First two batches of Heroes-Con reviews

6-23-15

I’m going to try to write these reviews as soon as possible after I read the comics reviewed. (Later note: I did not succeed.) Most of these comics were purchased at Heroes Con.

RAT QUEENS #9 (Image, 2015) – I somehow missed this issue when it came out, probably because it was solicited before I started using Discount Comic Book Service, but published after. At Heroes Con, I looked for this issue at practically every booth that was selling current comics, and I finally managed to find it. Rat Queens #9 is an enjoyable issue and a good start to Stjepan Sejic’s run, though the best line in it – “Demon babies are fun to play with” – was included in the preview. And after so many months, I can barely remember who Sawyer even is. It was nice to see Betty again, though. This series lost a lot of momentum due to lateness, which was partly caused by unfortunate events that will go unmentioned here, but hopefully it’s back on track now.

ADVENTURE COMICS #375 (DC, 1968) – “The King of the Legion!” is one of the few gaps in Shooter’s Legion. It’s the first part of a two-parter in which Bouncing Boy wins a competition to select the mightiest Legionnaire. Obviously there are some shenanigans involved here, but it’s been so long since I read #376 that I can’t remember why Bouncing Boy won or how this story ends. This issue is far from Shooter’s best Legion comic, especially considering the boring Win Mortimer artwork. Still, this was a fun read. It’s annoyingly sexist, in that most of the girl Legionnaires don’t even enter the competition – even Supergirl, who is explicitly stated to be the only girl with any chance of winning – and they spend most of the issue worrying about their respective boyfriends. And there’s a disturbing amount of fat-shaming directed at Bouncing Boy. But at least this issue has characterization. It’s full of fun character interactions, which means it’s a step above most DC comics of the time. For that matter, it’s a step above most DC comics published 47 years later.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #81 (Marvel, 1970) – I must have read this issue years ago in one of the Essential volumes, but I couldn’t remember anything about it. This issue introduces the Kangaroo, a pretty idiotic villain – he’s just a big musclebound thug who can jump high. The interesting part, as with many classic Spider-Man stories, is the characterization. Aunt May is suffering from a heart condition and Peter is feeling typically worried about her health, but Aunt May is being so overprotective that she forces Peter to stay in bed even though he’s not sick. To get away from her, Peter has to climb out the window and leave a web dummy in his bed, and when May discovers it, she almost dies of shock. This issue is perhaps one of the more screwed-up moments in Peter and May’s relationship.

MISTER MIRACLE #6 (DC, 1972) – This is one of the two issues of Kirby’s Mister Miracle that I was missing, the other being #1. This issue introduces Funky Flashman and Houseroy, Kirby’s caricatures of Stan Lee and Roy Thomas. Jack’s depiction of Stan and Roy is extremely brutal. Funky Flashman lives on a literal abandoned slave plantation, and Houseroy is his submissive servant. I’m not a huge fan of Stan myself, and yet I think this depiction of him is almost too cruel. The part of this issue involving Mr. Miracle and Barda is amazing, and this issue even includes the page where Barda takes a bath, which I believe was written by Mark Evanier. It’s been so long since I read an unfamiliar New Gods comic, I’d forgotten how good they are. This issue also includes a Newsboy Legion backup story, which is kind of weird in that it includes Simon and Kirby as characters.

GUARDIANS TEAM-UP #5 (Marvel, 2015) – I should have ordered this when it came out, but I didn’t. In this issue Rocket Raccoon teams up with the Pet Avengers and they fight the Pets of Evil Masters, a funnier name than Pet Masters of Evil. I absolutely loved the Pet Avengers miniseries, even if they weren’t as well-written as some of Marvel’s more recent humor titles, and I love seeing these characters again. The “dogs playing cards” splash page is a moment of brilliance, and in general Gustavo Duarte’s artwork is adorable. The one thing I didn’t like about this issue is that some of the dialogue is clumsily written.

STRANGE TALES #146 (Marvel, 1966) – This copy appeared to be in great condition, but the cover came unattached as I was reading it, which was highly distracting and made it hard for me to concentrate. In the first story in this issue, SHIELD battles THEM, who, as will probably be revealed next issue, are the military wing of AIM. This story surprised me because I hadn’t realized that AIM was initially introduced as a legitimate organization. The Dr. Strange story is much more important, though I was in the middle of reading this story when the cover fell off. “The End – At Last!” is the conclusion of Ditko’s Dr. Strange, one of the great runs in Marvel Comics history, and it features Dormammu’s epic battle with Eternity. I saw one of the splash pages from this issue in Les Daniels’s Marvel coffee table book, but I’ve never read the actual story until now, and it’s an impressive piece of work with gorgeous artwork. This story also reveals Clea’s name for the first time.

AVENGERS #110 (Marvel, 1973) – This issue has eluded me until now because it’s an X-Men appearance. This issue is somewhat clumsily written and shows evidence that Englehart was still getting his feet wet as a writer. And this story predates Giant-Size X-Men #1, so the X-Men were still rather boring and poorly developed. Amusingly, the Avengers don’t recognize Professor X at first because they’ve only met him once, at Reed and Sue’s wedding. As usual for Englehart, the high point of this issue is the characterization. When Quicksilver announces his engagement to Crystal, Wanda tells him about her own relationship with Vision. Pietro is furious, and demands, as the head of the family, that Wanda stop dating an android. Pietro’s hostility toward Vizh was a common theme in several later Englehart comics. Steve saw Quicksilver as essentially a villain, and would have turned him into a villain for real if not for editorial interference (see goo.gl/CLOUmZ). The other notable piece of continuity in this issue is that it introduces Magneto’s mind-control helmet.

UNCANNY X-MEN #139 (Marvel, 1980) – This was the only Claremont/Byrne X-Men I was able to find at Heroes Con. At this point I have about half of this run but I’m missing #129, #141, and #142, which I expect will be nigh impossible to find for my usual price range of $6 or under. I know this issue practically by heart, though it was fun to revisit. It’s full of adorable moments, including Kurt offering Logan a beer instead of lemonade, and Kitty meeting Stevie Hunter for the first time.

HERO FOR HIRE #8 (Marvel, 1973) – This is the first part of the two-parter with Dr. Doom. The following issue is the one with the line “Where’s my money, honey?” I looked for that issue at Heroes Con but couldn’t find a copy that was in my price range. This issue is still pretty awesome, though. Luke’s interactions with Dr. Doom and his underlings are hilarious. There’s one slightly disturbing line where Doom says that he has no black subjects because Latveria is in Europe – this reminded me of the arguments people use to justify the absence of black people in Game of Thrones. But Doom does go on to mention that no one ever emigrates to Latveria, which is perhaps the funniest line in the issue. I feel obliged to point out that this comic is an extreme example of blaxploitation, perhaps even more so than most Luke Cage comics.

YOUNG JUSTICE #30 (DC, 2001) – I’m closing in on a complete run of DC’s best teen superhero comic since New Teen Titans. In this story, the kids return from New Genesis and then Spoiler and Secret get in a fight over Robin. Because this comic guest-stars Spoiler, it brought back unpleasant memories of Chuck Dixon’s Robin. I say unpleasant because I used to like that comic so much that I used “Tim Drake” as a screen name, but my memory of it has been tarnished by my personal distaste for Dixon. It’s hard to think about that comic without seeing Dixon’s right-wing beliefs everywhere in it. Besides that, this issue is pretty good, and like most issues of YJ, it passes the Bechdel test easily.

BATMAN #316 (DC, 1979) – On the Classic Comics Forum, shaxper recommended this issue, calling it a “really solid Batman/Robin team-up.” Crazy Quilt is an extremely stupid villain, but somehow Len Wein depicts him as a legitimate menace. The Batman/Robin interactions in this issue are very cute, reminding me of the similar scenes in Detective Comics #474. The one thing in this issue that surprises me is Bruce telling Dick that someday Wayne Enterprises will be his; I can’t really imagine Dick as a businessman or a millionaire playboy.

UNCLE SCROOGE #261 (Disney, 1991) – This was the only Don Rosa comic I could find at Heroes Con. I’m still looking for Uncle Scrooge #292, which is the only chapter of Life & Times that I’m missing. It seems like practically all post-1986 duck comics are harder to find than Gold Key duck comics, which is no doubt because of low print runs. However, I also feel like last Heroes Con, everybody had all sorts of Gladstone comics, and this year no one had any. But anyway, “Return to Xanadu” is an unannounced sequel. Scrooge and the nephews go looking for the Xanadu described in Coleridge’s poem, and they discover that Xanadu is really Tralla La. Unfortunately I spoiled this for myself by reading ahead, but the moment where one nephew says “welcome back to Xanadu” and another nephew says “welcome back to Tralla La” is still pretty cool. The first part of the story is one of Rosa’s typical exciting adventures, and in the second part, the ducks reach Xanadu and settle into an idyllic existence. It occurred to me when reading this part of the story that Tralla La is obviously based on Shangri La. But their blissful life is interrupted when they discover they’ve made a horrible mistake which may have doomed Tralla La for good. Unfortunately the story ends at this point – it’s 30 pages but the last 13 pages are in the next issue, which will probably be nearly impossible to find. I wish Disney had just printed the entire story in one issue.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #164 (DC, 1979) – As I’ve written before, Gerry Conway’s JLA was not nearly as good as Steve Englehart’s JLA, but Conway was still much better at characterization than any of the JLA writers before Englehart. His two favorite characters seem to have been Zatanna and Red Tornado, both of whom play a major role here. This was part of a multipart storyline exploring Zatanna’s origin, and Zatanna meets her mother Sindella for the first time in this issue. Reddy is the narrator, and there’s one poignant scene where he wonders if he’ll ever see his friends again, and then there are three silent panels. Otherwise, though, this issue was kind of forgettable.

IRON MAN #242 (Marvel, 1989) – Somehow I finally felt motivated to read this and this comic, which I’ve had for about four years. I don’t know why I didn’t read them before because I’m a big fan of both of Michelinie’s runs on Iron Man, and I consider him the best Shellhead writer by far. This issue is annoying because the villain is the Mandarin, an offensive yellow peril stereotype. This comic does include one positively depicted Chinese character, Soo Lin (from issue 130), but otherwise it’s full of Orientalist stereotypes. Otherwise, this is a fairly exciting story, which ends on a massive cliffhanger as Kathy Dare shoots and apparently kills Tony.

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #105 (DC, 1973) – This is an average issue from Haney and Aparo’s best period on this series. It’s mostly notable because the guest star is the mod version of Wonder Woman. The story is kind of annoying because it relies on all sorts of Hispanic stereotypes. The plot is about expatriates from San Sebastian, which appears to be based on Cuba, and a major plot point is that young women from San Sebastian are unwilling to be seen in public without a duenna.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #7 (Image, 2015) – I allowed myself to fall behind on this series because I was not particularly interested in Euless Boss’s backstory, and I wanted to learn more about Earl Tubb’s biracial daughter. But at Heroes Con I went to the Southern Bastards panel, partly because I was tired and needed to get off the floor, partly because I wanted to see Jason Aaron and Jason Latour and the line at their table was always way too long. Listening to the panel revived my interest in the comic, so today I read the last two issues. Issue 7 is pretty compelling. During the panel, someone mentioned that this story makes the reader sympathize with Euless Boss despite knowing that he’s a horrible villain and a murderer, and I agree that this story effectively explains his motivation. The scene where we discover that Euless didn’t get any college scholarship offers because his coach badmouthed him is particularly powerful and surprising.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #8 (Image, 2015) – This issue begins with Coach Boss killing his own father. Olis Boss clearly deserved it, and I was even wishing he would die after issue 7, yet this scene was still quite shocking. Since I don’t have much else to say about this issue, I will also mention that in the letter column of issue 7, a reader makes the obvious point that Big is a classic example of a Magic Negro. Jason Aaron’s response to this is not entirely satisfying, though it does indicate that he’s aware of the stereotype and is not using it in a naïve way. I asked a question about race at the Southern Bastards panel, and I later had a brief conversation with Jason Latour about this topic, and I do expect that race is going to be a significant topic in this comic even if it hasn’t been explicitly discussed yet.

IRON MAN #244 (Marvel, 1989) – Tony survives the shooting, obviously, but is confined to a wheelchair. The first half of this issue is interesting for its realistic and sensitive depiction of disability. Tony has trouble doing everyday things, he feels powerless, and everyone treats him like “an animal in a zoo.” This portrayal of disability is unusually deep for its time, and you get the sense that David Michelinie based it on knowledge of real disabled people. The second half of the issue is a flashback to Tony’s relationship with Joanna Nivena, who helped convince him to become a superhero after his heart injury. This part of the story is an obvious retcon: Joanna had never been mentioned before, and only appeared once after (in Kurt Busiek’s Iron Age). I suspect this whole sequence may have originated as an inventory story. Still, it’s very sweet, and it serves its purpose of motivating Tony to build a new Iron Man armor that allows him to walk. In general, this is a satisfying Iron Man story. It also includes an unintentionally hilarious line where one of Tony’s fellow hospital patients asks him to change the channel because “life’s tough enough without having to stomach that Downey character” – though this could refer to Morton Downey Jr. and not Robert. (Addendum: I asked David Michelinie about this on Facebook and he confirmed that he meant Morton, not Robert.)

WONDER WOMAN #277 (DC, 1981) – This was one of a couple Paul Levitz Huntress stories I didn’t have. The trouble with these Huntress stories is that they came packaged with Wonder Woman stories which were execrably bad. This issue’s Wonder Woman story includes Kobra’s origin, which is a litany of cliches about India. Kobra’s headquarters is in the Temple of Kali in Delhi (because of course there’s just one temple in Delhi dedicated to Kali), and you get the impression that this is because Gerry Conway didn’t know of any other Hindu deities or any other cities in India. And Kobra’s origin story is told to Diana by an old black woman who herself is a huge stereotype. However, this issue is completely redeemed by the Huntress backup story. Helena Wayne was one of DC’s great female characters of the ‘70s and ‘80s; she was a confident, assertive, and even frightening, yet she had realistic fears and insecurities. This story is about her reaction to Harry Sims’s accidental discovery of her secret identity. Helena and Harry were an adorable couple and it was very frustrating when Geoff Johns decided to break them up in JSA Annual #1.

WEIRD SCIENCE #4 (Russ Cochran, 1993) – I have to make more of an effort to collect these Russ Cochran EC reprints. I eventually want to have all of them. The highlight of this issue is probably “The Radioactive Child,” which has some beautiful Kurtzman artwork, though the story is not great. Al Feldstein’s “Panic!” is a funny take-off on Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds broadcast, where the aliens turn out to be real. I wonder if this story is the first appearance of the phrase “spa fon.” Graham Ingels’s “House in Time” has an interesting SF premise: a house where going through the front door sends you back in time 500,000 years, but going through the back door sends you forward in time the same amount. I had to spend a few minutes trying to figure out how this worked. Jack Kamen’s “Gargantua” is about a man who can’t stop growing. The most memorable thing about it is the calculations of the amount of food that the man needs at each of his various sizes.

6-28-15

ALIEN WORLDS #2 (Pacific, 1983) – This issue includes “Aurora,” one of Dave Stevens’s few non-Rocketeer works – in fact, it might be the only comic story he did that wasn’t Rocketeer. It was drawn in 1977 for Sanrio and was intended for the Japanese market. Dave says in his introductory note that it’s heavily influenced by Moebius, but I couldn’t really tell. It was drawn for a smaller page size than the standard American one, so at the top of each page there’s a banner showing Aurora and Unk’s faces. It’s sort of a crude piece of work compared with his later masterpieces, and the story is rather trite, but it’s still recognizable as Stevens, and it’s an exciting glimpse of an early period in this important artist’s career. This issue also includes a wordless story by Ken Steacy, which is nearly incomprehensible. The last story in the issue is both written and drawn by Bruce Jones, and is clearly a pastiche of EC’s Weird Science, but is not as good.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #38 (DC, 1965) – “Crisis on Earth-A, Part 2” has a convoluted plot which is very difficult to understand without having read Part 1. The most memorable part of this issue is the evil Johnny Thunder’s attempts to outsmart the Thunderbolt into doing his evil bidding, and vice versa.

THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE #1 (DC, 1993) – I didn’t realize that this was written by Neil Gaiman, or I would probably have gotten it sooner. This is the first of two bookends for a crossover story, and it focuses on Rowland and Paine’s investigation of the disappearances of a series of children. This is not Neil’s absolutely best work, but Rowland and Paine are entertaining, with their good intentions and their humorous ineptitude. And the story is a fairly interesting investigation of the theme of childhood, which comes up a lot in Neil’s work. I need to get the second issue of this.

MIRACLEMAN #14 (Marvel, 2015, originally Eclipse, 1988) – This issue goes through a lot of major plot points very quickly, as setup for the two epic issues to follow. One impressive thing about this comic is how Alan was able to establish such a deep and rich web of continuity in so little space. Some of the major characters, like Winter and the Qys, appear on just a few pages each and yet they still seem like major characters. There’s a ton of fantastic stuff in this issue, but easily the most shocking scene is where Johnny Bates changes into Kid Miracleman to save himself from rape – and then goes and murders the nurse who was nice to him. Annoyingly, in Marvel’s version, all of Bates’s dialogue on that page is missing for some reason, although it’s visible in the reproduction of John Totleben’s pencils. Speaking of John Totleben, the biggest revelation of rereading Miracleman in this form is what a spectacular artist he was – he deserves to be remembered as one of the great artistic geniuses of the ‘80s. Without him, neither the glory of Olympus nor the horror of Bates’s massacre would have been nearly as impressive.

MIRACLEMAN #15 (Marvel, 2015, originally Eclipse, 1988) – And now we come to perhaps the most shocking and brutal comic book ever published, a comic that used to be my biggest collecting Holy Grail. (After I finally got to read it, I gave up on ever owning a copy, and now I’m satisfied with just owning this reprint.) This issue underwhelmed me a bit when I first read it, just because it couldn’t possibly have matched the way I imagined it, but on rereading it, I’m amazed by its power and horror. I think Johnny Bates is the scariest comic book villain ever – he’s effectively the devil incarnate, especially the way John Totleben draws him. And could there be anything as horrific as the two-page spread at the end? Or as poignant as the scene where Miracleman is forced to kill the human Johnny? This is not an easy comic to read, but every fan of English-language comics should read it.

Pre-Heroes Con reviews

I don’t know how many comics I’ve reviewed here, but it’s more than 105.

JONNY QUEST #17 (Comico, 1987) – First a brief account of the circumstances in which I bought this comic. I visited my parents in Minneapolis for a couple days between Wiscon and Computers & Writing (more on Wiscon below) and I finally convinced them to go with me to Fasika in St. Paul to try Ethiopian food. It turns out that Fasika is right next to Midway Books, which I visited once while in high school, and I remembered that their basement was full of cheap boxes. So after dinner, which was amazing, I ran over to Midway Books just before it closed. The cheap boxes are still there, though they’re not quite as amazing as I remembered – I didn’t see a whole lot that I didn’t already have, and this Jonny Quest was easily the most exciting comic in the lot. I also have some issues with the owner, though I won’t go into that here. But revisiting the store was still a fun experience.

As for the actual comic, I absolutely love Bill Loebs’s Jonny Quest – I’ll go into that more later – but this issue was too bizarre for me. The plot is that Benton Quest’s “friend” Stuart Gold tricks him into participating in an experiment which has something to do with creating a life-size Transformer, and then lots of things happen that are so weird I couldn’t explain them if I tried. This issue doesn’t have any of the serious social commentary that appears in the other issues of this series which I discuss below

INCREDIBLE HULK #217 (Marvel, 1977) – After Wiscon was over, I visited Capital City Comics. Let me repeat what I said about this place on Facebook: “Just went to Capital City Comics in Madison, the namesake of the former distribution company of that name. It’s been around since 1975, and the owner, Bruce Ayers, had some interesting stories about the early days of the direct market. Unfortunately they have such a huge and cluttered back issue inventory that if you want anything, Bruce has to send his employees into the back to look for it — the back issue rooms are not open to the public. And that wasn’t possible today because the employees had the day off. I ended up just buying some 50-cent comics, but it was worth the trip. Bruce told me to send him my want list in advance if I’m in Madison again, and I will plan on doing that.”

This was one of those 50-cent comics. The issue before this one was the first old Hulk comic I ever read, and I still remember it fondly. In this issue, the Hulk encounters some circus freaks who turn out to be refugees from the Circus of Crime. He falls in love with one of them, who turns out to be a mermaid, but then has to return her to the sea. Overall this is an average and forgettable piece of work, though it was fun to read. I have not read a lot of old Marvel comics lately, and as will become apparent, I’ve consciously tried to correct that.

GROO THE WANDERER #116 (Marvel, 1994) – Only one of the dealers at Wiscon had any comic books, but he had some late issues of Groo at cover price. These are very hard to find and I bought them all. I was thrilled to discover that this one is the wordless issue, because I knew there was a wordless issue of Groo, but I could never figure out which one it was. In the strip on the inside front cover, Mark and Stan both quit in a huff because they’re sick of Sergio’s egotism, leaving Sergio to fend for himself. The credits say “Without the lettering of Stan Sakai / Without whatever Mark Evanier does.” Sergio’s wordless story is a hilarious piece of slapstick in which Groo encounters some men who are building a bridge and some other men who are besieging a castle, and mayhem ensues. This issue is funny as a one-off, but even though Sergio is a master of wordless comics, I think Groo benefits from whatever it is that Mark does.

SAVAGE DRAGON #17 (Image, 1995) – This issue was released in a censored version, with Dragon on the cover, and an uncensored version, with Rapture and She-Dragon on the cover. In the uncensored version, page 4 shows Dragon and Rapture having sex in the shower. In the censored version, this page is completely redrawn, and part of Rapture’s anatomy on page 5 is blacked out. Erik did this because some stores had been refusing to sell the comic to kids. I mention this because I unknowingly bought both versions of this comic at the same time – I didn’t realize they were the same issue because I only looked at the cover, not the issue number. Besides that, the other notable event in this issue is that Dragon foils a plot against him by newspaper publisher R. Richard Richards, who is based on, well, you know. Erik’s style has not changed a whole lot in the twenty years since this comic was published, and that’s both a good and a bad thing.

GROO THE WANDERER #117 (Marvel, 1994) – This story introduces Macha, who is kind of the opposite of Chakaal: she’s a fat, unsightly warrior woman who falls in love with Groo, but he has no interest in her. (And her dog has a similar relationship with Rufferto.) Groo escapes from her by pretending to be a coward so she’ll lose respect for him. The fat jokes in this issue is a bit annoying.

When I got back home, I found the following comics waiting for me:

LUMBERJANES #14 (Boom!, 2015) – I was a bit disappointed to learn that this issue wasn’t going to be another flashback story, but it turned out to be another good issue of the best all-ages comic on the market, almost as good as #13. I no longer have the sense that the writers are at a loss for where to go next. This issue is full of fantastic moments, including April’s perfectly timed quotation from Frozen, and the reappearance of the Scouting Lads. I even like how Barney thinks that being a Lumberjane sounds pretty cool, and April is fine with that. It’s weird how in the context of this series, Barney’s interest in exploring the wilderness, rather than staying inside knitting and making cookies, actually seems like a violation of traditional gender roles. This scene even answers the nagging question of where all the kittens went. This issue also introduces Abigail, an intriguing and disturbing new villain. My one complaint is that Ripley’s size seems to fluctuate wildly, and in some panels she’s unrealistically small.

USAGI YOJIMBO #145 (Dark Horse, 2015) – The greatest storyteller in American comics returns to his ongoing series, which has been on hiatus for more than three years. This issue is up to Stan’s usual extremely high standards of craftsmanship, and I liked it better than most issues of Senso. But it does seem like a fairly standard Usagi-Kitsune story, and it was pretty obvious that the mysterious ninja was Chizu. I’m less excited about next issue than about the upcoming story where Usagi meets his first European.

CONVERGENCE: SHAZAM #2 (DC, 2015) – The first half of this issue reads more like a Gotham by Gaslight story than a Shazam story. Which is another frustrating thing about this poorly conceived Convergence event – I bought this issue because I wanted to read about Shazam, not Steampunk Batman. As a result, this issue is not as good as the last one, though it gets better near the end when Mr. Mind and Mary and Freddy show up. I would happily read an ongoing Shazam Family series by this creative team. Doc Shaner is the best DC artist since Babs Tarr (I know that’s damning with faint praise).

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #3 (IDW, 2015) – More proof that Sophie Campbell is the best artist in the industry at drawing women. Jerrica and Rio and Kimber and Stormer are both cute couples. I love the scene with the kid trying to ride Rio’s motorcycle. The letter column includes an unintentionally hilarious letter complaining that Jem was perfect how it was and didn’t need to be changed.

After reading the first few comics from the current week, I realized I had hardly read any old Marvel or DC comics lately, and I was feeling nostalgic. So I read the following:

FANTASTIC FOUR #216 (Marvel, 1980) – The story in this issue, written by Marv Wolfman and Bill Mantlo, is pretty dumb. Blastaar teams up with a scientist who’s evolved himself into a super-post-human bald big-headed creature, they defeat the entire FF, but Franklin saves the day with his deus ex machina powers. The lettering in the second half of the issue is hideous. The main draw of the issue is the guest (?) art by John Byrne. His artwork is hampered by poor inking from Pablo Marcos, but it’s still recognizable as Byrne. In this issue’s letter column, Carol Strickland complains that Sue Storm is an outdated character and a sexist stereotype, and the editor replies: “[M]aybe Sue does not have a ‘liberated woman’ lurking underneath struggling to get out… Maybe it is a genuine personality function of hers to be non-aggressive, maternalistic, and those ‘traditional’ feminine traits… Do all women in comics have to be ‘liberated’? Can we or should we show alternatives?” Misogyny in superhero comics is not a new problem.

FLASH #255 (DC, 1977) – Cary Bates was a Silver Age DC writer in the pejorative sense, in that he didn’t care much about characterization or artistry, and his stories were purely based on plot. Therefore, the Flash was the perfect title for him because Barry and Iris never had much personality to begin with (hence why I have no interest in recent revivals of Barry as the Flash). However, this issue is not one of his better Flash efforts. It’s so complicated and confusing that I just couldn’t remember anything about it. The plot has something to do with the Mirror Master and Mazdan, but beyond that, I would be unable to summarize it.

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #127 (DC, 1976) – In “Dead Man’s Quadrangle,” Batman and Wildcat team up to stop an illegal-alien-smuggling operation. The quadrangle of the title is obviously based on the Bermuda Triangle, which was in the news at the time – Charles Berlitz’s bestselling book of that title had been published two years before. The story ends with a rather disturbing scene. In defeating the primary villain, Batman and Wildcat get some help from the undocumented immigrants who the villain was transporting. At the end, one of the immigrants says that “to stop them, we were glad to give up our chance to live in America” and Batman replies “We thank you and your friends, Emilio! Maybe someday you can enter the U.S. legally!” This seems rather ungrateful – he could have said that he would use his influence to try to lobby for better immigration laws, so that people like Emilio wouldn’t have to risk their lives to enter the U.S. legally. The writer, Bob Haney, was clearly not interested in thinking critically about immigration policy. As usual, the high point of this issue is Jim Aparo’s artwork – I think the mid-‘70s were his best period.

GREEN ARROW #55 (DC, 1991) – Ollie only appears on the last two pages of this issue. The bulk of the issue is told from the perspective of a cop named Jim Cameron, who spends his entire career pursuing a serial killer named Harold Gilbert. Finally, Gilbert is executed for a murder that he didn’t commit, while the person who really did commit that murder goes free and kills again, and Cameron is left to deal with his guilt. It’s a fairly powerful piece of work.

IRON MAN #60 (Marvel, 1973) – I haven’t read a whole lot of pre-Michelinie Iron Man. I know my friend Kurt Mitchell is a fan of George Tuska’s Iron Man, but I’ve never particularly gotten into it. I remember enjoying this issue, in which Iron Man battles the Masked Marauder, but in retrospect, I can’t remember much about it except that it includes some relationship drama between Tony, Happy and Pepper.

INVINCIBLE #120 (Image, 2015) – At the bottom of this issue’s cover, it says “You didn’t think we’d focus on Mark and Eve raising Terra every issue, did you?” I wish they would, because the Mark-Eve-Terra scenes in this issue are adorable, especially the two-page splash of Terra in her crib. Mark seems really young to be a father but he’s doing a great job of it so far. On the other hand, I really could have done without seeing Thragg wearing Battle Beast’s skin. I expect that Mark is about to have a giant war with Thragg and his half-insect children, and I’m not looking forward to it. Neither am I looking forward to next issue, which will be set on Earth.

A-FORCE #1 (Marvel, 2015) – Most of the publicity for this issue has focused on Jill Lepore’s poorly argued and misinformed article about its cover. I think the cover is fine; unfortunately, the actual issue is not fine. It relies too much on plot elements from Secret Wars that are not sufficiently explained, and the reader isn’t given enough reason to care about Miss America and Nico, who are the main characters in this story. G. Willow Wilson is the most important writer at Marvel right now, but this issue does not represent her best work.

KAPTARA #2 (Image, 2015) – He-Man was one of my favorite cartoons when I was little, so this issue is giving me a lot of nostalgic memories. Chip Zdarsky hilariously reveals the queerness that was always lurking beneath the surface of He-Man and similar cartoons. I love how Kaptara is full of men who walk around dressed in only a loincloth for no reason. And I don’t know who’s funnier, Mr. Help or the Motivational Orb. Chip Zdarsky’s writing shows some signs of inexperience, but this is one of the top debuts of the year.

THOR #250 (Marvel, 1976) – The period between Kirby and Simonson was a dark age for this series. This issue, in which Mangog disguises himself as Odin and tries to destroy Asgard by drawing the Odinsword, is just a retread of old Kirby material. The main attraction of the issue is the John Buscema artwork.

UNCANNY X-MEN #128 (Marvel, 1979) – I’ve read “The Action of the Tiger” several times before, but it’s a classic that’s worth revisiting. The first time I read this story, I think what struck out to me the most was Storm’s reluctance to kill the bees that Proteus spontaneously generates and uses against her. On reading this story again, I only notice a couple new things. First, Ororo and Peter have a cute big brother/big sister relationship which is mostly forgotten after Kitty becomes the primary object of Ororo’s maternal feelings. Second, Proteus has the same powers as Discord.

SAVAGE DRAGON #150 (Image, 2009) – This is a 100-page special, but most of those pages are either reprints or bad filler material, and even the Dragon story isn’t much good. The Thor story in this issue has some hideous Liefeldian artwork, and the Vanguard and Powerhouse stories are thoroughly boring. One of the reprints is the origin story of the Lev Gleason Daredevil, but this story is so racist that it should have remained out of print. The Aboriginal Australians in the story are depicted as typical illiterate savages, bearing no resemblance to actual Aboriginal people. This story ought to have been consigned to oblivion. The issue ends with a reprint of Savage Dragon #0, which I already have.

SUPERMAN #346 (DC, 1980) – “Superman’s Streak of Bad Luck” is a typically weird and bizarre Bronze Age Superman story. The streak of bad luck mentioned in the title is caused by Amos Fortune, who uses a phony game show as a plot to steal money from celebrities. The story ends with a moment of massive Superdickery: Clark uses his powers to beat Lois to a scoop, as revenge for some comments she made about TV reporters earlier in the issue.

EMPIRE: UPRISING #2 (Image, 2015) – I almost forgot this was an Image comic, not a DC comic. For such a short-lived comic, Empire has had a bunch of publishers – three in all, including Gorilla. This is an okay comic but it suffers from an excess of what I would call “Mark Waid syndrome,” meaning an excessive emphasis on one-liners, catchphrases and shock value at the expense of fundamentally sound storytelling. Barry Kitson is still a brilliant artist, though.

MIND MGMT #33 (Image, 2015) – Three issues left. This one, again, is mostly setup for Meru’s epic confrontation with the Eraser. But Meru’s reunion with her foster parents is really cute. And the relevance of Salvador Dali’s Triple Indemnity film is starting to become clear. Oddly, this issue doesn’t have any Mind MGMT Guide excerpts along the page edges, and there’s no explanation for why not.

CHEW #49 (Image, 2015) – As mentioned before, this series is tough to review because all the issues are the same. It’s like Groo in that way, if Groo had a single ongoing storyline. The clear highlight of the issue is the revelation that Tony has to eat Poyo, although I still don’t understand what that’s going to do. I have high expectations for issue 50. It’s pretty cool that the covers of Chew #37, #39 and #50 all fit together in multiple combinations.

ROCKET SALVAGE #5 (Boom!, 2015) – A thoroughly satisfying conclusion to an excellent miniseries. The ending is a bit predictable and leaves little room for a sequel, but whatever. I was terrified that one of the protagonists was going to get killed, and I’m glad that Yehudi Mercado didn’t take that route. It’s nice that Beta finally gets some appreciation after having been depicted as a useless moron for most of the series.

NONPLAYER #1 (Image, 2015, originally 2011) – This is probably the best-drawn comic book of the past decade. The level of detail in Nate Simpson’s artwork is amazing – he draws the individual leaves on trees and the individual hairs in a monster’s fur. That’s not quite literally true but it almost is. And he makes brilliant use of digital color. The trouble is that this style of artwork is not sustainable. When you draw like this, you end up putting out two issues in four years. In her essay “The Cover to Nonplayer #2 and how to make money as an artist,” Heidi MacDonald quotes Nate Simpson’s explanation of why it took him three and a half years to draw Nonplayer #2, and says that there is no appropriate business model that will support his work habits. She writes: “His passion project will remain that—and something that others can enjoy when it comes out. For many creators, comics will never be a full time job—but as an industry we need to make sure that there’s still a business model that makes it possible for those who CAN work full time to be able to get a job that pays a living wage.” I agree, but I also think it would be more appropriate for Simpson to do a series of Molly Danger-style albums than a pamphlet-size comic book. The comic book form was designed for artists who can make a monthly or bimonthly schedule – it was never supposed to be something that came out every year or two. It is true, though, that there really should be a way for artists to make money doing this style of artwork. (On another note, the story in this comic is potentially fascinating, but it’s difficult to evaluate because we get so little of it in this issue.)

DAREDEVIL #128 (Marvel, 1975) – This Marv Wolfman/Bob Brown collaboration is boring and poorly drawn. All that happens in it is that Daredevil fights Death-Stalker and a new villain whose name is not given. The cover calls him “the most startling character in the annals of Marveldom” but I would have to disagree. It was because of this issue that I wrote on Facebook “I wonder how Daredevil escaped being cancelled in the ’70s. After Gene Colan left and before Frank Miller arrived, there was no good reason why anyone should have bought it.” Some people corrected me by pointing out that there were some good Daredevil stories between Colan and Miller. This issue, however, is not one of them.

ACTION COMICS #415 (DC, 1972) – The Superman story in this issue has some nice art by my favorite Superman art team, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson. The plot, though, is really weird. It eventually turns out to be a reversal of Frankenstein, in which a hideous green-skinned alien builds a normal-looking human, who then turns against him. Until I noticed the Frankenstein connection, the story made no sense to me. Unsurprisingly the Metamorpho backup story is much better written. After Simon Stagg closes down a coal mine that’s become unprofitable, one of the laid-off miners intentionally traps himself in the mine as a publicity stunt to raise money for his dying child, and Metamorpho has to rescue him. Metamorpho succeeds, but Stagg makes the miner pay the cost of the rescue effort, leaving him even poorer than before – what a heartless jerk! So Metamorpho saves the day by stealing the money that Stagg keeps hidden in his mattress and giving it to the miner. This story is both hilariously wacky and emotionally moving, and it’s a good example of why I love Bob Haney’s writing (sometimes).

THOR #270 (Marvel, 1978) – This is from the first and much less famous of Walt Simonson’s two periods as Thor artist. I wouldn’t be able to identify the artist of this issue as Simonson if I hadn’t already known it was him. Partly because of inappropriate inking by Tony DeZuniga, there is little here that looks like Simonson, besides some very well-drawn spaceships. I also hardly remember anything about the plot of this issue, except that the villains are Blastaar and a computer system called F.A.U.S.T.

OH, KILLSTRIKE #1 (Boom!, 2015) – I did not like this issue and I’m glad that I don’t seem to have ordered any of the subsequent issues of this miniseries. First, the main character of this comic is an overgrown man-child who’s not ready for parenthood. I guess this is kind of the point – this comic is obviously supposed to be a coming-of-age story – but the writer, Max Bemis, offers me no reason to feel emotionally invested in this character. Second, this comic is a satire of early ‘90s Image comics, and that’s like shooting fish in a barrel. I don’t see the point of making fun of a style of comics that’s no longer popular and that was already widely mocked even when it was popular. Maybe this comic is going somewhere interesting, but I don’t have the patience to wait for it to get there.

CONCRETE #1 (Dark Horse, 1987) – Paul Chadwick is one of the most underrated cartoonists in America. He draws beautifully and he’s extremely smart and intellectually curious, and he also probably deserves some credit for the fact that Dark Horse exists today – I’ve read some of the early issues of DHP and Paul was the only good artist at the company back then. This issue is notable for being Concrete’s first appearance in his own series and for introducing the third of the series’ major characters, Larry Munro. The scene where we first meet Larry is kind of implausibly written (he’s going on a date when he coincidentally runs into a big dumb jock who he owes money to, and his date goes off with the jock instead), but the rest of the issue, in which Concrete rescues some trapped mine workers, is closer to Paul Chadwick’s usual level of realism. The subtext in this issue is that Concrete is becoming seriously uncomfortable with his celebrity status.

HOUSE OF FUN #1 (Dark Horse, 2012) – This was going to be Dork #11 until Evan Dorkin decided to change the title. It’s indistinguishable from a typical issue of Dork except that it includes Milk and Cheese in addition to the Eltingville Club, the Murder Family, and a bunch of short strips. There’s nothing particularly innovative about this issue compared to Evan’s earlier work, but it’s funny and brutally honest.

FANTASTIC FOUR #346 (Marvel, 1990) – I think that either I read this issue a long time ago when I checked it out from the library, or I have a Spanish edition of it, or both. But when I (re)read it, I hardly remembered anything about it, except that it involved the FF being trapped on an. In general this issue is an excellent piece of work and it gives Simonson the opportunity to draw dinosaurs, which he doesn’t get to do very often. The weak link in the issue is Sharon Ventura, easily the worst character to have used the name Ms. Marvel. There is one embarrassing scene where she says that she “never liked being a woman in a man’s world,” so becoming a she-Thing was “like being reborn.” But when she met Ben Grimm, she “learned that there are other ways to be reborn. The sharing ways between a man and a woman.” Blecch.

BATMAN #446 (DC, 1990) – This issue is not especially memorable and the artwork is far from Jim Aparo’s best. The plot here is that the NKVDemon (not the same character as the KGBeast) is trying to assassinate a bunch of politicians at a hockey game between the Soviet Union and the U.S. I guess it was still the Soviet Union at the time this story was written. The main thing I remember about this story is wondering how the NKVDemon was able to disguise himself as a hockey player, and compete in a hockey game, without any of the other players noticing.

FANTASTIC FOUR #330 (Marvel, 1989) – This is one of the issues written by Steve Englehart under the pseudonym John Harkness. According to Google, the reason why was because he was angry at being ordered to reintroduce Reed and Sue into the series. Even for Englehart, this issue is a convoluted mess that makes no sense at all. My initial assumption was that he didn’t particularly care about the quality of this story since he was about to quit, but in a blog post (goo.gl/vUv7SR), Jef Willemsen provides a more interesting explanation. What’s going on in this issue is that Aron, the rogue Watcher (who has an awesome name, if somewhat deficient in A’s) is monitoring the FF’s dreams, and their dreams are condensed versions of the stories that Englehart would have told if he hadn’t quit the series. This one, for example, is an alternate reality where the FF talk and act like they did in the ‘60s. I kind of want to read this issue again with that knowledge in mind.

FANTASTIC FOUR #331 (Marvel, 1989) – This one is Mr. Fantastic’s dream sequence, in which his new Turino-XL computer turns out to be Ultron-XI (note the anagram). This is much better than last issue since it makes sense on its own. This story is also a sequel to Ultron’s appearances in Englehart’s West Coast Avengers. And I think this reveals one of the tragedies of Englehart’s career. Each of his series is extensively linked by continuity elements to all of his other series, and I think this is because his real ambition was to tell a giant, years-long cosmic epic, with Mantis at its center. Fragments of that story appear in Avengers and West Coast Avengers and Fantastic Four and even Justice League, but the working conditions of the ‘70s and ‘80s comics industry made it impossible for him to tell that story in the way he wanted to.

BATMAN #229 (DC, 1971) – This issue’s first story is below the standards of most Batman comics from this period. In this story, Batman battles a cult of “Futurians” who have ESP, or claim to. It’s not very exciting and there’s no real point to it. Very unusually, the Robin story, in which Dick defeats a corrupt politician, is better than the Batman story. Mike Friedrich, who wrote this story, is not that great of a writer, but he’s better than Robert Kanigher on a bad day.

AQUAMAN #61 (DC, 1978) – The clear highlight of this issue is seeing Don Newton draw both Aquaman and Batman at once. The plot is not particularly interesting; it features Kobra, one of DC’s most boring and generic villains. And none of Aquaman’s supporting cast members appear in the issue.

WHAT IF? #1 (Marvel, 1977) – “What If Spider-Man Joined the Fantastic Four?” is a reasonably good beginning to a series which was always interesting and sometimes excellent. The problem with this story is that it follows the plot of Fantastic Four #13 and #14 very closely, to the point where it often seems like just a slavish adaptation of earlier stories. But at least it doesn’t read like a plot summary, which was the problem with many later issues of What If. In the end, Sue decides to leave the FF and stay with Namor because Spider-Man’s inclusion in the group has left her feeling like a fifth wheel. This ending surprised me at first, but I do think it follows logically from the rest of the story.

TALES TO ASTONISH #81 (Marvel, 1966) – I liked the Sub-Mariner story in this issue a lot. It has some excellent Gene Colan art, and it powerfully depicts Namor’s jealous rage when Dorma leaves him for Warlord Krang. The Hulk story is not quite as good. It introduces Boomerang, who has the most hideous costume this side of Paste Pot Pete, and who doesn’t use boomerangs nearly as much as his name implies. But this story does have some nice Bill Everett artwork over Kirby layouts.

ADVENTURE COMICS #318 (DC, 1964) – “The Mutiny of the Legionnaires!” is a weird story – well, every Legion story is weird in one way or another, so I guess it would be more accurate to say that this story is weird in an ineffective way. After going on five consecutive missions with no break, Sun Boy goes crazy and starts acting like an oppressive tyrant to his teammates, leading to the mutiny mentioned in the story. After Sun Boy is cured, the Legion constitution is amended so that “no Legionnaire shall go on more than five successive space-missions without a rest-period, to prevent space-fatigue.” I’m pretty sure this rule was never mentioned again. At this early period, there was no characterization and no real difference between one Legionnaire and another, and much of the continuity of the series didn’t exist yet – the Legionnaires even use gravity belts instead of flight rings. I usually hate the Golden Age reprints that appear in the back of ‘60s DC comics, but the one in this issue is interesting because it introduces Fuzzy, the Krypto Mouse. I had assumed that Art Baltazar and Franco created Fuzzy, so I was delighted to discover that he was a preexisting character, and his first appearance (and I assume his only appearance until Superman Family Adventures) is hilarious.

GREEN LANTERN #123 (DC, 1979) – Denny O’Neil’s writing has not aged well, unlike that of some of his contemporaries (e.g. Gerber and Englehart and even Haney), but I still generally like his Green Lantern. This is the first issue of the revived series that just has the Green Lantern logo on the cover, instead of Green Lantern/Green Arrow. That explains the scene where Hal seemingly dissolves his partnership with Ollie in a very rude way. Other than that, this story is not particularly exciting. Joe Staton’s artwork is rather pedestrian, and the story, in which Hal saves Guy Gardner from Sinestro, never manages to create much excitement.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #15 (Marvel, 2015) – This is the last issue of KSDC’s run, at least for now, though I assume the series will be restarted after Secret Wars. This issue is a touching tribute to Tracy Burke, and it seems to have been inspired by the death of one of KSDC’s relatives. I feel like maybe KSDC’s greatest strength as a writer is her skill at self-promotion – she believes very strongly in herself and her writing reflects that.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #30 (IDW, 2015) – In this untitled story by Christina Rice and Agnes Garbowska, Twilight Sparkle goes out of town, and instantly everything goes to hell in a handbasket. Due to a dispute over whether Rarity’s store or Applejack’s barn was the first building in town, half the town takes sides against the other half. This is really a rather powerful and suspenseful story, because Rice and Garbowska succeed in making the reader feel that the Mane Six have taken sides against each other and that their friendships might be ruined for good. Of course it’s all going to be cleared up next issue.

SANDMAN: OVERTURE #5 (DC, 2015) – J.H. Williams III is still the best artist in the industry. He draws in a million different styles, and even if he’d stuck to just one of those styles, he would have been a great artist. And the plot of this series is still going nowhere. I think I preferred last issue, when Hope was still alive. On Facebook, Charles Hatfield suggested that the motivation for this series was just that Neil wanted to work with J.H. Williams, and that at least is a reasonable explanation for it.

WEIRD SCIENCE #9 (Gemstone, 1994, originally 1951) – The best story in this issue is “The Gray Cloud of Death,” a very gloomy and grim piece of SF with gorgeous artwork by Wally Wood. Jack Oleck’s “The Martian Monster” would have been more suitable for Crime SuspenStories if not for the shock ending, in which the monster of the title turns out to be real. The second Wally Wood story, “The Invaders,” is even more beautiful than the first, but not as well written. The final story, “The Slave of Evil,” is an intriguing and well-plotted story about a man who doesn’t realize he’s a robot. This story is drawn by George Olesen, who I’d never heard of before, but Wikipedia tells me that he worked on the Phantom comic strip for four decades. This may have been his only art job for EC.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #16 (IDW, 2015) – This issue stars the two most loathsome, despicable villains in the MLP franchise, a pair of characters who are worse than Queen Chrysalis and Lord Tirek combined. I refer, of course, to Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon. I was kind of nervous about reading this issue because I was afraid that it would force me to sympathize with these two ponies and that I would have to stop hating them. Luckily the writer, Jeremy Whitley, avoids that. He allows us to empathize with them a little bit, by showing us that they’re not happy despite their vast wealth, but he doesn’t exonerate them. By the end of this story, I understand why Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon are the way they are, and I still hate them.

TOMORROW STORIES SPECIAL #2 (America’s Best Comics, 2006) – I believe this was the only Alan Moore ABC comic that I didn’t have, although only half of it is written by Alan. The issue begins with Alan and Rick Veitch’s “The Lethal Luck of the Magister Ludi,” a pastiche of the Gardner Fox/Mike Sekowsky Justice League. It’s fairly entertaining but it’s not even close to Alan’s best work, or even his best superhero parody. Surprisingly the highlight of the issue is the Little Margie in Misty Magic Land episode by Steve Moore and Eric Shanower. This story is an effective tribute to Little Nemo and is full of funny inside jokes and tributes. At one point, Margie meets a character who’s obviously supposed to be Nemo, who says that his father has a submarine. And I was like, well, why does Nemo’s father have a submarine… oh, right. This is just a really touching and funny story. Next is a Jonni Future story by Steve Moore, which is okay, but Jonni and John’s romance is very creepy. Last is a First American story by Alan and Jim Baikie. The First American is tied with Splash Brannigan as the worst Tomorrow Stories feature, and this story is too silly and disgusting to be effective as gross-out humor.

ARCANA ANNUAL #1 (DC, 1994) – This was the prequel to the Books of Magic ongoing series. It introduces a number of characters who will reappear in that series, including Tim’s father Tamlin and his friend Marya. Her part of this issue is more interesting than Tim’s part – it turns out that Marya was born in Imperial Russia and the tsarina forced her to enter ballet school at a young age. It’s not clear exactly which tsarina it was, but based on brief Google research, it may have been Anna, who established the first Russian school of ballet in the 18th century. It’s too bad that this issue is also part of the Children’s Crusade crossover, so it doesn’t tell a complete story, despite being more than 50 pages.

KULL THE DESTROYER #12 (Marvel, 1974) – I’ve always liked Kull much less than Conan. Kull is just a boring character, probably because he lacks either a sense of humor or a sex drive. My pet theory is that he doesn’t have much interest in women because he and Brule are lovers. This issue is written by Steve Englehart, which came as a surprise to me, but it’s very similar to the earlier issues by Roy Thomas. Like just about every other issue of Kull, this issue is about Kull trying to defeat a plot to overthrow him. You have to wonder why Kull even bothered being king of Valusia when his subjects all hated him, and he himself didn’t seem to enjoy being king very much. This issue does have some very nice art by Mike Ploog.

KULL THE DESTROYER #13 (Marvel, 1974) – This issue continues the plotline from #12 and it’s basically more of the same. It lends some support to my Kull-and-Brule theory, because it includes a scene where a woman tells Kulll that “you have shown me only kindness – when my heart wants so much more!” To which Kull replies by complaining that women are always ruled by their hearts. Again the Mike Ploog artwork is the highlight of the issue.

MEZZ: GALACTIC TOUR #1 (Dark Horse, 1994) – This is a one-shot starring some of the minor characters from Nexus. It’s really just a minor curiosity which has limited appeal even to a dedicated Nexus fan like me. There’s not much of a plot here – it turns out that the story revolves around yet another conflict between Vooper and Honest Crocus – and we don’t learn much about Mezz or his bandmates that we didn’t already know.

I notice that these reviews have mostly been pretty negative. It’s because number one, I read most of these comics a week or two ago, and number two, most of them are comics that I bought a long time ago and didn’t read, so I was coming into them with low expectations.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #37 (IDW, 2015) – This issue continues the story where the Lost Light Autobots go back in time to stop Brainstorm from murdering Optimus Prime. In this issue they visit Cybertron during the “Clampdown,” which I don’t really understand. After reading a bunch of issues of this series in order, I’m finally starting to understand the plot, though I still have trouble telling the characters apart. But it’s becoming clear that James Roberts is a skilled storyteller and not just a brilliant dialogue writer.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #38 (IDW, 2015) – This concludes the Brainstorm story arc. In this issue James Roberts presents the characters with an interesting moral dilemma, as the Autobots manage to convince Brainstorm not to kill Megatron (who turns out to be his real target), but Rewind kills him anyway. Though Megatron doesn’t actually die, because of parallel universes or something. I still don’t quite understand this comic, but I enjoy the parts of it that I do understand.

SWORDS OF SORROW #1 (Dynamite, 2015) – This is probably the only Dynamite comic I’m ever going to buy. I love the idea of a story where all the female pulp heroes team up, and this is a reasonably fun comic, but it’s mostly just setup.

MS. TREE #40 (Renegade, 1987) – This is from the period when only half of each issue was new material, and the other half was reprints of Pete Morisi’s Johnny Dynamite. Max and Terry explained why they had to do this, but I don’t think their explanation was persuasive. Surprisingly the Johnny Dynamite story is more memorable than the Ms. Tree story, in which Michael avenges her father’s murder. The Johnny Dynamite story was written by Ken Fitch, who I’ve never heard of, but he had an impressive command of the hard-boiled detective aesthetic. This is not a genre I particularly like, but reading this story, I see why Max Collins enjoys this series and chose to reprint it.

UNCLE SCROOGE ADVENTURES #20 (Gladstone, 1990) – My copy of this issue is signed by Don Rosa. The issue begins with Barks’s 1959 story “The Paul Bunyan Machine,” an implausible and silly piece of work in which Scrooge hides his money in a forest, but the Beagle Boys use the machine of the title to try to steal it. This story strongly suggests that the Money Bin contains all of Scrooge’s money, and is difficult to reconcile with Don Rosa’s later stories which state that it just contains the money Scrooge feels nostalgic about. Next up is Don Rosa’s “On a Silver Platter,” which is much better. Like “The Universal Solvent” or “Forget It!,” this story takes a weird idea – a silver platter that acts as a portal between Duckburg and Magica de Spell’s hut – and exploits it for as much comic potential as possible. It’s amazing how many bizarre implications follow from such a simple premise. There’s also a Gutenberghaus story in which a foreign prince presents Scrooge with a pet goat who requires extremely expensive care. This is funny but forgettable. The issue ends with a ten-pager by Barks, which is unusual in that it ends with Scrooge losing money instead of making money.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #39 (IDW, 2015) – In this issue, we step away from the Lost Light characters for a bit and focus on the Decepticon Justice Division. As expected, these characters are awful, sadistic monsters, and yet they talk in the same dialogue style as all the other characters, and this helps us see them as human (or at least as human as a giant transforming robot can get). Nickel is an especially disturbing character because she seems so small and vulnerable, and yet she’s part of this awful organization. It’s impressive how James Roberts almost makes us sympathize with these characters who we’ve spent the last several issues learning to hate.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #242 (Marvel, 1991) – This is one of the few issues of Roy Thomas’s second Conan run that I hadn’t read. I even assumed that I had read it and that this copy was a duplicate, but I was wrong. “The Sorcerer and the She-Devil” is a deliberate homage to Roy’s earlier Conan run, as it guest-stars Red Sonja and the villain turns out to be Zukala. The plot is that Red Sonja somehow gets engaged to marry some wimpy jerk (who, again, is really Zukala), and this obviously causes the constant sexual tension between Conan and Sonja to flare up. This story is a lot of fun.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #40 (IDW, 2015) – This issue focuses on Ratchet. It begins with a scene where Ratchet makes three failed attempts to do something, but it’s not clear what he was trying to do. Then we observe the day-to-day events on the Lost Light through Ratchet’s eyes. At the end, Ratchet leaves the Lost Light, with the caption “First successful attempt at saying goodbye properly.” It’s a touching moment, and this issue is an effective example of a day-in-the-life issue.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #123 (Marvel, 1982) – A while ago Kurt Mitchell called J.M. DeMatteis and Kerry Gammill’s MTU stories to my attention. He was correct in recommending them, because these stories are very narratively complex and sophisticated and they often have rather deep messages. This Spider-Man-Daredevil team-up is not their best work on the series, mostly because it contains an implausible plot twist. The plot is that Daredevil is representing a mob hitman, “Peepers” who’s decided to turn state’s evidence because he’s terminally ill, but he and Spider-Man have to protect Peepers from being assassinated by the super-villain Solarr. The implausible twist is that as soon as Peepers is in danger, he takes a sick child hostage so he can escape from Solarr. This is inconsistent with what we’ve been told about his character up to this point. And then at the end of the story, Peepers goes insane because of guilt, which is an unsatisfying and surprisingly bleak ending. (P.S.: It turns out I already had this comic in my collection and had read it, so I will let this review stand, but I will not include it on my master list of comics reviewed, or on my official count of the comics I’ve read.)

JONNY QUEST #25 (Comico, 1988) – This is the second issue starring Bandit (unless there’s another one I haven’t read), and it’s almost as good as the first one, which I reviewed in 2011. (See goo.gl/IRUIHn.) This time, Bandit gets lost while trying to catch a squirrel and ends up as the companion of a mentally ill homeless woman. Unfortunately it turns out that the local homeless people are being stalked by a serial killer, who was himself released from a mental hospital. This story is explicitly a critique of deinstitutionalization. At one point Race says to a policeman that “It seems like folks like that were further along before people tried to reform things by closing the institutions,” and the policeman agrees and says “There was a lot of talking about reform, but it was really about saving money. They just dumped people out in the street, and let us deal with the problem.” However, this story is more than just a sermon about mental health care, because it’s presented to us through the eyes of Jonny and Bandit, and Bill Loebs is incredibly good at writing from an animal’s perspective.

On a side note, this issue includes hints that Benton Quest is going to marry Kathy Martin. I think that character was a beard, introduced to dispel the rumor that Benton and Race were a couple. Also, this issue’s letter column includes letters from two of the greatest critics of American comics, Charles Hatfield and T.M. Maple.

UNCLE SCROOGE ADVENTURES #28 (Gladstone, 1994) – “Land Beneath the Ground” is a bizarre and implausible piece of work, but it’s a classic. The idea that earthquakes are caused by subterranean bowtie-wearing rock people is utterly preposterous, but in a funny way. And this story includes some incredible depictions of creepy subterranean caves. The backup story, Romano Scarpa’s “The Man from Oola-Oola,” is funny but also has some potentially racist implications, since it’s about a man from an uncontacted tribe who’s completely covered in hair. Scarpa may be my third favorite duck artist, but he’s a very distant third.

TINY TITANS: RETURN TO THE TREEHOUSE #4 (DC, 2014) – This is exactly the same as every other Tiny Titans comic.

DAREDEVIL #0.1 (Marvel, 2014) – I did not enjoy this comic. Let’s start with the beginning. Matt Murdock chases a man through the Milwaukee airport, then when the man jumps through the wall of the airport, Matt jumps out after him, in full view of several policemen. In doing so, he abandons Kirsten McDuffie, who arrived at the airport with him. At the end of the issue when Matt returns to the airport, no mention is made of his bizarre behavior the last time he was there, and Kirsten doesn’t seem to mind that he completely abandoned her. The actual plot of this issue involves the Super-Adaptoid, but it’s not especially interesting. Another problem here is the art. This issue was originally published digitally on the Marvel Infinite Comics platform, and it was clearly designed for the screen rather than the page. Each page divides neatly into two vertical halves of the same shape as a computer screen, and there’s never any attempt to take advantage of the vertical dimension of the page.

JONNY QUEST #21 (Comico, 1988) – Another amazing issue, with gorgeous artwork by Dan Spiegle (who, as of this writing, is one of the oldest living American cartoonists). In “Here There Be Dragons,” Race Bannon encounters Uncle Ez, his abusive former foster guardian, and is forced to confront the trauma of child abuse. Like issue #21 above, this is another story that deals in a serious and sensitive way with a real-world problem. It’s especially impressive because of its realistic portrayal of gaslighting – all of the people from Race’s hometown think Uncle Ez was a perfectly nice guy, and no one seems willing to believe his story about being abused.

HOLLYWOOD SUPERSTARS #4 (Marvel, 1991) – Mark liked to make fun of this series, saying that no one ever bought it, but it’s one of his and Dan Spiegle’s greatest works. It’s a continuation of Crossfire, but without the superheroic trappings. This issue is the second part of a three-part story in which Jerry, Leo and Melody investigate a corrupt stunt coordinator. Melody is a bit of an annoying character because of her damsel-in-distress personality, but this story is a powerful depiction of unfair Hollywood labor practices, and I assume Mark based it on personal knowledge. And Dan Spiegle’s artwork is incredible as ever.

HOLLYWOOD SUPERSTARS #5 (Marvel, 1991) – This concludes the above story. It includes a surprising yet plausible scene in which the corrupt stunt coordinator gets off scot-free because he got all his employees to sign release forms. And at the end, Leo says that he has a friend who writes comic books, and he’ll “tell him the story and he could change the names and write it up for one of his books.” The obvious implication here is that this storyline is based on real events, but I can’t find any reference to anything similar happening in real life.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #92 (Marvel, 1971) – This is the one where Spidey and Iceman team up to defeat Bullit’s campaign for district attorney. I’ve read this story at least twice before, although it was fun to revisit. One thing I noticed on rereading is that Spidey behaves like a serious jerk toward Gwen – he deliberately kidnaps and terrorizes her just so she won’t realize he’s really Peter.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #20 (Marvel, 1974) – This issue includes Stegron the Dinosaur Man, one of Marvel’s most hilarious and awesome villains, so it’s a lot of fun. There’s one amazing two-page splash showing Stegron leading a herd of dinosaurs down Broadway in broad daylight. Still, I think Len Wein could have done even more to exploit the comic potential of this villain, and I wish the art had been by Gil Kane instead of Sal Buscema.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #377 (Marvel, 1993) – By this point the series had clearly jumped the shark. The villains this issue are Cardiac, Styx and Stone, none of whom are among David Michelinie’s better creations. Too much of the issue is wasted on scenes involving these dumb characters that no one cares about. Peter Parker’s fake parents also appear in the issue, and the scenes where Peter interacts with them are kind of embarrassing, because they insist on treating him like a child – though I guess that’s a realistic way for parents to behave toward their adult children.

WEIRD SUSPENSE #1 (Atlas/Seaboard, 1975) – Like most Atlas/Seaboard comics, this is pretty stupid, and it’s difficult to care what happens in it because I know that it’s going to be cancelled within three issues at most. This issue does have some very effective horror artwork by Pat Boyette.

And now the new comics from last week:

SAGA #29 (Image, 2015) – I knew something awful was going to happen in this issue because of other people’s Facebook posts. I was terrified that either Marco, Alana or Hazel was going to die, and I’m relieved that that didn’t happen, but what does in fact happen in this issue is almost as bad. The Will’s death is one of the most shocking moments in a series that’s full of shocking moments. I await next issue with a mixture of excitement and apprehension.

Also, this is one of two comics I read last week in which a noncreature orally pleasures itself.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #6 (Marvel, 2015) – I think this was better than Saga. Besides Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl is currently the best Marvel comic – just imagine how weird that statement would have sounded a few years ago. There’s so much incredible stuff in this comic that I can’t remember it all, but I love all the new characters introduced in this issue – Hippo the Hippo, Girl Squirrel, Koi Boi and Chipmunk Hunk. I like the subtle continuity nods, like the headline “Astronomers: That nut planet we discovered last month isn’t there anymore, weird.” And I hope there really is a character called Cat Brat.

STARFIRE #1 (DC, 2015) – This is the best (and perhaps the only good) Starfire story not written by Marv Wolfman. There are some cosmetic differences between this Kori and the Kory I know, including the spelling of her nickname. But Amanda and Jimmy have a perfect understanding of Kory’s character. Their Kory is deeply emotional and uninhibited and unfamiliar with life on Earth, just like she should be. I especially love the scene where Kory cries when she learns that Stella’s grandmother died. This seems like exactly the kind of thing Kory would do, although I assume she’s also crying over the death of her own parents, which she just mentioned to Stella. I wish Amanda was drawing this comic herself, and I hate those hideous bottom-of-page Twix ads, but I’m really excited about this series.

AUTUMNLANDS: TOOTH AND CLAW #6 (Image, 2015) – I’m not enjoying this series nearly as much as Astro City. This issue is disturbing because it encourages us to side with the wizards against the bison, who are clearly the injured parties. Seven-Scars has been consistently depicted as a dangerous, frightening villain, but he hasn’t done anything wrong except negotiate in bad faith, and I can’t blame him for that considering he has no reason to trust the wizards. I really think Dunstan is working for the wrong side. And it sure would be nice if he got to take a more active role in the story. It’s a little surprising when the other wizards show up at the end – I kind of assumed that all the floating cities had collapsed, not just Dunstan’s city.

GOTHAM ACADEMY #7 (DC, 2015) – Another charming issue of the best current DC title. It’s disappointing that Damian is expelled from the school at the end, because he and Maps are an adorable duo; I think they may be my favorite recent DC characters. And this issue is narrated by Maps instead of Olive, which makes it even more fun. Maybe the funniest moment in the issue is where Maps imagines herself marrying Damian’s grapple gun. I’m not familiar with Mingjue Helen Chen but she’s almost as good as Karl Kerschl.

BLUBBER #1 (Fantagraphics, 2015) – I did not like this at all. It reads like Beto’s attempt to imitate Michel DeForge, and I don’t particularly enjoy Michel DeForge’s work to begin with, even if I appreciate its artistry. This issue was just disgusting and disturbing, though I suppose that’s the point. I appreciate that Beto is trying to challenge himself creatively but I wish he was doing something more entertaining. This is the other comic I read last week in which a nonhuman creature orally pleasures itself.

HELP US! GREAT WARRIOR #4 (Boom, 2015) – As usual, this issue contains a lot of epic moments of awesomeness, but very little story. I enjoy this comic, but I’m not convinced that it’s worth the cover price.

I AM GROOT #1 (I Am Groot, 2015) – I am Groot? I am Groot. I am Groot? I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot! I am Groot! I am Groot. I AM GROOT! I am Groot! I am Groot. I AM GROOT! I am Groot. I am Groot? I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I AM GROOT! I am Groot! I am Groot. I AM GROOT!

(Translation: GROOT #1 (Marvel, 2015) – It’s not clear why they had to replace Rocket Raccoon with this series, because this is just as much of a Rocket Raccoon comic as a Groot comic. This is fun, though. Jeff Loveness is almost as entertaining of a writer as Skottie Young. I especially love the scene where Rocket and Groot steal Superboy’s rocket. Not to mention the space tree sharks and the ineffective Skrull spies. I look forward to the next issue.)

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #10 (Image, 2015) – The dominant mood in this issue is of anticlimax, as Laura discovers that she’s not the twelfth god. But it’s hard to remember how I felt when I read this issue, because issue 11 has overshadowed it in my memory.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #11 (Image, 2015) – This issue ends with a massive shock which is then followed by another that’s even more massive. Ananke turns Laura into the thirteenth god, Persephone, and then promptly murders her and her family. I don’t think we were given any reason to expect this outcome, and I have no idea where the series is going to go form here. It feels as though Kieron and Jamie are being unfair to their readers. I eagerly await issue 12 so I can find out what the hell just happened.

SILVER SURFER #12 (Marvel, 2015) – There was no way this issue could top issue 11, but it’s still pretty good. In this issue, we learn that the adaptive planet from last issue is alive, and that it’s not nearly as perfect as it seems. Slott and Allred set this up fairly well; on page ten, for example, you can clearly see a giant face in the mountains in the background. This issue also effectively advances the arc of Surfer and Dawn’s relationship. By the end of this issue I feel that it makes sense for them to be a couple, and I was not convinced of that before.

SPIDER-GWEN #5 (Marvel, 2015) – This is one of the top Marvel titles at the moment, and it’s frustrating that it has to be cancelled because of Secret Wars. I assume this series will be coming back in some form, because this issue does not read like a final issue – it ends on a cliffhanger. I love Latour and Rodriguez’s version of the Black Cat, which appears to have been heavily influenced by Bandette. But clearly the funniest moment in the issue is Betty wearing a cat instead of a winter hat. Someone on my Facebook page suggested that this could be an homage to King City, but it’s funny even if it’s not.

DAREDEVIL #7 (Marvel, 2014) – At this point I finally decided to get caught up on this series, which I have been buying but not reading. Most of this issue is just okay, but the last scene, where Matt asks his mother why she left him, is one of the most powerful moments in any recent Marvel comic. Because the answer is postpartum depression, which is something that’s never even been mentioned in any other comic book I can think of. It’s impressive enough that this comic even acknowledges the existence of this phenomenon, but Mark Waid and Javier Rodriguez do more than that. They make us sympathize with Maggie, both because of the depression itself and because of her inability to understand what was happening to her. Because of this scene alone, Daredevil #7 is a classic.

DAREDEVIL #8 (Marvel, 2014) – This is part one of a two-parter involving the Purple Man and his illegitimate children. I haven’t read most of the recent stories involving the Purple Man, but he’s a truly loathsome villain, and his kids are just as creepy. Chris Samnee’s artwork on this issue is incredible; I think he’s currently the leading artist at Marvel. This issue also introduces Kirsten McDuffie’s father and stepmother, though we don’t learn much about them yet.

SAVAGE DRAGON #204 (Image, 2015) – In this issue we learn that Malcolm managed to get not only Tierra but also Angel pregnant. Malcolm reacts to this news in a way that does him no credit; he shows little sympathy to either woman, besides worrying that the pregnancy is going to be fatal to them, and he even doubts that the babies are his. This series has been even more tasteless than usual lately, and I’m feeling guilty about continuing to read it.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #31 (IDW, 2015) – This is a satisfying resolution to the Ponyville Days story, though nothing that happens in it is especially surprising. Twilight manages to heal the rift between the two factions of Ponyvile, and the Ponyville Days event proceeds as scheduled. Probably the best moment in the issue is the two-page spread where Twilight convinces 18 different characters to help with the festival, including Gummy and Angel.

UNCLE SCROOGE ADVENTURES #15 (Gladstone, 1989) – “Micro-Ducks from Outer Space” is a very late Barks story. It’s not one of his best, but it’s cute. The micro-ducks of the title are adorable, and Donald’s infatuation with Princess Teentsy Teen is funny. This is another story that surprisingly ends with Scrooge failing to take advantage of an opportunity to make money.

WEIRDWORLD #1 (Marvel, 2015) – I’m disappointed that this series isn’t about Tyndall, Velanna and Mud-Butt, but I like it anyway. It’s got dragons and ogres and undersea apes and one of the best maps in any comic in recent memory – Aaron King must have loved it. Mike Del Mundo’s artwork doesn’t resemble that of any other Marvel artist I can think of, and it effectively creates a fantastic atmosphere.

NO MERCY #2 (Image, 2015) – An alternative title for this series would be “Overprivileged White Kids Get in a Predicament That Their Money Can’t Get Them Out Of.” Maybe the most interesting thing about this series is the conflict between the protagonists’ sheltered upbringing and the horrific situation they find themselves in. The key moment in this issue is when Travis throws some dust on the fire to make “crazy colors,” and the fire goes out, allowing the coyotes to attack. He just seems to have no understanding of the possibility that his actions might have negative consequences for other people. I think the reason I waited a month to read this comic is because it’s rather grim and disturbing, but it’s good.

NO MERCY #3 (Image, 2015) – Besides the stuff I mentioned above, the most interesting thing about this issue is Chad, the abusive brother. He is a truly horrific character and I was genuinely disappointed when Charlene’s attempt to kill him did not succeed. This issue ends on an exciting cliffhanger, and I look forward to the next one.

GIANT DAYS #3 (Boom!, 2015) – It’s kind of cool how this series and No Mercy are both about college kids, and yet they’re so radically different in tone, art style, and everything else. Unlike the first two issues, this one has a somewhat serious plot, in which the protagonists get harassed over social media by some of the local frat boys (or the English equivalent). So there are some serious ideas here, but they’re handled in a very funny and lighthearted way.

18 more reviews to go. I apologize to myself (and anyone else who may be reading) for the low quality of these reviews, but I need to finish them before I leave for Heroes Con.

DAREDEVIL #9 (Marvel, 2015) – This is part two of the Purple Kids three-parter. Mark and Chris achieve the impressive feat of simultaneously making us fear the Purple Kids and sympathize with them. They are clearly the victims here, since their father created them in order to further his criminal enterprises, but they’re also textbook examples of the Creepy Child trope.

DAREDEVIL #10 (Marvel, 2015) – An excellent conclusion to the Purple Kids story. In this issue Matt finally figures out the obvious way to defeat the kids (by separating them from each other so their powers don’t work) and he saves the day, but we also get the sense that they’ve done lasting psychic damage to him, by forcing him to relive his own childhood trauma. The next-to-last page, where Matt crawls into bed, is very touching. I stopped reading this series because I was honestly getting kind of sick of Mark Waid’s writing (see the review of Empire above), but it really is one of the best recent superhero titles.

DAREDEVIL #11 and #12 (Marvel, 2015) – I’ll review these together. In this two-parter, Matt is hired by a character called the Stuntmaster, who is angry that his secret identity has been stolen by a much younger man. It turns out that this is all a scam: the two Stuntmasters are working together, and their stunts are being performed by helpless kidnap victims who get killed in the process. (This story has some uncanny similarities with the Hollywood Superstars story discussed above.) The most significant long-term result of this story is that Matt finally uses the L word with Kirsten – not “lesbians,” the other one.

CONVERGENCE: SUPERBOY AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #2 (DC, 2015) – This is an insultingly bad Legion comic. It spends way too much time on the Atomic Knights, who no one cares about; in the first five pages, there are a total of three lines of dialogue spoken by Legionnaires other than Superboy. None of the Legionnaires in the story get any characterization at all, except Ayla, who behaves wildly out of character – her romance between Superboy has no precedent in any previous Legion comic. Stuart Moore doesn’t seem to understand or care about the Legionnaires’ personalities, and this makes him an unsuitable Legion writer. This comic isn’t completely terrible, and the scene on the last page would be cute if not for the problem of Ayla being out of character. But a Legion comic that’s not completely terrible is not enough to satisfy me. The Legion is DC’s single best intellectual property, and there are people in the comics industry today who are capable of doing truly incredible Legion comics, and I think DC is throwing money away by neglecting this franchise.

HARLEY QUINN #17 (DC, 2015) – Another Conner/Palmiotti comic. I don’t think this writing team gets enough credit – they may not be the most polished or literary writers in the industry, but their stuff is always funny and exciting. This issue is not only the debut of the Gang of Harleys, it also reintroduces Captain Strong, the DC version of Popeye. It’s extremely fun. But it’s too bad about those stupid half-page ads.

CREATURES ON THE LOOSE #22 (Marvel, 1973) – This is the first of a run of stories starring Lin Carter’s Thongor of Lost Lemuria, a character who is barely distinguishable from Conan. This story could easily have been turned into a Conan story with only a few name changes. This issue does have a beautiful Steranko cover and some fairly good art by Val Mayerik, and it’s one of the few Marvel comics written by the SF author George Alec Effinger. I need to look out for issues 28 and 29 of this series, which were written by Steve Gerber.

GREEN LANTERN #38 (DC, 1993) – I distinctly remember checking this issue out of the library shortly after it was published. There are moments in it that I still remember, like Hal reporting that Barry used the phrase “a cup of java.” But other than its nostalgia value, this comic is not great. Reading this issue, I understand why DC felt they had to kill off Hal and replace him with a character that was more appealing to younger readers, because he acts like an old man. The conflict in this issue is that Carol wants to marry Hal so they can have kids, and Hal doesn’t want to settle down. Also, the main plot of this issue is difficult to understand if you’re not intimately familiar with issue 75 of the previous Green Lantern series. The plot depends heavily on Ergono and U-minds, and there’s no explanation of what these are.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #17 (IDW, 2015) – Suffering from overwork, Twilight Sparkle uses magic to project herself into Big Mac’s mind so that she can see how he manages his extreme workload. Like most of Ted Anderson’s pony comics, this issue is not particularly deep or memorable, though it’s funny. It doesn’t tell us much about either Twilight or Big Mac that we didn’t already know.

DAREDEVIL #13 (Marvel, 2015) – This issue is the prelude to a storyline involving the Shroud and the Owl, but the most important thing about it is the way it advances Matt and Kirsten’s character arc. After having told Karen he loves her, Matt is wracked with guilt because of what always happens to Daredevil’s girlfriends, and then Kirsten promptly gets kidnapped by a villain. It turns out that the villain is targeting Kirsten because she was responsible for putting him in prison, and not because he’s trying to hurt Matt, and Kirsten’s reaction to this discovery is kind of weird and implausible: she’s happy that she now has her own archenemy. I did not like this ending, and in retrospect, it seems like a preview of the problems that developed in the two following issues.

MIRACLEMAN #13 (Marvel, 2014, originally Eclipse, 1987) – I’ve read this issue before, but not for a long time, and on the first reading, I didn’t quite understand all the continuity with the Qys and the Warpsmiths. So this issue was worth rereading, and I of course am extremely pleased that I finally get to own my own copy of it. I don’t see why Marvel felt it was necessary to pad the length of each issue by reproducing every page of John Totleben’s original art, even though John Totleben is an amazing artist who’s never gotten the credit he deserves.

DAREDEVIL #14 (Marvel, 2015) – This issue is a significant step down in quality. Matt dresses up in a ridiculous new costume, and meanwhile, we learn that Kirsten’s dad is rich enough to rent Giants Stadium for batting practice. I guess we already knew he was extremely rich, but at the point where he has that much money to throw around, I not only find it difficult to sympathize with him, I also start to lose sympathy for his daughter. Also, it’s disturbing to see Matt trying to profit from his fame.

FANTASTIC FOUR #645 (Marvel, 2015) – I never had any interest in James Robinson’s FF; I think he’s completely finished as a writer. He’s gone through perhaps the steepest decline of any comic book writer in recent memory. I bought this issue mostly because of the last story, where Reed and Val share some father-daughter time. This story is adorable, but I’m not sure it justifies the issue’s $5.99 price tag. In one of the other stories, Louise Simonson gets the chance to write Franklin Richards again. This story is cute, but it continues the trend of depicting Franklin as much less mature than his younger sister. The other stories in the issue are pretty forgettable.

AQUAMAN #46 (DC, 1969) – This issue is a climactic moment in the Search for Mera story arc, as Arthur and Mera are finally reunited. Most of this issue is a flashback detailing what Mera was doing while Arthur was searching for her, so it’s effectively a Mera solo story. It’s very unusual for a ‘60s DC comic in that it has a proactive female protagonist who can take care of herself and who even gets to fight and defeat men with her fists. This issue demonstrates that Mera was one of the premier DC characters of her era. It also has some excellent Jim Aparo artwork. He was at the peak of his career at this point, and he does some fascinating things with page layouts.

TALES TO ASTONISH #84 (Marvel, 1966) – The Namor story in this issue has some fairly good art by Gene Colan, though not much of a plot. Very unusually, the art for the Hulk story is credited to “almost the whole blamed Bullpen.” According to the GCD, this included Bill Everett, Jack Kirby, Jerry Grandenetti, and who knows who else. The two stories are loosely linked in that Namor and the Hulk find themselves in the same movie theater at the same time, but they don’t interact in any way. Overall this was a fun comic but also kind of forgettable.

DAREDEVIL #15 (Marvel, 2015) – With this issue the series jumps the shark. It turns out that the Owl has been filming Matt for the entire series, and he releases all the video at once, including footage of Matt’s consultations with his clients and his intimate encounters with Kirsten. I find it rather implausible that the Owl would do this when it deprives him of any leverage over Matt, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that now Matt’s life is completely ruined, and I’ve read that story before, at least twice. And then the end of this issue reintroduces the Kingpin, perhaps Daredevil’s most cliched and overused villain. I’m glad that Mark and Chris’s run is about to end because they’ve written themselves into a corner; there’s nowhere they can go from here. This issue’s plot is trite and overly reliant on shock value, and it’s cruel of Mark to treat his protagonist in this way.

DETECTIVE COMICS #618 (DC, 1990) – This is part one of the story in which Tim Drake’s mother is killed by the Obeah Man, and it may be the first story I’ve read in which Tim’s mother appears at all – she was a rather short-lived character. This issue effectively advances Tim’s character arc, showing us that he’s an ambitious and talented but well-intentioned young man. The disturbing part is the scene at the end where Batman learns that Tim’s parents have disappeared, and instead of doing anything to comfort Tim, he turns his attention to something else. It’s a good example of Batdickery.

POPE HATS #4 (AdHouse, 2015) – I loved the previous issue of Ethan Rilly’s solo series, and this one is almost equally good, though I’m disappointed that it doesn’t continue the ongoing story about the lawyer. (I’m also sad that it’s not in the same format as the last issue, so I can’t store it in my normal boxes.) Ethan Rilly is a prodigious talent – he’s clearly influenced by Seth but he has a style all his own. The stories in this issue are weird because none of them really go anywhere; they all end inconclusively, and I think this is on purpose. These stories intentionally frustrate the desire for narrative closure. Easily the best story in the issue is “The Nest,” about an aging couple who are utterly unequipped to deal with their daughter’s severe mental health problems. Both the daughter and the parents are portrayed in a sensitive and plausible way, and this story deals with the topic of mental illness at a sophisticated level. I think it deserves an Eisner nomination.

SUPERBOY #79 (DC, 1960) – The first two stories in this issue are stupid in an annoying way. In the second story, for example, Pa Kent (then known as Dad Kent) discovers that one of his ancestors was a notorious pirate, and everyone else in town ridicules him for it. Superboy saves the day by proving that the ancestor in question was really a spy working for George Washington, but the real problem is that the people of Smallville were willing to turn on one of their fellow citizens just because they thought his ancestor was a criminal. This story does not make me feel very positively about the citizens of Smallville. The third story, “Life on Krypton,” is also stupid, but in a funny way; it’s a pretty cute depiction of the El family’s life just before Krypton exploded.

JONNY QUEST #20 (Comico, 1988) – I’m not sure if this is part of an ongoing story or not; it makes sense on its own, but it starts in media res. Most of the issue takes place in “Ostrander’s Bar and Grill,” and I assume the bartender is supposed to be John Ostrander himself. The story revolves around an encounter between Benton Quest and a 24th-century descendant of Race Bannon. Benton and Roger Bannon get along so well as to support my theory that Benton and Race are a couple. This issue’s plot makes clever use of time travel.

Squirrel Girl paper from Wiscon

This is the paper about Squirrel Girl that I gave at Wiscon last weekend. It was a lot of fun to write and to present.

I Don’t Need Luck, I Eat Nuts: Squirrel Girl and Female Comics Fandom

 

Aaron Kashtan

Miami University (OH)

 

URL for slide show: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1vhXp2hqzE-Bk0l6h38wDBWhgkAp_IksibkBjtdZxWYE/edit#slide=id.g512980f83_0_213

 

SLIDE 1 Let me begin by asking you, who is the most powerful superhero in the Marvel Universe? If you say the Hulk or Thor or the Silver Surfer, you are wrong. The answer is Squirrel Girl. SLIDE 2 She has defeated villains like Dr. Doom and Thanos with nothing but her bare hands. She has never lost a battle and she probably never will, because she’s awesome. SLIDE 3 Now this character probably sounds like a joke to you, and she is, but she also has serious things to tell us about superhero comics and their audiences. Previously, Squirrel Girl was a character intended as a satire on the superhero genre, and she was only funny to existing fans of superhero comic books, who were largely straight white men. But in her new series, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, she’s turned into more of an affectionate joke that can be shared both by existing fans and by new readers, and for that reason, she’s become a central part of Marvel’s recent efforts to expand the reach of the superhero genre.

So the context for this paper is that until very recently, superhero comics have been a primarily male-dominated genre. As I argued in a recent article on the Hooded Utilitarian blog, the comics industry, as a whole, has recently made major strides toward diversification, specifically in terms of appealing to women as well as younger readers and to readers of color. Right now six of the top ten books on the New York Times bestseller list for Paperback Graphic Books had at least one female creator, and last week it was nine out of ten. SLIDE 4 Graphic novels like Persepolis and Fun Home are staples on university syllabi. The one exception to this trend has been superhero comics. Marvel and DC comics still tend to be created mostly by and for men, and the comic book store continues to be a primarily male environment. SLIDE 5 However, at this situation is changing. Marvel, and increasingly also DC, have sought to reach out to new audiences, including female readers and people who got into comic books through the Internet, and those categories overlap. And Squirrel Girl is interesting as an example of these shifts in the target audience for the superhero genre.

To explain this, I need to describe Squirrel Girl’s past history. Squirrel Girl is Doreen Green, a teenage girl who has buck teeth and a bushy tail and the ability to speak to and command squirrels. She was created in 1991 by Will Murray, who is famous mostly this reason, and Steve Ditko, the co-creator of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange. She first appeared in a 1991 story where she teams up with Iron Man and unsuccessfully asks to be his sidekick, and then she battles Dr. Doom and wins defeats him by summoning a horde of squirrels to attack him. SLIDE 6 And the title of this presentation comes from what Squirrel Girl says when Iron Man wishes her luck. SLIDE 7

If this story looks and sounds kind of stupid, then it is. And in 1991, it blatantly contradicted the dominant tone of Marvel comics. At the time, Marvel’s core audiences were teenage boys and older men who had been reading Marvel comics their entire lives. These audiences wanted superhero comics to be serious. Due to the influence of Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns in the ‘80s, superhero comics in the ‘90s tried to be grim, dark and violent. SLIDE 8 Marvel’s biggest-selling characters at the time were murderous vigilantes like Ghost Rider and Punisher. SLIDE 9 Also, Marvel’s creators as well as their readers were obsessed with internal consistency. When you bought a Marvel comics, there was an implicit warranty that it fit into the same universe as every other Marvel comic and that it didn’t violate continuity or misrepresent the characters. Marvel comics were supposed to be Serious Business. Therefore, the Squirrel Girl story stood out like a sore thumb because it was silly and because it contradicted the established character of Dr. Doom – he was supposed to be this terrible villain and yet he was defeated by a buck-toothed 14-year-old girl and a horde of rodents. It was an embarrassing scene that both Marvel creators and fans would prefer to forget – kind of like the story where the Thing and the Human Torch wear Beatles wigs, SLIDE 10 or the story with a villain who erases people. SLIDE 11 These stories were published in the ‘60s when Marvel took itself less seriously and had a broader target audience. By 1991, Marvel’s audience was defined in such a way as to exclude the sort of readers who would have thought Squirrel Girl was funny. And this is probably why she did not make another significant appearance for the next fourteen years. She was buried, like so many acorns.

But comic book writers have as good a memory for old characters as squirrels have for buried nuts, and so in 2005, Dan Slott revived Squirrel Girl for his miniseries Great Lakes Avengers. SLIDE 12 Now briefly, Great Lakes Avengers was a piece of self-parody on Marvel’s part. The Great Lakes Avengers were a group of joke characters who were created by John Byrne in 1989, and Dan Slott used them to make fun of the negative tendencies of post-‘80s superhero comics, including excessive violence and obsession with continuity. For a couple reasons, Squirrel Girl fit perfectly into this effort. First, her lighthearted, wholesome attitude allows her to make fun of the excessive violence and grimness of the comics of the period. And in this sense she acts as a mouthpiece for the author. This series breaks the fourth wall, so Squirrel Girl is aware she’s in a comic book. SLIDE 13 And she does things like complain about the unrealistic portrayal of women in superhero comics or the excessive level of violence. For example, in issue 3, Squirrel Girl looks at a comic book and says “Oh my, this poor lady! I think all her internal organs got squeezed up into her chest.” In the next issue, when her squirrel sidekick Monkey Joe is brutally killed, Squirrel Girl says “Don’t you get it? This is a comic book and comic books are supposed to be fun.” And she continues: “Who would do that and put it in a comic book? Who’d want to read about somebody dying like that?” SLIDE 14 Oh, and also it turns out Monkey Joe was killed by someone walking on his brain, which is a specific reference to a contemporary DC comic called Infinite Crisis where the Elongated Man’s wife is killed in the same way, and this is so subtle that even I didn’t get it. SLIDE 15 Now the humor here depends on the reader’s knowledge that excessive violence and sexist portrayals of women were endemic to superhero comics at the time. In other words, these jokes are only funny to you if you already read superhero comics and you are also annoyed at their graphic violence or their depictions of women with impossible proportions. The implied audience here is people who grew up reading superhero comics and who are annoyed at the direction the genre is taken.

Now Dan Slott also uses Squirrel Girl to tell another kind of joke that also appeals primarily to existing fans of superhero comics. Half the fun of superhero comics is their narrative consistency. The Marvel and DC Universes are giant shared universes where events in one title influence events in other titles, and that means maintaining consistency across the universe is important. Part of that is maintaining the relative power of characters. The other half of the fun of superhero comics is debating which character is the most powerful and which character could beat which other character up. So Dan Slott makes fun of that by exaggerating Squirrel Girl’s ability to defeat much more powerful villains, which was first demonstrated when she beat up Dr. Doom. In the GLXmas Holiday Special Squirrel Girl single-handedly defeats Thanos, off-panel, and Uatu the Watcher confirms that this is the real Thanos and not a clone or a Life Model Decoy. SLIDE 16 The joke here is that Thanos is one of the most powerful villains in the Marvel Universe, and not only did he just get beaten by a teenage girl and her pet rodents, but the fact that this happened is an official part of Marvel Universe continuity. So Dan Slott is using Squirrel Girl to make a mockery of the narrative logic of the Marvel Universe, and again, this joke is only funny to people who already understand that narrative logic.

So to summarize, when Squirrel Girl was created, she had no target audience at all. When she was reintroduced, her target audience was existing fans of Marvel comics. Now the current Unbeatable Squirrel Girl series marks a new direction for the character because its target audience is people who aren’t already fans of superhero comics, specifically including women and/or people who discovered comics through the Internet. Because of that, Squirrel Girl demonstrates how Marvel is transforming the superhero genre by broadening its appeal.

Now in the first place, Squirrel Girl is notable for its appeal to Internet fandom. All the previous Squirrel Girl comics were created by people who had worked primarily in superhero comics. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is written by Ryan North, who comes from a very different comics tradition; his other best-known works are his webcomic Dinosaur Comics and his Choose Your Own Adventure version of Hamlet. SLIDE 17 I don’t know as much about the artist, Erica Henderson, but her official biography states that she’s worked primarily in video game illustration and on non-superhero comics like Atomic Robo and Adventure Time. Now Unbeatable Squirrel Girl reflects the creators’ interests in digital and Internet culture. At the bottom of every page of every issue there’s a hidden message in barely readable text, which is essentially the same as the alt text in webcomics. The comic contains other references to Internet and video game culture. The cover of issue 4 is a deliberate homage to Marvel vs Capcom, SLIDE 18 and the actual issue begins with a fake Tumblr feed. The creators even manipulate the currently common practice of distributing preview pages from upcoming comic books over the Internet. In the preview of issue 4, there’s one page showing Squirrel Girl sitting on top of Galactus’s prone body and saying “Well, gosh, that wasn’t so hard after all!” SLIDE 19 And then the two pages after that are the letter column. Now when this issue was previewed on sites like comicbookresources.com, the preview included just these three pages. Customarily the letter column appears at the end of a comic book, so if you read the preview, you would think that this page here is the last page and the comic book ends with Squirrel Girl beating Galactus. But actually the preview pages are the first three pages in the comic, so the comic begins with Squirrel Girl beating Galactus and the rest of the comic comes after the letters page. I’ll pass around the comic book so you can see what I mean. The point is, this joke is only funny if you first read the preview of the comic book on the Internet, and then read the actual comic book.

So in order to get all these jokes, you have to be familiar with video games and Internet culture and other digital phenomena, and you also have to be reading comic books digitally, whereas in the previous Squirrel Girl comics, the humor basically just assumed knowledge of other comic books. That means the implied reader of this comic is someone who’s very media-savvy. And the protagonists of the comic are highly media-savvy themselves. You may have noticed that when Squirrel Girl was sitting on top of Galactus, she was taking a selfie. The other major character in the series, Squirrel Girl’s roommate Nancy, is a fanfiction writer who writes stories where her cat becomes Cat-Thor, Cat-God of Cat-Thunder. SLIDE 20 So Squirrel Girl is one of several recent Marvel titles that have included extended references to digital culture. And this is significant because in the past, Marvel was completely out of touch with the Internet; a notorious example of this is the scene in Civil War: Frontline where an interviewer asks Captain America if he has a Myspace page. SLIDE 21 But with titles like Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Marvel is reaching out to people who discovered comics not by visiting comic book stores but through Internet spaces like Scans_Daily and Tumblr, and this opens up the comic to new and diverse groups of fans. In this context it’s also relevant that in terms of the artwork, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl has much more in common with cartoons like Adventure Time than with typical superhero comics, and this means Squirrel Girl is more appealing to new readers than to people who are used to the typical Marvel house style. On comicbookresources.com, when the first issue was previewed, people complained about the artwork precisely because it didn’t look like a standard Marvel comic, but that’s the whole point. By using this style of artwork, Erica Henderson is able to attract fans of intellectual properties like Adventure Time that have much larger audiences than comic books.

But the other way that Unbeatable Squirrel Girl tries to attract a new audience is because it takes the character seriously, and again, this makes it a major departure from past Squirrel Girl comics. Under previous writers, Squirrel Girl’s unbeatability was a joke. Dan Slott decided to emphasize Squirrel Girl’s ability to defeat villains like Modok and Thanos because he wanted to make a mockery of the Marvel Universe – he was basically saying, look, fans, you think these villains are so powerful and awful, well, it turns out they can be beaten by a bucktoothed teenage girl with idiotic powers. And Squirrel Girl didn’t win these battles legitimately, she won because of authorial fiat, that is to say, she won because the writer said so. When Squirrel Girl defeats Thanos, it happens entirely off-panel and there’s no explanation of how she did it. By contrast, in Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Squirrel Girl wins because she deserves to win. She may just be a squirrel, but as she reminds us repeatedly, squirrels are pretty savage creatures, especially in large numbers. SLIDE 22 But on top of that, even though Squirrel Girl could just beat people up, she thinks it’s more important to make peace with them. In issue 1, she gets rid of Kraven the Hunter by convincing him to go hunt undersea monsters instead of Spider-Man. In issue 4, she quote-unquote “defeats” Galactus, the most powerful entity in the Marvel Universe, by convincing him that instead of eating Earth, he should go eat another planet that’s covered with delicious nuts. So this version of Squirrel Girl is a truly formidable character and she’s unbeatable because she uses her brains and her emotional intelligence as well as her squirrel powers. And she’s also depicted as a committed and responsible and intellectually curious person. She decides to study computer science in college instead of squirrels, because she already knows everything about squirrels and she doesn’t just want to be Squirrel Girl, she also wants to be Ensuring Consistency Across Distributed Database Systems Girl. She’s also comfortable with her body, despite not having the sort of physique that’s become stereotypical in superhero comics. Maybe the most widely shared panel of issue 1 on social media was this one, in which Squirrel Girl disguises her secret identity by stuffing her tail into her pants, so she “appear[s] to have a conspicuously large and conspicuously awesome butt.” SLIDE 23 As Kelly Thompson writes, “Squirrel Girl is also not drawn to look “traditionally beautiful” … her body shape, height, and even her haircut are totally atypical for “pretty” and idealized comic book heroines. It’s actually kind of amazing that the book gets away with it and I love everyone involved all the more for just going for it.” So I would argue that in all these ways, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a subversively feminist superhero title in the sense that it takes what was previously a joke character and turns her into a genuine role model, an example of positive female representation that a broad range of readers can identify with.

But in a larger sense, the reason Unbeatable Squirrel Girl expands the scope of the superhero genre because it unabashedly accepts the silliness of the superhero genre. Because even though this comic takes Squirrel Girl seriously, this is still a humor title. It features things like a giant human-sized squirrel colony punching people. Now Great Lakes Avengers is also a humor title, but its humor is fundamentally negative. It emphasizes the embarrassing nature of the superhero genre and it makes the reader feel ashamed of reading it. This is a common theme in parodies of comic book fandom, although there are others, like Evan Dorkin’s Eltingville Club, that are far harsher. SLIDE 24 The difference with Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is that it accepts the fundamental silliness and implausibility of the superhero genre and suggests that this is a good thing and that reading superhero comics is not something anyone should be ashamed of. And this is important because it shatters the prejudice that superhero comics are only for basement-dwelling nerds. Ultimately the message of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is that a girl with squirrel powers is neither more nor less silly than a man who dresses up as a bat, and that the one is just as valid as the other.

Reviews of 105 comic books (give or take)

5-17-15

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #32 (IDW, 2014) – I accidentally skipped this while I was trying to catch up on my backlog of issues of this series. The main attraction of this comic for me is James Roberts’s hilarious dialogue, but this issue is also a very creepy piece of horror writing. A bunch of Autobots find themselves on a planet full of unexplained corpses, and have to figure out what’s been going on. This creates an oppressive, threatening atmosphere. This comic is high on my list of “series that I’ve been buying but not reading and that I need to get caught up on.”

SUICIDE SQUAD #12 (DC, 1987) – In part two of “Blood & Snow,” the Squad goes on a mission against a Colombian drug lord. As usual there are some fantastic character moments here. When Captain Boomerang discovers a bundle of cocaine lying unattended, his first thought is that it’s worth millions of dollars and he’s rich, and he’s heartbroken when Black Orchid flies off with him before he can grab it. More seriously, Vixen kills someone who… actually I’m not sure what he did because I haven’t read issue 11, but he did something awful to her, and she kills him and is heartbroken about it. The issue ends with an epilogue in which some fat bald dude tells a woman that he takes cocaine because “it’s not really anybody’s business but my own. After all… who’s it going to hurt?” This is a prety powerful scene.

DNAGENTS #8 (Eclipse, 1984) – Neither of the two stories in this issue really did anything for me. The first story has an overcomplicated and forgettable plot involving some sort of stereotypical Latin American dictator. The second story is a solo story featuring Surge, who is easily my least favorite DNAgent; he has no positive qualities that I can detect.

LIFE WITH ARCHIE #37 (Archie, 2014) – This is an attractively presented comic and it offers a satisfying conclusion to the Life with Archie saga. My main problem with it is that I just don’t like this adult Archie storyline in general. I enjoyed Michael Uslan’s two Archie Marries… stories, but Paul Kupperberg’s Life with Archie just seems so whitebread and bland and unrealistic. It’s weird that the characters can be shot dead, but they can’t have sex or have children. Afterlife with Archie proves that it is possible to write Archie comics for an older audience, and I don’t think that Paul Kupperberg does that nearly as well as Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa.

LOVE AND CAPES #13 (Maerkle Press, 2010) – I love this series because of its endearing characters and its sophisticated, webcomics-influenced style of humor. Also, I see Thom Zahler at pretty much every convention I attend, and he seems like a very friendly man. My main problem with this series is that the characters are all rather privileged, and their problems are problems that I’d personally love to have – Zahler does not seem interested in exploring issues of poverty or racism or whatever. But that’s probably an unfair criticism. This issue, in which Mark and Abby return from their honeymoon, is a good example of the Love & Capes formula. It was released as an FCBD issue and would be appropriate for new readers.

WOMANTHOLOGY: SPACE #3 (IDW, 2012) – Unfortunately two of the three stories in this issue are completely forgettable. The exception is the second story by Rachel Edidin and Sophia Foster-Dimino, an adorable piece of work in which two little girls build a functioning spaceship. I’ve known Rachel for a while via the Internet and conventions, but this is the first actual comic I’ve seen from her. Sophia Foster-Dimino, who I’d never heard of before, has a very charming style of art which reminds me of children’s book illustration. It looks like she mostly works in illustration and fine art rather than comics.

On April 20, I got a shipment of comics from DCBS. It was too bad that I also had a bunch of grading to do that day, so I had limited reading time.

LUMBERJANES #13 (Boom!, 2015) – This is possibly the best issue of the entire series, and that is saying a lot – although as Mordechai Luchins points out, this issue wouldn’t have had nearly the same impact if it had been the first issue instead of the thirteenth. This issue reveals all kinds of fascinating new information about the five protagonists, but you get the impression that Noelle and Shannon aren’t just making this information up – they knew all along that Jo has two dads, for example, and they decided to wait to let us know. I wonder what else Noelle and Shannon know about the Lumberjanes that we don’t. Maybe the highlight of the issue was meeting Ripley’s huge biracial family. I notice that she has two siblings named Deckard and Leeloo, so I assume the others are also named after science fiction characters. On the other hand, it’s kind of sad that Mal arrives at camp in a taxi because her mother (?) is too busy or lazy to drop her off. The fourth panel on page 10, where Mal is wandering through a crowd of parents and kids bidding each other farewell, is pretty depressing. I can’t remember if we know anything about Mal’s family situation, but it seems like she and her parents or guardians are not on the best of terms. Though at the same time, it’s kind of cool how Mal is not sad at all that her parents aren’t there to see her off. I’m kind of sad that this issue is a one-shot because I want to learn more about the prehistory of the Lumberjanes.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #4 (Marvel, 2015) – The order of the pages in the preview is correct. The issue really does begin with a splash page of Squirrel Girl sitting on top of Galactus’s prone body and saying “that wasn’t so hard after all,” and then the next two pages are the letter column. Of course there’s more to the issue, but it comes after the letter column. This is a trick I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. The way Squirrel Girl deals with Galactus is very satisfying – she doesn’t just defeat him off-panel, like with Thanos. And the final scene with Doreen and Nancy is rather cute. I will have more to say about this comic in my Wiscon paper, which I need to write over the next two days.

SENSATION COMICS FEATURING WONDER WOMAN #9 (DC, 2015) – “The Problem with Cats” is by Lauren Beukes and Mike Maihack, probably the most impressive creative team on any DC comic in recent memory (besides Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams III). Mike is an absolute treasure; he’s kind of like Colleen Coover in that his artwork is a joy to look at, no matter what he’s drawing. DC should hire him to do an ongoing Supergirl-Batgirl series, except he’d probably make less money from that than from Cleopatra in Space. The writing in this story is also adorable, and I like the fact that it’s set in South Africa, but that you wouldn’t realize that unless you knew Lauren Beukes was from there. Unlike with last issue, the backup story in this issue does not completely pale in comparison with the lead story. “Girls’ Day Out” is intelligently written and the artwork is up to Chris Sprouse’s usual standards.

MIND MGMT #32 (Dark Horse, 2015) – This issue focuses on Duncan and Perrier (whose name I couldn’t remember and had to look up) as they try to obtain new recruits. It’s structured as a series of three barely related vignettes, and it doesn’t seem to impact the story very much. Overall it’s not the best recent issue.

MS. MARVEL #14 (Marvel, 2015) – I am shocked, shocked that the guy who seemed way too good to be true is in fact too good to be true. Kamran’s face-heel turn was the least surprising plot twist ever, but the way it happened was funny and unexpected, and I think this story will have lasting consequences for Kamala and Bruno’s relationship. I think the best bit in this issue was the “would you show me yours” line. One of my favorite things about Kamala’s character is that she’s goofy and awkward – I’ll return to this point when I discuss issue 15 below.

PRINCELESS: THE PIRATE PRINCESS #3 (Action Lab, 2015) – Pretty much more of the same as last issue. Adrienne and Raven team up and fight The Mad Morel. I don’t have anything to say about this comic that wasn’t covered in earlier reviews of this series.

GROO: FRIENDS AND FOES #4 (Dark Horse, 2015) – In this issue, Groo acts stupid, fails spectacularly at everything he tries to achieve, and causes a series of horrible disasters, despite having good intentions. The issue is brilliantly drawn by Sergio Aragonés and is enlivened by Mark Evanier’s witty dialogue. Also, the issue begins with a poem and ends with a moral, and includes a cleverly hidden message. Oh wait, I just described every issue of Groo ever. This issue is a rather formulaic story in which Arcadio breeds dragons so he can trick people into paying him for training in dragon defense. In my memory it blurred together with Groo the Wanderer #53, which is also about dragon breeding. I wonder if Mark and Sergio are having trouble coming up with new ways to tell the same old joke.

CHEW #48 (Image, 2015) – This is another series that’s getting kind of formulaic. The standard Chew formula is that every issue introduces yet another villain with a new weird food-related power, and this issue is no exception. The villains this time are a bunch of Jello assassins. I feel like this series is just marking time until issue 50.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #14 (Marvel, 2015) – A major problem with the previous volume of Captain Marvel was that several issues were part of a crossover and were not understandable if you weren’t following the crossover. That problem comes up again with this issue, which is chapter 11 of Black Vortex. Since I haven’t read any of the previous ten chapters, this issue makes no sense to me at all. On top of that, based on this issue I get the impression that Black Vortex is a pretty boring and stupid crossover, and I see no reason why I would even want to read chapters one through ten. So overall this is a complete waste of an issue and it reinforces my growing sense of frustration with KSDC.

KAPTARA #1 (Image, 2015) – I had no idea what to expect from this comic, and it’s completely different from anything I could have expected. This issue initially appears to be a realistic story about space travel, but then all the astronauts get killed except one who’s a gay black man. And the latter character ends up on a world which is based on ‘80s cartoons like He-Man and Thundercats. Having been an avid fan of He-Man as a child, I think this is a really cool premise and I’m excited to see what Chip Zdarsky and Kagan McLeod do with it.

THOR #7 (Marvel, 2015) – This is essentially interchangeable with any other issue of this series. It has beautiful art by Russell Dauterman and it continues the mystery over Thor’s secret identity. At the end of this issue I was convinced that Thor was Roz Solomon, and of course that’s what Jason wanted me to think.

CONVERGENCE: SUPERBOY AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #1 (DC, 2015) – This is only an average Legion comic, which is infuriating because there are so many creators in the industry who could do an incredible Legion comic, and some of those creators are even working for DC already. Just imagine a Legion comic written by Noelle Stevenson and drawn by Mike Maihack, for example. I remain convinced that the Legion is the best intellectual property DC owns, and I still haven’t forgiven them for the way they’ve run the franchise into the ground. My major complaint about this issue is that it’s just a thoroughly average comic. My minor complaint has to do with the suggestion of romance between Superboy and Light Lass. There is no precedent for this in either character’s history – I can’t remember them ever even interacting before. And this is bad because it gives me the impression that Stuart Moore just chose a girl Legionnaire at random to be Superboy’s romantic partner. On top of all this, the entire Convergence project is fatally flawed because this whole dome battle business is stupid and there’s no reason anyone should care about it. I bought this comic because I want to read about my favorite characters from the old DCU, not because I want to read about a Hunger Games/Battle Royale-esque clash between cities. Only DC’s editorial staff would have thought this dome business was a good idea. Overall, I think the Legion deserves better than this comic.

YUMMY FUR #21 (Vortex, 1990) – “Disgust” is about the first time Chester Brown bought an issue of Playboy magazine, and I believe it was reprinted in the graphic novel The Playboy, which I read a long time ago. I just had an intense Facebook discussion about Paying For It, and I think The Playboy is better than that book, because Chester Brown is much better at writing about his own psychology than he is at writing about social problems.

MANIFEST DESTINY #14 (Image, 2015) – The giant bird thing in this issue is adorable and horrible, and I’m glad that the subplot involving Sacagawea’s pregnancy is finally going somewhere, but I do think the main plot in this series could be progressing at a quicker pace.

CHEW #47 (Image, 2015) – I accidentally forgot to read this until after I read issue 48. This one is similar to #48, but worse because I already knew the plot twist at the end.

INVISIBLE REPUBLIC #1 (Image, 2015) – Gabriel Hardman’s artwork in this issue is very impressive; it reminds me of Michael Lark. But in terms of the story, it seems like just a formulaic piece of science fiction. I don’t feel especially excited to read the next issue.

SUPREME #47 (Maximum, 1997) – This may have been the only issue of Alan Moore’s Supreme that I didn’t already have. It’s neither significantly better nor worse than other issues of this run. I think the highlight is the Silver-Age style flashback story starring Jack-a-Dandy, a brilliantly flamboyant villain. The female Robin character in this story is adorable.

SNARKED! #2 (Boom!, 2011) – Another quality issue of probably the best children’s comic book of the decade. I think this is the issue that introduces the Griffin, and there’s not much else about it that’s specifically notable.

EMPIRE: UPRISING #1 (IDW, 2015) – This is a collected edition of a story that was serialized on Thrillbent.com, so I ought to look at it again when/if I finally get around to writing about Thrillbent. It’s been over a decade since the previous Empire series was published, and I barely remember any of the characters except Golgoth. My other concern with this comic is that it’s extremely mean-spirited. The protagonists are a bunch of villains who have successfully taken over the world, so the reader is actively rooting against them, and there is no one to sympathize with. Though as I write this, I realize that maybe that’s the point. Maybe the idea is that we’re supposed to identify with the villains even though they’re a bunch of horrible bastards. Maybe this is why I’m looking forward to the next issue of this comic.

CAPTURE CREATURES #3 (Boom!, 2015) – Like several other current Boom titles (e.g. Teen Dog and Help Us! Great Warrior), this series is cute but not particularly substantial. Also, it’s been a while since the last issue and I’m having trouble remembering who the ancillary characters are.

TEEN DOG #7 (Boom!, 2015) – This is the inevitable prom issue. It’s cute but it’s basically the same thing as every other issue of this series, which is why I didn’t bother to read it immediately when it came out.

TEEN DOG #8 (Boom!, 2015) – The final issue. This was a really cute series which effectively created a sense of nostalgia for high school. I would not consider it a classic, but I’m glad I read it and I’m kind of sad that it’s over.

CONVERGENCE: HAWKMAN #1 (DC, 2015) – This was much better than the other Convergence issue reviewed above, even though it has the same problem of being part of a stupid crossover that no one cares about. Jeff Parker is probably the most underrated comic book writer of recent years, and although this issue is not quite as good as another one I’ll be discussing below, it’s still a quality superhero comic. The “greatest museum exhibit ever” line is probably the highlight of the issue in terms of the writing. Tim Truman’s artwork looks a little crude compared to his earlier work, but it’s unquestionably him, and it reminds me powerfully of Hawkworld. If the point of Convergence is to remind us of great comics of the past, then this issue succeeded at that.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #42 (DC, 1993) – This is the one where Luornu Durgo gets back the body that was killed by the Time Trapper. As with many issues of the v4 Legion, this issue contains a lot of interesting material but is also fatally flawed. I don’t even know if I can explain this coherently, but… in issue 50 of the v3 Legion, four Legionnaires fought the Time Trapper, and one of Luornu’s bodies was killed. In v4 of the Legion, the events of v3 #50 were retconned such that it was Glorith who fought the four Legionnaires and killed Luornu’s second body, not the Time Trapper. And this retcon is the basis of the events in the issue I’m reviewing now. This is the sort of retcon I just can’t accept, because it blatantly contradicts what was shown on-panel in the actual comic books I have v3 #50, it’s right there in my boxes, and I can clearly see that the villain in that issue was the Time Trapper, and you’re expecting me to reread that issue and mentally insert Glorith wherever I see the Time Trapper? Screw that. Anyway, besides all that, this issue isn’t so bad. The best part is the diary entry which depicts Luornu’s feelings after the loss of each of her first two bodies. The idea that Luornu’s three bodies each had different personalities is also a retcon, but it’s acceptable because it’s not impossible to reconcile with earlier stories.

AVENGERS: THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE #9 (Marvel, 2012) – A disappointing and depressing conclusion to the series. At the end of this issue, the team disbands and there’s no indication of any further narrative possibilities for them. Also, in this issue Allan Heinberg has Wanda say “I’ve only ever been Pietro’s twin, Magneto’s daughter, the Vision’s wife. It’s time for me to take responsibility for myself,” which is an insult to the past writers, especially Steve Englehart and Kurt Busiek, who’ve worked to develop Wanda’s character.

DOOM PATROL #29 (DC, 1990) – Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol is possibly the best Marvel or DC comic that I haven’t read in its entirety. I’m not sure why not. This issue is the conclusion to the Painting That Ate Paris story arc. It would have had more of an impact on me if I’d read it in the proper order (see review of #28 below), but it does fascinating things with metafiction and metalepsis and mise-en-abyme and stuff. I need to make a priority of collecting the rest of this run.

MY LITTLE PONY: FIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #3 (IDW, 2015) – The villains in this issue are Aria Blaze, Adagio Dazzle and Sonata Dusk, who I’d never heard of before because I haven’t been following the Equestria Girls films. This issue really did nothing for me. I guess it was kind of cool to see Equestria in the distant past, but there was nothing in this issue that excited me.

MY LITTLE PONY: FIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #4 (IDW, 2015) – Another issue that’s average but not great. I think the Nyx people from the moon have appeared before in the comic, but not in this particular role of creating ponies’ dreams. The two primary Nyx characters in this issue are named Doran and Gaiman, which is the sort of inside joke that’s annoying rather than funny.

CHEW #32 (Image, 2013) – The surprise revelation in this issue is that Caesar has been collaborating with Mason Savoy for the entire series. This was even a surprise to me because it wasn’t entirely clear from any of the later issues. Other than that, this is just another Chew comic.

ANT-MAN #1 (Marvel, 2015) – This is a well-drawn and reasonably well-written comic. My main problem with it is that it erases all the work Allan Heinberg did in developing Cassie Lang’s character. In Young Avengers, Stature was depicted as an energetic young superhero in training, but this series depicts her as a stereotypical teenage girl with no powers. For that matter, Scott Lang’s characterization is also off. Nick Spencer writes him as an irresponsible buffoon, ignoring the stuff that Matt Fraction and Mike Allred did with his character in FF. This comic is still fun, but Nick Spencer’s willful disregard of other writers’ work is annoying.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #30 (DC, 1992) – This issue deals with the fallout from the Dominion’s assassination of Earth president Tayla Wellington. There’s so much going on in this issue that none of it has any impact. You get the impression that the Giffbaums’ narrative ambitions were too great, and that they could have used a second monthly Legion title (which they eventually got). The best parts of this issue are the scenes with the SW6 Legionnaires.

SUPERBOY #62 (DC, 1999) – I have a bunch of issues of Kesel and Grummett’s second run on Superboy, but I still haven’t gotten around to most of them. This issue is a chapter of “Hyper-Tension,” in which an evil Superboy named Black Zero chases Kon-El across Hypertime. As I may have mentioned before, this is the only story that ever did anything interesting with the Hypertime concept. This particular issue, which reveals Black Zero’s origin, is excessively plot-heavy.

DOOM PATROL #28 (DC, 1989) – The penultimate chapter of “The Painting That Ate Paris” reveals that the painting in question has multiple levels, each of which is associated with a particular 20th-century art style: impressionism, cubism, futurism, etc. It’s fascinating how Grant Morrison changes his prose style to reflect the style of the level where the story is taking place. For example, when the characters reach the impressionism level of the painting, the first caption is “Perfumed air and light on the leaves. Light falling like snow, like chamber music.” Unfortunately Richard Case doesn’t quite have the talent to represent each of these art styles accurately. I’d like to see Grant revisit this story with J.H. Williams III as the artist.

Now we get to some comics that I can clearly remember reading. I need to write these reviews twice a month instead of once a month. Some of the comics below were purchased at Queen City Comix in Fairfield on Free Comic Book Day.

SILK #2 (Marvel, 2015) – In this issue, Silk fights some giant octopus-skull-thing in the sewers, then encounters her ex-boyfriend, who now has a new girlfriend. I would rate this comic below both Ms. Marvel and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl – it’s not as dense or as emotionally involving – but it’s still better than most female-led superhero comics of the past.

WOLFF & BYRD, COUNSELORS OF THE MACABRE #21 (Exhibit A, 1998) – This issue is an obvious homage to Rashomon, though this is not explicitly stated. The frame story takes place in the distant future, where three college students each tell their own version of a story of one of Wolff & Byrd’s cases, involving a magical artifact that can summon a giant monster. One of the three stories is drawn in a distinctly manga-esque style, and I wonder if it was drawn by Batton himself or by one of the two people credited with “art assists.” As usual with this series, this is a very intelligently written story which combines relationship drama, specialized legal knowledge, and bad puns (“that’s the way Dekoo Kei crumbled”).

CONVERGENCE: NEW TEEN TITANS #1 (DC, 2015) – I bought this because I’m a lifelong Dick/Kory shipper, and in this issue Dick and Kory are married (somewhat unhappily). I’ve long since lost faith in Marv Wolfman as a writer, and I’ve given up on the possibility that DC can ever recapture the magic of the ‘80s New Teen Titans. As I wrote on Facebook: “The ’70s Swamp Thing and the ’80s New Teen Titans were successful because they had original ideas and they appealed to their contemporary audiences. But DC seems to have learned exactly the wrong lesson from this. Instead of publishing comics that appeal to today’s youth, they’re trying to rehash the ’70s Swamp Thing and the ’80s New Teen Titans, in hopes that they’ll still be relevant to readers today.” That having been said, there is nothing wrong with revisiting the ‘80s Titans for just two issues, and this issue does a good job of reminding me why that series was so great. Too bad about the stupid Convergence plot, though.

DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES #43 (Gladstone, 1997) – This was easily the most exciting thing I bought on Free Comic Book Day. Don Rosa’s “The Lost Charts of Columbus” is a sequel to Barks’s “The Golden Helmet” and also draws upon Rosa’s own “Guardians of the Lost Library.” In this issue, the villains from Barks’s story, Azure Blue and Lawyer Sharky, try to become the legal owners of North America by finding evidence of pre-Columbian discovery of America. So Donald and his nephews have to stop them by finding evidence of even older discoveries of America. As a result of this, the story mentions pretty much every theory about pre-Columbian transoceanic content (as Wikipedia calls it), from Madog ap Owain Gwynedd to St. Brendan to Hui Shen to Hanno the Navigator. Of course in real life almost all these theories have been proven false, but the fact that Rosa even knows about all of them is a testament to his historical knowledge and his research ability. The story ends with the revelation that it was actually Native Americans who discovered Europe and not the other way around, and the last panel shows a painting of Columbus with a pained expression on his face. This is a welcome contrast to the typically negative portrayals of indigenous people in duck comics.

GROO THE WANDERER #111 (Marvel, 1994) – In this issue, Groo acts stupid, fails spectacularly at everything he tries to achieve, and, okay, never mind, I still have a bunch more Groo comics to review and I’m getting tired of this joke. In a reversal of the usual pattern, the most recent issues of Marvel’s Groo are the hardest ones to find, thanks to their low print run. I have eighteen of the first twenty issues of this series, but until FCBD this year, I didn’t have any of the last ten. The scarcity of the late issues is annoying because Mark and Sergio’s humor got more subtle and politically relevant as the series went on. In this issue, the Minstrel tells a story about a man who claimed to have killed Groo, and who was obviously proven wrong, with disastrous results. The man in the story is named Oslaf, “Falso” spelled backwards, and his town is called Mentiras, Spanish for lies, so the implication is that the Minstrel’s story is itself a lie. So this story turns out to be a surprisingly sophisticated investigation of the topic of lying.

INFINITE LOOP #1 (IDW, 2015) – I’m still not sure whether this comic was originally published in French or in English. It looks like it was originally designed for the comic book format rather than the album format, and the artwork doesn’t look particularly Franco-Belgian to me. Either way, this comic maybe tries to do too much in too little space, but it’s a fun piece of work which engages with issues of both time travel and LGBTQ identity. I look forward to seeing where this goes. The premise reminds me a lot of Fritz Leiber’s The Big Time.

SCARY GODMOTHER: WILD ABOUT HARRY #1 (Sirius, 2000) – The Harry in the title is not Harry Potter, but Harry the spoiled, lazy werewolf. Scary Godmother is an incredibly charming and funny and beautifully drawn comic. However, I sometimes hesitate to read it just because it’s so dense; there’s so much stuff going on in every panel. On top of that, Jill’s artwork can be difficult to parse because it’s black and white with little shading, and all the lines are the same thickness. I think her stuff works better in color. Nonetheless, this is an impressive piece of work. I wonder what Jill’s been doing lately – her most recent work that I can think of is Magic Trixie.

FANTASTIC FOUR #554 (Marvel, 2008) – I believe this was the first issue by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch. I normally hate Millar’s writing, but in this series he was able to tone down his excessive tendencies, and this issue has some cute characterization and some brilliant Kirbyesque artwork by Hitch.

L.E.G.I.O.N. ’90 #13 (DC, 1990) – The plot this issue is that Garryn Bek gets possessed by the Emerald Eye, causing him to go berserk and attack his teammates. Like Suicide Squad, this is a series where every issue is of uniformly high quality, but there’s not much to distinguish one issue from another.

SKREEMER #3 (DC, 1989) – I bought this because Ben Lipman, Ian Gould and Chris Nowlin all recommended it on Facebook, right after I shared the sad news of Brett Ewins’s death. Unfortunately, when I read this I forgot I had also already bought issue 1 for the same reason, so this comic didn’t make much sense to me. There’s some interesting stuff going on here, but the plot takes place in multiple time frames at once, and I feel like I need to have read the previous two issues in order to understand what’s going on.

GIANT DAYS #1 (Boom!, 2015) – Shannon Watters may be the best editor in comics right now. It’s too bad there’s no longer an Eisner award for that, or she’d be a good candidate. This comic is a slice-of-life story about British university undergrads, with effective characterization and an attractive, cartoonish style of artwork. I haven’t felt especially motivated to read the second or third issues yet, but this seems like a quality series.

ROCKET RACCOON #10 (Marvel, 2015) – In this issue, Rocket battles a giant crab monster and then runs away from police who are trying to arrest him, and that’s basically it. Jake Parker’s artwork is fairly effective, but the story is forgettable. This is the next-to-last issue of this series, and I’m not going to miss it very much, because it never recovered the momentum it lost after Skottie Young quit doing the art.

NEW MUTANTS #46 (Marvel, 1986) – This is a Mutant Massacre crossover, so it’s an extremely grim and depressing story in which the New Mutants encounter all kinds of death and destruction. As a result, this comic is not particularly fun to read, even though it includes some nice pieces of characterization. I think my favorite scene in the issue is when Rahne and Bobby get into a petty fight – it emphasizes that they play the same role in this group as Jack and Katie in Power Pack.

SUICIDE SQUAD #20 (DC, 1988) – This is a hilarious issue. The premise here is that Captain Boomerang is moonlighting as the Mirror Master, having somehow acquired the Mirror Master’s costume and weapons. And then Amanda Waller assigns both Captain Boomerang and Mirror Master to the same mission, so it’s basically the same as one of those sitcom episodes where a character goes on two dates at the same time. It turns out that the whole mission is an elaborate ruse designed to trick Captain Boomerang into revealing his double identity. This issue emphasizes why Digger is such a great character – he’s unrepentantly evil and completely self-centered, but in a funny way.

GROO THE WANDERER #115 (Marvel, 1994) – This is the latest issue of Marvel’s Groo that I have. It’s part two of a two-parter in which Groo battles some bandits who live on an inaccessible mountaintop and use giant birds to harass the people living below. I think the best moment this issue is page 13, where in panel one, Groo thinks “I cannot find weapons for the people who live at the bottombase of the mountain covered in bird droppings… oh, if only I knew where to get fertilizer” (since there’s another town that makes excellent weapons, but they want fertilizer in exchange). And after thinking about it for an entire page, Groo finally realizes the obvious solution to his problem. It’s a good example of how Groo, left to his own devices, will sometimes come up with the correct solution; it just takes him a while. Oddly, this issue ends with Groo, Rufferto, and a lot of other people falling to their apparent deaths. Obviously Groo and Rufferto didn’t die, and I wonder if the next issue explains why not.

LADY KILLER #4 (Dark Horse, 2015) – This issue is most notable for a hilariously awkward scene in which Josie tries to do assassination-related work and watch her kids at the same time. Of course the kids are too young to realize that anything weird is going on with Josie, and even if they did realize that their mother was a hired assassin, no one would believe them. A more curious question is how Josie’s husband completely fails to realize that his wife is a professional killer, although I suppose the explanation is that he’s just oblivious.

HARLEY QUINN #15 (DC, 2015) – “Demental Overload” begins by introducing us to a variety of new female characters, including a waitress in an Indian restaurant who’s being harassed by racist white customers. The end of the issue reveals that these characters are all Harley’s future assistants, which is a really cool idea. This series feels like a guilty pleasure somehow, but I’m enjoying it anyway (well, I guess that’s part of the definition of a guilty pleasure).

TERRIBLE LIZARD #5 (Oni, 2015) – A very predictable conclusion to this miniseries. The only surprising thing is that Jess’s dad lets her believe he killed Wrex, when he just sent Wrex back in time. This was not the best comic of the year by any means, but at least it promised what it delivered: an exciting adventure starring a teenage girl and her dinosaur. Speaking of which, I don’t suppose we’re ever going to see another issue of Super Dinosaur. I guess Kirkman said that it was on hiatus rather than cancelled, but I don’t believe that.

BRAVEST WARRIORS #24 (Boom!, 2014) – I keep buying this series even though I don’t really know what’s going on or who the characters are. I just think Kate Leth’s writing and Ian McGinty’s artwork are extremely fun. With this issue, I was even more lost than usual because it’s the second part of a two-parter. Maybe over the summer I can catch up on the actual Bravest Warriors cartoon. By the way, I should remind myself that this series has “alt text” at the bottom of each page, just like Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #34 (IDW, 2014) – This issue has an awesome cover (in which a character accuses the reader of complicity in lawbreaking by buying a comic book whose cover features a character not appearing therein). But I don’t remember much of anything about the actual issue, except that it includes a scene where an apparent corpse turns out to be alive, like in the movie Saw.

INVINCIBLE #62 (Image, 2009) – “Conquest, Part 2” is an ultraviolent extended fight scene in which Mark and Conquest beat the crap out of each other. Normally I hate this sort of thing. One of the earlier issues of this story was the first issue of Invincible I read, and I disliked it so much that I didn’t return to the series for over a year. However, this issue is surprisingly okay. Conquest is the most loathsome, disgusting villain in the series, and Kirkman succeeds in encouraging the reader to hate him and to root for Mark to beat him.

INVINCIBLE #63 (Image, 2009) – The same as above, except this issue ends with Eve’s apparent death. This would have had more impact if I didn’t already know that Eve was still going to be alive five years later. Indeed, she comes back to life in the next issue. I can think of at least three times that Eve’s come close to getting killed in this series, but I wouldn’t accuse Kirkman of fridging because Eve does have her own story; her apparent death is not just a means of advancing Mark’s character arc.

INVINCIBLE #65 (Image, 2009) – In this issue Mark and Eve attend Rex’s funeral, and Robot decides to take Rex’s name. I still don’t understand the relationship between Rex and Robot; I think they’re different characters but I’m not sure. Then Mark and Eve go home and have sex. I wonder if this is when their first, aborted child was conceived. This issue was not spectacular but it was a nice break from the brutal violence of the previous three issues.

GROO THE WANDERER #47 (Marvel, 1989) – In “The 300% Solution,” Arcadio enlists Groo to help him steal a priceless relic from a tower. Groo can’t do it alone (since obviously Arcadio has no intention of actually doing anything), so he recruits every other major character in the series to help him, offering each of them 50% of the proceeds. Hilarity ensues. And in the end no one gets anything, because Groo decides to cut the Gordian knot by destroying the relic. This is not the best Groo story but it’s funny.

CONAN: ROAD OF KINGS #1 (Dark Horse, 2010) – It’s kind of cool that Roy Thomas is still writing Conan. This issue brings back pleasant memories from his earlier runs on the series. I may have mentioned before that I associate Conan much more with Roy than with Robert E. Howard. Roy Thomas’s Conan is my Conan. That having been said, this is kind of a boring story. All that happens is that Conan commands a pirate ship, gets marooned with his current mistress after his ship sinks, and decides to set off for who knows where. I’d only buy the second issue of this miniseries if I saw it in a quarter box or if I was desperate for more Conan.

FANTASTIC FOUR #564 (Marvel, 2009) – Another Millar-Hitch issue. This has an adorable cover which is an homage to Norman Rockwell’s “freedom from want” painting, though it’s spoiled by a snarky caption saying that “nothing this lame happens inside.” The story itself also includes a lot of cute moments. The plot is that the family go to visit Reed’s old college friends in Scotland (no coincidence given who the writer is), and there’s clearly some weird stuff going on in their town. The trouble with this issue is that, as often happens in current FF comics, Franklin is depicted as if he’s younger than Valeria, even though the writer and artist are both aware that this is not the case. Val even says at one point that Franklin acts like he’s her little brother.

SAVAGE DRAGON #155 (Image, 2009) – Part one of “Dragon War” is hampered by being dependent on a bunch of confusing continuity. I don’t think I’ll ever understand just how many parallel worlds there are in this series, or what the relationship is between them. I don’t think anyone else understands this either except Erik Larsen himself and his most devoted letterhacks. But this story depends on the premise that there are two different Dragons. Other than that, there’s not much that’s particularly interesting about this issue.

SNARKED! #8 (Boom!, 2012) – I liked this better than #2, reviewed above, mostly because I didn’t already know the ending. In this issue, the Griffin tries to kidnap the main characters by summoning a frumious bandersnatch to attack their ship, but of course it doesn’t work, thanks largely to the Walrus and the Carpenter’s heroism. The Walrus is the deepest and most dynamic character in this story, and this issue is key to his evolution from a Phoney Bone-esque selfish sociopath into a hero. His transformation is largely the result of his falling in love with a penguin last issue (yes, a penguin). I still need to get the last four issues of this series.

HELLBLAZER #69 (DC, 1993) – A very depressing issue. Having been dumped by Kit, John is now living in the streets in a state of complete squalor. Then the King of the Vampires shows up and tries to drink his blood, but dies because John has demon blood. So John is a hero, I guess, but at the end of the story he’s still living in complete squalor. There’s one scene in this issue that includes the line “I am just going outside and may be some time,” which was supposedly said by Lawrence Oates when he voluntarily walked to his death during Robert Falcon Scott’s Antarctic expedition.

QUACK! #1 (Star*Reach, 1976) – This was the first issue of a funny animal anthology published by Star*Reach. I assumed it was also the only issue, but there were five more. It also appears to have nothing to do with Howard the Duck besides the involvement of Frank Brunner. This issue has sort of an all-star cast of creators, including Brunner, Howard Chaykin and Dave Stevens. However, none of their work in this issue is as good as they’re capable of. The Chaykin/Alan Kupperberg story seems to be some kind of satire of the dating scene, but I wasn’t able to make any sense of it. Dave Stevens’s story in this issue, in which he does pencils over Scott Shaw!’s layouts, must be some of his earliest comic book work – it predates his first solo comic book story, which was in 1977. Sadly, it’s a pretty dumb story and a waste of his talent.

HOLLYWOOD SUPERSTARS #3 (Marvel, 1991) – “The Tunnel” is the first part of a two-parter. Trish’s ex-boyfriend Ronald Gage moves to Hollywood to work as a stuntman, and after proving himself to be a complete and utter jerk, he gets himself killed attempting an unsafe stunt. As usual, the highlight of this story is Dan Spiegle’s gorgeous artwork, though Mark’s story is also interesting; I wouldn’t be surprised if it were based on personal knowledge of unsafe working conditions in the stunt industry. This issue also includes an essay by Mark about Johnny Carson. One reason I enjoy Mark’s essays is because of his incredible depth of knowledge about Hollywood, television, and comics. I think he may know more about popular culture than anyone I’ve ever met, and I have no idea where he gets all this information.

On May 14, I received a shipment of three weeks’ worth of comics:

SAGA #28 (Image, 2015) – The obvious high point of this issue is Yuma’s heroic and tragic sacrifice. She will be missed. Though I don’t know what her sacrifice accomplished if anything, because Marko and Prince Robot still seem to be in as much trouble as before. Other than that, this issue advances the plot in a variety of ways, but is not especially memorable. One question I have is how old Hazel is at this point. The last time her age was stated, she was less than two, but she must be significantly older by now, considering how well she can talk.

ASTRO CITY #23 (DC, 2015) – On the letters page, Kurt writes that “a superhero universe that doesn’t have talking gorillas in it simply isn’t finished yet.” One can hardly disagree. Sticks is yet another great Astro City protagonist. He’s as goofy and ridiculous as one would expect a giant talking gorilla to be, yet his story is genuinely poignant. He left his hometown because it’s an awful place and he didn’t fit in, yet Astro City is no place for him either. I expect the endpoint of this story will be that Sticks, equipped with knowledge of the outside world, will return to his home and try to change it for the better. I look forward to seeing whether I’m right about this.

SILVER SURFER #11 (Marvel, 2015) – The hype for this issue was justified. This is the most radical experiment with the comic book form in many years, and perhaps the most formally innovative comic book since Fantastic Four #352. It’s like the Mobius strip page from Promethea #15, but on the scale of the entire issue. The story involves a sequence of events that keeps repeating itself, and we get to see it from the separate perspectives of the Surfer, Dawn, Krattaka, and the enemy aliens. Even this on its own is pretty impressive, because each reread of the story reveals things that we didn’t know before; for example, the refugees on the ship are not nearly as fond of the Surfer and Dawn as they pretend to be. The formally experimental element is that each of the stories is presented as a separate segment of a Mobius strip, and to read the entire story, you have to read the top tier on each page of the first half, then the bottom tier on each page of the second half, then turn the comic upside down and continue reading backwards… it makes more sense if you can actually see it. And then after you finish reading all four segments, you turn to the last part of the comic to continue the story. The only thing I couldn’t figure out was how to read the final upside-down segment, because it doesn’t seem to connect to anything else. What I really want to do is read the digital version of this comic and see how Slott and Allred managed to translate all of this into digital form. I remember reading an interview where they said that they had to change two lines of dialogue to make the comic understandable in digital form, and I’m very curious as to which two. Overall, this is one of my favorite comics of the year and it’s an early candidate for the Eisner Award for Best Single Issue.

ODY-C #5 (Image, 2015) – More impressive work by Fraction and Ward, though less impressive than earlier issues. Aeolus’s secret is extremely creepy, though he seems very reminiscent of Craster in Game of Thrones. I’m not entirely following the drama between Zeus, Hera and Poseidon because I keep forgetting which is which. It looks like the next issue will reveal a lot of backstory, and I look forward to that.

MY LITTLE PONY: FIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #5 (IDW, 2015) – Easily the best issue of this miniseries, which is not surprising since it’s Katie and Andy. As it turns out, this is not really Queen Chrysalis’s origin story because she’s always been evil. I remember Katie saying on Facebook that she’s not interested in doing a story that redeems Queen Chrysalis; she’s the one unredeemable villain in the universe. So instead this issue is a collection of vignettes from her past, plus a frame story. I think the best vignette is the one about Emperor Incitatus, who is named after the horse that Caligula supposedly made a consul. In the revised version of my book chapter on pony comics, I discuss the scene on page 4 where Rarity produces a couch out of nowhere, and Fluttershy comments “She’s been hanging around Pinkie Pie a lot.”

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #5 (Marvel, 2015) – This is a great issue, but it’s also a problem for me because it sort of contradicts the argument of my Wiscon paper. My argument is supposed to be that this Squirrel Girl series appeals to new readers, unlike the original 1991 Squirrel Girl story, which appealed to nobody, and her appearances in Great Lakes Avengers, which were targeted to existing fans who were disgruntled with the curent state of superhero comics. The previous four issues mostly support that thesis, but this issue includes a lot of jokes that are only going to make sense to a longtime fan like me. Like, there’s one sub-story that’s obviously a parody of the Clone Saga, and another that’s a parody of Silver Age Marvel comics. Still, this sort of insider-oriented satire is not at all typical for this comic.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2015: ALL AGES (Dark Horse, 2015) – This was the FCBD issue I was most excited about this year, though it didn’t completely live up to my expectations. The Avatar story is a team-up between Toph and Ty Lee. The art is by Carla Speed McNeil, but has little in common with her usual style, other than the gorgeous facial expressions. Overall this wasn’t as good as most Avatar stories, primarily because the emphasis is on Ty Lee and she’s not a particularly deep or well-developed character. As for the Plants vs. Zombies story by Paul Tobin, I don’t think this particular game really needs a story. The new Bandette piece was the best thing in the issue. Even then, it’s not Paul and Colleen’s best work.

MS. MARVEL #15 (Marvel, 2015) – The thing I remember most about this issue is the splash page of Kamala running down the hallway with a goofy expression on her face. This page emphasizes that Kamala is not a confident, adult superheroine. She’s an awkward teenager, and that’s part of her charm. More generally, this story is a satisfying conclusion to the Kamran story arc. The hook for the next storyline is that there’s someone else in Kamala’s family with Inhuman powers. I’m guessing it’s her sanctimonious older brother.

ROCKET GIRL #6 (Image, 2015) – I’m thrilled to see this series back after a long-ass hiatus. Dayoung Johansson is an amazing heroine, and 13-year-old Dayoung is even more adorable than the slightly older version. I especially like the scene where Dayoung hugs a complete stranger.

SAVAGE DRAGON: LEGACY #1 (Image, 2015) – This issue takes place an unspecified amount of time in the future, relative to the ongoing series, and the bombshell at the end of the issue is that Maxine is pregnant. This is the sort of shocking thing that can happen when a series takes place in real time. I have the issues where Malcolm’s mother is pregnant with him (though I wasn’t reading the series at that point) and now Malcolm’s about to be a father himself. Though Malcolm does seem very young to be a father – as of issue 203, he’s still in high school, although Legacy #1 may be taking place several years in the future.

INVINCIBLE #119 (Image, 2015) – This series is slowly becoming okay again. This issue raises some interesting questions relating to medical ethics and anti-Viltrumite prejudice, and it finally gets around to addressing the topic of Mark’s rape. I don’t know if I’m looking forward to next issue, though – I don’t care about this Thragg-Battle Beast business.

SPIDER-GWEN #4 (Marvel, 2015) – Seeing Uncle Ben alive is a surprisingly powerful moment, and Gwen’s conversation with May and Gwen, which takes up the bulk of the issue, is a very effective scene. In a Comics Alliance article, Juliet Kahn described Spider-Gwen as a good girl protagonist, but I would disagree. Spider-Gwen is on the run from the law and she’s lying to her dad and she’s guilty about her role in Peter’s death; I don’t think there’s much “good” about that. Of course all those things were also true of the young Peter Parker, but Peter was not exactly a good role model either; it was precisely his flaws that made him interesting.

CONVERGENCE: SHAZAM #1 (DC, 2015) – This is a perfect classic superhero comic. The art is gorgeous, the heroes are heroic, the villains are villainous, and the plot is exciting. I mentioned above that Jeff Parker is perhaps the most underrated writer in commercial comics. It’s weird that people think Geoff Johns is a good Silver Age-esque writer when Jeff Parker writes that style of sory so much more effectively, and with so much less gratuitous violence and shock value. I hadn’t heard of Doc Shaner before, but he’s a brilliant artist and I want to see more of his work. If every DC comic was like this one, the company would be in much better shape.

DC COMICS PRESENTS #58 (DC, 1983) – This is the one where Superman, Robin and Elongated Man fight a bunch of yellow-costumed crooks who have a variety of poorly defined powers, including the power to turn intangible. I have to remind myself what happens in this issue because otherwise I would forget. This issue has some quality artwork by Curt Swan, and Mike W. Barr’s writing is wittier than I remember it being, but overall this is a forgettable comic.

AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE #8 (Archie, 2015) – This series has lost a lot of its former momentum as a result of its excessively slow schedule. Francesco is clearly too slow to put out issues on a regular basis. However, this issue does deliver quite a lot of narrative content. Archie’s proposal to Betty at the end is surprising, but it makes sense given that Veronica has consistently been portrayed as a villain in this series. I’m excited for the next issue, except that by the time it comes out, I’ll probably have forgotten about this issue. Some of the reprinted backup features are attributed to Phil Seuling, who I only knew of as a comics fan; I didn’t know he’d done any actual writing for comics.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #2 (IDW, 2015) – A substantial improvement over last issue. Kelly Thompson’s characterization is quite deep, and Sophie Campbell continues to be the best artist in the industry at drawing diverse female body types. In the scene where Stormer is doing a signing, two characters from Wet Moon are visible in the background. In the profile section at the end, it mentions that Roxy is a high-functioning illiterate, which is something I’ve never seen referenced in comics before (other than stories specifically about dyslexia).

HOWARD THE DUCK #3 (Marvel, 2015) – Chip Zdarsky’s writing is just incredibly weird, both in this series and in Kaptara. And in this issue it’s mostly just weird for weirdness’s sake, and not because Chip is trying to make any kind of argument about society. This issue could have investigated any number of controversies involving senior citizens, but it really didn’t. That’s okay for now, but I hope this series will engage with the serious social satire that made Gerber’s HTD so great. The backup story does have a bit more of a political angle – it includes a line about how women and minorities are taking superheroes’ jobs. I LOLed at the line “bread makes you fat,” which is a brilliant reference to Scott Pilgrim.

GRONK/HERO CATS FCBD 2015 (Action Lab, 2015) – Katie Cook is one of the most important creators in the industry because of her appeal across audiences; she can bring in both little kids and Star Wars fans. I don’t like Gronk quite as much as her MLP comics, because it’s too cutesy-wutesy, but Gronk is an adorable character and this story is really charming. The backup story is Hero Cats, which is really not that good of a comic, even though it’s cute.

PRINCELESS: THE PIRATE PRINCESS #4 (Action Lab, 2015) – This issue resolves the story in a predictable but satisfying way. The only really notable part is when Adrienne hugs Raven and says “I wish you were my sister,” and Raven is clearly disappointed because she has unsisterly affections for Adrienne. This was previously suggested in issue 2, and I think my problem with it then was that it was way too unsubtle and seemed designed to titillate older readers. In this issue, though, Raven’s attraction to Adrienne is hinted at in a much more tasteful way.

MASTER OF KUNG FU #76 (Marvel, 1979) – I read this because I wanted to read an old Marvel comic, and this is a pretty good one. If I’m remembering correctly, issue 73 is the one where Shang and Leiko make love while listening to “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac… actually it’s not, I checked and that’s issue 71. But anyway, that’s one of my favorite scenes in the series, and this issue references toward that scene while also suggesting that since then, things have changed radically in a very short span of time. Like most of Doug Moench’s work, this issue is rather overwritten and histrionic, but I don’t really mind because that was the style at the time.

INVINCIBLE #48 (Image, 2008) – This is a pretty boring issue. It’s mostly just a fight scene in which all the superheroes (including Savage Dragon and Angel) battle a villain with seismic powers. Probably the best thing about the issue is Ryan Ottley’s depictions of giant subterranean monsters.

MARCH GRAND PRIX FCBD (Capstone, 2015) – This comic is a preview of an upcoming graphic novel by Kean Soo, whose work I’ve previously seen only in other FCBD comics. It’s a very charming funny animal story about auto racing. It’s clearly aimed at quite young readers, though there are some sophisticated jokes here – for example, the villain is a fox named Lyca, i.e. “crazy like a fox.” Compared to some kids’ comics, this one doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to offer an adult reader, but I’m glad it exists.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #35 (IDW, 2014) – Getting closer to being caught up on this series. This issue is a convoluted time travel story, part of which takes place in a dystopian past where Cybertron is ruled by a “functionalist” dictatorship, and Cybertronians are summarily killed if their alt modes are no longer considered useful. It’s pretty bleak and brutal, though this issue still has a lot of James Roberts’s characteristic humor.

REVIVAL #26 (Image, 2014) – There’s a scene in this issue where Abel says “maybe” eleven times in a row in slightly more than two pages. I counted. Also, at the end of this issue, Joanne Gorski beats another person at tic-tac-toe 32 times in a row. How stupid do you have to be to not be able to figure out optimal tic-tac-toe strategy? Otherwise, this issue is mostly setup for what comes next.

ALL-NEW MIRACLEMAN ANNUAL #1 (Marvel, 2015) – I’m just going to file this under M, ignoring the “all-new” part. After I read Grant Morrison’s story in this issue, my initial reaction was, WTF was the point of that? Did we really need to be told yet again how evil Johnny Bates is? I had to look online to figure out that this story was originally intended for Warrior in the ‘80s, and would have been published before Miracleman #15. Alan killed the story, apparently not because of its content but because he didn’t want anyone else writing Miracleman, and now Grant’s taken the opportunity to expand it from six to eleven pages. That’s really too long, but at six pages, this story would have effectively fit into Alan’s Miracleman run. The backup story is by the X-Statix team of Peter Milligan and Mike Allred, and there’s not much substance to it. The best thing about it is the dolphin king wearing a crown made of shells.

MADMAN IN YOUR FACE 3D SPECIAL #1 (Image, 2014) – This issue includes 3D versions of two previously published Madman stories, including one that I’d read already, plus some new material. Christian LeBlanc did a great job with the 3D conversion, but I found it difficult to keep the images in focus, especially when I tried to wear my regular glasses and the 3D glasses at the same time, and I’m not going to be in a hurry to reread this comic. It’s an impressive physical artifact, though. The thing is 80 pages and even the cover is in 3D.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #36 (IDW, 2014) – In this issue, the characters from the Lost Light go back in time four million years to stop an assassination attempt on Orion Pax, the future Optimus Prime. This is a pretty fascinating time travel story, especially since all the characters have lifespans on the order of millions of years, and many of them were alive both in the present and in Orion Pax’s time. One thing that came up in an earlier issue is that when you have such a long lifespan, you lose memories, and there are entire chunks of your life that you can’t recall. At least I think that came up in this comic and not in something else I read.

REVIVAL #27 (Image, 2015) – This issue, Dana goes off to kill Edmund Holt, but instead he kidnaps her. Meanwhile, Em, May Tao and Abel make a shocking discovery about the father of Em’s child. This issue is still mostly setup for what comes next, but it’s exciting.

IMAGE EXPO JANUARY 2015 PREVIEW BOOK (Image, 2015) – The only thing here that’s of any interest to me is the preview of Island, which I was planning on reading anyway. It also includes a preview of No Mercy #1, but I already read that.

REVIVAL #28 (Image, 2015) – This issue advances all the ongoing plotlines and also gives us some more information about Em’s boyfriend, UW Marathon County professor Aaron Weimar. I think UW Marathon County ought to hold a symposium about this comic. I would totally go to that.

REVIVAL #29 (Image, 2015) – A spectacular conclusion to most of the current plots. Edmund Holt finally gets what’s coming to him, but even in death, he succeeds in achieving his final plot, which results in the death of the mayor and a bunch of other people. Meanwhile, Blaine Abel beats May Tao half to death. With this issue, I’m finally caught up on this series, and I’m excited to read it on a monthly basis.

LADY KILLER #5 (Image, 2015) – This is an okay conclusion to what was a pretty fun series. The main question I have after this issue is what the hell is going on with Josie’s husband. He’s a boring, sexist, oblivious jerk, and I have no idea what Josie could possibly have seen in him, or why they got married. Probably the explanation is just that it was the ‘50s. I’d love to see a sequel to this comic in which Josie becomes a second-wave feminist.

BITCH PLANET #4 (Image, 2015) – I think the most powerful moment in this comic is the list of all the crimes for which the women were committed, such as fetal murder, political incitement, and gender treason. I was complaining before about how this comic was too unsubtle and it made its point with a sledgehammer, but honestly, this is exactly the world that certain radical right-wingers want to bring into existence, and I applaud KSDC for confronting sexist ideology in such a blunt and powerful way. Also, Mikki Kendall’s column about the impact of racist policing on black girls is really good.

SAVAGE DRAGON #203 (Image, 2015) – This issue brings back the Deadly Duo, a pair of old joke characters. It ends with the revelation that Tierra is pregnant (again), which, as I realized when someone else pointed it out, is a reference to the scene where Rapture makes the same announcement to Dragon. Somehow I doubt that she is pregnant or that Malcolm is the father, but we’ll see. This issue also includes a scene where some dude accuses Malcolm of being gay because he’s dating an Asian girl. This is annoying because it’s such an obvious strawman. I haven’t even heard of this idea that men who date Asian girls are gay – I think Erik may have made this up. If he wants to establish his progressive and liberal credentials, he’s going to need to do a lot more work. I should also point out that I’m kind of embarrassed about supporting this series, given Erik’s recent frustrating behavior on social media. I’m continuing to read this comic, but under protest.

GIANT DAYS #2 (Boom!, 2015) – This is a really fun comic. It’s really a rather mundane story about first-year college life, which is interesting only in that it takes place in England. The interest of this story is in the way it’s told. The artist, Lissa Tremain, does a brilliant job of taking ordinary situations and making them ridiculous.

And with that, I have now finished writing reviews of 105 comic books.

Conferences I would attend if I were a professional conference attendee

I love attending conferences and conventions so much that I occasionally wish I could do that as my full-time job. I decided to amuse myself by making a list of the conferences and conventions I would attend (or would have attended) in 2015 if I were a professional conference-goer. This list assumes that I would have an unlimited travel budget and no other job-related responsibilities. An asterisk before or after the date indicates that I would have to either arrive after the conference or convention began, or leave before it ended.

1/2 – 1/5: American Historical Association (AHA), New York, NY

1/8 – 1/11: Modern Language Association (MLA), Vancouver, BC

1/29 – 2/1: Angoulême International Comics Festival, Angoulême, France

2/13 – 2/15: Boskone, Boston, MA

3/2 – 3/6: Game Developers Conference (GDC), San Francisco, CA

3/7 – 3/15: Fumetto International Comix-Festival, Lucerne, Switzerland

3/18 – 3/22: International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA), Orlando, FL

3/25 – 3/26*: Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS), Montréal, QC

*3/27 – 3/29: Emerald City Comicon (ECCC), Seattle, WA

4/1 – 4/4: Popular Culture Association (PCA), New Orleans, LA

4/8 – 4/10*: Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP), Minneapolis, MN

4/10 – 4/12: UF Comics Conference, Gainesville, FL

4/14 – 4/19: Barcelona International Comic Fair, Barcelona, Spain

4/24 – 4/26: Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (C2E2), Chicago, IL

5/8 – 5/10: Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF), Toronto, ON

5/14 – 5/17: International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo, MI

5/22 – 5/25: WisCon, Madison, WI

5/28 – 5/31: Computers and Writing, Menomonie, WI

6/3 – 6/7: Nebula Awards Weekend, Chicago, IL

6/16 – 6/18: Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Los Angeles, LA

6/19 – 6/21: Heroes Con, Charlotte, NC

6/25 – 6/27: Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA), Stony Brook, NY

6/29 – 7/3: Digital Humanities (DH2015), Sydney, NSW

7/8 – 7/12: Comic-Con International, San Diego, CA

7/16 – 7/19: Council of Writing Program Administrators (CWPA), Boise, ID

7/24 – 7/26: Otakon, Baltimore, MD

7/30 – 8/2: Gen Con, Indianapolis, IN

8/4 – 8/7: Electronic Literature Organization (ELO), Bergen, Norway

8/7 – 8/9: BronyCon, Baltimore, MD

*8/11 – 8/13: ACM SIGGRAPH, Los Angeles, LA

8/19 – 8/23: Worldcon, Spokane, WA

9/4 – 9/7: Dragon Con, Atlanta, GA

9/17 – 9/18: MakerCon, New York, NY

9/19 – 9/20: Small Press Expo (SPX), Bethesda, MD

9/25 – 9/27: Mechademia, Minneapolis, MN

10/3 – 10/4: Alternative Press Expo (APE), San Jose, CA

10/8 – 10/11: New York Comic Con, New York, NY

10/17 – 10/18: Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt, Germany

10/29 – 11/1: Lucca Comics and Games, Lucca, Italy

11/5 – 11/8: World Fantasy Convention, Saratoga Springs, NY

11/12 – 11/15: Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts (SLSA), Houston, TX

11/19 – 11/22: Communication Studies Association (NCA), Las Vegas, NV

12/11 – 12/13: GaymerX, San Jose, CA

12/13 – 12/15: Association for Jewish Studies (AJS), Boston, MA

12/2? – 12/2?: Comiket 89, Tokyo, Japan

Transcript of Miami lecture “Change the Cover”

This is the transcript of a lecture I gave on Monday as part of Miami’s Comics Scholarship Series. It’s based on my two most recent conference papers, each of which I have already posted to this blog, but it incorporates some new information. The accompanying slideshow is available here: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1NC9aRyLD7USvoFYYy4Wgs5M9BAapQ4NSqbbqu_lzw8I/edit?usp=sharing

SLIDE 1 Let me begin by saying I’m very pleased to be here and I’m excited about this lecture series because it demonstrates that there’s significant interest in comics among Miami students and faculty. My research focuses on visual, digital and material rhetoric, with particular attention to comics. I’m currently working on a book manuscript investigating what comics can tell us about the relationship between physical and digital books. The topic I’m going to discuss in this presentation is only somewhat tangentially related to that research, but I thought it would be appropriate to discuss today because it’s something that I feel passionate about and that I’ve spent a lot of time discussing and debating on social media. And this talk is relevant to the idea of a comics scholarship lecture series because it indirectly asks what it means to be a comics scholar today, to the extent that comics scholars are also comics fans. The basic idea here is that being a comics fan today is not just a pastime but also a political activity, and I think that also applies to comics scholarship.

In this presentation I’m going to discuss recent controversies surrounding superhero comics, the Internet, and female fans, and based on these controversies I’m going to ask what it means to be a fan of comic books, specifically superhero comics, in 2015. And I’m going to address this question both from the perspective of the female and minority fans who are currently entering comics fandom in huge numbers, and from the perspective of white male fans like myself, who have traditionally been the dominant group in comic book fandom.

My approach to this topic is based on personal as well as scholarly knowledge. This paper is based on both my scholarly work and my many years of experience in organized comics fandom. I have been reading comics since I was 7 and I’ve been attending comics conventions and contributing to comics Internet forums since I was in junior high, and I’ve been studying comics academically since my sophomore year of college. And incidentally, my story is a common one among comics scholars. It’s now become common for people to come to comics studies as adults without having been comics fans earlier in life, but many comics scholars are people like me who came to comics because we’ve been reading comics our whole lives. Now as a bespectacled white dude in his 30s, I represent the stereotypical comic book fan. The standard notion in our culture is that comics fans are maladjusted adults SLIDE 2 and the comic book store is a man cave, a space where women are not welcome. I often illustrate this stereotype by showing the following clip from The Big Bang Theory. SLIDE 3 (CLIP) So the idea is when these women walk into the comic book store, everyone turns around and stares because the idea of women buying comics is just shocking and unheard of.

Now I want to clarify that this is a stereotype – it was never actually true to begin with. There have always been a significant number of women in comics fandom and there have always been comic book stores that had female employees and were welcoming to female customers. Still, there has always been some validity to this stereotype. And the most significant recent development in the commercial comics industry is that comic book companies are now trying to branch out beyond their traditional male customer base and to appeal to women and minorities and younger readers and LGBTQ readers. Over just the last couple years, the comic book marketplace has shifted seismically. The top-selling comics are no longer Batman and Superman, but comics for kids. Right now the top four books on the New York Times bestseller list of Paperback Graphic Books are Raina Telgemeier’s Smile, Drama and Sisters and Cece Bell’s El Deafo, SLIDE 4 all of which are middle grade or young adult books. Right below those are two volumes of The Walking Dead. That series is published by Image Comics, which became famous in the ‘90s for publishing sexist testosterone-laced superhero comics like Spawn and Youngblood. SLIDE 5 But Image’s publisher, Eric Stephenson, said last year that “the fastest growing demographic for Image Comics, and I’m willing to speculate, for the entire industry, is women.” At the same time, the graphic novel has attracted wide and diverse audiences and it frequently caters to people other than the stereotypical comics fan; for example, Roz Chast just won the National Book Award for her graphic novel Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant, which is about her experience taking care of her aging parents. SLIDE 6 I actually chose not to teach this book this semester because I was afraid my students would be unable to relate to the experiences it discusses. And it’s largely because of the graphic novel that comics have become popular in academia, as demonstrated by the existence of this lecture series.

Now the one genre of comics that continues to lag behind the rest of the industry in terms of its appeal to nonwhite nonmale fans is superhero comics, which traditionally the dominant genre and still known as mainstream comics. Most of the classic superheroes were created between the ‘30s and the ‘60s, at a time when the standards for diversity in media were much lower, and superhero comics today still tend to reflect those origins. SLIDE 7 Superhero comics are notorious for their sexist depictions of women; there’s a website called the Hawkeye Initiative that tries to depict the awfulness of the ways women are drawn in superhero comics by drawing male superheroes in the same ways that female superheroes are typically drawn. SLIDE 8 Superhero comics also have a problem with violence against women. In superhero comics there is a notorious recurring plot device in which female characters are killed or injured just for the purpose of advancing the character arc of the male characters with whom they are associated. This plot device is known as Women in Refrigerators, after a Green Lantern comic from the early ‘90s where Green Lantern’s girlfriend is murdered and dismembered and her body is stuffed into a refrigerator. SLIDE 9 Now the atmosphere of the comic book store often tends to reflect the male-dominated nature of the superhero genre. At many comic book stores, superheroes are still the dominant genre, and you’ll notice that in the scene from the Big Bang Theory, this is what the comic book store is primarily selling. The stereotypical comic book store is a place where men go to buy superhero comics and play Magic: The Gathering. And this is primarily the fault of Marvel and DC, which have spent the past thirty to forty years catering almost exclusively to male readers, and more recently to adult male readers in particular.

And yet female superhero fandom is a thing that exists. It’s largely a phenomenon specific to female-dominated Internet social spaces like Tumblr and formerly LiveJournal. For example, the Internet community Scans_Daily was founded in 2003 and still exists today. SLIDE 10 As the name indicates, Scans_Daily primarily shares scans of pages from superhero comics, and it has a mostly female user base. And there is a large superhero presence on Tumblr, as indicated by sites like DC Women Kicking Ass. SLIDE 11 So evidence suggests that there are women who read Marvel and DC comics and who enjoy Marvel and DC’s characters, despite these companies’ lack of support or even active discouragement of female fans. And probably these female fans are learning about comics not by walking into comic book stores and buying comic books, but by viewing comics panels that are posted on Tumblr and other social media forums. There may even be fans whose interaction with comics is only through Tumblr and not through the actual comic books. The comic book writer Gail Simone reported a conversation with another female industry professional who “said that she felt there was a growing group of fans who love the characters and love MOMENTS of stories, but don’t read the actual comics ever. She said that they will buy a CHARACTER X t-shirt in a heartbeat, but don’t own any graphic novels.They will reblog a scene they like from a comic, but never go to an actual comics shop to get that same book.”

Now what’s happened over the past couple years is that Marvel and subsequently DC have started to notice this, and have started to publish comics specifically designed to appeal to Internet female fandom. Titles marketed toward female readers have been a major part of Marvel’s recent output. Examples of this trend include Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye, Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Ms Marvel, and more recently G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. SLIDE 12 For example, Ms. Marvel, which I assigned in my ENG 112 class this semester, is about a teenage Pakistani Muslim girl who becomes a superhero. Marvel has also been retrofitting some of their existing titles to be more female- and minority-friendly; there is now a black Captain America and a female Thor and a female Spider-Man. SLIDE 13 If the joke in that slide doesn’t make sense, it will later. And these titles have been selling. If you look at the chart of Marvel’s best-selling digital comics from March 2015, it includes three Star Wars comics and then seven titles with female protagonists.

So Marvel has recently started to heavily cultivate female readers. Why they started doing this when they did and not before is not entirely clear to me, but a friend suggested that it may have begun with the first Thor movie when Loki was unexpectedly popular among female viewers, and I think that’s a reasonable suggestion. Marvel has been heavily pushing the character of Loki lately – a character who, incidentally, has always been a transgressor of standard gender roles – and last year’s Loki, Agent of Asgard #1 included images of Loki that were explicitly designed to titillate female readers. SLIDE 14 This sort of beefcake imagery was previously unheard of in American commercial comics.

I’m going to focus briefly on one example of a recent Marvel comic that explicitly caters to female fans: Kieron Gillen’s Young Avengers, which was published from 2013 to 2014. In a July 2013 Onion AV Club article, Oliver Sava described Young Avengers as “Tumblr bait.” He observed: “Search for “Young Avengers” on Tumblr and you’ll find a massive number of posts dedicated to Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s Marvel Now! series. … Every new issue of Young Avengers provides plenty of fresh fanbait ready to be shared across social media platforms. … After half a year of issues, the creative team has seen enough Tumblr posts and tweets to know what fans want to see, and the book has become part superhero story, part confluence of memes.” End quote. So this comic was specifically designed to appeal to posters on Tumblr, which tends to be a female-dominated social media space. Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie and their editors were aware of sites like Scans_Daily, and they wanted to appeal to that clientele. One way Young Avengers does this is through the use of beefcake imagery. It features a wide variety of attractive male characters drawn in a style calculated to appeal to female or gay readers, and the first issue begins with Kate Bishop, the female Hawkeye, having a one-night stand with a quote, beautiful alien boy, which shows a level of female sexual agency which is rare in American superhero comics. SLIDE 15

But another way this series tries to cultivate a female Internet-savvy audience is through its active incorporation of visual tropes derived from the Internet. And this is where this topic intersects with my current research into connections between comics and digital culture. As Oliver Sava points out, every issue of Young Avengers, starting with issue 2, begins with a recap page that’s designed to look like a Tumblr feed. SLIDE 16 Just like with actual Tumblr, there are icons on the left representing the people who are supposedly sharing each of these stories, and each of these icons represents an existing Marvel character, including J Jonah Jameson and Dr. Doom. And each of the “posts” comes with hashtags. Every other issue of the series had a similar recap page, except issue 6 which was a standalone story. And this emphasis on Internet culture also appears in other recent Marvel titles. For example, the new Pakistani-American Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan, writes Internet fan fiction about superheroes. When she meets Wolverine, she tells him that “my Wolverine-and-Storm-in-space fanfic was the third most upvoted story on Freaking Awesome last month!” SLIDE 17 Another example of this is Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, which is written and drawn by two webcomic artists. At the bottom of every page of this comic, there’s a message that offers an ironic commentary on what’s happened on the page, which effectively serves the same purpose as alt text in webcomics. SLIDE 18 And also, Squirrel Girl’s roommate is also a fan fiction writer and she writes fanfic in which her cat becomes Mew, Cat-God of Cat-Thunder.

So Marvel has been actively attempting to attract female readers, and one way they’ve been doing so is through deliberate Internet-savviness. Marvel has been trying to show that they care about female fans and that they understand the sort of Internet culture from which these fans come to comics. And this seems to have worked. Titles like Ms Marvel and Hawkeye have been among Marvel’s top sellers, especially in digital form, which makes sense given that when buying comics digitally you can avoid the frequently sexist and unwelcoming atmosphere of the comic book store.

Conversely, since the debut of the New 52 in 2012, an event in which DC relaunched their entire line, DC seems to have been actively trying to turn away female readers. The New 52 was billed as an attempt to attract new readers but whether it was even a serious attempt in the first place is doubtful. A survey in early 2012 revealed that DC’s readership was something like 93% male, which was likely due to the company’s lack of female creators and its overly sexualized portrayals of female characters. SLIDE 19 But sometime in 2014, DC’s executives gradually realized that the company was shooting itself in the foot by ignoring female readers, and they’ve tried to address this by releasing a number of new titles specifically targeted toward women, including Gotham Academy and Harley Quinn. SLIDE 20 The flagship title of this initiative is Batgirl by Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr, which is not strictly speaking a new series, but an existing series with a new creative team. And Batgirl is interesting in this context because it incorporates digital culture into its plot, to a greater extent than in any previous mainstream comic I can think of. The plot of the first issue by the new creative team revolves around a villain called Riot Black who has a computer brain and who steals Batgirl’s laptop and downloads its data into his mind so he can blackmail her. And Batgirl defeats him by tricking him into looking at a QR code which contains a virus that contaminates his mind. In her secret identity, Batgirl is a graduate student in urban geography whose research focuses on using algorithms to predict the location of future crimes, so essentially Batgirl is a super-hacker. She fights crime not only through her physical abilities but also through her command of computer technology. And the visual style of the comic reflects that. SLIDE 21 As media studies scholar Will Brooker points out in an interview on multiversitycomics.com, one of the key visual devices in Batgirl is the incorporation of text messages, e-mails and social media feeds into the space of the panel. “Sometimes text messaging replaces a speech balloon, sometimes a caption, sometimes a whole frame … It also conveys the idea that our lives are made up of these various windows and panels. As we look from the world to our phone, we are in a sense living within this framework, like living in a comic book almost in its combination of words and images.” Brooker comments on how this is a weird blending of analog and digital, and the ultimate example of this is that the QR code in issue 35 is actually a real working QR code that leads to a page on DC comics’s site. SLIDE 22 So Batgirl is an interesting example of a phenomenon I’ve been discussing in other work, which is the increasing cross-contamination or mutual influence of comics and digital media. An overarching theme of my current book project is that comics are currently doing a better job than print literature of hybridizing print and digital media, and Batgirl is an example of that.

As an example of a comic that appeals to female readers through the use of references to Internet culture, Batgirl is, in my opinion, less successful than Young Avengers. One reason is because Batgirl’s incorporation of Internet culture sometimes seems overly forced; it’s like Fletcher and Stewart don’t really understand what it’s like to be a young Internet-savvy urban female intellectual, they’re just giving us their perception of what it might be like to be such a person. The other problem is that both the writers and the editors have been guilty of major miscalculations that reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of their target audience. Batgirl #37 features a villain who impersonates Batgirl in order to ruin her reputation. The issue ends with the revelation that the Batgirl impersonator is actually a man. This scene was widely viewed as transphobic. Jessica Lachenal (LASHENEL) at The Mary Sue.com wrote that “this presentation of the character paints an awful picture of drag queens, trans women, and non-binary people alike. It props up the trope of the “crazy, unstable drag queen / trans woman.” SLIDE 23 And Stewart, Tarr and Fletcher were forced to issue a public apology. On the other hand, at least the Batgirl creative team has been trying to appeal to female readers, and DC has recently announced other initiatives in this direction. Later this year DC will be overhauling its entire comic book line and will be including significantly more titles by women and minority creators; for example, award-winning Asian-American graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang will be the new writer on Superman. And this past week DC announced the DC Superhero Girls product line SLIDE 24 which is designed specifically to appeal to little girls. This has been mildly controversial because it creates the impression that the rest of DC’s product line is not for girls, but again, at least it shows that DC is finally acknowledging that little girls are a potential target demographic for superhero comics.

If there is anything we can conclude from all this, it is, first, girls and women love superheroes and want to read superhero comics despite the genre’s legacy of misogyny, and second, one way that comic book companies can capture this audience is by acknowledging the existence of Internet female fandom and showing an understanding of this constituency. I think in general the superhero comics genre has made significant progress in the years since Green Lantern’s girlfriend was stuffed into a refrigerator, and female Internet fandom is a major reason why.

But now I want to turn to what we might call the dark side of these efforts to include women in superhero comics fandom. Such efforts have provoked negative reactions among the straight white men who have historically dominated superhero fandom, and as we will shortly see, Batgirl is maybe the best example of that. Across both comics and other fandoms, there has been a recent phenomenon which we might call fanboy backlash, in which the opening up of previously male-dominated fan spaces has led to harshly negative reactions from the straight white men who used to dominate these fandoms. And here I want to step away from comics for a bit and explain how this is happening on other media fandoms. The most prominent example of fanboy backlash is Gamergate, which is a movement among video game players that was supposedly created to protest conflicts of interests between female game developers and game journalists. SLIDE 25 Their slogan is “Actually it’s about ethics in games journalism,” which is what that Thor slide from before was referring to. But what Gamergate really is, in my opinion, is an organized movement to exclude women from the video game industry and video game fandom, and in order to achieve this, Gamergate supporters have employed what I would frankly describe as terrorist tactics. SLIDE 26 This sounds like hyperbole but it’s not. Last October, Anita Sarkeesian, a well-known feminist video game critic who has been a popular target of Gamergate, was forced to cancel a speech at Utah State University because of death threats. A similar example is what’s been happening in science fiction fandom. In recent years, the major awards for science fiction literature have been dominated by the work of liberal writers like John Scalzi and female and minority writers like Nnedi Okorafor and Sofia Samatar. SLIDE 27 When this started happening, certain mostly white male writers became extremely indignant that science fiction was becoming poiliticized, or rather that it was being politicized in a way they didn’t like. So they started an organized campaign known as Sad Puppies whose object was to get works by right-wing white male authors included on the ballot for the Hugo award, which is the only major science fiction and fantasy award where nominations are determined by fan voting. And this led to a competing campaign called Rabid Puppies, which was organized by Vox Day, a notorious racist and neo-Nazi. And these campaigns succeeded largely because of assistance from Gamergate. SLIDE 28 SJW, by the way, means “social justice warrior” and it’s what Gamergaters call their opponents. On the 2015 Hugo ballot, the nominees in the short fiction categories consist entirely of works nominated by Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies, and this has led to an enormous controversy – like, several authors have withdrawn their work from the Hugo ballot because they don’t want to be associated with the Sad Puppies or the Rabid Puppies.

So across various spheres of geek culture, the move to open up these traditionally white male spaces has led to a backlash from white men who are afraid of losing their dominant position. Another way to look at this is that geek identity is historically bound up with white male identity. Being a geek or a nerd or a fan has traditionally meant being a person like me, a bespectacled athletically inept socially awkward white guy. SLIDE 29 As Dan Golding writes in the context of video games, “videogamers … developed a limited, inwards-looking perception of the world that marked them as different from everyone else. This is the gamer, an identity based on difference and separateness. When playing games was an unusual activity, this identity was constructed in order to define and unite the group … It became deeply bound up in assumptions and performances of gender and sexuality. To be a gamer was to signal a great many things, not all of which are about the actual playing of videogames.” SLIDE 30 Sorry I couldn’t find a better image for this one. And to an extent this is also true of comic book identity. In his book Comic Book Culture: Fanboys and True Believers, Matthew J. Pustz wrote that “In most cases, being a comic book fan is central to fans’ identity.” And as Pustz goes on to write, the ultimate example of this is fanboys, or “comic book readers who take what they read much too seriously.” Stereotypically, fanboys are bespectacled, acned overweight misfits who have an encyclopedic knowledge of ’60s Marvel comics but have never spoken to a woman. And this stereotype is often cited in comics themselves, such as Evan Dorkin’s Eltingville Club stories. SLIDE 31

Now Golding argues that gamer identity, as traditionally conceived, is under threat, because it’s too inflexible to survive the gaming industry’s increasing openness to female and minority and LGBTQ gamers. “When, over the last decade, the playing of videogames moved beyond the niche, the gamer identity remained fairly uniformly stagnant and immobile. Gamer identity was simply not fluid enough to apply to a broad spectrum of people. SLIDE 32 It could not meaningfully contain, for example, Candy Crush players, Proteus players, and Call of Duty players simultaneously. SLIDE 33 When videogames changed, the gamer identity did not stretch, and so it has been broken.” Thus, Golding’s article is called “The End of Gamers,” and he suggests that Gamergate is the last gasp of traditional gamer identity. Gamergate is what happens when gamers as traditionally conceived realize that the concept of gamers no longer refers exclusively to them.

So the question I want to explore in conclusion is whether this is also happening to comic book fans, and if so, what can we do about it. Is the category of “comic book fan” resilient enough to embrace people other than straight white males, or is comic fan identity going to be squeezed out of existence? My answer to that is twofold. On one hand, while comics fandom has not experienced anything quite as drastic as Gamergate or Sad Puppies, we have seen a certain backlash from misogynistic male fans who see comics as their exclusive property and who are resistant to the diversification of the medium. On the other hand, this sort of backlash has been a less significant phenomenon in comics fandom than in science fiction or video game fandom, and that’s because being a comics fan has never been synonymous with being a stereotypical fanboy. For as long as I’ve been involved with it, comics fandom has always had at least some room for people other than straight white males. There has always been a significant segment of comics fandom that wanted to expand the reach of comics, and at least in my own circles, the stereotypical fanboy has been the exception rather than the rule.

So in the first place, there clearly have been examples in which the diversification of the comics industry has led to a backlash from entitled fanboys. And these examples have mostly involved DC Comics, which, as I discussed, is the only major remaining company whose output is almost exclusively marketed toward fanboys, although that is starting to change slowly. In comics, the most obvious recent example of fanboy backlash is what happened last month with the Raphael Albuquerque’s variant cover for Batgirl #41. SLIDE 34 And I would prefer not to show this cover but I need to so that you can understand what I’m talking about. This cover is a reference to Batman: The Killing Joke, a 1988 comic book in which Batgirl is shot and paralyzed and sexually assaulted by the Joker. SLIDE 35 Albuquerque’s cover depicts Batgirl as a passive and helpless victim. And this cover was widely criticized for being totally inappropriate given the series’s emphasis on female empowerment, so DC’s decision to publish this cover was a major miscalculation, and this led to a protest campaign on Twitter using the hashtag Change the Cover, hence the title of this talk. SLIDE 36 As a result of this campaign, the artist who drew the cover asked DC to withdraw it, and DC did so. This made a lot of people very angry that DC withdrew the cover due to pressure from feminists, and they started a counter-protest campaign, Save the Cover, aimed at getting DC to reinstate the cover, and this campaign was supported by Adam Baldwin, a celebrity who is a prominent member of Gamergate. And the reason these people said they wanted DC to reinstate the cover was because of artistic freedom, even though it was the artist himself who asked for the cover to be withdrawn. In my opinion, what they were doing here was using artistic freedom as an excuse to justify their anti-feminist actions, in the same way that Gamergate appeals to ethics in games journalism. Now the Save the Cover campaign did not achieve its goal of getting the cover reinstated, but it is evidence that some people at least see comics as the private property of men, and are violently resistant to the idea that comics should be sensitive about the depiction of violence against women.

I want to mention another recent case of fanboy backlash in comics, which is relevant to me personally because it involved an online community that I was a member of for many years, and this is going to lead into my conclusion. In April of last year, Janelle Asselin wrote an article for comicbookresources.com, commonly known as CBR, in which she criticized Kenneth Rocafort’s cover for Teen Titans #1. SLIDE 38 Specifically, Asselin complained that on this cover, Wonder Girl’s proportions are totally unrealistic – she’s a teenage girl but she clearly has breast implants. And she pointed out that this sort of depiction is especially problematic because this is a Teen Titans comic, and the various Teen Titans TV shows are widely popular among teenage girls and among children ages 2 to 11, SLIDE 39 and Rocafort’s cover is specifically designed to exclude those audiences. Now Asselin was hardly saying anything controversial here. It’s pretty obvious that this cover is not only terrible but also misogynistic. And yet just for pointing out this obvious fact, she was not only criticized but threatened with rape. At the same time that she published the article, she released a survey on sexual harassment in the comics industry, which is also a significant problem, and some unfortunate trolls discovered this survey and filled it in by posting rape threats against Asselin. According to CBR proprietor Jonah Weiland, “These same “fans” found her e-mail, home address and other personal information, and used it to harass and terrorize her, including an attempted hacking of her bank account.” And according to Jonah, many of the fans in question were regular participants on the comicbookresources.com message boards, SLIDE 40 this character is the mascot of the CBR forums, and the harassment of Janelle Asselin was emblematic of an atmosphere of “a negativity and nastiness that has existed on the CBR forums for too long.” So because of this incident, he completely deleted everything on the CBR forums and restarted them from scratch with a new and much stricter moderation policy.

Now this incident is personally relevant to me because I was a member of the CBR forums for many years. I started posting on the CBR forums sometime around 1997 or 1998 when I was 14 or 15 years old. So I’ve been involved with this community for more than half my life. I was the moderator of the CBR Classic Comics forum and I used to run the annual Citizen of the Month award. I’ve gradually stopped posting at CBR because I’ve been annoyed at the way the conversation there is dominated by fanboys, although I still communicate with many of my old CBR friends via Facebook. So the Janelle Asselin incident seems like evidence that at least as far as CBR is concerned, comics fan identity has come to be defined in a way that excludes women and that emphasizes toxic masculinity.

At the same time, my experience at CBR is also what makes me hopeful about the future of comics fan identity, and it’s what makes me believe in alternative and more productive ways of being a comics fan. I started posting at CBR in the late ‘90s when I was a young teenager, and it was actually because of CBR that I gained the ability to think of being a comics fan in terms other than being a fanboy. Before I discovered CBR, most of what I knew about comics came from Wizard magazine, which was basically instrumental in defining the fanboy identity. SLIDE 41 Essentially Wizard was the comics version of Hustler. It was notorious for ridiculing women and for ignoring comics that didn’t involve superheroes. Anyway, at CBR I came into contact with comics fans who were much older and wiser than me, and these people convinced me that this way of being a comics fan was unsustainable. As long as comics were marketed purely to fanboys, comics were going to lose readership and they were ultimately going to be irrelevant, and this would be a bad thing. I think some of the people who told me this were themselves parents and were afraid that their children wouldn’t be able to grow up with comics in the same way that they did. SLIDE 42 And this experience convinced me that it was important for comics to be inclusive, that comics couldn’t continue to appeal to the same fanboy audience. I think this is fundamentally different from the Gamergate mentality, which is driven by fear that games are becoming too popular and that the gaming industry is abandoning its traditional target demographic. Thanks to CBR, I grew up with the notion that comics needs to abandon its traditional target demographic or die. And perhaps the difference here is that the popularity of games is currently at its peak whereas the popularity of comics, at least in America, peaked during the ‘40s and ‘50s and has been steadily in decline since. SLIDE 43 Among the comics fans I grew up with, there was this notion that comics is a declining art form and that traditional concepts of comics fan identity are a threat to the long-term survival of the medium. So I got this idea that in order to save comics, it was necessary to abandon fanboyism as the sole model of comics fan identity and to embrace a broader and more inclusive model of what it means to be a comics fan. According to this model, to be a comics fan is to be a lover and evangelist of the medium of comics, and to help expand the audience of the medium. And that’s what I try to do when I teach comics in first-year writing courses.

So this is a model of comics fandom that involves a certain radical openness to new audiences. And this notion of comics fandom is not just based on my personal experience; we also see it in things like Free Comic Book Day, which is coming up on Saturday, SLIDE 44 or in Michael Chabon’s 2004 Eisner Awards keynote address where he called on the industry to do a better job of appealing to children. And I believe that if comics fan identity is defined in this way rather than in terms of fanboy identity, then to return to the earlier quotation from Golding, comics fan identity can be “fluid enough to apply to a broad spectrum of people.”

My preliminary Eisner votes

I do this every year. These selections are subject to change.

Best Short Story: don’t know yet

Best Single Issue (or One-Shot)
Astro City #16: “Wish I May” by Kurt Busiek & Brent Anderson (Vertigo/DC)

Best Continuing Series
Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples (Image)

Best Limited Series
Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland, by Eric Shanower & Garbriel Rodriguez (IDW)

Best New Series
Lumberjanes, by Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson, & Brooke A. Allen (BOOM! Box)

Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 7): don’t know

Best Publication for Kids (ages 8-12)
El Deafo, by Cece Bell (Amulet/Abrams)

Best Publication for Teens (ages 13-17)
Lumberjanes, by Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson, & Brooke A. Allen (BOOM! Box)

Best Humor Publication
Rocket Raccoon, by Skottie Young (Marvel)

Best Digital/Web Comic: either Bandette or Nimona, which I haven’t read yet

Best Anthology: don’t know

Best Reality-Based Work
El Deafo, by Cece Bell (Amulet/Abrams)

Best Graphic Album—New
This One Summer, by Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki (First Second)

Best Graphic Album—Reprint: haven’t read any of the nominees yet

Best Archival Collection/Project—Strips (at least 20 years old): don’t know

Best Archival Collection/Project—Comic Books (at least 20 Years Old)
Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: Trail of the Unicorn, by Carl Barks, edited by Gary Groth (Fantagraphics)

Best U.S. Edition of International Material: either Beautiful Darkness or Corto Maltese

Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia
Showa 1939–1955 and Showa 1944–1953: A History of Japan, by Shigeru Mizuki (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Writer
Brian K. Vaughan, Saga (Image); Private Eye (Panel Syndicate)

Best Writer/Artist
Raina Telgemeier, Sisters (Graphix/Scholastic)

Best Penciller/Inker
Fiona Staples, Saga (Image)

Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (interior art)
J. H. Williams III, The Sandman: Overture (Vertigo/DC)

Best Cover Artist
Darwyn Cooke, DC Comics Darwyn Cooke Month Variant Covers (DC)

Best Coloring
Dave Stewart, Hellboy in Hell, BPRD, Abe Sapien, Baltimore, Lobster Johnson, Witchfinder, Shaolin Cowboy, Aliens: Fire and Stone, DHP (Dark Horse)

Best Lettering
Stan Sakai, Usagi Yojimbo: Senso, Usagi Yojimbo Color Special: The Artist (Dark Horse)

Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism
Comic Book Creator, edited by Jon B. Cooke (TwoMorrows)

Best Comics-Related Book: don’t know

Best Scholarly/Academic Work
The Origins of Comics: From William Hogarth to Winsor McCay, by Thierry Smolderen, tr. by Bart Beaty & Nick Nguyen (University Press of Mississippi)

Best Publication Design: don’t know

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