Reviews! Reviews! And additional reviews!

5-22-13 

Two weeks’ worth of reviews.

USAGI YOJIMBO #3 (Fantagraphics, 1987) – B+. The main story here is a chapter of “Samurai,” the first long-form Usagi story, and consists of a flashback detailing Usagi’s history with Kenichi and Mariko. This early in the series, the Kurosawa-Mifune influence is very obvious, and Kenichi and Mariko seem like characters with rather limited storytelling potential, explaining why they haven’t been seen in decades. But you can still see Stan developing his personal style; for example, there’s a cute moment where Usagi says “Our friends are in danger” and then he and Kenichi both think “… and Mariko!”

THE WEIRD WORLD OF JACK STAFF #5 (Image, 2010) – B. Paul Grist’s art style appeals to me a lot. His linework is very crisp and clean, almost like Clear Line artwork but without the obsessive detail, and his lettering and page layouts are attractive. I assume his style is influenced more by British comics than by American comics, but I don’t know what his specific influences are. In this particular comic, he also does some interesting stuff with fourth-wall-breaking, having characters stand in front of other panels and comment on them. However, I couldn’t understand what was happening in the story.

SHE-HULK #4 (Marvel, 2014) – C+. This was the worst issue so far. Javier Pulido’s page compositions are still very impressive, but this issue consists mostly of action sequences, which are not his strong suit. In terms of the story, it’s kind of cool to see Jen and Matt Murdock talking about the law, but other than that, there is little of the realistic and detailed depiction of legal topics which made the last two issues interesting. Charles Soule missed the opportunity to have Jen ask Doom “Where’s my client, honey?”

LOKI, AGENT OF ASGARD #4 (Marvel, 2014) – A-. This, on the other hand, is the best issue so far. Al Ewing is finally starting to write with almost as much humor as Greg Pak – the sequence with Loki’s date with Verity is especially appealing here. And I think I’m finally starting to understand what’s going on with the storyline.

LUMBERJANES #2 (Boom!, 2014) – A+. This is the best new series of 2014 besides Ms. Marvel, and perhaps the best current comic directed at its target demographic. I can’t find Charles Hatfield’s review of issue 1, but if I recall correctly, his primary objection was that it was excessively cluttered and tried to do too much. I think that, number one, that’s a feature, not a bug. This comic is trying to pack a lot of storytelling into a small space. Certainly there are a lot of dangling plot threads at this point (what do the three-eyed animals have to do with the underground chamber filled with statues?) but I assume all these plot threads are going to come together at some point. Number two, Stevenson, Ellis and Allen are skillful enough that they’re able to accomplish plot and characterization at once. Even though none of the characters has gotten much of an individual spotlight yet, each of them has a unique voice and a distinctive appearance, and it’s not hard to tell them apart (it is hard to remember their names, but that’s just because it’s early in the series). At this point Riley is easily my favorite, followed by April, but I expect to become quite fond of all of them.

As anecdotal evidence of the success of this series, I bought this issue from Noelle Stevenson at TCAF, and when I came to her table on Saturday morning, there was already a long line and she ran out of copies of the regular edition before she got to me (I bought the variant edition instead).

VANGUARD #3 (Image, 1994) – D-. Typical early ‘90s Image crap. Only of interest to extreme Erik Larsen completists.

MARVEL ADVENTURES: SPIDER-MAN #18 (Marvel, 2011) – B-. This is from the very end of this series, when some issues consisted of reprints rather than new material. Both the stories in this issue appear to be new, but are completely continuity-free. Chat, who was the most interesting thing about Paul Tobin’s Spider-Man, does not appear. Without her, both the stories are just competent but average Spider-Man material.

TRANSFORMERS VS. G.I. JOE FCBD #0 (IDW, 2014) – B-. Transformers and G.I. Joe were the first comic books I ever collected, but it’s been twenty years since I read either of them, with the exception of other FCBD comics. I picked up this issue on FCBD because of the gorgeous Tom Scioli cover. The interior artwork is even better; practically every page is a crazy Kirbyesque composition with deliberately crude linework and lack of perspective. At TCAF, I saw Tom drawing with a mechanical pencil on some kind of paper that was clearly not a standard comic book page. That seems appropriate given the primal and anarchic quality of his art. It’s too bad that the plot and dialogue in this issue are just as crude as the artwork. Tom and John Barber’s story takes itself too seriously and collapses under its own weight.

INVINCIBLE #40 (Image, 2007) – B/B-. This was an average issue. Most of it is taken up with a long fight against the Sequids, although it’s an exciting and well-written fight scene. There is little else here that’s worth commenting on. I hate writing these reviews two weeks after I’ve read the comics in question, when I can’t remember my initial reactions on reading them.

DAREDEVIL #2 (Marvel, 2014) – A-. Due to long experience with Mark Waid’s writing, I somehow knew that when he spent the first three pages describing a hero who sounded exactly like Daredevil, it was going to turn out to be someone else instead. I thought Mark’s take on the Shroud was a little disappointing; this character has not been portrayed in the past as a smelly, drunk sadist. Again my memories aren’t clear enough to allow me to say anything more interesting about this comic.

INVINCIBLE #42 (Image, 2007) – A-. This is branded as a new-reader-friendly issue, but it appeals to existing readers as well, because it doesn’t just recap what has gone before, it also offers new material that effectively demonstrates Kirkman’s writing style. I particularly like the scene where Invincible battles a cyclopean giant who turns out to be an eight-year-old boy; this is a very typical Kirkman move. At this point I’m starting to lose patience with Kirkman’s writing (more on that below), but I think if I’d started reading Invincible with this issue, rather than in the #60s, I would have continued reading it every month.

SECRET SIX #1 (DC, 2006) – B+. This comic might have been an A if it had been as new-reader-friendly as the previous comic. This is the first issue of a miniseries, but the cover says “From the pages of Villians United!” and Gail’s story assumes the reader is familiar with that series, because she declines to explain who the characters are or what they have to do with Dr. Psycho. However, the characters are all fascinating and distinctive, and the dialogue is well-written – I especially liked Rag Doll’s line “I’m buying a monkey house and a variety of little monkey outfits.” Brad Walker’s art is not spectacular but it serves the story fairly well. This issue makes me want to read the rest of this series. My other complaint is that the first half of the story has the Secret Six rescuing someone from a North Korean prison camp. I think that using North Koreans as villains is a cliched and excessively obvious choice. Maybe they could have gone on a mission that involved a little more moral ambiguity.

SUPERBOY #63 (DC, 1999) – A-. I’m now awake enough to write some slightly more coherent reviews. Unfortunately it’s already 11:30 PM so who knows if I can get through all of them tonight. And let me warn you, there may be numerous tangents ahead. This is chapter 4 of Hyper-Tension, possibly the only good comic ever published that used Hypertime as a premise. As usual for the Kesel-Grummett team, it is extremely Kirbyesque. Grummett was more of a Kirby imitator than a truly original artist who used Kirby as an inspiration, like Ladronn or Allred or even Michael DeForge (seriously, I spoke to Michael DeForge at TCAF and asked him who his influences were, and he mentioned Kirby as one of them, which makes a surprising amount of sense.) However, Grummett’s artwork is very solid and attractive. The highlight of this issue was the alternate, non-evil version of Knockout, who is an extremely sexist character – almost everything she says is a sexual innuendo – but is a lot of fun nonetheless.

RAGMAN #1 (DC, 1976) – B+/A-. I was surprised at how good this was. Ragman is a fascinating character, a superhero who operates on a very small and local scale and who is obviously inspired by Jewish folklore, specifically the Golem. The story of his origin is farfetched and implausible, but Bob Kanigher effectively depicts Rory Regan as a caring man who is inspired to help others because of his underprivileged background. When Kanigher wasn’t writing insulting crap because he didn’t respect his readers, as was the case in his long run on Wonder Woman, he was capable of producing very touching stories. The art is by “the Redondo studio” over Kubert layouts, but doesn’t appear to be by Nestor Redondo himself. Speaking of Redondo, though, it appears that none of his Filipino komiks are currently in print in any language, which is a shame.

PROPHET #34 (Image, 2013) – B+. This is a typical Graham/Roy issue of Prophet in that it’s full of bizarre stuff which is presented as if it were normal. For example, the story begins with a bunch of Magnus Johns killing and eating each other until only one is left. I still can’t easily follow the plot of this series, but as I have mentioned before, the plot is not the point. The backup story, by Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward, is interestingly drawn, but the plot goes nowhere.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #40 (Marvel, 1974) – B+/A-. This issue contains one of the funnier lines of dialogue I’ve encountered lately: “I am Conan, a Cimmerian, and I’ve come to help you… for want of anything profitable to do.” The artwork, unfortunately, is by Rich Buckler, the human xerox machine. He does a good job of imitating BWS, but it’s very obvious that that’s what he’s doing. The story is based on a plot by Mike Resnick (who has been in the news lately more for his obnoxious and sexist behavior than for his writing) and is a fairly formulaic Conan story, in which Conan battles both fellow thieves and magical monsters. Sadly this is one of the few remaining Roy Thomas Conan stories that I hadn’t read. For me, Conan is Roy’s greatest work, and “my” Conan will always be Roy Thomas’s version, rather than Robert E. Howard’s version.

HEROBEAR AND THE KID: THE INHERITANCE #1 (Boom!, 2013) – A-. As noted below, this is a reprint of the original Herobear story from a decade ago. And when reading it, one has to remember that at the time it came out, it was one of the only kid-oriented comics on the market. Currently it has much more competition, and I’m not sure how well this story would hold up in comparison to things like MLP: FIM or Lumberjanes or Amulet. It’s also a very very nostalgic work, to the point where it almost appeals more to parents than kids, especially with the Wonder Years-esque introductory scenes where The Kid talks about his childhood memories. The first line in the issue is “Childhood… what do you remember?”, which implies that the reader is also no longer a child. The best thing about this comic might be Mike Kunkel’s artwork; Herobear’s appearance at the end of the issue is a powerful piece of storytelling, and Herobear himself is awe-inspiring.

MIND MGMT #13 (Dark Horse, 2013) – A-. I’m still more interested in this series for the publication design than for the artwork or the story, but this issue told an intriguing story that I almost completely understood. I had some trouble distinguishing the characters, but it was eventually fairly clear what was going on. A fascinating thing about this issue is that each page includes Aragonés-esque marginal illustrations that are outside the “live area” box. If the conceit is that each issue of MIND MGMT is a report prepared for submission to the MIND MGMT organization, then these marginal illustrations are only visible to the reader, and MIND MGMT doesn’t know about them because they’re not in the live area. I didn’t figure out this point myself, I saw it in a review that I read while preparing my paper for CSSC, but it would be worth thinking about more if and when I write about MIND MGMT from an academic perspective.

THOR #153 (Marvel, 1968) – A+. This story is weird because it involves Loki fighting Thor physically. This would normally be quite out of character, but it’s justified because Loki has somehow stolen Karnilla’s strength. Another strange thing about this story is that Sif actually gets a chance to fight, though Loki easily kicks her ass. Of course the most impressive thing about this issue is Kirby’s artwork; there’s one amazing splash page that’s just a head shot of Odin wearing a helmet, but he looks incredibly regal.

DEMON KNIGHTS #11 (DC, 2012) – B+. I’ve been accumulating back issues of this because I heard that it was one of the few good New 52 titles. As usual with the New 52, this issue is not new-reader-friendly and the writer, Paul Cornell, makes only a token effort to explain what’s going on, but I was able to make sense of the story because the characters were mostly familiar to me. This series seems to be based on the idea of putting all of DC’s Arthurian characters together, and it works well. Cornell clearly has an intimate knowledge of the Matter of Britain, and his story effectively draws inspiration from both the Matter of Britain and earlier DC comics featuring Arthurian characters – Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight seems like a major influence.

TOP SHELF KIDS CLUB FCBD 2014 (Top Shelf, 2014) – B+. I already had a copy of this, but I met Eric Orchard at TCAF, and he gave me a signed copy. Half of this issue is a preview of “Maddy Kettle: The Adventure of the Thimblewitch,” which I believe is Orchard’s first graphic novel. It’s drawn in a very distinctive and intriguing style which doesn’t remind me of anything in particular, and it seems like an original and funny all-ages fantasy story, involving a “floating spadefoot toad” and a girl from a family of booksellers. I expect that this book is going to have some rough edges because it’s his first work, but it looks very interesting and I may pick it up. The backup story is an excerpt from Rob Harrell’s “Monster on the Hill,” which has a fantastic premise but perhaps disappointing execution (I don’t think the monster is nearly scary-looking enough).

JONNY QUEST #15 (Comico, 1987) – A+. Jonny Quest may be the best independent comic of the ‘80s that’s never been reprinted. It’s that good. It’s also a textbook example of an effective transmedia adaptation, because Bill Messner-Loebs and his artistic collaborators clearly have a deep love for the original TV show, but they also use the comic book format to extend the universe of the show and to do things that the show couldn’t have done. For example, this issue is an extended flashback showing how Jonny’s parents first met Dr. Zin before Jonny was born. This story devotes a lot of attention to Jonny’s mother, Judith, who is a bit of a stereotype in that she’s more interested in celebrity gossip than science, but is otherwise an extremely formidable and forthright character. I don’t quite understand how such a rich and non-scientific woman ended up married to a scientist, but apparently that was explained in an earlier story that I’ve forgotten about. Judith was later retconned out of existence for no particular reason and replaced with a different character, which is a shame. The story itself is very exciting and full of surprising twists, and also touches on the topic of anti-Asian sentiment, which was a bigger deal in the ‘60s and ‘70s than I realized. The issue begins with a hilarious sight gag involving Hadji’s levitation powers, and ends with a heartwarming scene in which Judith reveals that she’s pregnant with Jonny. Let me reiterate that overall, this is an awesome comic.

WONDER WOMAN #45 (DC, 1990) – B-. This issue is disappointing in that it doesn’t feature Diana or her core supporting cast at all; it’s just a retelling of two versions of the myth of Pandora. I suppose this was necessary for continuity purposes, but I already know these stories or have the ability to look them up. The dialogue is by Mindy Newell, whose writing was sometimes a little clumsy although her heart was in the right place, and there are three different artists; two of them are Jill Thompson and Colleen Doran, but unhappily the third is Cynthia Martin, who is not nearly as good.

IRREDEEMABLE #8 (Boom!, 2009) – C+. The trouble with this series is that it’s the same premise as Miracleman: Olympus, and that story was better written and better drawn. I’m sorry to say this about Peter Krause because he’s from Minnesota, but he’s just an average artist. I’m more interested in Incorruptible, which has the exact opposite premise. I like Mark Waid’s work better when he’s taking the superhero myth for granted than when he’s trying to deconstruct it; there are other people who do a better job of that, and I’m not sure it’s worth doing anyway. 

ALL-STAR COMICS #60 (DC, 1976) – C+/B-. The artwork in this issue is credited to Keith Giffen and Wally Wood. I assume Woody just did the finishes, and who knows how much of the artwork was by him rather than his assistants, but it’s nice-looking artwork anyway. However, the story is lacking in interest; it’s just a bunch of fight scenes between various JSA members and a boring new villain. Even when Paul Levitz took over this series, he wasn’t able to overcome the fact that the JSA characters, other than Power Girl and maybe Wildcat, were significantly lacking in depth.

TERRA #1 (DC, 2009) – A- but only because of the art. Besides J.H. Williams III, Amanda Conner is the best artist who is still working for DC. Her drawing is gorgeous, especially her female bodies, facial expressions, and animals, and she fills every panel with subtle details and sight gags. For example, this issue includes a hilarious three-panel sequence where we start out looking at Power Girl, Terra and Dr. Mid-Nite from inside a rat’s cage, and then Dr. Mid-Nite’s owl sticks its head into the panel. Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray’s story is very formulaic, and if anyone else were the artist, this comic would probably not have been worth reading.

TRUTH: RED, WHITE & BLACK #1 (Marvel, 2002) – A. I remember this comic being extremely controversial when it came out, but I can’t remember why, and I suspect that the controversy was motivated mostly by racism. Probably people were uncomfortable with the notion of a black Captain America, and didn’t want to be reminded of the United States government’s history of experimentation on black people. Reading this comic twelve years later, I feel that the controversy, whatever its motive, was undeserved because this is a well-written, well-drawn and sensitive piece of work. Writer Robert Morales, who tragically died last year, introduces us to three African-American men from very different backgrounds, and in just a few pages he is able to develop each of them into a nuanced and interesting character. Kyle Baker’s artwork is simplistic and cartoony, but each panel is deeply expressive. I look forward to reading more of this series.

L.E.G.I.O.N. ’92 ANNUAL #3 (DC, 1992) – D-. This Eclipso: The Darkness Within crossover is twice as long as it needs to be, consisting mostly of boring fight scenes. The story is by Barry Kitson, who is a clumsy and inept writer, and the artwork is by Mike McKone, who I’ve never liked; something about his art just disturbs me. I think the results would have been better if Kitson and McKone had switched roles, even though as far as I know McKone has no writing experience at all.

IRON MAN #5 (Marvel, 1998) – A-. Kurt Busiek was probably the best Iron Man writer between Michelinie and Fraction, not that he had a lot of competition. Most recent Iron Man stories, both in comics and movies, seem to focus on the playboy aspect of Tony’s character, while Kurt was more interested in exploring Tony’s role as a businessman and scientist. The plot in this issue is set in motion by Tony’s business activities, and Tony gets the information he needs to save the day by calling a vulcanologist who he worked with on an earlier project, which is kind of cool. (It’s also an example of Kurt’s obsessive attention to continuity, because the character in question appeared in Captain America Annual #9.) Rumiko Fujikawa is an exciting new supporting character. Sean Chen’s artwork is just average but is well suited to computer coloring, which this comic uses extensively.

TEEN TITANS #40 (DC, 2006) – D-. In this issue Geoff Johns manages to take Miss Martian, perhaps DC’s most fun and least grim-and-gritty character, and suck all the fun out of her – he reveals that she’s actually an evil white Martian, not a good green Martian. Because that’s what Geoff Johns does. There are still some things about his writing that I like, but I don’t know how anyone can still seriously claim that he’s a writer in the Silver Age tradition. Silver Age DC comics were fun, and Geoff Johns seems to think that fun is a four-letter word. As another example of that, this issue is entirely taken up by internal squabbles among the Titans, as they try to figure out which of them is a traitor. I disliked this series when it came out (mostly because of the insufficient emphasis on Starfire), but in retrospect, I can see how it was a natural progression from Young Justice because it was a more mature take on the same characters. However, by the time this issue had come out, this series had clearly jumped the shark.

THE ADVENTURES OF JELLABY FCBD #1 (Capstone, 2014) – B. This is a cute and funny comic for kids. All three of the stories in the issue are very simple, but the titular monster is just adorable. I don’t plan on buying the Jellaby graphic novel, but I think it will do well. My main complaint is that I couldn’t tell the protagonist was supposed to be a girl until halfway through the comic, and I still think that in the first story, there is no way to tell she’s not a boy.

WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #276 (DC, 1982) – D+. This comic includes five stories, all of which are poorly written. None of the stories is anything more than a formulaic piece of filler – not even the Zatanna story. Zatanna is a hard character to make boring, but Paul Kupperberg manages to do so. This comic does have some good artwork; two of the stories are by Don Newton and Dan Spiegle, but surprisingly the best-drawn story is the one by Trevor von Eeden. This artist is totally forgotten today, probably because he was no more than a Neal Adams clone, but his artwork in the Green Arrow story is an effective imitation of Adams’s style if nothing else.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #104 (Marvel, 1981) – C-. This story could have been incredibly fun – it’s a Hulk/Ka-Zar team-up set in the Savage Land, with Modok as the villain. Imagine what Dan Slott or Fred Van Lente or Paul Tobin could have done with this premise. Sadly, the story is not written by any of them but rather by Roger McKenzie, who is much less fun. There are a couple poignant scenes where the Hulk mourns the fact that no one likes him, but otherwise this comic takes itself too seriously.

IRON FIST #7 (Marvel, 1976) – A-. Iron Fist is my least favorite Claremont-Byrne collaboration, but this comic was still a massive improvement over the previous two comics I read. Claremont’s story is exciting, and he gives Colleen Wing almost as prominent a role as Danny himself. But what really makes this comic interesting is Byrne’s artwork; his page layouts are interesting and varied, and his action sequences are thrilling.

TERRA #4 (DC, 2009) – A-. Everything I said about Terra #1 also applies to this issue. There are no cute animals in this issue (though the subterranean people are pretty cute), but there’s one hilarious wordless page where PG takes Terra shopping.

CATWOMAN #9 (DC, 2002) – A. This was part four of an ongoing story, yet it made almost perfect sense – quite a change from most of the comics I read. Like most Brubaker comics, this is a well-plotted, exciting and realistic crime drama. The artwork is by Brad Rader, and while he’s certainly no Darwyn Cooke or Cameron Stewart, he’s surprisingly good nonetheless. His work is in the same vein as that of Bruce Timm or Mike Parobeck.

GODZILLA: THE HALF-CENTURY WAR #4 (IDW, 2012) – A. More James Stokoe. Again the artwork here is just incredible, and would not be out of place in a Franco-Belgian BD album. Curiously, though, while Stokoe’s backgrounds are hyper-detailed, his facial expressions are much looser and seem to be influenced by manga. The writing in this comic is not quite at the same level as the artwork, however, I read this comic just after seeing the new Godzilla movie, and I think the comic had a far better story. Stokoe’s human characters are more interesting, especially the protagonist, who is exhausted after fighting Godzilla for decades and accomplishing nothing. And in this comic, the human characters are actually relevant to the plot (because the villain creates a device that can attract kaiju, and the heroes try to dismantle it), whereas in the movie, the humans have no impact on the story at all.

SAGA #19 (Image, 2014) – A+. This is a strong start to a new storyline. There’s a bunch of cool stuff in the first part of the issue. Toddler Hazel is just the cutest thing ever. The pet walrus is wonderfully bizarre. And I absolutely love Marko’s line “So just because I don’t make money means I’m not working, too?”, not just because it advocates for the value of housework, but also because it’s a husband saying it. That is surprisingly progressive. But the real highlight of the issue is the last page, which prompts two completely opposite reactions at once. First I was like, awww, Hazel saying “skish” is the most adorable moment ever, and then I read the line “This is the story of how my parents split up” and I was like, wait, WTF, this has to be a misprint or something, I can’t believe it. Obviously I can’t wait until next issue, and I refuse to believe that Alana and Marko are going to split up permanently, because how much would that suck.

RAT QUEENS #6 (Image, 2014) – A+. This is fast becoming one of the best comics on the stands. I think I’ve compared it to MLP before; it’s obviously the exact opposite in terms of tone and age-appropriateness, but it’s comparable in that it makes an equally sincere effort to develop each of the characters and to distinguish each of them from the others. In this issue Wiebe and Upchurch give a lot of exposure to each of the four Rat Queens, especially Dee, about whom we learn some rather surprising information. It’s surprising that this comic, whose creative team is entirely male and which is inspired by a stereotypically male-dominated hobby, is one of the most feminist comics on the stands. It also contains some laugh-out-loud funny moments (especially Betty eating the mushroom people) as well as some High Octane Nightmare Fuel, particularly the last page, which is beautifully disgusting.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #5 (IDW, 2014) – B+. Considering the premise of this issue, the cover really ought to have said “Friends Furrever.” Speaking of the cover, it may actually be funnier than the rest of the comic; I especially like the bear that wants toilet paper, although I assume that this joke will probably go over many readers’ heads. I love the premise of Fluttershy being able to talk to animals, and Thom Zahler does some fun stuff with it. Fluttershy’s double-takes on realizing that the squirrel and the bird can talk are hilarious. He also writes great dialogue for Zecora, though I have always thought that this character is a rather disturbing stereotype. The biggest problem with this comic, though, is that the story is overly simple, and the explanation for why the animals can talk is anticlimactic.

INVINCIBLE #111 (Image, 2014) – F. My initial reaction after reading this comic was that it was going to be my last issue of Invincible. I’ve calmed down a bit now, and I feel that I’ve been reading this comic long enough that I’m willing to give Kirkman another chance. However, I still think this comic is deeply disturbing. I started reading Invincible in the #60s, assuming that it was meant to be a modern take on a classic superhero comic. I quickly gave it up because I was shocked at the level of violence. I later started reading Invincible again and gradually came to feel that while the violence was a significant part of the series, it was always counterbalanced by optimism. Invincible is a hero who genuinely tries to do the right thing, even if he can’t always succeed. This issue, though, was disgustingly violent even by Kirkman’s own standards. Worse, much of the violence was directed at a pregnant woman. Given that superhero comics are currently suffering from a huge misogyny problem, I think violence against women is difficult to justify even when there’s a compelling narrative reason for it. What’s even worse is violence against women for no reason, which I think is exactly what happens in this issue. Robot tortures Eve not because he thinks it’ll accomplish anything, but just to make Mark angry. His line “This is the only way I can hurt you… through her” implies that his actions are motivated by pure sadism. So basically, this is an example of Women in Refrigerators. I’m going to give Kirkman one more chance, but if Eve or the baby dies, or if Robot escapes punishment for his actions, then I’m done with this series.

The one thing I liked about this issue is that the old man on page 1 is clearly supposed to be Pa Kent.

(Incidentally, I never reviewed Invincible #110 because it’s been sold out at every store I’ve visited. That seems a bit disturbing.)

ASTRO CITY #12 (DC, 2014) – B+. This is a step down in quality from last issue. Ned is a fascinating character, especially because of his fascination with clothes. I actually kind of want to show this issue to my grandfather, who loves men’s clothing almost as much as Ned does. I also appreciate that Kurt openly addresses the question of Ned’s sexuality, even if he doesn’t explore it in detail. However, the end of the issue is anticlimactic; it feels as if Kurt didn’t know how to end this story, so he just stopped it at an arbitrary point.

A couple other points. The letter writer who referred to Winged Victory as a “feminazi” ought to be banned from reading this comic. Also, I just now realized that this issue was drawn by Graham Nolan rather than Brent Anderson. I suppose the reason I didn’t notice is because, first, the lettering and coloring are the same, and second, the writing in Astro City tends to be far more noticeable than the artwork. Still, it’s kind of sad that Brent Anderson’s run on this series is no longer unbroken.

AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE #5 (Archie, 2014) – A. This is a satisfying conclusion to the first story arc. Smithers is an interesting choice as the narrator; he’s basically the same character as the protagonist of The Remains of the Day, but he offers a completely unique perspective on the Archie characters. As usual, half the fun of this issue is that Aguirre-Sacassa gets to do things that would be completely taboo in the regular Archie comics. For example, he strongly implies that Veronica’s dad was having multiple affairs during his wife’s lifetime. I like that these issues have started to include reprints from the ‘70s Red Circle line; the reprint in this issue was a story I hadn’t read before.

<SILVER SURFER #2 (Marvel, 2014) – A. This was a hilarious issue. Slott and Allred are an effective creative team for this series because they both have a talent for beautiful weirdness. Besides Kamala Khan, Plorp is the best new Marvel character of the year. I wonder who would win in a fight, him or the Tranquility Frog from Astro City #11. I also like Battle-Lon, and it’s a poignant moment when you realize that his son is dead. This issue is full of other subtle cute moments as well, like the phrase “shaked milk” and Zed holding up the telescope to his third eye. This is just a very fun comic and I look forward to future issues.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #3 (Marvel, 2014) – A+. This is another extremely fun science fiction comic featuring some weird aliens – I especially love the panel where we discover that the old lady has a lizardlike ruff around her neck. But this issue has a completely different mood and art style from Silver Surfer, and this proves that unlike DC, Marvel is willing to allow its artists some creative freedom and does not force everyone to conform to a narrow house style. As with last issue, Rocket Raccoon and the cat stole the show this issue, but the alien girl is also a fascinating character. And the end of the issue sets up a truly difficult moral dilemma.

AVENGERS TWO #2 (Marvel, 2000) – B+. This issue is way too continuity-heavy. It would be impossible to understand without intimate knowledge of Wonder Man’s history, and it draws heavily upon Wonder Man’s solo series, which was not particularly good. Still, this is a fun Avengers story, very much in the vein of Roger Stern’s classic Avengers run. It’s appropriate that this series was a spinoff of Kurt Busiek’s Avengers, because Kurt and Rog have very similar sensibilities.

SUICIDE SQUAD #2 (DC, 1987) – A. I am beginning to understand why this series is so fondly remembered. The key moment in this issue is when Captain Boomerang has a chance to save his teammate Mindboggler from being shot, but decides not to bother, because he doesn’t like her. Of course nowadays this sort of thing happens in superhero comics all the time, and this series may have had a net negative influence, in that it popularized the concept of a team of superheroes who were really villains at heart. But at the time it was groundbreaking, and John Ostrander is a much better writer than most of the people who have imitated this series.

KANE #28 (Dancing Elephant Press, 2000) – B-. This issue was very light on content; because each of Paul Grist’s pages has just a couple panels, it was almost as quick of a read as an average chapter of manga. Given the shortness of the story, it’s hard to assess the quality of Grist’s writing. However, I really like his artwork, which makes very effective use of black and white.

AZTEK: THE ULTIMATE MAN #6 (DC, 1997) – C+. Aztek has the reputation of being a unique, quirky series, but this issue was just a very formulaic Joker story. And as with much of Morrison’s late work, it was hard to understand what was going on. I didn’t particularly care for N. Steven Harris’s artwork either.

HAWKEYE #15 (Marvel, 2014) – A+. I get the impression that people are becoming a little tired of this series, or that the novelty is wearing off, but I liked this issue a lot. The storytelling continues to be very exciting and fast-paced, and David Aja is not only Marvel’s best current artist, he’s also entirely unlike anyone else currently working in American commercial comics. I think this is because he’s Spanish and he comes from a different artistic tradition than that of his peers. I liked this issue’s crossword puzzle motif, though I wish it had been emphasized even more.

ROCKET GIRL #4 (Image, 2014) – B. This is not one of the best comics on the stands, but I like it anyway and I’m willing to keep supporting it. Amy Reeder’s dramatic and action-packed artwork is the main draw of the series. Practically every page in this issue is a full bleed, and the way she uses page layouts is reminiscent of manga. Montclare’s story is not as exciting as the artwork, though I still love Dayoung as a character.

WONDER WOMAN #16 (DC, 2013) – C. This issue included about 20 different characters, most of whom were never named or identified in any way. Like just about every other New 52 comic, this issue completely ignores the old rule that every issue is someone’s first issue. And it’s not even my first issue of Azzarello’s Wonder Woman and I was still completely baffled as to what was going on. The more serious problem is that this comic does not feel like a Wonder Woman story at all; not only does Wonder Woman only appear on a couple pages, but the story has no connection to the Wonder Woman mythos. It’s essentially an entirely new intellectual property with the same name. This isn’t an inherently bad thing, but it does make it hard for me to connect with the series.

ACTION COMICS #838 (DC, 2006) – A+. This issue is a collaboration between the best current writer of Silver Age-style superhero comics (Kurt Busiek) and the worst (Geoff Johns). Luckily the issue appears to have been influenced more by the former than by the latter. I’ve mentioned before that I think Kurt is the best Superman writer since Elliot Maggin (besides Alan Moore), and the reason is because he has such a deep understanding of the character. In this issue and elsewhere in “Up, Up and Away,” he shows how Superman is defined not by his powers but by his passionate concern for others; perhaps the real lesson from this story is that Clark Kent is just as much of a superhero as Superman. This issue is also notable for its portrayal of Luthor. I think I’ve said before that for me, the Silver Age mad scientist Luthor is much more interesting than the ‘80s corrupt businessman Luthor, and the Luthor in this issue is clearly based on the former rather than the latter.

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