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.

Some reviews I wrote in August but never posted

New comics received on July 25:

FUTURE QUEST #3 (DC, 2016) – Jeff Parker [W], Steve Rude & Aaron Lopresti [A]. I was a bit surprised that the artwork this issue was by Steve Rude and not Doc Shaner. I love The Dude’s artwork, obviously, I just wasn’t expecting it. I also didn’t think the Birdman story was very interesting. But I liked the Herculoids story. I’m not familiar with these characters at all, but they’re very intriguing, especially Gloop and Gleep.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #10 (Marvel, 2016) – Ryan North [W], Erica Henderson [A]. Another fantastic issue. Mole Man falls in love with one of his own monsters, ending his creepy stalkerish attempts to win Squirrel Girl’s love. The reporter interviewing the squirrel is a particularly nice moment, but really, every issue of Squirrel Girl has so many funny and cute moments that I can’t remember them all.

MS. MARVEL #9 (Marvel, 2016) – G. Willow Wilson [W], Adrian Alphona [A]. The opening sequence in this issue confirms that it was Kamala’s great-grandmother who emigrated from Pakistan, and also suggests that there’s something weird about the Khan family. I’m curious where this is going. As far as the main story, I have serious problems with this Ulysses plotline. There is not much room for debate about the morality of Kamala’s actions – it is clearly wrong to imprison people who haven’t committed a crime yet. When the moral conflict at the center of a story is this one-sided, that’s a sign of an ineffective story. Willow is not responsible for the idea of Ulysses, but she could maybe have used it to create a greater sense of moral ambiguity. This issue does include some good characterization, especially the revelation that Zoe has a crush on Nakia. Zoe started off as just an overprivileged ignorant bigot, but Willow has turned her into a far more complex character.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #17 (IDW, 2016) – Kelly Thompson [W], Jen Bartel [A]. Compared to Sophie Campbell’s artwork, Jen Bartel’s artwork is rather bland, though her facial expressions are good. But this is a very well-written issue, with some deep characterization. And it ends on a scary cliffhanger as Stormer crashes her car in the woods and then gets attacked by a bear.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #9 (Marvel, 2016) – Amy Reeder & Brandon Montclare [W], Natacha Bustos [A]. As usual, this comic is both adorable and wildly implausible. Lunella and Devil’s rampage through New York seems to have had no consequences at all, and somehow Lunella has become a superhero, without her mother noticing, and also no one is calling Child Protective Services to report that this unsupervised nine-year-old girl is fighting criminals. But I have already observed that this comic requires a higher level of suspension of disbelief than is usual even for a superhero comic. I look forward to seeing Kamala’s meeting with Lunella, though I wonder if Kamala is making too many guest appearances.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #44 (IDW, 2016) – Thom Zahler [W], Tony Fleecs [A]. This is an okay issue, but it’s pretty much exactly what I expected based on last issue. Evil Pinkie Pie is basically a silly version of the Joker. And of course evil Princess Luna is Nightmare Moon; that’s too obvious to be exciting. Are we going to see an evil version of Princess Celestia? Because that would be a lot cooler.

USAGI YOJIMBO #3 (Dark Horse, 1996) – Stan Sakai [W/A]. “The Wrath of the Tangled Skein” is one of Stan’s creepier stories in the yokai genre. Usagi is hired to defend a woman who’s been possessed by demons, and has to save her from some truly horrible supernatural monsters. This story demonstrates that Stan has the ability to be utterly terrifying. This issue also introduces Sanshobo; he makes a cameo in the first story, and the backup story reveals his tragic origin.

GROO THE WANDERER #29 (Marvel, 1987) – Sergio Aragones [W/A], Mark Evanier [W]. “Rufferto” is the best Groo story I’ve read lately. I already know most of the details of how Groo and Rufferto met – Rufferto is bored with his pampered life, he meets Groo when Groo demolishes his palace by accident, Rufferto’s original owner wants him back because of his diamond collar, etc. But this story narrates all of these events in a very funny way. The running joke this issue is that Groo, as usual, does all sorts of ridiculously stupid things, which Rufferto always interprets in the most positive light. This issue is also full of funny jokes and sight gags, such as the panel where Groo has a completely empty thought balloon, and Rufferto assumes Groo is thinking “deep and heroic thoughts.”

SUICIDE SQUAD #43 (DC, 1990) – John Ostrander & Kim Yale [W], Geof Isherwood [A]. This issue is part 4 of “The Phoenix Gambit,” and I can’t remember if I’ve read any of the previous three parts. So I was pretty confused as to what was going on, but this issue was fun anyway, with all sorts of funny characterization. Probably the highlight of the issue is the opening scene where Deadshot is hired to kill Amanda Waller, and Waller pays him the same fee, plus one dollar, to kill the person who hired him. Later in the issue, Poison Ivy has the opportunity to take over the country of Vlatava, but decides not to do so because it’s too much work. (Anyway, isn’t Vlatava the size of a city block? No, that’s Modora.)

YOUNG JUSTICE #53 (DC, 2003) – Peter David [W], Todd Nauck [A]. In this issue, rescues her father from prison where he’s about to be executed, then for some reason Darkseid appears and tries to recruit her. This is confusing because I’ve forgotten the details of Secret’s origin. However, Secret is the most important character who was created specifically for this series, and it’s appropriate that the final storyline revolves around her. Also, this issue we learn that Empress has to take care of her parents, who have been reverted to infancy. This seems kind of unfortunate.

DETECTIVE COMICS #375 (DC, 1968) – Gardner Fox [W], Chic Stone [A]. Chic Stone’s art this issue is surprisingly good, but the plot, about a criminal who has prophetic dreams, is kind of forgettable. The Elongated Man backup story is better. Having just finished reading The Thin Man, I now realize how heavily Ralph and Sue Dibny were influenced by Nick and Nora Charles.

SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE #23 (DC, 1995) – Matt Wagner & Steven T. Seagle [W], Vince Locke [A]. I don’t think I’ve ever read a Sandman Mystery Theatre storyline in the correct order, and “Dr. Death” is no exception. This is part 3 of 4, and I don’t know what’s been happening up to this point. It’s well-written and well-drawn, though. I wish I had time to sit down and read all my issues of SMT in the proper order. This issue, Wes and Dian have sex for the first time but it turns out that Dian has partly ulterior motives, in that as soon as Wes falls asleep, Dian goes looking for his hideout and costume. I’m curious to read issue 24.

HIP HOP FAMILY TREE #3 (Fantagraphics, 2015) – Ed Piskor [W/A]. I’m slowly working my way through this fascinating series. I believe I’ve read all the material in this issue before, but this issue is well worth owning anyway. The production values are excellent – every aspect of each issue, including the paper stock, is designed to resemble a Marvel comic from the ‘70s or ‘80s. This issue also includes Ed’s annotations as well as some pages from his very early student work.

MIGHTY THOR #9 (Marvel, 2016) – Jason Aaron [W], Russell Dauterman [A]. After having lost a lot of momentum thanks to the two disappointing flashback issues, this comic is good again. I don’t remember much about this issue, though.

BATGIRL #1 (DC, 2016) – Hope Larson [W], Rafael Albuquerque [A]. I’m not very familiar with Hope Larson’s work. This comic is not bad, and Hope Larson seems to have more than trivial knowledge of Japanese culture. However, this comic is less interesting than the previous Batgirl run, and I don’t feel highly motivated to keep reading it.

WONDER WOMAN #2 (DC, 2016) – Greg Rucka [W], Nicola Scott [A]. When I started reading this, my initial reaction was to wonder why we needed yet another Wonder Woman origin retelling, when Renae de Liz was already doing the definitive Wonder Woman story. But this story was surprisingly enjoyable. It’s much grimmer and more Rucka-esque than Legend of Wonder Woman, and I think WW is a sufficiently deep character to be the subject of two different and contradictory origin stories.

WONDER WOMAN #3 (DC, 2016) – Greg Rucka [W], Liam Sharpe [A]. I guess the odd-numbered and even-numbered issues of this series are telling two different stories. This Cheetah story is not bad, but also not as exciting as Year One. Liam Sharpe’s page layouts have gotten a lot less radical than in the ‘90s, but I still see some flashes of his old style.

More late reviews

9-11-16

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

New comics received on August 12:

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

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

THE VISION #10 (Marvel, 2016) – Tom King [W], Gabriel Hernandez Walta [A]. This was already a very sad comic, but this issue was perhaps the saddest one yet. The Visions try to react to Vin’s death, but they don’t really understand how to feel or express emotions, and that makes it even sadder. It’s too bad that there are just three issues left, but this sort of heightened emotional state can only be sustained for so long.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New comics received on August 19:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New comics received on August 26:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviews for late July and early August

8-25-16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Late reviews for July

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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