Here is the most recent batch of comics I’ve read:
ENIGMA #1 – This first issue is highly confusing and doesn’t offer much of a clue as to what the series is actually about. There is some seriously bizarre stuff going on here (much of it involving a serial killer who sucks people’s brains out through their noses), but I can’t tell what it all adds up to. I imagine this will probably make more sense on a second reading, after I’ve read the rest of the series. Grade: B
NORTHLANDERS #1 – I am a big fan of Icelandic sagas and Simonson’s Thor, but somehow this story seems to have more in common with a modern Western than with a work by Snorri Sturluson. This story is reasonably well-drawn and adequately written, but I feel that it could have been transplanted to a variety of other historical periods — there is nothing specifically Old Norse about it. I like Thorgal better as a comics version of medieval Scandinavia. I’ve never been particularly impressed with Brian Wood’s writing; his stuff just seems very average compared to better Vertigo comics. Grade: B-
DAREDEVIL (1998) #101 – This is an exciting story with typically gorgeous artwork by Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano. At one point in the story, Matt is sentenced to a night in jail for mouthing off to a judge; I thought this was a nice touch, because it seemed like a more realistic depiction of courtroom procedure than you usually find in comics. My principal problem with this era of Daredevil is that it’s so overwhelmingly dark and grim, and this issue is no exception. Matt’s behavior in this issue is brutal and vicious even for him, although the implication is that he’s under some sort of mind control. Karl Kesel’s Daredevil run back in the ’90s, and Mark Waid’s current run, are both refreshing because they deliberately reject this kind of grim mood and try to recapture some of the character’s original sense of fun. Grade: A-
FANTASTIC FOUR #118 – The first story in this issue is not all that great. It’s the conclusion of a two-parter involving Johnny’s search for Crystal, who is under Diablo’s mind control. The story takes place in one of those South American dictatorships of which the Marvel Universe has an arbitrarily large supply. It ends rather predictably with Diablo and the local dictator blowing each other up, and Johnny and Crystal being tearfully reunited. The backup story is far better. It occurs between the panels of the first story, as Lockjaw teleports Ben into an alternate reality. The twist ending is that in this reality, Reed Richards got the Thing powers, while Ben Grimm got the powers of the other three FF members and ended up marrying Sue. In this reality, it’s Reed, not Ben, who is a hideous, tortured loner, and “there has never been an Alicia to console a man turned monster!” This story is a much better demonstration of Archie Goodwin’s powers of storytelling. Grade: A- but only because of the second story.
STRANGE TALES #165 – I’ve read the Nick Fury story in this issue before, but it’s worth rereading. Steranko’s artwork is just staggering. I can’t imagine how incredible this stuff would have looked to a reader encountering it in the ’60s for the first time. His machinery is even crazier than Kirby’s, and his panel structures and compositions are mind-blowing. Of course the story sacrifices realism and consistency for the sake of excitement, but that’s the fun part. (According to the GCD, there is an ongoing debate as to whether the Yellow Claw who appears at the start of the story is the same as the Yellow Claw who appears at the end.) I did notice that the color in my copy seems rather faded and limp compared to the trade paperback version that I have. The Dr. Strange backup story obviously pales in comparison, but is reasonably good anyway; Dan Adkins’s art is notable both for draftsmanship and composition. Grade: A+
WONDER WOMAN (2006) #27 – Gail Simone is one of the two best Wonder Woman writers along with George Pérez. This issue is part of her epic “Rise of the Olympian,” in which Diana faces an enemy, Genocide, whose identity is not entirely clear to me but who is presented as a massive badass, able to defeat Diana in a fair fight. Gail does a great job of creating a sense of tension and depicting Genocide as a scary opponent. The reader of this issue feels seriously worried about whether and how Diana can win this fight. This issue lacked the funny moments that enlivened some of Gail’s other work on this series, but was genuinely exciting to read. Grade: A
HELLBLAZER SPECIAL #1 – I think I prefer Ennis’s Hellblazer to Preacher, which is much more mean-spirited, cynical, and blackly humorous. Ennis’s Hellblazer seems somehow more sincere, and is certainly less devoted to creating shock value. Perhaps it helps that in Hellblazer, Ennis is mostly dealing with his native culture rather than his adopted one. This story involves an encounter between Constantine and a former priest, Father Tolly, who attempted to sexually abuse him in his youth. The flashback to Constantine’s earlier encounter with Tolly is a harrowing and powerful scene. Constantine escapes him by somehow causing a razor to embed itself in Tolly’s face; I’m not sure how this happens exactly (perhaps the point is that he does it by magic), but the splash page depicting Tolly’s face is a memorable, disturbing image. Eventually the story turns into a prequel to the next ongoing storyline for the regular Hellblazer title, but I think it holds up very well as a standalone story. Grade: A
THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY: DALLAS #6 – I’ve had this issue for years, but finally decided to read it after seeing this series on Paul Gravett’s list of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die. Unfortunately, this was the worst possible place to start with The Umbrella Academy, as it’s the final issue of the series, and therefore makes absolutely no sense on its own. Gabriel Ba’s art is typically excellent, but I have no idea what’s going on in the story. Grade: I can’t give this comic a letter grade because I can’t judge it without having read the previous issues.
THE WITCHING HOUR #75 – This late ’70s DC horror comic includes three stories, all of which are very poorly written. In the last story, George Kashdan (no relation, as far as I know) momentarily manages to arouse a sense of excitement, but then wastes any goodwill he might have earned from the reader by providing a completely implausible twist ending. In terms of the artwork, the only interesting story here is the first one, which features some bizarre panel structures and some highly expressive lettering. Unfortunately, this story is uncredited and the GCD does not include the name of the artist; I’d be curious to learn who it was. The other two stories have uninspired art by Fred Carillo and Gerry Talaoc. (I was going to say that they “feature” uninspired art but I’m trying to cut down on my use of that verb — what other word can I use instead though?) Grade: D+ with the plus being added only because the artwork in the first story is kind of intriguing.
MARVEL TEAM-UP #65 – I’ve read this story several times but it was worth rereading. This issue, of course, is the first American appearance of Captain Britain and the first appearance of Arcade. The story here is a rather standard though well-executed example of the “superheroes fight and then team up” trope. What makes it interesting is, first, artwork by a young John Byrne who was nearing the peak of his career, and second, some cute interactions between Peter and Brian Braddock. Rereading this story, I realize how boring an inker Dave Hunt was, and in contrast, how perfectly Byrne and Terry Austin were suited to each other. Grade: A
MARVEL TEAM-UP #16 – This is a very standard team-up story in which Spider-Man and Captain Marvel team up to fight an unexciting new villain, the Basilisk, because of a McGuffin. The only time the story departs from the formula is at the end when Captain Marvel mysteriously vanishes. The real appeal of this issue is Gil Kane’s artwork: because this story is essentially one long fight scene, it offers Gil ample opportunities to display his unequalled skill at drawing action. Grade: B