Additional reviews

MULTIPLE WARHEADS: DOWN FALL #1 (Image, 2013) – This review is scheduled to appear at The Comics Alternative.

HAMMER OF GOD #4 (First, 1990) – I enjoyed this more than I expected to. Mike Baron’s influence on the plot is clearly apparent; the story has his typical combination of exciting action and silliness. Epting’s artwork is heavily derivative of Steve Rude, even imitating The Dude’s use of establishing shots from a bird’s eye view perspective. So this issue reads kind of like a Nexus comic even though it’s not nearly as good. Grade: B-

JSA #41 (DC, 2002) – Slightly better than previous issues of JSA reviewed here. I like that Captain Marvel and Black Adam play a prominent role in this issue; I think Geoff Johns is the only writer who has succeeded in integrating the Marvel Family into the DC Universe. However, the Captain Marvel/Stargirl romance annoys me a bit because as cute as Stargirl is, Johns often writes her as an excessively perfect and flawless character, and Billy’s crush on her seems to be intended as a way of underscoring how awesome she is. Another nitpick I had with this issue is that the plot revolves around a particle accelerator experiment which is being run by a private corporation in a major city; I don’t think that would be feasible in real life. Grade: B+

BATMAN AND ROBIN #7 (DC, 2010) – This issue was vastly superior to the previous issue. I noticed a colossal improvement in the artwork even before I realized the artist was Cameron Stewart. Due to Alex Sinclair’s highly three-dimensional style of coloring, Stewart’s artwork here looks very different from his artwork in Catwoman, but his gift for storytelling is very clear. The story is also more interesting, since it guest-stars Knight and Squire, two characters I really like. (As I read this issue, I kept visualizing Squire drawn by Alan Davis; I wonder if he ever actually did draw this character or if she just looks like a typical Alan Davis character.) This issue also included some awesome puns, the best of which was a Welsh villain named Dai Laffyn. Grade: A

BATMAN AND ROBIN #6 (DC, 2010) – The primary appeal of this issue for me was the funny interaction between Damian and Batman (who I didn’t realize was Dick Grayson, not Bruce Wayne, until halfway through the issue). The story is difficult to understand, being the third part of a three-parter, and excessively violent. Grant Morrison’s writing is as witty as ever, but I’ve gotten sick of his work lately; I think he’s part of the problem with DC, not part of the solution. Philip Tan’s artwork here is not especially good, and is sometimes ineffective in terms of storytelling. Grade: B-

10-22-13

DETECTIVE COMICS #827 (DC, 2007) – I’m thinking of teaching Arkham City next semester, so I wanted to read some Paul Dini Batman comics. This one does have a minor connection to Arkham City in that it takes place in the Iceberg Lounge. I understand that Paul Dini deliberately structured his Batman run as a series of single-issue stories, and this issue, which introduces a new Ventriloquist, works fairly well as a self-contained story. However, it raises more questions than it answers: Batman thinks he recognizes the woman who’s adopted the role of the Ventriloquist, but we are not told who she is. I definitely want to read more of this run. Grade: B+/A-

ADVENTURE COMICS #10 (DC, 2010) – The best thing about this comic (another one that I bought when it came out but never read) is the Joe Quinones cover. The only reason the story is interesting to me is that it includes a Legion guest appearance. Even then, the only Legionnaires who play a prominent role are Quislet and Mon-El, and while I would ordinarily be thrilled by a Quislet guest appearance, I don’t think that Robinson and Gates captured his speech pattern correctly. There is also a backup story which is pointless and overly violent. Grade: D+/C-

NUMBER OF THE BEAST #1 (Wildstorm, 2008) – I must have gotten this for free as a convention exclusive. The only redeeming quality of this comic is the Chris Sprouse artwork, and even that can’t save the story, which is completely unreadable. New characters appear on every single page, with no explanation of who they are or what they have to do with each other. Evidently this story assumes knowledge of some earlier series, but I’m not clear on which one. Also, the dialogue is dreadful; a typical exchange is “Think there’s anything good on?” “Reruns most likely, Sergeant. Same crap, different day.” Grade: F

TOR #3 (DC ,2008) – I bought this comic when it came out but never got around to it, largely because the story looked kind of dumb. It turns out that the story is pretty minimal and makes little logical sense. It doesn’t help that all of the characters except Tor are anonymous and there’s no dialogue, only narrative captions which are rather overwritten. The artwork, however, is fantastic, especially the last page in which a tentacular monster rises out of an underground pool. The artwork made this issue worthwhile, though I would still rather be reading Kubert’s ‘70s comics. Grade: B

SUICIDE SQUAD #67 (DC, 2010) – I bought this issue years ago and never bothered to read it (this is also the case with the three comics reviewed above it), so I was surprised by its quality. Gail Simone and John Ostrander are listed as co-writers, and I suspect that each of them wrote the dialogue of his or her respective characters. So in a weird way this issue reads like both a Gail comic and an Ostrander comic. I have only read one issue of Gail’s Secret Six, but she writes those characters with such wit and humor as to make me want to start collecting this series. Grade: A/A-

HAWKEYE #13 (Marvel, 2013) – I am having trouble keeping the continuity of this series straight, or reconciling it with that of Young Avengers. I thought Kate moved to California and took Pizza Dog with her, and yet here they both are in this issue. Other than that, this was another exemplary issue of the best current Big Two comic. Fraction and Aja do a great job of depicting Hawkeye’s grief and confusion about Grills’s death. I’m glad that this series will now be coming out more frequently because Aja will be alternating issues with another artist. Grade: A

THREE #1 (Image, 2013) – This review is tentatively scheduled to appear at The Comics Alternative.

POWER PACK #3 (Marvel, 2005) – This wasn’t quite as spectacular a reading experience as Power Pack #2, but was still quite enjoyable. Jack seems to be Marc Sumerak’s favorite Power Pack member and he plays a starring role in this issue, although the story is mostly about him screwing up and then learning better. Sumerak also writes the Fantastic Four fairly well (although it’s surprising that they appear in this issue but not Franklin). The Franklin Richards backup in this issue is better than the last one, but still too derivative of Calvin & Hobbes. Grade: A

MORNING GLORIES #33 (Image, 2013) – This issue made more sense than the previous issue and was better written. A particular highlight was the boxing match between Hisao/Jun and Guillaume, another character I‘m not familiar with. I write Hisao/Jun because these two characters have switched places so many times that I can’t keep them straight. With this current run of issues, it kind of seems like Nick Spencer is repeating an established pattern where he devotes each of six issues to a particular character. Which would be a bit annoying because I’m anxious to see the follow-up to the Hunter story in #31. Grade: A-

MORNING GLORIES #32 (Image, 2013) – I couldn’t make much sense of this issue because it focuses on Vanessa, a character who appears in the run of issues that I haven’t read. This only intensifies my sense, which is everpresent when I read this series, that I don’t quite get what’s going on. Still, the cliffhanger, where it turns out that there are two versons of Vanessa, is quite effective. The essays by Matthew Meylikhov (apparently his real name) at the end of each issue are essential for achieving even a partial understanding of the story. Grade: B

SAVAGE DRAGON #47 (Image, 1998) – This issue is not quite up to the level of #49, reviewed below, but still tells a fast-paced and funny story. The pace of the issue is slowed down quite a lot by the inclusion of several pages with 16-panel grids. Other than that, most of the issue is a big fight scene, but I did appreciate the appearance of Horridus, who is perhaps my favorite minor character in the series; I wish Erik would use her more. Grade: B+/A-

ELFQUEST: THE FINAL QUEST SPECIAL #1 (Dark Horse, 2013) – This review is tentatively scheduled to appear at The Comics Alternative.

MY LITTLE PONY MICRO-SERIES #8 (IDW, 2013) – This was a cute story with fairly good artwork, but it suffers a bit from a lack of clear explanation. I guess that the existence of Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns was already established in the show, but I didn’t quite understand why Princess Celestia was personally responsible for it. The story, again, is fairly cute, and sort of hits home for me because it’s about the importance of quality teaching. (The central character, Inkwell, reminded me a bit of one of my favorite high school teachers, Marion Bohnsack, who has unfortunately passed away.) However, like many MLP episodes that take place in Canterlot, this story also reveals what a classist and exclusive place Canterlot is, and I have to wonder why Princess Celestia hasn’t tried to fix that. Grade: B/B-

SCIENCE DOG #2 (Image, 2011) – An appropriate pairing with the comic reviewed just below. As often happens in Kirkman’s work, this comic takes a silly premise and makes something genuinely powerful out of it. Having failed to save the world from being destroyed by his nemesis, Walter, because he was abducted by aliens at precisely the wrong time, Science Dog builds a time machine and goes back in time to try to fix his mistakes. This time, he does save the world, but can’t stop Walter from killing his best friend Daniel. While building another time machine to try to go back in time yet again, Science Dog ignores all sorts of crises that demand his attention, resulting in further death and bloodshed. Finally, Science Dog goes back in time a second time and saves both the world and Daniel: he intercepts the aliens before they would have abducted him, allowing his past self to defeat Walter and save Daniel. The issue ends on a heartbreaking note as Science Dog’s past self returns in triumph from fighting Walter, while Science Dog goes into voluntary exile with the aliens, having saved the world but at such a high cost that he now feels himself to be irredeemable. You don’t expect this level of pathos from a comic called Science Dog. Grade: A

COURTNEY CRUMRIN AND THE COVEN OF MYSTICS #2 (Oni, 2002) – This comic deserves an A simply because the main character spends most of the issue in the form of a kitten. As a representative of the small genre of comics with actual cats as protagonists, this comic is right up there with Sandman #18 and Beasts of Burden. It gives me the sense that if cats had a government, they would have the kind of government that this story depicts. I’m interested in reading more of Ted Naifeh’s work; his stuff blends cuteness and scariness in a way that I find very interesting. Grade: A

ASTRO CITY #5 (Vertigo, 2013) – This issue is a series of miniature stories whose relation to each other and to the ongoing narrative is deliberately unclear. Easily the best thing in the issue is the steampunk superheroine Dame Progress. Kurt depicts this character in a way that shows a deep understanding of the steampunk genre, and people interested in steampunk might want to read this issue just for her. The opening sequence involving the Lovecraftian detectives is almost as good. There also seems to be some kind of bizarre metatextual metalepsis going on here, as the Broken Man keeps warning the reader to stop reading at crucial points. I’m interested to see where Kurt goes with this. Grade: A

ROCKET GIRL #1 (Image, 2013) – I bought this because Brandon Montclare’s artwork is incredibly cute and the premise is fascinating. It was well worth buying. Dayoung Johansson is an engaging and spunky character. As a hardcore Legion fan, I love the idea of the New York Teen Police Department, and I’m curious to see how it came about. I’m going to continue reading this series. Grade: A

CHEW #37 (Image, 2013) – Best line of the month: “I, uh, think you’re eating the wrong toe.” As is becoming typical of this series, this issue is a bizarre combination of raucous low comedy and genuine emotion. It’s ridiculous that Tony is communicating with his dead sister by eating pieces of her toe, but her genuine affection for him is clear. Oh, also this issue includes literal food porn. The “Eroscribopictaros” power is perhaps the most believable food-related superpower yet. Grade: A+

INVINCIBLE #106 (Image, 2013) – This is a rather low-key issue that advances several different plotlines but does not contain anything particularly shocking or status-quo-altering. The best scene here is an extremely awkward encounter between Mark, Eve and Mark’s parents: “Oh my god, you told your dad I’m pregnant?” “You’re pregnant?” “I did, but listen…” “You weren’t going to tell me?” and it goes on like that for the rest of the page. Oh, and then that leads to a double-page splash depicting an arm-wrestling match between Mark and his dad. This was a fun issue but not the best. Grade: A-

MY LITTLE PONY MICRO-SERIES #7 (IDW, 2013) – Possibly the best issue of this series besides the ones written by Katie Cook or Thom Zahler. The new character in this issue, Imp (a member of the shapeshifting species Globulus improbulus) is incredibly cute, no matter what she turns into, and Ben Bates’s artwork is highly attractive and almost painterly. This creative team appears to have a good handle on the characters. I wish that every issue of this series had been up to the level of this one. Grade: A-

HEAVY LIQUID #1 (Vertigo, 1999) – A rather difficult comic. It took me a while to understand who exactly the characters were or what they were doing, and Paul Pope’s artwork here is not as immediately appealing as it is in the last of his comics I read (The Invincible Haggard West #101). The story, about the eponymous drug of unknown origin, is intriguing, but at this point it’s not clear where it’s going or what it’s about. There is a lot of interesting stuff here, but I’m suspending critical judgment until I’ve read more of the series. Grade: A-

SAVAGE DRAGON #49 (Image, 1998) – An extremely fun issue from a quite enjoyable period of this series. Highlights include (1) the revelation of a gay relationship between two characters who are obvious stand-ins for the Adam West and Burt Ward Batman and Robin, and (2) a scene where a character obviously based on Namor attempts to invade the surface world, but his soldiers all start exploding due to the lower pressure. Also (3) the mere presence of Beast Boy and Feezle. Grade: A

THE POWERPUFF GIRLS #1 (IDW, 2013) – I’m not familiar with the Powerpuff Girls TV show, but I find the premise intriguing enough that I was willing to buy this comic. Troy Little seems to have done a fairly effective job of translating this intellectual property into comics. His story is well-drawn, in a style that seems quite faithful to the comic, and humorously written. This is clearly not as successful an adaptation as MLP:FIM, but I may be willing to buy the next issue. Grade: B+

SNARKED #7 (Boom, 2012) – More fantastic stuff. I paid full price for this (in the back issue bin at Criminal Records) and it was worth every penny. In this issue the main characters, who were set adrift at the end of #6, find themselves on a jungle island which, of course, proves to be inhabited by cannibals. This results in some quite funny scenes, especially due to the Walrus and Carpenter’s initial obliviousness about their peril. The surprising part is that one of the natives, a penguin, falls in love with the Walrus. This slightly creepy and inevitably doomed interspecies romance serves to significantly deepen his character by revealing, for the first time in the series, that he has a human side (if that term is appropriate). I will be actively looking for the last five issues of this series. I wonder what other projects Roger Langridge is working on now, besides the Li’l Ernie project from Dynamite. Grade: A+

Reviews

I have a giant stack of comics I’ve read since the last time I posted reviews. So far I have only had time to write reviews of the following. Note that reviews are arranged in reverse chronological order of when I read the comics.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #257 (Marvel, 1992) – Roy Thomas’s second Conan run is one of the earliest comics I ever collected, and this is one of the few issues I was missing from that run. Roy had developed a fantastic prose style by this point in his career; his late Conan stories are often worth reading just for Conan’s dialogue. The problem with this issue is the plot, which is convoluted and kind of silly. It starts off fine, but then the blind prophetic girl who’s been following Conan around turns into Kulan Gath, and her pet wolf turns into a giant flying skeletal dragon, and at that point I kind of stopped taking the story seriously. I find it odd how in nearly every issue of Roy’s second Conan run, Conan ran into at least one character who had previously appeared in Roy’s first run. Grade: B

SPACE USAGI (1996) #1 (Dark Horse, 1996) – This Space Usagi story is as thriling, well-crafted and passionate as any issue of regular Usagi. In just a few pages, Stan effectively situates us in Space Usagi’s future world, making the stakes clear even to readers not familiar with the previous two miniseries. Then the plot takes some shocking twists and the issue ends on a massive cliffhanger. It turns out I already have the second issue of this miniseries, but I will be actively looking for the third one. Grade: A+

JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #627 (Marvel, 2011) – One of the few issues of Gillen’s JiM that I was missing. This issue is a spotlight on Mephisto, and Gillen writes him with such wit and humor that I almost didn’t realize that Loki and Leah don’t appear in the issue. The story is hard to understand because it’s a Fear Itself crossover, but it’s fun just watching Mephisto’s bizarre antics. Of some interest to my research is the scene at the end where Mephisto writes a letter using ink rendered from a damned soul’s body; handwriting and texts play a big role in this series. Grade: A

TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED #2 (DC, 2007) – The Lapham/Battle Spectre story in this issue is just horrible. It’s superficially similar in tone to the Friedrich/Aparo or Ostrander/Mandrake Spectre, but it seems like Lapham’s primary goal is to depict the grimmest, most disgusting, most corrupt society he possibly can – it’s like he’s trying to out-Frank-Miller Frank Miller. Moreover, the Spectre seems less motivated by the desire for justice than by sadism. This story almost feels pornographic and reading it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The issue, however, is redeemed by the Doctor Thirteen backup. This series is one of the funniest and wittiest things DC has produced in recent memory. Traci Thirteen is just adorable and Doctor Thirteen is a character you love to hate, with his constant skepticism in the face of the most ridiculous phenomena imaginable (which in this issue includes I… Vampire). I wish this had been an ongoing series. Grade: F for the first story, A+ for the second

TALES OF SUSPENSE #77 (Marvel, 1966) – This is my favorite of the three Marvel series with Tales in their names. The Iron Man story is an exciting piece of work in which Tony battles the Mandarin and Ultimo. You can see why Marvel has largely stopped using the Mandarin, as the story presents him as an extreme Yellow Peril stereotype, but Stan and Gene depict Ultimo as a genuinely epic threat. I do have to admit, though, that all the ToS stories of this period are starting to blur together for me because they all follow a formula: Tony does something heroic, but Senator Harrington Byrd (named after the notorious segregationist Harry Byrd?) persecutes him for it. The Captain America story is actually better. It’s mostly a flashback detailing Steve’s separation from Peggy Carter (as yet unnamed) at the end of World War II. The character of Peggy Carter has become something of a continuity for Marvel because it gets progressively harder to reconcile her age with that of Sharon Carter, but this story creates genuine emotion when Cap thinks he’s lost Peggy forever. Grade: A+

UNCANNY X-MEN #147 (Marvel, 1981) – I already had the X-Men Classic reprint of this issue, but I read it so long ago that I’d forgotten all about it. “Rogue Storm!” is a variant on the old theme where a bunch of superheroes are placed in traps designed to counteract their individual powers; my favorite version of this is Adventure Comics #365. Although this is not an original theme, Claremont and Cockrum execute it in an exciting way. As a piece of historical trivia, the story ends with Doom letting Arcade off with an apology after Arcade has repeatedly insulted him. John Byrne thought that this was so out of character for Doom, that in Fantastic Four #258, he revealed that the Doom who appeared in this story was a Doombot. This issue is not one of Claremont’s more memorable stories but it has a lot of the qualities that were present in his better X-Men work. Grade: A-

ADVENTURE COMICS #465 (DC, 1979) – The brief “Dollar Comics” period in Adventure Comics was the last time the series was genuinely good, and this is the last issue of that period that I hadn’t read. Easily the highlight of the issue is the Levitz/Staton JSA story, which has a fairly simple and low-key plot (the JSA tries to recover a vial of deadly gas that was lost by accident), but includes some cute interactions between Huntress and Power Girl. Somehow Levitz and Staton’s JSA stories were just more exciting than the All-Star Comics stories by the same creative team. The second best story is the one starring Deadman, which is brilliantly drawn by José Luis García-López and engagingly written by Len Wein, although it does come uncomfortably close to racial stereotyping. There is also an Aquaman story with beautiful Don Newton artwork, although Bob Rozakis’s writing is idiotic. The Flash story has boring art by Don Heck, but the story is kind of cute, and ends with Barry discovering he can communicate with dolphins, and has unknowingly been doing so all along. Overall an enjoyable package. Grade: A-

SUICIDE SQUAD #18 (DC, 1988) – Another fairly strong issue. Luke McDonnell’s artwork is not particularly impressive, but John Ostrander’s writing has all the good qualities I’ve previously attributed to it. Captain Boomerang is quickly becoming my favorite character in this series. I think I may have read this observation somewhere rather than coming up with it myself, but Captain Boomerang is unique in this series in that he doesn’t have deep psychological problems or complex motivations. He just wants to satisfy his base desires, and he’s completely honest about that fact. Grade: A-

YOUNG JUSTICE #23 (DC, 2013) – Another comic where I didn’t really understand what was going on or how it fit into the big picture. However, this one was more readable than some of the comics reviewed below because the characters are much more engaging. In particular, the insanely cute Miss Martian plays a prominent role here. I don’t know who Greg Weisman is, but he seems to have a good handle on both DC’s teen and adult characters. This is not a spectacularly great comic, but if all DC’s comics were at least this good, the company would be in better shape. Grade: B+/A-

POWER PACK #2 (Marvel, 2005) – I read this comic after reading a series of rather unimpressive comics (see below) and while in a depressed mood, and it came as a breath of fresh air. Marc Sumerak has a great handle on the characters’ personalities, although their dialogue doesn’t always seem age-appropriate. And though the story is kind of trite (Alex has a date with a girl but his parents force him to babysit instead), Sumerak executes it extremely well; there is an utterly hilarious scene where Alex comes home and finds his siblings fighting an interdimensional squid monster. This series and the miniseries that followed it were terrific all-ages comics, and I wish Marvel was still publishing them. I do wonder why Alex’s prospective girlfriend is named Caitlin instead of (The Incredibly Perfect) Alison. On a less positive note, the “Franklin Richards, Son of a Genius” backup story is painful to read, largely because it’s a blatant ripoff of Calvin & Hobbes. Grade: A+

HELLBLAZER #22 (DC, 1989) – Another one that I didn’t understand because it came at the end of a lengthy storyline, although it seemed like there was a lot of interesting stuff going on here. Reading this issue, I felt like I was finally starting to understand Jamie Delano’s writing. His prose style is very blunt, straightforward and unsubtle in a way which seems to be characteristic of many British writers, e.g. John Wagner and Pat Mills and even the early Alan Moore. Maybe now that I’ve realized this his Hellblazer stories will start making more sense to me. Grade: B

JSA #9 (DC, 2000) – This one was just all right. It’s part three of a three-part epic, but Johns and Goyer provide minimal explanation of what’s been going on, and I never understood who the villain was or what was going on. One of the main draws of Johns’s writing for me is its complex and intelligent use of continuity; reading his work, I get the sense that everything in his universe has a story behind it, and that drives me to buy back issues so I can find out what those stories are. In this issue, however, the lack of explanation means that the complexity of the plot is a bad thing. Grade: B-

WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #274 (DC, 1981) – This issue includes a large amount of material but none of it is better than slightly above-average. The Superman/Batman story is written by Cary Burkett, whose World’s Finest work was full of purple prose and barely suppressed homosexual subtexts; however, it’s actually an okay story and includes a pretty cool villain, the Weapon Master. Next is a pretty bad Green Arrow/Black Canary which is written by Mike W. Barr and displays his typical poor sense of humor and his tendency toward excessive heaviness. The Hawkman story by Rozakis and Saviuk is even worse. The Zatanna story by Gerry Conway and Gene Colan is the most interesting one in the issue, mostly because I like the character. However, this story also features her manager and occasional boyfriend Jeff, and I don’t know if it’s just me but this character strikes me as a rather obvious and creepy stand-in for Conway himself, much like Terry Long in New Teen Titans. The issue ends with a Captain Marvel story which has good art by Don Newton, but rather poor writing by ENB, who never managed to create much excitement when writing this character. Overall, nothing in this issue is especially distinguished. Grade: C+/B-

ITTY BITTY HELLBOY #1 (Dark Horse, 2013) – This issue is up to Art and Franco’s usual high standards, but is less effective because I have no idea who most of the characters are, so the jokes don’t always make sense. Given the lack of exposition or explanation as to who the characters are, I wonder if this series is aimed more at existing Hellboy fans than at actual children. Grade: B+

TALES TO ASTONISH #96 (Marvel, 1967) – The Namor story in this issue is by Raymond Marais, about whom it is difficult to find any information. His writing is okay, but not really up to Stan’s standards, and the Bill Everett artwork is not among his best work. The Hulk story is a lot better in terms of both dialogue and artwork, but the plot is a little weak. This period of Tales to Astonish is not among my favorite ‘60s Marvel comics. Grade: B-

Alternative Nobel Prize in Literature

A year or two ago, while procrastinating, I made a list of writers who would have won the Nobel Prize in Literature in an alternate universe where (A) the Swedish Academy makes better decisions and (B) the Nobel Prize is awarded to three writers a year rather than one, as is normal with the science prizes. Where possible, I tried to give it to three writers whose work had something in common, and I made sure that all writers were still alive in the year they received the prize. I excluded cartoonists, filmmakers and musicians, on the theory that in this alternate universe, each of those fields would have a Nobel Prize of its own.* (EDIT: Now that Bob Dylan has won the real Nobel Prize, the ban on musicians no longer applies.) I think this list is more impressive than the list of writers who actually did win the prize, but it has the major flaw of being too U.S.-centric. If anyone is actually reading this, maybe they could suggest other non-English-language writers who should be included. Each author is listed with his/her primary nationality at the time s/he won the award. There are some tricky cases here; for example, Bialik is considered Israel’s national poet but didn’t live there until the end of his life, and Durrell was not officially a British citizen.

The list follows:

1901   Henry James (USA), Leo Tolstoy (RUS), Émile Zola (FRA)

1902   A.E. Housman (GBR), Masaoka Shiki (JPN), Algernon Charles Swinburne (GBR)

1903   Mark Twain (USA), Jules Verne (FRA), H.G. Wells (GBR)

1904   Kate Chopin (USA), Charlotte Perkins Gilman (USA), Anton Chekhov (RUS)

1905   Henrik Ibsen (NOR), August Strindberg (SWE), George Bernard Shaw (IRL)

1906   Giosuè Carducci (ITA), Giovanni Verga (ITA), Sarah Orne Jewett (USA)

1907   Sholom Aleichem (UKR/USA), I.L. Peretz (POL), Mendele Moykher Sforim (UKR)

1908   Euclides da Cunha (BRA), Rubén Darío (NCA), Joaquim Machado de Assis (BRA)

1909   Liu E (CHN), George Meredith (GBR), John Millington Synge (IRL)

1910   Henry Adams (USA), Jack London (USA), Upton Sinclair (USA)

1911   L. Frank Baum (USA), E. Nesbit (GBR), Karl May (GER)

1912   Joseph Conrad (GBR), Arthur Conan Doyle (GBR), Rudyard Kipling (GBR)

1913   Hayyim Nahman Bialik (ISR), Constantine P. Cavafy (EGY/GRE), Georg Trakl (AUT)

1914   Mori Ogai (JPN), Natsume Soseki (JPN), Akiko Yosano (JPN)

1915   Theodore Dreiser (USA), Thomas Hardy (GBR), Edith Wharton (USA)

1916   G.K. Chesterton (GBR), Ford Madox Ford (GBR), E.M. Forster (GBR)

1917   Guillaume Apollinaire (FRA), Paul Valéry (FRA), W.B. Yeats (IRL)

1918   Alexander Blok (RUS), Velimir Khlebnikov (RUS), Vladimir Mayakovsky (RUS)

1919   Willa Cather (USA), D.H. Lawrence (GBR), Katherine Mansfield (NZL)

1920   Benito Pérez Galdós (ESP), Antonio Machado (ESP), Miguel de Unamuno (ESP)

1921   Andrei Bely (RUS), Maxim Gorky (RUS), Yevgeny Zamyatin (RUS)

1922   James Joyce (IRL), Marcel Proust (FRA), Ryunosuke Akutagawa (JPN)

1923   Karel Capek (CZE), Jaroslav Hasek (CZE), Franz Kafka (CZE)

1924   T.S. Eliot (GBR/USA), Ezra Pound (USA), Gertrude Stein (USA)

1925   Stefan George (GER), Hugo von Hofmannsthal (AUT), Rainer Maria Rilke (AUT)

1926   Sean O’Casey (IRL), Luigi Pirandello (ITA), Italo Svevo (ITA)

1927   Muhammad Iqbal (PAK), Rabindranath Tagore (IND/BGL), Premchand (IND)

1928   André Breton (FRA), Paul Éluard (FRA), Tristan Tzara (ROU/FRA)

1929   Nella Larsen (USA), Claude McKay (JAM), Jean Toomer (USA)

1930   Ahmed Shawqi (EGY), Thomas Wolfe (USA), Stefan Zweig (AUT)

1931   Bertolt Brecht (GER), Sigmund Freud (AUT), Karl Kraus (AUT)

1932   Hart Crane (USA), William Carlos Williams (USA), Kenji Miyazawa (JPN)

1933   John Galsworthy (GBR), Attila Jozsef (HUN), Raymond Roussel (FRA)

1934   Mariano Azuela (MEX), César Vallejo (PER), Fernando Pessoa (POR)

1935   Ding Ling (CHN), Lu Xun (CHN), Shen Congwen (CHN)

1936   Rafael Alberti (ESP), Jorge Guillén (ESP), Federico García Lorca (ESP)

1937   Osip Mandelstam (POL/RUS), Boris Pasternak (RUS), Marina Tsvetaeva (RUS)

1938   Georges Bataille (FRA), Louis-Ferdinand Céline (FRA), Colette (FRA)

1939   Walter Benjamin (GER), F. Scott Fitzgerald (USA), Nathanael West (USA)

1940   Isaac Babel (UKR), Bruno Schulz (POL), Mikhail Bulgakov (RUS)

1941   Djuna Barnes (USA), Hilda Doolittle (USA), Virginia Woolf (GBR)

1942   Hermann Broch (AUT), Thomas Mann (GER), Robert Musil (AUT)

1943   Isak Dinesen (DEN), Knut Hamsun (NOR), Sigrid Undset (NOR)

1944   Antonin Artaud (FRA), Jean Giraudoux (FRA), Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (FRA)

1945   W.E.B. Du Bois (USA), Zora Neale Hurston (USA), Langston Hughes (USA)

1946   Alfred Döblin (GER), Hermann Hesse (SUI), Robert Walser (SUI)

1947   Sadegh Hedayat (IRI), Nazim Hikmet (TUR), Taha Hussein (EGY)

1948   Aldous Huxley (GBR), Malcolm Lowry (GBR), George Orwell (GBR)

1949   John Dos Passos (USA), William Faulkner (USA), Ernest Hemingway (USA)

1950   Pablo Neruda (CHI), Cesare Pavese (ITA), Dylan Thomas (GBR)

1951   W.H. Auden (GBR/USA), Robert Frost (USA), Wallace Stevens (USA)

1952   Flann O’Brien (IRL), Evelyn Waugh (GBR), P.G. Wodehouse (GBR)

1953   Saadat Hasan Manto (PAK), Eugene O’Neill (USA), Tennessee Williams (USA)

1954   Raymond Chandler (USA), Agatha Christie (GBR), Dashiell Hammett (USA)

1955   Louis Aragon (FRA), Simone de Beauvoir (FRA), Jean-Paul Sartre (FRA)

1956   Mulk Raj Anand (IND), R.K. Narayan (IND), Raja Rao (IND)

1957   Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (ITA), Primo Levi (ITA), Alberto Moravia (ITA)

1958   Fumiko Enchi (JPN), Yasunari Kawabata (JPN), Junichiro Tanizaki (JPN)

1959   Eugenio Montale (ITA), Salvatore Quasimodo (ITA), Giuseppe Ungaretti (ITA)

1960   Albert Camus (FRA), André Gide (FRA), André Malraux (FRA)

1961   James Baldwin (USA), Ralph Ellison (USA), Richard Wright (USA)

1962   Mervyn Peake (GBR), J.R.R. Tolkien (GBR), Shaaban Robert (TAN)

1963   Odysseus Elytis (GRE), Yiannis Ritsos (GRE), George Seferis (GRE)

1964   Flannery O’Connor (USA), Frank O’Hara (USA), Sylvia Plath (USA)

1965   Yukio Mishima (JPN), Christopher Okigbo (NGR), Amos Tutuola (NGR)

1966   Anna Akhmatova (RUS), Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (RUS), Czeslaw Milosz (POL)

1967   Carlos Drummond de Andrade, João Guimarães Rosa, Clarice Lispector (all BRA)

1968   Shmuel Yosef Agnon (ISR), Chaim Grade (USA), Nelly Sachs (SWE)

1969   Samuel Beckett (IRL/FRA), Jean Genet (FRA), Eugène Ionesco (ROU/FRA)

1970   Ingeborg Bachmann (AUT), Heinrich Böll (GER), Paul Celan (ROU/FRA)

1971   Jorge Luis Borges (ARG), Julio Cortázar (ARG), Vladimir Nabokov (USA)

1972   Elizabeth Bishop (USA), Robert Lowell (USA), Marianne Moore (USA)

1973   Chinua Achebe (NGR), Ngugi wa Thiong’o (KEN), Wole Soyinka (NGR)

1974   Carlos Fuentes (MEX), Gabriel García Márquez (COL), Mario Vargas Llosa (PER)

1975   Italo Calvino (ITA), Georges Perec (FRA), Raymond Queneau (FRA)

1976   J.G. Ballard (GBR), Philip K. Dick (USA), Tawfiq al-Hakim (EGY)

1977   Lawrence Durrell (GBR), Iris Murdoch (IRL/GBR), Hugh MacDiarmid (GBR)

1978   Alejo Carpentier (CUB), Nicolás Guillén (CUB), Octavio Paz (MEX)

1979   Saul Bellow (USA), Henry Roth (USA), Philip Roth (USA)

1980   Zbigniew Herbert (POL), Stanislaw Lem (POL), Joseph Brodsky (RUS)

1981   Aimé Césaire (FRA/MTQ), Léopold Sédar Senghor (SEN), Okot p’Bitek (UGA)

1982   Camilo José Cela (ESP), Juan Goytisolo (ESP), Merce Rodoreda (ESP)

1983   Anthony Burgess (GBR), Graham Greene (GBR), Philip Larkin (GBR)

1984   Thomas Bernhard (AUT), Friedrich Dürrenmatt (SUI), Max Frisch (SUI)

1985   Francis Ponge (FRA), Alain Robbe-Grillet (FRA), Marguerite Yourcenar (FRA/USA)

1986   John Ashbery (USA), C.L.R. James (TTO), Danilo Kis (SRB)

1987   Faiz Ahmad Faiz (PAK), Les Murray (AUS), Patrick White (AUS)

1988   Raymond Carver (USA), N. Scott Momaday (USA), Toni Morrison (USA)

1989   Robert Coover (USA), Don DeLillo (USA), Thomas Pynchon (USA)

1990   Naguib Mahfouz (EGY), Tayeb Salih (SUD), Isaac Bashevis Singer (POL/USA)

1991   J.M. Coetzee (RSA), Nadine Gordimer (RSA), Doris Lessing (GBR)

1992   Wilson Harris (GUY), V.S. Naipaul (TTO), Derek Walcott (LCA)

1993   Amiri Baraka (USA), Allen Ginsberg (USA), William S. Burroughs (USA)

1994   Margaret Atwood (CAN), Robertson Davies (CAN), Alice Munro (CAN)

1995   Brian Friel (IRL), Seamus Heaney (IRL), Paul Muldoon (IRL)

1996   Yehuda Amichai (ISR), Amos Oz (ISR), Mahmoud Darwish (PLE)

1997   Vaclav Havel (CZE), Milan Kundera (CZE/FRA), Milorad Pavic (SRB)

1998   Eugenio de Andrade (POR), João Cabral de Melo Neto (BRA), José Saramago (POR)

1999   Günter Grass (GER), W.G. Sebald (GER), Christa Wolf (GER)

2000   Bei Dao (CHN), Mo Yan (CHN), Yang Lian (CHN)

2001   Tahar Ben Jelloun (MAR), Assia Djebar (ALG), Ousmane Sembène (SEN)

2002   Yasar Kemal (TUR), Cormac McCarthy (USA), J.D. Salinger (USA)

2003   Roberto Bolaño (CHI), Pramoedya Ananta Toer (INA), Muriel Spark (GBR)

2004   Edward Albee (USA), Tom Stoppard (GBR), August Wilson (USA)

2005   Hanif Kureishi (GBR), Salman Rushdie (GBR), Zadie Smith (GBR)

2006   Chingiz Aitmatov (KGZ), Ismail Kadare (ALB), Orhan Pamuk (TUR)

2007   David Grossman (ISR), Marilynne Robinson (USA), David Foster Wallace (USA)

2008   Anita Desai (IND), Mahasweta Devi (IND), Rohinton Mistry (CAN)

2009   Peter Carey (AUS), Ian McEwan (GBR), Philip Pullman (GBR)

2010   Geoffrey Hill (GBR), Tomas Tranströmer (SWE), Adam Zagajewski (POL)

2011   Kazuo Ishiguro (GBR), Haruki Murakami (JPN), Kenzaburo Oe (JPN)

2012   Neil Gaiman (GBR), Ursula K. Le Guin (USA), J.K. Rowling (GBR)

2013   Svetlana Aleksievich (BLR), Eduardo Galeano (URU), Ko Un (KOR)

2014   Adonis (SYR), Jon Fosse (NOR), Patrick Modiano (FRA)

2015   Bob Dylan (USA), Leonard Cohen (CAN), Stephen Sondheim (USA)

2016   Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (NGR), Buchi Emecheta (NGR), Nicanor Parra (CHI)

2017   Elena Ferrante (ITA), Nuruddin Farah (SOM), Jin Yong (HKG)

2018   Mia Couto (MOZ), Ben Okri (NGR), Michael Ondaatje (SRL/CAN)

2019   Arundhati Roy (IND), Louise Erdrich (USA), Cesar Aira (ARG)

2020   Mahmoud Dowlatabadi (IRI), Duong Thu Huong (VIE), Amitav Ghosh (IND)

2021   Jamaica Kincaid (ANT), Dubravka Ugresic (CRO/NED), John le Carré (GBR)

2022   F. Sionil José (PHI), Alain Mabanckou (COD), Hamid Ismailov (UZB)

2023   Lydia Davis (USA), Javier Marías (ESP), David Mitchell (GBR)

Notable omissions: Joseph Roth (d. 1939), Chairil Anwar (d. 1949), Nick Joaquin (d. 2004), Octavia Butler (d. 2006), Ryszard Kapuscinski (d. 2007), Eduardo Galeano (d. 2015)

Future winners: Rebecca Solnit, Hilary Mantel, David Mitchell, A.B. Yehoshua, Yan Lianke, António Lobo Antunes

Too many American and British

8/3/15: Edited to add Tawfiq al-Hakim for 1976 and replace George R.R. Martin with Ursula K. Le Guin for 2012

3/18/16: Edited to replace Max Jacob with WB Yeats for 1917, so that I could add Premchand for 1936; also added prizes for 2017

5/18/16: Edited to replace E.L. Doctorow with Ian McEwan for 2009, and add Pramoedya Ananta Toer for 2006; also replaced John Updike with Yasar Kemal for 2002

6/4/16: Edited to replace C.S. Lewis with Shaaban Robert for 1962

11/29/16: Switched the winners for 2015 and 2016 because Leonard Cohen died in 2016

1/25/17: Changed my mind about 2019, replaced John McPhee with Junot Díaz

3/1/17: Changed my mind again, replaced Wendell Berry with Louise Erdrich

5/23/17: Added 2020, switched Buchi Emecheta for Amitav Ghosh since she died in 2017

7/27/17: Replaced Arthur Miller with Saadat Hasan Manto for 1953

10/3/17: Added 2021

10/4/17: Added nationalities; replaced Keri Hulme with Faiz Ahmad Faiz for 1987, switched Cesar Aira and Hilary Mantel, added 2012

10/6/17: Replaced René Char with Antonin Artaud

10/11/17: Switched Czeslaw Milosz with Joseph Brodsky

7/6/18: Replaced Beatrix Potter with Karl May

10/30/18: Jin Yong died, so I switched him with Javier Marías. Also replaced Junot Diaz with Arundhati Roy, who I can’t believe wasn’t already on the list, because of the sexual misconduct allegations against Diaz.

Reviews for 10-10-13

10-10-13

YOUNG AVENGERS #10 (Marvel, 2013) – This issue opens with an utterly awesome scene in which Mother eats the caption box. I’ve read a lot of comics that did bizarre stuff with lettering, but I’ve never seen a character eat the lettering before. The rest of the issue is also quite strong; it makes Mother’s and Loki’s ultimate goals significantly clearer, and it ends on a highly suspenseful cliffhanger. I got kind of sick of Mother after the first few issues of this series, but this issue depicts her as quite an effective villain. Grade: A

ARCHIE #620 (Archie, 2011) – I read this last night when I was utterly exhausted and I wanted to read some kind of a comic book, but didn’t have the energy for anything more intellectually challenging. This issue includes four different stories – unlike most of the recent Archie comics I’ve read, which tend to have just one – and none of them is particularly funny or interesting. Grade: C-

HELLBOY: THE FURY #2 (Dark Horse, 2011) – I like Hellboy but I haven’t been following it or its spinoff titles regularly. I hope to remedy that sooner or later. This issue is difficult to understand without having read #1; I have no idea who Hellboy is fighting or why, or who all the other characters are. The primary appeal of the story is Hellboy’s witty dialogue and his nonchalant attitude toward the bizarre monsters he fights. The artwork is by Duncan Fegredo, who imitates Mike Mignola’s style to such an extent that I had to check to make sure it wasn’t Mignola. Grade: B

ALL-STAR COMICS #72 (DC, 1978) – Paul Levitz was, along with Steve Englehart, the best writer at DC in the late ‘70s. His stories, especially his Huntress backups in Wonder Woman, were ahead of their time in the depth of their characterization and in their positive portrayal of female characters. His stuff also had a youthful vigor to it – he was only 22 when this issue was written. (Unfortunately, Paul’s recent work has been behind his time, not ahead of it; during the two decades when he wasn’t writing comics full-time, the craft of superhero comics writing moved on and he didn’t move with it.) Having said all of that, I have to add that I don’t like Paul’s All-Star Comics nearly as much as the rest of his early work. It’s often lacking in excitement, and the only characters in it that I really like are Huntress and Power Girl. This specific issue is also kind of painful to read, in that it depicts the JSA being beaten rather easily by the Thorn, hardly an impressive villain. Grade: B/B-

JSA #40 (DC, 2002) – I generally like this series. It showcased the positive aspects of Geoff Johns’s writing, including his effective plotting and his ability to come up with creative variations on old premises. Also, it mostly lacked the excessive violence that plagues most current DC comics, and Johns and Goyer’s characters behaved like genuine heroes, unlike most current DC characters. All of this is evident to some degree in JSA #40, but the trouble with this issue is that the ending falls flat: Goyer and Johns set up a tense situation and then resolve it unsatisfyingly. The villain of the issue threatens to kill a class of elementary school kids unless Dr. Mid-Nite saves his grandfather’s life. Dr. Mid-Nite is unable to do so, but the kids succeed in talking him down, essentially by acting cute. I found this implausible because up to that point, Goyer and Johns had been presenting the villain as a complete fanatic. Also, unfortunately, it’s hard to read this story without being reminded of comparable real-life situations that did not end nearly as well. Grade: B

SUPERBOY AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #240 (DC, 1978) – The Legion of Super-Heroes is my absolute favorite comic book and my single biggest fandom, but this is precisely why I haven’t been reading it lately. I can’t read it without thinking about how furious I am with DC for running the franchise into the ground. At the moment there are no prospects for a new Legion series, and even if DC did revive the Legion, it would probably suck anyway given DC’s awful editorial policy and poor talent pool. Instead of frustrating myself by dwelling on this, I’d rather forget about it and read something else, hence why SLSH #240 is the first Legion comic I’ve read since I started this series of reviews.

So yeah, now that that’s out of the way: SLSH #240 is an uneven issue, hampered by the fact that Paul Levitz wrote the script but not the dialogue, and yet there’s some interesting stuff in it. The first story is mostly a series of action sequences, but it does spotlight Phantom Girl, probably my favorite Legionnaire. The backup story focuses on Dawnstar, a new character at the time, and is significant for the development for her character: it includes both a flashback to her origin and some of the earliest hints of her star-crossed love affair with Wildfire. Dawnstar’s behavior in this story is rather disgraceful; she ignores the importance of teamwork and acts like she’s better than her fellow Legionnaires. However, by depicting her in this way Paul develops her character further by revealing her flaws, and of course she learns better in the end. Because of its focus on character development, this story helps to remind me why I love the Legion so much. It also has some nice art by James Sherman, who two issues later produced one of the best-drawn DC comics of the decade. There is one bizarre sequence in this story where Dawnstar and Laurel appear to be sharing a bed, as discussed here. Grade: A-

YOUNG AVENGERS #9 (Marvel, 2013) – I actually forgot to read this the day it came out, and then never went back to it. This is a very effective piece of storytelling, especially the ending where Billy and Teddy break up. I’m still having trouble following the plot, and I have absolutely no idea what Loki is up to; I suppose this is partly deliberate on Kieron’s part. Grade: A-

FATALE #16 (Image, 2013) – Another A-list series that would have been published by Vertigo (like earlier works by the same creative team) if DC hadn’t driven its creators away. I read the third Fatale trade paperback last week – I’m not reviewing it here because these reviews are focusing on comic books. I thought it was a very well-crafted piece of work, but I don’t think it particularly appeals to me. I’m not particularly fond of either Lovecraftian horror or noir fiction. This issue is more or less the same thing as the stories collected in the trade: a horror story about a woman who drives men crazy. I appreciate the craftsmanship that went into this, but it doesn’t really strike a chord with me. Grade: B+/A-

Further reviews

GREEN ARROW #39 (DC, 1990) – Like many of Grell’s Green Arrow stories, this issue tells an interesting story but is excessively heavy and grim. In this story, Ollie meets with (an unnamed) President Bush, who forgives him for causing a terrorist incident in Panama several issues before, but denies his own responsibility for putting Ollie up to it. Furious, Ollie leaves Seattle in a huff and hitchhikes toward an unknown destination. This is all exciting but rather depressing, and is made even more so by Denys Cowan and Shea Anton Pensa’s rather brutal artwork. In some panels they make Ollie look like a horrible hulking ogre, especially since he’s shaved his head for some reason. In general I like Grell’s Green Arrow, but it can be tough to read sometimes. Grade: B+/A-

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #201 (DC, 1982) – The issue before this one was one of the greatest DC comics of its time. My old friend Jonathan Bogart once said that JloA #200 was the best comic in his collection, and though that seems a bit overstated and I suspect he may have changed his mind, I can see why he said it. This issue is clearly not at the same level. The artwork is by Don Heck rather than Gentleman George, and even by Heck’s modest standards it’s rather unimpressive; at times the storytelling is just incoherent. However, the story is kind of cute, and demonstrates Conway’s sort of Marvel-esque approach to the JLA, which focused a lot more on characterization than the classic JLA writers had done. Of course in doing this Conway was largely imitating Steve Englehart, who was a far better JLA writer. There’s one scene here where Ollie and Dinah are exercising and then the next panel shows Ollie taking a shower while Dinah puts her boots back on; I suspect something non-Code-approved happened between panels. Grade: B

MASTER OF KUNG FU #54 (Marvel, 1977) – This was one of the premier Marvel comics of the ‘70s, and this issue is a good example of why. Doug Moench’s writing is often overwritten, melodramatic and overly complicated – almost reminiscent of one of my least favorite writers, Don McGregor – but somehow his style was perfect for this series. Jim Craig’s artwork here is surprisingly exciting and technically proficient. He obviously had a hard act to follow in replacing Paul Gulacy on this series, and his artwork reminds me a lot of Gulacy’s (and Steranko’s – Clive Reston drives a very Sterankoesque car), but it’s interesting in its own right. Doug was apparently a big Fleetwood Mac fan, since this issue quotes both “Rhiannon” and “Over My Head,” and “The Chain” plays a central role in a later issue. Leiko also mentions how she’s looking forward to Fleetwood Mac’s “next” LP after the self-titled one; I guess this issue was written before Rumours was released even though it was published after. Oh yeah, there’s also a plot here, involving an assassin who likes to imitate legendary warriors of yore, hence his name War-Yore. Whatever. Grade: A

HATE #11 (Fantagraphics, 1992) – I laughed my ass off while reading this one. It’s mostly about Buddy and Lisa struggling to overcome their squalid, alcoholic existence, and then giving up when they realize it’s not worth it. Peter Bagge’s artwork, writing and lettering here are up to their usual high standards. There’s not that much to distinguish this issue from other issues of Hate, but it’s nice reading a Hate story I wasn’t already familiar with. There is one slightly disturbing scene where Buddy makes love to Lisa in a very aggressive and inconsiderate way, though it stops well short of rape. The letter column includes a letter from Tom Hart, who was living in Seattle at the time. Grade: A+

SUPERMAN #260 (DC, 1973) – The lead story in this issue is by Elliot S! Maggin, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson, who, in my opinion, are the greatest Superman creative team ever. This is not their best Superman story, but it’s cute. In the story Superman visits a lost colony of Vikings in Maine, which makes sense since that general area of North America is indeed believed to have been visited by Norse people – I wonder if the discovery of L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland was in the news at the time. The Fabulous World of Krypton backup story, by Elliot and Bob Brown, is rather implausible. Grade: B+

TALES OF SUSPENSE #71 (Marvel, 1965) – The Iron Man story here features both exciting superheroic action and emotional soap-opera melodrama. Iron Man defeats Titanium Man in a great victory for the free world against the godless hordes of communism, but Pepper still hates Tony Stark because he wasn’t there to save Happy Hogan from Titanium Man. This run of Iron Man stories was a high point of ‘60s Marvel, though they got better after Don Heck was replaced by Gene Colan. The Captain America story is less exciting because it takes place in World War II rather than the present day, but does feature impressive art and storytelling by Lee, Kirby and Tuska. I was thinking recently that I prefer Silver Age Marvel to Silver Age DC because Silver Age Marvel was just better. Both had very high levels of craftsmanship, but Silver Age Marvel comics had an element of characterization and pathos that Silver Age DC mostly lacked, with the exception of marginal titles like Anthro and Bat Lash. (Of course this is hardly a new observation; I think a lot of fans back in the ‘60s would have agreed with me.) Grade: A-

DETECTIVE COMICS #432 (DC, 1973) – The lead story in this issue is an unspectacular but effectively crafted piece of work by Frank Robbins and Bob Brown. Nothing in this story is all that exciting, but it’s a detective story where the solution makes logical sense, and Robbins invites the reader to solve it on his/her own and supplies all the necessary clues (I failed to solve it, of course). There is also an Atom backup story by Elliot S! Maggin and Murphy Anderson, which is sort of cute but again not great. Grade: a solid B

SAVAGE DRAGON #169 (Image, 2011) – This is a well-done issue that sets up a lot of the plotlines occurring in current issues of this series. This issue helps to establish the various love triangles between Malcolm, Angel, Tierra, Frank and Maxine, and ends with Malcolm and Angel agreeing to work for the Chicago police department. As usual for this series, this issue also includes an exciting and exaggeratedly destructive action sequence. The backup story in this issue, unlike some Savage Dragon backups, is actually interesting. Pedro Camargo writes and draws it in a gruesome and hyper-detailed style which is clearly indebted to underground comics. Grade: A-

SUICIDE SQUAD #42 (DC, 1990) – “The Phoenix Gambit,” part 3. This issue is much the same as the last one: it includes a very convoluted plot and a lot of fascinating characterization. Geof Isherwood’s artwork in these issues is only okay, but he does one thing I really like: whenever Vixen uses an animal’s powers, an image of that animal is shown next to her. These issues support my contention that John Ostrander is one of the most underappreciated writers in the history of American comic books. Grade: A-

WONDER WOMAN #252 (DC, 1979) – The best thing about this issue is the crisp and effective art by José Delbo, who I got to meet at Comic-Con this year; he’s quite a gentleman. The story, by Jack C. Harris, is rather pointless. The villain is an orange-skinned alien who rides in a spaceship shaped like a silver snake, hates Wonder Woman, and has the same name as an Earth deity (Astarte). None of this is explained because the issue ends on a cliffhanger. I have no particular interest in reading the next one, except for the sake of completism. Grade: C-

SUICIDE SQUAD #41 (DC, 1990) – In part two of “The Phoenix Gambit,” Amanda Waller and Batman recruit a team of reformed villains to… well, I’m not sure what they’re doing exactly, but it has something to do with a civil war in Vlatava. This story is clearly inspired by contemporaneous political events in the Iron Curtain countries, but I had trouble following exactly what was going on in terms of the politics. What made this issue interesting, however, was the characterization of the various villains and antiheroes who formed the Squad. Poison Ivy, Vixen, Bronze Tiger, Captain Boomerang and Ravan are all distinctive characters with unique personalities, and watching them interact with each other is a lot of fun. Grade: A-

CATWOMAN 12 (DC, 2002) – This Brubaker/Stewart story is fairly low on intensity, being the first part of a multi-part storyline. It involves a reunion between Selina and an old friend who is the leader of an Oliver Twist-esque gang of child criminals. The old friend obviously has some kind of hidden agenda but it’s not clear what it is yet. There’s also a cute subplot in which Slam Bradley asks Holly for advice on romancing Selina. The main attraction of this issue for me is Cameron Stewart’s artwork; his storytelling is incredibly strong, and he uses minimal linework but makes each line count. He almost reminds me of Darwyn Cooke or Bruce Timm or even Alex Toth. Grade: A-

THE WALKING DEAD FCBD 2013 (Image, 2013) – I was motivated to read this because this past week I taught the Walking Dead video game, and next week I’m teaching the comic book and TV show; I’m using TWD as an example of transmedia storytelling. This FCBD edition includes four different sections focusing on four apparently random characters, some of whose names are not given. The four segments are all highly readable and are drawn in a very crisp and attractive style, but none of them is especially notable on its own, and they don’t fit together well. I’m not sure this issue functions well as a jumping-on point for current Walking Dead stories. Grade: B

Reviews for 10-3-13

BLUE BEETLE #4 (DC, 2012) – In this series Tony Bedard (or his editors) took one of DC’s best new concepts of the past decade and stripped it of everything that made it interesting, creating a boring and excessively violent mess. This is the worst comic I’ve read since I started this project. Grade: F

THE SUPER COPS #1 (Archie/Red Circle, 1974) – This one-shot comic is based on the real-life adventures of New York cops Dave Greenberg and Bob Hantz, who were also the subjects of a movie of the same name. Though I don’t understand what was so notable about these two guys, I guess I can see how an interesting comic could have been done about them. Unfortunately, this is not that comic, because all the stories are written by Marv Channing, whose writing is utterly devoid of any sort of excitement. He manages to take exciting material, as well as good artwork by Gray Morrow, Vicente Alcazar (as “V. Hack”) and Frank Thorne, and suck all the life out of it. I see why there was never a second issue of this series. Grade: C-

RASL #2 (Cartoon Books, 2008) – I never really connected with this series, and I think it’s because I don’t think Jeff Smith has the right sensibility to write a serious work of science fiction. Of course Bone eventually turned into a work of epic high fantasy, but even at its grimmest, it always had a basic sense of humor and cuteness which Rasl completely lacks. Without that, this comic is never really able to arouse my interest, though Jeff’s artwork is up to its usual high standards. Grade: C+/B-

LAZARUS #3 (Image 2013) – This is another enjoyable issue which is notable for its depiction of the utter horribleness of the dystopian future in which it takes place. Forever’s siblings Johanna and Jonah are starting to emerge as utterly heartless sociopaths who have not the slightest concern for human life. Of course the scary thing about all this is its plausibility: some recent evidence suggests that privileged people in real life have a similar lack of concern for those less fortunate than them. This series is so disturbing and hits so close to home that it can be depressing to read, but it continues to be an impressive piece of work. Grade: A

SEX CRIMINALS #1 (Image, 2013) – This review is tentatively scheduled to appear at The Comics Alternative.

MORNING GLORIES #31 ( Image, 2013) – With this issue I’m finally caught up on this series. The artwork in this issue has a jarringly different appearance which appears to be due to a new colorist, Jason Lewis. I liked the previous colorist, Paul Little, a lot better; Lewis’s colors make Joe Eisma’s pencils look muddy and dull rather than crisp. The focus in this issue is on Hunter, who would be the most sympathetic character in the series if he wasn’t such a spineless wimp, but this issue advances his character arc by giving him a purpose and a group of friends. (One reason I grew to hate Zoe was because she murdered the only character who was nice to Hunter; thankfully that is no longer the case.) I look forward to continuing with this series now that I’m almost up to date with it. Grade: A-

MORNING GLORIES #30 (Image, 2013) – This issue focuses on Irina, in the same way that issues 7 through 12 each focused on one of the six original characters. Irina’s upbringing is horrible enough to shock even a reader who has read all kinds of stories about horrible parents. And yet the reader ends up wondering whether Kseniya’s abusive parenting may actually have been justified by the dangers she was trying to protect Irina from. I still don’t know why Irina is important in the grand scheme of the series, but this issue effectively fleshes out her character. Grade: A-

STRANGE TALES II #3 (Marvel, 2011) – This comic, in which indie and alternative creators work on Marvel characters, includes a very diverse range of material. Of the various stories in the issue, my favorites were: 1) the James Stokoe Galactus/Silver Surfer story, which is drawn in a hyper-detailed style reminiscent of but also quite different from that of Geof Darrow. I’ve been curious about Stokoe’s work for a while but this story gives me an extra incentive to seek it out. And 2) the Brandon Marra story, which reminds me a lot of certain alternative comics, especially those of Spain, because of the style and the brutality of the satire. There’s also some enjoyable work here by Kate Beaton, Alex Robinson and Terry Moore – the latter story pleasantly surprised me because I tend not to like Moore’s writing. On the other hand, the stories by Tim Hamilton and Eduardo Medeiros were just kind of dumb. The final story, by Harvey Pekar (who died before the issue was released) and Ty Templeton, was very touching but also seemed kind of like a litany of Pekar clichés. Grade: A-

MORNING GLORIES #26, 28 and #29 (Image, 2013) – These two issues include a lot of bizarrely convoluted storytelling that doesn’t completely make sense to me, but #29 ends with a return to the status quo, which hopefully means that the series will now be easier to follow. The main thing that stuck out to me here is that each issue subsequent to #26 ends with a “Notes from Study Hall” section which is credited to Professor Matthew Meylikhov. I was initially unsure if he was a real person (apparently he is), but his assistance makes this series much easier to navigate; thanks to him, this series is only confusing instead of bewildering. Grade: A- for all

SIX-GUN GORILLA #3 (Boom!, 2013) – This review is tentatively scheduled to appear at The Comics Alternative.

SAVAGE DRAGON #191 (Image, 2013) – This was a rather depressing issue. In the first place, Dragon is becoming so bitter and violent that he’s almost losing my sympathy; if he really does die in a couple issues, it’ll be almost a relief. In the second place, Maxine and Malcolm are a cute couple and their breakup is a real shame. I hope this series gets more fun after #193. The backup story in this issue is completely pointless; it’s illustrated in a style of artwork that I thought went out of fashion in the ‘90s. I applaud Erik for using his comic to help promote the careers of younger artists, but some of those artists just aren’t that good. Grade: B+

SAGA #14 (Image, 2013) – The best moment of any comic this week is when Slave Girl says “I am all dirty on the inside because I did bad things with—“ and Lying Cat says LYING. Quite an effective rebuttal to the awful notion that any female who is sexually abused is somehow damaged goods. Besides that, this is another entertaining issue, though it represents something of a lull in the storm, a pause between major events, and we still haven’t gotten back to the point where issue 12 ended. Part of the appeal of this series is that it’s full of hilariously weird throwaway ideas, and this issue contains one of the best yet: The Will and Gwendolyn fishing for flying sharks with a kite-sword. Grade: A/A+

FF #12 (Marvel, 2013) – Another massively entertaining issue. The scenes involving the kids are as hilarious as ever. Mik (or Korr, I can’t distinguish the two) and Artie spend an entire page proving their theory that Impossible Man is a supervillain because of his green-and-purple color scheme. Which leads to an adorable scene where Adolf and Luna, both of whom are feeling neglected by the other kids, strike up a friendship. It is a great shame that the TV show Luna is watching on this page is not actually real. Surprisingly, though, the scenes with the adults in this issue are almost as cute. Matt Fraction has been developing a romance between Scott and Darla in such a subtle way that I didn’t even notice, but in this issue it kind of comes to a head. (One of the Scott/Darla scenes also includes the best line of the issue: “No time for important listening. Plenty of time for pitching woo.” I think the phrase “pitching woo” has been unjustly forgotten.) There is also an ongoing plot here, as easy as it is to forget that, and at the end of this issue it takes a significant twist which makes me curious about the next issue. Grade: A

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #11 (IDW, 2013) – This review is tentatively scheduled to appear at The Comics Alternative.

Quick thoughts on Pannapacker’s article

I typically don’t like William Pannapacker’s writing on the subject of grad school and academic labor, because I find him excessively smug and pessimistic, even if all his points are technically true. However, I think his recent article “On Graduate School and Love” was a well-written and nuanced piece which effectively presents both the positive and negative aspects of academics’ love for learning. I was particularly struck, however, by one point that came up in the comments. A commenter named “Gene” wrote:

“One point to add to the discussion, which I see rarely made, is that some young people pursue a PhD in part because the working world just doesn’t offer anything better. Being worked long hours for little pay while a large, profitable enterprise exploits you is hardly a condition unique to academe. Might as well make some great friends, read some great literature, possibly enter your voice in the conversation of ideas for a while before selling your time, and possibly your mind, for not much in return.

Spending your 20s getting a PhD in a humanities discipline is not the worst way to spend your time, given the alternatives most of us face.”

I find this particularly resonant with my own experience, because I’ve believed for a long time that learning is intrinsically valuable. Even if a Ph.D. does not lead to a job, the knowledge that one acquires from doing a Ph.D. is worthwhile.

My ancestors came from a culture (Ashkenazi Judaism) where the study of Torah was considered to be the highest calling in life. In traditional Orthodox Judaism, studying Torah is considered more valuable than any sort of practical learning, to the point that the community is willing to subsidize people who did nothing but study in yeshiva — this is still true in some Orthodox communities. “Bitul Torah,” or wasting time that could be spent studying Torah, is considered a sin. Indeed, certain Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) communities have high rates of unemployment among men for precisely this reason; see here. It is even considered praiseworthy to study parts of the Torah that have no practical relevance in modern times, such as the laws of Temple sacrifices. The study of such things is considered spiritually enriching, even though it has no practical value.

Of course, from a modern secular perspective there are obvious problems with Judaism’s emphasis on learning. Among ultra-Orthodox Jews, learning is reserved exclusively for men; there is a belief that it is improper for women to study Torah at a deep level (see this). Moreover, the high rate of unemployment among these people creates a burden on the rest of society; Kiryas Joel, a Hasidic enclave in New York, is technically the poorest place in America.

However, I have always thought that the emphasis on learning in Orthodox Jewish culture is admirable, especially compared to the anti-intellectualism that pervades much of mainstream American culture. And despite being a completely secular Jew with no involvement in organized religion, I feel a lot of sympathy for the notion that learning is spiritually valuable. The subjects I study — media theory, comics, games, book history — have no religious significance and are often even considered to be devoid of redeeming artistic value. Still, when I study these things, I feel that I’m enriching myself. And when I teach or circulate my research in public, I feel that I’m passing on that spiritual richness to other people.

I don’t think that this argument is a practical way of justifying the importance of humanities scholarship, or pure mathematics or basic scientific research, because it’s only convincing if you accept the premise that learning can have intrinsic value. Clearly we do need to advocate for the importance of humanities research on a practical level. I’m just saying, going to graduate school in the humanities may be a poor decision from a financial standpoint, but it does have a type of value that is not economic in nature.