Giant stack of comics, part 2

Writing these long commentaries is more trouble than it’s worth, considering that no one seems to be reading these things (though I haven’t put much effort into publicizing them). Besides, the primary purpose of this exercise is to help me fix the comics I’ve read in my memory, so long treatises are not necessary. Going to try to limit myself to a couple sentences per comic. All comics here were purchased at Comic-Con unless indicated with an asterisk*.

NEIL THE HORSE COMICS AND STORIES #2 – Not a lot of sustained storytelling here, but Arn Saba (now Katherine something) is very good at creating a gentle and wistful mood. My favorite part about this comic was the cute poem on the back cover. Grade: B+

CHEW #35 – Awesome as usual. Ends with a bizarrely powerful scene in which Tony invites his daughter Olive to eat her dead mother’s toe, but on pulling it out of the freezer, he discovers his dead sister’s toe there as well. I can’t believe that that sentence actually makes sense in the context of this series. Grade: A

CAPTAIN MARVEL (2012) #2 – Not as good as the previous issue, because DeConnick sends Carol off on a time-traveling adventure instead of taking the time to establish her character and setting. I understood a couple of the untranslated Japanese words in the dialogue. I still don’t like Dexter Soy’s art but I’m starting to understand it. Grade: B+/A-

MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER #4 – A masterpiece by my favorite Silver Age artist other than the obvious ones, Russ Manning. This issue is maybe not his best, partly because he did not plot it himself, but it has the beautiful action sequences and gorgeously slick machinery that make this series a classic. Passes the Bechdel test because Leeja and Serena talk about underwater farming. Grade: A/A+

SUPERBOY (1994) #12 – A really fun issue of one of DC’s better mid-’90s comics. Also significant in terms of the overall plot of the series, because it introduces Superboy’s compound on the Waianae Coast (I had to look that up to check the spelling). I think the best issues of this series are the ones from Kesel and Grummett’s second run, in the #50s and #60s, where they were very directly paying homage to Kirby, but this one was still quite good. Grade: A

STRANGE TALES #133 – This one was tons of fun. The opening story is only drawn by Bob Powell, but it includes a ton of witty banter between Ben and Johnny, who are not happy that Dorrie and Alicia have dragged them to an art exhibit. The Dr. Strange backup story is insignificant to the overall plot of the series, but Ditko’s art is beautifully weird. Grade: A

AVENGERS #244 – One of the only issues from this period I was missing. An average issue of the Stern/Milgrom run, mostly devoted to the Dire Wraiths storyline, which was some sort of unannounced crossover across a bunch of Marvel comics. Stern’s dialogue and characterization are as high-quality as ever, though the art is very boring — there were two pencilers, Al Milgrom and Infantino in his bad period. Grade: A-

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #186 – This issue is dedicated to Dick Dillin who had just died. Main attraction is gorgeous artwork by George Perez who was just reaching his artistic maturity. Gerry Conway’s story is just okay, including some nice character moments. I had an embarrassing moment at Comic-Con where I was telling Elliot S! Maggin that he was my favorite Superman writer, then I noticed Gerry Conway was standing next to him, and I went “Oh wow!”

NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. #3 – I’ve read “Dark Moon Rise, Hell Hound Kill” before, but it was worth revisiting for Steranko’s incredibly innovative and dynamic page layouts. The story is resolved in a way that makes absolutely no logical sense, but that’s part of the fun. Grade: A+

POWER GIRL #5 – I don’t think I would read any comic written by Palmiotti and Gray if I wasn’t otherwise interested in it, but Amanda Conner’s artwork makes this comic incredible. My favorite part was the page where PG and another character give her cat a bath, but nearly every page includes something awesome. Grade: A-

GRIMJACK #16 – This issue was mostly devoted to plot, which is kind of bad since what’s most interesting about Grimjack is the character himself and the setting of Cynosure. Still, the writing and artwork were excellent as usual for this series. The Munden’s Bar story, by Valentino, was not one of the best. Grade: B+

FEAR #12 – This early Gerber Man-Thing story starts off telling a powerful story about racial persecution and lynching in the Deep South, but sort of loses its way when it turns out that the persecuted black man is actually a murderer. The suggestion is that racial hatred is black people’s fault too, and that things would be better if we could all just get along. The offensiveness of this message may not have been as obvious in the early ’70s as it should be now, though, and Gerber’s heart was in the right place. Grade: A-

TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED (2006) #8 – The Crispus Allen Spectre story sucks; it’s full of grim violence and implied sexual abuse for no reason. The Doctor 13 backup story is why I bought this issue. I loved Traci 13’s portrayal in Blue Beetle and this story was equally fun. It was metatextual in a way very reminiscent of Grant Morrison’s Animal Man; it reads like a deliberate protest against DC’s habit (even more prominent now than at the time) of shelving interesting but unusual characters in favor of popular ones. A notable Easter Egg is the Phantom Zone projector-like object that says “Plot Device” on the back. The story ends with Dr. 13 begging the reader not to turn the page; I wonder how Azzarello and Chiang knew that that page would appear on the right-hand side. Grade: F for the first story, B+/A- for the second

HOT WHEELS #5 – “The Case of the Curious Classic” surprised me because every page of the story had a very basic 8-panel grid, and there weren’t a lot of action sequences. Toth explains on his website that he did this because the story was very plot-heavy and required lots of explanation. The plot is quite intricate and reveals Toth’s passion for old cars. All the references to cars in the story seem to be genuine. The backup story, by Ric Estrada, is not worth mentioning. Grade: A+

ADVENTURE COMICS #449 – The Aquaman story is surprisingly written by Steve Skeates, not Levitz or Michelinie, and it’s really just average by the standard of Aquaman stories from this era. The Martian Manhunter backup story is kind of awful; Denny O’Neil depicts J’onn acting like a complete moron. Grade: B-, and no lower only because of the Jim Aparo artwork on the first story.

ATOMIC ROBO: DEADLY ART OF SCIENCE #1 – Absolutely hilarious stuff. Atomic Robo encounters a masked superhero and proceeds to act like Syndrome from the Incredibles, only more cute because he’s a robot. Grade: A

SUPERMAN #651* – Very nice writing here. I don’t know how much of this is Kurt Busiek and how much is Geoff Johns, but I feel like Kurt really understands Superman. This issue reads like an updated version of a classic ’70s or ’80s Superman story by Maggin or Pasko or Bates. The actual plot, though, is far less interesting than the interactions between Clark and Lois (I notice I make comments like that very often). Grade: A-

SERGIO ARAGONES FUNNIES #8* – Brilliant work by a consummate master. The best story here is “The Mexican Trip,” an autobiographical story (like his Eisner winner “The Gorilla Suit”), in which Sergio just exudes passion for his family and his Mad Magazine friends. I’m glad Sergio is healthy enough to do work like this. Grade: A+

CASTLE WAITING (Fantagraphics) #5 – This series is expertly written and Medley’s art has tons of emotional subtlety, but I’m not sure where the story is going, or if it’s going anywhere. Most of this issue is a long flashback which includes some extremely cute scenes between Lady Jain and Tylo. I still have no idea how Lady Jain got from there to where she is at the start of the series. Grade: A

SANDMAN #2 – I got this at Comic-Con for about one dollar, which makes me wonder if it’s a second printing, but apparently not. Cool. At this point in the series Neil was clearly still developing his personal style and figuring out how his characters fit into the DC universe. Still, it’s an issue of The Sandman which means it’s a classic. Grade: A-

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #82 – I only paid a dollar for this due to poor condition, including severely rusted staples. Neal Adams’s artwork here is incredible and the issue reads like a genuine detective story. There is at least one gaping plot hole (it’s never made clear whether Aquaman really killed Dr. Simon Link or, if not, why he believed he did), which I suppose is not unusual for Bob Haney. Grade: A

MORNING GLORIES #13 – This issue arouses a lot of genuine emotion, mostly hatred because I just hate the school and its staff so so much, and I especially hate Ike, who is such a smug jerk and a sociopath. But I guess I also have to admire him for his ability to make everyone else angry while maintaining his cool. Joe Eisma’s draftsmanship is not flashy but he is very good at conveying emotion. I still don’t understand the science-fictiony part of this series’ plot at all. Grade: A

STRANGE TALES #136* – I bought this at Dragon*Con last year but never read it due to poor condition, including one missing non-story page and one story page that’s completely detached. Both stories are excellent though. The Nick Fury story has a weird combination of John Severin finishes over Kirby layouts, but is exciting and well-plotted. The Dr. Strange backup is an intermediate chapter in the ongoing Eternity story, and is mostly interesting to me as the first appearance of a really cool minor character, the Aged Genghis. Grade: A/A+

IRON FIST #12 – This issue’s plot is a very basic version of the old trope of “superheroes fight due to misunderstanding and then team up”, but John Byrne gets to draw both action sequences and heavy machinery. The issue ends with some dialogue which was rather suggestive for the mid-’70s. Grade: B+/A-

X-MEN #37 – This is by far the oldest X-Men issue in my collection, and I’m not sorry I paid six dollars for it, but I had trouble finishing it because the plot is rather boring, the characters are uninteresting, and the art is highly competent but unspectacular. I can see why this series was cancelled. The villains include the Vanisher and Unus the Untouchable, neither of whom was ever used by Claremont as far as I can recall, and again I can see why not. Grade: C-

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