Reviews for second half of March

3-25-17

New comics received on March 10:

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #18 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Ryan North, (A) Erica Henderson. Part two of the Melissa Morbeck story. Doreen realizes Melissa is evil (thanks to Nancy’s detective work), but it’s too late, because Melissa has the ability to control every non-squirrel animal in New York. Also, there’s an epilogue that continues the story of Alfredo and Chef Bear. This is a fun storyline, and Melissa is a much better villain than the dude who could split into smaller copies of himself.

MOTOR CRUSH #4 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W/A) Babs Tarr, (W) Brenden Fletcher & Cameron Stewart. We don’t really learn anything new this issue, but it becomes clear that things are coming to a head, and that there is some deep dark secret in Domino’s past. One thing that strikes me about this issue is that Domino’s dad is acting really dumb, probably because he’s afraid of something. Instead of being open with his daughter, he tries to scare her away from finding out the truth about herself, thereby ensuring that she’ll try even harder. Also, I like how Domino herself is a deeply flawed and imperfect protagonist.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #27 (Image, 2017) – “Phased,” (W) Kieron Gillen, (A) Jamie McKelvie. Lots of different things happen this issue, but it feels like this issue is just marking time until the next big event happens. Probably the highlight of the issue is the scene where Baphomet shows Persephone the ghosts of her family.

MY LITTLE PONY DEVIATIONS #1 (IDW, 2017) – untitled, (W) Katie Cook, (A) Agnes Garbowska. Katie’s first pony story in about a year is part of a series of “what if” one-shots. This particular issue asks the question: What if Prince Blueblood became Princess Celestia’s apprentice instead of Twilight Sparkle? The whole issue is basically a series of jokes revolving around Prince Blueblood’s snobbish and entitled attitude. Unlike Jeremy Whitley in MLP: Friends Forever #26, Katie makes no effort to redeem Prince Blueblood, but depicts him as having no positive qualities, and it’s funnier that way. One highlight of the issue is the parody version of the theme song.

ASTRO CITY #42 (DC, 2017) – “The Deep Blue Sea,” (W) Kurt Busiek, (A) Scott Clark. This is by far the worst-drawn issue of Astro City ever. Brent Anderson’s artwork on Astro City is usually unobtrusive and subservient to the art, but when I look at Scott Clark’s ugly poor-excuse-for-Jim-Lee art, I’m reminded of what a competent and professional artist Brent is. However, the story in this issue mostly redeems the art. “The Deep Blue Sea” resembles “Show ‘Em All” from v2 #10 because its protagonist is an old villain, but the focus of the story is very different. Mister Manta, an old enemy of Mermaid (a female version of Aquaman), has been living on a literal desert island for thirty years, planning his triumphant return to the world. But when he’s forced to interact with the outside world again, he realizes he’s totally out of touch with it, and he decides to return to his island for good. It’s a poignant story about old age and about how life happens while you’re making other plans, as John Lennon said.

GRASS KINGS #1 (Boom!, 2017) – “Welcome to the Grass Kingdom,” (W) Matt Kindt, (A) Tyler Jenkins. This issue begins with a flashback scene that perhaps reinforces some unfortunate Native American stereotypes, but this scene is incidental to the main story. This comic is really about a separatist community somewhere in the American Midwest. I was not super-impressed by this debut issue, but it’s an interesting premise, and I plan on continuing to read this series.

GOTHAM ACADEMY: SECOND SEMESTER #7 (DC, 2017) – “Second Semester, Part 6,” (W) Brenden Fletcher, Becky Cloonan & Karl Kerschl, (A) Adam Archer & Michelle Sassyk. The most important issue of this series since #1. The first shocking reveal is that Olive’s roommate Amy is invisible to everyone except her. I should maybe have expected this – it’s like the shock ending of The Sixth Sense in reverse – but it caught me totally by surprise. I’m sure if I look back at the last six issues, I’ll see that Amy never interacted with anyone but Olive. But that’s not all. Pomeline finds the Book of Gotham and discovers that Olive is really an Arkham, and Amy is the spirit of her ancestor, Amity Arkham. And the issue ends with Olive deciding to let her powers loose and burn the school down. This issue was an amazing coup de theatre; it feels like the whole series has been leading up to these revelations.

ROGAN GOSH (DC, 1994) – “Rogan Gosh: Star of the East,” (W) Peter Milligan, (A) Brendan McCarthy. This is probably Brendan McCarthy’s masterpiece. Like most Milligan-McCarthy collaborations, it’s a difficult work that makes little logical sense. It has multiple interlocking narratives each of which has different characters, though all the narratives revolve around an encounter between a young English man and a young Indian man. The story is deeply evocative and dense, but never goes anywhere in particular. But the artwork is stunning. McCarthy’s coloring, the most immediately appealing aspect of his work, is brilliant, but it’s combined with equally amazing draftsmanship and lettering, and he experiments with all sorts of different illustrative techniques. It feels like he really let himself loose on this comic, and delivered the absolute best work he was capable of. As the above summary indicates, the main theme of this comic is the encounter between England and India, and it’s guilty of a lot of Orientalism, though I do feel like the creators are not unaware of this. I do notice that the comic mentions the names of lots of Indian dishes, including the one the comic is named after, but they’re all the type of clichéd Indian dishes that you find in every generic Indian restaurant. And this is a symbol of how Peter Milligan’s depiction of India seems to be based on clichés rather than deep knowledge. But still, the art in this comic is so spectacular that it more than makes up for any possible flaws in the story.

WONDER WOMAN #18 (DC, 2017) – “Godwatch, Part 2,” (W) Greg Rucka, (A) Bilquis Evely. This comic isn’t bad, but it feels more like “Veronica Cale Comics #18” than Wonder Woman #18. More than half of its pages feature Veronica and not Diana, and of the pages where Diana does appear, two of them are a two-page splash. And I’m not nearly as fascinated by Veronica Cale as Greg Rucka is.

DOCTOR FATE #18 (DC, 2017) – untitled, (W) Paul Levitz, (A) Brendan McCarthy. Compared to Rogan Gosh, this is a minor Brendan McCarthy work. McCarthy’s coloring is the flashiest aspect of his work, but here his coloring is too obviously dependent on Photoshop, and the vividness of the coloring serves to disguise the boring, formulaic nature of the draftsmanship and storytelling. Also, the plot of this comic was of no interest to me.

SAVAGE DRAGON #142 (Image, 2017) – “Hunted,” (W/A) Erik Larsen. An okay issue. Previously, Savage Dragon killed a superhero named Solar Man in a clear case of justifiable homicide. This issue, Solar Man’s equally insane sidekick Mega Man tries to avenge his mentor’s death, but ends up electrocuting himself, much like Frank J. Grimes.

On March 12, I went to another local convention. The back issue selection wasn’t as good at this convention as at the one last August; also, I was exhausted because I had barely slept the night before, and I was worried about spending too much. I did buy a fair amount of stuff, though:

USAGI YOJIMBO COLOR SPECIAL #3 (Fantagraphics, 1992) – “Fox Fire,” (W/A) Stan Sakai. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a copy of this before. In this story, Usagi saves a fox from some hunters, then encounters a different fox who brainwashes him. Tomoe is the guest star. The theme of shapeshifting foxes was used again in the much later story “Kitsune Gari.” This issue also includes Nilson & Hermy and Space Usagi backup stories.

SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE #1 (DC, 1993) – “The Tarantula, Act One,” (W) Matt Wagner, (A) Guy Davis. A very strong introduction to one of the better DC comics of the ‘90s. It’s nice to finally get to witness Wesley and Dian’s first meeting.

FEAR #18 (Marvel, 1973) – “A Question of Survival!”, (W) Steve Gerber, (A) Val Mayerik. A powerful if somewhat heavy-handed story. Five people – a woman, a child and three men – survive a bus accident just outside the swamp. The three men include a hippie draft-dodger, a Vietnam vet, and a drunk business executive. The executive kills the other two, but is himself killed by the Man-Thing. This story is an excessively obvious allegory of the divisions in American society at the time. But at least Gerber writes the characters well enough that they seem like people as well as symbols.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #26 (Marvel, 1973) – “Betrayal!”, (W/A) Jim Starlin, (W) Mike Friedrich. My copy of this issue is in unimpressive condition, but at least it was cheap. This is the only issue I was missing from Starlin’s first Thanos story, and it’s also Thanos’s second full appearance. Thanos spends most of the issue behind the scenes as he manipulates Captain Marvel and the Thing into fighting each other for convoluted reasons, but at the end of the issue he makes a dramatic on-panel debut, and we get to see his classic costume for the first time (rather than the uglier costume he wore in Iron Man #55). Back in 1973, Starlin’s artwork was still new and original rather than cliched.

BEWARE THE CREEPER #3 (DC, 1968) – “The Isle of Fear,” (W) Denny O’Neil, (A) Steve Ditko. Oddly, Denny O’Neil is credited as “special consultant” while his pseudonym, Sergius O’Shaughnessy, is credited as “writer.” I wonder why. This issue has a forgettable plot involving a criminal called the Supreme One who runs a hideout for other criminals, but the artwork is spectacular. Ditko’s artwork was rarely as energetic or action-filled as in the late ‘60s.

THOR #168 (Marvel, 1969) – “Galactus Found!”, (W) Stan Lee, (A) Jack Kirby. Thor seeks Galactus for some reason I don’t quite understand, while on Earth, the Warriors Three encounter a villain called the Thermal Man. The Galactus half of the issue is a bit underwhelming , although it appears to be intended as a setup for Galactus’s origin story in the next issue. The Warriors Three scenes are the highlight of the issue, especially the scene where Volstagg keeps breaking Donald Blake’s furniture.

SILVER SURFER #9 (Marvel, 2017) – “Shadows in the City of Light,” (W) Dan Slott, (A) Mike Allred. This series has had some severe delays, though it’s worth the wait. This is the first issue since December. In this story, the Surfer and Dawn visit a planet where, as it turns out, almost all the people have exchanged their flesh for solid holograms. And a hologram version of Dawn is created and is forced to stay on the planet forever, which is kind of heartbreaking. I hope it’s not another three months before #10.

SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #76 (DC, 1964) – “Elastic Lad Jimmy and His Legion Romances,” (W) Jerry Siegel, (A) John Forte. Saturn Girl, Light Lass and Triplicate Girl all go on dates with Jimmy in order to make Lucy Lane jealous. This is a very silly and inconsequential Legion story, but it’s funny. Of the two other stories in the issue, “The Death March!” is awful but “The Goose with the Golden Eggs!” is also funny. Jimmy discovers a goose that lays golden eggs, but he can’t figure out how to make her do it on command, and when he does figure it out, he realizes that he’s unknowingly eaten her for dinner.

JONESY #11 (Boom!, 2017) – “Hey, Babies!”, (W/A) Caitlin Rose Boyle, (W) Sam Humphries. This is the next-to-last issue, which is a shame. This series was getting pretty good. This issue, we learn that Jonesy left Plymouth because she told everyone about her secret love powers, and now everyone there hates her.

GIANT DAYS #23 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, (W) John Allison, (A) Max Sarin. The girls have a housewarming party, which leads to a series of awkward moments because most of their former love interests show up. Also, Susan gets sick and coughs on the old guy next door, which explains why she thought she killed him (see review of #24 above).

UNCLE $CROOGE ADVENTURES #18 (Gladstone, 1989) – “That’s No Fable!”, (W/A) Carl Barks. This is a late Barks story, from 1960, but it’s not bad. Scrooge and the nephews discover Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth, but discover that it’s useless. (In order to lay claim to it, Scrooge would have to swim across a lagoon full of its water, at the risk of de-aging himself to death.) So this is an example of the genre of stories where Scrooge finds a fabulous treasure but can’t keep it. This story also has some funny gags, including one where a baby alligator bites Donald on the foot. I’m surprised it took Barks this long to get around to doing a Fountain of Youth story.

ANGEL AND THE APE #2 (DC, 1969) – “Most Fantastic Robbery in History!”, (W/A) Bob Oksner, (W) Sergio Aragonés. Like Anthro and Bat Lash, Angel and the Ape was a late ’60s DC comic that was innovative, well-written and well-drawn, but lasted less than eight issues. This issue is well-drawn and full of funny sight gags, though the plot is kind of dumb. Like Mister Miracle #6 a few years later, this issue includes a villain who’s obviously based on Stan Lee – although the intent is very different in each case, since Kirby was personally associated with Stan Lee while Oksner and Sergio were not. One notable feature of this series is Angel, who was perhaps DC’s most attractive female character at the time, besides Nick Cardy’s Wonder Girl and Mera.

GOTHAM ACADEMY: SECOND SEMESTER #4 (DC, 2016) – “The Carnival Midnight,” (W) Brenden Fletcher, (A) Jon Lam. This is the issue I didn’t get to read because DCBS sent me a misprinted copy. I finally did get a refund for that comic, and then at the convention, I found a correctly printed copy of it for less than the DCBS price. Conveniently, “The Carnival Midnight” is a fill-in story that is not necessary to follow the “Second Semester” storyline. It’s about a carnival that’s run by an old friend of the school’s headmaster. At the end, it turns out the old friend has kept himself alive by magic, and he ages rapidly and dies.

THE BACKSTAGERS #7 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, (W) James Tynion IV, (A) Rian Sygh. One of the missing boys from the ‘80s comes back and abducts one of the two prima donna actors, and the Backstagers have to team up to save the day. It’s a bit hard to care about this series when there’s just one issue left. I feel like it had a lot of potential, but never quite achieved its ambition of being the boy version of Lumberjanes.

IRON MAN #15 (Marvel, 1969) – “Said the Unicorn to the Ghost…!”, (W) Archie Goodwin, (A) George Tuska. The title is probably a reference to the spider and the fly, not the joker and the thief. I have never collected this series heavily, and I probably should, because Archie Goodwin’s Iron Man was quite good. It’s full of exciting action and relationship drama. This issue is mostly a series of fights between Iron Man, the Unicorn and the Red Ghost, though it has a surprising shock ending in which we learn that the Red Ghost cruelly tricked the Unicorn into helping him. According to Wikipedia, the run of issues right after this one (#17-23) is considered the best Iron Man story of the Silver Age, at least by IGN and CBR, and Archie must have been the best Iron Man writer between Stan Lee and David Michelinie. In his artwork for this issue, George Tuska was clearly trying to imitate Gene Colan’s style of storytelling, but he couldn’t imitate Gene’s draftsmanship.

NO MERCY #13 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Alex de Campi, (A) Carla Speed McNeil. Travis finds himself at a beach party with a bunch of vacationing college students from Britain. These kids all seemed like awful people, and when they turned up dead, I was shocked, but not particularly saddened. Then at the end of the issue, Gina runs into Travis on a plane back to America and gives him a good whack, which is no less than he deserves.

ROYAL CITY #1 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W/A) Jeff Lemire. It took me a while to get to this because it’s so long. This is Jeff Lemire’s latest major work. It takes place in a town – presumably in Canada though this is not stated – that’s trying to adjust to a changing economy, at the same time that its most prominent family works through a lot of drama. The shock ending to this comic was not a shock at all; I could see it coming from a mile off, once I realized that all the other family members perceived Richie as being a different age. Other than that, this was a well-done comic and it seems like a worthy successor to The Underwater Welder and Essex County.

WEREWOLF BY NIGHT #9 (Marvel, 1973) – “Terror Beneath the Earth!”, (W) Gerry Conway, (A) Tom Sutton. This issue’s story is silly and unmemorable, but the art is excellent. Tom Sutton was one of the best horror cartoonists of his time. Len and Glynis Wein make a cameo appearance on page two of this issue.

DENNIS THE MENACE #39 (Fawcett, 1959) – multiple stories, (W) Fred Toole, (A) Al Wiseman. This may be the oldest comic book I’ve reviewed since I started doing these reviews. I very rarely buy comics from earlier than the ‘60s. As usual with this series, this issue is funny, cute and beautifully drawn. The most notable story is the last one, which is the comic book debut of Dennis’s Italian-American friend Gina Gilotti. Gina is depicted as exotic and unusual by virtue of her Italian ancestry, which makes her a foil to the much more generic-seeming Margaret.

From March 17 to 19 I went to Portland for the Conference on College Composition and Communication. After the conference was over, I did a bit of comic book store tourism. First I went to Excalibur Comics, which had a really deep and well-organized back issue selection. It also seemed like an extremely well-run and welcoming store. Then I went to Cosmic Monkey Comics. That store also had a lot of back issues, but what really impressed me about it was its selection of trade paperbacks and graphic novels. I’m basically a professional comics fan, and I’ve rarely if ever seen a store with such an impressive selection of books, other than The Beguiling. I was worried about money at that point after having spent the whole weekend eating out, so I spent about $70 at the two stores combined, mostly on back issues and recent comics that I had missed when they came out. By the time I got home I had only managed to read one of the comics I bought:

SUPERMAN #11 (DC, 2016) – “In the Name of the Father: World’s Smallest, Part 2,” (W/A) Patrick Gleason, (W) Peter J. Tomasi. I didn’t get this when it came out, probably because I didn’t notice that this comic was coming out twice a month. In the conclusion to the Super Sons storyline, Jon and Damien fight like cats and dogs and fail to solve any of the problems their fathers set for them. They redeem themselves by saving their fathers from a (fake) threat, but at the end of the issue they’re fighting again. Overall, this was a hilarious and adorable comic, and “In the Name of the Father” is the best new Superman story I’ve read in years.

New comics received on Monday, March 20, after I returned from Portland:

MS. MARVEL #16 (Marvel, 2017) – “Damage Per Second, Part 3,” (W) G. Willow Wilson, (A) Takeshi Miyazawa. The Zoe/Nakia scenes are the emotional high point of the issue. “An evil sentient computer virus knows you’re gay and is going to send your secret love letters to Nakia to the entire school listserv!” is one of the best lines in the entire series. Zoe has become an unexpectedly complex character. People who only read the first trade paperback are going to get very inaccurate ideas about her. Also, I like the idea that Doc.X has learned evil behavior by observing how people act on the Internet.

SEX CRIMINALS #17 (Image, 2017) – “Part 2: Myrtle Spurge: Sexual Cop,” (W) Matt Fraction, (A) Chip Zdarsky. This issue is a spotlight on Myrtle a.k.a. Kegelface. One interesting thing we learn about her is that she constantly keeps herself at the brink of orgasm, but never goes all the way. As I have said before, this series is all about how reactionary forces in society seek to contain the subversive potential of sexuality. Sexual pleasure is dangerous and must therefore be contained or harnessed for productive purposes. Myrtle’s perpetual state of unfulfilled desire is an example of that. She reminds me of a quotation from Adorno and Horkheimer’s culture industry essay: “The culture industry perpetually cheats its consumers of what it perpetually promises. The promissory note which, with its plots and staging, it draws on pleasure is endlessly prolonged; the promise, which is actually all the spectacle consists of, is illusory: all it actually confirms is that the real point will never be reached, that the diner must be satisfied with the menu.” I kind of want to go further with this insight, but I don’t know enough psychoanalysis or queer theory. The other interesting thing about this issue is the new sex criminal. It was fun trying to figure out what his fetish was. Oh, and also this character’s origin story includes a classic example of a Freudian primal scene, and I think this is probably deliberate.

COADY AND THE CREEPIES #1 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, (W) Liz Prince, (A) Amanda Kirk. This series was described as being about the Lumberjanes’ favorite band. It’s not quite at Lumberjanes’s level of quality yet, but it’s not bad. At first I had no idea where this comic was going, but the spoiler – that one of the protagonists is a ghost – was a nice surprise, and it makes me excited to see what happens next.

PATSY WALKER A.K.A. HELLCAT #16 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Kate Leth, (A) Brittney Williams. Kate Leth said that she’s ending this series on her own terms, which I assume means that the series was cancelled for low sales, but her contract prevents her from saying so. At least Marvel let her finish her story. In this issue, Patsy finally makes up with Hedy and confronts her mental health problems. It seems like Patsy’s real issue is stress, which is not an unfamiliar complaint to me.

MANIFEST DESTINY #27 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Chris Dingess, (A) Matthew Roberts. All the protagonists, except Lewis and Miss Grenier, are driven insane by poisonous mist, causing them to perceive their allies as evil ghosts. This is an exciting issue, but it barely advances the plot.

THE MIGHTY THOR #17 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Asgard/Shi’ar War, Part Three: When the Stars Threw Down Their Spears,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Russell Dauterman. Note the Blake quotation in the title. While the Asgardians fight the Imperial Guard, Thor competes in a series of challenges against Sharra and K’ythri, who have an unfair advantage because they’re complete sociopaths who place no value on mortal lives. And then Sharra and K’ythri invoke the “ultimate judgment,” which, now that I look at the last panel again, is probably the Mangog.

SUPER SONS #2 (DC, 2017) – “When I Grow Up… Part Two: Lex and Friends,” (W) Peter J. Tomasi, (A) Jorge Jimenez. I can think of at least five professional cartoonists named Jimenez or Gimenez. This issue, Damian and Jon invade Lexcorp Tower for unclear reasons, and this leads to a lot of cute moments, but Damian’s behavior seems very erratic and inexplicable. Later in the issue, Jon is traumatized by seeing some corpses. So this comic is a lot of fun, but also has a darker side. Also, it turns out the mysterious Reggie kid is Kid Amazo, a character I’m not familiar with.

CAVE CARSON HAS A CYBERNETIC EYE #6 (DC, 2017) – “Plan B,” (W) Jon Rivera & Gerard Way, (A) Michael Avon Oeming. This is the best Young Animal title now that Doom Patrol’s cancellation has just been announced. (It’s supposed to be a temporary cancellation but I expect it will be permanent.) This issue, the bad guys succeed in awakening some kind of Lovecraftian underground monster, and Cave is apparently killed.

ISLAND #12 (Image, 2016) – (W/A) various. I’m sorry this series was cancelled, but to be honest, it usually took me a few months to get around to reading each issue. And that’s partly because of long and tedious stories like Fil Barlow’s “Zooniverse, Chapter 2.” At this point, I can see why Fil Barlow was an influence on Brandon Graham – Zooniverse is full of weird aliens and incomprehensible plots, just like Brandon’s Prophet. But that doesn’t mean I’m a fan of Zooniverse; I think it’s worse-written and worse-drawn than Prophet. The next two stories in this issue are even worse. Lando’s “Island” suffers from unclear storytelling and poor production values, including bad lettering and one blatant typo (“Your just making trouble for us”). Alex Smith and Annie Mok’s “Avia” looks even less professional. The other two short pieces in the issue are only marginally better.

FUTURE QUEST #9 (DC, 2017) – “The Cavalry!”, (W) Jeff Parker, (A) Ron Randall. I missed this issue when it came out, but bought it in Portland. The main event this issue is that the kids get the Frankenstein Jr robot to work, and there are lots of funny interactions between Jonny, Hadji and the other kids. Also, the Herculoids finally appear.

ODY-C #12 (Image, 2017) – “The Fall of the House of Atreus 2. Gamem, Part Two, or, Comedy Tonight,” (W) Matt Fraction, (A) Christian Ward. This just came out, but I somehow failed to order it. This issue continues the retelling of the House of Atreus story, covering the events of Aeschylus’s Agamemnon. Like issue 11, it suffers from a lack of innovation relative to the source text, but Christian Ward’s art is amazing as usual. Every page this issue is a splash page.

TITS & CLITS #5 (Last Gasp, 1979) – (W/A) Joyce Farmer and others. This is now the second most obscene-sounding comic in my collection, behind only Giant-Size Man-Thing. I got my copy at Excalibur Comics; it’s badly water-damaged, but only cost a dollar. I want to collect more of this series, and more underground comics in general. This particular issue includes a bunch of stories of widely varying quality, though most of them are at least interesting if not well-executed. The highlight of the issue is Joyce Farmer’s “Slice of Life,” a three-pager about a childhood encounter with homophobia.

I HATE FAIRYLAND #11 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W/A) Skottie Young. This story reminds me a lot of All About Eve. At the annual Dungeon Festexpocon, Gertrude meets her idol, Gwag the Barbarian, and then encounters another younger fan, Maddie, who idolizes Gertrude as much as Gertrude idolizes Gwag. Not surprisingly, Gertrude kills Maddie in the end.

HEAD LOPPER #5 (Image, 2017) – “Head Lopper and the Crimson Tower, Part 1,” (W/A) Andrew MacLean. We continue with the theme of Image comics that have been on hiatus for a while. In the new storyline, Head Lopper and Agatha, along with a bunch of other heroes, enter the perilous Crimson Tower to compete for the right to replace the tower’s current master. The POV characters are Bik, a young boy from the plantlike People of the Fonga Leaf, and Zhannia Kota, a woman warrior. (In this series, POV characters are necessary because Head Lopper is so stoic and emotionless.) Like the previous Head Lopper epic, this is an excellent adventure story and I look forward to the next installment.

Nong’s Khao Man Gai (Portland, OR)

Another post about food.

I was in Portland last week for CCCC (Conference on College Composition and Communication). I arrived at lunchtime on Friday and had lunch at Nong’s Khao Man Gai.

This restaurant specializes in one particular dish: khao man gai, the Thai version of Hainanese chicken rice, a popular dish all over Southeast Asia. “Gai” means chicken and “khao man” apparently means greasy rice, i.e. rice cooked in the liquid from the chicken (thanks in part to Titcha Kedsri Ho for this explanation). Nong’s’s version looks like this:

IMG_1641.jpg

It’s really just boiled chicken over rice, and it’s about as simple as it sounds. What made this an unforgettable meal was the sauce, which is in the bowl in the center in that picture. It was sort of a transcendent version of the salad dressing they serve at Japanese restaurants. It was spicy, tangy and sweet at once and had an amazing complexity of flavor. It was addictive. The flavor of the sauce was so overwhelming that it was hard to pay proper attention to the flavor of the chicken and rice, though the chicken was perfectly cooked and the rice was also quite good. However, the broth (in the larger bowl) had an intense chicken flavor and its blandness was an effective complement to the stronger flavor of the sauce.

I would eat here all the time if I lived in Portland. I’m sorry I only got to visit once.

Reviews for first half of March

3-10-17

HAWKEYE #2 (Marvel, 2013) – “Vagabond Code,” (W) Matt Fraction, (A) David Aja. A brilliant issue of the best Marvel comic of the decade, though not as good as some of the later issues. The plot is that Clint and Kate stop the Circus of Crime from robbing a bunch of other criminals; the Tracksuits and the people fom the apartment building do not appear. One fun moment is the scene where a bunch of villains, like the Owl and Tombstone and Madame Masque, are introduced and are instantly recognizable despite not being named.

SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #141 (DC, 1971) – “Will the Real Don Rickles Panic?!?”, (W/A) Jack Kirby. Don Rickles may be the only person involved with the creation of this issue who’s still alive. This issue has the famous slogan “Don’t Ask! Just Buy It!” on the cover, which suggests, correctly, that this comic makes little rational sense but is worth reading anyway. It has a convoluted plot in which Morgan Edge tries to kill Jimmy and Goody Rickels (note the different spelling) with “pyro-granulate,” while the Guardian has to fight Intergang troops to find the antidote. Meanwhile, there’s a separate subplot where Clark Kent encounters Lightray. And for some reason the real Don Rickles shows up at the Galaxy TV offices and everyone lines up to be insulted by him. This may have been one of Kirby’s funnier comics; it combines humor and superheroic action effectively, and it never seems like it’s trying too hard to be funny.

KING: PRINCE VALIANT #3 (Dynamite, 2015) – untitled, (W) Nate Cosby & Ben McCool, (A) Ron Salas. I bought this during a period when I was ordering an excessive number of comics from DCBS (well, even more excessive than now). I read it now because it’s in the same continuity as Flash Gordon: King’s Cross. This comic is not amazing but at least it’s funny. I’ve read lots of comics edited by Nate Cosby, but I think this is the first comic I’ve read that was written by him. His writing style is similar to that of Jeff Parker.

TOWER OF SHADOWS #1 (Marvel, 1969) – “At the Stroke of Midnight!”, (W/A) Jim Steranko, plus other material. The cover story in this issue is the famous “Steranko horror story,” which includes some of his best page layouts. His use of tiny narrow panels reminds me of Krigstein. And of course his draftsmanship is amazing. This story is very poorly written – it’s a bottom-drawer EC knock-off – but you almost don’t notice this because the art is so spectacular. Of the less memorable stories in the issue, “A Time to Die!” has some very good John Buscema art, and “From Beyond the Brink!” is by an actual EC artist, Johnny Craig. It’s kind of odd that the mascot of Tower of Shadows was a gravedigger; one normally associates gravediggers with holes in the ground, not towers in the sky.

TREASURE CHEST #21.10 (Geo. A. Pflaum, 1966) – (W/A) various. This series is an interesting historical curiosity, but was rarely any good. I wonder if anyone has a complete collection of this series; I suspect that assembling such a collection would be extremely difficult and also pointless. The first story in this issue is about the North American Martyrs. Unsurprisingly given its origin (in a comic produced for distribution at Catholic schools), this story lionizes the North American Martyrs and ignores the fact that their martyrdom was part of a bigger history of genocide and colonialism. This issue also includes two adventure stories drawn by Fran Matera and Frank Borth. Neither of these stories is well-written but they’re both entertainingly drawn. The splash page of the Fran Matera story, depicting a giant whirlpool into which a car has fallen, is the high point of the issue.

SHAZAM! #14 (DC, 1974) – “The Evil Return of the Monster Society,” (W) Denny O’Neil, (A) Kurt Schaffenberger, plus reprints. These 100-page giants are annoying to read because, first, they contain a bunch of reprint stories of dubious quality (although in this issue the reprints were better than the new material). Second, they’re perfect-bound, and both the front and back covers have a tendency to come loose. In this particular issue, all the stories are about books in some way. The new story in this issue is drawn by a classic Captain Marvel artist, Kurt Schaffenberger, but the writing is just bad; it tries way too hard to be funny and fails. Of the reprints, easily the best is “Mr. Tawny’s Fight for Fame” by Otto Binder and C.C. Beck, in which Mr. Tawky Tawny gets tired of laboring in obscurity on a scholarly book and tries to win fame some other way. Most of the other reprint stories are way too farfetched and implausible. For example, in “The Word Wrecker!” by Binder and Schaffenberger, King Kull tries to destroy civilization by destroying every book everywhere, and somehow he almost succeeds even though his methods are ludicrous.

New comics received on Tuesday, February 28. They should have arrived on Saturday, February 25, but the FedEx driver arrived before the leasing office was open, so he didn’t even try to deliver the package that day, and I guess FedEx doesn’t do residential deliveries on Mondays. I was not happy about this.

ASTRO CITY #41 (DC, 2017) – “The Sky’s the Limit,” (W) Kurt Busiek, (A) Brent Anderson. For the 100th issue of Astro City, Kurt finally reveals the origin of the Astro-Naut, the city’s namesake. This is not the best Astro City story; it lacks any surprising twist or any new perspective on superhero tropes. It’s just the history of the Astro-Naut, told by his civilian best friend (a Jimmy Olsen analogue since the Astro-Naut gives him a signal device). It is, however, a deeply emotional and honest story. It shows devotion to the Astro-Naut’s ideals of exploration and adventure and courage. It effectively sums up the first twenty years of the greatest superhero comic since Watchmen.

SLAM! #4 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, (W) Pamela Ribon, (A) Veronica Fish. I have to think of something more intelligent to say about this comic, because I’m supposed to write about it in an article. Also, I keep forgetting the main characters’ names, so let me write them down here: Jem = Knockout and Maisie = Ithinka Can. Anyway, this issue, the bout between the Pushy Riots and Meteor Fights finally happens. Jem seriously injures Maisie but then takes her to the hospital, potentially healing their rift. The injury scene is a powerful emotional climax to the first four issues. Perhaps the funniest thing in the issue is how Jem’s mother is initially shocked at the idea of roller derby, but then really gets into it.

HULK #3 (Marvel, 2017) – “Deconstructed, Part Three,” (W) Mariko Tamaki, (A) Nico Leon. The funniest thing this issue is the lizard dude complaining about being made to wear a hairnet, but the best thing this issue is the Patsy Walker scene, which is genuinely touching. And this scene makes it clear that Jen sees Maise Brewn as a surrogate for herself. Other than that, this issue doesn’t advance the plot a whole lot. I do think that Mariko Tamaki’s inexperience with monthly comics is showing, because each of the three issues so far has ended rather abruptly with no cliffhanger.

MONSTRESS #10 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Marjorie Liu, (A) Sana Takeda. Maika, Kippa and Ren make it to the Isle of Bones where, after a bunch of encounters with weird creatures, they encounter a wolf dude who knew Maika’s mother. This was another good issue, but I don’t have much to say about it.

FUTURE QUEST #10 (DC, 2017) – “The Gathering Storm,” (W) Jeff Parker, (A) Ron Randall. Again, this was a fun comic but not significantly different from any previous issue. I really like Gloop and Gleep though. As the title promises, this issue begins to set up for the conclusion to the series. I wish we would get Doc Shaner or Steve Rude on artwork again.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #16 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Smartest There Is! Part Four: Science Fiction,” (W) Brandon Montclare & Amy Reeder, (A) Natacha Bustos. I think Moon Girl may be better written in Unstoppable Wasp than in her own title. But her encounter with Dr. Strange is fun anyway. Tiny Devil Dinosaur is the cutest thing in this entire series so far.

WONDER WOMAN #17 (DC, 2017) – “The Truth, Part Two,” (W) Greg Rucka, (A) Liam Sharp. Diana has a conversation with a snake, then apparently becomes sane again. Ferdinand saves Steve and Etta from being killed by Veronica’s troops. An average issue.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #51 (IDW, 2017) – untitled, (W) James Asmus, (A) Tony Fleecs. James Asmus’s debut issue introduces a new character named Shadow Lock who can steal magic from books. I forget whether I’ve read anything by this writer before, but he shows a solid understanding of the characters. As you can see, I don’t have much to say about this week’s comics, and I’m trying to get through them quickly before I go to bed.

JUGHEAD #13 (Archie, 2017) – “The Reggies,” (W) Ryan North, (A) Derek Charm. The Reggies’ first performance is not only terrible, it becomes a worldwide viral sensation. This is another charming and cute story, and it almost makes me feel sympathy for the worst Archie character, Reggie. (Well, I guess Hiram Lodge is worse.)

AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER – NORTH AND SOUTH #1 (Dark Horse, 2016) – “North and South, Part One,” (W) Gene Luen Yang, (A) Gurihiru. These miniseries are starting to become formulaic. The formula is that Team Avatar arrives in a new location that’s embroiled in a political conflict resulting from the Fire Nation war. Things get steadily worse until open battle breaks out, but then the kids resolve everything. It’s an effective formula, though, and these comics are so enjoyable that their repetitiveness is not a fatal flaw. I just wish they were published in a format that was easier to store.* Anyway, this time around, Sokka and Katara go home to the South Pole, where some entrepreneurs from the Northern Water Tribe are trying to modernize the tribe’s lifestyle, but a bunch of traditionalists want to keep things the way they were. Also, Hakoda is having an affair with one of the entrepreneurs. Aang does not appear in this volume.

* As a footnote to that, I just now discovered that almost all my other Avatar volumes are missing. I must have left them behind somehow when I moved. And if so, the reason is because they weren’t stored on my bookshelves or in my comic book boxes. They occupy this weird niche where they’re too small to store in longboxes, but there are so many of them that I don’t want to put them all on a bookshelf. And as a result they get lost. This format was a terrible idea.

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #112 (DC, 1974) – “The Impossible Escape,” (W) Bob Haney, (A) Jim Aparo, plus reprints. Another 100-pager. The new story has some brilliant artwork, but only an average plot. It’s a Batman/Mr. Miracle team-up in which they battle an alien who’s posing as the Egyptian pharaoh Atun. The reprinted stories in the issue are worse. The best of the three is an Aquaman/Hawkman team-up in which the villain is a bizarre-looking giant flying frog. The Silent Knight story is insultingly stupid – it includes a scene where the protagonist engages in a swordfight in full armor, underwater. The Batman/Green Lantern story suffers because the villain, the Time Commander, has such ill-defined powers that he seems to be able to do anything at all.

GREAT LAKES AVENGERS #5 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Zac Gorman, (A) Will Robson. This issue’s cover is a funny tribute to Incredible Hulk #345, with Big Bertha replacing the Hulk. I don’t remember much about the story, but at least it has a funny and sarcastic sense of humor, which is the main reason I’m buying this series.

SPIDER-GWEN #17 (Marvel, 2017) – “Sittin’ in a Tree, Part 4,” (W) Jason Latour, (A) Robbi Rodriguez. Yet another crossover issue that doesn’t make sense on its own. I’m not ready to drop this series yet, but if I ever do stop reading it, the excessive amount of crossovers will be the reason why. At least this issue includes a cameo appearance by Ms. Marvel.

I have lots more comics to review, but I’ll stop here for now.

3-14-17

Starting again the following day. New comics received on March 3:

RAT QUEENS #1 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Kurtis Wiebe, (A) Owen Gieni. There’s something of a cloud surrounding this issue. Some of this comic’s original fans have abandoned it because of the questionable circumstances surrounding Tess Fowler’s firing, and also because of the possibility that Roc Upchurch may be benefitting financially from it. I personally am okay with supporting this comic, but I see why other people might not be. Also, this issue was confusing to me because it doesn’t fit with the series’ continuity. Hannah is suddenly back with the team again despite having quit at the end of the previous volume, and there’s no explanation of how the team got back to Palisade. I guess this was deliberate, because this issue is a soft reboot that ignores some of the continuity from the last series. I just wish we’d been told this explicitly.

If we set all of that aside, this was probably the best issue of Rat Queens since #6. With this issue, the series regains the momentum that it lost as a result of the constant delays and creative changes. It’s fun, happy and irreverent, just like Rat Queens should be. The Cat Kings are just what you’d expect from a gender-swapped version of the Rat Queens, and I especially love the little mushroom dude. Overall, this issue makes me optimistic about the future of this series, as long as Kurtis can maintain this level of quality. Also, I want to hear more about this sex cult that Betty’s mother belongs to.

PAPER GIRLS #12 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Brian K. Vaughan, (A) Cliff Chiang. As usual, I enjoyed this issue, but I still have no idea what this series is about or how I would summarize it. This issue, we learn that the cavegirl teen mom is some sort of reverse Virgin Mary – she has to steal stuff from three evil wise men – and Kaje gets her first period.

GOLDIE VANCE #10 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, (W) Hope Larson & Jackie Ball, (A) Noah Hayes. Another fun issue. Goldie joins Sugar Maple’s pit crew, then discovers that another driver, Lazlo, sabotaged his own car to lose on purpose, but there’s also a second unknown person trying to sabotage Sugar Maple’s car. I do think this comic has suffered from the lack of Brittney Williams artwork.

AMERICA #1 (Marvel, 2017) – “Pa’ Fuera, Pa’ la Calle,” (W) Gabby Rivera, (A) Joe Quinones. I really wanted to love this comic, but I have problems with it. Gabby Rivera’s heart is in the right place, she writes with great passion, and I obviously agree with her politics. However, she also clearly lacks experience writing comics. She puts too much text in each panel, and her text often fails to read smoothly as dialogue. She makes her political points with a total lack of subtlety. Also, this comic has pacing problems. As Ray Goldfield pointed out on Facebook, the Sotomayor University scene comes out of nowhere and is not well integrated with the first half of the issue. I’m going to keep supporting this comic for now, but I hope it gets better.

BRAVE CHEF BRIANNA #1 (Boom!, 2017) – “Welcome to Monster City,” (W) Sam Sykes, (A) Selina Espiritu. This comic was also a bit disappointing, but not as much as America, and its ambitions are lower. I love the premise of this comic: the protagonist is the youngest child and only girl in a family of chefs, and she has to set up her own restaurant, but the only place where she can afford the real estate is Monster City. And the creators do a good job of conveying Brianna’s complex emotions and her weird family dynamics. This series obviously reminds me of Space Battle Lunchtime, but Brianna is a much deeper character than Peony. My disappointment is mostly because I feel like Monster City could have been even weirder and more monstrous, although we’ve only seen a little piece of it so far.

DEADFACE: EARTH, WATER, AIR, AND FIRE #2 (Dark Horse, 1992) – “Veil of Tears,” (W/A) Eddie Campbell. As a preamble to many of the reviews that follow, I decided to add homemade dividers to my comic collection (using Jason Gibson’s instructions at http://www.jasonlgibson.com/2014/04/how-to-make-cheap-homemade-comic-dividers/). Filing comics was getting really annoying because it was hard to figured out where anything was, and I thought dividers would help. Adding dividers also made it possible to alphabetize my comics according to creator or publisher instead of by title. For example, I now have a divider that’s labeled CAMPBELL, EDDIE, which is alphabetized under C, and behind that divider are Bacchus, Deadface, The Dance of Lifey Death, Graffiti Kitchen, etc. Anyway, this reorganization effort also made me feel motivated to read some of my old unread comics, so as to be able to file them in my new categories.

This particular issue is from a miniseries published by Dark Horse prior to the launch of the ongoing Bacchus series. It takes place in Sicily, where Bacchus and Joe Theseus get enlisted on opposite sides of a mob war. It’s a fun comic and its story is much easier to follow compared to some of Eddie’s later work.

MY LITTLE PONY ANNUAL 2017 (IDW, 2017) – “Guardians of Harmony,” (W/A) various. This issue includes vignettes by all the regular pony artists, all of them arranged around the theme of a changeling invasion. So either this story takes place before “To Where and Back Again,” or the evil changelings in this issue are a new brood that Queen Chrysalis created after the original changelings stopped being evil. As usual, the strongest work in this issue is by Jeremy Whitley, Andy Price and Jay Fosgitt, but all the stories are reasonably good, and they come together at the end in a satisfying way. My only problem with this issue is the very abrupt ending.

AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER – NORTH AND SOUTH #2 (Dark Horse, 2017) – as above. Aang and Toph arrive for the big South Pole carnival, which becomes the scene of a massive terrorist attack by the traditionalist faction. And it turns out that the entrepreneurs from the North Pole really are trying to extract the South Pole’s resources. Despite the issue of repetitiveness that I raised earlier, this is a fun comic and I look forward to part three.

UNSTOPPABLE WASP #3 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Jeremy Whitley, (A) Elsa Charretier. As noted above, I think Lunella Lafayette is written better in this comic than in her own title. Another fun part of this series is that Nadia and Jarvis are excellent foils for each other. I especially love the “new phone who dis” bit. Lashayla Smith is yet another awesome new character, who again represents a type of character (a black female geek) that is very rarely seen in any kind of media. The last scene in this issue is also extremely well written, but much less happy. Nadia seems to have made Priya’s life worse, not better, with her intervention. The moment just before Nadia walks in, when Priya’s “friends” are committing one racist microaggression after another, is powerful because it’s so realistic.

HAWKEYE #4 (Marvel, 2017) – “Bye, Bye, Katie,” (W) Kelly Thompson, (A) Leonardo Romero. This mostly concludes the first storyline. It’s not a surprising conclusion, but it is quite well-written and well-drawn. I love that Kate literally saves the day with the power of love and anti-fascism.

DESCENDER #19 (Image, 2017) – “Orbital Mechanics 3 of 5,” (W) Jeff Lemire, (A) Dustin Nguyen. Driller admits to having caused Andy’s mother’s death, then jumps out of the ship. Meanwhile, lots of other stuff happens. This was a fun issue but had nothing comparable to the shocking cliffhanger from #18.

THE OLD GUARD #1 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Greg Rucka, (A) Leandro Fernandez. This new Greg Rucka series is about a group of immortal soldiers. This issue’s story is reasonably interesting, but I wish Greg would keep working on Black Magick instead of starting another new series – although I guess Nicola Scott is otherwise occupied at the moment. Anyway, the real value of this comic is in Leandro Fernandez’s artwork. I liked Leandro’s art in Queen & Country, but the artwork here is on another level. Leandro’s new style resembles that of his countryman Eduardo Risso, but also has its own unique elements, and Leandro’s action sequences may be better than Eduardo Risso’s. Also, the coloring in this issue is amazing. If Leandro Fernandez keeps up this level of artistic quality, he will be an Eisner candidate.

GIANT DAYS #24 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, (W) John Allison, (A) Max Sarin. For some odd reason I received #24 one week and #23 the next week. This issue, Susan gets horribly sick, and her dad comes to take care of her. And then he stays, because it turns out his wife threw him out. Also, the old guy from next door dies, and Susan worries that it was because she gave him her cold. One cool thing about this series is how it addresses serious topics, like divorce and illness and death, in a humorous way.

KING: MANDRAKE THE MAGICIAN #1 (Dynamite, 2015) – untitled, (W) Roger Langridge, (A) Jeremy Treece. Like the Prince Valiant comic reviewed above, this issue is part of the same continuity as Flash Gordon: King’s Cross. At this point in continuity, Earth no longer has modern technology because of something Ming did. Mandrake holds a charity show where he encounters an African magician named Karma, and then they both fight an old enemy of Mandrake’s named Acheron. This was a reasonably fun comic, but not Langridge’s best work, and it doesn’t make me highly excited to read the rest of this miniseries.

MEGATON MAN #2 (Kitchen Sink, 1985) – “Leavings and Beginnings!”, (W/A) Don Simpson. I haven’t read as much Don Simpson as I ought to have. In this issue’s main plot, Megaton Man tries to join the Metropolis Quartet (i.e. the FF). This part of the issue is mostly a silly superhero parody. What is far more interesting is the subplot, in which Stella Starlight (i.e. Sue Richards) leaves the MQ and starts a new life on her own with Pamela Jointly (i.e. Lois Lane). This part of the issue has some fairly deep characterization. The funniest joke in the issue occurs when Megaton Man tries on a new all-black costume, and one of the MQ members addresses the reader and says “Isn’t that an insult to your intelligence?” This issue came out shortly after Spider-Man’s black costume was introduced.

ATOMIC ROBO AND THE FLYING SHE-DEVILS OF THE PACIFIC #4 (Red 5, 2012) – untitled, (W) Brian Clevinger, (A) Scott Wegener. At this point in the storyline, Robo has been captured by Imperial Japanese troops who are trying to destroy America with an earthquake bomb. The Flying She-Devils rescue him, setting the stage for an epic confrontation next issue. This is one of the better Atomic Robo miniseries.

THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG #4 (Dark Horse, 2000) – “The First Murder,” (W/A) P. Craig Russell. In his version of Wagner’s Ring, PCR provides a sterling example of how to adapt works from other media into comics form. This issue includes an epilogue in which PCR discusses his philosophy of adaptation and the strategies he uses to avoid making the adaptation an exact copy of the original. For example, he explains how he succeeded in creating a comics equivalent of Wagner’s leitmotifs.

WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN #36 (Marvel, 2013) – “Battle for the Atom, Part 5,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Giuseppe Camuncoli. I bought this when it came out, but never bothered to read it because it was a crossover issue. As I expected, this issue is impossible to understand outside the context of the Battle for the Atom crossover, and it mostly lacks the humor and characterization that made me a fan of Jason Aaron’s X-Men.

SNARKED! #11 (Boom!, 2012) – “Fit the Eleventh: Smiles and Soap,” (W/A) Roger Langridge. The protagonists encounter the missing Baker, then finally confront the Snark in its cave. The high point of this issue is the Walrus’s struggle with his conscience. Earlier, he told the Bellman that the Baker was still alive, but had been thrown forward in time by the Snark/Boojum. This issue, the Walrus finally gets up the courage to tell the Bellman that this story was a lie, only to discover that it was true. One of the fascinating things about this series is the Walrus’s character arc: he starts out as a heartless criminal, but Scarlet helps him develop a conscience.

SNARKED! #12 (Boom!, 2012) – “Fit the Twelfth: For the Snark Was a Boojum, You See,” as above. Roger Langridge’s masterpiece ends on a somewhat anticlimactic and bittersweet note. The Walrus saves Scarlet from being eaten by the Snark, but at the cost of being transported twenty years into the future. Twenty years later, Scarlet is the queen and Rusty is about to get married, but Scarlet is now convinced that the Walrus never existed and was just her childhood imaginary friend (never mind that a lot of other people saw the Walrus too). Scarlet never sees the Walrus again, though she does receive proof that he exists, and the Walrus and the Carpenter head off for another adventure. Overall, Snarked! may have been the best kids’ comic book of the decade, though it has a lot of competition. Unfortunately there seems to be little possibility of a sequel.

PROPHET: EARTH WAR #2 (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W) Brandon Graham & Simon Roy, (A) Ron Ackins. As usual, this issue makes no sense to me, but it’s strange and evocative and well-drawn. This issue includes a backup story drawn by Aaron Conley from Sabertooth Swordsman.

MORLOCK 2001 #2 (Atlas/Seaboard, 1975) – “Morlock Must Be Destroyed!”, (W) Michael Fleisher, (A) Al Milgrom. This issue is curiously similar to Incredible Hulk #189, which was released just a few months later. In both issues, a monstrous protagonist encounters a little blind girl. However, this issue has a very different conclusion from Hulk #189; it ends with the protagonist killing the girl by accident. So this was a pretty depressing and bleak comic. The story in this issue was never resolved; issue 3 had a new creative team and a new cast of characters, and there was no issue 4.

ATOMIC ROBO AND THE FLYING SHE-DEVILS OF THE PACIFIC #3 (Red 5, 2012) – as above. Another good issue, but there weren’t a lot of surprises here, since I had already read issue 4.

SUPERGIRL: BEING SUPER #2 (DC, 2017) – “Chapter Two: Hold On!”, (W) Mariko Tamaki, (A) Joëlle Jones. This might be the best current DC comic. This issue is just so, so sad. Supergirl shockingly fails to save her friend Jen from an earthquake, and the rest of the issue is devoted to Kara’s attempt to deal with her shattering grief and guilt. Mariko Tamaki depicts Kara’s emotions with amazing power and verisimilitude. Besides Lynda Barry, Mariko Tamaki is probably the best writer of comics about teenage girls, and her understanding of how teen girls think is brilliantly displayed in this issue. Joëlle Jones’s artwork takes a back seat to the writing, but effectively complements it.

FLESH & BONES #4 (Fantagraphics, 1986) – untitled, (W) Jan Strnad, (A) Dennis Fujitake. The final Dalgoda story is a bittersweet but satisfying conclusion to the series. Dal makes it back to Canida and lives happily ever after with his girlfriend, but has to say goodbye to his human friends. This issue also includes a chapter of Alan Moore and Steve Parkhouse’s Bojeffries Saga. This story has an amazing scene where a cop investigates a disturbance in a restaurant and sees that a black man and a werewolf are involved – and he immediately arrests the black man. After reading this story, I felt motivated to read the complete Bojeffries Saga volume, and each of the chapters is even funnier in context.

DARK HORSE PRESENTS #6 (Dark Horse, 1986) – “Little Pushes,” (W/A) Paul Chadwick, plus other material. The Concrete story in this issue is the first one I ever read, since it was included in Fantagraphics’s Best Comics of the Decade, Vol. 2 (1990). It’s the one that ends with Concrete doing a cannonball into a swimming pool. This story’s inclusion in that Best Comics volume is justified. It insightfully depicts Concrete’s sense of bewilderment at finding himself at a Hollywood party. And it includes some brilliant moments, like Concrete eating a clock radio, or the line “A man without a you-know-what is so refreshing!” The other interesting story in this issue is a chapter of John Workman’s “Roma.” Workman’s artwork has the same general appearance as his lettering, and it reminds me more of Italian or Spanish than American comics. This story’s plot also has a European influence in that it seems heavily influenced by Barbarella.

PIRATE CORP$ #3 (Slave Labor, 1989) – “All Lost in the Supermarket!”, (W/A) Evan Dorkin. Pirate Corp$, later retitled Hectic Planet, was Evan’s first creator-owned series. It appears to be set in some kind of dystopian future. In this issue, protagonists Halby and Blue visit a giant labyrinthine supermarket and are trapped there for days. The artwork in this issue is so busy and hyperdetailed that it’s often cumbersome, but as usual with Evan, the humor is hilarious and brutal.

SON OF MUTANT WORLD #1 (Fantagor, 1990) – “Son of Mutant World,” (W) Jan Strnad, (A) Richard Corben, plus backup stories. In this issue’s first story, Dimento, the protagonist of the original Mutant World series, is killed, and his daughter Dimentia heads off on her own with her pet bear. Then some hillbillies try to kill and eat the bear, until it saves their lives. The second story, “Targets,” is a tale of adultery and mistaken identity with fatal consequences, written and drawn by Bruce Jones. Finally, “The Small World of Lewis Stillman,” a postapocalyptic story about murderous children, is reprinted from an issue of Alien Worlds. All of these are reasonably good horror stories in the Warren Comics style.

USAGI YOJIMBO #8 (Fantagraphics, 1988) – “A Mother’s Love,” (W/A) Stan Sakai. A tragic story in which Usagi encounters a sweet old lady whose son has grown up to be a brutal monster. This story’s conclusion is so emotionally shattering that it almost feels manipulative; it’s less subtle than some of Stan’s later work. In general, the backup stories in the Fantagraphics Usagi series were awful, but the backup story in this issue is better than most. It’s about Stonehenge and how it’s been ruined by commercialism, and it’s written and drawn by Groo colorist Tom Luth.

HUP #1 (Last Gasp, 1987) – various stories, (W/A) Robert Crumb. The best story in this issue is “My Troubles with Women, Part II,” a brutally honest and gorgeously drawn examination of Crumb’s hang-ups about women. This story displays a lot of misogyny on Crumb’s part, and I think some readers would find it intolerable, but at least Crumb lays his prejudices bare and does not make excuses for them. In other words, Crumb is a disturbing creep, but he knows and admits it, which partially redeems him. This issue includes some other stories, including one where Mr. Natural reappears in Flakey Foont’s life after Flakey had him institutionalized. I really need to read more Crumb; I don’t know his work nearly as well as I should.

HOUSE OF SECRETS #85 (DC, 1970) – various (W/A). The writing in this issue is mostly pretty bad, but some of the art is interesting. “Second Chance” features the unusual combination of Neal Adams inks over Gil Kane pencils. This issue also includes a two-pager by Ralph Reese, drawn in a style indistinguishable from that of Wally Wood, which has some interesting metatextual elements. It includes one panel where a character pulls a word balloon out of a drawer.

THE TRUE LIVES OF THE FABULOUS KILLJOYS #5 (Dark Horse, 2013) – “Waking the Destroya!”, (W) Gerard Way & Shaun Simon, (A) Becky Cloonan. This comic’s story made no sense to me at all, and I was only mildly impressed by the art.

SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR #1 (Dark Horse, 1993) – untitled, (W/A) Frank Miller. I’ve never read Sin City before because, for fairly obvious reasons, I have a deep distaste for Frank Miller. I think the most recent Frank Miller comic I’ve read in its entirety is Daredevil: The Man Without Fear, which ended in 1994. So I was surprised that this issue of Sin City was not only readable but even good. It’s full of typical Miller clichés, but the artwork is beautiful and also represents a stylistic departure; every page is drawn in pure black and white, with no grays or screentones or cross-hatching. Maybe Sin City was Miller’s last great work before he went totally nuts. I need to read more of it.

HELLBOY WINTER SPECIAL #2 (Dark Horse, 2017) – various stories, (W) Mike Mignola et al, (A) various. The only really interesting story in this annual is “God Rest Ye Merry,” in which Hellboy battles a crazy Santa Claus and encounters an unnamed character who looks just like the Phantom Stranger. I honestly thought that this story was an unannounced Dark Horse/DC crossover, but it turns out that the Phantom Stranger-esque character is a new Mignolaverse character named the Visitor.

FAITH #9 (Valiant, 2017) – untitled, (W) Jody Houser, (A) Kate Niemczyk & Marguerite Sauvage. One of the best issues of Faith yet. Faith’s company hires a new employee, forcing Faith’s coworkers have to jump through all sorts of hoops to protect her secret identity. Then it turns out the new employee is a spy sent to steal Faith’s secrets, and the coworkers have to save the day. This story ends up as a touching demonstration of Faith’s bond with her friends. I also love the first page, which consists of three parallel sequences showing Faith’s coworkers getting ready for work. Mimi kisses her girlfriend goodbye, Jay kisses his girlfriend goodbye, and then Paige gives a goodbye kiss to an incredibly glum-looking cat.

ROCKET RACCOON #3 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Matthew Rosenberg, (A) Jorge Coelho. This is already the fourth Rocket Raccoon or Groot “ongoing” series in as many years, and it’s going to end after two more issues (hence why “ongoing” is in quotation marks). I think this is unfortunate, because Matthew Rosenberg’s version of Rocket is one of the best yet. This Rocket Raccoon doesn’t just look like an animal, he acts like one. I love the opening scene where Rocket chews his way out of Kraven’s sack. And then the rest of the issue is an exciting and funny chase sequence.

IT GIRL AND THE ATOMICS #6 (Image, 2013) – “His Space Holiday,” (W) Jamie S. Rich, (A) Chynna Clugston-Flores. This Madman spinoff is not nearly as good as the parent title. Atomics member Mr. Gum offers to help some poor, starving aliens, but it turns out the aliens are evil, so he just leaves, having made the situation worse instead of better. Mr. Gum’s behavior in this issue is boorish and irresponsible, and he doesn’t face any consequences for it. Also, Jamie S. Rich’s writing is underwhelming, although Chynna Clugston-Major is fairly good at drawing aliens.

REVIVAL #47 (Image, 2017) – “This is the End,” (W) Tim Seeley, (A) Mike Norton. A solid conclusion to the series. Em sacrifices her life so that her baby can be born and the revivers’ souls can move on. The Amish ninja lady and General Cale kill each other. The series ends two years later with Lester Majak’s death. There’s also an epilogue that seems to be a hook for a sequel, though I don’t remember who Nithiya is. As this series went on, the thing that initially attracted me to it – the rural Wisconsin setting – became steadily less important, but the plot and characterization were good enough that I stayed with the series to the end, and I’m glad I did. Now I just need to collect the issues I’m missing, so that I can read the whole thing in order.

FLASH GORDON: KING’S CROSS #5 (Dynamite, 2017) – untitled, (W) Jeff Parker, (W/A) Jesse Hamm. The heroes save the day by teleporting Ming and his forces to Mars. So the world is safe for now, but I assume there’s going to be another series set in this universe. Overall, I liked this miniseries a lot. Jeff Parker is one of the best storytellers in the current comics industry, and I wish he would be given some higher-profile assignments.

Stopping here for now.

Restaurant blog post #1: Zoewee’s (Charlotte, NC)

I’m going to try something new. I have a longstanding interest in “ethnic” food, specifically Asian, African and Latin American food, so I might as well use this blog to write about some of the restaurants I’ve visited.

Last week I had lunch at Zoewee’s, a Liberian restaurant in NoDa about halfway between downtown and University City. I’ve been very curious about West African food ever since reading Things Fall Apart in high school, but have rarely gotten the chance to try it. Ethiopian food is easy to find in major American cities, but other African cuisines are far less so.* Liberian food seems particularly obscure, even though there is a fairly large Liberian-American community. The best source on Liberian cuisine I’ve found is this series of blog posts by some missionaries in Liberia.

So anyway, to my surprise, there are two Liberian restaurants right next door to each other in NoDa. I had already ordered delivery from one of them, Zanzibar Café, but I wasn’t that impressed; I found the food to be too spicy, even though I have a high spice tolerance by white American standards. So I decided to try the other.

Zoewee’s is in a small strip mall next to several other African businesses, and has almost no decoration besides a mask hanging on the wall behind the cash register. It was somewhat difficult to get the attention of the staff when I came in (another patron had to knock on the door to the employee area), but other than that the service was fine. I was tempted to order fufu, since I’ve always wondered what that tastes like, but instead I ordered potato greens in red palm oil, which appear to be their specialty. It looked like this:

Screen Shot 2017-03-11 at 8.24.12 PM.png

Not pictured is the giant plate of white rice that accompanied it.

Overall I was very impressed. It tasted nothing like potatoes. It had a consistency similar to Indian saag, and a flavor profile that didn’t resemble anything else in particular. I assume the active ingredient is the palm oil, which is unfortunately very high in saturated fat; otherwise this dish seems quite healthy. The meat was extremely tender and there was a good amount of it. Unlike the dish I ordered from Zanzibar, this one was not spicy at all. However, it was accompanied by a container of some kind of hot pepper relish (visible at the upper right of the photo), and this was so spicy I could barely eat it. The rice seemed unusually large and fluffy and was a good accompaniment to the entree.

I ate this by putting portions of it on top of the rice. I ate with a fork at first, but switched to a spoon after watching another customer. There was easily enough left over for dinner that night.

Overall, I was highly impressed and would definitely go back. The menu is somewhat limited but includes other dishes like fried fish and jollof rice and the aforementioned fufu, and they have weekly specials.

* As one of my Facebook friends suggested when I pointed this out, this may be due to culinary racism. For some reason, Ethiopian restaurants are “trendy,” whereas Caribbean and West African restaurants seem to appeal more to African and African-American diners, and therefore don’t get reviewed in general-interest publications or on Yelp. (Zoewee’s currently has 14 Yelp reviews, while the other nearby Liberian restaurant, Zanzibar Café, has only 5.)

February reviews

New comics received on February 10. This was a very light week. I think I’ve already finished reading all but two of the comic books I received in this shipment.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #17 (Marvel, 2017) – “Cat Thor Meets Dog Hulk!”, (W) Ryan North, (A) Erica Henderson w/ Chris Schweizer. The first issue of the next major storyline introduces Melissa Morbeck, a villain who can talk to animals and knows Squirrel Girl’s secret identity. Like Unstoppable Wasp #2, this comic is unusual in that it depicts multiple female characters who are engineers. The emotional high point of the issue is the “fight” with the Rhino. But the part that I remember best, two weeks after reading it, is the last page, where the bear chef cooks Alfredo the chicken for Melissa’s dinner. I just now realized that this comic has an extra page at the end, in which Alfredo tries to defend himself with a knife.

MS. MARVEL #15 (Marvel, 2017) – “Damage Per Second, Part 2,” (W) G. Willow Wilson, (A) Takeshi Miyazawa. Kamala fights someone who she thinks is the Doc.X virus’s creator, but it turns out the person is brainwashed. Also, Kamala befriends another girl who’s being trolled. This is a reasonably good issue, and an important statement about Internet trolling, but I do kind of wish that this comic would be more overtly political.

MOTOR CRUSH #3 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W/A) Babs Tarr, (W) Brenden Fletcher & Cameron Stewart. The last line of this issue, “I know what you really are,” suggests that Domino is some kind of human-motorcycle hybrid. Also, there’s a mysterious new character who wears a mask and who knows Domino’s secret. This conclusion makes me excited to see what happens next. Babs Tarr’s artwork this issue is fantastic as usual, but another thing that stands out to me is the coloring. In the scene in Lola’s apartment, the difference between Babs and Lola’s color schemes is very striking.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #26 (Image, 2017) – “Parental Guidance,” (W) Kieron Gillen, (A) Jamie McKelvie. The Great Darkness attacks Baal’s family – i.e. his mother and younger siblings, not his wife and his children, as I had initially thought – but the other gods drive it off. And then they vote against forming a united front against further Great Darkness attacks. I wish I’d been paying more attention to the relationships in this comic. I keep forgetting how the characters feel about each other, or who’s been sleeping with who. And that makes me feel like I’ve been missing the point.

WONDER WOMAN #16 (DC, 2017) – “Godwatch, Part 1,” (W) Greg Rucka, (A) Bilquis Evely. This story is effectively “Wonder Woman, Year Two.” Phobos and Deimos team up with Veronica Cale, who has designed a technology with the suggestive name of Cyber, and Diana fights a chimera. This was an okay issue, but Bilquis Evely is no substitute for Nicola Scott.

GOTHAM ACADEMY: SECOND SEMESTER #6 (DC, 2017) – “Second Semester, Part 2,” (W) Brenden Fletcher, Becky Cloonan & Karl Kerschl, (A) Adam Archer & Michelle Sassyk. One of the best things about this series is the way it creates a sense of mystery, curiosity and exploration. Sometimes it reminds me of those Barks and Rosa stories, like “The Old Castle’s Secret,” where Scrooge and the nephews explore an old ruin filled with traps and hidden passages. This issue in particular reminds me of that sort of story. The other great thing about this comic is the characterization, and this issue has a lot of that too. The Colton/Kyle scene is rather touching.

INCREDIBLE HULK #221 (Marvel, 1978) – “Show Me the Way to Go Home,” (W) Roger Stern, (A) Sal Buscema. An average issue. Walter Newell (Stingray) takes Bruce Banner to Manhattan, not knowing who he is. When Walter realizes he’s let the Hulk loose in Manhattan, a Hulk-Stingray battle ensues. As usual, Alfredo Alcala’s inking in this issue is so heavy that it completely overwhelms the pencils, although the pencils are rather generic and boring to begin with.

DOCTOR STRANGE #37 (Marvel, 1979) – “And Fear, the Final Victor!”, (W) Roger Stern & Ralph Macchio, (A) Gene Colan. This issue is a chapter in the Dane Whitman-Victoria Bentley saga which extended across a large number of Marvel comics over many years, from approximately Defenders #4 to Avengers #226. This issue, Ningal, the Dweller in Darkness, animates Dane Whitman’s statue and uses it to attack Dr. Strange. Apparently the last time the statue appeared before this run of Dr. Strange stories was Avengers #157, and after this issue it didn’t appear again until Avengers #226, meaning it was left as a dangling plot thread for quite a long time. Other than that, the main thing I remember about this issue is that Clea gets jealous whenever Doc acts nice to Victoria Bentley.

JONESY #10 (Boom!, 2017) – “Fight 4 Ferrets!,” (W/A) Caitlin Rose Boyle, (W) Sam Humphries. I notice that Boyle gets top billing this issue. After a successful social media campaign, Jonesy convinces the mayor of Shepard City to reopen the ferret center. But then she decides to move back to Plymouth in order to confront the as-yet-unexplained situation that caused her to leave. This was a fun issue, with an obvious but fairly subtle political subtext. I’m sorry this series is only going to last two more issues. I hope we see more from Caitlin Rose Boyle.

DOCTOR STRANGE #16 (Marvel, 2017) – “Blood in the Aether, Chapter Five: The Dread,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Chris Bachalo & Cory Smith. It’s been announced that Aaron and Bachalo are leaving this title. I’m fine with that; I’ve enjoyed their version of Doctor Strange, but I think it’s run its course. This issue, Doc finally confronts Dormammu, and barely survives thanks to assistance from Mordo. The surprise Shuma-Gorath appearance is a nice touch.

XENOGLYPHS #4 (OSSM, 2013) – untitled, (W) Omar Spahi, (A) PJ Catacutan. This comic book is about as bad as a comic book can get without being overtly racist. I can’t imagine why anyone would ever have paid $3.99 for this when there were so many better and cheaper entertainment options available.

SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #133 (DC, 1970) – “Jimmy Olsen Brings Back the Newsboy Legion!”, (W/A) Jack Kirby. This is one of the essential DC comics of the ‘70s, and the most important issue of Jimmy Olsen. It’s the first Fourth World comic, and it introduces the Wild Area, the Outsiders, the Whiz Wagon, Habitat, Flipper Dipper, and Morgan Edge as well as reintroducing the Newsboy Legion. I have of course read this story before, but on reading it again, what strikes me about it is how heavily it’s influenced by ‘60s subcultures. Despite already being over 50 at the time, Kirby must have been fascinated by ‘60s youth culture. He didn’t have an insider’s understanding of phenomena like biker gangs and hippies, but he did his best to understand such phenomena through the lens of his own sensibility, and the result, at least for this one issue, is a bizarre and fascinating blend of Kirby with ‘60s counterculture.

STEVEN UNIVERSE ONGOING #1 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, (W) Melanie Gillman, (A) Katy Farina. I was unimpressed by the previous Steven Universe comic, but this one is much better. Steven finds an injured baby bird and nurses it back to health with the aid of Lapis Lazuli and Peridot, until it can fly away on its own. Like the TV show, this comic is very cute and heartfelt. I’m not caught up on the TV show, so I had no idea who Lapis Lazuli and Peridot were; an explanation would have been useful.

WIMMEN’S COMIX #11 (Renegade, 1987) – “Fashion Confidential,” (W/A) various. This issue is devoted to fashion. It contains a large number of short pieces by artists including Alison Bechdel, Joyce Farmer, Dori Seda, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, and the underrated Sharon Rudahl, who was the subject of Maggie Galvan’s paper at MLA. All the stories are quite brief, and some of them, such as the one by Krystine Kryttre, were unappealing to me. But overall this was an entertaining and thought-provoking comic, which explores a fascinating subject that’s rarely mentioned in other comics. It makes me want to collect more of Wimmen’s Comix.

UNWORTHY THOR #4 (Marvel, 2017) – “War of the Unworthy,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Olivier Coipel et al. This series has been kind of average, but this was probably the best issue yet, because of the flashbacks. The two-page Frazer Irving flashback with teenage Thor was perhaps the best. Also, it’s always nice seeing Thori the hell-puppy again. I do find it hard to believe that Thor and Jane Foster were sleeping together back in the Silver Age.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #13 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) David F. Walker, (A) Elmo Bondoc. This issue is all right, but this Alex Wilder story has been less interesting than any of the previous stories in this series. I’m sad that this series is ending, although it will be replaced by a different Power Man series also written by Walker.

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #106 (Marvel, 1985) – “No Fury,” (W) Peter David, (A) Luke McDonnell. I read this last month, but forgot to review it because I misplaced it. This Spidey/Wasp/Paladin team-up is mostly a humorous story. PAD is very good at writing Spidey’s witty banter, and he also effectively portrays Janet van Dyne as a strong-willed woman who merely pretends to be silly and shallow. Amusingly, the letters page spoils the fact that Jean DeWolff is going to die next issue.

THOR #209 (Marvel, 1973) – “Warriors in the Night!”, (W) Gerry Conway, (A) John Buscema. The only unique thing about this formulaic, boring story is that it takes place in England, and is therefore full of English stereotypes. Thor encounters a new villain called the Demon Druid who turns out to be an alien, trying to get to Stonehenge so he can use it as a launching pad back home. This story probably contradicts other Marvel comics that offer alternative explanations for Stonehenge, including Captain Britain’s origin story.

SENSATION COMICS FEATURING WONDER WOMAN #11 (DC, 2015) – “Vendetta,” (W) Josh Elder, (A) Jamal Igle. This is a reasonably well-written and well-drawn story, but it annoys me because of its reliance on stereotyped narratives about Africa. The plot is that Wonder Woman brokers a peace deal between two warring factions in Central Africa, but Ares interferes and tries to make the war worse. So the first problem is that this story is a white savior narrative. The Africans can’t make peace with each other on their own, so Diana has to do it for them. Second, the writer seems uninterested in the causes of the war; he presents both sides as equally bad and equally unwilling to reconcile. It seems as though the war is driven by personal conflicts between the leaders of the two factions. That’s not how wars work in real life. Clearly this story was inspired by the Rwandan Genocide and the Second Congo War, but those events had complex causes, including the legacy of European colonialism. So this story is a trivialization of very serious real-world issues.

MS. TREE #12 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1984) – “Deadline, Chapter Five: That Was No Lady – That Was My Life!”, (W) Max Allan Collins, (A) Terry Beatty. At one time, Ms. Tree was the only work in the mystery/crime/thriller genre that I had any interest in. Lately I’ve gotten much more interested in mystery fiction, so maybe Ms. Tree was a gateway drug. This specific issue is a standard example of the Ms. Tree formula, though it does have one awesome underwater action sequence. Terry Beatty’s artwork is easy to criticize, but I think it was perfectly appropriate for Max Collins’s stories.

FLASH GORDON: KING’S CROSS #4 (Dynamite, 2017) – untitled, (W) Jeff Parker, (A) Jesse Hamm. Another exciting and funny issue. Ming captures the heroes using spores that cause them to hallucinate. Embarrassingly, Flash and Dale have visions about sleeping with each other. Then, Ming gets himself elected the ruler of Earth.

MERRY MEN #1 (Oni, 2017) – untitled, (W) Robert Rodi, (A) Jackie Lewis. I thought about ordering this when it came out, but for some reason I didn’t. This queer take on Robin Hood is funny, cute, and fairly historically accurate, but somehow it left me kind of cold. I had trouble caring about the characters. I feel that the premise of this comic is awesome, but the execution could perhaps have been better.

New comics received on February 17:

LUMBERJANES #35 (Boom!, 2017) – “Might as Wheel” (part two), (W) Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, (A) Carolyn Nowak. Part two of the roller derby story is perhaps even better than part one. It’s full of sweet and funny moments, like Mal’s sudden growth spurt, or the description of derby names as “comically over-violent combined with some sort of wordplay.” This is one of three recent comics about roller derby, and it’s notable that all three of them (the other two being Roller Girl and Slam!) are very different in tone and are targeted at different audiences.

SEX CRIMINALS #16 (Image, 2017) – “Goals,” (W) Matt Fraction, (A) Chip Zdarsky. An early candidate for the best comic book of the year. It begins with a recap of the entire series, which is hilarious and also useful, since it’s been nine months since the last issue. The scenes with Jon and Susie discussing their relationship are very realistically written, and the “good old days” sequence is adorable. It’s really nice to see these characters again, and I’m glad that Chip still has time to work on this comic, given how much his popularity has exploded since it began. My only problem with this issue is the ending where Ana gets fired. I guess they placed her on administrative leave instead of firing her. But in real life, if a tenured professor was fired for having had a previous career as a porn actress, it would be at least as big a national scandal as Steven Salaita’s firing.

PATSY WALKER, A.K.A. HELLCAT #15 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Kate Leth, (A) Brittney L. Williams. I’m very sad to hear that this series is ending. It was the third best Marvel title, which sounds like faint praise, but the two best are Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl. Besides Squirrel Girl, it was perhaps the most adult-female-friendly Marvel comic. Kate Leth says that she’s ending the series on her own terms, but the impression I get is that this was not a planned ending. I think the series was cancelled for low sales, and Kate was given the opportunity to finish it on her own turns. Of course I could be wrong, and I hope I am wrong. This issue, Sharon holds a holiday party, which turns into a disaster because Patsy is still infected with the magic from Bailey’s bag.

Also:

PATSY WALKER, A.K.A. HELLCAT #14 – I read this comic but forgot to review it.

MANIFEST DESTINY #26 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Chris Dingess, (A) Matthew Roberts. The second part of this untitled storyline is very similar to the first part. As I read this issue, I found myself wondering just how many men the Corps of Discovery had to begin with, and how many of them are still alive. Because it seems like just about every issue, at least one of the men gets killed or mutilated.

SUPER SONS #1 (DC, 2017) – “When I Grow Up…”, (W) Peter J. Tomasi, (A) Jorge Jimenez. I was looking forward to this, and it does not disappoint. It’s cute, funny and sweet. Damien and Jon’s relationship parallels that of their fathers, but because of their young age, they exaggerate their fathers’ more extreme tendencies. I loved the Super Sons story in the main Superman title, and I’m glad it’s been spun off into its own series.

ANIMOSITY #5 (Aftershock, 2017) – “Here There Be Dragons,” (W) Marguerite Bennett, (A) Rafael De Latorre. The novelty of this series has worn off a bit, and I’m starting to see the logical problems with the premise. As discussed in the plankton’s conversation on the first page, it’s not entirely clear where you draw the line between animals and other organisms like bacteria, and it seems logically unsustainable to imagine that every virus and bacterium in the world is now intelligent. My other difficulty with the premise is that the animals are all too similar. They all seem to think and act like humans, and in particular American humans. Maybe there’s a plot-related reason for that, but I feel that the animals’ behaviors and speech patterns should be more reflective of their species. We have seen that the principal dog character is extremely loyal, but there seems to be little difference between the cat, the buffalo and the humpback whale. Besides all that, this is an okay comic.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #37 (IDW, 2017) – untitled, (W) Jeremy Whitley, (A) Agnes Garbowska. Rarity visits Manehattan to design costumes for Sapphire Shores’s concert, but discovers that she will have to work with Trixie. Mistrust and disharmony ensue. Like all the best Friends Forever stories, this story ends by stressing what the two protagonists have in common – in this case, “an almost irritating persistence.” Agnes Garbowska does a great job of depicting the characters’ emotions.

ANIMOSITY: THE RISE #1 (Aftershock, 2017) – “The Rise,” (W) Marguerite Bennett, (A) Juan Doe. I think I liked this spinoff title better than I liked the latest issue of the main title. This issue is about a city where the animals and humans have managed to coexist without killing each other. I particularly like the opening scene, where we see six different human/animal encounters happening at once, and then we realize that all these encounters are happening in the same place.

MIGHTY THOR #15 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Asgard/Shi’ar War, Part Two: The Challenge of the Gods,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Russell Dauterman. Thor battles the Shi’ar gods Sharra and K’ythri, a pair of awful jerks whose power makes them completely blind to the concerns of mortals. Their power is effectively established when one of them beats up Gladiator, Marvel’s version of Superman. But I think what I like best about this issue is Volstagg’s filibuster, which begins with a detailed description of his breakfast. Another cute thing in this issue is Shadrak, god of daffodils and documentation.

HERO CATS OF STELLAR CITY #15 (Action Lab, 2017) – “The Secret Origin of Rocco” and other stories, (W) Kyle Puttkammer, (A) Peter Cutler. This is a little confusing because it’s not clear where it fits into the series’ timeframe. Why do only Rocco and Rocket appear in this issue and not the other Hero Cats? Is this story taking place before the rest of the series? Otherwise, this is another fun issue. I forget if we’ve seen Kjarl before, but he’s a funny new character.

SPELL ON WHEELS #5 (Dark Horse, 2017) – untitled, (W) Kate Leth, (A) Megan Levens. An effective conclusion to a pretty good miniseries. It turns out the real villain is Andy’s dead grandmother Ada. The protagonists exorcise her ghost, take revenge on Claire’s evil ex-boyfriend, and go off to look for more magic. Clearly this conclusion is intended as a hook for a sequel miniseries; I wonder if that sequel is going to materialize.

BETTY BOOP #1 (Dynamite, 2016) – “Enter the Lizard,” (W) Roger Langridge, (A) Gisèle Lagacé. I’ve ordered every issue of this series, since it’s written by Roger Langridge, but I just now got around to reading it. This first issue is a pleasant surprise because its tone is very similar to that of the original Betty Boop cartoons. Just like in his Popeye adaptations, Langridge shows a deep understanding of the original material. The Fleischers’ earliest Betty Boop cartoons were super weird, disturbing and creepy as well as being full of sexual innuendo, and Langridge effectively captures that tone. The plot this issue is that Betty and her grandfather are evicted from their house by a talking lizard and a bunch of ghosts. Also like Langridge’s Popeye, this comic shows deep historical knowledge; it’s full of references to jazz and contemporary popular culture. And this issue even includes rhyming dialogue that scans properly. I want to read the rest of this series soon, but first I decided to read another comic that’s based on similar inspirations:

SHADOWLAND #2 (Fantagraphics, 1989) – “The Crafton Curse!”, (W/A) Kim Deitch. Langridge’s Betty Boop may be inspired by the darker aspects of early animation, but Kim Deitch has made an entire career out of delving into the dark heart of early 20th century popular culture. This comic is the conclusion of a two-issue story which is tangentially related to Stuff of Dreams and Alias the Cat. I’m not going to summarize the plot, but it’s full of horror and debauchery and creepy pseudoscience, and it ends with a woman climbing a bonfire to retrieve a broken painting. It’s one of Deitch’s major works.

DOCTOR STRANGE #17 (Marvel, 2017) – “State of Misery,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Frazer Irving. There’s not as much story in this issue as in a typical Jason Aaron comic, but in exchange, Frazer Irving’s art takes center stage. I was already impressed with this artist’s work when he did Seven Soldiers: Klarion, and since then, his style has become even more distinctive and unusual. I especially like his version of the Man-Thing, and I also like the opening scene where Doc resolves a dispute between two bizarre creatures that inhabit his living room. This issue makes the ridiculous claim that Dr. Strange’s entire career has lasted just five years, which shows how unsustainable Marvel continuity has become.

INVINCIBLE #133 (Image, 2017) – “The End of All Things, Part One,” (W) Robert Kirkman, (A) Ryan Ottley. As I have statd many times before, I think this series has jumped the shark. I’ve hated almost every issue since #111. I decided I would give it yet another chance since it’s about to end. I shouldn’t have bothered, because this is another frustrating issue. It begins at Oliver’s funeral. The fact that Oliver is dead is bad enough, but on top of that, Mark’s grief causes him to act like an immature jerk; he attacks Allen the Alien for no reason. Also, the wedding in this issue is perhaps the most disappointing wedding in the history of superhero comics. Given that we’ve been reading about Mark for 126 issues, it seems insulting to devote only two pages to his wedding. It’s too late for me to cancel my order of #134, but after that, I’m done with Invincible.

BRAT PACK #3 (King Hell, 1991) – untitled, (W/A) Rick Veitch. In four separate sequences, each of which occupies one quarter of each two-page spread, the four new sidekicks are trained by their mentors. Veitch makes excellent use of parallelism here. For example, there’s one two-page spread where each quadrant of the two pages is a close-up of the face of one of the superheroes. Later in the issue there’s a sequence where each of the superheroes comments disparagingly on the other three. In terms of content, this issue is mostly devoted to showing us how horrible the four superheroes are. I need to look for the last two issues of this miniseries.

SPIDER-GWEN #15 (Marvel, 2017) – “I Don’t Wanna Fight Tonight! (With Yooouu!)”, (W) Jason Latour, (A) Robbi Rodriguez. I’ve fallen behind on this series, but that’s not because it’s bad. This was a fun and well-drawn issue. However, Gwen’s limited number of “power-ups” is a severe and frustrating restriction. At the end of this issue, Matt Murdock suggests that he can give Gwen as many power-ups as she needs, and I think that deal might be worth taking.

THE BACKSTAGERS #6 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, (W) James Tynion IV, (A) Rian Sygh. This was another fun issue, but it’s kind of hard to care about this series, given that it’s ending just as it’s getting interesting.

SPIDER-GWEN #16 (Marvel, 2017) – “Sittin’ in a Tree, Part 2,” (W) Jason Latour, (A) Robbi Rodriguez. Annoyingly, this issue is part of a crossover. The Spider-Women crossover killed the momentum of this title, and I’m sorry to see that it’s already embroiled in yet another crossover. At least the interactions between Gwen and Miles Morales are a lot of fun.

ULTIMATE COMICS: SPIDER-MAN #21 (Marvel, 2013) – untitled, (W) Brian Michael Bendis, (A) Sara Pichelli. This is a forgettable comic, but at least the dialogue is less annoying than in most Bendis comics.

AUTUMNLANDS #14 (Image, 2017) – “The Touch of a Goddess,” (W) Kurt Busiek, (A) Benjamin Dewey. This was the best Autumnlands in a while, with the caveat that this series has been unimpressive lately. The Galataeans decide to disobey the goddess’s command to commit suicide, but several of them have to sacrifice themselves to save the others. I do wish we would finally get some answers about what the hell is going on in this world. I feel like at this point we still don’t know much more than we knew when the series began.

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #559 (DC, 1998) – “The Day of the Super-Comet,” (W) Karl Kesel & Jerry Ordway, (A) Tom Grummett. Like the previous issue, which I read last year, this issue was part of “The Dominus Effect.” In this crossover, three of the four ongoing Superman titles featured stories based on earlier eras of Superman. In the case of Adventures of Superman, that era was the Silver Age. So “The Day of the Super-Comet’ is a Silver Age-esque story in which Luthor and Brainiac give superpowers to everyone in Metropolis– except Dan Turpin, because he’s the only one who doesn’t want to be a superhero. And Turpin ends up saving the day because he’s the only person in town who’s immune to kryptonite. This story feels a little inauthentic because it includes characters like Turpin and Maggie Sawyer who didn’t exist in the Silver Age, but otherwise it’s an effective pastiche of Silver Age Superman, and it makes me wish that the original Silver Age Superman stories had been better than they usually were.

ATOMIC ROBO: THE FLYING SHE-DEVILS OF THE PACIFIC #2 (Red 5, 2012) – untitled, (W) Brian Clevinger, (A) Scott Wegener. This is better than an average issue of Atomic Robo because of the title characters, a group of hard-drinking female pilots and engineers. I especially like Lauren, who reminds me a bit of Ripley from Lumberjanes.

GREAT LAKES AVENGERS #4 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Zac Gorman, (A) Jacob Chabot. My favorite thing about this issue is the cover, which depicts Flatman saying “Shh! I’ve disguised myself as a copy of the Great Lakes Avengers comic book!” It’s a nice piece of self-referentiality or materiality or something. The story was fun as usual, but I’m a bit disappointed that Good Boy didn’t really kill Dick Snerd – he certainly would have deserved it.

ACTION LAB: DOG OF WONDER #5 (Action Lab, 2017) – “The Comet’s Tale, Part Two,” (W) Vito Delsante & Scott Fogg, (A) Reilly Leeds. I really don’t like the art in this issue; it looks sub-professional, though this is partly because of the poor reproduction. The art isn’t bad though.

DOCTOR STRANGE #1.MU (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Chip Zdarsky, (A) Julian Lopez. When I read this I may have been too tired to fully appreciate it, but I felt it was below Chip’s usual level of quality. Googam and Goom have a lot of funny dialogue, but otherwise this is just an average crossover tie-in issue. I hope Chip’s growing popularity does not cause him to lower his standards.

MULTIVERSITY: PAX AMERICANA #1 (DC, 2015) – “In Which We Burn,” (W) Grant Morrison, (A) Frank Quitely. As discussed in an article I recently read (http://www.break.com/article/alan-moore-and-grant-morrison-occult-war-for-25-years-3080666), this issue is Grant’s attempt to one-up Watchmen. It stars the Charlton characters who inspired the Watchmen, and its pages are based on a 16×16 grid, in contrast to Watchmen’s 3×3 grid. It has an intricate structure that resembles the symmetrical structure of Watchmen #5, but is even more complex; it consists of eight segments that are arranged in non-chronological order. As usual with Grant, I had trouble figuring out what exactly happened in this issue, and I felt like I would have to read it multiple times, and possibly backwards, to understand it. But whereas Grant’s recent work often seems to be complicated just for complexity’s sake, I think this issue would repay the effort needed to decipher it.

CAVE CARSON HAS A CYBERNETIC EYE #5 (DC, 2017) – “Night Pudding,” (W) Jon Rivera & Gerard Way, (A) Michael Avon Oeming. Another good issue. This issue gives us some insight into Muldroog’s history and its culture, which appears to involve a lot of casual nudity.

BLACK WIDOW #6 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Chris Samnee, (A) Mark Waid. So Natasha’s big secret is that she was responsible for kidnapping Ho Yinsen and delivering him to Wong Chu. Why is that such a big deal, if she did it before she defected? I mean, I suppose it impairs Tasha’s relationship with Tony Stark, but whatever. As usual, the primary and perhaps the only reason to read this comic is Chris Samnee’s brilliant artwork.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #49 (IDW, 2016) – “Speak, Memory, Part 2,” (W) James Roberts, (A) Hayato Sakamoto. I’m more than a year behind on this series. I’ve kept buying it out of loyalty, but I haven’t been reading it. I suppose it’s finally time to get caught up. This issue is about a villain who has the power to make Transformers forget how to transform.

GUARDIANS OF INFINITY #3 (Marvel, 2016) – “Guardians of Infinity, Part Three,” (W) Dan Abnett, (A) Carlo Barberi; and “Guardians of the Lower East Side,” (W) Darryl “DMC” McDaniels & Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, (A) Nelson Faro Decastro. The main story this issue is boring and formulaic; it lacks the excitement of DnA’s previous run on Guardians of the Galaxy. The reason I bought this comic is the backup story, written by DMC of Run-DMC, in which the Thing and Groot explore the Lower East Side. This story shows a certain lack of experience on the part of the writers, but I’m willing to forgive that because it’s so well-intentioned and it shows so much heart. One key part of this story is the scene where a Puerto Rican woman describes Groot as the ceiba tree spirit from Puerto Rican mythology.

Giant review post

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The first of what I hope will be many comics I’ll read in 2017:

JONNY QUEST #18 (Comico, 1987) – “Bannon’s Last Case,” (W) William Messner-Loebs, (A) Marc Hempel. Similar to the Jezebel Jade miniseries, this issue has a frame story in which Jonny and Hadji listen to a tape-recorded narrative of Race Bannon’s adventures. This time around, Race tells the story of his brief stint as a private investigator. This issue is designed to look like a film noir, and in film-noir fashion, its plot is convoluted and difficult to follow. It’s fun, but not the best Jonny Quest comic.

X-MEN AND THE MICRONAUTS #2 (Marvel, 1984) – “Into the Abyss!”, (W) Bill Mantlo & Chris Claremont, (A) Butch Guice. Despite the excellent artwork, his comic suffers from too much Mantlo and not enough Claremont. I don’t care about the Micronauts, and the X-Men don’t show up until near the end of the issue. Even when they do show up, my favorite X-Man, Kitty Pryde, is mostly absent because she and Baron Karza have switched bodies. I have issue 3 of this miniseries, but have not yet felt like reading it.

JOURNEY #14 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1984) – “Chapter Sixteen: Hunter’s Moon,” (W/A) William Messner-Loebs. An average issue of a very strong and consistent series. The best sequence this issue is when White Bear, an Iroquois, visits some people from another Native American tribe and discovers that they really hate the Iroquois. Bill Loebs’s portrayal of Native Americans in this series was unusually sensitive. He was aware of the richness and diversity of Indian culture and the fact that Native American tribes had rivalries with each other as much as with whites. Also, the moment when Tecumseh “causes” an eclipse is pretty cool.

DONALD DUCK #276 (Gladstone, 1989) – “Links Jinx,” (W/A) Carl Barks, plus other stories. In the Barks ten-pager that begins this issue, Huey, Dewey and Louie set up a round of golf between Donald and Gladstone, with the intention of fixing it so that Gladstone wins. However, Donald wins without the nephews’ help, while Gladstone has all sorts of awful luck. What? How could Gladstone have bad luck? Well, it turns out that Gladstone wins a $50 prize for being the unluckiest golfer of the day. This ending was very predictable, but still funny. This story includes an (I assume) unintentionally funny moment where Donald hides in the closet. As usual with these Gladstone comics, the backup stories in this issue are much worse.

MIGHTY THOR #14 (Marvel, 2016) – “Ljotsalfgard’s Burning,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Steve Epting. After a series of fight scenes, Malekith is finally driven out of Alfheim, but only after having done irreparable damage. This comic is somewhat depressing to read, given that we’ve just elected a government that intends to treat America the way Malekith treated Alfheim.

ROCKET RACCOON #1 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, (W) Matthew Rosenberg, (A) Jorge Coelho. I was kind of unexcited by yet another Rocket Raccoon comic, but this was a really fun issue. Matthew Rosenberg writes Rocket somewhat differently from his predecessors; his Rocket is much more animalistic, to the extent that he digs in a trash can for food. And I think that’s an exciting and perfectly appropriate take on this character.

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UNSTOPPABLE WASP #1 (Marvel, 2017) – I forgot to review this comic earlier, and I’m writing this review (and the next four) on February 8, after having already read issue 2. Jeremy Whitley’s first issue of an ongoing Marvel title is a super-fun comic. Nadia is an infectiously charming character, with her exuberance and her imperfect English. Her line “I am a happy scientist!” is the most memorable thing about the issue, and sums up her character perfectly. It’s mostly because of the ending that Bleeding Cool described Unstoppable Wasp #1 as possibly Marvel’s “most feminist activist comic” ever. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but the GIRL project is a great idea not only in the Marvel Universe but in real life. As a former Georgia Tech faculty member, I know that there is a massive shortage of women in STEM professions and that women face significant barriers to entering such professions. It would be nice if this comic made even a tiny contribution to rectifying those problems.

BTW, I just read a negative review of this issue which included the line “Certainly, more female-focused comic books would be great, but they don’t all have to be about saving the world from a misogynistic society.” Based on the rest of the review, as well as the general tone of the website on which the review appears, I think the reviewer’s real problem is that she doesn’t think there should be any comic books about saving the world from misogyny.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #22 (IDW, 2016) – “Enter the Stingers, Part Four,” (W) Kelly Thompson, (A) Meredith McClaren. Since I’m writing this review after having read #23, issue #22 has mostly faded from my memory. The main thing I remember about it is the scene where Fox quits the Holograms just before they go on stage.

HAWKEYE #2 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Kelly Thompson, (A) Leonardo Romero. Same problem as with the previous review. This is a fun comic and a good follow-up to the first issue, but I can’t recall much about it. The villains of this storyline are obviously based on real-life Internet trolls.

ACTION COMICS #486 (DC, 1978) – “Superman’s Time-Killing Trip!”, (W) Gerry Conway, (A) George Tuska. I don’t remember much about this issue – I’m not even sure why I read it when I did. The lead story is a confusing and poorly drawn time-travel adventure. It ends with an example of a predestination or bootstrap paradox, which was already something of a cliché by this time. The backup story is more interesting than the lead story. It’s one of just three Superman stories written by Elizabeth M. Smith, a notable letterhack and the wife of big-name Legion fan Mike Flynn, who also wrote romance novels under the name Ellis Flynn. In this story, Lex Luthor escapes from prison in order to deliver a birthday present to his nephew Val Colby.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #25 (Image, 2017) – “Riddles in the Dark,” (W) Kieron Gillen, (A) Jamie McKelvie. The good guys try to talk Woden about his blackmail plot, but fail, and then the Great Darkness shows up. I enjoyed this issue, as usual, but I can’t remember much about it anymore.

GIANT DAYS #22 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, (W) John Allison, (A) Max Sarin. Esther starts a same-sex relationship with a German girl. I enjoyed this issue, but after two weeks, I don’t remember anything about it. As an off-topic comment on forgetting comics I’ve read, the other day Captain America #275 was in the news because of recent discussions of violence against Nazis. When I saw that issue referenced in a Bleeding Cool article, the cover looked familiar, and I checked my boxes and determined that I indeed own that issue and have read it, but I can’t recall anything about it at all.

KORAK, SON OF TARZAN #54 (DC, 1973) – “Blood Brothers,” (W) Robert Kanigher, (A) Murphy Anderson; and “Into the Land of Noobol,” (W/A) Michael Kaluta. This issue includes stories by two great artists. In the lead story, Korak fights for the chieftainship of an African tribe and wins the love of the current chief’s sister, but leaves her because he’s still looking for Meriem. This story is notable for including a very early example of an on-panel interracial kiss. The Carson of Venus backup story has a stupid plot (about a prison with multiple doors behind each of which is a different deadly peril) but excellent artwork.

MOTHER PANIC #2 (DC, 2017) – “A Work in Progress, Part 2,” (W) Jody Houser, (A) Tommy Lee Edwards. Mother Panic #1 is the only Young Animal comic I haven’t read, and now I wish I had read it, because issue 2 does not make sense on its own. At least Tommy Lee Edwards’s art is surprisingly impressive.

SUPERMAN #12 (DC, 2017) – “Super-Monster, Part One,” (W) Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason, (A) Doug Mahnke. I’m annoyed that I forgot to order issue 11, which was the second part of the Super Sons story. This issue instead focuses on Lois, who gets hired at a small-town newspaper and promptly has to defend one of her coworkers from Frankenstein (from Seven Soldiers). This is an okay issue, but Chris doesn’t appear in it, and without him, much of the appeal of this series is missing. I don’t understand why Lois needs a job at a local newspaper.

HERO CATS OF STELLAR CITY #14 (Action Lab, 2017) – “Back on the Streets!”, (W) Kyle Puttkammer, (A) Marcus Williams & Tracy Yardley. A very average story in which the Hero Cats team up with Cosmic Girl to defeat a criminal. I’m not sure how this issue is related to the previous story arc.

FAITH #3 (Valiant, 2016) – “The Long Con, Part One,” (W) Jody Houser, (A) Pere Pérez & Marguerite Sauvage. Archer and Faith go to a comic convention where they have a superheroic adventure. This is not the first comic book = that takes place at a convention, but it’s probably the best, other than Eltingville Club #2. Jody shows a deep understanding of contemporary fandom and conventions, and the issue is full of “convention tips” for first-time attendees, all of which are also ironic comments on the plot. I just noticed that on the first page, Pere Pérez is sleeping at his convention table, and Jody Houser is standing behind him looking nonplussed.

NEW SUPER-MAN #3 (DC, 2016) – “Made in China,” (W) Gene Luen Yang, (A) Victor Bogdanovic. I’m glad this is the last issue of this series I bought. I just don’t think Gene is particularly good at writing superhero comics. His plots are boring and formulaic, and he fails to generate any kind of excitement. Also, my critique of issue 1 is still correct: there is nothing specifically Chinese about this story, and it could have been set in New York instead of Shanghai, with only cosmetic changes.

TOTALLY AWESOME HULK #8 (Marvel, 2016) – “Peace in Our Time,” (W) Greg Pak, (A) Alan Davis. I’ve been buying this title only intermittently, but this issue is quite good, perhaps the best of the series, and not just because of the Alan Davis art. Bruce and Amadeus help each other go through rehabilitation, with the aid of She-Hulk and Rick Jones. As the title indicates, it’s a very sweet story with a happy ending. Of course, since this is a Civil War II crossover, we know that the happy ending is only temporary, but let’s try to forget about that.

WEIRD WORLDS #1 (DC, 1972) – “The Area of Sudden Death,” (W) Len Wein, (A) Alan Weiss; and “Trial of Fear,” (W) Marv Wolfman, (A) Murphy Anderson. I was nearly asleep when I read this comic, and it took me forever to finish it. This issue includes chapters of DC’s adaptations of At the Earth’s Core and A Princess of Mars. Confusingly, each of these adaptations began as a backup story in a different title, and this is not stated anywhere, leaving the reader confused as to what happened to the earlier chapters. The writing and art in this issue are fairly effective, but neither story is nearly as good as Joe Kubert’s Tarzan.

TARZAN #4 (Marvel, 1977) – “A Beast Again!”, (W) Roy Thomas, (A) John Buscema. This issue is adapted from Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar. Thomas and Buscema’s Tarzan was very short-lived, but it was an interesting take on the character. Compared to Joe Kubert, Roy placed more of an emphasis on Tarzan’s animalistic savagery, which was concealed behind a thin layer of refinement. Big John’s artwork is excellent as always. Roy only wrote Tarzan for a little over a year, which perhaps explains why his Tarzan has been almost forgotten, but it’s a very underrated comic and I need to collect the rest of it.

FANTASTIC FOUR #98 (Marvel, 1970) – “Mystery on the Moon!”, (W) Stan Lee, (A) Jack Kirby. This issue begins with an unintentionally funny moment where Sue asks Reed what he wants for dinner, and he replies, “Quiet, honey! I’ve intercepted some sort of strange alien message!” What a great husband. And of course, as people reminded me when I posted this scene on Instagram, this was not even the worst example of Reed’s sexist behavior toward Sue. Anyway, other than that, this was an amazing comic. The plot is that the FF have to stop the Kree Sentry from interfering with the Apollo 11 mission. This issue came out right around the time that humans first landed on the moon, and it powerfully conveys the sense of wonder that people must have felt about this achievement. For Marvel readers, it must have felt like the FF’s amazing feats were becoming real.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #149 (Marvel, 1975) – “Even If I Live, I Die!”, (W) Gerry Conway, (A) Ross Andru. I already have the Marvel Masterpieces replica edition of this issue, but I prefer to own the real thing. The original Clone Saga’s reputation has suffered because of its association with the later Clone Saga, but if not for that, it would be considered a classic Spider-Man epic. This issue is full of action, soap-opera drama, and emotion, just like all the best Spider-Man stories. It famously concludes with the death of the Jackal and the Spider-Man clone (both later revived), but the two epilogue pages are what really make it a classic. First, the Gwen Stacy clone puts flowers on the original Gwen’s grave and then walks out of Peter’s life. The Gwen clone appeared again many years later, but I prefer to ignore that, because this scene is such a perfect end to their story. Then, Peter goes back home feeling depressed, but finds Mary Jane there already, and he enters his apartment and closes the door – mirroring the last page of issue 122, where it’s MJ who closes the door. This was Gerry Conway’s last issue of ASM, and it’s a deeply satisfying conclusion to his entire run on the title.

SUPERMAN #201 (DC, 1967) – “Clark Kent Abandons Superman!”, (W) Cary Bates, (A) Curt Swan. Superman blames himself for causing the death of a certain Dr. Steele. He leaves Earth for a planet with a red sun, where he lives a normal lifestyle and falls in love with a girl named Lloru. But despite Clark’s best efforts to stop being a superhero, he ends up having to save the planet from a criminal, who proves to be Lloru’s father. This experience teaches him that he can’t give up on being Superman, and he returns to earth. In the last panel, Clark wonders if he’ll ever see Lloru again, but as far as I know, he never did. This story has a lot of stupid stuff in it, including a monster that consists of a giant hand and arm with an eye in the palm. But it also has a much more realistic and dark tone than most Superman stories of this time, and it almost feels like a preview of the Bronze Age Superman. This issue also includes a reprinted backup story which is just jaw-droppingly bad, especially considering that it was published as late as 1960.

UNWORTHY THOR #2 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Thief of Asgard,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Olivier Coipel. This is the lesser of the two current Thor titles, but it’s still good. This issue, the former Thor and Beta Ray Bill encounter the Collector, who is an awesome villain, though his heartless murder of an alien child is almost too comically evil.

TOTALLY AWESOME HULK #10 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, (W) Greg Pak, (A) Mahmud Asrar. This Civil War II crossover has some good art, but the story, in which Hulk encounters Black Panther, is not memorable or interesting.

SUPER POWERS #1 (DC, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Art Baltazar, (A) Franco. This looks like a standard Baltazar/Franco comic, but is in fact a sequel to Superman Family Adventures, which was Baltazar and Franco’s only comic that had a sustained narrative instead of being a series of gags. I wish they would tell continued stories more often, because they’re good at it. Their work reminds me of the old Marvel Adventures line, or Jeff Parker’s X-Men: First Class. The most interesting thing about this comic is Lara’s pregnancy; as far as I know, this is the only comic in which Superman has had a younger biological sibling, outside of some old imaginary stories.

CHAMPIONS #3 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Mark Waid, (A) Humberto Ramos (the same creative team from Impulse in the ‘90s, come to think of it). Let me quote my own Facebook post: “I expected this comic to be a train wreck, but it pleasantly surprised me. Mark Waid shows he understands that 1) superheroes beating people up doesn’t solve anything on its own, and 2) the greatest enemies of ISIS and the Taliban are liberal Muslims.” To expand on that a bit, this comic could easily have been awful if it had just been about the Champions going into Pakistan and fighting Taliban soldiers. Instead of solving the problem by violence, however, they “save the day” by helping the local people resist the local Taliban on their own. Also, Mark avoids the common trap of presenting Islam as the enemy, because the schoolgirls in this issue are just as devoted to Islam as the villains claim to be. So overall, this issue was a pleasant surprise. BTW, I wonder if the name Sharzad is derived from Shahrazad, the great Islamic heroine.

CHAMPIONS #4 (Marvel, 2017) – as above. This wasn’t nearly as good as the previous issue. On their way back from Sharzad, the Champions are ambushed by Atlanteans, resulting in a pointless fight that achieves nothing.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #57 (Marvel, 1975) – “Incident in Argos,” (W) Roy Thomas, (A) Mike Ploog. Conan and his companions Tara and Yussuf travel to the city of Argos, where Conan promptly commits a bunch of crimes and has to escape alone. This is a fun comic, though it portrays Conan as unusually savage and unrestrained. But its main purpose is to set up the Queen of the Black Coast epic that begins next issue. Mike Ploog’s guest artwork is very effective.

UNWORTHY THOR #3 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Sin Unpardonable,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Olivier Coipel. The Collector story arc continues, and Thanos is also involved somehow. This comic is just okay. The best thing about it is seeing all the bizarre creatures and items in the Collector’s collection.

SHADE THE CHANGING GIRL #4 (DC, 2017) – “All Apologies,” (W) Cecil Castelucci, (A) Marley Zarcone. I probably had this issue’s namesake song in my head for the entire time I was reading it. This issue is okay, but very similar to the previous three issues, and I’m not sure if this comic is going anywhere. The Element Girl backup story is very insubstantial, but at least has art by Paulina Ganucheau.

FAITH #4 (Valiant, 2016) – “The Long Con Part Two, Double Whammy,” (W) Jody Houser, (A) Pere Pérez & Marguerite Sauvage. The conclusion to the comic convention story is unexpectedly dark. Faith is cloned, and the clone has to sacrifice herself to save the city from being blown up. This issue has the same funny convention jokes as last issue, and Faith’s interactions with her clone are a lot of fun. Overall, I really enjoyed this two-parter.

X-MEN #138 (Marvel, 1980) – “Elegy,” (W) Chris Claremont, (A) John Byrne. At Jean Grey’s funeral, Cyclops flashes back to all his previous adventures with her and the other X-Men, In a Facebook post, I described this as the worst issue of Claremont and Byrne’s X-Men, and perhaps of Claremont’s entire first decade. Some people pushed back on that, saying that when it came out, they appreciated the recap of the X-Men’s entire previous history. It is true that back in 1980, when there was no Internet, a capsule summary of all the old X-Men stories would have been useful. But I still maintain that this issue is objectively terrible, and is also a disappointing follow-up to the Dark Phoenix Saga. When I first read this issue, as a Classic X-Men reprint, I was very disappointed, and I still don’t like it. Scott’s retelling of X-Men history is dry and boring, devoid of any emotion. Maybe this is because he’s traumatized, but I think that’s giving Chris too much credit. The other characters are almost absent from this story, and there is none of the powerful emotion and catharsis and character interaction that you would expect from Claremont. Clearly Chris and John needed a break after creating the greatest X-Men story of all time, especially since issue 137 had to be extensively revised, and they chose to do a recap issue rather than a Dreaded Deadline Doom reprint. I almost think the latter would have been a better choice, though.

GOLD KEY SPOTLIGHT #6 (Gold Key, 1977) – “Death Flies on Scarlet Wings,” (W) Don Glut, (A) Jesse Santos. This is the last original Dagar the Invincible story. At this point, Dagar’s girlfriend Graylin has left him, and Dagar, now single again, has gotten together with the three beautiful witches from issue 10. This appears to be a wish-fulfillment fantasy, since Don Glut was going through a divorce at the time, and Graylin was based on his ex-wife. So to compensate, Glut gives Dagar not one but three new girlfriends. The actual plot of the issue is that Dagar and the witches help each other defeat a demon, even though Dagar thinks the witches’ powers are useless. They don’t seem to be bothered by his blatant sexism, and he decides to stay with them for a bit before going off to seek new adventures. Despite the poorly concealed wish-fulfillment element, this is a fun comic and a good send-off for Dagar.

As a reminder to myself, I need to look for Kull the Destroyer #21 and #22, which are an unannounced crossover with Dagar.

IRON FIST #9 (Marvel, 1976) – “The Dragon Dies at Dawn!”, (W) Chris Claremont, (A) John Byrne. I think this is the worst Claremont/Byrne collaboration, but I decided to read it anyway because it can’t be worse than X-Men #138. This issue, the crimelord Chaka poisons Iron Fist, and Danny has only an hour to defeat Chaka and retrieve the antidote. There are some good action sequences in this issue, but the plot is not all that interesting.

My next comic book shipment was supposed to arrive on Saturday, January 14. It did not. USPS made a failed delivery attempt at 6 PM Saturday, and the tracking information was never updated again. I went a little crazy and spent the entire weekend worrying about where the package was and whether it would ever come. Numerous phone calls to the local post office resulted in no useful information. By Tuesday, I fully believed the package was lost, and I was shocked when I came home on Tuesday and found the package at my door. I guess what happened was that they didn’t finish making deliveries on Saturday, and then they didn’t try again until Tuesday, because Monday was a holiday. Which makes sense, but the lack of communication was very frustrating. It was an annoying weekend. Though to be fair, I was in an irritable mood after going to MLA and then working for five days straight.

Anyway, I was thrilled when the package did come because of this:

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #16 (Marvel, 2017) – “25th Anniversary Celebration,” (W) Ryan North with Will Murray, (A) Erica Henderson. This issue is an affectionate tribute to Doreen Green, and it also reveals a lot of new information about her. The ten-year-old sequence is especially good, in particular the moment when Monkey Joe says “why are you already deciding there are things you can’t do.” The 15-year-old sequence is written by Will Murray, who is a far less proficient writer than Ryan North, but Murray’s affection for his creation is clear. And the last two epilogue sequences are brilliant. This is perhaps the best issue of Squirrel Girl, and that’s saying a lot.

SAGA #41 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Brian K. Vaughan, (A) Fiona Staples. I unfortunately have to write this review after having already read issue 42, but I’ll try to pretend I haven’t read that issue yet. Saga #41 is an excellent chapter of a somewhat underwhelming storyline. The ending of the issue delivers two powerful moments in three pages. The March is/are perhaps the most disgusting, loathsome villain in a series that’s full of villains, and their death is a deeply cathartic moment. And then two pages later, we see who killed them: Marko. Marko the pacifist, the man who utterly renounced violence, who hasn’t lifted a fist in anger in 40 issues. Because Marko’s nonviolence is such a deeply ingrained part of his character, his renunciation of nonviolence is a bigger shock than The March’s death. What will be the long-term impact of this act upon Marko’s character? Well, unfortunately, I now know that before Marko even has time to deal with that, he’s going to face an even worse trauma.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #16 (Image, 2017) – “Gut Check, Part Two,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Jason Latour. It turns out I somehow forgot to order issue 14, which was a spotlight on Roberta Tubb. All this time I’ve been waiting to see this character again, and now she’s come back and I’ve missed her. Anyway, this is still a powerful issue. Coach Boss sacrifices his last remaining shreds of principle; he visits Theron Goode, the star player for Craw County’s next opponent, and breaks his leg, as well as nearly killing Theron’s parents. It gets worse. Theron shows up at the game anyway, having escaped the incident with only a minor leg fracture, and Coach Boss orders all his defensive players to target that leg. And even then, Craw County only manages to tie the game. This issue feels like Coach Boss’s final descent into depravity; it’s bad enough that he’s a murderer, but he’s also sacrificed the integrity of the game of football, which was the one thing he cared about. I can’t remember if we’ve seen Colonel Quick McKlusky before, but his speech pattern is hilarious.

MOTOR CRUSH #2 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W/A) Babs Tarr, (W) Brenden Fletcher & Cameron Stewart. After three such amazing comics, this one suffers a bit by comparison, but it’s still good. Babs draws some amazing combat and racing sequences, and the plot is very dramatic. Domino’s public and private lives are starting to collide, with awful consequences.

MS. MARVEL #14 (Marvel, 2017) – “Damage Per Second, Part 1,” (W) G. Willow Wilson, (A) Takeshi Miyazawa. When I get back the edits on my Ms. Marvel book chapter, I will need to add some discussion of this story arc. Kamala’s favorite video game, World of Battlecraft, has been mentioned repeatedly throughout the series, but this issue we get to see it on-panel for the first time. I have never played an MMORPG, but G. Willow Wilson’s description of such games and her use of MMO jargon have the ring of truth; I get the impression that she plays World of Warcraft herself. The subplot is that Kamala is feeling isolated after losing Bruno and Carol Danvers, and she turns to World of Battlecraft for consolation. But that doesn’t work, because one of the other players in the game knows who she really is. In general, this was a strong issue. Willow’s original plans for this series must have been badly derailed by Civil War II, but she’s doing a good job of compensating for that.

ROCKET RACCOON #2 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Matthew Rosenberg, (A) Jorge Coelho. Rosenberg’s take on Rocket Raccoon is both grim and funny at once. This issue Rocket looks for a ride off Earth, but the people he encounters keep dying mysteriously. Then he has a fight with Miles Morales, and at the end of the issue Kraven captures him. I guess Kraven has had enough of hunting sea monsters, and is no longer reformed.

Resuming on February 5.

WONDER WOMAN #14 (DC, 20170 – “Year One, Finale,” (W) Greg Rucka, (A) Nicola Scott. Diana defeats Ares, and it turns out she intentionally sacrificed her knowledge of how to get back to Themyscira. This is an effective conclusion to the Year One story, though not the best issue of the series.

JUGHEAD #12 (Archie, 2017) – untitled, (W) Ryan North, (A) Derek Charm. Jughead and friends play a video game obviously based on Mario Kart, which Reggie wins, earning the right to form a band with all his friends. This issue was a lot of fun. The depictions of the video game are hilarious, the coloring is excellent, and I like the hired hunks and the characters’ wildly different visions of what their band will look like.

SNOTGIRL #5 (Image, 2017) – “05. Same Ol’ Mistakes,” (W) Bryan Lee O’Malley, (A) Leslie Hung. I’m not even sure what’s going on here. I’ve lost track of what’s going on in this series, and I feel like it might be easier to read in collected form. Sometimes my obstinate attachment to the comic book format is an inconvenience.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #12 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) David F. Walker, (A) Sanford Greene. This is part two of the Alex Wilder story arc. It’s a pretty average issue. I can’t remember anything about it really.

GOTHAM ACADEMY: SECOND SEMESTER #5 (DC, 2017) – “Second Semester, Part 4,” (W) Brenden Fletcher, Becky Cloonan & Karl Kerschl, (A) Adam Archer. I did not read issue 5 of this series because DCBS sent me a misprinted copy, in which the middle of the comic was replaced with pages fom some other DC comic. To add insult to injury, I can’t even get a refund because I’ve misplaced the misprinted copy, and DCBS wants me to send them photo evidence of the misprint before they’ll replace it. Oh well, I expect I’ll find it at some convention sometime. (UPDATE: Wihle writing these reviews, I did find the misprinted comic and was able to submit photos of it.) Anyway, because of that, this issue was kind of confusing, but Gotham Academy is confusing at the best of times. The most interesting thing in this issue is that Eric, the creepy sickly-looking kid, has a crush on Maps.

GREEN LANTERN #140 (DC, 1981) – “As Ye Sow…,” (W) Marv Wolfman, (A) Joe Staton. Marv Wolfman was a terrible Green Lantern writer, but this issue was surprisingly not bad. Conrad Bloch, Carl Ferris’s former partner, kidnaps Carol and her parents and forces them to go along with his plot to sabotage Ferris Aircraft. Carl Ferris is usually a loathsome character, but this story almost makes me feel sympathetic for him. This issue also includes an Adam Strange story, which is of average quality.

New comics received on Friday, January 20 – the second new comic book day in a week (also a somewhat unfortunate day for other reasons, but let’s not talk about that).

SLAM! #3 (Boom, 2017) – untitled, (W) Pamela Ribon, (A) Veronica Fish. This is a really good issue. Slam! is quickly becoming the second best Boom Box title after Lumberjanes – I would even rank it above Goldie Vance. The collapse of Knockout and Ithinka Can’s friendship is depressing, but effectively set up. I also like how they’re both becoming veterans; in this issue, Knockout becomes a mentor to a new skater who’s at the same point in her career as Knockout was in the first issue. And I really like the workplace discrimination subplot. It’s very rare for Boom Box titles to explicitly acknowledge sexism or racism. They tend to deal with inequality by imagining a world in which it doesn’t exist, which is a point I want to explore in a future essay. But in this issue, Pamela Ribon shows a clear understanding of how everyday sexism works.

MANIFEST DESTINY #25 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Chris Dingess, (A) Matthew Roberts. An okay issue. Sacagawea’s insistence on hunting during pregnancy creates tension between her and Lewis and Clark; meanwhile, the men are seeing some kind of ghosts. This issue includes an editorial by Chris Dingess about the Standing Rock protests. I think this editorial is very politically astute, and shows sensitivity to the potential pitfalls of a white man writing a comic about Native American history. This issue also includes a backup story that provides some insight into Sacagawea’s back history. Clearly Sacagawea’s “sacrifice” has something to do with her pregnancy, and it means she expects to die very soon, perhaps in childbirth. But there’s also some bigger secret involved, which is probably what the entire comic is building up to.

MARVELS #0 (Marvel, 1994) – various features, (W) Kurt Busiek, (A) Alex Ross. Not really worth owning even for a completist like me. The only actual comics content in this issue is a twelve-page story about the original Human Torch. I distinctly remember having read this story before. I think it was published somewhere else before the original Marvels miniseries came out, but I can’t figure out where. Hero Illustrated or Comic Shop News maybe. The rest of this issue consists of uninteresting essays and sketchbook pages.

MONSTER HUNTERS #1 (Charlton, 1975) – three stories, (W) Nicola Cuti and Joe Molloy, (A) Wayne Howard, Pete Morisi and Paul Kirchner. This issue includes three stories which, as the title indicates, are all about monsters – a bug-eyed tentacled tusked thing, a mermaid, and the Loch Ness Monster. Its tone is more silly than scary, and none of the three stories is much good.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #142 (Marvel, 1984) – “Foiled!”, (W) David Michelinie, (A) Greg LaRocque. A rare example of a story starring Captain Marvel (Monica Rambeau) that was not written by her creator, Roger Stern. It’s also an early appearance of Spider-Man’s black costume; it includes a scene where some criminals see him in his new costume and don’t recognize him. Besides that, there’s not much here of any interest. The plot involves a villain (unsurprisingly, an old rich white man) who tries to solve the population crisis by transporting all the world’s capital cities into an alternate dimension.

CAVE CARSON HAS A CYBERNETIC EYE #4 (DC, 2017) – “City of Ghosts,” (W) Jon Rivera & Gerard Way, (A) Michael Avon Oeming. Another good issue of either the best or the second best Young Animal title. Cave Carson, Chloe and Wild Dog finally get to Muldroog where they encounter the survivors, and we learn a bit more about Chloe’s background – it seems like she grew up with no knowledge of her mother’s origins. This issue also includes a Super Powers backup story by Tom Scioli. Tom’s artwork is amazing, but quite difficult to read, which explains why I haven’t read most of the issues of Transformers vs G.I. Joe in my collection. I like the gag in which Wonder Woman’s lasso behaves like Lassie.

MIGHTY THOR #15 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Asgard/Shi’ar War, Part One: A Day Which Will Live in Immortal Infamy,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Russell Dauterman. I’m pretty sure Russell Dauterman is the best Thor artist since Walt Simonson. This issue is just a series of fight scenes, but they’re really well-drawn and epic fight scenes. It’s also nice to see Kid Gladiator and Warbird again; these characters were introduced in another Jason Aaron comic, Wolverine and the X-Men. And this issue ends with what I believe is the first in-person appearance of the Sh’iar gods Sharra and K’ythri.

CAGE #5 (Marvel, 2002) – “Cage, Part 5,” (W) Brian Azzarello, (A) Richard Corben. This comic is referenced in Joshua Plencner’s article “Gentrifying Luke Cage: The Racial Failure of Nostalgia,” a negative review of Genndy Tartakovsky’s current Cage series. Plencner calls it “a frustrating turn … a five-issue ‘age of hip-hop’ restyling of Luke Cage that Adilifu Nama calls a ‘nearly unreadable mess” that morphed Cage into a ‘creepy…ghetto mercenary.’ ” This is an entirely fair assessment. The only reason to read this comic is for Corben’s grotesque, testosterone-filled art. The plot is a confusing muddle, the characters are all stereotypes, and the dialogue is a tone-deaf imitation of AAVE. This whole comic is an example of why it’s just not a good idea for white people to tell blaxploitation stories. Marvel seems to have learned this lesson only partially, since they’re publishing Genndy Tartakovsky’s Cage (which I haven’t read and don’t intend to read) as well as David F. Walker and Sanford Greene’s Power Man and Iron Fist.

DESCENDER #18 (Image, 2017) – “Orbital Mechanics 2 of 5,” (W) Jeff Lemire, (A) Dustin Nguyen. Another good issue. Two shocking moments: Tullis sacrifices himself to defend Andy and some other characters from a giant worm, and it turns out the UGC are building their own Harvester. And then an even more shocking moment at the end: we were misled about the result of Tim-21 and Tim-22’s fight last issue, and the character we thought was the good Tim is really the evil Tim.

SUPER POWERS #2 (DC, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Art Baltazar, (A) Franco. Another light-hearted and fun story by Art and Franco. The Unknown Superman from the Future battles the Composite Superman, and meanwhile Kal-El’s little brother Prym-El is born, but looks oddly similar to Brainiac.

SUPER POWERS #3 (DC, 2017) – as above. The newly formed JLA battles Brimstone. Meanwhile, Prym-El is subjected to Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome.

FAITH #5 (Valiant, 2016) – “Dark Star,” (W) Jody Houser, (A) Megan Hetrick w/ Marguerite Sauvage; and “Faith in Politics,” (W) Louise Simonson, (A) Pere Pérez. The first story this issue is about a teen actress, Zoe Hines, whose career is ruined by leaked photos. This is a reference to the 2014 celebrity phone hacking scandal, though I don’t know if Zoe Hines is supposed to represent any particular real person. As a result, Zoe is easy prey for a mind-controlling supervillain in the form of a black cat, which is an awesome idea. The backup story is about the Hillary Clinton campaign and is obviously quite depressing to read in retrospect, though not as much so as the election issue of Ms. Marvel, since by this point the pain of the election has healed a little. It’s a nice touch that they got a pioneering female superhero writer, Louise Simonson, to write it. I either forgot or didn’t even realize that there was also a second backup story, by Rafer Roberts and Colleen Doran. This is not Roberts’s first writing credit, but it certainly reads like the work of an inexperienced writer.

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #126 (DC, 1976) – “What Lurks Below Buoy 13,” (W) Bob Haney, (A) Jim Aparo. This issue’s plot revolves around a satellite that can pinpoint locations of nuclear submarines. Batman and Aquaman battle each other, as well as American and Soviet forces, for possession of the satellite, until a villain called Baron Mannheim steals it. A weird plot point is that Baron Mannheim tells Aquaman he’s a representative of the UN, and Aquaman just gives him the satellite without demanding any more identification. The two most notable things about this story are, first, Jim Aparo’s underwater action sequences, and second, the anti-Cold-War tone of Haney’s story. Instead of presenting the Soviets as the bad guys, he suggests that both sides are equally guilty of creating a global climate of fear.

CURSE WORDS #1 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Charles Soule, (A) Ryan Browne. I had no idea what to expect from this comic, so I found it surprisingly enjoyable. It’s hard to summarize, but it appears to be about two rival wizards in contemporary New York. As one would expect from the artist of God Hates Astronauts, it’s full of ridiculous phenomena drawn in a deadpan style. I believe this is the first time I’ve read a funny comic by Charles Soule; he turns out to be rather good at humor.

JONESY #9 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, (W) Sam Humphries, (A) Caitlin Rose Boyle. I’m sorry that this series is ending with issue 12. I was unimpressed by the first few issues, but the last few issues have been much better, and this series deserves a longer run. In this issue, Jonesy moves in with her mother and needs to adjust to a new and unfamiliar city – a situation I have a lot of experience with. The new city is dreary and gross, no one knows what zines are, and as a final blow, the ferret rescue center where Jonesy wanted to volunteer is closed. But the issue ends on a note of redemption as Jonesy finds a store that sells zines, and the people there think Jonesy is the best zine creator ever. Awww.

FLASH GORDON: KING’S CROSS #3 (Dynamite, 2017) – untitled, (W) Jeff Parker, (A) Jesse Hamm. Another fun issue, though it’s part 3 of 5, so it doesn’t advance the plot much. It does introduce Prince Valiant and Jungle Jim into the story.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #192 (Marvel, 1975) – “Mad-Flight!”, (W) Marv Wolfman, (A) Frank Robbins. This issue is from the brief transitional period between Englehart and Kirby. It’s most notable as the first appearance of Moonstone, though she only appears in one panel, as Doctor Faustus’s flunky. The only reason we know that this character even is Karla Sofen and not some other blonde woman named Karla is because in her next full apearance, in Incredible Hulk #228, she was specifically identified as the same character from Captain America #192. Other than that, this is an average issue, despite some good Frank Robbins artwork. Cap boards a charter flight from London to America – in the process violating security in a way that would get him sent to prison nowadays – and discovers that the other passengers are Doctor Faustus and a bunch of mobsters.

MIDNIGHT TALES #14 (Charlton, 1975) – “The Time Machine,” (W/A) Wayne Howard; inset stories (W) Nicola Cuti, (A) Joe Staton and Don Newton. This is much better than the previous Charlton comic I read. In the framing sequence, the “Midnight Philosopher” and his niece Arachne test a new time machine, which sends them to a future where time travel is a capital offense. There are two inset stories that explain why time travel is illegal. The first one has pretty funny: a man murders a victim whose face he never sees, then travels back in time to stop himself from committing the murder, only to discover that he himself was the victim. The second inset story is forgettable, but does have one cool panel depicting a house that appears to be based on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. Overall, while this comic is not great, it does demonstrate that ‘70s Charlton horror comics were not always pure crap.

WARLOCK #5 (Marvel, 1973) – “The Day of the Death Birds!”, (W) Ron Goulart, (A) Gil Kane. Pre-Starlin Warlock was super-weird… I guess Starlin Warlock was super-weird too, but in a more consistent way. In this issue, Warlock stops a bunch of disasters and is worshipped as a god (a bit like Severian at the end of The Citadel of the Autarch), and then the president of Counter-Earth declares Warlock an enemy of the state. Ron Goulart had a long career as a SF writer but was probably best known as the ghost writer for William Shatner’s Tek War novels.

FAITH #6 (Valiant, 2016) – untitled, (W) Jody Houser, (A) Meghan Hetrick w/ Marguerite Sauvage. Kind of an average issue. A satisfying but predictable conclusion to the Zoe Hines/evil cat story.

MEGA PRINCESS #3 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, (W) Kelly Thompson, (A) Brianne Drouhard. I’m a fan of both Kelly Thompson and all-ages comics, but this series has been disappointing. It’s cute, but there’s too much going on at once, and the story has no clear direction. This issue, Max goes underwater and visits the city of Atlantis where she gets put in prison.

New comics received on January 27:

SAGA #42 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Brian K. Vaughan, (A) Fiona Staples. My reaction to this comic was affected by the fact that I knew something awful and tragic was going to happen in it. I read a tweet that said it was Saga’s version of the Red Wedding. But I didn’t know exactly what the tragic event was, so I automatically assumed the worst – I thought Marko and/or Alana was going to die. I mean, we know Hazel is going to live long enough to become the narrator of the series, but we don’t have any guarantees that her parents will survive. It turns out the characters who die this issue are Hazel’s unborn sibling and all the people on Phang. So the ending of this issue is a horrible moment, just not the exact type of horrible moment that I was expecting. I’m not sure how to feel about that. Also, it turns out that the tragedy is caused by the Last Revolution characters from quite a few issues ago. We only get to see these characters for a couple panels, but it’s clear that they’re complete fanatics who have no understanding of the human impact of their thoughtless actions, much like some Americans I could name.

LUMBERJANES #34 (Boom!, 2017) – “Might as Wheel,” (W) Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, (A) Carolyn Nowak. Another extremely fun issue. When I saw that the next storyline would be about roller derby, I was a little concerned because that sport seems incompatible with summer camp. It turns out it’s outdoor roller derby and the Lumberjanes are competing against a team of sasquatches. So that seems more appropriate to this series. Besides the main plot, the most interesting thing here is that Jo is trying to build an “anomalous temporal activity sensor array,” and we are not told why. I wonder if she’s trying to figure out why time never seems to pass in the camp.

LADYCASTLE #1 (Boom!, 2017) – “Welcome to Ladycastle,” (W) Delilah S. Dawson, (A) Ashley A. Woods. This is at least the fifth different comic I’ve read lately that was a parody or revisionist adaptation of princess culture. (The others are Princeless, Mega Princess, Princess Ugg, and Another Castle.) The surprising thing is that each of these comics has a very different sensibility. The twist in this series is that all the men of an extremely sexist fairy-tale kingdom are killed by a dragon, and the women take over. Overall, I thought this comic was both innovative and well-executed. It has a diverse and entertaining cast of characters, and it’s funny and tragic at the same time. I did have some issues with the premise; first, the women don’t seem particularly sad that all their male relatives have died; and second, it’s odd that there are no boys or old men in the kingdom. But besides that, this is a really fun and well-done comic, the latest in a long series of excellent Boom! titles.

HULK #2 (Marvel, 2017) – “Deconstructed, Part Two,” (W) Mariko Tamaki, (A) Nico Leon. My big problem with this issue is that the landlord’s behavior is implausible. He can’t just throw his tenant out on the street without notice, especially not if the tenant has a lawyer, and he ought to know that. Otherwise, this was a good follow-up to an excellent debut issue. The snowman scene was very powerful, as well as being a perfect demonstration of the value of trigger warnings.

SPACE BATTLE LUNCHTIME #8 (Oni, 2017) – untitled, (W/A) Natalie Riess. In the final round of Space Battle Lunchtime, Peony throws away her dish to save Chef Melonhead’s life. As a result, she loses the competition but comes out looking better than the winner, like Lightning McQueen in Cars. This scene would have been more effective if the reader had any reason to care whether Peony won Space Battle Lunchtime. I mean, she didn’t even know this competition existed until issue 1, so what is her stake in it? Also, the ending of the series is a bit of an anticlimax, as Peony goes back to Earth with her romance with Neptunia unresolved. This ending does leave the door open for a sequel, and I hope there will be one. I love the line about Neptunia having three hearts plus a fourth in storage.

WONDER WOMAN #15 (DC, 2017) – “The Truth, Part One,” (W) Greg Rucka, (A) Liam Sharp. This is an average issue. It’s a bit annoying that Diana still hasn’t recovered from being stuck inside her memories. The reappearance of Ferdinand the minotaur (or kythotaur) from Rucka’s previous run is a nice twist.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #23 (IDW, 2017) – “Enter the Stingers, Part Five,” (W) Kelly Thompson, (A) Meredith McClaren. After Fox quits just before the concert, Raya from the Stingers fills in for her and becomes the Holograms’ permanent drummer – just as Shana returns from Italy. This issue was an effective conclusion to the Stingers storyline, and leads directly into the next story, which is also the last. I hope that there really will be a follow-up series after this one, and that IDW is not lying to us.

ETHER #3 (Dark Horse, 2017) – untitled, (W) Matt Kindt, (A) David Rubín. This comic is extremely well-drawn, but the plot is a little underwhelming. It’s becoming clear that what this series is really about is Boone’s scientism, his chauvinistic insistence that the world of Ether can be described in scientific terms. That’s an interesting premise but it’s not where I thought the series was going.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #15 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Smartest There Is! Part Three: Code,” (W) Brandon Montclare & Amy Reeder, (A) Ray-Anthony Height. The fun part of this issue is the interaction between Lunella and Ironheart – especially Riri’s line “…when you were a kid…” I love that we live in a world where a Marvel title with a black female protagonist includes a guest appearance by the black female protagonist of a different Marvel title – and neither of the characters in question is Storm. The hair-braiding scene is also really cute, although it suggests that Lunella’s mother knows Lunella is a superhero and is okay with it, and this demands explanation.

On January 28, I went to the Charlotte Mini Con at the Grady Cole Center. This was a pretty fun show, although as usual, I had some trouble finding old comics that I both wanted and could afford. The Grady Cole Center is an ugly old building that resembles a hockey rink, and the security guards were apparently not letting people leave and reenter, so I was unable to leave for lunch and come back, and accordingly spent most of the morning in a state of hunger and insufficient caffeination. (After the convention, though, I had an excellent lunch at Viva Chicken, though it was somewhat ruined by the breaking news of Trump’s Muslim ban.) I got to meet Rian Sygh and tell him how sorry I was that Backstagers was not renewed.

In terms of shopping, this convention was not as good as the Charlotte Comic Con in August, but I did buy a big stack of stuff, and it was nice buying back issues again for the first time since NYCC. Here are some of the comics I bought:

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #130 (Marvel, 1974) – “Betrayed!”, (W) Gerry Conway, (A) Ross Andru. A good issue of the somewhat underrated Conway run. This issue introduces the Spider-Mobile, which has gone down in history as a tacky, unsightly horror. According to Wikipedia, Gerry was ordered by Stan Lee to introduce the Spider-Mobile into the comic for merchandising reasons. Conway must not have been happy with this, because in this issue Spidey himself thinks the Spider-Mobile is an ugly “fiasco.” Also, it’s of limited usefulness to him because he doesn’t know how to drive. There’s other interesting stuff in this issue, including a scene where MJ visits Peter’s apartment and finds books by Sartre, Camus and Jung on his bookshelves. As far as I know, this was the first and last reference to Peter’s interest in philosophy.

MARVEL FEATURE #12 (Marvel, 1973) – “The Bite of the Blood Brothers!”, (W) Mike Friedrich, (A) Jim Starlin. This is a chapter of Jim Starlin’s first Thanos epic, which began with Thanos’s debut in Iron Man #55 and continued in Captain Marvel #25-33. Iron Man teams up with the Thing to battle the Blood Brothers from Iron Man #55, who turn out to be actual vampires. This issue is kind of incidental to the larger storyline it belongs to, but it’s essential for Starlin completists, and the art is not bad.

ACTION COMICS #392 (DC, 1970) – “The Shame of the Super-Son!”, (W) Robert Kanigher, (A) Ross Andru; and “The Legionnaires Who Never Were!”, (W) Cary Bates, (A) Win Mortimer. This issue begins with an imaginary story which is a notorious example of Superdickery. When 14-year-old Clark Kent Jr uses his powers to win an athletic competition, Superman uses gold kryptonite to take his son’s powers away. When Batman convinces Superman that this punishment is wildly unfair, Superman uses Kandorian technology to give his own powers to his son. Which is hardly an act of kindness on Superman’s part, given the amount of pressure that it puts on his son. Unusually, this story depicts Superman’s wife as having blonde hair.

In this issue’s backup story, Saturn Girl and Princess Projectra return home from a mission only to discover that the other Legionnaires don’t know who they are, and there are two mysterious new Legionnaires named Saturn Lad and Prince Projectur. It turns out that the whole thing is an exercise designed to test whether Projectra is likely to snap under pressure. To her credit, Projectra passes the test with flying colors, and isn’t even angry at her teammates for gaslighting her. This story also reveals that Projectra and Karate Kid are now a couple, as well as introducing Saturn Girl’s new costume, which was designed by fan Kim Metzger. Saturn Lad and Prince Projectur’s costumes are amusing because they look exactly like the costumes of their female equivalents.

INVINCIBLE #20 (Image, 2005) – untitled, (W) Robert Kirkman, (A) Ryan Ottley. This issue introduces that one black-haired scientist dude who created the Reanimen. Also, Amber becomes furious with Mark for running out on her in the middle of an emergency. Otherwise this is a pretty average issue, but it’s a lot of fun, unlike most recent issues of this series.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #144 (Marvel, 1971) – “Hydra Over All!”, (W) Gary Friedrich, (A) John Romita; and “The Falcon Fights Alone!”, (W) Gary Friedrich, (A) Gray Morrow. I’d be curious to learn why John Romita only did half this issue, and why the rest of it was by Gray Morrow, who almost never drew superhero comics. For whatever reason, this issue includes artwork by two great artists. In the first story, Nick Fury stages a demonstration of SHIELD’s new Female Furies program for President Nixon. In the second story, the Falcon shows off his new costume, solves a crime, and decides to break up with Cap, though that didn’t last long. “The Falcon Fights Alone!” is drawn in the realistic style that Morrow is best known for, and has few superhero tropes beyond the fact that the main character wears a costume. As a result, it feels more like an Archie Red Circle story than a Marvel story.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #14 (Image, 2016) – “Homecoming Conclusion: Boots on the Ground,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Jason Latour. This is, finally, the story told from Roberta Tubb’s perspective. As noted above, I somehow forgot to order it, but I found it at the convention. Roberta is a fascinating character, with her perspective informed by both the Army and her multiracial upbringing. I love her observation that her life in the South trained her to engage with women in Afghanistan. (Come to think of it, I really ought to teach this comic someday, especially since Jason Latour lives right here in Charlotte. He was at the Charlotte Mini Con, and I wish I’d spoken to him about a possible class visit. I need to talk to him at Heroes Con. Anyway.) The racism that Roberta faces is terrifying if not surprising. I already knew about the ending where the little boy calls her the N-word, but it’s not just that. There are also the constant microaggressions, like the question about how many kids she has, as well as the actual crimes such as the theft of the lawn mower. This is an infuriating story, and therefore an important one. I hope we see Roberta again soon; I feel like she, rather than Coach Boss, is supposed to be the protagonist of this series.

LOOSE ENDS #1 (Image, 2017, originally 2011) – untitled, (W) Jason Latour, (A) Chris Brunner. This is a reprint of the first comic Jason Latour wrote. It’s being marketed as a sort of prototype of Southern Bastards. Unfortunately, this comic clearly demonstrates Jason’s lack of writing experience at the time. Throughout my reading of this issue, I was constantly confused as to what was going on. I never understood who the characters were or how they were connected. I’m still planning to buy the rest of this miniseries, but I really hope it becomes clearer.

KULL THE DESTROYER #23 (Marvel, 1977) – “Demon Shade!”, (W) Don Glut, (A) Ernie Chan. As mentioned in my Gold Key Spotlight review above, this is part of an unannounced crossover with Dagar the Invincible. Kull’s female companion in this issue, Laralei, is the same character as Graylin. The plot, involving an evil hunchback and a shadow demon, is also a typical Dagar plot. Ernie Chan’s art is less exciting than Jesse Santos’s art, but this is a reasonably fun comic, and I want to collect the rest of Don Glut’s brief Kull run, if only for its novelty value. There’s one scene in this issue where the narrator explicitly mentions that Kull has little interest in romance, which is the reason for my pet theory that Kull and Brule are a couple. Now that I look at it again, this same scene also mentions that Laralei has lost her memory, but that she does remember swearing “never again to let myself love a man who exists by the sword.” The implication is that she swore that oath after she broke up with Dagar.

ANGEL LOVE #1 (DC, 1986) – untitled, (W/A) Barbara Slate. I must have seen dozens of copies of this comic in cheap boxes. I finally bought it at Charlotte Mini Con, perhaps because I faintly remembered seeing a review of it somewhere. Either that, or I mistook it for an Angel and the Ape spinoff. Angel Love turns out to be a fascinating comic which was several decades ahead of its time. It’s a romance comic whose eponymous protagonist works as a roller-skating waitress, lives in a roach-infested apartment, and has a crush on her restaurant’s bartender. Barbara Slate draws in a cartoony style that resembles that of Cathy Guisewite, and the overall tone of the comic is humorous – there are even some talking cockroaches – but this issue ends on a darker note when Angel’s boyfriend invites her to try cocaine. In general, this comic is a lot of fun, and if not for the dated topical references and art style, one might think it was published in 2016 and not 1986. It reminds me of something like Fresh Romance or The Cute Girl Network. It’s so far ahead of its time that I have to wonder why DC published it at all, given that by 1986, romance comics were already a long-dead genre. It only lasted seven more issues and one special (and I want to collect them all). Like other comics I’ve previously examined on this blog – e.g. Fast Willie Jackson – Angel Love is an example of an alternate direction the comics industry could have taken, and a forgotten precursor of contemporary comics targeted at diverse audiences.

INCREDIBLE HULK #127 (Marvel, 1970) – “Mogol!”, (W) Roy Thomas, (A) Herb Trimpe. Feeling lonely, the Hulk befriends a bald giant called Mogol. But it turns out that Mogol is a robot created by Tyrannus. Discovering this, the Hulk is so furious that he destroys Mogol, despite Mogol’s pleas that he’s the Hulk’s only friend. This is really a rather depressing moment, and it makes the Hulk seem like a murderer. Overall, this is a pretty good issue, by perhaps the best Hulk artist.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #67 (Marvel, 1981) – “Power Men,” (W) Mary Jo Duffy w/ Bob Layton, (A) Kerry Gammill. While trying to stop a bank robbery, Luke Cage is kidnapped by Joshua Bushmaster, not to be confused with the similarly named Serpent Society member, who needs Dr. Burstein’s help to stop him from turning into metal. This issue didn’t impress me as much as the last couple Duffy Power Man and Iron Fist issues I read, but it was fun.

MOCKINGBIRD #2 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, (W) Chelsea Cain, (A) Kate Niemczyk. I regret that I didn’t buy this comic while it was coming out, but there were so many good Marvel titles coming out last year, and it was inevitable that I would overlook some of them. Given that it’s by a writer with no comics experience, this comic is really impressive. The dialogue is sparkling, especially the witty banter between Mockingbird and her buffoonish sidekick Lance Hunter, and there are all sorts of funny jokes and sight gags, like the underground “Slave Minion Tea Station.” I need to collect the other seven issues of this comic.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #36 (IDW, 2017) – untitled, (W) Christina Rice, (A) Tony Fleecs. This issue is a sequel to “Rainbow Falls” from season four, in which Rainbow Dash was asked to replace an injured Soarin’ on the Cloudsdale Equestria Games team. It turns out that Soarin’ never forgave Spitfire for that, and as a result he throws himself into his work to a dangerous extent, forcing Rainbow Dash to rescue him. This is kind of an average issue, though it’s an interesting exploration of Dashie’s relationships with the two main Wonderbolts.

AQUAMAN #20 (DC, 1996) – “Thy Keeper’s Brother,” (W) Peter David, (A) Martin Egeland. I wonder whatever happened to Marty Egeland. He did some impressive work on his Aquaman series, but after that, his career went nowhere. I don’t remember much about this issue, though. Perhaps this is because it’s just one chapter in a complicated ongoing storyline. The most notable scene in the issue is the discovery that Ocean Master has horrible facial scars.

GREEN LANTERN #31 (DC, 1964) – “Power Rings for Sale!” and “Pay Up – or Blow Up!”, (W) John Broome, (A) Gil Kane. This issue has a classic cover, which was redrawn by Brian Bolland for DC Comics Presents: Green Lantern #1 in 2004. It shows Hal Jordan inexplicably selling power rings. The (inevitably disappointing) reason why is because he’s being mind-controlled by some really cool-looking aliens. In the backup story, Hal Jordan attends his brother Jim’s wedding and has to help Jim save their hometown from being blown up. Jim’s bride, Sue, is convinced her husband-to-be is Green Lantern, despite his pleas to the contrary. That seems like a really poor foundation for a marriage – Sue thinks Jim is lying to her, while from Jim’s perspective, Sue refuses to believe him even though he’s telling her the truth. Of course, this was the same era during which Barry Allen married Iris West without telling her he was the Flash.

IRON MAN #14 (Marvel, 1969) – “The Night Phantom Walks!”, (W) Archie Goodwin, (A) Johnny Craig. I wonder why this era of Iron Man is not better known. Perhaps it’s because the creators involved, like Goodwin, Craig and George Tuska, were not part of the core Marvel bullpen. In this issue, Tony visits a Caribbean island where a (based on Haiti) where a creature from local folklore appears to have sabotaged one of his plants. It turns out that the “creature” is really a local curmudgeon, Hoyt, who is angry at Tony for ruining the island’s beauty. Goodwin shows unusual sensitivity to the tricky political issues involved in this premise, although he ultimately comes down on Tony’s side. When Hoyt accuses Tony of “destroying [the island’s] beauty and natural charm,” a local policeman replies, “Your concern would be more touching, Mr. Hoyt, if it included the islanders who never had employment or a decent living until projects like Mr. Stark’s existed!”

SHUTTER #26 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Joe Keatinge, (A) Leila del Duca. I’m kind of losing patience with this series. The creators seem determined to get to the finish line as fast as possible, even if that means sacrificing plot and character development. I don’t even quite understand what Prospero is, and here Cassius has already gone and killed them. Also, the “Taft Sturgeon” backup feature is not very good.

REVIVAL #46 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Tim Seeley, (A) Mike Norton. Here’s another Image title that’s rapidly approaching its conclusion, but this series has lasted 20 more issues than Shutter, and as a result the conclusion seems much more well-earned. As usual I’m not 100% sure what’s going on, but it’s clear that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and Em is trying to heal the breach between life and death by immersing herself in a river of blood. I’m excited to see how this series is going to end.

SWAMP THING #73 (DC, 1988) – “The Fire Next Door,” (W/A) Rick Veitch. Trying to get back to Houma, Swamp Thing is attacked by an insane member of the Parliament of Trees. Also, all sorts of things keep catching on fire for some reason. This is a fun comic and it’s full of Alan Moore-esque moments where the words and images are related in an ironic way.

JSA #56 (DC, 2004) – “Black Reign,” (W) Geoff Johns, (A) Don Kramer. Black Adam’s rogue Justice League, including characters like Eclipso and Atom Smasher, invades a fictional Middle Eastern country to rescue some kidnapped women. This issue is full of blood and gore and gratuitous violence, which illustrates the problem with most of Geoff Johns’s work. His project is to create a modernized, adult version of Silver Age comics, which is fine, except that he understands “adult” to mean excessively violent and brutal. As a result of its excessive violence, this comic is not fun at all, and if a DC Universe comic isn’t fun, what’s the point? Also, this comic promulgates offensive stereotypes about Middle Eastern people.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #15 (Marvel, 2001) – “Micro-Management,” (W) Peter David, (A) ChrisCross. Psycho-Man kidnaps Drax the Destroyer in order to force him to open a cocoon, which turns out to contain Genis-Vell’s clone. Meanwhile, Moondragon and Marlo try to convince Genis to save Una-Rogg, Yon-Rogg’s daughter, from being subjected to “psychic mutilation.” This subplot is interesting because “psychic mutilation” is described in such a way that it sounds exactly like female genital mutilation. Moondragon says: “Kree women are being subjected to painful procedures that deprive them of their ability to give and receive pleasure because the men feel threatened by such abilities. They want to control them.” The allegory here is pretty obvious.

INVINCIBLE #127 (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W) Robert Kirkman, (A) Cory Walker. I was not willing to pay full price for this comic, but I’m still curious about what’s going on in this series. So it was convenient that I found this and the next two issues for 50 cents each at the convention. This issue, Mark returns to his family after having been absent for five years – which, if you will check my review of issue 126, was the final straw that got me to stop reading Invincible. So this issue is rather grim and dark and full of histrionic emotion, although Terra’s cute antics create a bit of comic relief. It is really weird that Oliver and his giant bug girlfriend are now parents, considering that Oliver himself was born several years into the series.

DOOM PATROL #4 (DC, 2017) – “I’m Sorry I’m Late: Brick by Brick, Part 4,” (W) Gerard Way, (A) Nick Derington. Lots of weird stuff happens this issue, as usual. We’re introduced to a 15-year-old sorcerer named Lucius, whose significance is unclear. Cliff, Larry and Rebis are put on trial by a bunch of other negative spirits. Casey and Fugg escape from captivity, and Danny explains what happened to him and Crazy Jane after the end of the Morrison run. I didn’t like this issue as much as the previous two, but it wasn’t bad.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #336 (Marvel, 1990) – “The Wagers of Sin,” (W) David Michelinie, (A) Erik Larsen. Part three of “The Return of the Sinister Six” is notable as the final appearance of Nathan Lubensky, my least favorite Spider-Man supporting character of all time. During a battle between Spidey and the Vulture, the awful old curmudgeon suffers a fatal heart attack, and good riddance. Erik Larsen’s artwork in this issue is quite good, though heavily derivative of McFarlane.

INVINCIBLE #128 (Image, 2016) – as above. This is much better than either #127 or #129 because it includes a bunch of cute scenes with Terra. Terra is an adorable and realistically written child, and it’s nice how she instantly warms up to Mark, as if he hadn’t been absent for her entire life. I just wish this comic had more of this sort of thing, and less grotesque violence – of which this issue also includes quite a lot. In the subplot, Al the Alien is blown to pieces by a suicide bomber. The trouble with this comic is that Kirkman keeps trying to top himself by making each story more epic and shocking than the last – and as a result, he sacrifices the character development that made this comic exciting to begin with.

INVINCIBLE #129 (Image, 2016) – as above. This issue spends more time on plot than characterization, and contains a bit too much violence for my taste, though the most disgusting scene (where Robert Grayson crushes some guy’s head) happens off-panel. Eve finally confronts Mark’s rapist, Anissa, and then we discover that Anissa seems to have had a child from the rape. And by the way, this cliché – where a female villain rapes a male superhero in order to conceive a child – should really be retired. As far as I know, it only ever happens in comic books (Nexus, Starman, Tom Strong twice, and Invincible). It’s an offensive trivialization of rape, because its purpose is to emphasize what a stud the male protagonist is: he’s so sexually desirable that women are willing to rape him just to have his babies. I hope Invincible will be the last comic that uses this trope.

New comics received on Friday, February 3:

UNSTOPPABLE WASP #2 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Jeremy Whitley, (A) Elsa Charretier. I was a bit too tired to fully appreciate this, but it’s an excellent comic. Nadia’s first two recruits for GIRL are Taina Miranda and Lunella Lafayette. My first thought on reading this comic was that my friend Rachel Dean-Ruzicka needs to read it, because I once read a paper she wrote in which she observed the lack of female engineers in children’s literature. Teenage female Puerto Rican engineers are probably even more rare, which makes Taina an important role model. And this issue shows Nadia and Taina solving actual engineering problems. There’s lots of other great stuff in this issue. Nadia continues to be an awesome character, and I’m impressed at the level of detail in Elsa Charretier’s art, especially her depictions of cluttered workspaces.

PAPER GIRLS #11 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Brian K. Vaughan, (A) Cliff Chiang. I still don’t understand what this comic is about. It’s very well-executed and exciting, but I have no idea where the plot is going. In fact, perhaps the main appeal of this comic is that anything might happen; characters and tropes from any genre might show up at any time. For example, in this issue the girls travel back in time and encounter a caveman warrior girl who turns out to also be a teenage mother. Also, this issue includes a giant ground sloth.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #50 (IDW, 2017) – “Accord Conclusion: And Chaos into the Order Came,” (W) Ted Anderson, (A) Andy Price. As with the two previous installments of Accord, the art in this story is better than the writing. The non-brainwashed ponies turn Accord back into Discord by convincing him that harmony and unanimity are not the same thing. I do like how this story includes flashbacks to a bunch of previous storylines from both the TV show and the comic. The story ends with a giant splash page showing all the characters, including the pony avatars of Andy, Katie, and their spouses. In the backup story, “For the Pony Who Has Everything” by Jeremy Whitley and Jay Fosgitt, Discord gives Princess Celestia a day off as her birthday present – although I feel like this idea has been done before, in the Micro-Series issue where Celestia and Luna switch jobs for a day.

GOLDIE VANCE #9 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, (W) Hope Larson & Jackie Ball, (A) Noah Hayes. The new creative team this issue was a shock. It doesn’t feel like Goldie Vance without Brittney Williams. I was wondering how she managed to draw two comic books a month, and I guess the answer is she can’t anymore. This issue, in which Hope joins the pit crew for a professional racing driver, is fun, but feels somehow less substantial than the previous eight issues.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS OUTRAGEOUS ANNUAL 2017 (IDW, 2017) – “An Exquisite Corpse,” (W) Kelly Thompson, (A) Gisele Lagace et al. This is framed as an exquisite corpse story, but it’s really not. In a genuine exquisite corpse story, each chapter is written by a different person who has only read the last page of the previous chapter. But here, each chapter is written by Kelly Thompson (although according to the frame narrative, they all have different authors) and they all have a continuous narrative thread. That doesn’t mean this was a bad comic, just that it describes itself inaccurately. Well, okay, maybe the artists each only saw the last page of the previous chapter, but that’s not the same thing. Anyway, this issue consists of a frame narrative and an inset story – that’s the exquisite corpse part – in which the Misfits and Holograms participate in a space opera adventure. Just like other Jem annuals and specials, this issue is extremely fun, especially since it’s not bound by the continuity of the ongoing series.

SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE ANNUAL #1 (Vertigo, 1994) – “The Eyewitness” and eight other chapters, (W) Matt Wagner & Steven T. Seagle, (A) various. Unusually for this series, this annual is a self-contained story. It consists of nine chapters, each with a different narrator, but all focusing on a series of robberies in Central Park. The multiple narrators create an effect of Bakhtinian polyphony, as we see the same place and the same events from nine quite different perspectives. The solution to the mystery is disappointing; the mugger turns out to be a recent immigrant who’s stealing in order to feed his family. But lots of fascinating stuff happens along the way to the solution. I especially like the scene where Wesley thinks he’s interrupted a robbery, only to realize that he’s actually interrupted two men having sex. This is funny and poignant at once. The secret origin of Wesley’s butler is another high point.

HAWKEYE #3 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Hate for Kate Escalates,” (W) Kelly Thompson, (A) Leonardo Romero. Another strong issue, though it definitely feels like the middle chapter of an ongoing story. It’s mostly focused on plot rather than characterization or politics. I particularly liked the pary scene for some reason.

SWAMP THING #87 (DC, 1989) – “Fall of the House of Pendragon,” (W) Rick Veitch, (A) Tom Yeates. This is Rick Veitch’s last issue, though there is no indication of this anywhere. I assume that when it was published, they didn’t know it would be his last issue. Though now I do notice that the next issue blurb says “Swamp Thing goes back to the beginnings of mankind,” which describes the published version of issue 88 and not the version that Rick originally intended. So who knows. More on this later. Anyway, in this chapter of the time travel storyline, Swampy travels back in time to Camelot – a very dark version of Camelot, where King Arthur has gone nuts and all the knights have been killed on the Grail quest. Swampy saves Camelot from Morgan Le Fay and Mordred’s troops by literally carrying the castle on his back. But when the Shining Knight shows up with the Holy Grail, it turns out to contain the piece of amber that’s been causing Swampy’s involuntary time travel. He goes back in time, causing Camelot to literally collapse. Unfortunately, Rick’s Swamp Thing run ends there, and we will never be able to read his intended ending. Most of this issue is in a sideways format which makes it quite annoying to read.

THE FLINTSTONES #8 (DC, 2017) – “The Leisure Class,” (W) Mark Russell, (A) Steve Pugh. Possibly the best issue yet. “The Leisure Class” includes three simultaneous plotlines that are related by the themes of family and economics. Betty goes back home to visit her mother, and we learn that she previously ran away from home to escape being sold into an unwanted marriage. At school, Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm listen to an (apparently correct) explanation of Thorstein Veblen’s theory of the leisure class. And the new mayor, Clod, proposes to take funds away from a children’s hospital to buy new dinosaur armor. Fred gives an impassioned speech about how the only thing men are good for is impregnating women and protecting children, and why should they give up on doing the latter, but all the other men vote against him. I assume there’s an implicit critique of Trump here. Overall, while it’s not obvious how all the threads of this story fit together, it’s a powerful story that’s funny and sad at once, and that leaves the reader with a sense of profound discontent at how capitalism destroys families. I really liked this comic.

X-23 #9 (Marvel, 2011) – “Collision, Part 3,” (W) Marjorie Liu, (A) Ryan Stegman This issue’s story is hard to follow and I don’t care about it anyway. What makes this comic interesting is that it can be seen as a precursor to Monstress, because it’s all about X-23’s struggle with her animalistic and monstrous side. I almost feel like Marjorie Liu’s major theme is female monstrosity.

UNCANNY X-MEN #232 (Marvel, 1988) – “Earthfall,” (W) Chris Claremont, (A) Marc Silvestri. This is the first story featuring the Brood since #167. It’s a below-average story, focusing more on the Brood’s human victims than the X-Men themselves. The only notable piece of characterization is when Maddy Pryor discovers that Cyclops left her because Jean Grey came back to life.

JEM AND THE MISFITS #2 (IDW, 2017) – “The Misfits Get Real,” (W) Kelly Thompson, (A) Jenn St-Onge. This is one of the best comics yet, and perhaps the best exploration of fat issues I’ve ever seen in a comic book. In an in-depth exploration of Stormer’s past, we learn that she’s been bullied all her life for being fat. And she’s still getting bullied for being fat, because in her first meeting with the reality show producers, they propose having her do a storyline about weight loss. At the end of the issue, Stormer gives a brilliant speech that explains why this sort of stigmatization is harmful. It includes the line “It’s a strange thing to walk around the world and know that it’s not meant for you. To be othered every waking moment of every day just by the vehicle that you’ve been given to travel in.” And honestly, out of context this could be read as a statement not just about what it’s like to be fat, but also about what it’s like to be anything other than an attractive, able-bodied white person. Of course, Stormer goes on to state that she refuses to accept being otherized in this way. Overall, this is an important comic, and it reinforces my belief that Kelly Thompson is a major writer. I think I prefer her to her namesake Kelly Sue DeConnick. She ought to be a superstar.

FAITH #7 (Valiant, 2017) – untitled, (W) Jody Houser, (A) Joe Eisma w/ Marguerite Sauvage. I enjoyed this issue, but I barely remember it now. It’s the beginning of a two-part story where Faith is tormented by the ghosts of dead friends and loved ones.

FAITH #8 (Valiant, 2017) – as above. This is the second part. I didn’t like this storyline that much. I think the comic convention story was the high point of the series so far, and the two subsequent storylines were a drop-off in quality. I do love that Faith has a Cactuar plushie. Also, “You’re a disgrace to voice actors!” is a great line.

SUPER POWERS #4 (DC, 2017) – untitled, (W/A) Art Baltazar, (W) Franco. The JLA battle the Legion of Doom; meanwhile, newborn Prym-El grows into adult Superman-Prime. Which is predictable given his name. This story is kind of a repetition of old cliches. The one cool part is that the Green Lantern in this issue is Ch’p instead of Hal.

ACTION COMICS #510 (DC, 1980) – “Luthor’s Last Stand!”, (W) Cary Bates, (A) Curt Swan. I think the best part of this story is that Luthor has two robot servants named after Karel Capek and Isaac Asimov. Otherwise it’s lackluster. Luthor encounters a mysterious woman named Angela, who I initially assumed was either Lena Thorul or Ardora. But it turns out she’s really “the woman I was born to love,” and to find out what that means, we have to read the next issue.

SWAMP THING #88 (DC, 1988) – “Survival of the Fittest,” (W) Doug Wheeler, (A) Tom Yeates. As we all know, Rick Veitch left the series after the previous issue because DC refused to publish his story where Swamp Thing meets Jesus. In this issue’s letter column, Karen Berger suggests very obliquely that Rick left the series on bad terms (“neither he nor I expected the ending to be like this”), but she doesn’t explain why he left. It seems that in the original issue 88, Swampy would have used the Holy Grail from #87 to catch Jesus’s blood during the crucifixion. In the published #88, the Holy Grail and the shard of amber are instead created by the last Neanderthals, just before they’re killed by the first Cro-Magnons. This is a poor substitute for Rick’s original idea, and Doug is just not as skilled a writer as Rick was. As a result, this comic is more interesting for historical reasons than for its actual merits.

FLASH #180 (DC, 1968) – “The Flying Samurai,” (W) Frank Robbins, (A) Ross Andru. This issue takes place in Japan and is full of offensive Asian stereotypes. Most notably, the Japanese characters can’t distinguish between R and L. Frank Robbins at least seems to know a little bit about Japanese culture, but he falls short of showing genuine respect for it. Also, on page two of this issue, Barry refers to Iris as his “child bride.” At least this comic has some really good artwork and lettering.

SUPERBOY #75 (DC, 2000) – “My Greatest Adventure!”, (W) Karl Kesel, (A) Tom Grummett. In this issue, Kon has to decide what to do with his life after leaving Project Cadmus. He also has to come to terms with Tana Moon’s death – and that part was a shock to me, because I didn’t even know that Tana died in the previous issue. In general, this is an uncommonly sad issue of a series which usually had a bright and cheerful tone.

BLACK WIDOW #4 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Chris Samnee, (W) Mark Waid. I’ve been buying this series but not reading it. I’m not all that interested in this series’ espionage plot, but this comic is still worth paying full price for, because of Chris Samnee’s art. Chris Samnee is perhaps the best artist at Marvel right now. His art reminds me a lot of early Mazzucchelli, but also has its own unique quality. The high points of this issue include the scenes that take place in the snow, and the Steranko-esque maze page.

BLACK WIDOW #5 (Marvel, 2016) – as above. Another comic with a plot that’s not especially interesting to me, but brilliant artwork. I did enjoy the scene with the rude jerks who try to get Natasha to give up the files. The dialogue in this scene accomplishes its objective of making the reader hate these two characters.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #210 (DC, 1983) – “When a World Dies Screaming!”, (W) Gerry Conway, (A) Rich Buckler. In this issue Buckler imitates the style of George Pérez. I remember being rather tired when I read this comic, and it’s not all that good, so I had trouble finishing it. The plot is that a certain “X-element” which “affects all other elements on earth” has started to run out, with apocalyptic consequences. The X-element is an implausible and poorly explained piece of fake science. I was unwilling to suspend disbelief enough to accept that such a thing could exist, and as a result, I couldn’t get into the story. At one point this issue, Red Tornado has a long internal monologue about how he doesn’t trust himself to behave competently. I think Red Tornado was Conway’s pet Justice Leaguer, just like Timber Wolf was his pet Legionnaire, because Reddy was a Marvelesque character. He had all kinds of character flaws and hang-ups, whereas most of the other Justice Leaguers did not have that kind of neurotic, introspective, Freudian selfhood. (I’m sure there’s a term for the kind of selfhood or interority I’m thinking of here, but I can’t remember it.)

INCREDIBLE HULK #129 (Marvel, 1970) – “Again, the Glob!”, (W) Roy Thomas, (A) Herb Trimpe. Another fun classic Hulk comic. On his own again, the Hulk encounters an amnesiac drifter who turns out to be the Leader in human form. Then he fights the Glob, who, like Mogol two issues ago, is a dark mirror of himself.

SAVAGE SHE-HULK #3 (Marvel, 1980) – “She-Hulk Murders Lady Lawyer!”, (W) David Anthony Kraft, (A) Mike Vosburg. This isn’t a great comic, but it’s not terrible either. The basic plot is that Jennifer Walters is terrified of turning into the Hulk, and she also thinks she’s unknowingly killed someone (as the title indicates), though it turns out the murders were committed by a robot. Jen’s psychology in this issue is fairly effective, though I’m glad that her character arc eventually progressed to the point where she was more comfortable as She-Hulk than as Jen. The most prominent supporting character this issue is Dan “Zapper” Ridge, who was intended as Jen’s equivalent to Rick Jones, though he did not have Rick Jones’s longevity.

SPELL ON WHEELS #4 (Dark Horse, 2017) – untitled, (W) Kate Leth, (A) Megan Levens. Looking for their stolen possessions, the witches encounter a goat man with horns, fur, etc., and Claire falls in love at first sight with him. I guess this story has some disturbing connotations of bestiality, but I think Claire and the goat man’s mutual attraction is cute. Also, it turns out the villain of the series is Claire’s abusive ex-boyfriend. After an unimpressive start, this miniseries has gotten pretty good.

THE DEMON #14 (DC, 1973) – “Witchboy,” (W/A) Jack Kirby. This is one of my least favorite of Kirby’s ‘70s titles, though even unimpressive Kirby is still Kirby. This issue begins with a spectacular image of a monster called Gargora. In the rest of the issue, Klarion screws with Jason Blood and his friends, apparently just because Klarion is evil. Besides Gargora, the highlight of this issue is that it contains a number of panels depicting Klarion’s cat.

XENOGLYPHS #1 (self-published, 2012) – “The Great Pyramid of Giza, Part 1,” (W) Omar Spahi, (A) PJ Catacutan. I was given this comic for free at Comic-Con in about 2013, and I read it because I’m trying to get through some of the oldest comics in my to-be-read boxes. To put it bluntly, this comic should not have been published. It’s a sub-professional piece of work and it contains no original ideas. There are lots of good reasons why someone would self-publish a comic, but in this case, the creators shouldn’t have bothered.

INCREDIBLE HULK #236 (Marvel, 1979) – “Kill or Be Killed!”, (W) Roger Stern, (A) Sal Buscema. I’m not very familiar with this era of the Hulk, so I was pleasantly surprised to see that Roger Stern wrote this issue. It’s not his best work, though. I can’t remember much about it besides the fact that it guest-stars Machine Man. One of the supporting characters in this issue is Fred Sloan, who I’ve only encountered in one other Hulk comic, also from this same period. Oh, right, and Trish Starr is in this comic too. Seeing this character again gave me the idea of creating a Sporcle quiz about obscure Marvel supporting characters, which I am still working on.

XENOGLYPHS #2 (self-published, 2013) – See above.

STRANGE TALES #144 (Marvel, 1966) – “The Day of the Druid!”, (W) Stan Lee, (A) Jack Kirby & Howard Purcell; and “Where Man Hath Never Trod!”, (W) Roy Thomas, (A) Steve Ditko. I bought this at Dragon*Con in about 2012, but never read it because my copy is in terrible condition. I initially thought the Nick Fury story was the Doctor Strange story because it features a (perhaps phony) magical villain, the Druid. It’s also notable as the first appearance of Jasper Sitwell. The Dr. Strange story has spectacular, mind-expanding artwork, but kind of a boring plot, as was typical of Dr. Strange stories from this era.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #5 (Marvel, 2003) – “Au Pere,” (W) Peter David, (A) ChrisCross. This issue includes a seriously disturbing page where Genis-Vell screams, and little mouths appear all over his body. Eww. Besides that, it has a theme of sons who resent their fathers, but I had trouble understanding it out of context.

XENOGLYPHS #3 (self-published, 2013) – See above.

ARCHER & ARMSTRONG #5 (Valiant, 1992) – “Trouble in Paradise,” (W/A) Barry Windsor-Smith. This issue introduces Armstrong’s wife Andromeda. This comic is fun, but the art is not BWS’s best, and Armstrong is a bit too much of a wish fulfillment character. Sure, he’s ugly and uncouth, but he’s also immortal and fabulously rich and has a literal goddess for a wife.

And finally, I am caught up on all the comics I needed to review.

The last comics I read in 2016

Last comics of 2017:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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