kyle Baker, [A] Juan Samu. T’Challa and his friends defeat the evil businessman’s plot to take over Wakanda. The businessman is revealed as King Cadaver, a villain created by Don McGregor and Billy Graham. This story was okay, but it was neither a great Black Panther comic nor a great Kyle Baker comic.

ABSOLUTE CARNAGE: IMMORTAL HULK #1 (Marvel, 2 019) – untitled, [W] Al Ewing, [A] Filipe Andrade. Bruce Banner wakes up with no memory of where he’s been, and discovers that the Hulk has manipulated him into tracking down the stolen corpse of Thunderbolt Ross. Also, Hulk gets infected with the Venom symbiote. This issue is much better than Absolute Carnage: Miles Morales, and is worth reading even though I have no interest in the Absolute Carnage crossover. This issue’s narrative strategy is very effective: when Bruce wakes up, he doesn’t know what’s going on, any more than the reader does, and the reader and Bruce discover the situation together.

THE DREAMING #14 (DC, 2019) – “Shevirat, the Shattering,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Matías Bergara. This issue reunites Spurrier with his brilliant artistic collaborator from Coda. After a one-issue interlude, we’re back to the main storyline, as Dora plays a game with a demon in order to learn some answers about her origin. The twist is that Dora is really playing two demons at once, and using each of their moves against the other. As a reward for winning, Dora learns that the man who “broke her” is a certain Hyperion Keter, who is now on his deathbed.

CANTO #5 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] David M. Booher, [A] Drew Zucker. Canto and his friends battle three flying women. This sequence was hard to follow because I didn’t realize there were three of them and not one. Then Canto confronts the Shrouded Man. I don’t understand this issue’s plot, and I wish I’d read issues 2 and 3.

COPRA #1 (Image, 2019) – “End of Complications,” [W/A] Michel Fiffe. This issue is the major-publisher debut of a long-running self-published comic. Copra is an homage to John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad, but it’s drawn in a radically experimental style, with scratchy artwork, weird page layouts, and innovative drawing techniques. It’s the leading example of a contemporary school of comics that’s influenced by both ‘90s mainstream comics and alternative comics – by both Rob Liefeld and Gary Panter, so to speak. Other representatives of this school include Ed Piskor, Tom Scioli, Charles Forsman, and Ben Marra. I’ve read the first two Copra trade paperbacks, and I have the next two, but I don’t remember much about the plot. Luckily, this issue is pretty accessible, and it includes biographies of the main characters and plot summaries of all the self-published issues. Michel Fiffe’s artwork in this issue is not as radical as in early issues of Copra, but it’s more interesting than his artwork in GI Joe or Bloodstrike Brutalists. Part of the fun in this series is identifying which Marvel and DC characters the members of Copra are based on.

ALL-TIME COMICS: ZEROSIS DEATHSCAPE #4 (All Time, 2019) – “To Annihilate the Future!”, [W] Josh Bayer & Josh Simmons, [A] Julia Gfrörrer & Trevor von Eeden. As with last issue, this issue’s first nine pages are much more interesting than pages 10 to 32. In this issue, Julia Gfrörer, whose work I haven’t seen before, draws a sequence in which a superheroine battles a villain called the Misogynist. In the rest of the issue, Trevor von Eeden’s work reminds me of Neal Adams’s late-period work for Continuity Comics.

Older comics:

WHERE IS JAKE ELLIS? #4 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W] Nathan Edmondson, [A] Tonci Zonjic. This is the first Jake Ellis comic I’ve read, and it was a poor place to start; its plot makes no sense out of context. Tonci Zonjic’s art is good, but not good enough to carry the whole plot by itself. I bought the TPB of the previous miniseries, Who Is Jake Ellis, but I never read it. And now I’m disinclined to read it because I’ve learned that Nathan Edmondson is a sexual predator.

ENIGMA #5 (Vertigo, 1993) – “Lizards and Ghosts,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Duncan Fegredo. The Interior League and Envelope Girl continue to murder people. Titus Bird and Michael Smith go to Arizona to investigate. It becomes clear that all the Enigma’s villains have something to do with lizards. This is another good issue, but it doesn’t contain any major revelations or plot twists.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #5 (Marvel, 2018) – “Winter in America: Part V,” [W] Ta-Nehisi Coates, [A] Leinil Francis Yu. Cap fights the Taskmaster, and there’s also another plot involving Selene and Aleksander Lukin. TNC’s Captain America was really boring, and I wish I had stopped ordering it much sooner t hani did.

SUICIDE SQUAD #30 (DC, 1989) – “Endgame,” [W] John Ostrander & Kim Yale, [A] John K. Snyder. This is part ten of “The Janus Directive,” a crossover in which Suicide Squad and Checkmate teamed up against Kobra. This issue, the president orders a nuclear strike against Kobra’s base, but Captain Atom prevents it. Also, Lois Lane gets hit with a pie. This is a thrilling and well-written comic, which still makes sense even without having read parts 1 through 9. However, it’s a bit ironic that Copra has far better art than the actual Suicide Squad comic ever had.

COMET #2 (Archie, 1983) – untitled, [W] Bill Dubay, [A] Carmine Infantino. A ponderous and confusing comic, which makes a noble attempt to use the superhero genre to address the issue of child abuse, but ultimately collapses under its own weight. The plot is tough to follow because there are a ton of characters who aren’t adequately introduced to the reader, including two different Comets. Also, at the end of the issue, the Comet is shamed for not forgiving his abusive father before the latter dies. That’s a bad message to send. Children of abusers should not be forced to forgive their parents. This issue is inked by Alex Niño, whose style was a poor match for Infantino’s, though Infantino himself wasn’t much good by this point in his career.

CROSSING MIDNIGHT #1 (Vertigo, 2006) – “The Shrine Part 1 of 3,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Jim Fern. This was an ongoing series, though it only lasted 19 issues. This first issue introduces Kai and Toshi, two Japanese teenagers whose grandmother is an atomic bomb survivor. As they grow up, Kai and Toshi discover that they have some strange abilities, and ultimately they learn that this is because, before their birth, they were dedicated as offerings to a rather nasty kami. Crossing Midnight is a comic about Japan by a non-Japanese writer, but unlike David Mack in Kabuki (see previous post), it feels like Mike Carey has genuinely done his research. For example, at one point in the issue we see Toshi reading Pink, a classic manga that hadn’t been published in English at the time. Jim Fern’s art in this issue is the best of his career, though he’s had a mediocre career.

SWEET SIXTEEN #5 (Marvel, 1991) – “What Can I Get a Princess?” and other vignettes, [W/A] Barbara Slate. More stories that follow the typical Sweet XVI formula. One of these stories is mildly progressive because it shows a girl beating some sexist boys at sports. I briefly talked about this series with Barbara Slate when I interviewed her, and I hope to write about it in more detail elsewhere.

ENIGMA #6 (DC, 1993) – “The End of the World,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Duncan Fegredo. This issue we finally start to understand Enigma’s origin: as a child, he fell into a well and couldn’t get out, and sustained himself by eating lizards. The issue ends with the pivotal moment of the entire series, when Enigma helps Michael realize that he’s gay, and that his angry reaction to Titus Bird in #3 was the result of his own internalized homophobia. This is a powerful moment. At the time, it may have been the most realistic and sensitive coming-out scene that had yet been portrayed in a commercial comic book. It’s still an impressive scene now, when depictions of LGBTQ people in comics are far more common. The letter column includes editor Art Young’s comments on the allegedly homophobic scene in #3. I wonder if I might write about Enigma for that upcoming roundtable on paratexts in comics. I want to contribute to that, but no topic has come to mind yet.

THE WALKING DEAD #163 (Image, 2017) – “Conquered,” [W] Robert Kirkman, [A] Charlie Adlard. Rick Grimes’s city gets attacked by a huge horde of zombies. This is an exciting issue. However, it was published as a special 25-cent issue for new readers, but it’s not as accessible as it could have been. It doesn’t include a plot summary or profiles of the characters, and I had trouble recognizing any of the characters, even Rick.

THE CAPE: GREATEST HITS #1 (IDW, 2018) – untitled, [W] Jason Ciaramella, [A] Zach Howard. This is an adaptation of a short story by Joe Hill. The protagonist, Eric, is a lazy, childish ne’er-do-well who sponges off his girlfriend until she can’t stand him anymore. After moving back into his mother’s basement, Eric discovers a magic flying cape, which he uses to murder his girlfriend. This comic somehow got an Eisner nomination, but it shouldn’t have, because it’s a mean-spirited, offensive piece of crap. I have read so many posts on r/relationships by women complaining about boyfriends like Eric, and in every case, the correct advice is that the woman should just dump the boyfriend. The Cape #1 makes it abundantly clear that Eric is an emotionally stunted manchild and that the girlfriend was right to dump him. But because The Cape #1 follows the visual conventions of superhero comics, the reader is encouraged to identify with Eric and to see his girlfriend as an object to be desired and possessed. Also, Eric is the narrator, which further biases the reader in his favor. As a result, this comic manipulates readers into sympathizing with Eric when they should despise him. Maybe you’re supposed to read this comic and feel ashamed of yourself for identifying with Eric, but if that’s the point, I think readers are likely to miss the point and instead just see Eric as the hero.

IMMORTAL IRON FIST #4 (Marvel, 2007) – “The Last Iron Fist Story Part 4,” [W] Ed Brubaker & Matt Fraction, [A] David Aja w/ Travel Foreman & Derek Fridolfs. Danny Rand fights alongside the previous Iron Fist, Orson Randall, and there’s also a subplot about Davos the Steel Serpent. This is an exciting issue that feels kind of like an actual wuxia film or novel. Pages 9 and 10 of this issue are drawn by a different artist (Derek Fridolfs, I assume) whose style contrasts oddly with that of the rest of the issue.

REVIVAL #6 (Image, 2013) – untitled, [W] Tim Seeley, [A] Mike Norton. Dana investigates a murder, and there are a bunch of other subplots. The two most notable things in this issue are the scene where Cooper is playing with his toys, and the scene where May Tao talks with an old Hmong woman (in English, oddly).

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #370 (Marvel, 1992) – “Life Stings! Invasion of the Spider-Slayers, Part 3,” [W] David Michelinie, [A] Mark Bagley. Another bad issue of a bad storyline, although at least it’s drawn by a real Spider-Man artist, unlike #366. At least Richard and Mary Parker only appear on a couple pages; most of the issue is devoted to a fight between Spidey, Black Cat and Scorpion. Michelinie wrote Richard and Mary as a pair of aloof, anxious old busybodies, and I doubt if any readers liked them very much. There’s a backup story written by JM DeMatteis in which Aunt May visits Uncle Ben’s grave. This story is a little too syrupy, but it’s better than the main story.

ELEPHANTMEN #8 (Image, 2007) – “Moxa Cautery!”, [W] Richard Starkings, [A] Moritat. This is a gangster story with animal protagonists – so it’s like Blacksad, but with much worse art. There’s also a flip book story starring protagonist Hip Flask’s pet frog, as well as a lot of ancillary materials that are only of interest to hardcore fans. According to Wikipedia, Hip Flask was created to appear in Starkings’s ads for Comicraft, and somehow ended up getting his own comic.

FOUR WOMEN #2 (Image, 2002) – untitled, [W/A] Sam Kieth. Four women driving alone at night are assaulted by a bunch of men who try to break into their car. The artwork in this comic is fairly interesting. However, it’s obvious that Four Women #1 was written by a man. As I observed in my review of issue 1, Four Women feels like a man’s idea of how women talk to other women. This issue is even worse, because Sam Kieth is trying to imagine how women react to being threatened by men, and it doesn’t seem like he has any knowledge of this. He’s just extrapolating from how men would react in an analogous situation. According to Wikipedia, in the rest of the series, the situation escalates even further; one of the women gets raped, and another of them, who is narrating the series, blames herself for it. I guess Sam Kieth deserves credit for being willing to engage with the topic of rape, but he’s just not a good enough writer to be able to tackle a story like this.

B.P.R.D.: THE DEAD REMEMBERED #3 (Dark Horse, 2011) – untitled, [W] Mike Mignola & Scott Allie, [A] Karl Moline. A young Liz Sherman confronts the ghosts of some of the victims of the Salem witch trials. Like most Mignolaverse comics not solely written by Mignola, this issue is okay, but it’s nothing great.

MANHUNTER #27 (DC, 2007) – “Unleashed, Part Two: Chains of Evidence,” [W] Marc Andreyko, [A] Javier Pina & Fernando Blanco. Kate Spencer defends Wonder Woman before a grand jury, there’s a subplot about the Order of Saint Dumas, and the supposedly dead Ted Kord shows up alive. The courtroom sequence in this issue feels very realistic, so much so that it made me think Marc Andreyko was an actual lawyer, although as far as I can tell, he is not.

ENIGMA #7 (Vertigo, 1993) – “Sex in Arizona,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Duncan Fegredo. Michael Smith has sex with the Enigma, and then they try to cure Victoria Yes, who was turned into Envelope Girl. But they’re interrupted by Enigma’s mother, a monstrous hunchback. Enigma’s origin is also revealed in detail, and the issue ends with an impressive splash page depicting the moment where Enigma climbs out of the well and sees the sky for the first time.

HELLBLAZER #113 (Vertigo, 1997) – “You’re Just a…,” [W] Paul Jenkins, [A] Sean Phillips. This issue gets off to a promising start, as John talks with Bran the Blessed, a character from Welsh mythology. But after that, the story descends into incoherence.

POWER & GLORY #2 (Malibu, 1994) – untitled, [W/A] Howard Chaykin. The government creates a new superhero, Allan Powell, but he turns out to be a distasteful, incompetent jerk who hates being touched. So his handler, Michael Gorski, has to do all the actual superhero stuff. I have little interest in Chaykin’s current work, because it’s problematic for a lot of reasons that I don’t want to go into. This issue has some problems too; for example, it includes a scene which would be considered transphobic today, in which a transvestite uses a urinal next to a man. Still, Power & Glory is interesting, and it may have been Chaykin’s last truly major work.

QUANTUM & WOODY #0 (Valiant, 2014) – “Get Your Goat” and other vignettes, [W] James Asmus, [A] Tom Fowler. This is billed as “Quantum & Woody: Goat” on the cover. It depicts the origin of Quantum and Woody’s goat, and its doomed romance with Dolly the cloned sheep. It’s written in the same style as the classic Q&W series, with a bunch of vignettes in non-chronological order. However, James Asmus is not nearly as funny a writer as Priest.

JOE KUBERT PRESENTS #4 (DC, 2013) – The Redeemer in “The Golden Warrior,” [W/A] Joe Kubert, plus two other stories. This issue’s first story introduces The Redeemer, a character who has multiple lives in various eras. It was drawn in 1983 but never published. It’s okay, but it’s indistinguishable from any other Kubert comic, and it takes too much of a both-sides attitude toward the Civil War. This issue also includes an Angel and Ape story by Brian Buniak, which is not well written but has amazing art. This artist deserves to be better known. There’s also a USS Stevens story by Sam Glanzman, but it’s extremely text-heavy and doesn’t have much of a plot.

FLASH #32 (DC, 1989) – “Welcome to Keystone City,” [W] William Messner-Loebs, [A] Greg LaRocque. Wally, Piper and Mason move to the impoverished Keystone City. There they encounter two villains named Sloe and Steddy (heh) who have kidnapped Piper’s family. This issue is okay, but not nearly as good as an average issue by Mark Waid.

GLADSTONE’S SCHOOL FOR WORLD CONQUERORS #4 (Image, 2011) – untitled, [W] Mark Andrew Smith, [A] Armand Villavert. This comic has excellent art and some cute character moments, but it’s mostly a long fight scene whose context is unclear.

STATIC #26 (Milestone, 1995) – “Two Tickets to Paradise,” [W] Ivan Velez Jr, [A] Wilfred. This is part of the “Long Hot Summer” crossover. The premise of this crossover a giant state-of-the-art theme park opens in the middle of Dakota’s black neighborhood, whose inhabitants are mostly unable to pay to get into the park. The racial implications of this are obvious; there’s a literal giant wall separating Utopia Park from the housing projects and condemned buildings surrounding it. This issue also has some nice character moments, including a scene with Virgil and his girlfriend Daisy. I need to read more Milestone comics.

BOX OFFICE POISON #15 (Antarctic, 1999) – multiple vignettes, [W/A] Alex Robinson. Last issue ended on a cliffhanger when Sherman’s girlfriend Dorothy asked to move in with him. This issue, Sherman says no, and Dorothy is not happy. Then Sherman goes to work at a bookstore, encountering rude customers and a mean new boss, and then he runs into his deadbeat asshole of a father. The issue ends with a cathartic moment in which Sherman tells his dad off. I really enjoyed this issue. Like Martin Wagner, Alex Robinson is heavily influenced by Dave Sim, but he has a distinctive style of art, and he shows a solid understanding of both male and female characters. I really need to read more Box Office Poison. I started reading the collected edition on my Kindle, but never finished it, and I hate reading comics on screens anyway. I should probably just try to collect all the single issues of it. Alex Robinson is an excellent cartoonist, and it’s unfortunate how his work doesn’t seem to have much of an audience at the moment.

ENIGMA #8 (Vertigo, 1993) – “Queer,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Duncan Fegredo. This issue wraps up all the loose ends, and reveals that Enigma created all of the villains. The series concludes on a cliffhanger as Enigma, Michael and Titus confront Enigma’s mother. And then we learn that the narrator of the series was one of the lizards from Enigma’s well. Like all of Peter Milligan’s comics, Enigma is quite difficult to follow, but it’s one of the most satisfying and artistically successful things he’s done. It deserves to be more widely read.

Thanks to “severe staffing issues” at DCBS, I again received two comics shipments in one week. The first one arrived on Wednesday, October 16:

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #49 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ryan North, [A] Derek Charm. The “penNUTimate issue” consists of a long fight scene, complete with a “chance-of-winning-the-big-fight-scene-o-meter” that swings back and forth between bad guys, good guys and “anyone’s guess.” Just as Doreen and her friends are getting stomped, there’s a heartwarming plot twist when the cavalry arrives, consisting of all the former villains that Doreen turned into friends. Except then Doreen has to throw herself on top of a bomb. Just one more issue to go in this incredible series.

THESE SAVAGE SHORES #5 (Vault, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ram V, [A] Sumit Kumar. Bishan and Kori travel to England and defeat the evil vampire, but Kori is a vampire herself now, so their romance is ruined. The twist ending of this issue made a lot more sense after I Googled “Andhana” and discovered that he was a demon who created new copies of himself whenever his blood touched the ground. This is another example of Ram V’s trust in his readers: this comic requires some knowledge of Indian culture and history, and Ram trusts his readers to acquire that knowledge. Ram has deservedly gotten some higher-profile assignments as a result of this miniseries, but Sumit Kumar should also be praised for his thrilling fight scenes and realistic, moody settings.

MAGNIFICENT MS. MARVEL #8 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Joey Vazquez. Kamala defeats Josh, Becky and “Uncle Brett,” whose funny gimmick is that he’s a supervillain who looks and talks just like a techbro. The message of this story is that “growth is usually a good thing … but growth can be something else – something terrible.”

USAGI YOJIMBO #5 (IDW, 2019) – “The Hero, Part Two,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. Because of Japanese patriarchy, Lady Mura’s dad is forced to return her to her jealous, abusive husband, who promptly has her killed. This outcome was foreshadowed at the start of the issue, when Usagi wishes the hero and heroine of Mura’s novel could have lived happily ever after, and she says, “That is not our tradition… in our stories the hero never gets the girl at the end.” (See Ivan Morris’s The Nobility of Failure.) Lady Mura has her revenge from beyond the grave, when her husband discovers that she’s more famous than he is, and kills himself in shame. “The Hero” is a heartbreaking tale of a woman killed by her society’s sexism, and it shows that Stan is still the finest storyteller in American comics.

OUTER DARKNESS #11 (Image, 2019) – “Castrophany of Hate Pt. 11: Shore Leave,” [W] John Layman, [A] Afu Chan. Rigg is on the verge of killing Satalis when the ship arrives at its station. Over Prakash’s objections, Rigg treats his crew to a liquor-fueled orgy with alien sex priests. Prakash’s dad orders Rigg to recover the spirit of a dead leader of the Dryx, the race with which the humans are at war. Rigg knocks out Dryx’s dad and returns to his ship, where his crew are being massacred by the alien sex priests. Rigg obviously has some kind of bizarre and devious plan, and I can’t wait to find out what it is.

BLACK HAMMER/JUSTICE LEAGUE: HAMMER OF JUSTICE #4 (DC/Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Michael Walsh. Mr. Mxyzptlk is revealed as the villain behind it all, and he tells the heroes that they can only return to their worlds if they all agree to – including Golden Gail, who’s just been restored to her normal age. This has been a reasonably good miniseries.

WONDER WOMAN #80 (DC, 2019) – “Loveless Part 4,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Jesús Merino & Tom Derenick. Diana is about to defeat Cheetah, but discovers that Veronica Cale betrayed her, and the beaker that was supposed to defeat Cheetah only made her more powerful. So Diana is screwed. With so few issues left in Willow’s run, I’d have appreciated more of a focus on her supporting cast; I’m not in love with either Veronica or Cheetah.

RONIN ISLAND #7 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Greg Pak, [A] Giannis Milogiannis. In a series of flashbacks, we see the younger Hana and Kenichi learning to work as a team to defend the island. In the present, Hana finally gives up on Sato and stabs him. I keep remembering her line “I gave you so many chances.” Then Hana and Kenichi finally decide to start working together. This series has been extremely grim, with the situation worsening each issue. But in #7, it finally seems like Hana and Kenichi understand what they should be doing.

BATTLEPUG #2 (Image, 2019) – “War on Christmas Part II,” [W/A] Mike Norton. The Kinmundian meets the queen of the Northland Elves, i.e. Mrs. Claus. Meanwhile, the other characters encounter an old dude who says “scribbly” and “scrabbly” after every sentence, and then a herd of mean pastel-colored ponies. I don’t quite understand this series’ style of humor yet, but I like it so far.

WONDER TWINS #8 (DC, 2019) – “Reunions,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Mike Norton. How did he manage to draw two comic books in one month? Anyway, this issue is the principal’s high school reunion, and while there he has to confront the librarian, who used to be his girlfriend. They don’t get back together, but their reunion is a sweet moment. Also, Polly Math breaks out of prison, and Zan tells her that he has a plan to get her father back.

GINSENG ROOTS #1 (Uncivilized, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Craig Thompson. I have mixed feelings about Craig Thompson. I used to love Blankets, but I haven’t read it in years, and I don’t think it holds up well. It’s a very young man’s book, and its gender politics are rather simplistic. I still haven’t read Habibi or Space Dumplins. Someone suggested to me recently that his best book was actually Carnet de Voyage, and that may be true. Luckily, Ginseng Roots is more like Carnet de Voyage than like Blankets. It’s a slow-paced, muted meditation on Craig’s youth, when he worked on a ginseng farm. It reveals that Craig still has the best linework of any American cartoonist; his draftsmanship is just heart-achingly beautiful. In this issue he draws upon Chinese visual culture, e.g. ink painting and calligraphy, but he does it in a way that feels respectful rather than appropriative. Ginseng Roots suggests that Craig is continuing to evolve as an artist. For selfish reasons, I’m also glad he published it in the comic book format, although I wish it had been the standard comic book size, so it would have fit in my boxes.

CATWOMAN #16 (DC, 2019) – “Year of the Villain…?”, [W/A] Joëlle Jones. I’m surprised Joëlle Jones is back; I had thought Ram V was the new permanent writer. And it’s an especially pleasant surprise that she drew this issue as well as writing it. In this issue Selina visits a children’s party to look for Raina Creel. There’s also a silent backup story in which Selina uses the Lazarus Pit to revive herself. I don’t understand why she was dying in the first place, but I love how her cat saves her, not by doing anything but by shaming her into getting up and saving herself.

EDGAR ALLAN POE’S SNIFTER OF TERROR SEASON TWO #2 (Ahoy, 2019) – “The Tell-Tale Black Cask of Usher,” [W/A] Dean Motter. The first volume of this series was the only Ahoy title I didn’t read. As its title indicates, this issue is a humorous mashup of a bunch of different Poe stories. It’s cleverly written and funny, and shows evidence of historical research, but Dean Motter’s art style is too slick and polished for me.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #14 (DC, 2019) – “Wicked Burn, Part 2,” [W] Nalo Hopkinson & Dan Watters, [A] Matthew Dow Smith. Djuna’s marriage gets worse, and the firebreathing chicken gets more aggressive. Damballah reappears at the end. There wasn’t much in this issue that wasn’t already in issue 13, but I do like this comic’s dialogue. It includes some Caribbean English words (like “rahtid”) that I had to look up.

COLLAPSER #4 (DC, 2019) – “Manic,” [W] Mikey Way & Shaun Simon. This comic has some excellent art, like the splash panel on page 3. But Collapser is just another standard superhero comic, with no truly new ideas, and I hate its protagonist. I didn’t order issue 5.

ABSOLUTE CARNAGE: MILES MORALES #3 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Federico Vicentini. A complete waste of Saladin’s talents. The only interesting thing in this issue is the scene where Miles saves the shopkeeper and is offered a free pair of sneakers. Otherwise, this comic is so generic that anybody could have written it.

IMMORTAL HULK DIRECTOR’S CUT #5 (Marvel, 2019) – “In Every Mirror,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. Sasquatch is possessed by the spirit of Bruce Banner’s dad. Hulk defeats him, but somehow removes Walter’s ability to turn into Sasquatch. Hulk looks into a mirror and sees his dad’s face. Something weird is going on here. I don’t understand how the Hulk absorbed his father’s personality, but it must have been the same way that he absorbed Reginald Fortean in issue 24. I almost wish Immortal Hulk Director’s Cut was continuing after this issue, because I’m still missing issues #7 and #9-15.

GHOSTED IN L.A. #4 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Sina Grace, [A] Siobhan Keenan. In a flashback, we see that Maurice was a toxic asshole all his life, until he thankfully died from a fall. After death, he continues to be a toxic asshole, forcing the other ghosts to exorcise him to protect Daphne. Then the ghost of the just-deceased rock star Zola Tesla appears in the mansion. A nice moment in this issue is when the ghosts tell Daphne to put flowers on a grave, and she also puts a stone on the grave, as is the Jewish custom. I hadn’t even realized Daphne was Jewish.

DOOM PATROL: WEIGHT OF THE WORLDS #4 (DC, 2019) – “Whatever Happened to Destiny Beach?”, [W] Gerard Way & Jeremy Lambert, [A] Nick Pitarra. This series appears to have been cancelled. That’s too bad, but its chronic lateness may be partly to blame. This issue, Flex Mentallo wins a bizarre fitness competition and is exiled into space. Meanwhile, Cliff Steele becomes Cliff Fixit. Nick Pitarra’s artwork in this issue is extremely hyper-detailed. Despite having had several artists, this version of Doom Patrol has had a very consistent graphic style thanks to Tamara Bonvillain’s coloring.

DEADPOOL VS. X-FORCE #1 (Marvel, 2014) – untitled, [W] Duane Swierczynski, [A] Pepe Larraz. Deadpool goes back in time to the American Revolution for some reason, and X-Force follows him. This issue takes place before New Mutants #98, though this is not made clear until the info page at the end. I ordered this because it was just 70 cents, and I’m glad I didn’t pay any more for it.

The next shipment arrived on Friday, October 18:

ONCE & FUTURE #3 (Boom!, 2019) – “The King is Undead,” [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Dan Mora. This issue consists msotly of action sequences, but there are some really fun interactions between Duncan, his grandmother and his girlfriend. In this issue Kieron continues to demonstrate the depth of his knowledge. The name “Clarent” for the sword in the stone seems to be authentic, and the grandmother is correct that Galahad gradually replaced Percival as the hero of the Grail quest. I don’t know if any of my medievalist friends are reading this comic, but they should be.

SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN #2 (Boom!, 2019) – “The Angel of Archer’s Peak Part Two, [W] James Tynion, [A] Werther Dell’Edera. The weird monster hunter girl continues to investigate, and we learn that her stuffed octopus toy is actually alive. We’re also introduced to Tommy, the brother of one of the victims. There’s also a reference to how millennials are killing Applebee’s. I read this comic while I was exhausted after returning from work, but I liked it.

STEEPLE #2 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] John Allison. Billie tries to befriend some delinquent teens, and also tries to make peace between the reverend and the sea monsters. Again, I was falling asleep while I read this comic, so I don’t remember it well, but it was pretty good.

SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #4 (DC, 2019) – “The Crazy Board of Irresponsible Blogger Timmy Olsen,” [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Steve Lieber. Jimmy disguises himself as Timmy, a YouTube prankster. Jimmy shows Lois his cork board, which contains his evidence that Luthor is conspiring to take control of all the data in Metropolis, and that Luthor is trying to kill Jimmy because he knows about this plan. There are a lot of great moments in this issue (like Jimmy’s reference to “Ocean’s Razor,” and this series continues to be fascinating.

GIDEON FALLS #17 (Image, 2019) – “The Pentoculus: Part 1 of 5 ‘Forever and Ever,’” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Andrea Sorrentino. Danny/Norton and Father Fred have now switched places. Father Fred meets the bishop, who’s constructed some kind of bizarre dimensional transport machine. Meanwhile, Danny/Norton’s father has a bizarre vision which is depicted on solid black backgrounds with red lineworks, and then he wakes up and kills someone with a knife and fork. That description notwithstanding, his is actually not the weirdest issue of Gideon Falls.

TREES: THREE FATES #2 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Jason Howard. Sergeant Klara continues to investigate the murder, and while visiting the tree, she sees her ex-boyfriend Sasha. Then there’s a flashback to a conversation they had eleven years ago. This issue is a really quick read.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #83 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Thom Zahler, [A] Kate Sherron. Twilight and Spike investigate the theft of the racing turtle Silver Blaze. This whole issue is a parody of the Sherlock Holmes story “The Adventure of Silver Blaze,” and it’s full of Holmesian puns, including some that I probably missed. For example, the police detective is Leigh Strade (Lestrade) of Trotland Yard. The climactic turtle race is as funny as one would expect.

AQUAMAN #53 (DC, 2019) – “Amnesty, Part 4:StrangeBeasts,” [W] Kelly Sue DeConnick, [A] Robson Rocha & Eduardo Paniccia. Aquaman confronts Tristan Maurer. Mera, now visibly pregnant, heads to Amnesty Bay to track down the ship that invadedAtlantis. Arthur and Mera barely get to confront each other before they’re interrupted by Black Manta’s attack. The same symbol appears on the last pages of this issue and Catwoman #16. This symbol must have something to do with the Year of the Villain crossover.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #11 (Marvel, 2019) – “Falling Star Conclusion,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Carmen Carnero. Star almost kicks Carol’s ass, but Hazmat arrives to save the day, and then Carol beats Star by pulling out her syphon… I think. I don’t quite understand what Carol did. The fight is televised nationwide, restoring Carol’s reputation. This was perhaps Kelly’s best issue yet, thanks to the high stakes of the fight and the very real sense that Carol could lose. I especially love the scene where the little girl jumps between Carol and Star. By knocking the girl down, Star demonstrates how far she’s gone off the deep end.

HISTORY OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE #4 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Javier Rodriguez. This issue covers everything from X-Men #101 to Onslaught. That’s 20-plus years of stories summarized in a single comic book. There’s no way to synthesize so many different comics into a single overarching narrative, and Mark doesn’t really try. Also, as far as I could tell, there was no new information in this issue. As a result, although Javier Rodriguez’s artwork is as brilliant as ever, HOTMU #4 was tedious to read.

ARCHIE: THE MARRIED LIFE 10TH ANNIVERSARY #3 (Archie, 2019) – “The Only Thing Constant is Change!” and “New York, New York – A Hell of a Town!”, [W] Michael Uslan, [A] Dan Parent. In the first story, Veronica is coerced into taking over her father’s company. In the second story, Archie is offered his big break in the music business, but only if he spends the whole year on the road. The problem with both these stories is that they try to have realistic plots about adult characters, but they’re drawn in the Archie house style, and this combination doesn’t work for me. When Archie and Veronica talk about work and marriage counseling, but they’re drawn like the teenage Archie and Veronica, it’s hard to take them seriously. NY Times comics journalist George Gene Gustines appears in this issue.

REVENGER HALLOWEEN SPECIAL 2019 #1 (Floating World, 2019) – “Mala Carne,” [W/A] Charles Forsman. Revenger is not to be confused with Slasher. I’ve read one previous issue of Revenger, but I don’t remember much about it. Revenger appears to be some kind of monster hunter. In this issue she encounters a little girl who’s been turned into a vampire, and the girl accompanies her while she kills a bunch of other vampires. “Mala Carne” is a pretty standard adventure comic, but it’s drawn in an alternative-comics style – see my review of Copra #1 above – and it’s very exciting. I wish more alternative cartoonists would publish their work in the comic book format.

MARVEL ACTION: BLACK PANTHER #4 (Marvel, 2019) – “King for a Day,” [W] Vita Ayala, [A] Arianna Florean. T’Challa exchanges places with one of his subjects, a vibranium worker, and uncovers corruption in the vibranium industry. This comic depicts Wakanda as too much of a utopia (something which Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Black Panther has avoided) and has too little conflict. Also, T’Challa’s behavior is stupid. He realizes his boss is corrupt, but tries to expose the corruption immediately, thus exposing himself to danger. It would have been much smarter to expose the corruption after he was back in his palace.

STRAYED #3 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Oblivia,” [W] Carlos Giffoni, [A] Juan Doe. Lou the cat meets the creator of the flowers and learns what they are, but on returning to his body, he falls into a coma. Meanwhile, we see more of Premier Peely’s plot for universal domination. As hinted on the letters page, this whole story is an allegory about colonialism. The alien in this issue can understand Lou, so Lou gets a few lines of dialogue. I would rather Lou didn’t talk, but at least he talks like a cat. The artwork and coloring in this issue are gorgeous, though at times, like on page one, it’s hard to figure out what I’m looking at.

SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN #10 (Marvel, 2019) – “Dark Cavern, Dark Crystal,” [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Alan Davis. Roy Thomas is the greatest Conan comics writer, and this issue shows that he still writes Conan as well as ever. This issue, two Corinthians hire Conan to lead them through the lands of the Afghulis in search of a treasure. While on the trip, Conan tries to make himself the chief of the Afghulis, but they decide to hang him from a tree instead. The high point of this issue takes place at the start, right after Conan has killed a man in a bar fight. The two Corinthians come into the bar and approach Conan, mistaking him for someone named Guptar. Conan points to the corpse of the man he just killed and says “That’s Guptar.”

ADVENTURE FINDERS: THE EDGE OF EMPIRE #3 (Action Lab, 2019) – “The Tireless Pursuit – No Rest for the Harried,” [W/A] Rod Espinosa. Some soldiers try to save Clari and her companions from the enemy Verbolgs. But the soldiers’ leader gets killed, and his second-in-command decides to retreat, leaving Clari alone in enemy territory with a few exhausted soldiers and a bunch of nuns and small children. This is the best Rod Espinosa comic I’ve read yet. It creates a real sense of the terror and exhaustion of warfare. I still think Rod’s backgrounds are too obviously computer-generated.

THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU #2 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ted Adams, [A] Gabriel Rodriguez. On Facebook, I recently wrote: “When adapting a prose novel or story into a comic, the single biggest mistake you can make is to keep too much of the original text.” I had this specific comic in mind when I wrote that. In adapting The Island of Dr. Moreau,Ted Adams retains way too much of H.G. Wells’s text, resulting in a very slow-paced comic with no sense of narrative momentum. Also, Wells’s prose style doesn’t match Rodriguez’s art style. Ellie looks like a 21st-century woman, but she speaks in Victorian English. On top of that, Rodriguez’s storytelling is very unclear, and I was never quite able to follow the plot of the novel. Overall, this is an awful comic. While Gabriel Rodriguez’s draftsmanship is as amazing as it always is, his time would have been better spent working on something else.

TRUE BELIEVERS: UNCANNY X-MEN – JUBILEE #1 (Marvel, 2019) –“Ladies’ Night,” [W] Chris Claremont, [A] Marc Silvestri. This reprints Uncanny X-Men #244, one of the only late Claremont issues that I don’t have. This issue is most notable as the first appearance of Jubilee, but there are a few other notable things about it. First, it only includes the female X-Men, while issue #245 only included the male X-Men. Both issues were parodies: #245 was a parody of DC’s Invasion, and #244 includes a group of villains named M-Squad who are obviously based on the Ghostbusters. One of the M-Squad members even says that they left New York and changed jobs. The individual M-Squad members are all based on science fiction writers who were Claremont’s fellow contributors to the Wild Cards anthology series. One of the M-Squad is based on George R.R. Martin, already a veteran SF writer but not yet an international celebrity. Besides all that, this is a really fun issue, but it’s about as ‘90s as you can get. The whole issue takes place in a mall, and it’s full of cheesecake imagery and made-up ‘90s slang.

THE DARK TOWER: THE DRAWING OF THE THREE/REVENGE SAMPLER #1 (Marvel, 2014) – two untitled stories. This free flipbook comic includes previews of two upcoming Marvel graphic novels. Half of the issue is a preview of an adaptation of Stephen King’s The Drawing of the Three, but it’s an unlettered preview, so it made no sense at all. The other is a preview of something called Revenge, but I couldn’t understand this preview either, even though it did include dialogue.

ALL-NEW BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #7 (DC, 2011) – “Shadows & Light,” [W] Sholly Fisch, [A] Rick Burchett. Batman teams up with a distrustful Alan Scott and ends up convincing Alan of his good intentions. This issue is a quick and reasonably fun read.

KING KONG #1 (Fantagraphics, 1991) – untitled, [W/A] Don Simpson. I think I bought this comic because of its gorgeous Dave Stevens cover, but it’s a good comic in its own right. Although I don’t remember much about the original King Kong movie, I get the sense that Don Simpson’s adaptation adds a lot to the movie. I feel like he explores the personalities and motivations of the characters more deeply than the original film did. He also draws some really expressive faces. This comic includes some mildly offensive depictions of indigenous people, but King Kong is an inherently racist text anyway.

ELFQUEST: SHARDS #14 (WaRP, 1996) – “Reunion,” [W/A] Wendy Pini, [W] Richard Pini. This is a black-and-white comic, but a previous owner seems to have colored in some of the pages with colored pencils. “Reunion” would have been an exciting comic if I had been able to follow the story. Its plot involves Winnowill and Grohmul Djun and the Palace and the Scroll of Colors and a lot of other stuff. I’ve never been able to understand the large-scale structure of Elfquest’s plot, and I’m not sure it’s worth trying.

CRITTERS #16 (Fantagraphics, 1987) – “Return of the Wizard,” [W/A] Stan Sakai, plus two other stories. This issue begins with a Nilson and Hermy story in which a wizard tries to kill the two heroes, but Nilson kills him instead. This story is funny, but it’s far from Stan’s best. Most of the issue is devoted to Freddy Milton’s “For the Love of Gnellie, Part 2,” in which Gnuff’s wife Gnellie encounters an old lover. This story is touching and is also extremely Barksian; it’s no surprise that Milton was a longtime Disney artist. The issue ends with a chapter of Steven A. Gallacci’s “Birthright,” a comic I severely dislike because of its minimal artwork and ugly lettering.

BALTIMORE: THE INQUISITOR #nn (Dark Horse, 2013) – “The Inquisitor,” [W] Mike Mignola & Christopher Golden, [A] Ben Steinbeck. During World War I, a judge interviews a prisoner and tells the prisoner his backstory. Just like most Hellboyverse comics, Baltimore: The Inquisitor is stylistically similar to the main Hellboy title, but is not nearly as good. Ben Steinbeck’s style is about as close as you can get to Mignola’s style without being Mignola.

DOOM PATROL/SUICIDE SQUAD SPECIAL #1 (DC, 1988) – “Red Pawn,” [W] John Ostrander & Paul Kupperberg, [A] Erik Larsen. This issue is important in terms of continuity because it includes the deaths of the Thinker, the Weasel, Mr. 104 and Psi. Otherwise, this comic is pure crap. It consists of a single long fight scene in which Doom Patrol tries to rescue Hawk from Nicaragua, while the Suicide Squad tries to kill him. The fight sequences are boring, and there’s no characterization to speak of. This issue is a Suicide Squad comic in name only; the only regular Suicide Squad character in it is Rick Flag, and his teammates are four throwaway characters who all get killed, as noted above. Also, this comic’s politics are very simplistic, and its depiction of Nicaraguans is offensive. There’s one page where a Nicaraguan soldier tells Hawk “Es halcón estación… hawk season!” and then Hawk calls him “taco brain.” Estación means station, not season, and tacos are not a major staple food in Nicaragua (see https://jezebel.com/fox-news-host-is-pretty-sure-nicaraguan-co-host-grew-u-1441110911for another example of the same mistake).

FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #33 (Marvel, 2012) – “Through a Dark Glass Paradoxically,” [W/A] Alan Davis. This is the first part of a three-part crossover story starring Alan Davis’s ClanDestine. I bought all three parts when they came out, but never read any of them until now. In this annual, Reed and Sue are on vacation with the kids, and Ben and Johnny are lying unconscious in front of the TV. Then Reed’s interdimensional alarm goes off, and Ben and Johnny are drawn into a time-traveling adventure with Vincent, one of the Destine siblings. Alan’s artwork in this issue is excellent, but the timeline of this issue was very hard to follow, and I didn’t quite understand what w as giong on with Vincent until I read the other two annuals.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #73 (Marvel, 1978) – “A Fluttering of Wings Most Foul!”, [W] Gary Friedrich, [A] Kerry Gammill. This must have been one of Gary Friedrich’s last comics for Marvel. Besides that, there’s not much else about it that’s notable. It’s a formulaic team-up story in which Daredevil and Spider-Man fight the Owl.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #6 (Image, 2012) – “Star City,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Nick Pitarra. I have a large number of unread issues of this series. This issue is a spotlight on Helmut Gröttrup, who, in real life, was an engineer who worked under Wernher von Braun in Nazi Germany, and then under Sergei Koralev in Soviet Russia. In Manhattan Projects’s alternate universe, his history is essentially similar, except that his bosses are working on bizarre science fiction projects, and one of them is a disembodied brain. Whether working for the Nazis or the Soviets, Gröttrup is an abject slave. Manhattan Projects is an interesting series, but it’s never really excited me, which is why I have so many unread issues of it.

ROCKETEER ADVENTURES VOL. 2 #2 (IDW , 2012) – three stories, [E] Scott Dunbier. The most interesting story in this issue is the first one, which has a minimal plot, but excellent artwork and lettering by Colin Wilson. This artist is from New Zealand but has mostly worked for the British and French markets. Next is a story by Paul Dini and Bill Morrison in which a jealous Cliff spies on Betty as she’s making a movie. This story is slight but funny. In the last story, by Walt Simonson and John Paul Leon, Cliff meets Judy Garland.

DAREDEVIL ANNUAL #1 (Marvel, 2012) – “A Tourist in Hell,” [W/A] Alan Davis. Daredevil encounters Kay, aka Cuckoo, another of the Destine children. Vincent’s spirit possesses the Plastoid, a robot that previously appeared in Daredevil #49, and Matt and Kay team up to fight it. This issue is much easier to understand than FF Annual #33, but it’s not Alan’s best work.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #7 (Image, 2012) – “Above and Beyond,” as above. The Soviet characters hold a secret summit with the American characters in order to collaborate on something, I don’t know what. I didn’t quite understand this issue, and I would have a hard time explaining what this series is about.

WOLVERINE ANNUAL #1 (Marvel, 2012) – “The Greater Evil,” [W/A] Alan Davis. The last of the three annuals is the best because it guest-stars Rory and Pandora, the two youngest Destine children. The emotional heart of the ClanDestine saga is Rory and Pandora’s relationships with each other and with their much older siblings. This issue, Rory, Pandora and the rest of the family team up to battle a spirit that might or might not be Vincent. I think this issue is the last ClanDestine story published to date, and it’s a reasonable conclusion to the saga.

CRIMINAL #8 (Icon, 2007) – “Lawless Part Three,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. Tracy Lawless sleeps with a fellow criminal, Mallory, while continuing to secretly investigate his brother Ricky’s murder. This is a good issue, but it doesn’t advance the plot significantly. On the letters page, Brubaker recommends a novel I’ve never heard of, The Name of the Game is Death by Dan Marlowe.

DEN #4 (Fantagor, 1988) – “The King of Air and Darkness,” [W] Simon Revelstroke, [A] Richard Corben. Den fights an aerial battle with a villain named Scon. Corben is an unexpectedly good aviation artist. There’s also a backup story, “Encounter at War,” which was originally published in 1972.

Three weeks of reviews

My next DCBS shipment was severely delayed for some reason, and as a result I received two shipments on consecutive days. The following comics arrived on Friday, September 20:

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #48 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ryan North, [A] Derek Charm. This is billed as “the antepeNUTimate issue.” Too much happens in this issue to summarize it all, but it’s a thrilling issue with lots of twists and turns. I’m going to miss Squirrel Girl when it’s gone. I’m relieved to learn that Mew survived the destruction of the apartment.

ISOLA #9 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Brenden Fletcher, [W/A] Karl Kerschl, [A] Msassyk. The witch hypnotizes Rook into falling in love with her, but Olwyn exposes the witch’s evil and frees the children she turned into animals. It’s a cathartic moment when the kids thank Olwyn for saving them. As always, the artwork in this issue is spectacular.

WONDER WOMAN #78 (DC, 2019) – “Loveless Part 2,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Romulo Fajardo. With Aphrodite dead, the entire world becomes awful, or more awful than it was already. Dinah enlists Veronica Cale to reverse engineer the Godslayer sword. The high point of this issue is when Etta Candy points out that with Aphrodite dead, people have stopped going to work. Diana: “You mean they loved their jobs?” Etta: “No, they hate their jobs, but they loved their families. So they put up with their jobs.” I’m probably not going to keep reading this series after Willow leaves. The next writer, Steve Orlando, is good, but not as good as Willow.

BLACK HAMMER/JUSTICE LEAGUE: HAMMER OF JUSTICE #3 (DC/Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Michael Walsh. The Black Hammer and Justice League worlds start bleeding into each other. Zatanna helps Golden Gail transform into her elderly self. This series has been fun, but not quite as good as the primary Black Hammer series.

OUTER DARKNESS #10 (Image, 2019) – “Castrophany of Hate Part 10: Hate Blossoms,” [W] John Layman, [A] Afu Chan. Thanks to some “hate blossoms,” the Outer Darkness crew members are trapped in a series of visions in which they all murder each other. By chance, the cat discovers the hate blossoms, and in a truly epic moment, it destroys them by knocking a lantern off a table and starting a fire. Therefore, an alternative title for this issue is “The One Where the Cat Saves the Day by Doing What Cats Do.”

DIAL H FOR HERO #6 (DC, 2019) – “Anyone Can Be a Hero,” [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Joe Quinones. Mr. Thunderbolt turns all the people of Metropolis into superheroes, causing widespread mayhem, but Miguel and Summer save the day. This issue has some of the most spectacular artwork in the entire series. Just in the first few pages, there are visual references to the Simpsons (or Futurama maybe), Scott Pilgrim, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Squirrel Girl, Captain Harlock (?), Major Bummer (?), Dark Knight Returns, Xenozoic Tales, Rocketeer, and lots of other stuff I couldn’t identify. There’s also an extended sequence where Quinones imitates the style of Daniel Clowes, including his coloring. I love this series, and I think it deserves an Eisner nomination for best artist.

GOGOR #5 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Ken Garing. While reading this issue, I saw a Bleeding Cool story that said that the individual issues of Princeless vol. 9 had been cancelled. That made me feel very pessimistic about the future of the direct market. Then I started thinking, well, at least the direct market can still produce a series as bizarre and creative as Gogor. But then I got to the end of Gogor #5 and learned that it was the last issue, thanks to poor sales. That made me even more depressed. I mean, I know the comics medium is going to be fine. I just like to buy stuff in single issues, and I’m afraid that fewer and fewer comics will appear in that format. At least Gogor #5 is a good issue. I especially like the sequence where Armano uses a spider to create a key. The issue ends with a short comic strip in which Ken Garing ruminates about the cancellation of the series. In this strip he depicts a bookshelf with several volumes of Corben’s Den, confirming my realization that Corben is his primary influence.

PRETTY VIOLENT #1 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Derek Hunter, [W] Jason Young. This is sort of a superhero version of I Hate Fairyland. It’s a superhero comic drawn in a cartoony style (reminiscent of Andrew MacLean’s style), but it’s deliberately ultraviolent and offensive. The protagonist is a novice “superheroine” who fails to save anyone, and instead kills lots of people in horrifying ways. At the end, we learn that she comes from a family of supervillans. Again like I Hate Fairyland, Pretty Violent is kind of a silly one-joke comic, but it’s a funny joke so far.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #10 (Marvel, 2019) – “Falling Star Part 3,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Carmen Carnero. Carol discovers that her old enemy, Dr. Minerva, exposed her Kree heritage and is now channeling her power into Star. Carol manages to cut off Star from her power, but instead Star begins draining energy from all the other local people. I still have yet to be truly impressed by Kelly’s Captain Marvel. This was an okay issue, but it wasn’t nearly as good as most of Kelly’s other work.

TREES: THREE FATES #1 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Jason Howard. This issue begins with a vignette where two lovers are fighting, and then one of them gets crushed by one of the giant alien trees. Eleven years later, the same woman, Klara Voronova, investigates a murder occurring below the same tree. Trees is a rare comics example of the SF trope known as “Big Dumb Objects.” But so far, this series is less about the trees themselves than about how they impact the lives of individual people.

Some more comics arrived on Saturday, September 21:

SECOND COMING #3 (Ahoy, 2019) – “You Can’t Go Home Again,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Richard Pace. Jesus and Sunstar rescue a young supervillain (I like the scene where Sunstar bullies him into studying something other than film theory). Then Sunstar goes to look for his missing grandmother, while Jesus learns how badly people have distorted his teachings. This is another brilliant issue. I think the best line in it is “I asked James to spread my word. I asked Peter to spread my word. I never even asked Paul to spread the jelly!” This reminds me of the scene in James Morrow’s Only Begotten Daughter where Jesus is shocked to learn that his religion has become popular among gentiles.

ONCE AND FUTURE #2 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Dan Mora. The neofascists perform a ritual to resurrect King Arthur, and he starts recruiting Knights of the Round Table. A key moment in this issue is when Arthur kills some of the fascists because they’re not Britons but Anglo-Saxons (a term which has caused immense controversy in medieval studies). This issue wasn’t quite as surprising or as dense as issue 1, but Once and Future is an extremely promising series. Kieron Gillen is building a complex and varied body of work, and he may be the best writer in mainstream comics right now.

THE MAGNIFICENT MS. MARVEL #7 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Joey Vazquez. Kamala, Nakia and Zoe go on a road trip, only to encounter Josh, Becky and their army of zombies. I think the high point of this issue is the scene where Kamala and Nakia feel nervous sitting in an empty restaurant. Meanwhile, the subplot about Kamala’s dad’s illness continues, and Kamala’s baby nephew makes a cameo appearance.

STEEPLE #1 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] John Allison. In John Allison’s follow-up to Giant Days, a young woman travels to a remote Cornish village to take up a job as a curate. But it turns out that the local priest spends every night battling a mysterious creature with a giant eye for a head. So far this series is much more promising than By Night, thanks largely to its eerie, disturbing rural setting. I’m also glad that John Allison is drawing it himself.

BLACK HAMMER: AGE OF DOOM #12 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dean Ormston. All the heroes except Lucy go back to the farm. Gail, Abraham and Barbalien get to be with their lovers. The series ends happily ever after. This ending is a huge anticlimax, so much so that I hardly believe it even is the ending. I was hoping for an epic confrontation with Anti-God. I know there’s more Black Hammer material coming, and I can only hope that this series will get a more satisfying ending.

MIDDLEWEST #11 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Skottie Young, [A] Jorge Corona. Abel and Fox head into a city. Abel gets pissed at Fox for no reason and runs off, and he’s kidnapped by a human trafficker, who turns out to have also kidnapped Bobby. The key moment in this issue is when Fox tells Abel that he’s behaving like his father – which is a central theme of this series, that victims of abuse become abusers themselves.

HISTORY OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE #3 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Javier Rodriguez. This issue covers the ‘60s and ‘70s, from Fantastic Four #1 to X-Men #101. It’s mostly a summary of old stories; the only new information I noticed was Franklin’s conversation with Galactus. As with the previous two issues, Javier Rodriguez’s artwork is brilliant, and Mark’s depth of research is impressive.

SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #3 (DC, 2019) – “Desperadoes Under the Leaves!” and other vignettes, [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Steve Lieber. Again, this issue consists of a bunch of vignettes in no apparent order. The comic acknowledges its own unconventional story structure: there’s a caption t hat says “Like, in what actual order do these scenes occur? Keep reading, for there is a method to our madness!” This makes me very curious to find out what is going on, and what this series is about. This issue introduces a possibly new character named Doctor Mantel, whose black hole technology may or may not be central to the plot.

STRAYED #2 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Chapter Two: Systemisch,” [W] Carlos Giffoni, [A] Juan Doe. You can tell this comic is good because it’s endorsed by Nnedi Okorafor’s cat. This issue, we learn that the protagonist’s masters want to find more flowers so they can make themselves gods, never mind the cost to billions of innocent aliens. This series is heartbreaking because of the contrast between Kiara and Lou’s mutual love, on the one hand, and their bosses’ horrible inhumanity, on the other hand.

GRUMBLE #10 (Albatross, 2019) – untitled, [W] Rafer Roberts, [A] Mike Norton. Eddie and Tala retrieve the McGuffin from inside Jimmy, but Tala is shot, and Eddie has to use Arachne’s Fang to save her instead of restoring himself. Eddie reveals that he’s Tala’s father, although I think this was already spoiled somewhere. Tala and Eddie, who’s still a dog, head off to Memphis to find Tala’s mother. On its own this would be a satisfying conclusion to the series, but there’s a second volume coming next year.

MILES MORALES: SPIDER-MAN # 10 (Marvel, 2019) – “Celebration,” [W] Saladin Ahmed & Javier Garrón. It’s Miles’s birthday, although he’s still traumatized from his encounter with the Assessor. Miles has to miss his own birthday party to fight some villains, one of whom turns out to be an alternative (and white) version of Miles himself. The bakery where Miles gets his birthday cake is called “Aricebo”; this must be a misspelling of Arecibo. There’s a backup story explaining the origin of Starling, Vulture’s granddaughter and protegee. This story is unusual because it depicts Adrian Toomes as a positive role model.

RONIN ISLAND #6 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Greg Pak, [A] Giannis Milonogiannis. Some brigands try to torture Kenichi into revealing the location of the island, but Kenichi recruits them to help him kill the shogun. Meanwhile, Hana watches the shogun continue to act like a real jerk. This series is full of fascinating black-and-gray morality and moral dilemmas, as I’ve observed before. But it’s also far grimmer and more depressing than Mech Cadet Yu, even though both titles seem to be aimed at the same audience.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #82 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kate Sherron, [A] Toni Kuusisto. Rarity is forced to take care of Cerberus because none of the other ponies are willing to. This issue is okay, but its plot is rather contrived. I’m glad to learn that the pony comics are going to continue after the show ends.

IRONHEART #10 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Enemy Within…,” [W] Eve Ewing, [A] Luciano Vecchio. Like Nnedi Okorafor’s Shuri, Ironheart passes the “black female Bechdel test” with flying colors. This issue includes four named black female characters, each of whom is quite different from the others. Riri, Shuri and Silhouette’s conversation during the plane trip underscores how much their backgrounds and personalities differ from each other, despite the adorable nickname Shuriri. My other favorite moment in this issue is when Riri’s friend asks her if they have jollof rice in Wakanda.

AQUAMAN #52 (DC, 2019) – “Amnesty, Part 3: Giants and Monsters,” [W] Kelly Sue DeConnick, [A] Robson Rocha. Aquaman and his friends fight a giant dragon thing. Tristan Maurer shows up at the end of the issue. Mera and Vulko do not appear. This was a pretty forgettable issue.

WONDER TWINS #7 (DC, 2019) – “Trials and Twinulations,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Stephen Byrne. A meteor is about to destroy the earth, and Superman and the rest of the Justice League don’t seem to care. Also, we’re introduced to a very lonely superhero/villain named Repulso, who has to live in isolation because of his horrible smell. This issue was good, but not as memorable as the Scrambler storyline.

SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH #5 (Archie, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Veronica Fish. Sabrina defeats the villain, who turns out to be Professor Sampson. Unfortunately, the cat gets shrunk back to normal size. Sabrina decides to postpone choosing between her two love interests. According to the last page, there’s going to be a sequel to this series in 2020, though Archie does not have a good track record with publishing Sabrina comics on time.

VALKYRIE: JANE FOSTER #3 (DC, 2019) – “The Sacred and the Profane Part III,” [W] Jason Aaron & Al Ewing, [A] Cafu et al. I guess “Jane Foster”is part of this comic’s official title. Heimdall has been killed by Bullseye. Jane takes him on a tour of the Marvel Universe’s afterlives, including Heven, Hades and “the Far Shore” (possibly a Le Guin reference). Each afterlife sequence is drawn by a different artist. The best of them is the Far Shore sequence, by the super-underrated Frazer Irving. Also, Jane learns that her horse talks – with a Northern English accent, to be precise – and the Grim Reaper appears at the end.

HASHTAG: DANGER #5 (Ahoy, 2019) – “The Cry of Night is – Sudden Death!”, [W] Tom Peyer, [A] Chris Giarrusso. The baby yeti’s mother finally shows up, and then we see how Sugar Rae turns into a supervillain, as predicted in an earlier issue. I think that’s the end of this series. Hashtag: Danger was funny, but I think it was my least favorite Ahoy title yet. This issue’s letters page includes an exciting list of upcoming Ahoy titles.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #13 (Vertigo, 2019) – “Wicked Burn, Part 1,” [W] Nalo Hopkinson & Dan Watters, [A] Matthew Dow Smith. This issue has a really cute cover: Erzulie’s neighbor is surprised to see Erzulie’s pet, a giant rooster creature, picking up the morning paper. The interior story focuses on the same neighbor, whose name is Djuna, like Djuna Barnes. As if Djuna’s abusive boyfriend wasn’t making her suffer enough, she opens her fridge to discover a mysterious egg that hatches into a firebreathing chicken monster. This story is an interesting change of pace from the Anansi epic.

YEAR OF THE VILLAIN: THE RIDDLER #1 (DC, 2019) – “Thanks for Nothing,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Scott Godlewski. The gimmick behind Year of the Villain is that Luthor gives gifts to all the villains, like Neron did in Underworld Unleashed. But in YOTV: Riddler, Luthor gives the Riddler nothing, just some advice. As a result, the Riddler realizes that his career is going nowhere, and he quits. Mark Russell has become the industry’s best writer of single-issue stories, but this one was a bit anticlimactic. It doesn’t quite feel like a Riddler story. The funniest moment in the issue is when the tiger ruins the “lady or the tiger” challenge by roaring from behind its door.

KING THOR #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Twilight of the Thunder God,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Esad Ribic. Jason Aaron’s farewell to Thor is set in the far future, when Loki is trying to destroy the universe. This issue includes several characters from earlier in Jason’s run: Thor’s three granddaughters; Shadrak, god of various alliterative things; and Gorr the God-Butcher. The future Thor storylines have never been my favorite part of Jason’s Thor, and Esad Ribic isn’t my favorite artist, but this series is worth reading anyway.

BABYTEETH #16 (AfterShock, 2019) – “Revelations,” [W] Donny Cates, [A] Garry Brown. This issue takes place five years after #15. In a flashback, we see that Satan tried to kidnap the baby, but Marty prevented him. Then Olivia dies, and then Sadie, Clark and Simon return to Earth, which has been taken over by demons. And Sadie’s mom shows up again. I’m losing interest in this series. This issue is full of exciting plot twists, but none of them have any real impact, although Marty’s reappearance was a nice moment.

ARCHIE: THE MARRIED LIFE – 10TH ANNIVERSARY #2 (Archie, 2019) – “Twists & Turns,” [W] Michael Uslan, [A] Dan Parent. Lots of stuff happens in this issue’s Archie Marries Veronica story, but the main event is that Hiram Lodge dies. Hilariously, his last words are “If only I had spent more time at work.” The Archie & Betty story is full of relationship drama, but has nothing as funny as Hiram’s last words. I don’t love either of the individual storylines in this comic; they both suffer from shallow characterization and overly compressed plotting. However, the contrasts between Archie’s two possible futures make this series interesting.

GHOSTED IN L.A. #3 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Sina Grace, [A] Siobhan Keenan. This issue starts with a flashback to an argument between two gay men in 1980. One of these men became one of the ghosts of the mansion, and given the timeframe, I can guess how he died. The rest of the issue focuses on Daphne’s relationship with Ronnie, who turns out to be gay. Also, one of the other ghosts is getting really pissed at Daphne’s interference with the mansion’s life.

CATWOMAN #15 (DC, 2019) – “Hermosa Heat Part Two,” [W] Ram V, [A] Mirka Andolfo. Catwoman fights Lock-Up, then interrupts a dinner where the villains are eating ortolan. I believe Ram V’s description of how ortolans are cooked and eaten is accurate. Otherwise I barely remember anything about this issue.

ARCHIE ’55 #1 (Archie, 2019) – “…Whatever Became of Archie Andrews?”, [W] Brian Augustyn & Mark Waid, [A] Tom Grummett. A Facebook friend of mine was making fun of this comic the other day, but I don’t think he’s familiar with the idea behind it. In this sequel to Archie 1941, Archie is a budding rock-and-roll star, which comes as a shock to his friends and his parents. A notable scene in this issue is when Archie’s black friend takes him to a black nightclub to listen to Big Earl Dixon, possibly based on Little Richard or Louis Jordan. This scene raises some uncomfortable questions about racism and cultural appropriation, but it’s also an accurate portrayal of how the rock-and-roll sound developed.

COLLAPSER #3 (DC, 2019) – “Black Holes and Revelations,” [W] Mikey Way & Shaun Simon, [A] Ilias Kyriazis. This comic has pretty good art, but its storyline is overly complicated and confusing. And the writers give us no reason to care what happens to Liam James, who is a rather annoying protagonist. I have stopped ordering this series.

TEST #4 (Vault, 2019) – untitled, [W] Christopher Sebela, [A] Jen Hickman. Test gets stranger with every issue. Every time I think I understand what it’s about, I’m proven wrong. I think Test is an important series, and I’m going to keep reading it, but I can’t say I’m enjoying it.

INVISIBLE WOMAN #3 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Mattia De Iulis. Sue tracks down Aidan Tintreach’s wife, who turns out to be another secret agent. Then she infiltrates an expensive celebrity event in Rome. This series is not Mark’s best work, but it’s entertaining, and it provides lots of interesting insights into Sue’s character.

IMMORTAL HULK DIRECTOR’S CUT #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “Point of View,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett et al. This is probably the most unique issue of the series. It’s a Marvel version of Rashomon, in which the Hulk’s latest rampage is narrated from the viewpoint of four different characters. The four characters’ narratives are drawn by four different artists, including Paul Hornschemeier, Marguerite Sauvage, Leonardo Romero, and Garry Brown. I recently posted a negative review of Hornschemeier’s latest comic, but his and Sauvage’s styles are a powerful contrast to Bennett, Romero and Brown’s more conventional superhero artwork. Thanks to these contrasting styles, this comic is a collage of different types of art, representing different people’s ways of seeing the world.

ARCHIE VS. PREDATOR II #2 (Archie, 2019) – “Pleased to Meet Me,” [W] Alex de Campi, [A] Robert Hack. A bunch of Predators invade a Halloween dance. This series has a very different feel than the previous Archie vs. Predator, thanks to Robert Hack’s gritty, realistic-looking art. It results in the same kind of incongruous effect as in Afterlife with Archie, although with a subtle difference, since Archie vs. Predator II is funnier than Afterlife with Archie. The Predator-Archie’s dialogue is impossible to understand because he speaks in emojis.

ADVENTURE FINDERS: THE EDGE OF EMPIRE #2 (Action Lab, 2019) – “The Wounded Beast,” [W/A] Rod Espinosa. The attack on the wagon continues. Rod Espinosa’s style of storytelling is entertaining, but I still don’t quite get what this series is about, or who is fighting who and why.

CANTO #4 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] David M. Booher, [A] Drew Zucker. I forgot to order issues 2 and 3 of this series, and I may have missed my chance to get them, because Canto seems to have become a target for speculators. In #4, Canto and his companions arrive at the City of Dis, where they have to negotiate their way past the monsters guarding the gate. Then once they’re inside, they have to fight some Furies. Not having read issues 2 and 3, I wasn’t quite sure what was going on in this issue.

IGNITED #4 (Humanoids, 2019) – “Triggered Part 4,” [W] Mark Waid & Kwanza Osajyefo, [A] Phil Briones. More of the same thing as in the first three issues. I think the themes of this series are very important, but the plot is monotonous, and I can’t remember anything about any of the characters. I’m at the point of giving up on it.

THE KENTS #5 (DC, 1997) – “Brother vs. Brother Part 1,” [W] John Ostrander, [A] Tim Truman. Nathaniel’s black friends are kidnapped by slavers, though Nathaniel rescues their son and also survives being shot. The Civil War begins, and inevitably, Nathaniel and Jeb find themselves on opposite sides of the same battle. By now, Nathaniel and Mary Glenowen are an official couple.

THE KENTS #6 (DC, 1997) – “Brother vs. Brother Part 2,” [W] John Ostrander, [A] Tim Truman. Nate finds his enslaved friend Sarah, just in time to watch her die. Riding with Quantrill’s gang, Jeb invades Lawrence, Kansas and massacres a lot of people. Like most of the events in this series,the Lawrence massacre really happened. On the letters page, the editor basically admits that The Kents’ connection to Superman is tenuous, but “without tying into a known entity such as Superman, the market, as it is, would probably be unkind to a historical Western.” I think I have the other six issues of this maxi-series, but I’m not sure where in my boxes they are.

GROO THE WANDERER #114 (Marvel, 1994) – “The Birds of Vultura! Part One of Two,” [W/A] Sergio Aragones, [W] Mark Evanier. Groo visits a town where everyone is starving, because their crops are being stolen by raiders who ride giant vultures. Groo then meets the raiders and joins them, without, of course, realizing that they’re the ones who are raiding the town. The raiders take Groo to their mountaintop lair, but Groo falls off the mountain to his apparent death. I believe I have issue 115, but I can’t remember how Groo saves himself. At one point in this issue, Groo asks “Me? Fly through the air like the bird or the bee or the bull?” Later Groo fights a man who boasts of having killed his parents. Groo defeats the man, but decides to spare him because he’s an orphan. This gag is based on an old joke which has been used as a definition of chutzpah.

SUPERMAN #24 (DC, 2017) – “Black Dawn Chapter 5,” [W] Patrick Gleason & Peter Tomasi, [A] Doug Mahnke. Yet another issue that makes no sense at all if you haven’t been reading the other Superman titles. I really should have quit ordering this series.

CHAMPIONS #9 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Humberto Ramos. I dropped this series because of the previous issue’s offensive line of dialogue about Japanese internment. However, by that point I had already ordered issue 9. Champions #9 introduces Red Locust, an indigenous superheroine from San Diego, and there’s also a scene where the characters watch the Avatar episode with the “secret tunnel under the mountain” song. This issue isn’t as bad as #8, though it’s not great.

New comics received on Thursday, September 26:

LUMBERJANES #66 (Boom!, 2019) – “It’s a Myth-Tery Part 2,” [W] Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, [A] Kanesha C. Bryant. The Lumberjanes are all fascinated with Freya, except Diane, who finds her suspicious. Meanwhile, the other group of Lumberjanes discuss Hes’s crush on Diane while looking for crop circles. At the end of the issue, Freya steals Marigold the giant cat. This was a really fun issue. The only problem is that it’s hard to tell which Lumberjanes are in which group, perhaps because the author doesn’t draw backgrounds.

DIAL H FOR HERO #7 (DC, 2019) – “The New Heroes of Metropolis!”, [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Joe Quinones et al. After the visual explosion of issue 6, this issue was disappointing at first because most of it is not drawn by Joe Quinones. However, it’s still an effective artistic experiment, just in a different way. This issue consists of four vignettes, each drawn by a different artist, about ordinary Metropolis citizens who get turned into superheroes. The best of these sequences are the ones by Erica Henderson and by Stacey Lee, an aritst I’m not familiar with. All four of the new heroes find it difficult to act in a heroic way, but they’re all inspired by a mysterious heroine named Guardian Angel. In Stacey Lee’s sequence, we learn that Guardian Angel is a dog turned into a human. This is a funny twist, and it turns the entire story into a witty comment on the nature of heroism.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #47 (Marvel, 2019) – “Ms. Fantastic Part Two of Two,” [W] Brandon Montclare, [A] Alitha E. Martinez. Lunella finishes her contest with Mr. Fantastic, and the series ends. The letters page makes it explicit that the series is cancelled, not just on hiatus. I always had problems with how Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur was written, but it wasn’t intended for me. It was intended for readers Lunella’s age, and it seems to have been a huge success among those readers – yet that success didn’t save it from cancellation, because its sales were not coming from the direct market. The success of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur really ought to have made Marvel rethink its entire approach to selling comics, but I’m not sure if they understand or care why it did so well.

CRIMINAL #8 (Image, 2019) – “Cruel Summer Part Four: On the Edge of No Escape,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. This issue is narrated from Jane’s perspective. She follows Ricky and discovers that he’s gone off to assassinate some junkie, so she takes pity on him and kills the junkie on his behalf. On the letters page, Brubaker states that if you don’t understand why this man was killed, the clues are in this issue and the previous one. I went back and reread #7, and it seems clear that the junkie raped Ricky while he was in juvenile detention. Also in this issue, Jane learns that a man has been looking for her, but she doesn’t pay attention, even though this information seems important. I wonder if the man was Dan the detective.

WONDER WOMAN #79 (DC, 2019) – “Loveless Part 3,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Scot Eaton. Atlantiades meets Maggie again. Veronica Cale engineers a countermeasure to the Godslayer sword, and Diana uses it to defeat Cheetah. Steve and Diana break up. This is a pretty depressing issue.

FEARLESS #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “Campfire Song Part 3,” [W] Seanan McGuire, [A] Claire Roe. Katie’s science project summons a bunch of toad aliens. Kamala realizes that the camp director caused this to happen on purpose. I’m enjoying this storyline a lot. In the first backup story, by Zoe Quinn, Patsy Walker gets a new sidekick who’s a cat demon. There’s also a short backup story about Jubilee, but this story is forgettable and it ignores all the recent changes to Jubilee’s character.

WHITE TREES #2 (Image, 2019) – “I Raised Him,” [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Kris Anka. The heroes discover that it was their own king who kidnapped their children. They rescue the kids and defeat the king, but at the cost of Krylos’s life. Despite being only two issues, White Trees was an excellent miniseries with very strong characterization and worldbuilding, as well as beautiful art. It’s a powerful portrayal of parent-child relationships and queer identity. I hope there will be more comics set in this world.

BRONZE AGE BOOGIE #6 (Ahoy, 2019) – “(It’s Fun to Serve in the) YMCA,” [W] Stuart Moore, [A] Alberto Ponticelli. YMCA in this context means Young Monkeys’ Chronal Authority. This issue, the good guys win after a big fight, and we discover that the Shang-Chi character is gay. At the end of the issue, a time traveler named Rake Lovelost summons the heroes to help him out in the 69th century. Hopefully there will be another miniseries so that this cliffhanger can be resolved. The back matter in this issue includes a crossword puzzle, which I actually finished.

WARLORD OF MARS ATTACKS #4 (Dynamite, 2019) – “Back to Barsoom,” [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Dean Kotz. John Carter and his companions return to Barsoom, where John and Dejah Thoris are reuinted. At the end of the issue, Dr. Norman is shot by a Martian. Just one issue left.

GHOST SPIDER #2 (Marvel, 2019) –“Candy Store,” [W] Seanan McGuire, [A] Takeshi Miyazawa. Gwen makes a new friend who turns out to be spying on her on behalf of Miles Warren. Meanwhile, on Gwen’s Earth, Man-Wolf is released from prison. This issue is not bad, but not particularly memorable either.

PRETTY VIOLENT #2 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Derek Hunter, [A] Jason Young. Rae’s supervillain siblings make fun of her attempts at heroism, and then she unknowingly saves the city from her brother and sister’s plot. This is another fun issue. Despite this series’ deliberately offensive plot and artwork, Rae is an interesting and sympathetic character.

ETHER: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF VIOLET BELL 1 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] David Rubín. Boone’s wife and daughter are dead, and his old enemy Ubel has taken over the Ether. Boone returns to action to solve the kidnapping of the faerie princess Violet Bell. David Rubín’s art in this issue is amazing, especially in the opening montage about the Seven Lucky Gods (who are lucky only because they survived and the eighth one didn’t). I’m looking forward to the rest of this miniseries.

ABSOLUTE CARNAGE: MILES MORALES #2 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Federico Vicentini. This is slightly better than issue 1, and it gives us some interesting insights into the psychology of Venom symbiotes. However, this series is still not nearly as good as the main Miles Morales title.

BLACK PANTHER #16 (Marvel, 2019) – “Two Thousand Seasons” part four, [W] Ta-Nehisi Coates, [A] Daniel Acuña. This issue is mostly a series of conversations. At the end, Changamire, Tetu and Zenzi show up again. TNC’s Black Panther has always been kind of boring, and “The Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda” has gone on way too long.

DOCTOR MIRAGE #2 (Valiant, 2019) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Nick Robles. In a flashback, Dr. Mirage and her dead husband investigate the cult of Isis. In the present, Grace takes Dr. Mirage into some kind of hallucinogenic world. I think the best thing about this comic is the coloring. This and Strangelands seem to be Mags’s only current titles. Marilyn Manor has been cancelled, and Sex Death Revolution seems to have been totally forgotten.

THE AVANT-GUARDS #8 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Carly Usdin, [A] Noah Hayes. This issue’s featured character is Tiffany, the occult Goth girl. We learn this issue that Tiffany’s interest in occultism is ironic because her father is a famous astronaut. Also, the Avant-Guards win their playoff game, but there may not be any funding to keep their league around for another season. In a case of art imitating life, Avant-Guards #9 has been cancelled, and issues 11 and 12 haven’t been solicited yet. Avant-Guards #8 does not indicate that it’s the last issue, and the story ends on a cliffhanger, but I can’t find any information on whether or how the series will be completed.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #6 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Clint McElroy, [A] Ig Guara. Kamala and Carol fight both the Kree Starforce and Wastrel. The Kree sentence Walter to community service, and they part with Kamala and Carol on good terms. This series had a promising start, but Eve Ewing left after three issues, and Clint McElroy wasn’t nearly as good. I’m not sorry this title was cancelled.

TOMMY GUN WIZARDS #2 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Christian Ward, [A] Sami Kivelä. Eliot’s fight with the mob continues, and we learn that Lick is made from the secretions of a giant alien toad. This is a really exciting issue with some nice worldbuilding. I’m glad to learn that Christian Ward is a solid writer as well as a brilliant artist.

RAGNAROK: THE BREAKING OF HELHEIM #2 (IDW, 2019) – “Through the Gates of Helheim…,” [W/A] Walt Simonson. Thor arrives at Helheim, which is now ruled by Freyr, though apparently not the Asgardian god of that name. Freyr throws Thor into his soul mines, where he meets Hagen, the leader of Freyr’s slaves. This issue’s letter column discusses Ratatoskr’s resurrection and Thor’s lack of a lower jaw.

THE TERRIFICS #20 (DC, 2019) – “If We Could Turn Back Time,” [W] Gene Luen Yang, [A] Stephen Segovia & Brent Peeples. The Bizarros decide to go back in time to obtain Superman’s Phantom Zone crystal, and the Terrifics have to follow them. This is a fun issue, and I’m enjoying this series enough to keep reading it, even though Gene Luen Yang is a worse superhero writer than Jeff Lemire.

ACTION COMICS #646 (DC, 1989) – “Burial Ground,” [W] Roger Stern, [W/A] Keith Giffen. Superman goes to Antarctica to dispose of the Eradicator (the device, not the person). While there he fights a giant alien worm. This issue is drawn and co-plotted by Keith Giffen, so it looks a lot like an issue of the early v4 Legion. Like that series, Action #646 includes some very lazy artwork; there’s a two-page sequence where every drawing of Superman is a solid black silhouette.

IMMORTAL HULK DIRECTOR’S CUT #4 (Marvel, 2019) – “Time of Death,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. Walter Langkowski tells Jackie his origin story, then he and Jackie go looking for the Hulk. But before they find him, Walter is apparently stabbed to death while trying to break up a bar fight. Immortal Hulk #4 isn’t experimental like #3 was, but it’s good anyway.

Most of the following comics were purchased many years ago, in 2014 or earlier:

IMPULSE #58 (DC, 2000) – “Flashing Before My Eyes,” [W] Todd DeZago, [A] Jamal Igle & Grey. I read this series when it was first coming out, but I dropped it after Mark Waid left. I later bought a couple of the later issues from cheap boxes. This issue is a Max Mercury solo story that includes a flashback to his Wild West days. There’s also a backup story, drawn by Ethan van Sciver, that’s a homage to/ripoff of Calvin & Hobbes.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #368 (Marvel, 1992) – “On Razored Wings: Invasion of the Spider-Slayers Part One,” [W] David Michelinie, [A] Mark Bagley. Spidey battles a Spider-Slayer, and there are a few scenes with Peter and his parents. There’s also a backup story written by JM DeMatteis, in which JJJ asks Peter for an exclusive interview with the parents, and Peter uncharacteristically gets furious and attacks his boss. The latter part of David Michelinie’s Spider-Man run was really not that great, mostly because it was bogged down by stuff like the Clone Saga and the Richard and Mary Parker story. I grew up reading these comics, but they haven’t necessarily aged well.

MAGNUS ROBOT FIGHTER #3 (Dynamite, 2014) – “Leeja Clane, Human Hunter,” [W] Fred van Lente, [A] Cory Smith. Mostly a fight scene between Leeja and Magnus. This issue begins with a song that includes lines like “Strong female human protagonist! Her aggressiveness does not compromise her femininity! Her subjectivity and sexuality exist independent of the male gaze!” However, these claims are contradicted by the way Leeja is drawn in the actual comic, and it feels like Van Lente is making fun of the language of feminism, rather than quoting it with sincere intent.

JON SABLE, FREELANCE #42 (First, 1986) – “Appointment with a Lady,” [W/A] Mike Grell. This feels like a much earlier issue of Jon Sable because the drawings are fully rendered. Grell doesn’t use the ugly, lazy style that he used in most late issues of this series. This issue, Sable encounters Rachel, the Israeli secret agent from earlier in the series, and they end up having to work together to defeat a terrorist bomber.

INCORRUPTIBLE #19 (Boom!, 2011) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Marcio Takara. I hadn’t realized I owned so many issues of this series. This issue, Max Damage recruits an old enemy of his, Whelan, to serve as the governor of Coalville. But then some other villain tears Whelan’s heart out. This issue also includes a character named Safeword who can make people freeze in place by yelling ”Stop!”

THE STARDUST KID #3 (Image, 2005) – “Another World, “ [W] J.M. DeMatteis, [A] Mike Ploog. This series was a follow-up to DeMatteis and Ploog’s Abadazad, which was left incomplete when CrossGen went out of business. It’s about four human kids and their adventures with fairies. The Stardust Kid includes some of the finest art of Mike Ploog’s career. It’s f ull of enchanting and weird depictions of fairies, witches, trolls, giant bugs, mushrooms, etc. However, the power of Ploog’s art is diminished because every page is full of unnecessary captions. For example, there’s one gorgeous splash page that has 13 different caption boxes. Most of the captions in this comic are just purple prose. They could have been deleted without losing any essential information, and I wish they had been cut.

GREEN ARROW #54 (DC, 2005) – “Heading into the Light Part One: His Name is My Name Too,” [W] Judd Winick, [A] Tom Fowler. Ollie, Black Lightning, and the good Dr. Light battle the evil Dr. Light. This was a rather pointless issue.

ATOMIC ROBO PRESENTS REAL SCIENCE ADVENTURES #10 (Red 5, 2013) – untitled, [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Erich Owen. I lost interest in this series because it was worse than the main Atomic Robo series. However, this issue is still very funny and entertaining, especially by comparison to the previous few comics I read. In this issue’s main story, Harry Houdini, Nikola Tesla and some other characters disguise themselves as firefighters in order to steal an earthquake device. In the backup story, Atomic Robo battles the Yonkers Devil. I think I might already have read this story somewhere else, but I’m not sure.

BATMAN #509 (DC, 1994) – “KnightsEnd Part 1: Spirit of the Bat,” [W] Doug Moench, [A] Mike Manley. Recovering from having his back broken by Bane, Bruce Wayne goes to Lady Shiva for martial arts training. This comic is kind of similar to Master of Kung Fu in its fantastical portrayal of martial arts. However, by the ‘90s, Doug Moench’s depictions of kung fu and Chinese culture were getting rather dated.

THUNDERBOLTS #17 (Marvel, 1998) – “Matters of Gravity,” [W] Kurt Busiek, [A] Mark Bagley. The Thunderbolts and Great Lakes Avengers fight Graviton. Moonstone gets Graviton to go away by pointing out that he doesn’t know what he wants in life. This is an astute observation on Busiek’s part: Graviton is one of the most powerful villains in the Marvel Universe, but he never achieves anything because he has no clear goals. Meanwhile, Baron Zemo fights the new Citizen V.

DOKTOR SLEEPLESS #8 (Avatar, 2008) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Ivan Rodriguez. I first met Steven Shaviro at a conference where he gave a paper about this comic. As an Avatar comic, Doktor Sleepless has crummy art and production values. But it also has an interesting story, about a mad scientist who wants to destroy the world so Lovecraftian Old Ones can’t destroy it first. I’d read more of this series, but there are other Warren Ellis comics that interest me more.

THE WEIRD WORLD OF JACK STAFF #2 (Image, 2010) – untitled, [W/A] Paul Grist. According to Wikipedia, this series was renamed because it was about Jack Staff’s supporting cast as much as Jack Staff himself. This issue consists of multiple vignettes taking place at different points in time, all revolving around a villain who’s a flaming skeleton.

CRIMINAL #7 (Icon, 2007) – “Lawless Part Two,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. Tracy Lawless helps rescue a man named Simon from prison so that Simon can help with an even bigger heist. There are also some flashbacks to Tracy’s past, and an appearance by Leo Patterson, who was the best friend of Leo’s brother Ricky. It’s too bad I’ve been reading Criminal out of order, because this issue gives me some important information about the Lawless family that I’d been unaware of. I’m not sure I even realized that Tracy and Ricky Lawless were different characters.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #87 (Marvel, 1979) – “The Razor’s Edge!”, [W] Steven Grant, [A] Gene Colan. A villain named Hellrazor impersonates Black Panther in order to frame him for kidnapping a man who defrauded the Wakandan government. This is a pretty mediocre issue, and Colan’s art is not his best. Hellrazor’s only other appearance was in Captain America #319, where he was killed by Scourge.

THE FLASH #9 (DC, 1987) – “The Chunk,” [W] Mike Baron, [A] Jackson Guice. This issue introduces Chunk, one of the signature characters from Baron and Messner-Loebs’s Flash runs. Also, Wally’s mother treats his girlfriend Tina very rudely. Mike Baron’s Flash was truly weird. It hardly seemed like a superhero comic at all, partly because Baron wrote Wally as a selfish, hedonistic jerk. According to https://www.cbr.com/flash-supporting-cast-william-messner-loebs-mark-waid/, Mark Waid didn’t use any of Loebs’s supporting characters, like Chunk and Mary West, because Loebs was planning to use them himself in Wonder Woman. That still doesn’t explain why Wally’s mother almost never appeared in Mark Waid’s Flash, even after Loebs was no longer writing Wonder Woman. I can only include that Mark decided to ignore Wally’s mom’s existence because she was a horrible old shrew.

THE FLASH #173 (DC, 2001) – “Blood Will Run… Part 4: Uneasy Idol,” [W] Geoff Johns, [A] Scott Kolins. Wally defeats Cicada, but all of Cicada’s followers get killed. Also, Wally and Linda’s house is destroyed. In an epilogue, we encounter a baby that we’re made to think is Wally’s son, although it was later revealed that he wasn’t the father. This is a competently written and exciting issue, but it suffers from a certain lack of humor or fun.

TEEN TITANS #42 (DC, 2007) – “Devil-May-Care,” [W] Geoff Johns, [A] Peter Snejbjerg. A spotlight on Kid Devil, who is not a new character but was introduced in Gary Cohn and Dan Mishkin’s Blue Devil run. It turns out that Kid Devil (Eddie)’s life was going nowhere, so he bargained with Neron for superpowers. The catch was that if Eddie lost his trust in his old mentor Blue Devil before he reached the age of 20, his soul would be forfeit to Neron. As soon as Eddie makes the deal, Neron tells him that Daniel was responsible for the death of Eddie’s beloved aunt. So what does Eddie go and do? He asks Daniel whether Neron’s claim is true, and Daniel admits it is true. Eddie then says “I don’t trust you,” ensuring his own damnation. I really don’t like this ending because number one, Eddie was an idiot to take Neron’s deal in the first place. In the second place, if he did take the deal, then he was even more of an idiot to ask Daniel that question before he turned 20. But the biggest problem with this story is that it demonstrates Geoff Johns’s habit of torturing his characters for no reason. It’s not bad enough that Eddie was an orphan or that his beloved aunt died. No, Geoff Johns wasn’t satisfied until he’d found a way for Eddie to condemn himself to hell.

THE FLASH #8 (DC, 1987) – “Purple Haze,” [W] Mike Baron, [A] Jackson Guice. In a Millennium crossover, Wally battles the Soviet speedster teams, Blue Trinity and Red Trinity, and then he discovers that his father is a Manhunter. Also, Wally’s dad claims that his mother was drowned, but she sadly turns out to be alive. The problem with this issue is Wally’s nonchalance. In this issue Wally learns that his father is an evil alien agent and that his mother is dead (though the latter proves false), but he never reacts with the shock or grief that an ordinary person would have shown. I should note that Wally’s dad has always been depicted as an awful man, so it was no loss when he was written out of the series. A possible in-universe reason why Wally’s parents rarely appeared in Mark’s Flash run is that Wally never liked his parents anyway, so he decided to go low-contact with them.

BATMAN INCORPORATED #6 (DC, 2011) – “Nyktomorph,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Chris Burnham. Bruce Wayne creates an international army of Batmen, who have multiple simultaneous adventures. Early in the issue, Bruce uses some Batman robots to defeat a gang of crooks wearing emoticon masks. Those masks are the best thing in this issue, but it’s an excellent issue overall, largely because of Chris Burnham’s art. He may be the next best thing to Frank Quitely.

THE INTREPID ESCAPEGOAT/THE STUFF OF LEGEND FCBD (Th3rd World, 2011) – “The Princess and the Pyramid,” [W/A] Brian Smith. A competent but mediocre kids’ comic, in which an anthropomorphic goat thief has an adventure in an Egyptian pyramid. The flip side of this issue is a Stuff of Legend story, but it’s more of a plot summary than an actual story.

SEAGUY: THE SLAVES OF MICKEY EYE #2 (Vertigo, 2009) – “Viva El Macho,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Cameron Stewart. Seaguy has a vision in which he’s a “bull-dresser” – a matador who puts clothes on the bulls instead of killing them – and also he has a pregnant Spanish girlfriend. Also, lots of other weird stuff happens. Seaguy is probably Grant’s most surrealist comic, and he’s written a lot of surrealist comics.

SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP #15 (Marvel, 1978) – “The Invaders!”, [W] Larry Lieber, [A] Wally Wood. A reprint of the Dr. Doom stories from Astonishing Tales #4 and #5, both of which I already own.

ACTION COMICS #459 (DC, 1976) – “Superman’s Big Crack-Up!”, [W] Elliot S! Maggin, [A] Curt Swan. I met Elliot S! Maggin at Comic-Con. It’s too bad he’s no longer working in comics, although I doubt his writing would be as innovative now as it was in the ‘70s. This issue concludes Superman’s battle with the TV-themed villain Blackrock. I don’t know if Elliot had started writing for TV when this comic was published, but he at least creates the impression that he has expert knowledge of the TV business, and Blackrock’s dialogue is full of TV puns. There’s also a Private Life of Clark Kent story in which Clark rescues a boxer who has a habit of writing poetry. I assume this was a reference to Muhammad Ali and his rhymes. One of the minor characters in this story is named Taine – perhaps he was an ancestor of Bouncing Boy.

SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE #42 (DC, 1996) – “The Phantom of the Fair Two,” [W] Matt Wagner & Steven T. Seagle, [A] Guy Davis. I still have a lot of unread issues of this series. This issue, Wes and Dian investigate a murder at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Notably, Wesley Dodds himself first appeared in a promotional comic published to commemorate this same World’s Fair. This issue includes a couple scenes set in a gay bar.

ARCHER & ARMSTRONG #7 (Valiant, 1992) – untitled, [W] Barry Windsor-Smith, [A] Art Nichols. Archer and Armstrong visit a French chateau that turns out to be a front for some kind of criminal organization. The lack of BWS artwork makes this issue much less interesting than other issues of this series. Art Nichols does his best to draw like BWS, but he’s no BWS.

AVENGERS #294 (Marvel, 1988) – “If Wishes Were Horses…”, [W] Walt Simonson, [A] John Buscema. There’s a funny scene in this issue where Dr. Druid has a vision of himself as an Adam Strange-esque superhero. Later in the issue, Monica Rambeau nearly dies from expending too much energy in last issue’s fight against Marrina, and Dr. Druid hypnotizes the other Avengers into electing him leader. Walt Simonson’s Avengers represents the point where the series jumped the shark. It never returned to its former level of quality until Kurt Busiek’s run. This is not entirely Walt’s fault; I get the impression that he was forced to use bad characters like Dr. Druid and Gilgamesh.

NIGHT FORCE #12 (DC, 1982) – “Mark of the Beast, Chapter 2: …Greater than the Sum!”, [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Gene Colan. Baron Winters and Vanessa van Helsing travel back in time to 1934 and fight a giant eight-headed lion. Then back in the present, Winters has to save Vanessa and her husband Jack Gold from some other peril. This series is a spiritual sequel to Tomb of Dracula, and Vanessa and Jack remind me a lot of Rachel and Frank. I’ve been feeling rather negative about Marv Wolfman’s work lately, but I ought to complete my collection of Night Force.

IMPULSE #76 (DC, 2001) – “Missing You,” [W] Todd DeZago, [A] Carlo Barberi. Bart is depressed after losing his best friend, Carol, under circumstances the writer doesn’t explain. Max takes Bart to see Dr. Morlo to cure his depression. Then Bart has an adventure with his old frenemy White Lightning. This issue was much better than #58, reviewed above. It had a lot of genuine emotion.

HELLBLAZER #8 (DC, 1988) – “Intensive Care,” [W] Jamie Delano, [A] John Ridgway. John Constantine is immobilized in a hospital bed, but a demon comes and frees him in order to enlist his aid, possibly to defeat the fundamentalist Christian cult that’s depicted at the start of the issue. Jamie Delano’s Hellblazer, like Mike Baron’s Flash, is very strange; it hardly feels like a Hellblazer comic, mostly because John himself rarely seems to be at the center of the plot. Delano’s version of John seems like more of a bystander than a facilitator of events. I get the sense that at this point in John’s history, his character hadn’t been clearly defined.

OMEGA THE UNKNOWN #7 (Marvel, 1977) – “Blockbuster!”, [W] Scott Edelman, [A] Jim Mooney. The original Omega the Unknown series only lasted ten issues, and two of those were fill-ins. According to a comment at http://www.supermegamonkey.net/chronocomic/entries/omega_the_unknown_110.shtml, Jim Shooter spontaneously asked Scott Edelman and Roger Stern to write these two issues because Gerber was chronically late. Scott Edelman’s issue of Omega is consistent with Gerber’s version of the series, but it’s not nearly as good as any of Gerber’s issues. Omega #7 consists mostly of a fight between the Omega android and a villain named Blockbuster.

STAR-SPANGLED WAR STORIES #170 (DC, 1973) – “Legends Don’t Die!”, [W] Archie Goodwin, [A] Jack Sparling. In this issue’s first story, the Unknown Soldier impersonates a kidnapped Marine officer, thus giving his men the morale they need to capture a Japanese-held island. This story is reasonably good, but the backup story, “UFM,” is more interesting because it’s Walt Simonson’s second published comic (after Weird War Tales #10). Even at the start of his career, Walt was already brilliant. His panel structures in “UFM” are radically experimental, and he draws some gorgeous machinery and architecture. In the letter column, Archie points out that he had trouble spotting Walt’s signature even after he knew what panel it was in. Of course, this was before everyone knew that Walt’s signature is a dinosaur.

KABUKI: CIRCLE OF BLOOD #1 (Caliber, 1995) – “For Her,” [W/A] David Mack. I think the only previous David Mack comic I’ve read was his run on Daredevil, back in the 2000s. Kabuki is a much more conventional comic than David Mack’s Daredevil, withline-drawn rather than painted art, but it’s still really weird. Mack’s panel structures are bizarre – some pages have no panel borders, others have tons of panels, and there are large blocks of text everywhere. Kabuki’s story is set in Japan, but its actual plot is not made clear, and nothing really happens in this issue. It’s hard to tell whether this is a groundbreaking and innovative comic, or a piece of amateurish nonsense. A more serious complaint about this comic is that it’s cultural appropriation. David Mack is not Japanese, and as a reader, I get the impression that his knowledge of Japan is rather shallow.

ASTRO CITY #3 (Image, 1995) – “A Little Knowledge,” [W] Kurt Busiek, [A] Brent Anderson. A common criminal accidentally learns Jack-in-the-Box’s secret identity, but it does him no good. He becomes paranoid that his knowledge will get him killed, and eventually leaves Astro City for Alaska. I read this issue in trade paperback form a long time ago, but it’s still good. It’s one of the grimmest issues of the whole series.

SWEET TOOTH #24 (Vertigo, 2011) – “Endangered Species: Part Five,” [W/A] Jeff Lemire. Gus and Tommy are reunited, but only after Gus has been shot. While Tommy tries to save him, Gus has a series of horrific and beautifully drawn nightmares. This issue is a quick read, but it’s good.

PLANETARY #4 (WildStorm, 1999) – “Strange Harbours,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] John Cassaday. Planetary is excavating an alien “shiftship” that travels between dimensions. Chasing a thief, a man named James Wilder jumps onto the shiftship and is transported to another dimension. As a result he gains superpowers. According to Wikipedia, James Wilder is based on Captain Marvel, although the link between the two characters is pretty tenuous. The best thing about this issue is John Cassaday’s spectacular depictions of alien technology.

ONCE UPON A TIME: SHADOW OF THE QUEEN/AVENGERS: ENDLESS WARTIME FREE PREVIEW (Marvel, 2013) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Mike McKone. A free preview of two upcoming Marvel comics. One of them is a tie-in to the TV show Once Upon a Time and is totally forgettable. The other comic, Avengers: Endless Wartime, is billed as Marvel’s first original graphic novel, which is a blatant lie. However, the preview story is actually good, and I think I’ve seen excerpts of it on Scans_Daily or some other website. It shows the Avengers going through their morning routine and interacting with Jarvis. A cute moment is when Jarvis convinces Cap to let him make the coffee, even though Cap can do it himself.

ENIGMA #3 (DC, 1993) – “The Good Boy,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Duncan Fegredo. I have this entire series, but I read the first two issues and didn’t understand them at all. Surprisingly, the third issue makes a lot of sense on its own. This issue, Michael Smith goes to look for the writer of Enigma, the comic book that comforted him when he was orphaned as a child. Enigma the comic is reminiscent of Steve Ditko’s Shade, but Titus Bird is no Steve Ditko; he’s a gay man who wrote Enigma while under the influence of various substances. Late in the issue, Michael reacts violently when Titus assumes he’s gay. As explained in a later letter column, this scene is not evidence of the writer’s homophobia; rather, Michael himself is in denial of his own homosexuality. This issue also introduces a new villain, Envelope Girl. Duncan Fegredo’s art in Enigma is fascinating; he’s like a muddier version of Chris Bachalo. Also, Enigma is a brilliant design. Peter Milligan’s comics have included a lot of great costume designs, some of which Brendan McCarthy was responsible for.

BATWOMAN #11 (DC, 2012) – “To Drown the World Part Six,” [W] J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman, [A] Trevor McCarthy. Another pretty boring issue. The only interesting moment is when Maggie Sawyer tells Kate Kane about her daughter. Unlike Christian Ward, J.H. Williams III was not remotely as good at writing as he is at art.

ENIGMA #4 (DC, 1993) – “And Then What?”, [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Duncan Fegredo. Michael Smith and Titus Bird return to Michael’s hometown of Pacific, where the Interior League and Envelope Girl are committing massacres. There’s one page in this issue that’s supposed to be from the ‘70s Enigma comic. Also, Michael breaks up with his girlfriend Sandra. This is another interesting issue, but it doesn’t advance the plot very much.

REFLECTIONS #13 (Icon, 2009) – various non-comics material, [W/A] David Mack. This is not a comic but a collection of David Mack’s sketches and paintings, including a couple that he did as a child. I have mixed feelings about this issue. On one hand, David Mack is a brilliant painter. On the other hand, he’s not brilliant enough that I would actually want to pay $5.99 (the cover price of this issue) for a collection of his outtakes and works-in-progress. Reflections is only of interest to hardcore Mack fans. I’m surprised that there were enough such fans that Marvel was willing to publish multiple issues worth of Reflections.

IMPRACTICAL JOKERS TRUTV EDITION 2013 (DC, 2013) – “The Secret Origins oftruTV’s Impractical Jokers,” [W] Doug Wagner, [A] Adam Archer. A stupid free preview comic about a stupid reality TV show.

SAVAGE DRAGON #39 (Image, 1997) – untitled, [W/A] Erik Larsen. Dragon has been expelled from the police force, and at the end of the issue he’s replaced by She-Dragon. Meanwhile, Dragon fights Dung, Chaos and Control. The latter two villains have a really cool gimmick: Chaos is a giant rampaging monster, and Control, well, controls Chaos by putting his eyes on Chaos’s horns.

THE FOX #5 (Archie, 2014) – “Freak Magnet Part 5,” [W] J.M. DeMatteis, [A] Dean Haspiel. Mark Waid’s Fox was not that great, but JM DeMatteis’s Fox is actively bad. This issue, the Fox is forced to collaborate with other WWII-era superheroes from Britain, Germany and Japan. This demonstrates that the world’s problems could be solved if people from different countries would love each other. That’s a trite but well-intentioned message; however, it’s extremely offensive to suggest that an American should collaborate with a Nazi and a Japanese imperialist. DeMatteis himself realized this, and at the end of the issue he reveals that the German superhero, Master Race, was unaware of the Holocaust. That doesn’t solve the problem, because it’s hard to believe that a person who fought for the Nazi party and called himself “Master Race” would have been unaware of his own government’s atrocities.

XOMBI #3 (DC, 2011) – “The Ninth Stronghold Part Three: Exit Strategies,” [W] John Rozum, [A] Frazer Irving. I thought I remembered reading that John Rozum disavowed this series, but I may have been thinking of his New 52 Static series. However, John Rozum did say that Xombi was cancelled before it was even available to preorder. (https://www.bleedingcool.com/2013/09/13/john-rozum-talks-milestone/) That’s a pity because Rozum and Irving are both very talented, and it’s also unfortunate that Rozum has rarely been able to achieve his potential as a writer. This issue, Xombi battles a lion-headed creature called Maranatha.

JON SABLE, FREELANCE #37 (First, 1986) – “Ivory Apes & Peacocks,” [W/A] Mike Grell. This issue has the ugly, unfinished style of art that I complained about in my review of #42 above. By this point in the series, Grell was incapable of maintaining his standard of artistic quality, and he should have hired someone else to draw Jon Sable for him. In this issue, Jon and Myke go on a safari for some reason I didn’t get, and Jon gets mauled by a leopard.

INCORRUPTIBLE #7 (Boom!, 2010) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Horacio Domingues. Jailbait is injured after last issue, so Annie takes her costume and becomes the new Jailbait. Meanwhile, Max Damage fights some anti-immigrant punks, but falls asleep, thus losing his powers. I don’t know if I have any further unread issues of Incorruptible.

B.P.R.D.: HELL ON EARTH – MONSTERS #2 (Dark Horse, 2011) – “Monsters, Part 2,” [W] Mike Mignola & John Arcudi, [A] Tyler Crook. Liz Sherman fights some kind of cult in a trailer park. This issue wasn’t terrible, but I couldn’t follow its plot.

ELFQUEST: BLOOD OF TEN CHIEFS #12 (WaRP, 1994) – “Coyote,” [W] Terry Collins, [A] Mat Nastos, Jen Marrus & Barry Blair. A flashback story about a former Wolfrider chief who liked to trick humans. At the end of the issue, he meets his counterpart, a human who likes to trick elves. This is a silly comic, and it includes some of Barry Blair’s typical creepy, quasi-pornographic art.

Reviews for most of September

9-21

Starting again on September 21 with the rest of the comics from the week of August 28. I didn’t want to write any more reviews because I was running out of space in my boxes, but I received another package of drawerboxes yesterday.

ASCENDER #5 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dustin Nguyen. Another thrilling issue. Telsa doesn’t want to help Andy and Mia, but her decision is made for her when Mother’s troops show up. Andy gets stabbed through the chest, and Telsa and Mia have to sail off without him, though the end of the issue reveals that he’s not dead. Meanwhile, Mother discovers that Bandit is the Hound with the Backwards Tongue.

STAR PIG #2 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Delilah Dawson, [A] Francesco Gaston. Vess the human and Theo the space tardigrade meet Johnny B. Goode, a spore colony who collects human memorabilia. The jewel of his collection is “a Keanu Reeves” – i.e. Keanu Reeves himself, cryogenically frozen. Johnny turns out to have ulterior motives, but Vess tricks him into trapping himself in a spacesuit. Then she injures herself trying to escape, but all three of them are rescued by other humans. This is another fun comic by Delilah Dawson, and it’s very different in tone from either Ladycastle or Sparrowhawk.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #81 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Thom Zahler, [A] Nicoletta Baldari. Scootaloo and Rumble, an injured Wonderbolt, visit the Wonderbolt museum. While there, they learn the story of Wind Sock, the only earth pony to become a Wonderbolt. This is a reasonably good issue, but not all that memorable. Speaking of Thom, I wonder if Love & Capes: The Family Way is going to be published as single issues or if it’ll go straight to trade paperback.

MOON GIRL & DEVIL DINOSAUR #46 (Marvel, 2019) – “Ms. Fantastic, Part One,” [W] Brandon Montclare, [A] Alitha E. Martinez. Lunella has an unpleasant encounter with Mr. Fantastic, and decides to prove she’s smarter than him. This was only an average issue, and I felt that Reed was acting somewhat out of character, but it’s always nice to see Lunella’s parents. Sadly, Marvel seems to have stealth-cancelled this series. It’s not clear why they decided to do this now and not several years ago, since it’s never sold well in the direct market. It seems like Marvel never really understood why this series was so successful in trade form, because they haven’t made any real effort to create more titles like it.

WONDER WOMAN #77 (DC, 2019) – “Loveless Part 1,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Jesus Merino. Diana, Steve and Atlantiades return home to find Aphrodite dead. Diana rushes off to seek revenge on Cheetah, but it doesn’t go well. This issue wasn’t as interesting as #78, to be reviewed later (probably in a separate post).

SPIDER-MAN: LIFE STORY #6 (Marvel, 2019) – “All My Enemies,” [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Mark Bagley. This issue introduces Miles Morales, and its plot is based on Dying Wish and other recent storylines. As expected, Peter dies heroically, and Miles takes over as the new Spider-Man. This was a really enjoyable series, a brilliant use of the What If format.

THE TERRIFICS #19 (DC, 2019) – “Forward to the Past!”, [W] Gene Luen Yang, [A] Max Raynor. The Terrifics encounter their Bizarro counterparts, the Terribles. Most of the issue is narrated from Bizarro’s perspective. Gene Luen Yang writes some funny Bizarro dialogue and sound effects, but this series is no longer as special or unique as when Jeff Lemire was writing it.

ABSOLUTE CARNAGE: MILES MORALES #1 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Federico Vicentini. A boring crossover installment that gives Saladin no opportunity to demonstrate his writing skills. It’s mostly a long fight scene. I shouldn’t have ordered this.

SERA AND THE ROYAL STARS #2 (Vault, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jon Tsuei, [A] Audrey Mok. Sera fights alongside the first Royal Star, Aldebaran/Tascheter/the Bull. Then they go to look for the other three stars: the Fish, the Scorpion and the Lion. The idea of the four Royal Stars seems to be based on genuine Zoroastrian mythology. I don’t know where Tsuei and Mok are getting their information about Iranian culture, but I love that they’re using it as a source. I also really like the colors and costume designs in this comic; they make this comic look very different from most superhero comics.

THOR #16 (Marvel, 2019) – “Once Upon a Time in Asgard,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Mike del Mundo. Thor misses his own coronation party because he’s too busy doing good deeds. Writing this review a few weeks later, I had trouble remembering this issue, but it’s a satisfying finale to the series (though the actual finale is the upcoming King Thor). The first page, with Thor rebuilding the church, has gone somewhat viral.

BABYTEETH #15 (AfterShock, 2019) – “Get Thee Behind Me,” [W] Donny Cates, [A] Garry Brown. God leads an army of angels to capture the baby. Sadie’s dad sacrifices himself so the rest of the family can escape. The impact of this issue is lessened by the fact that it’s been eight months since the previous issue. After such a long wait, it was hard to remember or care what was happening in this series.

BLACK PANTHER #15 (Marvel, 2019) – “Book 3: Two Thousand Seasons,” [W] Ta-Nehisi Coates, [A] Daniel Acuña. I’m glad this overly long storyline is approaching its end. Not much happens in this issue, though there are some cute scenes with T’Challa and Storm.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #5 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Clint McElroy, [A] Ig Guara. Carol and Kamala confront Walter Lawson, a character from Mar-Vell’s first appearance. This issue was pretty forgettable, and this series has already been cancelled. It’s too bad that Eve Ewing only wrote the first story arc.

BATGIRL #38 (DC, 2019) – “Oracle Rising Part 2,” [W] Cecil Castellucci, [A] Carmine Digiandomenico. This issue has a complex plot involving Killer Moth, a new Oracle, and the Terrible Trio. This comic is okay, but it doesn’t make me feel the spark I felt when I read Fletcher and Stewart or Larson’s Batgirl. I don’t think I’m going to continue reading this series.

TOMMY GUN WIZARDS #1 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Christian Ward, [A] Sami Kivelä. Christian Ward is the preeminent artist in comic books right now, but this is the first comic he’s written, and I was a little apprehensive about it. I liked it, though. It’s set in a fantasy version of 1930s Chicago, where Prohibition is a ban on not alcohol but “lick,” a magical drug (like akker in Coda). The series stars Eliot Ness, an anti-lick crusader who turns out to be a lick addict himself. The action sequences in this issue are pretty good, but the highlight of the issue is the scene with Eliot sitting at his sleeping young son’s bedside. This is a promising debut issue.

MARVEL BOY #5 (Marvel, 2000) – “Zero Zero: Year of Love,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] J.G. Jones. Noh-Varr is held captive by Oubliette, who’s been led to believe that she’s hideously ugly, when she’s actually beautiful. And because this is a Grant Morrison comic, lots of other weird and confusing stuff happens. I didn’t quite understand this issue, but it made me curious to read the rest of this miniseries.

EXCALIBUR #89 (Marvel, 1995) – “Dream Nails 2: Easy Tiger,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] David Williams. Warren Ellis’s Excalibur had two severe problems. The first was terrible art. The second was Pete Wisdom, a Gary Stu character who was hard to tell apart from any of Ellis’s other male protagonists. Ellis also didn’t write Kitty Pryde very well, mostly because he had to write her as a person who would be attracted to someone like Pete Wisdom. Allowing for all of that, Ellis was still the best (and only good) Excalibur writer other than Claremont or Davis. This issue is mostly a Kitty and Pete solo story, focusing on their mission to the Dream Nails facility, though there are some other subplots as well.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2017: GENERAL (Dark Horse, 2017) – “Brothers,” [W] Sherri L. Smith, [A] Doug Wheatley, and “The Village,” [W] Brian Wood, [A] Werther Dell’Edera. This issue’s first story is an adaptation of James Cameron’s Avatar, a movie I hate. It’s a blatant white savior narrative, and its stance on issues of technology, embodiment, and disability is very disturbing. Like, there’s something deeply unsettling about a story where the protagonist literally gives up the body he was born with in exchange for another one that’s depicted as 100% better. Anyway, there’s no reason I’d want to read a comics adaptation of this movie, and this particular comics adaptation isn’t much good either. The backup story is a preview of Brian Woods’s Briggs’ Land. Brian Wood has been dogged by accusations of sexual misconduct for several years, and Dark Horse has finally fired him as a result. On top of that, he’s also a boring and unsubtle writer, and I have no interest in his work.

IZOMBIE #28 (Vertigo, 2012) – “The End Conclusion,” [W] Chris Roberson, [A] Mike Allred. I think this is the final issue. Gwen Dylan and her friends defeat a Lovecraftian monster called Xitalu, and then the series ends with a where-are-they-now sequence. I mostly didn’t understand this issue, but it’s well-drawn and reasonably exciting.

THE IMMORTAL HULK: DIRECTOR’S CUT #2 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Walking Ghost,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. Bruce Banner visits a small town that’s suffered an epidemic of inexplicable deaths. It turns out the deaths are the result of a mad scientist’s experiments with gamma radiation. This is a pretty good issue, but the “Director’s Cut” material – mostly consisting of Joe Bennett’s original pencils to the entire issue – is not worth the extra price tag. I wish they had just reprinted Immortal Hulk #1-6 at their original cover price.

THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST #8 (Marvel, 2007) – “The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven Part 1,” [W] Matt Fraction & Ed Brubaker, [A] David Aja & Roy Allan Martinez. Danny Rand represents K’un L’un in a tournament between the eponymous seven capital cities. The best part of the issue is the splash page that introduces the champions of the other six cities. This splash page subtly informs us about all these characters’ personalities; for example, Fat Cobra is sitting at a table covered with food, Dog Brother #1 is accompanied by his dog, and the Prince of Orphans is completely alone with only a cup on his table. I read this series occasionally when it was coming out, but I ought to go back and collect the rest of it. Immortal Iron Fist had an impressive lineup of talent, and although it could be accused of cultural appropriation, this issue feels like a fairly respectful use of Chinese popular culture.

STARMAN #66 (DC, 2000) – “Grand Guignol: Cinquieme Partie,” [W] James Robinson, [A] Peter Snejbjerg. This is one of the few issues of this series that I hadn’t read. Grand Guignol may have been the low point of James Robinson’s Starman. It went on too long, and I don’t much like the main villain, Culp. This issue gives us Culp’s backstory, and it’s particularly bad because it’s narrated by Culp himself, in his annoying Cockney style of dialogue. And there are some pages with 10 or 20 caption boxes, so it’s a tough comic to get through.

WARLORD #28 (DC, 1979) – “The Curse of the Cobra Queen,” [W/A] Mike Grell. Morgan fights a yellow-skinned scaly woman who turns out to be a giant cobra. The backup story inroduces Wizard World and Mongo Ironhand. The Wizard World setting feels like a ripoff of Marvel’s Weirdworld or Wally Wood’s The Wizard King, or perhaps Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards, although those may all have been drawing on the same sources.

TEST #3 (Vault, 2019) – untitled, [W] Christopher Sebela, [A] Jen Hickman. In their apartment, Aleph-Null discovers a secret passage that leads to the free part of Laurelwood. This series gets weirder with every issue. I’m still not quite enjoying it, but this issue is at least interesting.

DOCTOR MIRAGE #1 (Valiant, 2019) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Nick Robles. Shan Fong Mirage is devastated by the loss of her husband, but she’s tracked down by a mentally ill girl who claims to be able to see her husband’s ghost. Like most of Mags’s comics, this series is about a woman – or in this case two women – who is recovering from severe trauma, and is trying to learn how to cope with life again. This first issue is an interesting setup.

THE AUTHORITY #19 (Wildstorm, 2000) – “Earth Inferno,” [W] Mark Millar, [A] Frank Quitely. Faced with an apocalyptic threat, the Authority evacuates the entire population of Earth into alternate dimensions. This issue includes some excellent visual storytelling, and I’d be willing to collect more of this series just because of the artwork. Unfortunately this comic is written by Mark Millar, so it’s violent, offensive, and completely lacking in subtlety. Even in a superhero comic, the idea of evacuating everyone in the world is difficult to accept. At least there’s nothing in this issue that’s as bad as the maternity ward scene (see the review of Authority #8 above).

REVIVAL #19 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W] Tim Seeley, [A] Mike Norton. This issue advances a bunch of different plots, but has no truly important moments. Perhaps the most memorable thing in the issue is the scene where Ibrahim treats Dana for some infected wounds caused by broken glass. The issue ends with Dana being approached by some FBI agents from New York.

WONDER WOMAN #194 (DC, 2003) – “The Game of the Gods Part 6: The Passion of Trevor!”, [W] Walt Simonson, [A] Jerry Ordway. I believe that I bought some of the other issues of this storyline when they came out, but for some reason I didn’t get this issue. In the conclusion of “Game of the Gods,” Diana’s boyfriend Trevor Barnes sacrifices himself to defeat some kind of mythological villain. This issue is reasonably good, but not as good as Greg Rucka’s run, which began in the following issue.

MINISTRY OF SPACE #1 (Image, 2001) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Chris Weston. Yet another in Warren Ellis’s long list of miniseries. Ministry of Space is an alternative universe story in which England builds a space program instead of America. It starts with a flashforward to the technologically advanced England of 2001. Then we flash back to 1945, when England led a mission to capture Nazi Germany’s rocket scientists before America could get to them. This series has an interesting setup, and Chris Weston’s art is brilliant. I think Warren Ellis is fundamentally a science fiction writer. In series like Ministry of Space or Ocean or Trees or even Planetary, he imagines that something about technology or history is different than in the real world; then he imagines what kind of world would result from this difference.

MASTER OF KUNG FU #78 (Marvel, 1979) – “Tread the Night Softly,” [W] Doug Moench, [A] Mike Zeck. Shang Chi tracks down a villain named Zaran, who is responsible for nearly killing Leiko Wu. Meanwhile, Black Jack Tarr is being held captive by Zaran’s collaborator, Sarsfield. This is a very fun issue. I keep forgetting how entertaining and exciting MOKF is, despite its severe overwriting.

FANTASTIC FOUR #312 (Marvel, 1988) – “The Turning Point!”, [W] Steve Englehart, [A] Keith Pollard. A team-up between two awful teams: Steve Englehart’s Fantastic Four (with Sharon and Crystal instead of Reed and Sue) and X-Factor Investigations. There’s a lot of characterization in this issue, as usual with Englehart, but his characters are either boring or dislikable. In particular, this issue focuses heavily on the Beast, and it takes place during the period when he got dumber every time he used his strength. That period was the lowest point in Hank McCoy’s entire history. Watching this brilliant, funny man lose his intelligence and personality is rather depressing. Also, Sharon Ventura spends much of this issue whining about her ugliness and wishing she was dead.

JACK STAFF #4 (Image, 2003) – “Hurricane” and other vignettes, [W/A] Paul Grist. The Hurricane, apparently based on the Hulk, invades Castle Town. This is another entertaining issue, but not as unique as other Jack Staff comics I’ve read lately. I wish someone would make a guide to the inspirations for all the characters in this series. Some of them are easy for me to recognize (Janus Stark, Steel Claw), but others are impossible for a non-British reader to identify.

CAREER GIRL ROMANCES #73 (Charlton, 1973) – “Beware of His Kisses,” [W] Joe Gill?, [A] Charles Nicholas, plus other stories. This comic is exactly what it says on the tin: it consists of romance stories about professional women. These stories are sort of feminist, but only in a very limited way; for example, the third story is about a woman who wants to be a pilot, but she ends up getting married instead. The first story is a cautionary tale in which a social worker falls in love with the cheating boyfriend of one of her clients. Then she finds him making out with another woman. The second story is perhaps the best, mostly because of the scene where the protagonist’s date is shocked to learn that she’s a policewoman. https://www.instagram.com/p/B17uc5khpVn/

SWEET TOOTH #26 (Vertigo, 2011) – “The Taxidermist Part 1 of 3: The Hinterlands,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Matt Kindt. This storyline may be the only comic written by Lemire and drawn by Kindt, unless you count Black Hammer ’45, which I wouldn’t. They also cowrote The Valiant. “The Taxidermist” is a flashback story whose connection to Sweet Tooth is not immediately obvious. In 1911, a scientist leads an expedition into the Arctic, but things start to go horribly wrong when someone kills his sled dogs. I guess this story will explain the origin of the plague that created the animal children.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #16 (Marvel, 2015) – “The Graveyard Shift Part One: The Late, Late Mr. Parker,” [W] Dan Slott & Christos Gage, [A] Humberto Ramos. Peter has to make a high-stakes presentation to investors, but he’s busy fighting the Iguana (a rather redundant character, given the existence of the Lizard and Stegron). The dialogue in the fight scene is amazing. The Iguana is offended that Peter is talking on the phone while fighting him (https://www.instagram.com/p/B17xE79BjFh/), and then Peter beats up the Iguana while bragging about his compassion. There’s also a backup story starring the Black Cat.

SCENE OF THE CRIME #2 (Vertigo, 1999) – “A Little Piece of Goodnight,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Michael Lark. It’s been a while since I read issue 1, so this issue was hard to follow, but it’s good. Scene of the Crime is a tightly plotted and exciting detective story with strong characterization. It’s too bad this series lasted four issues, but it was sort of a prototype for Criminal.

MISTY #4 (Marvel, 1986) – “Misty’s Fairy Tale,” [W/A] Trina Robbins. I sat near Trina at Kim Munson’s breakfast in San Diego, and we talked a bit about Misty and California Girls. I hope to interview her at some point, if time ever permits. In this issue’s first story, Misty is babysitting two bratty kids, and she tells them a fairy tale. This fairy tale is probably an homage to the “poor little girl” stories in Little Lulu. In the backup story, Misty goes to New York for a photo shoot with Heaventeen magazine, but the photographers are more interested in photographing Aunt Millie, once they realize she’s Millie the Model. Misty is jealous of her aunt for stealing attention from her, but in a touching ending, Misty realizes Millie wasn’t doing it deliberately and was just glad for a second chance at modeling. This issue includes more costumes drawn by Gilbert Hernandez, Barb Rausch, Renaldo Barnette, etc.

DEN #3 (Fantagor, 1988) – “The House of Silence,” [W/A] Richard Corben, [W] Simon Revelstroke. Looking for Kath, Den visits the tower of the wizard Lusque. There’s also a Corben backup story which is a sort of parody of Adam and Eve, plus another backup story by someone else, which is a blatant Vaughn Bodé ripoff. After reading Den, I finally realized what Gogor reminds me of. Gogor has the same bizarre, whimsical atmosphere as much of Corben’s work has, and Den in particular seems to have been a huge influence on Gogor. You can see some volumes of Den in the epilogue to Gogor #5 (to be reviewed later).

CONAN THE AVENGER #4 (Dark Horse, 2014) – “Shadows Over Kush Part Four,” [W] Fred Van Lente, [A] Eduardo Francisco. Conan leads an army in a siege on a Kushite city. This comic isn’t as bad as I expected, but it’s not great either, and I don’t like how Fred Van Lente writes Conan. His Conan is too bloodthirsty and bombastic.

WYTCHES #6 (Image, 2015) – untitled, [W] Scott Snyder, [A] Jock. Charlie Rooks sacrifices himself so his daughter Sail can escape from a horde of zombies chanting “Pledged is pledged.” I’ve warmed up to this series a little bit, but I still don’t like it that much.

GROO & RUFFERTO #1 (Dark Horse, 1998) – untitled, [W/A] Sergio Aragonés, [W] Mark Evanier. An evil king named Ravenus is obsessed with his riches, but needs a place where he can escape with them if something goes wrong. Ravenus’s court wizard invents a time-travel procedure that can transport Ravenus into the future. But the wizard needs an animal to test the time travel method on, so he kidnaps Rufferto and sends him into the late 20th century. Then Groo shows up looking for his missing dog. This will not end well. I didn’t like Groo & Rufferto #1 as much as I liked #3, but it’s still a hilarious issue.

THOR #611 (Marvel, 2010) – “The Fine Print, Part 1,” [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Rich Elson. Thor holds a funeral for the people killed in the latest epic storyline, and there’s also a plot involving Hela and the Disir. Kieron Gillen’s Thor has been overshadowed by his Journey into Mystery and by Jason Aaron’s Thor, and this issue isn’t especially memorable.

FANTASTIC FOUR #529 (Marvel, 2005) – “Appointment Overdue,” [W] J. Michael Straczynski, [A] Mike McKone. Another team of scientists tries to replicate the experiment that gave the FF their powers. (Compare the new FF # 14,where we meet the people who were supposed to go on the flight instead of Sue and Johnny.) Meanwhile, Reed and Sue are investigated by CPS for their delinquent parenting. This is an okay issue, but at the time it would have been a huge disappointment, compared to Mark Waid’s recently concluded FF run.

SUPERMAN #32 (DC, 2017) – “Breaking Point Part Two,” [W] James Bonny, [A] Tyler Kirkham. An execrably bad fill-in story. “Breaking Point,” in which Superman fights Deathstroke, is supposed to be an investigation of why Superman doesn’t kill. However, practically every line of dialogue in the issue is a cliché, and there’s no characterization and no genuine excitement. There’s a reason I’ve never heard of this writer before.

CRIMINAL #3 (Image, 2008) – “Female of the Species,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. This one-shot issue stars Danica, a black female sex worker and drug addict. This character is something of a stereotype, but at least this story explains how she got to be how she is, and it has a fairly clever plot structure. I don’t know how Danica fits into the overall narrative of Criminal, though I think she may have been present at the Dungeons & Dragons game in issue 7 of the current series.

ONE FOR ONE: AXE COP: BAD GUY EARTH #1 (Dark Horse, 2014) – “Bad Guy Earth Part One of Three,” [W] Malachai Nicolle, [A] Ethan Nicolle. The same thing as Axe Cop: President of the World, except even more incoherent, since the kid was even younger at the time. I think this comic is exploitative and unethical. Malachi Nicolle was not capable of giving consent for his stories to be shared with a mass audience. At the very least, I hope the kid had a good lawyer.

BATWOMAN #4 (DC, 2011) – “Hydrology 4: Estuary,” [W/A] J.H. Williams III, [A] W. Haden Blackman. I bought this comic several years ago, but didn’t read it. I’d have read it much sooner if I’d realized it was drawn as well as written by J.H. Williams III. This issue’s plot is only average, but the artwork offers further evidence that Williams is the finest comic book artist of his generation. Each page of this issue is part of a two-page composition with a unique and intricate layout, and Williams uses multiple different styles of draftsmanship, often on the same page. I need to get the other issues of this storyline. I wonder what Williams has been doing since finishing Sandman: Overture.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #254 (Marvel, 1981) – “Blood on the Moors,” [W] Roger Stern, [A] John Byrne. I read this long ago in trade paperback form, but it’s worth reading again. This is the one where Cap kills Baron Blood. Stern and Byrne were probably the best Captain America creative team since Lee and Kirby, though their run only lasted nine issues. Cap #254 is a thrilling adventure story, and also a nice tribute to England. Cap beheading Baron Blood with his shield is an unforgettable moment.

JSA #82 (DC, 2006) – “Ghost in the House,” [W] Paul Levitz, [A] George Pérez. A flashback story about a battle between the Earth-2 Superman and the Gentleman Ghost, framed as a story that Ma Hunkel reads to Power Girl from the Earth-2 Lois Lane’s journal. The inset story in this issue is pretty mundane, and I wonder if it originated as an inventory story.

ONE FOR ONE: CONAN THE BARBARIAN #1 (Dark Horse, 2014) – “Queen of the Black Coast, Part 1,” [W] Brian Wood, [A] Becky Cloonan. See the above review of FCBD: General 2017 for more comments on Brian Wood. Becky Cloonan’s art in this issue is excellent, but Brian Wood’s story is boring. He doesn’t provide us with anything we didn’t already get in Thomas and Buscema’s version of “Queen of the Black Coast.”

MORNING GLORIES #41 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W] Nick Spencer, [A] Joe Eisma. I don’t much like this series anymore, but I also don’t like how Nick Spencer abandoned it without resolving any of its dangling plotlines. The main event this issue is that teams are chosen for the annual Towerball event, where the red team somehow always beats the blue team. Also, there’s a subplot about Jun and Hisao. I would have to literally reread the entire series to figure out which of Jun and Hisao is which.

TALES OF THE BEANWORLD #3 (Eclipse, 1985) – “Big Fish Story,” [W/A] Larry Marder. I met Larry Marder at Comic-Con. I ordered this issue a few years ago because I was thinking of writing a book chapter about Beanworld, but I ended up writing it about something else. This issue explains how Mr. Spook got his fork, and how the fork made it possible to collect Chow much more efficiently and with less harm to the Sprout-Butts.

SWAMP THING #22 (DC, 2013) – “The Whiskey Tree Part 1 of 2,” [W] Charles Soule, [A] Kano. Swamp Thing is chasing a villain named Seeder. This issue, he follows Seeder to a Scottish village which has become destitute since its distillery closed. Seeder saves the village by making whisky grow from a tree. However, it turns out that the whisky makes people crazy. Also, John Constantine makes a guest appearance. Charles Soule missed a golden opportunity: he could have called this story “I Am Going, I Am Going, Where Trees of Whiskey Are Growing.”

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS #6 (DC, 2011) – “Scared Little Girls,” [W] Nick Spencer, [A] Cafu. Another boring issue with a forgettable plot, including a rather Orientalist scene where the Iron Maiden rescues some women from human trafficking. Nick Spencer had no understanding of what made T.H.U.N.D.ER. Agents special; he just wrote it as a generic superhero comic.

RAT GOD #2 (Dark Horse, 2015) – untitled, [W/A] Richard Corben. Another really weird Lovecraft-influenced story. This issue, the protagonist finds himself in a town where all the people look like rats. This comic’s depiction of Native Americans is a little problematic, and overall I’m not sure whether it’s a good comic or not, but it’s interesting.

THE FLASH #154 (DC, 1999) – “Dimensionally Challenged,” [W] Mark Waid & Brian Augustyn, [A] Paul Pelletier. The new Flash, whose identity is as yet unrevealed, battles a villain named Gauss who can move between dimensions (i.e. he can make himself two- or four-dimensional). Meanwhile, Bart, Max and Jesse try to figure out who the Flash is. There’s also a subplot in which Linda Park is lost in another dimension (i.e. another reality). The issue ends with the new Flash revealing himself as an older, scarred Wally West. By this point in the series, Mark seems to have run out of ideas, no pun intended.

POWER PACK #58 (Marvel, 1990) – “Star Struck,” [W] Michael Higgins, [A] Tom Morgan. The four Power kids battle Nova (Frankie Raye), who’s gone insane. Meanwhile, Franklin Richards is trapped on Friday with an old hobo and an alien. Later in the issue, Jim and Margaret Power discover that their kids are superheroes and go crazy. In general, this is a bad issue with an incoherent plot and minimal characterization. A fundamental problem with the Power franchise is that if Mr. and Mrs. Power don’t know that their children are superheroes, then they’re the most oblivious parents ever; and if they do know but pretend they don’t, then they’re the most irresponsible parents ever. I think it’s best to deal with this problem by ignoring it.

POWER PACK #3 (Marvel, 2000) – “Split Decision,” [W] Shon Bury, [A] Colleen Doran. After reading Power Pack #58, I thought, “That was the worst Power Pack comic ever.” But this issue is even worse. It’s badly overwritten (i.e. it has too much text), its plot is a rehash of plot elements from the previous volume, and it’s way too serious for its own good. It’s completely lacking in humor or cuteness, and it has no appeal even to hardcore Power Pack fans. Even Colleen Doran’s art doesn’t save it. Shon Bury was recently in the news for abusive behavior toward his coworkers: https://www.bleedingcool.com/2017/11/28/space-goat-shon-bury-sexism-abusive-behavior/?fbclid=IwAR3Mf13-WYvtmBr183L5i6HIbDhd-u0RIGZSi4ArnzrnpMCFq7dvprNllK0

IRREDEEMABLE #3 (Boom!, 2009) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Peter Krause. The Plutonian’s greatest enemies get together in his ally Inferno’s secret headquarters (i.e. the Batcave) to plot against him. But they find Inferno there already, and he kills them all. This series is brutal, but its violence is so over-the-top that it’s almost funny. See also the review of Pretty Violent #1, to be posted later.

New comics received on September 9:

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #45 (Image, 2019) – “In Memoriam,” [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Jamie McKelvie. This issue takes place 40 years after #44, at the funeral of Cassandra, who married Laura at some point in the intervening decades. The overall theme of the issue is that there are no gods anymore, so it’s up to ordinary people to decide their own fate. The series ends with Laura saying “The future is a—“, followed by several blank pages. This issue is a satisfying conclusion to a series I enjoyed, even if I never quite understood it.

GIANT DAYS #54 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] John Allison, [A] Max Sarin. With this issue, the finest humor comic of the decade comes to a close. Giant Days #54 is an affectionate farewell to a group of characters we’ve known and come to love. It reminds me of my own last day of college, which was one of the most bittersweet moments of my life. Highlights of the issue include Esther’s parents discovering her tattoo, and the line “Behold the welcoming new face of comics!” I’m glad there’s going to be another special issue, and John Allison has already moved on to another project (see Steeple #1 review below), but Giant Days will be sorely missed.

USAGI YOJIMBO #4 (IDW, 2019) – “The Hero Part One,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. This issue begins with Usagi fighting a bunch of zombies, and then we discover that this is a story Usagi is reading. Then we meet the author of the story, Lady Mura, and Usagi protects her from being kidnapped by her jealous husband. This is an exciting story as usual, though Lady Mura seems too much like a modern Western idea of an author. Until reading the letters page I failed to realize she was based on Murasaki Shikibu.

FUTURE FOUNDATION #2 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Will Robson & Paco Diaz. This series has already been cancelled, which is a sad sign of Marvel’s lack of faith in Jeremy or in younger readers. This series hasn’t been my favorite Jeremy Whitley comic so far, but it’s been entertaining, and it deserves more than five issues. Marvel could at least have given Future Foundation a little more time to build an audience. This issue we learn that the mysterious new girl from last issue is Rikki Barnes. The highlight of the issue is Phyllis vowing revenge on everyone who made fun of her name. https://www.instagram.com/p/B2NBeJAh4ef/

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #9 (Marvel, 2019) – “The God Below,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Mahmud Asrar. Conan finds himself inside a weird red cave, where he defends a bunch of other random people from various perils, all but one of which are familiar to him. In the end we learn that the “cave” is a giant monster’s stomach, and the people in the cave are the people the monster ate. And the last enemy Conan fought inside the monster is the demon that’s eventually going to kill him. This was an okay issue, but the twist (i.e. that Conan was inside a monster’s belly all along) was rather obvious.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES: MILLENNIUM #1 (DC, 2019) – untitled, [W] Brian Michael Bendis, [A] Jim Lee et al. When I learned Bendis would be writing the Legion revival, it was like the “Corrupt a Wish” game. My favorite comic was finally back after a six-year hiatus, but it was going to be written by a writer I can’t stand. But I like Ryan Sook’s designs for the Legionnaires, and I’m cautiously optimistic for Bendis’s Legion. However, this introductory issue includes no actual Legionnaires. It stars the immortal Rose Forrest, aka Rose and the Thorn, as she lives through various eras in the DC Universe’s future. This issue is okay, and the dialogue is not as bad as I’d feared. but it’s too bad we have to wait until next issue to see the Legion.

SEA OF STARS #3 (Image, 2019) – “Lost in the Wild Heavens,” [W] Jason Aaron & Dennis Hallum, [A] Stephen Green. Kadyn has some ridiculous adventures with a “quarkshark” and other creatures, while Gil struggles to keep himself alive and avoid despair. This is another good issue, and I love how this series’ two subplots have two completely different tones. This series has a lot in common with Star Pig, but I think that’s a coincidence.

FANTASTIC FOUR #14 (Marvel, 2019) – “Point of Origin Part One: Wanderlust,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Paco Medina. The FF’s original rocket (now retroactively named Marvel-1) is installed in the Smithsonian, and we meet Duke and Sandy, who were supposed to have gone on the FF’s rocket trip instead of Sue and Johnny. Then there are some flashbacks to the FF’s origin, containing some new information. And then Reed decides to build a second rocket, the Marvel-2, so the FF can complete their original mission from back in 1961. This new storyline is exciting, and this issue is full of great moments, like the woman telling her child “We don’t point at the disfigured.”

SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN #1 (Boom!, 2019) – “The Angel of Archer’s Peak Part One,” [W] James Tynion IV, [A] Werther Dell’Edera. This series has been heavily hyped, and I thought I had forgotten to order it, so I was glad to discover that I had indeed ordered it. This new horror title is set in the town of Archer’s Peak, where a boy named James is the only survivor of an incident in which three other boys were mysteriously killed. Later, James meets a strange white-haired girl who’s come to town to kill the monster that killed the other boys. This debut issue is an effective piece of horror, and I like Werther Dell’Edera’s moody and realistic artwork.

BATTLEPUG #1 (Image, 2019) – “War on Christmas Part One,” [W] Mike Norton, [A] Allen Passalaqua. Battlepug chronicles the adventures of the Last Kinmundian, a Conan-like character who rides a giant pug. (As a result of this series and Grumble, Mike Norton is justifiably worried about being pigeonholed as “the pug guy.”) This issue, the Kinmundian defeats Covfefe, a politician who wants to make Ashkum great again – the parody here is rather obvious. Then the Kinmundian sets off to confront his evil foster father, the King of the Northland Elves, i.e. Santa Claus. This series is another in a long line of Conan parodies, but it’s funny and affectionate, and the characters are endearing. I haven’t read any of the Battlepug graphic novels, but after reading this issue, I want to.

DIE #7 (Image, 2019) – “Wisdom Check,” [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Stephanie Hans. This issue follows the other half of the party, Isabelle and Chuck. They get involved in some elven politics, and also Izzy asks her goddess, Mistress Woe, to curse Chuck. The most memorable thing about this issue is Chuck, who is a completely toxic, self-destructive asshole, but also a very realistic and complex character. Sadly, characters like these are much more compelling in fiction than in real life. Which is kind of an appropriate comment, because a running theme in this issue is Chuck critiquing how well-written all the other characters are.

CROWDED #9 (Image, 2019) – “Babes Never Die,” [W] Christopher Sebela, [A] Ro Stein. After executing a convoluted plot, Charlie and Vita get in to see Quincy, a combination of a modern-day techbro and Howard Hughes. Charlie and Vita manage to get some help from Quincy before they have to parachute out of his apartment. This is another thrilling issue. I’ve already mentioned that Vita and Charlie’s relationship is the main appeal of this series, but also, Sebela and Stein’s near-future worldbuilding is amazing.

IRONHEART #9 (Marvel, 2019) – “Ironheart Goes to Wakanda,” [W] Eve Ewing, [A] Luciano Vecchio. Riri follows Midnight’s Fire’s trail to Wakanda, where she meets Shuri. Riri and Shuri’s relationship gets off to a poor start because they’re too similar to each other. Yet Eve Ewing also demonstrates that they’re not the same character; they’re both black girl scientists, but they come from radically different backgrounds and have different personalities. As the issue goes on, Riri and Shuri resolve their differences by working together to save people, and then the former New Warrior, Silhouette, shows up at the end.

THE DREAMING #13 (DC, 2019) – “Tiqqun, the Rectification,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Dani. Perhaps the saddest issue yet. This issue focuses on a support group for mythological creatures who are being forgotten, and thus disappearing. I couldn’t identify all these characters, but they include the Green Man and El Bufeo Colorado, a legendary Amazonian creature. A nice touch is that one of the characters is the Gentle Goellan, and over the course of the issue, he fades from memory until he no longer even has a Wikipedia entry. There is no Wikipedia page for the Gentle Goellan, or any other Internet references to him, except in the context of this issue. Does that mean that the Goellan is a fictional creature invented by Spurrier? Or has he been forgotten in real life, not just in this comic? I didn’t notice any connections to the rest of the Sandman universe in this issue, but I didn’t mind.

BIRTHRIGHT #39 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. Mastema tells a sob story about her dead lover Klay, who, as it turns out, was not a person but a statue she animated. Mikey’s attempts to enlist Mastema’s help against Lore are a total failure. The issue ends with Mastema reverting Lore to his child self. This is another good issue, though there’s nothing unique about it.

BERSERKER UNBOUND #2 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Mike Deodato Jr. The Mongrel King hangs out with a homeless man, then they head over to the nearby city. This is Jeff Lemire’s worst creator-owned comic yet. It’s extremely slow-paced, and I think it’s actually worse than What If? vol. 1 #11 and #43.

EVERYTHING #1 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Grand Opening!”, [W] Christopher Cantwell, [A] I.N.J. Culbard. Christopher Cantwell’s second ongoing series is even weirder than his first, and that’s saying a lot. Everything takes place in 1980 in Holland, Michigan, where a new giant department store is opening. The first issue consists of a number of vignettes that all relate to the Everything store somehow. I have no idea yet where this comic is going or what it’s about, though I’m curious to find out.

BATMAN #181 (FACSIMILE EDITION) (DC, 1966/2019) – “Beware of—Poison Ivy!”, [W] Robert Kanigher, [A] Sheldon Moldoff. This issue’s first story introduces Poison Ivy, but it depicts her as a generic female villain. It has the kind of dumb sexist plot that was typical of Kanigher: Poison Ivy tries to prove that she’s greater than three other female villains, none of whom ever appeared before or since. Poison Ivy’s trademark plant gimmick wouldn’t be introduced until later. This issue’s backup story is by Gardner Fox and Chic Stone. It’s a fairly well-crafted mystery, and is better than the Poison Ivy story.

AGENTS OF ATLAS #2 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Portal City of Pan Part 2,” [W] Greg Pak, [A] Nico Leon & Pop Mhan. Amadeus Cho gets increasingly convinced that something is wrong with Pan, though his teammates don’t share his concern. Then the Pan troops try to shoot some Madripoorian undocumented immigrants, and Amadeus has to fight them. Meanwhile, sparks fly between Amadeus and his teammate Luna Snow. The scene with the Madripoorians is an obvious comment on real-world politics.

IMMORTAL HULK #23 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Face of the Enemy,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. The Hulk and his friends continue their assault on Fortean’s base. Fortean spits acid on the Hulk and makes him tear his face off. High points in this issue include the disgusting last page, and Rick’s “Ira member you” joke.

GREEN LANTERN #11 (DC, 2019) – “Quest for the Cosmic Grail,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Liam Sharp. Hal teams up with an other-dimensional Star Sapphire against Lost Zundernell, the Golden Lantern. But there’s another even worse villain on the horizon: the Qwa-Man from issue 9. The best part of this issue is the scene where all the Green Lanterns are reciting their oaths, one of which ends “When other Lanterns lose their sh[…] / we keep the magic lantern lit.” This series is both the best Green Lantern comic and the best Grant Morrison comic in a long time.

SECTION ZERO #6 (Image, 2019) – “Ring of Fire,” [W] Karl Kesel, [A] Tom Grummett. This issue is full of interlocking plots, and it’s hard to follow everything that happens in it. But it does seem like Kesel and Grummett managed to resolve all the dangling plot threads. Amusingly, the climactic scene of the issue happens in the Mall of America. I don’t know why Section Zero is just a six-issue miniseries; I’d like to read more of it.

NO ONE LEFT TO FIGHT #3 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Aubrey Sitterson, [A] Fico Ossio. Winda tries to seduce Vâle, but he turns her down because he thinks she’s too young. However, he then has a vision of Winda pregnant with his child. Maybe he really rejected her because he’s afraid of commitment. Also, Vâle encounters a mysterious character called the Hierophant. Beyond its Dragon Ball trappings, No One Left to Fight is a pretty sophisticated story about growing up.

DOOM PATROL: WEIGHT OF THE WORLDS #3 (DC, 2019) – “Time in Goliath,” [W] Gerard Way, Jeremy Lambert & Steve Orlando, [A] Evan “Doc” Shaner. The artwork and coloring in this issue are brilliant. It would be unfair to describe Doc Shaner as the next Darwyn Cooke, but the film noir atmosphere in this issue reminds me of Darwyn’s work. The other brilliant thing about this issue is its use of metatext. On page two, we discover that this issue is reprinted from “Doom Patrol #172, published March 2031.” There are other references to other comics that haven’t been published yet, and the plot is that a future version of the Doom Patrol is using clues in books to track down Steve Dayton. Eventually we learn that the entire issue is a vision that the DPers had when they encountered a time-traveling future version of Steve.

LOIS LANE #3 (DC, 2019) – “Enemy of the People Part Three,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Mike Perkins. Lois confronts Clark about his overprotectiveness. Meanwhile, Renee Montoya encounters Vic Sage, aka Charlie, the previous Question. At the end of the issue, Lois mistakes Clark for Jon in a very awkward way. This is a very well-executed issue. A nice subtle moment is the last panel on page 5, where Lois and Renee’s hair blows in the wind created by Superman’s arrival.

MARVEL ACTION: SPIDER-MAN #8 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Delilah S. Dawson, [A] Fico Ossio. Peter, Miles and Gwen fight some escaped leopards at a zoo. There are some hilarious cat moments in this issue, like the panel where Peter uses a web as a ball of yarn for one of the leopards to play with. But besids that, this comic is pretty average, and I’m not all that interested in the characters. I don’t plan on continuing to order this.

ALL-TIME COMICS: ZEROSIS DEATHSCAPE #3 (Floating World, 2019) – “Stabbing Toward Zero Hour,” [W] Josh Bayer & Josh Simmons, [A] Josh Simmons, Tom Toye & Trevor von Eeden. The first 13 pages of this issue are amazing, especially the first six, where Simmons draws in a style resembling that of Michael DeForge. This comic reminds me that I need to get around to reading Simmons’s graphic novel Black River. The section of the issue that’s drawn by Trevor von Eeden is much more conventional. One of von Eeden’s pages is a tribute to the splash page from Captain America #113 where Cap lifts the Hydra agent over his head.

TRUE BELIEVERS: HULK – HEAD OF BANNER #1 (Marvel, 1963/2019) – “The Incredible Hulk vs. the Metal Master!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Steve Ditko. This is a reprint of Incredible Hulk vol. 1 #6. This issue’s villain is the Metal Master, an alien who has the same powers as Magneto, hence why he rarely ever appeared again. The “Head of Banner” title refers to a scene in which Bruce inexplicably turns into the Hulk but retains Bruce Banner’s head. This issue also introduces the Teen Brigade. Hulk #6 is a very early Marvel Universe comic, and it feels kind of weird and old-fashioned, in the same way as early issues of FF and Thor. It also has a surprisingly compressed narrative; Stan packs a ton of plot points into just one issue.

BATWOMAN #22 (DC, 2013) – “His Blood is Thick: Hits,” [W] J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman, [A] Trevor McCarthy. Due to the lack of Williams artwork, this comic is much less interesting than #4. Its plot makes little sense out of context, and is also rather boring. This issue guest-stars two of Williams’s pet characters, Chase and Mr. Bones.

THIEF OF THIEVES #7 (Image, 2012) – untitled, [W] Robert Kirkman & Nick Spencer, [A] Shawn Martinborough. This comic mostly focuses on the theft of an item from the FBI’s evidence storage. The theft is executed in a clever way, but besides that, this comic is pretty average.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #366 (Marvel, 1992) – “Skullwork!”, [W] David Michelinie, [A] Jerry Bingham. Peter has some awkward interactions with his newly resurrected parents, then investigates whether the Red Skull is responsible for their return. The “return of Peter’s parents” story was pretty bad, although it’s forgotten today because it led into the clone saga, which was even worse. It’s painful to see Peter, a grown, married man, being treated like a child by his parents. Also, Jerry Bingham is a good artist, but he was not suited to drawing Spider-Man. His Spider-Man action scenes are stiff and unexciting.

18 DAYS #3 (Graphic India, 2015) – “The Unholy Birth of Duryodhana,” [W] Sharad Devarajan & Gautam Chopra, [A] Francesco Biagini. This issue is much better than I expected, mostly because of Francesco Biagini’s art. It’s a flashback to the birth of the 100 Kauravas, the sons of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari. Biagini uses effective spotting of blacks to create eerie backgrounds and settings. When Gandari gives birth to a giant amorphous lump of flesh (which will later be divided to create her 100 sons), it looks horrible.

ACTION COMICS #843 (DC, 2006) – “All Out Action: Back in Action Part 3,” [W] Kurt Busiek & Fabian Nicieza, [A] Pete Woods. Superman and a bunch of other heroes (including Busiek’s creation Skyrocket) battle the Auctioneer. This issue is entirely composed of action sequences, and it’s not Kurt’s best Superman story, but it’s well-done.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #39 (Marvel, 1974) – “The Dragon from the Inland Sea,” [W] Roy Thomas, [A] John Buscema. One of the few Roy Thomas issues of Conan the Barbarian that I hadn’t read. After fighting some bandits, Conan meets an exiled village chieftain and his niece. The chieftain explains that he was exiled by a wizard who had the power to summon a giant dragon lizard from the sea. Conan accompanies them back to the village and gets rid of both the wizard and the dragon – really more of a giant crocodile – but it turns out the wizard was the chieftain’s brother and the niece’s father. The best thing about this issue is that the fight with the dragon is very tense and exciting.

DEATH RATTLE #14 (Kitchen Sink, 1988) – three stories, [E] Denis Kitchen & Dave Schreiner. Three fascinating stories by three very different artists. Mike Baron and Rand Holmes’s “Bummer” is about a concert where a rock band tries to sacrifice the audience to a demon. It’s a rather slight story, but it feels like a realistic depiction of a ‘70s rock concert, and Holmes’s art is amazing. Next is a chapter of Jaxon’s “Bulto,” which includes an accurate depiction of the 1759 Battle of the Twin Villages (as Wikipedia calls it). Last is a reprinted Spacehawk story by Basil Wolverton. I may have read this story before in Dark Horse’s Wolverton in Space volume, but I read that book a long time ago. Looking at Spacehawk again now, I realize how truly bizarre and unique Wolverton’s style was.

THUNDERBOLTS #167 (Marvel, 2012) – “The Ripper Tour, Part 2,” [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Declan Shalvey. This issue’s cover is an early work by Mike (or Michael) del Mundo. In the interior story, some of the Thunderbolts travel back in time to investigate the Jack the Ripper murders. As previously noted, Jeff Parker’s Thunderbolts was a sort of Marvel version of Suicide Squad, in that its main source of interest was the interactions between the various bizarre characters. This issue is good, but not as impressive as other issues of this run.

JUGHEAD #15 (Archie, 2017) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid & Ian Flynn, [A] Derek Charm. Sabrina curses Josie and the Pussycats so they’ll fall in love with Jughead. This issue is okay, but it pales in comparison with Chip Zdarsky’s Jughead. The major knock on Mark Waid’s Jughead was that he ignored Zdarsky’s decision that Jughead is asexual. This issue, he mostly avoids the question of Jughead’s sexuality by focusing instead on Sabrina and on Josie and her bandmates.

DAREDEVIL #5 (Marvel, 2011) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Marcos Martin. Daredevil tries to protect a blind linguist, Austin Cao, who’s been targeted for assassination by the mob because he heard something incriminating, though he doesn’t know what. This is an exciting comic with very impressive art. The best moment is when Matt makes Austin remember the incriminating conversation by triggering Austin’s sense of smell.

AVENGERS #310 (Marvel, 1989) – “Death in Olympia!”, [W] John Byrne, [A] Paul Ryan. The Avengers fight Blastaar with assistance from the Warriors Three. Blastaar is a really cool and underused villain, but otherwise this is a mediocre issue. This issue feels like an Acts of Vengeance installment because it has the Avengers fighting a Fantastic Four villain; however, Acts of Vengeance didn’t officially start until the next month.

JOE HILL’S THE CAPE: FALLEN #3 (IDW, 2019) – “Hide and Seek and Die,” [W] Jason Ciaramella, [A] Zach Howard. Some nerds go on a LARP vacation in the woods, with no phone reception and no way back to civilization. A crazy dude with superpowers starts killing them one by one. This comic is brutal and sadistic, and of all the comics about crazy superheroes murdering people, it may be the worst.

BATMAN/THE MAXX: ARKHAM DREAMS #2 (IDW/DC, 2018) – untitled, [W/A] Sam Kieth. I did not enjoy issue 1 of this series, but issue 2 is better than I expected. Sam Kieth’s art is impressive, and his writing is at least not terrible, though he would have been better off hiring someone else to write his dialogue.

IRREDEEMABLE #4 (Boom!, 2009) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Peter Krause. This comic has a very similar premise to The Cape, but unlike The Cape, it’s cleverly written and has interesting characters. This issue, the Plutonian murders the entire population of Singapore on a petty whim. Thinking about this comic in hindsight, I guess it suffers from one of Mark Waid’s characteristic flaws: he tries too hard to top himself, creating increasingly epic stories with ever higher stakes. Some of his later Captain America stories were notable examples of this, like the one where the Red Skull becomes omnipotent. But Irredeemable is an ongoing series, so the reader knows that the Plutonian’s destruction of Singapore is just one moment in a bigger story. In order for the story to continue, the Plutonian’s former enemies have to be able to effectively fight against him, and as a reader I’m curious as to how they’re going to do that. It’s weird how all the ads in this comic are for other Boom! comics that I’ve never heard of, mostly in the SF and horror genres. In the decade since Irredeemable #4, Boom! has completely transformed itself as a publisher.

FCBD 2011 GREEN LANTERN FLASHPOINT SPECIAL EDITION #1 (DC, 2011) – “Secret Origin Book 2,” [W] Geoff Johns, [A] Ivan Reis. This issue has the same cover as Green Lantern (2005) #31, but it reprints the story from #30 of that series, which is a retelling of Hal Jordan’s origin. I read Green Lantern #30 when it came out, and when I read it again, it barely rang a bell. It must have been a forgettable issue. There’s also a backup story that’s a preview of Flashpoint.

SPIDER-MAN: LIFELINE #3 (Marvel, 2001) – “A Taste of Infinity: Lifeline Part 3,” [W] Fabian Nicieza, [A] Steve Rude. Spider-Man fights the Lizard, Hammerhead and Boomerang in order to protect the secret of the ancient stone tablet. This issue is a very faithful tribute to Lee and Romita’s Spider-Man, to the point where I even assumed it was taking place somewhere around the #70s or #80s of Amazing Spider-Man. I was surprised to realize that it takes place much later, after Gwen Stacy’s death. In addition to demonstrating his usual artistic brilliance, the Dude does a great job of imitating Romita’s style of art.

EXCALIBUR #22 (Marvel, 1990) – “Shadows Triumphant?”, [W] Chris Claremont, [A] Chris Wozniak. This is an installment of the interminable Cross-Time Caper epic. Claremont’s Excalibur stories were much worse when they weren’t drawn by Alan Davis. This issue is so confusing that I can’t make head or tail of it, and Chris Wozniak is a boring artist.

THE POWER COMPANY: BORK #1 (DC, 2002) – “Vulnerability,” [W] Kurt Busiek, [A] Kieron Dwyer. This was part of a series of one-shots that led into the short-lived Power Company ongoing series. This one stars Bork, a villain whose only previous appearance was in Brave and the Bold #81. For this reason, Kurt has the freedom to do whatever he wants with Bork, and he writes him compellingly as a man with no real purpose in life, who wants to redeem himself and gain his mother’s respect. Bork is a bit like Steeljack, from an Astro City story that had concluded a couple years before. I just noticed that on the first page of this issue there’s a sign that says Haney’s Deli, in honor of the writer of Bork’s only previous story.

AVENGERS #293 (Marvel, 1988) – “And Flights of Angels…”, [W] Walt Simonson, [A] John Buscema. Namor’s wife Marrina has turned into a giant monster, and Namor and the Avengers are forced to kill her. It’s a sad end for a character no one really cared about. At the end of the issue, we learn that Marrina has laid three eggs, implied to have been fathered by Namor, and the eggs start hatching. Only one of Namor and Marrina’s three children ever appeared again; the others have vanished into limbo. See https://www.cbr.com/avengers-namor-marrina-children/2/.

THUNDERBOLTS #16 (Marvel, 1998) – “Thunder & Lightning,” [W] Kurt Busiek, [A] Mark Bagley. The Thunderbolts fight the Great Lakes Avengers, who are now calling themselves the Lightning Rods. This is a fun issue, though Kurt isn’t the best humor writer. It’s probably because of this issue that the Great Lakes Avengers later got their own miniseries, and therefore this issue is indirectly responsible for popularizing Squirrel Girl.

MS. TREE #41 (Renegade, 1987) – “Coming of Rage, Chapter One: This Awful Heritage,” [W] Max Allan Collins, [A] Terry Beatty. Ms. Tree sends her stepson Mike to an exclusive private school, where he meets the daughter of the Muerta family. There’s also a reprinted Johnny Dynamite story. Johnny Dynamite was a surprisingly entertaining piece of crime fiction, and it deserves to be reprinted – and for that matter, so does Ms. Tree. On the letters page, Max writes that in order for Ms. Tree to return to its old format with a full-length story in every issue, its sales would have to double. The series only lasted nine more issues before moving to DC, where it was a quarterly title. The letters page also briefly mentions the Friendly Frank’s case.

THE FLASH #172 (DC, 2001) – “Blood Will Run Part III: Close to Home,” [W] Geoff Johns, [A] Scott Kolins. Wally battles his ex-girlfriend Magenta and a cult leader named Cicada. I think Magenta has been Wally’s psychotic, villainous ex-girlfriend for much longer than she was his actual girlfriend. There’s also a subplot about two policemen named Chyre and Morillo. At this point in Geoff Johns’s career, his work still felt fresh and original.

GREEN ARROW #54 (DC, 1991) – “The List Part 2,” [W] Mike Grell, [A] Rick Hoberg. Ollie Queen and Eddie Fyers hide out in the Seattle Underground (which really exists), where they fight a bunch of assassins. This issue has some nice action sequences but is otherwise forgettable.

NEXUS #79 (Dark Horse, 1991) – “Skip Day,” [W] Mike Baron, [A] Hugh Haynes. Nexus’s next execution target is Dexter Qassat, an old black man who committed a number of murders while fighting for independence (note that this issue came out the year after Nelson Mandela was released from prison). After spending a day with Qassat, Nexus decides that he’s reformed and that he no longer deserves to die. The Merk is not happy about this, so Nexus executes three other people instead – including a baby who’s the reincarnation of a dead murderer. This is a fun issue, and it reminds me that I still love Nexus, even if Mike Baron’s toxic politics and online behavior have made me unwilling to buy his comics.

JUGHEAD #16 (Archie, 2017) – untitled, [W] Ian Flynn & Mark Waid, [A] Derek Charm. Jughead arrives at the Josie and the Pussycats concert only to discover that the entire audience has fallen in love with him. There’s a clever sequence early in the issue that’s a deliberate ripoff of Afterlife with Archie. Otherwise, this comic is only mildly funny. This volume of Jughead was cancelled after this issue.

SUPERMAN #26 (DC, 2017) – “Brains vs. Brawn,” [W] Michael Moreci, [A] Scott Godlewski. Clark tries to teach Jon to be more restrained and less hotheaded. In flashbacks, we see Pa Kent trying to teach Clark himself the same lesson. In this continuity, Ma and Pa Kent are apparently dead. The issue ends with Clark and Jon teaming up to fight Psi-Phon and Dreadnought, two villains I had completely forgotten about. Superman #26 feels like a fill-in issue, but it’s fairly enjoyable and touching; it’s certainly much better than Superman #32.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #9 (Marvel, 1971) – “The Garden of Fear,” [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Barry [Windsor-]Smith. Conan’s annoying girlfriend Jenna is kidnapped by a green winged dude, and to save her, Conan has to infiltrate a tower that’s surrounded by carnivorous plants. This is far from BWS’s best Conan story, but at this point in the series he was already breaking free from Kirby and Steranko’s influence and developing his own style.

THE KENTS #2 (DC, 1997) – “Bleeding Kansas Part 2,” [W] John Ostrander, [A] Tim Truman. I believe I have this entire miniseries, but I’ve only read the first issue. I finally located my copy of #2 (my boxes of unread comics are in order by when I bought them, not by title) and decided to read the rest of the series. The Kents is a sort-of Western comic, chronicling the early history of Smallville and the Kent family during the Civil War era. Issue 1 ended with the death of Silas Kent. #2 focuses on Silas’s sons Nate and Jeb as they get involved in the volatile politics of 1850s Kansas. There are cameo appearances by famous historical figures like Wild Bill Hickok and John Brown. I enjoyed this issue enough that I went straight on to:

THE KENTS #3 (DC, 1997) – “Bleeding Kansas Part 3,” [W] John Ostrander, [A] Tim Truman. This issue begins with Preston Brooks’s famous assault on Charles Sumner. After that, the Kents’ hometown of Lawrence is attacked by pro-slavery forces, and Jeb Kent inexplicably lets them burn down his family’s print shop. This is the start of Jeb’s descent into evil. Meanwhile, Nate meets his future love interest, Mary Glenowen. At this point, I was starting to think that The Kents is one of Ostrander and Truman’s best collaborations. It shows evidence of deep research, and it tells a compelling story full of fascinating characters.

INCORRUPTIBLE #16 (Boom!, 2011) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Marcio Takara. Incorruptible is a spinoff of Irredeemable and has the opposite premise. It stars Max Damage, a former villain who’s become a hero. This issue is mostly a fight sequence in which Max battles some unreformed supervillains who practice sex magic (as we discover in a funny scene). Also, Max tries and fails to rescue his former sidekick Headcase. Alana Patel, the Lois Lane character from Irredeemable, makes a guest appearance.

INCORRUPTIBLE #17 – as above. Alana Patel tries to strike a deal between Max Damage and the fabulously rich Hayes Bellamy. Incorruptible may not be Mark’s greatest work, but it’s a quick and entertaining read, and I’d like to collect more of it.

SUPERMAN #608 (DC, 2002) – “Dawn’s Early Light,” [W] Joe Casey, [A] Derec Aucoin. This issue includes several pages that use the same format as the TV show sequences in Dark Knight Returns. As a result, this comic is tedious to read. Its plot is that a bunch of villains are attacking Clark Kent’s friends and associates, like his high school coach.

MAJOR BUMMER #3 (DC, 1997) – “Alone Against the Other Guys!”, [W] John Arcudi, [A] Doug Mahnke. Major Bummer (Lou Martin) fights a bunch of stupid villains who also got their powers from the aliens Zinnac and Yoof. Also, he meets Martin Lewis, the man who Zinnac and Yoof were supposed to turn into a superhero. Martin Lewis seems to be based on Icon. I’m not a particular fan of either Arcudi or Mahnke, but they created something memorable and unique in this series. I especially like Mahnke’s bizarre depictions of aliens and monsters. Lou Martin works at a VCR repair store, which shows you how long ago this comic was published.

THE KENTS #4 (DC, 1997) – “Bleeding Kansas Part 4,” [W] John Ostrander, [A] Tim Truman. Nate Kent realizes that even though he’s an abolitionist, he doesn’t know any black people, so he introduces himself to his black neighbors. This scene is kind of cringeworthy; Nate’s heart is in the right place, but he’s literally looking for someone to be his Black Friend. A few pages later, Mary Glenowen incorrectly states that the Delaware people are one of the five original tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy. Besides these false notes, this is another good issue. The main event is that the infamous William Quantrill tries to kidnap Nate’s new black friends, and when Nate tries to protect him, Jeb shoots him from behind. Also, Mary gives Nate a blanket with the Superman symbol on it.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #21 (Marvel, 1972) – “The Monster of the Monoliths!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Barry Windsor-Smith. According to this issue’s letters page, BWS only did rough sketches for most of the issue, and they were finished by Val Mayerik and P. Craig Russell. Still, this issue shows a tremendous improvement compared to #8. By this point, BWS’s ornate, detailed style was fully developed. In “The Monster of the Monoliths,” the rulers of Makkalet send Conan on a mission, but it turns out that they meant for him to be sacrificed to a frog demon. Conan survives by figuring out that the frog is attracted to the armband the queen of Makkalet gave him. Overall, this is of BWS’s best issues of Conan. The splash page where the frog charges from the monoliths toward Conan is one of the most striking moments of BWS’s run; it creates a powerful sense of mystery and danger. And I love the sequence two pages later where Conan tosses the amulet to the other dude, and then the frog’s shadow appears over his face.

INCORRUPTIBLE #6 (Boom!, 2010) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Horacio Domingues. Max Damage rescues his sidekick Jailbait from another villain called Deathgiver. However, Jailbait then tries to commit suicide. Meanwhile, Max’s other sidekick, Annie, is trapped in a burning house. I don’t remember much about this issue.

CATWOMAN #11 (DC, 2002) – “Final Report,” [W] Steven Grant, [A] Brad Rader. This issue is just credited to “Grant,” with no first name. According to https://www.cbr.com/catwoman-11-contents-changed-steven-grant-writes-issue/, it was written by Steven Grant, not Alan. “Final Report” is a fill-in issue, but a good one. This story depicts Catwoman’s successful theft of a jewel from a rival criminal. It’s a bit confusing at first because it starts in medias res and seems to be continued from a previous issue; however, it offers an effective capsule summary of what kind of character Catwoman is. What really impresses me about this issue is Brad Rader’s art. He draws in an animation-influenced style resembling that of Bruce Timm or Darwyn Cooke or Cameron Stewart, and he’s really good at it. I’m sorry that he didn’t do more work in comics.

FLASH #58 (DC, 1991) – “The Way of a Will,” [W] William Messner-Loebs, [A] Greg La Rocque. Wally and Piper travel to an isolated, snowbound mansion to attend the reading of the Icicle’s will. (I assume the Icicle died of redundancy, since DC had so many other villains with cold-related gimmicks.) But the Icicle’s relatives are also in attendance, and they’re not happy that Wally stands to inherit his money. This is an obvious setup for a murder mystery, and indeed, later in the issue the relatives start getting murdered. William Messner-Loebs was really not suited to writing superhero comics, and this issue feels weird and awkward. Also, it’s hard to reconcile Mike Baron and Bill Loebs’s version of Wally West with Mark Wadi and subsequent writers’ version of the character.

Reviews for August

Starting again on August 24 with some more comics I read the week of August 8:

AXE COP: PRESIDENT OF THE WORLD #3 (Dark Horse, 2012) – “President of the World Part 3 of 3,” [W] Malachai Nicolle, [A] Ethan Nicolle. The gimmick of this series is that it’s written by an eight-year-old and drawn by his 31-year-old brother. This gimmick is mildly funny at first, but quickly becomes annoying instead, because the writer has no sense of logic or plausibility or narrative structure. I also think it’s ethically questionable for Ethan Nicolle to distribute his brother’s work in this way. I also wrote a lot of stories when I was eight years old, but as an adult, I wouldn’t want anyone else to see them. On top of that, Ethan Nicolle is a Gamergate supporter. I don’t intend to collect any more of this series.

SAVAGE DRAGON #87 (Image, 2001) – “Havoc in the Hidden City,” [W/A] Erik Larsen. Compared to Axe Cop, Savage Dragon feels like the best-written comic ever. Erik is not the best writer, but at least he understands things like pacing and dialogue. In this installment of the Savage World saga, Dragon beats up a giant fish and then climbs up a mountain to the hidden city of the gods. It’s a lighthearted and fun comic.

SECTION ZERO #5 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Karl Kesel, [A] Tom Grummett. Section Zero investigates a giant carnivorous plant in a swamp, and then the Loch Ness monster. Meanwhile, some people called the Ghost Soldiers recruit a little boy who turns out to be the reincarnation of one of their members. I don’t remember this issue very well.

INVISIBLE WOMAN #2 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Mattia de Iulis. I really like the way this artist draws faces; on the fourth panel of the page right after the title page, Wanda’s facial expression is amazingly realistic, and she has a face type I rarely see in comics. This comic is fun, but it’s kind of a generic spy story, and it feels more like a Black Widow comic than an Invisible Woman comic. Of course the problem here is that Sue has rarely had a story to herself without her family involved. It’s hard to imagine what an Invisible Woman comic, without any of the other FF members, would look like. Creating such a story is Mark Waid’s task in this series, and I’m not sure how much he’s succeeded.

SINESTRO: YEAR OF THE VILLAIN #1 (DC, 2019) – “Micron Management,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Yildiray Cinar. As part of some dumb crossover I don’t care about, Sinestro is fighting “Paragons,” giant demigods who automatically heal themselves. It turns out this is because each demigod is inhabited by a society of Microns, tiny intelligent beings who devote their entire lives to healing their Paragon. Sinestro convinces the Microns to live for themselves instead of the Paragons. Of course, because he’s a villain, he finds a way to exploit the Microns and turn their newfound freedom into a curse. In this issue, as he does so often, Mark Russell turns a stupid premise into a brilliant meditation on contemporary social issues – in this case, the authoritarian personality, and the problem of devoting your life to an institution that doesn’t care about you. Sinestro: YOTV #1 is one of his best single issues yet.

IMAGE FIRSTS: TREES #1 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Jason Howard. A bunch of giant alien structures appear in the midst of various cities. Many years alter, a young Chinese man from the provinces arrives in the walled city of Shu. Meanwhile, in the Arctic, some scientists try to figure out what the trees are. Trees is a fascinating series, and I’m looking forward to the upcoming second volume.

THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU #1/a> (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ted Adams, [A] Gabriel Rodriguez. This comic is full of fascinating artwork by one of the best artists in the industry. However, Ted Adams’s writing is not worthy of Gabriel Rodriguez’s art. Adams makes the most common mistake people make when adapting novels to comics: he includes too much of the original text. His word balloons are overly long and are tedious to read, sapping the energy created by the art. As a result, this is an annoying comic to read.

IGNITED #3 (Humanoids, 2019) – “Triggered Part 3,” [W] Mark Waid & Kwanza Osajyefo, [A] Phil Briones. This is reasonably good, but I was tired when I read it. The premise of this series, about school shootings, is much more interesting than the characters or their powers. In fact, I hardly remember anything about the characters at all.

G.I. JOE #73 (Marvel, 1988) – “Divided We Fall,” [W] Larry Hama, [A] Ron Wagner. This is the first part of the Cobra civil war storyline, which ends in #76, reviewed earlier this year. The main plot is that Serpentor and Cobra Commander’s rivalry erupts into open battle when they disagree over possession of a mysterious black box. Like #73, this is an entertaining issue with lots of humor and complicated plotting. Some of the characters in this issue (Quick Kick and  Captain Minh) are ethnic stereotypes, but Larry Hama was good at doing interesting things with silly characters.

INVISIBLES #5 (DC, 1995) – “Arcadia Part 1: Bloody Poetry,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Jill Thompson. A scattershot and confusing but fascinating issue. In the main plot, Dane/Jack Frost gets to know his new teammates, and they travel back in time to the French Revolution. Meanwhile, there’s a subplot starring Lord Byron and Percy Shelley. There’s also another scene that seems to echo the scene in Animal Man where Buddy’s ghost appears to Maxine. The first page of the issue is a seemingly accurate account of Javanese puppet theatre.

ONYX #1 (IDW, 2015) – “The Arrival,” [W] Chris Ryall, [A] Gabriel Rodriguez. This comic has the same problem as Island of Dr. Moreau #1. Gabriel Rodriguez’s art is incredible, but Chris Ryall’s story is trite, overwritten and boring. None of the characters or premises are interesting at all, and the entire comic feels like a ripoff of Rom, which Chris Ryall also wrote – or alternately Metroid, since the armored space warrior turns out to be a woman. Gabriel Rodriguez is perhaps the finest draftsman in the comics industry, but he needs to stop working with writers who are unworthy of his talents.

AMERICAN VAMPIRE #23 (Vertigo, 2012) – “Death Race Part 2 of 4,” [W] Scott Snyder, [A] Rafael Albuquerque. This may have been the last great Vertigo series. I’ve been harshly negative about Scott Snyder’s work lately, but American Vampire #23 was much better than I expected. I don’t understand the plot of this series, but this issue is a thrilling car chase with exciting artwork.

SWEET TOOTH #14 (Vertigo, 2010) – “Animal Armies Part Two,” [W/A] Jeff Lemire. Gus and the other animal kids begin their escape from the research facility, while Jepperd leads an army of cultists against the same facility. The highlight of this issue is a scene where Gus is forced to beat an alligator hybrid boy to death in order to save another child.

DOLL #4 (Rip Off, 1990) – untitled, [W/A] Guy Colwell. A philosopher, Holger, has sex with a living sex doll in an attempt to cure his neuroses. While doing so, he goes on a long monologue about how women are attracted to awful men. This is a really weird comic, and mostly in a good way, but it’s kind of tedious to read because of the extreme amount of dialogue. Also, a lot of the stuff Holger says reminds me of contemporary incel and MRA propaganda, although his comments wouldn’t have had that resonance in 1990.

FACTS O’ LIFE FUNNIES #1 (Rip Off, 1972) – various stories, [E] Lora Fountain. This is a public service comic devoted to sex education, and it includes informational features such as a list of failure rates for common contraceptives. But it’s mostly devoted to underground comics about sex. The high point of the issue is Gilbert Shelton’s laugh-out-loud funny “Fat Freddy Gets the Clap.” There’s also Crumb’s “Strawberry Fields,” some “Trots and Bonnie” strips by Shary Flenniken, and stories by Ted Richards, Bobby London and Lora Fountain. In general, this is one of the more entertaining and accessible underground comics. It’s also an intriguing historical artifact. 1972 was prior to the AIDS crisis, so the characters in the comic are mostly worried about gonorrhea and chlamydia.

MR. MONSTER PRESENTS (CRACK-A-BOOM!) #2 (Caliber, 1997) – “Eel’s Well That Ends Well!!” and other stories, [W/A] Michael T. Gilbert et al. A collection of Mr. Monster stories by MTG and other creators. In the opening story, a young Strongfort Stearnn battles a vampire in a pet shop. As usual with this artist, this story is ridiculously over the top and is full of Easter eggs. The best story in the issue has nothing to do with Mr. Monster; it’s a Wolff & Byrd story called “The 1040 from 2032,” in which the IRS sends agents back from the future to collect delinquent taxes.

SWEET TOOTH #16 (Vertigo, 2011) – “Animal Armies 3,” [W/A] Jeff Lemire. The title is an error; this issue is actually part 4. The main cultist dude reveals that his wife gave birth to five hybrid children, who then ate her. Ewww. Then Jepperd invades the research facility and fights the main scientist dude, who reveals that Jepperd’s son is still alive. That cliffhanger leads into…

SWEET TOOTH #17 (Vertigo, 2011) – “Animal Armies Part 5,” [W/A] Jeff Lemire. Jepperd almost finds his son, but the boy is dragged off by the cultist’s sons, and I guess he shows up again later in the series. Jepperd and Gus’s groups of characters are reunited, and they head off to Alaska, where Gus’s parents originally came from. It is unfortunate that I’m reading this series out of order, but “Animal Armies” was a thrilling storyline.

AQUAMAN #6 (DC, 1962) – “Too Many Quisps,” [W] Jack Miller, [A] Nick Cardy. At my last few conventions I’ve looked for old Aquaman comics and failed to find any, so I was glad to see that I already had this one. However, this issue is less interesting than later Aquaman issues because there’s no Mera yet. Also, this issue has a silly plot where Aquaman thinks Quisp (his version of Bat-Mite or Mxyzptlk) has gone evil, but it turns out Quisp has two evil twins. Nick Cardy’s art here is good, but not his best.

VALENTINO #1 (Renegade, 1985) – “Drafted!!” and other stories, [W/A] Jim Valentino. A series of autobiographical stories by Jim Valentino. This artist is perhaps most notable for his role in turning Image into a serious comics publisher, rather than for his own work, but the stories in this issue are pretty interesting. The stories are about Valentino’s efforts to dodge the Vietnam draft, his wedding, and how he quit smoking. These stories are drawn in a fairly mainstream style, but their content makes them reminiscent of alternative comics, especially the one about being drafted. Unfortunately the second half of the issue consists of an illustrated prose story about Valentino’s grandmother’s death. This story shows deep emotion, but it’s clumsily written, and I wish it had been a comic instead of a prose story.

ZOOT! #1 (Fantagraphics, 1992) – “Art d’Ecco and the Gump,” [W/A] Roger Langridge, [W] Andrew Langridge. A collection of short humorous stories, some of them starring characters from the Langridge’s previous series, Art d’Ecco. The best story is the one where a man’s car is towed even though it’s legally parked. When he tries to get it back, he encounters a Kafkaesque level of indifference and bureaucratic inefficiency, and in the end he discovers his car was destroyed. Even back in 1992, Roger Langridge was already an incredible artist and designer. Every page of this comic is impeccably drawn and lettered.

INVISIBLES #6 (Vertigo, 1995) – “Arcadia Part 2: Mysteries of the Guillotine,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Jill Thompson. In the 1790s, the Invisibles battle some Cyphermen and recruit the Marquis de Sade. Back in the present, they encounter the dude who’s spent the last two issues killing random people. There’s also a subplot where Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley encounters some creepy dude in a carriage. Jill Thompson’s artwork in Invisibles #5 and #6 is in her more conventional style, meaning it’s quite good, but not as distinctive as her art in Scary Godmother or Little Endless.

SILVER SURFER #12 (Marvel, 1988) – “Sick!”, [W] Steve Englehart, [A] Marshall Rogers. This issue reunites one of the greatest Batman creative teams, but by 1988, neither Englehart nor Rogers was as good as in 1978. This issue mostly focuses on three villains – Reptyl, the Contemplator, and Clumsy Foul-Up – and the Surfer himself is barely in the issue at all. At the end, there’s a disgusting scene where Reptyl eats the Contemplator, justifying the issue’s title.

SUICIDE SQUAD #37 (DC, 1989) – “Threads,” [W] John Ostrander & Kim Yale, [A] John K. Snyder III & Geof Isherwood. The Squad returns from a mission with the body of Amanda Waller’s aide Flo, who was killed. Murph figures out that Captain Boomerang is responsible for the pie-throwing attacks that have been a running joke since #21 (see https://www.cbr.com/suicide-squad-pie-throwing-mystery/). There’s also one subplot about an old Soviet superhuman, and another about a war between voodoo houngans. The voodoo character are featured on the cover despite only appearing on a few pages.

AGE OF BRONZE #7 (Image, 2000) – untitled (A Thousand Ships 7), [W/A] Eric Shanower. As previously noted, this issue begins with Deidamia giving birth to Pyrrhus/Neoptolemus. Agamemnon recruits Nestor for his army, and we get a flashback explaining the origin of the suitors’ oath. In Troy, there’s a scene that sets up the Troilus/Cressida romance. The issue ends with Palamedes exposing Odysseus’s feigned madness and forcing him to join the army. Even though I’ve already read this issue, it’s worth revisiting.

CREATURES ON THE LOOSE #25 (Marvel, 1973) – “The Wizard of Lemuria!”, [W] George [Alec] Effinger & Tony Isabella, [A] Val Mayerik. On Twitter, Osvaldo Oyola expressed his regret that he passed up a chance to buy an issue of Creatures on the Loose starring Thongor of Lost Lemuria. I told him not to worry, because these comics show up all the time. Also, they’re not all that good. Lin Carter’s Thongor was a blatant Conan ripoff, and COTL #25 is worse than an average issue of Conan. Roy Thomas could easily have turned this issue into a Conan story by changing all the names (as he sometimes did with non-Conan stories), and if he’d done that, the results would have been better.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #572 (Marvel, 2008) – “New Ways to Die Part 5: Easy Targets,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] John Romita Jr. Norman Osborn uses Radioactive Man to create a new Scorpion, while also hiring Bullseye to assassinate Spider-Man. Meanwhle, Peter, Harry and Lily are caught in a love triangle. There’s too much going on in this issue to summarize or remember it all, but that’s actually its main strength. Dan Slott’s complicated, exciting plots resemble those of other great Spider-Man writers like Stan Lee and Roger Stern.

TREES #9 (Image, 2015) – “Steps We Take,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Jason Howard. A woman named Jo is hired to go to the Orkney islands to survey the tree there. This issue is a pretty quick read, and has little to do with issue 1 besides being set in the same world.

CHEW #7 (Image, 2009) – “International Flavor Part 2,” [W] John Layman, [A] Rob Guillory. Tony travels to the Pacific island of Yamapalu to investigate an illegal chicken scheme. Coincidentally, his brother Chow Chu is also headed to Yamapalu to open a new restaurant. We’re also introduced to USDA agent Lin Sae Woo and her pet rat. Why have I not heard of this character before? Because she gets killed at the end of the issue. This is a fun issue as usual; the rivalry between Tony and Chow is particularly funny.

SCRIBBLENAUTS UNMASKED: A CRISIS OF IMAGINATION #1 (DC, 2014) – “The Last Laugh?”, [W] Josh Elder, [A] Adam Archer & Ben Bates. I bought this when it came out because I wrote about Scribblenauts in my dissertation, but I never felt like reading it. I love the ideas behind Scribblenauts; however, the games themselves never fulfilled their massive potential, and I quit playing them after Super Scribblenauts. If even the Scribblenauts games are disappointing, the comics are still more so. Like Angry Birds or Plants vs. Zombies, Scribblenauts has no real plot or characters, so adapting it into a comic is a questionable idea. As of Scribblenauts Unlimited, 5th Cell came up with a backstory for Maxwell and Lily, but this backstory is stupid and adds nothing to the game. And the Scribblenauts Unmasked comic is just a generic kids’ DC comic that guest-stars the Scribblenauts characters and uses the game’s graphic style. As I argued in my dissertation, the Scribblenauts game is all about handwriting and drawing, which are also the fundamental elements of comics, and a Scribblenauts comic could have been far more interesting than this issue was.

HITMAN #54 (DC, 2000) – “Closing Time: 2,” [W] Garth Ennis, [A] John McCrea. I pretty much hate most of Garth Ennis’s comics besides Hellblazer, and Hitman is the prime example of why I don’t like his work. The entire series is a litany of gratuitous violence and gross-out humor. This issue is no exception. The main event in this issue is that Tommy Monaghan’s apartment gets blown up, he saves a CIA agent named Kathryn McAllister, and then they make out on the fire escape.

ACTION COMICS #745 (DC, 1998) – “Polyesteryear Part 1: Ready, Fire, Aim,” [W] Stuart Immonen, [A] Anthony Williams. This issue is part of the Dominus Effect crossover, where each Superman title took place in a different era of Superman’s history. Action Comics was set in the ‘70s, and in this issue Clark tries to foil various plots by the Prankster. “Ready, Fire, Aim”  is a pretty average story, and it doesn’t feel like a real ‘70s Superman comic. They should have just hired Elliot S! Maggin or Cary Bates to write this issue.

ACTION COMICS #681 (DC, 1992) – “Odds &… Endings,” [W] Roger Stern, [A] Jackson Guice. At STAR Labs, Superman teams up with Rampage to fight Hellgrammite. Roger Stern did not create Rampage, but he used her a lot, both here and in his Starman series. She was a fairly unique character – kind of like She-Hulk, except she’s a scientist and not a lawyer. The Superman titles in the early ‘90s had a consistently high level of quality, though my opinion of them may be influenced by nostalgia, since I read them when I was a kid.

ADVENTURE COMICS #476 (DC, 1980) – “The Poseidon Effect,” [W] J.M. DeMatteis, [A] Dick Giordano, plus two other stories. In this issue’s lead story, Aquaman battles the god Poseidon, or someone claiming to be him. This story is pretty mediocre, like most Aquaman stories between Arthur Curry Jr’s death and Peter David’s run. Next is a Starman (Prince Gavyn) story by Levitz and Ditko, which is the best story in the issue, though it’s still not great. Finally there’s an average Plastic Man story by Pasko and Staton. By a weird coincidence, in both the Aquaman and Starman stories in this issue, the hero defeats the villain by breaking his staff.

THE FLASH #158 (DC, 2000) – “Reverse Flash,” [W] Mark Waid & Brian Augustyn, [A] Paul Pelletier. Mark Waid’s second run on this volume of Flash was not nearly as good as his first. This issue is way too confusing and convoluted, with a plot involving both the Reverse Flash and Abra Kadabra, and it ends with yet another reiteration of how much Wally and Linda love each other.

JON SABLE, FREELANCE #41 (First, 1986) – “The Fan Part II,” [W/A] Mike Grell. Jon Sable saves an actress from being murdered by a psychotic stalker fan. By this point in the series, Grell’s draftsmanship had deteriorated badly; he hardly seemed to be trying. At least this issue is better drawn than #34, reviewed earlier this year, and it has a fairly exciting plot. I realize I’ve been writing a lot of bad reviews, but that’s because I’ve been reviewing a bunch of comics that I’ve owned for years without ever reading them.

PRIVATEER: THE LINE OF DUTY #1 (self-published 2011) – untitled, [W] Adrian McIlroy Speed, [A] Randyl Bishop. I was given this for free by one of the creators. It’s a science fiction comic set in a vaguely Star Trek-like universe. It includes some interesting ideas, but it’s unmistakably a fan comic, and it would be unfair to review it the way I would review a professional comic.

TRANSMETROPOLITAN #16 (DC, 1998) – “Year of the Bastard 4: Hate,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Darick Robertson. Thanks to his writing about politics, Spider Jerusalem is now a major celebrity. And he hates it, because as his editor explains, he’s only capable of writing when people hate him. So Spider exploits his newfound popularity by walking through a trendy hipster neighborhood and getting people to follow him. Then he leads them into the adjacent neighborhood, a rundown housing project full of diseased children. In a heartbreaking moment, Spider asks a scarred, half-blind child what he wants to be when he grows up, and he says “Nothing.” I’ve read a bunch of issues of Transmet lately, and this is probably the best one.

YUMMY FUR #31 (Drawn & Quarterly, 1993) – untitled, [W/A] Chester Brown. This issue begins with a wordless, surrealistic story that appears to be a tribute to Chester’s romance with his new girlfriend Sook-Yin. There’s also an adaptation of Matthew 9:31 to 10:42. Most of the pages in this issue are just a few panels surrounded by a ton of blank space. In the letters page, a fan named Marc Payton complains about this, saying that each issue of Yummy Fur can be read in just ten minutes. In response, Chester admits that Yummy Fur is not a good deal, at least in terms of the time it takes to read. There was just one more issue of the series, and Chester eventually abandoned the periodical comics format in favor of graphic novels.

FANTASTIC FOUR #316 (Marvel, 1988) – “Cold Storage!”, [W] Steve Englehart, [A] Keith Pollard. On page 1, we’re told that this issue will include the one word we never expected to see again in a Marvel comic. Sadly, that word is “Beyonder.” Other than that, in the first half of this issue, the new FF (Ben, Johnny, Sharon and Crystal) fight some ice creatures. Then there’s a long flashback explaining the origin of the Savage Land, and there’s also some relationship drama between the FF members and Alicia. Englehart’s FF is kind of interesting, but not particularly good, and his characters are often very unappealing. For example, when Johnny is reunited with his wife Alicia, he thinks that she’s just what he needed to make him forget about Crystal.

PLANETARY #10 (Wildstorm, 2000) – “Magic & Loss,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] John Cassaday. A good example of the brilliance of this series. While investigating the Four’s base, the Planetary members find a trophy room containing a cape, a lantern and some bracelets. Then there are some flashbacks depicting the origin of three characters who are obvious analogues of Superman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman. But then we see how the Four killed all of these characters before they could begin their superhero careers. There’s one brutal page where the Human Torch character murders the infant Superman character in his rocketship. This issue is amazing, and it powerfully demonstrates the central thesis of this series, namely that the Marvel Universe sucked all the life out of the comics and fantasy genres. (Though it’s not as if there aren’t still tons of Superman and Green Lantern and Wonder Woman comics.) My main complaint is that John Cassaday is not good at drawing aliens. There’s one impressive splash page depicting a ton of Green Lantern corps members, but this page could have been far better than it was.

THE SPECTRE #2 (DC, 1993) – “Crimes of Passion,” [W] John Ostrander, [A] Tom Mandrake. The Spectre tries to put a murdered woman’s ghost to rest by finding her killer. He solves the mystery, but the ghost continues reliving her murder. Also, when he falsely accuses a man of the murder, the man hangs himself in his prison cell. (Maybe that’s what really happened to Jeffrey Epstein.) This issue is brutal and depressing, but intentionally so, and it’s rather powerful.

AGE OF BRONZE #8 (Image, 2000) – untitled (A Thousand Ships 8), [W/A] Eric Shanower. Odysseus joins the army. At Delphi the Greeks encounter Calchas, who tells them where to find Achilles. Odysseus uses a trick to reveal Achilles’s identity and convince him to come to Troy. In addition to its excellent story, this issue has some interesting letter column responses. For example, Eric mentions his sources for Deidamia’s childbirth method and for the libation trough at Nestor’s palace.

BLACK PANTHER #53 (Marvel, 2003) – “Black and White Chapter 3: Shadrach in the Furnace,” [W] Christopher Priest, [A] Jorge Lucas. Kevin “Kasper” Cole, the son of a cop, is the new Black Panther, but he’s embroiled in a rivalry with the White Wolf. He’s also trying to save his father from being executed. The present-day scenes are interspersed with flashbacks depicting Kasper’s relationship with his father. As usual with Priest, this comic is very confusing, but also gripping and enjoyable.

SUPERMAN #16 (DC, 2017) – “Multiplicity Conclusion,” [W] Peter Tomasi & Patrick Gleason, [A] Tony Daniel & Clay Mann. This is part of a crossover in which a bunch of Superman from different realities fight a cosmic villain. As noted in my review of #13 above, this volume of Superman jumped the shark because it participated in too many crossovers. This issue makes no sense at all without knowledge of the other Superman titles. Also, there’s no Jon or Lois. At the end of this issue, Clark and Kong Kenan eat xiaolongbao and gan shao niu wa. These are real Shanghai dishes, but the description of the latter dish is plagiarized from https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/shanghai-best-dishes/index.html.

JONAH HEX #22 (DC, 1979) – “Requiem for a Pack Rat!”, [W] Michael Fleisher, [A] Vicente Alcazar. Jonah Hex saves a prospector and his family from being killed by bandits. This is an exciting issue, but its racial politics are dubious. The issue begins with a scene where a black man is hanged. That’s a pretty bad look,  even though in context, the man is a murderer and deserves to be executed. The bandits and the prospector’s family are all black, so that’s kind of progressive, but it also makes Jonah a white savior. Vicente Alcazar’s artwork in this issue is very good.

THE AUTHORITY #7 (Wildstorm, 1999) – “Shiftships Three of Four,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Bryan Hitch. The battle with Sliding Albion continues. Jenny Sparks confronts a Blue who used to be her husband. Apollo nearly dies from exhausting his solar energy. There are subtle hints in this issue that Midnighter and Apollo are a couple, but it’s not confirmed until #8. This issue is okay, but it’s an overly quick read.

AMERICAN VAMPIRE #14 (Vertigo, 2011) – “Ghost War,” [W] Scott Snyder, [A] Rafael Albuquerque. During World War II, some soldiers fight vampires on a remote island. I like the art in this issue, but the story isn’t as exciting as that of #23.

JACK STAFF #12 (Dancing Elephant, 2003) – “Time’s Up!”, [W/A] Paul Grist. A few individual panels in this issue are in color. In a story told out of chronological order, Jack Staff, Charlie Raven and some other characters are trapped in a locked vault that’s about to be flooded. Charlie Raven engineers their escape, while in flashback scenes, we see how they got into the vault to begin with.

My next comics shipment arrived around 10:30 am on August 16. It’s lucky that it didn’t arrive any later, because at noon that day I had to leave for a work retreat. I read some of the week’s new comics while at the retreat.

SECOND COMING #2 (Ahoy, 2019) – “Life of the Party,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Richard Pace. Patton Oswalt promoted this comic on Twitter, and specifically praised the scene where Heaven’s food court is full of defunct chain restaurants. But there’s lots of other great stuff in this issue besides that. The main plot is that Sunstar’s girlfriend is being harassed by an “oyster pirate” – which was an actual thing, but only in the 19th century. Sunstar is offended by this insult to his male pride, so he harasses the man he thinks is the oyster pirate and possibly kills him. But it turns out the oyster pirate was someone else, and the man whose life Sunstar ruined was innocent. This illustrates Jesus’s point that the greatest temptation is not to do evil, but to “be seen doing good.” Sunstar is a good example of toxic masculinity, while Jesus is a good example of the opposite phenomenon, tender masculinity.

FANTASTIC FOUR #13 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Fight of Your Life,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Sean Izaakse. I skipped to the end of this comic and was disappointed to see that Ben and Alicia don’t get to consummate their marriage. But this is a great issue anyway. Ben defeats the Hulk not by being physically stronger, which he isn’t, but by having a greater heart. In that sense, this issue is a throwback to a classic Thing story, Marvel Two-in-One Annual #7. Meanwhile, Alicia saves herself and the other trapped people without needing Ben’s help. This issue addresses a chronic problem with Alicia’s character: she’s always been depicted as kind, generous and understanding, but also as a helpless victim. Her usual role in stories is to take care of the kids or to be rescued. So it’s ipmortant that in this issue she gets to save the day.

BLACK HAMMER/JUSTICE LEAGUE #2 (DC & Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Michael Walsh. The Justice Leaguers and Black Hammer characters try to adapt to each other’s worlds, while Colonel Weird may hold the key to resolving the situation. At the end of the issue, we learn that Barry Allen died on arriving at the farm, just like the original Black Hammer did. The fun part of this series is seeing each team of heroes adjust to being stuck in the other team’s world, but I hope the two teams get to interact soon.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #47 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ryan North, [A] Derek Charm. The final Squirrel Girl storyline reintroduces Doreen’s greatest enemy, Melissa Morbeck. Doreen discovers Melissa is back by decoding a very clever hidden message left by a kidnapped Brain Drain. Then, in a sort of tribute to Daredevil: Born Again or Knightfall, Melissa reveals Doreen’s secret identity, destroys her apartment, and send all her old enemies after her. This storyline is going to be a great way to end the series.

USAGI YOJIMBO #3 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Bunraku Part Three,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. Usagi and Sasuke defeat Takagi the puppetmaster in a fairly clever way, by burning his puppets. This storyline was a good introduction to the new volume.

MILES MORALES: SPIDER-MAN #9 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Javier Garron. Miles’s father and uncle save him from the Assessor’s prison, although we don’t learn who the Assessor was working for. This is a fun issue, and I really appreciate its focus on Miles’s family. It’s nice that Miles doesn’t always have to save himself, and that he can rely on other people once in a while. Uncle Aaron is a fascinatingly complex character.

GOGOR #4 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Ken Garing. Armano gets to the city of Azimuth, and makes his way inside by putting a talking frog on his head – it makes sense in context. Azimuth has a libertarian economy where nothing can be given away for free, and all the inhabitants are obsessed with handheld devices that are obvious parodies of smartphones. Eventually Armano gets thrown in prison. The political satire in this issue may be a bit too obvious, but it’s another fun and weird issue. Later addendum: After reading an issue of Richard Corben’s Den (see below), I finally realize what Gogor reminds me of.

WONDER WOMAN #76 (DC, 2019) – “Mothers and Children,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Lee Garbett. I read this sitting in a chair facing the Blue Ridge Mountains. I squeed so hard at the first page, where Hippolyta is doing Diana’s hair. I squeed even harder at the scene where Diana reunites Veronica Cale with her daughter. Steve’s encounter with Atlantiades is also cute, and I like how Lee Garbett’s Cheetah has the mannerisms of an actual cat. Sadly, the issue ends with Cheetah using the God Killer sword to murder Aphrodite. It’s too bad that Willow is leaving this series already. She has had a fairly long run, thanks to the biweekly publication schedule, but I still feel like she hasn’t reached her full potential as a Wonder Woman writer.

MY LITTLE PONY: SPIRIT OF THE FOREST #3 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ted Anderson, [A] Brenda Hickey. When all hope for saving White Tail Woods seems lost, Diamond Tiara takes her father Filthy Rich on a tour of the woods, and reminds him of his pleasant memories of his great-grandmother’s cabin. As a result, Filthy Rich agrees to implementing a “sustainable forest development” plan that allows logging without destroying the woods. The actual Spirit of the Forest shows up on the last page. This was a sweet story with a nice lesson about environmentalism.

OUTER DARKNESS #9 (Image, 2019) – “Castrophony of Hate Pt. 9: Slasher,” [W] John Layman, [A] Afu Chan. The Charon encounters another ship, the Ouroboros, whose crew all went crazy and killed each other with swords. Captain Rigg and First Officer Satalis lead an away team to the Ouroboros. Some of the away team members pick up the swords and go crazy too, and Rigg and the other non-redshirts narrowly escape with their lives. Rigg realizes that Satalis is intentionally trying to kill him. This series’ debt to Star Trek becomes more obvious with every issue, but it’s also a fun comic in its own right.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #12 (DC, 2019) – “The Dogs of War,” [W] Nalo Hopkinson & Dan Watters, [A] Domo Stanton. The two girls save the day by throwing weapons at a dog… again, it makes sense in context. Erzulie finally defeats Ananse, but at the cost of her husband Agwe’s life. This issue feels like the conclusion to the entire series, but it ends with the Corinthian discovering the counterpart to the House of Whispers: the House of Watchers.

WHITE TREES: A BLACKSAND TALE #1 (Image, 2019) – “Part One: This is Death,” [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Kris Anka. In a fantasy world, a hero’s daughter and the son of two other heroes are kidnapped, and their fathers (including a gay couple) have to go on a quest to find them. By now I’ve forgotten a lot about this issue, but I liked it a lot, and I think it may be Chip’s best solo work. I especially like the scene where the heroes are tempted by succubi. The gay hero encounters a male succubus; the straight hero, a female succubus; and the bisexual hero, both at once. The main story is interspersed with flashbacks showing Sir Krylos’s vexed relationship with his son. This is a fascinating series, and it’s too bad there’s only one more issue, but the subtitle “A Blacksand Tale” indicates that Chip may intend to do more comics set in the same world.

ORPHAN AGE #5 (Aftershock, 2019) – “Exodus,” [W]  Ted Anderson, [A] Nuno Plati. The three protagonists escape from Albany, which I guess is the one in Georgia, not the one in New York.  The last page includes a quotation from a George Oppen poem. This is a good issue, but as with previous issues of this series, it’s a very quick read.

GIDEON FALLS #16 (Image, 2019) – “All Those Little Scars,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Andrea Sorrentino. There’s a flashback to Clara and Daniel’s childhood – I think we saw Clara before at the start of this series, but I don’t remember. Then Norton/Daniel wakes up and Clara takes him to her father. The issue is full of creepy images of the Black Barn and the red-eyed murderer dude, but there are no truly exceptional page layouts.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #9 (Marvel, 2019) – “Falling Star Part 2,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Carmen Carnero. Carol fights a giant kraken, then Tony discovers she has some kind of Kree weapon inside her chest, which is causing her powers to vanish. This is just an average issue. Kelly’s Captain Marvel still hasn’t been as exciting as her other series like Hawkeye or Mr. & Mrs. X.

CATWOMAN #14 (DC, 2019) – “Hermosa Heat Part One,” [W] Ram V, [A] Mirka Andolfo. It looks like Joelle Jones is done with this series, but I’m still enjoying it for now, so I might as well keep ordering it. This issue, Selina steals a briefcase that contains evidence against all the other local criminals, but that makes her a target. Also she encounters the Gentleman Ghost, an awesome villain who hardly ever appears, and pets a cat.

COLLAPSER #2 (DC, 2019) – “It’s a Bad Day, Liam James,” [W] Mikey Way & Shaun Simon, [A] Ilias Kyriazis. Liam spends the entire issue seeing horrible visions that no one else can see. I love Ilias Kyriazis’s art, but the plot of this series is only mildly interesting, and Liam is a really annoying protagonist.

GHOSTED IN L.A. #2 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Sina Grace, [A] Siobhan Keenan. I hate it when I can’t remember the name of a comic’s protagonist, and neither can I look it up easily. This comic’s protagonist is named Daphne. In this issue, Daphne goes on a date with a horrible asshole named Brint. When Brint gets them thrown out of a concert, Daphne tries to get away from him, but he won’t leave her alone. Luckily Daphne is able to get rid of him by leading him into the house with the ghosts. This issue is a frightening and effective depiction of dating violence. Brint is a scary character because he’s plausible.

THE AUTHORITY #8 (Wildstorm, 1999) – “Shiftships Four of Four,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Bryan Hitch. In this issue, the Authority finally defeats Regis and Sliding Albion. While I was reading either this issue or issue 9, I realized that I’ve been misjudging Warren Ellis for many years. I thought he wrote the issue of Authority where the evil superhero blows up a maternity ward. It turns out that Mark Millar wrote that issue. Ellis’s Authority is often violent and brutal, but it’s never that tasteless or disgusting. And it’s part of the tradition of British SF and superhero comics. The main problem with Ellis’s Authority is its lack of substance. Bryan Hitch specializes in giant epic panels where not much happens, so there’s not much content in each issue. Oh, except that this issue reveals that Authority and Midnighter are a couple. A gay superhero couple is so relatively unremarkable now, it’s hard for me to remember what a big deal this moment was in 1999.

SUPERMAN #422 (DC, 1986) – “Dark Moon Rising,” [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Curt Swan. Superman fights a werewolf, and we’re misdirected into thinking the werewolf is the celebrity Lois Lane is dating. This issue is most notable for its amazing cover by Brian Bolland. It’s hard to care about Lois’s relationship problems, though, because this is the last regular issue of the pre-Crisis Superman title. Issue #423 was part one of “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow,” and after that the series became Adventures of Superman.

THE FLASH #220 (DC, 2005) – “Rogue War Chapter 1,” [W] Geoff Johns, [A] Howard Porter. The Rogues cause a lot of mayhem, and meanwhile, Wally and Linda learn that they still can’t have children. This issue is depressing and overly violent. Geoff Johns is good at introducing new elements into old continuity, but he treats his characters in a heartless, sadistic way. Why did he have to kill Wally’s children before birth, and then add insult to injury by making him unable to have any more children? It’s just pointless tragedy for tragedy’s sake.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #31 (Marvel, 2002) – “Wish List,” [W] Peter David, [A] Derec Aucoin. On the cover, the letters “vel” in Marvel are crossed out and replaced with “lo,” making this an issue of Captain Marlo. Also, for some reason my copy of this issue is half an inch shorter than most other comic books. This issue focuses on Marlo, whose life is flashing before her eyes because she fell (in a comic book store) and hurt herself. Just in time, Phyla-Vell shows up and saves Marlo. Meanwhile, there are three flashbacks to past moments when Marlo narrowly escaped death. Captain Marvel himself only appears on the last page. This is a fun issue, and certainly much better than the previous two comics I read.

THE PHANTOM #30 (Charlton, 1969) – “The Secret of the Golden Ransom,” uncredited, plus other stories. Two boring Phantom stories, plus two boring horror/mystrey stories without the Phantom in them. The second Phantom story has questionable racial politics, because it’s about a native who leaves the jungle and learns to distrust his native beliefs. Of course, for that matter, the entire Phantom franchise has dubious racial politics, though it’s popular in developing countries. This story was written by Gary Poole, whose spent most of his career as a comedy writer, and now lives fairly near me.

ACTION COMICS #673 (DC, 1992) – “Friends in Need,” [W] Roger Stern, [A] Bob McLeod. This issue advances several plotlines at once. Bibbo takes care of a homeless Jimmy Olsen, Hellgrammite accepts a contract to kill Lex Luthor Jr, and Mannheim puts on some Apokolips armor and fights Superman. I really like this era of Superman, although maybe that’s because of nostalgia, since these were the Superman comics I grew up with. Superman comics by writers like Dan Jurgens and Roger Stern have the passion and heart that’s missing in Geoff Johns’s  work.

DETECTIVE COMICS #635 (DC, 1991) – “Mind Games,” [W] Louise Simonson, [A] Jim Fern. Some villains try to kill Commissioner Gordon by making him see visions of video game characters. Then they do the same to Batman. This is a pretty forgettable issue which is notable mostly for how it depicts video games; see my review of Blue Ribbon Comics #11.

FANTASTIC FOUR #322 (Marvel, 1989) – “Between a Rock and a Hard Place!”, [W] Steve Englehart, [A] Keith Pollard. In the middle of Inferno, the FF fight Graviton, a villain whose powers are incredible but whose massive ego prevents him from ever achieving anything. This is a pretty boring issue. It’s not even weird in a funny way, like some of Englehart’s FF comics.

THE AUTHORITY #9 (WildStorm, 2000) – “Outer Dark One of Four,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Bryan Hitch. In the first issue of Warren’s last Authority storyline, the Earth is attacked by horrible Lovecraftian monsters that are basically God. The highlight of this issue is the astronaut’s “last words of a dead man” speech. It’s a horrific moment.

THE IMMORTAL HULK: DIRECTOR’S CUT #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Or Is He Both,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. This reprint of Immortal Hulk #1 is overpriced, but even then it’s probably much cheaper than the original issue, which has become a speculation target. This issue begins with a criminal murdering several people while robbing a gas station. Unluckily for him, one of the people is Bruce Banner. Bruce returns to life as the Hulk and exacts a horrifying revenge for the murder. This is a simple story, but it’s told with brutal power. It’s a good start to the best Hulk series since Peter David’s first run.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN: EXODUS #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Exodus,” [W/A] Esad Ribic. A wordless story in which Conan fights some wild animals, then gets crucified by some soldiers, but escapes. I regret buying this comic. Esad Ribic’s art is good, but not that good. Moreover, the #1 rule when creating a wordless comic is that your storytelling has to be exceptionally clear. The first two-thirds of this story are easy to understand, but when Conan encounters other people, it becoems difficult if not impossible to tell what’s going on. This story gains nothing from being wordless, and could have used some explanatory dialogue. Even with dialogue, though, I doubt it would tell us anything new or unexpected about Conan.

THE AUTHORITY #10 (WildStorm, 2000) – “Outer Dark Two of Four,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Bryan Hitch. This issue, the horrible monsters kill more people and start terraforming the planet to suit them. The Doctor discovers that the monsters were responsible for creating human life in the first place, so they’re more or less God. And only he (the Doctor) can stop them. I bought the first ten issues of this series at Comic-Con some years ago, but not #11 and #12, so I will have to look for those.

RAT GOD #1 (Dark Horse, 2015) – “The Rat God with Mag the Hag,” [W/A] Richard Corben. I think I have this entire miniseries, but I haven’t read any of it. In the first half of this issue, two precolonial Native Americans try to escape from an undead monster. Then the time shifts to the 1920s or so, and we’re introduced to Clark Elwood, a character apparently based on H.P. Lovecraft. We learn a bit about his background, and then he almost gets killed by a panther. This could be an interesting series, but I haven’t been motivated to read any more of it yet.

EXCALIBUR #90 (Marvel, 1996) – “Dream Nails Part 3: Blood Eagle,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] four pencilers. I accidentally read this before #89, which I also have. The main plot of this issue is that Kitty and Pete Wisdom have broken into a secret facility called Dream Nails. While there, Pete Wisdom confronts a yellow-faced dude named Shrine. Meanwhile, Kitty learns about some aliens called the Uncreated who believe that they’ve killed God. The scene with the Uncreated is the most interesting thing in the issue. There are also some subplots, one involving Rahne and Moira, and another involving Rory Campbell, who’s destined to become Ahab. This issue is hampered by ugly art from four different artists.

SUPERBOY #20 (DC, 1995) – “The Hunt,” [W] Eddie Berganza, [A] Darryl Banks & Joe St. Pierre. Eddie Berganza is an infamous sexual predator who will hopefully never work in comics again. He’s not much of a writer either. Superboy #20 is a boring fill-in issue where Superboy and Green Lantern (Kyle) investigate a shipwreck and fight a villain called the Technician.

DONALD DUCK #181 (Gold Key, 1977) – “The Desert Sands of Abou-Bou,” [W/A] Bob Gregory. A boring story where Scrooge and the nephews encounter the Beagle Boys in the Arabian desert, followed by a boring story in which Donald goes to a class reunion. Bob Gregory is perhaps most notable as the father of Roberta Gregory.

THE ASTOUNDING WOLF-MAN #19 (Image, 2009) – untitled, [W] Robert Kirkman, [A] Jason Howard. Wolf-Man and some other superheroes fight a giant monster called Gorgg. This comic felt rather pointless, and this whole series was never all that great. Robert Kirkman had a couple big hits, but over time his writing gets less and less impressive in hindsight.

SCRIBBLENAUTS UNMASKED: A CRISIS OF IMAGINATION #2 (DC, 2014) – “Imperious Lex,” [W] Josh Elder, [A] Adam Archer & Ben Bates. More of the same pointless nonsense as issue 1. The idea behind this franchise was great, but the execution was consistently disappointing.

THE SAVAGE DRAGON #85 (Image, 2001) – “Peril in Pittsburgh!”, [W/A] Erik Larsen. Dragon teams up with Madman and the Atomics against Cyberface. This issue is a good example of the typical Savage Dragon formula.

New comics received on August 22, the day after I started teaching for the year:

THE MAGNIFICENT MS. MARVEL #6 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Minkyu Jung. My friend who disliked issue 5 also disliked this issue. When reading it, I tried to see his perspective, but I still liked this issue. I do think it’s dumb that Kamala’s parents no longer remember her secret identity. But other than that, this issue is not bad at all. Saladin’s take on Kamala is different from Willow’s, but that’s the whole advantage of multi-authored franchises.

MIDDLEWEST #10 (Image, 2019) – “Hello, Grandson…”, [W] Skottie Young, [A] Jorge Corona. Abel confronts his grandfather, who turns out to be just as abusive as Abel’s father. This was the worst issue of Middlewest yet. It was an overly quick read, and it felt insubstantial. And Abel’s grandfather’s abusive behavior seems to lack a motive or excuse, though that may be on purpose.

STRAYED #1 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Carlos Giffoni, [A] Juan Doe. There have been a lot of great cat comics lately, but this one is unlike any of the others. Dr. Kiara Rodriguez is the only person who can communicate with Lou, a cat with the power of astral projection. A savage imperialist government uses Kiara and Lou to track down new worlds to colonize. This comic poignantly depicts Kiara and Lou’s relationship and their distress at being separated from each other. Juan Doe is really good at drawing cats, and he makes the reader feel Lou’s pain and suffering.

BRONZE AGE BOOGIE #5 (Ahoy, 2019) – “Hard to Be a Godd,” [W] Stuart Moore, [A] Alberto Ponticelli. The main event this issue is that Lydda has a vision of a creature named GODD, who may be responsible for this series’ entire plot. Also there are a lot of fight scenes. There’s a backup story called “Who Is… the Moon-Thing?” in which a robot fights a Frankenstein monster. It’s not clear to me whether the Moon-Thing is the robot or the monster.

CRIMINAL #7 (Image, 2019) – “Cruel Summer Part Three,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. This issue begins with a scene in which a Dungeon & Dragons session goes badly wrong. I don’t play D&D, but I’m sure that if I did, this scene would ring very true. The rest of the issue retells some of the same events as the last two issues, but from Ricky Lawless’s perspective. Jacob Kurtz and Leo, the “Coward” from the namesake story arc, also appear as Ricky’s childhood friends. I hadn’t realized that these characters all knew each other. I like the use of multiple narrators in this story arc; it forces the reader to solve the puzzle of how all these stories fit together. I assume that one of the later issues will be narrated by Jane/Marina.

GRUMBLE #9 (Albatross, 2019) – untitled, [W] Rafer Roberts, [A] Mike Norton. All the villains converge on the house in the New Jersey Pine Barrens where Tala and Eddie are hiding out. At the full moon, Jimmy the Keeper turns into a werehouse – not a warehouse – and Tala and Eddie walk inside him. Meanwhile, the army shows up. This storyline is setting up for an exciting finish.

FEARLESS #2 (Marvel, 2019) – “Campfire Song Part 2,” [W] Seanan McGuire, [A] Claire Roe. In part two of the serialized story, Sue, Ororo and Carol arrive at camp, while Kamala also arrives as a camper. Not a whole lot happens in this story, but the dialogue is really good. I didn’t realize the counselor was a mutant at first – I thought her weird skin colors were just a (cute) fashion choice. Like issue #1, Fearless #2 also includes a backup story starring a forgotten female Marvel character – this time it’s Night Nurse. Her story, in which she fights Stegron, is funny although somewhat insubstantial. There’s also a short backup story by Eve Ewing and Alitha Martinez, which is a veiled critique of the Trump administration’s kids-in-cages policy.

SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #2 (DC, 2019) – “You Can’t Keep a Good Olsson Down!” and other vignettes, [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Steve Lieber. My friend Corey Creekmur recommended this issue highly, and I liked it too, though I read it when I was too tired to appreciate it fully. The emotional heart of the issue is the scene where Jimmy says “I do silly. That’s what people want.” That kind of defines the relationship between Jimmy and Superman. As my other friend Craig Fischer pointed out, the montage of past Jimmy Olsen moments is also a highlight. There’s one panel where Jimmy and Superman are turned into horses, and another panel where Jimmy, Lois and Clark are embedded reporters in Iraq. Overall, this is an impressive series so far.

SNOTGIRL #14 (Image, 2019) – “The Bachelors Issue,” [W] Bryan Lee O’Malley, [A] Leslie Hung. Lottie’s friends learn about her pet names for them (Cutegirl, Normgirl, etc.), and there are also some plot developments that I was unable to follow. This is still a really fun series, but following it in single-issue form is not really ideal. It only comes out a couple times a year, yet each issue requires the reader to remember the previous issue’s plot.

VALKYRIE #2 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Sacred and the Profane Part II,” [W] Jason Aaron & Al Ewing, [A] Cafu. Jane Foster defeats Bullseye by shattering the previous Valkyrie’s sword, but Bullseye kills Heimdall. The fight scene in this issue is exciting, but it takes up the entire issue, leaving no room for any quieter moments.

MARVEL ACTION: CAPTAIN MARVEL #1 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Sam Maggs, [A] Sweeney Boo. I wouldn’t have bought this if I’d realized who wrote it, because I’ve hated the other Sam Maggs comics I’ve read. This issue is less bad than Sam Maggs’s two pony comics, mostly because the plot revolves around cats. Carol battles an apparent invasion of Flerkens, and one of them eats her.  Unfortunately, all the cats in this issue are drawn with the exact same facial expression.

GHOST SPIDER #1 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Seanan McGuire, [A] Takeshi Miyazawa. Spider-Gwen moves to Earth-616 to attend college, with Peter Parker as her mentor. I gave up on the previous volume of Ghost Spider because I couldn’t understand it without reading the other Spider-Man titles. This new issue stands on its own much better, and I like its college theme. I plan on continuing to read this series.

BATMAN #232 (FACSIMILE EDITION) (DC, 1971/2019) – “Daughter of the Demon,” [W] Denny O’Neil, [A] Neal Adams. This is a true facsimile edition, with all the original ads and letters pages as well as the story. An actual copy of Batman #232 is outside my budget, so this reprint is the next best thing. The printing quality on the ads and letters pages is rather low, but that may have been unavoidable. Batman #232 is of course a major key issue because it introduces Ra’s al Ghul. My favorite part of this story is the mountain scene on pages 12 and 13. First there’s the mountain in the shape of Ra’s’s face, and then there’s the panel where Ra’s talks about his “love for emptiness [and] desolation,” while his face is superimposed on the mountains in front of him.

AQUAMAN #51 (DC, 2019) – “Amnesty, Part 2: Light in the Darkness,” [W] Kelly Sue DeConnick, [A] Robson Rocha. Aquaman hangs out with his new sidekick/partner Jackson Hyde, Mera prepares for the wedding, and Luthor gives Black Manta a new Mecha Manta robot. Kelly Sue’s Aquaman is entertaining because it’s written with care and affection, and it’s not overambitious, like some of her works. Speaking of which, I’m not getting the new Pretty Deadly miniseries.

SHE COULD FLY: THE LOST PILOT #5 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Grounded,” [W] Christopher Cantwell, [A] Martin Morazzo. Luna meets Mayura’s children, then she and Bill figure out how to fix Mayura’s jetpack. Luna decides to “fly” by hanging onto a giant balloon panda – I don’t know why she couldn’t use the jetpack. Bill tries to save her with the jetpack, but gets shot. Then the crazy teacher lady does save Luna, but keeps on flying, and in perhaps the most horrific scene in the series, she burns up in the atmosphere with a smile on her face. (The mythological reference here is obvious.) Luna wakes up five months later, surrounded by all the surviving characters. This was a brilliant series, but it was also one of the most disturbing comics this side of Phoebe Gloeckner.

THE AVANT-GUARDS #7 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Carly Usdin, [A] Noah Hayes. Olivia is horribly depressed after the team’s first loss, so her teammates organize a sports movie marathon to cheer her up. It works, and also, Liv discovers that her romance with Charlie is an open secret. This is a really fun comic, but ominously, Boom! cancelled issue 9 with no explanation. I hope this series will be completed.

MARVEL ACTION: SPIDER-MAN #7 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Delilah Dawson, [A] Fico Ossio. Peter, Miles and Gwen fight the Black Cat. This is a competently written and reasonably well-drawn comic, but it doesn’t captivate me the way Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man did. I don’t plan on ordering any more of this series. I wonder how Fico Ossio can draw both this series and No One Left to Fight. Speaking of Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man, I wish we would see Chat again.

ADVENTURE FINDERS: THE EDGE OF EMPIRE #1 (Action Lab, 2019) – “The Long March,” [W/A] Rod Espinosa. Rod left Antarctic Press during the controversy over Jawbreakers, and I’m glad he found a better publisher. I do have mixed feelings about this comic. The synopsis of the plot is hard to understand, and while the art in this issue is very detailed, not much happens in the story. Mostly the entire issue is about a caravan traveling to I don’t know where. Also, Rod’s characters are really cute, but his backgrounds are too obviously computer-generated. Given all of that, I was feeling lukewarm about this comic, but by the end of the issue, I felt curious about what was going to happen next. It looks like I already ordered the next two issues of this series, and I’m not sorry I did.

HISTORY OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE #2 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Javier Rodriguez. One amazing thing about this comic is Javier Rodriguez’s art. Another is the depth of Mark Waid’s research. His notes at the back of the issue refer to hundreds of old Marvel comcs, some of them very obscure. It’s amazing that Mark was able to synthesize all these often conflicting sources into a coherent narrative.

A few specific notes: This issue officially confirms that Mystique and Destiny were lovers. It depicts the infant Wanda Maximoff, but avoids specifying who her father was. I’ve spent my whole life believing that Magneto was Pietro and Wanda’s father, and I refuse to accept the retcon that Django Maximoff was their father. This issue establishes that the Marvel Universe had a fictional “Sin-Cong War,” and that this was the war Reed Richards and Ben Grimm fought in, as well as other characters. This retcon is kind of clumsy, but unavoidable. The alternative, which Marvel previously tried, is to keep retconning which war Reed and Ben were in. First it was WWII, then the Vietnam War. It’s easier to avoid tying Marvel continuity too closely to specific historical events.

WARLORD OF MARS ATTACKS #3 (Dynamite, 2019) – “Warlord of Earth,” [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Kyle Hotz. John Carter recovers his memory and fights the Martians, and then the other protagonists figure out how to transport him back to Barsoom. This was good, but not as funny as last issue.

EVE STRANGER #3 (Black Crown, 2019) – untitled, [W] David Barnett, [A] Philip Bond. Eve sings “The Irish Rover” with a drunken gorilla – this scene was the clear highlight of the issue – and then she goes on another mission. Eve’s mother turns up alive at the end of the issue. There’s also a backup story drawn by Liz Prince. I’m enjoying this series, but I’ve noticed that IDW hasn’t solicited or announced any new Black Crown titles. They’ve hinted that a new Black Crown title by Joe Hill and Martin Simmonds is coming this winter, but that’s it. I hope the Black Crown imprint hasn’t been silently cancelled.

INFINITY 8 #2.2 (Lion Forge, 2019) – “Back to the Führer Part 2,” [W] Lewis Trondheim, [A]  Olivier Vatine. I stopped reading this series because of the anti-Semitic stereotypes in the previous issue, but I kept ordering it because of my interest in French comics. I suppose it’s time to get caught up on it, since it’s now the only comic I’m buying but not reading. Luckily, in this issue Shlomo Ju, the anti-Semitic stereotype from #2.1, emerges as a more complex and multifaceted character, and he gets to help save the day. The main event of the issue is that Hitler figures out how to control the ship’s robots, enabling him to threaten the survival of the whole ship. As always with this series, the artwork is on a higher level than that of most American comics. Olivier Vatine is a successful artist in France, and his artwork and coloring in Infinity 8 are spectacular.

SLOW DEATH #6 (Last Gasp, 1974) – various stories, [E] Ron Turner. This was an underground comics series with horror and environmentalist themes. In this issue’s first story, Charles Dallas’s “Call of the Wild,” a pet shop employee frees all the pets, and they eat the owner. Charles Dallas’s art isn’t amazing, but it’s intriguing and distinctive. George Metzger’s “The Long Sleep” is about an astronaut who wakes up from suspended animation aboard a spaceship. Metzger’s art is excellent, but his story is just okay. In Rand Holmes’s “Raw Meat,” a woman picks up a creepy sexist dude at a bar, then takes him back to her apartment, where she feeds him to her pet dinosaur. This story is the high point of the issue, but the monster in the last panel looks silly and unrealistic. Jack Jackson’s “The White Man’s Burden” is a sort of parable in which colonized people gain the upper hand on their colonizers, only to become just as racist. This story has good intentions, but it sends the problematic message that oppressed people are just as bad as their oppressors.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #573 (Marvel, 2008) – “New Ways to Die Part Six: Weapons of Self Destruction,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] John Romita Jr. Spider-Man and Anti-Venom team up against Green Goblin and Scorpion. This is another spectacular issue of a great Spider-Man run. Most of the issue consists of fight scenes, but there’s also a lot of plot, and some soap-opera moments between Peter, Harry and Lily. This issue includes a backup story in which Spider-Man meets Stephen Colbert and saves him from the Grizzly.

VERTIGO POP! LONDON #1 (Vertigo, 2003) – “My Generation Part 1,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Philip Bond. I think I’m going to file this under M for Milligan, not V for Vertigo. It’s a purely self-contained series, aside from a casual reference to King Mob. Vertigo Pop: London stars an aging British Invasion rock musician; he reminds me of George Harrison because of his obsession with Indian culture. While in India, he learned how to swap bodies from a swami. Decades later, suffering from a midlife crisis, he swaps bodies with a young musician who seems to be based on Liam Gallagher – the one song this character sings is a thinly disguised version of “Wonderwall.” This is an interesting series, but Philip Bond’s art here is not as amazing as in Eve Stranger.

INCREDIBLE HULK #130 (Marvel, 1970) – “If I Kill You – I Die!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Herb Trimpe. Unfortunately this issue’s front and back covers separated from each other as I started reading it. That made the comic difficult to read, and dampened my enjoyment of it. Otherwise, this is a pretty good issue, in which a scientist named Raoul Stoddard devises a method to physically separate Bruce Banner and the Hulk.

IRREDEEMABLE #2 (Boom!, 2009) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Peter Krause. This series is about a Superman-esque superhero, the Plutonian, who goes insane and tries to conquer the world. Most of this issue is a flashback sequence, framed as an interview with the Plutonian’s reporter girlfriend Alana Patel (i.e. Lois Lane). When Plutonian tells her his secret identity, she gets angry and reveals his secret to her entire newsroom. Then he goes nuts and threatens to kill everyone in the newsroom if they ever tell anyone else, and most of them go on to commit suicide. This comic is an effective piece of horror, and the Plutonian is a terrifying villain. This whole series is kind of an extended version of Miracleman #15. I want to collect more of it.

A TOUCH OF SILVER #2 (Image, 1997) – “Dance,” [W/A] Jim Valentino. As a kid in 1962, Jim Valentino (or a fictional character based on him) has a puppy-love romance with a girl, and his mother throws away his comic books. This comic feels very cute and authentic, though the art and lettering are sometimes clumsy. At one point there’s a mention that Valentino suffers from discrimination because of his dark skin, but this is not elaborated upon further.

I AM GROOT #4 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Forgotten Door,” [W] Christopher Hastings, [A] Flaviano. This was easily the worst of Marvel’s Groot and Rocket Raccoon comics. Christopher Hastings’s plot is completely incoherent. It’s based on some nonsense about a forgotten door, and there’s one character with a dog’s head and another character with three heads, but there’s no reason why the reader should bother figuring out what’s going on. Also, the jokes in this comic aren’t funny at all. I should have given up on this series after one or two issues.

STAR HUNTERS #3 (DC, 1978) – “The Sowers of Holocaust,” [W] David Michelinie, [A] Mike Nasser. This comic is now totally forgotten, but it was better than I expected. It’s a reasonably exciting piece of space opera, and as an added bonus, the main female character looks like Phantom Girl. One of the planets in the comic is named Darkever, a probable reference to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover. Star Hunters  is an example of ‘70s DC’s willingness to experiment with new things. Sadly, it was one of the many titles cancelled because of the DC Implosion.

FORLORN FUNNIES #1 (Fantagraphics, 2017) – “Fehlender Geist” and other stories, [W/A] Paul Hornschemeier. I read Paul Hornschemeier’s book Mother, Come Home some years ago, but I haven’t followed his work since then. Hornschemeier is often compared to Chris Ware, but in this issue he mostly abandons his Chris Ware influence and draws in a loose, cartoony style. However, that new style is not particularly interesting; his art in this issue mostly looks crude and ugly. The one exception is the story “Captain All in ‘The Devouring Turn,’” but this story is just a surrealist parody of Silver Age comics. Also, this issue wastes seven pages on a prose story. I hate it when comic books contain prose stories, and this particular story is terrible; it wouldn’t be publishable anywhere else. Overall, this comic does not make me optimistic about Hornschemeier’s future work.

BIRTHRIGHT #16 (Image, 2016) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. Rya and Wendy have dinner with  Mastema, while Samael takes the boys to his vault so he can heal Mikey’s injuries. The most fun part of this issue is spotting all the Easter eggs in Mikey’s vault. In a single two-page splash, we can see the Iron Throne, the Ten Commandments, Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors, Aladdin’s lamp, the crocodile from Peter Pan, Captain America’s shield, the Monster Book of Monsters, and lots of other stuff.

THE PUMA BLUES #16 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1988) – “Man Ray,” [W] Stephen Murphy, [A] Michael Zulli. Like most issues of Puma Blues, this issue is evocative and beautifully drawn, but impossible to follow. This issue consists of a fight scene interspersed with scenes of flying manta rays migrating. As with Cerebus, the letter columns and backup features in Puma Blues are often almost as interesting as the comics themselves.

I AM GROOT #5 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Forgotten Door, Part 5,” as above. Another terrible issue, in which Groot fights Shuma-Gorath, but the reader doesn’t care who wins. It’s no wonder this was Marvel’s last Groot comic to date.

SUPERMAN #42 (DC, 1990) – “The Day of the Krypton Man Part IV,” [W/A] Jerry Ordway. As mentioned above, I think this era of Superman is significantly underrated. In this storyline, Superman has lost his normal personality and become a complete jerk, possibly due to an encounter with the Eradicator. This issue he fights Draaga and his sidekick K’raamdyn, based on Ralph Kramden from The Honeymooners. There are also some subplots about Jose Delgado, Emil Hamilton and Cat Grant.

UNCLE SCROOGE #282 (Gladstone, 1993) – “The Trouble with Dimes,” [W/A] Carl Barks. In this issue’s Barks ten-pager, Donald discovers a rare dime, so he buys it from Scrooge for a dollar, then  sells it for five. Then he discovers that Scrooge has more of those dimes, so he buys five more of them, then sells them for 25 dollars, and so on. Unfortunately, by continuing to do this, Donald increases the supply of the dimes until they’re worthless. Meanwhile, the nephews discover an even rarer dime… This story is hilarious, and is also a good lesson in basic economics. The other stories in the issue are forgettable. The letter column includes a somewhat tone-deaf defense of Barks’s racist depictions of natives in “The Secret of Hondorica.”

GROO & RUFFERTO #3 (Dark Horse, 1999) – untitled, [W/A] Sergio Aragonés, [W] Mark Evanier. Groo is angry that someone has stolen Rufferto, so he vows not to let anyone cross a certain bridge until he gets Rufferto back. This has unexpected positive effects. On one side of the bridge is the castle of a tyrannical king who taxes his people into starvation. The king’s people are trapped on the other side, and since the king’s tax collectors can’t reach them, they set up a self-sufficient, prosperous society of their own. (When I summarize it like this, the story sounds like something by Ayn Rand, but I think it’s a critique of predatory taxation, not taxation as such.) Meanwhile, Rufferto is stuck in the 20th century somehow. This is a hilarious issue that reminds me why I love Groo.

YOUNG LUST #7 (Last Gasp, 1990) – multiple stories, [E] Jay Kinney & Susie Bright. This is much better produced and more professional-looking than most underground comics, although considering when it was published, it’s more of an alternative than an underground comic. All its stories have some sort of romantic etheme. Young Lust #7 has a spectacular lineup of creators: Dan Clowes, Bill Griffith, Michael McMillen, Diane Noomin, Spain (two stories), Phoebe Gloeckner, Harry S. Robins, Justin Green, and Jennifer Camper, among others. Perhaps the most memorable story is Griffith’s surrealist “Hot Tears for Tamara,” where the hero falls in love with a woman who turns out to be Tammy Faye Bakker. Harry Robins’s “Grace” has phenomenal artwork and is written in verse that scans perfectly. Robins could have been a major artist if he’d done more comics. I even like the issue’s first story, Jay Kinney and Paul Mavrides’s “Guilt-Edged Bonds,” in which Bettie Page falls in love with Kim Il-Sung.

STORMWATCH #43 (Image, 1996) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Tom Raney. Jack Hawksmoor investigates a series of murders in Manhattan. It turns out the murderer is the illegitimate son of President Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, though this is not stated explicitly, only implied. The writing in this issue is really good, but Tom Raney’s art is not at the same level as Ellis’s story. Raney’s drawings look nice, but lack any substance.

INFINITY 8 #2.3 (Lion Forge, 2018) – “Back to the Führer Part 3,” [W] Lewis Trondheim, [A] Olivier Vatine. The protagonist manages to survive Hitler’s assault long enough for the ship to “reboot,” rewinding time to before Hitler’s invasion. This is an exciting conclusion to the storyline. I still haven’t had the energy to read any more Infinity 8, but I will get to volume 3 soon.

SUPERMAN #706 (DC, 2011) – “Breaking News: A Grounded Interlude,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Amilcar Pinna. “Grounded” was perhaps the worst Superman storyline ever published, but this issue is better than the rest of the storyline because it’s a fill-in. With Clark Kent out of town, Perry White is anguished that the Planet is losing readers to social media. And then a local blog announces plans to publish an article on the Daily Planet’s improper relationship with Superman. So Perry sends one of the Planet’s young reporters to infiltrate the blog and sabotage the planned article. Perry’s actions in this issue are ethically problematic, and the whole story shows uncritical nostalgia for traditional journalism as opposed to digital journalism. But at least “Breaking News” is well-written, and it shows Willow’s understanding of digital media and youth culture.

SUICIDE SQUAD #52 (DC, 1991) – “The Death and Life and Death and Life and Death and Life of Dr. Light,” [W] John Ostrander & Kim Yale, [A] Jim Fern. Perhaps the funniest issue of this series. Dr. Light mysteriously comes back to life, and tells Amanda Waller how this happens. It turns out that the two Dr. Lights, Arthur Light and Jacob Finlay, both died and went to hell. However, some demons decided to resurrect them, but in such a way as to ensure they’ll just die again. First, Arthur Light, the evil Dr. Light returns to life inside his coffin, and promptly suffocates. Then Jacob Finlay, the good Dr. Light, returns to life as a zombie. He saves a family (a parody of Bruce Wayne and his parents) from a robbery, but the robber’s victims think he’s a demon and stomp him to death. Finally, Arthur and Jacob both get resurrected in the same body, and they encounter the other Dr. Light, Kimiyo Hoshi. An Easter egg in this issue is that one of the graves in Arthur Light’s graveyard belongs to Stevie Ray Vaughan, who had just died.

BIRTHRIGHT #17 (Image, 2016) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bresson. Samael battles Enoch, the last of the five wizards. Meanwhile, Brennan tries to cure Mikey of the Nevermind that’s possessing him, but it doesn’t work. The issue ends with Brennan getting an awesome new suit of armor.

DAREDEVIL #125 (Marvel, 1975) – “Vengeance is the Copperhead!”, [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Bob Brown. The Copperhead in this issue is completely different from the Serpent Society member of the same name. He’s named after copper because he’s based on Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze, as well as the Shadow. The plotline in this issue is that Copperhead is the son of an author who created a pulp fiction hero named the Copperhead. But he thinks he’s the actual Copperhead, and he tries to collect royalties from a paperback publisher who’s been reprinting “his” adventures. This issue has problems with overwriting and boring artwork, but its pulp-fiction-based plot makes it more interesting than a typical issue of Marv Wolfman’s Daredevil.

BACCHUS #18 (Eddie Campbell, 1996) – “Banged Up Part 3: Visiting Privileges,” [W/A] Eddie Campbell. I’ve read both of this issue’s Bacchus stories already. One of them has the line “We didn’t even get a chance to discuss my pregnancy,” and the other one has the line about how Zeus “was off raping a maiden.” The third story in the issue, “Legless,” is new to me. It’s a retelling of the myth of Procrustes, and it includes some panels inked byJosé Muñoz, as well as other panels drawn (not written) by Alan Moore. There’s also an Alec story, “The Swop,” which I think was reprinted in the King Canute Crowd volume.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #106 (Marvel, 1984) – “…And an Ill Wind Shall Come!”, [W] Alan Rowlands, [A] Greg LaRocque. I had never heard of Alan Rowlands before, and I can’t find any biographical information about him. I wondered if he might be a different writer using a pseudonym, but I can’t find any evidence of that either, and he does seem to have some other credits for Marvel and other publishers. This issue, Luke and Danny are hired to protect a woman from her stalker boyfriend, who turns out to be David Cannon, a.k.a. Whirlwind. But when they track Cannon down to his home neighborhood, his neighbors take his side and protect him. This is a reasonably well-written issue, but it could have taken a less lukewarm stance on stalking and dating violence. This story could have featured any villain at all, but using Whirlwind was a clever choice, because he’s spent his entire career stalking the Wasp.

WARLORD #4 (DC, 1977) – “Duel of the Titans,” [W/A] Mike Grell. I haven’t read an issue of Warlord in several years. This issue, Travis Morgan besieges the city of Thera in order to save Tara, who’s been kidnapped by Deimos. Morgan defeats Deimos, and there’s a twist ending where we learn that Deimos’s powers are based on holograms. Warlord isn’t the best comic ever, but it’s an exciting piece of fantasy/SF, and I wouldn’t mind reading more of it.

New comics received on Wednesday, August 28:

LUMBERJANES #65 (Boom!, 2019) – “It’s a Myth-Tery,” [W] Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, [A] Kanesha C. Bryant. The Roanokes and Zodiacs go on a trip to watch a meteor shower. A giant meteorite lands, and the goddess Freya comes out of it. The Zodiac girls, especially Hes, play a big role in this issue. There’s a cute scene where Hes asks Mal for relationship advice, since Mal and Molly are the official camp couple. Kanesha Bryant’s art is good, but will take some getting used to; her facial expressions are kind of strange.

RUNAWAYS #24 (Marvel, 2019) – “But You Can’t Hide Part VI,” [W] Rainbow Rowell, [A] Andrés Genolet. Nico and Karolina put on superhero costumes and go on patrol, but they can’t find any civilians who need saving. Then they get in a fight with some actual villains and lose, but a new character, Doc Justice, shows up to help them. This is obviously going to lead into Doc Justice and the J-Team, which was announced as a new series but was soon identified as just the next Runaways story arc. This issue also advances some of the other plotlines. There’s a cute scene where Gert tries to feed Gib by “sacrificing” a cheeseburger to him.

POWER PACK: GROW UP #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Growing Pains,” [W] Louise Simonson, [A] June Brigman. This was one of the cutest, sweetest comics of the year. It felt just like an issue of the original Power Pack series. The plot of the first story is that Alex wants to have a birthday party with the incredibly perfect Alison, and is annoyed that his siblings come too. And then the party is interrupted when Kofi shows up, pursued by some Snarks.  The backup story, “The Gift,” with art by GuriHiru, may be even better. Katie was supposed to buy Alex a birthday present, but instead she used the money to buy herself a Lila Cheney doll. As a result Katie suffers an attack of guilt, but as a result of something that happened in the first story, she’s able to salvage both her conscience and her relationship with her oldest sibling. Overall, this issue is both a lovely gift to longtime readers, and a reminder that Weezie, June, and GuriHiru are really good at creating comics for kids.

PLANET OF THE NERDS #5 (Ahoy, 2019) – “Battle for the Planet of the Nerds,” [W] Paul Constant, [A] Alan Robinson. Alvin hires the three bullies to serve as spokesmen for his cryogenics technology. However, it turns out the technology doesn’t in fact work, and also Alvin is a Nazi. At Alvin’s press conference, the bullies reveal the truth. Mayhem ensues, and Alvin and Chad both get cryogenically frozen, with no way to thaw them. But Drew and Steve get a happy ending, and the series ends with Steve in bed with a man. There’s a funny backup story that shows how Alvin learned the bullies were alive. This was a really entertaining series, but unlike some of the other Ahoy comics, it leaves no room for a sequel.

MARVEL COMICS #1000 (Marvel, 2019) – many stories, [W] Al Ewing et al, [A] various. This comic is a tribute to Marvel’s 80th anniversary, and consists of 80 stories by different creative teams. It has possibly the greatest lineup of talent in Marvel’s history, though the best stories in the issue aren’t necessarily the ones by the best creators. Each page is based on a particular year in Marvel’s history; however, some pages have only a tenuous connection with the year they’re associated with, and some important events in Marvel history are ignored (for example, as Adrienne Resha pointed out, Kamala Khan doesn’t appear anywhere in the issue). It seems like the editor must have decided the lineup of creative teams and characters first, and that each story must have been assigned to a particular year only later. Because of the huge number of stories in the issue, it’s hard to choose a particular favorite, but some of the pages in this issue have gone viral – for example, “The End of the Day,” depicting what Iron Man and Dr. Doom did after Iron Man #150, or “The Last Word,” about a failed attempt to interview the Hulk. I was especially delighted that this issue includes Neil Gaiman’s first new Miracleman story since the ‘90s. Other highlights include Jeremy Whitley’s America story and Paul Hornschemeier’s parody of Little Nemo. Another really fun part of this issue was trying to identify each of the artists before looking at the credits. All of Al Ewing’s stories in this issue are linked together, and they show how the entire history of the Marvel Universe was influenced by a certain mysterious mask. These stories are a lead-in to an upcoming new Marvel title.