Comics read over the past three days

ZORRO (1966) #3 — On Tuesday I went to a local store that was selling a bunch of random low-grade ’60s and ’70s comics, mostly Archies, for 50 cents each. I bought sixteen of them, but this is the only one I’ve gotten to yet. The main story in this issue is reprinted from a Dell issue from several years previous, and was drawn by the great adventure strip artist Warren Tufts. Because Tufts’s major works Lance and Casey Ruggles are out of print, this was my first introduction to his work, and I was very impressed with it. His depictions of action sequences, especially involving men on horseback, are quite effective. The story is surprisingly well-written as well — the GCD does not have a credit for the writer, but I wonder if it was Paul S. Newman or Gaylord Du Bois. The highlight of the story is the charmingly stupid of Sergeant Garcia, who gets all the credit for beating the bad guys even though of course Zorro did all the work. Grade: A-

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #79 – This story by Denny O’Neil and Dick Dillin is enjoyable but stops short of being a classic. The actual plot is kind of boring, though there’s a cool shock ending where the villain, who is trying to pollute the Earth into oblivion, gets his helmet torn off and chokes because he can’t tolerate fresh air. The story also includes some cute but awkwardly written scenes depicting the earliest stages of Ollie and Dinah’s relationship. The Vigilante appears as a guest star, but this Western character seems completely out of place in a science fiction story. Grade: B

SUPERMAN FAMILY ADVENTURES #7 – Another extremely cute story by Baltazar and Franco. Unlike many of Baltazar’s comics, this one actually has a fairly coherent plot, involving the Toyman’s attempt to defeat the Superman family by attacking them with action figures and plush dolls. The adorableness level is just through the roof. Grade: A-

ASTRO CITY (2013) #2 – This is the latest in a series of Astro City stories that explore the more mundane and unglamorous aspects of a world where superheroes exist. This one is about a young woman, Marella, who takes a job at Honor Guard’s calling center. As usual with Astro City, the story does a very effective job of using superhero tropes to tell a more personal, human story. There was one big that nagged at me, though. At the beginning of the story Marella is obviously having trouble finding work that’s relevant to her skills, and she still lives with her parents despite obviously being old enough to live alone. This makes her an example of the sort of youth unemployment that’s unfortunately all too common in today’s economy, and I feel like Kurt missed the chance to explore this issue more. Which speaks to a more general concern — I feel that Kurt’s stories often tend to be rather utopian and that they tend to be about people who really don’t have very serious problems. I’m thinking here specifically of Superman: Secret Identity and the first issue of this Astro City series. I wonder if by writing about characters like this, Kurt is missing opportunities to engage in more serious social commentary. Other than that, this was another solid issue of Astro City. Grade: A

YOUNG AVENGERS #7 – I’m still having trouble getting into this series, largely due to difficulty following the plot, but this was a pretty good issue. Kieron Gillen is doing an awesome job with characterization and dialogue, and it’s nice to have Jamie McKelvie back because he is doing some really impressive stuff with page layout and storytelling, as seen in this issue with the two pages formatted to look like Prodigy’s head. Another highlight of this issue is the introduction of an alien race called “Skifflefuffles.” Grade: A

SAVAGE DRAGON #189 – I know that over-the-top violence is one of the selling points of this comic, but even so, this issue had a bit too much of it for my tastes. This issue is largely a series of fight scenes, most of which end fatally for one or more of the characters involved, and it ends with Dragon murdering Ronald Winston Urass in cold blood. Even if Ronald was threatening Dragon at the time, I feel that this act was beneath him, and it sort of suggests that Dragon deserves to be executed, even though I believe he’s innocent of the crimes he was convicted of. Apparently Dragon is going to die in #193, and Erik kind of seems to be just marking time until he reaches that point, because this issue didn’t advance either Malcolm or Dragon’s stories very much. I actually liked the backup story, a piece of juvenilia from 1984, more than I liked the main story. Grade: B+

QUANTUM & WOODY (2013) #1 – I was kind of predisposed to dislike this issue because I don’t think it can possibly compare to the original version, but it did have a couple laugh-out-loud funny moments. I do think that James Asmus’s version of these characters is excessively close to the originals, and I think that the one major change he introduced is for the worse: he depicts Woody as a petty criminal, rather than a lovable goof-off. Still, this issue was enjoyable enough that I may come back for the next issue. Grade: B

HAWKEYE #12 – There was no way this issue was going to live up to #11, which was probably the best Marvel comic of 2013, but #12 is still a high-quality piece of work. The flashbacks involving young Clint and Barney Barton are very powerful, offering hints as to how Clint got to be who he is today. The issue ends on an emotional high as Clint and Barney are reunited. Francesco Francavilla’s art is of course not nearly as effective as David Aja’s art from last issue, but is still quite impressive, with some nice page layouts. Grade: A+

CASTLE WAITING #17 – I’ve been following this series rather sporadically, so I had trouble understanding what exactly was going on in this issue, but I enjoyed Linda Medley’s brilliant dialogue and highly polished artwork. Highlights of the issue include one scene where Jain teaches Simon to read (depicted with visual word balloons, something I really like), and the conclusion, in which Jain has a conversation with a ghost who is depicted entirely in shadow. Linda Medley is a brilliant cartoonist, and I really need to get around to buying the Fantagraphics Castle Waiting books so I can read this series the way it should be read. Grade: A

GOD THE DYSLEXIC DOG #3 – I have had this comic for literally seven or eight years. At Comic-Con in either 2005 or 2006, I was given review copies of all four issues of this series, but the first two issues frustrated me so much that I never bothered to read #3, until last night. The reason is because these comics feature gorgeous artwork by the great Alex Niño, but utterly terrible writing. The plot is completely incoherent and illogical. I have no idea what this comic is supposed to be about. I don’t think this is intentional — I suspect that the writers just didn’t know any better. So in this comic you have a combination of amazing, mind-blowing art — mostly one- or two-page splashes with an insane amount of detail — and incomprehensible writing. I’d have liked this comic better if all the text had been removed. Grade: C (F for writing, A+ for art)

CHEW #31 – I decided to start following this series in single issues rather than trade paperbacks, given that I like single issues better and I find them easier and more convenient to read. Chew is one of the best monthly comics currently running; it has a completely unique sensibility and it manages to combine genuine emotion with utterly ridiculous humor. There is not much to say about this issue in particular, except that it maintains the usual high level of quality, and it stands on its own remarkably well even though I missed the previous ten issues or so. Grade: A

INVINCIBLE UNIVERSE #3 – This self-contained story is reasonably good but not great. It revolves around El Chupacabra’s attempt to make amends with the family of his late teammate Cast Iron, whose death resulted from El Chupacabra’s alcoholism. The story takes a rather surprising twist when Cast Iron’s relatives all turn out to be superpowered mobsters. This was a fairly satisfying single-issue story, but it’s not all that memorable. As I think I said before, I wish Phil Hester were writing Firebreather instead of this series. Grade: B/B-

ACTION COMICS #516 – This issue is the conclusion to a time-travel story in which Vandal Savage alters history to make himself the ruler of the world. The writer, Marv Wolfman, initially does a good job of creating suspense and excitement, but the story is resolved in a way that makes very little sense. The clear highlight of this issue is Curt Swan’s powerful and exciting artwork. The backup is a pretty boring Atom story by Rozakis and Saviuk. It ends with Atom saying “blecchhh” when his wife serves him pancakes with syrup — no wonder she later had an affair and then went nuts. Grade: C

EAST OF WEST #1 – This is a fairly promising start to a new Jonathan Hickman project, taking place in an alternate reality where the Civil War resulted in the U.S. being divided into seven separate countries. As usual with Hickman, I can’t really tell yet what’s happening or where the series is going, but there is a lot of fascinating stuff here. It seems to be a blend between the steampunk and Western genres. I found this issue interesting enough that I plan on continuing with the series. Grade: A-/B+

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #123 – I think Gerry Conway’s writing on Spider-Man is consistently underrated. This is the issue right after Gwen Stacy’s death, and it’s a genuinely strong piece of work. Conway does an effective job of depicting all the characters at a moment of peak emotional stress, as they all react to two shocking tragedies. The action sequences in this issue are also very effective, and it ends with two very nice scenes — Luke Cage decides not to take JJJ’s money in exchange for hunting down Spider-Man and stuffs the money in JJJ’s face instead, while Peter has a conversation with MJ that indicates that he’s ready to start moving on from his crippling grief over Gwen’s death. This issue is clearly not as memorable as the previous two, but it’s a minor classic in its own right. Grade: A-

GLORY #33 – The main draw of this series is Ross Campbell’s amazing artwork; this issue shows that he’s not just good at faces and emotional subtlety, he can also draw superheroic action sequences and crowd scenes that are worthy of George Pérez. I’ve often felt that the writing in this series is not up to the level of the artwork, but the writing in this issue was powerful and brutal. This story is mostly a giant fight scene which results in the deaths of several major characters, including the protagonist Riley Barnes, and therefore it’s rather tough to read. Grade: A

GLORY #34 – In this issue, Glory travels to the afterlife to try to resurrect Riley and the other characters who have died over the course of the series (i.e. most of them). The ending is a little unsatisfying because it involves Riley choosing to remain dead for reasons which are not made clear to the reader. But, the flashbacks with Gloriana and her old lover Emilie are beautifully written and drawn, and the issue provides a nicely emotional farewell to Gloriana and Riley. Campbell’s artwork in this issue is highly versatile; it sometimes seems like he uses a different style on every other page. With this series Ross Campbell has emerged as a rising superstar, and I look forward to seeing what he does next. Grade: A+

ADVENTURE COMICS #446 – The Aquaman story in this issue is pretty exciting, but would have been better if Paul Levitz had written the dialogue as well as the script. This story gives a fairly prominent role to Aquagirl, an awesome character who never got enough exposure, and it’s nice to see her getting the chance to beat up the bad guys, even if only for about one panel. Tula is even seen drinking on panel, to the point where Garth worries that she’s having too much, which seems rather unusual in a comic from 1976. The backup story, featuring the Creeper, is rather boring and pointless, and artist Ric Estrada tries too hard to draw like Ditko. Grade: B+

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