Reading notes for 4-19-15

4-5-15

I’m going to start calling these “reading notes” instead of reviews. I’m reading Jo Walton’s What Makes This Book Great, which is a collection of her essays on science fiction books for tor.com, and she writes “You won’t find any reviews here. Reviews are naturally concerned with new books, and are first reactions. Here I’m mostly talking about older books, and these are my thoughts on reading them again.” That’s not quite applicable to this blog because I’m talking about both new comics and old comics I’m reading for the first time, and I’m certainly providing my first reactions. Still, I think I’m more interested in writing short essays in the spirit of Jo Walton’s blog posts than in writing reviews. The point of these essays is not to evaluate comics and suggest whether anyone else ought to buy them, but just to record my thoughts and reactions to each comic I read, thereby making it easier for me to remember what I’ve read. Therefore, I’m going to stop assigning letter grades and I’m going to pay less attention to evaluating these comics – that’s not the point.

NAUGHTY BITS #30 (Fantagraphics, 1999) – I read this because I was reading Mimi Pond’s Over Easy for class, and something about its depiction of the ‘70s reminded me of “Bitchy’s College Days” in particular, and then I remembered I had these other unread issues of Naughty Bits and I felt an urge to read them. I love Roberta’s work and I’m curious as to what she’s doing now; I haven’t heard from her in a while. This issue begins with a fairly humorous autobiographical story in which Roberta and a friend go to a Republican picnic, where they unsurprisingly don’t feel especially welcome. The rest of the issue is a long Bitchy Bitch story, “Bitchy Bitch Gets Good and Ready!” This story has perhaps not aged well because it’s all about Y2K preparedness, but like many Bitchy stories (I guess I must be enjoying having an excuse to use that word), it’s really about how Midge gets all worked up over nothing. I remember I reacted exactly the same way when I first heard about Y2K, back when I was in summer camp, and I still have a habit of overreacting about nothing. Anyway, there’s also an interesting B plot here featuring Midge’s horrible Evangelical Christian coworker.

LUMBERJANES #12 (Boom!, 2015) – I thought this story was going to continue for at least one more issue, but this is a satisfying conclusion. It significantly develops I our understanding of the character of all the Lumberjanes except Jo – I’m sorry to harp on this again, but I still think Jo hasn’t gotten enough exposure as a character, and I have trouble seeing what distinguishes her from the other four. Anyway, both the plots in this issue are resolved in a satisfying way, though it’s disappointing that Jo and April never get any badges. I think the writers have forgotten that Bubbles is supposed to be Molly’s hat, because s/he seems to hang out with Ripley all the time now.

THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #3 (Marvel, 2015) – I didn’t love this issue as much as the last two, but I still loved it. Without looking back at it again, I think my favorite thing about this story is Chipmunk Hunk, who (unlike some other imaginary characters mentioned earlier in this series) is going to appear on at least the cover of a later issue. But yeah, I love practically everything about this comic, and maybe my favorite thing about it is that despite all her silliness, Squirrel Girl is a genuine hero. The way she inspires her roommate to behave heroically is pretty impressive.

MIND MGMT #31 (Image, 2015) – So begins the next to last storyline. This issue oddly doesn’t contain any MIND MGMT Field Guide entries along the margins; I suppose maybe this means Meru has already internalized the whole field guide, or something. I’ll have to go back to earlier issues and see if I can figure this out, or check the Multiversity Comics annotations. I had to flip through this issue to remind myself what it’s about, but it’s basically about the redemption of Harry Lime, and Matt Kindt accomplishes this in a satisfying way.

SENSATION COMICS FEATURING WONDER WOMAN #8 (DC, 2015) – Juliet Kahn from Comics Alliance said that “Wonder World” is one of the greatest Wonder Woman stories ever, and I agree. In some ways it’s a bit too obvious and preachy, but it’s well-written and well-drawn and it shows Diana doing what she ought to do: serving as an inspiration to (young) women. But it’s also clearly the story of a young Diana who hasn’t learned restraint and is still unfamiliar with Patriarch’s World. Noelle Stevenson is the perfect artist for this story. She draws in a style that appeals to younger readers, she doesn’t depict characters in a sexualized way, and she’s capable of drawing a wide range of female body types. Of course the thing I remember most about this story is the running gag with the Amazons’ obsession with ice cream. This comic is proof of the sort of things that can be done with DC’s characters when they’re not being crippled by obsessive continuity or bad editorial policy, and I wish DC’s regular Wonder Woman title was anywhere near this good.

4-18-15

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #28 (IDW, 2015) – Another effective effort by the masters of pony comics, and a satisfying conclusion to the environmentalism story. I like that Fluttershy gets the chance to save the day. Now that we’ve seen societies of deer and bison, I wonder what other races of sentient quadrupeds exist in Equestria – I assume there must be societies of yaks, llamas and alpacas somewhere.

INVINCIBLE #118 (Image, 2015) – On the cover, the word “superhero” in “the best superhero comic in the universe” is crossed out. I suppose this is because this series is shifting its focus from superheroism to Mark and Eve’s family life, but a probably unintended alternative reading is is that Invincible is not a superhero comic anymore, because it’s stopped providing the pleasures associated with superhero comics. To paraphrase what I’ve written before about this series, the point of superhero comics is that the good guys win, and over the past year of Invincible stories, Mark has suffered one crushing defeat after another. As a reader, my confidence in Mark has been completely eroded. I no longer have faith in his ability to achieve great deeds. So maybe it’s best if Invincible no longer represents itself as a superhero title. As for the actual comic, this issue was okay but not fantastic. The amount of gross-out humor was excessive. I do appreciate that Mark is finally confronting the trauma of his rape, because that event had been so completely ignored in recent issues that I forgot it had happened at all.

GROO: FRIENDS AND FOES #2 (Image, 2015) – In this issue, Groo acts stupid, fails spectacularly at everything he tries to achieve, and causes a series of horrible disasters, despite having good intentions. The issue is brilliantly drawn by Sergio Aragonés and is enlivened by Mark Evanier’s witty dialogue. Also, the issue begins with a poem and ends with a moral, and includes a cleverly hidden message. Oh wait, I just described every issue of Groo ever. This issue is better than #1 because it at least has an original plot that’s not a (possibly accidental) rehash of a previous Groo story, but it’s not that original. It’s another in a long line of stories where Granny Groo tries to exploit her grandson.

GOTHAM ACADEMY #6 (Dark Horse, 2015) – I still don’t completely understand the storyline of this series – I think it would read better in TPB form. Still, this was a very satisfying conclusion to the opening story arc. Olive’s relationship with Killer Croc is very cute, the pizza/mystery club is an exciting idea, and I look forward to Damian being a regular character in the series.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #8 (Image, 2015) – This is the one where Bacchus throws a dance party. This story is very reminiscent of Phonogram in its emphasis on music and dancing, and it does some weird things with narrative structure – there are a number of pages where the panels are deliberately not in chronological order.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #9 (Image, 2015) – This is the one where we learn that Ananke is not one of the gods; she’s an immortal who is responsible for finding and mentoring each generation of gods, and she always outlives them. Actually maybe we knew this already and I forgot it. Even then, Ananke’s story is deeply moving. And in this issue we also meet the twelfth god. I’m still not enjoying this series as much as I enjoyed some of Kieron Gillen’s other recent works, but it’s clearly a comic of very high quality.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #1 (IDW, 2015) – I never watched this TV show when I was a kid because I was not the target audience, so I’m only interested in this series because of the artwork of Sophie (formerly Ross) Campbell. Ever since I was introduced to her work with Glory, I’ve been fascinated with Campbell’s ability to draw women realistically and with varying body types, and that makes him the perfect artist for this series. At this point, though, I’m not in love with the story, though I’m a fan of Kelly Thompson’s critical writing.

ABIGAIL AND THE SNOWMAN #4 (Boom!, 2015) – This is a satisfying conclusion to the series – actually, too satisfying. You can tell that this comic is intended for young children, because the ending is implausible. How is Claude supposed to live with Abigail and her dad when he (Claude) has no marketable skills and no one knows he exists, and Abigail’s dad can barely put food on his family, to quote our former president? Overall, I enjoyed this series but I never thought it was anywhere near as good as Snarked.

PRINCESS UGG #8 (Oni, 2015) – Surprisingly this appears to be the last issue for now. This is the second consecutive Ted Naifeh comic that’s ended unexpectedly, although it says on the last page that “Ülga Will Return.” As a conclusion to what I assume is the first Princess Ugg story arc, this issue is extremely satisfying. I’m a bit surprised that Julifer has finally made a heel-face turn, because I thought she was unredeemable, but I guess it makes sense that she finally softened toward Ülga and/or gave in to peer pressure from the other princesses. This issue also presents a very satisfying resolution to the conflict between Ülga’s people and their traditional enemies. Ülga decides to negotiate with them rather than killing them, showing that she’s learned something from the civilized people as well as vice versa. This issue includes one of the best pieces of dialogue in any comic this year:

“We dinnae fear death! We’ll fight to teh last man!”
“And then your wives and children would be defenseless.”
“Yeh dinnae know our wives.”

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #6 (Image, 2015) – I allowed myself to fall behind on this series, because I’m not all that interested in reading Coach Boss’s origin story. I want to see more about Earl Tubbs’s daughter, who I thought was going to be the protagonist of the series. This flashback storyline seems like an interruption that’s preventing us from getting to more interesting material. I will admit that it’s a well-written and well-drawn story. Coach Boss’s determination and grit are impressive, and this story enables us to feel some sympathy for him, which is useful considering that the previous storyline depicted him as a horrible monster.

NAUGHTY BITS #29 (Fantagraphics, 1999) – The Bitchy Bitch story in this issue is just a seven-pager and it’s mostly setup for issue 30, reviewed above. The bulk of this issue is occupied by an autobiographical story in which Roberta visits her parents. At this point her father – Bob Gregory, a former Disney comics artist – had severe Alzheimer’s and her mother was having a terrible time dealing with him. (He died in 2003, four years after this issue was published.) This story is so text-heavy that it’s almost more of an illustrated text piece than a comic, but Roberta’s skill with facial expressions helps brings out the pathos of the situation. It’s clear that she hates to see her father suffer this way, and that there’s not much she can do to help. I haven’t read Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant yet, but it would be interesting to compare that comic with this one. This issue also includes a two-page backup story by Joyce Farmer, whose work I’d like to get around to reading sometime.

ROCKET SALVAGE #4 (Boom!, 2015) – This is a very fun and lighthearted story and I’m enjoying it a lot. The plot of this issue is rather predictable – it’s hardly a surprise that Evy and Primo fall in love and that Zeta learns to control her powers – but Mercado and Bachan tell this story in an effective way. I hope there will be a sequel to this miniseries.

BATGIRL #40 (DC, 2015) – This is probably the best issue yet. It ties together the confusing and scattered plot threads of the series in a logical and plausible way, and it raises interesting questions about technology and surveillance. And I like how the last scene takes us back to the beginning of issue 35, with Babs waking up at 2:36 I PM. My feelings about this series have been rather mixed, but I think at this point I’m convinced that Brenden, Cameron and Babs (Tarr, not Gordon) have good intentions, and I want to see them succeed.

LITTLE NEMO: RETURN TO SLUMBERLAND #4 (IDW, 2015) – I hadn’t realized this was the final issue for now. As usual, this issue is full of gorgeous artwork and brilliant ideas, and there’s even a moral to this story – Nemo originally didn’t want to be the princess’s playmate because he thought she would “be whiny and force me to play with dolls or something,” but as a result of their adventures together, he realizes he was wrong. Overall, this miniseries was very well-written and was one of the best-drawn comics of the year, and I look forward to the sequel. I do hope that now that this series is done, Eric will have some time to work on Age of Bronze, which has been on hiatus since 2013.

ELFQUEST: HIDDEN YEARS #9½ (WaRP, 1993) – I may have been uncharitable when I wrote that I was more ashamed of reading Elfquest than reading My Little Pony. Elfquest is not the most intelligently written comic, and it hasn’t evolved a whole lot since the ‘70s, but it’s not terrible, and I shouldn’t feel embarrassed about liking it. This particular issue is a big long fight scene in which Cutter and Rayek beat the crap out of each other, and it turns out that Rayek is losing on purpose in order to give Cutter some catharsis. This ends up being a fairly effective exercise in characterization. Rayek, in particular, is maybe the deepest and most complex character in Elfquest, and this story shows us that he has a generous and self-sacrificing side, beyond all the jealousy and unrequited love. Cutter’s portrayal in this issue is also interesting. He’s a warrior and an alpha male, but this story reminds us that his primary motivation is his love for his family, including Skywise.

DETECTIVE COMICS #761 (DC, 2001) – The main story in this issue vanished from my memory after I read it. Reading it again, I recall that it has something to do with an Internal Affairs investigation of the GCPD. And it also guest-stars Sasha Bordeaux, but I don’t know who that is. The backup story is much much better – it’s a story by Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke in which Slam Bradley searches for Catwoman. Darwyn’s artwork here is as gorgeous as ever.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #13 (Marvel, 2015) – I’m just not all that excited about this Haffensye storyline. One of my favorite things about this series is Carol’s Earth-based supporting cast, and we’ve hardly seen them at all lately. This has been a hit-or-miss series for me, and this issue is one of the misses.

INVINCIBLE #32 (Image, 2006) – This issue is mostly about the love triangle between Mark, Amber and Eve, although there is some plot here. Over the course of this issue, it becomes painfully obvious that Mark would be better off with Eve than Amber, although this may be easier to tell in retrospect. There’s a somewhat annoying scene in this issue where Mark saves some African people from a buffalo stampede. First, you have to wonder why these people would build their village in an area vulnerable to buffalo stampedes. Second, I don’t think we’re ever told where in Africa this story is taking place. These people are just generic Africans of no particular nation of ethnicity. This is a cliché we would be better off without.

SPIDER-MAN 2099 #4 (DC, 2015) – I’ve been buying this series but not reading it. I really need to get caught up on it, because this comic is actually good, and it has some nostalgia value for a longtime PAD fan like myself. For example, this issue takes place in Trans-Sabal, which was the setting for many of PAD’s ‘90s Marvel comics, although I think Fabian Nicieza used it too. Will Sliney’s artwork in this issue is quite good.

ELFQUEST: THE FINAL QUEST #3 (Dark Horse, 2014) – I kept buying this series but stopped reading it, mostly due to embarrassment. I started reading it again because I finally decided to read this one Elfquest prose anthology that I’ve had for many years, and it gave me an appetite for more Elfquest. This particular issue continues the story of Ember’s tribe’s struggle with Angrif Djun. Angrif is not a particularly interesting villain because he’s a complete monster with no redeeming qualities – unlike, say, Winnowill, who is a far more complex character and is all the more horrible because we can sort of sympathize with her.

MS. TREE #33 (Renegade, 1986) – I read the previous installment of “Runaway II” a while ago, but never got around to this issue. Mostly this is because I have a ton of unread issues of Ms. Tree and I can’t decide which one to start with. This comic is as good as any issue of Ms. Tree. However, the main thing I remember about it is the relationship between Dan and Tracey Lynn, which is rather disturbing because a major plot point in the story is that the latter character is barely legal. There’s also a curious scene in this issue where a policeman asks Ms. Tree to meet him at the video store just so he can complain about how awful the porn industry has gotten lately. This scene has no purpose in the story other than to allow this character to serve as a mouthpiece for Max Collins. One of the other characters in the issue is a thinly disguised version of Larry Flynt.

CASANOVA: ACEDIA #2 (Image, 2015) – Based on their stories in this issue, I think I like Gabriel Bá more than Fábio Moon. But they’re both incredible artists, and like the Hernandez brothers, their styles are both different and similar in interesting ways. As for the stories in this issue, I sort of understood them when I was reading them, but I would have difficulty summarizing them now. I do remember thinking that Casanova reminds me of Jerry Cornelius – or at least of my idea of what Jerry Cornelius might be like, since I still haven’t read those books.

ROCKET RACCOON #9 (Marvel, 2015) – In this issue, an elderly Rocket Raccoon uses a Voltron suit to battle Groot, who’s turned into a giant kaiju. Then we discover that this isn’t real, it’s just an imaginary future scenario. It’s a cute and funny story, but I still think this series has declined since Skottie Young stopped drawing it.

JUSTICE LEAGUE EUROPE #13 (DC, 1990) – This is one of the best issues of the series. In this story, a bunch of children are given a tour of the JLE embassy, but Power Girl’s cat teleports in and causes all sorts of mischief. The impressive feat of plotting here is that everything that happens in the issue is the cat’s fault, yet no one realizes the cat is there until the very end. The best scene in the issue is one where Wally West is taking a nap and dreams that he’s sinking into a pool of quicksand, and then he wakes up to discover that he’s choking because the cat is sleeping on his face.

ELFQUEST: THE FINAL QUEST #4 (Dark Horse, 2014) – More of the same as last issue. This issue reintroduces Ardan Djarum, who apparently is not a new character but a preexisting villain. I have nothing else to say about it.

ELFQUEST: THE FINAL QUEST #5 (Dark Horse, 2015) – In this issue Ember finally escapes from Angrif Djun, although he’s still alive and will presumably be back. Also, the big revelation in this story is that Teir is the son of Kahvi and Windkin, which is really kind of bizarre because Windkin himself wasn’t even conceived yet when Elfquest began. That’s the strange thing about a series that takes place across hundreds of years and multiple generations.

REVIVAL #23 (Image, 2014) – I missed this issue when I was trying to get caught up on this series. I previously didn’t understand what was going on with the elongated yellow ghost things, but this issue reveals that they’re created by loneliness, or something. It also resolves the plotline with the people in New York who were eating reviver flesh. The exciting thing I learned about Revival this month is that UW Marathon County is a real school and that Tim Seeley was a student there.

ELFQUEST: THE FINAL QUEST #6 (Dark Horse, 2014) – Unfortunately this issue has almost no plot. It seems like once Elf-Mom and Elf-Dad were done with the Angrif Djun story, they didn’t know what to do next. (Incidentally, when I wrote Elf-Mom and Elf-Dad, I was inspired to go and do a Sporcle quiz on comic book creators’ nicknames. There are a lot of them.) Most of the issue is taken up with a flashback to Kahvi’s death. On the last page on the issue, there’s a panel where Ember and Teir are having sex, and then the very next panel depicts Ember’s parents having sex. I didn’t notice this at the time, but it’s a little bit creepy in retrospect.

GROO: FRIENDS AND FOES #3 (Dark Horse, 2015) – In this issue, Groo acts stupid, fails spectacularly at everything he tries to achieve, and causes a series of horrible disasters, despite having good intentions. The issue is brilliantly drawn by Sergio Aragonés and is enlivened by Mark Evanier’s witty dialogue. Also, the issue begins with a poem and ends with a moral, and includes a cleverly hidden message. Oh wait, I just described every issue of Groo ever. This is easily the best issue of the series yet, but I feel that Sergio and Mark tried to do a bit too much here, and that they could have done more to exploit the potential of this premise. This issue includes a scene where Groo fights a giant clone of himself, and then a scene where Groo encounters an army of (normal-sized) clones of himself. Either of these ideas would have been enough for an entire issue on its own, and it’s important to save some ideas for later, especially in a series which is notorious for having the same joke every issue.

USAGI YOJIMBO #12 (Mirage, 1995) – This is an issue of the short-lived color Usagi series from Mirage. The coloring job here is not nearly as good as in the Usagi Color Special reviewed below, mostly because the paper stock is lower-quality. This issue is a fairly unmemorable story in which Usagi, Gen and Stray Dog defeat some criminals, whose boss has stolen Usagi’s sword. The surprising thing here is the revelation, at the end of the issue, that Stray Dog has been using the proceeds from his bounty hunting to support an orphanage. I know this fact was mentioned in later issues, but I assume this issue was the first time it was revealed (because otherwise the ending wouldn’t have been a surprise).

ELFQUEST: THE FINAL QUEST #7 (Dark Horse, 2015) – Nothing really happens in this issue, except that Shenshen (I initially spelled that as Shenzhen) decides to become human so she can work as a midwife. This series continues to suffer from a lack of direction.

ELFQUEST: THE FINAL QUEST #8 (Dark Horse, 2015) – And in this issue, Sunstream uses his powers to bring all the scattered elf tribes together. Given that this is the point that the entire series has been leading up to, it’s a surprisingly anticlimactic moment.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #29 (IDW, 2015) – Like many of Ted Anderson’s MLP stories, this is not incredible but it’s cute. The joke in this issue is that Cheerilee’s sister is a professional wrestler, and Cheerilee has to fill in for her after she gets injured. And the surprising revelation is that Cheerilee and her sister are not so different after all, even though one is an elementary school teacher and the other is a professional wrestler.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #15 (IDW, 2015) – The team-up in this issue is between Applejack and Mayor Mare, which appears to be her actual name. The plot is that Applejack goes to City Hall to contest a fine she received because her barn is too tall, and she encounters all kinds of bureaucratic red tape. This story is an effective insight into a character we know very little about, but it leaves me with the impression that Mayor Mare’s administration is horribly inefficient and that she’s running the city into the ground. Apparently it’s okay that no one at City Hall knows how to do their job, because “I could demand that everything be done how I want it, but I learned the hard way that that’s not always the best way to do things.” Not exactly a satisfying resolution.

STRANGE SPORTS STORIES #1 (DC, 2015) – This is the first Vertigo comic I’ve read in a long time. It’s an example of the sort of thing that Vertigo used to be capable of producing, before DC’s heavy-handed editorial policy and ungenerous intellectual property arrangements caused Vertigo to lose all its talent to other companies. The highlight of this issue is the Gilbert Hernandez story, which is a fairly light-hearted wish fulfillment fantasy about bullying. The Amy Chu/Tana Ford story is cute because it tricks us into making a mistaken assumption about what ESN stands for… wait, actually, that’s not true. In the second panel of the story, we’re told that ESN stands for Extraterrestrial Sports Network. Now that I notice that, it lowers my opinion of the story, because it turns out that ESN actually stands for something else, which makes me feel that the writer is lying to the reader. The third story is co-written by the brilliant SF author Lauren Beukes, but it’s just gross for no real reason. The final story, by Ivan Brandon and Amei Zhao, is touching, but a bit condescending toward the people of Cuba.

LADY KILLER #3 (Dark Horse, 2015) – Another fun and well-written issue. This story directly addresses the main theme of the series, which is sexism. Josie’s boss decides to have her killed because “the very qualities that make women an asset eventually make them liabilities.” Of course it’s not quite that easy. I don’t know why I haven’t read issue 4 yet.

GOTHAM ACADEMY: ENDGAME #1 (DC, 2015) – I somehow failed to order this, but I picked it up at Mega Comics in Gainesville, Florida. This issue is a collection of ghost stories by various artists, most notably including Vera Brosgol. It’s fun, but rather insubstantial. It’s not essential to the plot of Gotham Academy, and can be read without knowledge of whatever crossover it’s a part of.

YOUNG JUSTICE #38 (DC, 2001) – Another thing I found at Mega Comics. (Let me add, though, that that store’s back issue prices are way too high. Everything is overpriced by at least a couple dollars. I think that store makes its money from tabletop gaming and Magic, and the back issues are just there to look nice. I spent much more money there than I should have, just because it was the first time I’d been in a comic book store since January.) This issue is nominally a Joker’s Last Laugh crossover, although the only evidence of this is a guest appearance by Match, who’s dressed like the Joker. The joke is that the other YJ members think that he’s Superboy playing a prank. This leads to some amazing moments, particularly Cassie telling Match “My God, I can’t believe I ever loved you!” And then Match leaves and the real Superboy comes in and has no idea what’s been going on. There is all kinds of other fantastic stuff here. At one point, Cassie is complaining about how she hates online services, “especially Amer—”, and then Cissie comes in and reminds Cassie that she loves all online services, especially the biggest one, and she whispers something illegible to Cassie. The joke here, as I realized on rereading this scene, is that this issue was published just after AOL merged with Time Warner. As I read this issue, I thought that YJ might actually be PAD’s greatest work, although it’s been a long long time since I read any PAD Hulks.

SAVAGE DRAGON #41 (Image, 1997) – I bought this and a bunch of other comics at All-Star Comics, which was my regular store when I lived in Gainesville. It’s a much better store than Mega Comics – their back issues are fairly priced, the staff is friendly, and it feels like a comic book store rather than a game store. It’s just too bad that their new location is annoying to get to by bus. This issue depicts the wedding of Barbaric and Ricochet, which is attended by a large number of characters from other comics – Cerebus, Madman, the DNAgents, E-Man and Nova Kane, etc. And then of course the wedding is invaded by villains from other comics, including a rat creature who says “It will be quiche for dinner tonight” in the font from Bone. Overall this is one of the funnier issues of Savage Dragon and it’s a hilarious sendup of the clichéd superhero wedding plot, although it’s not at the same level as Incredible Hulk #118. The weird thing is that Barbaric and Ricochet both vanished from this series after this issue. They got married because Ricochet was pregnant, but I don’t think the baby ever appeared on panel, though there’s a much later issue where Barbaric and Ricochet’s three children make a cameo appearance. Bill Clinton appears on page one of this issue, making him one of at least two presidents to have been shown in this comic.

GROO THE WANDERER #53 (Marvel, 1989) – In this issue, Groo acts stupid, fails spectacularly at everything he tries to achieve, and causes a series of horrible disasters, despite having good intentions. The issue is brilliantly drawn by Sergio Aragonés and is enlivened by Mark Evanier’s witty dialogue. Also, the issue begins with a poem and ends with a moral, and includes a cleverly hidden message. Oh wait, I just described every issue of Groo ever. So much stuff happens in this issue that it’s hard to summarize, but I’ll try: Groo teams up with Chakaal against Pal and Drumm, who are running a scam where they breed dragons and sell them as protection. In the course of battling them, Groo almost drowns, but obviously he doesn’t actually drown. There’s a lot of fun stuff here, but the story does not hold together especially well.

Before I got the chance to read any of the other comics I had bought in Gainesville, I returned home to Oxford, where my biweekly shipment of comics was waiting for me:

SAGA #27 (Image, 2015) – By the time I read this issue, I had already flipped through it at the store as well as reading a preview of it, and this colored my opinion a little. The main theme of this issue is Marko’s attempts to deal with his history of violence. We finally start to understand why Marko was a pacifist at the very beginning of the story, and Marko starts to deal with his guilt over having thrown the bag of groceries at Alana in issue 22. I kind of complained about this scene in my review of that issue, but I’m starting to see how it fits into Marko’s character arc. And I think that BKV is aware of the moral significance of this action and that he’s prepared to treat it with an appropriate level of seriousness – unlike another writer I can name, who begins with Robert and ends with Kirkman.

RAT QUEENS #10 (Image, 2015) – I was going to say that it’s been such a long time since the previous issue, I’d forgotten what was going on. But it turns out that Rat Queens #9 came out last month and I missed it! I guess it must have been solicited before I started ordering comics from DCBS, or something. That explains why the plot of this issue didn’t make a whole lot of sense. I look forward to reading this comic again after I’ve read issue 9.

ODY-C #4 (Image, 2015) – This may be my least favorite issue yet, because it’s just a rather straightforward retelling of the Cyclops episode. But the splash page where the Cyclops shouts the name “All-Men” is pretty impressive. I do take exception to something in this issue. In the Odyssey, the Cyclops learns Odysseus’s name because Odysseus tells him. As Odysseus is sailing away after having blinded Polyphemus, he identifies himself as Odysseus, Laertes’s son, of Ithaca, and then Polyphemus prays to Poseidon to curse Odysseus. As an undergrad, I wrote a paper arguing that this means Odysseus brought his subsequent troubles upon himself, because if he hadn’t been foolish enough to identify himself, Poseidon wouldn’t have known whom to curse. But in ODY-C, Poseidon watches the whole thing going on and is aware of who Odysseus is. I suppose that interpretation makes sense (after all, Poseidon must have been familiar with Odysseus from the Trojan War), it just doesn’t agree with my own reading of the Odyssey.

SPIDER-GWEN #3 (Marvel, 2015) – Just after reading this issue, I wrote on Facebook that Spider-Gwen is the best Spider-Man comic since Kurt Busiek’s Untold Tales. Some of my Facebook friends violently disagreed with this, but I stand behind that opinion. Unlike most recent Spider-Man comics, this is not a rehash, it’s an original work that rethinks the character in new and (both politically and artistically) progressive ways, and it’s well-written and well-drawn. And besides that, the franchise has been in fairly dire straits since the ‘80s. This issue is perhaps my least favorite yet, but it still offers some powerful insight into the characters of Gwen and Captain Stacy.

ASTRO CITY #22 (DC, 2015) – It’s probably my imagination, but the main character of this issue reminds me of Sam Glanzman – mostly because of the mustache, I think. (As I was writing this, I asked Kurt about this on his Facebook page, and he said I was imagining it, but it would have been cool.) This issue is a change of pace from the Quarrel/Crackerjack storyline because it doesn’t have much of a plot; it’s more of a character study, about an aging superhero who realizes it’s time to retire. Which, come to think of it, is the same basic plot as the previous storyline, except that this issue has a completely different vibe. Starfighter is fine with the idea of ending his career and letting younger people take over, while Crackerjack and Quarrel see retirement as something to be feared, because it means the end of their usefulness. I guess the difference is that unlike Crackerjack or Quarrel, Starfighter has things to live for other than his job – i.e. his family and his writing career. The fact that it’s even possible to engage in this sort of discussion of Astro City is evidence of what a subtle and sophisticated piece of work it is. Kurt is writing about superheroes at a far more advanced level than anyone else in the industry.

HELP US! GREAT WARRIOR #3 (Boom!, 2015) – This series continues to be an extremely quick and insubstantial read. It’s cute and it has an appealing style of humor, but I wish there was more weight to it. Maybe it reads better as a webcomic than a print comic.

HOWARD THE DUCK #2 (Marvel, 2015) – Another good issue. Rocket Raccoon is turning into the new version of Wolverine, in that he appears in seemingly every Marvel comic just to boost sales, but his scenes in this issue are funny and well-written. Zdarsky’s version of Howard is clearly closer to Gerber’s version than the movie version, and I still think Gerber would be proud of this comic. The last page of this issue is puzzling to me because I feel like it should be the Kidney Lady holding a gun on Howard, not Aunt May.

KAIJUMAX #1 (Image, 2015) – I somehow got the idea that Ulises Farinas was the artist for this comic, because he’s been promoting it heavily on Facebook. I was wrong; it’s a solo production by Zander Cannon. I have not read any of Zander’s solo work before. This comic is well-executed and has a hilarious premise, about a prison for kaiju. I do think that Zander could be getting even more humor value from this premise than he is.

NO MERCY #1 (Image, 2015) – This comic is a serious departure from the sort of thing I associate with Carla Speed McNeil, although it’s not the first realistic work she’s done. This comic is about a bunch of overprivileged Ivy League students (redundant?) who go to Mexico on a school-building trip, and end up getting stranded in the wilderness after a bus accident. I’m not familiar with Alex de Campi’s writing, but he and Carla do a fantastic job of characterizing the students and distinguishing them from each other. And this series has the potential to be an incisive critique of class privilege and voluntourism. It reminds me of Pippa Biddle’s article “The Problem with Little White Girls, Boys and Voluntourism.”

SOUTHERN CROSS #1 (Image, 2015) – Over the past week I’ve repeatedly listened to the song with the same name as this comic, and I think the song is better written. Becky Cloonan’s artwork is gorgeous; she does fantastic stuff with panel structure. But the plot of this comic is almost devoid of interest. There’s nothing in this issue that makes me want to read issue 2, even though I already have it.

CHEW #28 (Image, 2012) – This is identified as part 3 of “Space Cakes,” but it’s realy a standalone story, in which Tony, Colby and Poyo defeat a plot to create explosive cows. It’s neither better nor worse than any other issue of Chew.

MY LITTLE PONY: FIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #1 (IDW, 2015) – I’ve read nearly every MLP comic and seen nearly every TV episode, and I think this is the grimmest MLP story yet. It’s the origin of King Sombra, and it tells how he discovers himself to be a shadow pony, and subsequently kills Princess Amore and rejects his best friend, Radiant Hope. (The story leaves open the possibility that Princess Amore could be revived someday, but she’s more or less dead.) The impression I get from this story is that Sombra honestly tried to do good, but was overwhelmed by his inherently evil nature, and this message is rather inconsistent with the values of the franchise.

THE AUTUMNLANDS: TOOTH & CLAW #4 (Image, 2015) – I’m still not enjoying this series nearly as much as Astro City, or even as much as I liked Arrowsmith, but this issue is well-written and well-drawn and it advances the story effectively. I wish the Great Champion would stop swearing so much, although gratuitous swearing is probably in character for him. The flashback where he remembers his wife and family is adorable.

TEEN DOG #5 (Boom!, 2015) – I wonder if this issue’s cover was consciously based on that of Love & Rockets #24 (i.e. the red cover with Terry Downe playing guitar). This issue has the same jokes as every other issue of the series, but they’re good jokes. Teen Dog has the same sensibility as Help Us! Great Warrior, but I think it’s just better executed.

DETECTIVE COMICS #843 (DC, 2008) – This is drawn by Dustin Nguyen, but not in the style I usually associate with them – it looks line-drawn rather than painted. And he draws Zatanna, who guest-stars in this issue, in a somewhat exploitative way. The story, in which Batman and Zatanna battle the new Ventriloquist, is reasonably good. I like Paul Dini’s writing, but his obsession with Zatanna is annoying.

THE AUTUMNLANDS: TOOTH & CLAW #5 (Image, 2015) – I think I liked this issue better than the last one, though I’m not sure why. At least the plot is finally going somewhere, with the tensions between Gharta and Sandorst coming to a head. I like the relationship between the Great Champion and the narrator, whose name I can’t remember.

MY LITTLE PONY: FIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #2 (IDW, 2015) – The origin of Lord Tirek is much less grim and depressing than that of King Sombra. It’s clear that Tirek’s descent into villainy is the result of his own bad choices. He had every opportunity to take a different path, and he chose not to. This makes him much less of a victim or a tragic figure. I was a little confused as to why Tirek is a centaur but his brother is a manticore, but the story answers that question by showing that their parents are a mixed-species couple.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #23 (DC, 1991) – If I were still assigning grades, then I would give this comic a very poor one. The “Quiet Darkness” chapter in this issue is both boring and confusing. Al Gordon is just not a competent writer. The backup story, which is less a story than a series of vignettes showing what else is going on, is a bit better.

SNARF #7 (Kitchen Sink, 1977) – This late example of underground comics includes a wide variety of material. The cover is by Art Spiegelman, but I’m not sure who the two characters are supposed to be – I thought they were Abbott and Costello, but they look like Theodore Roosevelt. I’m not sure what’s going on here. The issue itself includes some brilliant work by Kim Deitch and Howard Cruse, as well as a three-pager by Justin Green which is a bit disappointing because it’s not autobiographical. The surprising revelation here is “Gypsy Ginger” by George Metzger, about a country-dwelling hippie who visits the city and promptly gets robbed of his money and possessions. It’s an interesting depiction of the waning years of the hippie movement. This issue also includes stories by Sharon Rudahl and Joel Beck.

SILK #1 (Marvel, 2015) – I haven’t been reading this comic because I’m not familiar with the talent, but it’s become so popular that I feel obliged to start reading it. This issue is pretty good. The artwork and writing are effective, and Silk is an intriguing character. I like that this comic is accessible even if you haven’t been reading Spider-Verse; all you need to know is that Silk’s been trapped in a bunker for ten years, and that she’s been having some sort of romance with Spider-Man.

BATMAN: LI’L GOTHAM #3 (DC, 2013) – This is easily my favorite recent Batman comic. This issue begins with the Valentine’s Day story, in which Joker spills a love potion on himself, causing every woman in Gotham to fall in love with him. This could easily have been horrifying if it were drawn in a different style, but Dustin Nguyen makes it funny. The backup story is somewhat disturbing because of the Orientalism involved. Damian goes to a Chinese neighborhood for martial arts training, but his teacher is Katana, who is obviously Japanese, not Chinese.

HERO CATS #2 (Action Lab, 2014) – This is nothing especially great, but it’s a fun, lighthearted romp. I think my favorite thing about this series is the way Marcus Williams draws cats; he makes all the cats in the series look different and unique.

HAWKEYE #1 (Marvel, 2013) – My copy of this issue is a fifth printing. Hawkeye #1 is a thrilling introduction to probably the best Marvel comic in recent years. It introduces the Tracksuits and Pizza Dog, thereby making it somewhat easier for me to understand the plot of subsequent issues. The story is out of chronological order, but rather than causing confusion, this increases the level of dramatic tension.

SUPERBOY #13 (DC, 1995) – In part one of “Watery Grave,” Superboy joins a Suicide Squad mission along with King Shark and many characters from the classic Suicide Squad series. Karl Kesel does a good job of capturing the personalities of Amanda Waller, Captain Boomerang and Deadshot, and there’s a lot of other fun stuff in this issue, but it’s mostly setup.

RADIOACTIVE MAN #1 (Bongo, 1993) – This is a brilliant superhero parody. I think this comic as a whole is the best thing to come out of Bongo Comics’s Simpsons imprint. The Radioactive Man origin story is funny, but the clear highlight of the issue is the second story, which is a parody of Wertham’s anti-comics campaign. The creators subscribe to the view that the Comics Code was an attempt by Archie and other publishers to run EC out of business, and I assume that the villain of the story, J.J. Bellwether, is based on John Goldwater. This story is a sophisticated piece of satire which gets better the more you know about ‘50s comics.

USAGI YOJIMBO COLOR SPECIAL #2 (Fantagraphics, 1991) – This issue features a brilliant coloring job by Tom Luth, which takes advantage of the glossy paper stock that the issue is printed on. The story in this issue, about a painter who uses paints that allow him to draw monsters into existence, is eerie and unsettling. However, suffers by comparison with issues 66 to 68 of the Dark Horse series, which are a more extended version of the same idea. At the end of Color Special #2, the paint set vanishes, so I actually assumed that it was the same one that reappears in issue 66. But I checked my copy of issue 66, and it doesn’t mention Color Special #2 at all, nor does Usagi ever acknowledge the fact that he’s encountered this sort of menace before. I wonder if Stan just forgot about Color Special #2 when he was writing #66.

ZORRO #12 (Dell, 1960) – This issue is missing the centerfold. I wish I had known that before I paid $7 (in Canadian money, at that) for it. The artwork and storytelling in this issue are brilliant, but I would probably be better off just ordering the Complete Alex Toth Zorro books.

GREEN LANTERN #175 (DC, 1984) – The Wein/Gibbons Green Lantern was not nearly as much of a classic as the subsequent Englehart/Staton run, but it does have some incredible artwork. In this issue, Gibbons does things with panel structure and composition that most American cartoonists of that era would have been unable to even imagine. The annoying thing about this issue is the plot. Every scene is introduced with a panel showing a newspaper, plus the caption “To most it is merely a newspaper, but to one/some, it is…” and this gets annoying really quickly.

MARVEL ADVENTURES: HULK #8 (Marvel, 2008) – This issue introduces the Marvel Adventures version of the Defenders. It’s funny and entertaining, like most Marvel Adventures comics, although Paul Benjamin is a less talented writer than Paul Tobin. I think my favorite thing about this issue is the villain, a two-headed monster called The Nameless One. Its bottom head talks in standard supervillain dialogue (“Come, my minions! Soon this new world shall be our own!”) but its top head talks like a normal person (“Last one through the stargate’s a rotten larvae!”) And there is never any explanation of why this is, which makes it funnier. I do wonder why this character wasn’t just called the Bi-Beast, because that’s pretty much who he is.

BATMAN #450 (DC, 1990) – The issue before this one was one of the first comics I ever read, probably shortly after it was published. In that issue, an emotionally shattered Joker tries to recover his confidence, while Curtis Base, a yuppie businessman, becomes the new Joker. I have fond memories of issue 450, but my memories may have been playing me false, because issue 451 is not particularly good. It’s full of annoying Marv Wolfmanisms, the plot happens too fast, and it’s not Jim Aparo’s best art job. Possibly the problem is that issue 450 was probably the first Marv Wolfman comic I’ve ever read, and I’ve read hundreds of others since, and I’ve gotten kind of sick of Marv’s writing. As I read this issue, I even thought that maybe Marv was never that great a writer to begin with – maybe he just had the good luck to be paired with Gene Colan and then George Perez. Though that’s probably an overly extreme opinion.

DETECTIVE COMICS #863 (DC, 2010) – I think I bought this when it came out, but I never read it because I was disappointed that the artwork is by Jock instead of JH Williams III. Despite that, this issue was surprisingly good. The lead story includes two simultaneous plot threads, one that involves Batman and is colored in blue, and another that involves Batwoman and is colored in red. This is a fun narrative device, although it took me a while to figure out that these plots were separate from each other, and I’m still not sure how they’re connected. The backup story, starring the Question and Huntress, is worse than the main story.

INVINCIBLE #56 (Image, 2008) – This issue includes a number of cute scenes. Mark and Eve discover that it’s kind of awkward for them to sleep together in Mark’s parents’ house, and Oliver has his first solo adventure as Kid Omni-Man. Disturbingly, this issue also includes a scene where Mark discovers that Amber’s new boyfriend Gary has been beating her. After Mark threatens to kill Gary if he does it again, Amber decides to take Gary back. There are subtle hints that Mark is unhappy with this resolution, but as far as I know, Amber and Gary never appeared again after this point, so it looks like Kirkman may have just forgotten to explore this plot thread any further.

ACTION COMICS #340 (DC, 1966) – This is the first appearance of the Parasite. His debut story, written by Jim Shooter, is much better than a typical Superman story from this period. The Parasite is represented as a serious threat to Superman, and Shooter even creates suspense as to how Superman is going to survive their encounter. This story is more like a Marvel comic than a typical Superman comic of the period. In the end, the Parasite ultimately defeats himself because his body is too frail to contain the energy he absorbs from Superman. This is a cliché, but it was probably less of a cliché in 1966 than it is now. Unfortunately this issue alslo includes a Supergirl backup story by Dorfman and Mooney, which is a typical piece of insulting Silver Age nonsense.

GREEN LANTERN CORPS #12 (DC, 2007) – The last page of this issue introduces Bzzd, the insect Green Lantern who’s the partner of the planet Green Lantern Mogo. I love the idea of an insect and a planet being partners, and I love Bzzd’s observation that the human-sized GL’s are smaller relative to Mogo than Bzzd is relative to them. Sadly the rest of the issue is not nearly as good, and Dave Gibbons gets Kilowog’s speech pattern completely wrong.

TEEN DOG #6 (Boom!, 2015) – In this issue, Teen Dog and Mari each get a job, and shenanigans ensue. This issue is funny, but I don’t have anything to say about it that I haven’t already said about earlier issues.

USAGI YOJIMBO #51 (Dark Horse, 2001) – I read part 1 of “The Shrouded Moon” so long ago that I don’t remember it, but Sakai provides enough background information that part 2 can be understood on its own. The only problem is that when Usagi claims that the villain of the story is one of the most evil people he’s ever met, the reader can’t tell why without having read issue 50. The title of the story translates as “oborozukiyo,” which is also the name of a chapter from the Tale of Genji. In this story, Usagi falls into a vat of dye and his fur turns green, which leads to a hilarious inside joke when Gen tells him to stop being such a joker. Usagi goes on to pursue the aforementioned villain, and with his green fur and his fearsome expression, he looks so frightening that the villain dies of a heart attack without Usagi having to lay a finger on him. Usagi has rarely been scarier than in this story. I suppose the other way this issue is reminiscent of Batman is that the villain of the issue is clearly a superstitious and cowardly lot. At the end of the issue, the plot is resolved in a satisfying and surprising way, and when I finished this issue, I thought it was one of the best Usagi stories I’d read recently.

THE BLACK DRAGON #1 (Marvel, 1985) – This is a work of medieval historical fiction by Claremont and John Bolton. It’s notorious for its (at least attempted) historical accuracy – the queen in the story is clearly supposed to be Eleanor of Aquitaine, for example – but the real highlight is John Bolton’s artwork. Bolton is an incredible artist, but his body of work is rather small and hard to find, so it’s nice to see some more of it. I look forward to reading the rest of this series, and I also want to check out Marada the She-Wolf by the same creative team.

PEEP SHOW #2 (Drawn & Quarterly, 1992) – I think the joke in this series is that Joe Matt depicts himself as being worse than he actually is. If Joe Matt is really as much of a thoughtless, insensitive, rude, self-absorbed ass as he depicts himself in this story, then I can’t imagine how Seth or Chester Brown can tolerate him, let alone his girlfriend Trish (who becomes his ex-girlfriend in this story). This is an extremely well-crafted comic – Joe Matt’s artwork and even his lettering are excellent – but it’s distasteful to read because of the horribleness of its protagonist.

UF Comics Conference paper

The End of Comic Geeks?
First, I’m very grateful to be here because this is my first time back in Gainesville since I graduated from UF, and being here, I realize that I really miss it and that UF has played a major role in making me the person I am today.
So this is not something I’m currently working on, but it is something I’ve been thinking about extensively, and I think it may provide material for a future book or article project. It does relate to my earlier work on comics and Internet culture and it’s sort of a sequel to the paper I gave at ICFA last month, about comics and female fan culture. And this paper is based more on my personal than my scholarly knowledge. It’s based less on my scholarly work than on my many years of experience in organized comics fandom. I acknowledge that my discussion here would benefit from incorporating theoretical perspectives from fan studies, and that’s a direction I do intend to explore if and when I turn this into a longer work.
So as a general trend, what we might call geek culture or nerd culture or fandom has been steadily growing more inclusive. Whether we think of science fiction fandom or video gaming or comic books, each of these is a fan community that has traditionally been dominated by white men, but is gradually opening itself up to participation by women and minorities and LGBTQ people. In comics, for example, the comics industry has a notorious history of excluding women and younger readers, SLIDE 2 and there is a persistent and largely accurate stereotype of the comic book store as a man cave. SLIDE 3 But as I argued in my ICFA presentation, this is gradually changing. Titles like Raina Telgemeier’s Smile and Cece Bell’s El Deafo are dominating the bestseller lists SLIDE 4 and even Marvel and DC have sought to appeal to female and younger readers. SLIDE 5
Now in other fan communities, the opening up of previously male-only spaces has triggered a backlash from the straight white men who used to dominate. The obvious example of this is Gamergate, where the inclusion of women in video gaming has led to an organized campaign of misogyny which has even crossed the line into domestic terrorism. SLIDE 6 A less well-known example is what’s been happening in science fiction fandom. In recent years, novels by liberal writers like John Scalzi and female and minority writers like Nnedi Okorafor and Sofia Samatar have dominated the major science fiction awards. SLIDE 7 When this started happening, certain mostly white male writers became extremely indignant that science fiction was becoming poiliticized, or rather that it was being politicized in a way they didn’t like. So they started an organized campaign known as Sad Puppies SLIDE 8 whose object was to get works by right-wing white male authors included on the ballot for the Hugo award, which is the only major science fiction and fantasy award where nominations are determined by fan voting. And this led in turn to the Rabid Puppies campaign, which was organized by notorious neo-Nazi Vox Day and which is explicitly racist, sexist and homophobic. SLIDE 9 And these campaigns succeeded partly thanks to assistance from Gamergate. On the 2015 Hugo ballot, the nominees in the short fiction categories consist entirely of works nominated by Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies, and this has led to an enormous public outcry.
So across various spheres of geek culture, the move to open up these traditionally white male spaces has led to a backlash from white men who are afraid of losing their dominant position. Another way to look at this is that geek identity is historically bound up with white male identity. Being a geek or a nerd or a fan has traditionally meant being a person like me, a bespectacled athletically inept socially awkward white guy. As Dan Golding writes in the context of video games, “videogamers … developed a limited, inwards-looking perception of the world that marked them as different from everyone else. This is the gamer, an identity based on difference and separateness. When playing games was an unusual activity, this identity was constructed in order to define and unite the group … It became deeply bound up in assumptions and performances of gender and sexuality. To be a gamer was to signal a great many things, not all of which are about the actual playing of videogames.” SLIDE 11 Sorry I couldn’t find a better image for this one. And to an extent this is also true of comic book identity. Matthew J. Pustz wrote that “In most cases, being a comic book fan is central to fans’ identity.” And as Pustz goes on to write, the ultimate example of this is fanboys, or “comic book readers who take what they read much too seriously.” Stereotypically, fanboys are bespectacled, acned overweight misfits who have an encyclopedic knowledge of ’60s Marvel comics but have never spoken to a woman. And this stereotype is often cited in comics themselves, such as Evan Dorkin’s Eltingville Club stories. SLIDE 12
Now Golding goes on to discuss how gamer identity, as traditionally conceived, is under threat, because it’s too inflexible to survive the gaming industry’s increasing openness to female and minority and LGBTQ gamers. “When, over the last decade, the playing of videogames moved beyond the niche, the gamer identity remained fairly uniformly stagnant and immobile. Gamer identity was simply not fluid enough to apply to a broad spectrum of people. SLIDE 13 It could not meaningfully contain, for example, Candy Crush players, Proteus players, and Call of Duty players simultaneously. When videogames changed, the gamer identity did not stretch, and so it has been broken.” Thus, Golding’s article is called “The End of Gamers,” and he suggests that Gamergate is the last gasp of traditional gamer identity: that Gamergate is what happens when gamers as traditionally conceived realize that the concept of gamers no longer refers exclusively to them.
So the question I want to explore in this essay is whether this is also happening to comic book fans, and if so, what can we do about it. Is the category of “comic book fan” resilient enough to embrace people other than straight white males, or is comic fan identity going to be squeezed out of existence? My answer to that is twofold. On one hand, while comics fandom has not experienced anything quite as drastic as Gamergate or Sad Puppies, we have seen a certain backlash from misogynistic male fans who see comics as their exclusive property and who are resistant to the diversification of the medium. On the other hand, I believe that this sort of backlash has been a less significant phenomenon in comics fandom than in science fiction or video game fandom, and this is because being a comics fan has never been synonymous with being a stereotypical fanboy. For as long as I’ve been involved with it, comics fandom has always had at least some room for people other than straight white males. There has always been a significant segment of comics fandom that wanted to expand the reach of comics, and at least in my own circles, the stereotypical fanboy has been the exception rather than the rule.
So in the first place, there clearly have been examples in which the diversification of the comics industry has led to a backlash from entitled fanboys. And these examples have mostly involved DC Comics because DC is the only major remaining company whose output is almost exclusively marketed toward fanboys, although that is starting to change slowly. Anyway, the most obvious recent example of fanboy backlash is what happened last month with the Batgirl #41 cover. SLIDE 14 I’m not going to describe this in depth because I assume most of you are familiar with it, but very briefly, DC announced a variant cover for Batgirl #41 which was an explicit reference to Batman: The Killing Joke, and which depicted Batgirl as a passive victim of the Joker. So there was a Twitter campaign to get DC to change the cover, and it succeeded because the artist of the cover, Rafael Albuquerque, asked DC to withdraw the cover, and DC agreed. And then there was a competing campaign to get DC to keep the cover, and this campaign was supported by Gamergate. So this is evidence that some people at least see comics as the private property of men, and are violently resistant to the idea that comics should be sensitive about the depiction of violence against women.
But I think we’re all pretty familiar with that incident, so I want to focus on another recent case of fanboy backlash, which is relevant to me personally because it involved an online community that I was a member of for many years. In April of last year, Janelle Asselin wrote an article for comicbookresources.com, commonly known as CBR, in which she criticized Kenneth Rocafort’s cover for Teen Titans #1. SLIDE 15 Specifically, Asselin complained that on this cover, Wonder Girl’s proportions are totally unrealistic – she’s a teenage girl but she clearly has breast implants. And she pointed out that this sort of depiction is explicitly problematic because this is a Teen Titans comic, and the various Teen Titans TV shows are widely popular among teenage girls and among children ages 2 to 11, SLIDE 16 and Rocafort’s cover is specifically designed to exclude those audiences. Now Asselin was hardly saying anything controversial here. It’s pretty obvious that this cover is not only terrible but also misogynistic. And yet just for pointing out this obvious fact, she was not only criticized but threatened with rape. At the same time that she published the article, she released a survey on sexual harassment in the comics industry, which is also a significant problem, and some unfortunate trolls discovered this survey and filled it in by posting rape threats against Asselin. According to CBR proprietor Jonah Weiland, “These same “fans” found her e-mail, home address and other personal information, and used it to harass and terrorize her, including an attempted hacking of her bank account.” And according to Jonah, many of the fans in question were regular participants on the comicbookresources.com message boards, SLIDE 17 this character is the mascot of the CBR forums, and the harassment of Janelle Asselin was emblematic of an atmosphere of “a negativity and nastiness that has existed on the CBR forums for too long.” So because of this incident, he completely deleted everything on the CBR forums and restarted them from scratch with a new and much stricter moderation policy.
Now this incident is personally relevant to me because I was a member of the CBR forums for many years. I started posting on the CBR forums sometime around 1997 or 1998 when I was 14 or 15 years old. So I’ve been involved with this community for more than half my life. I was the moderator of the CBR Classic Comics forum and I used to run the annual Citizen of the Month award. I’ve gradually stopped posting at CBR because I’ve been annoyed at the way the conversation there is dominated by fanboys, although I still communicate with many of my old CBR friends via Facebook. So the Janelle Asselin incident seems like evidence that at least as far as CBR is concerned, comics fan identity has come to be defined in a way that excludes women and that emphasizes toxic masculinity.
At the same time, my experience at CBR is also what makes me hopeful about the future of comics fan identity, and it’s what makes me believe in alternative and more productive ways of being a comics fan. I started posting at CBR in the late ‘90s when I was a young teenager, and it was actually because of CBR that I gained the ability to think of being a comics fan in terms other than being a fanboy. Before I discovered CBR, most of what I knew about comics came from Wizard magazine, which was basically instrumental in defining the fanboy identity. SLIDE 18 If you’re lucky enough to not remember Wizard, basically it was the comics version of Maxim, the Magazine for Men. It was a sexist, homophobic rag that ridiculed women and that completely ignored comics that didn’t involve superheroes. In 2001, Frank Miller tore up a copy of it at the Harvey Awards banquet. And once I was camping out with some people I knew from CBR and we used a copy of Wizard to start a campfire. SLIDE 19 Anyway, at CBR I came into contact with comics fans who were much older and wiser than me, and these people convinced me that this way of being a comics fan was unsustainable. As long as comics were marketed purely to fanboys, comics were going to lose readership and they were ultimately going to be irrelevant, and this would be a bad thing. I think some of the people who told me this were themselves parents and were afraid that their children wouldn’t be able to grow up with comics in the same way that they did. SLIDE 20 And this experience convinced me that it was important for comics to be inclusive, that comics couldn’t continue to appeal to the same fanboy audience. I think this is fundamentally different from the Gamergate mentality, which is driven by fear that games are becoming too popular and that the gaming industry is abandoning its traditional target demographic. Thanks to CBR, I grew up with the notion that comics needs to abandon its traditional target demographic or die. And perhaps the difference here is that the popularity of games is currently at its peak whereas the popularity of comics, at least in America, peaked during the ‘40s and ‘50s and has been steadily in decline since. SLIDE 21 Among the comics fans I grew up with, there was this notion that comics is a declining art form and that traditional concepts of comics fan identity are a threat to the long-term survival of the medium. So I got this idea that in order to save comics, it was necessary to abandon fanboyism as the sole model of comics fan identity and to embrace a broader and more inclusive model of what it means to be a comics fan. According to this model, to be a comics fan is to be a lover and evangelist of the medium of comics, and to help expand the audience of the medium. And that’s what I try to do when I teach comics in first-year writing courses.
So this is a model of comics fandom that involves a certain radical openness to new audiences. And this notion of comics fandom is not just based on my personal experience; we also see it in things like Free Comic Book Day or in Michael Chabon’s 2004 Eisner Awards keynote addres where he called on the industry to do a better job of appealing to children. And I believe that if comics fan identity is defined in this way rather than in terms of fanboy identity, then to return to the earlier quotation from Golding, comics fan identity can be “fluid enough to apply to a broad spectrum of people.”

Capsule reviews for 3-25-15

3-22-15

Going to try to write shorter reviews this month. These things are tough to write and again, I’m not sure who, if anyone, is reading them, and the primary reason I do this is so I don’t forget the comics I read.

LUMBERJANES #11 (Image, 2015) – A+. Significantly better than last issue. The two plot threads (Mal and Molly’s adventures in the Land of Lost Objects, and the other three Lumberjanes’ attempts to collect the easy badges) are both incredibly fun, and they present an effective tonal contrast to each other. I love how this story is developing Mal and Molly’s characters, but I want to see more of Jo; she doesn’t seem to have much of a personality to speak of.

ODY-C #3 (Image, 2015) – A+. Christian Ward is another candidate for the best artist in commercial comics. This story is Fraction and Ward’s adaptation of the Cyclops episode. The female Cyclops is pretty horrific. I don’t understand why Odyssia’s fake name is All-Men instead of No-Woman.

MS. MARVEL #12 (Marvel, 2015) – B+. I was looking forward to the Loki-Kamala crossover, but a month after reading this issue, I hardly remember anything about it. Bruno’s awkward crush on Kamala is cute, I guess, but I feel like this issue had very little long-term impact.

SILVER SURFER #9 (Marvel, 2015) – B/B-. The least fun issue of the series so far. I suppose the Surfer’s relationship with Galactus is probably an elephant in the room that couldn’t be ignored, but I preferred the more lighthearted stories in the first seven issues of this series. After reading this issue I didn’t see how this storyline could possibly be resolved in such a way as to allow the series to continue.

GOTHAM ACADEMY #5 (DC, 2015) – A-. Still easily the best DC title, although I continue to have difficulty remembering the storyline from one month to another. Kyle and Olive are a cute couple and Olive’s friendly relationship with Killer Croc is rather charming.

SPIDER-GWEN #1 (Marvel, 2015) – A+. Marvel’s second best debut of the year after Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. This is the first Spider-Man (?) comic in many years that I’ve enjoyed – I think the last time I read Spider-Man regularly was when JMS was still writing it and had yet to ruin his reputation. I am really impressed by Robbi Rodriguez’s artwork.

BATGIRL #39 (DC, 2015) – B+. My feelings about this series are complicated; see the post below this one for more information. While reading this issue, I still had a bad taste in my mouth from the Dagger Type thing, but after the major controversies that have developed around this series in the past week, I feel it deserevs my support and I’m going to keep reading it. I don’t remember much about this specific issue, though, and I have no idea where this Oracle plot is going.

INVINCIBLE #117 (Image, 2015) – B-. I remember rather liking this issue when I read it, but on reviewing it, I don’t think it’s all that good. I’m not convinced that Kirkman was that great of a writer to begin with, and since Invincible began, the average quality of superhero comics has improved significantly while Kirkman is still the same writer as ever. I thought the first page of this issue was especially annoying. I know that there’s a time-honored tradition of superheroes who are also comic book fans, but the scene in the comic book store was way too unsubtle; it was obvious that the comic store owner was a mouthpiece for Kirkman.

SHE-HULK #12 (Marvel, 2015) – A. This series will be missed. The resolution to the Blue File storyline was satisfying and unexpected. I love the idea that Nightwatch changed continuity so effectively as to fool even the reader. It’s just a shame that this series only got 12 issues. The closing scene was very sad, considering that there’s effectively no chance we’ll see this version of She-Hulk again.

MULTIVERSITY GUIDEBOOK #1 (DC, 2015) – A-. Until reading this issue I had no idea what was going on with Multiversity, and I still don’t entirely understand it, but at least I’m beginning to see the grandeur of Garth Ennis’s vision of the DC universe. This issue is full of fascinating ideas and hooks for possible future stories. One thing that particularly sticks in my mind for some reason is the radio universe that’s home to KRAKKL the Defender. Probably because of the left-hand border of the cover, I got the mistaken idea that there were going to be 52 issues of Multiversity, and I’m disappointed that this isn’t the case. I’d like to learn about all 52 of the worlds described in this issue.

ROCKET SALVAGE #3 (Boom!, 2015) – A-. Such a fun and adorable series. An excellent piece of YA science fiction. I don’t know why more people aren’t reading it.

ABIGAIL AND THE SNOWMAN #3 (Boom!, 2015) – B+/A-. I still think this is worse than Roger Langridge’s earlier work, but it’s still fun. I can’t believe Abigail’s father let his nine-year-old daughter go off essentially unsupervised to who knows where.

MANIFEST DESTINY #13 (Image, 2015) – B+/A-. Another fun issue, though it doesn’t advance the plot a whole lot. This issue contains more hints about Sacagawea’s pregnancy, but no actual new information.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #11 (IDW, 2014) – B+. The featured characters in this issue are Rainbow Dash and Spitfire, who I have trouble telling apart from any of the other Wonderbolts. Like many of Ted Anderson’s MLP issues, this story is rather simple and unsubtle, though very enjoyable.

LOKI: AGENT OF ASGARD #7 (Marvel, 2014) – B+. The clear highlight of this issue is Valeria Richards. Val is a difficult character to write badly, but Al Ewing does an especially nice job of capturing her combinaton of genius and childishness. However, I neither understand nor care about the plot.

MULTIVERSITY: THE JUST #1 (DC, 2014) – B-. This is the one where all the superheroes’ children are superpowered Kardashian-esque socialites. This is a cute idea, but I don’t think there’s enough material here for a full series. Ben Oliver’s artwork is too slick and polished for my tastes.

INVINCIBLE #114 (Image, 2015) – F. I don’t read superhero comics to see the good guys lose. Robot’s victory wouldn’t even be so intolerable except that Kirkman has bent over backwards to make the reader hate him. He’s a smug, condescending, sanctimonious jerk who refuses to acknowledge his mistakes or admit that he might be wrong. We all deal with too many people like that in real life; I can do without them in my entertainment media.

SAVAGE DRAGON #202 (Image, 2015) – D-. Last issue, Malcolm, Maxine and Angel had a threesome. In this issue, they invite Tierra too, and a full-blown orgy ensues. This sort of thing is only funny once. When it happens twice in a row, it becomes seriously disturbing, and you have to wonder why Erik is writing stories like this about characters who are barely legal and who are young enough to be his own children. I was already having mixed feelings about this series even before the controversy over Erik’s “vocal minority” comments. I honestly don’t know whether I’m going to buy issue 203.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #9 (IDW, 2014) – B-. I never bothered to read this because neither Granny Smith nor Flim & Flam are among my favorite characters. Neither of them seems like a sufficiently deep character to carry an entire story. I finally got around to it because I was running out of MLP TV episodes and I was desperate for more pony material. This issue was all right, but it didn’t tell me much about either character I didn’t know already, except that Flim and Flam love each other, which is not really surprising.

ROCKET RACCOON #8 (Marvel, 2015) – B-. This issue is cute, but rather predictable and trite. This series has declined in quality since Skottie Young stopped doing the art as well as the writing, and now it looks like it’s going to be cancelled and replaced with Groot.

PENNY DORA AND THE WISHING BOX #2 (Image, 2014) – C-. This series is just not much good, and I’m sorry I got fooled into buying it. The bizarre plot makes more sense now that I remember it was written by the writer’s daughter, but Michael Stock does not write convincing children, and Sina Grace’s artwork is unappealing. If you compare this series to something like Zita the Spacegirl or Smile, it ends up looking even worse. I’m sorry it’s too late to cancel my order of issue 4.

PENNY DORA AND THE WISHING BOX #3 (Image, 2015) – C-. See above.

VIOLATOR #3 (Image, 1994) – C+/B-. I wouldn’t have been able to tell that this was an Alan Moore comic if I hadn’t known already. It’s full of ridiculous over-the-top violence and gore, and the only evidence that it’s written by Alan is the snappy dialogue. Most of Alan’s works at Image from this period were just guilty pleasures without serious intent. I admit there’s something oddly compelling about Greg Capullo’s art, even though his style is completely ripped off from McFarlane’s.

OMAC #3 (DC, 1975) – B-. This is not one of Kirby’s better works from the mid-‘70s. The artwork is as impressive as ever, but the plot is just a string of clichés. For example, in this issue all OMAC does is fight a generic Eastern European dictator.

COPPERHEAD #4 (Image, 2014) – B/B-. I don’t quite know what to say about this comic. It’s a fun read, but it’s not among the top tier of current Image titles, and I have trouble remembering what happened in any given issue after I’ve read it.

BUGS BUNNY #151 (Gold Key, 1973) – D-. This comic was a chore to read. Each story in it is a nearly plotless litany of bad jokes, and there’s little concern for plausibility or consistent depiction of characters; for example, one story has Yosemite Sam piloting a spaceship and then a submarine.

HAWKEYE #21 (Marvel, 2015) – A+. I missed this when it came out, because it was so badly delayed; it was solicited before I started ordering comics from dcbservice.com. I suppose this was worth the wait. Fraction and Aja are the best Marvel creative team of the decade and their run on Hawkeye is going to be remembered as an absolute classic. Barney’s death is a tragic moment, yet the last panel, where Pizza Dog appears out of nowhere, is a brilliant climax that makes me eager for the next issue.

YOUNG JUSTICE #33 (DC, 2001) – A+. Quoting my own Facebook post: “This comic includes a scene with four female characters of three different ethnicities, none of them depicted in an overly sexualized way, and they all talk to each other about things other than men. And this is a DC comic from 2001!” And there are at least three other female characters who have lines in the issue, for a total of seven. I don’t think PAD even did this deliberately or for any polemical reason; he just happened to want to tell a story involving a lot of female characters. In the ensuing Facebook discussion, Michael Pullmann mentioned how PAD actually had a harder time writing the female characters, because he had teenage daughters but no teenage sons. In general, I think YJ was perhaps the most female-friendly superhero comic of its time, and it’s light years ahead of most of what DC is publishing now. But in addition to having gender politics that are still progressive even today, YJ #33 is just a good comic; it’s a funny and pun-filled story in which the set of the TV show “Wendy, the Werewolf Stalker” is invaded by werewolves.

NEW MUTANTS #2 (Marvel, 1983) – B+. When placing my latest order at mycomicshop.com, I was surprised to discover I didn’t have this comic already. It must be one of the only Claremont comics from the early ‘80s that I hadn’t read. This issue is not particularly well drawn and is notable mostly for the writing, which, as usual with Claremont, is an acquired taste. This issue focuses heavily on Karma, a character who seems to have been written out of the series very early on.

UNCLE SCROOGE #268 (Disney, 1992) – A-. The Rosa story in this issue is better than the Barks story. “Island in the Sky” is wildly implausible and blatantly contradicts every other Barks duck story. It depicts Duckburg as a city where “science has advanced much farther” than anywhere else, to the point where Duckburg has commercial space travel and space stations. This is so hard to swallow that it affected my enjoyment of the story, which generally shows signs of having been written at the very end of Barks’s career. “Incident at McDuck Tower,” on the other hand, is an entertaining piece of work in which Donald falls off of Scrooge’s building while washing the windows, and has to save himself. It’s an effective demonstration of Rosa’s ability to draw action sequences.

BITCH PLANET #3 (Image, 2015) – B+. This series is really unsubtle and makes its point with a sledgehammer. This is clearly intentional but it’s not really to my taste. I do love the idea behind this issue, though. This story is an effective response to fat-shaming.

SANDMAN: OVERTURE #4 (DC, 2015) – A-. I still suspect this comic of being a cynical cash grab. JH Williams’s artwork is as gorgeous as ever, but the story is just not up to Neil’s usual level. I do like the callback to Sandman #4 with the line “I am Hope.”

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #59 (DC, 1994) – B-. This is one of the last stories with the original preboot Legion, so it’s difficult to care about what happens to the characters when I know that they’re going to be wiped out of existence in about three issues’ time. There is a nice piece of misdirection here where we’re led to believe that one Legionnaire is being treated for potentially fatal injuries, and that that Legionnaire is Shrinking Violet, and she’s okay. But then we discover that there were two Legionnaires suffering from life-threatening injuries, and the other one was Laurel Gand, and she’s died. On the other hand, the impact of this moment was lessened for me because I don’t care about Laurel at all. I just see her as a stand-in for Supergirl.

SHOWCASE ’96 #8 (DC, 1996) – B+. This issue of a forgettable anthology title is surprisingly good. It includes a Superboy story by Kesel and Grummett, a Supergirl story which serves as a preview of PAD’s ongoing series, and a Legion story. The latter is not particularly good but at least it includes XS, perhaps my favorite DC character who has almost no chance of ever appearing again.

NEXUS #45 (First, 1988) – A-. This was the only one of the first 50 issues of Nexus that I didn’t have. “Return to the Bowl-Shaped World” is mostly setup for the major Gravity Well storyline in the next five issues; all that really happens in the story is that Nexus, Badger and Judah travel to the Bowl-Shaped World. It’s fun, though.

AVENGERS ANNUAL #11 (Marvel, 1982) – C+/B-. This is a rare Avengers story written by J.M. DeMatteis, but it appears to be a sequel to a storyline from Defenders. In this story the Avengers and Defenders fight a proxy battle on behalf of Nebulon and his wife Supernalia, both of whom end up committing suicide. There’s not much of interest here for a reader who’s not familiar with the story that this is a sequel to.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #20 (DC, 2013) – D-. This was the second to last issue of the New 52 Legion, but the last one that I bought; I didn’t even bother with issue 21. There is nothing here of any redeeming value, other than Francis Portela’s artwork. As I stated above, I don’t read superhero comics because I want to see the good guys lose, and that’s especially true for Legion comics. But in this issue the Legionnaires suffer a series of humiliating defeats for no real reason. And I know that the storyline ends next issue with the virtual destruction of the 31st century. If DC can’t publish better Legion stories than this, then it’s probably better that they’re not publishing Legion comics at all.

STAR TREK #56 (Gold Key, 1978) – B+. I’ve never read a Gold Key Star Trek comic before, but this one was surprisingly good, mostly because of Alden McWilliams’s artwork. His art is realistic and dramatic and reminds me of Al Williamson or Russ Manning. (Incidentally, McWilliams and Williamson both mean “son of William.”) The story, by my near namesake George Kashdan, is fast-paced and kind of funny, though it’s not a literary masterpiece.

MULTIVERSITY: COSMIC NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH #1 (DC, 2014) – B+. This is so metatextual and bizarre that it’s difficult to understand on first reading. This is of course not unusual for a recent Grant Morrison comic. I feel like all his recent work requires you to have a Ph.D. to understand it. And I have a Ph.D. and I still can’t understand most of it. The main thing I do remember from this issue is the Thunderer character, who appears to be based on Australian Aboriginal mythology.

IRON FIST #6 (Marvel, 1976) – B-. In this issue Daniel Rand battles Colleen Wing, who is under the mind control of Angar the Screamer. I really don’t like this series that much; I think it’s easily the worst Claremont-Byrne collaboration.

REVIVAL #24 (Image, 2015) – B+. I read this issue a month ago and I don’t remember what happened in it, though I did enjoy it. I guess the big development this time around is that Dana and Ibrahim are now in a relationship. My main problem with this series is that I can’t keep the characters straight.

WIMMEN’S COMIX #3 (Last Gasp, 1974) – B-. This underground comic contains a diverse range of material by artists of widely varying levels of skill. I think the best things here are the stories by Diane Noomin and Trina Robbins.

DETECTIVE COMICS #874 (DC, 2011) – A-. I don’t really understand the story here, but it’s exciting. The real highlight, though, is Francesco Francavilla’s art. I don’t care for his writing, but when paired with a better writer than himself, he can do some incredible stuff. Like some other recent superstars of American comics (Risso, Moon and Ba), he has a more European than American sensibility. I remember when I spoke to him at a convention and asked him who his influences were, he named some Italian cartoonists – I can’t remember who, but I think either Gianni de Luca or Ivo Milazzo.

SUICIDE SQUAD #49 (DC, 1991) – A/A+. This is an important issue in the development of Barbara Gordon’s character. In the wake of the Batgirl #41 cover scandal, a writer at a website called “Chicks on the Right” wrote: “You know, instead of screaming about “OMG IT’S A SCARY COVER – I MUST PROTEST!” maybe some of these SJWs could take a moment to think about a story in which a heroine like Batgirl does get raped and assaulted by the Joker. Maybe you show how it affects her and the internal battle she has in dealing with it. And as time progresses, you show her overcoming the trauma and going through the healing process and working to become an awesomely kickass superhero again and she beats the Joker spectacularly in spite of everything he’s done to her.” (See http://www.donotlink.com/e9kb). The thing is, that’s exactly what happens in this issue, except that the person Barbara beats up is not the Joker himself, but another criminal who’s guilty of similar offenses. It’s good that we’ve had stories like this because it was essential to show Barbara confronting her trauma and getting past it. Thus, the above quotation reveals the writer’s ignorance of the character’s history.

UNCLE SCROOGE ADVENTURES #6 (Gladstone, 1988) – B+. “Oddball Odyssey” is a weird-looking Barks story because it used an experimental style of design, in which there were no panel borders and the word balloons were rectangular. Gold Key apparently required Barks to draw two stories in this style, “Oddball Odyssey” being one of them, but he never used it again. The Gladstone reprint of this story does have panel borders, but it keeps the rectangular word balloons, which look very strange. The story itself is about Magica De Spell’s attempt to steal Old #1 by using Circe’s wand to turn Scrooge and the nephews into animals. It’s fairly entertaining but is not one of Barks’s greatest works. The William Van Horn backup story, about a balloon race, is probably better than “Oddball Odyssey.”

KEVIN KELLER #9 (Archie, 2013) – C+. A boring, generic piece of work. My main problem with Kevin Keller as a character is that he has no flaws; he’s completely perfect. This almost suggests to me that his homosexuality was seen as a crippling flaw in itself, so that the character had to be made unrealistically perfect in all other aspects in order to compensate.

MARVEL UNIVERSE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #1 (Marvel, 2015) – C-. This is a fairly fun read, but thoroughly forgettable. At least it has Rocket Raccoon and Groot in it.

BRAVEST WARRIORS #30 (Boom!, 2015) – B+. I still haven’t seen the YouTube series this is based on, but I want to keep reading it because I like the sardonic humor and the colorful art style. This issue contains two stories, both depicting the main characters as children.

THE SPIRIT #60 (Kitchen Sink, 1989) – B+. The best story in this issue is the first one, which is the conclusion to a longer story arc in which a crusading politician tries to frame Commissioner Dolan for corruption. The other three stories here are of varying quality, and some of them include a significant amount of work by uncredited assistants.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #260 (DC, 1986) – C-. This is from the much-maligned Detroit Era, and it hardly seems like a Justice League story at all. It’s mostly about characters like Vixen and Steel, who don’t really seem like Justice Leaguers to me, and Martian Manhunter, whose personality was quite poorly defined at this time.

CHEW #46 (Image, 2015) – B. I kind of think the joke in this series is starting to wear thin, and I hope it’s approaching some sort of conclusion. As of this issue, we don’t know whether any of the characters who were injured in #45 are going to live.

LOKI: AGENT OF ASGARD #8 (Marvel, 2015) – B-. The cover says “Loki: Agent of Axis,” but the indicia says “Agent of Asgard.” I’m continuing to buy this series mostly out of habit. The plot of this issue is difficult to understand without having read the Axis crossover; on reading it, I felt like I’d missed an issue, even though I hadn’t. This issue does include a cute homage to My Little Pony.

TERRIBLE LIZARD #4 (Oni, 2015) – B. This series is still fun, but there’s not enough of a plot here to sustain it for more than one more issue. The major revelation this time around is that Wrex is a dimensional vortex whose existence causes other bizarre monsters to appear, which seems like an obvious reference to Godzilla.

ASTRO CITY #21 (Image, 2015) – A+. A satisfying conclusion to another great storyline. Kurt is doing some of the best work of his career here. The thing I didn’t like is what Quarrel chooses to do after retirement: she decides to manage Crackerjack’s recovery, which implies that she’s continuing to live in an essentially codependent relationship with him. I would have been happier if she had decided to become a physical therapist, in order to help people other than Crackerjack.

SAGA #26 (Image, 2015) – A-. Not a whole lot happens in this issue. It feels like BKV and Fiona are just marking time until the next big event, whatever that might be. Probably my favorite part of the issue is when the dragons get to talk. I have trouble remembering this or any of the other comics I read on the week of the 13th, because I was really tired when I read them.

MS. MARVEL #13 (Marvel, 2015) – A+. One of the best issues yet. Kamala and Kamran are such an adorable couple. I suspect, though, that Kamran is too good to be true; probably he’s going to turn out to be an alien or a shapeshifter or an alien shapeshifter.

SPIDER-GWEN #2 (Marvel, 2015) – A+. This is shaping up to be yet another brilliant success from Marvel. Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham guest-stars in this issue and it actually sort of makes sense; there’s even an amazing pun about cannibalism. Robbi Rodriguez continues to be an amazing artist.

HELP US! GREAT WARRIOR #2 (Boom!, 2015) – B-. I didn’t enjoy this nearly as much as the last issue. This is something of a one-joke series, and it’s also a very quick read. I’m going to keep reading it, though, in the hope that it will become more complex.

HOWARD THE DUCK #1 (Marvel, 2015) – A+. This is the first good Howard the Duck story not written by Steve Gerber, and I think Steve would have approved of it, if he could have read it. I believe this is Chip Zdarsky’s first credit as a writer, and it displays the same sense of humor as some parts of Sex Criminals, suggesting that Chip has been partly responsible for the plot and dialogue of that series. The “training montage” may be the best part. I do wonder what happened to Bev. I suspect that when Howard tells Tara that he’s been going through a rough patch lately, this is somehow related to Bev’s absence.

DESCENDER #1 (Image, 2015) – A. An excellent debut issue by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen. Other than Animal Man, I haven’t read much of Lemire’s work – I have Underwater Welder and Essex County lying around, but haven’t gotten to them yet. But I love Dustin Nguyen’s artwork and this issue is a great example of it. This story is in a very different vein from his last work, Batman: Li’l Gotham, but there is a clear stylistic similarity between the two. I also like the story, which reminds me of Astro Boy.

NAMELESS #1 (Image, 2015) – C+/B-. Another Grant Morrison comic that’s so convoluted and bizarre that I can’t make head or tail of it. And this is just the first issue. With most Grant Morrison comics, I feel like I would understand what was going on if I read the entire series in order, but with this series, I can’t do even that. I’m sorry that I already preordered issue 2 before reading issue 1. The trouble with preordering comics two months in advance is that sometimes I get stuck with the second and third issues of a series even after I’ve discovered that I don’t like the first issue.

HUMANS #1 (Image, 2014) – A-. I’ve never heard of the creators of this series, Keenan Marshall Keller and Tom Neely, and I only bought it because it was included in a package deal. Surprisingly, I loved it. The Humans is pretty much a modern-day version of a ‘70s underground comic (the work of Spain is an obvious stylistic touchstone here), except that all the characters are apes for unexplained reasons. Keller and Neely do a great job of capturing the sensibility of the ‘70s counterculture.

TUKI: SAVE THE HUMANS #1 (Cartoon Books, 2014) – B-. Nothing Jeff Smith has done since Bone has been anywhere near as good as Bone (though Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil came pretty close). This series is not an exception to that. It’s funny and well-drawn, but it has a lot of room for improvement. My real problem with this issue, though, is the production values. This issue’s lettering and trade dress are hideous – for example, the word “save” on the cover is in a stencil font, which is inappropriate for a story about cavemen. And you have to turn the comic sideways to read it, which is extremely annoying. I wish Jeff would hire a better graphic designer.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #14 (IDW, 2015) – A-. A very good Spike/Luna story written by Jeremy Whitley. It explores prejudice against dragons in a thoughtful and intelligent way. The best thing about this issue is that it explicitly addresses the second season episode “Dragon Quest,” where Spike decides he’d rather be a pony than a dragon. I’ve always found this rather disturbing, and in this issue, a new character tells Spike that this is bullshit: “Just because there are some dragons that are bad guys doesn’t mean you can be a good guy and still be a dragon.” I think that ought to have been the message of “Dragon Quest” in the first place.

PRINCELESS: PIRATE PRINCESS #2 (Action Lab, 2015) – B+. Another good story by Jeremy Whitley. My main complaint about this issue is the scene at the end, which makes it blatantly obvious that Adrienne and Raven are a potential couple. I find it annoying when a romantic pairing is telegraphed in such an unsubtle way.

SILVER SURFER #10 (Marvel, 2015) – B+/A-. In this story Dan Slott and Mike Allred somehow find a way to resolve the Galactus plotline without forcing Norrin and Dawn to break up permanently. I still think that this storyline is too heavy and depressing and that this series ought to have a lighter and funnier tone. Also, I don’t think that Norrin and Dawn make sense as a couple.

RAGNAROK #4 (IDW, 2015) – A-. An impressive piece of work. I’m glad this series is still readable even without the female dark elf protagonist from the first couple issues.

HARLEY QUINN #12 (DC, 2015) – A-. Amanda Conner’s writing is worse than her art, but still, this is a pretty hilarious comic. The clear highlight of the issue is the scene where PG and Harley travel through a dimensional portal and come back two weeks later, with PG about to get married to Vartox. I look forward to Harley Quinn and Power Girl #1, which will explain what happened during those two weeks.

COPPERHEAD #5 (Image, 2015) – B-. Another average issue. My interest in this series is waning.

BATMAN #415 (DC, 1988) – C+. This is a Millennium crossover, and that in itself is a problem. It does not make sense for Batman to be fighting alien superhero robots from before the dawn of time. There have been effective Batman stories with science fiction premises, but this is not one of them. And while Jim Starlin wrote some good Batman stories, he was a very odd choice as a Batman writer. Jim Aparo’s artwork in this issue isn’t much good either.

THOR #6 (Marvel, 2015) – A-. This issue strongly implies that the new Thor is Rosalind Solomon, a character I’m not familiar with. In fact, this is implied so strongly as to make me suspicious; I think Rosalind Solomon may be a red herring. Russell Dauterman’s art is still the best thing about this series, but the Jane Foster scene in this issue is heartbreaking. Offhand I can’t think of another Marvel or DC character who’s gotten breast cancer.

REVIVAL #25 (Image, 2015) – B+. I was inspired to read more of Revival after moderating an ICFA panel during which Barbara Lucas read a paper about this series. This is a pretty good issue, though there’s not much to distinguish it from any other issue of the series. May Tao is the only Hmong comic book character I can think of.

REVIVAL #7 (Image, 2015) – B. A fairly average issue. The trouble with reading a series like this out of order is that none of the plot twists in the early issues are surprising.3-22-15

ICFA presentation

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

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

Reviews, now with extra WB Yeats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And if it take the second must refuse

A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of the worst reviews I’ve ever written

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First reviews of 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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