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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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Comics read on 6/29/13 and 6/30/13

I read the following comic books over the past two days, for a total of 69 comic books read since I started this experiment.

SNARKED #5 – Another fantastic issue. The humor in this issue is a lot more raucous and gross than in earlier issues; there is a lot of toilet humor and a lot of what might be interpreted as cruelty to animals. The star of this series, I think, is the Walrus, who reminds me a bit of Phoney Bone or Uncle Scrooge except that he has not even a shred of morality or conscience. Maybe a better comparison is Wimpy, who stole the show in some of Langridge’s Popeye stories. The letter column reveals the hidden message in the previous issue: the first letters of each of the pages spelled “Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.” I would never have found that on my own.

BLACKHAWK #273 – This is not my favorite Evanier/Spiegle collaboration; I prefer Crossfire or even Hollywood Superstars, partly because of my lack of interest in war stories. However, this issue was very readable and featured some gorgeous artwork. The story is not particularly well plotted but is notable for its portrayal of Chop-Chop as a courageous hero, rather than an offensive stereotype, as was often the case in earlier versions of the series. The “Detached Service Diary” segment was illustrated by Mike Sekowsky in what must have been one of his last jobs for DC, but I don’t think he was ever that great of an artist, and this segment was not an example of his best work.

WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN #32 – An excellent follow-up to the previous issue. The humor in this issue is even more disturbing and excessive than in #32 (e.g. Master Pandemonium leaving a human head in the fridge), but I’ve come to expect that sort of humor from this series. Nick Bradshaw’s artwork is as fascinating as ever. I look forward to future installments of this story.

PLOP! #2 – This issue of one of the most bizarre comics DC ever published features a number of gags by Sergio Aragones, as well as slightly longer stories by Sergio, Alfredo Alcala, and Nick Cardy. Alcala’s stories for this series were among the most beautiful things he did for DC; the draftsmanship is on almost the same level as that of his masterpiece Voltar. The story by Cardy is also quite well-drawn, in a style similar to that of Bat Lash. As for the writing, though… I have a suspicion that the horror stories in Plop! were originally written for DC’s more serious horror comics, and that it’s only the artwork that actually makes them funny. I could easily imagine these exact same stories appearing in House of Secrets or Weird Mystery Tales, and in that context they would not have been particularly notable. Maybe the best thing about this issue is the gorgeous Basil Wolverton cover.

WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #208 – I actually liked this issue a lot. The story is a fairly standard Superman/Dr. Fate team-up, but Len Wein’s writing and Dick Dillin’s artwork make it quite readable. Among all the good but not spectacular superhero artists of the ’60s and ’70s (e.g. Heck, Ayers, S. Buscema), Dillin is perhaps my favorite. This issue also includes two Golden Age reprints which are not worth discussing.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #6 – I didn’t read this when it came out because I was kind of underwhelmed by the previous issue, although admittedly, Katie Cook and Andy Price are a tough act to follow. However, I found this issue to be surprisingly well-written and well-drawn, particularly the sequence where each of the Mane Six (besides Rarity) confronts her worst fear. Pinkie Pie’s line “In space, no one can hear you squee” was the highlight of the issue. I have #7 and will get to it in a day or two.

PALOOKA-VILLE #18 – This comic is a beautifully designed artifact with gorgeous artwork, but Christ, what a depressing story. Simon Matchcard’s meditations on decay and entropy are rather bleak, although the issue ends on a more hopeful note with a dream sequence in which Simon imagines himself visiting a beautifully drawn city from the past. I wonder if the reason Seth hasn’t finished “Clyde Fans” is because it’s not really a story, just an ongoing meditation on nostalgia. I think Seth is better at creating a mood — which he does extremely well in this issue — than at telling an interesting story.

DR. STRANGE #18 – This Englehart/Colan collaboration gets off to kind of a slow start, but quickly becomes more interesting as a time-traveling Clea, feeling neglected by Stephen, has a fling with Benjamin Franklin. (Didn’t he like older women though?) Englehart’s dialogue is witty and often hilarious, even though his captions tend toward purple prose, and Colan’s artwork is as masterful as ever.