Comics read today

While taking a break from grading (i.e. procrastinating), I made a want list for Comic-Con. There probably won’t be reliable wireless access in the exhibit hall and so I’m going to have to carry around a physical list of all the comics I need. When I made this list, it reminded me of a lot of old comics that I love and haven’t read lately, so I felt motivated to read all the following comics.

KORAK, SON OF TARZAN #56 – This issue includes work by two fantastic artists, Murphy Anderson and Michael Wm. Kaluta. The Korak story is written with surprising effectiveness by Bob Kanigher, and Anderson’s page layouts (which Kubert may have been responsible for) are dynamic and exciting. The real attraction here, though, is the Carson of Venus backup, which has such amazing storytelling and draftsmanship that it almost reminds me of Hal Foster, although the writing is nothing particularly great. Grade: A-

IRON MAN #64  – Considering that I don’t particularly like either Mike Friedrich’s writing or George Tuska’s artwork, I found this issue surprisingly enjoyable. It involved a really bizarre and convoluted plot with a lot of entertaining soap-opera interactions between Tony, Pepper and Happy. The story is also an example of Friedrich’s early-70’s “relevant” style of writing, as it  references to urban renewal and African anti-colonialism. Grade: B+

SUPERMAN ANNUAL #9 – The opening story in this issue is a masterpiece by my favorite Superman writer, Elliot S! Maggin, and one of the great storytellers in the history of American comics, Alex Toth. Nearly every page is a showcase for Toth’s dynamic page layouts, perfectly balanced panel compositions, and minimalistic but effective draftsmanship. Elliot’s story is enjoyable enough though the conclusion is a bit contrived. The backup story, “I Flew with Superman”, features Curt Swan as the protagonist. It follows the standard clichéd formula where a character has a vivid dream which turns out to be real, but Swan and his co-writers execute it very well, effectively conveying Swan’s passion for the character who defined his professional career (and vice versa). Grade: A+

WHAT IF? #29 – Steven Grant and Alan Kupperberg’s “What If the Avengers Defeated Everybody” was better than I expected (a common theme among the comics I read today). The story relies on a massive case of Plot Induced Stupidity: the Scarlet Centurion convinces the Avengers that he can turn Earth into a utopia if they defeat all the other superhumans on earth for him, but of course he’s just trying to get rid of all the competition so that he can take over the earth himself. However, this apparently did happen in Avengers Annual #2, the story that this issue is based on, so Grant cannot be blamed for it, and he does succeed in arousing some genuine emotion. A common problem with volume 2 of What If? was that (A) the stories would read like extended plot summaries and (B) the writers would kill off characters left and right because they could get away with it. Grant avoids both these pitfalls and tells a satisfying story without any gratuitous death and violence. The two backup stories are much less interesting. Grade: B+

MS. MARVEL (1977) #14 – This series was one of Claremont’s earliest major works. It’s largely forgotten today, but it showcases the deep characterization (particularly of female characters) that was one of the defining qualities of his X-Men stories. This issue is certainly the best written of the comics I read today. Although there’s a typical superhero plot, it’s really about the conflict between Carol and her dad, an old alpha-male chauvinistic jerk who refuses to accept that women are good at anything. Even after Carol (as Ms. Marvel) saves his life twice, he still has no respect for her. In the last panel, Carol thinks: “All I ever wanted was for Dad to accept me as I am, not as he wanted me to be. And now I know that no matter what I do, or how well I do it, he never will. He won’t change… and, all of a sudden, I don’t care.” This could be read as Carol just meekly accepting her dad’s sexism, but I think it can also be read more positively: Carol realizes that although her dad is never going to change, she is no longer worried about what he thinks of her. One panel before this, Carol’s mother reveals that she’s already figured out Carol’s secret identity, which is a nice touch — it’s something that happens much less often in superhero comics than it would in real life. Grade: A

TEEN TITANS #17 – Now this one was just incredible. “Holy Thimbles, It’s the Mad Mod” is a wild story even by Bob Haney standards, and that’s saying a lot. The Mad Mod would be completely out of place in a story written by anyone else at all, but he fits perfectly with Haney’s bizarre style of writing. The artwork is by Nick Cardy, one of DC’s great artists of this era, at the absolute peak of his powers. His page layouts are amazing and his characters are as gorgeous as ever. I only wish I had a copy of this issue that wasn’t falling apart. Grade: A+

FLASH ANNUAL #8 – Mark Waid is the one writer who’s contributed most to the development of Wally West’s character, and he wrote two other classic stories about Wally’s early life, Flash #0 and “Born to Run”. It’s a shame that this story is below the level of either of those. Besides the terrible art by the justifiably unknown Dave Brewer, this story features a young Wally acting wildly out of character. According to this story, after Barry’s death, Wally goes into complete denial and also becomes reckless and negligent, to the point where Jay and Hal have to force him to stop being the Flash (until he redeems himself at the end of this story, of course). This portrayal of Wally is hard to reconcile with Mike Baron’s version of this same period of Wally’s life, and Mark seems to even admit this at one point during the story. The backup story, taking place right after Wally gets his powers, features much better art by Humberto Ramos but rather poor writing by Tom Peyer — he actually makes Wally and Iris’s relationship seem kind of creepy. This issue would have been better if the two writers had switched stories; then there would have been one good story and one bad one, rather than two that were halfway good. Grade: B-

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