About one month’s worth of reviews

9-24-13

FANTASTIC FOUR #56 (Marvel, 1966) – This is the second oldest issue of FF in my collection. Kirby is at the absolute top of his game here; the splash page is kind of boring (I wonder if it was a rejected cover), but on page 3 there’s an utterly gorgeous illustration of an alien seen through Reed’s Negative Zone viewer, and later there are some epic action sequences. In terms of the story, this issue is not as much of a classic as the issues surrounding it on either side; Klaw is not the greatest of villains, and unfortunately Sue’s role in this story is basically that of a hostage. Still, this is an issue of the superhero comic to which all others must be compared. Grade: A+

FANTASTIC FOUR #585 (Marvel, 2011) – This Hickman/Epting issue is easier to understand than the one reviewed below, and includes a much more compelling storyline. Hickman writes both Galactus and Namor quite well; his version of Galactus is just seething with power and majesty. This issue also strikes an effective balance between action and comedy; the sequences with Galactus and Namor are counterbalanced by some cute interactions between Ben, Johnny and the kids. Grade: A

NEW GODS #3 (DC, 1971) – This issue is notable for introducing the Black Racer, one of Kirby’s weirder creations, which is saying a lot. It has a fairly exciting story but I don’t think it’s one of the best issues of the series; there’s too much Orion and not enough Lightray or Metron. The most notable scene here is the one where Orion looks at his hideous real face in a mirror. Grade: A-

SUPERMAN #282 (DC, 1974) – This issue is written by my favorite Superman writer, Elliot S! Maggin, but is not one of his greatest works. The plot here is that Luthor tries to defeat Superman by de-aging him ten years, on the theory that a less experienced Superman will be easier to beat. (Doesn’t that mean Luthor is sort of admitting defeat though?) The surprising part is that this rather silly scheme almost works and I find myself almost rooting for Luthor, who Maggin sometimes wrote as a sympathetic character. The other surprising thing here is what Luthor plans to do with Superman once he’s beaten him: Luthor literally plans to scalp Superman and use his hair as a toupee, which makes a surprising amount of sense. As I write this summary, I find I like this story better in hindsight than I did when I was reading it. Perhaps I should have written that this wasn’t one of Elliot’s more serious works, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Grade: B+/A-

ELFQUEST #19 (Marvel, 1987) – I read this while I was half-unconscious after a long bout of grading and writing. This series is an obvious wish-fulfillment fantasy in many ways, but I still like it a lot; Wendy’s artwork is just so adorable (albeit sometimes too much so) and the reader feels a genuine affection for the characters. I have never been able to understand the ongoing storyline of this series, but this issue is fairly understandable anyway. Grade: A-

DOCTOR STRANGE #181 (Marvel, 1969) – This Thomas/Colan collaboration is most notable for some spectacular artwork. Much of the issue takes place in Nightmare’s dimension, which gives Colan the opportunity to produce some bizarre, chaotic page layouts. The story is only average, but Thomas effectively creates a sense of urgency and threat. One disappointing note in the issue is that there’s one scene where Clea complains about Stephen always having to protect her and shield her from danger, but she never really gets the chance to do anything heroic on her own. Since this issue ends with a cliffhanger in which Nightmare defeats Stephen and only Clea and Wong are left to stop him, I wonder if Clea got to play a more active role in the next issue. Grade: A-

SAVAGE DRAGON #107 (Image, 2003) – This issue is from my favorite period of Savage Dragon; my favorite individual issue of the series, #105, was two issues prior. This was a period when Dragon was in a stable and happy personal situation, and was involved in stories that were mostly self-contained and made logical sense. The main story in this issue didn’t make sense until I read the backup story, which is by Disney director Chris Bailey and introduces Major Damage, a little boy turned into a superhero by aliens. Bailey is a competent artist but he has a tendency toward overwriting, and he mostly writes the character for laughs. I’m kind of surprised that he won the Russ Manning award in 2005. Major Damage and his enemy Humongous appear in the lead story, which also guest-stars Invincible and Firebreather. This story is quite well done and features some powerful scenes in which Jennifer worries about her family’s constant exposure to violence. Grade: B+/A-

DOCTOR STRANGE #43 (Marvel, 1980) – This issue, by Claremont and Colan, is really just average. This series went into a slump after Englehart left, and never  recovered until Roger Stern became the regular writer. The plot of this issue involves a bunch of new characters who I don’t particularly care about, and there’s not a lot of effective characterization either. Gene’s artwork is okay but is hampered by Dan Green’s rather muddy inking. Grade: C-

SPACE USAGI (1993) #1 (Mirage, 1993) – While adding this issue on comicbookdb.com, I discovered to my surprise that there were actually four Space Usagi miniseries, not two. Yay, more Usagi for me to collect. The main advantage of Space Usagi over regular Usagi, I think, is that it gives Stan more opportunities to draw weird and farfetched creatures. This issue includes one really cool crowd scene in a Mos Eisley-esque town, as well as a gladiatorial battle between a future version of Gen and an absolutely hideous centipede creature. The plot is kind of difficult to follow without having read the previous Space Usagi miniseries, but it does include some effective characterization, including some witty banter between Space Usagi and Space Gen. Grade: A-

TARZAN #248 (DC, 1976) – This story has basically the same plot as one of the stories in Tarzan #127, which I reviewed in August: a cruel white man goes to Africa to illegally hunt wild animals, and Tarzan gives him his comeuppance (or I assume he will, since this is the first issue of a two-parter). Not much about the story is especially notable, though Kubert tells it effectively through dynamic page layouts. Like other late issues of DC’s Tarzan, this one has layouts by Kubert and pencils by a Filipino artist, in this case Rudy Florese. All the Filipino artists seem to have been pretty comfortable working in this style, and on Rima the Jungle Girl, the combination of Kubert and Redondo produced some incredible results. Grade: B-

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #35 (Marvel, 1974) – This issue is loosely adapted from a non-Conan story by REH, and follows a rather typical formula in which Conan finds a priceless jewel in a ruined city, but it turns out to be horribly cursed. Roy Thomas even hangs a lampshade on the familiarity of this theme: on seeing the jewel in a giant skeleton’s hand, Conan says “I’ve encountered such things before – and I know the pattern of them!” Roy and Big John’s craftsmanship is up to its usual high level, but they can’t completely rescue this story from mediocrity. Grade: B-

WONDER WOMAN #223 (DC, 2006) – I was very enthusiastic about Rucka’s Wonder Woman when it was coming out, but I eventually dropped it because it was starting to get boring and I thought it was getting excessively violent. Still, Rucka is my third favorite Wonder Woman writer after Pérez and Simone. This late issue of his run is rather brutal and depressing. Most of the issue is a big fight scene in which the Amazons are badly defeated by OMACs, then Diana breaks out of jail, breaking some sort of promise not to do so, in order to rescue them. Rucka creates a genuine sense of despair and doom, which is something he is good at though it doesn’t appeal to my tastes. Grade: B+

THE KENTS #1 (DC, 1997) – Another work by Ostrander, along with his best collaborator, Tim Truman. This story is loosely tied to the DC Universe by virtue of being about Superman’s adoptive ancestors, but it’s a Western, not a superhero comic. Ostrander seems quite comfortable writing in this genre, and his storytelling is exciting and passionate. I was genuinely surprised and saddened by the Kent patriarch’s death at the end of the issue. The Kents #1 is also notable for historical accuracy. Most of the characters and events in this issue are based on actual Kansas history. As I read this issue, I repeatedly used Wikipedia to look up things that came up in the story (e.g. Dr. Charles Robinson and the Kansas election of 1855), and discovered that they were actually real. Most surprisingly, Ostrander did not make up John Henry Lane though he did change his first name. Even the dialogue in this issue has an air of authenticity to it. I look forward to reading more of this series. Grade: A

UNCANNY X-MEN #145 (Marvel, 1981) – This issue has art by Cockrum and not Byrne, and is part of a rather unmemorable two-parter in which the X-Men battle Dr. Doom (who Byrne, unhappy with Claremont’s portrayal, later revealed to have been a Doombot). Still, it’s an early ‘80s X-Men that I’ve never read, and those are increasingly rare. This issue stars most of my favorite X-Men and has some effective character moments, though Kitty only appears in one panel. Unusually for an ‘80s superhero comic, this issue passes the Bechdel test on the very first page, and with two black women. However, the actual plot is kind of boring. Grade: B+/A-

THE SANDMAN #24 (DC, 1991) – I reread this one since I now have an actual non-reprint copy; I think I read it before as an Essential Vertigo reprint. This early installment of “Season of Mists” is mostly setup, but it’s interesting in that it introduces a bunch of characters who would be significant later. I think my favorite character here is Odin. It’s kind of cool how Gaiman has written two rather different versions of Odin and Loki, in Sandman and American Gods, but both versions seem like varying takes on a single unchanging archetype. The one page that takes place simultaneously in Order and Chaos is a really nice piece of abstract comic art, and Todd Klein does some interesting stuff with lettering, though it’s too bad he didn’t create custom scripts for Susano or Azazel or the Norse gods. Grade: A

METAL MEN #45 (DC, 1976) – I bought it from a cheap box sometime in 2010, but never bothered to read it because it looked like just a generic ‘70s DC comic. It turns out, though, that this issue is a hidden treasure: it’s not only the first issue of the late ‘70s Metal Men revival, but also the only Metal Man story by the all-star team of Steve Gerber and Walt Simonson. Walt was on the series for four more issues, but Gerber left after this one issue. According to a comment on this Invincible Super-Blog post, Robert Kanigher was unhappy that DC revived the Metal Men without his knowledge or permission, and Gerber, given his well-known commitment to creators’ rights, later felt embarrassed about writing this one issue. On to the actual story: Gerber’s writing here is not his absolute best, and the story is rather formulaic Metal Men material, but Simonson’s art is spectacular. This issue is easily up to the standards of his First Issue Special starring Dr. Fate, or even Manhunter. DC ought to do a trade paperback collection of Simonson’s early ‘70s work, including this issue, if they haven’t already. Grade: A-

SUICIDE SQUID #40 (DC, 1990) – This is not a Suicide Squad story at all but a Batman story. Amanda Waller only appears at the beginning and end, and the bulk of the issue involves Batman trying to solve the murder of an exile from Count Vertigo’s homeland Vlatava. However, Ostrander writes Batman very well, depicting him as both an intellectual detective and an action hero. I actually found myself wondering why Ostrander was never the regular writer on Batman; he would have been good at it. Grade: A-

HAMMER OF GOD #2 (First, 1990) – Judah the Hammer is one of my favorite characters – he’s certainly a lot more fun than his sometime partner, Nexus. Sadly, he was not used with maximum effectiveness in this miniseries, which was only co-plotted by Mike Baron and had dialogue by Roger Salick. The story is rather formulaic and lacks Baron’s typical humor, except for some funny bits with Vooper and Honest Crocus. The artwork is by a young Steve Epting, who tries to imitate Steve Rude but does not completely succeed. Grade: C-

HELLBLAZER #82 (DC, 1994) – A common thread in my reviews of Garth Ennis’s Hellblazer comics is that I like the quiet character moments more than the gory, shocking violence which later became Ennis’s trademark, and this issue has more of the former than the latter. It’s mostly devoted to a reunion between Constantine and the love of his life, Kit, which ends with Constantine realizing that the relationship isn’t going to work out because he’s too much of a scumbag. This scene gains added poignancy because of Ennis’s skillful quotation of a Pogues song, “Rainy Night in Soho”; the Pogues were a major influence on this run, and this issue is part of a storyline named for another of their songs, “Rake at the Gates of Hell.” The issue ends, however, with another scene of brutal violence. One of Ennis’s strengths in this series was his ability to combine character development and horror, and in this issue these two storytelling modes are each more effective thanks to being juxtaposed to the other. Grade: A

CAPTAIN AMERICA #111 (Marvel, 1969) – I got this at Comic-Con (which now seems like an eternity ago) for $5, which is a steal even though there are a bunch of holes in the cover. This is one of Steranko’s three legendary issues of Captain America. It has kind of a convoluted and weird plot, as usual with Steranko, but the graphic creativity displayed on every page is just incredible. Particular highlights include the opening page, which has 13 panels linked by aspect-to-aspect transitions, and the two splash pages depicting Rick Jones’s psychotic episode. (See here for two of these three pages.) This is an all-time classic Marvel comic which I’m proud to have in my collection, despite the low grade. Grade: A+

FANTASTIC FOUR #582 (Marvel, 2010) – Among my notable purchases at the sale (described below) were the four issues of Hickman’s FF that I was missing. I think Hickman is one of the four great FF writers – with Lee, Byrne and Waid – as well as perhaps the only writer who has seriously advanced the series beyond the limits Lee and Kirby established for it. The trouble is that his work is often excessively convoluted and seems to require multiple rereadings, and this issue is a good example of that. My primary emotion on reading this issue was confusion as to why the two Nathaniel Richardses were fighting each other and where the adult Franklin and Valeria came from. Neil Edwards was not one of Hickman’s better artistic collaborators on this series. Grade: B-

9-17-13

X-MEN & CLANDESTINE #1 (Marvel, 1996) – I’m a huge fan of Alan Davis’s artwork and I also think his writing is often quite witty and charming, though his dialogue is often rather clumsy. ClanDestine is not his best-written series (that would be Excalibur, JLA: The Nail and/or Superboy’s Legion), but it has a bunch of interesting characters, including Rory and Pandora, who are utterly adorable, and their cranky uncle Walter. I have trouble keeping the other characters straight. This issue has a fairly unmemorable story which is just an excuse for the two groups to team up, but it also has some good characterization, and Alan’s artwork is up to its usual high standards. There is one rather disturbing scene where the older X-Men subject Cannonball to some borderline hazing. Grade: B+/A-

USAGI YOJIMBO #8 (Mirage, 1994) – “Blood Money” is a sequel to issue 26 of the Fantagraphics series, which I do not have, but it can be read on its own without knowledge of that story because Stan provides sufficient background information. Stan is perhaps the best writer of single-issue stories in current American comics; he has an unequalled talent for telling a satisfying and narratively complete story in 20 or 30 pages. This issue, which deals with a corrupt gambler and a widow who blames him for her husband’s death, is a good example of that. The one odd thing about the story is that it was Usagi himself who killed the husband, yet the widow doesn’t blame him and it’s unclear why not. The backup is a fairly interesting story  about a young Usagi’s first encounter with Lord Mifune. Grade: A

UNCANNY X-MEN #118 (Marvel, 1979) – This and some of the other comics higher up on this list (I’m listing these comics in the reverse of the order in which I read them) were purchased at a “pop-up comic sale” in Decatur on Sunday, September 15. It was run by some people who are hoping to start a combination craft beer/comic book store in downtown Decatur, which is a weird but intriguing idea. The Moses Magnum two-parter was one of the less memorable Claremont/Byrne X-Men stories, but it’s still Claremont and Byrne at their peak. Highlights of the issue include some very impressive action sequences and the first appearance of Mariko Yashida, a character I never particularly liked, but at least the moment where she meets Wolverine is genuinely romantic. I think Claremont was at his best in the very late ‘70s and early ‘80s, when the more annoying aspects of his writing were less pronounced. Grade: A-

DETECTIVE COMICS #849 (DC, 2008) – Not a particularly notable issue. I like Paul Dini’s writing and I think he has an unparalleled understanding of Batman, but this story mostly focused on Hush, a villain I have no interest in, and was part four of a five-part crossover, meaning it made little sense. The artwork is by Dustin Nguyen, whose Batman: Li’l Gotham series I would be reading if I wasn’t completely disgruntled with DC. Grade: B-

OWLY: BREAKIN’ THE ICE FCBD (Top Shelf, 2006) – Andy Runton was kind enough to appear on the panel I organized at DragonCon, so I am not an entirely impartial reviewer of his work. That having been said, I loved this comic. At our panel, Andy explained that he himself struggled with reading as a child. This explains why he mostly does wordless comics and why he does them so well. One thing that makes this comic particularly effective is his use of pictorial word balloons, a technique that I’ve loved since I first encountered it in Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos’s Impulse. Some of the pictorial word balloons in this issue are extremely complex (there are even some that contain smaller pictorial word balloons!) but Andy’s skill with visual communication is such that the meaning is never unclear. His art is also notable for its expressiveness and emotional subtlety. Obviously the story itself is not very complicated and it deliberately avoids anything dark or overly serious, but that’s deliberate given the target audience. My one complaint about this issue is the poor paper quality. Grade: A/A+

THE SMURFS AND DISNEY FAIRIES FCBD (Papercutz, 2012) – The Smurfs story in this issue is not quite as excellent as the previous one I reviewed, but it’s still entertaining. The translation for this one was done by Joe Johnson, whose work I normally hate, but I didn’t notice anything particularly wrong with it; maybe he’s improving. Of the other three stories in this issue, the Ernest & Rebecca and Dance Class segments were both interesting; neither was top-drawer stuff but both seem like quality children’s comics. The four-page Disney fairy story was not worth mentioning. Papercutz should be commended for making this sort of stuff available to American readers. Grade: A-

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS #1 (IDW, 2013) – IDW is the fifth company to publish a T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents comic, including two companies (JC and Deluxe) that published little or nothing else. That means T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents has been through as many publishers, and has put as many of them out of business, as Groo, though it’s also much older. IDW’s take on this series has a stronger appeal to me than DC’s version, which never really stood out to me in any way. Phil Hester gives each of the characters a distinctive personality. He turns Len Brown into a career criminal, which unpleasantly surprised me at first, but by the end of the issue I was convinced that this was a reasonable storytelling decision and not a gimmick. I’m also very pleased that in this version Kitty Kane is the head of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. and not the token sexpot. This series is not necessarily among IDW’s better offerings, but it’s fun, and because of my interest in the franchise I’ll probably keep reading it. Grade: B+

ASTONISHING X-MEN #14 (Marvel, 2006) – One of the stronger issues of Whedon and Cassaday’s run, this issue develops Emma and Scott’s characters in fascinating ways. While I still hate Cyclops (not an uncommon opinion among X-Men fans, I think), Whedon provides a plausible explanation of what made him such an uptight, humorless jerk. This issue also includes a couple of hilarious scenes involving the consummation of Kitty and Peter’s relationship. I had seen these pages before but only out of context. Jason Aaron has successfully made me stop shipping Peter and Kitty, but it was nice to see them together, if only for a very brief period. Grade: A+

THE MIGHTY THOR #7 (Marvel, 2011) – This issue of Matt Fraction’s Thor is part of the Fear Itself crossover and is mostly a long flashback depicting the origin of Odin’s rivalry with the Serpent. It’s weird seeing a young Odin with two eyes, but other than that, this story failed to arouse any genuine emotion in me. I wonder how this story can be reconciled with Simonson’s version of the fate of Odin’s brothers, as shown in Thor #349. Grade: C+

SUICIDE SQUAD #28 (DC, 1989) – I have so many unread issues of this series that I’ve started to just read them in no particular order. This actually seems kind of logical because while this series was always excellent, it maintained a very consistent level of quality and did not have a lot of issues that were either particularly good or particularly bad. I think this is true of much of Ostrander’s other work. This issue’s plot is difficult or impossible to understand because it’s part of a crossover with Manhunter, Checkmate and Firestorm, but as usual with Ostrander, it’s quite exciting and it respects the reader’s intelligence. Grade: B+/A-

CAPTAIN MARVEL #15 (Marvel, 2013) – Recent issues of this series have suffered from being excessively tied to various crossovers, and I’m actually considering dropping it because there’s been too much focus on plots that I don’t care about, and not enough focus on Carol herself. I don’t even especially like reading about big cosmic action sequences (see my earlier reviews of The Thanos Imperative and Annihilation), and even if I did like that sort of thing, I don’t think it’s what Kelly Sue DeConnick is best at. At least the cliffhanger at the end of the issue is intriguing. Grade: B-

WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN #35 (Marvel, 2013) – I actually wondered if this was going to be Jason Aaron’s last issue (it’s not) because it wraps up so many plot threads so conclusively. Most importantly from my perspective, Broo gets his personality back! Yay! Also, Idie and Quentin become a couple, which is kind of disturbing and unexpected though also cute. More significant in the larger scheme of things is the brief appearance by Nightcrawler; I look forward to seeing what Jason can do with this character, who is probably my second favorite X-Man after Kitty. Nick Bradshaw’s art here is up to its usual high standards. Grade: A

CHEW #36 (Image, 2013) – Somewhat surprisingly, this issue doesn’t pick up the cliffhanger from #35 but instead flashes back to a scene which occurred after #29. There’s even a fake additional cover that says Chew #29½. This story is notable for focusing on Toni Chu and hardly including Tony at all, and for being self-contained. Otherwise, it’s much like other issues of Chew, displaying Layman and Guillory’s  usual bizarre humor and flawless craftsmanship. Chew is certainly one of the best mainstream comics at the moment, and is distinctive in that it doesn’t fit into any established genre in particular. Grade: A

INVINCIBLE #105 (Image, 2013) – This issue offers something of a breather after a succession of serious and heavy stories. Watching Mark and Eve put their baby’s crib together is heartwarming. Comparing this story with older issues of Invincible, I find it quite impressive how Kirkman has convincingly depicted Mark’s evolution from a naïve kid to a young adult. On the other hand, Nolan’s decision to free Thragg seems disturbingly short-sighted, and I suspect he will come to regret it. This is still one of the best comics on the market. Grade: A

FF #11 (Marvel, 2013) – This was not quite as fun as the last two issues, partly due to the focus on the adults rather than the kids, but it was still an entertaining comic. I love the idea that the Impossible Man’s son is a disgrace to his father because he would rather read actuarial tables than play pranks. “My son is entirely too possible” is the best line of the issue. Mike Allred does some interesting stuff with the Impossible Man’s transformations, but the Impossible Boy just looks weird in an unappealing way. Grade: A-

ASTRO CITY #4 (DC, 2013) – This may be literally the first superhero comic I’ve ever read whose protagonist was an old woman. (Two others: the issue of JSA that starred Ma Hunkel, and Marvel Team-Up #137. Thanks to Tim Schneider and Aaron King for pointing those out.) What’s even more amazing is that Martha Sullivan is portrayed as a completely competent and self-sufficient character, she’s not a stereotypical witch or grandma, and her age is not a major issue in the story. Kurt deserves to be commended for the diversity of characters he works with. Besides that, this issue is a very satisfying self-contained story and it does something that Astro City is very good at: it explores a topic that superhero comics typically ignore, namely the existence of superpowered people who are neither heroes nor villains. (Top Ten sort of covered that territory but in a rather different way.) Kurt and Brent are doing excellent work on this series, and it’s nice to have them back. Grade: A+

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #10 (IDW, 2013) – This review will appear at The Comics Alternative.

MY LITTLE PONY MICRO-SERIES #6 (IDW, 2013) – This was kind of a slight story – I know it’s ridiculous to say that about a series devoted to talking ponies and pegasi and unicorns, but I still feel that this issue, like many other issues of this series, did not have the gravity or depth of Katie Cook and Andy Price’s work on this series. At least it was funny, and the “Sass Squash” is an awesome pun. Grade: B-

DAREDEVIL #23 (Marvel, 2013) – I’ve been buying this series intermittently but not reading it, which is odd since it’s easily one of Marvel’s better and more critically acclaimed titles. This issue is a self-contained story of the kind that Mark Waid is very good at. It deals with Foggy waiting to learn the results of his cancer test, which is a heartbreaking situation although Mark succeeds in infusing it with warmth and humor. Chris Samnee’s panel compositions and draftsmanship are as excellent as usual. Again, I don’t know why I’m having trouble getting into this series; I think it’s partly that I’m kind of sick of Daredevil. Mark is walking a fine line between the two versions of the character – Daredevil as happy-go-lucky Spider-Man clone and Daredevil as grim, obsessed Batman clone – and the trouble is that neither of those versions of Daredevil interests me very much. Grade: A

LOST VEGAS #1 (Image, 2013) – I’ve never read any Jim McCann or Janet Lee before, though I’ve always been curious about their work. However, this issue was a poor introduction to it. Lost Vegas #1 is about a gambler who has been forced into penal servitude on an outer space casino. This plot gives the artists a chance to draw some truly bizarre alien creatures, especially the sentient blob of ink that the protagonist shares his cell with, which is easily the highlight of the issue. However, the writer doesn’t effectively arouse my interest in the character or make me care what happens next. I’m also turned off by the bizarre way that Janet Lee draws faces. I won’t be continuing with this series, though I would buy future issues if I found them in the cheap box. Grade: C

Giant pile of reviews

While I have still been writing reviews of every comic I read, I temporarily stopped them, because I was talking with Derek Royal and Andrew Kunka about the possibility of contributing some of my reviews to The Comics Alternative. I’m happy to say that we have now worked out an arrangement and that some of my reviews will now appear at The Comics Alternative, while the rest will continue to appear here. Thus, I can now post the reviews I’ve been sitting on. The dates that appear in front of the various groups of reviews are the dates on which they were written.

9-6-13 

OMAHA THE CAT DANCER #1 (Fantagraphics, 1994) – This review is scheduled to appear at The Comics Alternative.

LOVE AND CAPES: EVER AFTER #4 (IDW, 2011) – This review is scheduled to appear at The Comics Alternative.

JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA #56 (DC, 1991) – This and the next few comics on the list are things that I bought years ago and never bothered to read. This one is from the very end of the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League run, which is why I never bothered to read it, because I thought it would be kind of depressing. Which is indeed the case. In this issue the Justice League is forcibly disbanded because the UN has gotten sick of them, and we have to watch the various Leaguers’ unsuccessful attempts to cope with this. Giffen and DeMatteis tell this story quite effectively, though. I think that because we tend to remember their Justice League series as a humor comic, we forget that they spent much of their tenure on the title telling more serious stories, and they were quite good at it. Unfortunately this issue suffers from rather ugly art by Steve Wozniak. Grade: A-

THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ #5 – I like Shanower and Young’s Oz adaptations a lot, mostly because of their (appearance of) faithfulness to the spirit of the source material. Shanower preserves as much as possible of L. Frank Baum’s rather stilted and old-fashioned prose style, but because Skottie Young’s artwork is so bizarre and weird-looking, this results in a not unpleasant sense of tension between the restraint of the writing and the exuberance of the artwork. It gives me the sense that reading the original novels must have been a rather weird experience. This issue is very similar to other Shanower/Young Oz comics I’ve read and thus I don’t have much to say about it in particular, except that it does include some notable touches of early 20th-century sexism. Grade: A-

ANNIHILATORS #1 (Marvel, 2011) – I loved Abnett and Lanning’s Guardians of the Galaxy. However, I didn’t bother to read this issue, which I bought when it came out, nor did I buy the other issues of this miniseries, because it was clear to me that this version of the Guardians had reached a dead end and Marvel was no longer going to support it. The first story in this issue is not all that interesting, because it involves a bunch of characters I don’t care about, but the Rocket Raccoon/Groot backup story is awesome and makes me regret not having followed this series. It starts out with a hilarious sequence in which Rocket is working as an office temp, in an office staffed by equally bizarre creatures. I’m not familiar with the artist here, Timothy Green II, but he’s good at drawing weird-looking aliens. Rocket then ends up on Groot’s planet where he tries to rescue his friend, who has been convicted of “tree-son”. This was a fun story and it makes me excited for the upcoming movie. Grade: A-

THE THANOS IMPERATIVE #1 and #2 (Marvel, 2010) – This miniseries was the conclusion of Abnett and Lanning’s GotG series, but it lacks the interest of that series because it has too much epic cosmic action and not enough focus on the characters. DnA write Thanos quite effectively, and I love the idea that Thanos is the natural enemy of the Cancerverse, but the Guardians don’t get enough exposure. Again, I like the idea of a Lovecraftian “Cancerverse” where life has triumphed over death, but Miguel Sepulveda is not great at drawing Lovecraftian stuff. Like some of Starlin’s ‘90s work, this story also gives too prominent a role to the cosmic entities (Galactus, the Celestials, etc.), who lose their impressiveness when not used sparingly enough. Grade: B-/C+ for both

SHE-HULK #36 (Marvel, 2009) – Not one of PAD’s better efforts. This story is very thematically similar to his “War and Pieces” crossover from the early ‘90s, which was already rather heavy-handed and unsubtle, something which is often true of PAD’s more serious work. In the same way as some of his less effective Hulk stories, this issue presents a serious topic (Central Asian dictatorships) in an overly black-and-white way and slaps the reader in the face with its moral. Moreover, this issue features one of the worst art jobs I’ve seen in a recent Marvel comic. Pasquale Qualanzo’s artwork is overproduced and unsuited to the story. Grade: D

THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG BOOK TWO: THE VALKYRIE (DC, 1990) – This prestige-format opera adaptation is a collaboration between two great creators, Roy Thomas and Gil Kane. It is a highly literal adaptation which appears to use a lot of the original dialogue from the opera, but the Ring is obviously a pretty effective story, and Roy and Gil do a good job of not getting in the way of it. Gil’s artwork is as exciting as usual, and features some interesting page layouts. I’d like to compare this with P. Craig Russell’s adaptation of the same material, which I have not seen. Grade: A-/B+

OMAHA THE CAT DANCER #4 (Fantagraphics, 1995) – This review will appear at The Comics Alternative.

SUPERMAN FAMILY ADVENTURES #11 (May 2013) – See previous comments on this series. This one is a Ma Kent spotilght issue, and includes an implausible but cute scene in which Ma Kent singlehandedly defeats Doomsday. It also drops the bombshell that Jor-El and Lara are expecting Clark’s little brother or sister, which is an utterly radical alteration to the mythos, but kind of heartwarming anyway. Unfortunately a series this fun and kid-friendly is antithetical to DC’s current editorial climate, and the next issue of this series was its last. Having supported the Aw Yeah Comics! Kickstarter, I remain hopeful that Baltazar can continue to do this sort of thing on his own without DC. Grade: A

FANTASTIC FOUR #327 (Marvel, 1989) – A late issue of Englehart’s weird and convoluted run on this series. Of course Englehart’s work is weird and convoluted at the best of times, but I don’t think he ever reached his full potential on this series. He attributes this largely to editorial interference, which motivated him to write his last seven issues under the pseudonym John Harkness. This issue is mostly a big fight scene between the FF and the Frightful Four, with uninteresting Keith Pollard art. There is some potentially interesting stuff here involving Ben’s relationship with Sharon Ventura, but I never felt they had any real chemistry. Grade: C+

FLASH GORDON #32 (Gold Key/Whitman, 1980) – This review is scheduled to appear at The Comics Alternative.

ADVENTURE COMICS #434 (DC, 1974) – This issue is an anomaly because it only contains the Spectre story, with no backup, and the art is by Frank Thorne with Jim Aparo inks. The story follows the typical Fleischer Spectre formula, and like other Fleischer Spectre stories, it is full of disturbing scenes and lurid dialogue. In terms of the writing, if not always the artwork, these stories are as gruesome as some pre-Code horror comics. One failing of this story is that the identity of the villain is really obvious as soon as he makes his first appearance, although unlike some of Fleischer’s other villains, he’s actually sort of sympathetic. This story does give Frank Thorne a chance to do what he’s best at – namely, drawing sexy women – since Jim Corrigan’s love interest Gwen plays a prominent role, and Thorne’s storytelling and page design are up to his usual high standards. Grade: A

LAZARUS #1 and #2 – An early contender for the best new series of the year, this series combines Greg Rucka’s dramatic and intelligent writing with Michael Lark’s masterful artwork. Rucka’s story takes place in a dystopian future where economic contraction has left basically all the world’s resources in the hands of 16 large families. This is a scarily plausible scenario, and in the letter column of issue #2 he provides a blueprint for how it could actually happen. I’m glad to see a comic that addresses the topic of income inequality directly. Lazarus is also notable for featuring a female action hero protagonist, which, as Rucka mentions in the letter column of #1, has become a trademark of his. Forever/Eve is an intriguing character due to her obvious struggles with the attitudes that have been socialized and even genetically programmed into her, and her brothers and sisters also seem like quite deep characters; I already deeply hate a couple of them. But Michael Lark’s art may be even more impressive than Rucka’s writing. I have been a huge fan of his dark, expressionistic style since Gotham Central, but he also impresses me with his versatility. Issue #1 begins with a thrilling action sequence worthy of Gil Kane, but then later in the issue, Lark shows his ability to convey deep levels of meaning simply through facial expressions. This series has the potential to become another Saga. It’s also an example of the sort of top-drawer work that Image is able to produce now that they have the ability to compete with Marvel and DC for big-name talents. Grade: A+ for both

8-29-13 

SIMPSONS COMICS #50 (Bongo, 2000) – At its best, this series is hilarious, but some of the stories in this issue seemed like little more than bad episodes of the TV show. In particular, the first story was just a retread of the episode where Springfield is divided into two area codes. The highlights of the issue are the incredibly disgusting Itchy & Scratchy story and the Radioactive Man story, which is a clever parody of the Bizarro World.  Grade: B-

WINTER SOLDIER: WINTER KILLS #1 (Marvel, 2007) – My principal problem with this story is the guest appearance by the Young Avengers. Ed Brubaker writes them as essentially generic teenage heroes. Of the three who appear in the issue, only Kate Bishop shows any real personality, and she’s presented as a headstrong hotshot. The story would have been exactly the same if these characters had been  replaced with others. The material focusing on Bucky/Winter Soldier is competently written, but I don’t particularly care about this character. The highlight of the issue was the brief cameo appearance by Namor; Brubaker does a good job of capturing his arrogant personality. Grade: B

MARVEL TEAM-UP #95 (Marvel, 1980) – This was the first appearance of Bobbi Morse as Mockingbird, but other than that it’s not particularly notable. The plot is fairly exciting and reminds me a bit of Steranko’s Nick Fury stories, but a lot of Steven Grant’s plot twists are overly predictable. The artwork is by Jimmy Janes, who never really amounted to much. Grade: B-

SUICIDE SQUAD #6 and #8 (DC, 1987) – I actually read these on different days and in the reverse order, but I’ll combine them here. I have a bunch of issues of this series but I’ve been slow to really get into it, and I’m not sure why. This series is a very adult-oriented superhero comic (in the positive sense) with a large cast of unique and well-realized characters. Ostrander effectively conveys the sense that the characters’ actions have consequences – the reader is not sure that things will be okay in the end. Issue #8 reminds me a lot of Peter David’s X-Factor #87 in that it presents the cast of characters from the point of view of the team psychiatrist. I look forward to reading the rest of my unread issues of this series. Grade: A for both

SUPERMAN FAMILY ADVENTURES #10 (DC, 2013) – The nonsensical plot of this issue involves Phantom Zone villains and giant animated hot dogs. The latter are sort of reminiscent of the giant walking pancake that appears in a recent issue of AW YEAH COMICS. As usual with Baltazar, this story is incredibly cute and features a ton of awesome scenes; maybe the high point was Lara and Ursa talking rather than fighting. I do feel that bringing Superman’s parents back to life, even for one day, is kind of a cop-out that sort of defeats the purpose of the character. Until reading this issue I didn’t realize that Christopher Kent was Zod and Ursa/Faora/Zaora’s son. Grade: A-

INVINCIBLE #39 (Image, 2007) – This issue is mostly plot; it’s devoted to setting up a big battle between the Global Guardians and the Sequids. The most interesting part of the issue is the way it develops the love triangle between Mark, Amber and  Eve. It’s exciting to see Amber finally losing patience with Mark’s neglectful treatment and constant absences; superhero girlfriends are often depicted as overly willing to tolerate this sort of behavior. Grade: A

MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER #4 (Dark Horse, 2011) – This was the last issue of this series. It was subsequently cancelled due to either poor sales or heavy-handed interference on the part of Classic Media, the license holder, or both. The story in this issue is okay, but is hurt by rather boring artwork and by Shooter’s typical sexist depictions of female characters. Also, the plot is hard to understand without having read previous issues. That having been said, I love Shooter’s writing and I’m still angry at DC for not letting him finish his Legion story. Compared to some of his contemporaries, Shooter has done a good job of staying relevant to readers of current superhero comics. Grade: B

THE SMURFS vol. 2 #1 (Papercutz, 2010, reprinting much older material) – This $1 preview comic features a translation of an old story by Delporte and Peyo, “The Smurfnapper.” Annoyingly the origin of this material is not stated, but I would guess it’s the same as Le Voleur de Schtroumpfs, which was published in Spirou in 1959. This story is just awesome – it’s an exciting, complex, well-structured narrative with all kinds of cute jokes and a funny shock ending. Jim Salicrup and his crew are to be commended for making this material accessible to American readers. I do think the lettering looks kind of ugly, although some quick Google research suggests that it looks pretty close to the original lettering. Grade: A+

INCREDIBLE HULK #100 (Marvel, 2007) – I read this when I was too tired to really appreciate it, but even when less tired, I would have had trouble deciphering the story. It assumes too much knowledge of earlier parts of Fun Home. The artwork by Carlo Pagulayan is kind of tough to parse. I love the idea behind Planet Hulk, though – it draws heavily on the stories with Jarella, which are some of my favorite Hulk stories from the pre-Peter David period – and I want to read the rest of this saga. This issue also includes an Amadeus Cho story with art by Gary Frank, whose stuff is not nearly as attractive now as when he was drawing this same comic in the early ‘90s. Reprints include a brief excerpt from Hulk vol. 1 #3 and the entirety of #152 and #153. I think I’ve read at least one of these issues before, and I kind of skimmed them. Although these stories are minor classics, #153 is notable for its ridiculous depiction of courtroom procedure. Grade: B

RELISH: A LIFE IN THE KITCHEN (First Second, 2012) – This review is scheduled to appear at The Comics Alternative.

STARS AND S.T.R.I.P.E. #11 (DC, 2000) – I can’t read Geoff Johns’s work anymore because I think he bears much of the responsibility for running the DC Universe into the ground. Also, I think his writing is vastly overrated; he’s a competent writer but he’s certainly no Busiek or Waid. This comic, however, is a quality early work from a period when he was still capable of writing fun comics that were small-scale and relatively unambitious. Courtney Whitmore is a fantastic heroine and her interactions with Pat and the Shining Knight are really cute. Scott Kolins’s artwork here is competent, which is more than I can say about some of his later work. Grade: A-/B+

8-24-13

LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: CENTURY #3 (Top Shelf/Knockabout, 2012) – Another incredibly dense work full of complex allusions and Easter eggs, which it took me over an hour to read, because I was again following along with Jess Nevins’s annotations. The cultural references in this issue are more familiar to me than those in the last issue, since the central reference point is Harry Potter. But this issue also exposed me to a wide variety of British texts – e.g. Groosham Grange and the works of Iain Sinclair and Aidan Dun – that are totally unknown in America, and now I’ve added Slow Chocolate Autopsy to my Amazon wish list. I was pleasantly surprised by Mary Poppins’s deus-ex-machina appearance at the end even though I already knew it was coming. In a way this issue is an appropriate conclusion to the LOEG saga since it ends with Allan’s redemption and death, but I kind of hope that Alan and Kevin continue to chronicle the future of the league, and that future League books will not all be prequels or inbetweenquels (like Nemo: Heart of Ice, which I haven’t read yet). Grade: A+

AQUAMAN #48 (DC, 1969) – The letter column of this issue features a debate over the relative merits of Aparo and Cardy. The editors seem to  agree with the fans that Cardy was a difficult act to follow, and based on this issue, I can’t disagree; Aparo’s artwork is just not as sexy or visually appealing, and his action sequences kind of fall flat. The story is all right but I wish it had passed the Bechdel test – it’s weird how Mera and Aquagirl hardly ever interact. Grade: B-

ASTONISHING X-MEN #2 (Marvel, 2004) – I think I mentioned before that I consider Whedon the third best X-Men writer after Claremont and Morrison, but at this very early point in his run, he was clearly still getting comfortable with the characters. There are a few bits of characterization that just don’t seem to work. John Cassaday’s artwork is extremely accomplished, of course, and the big fight scene between the X-Men and Ord of the Breakworld is quite exciting. Maybe the coolest thing in this issue was Lockheed showing up out of nowhere to defeat the villain. Grade: A-/B+

BLUE BEETLE #5 (DC, 2012) – This issue was completely devoid of any kind of interest; it was just a very formulaic, by-the-numbers superhero story, with the sort of excessive violence which is sadly typical of the New 52. If this were an issue of some other series, it would just be mediocre, but it becomes actively bad by virtue of starring Jaime Reyes, a formerly great character who deserved better treatment. The whole point of John Rogers’s Blue Beetle was that Jaime was free of the typical sort of angst that’s become a cliché in teenage superhero comics, and Bedard completely misses that point; in this issue, for example, Jaime nearly kills his best friend Paco and becomes all angsty about it. This was one of the worst comics I’ve read since I started writing these reviews. Grade: F 

8-22-13

HELLBLAZER #80 (DC, 1994) – This issue was difficult to follow since I hadn’t read #78-79 (not sure whether I have them or not), but it’s clear that it’s an important chapter in Garth’s ongoing storyline; in particular, it includes the death of a major character, Rick. Like I think I’ve said before, I think I prefer Garth’s quieter, more character-focused stories to his big brutal epics, largely because of my distaste for the brutality of his writing – which is very much in evidence in this issue. But still, his writing in this issue is quite impressive. Grade: A-

SUPERMAN FAMILY ADVENTURES #4 (DC, 2012) – Not much to distinguish this one from other issues of the series; it’s a really cute and exciting self-contained story whose highlight is that it features two monkeys as main characters. I would much rather be reading this series than any current DC Universe title. Grade: B+/A-

BONGO COMICS FREE-FOR-ALL FCBD (2012) – The best of the three stories in this issue is an autobiographical story by Sergio, detailing the first time he earned money for drawing, in third grade. This one is obviously incredibly cute and conveys a sense of genuine affection between Sergio and his mother, who must have passed away long ago. There is also a Simpsons story which is reasonably amusing, though I find it kind of difficult to read Simpsons comics because I always feel obliged to imagine the dialogue being spoken in the voices of the characters. The flip side of this comic is a Spongebob story. I have no interest in Spongebob, but the appeal of this story is that it incorporates scenes from a fictional in-universe comic book which is a thinly disguised homage to Aquaman, and these scenes are drawn by none other than Ramona Fradon. Overall an impressive package. Grade: A-

WEDNESDAY COMICS #8 (DC, 2009) – See previous comments on this series. Easily the most interesting thing here is the Gaiman/Allred Metamorpho story, which incorporates a series of panels formatted like the periodic table, each of which includes the symbol of the corresponding element in the dialogue. This is an impressive achievement which is only possible because of the expanded page size. As I’ve mentioned before, the strips in Wednesday Comics worked best when the artist was taking advantage of the larger canvas; the strips that didn’t do this, like Arcudi and Bermejo’s Superman or especially the Kuberts’ Sgt. Rock, tended to be quite disappointing. Grade: A-

THE SPECTRE #6 (DC, 1993) – 1993 was the year I really started getting into comics, and I think I have more comics from 1993 than any other year, although I may only think that because I tend to notice it more when I read a comic from 1993. I have sometimes having trouble getting into Ostrander and Mandrake’s Spectre, and I think it makes the most sense if I understand it as simultaneously (A) a deliberate sequel to Fleisher and Aparo’s Spectre, and (B) a major work of Ostrander, in the vein of Grimjack and Suicide Squad. Mandrake’s artwork is very much in the spirit of Aparo’s, especially in the scenes depicting the Spectre’s gruesome punishments of evildoers; this issue contains one quite impressive two-page splash in which the Spectre turns some gangsters’ guns against them in gruesome ways. The thing that distinguishes Ostrander’s Spectre from Fleisher’s is that the former is extremely conflicted about his mission and about the conflict between his human and divine halves. This issue, for example, revolves around the Spectre’s response to a question that a demon asked him in #5: is he the Lord of Wrath, and would he know it if he was. Grade: A

8-21-13

ALL-AMERICAN MEN OF WAR #115 (DC, 1966)First issue of this series I’ve read. This issue is ruined by the Johnny Cloud story, which is a litany of offensive stereotypes of Native Americans, including repeat uses of the word “squaw” and an unbelievable scene in which Johnny tries to cheer up a sick child by doing a tribal dance. This story is also hampered by a typically implausible Kanigher plot which reminds me more of his Wonder Woman stories than his Sgt. Rock stories. The six-page backup story by Russ Heath partially redeems this issue; it has no plot to speak of, but Russ’s aviation artwork is gorgeous. Grade: C+

SAGA #13 (Image, 2013) – This review is scheduled to appear at The Comics Alternative.

SERGIO ARAGONÉS FUNNIES #9 (Bongo, 2013) – The centerpiece of this issue is an autobiographical story about Sergio’s visits to Bermuda as a five-year-old boy and later in 1991. It begins with Sergio making the touching point that the older he gets, the more he finds himself returning to his childhood memories, and this story effectively evokes the atmosphere of his childhood. The other full-color story here is a series of explanations of the origin of common phrases. I had doubts about the crediiblity of this story because it reminded me a lot of this discredited piece of rubbish, but I suppose the point of the story is not the explanations but Sergio’s illustrations of them. The one-page black-and-white silent gags were generally quite good. Grade: A

SAVAGE DRAGON #190 (Image, 2013) – I liked this one slightly more than the previous issue. As with Erik’s best work, this issue effectively combines humor (Malcolm’s accidental proposal to Maxine) with over-the-top shock value (Dragon’s brutally violent battle with Mako in which he loses both his arms). All the dishes mentioned in the dim sum scene are real, including “phoenix claws”. This issue is notable from a materiality perspective because it was published in two formats, a standard comic book and a 64-page digest, and Erik mentions on the letters page that he designed the issue to be readable in both formats. I only have the regular comic book version  but it would be interesting to get the digest version as well and compare the two. Grade: A

ASTRO CITY #3 (DC, 2013) – In retrospect I was not all that impressed by Astro City #2 and I think I overrated it. I had trouble sympathizing with Marella’s predicament, which was the result of an honest judgment call that just happened to be wrong. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised when this issue turned out to be a big improvement over #2. Over the course of the issue, Marella emerges as a genuinely heroic character. She helps the Ecuadorian war victims largely to assuage her own guilt over not preventing the tragedy that befell them, but she feels guilty about that precisely because she has a genuine sense of responsibility for their welfare, which I suppose makes her as much of a superhero as the Honor Guard members she supports. Honor Guard’s appearance at the climactic moment of the story is as inspirational a moment as I’ve seen in any recent superhero comic. A couple quick notes: I love the new Honor Guard member the Assemblyman, and I find it odd that all the Ecuadorian villagers in the story appear to English. Grade: A+

WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN #34 (Marvel, 2013) – This series gets more fun and more ridiculous with each issue. This one features an epic battle between Iceman, in the form of a giant Voltron-size robot, and a horde of Krakoas. Easily the funniest part of the story is the cute and psychotically sadistic Wilhelmina. (“I can’t tell if he’s dead or not. Let me pull off his fingernails and see.” “Get the hell away from me, Wilhelmina. I’m not dead.” “Let’s pull off his fingernails anyway.”) I still want to see some resolution to the ongoing Broo plot, because this issue suggests that Broo is going to be taken off to space by that one alien scientist dude, which would be frustrating. Grade: A

LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: CENTURY #2 (Top Shelf, 2011) – I bought this when it came out but never read it due to its extreme length and narrative density. When I finally did get around to reading it, I needed two sittings and over an hour to finish it, since I felt compelled to read it with Jess Nevins’s annotations. As expected, both the story and the art are extremely dense and I feel that there’s a lot I’m missing even with the annotations – Jess himself was unable to identify many of the references without help from British people of a certain age. The overall plot is full of the Crowleyan mysticism that dominates Alan’s later work, but still makes sense as a superhero narrative. I don’t know if this is a major Moore work but it’s pretty close. Grade: A

INVINCIBLE #33 (Image, 2006) – This is the issue where Mark apparently beats Angstrom Levy to death (though he gets better). While I typically oppose superheroes killing their enemies on principle, in this case it seems entirely justified. Kirkman presents Levy as a sadistic, monomaniacal monster who cares about nothing except avenging himself on Mark, and has no qualms about injuring Mark’s mother and baby brother to piss Mark off. As I write this, I realize that Levy has the same motivation as Luthor (revenge on a supehero who he blames for disfiguring him), but is even more fanatical about achieving it. The grimness and violence of this story are alleviated a bit by a bunch of cute scenes depicting the alternative realities that Levy transports Mark into; one of these scenes is a crossover with Marvel Team-Up #14, which I will need to look for. Grade: A

KAMANDI #19 (DC, 1974) – Really all I need to say about this issue is that it includes a gunfight between gorilla soldiers and gangsters – not only that but robot gangsters, as revealed at the end of the issue. Because that revelation comes at the end, the reader spends the entire issue wondering how the hell Kamandi ended up in a replicated version of 1920s Chicago, but accepts it anyway because it’s fun (“Don’t Ask! Just Buy!”) The art is as fantastic as one expects from the Kirby/Royer combination. Grade: A

SUPERMAN FAMILY ADVENTURES #8 (DC, 2013) – This issue is not only amazingly cute but also features a logically consistent and exciting story, as is not always the case with Baltazar and Franco’s work. The scene where Kal-El and Lara are reunited is heartwarming, but I did find myself wondering if this was an excessive dumbing down of the Superman mythos – if kids back in the ‘40s and ‘50s could accept the premise that Jor-El and Lara died in the destruction of Krypton, surely kids today can accept this as well. I suppose, though, that permanent character deaths are not really acceptable to Baltazar’s sensibility: Grade: A-