The final reviews of 2013

12-29-13

YOUNG JUSTICE #41 (DC, 2002) – A+. I’d forgotten just how good this series was, and how different it is from anything DC is publishing today. There are a lot of PAD’s trademark bad puns here – one of the main plots in the issue involves Secret investigating a car that’s been possessed by a demon for the second time, meaning it’s been repossessed. And Kid Lobo is really just there for comic relief. Even if YJ were just a superhero humor comic, it would be head and shoulders above any of DC’s current output (besides maybe Li’l Gotham and Batman ’66, which I’m not reading because of my DC boycott). But YJ was more than that. It was about teenagers who acted like teenagers and who had realistic problems and relationships and who genuinely liked each other, despite frequently severe disagreements. At Dragon*Con last year, I asked PAD about his inspiration for one of my favorite scenes in the series – the scene in issue 7, I think, when Cissie tells off all the members of the Justice League at once, and then runs into another room and hyperventilates into a paper bag. And he told me it was based on something that actually happened to one of his daughters and a friend of hers. This issue doesn’t have anything that’s quite at that level, but it does include some scenes involving Secret and Snapper Carr, focusing on Secret’s need for a mentor, that are genuinely touching. You could tell that PAD was writing this series based on actual experience with young teenagers and that he wasn’t just making it up. That, I think, is why this series genuinely matters.

JONNY QUEST #6 (First, 1986) – A. This series was a genuine masterpiece. I’m not sure I would rank it alongside Nexus and Love & Rockets, as my friend Kurt Mitchell does, but it maintained an extremely high level of quality and it was clearly a labor of love for everyone involved. The creators must all have had a deep love for Doug Wildey’s original series, and they did their best to capture its spirit. I will have more to say about this when I get to issue 11 below. What keeps this issue from an A+ is the farfetched nature of the plot, in which the Quest family races against Dr. Zin to find an archive of knowledge hidden by ancient aliens at the North Pole. And the end of the story is inconclusive: a character named Mr. Quiggly acquires godlike powers, and Benton Quest says that he trusts him to use them responsibly, but I’m not sure why I should believe him. There is a lot of good stuff here, though, especially the Pat Ryan/Dragon Lady-esque dynamics between Race Benton and Jezebel Jade. The artwork is by a very young Adam Kubert, who was working in a style kind of similar to his father’s; I think I like his artwork here better than his mature style. The letter column includes a rather offensive and chauvinistic letter from the notorious David Malcolm Porta, which gets a deservedly angry response from Diana Schutz.

ATOMIC ROBO: DEADLY ART OF SCIENCE #2 (Red 5, 2010) – A. I reviewed the previous issue of this miniseries back in July and said “Absolutely hilarious stuff. Atomic Robo encounters a masked superhero and proceeds to act like Syndrome from the Incredibles, only more cute because he’s a robot.” I don’t have anything to add to that.

GREEN LANTERN #151 (DC, 1982) – D. In the letter column of this issue, Terry Wayne Ayers writes: “The writing and art in GREEN LANTERN has [sic] deteriorated to the point that I feel obligated not to buy this magazine.” I agree.

MOUSE GUARD: LABYRINTH AND OTHER STORIES (Archaia, 2012) – B-. This miniature hardcover book was released for FCBD last year. All the material in here is at least of some interest, but none of it seriously grabbed me. The Mouse Guard story was my second favorite, but I have had trouble getting interested in that series because it seemed kind of lacking in narrative depth. The Return of the Dapper Men story was completely incomprehensible without prior knowledge of the series, which is a serious misstep in an FCBD book. The Jeremy A. Bastian story had some fascinating page layouts and lettering, but was too nonsensical. My favorite, surprisingly, was the Cow Boy story by Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos, which presents a ridiculous premise in a completely deadpan way.

OZMA OF OZ #7 (Marvel, 2011) – A-. Coincidentally this was edited by Nate Cosby. These Oz comics are highly literal adaptations of the original novels – all of the captions and dialogue appear to be verbatim quotations from L. Frank Baum’s texts. This means that Eric Shanower’s contribution in the series is kind of invisible, showing up in the ways that the story is structured and the pages are broken down, rather than in the prose style. What contributes more obviously to the appeal of this series is Skottie Young’s graphic genius. He has a real gift for making utterly absurd things and people appear believable while retaining their absurdity. Maybe this works because he draws everything in a consistently bizarre, absurd style; when everything looks weird, weirdness becomes oddly normal.

GREEN LANTERN #55 (DC, 1967) – B. This issue has an awesome cover – a circle of Green Lanterns preparing to “power-ring” Hal to death – but of course no such thing happens in the story. This issue is primarily notable as the first appearance of Charlie Vicker, a ne’er-do-well actor who Hal drafts into the GLC. The plot is kind of cool and dumb at the same time – it involves a battle between the GLC and some alien criminals who are led by an obvious stand-in for Al Capone. Which sort of makes sense because he became the leader of the gang thanks to his organizational abilities. But given John Broome’s usual lack of characterization, the plot is not enough to carry this comic all on its own.

JUSTICE LEAGUE EUROPE #8 (DC, 1989) – B/B-. This issue is devoted almost entirely to plot, and that plot is not very interesting; it’s another battle between Dr. Fate and the Gray Man, so it’s basically a retread of Justice League #5 and #6. The effectiveness of the story is further diminished by Bart Sears’s overly histrionic artwork. The dialogue is as snappy as usual, though; unfortunately this was J.M. DeMatteis’s last issue as scripter.

BATMAN #685 (DC, 2009) – A-. I liked this one. This issue is a spotlight on Catwoman and Hush, and Batman and Robin only make a cameo appearance at the end. I don’t think Hush is a particularly deep or interesting character, but Paul Dini’s characterization of Catwoman is highly effective. The story focuses on her love of wildlife and her environmental awareness, depicting her attempts to rescue kidnapped animals from Vietnamese poachers. Dustin Nguyen draws animals pretty well, although I still can’t tell whether the cat that Selina is petting at the beginning of the issue is supposed to be the same as the leopard that saves her life at the end of the issue.

DETECTIVE COMICS #564 (DC, 1986) – C-. I have problems with Doug Moench’s writing; I love his work on Master of Kung Fu, but I don’t think his style of writing worked especially well on anything else. Here, especially, his work suffers from an awkward prose style, which makes it difficult to understand an already overly complicated plot involving Two-Face and a new villain. Also, Moench writes Jason Todd as an annoying bratty kid. Reading this comic helps me understand why the readers voted to kill Jason. Finally, Bob Smith is a very poor inker for Gene Colan. The best thing about this comic is the Jerome K. Moore artwork on the backup story.

SUPERMAN #662 (DC, 2007) – A-. This is not as fun as the previous Busiek Superman comic I reviewed. Too much of the issue is devoted to advancing the ongoing Khyber/Arion storyline, which I always found to be less exciting than the more quiet, human moments in the series. Even so, Kurt understands Superman and his supporting cast very well, and he makes us share Superman’s concern that his existence is negatively affecting the human race.

THE FLASH #254 (DC, 1977) – B+. This one is really weird. At the beginning of the issue, Barry experiences all sorts of bizarre phenomena, including a “Rogues’ Gallery Convention” where his enemies present him with an award. Then it turns out that most of the events in the issue were hallucinations created by Mazdan, the villain from Showcase #4… except that the Rogues’ Gallery Convention was actually real. This situation isn’t resolved by the end of the issue, but it makes an effective cliffhanger. This is not a great Flash story, but it’s an example of the sort of exciting and bizarre plot that Cary Bates was quite good at.

WALT DISNEY’S DONALD DUCK FAMILY COMICS #nn (Fantagraphics, 2012) – A+. Three fantastic short stories by Barks. I’d already read “The Round Money Bin” elsewhere, but “Donald Duck’s Worst Nightmare” was a great discovery. This story is laugh-out-loud funny – it includes the immortal line “I’m trapped! I either have to give that talk on crocheting or throw myself to the sharks!” But there’s also a serious angle here, as it presents Donald as seriously nervous and hopelessly afraid of losing his masculinity. I wonder what Dorfman and Mattellart would have said about this one. The last story, “Somethin’ Fishy Here,” requires us to accept an absurd premise – Donald and the nephews trick Scrooge into believing that fish have become the new currency – but it effectively demonstrates how Scrooge became the world’s richest duck. Thinking himself completely broke, Scrooge declares “There’s no use crying over bad luck! I’ll get a job and start life all over again!” And three pages later, he has a pile of fish larger than Donald’s house. The issue ends with a bunch of one-pagers, most of which are hilarious. This issue demonstrates Barks’s ability to write satisfying stories at a variety of different lengths.

LEGION LOST #3 (DC, 2012) – C-. This was easily the worst Legion ongoing series. This issue isn’t positively terrible, but it’s pointless; it tells a story that didn’t need to be told, and it fails to justify why Paul Levitz had to be deprived of the use of thse characters. (Not that Paul’s Legion would have been any more successful if he had had access to Gates, Tyroc, Brin, etc., but it’s a matter of principle.) It doesn’t excite me, and where the Legion is concerned I’m not hard to excite. There is some strong characterization in this issue, but Fabian writes Timber Wolf in the exact same way that Levitz did, adding nothing new to our understanding of the character. Pete Woods’s artwork is the primary redeeming feature of this issue, although I wouldn’t buy a comic based on his artwork alone.

THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ #4 (Marvel, 2010) – A-. I have nothing to add to my review of Ozma of Oz #7 above.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #14 (IDW, 2013) – B+. This may be the best non-Cook-and-Price issue of this series, but Nuhfer and Hickey are not nearly at the same level as the masters. Although there is a lot of funny material in this story, I think it suffers from Flanderization (defined by TVTropes as “the act of taking a single (often minor) action or trait of a character within a work and exaggerating it more and more over time until it completely consumes the character”). Fluttershy’s behavior toward Gil is an exaggeration of her protective attitude towards animals. I think of her as a veterinarian who heals animals and then releases them into the wild, not an overprotective mother hen who refuses to let any animal out of her sight ever. The other subplot, about Rainbow Dash’s efforts to gain Hoofbeard’s approval, is more effective.

SENTINEL #8 (Marvel, 2003) – C+. I love the idea of Juston Seyfert, the kid who controls a friendly Sentinel, but he was much better written in Avengers Academy than here. The basic plot of this issue (Juston attempts to save people from a crashed plane) is exciting, but McKeever doesn’t manage to resolve it in this issue. A more competent writer, or one who wasn’t writing for the trade, could have wrapped it up in one issue or less. Mike Vriens draws the people trapped in the plane with some very awkward facial expressions, which is a problem when so much of the issue focuses on them.

STARMAN #63 (DC, 2000) – A-. This installment of “Grand Guignol” opens with a heartbreaking scene: we and Jack discover that due to Culp’s evil plot, the Opal City that Tony Harris depicted so beautifully is now in flames. It doesn’t get much better from there. Jack nearly gets killed by Mist, Sue Dibny almost dies, and the whole city is covered by an impenetrable shadow dome. It’s because of “Grand Guignol”’s relentlessly dark tone that I haven’t been able to finish it yet. On a global level, though, James Robinson’s Starman effectively balanced these darker moments with other stories that were much brighter and more heartwarming, whereas James’s later work seems to be all grim, all the time. There’s one scene in this issue where Shade’s shadows take the form of tentacles, which makes me suddenly realize how much this series is influenced by steampunk and Lovecraft.

JONNY QUEST #11 (First, 1987) – A+. This is one of the most powerful comics I’ve read all year. As a story about cruelty to animals, it’s comparable to and in some ways better than Animal Man #15. In “Dog Days,” Bandit is captured by a dogfighting ring, and Bill Loebs and Joe Staton exploit this heartbreaking situation for all its dramatic potential. The story teeters on the edge of being emotionally manipulative, but its appeal to the reader’s emotions is justified by the seriousness of the issue it addresses, which is sadly still a problem 25 years later. About half of the story is narrated by Bandit himself as he strives to escape. While Bandit and the other dogs speak English (unlike in Hawkeye #11), they think and act like dogs rather than people. They refer to their masters as “pack leaders” and they don’t understand why they’ve been abandoned or what’s happening to them now, and this just underscores the brutal unfairness of their predicament. There’s one scene depicting the death of another captive dog that made me tear up a bit. Meanwhile, Jonny searches doggedly for Bandit (pun intended) even after everyone else gives up. This sequence underscores what a good kid Jonny is. He’s utterly free of selfish motivations and his devotion to his friends and family is unwavering. Anyone would be proud to have a son like him. Thankfully, this story has a happy ending, unlike many similar stories in real life.

ROCKET GIRL #2 (Image, 2013) – B+. I love this series’s premise, but it’s developing rather slowly and it shows signs of awkwardness. Especially in the opening pages, Amy Reeder’s facial expressions are really bizarre; I don’t know why Dayoung’s mouth is wide open in panel 3 of page 2. And like I just said, I feel like the story is proceeding at an excessively slow pace, partly due to the low number of panels per page. Still, I’m happy to continue supporting a comic with such a fantastic premise, and the combat and flying scenes are especially beautiful.

MARVEL ADVENTURES: SPIDER-MAN #21 (Marvel, 2006) – B+. I loved the Marvel Adventures line because it was much closer to Silver and Bronze Age Marvel than any of the “mainstream” Marvel comics of its time. I would have preferred it if the Marvel Adventures/X-Men: First Class universe had been the primary Marvel continuity, rather than Earth-616. However, I feel that MA: Spider-Man was one of the lesser Marvel Adventures titles until Paul Tobin took it over and introduced Chat. This issue, written by Fred Van Lente, is a pretty light and inconsequential stoy in which Spidey fights a bunch of joke villains. It’s funny, and I like the idea of Rocket Racer, Leapfrog and Stilt-Man being adolescent geeks rather than career criminals. But other than that, this issue doesn’t add much of anything original to the Marvel mythos, whereas other Marvel Adventures titles often did do so.

LEGION LOST #4 (DC, 2012) – C-/D+. This issue is worse than the previous one because of another trope coined by TVTropes: Informed Attributes. Dawnstar narrates the entire issue, and she tells us all about how she’s dispassionate and cautious and subdued and lots of other stuff. But because she doesn’t participate in the action, we don’t actually see any evidence of the character traits she’s describing. There’s too much showing and not enough telling. Besides that, I think Fabian’s take on Dawnstar is wrong: she’s capable of being highly passionate and emotional, though often in negative ways. Besides that, this issue has the same problems as issue 3: I still don’t see why I should care about this whole Alastor business. If I found the remaining issues of this Legion Lost series in a 25-cent box, I probably still wouldn’t buy them.

INCREDIBLE HULK #600 (Marvel, 2009) – C-. I got this for free and I still feel like I got ripped off. There is a lot of material in this anniversary issue, but most of it is not worth the time it takes to read. The opening story is just a big boring fight scene between the green and red Hulks, and Jeph Loeb’s leaden, cliché-ridden dialogue makes it even more unreadable. Ed McGuinness’s artwork is excellent, but not enough to save this awful story. The second story is ten pages of incoherent unfunny nonsense, which is hardly surprising since it’s written by Stan Lee. It includes a series of Stan’s old clichés – Irving Forbush, Willie Lumpkin, a cameo appearance by Stan himself – and they’re thrown together without any regard for narrative logic. The last forty years worth of Stan Lee comics have been uniformly terrible and this story is no exception to that. The only genuinely enjoyable story is the third one, a Savage She-Hulk story by Fred Van Lente and Michael Ryan, which is kind of formulaic but includes some cute references to Irish mythology. There is also a reprint of Hulk: Gray #1, which is interesting only because of Tim Sale’s art; I think a lot of Jeph Loeb’s undeservedly high reputation is due to his good luck in working with artists like Tim Sale and Ed McGuinness and Jim Lee. Overall this is not a great anniversary issue, and probably the coolest thing in it is the collage of all 600 previous issue of the series which appears at the end.

Even more reviews

12-20-13

EIGHTBALL #16 (Fantagraphics, 1995) – A+. I can’t say I enjoyed this Shia LeBeouf comic, but its quality is indisputable.* This issue begins and ends with two short stories, “Like a Weed, Joe” and “Immortal, Invisible.” Both of these are brilliant short pieces, easily at the same level as LeBeouf’s best-known short story of the time, “Caricature.” Neither really has a strong plot, but they both create a sense of deep wrongness and disgust. Both of these stories really demand a closer reading than I have time for in order to unpack their layers of meaning. This issue also includes a third short story, “MCMXLVI,” which has beautifully painted artwork but, again, is rather disturbing because of the sexism and nostalgia of the unnamed main character. The issue also includes a chapter of “Ghost World,” which I already read a long time ago, and a strip on the inside front cover, “Squirrel-Girl and Candy-Pants,” which reads like a deliberate parody of Ghost World.

* This issue is not credited to Shia LeBeouf but to someone named Daniel Clowes. Clearly this is a pseudonym and the issue is Shia LeBeouf’s original work.

THE POWER OF SHAZAM! #18 (DC, 1996) – B+. This is the first issue of this seires I’ve read. While it is obviously not at the same level as the original Binder-Beck material or the Jeff Smith revival, this is a completely readable Captain Marvel story which captures at least some of the fun and excitement that are characteristic fo this franchise. It’s fun seeing Shazam trying to interact with modern society, and Jerry Ordway presents Mary Marvel as a capable and powerful heroine. I will plan on buying more issues of this series if I find them for under a dollar.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #528 (Marvel, 2006) – B+. My copy comes from a public library and is falling apart. There are some genuinely fun scenes here, especially the conversation between Peter and his old Jewish tailor Leo Zelinsky. However, I don’t really like the main plot here, in which Peter evolves various spider-based powers he didn’t have before. It just doesn’t seem all that original or fun. The other day I was surprised to see that JMS hadn’t made Comic Book Resources’s list of the top ten Spider-Man writers, because I remember when he won an Eisner for “Coming Home” and he was being hailed as the best Spidey writer since Roger Stern. After “Sins Past” and his Superman story “Grounded,” his reputation seems to have suffered a collapse of Shyamalan-esque proportions.

SAGA #17 (Image, 2013) – A+. This is another fantastic issue of the best comic book currently on the market, but its tone is very different from that of the last two issues. It’s been five issues and at least six months since the cliffhanger where Marco and Alana were holed up in the basement while Prince Robot interrogated D. Oswald Heist. The scenes at Oswald’s lighthouse were so blissfully peaceful that I’d forgotten Prince Robot was on his way. Now that peace has been shattered and I’m not sure that Oswald and The Will aren’t both dead. And not only that, Oswald’s library is in flames. I admire BKV and Staples’s ability to shift the tone of this series so completely in just one issue. Now that we’re past the point where issue 12 ended, I don’t know what’s going to happen next in this series, but I can’t wait to find out.

ASTRO CITY #7 (DC, 2014) – A+. I know there are historical reasons why Marvel and DC comics’ cover dates are two months in the future, but do those reasons still apply? Can’t they make the cover date the same as the publication date? Anyway, this is a brilliant issue and the start of what promises to be a fascinating storyline. Winged Victory (I’ll call her Vic as Samaritan does) was one of the earliest Astro City characters, but I don’t believe she’s received a major spotlight since issue 6 of the original miniseries, way back in 1996. Even that story, if I remember correctly, was told from Samaritan’s perspective. Here, though, we get to see inside her head, and Kurt makes use of this opportunity to pose some fascinating questions about gender politics. It’s well established that Vic is a champion of women’s empowerment and that she offers self-defense classes exclusively to women. But in this issue, she encounters a boy, Joey Lacroix, who’s been badly injured and is in serious need of self-defense training – we don’t find out why, but my guess is that he’s a victim of gay-bashing. There’s a fascinating dilemma here: he’s presented as a pitiful character who really needs help, yet Vic would be completely justified in refusing to help him. The healer Meg calls him “another freakin’ man, all fists and anger and eyes and privilege” (probably the first time the word “privilege” has been used in this sense in a DC comic), but does Joey represent a more positive model of masculinity?

And that’s just the start, because Vic is also the target of a very well- organized scheme to discredit her and to misrepresent her self-defense training program as a school for criminals. This reminds me eerily of the sort of anti-feminist discourse we see often in contemporary American media. And also, it turns out that Winged Victory literally gets her powers from having a support network of other women, which is kind of awesome. Overall, I think this issue is Astro City’s deepest exploration of feminist issues yet, and I can’t wait for more of it. However, I do wonder what the Confessor, who appears on the last page, has to do with anything.

Messick University and Tarpe Hall are obvious references to notable women cartoonists, and Joey’s hometown seems to be an Astro City version of Riverdale. It’s named after Al Hartley and has neighborhoods named for John Goldwater and Booth Tarkington, who (according to an old CBR post by my friend Kurt Mitchell) is the original creator of the teenager genre. The letter column includes a letter by someone who completely misunderstands what this comic is supposed to be about.

YOUNG AVENGERS #14 (Marvel, 2014) – B. I like the idea behind this issue, which consists of four vignettes drawn by different artists, but it felt kind of insubstantial compared to the last few issues. Maybe that’s because it’s only 20 pages. The Miss America segment, with gorgeous painted art by Christian Ward (I think), was easily the best. And Kate gets some pretty cool scenes. But there just didn’t seem to be enough story here, considering that this is the next to last issue. Notice the “Soft Kitty” reference at the bottom of the first page. I was annoyed that Karolina Dean and Julie Power both appeared in this issue but neither of them had any lines; oh well.

MY LITTLE PONY MICRO-SERIES #10 (IDW, 2013) – A+. The last issue of this series is easily one of the two best, along with #3, which coincidentally was also by Katie and Andy. This story is just so much fun. Such brilliant detail and so many sight gags and funny lines. I particularly loved watching Tiberius the opossum’s antics in almost every panel (though his name and origin are not explained until the backup story). There’s not much of a serious message here, but what a fun comic.

INVINCIBLE #107 (Image, 2013) – A+. This issue leaves me with a deep feeling of dread. We have known for a while that Rex (I keep confusing this character with Rex Dexter from Savage Dragon) is an utterly loathsome monster and that he has nefarious plans for Mark. In this issue, it becomes clear that Rex is trying to get Mark out of the way by sending him on a wild-goose chase after Angstrom Levy, while Rex takes advantage of his absence to do God knows what. And this plan works because as an expectant father, Mark is paranoid about perceived threats to his family, which blinds him to other threats he’s not expecting. Meanwhile, Amanda is the only character who might be able to stop Rex, but she is equally unable to see how awful he is. It all makes so much sense from a psychological standpoint, which makes it even more terrifying. The final panel, where Mark looks at a sleeping Eve with an anxious expression, is just perfect. As usual I can’t wait for the next issue.

BONE #36 (Cartoon Books, 1999) – A+. I already read this as part of the one-volume edition, but I bought it again just for the sake of completism, and because it was in the one-dollar-per-pound box. (Which was exciting, but not as much so as it sounds; most of the comics in there were pretty awful.) I’m not going to review the actual story because I’ve read it and I remember it fairly well, but it was nice to be reminded of how much Jeff Smith rocks. There were also a couple bonuses in the original issue that weren’t in the collected edition, including a letter column with a letter from a young Fábio Moon, and a three-page THB preview story by Paul Pope, who appeared on a panel with Jeff in Columbus last month.

CHEW #38 (Image, 2013) – A-. I didn’t enjoy this issue as much as previous issues, mostly because it focused on the villain, Mason Savoy, rather than Tony or Amelia or Olive. This issue had the same level of hilarious bizarreness that I’ve come to expect from this series, though, and the candy version of the Absorbing Man was awesome. I have no idea what’s happening on the last page; that thing that Olive cooks for Tony looks very familiar, but how is it going to help him talk with Toni?

THE UNWRITTEN #15 (DC, 2010) – A-. I bought this at the convention on December 8th, but I was motivated to read it today because I just started reading the last Harry Potter book. Having subsequently read issue 16, I feel like this issue is primarily a setup for what comes next, but I still find this “literary GPS” idea fascinating. I may have mentioned before that it reminds me a lot of the chapter of From Hell with the tour of London. I notice an uncanny similarity between Merlin, as depicted in this issue, and Alan Moore.

THE UNWRITTEN #16 (DC, 2010) – A+. This is possibly the most important issue of the series, because, in the first place, it explains the basic premise – which, as I understand it, stories become real if people believe in them enough. And apparently Wilson created Tommy Taylor because he felt that people’s capacity for believing in stories was being eroded, or something like that. In the second place, Wilson identifies Tommy’s mother – Sue Morganstern, who I don’t remember, but I guess she’s named after S. Morgenstern from the Princess Bride. And then Wilson gets decapitated by that one guy with the sideburns. In short, this issue advances the plot of the series significantly. I wish I could read the current issues of this series, but that would require me to break my DC boycott, and besides, The Unwritten has had a crossover with Fables, which I wouldn’t be reading even if I wasn’t boycotting DC. I’ll stick to buying the back issues from the dollar boxes.

THE UNWRITTEN #17 (DC, 2010) – A-. As far as I know, this is only the second comic book ever published (besides Meanwhile) that has a Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) format; the other one was The Ren & Stimpy Show Special #3. I haven’t read that comic, but when I interviewed Jason Shiga earlier this year, he said it was disappointing because it didn’t exploit the potential of comics. It worked just like a standard CYOA book, in that you read it one page at a time, and then you were told which page(s) you could read next. The Unwritten #17 works the same way: each physical page is divided into two halves, and at the end of each half-page, the reader is directed to another page, or given a choice between two pages. Again, the problem with this is it’s just like reading a prose CYOA book. In comparison, in Meanwhile, each panel has a trail leading out of it to the next panel, and when the reader has to make a choice, there are multiple trails. This is a version of the CYOA format that can only work in comics, and it makes Meanwhile a far more innovative work. On top of that, The Unwritten #17 does not incorporate the CYOA mechanism into the narrative. What I mean is, in Meanwhile, the fact that the story takes different branching paths is actually explained in terms of the narrative, which is about parallel universes and the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics. In The Unwritten #17, there is no narrative reason why this issue has to be a CYOA story; it just seems like this format was introduced as a gimmick.

Now having said that, this issue still tells a very effective story, and it does some interesting things with the CYOA format. The reader never really gets to make any significant choices; there is only one bad ending, which is easy to avoid, and most of the other choices do not change the basic outline of Lizzie Hexam’s life story. For example, whatever happens, Lizzie ends up with Wilson Taylor. The interesting part is that although you always end up in the same place, you can choose either of two different paths to get there, and the differences are significant. For example, on page 11, Lizzie becomes catatonic because she sees something traumatic, but there are two possible explanations for what she saw, depending on the previous choice the reader made: either she looked through Wilson’s papers and discovered her own forgotten history of child abuse, or she witnessed Wilson beating someone to death. It’s an interesting way of suggesting the ambiguity of Lizzie’s past: the basic outline of her personal history is clear, but some significant details are unknowable. The disappointing part, though, is that about halfway through the story, the choices stop, and there’s only one path to follow. I don’t think there’s any artistic reason for this; I feel like Carey and Gross just ran out of room to add any additional branching paths.

Overall, this issue is interesting in terms of my current research on Meanwhile and CYOA comics, but I don’t think it’s going to merit more than a footnote in my book. There was some fascinating potential here which was not fully realized.

Probably the longest set of reviews I’ve ever posted

12-15-13

Many of these comics were purchased at the local one-day comic convention last Sunday. Grades will now appear at the start of the review rather than the end.

AVENGERS #112 (Marvel, 1973) – B+. The best thing about Englehart’s Avengers was the characterization, particularly when it came to Wanda and Vision. In addition, Mantis is not my favorite character and I don’t understand Englehart’s fascination with her, but her presence created some interesting character drama. This issue only has one really interesting piece of characterization – a scene where Wanda and Natasha talk about their respective relationships – and most of the issue is devoted to fights between the Avengers and an evil Wakandan deity. Somewhat counterintuitively, I usually feel that fight scenes are the least enjoyable parts of superhero comics, even though Englehart had the ability to make them interesting in terms of what they revealed about the characters involved.

GROO THE WANDERER #66 (Marvel, 1990) – A-. 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. (Has anyone noticed that I’ve included this same text every time I’ve reviewed an issue of Groo?) This issue is a satire of self-help gurus. Pal and Drumm, Taranto, Granny Groo and other characters all discover that if they claim to be gurus, they can get people to pay them for useless advice. Then Groo gets into the same racket, only he tells his audience that he doesn’t know anything and they shouldn’t trust gurus, and of course they follow him more enthusiastically than they followed the other gurus. A running joke in Groo is that the people Groo meets are often just as stupid as he is.

SUPERMAN #168 (DC, 1966) – A+. “Luthor, Super-Hero” is a sequel to “The Showdown Between Luthor and Superman” in #164, which introduces Lexor, the planet where Luthor is a hero and Superman is a villain. Both these stories are fascinating because they reveal the complexity of Luthor’s character, suggesting that he could have been as great a man as Superman if not for his tragic flaw, his irrational hatred of Superman. In the next two decades, Elliot S! Maggin would elaborate on this theme in at lesat two classic stories, “The Luthor Nobody Knows” and “The Einstein Connection” (Superman #292 and #416 respectively). Following John Byrne, most recent writers have written Luthor as a complete monster with no redeeming qualities, which makes him far less interesting to read about. “Luthor, Super-Hero” also depicts a rather cute romance between Luthor and Ardora, as well as setting up a variety of clever reversals of Superman and Luthor’s usual relationship; for example, in one scene Superman is imprisoned and has to use cunning to get out, which is usually Luthor’s role. However, unlike most Superman writers of the time, Edmond Hamilton actually lets the reader discover these ironies rather than making everything blatantly obvious.
The backup story, which is labeled Part II but is more of a separate story, reminds us of Luthor’s aforementioned tragic flaw; instead of staying on Lexor with Ardora, he insists on leaving to get revenge on Superman. This leads to a complicated plot which I’m not going to describe here, except that it involves Lillian Russell and Jim Brady, who I was surprised to discover were real people.
Instead of a letters page, this issue contains an essay discussing the cancellation of the story “Superman’s Mission for President Kennedy,” which appeared anyway two issues later. See http://www.newsfromme.com/2013/12/01/another-kennedy-conspiracy-theory/ for an attempt to solve the mystery surrounding this story. I actually saw a copy of Superman #270 at the convention but the price was a little too high.

X-MEN #122 (Marvel, 1979) – A+. Obviously not the best Claremont/Byrne X-Men story, but still terrific. This issue is a break between major storylines, and consists of a series of short scenes focusing on one or two characters. Most of this is quite effective, especially the scene where Logan gives Peter some fatherly advice. But the only scene that I particualrly want to comment on is the scene in which Jean encounters Jason Wyngarde-Mastermind for what I think was the first time. Jean’s attraction for Jason would ultimately have tragic consequences, but it’s the logical result of the same qualities that made her a great character: her desire and willpower. Claremont wrote Jean as a confident woman who knew what she wanted and was willing to get it, whereas ever since her resurrection, Jean has been written as an emotionless cold fish. The only exception to this was X-Men: First Class, where Jeff Parker was able to remind us why she used to be interesting.

FLASH #165 (DC, 1966) – A+. This is the story where Barry marries Iris, which I have never actually read before. The wedding itself is actually quite sweet, even though characterization was clearly not John Broome’s strong suit. What makes this story memorable, though, is the series of wacky complications that ensue when Professor Zoom trades places with Barry and attempts to marry Iris himself. On reading this story, I realized that it must have inspired my probable favorite Flash story, “The Trial of Barry Allen,” where Zoom tries the same thing with much more success. From a modern perspective, the disturbing thing about this story is Iris’s role. Iris only has one word balloon in the entire issue, on the last page, and at the end of the issue Barry still hasn’t told her his secret identity. And I think the canon is that she didn’t find out until just after this issue, when she heard him talking in his sleep on his wedding night. Mark Waid did a great job of rehabilitating Iris’s character but I don’t remember if he ever specifically addressed this topic.

MARVEL PREMIERE #32 (Marvel, 1976) – A. Monark Starstalker is one of the many incarnations of Howard Chaykin’s standard protagonist, also known as Scorpion, Ironwolf, Cody Starbuck, Dominic Fortune and Reuben Flagg. It’s too bad all these versions of the character were published by different companies, or else someone could publish a collected edition of all of them, so we could trace the evolution of this character. This story is a prime example of Chaykin’s ‘70s work, with dynamic page layouts, thrilling action, and gorgeous women – as well as unfortunate sexism; at the end of the issue, Monark Starstalker leaves without saying goodbye to the woman he’s been sleeping with. This story isn’t nearly as radical on a visual or narrative level as American Flagg, but it clearly indicates the direction Chaykin was going. Besides the sexism, the major flaw in the story is that the printing is often so dark as to obscure the artwork. I think this story might have looked better in black and white.

WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #215 (DC, 1973) – B. I am a big fan of Bob Haney’s Super Sons stories, which are cute and campy and sometimes even genuinely touching. This is the first of these stories but not the best. (I vastly prefer “Angel with a Dirty Name” in #238, which coincidentally guest-stars Luthor and Ardora’s teenage daughter.) This issue is a rather formulaic story in which Clark Jr and Bruce Jr try to prove their worthiness to their skeptical fathers by defeating a crime boss. As is often the case with Haney, the story also involves some bizarre science-fictional nonsense. The Super Sons stories were notable for never identifying Clark Jr and Bruce Jr’s mothers, although it’s obvious that Clark Jr’s mother is Lois.

AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE #2 (Archie, 2013) – A+. This issue is even more hilarious and horrifying than the last one. Before we even get to the staple in the middle of the issue, Jughead eats Ethel, Nancy and Ginger (two characters I’m not familiar with) are revealed as a closeted lesbian couple, and there’s a strong suggestion that Cheryl Blossom and her brother Jason are lovers. Oh, and then all the characters get trapped in the gym with zombies. What’s almost as surprising as the zombies themselves is Aguirre-Sacassa’s realistic and unsentimental depiction of the characters. He actually portrays Veronica in a fairly sympathetic light, for example, but reveals that she’s a rich elitist and hates Jughead and is bitterly jealous of Betty. The weird thing about this series is that it does exactly the sort of thing I hate when Marvel and DC do it – it takes characters who were originally intended for children and presents them with grim, gritty realism. The difference, of course, is that Afterlife with Archie is the exception to Archie’s normal output rather than the rule, and that it’s not meant to be taken seriously. The fact that the Archie characters are not well suited to a grim-and-gritty treatment is the whole point.

DAGAR THE INVINCIBLE #2</Aa (Gold Key, 1972) – B. I love Don Glut and Jesse Santos’s ‘70s work, which includes this series as well as Dr. Spektor, Tragg and the Sky Gods, and a couple other things. This is an early Dagar story which does not feature Graylin yet, and the story is kind of pedestrian, involving a werewolf and a rather awkwardly drawn dragon. The werewolf’s name is Lupof, which I assume is a reference to Dick Lupoff; Don Glut was notorious for incorporating his own name and the names of his friends into his stories (as in Tulgonia, the name of Dagar’s homeland). Jesse Santos’s artwork is not nearly as loose or radical as in his later Gold Key work.

UNCANNY X-MEN #140 (Marvel, 1980) – A+. This is the second part of the Wendigo two-parter, which was a bit of a lull between Claremont and Byrne’s two greatest stories. Most of the issue is devoted to Wolverine, Nightcrawler and Alpha Flight’s batlte with the Wendigo. The other X-Men only appear on about four pages, though one of those pages passes the Bechdel test with flying colors, depicting Storm, Kitty and Stevie Hunter discussing things other than men. The fight scene itself is actually interesting because, number one, Byrne was really good at that sort of thing in 1980, and number two, the combat is interspersed with character interactions and flashbacks to Wolverine’s past with Alpha Flight. One of the big holes in my ‘80s Marvel collection is that I don’t have a complete run of Claremont and Byrne’s X-Men, although I’ve read all the stories in Classic X-Men reprints. I expect that out of the issues I’m still missing, the hardest ones to find will be #129 and #141.

CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN #74 (DC, 1970) – A-. I think this is the only issue of this series in my collection, other than the fairly recent miniseries by Chaykin, which was not one of his better works. This issue starts out with sixteen average pages by Denny O’Neil and George Tuska; if this had been the entire comic, it would have rated a B+ at best. However, on page 17, Deadman shows up and Neal Adams takes over as the artist, and this material is much stronger. Possibly one reason I’m not particularly interested in this title is that all the main characters are men and it’s too much of a sausage party; I wonder if Denny thought so too, because one of the intriguing things about this issue is the tension between the male Challengers and their new female teammate Corinna.

INCREDIBLE HULK #132 (Marvel, 1970) – A. This issue is by Roy Thomas, Herb Trimpe and John Severin, possibly the best Hulk creative team prior to PAD, Gary Frank and Cam Smith. I think Trimpe may still be the best Hulk artist ever. This story mostly focuses on the core cast of the Hulk, Betty, General Ross and Jim Wilson. I actually like Jim a lot; he’s a spunky kid who’s deeply loyal to the Hulk. As far as I recall, PAD only ever used the character in two stories, one where he was revealed to have AIDS and another where he died, and I’m not sure either of these stories was good enough to justify the sacrifice of this underused character. This issue involves a plot in which HYDRA tricks Jim into helping them steal the Hulk, but it’s really just an excuse to explore Jim and the Hulk’s relationship, which makes for one of the better Hulk stories by this team.

BOOKS OF MAGIC #4 (DC, 1991) – A-. Each issue of the miniseries that introduced Tim Hunter was drawn (or painted) by a different artist, and Paul Johnson is easily the worst of the four; in some places his art is so muddy that I can’t tell what’s going on. The story, which explores the future of the DCU, is full of interesting stuff, but not quite as much so as earlier issues. I think the best moment is when Mr. E comes up with an utterly horrifying answer to the riddle “I sat with my love, and I drank with my love, and my love she gave me light” – the more innocuous answer, which is not given, is a bottle of wine. Oh, and also the legend that long long ago, it was possible to catch six or seven sea spiders in a day. The ending effectively sets up the Books of Magic ongoing series.

DETECTIVE COMICS #478 (DC, 1978) – A/A+. For a very brief period in the late ‘70s, Marshall Rogers was the best artist in commercial comics. After that his career went into a steep decline, and he unfortunately died quite young. At the point of this issue he was at the peak of his career. Every page features complicated but uncluttered page layouts, dynamic action sequences, expressive faces, and detailed backgrounds. In terms of the story, this issue comes right after the Laughing Fish two-parter, probably the best Batman story of the ‘70s, but it’s far less of a drop-off in quality than it could have been. In fact, this issue is rather significant in that it introduces Clayface III, Preston Payne, along wth his beloved Helena. The panel that reveals Helena to be a wax doll, rather than a person, must have been quite surprising originally.

KAMANDI #11 (DC, 1973) – A. I love this series and I think it’s some of Kirby’s most effective late work, so it’s surprising that I haven’t bought any of it in a while. I think I actually saw this and the following issue (reviewed below) in a $1 or $2 box and passed it up, and then I was like, wait, what am I doing? This issue is a fairly standard example of the series, in that it begins with an absolutely gorgeous splash page, and then depicts Kamandi having a series of hostile encounters with talking animals. However, the last page introduces my favorite minor character in the series: Kamandi’s faithful insect steed, Klikklak. The letter column includes a lot of letters from fans who are saddened by Flower’s death in issue 6; there is also a note from the editors to the effect that the Comics Code did not make any changes to the way in which Flower’s anatomy was depicted. I’m not sure what this was referring to exactly; Flower went around bare-breasted but her breasts were never displayed on panel. I guess even that was considered titillating by 1973 standards.

YOUNG AVENGERS #13 (Marvel, 2013) – A. An effective conclusion to the entire series so far. I still don’t quite understand who Loki is or whether he’s little hero Loki or big villain Loki or some combination of the two. But I do think it’s great that Marvel is exploiting Loki’s current popularity and catering particularly to his female or queer fans. Marvel’s use of Loki stands in stark contrast to DC’s hostile attitude to non-straight-male fans. Anyway, I think my favorite things in this issue were the credits page and the two-page splash where Billy walks on top of all the previous pages from the series. Both of these pages are great examples of Jamie McKelvie’s formal experimentalism.

NEW MUTANTS #59 (Marvel, 1988) – C+/B-. This story was painful to read because of the knowledge that Doug Ramsey was one issue away from a pointless death. Also, the Ani-Mator and his creations are truly disturbing, and Bird-Brain/Bird-Boy is almost as much so. Maybe Weezie was deliberately trying to write a horror story here, but I’m not sure. I think her writing often tends to be excessively histrionic and theatrical, and like I said before, I think this works fine in Power Pack, but not so much in a series that’s supposed to be about older teens or adults. I also feel that the amount of trauma Weezie’s characters experience is rather excessive. Unfortunately later writers have treated these characters in the same way as Weezie has; I think that a real person who has suffered all that Rahne Sinclair has suffered would probably be in a padded cell.

X-FACTOR #30 (Marvel, 2008) – B-. This was interesting enough that I subsequently went and read the next issue, but the storytelling is decompressed to the point where the issue just doesn’t seem very substantial, even though there are some good character moments.

X-FACTOR #31 (Marvel, 2008) – B. This issue has the same problems with decompression as the last issue, but is marginally more interesting, mostly because of some scenes involving a depowered mutant comedian. She used to have the ability to make her audiences laugh at everything she said, but without her powers, she just tells bad jokes, and writing bad jokes is one of PAD’s strengths.

THE ADVENTUROUS UNCLE SCROOGE MCDUCK #1 (Gladstone, 1998) – A/A-. “The Twenty-Four Carat Moon” seems to be regarded today as one of Barks’s masterpieces, but as Geoffrey Blum points out in the essay on the inside front cover of this issue, it’s also a truly bizarre story. The science fiction elements of the first half of the story were probably outdated even in 1958 and are hopelessly so even now; it’s hard for me to take the spaceship race seriously. The second half of the story has an powerful ecological message to it, as Muchkale, the richest man on Venus, realizes that a twenty-four-carat gold planet is worth less than a handful of dirt. To that extent, this story can clearly stand alongside other Barksian stories that show similar skepticism toward money, like “The Golden River” and “Tralla La”. But here again I had trouble maintaining suspension of disbelief. The story ends with Scrooge claiming possession of a solid gold planet, and it’s hard not to think about the sort of catastrophic effects this would have on the global economy, although Barks clearly wants us to take it at face value.

SUPERMAN #218 (DC, 1969) – A-. “Superman’s Secret Past!” is a bizarre and hokey story, but at least it’s sometimes genuinely funny and it doesn’t blatantly insult the reader’s intelligence, unlike some Superman stories from this era. The premise here is that Superman has a wife and child who he’s somehow forgotten about. Leo Dorfman, the uncredited writer, actually does a fairly good job of exploiting the dramatic potential of this premise. The weird thing here is that when Lois finds out about it, she doesn’t get angry or depressed at all, and her thought balloon indicates that her heart is breaking for Superman’s wife, Larissa, rather than herself. Maybe we’re supposed to think Lois is projecting her own feelings onto Larissa, but I don’t know that Leo Dorfman was capable of that level of subtlety. Anyway, of course it turns out that the whole thing is a hoax by Mxyzptlk, and in the last panel Superman tells Lois “What a relief to find out I’m not married!”, showing typical Silver Age dickishness. This issue also includes a reprint of a Mxyzptlk story from 1961, which is pretty stupid.

WONDER WOMAN #201 (DC, 1972) – B-. The no-costume Wonder Woman was a fascinating experiment which was cancelled before it had the chance to reach its full potential. As I discussed below in my review of WW #203, I suspect that DC was never really comfortable with the radicalism of these stories. I think they used Steinem’s disapproval of the stories as a convenient excuse to return to the previous version of Wonder Woman, which was far less feminist in a number of ways. The trouble is that the actual stories weren’t particularly good. Denny O’Neil, who wrote this one, was the writer who did most to define the Bronze Age at DC. But his writing suffers from numerous flaws, ranging from humorlessness to unrealistic dialogue to sexist portrayals of female characters. And the additional problem with this issue is that the plot is kind of pedestrian. It’s just a quest for a plot coupon, and the only fun part is that Diana gets to fight Catwoman. Well, at least this story takes Wonder Woman seriously, which was itself unusual at the time.

DYNAMO #3 (Tower, 1967) – A+. I have a complete or nearly complete collection of the main T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents title (though some of my issues are in awful condition), but this is the first time I’ve acquired an issue of any of the spinoff titles. Dynamo is probably my favorite T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent although Menthor and NoMan are more original characters. As I think I’ve mentioned before, the things I love about this series are its strong sense of humor and its unsentimental treatment of the characters. Dynamo, in particular, seems like a regular guy who just happens to be employed as a superhero. For example, the most fun story in this issue is “Bad Day for Leonard Brown,” in which Len proposes to Alice and she accepts. But then she sees him in compromising positions with three other women, including the Iron Maiden and Kitten Kane, and gives him his ring back. And on top of that, the Chief gives Len a stern talking-to. Poor guy. Luckily the next story ends with Len and Alice reconciled, after Len has an adventure which uncannily resembles the Biblical story of Samson. And then in the story after that, Len has to pretend to marry someone else as a cover story. I haven’t even mentioned the first story, which is drawn by Wally Wood. Tower published some incredibly high-quality material and it’s no coincidence that these characters have been revived so many times.

FANTASTIC FOUR: 1, 2, 3, 4 #1 (Marvel, 2001) – A-. This is the start to what looks like a very deep and nuanced examination of the FF’s relationship to each other and to Doom. I already have the other issues of this miniseries and I look forward to reading them. The main problem is Jae Lee’s artwork, which is so dark and muddy that it’s often tough to tell what’s going on.

THE THING #4 (Marvel, 2005) – A-. This story, in which Ben babysits Franklin and Valeria for a day, is both incredibly fun and insightful. There are all kinds of cute moments here, e.g. Medusa slapping Lockjaw with her hair, and a horse race where the horses are called True Believer, Kirby Crackle and Rascally Roy. But the serious part is that evidently Ben has somehow earned a lot of money prior to this story, but it’s not making him happy. And Red demonstrates this to him by having Franklin spend $1000 just on himself, and then tell Ben about the experience. Admittedly, having too much money is not a problem that most readers will be inclined to sympathize with, but it’s still a cute and touching scene.

THE FLASH #223 (DC, 1973) – Cary Bates was a very competent and professional writer, but I get the impression he was kind of ashamed of writing comics – I seem to recall that he refuses to do interviews, though I may be misremembering. And characterization was clearly not his strong suit; that was why he was much better suited to write the Flash, which did not have a tradition of strong characterization, than the Legion. His real strength was clever plotting, but the Flash story in this issue unfortunately doesn’t have enough of that; it’s a rather boring story in which the Flash battles Dr. Light and ultimately wins due to his unexplained ability to run faster than light. The only surprising moment was the revelation of who the villain was. The Green Lantern backup story is only a little better; in this story, Hal battles a giant alien insect who turns out to have benign intentions.

KAMANDI #12 (DC, 1973) – A+. This issue introduces Spirit, sister of the late lamented Flower, and gives us a glimpse into the bleak lives of human slaves after the Great Disaster. Spirit is truly gorgeous and it’s fun to see Kamandi interact with other humans besides Ben, Renzi and Steve, although Kamandi and Spirit seem oddly unattracted to each other. This issue also depicts the beginning of Kamandi’s tragically short-lived friendship with Klikklak.

MORNING GLORIES #34 (Image, 2013) – A-. Finally I’m starting to feel like I have a handle on what’s going on in this series, though there are still major gaps in my understanding. Jade is the star of this issue; she breaks up a fight between Jun/Hisao and Casey in very impressive fashion, and the shock ending of the issue suggests that she has some sort of power to resurrect the dead. Meanwhile Ike continues to act like a horrible monster and to say the most hurtful things, but it actually seems like the other characters are getting desensitized to his cruelty and he’s starting to lose his power over them. All of this suggests that this series is actually making some narrative progress, though I still have no idea where it’s ultimately going.

At this point, on Thursday, December 12th, I went to the “My Parent’s Basement” pop-up comic store in Decatur, where I bought a giant stack of comics for only $20; most of it was stuff I needed to fill holes in my collection. This means I now have over six short boxes worth of unread comics. I’m afraid I’m turning into my old friend Rob Imes.

SHE-HULK #11 (Marvel, 2005) – A. I find it hard to tell which issues of this series I still need, because there were two She-Hulk series released one right after the other, with the same writer and similar publication design, and it’s hard to tell which issue belongs to which series. This issue is an effective example of Dan Slott’s She-Hulk, which is notable for strong characterization and humor, and for being sort of a superhero version of Wolff & Byrd (though I get the sense that Slott doesn’t know nearly as much about the law as Batton Lash). In a recent Hooded Utilitarian essay (http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2013/11/dan-slotts-she-hulk-derivative-character-as-meta-comic/), Osvaldo Oyola argued: “At the heart of Dan Slott’s run … is an alternately critical and nostalgic concern with the subjects of continuity and rupture in serialized superhero comic book narratives.” The best example of this, I think, is Slott’s final issue, which removes a lot of bad stories from continuity by establishing that the characters involved were duplicates from an alternate universe. But you can see Slott setting that up here, because there’s a scene where Jen is talking to Doc Samson and she tries to explain her recent erratic and brutal behavior in stories written by other writers. And then she denies ever having slept with the Juggernaut, which is one of the pieces of bad continuity that Slott would later retcon out of existence. The other thing Slott is satirizing here is the fanboy mentality. In this issue, Titania tears down the GLK&H building, and even after Stu Schwartzberg is reassured that everyone inside is safe, he’s terrified that the longboxes containing their entire run of Fantastic Four will be destroyed. Of course anyone who is reading this comic in the first place would probably have a similar reaction. In general, Slott’s She-Hulk is often too explicitly targeted toward the most hardcore of fans, but for readers like me it’s both hilarious and insightful.

THE BATMAN ADVENTURES #21 (DC, 1994) – B+. This issue is scripted by Kelley Puckett but plotted by Michael Reaves, who I’ve never heard of, and I felt like it lacked the narrative cleverness and subtlety of the issues written by Puckett alone. The main attraction here is, number one, the art by Mike Parobeck, whose work is obviously mostly inspired by animation but also reminds me of Kirby, Toth or Steve Rude for its clearness and simplicity. And number two, there’s a scene where a werewolf, a giant bat and a giant cat-dude fight each other. That’s hard to beat.

THE FLASH #91 (DC, 1994) – B+/A-. “Out of Time” was included in a recent collection of the Greatest Flash Stories Ever Told, but it’s not one of my favorite of Waid’s Flash stories from this era. It has a unique premise: Wally accidentally gets stuck in time when he says 3X2(9YZ)4A. And it depicts Wally trying to deal with his recent discovery, from the Allison Armitage story, that he can’t be everywhere and save everyone. Max Mercury tricks him into talking sense to himself, which is kind of a nice moment. Still, there is something about this story that strikes me as excessively heavy-handed, and Mike Wieringo’s artwork seems incompatible with the story’s serious message. The most exciting thing here might be the last couple pages, in which Impulse appears, in silhouette, for the first time.

JUSTICE LEAGUE EUROPE #21 (DC, 1990) – A-. This issue is scripted by Gerard Jones, not JM DeMatteis, but is still quite enjoyable. The basic plot here is that Captain Atom is replaced as team leader by Catherine Cobert, which leads to a lot of character drama, but there are a ton of other cute moments. Most notably, Sue tells Catherine that Power Girl’s cat “got into a fight with a man’s dog and he… he killed it.” It turns out that the correct interpretation of this ambiguous sentence is the funniest one. Incidentally, this is why I posted a Facebook status asking who would win in a fight, Power Girl’s cat or Greebo from Discworld.

THE FLASH #142 (DC, 1998) – B. This would have been an A if not for one thing: Pop Mhan. I suppose this artist must have had some good qualities if he could get hired on a major DC title, but he can’t draw facial expressions and his storytelling is highly unclear. He was completely unsuited to illustrate the story of Wally and Linda’s wedding. As a wedding issue, Flash #142 is not at the same level as Tales of the Teen Titans #50 or even Flash vol. 1 #165, reviewed above, but there is some interesting stuff here. The major subplot is that Wally’s parents show up for the wedding, and his negative reaction to their presence makes Linda highly uncomfortable. I forgot to mention this in my review of Flash #48 below, but as I read that issue, I was kind of wondering why Waid never really used Wally’s parents. The reason, as this issue makes clear, is that Wally genuinely dislikes his family. I had forgotten that one of Waid’s best Flash stories, in issue #0, was all about Wally’s lousy upbringing, with parents who were unimaginative, hidebound and stupid. And if I’m recalling “Born to Run” correctly, in that story Mark portrayed Barry and Iris as being better parents to Wally than his real parents. So Mark’s deliberate exclusion of Wally’s mom, even though she was such a prominent character in Bill Loebs’s run, actually makes a lot of sense. And in this issue, Wally agrees to start treating his family better, but it’s clear that he’s going to have to accept them as they are because they’re not going to improve.

UNCANNY X-MEN #252 (Marvel, 1989) – B+. This is from right in the middle of what I earlier described as Claremont’s bad period, when the series seemed to have a total lack of narrative coherence and all the characters were going their separate ways. This issue, for example, is devoted entirely to Wolverine and Jubilee, who are being hunted by the Reavers. Still, this issue reminded me in positive ways of earlier Wolverine solo issues like #133 and #205. This was also one of the only Claremont-written stories I’ve read that prominently featured Jubilee. I mostly know this character as written by Scott Lobdell, and one reason I hate Lobdell’s writing is that his characters lack interiority; they say things that suggest they feel emotions, but Lobdell utterly fails to convey the sense that they actually mean what they say. Does that make any sense? Anyway, I was surprised to realize that as written by Claremont, Jubilee is actually a much deeper character; her valley-girl exterior is actually just a front, and she’s capable of genuine emotions. If Claremont hadn’t been fired, he might have developed her into another Kitty Pryde.

AVENGERS #145 (Marvel, 1976) – F. At the time this was published, it was probably the worst issue of Avengers ever. I can’t think of any earlier issue that was this bad. You’d be able to tell that it was a fill-in issue or an inventory story, inserted because of the Dreaded Deadline Doom, even if it didn’t say so explicitly on the splash page. The premise of this story is already implausible – a new villain, the Assassin, somehow manages to kill Captain America – and Tony Isabella and Don Heck fail to do anything interesting with it.

WEST COAST AVENGERS #20 (Marvel, 1987) – B/B-. One rather nitpicky but nonetheless significant point first. This issue includes a scene where some people get attacked by Indians in California. Al Milgrom depicts these Indians with mohawks and feathers and bowskins, which to me seems completely inaccurate. California Indians looked nothing at all like Plains Indians, and Milgrom’s depiction is an example of the common assumption that Native Americans were a single monolithic culture, rather than a variety of different ones. Besides that, this issue suffers from overly convoluted plotting. Even if I had a clearer memory of the previous issues, I don’t think I’d have been able to figure out what the hell was going on here. There were a couple of interesting points, though. First, this issue is part of the ongoing Mockingbird/Phantom Rider story. I don’t know if this is what Englehart wanted us to conclude, but I think that Mockingbird was absolutely justified in killing Lincoln Slade, who was an unrepentant rapist. And if Hawkeye’s disapproval of this led to the end of her marriage, then the marriage wasn’t worth saving. Also, this issue includes a cameo by Dr. Strange, Clea and Ben Franklin, which is a clever reference to a much older Englehart story, Dr. Strange #18.

THE LONE RANGER #23 (Gold Key, 1975) – B-. I think I bought this because my friend Scott M. (whose last name I can’t remember) is a huge fan of this series and uses Lone Ranger as his CBR username. This issue contains some rather pedestrian Western stories, but at least the writing and artwork are professional and reasonably exciting. One piece of dialogue I particularly liked: “I’ve been watching you, Sam! You seem to be head man around here! Most of the boys do everything you say!” “They better!” I am unable to determine who wrote or drew this issue. It appears that this particular series started out with reprints of old stories by Paul S. Newman and Tom Gill, but that the last few issues, including this one, contained new material. However, the GCD does not say who was responsible for that material.

WONDER WOMAN #53 (DC, 1991) – A-. I still think Gentleman George is either the best Wonder Woman writer ever, or the second best after Gail Simone. (I don’t know where Marston ranks alongside those two) And that’s kind of surprising given George’s lack of prior writing experience, other than co-plotting New Teen Titans. On this issue, George’s writing is effectively complemented by Jill Thompson’s art. Jill had not yet developed her mature style at this point, but I love her depiction of Wonder Woman; her version of Diana somehow seems genuinely Greek. The story here is rather confusing, involving a murder investigation and a series of dreams within other dreams, but it’s quite exciting and scary.

JUSTICE LEAGUE EUROPE #3 (DC, 1989) – A. We tend to remember Giffen and DeMatteis’s Justice League as just a humor title, but we forget that especially early on, it actually had a serious political side to it. This series came out during the waning years of the Cold War, and that becomes really obvious in this issue. Captain Atom meets a French politician, Charles Villard, who is a huge supporter of the Justice Leauge, but Villard’s support changes to open hostility when he realizes that Captain Atom can’t speak French. Later, Catherine explains why this is such a big deal: To Villard, it seems like Justice League Europe, which is in fact almost exclusively American, is an attempt to use France as a pawn in the Cold War. Cap replies that it’s not his fault there are no European heroes worth their salt, which leads to a close-up of Catherine indignantly saying “Did you hear what you just said?” Then later in the issue, things get worse when the JLE is blamed for destroying the headquarters of the Global Guardians. We do Giffen and DeMatteis a disservice when we pretend that their Justice League stories were all about wacky humor.

MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #45 (Marvel, 1978) – B-. My friend Tom Lolis was kind enough to give this to me for free. This is a fairly average issue of MTIO, which is notable mostly for being a sequel to one of Kirby’s last FF stories, the one where Ben becomes a gladiator on a planet ruled by Skrulls pretending to be mobsters. As we will remember, in that story Ben teamed up with a sentient android named Torgo, and a shocking moment in this issue is when the villain, Boss Barker, shows Ben Torgo’s head in a box. But touchingly, on the last page it turns out that Torgo isn’t actually dead, and he saves the day. Not a spectacularly great comic but a pretty fun one.

FANTASTIC FOUR #610 (Marvel, 2012) – A-. For some reason I never got around to reading the last couple issues of Hickman’s FF. At this point he had already concluded his major storyline and he was just wrapping up loose ends, but this issue shows some of his usual narrative cleverness. The premise here is that AIM has claimed sovereignty over the Caribbean island of Barbuda (not sure if this is the same one that’s next to Antigua), and Reed is sent to negotiate with them. As often happens in Hickman’s FF, it turns out that AIM is actually not all that bad, and once they surrender the Wizard, who had been working for them, the situation is resolved peacefully. The issue ends with a confrontation between the Wizard and Bentley, which sets up some plot threads later resolved by Matt Fraction.

FANTASTIC FOUR #611 (Marvel, 2012) – This one is actually really cool, and it’s a reasonably effective conclusion to one of the best runs in the history of this title. In this story, Doom becomes the god of an alternate universe. But because he makes the mistake of creating this universe in his own image, his own creations end up dethroning him, and Valeria has to rescue him. (One minor but cool point in this issue is that the usurper rulers of Doom’s new universe are the Professors of Magic and the High Priests of Science, instead of vice versa.) The key reason why Hickman was such a great FF writer is because instead of reiterating all the old clichés, he tried to do genuinely new stuff. For example, it’s hard to come up with an original story where Doom is the villain anymore, so why not tell a story where Doom is the hero? Or why not let Doom achieve his goals for once, and then see what that would lead to? And Hickman also introduced an element of hope and futurity which is often missing from contemporary superhero comics. In Mark Waid’s FF, Doom and Val’s relationship tended to be presented in very creepy terms – I still remember getting a chill down my spine when Val’s first word was “Doom.” But here, Hickman suggests that Val and Doom’s uncle/niece relationship can actually have some positive effects.

DC COMICS PRESENTS #1 (DC, 1978) – C+. Garcia López’s artwork here is genuinely nice-looking, but not his best, and I seriously disliked the story. Martin Pasko creates an overly convoluted and confusing plot involving two warring alien races, time travel, and Professor Zoom. He is not able to wrap it all up in the space of one issue, but he leaves me feeling unexcited about reading issue 2. There are other early issues of this series (e.g. the Adam Strange team-up in #3) that are much better.

THE FLASH #82 (DC, 1993) – A-. This may have been the last good story involving Starfire prior to Tony Bedard’s R.E.B.E.L.S. As a massive Starfire fan, I find it annoying that she doesn’t get to do much in this issue, because she spends most of it imprisoned inside a machine. Still, Dick’s frantic concern for Kory is genuine and touching. And it’s fun seeing Dick team up with Wally. It has been well established that these two characters are best friends (looking back at Flash #142, reviewed above, I recall that Dick was Wally’s best man), and it’s a shame that they don’t get to interact more because they’re in different corners of the DCU. There is a notable continuity error early in this issue: Mark Waid refers to Nightwing as Starfire’s husband, not realizing that their wedding in New Teen Titans #100 was never completed.

STARMAN #64 (DC, 2000) – A-. This was the best non-Vertigo DC title of its time, something which unfortunately cannot be said for James Robinson’s later work; surely there can be few comic book writers whose careers have declined as precipitously as his. The one gap in my Starman collection is the epic Grand Guignol story, which I’ve been unenthusiastic about reading because it seems rather grim and depressing. This issue isn’t too bad in that sense, though. It’s the fifth annual “Talking with David” story and the second one in which David talks to Mikaal Tomas rather than Jack, who does not appear in this issue. It turns into an interesting exploration of Mikaal’s rather sordid and traumatic past, but Robinson portrays Mikaal as a sympathetic and multifaceted character. There’s one adorable panel that depicts a six-year-old Mikaal with some sort of alien pet. And there’s a guest appearance by Octavia, a minor character from the first year of the series, which reminds us that Robinson had a comprehensive plan for the series and that he didn’t do anything without a reason. What Robinson was really doing in this series was expressing a distinctive, personal vision of the superhero genre. Sadly, DC is no longer willing to grant its writers this degree of creative freedom, which is why we have to look elsewhere for similarly personal and innovative work.

SUPERMAN #162 (DC, 1962) – C+/B-. Unlike other old Superman comics reviewed above, this is more the sort of thing I expect from ‘60s Superman. The first story here is kind of cute; in “The Day Superman Broke the Law,” a corrupt small-town mayor keeps charging Superman with petty crimes and ultimately sends him to jail. You have to wonder why the judge kept finding Superman guilty of these crimes, though, since they were all committed in the course of saving lives. The second story, “The Secret of the Superman Stamp,” has a genuinely bizarre twist which is relevant to my interest in typography. In this story, some officials from Rangoon, Burma, decide to create a commemorative Superman stamp, but Superman realizes that if their intended design for the stamp is published, it will end his career. Why? Because the stamp shows him facing the camera, and if the stamp is cancelled with the RANGOON postmark, the two letter O’s will appear right over his eyes, making his resemblance to Clark Kent obvious. This seems like a really bizarre point, but it does remind us that typography is a visual phenomenon. (But did Burma really use English text in their postmarks in 1962? Wouldn’t they have used the Burmese alphabet instead? I don’t know enough about philately to determine the answer to that.) The third story is the one featured on the cover, but it’s easily the worst; it’s a silly, predictable story about Phantom Zone villains.

WOLFF & BYRD, COUNSELORS OF THE MACABRE #12 (Exhibit A, 1996) – A-. The client in this story is based on Jack Benny, and the story includes all kinds of references to Jack Benny’s running jokes and his supporting cast. Because I know nothing about Jack Benny, most of these references went straight over my head, and I feel like I missed half the point of this issue. For example, I didn’t know until I read this issue that the Yes Guy character on the Simpsons is based on Frank Nelson’s character from the Jack Benny show. Even so, this issue works fairly well as a standard Wolff & Byrd story, about a guardian angel who gets sued for failing to prevent injury to his human client. And it ends with a cute scene where Wolff and Byrd reestablish their friendship. I like how Wolff and Byrd have an affectionate relationship, but are clearly depicted as platonic friends with no romantic interest in each other.

SAVAGE DRAGON #52 (Image, 1998) – B-. This was a below-average issue. Basically the whole issue is a series of giant fight scenes, and there is very little of the more humorous or dramatic material that Erik is so good at, except for a scene where William proposes to Rita. Oh, yeah, and a scene where Barbaric realizes he’s not going to see any money from the toy line he endorsed. Besides that, this issue was kind of boring.

FANTASTIC FOUR #587 (Marvel, 2011) – A+. This is one of the last Hickman issues I hadn’t read, and one of the best. There’s tons of awesome stuff here, but one particular highlight is when Sue negotiates a peaceful resolution to the war in Atlantis, and when Namor disapproves of the deal and grabs Sue on the shoulder, she backhands him and knocks him on his ass. This is a prime example of why Hickman writes Sue Storm better than any other writer in the history of the franchise. He depicts her as assertive, strong-willed and confident. Earlier depictions of this character were far less impressive, even when they weren’t blatantly sexist. Of course the other big moment in this issue is Johnny’s heroic sacrifice. Even knowing that Johnny was going to come back to life a year later (and I think this was pretty obvious even at the time this issue came out), I found this scene really impressive, especially the two-page splash in which Johnny is engulfed by a horde of Negative Zone monsters. And then that’s followed by a nearly full-page panel showing Franklin and Val weeping in Ben’s arms. This scene not only testifies to Hickman’s brilliance, but also shows why Steve Epting is one of the preeminent artists in superhero comics today.

DOCTOR STRANGE #29 (Marvel, 1978) – A-. This was an effective story, though I prefer Roger Stern’s second run on this series to his first. Tom Sutton’s artwork here is some of his best. Sutton never did anything quite as good as “Fathom Haunt: Spawn of the Dread Thing” in Creepy #53, but this story almost approaches that story’s level of Lovecraftian richness, especially in the first couple pages. Sadly, in these pages Doc and Clea are about to enjoy a romantic evening when Doc has to run off on an adventure, and leaves Clea behind. Clea then says that she’s sick of this sort of treatment from Doc and that she’s his disciple as well as his lover. It became clear in Roger Stern’s second Dr. Strange run that Stern was not comfortable with Doc and Clea’s teacher-student romance, and almost the first thing he did when he took over the title again was to break them up. The rest of the issue, in which Doc and Nighthawk battle Death-Stalker, is not nearly as interesting.

SUPERMAN #668 (DC, 2007) – A+. Part one of “The Third Kryptonian” is utterly adorable. While the story is nominally about Clark’s attempt to locate the mysterious title character, this issue focuses on Clark and Chris Kent’s relationship. Chris is getting annoyed with having to conceal his powers at school, so Clark gets Batman to make Chris a watch that emits red sun radiation. Chris and Clark’s interactions with Batman and Robin are extremely cute, especially when Tim Drake teaches Chris gymnastics. This scene also depicts Clark as an affectionate and caring father. Of course Chris Kent’s presence in this series didn’t last long, because God forbid that DC characters should have healthy family relationships. I think Kurt Busiek’s Superman is the last version of the character that I’ve had any interest in. Not only that, I think Kurt is the best Superman writer since Elliot S! Maggin, if you don’t count Alan Moore. Kurt’s generally cheerful and warmhearted take on the character has much in common with Elliot or Richard Donner’s Superman, and is very much at odds with DC’s current grim-and-gritty version of the character. And there’s also a nice treat here for fans of Elliot’s Superman, as the last page reveals that the third Kryptonian is Elliot’s signature character, Kristin Wells. I also want to mention that Rick Leonardi’s artwork here is very effective. He also did X-Men #252, reviewed above, and I think he’s a fairly underrated artist.

Other reviews

12-12-13

THE THANOS IMPERATIVE #3 (Marvel, 2010) – This was an average chapter of a forgettable crossover story, but there were a couple things in it that stuck out in my mind. First, this issue reveals that the Cancerverse is an alternative Marvel universe that diverged when Captain Mar-Vell, instead of dying, performed a ritual that destroyed Death and released the many-angled ones (i.e. Lovecraftian Great Old Ones). This scene is kind of interesting as a tribute to “The Death of Captain Marvel.” It indicates that for Abnett and Lanning, that story was a key moment in the history of the Marvel Universe, in that it’s the only superhero death that was never reversed. The other kind of cool moment is a scene where Nova picks a small but powerful strike force to achieve some sort of mission or other, and in a panel that spans two pages, we see that the team consists of him, Quasar, Beta Ray Bill, Gladiator, Silver Surfer and Ronan. There is a certain sort of primal fanboy pleasure created by seeing so many incredibly powerful characters together. Grade: B-

WONDER WOMAN #601 (DC, 2010) – This is the first issue of a new run, but J. Michael Straczynski does a terrible job of introducing us to his version of Diana. He starts off by introducing some premises that make no sense at all: Themiscyra has been conquered by unidentified soldiers, Hippolyta is dead, and Diana has been living in Man’s World since childhood. This is not an alternate continuity, this is the result of someone deliberately changing the past of the mainstream DC Universe. But JMS does not tell us this until halfway through the issue, and so I spent the first half of this comic wondering what the hell was going on and how this could possibly be reconciled with the situation at the end of Gail’s run. The rest of the issue is just a bunch of boring action sequences. JMS had one brief moment of glory with his run on Spider-Man, but his career as a comic book writer is effectively over now, and stories like this are the reason why. Grade: D

BATMAN AND ROBIN #12 (DC, 2010) – Another highly confusing comic, but here at least it was because I hadn’t read the previous issues, not because the story didn’t make sense. This issue is mostly plot, but there is one rather poignant scene where Damian rejects his mother’s influence and she declares him an enemy of the house of al Ghul, to which he replies, “I hope I can be a worthy one, Mother.” Damian is my favorite thing about this series; I am not a big fan of the overly confusing plot. The big revelation at the end of this issue is that Oberon Sexton is really the Joker, but this had little impact on me since I don’t remember who Oberon Sexton even is. Grade: B+

SAGA #16 (Image, 2013) – This is the best monthly comic at the moment and I expect it to win a second consecutive Eisner award for Best Continuing Series. Issue 15 was a hard act to follow, but this one is almost as good. I squeed pretty hard at the panel where everyone is sitting and reading, including Alanna who is sitting on a giant stack of books, and the caption says “if most of your childhood didn’t look exactly like this, I feel sorry for you.” D. Oswald Heist’s comments about children’s books at the bottom of that page are almost as brilliant. I don’t think anything else in that issue rises to the same level, but Klara and Oswald’s budding relationship is adorable and I liked how Gwendolen cleverly uses Lying Cat to counter the effects of the hallucinogenic food. Oh, and the superhero-based reality show is a nice piece of satire. Overall, I can’t think why anyone wouldn’t be buying this comic. Grade: A+

FF #14 (Marvel, 2013) – This was already the cutest Marvel comic since they stopped doing Power Pack and Pet Avengers miniseries, but it’s gotten even cuter in the last two issues, probably because of the loss of Matt Fraction’s moderating influence. There is just so much adorable stuff here – Artie and Leech’s little tiger, Darla hugging the Moloid kids goodbye, Alex getting a group hug after admitting his betrayal, etc. The cuteness does turn into creepiness at one point when Bentley bores a hole in the bathhouse wall (and I wonder if it’s significant that Alex is made uncomfortable by this). There is also some quite clever storytelling here, and some effective character development, especially for Hank and Darla. The last page is impressive, but the quotation from Kipling is too explicitly religious for my tastes. Grade: A-

THREE #2 (Image, 2013) – This series is of course explicitly intended as a rebuttal to 300 and I’m not sure it’s become anything more than that yet. However, Kieron is doing a nice job of creating a counter-300. In the second half of the issue, he effectively depicts Sparta as a decadent, declining culture, and responds to Miller’s homophobic references to Athenians as “boy-lovers” by reminding us that the Spartans practiced pederasty too. The first half of the issue contains too much brutal violence for my tastes, although I suppose that’s also part of Kieron’s rhetorical strategy. I think that for this series to be more effective on its own merits rather than just by comparison to 300, Kieron needs to make us care more about the three Helot protagonists. Grade: A

YOUNG AVENGERS #11 (Marvel, 2013) – This series has rightly been called “Tumblr bait” (http://www.avclub.com/article/iyoung-avengers-i8-and-the-rise-of-the-tumblrheroe-100791), and it’s clearly exploiting Loki’s current massive popularity. But like the above Onion article argues, this is not a bad thing. Over the past decade Marvel and DC have mostly neglected Internet fandom and have shown little awareness of Internet culture (besides that one scene in Prince of Power where Bast turns into a lolcat). This series represents Marvel’s most explicit acknowledgement that communities like Tumblr and scans_daily exist and that Internet meme culture is a thing. Importantly, these types of Internet fan communities are much less male-dominated than comics fandom as a whole, and the use of Internet culture is a great way for this series to appeal to women, who are a prominent part of the audience for this series in particular. Anecdotally, I know at least one female fan who loved Heinberg’s Young Avengers and PAD’s Young Justice, but who got so turned off by the prevailing atmosphere at Marvel and DC that she stopped reading comic books altogether. This current Young Avengers series is a sign that Marvel takes this type of reader seriously and is interested in expanding its audience.

I have little to say about this issue specifically, but it maintains this series’s usual high level of quality. I love the page with the web diagram of all the teen heroes. Marvel has enough kid heroes that they could actually do a Legion of Super-Heroes-style series with a rotating cast of about 30 characters. They ought to do that and get Christos Gage to write it.  Grade: A

YOUNG AVENGERS #12 – The comments above apply to this issue too. I guess the big revelation here is that Leah is Loki’s guilty conscience, but that wasn’t clear to me until I read the next issue. Grade: A

ATOMIC ROBO: THE SAVAGE SWORD OF DR. DINOSAUR #2 (Red 5, 2013) – I’m ashamed I haven’t been reading this series more regularly. Like Groo, Atomic Robo is basically the same joke every issue, but it’s a funny joke that allows for a lot of variation. The funniest thing in this issue is Dr. Dinosaur, who, again like Groo, is totally oblivious to how stupid he is. There is also some genuine tension here, though. I don’t quite understand what’s going on with Tesladyne Island and Majestic 12, but it’s exciting. Grade: A

HAWKEYE #14 (Marvel, 2013) – I still don’t understand how this series fits into Young Avengers continuity, and a cursory Google search suggests that no one else understands this either. I find it hard to believe that Kate is having intergalactic interdimensional adventures at the same time that she’s broke and living in a trailer. Other than that, the story in this issue was adorable. Kate is so charmingly inept, and the two men she’s working for are a lovely couple. I guess the guy she meets in the supermarket is supposed to be Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe; this story may have been more meaningful if I had known anything about this character besides his name. I’m curious to see how this story develops. Grade: A

BATMAN AND ROBIN #13 (DC, 2010) – Another difficult issue, this one begins with a flashback scene in which Thomas Wayne pays to have his wife killed, then turns into some sort of anti-Batman. How this fits into continuity is not made clear, and the rest of the issue is taken up with Dick and Damian’s attempts to stop the Joker’s latest plot. At least that part of the issue is well-written and exciting, and Frazer Irving’s artwork is brilliant. His artwork has improved since his previous collaboration with Morrison on Seven Soldiers: Klarion, which was already impressive. Grade: B+

BATMAN AND ROBIN #14 (DC, 2010) – Much like the previous issue, except that this one is a bunch of action sequences. Looking at it again after about a week, I find that I don’t remember much about it. Grade: B

ATOMIC ROBO: THE SAVAGE SWORD OF DR. DINOSAUR #3 (Red 5, 2013) – Most of the comments on the previous issue apply to this one as well. This issue is interesting because of its sympathetic portrayal of the faceless underworld inhabitants, and because again, the events taking place on the surface, involving an invasion of Tesladyne Island, are genuinely exciting. There’s one particularly striking page where one of the Tesladyne Island defenders asks another one “Robo’s not even here. What do we do?” and the reply is simply “We hold the line.” I have yet to see such a serious moment in this comic. Grade: A

WARLORD #27 (DC, 1979) – I think this series was Mike Grell’s earliest work as a writer/artist, and while the artwork is impressive, especially the giant two-page splashes, Grell’s inexperience as a writer is clear. His writing lacks the mature, reflective, gently mocking tone of later works like Green Arrow and Jon Sable. For example, in this issue Morgan relives his past lives and discovers he was all of the following: an Atlantean nobleman, a gladiator, Sir Lancelot, D’Artagnan, Jim Bowie, and Crazy Horse. Now, first, this violates the rule of show, don’t tell. If Grell wants us to believe that Morgan is just as great a hero as his past selves, then he needs to prove this by showing Morgan doing heroic things. Second, it seems rather improbable that all of Morgan’s past incarnations were great warriors, rather than slaves or peasants or victims of infant mortality, like most people in premodern times. In later works, Grell did a much more graceful and subtle job of comparing his protagonists to great heroes of the past. Grade: C-

Further reviews

1-31-13

I almost lost all this material when Microsoft Word crashed, but I was able to recover it. Yay!

FANTASTIC FOUR #188 (Marvel, 1977) – In general the ‘70s was an awful decade for this series, but at least it featured some of George Pérez’s earlier work, and it was usually not completely unreadable. This is a reasonably good issue whose primary highlights are Gentleman George’s artwork and the guest appearance by the Impossible Man, who I suspect is an unacknowledged inspiration for Pinkie Pie, because he violates the laws of physics and his highest priority is having fun. George’s artwork here is not at the same level as his other early work on titles like Avengers, but it’s still recognizable as his work. The villain in this issue is the Molecule Man, who is rarely used because, much like Element Lad, he’s so overwhelmingly powerful that he must be handicapped if his opponents are going to have a fair chance. For example, in this story he’s possessing Reed’s body and therefore has a mental block against severely harming the FF. Grade: B

ACTION COMICS #505 (DC, 1980) – I kind of like the cover of this issue because Ross Andru makes the big shaggy monster Jorlan look cute and goofy; he looks a bit creepier in the actual comic. “The Creature That Charmed Children” is only an average or below-average story; it introduces a lot of mysteries that won’t be cleared up until next issue, and it depicts Clark acting like a jerk to Lana, although this is hardly unusual for the period. The redeeming quality of the issue is Curt Swan’s artwork, especially his iconic, heroic depictions of Superman. Grade: B-

UNCANNY X-MEN #222 (Marvel, 1987) – This issue is from the start of Claremont’s bad period, and is hampered by boring Marc Silvestri artwork. Still, there is a lot of interesting stuff here. On the second page, a character is seen reading George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards. A large part of the issue is devoted to Storm and Nazé’s vision quest, and while Claremont does seem to be relying on stereotypes of Native Americans, you get the feeling that he at least did a certain amount of research into Cheyenne culture rather than just making everything up from scratch. The other major plotline, involving a battle between the X-Men and the Marauders, is kind of pointless since I don’t care much about any of the characters involved. Grade: A-

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #213 (DC, 1983) – Gerry Conway’s run on JLofA was a major step down in quality from the brief Steve Englehart run that preceded it, but in general I like most of his work on the series; like Englehart, Gerry wrote the characters with a Marvelesque depth of characterization that was missing before. This issue is by no means a classic but is certainly quite readable. The weird thing about this issue is that it begins with Ray Palmer having a nervous breakdown, which seems a little out of character and makes me wonder if Gerry Conway was confusing him with another scientist hero with shrinking powers. Grade: B+

HAWKMAN #16 (DC, 1966) – The cover says “Lord of the Flying Gorillas!” and this comic does, in fact, include six flying gorillas. The story is heavily reliant on earlier issues I haven’t read, but Gardner Fox’s storytelling is clear enough that I had little difficulty figuring out what was going on, and Murphy Anderson’s artwork is effective because of his storytelling ability and his well-balanced compositions. One specific panel in which Hawkman slams two of the gorillas into the ceiling is especially well-done. My major complaint about the story is the ending. Shayera thinks Katar is dead, but on discovering that she’s alive, she collapses into his arms like a little girl. It literally says: “She whirls – hurls herself iinto the strong arms that mean her happiness! She clings, quivering helplessly…” It was remarkably progressive for Fox to include Shayera in this comic as an equal partner to Katar, but scenes like this make you realize that he was hardly free of sexism. Also, in the letter column Irene Vartanoff correctly points out that Katar and Shayera have kind of a boring relationship: “I think the main flaw in Hawkman is the lack of change, of human interest surrounding him and his wife.” A similar complaint can be made about basically all of Gardner Fox’s work, because he was much more interested in SF adventure than “human interest.” Grade: A-

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #169 (DC, 1980) – I am continuing to revise my negative opinion of Mike Barr’s writing. This issue is a well-crafted detective story; the plot is highly convoluted but ultimately makes sense in the end. However, the guest star, Zatanna, doesn’t really do much of anything, and the story would have been much the same if she had been replaced by just about any other character. Jim Aparo’s artwork is impeccable as ever. The Nemesis backup story is interesting both for Dan Spiegle’s artwork and for the cleverness of the plot; it depicts a bunch of criminals discussing how Nemesis has infiltrated their operations under various disguises, and then the twist ending is that one of the criminals telling the stories was Nemesis in disguise. Grade: B+

WONDER WOMAN #203 (DC, 1972) – This is the notorious “Women’s Lib Issue.” It has a horrible reputation in fandom, especially due to the infamous panel where Diana says she doesn’t like women, and I went into this story expecting to hate it. Indeed this issue does have some problems. This issue is guest-written by Chip Delany, who was probably one of the top three SF writers in the world at the time – his most recent book then was Nova, which I read this year and absolutely loved. His inexperience with writing comics is clear, however; there are some places where he seems to have had trouble compressing his dialogue enough to fit it in the panels. And yeah, I have no idea what he was thinking when he wrote the line about Diana not liking women.

However, after reading this article along with Ann Matsuuchi’s “Wonder Woman Wears Pants,” I now believe that this story deserves more credit than it gets, and that its negative reputation may be due in part to sexism. As Matsuuchi demonstrates, this story actually presents a pretty nuanced account of feminist issues, especially the intersection between feminism and labor. The main conflict in this issue is that the villain, Grandee, is paying his mostly female workforce less than minimum wage, while trying to hire Diana as a spokeswoman so as to give his company fake feminist credentials. (I could have sworn that Grandee also appeared in other Denny O’Neil stories around this time, but I can’t recall which.) Diana and her explicitly feminist friend Cathy lead an ultimately successful campaign to shut down Grandee’s company. One problem here from a fan perspective is that Diana is initially portrayed as having somewhat anti-feminist attitudes. Besides the aforementioned “I don’t like women” comment, she is initially so impressed by Grandee’s glamorous job offer that she ignores his obvious sexism, and lets him get away with saying things like “Wise little lady! Now run downstairs and wait for me! Got a few things to discuss with Mike – man-to-man stuff that wouldn’t interest you!” Diana doesn’t understand what’s wrong with Grandee until Cathy tells her. Still, I think the main problem here is with Diana’s characterization and not with the gender politics of the story itself. The issue ends on a fascinating cliffhanger when a group of mostly black women interrupt Cathy’s meeting and complain that by running Grandee out of business, she has put them out of a job. This could have opened the door for a potentially fascinating story about the intersection of race, gender and labor issues (#solidarityisforwhitewomen).

So like Matsuuchi, I think it’s genuinely unfortunate that Delany’s story ended after this issue and that the cliffhanger was never resolved in any way. The official reason is because Gloria Steinem visited the DC offices and was offended that Wonder Woman, whom she saw as a feminist symbol, was no longer wearing her iconic costume. Thus, the no-costume era promptly ended after #203 and the series returned to the previous status quo. However, it appears that Steinem didn’t actually read any of the no-costume stories, and was reacting to Diana’s lack of a costume and not to their actual content. I suspect that DC used Steinem’s reaction as a convenient excuse to stop publishing stories that they felt uncomfortable with anyway. I think that in some ways Wonder Woman #203 is actually a high point for discussion of feminist issues in ‘70s superhero comics, and it’s certainly one of the few Wonder Woman comics that could be the focus of an entire academic paper. Grade: A-

UNCLE SCROOGE ADVENTURES #10 (Gladstone, 1988) – I kind of suspect that Dorfman and Mattelart never read “Land of the Pygmy Indians” because it significantly complicates their reading of Donald Duck as a tool of imperialist propaganda. In fact, this story is heavily environmentalist and anti-capitalist. Having gotten sick of the smog and noise in Duckburg, Scrooge decides to leave town and move to the unspoiled virgin forest, where he can live in tranquility. Of course once he gets to his new home, all he can think of is the valuable natural resources waiting there to be extracted. And when he meets the titular pygmy Indians, he thinks that if he could “tame” them, they’d be the best pipe cleaners ever. Now obviously the Indians are blatant examples of the noble-savage stereotype, and they talk in Hiawatha meter, which is cute but hardly represents how actual Native Americans would talk. However, Barks clearly wants the reader to sympathize with them, and he makes the reader root against Scrooge, who is trying to enslave them and strip-mine their land for resources. (Though at the same time we pity Scrooge, because he tries to shake his addiction to wealth and resource extraction, but completely fails.) And in the end, the Indians get rid of Scrooge through their own initiative, without needing any white-savior assistance from Donald or the nephews. The stereotypes in this story are disturbing, but I think Barks wrote this story with good intentions. The story is also notable for Barks’s gorgeous depictions of animals and forest landscapes. Grade: A+