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-

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