Reviews, reviews and additional reviews

11-29-13

Going from top to bottom this time.

ASTRO CITY #6 (DC, 2013) – My principal complaint about this story is that the protagonist is a stereotypical corrupt union official. I think this is a stock character type that we can really do without, given that anti-union sentiment has rarely been greater in this country than it is now. I’m not accusing Kurt of being personally hostile to unions, nor do I think this story will make any significant contribution to anti-union sentiment. But this story still makes me uncomfortable, especially since it’s published by DC, which currently has the worst working conditions of any major comics publisher and really needs to have an employees’ union. Besides all of that, this was a reasonably good issue. With its concept of a device that reveals your secret hopes and desires, it reminded me of that one Swamp Thing issue where people reacted differently to eating Swampy’s tubers. The protagonist is a bit like other Astro City characters who make a fantastic discovery but aren’t able to use it (e.g. issues 2 and 3 of the original miniseries), but he’s an interesting character because he has a level of maturity and patience that many other Astro City protagonists have lacked. Grade: A-

AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE #1 (Archie, 2013) – This comic is interesting largely for novelty value, with its mock-horror take on the Archie characters, but it’s also quite well-written and well-drawn. It almost crosses the line from mock horror to actual horror; the fact that it’s about Archie characters makes it ridiculous and frightening at the same time. I also loved Veronica’s deilberation on whether to be a sexy witch or a sexy gypsy for Halloween; Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa has clearly been following recent Internet discussions of the sexy-insert-costume-here phenomenon. I will definitely be reading the rest of this series. Grade: A

X-MEN: CURSE OF THE MUTANTS SAGA #1 (Marvel, 2010) – This is not a comic book, but a collection of interviews and featurettes which was given away for free to promote the latest X-Men event. There is nothing here of any interest at all. Grade: F

FANTASTIC FOUR #308 (Marvel, 1987) – Englehart’s FF run was one of the low points of his career. He was trying to take the characters in new and unexpected directions, but most of the original concepts he came up with were just weird and stupid rather than truly novel. For example, the new villain in this issue, Fasaud, is a Middle Eastern terrorist prince who’s been turned into a living TV signal. This issue does have some okay character interactions, which are usually Englehart’s strong point. However, another thing that impaired the success of Englehart’s FF was his decision to replace Reed and Sue with Sharon and Crystal, two far less interesting characters. Grade: D+/C-

BATMAN, INC. #4 (DC, 2011) – I just had no idea what the hell was going on here. I feel like I would have to read all four issues of this series in succession in order to understand the story, and even then I probably wouldn’t. There is interesting stuff here, including some cute flashbacks (?) involving the Silver Age Batwoman, and Chris Burnham’s artwork is interesting, reminiscent of Chris Weston or Frank Quitely. But I would have enjoyed this comic more if the story had made any sense at all. Grade: C+/B-

SUPERBOY #50 (DC, 1984) – I bought this several years ago because it has a Legion guest appearance, but it took me this long to read it because I didn’t expect it to be very good. I was right. The artwork is okay, but Paul Kupperberg is just not a good writer and it was a chore to finish this issue. A particularly annoying feature of the story is that the Legionnaires keep losing fights against vastly inferior opposition, despite having Element Lad, Wildfire and Brainiac 5 on their side. Grade: D

FLASH #48 (DC, 1991) – The previous issue of this series was one of the first comic books I ever owned, and I still have fond memories of Bill Loebs’s Gorilla Grodd story. However, looking at Bill Loebs’s from a more knowledgeable perspective, I realize that it doesn’t particularly seem like a Flash comic, and the previous run by Mike Baron had the same problem. Wally never came into his own as the Flash until Mark Waid took over, and Bill Loebs is not well suited to writing superhero comics; he’s much better at lower-intensity stories like Journey or The Maxx. For example, in this issue Wally comes across as an inept bumbling goof rather than a superhero. Also, the premise of the story is that Wally’s mother has been kidnapped, but Loebs consistently portrayed her as an unsympathetic shrew, so why should the reader care if Wally finds her or not. Grade: C+/B-

BLACKEST NIGHT #0 (DC, 2009) – Another free preview comic, although at least this one has an actual comics story in it. Unfortunately that story is by Geoff Johns, so it’s a bunch of Silver Age continuity porn. Grade: D

GROO THE WANDERER #19 (Marvel, 1986) – In this issue, Groo acts stupid, fails spectacularly at everything he tries to achieve, and causes a series of horrible disasters, despite having good intentions. The issue is brilliantly drawn by Sergio Aragonés and is enlivened by Mark Evanier’s witty dialogue. Also, the issue begins with a poem and ends with a moral, and includes a cleverly hidden message. Oh wait, I just described every issue of Groo ever. Not much to say about this issue specifically, but it does have some funny flashbacks to Groo and Grooella’s childhood. Grade: A-

AW YEAH COMICS! 3 (Aw Yeah! Comics, 2013) – This issue was pretty absurdist and nonsensical even by Baltazar-Franco standards. The first story made no logical sense at all. I preferred the Awesome Bear story and the one with the supervillain cat disguised as a dog. The level of talent on this series is kind of variable and I really have no idea who any of the creators are, besides Baltazar and Franco themselves. Still, this was an enjoyable package. I wonder when issue 4 is coming out, or did I miss it already? Grade: B+

GREEN LANTERN #10 (DC, 2006) – I really do like some things about Geoff Johns’s writing – he has some legitimately cool ideas, like the multiple Lantern Corps and Bzzd the insect Green Lantern. Sadly, the good aspects of Johns’s writing were not visible in this issue, which was confusingly plotted and portrayed Hal in a negative light; at one point, he forgets the name of the woman he’s just hooked up with. The one thing I liked about this issue is the scene where Arkillo of Vorn gets recruited into the Sinestro Corps, because he’s a giant hulking monster. Grade: C

EXCALIBUR #91 (Marvel, 1995) – Let’s get one thing out of the way first: the first half of this issue is perhaps the worst-drawn comic I’ve read this year. Marvel must have been desperate for talent if they were willing to give David Williams any work. Besides that, this issue, in which the members of Excalibur go out to a bar, is a genuine classic. It reminds me of X-Factor #87 in terms of the deep insight it offers into each of the individual team members. We find out that Brian is a recovering alcoholic, Kurt is terrified about how other people will react to his appearance, Moira’s accent gets thicker when she’s drunk, etc. A particularly cute scene is Kitty buying Rahne a non-alcoholic cocktail. Warren Ellis clearly has a deep understanding of both British pub culture and the individual characters he’s working with. The result was one of the most fun comics I’ve read lately. Grade: A

DAREDEVIL #25 (Marvel, 1967) – This story, which introduces Mike Murdock, is ridiculous even by Silver Age Marvel standards; it resembles a Silver Age Superman comic in its implausibility. In the first place, Matt comes up with the flimsiest excuse ever to protect his secret identity – Daredevil isn’t him, it’s his previously unmentioned twin brother Mike. But what’s worse is that Karen and Foggy are gullible enough to believe this! The scene where Karen and Foggy meet Matt posing as Mike, and fail to realize that it’s just Matt wearing glasses, is one of the more absurd things I’ve seen in a Silevr Age Marvel comic. At lesat this issue does have some well-drawn fight scenes. Grade: B- mostly for unintentional humor.

GREEN LANTERN #86 (DC, 1971) – This is obviously a classic comic with major historical importance, but the surprising part is that it still holds up well today, unlike some of Denny and Neal’s GL/GA stories. Neal’s dynamic action sequences and innovative page layouts have still rarely been equaled. The one thing I hate about this story, though, is the last panel, where Ollie feels proud of Roy’s newfound maturity. Throughout this and the previous issue, it’s become clear that Ollie is a neglectful parent and has failed to show Roy any genuine understanding, and it seems like anything Roy has achieved in this story is despite Ollie’s parenting, not because of it. Still, this is one of the essential comic books of the ‘70s. Grade: A+

ARCHIE #282 (Archie, 1979) – All the stories in this issue were funny and well-executed, even if none of them was particularly memorable. After reading the issue I discovered to my surprise that the art was by Dan DeCarlo, not Harry Lucey. The letter column includes some wildly inaccurate predictions of what school would be like in the year 2001. Grade: B

SHAOLIN COWBOY #1 (Dark Horse, 2013) – I find Geof Darrow’s work extremely difficult to read because of its famously hyper-obsessive level of detail. I feel obligated to look at every line in every panel before going on to the next one, and then I feel guilty that I can’t do so. His work has obvious affinities to Hergé and to Clear Line revivalists like Daniel Torres and Yves Chaland, but unlike them, his work seems to demand sustained, intense concentration, which maybe makes it more appropriate for covers or gallery art than for comics. The artwork tends to overwhelm the story. For example, this issue does have some kind of a story which appears to be intended as an absurdist satire of American culture, but I didn’t really care about it. Grade: A-

SCRATCH9 FCBD #1 (Hermes Press, 2013) – I got this at Comic-Con, but went back and read it after reading on comicbookresources.com that it was an Eisner nominee – it says so on the cover, but somehow I missed that. This is an utterly adorable story about a cat who gains the power to summon his eight previous lives. It’s actually too cute sometimes, but I found myself enjoying it anyway. The irresistible purr attack on the first page is a highlight. I want to read more of this series, but I don’t recall ever seeing any of the other issues. Grade: A

X-FACTOR #27 (Marvel, 1988) – I really only like Weezie’s writing on Power Pack. Her characters always seem extremely awkward and childish, which is fine when they’re prepubescent children, but not when they’re teenagers or adults. I don’t much like any of her X-Factor characters, and I find Boom Boom especially annoying. There’s one sequence in this issue where the kids sneak into a hospital to drop off some Christmas presents, which reads like something out of the kind of children’s book that I disliked when I was a child. I have trouble caring about any of the adult X-Factor members either, especially not Jean, who has consistently been written as a lifeless, boring character ever since her resurrection. My other problem with this series is that Walt’s artwork never seemed like the best he was capable of. Grade: C

VALOR #19 (DC, 1994) – This late issue of a forgettable Legion spinoff was pretty bad, significantly below the usual level of the creators involved, Mark Waid and Colleen Doran. (Though actually I don’t like Doran’s artwork very much to begin with, because her characters are excessively cute.) The story is mostly focused on continuity, and is therefore extremely confusing. The practical purpose of the story is to get Valor to the point where he can replace Superboy as the inspiration for the Legion, so this story is an attempt to paper over the gaping holes in continuity which resulted from Byrne’s decision to get rid of Superboy. Of course DC never entirely succeeded in doing this, and that’s why we now have the New 52. This issue also includes a Legion guest appearance, though the Legionnaires don’t get to do much. The one thing about this issue I did like is a one-page sequence where Luornu Durgo, about to vanish due to time paradoxes, pleads with Valor to do… something, I’m not sure what. The reader is supposed to connect the dots here and realize that if Superboy never existed, then it must have been Valor who was the target of Luornu’s unrequited love. It’s a surprisingly poignant moment in an otherwise lousy issue. Grade: C+/B-

AGENTS OF ATLAS #11 (Marvel, 2009) – This one was shockingly fun. I didn’t understand what was going on in the story, but Jeff Parker’s writing is straightforward enough that I was able to more or less follow it anyway; Grant Morrison could take lessons from him. What makes this story great, though, is Parker’s wittiness; he keeps surprising the reader in delightful ways. For example, the robot M-11 is given a personality routine based on Muhammad Ali, and spends much of the issue saying things like “You’re junk, punk! Go to the dump, chump!”, in a computer-style font. Two giant Chinese dragons get in a fight, but the “fight” consists of one dragon using logic to convince the other to surrender. I wonder what’s happened to Jeff Parker because Marvel (and especially DC) could use a writer with his sense of humor. Grade: A

HAWKWORLD #17 (DC, 1991) – This issue begins with an extended action sequence in which Katar and Shayera defeat and kill a bunch of Palestinian terrorists who have hijacked a train. The action sequence was drawn very effectively by Graham Nolan, but its political implications made me rather uncomfortable; it seemed like Ostrander was just invoking the standard stereotype of Middle Eastern terrorists as villains. Luckily, Ostrander did exactly what I was hoping he would do and showed the other side to the story. Later in the issue, Katar visits the one surviving hijacker, who claims that his goal was to make the people of Chicago experience the same conditions of terror that Palestinians experience daily. And Katar clearly seems troubled by this. Then the issue ends with a scene in which a human experiences the racial memories of an intelligent alien culture that was wiped out by the Thanagarians, which reminds us that Katar is also complicit in imperialism and genocide. I still think the politics of this comic are not beyond reproach, but one of the strongest features of Ostrander’s writing is that he doesn’t shy away from difficult questions. Grade: A-

WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #158 (DC, 1966) – Unlike so many other Silver Age Superman comics, this comic takes itself seriously; it is not a goofy tale of secret-identity hijinks, but a genuine superhero story. In “The Invulnerable Super-Enemy”, Superman and Batman battle the evil inhabitants of a bunch of miniature bottle cities, and eventually discover that the cities were miniaturized by a reverse version of Brainiac who shrinks cities full of evil people. Okay, that sounds pretty stupid, but somehow it actually works. There’s also a Roy Raymond backup story with a cute twist ending. Grade: A-/B+

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #154 (Marvel, 1976) – After playing Infamous, I felt the desire to read a good Spider-Man comic. This issue only sort of satisfied my desire, because it’s mostly a long fight scene between Spidey and Sandman. There is little if any characterization, other than one powerful scene where Spidey, still pissed about the ending of last issue (see below), nearly beats a criminal to death. The Spidey-Sandman fight scene is reasonably well-written, though the ending, in which Sandman gets cryogenically frozen, is predictable several pages in advance. However, I expect a ‘70s Spider-Man story to include more characterization and soap opera than this one had. Grade: B+

MARVEL TEAM-UP #19 (Marvel, 1973) – I had trouble finishing this one because I was falling asleep. Besides the brilliant Gil Kane artwork, this is a fairly generic Spidey/Ka-Zar team-up. Its most notable feature is that it introduces Stegron the Dinosaur Man, an awesome and sadly underutilized villain. The highlight of the issue is an awesome two-page splash depicting a dinosaur stampede, although the dinosaurs are drawn with a certain lack of realism. Grade: B

GREEN LANTERN: THE ANIMATED SERIES #5 (DC, 2012) – This Baltazar-Franco story was quite readable, and I would much rather read this series than DC’s official Green Lantern comic. However, the story is just one long action sequence and it ends in a rather puzzling way, as Aya, a character about whom nothing is explained, appears to get killed but inexplicably comes back to life. For that matter, Baltazar and Franco also neglect to explain who Aya is, which is an odd violation of the principle that every comic is someone’s first comic. Grade: B-

ACTION COMICS #313 (DC, 1964) – The first story in this issue has the sort of bizarre, illogical, convoluted plot that I’ve come to expect from Silver Age DC. Probably the story was written to match the cover, which shows Supergirl and Perry catching Clark in the act of changing to Superman, but it turns out that Supergirl and Perry, along with Superman’s other friends, have been replaced with androids created by the Superman Revenge Squad. The Supergirl backup story is almost as confusing, but at least it’s cute. It’s impressive how Jim Mooney gives Supergirl and Lena Thorul distinctive facial types, making it possible to tell them apart even when they’re wearing each other’s clothes. Grade: B-

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #13 (IDW, 2013) – This was the best issue of this series that wasn’t by the Cook/Price team. Brenda Hickey is almost as good with facial expressions and background Easter eggs as Andy Price, and Heather Nuhfer’s story is exciting and funny. The highlight of this story is Fluttershy, with her obsessively protective attitude toward Gil the fish. I don’t understand why two of the pirates look exactly like Granny Smith and Big Macintosh. Grade: A-

SIMPSONS COMICS #2 (Bongo, 1994) – These comics are better than current episodes of the TV show, although that’s damning with faint praise. Both stories in this issue are hilarious, and I found myself hearing the voices of the actors as I read; obviously, the writers do a perfect job of imitating the characters’ speech patterns. Eventually I want to have a complete collection of this series. Grade: A-

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #153 (Marvel, 1976) – “The Deadliest Hundred Yards” might be Len Wein’s best Spider-Man story. It begins with some wonderfully soap-operatic scenes involving Peter and MJ, but then shifts from humor to tragedy, as Bradley Bolton, a former ESU football star, sacrifices his life to save his daughter from a kidnapper. The one weak link with this story is the flashback to Bradley Bolton’s college days: in his last game, he ran 99 yards but got stopped short of the goal line, and somehow this sucked all the energy out of his team and they immediately lost. You get the feeling Len Wein may not have known much about football. Grade: A+

11-20-13

For proper continuity, read from bottom to top. I do it this way so that the reviews within each post will be in the same order as the posts themselves. That’s not much of an excuse and I think I’m going to do the reviews from top to bottom next time.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #17 (Marvel, 2013) – This, on the other hand, was the best of the comics I read yesterday. In this issue, Carol finally returns to earth and interacts with her normal cast of characters, especially Kit, who is just the cutest kid ever. I squeed so much when I was reading this issue. Some of the stuff here is kind of corny and overwritten, especially the “I’m Spartacus” moment at the end, but I don’t mind when everything else is so cute, optimistic, and non-grim-and-gritty. Grade: A

CAPTAIN MARVEL #16 (Marvel, 2013) – This was the third bad issue in a row. This story makes no sense without having read the Infinity crossover, which I obviously haven’t. Nor does it provide much insight into Carol’s character. The three crossover issues in a row have killed the momentum that Kelly Sue was building on this seies. Grade: D

MY LITTLE PONY MICRO-SERIES #9 (IDW, 2013) – This story had a lot of potential but it was not fulfilled. The awesome thing about this story is that it’s a parody of Sea Monkeys. This reference will be lost on the younger audience of this series, but is not necessary to understand the story. That story is rather cute, involving Spike’s accidental creation of a new intelligent species, but the moral of the story is delivered in an overly heavy-handed way. Grade: C

SAVAGE DRAGON #192 (Image, 2013) – With this issue Erik genuinely seems to be trying to write Dragon out of the series. There are two great works of literature in which the original hero is replaced as the protagonist by his son – The Tale of Genji and Dragon Ball – and it seems like Savage Dragon will be the third such work. There’s a funny scene where Adrian’s girlfriend turns herself into a villain to get revenge on Malcolm for Adrian’s death, and Angel tells Brendan that Adrian died because he was stupid, which is completely true. Besides that I don’t have much to say about this issue. Grade: B+

SEX CRIMINALS #3 (Image, 2013) – This issue is less serious than the previous two. That claim sounds like nonsense considering that this series is about people who can stop time by having orgasms, but I think it’s true. It’s mostly about Suzie and Jon’s sexual escapades. There’s one panel where Jon and Suzie are having a sack race in Cumworld, using objects that I’m unable to identify for sacks, which I find weirdly disturbing for some reason. Oh, also this issue contains a musical number, but Fraction and Zdarsky couldn’t get the rights to the lyrics and so they’re replaced by authorial commentary. I still love this series and I’m looking forward to future issues, but this was my least favorite of the three so far. Grade: A-

DESTROY!! #1 (Eclipse, 1987) – I bought this years ago but never read it because I lost the 3D glasses that came with it. I had to use the extra 3D glasses from my copy of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier, and I had trouble getting the 3D to work right. I don’t know if this was because of the glasses or because the issue was printed poorly. Besides that, this one-shot is a minor early McCloud work. The paper-thin plot, in which two superheroes fight over a girl, is obviously just an excuse for Scott to draw giant scenes of buildings being destroyed. The manga-inspired storytelling technique is the most interesting thing here. As a story, Destroy!! is clearly not up to the level of even the earliest issues of Zot! Grade: B-

MORNING GLORIES #23 (Image, 2012) – Another issue I didn’t really understand. Lots of bizarre stuff going on here with Jun/Hisao, Akiko, Fortunato, etc. David makes an appearance at the end of the issue but it’s not clear why he’s there. I really need to reread my Morning Glories issues in the proper order, and even then the series probably still won’t make sense. Grade: not graded

FATIMA: THE BLOOD SPINNERS #1 (Dark Horse, 2012) – I haven’t been keeping up with Gilbert Hernandez’s recent work, largely because he produces so much of it. At the Los Bros event last weekend, Gilbert himself made some mildly self-deprecating comments about his productivity; if I recall correctly, he said that there’s less Jaime work out there than Gilbert work, and that this is unfortuate because Jaime is one of the great artists in comics. This specific issue is the first chapter of a rather grim and depressing story; it takes place in a future world where people take a drug that turns them into zombies, and the protagonist’s job is to kill them. Gilbert creates a truly bleak mood here, but I feel that this issue was too low on narrative content. Grade: B+

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #184 (DC, 1982) – I expected to dislike this story because it’s written by Mike W. Barr, whose work I typically find humorless and overwritten. However, it turned out to be surprisingly good. The guest star in this issue is Huntress, and it is just adorable how she interacts with Bruce, whom she sees as an uncle rather than a surrogate for her own father. The story is well-plotted but depends on Bruce being kind of stupid. Bruce finds evidence that Thomas Wayne was bankrolling a mob boss and immediately quits being Batman, thus showing himself to be both gullible and lacking faith in his father. However, this story is redeemed by the cute Bruce/Helena interactions and Jim Aparo’s artwork. This issue is a quasi-sequel to Alan Brennert’s classic “Interlude on Earth-Two,” and is clearly not on the same tier as that story, but it’s still fun. There is one truly clever panel where Bruce and Helena walk in front of an advertisement that says DON’T FORGET MOM AND DAD THIS CHRISTMAS. Grade: B+/A-

WONDER WOMAN #180 (DC, 1969) – To me, the “no costume” era of Wonder Woman was more interesting for its weirdness and novelty than for actual narrative or artistic quality. I Ching is the biggest stereotype ever, Denny O’Neil’s characterization of Diana is kind of inconsistent, and Mike Sekowsky’s artwork is serviceable but boring. I read this story just the other day and I can’t remember much about it. I don’t think Wonder Woman was ever a genuinely good comic until the early ‘80s, and then it was only the Huntress backups that were good and not the actual Wonder Woman stories. Grade: C-

PALOOKA-VILLE #14 (Drawn & Quarterly, 2000) – This installment of “Clyde Fans” is heartbreaking. Simon Matchcard spends the entire issue trying to sell fans and encountering nothing but rejection and disdain, and flashback scenes make it clear that his job depends on the sales he’s not making. It’s almost as depressing as being on the academic job market (ha ha, just kidding, I hope). The other striking feature of this issue is Seth’s loving depiction of an Ontario town in 1957. Despite (or because of?) the cartoonish visual style, I almost feel like I’m exploring Dominion, Ontario with Simon. The story creates a deep sense of nostalgia which is also reflected in the letters page, where Seth complains about his reluctance to enter the 21st century and wonders how much longer he’ll be able to buy typewriter ribbons or mailing tubes. “Let’s face it, a guy like me doesn’t belong in that future. I’m a cartoonist, I’m interested in little paper pamphlets… that’s not exactly the cutting edge of technology.” Actually I think this essay might be worth discussing somewhere in my book, and I wonder how Seth’s views on this issue might have evolved over the past 13 years. Grade: A+

MADMAN COMICS #17 (a.k.a. MADMAN COMICS: THE G-MEN FROM HELL #1) (Dark Horse, 2000) – That’s exactly what it says in the indicia. I’ve never quite understood the plot of Madman but I don’t think I’m supposed to. Clearly, the series is a parody of the sort of nonsensical but relentlessly energetic storytelling of the Silver Age, and Allred’s artwork is a modern take on classic superhero artists like Kirby and Curt Swan. There’s one page here, depicting a cutaway view of the Atomics’ headquarters, which is heavily inspired by Kirby’s similar depictions of the Baxter Building. A couple odd things about this issue: first, it’s printed on newsprint rather than glossy paper, which seems odd for 2000, and second, Joe spends much of the issue pantsless for no apparent reason. Grade: B+

ARCHIE #232 (Archie, 1974) – I don’t know much about Harry Lucey’s work, but both Gilbert Hernandez and Bart Beaty are huge fans of his, so I was excited to read this issue. Harry Lucey’s artwork, much like Beto’s, is kind of minimalist, lacking the more detailed and realistic rendering of Bob Bolling, but he is clearly a master cartoonist; he tells each story perfectly with great economy of linework. Easily the best story in the issue is the first one, in which Reggie tries to deny the existence of the Christmas spirit, but finds himself grudgingly buying a teddy bear for a poor little boy. There’s one almost silent panel, showing the boy looking tearfully at the teddy bear in the store window, that’s just heartwrenching. The other stories in the issue are immediately forgettable. Grade: A-

DETECTIVE COMICS #823 (DC, 2006) – An exciting story by Paul Dini is nearly ruined due to lurid, exploitative Liefeld-esque artwork by Joe Benitez. Like the previous Paul Dini Batman story I reviewed, this one is a self-contained story focusing on one particular villain, in this case Poison Ivy. I think the 22-page done-in-one story is one of the best ways of utilizing the comic book format – I certainly like self-contained stories better than continued stories which are written for the trade and don’t offer a complete chunk of narrative in each issue. I’m interested in reading more of this run so I can see what else Dini did with the single-issue format. Unfortunately, because this story is about Poison Ivy, Joe Benitez takes advantage of every possible opportunity to draw her in revealing and anatomically unlikely poses. Grade: B+

FLASH GORDON #4 (King, 1967) – A masterpiece by one of the great storytellers in the history of American comics, Al Williamson. The backgrounds are gorgeous and the action sequences are thrilling – I’m finding that I don’t have the critical vocabulary to convey just how beautiful this art is. Archie Goodwin’s stories, though, are mostly just excuses for the artwork. The third story in the issue is about two ancient robots who’ve forgotten they’re robots, which I suspect was a cliché even in 1967. Grade: A+ but only because of the art

DONALD DUCK #256 (Gladstone, 1987) – “Volcano Valley” is a very early Barks story but already shows his trademark brilliant storytelling and beautiful draftsmanship. The plot is not nearly as tight as in some of his later works; the story is basically a series of loosely related episodes. The big problem with this story is that it’s blatantly racist. The Volcanovians, who look like South Americans and have stereotypical Latino accents, are depicted as lazy good-for-nothings who would rather sleep than work. This is not the only Barks story that contains racist imagery (“Voodoo Hoodoo” comes immediately to mind) but it’s particularly blatant here. An odd historical footnote is that the Volcanovian currency is the pezozie (1,000 of which are worth one cent); this seems to be a direct reference to the currency used in the kingdom of Nazilia in E.C. Segar’s Popeye. Grade: B/B+ on the merits, F for racism

GREEN LANTERN #47 (DC, 1966) – I generally like the Silver Age Green Lantern but I don’t love it. John Broome wrote exciting stories and created an immersive sense of continuity without making a big deal out of it. However, characterization was not one of his strengths (especially not when it came to women, as my friend Mordecai Luchins has repeatedly pointed out). This issue is an exciting and fairly well-plotted story involving both Dr. Polaris and Pol Manning. One thing that’s pretty cool about this story is how Broome talks to the reader: “But wait! we can hear you cry out, reader! How was it that….” etc. Still, the lack of interesting character moments means that I have trouble remembering the story. An odd thing about the issue ist that Katma Tui appears but is never identified by name; instead, Broome calls her by epithets like “Girl Gladiator”. Gil Kane’s artwork in this issue is impeccable as usual. Grade: B

AQUAMAN #34 (DC, 1967) – Nick Cardy was a wonderful old man who was very nice to me each time I spoke to him at a convention, and it goes without saying that he was also a phenomenal artist. I read this after I heard he had passed away. Like most Haney/Cardy stories, this one is kind of corny but passionately written and gorgeously drawn. The plot involves a villain, Dudley, who tries to steal Mera from Aquaman. Haney and Cardy generate a lot of dramatic tension and the artwork is beautiful, especially because it gives Cardy lots of chances to draw Mera. However, the weak link is Mera’s characterization. It could be argued that she intentionally or negligently leads Dudley on. When he turns into a giant insane Aquaman clone and kidnaps her (and this is not even the weirdest thing that happens in this story), she does little if anything to try to escape. Mera was one of the most confident and physically powerful characters in ‘60s DC comics, and I prefer stories where she gets to kick some ass. Other than that, this is a prime example of Nick Cardy’s greatness. Grade: A-

SUPERBOY #126 (DC, 1966) – The first story in this issue is just so incredibly bizarre I don’t even know where to start. Ma and Pa Kent start aging in reverse and then Clark starts punishing them for trivial offenses. And then it gets even weirder: it turns out they’ve been replaced by an alien Romeo and Juliet who are trying to get to the “Asteroid of Hearts,” etc., etc. It may not be entirely clear from this summary, but this is a bizarre and incoherent story even by ‘60s DC standards. The backup story is about Krypto’s heroic ancestors, so at least it’s cute. Grade: C

GREEN LANTERN #185 (DC, 1985) – I like Wein and Gibbons’s Green Lantern, although it was overshadowed by the classic Englehart/Staton run that followed it. This issue features beautiful art but only an average story. It’s kind of hard for me to care about John’s romance with Tawny or Hal’s adventures out of costume, when I know that there are much more interesting things coming only a few issues later. The backup story is a very early work by Kurt Busiek, about an elderly Green Lantern who becomes the ruler of his planet and then abdicates, causing his planet to descend into anarchy. It’s hard to feel much sympathy for him when he clearly did a terrible job of creating political structures that could outlive him. Grade: B+ mostly because of the Gibbons artwork.

BATMAN ADVENTURES #26 (DC, 1994) – A masterpiece by the great team of Kelley Puckett and Mike Parobeck. This issue does not feature Batman at all but is instead a team-up between Robin and Batgirl, whose witty banter is just hilarious. It’s also an extremely well-plotted story, in which Dick and Babs’s criminology professor becomes a criminal himself and they have to catch him. I think this series was the best Batman title of the ‘90s. Grade: A+

ADVENTURE COMICS #372 (DC, 1968) – This isn’t one of Shooter’s best Legion stories from this run (I think the last great one was the Mordru two-parter), but it’s interesting. Shooter creates some serious drama here, as the Legion of Super-Villains kidnap Colossal Boy’s parents in order to force him to work with them. The way that the Legionnaires get out of this dilemma is rather impressive. Other highlights here include Duo Damsel beating up Nemesis Kid, and Ron-Karr trying to hide by posing as a painting. Although this was not one of Shooter’s greatest stories, his run on the Legion was one of the best DC comics of its time, because of his youthful energy and because he applied Marvel-esque characterization to a DC title. Grade: A-

INVINCIBLE #26 (Image, 2005) – A very important issue in which Mark and Nolan are reunited and baby Oliver makes his first appearance. The scene in which Mark and Nolan meet, culminating in a splash page in which Mark tearfully hugs Nolan, is very well done. However, the bizarre bug aliens who live for only nine months are kind of disturbing. Grade: A+

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