Comics read over the past four days

Because of teaching I haven’t had the energy to write these reviews until now. Also I’m going to start assigning letter grades to the comics I read. These grades are  intended to measure the level of enjoyment I got out of the comic and not necessarily its objective quality.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #7 – This was another enjoyable issue, but still not up to the level of Katie Cook and Andy Price, and I look forward to their return. The highlight of this issue can be summed up in two words: camouflage slugs. Fluttershy befriending the hideous bat-thing was also a nice touch. Grade: B

ADVENTURE COMICS #387 – The first story in this issue features cute artwork by Kurt Schaffenberger, but a rather silly story with a certain lack of narrative logic, as is the case with many Supergirl comics of this era. At least the conclusion involves a world where all the people have hairy wolf faces, so there’s that. The backup story guest-stars Val Colby, Lex Luthor’s nephew and Lena Thorul’s son, who speaks in standard Superbaby dialogue. There are some cute moments here but it’s only an average story at best, with stilted art by Win Mortimer. Grade: C-

AKIKO #1 – This series received a lot of hype in the mid-’90s but is largely forgotten today. I think my favorite thing about it is the imaginative names (Smoo, Spuckler, Beeba, Froptoppit). Mark Crilley’s draftsmanship is very good, but the appeal of the artwork is greatly reduced by blurry computer-generated backgrounds. The story is excessively compressed, with too much stuff happening in not enough time, and the comic seems to end too quickly. Grade: B-/C+

BATWOMAN #2 – This issue features absolutely gorgeous artwork by the most talented artist currently working in mainstream comics, J.H. Williams III. His innovative compositions and his ability to change styles at the drop of the hat are just amazing. The story is not quite up to the level of the artwork, but that hardly seems to matter. Grade: A-

THE FILTH #2 – This is an incredibly bizarre story; I don’t think I would have understood what was going on even if I had read the first issue. However, the sheer explosive creativity on display here is a good reason why I think Morrison is comparable to Kirby (or at least he was, before he became a corporate shill). I’m not familiar with Chris Weston, the artist here, but his work is fantastically colorful and detailed, reminding me of Brendan McCarthy. The rather bland cover art conceals the beauty of the interior art. Grade: A

THE FLASH #171 – This early issue of Geoff Johns’s run features the excessive gore and brutality that is unfortunately characteristic of Johns’s writing, and that distinguishes him from real Silver Age writers like Fox and Broome, who had a much more developed sense of decorum and restraint. In one double-page splash in this issue, Wally walks into a morgue filled with the bodies of at least 18 people killed by the villain du jour. The story also gives the disturbing impression that Wally has fathered an illegitimate child (it later turned out he wasn’t really the  father). Johns’s writing is fairly exciting but I have trouble ignoring its unpleasant implications. Grade: B-

KING CONAN #1 – This is a thrilling and beautifully drawn tale in which King Conan and his son Conn battle Thoth-Amon and friends, including an absolutely hideous-looking old crone. Buscema’s artwork reveals his mastery of anatomy and action sequences, and Roy Thomas writes Prince Conn as a brave, determined young man, a worthy heir to his father. This comic took a while to finish because of the double-sized length, but was worth it. Grade: A

THE SPECTRE #14 – This one is mostly a flashback, detailing the Spectre’s and Nabu’s involvement in the Biblical story of Moses. Joe Phillips’s guest artwork is not up to the level of Tom Mandrake’s work on this title, and the highlight of the issue is Ostrander’s witty dialogue — Father Craemer is an especially interesting character. Grade: B+/A-

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD (2007) #26 – This Spectre/Xombi team-up is written by John Rozum, one of the most underrated writers in commercial comics, and is an effective showcase for his ability to write the most bizarre lines in a completely deadpan way. The plot is not all that interesting, though — Xombi asks the Spectre for help with a ghost who is killing other ghosts, the Spectre refuses, but then he ends up helping anyway. Scott Hampton’s artwork is quite effective. Grade: A-

ADVENTURE COMICS #436 – At this point I still hadn’t had enough Spectre, so I decided to read this issue, whose first story is an installment of perhaps the greatest interpretation of the character. Mike Fleischer’s story follows the basic pattern of most of his Spectre stories: a horrible atrocity is committed, and the Spectre pursues the criminals and punishes them in an equally horrifying manner. What makes this story a classic is the combination of Aparo’s artwork, which is among the best work of his career, and Fleischer’s powerfully lurid writing. As an example of the latter, the story begins on a humorous note (at a car show, a little girl asks her dad why he’s suddenly gotten interested in photographing cars, but he’s actually photographing the booth babe) but then quickly turns horrible as gas-masked terrorists barge in and massacre everyone at the car show with poison gas. As another example, the story ends with an amazing line that would not have been out of place in a work of Lovecraft: “The terrified shrieking of the hideous arch-fiend fades into a ghastly echo as the giant squid stuffs its kicking, squirming victim into its gaping, pulsating maw.” The backup is an Aquaman story by Skeates and Grell, which is reasonably well done but is almost an afterthought after the Spectre epic. Grade: A+

SNARKED #6 – Another excellent issue, devoted mostly to an encounter between the Walrus and friends and a pirate ship crewed by a bunch of characters from Alice in Wonderland. The plot is highly convoluted, full of twists and turns, and demonstrates Roger Langridge’s mastery of narrative structure. The artwork is as beautiful as ever. Unfortunately this is the last unread issue of Snarked that I had; I will be on the lookout for issues 7 through 12. Grade: A/A-

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