More reviews

2000 AD PROG 55 (1978) – This is the first British comic book (or rather, comic paper) in my collection. I was rather surprised by the format, which is closer to that of a tabloid newspaper than an American comic book: the cover is made of newsprint and both the front and back covers are used as story pages. (I wonder if Excalibur #55, where the cover is also the first story page, was a deliberate homage to this.) I  read this a couple weeks ago and I don’t remember any of the individual stories particularly well, but I was fairly impressed by the generally high level of craftsmanship and the deliberately over-the-top tone of the writing. Grade: B

LONELY NIGHTS COMICS #1 (1986) – This was the only solo comic book published by the late Dori Seda. It consists mostly of autobiographical stories about Dori’s bohemian lifestyle in ‘80s San Diego. These stories are hilarious but also in retrospect kind of tragic, because you can see signs of Dori’s unhealthy lifestyle, which probably contributed to her death a couple years after this story was published. Her style is very reminiscent of Robt. Williams, but her sensibility is quite unique; she has a sort of gently self-deprecating humor that I don’t often see in autobiographical cartoonists. These stories are about serious business but they’re not serious in a depressing way. Oh, and of course there are lots of jokes about whether or not Dori sleeps with her dog. Grade: A+

SUPERBOY #23 (1996) – Part one of “Losin’ It,” the last story of Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett’s initial run on this title. This issue introduces readers to Knockout, who on one level is a rather sexist character – practically everything she says is a double entendre – but also a lot of fun. I can’t recall much else about this issue. Grade: B+

SCOUT #10 (1986) – This series was a fairly standard postapocalyptic narrative which was interesting largely because the main character was an Apache, and Tim Truman seems to have made a sincere effort to represent him in a culturally sensitive way. The plot of this issue involves the government declaring war on some settlers in order to take over their land, and Truman highlights the obvious resemblance here to Native American history. Truman’s artwork here is only average, hampered by muddy inking and coloring, although I’ve always thought of him as a seriously underappreciated artist. Grade: B+

RED CIRCLE SORCERY #9 (1974) – The stories in this issue are fairly boring; three of the four are written by the justifiably forgotten Marvin Channing, and they’re all very standard horror fare. The highlight is the first story, which features gorgeous artwork by, surprisingly, Alex Toth – I hadn’t realized he had done any work for the Red Circle line. The artwork on the other stories is just average. Grade: B- but would have been a C- if not for the Alex Toth artwork.

RONIN #3 (1983)– This was groundbreaking for its time, but I don’t think I can read Frank Miller anymore. I’ve lost my patience with grim and gritty quasi-superhero  comics, and with Miller’s macho Hemingway-esque style of writing. This issue is interesting from a historical perspective in that it shows a very heavy manga influence, specifically from Goseki Kojima. It’s full of two-page spreads and horizontal panels, and of course the story is full of Japanese cultural references. I have one more issue of this series but I have little desire to read it. Grade: B-

HATE #5 (1991) – I think I read this story before, but it was worth rereading because it does such an effective job of defining Buddy Bradley’s character. The issue ends with Buddy lying in an apparent drunken stupor while two other characters talk about him, saying that they actually do appreciate his crudeness and brutal honesty, even if they’d never admit it to him. Then the last panel reveals that Buddy wasn’t asleep and heard every word. Heh. I think Peter Bagge was at his peak in the early ’90s; I stopped following his work after being disappointed in some of his Hate annuals. Grade: A+

GLORY #31 (2013) – The cover to this issue is both adorable and horrifying, a combination of affects which is a favorite of mine. This story is mostly a prologue to bigger things to come, but it includes a ton of cute scenes and character interactions, many of them involving food, as well as excellent artwork by both Ross Campbell and Ulises Farinas. Grade: A-

TARZAN #127 (1961) — I think this is the first comic I’ve read that had Jesse Marsh artwork. I find his art rather crude, though I guess I can see his mastery of composition and anatomy. All the stories in this issue are typical (presumably) Gaylord DuBois stuff — competently written but not classic — though the first story is notable for its positive portrayal of Africans. Grade: B-

SHOCK SUSPENSTORIES #1 (1992, reprinting material from 1952) — Unexpectedly the best story in this issue is the one by the worst artist in the issue, Jack Kamen; its ending is hilariously horrifying, reminding me of that in the notorious “Foul Play” story. The other stories in this issue are much more pedestrian. The story by Jack Davis involves a soldier being court-martialed and shot for cowardice, which is rather implausible as this only ever happened once (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_Slovik) in the entire history of the United States military, and even then it was extremely controversial. Grade: A-

MARBLE SEASON FCBD (2013) — This issue made more sense after I read the essay by Corey Creekmur that appears at the end. I tend to be a bigger fan of Jaime than Gilbert, but this comic does seem like quite an accurate portrayal of the combined wonderfulness and idiocy of childhood. I am not in a hurry to read the entire graphic novel, but I would like to read it eventually. Grade: A

WEDNESDAY COMICS #11 and #12 (2009) — I’ve discussed this series before. These two issues provide a satisfying conclusion to most of the stories. I still have no idea what’s going on in the Ben Caldwell Wonder Woman arc, as gorgeous as the artwork is. The ending of the Kamandi story is rather annoying because it involves the female love interest getting shot. I think overall my favorite stories from Wednesday Comics are the Adam Strange and Supergirl/Super-Pets stories, the latter of which ends in a suitably hilarious fashion. Grade: A-

BUCKY O’HARE #1 (1991) — This may quite possibly have been the only good comic Continuity ever published. I remember seeing one episode of the TV show based on this, long long ago, but the comic is much more interesting, kind of like a more raucous version of the StarFox video games. Michael Golden’s draftsmanship in this issue is incredible and his manga influence is very much in evidence, as each page tends to have just three or four panels. Grade: A

SUPERBOY #29 (1996) — This issue, which is part five of “Losin’ It,” is disappointing because of incompetent guest writing and boring guest artwork — especially disappointing given the importance of this issue to the overall storyline. The plot is interesting enough; this issue finally made me realize the double entendre in the title of the storyline, as Superboy and Knockout almost go all the way. However, the guest creators are unable to effectively realize Kesel’s intentions. Grade: C+

SUPERBOY #30 (1996) — This, however, is a much more satisfying conclusion to the storyline and to Kesel and Grummett’s entire run. Here Superboy finally frees himself from Knockout’s bad influence and the story ends on a hopeful note. Grade: A

INCREDIBLE HERCULES #115 (2008) — This was the only issue of this series I hadn’t read. This issue is mostly plot, which often doesn’t make sense because it’s heavily tied to the ongoing World War Hulk crossover, but there are some interesting interactions between Herc and Amadeus. This issue only includes a couple of the creative sound effects that were a trademark of this series. Khoi Pham’s artwork is unfortunately rather boring. Grade: A-

ADVENTURE COMICS #437 (1975) — This one is something of a low point in the Fleisher/Aparo Spectre canon, because of guest artwork by Ernie Chan. The weird thing about Fleisher’s Spectre is that they’re somewhat lacking in dramatic tension — because the Spectre can do absolutely anything, the bad guys never present any sort of plausible threat to him. The appeal to the stories comes, first, from the horrible things the villains do (in this issue, the villain hypnotizes people and turns them into suicide bombers), and second, the equally horrible ways in which the Spectre punishes them. In this sense these stories are almost like pre-Code EC horror or crime comics. The Aquaman backup story is a very pedestrian effort by Levitz and Grell. Grade: B+

THE PHANTOM #71 (1976) — I’ve only read one Phantom story before, in which the character was portrayed as a very conventional superhero, so I was pleasantly surprised by the aura of mystery and fear that surrounds him in this issue. Don Newton’s artwork is amazing and the story, by John Clark, who I’ve never heard of, is extremely solid. (I wonder if this is the same John Clark who worked for Gemstone.) I definitely want to read more of these Charlton Phantoms. Grade: A

THOR #133 (1966) — I am not a huge fan of Lee and Kirby’s Thor, which I tend to find rather boring, but the Ego the Living Planet story was a high point of their Thor run and their collaboration as a whole. It’s just so quintessentially Kirbyesque. The ending to this story is rather anticlimactic: Thor defeats Ego by brute force, which seems kind of hard to believe, given how much work Stan did to convince the reader that Ego was this incredible unstoppable threat. Grade: A

SAVAGE DRAGON #116 (2004) — I missed this one when it came out. This story focuses heavily on Dragon’s wife Jennifer, who, like many of Erik’s female characters, often seemed rather one-dimensional and stereotypical. However, that critique is not entirely fair since it also applies to basically every other character in the series besides Dragon himself. This story is reasonably fun, though also depressing as it ends with Jennifer losing her powers permanently. Grade: B+

ATOMIC ROBO: SHADOW FROM BEYOND TIME #2 (2009) — Trying to finish these reviews before I fall asleep and/or run out of creative things to say. Basically everything I said about previous issues of Atomic Robo also applies to this one; the difference is that this issue is a Lovecraft adaptation, involving a bizarre extra-universal creature that communicates in horrible-sounding nonsense syllables. Quite fun. Grade: A

NAUGHTY BITS #14 (1994) — Bitchy Bitch is something of a female version of Buddy Bradley. This issue, which seems as topical now as in 1994, revolves around a workplace conflict that occurs when Midge’s company hires an openly gay employee. Roberta’s satire of the religious right is witty and hilarious. Grade: A

HELLBLAZER #76 (1994) — Like many of Ennis’s stories, this one is less about plot than about atmosphere and character interaction. It involves John’s encounter with the ghost of an old dead friend, Brendan, who was apparently based on Brendan Behan. The issue is full of Ennis’s typically brilliant dialogue and characterization, as well as including one of his typical moments of shocking over-the-top horror. I did find myself wondering why so much attention was being given to the seemingly unimportant character of Brendan. Grade: A

More comics

Following Martin de la Iglesia’s suggestion, I will now be mentioning the year when each issue was published.

WOLFF & BYRD, COUNSELORS OF THE MACABRE #13 (1996) — This is a triskaidekaphobia- and bad luck-themed issue, and Batton does a great job of inserting the number 13 everywhere he can. There’s also an awesome gag that takes advantage of materiality: on the cover, Wolff says “What could possibly goes wrong?” and then the reader opens the comic to discover that the cover was (intentionally) printed backward and upside down. The story, rather than being self-contained, is mostly devoted to advancing the ongoing plotlines, particularly the one about Sodd the Thing Called It, but it does so effectively. Grade: A-

JIM #6 (1996) — I appreciate that Jim Woodring is a creative genius and a massively talented draftsman, but while I appreciated the talent that went into the three stories in this issue, I can’t say I enjoyed any of them. Indeed, quite the opposite: they were all extremely disturbing, involving bizarre characters who act in horribly sociopathic ways. I’m surprised this comic didn’t give me nightmares. Grade: A+ for quality, F for enjoyment

METAMORPHO #4 (1966) — This is a fantastically fun romp by Haney and Fradon. The plot is typically nonsensical: Sapphire tries to make Rex jealous by getting engaged to a flamboyant Argentine hidalgo, but ends up getting caught up in an armed revolution. The story supposedly takes place in Argentina but it looks a lot more like Mexico: the cover mentions tortillas and tamales, and the climax of the story occurs at a bullfight. I suspect that Haney just couldn’t tell the difference. Grade: A

ATOMIC ROBO/BODIE TROLL FCBD 2013 — Another massively fun comic, in which Atomic Robo fights a giant robot that speaks only one word at a time (much like Fujin in Final Fantasy VIII). This is a great introduction to the series. The backup story, starring a new character called Bodie Troll, is almost as fun. I wonder if the character’s name is a deliberate homage to Vaughn Bodé. Grade: A

BRAVE AND THE BOLD #107 (1973) — This was the second issue of B&B starring Black Canary (or the third if you count #100 which also had other guest stars). The first one, #91, was a masterpiece with gorgeous Nick Cardy artwork, while this one is more of a standard Haney/Aparo collaboration. It’s a fairly unremarkable story in which Bruce and Dinah team up to capture some hijackers. Still, it’s a fun comic and Jim Aparo is at the top of his game here. Grade: B+/A-

HELLBLAZER #77 (1994) — I have never especially liked Peter Snejbjerg’s artwork — his faces just look really bizarre — and this story, which is told mostly in flashback, is oddly inconclusive. It ends with Constantine going to hell and then escaping with no explanation of how. Still, Garth Ennis’s dialogue is sparkling, and the story is enjoyable just for Ennis’s depiction of British pub culture. Grade: A-

MARVEL TEAM-UP #111 (1981) — This Spider-Man/Devil-Slayer team-up is a weird little story which was either an unannounced crossover with Defenders, or an attempt to wrap up loose plot threads from that series. Compared to other MTU guest-stars, Devil-Slayer is notable for his sheer jerkiness and his intolerable personality, which even exhausts Spidey’s patience. The only notable thing about the story is that Peter defeats the villains through his intellect rather than his powers — he unmasks a group of Serpent Men who are posing as the Defenders by asking them to say “kaa nama ka lajerama” (and by typing that, I’ve proven that I’m not a Serpent Man). Grade: B+

WOMANTHOLOGY: SPACE #1 (2012) — I love the idea behind this project, but the actual stories are kind of disappointing. Of the five stories in this issue, the only one that’s truly memorable is a two-pager by Ming Doyle, which is basically a gender-swapped version of a Flash Gordon story. Doyle does a nice job of drawing in an Alex Raymond- or Al Williamson-esque style. The other stuff in the issue is unfortunately quite forgettable. Grade: C+

YOUNG AVENGERS #8 (2013) — This is the best issue of the series since #1. It has all kinds of awesome stuff — rabbits which are nightmarish for unexplained reasons, Korean BBQ, cute little green creatures, and all kinds of awesome Loki dialogue. And then at the end of the issue the characters start interacting with the panel borders, which is something I absolutely love. I feel that Kieron and Jamie are finally fulfilling the potential of this series. Grade: A+

HAWKEYE ANNUAL #1 (2013) — I had mixed feelings about this one. It was an exciting story, reminding me quite a lot of Daredevil: Born Again (which I suspect was intentional). It’s nice to see Kate having to survive by her wits without relying on her wealth or her parents’ support, because she really is something of a 1-percenter. On the other hand, Javier Pulido’s artwork is alternatively brilliant and annoying — brilliant because of his dynamic page layouts, annoying because he constantly draws characters in silhouette for no obvious reason. He does this so often that I suspect he’s doing it as a lazy labor-saving device, not because it serves the story. Grade: A-

ALIEN WORLDS #8 (1984) — All the stories here are pretty cute, but none of them are classics. The first, second and fourth stories all have fantastic artwork by, respectively, Al Williamson, Paul Rivoche, and Rand Holmes, the last of whom is an obscure artist that both my dad and I really like. The first three stories have standard EC-esque shock endings. The fourth story, written by Jan Strnad, ends with two men declaring their love for each other, which I guess also counted as a shock ending at the time. Grade: B

MARVEL PREVIEW #20 (1980) — This magazine reprints four stories from older Marvel magazines. The best of the four is Howard Chaykin’s Dominic Fortune story “The Messiah in the Saddle Resolution”. The larger format really allows Chaykin to show off his skill with page composition and action sequences. There is also another Dominic Fortune that’s not quite as good, largely because it’s written by Len Wein rather than Chaykin himself. The third story, “War Toy,” features some nice artwork by George Pérez, but is completely ruined, in my opinion, by Tony Isabella’s heavy-handed, unsubtle storytelling — this is a story that takes itself much too seriously. The last one, by Marv Wolfman and Dave Cockrum, is a pretty cute tribute to EC science fiction and effectively showcases Cockrum’s ability to draw weird-looking creatures. All these stories are more notable for art than writing. Grade: A-

EPIC ILLUSTRATED #7 (1981) — This issue took forever to read and I’m not sure it was worth the effort, because everything in it was interesting but also highly uneven. The best of the various stories here is “The Llehs,” in which John Bolton draws some awesome underwater sequences. The other highlight here is an interview with Barry Windsor-Smith which includes some lovely artwork. But there’s also stuff like “The Egg,” which has some very nice photographic artwork but very poor panel-to-panel continuity. Or “Holocaust,” which is effectively drawn but very poorly written by Neal Adams. Neal has never been a particularly good writer at all, and this story is Neal at his worst; it’s so incoherent that I couldn’t even explain what it’s about. Grade: B-

THE AMAZING CYNICALMAN #1 (1987) — This issue has a bunch of funny stories by stick-figure artist Matt Feazell, as well as by other people imitating his style, which is not especially hard to do. The stories are about as thin as the lines forming the characters’ bodies, but they’re fairly cute. I still haven’t read any other Matt Feazell piece that was anywhere near as good as the six-panel strip included in Understanding Comics, where the guy borrows money from himself in the future. Grade: B

CHICANOS #6 (2006, original publication date not mentioned) — I love the premise behind this comic: it’s a detective comic whose protagonist is a short and completely unsexy woman (though she is kind of cute). It features some beautiful artwork by Eduardo Risso and a  well-plotted story by the late Carlos Trillo, who was one of the preeminent writers in Argentine comics. Unfortunately the story is hampered by a rather poor translation and a confusing presentation: this issue appears to include two self-contained and unrelated stories, but this is not made clear. I wish I knew more about the contemporary Argentine comics scene, because this comic is very interesting, but I wonder what sort of audience it was aimed for and how successful it originally was. Grade: B+ but would have been A- in the original or with a better translation.

DIRTY PLOTTE #1 (1991, my copy is a reprint from 1992) — This issue is mostly composed of earlier work published in minicomics, and you can clearly see Julie Doucet’s style developing from one story to another. Her somewhat cute occasional lack of fluency in English is also sometimes evident. Nothing in this issue is quite at the level of My New York Diary, which is almost the only other Doucet work I’ve read. However, Doucet’s draftspersonship (a very clumsy word but oh well) is brilliant and the best stories in this issue are fascinating in a surreal way. Grade: B+

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS #7 (1966) — I love this series because, besides the gorgeous art by Wally Wood and others, its stories have a very down-to-earth attitude and are quite willing to engage in humor at the heroes’ expense. The heroes don’t always win, they’re not perfect, and they see superheroing as a job, not a divinely sent mission. That’s something that differentiates Tower comics from Marvel and DC comics of the same period. This was one of my collecting holy grails because, besides being one of the few issues of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents I was missing, it also includes what must have been one of the earliest major character deaths in a Code-approved comic. The story with Menthor’s death is remarkably well-written; rather than being killed in a gratuitous, cavalier fashion, as so often happens in superhero comics, Menthor heroically sacrifices himself for his teammates. It’s a death that has genuine meaning to it and that seems truly permanent; you don’t expect him to show up again a year or two later. Grade: A+

FLASH GORDON #6 (1967) – I was disappointed that this issue, unlike the previous five, did not have Al Williamson artwork, but Reed Crandall is almost as exciting. The story is fairly standard ERB-esque stuff, but at least Dale Arden gets a chance to do some heroic stuff on her own, before she inevitably becomes a damsel-in-distress as usual. Overall these King comics were really well-done and I want to get more of them. Grade: A-

UNCLE SCROOGE #217 (1987) — I’ve already read “The Seven Cities of Cibola,” but it was worth revisiting. This story is a Barksian classic which combines humor, exciting adventure, and historical accuracy. It ends oddly in that Scrooge discovers a massive treasure, but not only does he loses it again, he gets amnesia and can’t even remember that it existed. My favorite thing in this story is that when Scrooge thinks he’s about to get killed, he laments that he’ll never see his beloved money again (I feel similarly about my comics). Grade: A+

X-FACTOR #20 (2007) — I have a lot of these PAD X-Factors and I’ve never gotten around to reading them. This one was tough to get into because it’s the end of an ongoing storyline, so much of it doesn’t make sense. As usual with PAD, the story is heavily character-driven, and I suspect I would have enjoyed it more if I’d been following this series from the start. Grade: B-

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #13 (2008) — I bought this when it came out but never read it, so I was pleasantly surprised by its quality. This issue, a Batman/Jay Garrick team-up by Waid and Ordway, is what a modern version of a Silver Age DC comic ought to be like; it’s an exciting adventure which also adds the element of characterization that was so often missing from the work of writers like Fox and Broome. The best scene here is a conversation between Bruce and Jay about mentoring, but Mark also does a great job of depicting the personalities of the Penguin and T.O. Morrow. Jerry’s artwork is as high-quality as ever. Grade: A-

SAVAGE COMBAT TALES #3 (1975) — I someday want to have a complete Atlas/Seaboard collection; it shouldn’t be all that hard. I was expecting this issue to suck (as was so unfortunately common with this company) and I was surprised that it didn’t; the two stories, both written by the late great Archie Goodwin, are well-plotted and realistic. The artwork, by Al McWilliams and Jack Sparling, is competent if not great. Grade: B+

INVINCIBLE #30 (2006) — This issue is the conclusion of a longer story in which Mark reencounters Nolan for the first time. It’s mostly focused on characterization and development of future plotlines, and includes some really nice interactions between Mark and his mother or Cecil. The issue ends with Mark discovering that Amber is no longer happy being a superhero’s girlfriend, which is a good example of Kirkman’s habit of questioning old superhero cliches. Grade: A

MORNING GLORIES #27 (2013) — I didn’t understand this issue at all because the most recent previous issue I read was, I think, #17. A lot of stuff happened in the ten intervening issues without which this one just does not make sense. Still, the quality of the writing and artwork seems as high as ever. I have the version with the variant cover by Rob Guillory, which is formatted as a board game board and includes a ton of hilarious puns. Grade: cannot provide a letter grade because I didn’t understand it.

GROO THE WANDERER #33 (1987) — In this issue, Groo acts stupid, fails spectacularly at everything he tries to achieve, and causes a series of horrible disasters, despite having good intentions. The issue is brilliantly drawn by Sergio Aragonés and is enlivened by Mark Evanier’s witty dialogue. Also, the issue begins with a poem and ends with a moral, and includes a cleverly hidden message. Oh wait, I just described every issue of Groo ever. This one is as hilarious as usual but has a strangely inconclusive ending, in which Groo gets in a fight but the outcome is not depicted; I guess we’re supposed to assume that both sides lost. Grade: A

CATWOMAN #21 and #22 (2003) — Both these issues have exciting stories by Ed Brubaker and gorgeous art by Cameron Stewart. Brubaker’s skill with characterization is especially clear; in #21, for example, he never actually says that Catwoman is smooth and precise while Captain Cold is a sloppy aggressive bumbler, he just shows it. I really want to find more of these Brubaker/Stewart Catwomans. Grade: A for both

BATMAN #206 (1968) — Frank Robbins is not well remembered as a writer today, but he deserves a lot of credit for his role in the late-’60s/early-’70s  Batman revival. This issue suffers from an overly convoluted plot which requires Batman to engage in an excessive amount of plot-induced stupidity, but it ends on a surprisingly powerful note as the villain walks to the electric chair while wearing Batman’s costume. Grade: B+/A-

Slightly less giant stack of comics

THE INVINCIBLE HAGGARD WEST #101 — First Second was giving these away at Comic-Con. It’s actually the only issue even though it says FIRST ISSUE on the cover. I liked this issue a lot. Paul Pope’s draftsmanship is beautiful and distinctive and his storytelling is thrilling. Now I want to read Battling Boy which this issue is a preview for. Grade: A

WEDNESDAY COMICS #1 — I’ve already shared my feelings about this series. I find that the best stories in Wednesday Comics are the ones that take the most  advantage of the larger page size — Ben Caldwell’s Wonder Woman is the prime example of this, but lots of the other strips also use more panels per page or more detailed artwork than would be feasible at normal comic book size. The least effective strips are the ones that are basically just regular comic book pages blown up to newspaper size; the Kuberts’ Sgt. Rock series is the main offender here. Grade: A

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #8 — I enjoyed this issue more than I expected to, given that I’ve been less than impressed with Nuhfer and Mebberson’s previous work on this series. It was an effective conclusion to the story, though it ended in an overly cheerful and syrupy way, even by pony standards. Yay for more camouflage slugs. Grade: B+

FF #9 — One of the most fun issues of the most fun comic Marvel is currently producing. I appreciate the focus on Vil and Wu, who have been totally enigmatic characters so far. I wonder why they have to wear gender-specific bathing suits despite not being sexually dimorphic. Luna’s reaction to Dragon Man was hilarious. Given Julie Power’s current apparent age, Alex shouldn’t just be starting to grow a mustache. Grade: A

FF #10 — Another quality issue, though not as good as the previous one. Some very nice (if rather unsubtle) fourth-wall bending with Matt, Mike and Tom appearing in the comic. The business with the tiger was very cute. I don’t think we were given a sufficient explanation for why Alex is freeing Maximus. Grade: A-

OPTIC NERVE #13 — I assumed issue 12 would be the last issue, based on Adrian’s discussion of how the monthly comic book format was obsolete, but I’m glad to see I was wrong. Given my academic interests, I was fascinated by the first page in which Adrian complains, in a self-consciously luddite way, about the decline of print and paper media. The first story, “Bad Owls,” initially seems like one of Adrian’s typical stories about screwed-up people, but it gradually becomes clear that the dude in the story is not just a harmless asshole, and that the story is really about a woman trapped in an abusive relationship. That being the case, I thought the conclusion, in which the protagonist is saved because the dude gets hauled away by the cops, was maybe a bit too hopeful, a bit of a deus ex machina. The backup story was much more abstract and nonspecific, never really explaining the characters’ situation in depth or even showing their faces, but the artwork was some of the best of Adrian’s career. Grade: A+

INVINCIBLE #104 — I hesitated to read this because I expected that it would be very brutal and disturbing. Angstrom Levy seemed like a villain in the mold of Conquest or Thragg or Dinosaurus, a completely unredeemable monster who delights in being evil and who can never be defeated. I was pleasantly surprised, then, when Eve was able to make him see reason. Meanwhile the true villain of the issue proved to be the alternative version of Mark himself. At the end of the issue, I think it’s deliberately unclear who Mark is looking for, Angstrom Levy or the other-dimensional Mark. Grade: A

CAPTAIN MARVEL (2012) #14 — Both this and the last issue have been disappointing. Too much plot and not enough Carol. I admit that Carol’s sacrifice at the end of the issue is truly heroic as well as being a striking plot twist. I’m frustrated that this series has been involved with two major crossovers in a row, and I don’t want to see Carol change significantly; I like her the way she is. Grade: B/B+

WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN #33 – One of the best issues of the series. Idie is among the best of Jason Aaron’s many great characters, and her moment of transformation at the climax of the issue was quite powerful. I’m glad to see Kid Krakoa finally getting to play an active role in the story. Nick Bradshaw’s art continues to be excellent — I think I mentioned before that he is no mere Art Adams clone, he is developing his own personal style (the analogy Perez:Jimenez::Adams:Bradshaw is not correct).

MORNING GLORIES #14 — I still don’t understand the storyline at all, but I don’t mind when the characters are so fascinating. I continue to seriously detest Zoe (I felt this way even without knowing what was going to happen in the next issue), but I’m starting to lose patience with Hunter as well; he needs to grow some backbone. Grade: A

MORNING GLORIES #15 — In this issue, Zoe almost starts to regain my sympathy for a minute before revealing herself as an utter monster, a cold-blooded remorseless killer, a character I’m not sure whether I love to hate or whether I just hate. No, I am sure, I just hate her and I want her to die. Grade: A

FANTASTIC FOUR #7 — I am enjoying this series significantly less than FF, which explains why I’m three or four issues behind. This one has some interesting stuff in it, including very effective artwork by Bagley and Farmer (whose inking has the property of making any artist look like Alan Davis). But the issue ends with Reed and Valeria acting in a rather cavalier and unheroic way. Reed cheats Blastaar out of his deserved punishment, then brags about how smart he is. It’s odd that in this series Matt Fraction is depicting Blastaar as a horrible genocidal villain, while in FF he’s almost being played for laughs. I guess that speaks to the difference between FF and Fantastic Four more generally, the latter being far more serious than the former, and therefore less enjoyable. Grade: B/B-

CAPTAIN AMERICA #138 — Seriously fantastic stuff. I think the racial politics in this story (in particular, Stoneface’s use of pseudo-African ethnic symbols) are maybe a bit embarrassing today. But it is just so incredible to see John Romita drawing his two greatest characters, Spider-Man and Captain America, in the same issue, and his mastery of composition and action sequences is evident in every panel. Grade: A+

JACK STAFF SPECIAL #1 — Most of this story made very little sense to me since (A) this is the first Jack Staff story I’ve read, and (B) most of the characters in the story are explicitly based on British comic book or television characters that I’m not familiar with. (Besides the Cosmic Champion at the beginning of the story, who is pretty obvious even to me.) However, I am very impressed with Paul Grist’s page layouts; he makes great use of negative space, and he even reminds me a bit of Alex Toth. Grade: A-

LOVE IN TIGHTS #1 — I bought this by mistake because I confused it with LOVE AND CAPES. This issue features some early work by J. Torres, Francis Manapul and Takeshi Miyazawa, but that’s the only notable thing about it. This comic book has very low production values, looking like an amateur product, and all of the stories are simplistic, unoriginal and unfunny superhero parodies. Grade: F