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.

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