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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-

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