The last comics I read in 2016

Last comics of 2017:

FLASH #241 (DC, 1976) – “Steal, Flash, Steal!”, (W) Cary Bates, (A) Irv Novick. A fairly generic Mirror Master story, in which Dexter Myles saves the day by dressing up as Heat Wave. This issue also includes a Green Lantern backup by O’Neil and Grell, which is also fairly generic.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #223 (Marvel, 1978) – “Call Me Animus,” (W) Steve Gerber, (A) Sal Buscema. Gerber’s Captain America run was truly bizarre and confusing. This issue begins with Cap fighting a hairy red-skinned dude with a giant head, who’s dressed in a caveman’s animal-skin costume. I assume there’s some sort of bizarre psychonalytic explanation for this character, and he would be fine in a weirder title like Howard the Duck or Man-Thing, but a character like this seems poorly suited to Captain America. Gerber was not temperamentally suited to writing high-profile superhero titles, and it shows. Another thing that’s going on in this issue is that Cap is having trouble remembering his past. This plot thread leads into the revised origin story in issue 226, which was so weird that it was retconned away less than two years later.

LUMBERJANES #33 (Boom!, 2016) – “Might as Wheel,” (W) Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, (A) Carolyn Nowak. Another fantastic issue of my favorite current comic. This issue, Diane leads the Zodiacs on a fake treasure hunt, which turns into a surprise party for Barney. The ending of this issue was a pleasant surprise, and also a nice misdirection, because for a minute I really did think Diane had her powers back. It was also nice to spend some time with the Zodiac cabin and to get to know them better. A cute subtle moment is the panel where the Scouting Lads are sitting outside their cabin having a tea party.

HULK #1 (Marvel, 2016) – “Deconstructed, Part One,” (W) Mariko Tamaki, (A) Nico Leon. Mariko Tamaki’s first two superhero comics both came out this week. This is the better of the two (the other is reviewed below) and it’s a terrific debut. I am not sure what trauma Jennifer Walters is suffering from, but this issue is a realistic and powerful portrayal of a woman dealing with PTSD. Unlike her predecessor on this title, Charles Soule, Mariko Tamaki is not a lawyer. However, her portrayal of Jen’s interaction with a client has a ring of truth to it. I love the two-page spread with all of Jen’s bizarre clients, and I especially love how one of them is just a normal-looking woman. I assume that this woman must have the strangest problem of all.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #14 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, (W) Brandon Montclare & Amy Reeder, (A) Ray-Anthony Height. A cute and funny story (as usual) in which Lunella meets Ben Grimm and breaks up a fight between him and the Hulk. I guess every issue of this storyline is going to have a different guest star; next issue guest-stars Ironheart.

MONSTRESS #9 (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W) Marjorie Liu, (A) Sana Takeda. As usual, this issue is fascinating, but raises more questions than it answers. Kippa’s loyalty to Maika is very touching; at the end of the issue, she nearly drowns herself in order to get on Maika’s boat.

SHUTTER #25 (Image, 2016) – “In the Beginning, the End Was Born,” (W) Joe Keatinge, (A) Leila del Duca. This is a weird issue, but they all are. Kate has a meal with a bunch of other Image characters, then she and her friends go off to confront Prospero, who has control of a jellyfish monster called The End. Which is a surprise, because I don’t remember The End being mentioned before. This series is excellent overall, but has suffered from excessively fast pacing. I wish we’d gotten more time to get to know the characters and their world, rather than moving through the plot so quickly.

PRINCELESS: RAVEN: THE PIRATE PRINCESS #12 (Action Lab, 2016) – “Issue Twelve,” (W) Jeremy Whitley, (A) Rosy Higgins. After a long fight scene, Raven convinces Leilani to heal Ximena. There is a lot of great dialogue in this issue, and I ended up hating Leilani for her smugness, even though she redeemed herself in the end. I notice that there hasn’t been a new issue of Princeless: Make Yourself since April; I wonder what’s been going on with that series. It was supposed to last five issues, but the last two issues haven’t been solicited yet.

WONDER WOMAN #13 (DC, 2016) – “Angel Down,” (W) Greg Rucka, (A) Renato Guedes. This issue is an extended action sequence in which Steve tries to save himself and an amnesiac Diana from Veronica Cale’s soldiers. It was exciting, but not the best issue of the series.

SUPERGIRL: BEING SUPER #1 (DC, 2016) – “Chapter One: Where Do I Begin?”, (W) Mariko Tamaki, (A) Joëlle Jones. The second of Mariko Tamaki’s two debut superhero comics is an exciting and original take on Supergirl. It’s not Mariko’s greatest work, and it drags at times. But it does show a sensitive understanding of teenage girlhood, as one would expect from the author of This One Summer. It also reminds me a bit of Superman: Secret Identity.

While checking to see whether issue 3 of this series had been solicited yet, I found a review which complained that this series was not “relatable” to men, because “whenever stories start to be written for them, they’re no longer written for us.” My response to that is unprintable.

A.D. AFTER DEATH BOOK ONE (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W) Scott Snyder, (A) Jeff Lemire. Despite the superstar creative team and the beautiful art and coloring, this comic was kind of a chore to read. It’s full of long blocks of text, and its premise is not well explained. This comic appears to be set in a postapocalyptic world where no one dies anymore, but beyond that, I’m not sure what’s going on.

ISLAND #10 (Image, 2016) – various (W/A). The first half of this issue is another chapter of Farel Dalrymple’s Pop Gun War. At MLA last weekend, I moderated a panel during which Phoebe Salzman-Cohen spoke about The Wrenchies and It Will All Hurt. She pointed out that if Farel’s work doesn’t make logical sense, this is because, to him, life doesn’t make sense either. She also said that his stories follow dream logic rather than narrative logic. She was not talking specifically about Pop Gun War, but her comments apply to that series as well. This paper helps me understand why Farel’s work is fascinating and why its lack of logical structure is a feature, not a bug. The other long story this issue is a chapter of Gael Bertrand’s “A Land Called Tarot.” This story is beautifully drawn in a style that combines BD and manga influences, but is hard to understand because of the creator’s perhaps questionable decision not to include dialogue.

MIRROR #1 (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W) Emma Rios, (A) Hwei Lim. This came out months ago, but I never read it, perhaps because I haven’t always been impressed with Emma Rios’s comics. I didn’t quite understand the story here, but Hwei Lim’s art is beautiful, and even the lettering appeals to me for some odd reason. I need to get around to reading the rest of this series.

FAITH #2 (Valiant, 2016) – “Her Greatest Enemy,” (W) Jody Houser, (A) Pere Pérez & Marguerite Sauvage. Another comic I’ve been buying but not reading. This issue is actually excellent. The villain is a Chris Pratt/Chris Evans type who grew up reading superhero comics, but identified more with the villains than the heroes. Given that a minority of the American population just elected a supervillain President, I think this mentality is very common. I also enjoyed the scene at the end where Faith’s costume designer friend discovers her secret identity.

THE DEMON #45 (DC, 1994) – “Hell’s Hitman, Finale: King of Hate,” (W) Garth Ennis, (A) John McCrea. This has the same creative team as Hitman, a series I am not a huge fan of, and it’s full of gratuitous violence and gross-out humor. But at least there’s a more serious subplot about Jason Blood’s pregnant lover, and Garth Ennis writes Etrigan’s rhymes very well.

ISLAND #11 (Image, 2016) – The first story this issue is a truly weird, cosmic conclusion to Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward’s “Ancestor.” The beginning of this story is a fascinating portrayal of godlike beings who have no respect for individual mortals, and then the end of the story brings things back down to earth. The second long story in the issue is Grim Wilkins’s “Mirenda,” a fantasy story with a topless cavewoman protagonist. As with the Gael Bertrand story in the previous issue of Island, this story is beautifully drawn but would have been much easier to follow if it hadn’t been wordless.

GREAT LAKES AVENGERS #3 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, (W) Zac Gorman, (A) Will Robson. The highlight of this issue is Big Bertha’s comment about the Bechdel test. Otherwise, this comic was well-written, but I don’t remember much about it.

FUTURE QUEST #8 (DC, 2016) – “Aliens & Alliances,” (W) Jeff Parker, (A) Ariel Olivetti. The painted artwork in this issue is a jarring departure from the usual style of this series. But the story is quite good. It’s especially fun seeing Johnny and Hadji interact with other kid heroes. A very cute moment is when Hadji refers to Benton Quest as “our dad.”

TARZAN #162 (Gold Key, 1966) – “The Pit,” (W) Gaylord Du Bois, (A) Doug Wildey. I was pleasantly surprised to see who drew this issue. I have very few other Doug Wildey comics in my collection, and most of them are either Rio or Jonny Quest. His draftsmanship this issue is not perfect, but his visual storytelling is great. The plot is that Tarzan has to free some native miners who are trapped in a pit. It’s an exciting story, though a bit formulaic. The miners look more like Amazonian Indians than Africans. (Also, they’re depicted as helpless cowards who can’t do anything without Tarzan’s help, so this issue is a classic white savior story, but that almost goes without saying since it’s a Tarzan comic.)

JONNY QUEST #24 (Comico, 1988) – “The Prisoner of Starfgrau, Part Two,” (W) William Messner-Loebs, (A) Marc Hempel. I do not have part one of this story, so I had some difficulty figuring out what was going on. Apparently the plot is that the Quest family is visiting a small, isolated European country, and Benton Quest is mistaken for the heir to the throne, who looks exactly like him. So this story is an obvious homage to The Prisoner of Zenda (which I have not read). It’s a lot of fun, but I need to read it again after I’ve read issue 23.

And the last of the 1,243 comics I read in 2016:

PLANETARY #5 (Wildstorm, 1999) – “The Good Doctor,” (W) Warren Ellis, (A) John Cassaday. This issue focuses on Doc Brass, an obvious homage to Doc Savage. It includes several text-heavy pages that are designed to look like pages from a pulp magazine. As usual with Planetary, this issue is well-drawn but hard to follow.

Final review post of 2016

12-25-16

I got lazy and didn’t write any reviews for two weeks. This will be the last review post of the year.

SHARKNIFE/HYSTERIA FCBD 2005 (Oni, 2005) – “Sharknife,” (W/A) Corey Lewis, and “An Uzi on the Island,” (W/A) Mike Hawthorne. This FCBD comic is a very early work of Corey Lewis. I think it may be included in the Sharknife book that I already have, but I haven’t read it yet. This early work is quite well-drawn, though it tells a simplistic story about a fight between two monsters in a sushi restaurant. This flip book also includes a story by Mike Hawthorne, which I did not enjoy.

INSEXTS #5 (Aftershock, 2016) – “Cynocephali,” (W) Marguerite Bennett, (A) Ariela Kristantina. An average issue. There’s not much difference between one issue of this series and another, which may be why I stopped reading it.

New comics received on December 9:

MOTOR CRUSH #1 (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W) Brenden Fletcher & Cameron Stewart, (A) Babs Tarr. This was one of my most eagerly anticipated debut issues of the year, and it did not disappoint. Domino Swift is an excellent protagonist. The motorcycle action sequences are excellent, but this comic also has an interesting plot, and the shock ending was truly unexpected. This comic is very similar to the Batgirl run by the same creative team, but different enough that it should hopefully be able to attract both existing Batgirl readers and new fans.

GOLDIE VANCE #8 (Boom!, 2016) – untitled, (W) Hope Larson, (A) Brittney Williams. This wasn’t my favorite issue, but it was an effective conclusion to the scuba diving story. Overall, Goldie Vance was the best new series of the year. My Eisner ballot for Best New Series would be Goldie Vance, Black Panther, Slam!, Motor Crush, Animosity, and Future Quest.

SPACE BATTLE LUNCHTIME #7 (Oni, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Natalie Riess. Neptunia saves Peony from the cannibal cooking show, but then he stupidly gets himself disqualified from SBL, so next issue Peony will have to battle the watermelon-headed dude for the championship. Peony was a bit too much of a helpless hostage this issue, though at least she got to deliver the final blow to Princess Magicorn. I look forward to the last issue, and I’m excited to see what this cartoonist does next, whether it’s Space Battle Lunchtime II or something else.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #24 (Image, 2016) – “Once Again / We Return / Tempting Fate,” (W) Kieron Gillen, (A) Jamie McKelvie. Part one of the “Imperial Phase” story arc is full of sexual and political drama, as Woden tries to blackmail the other gods with a video of Ananke’s murder. The characterization in this issue, as in the series in general, is brilliant. I find it especially interesting how Persephone is gradually losing the reader’s sympathy.

GIANT DAYS #21 (Boom!, 2016) – untitled, (W) John Allison, (A) Max Sarin. Esther, Daisy and Susan’s house is burglarized, and they investigate who did it. I’ve heard that police departments hate it when laypeople try to solve crimes on their own, but it’s funny when the Giant Days characters do it.

ATOMIC ROBO AND THE TEMPLE OF OD #5 (IDW, 2016) – untitled, (W) Brian Clevinger, (A) Scott Wegener. I disliked this miniseries at first, but each issue has been better than the last. As usual, the science in this comic makes no sense, which is kind of the entire point, and the action is thrilling. Unsurprisingly, at the end of the miniseries, Robo does not get the girl. The letters page of this issue has an interesting description of how Brian Clevinger writes this series.

ANIMOSITY #1 (Aftershock, 2016) – “The Wake,” (W) Marguerite Bennett, (A) Rafael De Latorre. My copy is a reprint, and I’m glad this comic was reprinted because I didn’t know about it until I saw scans from it on social media. I’ve already seen some of the best pages from this issue, but it’s fun seeing them in context. And of course the idea behind this series is fascinating. A possible weakness of this series is that all the animals have human-like personalities regardless of their species, though this was probably a deliberate choice.

REVIVAL #45 (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W) Tim Seeley, (A) Mike Norton. This series has moved quite far away from the things that initially attracted me to it – the rural Wisconsin milieu has become an incidental part of the series, where it used to be the primary appeal. But this is still a fun comic. The best part of this issue is the line “our kids think we’re superheroes.”

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #271 (DC, 1981) – “What is the Dark Man?”, (W) Gerry Conway, (A) Jimmy Janes. I think this was the last issue of LSH v2 that I hadn’t read, and there is a reason for that: Gerry Conway was the worst Legion writer ever. This issue shows all of his characteristic faults. It has a stupid and forgettable plot. The answer to the question in the title is that the Dark Man is Tharok’s clone, which is neither surprising nor exciting. It focuses too much on Timber Wolf at the expense of all the other characters. This is an example of Gerry’s tendency to overemphasize the most Marvel-esque Legionnaires – that is to say, the Legionnaires with obvious flaws and histrionic personalities, like Timber Wolf and Wildfire – and to ignore the characters with more subtle and nuanced personalities. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning had the same problem, but at least their stories were much better.

FLASH GORDON: KING’S CROSS #2 (Dynamite, 2016) – untitled, (W) Jeff Parker, (W/A) Jesse Hamm. An exciting story by the most underrated writer in the industry. I’m not familiar with any of the continuity that led up to this series, but this comic is not confusing at all; rather, it makes me want to go back and read Dynamite’s other King Features comics. While Jesse Hamm is no substitute for Doc Shaner, his art is quite effective.

BOUNTY #5 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, (W) Kurtis Wiebe, (A) Mindy Lee. I can’t summarize what happened in this issue, but it was a fun conclusion to the series. However, this comic didn’t excite me nearly as much as Rat Queens did. I’m not sorry if this is the last issue (no further issues have been solicited yet), because I’d rather have Kurtis spend his time writing more Rat Queens and Pisces. The best thing in this issue is the scene where the protagonists are robbing a museum exhibit of old video game systems.

BUCKY O’HARE #3 (Continuity, 1991) – untitled, (W) Larry Hama, (A) Michael Golden. Perhaps the only good comic from this publisher. Larry Hama’s writing is entertaining, though not especially deep, and Michael Golden’s artwork is brilliant. The number of panels on each page of this issue is very low – most pages have three panels at the most – and I wonder if this was either because of an experimental printing technique, or because Golden was trying to draw like a manga artist.

CEREBUS #122 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1989) – “Jaka’s Story 9,” (W/A) Dave Sim. The individual chapters of “Jaka’s Story” are really not readable out of context. I have no idea what’s supposed to be going on here or why I should care. My general impression is that “Jaka’s Story” is a story in which nothing happens at all, and surely that can’t be true. I look forward to reading it in collected form, but I have to read three other Cerebus phone books first. I do like all the ancillary material in these issues, and Dave and Gerhard’s art is excellent, especially compared to Dave’s early work.

FANTASTIC FOUR #94 (Marvel, 1970) – “The Return of the Frightful Four!”, (W) Stan Lee, (A) Jack Kirby. This issue includes two significant milestones: the Richards baby is officially named Franklin Benjamin, and Agatha Harkness and her cat Ebony appear for the first time. Ben Grimm’s amazed reaction at hearing Franklin’s middle name is an adorable moment. Agatha’s introduction is also an exciting scene. She defeats the Frightful Four more or less singlehandedly, and Ben is terrified of her. Unfortunately, my copy of this issue is in barely readable condition and I wish I could replace it.

WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES #557 (Disney, 1991) – “Avalanche Valley,” (W/A) Carl Barks, plus other stories. This issue begins with a Barks ten-pager from 1951. Having just made a lot of money by selling a song he wrote, Donald takes the nephews to a mountain resort. He insists on playing his own song constantly, even though it appears to be causing avalanches. It turns out the song is causing the avalanches, but not in the way the reader initially thinks, and the explanation of the avalanches is somewhat surprising. However, at the end of the story, Donald is stuck under a pile of snow for the entire winter, which makes me wonder how the nephews are supposed to provide for themselves until he escapes. The other stories in this issue are all quite bad.

DEFENDERS #94 (Marvel, 1981) – “Beware – the Six-Fingered Hand!”, (W) J.M. DeMatteis, (A) Don Perlin. I only have a few issues of Defenders from after Gerber left. My impression is that the last 110 issues of this series were pretty undistinguished, and this issue does not change my mind, although it does have some characters I like, including Son of Satan, Hellcat and Valkyrie. It’s also the first appearance of Gargoyle. But the best thing about this issue is the Michael Golden cover.

FLASH GORDON #5 (Dynamite, 2014) – “No One Shall Pass,” (W) Jeff Parker, (A) Sandy Jarrell, Richard Case and Evan Shaner. Flash, Dale and Zarko are eaten by a giant piece of space biomass, then after they escape, they visit Sky World where Flash and Zarko fall victim to flying sirens. Doc Shaner only drew the second half of this issue. His art is brilliant, especially the establishing shot of Sky World, but the other artist is much worse.

MICKEY MOUSE #253 (Gladstone, 1989) – “Bellhop Detective, Chapter III,” (W/A) Floyd Gottfredson, (W) Merrill de Maris. This story is reprinted from a 1953 newspaper sequence. I’ve never fallen in love with Gottfredson the way I’m in love with Barks, but this comic is an exciting and well-drawn piece of work, with a classic cozy-mystery plot that ends with a parlor scene. Mickey’s bellhop uniform in this story is very similar to Spirou’s costume. I guess both these costumes were based on actual bellhop uniforms of the time.

DOOM PATROL #2 (DC/Young Animal, 2016) – “Negative World: Brick by Brick 2,” (W) Gerard Way, (A) Nick Derington. This series’ first issue made no sense to me at all, hence why I didn’t read the second issue immediately, but the second issue is easier to understand. Casey encounters Robotman and the Men from NOWHERE, and then at the end of the issue she meets Flex Mentallo and Danny the Street. In case I forget this when I write my review of issue 3, I should mention how in this issue, as in Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol, Robotman plays the role of the straight man. He tries to understand the illogical events around him from a human perspective. The fact that Robotman plays his role is ironic because his defining character trait is that he’s stuck in a nonhuman body, and yet he’s the only member of the team who thinks like a normal human being.

New comics received on December 16. That week I was in the middle of my end-of-semester crunch and I had a Giant Stack of Grading to get through. So I couldn’t read very many comics at first, though I made up for it later in the week.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #15 (Marvel, 2016) – “The Mighty Mewnir,” (W) Ryan North, (A) Erica Henderson w/ Zac Gorman. As a cat owner, I was obviously very excited that the star of this issue would be Mew, and I was also curious how Ryan and Erica would pull it off. The answer is that they executed it with their usual brilliance. The story of Squirrel Girl’s encounter with Mew is told entirely from Mew’s perspective, so we only get to witness the events for which Mew is present, and most of the panels show us only Mew herself or things Mew can see. I like this idea of showing the events from a cat’s literal point of view, which is very low to the ground. It reminds me of how Temple Grandin diagnoses problems with livestock behavior by physically positioning herself so she can see what the animals are seeing. There’s also a cool visual device where many of the word balloons are cut off by the edge of the panel, indicating things that Mew either can’t hear or doesn’t care about. The plot is also very clever. Mew indirectly defeats Taskmaster, in a way simple but logical way. And the dream sequences are cute. This issue is obviously reminiscent of the Pizza Dog issue of Hawkeye, and while it’s not as artistically ambitious as that issue was, it does offer an original, creative approach to the problem of telling a story with an animal protagonist.

WONDER WOMAN #12 (DC, 2016) – “Year One, Part Five,” (W) Greg Rucka, (A) Nicola Scott. I think I missed at least one page while I was reading this issue, because when I looked at it again just now, I didn’t remember the “it is very sugar” line. Perhaps I missed this page because I was somehow distracted by the giant eight-page foldout in the middle of the comic. I wish DC would stop including such things in their comic books. Anyway, this issue reveals that just like in other Wonder Woman origin retellings, Diana was summoned to Patriarch’s World to battle Ares. Besides that, there’s a cool training montage in which Diana talks to a falcon and sticks her tongue out at a lizard. And then she drops the bombshell that she had a female lover named Kasia. The idea that Themyscira is a lesbian society is no longer truly controversial. But I believe this is the first official confirmation that Wonder Woman has had a same-sex relationship. And I think this moment is something of a milestone, given Wonder Woman’s importance as a character. (I guess Rucka already revealed that Diana was gay back in September, but this is the first story that explicitly describes her as such.)

MEGA PRINCESS #2 (Boom!, 2016) – untitled, (W) Kelly Thompson, (A) Brianne Drouhard. This is a cute and fun comic. One measure of how fun this comic is, is the sequence with the river crossing puzzle. This puzzle is a tired old cliché and I would normally be annoyed to see yet another instance of it. But Kelly’s version of this story is so cute and entertaining that I was interested in it anyway. (And also, this comic is intended for an audience that doesn’t know this puzzle already.) My problem with this comic is that it’s trying to do too much. There are too many different things happening in it at once, and it’s not clear what the central theme is.

SUN BAKERY #4 (Press Gang, 2016) – “Layered Jacket #2: On the Edge of Dream” and other stories, (W/A) Corey Lewis. More exciting, fun comics in a graffiti-esque style. I think the highlight of the issue is LJ pulling Carl Sagan out of his jacket. I still think Corey Lewis’s style is very similar to Brandon Graham’s. And Rey himself admits, somewhere in one of these issues, that he’s not the best writer. But he’s very talented and I want to see what he does next.

HAWKEYE #1 (Marvel, 2016) – “Prime Suspects,” (W) Kelly Thompson, (A) Leonardo Romero. Yet another really impressive debut issue. The villain is an Internet troll, so that alone makes this the best comic ever. As an aside, I really think that Internet harassment is a crime, and that it needs to be policed much more aggressively. When the victim in this issue says that “even the nice [cops] didn’t know what to do,” that rings very true. At least in this issue, the troll is caught and punished, which almost never happens in real life. Besides that, this comic is truly well-written and well-drawn. Leonardo Romero’s art is both excellent, and very reminiscent of David Aja’s art, which creates the sense that this series is a follow-up to Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye.

NO MERCY #12 (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W) Alex de Campi, (A) Carla Speed McNeil. Most of this issue focuses on Deshawn and Tiffani, who are being held captive by Central American guerrillas. The scene where Tiffani reveals that she can speak Korean is really cool; it suggests that the kids have some agency, despite the awful situation they’re in. But that agency only goes so far, because the rebels don’t keep their promise to free Tiffani and Deshawn if she gets them a better deal.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #35 (IDW, 2016) – untitled, (W) Rob Anderson, (A) Jay Fosgitt. The stars this issue are Twilight Sparkle and Starlight Glimmer, who I think is worst pony. Jay Fosgitt’s art is up to its usual quality, but the story is kind of boring.

BLACKEST NIGHT: WONDER WOMAN #3 (DC, 2010) – “Wonder Woman: Blackest Night,” (W) Greg Rucka, (A) Nicola Scott. This issue has the same creative team as the even-numbered issues of the current Wonder Woman series, but is nowhere near as good. It’s so heavily tied in to the Blackest Night crossover that it’s not worth reading on its own. Diana becomes a Star Sapphire, then fights a Red Lantern version of Mera, and there’s no reason why the reader should care.

CEREBUS #126 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1989) – “Jaka’s Story 13,” (W/A) Dave Sim. One reason why I’m reading all these Cerebus issues is just to get them out of my unread boxes. It’s almost worth reading them just so I don’t have to read them anymore. The main story in this issue is as incomprehensible as usual. At least it includes a preview of “The One” by Rick Veitch, with an introductory essay by Alan Moore, though neither of those makes much sense either.

DESCENDER #17 (Image, 2016) – “Orbital Mechanics 1 of 5,” (W) Jeff Lemire, (A) Dustin Nguyen. Finally we’re done with the origin stories and we can move on with the main plot. This issue, Andy has make-up sex with Queen Between, Telsa and Quon try to escape, and Tim-22 pursues the good Tim and seemingly kills him. This is a fun issue, and a good start to the new storyline.

DOOM PATROL #3 (DC/Young Animal, 2016) – “It’s a Doomed World After All: Brick by Brick Part 3,” (W) Gerard Way, (A) Nick Derington. This comic has perhaps my favorite cover of the year – it’s the one where Casey is reading an issue of Danny Comics and Fugg is peering out of it. The inside of the comic is almost as good. We finally learn what’s been going on so far: Casey is a fictional character created by Danny the Street, who thinks she’s real. Kind of a cool idea. I already said once that I like Nick Derington’s art, and I repeat it now.

CEREBUS #123 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1989) – “Jaka’s Story 10,” (W/A) Dave Sim w/ Gerhard. I read this comic out of order, but it’s hard to tell. I assume that once I read this story all the way through, I’ll understand why some lines of dialogue keep repeating – for example, Pud telling Jaka that his wife died, or the conversation that starts with Pud asking Jaka if she’s happy here. But when I read the comic out of order, these repetitions just create a sense of déjà vu.

THE FLINTSTONES #6 (DC, 2016) – “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” (W) Mark Russell, (A) Steve Pugh. This series has settled into a familiar pattern where each issue is a parody of some aspect of modern society. This issue is about apocalypse predictions. Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm work as interns for a scientist, who predicts that a comet is going to strike the planet. Everyone believes him, and as a result society completely collapses, until it turns out that he was wrong. Of course the issue is full of various other puns and sight gags.

SHADE THE CHANGING GIRL #3 (DC/Young Animal, 2016) – “As Bad as Mad,” (W) Cecil Castellucci, (A) Marley Zarcone. This was my favorite Young Animal title at first, but I had trouble understanding this issue. I don’t quite get who Shade is or what she’s doing. Also, I don’t understand where or what Meta is, although that may be deliberate.

12-28-16

Resuming these reviews after a couple days off.

DOOM PATROL #48 (DC, 1991) – “Entertaining Mr. Evans,” (W) Grant Morrison, (A) Richard Case. I enjoyed this, but I can’t remember much about it now. It involves a bizarre villain called Shadowy Mr. Evans who is causing the people of a place called Happy Harbor to engage in bizarre sexual behavior. I do remember thinking while I read this issue that, although Richard Case was not a brilliant artist, he was somehow perfectly suited to Grant’s Doom Patrol.

ROCCO VARGAS VOL. 2 (Catalan, 1990) – “The Whisperer Mystery,” (W/A) Daniel Torres. This is a translation of a Spanish album. It presupposes knowledge of the previous volume of the series, and does not include a plot summary. As far as I can tell, Rocco Vargas is an action hero/bar owner who lives in a world inspired by Golden Age science fiction and ‘50s futurist design. The artist, Daniel Torres, is part of the same Clear Line revivalist tradition as Yves Chaland and Joost Swarte. While the plot of this comic is somewhat hard to follow, the artwork is amazing and the writing is sophisticated, witty and exciting. After finishing this comic, I wanted to buy the 1998 Dark Horse hardcover volume that included this volume as well as three others – but that volume was over $100 on Amazon! Though now that I look again, the price has gone down quite a bit, so maybe I will be able to afford it.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #44 (DC, 1993) – “Projectra Returns, (W) Tom Bierbaum & Mary Bierbaum, (A) Stuart Immonen. I had a dream about the Legion of Super-Heroes the other night, and it made me want to read some Legion comics. As I have said before, I really miss the Legion of Super-Heroes. I lived with this comic for more than half my life, and it had a massive influence on me. I love My Little Pony for many of the same reasons I love the Legion, but it’s not quite the same.

Anyway, I used to hate the V4 Legion because of its dark and grim tone, but it’s a lot better than no Legion at all, and the creators were deeply committed to the franchise. The Bierbaums were fans first and creators second, and their work reflects their deep understanding of the franchise. This issue does have some rather dark moments. First, Mordru beats up his wife Mysa Nal, and then Projectra is traumatized by seeing her husband Karate Kid’s corpse rise from its grave. But this issue also has some warmer and friendlier moments. Notably, when Jeckie shows up at Legion headquarters, Ayla Ranzz gives her a hug. This moment stands out to me because Jeckie and Ayla were never depicted as close friends – I can’t remember any other time that they interacted at all. And yet it makes sense that Ayla would hug Jeckie, both because it matches Ayla’s personality, and because all Legionnaires are each other’s friends.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #46 (DC, 1993) – untitled, same creators as above. Like issue 44, this issue belongs to a story arc in which Mordru resurrects the corpses of dead Legionnaires. I neglected to mention that issue 44 introduced perhaps the four least significant Legionnaires ever, the Khunds Firefist, Veilmist, Blood Claw and Flederweb. In this issue, Blood Claw is killed by one of Mordru’s zombies, and no one particularly cares. The reader is far more affected by the multiple scenes in which Legionnaires are forced to confront their dead loved ones. Watching Rokk Krinn battle his dead brother’s corpse is just awful. In fact, it’s so awful that it feels emotionally manipulative.

FANTASTIC FOUR #167 (Marvel, 1976) – “Titans Two!”, (W) Roy Thomas, (A) George Pérez. George is listed as a “guest artist” in the credits box, but he became the permanent artist with #170. The best thing about this issue is Ben Grimm’s unintentionally funny statement that he and the Hulk are “an item.” One assumes that Roy Thomas did not know what “an item” meant. Otherwise, this issue is an unexciting Hulk/Thing story, though the art is very good.

FLASH #105 (DC, 1995) – “Through a Glass Darkly,” (W) Mark Waid & Michael Jan Friedman, (A) Ron Lim. This starts out funny, but takes an unexpectedly dark turn. Wally is trapped in the Mirror Master’s mirror dimension, and to free himself, he has to help the Mirror Master locate a certain woman. It turns out the woman, Emelia, is the Mirror Master’s former girlfriend, who left him because he abused her and threatened her life. To prevent him from finding her again, she had to hide in a house with no reflective surfaces at all. And even then he still finds her. Wally saves Emelia in the end, but this issue is a very dark and disturbing portrayal of a woman who can’t escape from her abuser. And I’m not sure if that was what Mark intended.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #50 (DC, 1993) – “A Transcendence,” (W) Tom Bierbaum & Mary Bierbaum, (A) Darryl Banks; and “A Battle with BION,” (W) Tom McCraw, (A) Stuart Immonen. The first half of this double-sized issue is the Bierbaums’ last story for this title. On his deathbed after he expended all his power to defeat Mordru, Jan Arrah has visions of what all his fellow Legionnaires are doing. This sequence is the Bierbaums’ affectionate farewell to the Legion; it serves as an excuse for them to check in on all their characters for one last time. It’s full of cute moments, like Imra realizing that her newborn twins are telepathic, and Tenzil marrying Saturn Queen. The second half of the issue is by the new creative team of McCraw and Immonen. As the title indicates, the entire story is taken up by a big fight between the Legion and BION, and it’s not as good as the first half of the issue. Tom McCraw was probably the worst Legion writer of the ‘90s.

STINZ: FAMILY VALUES #1 (Mu Press, 1994) – “Baby Games” and “Hit or Miss,” (W/A) Donna Barr. I’m friends with Donna Barr on Facebook, but this is the first of her comics I’ve read. It takes place in a country resembling Germany, where all the characters are centaurs. The protagonist, Stinz, is a former military commander who is now a family man. In the first story, Stinz’s son has to deal with the news that he’s unexpectedly becoming a big brother. In the second story, Stinz’s estranged older daughter returns home and discovers that her father is less abusive now than during her childhood. Overall, this is a warm and cheerful comic, but it also has a darker element; you get the sense that even if Stinz is older and more mature now, his past behavior has left an unremovable stain on his family.

ARCHIE GIANT SERIES #607 (Archie, 1990) – “Target for Tonight” and other stories, (W/A) Bob Bolling. The longest story in this issue is one in which Archie prevents Mad Dr. Doom and Chester from robbing a bank on Christmas Eve. This is a fun story that includes two of Bob Bolling’s trademarks: first, Mad Dr. Doom, Chester, and the Time Taxi; and second, stupid but clever puns. On the first page, Archie says “Mom told me the real Santa is stuck in a chimney somewhere in the Fiji Islands,” and Archie’s father replies, “Bet that doesn’t soot him at all!”

GWENPOOL HOLIDAY SPECIAL: MERRY MIX-UP #1 (Marvel, 2016) – “I Saw Mommy Kissing Galactus, Bringer of Gifts,” (W) Ryan North, (A) Nathan Stockman; and other stories. The premise of this issue is that Gwenpool’s world has different holiday traditions from ours; in particular, Galactus gives gifts instead of Santa. The Ryan North story in which Miles Morales meets Galactus is almost worth the price of the issue by itself. Unfortunately, the rest of the material in this issue is not as good. The Christmas Carol parody starring the Red Skull, written by Nick Kocher, is in very poor taste and probably shouldn’t have been published. In this day and age, we shouldn’t be treating Nazis as material for comedy.

WONDER WOMAN #36 (DC, 2009) – “Warkiller, Part 1 of 4: Heart of Fire,” (W) Gail Simone, (A) Aaron Lopresti. Diana has a funny encounter with Titania, which ends with them complaining about men rather than fighting. Hilariously, it turns out Titania was stood up for a date by the Atom. But during their conversation, Diana reveals that she wanted to marry Tom Tresser and have a child with him, and he refused because he’s afraid of commitment or whatever. That’s too bad, because Diana’s romance with Tom is just about the only interesting heterosexual relationship she’s ever had (I don’t think Diana and Superman are an exciting couple).

MADMAN ADVENTURES #2 (Tundra, 1993) – (W/A) Mike Allred. This is the earliest Madman comic I’ve read. In this story, Madman gets stuck in the Mesozoic Era, where a crazy old scientist, also a stranded time traveler, tries to seduce and/or kill him. This comic is reasonably fun, but it hardly looks like Mike Allred artwork at all – it looks more like the artwork of Mark Schultz, who did the inking.

FIRST ISSUE SPECIAL #12 (DC, 1976) – “Starman,” (W) Gerry Conway, (A) Mike Vosburg. This was the only appearance of Mikaal Tomas until James Robinson brought him back in the ‘90s. If not for Robinson, this character would have been justifiably forgotten, because his origin story is boring and also suspiciously similar to Captain Mar-Vell’s origin. In the context of Mikaal Tomas’s later history, this comic becomes a bit more interesting. On the text page, Gerry Conway suggests that Mikaal Tomas might belong to the same species as Shadow Lass, and Robinson later established that this is indeed the case.

NEW MUTANTS #56 (Marvel, 1987) – “Scavenger Hunt!”, (W) Louise Simonson, (A) June Brigman. This issue has the same creative team as Power Pack. Weezie is very good at writing kids who act like kids, meaning that they’re often bratty, bad-tempered, and combative. This issue, the New Mutants and the Hellions compete with each other to find a new mutant, Bird-Boy, and the encounter brings out the worst tendencies of both groups. The focal character this issue is Magma, who is probably the worst New Mutant, and has been pretty much forgotten. But at least Weezie comes up with a good explanation for why Magma doesn’t fit in this series. As a lifelong aristocrat, she doesn’t feel at home with the New Mutants and would be better off as a Hellion, and indeed, at the end of this issue she does join the Hellions. Now that I think of it, June comes up with a nice visual shorthand for depicting the difference between the teams. At the beginning of the issue we see the New Mutants having breakfast, and they’re eating donuts and cereal and toast, and sitting with their feet up on the table. Then we see the Hellions having breakfast, and they’re sitting up straight and eating off fine china.

RAGMAN #2 (DC, 1976) – “75-25 or Die,” (W) Robert Kanigher, (A) “Redondo Studio” (with layouts by Joe Kubert). This must have been a personal project for Robert Kanigher. It draws heavily on his Jewish background, and it has a certain affectionate quality to it, whereas many of his other comics were just written for a paycheck. And Ragman is an awesome character. It’s too bad that the execution of this issue is somewhat lacking. Rory Regan saves a woman named Opal from criminals, then falls in love with her, to the point where he breaks up with the girlfriend he already has. However, Kanigher completely failed to convince me that Rory and Opal are attracted to each other, and that affected my enjoyment of the rest of the issue.

TARZAN #245 (DC, 1976) – “The Jungle Murders,” (W) Joe Kubert, (A) Redondo Studio. I read this because it has the same style of artwork as the previous comic I read. As with Ragman #2, the layouts are by Joe Kubert but the artwork is only credited to the “Redondo Studio.” I actually kind of like this collaboration because it combines Kubert’s brilliant storytelling with draftsmanship that’s more detailed and less sketchy than Kubert’s. The ultimate example of this sort of art was Rima the Jungle Girl, where Nestor Redondo drew over Kubert layouts. Anyway, this issue has nice art, but the story is a bunch of typical ERB cliches.

CRIME SUSPENSTORIES #13 (Russ Cochran, 1995, originally 1952) – four stories, (W) Al Feldstein, (A) various. The first story this issue, “Hear No Evil” by Jack Kamen, is about a woman who marries a rich deaf man, then plots to kill him and run off with another man. The twist ending is that the husband has regained his hearing, so he was able to eavesdrop on the plot, and the person whose death is shown at the beginning of the story is the lover, not the husband. I thought that the deaf man’s recovery of his hearing was unrealistic, and a better ending would be if the deaf man knew how to read lips, despite his previous statement that he couldn’t. The second story, drawn by Sid Check, is actually two stories about the same characters. In the first story, “First Impulse!”, a woman murders her fiancé because she thinks he’s cheating on her with her sister, but then discovers he’s faithful to her. In the other story, “Second Chance,” the woman instead decides not to murder him, but discovers that he really is cheating on her. Weird Fantasy #15, published the same year, also included two related stories with different endings, “The Quick Trip” and “The Long Trip.” The third story, “A Question of Time,” is drawn by Al Williamson, but it feels like he spent too much time on the beautiful opening panel and had to draw the rest of the story much more quickly. The last story, “Forty Whacks” by Kamen, is a retelling of the story of Lizzie Borden.

New comics received on Friday, December 23:

USAGI YOJIMBO #160 (Dark Horse, 2016) – “Death by Fugu,” (W/A) Stan Sakai. I’m a little surprised that this issue doesn’t resolve any of the dangling threads from last issue. Instead, it’s a mystery in which a chef is accused of killing someone with fugu. This issue inevitably reminds me of the “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish” episode of The Simpsons. But unlike the writers of that episode, Stan Sakai has clearly done his research on fugu, and he avoids reproducing the myth that eating fugu is a death sentence. Indeed, the whole point of the story is that fugu is only dangerous if prepared incorrectly (though I guess that was also part of the plot of the Simpsons episode). The end of this issue is very depressing and surprising, and I’m kind of surprised that the issue just ends there.

SLAM! #2 (Boom!, 2016) – “Pushy Riots vs. Meteorfights,” (W) Pamela Ribon, (A) Veronica Fish. Slam! #1 was an excellent debut issue, and this issue is perhaps even better. The two protagonists, Knocko ut and Ithinka Can, are now part of rival teams. But Knockout’s team, the Pushy Riots are serious and hypercompetitive, while Ithinka Can’s team, the Meteorfights, are fun and friendly. Therefore, Knockout is having a much harder time, especially since the star of her team hates her for no apparent reason. This issue is very enjoyable to read; I can’t help but love the characters, and I sympathize with their problems.

SILVER SURFER #8 (Marvel, 2016) – “Tall Tales,” (W) Dan Slott, (A) Mike Allred. This story is all about size and scale. Surfer and Dawn are swallowed by Jumbonox the Ginormous, and they escape by telling a story about the Surfer’s tiny herald (or Harold), Tindly Hardlesnop. The obvious moral of the story is that no matter how big or small you are, there’s always someone bigger or smaller. I like this idea, but I wish Jumbonox had been even bigger; even on the opening two-page splash, he doesn’t look big enough.

PATSY WALKER, A.K.A. HELLCAT #13 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, (W) Kate Leth, (A) Brittney L. Williams. This issue is funny and cute as usual, but this Black Cat storyline has been the low point of the series so far. There are too many characters and I can’t tell them all apart.

ANIMOSITY #4 (Aftershock, 2016) – “Traps,” (W) Marguerite Bennett, (A) Rafael De Latorre. In a flashback, we learn that Jesse has an older half-brother we haven’t met. Then in the present timeframe, there’s a lot of violent death and murder. This was the least interesting issue yet; it felt like an issue of The Walking Dead where all the characters happened to be animals.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #49 (IDW, 2016) – “Accord, Part the Second: In All Chaos There is a Cosmos, in All Disorder a Secret Order,” (W) Rob Anderson, (A) Andy Price. Again, Andy Price’s brilliant artwork redeems what could have been a boring story. The best part is the sequence in Accord’s mind. Appropriately, Andy depicts Accord’s mind as a gray, rectilinear place full of bureaucrats in cubicles.

ETHER #2 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, (W) Matt Kindt, (A) David Rubin. This was fun, but not quite as good as last issue. I think the best part was the octopus taxi. This series runs the risk of becoming just a conventional murder mystery which happens to take place in a fantasy world (see my comments on Animosity #4 above), and I hope Matt and David can avoid that danger.

TALES FROM THE CRYPT #6 (Russ Cochran, 1993, originally 1950) – four stories, (W) Al Feldstein, (A) various. I wonder if EC’s twist endings were a bit overrated. In the EC comics I’ve read lately, there haven’t been any endings that really surprised me. This issue begins with “The Thing from the Grave,” drawn by Feldstein. This is a generic zombie story, although it does remind me a bit of the original Swamp Thing story, in that it features a character who comes back from the grave to avenge his murdered wife. “Blood Type V,” drawn by Ingels, is a fairly generic vampire story. “Death’s Turn,” with art by Jack Kamen, is probably the best story in the issue. The owners of a struggling amusement park hire a man to design them a new roller coaster, then murder him once it’s finished. But the first time they ride it, they break their necks, because it turns out that the roller coaster goes so fast that no one can ride it and live. I don’t know if that’s plausible, but it’s funny. Finally, in “The Curse of the Arnold Clan,” with art by Johnny Craig, a man’s family is cursed so that every fifty years, the oldest member of the family will be buried alive. The protagonist is the oldest member of the family, and he knows about the curse. Yet he goes digging in a graveyard on the night the curse is scheduled to take effect, with predictable results. Really, he deserved to get buried alive.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST: SWEET CHRISTMAS ANNUAL #1 (Marvel, 2016) – “Sweet Christmas,” (W) David Walker, (A) Scott Hepburn. Besides Slam! #1, this was the most entertaining comic of the week. Luke, Danny and Danielle visit a toy store at midnight to get the latest hot toy, and then Jessica Drew shows up and asks for parenting advice. And then it turns out that the hot toy of the season is a trick created by Krampus to steal children’s souls. Mayhem ensues, until Santa Claus shows up to save the day. This comic is exciting and also a deeply affectionate meditation on parenting. Luke and Jessica behave like real parents, and Danielle behaves like a real child. Even the story that Jessica tells Luke is an example of that. It’s probably the most disgusting thing in the entire history of Marvel comics, yet it’s the sort of thing that probably does happen to actual parents. You get the feeling that David is drawing on his own parenting experience. I do think that Danielle’s age in this issue is inconsistent with her previous appearances in this series, but oh well. I am glad that David got to use Danielle again; for a while Jessica Jones and Danielle were appearing in every issue of Power Man and Iron Fist, and then they mysteriously vanished with no explanation, because Bendis wanted to use them instead.

CAVE CARSON HAS A CYBERNETIC EYE #3 (DC/Young Animal, 2016) – “Deep Issues,” (W) Gerard Way & Jon Rivera, (A) Michael Avon Oeming. Cave, Chloe and Wild Dog encounter a giant carnivorous plant and a giant worm. Then Chloe learns that her mother was a subterranean princess, and then it turns out that all the people from Muldroog are dead. The best thing in this issue is Chloe’s reaction to learning the truth about her mother. First she’s horrified and furious, then after she has time to think about it, she calms down and reconciles with her dad. Chloe’s behavior is unusually realistic. In most comic books, when a person learns a big secret, they react in a much more histrionic and angry way.

JEM: THE MISFITS #1 (IDW, 2016) – untitled, (W) Kelly Thompson, (A) Jenn St.-Onge. This is better than the current storyline in the primary Jem title. We begin with a scene where Eric tells Pizzazz that the only way she can save her career is by having the Misfits appear on a reality show. While we wait to see how the rest of the band reacts to this ridiculous idea, we flash back to Pizzazz/Phyllis’s childhood. The flashback effectively explains how she got to be the way she is: she grew up in an overprivileged environment, but with awful, neglectful parents. She decides to start a band, and she recruits all the other Misfits not through her money and privilege, but through force of personality. This scene emphasizes why Pizzazz is perhaps the best antagonist in comics at the moment. She’s mean and self-destructive and has a lot of other negative traits, yet she also has such spirit and willpower that the reader has to admire her. The brief origin stories of the other Misfits are also quite revealing. And I love the sequence where Pizzazz says “let me tell you what the new plan is” and then the next page is a splash page of all the other Misfits shouting NO!, and then the page after that is the Misfits appearing on TV to announce their new reality show.

BOOM BOX MIX TAPE 2016 (Boom!, 2016) – various (W/A). This anthology includes various stories featuring existing Boom! Box characters, most of them involving music – though oddly, my favorite may have been the Slam! story, which doesn’t mention music at all.

SPIDER-WOMAN #1 (Marvel, 2015) – untitled, (W) Dennis Hopeless, (A) Javier Rodriguez. I didn’t buy this when it came out, because Dennis Hopeless wrote Avengers Arena and therefore I had a very negative impression of him. But I later acquired this issue for less than cover price, and it turns out to be excellent. It’s a realistic, well-written and well-drawn story about a superheroine trying to balance her career with pregnancy. The scene at the party, where Jessica electrocutes Tony Stark for asking who the father is, is excellent. And there’s some really fun visual gags at the end when Jessica visits the alien maternity hospital.

CASANOVA: ACEDIA #6 (Image, 2016) – “In This Garden,” (W) Matt Fraction, (A) Fábio Moon, plus backup story. I didn’t read this comic sooner because I’m hopelessly confused by this series. Fábio Moon’s art is brilliant, but the story makes no sense. There are lots of things going on at once and none of them make any sense. I don’t think I’ll be able to understand this comic unless I read it all at once after it’s finished, and maybe not even then.

BACKSTAGERS #5 (Boom!, 2016) – untitled, (W) James Tynion IV, (A) Rian Sygh. This issue includes one utterly brilliant moment. Let me quote my explanation of it on Facebook: “ My thought process as I read Backstagers #5: Huh, these characters look like alternate reality versions of the Backstagers. Oh, they’re from Beckett’s old school. But some of them are boys, so Beckett must have transferred from a co-ed school. No, wait, they all have female names. But that means Beckett… oh my god.” And then Beckett and his former classmates have a conversation which is ostensibly about transferring schools, but is actually about transitioning. I guess James Tynion already said in interviews that Beckett was transgender, but I must have missed that, because this moment came as a pleasant shock to me. I think comics like Backstagers and Lumberjanes and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl are playing an important role in normalizing transgender identity. These comics have even made me subtly shift my own views on this topic.

Sadly, Ray Goldfield tells me that Backstagers has not been selling as well as the Boom! Box titles with female protagonists, and that it’s going to end with issue 8, rather than being renewed like Goldie Vance was. That’s a shame.

SPELL ON WHEELS #3 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, (W) Kate Leth, (A) Megan Levens. The best issue of a miniseries which has been unimpressive so far. On the trail of their stolen items, the protagonists encounter a woman who’s being tormented by her husband’s ghost, because she started a relationship with another woman after he died. The touching part about the story is how the widow convinces her husband – who would obviously have voted for Trump if alive – to overcome his religiously motivated bigotry. This issue was the first time I really cared about this comic.

HAUNT OF FEAR #3 (Russ Cochran, 1993; originally Haunt of Fear #17, 1950) – various (W/A). In “Nightmare,” (W/A) Johnny Craig, a man repeatedly dreams he’s been buried alive, then wakes up to find that he’s still dreaming. Finally, he really does get buried alive without trying to save himself, because he thinks he’s asleep. The really weird part about this story is that the protagonist is named John Severin. I wonder what the real John Severin thought of having his name used in this way. “Television Terror,” (W/A) Harvey Kurtzman, is very clever. The entire story is shown from the point of view of a television camera, so we never actually get to see the supernatural phenomena because they happen off-camera. “Monster Maker,” (W) Gardner Fox and (A) Graham Ingels, is a step down in quality; it’s a blatant Frankenstein rip-off. Finally, “Horror Beneath the Streets,” (W/A) Al Feldstein, is a funny piece of metafiction. It stars Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein themselves. It explains how they encountered the Crypt Keeper and Vault Keeper one night on the way home from work, and were forced to sign a contract to publish stories about them. Overall, this is the best EC comic I’ve read lately.

DOCTOR STRANGE #15 (Marvel, 2016) – “Blood in the Aether, Chapter Four: The Face of Sin,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Chris Bachalo and Jorge Fornes. The villain this issue is the Orb. He claims that he’s become the new Watcher and that he’s sworn to just watch people and not interfere, but his behavior is the reverse of that. The Orb is never quite as scary or as funny as he ought to be. Overall this is a lackluster issue, especially because half of it is drawn by Jorge Fornes, who is much worse than Chris Bachalo.

BATMAN/SPIRIT #1 (DC, 2007) – “Crime Consequences,” (W) Jeph Loeb, (A) Darwyn Cooke. Like almost everything Darwyn drew, this issue is a masterpiece. I hate Jeph Loeb’s writing and I think there are few writers who are more overrated. But Jeph’s script for this issue is competent, if unexciting. And Darwyn’s artwork plays such a major role in conveying the story, that it more than makes up for the deficiencies in the plot and script. Darwyn’s storytelling and draftsmanship in this issue are just incredible. One thing that amazes me about this issue is his visual characterization. There’s one panel this issue where seven villains appear at once (or eight counting Scarface separately), and you can deduce each villain’s personality from his/her/its posture and facial expressions. I do think this story exaggerates the differences between Batman and the Spirit, portraying Batman as a cold, humorless Batdick and the Spirit as a carefree figure of fun. But unfortunately, that is consistent with the way that DC has chosen to depict these characters.

DETECTIVE COMICS #447 (DC, 1975) – “Enter: The Creeper,” (W) Len Wein, (A) Ernie Chua. After Batman/Spirit #1, I felt like reading a comic that portrayed Batman in a more moderate way. The Batman story this issue, which guest-stars the Creeper, is reasonably good but not great. What really interested me about this issue was the Robin backup story, which is credited to Bob Rozakis, Martinez and Mazzaroli. I had never heard of either of the latter two artists, and the GCD entry for this issue did not give their first names. All I was able to determine by Googling was that Martinez’s first initial was A. So I went on Facebook and asked Bob Rozakis who they were, and he replied that they were South American artists who Neal Adams recommended to Julie Schwartz. Based on that, I was able to determine that they were both from Argentina. A. Martinez was a pseudonym for the late Chiche Medrano, and “Mazzaroli” is José Massaroli, who is still drawing Disney comics. It makes sense that Martinez is Argentinian because his Robin story is drawn in a characteristically Argentinian or Italian style, and looks rather different from normal DC comics artwork. I felt proud of myself for having figured all of that out. It’s odd that one of DC’s flagship titles would have included a story by two artists who never did any other work for DC; then again, it was only a backup story.

JONAH HEX #9 (DC, 1978) – “The Carlota Conspiracy,” (W) Michael Fleisher, (A) Ernie Chan. Unusually for a Western comic, this issue has a Bernie Wrightson cover. Otherwise it’s a pretty typical Jonah Hex story, in which Jonah visits Mexico and gets embroiled in a plot to steal a shipment of gold. As usual, this comic is a lot of fun, but the Mexican stereotypes are unfortunate. There’s one character who’s clearly a prostitute, even though the Comics Code didn’t allow the writer to say so.

BRAT PACK #1 (King Hell, 1990) – “A Novel in Five Parts,” (W/A) Rick Veitch. This series is something of a classic, and is probably Rick Veitch’s best-known work. Somehow I’ve never gotten around to reading it. This first issue is heavily indebted to Watchmen and DKR in its approach to the superhero genre, but is much more parodistic and blackly humorous. It begins with a radio talk show host asking his listeners to call in and vote on whether the local superhero sidekicks should be killed, and if so, how. This is an obvious and hilarious reference to the fan vote on whether to kill Jason Todd. After that, the plot is a little hard to follow, but it involves four teenage sidekicks of adult superheroes. Three of them are horrible, rude brats who engage in criminal and destructive behavior, while the one who’s based on Robin is a victim of rape, at the hands of both his mentor and his teammates. At the end of the issue, a villain named Doctor Blasphemy murders all four of them with a car bomb, and the reader is happy to see them go, or at least the first three. But now their superhero mentors need new sidekicks, and that’s where the next issue picks up. In general, this is a brutal piece of satire, with none of the human warmth of Watchmen, but it’s very funny and clever.

(Note: When I went to put this comic away in my boxes, I found that there was already a copy of Brat Pack #1 there! This is a surprise to me because I have no recollection of having read this comic before. Nothing in it rang a bell to me at all.)

TARZAN #253 (DC, 1976) – “Tarzan the Untamed, Part 4: A Death for a Death!”, (W) Gerry Conway, (A) José Luis García-López. The first story in this issue is so much worse than earlier DC Tarzan comics, that it makes me realize how briliant Kubert’s Tarzan was. (I’ve read most of that run, but I feel I may not have fully appreciated it while I was reading it.) Gerry Conway’s writing is verbose and histrionic; he wastes the reader’s time saying things that are already clear from the panels. In contrast, Kubert’s writing was succinct and free of purple prose, and he never let his words interfere with his visual storytelling. A further problem is that this story lasts only 11 pages. The rest of the issue is a reprint of one-third of issue #213. It’s no wonder this series only lasted five more issues.

DYNAMO #1 (Tower, 1966) – various (W/A). I bought this comic about three years ago and never read it, which is weird because it’s an amazing comic. I guess I was daunted by its length. In the first story, drawn by Wally Wood, Dynamo and NoMan battle some aliens on the moon. Woody’s artwork here is incredible. I think he’s one of the top five artists of American comic books, and this story demonstrates why. The science in this story is kind of ridiculous, but it’s surprising to remember that when it was published, people hadn’t been to the moon yet. At one point, NoMan says that he’s going to be the first man on the moon. Elsewhere in this story, Dynamo tells Alice he loves her, but then Alice never appears again in the story, which is kind of odd. The funniest story in the issue is “A Day in the Life of Dynamo,” (W) Ralph Reese, (A) Mike Sekowsky. Dynamo wakes up and decides to ask the boss for a raise – which was one of the unique things about this comic: the superheroes in it were employees. But as soon as he gets to the office, Dynamo has to go fight the Red Dragon and the Iron Maiden, while also trying to get Alice to go out with him, and he never even gets the chance to ask for a raise. “Back to the Stone Age,” (A) Reed Crandall, is mostly notable for Crandall’s ugly drawings of dinosaurs. “Dynamo Meets the Amazing Andor,” (A) Steve Ditko, is the origin story of the latter character, who shows up later in the main THUNDER Agents title. Finally, “Wonder Weed, Super Hero,” (A) John Giunta, is very similar to a Silver Age Jimmy Olsen story. Weed is hypnotized into thinking he’s a superhero, and for some reason I can’t remember, the superpowered THUNDER Agents encourage this delusion by making him think he’s doing super-feats.

THE FILTH #1 (Vertigo, 2002) – “01. Us vs Them,” (W) Grant Morrison, (A) Chris Weston. This issue has some excellent art, but like most Grant Morrison comics other than Klaus, it makes no sense. I feel like the only way to understand this comic would be to read the whole thing all the way through, twice.

A COSPLAYERS CHRISTMAS (Fantagraphics, 2016) – “The Quest for the Holy Grail” and “Last Minute Holiday Shopping,” (W/A) Dash Shaw. I probably shouldn’t have ordered this because I disliked the previous Cosplayers comic. It felt like a patronizing treatment of cosplay. But this one is better. In the first story, one of the protagonists, Annie, decides to get her friend Verti a replica Holy Grail for her Indiana Jones costume. After a frustrating (and very plausible) encounter with a thrift store owner, Annie ends up having to make the Holy Grail herself. The clever part of this story is that the Holy Grail is also a Holy Grail in the figurative sense, in that Annie has to go on a long and arduous quest in order to obtain it. In the backup story, Verti needs to get Annie a gift in exchange, so she makes Annie a wizard’s staff out of a stick. Compared to the original Cosplayers, this issue gives me more of a sense that Dash Shaw respects the people he’s writing about.

CASANOVA: ACEDIA #7 (Image, 2016) – “Head on Fire,” (W) Matt Fraction, (A) Fábio Moon. This issue is even more impenetrable than the last one.

CEREBUS #136 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1990) – “Jaka’s Story 23,” (W/A) Dave Sim. In this issue, something happens! A hideous old woman named Mrs. Thatcher tells Rick that Jaka aborted their baby. Rick punches Jaka and runs off. This is a powerful moment, though it would have been more powerful if I’d understood what led up to it.

BRAT PACK #2 (King Hell, 1990) – untitled, (W/A) Rick Veitch. This issue gives us a bit more context by telling us that True-Man, the analog to Superman, vanished nine years ago, and since then the city has been governed by vigilantes who have a zero-tolerance approach to crime. Then the adult superheroes start recruiting sidekicks. One of the four new sidekicks appears to be a Nazi, but the other three seem like much more sympathetic characters than their predecessors. On the other hand, in this issue we also meet the adult superheroes for the first time – besides the Mink, who appeared last issue – and they’re all just as bad as their late sidekicks. Moon Mistress, for example, is a blatant sex symbol. These first two issues of Brat Pack have piqued my interest, and I want to look for the other three.

Last week’s reviews

12-8

I’m trying to keep my resolution to write reviews every week. Here’s one comic book I read, but forgot to review:

SPIDER-GWEN #13 (Marvel, 2016) – This was okay, I guess.

Only eight new comics this week, including two that I can’t read yet because I’m not caught up on those series (Black Widow and Totally Awesome Hulk).

SAGA #40 (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W) Brian K. Vaughan, (A) Adrian Alphona. This was an okay issue; I like the talking mushroom and the giant planet-sized baby. Butit seems like not a whole lot happened. Compared to the previous storyline, the current “Battle for Phang” storyline has had less stuff going on in each issue.

MS. MARVEL #13 (Marvel, 2016) – “Election Day,” (W) G. Willow Wilson, (A) Mirka Andolfo. I don’t want to review this comic; it hurts too much. I wish it had come out before the election and not after. In the context of the election, it creates a false and naïve sense of hope that we can actually change anything by… never mind. You see why I didn’t want to review this comic.

SHUTTER #24 (Image, 2016) – “The Ballad of Huckleberry,” (W) Joe Keatinge, (A) Leila del Duca. This is the origin story of Huckleberry, who turns out to be the child of a lizard sharpshooter and an Impressionist painter. There’s also one scene where Huckleberry and the other protagonists try to process the horrible tragedy at the end of #22. This is a fun issue, but I do wonder how Joe and Leila can complete the entire storyline within the next few issues, and why they’re bothering to try. I feel like this series could go on indefinitely; the ongoing Prospero storyline is not as interesting as the characters and the worldbuilding.

JUGHEAD #11 (Archie, 2016) – untitled, (W) Ryan North, (A) Derek Charm. Probably the best comic of this very light week. Sabrina’s hysterical attempts to conceal her magical nature are hilarious. Jughead’s explanation of why he went on a date with Sabrina is very touching, and also answers the question of why Jughead is going on dates if he’s asexual.

MONSTRESS #8 (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W) Marjorie Liu, (A) Sana Takeda. This comic deserves to be nominated for an Eisner for Best Ongoing Series, even if it’s not my personal favorite. If I could choose the ballot, the nominees would be Saga, Wicked + Divine, Lumberjanes, Monstress, and some combination of Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel, Southern Bastards, and Goldie Vance. This issue, the sea voyage begins, Maika almost drowns, and there’s lots of intrigue that I can’t quite remember.

GREAT LAKES AVENGERS #2 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, (W) Zac Gorman, (A) Will Robson. I liked this better than last issue. I can’t remember the plot very well, but Zac Gorman’s writing is very witty and even kind of cruel sometimes.

ARCHIE #14 (Archie, 2016) – untitled, (W) Mark Waid, (A) Joe Eisma. I think I missed an issue. At this point, Archie is trying to plan an anniversary party for his parents, but is depressed over I don’t know what. Meanwhile, Veronica is at a private school in Switzerland where her rival is Cherry Blossom, who is like Veronica but with none of her good qualities. This issue was good, though not great.

BOUNTY #4 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, (W) Kurtis Wiebe, (A) Mindy Lee. At this point I’ve mostly forgotten the story of the first three issues, but the plot and dialogue this issue are reasonably fun. I still hope to get Rat Queens back soon.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #33 (IDW, 2016) – untitled, (W) Christina Rice, (A) Tony Fleecs. The stars this issue are Applejack and Cherry Jubilee. This story also introduces two new characters, Wild West performers, Buffalo Bull and Calamity Mane, who Cherry Jubilee hates for some reason. It turns out that Cherry herself was the original Calamity Mane and Buffalo Bull’s lover, and that she’s jealous of Buffalo Bull for replacing her. This revelation surprised me a bit because it seems like a fairly significant piece of continuity, but I guess it’s okay because Cherry Jubilee is a minor character.

NIGHT’S DOMINION #3 (Oni, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Ted Naifeh. I forgot to order issue 2 of this series, so I’m missing a big chunk of the story. This comic is okay, but it feels overly similar to “The Tower of the Elephant,” and I’m not enjoying it as much as Courtney Crumrin or Princess Ugg. Of course, I was feeling exhausted and overworked when I read this and most of the previous comics on this list, so maybe I came to this comic at the wrong time.

DEPT. H #8 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Matt Kindt. This is Bob’s origin story. It turns out that he has a seriously checkered past. This issue, like the series in general, creates a powerful feeling of claustrophobia; this comic is almost closer to horror than mystery. But I still feel like each issue is too similar to all the others. Matt isn’t doing anything creative with the comic book format, the way he did with MIND MGMT.

THE GODDAMNED #5 (Image, 2016) – “Before the Flood, Part 5: God’s Monsters,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) R.M. Guera. This issue was a nice surprise; I honestly thought this comic might have been stealth-cancelled. In an exciting but bleak and depressing conclusion to the first story arc, Cain rescues Lodo and his mother from Noah, but Lodo then murders his own mother because he thinks she’s making him weak. It’s a moment of horrific bleakness which makes you feel like God was right to kill everyone. It’s hard to see where this comic will go from here, though the inside back cover states that another story arc is coming next year. As usual, R.M. Guera’s artwork is incredible, and he may deserve an Eisner nomination for best artist.

THE MIGHTY THOR #13 (Marvel, 2016) – “The League of Realms Rides Again,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Steve Epting. Another Jason Aaron comic, but with a completely different tone. Like Marguerite Bennett, Jason is impressive for his range and versatility. This issue introduces (or, based on the title, maybe reintroduces) the League of Realms, a team of characters from each of the Norse realms. This group is a mix of old and new characters; the highlight is the female frost giant who speaks one word at a time. Steve Epting’s art is effective, but I still prefer Russell Dauterman.

ACTION COMICS #763 (DC, 1999) – “Sacrifice for Tomorrow,” (W) Joe Kelly, (A) Germán García & Kano. This is a good average Superman comic – I mean, compared to other average Superman comics, it’s good. Joe Kelly’s writing is exciting. The plot is that Superman, Luthor and Brainiac are all fighting a super-advanced Brainiac 13, and at the end of the story, Luthor trades his infant daughter to Brainiac (not sure which one) for some sort of power or something. Kelly effectively conveys the sense that Luthor acted in accordance with his nature, but that he’s not happy with it.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS #10 (Tower, 1966) – “Operation Armageddon,” (W) Ralph Reese, (A) Wally Wood, plus four other stories. The highlight of this issue is a Wally Wood-drawn story in which Dynamo and NoMan battle some villains who have stolen a gun with atomic bullets. Next is a mediocre Lightning story, and then a NoMan story in which he battles Dynamo’s recurring enemy Andor. Reading this, I was again reminded that NoMan’s powers have really poor synergy. NoMan has a cloak that makes him invisible, and he can also shift his brain between multiple bodies. That means that whenever he moves to a new body while wearing the cloak, he has to go back to wherever he left the previous body and retrieve the cloak. And this happens twice in the present issue. The second best story in the issue is “Kitten or Killer,” in which Kitten is brainwashed into trying to kill her fellow T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad members. This story is an unfortunate relic of its time; one of the villains is a knockoff of Fidel Castro, and the other is an offensive Asian stereotype. But at least this story has one scene where Kitten beats up two men who are trying to kidnap her. The issue concludes with a Raven story by Manny Stallman. This artist is notorious for his weird and incoherent art, but at least his art was distinctive, if not necessarily in a good way.

YOUNG JUSTICE #37 (DC, 2001) – “War of the Words,” (W) Peter David, (A) Todd Nauck. This is the first Peter David comic I’ve read since NYCC, where he made some offensive comments about Roma people. After I read about his comments, I went and spoke to him at his table and said something like, dude, I’ve been reading your work for twenty years, and you’ve made such efforts toward diversity in superhero comics, and these comments are unworthy of you. In response, he basically reiterated the stuff he had said at the panel. To his credit, a couple days later he apologized and recanted his comments, but it was frustrating that he said that stuff in the first place, and I think it may have done lasting damage to his reputation with some fans. Anyway, maybe that’s why it took me so long to read this comic. This issue, the kids are on Apokolips, where Granny Goodness is subjecting them to a series of horrible nightmares – all of them except Secret, who Darkseid is trying to groom as his apprentice. Then Slobo saves the day with his rarely-mentioned power of creating clones of himself. It’s an exciting issue, though not the best issue of YJ.

WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES #535 (Gladstone, 1988) – “The Olympian Torch Bearer,” (W/A) Carl Barks, plus other material. The ten-pager that begins this issue is originally from the Olympic year of 1964. Donald carries the “Olympian Torch” from Goosetown to Duckburg, and mayhem ensues. This story includes some funny gags, but Don Rosa’s “From Duckburg to Lillehammer” is a better version of the same idea. This issue also includes a bad Mickey story and a worse Brer Rabbit story, which shouldn’t have been reprinted at all because of its racist baggage.

USAGI YOJIMBO #9 (Fantagraphics, 1988) – “Return of the Blind Swordspig,” (W/A) Stan Sakai. A good early issue. Usagi again encounters Ino, one of the three characters in the series who can beat him in a fair fight, the others being Master Katsuichi and Nakamura Koji. At this point Usagi is traveling with Spot the lizard, but in a touching scene, Usagi surrenders Spot to Ino, who has a greater need for companionship.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #87 (Marvel, 1970) – “Unmasked at Last!”, (W) Stan Lee, (A) John Romita. My copy of this issue is in awful condition and I am in the market for a replacement. This issue has a notoriously misleading cover; it shows Peter revealing his secret identity to his friends, and in the issue he does do that, but then later he convinces them that he was lying. Besides the anticlimax, this issue is a classic. This issue has some excellent Romita artwork and good characterization, although Mary Jane, in particular, seems very callous and unsympathetic. You have to feel sorry for Peter, who convinces himself that his sickness is due to the loss of his powers, only to realize that it’s just a nasty case of the flu.

YOUNG JUSTICE #54 (DC, 2003) – “Break on Through to the Other Seid,” (W) Peter David, (A) Todd Nauck. This issue has a funny narrative conceit where you think Robin is talking to the reader, though it turns out he’s really talking to Secret’s mother. The final Young Justice storyline focuses on Secret, the most important character who only appears in this series. Secret appears to have gone completely evil, and the rest of the team has to save her. It’s quite a strong issue.

ICON #26 (DC/Milestone, 1995) – “One Size Fits All,” (W) Dwayne McDuffie, (A) Francisco Velasco, Robert Walker & Jeffrey Moore. I think my problem with this series is that at this point, Rocket was literally the only black female protagonist in all of superhero comics, so it’s frustrating that she was turned into an example of the stereotype of the black teenage mother. That explains why I never bothered to read this comic even though I bought it years ago. But I ought to complete my Milestone collection. Like some other comics I’ve reviewed recently, Milestone was an important precursor to the current wave of “diverse” superhero comics, and it failed only because the market wasn’t ready for it. In this issue, the original Rocket and the replacement Rocket battle a monster from Icon’s home planet.

CAPTAIN ACTION #1 (DC, 1968) – “Origin of Captain Action!”, (W) Jim Shooter, (A) Wally Wood. This is a classic but very strange comic book. If I recall correctly, its continuity and creative team changed quite a lot in just five issues, and it had a surprisingly dark and grim tone for a licensed-property comic book. Captain Action is also historically important because the original toy was one of the earliest examples of the “action figure” concept, and the comic must have been one of the first comics adaptation of a toy line. In this issue, we are introduced to Clive Arno, who gains superpowers from coins that were blessed by the mythological gods. The list of gods in this comic is quite multicultural, although Shooter commits the error of describing Siva as a god of evil (see also Thor #301). Shooter’s writing and Wally’s artwork are both very impressive, and overall this is a classic series which ought to be reprinted, although I suspect that might be impossible because of intellectual property issues.

YOUNG JUSTICE #55 (DC, 2003) – “I’ve Got a Secret,” (W) Peter David, (A) Todd Nauck. Tim convinces Secret to stop being evil, and a disgusted Darkseid turns her back into a normal person, which is what she wanted all along. The conclusion to Empress’s story is less satisfying – she still has to take care of her infant parents, she’s just reconciled to it. Slobo apparently dies of genetic dilution, but really ends up in the world of DC One Million; I didn’t quite get what was happening here. Meanwhile, Kon and Cassie become an official couple. This issue ends on a rather inconclusive note, without really explaining how Young Justice becomes the Geoff Johns version of the Teen Titans, but in general it’s a solid conclusion to the best DC Universe comic of its time.

ARCHIE GIANT SERIES #619 (Archie, 1991) – “I’ll Be Home for Christmas, Maybe” and other stories, all (W/A) Bob Bolling. This is an extremely late Bob Bolling issue. I’m not sure when he stopped actively working for Archie, but he’s still living, and he did a new Little Archie story as recently as this year. I wish Fantagraphics or IDW or Papercutz would do a comprehensive reprinting of all of Bolling’s Little Archie material. He was Archie’s equivalent to Carl Barks, but his comics are very difficult to find, especially the ones from the ‘50s and ‘60s, and it’s hard to even find a comprehensive list of all the stories Bolling drew. Anyway, this issue, like Barks’s ‘60s duck stories, is a weird and uneven piece of work. The stories are wildly implausible, involving Martians and elves, and are lacking the realism of Bolling’s best work. But you can still tell these stories are by Bolling, and they’re full of his characteristic humor and excitement.

WALLY THE WIZARD #1 (Marvel/Star, 1985) – “A Plague of Locust,” (W/A) Bob Bolling. This obscure issue of a short-lived kids’ comic is fascinating because it’s Bob Bolling’s only major non-Archie work. It’s a fantasy story with an Arthurian setting, about a young red-haired apprentice wizard. Wally the Wizard is a very similar character to Little Archie, but because this series is not bound to the Riverdale setting, Bolling is free to indulge his creativity and to ignore real-world logic. As a result, this issue is full of weird magic spells and creatures, bad puns, and anachronisms. It doesn’t always work, but when it does work, it’s exciting. It’s a pity that Bolling only did two issues of this series.

SUN BAKERY #3 (Press Gang/Floating World, 2016) – “Layered Jacket” and other stories, (W/A) Corey Lewis. This is some really exciting and energetic work. Corey Lewis is a fascinating artist, although as I was reading this issue, I had the nagging feeling that his art is too similar to that of Brandon Graham. I think the difference is that Corey Lewis’s art is even more angular and two-dimensional; it looks like actual graffiti, rather than comic book artwork that’s inspired by graffiti. I think my favorite story this issue is the very crudely drawn “Layered Jacket,” about a hipster who tries to solve various problems by pulling stuff out of his jacket, but actually makes everything worse.

CEREBUS #124 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1989) – “Jaka’s Story 11,” (W/A) Dave Sim. I’m currently in the middle of reading the first Cerebus phone book, so I thought I would read some of the Cerebus back issues I’ve had for years. This issue makes no sense at all out of context, and was clearly not meant to stand alone. But the improvement in Dave’s artwork since the early issues is tremendous. He started out as a clone of Barry Windsor-Smith, but by this point he had a well-developed style of his own, and was also working with Gerhard. Besides Cerebus, this issue includes a preview of From Hell and a letter column, which contains some bizarre material; you get the feeling that Dave printed every letter he received.

SUN BAKERY #2 (Press Gang/Floating World, 2016) – “Arem” and other stories, (W/A) Corey Lewis. The main story this issue is a parody of Metroid. I’m excited that this series has been picked up by Image. Corey deserves a bigger audience for his talent.

HIP HOP FAMILY TREE #11 (Fantagraphics, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Ed Piskor. Major events this issue include the first meeting of Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, and the “origin” of LL Cool J.

BLACK HAMMER #1 (Dark Horse, 2016) – “Welcome to Black Hammer,” (W) Jeff Lemire, (A) Dean Ormston. I ordered the first issue of this series, but never read it, and then I stopped ordering it due to lack of interest. That was a mistake. Maybe I was confusing this comic with some other comic with Black in the title. This series is about a bunch of superheroes who are believed to have died saving the world, but who have somehow been stuck on a farm for seven years. I have no idea what’s going on here, but I want to find out, because it’s fascinating. This is one of the best recent Dark Horse debuts, and I want to get the issues I missed.

DOOM PATROL #119 (DC, 1968) – “In the Shadow of the Great Guru,” (W) Arnold Drake, (A) Bruno Premiani. I have read only a couple issues of the original Doom Patrol, and I need to remedy that, because it was a fascinating series. The villain this issue is a guru called Yaramishi Rama Yogi – obviously a take-off of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who was famous at the time. He convinces each of the Doom Patrol members to turn evil by playing on their particular obsessions, and although each of them manages to break his control, he does succeed in convincing Madame Rouge to return to the Brotherhood of Evil. It’s too bad that this series ended two issues later, because Arnold Drake’s writing is very witty and fun, and Premiani’s art is exciting. Bruno Premiani himself was a fascinating character; he was really named Giordano Bruno Premiani, like the philosopher, and he had to flee both Italy and Argentina after falling afoul of Mussolini and Perón respectively.

JONESY #6 (Boom!, 2016) – untitled, (W) Sam Humphries, (A) Caitlin Rose Boyle. I forgot to read this when it came out. This issue is the conclusion of the Stuff two-parter. Stuff tries to guilt Jonesy into wearing the Tomato Girl costume on stage, but to her credit, Jonesy realizes that Stuff is being emotionally manipulative, and she abandons her crush on him. It’s a touching piece of work, and this issue is probably where the series got really good.

INVINCIBLE #37 (Image, 2006) – untitled, (W) Robert Kirkman, (A) Ryan Ottley. Mark defeats the mad scientist D.A. Sinclair and saves his victims, but unknown to Mark, Cecil Stedman recruits Sinclair instead of punishing him for his crimes. Of course I knew this was coming because I already read the issue where Mark discovers Cecil’s treachery. Also in this issue, Mark gets jealous of Amber for having another guy in her room, and is reprimanded by his dean for missing 80% of his classes. One cool thing about Invincible is that Mark was unable to balance his superhero career with college and a girlfriend; at one point in this issue, he realizes that he has “way too much crap going on.”

CEREBUS #120 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1989) – “Jaka’s Story, Book Two: The Poet,” (W/A) Dave Sim. Another comic that doesn’t make sense out of context. This issue focuses on a presumably new character who’s based on Oscar Wilde.

Early December reviews

12-1-16

Well, I didn’t keep my resolution, but my excuse was that I was out of town last Thursday night. Unusually, I only bought two comic books while I was in Minneapolis. I already have more comic books than I can read, and there’s another local mini-convention later this month, and I’m worried about running out of stuff to collect.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #14 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, (W) Ryan North, (A) Erica Henderson. An okay conclusion to perhaps my least favorite Squirrel Girl storyline yet. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. But there were lots of good things here – the square-cube law explanation, the line about diversity at the end, the professor (who I assume is a caricature of Ryan himself), and especially Enigmo’s plan to read books about rhetoric and debate before reintegrating himself. As a teacher of rhetoric, I especially appreciate that one.

SLAM! #1 (Boom, 2016) – untitled, (W) Pamela Ribon, (A) Veronica Fish. Yet another excellent debut issue edited by Shannon Waters. This roller derby story is obviously reminiscent of Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl, but is drawn in a very different style and is intended for a somewhat older audience. Veronica Fish is quietly becoming a star; her art this issue is full of both emotional subtlety and funny gags. I especially love how the two cats are fighting on the last page. This is Pamela Ribon’s first comic book, other than one issue of Rick and Morty. She’s best known for a viral essay about a book in which Barbie becomes a computer engineer. But she’s clearly quite talented. Both of her protagonists are compelling and likable characters.

PATSY WALKER, A.K.A. HELLCAT #12 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, (W) Kate Leth, (A) Brittney L. Williams. This is confusing because of the sheer number of characters, but I still liked it a lot better than last issue. I think the best part is the flashback depicting Ian’s abusive relationship with Zoe.

BLACK PANTHER #8 (Marvel, 2016) – “A Nation Under Our Feet, Part 8,” (W) Ta-Nehisi Coates, (A) Chris Sprouse. The big event this issue is that T’Challa travels into some kind of dreamworld to find Shuri. Until now, I didn’t quite understand where Shuri was; I assumed she was just somewhere in Wakanda. The historical story this issue is interesting because it’s based on the epic of Sundiata, although not identical. Mari Djata is another name of Sundiata, the founder of the Mali Empire, and his parents Sologon and Maghan Kanate are named after Sundiata’s parents, Sogolon and Naré Maghann Konaté. Sogolon’s story is not identical to the epic of Sundiata, since it emphasizes her more than on her son, but is clearly based on that work. I think Coates’s goal, here and elsewhere in the series, is to turn Wakanda’s history into a sort of pan-African myth. Wakanda’s exact location within Africa is not clear to me, but its history seems to be based on the history of many African countries at once. And this is not because Coates can’t distinguish between one African country and another, but because Wakanda is supposed to stand for Africa in general.

SPELL ON WHEELS #2 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, (W) Kate Leth, (A) Megan Levens. I didn’t like this very much, though maybe I was tired when I read it. Nothing in this issue excited me, and I can’t tell the characters apart.

THE BACKSTAGERS #4 (Boom!, 2016) – untitled, (W) James Tynion IV, (A) Rian Sygh. I just had dinner with my old friend Michael Abramson, who designs theatrical lighting for a living, and I should have mentioned this comic to him, but I forgot. This issue is a sweet and funny conclusion to the story about Sasha getting lost backstage. Sasha is the Backstagers version of Ripley from Lumberjanes; he shares Ripley’s improbably small size and lack of emotional restraint. In the scene with the bridge, all the lines of dialogue in white text are quotations from plays or musicals, though I had to look most of them up.

DOCTOR STRANGE #14 (Marvel, 2016) – “Blood in the Aether, Chapter Three: A Gut Full of Hell,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Chris Bachalo. This is one of the grosser comics I’ve read lately – it almost reminds me of Gilbert Hernandez’s Blubber or some of Michael DeForge’s work. It’s all about Satana trying to corrupt Dr. Strange’s soul by making him eat hell bacon, which eventually comes to life. I can’t say I enjoyed this issue, but Jason and Chris must have had a fun time creating it.

BETTY & VERONICA #2 (Archie, 2016) – “War,” (W/A) Adam Hughes. It’s been three months since the last issue. Adam Hughes must not be able to maintain a monthly schedule. Still, this comic was worth the wait; it’s not only well-drawn, but also well-written, which surprises me because I didn’t know Adam could write. He has a reputation as a cheesecake artist, but he’s also a very effective storyteller. The coloring in this issue is strangely muted and washed-out.

CAVE CARSON HAS A CYBERNETIC EYE #1 (DC, 2016) – “Part One: Going Underground,” (W) Gerard Way & Jon Rivera, (A) Michael Avon Oeming. An impressive debut issue starring a recently widowed Cave Carson and his college-age daughter. The best thing about this comic is Michael Avon Oeming’s dynamic and moody storytelling. I haven’t read any of his comics since Powers, and I wasn’t all that impressed with that comic, but his art here is excellent. The appearance of Wild Dog in the end is a surprise.

ATOMIC ROBO AND THE TEMPLE OF OD #3 (IDW, 2016) – untitled, (W) Brian Clevinger, (A) Scott Wegener. I did not enjoy the first two issues of this miniseries, but I liked this one a lot more, though not necessarily because there was anything different about it. I think the story is just making more sense to me. One thing I love about this series is the vaguely plausible yet ridiculous scientific theories, like Dr. Lu’s explanation of hyperfields in this issue.

CAVE CARSON HAS A CYBERNETIC EYE #2 (DC, 2016) – “Headaches,” same creators as above. Another well-drawn and well-written issue. All these Young Animal comics (with the possible exception of Mother Panic, which I have not read) are very odd, but this one has probably the clearest storytelling. Doom Patrol, by contrast, is almost impenetrable. I also like how all these titles – again, except maybe Mother Panic – are postmodern takes on classic Silver Age characters. That was also how Vertigo got started, with titles like Sandman, Animal Man and Black Orchid.

ATOMIC ROBO AND THE TEMPLE OF OD #4 (IDW, 2016) – as above. The bandit dudes were just annoying at first, but now they’re starting to grow on me, with their almost Scrooge-esque desire for money. “Yeah yeah howdy okay” is a funny line. At one point someone asks if Robo speaks Manchu, but I believe that that language was already almost extinct by World War II.

HERO FOR HIRE #15 (Marvel, 1973) – “Retribution, Part II,” (W/A) Billy Graham, (W) Tony Isabella. This comic is almost as chock-full of text as if Don McGregor had written it, but at least the prose is less bad, and the plot is clear and exciting. However, the main story only takes up half the issue because Billy Graham was unable to meet his deadline. The rest of the issue is a reprint of a Golden Age Sub-Mariner story by Bill Everett. This is an odd choice, but at least it’s a well-drawn and exciting story. The plot is that Namor’s evil cousin Byrrah tricks the emperor of Atlantis into starting a war with the surface world.

INCREDIBLE HULK #166 (Marvel, 1973) – “The Destroyer from the Dynamo!”, (W) Steve Englehart, (A) Herb Trimpe. A good issue from the greatest era of this series prior to Peter David’s arrival. Looking for Dr. Strange, the Hulk instead teams up with Hawkeye against Zzzax, who makes his first appearance this issue. A subplot involves an army officer who insists on smoking his pipe, even though the enemy might see the smoke, because his pipe is his trademark.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #2 (Marvel, 1972) – “And Spidey Makes Four!”, (W) Gerry Conway, (A) Ross Andru. A very basic but exciting team-up story. After Johnny Storm tries and fails to make friends with Spider-Man, the Wizard kidnaps Spidey and brainwashes him into becoming the fourth member of the Frightful Four. Then they try to drain power from the Negative Zone for some reason, but they end up attracting the attention of Annihilus, and Johnny has to snap Spidey out of his mind control so he can save the day. Ross Andru’s art is excellent.

WORLD OF KRYPTON #3 (DC, 1979) – “The Last Days of Krypton,” (W) Paul Kupperberg, (A) Howard Chaykin. This is the last issue of a miniseries. The storytelling in this comic is extremely compressed, to the point where it reads like a plot summary. This may have been inevitable; Paul Kupperberg’s task in this comic was to take a vast number of often contradictory facts about Krypton from lots of old Superman comics, and integrate them into a coherent story. It’s almost the same thing that Don Rosa did in the Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, except that Kupperberg is a worse writer. It’s odd that Superbaby is nowhere to be seen in this issue until the very end. Howard Chaykin’s art in this issue is barely recognizable, perhaps because of Frank Chiaramonte’s mediocre inking.

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #579 (DC, 2000) – “Pranked!”, (W) J.M. DeMatteis, (A) Mike McKone. This is just a bad Superman comic, and not just because it’s drawn by Mike McKone, whose art has always rubbed me the wrong way. At bottom, this is a formulaic Superman-versus-Prankster story, but it has way too many themes and subplots, and as a result it lacks any clear focus.

LADY KILLER II #3 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Joëlle Jones. In my review of the previous issue, I wrote that if you’ve read one issue of this comic, you’ve read them all. In fact that is no longer true, because this issue has a genuinely exciting and surprising plot. It turns out that Josie’s new assistant Irving is in fact a Nazi war criminal, and during the war, Mother Schüler tried to capture him and failed. Also, on the last page, we learn that Irving has kidnapped Josie’s husband’s boorish boss. I’m truly excited to see where this goes. I also like how with this issue, Mother Schüler ceases to be just a generic shrewish mother-in-law and becomes an actual character.

ETHER #1 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, (W) Matt Kindt, (A) David Rubín. This comic, by an all-star team, is perhaps the most exciting of Dark Horse’s recent debut series. It’s a somewhat formulaic mystery story, but it takes place in a magical otherworld. David Rubín’s depiction of that world is amazing. Highlights include the snail taxi and the giant gorilla dude. His visual storytelling is just as brilliant. He has an impressive ability to lay out a page in an interesting way. I’m glad that he’s achieving success in America after already becoming an acclaimed artist in Spain; I think such connections between American and European comics are a very positive development. I look forward to seeing where this series goes.

SECRET SOCIETY OF SUPER-VILLAINS #1 (DC, 1976) – “Attend – or Die!”, (W) Gerry Conway, (A) Pablo Marcos. This is fun, though not great. Gerry spends most of the issue introducing the various villains, including Captain Cold, Copperhead, Gorilla Grodd, Star Sapphire, etc. Their unique and often conflicting personalities help make this comic interesting, though it’s no Suicide Squad.

GHOST RIDER #27 (Marvel, 1977) – “At the Mercy of the Manticore!”, (W) Jim Shooter, (A) Don Perlin. I’ve never collected this series heavily because it strikes me as rather boring. After reading this issue, I have not changed my mind on that. It does guest-star Hawkeye and Two-Gun Kid, but their team-up with Ghost Rider is devoid of any real excitement.

THE FICTION #2 (Boom!, 2015) – “Chapter II: Memoria,” (W) Curt Pires, (A) David Rubín. I ordered this entire series from DCBS, but the first issue was so underwhelming that I never bothered to read the other three. I was motivated to go back and read it because after reading Ether #1, I wanted to read some more David Rubín. His artwork this issue is up to his usual high standard. It’s a pity that such excellent artwork was wasted on such a mediocre story. Other than one insightful conversation about police racism, the story contains nothing of any interest. The characters are flat stereotypes, and the plot is predictable and trite.

PAST AWAYS #7 (Dark Horse, 2015) – untitled, (W) Matt Kindt, (A) Scott Kolins. Another fun issue of a series I really ought to finish reading. This issue develops the plot significantly by revealing that Herb is responsible for everything, though I don’t quite understand why or how.

THE THRILLING ADVENTURE HOUR PRESENTS BEYOND BELIEF #2 (Image, 2015) – “Some Things Under the Bed Are Dueling,” (W) Ben Acker & Ben Blacker, (A) Phil Hester. I forgot I even had this issue. It’s a bit confusing, but it’s a fun and cute story about a little girl and her imaginary friend, which turns out to have its own imaginary friend.

THE FICTION #3 (Boom!, 2015) – “Chapter III: Where the Sky Hangs or Four Years Gone,” (W) Curt Pires, (A) David Rubín. Another example of good artwork wasted on an awful story. At one point this issue, one of the protagonists (I can’t even remember their names) realizes that if they can get into the fictional world by reading, they can also change it by writing. Curt Pires seems to think this is an original idea; I wonder if he’s read Promethea. Also, he has a high-school-level knowledge of literature and he thinks it makes him an expert. He namechecks Lewis Carroll and Calvino and Borges, but it’s clear that he knows little about these writers besides their names.

THE FICTION #4 (Boom!, 2015) – “Neverending or Until We Can’t (Let’s Go),” creators as above. A predictable, formulaic conclusion, with art that is far better than the story deserves.

THE SPIRIT: THE NEW ADVENTURES #3 (Kitchen Sink, 1998) – “Last Night I Dreamed of Dr. Cobra,” (W) Alan Moore, (A) Daniel Torres; and “Ellen’s Stalker,” (W) Mark Kneece, (A) Bo Hampton. This series lasted less than a year, perhaps because Kitchen Sink was going out of business at the time, but it was an affectionate tribute to The Spirit, with high production values and a phenomenal lineup of talent. The first story this issue was a rarity, an Alan Moore story I hadn’t read. It takes place in the far future, when the Spirit has become a poorly understood myth, and is structured around a tour guide’s description of the ruins of Central City. A fascinating concept in this story is “logotechture” – the idea that Eisner’s famous title pages, where the Spirit’s name was spelled out by the shapes of buildings, were literal depictions of Central City’s architecture. In other words, the idea is that Central City was actually full of buildings that looked like the word SPIRIT. The art is by the celebrated Spanish cartoonist Daniel Torres, who, as far as I can tell, only did two stories for American comics besides this one. The backup story is also good, though not nearly at the same level. Bo Hampton’s art reminds me of that of Dave Stevens. Mark Kneece wrote a textbook on writing for comics, but he wrote very few actual comics, and most of them were collaborations with Bo or Scott Hampton.

ARCHIE #579 (Archie, 2007) – “Phone-y Problems,” (W) Angelo DeCesare, (A) Stan Goldberg, and other stories. After reading the new Archie comics, it’s a shock to go back to an old Archie comic with a much less sophisticated style of writing. In the cover story this issue, Mr. Weatherbee bans cell phones from Riverdale High. This plan backfires because the parents are worried about not being able to contact their children in an emergency, and the story ends there after just six pages. All the other stories in the issue are similarly lacking in substance.

I received my next shipment of comics on Monday, November 28. I was out of town on Friday when they arrived.

LUMBERJANES #32 (Boom!, 2016) – “Cut Loose,” (W) Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, (A) Carey Pietsch. Same title as last issue, oddly enough. I read this on the way to work Monday morning. The games at the start of the issue are fun, but the emotional highlight of the issue, and the entire storyline, is Molly’s confrontation of Zeus. She tells him: “Can’t you see that the way you’re treating your daughter is hurting her? … You can’t force her to live your life according to everything YOU want! That’s not what parents are supposed to do!” In saying this, Molly is talking not only to Zeus but also to her own parents. It’s an amazing moment – it’s Molly’s finest hour – and it’s also an impressive feat of storytelling, because it simultaneously resolves both the main plot and the subplot. After that, the final defeat of the cockatrices is almost an anticlimax. I didn’t like this story quite as much as the previous one, but it was still an excellent story, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

CHEW #60 (Image, 2016) – “Sour Grapes, Part 5,” (W) John Layman, (A) Rob Guillory. At last, the conclusion. This story is set “many, many years later” when the aliens are finally coming to earth. It begins with a cluttered and barely readable montage where an elderly Tony bites off his fingernail and remembers everything that’s happened in the series. Then we watch Olive and Peter Pilaf have some adventures, and then the aliens finally arrive, and just as I predicted, they turn out to be chickens. That part of the conclusion was obvious, because why else would they be so pissed at people who ate chicken? What I did not expect was the final page, where Tony avenges Amelia and Colby by stabbing the head alien to death with a chocolate knife – and that’s the end of the series. It ends on a cliffhanger, with Tony having doomed the human race to certain destruction. Somehow that seems like a perfect ending for this series. Overall, while I sometimes got bored with Chew, it was a fun, well-crafted and original comic, and it broke new ground for the industry by helping to create a market for fun comic books that aren’t about superheroes. I congratulate Layman and Guillory, and I wonder what they’ll do next.

SNOTGIRL #4 (Image, 2016) – “04. Now Everything’s Embarrassing,” (W) Bryan Lee O’Malley, (A) Leslie Hung. This is still a confusing comic and I’m not sure what it’s trying to do. It doesn’t fit clearly into any genre. But it’s fun, and it’s finally starting to feel like a Bryan Lee O’Malley comic. I love the panel where Snotgirl is self-conscious about whether she’s taking enough medication.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #21 (IDW, 2016) – “Enter the Stingers, Part Three,” (W) Kelly Thompson, (A) Meredith McClaren. I still dislike Meredith McClaren’s artwork, and it’s negatively affecting my enjoyment of this comic. But this story is getting fun. Riot is the worst villain in the series yet, and Fox is also despicable. I like how Kimber and Stormer are now being referred to as Stimber. The scene with Raya and her father is cute, and the dialogue even sounds like Spanish translated literally into English.

WONDER WOMAN #11 (DC, 2016) – “The Lies, Conclusion,” (W) Greg Rucka, (A) Liam Sharp. This is confusing and it doesn’t feel like the conclusion to a story. Diana has a vision of a bizarre fake version of Themyscira, then she snaps out of it, and meanwhile Etta encounters Rucka’s fake villain Veronica Cale. Despite being confused as to what’s going on, I enjoyed this issue a lot. I think Rucka’s second Wonder Woman run is just as thrilling as his first, and I think that based on his entire body of work on the character, he’s probably the second greatest Wonder Woman writer after George Pérez.

USAGI YOJIMBO #159 (Dark Horse, 2016) – “The Hatamoto’s Daughter,” (W/A) Stan Sakai. This says “Part 1 of 1” on the cover, but it ends on a cliffhanger. It gets off to a promising start. Usagi encounters a terrified little girl, Yuki, whose father has just been killed. With Inspector Ishida’s help, he has to solve the murder while also keeping her safe. One of Usagi’s most endearing character traits is that he’s really good with kids, and in this issue, he needs to use all his patience and compassion to help a severely traumatized child. Perhaps the best moment in the issue is when a villain claims to be Usagi’s uncle and asks her to go with him. Usagi asks Yuki if she knows the man, and when it becomes clear that he doesn’t, Usagi prepares to defend her by force. I hope that if I were in Usagi’s place, I would do exactly the same. Unfortunately, the rest of the issue peters out a bit as the focus shifts from Yuki to the investigation of her dad’s murder, and the ending is inconclusive. This issue should have been labeled as part 1 of 2, at least.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #13 (Marvel, 2016) – “The Smartest There Is! Part One: Marvel Now or Never!”, (W) Brandon Montclare & Amy Reeder, (A) Natacha Bustos, with a sequence by Leonard Kirk. My biggest problem with this series, and I don’t know why I haven’t noticed it before, is that the writing is sometimes incoherent. Luna’s train of thought and her motivations are very hard to follow. Again, maybe this is because she’s nine years old and she doesn’t understand herself very well. But it sometimes feels like Brandon and Amy have lost control of the plot. What I did like about this issue is Lunella’s realization that smashing stuff is not always the best solution. Lunella’s parents show up in this issue for the first time in a while. It’s odd that they’ve had such a limited role in this series. Considering Lunella’s age, her parents should be a much bigger presence in her life, unless they’re neglectful, and I don’t think we’re supposed to infer that.

DETECTIVE COMICS #391 (DC, 1969) – “The Gal Most Likely to Be – Batman’s Widow!”, (W) Frank Robbins, (A) Bob Brown. An exciting story by perhaps the most underrated Batman writer. Reading this, I wondered if Frank had ever written romance comics, because this story is a hybrid of a romance comic and a crime comic. Tim Clark loves Ginny Jenkins, but she’s dating a mobster who’s extorting money from restaurants, and he dresses up as Batman in order to save her. The villain’s plot seems silly at first glance – he intimidates restaurant owners into buying expensive ads in his food magazine – but it also seems like a plausible thing that might happen in the restaurant industry. The Robin backup story is much less well-written but has some excellent artwork by Gil Kane, and includes some great action sequences.

WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #157 (DC, 1966) – “The Abominable Brats!”, (W) Edmond Hamilton, (A) Curt Swan. This is an imaginary story starring the Super-Sons. It’s a bizarre piece of work, very different from Bob Haney’s later stories about these characters. Superman Jr and Batman Jr commit all sorts of bizarre, inexplicable pranks, but it turns out they’re actually Mr. Mxyzptlk Jr and Bat-Mite Jr. I accidentally spoiled this ending for myself by looking up this comic on the Internet, and without the element of surprise, the story has little else to recommend it. There’s also a backup story, reprinted from Tales of the Unexpected #1, which takes place in the France of Louis XIV. The twist ending is obvious, and the artist, Howard Purcell, apparently did no research whatsoever and had no idea what Louis XIV looked like.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #34 (IDW, 2016) – untitled, (W) Thom Zahler, (A) Agnes Garbowska. Pinkie Pie and Cheese Sandwich are kidnapped by an animated house. Refusing to acknowledge the departure (and implied death) of the ponies who lived in it, the house wants people to party in it forever. Pinkie Pie and Cheese Sandwich solve the problem by allowing the house to maintain a perpetual party – like Morrolan’s party in Castle Black, in Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos books – as long as the house lets people leave when they want. This is a fairly fun story, and the flashbacks remind me of the opening scene from Up. But this story has an unfortunate moral. It suggests that instead of acknowledging and grieving your losses, you should try to regain what you lost and keep it forever.

FUTURE QUEST #7 (DC, 2016) – “The Calm,” (W) Jeff Parker, (A) Doc Shaner & Ron Randall. I wish Doc Shaner could draw all of this series; he only did four pages in this issue. This story is a much-needed breather after five issues of nonstop action. It has some fun character moments. I’m still not quite sure what’s going on, though, or who exactly the villain is.

SPIDER-GWEN #14 (Marvel, 2016) – “Cold Turkey,” (W) Jason Latour, (A) Robbi Rodriguez & Chris Visions. I was exhausted when I read this. Gwen’s reconciliation with Aunt May is a really well-written scene. However, the scene with Spider-Woman and her new romantic partner is annoying because of the complete change in art style. I don’t like Chris Visions’s art to begin with, and it’s too much of a stylistic clash with Robbi Rodriguez’s art. Looking back, I see I already complained about this artist in my review of issue 5. I had forgotten that Howard the Duck was President in Spider-Gwen’s America, and I was amused to be reminded. I would much rather have Howard for president, compared to certain other people I could name.

Post-election reviews

11-12-16

This past Tuesday was one of the worst days in my life and one of the low points in American history, and it’s hard not to feel like everything we do is pointless. Strangely, though, that makes me more motivated to teach and write about comics. I may not be able to accomplish larger political or structural change all on my own. But I can at least try to advocate for greater inclusion and diversity in the comics industry, and these reviews are one way I do that. I see my fan writing about comics and my academic work on comics as interrelated components of a larger project. One of the goals of this project is to advocate for a more inclusive and progressive comics community, which can serve as a model for other types of communities.

New comics received on October 28:

SAGA #39 (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W) Brian K. Vaughan, (A) Fiona Staples. Not a whole lot happened in this issue. The best part is probably Hazel’s little-kid crush on the little ferret dude, but other than that, this issue seemed mostly about moving the plot along. I like how when one of the robots dies, its head displays a blue screen of death.

LUMBERJANES #31 (Boom!, 2016) – “Cut Loose,” (W) Shannon Waters & Kat Leyh, (A) Carey Pietsch. This may be the most important comic book in America right now, because of its appeal to a younger audience and its progressive stance on race, gender and sexuality. This issue is a fairly exciting continuation of the gorgon-cockatrice story arc, with some fun action sequences. For me, though, the most interesting thing in the issue was Molly’s worries about how her parents don’t approve of her friends. This confirms what we learned about Molly’s family last issue. I’m sad for Molly, of course. I’m also very curious as to how this comic is going to address issues of homophobia and sexism, because so far Lumberjanes has “addressed” these isues by depicting a utopian world in which bigotry doesn’t seem to exist.

MS. MARVEL #12 (Marvel, 2016) – “The Road to War,” (W) G. Willow Wilson, (A) Mirka Andolfo. A nice pick-me-up after the grim, depressing story that just ended. Willow’s depiction of Pakistan seems very authentic; I’ve never been there, but I get the impression that Willow has, and that she has more than a casual familiarity with Pakistani culture. Kareem is an adorable new character, and it’s obvious that he’s the Red Dagger. I also like the demonstration that Karachi’s problems are not as simple as Kamala thinks – and that Kamala, as an outsider, is not fully at home either in Karachi or in Jersey City. When Kamala says that she sticks out in Jersey because she’s too Pakistani, and in Karachi because she’s too American, she says the same thing I’ve heard from real-life children of immigrants. My only complaint about this story is it should have been at least one issue. I especially want to see Kareem again. As a piece of trivia, “Gabbar Singh is my copilot” is another reference to Sholay.

THE VISION #12 (Marvel, 2016) – “Spring,” (W) Tom King, (A) Gabriel Hernandez Walta. An eloquent conclusion to the best-written Marvel comic of the past twenty years. It’s not necessarily the most enjoyable Marvel comic, but it is the one Marvel comic whose writing has reached the highest aesthetic peaks. This issue, Virginia reveals that she mind-controlled Vision into attacking the Avengers, then commits suicide. It’s a final heartbreaking moment in a series that’s been full of them. And yet the series ends on a surprisingly positive note, with Vision raising Viv as a single parent, while trying to recreate Virginia. I hope we will see more comics like this from Tom King; he could be the next Neil Gaiman.

ANOTHER CASTLE #5 (Oni, 2016) – untitled, (W) Andrew Wheeler, (A) Paulina Ganucheau. In the epic conclusion, Misty defeats Badlug and becomes the new king of Grimoire. Overall, this was a fun series and I’m sorry that it was just five issues. I hope Andrew and Paulina will do either a sequel, or another series in the same vein.

FUTURE QUEST #6 (DC, 2016) – “Impossible Choice!”, (W) Jeff Parker, (A) Doc Shaner & Ron Randall; and “Code Name: Cobalt, Part Two,” (W) Jeff Parker, (A) Craig Rousseau. This is another fun issue, but the trouble is that this whole series has been a non-stop sequence of action scenes. As a result, it can be hard to remember what’s going on, or to distinguish between all the characters. I think we need an issue where the characters sit and talk and explain what’s going on. The art in the backup story is a bit too stylistically dissimilar from the art in the main story.

CHEW #59 (Image, 2016) – “Sour Grapes, Part 4,” (W) John Layman, (A) Rob Guillory. Just one issue left. So Amelia is really dead, but she finished writing the story that will kill everyone who’s eaten chicken. And Tony reads the story, killing off a large chunk of the population of the world, including Colby. So basically, this issue is almost as bleak and depressing as America on November 10, only a bit funnier. The one loose end is why the aliens hate chicken-eaters so much. The obvious reason is because they themselves look like chickens, but that’s so predictable that I wonder if Layman has something else in mind.

SILVER SURFER #7 (Marvel, 2016) – “The Infinite All-In,” (W) Dan Slott, (A) Mike Allred. This is the funniest issue in a while; it’s a ig pick-me-up after the depressing story a out Dawn’s mom. Like the est Slott-Allred Surfer stories, it’s full of funny SF concepts like a puppy- unny-kitten planet, a six-armed violinist, and a gam ling game in which the Surfer loses the a ility to say the second letter of the alpha et.

JUGHEAD #10 (Archie, 2016) – “Jughead Jones Is on a Date??!”, (W) Ryan North, (A) Derek Charm. Ryan North’s second issue of Jughead is another good one. Jughead’s date with Sabrina is a predictable disaster, and Sabrina retaliates by giving Jughead a bunch of curses, each of which backfires. It’s a simple story compared to some of Ryan’s other recent work, but it’s extremely well-executed. One funny moment is the scene where Sabrina cuts off some of Jughead’s hair, then casts a spell one of whose ingredients is “hair of jerk.”

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #12 (Marvel, 2016) – “Cosmic Cooties, Part Six of Six: Unrequited,” (W) Brandon Montclare & Amy Reeder, (A) Natacha Bustos. A pretty fun conclusion to this story arc. Lunella lets Kid Kree down gently, which perhaps shows that she’s getting more mature, and also builds a giant Lego dinosaur for situations when Devil Dinosaur’s mind is in her body. Though I’m not sure how that’s going to help anything. One thing I’ve noticed about Lunella is that she has trouble listening to anyone; she talks at people, not with them. Which is probably normal at her age.

WONDER WOMAN #9 (DC, 2016) – “The Lies, Part Five,” (W) Greg Rucka, (A) Liam Sharp. This issue is just all right. The shopping scene is fun, but I was not impressed by the romantic interlude between Diana and Steve. I have never liked these characters as a couple. I think Steve works much better as Diana’s best male friend than as her unrequited lover.

GIANT DAYS 2016 HOLIDAY SPECIAL #1 (Boom!, 2016) – “If Esther, Daisy and Susan Hadn’t Become Friends?”, (W) John Allison, (A) Lissa Tremain. This is obviously inspired by What If?, and it’s pretty much what it says on the tin. Without Daisy and Susan, Esther becomes friends with some horrible rich girls, but the other two protagonists conspire to give the girls their comeuppance. It’s basically just a longer issue of Giant Days, but that’s not a bad thing.

STRANGE TALES #163 (Marvel, 1967) – “And the Dragon Cried… Death!”, (W/A) Jim Steranko; and “Three Faces of Doom!”, (W) Jim Lawrence, (A) Dan Adkins. I read this comic before Steranko publicly expressed support for Trump. Steranko’s comments were annoying, but I don’t think they tarnish his reputation, simply because his comics career ended over 40 years ago. The Steranko who drew Nick Fury has little to do with the Steranko who shows up at conventions today. I’m certainly not going to give him any of my money, but I wasn’t doing that to begin with. Anyway, the Nick Fury story in this issue is typically brilliant, with some amazing action sequences, and it’s also the first appearance of Clay Quartermain. The Dr. Strange story has good artwork, but a boring story, in which the Living Tribunal is portrayed very differently from how he was depicted later.

DESCENDER #16 (Image, 2016) – “Singularities 5 of 5,” (W) Jeff Lemire, (A) Dustin Nguyen. The current story arc ends with Driller’s origin story, which, as usual in this series, is very sad. Despite his very limited brainpower, Driller is a sentient being who takes pride in his work and is capable of friendship, and he deeply resents being a slave. This whole story arc was a bit of an odd pacing decision, because it was a series of flashbacks that delayed the resolution of the cliffhanger in #11. But it really did enable me to get to know the major characters better.

DAREDEVIL #96 (Marvel, 1973) – “The Widow Will Make You Pay!”, (W) Gerry Conway, (A) Gene Colan. Another story from DD and Black Widow’s San Francisco period. Hornhead is beaten half to death by the Man-Bull, but Natasha chases him off and saves Matt. Then Natasha fights Man-Bull again and loses, but Matt gets out of his hospital bed to save her. It’s an exciting story. The art in this issue is a bit weird because Ernie Chan’s inking was poorly suited to Gene’s pencils, but Gene’s artwork is beautiful as always.

NIGHTHAWK #3 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, (W) David Walker, (A) Martin Morazzo. I feel guilty for not buying series, because it only lasted six issues. I try to support Marvel comics with diverse protagonists, but sometimes I miss some. This issue is quite violent, but in an intelligent way, and David Walker writes some excellent dialogue.

CYBORG #5 (DC, 2016) – “Rubble & Revelations,” (W) David Walker, (A) Ivan Reis, Felipe Watanabe & Daniel HDR. I like this much better than the previous issue of Cyborg I read, though I still don’t understand the story very well. Notable things about this comic are Walker’s witty dialogue and Ivan Reis’s impressive depictions of robots.

DAREDEVIL #89 (Marvel, 1972) – “Crisis!”, (W) Gerry Conway, (A) Gene Colan. Matt and Natasha battle the Purple Man and Electro. This is another fun issue, but it’s tarnished because Matt behaves like a severe male chauvinist, while Natasha behaves like a helpless waif. Matt grabs Natasha’s shoulder to make her talk to him, and Natasha replies “Help me, Matt. It’s so hard to know what to do!” Readers at the time were aware that Matt and Natasha’s relationship was somewhat sexist. On the letters page, a reader named Jeff Weintraub complains that Matt and Ivan are male chauvinists and that they treat Natasha like a child. The editors’ response does not effectively address this concern, except by saying that Matt’s behavior doesn’t reflect the writer’s views.

New comics received on November 4, when I was 100% convinced that Hillary Clinton was our next President:

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #15 (Image, 2016) – “Gut Check, Part One,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Jason Latour. Roberta Tubb has finally arrived in Craw County, but even now she’s not the protagonist of the series; she spends the issue sitting in Boss’s BBQ and glaring at people. I’ve been waiting to learn more about this character since about issue 4, and I’m still waiting. The real protagonist of this comic is Coach Boss, and in this issue his position is in severe jeopardy after a bunch of embarrassing losses. The one principle he’s not willing to sacrifice is his belief in the integrity of the game of football. And by the end of the issue, he’s abandoned even that. This was a fun comic, but again, I want more of Roberta.

GOLDIE VANCE #7 (Boom!, 2016) – untitled, (W) Hope Larson, (A) Brittney Williams. Another fun issue, with some clever detective work and good characterization. I think the best scene in the issue is Goldie’s talk with her mother. Goldie’s mom’s expression when Goldie says “I want my tail to be orange” is kind of creepy.

SUPERMAN #10 (DC, 2016) – “In the Name of the Father, Part 1: World’s Smallest,” (W) Peter Tomasi, (W/A) Patrick Gleason. This was just an incredibly cute and fun comic. Clark and Jon’s team-up with Bruce and Damian is just what it ought to be. The fathers have an affectionate rivalry, but the sons hate each other on sight. Besides the interactions between the main characters, there are lots of other cute moments in this issue, including the Bat-Cow and Albert the cat, and Jon’s encounter with Maya at school. This issue reminded me of, not any official Batman comic, but the Black Cat’s webcomic Batman and Sons. This issue has the exuberance and love that are so common in fan works based on DC comics, but so rare in actual DC comics.

ANIMOSITY #3 (Aftershock, 2016) – “Animilitary,” (W) Marguerite Bennett, (A) Rafael De Latorre. Another good issue, though there’s nothing to really distinguish it from issue 1. So far my favorite thing about this series is all the funny talking issues. Highlights of this issue include the transgender cat and the humpback whale that says the name of its species.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #23 (Image, 2016) – “Pantheon Monthly,” (W) Kieron Gillen et al, (A) Kevin Wada. In a series that was already formally innovative, this is the most experimental issue yet. It’s the first comic book with interior art by Kevin Wada, who specializes in cover art. To accommodate his skillset, Kieron decided to format this issue like a fashion magazine. Wada’s artwork is used to illustrate a series of fake “articles” about interviews with the gods, written by real writers like Laurie Penny and Leigh Alexander. The quality of these articles is variable; some of them were difficult to get through. And as I have said before in other contexts, I’m annoyed when comic books include long blocks of text. If I wanted to read a magazine, I would read a magazine. However, while this experiment was not 100% successful, it was interesting, and this issue was a good example of Kieron’s drive to continuously challenge himself.

GIANT DAYS #20 (Boom!, 2016) – “The One Where the Girls Go to IKEA,” (W) John Allison, (A) Max Sarin. That’s not the real title, but it might as well be. All the furniture in Esther, Daisy and Susan’s new apartment falls apart, and they have to go to IKEA to replace it. There are other stories that make fun of IKEA, including Power Girl #6 and Grady Hendrix’s Horrorstor, but this issue is effective anyway, mostly because all the jokes are very accurate. I think the funniest joke is that the articles of furniture have names like “disease” and “sinkhole.”

FLASH GORDON: KING’S CROSS #1 (Dynamite, 2016) – “The Mysterious Continent,” (W) Jeff Parker, (A) Jesse Hamm. This is a sequel to some of Dynamite’s previous King Features comics, but I don’t know which ones exactly. Like most of Jeff Parker’s comics, it’s an exciting story with good characterization. I especially like the scene where Zarkov calmly finishes his drink while Flash beats up the people who were trying to kidnap him. I think I used to know Jesse Hamm from CBR or some other forum.

THE FLINTSTONES #5 (DC, 2016) – “Election Day,” (W) Mark Russell, (A) Steve Pugh. This issue has an election theme. I don’t want to talk about that. I was feeling okay for most of the day, but this evening I started to suffer from election-related despair again. So let’s ignore that aspect of this comic. The other interesting part was Barney and Wilma’s struggles with infertility. This leads to an obvious question as to where Bamm-Bamm came from, and Mark Russell answers that question in a surprising and touching way.

OCCUPY AVENGERS #1 (Marvel, 2016) – “Occupy Avengers,” (W) David Walker, (A) Carlos Pacheco. Despite the promising title and creative team, this issue is disappointing. It reads like an inventory story. The plot is a clear reference to both Standing Rock and Flint, Michigan, but it’s framed like an ordinary superhero story, instead of a superhero story about politics. The villains responsible for the water crisis are common criminals, not elected Republican politicians, as in real life. Because of its inability to take a partisan political stance, Marvel is probably not capable of publishing a comic that treats the Flint water crisis or the Standing Rock pipeline crisis with the seriousness they deserve.

REVIVAL #44 (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W) Tim Seeley, (A) Mike Norton. The overall plot of this series is finally starting to make sense. Lester Majak tried to sacrifice Dana in order to cast a magic spell that would end death permanently. But because Dana was pregnant, his spell was too strong, and it turned all the dead people into zombies whose souls were separated from their bodies – hence the yellow ghost things. Besides explaining that, issue also reveals the origin of the Amish assassin. Easily the best line in the issue is “Are you guys ninjas?” “No, honey, we’re Amish.”

CHAMPIONS #2 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, (W) Mark Waid, (A) Humberto Ramos. My expectations for this issue were quite low, so I was pleasantly surprised by it. The team spends the entire issue talking around a campfire, like in Tales of the New Teen Titans, and this leads to a lot of interesting character interactions. I thought that Mark had lost much of his ability to write teenagers effectively, but maybe I was wrong.

INSEXTS #3 (Aftershock, 2016) – “The Nature of Women,” (W) Marguerite Bennett, (A) Ariela Kristantina. I think I’ve bought every issue of this series, but I stopped reading it because of lack of motivation. I think I felt like this comic was just a wish-fulfillment fantasy or something. That was never true, though, and after reading this comic, I feel like this series is not just about hot sex and disgusting bugs. It feels like a serious investigation of gender, sexuality, and transhumanism. I need to finish the rest of the issues I have.

MARVEL SPOTLIGHT #18 (Marvel, 1974) – “Madhouse!”, (W) Steve Gerber, (A) Gene Colan. This Son of Satan story is heavily reminiscent of The Exorcist, which came out the previous year. Daimon goes to a faculty party with his girlfriend (?) and then has to cure a teenage girl of possession. The slightly unusual wrinkle is that she became possessed after her father slapped her because he disapproved of her boyfriend. There is maybe a faint implication that this was due to racism; the boyfriend only appears in two panels, but looks sort of Hispanic. Overall, this issue is not a major work of Gerber, but I still want to collect the rest of this run because I’m a Gerber completist.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #42 (Marvel, 1976) – “Shoot-Out at the O.K. Space Station!”, (W) Steve Englehart, (A) Al Milgrom. My collection of Captain Marvel volume 1 mostly stops at the end of Jim Starlin’s run, but it looks like Jim Starlin was succeeded by some good creators. I wonder how many other issues of Captain Marvel were written by Englehart. Both the writing and the art in this issue are very Starlinesque. The story is really weird, in a way that reminds me of “1000 Clowns” in Strange Tales #181. Mar-Vell and Rick visit an alien planet that, thanks to the Stranger’s intervention, has become a collection of Wild West cliches. It’s funny, in a stupid way.

INSEXTS #4 (Aftershock, 2016) – “Hunters,” (W) Marguerite Bennett, (A) Ariela Kristantina. This issue includes more hot sex and disgusting insects, as well as a fight scene with a werewolf. Ariela Kristantina’s art this issue is quite good; she is well suited for both the sex and the horror aspects of this comic. This series also feels like an interesting exploration of Victorian politics and culture, though I’m not sure it’s as well-researched as DC Comics Bombshells. I like how part of the issue takes place in a panopticon prison, though I don’t believe there was such a prison in London in real life.

SUPERMAN #358 (DC, 1981) – “Father Nature’s Folly!”, (W) Cary Bates, (A) Curt Swan. This is a weird one. The villain, Father Nature, looks like the mythological Green Man and claims to have been responsible for the creation of life on earth. Which is a huge cliché; I don’t even know how many comic books I’ve read that proposed an alien origin for life on earth. An odd thing about this story is that Superman keeps having visions of a particular shape (a tower with two upwardly curving arms). This reminds me of how the protagonist of Close Encounters of the Third Kind keeps having visions of a particular mountain. That film came out in 1977, so it may have directly inspired this comic. This issue also includes a Bruce (Superman) Wayne backup story, which is better than the main story, but still just average.

UNWORTHY THOR #1 (Marvel, 2016) – “The Hammer from Heaven,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Olivier Coipel. Jason Aaron’s Thor run has been mostly excellent, but a bit uneven. This issue is about the same level of quality as a bad issue of the main Thor series. It’s too full of fight scenes, and the only exciting part is the arrival of Beta Ray Bill at the end. Olivier Coipel is maybe a slightly bigger star than Russell Dauterman, but I think Dauterman is a much better artist.

BITCH PLANET #9 (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W) Kelly Sue DeConnick, (A) Valentine De Landro. This comic is even more important now than on the day it came out. It’s a very straightforward and blunt story that wears its politics on its sleeve, and that’s a good thing. It’s the kind of story we need right now. The bonus material in this issue includes an essay by my friend and colleague Rebecca Wanzo. One cool thing she does here is to translate Sara Ahmed’s difficult concept of feminist killjoys into terms that nonacademics can understand.

DETECTIVE COMICS #588 (DC, 1988) – “Night People, Part Two: The Corrosive Man,” (W) John Wagner & Alan Grant, (A) Norm Breyfogle. I read the first part of this story arc in February. This story is just boring. It doesn’t tell us anything new about Batman, and the Corrosive Man is an unexciting new villain.

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #558 (DC, 1998) – “Another Typical Day,” (W) Karl Kesel & Jerry Ordway, (A) Steve Yeowell. This is a weird one. It’s written exactly like a Silver Age Superman story, only with modern artwork, slightly more intelligent writing, and less sexism. Steel and Kon-El exist, but all the characters wear ‘50s clothing, Lois doesn’t know Superman’s secret identity, and one of the central plot points is that Jimmy Olsen appears to have been turned into an alien. While this is a fun story, it’s also confusing, in that there’s no explanation of why the past 40 years of Superman continuity have suddenly been reversed. I guess this issue was part of a crossover event called “The Dominus Effect,” where every issue was based on a past era of Superman history.

ACTION COMICS #661 (DC, 1991) – “Stretching a Point,” (W) Roger Stern, (A) Brett Breeding. Both this and the previous comic have been in my collection for years, but I only just got around to reading them. This issue guest-stars Plastic Man, and Sterno correctly writes him as a stone-faced, humorless straightman, who just happens to have weird things happen to him all the time. Most other writers, besides Jack Cole and Kyle Baker, have written Plastic Man as a clown, and this is the wrong approach. I haven’t read a lot of Roger Stern comics lately, since I’ve already read most of his major works. I miss him.

JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS #2 (Archie, 2016) – untitled, (W) Marguerite Bennett & Cameron DeOrdio, (A) Audrey Mok. I’m reading four current comics written by Marguerite Bennett (though I’m backed up on DC Comics Bombshells), and none of them is anything like the others. Her versatility is impressive. In this issue, the Pussycats foolishly sign a contract that forces them to play at a punk bar every night. What impresses me about this issue is the use of metatext; the characters know they’re in a story and act accordingly. My favorite example of this, which I shared on Instagram, is Valerie’s line that begins “We can always chicken out…”

MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #40 (Marvel, 1978) – “Conjure Night!”, (W) Roger Slifer & Tom DeFalco, (A) Ron Wilson. Despite the undistinguished creative team, this Thing-Black Panther team-up is enjoyable. It begins with a fun scene where Ben makes pizza for several other people. Then there’s another funny scene where Ben visits the class that T’Challa, in his Luke Charles identity, is teaching at a mostly black public school. Ron Wilson’s artwork is a good imitation of that of George Perez, and the story shows at least some sensitivity about race. Unfortunately the plot is kind of dumb.

ACTION LAB: DOG OF WONDER #4 (Action Lab, 2016) – “The Comet’s Tale, Part One,” (W) Vito Delsante & Scott Fogg, (A) Reilly Leeds. This comic is okay, but I don’t like the artwork at all. It reminds me of a coloring book. I want Rosy Higgins back.

That was the last comic book I read before my country was plunged into an unimaginable crisis, with harshly negative results for my mental health. By Friday, I was not feeling 100% okay, and I’m still not, but at least I was able to read some comic books.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #10 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, (W) David Walker, (A) Sanford Greene. One of my sources of comfort in this current crisis has been the realization that black people have been dealing with this shit for hundreds of years, and they’ve survived. If they can, then so can I, and it’s my responsibility as a white person to show support for less privileged populations. This particular comic book is comforting right now because it acknowledges the continuing trauma of racism, but it’s joyful anyway. David Walker’s writing is exuberant and fun, and Sanford Greene’s art is really impressive this issue, especially in the two-page splash with all the superheroes. The heartwarming moment this issue is Luke shaking hands with the former criminal for whom he found a new job. I do wonder if David is no longer allowed to use Jessica Jones or Danielle. It’s odd that they’ve suddenly vanished from this comic with no explanation.

MEGA PRINCESS #1 (Boom!, 2016) – “Mega Princess,” (W) Kelly Thompson, (A) Brianne Drouhard. The latest in a series of princess comics, this one is about a ten-year-old multiracial princess who gains the powers of all princesses ever. It’s an extremely cute and fun comic, and I look forward to reading more of it. I do feel like there’s a bit too much going on at once. It’s hard to tell what exactly is the central theme of this comic, or where the story is going.

GOTHAM ACADEMY: SECOND SEMESTER #3 (DC, 2016) – “Second Semester, Part 3,” (W) Brenden Fletcher, Becky Cloonan & Karl Kerschl, (A) Adam Archer. I’m a bit confused as to what was happening in this story – why did the Witch Club want all those books? But overall, this is a fun issue of a great comic. . The poem on the first page is amazing; it creates an aura of mystery and intrigue. And I love the goldfish bowl full of Clayface.

PRINCELESS: RAVEN: THE PIRATE PRINCESS #11 (Action Lab, 2016) – “Issue Eleven,” (W) Jeremy Whitley, (A) Rosy Higgins. Wait, is this the same artist who draws Action Lab: Dog of Wonder? Because it doesn’t look like the same art style. Anyway, this is a fun issue, though it could have used a recap page because it returns us to the main storyline after several issues of flashbacks. I did think there were a couple moments in this issue that were too preachy. But the panel with the line “Do not assume that because I wear a dress and laugh and like things that are feminine I am weak” got a positive response when I shared it on Instagram.

LUMBERJANES/GOTHAM ACADEMY #6 (DC/Boom!, 2016) – untitled, (W) Chynna Clugston-Flores, (A) Kelly Matthews & Nicole Matthews. This series never lived up to its potential, but this issue is a satisfying conclusion to the story. I think the best moment is Ripley hugging Maps goodbye. I hope there will be a sequel to this miniseries, but with a different writer.

SPACE BATTLE LUNCHTIME #6 (Oni, 2016) – “Cannibal Coliseum,” (W) Natalie Riess. This miniseries is really good. Cannibal Coliseum is pretty much what you’d expect; it’s a combination of Battle Royale and a cooking show, with aliens. I complained before about Natalie’s lack of visual creativity, but I was wrong. There are a ton of bizarre-looking aliens in this issue, and the two-page splash with all the spaceships is very impressive. It is a bit disappointing that Peony has to be saved by Neptunia instead of saving herself, but at least she managed to stay alive until Neptunia showed up. And Chef Magicorn is an awesome villain.

WONDER WOMAN #10 (DC, 2016) – “Year One, Part Four,” (W) Greg Rucka, (A) Nicola Scott. This may have been the best comic of the week. Nicola Scott’s art is some of the best of her career, thanks in part to Romulo Fajardo’s coloring. The story is simple – Steve and Etta take Diana to a mall in order to help her get used to America – but it’s executed perfectly. I like how Greg introduces the two children early in the issue, in order to increase the impact of the scene where Diana saves them from terrorists. Also, I don’t know if the mall in this issue is supposed to be Horton Plaza in San Diego, but that’s what it reminds me of.

SHADE THE CHANGING GIRL #2 (DC, 2016) – “Earth Girl Made Easy,” (W) Cecil Castellucci, (A) Marley Zarcone. I’ve been lukewarm about the Young Animal comics because they all seem quite confusing. This is another deeply strange and confusing issue, but in a good way. Unlike with Doom Patrol #1, I feel like I understand what’s going on. Cecil clearly knows Peter Milligan’s Shade very well, but is approaching that series from the viewpoint of a teenage girl, although Milligan’s Shade was already quite feminist.

SUPERMAN #290 (DC, 1975) – “The Man Who Cried Super-‘Wolf’!”, (W) Jim Shooter, (A) Curt Swan. I can’t think of any other Superman stories from this era that were written by Jim Shooter, although he did write a bunch of Legion stories at this time. This is an average issue, in which a janitor named Sam Stern (a possible reference to the Leader?) tries to warn Superman about an impending peril, but fails because of his reputation as a liar. Probably the best moment is when Clark Kent intentionally burns his finger to give himself an excuse to switch to Superman. But he doesn’t realize that his powers are gone, so when he says “Yeoww! I burned my finger,” the pain is genuine. This issue also includes a backup story written by Elliot S! Maggin, in which Mr. Mxyzptlk causes everyone in New York to speak a different language. This reminds me of Mark Waid’s “Tower of Babel” story in JLA.

GREEN ARROW #13 (DC, 2002) – “The Sound of Violence, Part One: Frequency,” (W) Kevin Smith, (A) Phil Hester. I bought this because it’s the first appearance of Onomatopoeia, a villain who speaks in sound effects. Onomatopoeia is an awesome villain, and the writing in this issue is sometimes very witty, but there are things about it I don’t like. For example, early in the issue there’s a somewhat exploitative scene where Black Canary runs out of her bedroom naked.

SUICIDE SQUAD #25 (DC, 1989) – “Sea of Troubles,” (W) John Ostrander, (A) Grant Miehm & Karl Kesel. A typically high-quality Suicide Squad story. The A plot is that the Squad is on a mission against General Haile Selassie Frelimo of the country of Ogaden (a name that combines several African news stories). One of the new characters on this mission is Shrike, who establishes herself as a fascinating and seriously bizarre character, before getting killed. In the B plot, Amanda Waller resigns as director of Task Force X and is replaced by J. Danfield Kale, obviously named after then-Vice President J. Danforth Quayle, who turns out to be an actor.

MASTER OF KUNG FU #99 (Marvel, 1981) – “Bitter Harvest,” (W) Doug Moench, (A) Gene Day. This is a little tiresome because of Doug Moench’s long-winded writing, but still fun. Shang-Chi teams up with Rufus Carter to foil a plot to blow up the docks of Aberdeen. Meanwhile, Leiko investigates some crimes that appear to be the work of Jack the Ripper.

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #158 (DC, 1980) – “Yesterday Never Dies!”, (W) Robert Kanigher, (A) Jim Aparo. This was probably one of very few times that Jim Aparo drew Wonder Woman. He was not a great WW artist, but it’s interesting to see his take on this character. The story, about a terrorist who tries to stop a trade deal between the U.S. and France, is rather boring, but there are some mildly interesting interactions between Bruce and Diana.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #48 (IDW, 2016) – “Accord, Part the First: From Chaos to Chaos,” (W) Ted Anderson, (A) Andy Price. Andy is one of my favorite current artists, and his art has only gotten better as this series has gone on. In this issue, he turns an average story, in which Discord becomes an incarnation of order, into a bravura performance. As usual, this issue is full of in-jokes, Easter eggs, and cute moments; for example, there’s one panel where Spike is dreaming about a bucket of Kentucky Fried Crystals, and above him is a picture of Twilight’s old library.

BLACK PANTHER: WORLD OF WAKANDA #1 (Marvel, 2016) – “Dawn of the Midnight Angels,” (W) Roxane Gay, (A) Alitha E. Martinez. The lead story in this issue is probably the first story in any Marvel or DC comic in which every named character with a speaking part is a black woman. The Atlantean terrorist gets a couple lines, but he has no name. Other than that, Roxane Gay, like Ta-Nehisi Coates, is not a fiction writer by trade, and her story is kind of trite. But it also shows promise, and I’m curious to see where it goes. I don’t like the backup story as much, but Killmonger’s rise to power is an eerie parallel to Trump’s.

THE AUTUMNLANDS #13 (Image, 2016) – “At the Temple of the Sun,” (W) Kurt Busiek, (A) Benjamin Dewey. Still a disappointing series, but at least this issue was fairly readable and fun. I feel like this storyline could have been finished in at least two fewer issues.

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #497 (DC, 1992) – “Under Fire,” (W) Jerry Ordway, (A) Tom Grummett. An early chapter of the Death of Superman. This issue is mostly one fight scene after another, but at least they’re good fight scenes. Reading this issue, it occurred to me that Tom Grummett is something of an heir to Curt Swan.

SHADE THE CHANGING MAN #5 (DC, 1978) – “The Captive of Changing Captors!”, (W/A) Steve Ditko, (W) Michael Fleisher. It’s been a while since I read a Ditko comic. This is sadly not his best. There are a few scenes that showcase Ditko’s artistic brilliance, but overall, this issue does not really exploit the radical potential of Shade or his milieu. I feel like Charlton Action Featuring Static did a better job of what this comic is trying to do.

SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #27 (Marvel, 2014) – “Goblin Nation, Part One,” (W) Dan Slott, (A) Giuseppe Camuncoli. The first part of a storyline in which Doc Ock, in Spider-Man’s body, battles Norman Osborn. Dan Slott’s Spider-Man has something of an uneven reputation, but at least this comic feels like a Spider-Man comic. It’s full of character interaction and politics as well as action sequences. It reminds me somehow of Roger Stern’s Hobgoblin Lives miniseries. I should collect more of this Spider-Man run.

SHADE THE CHANGING MAN #15 – I read this not realizing that I already own another copy and have already read it.

NO MERCY #11 (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W) Alex de Campi, (A) Carla Speed McNeil. This series suddenly just became a lot more important, because of the way it unpacks and critically examines American national myths. It reminds me of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, in that it displays the shallow foundation on which America’s claims to superiority are based. The scene with the parents who are visited by Duane Okonkwo is the most interesting thing in the issue. I assume these are the parents of the two kids who hate each other.

JONESY #8 (Boom!, 2016) – untitled, (W) Sam Humphries, (A) Caitlin Rose Boyle. The second excellent issue in a row. Suffering from writer’s block, Jonesy’s friend Susan tries to get into a club to see her favorite songwriter, Sister Cee Cee. The trouble is that she’s underage. Mayhem ensues. Besides being funny (I love the panel with Jonesy and Susan hidden in Sister Cee Cee’s hair), this issue has a genuine message about creativity. Also, it’s funny how the club represents a kid’s notion of what an over-18 venue must be like. Instead of alcohol and drugs, it has a pizza bar, a ball pit, a petting zoo, etc.

FAST WILLIE JACKSON #4 (Fitzgerald, 1977) – various stories, (W) Bertram Fitzgerald, (A) Gus Lemoine (these credits come from the GCD pages for other issues of this series). Like Zwana, Son of Zulu, this is a fascinating example of a pioneering but unsuccessful African-American comic. It’s a blatant Archie knock-off, in which almost all the characters are black. It looks almost exactly like an Archie comic, both in its publication design and in its art style. There is even a theory that Gus Lemoine may have been a pen name for Henry Scarpelli or another Archie artist, though that seems to be false, since Gus Lemoine has some credits on real Archie comics. Unfortunately, the weak point of this comic is the storytelling. All the plots are terrible, and the jokes fall completely flat. That might be why this series only lasted seven issues. But this comic is still an interesting predecessor to today’s kid-oriented comics with black protagonists, e.g. Princeless and Jonesy.

FINALLY no more comics left to review. Starting now, I resolve to at least try to write reviews every Thursday night.

About 100 reviews

10-30-16

I might as well post these reviews now, even though it hardly seems to matter.

At the beginning of October, I went to New York Comic Con. It was fun, but I did not enjoy it as much as last year, mostly because I was too tired. I was coming off several very busy weeks and was never able to really muster any enthusiasm for attending a comic convention. I think I may have been doing too many comic conventions lately; maybe I should skip NYCC next year and go to Dragon*Con instead.

The back issue selection at NYCC was worse than last year; there were very few comics for less than a dollar, and I was disappointed that the prices didn’t go down significantly on Sunday. I still bought a lot of stuff, but not as much as last year – which may be a good thing, given that I have a huge backlog of unread comics and no time to read them. I barely even have time to write these reviews.

From now on I’m going to give the title of the main story in each issue as well as the writer and artist.

The comics I read on the week of October 7 include both comics I bought at NYCC, and comics from the new shipment that was waiting when I got home.

LEGEND OF WONDER WOMAN #6 (DC, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Renae de Liz. This is the issue I forgot to order when it came out. It’s another excellent issue, though I’m a bit sad that now there’s no more of this series. I hope the sequel really does come out. Notable scenes in this issue are Etta evicting Pamela Smuthers from the stage, in the background of Diana’s conversation with Steve, and the costume-designing sequence.

UNCLE SCROOGE #213 (Gladstone, 1987) – “City of Golden Roofs,” (W/A) Carl Barks. The conceit here is that Donald challenges Scrooge to see who can make a fortune quicker, starting from scratch. They both get jobs as salesman in Southeast Asia, ultimately arriving in the namesake city, which is based on Angkor Wat. It’s a witty and brilliantly plotted piece of storytelling, but is somewhat tarnished by a rather unflattering portrayal of Southeast Asian people. I assume this story was inspired by The King and I, the film version of which came out the previous year.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #169 (Marvel, 1977) – “Confrontation,” (W) Len Wein, (A) Ross Andru. It turns out I already had a copy of this issue, though the copy I got at the convention was better than the one I already had. This is the issue where JJJ thinks he has proof that Peter is Spider-Man, but Peter “proves” otherwise.

PAPER GIRLS #10 (Image, 2016) – “What is Past is Epilogue,” (W) Brian K. Vaughan, (A) Cliff Chiang. Another issue full of confusing but fun mayhem. It turns out that “don’t trust other Erin” refers to the little other Erin, not the big one. And by the end of the issue, all the papergirls have arrived in the future, which is truly weird. This series is fun, but very difficult to follow.

THE FLINTSTONES #4 (DC, 2016) – “Domestications,” (W) Mark Russell, (A) Steve Pugh. The sabretooth tiger’s line “I prefer you to starvation,” at the start of the issue, is a perfect summary of the cat-human bond. The main theme of this issue is the debate between marriage and the old way of life, which involved sex caves. I was curious to learn more about the latter, but I guess this is an all-ages comic, sort of. The marriage jokes are pretty good, especially the scene where Maude pretends Henry is dead. There’s also a subplot about the appliances.

GOLDIE VANCE #6 (Boom!, 2016) – untitled, (W) Hope Larson, (A) Brittney Williams. Besides Black Panther, this is probably the best new series of 2016. This issue continues the astronaut story, as Goldie looks for Cheryl and somehow finds herself competing in a beauty contest.

THE MARVEL NO-PRIZE BOOK #1 (Marvel, 1982) – “Lest We Should Goof…!”, (W) Jim Owsley, (A) Bob Camp and many others. This fascinating historical curiosity is a collection of mistakes from old Marvel comics, with commentary by Stan Lee (not actually written by him). Some of these are quite well-known, like Peter Parker being called Peter Palmer, or Captain America saying “it won’t be me.” But there are many others I never noticed, such as the contradictions in Peggy Carter’s backstory. I really love this sort of hyper-detailed commentary, and I’m sorry that this comic book wasn’t even longer.

ANIMOSITY #2 (Aftershock, 2016) – “The Funeral,” (W) Marguerite Bennett, (A) Rafael De Latorre. The first issue of this series got a lot of critical attention, and I’ve ordered the reprint of that issue, plus all the other later issues, on ComicBookDB. Animosity is a post-apocalyptic narrative in which the apocalypse is that all the animals learn to talk. This premise has a lot of humor potential, and there are lots of funny jokes in this issue, like the cat selling Xanax and Adderall, or the references to Watership Down and Animal Farm. But this series is also a serious examination of animal rights and human-animal relations. I can’t wait to read more of it.

THE CHAMPIONS #1 (Marvel, 2016) – “The Champions,” (W) Mark Waid, (A) Humberto Ramos. I love the idea of a team of all the young heroes, and I love the characters in this series, especially Kamala and Viv. But I think the execution leaves something to be desired. Kamala’s speech at the end of the issue leaves me unclear as to what the purpose of the Champions is. What does she mean by “enforcing justice without unjust force”? It’s so vague that it could mean anything. If this comic is supposed to be an explicit reference to things like BLM, then Mark should have the courage to say so. In general, I feel that, while Mark used to be the industry’s top writer of teen superheroes (besides PAD), he has now fallen behind the curve. I’m going to keep reading this series, but this first issue was disappointing.

SHADE THE CHANGING GIRL #1 (DC, 2016) – “Earth Girl Made Easy,” (W) Cecil Castellucci, (A) Marley Zarcone. Another strange debut issue from Young Animal. I believe this is Cecil Castellucci’s first published comic book; I enjoyed her graphic novel The Plain Janes (and my little sister loved it), but I never got around to reading the sequel. This issue is heavily inspired by Peter Milligan and Chris Bachalo’s Shade, but has more of an emphasis on Meta and how weird it is. Overall, I like this issue better than Doom Patrol #1, and I look forward to reading more of this series.

GRAYSON #1 (DC, 2015) – “Grayson,” (W) Tim Seeley & Tom King, (A) Mikel Janin. This series was critically acclaimed, but I only got into it after it was already cancelled. This is a fun first issue. Mikel Janin’s art is excellent, and the story emphasizes the sexy and dangerous side of Dick’s personality.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #131 (Marvel, 1974) – “My Uncle… My Enemy?”, (W) Gerry Conway, (A) Ross Andru. This is the one where Doc Ock almost marries Aunt May. It is definitely a minor classic, and includes some very effective characterization. The reason Doc Ock wants to marry Aunt May is ridiculous – it turns out she’s somehow inherited an island with uranium reserves – but you also feel like he has genuine affection for her. Meanwhile, Peter and Mary Jane are going through some relationship drama. Ross Andru’s artwork is very good. A funny mistake in this issue is that in Amazing Spider-Man #120, Doctor Octopus kills a man named Jean-Pierre Rimbaud. But in #131, Hammerhead refers to this man as Arthur Rimbaud, who of course was a famous poet.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #139 (Marvel, 1971) – “The Badge and the Betrayal!”, (W) Stan Lee, (A) John Romita. Easily the best part of this issue is Jazzy Johnny’s artwork. What a shame that his run on this title was so short. The story is not nearly as good. Cap becomes an undercover cop to investigate why cops have been mysteriously vanishing, and it turns out the Grey Gargoyle is responsible.

AVENGERS #111 (Marvel, 1973) – “With Two Beside Them!”, (W) Steve Englehart, (A) Bob Brown. I only need a few more issues to have a complete run of Avengers #103 to #303. This issue is the second part of a two-parter in which the Avengers and Daredevil fight Magneto. It includes some fun relationship drama between Daredevil, Hawkeye and Black Widow, but it’s clear that at this point, Englehart was still getting his feet wet.

BLACK PANTHER #2 (Marvel, 1998) – “Invasion,” (W) Christopher Priest, (A) Mark Texeira. At NYCC, I attended at least one panel about Black Panther, and it became clear that Priest’s Black Panther was a key inspiration for Ta-Nehisi Coates’s current run. So I took the opportunity to buy some cheap back issues of Priest’s run. The narrative style of this issue is quite similar to that of Quantum & Woody. But this issue is a poor jumping-on point; it begins with a dude sitting in a waiting room next to the devil, and there’s no explanation of how this situation came about. I need to read more of this run before I can have an informed opinion about it.

WONDER WOMAN #179 (DC, 1968) – “Wonder Woman’s Last Battle,” (W) Denny O’Neil, Mike Sekowsky. I paid $6 for this, which is a bargain, although one of the pages is loose. This is one of the pivotal issues of the series, though it’s only the second issue of the New Wonder Woman era. In this issue, Diana loses her powers, I Ching makes his first appearance, and Dr. Cyber is mentioned for the first time. This comic is kind of silly from a modern perspective – when I saw the line “rubbing your hands in rice grains will give them toughness,” I thought it was funny, and I still do. I Ching of course is a whopping stereotype. But this comic is also genuinely exciting and innovative. In 1968, Wonder Woman was a mediocre embarrassment, a comic no one, least of all its creators, really cared about. O’Neil and Sekowsky deserve credit for making Wonder Woman interesting again.

DAREDEVIL #81 (Marvel, 1971) – “And Death is a Woman Called Widow,” (W) Gerry Conway, (A) Gene Colan. This issue introduces Black Widow into the series. She would soon become the regular co-star, and the series was retitled Daredevil and Black Widow from #92 to #107. Conway and Colan’s Daredevil and Black Widow stories were probably the high point of the series at the time; they helped to give Daredevil its own identity and to distinguish it from Amazing Spider-Man. In this issue, Matt and Natasha are both on the rebound from failed relationships, so they seem like a natural couple. Gene the Dean’s art is as amazing as ever. This issue also includes a reprinted Thing/Torch story from Strange Tales, which turns out to be very funny. I think this was the month when Marvel temporarily raised the price and page count of all their titles in order to bait DC into doing the same.

FUTURE QUEST #5 (DC, 2016) – “The Wheel of History,” (W) Jeff Parker, (A) Doc Shaner; also a backup story. This issue is full of fun mayhem, but it’s very similar to previous issues – which is not a bad thing, it just means there’s not much to be said about it. The backup story introduces some new characters, the Impossibles.

INVINCIBLE #22 (Image, 2005) – untitled, (W) Robert Kirkman, (A) Ryan Ottley. The main event this issue is that Amber figures out that Mark is a superhero, based on his repeated poorly excused absences. This is a good example of Kirkman’s habit of deconstructing old superhero cliches. It is very rare for a superhero’s love interest to spontaneously figure out his or her identity, although it does happen (Bethany Cabe and Silver St. Cloud come to mind). But in real life, Clark Kent wouldn’t be able to disappear every time a job for Superman came up, at least not without arousing suspicion. Kirkman does a good job of handling both Amber’s discovery of Mark’s identity, and Mark’s reaction thereto.

THE PHANTOM #50 (Charlton, 1972) – four different stories, (W) unknown, (A) Pat Boyette. The artwork in this issue is good, but the stories are mediocre at best and blatantly racist at worst. I don’t think this series got really good until the brief Don Newton run a few years later.

ARCHIE GIANT SERIES #570 (Archie, 1987) – “Blast from the Past” and two other stories, (W/A) Bob Bolling. This is one of several late Bolling Little Archie stories whose existence I only discovered recently, because they were published in Archie Giant Series instead of the main Little Archie title. The longest story in this issue is “Blast from the Past,” in which Little Archie uses an old World War I cannon to stop Mad Dr. Doom and Chester from robbing a bank. I kind of wish these two villains would show up in one of the current Archie titles, although Mad Dr. Doom would probably have to be renamed. This story includes a literal Chekhov’s gun, in that the cannon is introduced before it gets fired.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #58 (Marvel, 1979) – “El Aguila Has Landed!”, (W) Mary Jo Duffy, (A) Trevor von Eeden. This issue introduces El Aguila, a Latin American vigilante, who also appears in the last issue of this series that I read. Luke and Danny sympathize with him, but a client demands that they stop him, and it turns out Luke and Danny can’t refuse the client because he already paid them a retainer. This issue is a good introduction to Duffy’s Power Man & Iron Fist, and makes me want to read more of this run.

New comics received on October 14:

GIANT DAYS #19 (Boom!, 2016) – “Music Festival Time!!!”, (W) John Allison, (A) Max Sarin. Susan, Daisy and Esther go to a music festival, where Susan gets roofied, and then all three of them nearly drown in a flash flood. This issue was as funny as usual, but the jokes fell kind of flat to me because I’ve never been to a music festival – and after reading this comic, I never want to go to one.

GOTHAM ACADEMY: SECOND SEMESTER #2 (DC, 2016) – “Second Semester, Part 2,” (W) Brenden Fletcher, Becky Cloonan & Karl Kerschl, (A) Adam Archer. For a while I was feeling lukewarm about this series, but now I’m enjoying it again, maybe because I missed it while it was on hiatus. The plot this issue is that a new teacher is hypnotizing students into joining something called Witch Club. Adam Archer’s art is similar to that of Karl Kerschl, but his emotional subtlety is impressive. I love Maps’s expression when she says “It’s okay. I’m okay.”

HOWARD THE DUCK #11 (Marvel, 2016) – “Howard’s End,” (W) Chip Zdarsky, (A) Joe Quinones. A sweet and funny conclusion to the only good Howard the Duck comic not written by Gerber. Howard dies, but is revived thanks to divine intervention from the Sparkitects. Howard and his friends walk off into the sunset, and the series ends with a hint that Howard and Bev are getting back together. A highlight of this issue is Biggs, who behaves just like my cat would behave if he could talk, and who appears to be based on Joe Quinones’s cat. Overall, Chip and Joe’s Howard the Duck was both an affectionate tribute to Gerber, and a distinctive and original piece of work. They deserve congratulations on the end of an excellent run.

SHUTTER #23 (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W) Joe Keatinge, (A) Leila del Duca. This issue begins several months after the shocking conclusion to #22, and it looks like at least some of the Kristopher children survived the massacre of the family, though I’m not quite sure which ones. Also, Chris Kristopher himself is somehow alive again. I thought this was kind of an ineffective conclusion to the new storyline; I don’t understand how we got here from where we were before.

MONSTRESS #7 (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W) Marjorie Liu, (A) Sana Takeda. I always hesitate to read this comic because it feels so raw and brutal. This is a world where characters suffer permanent damage and where not everything turns out all right. The proof of this is the large number of characters with missing arms. But this comic is more fun than I give it credit for. This issue is full of not only talking cats, but also anthropomorphic tigers. It also gives us a better sense of the size and diversity of Maika’s world. I do think that Monstress is one of the best and most important comic books at the moment, and I should try to muster more enthusiasm for it.

LUMBERJANES/GOTHAM ACADEMY #5 (Boom!/DC, 2016) – untitled, (W) Chynna Clugston Flores, (A) Kelly Matthew & Nicole Matthews. I still think this series hasn’t lived up to its potential, but at least this issue was better than the last few. The Lumberjanes and Academy kids finally confront the skeleton dudes, resulting in some fun action sequences. The last page of this issue reminds me of the last page of Daredevil #232.

WONDER WOMAN #8 (DC, 2016) – “Interlude,” (W) Greg Rucka, (A) Bilquis Evely. Instead of the regular chapter of “Year One,” this issue is Barbara Minerva’s origin story. It’s as well-written as any Greg Rucka comic book, but I don’t understand the point of the story. What does Barbara mean when she says she went the wrong way?

THE GREAT LAKES AVENGERS #1 (Marvel, 2016) – “Same Old, Same Old Great Lakes Avengers,” (W) Zac Gorman, (A) Will Robson. I was unimpressed with this comic, but I remember being rather tired and cranky when I read it, and I may not have given it a fair shake. Zac Gorman’s writing is witty and shows keen awareness of contemporary culture; something about it just left me cold. I’ll try to be more open-minded when I read the next issue.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #9 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, (W) David Walker, (A) Sanford Greene. The prison break story ends with a big fight, after which Luke finally gets his chance to tell Carol Danvers off. His speech to her is a milder version of the things I’ve been saying about her in several recent reviews. But this was a bit of a disappointing issue overall. One of the replies on the letters page hints that Jessica Jones won’t be appearing in this comic anymore because she has her own solo series now, and I think that’s a pity.

SPACE BATTLE LUNCHTIME #5 (Oni, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Natalie Riess. This issue advances the story in a predictable way. Peony escapes from Cannibal Coliseum, while Chef Neptunia goes looking for her. While the plot of this issue is predictable, there are a few nice touches that make it memorable. The recap page is actually fun – it’s a comics page rather than a text summary – whereas such pages are usually just afterthoughts. Ariella Magicorn is a funny new character, and I love the idea that Zorp and Vorp used to be “part of the same pan-dimensional polytope cluster.”

WEST COAST AVENGERS #46 (Marvel, 1988) – “Franchise,” (W/A) John Byrne. Normally I avoid John Byrne’s WCA like the plague, but this issue is the first appearance of the Great Lakes Avengers, so it was interesting to compare it with the first issue of their new series. Unlike Gorman or Dan Slott, John treats the GLA like complete jokes, and shows little interest in their personalities or private lives. And the jokes mostly fall flat, since John has no sense of humor. This issue also reveals his inability to draw female faces: his Mockingbird looks exactly like his Sue Storm. It should be obvious by now that I deeply hate John Byrne’s comics (or at least his post-1986 solo work), but this is at least not the worst thing he’s done.

SUPERNATURAL LAW #24 (Exhibit A, 1999) – “You’ll Never Suck Blood in This Town Again,” (W/A) Batton Lash. This was the first issue published under the title Supernatural Law. It’s confusing because it’s the second half of a two-parter, and I can’t remember if I’ve read the first part. Also, there are a lot of new characters in this story and it’s hard to keep them all straight. This story is sort of a crossover between Ally McBeal and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or as Batton calls them, Ally McGraugh and Myrtle the Vampire Hater. The runing joke in this issue is that Ally McGraugh claims to be a feminist icon, yet she suffers from an eating disorder and she throws herself at men.

Somewhere around this point, it occurred to me that I was not having enough fun reading comics; I was treating it like a chore, and was taking it too seriously. I need to keep in mind that this is supposed to be fun.

DC COMICS PRESENTS #67 (DC, 1984) – “’Twas the Fright Before Christmas!”, (W) Len Wein & E. Nelson Bridwell, (A) Curt Swan. A charming and cute story in which the guest star is none other than Santa Claus. Appropriately, the villain is the Toyman. Superman’s encounter with Santa happens after he’s been knocked unconscious at the North Pole. The writers effectively create a sense of uncertainty as to whether Superman’s visit to Santa is real or a dream, and therefore whether or not Santa exists in the DC universe.

SNARKED! #10 (Boom!, 2012) – “Fit the Tenth: Beware the Cyberwock,” (W/A) Roger Langridge. At NYCC, I managed to complete my run of Roger Langridge’s masterpiece. This issue, the Walrus finally develops a heart, and risks his life to save his companions from the Gryphon. Meanwhile, Scarlett’s father finally remembers his daughter’s name. I still have two more issues of this series to read, but I almost don’t want to read them, because then there won’t be any more.

WOLFF & BYRD, COUNSELORS OF THE MACABRE #20 (Exhibit A, 1999) – “Sonovawitch! Chapter Three,” (W/A) Batton Lash. I enjoyed this more than the previous Wolff & Byrd comic I read, though I forget why exactly. Maybe it has to do with my realization, discussed above, that I wasn’t having enough fun when reading comics. This issue is also the conclusion of a multipart story, but it makes more sense on its own than #24 did, and it’s full of funny relationship drama, including Mavis’s refusal of Toby’s marriage proposal.

SUPERMAN #8 (DC, 2016) – “Escape from Dinosaur Island,” (W) Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason, (A) Doug Mahnke. I’ve heard good things about this series, and it turns out to be a good comic indeed. This series focuses on Superman’s relationship with his son Jon. I don’t understand why Superman has a son, but oh well. The way Tomasi and Gleason write this relationship is just perfect; Jon is a realistic child, and Clark is a wonderful father. They remind me of me and my dad when I was Jon’s age. The story, involving Dinosaur Island, is intriguing but is just an excuse for Clark and Jon to have an adventure together. Doug Mahnke’s art is quite good.

DOCTOR STRANGE #12 (Marvel, 2016) – “Blood in the Aether, Chapter One,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Chris Bachalo. Doctor Strange confronts the creature he was keeping in his basement, which names itself Mister Misery. Meanwhile, Baron Mordo shows up in New York. This was a very average issue; it seemed like Jason was just marking time between more important stories.

JLA #25 (DC, 1999) – “Scorched Earth,” (W) Grant Morrison, (A) Howard Porter. This is one of the middle chapters of a longer story in which the JLA battles the Ultra-Marines. It doesn’t make much sense out of context, and I’ve never much liked Howard Porter’s art.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #222 (DC, 1983) – “Beasts II: Death Games,” (W) Gerry Conway, (A) Chuck Patton. Much of this issue consists of fights between anthropomorphic beast-men, who bear a strong resemblance to the New Men of Wundagore. As a result, this issue often feels like a Justice League story in name only; there’s at least one long scene with no Leaguers in it. My sense is that the last 40 issues of this series were pretty bad.

BATMAN #339 (DC, 1981) – “A Sweet Kiss of Poison…”, (W) Gerry Conway, (A) Irv Novick. This is one of Poison Ivy’s earlier appearances, and it’s clear that at this point her character was not well-defined. In this story, she’s not an eco-terrorist but a common criminal with a plant gimmick. The backup story is much much better. In “Yesterday’s Heroes,” by the same creators as the main story, Dick Grayson performs at the circus and realizes that he’s content with his various identities. It’s a very sweet story, although it’s not totally consistent with his character arc in New Teen Titans – in fact, I don’t think this story mentions the Titans at all. This issue came out at the same time as NTT #11, and by issue 27 of that series, it was clear that Dick was having a serious identity crisis which would culminate in his reinvention as Nightwing.

SUPERMAN #355 (DC, 1981) – “Momentus, Master of the Moon!”, (W) Cary Bates, (A) Curt Swan. The main story in this issue is stupid; it’s a bunch of nonsense about lycanthropy and gravitational energy. But it’s funny because the villain, Asa Ezaak, is an obvious parody of Isaac Asimov. He has the same hairstyle as Asimov, and like Asimov, he’s a popular lecturer who prides himself on having written several hundred books. Bates’s portrayal is rather unflattering, and I wonder how he really felt about Asimov; I also wonder if Ike ever knew about this comic. The backup story, by the same creative team, takes place in 2020 and involves a team-up between three generations of Superman.

THE THRILLING ADVENTURE HOUR PRESENTS: BEYOND BELIEF #3 (Image, 2016) – “Sticks and Stones May Murder Your Friends and Influence People!”, (W) Ben Acker & Ben Blacker, (A) Phil Hester. There are lots of fun moments in this issue, but it’s difficult to understand, and this is odd since I only missed one of the two previous issues.

CREATURES ON THE LOOSE #24 (Marvel, 1973) – “Red Swords, Black Wings!”, (W) George Alec Effinger, (A) Val Mayerik. This may be the first thing I’ve read by George Alec Effinger. I’ve had his collection Maureen Birnbaum, Barbarian Swordsperson for many years, but have never felt sufficiently motivated to read it. This issue is an adaptation of a Lin Carter story about Thongor of Lemuria. On the evidence of this issue, Thongor is the exact same character as Conan except with no sense of humor, and this comic is effectively just a bad Conan story. This issue also includes a reprinted Lee-Ditko horror story, which is one of several Lee-Ditko stories in which an alien invasion is prevented by accident.

STARMAN #78 (DC, 2001) – “1951, Part Two: — What?”, (W) James Robinson & David Goyer, (A) Peter Snejbjerg. One of the few issues of this series that I haven’t already read. The 1951 Starman story was kind of a pendant or bonus chapter to the series as a whole; its main purpose was to tie up loose ends. The main thing that happens in this issue is that Jack tells David that he (David) is going to die after he returns to the present, and David is okay with it. Which creates an interesting and poignant paradox, since it implies that David knew he was going to die all along, but never told anyone.

(It turns out I already *had* read this issue, but I will allow this review to stand.)

SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #117 (DC, 1969) – “The Planet of the Capes!”, (W) Otto Binder, (A) Pete Costanza. Like many ‘60s DC comics, this issue has a hilarious premise, but fails to exploit that premise effectively. On an expedition with Professor Lang, Jimmy gets transported to a parallel universe where people who wear superhero capes are masters, and people without capes are slaves. Sadly, the explanation is disappointing and improbable. I’m not even going to say what it is, because it’s dumb. Notably, this issue seems to be the first mention of Shadow Lass outside Adventure Comics. Her cape appears in the story, though she herself doesn’t appear on panel.

SCOOBY-DOO, WHERE ARE YOU? #51 (DC, 2015) – “Out of Line,” (W) Sholly Fisch, (A) Robert Pope; also “Fashionistas,” (W) Jack Briglio, (A) Karen Matchette. This series is less interesting than Scooby-Doo Team-Up because of its lack of DC Universe characters. Neither of the stories in this issue was memorable at all.

WONDER WOMAN #61 (DC, 1992) – “To Avenge an Amazon,” (W) George Pérez, (A) Jill Thompson. In this “War of the Gods” tie-in issue, Diana has somehow gotten herself killed. Her friends and allies react to her death and vow to avenge her. Just like “Time Passages” (#8), one of George’s best Wonder Woman stories, this issue doesn’t feature Diana herself, but instead teaches us about her by depicting her impact on other people. However, this issue is less effective than “Time Passages” because the reader knows that Diana’s death isn’t going to stick, and the plot is hard to follow, especially the part involving Circe and Cheetah.

MIGHTY SAMSON #5 (Gold Key, 1966) – “The Death Geysers,” (W) unknown, (A) Frank Thorne. This comic is a post-apocalyptic narrative set in the ruins of New York. In this issue, the title character and his friends Sharmaine and Mindor encounter a man who’s been turned into a shapeshifting monster by radiation. This comic is a bit like Hercules Unbound or Kamandi, but is worse than either, and its primary source of interest is the early Frank Thorne artwork. I see a bit of a Wally Wood influence in the art, but I don’t know if Thorne was ever part of Woody’s studio.

DAREDEVIL #214 (Marvel, 1985) – “The Crumbling,” (W) Denny O’Neil, (A) David Mazzucchelli. The artwork in this issue is amazing. By 1985, David Mazzucchelli’s style was fully developed, and this issue is almost as well-drawn as Daredevil: Born Again or Batman: Year One. I’m especially impressed by his compositional ability; at various points, he creates a dramatic effect by leaving out the background and the panel borders. The writing in this issue is not the equal of the artwork. It’s the conclusion to a multipart story about Micah Synn, the savage chief of a white African tribe. Denny O’Neil was a problematic writer to begin with, and his ‘80s Marvel comics were worse than his ‘60s and ‘70s DC comics.

ZWANA, SON OF ZULU #1 (Dark Zulu Lies, 1993) – “Enter the Zulu,” (W) Nabile Hage, (A) John Ruiz. I found this comic in a cheap box at the convention in August. I had never heard of it before, but it was so strange I had to buy it. It stars an African superhero whose secret identity is a student at “Black African State University.” As its title indicates, this is a superhero comic written from a radical black perspective. In Demanding Respect, Paul Lopes quotes Nabile Hage as saying that his goal for this comic was to integrate the direct market, since there were no black-owned comics publishers at the time. It is not surprising that this project failed and that the first issue of Zwanna was also the last. The level of craftsmanship in this comic is very low. The plot is hopelessly confused and aimless, and the art is only average at best. This comic is also extremely explicit and unsubtle. Zwanna is an unabashed male power fantasy, and the villains are a bunch of cross-dressing Confederate reenactors. Zwanna stabs one of them to death with a spear through the chin. Given the explicit content of this comic, as well as its potentially controversial racial politics, I’m surprised that it contains ads for major motion pictures and video games. I guess at the time, advertisers were willing to buy advertising space in any comic book, regardless of its content.

While this comic was not a success, it’s an interesting historical precedent. In 1993, comic book publishers lacked either the ability or the desire to market their products to black readers. Milestone had some success at attracting a black readership, but ultimately failed. At the time, the default comic book audience was assumed to be white. Now maybe that assumption is starting to change. I went to a bunch of different panels at NYCC that focused on black comics, and I heard a lot of positive buzz for comics like Black Panther and Black, the first issue of which was sold out when I went to look for it. In the ‘90s, comics like Zwanna, Son of Zulu and the Milestone titles were unable to connect with significant numbers of black readers. But now, both major publishers like Marvel and smaller publishers like Black Mask seem to have made a much more serious effort to reach out to black audiences, and have achieved much more success. The reasons for this are worth thinking about, but are beyond the scope of this review.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #52 (Marvel, 1976) – “Demon on a Rampage,” (W) Gerry Conway, (A) Sal Buscema. This issue appears to be a sequel to Captain America #202, which was written by Kirby, and is therefore a poor fit for Gerry’s more realistic and down-to-earth style of writing. I don’t remember much else about this comic. The ending, which shows that Cap and Spidey are envious of each other, is kind of poignant.

LADY KILLER 2 #2 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Joelle Jones. Josie assassinates some people, then teams up with a man named Irving who offers to dispose of bodies for her, then assassinates some more people. If you’ve read one issue of this comic, you’ve read them all.

HIP HOP FAMILY TREE #10 (Fantagraphics, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Ed Piskor. The pleasant surprise this issue was when I realized that it was the origin story of Public Enemy. I just finished reading Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude, and there are some notable points of similarity between that comic and HHFT.

Man, I read a lot of comic books that week. I received the following comics on October 21. As usual, I was very sleepy when I read them.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #13 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, (W) Ryan North, (A) Erica Henderson. This issue’s cover is a cute parody of Avengers #223. The issue itself is not one of Ryan and Erica’s best. The Northern Ontario setting and the Canada jokes are funny, but Enigmo is more disturbing than funny. I hope this story is over soon.

PATSY WALKER, A.K.A. HELLCAT #11 (Marvel, 2016) – “Don’t Stop Me-Ow,” (W) Kate Leth, (A) Brittney Williams. Another comic that underwhelmed me, probably because I was too tired to fully enjoy it. As usual this was a well-written and funny story, with some fun dialogue between Patsy and Felicia. But I had trouble keeping all the characters straight, especially in the scene that takes place outside Patsy’s apartment. I’m a bit surprised to learn that Ian swings both ways.

MANIFEST DESTINY #24 (Image, 2016) – “Sasquatch, Part 6,” (W) Chris Dingess, (A) Matthew Roberts. Finally we’re starting to get some tentative answers. It’s obvious that Sacagawea’s baby is the War Child mentioned in Helm’s message. I didn’t quite get what was happening on the last page, until the letters column mentioned that there’s a barely visible arch in the image.

ASTRO CITY #40 (DC, 2016) – “The Party of the Second Part,” (W) Kurt Busiek, (A) Carmen Carnero. The second part of the Marta two-parter reintroduces the Silver Adept, and also gives us more information than we’ve ever had before about the magical side of the Astro City universe. Kurt’s version of Astro City’s magical realms is a nice tribute to Ditko’s Dr. Strange. The resolution to Marta’s character arc is fairly satisfying, but I’m a bit skeptical that she was able to solve a problem no one else could. It’s a bit like the ending of the Green Lantern film. I also think that even at the end of the issue, she’s still stuck in a dead-end romance.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #20 (IDW, 2016) – “Enter the Stingers, Part Two,” (W) Kelly Thompson, (A) Meredith McClaren. I still don’t like Meredith McClaren’s art; she draws some weird-looking mouths. I hope we get Sophie Campbell back after this current arc. This is a fun story, though. The political struggle between the Holograms, Misfits and Stingers is entertaining, and each character gets some time in the spotlight.

SPELL ON WHEELS #1 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, (W) Kate Leth, (A) Megan Levens. I enjoyed this new comic about a coven of witches, but I can’t remember much about it now. I expect when #2 comes out, I will have to remind myself what #1 was about.

LOVE & ROCKETS #1 (Fantagraphics, 2016) – various stories, (W/A) Gilbert Hernandez and Jaime Hernandez. This may have been my most anticipated comic this week, but it’s fairly similar to a typical issue of either of the last two L&R volumes. My favorite story this issue was the first one, Jaime’s “I Come from Above to Avoid a Double Chin.” The long Gilbert story, like much of Beto’s recent work, was just confusing and aimless. I think the last time I was really impressed by one of Gilbert’s stories was when he killed off Sergio and Gato, although I have not read Marble Season.

USAGI YOJIMBO #158 (Dark Horse, 2016) – “The Fate of the Elders,” (W/A) Stan Sakai. This was the best issue since the reboot, and a possible Eisner nominee for Best Single Issue. In this one-part story, Usagi visits a famine-stricken area and helps a young man carry his elderly mother up a mountain, where her husband is waiting. It was easy to figure out that the old man was dead, but – SPOILER WARNING – I had no idea that the young man was going to leave his mother to starve. As with many of Stan’s best stories, this ending fills me with complex and contrary emotions. I feel horrified at this awful custom, which is all the more shocking given the son’s obvious love for his mother, as well as the fact that Japanese culture places such a high value on filial piety. At the same time, I’m impressed by the mother’s brave sacrifice, and the last panel suggests that Usagi feels the same way. Overall, this story proves that Stan is still perhaps the best storyteller in the industry.

WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES #530 (Gladstone, 1986) – “The Three Boxes,” (W/A) Carl Barks, plus other material. “The Three Boxes” is the first story in which Gyro Gearloose makes more than a cameo appearance. It has a silly premise in which Gyro invents some boxes that can give animals the ability to talk. Unlike most of Gyro’s inventions, this one is not even remotely plausible. But Barks is able to use this absurd premise as the basis for some funny jokes. This issue also includes a Carl Buettner story starring Bucky Bug, which did not deserve to be reprinted. Besides being written in annoying rhyming language, it includes racist depictions of black people. The last story in the issue is “The Legend of Loon Lake,” starring Mickey and Goofy. This story also includes some offensive images of Native Americans, but at least it’s exciting and well-plotted. I think I’ve read one of the other parts of this story in some other Gladstone comic.

THE BACKSTAGERS #3 (Boom!, 2016) – untitled, (W) James Tynion IV, (A) Rian Sygh. At NYCC, I went to a panel on LGBTQ comics that included James Tynion, and he confirmed my suspicion that The Backstagers is supposed to have a gay subtext. My description of Backstagers as a male version of Lumberjanes appears to be accurate. This was the best issue yet. It focuses on Beckett, the light manager, who is proud of his light board and doesn’t want to let anyone else use it. However, he is forced to let Sasha into his light room, and disaster ensues. The emotions in this comic are over-the-top and histrionic, but also genuine, and I feel I’m starting to understand these characters.

THE MIGHTY THOR #12 (Marvel, 2016) – “The Untold Origin of Mjolnir,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Russell Dauterman & Frazer Irving. Two excellent artists illustrate a story that doesn’t really tell us anything new. I’m sure at least some of the information in this issue is retconned – at the beginning of the issue, the librarian mentions that there are several versions of Mjolnir’s origin. But i couldn’t tell what exactly was new about this version,

BLACK PANTHER #7 (Marvel, 2016) – “A Nation Under Our Feet, Part 7,” (W) Ta-Nehisi Coates, (A) Chris Sprouse. I am told that the writer’s name is prononuced Ta-na-HAH-see. I think I must have been suffering from reader’s block on Friday, because this comic just didn’t make much of an impression on me.

BOOM BOX MIX TAPE 2015 (Boom!, 2015) – various stories by various (W/A). Yes, this says 2015, not 2016. I have no idea why it took so long to come out. This issue includes short stories based on a wide range of Boom! comics, including Power Up, which I had almost forgotten about. The highlight is probably the Giant Days story, which is drawn as well as written by John Allison, but the Lumberjanes story is also very touching. And the series of Help Us! Great Warrior one-pagers were much better than the actual Help Us! Great Warrior comic. I think this character may be too insubstantial to carry an entire full-length story.

BLACK PANTHER #3 (Marvel, 1999) – “Original Sin,” (W) Christopher Priest, (A) Mark Texeira. This is just as confusing as the previous issue. I hope this comic will start making more sense as I continue to read. It’s an odd coincidence that the villain, Achebe, just happens to have the same name as the most famous African writer.

WONDER WOMAN #50 (DC, 1990) – “Embrace the Coming Dawn,” (W) George Pérez, (A) Jill Thompson. This oversized anniversary issue is one of the high points of George’s Wonder Woman run, which is my favorite version of the character by far. The Amazon embassy arrives in Manhattan, and most of the issue is devoted to showing how various characters react to this historic event. There are all kinds of lovely scenes here, including Diana’s private chat with Superman, and Vanessa’s appearance in a ridiculous dress. There’s also an odd scene where Terry Long reveals that he and Donna can’t make it to the ceremony. The really odd part here is that Diana says she’s sorry that Donna can’t meet Hippolyta. Come on, I read Tales of the Teen Titans #50 and I know that Terry and Hippolyta have met. This is the problem with post-Crisis DC continuity – that we were supposed to pretend that old stories didn’t happen the way we remembered them. Anyway, besides that, this is a very happy comic book – the feeling of joy at the end is overwhelming. George said in some interview somewhere that he likes to draw happy people, and this issue is certainly an example of that (even if he didn’t draw it).

CATWOMAN #7 (DC, 2002) – “Disguises, Part Two,” (W) Ed Brubaker, (A) Brad Rader. Despite the subpar artwork, this is a gripping and powerful issue. When Holly suffers a serious gunshot wound, Selina takes her to Leslie Thompkins for treatment, then teams up with Slam Bradley to investigate who did it. This issue is a good example of Ed’s skill at writing gritty crime fiction. Now that I mention that, I’m not sure why I’m not more interested in his creator-owned work with Sean Phillips.

HELLBLAZER #81 (DC, 1994) – “Rake at the Gates of Hell, Part Four,” (W) Garth Ennis, (A) Steve Dillon. I read this issue just after hearing about Steve Dillon’s tragic death. I don’t believe I ever met him, but he was a great artist. At this point in this story arc, east London is engulfed in a brutal race riot, and Constantine is hiding out in a church, where he has a long uncomfortable conversation with a priest. I’m not sure quite what’s going on here, or how it fits in with the larger arc of Ennis’s Hellblazer, but it’s a well-written and well-drawn story.

UNCANNY X-MEN #212 (Marvel, 1986) – “The Last Run,” (W) Chris Claremont, (A) Rick Leonardi. I think this is the earliest Claremont X-Men issue that I had not previously read. At this point, I have every issue from #143 to #243, and I only need five more issues to have #143 to #279. And I’ve read all the earlier issues in the form of Classic X-Men reprints. Anyway, the Mutant Massacre is a strong piece of work, though it’s one of Claremont’s bleaker and more depressing stories. The Marauders’ destructon of the Morlocks seems very poorly motivated; it seems like just wanton murder for its own sake. Which may be the point. Rick Leonardi’s artwork in this issue is excellent, and it’s a shame that he never became a superstar; he was far better than Marc Silvestri, if nothing else.

STRANGE TALES #160 (Marvel, 1967) – “Project Blackout,” (W/A) Jim Steranko; and “If This Planet You Would Save!”, (W) Raymond Marais, (A) Marie Severin. Like almost every Steranko Nick Fury story, “Project: Blackout” is an artistic masterpiece. The plot is forgettable, but the machinery, the action sequences, and the page layouts are stunning. The artwork in the Dr. Strange story is good, but not nearly as good. When I reviewed Tales to Astonish #96 in 2013, I wrote that I couldn’t find any information about Raymond Marais, and I still can’t.

DOCTOR STRANGE #13 (Marvel, 2016) – “Blood in the Aether, Chapter Two: Night of Four Billion Nightmares,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Chris Bachalo. Much better than the previous issue. The notion of traveling through dreams is familiar from The Sandman, but Jason Aaron executes this idea well. Doc’s dream sequence is fun; I like how his female companions keep multiplying when he’s not looking.

REVIVAL #43 (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W) Tim Seeley, (A) Mike Norton. The big revelation this issue is that Lester Majak both killed Dana and caused the apocalypse, by sacrificing Dana in a ritual intended to defeat death. More on this next issue (which I have already read as I write this). This series is building up to an exciting conclusion.

NO MERCY #10 (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W) Alex de Campi, (A) Carla Speed McNeil. I’m glad this series is back; the last issue was in April, I think. The highlight of the issue is Travis’s psychedelic experience, which is beautifully depicted by Carla. There’s also a scene where the partner of Alice (who I assume must have died in a previous issue) is pressured into signing some contracts. This scene is intentionally disturbing; it’s really obvious that the university is trying to manipulate her, and that they’re discriminating against her on the basis of her sexual orientation. And it’s totally plausible that a university would do this.

HERO CATS OF STELLAR CITY #13 (Action Lab, 2016) – “Hero Cats of the Apocalypse,” (W) Kyle Puttkammer, (A) Sey Viani. An imaginary story in which Ace becomes the “Last Cat on Earth” after the planet is invaded by zombies, vampires, aliens, kaiju, etc. Some of these monsters bear an uncanny resemblance to the other Hero Cats. There’s not much of a plot here, but it’s a funny comic.

I HATE FAIRYLAND #10 (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Skottie Young. Another self-contained issue, in which Gert has to choose between taking the left or the right passageway in a dungeon, and she makes the wrong choice, resulting in a horrible apocalypse. Then Future Gert has to come back in time and persuade Present Gert to make the right choice. It’s a funny (and beautifully drawn) story, especially since Skottie leaves it to the reader to imagine how Gert’s actions could have such a wildly disproportionate effect. This issue includes four blank pages, which is a bit lazy, but oh well.

SUPERMAN #9 (DC, 2016) – “Escape from Dinosaur Island, Part 2,” (W) Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason, (A) Doug Mahnke. An exciting adventure story which is full of good characterization. Clark and Jon have such an adorable relationship. As I suspected after last issue, the castaways who Clark and Jon are supposed to rescue are the Losers.

JONESY #7 (Boom!, 2016) – untitled, (W) Sam Humphries, (A) Caitlin Rose Boyle. I’ve been lukewarm about this series, but this was the best issue yet, by far. Most of the previous issues were lighthearted fluff, but this issue is a serious exploration of Jonesy’s relationship with her divorced mother. Jonesy claims to hate her mom, but it turns out Jonesy really thinks her mom has abandoned her. The splash page where Jonesy says “I want you to love me” is the high point of the entire series thus far. And the way Jonesy’s mother explains the divorce is perfect; it’s a model of good parenting. This would be an ideal comic for kids who are in a family situation similar to Jonesy’s.

DEPT. H #7 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Matt Kindt. The weakness of this series, compared to MIND MGMT, is that Matt is not doing nearly as much with the format. Each issue of MIND MGMT was distinctive and unique because of the fake ads and the other formatting tricks, but each issue of Dept. H feels the same as all the others. In this issue, one of the characters kills another of the characters, and we get a little bit of new information about what the underwater facility is for.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #47 (IDW, 2016) – untitled, (W) Ted Anderson, (A) Agnes Garbowska. In the second part of the mayoral election story, Filthy Rich is elected, but proves completely unqualified for the job. After he nearly destroys the town through his incompetence, he resigns and the citizens demand that Mayor Mare become mayor again. This story is heavily reminiscent of the Simpsons episode “Trash of the Titans,” and, of course, it’s also a not-so-subtle commentary on the presidential election – which is two days away as I write this. I am confident that in real life, the competent, efficient woman will prevail over the rich but stupid and overconfident man. I just hope the country won’t have to be nearly destroyed first. (EDITED LATER: Um, well. Huh. Crap.)

I’ve never paid much attention to Agnes Garbowska’s art because she’s less flashy than Andy Price or Jay Fosgitt, but she’s a talented pony artist, and she draws great facial expressions.

INHUMANS #5 (Marvel, 1976) – “Voices from Galaxy’s End,” (W) Doug Moench, (A) Gil Kane. I’ve had this comic for quite a while. I finally read it because this series is mentioned in Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude, which I was reading at the same time. One of the characters in that book also mentions that George Pérez, who drew the earlier issues of Inhumans, couldn’t draw Farrah Fawcett (in Logan’s Run) to save his life. Anyway, this issue has some good artwork, but suffers from severe overwriting. The story involves yet another battle between the royal Inhumans and Maximus. The good guys win in the end, but Black Bolt is so sad that he starts screaming and destroys the city, which is a dumb ending.

DEFENDERS #30 (Marvel, 1975) – “Gold Diggers of Fear!”, (W) Bill Mantlo, (A) Sam Grainger. Even in 1975, that title (a reference to the film Gold Diggers of 1933 and its similarly titled sequels) must have gone over the heads of most readers. This was another comic that I’ve owned for a while, but finally decided to read because it comes from the same period as The Fortress of Solitude. Sadly, this is a pretty bad issue, and not just because it’s a fill-in issue that interrupted Steve Gerber’s brilliant Defenders run. It seems like Mantlo was trying to imitate Gerber’s absurdist style of humor, but he failed. This issue’s plot and its villain, “Tapping Tommy,” are ridiculous in a stupid way, whereas Gerber’s plots and characters were ridiculous in a funny way.

OMEGA THE UNKNOWN #6 (Marvel, 2008) – “The Unparalleled Mink in: Night Terrors,” (W) Jonathan Lethem, (A) Farel Dalrymple. This comic is still confusing to the point of incomprehensibility. I don’t think I’ll be able to understand it until I read the whole thing in order, and probably not even then. But now that I’ve read one of Lethem’s novels, I understand this comic better. Omega the Unknown is referenced frequently in The Fortress of Solitude. I think Lethem responded to that series so strongly because the protagonist, James Michael Starling, was so similar to him at the time – a bookish, lonely 11-year-old boy growing up in a grim inner-city neighborhood. Lethem’s own Omega comic is sort of a fan fiction, in that it attempts to recapture what appealed to him about Gerber and Skrenes’s original. I don’t think he entirely succeeds in doing that, but at least now I get what he was trying to do.

OMEGA THE UNKNOWN #7 (Marvel, 2008) – untitled, creators as above. See previous review. This issue begins with a very strange sequence that’s drawn in a childish style. Farel Dalrymple’s artwork is an independent reason to read this comic, even if one has no interest in Lethem’s story.

Reviews for September and early October

New comics received on September 2:

SAGA #37 (Image, 2016) – Brian K. Vaughan [W], Fiona Staples [A]. The best comic book in America is back! But this issue was a bit underwhelming. All it does is advances a bunch of ongoing plotlines, but only a little bit each. I hope next issue will be better.

MS. MARVEL #10 (Marvel, 2016) – G. Willow Wilson [W], Takeshi Miyazawa & Adrian Alphona [A]. I am loving the flashback sequences at the start of each issue; they include some fascinating information about Kamala and her family. Kamala’s first encounter with Bruno is adorable (and I’ve worked it into my still-in-progress book chapter about this series). The problem with the rest of the issue, though, is that I’m thoroughly sick of both Carol Danvers and Civil War II. Carol has become a completely unsympathetic character, with her superior attitude and her unwillingness to think twice about her Ulysses scheme. And as I already pointed out in my review of Ms. Marvel #9, the Ulysses plotline was uninteresting to begin with because of its lack of moral ambiguity. Also, it will really suck if Bruno dies. ☹

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #18 (IDW, 2016) – Kelly Thompson [W], Jen Bartel [A]. Synergy saves Stormer from the bear, then Shana announces she’s leaving the band to do a fashion internship in Europe. Kind of an average issue.

THE LEGEND OF WONDER WOMAN #9 (DC, 2016) – Renae de Liz [W/A]. The best DC comic of the year is unfortunately over, but there’s going to be a sequel – or at least I hope so, although they said the same thing about Prez. The final issue was not as good as some of the others due to an excess of fight scenes, but it’s a good conclusion to Diana’s origin; it gives a satisfying explanation of how she acquires the powers of the gods. I look forward to hopefully seeing more of this series.

FUTURE QUEST #4 (DC, 2016) – Jeff Parker [W/A], Ron Randall & Evan “Doc” Shaner [A]. I enjoyed this issue, though I don’t remember much about it now; so much stuff happens in this issue that it was hard to process it all. In this issue, Jonny Quest’s mother’s name is given as Ellen. This is at least the third different version of Jonny’s mother; she was previously known as Judith and Rachel.

SILVER SURFER #200 (Marvel, 2016) – Dan Slott [W], Mike Allred [A]. This barely seems like an “anniversary” issue, except that it includes a cover gallery of all 200 issues. The story is a good one, but it could have been told in any issue of this series. Dawn and Norrin team up to defeat some energy-sucking cephalopods, and then Dawn’s mother completely rejects her. The main reaction I had to this story was fury at this unfeeling, callous woman who gave birth to Dawn. She may not have planned on being a mother, but she is one anyway, and she has no right to just abandon her children. I mean, it would be one thing if she had given Dawn and Eve up for adoption at birth, but she left them when they were old enough to remember her, and now she refuses to have anything to do with them, and I can’t sympathize with that. No wonder Dawn doesn’t want to stay on Earth anymore.

GOTHAM ACADEMY ANNUAL #1 (DC, 2016) – Becky Cloonan & Brenden Fletcher [W], four different artists. In this annual, the Detective Club splits in half and solves two different mysteries, one involving a vampire and another involving a radioactive glowing skeleton. It turns out that the two mysteries are related, in a confusing and convoluted way. This was a really fun story and a good introduction to the upcoming second season. I wonder if the glowing skeleton guy is based on Dr. Phosphorus.

Over Labor Day weekend, since I had just gotten paid, I took a trip to a bookstore downtown. The bookstore was less than a mile away from Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find, so I took the opportunity to go there too. I was kind of unimpressed with the Heroes store; they didn’t have any of the recent issues I was looking for, and I had trouble finding anything I wanted. I ended up buying just three comics, one of which was:

CIVIL WAR II: CHOOSING SIDES #4 (Marvel, 2016) – various [W/A]. I had no idea there was a Power Pack story in this issue until I saw it on the shelf at Previews. In fact, this issue has both a Power Pack story and a Punisher story, which has to be the greatest tonal mismatch since Archie vs. the Punisher. The Punisher story is predictably awful, and I despise this character anyway. But the Power Pack story is quite good. It’s written by John Allison, and like Giant Days, it has excellent dialogue and a minimal plot. The focus is mostly on showing how the three younger Power siblings have grown. I wish Marvel would do more with these characters; I think this is the first time Jack Power has appeared anywhere since 2010.

PRINCELESS: RAVEN: THE PIRATE PRINCESS #10 (Action Lab, 2016) – Jeremy Whitley [W], Rosy Higgins & Jason Strutz [A]. Most of this issue is a flashback sequence, representing a story that Sunshine tells to the unconscious Ximena about how her (Sunshine’s) parents met. It’s a cute Romeo-and-Juliet story about a human-elf romance. There’s a funny line about how the “story gets kind of vague” at the point that Sunshine is conceived.

ROCKET RACCOON & GROOT #8 (Marvel, 2016) – Nick Kocher [W], Michael Walsh [A]. This is only nominally a Civil War crossover. Rocket accepts a mission from Carol Danvers as an excuse to track down an old enemy of his, and while doing so, he runs into Gwenpool. Nick Kocher is a very funny writer, and he effectively plays Rocket, Groot and Gwenpool off of each other.

CIVIL WAR: CHOOSING SIDES II #2 (Marvel, 2016) – various [W/A]. I should have ordered this because of Jeremy Whitley’s War Machine story, but I forgot. It’s not a story starring War Machine, but a story about America Chavez, Monica Rambeau and Storm’s reactions to Rhodey’s death. It’s a touching piece of work that demonstrates Jeremy’s ability to write effectively about black people despite being white himself. The girl named Zuri who Storm encounters is named after Jeremy’s daughter. According to Jeremy on Twitter, I was the first person to notice this.

The other story in this issue is about Goliath. It has some interesting art by Marco Rudy, but it assumes too much knowledge about this character’s history, and does not make sense on its own.

HOWARD THE DUCK #10 (Marvel, 2016) – Chip Zdarsky [W], Joe Quinones [A]. I thought this was the last issue, but I guess there’s one more left. The Chipp and Jho characters are a really funny piece of metafiction (not to mention their colleagues, such as Ta-Nehi-C). There’s also a funny suggestion that Howard himself thinks Steve Gerber was a better writer than Chip. If the next issue is as good as this one, then this story will be the perfect conclusion to a very fun series.

THE SPECTRE #32 (DC, 1995) – John Ostrander [W], Steve Pugh [A]. In this self-contained story, the Spectre fights a murderer who has multiple personalities, only some of which are culpable for his crimes. The Spectre solves this dilemma by destroying all the man’s split personalities, even the good ones, and leaving just the normal unremarkable one. Steve Pugh’s artwork on this issue is reminiscent of that of Richard Corben.

TOMB OF DRACULA #8 (Marvel, 1973) – Marv Wolfman [W], Gene Colan [A]. Another comic that I’ve had for a long time, but never bothered to read because I had already read the story in reprinted form. This is the second issue of probably the best run on any ‘70s Marvel comic. The first six issues of ToD ranged from average to bad, but with his arrival on the series, Marv instantly turned the series around. His first story, in which Frank, Rachel and Quincy battle a bunch of mind-controlled kids, is frantic and tense from start to finish. The art this issue isn’t as good as in later issues because the third member of the team, Tom Palmer, had not arrived yet.

GREEN LANTERN #113 (DC, 1979) – Denny O’Neil [W], Alex Saviuk [A]. This issue is kind of dumb. On Christmas, Hal, Dinah and Ollie encounter a bunch of punk musicians. One of them has a wife who’s about to give birth. The wife is kidnapped by some hillbillies who want to use the baby to break a curse. The religious subtext here is too obvious to be interesting. In Flash #73, Mark Waid wrote a much better story with a very similar premise. Also, Alex Saviuk is a really boring artist.

DEPT. H #5 (Dark Horse, 2016) – Matt Kindt [W/A]. This series gets creepier with every issue. I mention it briefly in my in-progress book chapter about SF comics, but it may be closer to horror than SF. Mia watches the feed from Raj’s suit and sees… it’s not clear what, and then the entire habitat caves in. I have issue 6 of this series but have not read it yet.

AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE #10 (Archie, 2016) – Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa [W], Francesco Francavilla [A]. I used to think this was the third best current comic after Saga and Sex Criminals, but this week it was the twelfth new comic book I read. This shows how badly my enthusiasm for this series has suffered as a result of its chronic lateness. This isn’t a bad comic at all, though; in fact, it’s quite impressive. It tells the story of the Afterlife version of Josie and the Pussycats, who turn out to be vampires. Roberto gives a compelling and well-researched account of their origin and their various incarnations as different pop groups.

ISLAND #9 (Image, 2016) – various [W/A]. Probably the worst issue yet. Brandon Graham seems to be a fan of Fil Barlow’s Zooniverse, and Frank Plowright’s Slings and Arrows guide has good things to say about it. But the Zooniverse story in this issue made no sense to me. Fil Barlow is good at drawing bizarre alien creatures and environments, but I was unable to tell any of the characters in this story apart, nor could I follow the plot. Lin Visel’s story “Balst” is boring and amateurish. The only piece in the issue that I liked was Joseph Bergin’s short piece. It makes little logical sense – it appears to be about a possessed garbage disposal or something – but at least the artwork is interesting.

TRUE BELIEVERS: STAR WARS #1 (Marvel, 2016, originally 1977) – Roy Thomas [W], Howard Chakyin [A]. I bought this because it was a dollar. Star Wars #1 was very important because it may have saved Marvel from bankruptcy, but is now mostly a historical curiosity. It includes at least one scene left out of the movie, Biggs Darklighter’s farewell to Luke, but otherwise it follows the first part of the movie closely. Howard Chaykin’s artwork is quite good.

WONDER WOMAN #5 (DC, 2016) – Greg Rucka [W], Liam Sharp [A]. The even-numbered issues of this title are worse than the odd-numbered issues, but still quite good. Greg Rucka’s writing is never spectacular, but it’s always consistently good, with the notable exception of Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1. I wonder what happened to Black Magic though. Liam Sharp’s artwork has gotten a lot better since the ‘90s. I think the best moment this issue was Steve Trevor’s reference to toxic masculinity.

ATOMIC ROBO: KNIGHTS OF THE GOLDEN CIRCLE #2 (Red 5, 2014) – Brian Clevinger [W], Scott Wegener [A]. Another average issue of Atomic Robo. I think I just don’t like this series as much as my friend Pol Rua does. The only Atomic Robo comic I unconditionally loved was Deadly Art of Science.

SCOOBY-DOO, WHERE ARE YOU? #66 (DC, 2016) – various [W/A]. I was sorry to see that the backup story this issue was written by Chuck Dixon. It’s not particularly good or bad, but I regret having unintentionally given Chuck Dixon my money. But the first story this issue, by Ivan Cohen and Walter Carson, is quite good. On President’s Day, the Scooby Gang visit the White House where they encounter a villain who’s posing as the ghosts of various former presidents.

FLASH #253 (DC, 1977) – Cary Bates [W], Irv Novick [A]. Irv Novick is a classic example of a boring artist, but I kind of like his art. Like many Cary Bates comics, this issue has a confusing and convoluted plot, in which the Elongated Man turns into a villain called the Molder and seemingly kills the Flash. This issue is notable for having a scene where Sue Dibny and Iris West talk to each other. It doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test because they’re talking about Barry and Ralph, but at the time, it was unusual for these characters to interact at all without their husbands present.

JONESY #5 (Boom!, 2016) – Sam Humphries [W], Caitlin Rose Boyle [A]. Jonesy’s idol Stuff comes to town and casts Jonesy in his opera production, but he wants Jonesy to play the fat stupid character. I still don’t quite understand this comic, but it’s funny and it’s clearly a labor of love on the part of the creators.

SPIDER-GWEN #10 (Marvel, 2016) – Jason Latour [W], Robbi Rodriguez [A]. This series slipped pretty far down my priority list after the awful Spider-Women crossover issues. This issue is hard to understand, but at least it feels like a classic Spider-Gwen story, if the word “classic” is appropriate for a series that’s only a couple years old. I notice that Gwen is wearing a Power Pack shirt.

SPIDER-GWEN #11 (Marvel, 2016) – as above. I remember liking this better than some other recent issues, but I can’t recall much about it. I like how in Spider-Gwen’s world, Reed Richards is a black teenager. And he builds Gwen a device that’s very similar to the old Thing rings.

HATE #22 (Fantagraphics, 1996) – Peter Bagge [W/A]. Brilliant work. This is as funny as any Hate comic, but also involves some serious relationship and family drama. Buddy’s girlfriend Lisa becomes the primary caretaker for Buddy’s sick father. Buddy and Lisa fight over this because Lisa is more worried about Dad than Buddy himself is. Then Buddy’s dad gets run over by a truck – and good riddance, because he was an awful old man, but still, his death is sobering as well as funny. I need to collect more of these late issues of Hate.

New comics received on September 9:

GOLDIE VANCE #5 (Boom!, 2016) – Hope Larson [W], Brittney Williams [A]. I mistakenly thought this series was written by Kate Leth, not Hope Larson. This issue, Goldie rescues an amnesiac astronaut and gets recruited for astronaut training, making Cheryl bitterly jealous. I thought Cheryl’s reaction was unfair, but oh well. This was a good issue, but in a by now familiar pattern, I was too tired to enjoy it as much as I should have.

PAPER GIRLS #9 (Image, 2016) – Brian K. Vaughan [W], Cliff Chiang [A]. More weirdness. Additional water bears. A giant steampunk airship. A future water-world filled with clones of Erin. I’m still enjoying this series but it continues to make very little logical sense.

DOCTOR STRANGE #11 (Marvel, 2016) – Jason Aaron [W], Kevin Nowlan & Leonardo Romero [A]. Part of this issue is a flashback to Strange’s origin and his early encounters with Mordo. The other part takes place in the present day and follows Strange’s struggles with his new lack of power. This issue is a good introduction to the series’ new status quo. Kevin Nowlan and Leonardo Romero’s art styles effectively contrast with each other.

USAGI YOJIMBO #157 (Dark Horse, 2016) – An excellent conclusion to “The Secret of the Hell Screen.” The murderer is found and punished, it turns out there’s an actual secret to the hell screen, and the annoying Lord Shima is financially ruined. This three-parter was a good example of a long-form Usagi story.

REVIVAL #42 (Image, 2016) – Tim Seeley [W], Mike Norton [A]. I still can’t quite follow what’s going on here, but it’s clear that the world of the series is going to hell in a handbasket. This series is approaching what I expect will be a strong conclusion.

THE FLINTSTONES #3 (DC, 2016) – Mark Russell [W], Steve Pugh [A]. Another funny piece of satire. Bedrock is visited by alien teenagers on spring break, who proceed to cause mayhem and kill everyone, until recalled by their parents. This plot reminds me of the Star Trek TOS episode “The Squire of Gothos,” or the Fantastic Four story about the Infant Terrible.

JUGHEAD #9 (Archie, 2016) – Ryan North [W], Derek Charm [A]. This is the “burger girl” story. Surprisingly this was the best comic of the week. It’s very similar to an issue of Squirrel Girl, and that’s good because it means we get two issues of Squirrel Girl a month. Ryan North’s bottom-of-page commentary has become his trademark as a writer, and he uses it here very effectively.

NIGHT’S DOMINION #1 (Oni, 2016) – Ted Naifeh [W/A]. As Ted said to me at Heroes Con, this is his first comic in many years that’s not cute. Instead, it’s a somewhat dark and grim version of Dungeon & Dragons, or of Conan stories like “The Tower of the Elephant.” So far I like this, though maybe not as much as Courtney Crumrin or Princess Ugg.

BOUNTY #3 (Dark Horse, 2016) – Kurtis Wiebe [W], Mindy Lee [A]. I think the best thing about this comic is the coloring. The story and characters just aren’t grabbing me as much as Rat Queens did, and it lacks the political subtext of Pisces. I’m sorry that this is Kurtis Wiebe’s only current comic.

BLACK PANTHER #1 (Marvel, 2016) – Ta-Nehisi Coates [W], Brian Stelfreeze [A]. I finally found this comic at Heroes (see above), and I finally got around to reading it after seeing some negative commentary on this series on Facebook. I was very impressed with this first issue. It’s not hard to understand despite my lack of familiarity with previous Black Panther runs, and it’s an impressive achievement for someone who’s only ever written nonfiction. Somehow this feels like a very African story. It also seems like a deep and serious meditation on the concept of nationhood; I feel like the key question in this story arc (and I may be unconsciously quoting this from somewhere) is whether Wakanda belongs to its king or to its people. Brian Stelfreeze’s artwork here is also very impressive.

BLACK PANTHER #2 (Marvel, 2016) – as above. Another good issue. Changamire is an interesting new character; he reminds me of Chip Delany somehow.

BLACK PANTHER #4 (Marvel, 2016) – as above. This issue was also good, though nothing about it particularly stands out to me.

BLACK PANTHER #5 (Marvel, 2016) – Ta-Nehisi Coates [W], Chris Sprouse [A]. By this point this story was starting to remind me of “Panther’s Rage,” if “Panther’s Rage” hadn’t been written by someone who never used one word where three would do. The noteworthy scene in this issue is the one where T’Challa consults with representatives of all the evil Marvel countries – Madripoor, Genosha, etc. This is a significant moment because it’s the sort of thing that a superhero would never do, but that a dictator would certainly do.

New comics received on September 16. Yet again, I was utterly exhausted that day after having spent the morning in meetings.

LUMBERJANES/GOTHAM ACADEMY #4 (Boom!/DC, 2016) – Chynna Clugston Flores [W], Rosemary Valero-O’Connell [A]. This series has just not been what I expected to be, and I wasn’t all that excited about this issue; I only read it first because of a sense of obligation. But I liked this issue better than I expected. The plot is becoming clearer, and the Lumberjanes and the Detective Club are getting the opportunity to do what they each do best. I love the line about Simon dying in a macarena-rollerblading accident. And Mal’s “collective strength” line is a nice moment.

GOTHAM ACADEMY: SECOND SEMESTER #1 (DC, 2016) – Brenden Fletcher, Becky Cloonan & Karl Kerschl [W], Adam Archer [A]. Very glad to have this series back. This issue introduces Olive’s new roommate Amy, who is just horrible; I expect she’s going to turn into a villain. The last page, where all the other Detective Club kids come back, is a heartwarming moment.

BLACK PANTHER #6 (Marvel, 2016) – Yet another good issue. The Ife folktale has the ring of authenticity to it, even though it was quite possibly made up. At this point in the story, I am seriously losing my sympathy for T’Challa; I feel like he’s really the villain of this piece, while Aneka and Ayo are the protagonists.

WONDER WOMAN #6 (DC, 2016) – Greg Rucka [W], Nicola Scott [A]. Another entertaining chapter of “Year One.” This issue has one of the most adorable covers of the year (the one with Diana and the animals), and the scene where Diana is visited by the gods is equally cute. But why is Hephaestus a mouse? There’s also a very sad scene where Steve Trevor has to inform his comrade’s widow of her husband’s death. Greg Rucka often gives the sense that he genuinely understands and sympathizes with military personnel, and this scene is an example of that.

ASTRO CITY #38 (DC, 2016) – Kurt Busiek [W], Brent Anderson [A]. This is a strange one. It continues Mister Cakewalk/Jazzbaby’s story into the ‘20s. The plot, with Destiné and the Star of Lahkimpur, is reminiscent of a ‘20s Weird Tales story. Kurt and Brent seem to have done an excellent job with their historical research; I was delighted to see a chop suey restaurant in the background of one panel.

DOOM PATROL #1 (DC, 2016) – Gerard Way [W], Nick Derington [A]. This is seriously weird, though in a good way, I think. I liked the artwork but was unable to follow the story. There seemed to be very little logical connection between one scene and another. Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol was really weird, but only at the level of content; the stories usually had a clear narrative logic to them. I am curious to see where this comic is going, though.

THE UNBELIEVABLE GWENPOOL #5 (Marvel, 2016) – Christopher Hastings [W], Irene Strychalski [A]. I guess “The Unbelievable” is part of the title. This issue, Gwen teams up with Miles Morales. It’s a fairly fun comic, but I don’t remember much about it now.

THE UNBELIEVABLE GWENPOOL #6 (Marvel, 2016) – as above. Due to a misunderstanding, Gwen gets in a fight with Miles and is thrown in jail. This issue has a slightly more serious vibe than earlier issues; it ends with Gwen saying “this isn’t fun.” As I type this, it occurs to me that Gwen is kind of the Marvel version of Pinkie Pie. Gwen’s bedroom is just adorable.

THE MIGHTY THOR #10 (Marvel, 2016) – Jason Aaron [W], Russell Dauterman [A]. Roxxon Island becomes the scene of a battle between Exterminatrix’s Mindless Ones and Dario Agger’s Hulks. Russell Dauterman draws some awesome Mindless Ones, and I love how their thought bubbles are full of exclamation marks. And “ROXXON STRONGEST COMPANY THERE IS!” is an awesome line. But although I liked this issue, I still haven’t gotten around to reading the next one.

ARCHIE #10 (Archie, 2016) – Mark Waid [W], Veronica Fish [A]. Veronica takes an incriminating video of Betty’s uncle, who is a popular high school teacher and Mr. Lodge’s opponent for mayor. The video goes viral, leading to a rift between Archie and Betty. I’m just not enjoying this series nearly as much as Jughead.

ARCHIE #11 (Archie, 2016) – as above. Betty and Veronica each participate in a talent show. During the talent show, Archie and Betty are reconciled to each other and they give each other a friendly hug, but Sayad and Veronica are both watching and they misinterpret what’s going on. Again, this is still just an average comic, though it’s not average enough that I’d consider dropping it. I don’t think Mark is as good at writing teenage protagonists as he used to be.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #45 (IDW, 2016) – Thom Zahler [W], Tony Fleecs [A]. It turns out that the magic dust had the effect of exacerbating each of the ponies’ worst qualities, making them care about their private concerns to the exclusion of everything else. Spike, the CMC and Zecora use their knowledge of the Mane Six to their advantage in order to cure them. The highlight of the issue is how Twilight Sparkle thinks she’s immune to being cured because she’s prepared for absolutely every strategy that might be used against her – and then she falls victim to Pinkie Pie’s super-simple trick. The line “You see, both characters’ mothers have the same name” is a nice Easter egg. I really miss Katie Cook’s writing on this comic and I wish she’d come back, but Thom Zahler is a reasonable substitute, and I thought this latest story was quite good.

THOR, GOD OF THUNDER #19 (Marvel, 2014) – Jason Aaron [W], Esad Ribic [A]. This is a prequel to the current Thor run, and features Roz Solomon and Dario Agger. Reading this issue has given me a slightly clearer understanding of current events in Mighty Thor. I like Esad Ribic’s art, though he’s not as good as Russell Dauterman. I ought to go back and collect the rest of this run.

ROCKET RACCOON AND GROOT #9 (Marvel, 2016) – Nick Kocher [W], Michael Walsh [A]. Pretty much the same thing as issue 8. I love the metatextual comment about the convenient rips in Gwen’s clothing.

AVENGERS TWO #2 (Marvel, 2000) – Roger Stern [W], Mark Bagley [A]. This Wonder Man-Beast team-up is a lot of fun; it feels like a classic Roger Stern Avengers comic, and Hank and Simon are an excellent comic duo. The plot of this issue is heavily based on the ‘90s Wonder Man series, which I’ve only read one or two issues of, but Stern provides enough explanation to ensure that the comic still makes sense.

HIP HOP FAMILY TREE #9 (Fantagraphics, 2016) – Ed Piskor [W/A]. Lots of interesting stuff here, though I thought the backup story, by a different artist, was rather boring. This issue includes one panel that describes events in the ‘90s and is drawn in a style based on that of Rob Liefeld. I assume this will become the primary style of the series when we get to the early ‘90s.

A-FORCE #9 (Marvel, 2016) – Kelly Thompson [W], Paulo Siqueira [A]. This issue is an example of why I’m sick of Civil War. Carol and Medusa’s actions this issue are heavy-handed and cruel, and while Medusa was never a sympathetic character to begin with, Carol is on the verge of losing the reader’s sympathy as well. (On this point, see my review of Ms. Marvel #10 above.) It turns out there’s a good reason why Nico is supposed to kill someone named Alice. And this demonstrates the stupidity of putting your trust in prophecies as Carol and Medusa have done.

And now, for the first time since arriving in Charlotte, my stack of comics waiting to be reviewed is empty – except for the comics I read this week, but I’ll review those later.

10-5-16

One more comic I read before receiving my new comics shipment:

SUPERMAN #300 (DC, 1976) – Cary Bates & Elliot S! Maggin [W], Curt Swan [A].I I’ve known about this comic for a long time but have never read it. “Superman, 2001” is an imaginary story in which Superman arrives on Earth in 1976, the year of the comic’s publication, making him 25 years old in 2001. The story is a rather strange one in which Superman stops two different Communist plots. Obviously, Bates and Maggin’s predictions for 2001 were wildly inaccurate. As an anniversary issue, Superman #300 is significantly inferior to Superman #400.

New comics received on September 23:

PATSY WALKER, A.K.A. HELLCAT #10 (Marvel, 2016) – Kate Leth [W], Brittney Williams [A]. Hedy imprisons Patsy in a dream version of Centerville High School, and tries to make Patsy feel guilty about ruining her life and the lives of everyone around her. It doesn’t work. This was not the best issue of the series; I hope Kate Leth isn’t running out of ideas.

CHEW #58 (Image, 2016) – John Layman [W], Rob Guillory [A]. Finally things are starting to make sense. It turns out that Tony is supposed to eat Amelia in order to use her powers to kill everyone who’s eaten chicken, because otherwise the aliens will kill everyone in the world. I guess the aliens must be giant chickens or something. I’m looking forward to the next issue; I haven’t been this excited about Chew since I started reading it.

THE VISION #11 (Marvel, 2016) – Tom King [W], Gabriel Hernandez Walta [A]. Just one more issue left of perhaps the saddest Marvel comic ever. I’m not sorry because I’m not sure I could take much more. Vision fights the Avengers in order to get into Victor Mancha’s prison cell and kill him, but Virginia beats him there and kills Victor instead. Virginia was clearly intended to be a tragic character; it feels like her entire story arc has been setting her up to die horribly. I’m sorry if Victor is dead, but Marvel wasn’t using him anyway.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #19 (IDW, 2016) – Kelly Thompson [W], Meredith McClaren [A]. Meredith McClaren’s art is bizarre; she draws some weird facial expressions. Still, I like her art better than Jen Bartel’s. The main thing I remember from this issue is the ending, where the Stingers agree to sign with the Misfits’ recording company only if the Misfits are dropped. Over the course of this series, the Misfits have evolved from villains to friendly rivals, and it would be interesting to see them allied with the Holograms against a greater threat.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE 1831 nn (Image, 2016) – Kieron Gillen [W], Stephanie Hans [A]. Best comic of the week. This one-shot introduces the 19th-century gods, who are based on the Romantic poets. Specifically:

Hades = John Keats
Woden = Mary Shelley
Inanna = Claire Clairmont
Morrigan = Percy Bysshe Shelley
Lucifer = Byron
Morpheus = Coleridge
Angel of Soho = Blake
Perun = Pushkin?
Thoth = Poe?
Hestia = unknown (Jane Austen according to Wikipedia)
Other 3 gods = the Brontës

According to my Victorianist Facebook friends, the idea that the Romantics were the equivalent of modern celebrities is not entirely new. But Gillen and Hans’ execution of this concept is brilliant. Kieron has clearly done his research; even the departures from the historical record seem intentional rather than accidental. (Some of the rela-life versions of the gods were dead by 1831, or survived more than two years afterward.) Of course the whole story revolves around the famous 1816 party at Villa Diodati. The whole issue creates a powerful feeling of claustrophobia, oppression and doom. It’s one of Kieron’s best single issues.

GIANT DAYS #18 (Boom!, 2016) – John Allison [W], Max Sarin [A]. This issue mostly deals with the aftermath of last issue’s plagiarism scandal. It occurs to me that John Allison is a gifted storyteller, but his stories tend to be structured as a series of jokes and gags, out of which a plot develops so gradually that you don’t even notice. Paul Tobin’s writing is kind of like this too.

MANIFEST DESTINY #23 (Image, 2016) – Chris Dingess [W], Matthew Roberts [A]. In this issue, we realize that the Helm/Flewelling flashback is closely related to the main plot of the series. When we know the message that Helm and Flewelling brought back to Washington, we’ll also know why Sacagawea’s baby is so important, and what the Lewis-Clark expedition is supposed to accomplish. Helm carrying Flewelling’s head is a shocking image, reminding me of Head Lopper.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #32 (IDW, 2016) – Ted Anderson [W], Jay Fosgitt [A]. Jay Fosgitt has done a lot of excellent work this year, and I’m glad that he’s starting to achieve more widespread success. This issue stars Fluttershy and Daring Do, perhaps the most dissimilar characters in the entire franchise. Daring Do needs Fluttershy’s help because she has a quest that involves spiders, and she (Daring Do) is terrified of spiders. As in the best MLP:FF issues, the humor comes from the conflict between the two main characters’ personalities. The map spiders are an adorable and hilarious idea. It’s a weird coincidence that this issue came out the same week as “Every Little Thing She Does,” which also involves Fluttershy and spiders.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #8 (Marvel, 2016) – David Walker [W], Sanford Greene [A]. The prison storyline continues. At the end of the issue, Luke gets in a big fight with Carol Danvers, whose character has been absolutely destroyed by Civil War II; in just a few months, she’s gone from Marvel’s flagship superheroine to a borderline villain. More on this later. The most memorable thing in the issue is Luke castigating Danny for “playing the role of the goody-goody white liberal trying to make a point that only other white liberals understand.” The racial politics of this series are perhaps the best thing about it.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #65 (Marvel, 1980) – Mary Jo Duffy [W], Kerry Gammill [A]. I’m not very familiar with Jo Duffy’s writing, and I was pleasantly surprised at how witty and entertaining this issue was. I need to collect more of this series. The main plot involves a villain called El Aguila and Jeryn Hogarth’s harem of action girls. But easily the highlight of the issue is a scene where Luke goes to a tailor to pick up some shirts (since he goes through so many of them), and on his way out, Bruce Banner comes in to pick up some pants. Finally we know where all those pairs of purple pants come from!

GRIMJACK #18 (First, 1986) – John Ostrander [W], Tim Truman [A]. I mentioned Grimjack in my Cambridge SF Encyclopedia article on SF comics, from the 1980s to the 2010s, so I was inspired to read an old Grimjack issue. This issue is the culmination of a story in which a bunch of corporations start a war against the Cynosure government. It’s a bit hard to follow, and Truman’s art is unusually crude. The Munden’s Bar story is also confusing; it feels like it’s the second half of a two-parter.

ATOMIC ROBO AND THE TEMPLE OF OD #2 (IDW, 2016) – Brian Clevinger [W], Scott Wegener [A]. A rather average issue. The only thing I remember about it is the “one raid, three fortunes” conversation. I’m losing some of my confidence in this series.

FANTASTIC FOUR #187 (Marvel, 1977) – Len Wein [W], George Pérez [A]. The FF return from New Salem, where they defeated Agatha Harkness’s evil son, only to find that Klaw and the Molecule Man have invaded the Baxter Building. The Impossible Man defeats Klaw, but the Molecule Man possesses Reed’s body. The Molecule Man’s continuity is confusing; I think the one in this issue is different from the one in Secret Wars II. Gentleman George’s art in this issue is not bad at all, though not up to the level of his Avengers or Justice League.

ARCHIE #12 (Archie, 2016) – Mark Waid [W], Thomas Pitilli [A]. Mr. Lodge loses the election and moves out of town. I’m feeling lukewarm about this series. Mark has mostly failed to convince me to sympathize with Veronica.

DEPT. H #6 (Dark Horse, 2016) – Matt Kindt [W]. Another issue that raises a lot of questions but no answers. At the end of this issue, Mia demands answers from her brother, and I hope she gets them; I’d at least like to know what this undersea installation is even for.

I HATE FAIRYLAND #9 (Image, 2016) – Skottie Young [W/A]. For perhaps the first time this series, this issue is a one-off with no connection to any ongoing plotline. Gert offers her pet “catastrophon” as a bet in a poker game, then has to go inside her “hat of holding” to find it. Gert’s trip inside her hat is a hilarious and beautifully drawn sequence, reminding me of the scene in Scud the Disposable Assassin where Scud travels inside Drywall. I love how the catastrophon turns out to be savage and vicious but also adorable, kind of like Lockheed. Overall this was one of the better issues of the series.

VOTE LOKI #4 (Marvel, 2016) – Christopher Hastings [W], Langdon Foss [A]. A very disappointing conclusion. Loki’s supporters all abandon him when they discover that he has no concrete positions about anything. Hello? Donald Trump has no policies or platforms either, other than “build a wall,” and his supporters love him anyway because of who he is. That’s not necessarily enough for him to be elected President, but it proves that you can be nominated for President despite knowing nothing and having no ideas, which means the ending of this issue is silly. Ultimately, this series was an ineffective piece of political satire because of its lack of courage. It played everything too safe, and failed to stress the obvious similarities between Loki and Trump. Of course it’s inevitable that this series failed to deilver effective political satire, since it’s published by a huge corporation that can’t afford to offend people, but Prez was also published by a huge corporation and it was much more hard-hitting than Vote Loki.

THE MIGHTY THOR #11 (Marvel, 2016) – Jason Aaron [W], Russell Dauterman [A]. This was the best issue of this series because the ending was just so unexpected. I can’t explain the ending without inadvertently spoiling it, so I might as well just spoil it. It turns out that the character posing as Thor is… Mjolnir. This is a powerful plot twist because we are conditioned to see Mjolnir as just an inanimate object; in the past fifty years, Mjolnir has never spoken a single line of dialogue, and has never been depicted as animate or sentient. The other cool thing is that when you reread the issue, you see that the fake Thor was never shown holding Mjolnir. Kudos to Jason Aaron for delivering a truly effective surprise. Though I do wonder if this episode was inspired by the Doctor Who episode “The Doctor’s Wife.”

SCOOBY-DOO TEAM-UP #9 (DC, 2015) – Sholly Fisch [W], Dario Brizuela [A]. Another very fun issue, in which the Scooby Gang teams up with Superman and his friends to fight a bunch of classic Superman villains. Funny moments include the appearance of a literal Great Caesar’s Ghost, and Krypto talking to Scooby in dog language.

THE THRILLING ADVENTURE HOUR PRESENTS: BEYOND BELIEF #1 (Image, 2015) – Ben Acker & Ben Blacker [W], Phil Hester [A]. Beyond Belief stars a pair of urbane, witty paranormal investigators who drink all the time. They’re obviously based on Nick and Nora Charles except they drink even more, which is quite a feat. This issue is a lot of fun and it makes me want to read more about these characters. There’s also a backup story explaining how they met.

STRANGE FRUIT #2 (Boom!, 2015) – J.G. Jones [W/A], Mark Waid [A]. This comic book should never have been published. After the overwhelmingly hostile reaction to issue 1, Boom! should have said “Sorry, we made a mistake” and killed the rest of the series. Unfortunately, I’m stuck with this comic because I had already ordered it before I saw the reviews for issue 1. It turns out that issue 2 is almost equally bad. Other people have diagnosed the problems with this issue; see for example Emma Houxbois’s review at . I would add that this is the kind of story that’s intended to be anti-racist, but that in fact reinforces racism. Because of its old-fashioned setting, it presents racism as a thing of the past, inviting the white reader to think, “White people sure were awful back then; good thing we’ve learned better now.” By contrast, March constantly reminds the reader that the problems of the civil rights era are still relevant today, and that neither the civil rights movement nor Barack Obama’s inauguration is the end of the story.

New comics received on September 30. For the first time in quite a while, I received a new Saga and a new Lumberjanes on the same day. It was tough to decide which to read first. In the end I decided that Saga takes priority over anything else, but it could have gone the other way.

SAGA #38 (Image, 2016) – Brian K. Vaughan [W], Fiona Staples [A]. I notice Fiona has top billing on the cover, which seems quite appropriate. This issue picks up where #37 ended, but then skips ahead six months. It’s jarring to see Alana suddenly very pregnant, and I’m kind of annoyed that we didn’t get to see Hazel’s reaction to the news that she’s going to be a big sister. But the end of the issue is a far greater shock. Izabel’s (second) death comes completely out of left field, and is almost as traumatic for the reader as it is for Hazel. For once things were looking good for the Hazel family, but now everything’s turned to shit again. I’m almost afraid to read the next issue.

LUMBERJANES #30 (Boom!, 2016) – Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh [W], Carey Pietsch [A]. Another awesome issue. Surprisingly, it turns out that Ligo the gorgon is quite nice (much nicer than Diane) and is not responsible for turning people to stone; instead, the culprit is a pair of ridiculous-looking cockatrices. Also, we are introduced to the Always Locked Peculiar Situations Weapons Cabinet, which is just what it sounds like. The most memorable moment this issue, though, is the explanation of what’s been going on with Molly. It turns out her parents don’t approve of her lifestyle, and they sent her to camp to “fix” her, thinking it was a different kind of camp. The implication is that one of the things Molly’s parents are trying to “fix” is her sexuality, so there are some very disturbing implications here, though presented in language appropriate for young readers. It turns out that maybe the world of Lumberjanes isn’t as utopian as it looks. Besides that one counselor from the boys’ camp, all the characters we’ve seen in this series so far have been comfortable with fluid gender roles, but maybe in the world beyond the camp, there are people who still have outdated notions about gender.

MS. MARVEL #11 (Marvel, 2016) – G. Willow Wilson [W], Takeshi Miyazawa & Adrian Alphona [A]. Just a devastating issue – the saddest Ms. Marvel comic yet. The good news is Kamala finally gets fed up with Captain Marvel’s bullshit, and decides to side with Iron Man instead. The bad news is that Carol is predictably assholish about it, and declares that her trust in Kamala was misplaced. Carol has become such an awful character that Kamala is really better off without her friendship (more on this below). But what makes it even worse is that Bruno is alive, but he’s equally disappointed in Kamala, and decides that he’s moving to Wakanda and doesn’t want to see her again. Ouch. An especially poignant touch here is that at the start of the issue, Kamala’s mom is singing “Yeh Dosti,” which – as I discovered when I looked up the lyrics – is all about an unbreakable bond of friendship. Male friendship in particular, but it’s clearly intended to refer to Kamala and Bruno’s platonic bond. Overall, at the end of this issue it felt like Kamala was at the lowest point of her entire life. I’ve had moments like that before, and I always recovered in the end, and I’m sure Kamala will too, but it won’t be easy. Poor kid.

I also want to comment on Carol Danvers. Civil War II has been a horrible disaster in terms of its effects on the Marvel Universe, and the worst thing it’s done is to assassinate Carol Danvers’s character. Carol has gone from being Marvel’s leading female character, to being almost as bad as many of her own enemies. And I blame Brian Michael Bendis and the editors who let him write Civil War. Ideally Bendis should not be writing any comics at all, but he certainly shouldn’t be writing comics that have negative effects on other comics by good writers.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #12 (Marvel, 2016) – Ryan North [W], Erica Henderson [A]. Not the best issue, though not bad at all. Doreen, Doreen’s mom, and Nancy go on vacation in the woods, while back in New York, a villain called Enigmo takes over the city. I think the best part of the issue is Doreen’s sheer boredom at being stuck in the middle of nowhere with no Internet. And also the magazines like “Earth Boring” and “Painting Quietly.”

ODY-C #11 (Image, 2016) – Matt Fraction [W], Christian Ward [A]. I’m glad this is back. With the intermittent schedule of most Image titles, it can be hard to know whether they’re on hiatus or whether they’ve been cancelled. For instance, I wonder if we’re ever going to see another issue of The Goddamned. Anyway, this issue is an improvement over the second storyline, which I thought was kind of a misfire. It’s a retelling of the history of the House of Atreus, mostly in limericks, although the limericks don’t always scan properly. I guess my criticism would be that it follows the mythological source material very closely. It tells almost the same exact story as Age of Bronze Special #1. Wouldn’t you expect that these events, especially the sacrifice of Iphigenia, would have played out differently if everyone involved had been female? However, Christian Ward’s artwork is as amazing as ever.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #11 (Marvel, 2016) – Amy Reeder & Brandon Montclare [W], Natacha Bustos [A]. Lunella encounters Ms. Marvel again, but then ends up in the hospital because she switches minds with Devil Dinosaur at the wrong time. Then Mel-Varr reveals that he loves (or rather, has a puppy-love crush on) Lunella. My problem with this issue is that it again has Lunella’s parents behaving in implausible ways; they’re even more oblivious and negligent than Jim and Margaret Power. And even in Jim and Margaret Power’s case, I prefer to believe that they knew about their children’s powers and just pretended not to. The fundamental difficulty with child superheroes is that no responsible parents would allow their child to be a superhero. Therefore, any story about chlid superheroes is obligated to explain why the parents either don’t know their child is a superhero (Power Pack), or why they do know and are okay with it (The Incredibles). But Reeder and Montclare have failed to convince me of either of those, so I have to accept that Lunella’s parents are either stupid or irresponsible.

ASTRO CITY #39 (DC, 2016) – Kurt Busiek [W], Carmen Carnero [A]. This is not the first Astro City story that revisits a character from an earlier story, but it’s strange seeing Marta Dobrescu again after 21 years. (17 years in my case, since I didn’t read Astro City v1 #4 until the first trade paperback came out.) Seeing Marta again creates a powerful sense of nostalgia for her previous story, but I also feel glad to see how well she’s done for herself, even if her love life is unfulfilling and her mother’s ghost keeps nagging her. One funny thing about this issue is how Marta accepts ghosts as just a normal part of life. This issue also reveals the origin of the Hanged Man, and it looks like next issue is going to include Raitha McCann and the Silver Adept. I hope we get to see the Tranquility Frog again.

SNOTGIRL #3 (Image, 2016) – Bryan Lee O’Malley [W], Leslie Hung [A]. This is such a weird comic. I’m not sure what it’s even about, and it doesn’t seem to have nearly the same importance as Scott Pilgrim or Seconds. Though James Moore suggests that this might be because it’s in single-issue format, so the overall pattern is harder to see. In fact, I’m pretty sure this is BLOM’s first comic book series. Maybe he’s just not used to this format. This issue surprises me in a couple ways. First, it turns out that Snotgirl is really quite privileged and gets invited to some amazing parties. Second, Coolgirl is alive, although that was kind of predictable.

THE BACKSTAGERS #2 (Boom!, 2016) – James Tynion IV [W], Rian Sygh [A]. This series continues to feel like a male version of Lumberjanes. Jory and another boy explore the mysterious, unstable, House-of-Leaves-esque tunnels behind the stage, where they encounter some “echo spiders.” There are some serious romantic sparks between Jory and the other boy, and I think this is a good thing – it would be nice if this comic worked to normalize male same-sex relationships in the same way Lumberjanes normalizes Mal and Molly’s relationship.

WONDER WOMAN #7 (DC, 2016) – Greg Rucka [W], Liam Sharp [A]. A good but not great issue. Diana and Steve’s hug is a cute moment. I like them much better as platonic friends than as a couple. I’m sorry to see that issue 8 will be the origin of Barbara Minerva, rather than the regularly scheduled Year One chapter.

JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS #1 (Archie, 2016) – Marguerite Bennett & Cameron DeOrdio [W], Audrey Mok [A]. I’ve been ordering almost all of these new Archie titles, and there are almost too many of them – I even decided to skip Reggie and Me because it’s written by Tom DeFalco. Still, this issue is a reasonable addition to the Archie lineup. Easily the best part of the issue is the cat, Lord Cuteington, Duke of Kittenshire.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #46 (IDW, 2016) – Ted Anderson [W], Agnes Garbowska [A]. In the first half of a two-part story, Filthy Rich runs against Mayor Mare for mayor and wins, but is immediately confronted with a crisis that he’s unprepared to solve. The parallels with the U.S. election are obvious, but MLP is even less well-equipped than Vote Loki to present really hard-edged political satire, so it’s good that Anderson doesn’t really try to do that. I like how Lyra Heartstrings’s platform is “more benches”.

ROCKET RACCOON & GROOT #10 (Marvel, 2016) – Nick Kocher [W], Michael Walsh [A]. The conclusion of the Gwenpool three-parter. This is a hilarious issue, and Nick Kocher writes Gwenpool better than Christopher Hastings has been writing her in her own series. Probably the best scene is the page where Gwenpool wonders if she’s in a Bendis comic, because the entire page is a parody of Bendis’s style. I’m sorry that this is the last issue of the series, because they’re going to launch yet another new Rocket Raccoon series – the fourth new Rocket Raccoon or Groot series in three years. Nick Kocher is an impressive new talent, and I look forward to seeing what he does next.

SPIDER-GWEN #12 (Marvel, 2016) – Jason Latour [W], Robbi Rodriguez [A]. The best Spider-Gwen comic in a long time. For the first time in a while, I was able to follow what was going on, and the level of tension and drama in this issue was impressive. Gwen and her dad finally defeat the Punisher, who is correctly depicted as an insane, monomaniacal villain. But the price is that George has to give himself up (though I can’t remember what he’s guilty of) and Gwen decides she has to work with the Kingpin to free him. I’m excited for the next issue, and again, it’s been a while since I was able to say that about this comic.

DESCENDER #15 (Image, 2016) – Jeff Lemire [W], Dustin Nguyen [A]. This issue is the story of Andy and Effie’s relationship. It’s a rather depressing story of doomed love. Andy and Effie are an adorable couple, but their romance is doomed from the start. The course of Andy’s life has already been determined by his childhood trauma of losing his mother to robots, and his singleminded hatred of robots becomes more valuable to him than Effie’s love. I was surprised at how quickly Effie turned from a robot hunter to a pro-robot activist, but I guess it’s not unusual for real people to make similar 180-degree flips.

SCOOBY-DOO TEAM-UP #12 (DC, 2015) – Sholly Fisch [W], Dario Brizuela [A]. The Scooby Gang “teams up” with Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy and Catwoman, but it turns out they’re really teaming up with Batgirl to defeat the three villains. This is another funny and well-plotted issue.

THE THRILLING ADVENTURE HOUR PRESENTS SPARKS NEVADA, MARSHAL OF MARS #4 (Image, 2015) – Ben Acker & Ben Blacker [W], J. Bone [A]. I never ordered issues 2 or 3. This issue is so fast-paced that it’s difficult to follow, but the basic idea is that Sparks has to team up with his parents, who are disappointed in him. It’s funny, but I liked Beyond Belief #1 better.

PAST AWAYS #5 (Dark Horse, 2015) – Matt Kindt [W], Scott Kolins [A]. An okay issue. On the first page, we learn about an “automaton predator” that failed because it “lacked lethal capabilities and had an adorable voice that children loved.” Heh. On the next page, the team fights a giant venomous tortoise. But later in the issue, the characters visit a Mayan temple in Chile, which is a historical impossibility.

STARSLAYER #11 (First, 1983) – John Ostrander [W], Lenin Delsol [A] on lead story. I’m not all that interested in the Starslayer series; it’s just an average Mike Grell comic, and there are enough of those already. I can’t even be bothered to read the back issues of Warlord, Jon Sable and Green Arrow that I already have, and all those titles are better than Starslayer. And this issue’s main story isn’t even by Grell, and is ruined by awful artwork, though John Ostrander’s writing is okay. What made Starslayer an important series was its backup features, which included Groo, the Rocketeer and Grimjack. I’ve gotten interested in Starslayer again because I just learned that the later issues, including this one, include the earliest Grimjack stories. The Grimjack backup story in this issue is, I think, the character’s second appearance. It has excellent Tim Truman artwork, and tells an exciting story in which Grimjack encounters a washed-up powerless god and defends him from a much more powerful one.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #104 (Marvel, 1968) – Stan Lee [W], Jack Kirby [A]. I’m surprised I haven’t read this issue already. My copy is in fully readable condition, although the cover is flaking apart. This classic Lee/Kirby issue includes a number of epic action sequences in which Cap and SHIELD battle the Red Skull’s old henchmen. The funniest moment in the issue is where the Skull says that the Nazis lost World War II because Hitler wouldn’t listen to him.

SUPERMAN #273 (DC, 1974) – Elliot S! Maggin [W], Curt Swan [A]. “The Wizard with the Golden Eye” is rather unimpressive. It depicts a battle between Superman and a stage magician who’s been driven crazy by the Golden Eye of Effron – not to be confused with the Emerald Eye of Ekron, even though it’s pretty much the same thing. If this story weren’t so obscure, some later writer would probably have tried to explain the connection between these two items. The backup story, in which Clark Kent goes blind, is a little bit better; it ends with a cute scene in which Clark plays with some blind kids.

DETECTIVE COMICS #579 (DC, 1987) – Mike W. Barr [W], Norm Breyfogle [A]. The Crime Doctor is a fascinating character, but I don’t know if I’ve ever read an actual story about him before. In this issue, Batman rescues a petty criminal, Schuyler, who the Crime Doctor is about to operate on. The writer does not state what the Crime Doctor was going to do to Schuyler. But as I read the issue, I came to the shocking realization that the Crime Doctor was going to cut out Schuyler’s heart and transplant it into the body of a crime boss, killing Schuyler as a result – and that Schuyler agreed to this in exchange for money for his wife and child. This whole story is an uncanny mixture of humor and horror; Jason Todd makes a lot of annoying jokes, and the Crime Doctor has a killer nurse assistant who behaves just like a regular nurse. I used to hate Mike W. Barr’s writing, but I think he’s actually an impressive writer, and Norm Breyfogle’s art is also quite good.

FANTASTIC FOUR #191 (Marvel, 1977) – Len Wein [W], George Pérez [A]. A very maudlin story in which the FF disbands, and everyone is very sad about it. The impact of the story is lessened because even back in 1977, the FF disbanding was already an old cliché. The reader could have been confident that they were going to get back together a few issues later. There’s one scene where Ben and Johnny hug each other, which seems very out of character for both of them.

DETECTIVE COMICS #615 (DC, 1990) – Alan Grant & Marv Wolfman [W], Norm Breyfogle [A]. The Penguin is maybe my second favorite Batman villain, after the Riddler, because of his combination of pompous foppery and brutal viciousness. Both of those are displayed in this issue, in which he kidnaps an actress known as the Heron, while also using birds to attack Gotham City. (I assume this is a reference to Hitchcock’s The Birds, which I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t seen.) Norm Breyfogle does a great job of drawing threatening-looking birds. However, one plot point in the issue is that the same bird is present at every bird attack, and you can’t tell this from the art.

ASTONISHING TALES #7 (Marvel, 1971) – Roy Thomas [W], Herb Trimpe [A] on lead story; Gerry Conway [W], Gene Colan [A] on backup story. The Ka-Zar story this issue has some nice art by Herb Trimpe, who was perhaps trying to draw like Barry Windsor-Smith. However, the story is overwritten and histrionic and is an example of some of Roy’s worst tendencies. The Doctor Doom backup story is also rather overwritten, though the encounter between Doom and the Black Panther makes the story interesting. Doom develops a grudging respect for T’Challa, and it would be kind of cool if he appeared in the current Black Panther series. (Latveria was not one of the evil countries that T’Challa consulted for advice.) One annoying thing in this story is that Doom describes Wakanda as a poor country with primitive people, which is inconsistent with every other portrayal of Wakanda.