MS. MARVEL #1 (Marvel, 2014) – A+. Clearly this is the most important superhero comic of 2014. Ernesto Priego explains why in his review at , so I’m just going to add that this is not just an important comic but a high-quality one. Adrian Alphona’s style has matured since Runaways, to the point where he no longer looks like a manga imitator. And this comic benefits from rereading. I almost forgot about the scene with the Avengers/MLP crossover fanfic.
TALES TO ASTONISH #66 (Marvel, 1965) – A. I’m not too familiar with Bob Powell, and I was genuinely impressed by his art on the lead story – especially the first page, which shows Hank’s body extending from the second-highest floor of a building to well above the roof. It gives a very effective sense of scale. The Hulk backup story has some fairly good Ditko artwork but is not quite as impressive.
COPRA #11 (self-published, 2013) – A. I feel ashamed for not getting into this series earlier. This comic transcends its status as an unofficial Suicide Squad fan work because of the brilliance of Michel Fiffe’s storytelling and especially his draftsmanship. His use of multiple media and illustrative techniques, sometimes in the space of one panel, is reminiscent of the most avant-garde alternative comics. Also, as Tim Callahan points out at , Copra has a hand-made, artifactual feel because of the cardstock cover and the thick paper, and that certainly appeals to me too. I actually fear that Fiffe’s talents are going to be wasted on All-New Ultimates; he should be writing and drawing graphic novels rather than writing superhero comics.
SANDMAN: OVERTURE #2 (DC, 2014) – A. The artwork here is much more impressive than the story. J.H. Williams is probably the most talented artist to come out of superhero comics since David Mazzucchelli, and it’s actually kind of a shame that he hasn’t been able to make the transition to doing original, creator-owned work the way that Mazzucchelli has done. Particularly impressive pages in this issue include the giant house full of organs and the gallery of dozens of different incarnations of Morpheus. As far as the writing goes, though, I’m still not seeing why this story is important enough that Neil had to come back to the series after an 18-year absence in order to tell it.
LOKI, AGENT OF ASGARD #3 (Marvel, 2014) – B+. The Sigurd story has been told in comics many times before. This comic even acknowledges the fact that there’s already a Marvel universe version of Fafnir. The primary thing that Ewing and Garbett add to this story is humor; Ewing’s dialogue is witty and Garbett effectively depicts Odin as a young buffoon. I still think that the frame narrative isn’t all that interesting, and I’m confused as to exactly how many versions of Loki there are.
RAT QUEENS #2 (Image, 2013) – A+. The highlight of this issue is the gloriously disgusting panel where Hannah’s hand is literally dangling from her arm by a thread. Otherwise, I’ve already covered everything I wanted to say about this series.
SHE-HULK #3 (Marvel, 2014) – A. Again this issue makes it obvious that Charles Soule is a real lawyer and that he’s not just relying on a layperson’s knowledge of the law. I don’t know if his depiction of the process of applying for political asylum is accurate, but it certainly seems accurate to me. He also does an excellent job with characterization; Kristoff comes across as a despicable but totally plausible character. I generally like Javier Pulido’s simple, uncluttered artwork, but his facial expressions could use some work.
SILVER SURFER #1 (Marvel, 2014) – B+. In terms of story, not a whole lot happens in this issue and what does happen is of very limited interest. And I’ve never liked the Silver Surfer, so I certainly wouldn’t have bought this comic because of interest in the characters. This comic is valuable as a showcase for Mike Allred’s artwork. The setting on the Impossible Planet gives Allred a perfect opportunity to draw lots of bizarre stuff, which is what he’s best at. In particular, the two-page splash depicting the Impericon may be the single best illustration of his career. Like many of the best superhero artists, Allred is channeling Kirby here, but adapting Kirby’s style to serve his own needs.
GAMMA #1 (Dark Horse, 2013) – A-. Ulises Farinas seems to be a close associate of Brandon Graham, and his artwork is fascinating to me for many of the same reasons as Graham’s. Farinas has a highly gestural, graffiti-esque style, his drawings are obsessively detailed, and he has a very distinctive visual imagination, which allows him to conceive of some extremely bizarre-looking stuff. This comic is a good showcase for his artwork because it’s a Pokemon parody, so it gives him the opportunity to draw lots of weird little creatures. However, the plot is much less exciting than the art. I didn’t grow up with Pokemon (though I might as well have, since I’ve read so many student papers about it) and so this story doesn’t appeal to any feelings of nostalgia on my part. Even if it did, I feel like Erick Freitas’s take on the Pokemon story is excessively obvious.
THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #145 (DC, 1978) – C+/B-. This is an average Haney-Aparo story. The main source of interest here is that Haney and Aparo depict the Phantom Stranger as a highly mysterious and unsettling figure; he comes out of nowhere and nothing seems to be able to stop him.
TALES DESIGNED TO THRIZZLE #8 (Fantagraphics, 2012) – B-. I suppose Michael Kupperman is good at what he does, but what he does is not very appealing to me. His humor is either completely absurdist or it’s mean-spirited and sarcastic. The best of the stories here is the one about “The Scythe,” which at least had a clear point to it. The other stories, including the Eisner-nominated “Moon 69,” just seemed like one deliberately bad pun and/or absurd non sequitur after another.
DAREDEVIL #27 (Marvel, 2013) – B+. I missed this one when going back through my unread issues of Daredevil. This is an average conclusion to the Bullseye storyline, with one particularly impressive scene which reveals that Matt has recruited his superhero allies to protect his non-superhero friends from being assassinated at Bullseye’s orders. The trouble is, Bullseye is such a tired, hackneyed villain that there’s no good reason to do a story with him anymore.
TOP SHELF KIDS CLUB nn (Top Shelf, 2013) – B. As usual with these Top Shelf FCBD comics, the Owly story is easily the best one in the issue. The others range from average to completely incoherent. The Monster on the Hill story actually makes me less interested in reading the corresponding graphic novel; the monsters in the story are neither scary nor cute, but just sort of blah. I like the artwork on the Korgi story, but this series seems lacking in emotional depth.
THE BATMAN ADVENTURES #9 (DC, 1993) – B-. This is not one of Puckett and Parobeck’s best Batman Adventures stories. While the artwork is as fantastic as ever, the story is very similar to that of Batman #439 (which I remember very well because it was one of the first comics I ever read), and it’s mostly a long series of action sequences.
THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG #2 (Dark Horse, 2000) – A-. This story has been told in comics form many many times, including in Loki: Agent of Asgard #2, reviewed above. This version is worth reading anyway because of PCR’s incredible visual creativity, including his gorgeous lettering. Loge, Wagner’s version of Loki, is the central character in this segment of the story and is very reminiscent of the Marvel Loki in some ways.
AMERICAN SPLENDOR: COMIC-CON COMICS nn (Dark Horse, 1996) – A-. This issue presents a series of vignettes taking place at Comic-Con. It offers a nice nostalgic reminder of a time when Comic-Con wasn’t the intolerable media juggernaut it has since become (and when Harvey was still alive, for that matter). The weak link here is Scott A. Gilbert’s artwork, which is similar to that of Frank Stack, but even sloppier and less detailed.
ELFQUEST: THE FINAL QUEST #2 (Dark Horse, 2014) – B+. One of the problems with this series is that neither Wendy’s artwork nor Wendy and Richard’s writing has matured much since the ‘70s. They’re still telling more or less the same kind of story as when they were in their twenties. At least they’ve gotten pretty good at telling that kind of story; this issue is genuinely exciting and ends on a powerful cliffhanger, as Ember gets kidnapped by humans right after she and Teir have finally Recognized. I’m looking forward somewhat guiltily to the next issue.
INVINCIBLE #28 (Image, 2006) – B+/A-. This is an even more depressing issue than usual, which is why it took me a while to get around to reading it, whereas I typically read newly acquired issues of Invincible right away. The issue ends with a giant two-page spread showing us that the Viltrumites have massacred Oliver’s mother’s people. Besides that, most of this issue is just a long chase scene, so it seems rather lacking in narrative content.
DAREDEVIL #1 (Marvel, 2014) – A+. The best issue in months. The action sequence that occupies the majority of this issue is fast-paced and exciting, thanks largely to Chris Samnee’s dynamic and innovative page designs. The climax of the issue is pretty surprising; I had no idea that elevators block electromagnetic signals, but apparently Mark is not just making this up. I also enjoyed the opening sequence, in which Matt does the same sort of detective work that Batman is often seen doing (using chemical evidence to locate a kidnap victim), only with his superhuman senses rather than computers. I’m glad that I’m finally caught up with this series, and I look forward to seeing what Mark and Chris do next.
SWAMP THING #5 (DC, 2012) – B-. I bought this when it came out but didn’t read it. The main attraction here is Yanick Paquette’s artwork. Swamp Thing has a tradition of great art, and with the giant and bizarre full-page compositions in this issue, Yanick follows in that tradition; there are things here that remind me of Bisette and Totleben. I don’t find the story especially interesting, though. I’ve read very little work by Scott Snyder, but what I have read has failed to grab me. I don’t see anything here that significantly expands on existing versions of the character.
KIRBY: GENESIS #1 (Dynamite, 2011) – B+/A-. I normally can’t stand Alex Ross, but his influence on this comic was thankfully not obvious. And this issue does a good job of conveying how weird it would be if the real world suddenly started to operate by Kirby rules. Also, this comic revives some intriguing late Kirby concepts. I’d never heard of Galaxy Green before, but it seems that this concept was Kirby’s only attempt at erotic comics, a genre he was not constitutionally suited for. But Kurt writes the Galaxy Green characters in a hilarious way. I kind of regret that I didn’t support this series when it was coming out, although it came out at a time when I had very little money for comics.
SAVAGE DRAGON #158 (Image, 2010) – B+. This issue is basically a giant fight scene, but that might be what Erik is best at. He excels at depicting destruction, mayhem, and giant powerful creatures beating the crap out of each other. However, his female characters are not his strong point; reading this issue, I’m again reminded of how much Angel declined as a character once she grew up. The only other thing of note in this issue is a funny unauthorized cameo appearance by Norman Osborn and Luthor.
FOREVER PEOPLE #3 (DC, 1971) – A+. After reading Busiek and Ross’s take on Kirby, I wanted some of the real thing. This story is obviously a classic, and I think it’s most notable because it’s Kirby’s clearest statement of what Anti-Life means: sterile conformity, lack of original thought, and complete moral clarity (“Life will make you doubt! Anti-life will make you right!”) Too bad about the inking, though.
FANTASTIC FOUR #13 (Marvel, 2013) – B-. Most of this issue takes place in the alternate reality that Old Johnny came from, although this doesn’t become clear until the story is almost over. However, the differences between this reality and the main one are not very significant. The overarching problem with this series is that it’s too much of a standard cookie-cutter FF comic. For example, one of the things that made Hickman’s Fantastic Four innovative was the addition of the Future Foundation, but none of those characters appear in this Fantastic Four series because they’re in the FF title. Furthermore, the plot is lacking in suspense; I mean, obviously the Fantastic Four’s powers aren’t actually going to kill them.
DIRTY PLOTTE #7 (Drawn & Quarterly, 1993) – A. Much of this issue consists of a series of bizarre dream stories, all of which take place on what appears to be the same stretch of road, but none of which make any logical sense. Which I suppose is appropriate. Easily the most interesting of the pieces in this issue is the seemingly autobiographical “My First Time,” in which Julie loses her virginity to a creepy bearded guy. (It turns out I’ve read this story before, because it was reprinted in My New York Diary, but I only remembered it vaguely.) The really curious and intriguing thing about this story is the last two panels. Julie thinks “I’m not a baby anymore[.] It seems like nothing will ever be the same again! Yeah! I did it!!!” But in the last panel, Julie only appears in the background, and in the foreground we see a woman walking into a door, wearing fishnet stockings and holding a purse. This woman is not referenced in the dialogue or captions and it’s hard to know how we should read her, but my gut reaction was that she was supposed to be a prostitute, and that her appearance in this panel was meant to be ironic. However we read this, though, it’s a powerful scene and an effective use of verbal-visual contrast.
MARVEL TEAM-UP #101 (Marvel, 1981) – B+. This reminds me of another JM DeMatteis story, Captain America #267, in that it clearly has some serious political sentiments behind it, but those sentiments are expressed in a somewhat confusing and garbled way. This story is clearly about nostalgia for the ‘60s, and it indirectly references Kent State and the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. The moral of the story appears to be that it’s necessary to “exorcis[e] the ghosts of the past,” but I feel like Marc was trying to say something more here, and I’m not sure what. Incidentally, I think it’s kind of weird that Marc has been writing comics for over 30 years, and yet I know almost nothing about him as a person; I even had to use Google to confirm my recollection that he goes by his middle name.
ADVENTURES IN THE DC UNIVERSE #18 (DC, 1998) – C+/B-. At its core, this story is about Amazo’s Frankenstein-esque relationship with Professor Ivo. Amazo feels proud of being Ivo’s greatest creation, but at the end of the story he discovers there are 1999 other robots just like him, and turns on his creator. It’s kind of poignant, but unfortunately, too much of this issue is wasted on boring and poorly drawn fight scenes.
MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #3 (IDW, 2014) – A-. This was a surprisingly strong issue considering that Katie and Andy were not involved. If the purpose of this series is to team up characters who are typically not seen together, then Celestia and Spike are an appropriate pairing. They’re linked by their common friendship with Twilight Sparkle, yet they’re on opposite ends of the social ladder. This story provides a plausible reason for them to team up, and effectively demonstrates how “someone we hardly know can become a friend.” And it’s cute how the story revolves around Twilight Sparkle, and yet she only appears in a couple panels.
GROO THE WANDERER #58 (Marvel, 1989) – 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. On Sunday, to console myself after hearing some disappointing news, I went to a used bookstore and bought a stack of about 80 comics from the 50-cent boxes, and this was the first one I read. This story is about the use of religion as a tool for tyranny and colonization, but it’s also more explicitly political than other Groo stories of this time. There’s one line which kind of surprised me because of the directness of its political satire: “We never tax the wealthy! That is so they will spend more and stimulate the economy so there will be more wealth for Sufur [a fake god]!” To that extent, this story seems to have been deliberately intended as a satire of Republican politics, and is unfortunately still as relevant today as in 1989.
ACTION COMICS #446 (DC, 1975) – C+/B-. The first story in this issue is incredibly stupid. It might as well have been published in 1965 rather than 1975, because it’s all about Lois’s inevitably doomed attempts to figure out Superman’s secret identity. Except it’s even worse than that; the story is about Lois trying to figure out how Clark Kent contacts Superman, because she’s too dumb to realize that he is Superman. The saving grace of this issue is the backup story, which stars Green Arrow and Black Canary and is by the team of Maggin and Grell. This story is too short, but it ends with a powerful scene in which Ollie destroys some drug shipments and sends a symbolic warning to Star City’s criminal element.
CAPTAIN VICTORY AND THE GALACTIC RANGERS #4 (Pacific, 1981) – B-. This comic is from Kirby’s final period, and as James Romberger writes at , it’s an extremely uneven piece of work. There are some gorgeous pages and panels here, but others where Kirby was clearly slacking. Many of the backgrounds in this issue are just minimally drawn piles of blocks, lacking any detail, and the machinery looks bizarre but also lifeless. Much of this issue is lacking the raw energy and force that characterizes Kirby’s best work. Also, the lettering is awful. Still, this is clearly identifiable as a work of Kirby.
FANTASTIC FOUR #92 (Marvel, 1969) – A-. By this point in their run, Lee and Kirby were starting to run out of steam, yet this story still has a lot of powerful characterization and the Kirby/Sinnott artwork is almost as gorgeous as ever. Unfortunately there is one painfully sexist moment where Reed refuses to let Sue accompany him on a mission because she’s a new mother. I wonder if the mobster planet was inspired by the Star Trek episode “A Piece of the Action.”
THUNDERBOLTS #9 (Marvel, 1997) – A-. This is a fill-in issue consisting mostly of an Avengers story by Roger Stern and Ron Frenz, which takes place right after Avengers #16 and probably started out as an inventory story. However, the story itself is much higher in quality than inventory stories usually are. Rog’s skill with characterization is evident throughout the story. And while Ron Frenz is a completely average artist, he’s not a bad one. There’s one impressive three-panel sequence consisting of close-ups of Wanda, Quicksilver and Hawkeye’s faces, and all of them have distinctive and highly characteristic facial expressions. Furthermore, Kurt comes up with a plausible way of integrating this story into the ongoing story arc of the main series, so it doesn’t seem like a waste of an issue. This issue also includes a parody Hostess Fruit Pies ad, which I suppose is worth 50 cents all by itself.
INVINCIBLE #45 (Image, 2007) – A. Much more fun than the last issue of Invincible that I read. This issue advances the ongoing story in all sorts of ways; for example, it ends with Nolan realizing that he misses his wife, which shows that his character is genuinely starting to evolve. Some of the scenes in this issue, especially the conversation between Mark and the female Viltrumite, read very differently if the reader knows how few Viltrumites there really are.
INVINCIBLE #46 (Image, 2007) – A. Another good one. The hostile conversation between Mark and Rex that opens the issue is somewhat clumsily written. Most of the issue focuses on the bizarre relationship between The Immortal, Dupli-Kate and Multi-Paul. I don’t really have anything interesting to say about this comic, but I want to finish this latest set of reviews before I go to bed.
WOLVERINE: FIRST CLASS #20 (Marvel, 2009) – B-. I can’t remember why I quit reading this series, because it takes place during my favorite period of the X-Men, and stars my favorite Marvel character, Kitty Pryde. I must have given it up when PAD replaced Fred Van Lente as the writer. This story is less funny and lighter on characterization than a typical Van Lente issue of this series, but at least it’s a readable Wolverine/Kitty Pryde story.
ELFQUEST: THE HIDDEN YEARS #2 (WaRP, 1992) – B+/A-. This is a genuinely poignant story about Little Patch, a human child who is adopted by Tyleet after his parents abandoned him, and who grows from infancy to a ripe old age while the elves didn’t age at all. The final scene, with a toothless, withered Patch, is a poignant illustration of the massive gap between elves and humans. Much of this story is excessively maudlin and overwritten, but it has a lot of emotional charge to it.
TARZAN #161 (Gold Key, 1966) – B+. The primary attraction of this series for me is Russ Manning’s artwork. Obviously this title lacks the slick, smooth machinery that makes Magnus so visually appealing, but Manning’s action sequences are powerful and striking. Gaylord DuBois was not a great writer, but he was a very solid storyteller; he has an impressive ability to adapt a long and complicated plot into comic book form.
AVENGERS ANNUAL #6 (Marvel, 1976) – B. Gerry Conway’s Avengers run was a huge step down from Englehart’s run in terms of the quality of the writing. However, this story, which revolves around the Serpent Crown and Nuklo, does have a certain epic sensibility, and it seems like a worthy use of the annual format. The main reason why this comic is worth reading today is for the early George Perez artwork.
HECTIC PLANET: THE BUMMER TRILOGY #1 (Slave Labor, 2001) – A. My only previous encounter with this series was the story in Dark Horse Presents #118, which is reprinted here. That story, “5 Years and Counting,” is just brutally depressing, even by Evan Dorkin’s standards; I think it’s the grimmest story of his that I’ve read. The premise of this story is that five years ago, the protagonist, Halby, encountered the girl of his dreams, but he was already in a relationship, so they agreed to meet again five years later. But when Halby goes to meet her, he instead encounters her husband, who turns out to be an utterly loathsome asshole, and he ridicules Halby for being such a romantic idealist. And the story ends that way, with Halby’s self-esteem being crushed into the dirt, and Evan doesn’t offer any sort of consolation, except to suggest that Halby shouldn’t have kept the date in the first place. The other two stories aren’t quite as awful but they’re still rather depressing, on purpose. And funny. I want to read more of this series. Hectic Planet seemingly takes place in some sort of science-fictional world, but this has no practical effect on any of the stories.