Two weeks of reviews

LOCKE & KEY: KEYS TO THE KINGDOM #3 (IDW, 2010) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Gabriel Rodriguez. Tyler is trying to become a more vicious hockey player, while also romancing his crush Jordan. Meanwhile, Kinsey is having her own relationship problems. They both try to use the keys to solve their problems, while at the same time, Dodge is manipulating them both. This issue has a lot of different plotlines, but it’s held together by beginning and ending with Tyler’s hockey games.

LOVE AND CAPES: THE FAMILY WAY #5 (Maerkle Press, 2020) – untitled, [W/A] Thom Zahler. Mark and Abby go on a second honeymoon, leaving Charlotte and Amazonia to babysit the kids. Amazonia is appointed Leandia (i.e. Themyscira)’s new ambassador to Earth, resolving her character arc. But meanwhile, an evil cosmic entity is about to invade Earth, which leads us into:

LOVE AND CAPES: THE FAMILY WAY #6 – as above. The first half of the issue is a flashback to Abby’s second pregnancy, when Mark encountered his much older self from another world. Back in the present, Mark defeats Blackseed (i.e. Darkseid) by summoning versions of himself from alternate realities, one of which is a cat named Marrrk Spencpurr. Paul and Amazonia resume their relationship. James accidentally discovers his father’s secret identity, and in a touching conclusion to the series, Mark takes James flying for the first time. I really hope Thom does another Love & Capes miniseries sometime soon.

DEADLINE U.S.A. #2 (Dark Horse, 1992) – various stories, [E] Chris Warner & Jerry Prosser. We begin with another installment of Milligan and Ewins’s Johnny Nemo. When I read Strange Days, Johnny Nemo suffered by comparison to Brendan McCarthy’s flashier stories in the same issues, but it’s an excellent comic strip in its own right. The next story is by Ho Che Anderson, then there’s “Maxnasty” by Jamie Hewlett, which is visually stunning but is reproduced too small. Unfortunately this issue also includes D’Israeli’s Timulo, the comic where you have to rotate each page eight times to read all the text. Of the other strips in the issue, the best is Philip Bond’s Wired World, and the worst is Alec Stevens’s unintelligible Silence. Other artists  included are Shaky Kane, Nick Abadzis, Julie Hollings, Richard Sala, Steve Dillon and Evan Dorkin.

PLANETOID PRAXIS #3 (Image, 2017) – untitled, [W/A] Ken Garing. Some foreign humans reach the planetoid and immediately set themselves up as colonists, claiming ownership over the planet’s resources and caring little for everything that the protagonists have built. On the planet’s behalf, Onica refuses to deal with the new humans. Some masked gunmen show up and kill Silas’s pet lizard Koma.

2000 AD #501 (IPC, 1986) – “Slaine the King,” [W] Pat Mills, [A] Glenn Fabry, etc. Sláine recovers the Black Cauldron, the same one from the Mabinogi and the Disney film, and has to kill a horrible thing that comes out of it. Ukko says that the Cauldron won’t cook the food of a coward, which is a quotation from the medieval Welsh poem “The Spoils of Annwn.” Glenn Fabry’s artwork here is amazing. Next is Milligan and Ewins’s “Bad Company.” This story’s art is also beautiful, though in a less flashy way. The Dredd story is a split-personality murder mystery by Wagner, Grant, and Brendan McCarthy. Only the first two pages are in color, which is a pity because McCarthy’s coloring is his greatest asset as an artist. However, it is interesting to see what his art looks like without all the rainbow colors. After a three-page Future Shock, the prog ends with a Nemesis the Warlock chapter by Mills and Bryan Talbot, guest-starring the ABC Warriors. The lineup of talent in this prog is really amazing.

SUPERMAN #389 (DC, 1983) – “Brother Act!”, [W] Cary Bates & Paul Kupperberg, [A] Curt Swan. A convoluted and barely coherent story about Cory Renwald, a secret agent who I guess was Clark Kent’s foster brother at some point. There are subplots about Lana and Lois’s rivalry, and about Perry White’s failed marriage.

WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #321 (DC, 1985) – “The Time of Your Life,” [W] Joey Cavalieri, [A] José Delbo. Batman and Superman team up against Chronos. This story is not interesting to begin with, and is made even worse by Joey Cavalieri’s habit of purple prose. Cavalieri seems to have been imitating Alan Moore’s prose style, but he was no Alan Moore. Also, Delbo’s artwork is overwhelmed by Alfredo Alcala’s inking. I wonder why DC didn’t use Alcala as a penciller rather than an inker. I guess he must have been a very fast inker, despite his hyper-detailed linework.

JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #6 (DC, 1992) – “Give Me Liberty…,” [W] Len Strazewski, [A] Mike Parobeck. The JSA travel to Bahdnesia on a ship and encounter the last surviving Bahdnesian. This series was influential because it helped revive the JSA characters, and also because Parobeck’s art helped popularize the animation-influenced style of superhero art. However, it’s only an average series in its own right.

VALOR #22 (DC, 1994) – “End of an Era Part Two: The Center Cannot Hold!”, [W] Kurt Busiek, [A] Colleen Doran. Valor tries to prevent the 20th century from being destroyed by time paradoxes. “End of an Era” is depressing because it got rid of the old version of the Legion, not because those characters were unpopular but because their continuity had been broken beyond repair. The Legion’s history from 1986 to 1994 is a case study in why excessive adherence to continuity is a bad thing.

New DCBS shipment received on June 11:

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #6 (DC, 2020) – untitled, [W] Brian Michael Bendis, [A] Ryan Sook. This issue has gotten some hype because it introduces two new Legionnaires, Monster Boy and Gold Lantern. Objectively this issue is rather bad; it has an incoherent, boring plot and no characterization to speak of. But this comic is still exciting, because it’s such a nostalgic pleasure to see the Legion again. And Ryan Sook’s Legion is diverse and visually exciting.

ADVENTUREMAN #1 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Terry Dodson. The first half of this issue is a pulp-influenced story in the vein of Doc Savage and the Shadow, starring a team of ‘30s superheroes. At the halfway mark, we learn that this story is a pulp novel that a woman named Claire Connell is reading to her young son. After Shabbat dinner with her father and six sisters (a really cute touch), Claire goes to work at a bookstore, where she gets drawn into a mysterious conspiracy. This issue is a really exciting debut. Both the WWII-era and modern-day sequences have some fascinating characters. As Fraction explains in his author’s note, his goal is to recreate the pulp adventure genre without its racist and sexist elements. Even the Punjabi character in the pulp novel is portrayed in a respectful way. The problem with this comic is that it’s too long for the single-issue format, and I got tired of it before it was over. Also, Terry Dodson’s art is highly skilled, but perhaps too slick and immaculate for its own good.

SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN #7 (Boom!, 2020) – “The House of Slaughter Part Two,” [W] James Tynion IV, [A] Werther Dell’Edera. Erica meets one of her fellow monster hunters, and he decides to use little Bian, the sole survivor of the monster attacks, as bait, over Erica’s objections. Otherwise this issue mostly updates the existing plotlines. This issue includes a preview of Wynd #1. I was hoping to get this on my last visit to Heroes, but it was already sold out.

AMETHYST #3 (DC, 2020) – “En Route,” [W/A] Amy Reeder. Maxixe, Prince Aquamarine, is forced by his mother to join Amy and Ploss. The three of them visit a nomadic market, but Amy’s old crush Prince Topaz shows up and breaks the market up. At the end of the issue, Amy and her companions reach the Opal Realm. This is a fun issue. Its highlight is the montage sequence where Amy and her friends are traveling through a bunch of weird realms. This scene demonstrates Amy Reeder’s visual imagination. However, this series deserves more than six issues. It’s still too soon for Amy to confront Dark Opal – there hasn’t been enough setup. It seems like Reeder has had to compress her plot to fit the limited space available.

MILES MORALES: SPIDER-MAN #17 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Javier Garron. Miles helps out a boy who’s being bullied, then he fights some CRADLE agents, and discovers that his mother sympathizes somewhat with Kamala’s Law. I think Outlawed is a terrible idea, especially now that real-world events have made it seem irrelevant. But this issue doesn’t demand too much knowledge of Outlawed’s plot, which may explain Marvel’s odd decision to release it before all the other Outlawed titles.

UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY #6 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Scott Snyder & Charles Soule, [A] Giuseppe Camuncoli & Leonardo Marcello Grassi. The protagonists mostly succeed in escaping the Destiny Man and continuing their journey down the spiral, but Uncle Sam gets killed. Part of this issue is by a guest artist. Camuncoli must have needed a break, considering the amount of detail in his art.

ICE CREAM MAN #19 (Image, 2020) – “Haunting for Beginners,” [W] W. Maxwell Prince, [A] Martin Morazzo. A highly experimental issue that’s designed to look like an instruction manual. It’s entirely in black and white, and each panel is a step in a set of instructions for becoming a ghost. In the first sequence, a little boy in a ghost costume witnesses a suicide. The next sequence takes place thirty years later, when the boy is an adult with a cheating wife. He almost commits suicide himself, but decides not to. In the last sequence, the now-78-year-old protagonist dies and becomes an actual ghost. The issue ends with an index. “Haunting for Beginners” is an impressive formal experiment, and it’s also quite a touching story.

NEW MUTANTS #10 (Marvel, 2020) – “Parasomnia,” [W] Ed Brisson, [A] Flaviano. The New Mutants visit a fictional Eastern European country, where a young mutant girl’s powers are causing her nightmares to manifest. This issue isn’t as bad as #6, but it’s not good either. It looks like Hickman is no longer writing New Mutants, and I’m going to quit ordering it.

WELLINGTON #4 (IDW, 2020) – untitled, [W] Delilah Dawson & Aaron Mahnke, [A] Piotr Kowalski. More boring Mignolaesque horror. There’s nothing particularly appealing about this series, and I’m still annoyed by its lack of historical accuracy. I’ve already complained in previous reviews that the Duke of Wellington’s clothes don’t look period-appropriate, and beyond that, there’s nothing to suggest that the writers have more than a shallow knowledge of Wellington and his era.

DRYAD #2 (Oni, 2020) – untitled, [W] Kurtis Wiebe, [A] Justin Osterling. I expected to dislike this even more than the previous two comics, but it’s surprisingly good. The town is being invaded by mysterious creatures armed with science fiction weaponry, and to combat the invaders, the mother pulls out a giant ray gun of her own. This raises some glaring questions about just what kind of world this series is set in. I also like the contrast between the two  generations of characters. I think I actually will keep reading Dryad.

2000 AD #549 (Fleetway, 1987) – “The Rammy, Part 6,” [W] Alan Grant, [A] Carlos Ezquerra. This prog starts with a Strontium Dog story, a murder mystery in which the victim is named Vint Skully – presumably a reference to Vin Scully. Next is a Bad Company chapter in which Kano, the leader of the Bad Company, is believed dead and has become a legend. The Judge Dredd story is “Judge Dredd in Oz, Part 5,” starring Chopper. It has stunning art by Brendan McCarthy, but the villains are a bunch of grotesque giant birds with stereotypical Mexican accents. This theme of offensive Mexican stereotypes will come up again in later progs. Next is a Nemesis story where Torquemada visits Toledo in the time of the original Torquemada. This story is drawn by John Hicklenton, whose art is unique and stunning, if very disturbing. He had a real talent for body horror. His major work is 100 Months, an autobiographical work about his own terminal illness. The prog ends with a Zenith chapter that I’ve already read. I believe it’s the last chapter of Phase 1.

DECORUM #2 (Image, 2020) – “Singularity Now” and other chapters, [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Mike Huddleston. The artwork in this issue is amazing, especially the sequence depicting a god that manifests itself as a bunch of Kirby crackle. This sequence is even colored with fake Ben-Day dots. However, this issue’s plot makes very little sense.

BITTER ROOT #8 (Image, 2020) – “Rage & Redemption Part Three,” [W] David F. Walker & Chuck Brown, [A] Sanford Greene. This issue continues the series’ basic plotline and presents no real surprises, but it’s well done. I especially like the gospel music scene. I think I’ve already mentioned how this series reminds me of Clan Destine, perhaps because of the giant character who uses formal language. This issue includes an interview with Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, author of the very important book The Dark Fantastic.

NO ONE’S ROSE #2 (Vault, 2020) – untitled, [W] Zac Thompson & Emily Horn, [A] Alberto Albuquerque. The sister gets fired from her “junior liberator” job, but subsequently discovers that her plants are growing super-fast. It becomes clear that the dome’s leaders are manipulating the environment to maintain their own power. The sister and brother debate over the best way to change their society. I remember I read another comic by Zac Thompson and didn’t like it, so I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed this issue. The themes of dictatorship and revolution are not new, but the plant-based technology is cool, and the art is very effective.

LOIS LANE #11 (DC, 2020) – “Enemy of the People Part Eleven,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Mike Perkins. I couldn’t follow this issue’s story. I can’t remember who Jessica Midnight is, and I don’t remember who the bad guys are. I’ll be glad when this miniseries is over. It’s not one of Rucka’s better works.

KILLADELPHIA #6 (Image, 2020) – “Sins of the Father Part VI: For God and Country,” [W] Rodney Barnes, [A] Jason Shawn Alexander. The good guys beat Vampire John Adams, and James Sangster Sr. accepts his death. I have very mixed feelings about this series – it seems like a comic I ought to support, but its vampire plot is stupid. I’m not sure if I want to keep ordering it.

THE FILTH #3 (Vertigo, 2002) – “Structures and Ultrastructures,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Chris Weston. This issue starts with a metatextual sequence that looks backward to Animal Man and forward to Multiversity. In this sequence, some comic book characters run into the two-dimensional barrier that separates them from the real world. After that point, the issue’s story becomes incoherent. It’s about a man who’s alternately known as Greg Feely and Ned Slade, and at the end of the issue his cat dies. What this could possibly mean is beyond me.

FLEENER #1 (Bongo, 1996) – “The Land of the Kookamonga!”, [W/A] Mary Fleener. An epic-length, surrealist, silent story about a tribe of island people with trapezoidal bodies. This story doesn’t follow rational logic, but it makes a weird sort of sense, and Fleener’s art is fascinating and weird. The centerfold of the issue is a board game. This issue includes a letter from a reader who drove to Paris, Illinois to see a Mary Fleener painting, only to discover that it was by a different woman of the same name. That reader was my friend Craig Fischer.

TITS & CLITS #6 (Last Gasp, 1980) – various stories, [E] Joyce Farmer & Lyn Chevli. This issue’s first story, by Beverly Hilliard, is a sort of gender-swapped version of Weekend at Bernie’s. Next is a faux-mythological story by Karen Feinberg and Joyce Farmer. It’s described as being “from the Book of Notable Women.” Feinberg published other excerpts from this book elsewhere, but I don’t think it ever existed as a book. The highlight of the issue is Sharon Rudahl’s “More Than a Woman,” about tensions between second-wave feminist principles and the desire for motherhood. The issue also includes Roberta Gregory’s “Bedroom Politricks,” about sleeping with a new lover for the first time, and several other short stories by Farmer.

SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN #136 (Marvel, 1987) – “Seventh Isle of Doom,” [W] Larry Yakata, [A] Andy Kubert. This issue’s main story is really not very good. It’s awkwardly written, and it ends with a dumb scene where Conan sleeps with a princess and then maroons her on an island. The interesting question this story raises is who Larry Yakata was. No biographical information about him is available, and there’s specualtion that he was either Larry Hama or Jim Owsley/Christopher Priest. Andy Kubert’s style in this story is barely distinguishable from his father’s. There’s also a Kull backup story by Chuck Dixon and another obvious pseudonym, Fraja Bator.

2000 AD #565 (Fleetway, 1988) – “The ABC Warriors,” [W] Pat Mills, [A] Simon Bisley, etc. This is the last prog I have whose cover is newsprint rather than glossy paper. The cover design is the same as that of progs #600 and up, so this prog feels like a transition between eras. The ABC Warriors story has brilliant draftsmanship by Simon Bisley. I was only familiar with this artist’s painted art, and it seems he’s equally good at line art. After an early review of Star Trek: The Next Generation, we continue with a Strontium Dog story guest-starring Durham Red. Then there’s part 21 of Dredd in Oz, thankfully without the Mexican stereotypes; a Nemesis chapter drawn by David Roach; and a Future Shock drawn by Belardinelli.

TANK GIRL FCBD: A BRIEF HISTORY OF TANK GIRL (Titan, 2018) – “A Brief History of Tank Girl,” [W] Alan Martin, [A] Brett Parson et al. A series of vignettes about Tank Girl and a man who she punches in the face every year on her birthday. One of the vignettes includes some satirical comments about the Tank Girl movie. This issue is okay, but to me the most intriguing thing about Tank Girl is Jamie Hewlett’s art, and the stories by Martin without Hewlett are much less appealing.

SUPERMAN #43 (DC, 1990) – “The Evil Factory,” [W/A] Jerry Ordway. Superman #41 was one of the first comic books I ever read, and of course when I read it, I knew nothing about the Kirby comics it was based on. Reading Superman #43 now, I can see how the entire issue is adapted from Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen. Superman teams up with Guardian to rescue Jimmy’s mother from Mokkari and Simyan. Jerry Ordway doesn’t add a whole lot to Kirby’s mythos, but he shows a good understanding of Kirby. While reading this issue, I noticed that Kirby created two different characters named Mokkari and Makkari.

THE RED WING #2 (Image, 2011) – “Learning to Fall,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Nick Pitarra. This was Hickman’s first creator-owned work that I was aware of, although I haven’t read it until now. Like Decorum, The Red Wing is quite hard to decipher, except that it seems to be about space pilots and Mayan mythology. Nick Pitarra’s draftsmanship on this issue is less accomplished than in Manhattan Projects.

THE FLASH #218 (DC, 1972) – “The Flash of 1000 Faces,” [W] Cary Bates, [A] Irv Novick. Thanks to the Pied Piper, Barry forgets his own secret identity and can’t take his mask off. This story is average, but the real attraction of the issue is the GL/GA backup story, “Green Arrow is Dead!” by O’Neil and Adams. This story is beautifully drawn, and the three-parter that appeared in Flash #217-219 was an effective (temporary) farewell to GL and GA. My favorite moment in “Green Arrow is Dead!” is when Dinah fall  off a building, and Hal manifests a giant Green Arrow to catch her. Sadly we just lost Denny O’Neil, a towering figure in the comics industry.

THE STEEL CLAW #3 (Quality, 1987) – untitled, [W] Ken Bulmer, [A] Jesus Blasco. This issue’s stories are about Dr. Deutz, a mad scientist who turns into a monster and frames the Steel Claw for his crimes. These stories are exciting and beautifully drawn. However, a comparison with the Steel Claw: The Vanishing Man hardcover reveals the violence that was inflicted on these stories in order to turn them into comic book form. The Steel Claw comics were published in the British format, and to make them fit American comic book pages, Quality had to chop up and rearrange panels and add new artwork. The result is a complete distortion of the artist’s intentions.

2000 AD #608 (Fleetway, 1988) – “Contact Part Two,” [W] Alan Grant, [A] Mark Farmer. In the first story, Psi-Judge Anderson travels to a planet of telepathic aliens. I’m not sure if I’ve seen Mark Farmer’s pencils before. His style is similar to Alan Davis’s. Next there’s a funny Future Shock about three-eyed aliens, and a selection of Judge Dredd daily strips drawn by Ian Gibson. The Dredd story is “Our Man in Hondo Part One’ by Wagner and Colin MacNeil, set in Japan. Unfortunately this story is full of outdated Japanese stereotypes, and even the lettering is done in a faux-Oriental style. Even Claremont and Miller’s Wolverine miniseries was less offensive than this story. The best stories in this prog are John Brosnan and Kev Hopgood’s “Night Zero,” a science-fictional hard-boiled noir story, and Mills and Hicklenton’s Nemesis chapter.

SUPERMAN #27 (DC, 1988) – “Of Course, You Know This Means War!”, [W] Roger Stern, [A] Kerry Gammill. Superman visits Australia to deal with the fallout from Invasion!, then returns to Metropolis exhausted. Later, Gangbuster fights Brainiac and Guardian. I’m pretty sure that the Gangbuster in this issue is not José Delgado but Superman, who’s unknowingly posing as Gangbuster in his sleep, and that this explains why Superman is so tired. This issue isn’t a classic, but it’s reasonably fun.

BIRTHRIGHT #28 (Image, 2017) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. Mikey battles Lore. Meanwhile, on a train, Aaron and Rya encounter a man who turns out to be Lore’s agent, resulting in a fight that derails the train. The last page of this comic reminds me of the opening sequence of Uncharted 2.

SPIDER-WOMAN #41 (Marvel, 1981) – “La Morte de Jessica,” [W] Chris Claremont, [A] Steve Leialoha. Jessica Drew and Lindsay McCabe go to a Renaissance fair, where Jess has a vision in which she’s Morgan Le Fay and she witnesses Arthur’s attempted execution of Guinevere. This issue is kind of like a more extended version of Jean Grey’s Mastermind-induced visions in X-Men #133-134. Claremont seems to have liked to use dreams and visions as a way of putting his protagonist into a setting other than the main one of the story. I don’t know if the Arthurian continuity in this issue matches that of other Marvel comics like Iron Man #149-150. On page 3 we see some of the sources Claremont and Leialoha are using for their version of Camelot. They’re mostly the usual ones, like Malory and T.H. White.

DETECTIVE COMICS #847 (DC, 2008) – “Batman R.I.P. Heart of Hush Part 2 of 5: The Last Good Day,” [W] Paul Dini, [A] Dustin Nguyen. This issue starts with a flashback to Hush’s childhood, focusing on Hush’s jealousy of Bruce Wayne. The key scene is when Thomas and Bruce are canoeing at summer camp, and then Thomas’s overprotective mother shows up and demands that he come home. Then Batman and Robin fight some Lewis Carroll-influenced villains, including a walrus and a carpenter, and there’s also a scene with Zatanna and Catwoman.

2000 AD #610 (Fleetway, 1989) – “Night Zero,” [W] John Brosnan, [A] Kev Hopgood, etc. In #608, Night Zero/Tanner’s client got killed, but by now she’s somehow alive again. She and Tanner go to see her friend, but have to fight some overly polite guns and a tiger first. This is quite a funny story. The next story is a comparison of two different versions of an old Dredd story, “City of the Damned” from #404. Steve Dillon’s original version of this story was lost, and he had to redraw it from scratch. Later the original pages were rediscovered, and in this prog the two versions are presented side by side. This provides the reader with a rare and fascinating opportunity to examine the creative choices made by a cartoonist. The Dredd story is part 3 of “Our Man in Hondo,” and it’s just as offensive as part one. Steve Dillon’s “Hap Hazzard” is a humorous one-shot story about two men who try to get out of accompanying their significant others to a high school reunion. The last story is the first chapter of “Zippy Couriers,” depicting how Shauna McCullough quits her corporate courier job and starts her own business.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS: THE SUN BEYOND THE STARS #3 (Image, 2015) – untitled, [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Nick Pitarra. Yuri Gagarin and Laika have an adventure on an alien planet. This issue has some really impressive art, but it’s hard to follow, and it has no apparent connection to the main Manhattan Projects series.

SENSATION COMICS FEATURING WONDER WOMAN #14 (DC, 2015) – “Nine Days,” [W] Karen Traviss, [A] Andres Guinaldo. Diana tries to stop a war between two fictional South American countries, despite interference from the goddess Eris. This issue is boring and incoherent, and it presents the war in a “both sides” fashion. It’s one of the worst issues of this series.

THE INVISIBLES #7 (Vertigo, 1995) – “Arcadia Part 3: 120 Days of Sod All,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Jill Thompson. King Mob and the Marquis de Sade try to get into the sealed castle from The 120 Days of Sodom. Meanwhile, Ragged Robin visits Rennes-le-Chateau, which is famous due to being part of the myth behind The Da Vinci Code. Lord Fanny and Jack Frost fight some guy with a smudged face, and there’s also some more of the plotline about the Shelleys and Byron. At the end of the issue Ragged Robin is shown the head of John the Baptist. This issue is very complicated, but at least it’s understandable and interesting, unlike The Filth.

LUCIFER #46 (Vertigo, 2004) – “Stitchglass Slide 1: The Weaving,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter Gross. A giant sentient spider meets an abused little boy with a severe anger management problem. With the boy’s help, the spider attracts a mate, who is much larger than him. Both the boy and the spider are weird but endearing characters, and I’m curious to see what happens to them. There’s also a subplot about Lucifer and Mazikeen.

THE RED WING #4 (Image, 2011) – untitled, [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Nick Pitarra. The protagonist sacrifices himself, I’m not sure why, and the series ends with a scene about his son. This issue makes no sense at all if you haven’t read #1.

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #478 (DC, 1991) – “Moon Rocked: Time and Time Again, Phase Seven,” [W/A] Dan Jurgens. I read this a long time ago, possibly in trade paperback form, and I still remember it fairly well. In this issue, Superman visits the 30th century for at least the second time in the Time and Time Again crossover, but this time it’s the v4 version of the 30th century. With the help of some Legionnaires, Superman fights Dev-Em and stops him from destroying the moon, but the crossover’s main villain, the Linear Man, blows up the moon anyway. The aftereffects of this action were depicted in LSH v4 #19. It’s weird that such a major event in Legion continuity happened outside the Legion’s own series. Saturn Girl is heavily pregnant in this issue, but mostly stays out of combat, unlike during her first pregnancy.

SHOWCASE #90 (DC, 1970) – “The Circle of Death,” [W/A] Mike Sekowsky. In the final chapter of Jason’s Quest, Jason and his sister GG are chased through Paris by both the police and criminals posing as police. Meanwhile, Jason keeps trying and failing to tell GG that he’s her brother. This is a thrilling adventure story, and is probably one of Sekowsky’s best solo works. Even at nearly fifty years old, he was capable of writing believable and exciting  stories about young people. However, Showcase #90 drives the reader crazy by constantly deferring closure. Jason has an opportunity to tell GG his identity on nearly every page, yet he never manages to just blurt it out already. And this was the last Jason’s Quest story ever, so GG never did get to learn that Jason was her brother.

SUPERMAN #334 (DC, 1979) – “The Man Who Stole Superman’s Eyes!”, [W] Martin Pasko, [A] Curt Swan. A villain named Opticus steals Superman’s eyes, rendering him blind. We later learn that Opticus is really Lois Lane, and Superman faked being blind in order to catch some other criminals. On the last page, Superman informs Lana Lang, in a very patronizing way, that he can’t trust her and that Lois is his true love. Lana and Lois’s rivalry was a frequent subplot in Superman comics of this era.

2000 AD #669 (Fleetway, 1990) – “By Lethal Injection Part One,” [W] John Wagner, [A] Carlos Ezquerra. The first story is also subtitled “Countdown to Necropolis 5.” It’s about a judge named Kraken who is discharged and executed for dereliction of duty. Then there’s a Judge Anderson story with nice art by David Roach, and a Rogue Trooper story with painted art by Will Simpson. This artist’s artwork in Hellblazer is rather unimpressive, but his art here is better. Part 24 of Zenith Phase III is the most interesting thing in this prog, though it doesn’t make much sense on its own. The last story in the prog is a cute Zippy Couriers story, in which Shauna transports a giant tarantula named Shelob, and her talking cat eats it.

A1 TRUE LIFE BIKINI CONFIDENTIAL (Atomeka, 1990) – various stories, [E] Dave Elliott & Garry Leach. This is a long one. It starts with a Mr. Monster story which is more like a series of pinups. Next are two short stories by Brian Bolland, and then the eight-page “Hell City” by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin. This issue includes three chapters of “Jaramsheela” by Steve Moore and three different artists. I haven’t heard of this strip before, but it was one of the less famous features in Warrior. There’s also a story by Melinda Gebbie and Carol Swain about phone sex, a selection of Betty Page pinups, and a Bojeffries Saga chapter that I’ve already read. As its title indicates, this issue’s stories are mostly about sexy women, but other than that it has no thematic coherence. However, it contains a lot of impressive writing and art.

THE JACKAROO #1 (Eternity, 1990) – “Australiana Nights,” [W/A] Gary Chaloner. An adventure story with mild superhero elements, about a boxer from the Australian outback who gets involved in a gang war. Gary Chaloner is an amazing artist of adventure comics, with a style that recalls Will Eisner and Dave Stevens. The Jackaroo also feels very Australian. There’s even a glossary of Australian English at the end of the issue.

BOX OFFICE POISON #4 (Antarctic, 1997) – “Come On Knock On Our Door!” and other vignettes, [W/A] Alex Robinson. This was easily the best series Antarctic ever published. Part of this issue is about the tensions between Sherman’s new girlfriend Dorothy and his roommate Jane. The other half is about Ed’s attempts to get justice for Golden Age cartoonist Irving Flavor, possibly based on Bill Finger. Sadly, this half of the story feels a bit dated now because almost all the Golden Age artists have passed away. Alex Robinson’s art is heavily influenced by Dave Sim, but his page layouts are creative, and he’s really good at drawing faces.

DAREDEVIL #8 (Marvel, 2012) – “The Devil and the Details Part Two of Two,” [W] Mark Waid, [A] Kano. Matt teams up with Spider-Man and Black Cat, then he and Felicia almost have sex, but Foggy interrupts them with the news that Jack Murdock’s grave has collapsed. Kano was not a great fit for this series; his art was much more detailed and less cartoony than that of Waid’s other Daredevil artists.

THOR #210 (Marvel, 1973) – “The Hammer and the Hellfire!”, [W] Gerry Conway, [A] John Buscema & Don Perlin. Thor battles the trolls Ulrik and Geirrodur (misspelled Gierrodur), the latter of whom is stated to have forged Mjolnir. This was either a mistake on Gerry’s part, or something that was later retconned, because Mjolnir is usually said to have been made by the dwarves Brokk and Eitri. This issue is rather boring.

BATMAN #686 (DC, 2009) – “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? Part 1 of 2: The Beginning of the End,” [W] Neil Gaiman, [A] Andy Kubert. As noted in my review of Detective Comics #853, this story was an homage to “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow.” It takes place at Batman’s funeral, and consists largely of two inset stories. Catwoman’s tale is about her romance with Bruce, and includes a lot of cute cat pictures. In Alfred’s story, he reveals that he was the Joker all along; he pretended to be the Joker in order to stave off Bruce’s depression. Both these stories are excellent, but it’s odd that there are only two of them. This storyline could have been extended by adding more stories from other characters, if not for the fact that it had to be just two issues, like the story it was based on. This issue includes a bunch of cute moments; for example, at the funeral, the heroes sit on the right and the villains on the left, but Man-Bat is told that he can sit on either side.

HOUSE OF SECRETS #112 (DC, 1973) – “The Witch Doctor’s Magic Cloak,” [W] Michael Fleisher, [A] Rudy Nebres, etc. This issue’s lead story is well-drawn, but includes politically incorrect depictions of African people, as well as meaningless dialogue that’s meant to sound like it’s in a Bantu language. The backup story, “The Case of the Demon Spawn!” by Gerry Conway and Luis Dominguez, is a Sherlock Holmes parody in which some vampires create a fake mystery so they can turn Holmes into a vampire.

ETERNALS #15 (Marvel, 1977) – “Disaster Area,” [W/A] Jack Kirby. An incoherent and pointless story in which Ikaris fights a duplicate of the Hulk. I once read a review that said that by this point in its run, Eternals was running out of steam. I think that review was correct.

JOHNNY NEMO MAGAZINE #1 (Eclipse, 1985) – “The Spice of Death,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Brett Ewins. Johnny Nemo investigates some “death junkies” who suck people dry. As previously mentioned, when I first encountered Johnny Nemo in Strange Days, I thought his stories were unimpressive by comparison to Brendan McCarthy’s stories in that title. However, Johnny Nemo is exciting on its own, and Brett Ewins is a subtly effective artist. This issue also includes a backup story by the same creative team, starring Sindi Shade, a rebellious girl in a bureaucratic world controlled by librarians.

2000 AD #685 (Fleetway, 1990) – “Strontium Dog: The Final Solution Part 26,” [W] Alan Grant, [A] Colin MacNeil. In the lead story, Strontium Dog teams up with a woman named Feral against an army of demons or something. In the Harlem Heroes chapter by Fleisher, Steve Dillon and Kev Walker, the protagonists are framed for the assassination of the president. Hilary Robinson and Nigel Dobbyn’s Medivac 318 seems to be about a war between humans and catlike aliens. In Necropolis Part 12, the Dark Judges have taken over Mega-City One and are executing its entire population. Meanwhile, in the Cursed Earth, Dredd meets a vagrant who he identifies as ex-Chief Judge McGruder. The prog concludes with Rogue Trooper by Gibbons and Simpson. The problem with reading 2000 AD one prog at a time is that it’s hard to follow the storylines. On the other hand, in each prog you get a nice variety of different art styles and subject matter.

DARKNESS VISIBLE #2 (IDW, 2017) – untitled, [W] Mike Carey & Arvind Ethan David, [A] Brendan Cahill. We learn that Daniel Aston survived the accident because the demon Rhak possessed him. This series is interesting, but as noted in my review of issue #1, its metaphor about racism really does not work. The demons are not an effective proxy for any human minority group because the humans have good reasons to hate and fear them.

INFINITY 8 VOL. 3 #1 (Lion Forge, 2018) – “The Gospel According to Emma,” [W] Lewis Trondheim & Fabien Vehlmann, [A] Olivier Balez. I decided it was finally time to get caught up on this series. Each story arc of Infinity 8 is about a different agent who is sent by the sip’s captain to investigate the floating graveyard that has stopped the ship’s progress. At the end of the story arc, the captain uses its powers to go back in time eight hours. This volume’s protagonist, Emma, is secretly a double agent for a religion that worships a god called Tholman. She betrays the captain, kills its staff and cuts off its air support, then hires some crooks to help her investigate the graveyard, starting with a ship that may contain Tholman’s lost manuscripts. Olivier Balez’s artwork is less detailed than that of the previous two Infinity 8 artists, but that’s actually a good thing because it means that “The Gospel According to Emma” is a quicker read.

INFINITY 8 VOL. 3 #2 – as above. Emma and her crew find Tholman’s corpse, then they go to find another treasure for her companion Pallo Smaïr, as previously agreed. However, Pallo betrays them and orders his pet robot to “kill the stubborn ones,” resulting in a gunfight whose only survivors are Emma and one other companion, Korko Jellan. Emma realizes that Korko must have used telepathy to manipulate the others into killing each other, and on top of that, the robot can’t decide whether Pallo’s dying words were an order to kill Emma and Korko. And at the end, things get even worse. Korko finds the crypt of the ancestors of eight major intelligent species, and he has the ability to manipulate any creature using its ancestors’ DNA. Uh-oh.

INFINITY 8 VOL. 3 #3 – as above. Emma discovers that Tholman’s god really exists, and is dead. Korko uses the god’s DNA to take control of every being on the Infinity 8 except Emma herself. Despite being pursued by a literal army, Emma makes it to the captain and gets it to reset time. But in revenge, the captain declares that after time resets, Emma has to retain her knowledge that her god is dead. “The Gospel According to Emma” is a thrilling story, easily my favorite volume of Infinity 8.

MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS #82 (Marvel, 1991) – “Weapon-X Chapter Ten,” [W/A] Barry Windsor-Smith, etc. Wolverine kills Cornelius, and the Professor cynically uses his aide Lucy as bait so he can try to escape. As always, BWS’s art in this chapter is incredible. Next is the first chapter of a Firestar story written by Marie Javins and Marcus McLaurin. It takes place between Firestar’s miniseries and New Warriors. Next is an Iron Man story by Bill Mumy and Steve Leialoha, in which Tony Stark is planning to build a plant in Hawaii, but changes his mind after an encounter with ancient Hawaiian spirits. Leialoha is of Native Hawaiian descent, and this story has a strong anticolonialist angle and includes Hawaiian-language dialogue. In the last story, Power Man battles a mutant superintendent. I must have read this issue as a kid, because I have vague memories of the last two stories.

ZENITH PHASE II #2 (Fleetway/Quality, 1993) – “Familiar Spirits” etc., [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Steve Yeowell. Phaedra takes Zenith to the hideout of Scott Wallace, an evil techbro. Scott murders Phaedra in cold blood, then explains his plan to nuke London and start a new world order with Zenith at its head. Wallace’s ally Dr. Peyne also invites Zenith to breed with two superpowered women. One of these women later gave birth to Zenith’s son, though we don’t know which one. At the end, Zenith discovers that his dad is inside the robot that attacked him earlier in the story arc. Zenith is different from most of Morrison’s protagonists because he’s an amoral, self-centered little punk; for example, he has no qualms about participating in a breeding program.

ZENITH PHASE II #3 – as above. Zenith is forced to knock his own dad’s head off. Then he confronts Peyne, who makes the fatal error of thinking Zenith has lost his powers. Zenith leaves Wallace to die and saves London from being nuked. At the end, Zenith is contacted by a mysterious creature called Chimera, and there’s an epilogue starring Ruby Fox. Zenith is an important work, though Steve Yeowell’s art is underwhelming, especially when reproduced at this smaller size.

FINALS #2 (Vertigo, 1999) – “All-Nighters,” [W] Will Pfeifer, [A] Jill Thompson. This issue has more of the same jokes as last issue, and also it introduces the school ringball team, which plays a sport based on the Mesoamerican ballgame. Jill Thompson’s art in this series is highly detailed and full of chicken fat.

BATMAN #23 (DC, 2013) – “Zero Year Secret City: Part Three,” [W] Scott Snyder, [A] Greg Capullo. This issue is a rehash of the early part of Batman: Year One, specifically the scene where Bruce sees the bat. It also has some other plots that I don’t understand, including one involving Edward Nigma. There’s a backup story, “The Pit,” by Snyder, Tynion, and Rafael Albuquerque. I still haven’t read an issue of Snyder’s Batman that I’ve really liked.

CHEVAL NOIR #32 (Dark Horse, 1992) – “Sabotage,” [W/A] Daniel Torres, etc. I actually have all three parts of Sabotage, though I read them in reverse order. Sabotage begins with an enigmatic scene set at the battle of Dien Bien Phu. Then we’re introduced to automotive engineer Gonsalves, whose wife is having an affair with his assistant. In chapter 3, we learn that the person sabotaging Gonsalves’s work is the Vietnamese girl who was mentioned in the Dien Bien Phu scene. Daniel Torres’s art in this story is gorgeous, and highly ‘50s-influenced. This issue also includes chapters of Cosey’s In Search of Peter Pan, and Cailleteau and Vatine’s Fred and Bob.

INFINITY 8 VOL. 4 #1 (Lion Forge, 2019) – “Symbolic Guerrilla,” [W] Lewis Trondheim & Kris, [A] Martin Trystram. Our next protagonist, Patty Stardust, is an Afro-wearing secret agent embedded within the Symbolic Guerrillas, a sort of combination of a cult and a rock band. As usual, the captain orders her to investigate the necropolis. Trystram’s artwork is similar in style to the artwork in the first two volumes.

2000 AD #687 (Fleetway, 1990) – “The Final Solution Part 28,” [W] Alan Grant, [A] Colin MacNeil. The Strontium Dog story ends with Johnny Alpha seemingly dead. There’s another chapter of Medivac 318, and then part 14 of Necropolis, in which Dredd and the former Chief Judge infiltrate Mega-City One. I didn’t understand Necropolis before, but now I think it’s a powerful and frightening story.  The other two stories in this prog are Rogue Trooper and Harlem Heroes.

I ordered the following comics from cyberspacecomics on Atomic Avenue. I also got some recent issues of 2000 AD, but I can’t read those yet, because I’ve been reading all of my progs in order.

SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #8 (Marvel, 2013) – “Troubled Mind Part Two: Proof Positive,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Humberto Ramos. Spidey/Doc Ock fights the Avengers and loses, but their brain scan fails to detect that he’s not the real Spider-Man, and it also arouses his suspicion that he has Peter Parker’s personality inside his head. In need of a better brain scan, Doc Ock tries to steal a “neurolitic scanner” from Cardiac, only to discover that Cardiac is using the device to heal a critically ill little girl. Oh, and the girl’s brain damage is Doc Ock’s own fault. Faced with this predicament, Doc Ock’s heart grows three sizes; he cures the girl himself, she gives him her stuffed penguin in thanks, and then Cardiac lets Doc Ock borrow the scanner without a fight. This is a really touching issue that illustrates Doc Ock’s gradual transformation into a hero.

STARLORD #6 (IPC, 1978) –  “Mind Wars,” [W] Alan Hebden, [A] Jesus Redondo, etc. Starlord was a short-lived comic that was merged into 2000 AD after 22 issues. It was notable for introducing Strontium Dog and Ro-Busters, from which ABC Warriors was spun off. This issue starts with Mind Wars, an intriguing story about two psychic twins. Jesus Redondo was no relation to Nestor; he was Spanish, and he draws in a similar style to José Ortiz or Vicente Alcazar. Mind Wars ended when Starlord did, and is considered a forgotten classic. Next comes a Ro-Busters story starring Hammerstein and Ro-Jaws, who later appeared in ABC Warriors. Then there’s a Strontium Dog story by Wagner, Grant and Ezquerra, and “Planet of the Damned” by R.E. Wright (an alias for either Pat Mills or Kelvin Gosnell) and (Jesus?) Suso. Last is a time travel story written by Chris Lowder. This is an exciting issue whose style is very similar to that of 2000 AD.

BIRTHRIGHT #12 (Image, 2015) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. Federal agent Kylen takes Aaron into his custody. Mikey and Brennan go looking for Sameal, while Rya tells Wendy how awful Sameal is. At this point the reader doesn’t know Sameal is Aaron’s dad. At the end of the issue, it’s revealed that Kylen is one of the mages.

HIGHER EARTH #2 (Boom!, 2012) – untitled, [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Francesco Biagini. The two protagonists have to escape from Earth 9, which advertises itself as a paradise but is really a hellhole. Biagini’s art in this issue reminds me of Amanda Conner’s. I like the idea of this series, but if it’s about 100 earths positioned one on top of another, then five issues hardly seems like enough. I mean, I’d like to see the heroes reach the highest earth, but not without going through all the others.

INNER CITY ROMANCE #2 (Last Gasp, 1972) – “Radical Rock,” [W/A] Guy Colwell. A forgotten classic that’s just as relevant today as when it was published. In a long introduction, we’re told that a black man named James is organizing a concert to help bail out people who have been unfairly jailed. The main story is narrated entirely in musical lyrics. The police are planning to crack down on the concert, and when James resists their pressure, they assassinate him. James’s friends insist on holding the concert anyway, and the police interrupt it and start a riot. Then there’s a sequence depicting an elderly black couple having (surprisingly hot) sex. In part three, we discover that the couple are the parents of one of the concert planners, who resembles Jimi Hendrix. The police offer to let the son go if he agrees not to attract media attention. The son initially accepts the offer, but when the father shows up to bail the son out, the son denounces the police, who proceed to murder both the son and the father. On the back cover, we learn that the media has painted the murdered black people as the perpetrators of the riots, while exonerating the police of any blame. Throughout the summer of 2020, the police across America have acted just like the police in “Radical Rock,” killing black people and then trying to paint themselves as victims. The only difference between 1972 and 2020 is that we have cell phone cameras and social media now, and so it’s become harder for the police to control public opinion.

ATOMIC ROBO AND THE REVENGE OF THE VAMPIRE DIMENSION #4 (Red 5, 2010) – untitled, [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Scott Wegener. This miniseries was really more of a collection of four single-issue stories. In this issue, a ghost appears at Tesladyne headquarters, and it proves to be the ghost of Robo’s father’s archenemy, Thomas Edison. This is a good issue, but I preferred the one with the vampires.

GATECRASHER #1 (Black Bull, 2000) – “Three for Four,” [W] Mark Waid, [A] Amanda Conner. This miniseries takes place after Ring of Fire, when Alec is in college. Alec develops a romantic rivalry with one of his Split-Second Squad teammates, which turns potentially deadly when Alec is forced to abandon their shared love interest in another dimension. I can’t believe Amanda Conner has already been a superstar for more than 20 years. Her art here isn’t her absolute best, but her style was more or less fully developed by this point in time.

STRANGEHAVEN #14 (Abiogenesis, 2002) – “My Beauties” etc., [W/A] Gary Spencer Millidge. Alex decides not to contest his divorce, but his lawyer threatens him into joining the Knights of the Golden Light, i.e. the KKK. Meanwhile, Maureen tries to seduce her brother-in-law George in order to force her husband Charles to divorce her. And it’s no wonder Maureen does that, because in a subsequent scene, we learn that her husband is a horrible abusive asshole, and he refuses to grant her a divorce. Under British law at the time, it was possible for one spouse to delay the other spouse a divorce until five years had passed, and apparently this unfair law is still on the books.

New comics received on June 18:

THE LUDOCRATS #2 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Kieron Gillen & Jim Rossignol, [A] Jeff Stokely. Otto and Professor Hades execute a cunning plan to free Gratty from the cloud caterpillar that’s eaten her. And the plan works, but after it’s too late, Otto discovers that he’s “rescued” Gratty from her own home, in addition to destroying that home. This issue doesn’t have the same novelty value as #1, but it’s hilarious, especially when it tries to take itself seriously. Ludocrats is probably the best new series of 2020.

STRANGE ADVENTURES #2 (DC, 2020) – “A little demanding,” [W] Tom King, [A] Mitch Gerads & Doc Shaner. On Rann, Adam gets stranded in the desert while on a campaign against some savages. On Earth, Mr. Terrific investigates Adam’s story while constantly quizzing himself. This issue is impressive, but it also reminds me a lot of Mr. Miracle, and it gives me the suspicion that Tom King only knows how to write one kind of story. I hope this series is going to be another Mr. Miracle, but I also fear that it’ll be another Heroes in Crisis.

THE MAN WHO F#&%ED UP TIME #3 (Aftershock, 2020) – “Race Against Time,” [W] John Layman, [A] Karl Mostert. Sean tries to save himself from execution, but fails. Luckily, the Future Police are able to rescue him. Sean figures out that his own future self is sabotaging his efforts, and was also responsible for saving Abraham Lincoln from assassination and thus screwing up history. This series is a thrilling time-travel romp. It reminds me of other time travel stories like Heinlein’s “All You Zombies” or the IF game First Things First. Writing this comic must have been a fun challenge for Layman, and I’m looking forward to the similar challenge of decoding its plot.

GIDEON FALLS #22 (Image, 2020) – “Wicked Worlds Part 1 of 5: Who’s That Flying with the Crows?”, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Andrea Sorrentino. The protagonists are all scattered across various different weird worlds, and at the end of the issue, Angela is told that instead of destroying the Black Barn, she “set it free.” I’d thought I had a reasonable understanding of what was happening in this series, but this issue was very difficult.

BIRTHRIGHT #44 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. This issue’s cover doubles as its first page. I can think of only one other American comic book that did this, namely Excalibur #55. Like Superman #75, Thor #380, or for that matter Copra #6, this Birthright #44 consists entirely of splash pages. As with all those issues, Birthright #44 is an issue-long fight scene, which ends with Mikey beheading Lore. This was probably the climax of the series, and in the remaining issues we’ll see what happens after the good guys win.

As I was about to write the next review, I saw the news that Jason Latour had been accused of sexual harassment. Jesus, is there any straight white male comics creator who’s not a creep?

GRUMBLE: MEMPHIS AND BEYOND THE INFINITE #2 (Albatross, 2020) – untitled, [W] Rafer Roberts, [A] Mike Norton. Tana and Eddie’s team is ambushed, but they make it out. Tana reveals that her plan is to replace her mother with one of her and Eddie’s teammates. One of their supposed allies, Rekk, betrays them to the enemy, and Tana chooses him as the replacement. Not a bad issue.

TARTARUS #3 (Image, 2020) – “Love x Squalor,” [W] Johnnie Christmas, [A] Jack T. Cole. This is the second best debut of the year, after Ludocrats. However, this issue is confusing. After arriving on Tartarus, Tilde and her companion get separated and have various adventures, and at the end of the issue, Tilde meets Mogen, who claims to be her twin brother. Which makes no sense because in #1 we saw Tilde as an infant, and she didn’t have a twin. To be continued.

FAMILY TREE #6 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Phil Hester. Judd (the grandfather) has a flashback to his reunion with his son Judd, and then he wakes up in captivity. He manages to escape and recover Judd’s hand. The rest of the family doesn’t appear in this issue, and there’s no flash-forward to the postapocalyptic world.

GREEN LANTERN SEASON TWO #4 (DC, 2020) – “Golden Giants of Neo-Pangaea,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Liam Sharp. Hal, Barry Allen, and Hal’s old girlfriend Olivia Reynolds fight some giant gold aliens. This issue made very little sense, and so far this series has been worse than the previous season, largely due to its lack of a strong overarching plot.

DYING IS EASY #5 (IDW, 2020) – “Chapter Five,” [W] Joe Hill, [A] Martin Simmonds. We finally learn whodunit, but by this point I couldn’t care less. Dying is Easy is my pick for the worst comic of 2020. It’s boring, its protagonist is loathsome, and as I have complained numerous times, it’s a total waste of Martin Simmonds’s talent. I do have high hopes for Simmonds’s upcoming series with James Tynion IV, The Department of Truth.

2000 AD #726 (Fleetway, 1991) – “Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home Part 4,” [W] John Wagner, [A] Vanyo. Vanyo was a team of two brothers. Vicente and Eduardo Vañó Ibarra, and no one knows which of them drew which of the stories signed “Vanyo.” Their story in this issue is about some old soldiers who think the war with the Sovs is still going on. In the end they all get killed by the Judges. This prog’s Nemesis story, by Mills, Skinner and Carl Critchlow, is a murder mystery in which each suspect worships a different god. Next is Sam Slade, Robo-Hunter by Millar and Casanovas, then a Bix Barton story by Milligan and Jim McCarthy, in which Bix tries to protect his clients from assassination and fails spectacularly. Then there’s Tao de Moto by Myra Hancock – one of 2000 AD’s few female creators – and David Hine, and finally Junker by Fleisher and Ridgway.

WIMMEN’S COMIX #5 (Last Gasp, 1975) – various stories, [E] Trina Robbins & Terry Richards. This is billed as the “International Issue,” though all the creators seem to be American. Notable stories: Trina’s “Julia Pastrana” is about the so-called ugliest woman in the world. Joyce Farmer’s “Doin’ It” is about childhood sexuality and the repression thereof. “My Kitty Loves to Do the ChaChaCha,” signed Clothilde but actually by Melinda Gebbie, is told from the perspective of a horny female cat. As with Tits & Clits #6, this issue’s high point is a Sharon Rudahl story. This one is called “Die Bubbeh” and is about her grandmother’s life in the old country and subsequent emigration to America. (I’m old enough that my parents still called it the old country.) Dot Bucher’s “Tiger Lily” is about a romance between a U.S. soldier and a Vietnamese civilian.

2000 AD #856 (Fleetway, 1993) – “Roadkill Part 1,” [W] John Smith, [A] Peter Doherty. In this prog’s Dredd story, an old man loses his driver’s license due to poor eyesight, so he buys a new self-driving car with a built-in brain. Unfortunately the brain is that of a dead criminal, and mayhem ensues. This story is quite funny. “Mean Arena” by Alan McKenzie and Anthony Williams is about gladiatorial combat. Its protagonist, Sam Grainger, shares his name with a comic book artist. The cover feature is Smith and Paul Marshall’s “Tyranny Rex,” which I don’t understand, except that it’s about a religious war. It includes one really impressive splash page, showing a panda-like creature being attacked by a tentacled monster. Ennis and Dobbyn’s “Strontium Dogs” chapter stars Feral and Gronk but not Johnny Alpha. Mills and Fabry’s “Sláine: Demon Killer, Part 5” has gorgeous painted artwork, and consists mostly of a flashback in which druid women fight Roman soldiers. Hilariously, one of the druid women utters a “mysterious curse”: “Póg mo hón!” This is “pogue mahone,” Irish for “kiss my ass.”

SCARAB #2 (DC, 1993) – “Lost and Found,” [W] John Smith, [A] Scot Eaton. Scarab meets the Phantom Stranger, confirming that this series is set in the DCU, even if Scarab isn’t Dr. Fate. There’s a flashback depicting the Sicari’s past history. Louis makes himself young again. I still don’t quite get John Smith, but as mentioned before, he was comparable to Alan Moore as a prose stylist. I need to read the rest of Scarab.

KANE #14 (Dancing Elephant, 1996) – “Officer Katie NEPD,” [W/A] Paul Grist. This issue is mostly a flashback to the childhood of Kane’s partner Kat(i)e Felix. As a child, Katie is taken by her cop father to the police station, where she saves a cop from being shot by a suspect’s lawyer. Later, as an adult, Katie/Kate apprehends another suspect in a way that reminds her of this childhood experience. This is a really cute and well-constructed issue, though in the context of current events, it feels odd to read a story that depicts the police in such a positive light. (Notably, Grist is British but New Eden is in America.)

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #14 (Marvel, 2015) – “Spider-Verse Part Six: Web Warriors,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Giuseppe Camuncoli & Olivier Coipel. In the conclusion of the Spider-Verse crossover, a bunch of different Spider-people from different realities defeat Morlun. Crossvoer stories are always somewhat disappointing, but this one is not bad, and it has some of the humor of the movie it inspired.

GLAMOURPUSS #1 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 2008) – “The Top Secret Origin of Glamourpuss,” [W/A] Dave Sim. This is barely even a comic; it’s more of a series of illustrations of women, coupled with ruminations about Sim’s attempt to imitate the realistic art of Alex Raymond and Al Williamson. Dave’s art in this issue is beautiful, but he treats the women he draws as mere objects to be illustrated. He has no interest in the interiority of these women; when he shows them thinking, they only think about fashion. Dave’s only interest in these women is how he can most effectively render their beauty with black-and-white linework. Of course, I already knew that Dave Sim barely sees women as people.

THE EXTREMIST #1 (Vertigo, 1993) – “December, Nineteen Ninety-Three,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Ted McKeever. This issue includes some fascinating discussions of sex and violence, and Ted McKeever’s art style is unique and well suited to this subject matter. But this really should have been issue 2 and not issue 1. It takes place after Judy’s husband has already been killed and she’s already assumed his identity as the Extremist. The reader has to piece together who Judy is and what’s happened to her, and we don’t get her full backstory until #2. I wonder why Milligan chose to structure the series in this way.

1984 #8 (Warren, 1979) – various stories, [E] Bill DuBay. This is much longer than a typical Warren comic, at 84 pages, and it has hideous typeset lettering. It begins with “Painter’ Mountain” by DuBay, Budd Lewis and Alex Niño. This story is beautifully drawn, but is written like a plot summary rather than a story. It initially looks like a retelling of Noah’s ark, but proves to be about humans crashlanded on an alien planet (like Chris Beckett’s Dark Eden). DuBay and José Gonzalez’s “Herma” is basically softcore porn. Jim Stenstrum and Rudy Nebres’s “Twilight’s End” is confusing, but at least it has a plot that’s more than an excuse to draw naked women. Strnad and Corben’s “Mutant World” chapter is the best story in the issue. There’s also a chapter of Frank Thorne’s Ghita, in which Ghita symbolically has sex with Khan-Dagon’s sword. I’ve read Ghita before, and I think R.C. Harvey’s enthusiasm for it, in The Art of the Comic Book, is somewhat misplaced; it’s a self-insertion fanfic in which Thorne depicts himself as Red Sonja’s lover. However, Thorne is an excellent visual storyteller, and Ghita’s adventures are quite sexy. DuBay and Abel Laxamana’s “Madmen and Messiahs” is a paranoid right-wing apocalypse story which ends with Robert F. Kennedy Jr assassinating President Ted Kennedy. Cuti, DuBay and Niño’s “Once Upon a Holocaust” is an EC-esque twist ending story, but at least it has beautiful art. Overall, the art in this issue is much stronger than the writing.

UNDERGROUND #2 (Image, 2009) – untitled, [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Steve Lieber. The two rangers confront the criminals and are forced to flee from them into the depths of the cave. This is a thrilling story and a plausible-seeming depiction of caving, and Steve Lieber’s art is excellent. I really want to read the rest of this series. I wish Jeff Parker would do more creator-owned comics.

SUPERMAN #324 (DC, 1978) – “Beware the Eyes That Paralyze!”, [W] Martin Pasko, [A] Curt Swan. Superman battles the Atomic Skull and Titano the super-ape, and Lois and Lana continue their petty rivalry. This is a pretty average issue.

On Saturday, June 20, I went to Heroes to drop off a Previews order form. They were sold out of Wynd #1, and the $1 issues of Savage Sword of Conan were all gone, but I did find a few things to buy:

X-MEN/FANTASTIC FOUR #3 (Marvel, 2020) – “To the Victor,” [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Terry Dodson. I love the original Fantastic Four/X-Men miniseries, and I regret not ordering this spiritual sequel to it. In this issue the X-Men and the FF both invade Latveria to rescue Franklin and Valeria, who were diverted there while trying to fly to Krakoa. The two teams’ rivalry is further complicated by the fact that Franklin and Valeria don’t want to be rescued. I haven’t always been impressed by Chip’s superhero writing, but this issue is exciting, and it shows understanding of all the many characters involved.

SAVAGE DRAGON #247 (Image, 2019) – “Modern Warfare,” [W/A] Erik Larsen. I dropped this series on two previous occasions because of its tasteless and disgusting sex scenes, but I think it’s time to start reading it again. This issue takes place after the subterranean Demonoid race has been massacred. The sole surviving male Demonoid invades the surface world to free the surviving female Demonoids from a zoo. There’s a running joke where Malcolm and Maxine call each other pet names like “cliff notes” and “cheese spread.”

SAVAGE DRAGON #248 (Image, 2020) – “The Gathering Storm!”, [W/A] Erik Larsen. Dart, the series’ nastiest and most persistent villain, leads a jailbreak. Malcolm gives Angel a blood transfusion to heal the wounds she suffered last issue. The government decides to spray the entire city of Chicago with Freak Out. Frank proposes to Angel. The high point of this issue is when Maxine reads a children’s book to her daughter Maddy, even though Maddy’s electrical powers could kill Maxine.

THE BOGIE MAN #2 (Fat Man, 1990) – “Bogie Man Escapes!”, [W] John Wagner & Alan Grant, [A] Robin Smith. Fat Man Press was set up for the sole purpose of publishing The Bogie Man, which had been rejected by DC, and it never published anything else. DC should have accepted The Bogie Man because it’s a hilarious comic. The protagonist is a lunatic who thinks he’s Humphrey Bogart. While he’s investigating imaginary crimes, some actual criminals steal a load of frozen turkeys instead of the videotapes they meant to steal. When the Bogie Man hears the criminals talk about “big birds,” he thinks they mean the Maltese Falcon, and mayhem ensues. Part of the fun of this comic is its local specificity; it’s set in Glasgow, and the criminals speak in Scots or Scottish English. Robin Smith’s artwork is not flashy but is very effective.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #15 (Marvel, 2015) – “Spider-Verse Epilogue,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Giuseppe Camuncoli. Having won the war, the Spiders have to choose who will stay behind to maintain the stability of the web of worlds. Meanwhile, the Superior Spider-Man refuses to return to his own timeline, since he’s learned that he’s going to die. This issue includes a lot of touching moments, like Ben Parker deciding to become a father to an orphaned baby.

2000 AD #875 (Fleetway, 1994) – “The Sugar Beat Part 3,” [W] Alan McKenzie or John Tomlinson, [A] Ron Smith. “The Sugar Beat” is funny and well-drawn, but is full of offensive Latin American stereotypes. In “Sympathy for the Devil,” Luke Kirby meets a beggar who invites him to hell to visit his (Luke’s) father. Luke Kirby is fascinating because he resembles Harry Potter and Tim Hunter, but predates either of them. Dinosty Part 3 is full of more hilarious mayhem, while Tyranny Rex still doesn’t make much sense. The other story in this prog is Rogue Trooper by Fleisher, Falco and Weston.

EERIE #75 (Warren, 1976) – various stories, [E] Louise Jones (i.e. Simonson). This issue is much shorter than 1984 #8. It begins with DuBay and Ortiz’s “The Demons of Jeremiah Cold,” about a city of mutants called Kalerville that goes to war with its human neighbors. This story has some very gruesome imagery, including an opening scene that depicts some crucified children. Ortiz’s spotting of blacks is powerful and oppressive. This story was part of an untitled story arc that ran through various other issues of Eerie. The second story, Budd Lewis and Leopoldo Sanchez’s “Freaks,” is also set in Kalerville, but I can’t tell if it’s set in the same continuity as the first story. Kalerville may be named after the writer Dave Kaler. DuBay and Maroto’s “Oogie and the Worm” is a metatextual story about Flash Gordon and second-wave feminism. José Bea’s “Invasion” is a five-page twist-ending story with some very unusual art. Finally, Lewis and Bermejo’s “Gillian Taxi and the Sky Pirates” is an example of proto-steampunk.

INFINITY 8 VOL. 4 #2 (Lion Forge, 2019) – as above. Patty investigates the necropolis, while Ron, the leader of the Symbolic Guerrillas, plots to sacrifice a bunch of 27-year-old musicians. This issue has excellent artwork, but its plot is not especially exciting. I do like all the rock music references. Near the end of the issue Ron arrives at a floating space island covered with giant guitar necks.

INFINITY 8 VOL. 4 #3 – as above. Patty discovers a mausoleum containing the deceased founders of eight unknown alien species. Ron executes his master plan, whatever it is. The captain reboots time. A basic problem with this series is the lack of suspense. The reader knows that each volume has to end with time being rebooted, so it doesn’t matter what happens to the characters. This is illustrated in volume 5, when the main character’s daughter is turned into a zombie, but the impact of this tragedy is lessened because we know she’ll come back to life.

GRAYSON #12 (DC, 2015) – “A Fine Performance,” [W] Tim Seeley & Tom King, [A] Mikel Janin. This issue includes some pages that have at least 30 word balloon floating in negative space. These pages are ugly and extremely annoying to read. Most of the issue consists of conversations or battles between Dick Grayson and his fellow Batman Family members. I mostly didn’t understand what was going on in these scenes, but at the end of the issue, Seeley and King reveal a secret: in each scene, the first letter of each of Dick’s word balloons spells out BREAK IT. He was using a code to tell Jason, Tim, Babs and Damian to break the gifts he had given them, as part of his plot to escape the evil organization that had recruited him. This revelation does a lot to redeem this issue.

FORBIDDEN WORLDS #119 (ACG, 1964) – “The Girl from Bald Mountain,” [W] Richard Hughes, [A] Chic Stone. A cute romance story about a witch who falls in love with a human man. After a rocky start to their relationship, they marry and the witch becomes a housewife, but their daughter inherits her mother’s powers. Again, Richard Hughes’s writing here is very funny. There are two backup stories, one about a mummy and another about an alien invasion. The letters page includes a list of the editor’s favorite ACG stories.

CHEW #18 (Image, 2011) – “Flambé 3 of 5,” [W] John Layman, [A] Rob Guillory. Tony and Colby invade North Korea along with a bunch of USDA agents. There’s a running joke where for unexplained reasons, the USDA agents are all well-endowed women with cyborg animal companions. The USDA agents all get killed in an ambush, and Tony has to activate the weapon of mass destruction that he was given. Of course the weapon turns out to be Poyo. The best thing about this issue is all the companion animals, including a frog and a goldfish.

2000 AD #876 (Fleetway, 1994) – “The Sugar Beat Part 4,” [W] Alan McKenzie or John Tomlinson, [A] Ron Smith, etc. Again, “The Sugar Beat” is full of offensive stereotypes, including a fat general who’s constantly eating. In the Luke Kirby chapter, the bum takes Luke into hell, which manifests to different people as a railway station, Christmas shopping, an encounter with a street preacher, etc. The Dinosty chapter depicts a game of polo with human heads as the balls. The Tyranny Rex chapter still doesn’t make much sense. The Rogu Trooper chapter includes a villain who looks a lot like Modok.

THE LONE RANGER #86 (Dell, 1955) – “Ambush,” [W] Paul S. Newman, [A] Tom Gill. Some corrupt ranchers try to assassinate a visiting accountant before he can find proof of their embezzlement. Of course the Lone Ranger arrives and saves the day. In the second story, the Lone Ranger prevents some Mexican bandits from stealing a shipment of guns. This story’s plot hinges on characters acting stupid: the bandits drop the map to their hideout and don’t try to recover it, and then Tonto finds the map and doesn’t realize what it is. Other than that, both these stories would be excellent if not for their offensive depictions of Tonto. However, this issue redeems itself somewhat by including a Young Hawk backup story, where Young Hawk uses indigenous technology to catch a giant pike and fight off a bear. Young Hawk feels like a plausible and respectful depiction of precolonial indigenous people, at least by the low standards of its time.

INFINITY 8 VOL. 5 #1 (Lion Forge, 2019) – “Apocalypse Day Part One,” [W] Lewis Trondheim & Davy Mourier, [A] Lorenzo De Felici. Our new protagonist, Ann Ninurta, is a cop and a divorced mother of a little girl. The captain orders her to investigate the necropolis. While there, she gets attacked by zombies. Meanwhile, for unclear reasons, the people on the Infinity 8 also start turning into zombies. The issue ends as Ann returns to the ship. The name Ninurta comes from Mesopotamian mythology.

CRIMINAL VOL. 2 #4 (Marvel, 2008) – “Bad Night Part One,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. Jacob Kurtz (named after Jack Kirby) is a disabled, widowed newspaper cartoonist – as we later learn, he was beaten by Sebastian Hyde’s goons after his wife committed suicide. I wish I’d read this story in order, because it’s hard to keep Jacob’s story straight in my head. One night Jacob witnesses a woman being beaten by her boyfriend in a diner. After the fight is resolved, Jacob picks up the woman, Iris, and they have sex. Later, Iris’s boyfriend shows up at Jacob’s house. The boyfriend kidnaps Jacob and demands that Jacob make him a fake FBI badge. Again, this story would have been more enjoyable if I hadn’t read the first chapter last.

SWEET TOOTH #25 (Vertigo, 2011) – untitled, [W/A] Jeff Lemire. While in a coma, Gus has horrible visions, but is saved by a blood transfusion. The women and children decide to stay with Walter, but Jepperd insists on taking Tommy to Alaska. Meanwhile, the main villain is using Jepperd’s son to track him. I have almost all the remaining issues of Sweet Tooth, and it’s probably time I read them. Maybe I should order the seven issues I’m missing.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS: THE SUN BEYOND THE STARS #1 (Image, 2015) – untitled, [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Nick Pitarra. This miniseries takes place on an alien world, and the only Manhattan Projects characters in it are Gagarin and Laika. Nick Pitarra’s depictions of aliens and alien technology are weird and beautifully detailed. There’s one page that contains so many different-looking characters, it reminds me of the final page of Kaptara. However, Hickman’s plot is of no particular interest.

JSA #65 (DC, 2004) – “Out of Time Part 1,” [W] Geoff Johns, [A] Don Kramer. Rick Tyler is dying from injuries suffered in combat. To save himself, he swaps places with his father Rex, who is trapped inside an hour-long time bubble. The future Hourman and Dr. Mid-Nite are able to save Rick, but the operation consumes all of Rick’s allotted hour with his father. This means Rex has to go back in time to his battle with Extant in Zero Hour (ironically), where he’s fated to die. Infuriatingly, Rick insists on going back in time to die in his father’s place. I know this is the heroic thing to do, but by doing it, Rick invalidates his father’s sacrifice, and also, his friends’ efforts to save his life are wasted. Of course this is only part 1, and I know that Rick won’t actually die.

THE WORLD OF KRYPTON #4 (DC, 1988) – “Family History,” [W] John Byrne, [A] Mike Mignola. Superman tells Lois the story of how Krypton became a sterile, loveless world. In a flagrant example of lazy writing, the closing pages of this issue have exactly the same text as the opening pages of Man of Steel #1. Only the artwork is different. Byrne shouldn’t have been able to get away with this.

Last night I received two different small shipments of comics. One of them consisted of five issues of Gay Comics, a very hard series to find:

GAY COMIX #4 (Kitchen Sink, 1983) – various stories, [E] Howard Cruse. A lot of different stories on various gay-related themes. Unsurprisingly, the Howard Cruse story is the best one in the issue by far, although it’s less a story than a bunch of unrelated vignettes. This issue came out at the beginning of the AIDS era, but I think Cruse’s story is the only one that explicitly mentions AIDS. There’s also a story by Roberta Gregory, “The Unicorn Tapestry,” though it’s rather hard to follow. And there’s a cute two-pager by Lee Marrs, about understanding how people are connected to each other. Of the other artists in the issue, the most impressive is Carl Vaughn Frick, who signs himself Vaughn. His work is very visually dense, with nice spotting of blacks. It appears that all of his work was published in queer alternative comics like this one. Also, Rick Campbell’s story about coming out is quite heartfelt, though not highly accomplished.

GAY COMICS #19 (Bob Ross, 1993) – “Coming Out Story” etc., [W/A] Alison Bechdel. This comic is an absolute treasure. It’s Alison Bechdel’s only single-authored comic book, and it contains some work that’s quite hard to find. First, “Coming Out Story” is a sort of rough draft for the college chapter of Fun Home. Compared to Fun Home, it feels far less composed and more straightforward, and it hardly mentions Alison’s father at all. “The Power of Prayer” is a funny story about Alison’s childhood. Unlike Fun Home, it shows Alison reading comics, specifically Little Lulu and Mad. “True Confessions” is about how Alison still isn’t out to some of her relatives. This issue also reprints all nineteen installments of “Servants of the Cause,” a strip Alison published in the Advocate. It’s about the staff of a gay newspaper. My friend Margaret Galvan has published a detailed analysis of this strip, though I have not yet read it.

ARCHIE #23 (Archie, 2017) – “Bruising” etc., [W] Mark Waid, [A] Audrey Mok. This completes my run of Mark Waid’s Archie. In this issue, Betty learns that she has spinal cord injuries and may or may not ever walk again (which of course leaves the door open for a return to the status quo). Archie tries to atone for his role in Betty’s injury, but his clumsiness prevents him from helping. The issue ends with the people of Riverdale using candles to create a giant heart containing the letters BC. Mark Waid’s “Over the Edge” and its aftermath were his best work in at least twenty years. This is largely because these Archie issues were drawn by artists who were very good at depicting emotion.

SUICIDE SQUAD #60 (DC, 1991) – “Legerdemain Part Two: Dangerous Games,” [W] John Ostrander & Kim Yale, [A] Geof Isherwood. Superman, Batman and Aquaman fight a three-sided battle against the Hayoth and the Jihad. The Americans, Israelis and Quracis are all trying to capture the Quraci dictator Marlo, each for their own reasons. John Ostrander rarely got to write the higher-profile DC heroes, and in this issue he shows that he can write Superman and Batman just as well as he writes Captain Boomerang or Deadshot. It’s also nice to see the Hayoth again, especially Rambam. The Suicide Squad themselves are mysteriously absent from this issue, except Nemesis.

ECLIPSE, THE MAGAZINE #3 (Eclipse, 1981) – various stories, [E] Dean Mullaney. This black-and-white magazine starts with a Coyote story by Englehart and Rogers that retells part of Coyote’s origin. Coyote is an interesting character, and Rogers’s artwork here is the equal of his ‘70s masterpieces, although his work is much better in color. Next are three strips by Kaz, an artist I’m not familiar with. The low point of the issue is McGregor and Colan’s “Kindergarten Run.” This story is a piece of pointless nostalgia, and Colan’s art is reproduced directly from pencils and is thus nearly invisible. Also, this entire story was reprinted in Ragamuffins #1, which I already have. Charles Vess’s “Homer’s Idyll” has some nice linework, but no real plot. Hunt Emerson’s “Large Cow Comix” may be a tribute to Krazy Kat. Trina’s “Dope” is just average. Gerber and Mayerik’s “Role Model” is a really weird story about three writers. It reminds me a bit of the Ramsludge Hawthorne scene in Howard the Duck #16. Finally there’s a Ms. Tree story in which Ms. Tree investigates her husband’s murder. I thought I’d read this before, but I hadn’t.

2000 AD #877 (Fleetway, 1994) – “The Sugar Beat Part 5,” [W] Alan McKenzie or John Tomlinson, [A] Ron Smith, etc. Dredd’s helicopter crashes while he’s looking for the source of the illegal sugar, and we get even more offensive depictions of Latin Americans. In “Sympathy for the Devil,” the bum takes Luke to his own personal hell. In “Dinosty,” the human rebel leader tries to win support for his rebellion against the dinosaurs, with limited success. He asks a man ‘D’you want to be trampled on all your life?” and the answer is “Well… yes!” I still don’t understand Tyranny Rex, and Fleisher and Falco’s Rogue Trooper is still not interesting.

INFINITY 8 VOL. 5 #2 – as above. Ann gets back to the ship and learns she’s dying from a zombie bite. Also, her daughter has been zombified. As discussed above, neither of these revelations are as tragic as they should be, because Ann and the reader both know that time is going to be reset. Ann’s next task is to find a military vehicle so she can complete her mission to explore the necropolis.

INFINITY 8 VOL. 5 #3 – as above. While reading this issue, I was thinking how it’s weird that none of the volumes’ protagonists appear in any of the other volumes. But in this issue Ann Ninurta teams up with Patty Stardust, the protagonist of volume 4, and there are also brief appearances by two other characters from that volume, Mitch Led and Ron Digger. Ann discovers that the necropolis was created by a race called the Garlinians, and then, as expected, the captain reboots time.

CAP’N QUICK & A FOOZLE #2 (Eclipse, 1985) – untitled, [W/A] Marshall Rogers. An absurdist, illogical story about a little boy and his alien bird companion. In this issue, after a bunch of adventures, the protagonists visit a kingdom where everyone is insane except the king. And then the king decides to go insane too. Rogers’s writing is kind of tedious, but his art is spectacular and innovative. Sadly, to my knowledge, none of his later work was this good.

CHAMPION SPORTS #1 (DC, 1973) – “The Kid Who Beat the Oakland A’s!”, [W] Joe Simon, [A] Jerry Grandenetti. Young David Wexler becomes a superstar pitcher after a shoulder injury, but loses his talent when his shoulder is fixed. Then he injures his hip and becomes a star placekicker. This story is really stupid and implausible, and the one after it, about soapbox derby racing, is no better. The only adequate story in the issue is the last one, about an Irish track athlete who’s prejudiced against his black teammate. It’s a shame that America, despite its sports-obsessed culture, was only able to produce bad sports comics like this one, while France had Michel Vaillant and England had Roy of the Rovers.

May and June reviews

5-30

Just woke up to the awful news that Uncle Hugo’s was destroyed in the Minneapolis protests. Going to distract myself by writing reviews.

LOIS LANE #10 (DC, 2020) – “Enemy of the People, Part Ten,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Mike Perkins. Another comic that was delivered by DCBS even though Diamond was shut down. This issue had some sort of plot about multiple universes, but I don’t remember anything else about it. This series has been a disappointment.

BATMAN #407 (DC, 1987) – “Year One Chapter Four: Friend in Need,” [W] Frank Miller, [A] David Mazzucchelli. I’ve read this before, as a reprint, but not for a while. The main thing that strikes me on rereading is its incredible narrative economy. I remembered the climactic kidnapping scene as if it took up half the issue, but it’s actually just seven pages. And Miller and Mazzucchelli effectively created the modern Catwoman in just a few pages. This is all possible because of Miller’s super-economical writing and Mazzucchelli’s mastery of visual narration. A couple other points: The black criminal in this issue is an offensive stereotype. And I didn’t realize before that in the last couple panels, when Gordon’s face is suddenly illuminated, it’s because he’s just turned on the Bat-Signal.

FANTASTIC FOUR #172 (Marvel, 1976) – “Cry, the Bedeviled Planet!”, [W] Roy Thomas & Bill Mantlo, [A] George Pérez. The FF fight Gorr the Golden Gorilla, then they team up to protect Counter-Earth from Galactus. This issue’s story is not terrible, and Pérez’s art is excellent, though I’ve always been unimpressed by his FF as compared to his other ‘70s and ‘80s comics.

GUNMASTER #5 (Charlton, 1966) – “Death Wears Black to Boothill” and “White War-Chief,” [W] Joe Gill, [A] Bill Fraccio. A mediocre Western comic whose gimmick is that the hero is a gunsmith. The second story spreads the harmful message that the only “good” Indians are those who submit to white supremacy.

U.S.AVENGERS #3 (Marvel, 2017) – “$kullocracy,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Paco Medina & Carlo Barberi. The USAvengers fight the Golden Skull with the help of a grown-up future Danielle Cage. There’s one cute moment when Danielle reveals that she remembers when Squirrel Girl was her babysitter. Otherwise this is a pretty average issue. I assume this was the last part of the introductory storyline.

EVIL EYE #4 (Fantagraphics, 1999) – “Reflection in a Glass Scorpion” and “Peculia,” [W/A] Richard Sala. Unfortunately Richard Sala just died. I haven’t read much of his work, only the graphic novel Cat Burglar Black, but he was similar to Edward Gorey and Rick Geary and Charles Addams. This issue includes two creepy and humorous adventure-mystery stories with female protagonists. It definitely makes me want to read more of his work.

MY ROMANTIC ADVENTURES #92 (ACG, 1958) – “Bad Luck Girl!”, [W] unknown, [A] John Rosenberger, plus two other stories. This issue’s first story is about a woman who thinks she has awful luck, but the unlucky things that befall her turn out to be blessings in disguise. Craig Yoe included this story in his Weird Love anthology series. The other stories are about a woman who almost gets killed climbing a mountain, and a woman who thinks she’s a better artist than she is. None of these stories are especially progressive, but the third story’s depiction of the beatnik art scene is kind of funny. An unintentional moment of humor in this issue is a panel explaining that women shouldn’t talk about manly things like baseball. https://www.instagram.com/p/CATm4dsBFTw/

EDGAR ALLAN POE’S SNIFTER OF TERROR SEASON TWO #6 (Ahoy, 2020) – “The Purloined Letter,” [W/A] Carol Lay, and “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde,” [W] Paul Cornell, [A] Steve Yeowell. The first story is a very funny and gory prequel to “The Purloined Letter,” explaining that the letter reveals how the lady had the minister’s son butchered and turned into stew. The second story is even funnier. It’s about what if (or for copyright reasons, “which things wuold occur when”) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was written by an Englishman. Accordingly it’s full of silly English stereotypes. And it guest-stars the great cricketer W.G. Grace. I should mention here that I’m very angry because Ahoy has announced that Captain Ginger Season Two will be completed in digital form. This trend toward digital-only releases of comics that were previously solicited as single issues is absolutely infuriating, and it needs to stop at once.

KILLADELPHIA #5 (Image, 2020) – “The Sun Will Rise,” [W] Rodney Barnes, [A] Jason Shawn Alexander. I have very mixed feelings about this series. It’s obviously highly relevant right now because of its focus on black people and the police. But the vampire plot seems rather trite and uninteresting, and I think the series would be better if it was just a crime drama. I’m not sure if I want to keep buying Killadelphia.

TOMORROW #2 (Dark Horse, 2020) –“A Town Called Hope,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Jesús Hervás. This issue continues the stories of each of the various survivors. Like many other Peter Milligan comics, Tomorrow suffers from a lack of focus. It’s not clear to me just what this comic’s central premise is, or how it differs from other postapocalyptic stories. The most interesting character in the series, by far, is the autistic cellist kid, and I wish the series was just about him and not the other characters.

FCBD MANHWA CONTEMPORARY KOREAN COMICS (Drawn & Quarterly, 2020) – four stories, [W/A] various. This FCBD comic reprints four of Drawn & Quarterly’s translations of manhwa. The only substantial Korean comic I had previously read was a volume of Kim Dong-Hwa’s Color Trilogy, and this issue was a good introduction to the field. The most impressive of the four stories is the excerpt from Keum-Suk Gendry Kim’s Grass, about Korean prisoners of war during WWII. Gendry Kim’s style of brushwork reminds me of Mazzucchelli or Baudoin. The excerpt from Ancco’s Bad Friends was also exciting enough that it inspired me to read the entire book, which I already had. I also already have Hong Yeon-Sik’s Uncomfortably Happily, and I will get around to it eventually.

ON THE STUMP #2 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Chuck Brown, [A] Prenzy. This issue is full of very gruesome violence, and it strays quite far from what I thought was the core premise –that of a society where political issues are resolved by wrestling matches. I’m going to give this series one more issue.

CAT SHIT ONE #1 (Antarctic, 2020) – “Special Mission,” [W/A] Motofumi Kobayashi. This manga is a very realistic take on the Vietnam War from the American perspective, with the gimmick that the natives of each nation are depicted as a different animal. This comic began in 1998, so it could have been influenced by Maus. Kobayashi’s artwork is very detailed and is full of visible pencilwork; it’s closer to Miyazaki than to most other manga. My criticisms are that first, the comic book format is inappropriate for manga. Second, Cat Shit One lacks an interesting plot; it feels like just a series of straightforward retellings of things that happened in the war. Finally, its characters’ personalities are not well defined.

EVE STRANGER #5 (IDW, 2020) – “A Change is Gonna Come,” [W] David Barnett, [A] Philip Bond. Sadly this is the final Black Crown comic. Black Crown deserved to last longer than it did. This issue has some excellent artwork, but I had trouble caring about its plot. See later reviews for more thoughts on Philip Bond.

THE ‘NAM #2 (Marvel, 1987) – “Dustoff,” [W] Doug Murray, [A] Michael Golden. I’ve never read this long-running series before, but this issue does not make me want to read more of it. It’s a less realistic or introspective war comic than G.I. Joe. This issue is just a series of fight scenes, with a subplot about a rivalry between officers. The writer shows no interest in the Vietnamese perspective on the war. Some of Michael Golden’s artwork is excellent, especially the first three pages where the soldiers set up an ambush in darkness. However, Golden’s faces look ugly and unrealistic.

THE SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #2 (Marvel, 2013) – “The Peter Principle,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Ryan Stegman. Doc Ock, in Peter’s body, tries to date MJ, but it doesn’t work. Also, Doc Ock sets up a system of spider-bots. Part of Slott’s brilliance in this series is that he writes Doc Ock as a very typical supervillain. Everything Otto says in his own voice (i.e. when not pretending to be Peter) is a mad scientist cliché. And that makes it even more powerful when Otto gradually becomes a hero.

BATWOMAN: REBIRTH #1 (DC, 2017) – “Batwoman Rebirth,” [W] Marguerite Bennett & James Tynion IV, [A] Steve Epting. This issue is a patchwork of scenes from Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams’s Batwoman: Elegy. When I read this issue, I felt at times as if I was reading a reprint of that story. This issue certainly doesn’t feel like an original or new take on Kate Kane, although it does reveal some details about her overprivileged upbringing.

NINA’S ALL-TIME GREATEST COLLECTOR’S ITEM CLASSIC COMICS #1 (Dark Horse, 1992) – various stories, [W/A] Nina Paley. Nina Paley is such an awful TERF that her picture should be in the dictionary next to the word TERF. Her transphobic attitudes have destroyed her reputation. This is unfortunate because she’s a talented cartoonist. She draws in a very appealing comic-strip style, and she has a sardonic sense of humor. The best story in this issue is “Nina’s Adventures with the Big Editor Boss-Man,” where she’s told that her work is unmarketable, and so she tries to draw underground comics style instead. Thus, the story includes several pages drawn in a style that parodies that of Aline Kominsky-Crumb or whoever.

MARVELS SNAPSHOTS: FANTASTIC FOUR #1 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Evan Dorkin & Sarah Dyer, [A] Benjamin Dewey. This is really a Human Torch solo story. It takes place at Johnny and Dorrie Evans’s high school reunion in Glenville. The people of Glendale act like they’re ashamed and resentful of Johnny, but the twist ending is that they actually love Johnny, and their disdain for him is just an act. This was a pretty fun issue.

Had to stop writing here to watch Trump’s utterly terrifying Rose Garden speech. Fuck. This week was bad enough already.

THE CIMMERIAN: QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST #2 (Ablaze, 2020) – untitled, [W] Jean-David Morvan, [A] Pierre Alary. I’m always glad when French comics are translated into English, and this issue has some striking artwork. However, it offers nothing we haven’t seen in lots of other Conan comics, and Morvan’s take on Conan is pretty boring.

DEADLINE U.S.A. #6 (Dark Horse, 1992) – numerous stories, [E] Chris Warner. Lots of interesting stories here. Unfortunately there’s a story by Molly Eyre and D’Israeli where you have to rotate each page in a circle twice in order to read all the text around the edges. And there are three different chapters of this story scattered throughout the issue. So this comic is a very annoying read. Besides that, highlights of this issue include Nick Abadzis’s Hugo Tate and Milligan and Ewins’s Johnny Nemo. More about Deadline later.

ICE CREAM MAN #8 (Image, 2018) – “Emergencies,” [W] W. Maxwell Prince, [A] Martín Morazzo. The most impenetrable of all the Ice Cream Man comics I’ve read. “Emergencies” is about two ambulance drivers who are addicted to drugs, but it doesn’t have a clear plot, except that it ends with the discovery that there’s a corpse in the back of the ambulance. There’s some very disturbing imagery, including a panel showing a face with way too many mouths.

EIGHTBALL #3 (Fantagraphics, 1990) – “Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron” and other stories, [W/A] Daniel Clowes. This issue’s main story is a chapter of Clowes’s first major graphic novel. “Like a Velvet Glove…” is very surreal and disturbing, and I suspect it was influenced by Chester Brown’s Ed the Happy Clown. Next is “The Stroll,” a five-page monologue by a misanthropic jerk. Last is a chapter of “Young Dan Pussey,” in which the title character, a cartoonist, tries to make the transition from superhero to alternative comics, but it doesn’t go well. This story includes obvious parodies of Art Spiegelman, Gary Groth, and Los Bros Hernandez. The name ”Krzchyk” appears in both of the last two stories.

SUPURBIA #8 (Boom!, 2013) – untitled, [W] Grace Randolph, [A] Russell Dauterman. The supervillain Hector Hunt kidnaps Zuri, the daughter of one of the main superhero couples, and a huge fight results. This is a rather conventional superhero comic, and its plot is hard to understand out of context, but Russell Dauterman’s art is excellent.

SCARAB #1 (Vertigo, 1993) – “All Roads Lead to the Minotaur,” [W] John Smith, [A] Scot Eaton. The Scarab is an old retired superhero. His wife Eleanor is trapped in an extra-dimensional labyrinth, and he himself is being hunted by a villain called the Sicari. Scarab was originally pitched as a revival of Dr. Fate, and it helps to know that in order to understand what’s going on in this comic. Scarab #1 is rather difficult and depressing, but John Smith’s prose style is very lyrical and intricate. (Example: “The tiger menace of things to be is red in the sky.”) Smith is certainly comparable to Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman as a prose stylist, though not necessarily in other areas of his writing.

THE MULTIVERSITY #2 (DC, 2015) – “Superjudge,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Ivan Reis. Grant Morrison’s greatest flaw as a writer is extreme obscurancy. You often can’t understand his comics unless you read them at one sitting, and then read them again, and even then it often doesn’t feel worth the effort. Moore and Ellis’s comics are equally deep, but they don’t seem to resist understanding as much. Multiversity #2 is a prime example of Morrison’s excessive difficulty. I had no idea what was going on in this issue. It had something to do with Nix Uotan, the Gentry, and a 17-move solution to Rubik’s Cube, but all of that went over my head, and the whole issue felt like just a generic example of an epic cosmic superhero story. Multiversity #2 would probably make more sense now that I’ve read some of the earlier issues, but again, I don’t know if it’s worth the trouble of rereading it.

ONE FOR ONE: BRAIN BOY #1 (Dark Horse, 2014) – “Psy vs. Psy Part One of Three,” [W] Fred Van Lente, [A] R.B. Silva. This series, starring a rude teenage telepath, is a revival of an old Dell comic. I honestly think that Fred Van Lente is just an average writer. The only one of his comics I really liked was Incredible Hercules, which was co-written by Greg Pak. Brain Boy #1 is okay, but it didn’t make me want to read issue 2.

MULTIVERSITY: MASTERMEN #1 (DC, 2015) – “Splendour Falls,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Jim Lee. Mastermen is set on an alternate Earth where Kal-El’s rocket crashlanded in Nazi Germany. It’s well-written, I suppose, but it leaves me kind of cold. I read this issue along with the commentary at comicsalliance.com, and that did help, but I still think it’s a problem when a comic is unintelligible without notes. At least Mastermen isn’t as tough as Multiversity #2.

CHARLTON BULLSEYE #9 (Charlton, 1982) – “Bludd the Ultimate Barbarian,” [W] James Waley, [A] Gene Day & V. Marchesano. This was intended for Waley’s magazine Orb, but was left in limbo when that magazine was cancelled. (Note: On page 123 of his Star*Reach Companion, Richard Arndt mentions that a preview of Bludd appeared in the last issue of Orb, but he says that to his knowledge, Bludd was never published anywhere. He was wrong about that.) Bludd has the same premise as Starslayer, but is not nearly as well-written. Gene Day’s art is pretty good, but is hampered by Waley’s excessive captions. In his editor’s note, Waley admits Bludd’s resemblance to Starslayer, though he points out that Bludd was created first.

STALKER #4 (DC, 1976) – “Invade the Inferno,” [W] Paul Levitz, [A] Steve Ditko. There are four names in this issue’s credits box –  Levitz, Ditko, Wally Wood, and Joe Orlando – and all four of these men are now in the Eisner Hall of Fame. Sadly, Stalker is not as good as you would expect from such a team. Stalker is an unsympathetic character – a cursed warrior who’s trying to rescue his stolen soul from hell – and his adventures are boring. Easily the best thing about the issue is the combination of Ditko pencils and Woody inks.

THE PHANTOM #60 (Charlton, 1974) – “Assault on the Phantom’s Treasure!”, [W] Giovanni Fiorentini, [A] Mario Pedrazzi. This story is reprinted from an Italian comic, and was probably produced by Alberto Giolitti’s studio. Pedrazzi’s art is competent, but lacks any distinctive style, and Fiorentini’s story is boring.

MANY GHOSTS OF DR. GRAVES #46 (Charlton, 1974) – “Swamp!”, [W] Steve Morisi, [A] Pete Morisi. Steve Morisi seems to have been Pete’s son. Pete Morisi did not publish his comics under his real name, but I guess Steve Morisi did. Their story in this issue is about a ventriloquist who escapes from prison, and it has no supernatural elements. Next is a fortuneteller story by Joe Gill and Rudy Palais, whose style looks as if it had barely changed since the Golden Age. Last is a ghost story drawn by Sanho Kim. This comic isn’t great, but it’s an interesting juxtaposition of art styles.

SON OF SATAN #3 (Marvel, 1976) – “Demon’s Head,” [W] John Warner, [A] Sonny Trinidad. A confusing, pointless and overwritten story. I can barely remember anything that happens in this issue, let alone explain it. In the 1970s there were lots of writers like John Warner who worked in comics for just a couple years, then vanished from the industry. I have no idea what he’s doing now. Of course, in every era of comics there have been people who drifted in and out of the industry.

THE DESTRUCTOR #3 (Atlas, 1975) – “In the Hands of the Huntress,” [W] Larry Lieber & Archie Goodwin, [A] Steve Ditko. The Destructor battles two new villains, the Huntress and Lupo. Another comic that’s disappointing given the caliber of talent behind it. Atlas/Seaboard was extremely derivative of Marvel, and the Atlas titles were all cancelled before they could hit their stride.

PUMA BLUES #2 (Aardvark/Vanaheim, 1986) – “Watch That Man,” [W] Stephen Murphy, [A] Michael Zulli. Most of this issue is a flashback to 1995, when white supremacists assassinated President Jack Kemp and started a nuclear war. Eerily, Jack Kemp really was nominated for Vice President in 1996. The farfetched part is that white nationalists would kill a Republican president; as we’ve seen this past week, white nationalists are our current President’s most enthusiastic supporters. Anyway, Murphy and Zulli’s depiction of the 1995 events is very compelling. I especially like how they cut away from the main events to show us the impassive or shocked reactions of spectators.

SKULL THE SLAYER #2 (Marvel, 1975) – “Gods and Super-Gods,” [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Steve Gan. I recently wrote a negative review of Skull the Slayer #5, but issue 2 shows that Skull the Slayer could have been a good series if Marv Wolfman had stayed with it longer. Jim Scully is a Vietnam vet who finds himself trapped in the prehistoric age with three other modern-day people. Skull and his companions’ adventures are exciting and fun, and I particularly like the scene where they talk about their respective problems with the modern world. For example, the one woman in the group complains about suffering employment discrimination because of her gender.

JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS #4 (Archie, 2017) – untitled, [W] Marguerite Bennett & Cameron DeOrdio, [A] Audrey Mok. I’m biased because I dislike Bennett’s writing, but this issue really annoyed me. Almost every line of dialogue in the issue is a pun or a pop culture reference. Also the syntax of the dialogue is awkward. Two sample word balloons (both from the same character): “I haven’t heard a sound that captures true rock and roll like this since Stillwater! But I’ll take Josie’s voice over that My Name is Earl-lookin’ guy’s any day!” This sort of dialogue is only acceptable in small doses. The only thing I like about this issue is the page before that, which is drawn in a style that parodies shojo manga, with flowers and no panel borders.

FELL #3 (Image, 2005) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Ben Templesmith. Fell goes to buy new clothing, but finds a suicide bomber in the dressing room. Fell discovers that the clothing store owner is giving away guns illegally, and the bomber’s brother was killed by one of those guns. Fell manages to resolve the situation with minimal violence. I’ve read a lot of Warren Ellis comics lately, but Fell is among the most interesting of them. Fell is a compelling character, a Sherlock Holmes with a heart. Snowtown is so horrible it’s funny, but not too funny; as a reader, I laugh at it, but I realize it could actually exist.

THE PHANTOM #11 (Gold Key, 1965) – “Blind Man’s Bluff,” [W] Dick Wood or Bill Harris, [A] Bill Lignante. The GCD has two candidates for who wrote this story. This issue isn’t great, but it’s less bad than #60, reviewed above. It has a somewhat suspenseful plot in which the Phantom goes blind. Last night I was wondering why Phantom comics are so popular overseas, e.g. in Australia and India, while they’re completely unknown in America. The reason may be that American Phantom comics aren’t very good – the only truly excellent Phantom comics I’ve read are the ones drawn by Don Newton. The best Phantom stories were created in Sweden starting in the ’70s, but that was about the same time that the American Phantom series was cancelled, and most of the Swedish Phantom comics were never published in America. (Out of curiosity, I just ordered some Australian Phantom comics. Watch this space for reviews of them.)

SPIDER-WOMAN #13 (Marvel, 1979) – “Suddenly… the Shroud!”, [W] Mark Gruenwald, [A] Carmine Infantino. Jessica Drew moves into her friend Jerry’s apartment and tries to get a job through a temp agency – even though her only previous work experience is with a “nest of spies.” None of her temp placements work out, and she tries to improve her employability by visiting the “Hatros Institute for Emotional Research,” which is probably a reference to the Church of Scientology. Of course the Hatros Institute turns out to be an evil cult, and while investigating it, Jessica runs into the Shroud. This is a fairly enjoyable issue, though Infantino’s artwork is awful.

ADVENTURE COMICS #404 (DC, 1971) – “Super-Girl?”, [W/A] Mike Sekowsky. Supergirl has to fight Starfire’s gang (not Princess Koriand’r of course) even though she’s been losing and regaining her powers at random intervals. Mike Sekowsky was actually a good writer of female protagonists, both here and in Wonder Woman, and this issue is a fun read. I also like Supergirl’s costume from this period, with the skirt and the knee-length boots.

G.I. JOE #62 (Marvel, 1987) – “Transit,” [W] Larry Hama, [A] William Johnson & Arvell Jones. In Borovia, Stalker, Quick-Kick and Snow-Job are convicted of espionage in a show trial and are sent to a prison camp, with no rescue forthcoming. Meanwhile, Outback, the fourth member of their mission, returns to America and faces scorn from his fellow Joes, but Snake-Eyes and Scarlett seem to be organizing a covert rescue mission. I read the issue after this one as a kid, and I still remember its brutal depiction of a Communist prison. In both #62 and #63, Larry Hama powerfully depicts how when people are subjected to dehumanizing conditions, they respond by acting in inhuman ways. Stalker tries to get his fellow prisoners to behave better, and in explaining why, he delivers a stunning line of dialogue: “You know who gives quarters to the bums on the street? Poor people. They’re close enough to the edge to see the drop.” You wouldn’t expect this sort of insight from a comic based on a toy line.

MULTIVERSITY: ULTRA COMICS #1 (DC, 2015) – “Ultra Comics Lives!”, [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Doug Mahnke. I have very mixed feelings about Multiversity, but this issue is perhaps Grant’s best metatextual experiment since Animal Man. Indeed, the whole issue is an extrapolation from the classic “I can see you!” moment in Animal Man #19. Ultra Comics #1, the actual comic book, is a crucial part of Multiversity’s plot because it’s the vehicle through which the series’ extradimensional villains, the Gentry, are entering the DC multiverse. Accordingly, this issue begins with a warning telling the reader not to turn the page (like The Monster at the End of This Book). Also, it’s set on Earth-Prime, and it stars Earth-Prime’s only superhero, Ultra(a), who is literally made of paper and ink. The issue is full of fourth-wall-breaking moments like that. One moment that particularly appeals to me, given my interest in materiality, is when a man addresses the reader and says “You’re interacting with a real, physical object.” (But is this still true if you read Ultra Comics #1 digitally? See my discussion of Finder: Talisman in Between Pen and Pixel.)

SANDMAN #15 (DC, 1990) – “Into the Night,” [W] Neil Gaiman, [A] Mike Dringenberg. In the penultimate chapter of A Doll’s House, Rose Walker goes to sleep and causes her housemates’ dreams to blur together. The “vortex” sequence begins by depicting each dreamer’s dreams (Hal, Ken, Barbie, Chantal) with a unique style of art and lettering, and then as Rose creates the vortex, the dreams start to blur together and encroach on each other. I love the moment where Barbie and Martin Tenbones suddenly “hear” a caption box from Ken’s dream. Todd Klein deserves credit for this sequence because of his creation of all the different lettering styles. During this sequence, the reader sympathizes with Rose’s desire to merge everyone’s minds together – but we also realize that Morpheus really does have to kill her, because she’s destroying the privacy of people’s dreamworlds. Mike Dringenberg’s art throughout A Doll’s House was excellent, and I wonder why his career never went anywhere.

THE WOODS #2 (Boom!, 2014) – untitled, [W] James Tynion IV, [A] Michael Dialynas. An entire school is teleported to an alien planet (like in Kazuo Umezu’s Drifting Classroom), and the students and teachers have different plans on how to survive. James Tynion’s characterization in this issue is very effective, and Michael Dialynas draws some delightfully weird alien creatures and settings. I’m going to have to read more of this series, as well as Tynion’s other creator-owned works.

IRON MARSHAL #13 (Jademan, 1991) – untitled, [W] Henry Wright, [A] F.L. Khoo. The title character battles the Bloody Duke and some other villains. This issue has an execrably poor translation; the dialogue is so awkward and confusing that it’s very hard to tell what exactly is going on in the plot. At least the art is good.

DETECTIVE COMICS #582 (DC, 1988) – “Sole Survivor,” [W] Jo Duffy, [A] Norm Breyfogle. A Millennium crossover issue in which Commissioner Gordon tries to save his old navy buddies from being assassinated by Manhunters. Millennium was a terrible crossover event, and the best thing about this issue is Breyfogle’s art.

On May 22, I finally got a full DCBS shipment, i.e. one that included items from publishers other than DC. It was a small shipment consisting of just six comics and one graphic novel. The industry is not yet back to full production capacity yet, and will not be until September at least.

THE LUDOCRATS #1 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Kieron Gillen & Jim Rossignol, [A] Jeff Stokely. This is by far the best comic book published since the pandemic began. The Ludocrats takes place in a world dominated by bizarre and ridiculous people/creatures, where the greatest sin is to be boring. The protagonist, Baron Otto von Subertan, meets Grattina Gavelstein, High Steam-Judge of New Prussia, at a wedding, and it’s love at first sight. But Gratty is immediately kidnapped by “mechanical boring people.” Ludocrats’s premise gives the creators carte blanche to draw the strangest and silliest things they can imagine, and they take full advantage of this opportunity. The high point of the issue is the wedding scene, where we see a person with a goldfish bowl for a head, a giant octopus holding a martini glass, etc. Casanova Quinn makes a cameo appearance in this issue, and his presence in this universe makes complete sense.

BIRTHRIGHT #43 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. Mikey explains to Rya why he worked with Lore, but we don’t get to hear what he says. Mikey and Rya share a tender moment, and then Mikey finally confronts Lore. Next issue is going to be an epic fight scene.

THE DOLLHOUSE FAMILY #6 (DC, 2020) – “Una,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter Gross. A talking cat tells Alice that the entire series’ plot was caused by a struggle between itself and the demon Cloax. Alice enters the dollhouse for the last time and uses the Bright Metal to defeat Cloax, allowing the cat to eat it like a mouse. As a reward, the cat fixes Alice’s personal timeline so that her parents both survive (sadly including her dad), she marries Jake, and Una is born with a silver hand. Which may be a reference to Nuada Airgetlam or Corum or both. This feels like a tacked-on happy ending, but other than that, I really enjoyed this series.

SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #10 (DC, 2020) – “Up to Old Tricks!” etc., [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Steve Lieber. It finally becomes clear that Jimmy’s brother Julian is trying to kill Jimmy in order to steal the money in his personal trust. Also, there’s a funny quotation of the music video for Madonna’s “Material Girl,” with Jimmy as Madonna. As usual, lots of other stuff happens in this issue. This has been a fascinating series; however, its shtick is getting a bit tiresome, and I’m not sorry there are just two more issues.

PLUNGE #3 (DC, 2020) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Stuart Immonen. The crew of the sunken ship return as zombies, and they claim to have found the last digit of pi and solved the Riemann hypothesis and Crouzeix’s conjecture. Crouzeix’s conjecture is a real thing, but it’s very obscure. I wonder if Joe Hill meant Collatz’s conjecture, which is far better known. Anyway, I like how this issue uses math as a vehicle for horror.

GHOSTED IN L.A. #10 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W/A] Sina Grace. Daphne tries to come up with a solution to the evil ghost, and also sleeps with Zola, off-panel. Meanwhile, Daphne’s awful roommate sneaks into the ghost house. I’m glad this series is still being published in single-issue form, unlike some other Boom! comics. However, I don’t see issue 11 on Boom!’s current release schedule, and even more disturbingly, I don’t see Lumberjanes either. Ghosted in LA #11 and Lumberjanes #73 and #74 were both supposed to come out next week, according to https://bleedingcool.com/comics/boom-studios-latest-may-june-2020-schedules-triple-lumberjanes/, but neither of them is listed at comiclist.com. Now I’m worried.

HITMAN #28 (DC, 1998) – “Door into the Dark,” [W] Garth Ennis, [A] John McCrea. Tommy has a nightmare, argues with his girlfriend, and then goes to the bar, where he listens to a bad “Irish” musician. I hate this series, and this issue does nothing to change my opinion of it. Hitman #28 is crude and vulgar, and its main character is an unsympathetic jerk. I do want to read more Hitman now that I’ve read some 2000 AD (see below), just to see if my opinion changes.

INDESTRUCTIBLE HULK #18 (Marvel, 2014) – “Humanity Bomb Part Two,” [W] Mark Waid, [A] Jheremy Rapack & Miguel Sepulveda. A very average Hulk comic. Indestructible Hulk was  fine when it came out, I guess, but it’s not comparable to Immortal Hulk.

THE MULTIVERSITY: SOCIETY OF SUPER-HEROES #1 (DC, 2014) – “Conquerors from the Counter-World,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Chris Sprouse. Two parallel worlds are involved in a proxy war between The Immortal Man and Vandal Savage. This was another very difficult issue, and even after reading it, I’m not quite sure what it was about.

BATMAN #701 (DC, 2010) – “R.I.P. The Missing Chapter, Part One: The Hole in Things,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Tony Daniel. I guess this storyline was intended to fill the gap between Batman R.I.P. and Final Crisis. I’m not familiar with either of those stories, so I found this issue difficult to understand, and I don’t get what its point was.

DC COMICS PRESENTS #51 (DC, 1982) – “Rendezvous with Death,” [W] Dan Mishkin, [A] Alex Saviuk. Superman and the Atom use the Time Pool to go back in time to figure out what happened to his ancestor, Var-El. The issue ends with Var-El remaining on Earth in the 20th century, but I don’t think he ever appeared again. Overall this is a forgettable story. This issue is interrupted halfway through by a Masters of the Universe preview comic, the same one that appeared in Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 2 #293.

THE LONE RANGER #96 (Dell, 1956) – “Gunshy” and “Revenge,” [W] Paul S. Newman, [A] Tom Gill. Two ten-page stories, one about a sheriff who suffers from cowardice, another about a rancher who tries to get revenge on cattle rustlers, but targets the wrong people. Paul S. Newman’s scripts for these stories are adequate, but Tom Gill’s art is impressive. He draws with a ton of detail and dynamism, and he makes potentially boring material exciting. Tom Gill had an extremely long run on this series. He attended at least one Comic-Con that I went to, but at the time I wasn’t familiar with his work. The main problem with this issue is the racist portrayal of Tonto. However, the real gem of the issue is the backup story, a chapter of Gaylord DuBois and Rex Maxon’s Young Hawk. This series stars two Mandan Indian brothers, possible prototypes for Turok and Andar, in what seems to be precolonial America. In this issue’s installment, Young Hawk and Little Buck meet some Iroquois people and teach them canoe sailing. This story shows awareness that precolonial Native Americans were not a single monolithic bloc. The Mandan and Iroquois people in the story look and dress differently and have different customs and technology. Young Hawk is included on Paul Gravett’s “1001 comics you must read” list, and I want to look for more of it.

BATMAN #28 (DC, 2017) – “The War of Jokes and Riddles Part 3,” [W] Tom King, [A] Mikel Janin. Batman dresses up as Commissioner Gordon, and each of them infiltrates one of the warring villain camps. Batman sleeps with Catwoman. Deadshot and Deathstroke fight each other. This issue has some excellent art, but feels kind of muddled. It has too many giant epic splash pages for its own good. Also, I strongly doubt either that Deathstroke could compete with Deadshot in marksmanship, or that Deadshot could challenge Deathstroke in a hand-to-hand fight. These two villains are not mirror images of each other.

BATMAN #335 (DC, 1981) – “The Lazarus Affair Chapter Four: Ashes to Ashes!”, [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Irv Novick. I can’t believe I haven’t already read this, because it’s the conclusion to “The Lazarus Affair,” perhaps the best Batman story arc of the early ‘80s. At this point, Ra’s al Ghul has kidnapped Batman and friends and brought them to an island with a Lazarus Pit. Ra’s offers Batman immortality, but Batman of course refuses. This results in an epic battle that finally ends when Ra’s falls into the Lazarus Pit and blows it up. A subplot involves Batman’s tense relations with Robin after Robin left college. As a conclusion to Batman and Ra’s al Ghul’s rivalry, this issue works far better than “Requiem for a Martyr” in Detective Comics #490, and it’s a thrilling read.

NEW YORK: YEAR ZERO #4 (Eclipse, 1988) – untitled, [W] Ricardo Barreiro, [A] Juan Zanotto. This is a reprint of an Argentine comic, which seems to be set in a postapocalyptic New York. Zanotto’s artwork in this issue is amazing. He does a great job of spotting blacks, and his machinery and costumes look highly realistic. The masked battle suits that appear in nearly every panel are a striking visual image. Zanotto’s only weakness as an artist is his indistinct facial expressions. The main problem with this comic is Barreiro’s script, which is wooden and devoid of characterization. However, I still want to track down the other three issues of this miniseries.

SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #5 (Marvel, 2013) – “Emotional Triggers,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Giuseppe Camuncoli. Massacre holds everyone in Grand Central Station hostage (this reminds me of a certain mission in the PS4 Spider-Man game), but Spidey/Doc Ock defeats him. Faced with the real possibility of death, Massacre suddenly becomes repentant, but Spidey executes him anyway. Good riddance to bad rubbish. Also, this issue is the first appearance of Anna Maria Marconi, perhaps Slott’s best new supporting character.

COGNETIC #1 (Boom!, 2015) – untitled, [W] James Tynion IV, [A] Eryk Donovan. Cognetic is the second in a trilogy of three miniseries, preceded by Memetic and followed by Eugenic. In Memetic, the Empire State Building is taken over by what seems to be a living meme; people possessed by it speak in blue text, and anyone who hears them starts to speak in blue text too. The issue’s other plot thread is about a young woman with red hair, and at the end of the issue, she goes to the Empire State Building and says “It’s been a long time, brother” in red text. This is an intriguing setup.

HILLBILLY #9 (Albatross, 2018) – untitled, [W/A] Eric Powell. Rondel battles Tailypo, Hansel and Gretel, but is rescued by James Stoneturner. In a flashback we see James’s origin story, which is mildly Afrofuturist. This was a pretty average issue.

GASP! #3 (ACG, 1967) – “Sorry, You’ve Got the Wrong Ghosts!”, [W] Richard Hughes (as Adam Barr), [A] Sal Trapani. Gasp! was ACG’s last new series. The first story in Gasp! #3 is about two soldiers, one from the Civil War and one from World War II, both of whom died after betraying their comrades. Many years later, their ghosts petition the afterlife for a chance at redemption, and each of them is sent back in time to the other one’s era. In their new time periods, the soldiers sacrifice their lives heroically and are sent to heaven. This story is compelling and also very funny; there’s a scene where an “appeals agent”, with a suit and briefcase, descends from heaven to rule on the soldiers’ case. Richard Hughes was an excellent writer and would be a good candidate for a posthumous Bill Finger Award. The backup story, written by Lorna Cass, is really dumb. It appears to be her only comics credit, and no wonder.

GREEN LANTERN #110 (DC, 1978) – “Brand of Power,” [W] Denny O’Neil, [A] Mike Grell. The high point of this issue comes on page two, when Dinah tells off Ollie for badmouthing Carol Ferris. The rest of the issue is disappointing. Hal and Ollie somehow find themselves in a Wild West town, except the local bad guy is a four-armed alien. There’s also a boring Alan Scott backup story by Cary Burkett and Juan Ortiz.

SON OF VULCAN #49 (Charlton, 1965) – “The Diamond Dancers,” [W] Joe Gill, [A] Bill Fraccio. An awful comic. Son of Vulcan is an obvious rip-off of Thor, but Gill and Fraccio are no Lee and Kirby. Besides having bad writing and art, this issue also includes some stereotypical depictions of Chinese people. This issue’s cover says “Special thanks to Dave Cockrum for costume ideas.” At this time Cockrum was not yet a professional, so Son of Vulcan #49 was probably the first comic book whose cover had his name on it.

ACTION COMICS #359 (DC, 1968) – “The Case of the People Against Superman!”, [W] Leo Dorfman, [A] Curt Swan. This issue has a classic Neal Adams cover, in which Superman is sitting on the witness stand in court, and a little girl is accusing him of killing her father. That moment only occupies one panel in the actual issue, and of course we learn that the mob killed the girl’s father and framed Superman for it. The trial depicted in this issue is implausible; the prosecution introduces a lot of irrelevant evidence, and the defense commits shenanigans that should have led to a mistrial. In the backup story, Supergirl stops a Stanhope College fraternity from hazing new members. This was Kurt Schaffenberger’s first story as the regular Supergirl artist.

DETECTIVE COMICS #768 (DC, 2002) – “Purity,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Steve Lieber. Batman tries to track down the source of a lethal batch of heroin. The climactic scene in this issue takes place in a Chinese garden in the middle of downtown Gotham. Steve Lieber lives in Portland, so I wonder if this garden is based on the Lan Su Chinese Garden in that city. This issue includes a Josie Mac backup story by Judd Winick and Cliff Chiang.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #325 (Marvel, 1989) – “Finale in Red!”, [W] David Michelinie, [A] Todd McFarlane. In the finale of “The Assassin Nation Plot,” Spidey battles the Red Skull and a bunch of terrorists in the National Archives. Drawing Spider-Man is just about the only thing Todd McFarlane is good at, but he’s very good at it. Reading this issue, I realized that Todd’s characteristic vertical page layouts are probably inspired by Cerebus.

GROO #1 (Image, 1994) – “The Promised Land,” [W/A] Sergio Aragonés, [W] Mark Evanier. This is the first issue after Sergio and Mark left Marvel, and on page one, Groo gestures to this by thinking “Everything looks so different here… the marvels of the world are but images before me” (emphasis added). In this issue Groo meets some refugees and finds a ship to take them to a new homeland across the sea. Somehow he succeeds in this even though the ship he hires is captained by Ahax. At the end, Groo discovers that there are already people living in the refugeees’ new land, and they’re happy to share what they have: “There will always be enough, so long as we respect one another’s rights and culture.” Uh-oh. As usual this issue is full of funny moments; for example, on the way to the promised land, the ship disembarks in another country that turns out to be full of giant monsters.

SHOWCASE #83 (DC, 1969) – “Sing a Song of Sorcery!”, [W] Denny O’Neil, [A] Bernie Wrightson. This is the second of three issues starring Nightmaster. In terms of its plot, Showcase #83 is a mildly parodic sword-and-sorcery story. It’s reminiscent of Wally Wood’s fantasy works, but it’s not as well written. However, this issue is a hidden gem because of who drew it. Nightmaster was one of Bernie’s earliest professional works, but he was already an amazing artist by 1969. His draftsmanship is stunning, and his visual storytelling is almost equally so. I need to get Showcase #84, and I should also look for more of Wrightson’s early works.

In late May I discovered the website atomicavenue.com, and I found a seller on that website who was selling a lot of cheap British comics. I ordered a bunch of stuff from him, including a lot of 2000 ADs and an assortment of other things. I haven’t read a lot of British comics, so I was very excited to receive this order. It included the following comics:

2000 AD #665 (Fleetway, 1990) – “Chopper: Song of the Surfer Part 12,” [W] John Wagner, [A] Colin MacNeil, etc. Of the British comics I received in the aforementioned shipment, 2000 AD is easily my favorite. I really like its format. Each issue consists of five or six stories of about six pages each, so the reader gets a substantial chunk of a number of different stories, representing different subgenres and art styles. Most of the artists take effective advantage of the tabloid-size pages. 2000 AD also has a unique aesthetic that combines brutal violence and black humor. This issue begins with the conclusion of Wagner and MacNeil’s “Chopper: Song of the Surfer,” about a surfer who’s the last survivor of a bloody competition, and dies as he crosses the finish line. The silent page where the protagonist dies is very powerful. Next is Peter Milligan and James McCarthy’s “Bix Barton,” starring an upper-class detective who makes constant references to rugby. Also, he meets a member of the Ugly People’s Liberation Army, whose honorary president is Cecil Parkinson. If you Google Cecil Parkinson, you’ll see why. This issue’s Judge Dredd chapter is by Wagnre and “the Simpsons” and is a prelude to the epic Necropolis story arc. The other stories are “Beyond Zero” and “Zippy Couriers,” the latter of which has some impressive color art by John Higgins.

TAMMY #409 (IPC, 1978) – “Bella tackles the snake,” [W] unknown, [A] John Armstrong, etc. So far, this is the best British comic book I’ve read that wasn’t 2000 AD. Tammy is an example of British girls’ comics, a massive body of work that has gotten very little critical attention. This issue begins with a chapter of John Armstrong’s gymnastics strip Bella at the Bar, another comic that’s on Gravett’s “1001 comics” list. Armstrong’s female anatomy is amazing, and his linework really reminds me of Alan Davis’s. I even wonder if he was an influence on Davis. This particular Bella story guest-stars an Australian Aboriginal girl who is depicted in a relatively non-stereotypical way. In San Diego I bought the collected edition of Bella at the Bar that Rebellion recently published, but I haven’t read it yet. This issue also includes stories about dancing, theater, dogs, Gothic romance, etc. Tammy is not notably progressive or feminist, but it also doesn’t condescend to its readers; it feels like an intelligent piece of girls’ entertainment. I wish there was an easy way I could get more comics like this, although I could read them online if I wanted.

THE HOTSPUR #997 (D.C. Thomson, 1978) – “The Red Sands of Roga,” [W] and [A] unknown, etc. Not nearly as impressive as 2000 AD. This issue includes various sports and adventure stories, all of them uncredited and with fairly generic art and writing. The best is probably V for Vengeance, in which “Jack One, Leader of the Deathless Men” infiltrates a Nazi forced labor camp. This story focuses on a Czech prisoner who sacrifices his life after witnessing the death of a fellow Czech. A low point in the issue is the story immediately following this one: “The Coonskin Grenadier,” in which a British regiment gets a new recruit who’s a stereotypical American hillbilly.

2000 AD #682 (Fleetway, 1990) – “Necropolis Part 9,” [W] John Wagner, [A] Carlos Ezquerra, etc. This prog’s Judge Dredd story is obviously epic in scope, but makes little sense on its own. The highlight of the issue is “Indigo Prime’s Fegredo and Brecht” by John Smith and Chris Weston. This is a self-contained story (divided into two parts, both in this prog), but it’s part of a larger continuity. It’s about two agents who discover a community of aliens that worship the ’70s. I already praised John Smith’s writing in my review of Scarab #1, and Chris Weston is the most impressive artist in all the 2000 ADs that I’ve read lately. His work is amazingly intricate and imaginative. The highlight of “Fegredo and Brecht” is a 3/4-page splash depicting a giant statue of Starsky and Hutch. Chris Weston achieved some success in America thanks to The Filth, but he should have been an even bigger star. The other notable story in this issue is Alan McKenzie and Simon Harrison’s “Bradley Goes Mental,” which has very vivid painted art that reminds me of both Brendan McCarthy and Ralph Steadman.

THE BEANO #1561 (D.C. Thomson, 1972) – numerous uncredited stories. My British comics order included several issues of The Beano and The Dandy. These comics are national institutions in Britain, probably even more so than 2000 AD. However, so far I don’t enjoy them nearly as much as 2000 AD. The Beano #1561 consists of a bunch of one- and two-page strips, most of them about kids engaging in shenanigans. Some of these strips were created by famous artists, like Ken Reid and Leo Baxendale. But by 1972 those artists were long gone, and the general level of artwork in this issue is rather low. And the humor is aimed at young kids and has little appeal to adults. One thing I do like about this comic is the occasional breaking of the fourth wall; for example, when there’s a narratively important detail in a panel, there will be an arrow and caption pointing to it. The Beano #1561 also includes one adventure strip, “Billy the Cat and Katie,” but it clashes with the overall aesthetic of the comic, and it was dropped two years later.

THE DANDY #2021 (D.C. Thomson, 1980) – numerous uncredited stories. I can’t tell the difference between The Dandy and The Beano, although Nick Richardson claims that The Dandy is more focused on Scottish and northern English humor (https://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2013/january/izzy-skint). The Dandy’s flagship character seems to be Desperate Dan, a super-strong cowboy who loves cow pies – which to an American reader sounds very disturbing, but in this context a cow pie is a meat pie with cow  horns sticking out. Desperate Dan was created by the great cartoonist Dudley D. Watkins, but he died in 1969, and as with The Beano #1561, none of the artwork in The Dandy #2021 is particularly distinctive. A lot of the humor in The Dandy focuses on  food. Lew Stringer has argued that the central importance of food in British comics is related to Britain’s history of rationing and poverty.

Before I finished writing the following review, I saw the bombshell news about DC abandoning Diamond. I think I’ve gotten over my initial panic at this news, but I’m still nervous as to what might come of this development. By the way, fuck DC. The long-term effects of their action could be positive, but in the short term, the already suffering direct market will suffer even more.

2000 AD #679 (Fleetway, 1990) – “Necropolis” part 6, [W] John Wagner, [A] Carlos Ezquerra. I still don’t quite understand Necropolis. Overall this prog is less memorable than the last two I read. The highlight of the prog is Hilary Robinson and Ron Smith’s “Chronos Carnival,” more for the art than the writing. Ron Smith’s art is highly detailed and shows great visual imagination. Ron Smith is not well known to American readers who aren’t Dredd fans, but he had a fifty-year career and was the most prolific Dredd artist of his time. This issue also includes a Peter Milligan story, “Shadows,” but it’s part eight, and doesn’t make sense on its own.

TRINITY #6 (DC, 2008) – “Truth, Justice & the American Way,” [W] Kurt Busiek, [A] Mark Bagley. It feels very strange to read a standard-sized American comic book after reading 2000 AD. Regular American comics are so much smaller. About half this issue is a discussion between Clark, Diana and Bruce about their relative similarities and differences. This sequence shows Kurt’s keen insight into all three characters. The rest of the issue is a team-up between Hawkman and Gangbuster.

THE EXTREMIST #3 (DC, 1993) – “July, Nineteen Ninety-Three,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Ted McKeever. A woman discovers that her late husband was an assassin belonging to some sort of evil BDSM conspiracy. She puts on his gimp suit (a term I know because of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas) and tries to hunt down her husband’s killers. This is an excellent issue; it’s full of bizarre sex stuff, but Milligan also convincingly portrays Judy’s horror at learning who her husband was, and her growing curiosity about his secret life. Ted McKeever’s expressionistic style of art is unique and fascinating, if not conventionally beautiful. I want to complete my run of this miniseries.

THE WILD STORM #3 (DC, 2017) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Jon Davis-Hunt. This issue focuses on Angela Spica, aka the Engineer from The Authority. She’s in hiding from some kind of secret organization, but three members of the WildCATs – Void, Grifter and Savant – show up to look for her. This issue was confusing, though it made more sense when I figured out who the characters were (and I had to look up Savant just now). This issue includes some in-jokes about DCU characters like Martian Manhunter and Crime Doctor.

COR!! #115 (IPC, 1972) – “Gus Gorilla” and other stories, [W/A] unknown. This is another humor comic, but it’s even less memorable than the issues of The Dandy and The Beano reviewed above. It does include some stories with better than usual art, including “Jasper the Grasper” and “Hire a Horror.” The former was created by Ken Reid, but the installment in this issue is by Trevor Metcalfe. The latter seems to have been drawn by former DC Thomson artist Robert Nixon. One annoying thing about these old British comics is that there are no credits – apparently this was on purpose, so the artists wouldn’t demand a better deal – and so it’s hard to become familiar with individual artists. The one strip in Cor!! #115 that does stand out is Rat-Trap, which is silly, but is drawn in an adventure-comic style. It says at  http://kazoop.blogspot.com/2012/07/look-at-cor-strips-rat-trap.html that the artist of this comic was Giorgio Giorgetti, who, according to Lambiek, was from Italy but spent his entire career working for British comics.

2000 AD #708 (Fleetway, 1990) – “Wot I Did During Necropolis Part Two,” [W] John Wagner, [A] Anthony Williams, etc. In this prog’s Dredd story, an overgrown child murders his parents and then murders another boy using poisoned pants. Typical 2000 AD humor. The next story is “Time Flies” by two familiar creators, Garth Ennis and Philip Bond. This story doesn’t make much logical sense, but it has beautiful art and funny writing – it takes place on the planet Meetne 2vej in the Kolest’rol system. To my surprise, the third story, “Junker,” is by American writer Michael Fleisher. According to my Facebook friends, he was working for 2000 AD at the time because no one else would hire him, and his stories were not well liked, although I can’t see any major difference in quality between his work and that of other 2000 AD writers. The next story, “Silo,” is by Mark Millar and Dave D’Antiquis and is drawn entirely in black and white, with no variations in tone. I’ve never heard of this artist before, but he’s interesting. Last, there’s a Psi-Judge Anderson story by Alan Grant and Arthur Ranson. This story begins with an impressive depiction of a Tibetan or Bhutanese temple.

DEADLINE #26 (Deadline, 1991) – various stories, [E] Si Spencer. This magazine was one of the major venues of British underground comics, along with Escape, for which see below. Deadline included music reviews and articles as well as comics, and it had a significant impact on U.S. culture because it introduced Tank Girl. This issue begins with a short story by Philip Bond, then the next story is “Fireball,” with utterly amazing art by Deadline’s other primary artist, Jamie Hewlett. “Fireball” has a totally incoherent plot, but Hewlett’s full-page depictions of cars and women’s faces are breathtaking. I’d love to read more of Hewlett’s work, but Tank Girl is difficult to find in any format. BTW, I didn’t realize until now that Hewlett was a major influence on Evan Dorkin. Other stories in this issue are by Carol Swain, Shaky Kane, William Potter, Glenn Dakin, and Glyn Dillon. The latter artist’s story is the most impressive; it includes some impressive collage art. Overall this was an entertaining read, though I could have done without the music articles, and I hope I can find more issues of Deadline.

SPARKY #414 (DC Thomson, 1972) – “Barney Bulldog” and other humor comics, [W/A] unknown. Another unimpressive humor comic. A few of the stories are drawn in a realistic style, but all of them are humorous. A problem with this and other British kids’ comics is the lack of continuity. Each issue is just a series of one- or two-page gag strips. The status quo in each strip never changes. Reading one of these comics is probably like reading an old newspaper Sunday comics section, from back when Sunday strips were a full page, except that American Sunday comics had more variation in style and subject matter.

SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #28 (Marvel, 2014) – “Goblin Nation Part 2,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Giuseppe Camuncoli. Superior Spidey battles the Green Goblin and a bunch of his goblin minions, while Peter has trouble untangling his memories from those of Otto Octavius. The best moments in this issue are the pair of two-page sequences in which Peter relives Otto’s memories, including his history of being abused as a child.

AXEL PRESSBUTTON #3 (Eclipse, 1985) – multiple stories, [W] Steve Moore, [A] Steve Dillon. A series of reprinted Laser Eraser and Pressbutton stories from Warrior. This issue’s plot is complicated and I don’t recall much about it, but the two title characters are entertaining foils for each other. There are two backup stories: one by Steve Moore and Cam Kennedy, which includes a same-sex kiss, and another by Steve Parkhouse and John Ridgway.

NUTTY #215 (DC Thomson, 1984) – “Bananaman,” [W] Steve Bright, [A] John Geering, etc. Bananaman is a superhero parody strip that presupposes an audience familiar with American superheroes. The installment in this issue isn’t especially funny to me, but it was Nutty’s biggest hit and became one of The Dandy’s primary strips, according to Wikipedia. The other strips in this issue are all standard Dandy/Beano material, though the “Eddie the Gent” strip has an unusual half-page panel. Most of the other strips in this and similar comics seem to use a strict three- or four-tier page layout.

2000 AD #716 (Fleetway, 1990) – “First Offence: A Death Aid Interlude,” [W] John Wagner, [A] Steve Yeowell. The Dredd strip in this issue is a one-shot in which a man steals a wallet from a corpse, and Dredd of course brings him to “justice.” Short stories like this are an effective way to demonstrate who Dredd is. Next is a “Tharg’s Future Shock” by David Anderson and Ron Smith, about a man who steals talents from others. Ron Smith also draws this issue’s Rogue Trooper story, written by Fleisher. Next is a Psi-Judge Anderson story by Alan Grant and David Roach. I know David Roach from Facebook but have never seen his art, which is intriguing. The issue ends with another installment of Junker, by Fleisher and John Ridgway.

THE FILTH #7 (Vertigo, 2003) – “Zero Democracy,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Chris Weston. This issue is about a revolt on a gigantic floating city called Libertania. I didn’t understand this issue and couldn’t see how it connected to #6, and Chris Weston’s art here is not as exciting as in 2000 AD. It just looks like normal artwork, although his two-page splash depicting the gigantic ship is pretty impressive. Perhaps Weston’s style didn’t adapt well to color or to the smaller U.S. page size.

ZENITH #2/1 (Fleetway/Quality, 1993) – “Phase II/Prologue: Down Under” etc., [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Steve Yeowell. This issue’s prologue takes place in a parallel universe and depicts a fight between two dinosaurs. Then we cut to Zenith as his apartment is attacked by a giant robot, and then a woman named Phaedra Cale tells him that she can help him find his parents. A funny moment in this issue is when a man is called an “old Scotch fairy” and replies “It’s Scots, if you don’t mind. Scotch is a drink!”

OUR LOVE IS REAL (Image, 2011) – “Our Love is Real,” [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Steven Sanders. Wikipedia claims that this issue is a prequel to Higher Earth, but I don’t see how. Our Love is Real is about a “zoosexual” policeman, i.e. he does what Dori Seda claimed she didn’t do. He hunts “vegisexuals” and “mineralsexuals.” Eventually a mineralsexual turns him into a crystal, and they have amazing sex. No one in this world seems to even realize that it’s possible to have sex with other humans. Our Love is Real is a one-joke comic, but it’s a very funny joke, and since it’s just a one-shot, the joke doesn’t have time to get old.

The following comics were part of a second order from Atomic Avenue:

THE AIRTIGHT GARAGE #1 (Epic, 1993) – various stories, [W/A] Moebius. This is one of Moebius’s greatest works, and sadly, this four-issue comic-book-format reprint is the easiest way to get it in English. Dark Horse has the license to publish Moebius in English, but they’ve been publishing Moebius books that nobody wants – like The Art of Edena and a book of interviews – and his major works like Arzach and The Airtight Garage are nowhere to be seen. I almost suspect that they’re holding the best Moebius comics hostage until more people buy the bad ones. Or maybe Dark Horse is bowing to the will of his estate. Anyway, The Airtight Garage does have a plot, but it’s deliberately overcomplicated and not all that important. What makes it an essential comic is Moebius’s art. His visual imagination is the equal of Kirby’s, and he can draw scenes that combine the fantastic with the mundane, and that feel slick and futuristic but also dirty. His visual language is unique to him, and it inspired hundreds of other artists. It’s a shame that his work is still so hard to find in English.

ALL-NEW COLLECTOR’S EDITION #C-55 (DC, 1978) – “The Millennium Massacre,” [W] Paul Levitz, [A] Mike Grell. This was an incredible find at just $3. It’s the most obscure of Paul Levitz’s Legion comics, thanks to its inconvenient size – it’s one of the largest comics in my entire collection. In “The Millennium Massacre,” Superboy travels to the 30th century to attend Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl’s wedding, only to discover that the peaceful 30th century he knows is gone, and has been replaced by one where all the planets are at war. We eventually learn that the Time Trapper is responsible, although this version of the Trapper is a Controller from Malthus. (The Time Trapper probably holds the record for having had the most major retcons of any Marvel or DC character, except maybe Donna Troy.) Levitz’s characterization is not as great as it would become in the ‘80s, but he gives each Legionnaire a chance to shine, and there are some nice character moments. For example, there’s a panel in this issue where Shadow Lass kisses Superboy on the cheek, and this issue is probably the first time that Light Lass and Star Boy both used their powers on the same thing. Mike Grell makes effective use of the giant-size treasury format, though unfortunately he’s inked by the inker-who-must-not-be-named. Overall, this comic is a gem, and I’m proud that it’s in my collection.

LASSIE #30 (Dell, 1954) – “The Jungle Princess” and other stories [W] unknown, [A] John Lehti. The first story takes place in the Brazilian Amazon, and the “princess” is a jaguar. In the backup story, Lassie’s owners travel from Brazil to New York, but some criminals hide stolen emerals in Lassie’s collar. In the third story, Lassie carries some drugs to a sick patient, like Balto. These stories aren’t spectacular, but they’re entertaining. John Lehti’s artwork is generic but serviceable. The back cover is the last page of the third story.

FOUR COLOR #1256 (Dell, 1962) – “Kona,” [W] Don Segall or Lionel Ziprin, [A] Sam Glanzman. This is the only issue of Four Color in my collection so far. Four Color was probably the highest-numbered American comic book ever, though it wasn’t really a coherent series but rather a sequence of one-shots that introduced new characters and titles, like DC’s Showcase. Four Color #1256 introduces Kona, one of Dell’s most famous and bizarre original characters, and it also counts as issue 1 of Kona’s own series. Kona’s first appearance is somewhat less weird than later ones, but it does include some of the histrionic captions that the series is famous for. Don Segall is usually credited with writing Kona, but Lionel Ziprin, better known as a beat poet and rabbi, also claimed that he wrote it; however, his claim sounds too good to be true.

FORBIDDEN TALES OF DARK MANSION #7 (DC, 1972) – “Eye of the Beholder,” [W] Robert Kanigher, [A] Howard Chaykin, etc. This title started out as Dark Mansion of Secret Love, but unfortunately the gothic romance format was dropped after issue 4, and it became just another horror series. The main appeal of this issue is that its cover and splash page are by Mike Kaluta. The first story is not bad; it’s about a romance between a man and a woman whose sister is a giant spider. It ends with a “lady or the tiger” decision, or rather “lady of the spider.” The other two stories are drawn by Win Mortimer and Bill Draut and are not very interesting. The third story has a plot that revolves around a nobleman’s droit du segnieur, though of course we are not told what exactly this right allows the nobleman to do.

RAGMAN #3 (DC, 1977) – “See No Evil,” [W] Robert Kanigher, [A] Joe Kubert & Redondo Studio. Ragman meets a blind, mute black orphan boy – wow, talk about starting life on the highest difficulty setting! – who has witnessed a murder. All the boy knows is that the murderer has a habit of snapping his fingers. During a Chinese New Year festival, the boy encounters the murderer again, and the boy’s pet cat saves him. Ragman is one of Kanigher’s greatest works; its depiction of urban life is grim and depressing, but also deeply compassionate. Also, Ragman’s costume is amazing. It’s too bad his first series only lasted five issues. This issue’s letters page states that Rory Regan is Irish, not Jewish as he was later retconned to be.

G.I. JOE #40 (Marvel, 1985) – “Hydrofoil,” [W] Larry Hama, [A] Rod Whigham. The G.I. Joes fight a sea battle with Cobra, but it’s actually a ruse to get the Joes to blow up an underwater tectonic fault. There’s also a subplot about Candy Appel. A weird thing about G.I. Joe is that none of the characters’ real names are ever used, probably because there are so many of them that it’s hard to remember more than one name apiece. Also, while some of the characters are generic soldiers, others are specialists who have only one job and are the only person who can do that job. If a fire needs to be put out, only Barbecue can do it. If a phone call has to be traced, only Dial-Tone can do that.

THE AIRTIGHT GARAGE #2 (Marvel, 1993) – as above. Not much to say here that I didn’t say in my review of issue 1. The Airtight Garage was initially published as a series of two- to four-page installments in Métal Hurlant. Each installment begins with a title page, some of which have unique logo designs, like Will Eisner’s Spirit stories did.

ARCHIE’S MADHOUSE #56 (Archie, 1967) – “Captain Sprocket in The Shape Scrape,” [W] unknown, [A] Joe Edwards, plus other stories. This series had an unusual number of title and format changes. As of 1967 it seems to have been a sort of Mad imitation, like Marvel’s Spoof. Most of the stories in this issue are superhero parodies, probably inspired by contemporary Marvel and DC comics. One story is a science fiction parody and is drawn by Chic Stone, who worked for a lot of companies in the ’60s, most notably Marvel. None of the writing in this issue is all that funny.

TREASURE CHEST #18.2 (Geo. A. Pflaum, 1962) – “Fearless Ferdy,” [W] Frank Moss, [A] Frank Borth, etc. This issue includes two stories by Dick Giordano, one about colonial Canada and the other about the 1914 Boston Braves. The next story is an informational feature on the Battle of Lepanto, and it actually taught me something I didn’t know: in a trireme, each rower pulled his oar by climbing some steps and then falling back on his bench. Not surprisingly given Treasure Chest’s Catholic perspective, this feature is a piece of propaganda; it ends by saying that just as Christians in 1571 prayed for a victory over “Mohammedism,” they should pray for a victory over Communism today. The highlight of this issue is Fran Matera’s adventure strip Chuck White and His Friends. Matera draws in a similar style to Milton Caniff, and was one of Caniff’s successors on Dickie Dare.

New DCBS shipment received on May 27:

FARMHAND #15 (Image, 2020) – “The Knowledge of Good and Evil,” [W/A] Rob Guillory. Rob Guillory suggested on social media that this issue would contain an Easter egg for readers who have followed the series closely, but I’m not sure what he meant. Unless he meant that this issue explains how Ezekiel’s mother, Anna, died. She was shot by Monica Thorne, and then Jedediah tried to heal her with his seed, but instead it gave her cancer. At the end of the issue, Monica raises an army of zombies, and Ezekiel is tempted to join her in order to bring his mother back. That’s the end of the third volume.

EXORSISTERS #6 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Ian Boothby, [A] Gisèle Lagacé. I doubted this series would ever return, and I’m glad I was wrong. Because it’s been over two years since issue 5, I can’t quite remember what happened in that issue, but Exorsisters #6 is a lot of fun anyway. Because of my enjoyment of this series I ordered Gisèle Lagacé’s new book, Sticky Dilly Buns, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.

BASKETFUL OF HEADS #7 (DC, 2020) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Leomacs. June uses the axe to save herself from drowning, them rescues Liam. But she discovers that Liam was complicit in Emily Dunn’s death, and inevitably, she cuts his head off too. It’s rather surprising that June does this, and it only makes sense because she’s already beheaded so many other people. She’s picked up by the Clausens’ housekeeper, who turns out to have been gathering evidence on the corrupt police chief for the FBI, and the series ends happily. This miniseries was lots of fun and was easily Joe Hill’s best non-Locke & Key comic.

ALIENATED #3 (Boom!, 2020) – “Things to Do, People to See,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Chris Wildgoose. It’s Samantha’s turn to experiment with the psychic alien. She uses it to relive her traumatic experience of being impregnated and abandoned by a boy named Craig, and then giving their baby up for adoption. Craig is an awful little shit, but by the end of the issue, we do feel that the baby is better off with its adoptive parents. Meanwhile, the alien becomes a sort of surrogate child to Samantha, replacing her actual child. This continues to be a brilliant series, probably Spurrier’s best yet.

AQUAMAN #59 (DC, 2020) – “Echoes of a Life Lived Well Part 2,” [W] Kelly Sue DeConnick, [A] Robson Rocha. Aquaman invades Atlantis to look for baby Andy, but Orm convinces Aquaman that he didn’t kidnap Andy, even though Orm does seem to be guilty of something or other. Meanwhile, Aqualad goes looking for his father Black Manta. The best moment of the issue is when Jackson’s mother says that she’s “a black woman in Maine! Maine!” and that she stayed there for her son.

OUTER DARKNESS/CHEW #2 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] John Layman, [A] Afu Chan with Rob Guillory. This issue starts with a holodeck – excuse me, holosseum – sequence in which a Jane Austen story is interrupted by aliens and lizards. Then Tony and Colby discover that they themselves are holosseum characters, and they have a funny fourth-wall-breaking conversation about Layman and Guillory’s faults as creators. Also, it seems that they’re both going to suffer a premature and gruesome death (though we already saw that happen in Manhattan Projects #17). Tony negotiates with the alien ambassador and discovers that there’s nothing to negotiate – the interests of the aliens and the humans are identical. That’s a bad thing for Tony and Colby, because they’re both going to disappear as soon as the negotiations end. So Colby summons a bunch of other Chew characters to help out, including Poyo, who’s been possessed by a demon. The splash page depicting the Chew characters seems to be the only part of the issue that’s drawn by Guillory. This miniseries is very fun and is a great gift to readers of either Chew or Outer Darkness.

BLACKWOOD: THE MOURNING AFTER #3 (Dark Horse, 2020) – untitled, [W] Evan Dorkin, [A] Veronica Fish & Andy Fish. The kids try to revive their dead classmate Dennis. Dean Ogden’s funeral is held, and promptly descends into chaos. Dean Ogden’s two-headed monkey tries to escape from captivity. This was an exciting and funny issue, but nothing about it stood out as much as the cats in issue 2.

THE LOW, LOW WOODS #5 (DC, 2020) – “The Witch’s Tale,” [W] Carmen Maria Machado, [A] Dani. Finally we get an explanation of what the hell’s been going on. The witch explains how the local insane asylum employees were using Lethe water to rape women and make them forget about it. When the witch’s mentor, Circe, discovered this, the men killed her. In response, the witch cast a spell to send all the guilty men beneath the earth, but the spell backfired. And now it seems that a younger generation of boys are planning to abuse the Lethe water in the same way. With these revelations, we realize that The Low, Low Woods is a powerful story about unresolvable trauma.

2000 AD #719 (Fleetway, 1991) – “Death Aid Part 6,” [W] Garth Ennis, [A] Carlos Ezquerra, etc. This issue has a spectacular cover by Zac Sandler, depicting 150 different characters from 2000 AD’s first 14 years. I’ve never heard of Sandler before. This prog’s Dredd story is about a club of assassins. Next is “Brigand Doom” by McKenzie and D’Antiquis, drawn in the same duotone style as D’Antiquis’s story in prog #708. After a Rogue Trooper story by Fleisher and Ron Smith, there’s an anniversary story, “Galactic Greetings,” starring 2000 AD’s mascot, Tharg the Mighty. This story is drawn by industry veteran Eric Bradbury, but the writing is credited to T.M.O., i.e. the Mighty One or Tharg himself, and I don’t know who really wrote it. In this story some aliens send Tharg a mysterious package that turns out to be a birthday cake. The last story is “Danzig’s Inferno” by John Smith and Sean Phillips, who is older than I realized: he was already ten years into his career at this point. “Danzig’s Inferno” is bizarre and fascinating; its plot involves Situationism and spontaneously generating sheep.

KING OF NOWHERE #2 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] W. Maxwell Prince, [A] Tyler Jenkins. Denis dreams he’s the father of a fish baby, then he encounters a talking tree named Greg, and lots of other weird stuff happens. This series isn’t grabbing me as much as Ice Cream Man, but it’s interesting.

THE AIRTIGHT GARAGE #4 (Epic, 1993) – as above. We learn that the entire series’ plot is driven by a war between two cosmic entities, the Bakalite and the Nagual. This is a bit like the war between Order and Chaos that motivates Moorcock’s Eternal Champion universe, and the Airtight Garage’s multiverse, consisting of multiple “levels” of reality, is also similar to Moorcock’s multiverse. Perhaps that explains why the character Lewis Carnelian, in the English translation of The Airtight Garage, was originally called Jerry Cornelius. As expected from this series, this final issue contains some stunning graphic imagery.

2000 AD #737 (Fleetway, 1991) – “Teddy-Bear’s Firefight,” [W] Garth Ennis, [A] Brian Williamson. “Teddy Bear’s Firefight” is a one-shot Dredd story about a living teddy bear with a gun. It’s full of Ennis’s signature black humor, without his signature lack of good taste. After a boring Rogue Trooper story, there’s an installment of a new Bix Barton serial (see the review of prog #665 above), in which Bix tries to stop a mass lover’s leap off the cliffs of Dover. Also, he falls in love with his own walking stick. Bix Barton is hilarious and I’d like to read more stories about this character. Next is another Indigo Prime story by John Smith and Chris Weston. This story is just as well-drawn as the one in #682, and is also in color. Its plot is a blend of steampunk and horror. Then there’s a two-pager drawn by Dave Hine, creator of Strange Embrace, and the last story is “Below Zero” by John Brosnan and Kev Hopgood.

SERA AND THE ROYAL STARS #7 (Vault, 2020) – untitled, [W] Jon Tsuei, [A] Audrey Mok. This comic is honestly not as good as I’d like it to be. It has some impressive coloring and okay characterization, but it often feels like just a generic fantasy comic, except with Persian names. I still want to support it because of its use of Persian mythology, but I wish it were more exciting.

THE TERRIFICS #27 (DC, 2020) – “The Day Simon Stagg Died Part 2,” [W] Gene Luen Yang, [A] Sergio Davila. Simon Stagg finally dies, and he leaves his fortune to a secret child we didn’t know he had. This is the last issue I’ll be reading, because the rest of the series will be digital-only. In return for supporting this series loyally for more than two years, my “reward” is that I don’t get to own the final issues in physical form, unless I want to buy a trade paperback that contains material I already paid for once. This trend of making comics digital-only is utterly infuriating, and it needs to stop immediately. I don’t care what the excuse is. Sadly, making The Terrifics digital-only is not even the most frustrating thing DC has done this month.

G.I. JOE #93 (Marvel, 1989) – “Taking the Plunge,” [W] Larry Hama, [A] M.D. Bright. I owned this comic as a kid, but I think I lost my copy of it, and if I did have it, it would be at my parents’ house. It’s probably been 25 years since I read this story, but I remember it very well. The moment when Snake-Eyes explains (through sign language) why he wants facial restoration surgery is one of Larry Hama’s most poetic moments. And then a couple pages later we get to see Snake-Eyes’s unmasked face, which is horrific. A moment that went over my head the first time I read this issue is when Roadblock scares off a crowd of anti-military protesters. This scene could be read as a piece of chauvinistic pro-military propaganda, but it can also be seen as a critique of the materialism and insincerity of ‘80s America.

ESCAPE #8 (Escape, 1986) – various stories, ed. Paul Gravett & Peter Stansbury. Besides Deadline, Escape was the other major British alternative comics anthology. While Deadline was tied to the punk rock scene, Escape feels more like a British version of Raw. Escape #8 includes work by Gary Panter, Jacques Tardi, Charles Burns and Lynda Barry, all of whom appeared in Raw. However, there was overlap between Deadline and Escape; for instance, Glenn Dakin and Shaky Kane appeared in both. Escape #8 includes comics by several artists I’m not familiar with: Ed Pinsent, Bob Lynch, Chris Flewitt and John Bagnall. Pinsent’s experimental story “Primitif” is especially intriguing. Bagnall’s story is about a girl who’s obsessed with President Kennedy. The Tardi story in this issue is “The Murderer of Hung,“ which also appears in Tardi’s anthology New York Mon Amour. The other notable story in this issue is Eddie Campbell’s “Hermeese.” It’s an Alec story set in the King Canute bar, but it was intentionally excluded from the various Alec reprint editions, thuogh I have read it before in Bacchus #51. In that issue, Campbell explains that he excluded “Hermeese” from the “Alec canon” because it was made-up and not truly autobiographical. Finally, Escape #8 includes Alan Moore’s glowing review of a book by Rick Geary. I would love to read more issues of Escape, but finding them will be tough.

BAD COMPANY #2 (Fleetway/Quality, 1988) – multiple stories, [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Brett Ewins. Fleetway/Quality’s 2000 AD reprints are so low-quality as to be barely readable. The art is reproduced way too small, making fine details invisible and caption boxes illegible. There’s no indication of where each chapter of each story begins and ends, and the covers are hideous. Bad Company is an exciting story, by the same team as Skreemer and Johnny Nemo, but it would be better to read it in some other format. This issue also contains Rogue Trooper and Universal Soldier backup stories, as well as a two-pager drawn by Bryan Talbot.

LOONEY TUNES AND MERRIE MELODIES #107 (Dell, 1950) – various stories, [W] unknown, [A] John Carey et al. The stories in this issue aren’t especially memorable, but they’re cleverly written and appealingly drawn. According to Lambiek, John Carey started out as a WB animator, and he obviously knew how to draw the Looney Tunes characters. Dell comics of the ‘50s were consistently high-quality, and they’re not as hard to find as I’d have thought.

2000 AD #789 (Fleetway, 1992) – “Judgement Day Part 5,” [W] Garth Ennis, [A] Carlos Ezquerra. In “Judgement Day,” a major Dredd epic, the judges deal with a doomsday cult and an army of zombies. Steve Parkhouse and Anthnoy Williams’s “Kola Kommandos” is about evil advertising mascots. Pat Mills, Tony Skinner and Kev Walker’s ABC Warriors chapter is probably the first ABC Warriors story I’ve read, so it didn’t make much sense to me, though Walker’s art is striking. Then there’s a Rogue Trooper story by Fleisher and Ron Smith. The most notable story in the issue is part ten of John Wagner and Arthur Ranson’s “Button Man,” which is on Paul Gravett’s 1001 comics list. This chapter is about an assassin who has to hold off four other assassins with just one bullet. Ranson’s art style is less flashy than that of other 2000 AD artists, but also very detailed and distinctive.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #209 (Marvel, 1977) – “Arnim Zola – The Bio-Fanatic!”, [W/A] Jack Kirby. In his second appearance, Arnim Zola creates a giant dough monster to imprison Cap and Maria. Kirby’s solo run on Cap has kind of a poor reputation because of its extreme contrast to the Englehart run that preceded it. Kirby’s Captain America is fine when judged on its own terms, but it’s not one of his better ‘70s works.

LEAVING MEGALOPOLIS: SURVIVING MEGALOPOLIS #2 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, [W] Gail Simone, [A] Jim Calafiore. Yet another comic set in a gimmick superhero universe; in this case, the gimmick is that the superheroes have all turned evil. This issue includes a funny Southern-accented supervillain named Southern Belle, and Calafiore’s artwork is pretty good, but overall this is not the most memorable comic.

INCREDIBLE HULK #322 (Marvel, 1986) – “Must the Hulk Die?”, [W/A] Al Milgrom. Al Milgrom is the classic example of a competent but unspectacular superhero artist, and on the Hulk he had the bad luck of following John Byrne and preceding Peter David. But Hulk #322 is better than I expected. At this point in the series, Bruce Banner and the Hulk are in separate bodies, but Bruce is dying of Hulk withdrawal. Milgrom deserves credit for helping to introduce what has now become the Hulk’s central theme – i.e. that his status quo is constantly changing.

DETECTIVE COMICS #766 (DC, 2002) – “Procedure,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Scott McDaniel. In part one of “Bruce Wayne: Murderer?”, Bruce Wayne and Sasha Bordeaux are arrested for the murder of Vesper Fairchild. As its title indicates, this issue is a good example of the police procedural genre. I like the moment when Renee Montoya lies to Sasha while interrogating her; Renee falsely claims that Bruce’s attorney is already here and is helping him make a plea bargain. This feels like the sort of lie that a cop really would tell. This issue includes a Josie Mac backup by Winick and Chiang, in which Josie’s dad tries to get her to drop her interrogation.

HELLBLAZER #49 (DC, 1992) – “Lord of the Dance,” [W] Garth Ennis, [A] Steve Dillon. Garth Ennis’s Hellblazer stories often reference Irish music – as does Hitman #28, reviewed above –but this entire issue is about a song, “Lord of the Dance,” which is sort of an Irish song because it was covered by the Dubliners. In this issue we learn that “Lord of the Dance” is about the real Lord of the Dance, a sort of mashup of Santa Claus and Herne the Hunter, and that Sydney Carter (who Ennis oddly avoids naming) bastardized it into a Christian song. Constantine meets the Lord of the Dance and shows him that midwinter dancing and revelry are still alive. Constantine’s encounter with the Lord gives him the confidence to make a move on Kit, and they sleep together for the first time. This is a fun issue, though I don’t understand Ennis’s dislike of the standard version of “Lord of the Dance”; it’s one of the few Christian songs I actually like.

DAREDEVIL #4 (Marvel, 2011) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Marcos Martin. After fighting a lion and saving people from a fire, Matt takes on a client who was fired because he heard people speaking in Latverian. Midway through this issue, Foggy mentions a person who wants to sue a cemetery because his mother’s grave is sinking. This is a clever piece of foreshadowing for the Mole Man story a few issues later. Mark Waid worked with multiple artists on this series – Marcos Martin, Chris Samnee, Paco Rivera, etc. – yet somehow they were all really good, and they all had compatible styles.

UNCANNY X-MEN #261 (Marvel, 1990) – “Harriers Hunt,” [W] Chris Claremont, [A] Marc Silvestri. This issue introduces Hardcase and the Harriers, although some of them had already appeared in Wolverine #5. They were pointless and redundant characters, and they only ever made one more major appearance (Wolverine #139). At least this issue has some interesting dialogue between Wolverine, Jubilee and Psylocke, who are the only X-Men who play a major role in it. There’s also a subplot where the Muir Island team returns to the ruins of the mansion.

DRAWN & QUARTERLY VOL. 1 #9 (Drawn & Quarterly, 1992) – various stories, [E] Chris Oliveros. This issue has an amazing lineup of talent, though most of the stories in it are short. The first long story, by Spanish artist Marti, is about an old lady who gets scammed by two people claiming to be her relatives. The other long story is Michael Dougan’s “Kentucky Fried Funeral,” an autobiographical story in which he works at a funeral home and fails to get a refund for some inedible fried chicken. There are shorter pieces by Peter Kuper, Seth, Debbie Drechsler, David Mazzucchelli, Lloyd Dangle, etc.

JONNY QUEST: THE REAL ADVENTURES #4 (Dark Horse, 1996) – “Net of Chaos,” [W] Kate Worley, [A] Francisco Solano Lopez. That’s a surprising creative team for an adaptation of a short-lived, barely remembered TV cartoon. Clearly Dark Horse, like Comico, was taking Jonny Quest seriously. In this issue, Jonny and his friends team up with some young Roma people in order to defeat an opportunistic Roma nationalist, who’s actually a supervillain. This issue isn’t as stunning as Bill Messner-Loebs’s Jonny Quest was, but it’s good, and it depicts Roma people in a respectful way.

VAMPIRELLA VOL. 5 #0 (Dynamite, 2019) – “Disciple,” [W] Christopher Priest, [A] Ergün Gündüz. This was an FCBD comic. The new Vampirella story in this issue is well-drawn, but it’s confusing, and it doesn’t make me want to read more of Priest’s Vampirella. The backup story in this issue is Kurt Busiek and Art Adams’s “Bugs,” a reprint from 1993, and it’s much better. Art Adams draws a very sexy Vampirella, and Busiek tells a satisfying story about a conflict between sentient insects and bigoted villagers.

WORLD WITHOUT END #3 (DC, 1991) – “Rumour,” [W] Jamie Delano, [A] John Higgins. “Rumour” is very confusing at first, thanks to its alien setting and the weird syntax of its dialogue. We gradually realize that the protagonist, Rumour, is a Skitton, i.e. a woman, created as a sex toy for Gess, i.e. men. Rumour manages to escape and find her way to the Scarlots, or free women. But a conflict is developing betwene the Skittons and the Ges thanks to the emergence of Brother Bones, an anti-female crusader. This comic is by two 2000 AD alumni and would have been entirely at home in that magazine; however, it also feels very much like a proto-Vertigo comic.

DETECTIVE COMICS #517 (DC, 1982) – “The Monster in the Mirror,” [W] Gerry Conway & Paul Levitz, [A] Gene Colan. Batman turns into a vampire. A priest shows up and explains that the vampire who bit Batman was originally a Southern slaveholder, and became a vampire when he was cursed by his former slaves. Meanwhile, Rupert Thorne tries to figure out Batman’s secret identity. Despite its all-star creative team, this issue is not memorable at all. There’s a backup story, by Cary Burkett and José Delbo, in which Batgirl turns into a snake.

ACTION COMICS #393 (DC, 1970) – “Superman Meets Super-Houdini!”, [W] Leo Dorfman, [A] Curt Swan. Superman meets Hair-Breadth Holahn, an ex-con turned super-escape-artist, and his young son. Holahan is not a ripoff of Mr. Miracle, who wasn’t created until the following year. I think Curt Swan was at his peak in the early ‘70s when he was inked by Murphy Anderson, and his artwork here is excellent. The backup story is “The Day Superboy Became Superman,” by Dorfman and Andru, and it starts out well with a vivid depiction of some children playing in a squalid Metropolis slum. In this story, set while Clark Kent is in college, Superboy keeps punishing slum children for committing petty crimes. His classmate, Marla, shames him into helping the children instead. So far this story seems surprisingly progressive, and reminiscent of Green Lantern #76. But then Marla gets killed in an accident, and Superboy chooses to “honor” her memory by doing nothing at all to help the slum dwellers; instead, he exhorts them to lift themselves up by their bootstraps. Thus, the story stops short of actually being progressive. Its ending resembles that of “Must There Be a Superman” in Superman #247, but that story was better written.

ANIMAL MAN ANNUAL #2 (DC, 2013) – “One Last Flight,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Travel Foreman. Just after Cliff’s funeral, Buddy has a flashback to the day of Maxine’s birth, when Cliff was kidnapped by a sentient spider-woman who was feeding her babies on human emotions. Buddy managed to rescue Cliff and convince the spider-woman to feed her children on animal emotions instead. This is a touching story, and Travel Foreman draws some spectacular body horror. He was probably the best artist of the early period of the New 52.

2000 AD #818 (Fleetway, 1993) – “Ex-Men,” [W] Garth Ennis, [A] John Higgins. This prog begins with a one-shot Dredd story about terminally ill assassins who turn themselves into living bombs. It’s a rather cruel story; it focuses on an Ex-Man who agrees to blow himself up so his wife and baby will be provided for. Next is “Dead Meat” by Michael Cook and Simon Jacob, about a meat-eating Texan in a society where meat is illegal. One of the characters in this story is a human-sheep hybrid who pronounces “a” as “aa,” as if baa-ing. Ennis and Nigel Dobbyn’s Strontium Dog story stars a Gronk, a muppet-like creature who gets heart attacks at the drop of the hat and who adds unnecessary s’s at the ends of words. Then there’s a Brigand Doom story by Alan McKenzie and Dave D’Antiquis, and “Flesh: The Legend of Shamana,” written by Pat Mills and Tony Skinner and with lush painted art by Carl Critchlow.

CLONE CONSPIRACY #4 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, [W] Dan Slott, [A] Jim Cheung. This is from the tail end of Slott’s run, after Superior Spider-Man. The Jackal, formerly Ben Reilly, tries to win Peter Parker’s support by showing him clones of all his dead loved ones. But we then learn that all the Jackal’s clones have a fatal and contagious disease. Meanwhile, Doc Ock, back in his own boody, encounters his ex-lover Anna Maria. Probably the high point of the issue is when Anna Maria refuses the Jackal’s offer of a new, normal-sized body, because she’s already perfect. This issue does a reasonable job of taking the worst Spider-Man story ever (the clone saga) and turning it into something good.

DENNIS THE MENACE AND HIS FRIENDS SERIES #22 (Fawcett, 1974) – “Fishing Around” and other stories, [W/A] uncredited. A bunch of stories guest-starring Joey. These stories are all well-crafted but are typical examples of the Dennis comic book formula. The best one is the last, where Dennis and Joey play golf inside the house.

ALL-STAR COMICS #61 (DC, 1976) – “Hellfire and Holocaust,” [W] Gerry Conway, [A] Keith Giffen. The JSA battle a villain named Vulcan. This series wasn’t great even when Paul Levitz was writing it, and it was worse before Levitz arrived. The best thing about this issue is Wally Wood’s inking.

CLASSIC STAR WARS #13 (Dark Horse, 1993) – untitled, [W] Archie Goodwin, [A] Al Williamson. This issue consists of reprints from the newspaper strip. It begins with the last part of one story arc, in which the rebels establish a base on Hoth. The issue concludes with the start of a new story arc, where Luke and his friends visit a swamp planet to rescue Admiral Ackbar (of “It’s a trap!” fame). These strips follow the continuity of the films very closely, and seem to have been intended to bridge the gap between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Williamson’s art is excellent, but was not meant to be seen at comic book size.

MINIMUM WAGE #1 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W/A] Bob Fingerman. This is in fact the third volume of Minimum Wage. At this point in the series, protagonist Rob Hoffman has just gotten divorced, and this issue begins with his friends taking him to a bar to pick up girls. Then Rob discovers that his job as an erotic cartoonist might be doomed, and then he starts going on blind dates. This issue didn’t impress me. It feels a lot like Box Office Poison, but with a less interesting style of art, and Rob’s friends’ dialogue is extremely annoying.

HILLBILLY #2 (Albatross, 2016) – untitled, [W/A] Eric Powell. A young woman has been cursed by a witch. Rondel, accompanied by Death himself, volunteers to break the curse. Rondel discovers that the cursed girl’s sister and her fiancé conspired with the witch to curse her. This issue’s plot is a little confusing, but otherwise it’s excellent, and I like Eric Powell’s version of the Grim Reaper.

GWENPOOL #8 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, [W] Christopher Hastings, [A] GuriHiru. Gwenpool fights some squid aliens, and at the end of the issue she encounters a Doombot. I don’t like this series to begin with, and this issue is confusing and aimless.

FELL #1 (Image, 2006) – “My New Home,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Ben Templesmith. Fell arrives in Snowtown, meets his love interest Mayko, and solves his first case, about a woman who killed her husband by giving him a whisky enema. As with other issues of Fell, this mystery is based on a real murder. Ellis’s editor’s note in this issue explains his rationale for publishing a shorter-than-normal comic at just $2.

JUDGE DREDD: LEGENDS OF THE LAW #4 (DC, 1995) – “Stop the Music – I Wanna Be Sick!”, [W] Alan Grant & John Wagner, [A] Brent Anderson. Legends of the Law was an anthology series consisting of original Dredd material. In this story, Dredd battles an insane surgeon who’s been stapling people’s bodies together. This issue was written by two veteran Dredd writers, and it feels like a 2000 AD story. However, the next issue would be written by D.G. Chichester, and I can’t imagine that he was able to write Dredd properly.

HILLBILLY #6 (Albatross, 2017) – untitled, [W/A] Eric Powell. Rondel is imprisoned in a town on the back of a giant zombie. He tells his cellmate that he’s only ever loved three woman: his mother, his unrequited love interest (i.e. Esther), and a bear. Then Rondel tells the story of his encounter with Lucille the talking grizzly bear, and after the story is finished, Lucille shows up again and saves Rondel from prison. This was a fun issue.

PRYDE & WISDOM #2 (Marvel, 1996) – “Mystery Walk,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Terry Dodson & Aaron Lopresti. Kitty Pryde and Pete Wisdom try to track down a serial killer. This issue isn’t bad, and it has better art than most of Ellis’s Excalibur comics did. However, Ellis’s Kitty Pryde doesn’t feel like Kitty Pryde to me. In fact, she feels like a generic girlfriend character with no real personality.

VAMPIRELLA OF DRAKULON #4 (Harris, 1996) – “Slithers of the Sand!”, [W] Steve Englehart, [A] José Gonzalez. In a story reprinted from Warren’s Vampirella #21, Vampi, Pendragon and the Van Helsings travel to a desert planet to look for Dracula. Warren’s Vampirella stories were never all that great, and “Slithers of the Sand” is just average. Also, José Gonzalez’s art wasn’t meant to be seen in color.

DETECTIVE COMICS #853 (DC, 2009) – “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? Part 2 of 2,” [W] Neil Gaiman, [A] Andy Kubert. A bunch of heroes and villains give elegies at Batman’s funeral, and then Batman has a near-death experience in which he meets his mother. The issue ends with a flashback or flashforward to the moment of Bruce Wayne’s birth. This two-parter was obviously intended as the Batman version of Alan Moore and Curt Swan’s “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” It’s a lyrical and powerful story, but its plot is kind of incoherent, and it’s not nearly as much of a classic as Moore and Swan’s story.

THE BEANO #2799 (DC Thomson, 1996) – multiple uncredited stories. This issue’s cover story is about a Dennis the Menace lookalike contest – the UK Dennis, not the American one. Unlike The Beano #1561, #2799 is entirely in color, and it uses a wider variety of page layouts. However, this issue’s humor is still rather unfunny, and its stories still lack any narrative depth.

THE HOTSPUR #1034 (DC Thomson, 1979) – “The Coonskin Grenadier” and other stories, [W/A] uncredited. A weird feature of The Hotspur is that each individual page has a title, which appears in a thought balloon somewhere at the top or bottom of a panel tier. There’s some good artwork in this issue, but none of it is credited, and the stories are implausible and unexciting. Even the sports stories are rather farfetched.

HERBIE #13 (ACG, 1965) – “Pirate Gold!”, [W] Richard Hughes, [A] Ogden Whitney. In the first story, Herbie goes back in time to get a chest of pirate gold, in order to help his dad become president of the men’s club. It almost makes sense in context. In the backup story, Herbie goes to the Arctic to get a fur coat for his mother. This story sadly includes some of the Native American stereotypes that were ubiquitous at the time. Besides that, this issue of Herbie is weird and funny. Herbie was one of the strangest and most unique comics of the ‘60s.

New comics received on June 4:

FAR SECTOR #6 (DC, 2020) – “Do not fear mistakes. There are none,” [W] N.K. Jemisin, [A] Jamal Campbell. Jo continues her romance with Marth, while also trying to deal with the riots. Far Sector #6 is prophetic: it was written long before George Floyd was murdered, yet it feels as if it’s specifically about the George Floyd protests. Jemisin writes: “The Council has issued an official apology. Full investigation, mistakese were made, blah blah blah. No one’s lost their job or been arrested. Councilor Marth… hasn’t resigned in disgrace.” She could be talking about the killers of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor. Jemisin was able to seemingly predict the future in this way because she’s such an incisive observer of American society – and also, sadly, because these things have happened before, and it was inevitable that they would happen again. Besides that, Jo and Marth’s romance is really cute.

COPRA #6 (Image, 2020) – “Heads of Ochizon, Annihilate,” [W] Michel Fiffe. This issue is a stunning formalist experiment. It consists entirely of silent splash pages, so it combines the constraints of G.I. Joe #21 and Thor #380. On top of that, the frame of each page is a giant letter. The first page is a giant letter H, the second page is a letter E, and so on until all 24 issues of the title have been spelled out. So this entire story is its own title page. The narrative of this issue is a little hard to follow, as one would expect, but it more or less makes sense, and Fiffe’s fight scenes are very epic. This issue also includes a reprint of Fiffe’s minicomic Negativeland, starring characters who seem to be based on the Doom Patrol.

THE GOON #10 (Albatross, 2020) – untitled, [W] Roger Langridge, [A] Mike Norton. The fight between the witches and the fish continues. This is another funny issue, but it’s very similar to #9. My favorite thing about it is that the witches’ brewery is full of black cats.

RAGNAROK: THE BREAKING OF HELHEIM #5 (IDW, 2020) – “In Hel’s Horizon…,” [W/A] Walt Simonson. Thor finally reaches Hela, but discovers that she’s trying to doublecross him. The artwork in this issue is excellent as usual, and there are some cute Ratatoskr moments.

CATWOMAN #22 (DC, 2020) – “The Cleaners,” [W] Paula Sevenbergen, [A] Aneke. I bought this by accident, not realizing it was written by neither Joëlle Jones nor Ram V. However, this issue was a lot better than I expected. Its plot is that Catwoman fights two lingerie-clad thieves who disguise themselves as house cleaners. This issue is obviously a huge dose of cheesecake, but it’s tasteful and funny cheesecake.

SABRINA: SOMETHING WICKED #1 (Archie, 2020) – untitled, [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Veronica Fish & Andy Fish. Sabrina tries to trace the origins of a mysterious curse, and discovers that her aunts are responsible. This issue is a direct continuation of the previous Sabrina series, and there was no real need to restart its numbering. Other than that, this is an excellent comic.

KIDZ #3 (Ablaze, 2020) – “Just Shut Up,” [W] Aurélien Ducoudray, [A] Jocelyn Joret. The kids’ house is invaded by a zombie at night. In the morning, they do some target practice. I was on the verge of dropping this series, but this issue is exciting and funny enough that I’ve changed my mind, and I now intend to keep reading Kidz.

FINGER GUNS #2 (Vault, 2020) – untitled, [W] Justin Richards, [A] Val Halvorson. The kids try out their new powers. The girl deals with her father’s abuse, and discovers that her father may be plotting her mother’s death. This issue wasn’t as good as #1, but this series is still very intriguing.

PSYCHODRAMA ILLUSTRATED #1 (Fantagraphics, 2020) – “False Modesty,” [W/A] Gilbert Hernandez. This series was solicited years ago – the cover is signed “Beto / 2016.” Like many of Beto’s other miniseries, it’s an “adaptation” of one of Fritz’s films, Hypnotwist 2.0, but it also has an extensive framing sequence in which Fritz and Killer discuss the film. I’ve never particularly liked Beto’s Fritz stories, but I’m willing to read anything he publishes.

2000 AD #840 (Fleetway, 1993) – “Tough Justice,” [W] Mark Millar, [A] Mick Austin. Some kids tell each other stories about Dredd’s exploits, and then Dredd arrests them all because one of them has a gun. I usually hate Millar’s writing, but this story is not bad, and it includes a funny Reservoir Dogs parody. Next, John Tomlinson and Simon Jacob’s Armoured Gedeon installment is okay but forgettable. John Smith and Paul Marshall’s “Firekind” installment is part seven, but was mistakenly skipped and was published after all the other parts. It has some excellent prose, but makes little sense on its own. Millar and Ezquerra’s “Purgatory” is about a rogue Judge. Alan McKenzie and Mick Austin’s “Karma” is a Tharg’s Terror Tale, which I guess is like a Tharg’s Future Shock, but its surprise ending is predictable: it’s about a serial killer and a victim, but we’re misled as to which is which.

ROY ROGERS COMICS #53 (Dell, 1952) – “The Portrait of Uncle Ezra,” uncredited. Roy Rogers, “King of the Cowboys,” meets an artist who’s drawn a portrait of a fugitive counterfeiter. In the backup story, Roy deals with a case of cattle rustling. These stories are exciting and professionally written, though the art is unexciting. Oddly, these comics, like the show they were based on, are set in the Old West, yet the characters have cars and artificial lights and modern furnishings. This issue also includes a backup story, about a wolf hunter and his dog, which has better art than the main stories. I would definitely read more issues of this series if I could get them cheaply.

PLANETOID #4 (Image, 2012) – untitled, [W/A] Ken Garing. Silas goes to investigate the Ono Mao signal that was received at the end of the last issue. The Ono Mao capture him and sentence him to be “commodified.” He escapes thanks to his pet lizard, and warns the other humans that an Ono Mao assault is coming. At the end of the issue, Silas sleeps with Onica.

PLANETOID #5 (Image, 2013) – untitled, [W/A] Ken Garing. The humans fight valiantly against the Ono Mao, but get their asses kicked. Silas crashes his plane into the Ono Mao’s control tower, saving the other humans at the cost of his life and the humans’ chance of escaping the planet. The issue ends with an epilogue set ten years later, where we meet Onica and Nkunda’s children (including Zuri from Planetoid Praxis #1), and they discover some money which is now only useful as compost. Onica’s son has silver hair, implying that he may be Silas’s posthumous child.

2000 AD #864 (Fleetway, 1993) – “Book of the Dead,” [W] Grant Morrison & Mark Millar, [A] Dermot Power. Dredd narrowly escapes a death trap in an Egyptian prison. Dermot Power’s art here is reminiscent of Simon Bisley’s. Peter Hogan and David Hill’s “A Time of Peace” is a Tharg’s Future Shock in which aliens resolve a war between humans. In Millar and Chris Weston’s “Canon Fodder,” Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty investigate the murder of God. This story is the high point of the issue because of Weston’s amazing art, especially in the splash page depicting the horrors that have been inflicted on heaven. The other two stories are Strontium Dogs by Ennis and Dobbyn, and Timehouse by Hogan and Tim Bollard. Peter Hogan is perhaps best known in America for co-writing Terra Obscura with Alan Moore.

BATMAN #452 (DC, 1990) –“Dark Knight, Dark City,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Kieron Dwyer. I had already read part three of this storyline, but not the first two parts. “Dark Knight, Dark City” begins with a flashback to an 18th-century occult ritual in which Thomas Jefferson participated, and then in the present, Batman has to rescue some newborn babies who have been kidnapped by the Riddler. “Dark Knight, Dark City” is one of the darkest and most frightening Batman stories I’ve ever read. The Riddler’s plot is truly horrible, especially since at this point in the plot, the reader doesn’t know what he’s trying to achieve. At one point in this issue, the reader thinks for a moment that Batman has run over a newborn baby with the Batmobile.

SAVAGE DRAGON #128 (Image, 2006) – “Wanted,” [W/A] Erik Larsen. This issue is a crossover with Mark Millar’s Wanted, a comic I have no interest in ever reading. It’s also part of the ongoing Mr. Glum story arc. A major problem with Savage Dragon is its convoluted plot; this issue includes two versions each of Dragon and Angel, and I can’t remember which universe each of them is from. I stopped ordering Savage Dragon a while ago, but I’m going to order the next issue, simply because there are so few new comics at the moment.

LOVE AND ROCKETS #8 (Fantagraphics, 2020) – “Rosy,” [W/A] Gilbert Hernandez, etc. The highlight of this issue is Jaime’s “Lifer Drawing,” in which some mean girls harass Maggie and steal her hat, only to discover that she’s the wife of their art teacher. This is a funny and touching story that feels like a classic example of Jaime’s style. The issue’s other Jaime story, “Anima,” doesn’t make much sense. This issue’s Beto stories are also quite good. They’re mostly about the relationship between Fritz and her long-lost relatives. Over time, Fritz has gradually replaced Luba as the center of Beto’s universe. At the end of this issue, Beverly, the surrogate mother of Fritz’s children, and her husband, Zander, are both murdered.

BRAVEST WARRIORS #27 (Boom!, 2014) – untitled, [W] Kate Leth, [A] Ian McGinty. In the main story, the Bravest Warriors get some new Voltron-esque battlesuits. I’ve never understood what exactly Bravest Warriors is supposed to be about, and this particular story is pretty boring. Also, it has bottom-of-page “alt texts,” like Squirrel Girl, but Kate Leth is not as good at writing these texts as Ryan North. The backup story, “Praying Mantis Prom” by Mad Rupert and Kat Leyh, is better than the main story.

FANTASTIC FOUR #542 (Marvel, 2007) – “We Used to Go to Hyperspace Just for Donuts,” [W] Dwayne McDuffie, [A] Mike McKone. This issue starts with a conversation between Reed and Johnny about Civil War. This sequence is boring and annoying, but the issue improves when Reed goes to visit the Mad Thinker. I like this villain a lot, and McDuffie had a good understanding of how to write him. Later in the issue, there’s a cute moment where Franklin and Valeria are throwing stuff through a hole in the ceiling, but then Sue gets angry at Reed for reasons which are not explained to the reader.

JON SABLE, FREELANCE #40 (First, 1988) – ‘The Fan,” [W/A] Mike Grell. Jon Sable competes in a ”practical shooting” competition against Rob Leatham, an actual competitor in this sport. This issue rubbed me the wrong way, because the sport of practical shooting (not to be confused with Olympic shooting) is sponsored by the NRA and is highly connected to America’s toxic gun culture. I don’t want to know anything about this sport. At least the art in this issue is better than was usual at this point in the series.

VAMPIRELLA #49 (Warren, 1975) – “Bloody Queen of Hearts,” [W] Bill DuBay, [A] Esteban Maroto. Vampirella battles her archenemy the Blood Red Queen of Hearts. Maroto’s art in this story is excellent at times, but as previously noted, Warren’s Vampirella stories are never all that great. This issue includes five other stories, all by Spanish artists. “The Thing in Jane’s Closet” by Budd Lewis and Ramon Torrents is probably the best. It’s about a girl whose psychiatrist gaslights her into thinking she’s crazy. The second best is a succubus story, also by Torrents. Other artists in this issue are Joaquin Blazquez, José Bea and Isidro Mones.

SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN #211 (Marvel, 1993) – “The Gods Above, the Beasts Below,” [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Rafael Kayanan. The other day I visited Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find and bought four issues of SSOC for a dollar each. I decided that before reading them, I should read some other SSOCs that I’ve had for a long time. This issue begins Marvel’s adaptation of Conan and the Gods of the Mountain, the sequel to Red Nails. Roy writes some great dialogue between Conan and Valeria, and Rafael Kayanan effectively imitates Barry Windsor-Smith’s art style. This issue also includes a never-published inventory story, “The God of Thieves, Part One” by James Rose and Ernie Chan. I’ve never heard of James Rose, but he’s a mediocre writer.

2000 AD #873 (Fleetway, 1994) – “The Sugar Beat Part 1,” [W] “Sonny Steelgrove” (pen name for Alan McKenzie or John Tomlinson), [A] Ron Smith. Dredd goes to Bolivia to investigate an illegal drug operation. We’re led to think that the drug is cocaine or heroin, but it’s actually sugar. Next is a Luke Kirby story written by Alan McKenzie, with Clear Line-esque art by Steve Parkhouse. Unlike most 2000 AD serials, this is a fantasy or horror story set in modern England, instead of science fiction or high fantasy. Other stories include Tyranny Rex by John Smith and Paul Marshall, Rogue Trooper by Fleisher and Weston, and Dinosity by Pat Mills and Clint Langley. This last is probably the highlight of the prog. It’s a raucous, gruesome story about a war between dinosaurs and humans, written as if it were a chivalric romance.

HELLBLAZER: BAD BLOOD #1 (Vertigo, 2000) – “Bad Blood (A Restoration Comedy) Part 1,” [W] Jamie Delano, [A] Philip Bond. An elderly John Constantine lives in an antiseptic, dictatorial England where Princess Diana is worshipped as a goddess. Constantine and a young woman named Dolly, short for Daljit, try to uncover some kind of plot to steal the throne. I like both Delano and Bond a lot, and this is an interesting debut issue.

MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #25 (Marvel, 1977) – “A Tale of Two Countries!”, [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Ron Wilson. While Ben Grimm and Alicia Masters are at a New York Jets game, Ben is abducted and taken to a fictional Asian country, where he teams up with Iron Fist. This issue has some witty dialogue, but its plot is boring. This issue includes a severe lettering or editing error in which an entire caption box is repeated. https://www.instagram.com/p/CBKU2CHBeOk/

GRIMM’S GHOST STORIES #8 (Gold Key, 1973) – “The Genius Touch,” [W] unknown, [A] Frank Bolle, etc. This issue’s first story is mediocre. The second is kind of funny, since it’s about a man who trips over the cord to his iron and dies. The third story, drawn by Argentinian Oscar Novelle, is also mediocre. The thing that redeems this issue is the last story, “The Locket,” drawn by Al Williamson. It’s not his best or most labor-intensive work, but it’s head and shoulders above the rest of the issue.

LITTLE LULU #36 (Dell, 1951) – “Pieces of Eight” etc., [W] John Stanley, [A] Irving Tripp. In the first story, Lulu, Alvin and Dolly go to the beach and find a treasure chest that turns out to be full of balloons. In the second story, Lulu tricks the fellers into selling her their clubhouse and then buying it back at a loss. Then there’s a Lulu/Alvin story where Lulu travels all over the world looking for her mother. In the last story, the child actress Little Rita Rosebud comes to town, and Tubby can’t afford to see her, but then he encounters a mysterious girl who, of course, is none other than Little Rita. More on Little Lulu later.

I was enjoying my 2000 ADs so much, I went back to the seller I ordered them from, and I ordered all his other 2000 ADs that were $1.50 or less. They arrived on June 8, and I read them in order, starting with:

2000 AD #337 (Fleetway, 1983) –  “The Graveyard Shift Part 3,” [W] John Wagner & Alan Grant (as T.B. Grover), [A] Ron Smith. Dredd investigates a bunch of crimes taking place at night. A key moment in this story is when Dredd tells a man “The only freedom you got, creep, is freedom to do what you’re told!” That could almost be Dredd’s motto. Judge Dredd would be a better symbol for U.S. police than the Punisher, since he’s a fascist authoritarian who sees everyone other than himself as a potential criminal. The next story is Sláine by Pat Mills and Massimo Belardinelli. This story’s art is stunningly detailed, reminding me of Alcala’s Voltar, and Sláine is a fascinating character. Sláine’s stories are inspired by the ugly, gory aspects of Irish mythology, especially the Ulster Cycle. The high point of the issue is a Nemesis the Warlock chapter by Mills and O’Neill, in which Nemesis’s son is hatched. O’Neill drew some extremely alien-looking aliens, and it’s possible that Nemesis, and not League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, is his masterpiece. Next is a Strontium Dog story that I’ve already read in reprinted form, and the prog ends with a Rogue Trooper story by Gerry Finley-Day and Brett Ewins. This issue is printed on newsprint and is mostly black and white.

2000 AD #342 (IPC, 1983) – “Suspect,” [W] John Wagner & Alan Grant, [A] Cam Kennedy. Dredd arrests a man for moonlighting at three different jobs. Humorously, one of the jobs is testing beds, which explains how he gets any sleep. Next is the conclusion to the Sláine story that began in #347. Sláine saves a woman from being sacrificed to the god Crom Cruach, but she’s not grateful at all. At the beginning of this chapter Sláine is in his warp-spasm, a state of berserk fury in which his whole body is transformed. The warp-spasm is a direct borrowing from the myths of Cuchulain. Next is a Nemesis story that begins with an enormous two-page splash, depicting a giant battle robot on roller blades. Again, Kevin O’Neill’s art here is incredible. Next is the continuation of the Strontium Dog story “The Moses Incident.” Johnny Alpha tries to resurrect a boy he’s accidentally killed, but only succeeds in turning the boy into a zombie. Last is a Rogue Trooper chapter by Finley-Day and Rafael Boluda, a Spanish artist. Boluda’s art here is extremely solid, although it’s overshadowed by Belardinelli and O’Neill’s art earlier in the issue. Overall, although 2000 AD maintained a constant high level of quality, 1983 seems to have been a really good year for the series. I wonder how I can get other 2000 ADs from this period.

2000 AD #372 (IPC, 1984) – “Outlaw Part 10,” [W] Alan Grant, [A] Carlos Ezquerra. Sadly there’s no Sláine or Nemesis in this prog. Instead it begins with a Strontium Dog story that guest-stars the Gronk, who I previously encountered in prog #818. Next is “What’s Up, Dock?” by Alan Hebden and José Casanovas, in which a ship captain accidentally destroys New York by falling asleep at the wheel. This issue demonstrates why it’s an awful idea to have only one crew member aboard a gigantic ship. Then there’s a very funny Dredd story, “Bingo,” about an illegal Bingo operation. Next is a Tharg’s Future Shock about aliens with hyperdeveloped senses. I don’t think I understand the twist in this story. Finally, there’s a Rogue Trooper chapter in which one of Rogue’s fellow soldiers is a traitor.

2000 AD #373 (IPC, 1984) – “Outlaw Part 11,” as above. Johnny Alpha and his companions try and fail to escape from the pursuers. One of the companions is Middenface McNulty, who has a deformed face and an exaggerated Scottish accent. After a two-page Future Shock about overeating, there’s a one-shot, “The Right Stuff,” about trainee astronauts. Alan Hebden writes this under an anagram of his real name, Dean Behnal. Pseudonymous credits are unusually common in this series. In the Dredd story, Dredd’s trainee, Dekker, finally becomes a full-fledged Judge. In the Rogue Trooper story, the traitor succeeds in getting rid of the entire squad except himself and Rogue. It was only after reading this story that I felt I understood Rogue Trooper’s premise. The prog ends with another Future Shock written by Hebden.

THE POWER OF SHAZAM! #24 (DC, 1997) – “The Trail of the Scorpion,” [W] Jerry Ordway, [A] Peter Krause. Most of this issue is a flashback to C.C. Batson and Spy Smasher’s adventures during World War II. C.C. is Billy and Mary Batson’s father, and at the end of the issue, we discover that he’s somehow still alive. Captain Marvel himself does not appear in this issue.

CHEVAL NOIR #33 (Dark Horse, 1992) – “The Man from the Ciguri,” [W/A] Moebius. This issue starts with a chapter of Moebius’s sequel to The Airtight Garage. Like its predecessor, The Man from the Ciguri” has some excellent art, but an incoherent plot. Next, Daniel Torres’s “Sabotage” is about classic cars and illicit love. It’s part two of three, so it’s not understandable on its own, but it has gorgeous art. As a modern Clear Line artist, Torres was on the same level as Yves Chaland. “Sabotage” was also published in a single installment in Heavy Metal vol. 11 #1. Unfortunately, both these stories suffer from the lack of color. Finally, Cosey’s “In Search of Peter Pan” works much better in black and white. It’s a poetic story about a Yugoslavian living in the Alps, where he meets a mysterious woman.

DAREDEVIL #136 (Marvel, 1976) – “Hanging for a Hero!”, [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] John Buscema. The Jester uses doctored video to convince everyone in New York that Daredevil is a criminal and that the police are murdering innocent people (well, that last one is true). In this story Marv Wolfman predicts the concept of deepfakes, over 40 years before that term was even coined. However, this issue feels like a Batman comic, with the Jester instead of the Joker. The whole problem with Daredevil is that he’s either a poor man’s Batman or a poor man’s Spider-Man, and very few writers have succeeded in distinguishing him from either. Unfortunately this issue also includes Heather Glenn.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #14 (Marvel, 1972) – “A Sword Called Stormbringer!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Roy Thomas. This is Elric’s first comics appearance. Michael Moorcock and his longtime collaborator James Cawthorn are credited with co-plotting this issue. Roy Thomas shows a reasonably good understanding of Elric’s character, and it’s fun to see Conan and Elric interacting. However, BWS’s draftsmanship was still far from his best. It would be a few more issues before he became the artist he is now.

BARBARELLA #2 (Dynamite, 2017) – “Red Hot Gospel Part Two: Fall from Grace,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Kenan Yarar. I was predisposed to not like this issue, but Carey and Yarar do a good job of replicating the strangeness and whimsicality of Jean-Claude Forest’s original stories. The main problem with this comic is that it’s not sexy. Barbarella’s original claim to fame was that the heroine was a sexual libertine, but this issue has no sexual content and is just a normal adventure story.

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #484 (DC, 1991) – “Blackout,” [W] Jerry Ordway, [A] Tom Grummett. Mr. Z manipulates Emil Hamilton into making Superman put on a mind-controlling helmet. Superman manages to remove the helmet, but only by blowing out Metropolis’s power grid. This issue shows a surprising amount of knowledge as to how municipal power systems work. Tom Grummett’s art is quite good. I don’t know what happened to Mr. Z; he only appeared in Superman comics for a couple years.

2000 AD #392 (IPC, 1984) – “Rogue Trooper: To the Ends of Nu-Earth – Final Episode!”, [W] Gerry Finley-Day, [A] Cam Kennedy. Rogue Trooper and his sentient pieces of equipment defeat a traitor general. Cam Kennedy’s art here reminds me of Al Williamson. Next is a Nemesis the Warlock chapter by Mills and Bryan Talbot, which is also an ABC Warriors crossover. Talbot’s art here is very detailed and impressive. In the Dredd story, Dredd apprehends a rogue Judge who’s been smuggling arms, i.e. actual limbs, not weapons. Ewins draws this story in an almost Clear Line style, though maybe I only think that because I was just reading some Daniel Torres. In the Ace’s Trucking Company story by Wagner, Grant and Belardinelli, Ace’s coworkers rebel and take over his trucking operation. Ace is a pointy-headed alien with two extra arms that operate independently. Belardinelli’s art here is not as stunning as in his Sláine chapters, but it’s still very good. The issue ends with “Hell Trekkers” by Wagner, Grant, and Horacio Lalia.

This afternoon, June 9, I used Facebook Marketplace to purchase a collection of Little Lulu comics. There were a bunch of them, and I paid $25 for the lot, less than $1 an issue. This was  an amazing bargain, but I feel the price was fair; the comics are complete but in low grade, with a lot of browning.

LITTLE LULU #68 (Dell, 1954) – “The Bear Trap” etc., [W] John Stanley, [A] Irving Tripp. Little Lulu is probably the best kid humor comic ever published. It had perfect comic timing and was quite feminist; there’s a reason why the Friends of Lulu called themselves that. As Michael Barrier points out in Funnybooks, the only problem is that its stories tended to be repetitive, a problem Stanley tried to solve by having Lulu tell fairy tales to Alvin. A weird thing about Little Lulu is that the stories take place in an endless summer. None of the characters ever seem to go to school. In this issue’s first story, Lulu gets stuck inside a trophy bear’s head and foils an attempted robbery of Wilbur’s house. Second story: Lulu accidentally convinces the fellers that she has super-strength. Third story, Mr. Moppet gets stuck in a closet. Fourth: Lulu fools the fellers into thinking that a dinosaur egg has hatched. Fifth: Lulu’s picture gets used in an ad for “tiny tot’s tonic.” Sixth: the Poor Little Girl is hired as an assistant to Ol’ Witch Hazel. Seventh: Tubby switches places with a midget prisoner who looks just like him.

LITTLE LULU #26 (Dell, 1950) – “Piggy Bank Blues” etc., as above. This issue begins with a very funny silent strip where Lulu keeps appearing at the window and then disappearing, and we finally learn that she’s on a pogo stick. In the first story, Lulu tries to hide her piggy bank in the woods, but the fellers learn where it is. Like much of Stanley’s work, this story has a very clever and intricate plot, which elevates it aboove the British humor comics I’ve been reading. The next story is about a surprise party, and it has an awesome moment where Alvin refuses to go to Lulu’s party (https://www.instagram.com/p/CBOR4F4hQPH/). Stanley almost always used a 2×4 panel grid, but he was a master at using this format for comic effect. A continuity error in this story is that it shows Annie and Iggy living in separate houses, even though they’re siblings. The next story would have been “The Bogeyman,” but Marge Henderson Buell rejected this story for being too cruel. It was replaced by a reprint from 1946, in which Alvin looks very off-model. In the last story, Tubby has to guard the clubhouse at night.

LITTLE LULU #84 (Dell, 1955) – “The Case of the Grasshopper’s Ghost” etc., as above. By this point the issues were 36 pages each instead of 52 pages, and the Dell Pledge to Parents had started to appear. This issue’s first story is kind of pointless, though it has the amusing implication that Mrs. Moppet gave away her hat because all the other women were wearing the same hat. The other stories are about: a fake trip to the moon, a bird that sets up its nest in the fellers’ clubhouse, Little Itch (Witch Hazel’s apprentice) trying to steal the Poor Little Girl’s doll carriage, and Tubby’s worm ranch.

LITTLE LULU #58 (Dell, 1953) – “Special Delivery,” as above. Annie and Iggy are getting a baby sibling. Lulu tries to get the stork to bring it to her house instead, but ends up with five kittens. I doubt if Annie and Iggy’s baby brother ever appeared again; he was introduced just for the sake of this one story. The next story is possibly the first appearance of Sluggo’s worm ranch, which also appears in #84. The next two stories are about Wilbur, then there’s one where Tubby becomes a cowpoke. Next is the usual Ol’ Witch Hazel fairy tale, and finally a story where the kids get temporary tattoos. This story suggests that in the ‘50s, tattooing was strongly associated with sailors and nobody else.

2000 AD #439 (IPC, 1985) – “Nemesis the Warlock Book Five,” [W] Pat Mills, [A] Bryan Talbot. Torquemada’s wife Candida learns that her children have been killed by Nemesis. I wonder if Torquemada’s kids ever actually appeared in the series, or if they lived and died off-panel. Talbot’s artwork is again very impressive, and Candida looks a lot like Octobriana from Luther Arkwright. In a story by Wagner, Grant and Ian Gibson, Sam Slade, Robo-Hunter visits a gambling planet to track down some missing robots. In a Dredd story by the same two writers and Carlos Ezquerra, a journalist discovers that the Judges are using tranquilizing drugs to keep the population docile, but Dredd has him lobotomized so he can’t reveal this information. This story is another good example of Dredd’s anti-democratic nature. Next is a Future Shock about an elderly gladiator, written by Peter Milligan, and last is a Mean Team story by Grant, Wagner and Belardinelli.

2020 Eisner Awards votes

As I do every year, I’m providing a tentative list of my votes in each Eisner Awards category.

Best Short Story
  • “Hot Comb,” by Ebony Flowers, in Hot Comb (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Single Issue/One-Shot
  • Our Favorite Thing Is My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, by Emil Ferris (Fantagraphics)

Didn’t read any of the others. I’d like to get Sobek, but $14 for one issue is a bit much.


Best Continuing Series
  • Crowded, by Christopher Sebela, Ro Stein, and Ted Brandt (Image)

Immortal Hulk is probably the better series, but Christopher Sebela deserves an Eisner. I’m surprised to see Daredevil nominated because I dropped it after about three issues.


Best Limited Series
  • Little Bird by Darcy Van Poelgeest and Ian Bertram (Image)

Ghost Tree was a poorly written series and should not have been nominated. I don’t see why Ascender counts as a limited series.


Best New Series
  • Once & Future, by Kieron Gillen and Dan Mora (BOOM! Studios)

A very tough category. I haven’t read Dr. Doom, but all four of the other nominees are deserving.


Best Publication for Early Readers

No vote


Best Publication for Kids
  • New Kid, by Jerry Craft (Quill Tree/HarperCollins)

Though I haven’t read it yet. Guts would also be an excellent choice.


Best Publication for Teens
  • Hot Comb, by Ebony Flowers (Drawn & Quarterly)

Hot Comb should have been nominated for Best Graphic Album – New or Best Reality-Based Work instead. It doesn’t feel like a teen comic. If I was able to vote for Hot Comb in a different category, I’d vote for Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me in this category.


Best Humor Publication

No vote. I wish there was a cheaper way to get these Shortbox comics.


Best Anthology
  • The Nib #2–4, edited by Matt Bors (Nib)

Haven’t read Kramer’s Ergot yet


Best Reality-Based Work
  • They Called Us Enemy, by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker (Top Shelf)

But I’d really like to read Grass. I was considering buying it today but balked at the $30 price tag.


Best Graphic Album—New
  • Are You Listening? by Tillie Walden (First Second/Macmillan)

Haven’t read any of these yet


Best Graphic Album—Reprint
  • Glenn Ganges: The River at Night, by Kevin Huizenga (Drawn & Quarterly)

A tough category.


Best Adaptation from Another Medium

No vote


Best U.S. Edition of International Material
  • The House, by Paco Roca, translation by Andrea Rosenberg (Fantagraphics)

Haven’t read any of these


Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia
  • The Poe Clan, by Moto Hagio, translation by Rachel Thorn (Fantagraphics)

I own this but have not yet read it. Again, I really want to read Grass.


Best Archival Collection/Project—Strips
  • Cham: The Best Comic Strips and Graphic Novelettes, 1839–1862, by David Kunzle (University Press of Mississippi)

Haven’t seen any of these


Best Archival Collection/Project—Comic Books
  • The Complete Crepax, vol. 5: American Stories, edited by Kristy Valenti (Fantagraphics)

Haven’t read any of these


Best Writer
  • G. Willow Wilson, Invisible Kingdom (Berger Books/Dark Horse); Ms. Marvel (Marvel)

Mariko Tamaki would also be a great choice.


Best Writer/Artist
  • Raina Telgemeier, Guts (Scholastic Graphix)

Best Penciller/Inker or Penciller/Inker Team
  • Ian Bertram, Little Bird (Image)

Best Painter/Digital Artist
  • Christian Ward, Invisible Kingdom (Berger Books/Dark Horse)

Best Cover Artist
  • Christian Ward, Machine Gun Wizards (Dark Horse), Invisible Kingdom (Berger Books/Dark Horse)

Best Coloring
  • Dave Stewart, Black Hammer, B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know, Hellboy and the BPRD (Dark Horse); Gideon Falls (Image); Silver Surfer Black, Spider-Man (Marvel)

Best Lettering
  • Jim Campbell, Black Badge, Coda (BOOM Studios); Giant Days, Lumberjanes: The Shape of Friendship (BOOM Box!); Rocko’s Modern Afterlife  (KaBOOM!); At the End of Your Tether (Lion Forge); Blade Runner 2019 (Titan); Mall, The Plot, Wasted Space (Vault)

Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism
  • Inks: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society, edited by Qiana Whitted (Ohio State University Press)

Though I wish I could also vote for Women Write About Comics


Best Comics-Related Book
  • The Book of Weirdo, by Jon B. Cooke (Last Gasp)

I haven’t read this yet, but I had problems with Making Comics.


Best Academic/Scholarly Work
  • EC Comics: Race, Shock, and Social Protest, by Qiana Whitted (Rutgers University Press)

Congratulations also to Christina Meyer.


Best Publication Design
  • Making Comics, designed by Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Digital Comic

No vote


Best Webcomic

Lockdown reviews

5-12

Starting again now that I’ve finished grading. These comics were from a shipment I received from HipComic:

ATOMIC ROBO AND THE SHADOW FROM BEYOND TIME #3 (Red 5, 2009) – “At the Farm of Madness,” [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Scott Wegener. In 1967, Robo travels to Cloverdale, Oregon with his team to confront the next manifestation of the Lovecraftian monster. They discover that the monster has turned the town’s population into Zombies. This is a really fun issue, but it feels like just a standard Atomic Robo comic.

CRIMINAL: THE LAST OF THE INNOCENT #3 (Icon, 2011) – untitled, [W] Ed Brubaker,  [A] Sean Phillips. Riley (Archie) successfully frames Teddy (Reggie) for the murder of Riley’s wife (Veronica), but Riley’s father-in-law (Hiram Lodge) suspects something and hires a private investigator. This issue’s main story is interspersed with short funny vignettes drawn in an Archie-esque style. Sebastian Hyde appears in this issue, connecting this story to the rest of the Criminal universe. If not for Hyde, Last of the Innocent could have been an independent work instead of a Criminal miniseries.

LOVE AND CAPES #12 (Maerkle Press, 2009) – untitled, [W/A] Thom Zahler. On the eve of her wedding, Abby finds herself in an alternate universe where Mark was killed three years ago. The Dr. Strange character sends Abby back in time to three  years to the night of Mark’s death, which was also the night of her and Mark’s first date. Since Abby looks exactly like her past self, she saves Mark by distracting him with a kiss, causing him to miss his appointment with death. The wedding goes as planned. This was a really sweet wedding issue. The background characters in the wedding scene are all caricatures of readers.

CRIMINAL: THE LAST OF THE INNOCENT #4 (Icon, 2011) – as above. Riley gets Teeg Lawless to arrange Teddy’s murder (another connection to the Criminal universe). In a flashback, we learn that Mrs. Grundy and Mr. Weatherbee were responsible for a spree of murders. Teddy ties up the last loose end by murdering Freakout (Jughead), then goes off to live happily ever after with Lizzie (Betty). The PI, Britt Black, is unable to prove anything, though he promises to keep an eye on Riley. Britt Black is based on Encyclopedia Brown. I realized this when he said he’d been catching people in lies since age 12. His first name stands for Britannica. As other reviewers have discussed, this issue ends enigmatically. In the last panel, Riley and Lizzie are drawn in the faux-Archie style and are smiling, but in the background, we see two people conducting an apparent drug deal, and they’re drawn in Sean Phillips’s normal style. The point here is to remind us that Riley’s new idyllic life is tainted by his sordid murders. But I thought at first that one of the people in the background was either Phil or Britt Black. Maybe this scene is also meant to indicate that Riley’s crimes are eventually going to catch up to him.

PLANETOID PRAXIS #1 (Image, 2017) – untitled, [W/A] Ken Garing. This is the second volume of Garing’s other major work besides Gogor. This issue, an alien named O-Hom lands on an ugly-looking planet and befriends a little girl named Zuri. But O-Hom turns out to be a member of the Ono Mao, a race that’s at war with humans, and the human adults execute him. As in Gogor, Ken Garing’s art is appealingly weird. The alien’s space suit and his hideous face are particularly impressive.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #652 (Marvel, 2011) – “Revenge of the Spider-Slayer Part One: Army of Insects,” [W]Dan Slott, [A] Stefano Caselli. While Peter is watching Carlie Cooper play roller derby, the Scorpion and Smythe sabotage John Jameson’s rocket launch. This story is very well-executed and exciting, though nothing about it especially stands out, except maybe the scene where Peter injures himself by walking into a glass door. There’s a backup story written by Fred Van Lente, who, I’m coming to realize, is a far worse writer than Slott.

STRANGEHAVEN #2 (Abiogenesis, 1995) – “Special Delivery/Guide of Souls/Secrets,” [W/A] Gary Spencer Millidge. Alex’s new love interest Janey shows him around town, while in the last segment, we witness an initiation ritual for a KKK-esque secret society. I’m really starting to like Strangehaven. It effectively evokes the atmosphere of rural England, but it also feels very weird.

HERBIE #22 (ACG, 1966) – “Just Like Magic!”, [W] Shane O’Shea (Richard Hughes), [A] Ogden Whitney. Herbie has to learn magic to defeat a creature named Magical Moe whose catchphrase is “Oh, tiddle, tiddle, tiddle.” Richard Hughes’s absurdist plot contrasts oddly with Whitney’s sober artwork. It turns out I already had this issue, but my old copy was coverless.

STAR SLAMMERS #4 (IDW, 2014) – “The Minoan Agendas Chapter One: The Prisoner,” [W/A] Walt Simonson. This issue begins with another stunning fight scene, but it turns out to be taking place inside the mind of a captured Star Slammer. Then we’re introduced to his captor, the white-haired, half-naked Phaedra. This story originally appeared in issue 1 of Malibu’s 1994 Star Slammers series.

THOR #218 (Marvel, 1973) – “Where Pass the Black Stars There Also Passes… Death!”, [W] Gerry Conway, [A] John Buscema. Thor, Tana Nile and some other Asgardians go to Rigel to search for the home planet of the Colonizers. But the Colonizers have already fled their planet to escape from five galaxy-eating black stars. This issue has some exciting Buscema artwork, but its story is unimpressive, and the Black Stars are barely distinguishable from Galactus or Ego. The Black Stars and their Rhunian masters never appeared again after this storyline.

RIP IN TIME #5 (Fantagor, 1987) – untitled, [W] Bruce Jones, [A] Richard Corben. Four modern humans are stranded in the era of dinosaurs, and one of them decides to play The  Most Dangerous Game with the other three. In the future, a scientist sacrifices his life to bring the stranded people back. Corben’s art in this issue is beautiful, as usual, and Jones’s plot is exciting, though his female characters have unflattering personalities.

SUICIDE SQUAD #15 (DC, 1988) – “Devil to Pay,” [W] John Ostrander, [A] Luke McDonnell. The Suicide Squad are trapped in the Nightshade dimension, where Eve Eden discovers that her brother is possessed by a creature called the Incubus. This issue is okay, but its plot is very hard to understand without prior knowledge of Nightshade. This character was introduced in Ditko’s Captain Atom, but got most of her character development in Suicide Squad.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #7 (IDW, 2012) – untitled, [W] James Roberts, [A] Alex Milne. The Decepticon Justice Division tracks down a victim, and then the rest of the issue deals with the Lost Light crew. This series has brilliant dialogue and appealing art, but I don’t understand its plot, and I can’t tell any of the characters apart.

DAREDEVIL #14 (Marvel, 2012) – “Damned If You Do… Damned If You Don’t,” [W] Mark Waid, [A] Chris Samnee. Matt tries to escape from Latveria, where he’s been abducted by Dr. Doom’s chancellor. Chris Samnee’s art is as amazing as always, but this issue’s plot is very forgettable – so much so that when I looked at it again just now, I wasn’t sure if I’d actually read it or not.

DEN #5 (Fantagor, 1989) – “Drowned Worlds,” [W] Simon Revelstroke, [A] Richard Corben. Lost at sea, Den is picked up by a submarine crewed by fish people. He finds that his lover Kath is captive on the same ship. Den is taken to the fish people’s city, where they try to make him their queen’s consort, but he and Kath escape. Corben’s art really demands to be seen in color, as it is here; his virtuosity with the airbrush is perhaps his most distinctive quality as an artist. Also, his fish people are very creepy. This issue includes two backup stories. The first one previously appeared in Catalan’s Werewolf hardcover, and the second is a silly two-pager that had never been published before, though it was done as “a possible men’s magazine feature.”

DEN #6 (Fantagor, 1989) – “Giants Below,” [W] Simon Revelstroke, [A] Richard Corben. Den and Kath travel through an underground passage using a tunnel-boring vehicle – and they’re fully aware of the sexual subtext of this. On finishing their journey, they continue their quest for the wizard Scon. Den may be Corben’s best work; it’s funny, exciting, and beautifully drawn, and it enables him to fully express his unique talents. It’s a shame that Den has fallen completely out of print. Dark Horse or Heavy Metal ought to do a complete collection of the entire saga.

ULTIMATE COMICS X-MEN #14 (Marvel, 2012) – “Divided We Fall,” [W] Brian Wood, [A] Paco Medina w/ Reilly Brown. The U.S. has split up into several different nations, and a group of former X-Men are trying to escape from Reverend Stryker’s anti-mutant persecution. This doesn’t feel like an X-Men comic at all; the characters have the same names as familiar X-Men characters, but that’s all. Also, this issue is extremely bleak. It feels like the X-Men can’t possibly escape from genocide. That is not the sort of mood I’m looking for in a superhero comic.

ALIEN ENCOUNTERS #1 (Eclipse, 1985) – “Pretending,” [W] Eric Dinehart, [A] Mike Gustovich, plus other stories. I read this thinking it was Alien Worlds, but it’s a different series, which Bruce Jones was not involved with. This issue’s main story, about a planet called Bocland, is overwritten and completely incoherent. While reading it, I had no idea what it was about. The second story, by Ken Macklin, is forgettable, but at least it makes logical sense. The only good story in the issue is Buzz Dixon and Mike Hoffman’s “Gorgonzo,” about a special effects supervisor who gets revenge on his philistinic, penny-pinching boss.

ELFQUEST: THE FINAL QUEST #11 (Dark Horse, 2015) – untitled, [W/A] Wendy Pini, [W] Richard Pini. I think the main event this issue is that Skywise and Timmain become a couple. Otherwise, this issue consists mostly of relationship drama that I don’t care about. As with Transformers, a difficulty with reading Elfquest is the large cast of characters, some of whom are hard to tell apart.

GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS #8 (Image, 2015) – “Cosmic Apocalypse,” [W/A] Ryan Browne. The present version of Shelley goes into the past to recruit her and Bill’s past selves, and a lot of other nonsensical stuff happens. This series is only enjoyable if you like its absurdist, over-the-top style of humor, and I don’t.

PLANETARY #11 (DC, 2000) – “Mad World,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] John Cassaday. This issue introduces John Stone, Agent of S.T.O.R.M., based on James Bond and Nick Fury. We begin with one of his adventures from 1969, and then in the present, Elijah Snow consults him for information on his (Snow)’s past. This issue is well-executed, but it’s not nearly as clever as #7.

SUPERMAN #23 (DC, 2017) – “Black Dawn,” [W] Peter Tomasi & Patrick Gleason, [A] Doug Mahnke. Superman fights Mr. Cobb, the father of Jon’s friend Kathy. Meanwhile, Jon has been kidnapped by Manchester Black, who started out as a parody but who was later treated as a serious example of the character type he was parodying. I think I owe this insight to someone else.

HOME GROWN FUNNIES #1 (Kitchen Sink, 1971/1997) – “Whiteman Meets Bigfoot” and other stories, [W/A] Robert Crumb. This issue unfortunately begins with a grossly racist Angelfood McSpade story. Based on stories like this, it’s no wonder that younger generations of cartoonists are disowning Crumb. The bulk of this issue is devoted to “Whiteman Meets Bigfoot,” which I’ve read before. This story is perhaps Crumb’s ultimate wish fulfillment fantasy: it’s about a man who escapes from society and lives alone in the woods with a giant, hairy, horny woman. Despite being an obvious piece of wish fulfillment, it’s one of his most powerful and affecting works. I especially like the sequence where Whiteman returns to society, gets henpecked by his cruel wife (although of course we don’t get her perspective), and then discovers that scientists are experimenting on Bigfoot.

MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS #80 (Marvel, 1991) – “Weapon X Chapter Eight,” [W/A] Barry Windsor-Smith, plus other stories. The main story in this issue is another beautiful Weapon X chapter, in which Wolverine escapes captivity and hacks the Professor’s hand off. As a child, I got some issues of MCP featuring Weapon X from the library, but I didn’t understand its plot, and I was unable to se what was so distinctive and special about BWS’s art. It’s nice to revisit this storyline as an adult. The issue continues with a Captain America  story by Steve Ditko, which is a standard example of his late style. It includes his odd monosyllabic names, like “Jake Bage,” and a character with a similar hairstyle to Norman Osborn. Its politics are also a bit reactionary. Next is a Daughters of the Dragon story written by Jo Duffy, and then a Mr. Fantastic story by Danny Fingeroth, in which Reed encounters a black child prodigy scientist. I know I read this story when I was little,  because I remember the kid telling Reed to use the sine instead of the cosine. I think that was the first time I ever heard those words.

WONDER WOMAN #218 (DC, 2005) – “The Calm,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Ron Randall. Ares comes to Paradise Island and kidnaps his young daughter Lyta. There are also a lot of other subplots. This was a very average issue, and I don’t remember much about it. I was very enthusiastic about Rucka’s first Wonder Woman run when it began, but I gradually lost interest in it.

LOCKE & KEY: CLOCKWORKS #4 (IDW, 2012) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Gabriel Rodriguez. This issue is a flashback to Rendell Locke and Dodge’s high school years. With their high school graduation coming up, Rendell, Dodge and their friends decide to go through the forbidden Black Door, since they’re only forbidden to look through it, not open it. But Rendell’s little brother Duncan, who plays the same role in this series as Bode does in the other miniseries, insists on coming along. Dodge makes Duncan promise not to “walk down these steps into the Drowning Cave” again that day, but there’s a loophole in that promise, and when the kids open the Black Door, Duncan shows up again and ruins everything. Which I assume was Dodge’s plan. Locke & Key back issues have become hard to find, probably due to the TV series. I hope I can find more of them soon.

HILLBILLY #11 (Albatross, 2018) – untitled, [W/A] Eric Powell. Half this issue is a sequence in which a mother tells her son a story about the Iron Child. The Iron Child sequence is illustrated with deliberately crude art that seems to have been reproduced directly from pencils. In the other half of the issue, Rondel tries to recruit people to fight the witches, but it doesn’t work until he reveals that he himself is the Iron Child. For most of this issue the only color used is green, but there’s a striking moment when a witch fires a purple energy bolt at Rondel.

QUANTUM & WOODY #19 (Acclaim, 1999) – “Heroes,” [W] Christopher Priest, [A] M.D. Bright. Quantum and Woody’s link has been severed, but Toyo Harada is planning something. This issue made even less sense to me than a typical Priest comic, and I don’t remember much about it. Quantum & Woody is one of those comics that I’d like to go back and read in order, if I had unlimited time.

Some of the following comics were part of an order I received from Midtown Comics, consisting entirely of dollar books. One thing I’m going to miss about conventions is being able to dig through dollar and quarter boxes.

BATMAN #41 (DC, 2015) – “Superheavy Part One,” [W] Scott Snyder, [A] Greg Capullo. Commissioner Gordon assumes the role of Batman, puts on a suit of armor with rabbit ears, and battles an electricity-powered villain. I remember that when this comic came out, people made a lot of jokes about the rabbit armor, but it’s not as silly as it looks. However, this comic is only okay and not great, though Capullo’s art is excellent.

THE NEW AVENGERS #13 (Marvel, 2016) – “A.I.M. vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. Part II: Part of the Team,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Paco Medina. A Civil War II crossover in which the main event is Songbird’s battlewith a bunch of Life Model Decoys of Dum Dum Dugan. The New Avengers was a sort of prequel to USAvengers, a series I really like, and it has a similar sense of humor.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #17 (Marvel, 2015) – “The Graveyard Shift Part Two: Trust Issues,” [W] Dan Slott & Christos Gage, [A] Humberto Ramos. This issue begins with a funny scene in which Aunt May and JJJ Sr think Peter and Anna Maria are a couple, because they don’t know that Peter was possessed by Doc Ock while he and Anna Maria were together. Afterward, the Ghost invades Parker Industries, and the main story ends as he’s about to kill Peter’s coworker Sanjani. The backup story is about the Black Cat.

MOON KNIGHT #4 (Marvel, 2014) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Declan Shalvey. Moon Knight investigates the case of a sleep scientist whose patients are all having the same dreams. I’ve never had much interest in Moon Knight, but the dream sequence in this issue is stunning. It’s drawn in a surrealistic style, with bizarre colors and fungal growths everywhere, and it ends in a splash page depicting an insectoid-fungal creature that looks like something out of Jeff VanderMeer. The plot of this issue is also VanderMeer-esque, since the dreams are being caused by a corpse with a fungal infection.

STRANGEHAVEN #3 (Abiogenesis, 1996) – “Call No Man Happy/My Alien Retina/Too Many Questions,” [W/A] Gary Spencer Millidge. Alex gets hired as a teacher at Strangehaven Primary, but his boss is a member of the creepy local version of the KKK.  This is another dense and fascinating issue. I think the best thing about this series is its sense of extreme local specificity.

ZENITH #1/3 (Fleetway/Quality, 1993) – “Fixin’ to Die” and other sequences, [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Steve Yeowell. Zenith defeats the Lovecraftian monster, and then in a couple  flashback sequences, we get some background on the WWII-era origins of this universe’s superheroes. This series is very reminiscent of Miracleman, though not as accomplished. Steve Parkhouse’s art is old-fashioned and he’s not great at drawing cosmic horror, but Brendan McCarthy’s costume designs are excellent.

INJECTION #6 (Image, 2016) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Declan Shalvey. This issue has the same creative team as the issue of Moon Knight I just reviewed. Injection #6 introduces a detective named Headland, who resembles Sherlock Holmes but seems to be even further on the autism spectrum. A rich man hires Headland to locate his missing son, and Headland discovers that the son was murdered and turned into ham. This issue isn’t as stunning as Moon Knight #4, but it’s fascinating. I can’t see how it connects to the other issues of Injection that I’ve read.

DETECTIVE COMICS #47 (DC, 2016) – “Robin War Part Three: Getting Dirty,” [W] Ray Fawkes, [A] Steve Pugh. Jim Gordon is still Batman and is still wearing the bunny suit. Gotham has been imprisoning and locking up teenagers who sympathize with Robin. The Robin War premise is interesting, but otherwise this is just an average Batman comic.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES #104 (IDW, 2020) – untitled, [W/A] Sophie Campbell. Jenny befriends the runaway mutant kids from last issue, and then the Turtles are finally reunited. This issue is very emotionally charged, and the four Turtle siblings’ reunion is a heartwarming moment. Issue 101, to be reviewed later, offers important context as to why the Turtles were separated and why some of them were in such poor mental health.

ACTION COMICS #371 (DC, 1969) – “The President of Steel!”, [W] Otto Binder, [A] Curt Swan. Superman forgets his secret identity, so he assumes he must really be the President. He manages to successfully substitute himself for the President, but then he discovers that the real President was kidnapped, and rescues him. The obvious problem with Superman’s guess as to his secret identity is that the President is hardly ever alone long enough to maintain a double life. Superman even points out that with the Secret Service always around, it was hard to switch to his other identity. According to a footnote, the President in this issue was drawn to look different from any real politician, “in order not to offend the dignity of the office of President.” Back in 1969, that office still had some dignity. In the backup story, by Dorfman and Schaffenberger, Supergirl discovers a biography of herself from the future.

BATMAN #592 (DC, 2001) – “Shot Through the Heart,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Scott McDaniel. Bruce is shot by Deadshot, then meets an alleged childhood friend of Mallory Moxon. If that surname sounds familiar, that’s because her father is Lew Moxon, who, in pre-Crisis continuity, arranged the Waynes’ deaths. Deadshot is depicted in this issue as just a generic villain, without the personality that Ostrander and Yale gave him.

KARNAK #3 (Marvel, 2016) – “The Flaw in All Things Part 3,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Roland Boschi. Karnak investigates a cult called the Chapel of the Single Shadow. The most interesting thing about this series is its exploration of Karnak, both his personality and the strange implications of his powers. Other than that, this comic is just okay.

THE FILTH #6 (Vertigo, 2003) – “The World of Anders Klimakks,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Gary Erskine. The protagonists battle two villainous sex-themed villains called Tex Porneau and Anders Klimakks. Chris Weston’s art in this issue is excellent, but this issue’s is a disturbing read. There is sex everywhere in this issue, including the cover. It depicts sex with even less subtlety than Sex Criminals, as hard as that is to do, and it makes the reader feel embarrassed and dirty. Also, as usual with Morrison, this issue’s plot is hard to follow.

TRANSFORMERS #68 (Marvel, 1990) – “The Human Factor!”, [W] Simon Furman, [A] Dwayne Turner. This issue introduces the Neo-Knights, a team of human superheroes assembled by G.B. Blackrock. I don’t understand why Furman chose to introduce a superhero team into a comic about giant robots. Based on information from tfwiki.net, I think Furman may have been hoping to spin off these characters into their own series, though that didn’t happen. In any event, this issue is handicapped by Dwayne Turner’s art. He was okay at drawing people, but he had no ability to draw realistic-looking robots.

G.I. JOE #65 (Marvel, 1987) – “Shuttle Complex,” [W] Larry Hama, [A] Ron Wagner. A G.I. Joe spaceship battles a Cobra spaceship piloted by the Baroness and Fred, who is posing as Cobra Commander. This issue expresses a basic paradox of this series. On one hand, it was a realistic, gritty war comic, based on Hama’s own military experience. On the other hand, it was based on a toy line, so it had to include farfetched stuff like space dogfights.

DETECTIVE COMICS #743 (DC, 2000) – “Evolution One: Whispers in the Dark,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Shawn Martinborough. Gotham is embroiled in a five-way gang war stemming from No Man’s Land. I actually remember No Man’s Land from when I read Batman comics semi-regularly, so this issue serves as a bridge between the Batman comics I remember and the era when I wasn’t following Batman at all. Also in this issue, Bruce meets a love interest named Whisper A’Daire who’s actually a minion of Ra’s al Ghul. I don’t like Shawn Martinborough’s draftsmanship, but the coloring in this issue is quite distinctive; the only colors used are red and orange.

CREATURES ON THE LOOSE #23 (DC, 1973) – “Where Broods the Demon!”, [W] George Alec Effinger, [A] Val Mayerik. An adaptation of a story starring Thongor, Warrior of Lost Lemuria. Thongor is a bargain-basement version of Conan, and this story is barely distinguishable from an issue of Conan the Barbarian, except it lacks Roy Thomas’s witty dialogue. At least Val Mayerik’s art isn’t bad. A demon in this issue is named Aqquoonkagua, presumably after the South American mountain Aconcagua. This issue includes a reprinted old story about some giant aliens who decide not to conquer Earth because it‘s beneath their notice.

FANTASTIC FOUR #180 (Marvel, 1977) – “Bedlam in the Baxter Building!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Jack Kirby. This issue has an exciting cover depicting Thundra, Tigra and the Impossible Man, but none of those characters appear in it. Instead, the entire issue is a Dreaded Deadline Doom reprint of FF #101, which I already had. It has been a while since I read FF #101, and it’s not a bad issue; its plot is that a Maggia leader called the Top Man tries to take over the Baxter Building.

TEEN TITANS #33 (DC, 1971) – “Less than Human?”, [W] Bob Haney, [A] George Tuska & Nick Cardy. It’s not clear which of the two artists did what. In this issue the Titans return from a mission to the past, but a caveman named Gnarrk comes back with them, and they have to “civilize” him and turn him into a modern man. In the process, Gnarrk falls in love with Lilith. This issue’s treatment of Gnarrk is very paternalistic and colonialist; the Titans treat him as if he were a baby, and there’s little acknowledgement that he’s 17 years old and has his own language and culture. Still, Gnarrk and Lilith’s romance is cute, and the art in this issue is good. Gnarrk is oddly similar to Garn from issue 2, as I mentioned in my review of that issue earlier this year.

SKULL THE SLAYER #5 (Marvel, 1976) – “Magic, Myth and Madness!”, [W] Bill Mantlo, [A] Sal Buscema. Mantlo was this series’ third writer in as many issues. This issue, Skull and his friends team up with the Black Knight and King Arthur’s knights and fight a villain named Slitherogue. But both the knights and the villains turn out to be robots, endlessly refighting a pointless war. This issue has a vague anti-war message, but it’s mostly a bunch of fight scenes with tedious captions.

HILLBILLY #10 (Albatross, 2018) – untitled, [W/A] Eric Powell. Rondel and his friends James and Esther try to recruit allies, both human and animal, for the coming battle against the witches. This issue is mostly setup for the next two. Again, Eric Powell’s art is excellent. I like how his characters look highly stylized, while also seeming to have three dimensions.

ROYALS #9 (Marvel, 2017) – “On the Other Side,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Javier Rodriguez. This series stars the Inhuman royals, including Medusa and Gorgon, who are sleeping together. I don’t recall much about this issue’s plot, but Javier Rodriguez’s art is amazing, especially his full-page depictions of bizarre alien worlds. He is one of the best artists Marvel has at the moment, and he deserves to be more of a superstar than he is.

TALES OF THE BEANWORLD #7 (Eclipse, 1987) – “New & Improved Gunk’l’dunk!”, [W/A] Larry Marder. Mr. Spook is suspicious of the hypnotic powers of the Clang Twang, but Proffy discovers that it can be used to produce a superior version of Gunk’l’dunk. The fun part about Beanworld is that every issue gives us more understanding of what the Beanworld is and how it works. There’s a sequence in this issue where one of the Boom’r Beans has to swim under the island to get to the other side. I don’t see why he couldn’t have walked there.

FANTASTIC FOUR #96 (Marvel, 1969) – “The Mad Thinker and the Androids of Death!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Jack Kirby. The Mad Thinker kidnaps Johnny and Sue, but Reed and Ben manage to beat him and his androids. This is an exciting issue with thrilling artwork. Its weak point is its sexist depiction of Sue. The scene where she goes shopping for clothes is kind of cringeworthy.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #653 (Marvel, 2011) – “Revenge of the Spider-Slayer Part Two: All You Love Will Die”, [W] Dan Slott & Fred Van Lente, [A] Stefano Caselli. Peter tries to save John Jameson’s space shuttle from the Scorpion, while other insect villains are invading the Daily Bugle offices and the spa where Aunt May and Marla are relaxing. The most memorable moment in this issue is when Spidey calls Avengers Mansion and Squirrel Girl answers the phone. This was when she was Danielle Cage’s nanny, so she’s depicted less seriously than in Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. It’s easy to forget that Slott, not Ryan North, was the writer who revived Squirrel Girl. This issue suffers a bit from the lack of Slott’s dialogue.

EXTRAORDINARY X-MEN #12 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Humberto Ramos. A boring story that’s mostly about Apocalypse and Magik. There’s little or nothing about this issue that indicates that Jeff Lemire wrote it.

THOR #264 (Marvel, 1977) – “Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me!”, [W] Len Wein, [A] Walt Simonson. Walt Simonson’s first Thor run was far less impressive than his second, because first, he didn’t write it himself, and second, he was saddled with inappropriate inkers like Tony DeZuniga. There are only a few places in this issue where you can recognize Simonson’s style under DeZuniga’s inks. This issue has a formulaic plot where Loki seizes the throne of Asgard, and Thor and his friends have to get it back. The best moment in this issue is when Volstagg says his eye, arm and heart are like those of an eagle, titan and lion, and Fandral replies that his mouth is like that of the “bellowing wind.”

WONDER WOMAN #302 (DC, 1983) – “Victory!”, [W] Dan Mishkin, [A] Gene Colan. Diana fights a skeletal Amazon warrior named Artemis, not to be confused with the later, more prominent character of that name. Mishkin’s Wonder Woman helped qualify him to write Amethyst, and this issue is reasonably good, but it’s not spectacular. There’s also a Huntress backup story by Joey Cavalieri. When written by Paul Levitz, the Huntress backup stories in Wonder Woman were always much better than the main stories, but here it’s the other way around. Cavalieri’s Huntress stories were boring, and he ruined Helena and Harry Sims’s relationship.

STAR TREK #51 (DC, 1988) – “Haunted Honeymoon,” [W] Peter David, [A] Tom Sutton. Bryce and Konom, two characters who only appeared in this comic book series, get married. Lieutenant Castille, another character unique to this series, loses control of his telepathic powers, and the entire crew goes crazy. I love how Peter David writes the classic Star Trek characters, but Tom Sutton was an odd choice of artist for this series. His talents are far more suited to horror. Perhaps he was chosen because of his prior experience drawing Planet of the Apes.

TWISTED TALES #3 (Pacific, 1983) – “Me an Ol’ Rex,” [W] Bruce Jones, [A] Richard Corben. All the stories in this issue are written by Jones. The first one is about an abused, neglected little boy who starts feeding people to his pet tyrannosaurus. The twist ending is that the tyrannosaurus is actually his dad. This seems unnecessary and tacked on. Next, in Doug Wildey’s “Off Key,” a screenwriter and his wife discover that they’re characters in a screenplay. Wildey’s art here is phenomenal. He’s especially good at drawing naked women, something I would not have expected. Bill Wray’s “With Honor” is an unconvincing story about a Japanese soldier who’s tricked into thinking World War II is still going on. Last, Bret Blevins’s “Sunken Chest” has the typical EC plot where a woman conspires with her lover to murder her husband. The way the murderers are revealed is gruesome and surprising.

HILLBILLY #12 (Albatross, 2018) – untitled, [W/A] Eric Powell. On the eve of the final battle, Rondel confesses his love for Esther. Rondel and his allies ar victorious, but Esther is killed, and Rondel goes off to wander the hills with his bear companion. This is an effective conclusion to a series that was better than I realized.

CRITTERS #14 (Fantagraphics, 1987) – “Bounty Hunter II,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. Usagi and Gen team up to collect a bounty, and Gen emerges unscathed while Usagi gets into a bloody, painful fight. Usagi gets his revenge by sticking Gen with their tavern bill. Usagi behaves rather differently with Gen than with anyone else, and this may be because Usagi and Gen’s relationship originated in early stories like this one, when Usagi’s personality was not fully developed. This issue also includes a Gnuff story, which is not bad, and a chapter of Steven Gallacci’s Birthright, perhaps one of the worst comics Fantagraphics ever published.

AQUAMAN #42 (DC, 1998) – “Necessary Poisons,” [W] Peter David, [A] Jim Calafiore. Aquaman battles a new villain who turns into a werewolf when wet. Back at home, he gets increasingly impatient with running Poseidonis. I get the sense that at this point in his run, PAD was getting kind of tired of Aquaman. There aren’t a lot of new ideas in this issue.

PLANETOID #1 (Image, 2012) – untitled, [W/A] Ken Garing, An astronaut lands on a grim, ugly planet covered with decaying industrial buildings. After fighting a robotic snake, he meets another human, and they tell each other their stories. The upshot is that the astronaut arrived on the planet while fleeing from the hostile alien Ono Mao – but now that he’s on the planet, he can’t leave. I have a few more issues of Planetoid, but I haven’t read them yet.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #655 (Marvel, 2011) – “In Memory of Marla Jameson,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Marcos Martin. This is probably Dan Slott’s best issue of Spider-Man, or perhaps of any comic book. In #654, Marla Jameson was killed. The first half of this issue is a wordless sequence depicting her funeral. In the second half, Peter has a ddraem sequence where he sees all his dead loved ones – his parents, Uncle Ben, Gwen, Sally Avril, the Kid Who Collects Spider-Man, and many others I couldn’t recognize. Peter’s only response is to swear that he won’t let anyone else die. The problem is that the end of the issue introduces Massacre, a villain who openly states he has no concern for human life. The real MVP of this issue is Marcos Martin. Without using any words, he conveys the grimness of the funeral service. In the dream sequence, his nonstandard page layouts (one page is a spiral, and another page  is an Escherian scene with no clear up and down) convey Peter’s sense of uneasiness and distortion.

BATMAN #74 (DC, 2019) – “The Fall and the Fallen, Conclusion,” [W] Tom King, [A] Mikel Janin. Batman and his alleged father travel through the desert to a Lazarus pit. Because of the desert setting and Batman’s lack of a shirt, I assume this issue is a deliberate homage to “The Demon Lives Again” from Batman #244. This issue extensively quotes from a Russian folktale where some animals fall into a pit and eat each other. This is a real folktale called “The Animals in the Pit,” written or recorded by Alexander Afanasyev, and it previously showed up in issue 57.

THE DESERT PEACH #6 (Mu Press, 1990) – “A Day Like Any Other,” [W/A] Donna Barr. A new medical officer joins Pfirsch Rommel’s regiment and is shocked to discover all the weird people that Pfirsch surrounds himself with. This issue is very funny and also serves as an efficient introduction to the series. Throughout her work, Donna Barr threads the needle of presenting German culture sympathetically without becoming an apologist for Nazism. In this issue, she accomplishes that balance by showing that Pfirsch is disgusted by typical Nazi racism. This issue has a visual gimmick where somewhere on each page, there’s a bird (a duck maybe) that has the page number attached to it. At the end of the issue, one of Pfirsch’s soldiers captures and kills the bird.

HAUNTED LOVE #9 (Charlton, 1975) – “Death Waits for Moonrise,” [W] Joe Gill, [A] Sanho Kim, plus other stories. This issue starts with a werewolf story which is reasonably good, but has an incongruous happy ending. It includes an unintentionally funny moment where the protagonist says he can’t marry his fiancee until he creats a vaccine for lycanthropy. Next are two ghost stories: a boring one by Pat Boyette, and a gorgeous one by the super-underrated Enrique Nieto.

THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY: DALLAS #1 (Dark Horse, 2008) – “Dallas Part One: The Jungle,” [W] Gerard Way, [A] Gabriel Bá. I still don’t understand this series at all, and I probably won’t until I read the first miniseries, the original issues of which are prohibitively expensive. At least this issue is extremely well-drawn. I love Moon and Bá’s art. And this issue is at least a little clearer than Hotel Oblivion was.

BATMAN #606 (DC, 2002) – “Death-Wish for Two,” [W] Ed Brubaker & Geoff Johns, [A] Scott McDaniel. Batman tries to save David Cain from being assassinated by Deadshot. This is a pretty boring issue, although at least it gives Deadshot a bit more of a personality than issue 602 did.

HILLBILLY #7 (Albatross, 2017) – “Beware the Wolf,” [W/A] Eric Powell. Rondell meets a shaman who causes him to have a vision of a monstrous wolf. The vision sequence is in 3D, but I don’t think this comic came with 3D glasses. Also, the vision sequence is drawn rather sloppily as  compared to Powell’s usual style.

SILK #7 (Marvel, 2016) – “Spider-Women 3,” [W] Robbie Thompson, [A] Tana Ford. Cindy Moon finds herself on Earth-65, I think, where she meets alternate versions of herself and her family. This issue is part of the Spider-Woman crossover, which in the case of this series is actually a good thing, because its usual plots were less interesting than that of the crossover.

CREATURES ON THE LOOSE #16 (Marvel, 1972) – “Warrior of Mars,” [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Gil Kane. This issue is an adaptation of Edwin L. Arnold’s 1905 novel Lieut. Gullivar Jones, which has some curious similarities to ERB’s John Carter novels, and may have helped inspire them. Gullivar Jones was totally forgotten until Dick Lupoff rediscovered it in the ‘60s, and in tribute to Lupoff, an Abin Sur-esque character in Creatures on the Loose #16 is named Lu-Pov. My friend Ian Gould has read Gullivar Jones and says it’s “not that similar” to John Carter; however, Jones and Kane’s adaptation of the novel reads very like a John Carter comic.  As one would expect, Gil Kane’s artwork on this story is brilliant. Unfortunately the Gullivar Jones story is just ten pages, and the rest of the issue consists of reprinted monster stories.

Some of the next comics were part of an order I received from Mile High, who had a 65% off sale:

THE AUTHORITY #12 (Wildstorm, 2000) – “Outer Dark Four of Four,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Bryan Hitch. The Authority battle God and win, but Jenny Sparks dies as the century ends (and she has an answer for why she’s dying in 2000, not 2001). This issue produces a powerful sense of wonder; Ellis’s writing and Hitch’s widescreen art convey the sublime majesty and terror of the alien entity. I’ve probably said this before, but I think Ellis is fundamentally a science fiction writer, and his work often seeks to convey the sense of wonder which is a characteristic affect of SF. By contrast, his successor on Authority, Mark Millar, is more interested in shock value.

SUPERNATURAL LAW #33 (Exhibit A, 2002) – “Lawyers & Clients,” [W/A] Batton Lash. A demon named Huberis the Dybbuk hires Wolff & Byrd to sue a church for not letting him worship there. However, Huberis refuses to work with Wolff because she’s a woman, and when Byrd wins his case anyway, he’s still not happy because the judge is also a woman. This issue is an extremely witty parody of Cerebus. Huberis, of course, is a parody of Sim’s extreme sexism, and may have been prompted by Sim’s misogynistic “Tangents” essay from the previous year. Huberis’s part of the story is narrated in illustrated text, which Sim often used in the latter part of Cerebus, and these sequences even use Sim’s characteristic fuzzy black panel borders. The issue is also full of Cerebus in-jokes, including references to Astoria, Tarim, and “something fell.” “Lawyers and Clients” actually makes me want to read more Cerebus, because some of the in-jokes probably went over my head.

FLASH GORDON #7 (Dynamite, 2014) – “Skyfall,” [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Evan “Doc” Shaner. This was the last issue of this series that I was missing. In “Skyfall,” Vultan, king of Sky World, wants Flash, Dale and Zarkov’s assistance against Ming, but Zarkov gets Vultan drunk so they can steal their ship back from him. Doc Shaner’s art in this issue is amazing, and Jeff Parker gives the characters more of a personality than they ever had before. The problem with this issue is that it’s too short; the main story ends on the first page of the centerfold.

ARCHIE #24 (Archie, 2017) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Audrey Mok. “Over the Edge” and the issues immediately following it were probably Mark Waid’s best comics of the past decade. This issue deals with Betty’s trauma over her injury, as well as the extensive accommodations required to make her house accessible. A powerful moment is when Archie sells his car to pay for Betty’s physical therapy, even though Betty’s father is refusing to let him see her. So instead, Archie draws a heart in the frost on Betty’s window.

JOHN CONSTANTINE, HELLBLAZER #5 (DC, 2020) – “Scrubbing Up, Part Two,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Matías Bergara. Tommy Willowtree tells Constantine that he was appointed this generation’s Mystagogue by the Guardians of the Merlintrove. Constantine has never heard of these Guardians, so he goes out looking for him, but while he’s gone, they attack Tommy and severely injure him. Meanwhile, Constantine’s older self recruits his younger self’s enemy Barry. Much of the appeal of this series comes from the interplay between Constantine and Tommy, who embodies all the stereotypes about hipsters.

JIMBO #1 (Zongo, 1995) – numerous vignettes, [W/A] Gary Panter. A series of short strips mostly focusing on a Bart Simpson-haired punk who wanders through a postapocalyptic world. This comic’s art style is intentionally crude; the lettering and linework are shaky, and there’s no variation in line width. The story also seems incoherent at first, though it eventually does start to make sense. The strange thing is that though Panter’s artwork looks awful at first glance, at least in this comic, he’s unquestionably one of the most important influences on contemporary comics. He inspired lots of artists who deliberately reject virtuosity and seek to convey the handmade quality of their art. Jeffrey Brown is the first example who comes to mind. Also, Panter’s elaborate cover art for this issue shows that he (like Brown) is not an incompetent, but a highly skilled artist who’s capable of working in many different styles. I’ve never been able to get into Panter, but I need to try. I   bought Jimbo: Adventures in Paradise back in high school but never read it, and it’s still at my parents’ house. The next time I go there, I need to take that book back.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #657 (Marvel, 2011) – “Torch Song,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Marcos Martin et al. This was part of another order from Heroes. This issue was published just after Johnny Storm’s temporary death in  Fantastic Four #587, and so Slott was faced with the task of writing two funeral stories in three issues. Peter alludes to this by saying that he skipped Johnny’s funeral because he’s been to too many funerals later. Slott wisely chooses not to do another sad story like #655. Instead, #657 is a frame story with three inserted stories by different artists, each illustrating a different facet of Peter and the FF’s relationship. At the end, Johnny bequeaths Peter his spot in the FF. This issue is a touching tribute to Peter and Johnny’s friendship, and it still holds up well even though Johnny has long since come back to life.

SKYWARD #4 (Action Lab, 2013) – “Rabite Season,” [W/A] Jeremy Dale. I wonder if the next issue was called “Duk Season.” This issue has a number of different plotlines, including one about a young prince whose father refuses to let him join the royal army, and another about a tribe of warrior bunnies. Jeremy Dale’s artwork and storytelling are extremely appealing, and this is a very fun comic. It’s too bad he didn’t get a chance to develop his talents further.

HEATHEN #10 (Vault, 2020) – untitled, [W] Natasha Alterici, [A] Ashley A. Woods. Aydis infiltrates the prison, and there’s also a subplot about her friends who are looking for her. This series is significantly worse without Alterici’s art. She’s still doing the coloring, but Woods is unable to imitate her unique art style.

DETECTIVE COMICS #51 (DC, 2016) – “Our Gordon at War,” [W] Peter J. Tomasi, [A] Fernando Pasarin. Jim Gordon meets an old war buddy who tells him that the members of their unit are being murdered, and then the buddy is himself murdered, by an Egyptian cultist. Gordon heads to a military base in Afghanistan to investigate. This issue is very gruesome and grim, but its depiction of the army feels realistic.

WILD’S END #4 (Boom!, 2014) – “Upper Deeping,” [W] Dan Abnett, [A] I.N.J. Culbard. The survivors reach the village of Upper Deeping, where they find one remaining survivor, but he and Alph apparently get blown up by a pursuing Martian. I love how the Martians in this comic have heads that look like lampposts; it makes them seem quaintly Victorian, yet also threatening. This issue’s bonus feature is an excerpt from one of Lewis F. Corbett’s stories, which, as we learn this issue, were ghostwritten by his ex-wife. I forgot to mention earlier that the setting of this comic is not the real England, but an idealized fantasy version thereof. But its setting still feels very English.

STARMAN #61 (DC, 2000) – “In Tranquility and Fire: A Prologue to Grand Guignol,” [W] James Robinson, [A] Peter Snejbjerg. This was one of only two issues I was missing, along with #69. This issue is a bridge between the series’ last two major story arcs, The Stars My Destination and Grand Guignol. Jack goes home and can’t wait to see Sadie, but she’s not there, and something weird is going on in Opal. The issue ends with Culp staging a massive terrorist attack.

WILD’S END #5 (Boom!, 2015) – “Downstream,” [W] Dan Abnett, [A] I.N.J. Culbard. Alph survives the Martian attack, but with serious injuries. The old dog guy gives him a speech about war. This character’s wartime trauma is an important subtext to the series. The survivors visit the local squire, who has a car (though he’s not a toad), but he foolishly confronts an alien and gets killed. The protagonists take his car and drive off, only to realize that they don’t dare go to the nearest town because the aliens would follow them there. This issue completes my Wild’s End collection. I still have to read the third volume, which was only released as a trade.

HEATHEN #4 (Vault, 2017) – untitled, [W/A] Natasha Alterici. Aydis saves an alleged witch from being lynched, and learns that the witch was arranging meetings for two male lovers. In a flashback, Aydis tells a story about a similar experience that made her realize she was gay. This is a touching story about queer identity, and it also benefits from Alterici’s entirely unique style of art.

SHE-HULK #16 (Marvel, 2007) – “Planet Without a Hulk, Part Two: Gamma Flight,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Rick Burchett. She-Hulk and Wolverine fight Wendigo, while the Hulkbusters and the Tsuu T’ina First Nation argue about jurisdiction. There are also some scenes set back in New York at the GLKH law firm. At the end of the issue, Jen propositions Wolverine, but he turns her down because he doesn’t want Juggernaut’s sloppy seconds. This foreshadows a later issue which retcons away the story where Jen slept with Juggernaut. A similar metatextual reference occurs earlier in this issue where Stu Cicero’s staff can’t figure out how Avengers/Power Pack and Stan Lee Meets Spider-Man fit into continuity. On Stu and his comics vault, see my recent essay in the edited collection Ms. Marvel’s America: No Normal.

INJECTION #8 (Image, 2016) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Declan Shalvey. Headland continues to investigate the Case of the Human Ham, and we get some background on his lack of emotion. There’s also a subplot that I don’t quite understand. Injection is one of the more interesting of Ellis’s less prominent works.

STINZ #5 (Brave New Worlds, 1990) – “Wedding Hell,” [W/A] Donna Barr. Stinz’s wedding is coming up, but he has to stop his dumb friends from staging a traditional Brautjagd, or bride abduction. Bride kidnapping, real or staged, is a traditional custom in many cultures, but I can’t tell if it was ever a custom in Germany. The wedding turns out fine in the end, but what Stinz doesn’t know is that his unit is about to be called up to action. There’s a backup story in which a two-legger scientist describes his observations of the Geisel Valley  at an earlier period.

HELLBLAZER #176 (DC, 2002) – “High on Life Part 2 of 2,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Steve Dillon. In Liverpool, Constantine, who is wearing a beard for some reason, investigates a crime spree in which women are being murdered with a straight razor. He discovers that the killer is an old lady who’s murdering beautiful women so she can magically access their memories of being beautiful. This issue gives a powerful sense of the grim, gritty atmosphere of Liverpool, but I had trouble remembering anything else about it.

WINTERWORLD #1 (Eclipse, 1987) – untitled, [W] Chuck Dixon, [A] Jorge Zaffino. An SF story set in a dystopian snow-covered future world. Chuck Dixon’s story is average (and I feel obliged to mention here that I can’t stand him), but the real attraction of this comic is Zaffino’s art. He was from Argentina, and he draws in a scratchy, realistic style presumably influenced by Breccia and Pratt. His art is fascinating, although it would probably be far more effctive in black and white. IDW did reprint Winterworld in black and white, but if I bought that book, I would make sure to buy it used, so as not to give any money to Dixon.

SENSATION COMICS FEATURING WONDER WOMAN #17 (DC, 2016) – “Island of Lost Souls,” [W] Trina Robbins, [A] Chris Gugliotti. A full-length story that focuses on Wonder Woman and Cheetah’s relationship. It also includes a doctor named George Herbert and a bunch of human-animal hybrids, so it’s a mildly disguised homage to The Island of Dr. Moreau. It’s not the best Wonder Woman story, but it’s reasonably good. Chris Gugliotti has a cute and distinctive style of art that vaguely reminds me of that of Tana Ford.

CATWOMAN #40 (DC, 2015) – “The Issue and End,” [W] Genevieve Valentine, [A] Garry Brown. Another lousy issue: a bunch of uninteresting mob intrigue, dressed up with classical and Renaissance references. I still haven’t read any of Valentine’s fiction, but I’m not impressed with her comics work.

THE FOX #2 (Archie, 2015) – “The Other Shoe,” [W/A] Dean Haspiel, [W] Mark Waid. The Fox and his son, the Ghost Fox, fight three different villains at once. Some of my friends liked this series because it reminded them of older comics, but I was never particularly impressed with it.

DEATHBLOW: BYBLOWS #1 (WildStorm, 1999) – “Byblows Part One,”  [W] Alan Moore, [A] Jim Baikie. I’ve often been underwhelmed by Moore’s Image and WildStorm work, so this issue was a very pleasant surprise. A naked, bald woman wakes up inside an incubator on an alien planet. She fights and defeats an alien cyborg, and then meets a little boy in a suit. All three characters are named Cray. This issue creates an appealing sense of mystery and strangeness, but perhaps its best quality is its art, which was often the weak point in Moore’s Image comics. Baikie was an old collaborator of Moore’s – they worked together on Skizz, which I have not read – and he draws in a very British style that resembles that of Dave Gibbons. His draftsmanship is kind of blocky, but his storytelling is extremely strong. About half this issue is wordless, yet the reader is never confused as to what’s going on.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #659 (Marvel, 2011) – “Fantastic Voyage Part I of II,” [W] Dan Slott & Fred Van Lente, [A] Stefano Caselli. Peter and the Fantastic Four go back in time to look for Blackbeard’s treasure, and they fight some zombie pirates. Meanwhile, Carlie Cooper gets a drunk tattoo. This is an entertaining issue, and it’s really fun seeing Peter interacting with the Future Foundation kids, but Van Lente is a worse dialogue writer than Slott. There are two backup stories: a two-pager written by Slott, and a longer one written by Rob Williams, in which Spidey teams up with Ghost Rider.

THE WILD STORM #2 (DC, 2017) – “The Wild Storm – Chapter Two,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Jon Davis-Hunt. I guess this series was a reboot of the entire WildStorm universe. It includes characters like Grifter and Henry Bendix. It’s not bad, but it’s not as interesting as other Ellis comics I’ve read lately, and its story is hard to understand.

CURSE WORDS #3 (Image, 2017) – untitled, [W] Charles Soule, [A] Ryan Browne. Sizzajee decides to send Ruby Stitch to the human world. Meanwhile, Wizord accidentally discovers how to use Places of Power to restore his powers. There are no real surprises in this issue since I’ve already read many of the later ones, but this issue does fill in some gaps in the plot.

DYING IS EASY #4 (IDW, 2020) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Martin Simmonds. Another issue that completely squanders Martin Simmonds’s artistic talents. The only thing in this issue that looks like Simmonds (or the version of him that we saw in Punks Not Dead) is the woman carrying balloons. I’m so frustrated with the art in this series that I don’t care about the writing. I’m sorry that I already ordered issue 5.

ARCHIE #522 (Archie, 2002) – “Repair Despair!”, [W] Bill Golliher, [A] Stan Goldberg, plus other stories. In the main story, Mr. Andrews refuses to pay for repairs to Archie’s car, but when he’s forced to drive the car himself, he changes his mind. This issue also includes a story where Archie works as a waiter, a Star Trek parody, and a story about Archie’s pet turtle. This issue’s two stories written by Bill Golliher are much wittier than the two written by Mike Pellowski.

NEOTOPIA #1 (Antarctic, 2003) – “The Replacement Princess,” [W/A] Rod Espinosa. In a utopian world that blends SF and fantasy elements, we’re introduced a kind and brave young princess. But then we realize that this girl is a stand-in for the real princess, who is a horrible person. I’d be willing to read more of this series. Espinosa’s artwork here is perhaps better than in Adventure Finders, because it’s less obviously reliant on digital imagery.

ASTONISHER #6 (Lion Forge, 2018) – “It’s a Beautiful Li(f)e,” [W] Alex de Campi, [A] Al Barrionuevo & Pop Mhan. This issue is about two brothers, one of whom is a crazy ne’er-do-well. I’ve never been able to follow the plot of this series, although Alex de Campi is a great writer whose work I need to explore further.

THE FIX #8 (Image, 2017) – untitled, [W] Nick Spencer, [A] Steve Lieber. This issue begins with a partly silent sequence about an injured dog. A funny moment here is when one of the dog’s owners says that the family cat will be worried sick, and in a four-panel sequence, we see the cat licking itself and going back to sleep in its basket. The second half of this issue is an unfunny parody of the secret agent genre. I hate Nick Spencer’s writing, largely because of the contempt he shows for his readers, and I mostly bought this comic because of Steve Lieber’s art.

LEGENDARY STAR-LORD #12 (Marvel, 2015) – untitled, [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Paco Medina. This issue includes some funny depictions of the Collector’s collection, which includes items like the Beyonder’s blazer and Rocket Raccoon’s original tail. Also, the Collector’s museum is located in the head of a giant frog. This version of the Collector is clearly based on Benicio del Toro’s film portrayal, and not on the depiction of the character in earlier comics. Other than that, I neither understand nor care about this comic’s plot.

LOVE AND CAPES: THE FAMILY WAY #1 (Maerkle Press, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Thom Zahler. Like Eric Shanower with Age of Bronze, Thom Zahler has stopped publishing new issues of Love & Capes through the direct market, but he’s still selling them on his website. I resisted ordering them before because of the high shipping costs, and because I expected to be able to buy them from him in person at a convention. But with the pandemic, I decided to order all the issues that were available, and Thom was nice enough to sign them. The Family Way takes place five years after What to Expect, when Mark and Abby’s five-year-old son James has been joined by an eight-month-old baby sister, Hayley. This issue is mostly devoted to establishing the new status quo: Darkblade and Amazonia are broken up, but they miss each other, and baby Hayley has inherited her dad’s powers. Love & Capes is as cute and heartwarming as any superhero comic I know of, and it’s great to see it back.

LOVE & CAPES: THE FAMILY WAY #2 – as above. This issue is msotly a continuation of the previous one, but it does have a self-contained subplot, about how Mark is disturbed that James wants to be Kylo Ren for Halloween. Meanwhile, Abby applies for a liquor license for the bookstore. Having written that, I realize why this series describes itself as a situation comedy.

The next few comics were from a MyComicShop shipment:

PRINCELESS: SHORT STORIES FOR WARRIOR WOMEN #1 (Action Lab, 2012) – “The Thing in the Dungeon,” [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Nancy King. This must be one of the rarer Princeless comics. I didn’t even know it existed at first. This issue’s first story is about a childhood adventure of Adrienne and her brother Devin, and the backup story shows how Adrienne’s parents met. Both of these stories are prime examples of the Princeless style, but unfortunately this issue wastes some space on an unnecessary preview of Princeless volume 2.

ZAP COMIX #0 (Last Gasp, 1967/1988) – “Meatball” and other stories, [W/A] Robert Crumb. The stories in this issue were intended for Zap #1, but the artwork was lost and not recovered until after #2 was published, hence the number #0. While Zap #0 was not the truly groundbreaking issue of the series, it’s still an extremely important comic, and it gives me a better understanding of Crumb’s impact. “Meatball” is the key story here; it’s a metaphor for the experience of being jolted out of conventional midcentury American life and joining the counterculture. The issue includes a bunch of other stories on similar themes, including a Mr. Natural six-pager. While the material in this issue must have seemed utterly unprecedented to ‘60s readers, it clearly didn’t come out of nowhere. Zap #0 is full of referencse to EC comics, Fleisher Brothers animation, and other pop-cultural texts. For example, the title “Meatball” is lettered in the same style as Kurtzman’s story titles.

VICTOR LAVALLE’S DESTROYER #1 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, [W] Victor LaValle, [A] Dietrich Smith. In the first half of this issue, Frankenstein’s monster emerges from isolation and hijacks a ship. The second half introduces Dr. Josephine Baker, a modern-day Frankenstein, and her young son. In his author’s note, LaValle explains that he never read Frankenstein until he was an adult, and that this series is an attempt to combine the story of Frankenstein with the contemporary topic of violence against black people. I now have this entire miniseries, but I haven’t read #4 yet.

AQUAMAN #24 (DC, 1965) – “Aquaman, Save Our Seas,” [W] unknown (Bob Haney?), [A] Nick Cardy. Aquaman and Mera battle the Terrible Trio, consisting of the Fisherman and two new villains, the Un-Thing and Karla. The latter is especially interesting because she’s sort of an evil version of Mera, with equally red hair but with fire powers instead of water powers. This story actually passes the Bechdel test because Mera and Karla argue with each other while they’re fighting. It’s too bad Karla never appeared again. As always, Nick Cardy’s artwork in this issue is incredible.

DAREDEVIL #4 (Marvel, 2014) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Chris Samnee. Matt teams up with the Shroud against the Owl, but it’s not clear where the Shroud’s loyalties lie. This was the only issue I was missing from this volume of Daredevil, but it’s only an average issue. Of course Chris Samnee’s fight sequences are excellent.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES #101 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Sophie Campbell. This issue finally explains what was going on in #102-104. In #100, Splinter was killed, and a section of Manhattan was quarantined because of an airborne mutagenic agent. That explains why the Turtles are all so sad, and why there are so many mutants. This issue also heavily features Jennika, a preexisting character who Campbell redesigned as a female Turtle. (Jennika is not to be confused with the other female Turtle, Venus de Milo.) As she did with Jem, Sophie Campbell has made me care about a franchise in which I previously had no interest. I used to watch the Turtles TV show and movies, but that was way back in the early ‘90s.

LOVE AND CAPES: THE FAMILY WAY #3 (Maerkle Press, 2019) – as above. Abby, James and Hayley all get sick. Mark is obviously immune, but he exhausts himself taking care of them, causing him to do things like rearrange the Hollywood sign in alphabetical order. (DHLLOOOWY.) There are also a bunch of subplots, and a running joke about Amazonia’s inability to find a new tiara.

STRANGE EMBRACE #6 (Image, 2007) – untitled, [W/A] David Hine. In Paris, Sarah gradually gives in to her father-in-law Edward’s seduction, until finally he embarrasses her in front of his creepy friends and then rapes her. Strange Embrace may be the perfect horror comic. It disorients the reader with its multiple layers of frame stories, and it’s writing and art are consistently gloomy and ominous. The highlight of this issue is the splash page showing the leering faces of Edward’s friends, illustrated in thick black linework.

KING READING LIBRARY #R-05 (King Features, 1973) – “Quincy Gets a Job,” [W/A] unknown (Ted Shearer?) I read this comic after attending a virtual panel consisting of Rebecca Wanzo, Barbara Brandon-Croft and Bianca Xunise. From listening to Rebecca’s lecture, I realized that there have been a lot of comic strips with black authors and protagonists – Curtis, Luther, Wee Pals, Where I’m Coming From, etc. Most of these strips are unavailable now. Another example of this archive of material is Ted Shearer’s 1970-1986 strip Quincy. In the present comic book, part of a series intended for beginning readers, preteen Quincy gets a job at a supermarket. The humor in this comic is pretty lame, but its urban setting is realistic, reminding me of the setting of Sesame Street. And there’s a surprising moment when Quincy says that his grandmother thinks he’ll have trouble getting a job when he grows up, and his friend replies “Was she thinking of your color?” (Though Quincy clarifies that it’s because of his grades.) Unfortunately the Quincy material is only half the issue, and the other half consists of Henry and “The Little Guy” strips by John Loney.

DEADSHOT #4 (DC, 1988) – “Astride a Grave,” [W] Kim Yale & John Ostrander, [A] Luke McDonnell. Deadshot’s therapist confronts his evil mother, trying to understand how Floyd’s brother died and how his father was paralyzed. Then Floyd himself shows up, seeking revenge for the death of his son. The confrontation ends with Floyd shooting his mother and paralyzing her too. At the end, the therapist tries to initiate a relationship with Floyd, but he tells her that he’s incurable. I wish I’d read this miniseries in order. Deadshot is the most complicated of all the fascinating characters in Suicide Squad, and his miniseries is the key to his personality.

THE DREAMING #20 (DC, 2020) – “One Magical Movement, Part Two,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Bilquis Evely. I received this comic in a DCBS shipment on May 1, because even though Diamond was still closed, DC was still distributing comics through DCBS and Midtown. I think DC’s actions are disgraceful – by continuing to sell comics while Diamond and most comic stores are closed, they’re sabotaging the health of the direct market. Because DCBS was complicit in this, I plan to quit ordering from them and start using a local comic store instead, possibly through mail order. Anyway, the title of this issue is a quotation from David Bowie’s “Station to Station,” which, appropriately, is about the return of the thin white duke. In this issue Daniel comes back and tries to sacrifice Rose Walker,  just like in Sandman #16. But Wan/Moth offers itself in her place, and things go back to normal. The Dreaming #20 was a strong conclusion to an excellent series, but I wish DC had waited to release it until after May 20.

PRINCELESS VOL. 2 #1 (Action Lab, 2013) – “Get Over Yourself Part 1,” [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Emily Martin. This issue starts with the same sequence that appeared in Short Stories for Warrior Women #1, in which Ashe recruits some knights to go after Adrienne – including the Black Knight, who is later revealed as Adrienne’s mother. Then Devin decides to go after Adrienne himself. Meanwhile, Adrienne and Bedelia go looking for Angelica. This is a really fun issue, and it makes me wish that volume 10 would come out soon.

TOMATO #1 (Starhead, 1994) – “Birdie & Spike in… After Hours,” [W/A] Ellen Forney. This rather obscure comic is the first issue of Forney’s short-lived solo series. Tomato #1 and #2 were probably the only standard-format comic books that she ever published. This issue begins with a four-page story in woodcuts, showing a woman using a ketchup bottle as a sex toy. Next is a very cute and sexy story about two women doing an erotic photo shoot. This is followed by some “I Was Seven in ‘75” strips, possibly reprinted from somewhere else, and the last main story is “My Date with Camille Paglia,” whose title accurately describes its contents, except that the date never happens. Like Forney’s graphic novel Marbles, this story uses lettering as a primary visual element. Its pages all have far more text than images, yet it still feels like a comic and not a prose story. Overall, Tomato #1 is an exciting comic that justifies its author’s nickname, Horny Forney.

THE MUPPET SHOW #3 (Boom!, 2010) – “On the Road Part 3: Box Clever,” [W/A] Roger Langridge. The Muppets return home, without Gonzo or Fozzie, and put on a show. But they’ve received a mysterious box addressed to Fozzie, who still hasn’t shown up. Of course it turns out that Fozzie himself is in the box. There are also a bunch of subplots, the most notable of which is about Statler and Waldorf. Here’s a controversial opinion: Roger Langridge is the heir to Don Rosa. His visual storytelling is masterful, he crams every page full of content, and he’s just as good with intellectual properties as with his own characters. I’ve never even watched the original Muppet Show, and yet from reading Langridge’s comics, I feel I understand its premise completely.

HE SAID/SHE SAID COMICS #5 (First Amendment, 1994) – “The O.J. Simpson Story/The Nicole Simpson Story”, [W] Arthur Meehan, [A] Mike Scorzelli & Roberto Andujar. This issue is a flip book where half the issue tells the story of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman’s murders from OJ’s perspective, and the other half retells the same story from Nicole’s perspective. As a comic book, this issue is pretty terrible; the art and the lettering in the OJ story are below professional standards. But as a historical curiosity, this issue is fascinating. It was released so early in the OJ Simpson trial that it doesn’t even mention Judge Lance Ito. He Said/She Said Comics is most notable because issue 3 (Bill Clinton/Gennifer Flowers) has a classic cover by Drew Friedman.

MONSTRESS #27 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Marjorie Liu, [A] Sana Takeda. I always find this series somewhat hard to read, but this issue is fairly clear. And its depiction of war is grimly realistic, despite all the magic and talking animals. This issue, Kippa tries to save the fox refugees, but ends up leading the enemy into the city instead. Also, Maika meets some apparently new characters called the Grey Riders.

DEATHBLOW: BYBLOWS #2 (WildStorm, 1999) – “Byblows Part 2,” [W] Alan Moore, [A] Jim Baikie. Genevieve and John-Joe Cray continue their journey. In a strange city called Providence, they meet the psychotic Damon Cray, and then Klaus Cray, the cyborg, shows up alive again. At night, Genevieve is attacked by a talking mandrill, but he says that he’s trying to save her, and that John-Joe and his twin brother Joe-John are trying to kill her. This proves to be true. All the nice things I said about issue 1 also apply here. The main problem with this series is that its computer coloring is not suited to Jim Baikie’s linework.

GIFTS OF THE NIGHT #3 (Vertigo, 1999) – untitled, [W] Paul Chadwick, [A] John Bolton. This series is a hidden treasure. Its rather simple plot is about a scholar, Reyes, who tutors a young prince and tells him enriching stories, in order to make him a good king. But Reyes is also sleeping with the prince’s nurse, and his rival Leuchet takes advantage of this by telling the prince stories that counteract Reyes’s lessons. What makes this comic special is John Bolton’s painted art. His facial expressions are beautiful, and his style of painting alternately recalls Jeff Jones and Gustav Klimt. I need to track down the rest of this series.

MILLENNIUM FEVER #1 (Vertigo, 1995) – “A Way of Saying Things,” [W] Nick Abadzis, [A] Duncan Fegredo. Despite the promising creative team, this issue is less impressive than Gifts of the Night #3. The protagonist, Jerome, is a British high schooler of partial Caribbean descent. He meets his dream girl and is about to lose his virginity with her, but her fingers start turning into phalluses, and the issue ends there. This issue includes some effective art and writing, but first, neither creator is black or Caribbean, and their depiction of Jerome is unconvincing. Second, this comic feels like a plotless slice-of-life story until the final three panels, where it takes a hard right turn into horror. I would read the other issues of this series, but only if they were very cheap.

BIRTHRIGHT #24 (Image, 2017) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. Mikey finally discovers that Rya is pregnant, just in time for her to go into labor. The opening Mikey/Rya scene is heartwarming, but the issue quickly bcomes much grimmer. Mikey kills Kylen in cold blood, but Kylen comes back to life and reveals himself as Kallista.

AVENGERS #311 (Marvel, 1989) – “The Weakest Point,” [W] John Byrne, [A] Paul Ryan. The only Avenger who appears in this issue is Quasar. The issue focuses on the Avengers’ civilian staff members, like Peggy Carter and M’Daka, as they unsuccsesfully try to save Hydrobase Island from being sunk by robots. This is a pretty unimpressive issue, though at least it’s inked by Tom Palmer.

TRANSFORMERS #65 (Marvel, 1990) – “Matrix Quest Part Four: Dark Creation,” [W] Simon Furman, [A] Geoff Senior. This is far better than #68 because first, it’s about the Transformers instead of their human supporting cast, and second, Geoff Senior understands how to draw giant robots. This issue’s plot is that the Decepticon leader Thunderwing takes control of the Matrix of Leadership. That plotline leads directly into Transformers #75, one of the first comic books I ever read. On this issue’s first page we learn the names of the Autobot leaders who preceded Optimus Prime.

THE ONCE AND FUTURE QUEEN #1 (Dark Horse, 2017) – untitled, [W] Adam P. Knave & D.J. Kirkbride, [A] Nick Brokenshire. This is the same creative team as Amelia Cole, which is an okay comic but not great. The Once and Future Queen stars Indian-American teenage chess prodigy Rani Arcturus, i.e. Queen Arthur. On a trip to Cornwall for a chess tournament, she goes walking on the shore and discovers the Sword in the Stone, which turns her into King/Queen Arthur. She promptly makes two new friends who become her Lancelot and Guinevere. This comic isn’t awful, but because of its title and premise, it’s hard not to compare it to Once and Future, and it suffers by the comparison. Its Arthurian references are obvious and unsubtle.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #660 (Marvel, 2011) – “Fantastic Voyage Part 2 of 2,” [W] Fred Van Lente & Dan Slott, [A] Mike McKone with Stefano Caselli. Peter, the FF and the Future Foundation fight the new Sinister Six. Back at home, Carlie Cooper shows Peter the Spider-Man tattoo she got when she was drunk. This is a fun issue, but it’s not as good as a typical issue written by Slott alone.

STAR #3 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Javier Pina with Filipe Andrade. Early in May, Marvel announced that the remaining issues of this miniseries and  Ghost-Spider will be digital-only, and will only be released in print as part of trade paperbacks. My response to that is, fuck you, Marvel. This decision is an appalling slap in the face to fans who have been buying those series in print form, and also to retailers. And just today DC followed Marvel over the same cliff, announcing that Terrifics will be  concluded in digital form only. This decision means that I won’t be able to have a complete collection of any of these series, and that if I want to read the rest of Star, I either have to read it digitally, or buy a trade paperback that contains stories I already own. I’m not willing to do either of those, so I’m probably not going to read the rest of Star, Spider-Gwen or Terrfiics at all. It’s just as well that none of these series are particular favorites of mine. As for the actual issue under discussion here, I liked Star #3 a bit more than the previous two issues, but I’m not sure why.

SWEET TOOTH #3 (Vertigo, 2010) – “Out of the Deep Woods 3,” [W/A] Jeff Lemire. Gus and Tommy continue their journey, ending up in the brothel of mutant women. Gus and Tommy’s interactions in this issue are very touching, but also ironic since I already know that Tommy is planning to betray Gus. I don’t know if this issue’s original readers would have known this, since I haven’t read issue 1. A powerful moment in this issue is when Gus finds a dead boy his own age, clutching a children’s book.

VIXEN: RETURN OF THE LION #1 (DC, 2008) – “Return of the Lion Part 1: Preparations,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Cafu. Superman gives Vixen a lead on the whereabouts of her mother’s killers, and Vixen travels to Africa to seek revenge. This was one of Willow’s first comics, and it didn’t get much attention, but it’s impressive. Her characterization of Vixen and Superman is excellent. Although Zambesi is a fictional country, it has a sense of verisimilitude, and Willow’s childhood friend Abiesa feels like an actual character rather than a collection of characters. Willow’s writing benefits from the fact that she’s lived and traveled extensively in non-Western countries.

PRINCELESS: SHORT STORIES FOR WARRIOR WOMEN #2 (Action Lab, 2012) – “The Runaway Prince,” [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Kelly Lawrence. The first story in this issue is confusing at first, but we eventually discover that it’s about Shadira the elf and how she helps a prince escape from prison. I’m not sure what this story has to do with anything. Much better is the second story, in which Bedelia’s mother leaves her abusive alcoholic husband, but Bedelia refuses to come with her. This story is depressingly plausible, and it adds a new wrinkle to Bedelia’s character.

POPEYE #5 (IDW, 2012) – “The Wrong Side of the Tracks,” [W] Roger Langridge, [A] Bruce Ozella. Angry at his father for correcting his spelling of “cat” to “kat,” Swee’pea runs away and joins a gang of older kids. This comic is another example of Langridge’s virtuosic ability to adapt the work of other creators. It feels just like a long-form version of E.C. Segar strips. Its depiction of pre-WWII America also feels authentic. The highlight of the story is when Popeye makes “tomato yum-yum” for dinner, but it consists entirely of spinach.

KANE #13 (Dancing Elephant, 1996) – “Point of View,” [W/A] Paul Grist. Grist and Millidge were part of the same generation of British alternative cartoonists, and they mention each other in their editorial notes. This issue has a gimmick in which every panel has the same point of view, hence the title. In each panel, we’re looking over the shoulders of two policemen sitting in their car. This could have been a cheap labor-saving device, but its plot is quite complicated, and Grist generates a lot of visual interest by varying the body language of the policemen and the things that are happening outside their car. At the end of the issue, a sniper shoots out the windshield of the police car, and then there’s no image in the following panel, only captions. This page is especially striking because by this point, the reader is so used to seeing the same POV in every panel.

IMMORTAL HULK #7 (Marvel, 2018) – “The Avenger,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. This issue starts with a three-page sequence where the Hulk destroys a family’s home. Marvel comics are usually very cavalier about property damage, but this sequence shows the human cost that superhero battles would have, if they were real. Most of the issue is an epic fight scene between the Hulk and the Avengers, and at the end, the Hulk is captured, taken to Shadow Base, and dissected. On Facebook, I suggested that Al Ewing might be the second best Hulk writer ever, after Peter David. Some of my friends disagreed, saying that Ewing is the first best.

RUNE #1 (Malibu, 1994) – “Rune,” [W/A] Barry Windsor-Smith, [W] Chris Ulm. This issue has a rather thin plot about an immortal vampire, but its art is spectacular. Barry Windsor-Smith’s draftsmanship is incredible; Rune himself is a stunning visual image, and this issue also includes some imaginative depictions of alien machinery. And BWS takes full advantage of Malibu’s computer coloring technology, which was perhaps the best in the industry at the time (and was allegedly the reason why Marvel later bought Malibu). I don’t think this comic has ever been reprinted. According to his personal website, BWS has been trying to get Marvel to either reprint Rune or give him the rights to it, but Marvel has refused.

PROTECTOR #3 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Simon Roy & Daniel Bensen, [A] Artyom Trakhanov. I had trouble following this issue’s plot. Mari (I think that’s the protagonist’s name) discovers more evidence of the ancient robot’s origins, and she leads her followers to investigate the robot further, but a bunch of other characters are plotting against her. Protector is reminiscent of The Last American because it’s about a soldier who goes into hibernation and wakes up in a very different world. But besides that, the two series don’t have much in common.

DARKNESS VISIBLE #1 (IDW, 2017) – untitled, [W] Mike Carey & Arvind Ethan David, [A] Brendan Cahill. This urban fantasy series is set in a world where humans live alongside demons, or Shaitans. The protagonist, Daniel Aston, is a policeman and single father. In an encounter with Shaitans, Daniel is killed and his daughter Maggie seriously hurt, but Daniel comes back to life while in the morgue. This series tries to draw a parallel between Shaitans and real-life minorities; at the start of the issue, Daniel and Maggie go to see The Merchant of Venice. The problem with this analogy is that humans’ prejudice against Shaitans seems justifiable, since all the Shaitans who appear in this issue are dangerous criminals. Though maybe that doesn’t invalidate the analogy. At the end of his famous speech, Shylock asks “If you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”

FOLKLORDS #5 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] Matt Smith. Sal becomes the new leader of the Librarians, and Ansel continues his journey to the Writers’ Room. After a promising start, this series quickly became disappointing, and its ending doesn’t offer much of a resolution. I’m surprised it wasn’t turned into an ongoing, given the high sales of the early issues. I’m also surprised that it was solicited as just a five-issue miniseries, when it clearly needed more issues to wrap up its story.

THE SAGA OF THE MAN-ELF #2 (Trident, 1989) – “Animal Magic” and “The Price of Love,” [W] Guy Lawley, [A] Steve Whitaker. The Man-Elf rescues Una Persson from prison, and meanwhile, Una Persson and Mitzi Beesley consolidate their control over the government. This issue is difficult to follow because of its large cast of characters and its multiple plotlines, but it feels like a very savvy depiction of British politics and mythology. It’s hard to say why exactly, but of all the comics based on Michael Moorcock’s work, Man-Elf (and Luther Arkwright) feels like it’s the closest to the spirit of Moorcock’s writing.

THOR, GOD OF THUNDER #18 (Marvel, 2014) – “Days of Wine and Roses,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Das Pastoras. In 894 AD, Thor wakes up with a hangover, and inside the mouth of a dragon. Thor and the dragon, Skabgagg, become fast friends as they fight alongside the local Vikings, but Skabgagg eventually gives in to his desire to eat people, and Thor has to kill him. This is a sad story, and it suggests that Thor’s own love of drinking and fighting is partly responsible for Skabgagg’s death. Das Pastoras has a very distinctive style of painted art. His artwork is grisly and bloody, kind of like a cruder version of Corben. He got his start in the ‘80s in Spanish underground comics, and he only started working in American comics fairly recently.

NOT REALLY KANE #24 (Dancing Elephant, 1999) – “Shots,” [W/A] Paul Grist. This is indeed not Kane #24, but a free comic that Grist gave out at conventions. It includes just eight pages, comprising two stories. The longer of the stories is about Kane’s confrontation with his corrupt partner.

Another shipment from Mile High, consisting mostly of cheap comics:

WANDERING STAR #1 (Pen & Ink, 1993) – untitled, [W/A] Teri S. Wood. Teri Sue Wood was one of the first comics professionals I ever interacted with online, but I haven’t read her work until now. I should have read it sooner. Her artwork is evocative and attractive, reminding me very much of Carla Speed McNeil, and her writing is charming and passionate. Wandering Star is a space opera with a female protagonist, Casi. Issue 1 begins with a flashforward sequence where an older Casi is talking with a biographer, and then we flash back to her youth, when she leaves Earth for the space academy. I especially like the scene where Casi meets up with her friends. It reminds me of a Legion or Young Justice comic.

WELCOME TO TRANQUILITY #1 (WildStorm, 2007) – “Fade to Grey,” [W] Gail Simone, [A] Neil Googe. Tranquility is a town full of retired old superheroes, like a World War II aviatrix who insists on continuing to fly her plane, and an elderly Captain Marvel who can’t remember his magic word. The protagonist, Tommy (Thomasina), is tasked with keeping the town safe from the superheroes without destroying their value as a tourist attraction. I have mixed feelings about Gail’s work in general, but this feels like one of her more innovative and exciting works, and I ought to read more of it.

GLOBAL FREQUENCY #2 (WildStorm, 2003) – “Big Wheel,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Glenn Fabry. A government-created cyborg is going crazy, and a Global Frequency team has to stop him before he causes a nuclear disaster. This comic is notable for its realistic depiction of what being a cyborg would actually involve. Most other superhero comics assume that you can just tack a bionic limb onto a person’s body without making any other changes. But in this issue, one of the Global Frequency agents explains that she has a bionic arm, and that her entire body had to be reinforced to support it. Now extrapolate that to a man whose entire body is bionic. When we actually see the cyborg, he barely looks human. Glenn Fabry’s art on this comic is not as incredible as I expected, but his depiction of the cyborg is horrifying and heartrending.

TRINITY #4 (DC, 2008) – “Caped Simioid Thinks So, Hm?”, [W] Kurt Busiek, [A] Mark Bagley. Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman all collaborate against the monster Konvikt, and Kurt uses the fight scene to illustrate the differences between the three heroes. In the backup story, a tarot card reader has a vision of Kanjar Ro and Despero. Trinity is not one of Kurt’s greatest works, but it’s interesting and well-written.

THE MUPPET SHOW: THE TREASURE OF PEG-LEG WILSON #1 (Boom!, 2009) – “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral,” [W/A] Roger Langridge. I didn’t know this miniseries existed until I saw it on Mile High’s website. This issue includes a bunch of short gag strips, but the main plot is that some mysterious people are trying to excavate a treasure under the Muppet Theater. Also, Kermit and Animal seem to have been replaced by Animal. This issue is another example of Langridge’s storytelling brilliance.

PRAIRIE MOON AND OTHER STORIES #1 (Dark Horse, 1992) – “Prairie Moon” and other stories (duh), [W/A] Rick Geary. A collection of short pieces by Geary, mostly about turn-of-the-century America. I’ve read some of these stories before, probably in Cheval Noir. I especially remember the one about Aimee McPherson, “that wonderful person,” and the one that lists how the narrator’s relatives died (e.g. “bursten and rupture”). But some of the other stories are new to me. Rick Geary is a unique artist – his stories illustrate the weirdness of old-time America, and they always feel vaguely creepy, whatever their subject matter.

NEAR MYTHS #nn (Last Gasp, 1990) – “Ankhesenamun” and other stories, [W/A] Trina Robbins. I thought this was a kids’ comic at first, but it’s an adult underground comic. It shares its title with an older British underground comic, which included the first Luther Arkwright stories and the first work of Grant Morrison; however, in the indicia, Trina says that Bryan Talbot gave her permission to use the title. All the stories have mythological themes. I think my favorite is “Sinsemella,” a Cinderella parody in which the main character is “permanently stoned” and can only say “o wow.” Another notable one is “The Woman Who Loved the Moon,” a lesbian-themed epic fantasy story written by World Fantasy Award winner Elizabeth Lynn.

PLANET TERRY #1 (Marvel, 1985) – “The Search,” [W] Lennie Herman, [A] Warren Kremer. The title character is a little boy who travels from planet to planet in a spaceship, seeking his parents. In his first story, he finally gets a lead on them, and he also acquires two companions, a robot and an alien. Star Comics was essentially a revival of Harvey Comics. I don’t know anything about Lennie Herman, but Warren Kremer was Harvey’s greatest artist, and his art in this issue is extremely appealing and cute, with lots of gags and weird creatures. I like Planet Terry’s premise, though its plotting is contrived; it’s rather convenient that Terry just happens to run into someone who knew his parents. I need to find the rest of this series. I should also collect more Harvey comics; it seems like Hot Stuff may be a good place to start. I was hoping to talk to Tom DeFalco about Star Comics at Heroes Con, but that will have to wait until next year.

GATECRASHER: RING OF FIRE #2 (Black Bull, 2000) – “Don’t Touch That!”, [W] Mark Waid w/ Jimmy Palmiotti, [A] Amanda Conner. Black Bull was a short-lived comics imprint of Wizard magazine. Their two main series were Gatecrasher and Garth Ennis’s Just a Pilgrim. Gatecrasher is about a clumsy teenage boy, Alec, who gets recruited into the Split-Second Squad, similar to the Nova Corps. This issue, Alec is forced to go on a Split-Second Squad mission on prom night. He wants to get home before the prom starts and without losing the corsage he bought for his date, but he fails on both counts. Amanda Conner’s art here is not her absolute best, but it’s excellent, especially in terms of facial expressions. I need to collect more Gatecrasher because I’m running out of Amanda Conner comics to read. She seems to have reached the point in her career where it’s no longer cost-effective for her to do monthly comics.

LOVE AND CAPES #7 (Maerkle Press, 2008) – untitled, [W/A] Thom Zahler. This was distributed as an FCBD comic. Mark decides to propose to Abby at Christmas, but Charlotte talks him out of it. I approve of this, because I hate public proposals; they make it impossible for the woman to say no. Mark ends up proposing in private, in a very simple and heartfelt way, and Abby accepts. Also, Paul offers Charlotte a scholarship to the Louvre, and there are some subplots about Mark’s fellow superheroes.

STORMWATCH #40 (Image, 1996) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Tom Raney. This issue gets off on the wrong foot, with a description of a plane crash that ends “Two hundred and thirty-three people have just found out there’s no God.” That’s just tasteless and disturbing. The rest of the issue is also rather gross. A team of Stormwatch agents investigates the plane crash and discovers a lot of people with hideous mutations. Kaizen Gamorra proves to be responsible, and Rose Tattoo is sent to Gamorra Island to kill 233 random people in revenge. At Ellis is self-aware about how gruesome this issue is; its last line is “Well, I thought it was about time somebody tried to make a joke.”

TALES TO OFFEND #1 (Dark Horse, 1997) – “Lance Blastoff,” [W/A] Frank Miller, plus other stories. This one-shot consists of short stories reprinted from Dark Horse Presents and other anthologies. One of them is a sordid Sin City story about masochism and incest. The others are about Lance Blastoff, an ultraviolent, misogynistic space mercenary, kind of like Duke Nukem. These stories are all deliberately offensive, but at least they’re vry well-drawn.

THE SAGA OF THE MAN-ELF #4 (Trident, 1990) – “The Boys’ Night Out” and “Father’s Day,” [W] Guy Lawley, [A] Richard Weston. Man-Elf rescues his mother from prison (again?) but gets captured himself. Miss Brunner performs a ritual and discovers that Man-Elf’s father was the last survivor of an advanced elven race – an origin story which resembles that of Corum. It’s a real shame that this series was never finished and has never been collected. It’s fascinating.

THE VINYL UNDERGROUND #1 (DC, 2007) – “Snogging for England,” [W] Si Spencer, [A] Simon Gane. This series stars Morrison Shepherd, the idle rich son of a famous footballer. In his debut story, he and two of his love interests investigate a case of African ritual murder. This series has some impressive artwork, but its depiction of African people is frustrating. The writer conflates different African cultures: the evil traditional healer is named Femi Abiola, an obviously Nigerian name, but he performs “mutu” magic (more often known as muti), which is native to Southern Africa. And Vinyl Underground isn’t good enough to make up for this lack of accuracy.

WONDER WOMAN #222 (DC, 2005) – “Blood Debt,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Cliff Richards. As a result of the events of Infinite Crisis, Diana is on trial for killing Max Lord. Meanwhile, Cheetah is jealous of Wonder Woman for being so perfect and for not being enslaved to an evil god. This issue is an interesting contrast to Sensation Comics #17, in terms of its depiction of the Cheetah’s feelings toward Wonder Woman. However, this issue is much too closely tied to Infinite Crisis.

GREEN LANTERN SEASON TWO #3 (DC, 2020) – “Thunder on Wonder Mountain,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Liam Sharp. This comic and the next one were part of another DCBS shipment. Hal and his pet baby birds have to save Hal’s old girlfriend Cowgirl from a liquid cloud creature. This issue’s story is okay, but its art is a failed experiment. Liam Sharp’s art and colors in this issue are entirely digital. His colors are outdated, looking like something out of the ‘80s or ‘90s, and his compositions are full of wasted space. He ought to stick to traditional line-drawing.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #20 (DC, 2020) – “I Will Meet Thee, Sister, in the Land of Souls,” [W] Nalo Hopkinson & Dan Watters, [A] Domo Stanton. In 1817, “Black Joe” Johnson, a former American slave living in England, meets an upper-class British woman. After his death, “Black Joe” is escorted to the afterlife by Agwe. Then there are a bunch more scenes involving Anansi, Poquita, etc. Black Joe’s story is fascinating, but it has no clear relevance to the plot. That’s a major problem with this series: it has great ideas, but its plot constantly meanders and goes in circles. That’s fine in a novel, but not in a monthly comic.

INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #1 (Marvel, 2008) – “The Five Nightmares Part 1: Armageddon Day,” [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Salvador Larroca. Tony discovers that someone has stolen his Iron Man technology and used it to stage a terror attack in Tanzania, realizing his worst nightmares. Matt Fraction is the best Iron Man writer since David Michelinie – though that’s a very low bar to clear – and in this issue he explicitly calls back to Michelinie and Layton’s classic Armor Wars storyline. My copy of this issue has Robert Downey Jr’s photo on the cover.

FALLEN ANGEL #3 (DC, 2003) – “Little Better Than a Beast, Part One: Night and Day,” [W] Peter David, [A] David Lopez. The protagonist spends much of this issue lying unconscious in an elevator. Meanwhile, there’s a cleverly written scene where a schoolgirl asks her coach about abortion, except it turns out she’s not talking about abortion. I don’t quite get what Fallen Angel is about, except that it’s a sort of spiritual sequel to PAD’s Supergirl. It feels somewhat darker than most of PAD’s work.

STAR TREK #8 (DC, 1990) – “Going, Going…”, [W] Peter David, [A] James Fry. Kirk and R.J. Blaise are kidnapped by a bounty hunter named Sweeney, whose gimmick is that when anyone hears his name, they say “Not… Sweeney!” PAD is the best writer of Star Trek comics, as far as I know, and this issue includes some very witty dialogue. I read this issue as a kid, but I forgot everything about it except the tagline “Not… Sweeney!”

WANDERING STAR #11 (Pen & Ink, 1996) – untitled, [W/A] Teri S. Wood. This was the last self-published issue before the series moved to Sirius. It begins with a convenient summary of what’s been happening. Casi’s friend Mekon has been kidnapped and subjected to the Tul’sar process, which turns people into emotionless robots. Casi has to use his aid to save herself and the telepathic boy Madison, who was mentioned in issue 1. Casi finally succeeds in escaping in her ship, the Wandering Star (hence the title of the series). I have to collect the rest of the comic. It’s a good example of how the ‘90s were a flourishing time for independent and alternative comics.

LOVE AND CAPES: THE FAMILY WAY #4 (Maerkle Press, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Thom Zahler. Abby runs into her college friend Bria, who has a high-powered corporate job. Abby struggles with feeling inferior to Bria, but eventually realizes that she’s happy with her life. That sounds like the plot to a Hallmark Channel movie, but one advantage of this series is that Abby is not an antifeminist stereotype. Her role as a wife and mother is not her entire identity.

YUMMY FUR #15 (Vortex, 1989) – untitled (Ed the Happy Clown), [W/A] Chester Brown. Some disguised aliens attend a church service, where the pastor says that “only when you have the love of Jesus inside you will you live forever.” The aliens take this literally, and they kidnap two little girls from the church in order to make them reveal the secret of immortality. This issue also includes the first part of Brown’s adaptation of the Gospel of Matthew, starting with Jesus’s genealogy. Brown includes a number of details here that aren’t in the original text, like the story of David and Bathsheba.

OCEAN #2 (Wildstorm, 2005) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Chris Sprouse. Accompanied by the scientist Fadia, Nathan Kane travels under the ice of Europa and discovers that the moon’s ocean is full of alien weapons. Also, the megacorporation Doors (i.e. Microsoft) has already made the same discovery. This issue is a great example of Warren Ellis’s ability to create a sense of wonder. Chris Sprouse is unexpectedly good at the widescreen style of comics.

HIGHER EARTH #1 (Boom!, 2012) – untitled, [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Francesco Biagini. This series is a sequel to the one-shot Our Love is Real, which I own but have not read. Its premise is that there are hundreds of worlds, each arranged vertically on top of the next. A man from a higher world visits a lower world and brings a native woman back with him to the next world up. This series’ premise is great, but probably too ambitious, and so far this series isn’t as impressive as other comics by Humphries.

THE OLD GUARD: FORCE MULTIPLIED #4 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Leandro Fernandez. This issue starts with a long flashback to Noriko and Andy’s shared history, and then there are various scenes with the present-day Noriko and the other immortals. This issue makes a lot more sense than any of the previous three, and again, Leandro Fernandez’s art is spectacular. If I were an immortal, I would assemble the world’s largest personal library.

DEATHBLOW: BYBLOWS #3 (WildStorm, 2000) – “Byblows Part 3,” [W] Alan Moore, [A] Jim Baikie. Judgment Cray kills all the other Crays except Genevieve, thinking that they’re all hallucinations. Genevieve manages to escape from him into the real world. She discovers that she and the other Crays are clones of Michael Cray, the original Deathblow, and that until now they’ve been in a virtual world designed to test which clone was strongest. Judgment escapes too, but Genevieve kills him and goes off to explore her new world. The series ends with a Winston Churchill quotation: “I am ready to meet my maker. Whether my maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter.” This was a really impressive miniseries, one of Alan’s best works at Image or Wildstorm, and it should be better known.

MADE MEN #1 (Oni, 2017) – untitled, [W] Paul Tobin, [A] Arjuna Susini. Before reading this comic I assumed it was about mobsters. Then I read the opening scene, where the protagonist and her fellow police officers are all killed in an ambush, but the protagonist wakes up. At that point I thought this series had the same premise as The Old Guard. But then the protagonist reveals that she’s a member of the Frankenstein family, and suddenly the title “Made Men” takes on a different meaning. I suppose I’d categorize Made Men as a horror comic, but it has the whimsical tone of most of Tobin’s work. Arjuna Susini’s art here is more appropriate than in Heist.

FELL #2 (Image, 2006) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Ben Templesmith. This series’ gimmick was that it cost $1.99 for just 16 story pages. Fell is a hybrid crime/horror comic about the eponymous protagonist, a homicide detective in a dystopian city, and his love interest Mayko, a bartender. Ben Templesmith draws it with highly stylized linework and coloring. In this issue, Fell discovers that someone is killing pregnant women to use their fetuses as lucky charms. This is allegedly a form of magic used in Cambodia, where these charms are called “smoke children” or “kun krak,” but I don’t know whether it’s a real crime or just an urban legend. Anyway, Fell #2 is fascinating, and it made me want to read more of the series.

BOMBSHELLS UNITED #1 (DC, 2017) – “American Soil,” [W] Marguerite Bennett, [A] Marguerite Sauvage. This is something very rare: an entire comic book illustrated by Marguerite Sauvage. Unfortunatley it’s written by the other Marguerite, Bennett, whose work I strongly dislike. Her writing is full of platitudes and slogans, and it lacks any real substance. Because of my dislike of this comic’s writing, I had difficulty enjoying its artwork. This issue is relevant to my interests as a Legion fan because it introduces Dawnstar into Bombshells continuity.

FINALS #1 (Vertigo, 1999) – “Back to School,” [W] Will Pfeifer, [A] Jill Thompson. I now have this entire miniseries, but I hadn’t read any of it until now. I also have Vertigo Resurrected: Finals, a collection of the entire series in comic book format, but I can get rid of it now. Finals is set at Knox State University, where the students are required to do harmful and dangerous experiments as their senior thesis projects. For example, the main character’s girlfriend is a religious studies major, and as her project, she forms a cult and makes the underclasswomen worship her as a goddess. This series has a funny premise, and Jill Thompson’s artwork is very expressive and full of funny details, although her artwork is line-drawn rather than painted (as in Beasts of Burden).

JOURNEY #13 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1984) – “Normaltimes,” [W/A] William Messner-Loebs. In this crossover story, Jim Valentino’s Normalman teleports back in time and befriends Wolverine MacAlistaire and his Ojibwe friend “Runs Amid Bones of Foxes.” Loebs convincingly shows us the vast cultural differences between MacAlistaire and Normalman, but he also makes me believe that they can be friends despite that. A notable aspect of this series is that it’s set in a place and time where Native Americans are the majority, and MacAlistaire often seems more comfortable with native people than with European-Americans. This issue includes a letter from my friend Kevin Maroney, and also a “special hello” to my fellow Charlotte native Michael Kobre.

DOOM PATROL #64 (DC, 1993) – “Sliding in the Wreckage Part 1: Burn in the Curse,” [W] Rachel Pollack, [A] Richard Case. One issue after Cliff, Jane and Rebis left for Danny the Planet, Dorothy Spinner is stuck on Earth. She is plagued by hallucinations of gibberish-speaking monsters, and she also suffers discrimination for her facial appearance. Rachel Pollack had the impossible task of succeeding Grant Morrison on Doom Patrol, and as a result, her Doom Patrol run is largely forgotten. But she’s an important writer in her own right, a World Fantasy Award winner and Nebula nominee, and her comics probably deserve more attention. I’m especially curious about her later issues that explore the topic of transgender identity, since Pollack is a trans woman herself, and she was writing at a time when trans people had no visibility.

BATMAN #66 (DC, 2019) – “Knightmares Part 4,” [W] Tom King, [A] Jorge Fornes. The Question questions Catwoman about her history with Batman. Jorge Fornes draws this entire issue in a style that heavily imitates David Mazzucchelli’s art from Batman: Year One. This issue is okay, but its artwork feels very derivative.

NO ONE’S ROSE #1 (Vault, 2020) – untitled, [W] Zac Thompson & Emily Horn, [A] Alberto Albuquerque. In a dystopian future, the only surviving humans live inside a giant glass dome. The dome is divided into higher and lower levels, reserved for the upper class and the workers respectively. A sister and brother from the lower level sneak to the higher level, where the brother starts a demonstration in favor of “non-human rights.” I’m not sure what this means; I guess the plants in the city are sentient. This comic’s setup is kind of cliched, but its theme of plants and flowers is interesting. I’d be willing to read at least the next couple issues.

FCBD STEPPING STONES/MAX AND THE MIDKNIGHTS (RH Graphic, 2020) – “Stepping Stones,” [W/A] Lucy Knisley. This FCBD comic was included in my last pre-pandemic DCBS shipment. I don’t know when the remaining FCBD comics for this year will be available. This comic is mostly a preview of Lucy Knisley’s upcoming graphic novel for kids. I have problems with her work – in the two books of hers I’ve read, she seems blind to her own privilege. But Stepping Stones is fascinating so far. The protagonist is a little girl, Jen, who lives on a farm. A family friend comes for a visit, and Jen is forced to hang out with the friend’s daughter Andy, who turns out to be a horrible little goody-two-shoes. Andy acts as if she can do all of Jen’s tasks better than Jen herself can, and Jen’s parents encourage her. By the end of this excerpt, I hated Andy. Jen seems to be a self-portrait; she shares Knisley’s farm background and interest in drawing. This issue also includes a story by Lincoln Peirce that doesn’t appeal to me at all.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #661 (Marvel, 2011) – “The Substitute Part One,” [W] Christos Gage, [A] Reilly Brown. This is an issue of Avengers Academy disguised as an issue of Amazing Spider-Man, but that’s okay because I liked Avengers Academy. Ant-Man hires Spidey as a substitute teacher for the academy students, but when Spidey goes on patrol with the kids, they run into the Psycho-Man. I think the best part of this issue is when the kids question Peter’s usual assumptions – like, Veil suggests that Spidey could have done more good if he had stayed in show business. This issue’s bonus feature is a silent story by Paul Benjamin and Javier Pulido, whose visual storytelling is excellent.

PLANETOID #3 (Image, 2017) – untitled, [W/A] Ken Garing. Silas, the stranded spaceman, organizes the planet’s human population into a functioning society. He gets some buy-in from some frog people who can’t speak the humans’ language, and he even builds a kite to keep the kids busy. I guess this issue is a bit of a white savior narrative, but it stresses the communitarian nature of the society Silas is creating. But as the issue ends, the warrior Ozender – who left town earlier rather than work with Silas – is found murdered, apparently by the Ono Mao.

BATMAN #252 (DC, 1973) – “The Spook’s Master Stroke!”, [W] Frank Robbins, [A] Irv Novick. Batman matches wits with the Spook. Throughout this story, Batman and the Spook each show an implausible ability to predict exactly what the other will do. A weird moment in this story is when Batman fakes his own death and is buried in a grave, but then we learn that Jason Bard is in the grave, instead of Batman. Since the point of this stratagem was just to make the Spook think Batman was dead, I don’t see why it mattered whetheror not the fake corpse really was Batman. The backup story, by Elliot S! Maggin and Dick Dillin, is better than the main story. Davy King, a thinly disguised stand-in for Danny Kaye, enrolls at Hudson University, where he entertains some kids and helps Robin catch a criminal.

FELL #6 (Image, 2006) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Ben Templesmith. Fell and Mayko go out on a date, but they get sidetracked into investigating a disturbance at the house of a single father and child. Fell discovers that the father is a horrifying pedophile who injects his daughter with her own feces in order to keep her under his control. This plot element was based on an actual crime that happened in 2005. Fell is a very grim series, but Fell and Mayko’s relationship is cute.

GWENPOOL #12 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, [W] Christopher Hastings, [A] GuriHiru. Gwenpool and her friends find themselves in a role-playing-game dungeon, which is in fact one of Arcade’s Murderworlds. This issue is better than I expected from this series.

JON SABLE, FREELANCE #43 (First, 1986) – untitled, [W/A] Mike Grell. Sable and Rachel foil a terrorist plot to blow up the Statue of Liberty. The terrorists’ plan is very clever, but by this point in the series, Grell no longer seemed to care about the quality of his art. His linework is very loose and crude, with hardly any fine detail.

Reviews: The Longest Wednesday

My last DCBS shipment, until further notice, arrived on March 25. (DCBS has actually started shipping comics again, but only DC comics. This is partly why I’m leaning toward not using DCBS anymore after my outstanding orders are filled. More on that later.) I haven’t even finished all the comics from the March 25 shipment. I’m not in any hurry to finish the current week’s comics before the next week’s comics arrive, and also, I don’t want to run out of new comics to read; I think that would make me very sad. I’m probably going to wait to finish the March 25 comics until distribution has resumed and the next shipment of new comics is on the way. Hopefully, that will happen around May 20 as planned. Meanwhile, in the absence of new comics or local comic book conventions, I’ve been ordering a lot of back issues online.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #5 (DC, 2020) – untitled, [W] Brian Michael Bendis, [A] Ryan Sook. I can’t be bothered to read the giant blocks of Interlac text on the first page. I wish Bendis would stop doing that. I used to be able to read Interlac, but I’m out of practice. This issue finishes the Legion’s origin story and also reintroduces R.J. Brande, who is female in this continuity. Bendis is getting a bit better at giving Legionnaires individual personalities; I especially like the scene where Blok is invited to join the Legion, and he answers in monosyllables. However, it is ridiculous that we still don’t know the characters’ names. I’ve started enjoying this series despite my general hatred for Bendis, but it’s still not a great Legion comic.

ONCE AND FUTURE #7 (Boom!, 2020) – “Old English,” [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Dan Mora. With Saga still on hiatus, Once and Future is probably the best current ongoing title. This issue, the bad guys steal the original manuscript of Beowulf and use it to summon Beowulf himself. This plot twist introduces another essential English medieval text into the series. At the end of the issue, one of the villains reads the start of Beowulf out loud. I took a photo of this scene and shared it on social media, and it got positive reactions from people who hadn’t heard of Once and Future.

AMETHYST #2 (DC, 2020) – “Out of Place,” [W/A] Amy Reeder. Amy and Phoss escape from the Sapphire Realm on the back of a caterpillar and flee to the Aquamarine Realm. There Amy learns how to teleport between amethyst stones, and by using this ability, she discovers that her birth parents are still alive. Amy Reeder’s dialogue feels clumsy at times, but her artwork is highly imaginative. So far, this series is the only good Amethyst comic not written by Mishkin and Cohn.

FAR SECTOR #5 (DC, 2020) – untitled, [W] N.K. Jemisin, [A] Jamal Campbell. The flashback to Jo’s origin is perhaps the high point of the series so far. After suffering a lifetime of racism, Jo went into the army and then the police force, where she became an agent of racist violence against other oppressed people. Jo was recruited into the GLC because of her commitment to the justice that was denied to her: “Nobody ever goes to jail for this shit. It never gets better. It has too get better. I have to make it better somehow.” This expresses some major themes of Jemisin’s work: righteous anger at the treatment of oppressed groups by dominant groups, together with a conviction that a more equitable world can be imagined. On a lighter note, when CanHaz says that Jo is paying her salary in cat memes, that must be an allusion to Naomi Kritzer’s “Cat Pictures Please.”

MARVEL ACTION: AVENGERS #1 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Katie Cook, [A] Butch Mapa. I’ve been unimpressed by the Marvel Action titles, but I had to order this one because I love Katie Cook’s writing. This issue has a silly plot, in which Thor breaks Black Widow’s ceramic figure, and he and Ant-Man have to replace it. But the issue is full of funny inside jokes, and Katie skillfully parodies each Avenger’s personality. This comic was lots of fun, and I hope Katie writes more of this series.

BASKETFUL OF HEADS #6 (DC, 2020) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Leomacs. June decapitates Hank, then gets the heads to tell her the rest of what’s going on. She sets out to save Liam from Hank’s dad’s boat (named Skidbladnir, a Norse mythological reference), but it turns out Hank has set a trap for her, and the issue ends with June being thrown overboard tied to an anchor. This has been a very fast-paced and exciting series, easily the best of Joe Hill’s three current titles.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #88 (IDW, 2020) – untitled, [W] Ted Anderson, [A] Tony Fleecs. Silver Streak wins the Draytona Breach, but only because he doesn’t stop to help an injured Rainbow Dash. This ending reminds me of the ending of the original Cars, where the villain wins the race, but it’s a hollow victory. Also, Sacks Roamer is captured and the dragon statue is recovered. This was a fun story. Next issue, whenever it finally comes out, will be the start of Season Nine.

INCREDIBLE HULK #182 facsimile (Marvel, 1974/2020) – “Between Hammer and Anvil!”, [W] Len Wein, [A] Herb Trimpe. I’ve heard this is a really good issue, but the original issue is prohibitively expensive because it includes an early cameo appearance by Wolverine. So I was excited when this facsimile edition was announced, and now that I’ve read it, I agree that it’s a classic. After parting company with Wolverine, Hulk meets an old homeless black man named Crackajack Jackson. Hulk and Crackajack, both outcasts from society, become instant friends. But their friendship is short-lived: Crackajack is killed by his own son, a convict turned supervillain, and the story ends with Hulk writing Crackajack’s name on his tombstone. Crackajack only ever appeared on a few pages, but he’s a memorable character, and his friendship with Hulk is truly touching. As an aside, Hammer and Anvil have a really cool gimmick – they’re a black man and a white racist who are attached to each other by a chain. Sadly they only appeared a couple more times before being murdered by Scourge. This issue’s letter column includes a bunch of letters on whether it’s appropriate to show naked people in comics.

CROWDED #12 (Image, 2020) – “Glad Girls,” [W] Christopher Sebela, [A] Ro Stein & Ted Brandt. This is the last monthly issue, but there’s only one more storyline left anyway. Vita and Charlie find a clever and funny way to escape the missile silo, but they leave Dog beind, and Vita has to go back for it. Sadly, when she returns with Dog, Charlie has cancelled Vita’s contract and has hired a new Dfendr who is none other than Circe the assassin. It’s going to be hard to wait for the next trade. Crowded is Sebela’s best comic yet by far.

SEX CRIMINALS #28 (Image, 2020) – “As Badal as I Wanna Bedal,” [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Chip Zdarsky. This issue is Kuber Badal’s origin story. As we learn, Badal can only get off by making other people suffer, and his goal is to use sex powers to change the past. This is another extremely well-done issue, but I’ve been losing enthusiasm for this series, and under the present circumstances, I found it hard to fully enjoy this issue.

SCOOBY-DOO TEAM-UP #22 (DC, 2017) – “Nothing is Impossible,” [W] Sholly Fisch, [A] Dave Alvarez. The Scooby Gang team up with the Impossibls to fight Frankenstein Jr, who has been mind-controlled by the Mad Inventor. Unusually for a Scooby comic, there is no  mystery villain, although the Mad Inventor does deliver the “meddling kids” line. This issue is entertaining enough, but not memorable.

HILLBILLY #5 (Albatross, 2016) – “The Midnight Devilment of Tailypo,” [W/A] Eric Powell. This issue’s lead story is a retelling of the old Tailypo legend, in which a hunter cuts off a monster’s tail and eats it, and then the monster pursues the man, demanding its tail back. There’s also a backup story, drawn by Steve Mannion, starring the Iron Child, who we later learn is the same character as Rondel the hillbilly himself. I got tired of this series quickly, perhaps because I found the dialogue annoying. However, Eric Powell’s draftsmanship is really good, and he’s a gifted visual storyteller.

AQUAMAN #17 (DC, 1996) – “Numbers,” [W] Peter David, [A] Jim Calafiore. Aquaman and Dolphin travel to Hy-Brasil, one of the lost cities of Atlantis. Aquaman fights and defeats the guardian of Hy-Brasil, who kills himself, and Aquaman becomes the new guardian and is expected to marry the old guardian’s widow. PAD’s Aquaman is extremely fun; it’s closer to fantasy or SF than superheroes, and it creates a sense of strangeness and wonder. It also has great dialogue, and the two main artists, Calafiore and Marty Egeland, are both quite underrated.

FANTASTIC FOUR #153 (Marvel, 1974) – “Worlds in Collision!”, [W] Tony Isabella, [A] Rich Buckler. The FF and the super-female-chauvinist Thundra battle the super-male-chauvinist Makhizmo. The story ends with Thundra’s Femizons and Makhizmo’s male chauvinists achieving gender equality. Putting these two worlds on the same level feels like false equivalence. This issue is okay, but Roy Thomas wrote a better version of this story in Avengers West Coast #75 (one of the first comic books I ever read).

SCOOBY-DOO TEAM-UP #21 (DC, 2017) – “Happy Harley Daze!”, [W] Sholly Fisch, [A] Dario Brizuela. The Scooby Gang and Harley Quinn investigate some appearances by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. The Joker shows up to complicate matters. This isuse is full of funny jokes – for example, two of the suspects are Doug Chippendale and Sarah Shaker from the antique department. Oh, and Harley has two pet hyenas who she calls her babies.

WEIRD WESTERN TALES #58 (DC, 1979) – “Weep the Widow,” [W] Gerry Conway, [A] Dick Ayers. While pursuing some homicidal Union army deserters, Scalphunter meets a widow whose husband was killed in the war, and who is terrified of any kind of violence. The deserters appear, and Scalphunter is about to kill them and rescue the widow and her son. But the widow decides to coldcock Scalphunter with a frying pan so that he won’t commit further violence. As a result, the deserters burn the widow’s house down, she and her son barely survive, and Scalphunter kills the deserters anyway. I guess this story is a meditation on the awfulness of war, but the widow’s decision to attack Scalphunter was extremely stupid and counterproductive, and she deserved to have her house burned down. Her actions can only be excused if we assume she was so traumatized as to not be responsible for her own behavior.

SUICIDE SQUAD #45 (DC, 1990) – “The Jerusalem Serpent,” [W] John Ostrander & Kim Yale, [A] Geof Isherwood. Kobra announces that the next Kali Yuga will begin in Jerusalem,  and the Suicide Squad travels to Israel to stop Kobra’s plot. This issue includes some excellent dialogue scenes between pairs of characters – Ravan and Bronze Tiger, Captain Boomerang and Deadshot, Amanda Waller and Vixen. It also introduces the Israeli superhero team Hayoth. Neither Ostrander nor Yale are or were Jewish as far as I know, but they must have had nontrivial knowledge of Judaism, judging by the Hayoth’s names and powers. For example, one of them is named Rambam, after Maimonides’s nickname, and he swears by the Ineffable Name.

GRUMBLE: MEMPHIS AND BEYOND THE INFINITE #1 (Albatross, 2020) – untitled, [W] Rafer Roberts, [A] Mike Norton. I’m glad to see this back, if only for one month. This issue, Eddie and Tala begin their plot to rescue Tala’s mother from prison, and they get drafted into an elaborate rescue mission run by a bunch of aliens. I think the best part of this issue is the giant hairy aliens with no visible faces.

MISTER MIRACLE #21 (DC, 1977) – “Command Performance!”, [W] Steve Englehart, [A] Marshall Rogers. These creators were perhaps the greatest Batman creative team ever, but Mister Miracle is not Batman. This issue has some nice page layouts and effective artwork, but it doesn’t feel Kirbyesque. Its plot is that Barda is dying, and Scott tries to revive her by fomenting a revolution in Armagetto.

MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS #76 (Marvel, 1991) – “Weapon X Chapter Four,” [W/A] Barry Windsor-Smith, plus other stories. This issue’s four stories were drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith, Paul Gulacy, Bryan Hitch and Dave Cockrum. That’s an amazing lineup of talent for such a bottom-drawer title. The highlight of this issue is Weapon X because of its stunning artwork and coloring, and I think Hitch’s Death’s Head story, written by Simon Furman, is the second best. I vaguely remember getting this issue from the library when I was a little kid.

IMMORTAL HULK #33 (Marvel, 2020) – “The Thoughtful Man,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett et al. In a segment drawn by Nick Pitarra, the Hulk from Planet Hulk convinces the original Hulk to free himself from Xemnu’s mind control. Pitarra was a good choice of guest artist bceause he’s skilled at body horror and his art is fundamentally weird. Rick inspires the Hulk to defeat Xemnu in an extremely gruesome fight, but then we learn that Rick has been mind-controlled by the Leader all along. I think the most memorable thing in this issue is the”Xemnu’s Magic Planet” theme song, which includes the line “where the sun is black as hair and the mountains are not there.”

THOR #472 (Marvel, 1994) – “If Twilight Falls…”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] M.C. Wyman. I have very few issues of Thor from between #400 and #500, since the series went into a massive decline after Simonson left. At least this issue is written by Thomas and not DeFalco, but it has a boring plot and unappealing art, and it feels somehow like a relic of the early ‘90s. I’d still pick up more issues of this Thor run if theye were very cheap.

SILVER SURFER #3 (Marvel, 1987) – “Heaven,” [W] Steve Englehart, [A] Marshall Rogers. By 1987, Rogers’s art only barely resembled his art from his Batman run. This issue the Surfer meets the Runner, an Elder of the Universe, and Mantis shows up at the end. The idea of the Elders of the Universe was introduced by other writers, but it seems like it was Englehart who developed them in detail.

ATOMIC ROBO: SHADOW FROM BEYOND TIME #1 (Red 5, 2009) – “Horror on Houston Street,” [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Scott Wegener. In 1926, a young Robo meets Charles Fort and H.P. Lovecraft. The latter is accurately presented as an awful racist who speaks in hysterical, archaic language. Fort enlists Robo’s aid against an extra-dimensional monster that’s possessed Lovecraft. Shadow from Beyond Time is my favorite Atomic Robo miniseries because of its extremely clever narrative structure, although that structure is not yet evident in this issue.

SWAMP THING #3 (Vertigo, 2000) – “Kill Your Darlings,” [W] Brian K. Vaughan, [A] Roger Petersen. A grown-up Tefé is working on a fishing boat. One of the crewmen starts killing the others. The captain overreacts to this and hangs his prime suspect, who is his daughter’s boyfriend and the father of her unborn child. But it turns out that the real murderer was another crewman, things go to hell in a hurry, and everyone dies except for Tefé and the captain’s daughter, but the latter’s baby is killed. This is a rather tasteless and gruesome piece of horror, and it has nothing to do with Swamp Thing. Tefe’s powers have almost no effect on the plot. As its title indicates, this issue also has a theme of metatext, but BKV doesn’t do anything exciting with this theme. The one thing I did like about this issue is the captain’s daughter, a woman whose tyrannical father has prevented her from becoming her own person, but this character suffers some unfortunate fridging.

GREEN LANTERN #26 (DC, 1964) – “Star Sapphire Unmasks Green Lantern!” and “The World Within the Power Ring!”,  [W] Gardner Fox, [A] Gil Kane. Star Sapphire tries to get Green Lantern to marry her by forcing him to admit defeat and thus weakening his will. Of course it doesn’t work. Star Sapphire is a much more forceful character than Carol Ferris, who is portrayed in this story as a total wimp. Fox was a rather sexist writer, but he was capable of writing interesting female characters, especially Hawkgirl. The backup story is the first appearance of Myrwhydden, the evil wizard trapped in Hal’s power ring. Grant Morrison recently did a brilliant revival of this character.

STAR SLAMMERS #3 (IDW, 2014) – untitled, [W/A] Walt Simonson. Uncle Walt has been working on this series off and on for his entire career, but this IDW series is the definitive remastered edition of all the Star Slammers comics from Marvel, Malibu and Dark Horse. The material in #3 originally appeared in a 1983 Marvel Graphic Novel. I had trouble following this issue because I hadn’t read the previous two, but the art in it is stunning. It includes some very ambitious page layouts that depict the Star Slammers’ Silvermind, which is similar to the Eternals’ Unmind. These pages remind me of the fractal page in Thor #341 where Fafnir hypnotizes Lorelei. Walt’s best-known works are in the fantasy or superhero genre, but he’s also extremely good at drawing space battles.

BATMAN #323 (DC, 1980) – “Shadow of the Cat!”, [W] Len Wein, [A] Irv Novick. Batman tries to arrest Catwoman for stealing some Egyptian cat artifacts, but she protests her innocence. The real culprit proves to be Cat-Man. There’s a subplot involving Gregorian Falstaff, and there’s also a scene where Lucius Fox argues with his younger and more radical son. This reminds me a lot of Robbie and Randy Robertson’s similar arguments.

WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES #249 (Dell, 1961) – “Stranger than Fiction,” [W/A] Carl Barks. Donald is annoyed that the nephews are reading science fiction stories about teleportation, so he gets Gyro Gearloose to invent a real teleportation device. This results in a bunch of funny gags. This issue includes an early example of Tuckerization. The book the nephews are reading is Ten Seconds to Mars by Spicer Willits. That name references John Spicer and Malcolm Willits, the first two fans who learned Barks’s name and corresponded with him. (https://www.mouseplanet.com/9969/How_Disney_Fans_Found_Carl_Barks) Of the three other stories in this issue, the only notable one is a Mickey Mouse story by Fallberg and Murry.

At this point I received an order from Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find, including a graphic novel as well as five Slott Spider-Man issues. The latter were the first new comic books I had gotten since DCBS shipments stopped.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #648 (Marvel, 2011) – “Big Time,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Humberto Ramos. Spidey fights the Sinister Six alongside the Avengers, but then gets thrown out of his apartment and has no luck finding a roommate. Luckily he gets hired by a tech startup run by a man named Max Modell. There’s also a backup story written by Paul Tobin. #648 was the start of Slott’s solo Spider-Man run, and it’s a great start. One of my favorite things about Slott is how he constantly keeps the reader interested. On nearly every page there’s a funny joke or a touching piece of characterization or a clever new piece of continuity. The highlight of this issue is when Peter saves the day by realizing that it’s the first day of Daylight Savings Time, so the Avengers have an extra hour before Doc Ock’s bomb goes off.

UNCLE SCROOGE #233 (Gladstone, 1989) – “Outfoxed Fox,” [W/A] Carl Barks. Uncle Scrooge wants the land Donald’s house stands on, but Donald won’t sell because he doesn’t want to give up his garden. Scrooge tricks Donald and his neighbor, Jughead Jones, into digging up their gardens and tearing down their houses in search of a made-up treasure. The nephews turn the tables on Scrooge by convincing Donald and Jughead to do the same to Scrooge’s own house. I have no idea whether the name Jughead Jones was a coincidence or an intentional reference to Archie comics. If Barks used the name on purpose, I don’t understand why. The Jughead in this story has nothing in common with Archie’s best friend. This issue also includes two European stories.

JONAH HEX #65 (DC, 2011) – “Snowblind,”[W] Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray, [A] Jordi Bernet. Jonah Hex is caught in a snowstorm and has to spend the winter living with an eccentric hermit, who he protects from wolves and bandits. On the last page, we learn that Jonah was supposed to capture the hermit for a reward, but he decides not to. This issue is a quite effective piece of storytelling, but Bernet’s art is less effective in color than in black and white.

DETECTIVE COMICS #770 (DC, 2002) – “Purity Part 3 of 3,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Steve Lieber. Batman fights some Chinese drug dealers, whose leader has a beak and wings. There’s also a Josie Mac story by Judd Winick and Cliff Chiang. This issue is rather forgettable. The best thing about it is Andrew Robinson’s cover art.

STAR SLAMMERS #1 (IDW, 2014) – untitled, [W/A] Walt Simonson. This issue introduces the Star Slammers, a group of intergalactic mercenaries. We first see them when they’re hired to help out the losing side of a war. Only three of them show up, but that’s more than enough to win the war, even when they’re betrayed by the side that hired them. As in issue 3, Walt’s draftsmanship, page layouts, and costume designs are amazing.

THE GOON: ONCE UPON A HARD TIME #1 (Dark Horse, 2015) – untitled, [W/A] Eric Powell. The Goon beats up a lot of people and drinks himself into a stupor. His friend Frankie grows increasingly worried about him. As in issue 2, Eric Powell’s art is extremely effective. I think the closest artist to him is Kevin Nowlan, but Powell’s art is more painterly than Nowlan’s.

GREEN LANTERN #167 (DC, 1983) – “Ring Against Ring!”, [W] Joey Cavalieri, [A] George Tuska. In the lead story, some Green Lanterns go rogue because they’ve heard that the Guardians are intentionally depriving them of rings that don’t have a weakness to yellow. This story is no better than you would expect from its creators. The backup story, “Successor” by Todd Klein and Dave Gibbons, is much better. It’s about a horse-like Green Lantern who retires  and is replaced by his robot butler. Gibbons is a great visual storyteller, and he draws some cute horses.

ACTION COMICS #364 (DC, 1968) – “The Untouchable from Krypton!”, [W] Leo Dorfman, [A] Ross Andru. The best thing about this issue is Neal Adams’s cover. Ross Andru’s interior art is also good, but far more old-fashioned-looking. “The Untouchable from Krypton!” is part of a continuing story in which Superman contracts Kryptonian leprosy and has to leave Earth. There’s also a Supergirl story by Otto Binder and Kurt Schaffenberger, in which two of Supergirl’s acquaintances both marry the same man and immediately die. To investigate their deaths, Supergirl gets engaged to the man herself. This story’s premise is extremely dumb, and the resolution to the mystery is also ridiculous.

PLANETARY #7 (Wildstorm, 2000) – “To Be in England, in the Summertime,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] John Cassaday. This is quite possibly Warren Ellis’s best individual comic book, although you have to have read lots of other comics in order to understand why. Jack Carter, i.e. John Constantine, is dead, and the members of Planetary attend his funeral. For Ellis, Carter is the embodiment of ‘80s comics, which in his view were principally about the horribleness of Thatcher’s Britain. The examples Ellis has in mind are mostly the work of Moore, Gaiman and Morrison; for example, there’s a panel where two stand-ins for Morpheus and Death are feeding pigeons. The murderer turns out to be a character based on Miracleman, who’s angry because he liked his old, boring, respectable self and was unhappy with being deconstructed and turning grim and dark. At the end, Jack Carter reveals himself to be alive, and he visually transforms himself into Spider Jerusalem. Here Ellis is making an implicit declaration of independence: he’s tired of the ’80s school of comics, and in Transmetropolitan (and Planetary) he’s trying to do something different. This issue may be faulted for demanding too much insider knowledge of comics, but it’s an extremely ambitious and clever piece of metafiction.

DAREDEVIL #10 (Marvel, 2012) – “Underground Crime,” [W] Mark Waid, [A] Paolo Rivera. Daredevil fights the Mole Man, who dug up Jack Murdock’s grave because his own lost lover (or stalking victim, rather) was buried nearby. Matt shows a total lack of sympathy for the Mole Man, but he really doesn’t deserve any. Paolo Rivera’s art in this issue is excellent. The issue begins with a scene where Matt escapes from a monster which we never see fully – we only see its eyes, tongue and teeth.

CLASSIC STAR WARS: THE EARLY ADVENTURES #6 (Dark Horse, 1995) – “The Second Kessel Run,” [W/A] Russ Manning. I believe this issue consists of newspaper strips cut up and rearranged in comic book form. Luke, Han and friends have to save the planet of Kessel from being destroyed by a scientist’s terraforming project. Luke has a cute flirtation with the scientist’s daughter. Russ Manning’s artwork in this issue is excellent, although it’s reproduced too large. However, Manning’s graphic style does not fit with the style of the Star Wars films. Manning’s spaceships and machines look slick, aerodynamic and futuristic, but they’re juxtaposed with costumes and ships that are borrowed from the films, and that look dingy, dilapidated, and overly complicated. The result is a clash between two incompatible design styles, and Manning’s own designs come off looking old-fashioned by comparison to the designs from the films. Al Williamson did a better job of matching his own style to the visual aesthetic of the Star Wars franchise.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #651 (Marvel, 2011) – untitled (Big Time), [W] Dan Slott, [A] Humberto Ramos. Spidey and Black Cat invade the Kingpin’s headquarters and fight the Hobgoblin. As a countermeasure to the Hobgoblin’s powers, Spidey uses a device that blocks out sound,  and this leads to some funny complications. The dialogue in this issue is also excellent; Slott is really good at writing Spider-Man’s witty banter. The main story ends with Peter realizing he’s finally hit the big time, hence the title of the story arc. There’s also a backup story where Alistair Smythe recruits the Scorpion to help him get revenge on JJJ.

CHEW #25 (Image, 2012) – “Major League Chew Part 5,” [W] John Layman, [A] Rob Guillory. Tony Chu has been kidnapped, and the kidnapper auctions him off, with his cibopathic powers, to the highest bidder. Amelia Mintz saves him. At the end of the issue, Colby is assigned Poyo as his new partner. This issue begins with a scene where Colby’s boss basically rapes him. This is funny in context, but may be offensive to some readers.

ADVENTURE COMICS #442 (DC, 1975) – “H is for Holocaust,” [W] Paul Levitz, [A] Jim Aparo. Aquaman has to save a hijacked ship before the U.S. government can nuke it, which would devastate Atlantis’s environment. There’s a subplot about an insurrection in Atlantis. This story is okay, but not as good as other Aquaman stories from this period. This issue also includes a Seven Soldiers of Victory story, drawn by José Luis Garcia-Lopez from an unpublished Golden Age script. JLGL’s art is only average, and Joe Samachson’s script is extremely stupid and childish. Samachson was still alive at the time, though he had long since abandoned his writing career.

SUICIDE SQUAD #50 (DC, 1991) – “Debt of Honor,” [W] John Ostrander & Kim Yale, [A] Geof Isherwood et al. This issue begins with a confusing scene in which Rick Flag abandons his friend Jess Bright after a mountaineering disaster. This scene is shown more fully in Secret Origins #14, which I don’t have. Jess Bright survives, but suffers extreme injuries and becomes the supervillain Koshchei the Deathless. Many years later, Bright kidnaps Flag’s posthumous son by Karin Grace. The Squad have to save the boy, even though Koshchei tries to stop them by resurrecting their many dead teammates. This is a very exciting issue that effectively draws upon the series’ previous four years of continuity.

DETECTIVE COMICS #759 (DC, 2001) – “Unknowing Part Two,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Shawn Martinborough. I’m surprised this issue is so old because its cover art and design look extremely up to date. Rucka’s run on Detective Comics feels like the beginning of the contemporary era of Batman, as opposed to the previous era that was dominated by crossovers like Knightfall and No Man’s Land. This issue, Batman tries to unravel the Mad Hatter’s mind control plot, and Bruce Wayne’s bodyguard Sasha Bordeaux tries to assist him, even though Batman doesn’t want her help. There’s also a Slam Bradley backup story with beautiful art by Darwyn Cooke and Cameron Stewart, though it’s a bit hard to tell which of them did what. I think this was Darwyn’s second published comic book story, after Legion Worlds #2, and not counting Batman: Ego.

Pandemic reviews

4-11-2020

Well, a lot has changed since I last wrote reviews. The world is suffering from a deadly pandemic, and the comics industry is in the middle of an existential crisis. Of course comics are far less important than people’s lives, and it seems silly to be worried about mere entertainment at such a time. But my biggest worries stemming from COVID-19 have been about comics and academia. The bigger consequences of the pandemic for society and public health are too big to think about, and I’m trying to avoid thinking about them. But periodical comic books have been central to my identity for my entire life.  The prospect that there might be no new comic books again, ever, is terrifying. I feel far less worried about coronavirus now, though, than I did in March, and I think that one way or another, the comics industry will survive. Sooner or later there will be monthly comics and comic conventions again. Meanwhile, I’ve been ordering a lot of old comics, and I’ve been keeping a list of major developments in the industry, so that when all this is over, I can write about it.

Early in March, I read some old comics that I’d had for years:

SKREEMER #1 (DC, 1989) – “Souls to the Devil,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Brett Ewins & Steve Dillon. This comic is narrated out of chronological order and is very difficult to understand, but it’s interesting. It’s sort of a hybrid of crime fiction and postapocalyptic SF, focusing on a mobster named Vito Skreemer. Like many other Peter Milligan comics, it seems to demand multiple readings in order to make sense of it. At the end of this issue there’s a quotation from the song “Finnegan’s Wake,” which inspired the novel.

SGT. ROCK #399 (DC, 1985) – “Sgt. Rock is Dead!”, [W] Robert Kanigher, [A] Adrian Gonzales. Sgt. Rock fakes his own death in order to exterminate an SS patrol. This story is fairly gripping and brutal, but somewhat forgettable; in writing this review, I had to remind myself what it’s about. The backup story by Darren Auck, about science-fictional mercenaries, is even less memorable.

ALIEN WORLDS #7 (Pacific, 1984) – “The Small World of Lewis Stillman,” [W/A] Richard Corben from a story by William F. Nolan, etc. William F. Nolan is best known for Logan’s Run. This issue begins with Corben’s adaptation of a postapocalyptic story by Nolan in which a young couple are murdered by creepy children. The plot here is nothing special, but Corben’s artwork is gorgeous. I’ll have more to say about him in some much later reviews. Bruce Jones and Gray Morrow’s “It All Fits” is an EC-esque SF story, featuring an illicit love affair on an alien planet, plus some carnivorous fur coats. Perhaps the highlight of the issue is the last story, “Ride the Blue Bus,” a rare example of a story both pencilled and inked by George Pérez. He is his own best inker because his inks bring out the meticulous detail of his pencils.

KIRBY GENESIS #5 (Dynamite, 2012) – “From Out of the Depths,” [W] Kurt Busiek, [A] Jack Herbert & Alex Ross. This comic is based on a number of unpublished concepts created by Jack Kirby. However, Kurt’s story incorporates all these concepts at once, with the result that they all draw attention away from each other. Even worse, this comic’s plot is so convoluted and involves so many different characters that it makes no sense at all.

THE FLASH #314 (DC, 1982) – “Look Upon the Eradicator!”, [W] Cary Bates, [A] Carmine Infantino. I may have said this before, but The Flash was the perfect comic for Cary Bates because it was all plot. It didn’t require him to waste time on characterization, which he was very bad at. Because of his exclusive focus on plot at the expense of character, he was a natural heir to Fox and Broome. This issue balances several plots at once: the love triangle between Barry, Fiona Webb and Senator Creed; a new vigilante called the Eradicator; and the Rogues Gallery’s revenge scheme. It’s not the best Flash comic, but at least it’s entertaining.

WEIRD WAR TALES #65 (DC, 1978) – “The Last Cavalry Charge!”, [W] Paul Kupperberg, [A] Danny Bulanadi. In this issue’s main story, set in Greece in 1943, the witch Circe turns an old cavalry officer into a centaur so he can participate in one final cavalry charge. According to Wikipedia the actual “last cavalry charge” in history was at the Battle of Schoenfeld in 1945. The backup story, “Death’s Head” by Jack Oleck and Fred Carrillo, also stars Circe; in this story, she turns some Nazi soldiers into pigs. Neither of these stories is particularly good.

UNKNOWN SOLDIER #263 (DC, 1982) – “Death Sub, U.S.N.,” [W] Bob Haney, [A] Dick Ayers. In the first story, the Unknown Soldier solves the mystery of a submarine that was captured and then abandoned by the Japanese. It turns out that the Japanese put beer aboard the submarine that was contaminated with the plague, so that when the Americans took the sub back to Pearl Harbor, they would infect the rest of the country. I’m not sure the plague works that way. The second story, “Killers in the Sky” starring Balloon Buster and Enemy Ace, is the best story in the issue because it’s drawn by Dan Spiegle; however, Balloon Buster’s dialogue is extremely annoying. Finally, there’s a Tomahawk story by Haney and Delbo, which is hampered by boring art and dubious historical accuracy.

LEGION LOST #6 (DC, 2000) – “Burnout,” [W] Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, [A] Pascal Alixe. Umbra goes crazy due to being unable to contact her ancestors, and Saturn Girl tries to help her and also goes crazy. Later, the Legion explores a new planet. This series made the Legion more popular than they had been in years, but it was extremely dark and grim. In a way it was even grimmer than the v4 Legion, which at least had frequent moments of hope and humor.

THE SHADOW #12 (DC, 1975) – “Night of the Damned,” [W] Denny O’Neil, [A] E.R. Cruz. I may be the only one who likes E.R. Cruz’s art. No one ever mentions him much, but his style of linework is very distinctive, with tons of fine detail. This issue has a pretty dumb story about a Russian mystic named Ivan Zarnovitch. One of Zarnovitch’s henchmen is a giant weightlifter named Sergei Diaghilev. I assume that for some reason Denny named this character after the famous ballet impresario who founded the Ballets Russes.

KULL THE DESTROYER #11 (Marvel, 1973) – “King Kull Must Die!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Mike Ploog. This issue adapts REH’s “By This Axe I Rule!”, which was later converted into the first Conan story, “The Phoenix on the Sword.” “King Kull Must Die” felt very familiar to me, and I think I may have read it somewhere before. It’s good, though. It sums up what seems to be the main theme of the character: Kull finds the throne of Valusia to be an unwelcome burden, but he’ll be damned if he lets anyone else take it from him. And Mike Ploog’s art is very powerful. I especially like the climactic quasi-splash page where Kull shouts “Now – who dies first?”

ACTION COMICS #430 (DC, 1973) – “Bus-Ride to Nowhere!”, [W] Cary Bates, [A] Curt Swan. In Clark has to figure out which of his neighbors is an alien monster from the 420th century. This story is well-drawn, but implausible and stupid. In the backup story, by Elliot S! Maggin and Dick Dillin, the Atom takes Jean Loring’s nephew to the circus and gets involved in an adventure. This story is not memorable, but at least it’s cute.

RED SONJA #13 (Marvel, 1979) – “Shall Skranos Fall?”, [W] Roy Thomas w/ Clair Noto, [A] John Buscema. Clair Noto, more often credited in comics as Clara Noto, is best known for writing the unpublished screenplay The Tourist. Red Sonja was the only comic she ever wrote. According to Back Issue #118, this was because she became acquainted with Roy at a time when he was feeling burnt out and needed a partner. Maybe her presence explains why Red Sonja feels rather different in tone from Roy’s Conan comics. “Shall Skranos Fall?” wraps up most of the series’ dangling plots in a satisfying way, but it’s too bad that Frank Thorne didn’t draw it.

I received a new comics shipment on March 6. This was the last normal week before the pandemic. For new comics released in March, each review should be understood to include the unstated comment “I hope I get to read the next issue soon.”

THE MAGNIFICENT MS. MARVEL #13 (Marvel, 2020) – “Introducing: Amulet!”, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Joey Vazquez. Kamala and her friends go to the fair, Kamala and Bruno have some relationship problems, and then we’re introduced to Marvel’s first Arab-American superhero, Amulet. This character, created by Saladin and Sara Alfageeh, has been heavily hyped, and so far I love him. Saladin doesn’t reveal his origin or secret identity this issue, which is a reasonable choice, but unfortunately it means it’ll be a while before we learn any more about him.

STRANGE ADVENTURES #1 (DC, 2020) – “They Floated Above the Ground,” [W] Tom King, [A] Mitch Gerads & Evan “Doc” Shaner. I love the idea of Adam and Alanna Strange, but their original stories are very sexist (see Mystery in Space #75 review below). And the only major modern take on them is Swamp Thing #57 and #58, where Adam is presented very negatively, and Alanna doesn’t get to do anything. So Tom King has a great opportunity to redefine these characters. This issue, Adam and Alanna are stuck on Earth and are dealing with the tragic loss of their daughter. The Earth scenes are drawn by Mitch Gerads, and the Rann flashbacks by Doc Shaner. This is an extremely promising series, though it has some obvious similarities to Tom and Mitch’s Mr. Miracle – both are 12 issues and have a theme of parenthood. I hope we will soon see where this series is going.

STRANGE ACADEMY #1 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Skottie Young, [A] Humberto Ramos. This series is essentially NewMutants, except with magical characters instead of mutants. The POV character is a human girl, but the other characters include fairies, Asgardians, giants, Dormammu’s son, etc. Among the instructors are Voodoo, Loki, and Zelma from Aaron and Bachalo’s Dr. Strange. Strange Academy is utterly adorable, and like that Dr. Strange series, it fully embraces the humor and weirdness of the magical side of the Marvel Universe. I really want to read more of it.

OUTER DARKNESS/CHEW #1 (Image, 2020) – “Universes Collide Part One,” [W] John Layman, [A] Afu Chan & Rob Guillory. The Charon crew encounters an alien who can only communicate through food, so they summon Tony Chu and Colby from the past in order to assist them. However, while in the future, Tony and Colby learn about their awful fates at the end of the Chew series, so they resolve to escape their impending doom. This comic’s plot is a somewhat contrived way to bring together John Layman’s two primary series, but it’s a fun comic anyway. The future sequences are drawn by Afu Chan, and the flashback to the 21st century is drawn by Rob Guillory.

BILLIONAIRE ISLAND #1 (Ahoy, 2020) – untitled, [W] Mark Russell, [A] Steve Pugh. Some billionaires create an island where they can get away from the problems of the real world, most of which are their own fault. On this island, they have a prison for all the normal people who have offended them, including a crusading investigative journalist. This series is sadly even more relevant now than when it was published, since billionaires are currently making windfall profits, while poor people have to choose whether to die of coronavirus or to starve. So far this series is not nearly as fun as Second Coming, but it’s important.

FARMHAND #14 (Image, 2020) – “The Voice,” [W/A] Rob Guillory. This issue continues a bunch of ongoing plotlines, and is bookended by flashbacks depicting Monica Thorne’s past. As I mentioned previously, my students loved the first volume of Farmhand, and it was a great way to start off my comics class.

THE DREAMING #19 (DC, 2020) – “One Magical Movement, Part One,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Bilquis Evely. Lucien explains the origin of Wan/The Moth, and then in an epic “cavalry arrives” moment, the rest of the Dreaming natives come back and sacrifice themselves to beat Wan. I believe that next issue is Si Spurrier’s last, and then G. Willow Wilson will take over… eventually.

MILES MORALES: SPIDER-MAN #16 (Marvel, 2020) – “Day/Night,” [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Cory Smith. In the first story, Miles takes his new baby sister to the park, but somehow winds up fighting an alligator. This story is a lot of fun, and I appreciate that Billie is still a newborn and has not been subjected to Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome. The backup story, starring Uncle Aaron, is less interesting.

BIRTHRIGHT #42 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. The world’s defenses are collapsing as Lore invades. Mikey fails to get anything useful out of Lore’s witches, and then Lore sends a werewolf to kill them anyway. Rook invades Mikey’s military base, gets shot by troops who don’t know who he is, and dies in Mikey’s arms. A sad issue.

CONAN: BATTLE FOR THE SERPENT CROWN #2 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Luke Ross. Conan fights Black Widow and Scarlet Spider, then Conan and Nyla get teleported to Wakanda. Saladin writes Conan very well, and I think he could do a great job on Conan’s ongoing series. I have far more confidence in him than in Jim Zub. The highlight of this issue is when the guard asks Conan if his loincloth is real fur and if he has it drycleaned.

MARVEL #1 (Marvel, 2020) – “The Boy… and the Brute,”  [W] Kurt Busiek, [A] Steve Rude. I believe these creators’ only other collaboration was Thor: Godstorm. Unfortunately this issue’s credits box is lettered confusingly, so it looks at first like Kurt drew the story and the Dude wrote it. “The Boy… and the Brute” takes place shortly after Avengers #4 and focuses on Rick Jones’s relationship to the Hulk. It’s not the most ambitious story, and it has little in common with Marvels, which this series is based on; however, it’s very well done. There are two other stories in this issue, but I don’t remember anything about them.

RAGNAROK: THE BREAKING OF HELHEIM #4 (IDW, 2020) – “The Wolves of Helheim…”, [W/A] Walt Simonson. Thor has a funny conversation with Ratatoskr and then enters Helheim. There he meets some wolves who used to be Einherjar, and they blame him for their current sorry state. I read Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology recently, and I think it was much less original or interesting than Ragnarok – although Neil has made better use of Norse myths in Sandman and American Gods.

THE CIMMERIAN: QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST #1 (Ablaze, 2020) – untitled, [W] Jean-David Morvan, [A] Pierre Alary. This French comic is an adaptation of REH’s Conan story of the same title. That story is in public domain, but the name and character of Conan are still trademarked. That’s why this comic is called The Cimmerian instead of Conan – as with the old Uncensored Mouse comic books. The Cimmerian #1 was supposed to come out last year, but Diamond refused to carry it due to pressure from Marvel and Conan Properties. Later Ablaze reached an agreement with Conan Properties, the terms of which are not public, and The Cimmerian #1 finally did come out. Now as for the actual comic: Alary’s artwork is spectacular, as one expects from a French comic, and his and Morvan’s Conan is far sexier than any American Conan comic. However, besides that, this comic doesn’t add much that wasn’t in other adaptations of “Queen of the Black Coast.” I have the second issue, but have not read it yet.

DRYAD #1 (Oni, 2020) – untitled, [W] Kurtis Wiebe, [A] Justin Osterling. I’ve lost all confidence in Kurtis Wiebe, for several reasons: Rat Queens jumped the shark, Pisces was never finished, and he seems to still be friends with Roc Upchurch. This new comic does nothing to redeem Wiebe in my eyes. It’s an epic fantasy about two young twins and their parents, but its premise is not clear, and it just feels incoherent. I don’t plan on continuing with this series.

IRON MAN 2020 #3 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Dan Slott & Christos Gage, [A] Pete Woods. This comic has an exciting plot with a ton of surprising twists; it’s never quite clear who’s winning. As I was midway through this issue, I remembered that it was Slott who gave Awesome Android a personality, back in She-Hulk. That was a while ago. I ordered a couple issues from Slott’s previous Iron Man series, but I haven’t read them yet.

KING OF NOWHERE #1 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] W. Maxwell Prince, [A] Tyler Jenkins. This new series is about a somnambulist who wakes up to find himself in a weird town full of bizarre creatures. I don’t get what’s going on in this comic, but at least it has an ongoing plot, unlike Ice Cream Man. Tyler Jnekins’s art here is very similar to his art in Black Badge and Grass Kings, except he also gets to draw fish-men and women with horns.

WELLINGTON #3 (IDW, 2020) – untitled, [W] Delilah Dawson & Aaron Mahnke, [A] Piotr Kowalski. This series is very similar to Hellboy, except not as original, and it also doesn’t feel historically accurate. I don’t believe the Duke of Wellington would have worn clothes that look identical to modern men’s clothing. This series doesn’t interest me at all, and I’m giving up on it.

THE GOON #9 (Albatross, 2020) – “Witches’ Brew,” [W] Roger Langridge, [A] Mike Norton. I stopped reading The Goon because it was repetitive (this was an incorrect decision; see other reviews below), but I bought this issue because Roger Langridge was the guest writer. In this issue, a group of witches enters into competition with the existing brewery in the Goon’s town, where beer is essential because the dock-worker goblins need to be constantly drunk. This is a funny comic and I plan on continuing with this series.

MYSTERY IN SPACE #75 facsimile (DC, 1962/2020) – “The Planet That Came to a Standstill,” [W] Gardner Fox, [A] Carmine Infantino. Adam Strange and Alanna team up with the Justice League to battle Kanjar Ro. This is an exciting, epic-length story, and it probably deserved the Alley Award it won in 1962. However, Fox’s characterization, as usual, is very poor by modern standards. And he keeps calling Alanna a “girl,” although at least Alanna gets to ply an active role in the story, unlike most of Fox’s superhero girlfriends. Also, at the end of this story, Adam saves the day by using metal from Kanjar Ro’s home planet against him, on the theory that such metal would affect Kanjar Ro the same way kryponite affects Superman. That’s pretty stupid logic, even if it worked. (Edit: It turns out I already had this issue, but my copy is in awful condition, so I will keep the facsimile edition as a reading copy.)

REVIVAL #3 (Image, 2012) – untitled, [W] Tim Seeley, [A] Mike Norton. The highlight of this very early issue is the multiple scenes with the old Hmong lady, Mrs. Vang. This may be the only comic ever published that passes the Bechdel test with two Hmong women. There’s also a scene in this issue that implies that Martha has been having an affair with her drama professor. I forget if this was ever mentioned again.

ARCHIE’S PALS AND GALS #218 (Archie, 1990) – “The Cookie Caper,” [W] Mike Pellowski, [A] Howard Bender. A bunch of boring gag stories.

8HOUSE #5 (Image, 2015) – “Yorris Part 2,” [W/A] Fil Barlow, [W] Helen Maier. Two incoherent and nonsensical SF stories, one of which is a reprint from 1993. Brandon Graham really seems to have liked Fil Barlow’s work, but I suspect that this was because Graham was quite young when he read Zooniverse. In general, 8House was far less successful than other Graham projects like Prophet or Island. Its ambitions were probably set too high.

LOIS LANE #9 (DC, 2020) – “Enemy of the People Part Nine,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Mike Perkins. I’m getting tired of this series. At one point in this issue, Renee tells Batman that it doesn’t matter that Superman’s help might be unreliable, because she and Lois are going to handle things themselves. That points to a major problem with this comic: no matter what trouble Lois and Renee get into, Superman can always bail them out, and the only reason they’re not relying on him is because they don’t want to. It’s like they’re just playing at being heroes. Surely Rucka could have come up with a way to make Lois less dependent on Superman. Another weird moment in this issue is when Renee says that Superman, Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter get a pass for being undocumented because they’re heroes, and Lois replies “That’s not why they get a pass.” Implicitly, the reason is because they’re white. But as one of my Facebook friends pointed out, J’onn does not always benefit from white privilege; his current secret identity is a black man, although I did not know that. Also, as another friend observed, it’s strange that Lois is making this point and not Renee.

MONEY SHOT #5 (Vault, 2020) – untitled, [W] Tim Seeley & Sarah Beattie, [A] Rebekah Isaacs. This issue wraps up the first storyline, and is much sexier than last issue. It also leaves room for a possible sequel. I will have to add Money Shot #1 and #2 to my next online comics order.

SILK #4 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, [W] Robbie Thompson, [A] Veronica Fish. Silk fights the Goblin Nation and tries to track down her brother. This issue is an excessively quick read, like all issues of Silk. At least it has better art than is usual for this series.

THE GOON: ONCE UPON A HARD TIME #2 (Dark Horse, 2015) – “Once Upon a Hard Time Part 2: A Man Turned Animal,” [W/A] Eric Powell. An adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau, with a very brief framing sequence showing the Goon reading the novel. I’ve never actually read The Island of Dr. Moreau, but I’ve seen one film adaptation and read two comics adaptations of it. Eric Powell’s version is far better than Gabriel Rodriguez’s, except in the area of draftsmanship. Instead of trying to draw slick, realistic animal people, he brings out the horror of Wells’s story.

CLAW THE UNCONQUERED #3 (DC, 1975) – “The Bloodspear,” [W] David Michelinie, [A] Ernie Chua. Claw meets an attractive female centaur and goes on a quest to turn her back into a human. She tries to betray him and gets killed, and Claw discovers that she was never a human to begin with. Claw the Unconquered is not nearly as good as Roy Thomas’s Conan, but it’s not terrible.

SON OF MUTANT WORLD #3 (Fantagor, 1990) – untitled, [W] Jan Strnad, [A] Richard Corben. The protagonist, Dementia, meets a guy named Herschel, and then her pet bear is captured by redneck hunters. This story is a pretty good example of Corben’s raucous, intentionally vulgar style, but it’s also very short. The backup story, “Dead Run” by BrucE Jones and Corben, appears to be original to this issue. It’s about a woman who, as we learn, killed her husband because they were both dying of thirst, only to be rescued shortly afterward. It’s a lot like Jones and Corben’s Warren stories. Finally, there’s a reprinted Corben story from 1970, “Twilight of the Gods.”

HOUSE OF YANG #1 (Modern/Charlton, 1978/1975) – “Empress of Evil,” [W] Joe Gill, [A] Sanho Kim. This is a formulaic martial arts story, but it benefits from being drawn by an artist who was actually from East Asia. Sanho Kim’s depictions of Chinese clothing, architecture, and fighting styles feel realistic. He gets a bad rap sometimes, but that’s largely because his art style had nothing in common with anything else in ‘70s American comics; he was a manhwa artist working for an audience that had never heard of manhwa. His Korean work from the ‘50s and ‘60s was very important, but it seems unlikely that this material will be translated into English anytime soon.

GODZILLA: THE HALF-CENTURY WAR #2 (IDW, 2012) – “Vietnam 1967,” [W/A] James Stokoe. I bought this several years ago, but never read it because Stokoe’s comics are so time-consuming to read. He draws every leaf on every tree and every scale on Godzilla’s back. This results in comics which are spectacular to look at, but somewhat hard to read. I also notice that his facial expressions are far less detailed than his backgrounds – that’s the masking effect – and his action sequences would be very fast-paced and thrilling, if the art wasn’t so detailed. In summary, his comics are like manga, but with much more detailed art. The storytelling demands to be read quickly, but the artwork demands to be pondered carefully. It’s a weird effect. This particular issue takes place in Vietnam, obviously, and the plot involves the army’s attempts to divert Godzilla back to the ocean before he causes a disaster.

COLD HEAT #1 (PictureBox, 2006) – “Chocolate Gun,” [W/A] BJ (Ben Jones) and Frank Santoro. This is an extremely well-designed comic, with slick covers and ultra-vivid coloring. But its plot doesn’t make much sense. I can’t really explain what this comic is about, except that it focuses on a teenage girl, and it’s hard to compare it to anything else. I should read Santoro’s recent graphic novel Pittsburgh. Cold Heat must be a very rare comic; I’m guessing it was only sold at shows and through the mail. There seem to have been six issues in total.

WILD’S END #3 (Boom!, 2014) – “The Dark Woods,” [W] Dan Abnett, [A] I.N.J. Culbard. I finally read The War of the Worlds just before classes were cancelled for the semester. It’s a great novel, but I chose an unfortunate time to read it, because it’s way too relevant to the present situation. Early in the novel, Wells emphasizes how at the beginning of the Martian invasion, people were living their normal lives, with no idea that their society was about to collapse. That seems to perfectly describe my own situation at the beginning of March. Anyway, this issue is mostly devoted to characterization. The surviving characters spend an uncomfortable night in the open, then head back to town to warn the authorities, and then they run into some trigger-happy dude – I wonder if this is Fawkes. (Answer: yes)

DECORUM #1 (Image, 2020) – “And the Womanly Art of Assassination,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Mike Huddleston. Decorum was advertised as being about an extremely polite assassin, but that character only shows up near the end of the issue, and the series also has lots of other stuff going on. Much of the issue is devoted to worldbuilding, and it’s not yet clear what the core premise of the series is. However, Mike Huddleston’s draftsmanship and coloring are stunning, and are enough to justify the price of the comic all on their own. This issue has the weird design and lettering that are characteristic of all Hickman’s comics. I assume he’s responsible for these things himself.

CAPTAIN GINGER SEASON TWO #2 (Ahoy, 2020) – “Dogworld Chapter Two,” [W] Stuart Moore, [A] June Brigman. The cats have to abandon their ship and crash-land on Dogworld. This issue is mostly action sequences, but it’s extremely fun, as usual.

THE DOLLHOUSE FAMILY #5 (DC, 2020) – “Only One,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter Gross. This issue is credited to M.R. Carey. I wonder why he uses that pseudonym. Alice goes to Cordwainer’s old house in Wicklow, gets arrested for trespassing, and then discovers that she legally owns the house. On a return visit, she sees a vision of the “mallacht de ort” scene from a previous issue, but this time it ends with the house being created from a newborn’s placenta. I hope we can read the end of this story soon.

THE MAN WHO F#&%ED UP TIME #2 (AfterShock, 2020) – “Just in Time,” [W] Sean Layman, [A] Karl Mostert. Sean tries to fix things, but keeps making them worse. So far the most fun thing about this series is seeing the effects of all Sean’s changes. By the end of the issue, Sean finds himself in a town full of medieval timber-framed architecture, where everyone dresses in animal skins, and there are biplanes and a zeppelin in the sky. This whole series is basically an extended version of the Simpsons segment “Time and Punishment” from Treehouse of Horror V, which was itself based on Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder.” (BTW, I recently had a dream where my second book manuscript was rejected even though Ray Bradbury said he liked it.)

X-MEN #8 (Marvel, 2020) – “Something’s Coming,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Mahmud Asrar. Rahne has brought a Brood King egg back from space, and the Brood show up on Earth to claim it. This issue includes guest appearances by Gladiator and the Starjammers, as well as my favorite character from Wolverine and the X-Men, Broo.

MANIFEST DESTINY #42 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Chris Dingess, [A] Matthew Roberts. This issue has the cutest cover of the entire series, showing baby Pompey playing with a bear cub. It may be inspired by the cover of Swamp Thing #95, where baby Tefe is playing with a baby Swamp Thing. The scene on the cover does occur in the comic, but the bear cub is actually the Spanish ghost dude, and he engineers the destruction of the boat. Also, two of the Corps of Discovery initiate a same-sex romance. This was an exciting issue.

IMMORTAL HULK #32 (Marvel, 2020) – “Hulk is Hulk,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett & Javier Rodriguez. I think Rodriguez only drew the three pages with the stacks of TVs, and Bennett drew the rest of the issue. This issue begins with a terrifying scene where Xemnu, Marvel’s hungwiest villain, devours Dario Agger’s most faithful lieutenant. Xemnu’s adorable appearance makes him all the more uncanny. Meanwhile, the Hulk’s friends finally realize that Xemnu is screwing with their minds, and the Hulk from Planet Hulk makes an appearance. One of the impressive aspects of this series is how Ewing has succeeded in tying together every period of the Hulk’s history. This is a difficult feat because the defining aspect of Hulk comics is that their core premises are always changing.

GREEN LANTERN SEASON TWO #2 (DC, 2020) – “The Cosmidor Conspiracy,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Liam Sharp. Back on Earth, Hal romances Eve Doremus, a character whose only previous appearances were in five Silver Age issues. Also, the planet gets taken over by some bird-headed creatures. This issue didn’t make much sense to me, and I don’t remember much about it.

B.B. FREE #3 (Boom!, 2020) – “Spit, Butterflies, and Wildflowers,” [W] Gabby Rivera, [A] Royal Dunlap. This may be the last issue, because Boom! cancelled the solicitations for issues 4 through 6. The Boom! Box imprint seems to be moving toward a trade-paperback-only model. That sucks for me because I prefer periodical comic books, but it’s probably a sound decision. In any event, even if the current crisis has endangered the existence of monthly comics, it’s also revealed that monthly comics do still have a devoted readership, and that I’m not the only one who wants this format to survive. Anyway, this issue, b.b. and her friend stop some mean kids from draining a swamp. This series is a tremendous improvement over Gabby Rivera’s America, and it suggests that the problems with that series were due to inexperience rather than a lack of writing ability.

RONIN ISLAND #11 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] Greg Pak, [A] Giannis Milonogiannis. Kenichi and Hana defeat the escaping soldiers in a sea battle, and then Hana convinces not to execute the other captive shogunate soldiers. The impressive part of this issue is Hana’s speech about how she hates the island, because it will never accept her, even though it’s the only home she has, and even though she’s had to do awful things on its behalf. The political relevance of this is obvious. Americans of color are expected to love and to fight for America, even though America won’t return the favor.

SNOTGIRL #15 (Image, 2020) – “My Next Mistake,” [W] Bryan Lee O’Malley, [A] Leslie Hung. Snotgirl attends Normgirl’s wedding, which is being held in a forest. Snotgirl tries to confront Caroline about their relationship, but accidentally knocks her off a cliff, then falls off the cliff herself. Meanwhile, the entire forest is on fire, and the wedding guests are sick from eating poisonous berries. This issue must have been inspired by last year’s California wildfires, although that crisis now seems like nothing compared to coronavirus.

GHOSTED IN L.A. #9 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] Sina Grace, [A] Siobhan Keenan. I don’t remember this issue very well. Someone vandalizes the mansion, and Agi realizes that it happened because when she performed the ritual on Shirley, she released the wrong soul. Given my above comments on Boom! Box’s marketing strategy, I’m surprised that the single issues of Ghosted in LA are still being solicited.

NEW MUTANTS #9 (Marvel, 2020) – “Something Rotten in…”, [W] Ed Brisson, [A] Flaviano. The New Mutants go on a mission to the fictional European country of Carnelia. I bought this issue by accident (thinking it was written by Hickman), and I wish I hadn’t.

MARVELS SNAPSHOTS: SUB-MARINER #1 (Marvel, 2020) – “Reunion,” [W] Alan Brennert, [A] Jerry Ordway. New comics by Alan Brennert are always welcome. His entire comics corpus is small enough to fit into one volume, but almost every story he’s written is a classic. In this one-shot, Betty Dean and Namor try to resume their relationship after Namor returns from World War II. But Namor is suffering from PTSD, as is Betty’s brother, and Namor’s PTSD is triggered when he has to fight a Nazi shark villain. Like Marvel #1, this issue has little in common with the original Marvels series, but it’s a powerful, heartfelt depiction of the veteran experience. It also feels very historically accurate, largely due to Ordway’s highly detailed and immersive art.

ADLER #2 (Titan, 2020) – untitled, [W] Lavie Tidhar, [A] Paul McCaffrey. Irene Adler visits the opera, investigates the murder of Professor Moriarty, and meets the main characters from The Prisoner of Zenda. This series’ plot is complicated and I’m not sure where it’s going, but overall, Adler is a very effective piece of steampunk and fanfiction. Paul McCaffrey’s faces look a bit weird somehow, but I like his art.

THE TERRIFICS #26 (DC, 2020) – “The Day Simon Stagg Died, Part One,” [W] Gene Luen Yang, [A] Sergio Davila. Simon Stagg has a terminal disease. Yay! Without telling anyone, he sends the Terrifics to test a new rapid transit system, but somehow it’s actually a cover for Stagg’s attempt to extend his life by sacrificing Plastic Man’s son to some demons. Or something like that. Yang’s plots are rather complicated. At the end of the issue, Tom and Tesla Strong show up along with some other heroes. I’d forgotten that the Strongs were in this series.

BLACKWOOD: THE MOURNING AFTER #2 (Dark Horse, 2020) – untitled, [W] Evan Dorkin, [A] Veronica Fish & Andy Fish. By this point it was getting hard to concentrate on reading comics, because I didn’t know if there would ever be any more new comics again, after the last couple weeks. I still don’t know that, but I feel more hopeful than I did in March. I believe Diamond will be able to start shipping again in May. This issue, the kids investigate a bunch of weird mysteries around campus. Clearly the highlight of this issue is the library scene. The librarian says that the kids won’t see the cats “until they want you to. They’re cats, after all,” and two panels later, the librarian is suddenly surrounded by five cats.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #19 (DC, 2020) – “So Our Souls May Fly,” [W] Nalo Hopkinson & Dan Watters, [A] Domo Stanton. This series is ending with #22. That’s too bad, but the last few issues have been excessively slow-paced and haven’t really gone anywhere. I still love Hopkinson’s writing and I hope she writes more comics. This issue continues a bunch of different plotlines, and also brings back Anansi. As I just mentioned, I’m not sure where this storyline is going.

CATWOMAN #21 (DC, 2020) – “Living with Both Faces,” [W] Joëlle Jones, [A] Fernando Blanco. Catwoman fights a bunch of zombies at Raina Creel’s mansion, then confronts Raina herself. In a rather sad flashback to Selina’s origin, we learn that what she really wants is to be loved. Selina sends her boyfriend a goodbye letter, then leaves town with her sister, who’s begun to speak. It seems that this was Joëlle Jones’s last issue. With Jones as the writer, Catwoman was as good as it’s been since Darwyn Cooke and Cameron Stewart’s time.

ATOMIC ROBO: DOGS OF WAR #3 (Red 5, 2008) – “Going Off Track,” [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Scott Wegener. In Croatia in 1943, Robo and Sparrow fight some Nazi monsters on top of a train. Robo and Sparrow’s interactions are very funny. Pages 2 through 9 of this issue have an interesting gimmick. Each page has three panels arranged vertically, and on each page, the top panel shows the Nazi leader Skorzeny, the middle panel shows Robo himself, and the bottom panel shows the Sparrow. So these pages can be read either horizontally or vertically. The gimmick ends when the three characters all end up in the same place.

BLOODSHOT REBORN #4 (Valiant, 2015) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Mico Suayan. This issue introduces Magic, who will become Bloodshot’s love interest and the mother of his daughter. Also in this issue are Bloodsquirt, a tiny cartoon version of Bloodshot, and another character who looks like Bloodshot but is a homicidal zealot. I’m not sure how this issue fits with the later issues I’ve read.

BATMAN #324 (DC, 1980) – “The Cat Who Would Be King!”, [W] Len Wein, [A] Irv Novick. Catwoman is dying of a rare disease that can only be cured by certain herbs, but she and Batman have to fight Cat-Man to get the herbs. This is a pretty exciting issue. The first half of the #300s were a good period for this title. There’s a panel in this issue where Catwoman wakes up naked with Batman sitting next to her (https://www.instagram.com/p/B9273iHBkOo/), but sadly this doesn’t seem to be what it looks like.

FIRE FROM HEAVEN #2 (Image, 1996) – “Moonlight and Ashes,” [W] Alan Moore, [A] Jim Lee. This isn’t what you would expect from two such legendary creators. It’s the conclusion to a crossover between a bunch of Wildstorm titles. It has a confusing plot and too many characters, and it doesn’t feel particularly Moorean.

INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #501 (Marvel, 2011) – “Fix Me Part 1,” [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Salvador Larroca. A dying Dr. Octopus threatens to blow up Manhattan and also kill a friend of Tony’s, unless Tony cures Doc Ock’s terminal disease. In a series of flashbacks, Tony encounters Doc Ock at an academic conference, and they make enemies of each other. Iron Man and Dr. Octopus rarely encounter each other because Doc Ock is another superhero’s villain, but it makes logical sense that they would have met in their civilian lives, and Matt Fraction succeeds in drawing a connection between them. I really like Larroca’s art, and I think he’s very underappreciated. He draws the flashback sequences in a much less slick and more European style than his usual style. His style in these scenes reminds me a bit of Vittorio Giardino’s.

My next DCBS shipment arrived on March 19:

LUMBERJANES #72 (Boom!, 2020) – “Forestry is the Best Policy Part 4,” [W] Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, [A] Kanesha C. Bryant & Julia Madrigal. We get the end of the first Lumberjane’s story. The Lumberjanes help Rosie and Abigail kill the invasive vine thing, which seems a bit odd because it’s a living creature. There are further suggestions that Rosie and Abigail are a couple. This was a fun storyline, though I was hoping to learn even more about the camp’s history.

FANTASTIC FOUR #20 (Marvel, 2020) – “Welcoming Party,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Paco Medina. The FF return home, and Johnny and Sky go to help Wyatt Wingfoot with a crisis on the Keewazi reservation. The Mole Man has laid claim to the Keewazi’s land and is trying to drive them off of it with tyrannosauruses. But since dinosaurs are just large birds, Sky talks to them and convinces them to switch sides, and the day is saved. The issue ends  with Reed reconciling with Ben. This is a well-written and heartwarming done-in-one story. Wyatt Wingfoot is a potentially problematic character, though Slott depicts him in a fairly respectful way. I do wonder about the appropriateness of using a fake name for a Native American tribe. Maybe the Keewazi should just be the Kiowa, since they live in Oklahoma. In She-Hulk #16, to be reviewed much later, Slott did use a real name for a First Nation.

RUNAWAYS #31 (Marvel, 2020) – “Cannon Fodder Pt. VII,” [W] Rainbow Rowell, [A] Andres Genolet. Doc Justice almost kills the Runaways, but Victor shows up at the last minute to stop him, and Old Lace kills Doc and feeds him to Gib. So it’s a relative happy ending. Alec makes a cameo appearance on the last page.

WICKED THINGS #1 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] John Allison, [A] Max Sarin. This new series by the Giant Days team stars Lottie Love, a teenage private detective. She gets nominated for the Detective of the Year Awards, where she meets a bunch of other detectives who all represent various national stereotypes. But although she wins the award, she also gets framed for murdering a Japanese detective. This series is a witty and self-aware parody of the cozy mystery genre, and it has Allison’s characteristic style of humor.

ALIENATED #2 (Boom!, 2020) – “We Need to Talk,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Chris Wildgoose. We meet Chelsea, who is the most popular girl in the three protagonists’ school, but is obsessed with being even more popular. The three Sams test their new powers by having the alien devour her mind. Chelsea is a less loathsome character than Leon from last issue; she’s self-absorbed and disingenuous, but not truly harmful. Thus, the reader feels uncomfortable with what the three Sams do to her. At the end of the issue, we learn that Samuel’s mother is a cop, and she needs to talk to her son.

TARTARUS #2 (Image, 2020) – “Homegoing,” [W] Johnnie Christmas, [A] Jack T. Cole. This issue’s title probably comes from the brilliant novel by Yaa Gyasi, or else the folk belief that the novel is named after. This issue, Tilde smuggles herself from the station to Tartarus by boarding a vessel that’s participating in a bizarre funeral rite. This issue is action-packed and exciting, and Jack T. Cole’s art is stunning. Tartarus is an important new series.

SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN #6 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] James Tynion IV, [A] Werther Dell’Edera. In the aftermath of last issue’s epic confrontation, James is in a coma, and there’s a cave full of dead teenagers. (In the context of coronavirus, the line “the morgue isn’t big enough for all of these kids” has an eerie resonance that Tynion obviously did not intend.) From the little girl who was held captive in the cave, Erica learns that the monster has reproduced. Meanwhile, the other members of Erica’s organization decide to kill Tommy. This series has been really good. I need to collect more of Tynion’s other creator-owned titles.

ASCENDER #10 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dustin Nguyen. Effie frees Andy from jail, but then Andy is tragically forced to kill her at her own request, because her vampirism is incurable. Meanwhile, Helda almost gets killed by a ghost, but is rescued by a magician and his companion, none other than Driller. I think we’ve seen the magician before, but I forget who he is.

USAGI YOJIMBO #9 (IDW, 2020) – “Tatami Part 2 of 2,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. Kagemaru suceeds in destroying the tatami shipment, meaning that the shipment’s guards will have to volunteer to commit seppuku to atone for their mistake. Quite a sad ending. Meanwhile, we learn that Kashira is working on Chizu’s behalf to undermine Kagemaru’s leadership of the Neko Ninja.

AQUAMAN #58 (DC, 2020) – “Echoes of a Life Lived Well,” [W] Kelly Sue DeConnick, [A] Miguel Mendonça. Arthur and Mera’s daughter is now an incredibly adorable ten-month-old, but her mother is still in a coma. For political reasons, Vulko announces that he’s going to go through with his proposed marriage to Mera. This issue’s plot would be very different if not for Dan DiDio’s asinine refusal to let Aquaman and Mera get married. I wasn’t even reading Aquaman back in 2013 when DiDio announced that they couldn’t get married, and that announcement still pissed me off. I never approved of Dan DiDio’s leadership, and I’m very glad he’s gone. Also in this issue, Orm and Dolphin arrange a coup against Atlantis, and on the last page, the baby is kidnapped.

MIDDLEWEST #16 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Skottie Young, [A] Jorge Corona. Abel and his friends execute their escape plan, but it turns out that Nick Raider already anticipated their escape and ensured that it wouldn’t work. What he didn’t expect was the arrival of the people from the carnival. Nick Raider is a truly loathsome villain, a smug, self-satisfied enslaver of children, and I hope Abel kills him.

BANG! #2 (Dark Horse, 2020) – “One Way Ticket,” [W] Matt Kindt, [A] Wilfredo Torres. Most of this issue is a fairly straightforward tale about a super-spy named John Shaw. There are no metatextual elements until the very end, when Shaw meets Thomas Cord and discovers that he (Shaw) is a character in a novel. This issue was less interesting than #1.

GHOST-SPIDER #8 (Marvel, 2020) – “All You Wanna Do,” [W] Seanan McGuire, [A] Ig Guara. Gwen continues to investigate the Storm siblings. Back on Earth-616, she learns about Kamala’s law and has a tantrum. The issue ends with Gwen saving some people from a fire. This is another low-key but entertaining issue; however, it suffers from being part of the Outlawed crossover. Speaking of which:

OUTLAWED #1 (Marvel, 2020) – “Wanted for Teenage Vigilantism,” [W] Eve Ewing, [A] Kim Jacinto. Ailana Kabua, a stand-in for Malala Yousafzai, is giving a speech at Coles Academic High School, and Roxxon decides it’s a good time to assassinate her. The Champions prevent the assassination attempt and save Ailana, but Kamala Khan is badly hurt, and in response, the government passes a law against teen superheroes. On one hand, I love Eve Ewing’s writing, and it’s nice that she gets to write characters like Viv Vision and Nadia van Dyne. On the other hand, the premise of this crossover is really stupid. It’s just a rehash of the original Civil War. And it sucks that Kamala’s character arc has to be derailed in order to accommodate this crossover. Outlawed has also sparked a major controversy because it was supposed to introduce two new characters named Snowflake and Safespace. I actually think those names are funny, but some people have plausible reasons for finding them offensive. The other problem with Outlawed, of course, is that just as it was getting started, it was overtaken by real-world events, and now when it does come out, it will feel even less relevant. In general, I love Eve Ewing’s writing, but her work has suffered from the need to fit into the Marvel Universe, and she hasn’t been able to stay on any title for very long. I wish she would start doing creator-owned comics.

DRAGONFLY & DRAGONFLYMAN #5 (Ahoy, 2020) – untitled, [W] Tom Peyer, [A] Peter Krause. On Earth-Omega, Chip leaves town, correctly realizing that Dragonfly is abusing him. He throws away the suitcase that Dragonfly prepared for him, and a young runaway girl finds it and opens it to find a Stinger costume. On Earth-Alpha, Dragonflyman throws a giant party for the other Stinger. This series was entertaining, but the novelty of its premise has worn off, and it’s unfortunate that the two storylines don’t interact in any way. I would rather have gotten a sequel to The Wrong Earth, instead of a prequel.

X-RAY ROBOT #1 (Dark Horse, 2020) – untitled, [W/A] Mike Allred. This new series is about a scientist who projects his brain into a dimension-hopping robot. The premise is fun so far, and the art is some of the best of Allred’s career. The two-page splash showing the moment of interdimensional travel is a particular highlight. I’m not sure whether or how this series is connected to the Madman universe.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #16 (Marvel, 2020) – “The Last Avenger Finale,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Lee Garbett. Carol borrows the other Avengers’ powers, including Mjolnir and Captain America’s shield, and finally defeats Vox Supreme. This storyline was annoying and contrived, and I’m glad it’s over. However, I am losing hope that Kelly will ever be able to develop an innovative take on this series, the way she did with Hawkeye.

SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #9 (DC, 2020) – “…His Only Begotten Son!” and other vignettes, [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Steve Lieber. I think the highlight of this issue is the appearance by Arm-Fall-Off Boy and his similarly powered family, although there’s no explanation of how they got from the 31st to the 21st century. Besides that, this series continues a bunch of ongoing subplots. I hope this series ends soon so that I can reread it all at one sitting. It’s hard to make sense of it one issue at a time.

ATLANTIS ATTACKS #3 (Marvel, 2020) – “Sword of the Sirenas,” [W] Greg Pak, [A] Ario Anindito & Robert Gill. The two Atlas teams almost go to war, but manage to resolve their differences. The highlight of this issue is the scene where the Atlanteans and Sirenas tell two contradictory versions of the story of their ancestral combat. Each version is illustrated in a different style that resembles ancient vase painting. I ordered and received issue 1 of this series, but have not read it yet.

FAMILY TREE #5 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Phil Hester. This is probably my least favorite of Lemire’s creator-owned titles c. This issue begins with a very effective scene showing how the two parents’s marriage collapsed, and how the two children bonded despite or because of that. But the main part of the issue is less satisfying. Megan turns into a tree, and for unexplained reasons, this causes an apocalypse. Five years later, Josh is one of the few remaining humans, and he has to save the world. I’m going to keep reading this series, but I hope it gets better.

UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY #5 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Scott Snyder & Charles Soule, [A] Giuseppe Camuncoli & Leonardo Marcello Grassi. The flashbacks in this issue focus on the old soldier, Pavel Bukowski (no relation to Fante). In the main story, Lottie and Uncle Sam make it to the train that leads to the next part of America. This is a very ambitious and weird series, and I look forward to seeing where it goes next.

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #28 facsimile (DC, 1960/2010) – “Starro the Conqueror!”, [W] Gardner Fox, [A] Mike Sekowsky. The first Justice League story also introduces Starro and Snapper Carr. Setting the template for Fox’s later JLA stories, it consists ofan introduction followed by three vignettes. Two of these are Flash and Green Lantern solo stories, while a third is a team-up between Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter. Finally, in the conclusion, the entire team comes together to defeat Starro. Fox’s JLA stories tended to highlight just one or two characters at a time, rather than the entire team together, and this is partly why the JLA has less of a distinctive group identity than the  Avengers.

THE LOW, LOW WOODS #4 (DC, 2020) – “Einstein on the Beach,” [W] Carmen Maria Machado, [A] Dani. The girls are attacked by skinless zombies, and then they confront the witch who looks like a little girl, demanding answers. To be honest, I barely remember anything about this issue, although I was not in a great mental state when I read it.

ARCHIE #712 (Archie, 2020) – “Archie and Katy Keene Part 3,” [W] Mariko Tamaki & Kevin Panetta, [A] Laura Braga. Katy, Sis and the Archie gang go to Manhattan. Katy refuses an insincere offer of mentorship from a self-centered jerk. This storyline still has a very minimal plot and is mostly an excuse to show off Laura Braga’s fashion designs, but I think that’s on purpose.

PLUNGE #2 (DC, 2020) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Stuart Immonen. The protagonists investigate the resurfaced ship and discover some horrible creatures and some mathematical inscriptions. This is a powerful piece of Lovecraftian horror, but this issue was not as impressive as #1.

VAGRANT QUEEN: A PLANET CALLED DOOM #3 (Vault, 2020) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Jason Smith. Elida manages to escape from her kidnapper, and she meets up with her old partner Stelling. Meanwhile, Florence is looking for Elida. I don’t remember much about this issue.

BITTER ROOT #7 (Image, 2020) – “Rage & Redemption Part Two,” [W] David F. Walker & Chuck Brown, [A] Sanford Greene. This issue advances the main plot a bit, but is primarily devoted to the origin story of the series’ main villain, Dr. Walter Sylvester. The essays at the end are by Donna-Lynn Washington, who edited the John Jennings: Conversations book, and Stacey Robinson. I have met the latter but not the former.

VALKYRIE: JANE FOSTER #9 (Marvel, 2020) – “At the End of All Things Part 2,” [W] Jason Aaron & Torunn Grønbekk, [A] Ramon Rosanas. Jane fights Thor, who’s been corrupted by an ancient king named Øde and a power called the Rokkva. This issue is not very interesting, and I continue to suspect that Jason Aaron’s contribution to this series is only nominal. I’m going to give this series a couple more issues before dropping it.

HEIST #5 (Vault, 2020) – untitled, [W] Paul Tobin, [A] Arjuna Susini. Glane Breld executes a complicated plot to blackmail a judge into verifying the deeds to the planet. Meanwhile, Eddy’s long-lost sister tracks him down. This series is very funny, and the main thing that stops it from being truly excellent is the inappropriate art, which I have complained about before.

I only had the energy to read two older comics this week:

BARBIE #46 (Marvel, 1994) – “My Name is Amy” and “A Fishy Story,” [W] Barbara Slate, [A] José Delbo. Amy, a friend of Skipper’s, is convinced that she’s ugly, and Skipper helps her get over it. This story is actually a somewhat serious depiction of low self-esteem. The backup story is about water pollution and includes a poster that appears to have been drawn by Slate herself.

ACTION COMICS #355 (DC, 1967) – “The Mighty Annihilator!”, [W] Leo Dorfman, [A] Wayne Boring. In an Iron Curtain country, a political prisoner, Karl Keller, accidentally gains super powers and becomes a rival to Superman. Keller has been sent to a forced labor camp despite having a Nobel Prize in chemistry. This reminds me of Bill Mauldin’s Pulitzer-winning cartoon where Boris Pasternak is in a prison camp, and he’s telling a fellow prisoner “I won the Nobel Prize for literature. What was your crime?” I wonder if Dorfman had Pasternak in mind when writing this story. There’s also a Supergirl backup story in which Luthor almost kills himself by accident, but Supergirl saves him.

Reviews for February

3-1

NEW GODS #5 (DC, 1971) – “Spawn,” [W/A] Jack Kirby. This is Kirby at his most Kirbyesque, Kirby at his most epic and awesome and yet also human. This issue begins with the unforgettable scene where Metron visits the Source Wall and sees the Promethean Giants. Then the very next scene shows Orion’s human friends wondering where he’s gone. This contrast between cosmic and human scales is essential. Besides Dan Turpin, none of the human characters in New Gods are especially important; however, they act as surrogates for the reader, allowing us a lens through which to understand Orion’s cosmic adventures on our own human level. That’s especially crucial in this series because Orion is a difficult character to relate to or sympathize with. This issue’s main plot is about Orion’s battle with the Deep Six, and then there’s a rather long Manhunter reprint, which is the reason why I didn’t read this issue sooner. There’s also a short backup feature that introduces Fastbak.

SUICIDE SQUAD #3 (DC, 1987) –“Jailbreak,” [W] John Ostrander, [A] Luke McDonnell. This title began as a spinoff of Legends, and this issue picks up a dangling plot thread from that crossover. Darkseid sends the Female Furies to rescue Glorious Godfrey, a major villain in Legends, from Belle Reeve prison. That leads to a big fight scene, and at the end, Bernadeth intentionally abandons Lashina on Earth. She later becomes the Squad member Duchess. In this issue Ostrander shows an excellent understanding of the Fourth World characters. I like the moment where Bernadeth criticizes Darkseid’s decision to send the Furies, and Darkseid is silent for several panels and then says “It’s what I want.”

New comics received on February 7:

CAPTAIN GINGER SEASON TWO #1 (Ahoy, 2020) – “Dogworld Chapter One,” [W] Stuart Moore, [A] June Brigman. I’m very glad that this series is back. In this issue the cats continue to be their lovely, awful selves, but they also encounter a bunch of stupid dogs, as well as the aliens that wiped out the Feeders (i.e. humans). I’m not sure where this story arc is going, but I’m excited to find out.

THE MAGNIFICENT MS. MARVEL #12 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Minkyu Jung. Kamala has to choose between saving her dad and saving her enemy Josh, and of course she makes the heroic and dumb choice: she chooses Josh. Bruno asks her why she’s nt saving her dad first, and she says, “That’s just… not how it works.” As a result, Abba survives but is permanently disabled. This is very similar to Miles Morales’s choice to save Uncle Aaron from the consequences of his own misdeeds, rather than witness his sister’s birth. I wish that once in a while Saladin would allow his characters to do the selfish thing. Also in this issue, Kamala and Bruno decide to leave their relationship undefined.

MILES MORALES: SPIDER-MAN #15 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Javier Garrón. Miles saves the school from a horde of Green Goblins, and in return, his principal agrees not to reveal his secret identity. This conclusion is predictable and slightly anticlimactic, but it’s executed well. Javier Garrón’s art in this issue is excellent.

SPIDER-MAN & VENOM: DOUBLE TROUBLE #4 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Mariko Tamaki, [A] GuriHiru. Spidey and Venom manage to switch their minds back with the squirrel and cat occupying their bodies, and everything ends happily. This series was a very quick, light read, but it was tremendous fun. I didn’t know that Mariko Tamaki could be this funny. GuriHiru are surprisingly good at drawing animals. I especially love the scene where Venom tries to summon some cats, and they all ignore him. And the antics of the squirrel and cat in Spidey and Venom’s bodies are hilarious.

MANIFEST DESTINY #41 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Chris Dingess, [A] Matthew Roberts. Lewis and Clark finally come clean to Magdalene about the Spanish ghost dude. It turns out they were able to communicate about him through their diaries, even though they couldn’t speak about him. The plot with the rabbit women is put on the backburner for most of the issue, and Lewis and Clark ultimately decide not to go back for the crewmen who went to the rabbit village.

CROWDED #11 (Image, 2020) – “Anxious Type,” [W] Christopher Sebela, [A] Ro Stein & Ted Brandt. Charlie and Vita hole up in a commune located in an abandoned missile silo. Of course it turns out thhe commune is stockpiling weapons for some reason, and at the end of the issue they lock Charlie and Vita inside their room. This issue includes more excellent scenes between the two protagonists. Crowded is Chris Sebela’s best work yet, by far. I’m just sorry that the last story arc won’t be available in single-issue form.

GIDEON FALLS #21 (Image, 2020) – “The Pentoculus Part 5 of 5: The Eater of All Things,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Andrea Sorrentino. The two groups of protagonists confront the Black Barn, and the issue ends with some weird fourth-wall-breaking page layouts in which the comic book seems to collapse into itself. I don’t quite understand what happens in this issue, but it’s exciting.

ISOLA #10 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Brenden Fletcher, [W/A] Karl Kerschl, [A] Msassyk. Rook has a dream where Olwyn is human again. But it turns out that “Olwyn” is actually the evil witch from the last few issues, and the real Olwyn shows up and defeats her. Unfortunately, Rook also learns that her mother was killed on Olwyn’s orders. I’m glad this series is continuing to come out, albeit rather sporadically.

USAGI YOJIMBO #8 (IDW, 2020) – “Tatami Part 1 of 2,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. “Tatami” is the latest in a long line of Usagi stories that focus on elements of Japanese traditional culture – in this case, tatami mats. The issue begins with a detailed description of how tatami mats are made. Of course, there’s also a plot. A caravan carrying tatami mats is attacked by Neko ninja, and Usagi and Chizu join the caravan as guards. The ninja are in the employ of Lord Hikiji, and the caravan seems to be carrying something more than just flooring.

BIRTHRIGHT #41 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. Most of this issue is a flashback to the origin of the main villain, Lore. At the end, we find that Mikey has captured the three witches, who originally turned Lore from a human boy into a demono lord. This series has two story arcs remaining.

On February 8, I went to my fourth Charlotte Mini-Con. It was held in the downtown Westin, in the same room where they hold the Drink & Draw at Heroes Con. The Westin is a far better venue than the Grady Cole Convention Center, where the last three Mini-Cons were held; the Grady Cole is a decaying old hockey rink in an inconvenient part of town. However, that particular room at the Westin was far too small. There wasn’t enough space for vendors, and people were constantly having to push past each other.

At the con I had lunch with Andy Kunka, and I also saw Craig Yoe and a bunch of other people. Craig Fischer was apparently there, but I somehow didn’t see him, despite the aforementioned small size of the venue. Some of the comics I bought were:

THE ADVENTUROUS UNCLE SCROOGE MCDUCK #2 (Gladstone, 1998) – “A Little Something Special,” [W/A] Don Rosa. It’s been a while since I read an unfamiliar Don Rosa story, and I’d forgotten what an incredible genius he is. In this story, the city of Duckburg stages a celebration to honor the 50th anniversary of Scrooge’s arrival, but all three of Barks’s recurring villains – Magica DeSpell, Flintheart Glomgold, and the Beagle Boys – team up to spoil the party. Even by Rosa’s usual high standards, this story has an extremely clever and intricate plot, and it’s full of brilliiant visual and narrative moments. For example, near the end of the story, Blackheart Beagle almost escapes. But on Gladstone’s suggestion, the mayor offers a reward for his capture, and Gladstone immediately captures him by a stroke of luck. The interactions between the villains are also brilliant. When the Beagle Boys succeed in stealing Scrooge’s fortune, Magica’s plans are frustrated because Scrooge is now no longer the world’s richest duck, so his Number One Dime is powerless. A key theme of the story is desire. The three villains are able to team up because they all want different things from Scrooge: Magica wants the dime, the Beagle Boys want his money, and Glomgold wants to be richer than him. Meanwhile, the city of Duckburg stages a competition to give Scrooge something he wants and doesn’t already have. It turns out, of course, that the answer is a kiss from Glittering Goldie.

THOR #152 (Marvel, 1968) – “The Dilemma of Dr. Blake!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Jack Kirby. Thor battles the Destroyer, while elsewhere Balder battles Ulik. This issue has some amazing fight sceenes, but not much plot or characterization. There’s also an Inhumans backup story in which Triton visits New York. This story is inked by Joe Sinnott, while the main story is inked by one whose name will not be mentioned.

TEEN TITANS #2 (DC, 1966) – “The Million-Year-Old Teenager,” [W] Bob Haney, [A] Nick Cardy. In the town of Smedleyville, the Titans help a reanimated caveboy defeat his old enemy and get together with his girlfriend. The caveboy in this issue is named Garn, not to be confused with Gnarrk, who was a separate character. Perhaps Bob Haney created Gnarrk because he forgot he’d already craeted Garn. Bob Haney’s art in this issue is good, but far from his best.

GLORY #0 (Awesome, 1999) – “Glory and the Gate of Tears,” [W] Alan Moore, [A] Brandon Peterson. Glory grapples with her newfound mortality. This comic is interesting, but only contains ten pages of actual story, making its $2.50 cover price an insult. The rest of the issue consists of sketches and previews. Because Awesome went out of business, no other issues of this volume of Glory ever appeared. However, two more issues of Alan Moore’s Glory were later published by Avatar.

MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER #8 (Gold Key, 1964) – “Havoc at Weather Control,” [W/A] Russ Manning. This was one of the only original Magnus stories I hadn’t read. While Magnus and Leeja are celebrating a festival, an evil robot sabotages North Am’s weather control system. To defeat it, Magnus has to team up with a gang of kids called the Outsiders, who show up again in a few later stories. As always, Manning’s artwork in this issue is phenomenal. His robots look slick and realistic, and his anatomy and action sequences are dynamic and thrilling.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #133 (Marvel, 1974) – “The Molten Man Breaks Out!”, [W] Gerry Conway, [A] Ross Andru. Spidey battles the Molten Man and meets Liz Allan, who hadn’t appeared since the ‘60s. This issue is a good example of Conway and Andru’s Spider-Man. Conway gives Peter, Liz and MJ some nice characterization, and the Molten Man is an effective villain because he doesn’t have bad intentions; he’s just terrified of his own impending doom.

MUKTUK WOLFSBREATH, HARD-BOILED SHAMAN #3 (Vertigo, 1998) – “Mommy’s Girl Part 3: Hi, Mom!”, [W] Terry LaBan, [A] Steve Parkhouse. Muktuk defeats the femme fatale Nusqua and saves the day. This series was not perfectly executed – its central mystery and its villain are a bit boring. But I forgive that because the series’ premise is so original and entertaining. I wish there had been more than three issues.

AVENGERS #67 (Marvel, 1969) – “We Stand at… Armageddon!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Barry Windsor-Smith. This issue has impressive art by BWS in his Kirby-imitator phase. However, this second Ultron story feels like a rehash of the first one. The Vision gets a lot of panel time, but he spends most of the issue complaining, and the rest of the issue consists mostly of fight scenes.

THIRTEEN GOING ON EIGHTEEN #23 (Dell, 1967) – “For an Opener,” [W/A] John Stanley. Another demonstration of John Stanley’s comedic genius. I think the best story in this issue is the first one, where Val and Billy are unable to have both a bottle and a bottle opener at the same time. There’s another story where Judy dreams she’s on the phone with King Arthur, and one where Judy goes to a party in a truly absurd costume.

TANTALIZING STORIES #4 (Tundra, 1993) – multiple stories, [W/A] Jim Woodring, Mark Martin & Gerald Jablonski. In this issue Woodring and Martin switch characters, with Martin drawing Frank while Woodring draws Montgomery Wart. Each cartoonist does a good job of imitating the other’s style, and I couldn’t even tell at first that the Frank story was not by Woodring. But both stories feel kind of unoriginal, and I would have preferred if the artists had stuck to their own characters. This issue also includes some of Jablonski’s absurdist Farmer Ned stories, drawn in a style that reminds me of Drew Friedman.

COPRA #5 (Image, 2020) – “Tender Living,” [W/A] Michel Fiffe. The team fights some supervillains who are empowered by Ochizon. Meanwhile, Sonia tries to recruit some more allies. Michel Fiffe’s art this issue is really impressive; his cosmic New Gods-based stories seem to inspire him to higher levels of visual imagination. Here is a useful website that matches Copra characters to their Marvel and DC counterparts: http://en.wikibedia.ru/wiki/Draft:COPRA_analogues

DAREDEVIL #76 (Marvel, 1971) – “Deathmarch of El Condor!”,  [W] Gerry Conway, [A] Gene Colan. Matt Murdock gets involved in a civil war in the fictional country of Delvadia. Gene Colan’s action sequences in this issue are excellent, and he draws some very realistic machinery. However, this issue’s plot is trite and full of stereotypes, and there’s no Black Widow, who was the best thing about Conway’s Daredevil run.

CAPTAIN ACTION #2 (DC, 1969) – “The Battle Begins!”, [W] Jim Shooter, [A] Gil Kane. The villain Krellik steals some of the coins that give Captain Action and Action Boy their powers, but the heroes use other coins to defeat the villains. The artwork in this issue is amazing. Kane is inked by Wally Wood, and Kane’s compositions plus Woody’s linework are a perfect combination. I don’t remember the detailed history behind this comic, but it only lasted five issues, and no creator worked on all five of them. With #3, Gil Kane took over as writer, and the tone of the series shifted significantly. Still, Captain Action was one of the finest DC comics of the late ‘60s, and it shouldn’t be so hard to find. IDW announced at Comic-Con last year that they would be reprinting the entire series, but there’s still no date for it.

IRON FIST #2 (Marvel, 1975) – “Valley of the Damned!”, [W] Chris Claremont, [A] John Byrne. This issue is mostly a flashback in which Danny Rand’s sister, Miranda, tries to flee K’un Lun with her lover, but they both get killed by some plant monsters. The plant creatures are called H’ylithri, a name which sounds a lot like the Shi’ar deity K’ythri. It was news to me that Danny even had a sister; she only ever made a few other appearances. Iron Fist is my least favorite Claremont-Byrne collaboration, and a particular problem in this issue is Frank Chiaramonte’s lazy inking, which obliterates all of Byrne’s fine linework.

YUMMY FUR #32 (Drawn & Quarterly, 1994) – “Matthew 11:2-12:45, 14:2-14:12,” [W/A] Chester Brown. The final issue of Yummy Fur is devoted entirely to a chapter of Brown’s adaptation of the New Testament. Part of the issue depicts the death of John the Baptist. It’s hard for me to read any version of this story without thinking of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé. In the rest of the story, Brown depicts Jesus as a terrifying, uncompromising figure. His Jesus is radically different from Mark Russell and Richard Pace’s kind, gentle Jesus. It’s too bad this adaptation was never finished. Brown apparently cancelled Yummy Fur because the name was no longer appropriate, and he wanted to devote his energies to Underwater, though that series was never finished either.

SUICIDE SQUAD #34 (DC, 1989) – “Armagetto,” [W] John Ostrander & Kim Yale, [A] John K. Snyder III. I love the cover of this issue, which shows Amanda Waller and Granny Goodness fighting. It’s a battle of DC’s two greatest old battleaxes. In this issue, Lashina has shanghaied most of the Squad to Apokolips in order to help her recapture leadership of the Female Furies from Bernadeth (whose betrayal was shown in #3, reviewed above). The Squad are facing the fight of their lives, but they rise up to the challenge. Meanwhile, Bronze Tiger tries to organize a relief mission, despite being officially forbidden to recruit any felons. The Apokolips storyline was one of the most exciting moments of this series.

CONAN: BATTLE FOR THE SERPENT CROWN #1 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Luke Ross. In modern-day Las Vegas, Conan teams up with a thief named Nyla. The idea of Conan in the 20th/21st century is not new, but this story is better executed than most of the previous stories with this premise. Nyla is an exciting new character, and I like her interactions with Conan. I just wish Saladin had explained how Conan got to the 21st century. I assume this is a result of events in some other comic that I’m not reading.

BATMAN #225 (DC, 1970) – “Wanted for Murder-One, the Batman,” [W] Denny O’Neil, [A] Irv Novick. Batman is accused of murdering Jonah Jory, a talk-show host who was notorious for his rudeness. It turns out that Jory killed himself and framed Batman for it. Denny invites the reader to solve the mystery before Batman does. I failed to do so, though I did notice the key clue. Probably the biggest clue that it was a suicide is that there are no other likely suspects – except Arthur Reeves, and it can’t be him because he appears in later issues. This issue also includes a backup story about illegal street racing.

FANTASTIC FOUR #70 (Marvel, 1967) – “When Fall the Mighty,” [W] Stan Lee, [A] Jack Kirby. This issue is from just after Lee and Kirby’s greatest period (the #40s to the #60s), but their FF is still the greatest superhero comic ever created. This issue, the three male FF members fight the Mad Thinker and his androids. This plot is nothing special, but Kirby and Sinnott’s artwork is beyond incredible. The main problem with this issue is the sexist treatment of Sue, whose pregnancy makes her even more useless than usual. In contrast, Saturn Girl fought the Legion of Super-Villains while nearly at full term with twins.

CRIMINAL #2 (Icon, 2006) – “Coward Part Two,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. It’s weird to read such an early Criminal story now that I’m almost caught up on the series. This issue, Tommy Patterson executes a clever plot to steal a shipment of diamonds from a police evidence van. But his co-conspirators betray him even before the heist is over, and then he discovers that what he’s stolen was not diamonds but drugs.

TALES TO ASTONISH #85 (Marvel, 1966) – “—And One Shall Die,” [W] Stan Lee, [A] Gene Colan, and “The Missile and the Monster!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] John Buscema. In the Namor story, Namor battles the first Number One of the Secret Empire, whose goal is to win worldwide fame. In an ironic twist, Number One blows himself up, and his body is burned beyond recognition. Unusually for this series, the Sub-Mariner story leads directly into the Hulk story. As a result of Number One’s failed plots, the Hulk finds himself in New York, and he has to save the city from a missile launched by a Soviet spy. This is a pretty fun issue.

THE MAN WHO F#&%ED UP TIME #1 (AfterShock, 2020) – “The Here and Now,” [W] John Layman, [A] Karl Mostert. Our protagonist is Sean Bennett, a young scientist working on a time travel project, who is subjected to possibly racist abuse from his lab partner. Sean’s future self visits him and tells him to go back in time, so he does, but he accidentally creates a dystopian reality where everyone dresses like Abe Lincoln. I really like time travel stories, and so far this series looks like a fun example of that genre.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #3 (Marvel, 2014) – untitled, [W] Dan Slott, [A] Humberto Ramos. This issue takes place right after the end of the Superior Spider-Man saga. The Black Cat seeks revenge on Spider-Man, not realizing that he’s not the same Spider-Man who incurred her hatred. Meanwhile, Peter tries to reintegrate himself into his old life. This is yet another super-fun issue.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #69 (DC, 1969) – “A Matter of Menace!”, [W] Denny O’Neil, [A] Dick Dillin. Wonder Woman quits the JLA because she’s lost her powers, and then a villain named Head Master frames Green Arrow for murder. Perhaps because of its new young writer, this issue feels more energetic than a typical ‘60s JLA issue, but it’s still kind of  forgettable. Dick Dillin’s Wonder Woman is cute.

BIRTHRIGHT #10 (Image, 2015) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. Wendy is shocked to discover that she’s about to be a grandmother. There’s another flashback to Mikey’s childhood, and Mikey defeats some kind of creature called a Diviner. This issue is the end of the second story arc.

ARCHIE: THE MARRIED LIFE 10TH ANNIVERSARY #6 (Archie, 2020) – “Happily Ever After?”, [W] Michael Uslan, [A] Dan Parent. Both stories end with Dilton taking Archie, Betty and Veronica for a ride in a Back-to-the-Future-esque flying car. Overall, this was a disappointing series with just one really memorable moment (“I wish I had spent more time at work!”).

THE LEGION #7 (DC, 2002) – “Terror Incognita 2: Fear of Change,” [W] Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, [A] Olivier Coipel. The Legion fights Ra’s al Ghul and his Hypertaxis plot. I believe I bought issue 8 when it came out, and it impressed me enough that I started reading the Legion again after having given it up for a couple years. This issue is genuinely quite exciting and has a high-stakes, tense plot. However, as usual with these writers, it also includes insufficient characterization, and it feels too dark and grim to be a Legion story.

WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES #178 (Dell, 1955) – untitled, [W/A] Carl Barks. Suffering from insomnia, Donald decides to move to a quieter house. But he only succeeds in starting a noisemaking arms race with his new neighbors. It only ends when an elderly neighbor blows a giant alpenhorn, causing Donald to go deaf. This story is a typically hilarious Barks ten-pager. The only other notable thing in the issue is a Mickey Mouse story by Fallberg and Murry, taking place in Mexico. Of course, the Mexican characters in the story are all extreme stereotypes.

THE DREAMING #18 (DC, 2020) – “The Crown, Part Four,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Marguerite Sauvage. Dora is dying and the Dreaming is in a state of collapse. Cain, Matthew and Rose Walker try to save the day, with some assistance from an off-panel Desire. I wonder if there’s some legal reason why Desire isn’t fully shown. Dora discovers that Morpheus hid his ruby inside her, and it may be the key to saving the Dreaming. I didn’t like this series much at first, but now I love it, and I’m sorry Si Spurrier is leaving after #20. Marguerite Sauvage’s art didn’t impress me as much in this issue as in #17, but I still love her work.

LOIS LANE #8 (DC, 2020) – “Enemy of the People Part Eight,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Mike Perkins. A skull-masked assassin tries to kill Lois and Renee. This is just an average issue, and the scene where Superman is swarmed by admirers is kind of annoying. I kind of feel like there’s been too much Superman in this series. The whole point of the series is (or should be) to depict Lois as a hero in her own right, who doesn’t need to use Superman as a crutch. But Rucka has been continuously undercutting her independence, perhaps not on purpose.

INCREDIBLE HULK #167 (Marvel, 1973) – “To Destroy the Monster!”, [A] Steve Englehart, [A] Herb Trimpe. Betty learns that her new husband Glenn Talbot is dead (though he wasn’t, yet) and suffers a psychotic break. This leads into her debut as the Harpy in the next issue. Meanwhile, the Hulk battles MODOK in a giant robot body. This is a pretty good issue from one of the best Hulk creative teams prior to Peter David. There’s a funny moment in this issue where someone (Jim Wilson) greets the Hulk, and the Hulk complains that he was happier alone. https://www.instagram.com/p/B8cK-pJBcPV/

ADLER #1 (Titan, 2020) – untitled, [W] Lavie Tidhar, [A] Paul McCaffrey. I think this is the first comic by the World Fantasy Award-winning novelist Lavie Tidhar, and I bought it because of him. This series is named after Irene Adler, but it’s really more of a League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen; it co-stars Estella Havisham, Jane Eyre, and J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla. Steampunk pastiches like this are a dime a dozen now, and Theodora Goss has even used a premise similar to this one in her Athena Club series. But Tidhar seems to have done a lot of research, and he succeeds in creating a sense of historical plausibility. And Paul McCaffrey’s artwork is very good. I need to remember to order the rest of this series.

MONEY SHOT #4 (Vault, 2020) – untitled, [W] Tim Seeley & Sarah Beattie, [A] Rebekah Isaacs. I regret that I didn’t order issues 1 and 2, because I had trouble following what was going on in this issue. At least it seems pretty entertaining, though there’s not a whole lot of sex in it.

DOLLAR COMICS: BATMAN #386 (DC, 2020) – “Black Mask: Losing Face,” [W] Doug Moench, [A] Tom Mandrake. A reprint of Black Mask’s first appearance. Moench writes Black Mask as an anti-Batman: a rich boy whose parents don’t die, and who grows up without a clear sense of who he is. Eventually, Roman Sionis kills his parents himself and becomes a supervillain. The theme of masks and the faces they conceal is emphasized very heavily; Black Mask is the heir to a cosmetics company, and his hobby is collecting ritual masks. It seems like later writers have de-emphasized Black Mask’s obsession with masks and have made him into more of a typical crime boss, although I haven’t read many other stories with this character.

BIRTHRIGHT #20 (Image, 2016) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. Mikey and his family’s encounter with Enoch ends in a battle with a dragon. Sameal kills Enoch to save Aaron, but Mikey is kidnapped by one of the other remaining wizards, Kylen. Meanwhile, Mastema reveals that Lore is her father. Nothing about this issue particularly stands out.

SUPERBOY #171 (DC, 1971) – “Dark Strangler of the Seas!”, [W] Frank Robbins, [A] Bob Brown. Superboy and Aquaboy, the teenage version of Aquaman, team up to fight some polluters. This story is one of the few times Aquaman’s Aquaboy phase was ever mentioned. Aquaboy has a girlfriend named Marita who looks a lot like Mera. This character never appeared anywhere else, and I’m guessing that she was initially supposed to be Mera, but that someone remembered at the last minute that Aquaman didn’t meet Mera until they were both adults.

LOGAN’S RUN 2 (Marvel, 1977) – “Cathedral Kill,” [W] David Kraft, [A] George Pérez. This series is only interesting because of George Pérez’s artwork, but his art is very good. Logan’s Run’s mixture of SF and action sequences makes it a good fit for his talents. The inker is Klaus Janson, whose style clashes with Pérez’s, but at least Janson doesn’t ruin Pérez’s pencils.

BARBIE #45 (Marvel, 1994) – “Melissa’s Dress Mess,” [W] Barbara Slate, [A] Win Mortimer. This issue’s main story includes a long sequence set in a fantasy version of ancient Rome, so it’s somewhat similar to Barbara Slate’s Sweet Sixteen. Unfortunately, Win Mortimer was a very boring artist. He was in his seventies at the time, and died four years later. This issue includes a letter from an eight-year-old girl complaining that she can’t find Barbie comics at comic book stores. https://www.instagram.com/p/B8czi6xhkS9/This is exactly the problem that has historically plagued girls’ comic books – not a lack of potential readers, but a lack of effective marketing and distribution.

DEVIL DINOSAUR #4 (Marvel, 1978) – “Object from the Sky,” [W/A] Jack Kirby. Devil and Moon-Boy encounter some really cool-looking aliens. This issue includes some excellent individual pages and some exciting fight scenes, but Devil Dinosaur was never as exciting as Kirby’s other ’70s comics. One problem with it was the lack of characters who could actually talk.

KING JUNGLE JIM #1 (Dynamite, 2015) – untitled, [W] Paul Tobin, [A] Sandy Jarrell. Lille Devrille, a woman from Arboria, leads an expedition to find the legendary Jungle Jim and enlist his aid against Ming. Dynamite’s King Features comics were all really fun, and this one is no exception.

New comics received on February 12:

ALIENATED #1 (Boom!, 2020) – “Three Kids Named Sam Go Walking in the Woods,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Chris Wildgoose. We are introduced to three high school kids, all named Sam. Samuel is an online troll, Samantha is being slut-shamed due to an unwanted pregnancy, and Samir is a victim of racism. All three are being bullied by a little bastard named Leon. While walking in the woods, they encounter an alien creature that melds their mines. It also kills Leon, and good riddance. This is a fascinating first issue, a good start to yet another exciting Si Spurrier comic. I didn’t even get that it was a pastiche of E.T. until I read some reviews of it.

THE DOLLHOUSE FAMILY #4 (DC, 2020) – “Come Up,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter Gross. Alice survives the bombing but loses a leg, and her daughter loses a hand. Alice’s daughter makes a deal with the dollhouse to get her mother’s leg back. This series is still really good, but I still don’t understand why Alice has to suffer so much. The dollhouse seems to be targeting her even though she didn’t do anything wrong – besides killing her father, and she should have gotten a medal for that.

ASCENDER #9 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dustin Nguyen. This issue begins  with a flashback to Mother’s origin. As a child, she was the hated, abused servant to a coven of witches, while her older red-haired sister was the witches’ cherished protégé. Mother finally murdered her sister and took over the senior witches’ power for herself. But back in the present, Sister comes back to life and overpowers Mother. This issue reminds me of the fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red.

RONIN ISLAND #10 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] Greg Pak, [A] Giannis Milonogiannis. After some more fighting, Kenichi and Hana finally get back to the island, but some captured shogunate soldiers escape back to the mainland to warn the shogun. This issue finally gives us some reason to hope, but this series is still very grim.

GREEN LANTERN SEASON TWO #1 (DC, 2020) – “Young Guardians,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Liam Sharp. An intergalactic law enforcement convention is held on Oa, and we meet some more bizarre new characters. Hal is sent to Maltus to recruit some new Guardians, with the aid of a candidate GL, Ryk, who’s a sentient rock crystal. On Maltus, Hal and Ryk have to rescue Mother Juna from some evil gorillas so she can create the new Guardians. Mother Juna is a clever throwback to old continuity. I believe her only previous appearance was in GL #81, the story that introduced the planet Maltus. (That story was about overpopulation, and the name Maltus is a reference to Thomas Malthus.)

IMMORTAL HULK #31 (Marvel, 2020) – “Remember?”, [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett & Javier Rodriguez. In a flashback sequence drawn by Rodriguez, Dr. Charlene McGowan remembers encountering Daredevil while working for the Kingpin. Back in the present, Xemnu, the Marvel villain who sheds the most, manipulates everyone’s memories to make them think he (Xemnu) is and always was the Hulk. There’s a historical in-joke here because Xemnu was originally called the Hulk before Bruce Banner was created; see the Bruce Banner review below. At the end of the issue, the original flashback is repeated, but with Xemnu replacing Daredevil. This whole storyline is very clever.

X-MEN #6 (Marvel, 2020) – “The Oracle,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Matteo Buffagni. Mystique accepts a mission to infiltrate a space station called the Orchis Forge, which is manufacturing Sentinels. In exchange, Xavier promises to resurrect Destiny, but he reneges on that promise in order to keep Mystique under his thumb, and Mystique is not happy. The emotional high point of this issue is Mystique shouting “I want my wife back!” Claremont always intended Mystique and Destiny to be a couple, but in his time, their relationship couldn’t be explicitly mentioned on-panel. Now they are an official couple, and X-Men #6 is the first time their marriage has been revealed.

THE TERRIFICS #25 (DC, 2020) – “The Adventures You Choose,” [W] Gene Luen Yang, [A] Dan Mora. This is a choose-your-own-adventure story. It’s not as innovative as the CYOA issues of Squirrel Girl or Adventure Time, let alone Meanwhile, but it’s fun. It has a couple gamelike elements. You need to use information from a dead-end narrative branch in order to choose between four identical door knockers (although I chose the right one by accident). Later on, you need to do a side quest in order to learn the crow people’s language, which is necessary to finish the issue. On Twitter, Yang confirmed that the name Lord Shiga in this issue is a reference to Jason Shiga. I’m kind of surprised that The Terrifics has lasted 25 issues, but it’s a genuinely fun series.

POWERS IN ACTION #4 (Action Lab, 2020) – “Suplexian Supremacy,” [W/A] Art Baltazar. Suplex fights some villains from his home planet. This series is the same as any of Art Baltazar’s other comics, and it offers nothing I haven’t seen before. This issue will be my last.

DRAGONFLY & DRAGONFLYMAN #4 (Ahoy, 2020) – untitled, [W] Tom Peyer, [A] Peter Krause. Dragonflyman has been hypnotized and can’t fight, so he creates a device that allows Stinger to control him like a video game character. Meanwhile, the other Stinger discovers that Dragonfly implanted a tracking device in his wrist, and at the end of the issue, Dragonfly discovers him trying to dig it out with a scalpel. This page is a deliberate homage to Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85.

BLACKWOOD: THE MOURNING AFTER #1 (Dark Horse, 2020) – untitled, [W] Evan Dorkin, [A] Veronica Fish & Andy Fish. In today’s comics market, you never know whether an innovative series like Blackwood will survive or not, and I’m glad it’s gotten a second miniseries. This issue, the Blackwood faculty deals with the aftermath of Dean Ogden’s death. Meanwhile, the students decide to use the well to resurrect their dead classmate Dennis. This series has some very detailed and spooky art, and it effectively blends humor with horror.

CATWOMAN #20 (DC, 2020) – “No Guts No Glory,” [W] Joëlle Jones, [A] Fernando Blanco. A party at the Creel mansion is invaded by zombies. Meanwhile, Catwoman suffers from despair, but her cats motivate her to regain her confidence and confront Raina Creel one last time. Catwoman’s cats have had some great moments in this series, though not as many as I’d have liked.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #18 (DC, 2020) – “Heart of Glass,” [W] Nalo Hopkinson & Dan Watters, [A] Domo Stanton. Poquita makes a new friend who is transgender and disabled. Erzulie tries to reassemble the Corinthian, but discovers a piece missing, which explains where Poquita’s cat friend came from. People throughout the world have visions of Erzulie’s ship. I like this series a lot, but its plot tends to ramble and not really go anywhere, though this may be intentional.

GUTT GHOST #1 (Scout, 2020) – untitled, [W/A] Enzo Garza. I ordered this because the art looked interesting. The protagonist, Gute, is a ghost who can manipulate his own entrails. Garza draws Gute really well; he (Garza) shows a talent for body hororor that reminds me of Michael DeForge. However, this comic has a flimsy plot, and Garza has a limited ability to draw things other than intestines. Many of his panels lack backgrounds. This artist is promising, but he needs to develop his craft more.

GHOSTED IN L.A. #8 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] Sina Grace, [A] Siobhan Keenan. Daphne lets Agi possess her body for a ritual that will allow Shirley’s spirit to move on. It’s not clear whether the ritual works or not. Agi-possessing-Daphne gets some cute scenes. This series is entertaining and insightful, but rather slow-paced. This is the end of the second story arc. I hope that there will be a third, and that it will be published in comic book form.

ARCHIE 1955 #5 (Archie, 2020) – “Real Gone, Baby!”, [W] Brian Augustyn & Mark Waid, [A] Ray-Anthony Height & Rick Burchett. Archie refuses to re-sign his contract with Hiram Lodge, and he and Veronica walk off into the sunset. Archie joins Big Earl’s band. This is a satisfying ending, and I like how Archie actually chooses between Betty and Veronica for once. Overall, Archie 1955 was significantly better than Archie 1941. I wonder if there’s going to be an Arcihe 1966 or whatever.

IRON MAN 2020 #2 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Dan Slott & Christos Gage, [A] Pete Woods. Tony launches a robot uprising, but Arno Stark stays one step ahead of him and foils his plans. Iron Man 2020, the nominal hero of this series, is actually the villain, and the reader’s sympathies are firmly with Tony. Early in this issue there are some really cute scenes depicting the start of the robot revolution. Awesome Android rescues an experimental robot (built by “Brevoort Dynamics”), and Quasimodo and Herbie save some crash test dummies who are sick of repeatedly getting killed.

TARTARUS #1 (Image, 2020) – “As Above/So Below,” [W] Johnnie Christmas, [A] Jack T. Cole. In this issue’s first sequence, a badass rebel woman named Surka tries to escape from a space prison, but is killed. 17 years later, Surka’s daughter Tilde, a cadet in a military academy, discovers her parentage and is thrust into the same conflict that killed her mother. This is a really fun and exciting debut issue, though it’s very long. Jack T. Cole is unlucky in that he shares his name with a much better known comic book artist (hence why he uses his middle initial), but his art is very striking, and his visual imagination is impressive. Johnnie Christmas also wrote Firebug, which I read when it appeared in Island, but I don’t remember it well.

QUEEN & COUNTRY #30 (Oni, 2006) – “Red Panda Part 1,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Chris Samnee. Tara is still not recovered from her previous mission, but Paul sends her and Nick to Iraq to perform an assassination. There are hints that Tara is pregnant with Tom’s posthumous child, and this was indeed the case, as revealed in the prose novels that take place after the comics. Chris Samnee was just starting his career in 2006, and his art is unimpressive compared to his later work; it just looks like generic black and white art. His mature style didn’t develop until around 2011.

FANTASTIC FOUR #88 (Marvel, 1969) – “A House There Was!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Jack Kirby. This issue has an adorable splash page showing Alicia cradling the newborn, still unnamed Franklin. The rest of the story also indirectly revolves around Franklin, as Reed and Sue are looking for a new home for their family, and the house they choose turns out to be a trap created by the Mole Man. There’s some breathtaking artwork in this issue: https://www.instagram.com/p/B8pxUKOBSUS/

BATMAN #177 (DC, 1965) – “Two Batmen Too Many!”, [W] Bill Finger, [A] Sheldon Moldoff. Batman catches some crooks by having Atom and Elongated Men disguise themselves as two additional Batmen. There’s also a backup story about art theft. This story is most notable for containing a tacked-on, unconvincing romance. ’60s Batman comics are generally not very good; however, they’re very hard to find, compared to ‘60s Superman comics, and I’m glad I have this one.

TALES TO ASTONISH #70 (Marvel, 1965) – “The Start of the Quest!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Gene Colan (as Adam Austin), and “To Live Again!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Jack Kirby. Starting with this issue Sub-Mariner replaced Giant-Man as one of TTA’s two features. In the Sub-Mariner story, Krang takes over Atlantis, and Namor goes on a quest to find the lost trident of Neptune in order to prove his right to the throne. This story isn’t great, and it’s inked by the worst inker in comics history. The Hulk story is better. The Hulk is trapped in Hulk form but with Banner’s mind, and he has to fight a giant android sent by the Leader (who is depicted with a normal-sized head). According to the GCD, this is the first story in which the Hulk says “the madder I get, the stronger I get.”

NAILBITER #19 (Image, 2016) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Mike Henderson. A horror/thriller series about a bunch of serial killers who all come from the town of Buckaroo, Oregon. This series lacks the strong theme of “family” that characterizes Birthright, and Mike Henderson is a much less impressive artist than Andrei Bressan. I don’t plan to collect any more of this series.

SUPERBOY #194 (DC, 1973) – “The Super-Merman of the Sea!”, [W] Leo Dorfman, [A] Bob Brown. Superboy is turned into a merman by an Atlantean scientist. He teams up with the scientist’s niece Yorell, who kind of looks like Mera, and gets his legs back. This story has some cute art, but is rather boring. Superboy #194 was the second to last issue that didn’t include a Legion story. Starting with #197, the Legion got equal billing on the covers, and they gradually took the series over entirely. This was a positive development bcause the Legion stories were far more exciting than the Superboy solo stories.

New comics received on February 20:

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #4 (DC, 2020) – untitled, [W] Brian Michael Bendis, [A] Ryan Sook & Mikel Janín. This issue is better than the first three issues put together, and it singlehandedly restores my interest in the series. We get a partial retelling of the Legion’s origin, and as a result, we finally get to see the characters (specifically, Luornu, Ayla and the three founders) as people rather than anonymous voices in a crowd. I especially like the Winath sequence. In this continuity, Garth and Ayla come from a large family with two mothers and six other children, and they’re sharply divided about the wisdom of joining the UP’s youth delegation. Braal and Titan are also interestingly different from earlier versions of the same planets. I hope Bendis can maintain this level of characterization and worldbuilding in forthcoming issues. However, I still don’t care about the whole trident business.

LUMBERJANES #71 (Boom!, 2020) – “Forestry is the Best Policy Part 3,” [W] Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, [A] Kanesha Bryant & Julia Madrigal. The girls defeat the evil rhizome monster. In a flashback, we learn how the original Lumberjane ran away from home, disguised herself as a male lumberjack, and then discovered that her mother’s campsite was about to be clearcut. I love the explanation of why the camp was originally located in the woods: “If they [the girl campers] could keep their hair neat and dresses pristine in such awful conditions, they could do so anywhere!” Another nice touch is the sasquatch with a monocle and top hat.

RUNAWAYS #30 (Marvel, 2020) – “Cannon Fodder Part VI,” [W] Rainbow Rowell, [A] Andres Genolet. Gert discovers that Doc Justice is going to get all her teammates killed on purpose. Despite resistance from Matthew, Gert rushes off to save the day. Doc Justice is the creepiest villain of Rainbow’s run; he pretends to be a hero, but his “heroism” masks a total lack of concern for his young friends’ lives.

FANTASTIC FOUR #19 (Marvel, 2020) – “Four Gone Conclusion,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Sean Izaakse. The situation on Spire is resolved peacefully, and Sky comes back to Earth with the FF. Back on Earth, the kids are having a wild party with Lunella and Devil, and the Mole Man’s monsters are attacking Wyatt Wingfoot’s tribe’s reservation. This issue is mostly just a bridge between the last storyline and the next one.

MIDDLEWEST #15 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Skottie Young, [A] Jorge Corona. The relief mission is stopped at a river where the bridge has been washed out by a flood. Maggie uses magic to revive the old “river master” from his coma so he can help them get across. Meanwhile, Abel begins to execute his escape plan. The most striking thing in this issue is the two-page conversation between Maggie and Mick. It shouldn’t work because it’s two pages of nothing but dialogue, yet somehow it does work.

SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #8 (DC, 2020) – “Eminent Domain!” etc., [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Steve Lieber. This series is getting a little tedious, but it’s still the best current DC comic, besides Dial H for Hero. This issue is a bunch of random vignettes. The first sequence shows us the four replacement Jimmys (a reference to Reign of the Supermen), and later in the issue Jimmy is reunited with his alien wife.

UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY #4 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Charles Soule & Scott Snyder, [A] Giuseppe Camuncoli & Daniele Orlandini. Daniel steals the key and runs off with Charlotte. The rest of the team escapes from the Destiny Man’s fortress and pursues Daniel. We learn that all of the team members are there because someone named “aurora” requested them by name. As usual, the art in this issue is amazing. I really didn’t expect that Daniel would betray his teammates. I’m kind of disappointed in him.

NEW MUTANTS #7 (Marvel, 2020) – “Spoilers,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Rod Reis. The New Mutants succeed in resolving the Shi’ar civil war, and Xandra is restored to the throne. Until I looked it up, I totally forgot that Xandra was from Mr. & Mrs. X. Most of this issue is narrated by Bobby, and Hickman perfectly captures his boastful personality. This issue has some great metatextual moments: Bobby and Dani argue over what happened in which issue, and later, the reader is invited to use dice to simulate a fight scene.

BANG! #1 (Dark Horse, 2020) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] Wilfredo Torres. Thomas Cord, a secret agent, is sent to recover a manuscript from a reclusive writer named Philip Verve. But Verve reveals to Cord that he’s not the only Thomas Cord; he’s just one of many incarnations of the same character. This series continues the metatextual, metaleptic themes of much of Kindt’s other work. Thomas Cord is an obvious reference to James Bond, and the novel The 18 Stigmata of Philip Verve references Philip K. Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, although Verve has appeared in some of Kindt’s other comics.

AQUAMAN #57 (DC, 2020) – “Amnesty, Finale: Xebel’s Daughter,” [W] Kelly SueDeCononick, [A] Robson Rocha. Aquaman takes Mera back to Atlantis, where she gives birth prematurely to a baby girl, then falls into a coma. Meanwhile, Arthur discovers a chaotic and unsettled situation in Atlantis. I’m not sure where the storyline is going from here, but Arthur’s first sight of his daughter is a heartwarming moment.

ON THE STUMP #1 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Chuck Brown, [A] Prenzy. I was hesitant to order this because I disliked Chuck Brown’s previous solo work, The Quiet Kind. So far this series is a bit more interesting. Its premise is funny: it’s set in a future America where senators get bills passed by beating each other up in MMA matches. However, this comic also includes some very gruesome and exaggerated violence. I’m going to keep reading it for now, but I’m not sold on it yet.

BITTER ROOT #6 (Image, 2020) – “Rage & Redemption Part One,”  [W] David Walker & Chuck Brown, [A] Sanford Greene. This is one of the most important comic books currently being published, and I’m glad it’s back. This issue includes a lot of fight scenes, but the best moment is the inter-ethnic summit between the head Sangerye and his Chinese, Punjabi and Irish counterparts. This issue includes an essay by a scholar named Reynaldo Anderson, who I don’t know.

FAMILY TREE #4 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Phil Hester. The biggest emotion this comic arouses in me is hatred of the old grandpa dude. He’s such an insufferable know-it-all, especially toward his daughter-in-law. I hope he dies. This issue, the apartment where the main characters are staying is invaded by a bunch of goons, and the grandpa holds them off so the mother and daughters can escape. So far I’m not liking Family Tree nearly as much as Jeff’s other series, but it’s still worth reading.

SKULLDIGGER AND SKELETON BOY #3 (Dark Horse, 2020) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Tonci Zonjic. Skeleton Boy intervenes in Skulldigger’s fight with Grimjim. Skulldigger reveals that Grimjim is his father. This issue includes some very well-drawn action sequences, but otherwise it’s rather forgettable.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #15 (Marvel, 2020) – “The Last Avenger Part Four,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Lee Garbett. Carol beats the Hulk, and then Captain America surrenders to her without a fight, which is a nice moment. But Vox Supreme defeats and captures Carol anyway. This whole storyline has felt very contrived and annoying. Kelly seems to have systematically closed off every loophole that could allow Carol to not fight the Avengers, just so Carol can be the bad guy. And Vox Supreme’s smugness is driving me nuts. Also, Kelly still has yet to truly define who Carol is. This series has been consistently disappointing, and I’m actually considering giving up on it.

ARCHIE #711 (Archie, 2020) – “Archie and Katy Keene Part 2,” [W] Kevin Panetta & Mariko Tamaki, [A] Laura Braga. This issue has no real plot and is mostly an excuse to show off Laura Braga’s fashion designs for Katy and the other girls. Laura Braga does some excellent fashion art, but this issue’s lack of plot makes it somewhat tedious to read.

ATLANTIS ATTACKS #2 (Marvel, 2020) – “Tactics and Trust,” [W] Greg Pak, [A] Ario Anindito & Robert Gill. This series should have been called “Agents of Atlas: Atlantis Attacks”; if it had been called that, I’d have bought the first issue. And it is an Agents of Atlas comic in all but name. In this issue, the new and old Atlas squads team up against Namor. On Ario Anindito, see https://www.thejakartapost.com/life/2017/11/06/finding-indonesia-in-marvel-universe.html. He’s one of a number of Indonesians who have been working for the Big 2. Most of them have been under fans’ radar, with the unfortunate exception of Ardian Syaf.

GHOST-SPIDER #7 (Marvel, 2020) – “Into the Unknown,” [W] Seanan McGuire, [A] Ig Guara. We get some more information about the Earth-GS Sue and Johnny and their awful mother. Gwen has some low-key encounters with criminals. This series is very slow-paced and lighthearted, but that’s why I like it.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES #103 (IDW, 2020) – untitled, [W/A] Sophie Campbell. April and Donatello make their way inside the walled-off city, where some baby mutanimals are causing a lot of havoc. I don’t understand the plot of this comic, but Sophie Campbell arouses a genuine sense of emotion. When Donatello is sad, the reader feels sad too. And Campbell is a truly masterful artist. She’s as good at drawing animals as she is at drawing diverse human bodies.

VALKYRIE #8 (Marvel, 2020) – “At the End of All Things Part 1,” [W] Jason Aaron & Torunn Grønbekk, [A] Cafu. Jane and Thor fight an invasion of demons. This is a very formulaic and forgettable issue. It makes me wonder how much Jason Aaron is actually contributing to the series, and it makes me suspect that the things I liked about issues #1-#7 were mostly due to Al Ewing.

PLUNGE #1 (DC, 2020) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Stuart Immonen. A sunken ship called the Derleth floats back to the surface after an earthquake, and it’s full of some kind of monsters. This is an effective piece of Lovecraftian horror, and it demonstrates significant knowledge about marine biology and maritime professions. The fictional island where the ship sank is Sinnikik Ungayagagta. According to Google, that phrase is Aleut for “to disturb the mind.”

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES #32 (IDW, 2014) – “Northampton Part 4,” [W] Tom Waltz et al, [A] Sophie Campbell. This issue is a marked contrast to #103 because it has very little story or characterization. It’s mostly a fight between the Turtles and the mutant bird Koya, who also appears in #103. There’s also a subplot with April’s family, but their characterization is much shallower than in #103. Sophie Campbell’s art is good, but it’s overshadoowed by the poor writing. The comparison between #32 and #103 demonstrates that Sophie Campbell is a great writer as well as a great artist.

DAREDEVIL #39 (Marvel, 1968) – “The Exterminator and the Super-Powered Unholy Three,” [W] Stan Lee, [A] Gene Colan. Daredevil fights the Unholy Three (Ape-Man, Cat-Man and Bird-Man) and their boss the Organizer, who ‘s built a time travel device. Also, Matt and Foggy go on a double date with Karen and Debbie. This issue has a very effective plot, but only average writing.

THE OLD GUARD: FORCE MULTIPLIED #3 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Leandro Fernandez. The soldiers get in some more fights, and the authorities try to figure out what they’ve been up to. Two things remain true about this series. First, I can’t follow the plot. I can’t tell the characters’ personalities apart, and I can’t remember which name corresponds to which character. Second, Leandro Fernandez is a stunning artist who deserves an Eisner nomination.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #16 (Image, 2013) – “Schism,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Nick Pitarra. While the scientists are imprisoned, Oppenheimer tortures Leslie Groves. In a flashback, we see how Einstein and Feynman captured an alien creature, and then back in the present, the creature is freed from captivity. I bought this issue at Charlotte Mini-Con so that I could read #17 and #18, which I already had.

THE LOW, LOW WOODS #3 (DC, 2020) – “The Fruiting Body,” [W] Carmen Maria Machado, [A] Dani. Vee visits the local witch, then she makes out with her girlfriend, whose mother has a giant hole in her middle. This series has a very oppressive, disturbing mood, but its plot is meandering and not making much progress, though I think that’s also characteristic of Machado’s stories. One scene in this issue takes place in Hungry Daughters State Park, a reference to Machado’s story “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers.”

SERA AND THE ROYAL STARS #6 (Vault, 2020) – untitled, [W] Jon Tsuei, [A] Audrey Mok. Sera goes back to Parsa to rescue her family. The other gods visit the Pleiades, who are depicted as seven naked women with varying body types. The page that introduces the Pleiades is the high point of the issue. The best things about this series are Audrey Mok’s costume designs, and the complicated mythology that’s being built up around the stars.

100 BULLETS #16 (Vertigo, 2000) – “Hang Up on the Hang Low,” [W] Brian Azzarello, [A] Eduardo Risso. Like every Risso comic, this issue has excellent artwork, but its plot centers on some black criminals who are depicted in a rather stereotypical way. In my opinion, Brian Azzarello was never a very good writer. 100 Bullets was his biggest success by far,  and on that series he benefitted from collaborating with a world-class artist.

BROTHERS OF THE SPEAR #10 (Gold Key, 1975) – “The Raiders’ Roost,” [W] Gaylord Du Bois, [A] Dan Spiegle. I haven’t read a Dan Spiegle comic in a while, and it’s nice seeing his art again. This issue, Dan-el and Natongo have to rescue some women who were kidnapped by buffalo-riding raiders. This issue is competently written, but kind of boring.

TRANSHUMAN #3 (Image, 2008) – “Business is War,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] J.M. Ringuet. This early work of Hickman is one of his worst comics. It has too much text, and the text carries the entire story. The artwork is almost all just talking heads. The only exception is a page that shows a monkey raping a man. I’m not even sure what this series is about.

SANDMAN MIDNIGHT THEATRE #1 (Vertigo, 1995) – “Sandman Midnight Theatre,” [W] Neil Gaiman & Matt Wagner, [A] Teddy Kristiansen. This was perhaps my best find at Charlotte Mini-Con, although it took me a while to read it because it’s rather long. In this crossover between DC’s two Sandman titles, Dian Belmont has gone to London to get away from Wesley Dodds. But Wesley goes there too, not to follow her but to investigate his father’s friend’s suicide. Meanwhile, a super-thief called the Cannon is committing a spree of crimes. The Cannon is based on Leslie Charteris’s The Saint, and his name puns on his secret identity as a canon, i.e. a clergyman. Wesley, Dian and the Cannon are all invited to a party at Roderick Burgess’s mansion Fawney Rig, where Morpheus is being held captive, and they alll find themselves prowling around the mansion at night. The centerpiece of the story is the page where Wesley meets Morpheus for the first and only time. Wesley can’t help Morpheus escape and doesn’t understand who he is. But when the murderer escapes, Morpheus uses his limited powers to help Wesley out by giving the villain an incapacitating nightmare – or at least that’s my interpretation of the ending. Sandman Midnight Theatre is an excellent comic and an integral part of Sandman Mystery Theatre’s storyline. Sadly, it’s hard to find even in reprint form. (While looking for reprints of this issue, I learned that Neil wrote Swamp Thing Annual #5. I will have to look for that.)

EDGAR ALLAN POE’S SNIFTER OF TERROR SEASON TWO #5 (Ahoy, 2020) – “The Man That Was Used Up,” [W/A] Rick Geary, and “Berenice,” [W] Alisa Kwitney, [A] Mauricet. Rick Geary is a perfect artist for this series because his work blends horror and humor, and because of his expert knowledge of the 19th century. “The Man That Was Used Up” is a very clever story about (then-)modern technology and its disembodying effects, and its art is beautifully weird. “Berenice” is not nearly as impressive, but its conclusion involves the vagina dentata motif, which I don’t think was in the original story.

HEIST #4 (Vault, 2020) – untitled, [W] Paul Tobin, [A] Arjuna Susini. Glane Breld executes his plot to steal the deeds to the planet. I still think Arjuna Susini’s artwork is inappropriate for this type of story, but there are some striking images in this issue, like the giant bearded six-armed creature in a top hat. Also, one character tells another character a story about a house-sized cat.

WONDER TWINS #12 (DC, 2020) – “Astrisk*,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Stephen Byrne. The Wonder Twins win a final victory over Cell Phone Sylvia and some other villains, and the Justice League decides to create a new organization staffed by them and Filo and Polly Math. This is a surprisingly happy conclusion to a series that was rather depressing at times. Overall, Wonder Twins was excellent, though there are other Mark Russell comics that I liked better.

ADVENTURE FINDERS: THE EDGE OF EMPIRE #5 (Action Lab, 2020) – “The Bones of Argodor,” [W/A] Rod Espinosa. The main character falls into an underground tomb and fights a giant snake. But then the entire traveling party gets captured by some bandits. This is the last issue of the current volume. I like this series, but I don’t know if I like it eough to follow it in a format other than single issues.

THE HIDING PLACE (Fleming H. Revell, 1973) – “The Hiding Place,” [W/A] Al Hartley. This Spire Christian Comic is an adaptation of Corrie ten Boom’s narrative about hiding Jews during the Holocaust. As a comic it’s just average; the art is okay, but there’s too much text. However, this comic is rather offensive. Corrie ten Boom’s story uses the Holocaust as an excuse to preach the word of God. In her view, she survived because of divine favor, and if she hadn’t survived, she would have been better off in heaven. This view of the Holocaust trivializes the actual human suffering of its victims. Near the end of the story, we learn that ten Boom was released from a concentration camp due to a clerical error, and all the other women her age were killed. Are we supposed to think that God liked ten Boom better than all the women who died? Or that they’re better off dead because now they’re in heaven? Also, Ten Boom and Hartley show no interest in the central theological problem of the Holocaust: the question of why a loving God would have let it happen. She implies that her faith in God was never shaken at all by her suffering. It’s probably unfair to compare The Hiding Place to Maus, but even a comparison to the much older story “Master Race” reveals what an insubstantial work The Hiding Place is. A weird moment in this story is when the young Corrie asks her father what “sexsin” means, and her father refuses to answer. All the Google hits for “sexsin” are references to this scene. It appears to be a mistranslation from the Dutch.

DETECTIVE COMICS #698 (DC, 1996) – “The Tomb,” [W] Chuck Dixon, [A] Graham Nolan. Batman has to rescue some villains who are being held captive by Lock-Up. This is an okay comic, but both its creators are conservative Comicsgate supporters and are on my boycott list, or would be if I made one. Graham Nolan’s politics are a shame because he’s a talented artist. This comic includs a scene where Lock-Up attacks some black criminals. As I read this comic, I realized that black and Latinx people rarely appeared in ‘80s and ‘90s Batman comics except as criminals. When I was reading these comics as a kid, I’d been socialized to not notice this kind of subtle racism, but it would be obvious to a black or Latinx reader.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #17 (Image, 2014) – “What We Made,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Nick Pitarra. In a flashback, we see more of Einstein and Feynman’s encounter with the alien hunter. In the present, the alien rampages through the project and kills a bunch of people, two of whom are based on John Layman and Rob Guillory. (See https://www.instagram.com/p/B87zB9zBMmo/. The clue was the FDA badges.) Humorously, the alien talks like a hippie.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #18 (Image, 2014) – “Assassination,” as above. General Westmoreland kills the alien. The scientists escape their cell. Someone shoots Oppenheimer in the head. This was the last issue of the regular series that I bought, though I do still have a couple unread issues of the sequel miniseries, The Sun Beyond the Stars. Overall, I should have stopped collecting this series after I stopped reading it. It’s just not that great.

THE MAXX #5 (Image, 1993) – untitled, [W/A] Sam Kieth, [W] William Messner-Loebs. The Maxx has a dream in which he’s inside a children’s cartoon. This sequence is written entirely in Dr. Seuss-style verse, with correct meter, and it’s drawn in a style that’s very different from how Sam normally draws. This sequence is very impressive, and it demonstrates how much better Sam’s comics get when he works with a dialogue writer.

TRUE BELIEVERS: KIRBY 100TH – GROOT #1 (Marvel, 2017) – “I Challenged… Groot! The Monster from Planet X!” and “I Was a Slave of the Living Hulk!”, [W] Stan Lee & Larry Lieber, [A] Jack Kirby. This reprints the first appearances of Groot and Xemnu, from Tales to Astonish #13 and Journey into Mystery #62. These are both very typical pre-superhero Marvel stories. The original version of Groot has little in common with the character depicted in the Guardians of the Galaxy film. However, Al Ewing’s version of Xemnu is very consistent with the character’s original depiction. The first Xemnu story depicts his hypnosis powers, which are vitally important in the current Immortal Hulk storyline.

New comics received on February 26:

AMETHYST #1 (DC, 2020) – “Amethyst in Gemworld,” [W/A] Amy Reeder. I’m excited about this series because I love the original Amethyst, and I even have a forthcoming essay about it. Amy Reeder’s Amethyst suffers from some awkward dialogue, just like Moon Girl did. But her Amethyst feels like a realistic 16-year-old girl, and her plot is exciting. Amethyst returns to Gemworld for her sweet sixteen party, but she discovers that her realm is deserted, and no one remembers her except her flying horse. Unlike Christy Marx’s earlier revival – which was Amethyst in name only – Reeder’s series is a direct sequel to Mishkin and Cohn’s original. It picks up sometime after their run ended, ignoring the dreadful miniseries by Keith Giffen. However, this Gemworld is subtly different; for example, the people in the Turquoise realm all have four arms. Overall, this is a promising debut, and I hope it will bring DC some new, younger readers.

DIAL H FOR HERO #12 (DC, 2020) – “Dial F for Finale!”, [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Joe Quinones. Miguel and Summer save the day by dialing H for hope, and they live happily ever after. This issue includes a lot of different homages, including Krazy Kat, Popeye, Howard the Duck, and Elfquest. Overall, this was an incredible series. The homages were extremely clever, and they were perfectly integrated into the narrative. I’m sorry this is the last issue.

INVISIBLE KINGDOM #10 (Image, 2020) – “Edge of Everything Part Five,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Christian Ward. Vess and Grix kiss. The other Lux captain betrays Grix to the company, and things are looking grim, but at the last minute, a new group of Nones shows up and tells Grix that they want to start a revolution. The other captain’s betrayal is a really depressing moment; it seems for a moment that no one cares about the truth, and that Grix’s efforts are pointless. The ending feels like a bit of a deus ex machina, but I’m sure the other Nones have their own hidden agenda.

SEX CRIMINALS #27 (Image, 2020) – “Before It’s Too Late,” [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Chip Zdarsky. This issue is mostly plot, but somehow it makes a lot more sense than last issue did. The opening scene with Jon and Suzie in bed is beautiful. I still don’t know why Jon was in prison at the end of last issue. As with last issue, I was exhausted when I read this, and I couldn’t be bothered to read the entire letter column.

FINGER GUNS #1 (Vault, 2020) – untitled, [W] Justin Richards, [A] Val Halvorson. This new Vault series is about two teenagers, Wes and Sadie, who discover that they can make people angry by doing the finger-gun gesture at them. Wes’s parents are perpetually absent, and Sadie’s father is abusive. I really like this comic’s premise and characters, and Val Halvorson’s art is appealingly simple. This looks like yet another exciting Vault comic.

X-MEN #7 (Marvel, 2020) – “Lifedeath,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Leinil Francis Yu. It takes some nerve to reuse the title of a classic X-Men story, but the title makes sense in this context. This issue, Melody Guthrie participates in the first “Crucible.” This means that she fights Apocalypse, loses, and is killed, so she can be revived with her mutant powers restored – since she was one of the mutants who lost her powers during House of M. Throughout the issue, various characters grapple with the moral implications of killing and reviving mutants in this way. I like how every issue of this series has felt very different from the others.

BASKETFUL OF HEADS #5 (DC, 2020) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Leomacs. The villain in this issue, Hank, is the most insufferable, smug, overprivileged little bastard ever. I couldn’t wait for June to cut his head off, and I was very disappointed that he was still alive at the end of the issue. Also, this issue Hank explains the plot of the entire series, or at least the non-supernatural part of the plot. The McGuffins are a Senate seat and a bunch of drug money.

FAR SECTOR #4 (DC, 2020) – untitled, [W] N.K. Jemisin, [A] Jamal Campbell. Jo tries to resolve the riots, while the aliens plot against her. We also learn that she has super-limited powers and that her ring takes days to recharge. This is perhaps the best issue yet, and it feels very similar to Jemisin’s other work. I love the moment when she declares that firing on an unarmed crowd is “not peace.” It reminds me of the “no voting on who gets to be people” moment in The Obelisk Gate.

FOLKLORDS #4 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] Matt Smith. There are only a few issues left, since this series hasn’t been upgraded to an ongoing. So in this issue Ansel and the troll girl finally get to the library. There are some good moments in this issue, like the “Librarynth” and the librarians shouting “Sshh!”, but I still feel that this series hasn’t lived up to its potential.

HEATHEN #9 (Vault, 2020) – untitled, [W] Natasha Alterici, [A] Ashley Woods. I just this moment realized that Natasha Alterici didn’t draw this issue herself, though Ashley Woods’s style resembles hers. Maybe that’s why this was the least impressive issue yet. The protagonist is captured by two trolls, a father and son, but she convinces them to let her into Odin’s palace so she can free their wife and mother.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #87 (IDW, 2020) – untitled, [W] Ted Anderson, [A] Tony Fleecs. This series has been spinning its wheels lately, and I’m impatient for the start of the Season Ten stories. However, this issue is better than the last few. Big Mac and Applejack enter the “Draytona Breach” race, where Big Mac has to compete against his old rival Silver Streak. Meanwhile, a thief named Sacks Roamer is using the race as a cover to steal the Mangalese Drake. (The puns here are too obvious to explain.) This storyline will continue into next issue. A cute new idea this issue is that Spike is able to “interpret” for Big Mac by reading his facial expressions.

VAGRANT QUEEN: A PLANET CALLED DOOM #2 (Vault, 2020) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Jason Smith. Elida languishes in prison, while her deceitful old partner, whose name I forget, is also in dire straits. Not much happens this issue. Jason Smith’s art still isn’t great, but I noticed it less than usual.

ICE CREAM MAN #18 (Image, 2020) – “Watch as It All Recedes,” [W] W. Maxwell Prince, [A] Martín Morazzo. A dying old man steadily loses his memories, while his adult children struggle with his impending loss. The ice cream man is only mentioned once or twice. This issue was touching and sad, and very different in tone from the other two I’ve read. I need to look for some back issues of this series.

STAR #2 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Javier Pina & Filipe Andrade. Wanda and Star fight some alien creatures. There’s a subplot with some characters I don’t recognize, but at the end, we learn that they’re the Black Order in human form. This series is kind of boring so far, and I probably should have skipped it, but I might as well finish it now that I’ve started it.

MONSTRESS #26 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Marjorie Liu, [A] Sana Takeda. This series continues to be very hard to follow. I feel like only a very dedicated fan could understand the overall plot. But the central conflict is still that Maika has to control her compulsion to eat people. This issue takes place in the besieged city of Ravenna, where civic order has broken down, and there are hordes of refugees demanding entry. In a powerful scene, Maika is forced to kill a bunch of people in order to resolve the refugee crisis and restore morale. And as the reader, I feel like she did exactly the right thing.

DYING IS EASY #3 (IDW, 2020) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Martin Simmonds. This is Joe Hill’s worst series yet, and it’s a complete waste of Martin Simmonds’s talents. This issue begins with a car chase, even though Simmonds is not particularly good at drawing action scenes. What he is good at is static visual arrangements, like fashion designs or psychedelic dream visions, fashion design, bizarre page layouts, etc. But this series gives him no opportunity to do what he’s good at. The striking “Meet Your Match!” billboard in this issue is an example of what he can do, but this comic should have had much more of that kind of art.

JOHN CONSTANTINE, HELLBLAZER #4 (Image, 2020) – “Scrubbing Up, Part One,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Matías Bergara. This issue reunites Simon Spurrier with one of his best artistic collaborators. Bergara’s art looks scratchier and less slick in this issue than in Coda, but it’s still beautiful. The poop demon is a particular highlight. This issue, Constantine meets a new sidekick, Tommy, a New Age hipster with a man-bun who performs magic using puns. Together they investigate a mystery at the Tower of London. This storyline continues the series’ theme of the toxic influence of British nationalism. In a funny reference to From Hell, Tommy discovers a hidden network of magical sites all over London. Constantine guesses that they’re in the shape of a pentagram, but instead they’re arranged in a much more obscene shape.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: DAILY BUGLE #2 (Marvel, 2020) – “The Hanging Judge Part 2,” [W] Mat Johnson, [A] Mack Chater & Francesco Mobili. Peter Parker and Chloe Robertson investigate the mystery webbing. This issue is pretty good, but it feels more like a standard Spider-Man comic than like Incognegro. At one point in this issue, Ben Urich takes a taxi all over New York to investigate some addresses. I wonder if he could have just used Google Earth instead.

KILLADELPHIA #4 (Image, 2020) – “Sins of the Father Part IV,” [W] Rodney Barnes, [A] Jason Shawn Alexander. More of the same stuff as last issue. I’m leaning toward giving up on this series. The relationship between James Sangster Sr and Jr is fascinating, but the mąin plot about Vampire John Adams is stupid, and this series is concentrating more on the latter than the former.

TOMORROW #1 (Dark Horse, 2020) – “Going Viral,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Jesús Hervás. The world is struck by a pandemic that kills all adults but leaves children untouched, and that seems to be spread by communications media. There are several POV characters, but the most memorable one is Oscar, a young virtuoso cellist who seems to be autistic and psychologically dependent on his twin sister. There’s also a plot about a cyber security expert, who discovers the virus, and his two young children. This is a very exciting first issue, and it’s much more straightforward and less confusing than most Peter Milligan comics.

FLASH #123 (DC, 1961/2020) – “Flash of Two Worlds!”, [W] Gardner Fox, [A] Carmine Infantino. This is the most important issue of the 1959-1985 Flash series, and one of the most important of all DC comics. It introduces Earth-2, thus paving the way for the DC multiverse, and it reintroduces the Golden Age characters into the Silver Age DCU. The scene where Barry Allen first meets Jay Garrick is pretty epic. After that, though, the rest of the issue is a letdown. It’s just a lengthy battle of wits between the two Flashes and three Golden Age villains.

DETECTIVE COMICS #632 (DC, 1991) – “The Golem of Gotham Part Two,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Jim Aparo. Batman battles a golem created by an old rabbi who survived the Holocaust. Then Batman saves the rabbi from some white nationalist thugs, before coercing him into deactivating the golem. My review of issue 631 was rather lukewarm (https://ogresfeathers.wordpress.com/2017/06/08/reviews-for-may-and-early-june/#tec631), but in comparison with The Hiding Place, ‘Tec #632 looks much better. It shows understanding of how the Holocaust is a generational trauma that continues to terrorize its victims, even fifty years later. And it doesn’t just affect those who directly experienced it. When Batman bullies the rabbi into erasing the golem’s forehead, he reflects that he’s doing to him what the Nazis did.

PROTECTOR #2 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Simon Roy & Daniel Bensen, [A] Artyom Trakhanov. The protagonist, whose name I can’t remember, causes a lot of havoc with her new robot friend. She also tells a garbled version of the story of Jesus. The writing in this comic is kind of average, but I like the worldbuilding, and the artwork is often stunning.

KIDZ #2 (Ablaze, 2020) – untitled, [W] Aurelien Ducoudray, [A] Jocelyn Jordet. The kids explore some abandoned houses and have a pool party. This series is not particularly interesting or original, and I’m going to stop ordering it.

DARK HORSE PRESENTS #22 (Dark Horse, 1988) – “Goodwill Ambassador,” [W/A] Paul Chadwick, plus other stories. This issue begins with a very cute Concrete story. It’s told from the perspective of a little Tibetan or Nepali boy, Kirkyap, whose village is preparing for a visit by Concrete. Kirkyap is terrified at his first sight of Concrete, but changes his mind, and Concrete carries him to the next village. Paul Chadwick writes very effectively from the perspective of a child, and as usual, his art is fantastic. This issue also includes a one-pager by Rick Geary, as well as Trekker and Duckman stories, and an illustrated prose story about cloning.

HITMAN #19 (DC, 1997) – “Ace of Killers, Part Five,” [W] Garth Ennis, [A] John McCrea. I frankly hate this series, and I’m only reading this issue because I’ve owned it for years. Like every issue of Hitman, this issue is full of brutal violence and vulgar black humor.

DETECTIVE COMICS #865 (DC, 2010) – “Beneath the Mask Part Two: Face Off!”, [W] David Hine, [A] Jeremy Haun. This issue mostly focuses on two villains I’m not familiar with, Jeremiah Arkham (aka Black Mask II) and Alyce Sinner. It’s hard to understand out of contxt, and it doesn’t seem espceially interesting. At least this issue also has a Question/Huntress backup story written by Greg Rucka.

BATMAN #501 (DC, 1993) – “Code Name: Mekros,” [W] Doug Moench, [A] Mike Manley. This issue includes a scene where some mobsters are eating in an Italian restaurant, with red-and-white checkered tablecloths. Not surprisingly, some other mobsters barge into the restaurant and assassinate them. This issue also contains some scenes where Jean-Paul Valley acts like a complete jerk. I read once that the Batman writers intentionally made Azrael unlikable, but that they made him even more unlikable than they had meant to.

MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #17 (Marvel, 1976) – “This City – Afire!”, [W] Bill Mantlo, [A] Sal Buscema. Spidey and the Thing team up to fight the Basilisk. This story was part of a crossover that continued into Marvel Team-Up. This issue is very boring and formulaic, and offers the reader little motivation to read the second half of the crossover.

DAREDEVIL #199 (Marvel, 1983) – “Daughter of a Dark Wind,” [W] Denny O’Neil, [A] William Johnson. This storyline is most notable for introducing Yuriko Oyama, the future Lady Deathstrike. This issue is set in Japan, and was probably an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Frank Miller’s Japanese-themed stories. However, O’Neil and Johnson are no substitute for Miller. Daredevil was William Johnson’s highest-profile assignment by far, and he seems to have vanished from the industry after about 1988. I can’t find any biographical information about him.

NEW GODS #11 (DC, 1972) – “Darkseid and Sons!”, [W/A] Jack Kirby. The last issue of New Gods is a bit of an anticlimax. I get the sense that Kirby was required to wrap up his storyline  very quickly. Still, this issue include some epic fight scenes between Orion and Kalibak. There’s no explicit acknowledgement in the issue that the series was cancelled, thuogh there are references to Kirby’s upcoming series Kamandi and The Demon.

WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES #142 (Dell, 1952) – untitled, [W/A] Carl Barks, plus other stories. In this issue’s new Barks ten-pager, Donald makes the nephews spend their summer vacation with him on a houseboat, so that they won’t be able to get in any trouble. Of course, the nephews find every possible way to cause havoc and mayhem, and the story ends with Donald going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. This story is hilarious and its plot is perfectly crafted. Nearly every element that Barks introducse into the story (e.g. the fish, the water barrel and the gasoline) ultimately plays a pivotal role in the plot. This issue also includes a Li’l Bad Wolf story that guest-stars Goofy, as well as a Mickey Mouse adventure story. The latter story provides an example of the old stereotype that all cops were Irish. https://www.instagram.com/p/B9M3G3FBBfA/

SUPERBOY #132 (DC, 1966) – “Krypto’s Cat Crook Caper!”, [W] Otto Binder, [A] George Papp. In this issue’s lead story, Krypto and the Space Canine Patrol Agency battle some criminal cats. The SCPA is an awesome example of Silver Age weirdness, but this story tries too hard to be funny. The backup story is “The Youth Who Was Braver Than Superboy!” by Dorfman and Swan. Here, Superboy meets a new, even more powerful super-teen named Supremo. In an unexpectedly poignant ending, Supremo dies of a terminal illness, and we learn that his scientist uncle faked his superpowers so he could die a hero. This ending reminds me of the classic “Be Wonder Woman… and Die!” from Wonder Woman #286.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #119 (Marvel, 1969) – “Now Falls the Skull!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Gene Colan. Captain America and the Falcon battle the Red Skull, who has acquired a Cosmic Cube for the second time. They defeat the Skull thanks to some unintentional help from Modok. I already have this issue, but my existing copy is coverless. Gene Colan’s artwork here is really good.

BATMAN #219 (DC, 1970) – “Death Casts the Deciding Vote!”, [W] Frank Robbins, [A] Irv Novick. In this issue’s main story, Batman accompanies an elderly senator on a plane trip to Washington, but the plane is hijacked by crooks. This story is well-crafted but unspectacular. However, the backup story, Mike Friedrich and Neal Adams’s “The Silent Night of the Batman,” is a minor classic. On Christmas, Batman decides to sing Christmas carols instead of fighting crime. Somehow, this causes the spirit of Christmas to spread over Gotham. In a silent sequence, we watch as some young thieves return their stolen goods, a would-be murderer throws away his gun, and a young army widow is saved from suicide when her husband turns up alive. In each case, an image or representation of Batman is somehow responsible for stopping the tragedy (for instance, the thieves return a stolen Christmas present when they see that it’s a Batman toy). This story is rather syrupy, but it demonstrates Neal’s mastery of visual storytelling.

TOR #6 (DC,1976) – various stories, [W/A] Joe Kubert. The stories in this issue are all reprints from the ‘50s. Compared to Kubert’s later work, they have more detailed linework, but less dynamic visual storytelling. Also, Tor is a rather boring character because of his lack of a supporting cast, other than his pet monkey.

HELLBLAZER #39 (DC, 1990) – “The Hanged Man,” [W] Jamie Delano, [A] Steve Pugh. Constantine spends the first half of this issue whining about nothing much. In the second half, he has a mystical vision and discovers that he has an unborn twin brother, the Golden Boy, who he strangled in the womb. This sequence includes some striking artwork. During the vision, Constantine dreams that he’s entering a cave through a narrow entrance. This is an obvious piece of vaginal symbolism, and it reminds me of a similar scene in Robertson Davies’s The Manticore.

BATMAN #414 (DC, 1987) – “Victims!”, [W] Jim Starlin, [A] Jim Aparo. While investigating a series of murders of young women, Batman meets a feisty young social worker named Kate Babcock. Kate is a compelling character, but annoyingly, she only survives for a few pages before she becomes the serial killer’s next victim. Batman tracks down a man he believes to be the killer, but while he’s doing that, another woman is killed. This issue is actually not too bad. I thought it was going to be very straightforward and formulaic, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Batman guessed wrong as to who the killer was. However, Kate’s fridging is very frustrating.

ACTION COMICS #527 (DC, 1982) – “Sorcery Over Stonehenge,” [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Curt Swan. This issue introduces two new magical-themed villains, Lord Satanis and his wife Syrene. I’m guessing Marv created these characters in order to give Superman some enemies who could exploit his vulnerability to magic. Lord Satanis is more or less the same character as the post-Crisis Lord Satanus, but the two versions of the character have little in common besides being magical. Syrene’s post-Crisis counterpart is Satanus’s sister Blaze. “Sorcery Over Stonehenge” is an average story, but it suffers from Satanis’s poorly defined powers; he can basically do anything he wants. There’s also a backup story by Rozakis and Saviuk in which Air-Wave teams up with Aquaman. Air-Wave was a boring character, and I think Bob Rozakis was the only writer who used him.

DARK HORSE PRESENTS #16 (Dark Horse, 1988) – “A Sky of Heads: With a Whimper,” [W/A] Paul Chadwick, plus other stories. This issue’s Chadwick story has a double framing sequence: Concrete and Larry watch a TV show, and in the show, a disembodied head tells some other heads a story. The story is about an Olympic runner who whimpers a lot. This is not one of Chadwick’s better stories, and the framing sequences are a waste of space. There were two other “Sky of Heads” stories, in DHP #18 and Concrete: Strange Armor #6. The second story in this issue is the third installment of Gary Martin’s superhero parody Captain Crusader. It’s also the last installment, as the inept protagonist is shot dead at the end. Last, there’s a story by Gary Davis about Native Americans hunting buffalo. This story has some very attractive Moebius-inspired art. Davis was a regular contributor to DHP, and he published one solo comic, Warworld. I should look for more of his work.

DETECTIVE COMICS #637 (DC, 1991) – “Control Freak,” [W] Louise Simonson, [A] Jim Fern. Batman battles a mind-controlled kid who’s able to bring video game characters and objects to life. This issue is really dumb. It’s based on conventional stereotypes about video games, rather than actual knowledge. And the story is wildy inconsistent as to how real the video game entities are, or what they can and can’t do. I like Weezie’s writing, but this story makes her weaknesses evident.

ANIMAL MAN #24 (DC, 2013) – “Hollywood Babylon Part 1 of 2,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Rafael Albuquerque. Brother Blood becomes the new avatar of the Red and holds the Academy Awards hostage. This series never recovred from the loss of Travel Foreman, and this issue is well-written and well-drawn, but not particularly memorable.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #15 (Marvel, 1969) – “That Zo Might Live… A Galaxy Must Die!”, [W] Gary Friedrich, [A] Tom Sutton. The first half of this issue is a psychedelic, Steranko-esque dream sequence in which Mar-Vell is shown a series of visions by a god named Zo. (I was going to say Starlinesque, but this was before Starlin’s career began.) Tom Sutton was pretty good at this kind of art, and this sequence is rather striking. The second half of the issue, in which Zo sends Mar-Vell on a mission to Hala, is more conventional. As Brian Cronin explains, the character of Zo was created by Arnold Drake and then fleshed out by Friedrich, but the next writer, Archie Goodwin, retconned him into nonexistence. https://www.cbr.com/captain-mar-vell-god-zo/

FANTASTIC FOUR #128 (Marvel, 1972) – “Death in a Dark and Lonely Place!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] John Buscema. The Thing goes to Subterranea to find a cure for Alicia’s blindness, but he gets involved in a three-way power struggle between the Mole Man, Kala and Tyrannus. Roy’s FF suffers from being a follow-up to the best run of superhero comics ever, but it’s still pretty good in its own right. I especially like the poignant conclusion, where Ben realizes that he’s better off than the Mole Man because he’s not alone.

Last comic in the stack:

SHOWCASE #85 (DC, 1969) – “I Don’t Belong Here… I Don’t Belong There!”, [W/A] Joe Kubert. This issue introduces Firehair, a young white man raised by Blackfoot Indians, who is tormented by being too white for the Indians and too Indian for the whites. Kubert’s artwork here is much more accomplished and exciting than in Tor #6. The issue is full of thrilling action scenes and dynamic page compositions. At times this story shows a tendency to conflate different Native American nations: the Blackfoot are wrongly depicted with a totem pole, and one page has border designs based on Navajo art. However, the Blackfoot are consistently shown as far more honorable and courageous, while the white people in the story are all murderous brutes. As a result the reader sympathizes with the Indians. Firehair appeared twice more in Showcase and then starred in a backup feature in Hawk, Son of Tomahawk.

First review mega-post of 2020

REVIEWS OF EVERY COMIC I READ IN 2020

This project is now in its eighth year (2013-2020).

WHITEOUT #2 (Oni, 1998) – untitled, [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Steve Lieber. This is Rucka’s first work and Lieber’s first work other than Hawkman, but it’s already very accomplished and original. It’s an exciting murder mystery which makes convincing use of its Antarctic setting. However, it is difficult to remember who the characters are, since I read issue 1 a while ago. Notable moments include the description of how cold Antarctica really is, and the scene where a character has two fingers amputated due to frostbite.

THOR #296 (Marvel, 1980) – “From Valhalla – a Valkyrie!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Keith Pollard. This issue adapts Wagner’s Die Walküre, with Thor starring as Siegmund. Roy Thomas’s adaptation of Wagner’s Ring was not particularly successful; it was unexciting and overly literal. It also killed the momentum of his ongoing Celestials story. Also, in this issue Thor (or someone identical to him) commits incest off-panel. Roy was required to include Siegmund and Sieglinde’s incestuous releationship, because it’s in Wagner’s Ring, but he could have done a better job of selling it to the reader. https://www.instagram.com/p/B6xC1X8BRN2/

BLACK PANTHER #13 (Marvel, 1999) – “The End Part 1,” [W] Christopher Priest, [A] Sal Velluto. Lots of different things happen in this issue, but it’s difficult to see how they all relate to each other. Overly complicated plotting is sort of Priest’s trademark. A significant moment in this issue is when Queen Divine Justice is invited to join the Dora Milajé. It’s hard to tell whether this character is intended as a serious depiction of a young “woke” black woman, or as a parody.

ACTION COMICS #390 (DC, 1970) – “The Self-Destruct Superman,” [W] Cary Bates, [A] Curt Swan. In this issue’s Superman story, Superman is pursued by a machine called the SEM, which he designed as a means of killing himself if he ever went rogue. But he can’t remember how to turn the SEM off. This story is not awful, but it’s formulaic and boring. The real attraction of this issue is a Legion backup story by E. Nelson Bridwell and Win Mortimer, in which the Legion Espionage Squad tries to overthrow a dictatorial government. However, this story too is rather forgettable.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #73 (Marvel, 1981) – “Wraith, Color or Creed,” [W] Mary Jo Duffy, [A] Greg La Rocque. A silver-armored robot is running around New York murdering people for no apparent reason. The twist is that the robot is Rom the Spaceknight, and the “people” he’s “murdering” are Dire Wraiths, but Luke and Danny don’t know that. There’s also some other fun stuff in this issue. For example, Colleen Wing starts a relationship with Bob Diamond, since her last boyfriend, Scott Summers, broke up with her as soon as “his old girlfriend crooked her little finger.” As Brian Cronin explains (https://www.cbr.com/x-men-cyclops-jean-grey-colleen-wing-love-triangle/), the behind-the-scenes explanation for this is that Chris Claremont was going to use Colleen as a supporting character in X-Men, but when Jo Duffy took over Power Man & Iron Fist, she asked for Colleen back.

THE LEGION #1 (DC, 2001) – “No Place Like Home,” [W] Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, [A] Olivier Coipel. The lost Legionnaires return from exile to find Earth very different than when they left it. DnA’s Legion always rubbed me the wrong way because it was so tonally different from other Legion comics, and it sometimes didn’t feel like the Legion at all. However, it was far better than no Legion at all, or the poor excuse for the Legion that we have now, and this first issue is a very exciting start to the series. I especially like the last scene, where Saturn Girl wakes up from a trance to shout a warning, and then the Legionnaires’ vehicle explodes.

HELLBLAZER #6 (DC, 1988) – “Extreme Prejudice,” [W] Jamie Delano, [A] John Ridgway. Constantine sleeps with Zed for the first time. Meanwhile, the demon Nergal creates a racist murdering monster by combining the bodies of four young Nazi skinheads. Hilariously, Constantine defeats the monster by observing that the monster has one arm with a Chelsea tattoo, and another arm with an Arsenal tattoo. ”What do you do on Saturdays, lads?” (It was earlier mentioned that the skinheads hate each other on Saturdays, because two of them support Chelsea and the other two support Arsenal; the rest of the week, they’re united by their mutual hate of people of color. Oh, also this issue reveals that Ray Monde has HIV. I wonder if he was DC’s first HIV-positive character. Overall, this is one of Jamie Delano’s better issues of Hellblazer, and I’m enjoying his work more than I used to.

SUPERMAN #247 (DC, 1972) – “Must There Be a Superman?”, [W] Elliot S! Maggin, [A] Curt Swan. This is the first Superman story by Elliot S! Maggin, my favorite Superman writer. It was also one of only two ‘70s stories included in the 1972 edition of The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told (the other was Forever People #1). According to Wikipedia, its plot was suggested by a very young Jeph Loeb. The main theme of this story is that Superman’s paternalistic actions are interfering with human development. In 2020, this story’s politics seem somewhat conservative and Reagan-esque. It also includes an uncomfortable scene where some exploited Mexican laborers demand that Superman help them against a corrupt boss, and he refuses. Still, this is a very important story; it was one of the first Superman comics since the ‘30s that considered Superman’s political implications. This issue also includes the first Private Life of Clark Kent backup story, as well as a reprint from 1966.

LEGION WORLDS #3 (DC, 2001) – “You Are Here: Braal,” [W] Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, [A] Paul Rivoche. This issue’s main story stars Dyrk Magz, aka Magno, the most redundant Legionnaire ever. He was inducted into the Legion when Cosmic Boy was stuck in the 20th century, and when Cos got back, he lost his powers and left the team. This story depicts Drykk’s time in the Science Police, and it has a rather nostalgic tone. It also introduces the Bouncing Boy spaceship, and there are cameo appearances by Cos and several other Legionnaires. There’s also a backup story starring Winema Wazzo.

GHOSTS #18 (DC, 1973) – “Graveyard of Vengeance,” [W] unknown, [A] Alfredo Alcala, plus other stories. This issue starts with a spectacular page by Alcala, depicting a sailboat in a storm. The rest of this story’s pages are almost as beautiful. However, this story is not well-written, and it includes some questionable depictions of Lenape Indians. Next comes a formulaic haunted house story drawn by Abe Ocampo. The third story is drawn by Frank Redondo and stars an Austrian man named Alois who is terrified of his son, an aspiring artist. The twist ending – that the son is Adolf Hitler – is blatantly obvious from the first panel. The issue ends with a three-pager, drawn by Gerry Talaoc, which is only interesting because there’s a cat in it.

JOHN CARTER, WARLORD OF MARS #11 (Marvel, 1978) – “The Story of… Dejah Thoris,” [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Dave Cockrum. This issue has a beautiful splash page (reproduced at https://www.cbr.com/mystique-accidental-creation-dave-cockrum-chris-claremont/), but other than that, it’s a good example of how not to adapt prose fiction into comics. The entire issue is a flashback that summarizes the events of A Princess of Mars. Wolfman and Cockrum’s adaptation includes way too much text and adds little or nothing to the original novel. For a reader who has read the novel, as I have, finishing this issue is a boring chore.

GIRLS’ LOVE STORIES #153 (DC, 1970) – “For Love or Money,” [W] Jack Oleck, [A] Ric Estrada, plus other stories. Perhaps the best thing about this issue is the Dick Giordano cover. In this issue’s main story, a woman has to decide between two boyfriends. When she suffers severe facial injuries in a car accident, she tests her boyfriends by asking which of them will still love her even if her plastic surgery is unsuccessful. I like the art in this story, but the plot is problematic. The next story is even worse. Let me quote my Facebook post about it:

“A girl wants an engagement ring that costs $200 (in 1970). Her boyfriend can’t afford it, but she keeps nagging him about it. He skips meals to afford the ring, but when he does give her the ring, it’s not the one she asked for. She gets mad at him for buying a cheap substitute dumps him, and returns the ring for a refund. But when she gets the refund, she tearfully begs him to take her back, and he does… because it turns out that the ring he bought cost $400. Lessons from this story: 1) It’s okay for a woman to demand more from a man than he can afford, because girls like pretty things (that’s a quotation). 2) It’s okay to buy an engagement ring that’s not the one that was agreed upon. 3) Love can be measured in money.”

The next story is about a girl who gets karmically punished for cheating. The last story is an interesting narrative experiment because it depicts a love triangle twice, from the perspectives of both the girls involved.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #14 (Image, 2014) – “Upward Bound,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Nick Pitarra. On President Kennedy’s orders, General Westmoreland stages a hostile takeover of the Manhattan Project. As a result, Laika is stranded in space. This issue is not bad but not great either.

The first new shipment of the year, received on January 3, was rather unimpressive:

MILES MORALES: SPIDER-MAN #14 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Ray-Anthony Height, Zé Carlos & Belén Ortega. Miles learns to change diapers, fights some villains, and then discovers that his racist asshole of a principal has found a notebook that reveals his secret identity. I can’t wait to see how this cliffhanger is resolved.

SPIDER-MAN & VENOM: DOUBLE TROUBLE #3 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Mariko Tamaki, [A] GuriHiru. Instead of returning to their own bodies, Spidey and Venom are transformed into a cat and a squirrel. This issue, like the last two, is a very quick read, but it’s extremely fun. If I was turned into a cat or a squirrel, I wouldn’t mind at all, as long as I had a normal human lifespan and could still read and write.

X-MEN #4 (Marvel, 2020) – “Global Economics,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Leinil Francis Yu. This comic was inked by Gerry Alanguilan, who unfortunately just died. This issue, Professor X, Magneto and Apocalypse go to the World Economic Forum for a negotiation with various ambassadors, while behind the scenes, the younger X-Men defeat a bunch of mercenaries who the ambassadors have brought as an insurance policy. There are some great action scenes in this issue, and Hickman also does a great job of writing very strange characters like Gorgon and Apocalypse. Their strangeness and brutality contrasts humorously with the very civilized, formal tone of the diplomatic meeting.

THE DREAMING #17 (DC, 2020) – “The Crown, Part Three,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Bilquis Evely. Abel tries to kill Wan and fails, while Lucien tries to kill himself and succeeds. Death makes a brief cameo appearance on the last page. This is a good issue, though not as spectacular as #16.

COPRA #4 (Image, 2020) – “Explain the Explain,” [W/A] Michel Fiffe. Amanda Waller* talks Deadshot* out of killing her, and then the Suicide Squad* gets together for a debriefing. The last page depicts a character who looks a lot like Orion. The artwork in this issue is amazing, but I have consistent difficulty following this series’ plot. I want to go back and reread the first two collections, and then read the next two.

* = Not their actual names of course

ARCHIE: THE MARRIED LIFE – 10TH ANNIVERSARY #5 (Archie, 2020) – “Election Night-Mare!” and “A Friend in Need!”, [W] Michael Uslan, [A] Dan Parent. In the first universe, Archie is appointed to Lodge’s board of directors. In the other universe, which is more interesting, Archie makes the right decision and refuses to sign the recording contract. I’m going to finish reading the series, but I’m not loving it. As I’ve complained before, its serious storylines are not compatible with Dan Parent’s art style.

THE TERRIFICS #23 (DC, 2020) – “The One Where Bizarro Screws Up Time Part One,” [W] Gene Luen Yang, [A] Sergio Davila. The Terrifics get turned into children and imprisoned in a time loop, but Mr. Terrific figures out how to break it by using the power of love. This issue is not bad, but this Terribles storyline has gone on too long, and I’m sick of reading Bizarro dialogue.

EVERYTHING #5 (Dark Horse, 2020) – “C’mon, Get Happy,” [W] Christopher Cantwell, [A] I.N.J. Culbard. The CEO of the Everything corporation comes to town, and one of the main characters is shot. I guess this comic is finally starting to develop a coherent plot, but it took a while, and I still can’t remember any of the main characters’ names. I still might read the second volume.

KILLADELPHIA #2 (Image, 2020) – “Sins of the Father Part II: Death, My Sweet Savior,” [W] Rodney Barnes, [A] Jason Shawn Alexander. A major letdown after an impressive first issue. Now that the main character’s father is alive again, the series turns into a conventional, cliched vampire story. And for some reason the leader of the vampires is John Adams, a decision that makes no sense because Adams was associated with Boston and not Philadelphia. This issue does include some discussion of racial issues, but it’s not well integrated into the story. If this series continues to resemble this issue, its potential will be wasted.

LOIS LANE #7 (DC, 2020) – “Enemy of the People, Part Seven,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Mike Perkins. This issue we get back to the main story after last issue’s pointless interruption. Although Lois Lane #7 does begin with a scene that references Leviathan. I don’t know who or what that is, and I don’t care. The main plot this issue is that Superman saves Lois from being assassinated, and then Renee gets mad at Lois for not being transparent about her and Superman’s relationship. Also, Mr. Bones shows up, I think.

HARLEY QUINN #69 (DC, 2020) – “The Fast and the Foodious,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Sami Basri. Another hilarious done-in-one story by Russell, in the same vein as his breakfast-cereal story from Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Terror. The Hambezzler (i.e. the Hamburglar) is released from prison and moves in with Harley. But his old pals (Ronald McDonald, Grimace, etc.) want revenge on him for embezzling from their company and getting them fired. So Harley has to figure out who really embezzled the money. As usual with Russell, this story is extremely funny and is also a sensitive critique of capitalism. The real culprits in this story ar named Mitch and Murray, a reference to Glengarry Glen Ross – another text that makes fun of runaway capitalism.

TRUE BELIEVERS: THE CRIMINALLY INSANE – BULLSEYE #1 (Marvel, 2020) – “Watch Out for Bullseye He Never Misses!”, [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Bob Brown. Wolfman and Brown were a lousy creative team, and this issue is interesting purely for historical reasons. Though it is kind of cool how Bullseye kills people by throwing paper airplanes at them. In a subplot, Matt and Foggy agree to represent some slum-dwellers against their predatory owners, Glenn Industries. Matt and Foggy fail to make the obvious deduction that Glenn Industries is owned by Heather Glenn’s dad, until Heather says so. Bullseye’s original origin involved Vietnam; I wonder if this was retconned later.

HAUNT OF FEAR #13 (Russ Cochran, 1952/1995) – various stories, [E] Al Feldstein. “For the Love of Death!” stars Morton Macawber, whose only joy in life is attending funerals. He decides to attend his “own” funeral by stealing the corpse and hiding in the coffin. Unfortunately, it turns out the corpse was scheduled to be cremated immediately after the service. Graham Ingels’s ability to draw ghoulish, gruesome faces was rarely used to better effect than in this story. Johnny Craig’s “Fed Up!” is another intentionally gross story. A circus performer marries her manager, but he bankrupts her with his compulsive overeating, so she tricks him into killing himself by swallowing a sword. Jack Kamen’s “Minor Error” is about some kids who think their mean old neighbor is a vampire, but after they kill him, they realize the real vampire is his little son. The twist ending of this story was pretty obvious. Jack Davis’s “Wolf Bait!” is an adaptation of an old story about wolves pursuing a bridal party. I assume that either “Wolf Bait!” was inspired by the similar story in Cather’s My Ántonia, or they both came from a common source. The twist in “Wolf Bait!” is that the reader isn’t told which member of the party gets thrown to the wolves, but is instead asked to make their own choice as to who was sacrificed.

DARKLON THE MYSTIC #1 (Pacific, 1983) – “Darklon the Mystic!”, [W/A] Jim Starlin. This one-shot is a compilation of a series of stories Starlin published in Eerie. These stories were not meant to be seen in color, and Pacific’s recoloring job is rather poor. However, Darklon is still kind of fascinating. The main character is a space warrior whose main enemy is his father, so this story, like The Death of Captain Marvel, was a way for Starlin to work out his complex felings about his father. It also includes some impressive art and character designs (despite the bad recoloring) and a complex narrative structure. It’s one of Starlin’s best works other than his original Warlock saga, and someone should reprint it in the original black and white.

THE RING OF THE NIBELUNGS VOL. 4 #1 (Dark Horse, 2001) – “The Rope of Fate,” [W/A] P. Craig Russell. As one would expect, PCR’s adaptation of Wagner’s Ring is head and shoulders above that of Roy Thomas and Keith Pollard. Craig Russell retells Wagner’s story in a clear and accessible way while also capturing the passion behind it. The highlight of this issue is the opening scene with the Norns winding the thread of fate. As backup material, this issue includes a three-page PCR story from 1984, done in colored pencil,. I don’t know if this story was ever published anywhere else.

CURSE WORDS #9 (Image, 2017) – “Explosiontown Part Four,” [W] Charles Soule, [A] Ryan Browne. Ruby Stitch starts learning English. Back in the Hole World, Botchko and Violet agree that Violet will forfeit their upcoming match to decide Wizord’s next opponent, but Violet reneges on the deal and kills Botchko. I still haven’t gotten to issue 10.

WONDER WOMAN #317 (DC, 1984) – “Amazons!”, [W] Dan Mishkin, [A] Don Heck. Dan Mishkin’s experience writing Wonder Woman was what qualified him to write Amethyst. However, while this issue isn’t bad, it’s lacking in excitement or originality. This issue’s Huntress backup, by Joey Cavalieri, is terrible, especially by comparison to Paul Levitz’s version of this character.

SHADE THE CHANGING MAN #4 (DC, 1978) – “To Rescue My Destroyer,” [W/A] Steve Ditko, [W] Michael Fleisher. This issue has a very complicated plot and some mind-expanding artwork. Michael Fleisher is a better dialogue writer than Ditko himself, and he helps to smooth out the rough edges of Ditko’s art. The comic that’s closest to my personal conception of “Ditko-esque-ness” is Charlton Action Featuring Static, but Shade is a close second. To me, Ditko’s work is defined by a constant sense of manic energy, and you certainly get that in Ditko’s Shade.

STUMPTOWN #4 (Oni, 2010) – untitled, [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Matthew Southworth. This issue’s story has much higher stakes than a typical Stumptown story; it ends with Dex almost getting murdered. Most of the later Stumptown stories are quieter and more personal, and maybe at this point Rucka hadn’t clearly defined the mood of the series. This issue is still enjoyable though.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #256 (Marvel, 1984) – “Introducing… Puma!”, [W] Tom DeFalco, [A] Ron Frenz. This is part of the alien costume saga, which is DeFalco’s only real claim to fame as a Spider-Man writer. Like his Thor and Fantastic Four, DeFalco’s Spider-Man is a good imitation of Stan Lee’s version of the character, but it lacks anything truly new and creative. Also, the new villain in this issue, the Puma, is a Native American stereotype.

LEGIONNAIRES #80 (DC, 2000) – “Legion of the Damned, Part Four: Damned for All Eternity!”, [W] Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, [A] Olivier Coipel. Most of this issue is a fight between the Legion and the Blight. This issue ends happily, but I already know that this happy ending is deceptive, because Legion Lost is coming next. As I hinted at in my review of The Legion #1, DnA and Coipel’s Legion had a very dark tone, and it often felt more like a conventional superhero comic than a Legion comic.

INHUMANS #6 (Marvel, 1976) – “A King of Ruins (The Long Silence After a Loud Scream),” [W] Doug Moench, [A] Gil Kane. I bought this mistakenly thinking it was by George Pérez, though Gil Kane is a good substitute. However, throughout this issue, Moench ruins Kane’s dynamic and effective storytelling with his compulsive overwriting. Also, this issue is yet another battle between the Inhumans and Maximus’s minions, and it must have felt trite even when it came out.

FRANKENSTEIN #12 (Marvel, 1974) – “A Cold and Lasting Tomb!”, [W] Doug Moench, [A] Val Mayerik. Moench’s writing isn’t nearly as excessive here as in Inhumans #6. Frankenstein was among Marvel’s less successful ‘70s horror titles, but this issue isn’t bad. There’s a funny moment at the end where a college professor is lecturing on the impossibility of human brain transplants, and Frankenstein’s monster walks by outside.

SILVER AGE: GREEN LANTERN #1 (DC, 2000) – “Alone… Against Injustice!”, [W] Kurt Busiek, [A] Brent Anderson. This obscure fifth-week crossover issue is actually quite good. Kurt and Brent perfectly imitate the narrative style and visual appearance of an old Justice League comic, including the lettering and the half-page ads. This issue is part of some dumb crossover, but Kurt avoids confusing the reader too much.

TOMB OF DRACULA #7 (Marvel, 1973) – “Night of the Death Stalkers!”, [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Gene Colan. This is the first issue written by Wolfman, and thus it represents the debut of Marvel’s greatest creative team of the ‘70s. It’s also the first appearance of Quincy and Edith Harker. Besides the beautiful splash page with Dracula gazing at London in the snow, the most memorable scene in this issue is the ending, where the vampire hunters are menaced by a bunch of creepy mind-controlled children.

On the second weekend of January, I went to Seattle for the MLA convention. One of the highlights of MLA was the social event I helped to organize at the Fantagraphics store. While there, I bought a bunch of comics, including:

TANTALIZING STORIES #2 (Tundra, 1993) – multiple stories, [W/A] Jim Woodring and Mark Martin. This issue begins with a new Frank story in which Frank acquires Pupshaw (or Pushpaw, not sure which is which) as a pet. Then Pupshaw (?) eats Manhog when he tries to rob Frank. There’s also a Chip and Monk story by Woodring, and a color Frank strip on the back cover. The rest of the issue is a Walt Kelly-esque Christmas story by Martin. It doesn’t hold a candle to the Woodring material in the issue, but at least it’s interesting.

STRANGEHAVEN #13 (Abiogenesis, 2001) – “An Open Mind,” [W/A] Gary Spencer Millidge. The stakes in the plot get higher, as a woman named Beverly apparently commits suicide, and her husband Peter is executed by the KKK-esque Knights of the Golden Light. Strangehaven is a tough comic to find, but it’s fascinating, and I hope I can track down the 15 or so issues I’m missing.

New comics arrived on Wednesday, January 15:

DIAL H FOR HERO #10 (DC, 2020) – “Miguel and Summer Travel the Multiverse,” [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Joe Quinones. This issue starts with an homage to Little Nemo. Later in the issue there’s an Al Jaffee-esque fold-in page, and the issue ends with an homage to Reign of the Supermen. The main plot is that Miguel and Summer encounter a bunch of heroes who are mashups of multiple different DC characters, so it’s like the Amalgam comics but with only one universe involved. Joe Quinones deserves an Eisner nomination for his virtuosic artwork on this series.

THE MAGNIFICENT MS. MARVEL #11 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Minkyu Jung. By far the high point of this issue is the scene where Kamala shapeshifts her face because she’s lost her mask. Otherwise, Kamala spends most of the issue trying to save Mr. Hyde from her own evil costume, even though she has far more important things to do, and Hyde doesn’t deserve to be saved. This issue wasn’t really necessary; it barely advances the plot at all. The whole issue feels like an unnecessary delay before we reach the end of the storyline.

GIDEON FALLS #20 (Image, 2020) – “The Pentoculus Part 4 of 5: Drink the Dark Water,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Andrea Sorrentino. Father Fred and Angela are pursued by a giant cockroach, then they reach the Village at the Center where they meet an older version of Angela. Danny and his allies prepare to confront the Black Barn. This is a good issue, but it offers nothing especially surprising.

THE DOLLHOUSE FAMILY #3 (DC, 2020) – “Be Weightless,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter Gross. As a result of a one-night stand, Alice becomes a single mother to a little girl. The dollhouse starts pursuing Alice’s daughter. When that doesn’t work, it convinces a madman to target Alice in a suicide bombing. Alice has already gone through an unimaginable amount of trauma, and we’re just on issue 3 of 6. Hasn’t this poor woman suffered enough already? Meanwhile, back in 1847, Joseph tries to track down the origin of the “bright metal.”

RONIN ISLAND #9 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] Greg Pak, [A] Giannis Milonogiannis. In a flashback, Elder Jin tells Hana that the island will always be her home. But in the present, Hana and Kenichi get back to the island, but the same Elder Jin repels them with threats of violence. So they have to go back to the mainland and fight the shogun. This issue offers more evidence that Ronin Island is Greg Pak’s bleakest and grimmest work yet. All the characters, except maybe the two protagonists, seem to have selfish motivations. Few of them seem to care about other people.

IMMORTAL HULK #29 (Marvel, 2020) – “Eat or Be Eaten,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. Dario Agger deploys a bunch of giant monsters against Phoenix, Arizonal. One of them attacks the building where Jackie is working. This issue is a pretty quick read, but Joe Bennett draws some really gruesome monsters and is very effective at body horror. The monsters are named after Ray Harryhausen, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury and Willis O’Brien (the animator for King Kong).

ASCENDER #8 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dustin Nguyen. This issue advances the plot significantly, after a couple of issues that were mostly flashbacks. The first scene this issue introduces Kanto the vampire hunter, who seems to be a new character. Then Mother confronts Andy and Effie in person, but is distracted by a rebel attack. Back on the ship, Milla overhears Telsa and Helda planning to get rid of her.

DRAGONFLY & DRAGONFLYMAN #3 (Ahoy, 2020) – untitled, [W] Tom Peyer, [A] Peter Krause. Dragonflyman reintroduces his robot partner, Lady Dragonflyman, and a flashback shows us who she is. Meanwhile, Dragonfly and his Stinger continue arguing. This series has been fun, but it feels kind of like fanservice. I would have preferred a sequel to The Wrong Earth, rather than a prequel.

NEW MUTANTS #5 (Marvel, 2020) – “Endangered Birds,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Rod Reis. Half the issues of this series are written by Hickman, and they star the classic New Mutants characters. As for the other half of the issues, see my review of #6 below. This issue, the team has to protect Deathbird from being assassinated by the Imperial Guard. Hickman is faithful to the spirit of the classic series, while also acknowledging how much older the characters have gotten. This issue is narrated by Sunspot, perhaps the most unsympathetic New Mutant, and Hickman shows a good understanding of his persnoality. I like the scene where Illyana asks the three aliens if they want to make out.

STAR #1 (Marvel, 2020) – “Birth of a Dragon Part One,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Javier Pina with Filipe Andrade. Star visits the “Pop-Up Bar with No Name” (heh) and fights Titania. Then she encounters Loki, and then Jessica Jones. Kelly Thompson’s Captain Marvel has been consistently disappointing, and I don’t think it deserves a sequel. But this issue is not bad, and it feels connected to Kelly’s distinctive corner of the Marvel Universe.

Another DCBS shipment arrived the very next day, January 16:

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #3 (DC, 2020) – untitled, [W] Brian Michael Bendis, [A] Ryan Sook & Travis Moore. I hate everything about this comic except Ryan Sook’s artwork and costume designs. I can’t think of a Legion series that’s as badly written as this one. I’m only buying it because I want it to keep going until Bendis gets tired of it, and is replaced by a competent writer. Specifically, this issue has a total lack of plot; the only thing that happens is that Jon brings Damian into the 31st century, and the Legion makes Jon send him back. Other than that, Bendis seems to have no plan in mind, and no idea of where this story is going. This issue is also totally devoid of characterization. We learn that Cosmic Boy and Shadow Lass (two characters who historically barely interacted at all) are a couple, but there’s no reason why we should care, since neither of them has any personality at all. Though I do like the term “loveball.” Ryan Sook has designed the most diverse and visually interesting Legion ever, but his character designs are going to waste because of Bendis’s inept writing. Bendis needs to quit and turn this series over to someone who actually cares.

RUNAWAYS #28 (Marvel, 2020) – “Cannon Fodder, Part IV,” [W] Rainbow Rowell, [A] Andrés Genolet. Back when I was a preteen, I fell in love with the Legion because it had a cast of distinctive young protagonists who, despite their extreme differences from one another, became closer to each other than their own family. At the time, I didn’t know of any other comic like that. This was also why I got angry and depressed whenever the Legion was cancelled or when it declined in quality. The good news is, I no longer depend on the Legion the way I once did, because now there are lots of other comics that give me what the Legion used to. For example, Runaways is literally all about “found family” – a term that even appears in issue 29. In #28, Gert continues to suffer internally as a result of her exclusion from missions. And her situation gets even worse when she discovers that Old Lace is now bonded to Chase, rather than her. Andrés Genolet’s art in this series has been really good. He’s a satisfactory replacement for Kris Anka, and that’s saying a lot.

SECOND COMING #6 (Ahoy, 2020) – “The Temptations,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Richard Pace. Sunstar and Sheila get married, but while they’re on their honeymoon, Satan tempts Jesus one last time. Satan forces Jesus to abandon his philosophy of nonviolence and kill him. God and Jesus agree that they’ve both failed, and as a parting gift, God enables Sheila to get pregnant. Hopefully there will be a second season soon. Second Coming is probably Mark Russell’s best work yet. Besides being hilarious, it’s one of the best treatments of religion in comics form; it cuts through all the cruft and shows the true radicalism of Jesus’s message. Russell is not trying to proselytize, but he makes a much better case for Christianity than most actual evangelists do. I love the panel where God tells Abraham to cut off a piece of his [redacted].

RUNAWAYS #29 (Marvel, 2020) – “Cannon Fodder Pt V,” as above. I’m not sure why I got two issues of Runaways in one week. This issue, it becomes obvious that Doc Justice has some disturbing ulterior motives. In particular, Gert learns that most of Doc Justice’s former team members have ended up dead. It’s also implied that Matthew is Doc Justice’s son. The high point of this issue is the two consecutive double-page splashes. On the first one, the Runaways are istting at the dinner table having fun, and the second one is almost identical, except that Gert imagines that the ghosts of all the dead J-Kids are gathered around the table.

SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #7 (DC, 2020) – “Places Other!”, [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Steve Lieber. As usual, this issue is so full of content and so disjointed that it’s impoossible to summarize. Jimmy’s sister Janie plays a major role in this issue, and there are some flashbacks to their childhood, drawn in a style that resembles Peanuts or Sugar & Spike. There’s also a scene where Jimmy talks with a psychiatrist about his five different personalities. I kind of wish this series were over already so that I could read it again and make more sense of it.

UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY #3 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Scott Snyder & Charles Soule, [A] Giuseppe Camuncoli. The featured character this issue is Ace Kenyatta, the leading expert on America. In a flashback, he devises an experiment where he uses a coin to measure the rate of time in America versus the rest of the world. That coin becomes central to the present-day storyline, where the explorers infiltrate the Destiny Man’s palace. The worldbuilding in this comic is brilliant, and Giuseppe Camuncoli’s art and Matt Wilson’s coloring are stunning. I’m not so sure about the plot or the characters, though.

SKULLDIGGER & SKELETON BOY #2 (Dark Horse, 2020) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Tonci Zonjic. Skulldigger trains his new Skeleton Boy, and there’s another plot about a politician named Tex Reed who used to be a superhero. This issue isn’t as memorable as the last one. Tonci Zonjic is one of a large number of excellent artists from Croatia. Speaking very broadly, Croatian artists tend to draw in a similar style to Italian artists.

ARCHIE #710 (Archie, 2020) – “Archie and Katy Keene Part 1,” [W] Mariko Tamaki & Kevin Panetta, [A] Laura Braga. I can read this series again now that Nick Spencer is gone. This issue, Katy Keene shows up in Riverdale and causes a big commotion. Katy Keene’s comics are most notable for their fashion designs, and Laura Braga does a good job of depicting Katy’s clothing.

STEEPLE #5 (Dark Horse, 2020) – untitled, [W/A] John Allison. Thanks to a cursed vacuum cleaner, Billie quits her job. This gives the sea monsters free rein to invade the city, but the Satanists drive them off. This was a really fun series, and it deserved more than five issues. It was certainly much better than By Night. John Allison’s next series has already been solicited, but I forget what it’s called.

VALKYRIE: JANE FOSTER #7 (Marvel, 2020) – “Strange Aeons Part 2,” [W] Al Ewing & Jason Aaron, [A] Pere Pérez. Jane defeats the Death of Death and prevents the world from becoming a Cancerverse. This issue is good, but not super-memorable. The letters page includes a guide to Yorkshire English, which is what Mr. Horse speaks.

TREES: THREE FATES #5 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Jason Howard. The protagonist uncovers her boss Nina’s conspiracy, and then she leaves town. This miniseries was a disappointment. It was such a quick read that there was no time to feel invested in the characters. Also, this series was just a conventional small-town crime drama with some mild SF elements. The eponymous trees had barely any impact on the plot.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #85 (IDW, 2020) – untitled, [W] Mary Kenney, [A] Casey W. Coller. Applejack and Apple Bloom get trapped in a giant spiderweb. To keep Apple Bloom from getting scared, Applejack tells a story about how she overcame her childhood fear of water. This was a very formulaic and forgettable issue.

BATTLEPUG #5 (Image, 2020) – “War on Christmas Part V,” [W/A] Mike Norton. After an epic battle with a giant chimera monster, the Kinmundian and Battlepug are sucked into a dimnsional vortex. This is the last issue for now; the format for the next story arc has not been determined. Battlepug was originally published in book format only, so it won’t be too big a deal if it becomes TPB-only again. The highlight of this issue is the double-page splash where the Kinmundian summons a giant penguin-narwhal-seal hybrid creature.

GHOST-SPIDER #6 (Marvel, 2020) – “Party People,” [W] Seanan McGuire, [A] Ig Guara & Rosi Kämpe. We’re introduced to the Earth-GS versions of Sue and Johnny Storm. Gwen and her bandmates attend concerts by various alternate-dimensional versions of Panic! At the Disco. (I barely follow pop music and I still got this joke.) Gwen saves a bunch of hostages from criminals. This is a very low-stakes, light-hearted series, but that’s why I like it.

ARCHIE 1955 #4 (Archie, 2020) – “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On!”, [W] Brian Augustyn & Mark Waid, [A] Derek Charm. Archie’s career continues to take off, but his success is hollow, as his music consumes his entire life and costs him his relationships. After a talk with an annoyingly cute little girl, Archie decides to give up show biz and run off with Veronica. I like this series a lot more than Archie 1941.

DYING IS EASY #2 (IDW, 2020) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Martin Simmonds. This issue’s cover is an homage to the classic film Safety Last! This issue has the same problem as #1; it’s just a standard crime drama, and it gives Martin Simmonds no opportunity to exercise his talents. There’s no reason why this needs to be a comic book instead of a prose novel. The only reason I haven’t dropped it already is because of Simmonds’s art, and as just noted, his art is crippled by Hill’s writing. I’m giving this one more issue.

PRETTY VIOLENT #6 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W/A] Derek Hunter, [W] Jason Young. Another issue full of ridiculous violence and carnage. The first story arc ends with Gamma Rae being accepted as a member of the superhero team. I find this series quite hard to follow, and I wish there was a recap in each issue. It’s fun, though, and Derek Hunter draws some great body horror.

THE LOW, LOW WOODS #2 (DC, 2020) – “Heaven on Earth,” [W] Carmen Maria Machado, [A] Dani. It’s hard to tell where the plot of this series is going, but the worldbuilding is fantastic, and the two protagonists feel powerful and authentic. Between the first two issues I read Machado’s excellent short story collection Her Body and Other Parties. She is a super-talented writer, and so far she’s adapting well to comics. I like Dani’s art a lot; she (I believe she’s female) draws a lot like Emma Rios, but her art lacks whatever it is about Emma Rios’s art that annoys me.

GHOSTED IN L.A. #7 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] Sina Grace, [A] Siobhan Keenan. I like this series a lot, but I barely remember this issue. I must have been tired when I read it. The issue ends with Shirley (the black female ghost) deciding that it’s time to move on.

CATWOMAN #19 (DC, 2020) – “Dust, Sweat, and Blood,” [W] Joëlle Jones, [A] Geraldo Borges et al. Selina helps repel the zombies attacking her store, but her boyfriend (?) Carlos chews her out for being selfish. Joëlle Jones will be leaving this series soon. Her Catwoman was enjoyable, but I won’t miss it that much.

INCREDIBLE HULK #180 FACSIMILE EDITION (Marvel, 2020) – “And the Wind Howls… Wendigo!”, [W] Len Wein, [A] Herb Trimpe. This issue is extremely expensive because it includes Wolverine’s first cameo appearance, so it’s nice to be able to own it in something close to its original form. However, Hulk #180 is not an especially memorable issue. I’ve already read the 1986 Incredible Hulk and Wolverine one-shot that reprints both Hulk #180 and #181, and despite that, I couldn’t remember anything about Hulk #180.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #17 (DC, 2020) – “In the Desert on a Horse with No Name,” [W] Nalo Hopkinson & Dan Watters, [A] Domo Stanton. Erzulie investigates the House of Watchers, meanwhile, we realize that Poquita’s cat-thing is actually the Corinthian. We’re also introduced to Aesop, who, in this version, is an ancient Ethiopian. This is an okay issue.

DETECTIVE COMICS #359 FACSIMILE EDITION (DC, 1966/2020) – “The Million-Dollar Debut of Batgirl!”, [W] Gardner Fox, [A] Carmine Infantino. Batgirl’s first appearance is an exciting story and is not quite as sexist as I feared. Barbara Gordon is an immediately captivating and vivacious character. Gardner Fox gives her a bunch of silly names like “the Dominoed Dare-Doll,” but he did that with every character he wrote. This issue also includes an Elongated Man backup story.

NAUGHTY BITS #7 (Fantagraphics, 1992) – “Hippie Bitch Got Knocked Up,” [W/A] Roberta Gregory. This may be the greatest pro-choice comic ever published. Teenage Midge doesn’t dare tell her horrible, authoritarian parents that she’s pregnant, and Roe v Wade hasn’t happened yet. So her only option is to scrape up enough money for a potentially lethal illegal abortion. The issue ends with Midge stepping nervously into a back-alley abortion clinic. This comic is a brutal depiction of what life was like for women before 1973 – and of what life will be like for women, if Republicans have their way. A visual highlight of the issue is the two-page sequence at the beginning where Midge imagines her hypothetical baby literally sucking her dry.

IRON MAN 2020 #1 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Dan Slott & Christos Gage, [A] Pete Woods. Tony Stark is dead, and his awful adoptive brother Arno Stark has taken over his company. I have never followed Iron Man regularly, except for a very brief period when Kurt Busiek was writing it. As I’ve explained before, I think Iron Man is the worst major Marvel title. However, I love Dan Slott’s writing, and this debut issue is fun enough that I’m going to keep reading this series. A highlight of the issue is the scene with the secret robot bar. Pete Woods’s artwork has improved greatly since he was drawing Robin in the early 2000s.

LUBA’S COMICS AND STORIES #1 (Fantagraphics, 2000) – “Fritz and Petra in Memories of Sweet Youth,” [W/A] Gilbert Hernandez. I bought most of the issues of this series when they came out, but not this one. In this issue’s main story, Fritz and Petra spend all night dragging Luba around an art exhibit, and there are a bunch of flashbacks. At the end, Fritz and Petra realize that Luba can’t understand anything they’ve said to her, because they’ve been speaking English. There’s also a Venus backup story. Beto’s constant Fritz/Petra/Venus stories are rather tedious, and I don’t like any of them as much as I like the Palomar characters. This issue is enjoyable, though.

MILES MORALES: THE END #1 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Damion Scott. This is the worst-drawn Marvel comic in recent memory. Damion Scott’s bodies and facial expressions are extremely distorted, and it’s often difficult to figure out what’s going on in his panel compositions. I suppose his style could work well on some other kind of comic, but it’s not appropriate for this one. Saladin’s story is effectively ruined by Scott’s artwork, and it’s not that great a story to begin with; it’s an anticlimactic conclusion to Miles’s life. I’m especially sad that Miles never marries or has children.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #15 (Image, 2013) – “Infinite Oppenheimers,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Ryan Browne. Another chapter of the war in Oppenheimer’s mind between Joseph and Robert Oppenheimer. I really don’t care about this story arc at all; the entire Manhattan Projects series is lacking in interest, and the Oppenheimer business is perhaps the least interesting part of it. One of the incidental characters in this issue semes to be based on the superhero husband dude from God Hates Astronauts.

TRUE BELIEVERS: THE CRIMINALLY INSANE – MASTERS OF EVIL #1 (Marvel, 2020) – “Meet the Masters of Evil!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Jack Kirby. In this reprint of Avengers #6, Baron Zemo comes back from the dead and hires a bunch of other supervillains to take revenge on Captain America and the Avengers. This is a very early Avengers story, and it’s rather tedious and overwritten. I think the highlight of the issue is the panel at the beginning with the sloth-monkey creature. https://www.instagram.com/p/B7e9QqihBXX/

ANIMOSITY: THE RISE #2 (AfterShock, 2017) – “Red Letter,” [W] Marguerite Bennett, [A] Juan Doe. Wintermute tries to figure out how to prevent a famine if none of the animals can eat each other. Animosity has a lot of crippling problems, and one of the biggest of these is the question of food. If every animal suddenly became sentient, there is no plausible way that they could all survive without any of them eating the others. In The Rise and Evolution, Bennett tries to confront this problem directly, but that only makes the reader more aware that it’s an intractable problem. See https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2330809002?book_show_action=true for a review that elaborates on this point. Juan Doe’s artwork in this issue is very similar to his art in Strayed, and it represents the main redeeming quality of this comic.

MARVEL ADVENTURES: FANTASTIC FOUR #15 (Marvel, 2006) – “Its Name Was Terminus from Outer Space!”, [W] Justin Gray, [A] Juan Santacruz. The alien conqueror Terminus invades Earth. The FF defeat him using some experimental iceworms that were introduced at the start of the issue. This is a well-plotted and entertaining single-issue story, but Marvel Adventures: FF was never as good as other Marvel Adventures titles. Terminus seems like an unnecessary character; he’s just a bargain-basement version of Galactus or Annihilus.

ALL-TIME COMICS: ZEROSIS DEATHSCAPE #6 (All-Time Comics, 2020) – “Deathscape,” [W] Josh Bayer & Josh Simmons, [A] Trevor von Eeden. This issue has no guest artist, so it’s just a conventional superhero story with minimal indie-comics elements. Overall, I’m glad we’re done with this series because the novelty has worn off. I just read Simmons’s graphic novel Black River and had mixed feelings about it.

GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS #5 (Image, 2015) – “A Star is Born,” [W/A] Ryan Browne. As usual this issue is full of pointless mayhem and weirdness. I sort of get the appeal of this comic, but it becomes tiresome very quickly. I think my favorite thing about it is the “sound” effects like ACCUSE! and HANDS OFF! Ryan Browne is a gifted artist, but he’s better off working with a writer other than himself, as Curse Words demonstrates.

HELLBLAZER #36 (DC, 1990) – “The Undiscover’d Country,” [W] Jamie Delano, [A] Sean Phillips. A woman named Mercury reads the tarot for Constantine, and we get a flashforward to his old age in a steril, dystopian future. I’m not sure what the point of this issue was.

MARVEL PREMIERE #11 (Marvel, 1973) – “Homecoming!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Steve Ditko. A Dreaded Deadline Doom reprint of two early Dr. Strange stories from Strange Tales. I’ve read one of these stories before, and the other is fairly unimpressive. Thee issue has a new framing sequence by Englehart and Brunner.

BATMAN #443 (DC, 1990) – “The Coming of Crimesmith,” [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Jim Aparo. Batman encounters a criminal mastermind named Crimesmith. The most notable thing in this issue is the page where Tim Drake begs Bruce to take him on patrol. I remembered this scene as being longer than it was; it’s just one page and part of another. Batman’s guilt over Jason’s death and his ambivalence about taking on a new partner were the most important themes in the series at the time. The Crimesmith plot is much less interesting than that.

GRAVEYARD SHIFT #1 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W] Jay Faerber, [A] Fran Bueno. To quote the author’s note, this series is about “a cop whose girlfriend becomes a vampire and together they must try to find a cure.” I guess that’s not a terrible premise, but Faerber and Bueno fail to do anything exciting with it.

SCOOBY-DOO TEAM-UP #7 (DC, 2015) – “Scooby-Doo, When Are You?”, [W] Sholly Fisch, [A] Scott Jeralds. The Scooby Gang are teleported to the Flintstones’ time. They meet the Flintstone and Rubble families and solve a mystery, and at the end, the Great Gazoo sends them forward in time to meet the Jetsons. I’m not a big Flintstones fan, but this issue is funny and entertaining.

DEADPOOL: THE GAUNTLET #1 (Marvel, 2014) – untitled, [W] Gerry Duggan & Brian Posehn, [A] Reilly Brown. Deadpool fights Dracula in a story that was originally published online. I hate Deadpool, and this issue did nothing to change my opinion.

JOURNEY: WARDRUMS #1 (Fantagraphics, 1987) – “Ants and Fleas,” [W/A] William Messner-Loebs. While bathing in a lake, Wolverine MacAlistaire is attacked by beavers, yes, I said beavers, and drops his knife. He finds the knife again after diving into the lake for five days, but we’re told that he would have spent a month if necessary. This scene emphasizes Wolverine’s determination, and also shows how in the wilderness, a simple thing like a knife is of incalculable value. After recovering the knife, Wolverine encounters a dying Indian warrior and learns that Tecumseh’s war is about to start. This series was supposed to be the epic conclusion to Wolverine MacAlistaire’s saga, but only one more issuee was ever published, which is a real shame.

KNUCKLES THE MALEVOLENT NUN #1 (Fantagraphics, 1991) – multiple linked stories, [W] Cornelius Stone, [A] Roger Langridge. Satan tries to tempt the namesake evil nun. Even at the very start of his career, Roger Langridge was an incredible cartoonist. His draftsmanship and lettering in this comic are impeccable; it seems as though he never went through an awkward early phase. His visual storytelling here is also excellent, and each page is full of sight gags and hidden messages. The strip on the back cover is a cute Krazy Kat parody.

SUPER RABBIT #7 (I.W. Enterprises, 1958) – “Scare at the Shore” and other stories, [W/A] unknown. The history behind this comic is more interesting than the comics themselves. In the late ‘50s, Israel Waldman (perhaps best known as the co-founder of Skywald) bought a bunch of printing plates and/or original art from recently defunct comics publishers. He believed, or allowed himself to believe, that he also owned the copyright to this material, so he republished some of it under his own name. I guess he ran out of material by 1964, when the company went out of business. It’s obvious that Super Rabbit #7 started out as a Marvel comic, because the splash page shows the protagonist reading an issue of Captain America. As for its actual content, this comic includes a series of professionally executed but formulaic funny animal stories. Unlike so many other Golden Age Marvel characters, Super Rabbit has never shown up in the modern Marvel universe. According to Wikipedia, there was a plan to revive the character in 1977, but it didn’t happen.

WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES #517 (Gladstone, 1987) – “The Great Survival Jest,” [W/A] Carl Barks, plus other stories. The nephews decide to test their mettle by staying outdoors for a week. Donald tries to sabotage their plans, but only succeeds in making himself sick. This story introduces the Chickadees, the female version of the Junior Woodchucks, though it turns out Donald was just making them up. This issue also includes a stupid Brer Rabbit story, a short Gyro Gearloose story by Barks, and a Mickey Mouse story by Fallberg and Murry. In the latter, Goofy and Pete are both trying to win a contest by collecting cereal box tops.

JUST MARRIED #99 (Charlton, 1973) – “His Way Will Be My Way?”, [W] Joe Gill, [A] A. Martinez, plus other stories. In this issue’s first story, a newlywed woman thinks her husband is some kind of crook, but it turns out he’s really an investigator for an insurance company. It would be nice if he had told hre that before the wedding. The cover story is much more interesting. It’s about newlyweds Eileen, an Irish Catholic woman, and David, a Jewish-American man. They both feel disturbed about their religious incompatibility, so in a classic Gift of the Magi plot, they each decide to convert to the other’s religion. This story isn’t exactly good, but it’s an interesting exploration of interfaith marriage. It’s part of an ongoing storyline, and I’d like to read the other parts. When we see inside David’s parents’ house, there’s nothing about it that looks Jewish. I can’t find any information on who A. Martinez was, but I assume was from Argentina or Spain, and he seems to have had no knowledge of what a Jewish home looks like.

VAULT OF HORROR #10 (EC, 1951/1995) – various stories, [E] Al Feldstein. Johnny Craig’s “One Last Fling!” stars a circus knife thrower and his wife. The wife becomes a vampire, and the husband can’t stop her from drinking blood, so he has to kill her as part of his act. This was not one of EC’s best vampire stories. “That’s a ‘Croc’!” is one of just four EC stories by Howard Larsen. It’s about a zookeeper who kidnaps people and feeds them to alligators. In Jack Kamen’s “Child’s Play” is about an old curmudgeon, Collins, who hates the kids in his neighborhood. When his wife stops him from beating one of the kids, he murders her, and the kids take their revenge by dressing up as ghosts and scaring him to death. Jack Kamen is not one of the best-liked EC artists, but his art in this story is excellent, especially the splash panel where Collins’s dead, staring eyes are framed by the kids’ shocked faces. Finally, in Jack Davis’s “Trapped!”, a hobo jumps off a train and finds himself in an area inhabited only by one old man. The hobo kills the old man, but the land takes its revenge by killing the hobo.

New comics received on Wednesday, January 22:

LUMBERJANES #70 (Boom!, 2020) – “Forestry is the Best Policy,” [W] Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, [A] Kanesha C. Bryant & Julia Madrigal. There are indications in this issue, and in the solicitations for the next story arc, that the summer might be ending soon. I want this series to last forever, but the sad truth is that summer always does end; that’s kind of the point. If Lumberjanes ends, at least it had a great run. Who would have thought that a kid-oriented comic book with an interracial, exclusively female cast could last this long? Besides, I’m sure Boom! can find ways to continue the franchise. This issue, the Roanokes are attacked by a rhizome (how Deleuzian) and are rescued by Abigail. Meanwhile, we get a bit more of the original Lumberjane’s story, and we learn that the first Lumberjane was the daughter of the founder of the camp.

ONCE AND FUTURE #6 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Dan Mora. This is simply the best comic on the stands right now, or at least the most exciting. It’s thrilling and beautifully drawn, and it perfectly combines Arthurian mythology with contemporary politics. It deserves a bunch of Eisner nominations. This issue begins with a great line from Duncan: “Gran, if you didn’t want a hero, you shouldn’t have raised one.” Then Gran turns the tables on Arthur by telling him that his queen is sleeping with Sir Lancelot. This is a perfect example of both Gillen’s knowledge of Arthurian romance, and also the interaction between multiple stories, which is a central theme of the series. Arthur doesn’t know about Guinevere and Lancelot’s romance because he’s a pre-romance version of Arthur, from a story where Lancelot doesn’t exist yet. At the end of the issue, Duncan kills the Questing Beast, and a mysterious Merlin recruits Duncan’s mom as his new Nimue. I hope issue 7 comes soon.

FANTASTIC FOUR #18 (Marvel, 2020) – “Worldbreakers,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Paco Medina et al. The situation on Spyre deteriorates even further, and Reed has to get the FF, the Unparalleled and the monsters to work together to save lives. The Overseer is apparently killed and his eye destroyed. But afterward, the Unparalleled claim that the FF really are as bad as the prophecy claimed, since they’ve destroyed Spire’s society. This was perhaps the most underwhelming issue of the current story, though it’s not bad.

FAR SECTOR #3 (DC, 2020) – untitled, [W] N.K. Jemisin, [A] Jamal Campbell. Jo Mullein tries to stop a riot, but the government murders the rioters anyway. We’re also introduced to Jo’s AI assistant, hilariously named #ICanHasEarthStuff01. Far Sector’s worldbuilding, characterization and artwork are incredible, and it is definitely a super-important work. Its plot is hard to follow, though.

MIDDLEWEST #14 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Skottie Young, [A] Jorge Corona. Abel saves a farm worker from burning to death. Abel’s supervisor Junie explains how she ended up on a farm – basically, homophobia, sexual assault, and awful parents. Nicholas Raider offers Abel a full-time non-slave-labor job, and Abel takes it so he can help the other slaves escape. The entire issue takes place on the farm, so we don’t get to see the circus characters.

FOLKLORDS #3 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] Matt Smith. Adrienne Resha has written some negative reviews of this comic (https://womenwriteaboutcomics.com/2020/01/folklords-2-review/), and I find her opinions persuasive. Even setting aside issues of representation and race, Folklords is weirdly paced; it’s hard to see how the plot threads introduced in issue 1 can be resolved in just two more issues. For example, this issue spends a lot of time on the backstory of the Gretel character, and it’s not clear why this information is relevant. I really liked issue 1 and I want this series to succeed, but issues 2 and 3 are uneven.

BASKETFUL OF HEADS #4 (DC, 2020) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Leomacs. June * decapitates the truck driver dude and puts his head in her basket, further justifying the comic’s title. She finally makes it to the police department, where the chief’s young son Hank gives her a cell to rest in. But in a by-now familiar pattern, he shows up at her cell later, apparently intent on raping her. I assume next issue is going to begin with Hank becoming the third head in June’s basket. * God danm it, I hate it when I can’t remember the name of a comic’s protagonist, and I can’t find it easily.

MANIFEST DESTINY #40 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Chris Dingess, [A] Matthew Roberts. Lewis and Clark negotiate with the all-female tribe, and at night, some of the dumber and hornier corps members go back to the tribe’s village to “negotiate” further. During the resulting orgy, we discover that the tribeswomen are actually carnivorous anthropomorphic rabbits. This is a classic Manifest Destiny story – it’s gruesome and weird in a super-funny way.

FAMILY TREE #3 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Phil Hester. The little girl, Meg, has a dream where she and her father are inside a giant tree. When she wakes up, her family is in Manhattan’s Chinatown, negotiating with an old botanist named Loretta. It’s clear by now that the protagonists’ family is the victim of a generational curse, which I guess explains how this series is different from Farmhand. I still think Farmhand is better.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #86 (IDW, 2020) – untitled, [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Kate Sherron. Pinkie Pie’s shy sister Marble comes to Ponyville to ask for help planning a party. This issue is not bad, and it’s nice to get to knw Marble Pie better. However, this is not Jeremy’s most memorable pony story, and the series has kind of been spinning its wheels lately. Most of the recent issues have just been one-offs; I can’t recall the last story that was more than one issue. I look forward to the “Season 10” stories.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #14 (Marvel, 2020) – “The Last Avenger Part Three,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Lee Garbett. Carol fights Black Panther and then She-Hulk. “The Last Avenger” is better than previous storylines, but this series is still suffering from a lack of direction. Carol doesn’t have a clearly defined personality beyond being Marvel’s primary white female suprehero, and Kelly has failed to define her more precisely than that. Also, Vox Supreme is a really annoying villain. He somehow acts surprised and offended when Carol refuses to meekly go along with his plot.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #1 (Marvel, 2020) – “Then It’s Us,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Juann Cabal. In the absence of the Nova Corps, the Guardians are forced to singlehandedly defeat some rogue Greek gods. Al Ewing’s take on the Guardians is not bad, but it lacks the excitement and originality of his Immortal Hulk, or the humor of his Rocket Raccoon. Also, I hate that Groot can speak normal English now. I would have been willing to read more of this series, but I neglected to order issue 2, and maybe that’s just as well.

THE OLD GUARD: FORCE MULTIPLIED #2 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Leandro Fernandez. This is still hard to follow, but the artwork is still absolutely gorgeous. Greg Rucka’s characters are interesting, but his story is almost just an excuse for Leandro Fernandez’s stunning linework, page compositions and action sequences. I’ve probably said this before, but Fernandez is as good as his countryman Eduardo Risso.

WONDER WOMAN #750 (DC, 2020) – “The Wild Hunt Finale,” [W] Steve Orlando, [A] Jesus Merino, plus many other stories. Like most giant anniversary issues, WW #750 is a mixed bag. By far the high point of the issue is Gail Simone and Colleen Doran’s story that reintroduces Star-Blossom, a little black girl superheroine with flower powers. Star-Blossom is just an incredible character, and her interactions with Diana are adorable. I need to track down the 2016 one-shot where she first appeared. The next best thing in the issue is the revised origin story by Kami Garcia and Phil Hester. I still miss Renae De Liz’s Legend of Wonder Woman, but this story is an acceptable substitute. Mariko Tamaki’s interview story is also good, if predictable, and she would be a great Wonder Woman writer. The opening story by Orlando and Merino has excellent art, but the plot didn’t grab me. The low point of the issue is Vita Ayala and Amancay Nahuelpan’s “Always.” Julia and Vanessa Kapatelis are my favorite Wonder Woman supporting characters ever, but the villainess in Always has nothing in common with George Pérez’s spunky, lovable Vanessa, other than her name. I would rather have seen Vanessa killed off than turned into a tormented villain. Also, Marguerite Bennett’s DC Comics Bombshells story reminds me of why I quit reading that series.

JOHN CONSTANTINE, HELLBLAZER #3 (DC, 2020) – “A Green and Pleasant Land, Part Three,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Aaron Campbell. Constantine succeeds in defeating the Blake-inspired murderer. If I’m reading it correctly, this story depicts Blake in a very negative light. Spurrier turns Blake’s “Jerusalem” into a metaphor for English nationalist chauvinism. That seems rather unfair to Blake, who was perhaps the most progressive and socially conscious of the Romantic poets. I’m curious what my Blakean scholar friends, especially Roger Whitson, would think of this comic. Still, this was a fun story arc and a good start to Spurrier’s run.

ETHER: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF VIOLET BELL #5 (Dark Horse, 2020) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] David Rubín. In a deliberate homage to Doyle’s “The Final Problem,” Bode sacrifices himself to kill Ubel. Violet Bell is left pregnant with Bode’s posthumous child. This ending would have had more of an impact if I could remember who Violet Bell is and how she became Boone’s lover. This series (like Folklords) never quite lived up to the potential of its premise, but David Rubín’s art was consistently incredible.

ARCHIE VS. PREDATOR II #5 (Archie, 2020) – “Escape Velocity,” [W] Alex de Campi, [A] Robert Hack. After a lot more carnage and mayhem, Betty and Veronica end up in an alternate-universe New York with the Predator/Archie character. This miniseries was really confusing because it was full of multiple versions of the same characters, and I never quite understood what exactly was going on. The dialogue and artwork were quite good, though.

WONDER TWINS #11 (DC, 2020) – “The Rise and Fall of Colonel 86,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Stephen Byrne. Colonel 86 causes all sorts of havoc, but Zan, Jayna and Polly succeed in defeating him. Like most Mark Russell comics, this issue has a political message. Colonel 86 “refuses to acknowledge that the world has changed.” Its supporters think “that the world was at its best when they were at theirs.” And people didn’t really love Colonel 86, “they loved the monster he allowed them to be.” Yes, this is about Trump.

WELLINGTON #2 (IDW, 2020) – untitled, [W] Aaron Mahnke & Delilah S. Dawson, [A] Piotr Kowalski. This is an okay horror comic, but it’s no better than a random issue of Hellboy, and it doesn’t feel historically accurate. I’ll probably order issue 5, but only because I already ordered the first four. I expect better from Delilah Dawson.

TRUE BELIEVERS: THE CRIMINALLY INSANE – PURPLE MAN #1 (Marvel, 2020) – “Menaced by the Mystery of Killgrave, the Unbelievable Purple Man!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Joe Orlando. That title is better than the actual story. Along with X-Men, Daredevil was the worst of the early Marvel Universe titles, except when Wally Wood was drawing it. Matt Murdock had no personality beyond being blind and a lawyer, and his supporting characters were lifeless. Also, Joe Orlando was much more suited to horror and SF than superheroes. The Purple Man is a creepy villain, but he didn’t become a major character until 40 years after his creation, when Bendis reintroduced him in Alias.

HEIST #3 (Vault, 2020) – untitled, [W] Paul Tobin, [A] Arjuna Susini. This is a fun issue. I especially ike the scene where the real Glane Breld just walks into the villains’ headquarters and steals their supplies, and they all let him do it because they think he’s an impostor. The problem with this series is that Arjuna Susini’s art is not appropriate to Tobin’s story. Susini draws in a realist, highly detailed style that resembles that of Neal Adams or Alfredo Alcala, and his art doesn’t look fun or lighthearted at all. This comic would be more effective with a less serious-looking style of art.

EDGAR ALLAN POE’S SNIFTER OF TERROR SEASON TWO #4 (Ahoy, 2020) – “The Black Cat,” [W] Bryce Ingman, [A] Greg Scott, plus other stories. This issue’s first story is based on Poe’s “The Black Cat,” which I have not read, but I think reading a Wikipedia summary was sufficient to allow me to get the joke. The gimmick of Ingman and Scott’s retelling is that the cat is replaced by an artificially intelligent car, probably in homage to Knight Rider. I’ve never heard of either of these creators before, but this story is very clever, and it makes me want to read more of their work. Dean Motter’s retelling of “The Gold-Bug” is frankly mediocre, and it leaves out the code-breaking that, for me, is the most interesting part of Poe’s story. Motter replaces the black valet of the original story with an artificial intelligence, which is an interesting decision.

ARCHIE’S PALS AND GALS #213 (Archie, 1990) – “Reggie in Pound for Pound,” [W] Rich Margopoulos, [A] Stan Goldberg, plus other stories. I read this in about one minute, and I forgot about it in less time than that.

KIDZ #1 (Ablaze, 2020) – untitled, [W] Aurélien Ducoudray, [A] Jocelyn Joret. I ordered this because it’s a translation of a French comic. Kidz is a postapocalyptic zombie story in which all the adults have died, so the protagonists are children. The art is good, but less detailed compared to other French commercial comics, and the story is readable but not amazing. I might as well keep reading this series for now.

THE BEEF #2 (Image, 2018) – “America’s Sweetheart,” [W] Richard Starkings, [A] Shaky Kane. The main draw of this series is Shaky Kane’s artwork, which resembles Kirby artwork taken to an absurd extreme. However, Richard Starkings’s story is also much more interesting than I expected. It’s a fairly serious exploration of undocumented immigration and agricultural labor issues, although there’s a limit to how serious a comic can be when its protagonist is a giant hunk of raw meat. I need to finish reading this miniseries.

DENNIS THE MENACE AND HIS FRIENDS SERIES #19 (Fawcett, 1973) – “A Full House” and other stories, [W/A] uncredited. A series of (probably) reprinted stories, all of them focusing on Dennis and his dog Ruff. The best thing in the issue is the page with the dogs that resemble their owners (https://www.instagram.com/p/B7xCJomB-iC/). Dennis the Menace comic books are all very similar to each other, but they’re also all very well-done.

STORMWATCH #46 (Image, 1997) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Tom Raney. Two different groups of Stormwatch members hang out together to learn more about each other. Meanwhile, the Weatherman lets Rose Tattoo out of prison, and there’s some foreshadowing of the upcoming “Change or Die” story. Warren Ellis’s Stormwatch was his first truly major work, and it still holds up well.

IRREDEEMABLE #11 (Boom!, 2010) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Diego Barreto & Peter Krause. In the first half of this issue, the villain Bette Noir conspires against the Plutonian with the alien Gilgamos. The second half is much more interesting. It introduces Anita and Loren Daniels, the Plutonian’s human foster parents. After adopting him, they unexpectedly had a biological child, but the Plutonian held the baby too hard, making him mentally disabled for life. After that, the Daniels returned the Plutonian to the orphanage and spent the rest of their lives in total silence, so Plutonian couldn’t hear them talk with his super-hearing. Of course in this issue he finds them anyway. This issue is a good demonstration of the central point of this series: an evil Superman would be terrifying.

SUPERMAN #14 (DC, 2017) – “Multiplicity Part 1,” [W] Peter Tomasi & Patrick Gleason, [A] Ivan Reis. This series jumped the shark almost as soon as I started reading it. The reason I was interested in this comic was because of Clark and Jon’s relationship, but Jon mostly disappeared after issue 11, and instead the series became mired in a bunch of pointless crossovers. “Multiplicity” is an multipart epic in which some monsters are hunting down Supermen across multiple realities. It’s not very interesting and it lacks any significant characterization or creativity.

THE UNWRITTEN #36 (Vertigo, 2012) – “The Wave,” [W] Mike Carey & Peter Gross. I don’t remember who the Tinker is, but this issue he meets Pauly Bruckner, and they try to evade the oncoming wave that’s destroying all the fictional universes. There’s a cameo appearance the three sons that Pauly fathered with the Quark Maiden. Pauly finally gets turned back into a human just as the wave arrives. This is an interesting issue and can be understood without much knowledge of the main storyline.

MANTRA #18 (Malibu, 1995) – “Should Auld Acquaintance…!”, [W] Mike W. Barr, [A] Scott Lee. The gimmick of this series was that it starred an immortal warrior, Lukasz, who got reincarnated in the body of a woman, Eden. This issue, Lukasz finally has his own body back, and he celebrates by sleeping with Eden. Somehow she instantly becomes nine months pregnant and gives birth to Lukasz’s archenemy, Necromantra. This issue is a lot like Avengers #200, and like that issue, Mantra #18 is rather sexist; the writer shows little interest in exploring Eden’s feelings about her bizarre pregnancy.

NEXT MEN #10 (Dark Horse, 1992) – “Parallel Interlude,” [W/A] John Byrne. A young member of the Next Men tracks down his biological mother, an alcoholic who abuses her other child. I hate most of John Byrne’s post-1986 work, and this issue shows some of his typical misogyny, but at least it’s readable and well-drawn.

THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG VOL. 4 #2 (Dark Horse, 2001) – “Blood for Blood,” [W/A] P. Craig Russell. PCR’s adaptation of Wagner’s Ring is one of his finest works. This issue, an amnesiac Siegfried sets off to bring back Brunhilde as Gunther’s wife. Meanwhile, Brunhilde’s fellow Valkyrie, Valtraute, tells her how Voton is about to burn down Valhalla. Valtraute’s story is depicted with artwork that seems to be reproduced directly from pencils. Valtraute begs Brunhilde to give her the ring so that the world can be restored, but Brunhilde refuses because the ring symbolizes Siegfried’s love. This is an ironic reversal of how Alberich renounced love when he stole the Rhinegold. Even more ironically, Siegfried then shows up disguised as Gunther and forces Brunhilde to surrender the ring. The scene where Siegfried/Gunther takes the ring is powerfully depicted as a symbolic rape, although Siegfried scrupulously avoids sleeping with Brunhilde. This series is fascinating and it makes me want to listen to or watch the Ring cycle for myself, even if Wagner was an awful man.

UNCLE SCROOGE #234 (Gladstone, 1989) – “The Money Stairs,” [W/A] Carl Barks, plus other stories. In a ten-pager, Donald competes with Scrooge to see who can climb a mountain faster. Disappointingly, the story has an “it was all a dream” ending. That sort of copout is not worthy of Barks. He must not have been able to think of a more plausible ending. There are also two European stories, including one where Scrooge converts his money into a million-dollar bill. A similar plot device appeared in Mark Twain’s story “The Million Pound Bank Note” and the Simpsons episode “The Trouble with Trillions,” but I don’t know if any of these three texts were directly related to each other.

BATWOMAN #3 (DC, 2012) – “Hydrology 3: Gaining Steam,” [W/A] J.H. Williams III, [W] Haden Blackman. This issue offers further evidence that J.H. Williams III was the finest comic book artist of his generation. I’ve run out of ways to praise his breathtaking page layouts, draftsmanship and coloring (though Dave Stewart is responsible for the latter). Every page of this comic is a unique and original composition. However, the actual story of “Hydrology” is rather boring, and Williams and Blackman’s Kate Kane is an unsympathetic character. This issue, she insults her sidekick Bette Kane until Bette slaps her. She also stands up Maggie Sawyer on a date, and when she finally does see Maggie, she doessn’t even apologize; instead, she demands that Maggie give her emotional support.

THE MAXX #14 (IDW, 2014) – untitled, [W/A] Sam Kieth, [W] William Messner-Loebs. The Maxx dreams that he’s being chased by a giant talking horse that looks like himself. He awkwardly wakes up in Sarah’s arms, and then a very pregnant Julie walks in. Sam Kieth’s art in this issue is amazing; he is a totally unique artist. The Maxx may be his best work simply because it’s a collaboration with a writer who’s better than Sam himself. As Four Women demonstrates, Sam’s writing ability is not equal to his artistic ability.

MORLOCK 2001 #1 (Atlas/Seaboard, 1975) – “The Coming of Morlock!”, [W] Michael Fleisher, [A] Al Milgrom. Sort of a mashup of Man-Thing, Warlock, and 1984. In a dystopian Orwellian future, a scientist creates an artificial human being just before being murdered by the Thought Police (they’re actually called that). The artificial man, Morlock, has the power to kill people by turning them into plants, so the government uses him as an executioner. But by the end of the issue, he realizes what he’s doing is wrong. He also discovers that he can turn himself into a giant plant monster, so he decides to use his powers to overthrow the government. This comic is highly derivative of various other comics, but it’s interesting, and if it had lasted longer, it could have been quite good. The main problem is Al Milgrom’s boring art.

DAREDEVIL #149 (Marvel, 1977) – “Catspaw!”, [W] Jim Shooter, [A] Carmine Infantino. Matt fights a boring villain, Smasher, and yells at Foggy for no reason. Also, he refuses to defend Heather Glenn’s father in court (correctly, since it would be a conflict of interest for both Matt and Daredevil), and Heather responds by complaining to her teddy bear. Heather is probably my least favorite superhero girlfriend ever. This issue includes an unfortunate panel sequence in which Matt and Foggy seem to have magically switched places between panels (https://www.instagram.com/p/B771Nu7BARc/).

New comics received on January 30:

CRIMINAL #12 (Image, 2020) – “Cruel Summer Part Eight: Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. If Dan killed Teeg Lawless, then why were we told in the very first issue that Tommy Patterson killed him? Well, because Dan actually shot Teeg with rock salt at the end of last issue. I didn’t understand why when I read the comic, but now I get it: Ricky tipped Dan off to where Teeg and Jane were, and in exchange, he told Dan not to kill Teeg. Anyway, Dan kidnaps Jane, thinking he’s “saving” her, but she crashes their car into a truck, killing them both. Afterward, Teeg is crushed by grief, and when Ricky reveals that he was responsible for Jane’s death, Teeg grabs his own son by the throat. To save Ricky, Leo has to kill Teeg, and his father takes the rap for it. So in the end, half the characters are dead, and the other half have their lives ruined forever. That’s the end of this truly amazing series. I look forward to seeing what Brubaker and Phillips do next, though I was not impressed by this issue’s preview of Jacob Phillips’s upcoming series.

DIAL H FOR HERO #11 (DC, 2020) “Dear Dad,” [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Joe Quinones. I think the opening sequence in this issue is based on Fun Home, though it’s hard to tell. In the issue there’s an obvious Chris Ware homage, and I think the Lolo Kick You scene is based on the style of Rumiko Takahashi. The main plot element in this issue is that Miguel collects all four dials and splits into a good and a bad half, and then Mr. Thunderbolt turns the entire multiverse into a dial. This has been an amazing series, and I’m sorry there’s just one issue left.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #12 (Marvel, 2020) – “The Life & Death of Conan Part 12: The Power in the Blood,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Mahmud Asrar. With the help of his son Conan II, Conan defeats the two evil children and saves the world. This conclusion leads into Jason Aaron’s upcoming King Conan series. Jason is the third great writer of Conan comics, after Roy Thomas and Kurt Busiek, and I’m glad his Conan run is continuing. I just wish that the next writer on the main Conan series was someone other than Jim Zub.

SEX CRIMINALS #26 (Image, 2020) – “The End: Part One,” [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Chip Zdarsky. I was very tired and depressed when I read this, and I wasn’t able to give it the attention it deserves. It’s an amazing piece of work, of course. It shows us that Jon and Suzie are back together, and it ends on a nice cliffhanger when we discover that Jon is calling Suzie from jail. I love the extra page that was inserted so the number of pages would be even. However, it is difficult to follow what’s going on, especially given the long hiatus. Fraction’s explanation for the hiatus is surprising: he realized he’d stopped caring about the plot, and he decided to take a break until he started to care again. I feel guilty for not reading the entire letters page, but I usually don’t read it anyway.

INVISIBLE KINGDOM #9 (Image, 2020) – “Edge of Everything, Part 4,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Christian Ward. Grix and her crew succeed in getting back to their own ship, but then Grix nearly ruins everything by going back to the other ship to rescue Vess. As the issue ends, Grix is stranded in space, and Vess is trying to save her, because it turns out that when Vess goes into estrus, she gains superpowers. This is such a thrilling issue that I made a sort of “whew” sound when I finished it. Invisible Kingdom is one of the best comics on the market right now.

MONSTRESS #25 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [A] Marjorie Liu, [A] Sana Takeda. This is an excellent and very important series, but while reading this issue, I kept wanting it to be over. It was a tedious read because its plot has become impossible to follow. I never quite understood Monstress’s plot in the first place, and it’s gotten more confusing with each issue. I’ve long since lost track of how many factions there are or which characters belong to which faction. However, the characterization in this issue is extremely good. I especially like the scenes with Kippa.

FARMHAND #13 (Image, 2020) – “The Wiz,” [W/A] Rob Guillory. I taught the first Farmhand storyline in my comics class last week, and the students really seemed to like it. And by teaching it, I realized lots of things about it that I had missed before. This issue, Ezekiel and Andrea go to see Wally, a former coworker of Jed and Monica Thorne, but then they all get attacked by plant-people disguised as missionaries. Back in Freetown, Mikhail turns into a plant zombie himself.

SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN #5 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] James Tynion, [A] Werther Dell’Edera. Erica kills the monster, despite Tommy’s interference, but it turns out the monster has already reproduced. This is an excellent horror comic. What especially makes it effective is Dell’Edera’s depictions of the monster. He gives us a broad sense of what it looks like, but he leaves enough of its appearance unspecified that it becomes truly scary.

X-MEN #5 (Marvel, 2020) – “Into the Vault,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] R.B. Silva. A villain named Serafina is hiding in a vault where time flows at a different rate, and Synch, Darwin and X-23 (who humorously insists on being called Wolverine) have to go in and get her. I don’t understand what the Vault is or who Serafina is, but I like how each issue of this series has felt completely different from the last.

IMMORTAL HULK #30 (Marvel, 2020) – “Cometh the Hour,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. The Hulk and his sidekicks battle the monsters that are destroying Phoenix. After the Hulk and his allies have exhausted themselves and inadvertently made themselves look evil, Xemnu appears to save the day, just as planned. This was an entertaining issue.

NEW MUTANTS #6 (Marvel, 2020) – “Not as Hoped,” [W] Ed Brisson, [A] Flaviano. This issue’s title is ironic because I bought it mistakenly thinking it was written by Hickman. In future, I will be more careful about checking credits, because this issue is terrible. In the last installment of this storyline, a team of New Mutants went to recruit Beak and Angel to the new team, only for Beak and Angel’s house to be invaded by drug dealers. The villains in this issue are offensive racist caricatures. Also, at the end of the issue, the main villain murders Beak’s parents in cold blood, then kills himself so Beak can’t take revenge. To make things even worse, one of the New Mutants then mindwipes Beak and makes him believe his parents died years ago. Bek and Angel have suffered more than enough already; Grant Morrison already went too far when he made them teenage parents of six children. In this issue Ed Brisson subjects them to even more unnecessary trauma. It would have been better if these characters had never appeared again. Overall, this issue is an offensive piece of crap, and I am very unlikely to ever buy another comic written by Ed Brisson.

ICE CREAM MAN #17 (Image, 2020) – “Cape Fear,” [W] W. Maxwell Prince, [A] Martín Morazzo. The Ice Cream Man in this issue is a thinly disguised Superman parody. He invites Parker Paige (i.e. Lois Lane) to his fortress of solitude, but their date quickly becomes horrifying; for example, he tries to get Lois to eat some sentient cute creatures. Parker thankfully blacks out after that, and the issue ends with a parody of Batman’s origin. This issue has nothing in common with the previous issue of Ice Cream Man that I read, other than its extremely disturbing tone. Now I’m even more curious to read more of this series. Hannibal Tabu wrote a negative review of this series on Bleeding Cool, but I don’t think he understood what it was trying to do.

VAGRANT QUEEN: A PLANET CALLED DOOM #1 (Vault, 2020) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Jason Smith. This is Mags’s first new creator-owned comic in a while. As this series opens, Elida is living a quiet life with her new girlfriend Florence, but then a giant white-costumed dude shows up and kidnaps Elida. He takes her to a planet where she is apparently worshipped as a god. This is an intriguing setup, but I still hate Jason Smith’s art.

THE UNBELIEVABLE GWENPOOL #9 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, [W] Christopher Hastings, [A] GuriHiru. There’s some fun, wacky stuff in this issue, including a cameo appearance by the elderly version of Squirrel Girl. The problem is that Christopher Hastings is just not a grat writer. His dialogue is grating, his jokes are unfunny, and his characterization is unconvincing. I should have quit buying this series much sooner than I did.

REAL SCIENCE ADVENTURES #3 (IDW, 2017) – “The Flying She-Devils: Raid on Marauder Island Part 3,” [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Lo Baker. I don’t remember how we got to this point, but as this issue begins, the Flying She-Devils are flying over the Pacific Ocean in a plane that’s rapidly running out of fuel. And they’re being chased by a sky pirate named Mad Jack. This issue is very suspenseful and exciting, but Lo Baker’s art is not as skillful as Scott Wegener’s, although the coloring in this issue is good. There’s also a backup story about the Sparrow.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2017 (SECRET EMPIRE) #1 (Marvel, 2017) – “Secret Empire,” [W] Nick Spencer, [A] Andrea Sorrentino. This issue’s first story has some excellent page layouts, but Secret Empire is an insulting and terrible story, and I hate Nick Spencer’s writing. There’s also a Spider-Man backup story. I hated this story at first, but that was partly because I thought that it too was written by Nick Spencer; it was actually by Chip Zdarsky. But even though my initial opinion of this story was unfairly prejudiced, I still don’t like it.

DOCTOR STRANGE #21 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, [W] Dennis Hopeless, [A] Niko Henrichon. I ordered this by mistake because I didn’t realize Jason Aaron’s run was over. This comic is not unreadable, but it’s gross – in the opening scene, Doc has to fight a sentient blob of stomach acid. And Hopeless doesn’t generate nearly as much excitement as Aaron did. His “run” only lasted three more issues.

THE AUTHORITY #16 (Wildstorm, 2000) – “The Nativity Four of Four,” [W] Mark Millar, [A] Frank Quitely. This is less bad than it could have been, but it’s not good. Millar’s tasteless, offensive writing kills whatever pleasure I could have gotten out of Frank Quitely’s art.

DRAGON BALL SUPER 2017 FCBD EDITION (Viz, 2017) – untitled, [W] Akira Toriyama, [A] Toyotarou. I read this because I was too tired to read anything that would have required more mental effort. This FCBD comic contains a preview of a new Dragon Ball manga. It makes no sense at all to a reader who hasn’t kept up with the series (I’ve only read the first three volumes). There’s also a Boruto: Naruto Next Generations installment, which is equally impenetrable. Both these stories were poor choices for a comic designed to attract new readers.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2017 (GUARDIANS OF THE GALXY) #1 (Marvel, 2017) – “Smash & Grab,” [W] Gerry Duggan, [A] Aaron Kuder. Gerry Duggan is a boring writer, and his Guardians of the Galaxy story didn’t grab me, although I enjoyed the art. The second half of this issue consists of a Defenders story by Bendis. It’s more of his usual crap.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES #102 (IDW, 2020) – untitled, [W/A] Sophie Campbell. It’s probably been 25 years since I last bought a TMNT comic, but I bought this one because it’s by Sophie Campbell. This issue’s plot revolves around creatures called Mutanimals, and as a new reader, I wasn’t able to follow what’s going on. But Sophie Campbell’s art and visual storytelling are brilliant. She has an unparalleled ability to draw compelling facial expressions, and to create conovincing characters with various body types. The scene where three of the Turtles are sitting silently around the breakfast table is very powerful, even though I didn’t know what they were so sad about. I’m going to keep following this series.

THE TERRIFICS #24 (DC, 2020) – “The One Where Bizarro Screws Up Time Finale,” [W] Gene Luen Yang, [A] Sergio Davila. The Noosphere intervenes to save the day. The Terribles get stuck at the end of time, except Boyzarro, who remains with the Terrifics. Mrs. Terrific gets super-angel powers, and there’s a fourth-wall-breaking moment where she “borrows” a page from the comic we’re reading. Gene Luen Yang’s comics always seem to have weird plots with lots of metalepsis and complicated narrative structure, and this one is no exception. I still have rather mixed feelings about this series, but I like it enough to stick with it.

PROTECTOR #1 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Simon Roy & Daniel Bensen, [A] Artyom Trakhanov. This new series feels like a Brandon Graham comic, which is natural since Graham launched Roy’s career. It has a weird SF plot and focuses more on worldbuilding thn storytelling. Protector takes place in a post-apocalyptic, post-climate-change America, characterized by conflicts between tribes such as Hudsoni, Anglos and Yanquis. The racial politics of this comic are open to critique; I think it’s unfortunate that the villains all seem to be Asian. But I like the art and the worldbuilding. Highlights include the “gosherd” (goose-herd) and the placename Süssem-Ri, which took me a while to decode as Sault Ste. Marie.

GREEN LANTERN: BLACKSTARS #3 (DC, 2020) – “The Heart of Emptiness,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Xermanico. A confusing and complicated conclusion to a difficult storyline. Hal reveals that the last three issues have been taking place in a parallel universe, so the real DCU is safe from Belzebeth and her Blackstars. Hal returns to Earth and leaves Belzebeth on the parallel Earth. This sets up the upcoming second season. I don’t understand why Belzebeth’s chest is glowing at the end. Xermanico’s art is not as creative or weird as Liam Sharpe’s.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: DAILY BUGLE #1 (Marvel, 2020) – “The Hanging Judge Part 1 of 5,” [W] Mat Johnson, [A] Mack Chater & Francesco Mobili. Mat Johnson’s first Marvel comic is an ensemble-cast series about the Daily Bugle staff. The most interesting character in the series is Robbie Robertson’s niece Chloe, who joins the Bugle staff and is sent to investigate some mysterious Spider-Man webs. The pacing of this story is a little odd, but this comic displays Johnson’s usual humor, and I’m excited to read more of it.

CAPTAIN MARVEL: THE END #1 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Carmen Carnero. In the year 2051, Carol thinks all the people of Earth have died, but she discovers that Earth still has a small population, including many young superheroes. After defeating a giant monster, Carol sacrifices her life to reignite the sun. This issue isn’t bad, and I especially like all the grown-up kid superheroes and the descendants of superhero couples. But Kelly’s version of Carol is still fundamentally lacking in personality, especially compared to Kelly’s other characters.

KILLADELPHIA #3 (Image, 2020) – “Sins of the Father Part 3,” [W] Rodney Barnes, [A] Jason Shawn Alexander. This issue is primarily a retelling of Vampire John Adams’s origin. Rodney Barnes mistakenly claims that John Quincy Adams was elected President twice, and this makes me doubt all the other historical information Barnes provides. This issue is not terrible, but it’s a rather straightforward horror comic, and it seems to lack depth. I want Killadelphia to be another Farmhand or Bitter Root, but it’s not there yet.

KOSHCHEI THE DEATHLESS #3 (Dark Horse, 2018) – untitled, [W] Mike Mignola, [A] Ben Stenbeck. Besides The Visitor, this is the best Hellboyverse comic I’ve read lately, mostly due to its moody and convincing depiction of premodern Russia. Most of this issue is a retelling of the Russian villain Koshchei’s origin story, and Ben Stenbeck seems to have done significant research on medieval Russian clothing and architecture, so the story has a strong sense of verisimilitude.

REAL SCIENCE ADVENTURES #4 (IDW, 2017) – “Raid on Marauder Island Part 4,” as above. The Flying She-Devils’ predicament gets even worse. As a last resort, the lead She-Devil summons all the other pirates who have a grudge against Mad Jack, asking them to help the She-Devils out. This issue is very similar to #3.

SUPERMAN #30 (DC, 2017) – “A Moment Longer Part 2: Hopes and Fears,” [W] Keith Champagne, [A] Ed Benes et al. Another dumb crossover story, in which Superman fights Sinestro and Parallax. The only reedeming moment in this issue is a scene where Superman imagines his worst fears, which include Lois getting cancer, and Jon being bullied.

CURSE WORDS #10 (Image, 2017) – “Explosiontown Part Five,” [W] Charles Soule, [A] Ryan Browne. Wizord defeats Violet, but while he’s distracted, the government kidnaps Margaret. There’s a hilarious moment where Margaret tries to deny that she’s a magical talking platypus creature. Meanwhile, Sizzajee and Jacques Zacques team up. I’ve noticed that this series includes a lot of jagged diagonal panel borders (see https://retconpunchdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/wizord-beach.jpg for an example). I don’t know if this is just a stylistic trademark of Ryan’s, or if there’s some other explanation for it.

THE HOLLOWS #4 (IDW, 2013) – untitled, [W] Chris Ryall, [A] Sam Kieth. The conclusion to some kind of science-fictional story. I didn’t understand the plot of this issue, but the artwork is quite good. Some of Sam’s art in this issue looks like it was reproduced from colored pencils or something.

CURSE WORDS HOLIDAY SPECIAL #1 (Image, 2017) – untitled, [W] Charles Soule & Ryan Browne, [A] Mike Norton. A flashback story in which Sizzajee’s children team up for a “Meatmeet,” in which they compete to hunt down a magically created beast. This is a fun and lighthearted story, even though (or because) it includes some very gruesome moments. It’s not that essential to the plot, but it is cool to see how a different artist interprets the Hole World and its characters.

CURSE WORDS #12 (Image, 2018) – “The Hole Damned World Part 2,” [W] Charles Soule, [A] Ryan Browne. I didn’t order issue 11, but it must have been very eventful. At the beginning of this issue, Wizord is in the middle of a fight with Ruby Stitch, and he also mistakenly thinks that he’s destroyed the entire Hole World. Wizord and Ruby’s “fight” soon turns into a sexual encounter. Meanwhile, Margaret is engaged in a standoff with the humans who’ve kidnapped her. One thing I noticed while reading this issue is the role that color plays in the story. Each of the wizards has a distinctive color for their magic, and the colors let us see which wizard is doing what.

TEEN TITANS GO #19 (DC, 2017) – “Precog Sniffin’”, [W] Paul Morrissey & Heather Nuhfer, [A] Marcelo DiChiara. The first “story” in this issue is a plotless non-story about nothing. The backup story at least has a plot, albeit a dumb one: Beast Boy tries to heal his sick pet herring and is declared the king of a tribe of Vikings. I don’t like Teen Titans Go very much, and I actively hate its version of Starfire.

SCOOBY APOCALYPSE #8 (DC, 2017) – “The Doctor Will Kill You Now!”, [W] Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis, [A] Dale Eaglesham & Ron Wagner. I ordered this because it was part of a package deal with some other Hanna-Barbera comics. I don’t know what to make of it. It’s a semi-serious take on Scooby-Doo, drawn in a realistic style. Giffen and DeMatteis’s storytelling is reasonably good. But unlike, say, Afterlife with Archie, or Mark Russell’s Hanna-Barbera comics, or Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids, Scooby Apocalypse doesn’t seem ironic at all. It takes itself completely seriously, despite its unserious subject matter. As a result, it doesn’t work for me.

INCORRUPTIBLE #4 (Boom!, 2010) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Jean Diaz. Max Damage fights another villain named Amberjack. This is a very early issue and it’s not as deep or complex as later issues, though it’s fun.

THE MAXX MAXXIMIZED #13 (IDW, 2014) – untitled, [W/A] Sam Kieth, [W] William Messner-Loebs. This issue is mostly about Sarah’s elderly grandfather, who keeps trying to escape his nursing home, thinking he’s boarding a spaceship. As usual, Sam Kieth’s draftsmanship and page layouts are stunning. I’m not sure what precisely are the differences between this reprint and the original Image publication.

RUMBLE #1 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W] John Arcudi, [A] James Harren. A fantasy comic in which a young man somehow acquires a magic sword, but a bunch of villains are trying to take it for themselves. I bought this when it came out, but didn’t read it. If I had read it, I wouldn’t have ordered issue 2. Rumble #1 has impressive art, but its dialogue is stupid, and I don’t care about its protagonist or its plot.

CATWOMAN #39 (DC, 2015) – “Better than He Does Himself,” [W] Genevieve Valentine, [A] Garry Brown. A boring, visually unappealing talkfest, in which Catwoman gets involved in an intrigue between crime families. Genevieve Valentine tries to give her story a literary air by including quotations from Cesare Borgia, but there’s very little of any interest in this comic.

GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS #6 (Image, 2015) – “Cosmic Apocalypse,” [W/A] Ryan Browne. More of Browne’s usual unfunny nonsense. This issue includes none of the diagonal panel borders I remarked in my review of Curse Words #10, so I guess they’re not part of Browne’s natural style.

CURSE WORDS #13 (Image, 2018) – “The Hole Damned World Part Three,” [W] Charles Soule, [A] Ryan Browne. Sizzajee tells Jacques a biased version of the Hole World’s history. Margaret befriends one of the magicians who are holding her captive. Wizord and Ruby Stitch realize they can’t find Margaret, so Ruby Stitch decides to terrorize New York’s people by making it rain blood. Thus we come to the last issue of Curse Words that I ordered:

CURSE WORDS #14 (Image, 2018) – “The Hole Damned World Part Four,” [W] Charles Soule, [A] Ryan Browne. Ruby Stitch’s rain of blood drains her powers. Margaret comes up with an escape plan. On the last page, Platinum Johnny shows up with his pregnant girlfriend. After finishing this issue, I wished I had continued ordering this comic, even though I stopped reading it after issue 2. It lasted until issue 25, and I hope I can find the remaining issues at some convention or other. Curse Words is a genuinely entertaining comic, with a unique and compelling plot.

MISTER X VOL. 2 #10 (Vortex, 1990) – “Dedicated User,” [W] Jeffrey Morgan, [A] Disraeli. Jeffrey Morgan is best known as a music journalist. This series is his only significant comics credit, though he was a well-known letterhack. Mr. X vol. 2 #10 has pretty good artwork and dialogue, although it includes some excessively gruesome scenes. However, by this point, Mr. X had drifted very far from Dean Motter and Paul Rivoche’s original concept. The name Dean Motter doesn’t seem to appear anywhere on this comic.

THE BEEF #3 (Image, 2018) – “Tainted Love Part Three: Red, White & Blue,” [W] Richard Starkings, [A] Shaky Kane. This issue is another gruesome exploration of the beef industry’s inhumane practices, and also of the connection between beef and American masculinity. However, Richard Starkings’s captions are overwritten, and they get in the way of Starkings’s art. I feel that Shaky Kane’s minimalist art style demands equally minimalist writing, as in That’s Because You’re a Robot and Captain Dinosaur.

ANIMOSITY: EVOLUTION #5 (AfterShock, 2018) – “Lex Animata: Part 3,” [W] Marguerite Bennett, [A] Eric Gapstur. In addition to all the usual problems with Animosity, this issue suffers from lazy art. There’s one two-page splash where the image is just a close-up of a tiger’s eyes, and the tiger gives a speech that requires 19 separate word balloons. Also, as I read this comic, I realized that the “villains” in this series are just trying to feed themselves the only way they know how, i.e. by eating other animals. The “heroine,” Wintermute, has imposed an artificial form of government that doesn’t work for anyone. Wintermute is only the hero because the writer says so.

DARE #2 (Fantagraphics, 1992) – two stories, [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Rian Hughes. Dan Dare travels to the north of England, where he witnesses the squalor and human misery caused by the government he supports. Rian Hughes’s art in this series is incredible. He is perhaps the best Clear Line artist in Anglophone comics. He must have read lots more Clear Line comics than were ever available in English. It is a bit odd that Rian Hughes is using such a slick, utopian, futuristic style to depict a future that turns out to be the opposite of a utopia. But I guess that irony is deliberate.

SEA OF THIEVES #4 (Titan, 2018) – untitled, [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Rhoald Marcellius. I was expecting to dislike this, but I enjoyed it because of Jeremy’s witty dialogue and characterization. Even though this comic is just a video game tie-in, Jeremy writes it with as much energy as if it were Princeless. This issue is a fun, low-stakes pirate adventure with some queer content. The female co-protagonist falls in love with another girl who apparently dies, but the love interest turns up alive at the end.

BLOODSHOT: SALVATION #10 (Valiant, 2018) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Doug Braithwaite. In the future, Bloodshot fights an ankylosaurus. In the present, Bloodshot’s daughter Jessie uses the Internet to become superintelligent, but she causes such a drain on the Internet that it reveals her location to her enemies. The Jessie sequences in this issue are powerful and emotional, but the Bloodshot scenes are boring, and Braithwaite’s art is stiff and verly derivative of Kubert.

MISTER X VOL. 1 #12 (Vortex, 1988) – “Nightclubs and Daydreams,” [W] Dean Motter, [A] Seth. I didn’t understand this comic’s plot, but Seth’s art is really good. There’s one page where some people are sitting in a bar discussing Mister X, and below them, you can see Mr. X himself, sitting among a bunch of pipes and furnaces. The second half of the issue includes a dream squence illustrated entirely in black and white. This issue is worth reading to see how Seth developed his craft.

THE MAXX MAXIMIZED #15 (IDW, 2015) – as above. Maxx and Sarah react to Julie’s surprise pregnancy. Meanwhile, some character I don’t recognize is in jail for some reason, and Mr. Gone is his cellmate. This issue includes some interesting if potentially offensive discussions of slut-shaming.

Last reviews of 2019

Last reviews of the year:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December reviews

12-23-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New comics received on November 30:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On December 18, I received a huge comics shipment:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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