More late reviews

9-11-16

I now have five weeks of comic books waiting to be reviewed. Let’s see if I can do it all in one day. (LATER NOTE: I couldn’t)

New comics received on August 12:

ALL-NEW ALL-DIFFERENT AVENGERS ANNUAL #1 (Marvel, 2016) – various [W/A]. I was really excited about this because it’s a collection of Kamala Khan’s fan fiction stories, and I’m in the middle of writing an article about Kamala’s fan practices – in fact I was supposed to have submitted the article three days after this issue came out, but the deadline was extended. The lineup of talent on this issue is very impressive. I believe that the story by Zac Gorman and Jay Fosgitt is the first Marvel work by either of them, and I only know of one other Marvel comic by Faith Erin Hicks. But anyway, while I love the idea behind this issue, I’m not equally in love with the execution. The stories mostly seem to be parodies of different types of bad fanfic, and I can recognize some of the tropes being parodied, but not all of them. I need to read this comic again more carefully, though.

LUMBERJANES/GOTHAM ACADEMY #3 (Boom!/DC, 2016) – Chynna Clugston Flores [W], Rosemary Valero-O’Connell [A]. Definitely a case of the concept being better than the execution. The plot of this crossover is reasonably exciting and allows both teams to display their unique strengths. But this comic is missing the characterization that makes both of its parent series so great, and it also doesn’t have the brilliant dialogue of Lumberjanes. I wish this series had been written by Shannon Watters and Brendan Fletcher, instead of Chynna.

THE VISION #9 (Marvel, 2016) – Tom King [W], Gabriel Hernandez Walta [A]. This was already a very sad comic, but this issue was perhaps the saddest one yet. The Visions try to react to Vin’s death, but they don’t really understand how to feel or express emotions, and that makes it even sadder. It’s too bad that there are just three issues left, but this sort of heightened emotional state can only be sustained for so long.

ANOTHER CASTLE #4 (Oni, 2016) – Andrew Wheeler [W], Paulina Ganucheau [A]. This has been an excellent miniseries – or at least I thought it was a miniseries, though there’s no indication of this in the actual issue. This issue was fun, but also the least impressive yet, because it’s just setting things up for the conclusion. At Heroes Con, I met Paulina Ganucheau and she confirmed that the symbols on the sword are indeed based on the Konami Code, and that joke has been there since the first issue.

THE FLINTSTONES #2 (DC, 2016) – Mark Russell [W], Steve Pugh [A]. Another weird issue of the weirdest comic of the year. This story is a fairly witty satire of both religion and consumerism. It also explores the bizarre implications of a society where people use live animals as appliances. My favorite appliance in this issue is the octopus dishwasher, but there’s also the cobra garden hose, the rabbit neck pillow, etc. I was surprised to see Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm in this issue; based on their absence from the previous issue, I assumed they hadn’t been born yet.

SPACE BATTLE LUNCHTIME #4 (Oni, 2016) – Natalie Riess [W/A]. I still don’t have the second issue of this series. This issue, Peony finally makes friends with the one-eyed blue dude, but then the melon-headed guy sends her off to be eaten by cannibals. It’s another fun but not great issue.

WONDER WOMAN #4 (DC, 2016) – Greg Rucka [W], Nicola Scott [A]. In the second chapter of the Year One story, Diana wins the contest and is sent off to Man’s World, though unlike in other retellings of her origin, she thinks she’s never going to be able to return to Themyscira. This is a story I’ve read many times before, but this version of it is exciting and well-written, and Nicola Scott’s art is impressive.

HIP HOP FAMILY TREE #7 (Fantagraphics, 2016) – Ed Piskor [W/A]. This issue takes the story up to 1982. A lot of interesting things happen this issue, but I’ve forgotten most of them.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #131 (Marvel, 1970) – Stan Lee [W], Gene Colan [A]. Brilliant artwork and an okay story. A villain named The Hood, who turns out to be Baron Strucker, tries to defeat Cap by convincing him that Bucky has come back to life. Strucker does this by finding an amnesiac person who somehow looks and acts exactly like Bucky. In the following issue, it turns out that “Bucky” is a Life Model Decoy created by MODOK.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #2 (DC, 1989) – Keith Giffen [W/A], Tom Bierbaum & Mary Bierbaum [A]. Probably the most emotionally affecting thing about the v4 Legion was the sense of nostalgia it created for the Legion’s glory days. The best part of this issue is the series of gossip columns about Jo and Tinya’s wedding that appear on the first page. The actual comic part of this issue is not nearly as good; there are too many concurrent plotlines happening at once, and the story lacks any coherent direction.

INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #504 (Marvel, 2011) – Matt Fraction [W], Salvador Larroca [A]. In this Fear Itself crossover, Tony battles the Grey Gargoyle, who’s found one of the Serpent’s hammers. Meanwhile, Pepper Potts tries to hire Bethany Cabe as a security consultant for the latest incarnation of Stark Industries. I take this opportunity to point out that ever since the ‘90s, I’ve enjoyed Salvador Larroca’s art because of its realistic, convincing quality. It’s weird that he’s never been all that popular. In issue 19, … and I have no idea how that sentence was going to end.

New comics received on August 19:

LUMBERJANES #29 (Boom!, 2016) – Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh [W], Carey Pietsch [A]. The new storyline develops directly out of the previous one. The campers from the Zodiac Cabin, including Barney, have been turned to stone by a gorgon, and Diane/Artemis has come back to earth to hunt it. This issue doesn’t grab me as much as the beginning of the previous storyline did, but it’s still a lot of fun – although the best scene, where April wakes her friends up at an ungodly hour, was already included in a preview. Notable things we learn this issue are that Barney’s pronoun is “they,” Molly has some sort of unspecified family problems, and Ripley claims to be the youngest in her family – which contradicts issue 13, unless the baby in that issue was her nephew or niece or something. As a general comment, I notice that this series came out of its slump and returned to its previous level of quality as soon as Shannon Watters became the co-writer. I wonder how she and Kat Leyh are dividing up the writing chores.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #22 (Image, 2016) – Kieron Gillen [W], Jamie McKelvie [A]. An epic and brutally violent ending to the current story arc. Persephone’s faction of gods defeats Ananke’s faction. Ananke claims that her actions are justified because she’s trying to fight the “great darkness,” which was mentioned before but only in passing, and Ananke doesn’t explain what it is. And then Persephone kills her, which is a deeply questionable act, even though the reader (at least this reader) hated Ananke and is thrilled to see her go. I guess now we’ll find out what the great darkness is, but only after the special 1830s issue.

MANIFEST DESTINY #22 (Image, 2016) – Chris Dingess [W], Matthew Roberts [A]. “Sasquatch” continues. In the flashback sequence, it turns out that Maldonado was recruiting the captain and the major as servants of some sort of giant bird-demon. In the present-day sequence, the party decides to stop for winter. This was a pretty average issue.

THE BACKSTAGERS #1 (Boom!, 2016) – James Tynion [W], Rian Sygh [A]. I saw the preview of this in the back of another Boom Box comic, and I was impressed enough to order the first issue. The actual issue was aslo quite impressive. It’s a sort of absurdist comedy taking place at an all-boys high school, where the actors are the big men on campus. But instead of becoming an actor, the protagonist joins the backstage crew, who apparently are going to have all sorts of bizarre adventures because the backstage area is a gateway to some kind of alternate dimension. This series reminds me of Lumberjanes a bit, both because of the single-gender environment and the queer subtext, and Rian Sygh’s art is very appealing.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #7 (Marvel, 2016) – David Walker [W], Sanford Greene [A]. This was just an okay issue; I didn’t like it as much as the last one. It’s clearly the second issue of a three- or four-part story. The only clear reference to BLM in the issue is where Shadrick tells Tony that people like him don’t understand the criminal justice system because they can buy their way out.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #31 (IDW, 2016) – Tony Fleecs [W/A], Sara Richard [A]. The guest star this issue is Little Strongheart. “Over a Barrel” was one of the most problematic episodes of the entire series, and I won’t be sorry if we never see Little Strongheart or Chief Thunderhooves again, but this issue at least makes an effort to redeem these rather stereotypical characters. The best thing about this issue is Sara Richard’s painted artwork which depicts the story of the Rainbow Crow. I don’t know if this is an actual Native American myth, but at least it has a flavor of authenticity. I also like Little Strongheart’s explanation that her people aren’t primitive, they just like to keep her traditions alive.

KLAUS #7 (Boom!, 2016) – Grant Morrison [W], Dan Mora [A]. The conclusion to this series contains nothing surprising or unexpected. Magnus is killed by the demon he summoned, but Klaus kills the demon, saves the day, and marries Dagmar. But it’s still a satisfying conclusion even though it’s predictable. Overall this was a pretty good miniseries, and my favorite Grant Morrison work in a long time, even if it was a bit padded.

A-FORCE #8 (Marvel, 2016) – Kelly Thompson [W], Paulo Siqueira [A]. I think the best moment this issue is Nico’s conversation with Misty Knight, though that’s only one page. Otherwise, this issue suffers from being part of the Civil War II crossover, which can’t end soon enough for me. I wish Nico’s former Runaways teammates would appear in this series, or that she would at least mention them.

IRON FIST #8 (Marvel, 1976) – Chris Claremont [W], John Byrne [A]. This was okay, but I barely remember anything about it now. The plot has something to do with a villain named Chaka who’s trying to take over New York’s Asian crime scene.

THE THRILLING ADVENTURE HOUR PRESENTS SPARKS NEVADA, MARSHAL OF MARS #1 (Image, 2015) – Ben Acker & Ben Blacker [W], J. Bone [A]. I bought a few of these Thrilling Adventure Hour comics a couple years ago, when I was just starting to order comics from DCBS, because they looked interesting. But I didn’t know what these comics actually were, and I never read them. Later I learned that these comics were adaptations of a radio drama podcast. When I finally got around to reading Sparks Nevada #1, I was impressed. It’s a clever blend of the Western and SF genres; it’s set on a Mars that resembles the Wild West, and the protagonists are a (human) sheriff and a Martian who’s his voluntary indentured servant. This latter character is obviously based on offensive Native American stereotypes like Tonto, but he’s funny enough that I don’t mind. I need to go back and read the rest of this series and the companion series Beyond Belief.

SCOOBY-DOO TEAM-UP #16 (DC, 2016) – Sholly Fisch [W], Dario Brizuela [A]. The guest stars this issue are the Shazam Family. This is a somewhat formulaic Shazam story that hits all the old clichés (e.g. Mr. Mind, and Uncle Marvel and his shazam-bago). But despite or because of that, it’s a lot of fun; it’s more like a classic Captain Marvel comic than most contemporary Shazam comics are. Scooby-Doo Team-Up has become quite similar to the old Marvel Adventures line in that it presents kid-friendly but intelligently written superhero stories with a Silver Age flavor. If the issues I’ve read are any indication, it’s much more of a DC superhero comic than a Scooby-Doo comic.

DESCENDER #14 (Image, 2016) – Jeff Lemire [W], Dustin Nguyen [A]. I didn’t notice this until now, but each issue of the current storyline is the origin story of a different character. This issue is Bandit’s origin, or rather his history over the past ten years. It begins with Andy’s mother sacrificing herself to save her family, which is a heartbreaking scene, though I think we may have seen it already from a different perspective. The rest of Bandit’s memories are mostly wordless, and all the more poignant because of that; Bandit is a really effective animal character, kind of like his Jonny Quest namesake.

I HATE FAIRYLAND #8 (Image, 2016) – Skottie Young [W/A], Jeffrey “Chamba” Cruz [A]. The gimmick this issue is that Gert and her new sidekick Duncan are transported inside a fighting video game, and the in-game sequence is drawn by Chamba in a manga-esque style. Otherwise this is a rather formulaic issue.

New comics received on August 26:

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #11 (Marvel, 2016) – Ryan North [W], Jacob Chabot [A]. This self-contained issue is probably the best possible introduction to this series. It consists of a dream sequence in which Squirrel Girl defeats three villains – Dr. Doom, Count Nefaria and Nightmare – using her knowledge of computer science. In the process, she gives the reader a basic introduction to concepts like binary code and Boolean logic, and as usual with Ryan North, all the factual information in this comic is accurate. Jacob Chabot does a reasonable job of filling in for Erica Henderson.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #10 (Marvel, 2016) – Brandon Montclare & Amy Reeder [W], Natacha Bustos [A]. Kamala Khan’s guest appearance this issue seems like a gimmick, but I guess it’s a sign of progress that Marvel is using Kamala as a sales-magnet guest star, instead of Wolverine or Punisher. Kamala’s interaction with Lunella is unusual because Kamala rarely teams up with anyone younger than her, and I’m not used to Kamala being the older, more mature voice of reason. Reading this issue, I initially thought that Lunella’s behavior was sort of exaggerated and nonsensical, but then it hit me that this is actually realistic. Because of her age, Lunella is not good at expressing herself, she doesn’t always know how to react properly to stuff, and her emotions are exaggerated and histrionic. In other words, she acts like a third-grader. So Brandon and Amy are actually writing this character in a realistic way; I just wish I had realized this sooner.

SNOTGIRL #2 (Image, 2016) – Bryan Lee O’Malley [W], Leslie Hung [A]. This issue was confusing, and the recap on the inside front cover doesn’t really help. All I could remember from the first issue was that Snotgirl thinks she’s killed Coolgirl. It didn’t help that the semester has now started, and I teach every day except Friday, when I often have to go to campus to teach. So on Friday, when I get my comics, I’m often feeling barely conscious. Anyway, to the extent that I was able to understand this comic, I liked it reasonably well, but it’s not grabbing me as much as Scott Pilgrim or Seconds.

PATSY WALKER, A.K.A. HELLCAT #9 (Marvel, 2016) – Kate Leth [W], Brittney L. Williams [A]. I wonder how Brittney Williams manages to do two full issues a month. Her artwork is not ultra-detailed, but still, that’s a lot of work. As noted in the previous review, I was barely awake when I read this comic, so although I liked it, I don’t remember much about it, except for the scene with Jubilee and her son.

CHEW #57 (Image, 2016) – John Layman [W], Rob Guillory [A]. This issue explains the cause of the avian flu, though I don’t quite understand the explanation. It seems to have been a misguided attempt to prevent an invasion by the aliens who were responsible for the fire writing. At the end of the issue, Tony is told that he has to eat Amelia. My friend James Moore’s cats, Wallace Wells and Marceline, appear on the letters page.

ATOMIC ROBO AND THE TEMPLE OF OD #1 (IDW, 2016) – Brian Clevinger [W], Scott Wegener [A]. There is an odd (Od?) story behind this one. I didn’t recall having received this comic from DCBS. When I visited Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find (see below), I almost bought it again, thinking I must have forgotten to order it, until I checked my e-mail and confirmed that I had indeed ordered it. Then I was like, wait, if I ordered it, why didn’t I receive it yet? And I checked again and found that it was supposed to have been delivered in my August 26 shipment, so then I thought I must have received it but misplaced it by accident. And then today I looked in my pile of comics waiting to be reviewed, and there it was. It turned out that not only did I receive Atomic Robo and the Temple of Od #1, I read it the same day. I guess it wasn’t a very memorable comic. Now that I look at it again, the only thing I really remember is Robo’s reunion with Helen, Jack Tarot’s daughter from Deadly Art of Silence.

THE ISLAND #7 (Image, 2016) – various [W/A]. As of August 26, I was four issues behind on this comic, so I decided it was time to get caught up. The best part of this issue is the introductory art section by Kim Kirsch. These pages are in comics format, but they don’t tell a coherent or intelligible story, they just depict some scenes of life on an alien world. They create a convincing sense of a strange but believable world, and Kim Kirsch’s art is quite appealing, kind of like Brandon Graham’s own artwork. I wasn’t impressed by Johnnie Christmas’s “Firebug”; it was a formulaic piece of fantasy about a volcano goddess and her descendant. The text pages by Robin Bougie are well-written but annoying, in that I don’t buy comics in order to read text pages – if I wanted to do that, I’d read a book. This issue also includes part three of the ongoing story by Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward.

INCREDIBLE HULK AND WOLVERINE #1 (Marvel, 1986) – Len Wein [W], Herb Trimpe [A]. This is a reprint of Incredible Hulk #180 and #181, two issues I may never be able to own in their original form. If Wolverine hadn’t become a breakout character, these issues would be remembered as just two average issues from a pretty good run of Hulk comics. Wolverine’s distinctive personality was already present in his first appearance, although Len hadn’t yet decided that his claws were part of his hands rather than his gloves. This issue also includes an essay by Peter Sanderson, which I only skimmed, and a reprint of a story from Marvel Treasury Edition #26 in which Wolverine and Hercules get into a bar fight. This is a rare example of a story inked but not pencilled by George Pérez.

DENNIS THE MENACE #105 (Fawcett, 1969) – uncredited (according to Rodrigo Baeza, Mark Arnold is writing a book that will provide credits for all the Fawcett Dennis comics). In the first story this issue, Dennis and his dad go to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. In the backup story, Dennis uses a false beard to trick a bunch of people into not recognizing him. These stories are both very fun, but this issue also includes a feature called “Bungle Island” by Ed Nofziger, which is just shockingly incompetent.

HERO CATS OF STELLAR CITY #12 (Action Lab, 2016) – Kyle Puttkammer [W], Omaka Schultz [A]. For the third time in as many issues, the Hero Cats participate in a story from a different genre. This issue, the Hero Cats become involved in a Japanese martial arts story with ninjas. This story is kind of annoying because of its reliance on Orientalist cliches, though Puttkammer does at least make token efforts toward cultural sensitivity.

CHEW: DEMON CHICKEN POYO #1 (Image, 2016) – John Layman [W], Rob Guillory [A]. This is the last of three one-shot issues starring Poyo. It’s funny, but at this point I’ve had enough of Poyo; I feel like he’s a joke that’s run his course. Though it’s hypocritical of me to say that, given that I still read Groo.

IRON MAN #127 (Marvel, 1979) – David Michelinie [W], John Romita Jr [A], Bob Layton [W/A]. “A Man’s Home is His Battlefield!” is one of my favorite issues of Iron Man. I read it long ago in the Power of Iron Man TPB, and I bought the original issue some years ago, but never got around to rereading it until now. This issue is the epic conclusion to the first part of Michelinie, Layton and JR Jr’s classic run. Tony finally defeats Justin Hammer, who tried to destroy him by remote-controlling his armor. But Hammer already did so much damage to Tony’s reputation that even when Tony beats him, it’s only a partial victory. What makes this issue truly unforgettable is the conclusion. To forget about the gradual ruin of his life, Tony drinks himself into a stupor. As a result, he accidentally stands up Bethany Cabe and provokes Jarvis into quitting. The panel where Jarvis walks into the computer room and sees Tony with a prostitute on his arm is permanently etched in my memory. A funny historical note is that on the next page, Jarvis’s resignation letter is actually Dave Cockrum’s real resignation letter from Marvel. According to Bob Layton, this letter was inserted into the issue as a prank by some unidentified person in the production department. Anyway, all of this sets up the greatest Iron Man story ever, “Demon in a Bottle.” I used to have that issue, but I gave it away after I got the trade paperback; I need to buy it again.

AVENGERS #116 (Marvel, 1973) – Steve Englehart [W], Bob Brown [A]. This is a chapter of the Avengers-Defenders War, which, again, I’ve already read in TPB form. I guess this series is something of a classic, but it’s really not that great, not compared to some of Englehart’s other Avengers stories. It’s a rather generic and formulaic superhero story, a Marvel version of a JLA/JSA team-up, and it’s mostly important for being one of the earliest Marvel crossovers.

ISLAND #8 (Image, 2016) – various [W/A]. A very impressive issue. The introductory art pages by Xulia Vicente are quite good; I liked the revelation that the floating piece of rock was the body of some kind of dragon. The first long story this issue is by Michael DeForge, who is easily the highest-profile creator to have appeared in Island, and his involvement with this series ought to elevate its reputation. His story, “Mostly Saturn,” is typical of his work in that it’s a bizarre narrative delivered in a deadpan style. Next are some breathtaking art pages by Ben Sears. I’m pretty sure I’ve met him at Heroes Con, but this is the first time I’ve read his work, and I need to read more of it. The issue ends with the final chapter of Simon Roy’s “Habitat.” I still don’t understand everything that’s going on in this story, but it’s a fascinating and weird piece of science fiction. Overall, this issue shows the heights that Island is capable of reaching.

GREEN LANTERN #121 (DC, 1979) – Denny O’Neil [W], Don Heck [A]. A boring story with boring artwork, in which Hal and Ollie battle a boring villain called El Espectro. The notable event this issue is that Kari Limbo proposes marriage to Hal. I believe their wedding was the next issue, only it was called off because Kari learned that Guy Gardner was still alive.

THUNDERBOLTS #13 (Marvel, 1998) – Kurt Busiek [W], Mark Bagley [A]. After their epic confrontation with the Avengers, the Thunderbolts are transported to the planet of Kosmos, which was introduced in Tales to Astonish #44, and was visited by Goliath in Avengers West Coast #92 and Avengers #379-382. Kurt Busiek must be the only person in the world who read either of the latter two stories. His encyclopedic knowledge of even the least significant Marvel stories is amazing. Other than that, this is a well-written comic, but I’ve never really been able to get into Thunderbolts. The characters are all quite complex and deep, but I don’t find any of them particularly appealing, except maybe Jolt.

Reviews for late July and early August

8-25-16

I’m resuming these reviews after a long hiatus. I read so many comic books on the week of August 5 that I didn’t have the energy to review them all, and so they kept piling up. Also, because of the way my apartment is set up, the area where I usually sit to write my reviews was so dark that I couldn’t see the comics I was reviewing. I just bought a new floor lamp, which solves that problem. So here we go, starting with new comics received on August 5.

PAPER GIRLS #8 (Image, 2016) – Brian K. Vaughan [W], Cliff Chiang [A]. Another strong issue. After three weeks, I’ve forgotten most of what happened in this issue, but the image of the hockey stick floating in the air above the mall fountain has stuck with me. And the twist ending, where the hockey stick turns out to say DON’T TRUST OTHER ERIN, is quite a shock.

JUGHEAD #8 (Archie, 2016) – Chip Zdarsky [W], Derek Charm [A]. This is one of two recent comic books with a cliffhanger involving a bear attack, the other being Jem and the Holograms #17. It’s also a strong conclusion to the two-part story about camping. I like that Mr. Weatherbee is not willing to forgive the man who bullied him as a child, and that he refuses to romanticize his unhappy history with Ted Mantle. As a minor point, I also like how in the flashback, everyone is wearing ‘70s clothing. And I love that the camp formerly known as Camp Lucey is now Camp Bolling. At the Archie panel at Heroes Con, I asked the panelists if they had any interest in using the continuity that Bob Bolling introduced, and I think they misunderstood the question and talked about continuity instead of Bolling. So I’m glad to see that Chip is indeed aware of Bolling’s work.

GIANT DAYS #17 (Boom!, 2016) – John Allison [W], Max Sarin [A]. This is the one where Daisy goes on an archaeological dig, and meanwhile Esther and Susan participate in a natural language processing project that turns out to be a plagiarism operation. As a college writing teacher, I think the plagiarism racket is eerily plausible.

BOUNTY #2 (Dark Horse, 2016) – Kurtis Wiebe [W], Mindy Lee [A]. This is an okay comic but it’s no substitute for Rat Queens. I love the cover, but the kitten is much more prominent on the cover than in the actual comic.

ACTION LAB: DOG OF WONDER #3 (Action Lab, 2016) – Vito Delsante [W], Scott Fogg [A]. Like Hero Cats, this comic is lighthearted and fun if not exactly groundbreaking. I think it’s about the same level of quality as Hero Cats, with perhaps slightly better artwork. The conclusion to the first storyline is predictable but fun, and I look forward to the additional stories previewed on the last page.

LADY KILLER 2 #1 (Dark Horse, 2016) – Joëlle Jones [W/A]. The original Lady Killer was a fun combination of an adventure comic and a satire of ‘60s sexism, and this sequel, which is now written as well as drawn by Joëlle Jones, continues in the same vein. Joëlle Jones does an excellent job of capturing the look of ‘60s America, and Josie’s husband’s new boss is a truly vile character.

VOTE LOKI #3 (Marvel, 2016) – Christopher Hastings [W], Langdon Foss [A]. This is just an average comic. I’m not sorry that there’s only one more issue to go. I suppose Marvel can’t be too overtly political, but I think they could have gotten away with drawing stronger parallels between Loki and Trump.

SUICIDE SQUAD #29 (DC, 1989) – John Ostrander & Kim Yale [W], John K. Snyder III & Pablo Marcos [A]. This issue is part eight of a crossover with three other much lower-quality titles (Checkmate, Firestorm and Manhunter), so it doesn’t make much sense on its own, even compared to other issues of Suicide Squad. At least it does have Amanda Waller and the other Suicide Squad characters in it, but nothing about it stands out in my memory.

MARVEL UNIVERSE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #9 (Marvel, 2016) – Steve Melching [W], Joe Caramagna [A], sort of. I bought this comic because it has Rocket Raccoon’s family in it. I shouldn’t have bothered. First of all, this is not an original story but an adaptation of an episode of the GOTG TV show. As a result, the artwork looks really weird – the characters look like two-dimensional cutouts on top of a three-dimensional background. And the story suffers from having been compressed from a 22-minute TV episode into a 22-page comic book. Not that the story was particularly good to begin with; it’s a very average piece of children’s entertainment. I regret buying this comic.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #42 (DC, 1966) – Gardner Fox [W], Mike Sekowsky [A]. I’m not sure if “Metamorpho Says No!” is a classic, but it’s certainly a memorable story. Metamorpho’s reason for joining the Justice League is both plausible and sad. Unlike the other JLAers, he views his powers as a curse, and does not want to be obligated to remain a superhero if he has a chance to give up his powers. As I write this, I realize that Metamorpho had more in common with Marvel superheroes like the Thing and the Hulk, who also saw their powers as curses, than with most DC heroes. Also, the villain in this story, The Unimaginable, is really cool. He’s a creature that can’t be seen or even conceptualized by human beings, and some of the panels in which he “appears” are so abstract that they almost remind me of Alex Toth art. I’m surprised that he didn’t become a recurring character – he seems like an ideal villain for a Grant Morrison story.

DENNIS THE MENACE #163 (Fawcett, 1979) – unknown [W/A]. I’ve heard that the Dennis the Menace comic books were a big influence on the Hernandez brothers, and that they’re sometimes considered superior to Hank Ketcham’s original comic strips. The classic creative team on this series was Fred Toole and Al Wiseman, but I have no idea whether they were still working on it at this late date. In this particular issue, Dennis and his parents visit the U.S. Space and Rocket Center at Huntsville, Alabama. The staff of this museum appear to have collaborated with the creators of this issue, and the issue includes all sorts of interesting information about NASA and the space program. It doesn’t have much of a story, but it’s very cute and charming, and also kind of nostalgic because of the optimistic attitude toward the space program that it reflects. At the end of the issue, Dennis learns about the then-new Space Shuttle program. In 1979, the Challenger disaster was still seven years in the future. Anyway, I liked this comic and I want to build a collection of these Dennis comics.

WEIRD WESTERN TALES #40 (DC, 1977) – Michael Fleisher [W], Dick Ayers [A]. This is the first appearance of Scalphunter. It’s written in Fleisher’s distinctive style, and is full of hilarious dialogue and enjoyable mayhem. However, when I read it, I was annoyed by its negative portrayal of Native Americans. Scalphunter’s native Kiowa people are portrayed as ignorant savages with few positive qualities.

ATOMIC ROBO: KNIGHTS OF THE GOLDEN CIRCLE #4 (Red 5, 2014) – Brian Clevinger [W], Scott Wegener [A]. Another Western comic, but a very different one. It’s reasonably fun, though because this is issue four, it’s hard to tell what exactly is going on. I vaguely recall issue one of this series, and its plot seems to have little to do with that of issue four.

HIP HOP FAMILY TREE #4 (Fantagraphics, 2015) – Ed Piskor [W/A]. This issue completes the reprinting of material from the first treasury-sized volume. Unfortunately it’s also the last issue that contains Piskor’s annotations. In the notes to page 11 of this issue, Piskor points out that his version of Rick Rubin is based on Buddy Bradley, which inspired me to go and read some back issues of Hate.

ARCHIE GIANT SERIES #583 (Archie, 1988) – Bob Bolling [W/A]. This includes three new Bob Bolling stories. The first and longest of them reintroduces Mad Dr. Doom and his hippie sidekick Chester. I hope Chip Zdarsky is familiar with these characters because I’d love to see him bring them back. The second, and perhaps the best, is about Archie and Jughead’s attempt to catch the Perilous Pike of Logger’s Pond. Bob Bolling was what Craig Thompson calls a great nature cartoonist; his stories in which Archie explores the hinterland of Riverdale were some of his best work. In the last story, Archie saves a lost dog from the pound by spending money he was saving for a baseball glove.

MS. TREE #14 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1984) – Max Allan Collins [W], Terry Beatty [A]. I’ve already read the later chapters of “Skin Deep,” but not the first chapter, which appears in this issue. In “Skin Deep,” a national beauty pageant winner hires Ms. Tree to retrieve some photographs of her which are about to be published in a porn magazine. This is obviously based on the then-recent scandal where Vanessa Williams resigned as Miss America because Penthouse was about to publish nude photos of her. In fact, now that I read about that scandal on Wikipedia, I realize just how closely “Skin Deep” was based on it, although the fictional version of this scandal had a happier ending than the real one.

HATE #4 (Fantagraphics, 1991) – Peter Bagge [W/A]. I’ve had this comic for a long time, but I never bothered to read it because it contains material I’ve already read in reprinted form. However, I read “Buddy Bradley is Not His Brother’s Keeper” such a long time ago that rereading it was almost like reading it for the first time. In this story, Buddy’s awful younger brother Butch moves in with him unannounced and causes all kinds of havoc. Peter Bagge really was the funniest cartoonist of his generation; I need to seek out whichever of his comics I haven’t already read.

THE BATMAN ADVENTURES: THE LOST YEARS #1 (DC, 1998) – Hillary Bader [W], Bo Hampton [A]. I don’t know why this is called The Lost Years – I assume it fills in a gap between seasons of the TV show. This is a pretty good comic, though not quite as good as the previous Batman Adventures series. Although I’m a lifelong Dick-Kory shipper, I have to admit that this issue’s depiction of Dick and Babs’s relationship is cute. Batman’s patronizing attitude toward Babs is annoying, though at least he reveals his secret identity to her at the end of the issue.

On August 7, I went to the thrice-yearly Charlotte Comicon, which is actually in Concord. I had somewhat low expectations for this convention because I’ve been in a bit of a collecting slump lately; I’ve had trouble finding stuff that I really want and that’s within my price range. But it turned out that this convention was seriously impressive. The highlight was the Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find booth, which had a huge selection of Bronze Age and even Silver Age comics for 50 cents each! There were also other dealers that had interesting stuff. Overall I was very satisfied with my experience; it reminded me of the one-day comic conventions I used to go to in Atlanta. I look forward to attending the next one of these shows, which is in December. Of the comics I bought at this show, the first one I read was:

TALES OF SUSPENSE #84 (Marvel, 1966) – Stan Lee [W], Gene Colan and Jack Kirby [A]. This comic is not in great condition but is still complete and readable – unlike the Amazing Spider-Man #107 I got at the convention, which turned out to be missing its centerfold. In the Iron Man story, Tony finally has his hearing with Senator Byrd, but as soon as he gets on the stand, he suffers a heart attack. Happy Hogan then has to protect Tony’s secret identity by putting on the Iron Man suit. This plot device – a superhero getting someone else to wear his costume in order to protect his secret identity – was very common in Silver Age DC comics, but I can’t think of any other Silver Age Marvel comic that used it. In the backup story, Captain America battles the Super-Adaptoid, who is a really awesome-looking character, even though he’s basically just Cap with Hawkeye’s mask and the Wasp’s wings. Overall, this was a fun comic, and ToS is one of my favorite Silver Age Marvel titles.

THE UNTOLD LEGEND OF THE BATMAN #1 (DC, 1980) – Len Wein [W], John Byrne [A]. This is one of the first comic books I ever read. I read it at a childhood friend’s house – I can’t even remember whose house. I believe the version I read was much smaller than a normal comic book. Looking at Wikipedia, I see that this comic was indeed reprinted in a 9’’ x 6’’ format as a breakfast cereal premium. That was in 1989, when I was six years old, so I may have read it very shortly after that. But I never owned my own copy, and it’s been a long long time since I read it, so I’m surprised at how many details of it I still remember. It seems as though the earlier I read a comic book, the more of an impact it had on me.

This issue is a retelling of Batman’s origin, based heavily on “The First Batman” from Detective Comics #235. It has a gloomy and mysterious tone that I still remember from when I first read it. Len Wein introduces or reintroduces a number of details that were rarely if ever mentioned again, including the notion that Bruce Wayne’s housekeeper, Mrs. Chilton, was Joe Chill’s mother. I don’t know if this character ever appeared anywhere else. In general, as a Batman origin story, Untold Legend is clearly not at the same level as Batman: Year One. But it’s not bad at all, and rereading it was a fun trip down memory lane.

AVENGERS #48 (Marvel, 1968) – Roy Thomas [W], George Tuska [A]. I paid $6 for this, easily the most I paid for a comic at the convention. In this issue, Dane Whitman, who first appeared in #47, makes his debut as the Black Knight, and promptly gets in a fight with the Avengers because of mistaken identity. Meanwhile, Quicksilver and Wanda try to escape from Magneto. This is not Roy’s best Avengers story and it suffers from boring George Tuska art, but it’s a fun issue of perhaps my favorite classic Marvel title.

IRON LANTERN #1 (Amalgam, 1997) – Kurt Busiek [W], Paul Smith [A]. Unlike Doctor Strangefate, reviewed above, this comic takes full advantage of the Amalagm premise. Kurt is the perfect writer for Amalgam comics because of his encyclopedic knowledge of both Marvel and DC continuity. Half the fun of this comic is identifying the sometimes quite obscure characters who each Amalgamized character is based on – for example, Senator Ferris is Carl Ferris crossed with Senator Byrd. Paul Smith’s art is serviceable, though not his best, and this issue also includes a funny fake letter column.

DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES #11 (Gladstone, 1989) – Carl Barks [W/A]. This issue reprints “Adventure Down Under.” In this story, Donald is hypnotized into thinking he’s a kangaroo, so he buys tickets to Australia for himself and the nephews, and hijinks ensue. In general this is a fun Barks story, but it has a major flaw, in that it includes some highly stereotypical depictions of Aboriginal Australians. Barks depicts the Aboriginal people in the story as savage cannibals, and shows little interest in or sensitivity to their culture. Unfortunately this was a common problem in his work, though some of his stories, like “Land of Totem Poles,” do depict indigenous people in a more positive way.

DAREDEVIL #50 (Marvel, 1969) – Stan Lee [W], Barry Windsor-Smith [A]. This issue is mostly notable for the early BWS artwork, but at this point he was still mostly imitating Kirby and had yet to develop his familiar style. The story, involving Starr Saxon/Machinehead/Mr. Fear II, is rather forgettable. According to the Wikipedia page on Machinesmith, BWS intended for this character to be gay, but this is impossible to guess from the artwork.

HATE #3 (Fantagraphics, 1990) – Peter Bagge [W/A]. This is the other old issue of Hate that I’ve had for years. The first story is about Buddy’s mysterious roommate George, the backup story is about Buddy’s dysfunctional relationship with Valerie. It’s some very funny stuff, though I’ve read this story before.

THOR #200 (Marvel, 1972) – Stan Lee [W], John Buscema [A]. “Beware If This Be Ragnarok” is described as a classic in Mark Gruenwald’s essay in the back of Thor #294, which was one of the first old Thor comics I read and which made a strong impression on me. Now that I’ve finally read Thor #200, I’m not sure it’s a classic, but it’s certainly a strange and unique story. It retells the Ragnarok myth, closely following the version in the Eddas. What makes it a classic is the epic grandeur of Stan’s writing and Big John’s art. This story is weird, though, in that it’s an anniversary issue but it feels like a fill-in. Besides a short framing sequence, it’s unrelated to the then-ongoing storyline, which was written by Gerry Conway instead of Stan. And apparently it’s a retelling of earlier Tales of Asgard material. I would be curious to know how this story came to be published in this issue.

DOCTOR STRANGE #10 (Marvel, 2016) – Jason Aaron [W], Chris Bachalo [A]. This is an okay conclusion to Last Days of Magic, but at this point I’ve long since grown tired of this storyline and I just want to move on to something else.

SUICIDE SQUAD #35 (DC, 1989) – John Ostrander [W], Luke McDonnell & Geof Isherwood [A]. This is a fun one. The Squad go to Apokolips, I forget why, and fight an epic battle with the Female Furies and other Apokoliptians. Ostrander effectively contrasts the gritty realism of the Suicide Squad characters with the over-the-top histrionics of the New Gods, and conveys the sense that the Suicide Squad are out of their depth. He also does a good job of reproducing the unique personalities of each of the Kirby characters.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #171 (Marvel, 1977) – Len Wein [W], Ross Andru [A]. A disappointing effort from an underrated Spider-Man creative team that I really like. This issue is a crossover in which Spidey and Nova attempt to discover the true identity of a new villain named Photon. The answer is obvious from the first page: the person Photon murdered is pointing to the calendar pages for July, August, September, October, November and December, and one of the suspects is named Jason Dean. There is very little of the characterization and soap opera that I look for in a Spider-Man comic, besides one brief scene with Harry Osborn and Liz Allan.

HIP HOP FAMILY TREE #5 (Fantagraphics, 2015) – Ed Piskor [W/A]. This issue unfortunately has no annotations, but at least it contains material I haven’t already read. And I think I prefer reading Hip Hop Family Tree in this format rather than in the treasury-sized volumes. As I have said before (though not necessarily in this forum), I just prefer comic books because they take less time to read and are more materially rich. The theme of this issue is the interaction between the hip hop and punk subcultures, although a lot of other stuff happens in this issue too.

UNCANNY X-MEN #113 (Marvel, 1978) – Chris Claremont [W], John Byrne [A]. This was in the aforementioned 50-cent box, making it possibly the cheapest Claremont-Byrne X-Men issue that I’ve ever found. “Showdown!” is the conclusion of the Magneto three-parter, and is most memorable, at least to me, for the scene where Ororo picks a lock with her mouth. It also includes some fantastic action sequences, and it ends with Hank and Jean thinking the rest of the team is dead and vice versa, which sets up the next year’s worth of stories.

SCOOBY-DOO TEAM-UP #15 (DC, 2016) – Sholly Fisch [W], Dario Brizuela [A]. This issue, the Scooby Gang team up with the Flash to investigate a ghost in Gorilla City. Surprisingly, the ghost is not Grodd, although Grodd does make an appearance. This comic is a lot of fun. The best part is the running joke where gorillas can’t tell humans apart, but besides that, it’s just a funny and well-crafted adventure story, comparable to the old Marvel Adventures line.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #175 (Marvel, 1977) – Len Wein [W], Ross Andru [A]. This is better than #171, but still a bit disappointing. It’s one of the earlier appearances of the Punisher, a character I utterly detest. As a result, the main plot of this issue is less interesting than it could have been, although the plot does involve JJJ, Marla Madison and Robbie, and there’s one cool scene at the Statue of Liberty. The one major subplot this issue is that Bart Hamilton beats up Harry Osborn and claims the mantle of the Green Goblin.

MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER #12 (Gold Key, 1965) – Russ Manning [W/A] with Don Christensen [W] and Mike Royer [A]. At the convention, I was thrilled to find two issues of Magnus that I didn’t already have, although both of them contain stories that I’ve already read, because they were reprinted in later issues of the series. Magnus is perhaps my favorite ‘60s comic not published by Marvel or DC. I think Russ Manning is an absolute master, with his brilliant action sequences, his cute faces, and his slick, futuristic robots. “The Volcano Makers” is a typical Magnus story. A mad scientist starts a series of volcanic eruptions, but after he repents of his actions, his robots try to finish the job he started and destroy the human race. Of course Magnus stops them. At one point Leeja saves Magnus’s life, which is unusual because she tends to be a passive damsel-in-distress.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #146 (Marvel, 1972) – Gary Friedrich [W], Sal Buscema [A]. This is a pretty fun issue, despite the unexciting creative team. I don’t remember much about it now, though. It has a confusing plot which involves Sharon Carter, Hydra, the Femme Force (a group of female SHIELD agents), and a barely disguised parody of Howard Hughes. The Femme Force was a cool idea that was never mentioned again after this storyline.

AUTUMNLANDS #12 (Image, 2016) – Kurt Busiek [W], Benjamin Dewey [A]. I’ve been rather unimpressed by this series lately, but this issue is a slight improvement. The origin of the Galatea creatures is rather sad, and also gives us some insight into how the world of this series got to be the way it is.

MS. MARVEL #2 (Marvel, 1977) – Gerry Conway [W], John Buscema [A]. This is the earliest issue of this series that I have. Too bad it’s from before Claremont took over. It’s still a fairly progressive comic book for its era; it includes one conversation between Carol and Mary Jane Watson that easily passes the Bechdel Test.

GREEN LANTERN #38 (DC, 1965) – Gardner Fox [W], Gil Kane [A]. A fairly typical Silver Age Green Lantern comic. The villain in the first story is an “atomic changeling” that reminds me a bit of Mutant X/Proteus. There’s a clever visual trick where every time the changeling transforms, we see a little mushroom cloud, whose significance does not become clear until later. The backup story is the first appearance of Goldface, though he’s not called that yet.

YOUNG JUSTICE #47 (DC, 2002) – Peter David [W], Todd Nauck [A]. In the first half of the issue, all the female protagonists have a slumber party. This sort of thing is what made Young Justice great – it had a large cast of realistically depicted female characters who interacted with each other in interesting ways. I can’t remember all the funny and cute moments in this scene, but there are a lot of them. Oh, right, one that sticks out to me is Traya being traumatized by her first viewing of Old Yeller. The rest of the issue sets up the Fighting MAAD storyline in which the YJers invade Zandia to avenge the murder of Empress’s mother.

SENSATION COMICS FEATURING WONDER WOMAN #15 (DC, 2015) – Adam Beechen [W], José Luis García López [A] on first story; Carla Speed McNeil [W/A] on backup story. I hated the main story in this issue; even JLGL’s artwork couldn’t save Beechen’s fundamentally flawed premise. The Cheetah escapes from pretrial detention and kills a bunch of people, and Wonder Woman takes her back into custody instead of killing her, despite knowing that she’s going to kill again. This is a plot that I’ve seen many times before, usually with Batman and the Joker. It’s a tired old cliché and Adam Beechen fails to add anything new to it. Moreover, this plot is not realistic. Or rather, this trope is “realistic” in the sense of “unnecessarily grim and gritty” rather than “plausible.” To quote what I said on Facebook: “One of the rules of superhero comics is that Batman (for example) can never kill the Joker, even though the Joker is inevitably going to escape and kill more people. This is fine as a dramatic conceit, but I don’t think it would work this way in real life. If there was a person who was committing mass murder and who couldn’t be stopped without killing him, I think we would just execute him. We wouldn’t just allow the Joker to kill people rather than violate his rights.” (Though I did also add: “On the other hand, that’s exactly what we’re doing right now with gun owners, so who knows.”) The other problem is that Wonder Woman, in particular, should be willing to kill someone when rehabilitation is impossible, like when she killed Deimos in #5 of the Pérez series.

Carla Speed McNeil’s backup story is much better, despite or because it’s less ambitious. Diana meets a man who adopted a lion cub, but wasn’t prepared to take care of it when it grew up, and sold it to an illegal zoo. Even though the man is clearly kind of an idiot, Diana takes care of his problem in a sensitive and creative way. Carla is really good at drawing lions, although I knew that already from reading “The King of the Cats.”

MARVEL PREMIERE #24 (Marvel, 1975) – Chris Claremont [W], Pat Broderick [A]. I didn’t know Pat Broderick’s career started this early. The most notable thing in this issue is a scene where Iron Fist participates in a softball game. His team is obviously based on the Marvel Bullpen softball team, though the only team member who I can identify is Claremont himself; all the others are drawn too indistinctly to be recognized. The plot this issue involves a royal visit by an Islamic princess. I wondered if this was based on the Iranian Shah and Shahbanu’s visit to America (which I know about because it was shown in Doonesbury), but that happened a couple years later.

HIP HOP FAMILY TREE #6 (Fantagraphics, 2016) – Ed Piskor [W/A]. This issue chronicles the making of Wild Style, the first hip hop film. While writing this review, I balanced this comic book on my chest and realized that it smells just like an old comic book.

DAREDEVIL #92 (Marvel, 1972) – Gerry Conway [W], Gene Colan [A]. This issue is from the Daredevil/Black Widow era, which was perhaps the high point of the series prior to Frank Miller. But this issue has just an average story, though the art is spectacular. Matt goes looking for a missing Natasha, and fights some boring villains named Damon Dran and the Blue Talon. Also, Matt protects his secret identity by having Black Panther wear his costume so that “Daredevil” and Matt Murdock can be seen in public together (see the review of Tales of Suspense #84 above).

MARVEL SPOTLIGHT #15 (Marvel, 1974) – Steve Gerber [W], Jim Mooney [A]. Steve Gerber’s Son of Satan is one of his few ‘70s works that I haven’t read. I can’t remember much about this issue now except that, like all Gerber comics, it’s really strange, and Jim Mooney’s art is much more outlandish and psychedelic than I expect from him. The story involves a Satanist coven on a college campus, which is probably something that really did exist back then. The story takes place in St. Louis, so I assume the university is Wash U. Oh, one minor point. In this story, there’s a busy city street directly under the Gateway Arch. I remember that when I visited the Gateway Arch, the area below it was a marshy wetland.

THE MAXX #2 (Image, 1993) – Sam Kieth [W/A], William Messner-Loebs [A]. This comic is seriously confusing and I’m not sure what it’s about, but it’s an intelligently written and well-drawn piece of work, unlike most other Image comics of this period. I never really got into Sam Kieth’s artwork, but he was much more interesting than many of his Image colleagues, although his panel structure is sometimes too ornate for its own good. I’ve always unconsciously imagined grues (from Zork) as looking something like the black Isz from this comic.

MANHUNTER #21 (DC, 2006) – Marc Andreyko [W], Javier Pina & Fernando Blanco [A]. This is not great, but it’s not bad either. Kate Spencer was one of DC’s better female protagonists from this time. For some reason, in this issue she has to defend Dr. Psycho. This issue includes one very implausible scene where Kate asks Dr. Mid-Nite if she has a fever, and he says no, and she says that now they have doctor-patient confidentiality. That doesn’t work in real life (and you also can’t establish an attorney-client relationship just by giving a lawyer a dollar, as depicted in shows like Breaking Bad).

NAUGHTY BITS #31 (Fantagraphics, 2000) – Roberta Gregory [W/A]. An excellent issue. First there’s a three-page story about Roberta’s cat, then a long Bitchy Bitch story in which lots of stuff happens. Bitchy breaks up with her boyfriend when she discovers child porn under his mattress, she finds a lump on her breast, and her awful coworker Marcie gets kidnapped by criminals, but unfortunately survives. There’s also a personal diary entry about Roberta’s breakup with her boyfriend. One panel in this issue that really stood out to me was Bitchy complaining that everything is geared toward rich people, and she’s worked her whole life with nothing to show for it. I certainly feel this way often.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #5 (Marvel, 2000) – Peter David [W], James Fry [A]. This issue has a clever premise in which Drax the Destroyer is kidnapped by Jarella’s people, who mistake him for the Hulk. Meanwhile, Moondragon tries to get Rick and Genis to go after her dad. I need to finish reading the Captain Marvels I already have, so I can buy more. Like many other Marvel comics from 1999 and 2000, this issue includes a chapter of an eight-page anti-drug story called “Fastlane.” I was strongly tempted to just tear these eight pages out of the comic, as I must have done with other comics that included these Fastlane inserts.

THE SPECTRE #8 (DC, 1993) – John Ostrander [W], Tom Mandrake [A]. This issue has a glow-in-the-dark cover, which really does glow in the dark, though faintly – I checked. In this issue, the Spectre tries to save Amy from a serial killer called the Reaver, since Amy is similar to the Reaver’s past victims. It’s a good example of Ostrander and Mandrake’s Spectre, and includes some very lurid and gruesome art.

SECRETS OF HAUNTED HOUSE #25 (DC, 1980) – various [W/A]. A very forgettable comic, whose only interesting feature is the Jun Lofamia artwork on the first story. I’m not familiar with this Filipino artist, but his style is similar to that of Nestor Redondo or E.R. Cruz. In the backup story, Destiny appears as a character as well as a horror host, and behaves in a way that’s wildly inconsistent with Neil Gaiman’s version of him.

And now I am FINALLY done with reviews for the week of the convention. Though I still have three or four more weeks’ worth of comics to review…

Late reviews for July

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I’m almost a month behind on these reviews. I just moved from Oxford, Ohio to Charlotte, North Carolina (thank God) and I’ve had limited time or energy to read comic books. I only just finished setting up my drawerboxes and arranging them into the proper order.

New comics received on Friday, July 8th. This was four days before the movers came and I was overwhelmed with packing and other preparations, so I didn’t get much reading done this week.

FUTURE QUEST #2 (DC, 2016) – Jeff Parker [W], Evan “Doc” Shaner, Ron Randall and Jonathan Case [A]. Another well-written, exciting and well-drawn comic. Less impressive than last issue only because it’s not the first issue. The highlight was the surprise Jezebel Jade appearance on the last page.

PAPER GIRLS #7 (Image, 2016) – Brian K. Vaughan [W], Cliff Chiang [A]. I don’t believe I voted for this series in either Eisner category for which it was nominated, but I still think it’s a deserving Eisner winner. My biggest problem with this series is that I’m still confused as to what exactly it’s about and where the plot is going. The hug between the two Erins is a lovely moment, and the fight between the two giant water bears is awesome. BKV must be a big fan of these creatures because they also showed up in Saga #35.

GIANT DAYS #16 (Boom!, 2016) – John Allison [W], Max Sarin [A]. I still don’t understand the title of this comic book. In this issue, Daisy volunteers to do campus tours for prospective students. As a result she is forced to hang out with a bunch of horrible people, as well as one decent person who has already decided to go to a different university. Meanwhile Susan goes on a bunch of disastrous speed dates. Overall this issue is another good example of the Giant Days formula.

REVIVAL #41 (Image, 2016) – Tim Seeley [W], Mike Norton [A]. This is the end of what appears to be the next-to-last storyline of this series. By the end of this issue, General Cale has been publicly discredited on national TV and Em is apparently about to give birth. I’ve been increasingly confused as to what exactly is going on in this comic, though I still enjoy it, so hopefully the conclusion will clarify things.

SILVER SURFER #5 (Marvel, 2016) – Dan Slott [W], Mike Allred [A]. There is unfortunately no complete list of all the people on the cover. Some of them are easy to recognize (e.g. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Kyle Baker) but others are just people that Mike Allred happens to know. The actual issue is a little scattershot. After saving Earth from Zenn-La, Norrin becomes a global celebrity, but he’s depressed that no one remembers Zenn-La. There’s a cute metatextual scene where Jeremy, the little kid from the previous volume, shows Norrin some old Marvel comics where all references to Zenn-La have been excised. To distract himself, Norrin takes Dawn to look for her absent mother. I was wondering if Costas Prado might be the first Cape Verdean character in superhero comics history, given that he lives in Massachusetts and has a Portuguese-sounding name, but it turns out he’s Brazilian.

FLINTSTONES #1 (DC, 2016) – Mark Russell [W], Steve Pugh [A]. I knew this was going to be a weird comic, but I didn’t expect it to be this weird. It’s like the Flintstones crossed with The Office or Mad Men or something (or at least that’s my impression, given that I’ve never watched either of those shows). It’s full of sight gags and political references and weird jokes that don’t always work, and I’m not sure the story goes anywhere. It’s fun, though, and I’m excited for the next issue.

BOUNTY #1 (Dark Horse, 2016) – Kurtis Wiebe [W], Mindy Lee [A]. This is Kurtis Wiebe’s third ongoing series, and let’s hope it lasts longer and comes out more regularly than the first two. This comic was a bit hard to follow, but it’s an exciting and well-drawn piece of space opera, with a mostly female cast. It would be too simplistic to call it the science fiction version of Rat Queens, but it is a bit like that. I just hope it doesn’t suffer the same fate as Pisces.

VOTE LOKI #2 (Marvel, 2016) – Christopher Hastings [W], Paul McCaffrey [A]. Strange to say, this series is still not political enough – that is, the political satire is too generic and unrelated to actual politics. That prevents it from being a truly serious piece of satire, like Prez, but it’s still a funny and enjoyable comic. I’m writing this review on August 1, in the middle of the Khizr Khan controversy, and I can confidently say that Loki would be a far better President than Trump and would be a much more formidable general election candidate.

SUPER ZERO #6 (Aftershock, 2016) – Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti [W], Rafael de Latorre [A]. This issue, Dru finally gets super powers and uses them to stop the alien invasion, seemingly at the cost of her own life. I’m a bit surprised at the turn this series took in the last two issues; I thought it was taking place in a realistic universe, but instead it takes place in a science fiction universe. I wonder if this detracts from the serious argument that Amanda and Jimmy were making about superhero fandom and obsession with superheroes.

USAGI YOJIMBO #13 (Mirage, 1995) – Stan Sakai [W/A]. Most of this issue is an extended flashback. In the flashback, Usagi learns that Mariko has married Kenichi. His heartbroken expression on learning this news is the highlight of the issue; his eyes get so big that he looks like an anime character. Next, Usagi is hired to escort a princess named Kinuko, who turns out to be a spoiled brat, but inevitably they fall in love. The issue ends there. The backup story explains the origin of Keiko, the little girl who’s Jei’s sidekick. Keiko is a poor orphan being raised by her grandfather, but her grandfather is cruelly murdered by samurai. Jei shows up and kills the samurai, but then Keiko is left completely alone. So she decides to follow Jei, which, in context, seems like the only reasonable decision. This story is an effective depiction of the brutality of peasant life in Edo Japan.

New comics received on July 15, the day I moved into my Charlotte apartment. At this point, I was in the middle of the most hectic and stressful move of my life. On July 13, I moved out of my old apartment but then had to spend the night in Dayton because my flight to Charlotte was cancelled. The following day, I got to Charlotte after my apartment complex’s leasing office was closed, and a future colleague was kind enough to put me up for the night. So by the time I was able to get into my new apartment, I had slept in four different rooms in as many days. And I had my cat with me the whole time. It was not fun. Anyway, that explains why I didn’t read a whole lot of comics that week.

GOLDIE VANCE #4 (Boom!, 2016) – Kate Leth [W], Brittney Williams [A]. I heart this comic so much. I think it’s the best new ongoing series of the year (Future Quest is the second best) and I’d like to see it win an Eisner. And of course I’m thrilled that this won’t be the last issue. In this issue, the first storyline is resolved in an effective and surprising way, and there are some romantic sparks between Goldie and Diane.

LUMBERJANES/GOTHAM ACADEMY #2 (DC, 2016) – Chynna Clugston Flores [W], Rosemary Valero-O’Connell [A]. This crossover is worse than either of the two series it’s based on, but it’s still fun, and this second issue is an improvement on the first. The cultural differences between the Lumberjanes and the … Academicians, I guess, are interesting, and Chynna Clugston Flores does an admirable job with characterization, given the large number of characters.

THE LEGEND OF WONDER WOMAN #8 (DC, 2016) – Renae de Liz [W/A]. Somehow I forgot to order issue 6 of this series, which explains why I thought the series was poorly paced. This is another excellent issue, whose highlight is a surprise appearance by a young Alfred Pennyworth. I’m thrilled to learn that there’s going to be another “season” of this comic, because DC cannot let Renae de Liz’s phenomenal talent go to waste.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #21 (Image, 2016) – Kieron Gillen [W], Jamie McKelvie [A]. An exciting issue in which the contention between the two factions of gods escalates quickly. I initially had trouble remembering which god was on which side, but I figured it out. The death of Minerva’s parents was just about the least surprising thing ever, but it makes me hate Ananke even more than I already did.

THE VISION #9 (Marvel, 2016) – Tom King [W], Gabriel Hernandez Walta [A]. In this issue, we learn that Victor agreed to work with the Avengers because he’s addicted to vibranium. We also learn that Vin is dead. And he’s never coming back. And Victor killed him. This revelation is all the more shocking because of the deadpan way in which it’s delivered. And its horror is not lessened by the fact that we knew something like this was coming. The Vision isn’t my favorite Marvel comic right now – that would be Ms. Marvel or Unbeatable Squirrel Girl – but this twelve-issue maxiseries will be remembered as one of the most intelligent, grimmest, and most powerful comics ever published by Marvel.

ROCKET RACCOON AND GROOT #7 (Marvel, 2016) – Nick Kocher [W], Michael Walsh [A]. I’m not familiar with Nick Kocher, but this issue is an excellent self-contained story, about a friend of Rocket who keeps faking his own death. This issue covers a large span of time and packs in a massive number of jokes and running gags, yet it never gets confusing. Highlights include the building named Drumpf Plaza, and the line “Spit it out! My adult son is fighting a space squid thing!”

SPACE BATTLE LUNCHTIME #3 (Oni, 2016) – Natalie Riess [W/A]. I forgot to order issue two of this series, and have not gotten it yet. This issue is a lot of fun, but my complaint is that the aliens aren’t alien enough. Besides the one dude who looks like two pyramids stacked together, the rest of the aliens just look fairly normal. That is to say, this comic could be even weirder than it is.

POWER MAN & IRON FIST #6 (Marvel, 2016) – David Walker [W], Flaviano [A]. This issue is a Civil War II crossover in that it deals with the aftermath of War Machine’s death and She-Hulk’s life-threatening injuries (like Patsy Walker #8, reviewed below). This is probably the best kind of crossover tie-in issue because it makes sense if you haven’t been reading the main series of the crossover; you just have to know that She-Hulk is hurt and possibly dying, and it doesn’t matter why. In the second half of the issue, Danny and Cage get hired to help out some people who are being targeted by “predictive justice” police (see the review of Ms. Marvel #9 below for a discussion of this rather stupid idea). As this subplot continues, David Walker comes very close to explicitly supporting Black Lives Matter. He has one character say “never call the cops,” and then later, Danny attacks a cop and says “Let the man breathe!” Supporting BLM is a courageous decision, given that it’s likely to lead to negative feedback and boycotts from racist people, and I’m curious to see how far David Walker will go in this direction.

DESCENDER #13 (Image, 2016) – Jeff Lemire [W], Dustin Nguyen [A]. This issue is the origin of Telsa. The daughter of a high-ranking official in the UGC, she watches her mother get killed by robots, then joins the UGC herself under a false name because her father won’t let her. There are some obvious cliches in this issue, including the bar that’s very reminiscent of the Mos Eisley cantina, but in general it’s another fun issue of Descender.

NEW SUPER-MAN #1 (DC, 2016) – Gene Luen Yang [W], Viktor Bogdanovic [A]. Gene Luen Yang’s much-hyped new Superman title is a serious disappointment. The gimmick of this comic is that it stars a new Superman who’s from Shanghai. However, the Chinese setting turns out to be just window dressing, because the characters act exactly like Americans. There are small indications that the characters are Chinese (the lunch of rice and pickles, the newscaster asking Superman if he acted out of a sense of duty). However, to quote what I said about this comic on Facebook:

“The Chinese setting of this comic is just window dressing — this story is supposed to be taking place in Shanghai, but the characters are all acting exactly like Americans. It could have been set in New York City instead, and the entire plot would have been exactly the same.

There are two problems with this. First, the plot of this issue is not good or original — it’s just a generic superhero origin story. The use of China as a setting just masks the fact that the story lacks any substance.

Second, the Chinese teenagers in this story behave exactly like American teenagers. Based on my experience working with a number of students from mainland China over the last year, I think this is implausible. My Chinese students do not behave like Americans of the same age. They have different social norms and different styles of communication, and they come from a culture with different traditions and different values. The characters in New Super Man #1 are more like American teenagers who happen to speak Chinese.”

(Now, when I posted this on Facebook, one person disagreed with me, saying that it makes sense that people in Shanghai would act in a more Americanized way. Still, I don’t buy that their behavior would be totally indistinguishable from the behavior of Americans their age.)

I think what’s going on here is that, number one, Gene Luen Yang is just not a good DC comics writer. I haven’t read The Shadow Hero yet, but my impression is that Gene’s superhero comics lack the originality and creativity of his creator-owned work or even his work-for-hire at Dark Horse. Second, as Gene himself said in his ChLA keynote address, he’s not as familiar with China as he is with the lives of Chinese people in America, and as a result, he’s not nearly as good when he writes about native Chinese people as when he writes about Chinese Americans.

New comics received on July 23. This was the day the movers were supposed to come, and they did come, but not until 9 PM. Meanwhile, I had been suffering from terrible insomnia because I was sleeping on an aerobed that kept leaking. So I was not in an ideal frame of mind for reading comic books. Still, I did manage to read far more comic books this week than during either of the previous two weeks.

LUMBERJANES #28 (Boom!, 2016) – Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh [W], Ayme Sotuyo [A]. An excellent conclusion to a terrific story arc. Most of what happens here is fairly predictable, but I wasn’t expecting Barney to become a Lumberjane. The gender politics of this are kind of weird: you can’t really see this as Barney reclaiming his masculine identity, because in the world of Lumberjanes, the definitions of masculinity and femininity are the reverse of what they are in normative American culture. Oh, and also Diane is back. I was really not expecting that.

SNOTGIRL #1 (Image, 2016) – Bryan Lee O’Malley [W], Leslie Hung [A]. This is the first new Image comic this year that I’m really excited about; Image seems to be developing fewer exciting new projects this year compared to the past few years. I don’t know if Snotgirl can be considered one of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s major works, given that he’s only writing it. But you can clearly tell that it’s him, and it has the same aesthetic sensibility as Scott Pilgrim or Seconds. I can’t quite tell where this comic is going yet, but I’m excited about it.

PATSY WALKER, A.K.A. HELLCAT #8 (Marvel, 2016) – Kate Leth [W], Brittney Williams [A]. This is the first issue of this series that’s not primarily humorous. Like Power Man & Iron Fist #6, it deals with Patsy’s reaction to She-Hulk’s near-fatal injuries. This issue suggests that Patsy and Jen are best friends, which is not necessarily supported by past continuity, but oh well. Most of Kate Leth’s recent work (this series and Goldie Vance) has been humorous, but in this issue she shows she can also write a very good sad story. And she does it by infusing the sadness with humor. Most of the issue focuses not on Patsy’s grief over Jen’s injuries, but rather on Patsy’s memories of the good times she and Jen shared.

MANIFEST DESTINY #21 (Image, 2016) – Chris Dingess [W], Matthew Roberts [A]. Part three of “Sasquatch.” Not a whole lot happens here, and I’m not convinced that this needed to be a six-part story.

At this point, the movers came with my stuff, including my boxes of unread comics, such as:

WOLFF & BYRD, COUNSELORS OF THE MACABRE #14 (Exhibit A, 1997) – Batton Lash [W/A]. I believe I read this story before, as part of the fourth Case Files volume. But I didn’t remember much about it other than the broad outline of the plot, so it was worth revisiting. In “Bad Blood,” Ayn Rice (an obvious parody of Anne Rice, with a bit of Ayn Rand) gets involved in a legal dispute with Dracula over the ownership of a house. And this feeds into one of the ongoing romantic subplots because Ayn Wrice’s lawyer is Chase Hawkins. The main thing I remembered about this story is the ending, where Ayn Wrice asks Dracula to make her a vampire, and he refuses because she wants it too much. But there are lots of other funny jokes and character interactions in this story.

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #638 (DC, 2005) – Greg Rucka [W], Matthew Clark [A]. When Lois tries to convince Clark to have a baby, Mr. Mxyzptlk shows up and gives Lois and Clark a vision of an alternate future where they become parents. This is a surprisingly cute and touching story, though I don’t think it had any long-term consequences; I don’t believe that Lois and Clark ever did try for a baby, and Chris Kent didn’t appear until over a year later. This story includes some pages that are parodies of the work of Frank Miller, Bill Watterson, and (I think) Bruce Timm. The Frank Miller page includes a nearly full-page panel of Black Canary, even though she has nothing to do with the story; I assume this is a parody of Miller’s inclinations toward T&A.

SHAZAM! #25 (DC, 1976) – Denny O’Neil [W], Dick Giordano [A] on lead story; E. Nelson Bridwell [W], Kurt Schaffenberger [A] on backup story. The first story this issue is the first comic book appearance of Isis, and serves as a preview for Isis’s ongoing series. It’s a rather generic story which does not succeed at arousing enthusiasm for the new character. The backup story, in which Billy Batson appears on a TV show about young people in American history, is slightly better though still just average.

KILL SHAKESPEARE #2 (IDW, 2010) – Conor McCreery & Anthony Del Col [W], Andy Belanger [A]. I met Conor McCreery at ICFA a few years ago, and I was excited to read this comic, but when I did read the first issue, I was disappointed. And after reading the second issue, I’m still kind of disappointed. There’s an interesting premise here, but I can’t really explain what that premise is. This comic takes place in a world where all the Shakespeare characters are real, and Shakespeare himself is somehow in charge of the world, but beyond that, I don’t quite get what’s going on. As a metafictional fantasy story based on Shakespeare, this comic is worse than Sandman #19 and #75 or Poul Anderson’s A Midsummer Tempest.

CATWOMAN #15 (DC, 2003) – Ed Brubaker [W], Cameron Stewart [A]. An amazing issue. It’s been a year and a half since I read issue 14, so I’m not quite sure what’s going on here, except that Selina is trying to get revenge on the people who critically injured Slam Bradley. But Cameron Stewart’s visual storytelling is brilliant, and Ed Brubaker effectively communicates Selina and Holly’s grief over Slam Bradley’s condition, and Selina’s determination to get revenge.

BROTHERS OF THE SPEAR #3 (Gold Key, 1972) – Gaylord DuBois [W], Jesse Santos [A]. This issue has a fairly standard Gaylord DuBois plot, where the city of Tungelu gets taken over by Tuareg invaders, and Dan-el and Natongo have to capture it back. The sheer amount of stuff that happens in this story is impressive – in just a few pages, Dan-el and Natongo get shipwrecked, nearly eaten by hyenas, and sold into slavery. Jesse Santos’s art is less radical than in his collaborations with Don Glut, but still pretty good. One thing that impressed me about this comic is Gaylord DuBois’s more than basic knowledge about Africa – like, at one point he refers to “shiftas,” which is an actual East African word for bandits. I even wondered if he had ever been to Africa, but apparently he just read the same books that Edgar Rice Burroughs read.

DOCTOR STRANGEFATE #1 (Amalgam, 1996) – Ron Marz [W], José Luis García-Lopez [A]. Despite the JLGL artwork, this is not one of the better Amalgam comics. Unlike the writers of Amalgam comics like Spider-Boy or Bullets & Bracelets, Ron Marz doesn’t take advantage of the comic potential of blending the Marvel and DC universes. This comic reads like a standard Dr. Strange story. It’s also too heavily tied to the ongoing plot of the Marvel vs. DC crossover.

CHEW #56 (Image, 2016) – John Layman [W], Rob Guillory [A]. Tony starts eating Mason Savoy’s ear, but finds out that Mason deliberately ate beets before his suicide, in order to prevent Tony from learning anything. So we have to wait a few more issues to find out the big secret of this comic. I’m glad that there are just four issues left; this comic is a lot of fun, but it’s time for the creators to move on. The Cereduratus, who can cause lethal ice cream headaches, is one of the funnier food-related powers in the series.

GWENPOOL #4 (Marvel, 2016) – Christopher Hastings [W], Gurihiru [A]. I didn’t realize Christopher Hastings was writing both this series and Vote Loki. He’s not the best writer at Marvel, but he’s funny. This was less fun than the last three issues, though. Gwenpool defeats Modok with help from Cecil’s ghost, and then the issue ends as she’s about to find out who Modok was working for. I kind of thought this was the last issue, but I guess this is an ongoing series.

A-FORCE #7 (Marvel, 2016) – Kelly Thompson [W], Ben Caldwell [A]. This is fairly good but not incredible. I like the “power of love” moment, and Ben Caldwell’s artwork is sometimes brilliant, but this series still doesn’t grab me as much as Jem and the Holograms.

BETTY & VERONICA #1 (Archie, 2016) – Adam Hughes [W/A]. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a comic written by Adam Hughes before, but he’s a surprisingly good writer. And his art is as beautiful as ever, though I feel ashamed of liking his art because it’s so full of T&A. Particularly nice touches include the dog narrator and the page that’s completely full of word balloons.

USAGI YOJIMBO #156 (Dark Horse, 2016) – Stan Sakai [W/A]. The second chapter of “Secret of the Hell Screen” is as exciting as the first. Lord Shima is a really obvious prime suspect, but maybe too obvious. I look forward to reading the solution to this mystery.

WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #204 (DC, 1971) – Denny O’Neil [W], Dick Dillin [A]. This is one of, I think, three appearances by the New Look Wonder Woman outside her own title. The others are Brave and the Bold #87 and #105, both of which I’ve already read. This issue is fairly good. It has an implausible plot in which Superman and Wonder Woman have to save a young man who is singlehandedly responsible for avoiding a dystopian future, but there’s a nicely ambiguous moment where they aren’t sure whether they’ve accomplished their mission or not. There’s another nice scene where Clark and Diana are about to kiss, but they realize that it’s better if they don’t. I think it’s better if Superman and Wonder Woman have a purely professional and friendly relationship. Or at least it’s better than the Superman/Wonder Woman romance that DC is currently trying to force on us.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #165 (DC, 1979) – Gerry Conway [W], Dick Dillin [A]. A second Dick Dillin comic in a row. Dick Dillin is often considered a very boring artist, and he was, but I enjoy his art anyway; he’s the essential Bronze Age Justice League artist, if only because he was the only artist on that title during the Bronze Age. This issue focuses on Gerry’s pet character, Zatanna, and explains the origin of the Homo Magi and the story of how Zatanna’s parents met. And then at the end of the issue, Sindella dies. It’s an effective story, though it’s hampered by Gerry’s histrionic prose style.

ASTRO CITY #37 (DC, 2016) – Kurt Busiek [W], Brent Anderson [A]. I was not enthusiastic about this issue at first, but This issue is another flashback story narrated by the Broken Man, who I guess is Astro City’s version of Uncle Creepy or the Vault Keeper, and it consists of several historical vignettes linked together by the theme of music.

DNAGENTS #18 (Eclipse, 1985) – Mark Evanier [W], various [A]. This issue consists of several segments, each illustrated by a different artist and focusing on a different DNAgent. It’s a pretty average issue of DNAgents, but it’s notable for being one of the last works of Mike Sekowsky.

CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA #5 (Archie, 2016) – Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa [W], Robert Hack [A]. If I remember this issue correctly, Sabrina tries to resurrect her dead boyfriend Harvey but resurrects her father instead. So we can expect some bizarre incest shenanigans, reminiscent of Saga of the Swamp Thing #29. Instead of a reprinted backup story, this issue has a preview of Afterlife with Archie.

CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA #6 (Archie, 2016) – as above. This issue reveals the origin of Sabrina’s cat Salem, as well as two snakes that apparently belong to Sabrina’s aunts. It’s another very gruesome and shocking horror story, but I’m not sure this is the sort of thing I like, and I don’t know if I’d be reading this comic if it wasn’t a spinoff of Afterlife with Archie. Also, personally, if I were transformed into an immortal cat that could talk, I really wouldn’t mind.

AQUAMAN #38 (DC, 1997) – Peter David [W], Jim Calafiore [A]. This late issue of PAD’s Aquaman run is unexpectedly good. The plot is that Aquaman tries to raise money by turning Poseidonis into a tourist attraction. But the highlight of the issue is a scene where Vulko expresses his deep disappointment in Aquaman’s recent behavior, and when Aquaman says “And you can still call me Arthur,” Vulko replies “No. No, I don’t think I can.” PAD’s run on Aquaman was epic and humorous at once, and had a truly unique aesthetic. I need to complete my collection of this series.

DOOM PATROL #43 (DC, 1991) – Grant Morrison [W], Steve Yeowell [A]. This issue begins with a quotation from Lucy Clifford’s horror story “The New Mother,” which was a heavy influence on Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. I’m familiar with this story from its retelling in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Even that watered-down version is horrifying, and no wonder it fascinated both Neil and Grant. The rest of the issue deals with Flex Mentallo and the Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E., and is as surreal and bizarre as any Morrison Doom Patrol comic.

SUPERMAN’S GIRL FRIEND LOIS LANE #90 (DC, 1969) – unknown [W], Irv Novick [A]. Like many Silver Age Lois Lane stories, in this issue Lois is subjected to a series of horrible traumas, which the reader is somehow supposed to consider humorous. Lois falls in love with a time-traveling Kryptonian named Dahr-Nel, who proposes to her. Before she can give him an answer, Superman unexpectedly tells Lois to drop everything and meet him at City Hall for a wedding. Of course Lois is overjoyed that she’s going to be Mrs. Superman – and of course it turns out the wedding is a fake. Superman is using Lois as bait to catch a criminal who swore to kill Superman’s wife on their wedding day, only he forgot to tell Lois! After Superman gives Lois a lame-ass apology, she understandably decides to marry Dahr-Nel instead, but Dahr-Nel promptly gets himself killed. So at the end of the story, Lois is left with nothing except the hope that someday Superman will agree to marry her. I don’t know what kind of person would find this sort of thing funny.

L.E.G.I.O.N. ’89 #2 (DC, 1989) – Keith Giffen & Alan Grant [W], Barry Kitson [A]. Vril Dox leads his team on a mission to destroy the Computer Tyrants of Colu, and shows himself to be just as cynical and manipulative toward his own teammates as his enemies. This story is a fairly good introduction to the series, but it suffers from what TVTropes calls Early Installment Weirdness. It’s unusual to see Vril Dox going on a mission himself, rather than serving as an administrator and strategist.

DEPT. H #4 (Dark Horse, 2016) – Matt Kindt [W/A]. Mia finally gets her chance to go rescue Raj, and as she looks for him, she has flashbacks to her mother’s death. This was a good but not great issue.

I HATE FAIRYLAND #7 (Image, 2016) – Skottie Young [W/A]. Gert goes on a quest for I can’t remember what, and she encounters a boy who’s somehow been transported from Fairyland to Earth. I have that “Fairy Freezy” song in my head, even though I don’t know the tune.

FAITH #1 (Valiant, 2016) – Jody Houser [W], Pere Perez & Marguerite Sauvage [A]. This was fun, but I barely remember anything about it.

HOWARD THE DUCK #9 (Marvel, 2016) – Chip Zdarsky [W], Joe Quinones [A]. I’m sorry that there’s only one more issue of this series, but it appears to be ending because Chip and Joe want it to, not because of low sales. This is a sweet and funny comic, and while the Lea Thompson guest appearance feels like a publicity stunt, Chip makes her an interesting character, very similar to Beverly Switzer.

CAPTAIN KID #1 (Aftershock, 2016) – Mark Waid & Tom Peyer [W], Wilfredo Torres [A]. I bought this comic because of the intriguing premise: it’s Captain Marvel in reverse, in that the protagonist is an aging man who turns into a young superhero. Miracleman explored this territory but only in a limited way. The trouble with this comic is it covers too much territory and it’s not clearly focused on its central premise. Waid and Peyer pay some attention to the central idea of an older man who can transform into a younger man, but they also waste time on exploring other ideas that are much less interesting, like the woman who traveled back in time and ended up in the wrong year.

I still have more reviews to write, but I’ll just post these now.

Comics criticism: Basic questions to ask when reading a comic.

This is intended as a resource for students or for academics who are new to reading comics critically. It is a list of basic questions one might want to ask when reading a comic book or graphic novel. Most of these questions have to do with the visual or artistic aspect of a comic — what it looks like — rather than the literary or narrative side (storyline, themes, characterization, etc.). I focus on this because teachers and students tend to have a basic understanding of how to analyze the story of a graphic novel; in doing so, you can apply the techniques you learn in high school English classes. But no one really tells you how to analyze a comic book from a visual perspective, and that’s why a guide like this one might be useful.

1. Art style (draftspersonship). In general, what does the artwork look like? What sort of linework does the artist use? How much detail does the artist employ in drawing people and objects — where does the artwork fall on the continuum between minimalist (John Porcellino) and hyperdetailed (Geof Darrow)? How does the artist depict characters, including their faces and figures? How does the artist draw backgrounds? If the penciller and inker are not the same person, how does the inking affect the appearance of the pencils? (This aspect of comics is similar to mise-en-scène in cinema.)

2. Visual storytelling – within the panel. In general, how is each panel composed? From what viewpoint are the panels drawn — are there more close-ups, more long shots, etc.? What “camera angles” does the artist use (bird’s eye view, worm’s eye view, etc.)? How are the panels framed — what does the artist choose to include in each panel, and what does s/he choose to leave out? Does the artist use motion lines to indicate that something is moving? Does the artist use emanata to represent abstract concepts, such as by using a light bulb over a character’s head to represent an idea? (This aspect of comics is similar to cinematography in cinema.)

3. Visual storytelling – between panels. How are adjacent panels related to each other? Which of McCloud’s six types of panel transitions (action-to-action, aspect-to-aspect, etc.) is most prevalent? How many action sequences are there, and how good is the artist at depicting action? How much closure does the reader have to do — that is, how much work does the reader need to do in order to understand what happens in the gaps between panels? (This aspect of comics is similar to editing in cinema, with an exception. In cinema, editing is responsible for the temporal pace of the film; the editor determines the rhythm of the shots and the amount of time that takes place in each shot. In comics, the pace of reading is determined by page layout and composition.)

4. Page layout and composition. How is each page structured? How many panels are there on each page? What size and shape are the panels? How are the panels arranged relative to each other — for example, does the artist use a 2×2 grid, a 4×2 grid, or what? Does each page have the same page layout (as is often the case in American or European comics) or does each page have a different layout (as is often the case in manga)? What do the panel borders look like — are they solid borders or just single lines?  In what order is the page supposed to be read, and how does the panel structure help guide the reader through the page?

5. Lettering. What does the text in the comic look like? What is the style of the letters? Does the comic use hand-lettering or a font? Is the text in ALL UPPER CASE or in mixed case? How does the lettering contribute to the overall visual appearance of the comic — does it try to be as unobtrusive as possible, or is it a major element of the overall “look” of each page? (For an example of the latter, see Ellen Forney.) Are there sound effects, and if so, what do they look like? Are there caption boxes, thought balloons, neither, or both?

6. Color. Is the comic in black and white or in color? If in black and white, how many shades of gray are there? If in color, how many colors? What general mood is created by the colors or shades of grey — is the comic bright and cheery, dark and gloomy, or what? How does the artist use color as a compositional element or as a way of directing the reader’s gaze? If the comic is in color, what coloring technique was used — the traditional four-color process, computer coloring, watercolor, painting, or what?

7. Materiality and paratext. Are you reading the comic in print or digital form? If in digital form, what sort of device are you reading it on, and what application (e.g. ComiXology) are you using? Are you able to view the entire page at once or only parts of it? If you are reading the comic in print form, is it a comic book, a paperback book, a hardcover, or what? In either case, are you reading the comic in the form in which it was originally published? If not, what changes were made in order to adapt the comic to the form in which you are reading it? Does the comic include any paratextual materials, i.e. materials that are not part of the comic itself but are ancillary to it? (Examples: advertisements, letters pages, introductions, afterwords.)

You will notice that these are all basic questions — they’re all things you should ask yourself when you start reading a comic, as opposed to when you return to it in order to interpret or criticize it. Most of these questions only ask you to notice things or make factual judgments. After you figure out the answers to these questions, the next step is to explain these answers — to try to justify why the artist made certain choices rather than others. For example, after you understand how each page of the comic is laid out, you can take the next step and try to understand why the artist chose to use that particular type of page layout, and how the page layout helps to shape the meaning of the comic.

Very late reviews

7-4-16

(NOTE WRITTEN LATER: I wrote these reviews earlier this month, but never posted them because I was too busy moving and stuff. And now I have three more weeks worth of comic books that I’ve read but not reviewed. Oh well.)

I have almost a short box full of comics to review, so let’s get started. Many of these were comics I purchased at Heroes Con. Overall it was a fantastic Heroes Con, and I came home with a ton of comics (and also some back pain from being hit by a car, but I’m fine now, thank God). Since it was the first time I’ve been able to buy genuinely cheap comics in over a year, I spent most of my money on 50-cent and dollar comics, instead of focusing on more expensive older stuff. I felt a little regretful about that in hindsight, but oh well.

UNCLE SCROOGE #292 (Gladstone, 1995) – Don Rosa [W/A]. This was the most exciting comic I got at Heroes Con, and the first one that I read. It’s one of my collecting Holy Grails: the only chapter of Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck that I hadn’t already owned. It’s also the climactic chapter, which ends with the decisive moment of Scrooge’s life, when he finds the Goose Egg Nugget and becomes a rich man… I mean duck. Rosa effectively shows how Scrooge’s ultimate triumph is the result of his hard work and ingenuity, as well as the lessons he learned from all his previous failures. The final page of this story is maybe one of the best scenes Rosa ever illustrated. Suspecting that the dust-covered rock he’s found might be solid gold, Scrooge wonders if he really wants to become rich and stop having adventures. He stands paralyzed for a full panel (just like Donald does in “Luck of the North” when he realizes he may have sent Gladstone to his death) before diamonds flash in his eyes and he washes the rock off. And the rest is history.

USAGI YOJIMBO #17 (Fantagraphics, 1989) – Stan Sakai [W/A]. Also at Heroes Con, I found about half of the Usagis I had been missing, for a dollar each. In fact, I got so many of them that I wasn’t sure which one to read first, so I still haven’t read most of them. This particular issue is the climax of “The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy,” Stan’s first major epic. It’s a very effective conclusion that ends appropriately with a giant explosion. My copy is signed by Stan at the top of the first page.

Those were the only two comics I managed to read while I was in Charlotte. When I got home, my shipment of new comics was waiting for me, and I felt obligated to read one of them right away.

LUMBERJANES #27 (Boom!, 2016) – Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh [W], Ayme Sotuyo [A]. A third excellent issue in a row. Maybe a bit less impressive than the previous two, but only because I’ve gotten used to this level of quality by now. Barney and Hes are both becoming major characters in this story, and I’ve just realized that Barney looks like Tintin with black hair. Easily the best line in the issue is “MAGIC GIANT FLOATING FIRE-BREATHING GHOST KITTENS!”

DOCTOR WHO SPECIAL 2013 (IDW, 2013) – Paul Cornell [W], Jimmy Broxton [A]. I am not a Doctor Who fan – I watched the first three episodes with Christopher Eccleston, but didn’t feel motivated to keep watching – and I generally have no interest in Doctor Who comics. But I’ve been looking for this particular comic for a while because of the fascinating metatextual premise. The Doctor travels through the TARDIS to the real world, where he’s a character on a TV show, and he meets a 12-year-old girl who’s a huge fan of his. This is a really clever idea and Paul Cornell exploits its full potential. The Doctor helps the girl deal with her bullies while simultaneously defeating a Cyberman who’s followed him into the real world. Meanwhile, he goes to a convention and meets lots of people who have been inspired by him. And there’s lots of other stuff in this story, most of which I probably didn’t understand because I’m not a Doctor Who fan. But even for a non-fan, this was a really enjoyable comic. It even makes me want to start watching Doctor Who myself.

MS. MARVEL #19 (Marvel, 1978) – Chris Claremont [W], Carmine Infantino [A]. I have all but six issues of this series now, but the remaining issues are all getting expensive, so I’m glad I was able to find this one. Most of this issue is a fight scene in which Carol teams up with Mar-Vell against Ronan. The most interesting scene is a flashback to Carol’s past, where we learn what a sexist jerk her dad was. Carol’s dad explicitly tells her that he can only afford to send one of his children to college, and it’s going to be her brother, because she doesn’t need to go to college to find a husband. Sadly this sort of attitude was not unusual then or now.

AVENGERS #84 (Marvel, 1971) – Roy Thomas [W], John Buscema [A]. One of the few old Marvel comics I was able to get at Heroes Con. This issue has an over-complicated plot involving Arkon and the Black Knight, and it’s not Roy Thomas’s best-written comic, but John Buscema was doing some of the best work of his career at this point. And it’s always nice to read a Silver Age Avengers comic I’m not already familiar with.

WOLFF & BYRD, COUNSELORS OF THE MACABRE #17 (Exhibit A, 1997) – Batton Lash [W/A]. I also got a bunch of these at Heroes Con. This issue was intended as a jumping-on point for new readers, and it consists of three self-contained stories that make no reference to any of the ongoing subplots. I kind of got the impression that some of these stories had already been published elsewhere, since the first one has a different style of lettering from the other two. The best of these stories is “The Deaths and Times of Dr. Life,” about a reverse Dr. Kevorkian who resurrects people who want to stay dead. The second story, “Nosferatu: Special Report,” is presented as a series of excerpts from TV news shows (like the talking-heads panels in Dark Knight Returns). It’s about a vampire gangster, and it’s very similar to all the other Wolff & Byrd stories about vampires. In the final story, Ygor, a descendant of Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant, gets a job at a preschool but is falsely accused of abusing the children. Wolff & Byrd succeed in clearing his name, but he decides he’s had enough of working at a preschool and becomes a mad scientist’s assistant instead. This story is a clever parody of the Satanic ritual controversy of the ‘80s.

THE OCCULT FILES OF DR. SPEKTOR #9 (Gold Key, 1974) – Don Glut [W], Jesse Santos [A]. This series may be my favorite of Don Glut’s three Gold Key titles from the ‘70s. Adam Spektor is much like Dr. Strange, but with a darker side – you get the sense that his adventures have left him seriously damaged. Also, Lakota Rainwater is an unfortunate stereotype, but at least her relationship with Dr. Spektor is less creepy than Dr. Strange’s romance with Clea. This story revolves around Adam and Lakota’s relationship problems: Adam encounters a witch who brainwashes him into falling in love with her and dumping Lakota, but Lakota figures out what’s really going on and saves the day.

FLASH GORDON #1 (Dynamite, 2014) – Jeff Parker [W], Evan “Doc” Shaner [A]. A strong start to an excellent series. I’ve repeatedly stated how much I love Doc Shaner’s art, but Jeff Parker’s writing on this issue is equally impressive. His script is an impressive piece of narrative economy – in just a few pages, he manages to convey that Flash Gordon is an adventure-seeking daredevil who thinks that life in contemporary America is boring and unimaginative. Also, I get the sense that Flash, Dale and Zarkov were always quite flat characters, but Parker succeeds in investing each of them with significant depth. Dale is like a snarkier Lois Lane, and she’s the sensible one of the three, while Flash and Zarkov are respectively obsessed by their passion for adventure and science, to the point where their ability to function in normal society is impaired.

PATSY WALKER A.K.A. HELLCAT #7 (Marvel, 2016) – Kate Leth [W], Brittney Williams [A]. Another excellent issue. This issue finally resolves the Hedy subplot, and Hedy gets her comeuppance in a satisfying way. But I do have to wonder where this comic is going to go next, since the Hedy plot was the main thing tying it together. Jessica Jones guest-stars in this issue and plays quite a significant role. I think this issue sort of makes up for her unsympathetic portrayal in Power Man and Iron Fist. Brittney Williams is a really good artist; she kind of reminds me of Colleen Coover.

THE SPIRE #8 (Boom!, 2016) – Simon Spurrier [W], Jeff Stokely [A]. A strong conclusion to one of the best miniseries of the year, though as I have said before, it would probably read better in trade paperback form. The shocking revelation this time is that [SPOILER] Shå used to be male and is the father of Tavi, who she’s been sleeping with. I guess Claremont already came up with this plot twist (he originally meant for Destiny to be Nightcrawler’s father), but I didn’t expect to see it again in this context, and it’s especially poignant here because Shå has unknowingly been her own daughter’s lover. Overall this was an excellent miniseries and I look forward to seeing what Spurrier and Stokely do next.

PRINCELESS: MAKE YOURSELF #3 (Action Lab, 2016) – Adrienne’s conversation with Bern is the high point of this miniseries so far. It’s a model of how to talk to kids about sexuality. Adrienne’s questions are reasonable (and she asks them in an adorably shy way) and Bern answers them in a sensitive and compassionate way. These scenes are examples of why I love Jeremy’s writing. Bedelia’s reunion with her mother is also exciting, but I still don’t understand what’s going on with the five people who are searching for Adrienne. I wonder if the two dudes at the end of the issue are based on Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

YOUNG JUSTICE #34 (DC, 2001) – Peter David [W], Todd Nauck [A]. At Heroes Con, I was able to get all six of the issues of Young Justice that I was missing. Which makes me a bit sad because now I need something else to collect. This issue is the conclusion to the Wendy the Werewolf Stalker arc. I don’t remember much about it specifically, but as usual it’s hilarious and it passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors, and it draws upon PAD’s experience working in television.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #85 (Marvel, 1982) – Denny O’Neil [W], Keith Pollard [A]. You’d think Denny O’Neil would be an ideal writer for this series given its mild resemblance to Green Lantern/Green Arrow, but this was a boring and formulaic comic and I can’t remember much of anything about it. I still want to collect more of this series.

MANIFEST DESTINY #20 (Image, 2016) – Chris Dingess [W], Matthew Roberts [A]. I’ve met Matthew Roberts a couple times and he’s told me that Chris Dingess really does his homework. We see that in this issue, where Maldonado’s ghost reveals that he was indeed a member of the Narváez expedition that Cabeza de Vaca was on, but he was not one of the four survivors (hence why his name is Arturo, not Alonso, as noted in my review of #19). Roberts even shows us the four survivors, and correctly depicts one of them as a black man. Besides that, the best thing in this issue is the last page, where Russell threatens to smash Bullock’s face, and Bullock says “I’d like to see you try” and then a sasquatch slaps him and knocks half his face off. Ow.

DC RETROACTIVE: WONDER WOMAN – THE ‘90S #1 (DC, 2011) – Bill Messner-Loebs [W], Lee Moder [A]. Each of these DC Retroactive issues includes a new story by a classic creative team, plus a reprint of an old story. I didn’t buy any of these issues when they came out. They were too expensive and they had unimpressive creative teams. But I had this specific issue on my want list because I saw some panels from it somewhere, I forget where. The plot of the new story is that Etta Candy asks Diana to babysit a bunch of spoiled, lazy tween girls. Diana whips the girls into shape, turning them from lazy slobs into near-Lumberjanes. It’s a really cute story which also effectively demonstrates Diana’s personality and outlook. The reprinted backup story is not as good, but it does make me interested in reading more of Bill Loebs’s Wonder Woman run, although I’ve heard some bad things about it.

VOTE LOKI #1 (Marvel, 2016) – Christopher Hastings [W], Langdon Foss [A]. I love the idea behind this series, and the execution is reasonably good. It’s a witty piece of political satire, though maybe too generic and non-partisan. I think my favorite part of the issue is Loki casually changing gender.

FLASH GORDON #5 (King, 1967) – Archie Goodwin [W], Al Williamson [A]. I got another copy of this issue at Comic-Con a long time ago, but it turned out to be missing its centerfold. This copy is complete. I love Archie Goodwin’s writing, but the plot in this issue is just average. Al Williamson’s artwork, though, is spectacular. His draftsmanship and his action sequences and his backgrounds are gorgeous, and his artwork doesn’t become so ornate and detailed that it impairs readability, as happened with his ‘90s Flash Gordon miniseries. Al Williamson drew Flash Gordon in comic book form on three occasions, each time for a different publisher and in a different decade, and each time he produced a classic piece of work. By the way, I should start collecting Williamson’s Star Wars comics.

JSA #2 (DC, 1999) – James Robinson & David Goyer [W], Stephen Sadowski [A]. Back in 1999, JSA was one of DC’s flagship titles. Drawing upon the sensibility of James Robinson’s Starman, it offered a vision of a DC Universe that respected and honored its past, while also being open to newness and change. I wish we still had that DC Universe instead of the one we have now. This particular issue follows the typical plot structure of old Justice League comics (and maybe old Justice Society comics, I don’t know): the team splits up into three squads to deal with three different aspects of a single threat. And at the end of the issue we find out that the mystery villain is Mordru – I wonder if this was his first appearance in a story not involving the Legion.

ASTRO CITY #36 (DC, 2016) – Kurt Busiek [W], Ron Randall [A]. Like the Jack-in-the-Box story from the previous volume, this story is okay but not one of Kurt’s best. Drama Queen’s origin story is reasonably powerful, and I like the conclusion where Ike decides to become a psychiatrist. Now that I think of it, this story reminds me of James Robinson’s Starman, which I was just talking about, in that all of the principal characters are participants in a family drama that started before they were born. Still, this was one of the more underwhelming stories in this Astro City run, though I suppose it was intended to be subtle rather than epic.

CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA #3 (Archie, 2015) – Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa [W], Robert Hack [A]. I went to the Archie panel at Heroes Con, and one of the panelists (I think Francesco Francavilla) said that this title and Afterlife with Archie are so late because Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa is backed up with other work. This is hardly surprising, but I think it was a questionable decision to ask him to write a second Archie title when he couldn’t meet his deadlines with the first one. You would think that after what happened with Kevin Smith, comics publishers would be more wary about hiring writers who are extremely busy with other stuff. Anyway, this comic is okay but not great; it’s basically the same as the other issues of this series. The Madam Satan backup is almost as interesting as the main story.

AVENGERS #103 (Marvel, 1972) – Roy Thomas [W], Rich Buckler [A]. I found this in a cheap box at Heroes Con; it’s in awful condition but is complete and readable. At this point I only need about five more issues to have a complete run from Avengers #103 to #200, and I’m getting really close to a complete run from #100 to #300. I didn’t notice until just now that this issue is written by Roy Thomas rather than Steve Englehart, but it makes sense, because this story is a direct sequel to the Sentinels three-parter from X-Men #57 to #59. It’s also much worse than that story, because as much as Rich Buckler tries to slavishly imitate Neal Adams, he is clearly no Neal Adams.

STORMWATCH #37 (Image, 1996) – Warren Ellis [W], Tom Raney [A]. This is the first issue of Warren Ellis’s Stormwatch run, which later evolved into The Authority, and it introduces Jack Hawksmoor and Jenny Sparks. I’ve never been a huge Ellis fan, and I even have something of a bias against him because of his pseudo-intellectual pomposity, but this is a pretty good comic. In one issue, Ellis turns what used to be an awful piece of Image crap into an intelligent and excitingly written revisionist superhero comic.

UNCANNY X-MEN #126 (Marvel, 1979) – Chris Claremont [W], John Byrne [A]. I only need eleven more issues to have the complete Claremont/Byrne run, but those eleven issues include #129, #141 and #142, and who knows when I’ll be able to afford any of those. This issue is part two of the Mutant X/Proteus four-parter. Proteus is not Claremont’s best villain, but this issue includes some fantastic action sequences. It also includes other interesting moments, notably the flashback where Jean Grey and Jason Wyngarde engage in a deer hunt with a human instead of a deer.

EXCALIBUR #88 (Marvel, 1995) – Warren Ellis [W], Larry Stroman et al [A]. Warren Ellis’s Excalibur is another comic I haven’t bothered to collect because of my skepticism about Ellis. But I am a big Kitty Pryde fan, and I remember seeing a positive review of this particular story, “Dream Nails,” in Frank Plowright’s Slings and Arrows guide. This issue isn’t spectacular but it is entertainingly written, though I think Stroman’s art is very ugly.

ADVENTURE COMICS #362 (DC, 1967) – Jim Shooter [W], Pete Costanza [A]. This was the only Shooter-written Legion issue of Adventure comics that I was missing. It was one of those comics that I didn’t bother to buy because I mistakenly assumed I already had it. “The Chemoids Are Coming” is far from Shooter’s best story – Mantis Morlo is a stupid villain who only ever made one subsequent appearance that I know of. But this issue is still head and shoulders above other Legion stories from this era by other writers. Notably, this story begins with a cute scene showing the Legionnaires relaxing in their headquarters. Later in the issue, Shooter takes us to Orando for the first time, and establishes that it has a medieval level of technology. I think this story is also the starting point of Projectra and Karate Kid’s doomed romance.

DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES #18 (Gladstone, 1989) – Carl Barks [W/A]. This issue reprints Carl Barks’s “No Such Varmint,” with a beautiful new cover by Don Rosa, which I got Rosa to sign while at Heroes Con. According to the blurb on the back cover, Western prohibited artists from depicting snakes – I guess because they were considered scary to children? – but this particular story, which is all about snakes, was so brilliant that the censors ignored it. I’m not going to try to summarize the plot of the story, but it’s hilarious, and includes some gorgeous illustrations of a giant sea serpent. It’s also a great example of the conflict between Donald, with his chronic lack of discipline, and his nephews, with their high ambitions and strong work ethic. One funny thing about this story is Barks’s verbal depictions of the sound of Donald’s flute (“twee te tweetle” and so on).

SPIDER-GWEN #9 (Marvel, 2016) – Jason Latour [W], Robbi Rodriguez [A]. As if it wasn’t bad enough that the last two issues were wasted on a crossover, now we have another story that doesn’t make sense without knowledge of that crossover. It seems that now Gwen’s lost her powers and can only restore them a limited number of times. I don’t know or care how this situation came about, and I think it’s stupid. Basically, this is the third consecutive issue of this series that I just couldn’t understand.

MARVEL SUPER-HEROES #11 (Marvel, 1992) – various [W/A]. The first two stories in this issue are stupid, but the third one is a fascinating curiosity. It’s Chris Claremont and Mike Vosburg’s unpublished story that was intended for Ms. Marvel #25, with a new seven-page conclusion, written by Simon Furman, that bridges the gap between this story and Avengers Annual #10. In this story, Carol investigates Mike Barnett’s murder and encounters Destiny, Avalanche and Pyro for the first time. In terms of quality, this story is up to the usual level of Claremont’s Ms. Marvel stories, though the conclusion by Simon Furman is a shoddy piece of hackwork. The history behind this story is equally fascinating. Ms. Marvel #25 would have come out in about August 1979. If that comic had been published in the form in which it appears in Marvel Super-Heroes #11, it would have been the first appearance of Destiny, Avalanche, Pyro, Rogue, Sebastian Shaw and Donald Pierce. Instead, Rogue first appeared in Avengers Annual #10 in 1980, and the other five characters didn’t appear until 1981. So you really have to wonder what Claremont intended to do with these characters, and how much he had to change his plans in order to use them in X-Men instead of Ms. Marvel. I guess there’s some room for doubt as to whether the scenes with Rogue and the Hellfire Club actually were written and drawn in 1979, or whether these scenes were added in 1992. But it really looks to me like the entire first 20 pages of this story were both written and drawn in 1979, and it seems plausible that there were already two complete issues of Ms. Marvel in the can when the series was cancelled. Assuming that this version of Ms. Marvel #25 really does represent Claremont’s original intentions, it’s an intriguing glimpse into an alternate reality that never existed.

WOLFF & BYRD, COUNSELORS OF THE MACABRE #11 (Exhibit A, 1996) – Batton Lash [W/A]. “Strange Bedfellows” consists of two inset stories, plus three framing sequences involving the three couples in the series (Mavis and Toby, Jeff and Dawn Devine, Alanna and Chase). The first inset story is about a shrewish wife who literally turns her husband into a blob of jelly; the second one is about a comedian who is cursed with a personal laugh track. Both these stories are hilarious, though the second one includes some uncomfortable stereotypes of Roma people. The three framing sequences are also really good, and much sexier than is normal for this series. The issue begins with a scene where you think Mavis is receiving oral sex, but it turns out she’s getting a foot massage. Later, there’s a scene where you think Chase and Wolff are having sex, but it turns out they’re both having separate phone conversations. Funny.

WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #231 (DC, 1975) – Bob Haney [W], Dick Dillin [A]. I usually like Bob Haney’s Super Sons stories; my favorite is the one where Superman Jr falls in love with Lex Luthor’s daughter. I even plan on reading the new Super-Sons title even though I’m not familiar with the creative team. However, this particular issue was not good. It starts with Superman Jr and Batman Jr putting their fathers on trial for being grandstanding egomaniacs. Haney fails to explain what exactly the Super-Sons are accusing their fathers of, or why. And then the Super-Fathers are found guilty and sentenced to jail, but again, why they were found guilty is not clear. From there on, the story gets even more confusing and implausible, and I’m not going to attempt to summarize it. Haney was probably trying to convey some sort of message about generational conflict, but he failed. At Heroes Con, I asked Ramona Fradon what Bob Haney was like, and she told me, according to my imperfect recollection, that he always wanted to be a novelist and was somewhat ashamed of working in comics.

New comics received on June 24:

MS. MARVEL #8 (Marvel, 2016) – G. Willow Wilson [W], Takeshi Miyazawa & Adrian Alphona [A]. The best scene in this issue is the flashback at the beginning, which shows Kamala’s great-grandparents* emigrating from Pakistan. This scene has no obvious connection to the rest of the story, besides being about civil war, but it creates a powerful sense of both uncertainty and hope. In the rest of the issue, Kamala works with some new assistants, including one who has precognitive powers. Just like in Minority Report, they use precognition to stop crimes that haven’t occurred yet, and this leads to the same ethical issues as in Minority Report. And one of the future criminals Kamala is pursuing turns out to be Josh. The other adorable moment in this issue is where Kamala demands a hug from Tyesha, and Tyesha obliges. They have such a great sister-in-law relationship. Another point I want to make is that G. Willow Wilson has successfully avoided allowing Ms. Marvel to be derailed by crossovers. Where other Marvel titles like Captain Marvel and All-New All-Different Avengers have suffered badly from involvement in crossovers, Ms. Marvel has succeeded in acknowledging the events of crossovers while still keeping its own story on track. I’m not sure whether this is because G. Willow Wilson is getting special treatment from the editors, or whether it’s just the result of good writing.

* We are not told which generation Kareem and Aisha are, but they must be Kamala’s great-grandparents and not her grandparents, or else Kamala would have been born when her mother was over 50.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #5 (Marvel, 2016) – David Walker [W], Flaviano [A]. This self-contained issue is a cute Rashomon-esque story, in which a fight between Luke, Danny and Manslaughter Marsdale is told in multiple contradictory ways. I was delighted when I realized what was going on here – it took me a second to decipher the name Ralphie Aaron Shomon. I do think that Batton Lash did this sort of thing more effectively in Wolff & Byrd #21. And the cool thing about the original Rashomon story is that the last version of the story is told by the dead man, so it would have been funnier if the final version of this issue’s story was told by the car, or something like that. But I’m nitpicking.

PRINCELESS: RAVEN: THE PIRATE PRINCESS #9 (Action Lab, 2016) – Jeremy Whitley [W], Rosy Higgins & Sorah Suhng [A]. The framing sequences in this issue are better than the main story, which is a flashback to the origin of the first Xingtao pirate queen. This story is too short to be really compelling, though I do like the way the demons are drawn. But the framing sequences include a lot of effective character development, including Raven realizing she’s in love with Ximena.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #8 (Marvel, 2016) – Amy Reeder & Brandon Montclare [W], Natacha Bustos [A]. The other day I told someone that this series isn’t perfect, but at least it’s trying. I would stand behind that assessment. I have lots of nitpicky problems with this comic, but Lunella Lafayette is a fascinating character and the writers’ hearts are in the right place. I love the idea of Lunella switching minds with Devil, though the execution could have been better.

KLAUS #6 (Boom!, 2016) – Grant Morrison [W], Dan Mora [A]. I’m still enjoying this miniseries, but it’s at least one issue too long. All the plot development in this issue could have been included in issue 5 instead.

WONDER WOMAN #1 (DC, 2016) – Greg Rucka [W], Liam Sharp [A]. I hated Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1, but this issue was a major improvement, and it reminds me a lot of Greg Rucka’s previous Wonder Woman run. I assumed that the commander at the start of the issue was Amanda Waller, and I was delighted to discover that she was Etta Candy. What an awesome way to reboot a character. The new Cheetah also looks pretty cool.

SUPERMAN #166 (DC, 1964) – Edmond Hamilton [W], Curt Swan [A]. “The Fantastic Story of Superman’s Sons!” is a classic Imaginary Story. Superman and his unidentified wife (who looks a lot like Lois) have two sons, Jor-El II and Kal-El II. Jor-El II has Superman’s powers but Kal-El II doesn’t, and he grows up with a terrible inferiority complex, which he eventually cures by saving his father’s life from a Phantom Zone villain. It’s a poignant story with an impressive epic scope, but it depicts Superman as kind of a crummy parent.

THE AUTHORITY #2 (DC, 1999) – Warren Ellis [W], Bryan Hitch [A]. I bought the first 12 issues of this series at Comic-Con several years ago, but I only ever read the first issue. This second issue is very well-drawn but the story didn’t make much of an impression on me.

I SAW IT #1 (Educomics, 1982) – Keiji Nakazawa [W/A]. Another comic I bought at Comic-Con several years ago but didn’t read. I decided to read it because I was reading Casey Brienza’s Manga in America, and she mentions that this comic was the first manga published in America, and its publisher, Leonard Rifas, was disappointed with its sales. I think one reason why is because this comic makes no attempt to explain what manga are or how to read them. It just throws the reader right in at the deep end. A reader encountering this comic in 1982, with no prior knowledge of manga, would probably have thought “WTF is this? Why is the art so simple? Why are there so many panels on each page?” Etc. Not to mention that this comic is full of Japanese cultural references that would have made little sense to Americans in 1982. Also, this is not exactly an entertaining comic book; it’s a bleak and depressing story of the bombing of Hiroshima. Even on an artistic level, it’s a weaker piece of work than Barefoot Gen, which is a much longer story on a similar topic. I Saw It only deals with the actual atomic bombing and its immediate aftermath, and does not explain the context that led up to the atomic bombing. It leaves itself open to the criticism that Nakazawa is trying to present the Japanese people as innocent victims, a criticism that was also leveled at Fumiyo Kouno’s Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms. In contrast, Barefoot Gen extensively depicts how the people of Hiroshima suffered not just from the bombing but also from the fascist and militarist policies of their own government, so it has a level of nuance that’s missing in I Saw It. Overall, I Saw It is an interesting historical artifact, but no wonder it was a commercial failure.

DNAGENTS SUPER SPECIAL #1 (Antarctic, 1994) – Mark Evanier [W], various [A]. This is another weird curiosity. But it doesn’t contain any significantly new DNAgents material – just a seven-page story that’s a heavily condensed retelling of the group’s origin, with that appears to have been lifted directly from the first issue or two of the original DNAgents series. There is also an essay by Mark Evanier, explaining what happened to the planned DNAgents TV show. In the essay, Evanier also suggests that this special issue was published as a “revival/preview for when we do [DNAgents] again,” but it’s been 22 years since this issue was published and there haven’t been any more DNAgents comics, so essentially this comic is a preview issue for a series that never happened. The only thing that makes this comic worthwhile is that it also contains a new Crossfire story by Evanier and Spiegle, which contains a brilliant twist ending. A psychotic Holocaust survivor tries to assassinate an actor who plays Nazi characters, thinking the actor is a Nazi. Crossfire is unable to prevent the assassin from getting to the actor… but the actor saves his life by rolling up his sleeve and revealing his own concentration camp tattoos. It’s a powerful moment that justifies the existence of this otherwise pointless comic.

THE AUTUMNLANDS #11 (DC, 2016) – Kurt Busiek [W], Benjamin Dewey [A]. Not a whole lot happens in this issue. The protagonists get attacked by some monster, and then they encounter some living statues that are tired of living and want to be killed. I notice that this series used to have 32 pages per issue, but now it’s down to 24 pages. I think this has resulted in a drop-off in quality, and it would be better if this series had 32 pages per issue again and came out less often.

JUGHEAD #7 (Archie, 2016) – Chip Zdarsky [W], Derek Charm [A]. I was hesitant to read this because it’s (I think) the first issue not drawn by Erica Henderson. But it was hilarious anyway. Archie and Jughead go camping, but their campsite turns out to be right next to the Reggie Mantle family reunion, and it turns out that Archie only agreed to go because there’s alslo a girls’ summer camp nearby. And then Archie and Jughead get lost in the woods. This issue also includes some very clever one-page gag strips by Harry Lucey, in which Jughead paints pictures that become real.

INVINCIBLE #15 (Image, 2004) – Robert Kirkman [W], Ryan Ottley [A]. This is the earliest issue of Invincible I have. At this point, I have a complete run from Invincible #23 to #109, but the issues earlier than #23 are the most expensive. This issue is somewhat similar to the Atlanta episode of Futurama. For convoluted reasons, Mark is supposed to marry the queen of Invincible’s version of Atlantis. It turns out that she looks like a fish, and also the wedding ceremony requires Mark to publicly copulate with her. Mark finds a clever way of avoiding the marriage and allowing the queen to marry the man (or fish) she really loves. It’s a cute and funny story, unlike some later issues of Invincible, as we will soon see. A subplot involves Mark’s mother becoming friends with SuperPatriot’s wife. It’s a bit surprising to see a character from another Image comic in the pages of Invincible – Savage Dragon does this all the time, but Invincible not so much.

USAGI YOJIMBO #155 (Dark Horse, 2016) – Stan Sakai [W/A]. Part one of “The Secret of the Hell Screen” is one of Stan’s best issues since the reboot. The scene where Usagi confronts the rude watchman is brilliant. Usagi is usually the very soul of politeness, but this scene indicates that even he has his breaking point, and that he’s terrifying when he’s angry. And like all the other Inspector Ishida stories, this story is an intriguing and creepy mystery. My one complaint is that the hell screen isn’t scary enough. We’re told that it’s terrifying and horrendous, but it sure doesn’t look that way to me.

FLASH GORDON #3 (Dynamite, 2014) – Jeff Parker [W], Evan “Doc” Shaner [A]. Another good issue, but I don’t have anything original to say about it. Flash has to fight in a gladiatorial arena against some people with animal heads, but he convinces some of them to fight alongside him against Ming.

ANGEL AND THE APE #5 (DC, 1969) – Bob Oksner [W/A]. I’ve had this comic for a long long time and I’ve never felt motivated to read it. I don’t now why not, because this is a beautifully drawn piece of absurdist humor. Bob Oksner was almost as good at drawing stunning women as Nick Cardy, and much better at doing sight gags. I don’t understand why this series has never been reprinted.

PHANTOM STRANGER #24 (DC, 1973) – Len Wein [W], Jim Aparo [A]. This is the first issue of Phantom Stranger that I’ve read. I have been neglecting this series unjustly, because this issue includes some beautiful Jim Aparo artwork. The story isn’t terrible either – it takes place during the carnival in Rio. This issue also includes a Spawn of Frankenstein backup story with Mike Kaluta artwork.

GRIZZLY SHARK #3 (Image, 2016) – Ryan Ottley [W/A]. An intentionally tasteless, disgusting piece of gross-out humor. This sort of thing is funny in small doses, but I’m glad this is the last issue.

DAREDEVIL #65 (Marvel, 1970) – Roy Thomas [W], Gene Colan [A]. Beautiful Gene Colan artwork is hampered by a boring and unoriginal story. While shooting a TV show, Karen Page is menaced by a villainous actor named Brother Brimstone, but Matt saves her life because he (i.e. Matt) has been stalking her.

THOR #197 (Marvel, 1972) – Gerry Conway [W], John Buscema [A]. I must have been feeling rather out of sorts this week, because I read a bunch of comic books that I didn’t particularly enjoy. I don’t have a whole lot of issues of Thor from between Jack Kirby’s departure and Roy Thomas’s late-‘70s run, and the reason why not is because this was a pretty bad period for Thor. Too many Thor comics from this era were just reruns of old Lee and Kirby stories. For example, this issue is a boring retread of the Mangog Saga.

DEVIL DINOSAUR #2 (Marvel, 1978) – Jack Kirby [W/A]. Another comic I didn’t enjoy as much as it may have deserved. The trouble with some of Kirby’s late works, including this one, is that it’s hard to tell one issue from another. Also, at this point Kirby’s artwork was no longer at its best. My favorite thing about this issue is the giant hairy spider that Devil Dinosaur fights.

SHOWCASE #99 (DC, 1978) – Paul Levitz [W], Joe Staton [A]. Finally, an actual good comic. Power Girl establishes her new Karen Starr identity, and saves Jay Garrick and Alan Scott from Brain Wave, a villain who looks almost exactly like Sivana. Karen is able to save the day because she’s become a computer expert thanks to a Themysciran “memory teacher” device, and therefore she’s able to use Brain Wave’s computer to fix the damage Brain Wave did. The curious thing about this story is that Paul Levitz doesn’t really explain what Power Girl did to Brain Wave’s computer, or how her computer knowledge allowed her to save the day. He didn’t need to explain, because back in 1978, computers were essentially magic.

ROCKET RACCOON AND GROOT #6 (Marvel, 2016) – Skottie Young [W], Brett Bean [A]. Rocket and Groot compete in a series of successively more bizarre games, but when they can’t decide who’s better, they decide to fight some aliens and see who can rack up more kills. This is kind of ultraviolent and disturbing, but of course Skottie Young handles it in a funny way. Overall this was an enjoyable issue.

DESCENDER #12 (Image, 2016) – Jeff Lemire [W], Dustin Nguyen [A]. This issue reveals the poignant origin of Tim-22. It turns out Tim-22 was supposed to be a companion to an old man, but the old man insisted he didn’t need any help, and forced Tim to stand in a closet for eight months. Then Tim was freed because of the robot revolution – the splash page of the giant robot destroying a city is one of the most powerful pages in this series yet. And he then had to kill a human child to save his own life. That’s a clear violation of the First and Third Laws of Robotics – a robot can’t protect its own existence by harming a human being – and yet it makes psychological sense. Tim-22 is still an awful, screwed-up villain, but now we understand why.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #29 (IDW, 2016) – Ted Anderson [W], Brenda Hickey [A]. The pairing of Rarity and Maud Pie makes perfect sense because on the one hand, they’re the two ponies who are interested in rocks, but on the other hand, they’re on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. Rarity is a histrionic drama queen, while Maud Pie is completely inexpressive. Anderson and Hickey do a good job of exploiting the humor value of this pairing, but I’m not sure I believe the notion that Maud does have feelings and is just shy about expressing them. Actually I’m fine with that; what bothers me is the idea that Maud wants to express herself more openly, but is somehow able to. Well, actually I may have misread; Maud does write in her diary that “I wish I could be more open about my feelings, like Rarity,” but she immediately adds “But that’s just not the kind of pony I am!” That sounds more believable. Maud does have feelings, she just prefers to keep them on the inside.

I HATE FAIRYLAND #6 (Image, 2016) – Skottie Young [W/A]. Gertrude’s reign as queen of Fairyland lasts less than an issue. Skottie is kind of apologetic in this in his author’s note, but he seems to have decided that the premise of Gert as queen was less interesting than he initially thought. So who knows where this series is going next. But I trust Skottie to come up with an interesting new narrative direction. This series is like Grizzly Shark in that it relies on tasteless gross-out humor, but unlike Grizzly Shark, its premise is deep enough to sustain an extended series. My favorite thing about this issue is Hup of the Buffle Truffs, a pink furry winged teddy bear who turns out to also be a savage killer, much like my cat.

BEOWULF #4 (1975) – Michael Uslan [W], Ricardo Villamonte [A]. This is a convoluted, confusing, overambitious story. Besides Beowulf, it also includes the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel and Dracula and a warrior woman in a bikini. It’s never clear how all these elements fit together, and Michael Uslan’s writing is full of pseudo-profound nonsense. But I kind of enjoyed this story anyway because of how weird it was. I’d rather have a comic that tries to do too much rather than not enough. Ricardo Villamonte’s artwork is uneven but has occasional flashes of brilliance, and this issue includes some funny Easter eggs, like a magic incarnation that reads “SIHT POTNANOC EESSTEL!”, which is easily decoded as “Let’s see Conan top this!”

New comics received on July 1. This was not an ideal day for new comics because I was scrambling to finish up a piece of academic writing. I should have finished it before I started reading comics.

THE LEGEND OF WONDER WOMAN #7 (DC, 2016) – Renae de Liz [W/A]. This was maybe my least favorite issue yet, but only because the quality of this series has been so uniformly high. This issue introduces Priscilla Rich, i.e. the original Cheetah. Also, we get some more information about the plot, and Zeus tries to get Diana to be his champion, but Diana correctly refuses, because it entails killing everyone in Patriarch’s World. I notice that in the panel where Diana says “home,” on the third page from the end, she looks like a little girl; I assume this is deliberate. In addition, we get some more characterization of Etta and Steve. I love how Etta seems to have no sense of embarrassment or self-consciousness – she’s not ashamed at all of being full-figured (not that she should be), and her reaction to Pam Smuthers’s attempts to humiliate her is to get angry. And Steve is adorable. I’m sorry there are only two more issues (I think), but Renae de Liz is an amazing writer/artist, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #9 (Marvel, 2016) – Ryan North [W], Erica Henderson [A]. A fantastic issue, though I was a bit too preoccupied to enjoy it to the fullest. After Ms. Marvel, USG is the best current Marvel or DC comic. In this issue, Squirrel Girl tries to gently rebuff Mole Man’s romantic advances, but he doesn’t take the hint and keeps trying to court her, even when Nancy gives him a well-deserved slap. And finally Mole Man decides to hold the entire world hostage unless Doreen goes on a date with him. This is very funny, and also relevant to real life, because this is exactly the way some men act when they get rejected by women. At Heroes Con, I asked Erica if she had read Jason Shiga’s Meanwhile, and she said that she’d never heard of it, and that as far as she knew, it was just a coincidence that Koi Boi’s last name is Shiga. I want to ask Ryan North the same question but I’ve never met him.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #16 (IDW, 2016) – Kelly Thompson [W], Sophie Campbell [A]. A fairly strong conclusion to the Dark Synergy story. Though I’m not sure what the fallout from this issue will be, or how Synergy is going to survive whatever Silica did to her – I’m not even sure I understand the relationship between Synergy and Silica. I also don’t know who the new characters on the last page are supposed to be. But Kimber and Stormer’s kiss on the lsat page is nice. My favorite part of the issue is the profile of Pizzazz’s cat, Madmartigan, especially the statement that her favorite possession is Pizzazz.

SPIDER-GWEN ANNUAL #1 (Marvel, 2016) – Jason Latour [W], various [A]. I didn’t like this issue on my first reading, but I suspect that it’s actually an amazingly good comic and that I was just too tired to appreciate it. I need to read it again. The Donald Trump/Modok character is an amazing visual image which has understandably gone viral. After writing the previous part of this review, I sat down and read this comic again, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I did the first time around. On the first reading, I didn’t even realize that Baron Blood was supposed to be Prince. And I completely forgot about the villain who turns koalas into drop bears.

BLACK PANTHER #3 (Marvel, 2016) – Ta-Nehisi Coates [W], Brian Stelfreeze [A]. I forgot to order the first two issues of this series, and still haven’t read them. Therefore, this issue didn’t make sense to me at all. I do love the quotation from Henry Dumas, a writer I’m not familiar with at all.

USAGI YOJIMBO #8 (Mirage, 1994) – Stan Sakai [W/A]. An excellent issue. “Blood Money” is a sequel to “The Duel” from #26 of the Fantagraphics series, which I have not read. In that story, Usagi killed a professional duelist named Shubo, who was partnered with a gambler named… actually this character doesn’t seem to have a name. In this story, Usagi encounters the gambler and his new partner Kedamono. Meanwhile, Shubo’s widow, Kuniyo, also recognizes the gambler (but not Usagi, for some reason). Kedamono forces Usagi to fight him, mistaking Usagi’s politeness for weakness, and Usagi kills him, while Kuniyo poisons the gambler and takes his money. So both villains get their comeuppance, but neither Usagi nor Kuniyo ever learns the other’s identity, and only the reader understands the full picture. A weird thing about this story is that Usagi saves the day without really doing anything proactive; all he does is fight the duel with Kedamono, and he only does that because Kedamono demands it. This issue also includes a backup story in which a young Usagi meets Lord Mifune for the first time, while trying to return a sword that he stole from a dead samurai. In the panel where Lord Mifune appears, I initially thought he was the ghost of the dead samurai, and I assume I was supposed to think that. (N.B.: After writing this review, I discovered I already had a copy of this issue.)

UNCANNY X-MEN #112 (Marvel, 1978) – Chris Claremont [W], John Byrne [A]. This was the other Claremont/Byrne X-Men that I got at Heroes Con. It’s part two of the New X-Men’s second encounter with Magneto. I’ve only read this story once or twice, and so there was a lot here that was unfamiliar to me. The issue is mostly a big fight scene, but with gorgeous artwork, and it’s an interesting fight scene because of what it indicates about the New X-Men – in short, they get their asses kicked because they fight Magneto one at a time instead of working together.

ARCHIE #9 (Archie, 2016) – Mark Waid [W], Veronica Fish [A]. I keep saying that this series isn’t as good as Jughead, but I liked this issue a lot. Veronica moves in with Archie’s parents, but it turns out that because she’s always had servants, she’s incapable of doing simple things like shopping for groceries. The grocery store scene ought to be implausible, but Mark Waid somehow makes me believe it. There are also some cute scenes that suggest that Archie and Betty’s relationship is not over.

TALES OF SUSPENSE #73 (Marvel, 1965) – Stan Lee [W], Gene Colan [A] on first story; Stan Lee [W], Jack Kirby & George Tuska [A] on second story. This is an impressive Silver Age Marvel comic, though neither of the stories is an absolute classic. In the Iron Man story, Tony tries to save Happy Hogan from the Black Knight; in the Captain America story, Cap battles the Red Skull’s three Sleepers.

AW YEAH COMICS! ACTION CAT & ADVENTURE BUG #2 (Dark Horse, 2016) – Art Baltazar [W/A], Franco [W]. This is an enjoyable read, but the trouble with Baltazar and Franco’s comics – at least for an adult reader – is that once you’ve read one of them, you’ve read them all. Nothing in this issue particularly stood out to me.

NEW ROMANCER #4 (Vertigo, 2016) – Peter Milligan [W], Brett Parson [A]. As often happens with miniseries, I got a few issues behind on New Romancer, and then once I had all the issues, I didn’t feel any urgency about reading them. That’s unfortunate because this really is a well-written and intelligent comic. Like most Peter Milligan comics, it’s seriously weird and confusing, but Milligan has clearly done a lot of research on Byron, and he understands both the appealing and the repulsive aspects of Byron’s character. I need to read the next two issues sooner or later. Memorable scenes in this issue include Byron’s reunion with Ada, the daughter he abandoned, and his line “I was drunker than Lord Elgin when I wrote that.”

FLAMING CARROT COMICS #2 (Image, 2005) – Bob Burden [W/A]. Yet another quality comic that I’ve never paid much attention to. This comic has the same absurdist sense of humor as Reid Fleming, though with worse art. The plot involves two women fighting over the Flaming Carrot, and some pygmies building a giant ear out of bread. I won’t be in a hurry to get more of these, but I will pick them up if I see them in a cheap box.

STRANGE SPORTS STORIES #3 (Vertigo, 2015) – various [W/A]. The most disturbing and therefore most memorable story this issue is Ben McCool and Darick Robertson’s “Leap of Glory,” about a football game where players can sacrifice their lives to give their team a bunch of points. Inevitably, the game ends with all the players, coaches, spectators, and announcers sacrificing themselves. This is disgusting, and yet surprisingly plausible given the culture of U.S. sports. I also like CM Punk and Andy MacDonald’s “The Most Cursed,” which is a barely fictionalized tribute to the Chicago Cubs. Brandon Montclare and Natacha Bustos’s “Going Nowhere” is about sumo, and it seems very well-researched – the costumes and scenery in the story look very similar to photos and videos I’ve seen of actual sumo. Which is cool because they could have gotten away with not doing the research, and very few people would have noticed. However, this story has a vapid plot. The last story in the issue (actually the first in order) has nice art by Michael J. DiMotta, but I didn’t remember what it was about until I looked at the issue again.

CONAN THE CIMMERIAN #18 (Dark Horse, 2010) – Tim Truman [W], Tim Truman and Tomas Giorello [A]. I lost interest in Dark Horse’s Conan after Kurt Busiek’s run ended, and I only bought this issue because it was cheap. Part 3 of “The Free Companions” is a sequel to “Black Colossus.” Reading this story was a weird experience for me because I’m intimately familiar with Roy Thomas’s version of “Black Colossus.” His adaptation of this story in Conan #249 was the first Conan comic I ever read. Tim Truman’s sequel goes in a different direction from Thomas’s sequel, in Conan #250 and the following issues, and it was hard for me not to think that Truman was somehow getting the facts wrong. Most of the art in this story is by Truman himself, and it’s not his best; I feel like he’s declined since his peak in the ‘80s.

JSA #24 (DC, 2001) – David Goyer & Geoff Johns [W], Stephen Sadowski [A]. I reference my previous comments about this series. It’s ironic that when this series was coming out, people were praising David Goyer and Geoff Johns for their imaginative reinvention of the DC Universe, and now both Goyer and Johns have been complicit in running DC into the ground. “The Return of Hawkman” is an exciting and epic story that got a lot of praise at the time. What does annoy me about it is the male JSAers’ gaslighting of Kendra Saunders. There’s one scene where Jay tells Kendra to calm down, and Carter Hall literally says “It’s okay, Jay. You know how she can get a temper sometimes” – as if she wasn’t even there. I also have issue 25 and I’ll get to it sometime soon.

PLUTONA #5 (Image, 2016) – Jeff Lemire [W], Emi Lenox [A]. I’m a bit surprised that this is the last issue. The plot twist here is that, first, Plutona’s not dead; she wakes up and flies away. Second, when Teddy realizes that he didn’t get super powers by injecting himself with Plutona’s blood, he goes nuts and threatens the other kids with a knife. And then Diane whacks him with a stick, perhaps fatally. And the story ends with Mie’s little brother lying awake in bed, horrified. This is an inconclusive ending, but that’s on purpose; we’re meant to assume that the kids’ encounter with Plutona has marked them permanently. In essence, this was a horror comic, only we didn’t realize it until the end. Overall, this was a somewhat subtle and low-key work, and I see why some reviewers are disappointed with it, but I think Lemire and Lenox effectively achieved what they were trying to do.

X-MEN: WORST X-MAN EVER #5 (Marvel, 2016) – Max Bemis [W], Michael Walsh [A]. Curiously, this issue begins in the future, when Lord Riches rules the entire world and Bailey is a ne’er-do-well loser. It turns out this is an alternate future, and Miranda shows up to put the universe back on the right track. It also turns out that Miranda has been doing this since the 1960s, and it’s because of her that Marvel’s heroes never get older, Nick Fury became a black man, Bucky came back to life, etc. In other words, Miranda is singlehandedly responsible for every continuity error and retcon in the history of Marvel comics. This is impossible to accept at face value, but it’s funny. At the end of the issue, Bailey uses his one-shot power to blow himself up and kill Lord Riches, and the issue ends with a letter from editor Jordan White to Max Bemis, suggesting that it’s not the right time for Bemis’s proposed story about Bailey and that maybe this character can be revisited later. So I guess we’re supposed to assume that Miranda changed our universe so that the X-Men: Worst X-Man Ever miniseries was never published. Weird. Overall, this was a strange and not entirely successful miniseries, but I’m not sorry I read it, though I am perhaps sorry I paid full price for it.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #43 (IDW, 2016) – Thom Zahler [W], Tony Fleecs [A]. This issue begins with the Mane Six returning from an unspecified adventure in the kingdom of Abyssinia. I wonder if Thom knows that Abyssinia used to be the name of a real country. And then the ponies drink from a mysterious hot spring that causes them all to turn evil. I have sometimes wondered which of the Mane Six has the greatest potential to turn into a supervillain, and my answer was Rarity, and indeed, in this issue Rarity declares herself the empress of Ponyville (and also puts on a mask because, like Dr. Doom, she can’t stand to have anyone see that she’s not absolutely perfect). But Twilight Sparkle also declares herself the queen, while Rainbow Dash causes constant sonic rainbooms, and Applejack becomes a slavedriving real estate tycoon. And we’ve barely even seen Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie yet. This story will be continued next issue, and I’m looking forward to it.

INCREDIBLE HULK #108 (Marvel, 1968) – Stan Lee [W], Herb Trimpe [A]. Very nice artwork by the Trimpe/Severin team, but a somewhat unimpressive story in which the Hulk, Nick Fury and a Soviet colonel battle the Mandarin. The Mandarin had the potential to be a truly formidable villain, with his ten different superpowers and his massive resources, but he was hampered by being both a blatant stereotype and a relic of the Cold War.

NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. #5 (Marvel, 1968) – Jim Steranko [W/A]. “Whatever Happened to Scorpio?” is Steranko’s last Nick Fury story, and one of his best. The photo colllage on page 4 is maybe the most striking thing in it, but nearly every page of this comic is a masterpiece. Steranko’s achievement is all the more amazing considering that his active career only lasted five years (1966-1970). His body of work was tiny but was so innovative and so ahead of his time that even today, it still looks radical. Maybe the reason for Steranko’s reputation is because his career was so short – unlike Neal Adams, he didn’t keep doing comics long enough to become a parody of himself.

SWEETNESS #1 (Z2, 2016) – Miss Lasko-Gross [W], Kevin Colden [A]. I only ordered this because I recognized the name Miss Lasko-Gross, and when it arrived, I didn’t expect much from it and I even regretted ordering it. Z2’s output has been kind of underwhelming. But it turns out this is actually a good comic. It’s a science fiction story about space smugglers, and what makes it interesting is the intelligent writing. The plot is intriguing and the dialogue is really good. Based on this, I want to keep reading this comic. However, Kevin Colden’s artwork reminds me uncomfortably of Mike McKone’s artwork, which I strongly dislike for reasons I can’t explain.

HILLBILLY #1 (Albatross, 2016) – Eric Powell [W/A]. I maybe shouldn’t have ordered this because I’m not a big Eric Powell fan – The Goon is one of those comics where the joke is funny for a while, but gets old quickly. But again, this comic was surprisingly good. It has excellent artwork that makes effective use of graytones, the dialogue is written in a distinctive voice, and it has an intelligent plot that seems to be based on Appalachian folklore. This is another comic I want to read more of.

HEAD LOPPER #4 (Image, 2016) – Andrew MacLean [W/A]. This came out a few weeks ago but I didn’t read it immediately because of its length. This issue, Head Lopper fights an epic battle with Lulach and Barra, and of course he wins, in epic fashon. The two-page splash with Head Lopper facing off against the three-headed serpent is a stunning piece of work. There are also some touching and funny moments here, like the late king’s last visit with his pregnant queen, and Head Lopper apologizing to the dead guy for cutting his head off. I’m glad that there’s more Head Lopper material coming, because Andrew MacLean is seriously good.

BITCH PLANET #8 (Image, 2016) – Kelly Sue DeConnick [W], Valentine De Landro [A]. I finally got to meet Kelly and Matt at Heroes Con, though only very briefly, and I only had time to tell them how much I enjoy their work. For the first time in this series, this issue shows us how transgender women are treated in Bitch Planet’s world (obvious spoiler: not well). And Meiko Maki’s dad realizes his daughter is dead, which is a major plot point. Also, I’m not entirely sure who Eleanor Doane is, but she appears on the last page. It may be a while before Bitch Planet #9 comes out, but I look forward to it. The back matter in this comic continues to be excellent, and at least as powerful and effective as the actual comic. This issue includes an essay by my fellow comics scholar John Jennings.

DEPT. H #3 (Dark Horse, 2016) – Matt Kindt [W/A]. At Heroes Con, I told Sharlene Kindt that she deserves an Eisner nomination for her coloring, and she may well get one, because Dept. H has not been eligible yet. This latest issue is exciting but sort of leaves the reader hanging. Raj gets trapped in the ocean, but when Mia goes to rescue him, she’s prevented from doing so because of a bunch of other crises. And then when those crises are resolved, Mia goes to bed instead of making another rescue attempt, and Raj is not mentioned again. So there’s a massive dangling plot thread here.

THE MIGHTY THOR #8 (Marvel, 2016) – Jason Aaron [W], Russell Dauterman [A]. This series is finally back on track after two bad filler issues, although not a whole lot has changed since the first issue. Jane Foster is still Thor and she’s still dying of cancer because her superhero adventures are interfering with her treatment. But despite the lack of progress, this was an exciting issue. I love the idea that there’s a secret organization of all of Marvel’s capitalist supervillains. Frr’dox is a new character but all the other members of this group are preexisting characters, though a couple of them were created by Jason Aaron previously.

DOCTOR STRANGE #9 (Marvel, 2016) – Jason Aaron [W], Chris Bachalo [A]. I love the cover of this issue, with a giant eye looking out of a well. This is the next-to-last chapter of Last Days of Magic, and that’s good, because this story has gone on too long. Notable occurrences in this issue are that, first, we see Zelma Stanton again, and second, Doctor Strange finally finds out about Wong’s ethically questionable secret-disciple operation.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #30 (IDW, 2016) – Christina Rice [W], Agnes Garbowska [A]. Like MLP: FIM #38 and #39, this issue suffers from being out of sync with the TV show. The featured characters are Twilight Sparkle and Princess Cadance, but Cadance is not a mother yet, and there’s no mention of her pregnancy. (Which is odd because “The One Where Pinkie Pie Knows” was the episode right after “Crusaders of the Lost Mark,” and the latter episode has already been mentioned in the comics.) Also, the story in this issue is annoying. Cadance is depressed because she’s less popular than Twilight, Luna or Celestia and everyone sees her as just “the pretty princess.” This is a fine premise, but the way it’s resolved is that Twilight tells Cadance she inspires people because she’s “kind, thoughtful, accessible, and accepting” and “full of love and light.” The trouble is, that could be a description of Snow White or Barbie or a million other sexist characters. (Not that Snow White and Barbie are necessarily sexist, but bear with me for the sake of argument.) The message here is that Cadance is admired because of traits which are passive and stereotypically feminine, and not because of anything she does. I agree that Cadance is an overshadowed and underused character, but if Christina Rice wanted to rehabilitate her, she could have found a better way to do it.

WONDER WOMAN #55 (DC, 1991) – George Pérez [W], Jill Thompson [A]. An excellent late Pérez issue. Dr. Psycho is Wonder Woman’s most disgusting and disturbing villain, and in this issue he nearly succeeds in driving Diana, Julia and Vanessa away from each other, while he apparently does succeed in killing a pregnant woman. This is a really powerful issue, and the artwork is great, even if Jill Thompson’s line-drawn art is less spectacular than her painted art.

UNCANNY X-MEN #240 (Marvel, 1988) – Chris Claremont [W], Marc Silvestri [A]. I’ve read lots of Inferno crossovers, but I’ve never read the core Inferno story, and somehow I got the impression that it was not good. But this issue is a pretty good X-Men story. It’s full of characterization and creepy foreboding, and it even includes some direct quotations from X-Men #175. I wonder how N’astirh is pronounced and where Claremont came up with that name.

INVINCIBLE #112 (Image, 2014) – Robert Kirkman [W], Ryan Ottley [A]. This is the issue where Robot murders half the cast of the series. I deliberately skipped this issue when it came out, but I bought it at NYCC because it was cheap, and I finally decided to read it because I was having a discussion on Facebook about why I had stopped reading Invincible. As I expected, this issue is disgusting, tasteless and offensive, and if I had read it when it came out, I probably would have dropped the series right there. Robert Kirkman is free to take this comic in whatever direction he wants, but I really feel like he’s run out of ideas and he’s just doing stuff for shock value. I think it’s probably best to pretend that Invincible ended with issue 100.

UNBELIEVABLE GWENPOOL #2 (Marvel, 2016) – Christopher Hastings [W], Gurihiru [A]. When I read issue 1, I didn’t understand the premise, but now I get it. Gwenpool is a Marvel fan from the real world who has somehow gotten into the Marvel Universe, and as a result, she knows all the heroes’ secret identities and stuff. She tries to use that knowledge to become a superhero, but inadvertently becomes a villain instead. There’s an awesome moment in this issue where Gwenpool addresses Thor as Jane. Later in the issue, she comments “I’m in comic book world. I got a costume. Someone’s reading this…”

UNBELIEVABLE GWENPOOL #3 (Marvel, 2016) – as above. This issue’s cover is a cute homage to My Neighbor Totoro. This issue is very similar to the previous issue. The best moment this time around is when Gwenpool tells Batroc that his name is derived from “batrachian,” i.e. frog, because he’s French. I never knew that.

INVINCIBLE #16 (Image, 2004) – Robert Kirkman [W], Ryan Ottley [A]. After a bad Invincible comic, a good one. Back in 2004, Invincible was perhaps the best superhero comic there was, and I’m sorry that it’s jumped the shark so badly. This issue introduces Angstrom Levy, and now I finally understand who he is: he’s a villain whose power is the ability to contact his alternate selves. This issue includes a one-page strip by a pre-professional Jason Latour, who ironically is now a much better writer than Kirkman.

Massive review post

New comics received on May 27. This was another really exciting week.

LUMBERJANES #25 (Boom!, 2016) – Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh [W], Carey Pietsch [A]. See previous post for why I read #25 after #26. Like #26, #25 is an incredible comic book and it restores my faith in this series. Basically all the scenes involving the kittens are incredible. From having read the following issue, I already knew the kittens were going to develop super powers, but even then I was amazed by the exuberance and humor of the scene that introduces them. Reading this comic actually made me feel guilty about not playing with my own cat enough. Also, something strange is going on with Molly’s family and I’m eager to learn what it is. The Chynna Clugston-Major backup story is disappointing, but who cares when the main story is this good.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #8 (Marvel, 2016) – Ryan North [W], Erica Henderson [A]. The information about tree lobsters at the beginning of this issue is correct, like most of the real-world facts in Ryan North’s comics. The main plot this issue is that Squirrel Girl discovers Koi Boi is already in a relationship, so she joins an online dating site. I think the best part of the issue is the fake profile that Tippy Toe writes for Doreen, but the two-page dating montage is also very funny and well-executed. Especially the Sentinel that’s programmed to feel heartbreak.

AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE #9 (Archie, 2016) – Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa [W], Francesco Francavilla [A] It’s been literally over a year since the previous issue of this series. I guess Roberto and Francesco deserve credit for sticking with it, but this kind of lateness is ridiculous and it’s destroyed whatever momentum this comic has. This is a very good issue, an effective examination of both Reggie’s psychology and his role in causing the zombie apocalypse. But I expect that by the time the next issue comes out, if it ever does, I’ll have forgotten everything that happened in this issue.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #7 (Marvel, 2016) – Brandon Montclare & Amy Reeder [W], Marco Failla [A]. This issue introduces Moon Girl’s first archenemy, Kid Kree, and it ends with a scene where Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur switch bodies. This series is still not at the same level as the best Marvel titles, but it’s fun. I think it’s more similar to Hero Cats than to other Marvel titles – like Hero Cats, it’s aimed at quite a young audience, and it requires a massive amount of suspension of disbelief.

PATSY WALKER, A.K.A. HELLCAT #6 (Marvel, 2016) – Kate Leth [W], Natasha Allegri [A]. The guest artist this issue is the creator of Bee and Puppycat, a series I tried and didn’t like, but I did enjoy Allegri’s artwork here. The characters all look like they’re about eight years old, but they’re supposed to. As for the plot, this is basically a fill-in issue, in which Patsy and her friends fight Arcade and nothing plot-relevant happens, but it’s a fun comic anyway.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #15 (IDW, 2016) – Kelly Thompson [W], Sophie Campbell [A]. Another fairly exciting chapter of Dark Jem, with more brilliant Sophie Campbell artwork. It was kind of average, though. The only truly exciting thing this issue is the opening sequence that’s a flashback to Jem and her sisters’ childhood.

PRINCELESS: RAVEN: THE PIRATE PRINCESS #8 (Action Lab, 2016) – Raven and her friends finally confront Raven’s evil brothers, but the brothers get away and Ximena is seriously hurt. As the characters themselves point out in the last panel, this is a somewhat anticlimactic ending to the second story arc, and this story as a whole has been much less exciting than the first one. I’d like to see more of a focus on Raven’s crewmates – I can’t even remember the names of any of them except Ximena.

WEIRDWORLD #6 (Marvel, 2016) – Sam Humphries [W], Mike del Mundo [A]. I was shocked to realize that this is the last issue. It’s a fairly effective resolution to Becca’s story. Becca can’t save her mother’s ashes, just as she couldn’t prevent her mother’s death, but she realizes that neither of these is her fault. Writing this issue must have been cathartic for Humphries – he has said that Becca’s character arc is based on his reaction to his own stepmother’s suicide. And the issue ends by leaving open the possibility of more stories, since Becca and Goleta still have a quest. I just wish this series hadn’t been cancelled when it still has so much narrative potential. There seems to be no official explanation of why it was cancelled; the reason could be that Sam Humphries is on an exclusive contract with DC, but sadly I think a more probable reason is low sales.

MS. MARVEL #7 (Marvel, 2016) – G. Willow Wilson [W], Adrian Alphona [A]. Because this issue is branded as a Road to Civil War crossover, I was afraid it would be a wasted issue, a pointless crossover that would kill the momentum of the series while also making no sense on its own. (See All-New All-Different Avengers #8, many issues of Captain Marvel, etc.) But it turns out that this is a self-contained story that relates to Civil War tangentially if at all. It’s also delightful. Kamala competes at a science fair against Miles Morales, and they end up causing massive property damage and ruining their chances at a science scholarship. This is one of Willow and Adrian’s funnier stories. Skyshark (“the happiest shark there is”) is of course the coolest thing in the issue, and Adrian Alphona fills each page with funny sight gags. (I know what hammerspace is, but even then I had to ask other people to explain the hammerspace gag to me; it seems that the person pulling improbably large objects out of her bag is Mary Poppins.) The sad part about this issue is the hoops that Kamala and Miles and Bruno have to jump through in order to get a scholarship. As a college teacher, I’ve seen how hard it is for my students to get an education, even when they come from fairly privileged backgrounds. Also, because my college education was paid for, I am far luckier than many of my friends, who have a crippling amount of student loan debt. The line at the end of the issue – “We shouldn’t have to battle to the death just to get into good colleges and not end up a trillion dollars in debt afterward” – is completely true. And in the next panel, Willow even turns this argument into a critique of the whole premise of the Civil War crossover.

ANOTHER CASTLE #3 (Oni, 2016) – Andrew Wheeler [W], Paulina Ganucheau [A]. I just realized that on the cover of this issue, the writing on Misty’s sword is the Konami Code. That’s a cute easter egg. This is another good issue, though it’s fairly similar to the last two; as the third issue out of five, its role is to advance the existing plot rather than to add anything new. The scene with Badlug talking to the severed head is surprisingly violent in a comic that seems to be targeted to young readers.

ACTION LAB: DOG OF WONDER #2 (Action Lab, 2016) – Vito Delsante & Scott Fogg [W], Rosy Higgins & Ted Brandt [A]. The two artists on this comic share the pencilling and inking duties. This comic does not just have a funny title, it’s also a good comic. Despite being a cat person, I think the dogs in this comic are adorable, and I like Higgins and Brandt’s colorful and cute artwork. I hope that a crossover between this title and Hero Cats is in the future.

MONSTRESS #6 (Image, 2016) – Marjorie Liu [W], Sana Takeda [A]. This is still a brilliant and important comic, and I still feel somewhat reluctant to read each new issue because of its dark tone. Hence why it was the twelfth comic I read this week. At this point I’m starting to understand the plot a bit better, and the interplay between Maika and the Monstrum is becoming very interesting; it looks like the Monstrum is not as 100% evil as I had thought. Another fun detail this issue is that it looks like the cats get a new tail for each life they lose.

THE MIGHTY THOR #7 (Marvel, 2016) – Jason Aaron [W], Rafa Garres [A]. This is the second and final part of the Boldo the Black story, and I’m glad it’s over. Rafa Garres’s artwork was interesting the first time around, but got old very fast. His art is very loose and sloppy, and though this is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s annoying because it contrasts with the visual identity of this comic. Russell Dauterman has given this comic a very clean and delicate sensibility, and therefore Garres’s artwork seems inappropriate. Also, the Boldo the Black plotline is not very interesting to begin with, and on top of that, it’s an unfortunate interruption in the flow of the series.

BATGIRL #52 (DC, 2016) – Brenden Fletcher [W], Eleonora Carlini [A]. This series could reasonably have ended with issue 50, but it’s just as well that we got two more issues after that, because both of the extra two issues have been fun. This issue is a follow-up to Batgirl Annual #3, where Babs and a bunch of other characters fought Gladius, and it ends with Babs’s going-away party. It’s an effective conclusion and tribute to Brenden’s run on the series. One thing that’s especially good is the two-page spread at the end, where Babs talks to each of her supporting characters, and inset panels depict some of her past encounters with the same characters.

Now for some older comics:

STRANGE ADVENTURES #213 (DC, 1968) – Neal Adams [W/A]. This story has nothing to do with the ongoing Hook plotline. When Deadman’s friend is shot, Deadman possesses a surgeon named Dr. Shasti, who saves him, and then Deadman has to save Dr. Shasti from being swindled by a phony soothsayer. The main appeal of this story is Neal’s spectacular artwork, of course, and Neal’s writing is also less bad than it usually is. A strange thing is that Dr. Shasti and his son are explicitly stated to be Indian, but they’re drawn to look exactly like white people. This issue also includes a backup story by John Rosenberger which may or may not be a reprint; either way, it’s terrible.

DETECTIVE COMICS #611 (DC, 1990) – Alan Grant [W], Norm Breyfogle [A]. I’m surprised that I didn’t read this issue sooner, because the issue before it was one of the first comic books I ever owned, and I know some parts of it by heart – I have a clearer memory of Detective Comics #610 than of many other comics that are much more famous. (Back when I had fewer comics, I spent more time rereading the comics I did have.) Also, that issue is the first part of a two-parter. Now that I’ve finally read the conclusion of “Snow and Ice,” I think that this story is valuable for more than just nostalgia. It’s also a classic Penguin story, displaying both the Penguin’s overinflated ego and his viciousness. The other villain in this issue, the death-obsessed Kadaver, is also rather frightening, and Norm Breyfogle’s art is quite compelling. I need to read more of the Batman stories by this creative team.

SUPERMAN #302 (DC, 1976) – Elliot S! Maggin [W], José Luis García-López [A]. “Seven-Foot-Two… and Still Growing!” is not one of Elliot S! Maggin’s better efforts. Luthor causes Superman’s body to grow larger while his brain stays the same size, making him stupid. With Ray Palmer’s help, Superman defeats Luthor using some sort of poorly explained trick that I didn’t understand. This story had some serious potential for comedy, but that potential was not fulfilled, and JLGL’s artwork was not his best.

TOTALLY AWESOME HULK #6 (Marvel, 2016) – Greg Pak [W], Mike Choi [A]. I didn’t order issue 5 of this series, so this issue was difficult to follow, and on top of that it was confusing and forgettable. This series is much weaker without Frank Cho’s art.

ROCKETEER ADVENTURE MAGAZINE #3 (Dark Horse, 1995) – Dave Stevens [W/A]. This is one of the best-drawn American comic books ever published. The quality of Dave Stevens’s artwork is stratospheric. His storytelling is clear and effective, his draftsmanship is gorgeous, and he draws on a vast wealth of influences (for example, I was surprised to see some panels that reminded me of L.B. Cole). The writing is almost as good as the art. It’s been a long time since I read the other two issues of this miniseries, so I had forgotten the character Lothar, but his reason for hating Cliff Secord is heartbreaking – he blames Cliff for the death of his midget girlfriend who secretly loved Cliff. Sadly this was also the last Rocketeer story and, to my knowledge, Dave Stevens’s last work in comics. I seem to recall reading that he gave up on comics because he was unable to produce work that met his own standards, and he also had easier ways to make money. As I have previously said in reviews of other comics by similarly talented artists (e.g. Nate Simpson), it’s a shame that the American comics industry is not organized in such a way as to allow artists to do their best work. If you’re working for the French market, you can make a living by doing 50 ultra-detailed and painstaking pages a year; in America, that is a recipe for poverty. I love the comic book format, but there are some artists who are poorly served by it.

GODDESS #1 (Vertigo, 1995) – Garth Ennis [W], Phil Winslade [A]. This comic is weird and not in a good way. It’s a hybrid of Ennis’s funny/American and serious/British styles (see my review of Goddess #3) and these two styles don’t mesh together well. On one hand, the title character, Rosie, and the narrator, Jeff, are portrayed in a sympathetic and realistic way, reminding me of Kit and Constantine a little. On the other hand, everything else in the comic is much more reminiscent of Preacher or (shudder) All-Star Section Eight. It’s full of over-the-top satire and ridiculous violence, including one man being eaten alive by a shark – and that’s just on page eight. And then on page thirteen a different man is eaten alive by a tiger. This comic just doesn’t seem to know what sort of tone it’s going for. Phil Winslade’s art is amazing, though.

SWAMP THING #79 (DC, 1989) – Rick Veitch [W/A]. I’m pretty sure this is the only Rick Veitch Swamp Thing I hadn’t read. In this issue, Swampy tries to get revenge on Luthor for teleporting him into outer space, but Superman prevents Swampy from killing Luthor. This issue prompted my Facebook comment about how I vastly prefer the pre-Crisis mad scientist Luthor to the post-Crisis corrupt CEO Luthor. In this issue, Luthor is cartoonishly evil for no reason; in particular, he forces his new security chief to sleep with him, then probably rapes and/or murders her off-panel. The treatment of this latter character is disturbing; we never find out what happens to her, and Superman does nothing to protect her. This issue does include a very effective scene where Swampy asks Superman why he only protects humans and not other species, and Superman can’t immediately answer.

SUICIDE SQUAD #16 (DC, 1988) – John Ostrander [W], Luke McDonnell [A]. This issue reintroduces Shade the Changing Man, which is an impressive feat considering that the tone of his original series was completely different from the tone of Suicide Squad. Other than that it’s just an average issue of Suicide Squad.

THE SPECTRE #31 (DC, 1995) – John Ostrander [W], Tom Mandrake & Dave Chystek [A]. Considering how much I enjoy Ostrander’s writing, I ought to be collecting this series more heavily. This issue stands out because it focuses on Father Richard Craemer, who appears in both this series and Suicide Squad. When Father Craemer is put on trial before an ecclesiastical court for contesting official dogma on the gender of God, Amanda Waller and some other Suicide Squad members show up to testify on his behalf, but Father Craemer ends up resigning his ministry anyway. This issue’s depiction of canon law is probably somewhat inaccurate, but Father Craemer comes across as a deeply principled and honest man.

WEIRD FANTASY #19 (Russ Cochran, 1997, originally 1953) – Al Feldstein [W], various [A]. This issue starts with an adaptation (unauthorized I assume) of Bradbury’s “King of the Grey Spaces,” about a boy who abandons his best friend to become an astronaut. This is a compelling story with a significant homoerotic subtext, but Feldstein and Severin’s adaptation fails to capture what’s interesting about the story. Jack Kamen’s “Hot Rod” has a funny shock ending but is otherwise forgettable. Al Williamson’s “Brain-Child!” is the high point of the issue, mostly because of the beautiful art. Joe Orlando’s “Time for a Change” is just average.

TWO-FISTED TALES #1 (Russ Cochran, 1992) – various [W/A]. According to the GCD, each of the stories in this issue was written by the same person who drew it. Kurtzman’s “Conquest” is an impressive opening to this series. It has a very basic plot but it’s a powerful condemnation of the Spanish conquistadors. Al Feldstein’s “Hong Kong Intrigue” is a silly piece of Orientalism. Wally Wood’s “Revolution” is beautifully drawn but the writing is uninspired. Johnny Craig’s “Mutiny” is the second best story in the issue; it features some powerful action sequences and a bunch of silent panels.

BATMAN #460 (DC, 1991) – Alan Grant [W], Norm Breyfogle [A]. A fairly good Catwoman story. My favorite thing about it is the multiple scenes taking place in Selina’s apartment, which of course is full of cats. The subplot involving Commissioner Gordon and Sarah Essen is better than the main plot. Norm makes Gordon look as though he’s at least 70 years old.

GREEN ARROW #27 (DC, 1989) – Mike Grell [W], Dan Jurgens [A]. Most of Mike Grell’s protagonists are middle-aged adventurers suffering from midlife crises, and this issue brings together two such protagonists, Oliver Queen and Travis Morgan. The fact that these two characters are so similar is even a plot point in the issue, because people keep mistaking Morgan for Ollie. There’s one funny scene in this issue where you’re supposed to think Ollie and Dinah just had sex, but then it turns out they were fighting.

REID FLEMING, WORLD’S TOUGHEST MILKMAN #1 (Eclipse, 1986) – David Boswell [A]. I’ve been aware of this series for a long time, but have never read it before. I didn’t think it was the kind of thing I’d like. I was wrong, because this is an amazing comic. It’s full of funny absurdist humor, and Reid Fleming himself is a fascinating character – a mean, rude jerk but with a surprisingly tender side. He reminds me a bit of Harvey Pekar. David Boswell’s art is impressive, full of cross-hatching and fine detail; he reminds me of Drew Friedman. Even the lettering complements the artwork very well. I want to read more of this series.

New comics received on June 3. This was a fairly light week and I read more old comics this week than new ones.

PAPER GIRLS #6 (Image, 2016) – Brian K. Vaughan [W], Cliff Chiang [A]. This issue, the girls travel to the future where they meet a future version of Erin. This series continues to be reasonably fun, but the plot still makes very little sense, and I don’t quite understand this comic is supposed to be “about.” The highlight of the issue is Erin and her friends’ amazed reaction on seeing HDTV.

GIANT DAYS #15 (Boom!, 2016) – John Allison [W], Max Sarin [A]. The gimmick this issue is that the girls are competing in a film festival, and they win the top prize by accident. It’s almost pointless reviewing each issue of this series because they’re all very similar, although that’s not a bad thing.

THE GODDAMNED #4 (Image, 2016) – Jason Aaron [W], R.M. Guéra [A]. This series has been a bit disappointing on a narrative level – I was honestly hoping for more sex in addition to all the violence. R.M. Guéra’s art is still amazing, and it’s the primary reason to read this comic; Cain is not as interesting a character as some of Jason Aaron’s other protagonists.

HERO CATS OF STELLAR CITY #10 (Action Lab, 2016) – Kyle Puttkammer [W], Marcus Williams [A]. When I read this, I initially wondered if I’d missed an issue, because the story begins in media res with no explanation of what’s been going on. In this issue, the Hero Cats somehow find themselves in an Old West town and they have an adventure in which all the old Western clichés are trotted out. It’s funny, but there’s also no explanation for why this town is stuck at a 19th-century level of technology. Though I’ve already pointed out that this series requires more than a normal level of suspension of disbelief.

CASANOVA: ACEDIA #5 (Image, 2016) – Matt Fraction [W], Fábio Moon [A]. This week was full of comics that didn’t quite make sense, or didn’t live up to expectations, or both. Casanova is a bizarre and confusing comic at the best of times, and the confusion gets even worse when there’s a nine-month (!) gap between issues. They should have waited to publish this series until the whole thing was finished. At least Matt and Fábio’s work is up to its usual high level. The highlight of this issue is the bookstore with an interdimensional gateway behind the counter, though I have no idea what this has to do with anything.

HELLBOY IN HELL #9 (Dark Horse, 2016) – Mike Mignola [W/A]. I’m only an intermittent Hellboy reader – it looks like I only read issue 8 of this series, and I can’t remember anything about it. However, the plot of this issue is not difficult to understand: Hellboy is in hell for some reason, as the title indicates, and he’s defeating all the local demons one by one. Mignola’s artwork, which is the primary reason I ordered this comic, is fantastic.

HELLBOY IN HELL #10 (Dark Horse, 2016) – Mike Mignola [W/A]. Even though I’m only a casual Hellboy fan, I had to read Mike’s final issue. There’s a lot of stuff here that I don’t understand, such as the three shapes on the last page (a reference to “The Magician and the Snake?”), but this seems like an appropriate conclusion to one of the most important creator-owned comic books of the last twenty years.

HERO CATS OF STELLAR CITY #11 (Action Lab, 2016) – as above. I guess the point of this storyline is that each issue is an homage to a different genre. In this issue, the Hero Cats have a jungle adventure, where they team up with a Tarzan-esque character and fight a jungle demon. Cassiopeia, who is becoming the focal character of the series, saves the day, and the story ends with a group hug. Cute. And now I’m finally caught up on this series. Next time I see Puttkammer or Williams at a convention, I want to show them my picture of my own cat lying on top of an issue of Hero Cats.

MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS: PINK #1 (Boom!, 2016) – Brenden Fletcher & Kelly Thompson [W], Daniele Di Nicuolo [A]. I was excited about this series because of the high level of talent involved, but it proved to be disappointing. It just seems like a generic adventure story with nothing distinctive about it. Perhaps the problem is that I never liked the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers – I only remember seeing one episode when I was a kid, and I hated it. So I’m completely unfamiliar with the protagonist or any of the other characters. I was equally unfamiliar with Jem and the Holograms when I started reading it, and I love that series, but it doesn’t assume any prior knowledge of the TV show.

THE INFINITE LOOP #4 (IDW, 2015) – Pierrick Colinet [W], Elsa Charretier [A]. This is just not a good comic. Elsa Charretier’s artwork is interesting, though her page layouts are sometimes overly cluttered, but Pierrick Colinet… to put it delicately, his writing has substantial room for improvement. First, the message of this series is that tolerance is good and that it’s okay to be gay. This is of course a valuable message, but it’s not nearly as controversial as the creators think. By publishing a comic with this message, Colinet and Charretier are preaching to the choir. Moreover, Colinet makes his points in such a heavy-handed and unsubtle way that he antagonizes the reader. The oppressive society that Teddy is fighting against is an unrealistic strawman: at the beginning of this issue, Teddy’s mother literally tells her that war is peace, freedom is slavery, etc. As other reviewers have pointed out, this comic’s plot is confusing and poorly explained, and the protagonists are essentially ciphers. At this point, the only reason I read the last two issues of this series was because I already had them.

INFINITE LOOP #5 (IDW, 2015) – Pierrick Colinet [W], Elsa Charretier [A]. So here’s another example of Colinet’s heavy-handed writing. At the beginning of this issue, there’s a new character who switches from male to female repeatedly. This is a cool idea, but Colinet proceeds to ruin it by having this character make a long-winded angry sermon about genderqueer identity. Here’s an excerpt:

“You know what, I won’t even get into it. I don’t know why I should fit into your binary, narrow-minded and dark aged system […] Oh, please. Don’t you even dare ‘calm-your-tits’ me! What is that even supposed to mean? That if I had switched to a dude right before you giving my speech, you would have given me more credit? Is that what you mean? Because believe me, I don’t need to grow my pair back to kick yours.”

And it goes on like that for three more panels. When an argument is expressed in such a combative way, it’s annoying even to readers who already believe the argument. I felt as if the character making this speech was insulting me, the reader, as well as the characters to whom she was speaking, and I didn’t do anything to deserve such insults. Another problem here is Colinet’s awkward prose style, but I’ll get to that next.

INFINITE LOOP #6 (IDW, 2015) – Pierrick Colinet [W], Elsa Charretier [A]. A further problem with this series is the prose style. Pierrick Colinet’s English is so awkward and unidiomatic, he might have been better off writing this comic in French and then hiring someone to translate it into English. Here’s an example: “What are the chances?” “So low I don’t even want to think about it. It might take some trial and error, but if those afraid to lose hadn’t taken chances, we’d still be covered in hair, eating stupid seeds.” Overall, this series had some interesting artwork and it launched Elsa Charretier’s promising career, but it was not effectively written.

JEREMIAH: THE HEIRS #1 (Malibu, 1991) – Hermann [W/A]. This comic reprints the first half of an album by Hermann, who recently won the Angoulême Grand Prix under controversial circumstances. Malibu’s reproduction of Hermann’s art is severely problematic. The original Jeremiah albums were in color, but this comic is in black and white, making Hermann’s artwork difficult to parse. And the art is reproduced at a microscopic size, not even filling the entire page. Even then, Hermann’s artwork is brilliant. The level of detail and craftsmanship that goes into each panel is amazing, at least compared to most American comics. This just proves the point I made in my review of Rocketeer #3 above – in France, you can draw with this amount of detail and still make a living, because you only have to produce about 50 pages a year. In America, comics with such high-quality draftsmanship are rare, and this is because of the economic model of the industry. I’m less impressed by this comic’s writing than by its art, but Hermann’s story is reasonably good; this comic is a fairly interesting combination of the post-apocalyptic and Western genres. Dark Horse has published Jeremiah and other works of Hermann in much higher-quality editions, and I’d like to get those books someday.

S.H.I.E.L.D. #10 (Marvel, 2015) – Mark Waid [W], Doc Shaner [A]. I bought this because of the Howard the Duck guest appearance; I don’t remember if I knew about the Doc Shaner artwork. In this story, Mark shows a reasonably good understanding of Howard’s character. On the first page, someone mentions that Howard “can better deal with big emergencies if they’re seasoned with a dash of the comically mundane” and that “the fuel that revs his motor is resentment.” Both of those statements seem highly accurate. Mark also does an okay job of imitating the basic silliness of Steve Gerber and Chip Zdarsky’s Howard stories. Doc Shaner’s art is below his usual level, though.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #111 (Marvel, 1980) – Roy Thomas [W], John Buscema [A]. This is one of the final issues of Roy’s first run on Conan. It’s a high-quality comic, but I’ve read almost this entire run, and there’s not much here that’s new to me. The most interesting thing about this story is the woman who claims to be married to Conan. Characteristically, Conan denies that he’s married to her, but has no objection to sleeping with her.

JACK STAFF #2 (Image, 2003) – Paul Grist [W/A]. I’m not familiar with either the plot of this comic or the classic British comics that it’s based on, but I love Paul Grist’s artwork. One thing that particularly stands out to me is how he uses lettering as one of the major compositional elements of each panel, much like Ellen Forney does.

STARTLING STORIES: BANNER #2 (Marvel, 2001) – Brian Azzarello [W], Richard Corben [A]. This issue’s story is just an excuse for Richard Corben’s beautiful, testosterone-soaked artwork. I have nothing to add to my review of the previous issue.

TRANSFORMERS VS. G.I. JOE #8 (IDW, 2011) – Tom Scioli [W/A], John Barber [W]. I’ve been collecting this series but not reading it. Tom Scioli’s artwork fascinates me – on one hand it looks primitive and childish and unprofessional, but on the other hand it has an utterly unique and distinctive sensibility, like Kirby crossed with Gary Panter. He seems like kind of a naïve artist, in that he just draws whatever he wants to draw, without much concern for what critics might think of it. I saw him drawing once at a convention, and he was drawing on some random piece of paper that he just happened to have; somehow this working method seems appropriate to his style of artwork. The story of this comic doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I don’t think it’s supposed to.

PAST AWAYS #4 (Dark Horse, 2015) – Matt Kindt [W], Scott Kolins [A]. I’m slowly working my way through this series. In this issue, Arthur goes to a psychiatrist, the team fights a giant evil tentacle, and Phil plots to have Arthur killed. One enjoyable thing about this series is the text pieces at the end of each issue, where Herbert comments on the stupidity of 21st-century America from the perspective of a person from the future.

HIP HOP FAMILY TREE #2 (Fantagraphics, 2015) – Ed Piskor [W/A]. I think I’ve already read all this material, but it’s enlightening to read it again with Ed’s notes. It’s better to read the notes at the same time as the main story, rather than afterward.

HELLBLAZER #62 (DC, 1993) – Garth Ennis [W], Steve Dillon [A]. This is one of Ennis and Dillon’s better single issues of Hellblazer. It focuses on Constantine’s relationship with his family, especially his niece Gemma, and his heritage. When Constantine finds out that Gemma’s classmate is getting her involved in magic, he finds the classmate and “curses” him. The “curse” is a bunch of made-up nonsense, but the classmate believes every word of it. This scene is kind of a perfect summary of how magic works in this series: for Constantine, convincing someone that you can do magic is the same as doing it. Later in the issue, Constantine exorcises the ghost of an old ancestor of his, and realizes that “it’s no failure to be the last Constantine, ‘cos now no one else has to be.” Reading this issue gave me a sense of déjà vu because I know I’ve read the cursing scene before, but as far as I can tell, I didn’t already have this issue, and the second half of it did not ring a bell. Maybe I read that scene on scans_daily or something.

DC COMICS PRESENTS #6 (DC, 1979) – Paul Levitz [W], Curt Swan [A]. This Superman-Green Lantern team-up is a fun comic, but it’s not comparable to some of Levitz’s other works from this period. Star Sapphire defeats Green Lantern in battle, but Hal sends his ring to Superman, and they team up to beat the villain. It’s a well-executed but formulaic piece of work.

XENOZOIC TALES #9 (Kitchen Sink, 1989) – Mark Schultz [W/A]. I believe this was the last issue of Xenozoic Tales I hadn’t read, but “Last Link in the Chain” was the first Mark Schultz story I ever read. It was reprinted in a free comic that was published to promote the short-lived Cadillacs & Dinosaurs TV show. (Just to remind myself, it’s the one where Jack is chased by a big dinosaur that then gets eaten by an even bigger dinosaur.) When I read that comic in 1993, I had no ability to appreciate Mark Schultz’s brilliant artwork, but reading it again now, I realize how amazing this story is; it’s full of spectacular action scenes that remind me of the best work of Frazetta or Williamson. The only thing I don’t like about Schultz’s art is his faces. The backup story by Steve Stiles is of course not as gorgeously drawn, but it does advance the ongoing plot. Unfortunately, Mark Schultz is another artist whose work is too labor-intensive to be profitable.

DAREDEVIL #46 (Marvel, 1968) – Stan Lee [W], Gene Colan [A]. Like most Lee/Colan Daredevils, this issue has brilliant artwork, witty dialogue, and a plot that wouldn’t have been any different if Spider-Man had been substituted for Daredevil. When Matt is falsely accused of killing the Jester, he has to find the actual Jester and fight him on live camera in order to clear his name, but even after he does that, he’s still depressed over not being able to see Karen Page. This comic is more fun than most current superhero comics, but it’s not better than the Spider-Man comics of its day.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #130 (DC, 1976) – Martin Pasko [W], Dick Dillin [A]. This issue introduces the Dharlu, the female alien who becomes imprisoned in the JLA Satellite’s computer. I’ve been curious about the origin of this character ever since I encountered her in later issues of JLofA, so it was fun to finally learn what the Dharlu was and where she came from. In terms of its actual merits, this issue is a competent effort but nothing great.

INCREDIBLE HULK #190 (Marvel, 1975) – Len Wein [W], Herb Trimpe [A]. My copy of this issue is brittle and flaking apart; I need to replace it. Herb Trimpe’s run on the Hulk was the high point of the series between Stan Lee and Peter David, and this issue is a good example of his work. The Hulk is feeling sad and lonely and persecuted, as usual, when the Shaper of Worlds’s servant Glorian creates a paradise for him. Of course the Hulk only gets to stay there for a little bit before he’s abducted by alien toads (?), but his brief sojourn in paradise is very touching, and reminds me of another classic Hulk story from this period, “Heaven is a Very Small Place” from #147. This issue also includes a posthumous appearance by Crackajack Jackson, whose only actual appearance was in #182, a classic issue that I’ve never been able to afford because it’s also the third appearance of Wolverine.

CHEVAL NOIR #31 (Dark Horse, 1992) – various [W/A]. This series reprinted a number of classic European comics, although some of them, like the Hermann story discussed above, were reprinted in black and white when they were originally in color. This issue begins with a segment of Cosey’s “In Search of Peter Pan.” The plot of this album is not entirely clear to me, but it takes place in an Alpine village in Switzerland, which is depicted in loving detail. Cosey is from Switzerland himself and he must know this area like the back of his hand. The other long piece in the issue is the conclusion of Comès’s “Tree-Heart.” This story has perhaps the heaviest spotting of blacks I’ve ever seen; there is so much black ink on each page that you can actually feel it. The visual effect of this is stunning, but because this chapter is the conclusion of the story, it doesn’t make much sense on its own. “In Search of Peter Pan” was also published in book form by NBM, but “Tree-Heart” is the only work by Comès that’s available in English, and it was only published in Cheval Noir. This issue also includes a few other things, such as a chapter of David Lynch’s “The Angriest Dog in the World,” which Bart Beaty once described as the worst comic strip in history.

X-MEN: WORST X-MAN EVER #4 (Marvel, 2016) – Max Bemis [W], Michael Walsh [A]. This series is fun, but it’s more of a parody of the X-Men than an actual X-Men comic, and Michael Walsh’s artwork is both unsuited to, and better than, Max Bemis’s story. This issue begins with a funny dream sequence in which the X-Men make metatextual comments about baseball games and other X-Men clichés. But after that, the rest of the issue consists of a series of scenes with little connection to each other. This series is all right, but I’d rather be reading a real X-Men comic, and I wish Marvel would get the license back from Fox already, so that they could start making better X-Men comics.

A-FORCE #6 (Marvel, 2016) – Kelly Thompson [W], Ben Caldwell [A]. This issue continues the story with Enchantress and Dazzler Thor. It’s okay but not amazing. The one thing that impresses me most about this issue is Ben Caldwell’s hand-lettered sound effects, which make a big contribution to the visual aesthetic of each page. I’m going to have to ask him about his sound effects if I see him at Heroes Con.

DC COMICS BOMBSHELLS #12 (DC, 2016) – Marguerite Bennett [W], Laura Braga & Mirka Andolfo [A]. This conclusion to the first story arc is exciting but also a bit disappointing. Kortni’s death is a heroic sacrifice, but also seems like a waste of a perfectly good character. Somehow I forgot to order issue 13.

DOCTOR STRANGE #8 (Marvel, 2016) – Jason Aaron [W], Chris Bachalo [A]. This is another fairly good issue, but quite similar to the last few issues. Empirikul storyline has been going on for this entire series, and I wish Jason would move on to something else. As I read this issue, I wondered how it’s possible that in this series, almost all the magic in the world has been destroyed, but in Power Man & Iron Fist, the Supersoul Stone still works and Doctor Strange has all his powers. And don’t tell me that that story takes place before Last Days of Magic, because it came out at the exact same time. Oh well, I guess I don’t mind this sort of loose approach to continuity.

New comics received on June 10, the final new comic book day before Heroes Con. Lots of exciting stuff this week.

LUMBERJANES/GOTHAM ACADEMY #1 (Boom!/DC, 2016) – Chynna Clugston-Flores [W], Rosemary Valero-O’Connell [A]. I was very very excited about this series – it’s the best idea for a crossover title in many years. The Lumberjanes and the Gotham Academy characters are so perfectly suited to each other. They’re the same age, their titles have very similar sensibilities, and the boarding school and summer camp genres are really the same genre, just with different settings. My enthusiasm waned when I saw that Chynna Clugston-Flores wrote this issue, because I was not impressed by her backup story in Lumberjanes #25. But she did a much better job on this issue, though maybe another writer could have done even better. And Rosemary Valero-O’Connell’s art is impressive. Some especially nice things in the issue are the deer-chicken-whatever creature in Rosie’s office, and the panel where Bubbles turns from a hat into a raccoon. A cool thing that we discover in this issue is that while the Lumberjanes and the Gotham Academy kids are very similar in many ways, they also have different competencies; the Lumberjanes are perfectly at home in the wilderness while the Academy kids are out of their element. I hope there will be a later issue where the Lumberjanes visit Gotham Academy and are equally out of their depth. This issue also includes a preview of James Tynion and Rian Sygh’s The Backstagers. I don’t know if I’ve read anything by James Tynion before, but this preview is impressive and it makes me want to read the series when it comes out.

HOWARD THE DUCK #8 (Marvel, 2016) – Chip Zdarsky [W], Joe Quinones [A]. “The Return of Bev” is the story I’ve been waiting for since Chip’s first issue of Howard. Howard’s relationship with Bev is the emotional center of his life, and her absence left a gaping hole in this series, which had to be filled by introducing Tara. This issue we finally see Bev again, and we learn that she’s finally had enough of the weirdness that surrounds Howard, and she needs a break from him. (As an example of how trouble always follows Howard around, as soon as he arrives at Bev’s house, he’s attacked by Sentinels.) As a huge Bev fan, I find this story rather bittersweet – it feels like a break-up. But you do get the sense that Bev and Howard genuinely love each other and that they’re going to get back together eventually. I also think that this is the most emotionally rich story Chip Zdarsky has written, and it’s proof that he’s continuing to grow as a writer.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #20 (Image, 2016) – Kieron Gillen [W], Jamie McKelvie [A]. Thanks to a deceptive clicikbait headline that I saw at Bleeding Cool, I expected this issue to be much more shocking than it was. Still, this issue effectively fills in the gap between the second and third story arcs, explaining how Inanna and Laura’s parents died and how Laura herself survived. And in general it’s another good issue of an excellent series. I don’t understand why the name Nergal is so embarrassing.

GOLDIE VANCE #3 (Boom!, 2016) – Hope Larson [W], Brittney Williams [A]. Another excellent issue. I think this is the best Boom! Box title besides Lumberjanes and Giant Days. I did think that this issue went by very quickly compared to the last two, and the most memorable thing about it may have been the absurdly low gas prices. I’m glad to see that Goldie Vance is now an ongoing series, because it really deserves to be one.

THE VISION #8 (Marvel, 2016) – Tom King [W], Gabriel Hernandez Walta [A]. Another good issue of what is probably the densest, most intelligently written comic book at the moment. In terms of his prose style and the density of his writing and the way that he packs interesting stuff into every panel, Tom King is the closest current writer to Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore. This issue introduces Victor Mancha from Runaways, who has become an uncle to Vision’s kids. (And we also learn that he’s going to get killed, but I’m not worried; he can always be resurrected.) Introducing this character into the series is a very smart decision which demonstrates Tom King’s impressive ability to build on older continuity, and Victor’s interactions with the Visions are cute. Also, the dog is named Sparky.

WONDER WOMAN: REBIRTH #1 (DC, 2016) – Greg Rucka [W], Matthew Clark & Liam Sharp [A]. This issue got some positive reviews, but I hated it. To quote myself from a Facebook post: “No plot to speak of, hideous artwork for the first 14 pages, too much focus on continuity, and only 20 pages of story for $2.99.” I couldn’t understand what the hell was going on in this issue; it’s supposed to be a jumping-on point, and yet it assumes knowledge of both Azzarello and Chiang’s Wonder Woman, and DC Rebirth #1. Also, the entire issue was readable in a matter of minutes. I still think Greg Rucka is one of the best Wonder Woman writers, and I’m going to stick with his Wonder Woman at least for a bit, but this issue makes me much less excited both for this Wonder Woman series and for DC Rebirth in general.

BAKER STREET PECULIARS #4 (Boom!, 2016) – Roger Langridge [W], Andy Hirsch [A]. This is another satisfying and fun issue, but I still think that overall, neither this series nor Abigail and the Snowman was as impressive as Snarked. Though I still haven’t read the last three issues of Snarked, so maybe that series had an anticlimactic ending. I do think this comic deserves a sequel, and it ends in a way that clearly leaves room for one. It was really obvious that Sherlock Holmes was Mrs. Hudson, but I was surprised by the revelation that there never was a real Sherlock Holmes.

SHUTTER #22 (Image, 2016) – Joe Keatinge [W], Leila del Duca [A]. SPOILER WARNING. This is the most shocking and unexpected issue of the series yet. It reminds me of the issue of The Wicked + The Divine where Laura dies. In the space of just a few pages, the entire cast except for Kate and Christopher gets killed. As I was reading this scene, I was like, wait, there’s no way this is really happening – and then I realized that yes, it was really happening. I expect that at least some of the characters who seemingly died in this issue are going to turn up alive, but even then, this massacre was brutal. It’s going to be tough to wait for the next issue.

REVIVAL #40 (Image, 2016) – Tim Seeley [W], Mike Norton [A]. I have gotten hopelessly confused as to what’s going on in this comic, but by the time I finished reading this issue, I more or less got it. General Cale’s goal is to destroy the Revivers, and Riley is trying to stop her, and he’s figured out a way for the yellow ghost creatures to possess people other than their hosts. Also, things are looking bad for Dana and Em. My excitement for this series has decreased a bit, but I expect that the conclusion of this story will be exciting.

VAMPIRELLA #3 (Dynamite, 2016) – Kate Leth [W], Eman Casallos [A]. If I hadn’t already ordered the next couple issues of this series, I would stop reading it now. It’s not bad exactly, but Kate Leth’s writing just doesn’t grab me, and I can’t figure out who any of the characters are. Also, I like the way she writes Vampirella, but Vampi herself has never been a particularly strong character; the backup features in the Warren Vampirella comic were always better than the actual Vampirella stories.

BLACK CANARY #11 (DC, 2016) – Brenden Fletcher [W], Sandy Jarrell [A]. Every recent issue of Black Canary has seemed totally disconnected from the issues before and after it. This series is seriously lacking in narrative flow. This issue does have some fairly good artwork that occasionally reminds me of German Expressionism, and the opening scene, with Dinah standing on a pile of knocked-out bodies, is pretty funny.

PAST AWAYS #6 (Dark Horse, 2015) – Matt Kindt [W], Scott Kolins [A]. The gimmick in this issue reminds me of David Ives’s play “Sure Thing.” Phil hires some dude to assassinate Arthur, and every time the assassin fails, Phil rewinds time so the assassin can try again. And finally Arthur does get assassinated, which is supposed to be impossible. Cool things in this issue include a sword that inflicts wounds and then makes the victim forget about them, and Herbert’s revelatory discovery of coffee. It looks like I forgot to read Past Aways #5.

JONESY #4 (Boom!, 2016) – Sam Humphries [W], Caitlin Rose Boyle [A]. I still don’t get the joke behind this comic, if there is one, but it’s a fun comic anyway. This issue is a prom story that draws upon lots of old prom clichés. I’m not sure I was previously aware that the same writer was responsible for both Weirdworld and Jonesy. I guess Humphries’s exclusive DC contract does not include creator-owned work (so it’s still possible that this contract is why he left Weirdworld).

Reviews I forgot to post earlier

5-26-16

New comics received on May 13. This week I was scrambling to finish grading and I had limited time to read comics.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #42 (IDW, 2016) – Katie Cook [W], Andy Price [A]. I was going to try to write this in Pinkie Pie’s voice, but I have too many of these reviews to get through. I’m very sorry that this is Katie’s last pony comic. However, it’s a very effective conclusion to one of the great children’s comics of the decade, and it combines two things I love about MLP: metafiction and Pinkie Pie. I need to read this comic again to catch all the references and metatextual moments. It’s a good thing this comic came out after my pony transmedia article was already finished, or I would have had to write a whole extra section about it.

GOTHAM ACADEMY #18 (DC, 2016) – Brenden Fletcher [W], various [A]. Another yearbook issue. Most of the vignettes this issue are just okay, although the Silversmith character’s obsession with silver is adorable. The Faith Erin Hicks story is brilliant and I’m sorry it’s just a two-pager. Incidentally, earlier today I reread that ThinkProgress story from 2013 about the ignorant sexist comments made by Gerry Conway, Todd McFarlane and Len Wein, and one of the stupid things Gerry said was that his daughter was interested in reading Faith Erin Hicks comics, but not superhero comics, because those are for boys. It’s ironic that Faith Erin Hicks has now been published by DC.

THE VISION #7 (Marvel, 2016) – Tom King [W], Michael Walsh [A]. Instead of following up on the cliffhanger from last issue, Tom King offers us a summary of the Vision’s relationship with the Scarlet Witch over the years, which ends in the revelation that Virginia is based on Wanda’s brain patterns. The story is called “I Too Shall Be Saved by Love,” which is a brilliant reference to Avengers #147 (this is mentioned on the letters page, but I got the reference on my own). It’s a beautiful tribute to 50 years of Marvel history, and Tom King writes Wanda very well. He even takes John Byrne’s West Coast Avengers – a series which did irreparable damage to both Vision and Wanda, and which I’d like to pretend never happened – and makes it seem like part of a greater pattern. Unfortunately, in order to get the full meaning out of this story, you have to be an Avengers expert, and I’m afraid that newer readers may miss a lot of the nuance in it.

SHUTTER #21 (Image, 2016) – Joe Keatinge [W], Leila del Duca [A]. This issue introduces a new Kristopher child and his mother Zohra, a truly formidable character; I assume she’s based on Oprah but she impresses me even more than Oprah. It also reintroduces that one cat assassin dude whose name I forget, as well as providing an origin for the three mouse dudes. There’s one page where Leila del Duca depicts the three mouse characters’ histroy in a funny animal style, and this is another demonstration of her impressive stylistic range.

BAKER STREET PECULIARS #3 (Boom!, 2016) – Roger Langridge [W], Andy Hirsch [A]. Another very effective issue of Roger Langridge’s latest masterpiece, though it doesn’t offer any big surprises or shocking revelations. This issue demonstrates Roger’s skill with characterization; the three main characters all come from different backgrounds, have different personalities and skills, and yet they succeed in working together.

STARFIRE #12 (DC, 2016) – Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti [W], Elsa Charretier [A]. The last issue of this series is also the worst. It’s a disappointing conclusion to a series I really enjoyed. Kory leaves Key West and her relationship with Sol ends before it starts, because it turns out he’s in love with someone else. Given how this entire series has revolved around Kory’s sex appeal, it’s frustrating that she goes 12 issues without ever getting to have actual sex with anyone. It’s like some theoretical text I read once (Adorno and Horkheimer’s Culture Industry maybe?) about how popular texts constantly hold out the promise of sexual pleasure but never satisfy it. Also, I already said that I think the end to this series is stupid. Kory has to leave Key West because she’s a danger to the people around her, but where is she supposed to go instead? The answer is that she’s going to vanish back into limbo, and who knows if we’ll ever get another Starfire series as promising as this one was.

MOONCOP: A TOM GAULD SAMPLER #nn (Drawn & Quarterly, 2016) – Tom Gauld [W/A]. I couldn’t get to a comic book store for FCBD this year, and I missed my chance to order FCBD issues from DCBS. Luckily they let me order some anyway, but they were out of the ones I really wanted, like the Boom! Studios issue. I was excited about this issue because I love Tom Gauld’s single-panel cartoons and strips, but this example of his longer-form work proved to be disappointing. It has no plot to speak of, and it fails to arouse any major emotional reaction in me. This issue also includes some of Tom Gauld’s shorter work, but it’s all things I’ve read already.

GRIZZLY SHARK #2 (Image, 2016) – Ryan Ottley [W/A]. I also bought the first issue of this, but was disappointed to learn that it was just a reprint of the second half of Sea Bear and Grizzly Shark #1 (reviewed elsewhere on this blog). This issue is a sequel to that story. It’s basically just 22 pages of ridiculously overblown violence. This sort of thing is funny the first time around, but gets old fast, and I can already get ridiculous over-the-top nonsense from Chew or God Hates Astronauts. I’m willing to stay with this series for another issue or two, but after that I’ll probably get sick of it.

ACTIONVERSE FEATURING MOLLY DANGER #1 (Action Lab, 2016) – Jamal Igle [W/A]. This is part of a crossover, but I’m not interested in the other parts. I funded the Molly Danger kickstarter, if I recall correctly, and I have the hardcover Molly Danger book, though I haven’t read it yet. This issue has the same beautiful Jamal Igle artwork as the hardcover book, though at a much smaller size, and it’s also a good introduction to the character. I especially like the splash page with Molly lifting a giant weight that’s bigger than she is.

WILDC.A.T.S #30 (Image, 1996) – Alan Moore [W], Travis Charest [A]. Hard to believe this comic is 20 years old already. This is a minor Alan Moore work; it’s a fun and exciting superhero story, but not much more than that. The best thing about it is Alan’s witty dialogue. Travis Charest’s art is good but not incredible.

GODDESS #3 (Vertigo, 1995) – Garth Ennis [W], Phil Winslade [A]. I think the difference between Garth Ennis comics I like and Garth Ennis comics I don’t like is that the former tend to have British themes, while the latter tend to have American themes. Ennis’s American stories always emphasize the most obnoxious and hateful things about America, even when he’s trying to depict America in a positive light. And his American comics tend to be more about satire and low comedy than about genuine passion. This miniseries is about both British and American themes, so it’s kind of a hybrid of good Ennis and bad Ennis. The best thing about this issue is Phil Winslade’s art. It has a very photorealistic style, reminding me of what I’ve seen of Frank Bellamy’s art, and it uses color brilliantly. It’s surprising that this was his first pencil work for a major publisher.

L’ECHO DES SAVANES #11 (Editions du Fromage, 1975) – various [W/A]. This is a French comic published in the American format. I bought it a couple years ago at Heroes Con, I think, but never read it because of the language barrier, which is formidable – this comic contains a number of text pages, which were very tedious to get through. This issue includes some translated material by Wally Wood (“My Universe” from Big Apple Comix), Harvey Kurtzman and Bobby London, as well as new stories by Nikita Mandryka, Annie Goetzinger and Jacques Lob. The Mandryka story is an average piece of slapstick, and I don’t think it’s his strongest work. The Goetzinger story is maybe the strongest piece in the issue. It’s beautifully and sensuously drawn, and while I don’t fully understand the story, it seems to be about a girl who reads romance novels as an escape from her stifling family environment. The Lob story, “L’homme au landau,” is his first work as a writer-artist – he was previously known only as a writer. It has sort of a Crumbian sensibility – it’s about a grown man who rides in a baby carriage and who convinces an attractive woman to take care of him as if he were a baby. Again, I don’t quite get the point of this, but it’s funny in a shocking way. Overall, this issue was difficult to read given my somewhat poor understanding of French, but it’s an interesting glimpse into an area of French comics that’s very badly represented in English translation.

SOLO #12 (DC, 2006) – Brendan McCarthy [W/A] The final issue of Solo spotlights Brendan McCarthy, and unlike all the other issues, it consists of stories that are all interconnected. However, as with much of McCarthy’s other work, the stories here are all highly surrealistic, and they’re linked by dream logic rather than narrative logic. Characters and objects from one story show up in other stories, but none of the stories make much logical sense even on their own, and it’s not clear how they all fit together. This comic also has some metatextual elements, such as a page where Johnny Sorrow finds a bunch of torn-up Silver Age comics on a beach. But again, it’s not clear that McCarthy is trying to express any coherent message with his use of metatext. On the last page we find out that the entire issue is just a dream that Saturn Girl is having, but this seems like just a cop-out that doesn’t really explain anything. I’m not saying any of this as a criticism; this comic was not meant to be logically consistent, and it succeeds in resonating with me on an emotional level. Also, McCarthy’s artwork is brilliant. His coloring is my favorite thing about his artwork, but in this issue he shows a lot of versatility; he experiments with collage and other techniques, and draws in lots of different styles.

NOMAN #2 (Tower, 1967) – Steve Skeates and possibly others [W], Ogden Whitney and Chic Stone [A]. Another comic that I’ve had for a long time, but didn’t want to take the time to read, because of how long it is. This T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents spinoff includes five stories, four with NoMan (one of which guest-stars Dynamo) and one with Lightning. These stories are all about equal in quality to the main T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents title, though the art is not as good; four of them are drawn by Ogden Whitney and the fifth by Chic Stone. Probably the most fun story is the fourth one, where a villain tries to resurrect Hitler.

SWAMP THING #84 (DC Comics, 1989) – Rick Veitch [W], Tom Mandrake [A]. This is one of the last Rick Veitch Swamp Things I hadn’t read; the only one I don’t have is #77. Swampy does not appear in this issue because he’s still stuck in the past. Instead, the issue focuses on Abby, who discovers that she’s on the hook for her comatose husband Matt Cable’s medical bills, and, worse, that his body is being used for gruesome medical experiments. Abby decides to put Matt out of his misery, but Matt saves her the trouble by coming out of his coma and killing himself, having had a dream where Morpheus advised him to do so. Nine months later, Sandman #11 introduced a new character named Matthew the Raven. I was shocked when I realized how the timing of these two stories worked out, because I hadn’t realized Veitch and Gaiman must have intentionally coordinated their plans for this character. Indeed, it turns out that Rick was going to kill off Matt Cable anyway, and he asked Neil if he could have Matt die in the Dreaming, but Neil took advantage of the opportunity to introduce Matt into Sandman as Matthew the Raven. Also, Rick and Neil were already in close contact because Neil was going to be the next writer on Swamp Thing, only he quit in solidarity with Rick over the cancellation of the Jesus story. Anyway, that’s a cool piece of history that I wasn’t aware of. The main thing I dislike about this issue is Abby’s lack of agency; the only proactive thing she does is to decide to kill Matt, and even then he beats her to it.

CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA #2 (Archie, 2015) – Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa [W], Robert Hack [A]. This comic got off to a promising start, but lost all of its momentum because of chronic lateness. I missed issues 2 and 3 when they came out, probably because they were cancelled, and I forgot to reorder them when they were solicited again. Issue 5 did just come out, so at least this comic hasn’t been abandoned, but who knows when there’ll be another issue. Anyway, whereas Afterlife with Archie is a funny horror comic, Sabrina is more of a pure horror comic; the fact that it features Archie characters is almost incidental. The main villain (whose name and backstory I’ve forgotten thanks to the amount of time since I read issue #1) is horrific, and the plot is bleak and depressing, offering little reason for hope. The Ann-Margret scene is cute though.

KENNEL BLOCK BLUES #4 (IDW, 2016) – Ryan Ferrier [W], Daniel Bayliss [A]. This comic failed to live up to the hype. In the end, it’s just a trite example of the prison escape genre, with the gimmick that the characters are dogs and cats. I still like the artwork, but I won’t rush to buy any more comics from this writer.

HERO CATS OF STELLAR CITY #8 (Boom!, 2016) – Kyle Puttkammer [W], Marcus Williams [A]. In part one of the Crow King story, the Crow King puts all the Hero Cats to sleep, and they have a shared dream where they’re all humans. Seeing the Hero Cats in their human forms is cute and funny; the best one is Belle, who becomes a queen living in a castle full of statues of cats and fish. Rocco, who becomes a giant hulking warrior, is also pretty cool.

TYSON HESSE’S DIESEL #3 (Boom!, 2015) – Tyson Hesse [W/A]. In this issue, Dee gets stuck on solid ground where she encounters Bull, one of her adoptive brothers. (I don’t think I even knew Dee was adopted; it’s been a while since I read issue 1.) Tyson Hesse’s artwork is really strong, but the problem with this series is Dee, who is just an awful protagonist. She’s an entitled brat with no marketable skills, who’s spent her whole life coasting on the expectation of her inheritance, and this issue doesn’t advance her character arc very much.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2016: ALL AGES #nn (Dark Horse, 2016) – Michael Dante DiMartino [W], Heather Campbell [A] on lead story. The cover story in this issue is the tale of Korra’s first meeting with her polar bear dog Naga. Little Kora and Naga are really really cute, but the story didn’t do much for me because I’ve only seen one episode of Korra; I haven’t been able to get into it even though I’m a huge fan of the first Avatar series. I could have done without the other two stories in this issue. The How to Train Your Dragon story is reasonably well done, but I haven’t seen the film and I don’t intend to. As for the Plants vs. Zombies story, I don’t see the point of making a comic about a video game that has no plot. (Which Paul Tobin has done twice, with PvZ and Angry Birds.)

ARCHIE #8 (Archie, 2016) – Mark Waid [W], Veronica Fish [A]. I’ve been somewhat lukewarm about this series lately, but this issue is pretty good. The plot is exciting if farfetched, and Veronica Fish draws some cute dogs and cats. The one thing that surprises me about Mark Waid’s Archie is its emphasis on Archie’s clumsiness. I guess Archie was a klutz from the very beginning, but I never got the impression that clumsiness was his strongest character trait. Indeed, for me, the most distinctive thing about his character is that he doesn’t have any distinguishing traits because he’s just a generic high schooler.

New comics for May 20. This was a much less busy week and also the comics were better. I hope I can finish all these reviews before I have to go to sleep.

FUTURE QUEST #1 (DC, 2016) – Jeff Parker [W], Evan “Doc” Shaner & Steve Rude [A]. I was very excited about this, especially after Corrina Lawson’s glowing review, and it did not disappoint. Jeff Parker and Doc Shaner are really one of the top creative teams in the industry. Jeff is a very consistent and skilled writer who never gets the recognition he deserves, and Doc Shaner’s art is amazing in every way. And this comic even includes some pages by future Hall of Famer Steve Rude. Most of this issue focuses on the Quest family, and Jeff Parker and Doc Shaner really get these characters; this comic is very much in the spirit of the ‘80s Jonny Quest comics from Comico. I’m not familiar with any of the non-Jonny Quest characters featured in this comic, but I look forward to learning more about them. Overall, this is the most exciting current DC comic besides Legend of Wonder Woman, and I wish DC could achieve this same level of quality in their mainstream DC Universe titles.

LUMBERJANES #26 (Boom!, 2016) – Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh [W], Ayme Sotuyo [A]. I haven’t received Lumberjanes #25 because DCBS got shorted on it, though it should be arriving tomorrow [NOTE: “tomorrow” as of the day I wrote these reviews]. Other than that, this is easily the best issue of Lumberjanes since Noelle Stevenson left, and it restores much of my faith in this comic. I mean, this issue has a scene where half the Lumberjanes are riding on a giant kitten, and the other half are riding on a moose. And there’s lots more where that came from – for example, the panel where the Lumberjanes do a terrible job of pitching their tent, while Jen looks at them with affectionate resignation. Overall, this issue has the same blend of fun and heartfelt emotion that formerly made this series the second best in the industry, and it will be the second best comic in the industry again, if it continues to be this good. Also, I love that Barney is now part of the regular cast, and Hes (not sure what that’s short for) is an interesting addition to the cast.

ASTRO CITY #35 (Image, 2016) – Kurt Busiek [W], Ron Randall [A]. It’s weird when a superhero comic takes place in real time. The last time we saw Jerome Johnson, he was in his mother’s womb. But that was in 1997 and now he’s 19 and almost ready for college. This issue was less impressive than the last three, but it’s an intriguing exploration of the concept of superhero legacies. Jerome is the third generation in the Jack-in-the-Box family, but the current Jack-in-the-Box is somewhat else, and Jerome is uncertain about how he fits into his family’s tradition, if at all. I’ll be interested to see where this goes.

JUGHEAD #6 (Archie, 2016) – Chip Zdarsky [W], Erica Henderson [A]. By the time I got to this comic, I was sort of overwhelmed by two epically awesome comics and one very good one, and my attention was flagging a bit. This issue is a pretty good conclusion to the spy school story, but it didn’t excite me as much as the last five issues did, and it’s the first issue of Jughead that doesn’t have a parody dream sequence. Probably the best part is the last page where Mr. Weatherbee gets recalled from retirement.

USAGI YOJIMBO #154 (Dark Horse, 2016) – Stan Sakai [W/A] “Kazehime” – meaning “wind princess,” I think – is probably the best issue since the hiatus, though it’s not one of Stan’s absolute best stories. Usagi saves a dying Komori Ninja, Kazehime, and nurses her back to health, but three months later he has to fight her when she tries to assassinate his client. Kazehime eventually has Usagi at her mercy, but seems to be about to spare him when she’s killed by Usagi’s partner (the other ronin from the stone appreciation story). There was no other realistic way this situation could have ended, and yet the reader shares Usagi’s regret at Kazehime’s death. This story also includes a hilarious moment where a tavern owner advertises her business by saying “Cheap food! You get what you pay for! But no one has died from eating here! This week.” I’ve been to lots of restaurants like that.

PRINCELESS: MAKE YOURSELF #2 (Action Lab, 2016) – Jeremy Whitley [W], Emily Martin [A]. This is still a high-quality series, though I’m not enjoying it as much as the Raven spinoff. The centerpiece of this issue is Bedelia’s reconciliation with her grandfather. To save writing time I’m not going to explain the context here, but it’s a deeply emotional moment and Jeremy and Emily Martin handle it very well. BTW, I forgot to include writer/artist credits in any of the previous reviews, so I interrupted writing this review in order to go back and add them. Okay, carrying on. Another cool thing about this issue is the idea that dwarf women become warriors because tradition prevents them from becoming smiths. I know I complain about the lettering almost every time I review an issue of Princeless, but I still wish they would use a better lettering font.

LUMBERJANES: MAKIN’ THE GHOST OF IT #1 (Boom!, 2016) – Jen Wang [W], Christine Norrie [A] on main story. Two issues of Lumberjanes in one week is an embarrassment of riches. This is the weaker of the two, but it’s still very good. Jen Wang’s novella-length Lumberjanes story is well-plotted – I guessed the plot twist slightly before it was revealed, but it was a clever plot twist which was set up so subtly that the reader was likely to ignore it. And this story effectively showcases the personalities of all the main characters, especially Mal with her fear of ghosts. The backup story by Kelly Thompson and Savannah Ganucheau (Paulina’s sister, I think) is at least as good. I mean, it literally includes a scene where Ripley becomes a superhero made of kittens, with the head of a dinosaur, covered in glitter, riding a fat unicorn, with a shark’s fin. Which reminds me that I can’t wait until Riley meets Maps Mizoguchi.

MANIFEST DESTINY #19 (Image, 2016) – Chris Burgess [W], Matthew Roberts [A]. Most of this issue is a flashback to the expedition that preceded that of Lewis and Clark. This expedition ended in disaster as the men had to resort to cannibalism, until one of them had a vision of a Spanish ghost: Arturo Maldonado, a lieutenant of Panfilo de Narváez. When I saw that latter name, I knew it sounded familiar, and I was right. Narváez was the leader of an early expedition to continental North America, which is described in Cabeza de Vaca’s book. And that expedition even included at least one man named Maldonado (though his first name was Alonso), so this is another indication that Chris Burgess has done his research. In the last few pages of this issue, we see how much better prepared Lewis and Clark are than their predecessors were. The previous expeditions encountered a series of horrible perils each of which cost them multiple men, but Lewis and Clark encounter the exact same perils and escape unscathed. (BTW, I have that Cabeza de Vaca book and I think now might be a good time to read it.)

GOLDIE VANCE #2 (Boom!, 2016) – Hope Larson [W], Brittney Williams [A]. Unlike the previous issue, this is not a self-contained mystery story, and I was a bit disappointed by this. But otherwise, this is another really good comic. Goldie is a cute and entertaining character, and this issue shows us a lot more of her world, which is like ‘50s America with racial equality. We also learn a bit about Goldie’s family, and meet her mother for the first time. I think this comic would appeal to the same kids who read Lumberjanes or Drama or Roller Girl. On the last page of this issue, a character is reading an issue of Patsy Walker.

SILVER SURFER #4 (Marvel, 2016) – Dan Slott [W], Mike Allred [A]. This is an okay issue, but this anniversary story has been disappointing. I don’t particularly care about Shalla Bal or Zenn-La; I want to see the Surfer and Dawn exploring the universe and fighting cosmic menaces. On the last two pages of the issue, it seems like Dawn proposes to Norrin and he accepts, though this is ambiguous. One of my Facebook friends, I forget who, just pointed out that Dan Slott is an excellent writer when he’s writing lower-tier titles (Silver Surfer, She-Hulk, GLA) rather than flagship titles, and this is very true.

DEPT. H #2 (Dark Horse, 2016) – Matt Kindt [W/A]. An impressive follow-up to a very good debut issue, although it doesn’t tell us much that we didn’t already know. Matt’s artwork and Sharlene Kindt’s coloring continue to be amazing. The last page of this issue includes a diagram of Dept. H headquarters.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #4 (Marvel, 2016) – David Walker [W], Sanford Greene [A]. A reasonable conclusion to the first storyline, though it didn’t thrill me as much as #3 did. Predictably, Jennie is saved from her possession by the Supersoul Stone thanks to Black Mariah’s friendship, so this ends up being a My Little Pony story in disguise. The other day, Evan Narcisse wrote an article on io9 where he complained that David Walker is misusing Jessica Jones, writing her as a nagging shrew who doesn’t seem to care for her husband very much. I do think this is a valid critique and I hope future issues will depict Jessica more positively.

NEW X-MEN ANNUAL 2001 (Marvel, 2001) – Grant Morrison [W], Leinil Yu [A]. An ambitious experiment that failed. This issue is in sideways format, meaning it has the same proportions as a normal comic book but is stapled on what would normally be the top edge, rather than the left edge. This has a negative impact on the story. Because of the much larger amount of horizontal space available, Yu seems compelled to use all that space as dramatically as possible, creating lots of widescreen panels. This means there’s less space for dialogue or explanation, and the story often becomes quite hard to follow. At least I think that’s what’s going on; certainly this was a very confusing and illogical comic, and I had trouble understanding who the villains were or how they were connected. In terms of the plot, this issue is notable for introducing Xorn, and it does include some intriguing developments in Scott, Jean and Emma’s love triangle. A weird thing about this issue is that it frequently mentions a character named Muñoz, but every time her name is mentioned, it’s spelled “Mu-oz.” Probably the issue was lettered with a font that didn’t include the Ñ glyph, and no one noticed until it was too late.

FANTASTIC FOUR #225 (Marvel, 1980) – Doug Moench [W], Bill Sienkiewicz [A]. Doug Moench was probably the worst Fantastic Four writer, besides the team of Rafael Marín and Carlos Pacheco. His Thor wasn’t great either, because his talents were not suited to Kirbyesque superhero comics. For example, this issue is an imitation of Lee and Kirby’s “hidden land” stories (e.g. the stories with Prester John and the Inhumans). But the new characters Moench introduces are weird and boring, Moench’s overly verbose dialogue slows the reader down, and the plot is resolved by divine intervention from Odin. Also, Bill S’s artwork is only average.

DETECTIVE COMICS #649 (DC, 1992) – Chuck Dixon [W], Tom Lyle [A]. I have such a strong distaste for Chuck Dixon that it’s hard for me to read one of his comics without finding fault with it. For instance, this issue is exciting because it’s an early Spoiler appearance. However, Batman doesn’t let Spoiler accompany him and Robin on their mission against Cluemaster, and he doesn’t explain why (BTW, it’s cute that Stephanie points out that she’s older than Tim). Of course Spoiler follows Batman and Robin anyway, but she ends up accomplishing nothing; Cluemaster takes her hostage, and Batman saves her by telling Cluemaster her secret identity, which is kind of a dick move. Even for 1992 this treatment of Steph is kind of insulting, and again, it’s hard for me not to somehow attribute this to Chuck Dixon’s conservative ideology. Matt Wagner’s cover for this issue is quite good.

TYSON HESSE’S DIESEL #4 (Boom!, 2016) – Tyson Hesse [W/A]. As I started to read this issue, I wondered how it could possibly resolve all the outstanding plot threads, and the answer is it doesn’t – it ends on a cliffhanger, with a caption saying “End of Book 1.” So by the end of the issue, Diesel still hasn’t gotten back to the clouds, we don’t know where her father is, her character arc has still not progressed significantly, etc. etc. This is a real problem because for all I know, this could be the last Diesel comic – I haven’t seen any announcement of any more issues, and who knows if the first miniseries sold well enough to justify a sequel. Therefore, Tyson Hesse should have at least tried to offer some closure to this Diesel story, in case there weren’t any more. He shouldn’t have allowed for the possibility that the plot might be left permanently in limbo. (I had the same complaint about Prez #6, although with that series, the plot didn’t really matter.) When Matt Kindt started MIND MGMT, he had an alternative ending in mind in case the series ended with issue 6, and I wish that all creators would do that. Basically, I think that if you start to tell a multipart story, and you don’t know if you’ll be able to finish it, you should at least end each segment of it in a satisfying way. You shouldn’t leave the reader hanging. And I can think of one major genre novelist who would have done well to take that advice…

Eight more. Really need to go to bed but still want to finish.

HERO CATS OF STELLAR CITY #9 (Action Lab, 2016) – as above. This is a fun conclusion to the Crow King story arc, and it also explains what was going on in the Midnight miniseries. The only thing that disappoints me is that all the Hero Cats’ human forms are white men. This comic is much better than a lot of other comics with better publicity and higher production values – out of the last five comics I reviewed, this was the best.

NEGATIVE BURN #13 (Caliber, 1994) – various [W/A]. There is some excellent talent associated with this anthology comic, including Brian Bolland, Alan Moore, and Neil Gaiman, but it turns out to be very disappointing. Brian Bolland only contributes a one-page absurdist story, which has no plot and is not drawn in the style he’s famous for. As for Moore and Gaiman, this issue only includes some lyrics from a song by Alan Moore, which are illustrated by Neil Gaiman. It’s no surprise that Alan Moore’s lyrics and Neil Gaiman’s artwork are not at the same level of quality as their comic book writing. So including their names on the cover verges on deceptive advertising. The other material in this issue ranges from average to unreadable, though there’s one wordless story by Brian Michael Bendis that’s kind of cute. The clear highlight of the issue is a Milk & Cheese two-parter by Evan Dorkin.

BATMAN #487 (DC, 1992) – Doug Moench [W], Jim Aparo [A]. This issue has a fairly simplistic plot where a dude with filed teeth tries to assassinate Commissioner Gordon. The main highlight is Jim Aparo’s artwork (and lettering). Gordon’s treatment of his new wife in this story is quite brutish.

JONAH HEX #52 (DC, 2010) – Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti [W], Jordi Bernet [A]. The story in this issue is average. Jonah is pursued by three criminals who live in a swamp, but gets saved by a woman who turns out to be in league with the criminals. What makes this issue exciting is Bernet’s artwork. He draws some very nice action scenes that remind me of both Pratt and Toth. There’s one striking splash page where Jonah emerges from the swamp, bleeding from a gunshot wound and covered with bugs, but with a look of furious determination on his face. I do think Bernet’s art would look much better in black and white, or with flatter coloring.

CEREBUS #34 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1982) – Dave Sim [W/A]. Again, I don’t quite get what’s going on here, but it’s funny and well-drawn. This issue heavily features Elrod, who is based on Elric but talks like Foghorn Leghorn. I did order the first Cerebus phonebook, so maybe now I can finally achieve an understanding of this comic. The backup story in this issue is a strange but funny early work by Bill Messner-Loebs, in which Benjamin Franklin goes to heaven and is asked to replace Marcus Aurelius in the role of God. One odd thing here is that Franklin is excited when he arrives in heaven and sees a beautiful young woman in a toga; I thought he liked older women.

PAST AWAYS #2 (Dark Horse, 2015) – Matt Kindt [W], Scott Kolins [A]. In this issue, the Past Aways reunite, it turns out that four of them hate the fifth one who brought them together, and then they have to go fight a giant robot. Each page of this comic includes one object with a red square around it, with a footnote at the bottom identifying the object in the red square; these footnotes are often quite funny, and remind me of the MIND MGMT Field Guide. This issue was fun enough that I immediately read the next one.

PAST AWAYS #3 (Dark Horse, 2015) – In this issue, the Past Aways battle and defeat the giant robot, ending the first story arc, and it’s not clear what’s going to happen next. This was good but I didn’t enjoy it as much as the previous issue.

STARTLING STORIES: BANNER #1 (Marvel, 2001) – Brian Azzarello [W], Richard Corben [A]. I have this entire miniseries but never got around to reading it until now. In terms of plot, this issue is a very formulaic and generic Hulk story, with the twist that the Hulk’s rampages result in actual deaths. In the main Marvel Universe, the Hulk somehow manages to destroy massive amounts of property without killing anyone (and we’re supposed to accept that this is because Bruce Banner is unconsciously controlling the Hulk, which is just about as believable as Superman hypnotizing everyone in the whole world with his glasses). Anyway, it turns out that this is the entire point of the miniseries from a plot standpoint; it examines what would happen if the rule that the Hulk can’t kill anybody were repealed. That’s not a very interesting premise, and Brian Azzarello doesn’t do much with it. Therefore, the only real interest of this series is Rich Corben’s artwork, which is very good. His Hulk and Doc Samson are gruesomely hypermasculine, and his coloring is beautiful. I have a bunch of other unread Corben comic books and I ought to get around to them soon.

FANTOMAS #171 (Editorial Novaro, 1974) – uncredited [W], Victor Cruz [A]. I got this at Heroes Con two years ago, and it’s a rare treasure: a Mexican comic which has probably never been reprinted, even in Mexico. I’ve read that Mexico used to have the world’s fourth largest comics industry, and there is a massive repertory of classic Mexican comics. Yet with rare exceptions like Paquito Burrón, almost no classic Mexican comics are available in book form even in Spanish, let alone in English. This is a frustrating problem and I wish someone would do something about it. Currently you can get Cortázar’s novella “Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires” in English, but the actual comics it’s based on are totally inaccessible. Speaking of which, I have complained about the lettering that Semiotext(e) used in their version of that book, but it’s actually fairly close to the lettering in the real Fantomas comics; the only mistake Semiotext(e) made was to use the Comic Sans font. So anyway, this comic was fairly easy to read even though my Spanish skills have atrophied, and it’s a ton of fun. Fantomas (a very loose adaptation of the master thief created by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre) goes to France to steal the iron crown of Charlemagne. While there, he accidentally activates a Nazi robot that’s programmed to kill anyone who speaks a language other than German, and adventures ensue. It’s a bizarre story, but it’s also genuinely exciting, and Fantomas is a compelling protagonist, a figure of daring, mystery, and sex appeal. The story guest-stars the real-life actors Monica Vitti and Charlton Heston, plus a director named Sergius Leonescu, i.e. Sergio Leone. I don’t know if the former two actually gave their permission to be depicted in this comic, but I somehow doubt it. Overall, this is a really fun comic, and it’s a shame that this comic and others like it are impossible to find in any language.