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.

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