The last round of reviews for 2013-2014

6-6-14

I started this review project on June 5, 2013, so this project has now reached its one-year anniversary, and I have now reviewed a full year’s worth of comic books.

DEADPOOL #18 (Marvel, 2010) – C-. I’m very interested in this series because of its metatextual aspects, but this issue was just not good. It was a generic superhero story with fairly good artwork (by Paco Medina) but an uninteresting plot and bad dialogue. I think the Deadpool issues I need to be reading are the ones by Joe Kelly.

ATOMIC ROBO PRESENTS REAL SCIENCE ADVENTURES #6 (Red 5, 2012) – D+/C-. Most of the stories in this issue are so short that they never get the chance to build any narrative momentum, and they end abruptly and unsatisfyingly. This spin-off did not live up to its parent series.

SEX #2 (Image, 2013) – C-. I bought the first few issues of this series because it looked like a quality production. I was intrigued by the lettering and graphic design, and the title of the series led me to expect that it would be a forthright and honest treatment of sexual matters. I never got around to reading it, and subsequently, I read some of the pompous, arrogant things Joe Casey has said online – for example, he claimed that he’d figured out what made Spider-Man tick, and that because of this he could write a better Spider-Man story than anyone else. Comments like this made me lose confidence in him as a writer; if he was really as great a writer as he claims to be, then he wouldn’t have to butter himself up so much. When I finally did read Sex, I was not impressed. This issue’s plot is completely incomprehensible; there is a list of characters at the beginning, but it leaves many characters out, and the story jumps from one plotline to another without showing how any of the plots are connected. It took me a while to even understand that the protagonist was supposed to be a retired superhero. Probably the story would only have been a little clearer if I’d read the first issue, because according to one review that I read, Sex #1 was equally difficult to understand. The other problem is the sex part. If this story is trying to say anything controversial or intelligent about sex, then it escaped me; it seems like the title Sex and the (sparse) sex scenes are included just as a cheap sales device. This comic does have excellent production values – it has a two-page title illustration which is reminiscent of the title pages of Mister X, and I really like the font used for the lettering. And Piotr Kowalski’s artwork is interesting because of its stylistic similarity to BD; he started his career in the European industry. However, the use of different-colored highlights instead of bold text is very distracting.

Oh, one more thing. Joe Casey’s essay at the end of the comic is just infuriating and made me lose most of my remaining respect for him. In response to a letter that very matter-of-factly mentions the appearance of a vagina in Sex #1, Casey writes: “I don’t know this guy at all. Never heard of him. But from that passage alone I’m going to let shit get real here: Do not fear the vagina, W. Allison. Embrace it […] It’s finally time to get yourself out of those XXL Superman Underoos once and for all, slip into some boxer-briefs and Talk. To. A. Woman.” (He does helpfully add “Unless you’re gay.”) With statements like this, Casey reveals himself as pompous, egotistical, and willing to make unjustified assumptions about other people. And besides, his prose style drives me crazy.

SEX #3 (Image, 2013) – D+/C-. This issue has the same problems as last issue, but gets a lower grade because of the concluding scene in which a woman masturbates with a vibrator. The problem with this scene is not its content, but rather the fact that it has nothing to do with the story and seems to have been inserted just for shock value or to titillate the reader. (And if Joe 72) – Casey thinks that masturbation is something shocking and unexpected, then he needs to get out more.) Again, this scene also reveals a larger problem, which is that Sex isn’t trying to say anything serious or original about sex; it’s just using sex scenes as a source of cheap thrills. When you compare Sex to another similarly titled series that came out around the same time, Sex Criminals, you realize just how little Sex accomplishes.

SUPERBOY #181 (DC, 1972) – B-. It’s too bad that this issue doesn’t have a new Legion story, but all three stories in this issue are intriguing in one way or another. In the first story, a person claiming to be Jules Verne arrives in Smallville via a time machine. Of course it turns out to be a hoax, but the story shows great fondness and affection for Verne and his works. The artist for this story, Bob Brown, has become a classic example of an old-fashioned and boring artist, but Murphy Anderson’s inking is excellent, and the story begins with a really cool double-page splash. Next comes a reprint of the story in which Insect Queen becomes an honorary Legionnaire. Like many pre-Shooter Legion stories, “The Six-Legged Legionnaire” is pretty silly, but at least it has some nice Curt Swan artwork; I especially like how Curt used vertically formatted panels to make Colossal Boy look majestic. The backup story, “Super-Marriage or Super-Flop,” is ridiculously sexist and racist even for 1972. And I’m not even going to try to explain the premise because it doesn’t make any sense. The notable thing about this story, though, is that it’s a rare Superman story written by Frank Robbins.

DETECTIVE COMICS #473 (DC, 1977) – A+. I’ve read “The Malay Penguin” before, but not for a long time. This is a perfect story by the perfect Batman creative team. Englehart and Rogers’s Batman was a dark, brooding figure of mystery but also a human being; his commitment to his mission didn’t prevent him from loving Silver St. Cloud or kidding around with Robin. No other writer has balanced the tragic and comic sides of Batman’s character more effectively than Englehart did. In 1977, Marshall Rogers was the top artist at DC; his storytelling is as impressive now as it was at the time. In terms of this specific issue, “The Malay Penguin” is only 17 pages, and yet Englehart and Rogers succeed in delivering a satisfying story which is fully self-contained while also advancing the ongoing Hugo Strange/Rupert Thorne plotline. I especially love the twist ending, where it turns out that the Penguin didn’t pass up the chance to steal the Malay Penguin, because he already stole it before it arrived in Gotham.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #191 (DC, 1981) – B+. Zatanna was obviously Gerry Conway’s pet character in this series, and she plays a significant role in this issue, in which her powers are reduced by half. I assume this was done for practical reasons, so she wouldn’t be another Superman. The main plot involves the Key and Amazo, who is a fairly sympathetic villain in that all he wants is to sleep, and he hates anyone else who wakes him up as much as he hates the JLA. Overall this is not a classic Justice League comic but it’s not a bad one either.

IRON MAN #249 (Marvel, 1989) – A. This and the following issue are a spiritual sequel to the Dr. Doom story from exactly 100 issues before. David Michelinie writes an excellent Dr. Doom; his version of Doom is nasty, arrogant, and scary. Doom’s best moment in this issue is when he tells Tony that he had four Renoir paintings, but destroyed one of them because it displeased him. Doom and Iron Man are effective as adversaries because they both have such strong personalities, and both of Michelinie’s Doom stories are classics.

ACTION COMICS #587 (DC, 1987) – B+. Like most of John’s Action Comics stories, this Superman/Demon team-up is a very basic and almost generic superhero story whose primary draw is the artwork. This Superman/Demon team-up is from the very end of John Byrne’s good years. At this point his artwork was already starting to degenerate, but he could still draw some impressive action sequences and machinery. The annoying thing about this issue is that it includes a scene where Superman travels back in time to the 12th century, and succeeds in making himself understood to the local people by saying “thee” and “thou”. Obviously John did no research at all, or he would have learned that Middle English is much farther from contemporary Engilsh than that.

A curious footnote about this issue is that the letter column includes a statement apologizing for the unauthorized use of Mr. Michael Betker as a character in Action Comics #569. I will quote Jim MacQuarrie’s explanation:

“As far as I can tell, Michael Betker is/was a big comic collector, convention organizer/promoter and authority on all things Superman. This story was written by one Michael J. Wolff, who used Betker’s name for a character in the story; he supposedly claimed that it was intended as a birthday present for Betker. Betker was portrayed in the story as a weak and snivelling runt, and it turned out that Wolff was a former employee of Betker and had recently been let go. He argued persuasively that this was personal and intentionally derogatory.”

ROCKET GIRL #5 (Image, 2014) – A-. This is the best issue yet and it wraps up the opening story arc in a satisfying way. Dayoung Johannsson is really starting to impress me. As a teenage heroine of color, she’s comparable to Kamala Khan. The scene where the local people protect her from the cops is heartwarming, and the panel where she’s dressed in mismatched clothing is adorable. It’s not clear where the story is going to go from here, with Dayoung trapped in the present and Annie fired from her job, but I’m curious to find out. The relationship between Dayoung and Annie almost reminds me of the relationship between James-Michael, Amber and Ruth in Omega the Unknown.

BATMAN & ROBIN ADVENTURES #9 (DC, 1996) – A. I’m not very familiar with the creative team of this issue, Ty Templeton and Brandon Kruse, but this issue is a very strong example of the Batman Adventures aesthetic. Batman does not appear in this issue, which instead focuses on a fight between Batgirl and Talia. The creators show an excellent understanding of both the primary characters. As expected, Talia beats the stuffing out of Babs in single combat, but Babs saves the day because of her smarts and determination. and what’s especially powerful is Batgirl’s refusal to give up, despite facing overwhelmingly superior opposition. Meanwhile, Talia fails at her mission (to kidnap a scientist named Siddiq el Fazil, an obvious reference to Star Trek actor Siddiq el Fadil) because she’s arrogant and underestimates her opponent.

SECRET ORIGINS #27 (DC, 1988) – D+. This is advertised as the origin of Zatanna and Zatara, but it’s really the origin of Dr. Mist. Zatanna spends the entire issue in suspended animation while Dr. Mist tells her his origin story, which eventually explains her origin and her father’s. Furthermore, that origin story is the worst kind of continuity porn; it engages in massive retconning of DC Universe history seemingly for no purpose other than showing that Dr. Mist is responsible for everything magical in the DC Universe. The reader is left with the impression that Zatanna and Zatara have no agency of their own and are merely pawns in the struggle between Dr. Mist and Felix Faust. This issue contributes nothing to the reader’s understanding of either character, and is best ignored. There is some interesting artwork here by Tom Artis, who reminds me a bit of early Mignola.

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