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

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