Various commentaries

3-28-13

SWORD OF SORCERY #5 (DC, 1973) – B-. The first story has some fairly good early Walt Simonson artwork, but clumsy writing by Denny O’Neil. I’ve said here before that his writing is histrionic and humorless and he has a bad prose style, and much of that is evident in this story. The result is a Fafhrd-Gray Mouser story that’s not nearly as fun as the Fritz Leiber originals. The backup story is one of the few comic book stories by the SF writer George Alec Effinger.

IRON MAN #126 (Marvel, 1979) – A+. The #120s of Iron Man are the high point of the entire series, and the current Robert Downey Jr. Iron Man owes much to Michelinie, Layton and JR Jr’s version of the character. I’ve read this issue several times before, but it’s full of moments that still hold up well on rereading. One that stands out to me is the exchange “I’d like to ask if this guard here knows what a clavicle is.” “Huh? Well, uh… no.” “Surprise! It’s what I just broke!” And then another occurs on the following page, when Tony climbs over the wall of Hammer’s estate and discovers it’s a giant houseboat. As awesome as this issue is, it’s mostly setup for the next two, which are even better. However, the final page, where Tony appears in his armor and calls Hammer out, is an amazing cliffhanger, reminding me of the last page of Daredevil #232.

LOKI: AGENT OF ASGARD #2 (Marvel, 2014) – B+. There is a lot of really entertaining stuff in this issue, but the fanservice still seems a little excessive. To put that another way, I feel like this series is too obviously trying to cater to Marvel’s new crop of Loki fans. I don’t feel that it has the same level of sincerity as Loki’s previous series. I’m willing to keep buying it, though.

ASTRO CITY #10 (DC, 2014) – A. My initial reaction to this issue was that it was Kurt’s best sustained Astro City story, probably even better than Confession. I felt that he was genuinely trying to engage with questions of feminism at a mature and adult level. Then I read Chase Magnett’s negative review at , which argues that Kurt wasn’t saying anything original, and specifically that Winged Victory’s monologue at the end of the issue was excessively obvious and uncontroversial. Chase Maggett is partly right. While this story was a very powerful presentation of feminist material, it didn’t necessarily teach me anything about feminism I didn’t already know. And both of the opposing positions in this story (extreme anti-feminism and feminist separatism) are obvious strawmen, whereas Winged Victory’s position is not radical at all.

But maybe a more interesting way to read this story is as an answer to the question: What does it mean to be an ally? How can men support women and oppose institutionalized structures of sexism in ways that don’t simply reinforce those structures? From that perspective, Joey is a deeply compelling character because that is exactly what he’s trying to do. He’s a (very young) man who genuinely wants to learn from women, and one of the basic conflicts in the story is whether Vicky can accept him as a student without betraying her feminist project. Or to put this in terms that don’t emphasize men quite so much, maybe the real question of the story is how men and women can work together productively in a traditionally male-dominated profession. And that is an important question to ask in an industry which has historically suffered from massive sexism, and in which sexual harassment scandals still happen on a regular basis (e.g. the recent incidents involving Scott Lobdell and Brian Wood). So I think the present Astro City story has complexities that Chase Maggett misses.

INVINCIBLE #109 (Image, 2014) – A-. This is a significant improvement over the previous issue. In #108, Mark acted in such an insensitive and boorish way that he almost totally lost my sympathy. I almost had the impression that Mark was on the road to becoming a supervillain, just like all his alternate versions. But in this issue Mark reminds us why he’s a hero. Having been led by Robot into a seemingly inescapable trap, he saves himself not by brute force, but by cunning and persuasion. The way he not only escapes the alternate dimension, but frees it from Viltrumite tyranny, is simply brilliant. I’m still kind of nervous about what’s going to happen to Mark over the next few issues, but at least I’m rooting for him again.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #1 (Marvel, 2014) –A+. With this issue, this series returns to being the best comic with a female protagonist in Marvel’s history. (Of course there are very few other serious candidates, and the current Ms. Marvel title is one of them.) The opening sequence is all right – David Lopez draws some pretty cool aliens – but the scene in the Statue of Liberty is the heart of the comic. Lt. Trouble is the cutest Marvel character since Molly Hayes, and I love her interactions with Carol. And the line “in that one moment, every little girl flies” could almost be the motto of the entire series. This comic is making a serious attempt to rethink what it means to be a female superhero, and maybe metaphorically, what it means to be a female comic book writer.

BEASTS OF BURDEN: HUNTERS & GATHERERS #1 (Dark Horse, 2014) – A+. I am not a huge fan of traditional horror comics (e.g. 30 Days of Night), and so Beasts of Burden is one of my favorite comics in the genre, for much the same reason that I love Afterlife with Archie. If the latter series uses horror as a vehicle for humor, then Beasts of Burden moves in sort of the opposite direction: it’s full of lovingly rendered depictions of adorable cats and dogs, but the cuteness of the characters only enhances the disturbing nature of the supernatural phenomena that the animals come into contact with. In Beasts of Burden there is always a sense that death might strike at any time, and when it does, it will be permanent – whereas in AwA, even when Archie beats his dad to death, you know that Archie’s dad is still alive and well in the regular Archie title. Besides that, Beasts of Burden, much like Pride of Baghdad, also reminds us of the dark side of animal life – being a stray cat is already a brutal existence even when you aren’t trying to save the world from giant mutant alligators. I hope that Evan and Jill will return to this series soon.

RAT QUEENS #1 (Image, 2013) – A+. Given that this series is written and drawn by two dudes, it’s amazing that it depicts women in such an unromantic, unconventional and powerful way. The Rat Queens are just about the least ladylike characters ever; they’re foul-mouthed, alcoholic, drug-using, physically powerful borderline criminals. And in the context of the series, this is just normal; the fact that they’re all women is not depicted as unusual or problematic. On top of that, all four characters are genuinely distinctive. They have different racial backgrounds and body types, and as is normally the case with an RPG party, they all play different but complementary roles in combat. In terms of its depiction of female characters, this series gets everything right, and I hope that other writers and artists will learn from it.

KILL SHAKESPEARE #1 (IDW, 2010) – B-. I’ve been curious about this series since I met Conor McCreery at ICFA last year, so I was excited to find a copy of this for $1.50. On reading it I was initially disappointed, mostly because McCreery is obviously not the equal of Shakespeare as a dialogue writer. Obviously that’s not a fair comparison, but it’s a comparison that inevitably comes up because of his decision to have his characters speak in pseudo-Elizabethan prose. If he wasn’t capable of writing good Elizabethan English (which is possible, as William Shakespeare’s Star Wars demonstrates), he should have had his characters speak modern English. Besides this, the story is initially rather disappointing because it appears to be just an alternate history version of Hamlet, diverging from the play when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern refuse to cooperate with Claudius’s plot to kill Hamlet. In the last few pages, the story enters much more interesting territory when Hamlet encounters Richard III, who asks him to kill William Shakespeare. I can see how this story could develop into an intriguing piece of metafiction and/or a deep meditation on the relationship between authors and their creations. I will read further issues but only if I find them at a similar price.

MANIFEST DESTINY #4 (Image, 2014) – A. In this issue we are introduced to the Manifest Destiny version of Sacagawea, and we learn that she actually kicks ass. When she first appears in the issue, we learn that she singlehandedly killed the buffalo-centaurs that were menacing Lewis and Clark’s party in the previous issue. And she even did this while pregnant, although it’s left deliberately ambiguous whether she’s actually pregnant or not, and why her pregnancy matters so much to Lewis and Clark. The only disappointing part is that the fight is only shown for one page. Besides Sacagawea, this issue also has more of the things I liked in issue 2, including historically accurate dialogue and the fascinating juxtaposition of actual American history with bizarre monsters. After reading this issue I was interested enough that I went and bought the other three issues available.

MADAME XANADU #7 (DC, 2009) – C+. I’ve never really liked Matt Wagner’s writing, except in Sandman Mystery Theatre where he was collaborating with Steven T. Seagle. I don’t think his stuff has very much complexity or narrative depth. For example, in this issue he makes the ill-advised decision to write about Jack the Ripper, and while he’s clearly not trying to compete with From Hell in terms of literary or artistic quality, he doesn’t even add anything to this story that we didn’t already know; the involvement of Madame Xanadu and the Phantom Stranger does not make the story any more interesting. The one cool thing in the issue was the appearance of the line “The Juwes are the men who will not be blamed for nothing” at the end, and that was only cool because I recognized it from From Hell.

MARVEL ADVENTURES: SPIDER-MAN #8 (Marvel, 2005) – B-. This is a reasonably well-crafted Spider-Man story, but it slavishly follows the Lee/Ditko formula. There is nothing here that would have been out of place in the first 38 issues of Amazing Spider-Man, and that’s a problem. At its best, the Marvel Adventures line is not just an introduction to Marvel comics for new readers, it’s also exciting for new readers because it offers original takes on clichéd characters. This issue fails to do the latter.

MANIFEST DESTINY #5 (Image, 2014) – A+. More Sacagawea. The thing I remember most about this issue is her line “I will come with you. You are not my captain. I do not have to obey you.” Of course Lewis reacts in typical 19th-century fashion and refuses to let her come, but I’m sure that next issue we’re going to find out that she ignored his refusal and followed him anyway. This version of Sacagawea is a fascinating take on one of the more interesting figures in American history, although I guess you could criticize Chris Dingess for writing her as a fundamentally alien and unsettling character. I should also mention the high quality of Matthew Roberts’s artwork. On the letters page, the editor tells the reader to go back and look at the last page (a splash page depicting a horde of plant-zombie animals) for another five minutes, and with good reason.

IMAGE FIRSTS: THIEF OF THIEVES #1 (Image, 2012) – A-. This comic about a professional thief is quite readable and entertaining. The coolest part is the protagonist’s explanation of how to steal a car; it gives the impression that Kirkman did a lot of research on this subject and possibly even interviewed actual thieves, though I don’t know how he could have accomplished that. I’m not in a great hurry to read more of this series, but I will buy some more issues if I find them at a low price.

SUPERGIRL #5 (DC, 1997) – A-/B+. This is a reasonably good Peter David comic. It strikes the same sort of balance between seriousness and comedy as Young Justice did, though the characters are not nearly as engaging. This issue also features art by Gary Frank and Cam Smith, meaning it’s a reunion of Peter David and his best collaborators on the Hulk. The main problem with the issue is the trite plot. Chemo is a very boring villain who only shows up when the superheroes need a giant monster to fight. The plot of this issue is that Chemo turns out to be just a misunderstood creature who only wants to be alive, and Supergirl discovers this but destroys him anyway; this would be fine except that I must have read several dozen other comics with very similar themes.

THE FLASH #85 (DC, 1993) – B+. Out of context, this issue is a fairly simple story in which Wally battles a new super-villain, Razer, and his criminal employer, and wins a decisive victory. With knowledge of the next few issues, this issue takes on a very different tone. At the end of the issue, Wally’s victory leaves him feeling confident and even arrogant. But there are also a lot of scenes throughout the issue that foreshadow the storyline starting in #88, in which Wally is sued by a woman who he failed to save from crippling injuries during his fight with Razer. Clearly the purpose of this issue is to raise Wally to a peak of confidence, so that he can be subsequently toppled from it. So this issue is not all that important in itself but it plays a crucial role in Wally’s ongoing character arc.

ARCHIE #621 (2011) – C-. This is a boring story which revives a lot of old clichés about jungle girls and lost worlds full of dinosaurs. The unoriginality of this story is not surprising considering that Tom DeFalco wrote it. It’s too bad that he left Archie and moved to DC where he had the opportunity to do serious damage.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #17 (IDW, 2014) – A+. Katie and Andy are back. The main appeal of this issue for me is Andy’s obsessively detailed artwork; the fact that this story is set in Starswirl the Bearded’s library means he has even more opportunities than usual for inserting gags. But there is also an interesting story here. The panel where Celestia says “What do you think is worth it?” is one of this series’ most poignant moments so far, and it suggests that this story is going to tell us some surprising things about Celestia’s past. Also, I don’t know what’s up with the tyrannosaurus with Fluttershy’s cutie mark, but I hope we see it again.

MS. MARVEL #2 (Marvel, 2014) – A+. The first issue of this series was probably the most important comic book of the year. I haven’t reviewed it yet because I wasn’t able to find a copy and so I read it on Comixology, which, in my opinion, doesn’t justify including it in these reviews. I know this is a hypocritical thing for me to say, considering that in my research I’m trying to argue against fetishistic attitudes toward print comics, but on a personal level, I have this superstitious belief that if I’ve only read a comic in digital form, I haven’t truly read it.

Anyway, about the actual comic. Ms. Marvel is important for many of the same reasons that the MLP: FIM comic is important. This series was a risk for Marvel because it appeals to female readers and because it features a character from a racial background which is almost never represented positively in American popular culture. And the risk paid off. Ms. Marvel #1 was Marvel’s top-selling digital title last month, which is almost as impressive of a feat as MLP: FIM #1 selling 100,000 copies, and for the same reason. It suggests that Ms. Marvel is enabling Marvel to reach non-traditional audiences, and that the basic demographics of comics fandom are shifting.

Also like MLP: FIM, Ms. Marvel is an extremely high-quality comic. I didn’t much like G. Willow Wilson’s previous comic, Air, and I have her novel Alif the Unseen but have not read it yet. However, her skill as a writer is very clear. She reminds me of Salman Rushdie in her use of popular culture tropes as metaphors for South Asian identity. Until I reread some of the publicity about this series, I didn’t realize that Kamala’s actual power was shapeshifting. Now that I realize this, the bizarre events of the first two issues make much more sense, but more importantly, shapeshifting is a powerful metaphor for the immigrant experience; it reminds me of Rushdie’s use of Dorothy’s ruby slippers for similar metaphorical purposes. In addition to that, the dialogue in this issue seems quite plausible, and Adrian Alphona’s artwork is even better than when he was drawing Runaways. And this comic even uses the word “embiggen” twice. When Ms. Marvel #3 comes out, it will probably be the first comic I read that week.

SEX CRIMINALS #5 (Image, 2014) – A+. This issue concludes the first storyline on a rather depressing and anxious note. As I wrote below, the basic argument of this series seems to be that sex has powerful liberatory potential, and that for this reason, repressive forces in society want to stamp it out. I know that I’ve encountered similar claims in critical theory, and I can’t remember if it was in Freud or Foucault or Deleuze or what. I wish I’d had the chance to talk to Ramzi Fawaz about this series at SCMS, because I don’t know enough queer theory or gender theory to be able to apply them usefully to this comic. But anyway, this story ends with Jon and Suzie on the run, suggesting that the forces of repression are in ascendancy over the forces of polymorphous perversity, but that the battle is not over yet. I also find it interesting that in the next-to-last scene in the issue, Suzie is working at the library when she meets a little girl who she describes as “a little version of me … looking for infromation in a world that seemed like it was designed to keep everything secret.” There’s no actual sex in this scene, but there is an implication that sex and knowledge are deeply connected. And maybe one reason is because sex and knowledge are both desirable purely for their own sake, and not because they serve the capitalist system. They both represent a sort of Bataillean expenditure without reserve, if I understand that concept correctly, which I probably don’t. And therefore, both sex and knowledge are unacceptable in a society where everything is all about money.

When I bought this comic, at Xanadu Comics in Seattle (an excellent store), the clerk asked if I was reading the letter column. I am, though not as attentively as I could be, and it’s the best letter column in comics right now. Not only is it hilarious, but it also presents some interesting discussions of things that people are usually too embarrassed to talk about publicly, like woods porn.

USAGI YOJIMBO #66 (Dark Horse, 2003) – A+. Back issues of Usagi are so hard to find that when I discovered that Xanadu had a bunch of them for $3 or $4 each, I bought five of them. This issue is the first of a three-part story about kaiju, which I knew before reading it. But I didn’t realize it was also about Japanese ink painting, since the plot involves a villain who has the power to summon monsters into existence by painting them with a magical ink set. I only have a very basic knowledge of Japanese calligraphy and ink painting, and have never tried them myself, but as a scholar of handwriting and typography, I obviously find these topics utterly fascinating. And in this issue, just like in the tea ceremony story in #93, Stan shows a sensitive understanding of this fascinating art form – even when it’s being used for evil purposes. The silent page in which the villain paints a monster into existence is beautifully poignant.

SMALL FAVORS #6 (Eros, 2002) – A-. I bought this at the Fantagraphics store in Seattle. This series was Colleen Coover’s first notable work, and it qualifies as a pornographic work not just because of the explicit sexual content, but also because of the storyline. It’s all about people having extremely fun sex with very little emotional baggage, which seems like a perfect definition of pornography, as opposed to more serious genres of writing about sex. It’s all extremely funny and entertaining, though, and Colleen’s characters are adorable, though her facial expressions are not as refined as they are in her later work.

AVENGERS ACADEMY #1 (Marvel, 2010) – B-. Avengers Academy was one of Marvel’s better comics while it was coming out, but either it’s already becoming dated, or it took a while for Gage and McKone to get going. This story initially reads like a very ordinary teen superhero comic, and serves mostly as a very basic introduction the characters. At the end of the issue, we learn that the characters were chosen for Avengers Academy not because of their heroism, but because of their potential to become villains. This is a powerful twist but unfortunately I already knew it was coming.

BATMAN: LI’L GOTHAM #12 (DC, 2014) – A. Unfortunately this is the last issue of what was easily the best current DC title (not counting Astro City or Sandman: Overture). The first story is a very silly affair involving the Condiment King, who i am surprised to discover is actually a previously existing character. The backup story is a very cute and sweet retelling of a lot of previous Batman continuity. The only disappointing part of it is that I’m a massive Dick/Kory shipper, and in this story we learn that this universe’s version of Dick ends up with Babs.

SUPERBOY #137 (DC, 1967) – D-. Like many Superboy comics from this period, the two stories in this issue make no logical sense and insult the reader’s intelligence. In the first story, Clark Kent has to move to another town and pretend to be blind for some illogical reason. This story is extremely ableist: everyone in the new town treats Clark as if he’s completely incapable of doing even the simplest things for himself, and Clark appears to be fine with this insulting treatment. In the backup story, a superpowered baby is left on the Kents’ doorstep and then starts aging rapidly, but it turns out to be a practical joke. I don’t know why the writer, E. Nelson Bridwell, thought this was funny.

ATOMIC ROBO: DEADLY ART OF SCIENCE #3 (Red 5, 2011) – A+. Again, this comic is difficult to comment on because like Groo, it’s the same joke every issue. (The joke in this case is that Atomic Robo is an adorably cute robot who uses SCIENCE!) This particular issue is an effective example of that joke, and also develops Robo’s relationship with his dad and his new girlfriend.

RAT QUEENS #4 (Image, 2014) – A. This issue is just a giant fight scene, but Wiebe and Upchurch manage to make even that entertaining. The villain in this issue (well, one of the villains) is especially entertaining because she’s a grotesquely fat troll, yet she’s not fat in a funny way, and she’s a genuine threat.

PRETTY DEADLY #4 (Image, 2014) – B-. I’m sorry to say that I’m still having trouble getting into this series. I don’t quite understand its sensibility, KSDC’s writing still seems kind of awkward to me, and while I enjoy Emma Rios’s artwork, her panel structures are sometimes excessively convoluted. At least by now I’m starting to understand who all the characters are, but again, I wish Kelly had made that clear at an earlier point. I feel obligated to keep buying this series, though, because I feel that there’s something about it I’m missing.

ELRIC: THE SAILOR ON THE SEAS OF FATE #3 (First, 1985) – B+. There is something deeply visual about Michael Moorcock’s writing, something which makes it ideal subject matter for comics. Yet “Sailing to the Present,” the crossover story with Agak and Gagak, seems resistant to adaptation in a visual medium, because it deals with entities that are too fantastic to be grasped by the senses. In this issue, though, Thomas, Gilbert and Freeman do a more than adequate job of finding a visual form for this story. Michael T. Gilbert’s artwork is appropriate for this story because it’s powerfully epic while still quite abstract; he doesn’t try to fix Agak and Gagak into a single visual form. P. Craig Russell could have done an even better job with this material, though.

BULLETS & BRACELETS #1 (DC/Marvel, 1996) – C+. For a John Ostrander work, this comic was rather disappointing. It begins with the somewhat implausible premise that the Punisher and Wonder Woman have a child together, and ends with the unsatisfactory revelation that the child, after being kidnapped, grows up to become Master Kanto from Apokolips. Which I suppose makes sense given his parents, but it’s also annoyingly similar to the origin of Validus. What’s even more unsatisfying is that once Diana and Frank discover what happened to their baby, they seem to forget about him completely. A further annoying thing about this comic is that most of the characters are taken directly from one universe or the other, rather than being amalgams of Marvel and DC characters. Surely instead of just using the original Female Furies or Kanto, Ostrander could have come up with some preexisting Marvel or DC characters to combine them with.

HELLBOY: THE FURY #3 (Dark Horse, 2011) – A-. I really had no idea what was going on here, but it all had a very epic scope to it. I’d like to read this story again with more knowledge of Hellboy continuity. I still think Duncan Fegredo’s artwork is almost indistinguishable from Mignola’s.

QUANTUM & WOODY #2 (Valiant, 2013) – B. This is funny, but it still seems too similar to the Priest/Bright original, adding very little that wasn’t in the original series. I would rather just read back issues of the original Quantum & Woody.

DAGAR THE INVINCIBLE #3 (Gold Key, 1973) – B. This issue introduces Dagar’s love interest, Graylin, who was named after Don Glut’s former wife. The story is quite formulaic, but it’s sufficiently well-drawn and excitingly written to be worth reading anyway. At this point in Jesse Santos’s career, his art was notable more for his distinctive linework than for his storytelling or page layouts. His stuff would get more bizarre and crazy as his collaboration with Glut went on.

MARVEL APES #0 (Marvel, 2008) – A+. This issue reprints Amazing Spider-Man #110 and #111, and the grade of A+ is mostly because of the former, which is one of the few Lee/Romita Spider-Man comics I hadn’t read. This issue has some fantastic soap opera-esque scenes involving the love triangle between Peter, Gwen and Flash (or at least Peter thinks it’s a love triangle). But the reason it’s reprinted here is that it introduces the Gibbon, who is depicted here as a truly tragic figure, rather than a joke villain, as I would have expected. Or rather, he is a joke, but he becomes a villain because he’s sick of everyone laughing at his simian appearance. The Marvel Apes miniseries, in which the Gibbon becomes an actual hero, is an effective continuation of this story. Issue #111, which I had already read, is not nearly as good because it’s written by Gerry Conway instead of Stan. There is also an original story by Karl Kesel and Ramon Bachs, which retells the machinery-lifting scene from ASM #33 with monkeys. The trouble with this story is it’s not nearly as long as the original scene. The joke would have been funnier if the monkey version of the scene had had the same epic scope as the people version.

SHE-HULK: COSMIC COLLISION #1 (Marvel, 2009) – D-. One of the worst PAD comics I’ve read. In this issue PAD attempts to convey some kind of serious message about love and hate or something, but he does this in such a ponderous, heavy-handed way that his argument loses all effectiveness. His abortion and AIDS stories in Incredible Hulk had the same problem. The artwork in this issue is not especially good either.

WHAT IF? #21 (Marvel, 1991) – C-. “What If Spider-Man Married the Black Cat” is interesting mostly for unintentional humor value. The premise of the story is pretty stupid to begin with – it requires Peter to be an even more irresponsible idiot than is normal for him. And as often happens in this What If series, the initial premise leads to a series of wild and implausible plot twists, including the deaths of numerous characters. Many writers seemed to use the What If format as an excuse for killing off characters who were inviolable in the regular Marvel universe, and this issue is no exception. The other bizarre thing is that the story ends with Spidey getting together with Silver Sable of all characters. Silver Sable’s role in this story is so disproportionately large that it made me wonder if the writer of this issue, Danny Fingeroth, created her (he didn’t).

USAGI YOJIMBO #67 (Dark Horse, 2003) – A+. Another amazing piece of work. This story is partly an excuse for Stan to do a story about kaiju, but it’s more than that besides. For example, as foreshadowed by the very impressive cover, this story gives Jotaro a chance to play the hero. Having been imprisoned so that his blood can be used to make ink, he single-handedly frees himself and the other children held captive with him. He even has to kill a creature that’s pursuing them; while Stan declines to show this scene on-panel, I feel like it’s a key moment in Jotaro’s character arc, because it indicates his ability to take difficult actions when necessary. It reminds me of the scene in King Conan when Conn kills someone for the first time. If the point of the “Travels with Jotaro” storyline is to show Jotaro growing up into a young man worthy of his father, um, I mean uncle, then this story depicts an important step in that process.

DAREDEVIL #35 and #36 (Marvel, 2014) – B+. I’ll comment on these issues together. This story is disappointing because it’s yet another story in which Matt gets blackmailed or guilt-tripped into defending a known criminal. This already happened once in this run of Daredevil, and it previously happened in Karl Kesel’s first Daredevil storyline and even in Frank Miller’s Punisher storyline. It’s an effective plot device because it’s a dilemma that criminal defense lawyers often have to face in real life, but it’s getting old at this point. And the further frustrating part is that Matt is willing to allow himself to be blackmailed into defending Donald Ogilvy. It takes an intervention from Elektra (whose guest appearance in this story is not necessary) to get him to realize that he needs to seek a way out of this dilemma. Which he finally does, by revealing his secret identity in open court, but I also found this part of the story to be unconvincing. Did Matt really have to unmask himself in court, thereby making a mockery of the case he was trying? Couldn’t he have held a press conference instead? What I did like about this story was Chris Samnee’s artwork. Besides David Aja, Samnee is Marvel’s preeminent artist at the moment. His work reminds me a lot of early Mazzucchelli in its linework and its use of flat color. And some of his page layouts are awesome.

CEREBUS: CHURCH & STATE #12 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1991) – not rated. I didn’t understand a word of this issue. Besides that, though, the form of the story is very strange. Almost the entire story is a monologue delivered by one character to another, and the events described in the monologue are never shown on panel. I would be curious to know why Dave did this, because it seems like a gross violation of the principle of “show, don’t tell.”

SUPERGIRL #18 (DC, 1998) – A+. Significantly better than the previous PAD comic I read. This comic deals with serious religious themes, but in a way which is both funny and poignant. On the first page, we meet an old man whose grandson claims to be God, but just as we’re getting used to the ridiculousness of this premise, we learn that the old man’s wife just died. PAD manages to maintain a fine balance between humor and poignancy throughout this story. He also writes a quite admirable Supergirl, and I squeed a little at the line “You’d make any father proud.”

MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER #1 (Dynamite, 2014) – B+. I’m a big fan of Magnus, and I think this series may be worth reading because it’s written by Fred Van Lente and because it provides an interesting new twist on this classic concept. The story starts out in Maury’s Peak, a utopian society where humans and robots coexist, and then transitions to a more familiar version of North Am where humans are oppressed by robots. Van Lente seems to be presenting robots as a potentially positive force, whereas Russ Manning typically depicted robots as the enemy, and I’m curious to see what Van Lente does with this premise.

EAST OF WEST #2 (Image, 2013) – C-. This was a typical Jonathan Hickman comic because it made no sense to me at all.

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