Reviews, post-Heroes Con edition

6-29-14

Most of the comics reviewed here were purchased at Heroes Con.

GROO THE WANDERER #48 (Marvel, 1989) – B+/A-. 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. The gimmick in this issue is that Groo gets sick of being justifiably hated and feared by everyone he meets, so he goes looking for a place where no one has heard of him. The highlight for me, though, was the scene at the end, which is a clever reversal of the running gag where Groo’s presence on a ship invariably causes it to sink. Here, some unscrupulous merchants try to take advantage of this by putting Groo aboard a ship that they want to sink, so of course what happens instead is that the ship reaches its destination safely. Many years ago I was at a Comic-Con panel where Mark described this scene in vague terms, but I didn’t know which issue it happened in, so it was a delight to spontaneously discover the issue with this scene.

UNCLE SCROOGE #293 (Gemstone, 1995) – A+. This was one of my most exciting finds at Heroes Con, and I think I only paid a dollar for it. “The Billionaire of Dismal Downs” is part 9 of Life & Times, beginning after Scrooge makes his fortune and ending when he decides to move to Duckburg rather than remaining in Scotland. This story is a bit disturbing in its blatant use of Scottish stereotypes, but other than that, it’s everything I would have expected. As Don Rosa points out in his commentary, this is perhaps the first Disney comic in which a character dies; I suppose the reason he got away with it is because Scrooge’s father’s death is depicted in such a powerful and tasteful way. This issue also includes a Junior Woodchucks story by Barks, which holds up surprisingly well in comparison to the Life & Times story.

UNCANNY X-MEN #122 (Marvel, 1979) – A-. One of the main things I was looking for at Heroes Con was old Claremont/Byrne X-Men, and I ended up buying about five of them. This one is a rather average issue. It’s a sort of day-in-the-life story consisting of several unrelated vignettes, including one rather overwrought scene where Storm visits her childhood home and finds that it’s become a heroin den. Still, even an average Claremont and Byrne X-Men issue is a classic.

IMAGINE AGENTS #1 (Boom!, 2013) – B+. This series has a very funny and original premise and I’m sorry that I didn’t buy it when it came out. The premise is that children’s imaginary friends (or “figments”) are actually real, but children lose the ability to see them after reaching the age of eight, and there’s a division of special agents who are responsible for dealing with abandoned imaginary friends. The plot is less interesting than the figments, who range from Furdlegurr, a giant teddy bear, to Jupert, a dinosaur with a cowboy hat and antlers. This series has notable similarities to things like Monsters, Inc. and Oni’s Sketch Monsters. I want to read more of it.

ADVENTURE COMICS #343 (DC, 1966) – B. Like most Edmond Hamilton Legion stories, “The Evil Hand of the Luck Lords” is kind of stupid, but in a funny way. The eponymous villains have the power to cause the Legionnaires to suffer from bad luck, so the first half of the story depicts Legionnaires having all kinds of freak accidents, which is kind of hilarious. It’s too bad that the resolution is kind of unsatisfying – the Legionnaires get the Super-Pets to defeat the Luck Lords because, for unclear reasons, the Luck Lords’ powers don’t work on animals. This issue ends with a reprint of the story where Pete Ross discovers Superboy’s secret identity. This story is stupid in an unfunny way, and also kind of creepy because of the obvious homoerotic subtext.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #70 (Marvel, 1969) – A. This issue is from one of Lee and Romita’s most productive periods. It has everything that makes for a great Spider-Man story, including relationship drama, witty dialogue, and gorgeously drawn action sequences. A notable moment in this issue is the resolution to the ongoing plotline involving a student riot. The lesson here is that both sides were equally wrong – the students because they mistrusted the administration, and the dean because he “thought students should be seen and not heard.” This is kind of emblematic of the way that ‘60s Marvel comics often seemed sympathetic to radical politics but were really quite moderate.

BAT LASH #5 (DC, 1969) – A+. I thought I had a complete run of this series, but while at Heroes Con, I discovered I was wrong, and the next day I was able to find an affordable copy of the issue I was missing. Like every other issue of this series, Bat Lash #5 is a classic, but what distinguishes it from the others is that the villain is Sergio Aragones himself – the character in question is named after Sergio and looks just like him. The Sergio character is depicted as a Mexican version of Bat Lash; they both have the same personality and they both simultaneously come up with the same hare-brained schemes. It’s pretty hilarious and it suggests that Bat Lash himself was originally an autobiographical character. Also like the rest of this series, this issue also features some of the best art of Nick Cardy’s career. I feel guilty for having missed the Nick Cardy tribute panel at Heroes Con, but it must have been a very bittersweet experience. The few times I met him, I thought he was a perfect gentleman, and I envy those who had the opportunity to know him well.

THE BOOKS OF MAGIC #1 (DC, 1994) – B. This is an enjoyable but somewhat confusing start to the series. I think Tim Hunter is an adorable character, but John Ney Rieber’s writing tends to be somewhat lacking in explanation, and I feel I would have to read this series continuously from the start in order to really understand what’s going on and who all the characters are. I do like the revelation that Tim’s dad is Tam Lin (who I initially confused with Thomas the Rhymer).

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #1 HUNDRED PENNY PRESS (IDW, 2013) – B+/A-. I haven’t bought a Transformers comic since I was about eight years old. Transformers and G.I. Joe were the first comics I ever collected, but I gave them up because I felt (at age eleven!) that I was too old for them, and I’ve never gone back to them. I don’t even keep my Transformers and G.I. Joe comics with the rest of my collection; they’re in the closet in my old bedroom at my parents’ house. I bought this issue because I saw it in a dollar box and I’ve been hearing great things about James Roberts’s writing. I was not disappointed; James Roberts writes some brilliant dialogue, and he has a knack for writing a story that laughs at itself without descending into deliberate campiness. Nick Roche’s artwork is also quite appealing. This comic is targeted at existing fans, and I was only familiar with a few of the characters and had difficulty understanding what was going on in the story, but Roberts’s dialogue is so good that I didn’t care. I’m never going to be a hardcore Transformers fan again, but I want to continue reading this series, even though I still feel a little ashamed of myself for liking it. Which is weird since I’m not ashamed of watching My Little Pony.

DEADPOOL #6 (Marvel, 1997) – B+. At some point during Heroes Con, I realized that Deadpool is an extremely popular character who I know very little about – and that I really need to learn about Deadpool because of his history of breaking the fourth wall, which is relevant to my interests. So I spent about half an hour searching the convention floor for old Joe Kelly Deadpools, and I quickly realized that they were a lot more expensive than other X-Men comics from the same era. Eventually I was able to get four of them for about $4 each, which seemed like a bargain since most of the other dealers had the same issues priced at $6 or more. This is the first of those four, and it’s very funny. I had this idea that Joe Kelly was just another bad ‘90s Marvel writer, but that’s not fair to him; if this Deadpool story is any indication, he has an excellent sense of humor, and while I still haven’t finished reading I Kill Giants, it seems like a serious and thought-provoking piece of work. The only instance of fourth-wall-breaking in this issue is on the cover, where the Comics Code Authority logo is enclosed in a word balloon. The humor comes from Deadpool’s dialogue, the bizarre situations he gets himself into, and the contrast between his carefree personality and his profession as an assassin. (Which reminds me of Scud the Disposable Assassin, come to think of it.) Ed McGuinness is an artist I’ve never paid attention to because he seemed like just your average fan-favorite, but his artwork in this issue is appealing enough.

NEXUS: SPACE OPERA #3/4 (Rude Dude Productions, 2009) – F. I never found a copy of this issue when it came out. Even if I could have bought it, I might not have, because Baron’s political views are repulsive to me and I don’t want to support him. But at Heroes Con I found it in a dollar box (which I believe was the same one that had the Transformers and Imagine Agents issues reviewed above). This issue has the same gorgeous Steve Rude artwork and idiosyncratic Mike Baron dialogue that made Nexus one of the best mainstream comics of the ‘80s and ‘90s.

However, Baron’s story has some seriously disturbing implications. I’ve always believed that Baron’s Nexus stories were more politically complex and nuanced than his personal politics, but as of “Space Opera,” that is no longer the case. In this story, the Elvonics, a violent religious cult, engage in a holy war against the galaxy, and Nexus is forced to fight to keep them out of Ylum. It’s just not possible to read this story without mentally translating “Elvonites” to “Muslims” – and I think the comparison would be obvious to me even if I hadn’t read Baron’s articles where he complains about the threat of Islamofascism. In this context, some of the writing in this issue is just appallingly hateful. Kreed’s son says “I learned to hate [Elvonics] in the Web. I was born hating them.” A caption near the start of the issue reads “For years Ylum had an open door policy. Come one, come all! There are those who have no intention of assimilating, who think they can take over the planet and remake it in their image through strength of numbers.” And the reader is expected to agree with these statements. Even if you pretend for a minute that Elvonics aren’t supposed to be a stand-in for Muslims, this rhetoric is still deeply offensive because it suggests that Elvonics are all equally bad and deserve to be killed. (And indeed, this is true throughout the series; I don’t think Baron has ever depicted a single Elvonic character in a positive light.) This story is a display of deeply intolerant thinking, and it almost makes me ashamed for loving this series.

This issue also has problems with plot and characterization, although these problems pale in comparison to its anti-Islamic rhetoric. The plot with the Elvonic jihad is resolved far too quickly and conclusively, leaving little room for future stories. Sundra is basically devoid of characterization, and Jill, who was never a well-developed character to begin with, gets killed for no particular reason. I will admit that it’s satisfying to see Ursula finally get what’s coming to her.

UNCANNY X-MEN #127 (Marvel, 1979) – A+. This issue is from the beginning of Claremont and Byrne’s greatest period. From about #126 forward, almost every issue (with the notable exception of #138) is a classic. It’s been many years since I read the Classic X-Men reprint of this issue, and I remembered it mostly for the rather silly scene in which Cyclops tricks the other X-Men into fighting him. Even that, though, is extremely well drawn. It’s the equivalent of the gorgeous Danger Room sequences that appeared elsewhere in Byrne’s run. Besides that, this issue is memorable because of Proteus, a seriously frightening villain, and because of the psychological drama between him and his parents. The first time I read this issue, I missed the truly disturbing implication that Proteus is the product of spousal rape.

GREEN LANTERN #50 (DC, 1967) – B-. I feel like the first story in this issue was the product of Gardner Fox’s attempt to use a Marvel-esque style of characterization, and it doesn’t entirely work, because characterization was not something he was good at. In this story, Hal is on the rebound from being dumped by Carol Ferris, and he has also come to believe that “as Green Lantern has become more famous, I’ve suffered!” He resolves to deal with both problems by romancing a girl named Joan, who’s never met Green Lantern, and by relying on his fists instead of his power ring. Subsequently, Hal, as Green Lantern, fights some Nazis – I’m not going to attempt to summarize why, because it’s too complicated – and manages to defeat them without using his ring, but he then discovers that Joan admires Green Lantern, so he leaves her without saying goodbye. I guess this is supposed to be poignant, but instead it gives me the impression that Hal is an arrogant, inconsiderate womanizer and that he’s ashamed of being Green Lantern. That’s what I meant when I said that characterization wasn’t one of Gardner Fox’s strengths, because he’s not capable of making the reader sympathize with Hal’s behavior. At least this story is interesting, though; the backup story is a standard and boring piece of science fiction. It is notable in the context of the first story because it guest-stars an alien Green Lantern who is happily married.

ADVENTURE COMICS #425 (DC, 1973) – A+. This is the first issue since #381 without Supergirl as the featured character. At this point, the series briefly turned into an anthology title before the Spectre became the main character with #431. This issue contains some excellent and diverse material and is a great start to the new era of the title. The first story, “The Wings of Jealous Gods,” is a forgotten masterpiece by Alex Toth; the plot is pretty dumb, but the artwork and lettering are gorgeous. After a silly two-pager by Frank Redondo, we continue with “Death Rides with Evlig,” written and drawn by Gil Kane. This story is excessively heavy-handed, but it’s interesting because it at least attempts to be original, and in its use of fantasy tropes it reminds me a little bit of Blackmark. The issue ends with the first Captain Fear story, drawn by Alex Niño. The draftsmanship on this story is gorgeous, though some of the panels are reproduced way too large, and the story is intriguing because it depicts Spanish colonizers as villains and Captain Fear, a Carib Indian, as the hero. Overall this issue offers a lot of bang for your buck.

SUPERMAN #162 (DC, 1963) – A+. I have to give this issue an A+ because “The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue” is one of the most memorable Superman stories, despite or even because of its disturbing implications. The premise of this story is that Superman splits into two beings, each of which is vastly more intelligent than the original, and the two Supermans go on to make the world a utopia. One of their signature achievements is that they create an anti-evil ray which removes all crime and evil from the universe. I first read this story in high school (in the Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told volume) and even then I thought the anti-evil ray was rather creepy; it’s no different from the behavior modification device in Squadron Supreme. But Leo Dorfman’s story depicts the anti-evil ray as an entirely positive development, and steadfastly ignores the fact that it’s also an anti-free-will ray. And I think this is deliberate, because this is an intentionally utopian story; it takes place in a world that’s free of the grimmer aspects of real life. And 1963 was perhaps the last time it was possible to publish such a story without satirical intent.

BATMAN #183 (DC, 1966) – B-. According to the GCD, this was the first in a series of campy stories based on the TV show – which confuses me, because I thought the TV show was based on the preexisting campy style of the Batman comics. Oh well. This issue has a classic cover which was reused for DC Comics Presents: Batman #1 in 2004; it’s the one where Batman says “Not tonight, kid! I’m staying in the Batcave to watch myself on television!” Perhaps inevitably, the story to which this cover refers does not live up to the cover; the explanation for why Batman is behaving in this way is because he’s an impostor. The other story in this issue is an early Poison Ivy appearance, but it’s surprising because other than her costume, Poison Ivy does not have a botanical theme; her gimmick is just that she tries to seduce Batman.

IMAGE FIRSTS: I KILL GIANTS #1 (Image, 2010) – A-. I enjoyed issue 6 of this series, but didn’t really understand what it was supposed to be about. This issue makes things much clearer. I Kill Giants initially looks like some sort of heroic fantasy comic, but turns out to be a very poignant story about an autistic little girl whose teachers and caregivers completely fail to understand her. Barbara Thorson is a not entirely likeable character because of her singleminded focus on her giant-killing fantasies, but the people around her clearly don’t understand her intelligence. Again, I want to read the rest of this series, though I may wait until I find issues 2 through 5 before continuing with issue 7, which I already have. The artist of this series, JM Ken Niimura, is rather unique in that his style seems equally based on Japanese and Spanish comics traditions.

MARVELMAN FAMILY’S FINEST #1 (Marvel, 2010) – C+/B-. This issue reprints five ‘50s Marvelman stories written by Mick Anglo and drawn by various artists. These stories are all very crude, with no color and some of the worst lettering I’ve ever seen, and their debt to Captain Marvel is really obvious. Still, these comics have a lot of frenetic energy, and this makes them easily readable. The most interesting of the five stories is “Marvelman and the Giant Marrow,” not only because it’s the silliest of the lot (it involves an invasion by the “King of the Vegetables”) but also because it repeatedly uses the word “marrow,” which for some reason is the British word for squash. Two of the stories are drawn by Don Lawrence, one of the greatest British cartoonists; these stories are clearly at a higher standard than the other three, but because of the rather poor reproduction of the artwork, I don’t think they provide a complete representation of Lawrence’s artistic ability.

MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER #2 (Gold Key, 1963) – B+. This is the oldest issue of Magnus in my collection, but it’s not the best. At this point Russ Manning (probably along with co-writers Freiwald and Schaefer) was still creating the Magnus formula, and this story is a pretty basic example of that formula: a villain uses robots in an attempt to take over North Am, and Magnus defeats the villain, with minimal assistance from Leeja and Senator Clane. Of course what makes this story spectacular is Russ Manning’s artistic genius. His action scenes are the highlight of the issue. Unfortunately most of the antagonists in this issue are robots that look like humans, so the story does not give Manning many opportunities to draw bizarre slick machinery, which was his other great strength.

UNCANNY X-MEN #158 (Marvel, 1982) – A-. At one point during Heroes Con I checked ComicBookDB and found that X-Men #157 and #158 were the only issues I was missing between #143 and #203. (It later turned out I was wrong; there are two other issues I’m missing but ComicBookDB indicates that I have them. Oh well.) I was easily able to find #157 the next day, but #158 was more elusive because it’s the first appearance of Rogue in an X-Men story. I eventually managed to find a copy for $5. This issue is actually more of a Carol Danvers story than an X-Men story; the X-Men play a major role, but the story is really about Carol’s attempt to transition to her new Binary identity and to cope with the loss of her memories. Carol was clearly one of Claremont’s personal favorite characters and his deep affection for her is clear in his writing.

TALES TO ASTONISH #55 (Marvel, 1964) – C+/B-. Old Ant-Man/Wasp stories are very strange to read because they predate the most significant developments in Hank Pym’s character. At the time, Hank had no apparent mental health problems, he hadn’t created Ultron yet, and he hadn’t married Jan, to say nothing of becoming a spousal abuser. His nickname was actually “Happy Hank.” (Jan, however, was basically the same character then as now.) The stories in this issue are good examples of the Ant-Man/Wasp formula, with some fairly humorous moments, but they’re nothing particularly special. The villain of the first story is The Human Top, later the Whirlwind, who is made to seem like a far more threatening villain than he logically should be.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #27 (DC, 1964) – C+. “The ‘I’ Who Defeated the Justice League” is not one of Gardner Fox’s better stories. The plot is convoluted and nonsensical; it involves a villain who has somehow managed to drain the “success factor” that allows the JLA to succeed in their cases. Fox does not explain the mechanism that the villain uses to do this, which is kind of odd since, as a science fiction writer, he should have been concerned with making his stories appear plausible. And then there’s some business about a corresponding “robber-force” which didn’t make sense at all. The only thing I did like about this story was that it also includes Amazo.

UNCANNY X-MEN #132 (Marvel, 1980) – A+. This issue, the first part of the Dark Phoenix Saga proper, ends with one of the most iconic panels in the history of Marvel comics: the one where Wolverine emerges from a sewer and says “Okay, suckers, you’ve taken your best shot! Now it’s my turn!” Besides that, this story also substantially advances the Black Queen/Hellfire Club plotline, and it includes some of John Byrne’s best art. I’ve read this issue many times before, but it’s still worth reading again.

AVENGERS #49 (Marvel, 1968) – A-. The main attraction of this issue is John Buscema’s majestic artwork. The story, however, is not one of Roy Thomas’s best. There are two major plotlines, one in which Hercules fights Typhon and another in which Magneto recruits Pietro and Wanda to rejoin the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Because these plotlines both focus on individual Avengers rather than the team as a whole, this issue doesn’t feel quite like an Avengers story.

STRANGE ADVENTURES #207 (DC, 1967) – A-. Reading Jean-Paul Gabilliet’s Of Comics and Men reminded me how much Neal Adams changed the history of American commercial comics. The draftsmanship in this issue, and especially the creative page layouts, are fairly ordinary-looking now, but only because Adams’s style of drawing and page design have become standard throughout the industry. In 1967, the artwork in this comic was radically innovative. The story in this comic isn’t quite at the same level as the artwork, though it’s a good example of the Deadman formula (Deadman looks for The Hook, discovers a criminal who might be him, and it’s not him).

WILDC.A.T.S #33 (Image, 1997) – A-. This story was somewhat lacking in suspense for me because I recently read issue 34, but it was worth reading anyway. Alan Moore’s WildC.A.T.s was certainly not one of his greatest works, but it was a solid superhero comic and it was far better than most comic books of its time. The main attractions of the issue are Alan’s witty dialogue and the villain, Tao, who is terrifying in a way that seems unique to Alan.

SPACE USAGI #1 (Mirage, 1992) – B+/A-. This is a good Usagi story, which effectively demonstrates Stan’s mastery of comics storytelling. The only trouble with it is that it doesn’t do anything interesting with the space milieu. The science-fictional elements in this story are purely cosmetic; if this story had been set in feudal Japan, instead of the distant future, the plot would have been exactly the same. I believe that future Space Usagi stories did more interesting things with the futuristic setting, although I can’t remember how exactly.

DEADSHOT #1 (DC, 1988) – A-. Floyd Lawton is one of the most complex and intriguing of the many great characters from Ostrander’s Suicide Squad. This miniseries provides a detailed examination of his background and his psychology. The only trouble with this issue is Deadshot’s psychologist’s behavior; she does things, including allowing her client to kiss her, which would have gotten her penalized by the medical board in real life.

BATMAN #214 (DC, 1969) – C-. This issue really should get an F because of its sexism, which was ridiculous even in 1969, but it’s so over the top that it’s funny rather than offensive. The premise of this story is that some villains try to distract Batman from fighting crime by starting a propaganda campaign encouraging him to get married. Of course (because the women of Gotham are apparently robots who automatically do what advertisers tell them to do), it works, and Batman can’t go anywhere without being mobbed by hordes of screaming females. Oh, and then one of the villains, Cleo, tries to trick Batman into marrying her, but she falls in love with him for real (five pages after meeting him) and promptly gets killed saving his life. There is also a gratuitous Batgirl appearance. I know that Frank Robbins, the writer of this story, was already a fairly old man in 1969, and I suppose he wasn’t very sympathetic to the women’s movement, but I still prefer to believe that this story was a joke and that he wasn’t actually as much of a sexist as this story implies.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #27 (IDW, 2014) – A-. The review of the previous Transformers comic also applies to this one. I still don’t understand the story and I can’t tell most of the characters apart, but I enjoyed the comic anyway because of the dialogue. I may actually start reading this series on a monthly basis.

ECLIPSE MONTHLY #1 (Eclipse, 1983) – B+. The material in this anthology comic is of very uneven quality. The Rio story by Doug Wildey is full of lush, glorious art and beautiful coloring, and is almost enough to justify giving this issue an A+ all on its own, but some of the other stories in the issue are bad enough that they drag the average quality of the comic down. The other good story in the issue is an installment of Marshall Rogers’s “Cap’n Quick and a Foozle.” This series may have been the last of Rogers’s very few major works; it’s hilariously weird and it shows the same graphic creativity and unique page layouts as his Batman work. There’s also a Static story by Ditko, which I thought was a reprint from Charlton Action #11, but actually it was the other way around (that issue was published in 1985 and it must have been one of the last new Charlton comics). This story is a typical example of Ditko’s late work because of its rigid, inflexible Objectivist philosophy and its monosyllabic names. Static is a very visually appealing character, though; I love the unexplained lines of black Kirby crackle that extend out of his costume. Now for the bad part. This issue also includes a Masked Man story by B.C. Boyer, who must have been a personal friend of Dean Mullaney or something, because the quality of his work doesn’t justify its inclusion in this comic. And then there’s the Sax Rohmer adaptation by Trina Robbins, which is disgustingly racist; it includes lines like “He who watches a Chinaman watches an illusionist.” Nostalgia is not a sufficient justification for reviving the work of Sax Rohmer; this work was a product of a more racist era and it deserves to be forgotten.

G.I. COMBAT #198 (DC, 1977) – C+. I used to buy back issues of DC’s Big Five titles whenever I came across them, but I’ve really never been a fan of war comics as a genre. With the exception of things like Glanzman’s U.S.S. Stevens stories, I find it hard to distinguish one DC war comic from another. The complete lack of female characters is also a turn-off for me. This issue includes some good artwork by Sam Glanzman and E.R. Cruz (who was the first Filipino artist I ever encountered, in Conan the Barbarian #261), but both the stories are forgettable.

FANTASTIC FOUR #194 (Marvel, 1978) – D-. This is an awful Fantastic Four story. Reed, Sue and Johnny hardly appear at all, and the issue focuses almost entirely on Diablo and Darkoth, a character of no interest at all. Both the writing and the artwork are entirely generic. After this, even Marv Wolfman’s FF was an improvement, to say nothing of Byrne’s FF.

POPE HATS #3 (AdHouse, 2012) – A. I bought this at TCAF because Ethan Rilly’s artwork looked nice; it reminds me of both Kevin Huizenga and Michel Rabagliati. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the writing is at least equal to the artwork in quality. The protagonist of this issue is Franny, a clerk at a large corporate law firm who suffers from insomnia. Ethan Rilly must have had experience working in this sort of environment, because his depiction of it is horrible but entirely plausible. He effectively conveys the cutthroat nature of the office politics, the psychological strain it puts on employees, and the tyrannical power of senior partners. Reading this comic almost makes me feel justified in my decision to go into academia rather than getting a “real” job, if this is what corporate work environments are like. This issue costs $6.95 but offers a complex and rich narrative experience; it’s become extremely rare for alternative comics of this level of quality to be released as comic books rather than graphic novels. I hope I can find the other two issues of this series, and I look forward to more work from Ethan Rilly, who is a serious talent.

CHARLTON BULLSEYE #2 (Charlton, 1981) – B-. This issue opens with two funny animal stories which are complete drivel; they’re barely publishable even by Charlton’s low standards. The issue is redeemed by the last story, which surprisingly turns out to be the first comic book appearance of Neil the Horse (this series started out as a Canadian newspaper strip). At this point Arn Saba’s style was already fully developed, and this story is a gentle and deilghtful assortment of gags and silly dialogue. It even includes a musical interlude. Someone really ought to reprint all the Neil the Horse material, because this series is a hidden treasure.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #138 (Marvel, 1974) – B+. The least exciting thing about this issue is the new villain, Mindworm, who has some notable similarities to Brain-Child from Avengers #86. The fun part of this issue is all the drama involving Peter’s personal life: Peter gets evicted from his Manhattan apartment and has to move in with Flash Thompson of all people. A glaring apparent error in this issue is that Peter’s landlord shows up at his door, tears up his lease and tells Peter to be out tomorrow morning. This is certainly illegal now and I assume it was equally illegal in 1972; a landlord cannot evict someone without giving them notice.

MIDNIGHT TALES #2 (Charlton, 1972) – B. This is an above average Charlton comic, with nice artwork by Wayne Howard, Joe Staton and Tom Sutton, and funny writing by Nicola Cuti. The Joe Staton story involves a woman who marries a hideously ugly man and then tries to murder him. At Heroes Con, I mentioned this story to Joe and he didn’t remember anything about it.

DARK HORSE PRESENTS ANNUAL 1999 (Dark Horse, 1999) – A+. The theme of this annual is “stories of your favorite characters before they became your favorite characters.” It contains some filler material (the Xena, Ghost and Star Wars stories), but the other stuff in the issue is good enough to justify an A+ rating. Easily the highlight is the two-page Hellboy story “Pancakes,” which has gone viral on the Internet, and with good reason. It’s not only hilarious and adorable, it also displays perfect comic timing and narrative economy. Next is an Usagi Yojimbo story in which a young Usagi and Tomoe meet for the first time. This story is also extremely cute, but it also suggests that Usagi and Tomoe are destined to be together in the end. Next is a Groo story. In this story, Groo (as a child) acts stupid, fails spectacularly at everything he tries to achieve, and causes a series of horrible disasters, despite having good intentions. The story is brilliantly drawn by Sergio Aragonés and is enlivened by Mark Evanier’s witty dialogue. Also, the story begins with a poem and ends with a moral, and includes a cleverly hidden message. Oh wait, I just described every Groo story ever. This story does have a pretty serious message about the evils of child labor, though. Finally, the issue includes a Concrete story, or rather a proto-Concrete story since it takes place in Ron Lithgow’s use. This story is beautifully drawn but the plot is kind of disappointing. It’s about the unexplained death of another kid who Ron Lithgow knew for just one day, but perhaps inevitably, this character is not sufficiently well-developed for his death to have any real effect on the reader.

AVENGERS #29 (Marvel, 1966) – B+. I think this is the second oldest Avengers comic in my collection. This is a good early Avengers story with a bunch of exciting character drama, mostly revolving around Hawkeye’s quest for the Black Widow and Hank’s inability to shrink below ten feet. This feels a lot more like an Avengers comic than #49, reviewed above. Of course the artwork, by Don Heck, is not nearly as good.

HALO JONES #5 (Fleetway/Quality, 1987) – D. This issue gets a D for false advertising, because the Halo Jones story, while excellent, is only ten pages and ends long before the staple in the middle of the comic book. The rest of the issue is taken up with filler material, including an average Psi-Judge Anderson story and a “Dash Decent” story which is completely unreadable. It’s a litany of absurdist humor and bad puns. This reprint series is really not an adequate way to read Halo Jones, both because of the low-quality reproduction and because of all the filler stories.

RATED FREE FOR EVERYONE nn (Oni, 2013) – A-. This FCBD comic includes stories by Joey Weiser and Chris Schweizer. I was previously not familiar with either of their work, even though I got to know Chris when he lived in Atlanta and I also often see Joey at conventions. I was impressed by both their stories in this issue, though maybe I was predisposed to like them. Joey Weiser’s Merman story is cute and appealingly drawn, though clearly intended for a very young audience. Chris’s Crogan story is surprisingly dense and complex. It takes place during the Revolutionary War and involves an encounter between Crogan (apparently this is a family of related characters rather than a single character), his racist commanding officer, and a brigade of black soldiers. The story portrays issues of race in a very forthright way, openly admitting that the American victory in the Revolutionary War was bad for America’s black population. This is a good example of a young adult comic in that it confronts readers with serious issues in an entertaining way. I ought to pick up the first Crogan volume the next time I see Chris at a convention.

BATMAN FAMILY #1 (DC, 1975) – B-. This issue only contains one original story, which is a Batgirl/Robin team-up. Dick is presented in the story as a massive sexist, and Babs tries to change his mind about her by kissing him, which is really not an improvement because it just rewards him for being a jerk. I like both of the characters involved in this story (though as a huge Dick/Kory shipper, I can’t endorse this story’s pairing of Dick and Babs), but Dick could have been written in a more appealing way. The rest of this issue consists of reprints, including a silly Golden Age Alfred story, a boring ‘60s Batman story, and ”Challenge of the Man-Bat” from Detective Comics #400. The last of these is probably better than all the other stories in the issue combined. It’s a powerful introduction to a fascinating Batman villain, especially the last scene, where Kirk is horrified when he realizes Batman thinks he’s wearing a disguise.

AWESOME ADVENTURES #1 (Awesome, 1999) – C+. This is easily the worst-edited professionally published comic I’ve ever seen. It deserves a B- for the story but I’m dropping it to a C+ because of the editing. Here is a verbatim quotation from the inside front cover: “Awesome adventures is tm and copywrite Awesome entertainment. any similarities to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.” On the cover Steve Skroce’s name is spelled Scroce. Elsewhere in the issue, both “Moore” and “Awesome” are spelled without the final E. None of this affects the actual story but it all suggests a shocking lack of professionalism. The story itself, according to Tim Callahan, was intended for Youngblood #3, but was never finished and ends on a never-resolved cliffhanger. It’s a rather minor Alan Moore work in which the members of Youngblood search the lairs of various old villains for a McGuffin. The first 13 pages have some fairly good George Perez-esque art by Steve Skroce, but the last five pages are drawn by some random hacks. This issue is only worth owning for the Alan Moore completist (though I admit I am one).

ANYTHING GOES! #2 (Fantagraphics, 1986) – A+. This issue was published as a benefit for the Comics Journal because of Michael Fleischer’s “bugfuck” lawsuit, and is most notable as the place where Alan Moore and Don Simpson’s “Pictopia” was originally published. I’ve read this story several times before but it’s nice to finally own it. I wouldn’t put this story on my personal list of the top 100 American comics, as the Comics Journal did, but it is one of Alan’s greatest short works. It’s a poignant piece of work that evokes nostalgia for an earlier era of comics and despair at the grim-and-gritty future of the medium. Though it is ironic that Alan himself, at the time, was engaged in creating Watchmen, which was as responsible as anything else for the darkening of comics in the ‘80s, even if he didn’t intend Rorschach to be taken seriously. The next best thing in this issue is an early Locas story by Jaime Hernandez. There is also a two-pager by Sam Kieth which must have been one of his earliest works, but already reveals his mature style and is quite reminiscent of The Maxx. The other material in this comic is not worth mentioning.

SELF-LOATHING COMICS #1 (Fantagraphics, 1995) – A+. I really ought to read more Crumb. I‘ve always found his work deeply disturbing, and I still do, but I’m also fascinated by his unique art style and the raw and unflinching analysis he applies to himself. The Crumb story in this issue is a simple account of a typical morning in his life in France, but it has major psychological depth – though it also contains some rather disturbing and unflattering content, including hints of pedophilia. The flip side of the issue is an Aline Kominsky-Crumb story. As she herself acknowledges, her work is notoriously rather crude compared to Bob’s, but she is a fascinating character with a unique artistic voice – literally; I kind of love her accent.

BIG APPLE COMIX #1 (Big Apple Productions, 1975) – A-. This is a fascinating curiosity: an underground comic published by Flo Steinberg with the collaboration of mainstream creators like Wood, O’Neil and Williamson. The stories in this issue are more or less unified around the theme of New York, and how it was a horrible cesspool at the time but the creators loved it anyway. Going approximately in order, the first story is rather silly but has some gorgeous art by Marie Severin. Next is a rare story with both writing and art by Archie Goodwin; he was not a great draftsman, but I’ve always felt that one reason he was such an excellent comics writer was because he understood page design in the same way that an artist would. The story itself is about peep shows, and like other stories in the issue, it produces a serious feeling of cognitive dissonance, because it’s by a creator I usually associate with stories that are safe for work. It’s just strange reading an Archie Goodwin story that includes the phrase “the sleezy peep show has gone beyond your run-of-the-mill sucking and fucking.” Anyway. The next two stories are the best in the issue. First there’s a Wally Wood story which is an absurdist erotic parody of his classic “My World”; it has no plot to speak of, but the artwork is amazing. Next is a three-pager by Al Williamson, which ends with a panel in which Al says “Would you believe this 3 pager took me 17 months to draw?”, and I believe it. Besides maybe Lou Fine or Dave Stevens or Frazetta, Al Williamson was probably the greatest draftsman in the history of comic books. Every panel in this story is absolutely perfect. The other material in this issue is not quite at the same level, and the Adams/Hama story, “Over and Under,” is borderline racist – actually I’m not sure “borderline” is accurate. The issue ends with a wordless story by Herb Trimpe, which sort of suggests what he could have achieved if he hadn’t been forced to spend his career imitating other artists.

SHAOLIN COWBOY #2 (Dark Horse, 2013) – F. I know there are people who love this comic, but I think it’s a bad joke. It’s literally just 33 pages of a dude slicing zombies apart with chainsaws. As usual with Darrow, the artwork is obsessively detailed, but it doesn’t matter because he spends the entire comic drawing slightly different variations on the exact same panel. I suppose I can make some plausible guesses as to what he was trying to accomplish here, but I think it’s insulting to ask readers to pay $3.99 for a comic which is completely devoid of narrative content.

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